The Day in the life of Tony Cliffe

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Tag: Toronto

North Atlantic Adventure: My last stop. Toronto for thanksgiving

My North Atlantic adventure ends in Toronto where i visit my favourite Island and spend my first Canadian Thanksgiving with my amazing Canadian Family!

After a fantastic few days in Charlottetown I was heading to one of my favourite cities, Toronto! I’ve been to Toronto countless times and it never gets old, in fact I was there last April to visit family before heading across the country to visit more family in Edmonton. To me that’s what Toronto is, it’s about the family that is there and how unbelievably welcoming and awesome they all are. After such a long and epic solo journey it felt very fitting to end it with my Canadian cousins. When I was looking for hotels I noticed that hotel prices in Toronto for the three days were almost the price of all of my hotels combined on this trip. It was only when Barb my cousin was so happy that I was over for thanksgiving and told me I should stay with them for it, did I realise it was Thanksgiving weekend! We don’t have such a thing in the UK and Canadian Thanksgiving is on a different day to the Yank’s one. I like the idea of Canadian thanksgiving, if I understand it correctly it’s about giving thanks for the harvest before the long cold winter ahead. It’s all about family and spending time with them with some great food. So again a fitting end to the trip! I was super excited to stay and be with my cousins again. We may live thousands of miles apart but the bond has always been there and it felt after this trip it was closer than ever. I am proud of my Canadian roots and they’re proud of their British ones. They are so incredibly welcoming and so totally on my wavelength with humour and outlook on things.

So while I boarded my very large plane for such a small airport I was away into the air leaving P.E.I behind. I was flying on Air Canada Rouge which gets a bad rap but those people have never flown Ryanair, so Air Canada Rouge is like first class compared to them! After a 2 and a half hour flight I touched down into the wonderful city of Toronto. Last time I landed here I was greeted by Dave my Cousin’s Husband who gave me a tour of the airport and let me sit in the cockpit of an A380 which can be found here Canada Travels: Blog 2 – Airport escort and Toronto Islands. I had great memories as I collected my bag and jumped on the train into the city. After spending a few weeks in small cities in the Maritimes, just like last year as soon as I exited the train station I had to stand in awe at the towering buildings, the noise, the smells, the colours. A world away from all the places I had been to on this trip. No fresh air and green mountains here. I was clearly still on maritime island time which was chilled and relaxed. In Toronto, like every city, everyone is in a rush. Especially trying to get home for Thanksgiving weekend.

As it was late afternoon I didn’t want to disturb my cousins so I booked my hotel for the one night before staying with them for the weekend. Part of the reason for that was I fell in love with the Toronto Islands last year on my visit and I wanted to go back again but I also came for a picture (which sadly I never got properly!). In our living room we have a large panoramic of the Toronto skyline at sunset taken from Snake Island, the Island I found last year. So I wanted to add that to my photo collection by getting one myself. I checked into my hotel, the Double Tree Hilton Downtown, which I stayed in last year. I still love the personalised welcome cookie on arrival and the rooms are huge! I freshened up, grabbed my camera gear and headed out into the chaos that is a major city in North America. No Photographer can shoot on an empty stomach though so I stopped for an amazing teriyaki glazed steak for tea!

After that I walked down to the harbour and paid $6 for the ferry across Lake Ontario to the Islands. It was so much quieter this time in late afternoon than when I visited here in April, it was peaceful. It still amazes me a 10 minute ferry ride and the city skyline looms behind you but it’s so peaceful and fresh with nothing but the gentle waves and the birds chirping. Once the ferry had pulled up I set off to find the little unmarked track through the woods I found last year to get to Snake Island.

CN Tower from the Islands

They’d had some bad flooding a few weeks before and you could tell. The amazing bench and trees were washed away and it looked less than idyllic than it did over 12 months ago. But, the fallen washed away tree made for a great foreground for my shot.

Toronto Skyline from the Islands at Dusk

I waited as the sunset and sadly it never gave me the colours I was hoping for so I guess I’ll just have to come back! I loved the hours I spent just taking pictures, watching night fall and the lights coming on across the water, no one around just complete serenity. I love this place so much!

Sunset and CN Tower

By time night had fallen I packed my gear up and jumped on one of the last ferries of the night. The ride across the water with the skyscrapers looming and reflecting their lights in the heat of the night is special and certainly nothing like it here in the UK. After a walk back to the hotel I grabbed a shower and went straight to sleep. Another brilliant day ticked off on this trip.

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Nice warm night in Toronto!

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The next morning after a Tim Hortons breakfast I jumped on the train to head back to the airport where my cousin Scott and his Wife Katrina offered to pick me up and take me out for the day. You can tell we’re related as Scott is an avgeek like me and we both love military stuff so a day was planned to visit Hamilton air museum, Canada’s version of Duxford or Hendon and then onwards to Haida a Canadian Warship. What a fantastic day out that was! I had such a laugh and a great time with both of them. Hamilton is a fantastic place to visit with so many different aircraft types and brilliant exhibitions. What I love about this place is nearly all of the aircraft are flyable and unlike in the UK, you can pay a few thousand dollars and go up in some of them! The Canadian’s have the only other flying Lancaster bomber in the world alongside us and it’s based here. I was so lucky to see them both flying when they brought it over a few summers ago and to see it in its home base was very special.

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After there we drove to walk around Haida, a fantastic floating ship of many wars! It was really cool to go around and appreciate what these guys went through in such conditions. I wish we had something like this other than HMS Belfast in London, Liverpool could take Haida as an example of how to do it!

After that I had one of the best burgers I’ve ever had before we visited the Merchant Navy memorial. We have very close ties to MN from both sides of the Atlantic with many family members having served and it was a real pleasure to see my great Uncle Wals ships listed. I still miss him and Audrey a lot and I know they would both be looking down with a big smile on their faces to see both sides of the Atlantic family being so close together!

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Scott and Katrina ❤

After the long drive back I arrived at my Cousin Barb’s house and dropped my bags off and we were off to a house party of one of their friends. Oh how the Canadian’s live! Everyone has a pool because they get the weather and I wish we had that lifestyle but the UK just does not cater for it! Considering it was October, it was till in the 20’s by night. I don’t think that has ever happened in the UK past August! That was a fun night catching up with Barb, Dave, Betsy and Erin. It’s so hard for me to express how much I loved being there with these guys and how happy I was to see them all again!

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The next morning me, Barb and Erin went hiking with the dogs. Erin’s dog, Sevvy is the size of an actual horse. He is huge but what a wonderful dog. Those who know me know I’m not a dog person, give me a cat any day of the week but by the end of the trip I wanted to take him home with me! The hike through the escarpment was spectacular and again I am jealous they have all of this on their doorstep!

Autumn and Fall in the forest

One of my absolute favourite parts of this trip though was sitting down with coffee, breakfast and just chatting to Barb and Betsy about their dad Wal. He is the reason we have this half Canadian Half British family and he was loved by everyone. He was such a wonderful guy and it was a real pleasure talking about him and swapping stories and for me, hearing some new exploits about his time during the war and how lucky he was at times. It was just great to sit down and chat and it to not feel like I was on holiday. It felt great to catch up and share stories of back home and plans here. Even the simple things like going on a drive to the shops with my cousin Erin. Moments I treasure because I don’t get them every day and it’s always a laugh and I just loved it. Although saying that, I don’t think I’d ever understand how Canadian supermarkets work! They’re not laid out logically to my UK mind!!

This all came together on my first thanksgiving day. I must thank Barb and co for some excellent food and them being so accommodating for my lactose intolerance! I know its a bloody hassle and they made no fuss about it all! What I loved about thanksgiving though was not only spending it with them but I got to see my other cousins too, Bob and Robin and their Daughters Becky and Sarah. It was also great to meet Mark for the first time too! Last time I was in Canada was the first time I had ever met them and their wonderful families and once again I was made to feel so welcome! They’re all absolutely amazing people from their kids to their partners and I loved seeing them all again. I particularly relished the sparing of wit between me and Dave!

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Canadian Fam!

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Canadian Cliffes!

After wonderful food and company it was time to leave and I was super sad to say goodbye to everyone again. Canada is like home for me and like any place it’s the people in it who make it so special. I am forever grateful for everyone who made me so welcome again and so accommodating on my visit in Toronto and for family who drove for hours to come see me or take me out places. While we may have a giant ocean that sits between us I feel the bond between us all is as strong as ever and while I was sad on the car ride back to the airport, again thanks to Betsy for taking time out of her day to drive me all the way to the airport, I was happy to know our Anglo-Canadian relationship is as strong as ever. I can only hope to see them all over here one day when I can repay their kindness and hospitality! It really was tough to say goodbye to them all.

Like last year, I was gutted and sad to say goodbye to family as I headed back home but again, it offered me one last amazing gesture. Last year I got on the plane and got upgraded to First class and I enjoy a lie flat bed, champagne and steak! The odds of that happening again were incredibly small. Well, I guess Canada loves to send me on my way in style. I check in and the check-in girl upgrades me again to first class for my flight back to Iceland! Flying back in first class does lessen the blow of leaving a brilliant few weeks of travel.

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Cava before departure 😉

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I had the front row to myself in first class and I enjoyed my 12 a.m., 4 hour flight across the Atlantic to Iceland. A quick hour wait in Iceland I got on my connecting Icelandair flight to Manchester, 2 and a bit hours later I was finally home after what was a truly superb holiday. I had walked on glaciers and volcanoes, I had stood and watched nature at its finest under the dazzling spectacular of the Northern Lights, I had climbed mountains on rocky outcrops of the North Atlantic, I had fallen in love on P.E.I and saw sunsets that have yet to be beaten and I had closer ties with my Canadian family than ever before. What a truly fantastic adventure it was and memories and stories I will cherish forever. It really was one big North Atlantic Adventure.

 

Missed the adventure? Find more below.

North Atlantic Adventure: Iceland – Part One

North Atlantic Adventure: Iceland – Part Two

North Atlantic Adventure: Halifax, Canada

North Atlantic Adventure: St. John’s, Canada Part One

North Atlantic Adventure: St. John’s, Canada Part Two

North Atlantic Adventure: Prince Edward Island

Avgeek Videos of this leg of the trip:

Canada Travels: Blog 2 – Airport escort and Toronto Islands

In this blog I visit an A380, the CN tower and explore the Toronto islands following on from my first blog about my travels to Canada Canada Trip Blog 1: The long trip west.

What a way to start a holiday…

Taxying to the gate, I feel pretty refreshed and the flight went surprisingly quick. I felt a surge of relief that I’m finally on Canadian soil and after starting my journey here over a day ago, I’m glad to have arrived. A quick catch up on texts and before I know it we’re pulling onto the stand and the engines are whining down. I always love the multiple sounds of the seatbelts clicking and the chatter starting. Before I left, Barb and Betsey two of my cousins in Toronto had been in touch about arranging to meet up when I was in Toronto and to go to places like Niagara Falls. Barb even offered me a place to stay which was incredibly kind of her but I’d already booked my hotel for the few days! I’ve only ever really met them once and that was as a very young kid. My memories are sketchy at best, I remember a huge house, pool and a basement. Basements are alien to us British folk and having a pool in your back garden is too. I mean, we’d get like what? Two days of summer to use it and even then it would feel like an ice bath! I remember playing star wars with my cousins in there but I think I was about 6? I do remember how welcoming they were and how kind they were and upon evidence of our Facebook chats before arriving that kindness and welcoming certainly hadn’t disappeared. Before I left England, Barb’s Husband, Dave, works as a police officer in Pearson International. He’s known colloquially as the Mayor of the airport because he’s been there so long! There isn’t an inch of the airport he doesn’t know, not a staff member who doesn’t know him. There was a possibility that if he was free he would meet me off the plane. That would be cool I thought.

I was one of the first off the plane and I walked up the air bridge and into the terminal, I had a big smile to see he had indeed greeted me off the plane, in full uniform. I can only imagine what the passengers must have thought! Maybe I was British royalty with an escort or maybe I was being extradited, I do vaguely look like Edward Snowdon after all ! From the first handshake, it was like I had known Dave for ages. What a guy! So incredibly funny, friendly and welcoming. We walked towards immigration, catching up with how the family was doing on both sides of the pond and before I knew it I was through immigration and customs quicker than I am in my own country! While waiting for my bags, he tells me stories about the celebs he’s met and wow, if only he was into blogging because some of them are best sellers!

I placed my bags into his police cruiser outside and he says…

“Fancy a look around the A380? Private tour I have a pass for you? “

Jesus Christ! What an opportunity! As an avgeek this is right up there with one of the best things to do. Especially as it’s a working aircraft, in a working airport. The A380 is the world’s biggest passenger jet and now I’m going to go on-board and sit in the cockpit. What a way to start a holiday! After going through security again but this time the one the aircrew use and walking through back passages I didn’t even know existed and having the pleasure to walk on the ‘world’s fastest travellator’, I was waiting at the gate to board the A380. It had just arrived from Dubai and we were met by the dispatcher who would take us on board. While waiting outside of the door, we had to wait until all of the crew members were off. It was almost like those comedy sketches where people just keep coming out of a car. There are so many crew members! I also wonder what they thought, seeing an English man in a tweed jacket, standing with an armed police officer waiting to go on-board for a private tour! The wait was just ramping up the excitement for me. After a few minutes I was let on board and given a tour by Dave and the engineer who let me sit in the co-pilot and pilot seat! Dream come true.

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A380’s Newest Captain

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A380 cockpit after arrival onto stand.

 

I was amazed at how small the cockpit actually was for such a massive aircraft. I’ve read countless magazines and followed the A380’s development and I knew the cockpit is the same as the smallest Airbus, the A318, bar two extra handles on the throttle column and some screens but wow. The dream of being a commercial pilot never took off but damn I am so jealous of pilots and the job they have. Plus I’m very much an Airbus guy over Boeing so win, win! After that and hanging out of the window, I was given a further tour of the aircraft. Absolutely amazing and I’ll outline a little more in my aviation blogs of this trip.

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Who else starts their holiday’s hanging outside the captains window of the A380?

Now on a complete high and after many thank you’s I was back inside the terminal. Can I just say a massive thank you to Dave and to Emirates airlines for giving me such access to your aircraft when on ops. Truly wonderful experience! Dave took me to the Union Express station. Basically a high speed train that takes 20 minutes to get into downtown Toronto from the airport. We exchanged numbers, had a few more laughs and said we’d meet up for a meal tomorrow evening. I couldn’t thank Dave enough for this experience, what a great way to start an adventure!

The train was busy on the way into Toronto but with free Wi-Fi and aircon I couldn’t complain. A mixture of dehydration and excitement I was really thirsty by this point and warm. Really warm! It didn’t help lugging around a giant suitcase much, despite it only being 15c outside. The hotel was in downtown Toronto about a 15 minute walk from the station. I never like getting cabs in cities if I can avoid it, I prefer to walk and explore that way, even with a heavy suitcase! I didn’t have a window on the train so when I finally exited the train station and out onto the street, I had to stop and take it all in for a few minutes.

When you’re from England, our cities are like 5 stories max high, usually three at best. Looking up at this giant concrete canyon above you is quite amazing when you’re in North America! You feel so incredibly small, the concrete, the glass, and the logos. So cool.  Then the noise of the city hits you, the traffic, the horns, the smells, the chatter, it’s a real slap in the face to the senses. Especially as it was rush hour, there were just streams of people walking towards me to get on their trains and I had to fight my way upstream like a salmon to my hotel! I’m not a city person at all, I much prefer the countryside due to its peace and quiet and relaxed way of life. I can understand those on the go loving the rushed vibe of the city and I do like that for a few days until it grates on me. As this was me just arriving, I got a real buzz from the walk to the hotel.

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Hotel room, 5/5

 

I was finally glad to check in to the Double Tree Hilton and lie on my king sized deluxe bed on the 20th floor. What a great room! For £200 for three nights I got a top class hotel room, with breakfast and a welcome cookie. In the UK for the Geography formal I spent £60 for one night in a Travelodge, no breakfast and the bed didn’t even have a duvet on it! Just goes to show you how ripped off we are in the UK.

I jumped straight into the shower to wash away the travelling, got myself some food, watched some god awful TV and before I knew it I was fighting a losing battle. 8pm Canadian time and I was out like a light.

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Welcome to the concrete canyon

 

FFIRST FULL DAY IN TORONTO

DAY THREE (DAY ONE (part I) IN CANADA): EXPLORING TORONTO

Rolling over in the huge king size bed, I rustle my head into the pillow. I don’t want to open my eyes yet but I can feel my body waking up, yearning to jump out of bed and explore. With a stretch I take off my eye mask fully expecting it to be daylight of sorts. It was a real struggle to stay awake until 8pm last night, I’ve slept like a log after being up for nearly a day straight with the travel yesterday, not to mention the time difference. However nothing but the dim glow from under the bathroom door across the other side of the room provided any light. It was still pitch black outside, 4 a.m. to precise. Of course my body clock thought it was 9 a.m. As far as my body was concerned I went to bed at 2a.m now I’m awake at 9, perfect amount of sleep. It is probably the only time and the last, that I’ll ever feel that awake at 4 a.m. as this morning. As it was a Saturday here in Canada breakfast in the hotel isn’t served until 7 am. I thought about going back to sleep for a bit but I knew that was a futile task and I doubted TV would be any good either in the wee small hours of the morning. After catching up with text messages and Facebook and watching all the videos I’ve taken from the flights over here, the first signs of my first morning in Canada appeared.

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Ready to explore

 

Opening the curtains looking down from the 20th floor into the heart of the concrete canyon, the deep black of the night had turned into a shade a deep blue, getting lighter by the second. I’ve always loved civil twilight. In the morning it feels like the world is waking up but isn’t quite there yet. As a photographer too, I love the way everything looks, silhouetted against a brightening sky. I like early morning’s in cities too. It’s quiet and peaceful before the storm of the people arrive for rush hour and the city comes to life.

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8 a.m Welcome to Toronto

 

After another very long shower and a check of the weather I headed down for breakfast. Canadians have a lot of things right in their country. Breakfast is certainly one of them! A quick scoot back to the room and to collect my camera and coat and by 7.25 a.m. I was out walking in the city.

CN Tower

I still was taken aback by the size of the skyscrapers as I walked towards the harbour front. My plan today was to explore the Islands. Despite being to Toronto a few times, I’ve never got a chance to explore it with family. Now I’m on my own it was a perfect chance to explore them for the first time before meeting up with my Canadian cousins in the evening. On my way to the harbour it’s hard not to miss the CN Tower. I’ve been up the CN tower at different times of day and in all seasons but as soon as I saw it I knew I had to go up it again. The view never really changes but I just absolutely love it. Weird for someone who doesn’t do heights particularly well!

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CN tower to the top of the world

 

I was the first in the queue as I waited for them to open up. Spring hadn’t really taken full hold in Toronto yet, so at 10 degrees it felt cool and crisp and a lovely blue sky above I knew I’d see some great views. After a quick stop through the airport style security, I was racing up the lift to the observation deck. I spent a good hour and a bit walking outside, inside, on the glass floor, just enjoying the views and taking way too many selfies. I took one that looked like I was about to skydive and couldn’t resist posting it to Facebook to scare friends and family!

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Toronto

 

 

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Standing on the glass floor

 

After coming down I finally felt like all the stresses of the past few weeks had gone. I was really enjoying myself and the sense of adventure was rippling through me. I was so made up to finally be away and exploring on my own!

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Ready for my base jump!

 

 

 

Toronto Islands

I carried on after the CN tower towards the harbour, stopping every five minutes to take pictures. Toronto is such a picturesque city and the fact it sits on Lake Ontario makes it a great place to explore.

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Railroads passing through the city

 

For $7 dollars you get a return ticket to any one of the three Islands. Ward, Central and Hanlan. They’re all linked by bridges and walk ways, central being the main one. I decided to take a trip to Ward island first and planned to walk the 13 miles from there right the way around to the final Island of Hanlan point. I’m glad I did! Ward Island was a lovely quiet idea. People live on the Island and Ward is where they live. As a countryside person I could think of no better way to live than on the beach on this tiny island! It was so incredibly quiet and peaceful. Walking along the boardwalks with nothing but the chirps of the birds and the gentle lap of the waves. So beautiful.

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On the ferry to Ward island

 

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Ward Island Boardwalk

 

I walked and walked for miles, going down different paths, exploring things, the beauty of single travel. I knew the city was on my right somewhere and I noticed a small trail through the woods over a bridge over a small inlet called Snake Island. Why not? So I bush whack through the woods, after three minutes of pushing bushes out of my face and contemplating turning back, the woods gave way to the best bench I have ever seen. What a view! I sat on that bench for a good 30 minutes, taking photographs and just relaxing, watching the world go by. I was disturbed by a German couple who stumbled upon this little piece of paradise too. I took some pictures for them and then left them to enjoy the serenity of it all. It was weird to have such a beautiful spot of nature and then across the water was sprawling metropolis of Toronto city.

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What a bench

 

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Stayed here for ages

 

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Thanks to the German couple for this photo!

 

I carried on walking for miles, more and more people appeared as I got closer to Central Island. I decided my feet needed a rest, grateful for bringing my hiking gear, so I decided to stop in a small restaurant. Chicken fingers and Plum sauce are the best combination ever created and plum sauce in Canada is, well I can’t describe it. Me and my family adore it. I ordered 15 chicken fingers with plum sauce and fries and I don’t even think they touched the sides at all!

After a rest, I continued walking down trails, stumbling upon untouched beaches, wildlife and scenery. It felt weird to be so far from home, at times completely alone on an island but a good weird! It’s a Saturday. Back home I might watch the match and go on my bike other than that, not a great deal. Here I am this Saturday, exploring a wonderful island.

 

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Hanlan Point

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Central Island

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Gibraltar point

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I ended up doing some plane spotting at the local airport on the island and waiting for the next ferry to take me back into the city. I had been on the island since 10.30pm and it was not 3.30pm and I’d walked 15 miles so far today. Even though it was cool I could feel that my face was sunburnt already!

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Walking back into the vibe of the city to my hotel felt a world away from where I had been. I finally got back to my hotel room and put my feet up, got a shower and got ready to meet my Canadian cousins for the first time in over a decade!

Next blog will be all about family and Niagara Falls.