8/4 I met a guy about a week ago at my first stop after Lake Superior Provincial Park. He was buying liquor at the general store/restaurant that I was dining at. The alcohol was for the only night of the year which he drinks, to celebrate the end of the season as he was a snow plow driver and that meant he didn't have to show up for work anymore, or so he thought...
The snow plow drivers, many of them still hungover I'm sure, were kept up all night with heavy snowfall. When I awoke in the morning it was still coming down, with the odd large plow keeping the roads driveable.
It seems that the ugly weather brings out the best in people because when I stopped at the Nobel Wendys/Tim Hortons for lunch, I was in the restroom drying my tops, hat and gloves with the hot air drier and having a small makeshift bathe with the sweet smelling industrial hand soap from the stainless steel dispenser, and literally everyone who came into the little boys' room had a chat. I felt a little awkward standing there half-naked while talking to some stranger with his thingy in his hand, but no one seemed to mind my cleaning routine, I think they understood as they seen my bike parked outside.
After a long lunch, I headed a short way down the road before turning off to Parry Sound, a sweet little town built around an inlet on Lake Huron. The town had a lot of big beautiful old wooden homes and the downtown streetscape had been improved with nice street lamps, among other things. I went down to the waterfront where the 30,000 island cruises leave from, but there wasn't too much going on as it was still off season.
Back on the 69 south, I started to see signs of 'cottage country, the area where a lot of mainly Torontonites have summer cottages on the lakes. Some were fine residences, more than your typical ply-wood bungalow, but grand homes with satellite dishes, jetties and gazebos - a very appropriate neighbourhood for me to pitch my tent in so I did.
9/4 For the first half hour I was very happy to see large, clear signs on the side of the highway warning motorists to look out for cyclists on the shoulders.
Without warning, the highway changed from a two-lane road to a four-lane expressway, complete with a median strip and fly-overs, and from nowhere, no cycling signs popped up at every on-ramp.
Generally expressways are accompanied with alternative routes with plenty of warning, but in this case, I saw no other roads, just plenty of lakes and swamps, so I just kept riding.
I normally see plenty of police patrol cars on the road, keeping the province free from crime, but today they were strangely scarce. One flew past me at about lunch time, looking like he was chasing something, but it wasn't again until about 10km before Barrie when I saw the next boys in blue.
An Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) car drove past me and then pulled over to the gravel shoulder. A finger signalling for me to stop appeared from the slightly ajar window, so I slammed on the brakes for a spectacular stop.
It was my first encounter with the law since leaving, and shortly after stopping another officer arrived, backup I presume.
The cops were friendly chaps, just doing their jobs, but they took down my details and informed me of the road's rules and advised me of an alternative route through Barrie.
Barrie was a nice town, built around the corner of a lake with a redeveloped waterfront and newly cobbled streets. There were many lovely, old brick homes. There seemed to be a positive vibe through the city on this sunny Sunday afternoon.
I stopped for dinner at McDonalds, drawn in by some pretty good specials. A friendly bloke in his late-teens or early-20's sitting across from me started to chat, telling me about Barrie, which he informed me with its 100,000+ residents, was the fastest growing city in North America, with Toronto only 80km away, people choose to live there for its quality of life and lower cost housing and commute to the big smoke, your typical satellite town. The guy could not believe that I hadn't heard about the town's growth.
My friend left, but soon returned with a local newspaper, the Barrie Examiner, for me to take away as a souvenir.
South of McDonalds I could see signs of the city's growth, with subdivision after subdivision, each row of lego-houses looking like their neighbour.
I was looking for a place to pitch the tent, but unfortunately there were only empty paddocks and new subdivisions for miles. I finally found a grouping of trees, fairly near a house, but well enough hidden for a peaceful night's sleep.
With every branch I stepped on, plastic bag I ruffled and velcro I ripped, the little dog in the nearby house would go crazy barking. I finally got everything up and the yapping and yelping ended.
11/4 Straight to the subway after breakfast for my first experience with Toronto's efficient transit system. It was a fascinating ride, with faces of every size, colour and expression, representing the great mix of people in the city.
The train stopped a short stroll from the central bus station where I caught a bus destined for Niagara Falls. The bus ride itself was interesting as it was my first experience on the city's rat race highways of many lanes, of which Gerry Chaput, the roading engineer I stayed with in Sault Ste. Marie, had told me had the busiest stretch of Freeway in North America.
More than half of all manufactured goods are made in Ontario, of which a large portion come from the area I was being driven through called the Golden Horseshoe, spanning from Toronto to Niagara, so it was interesting to see.
Niagara Falls itself was entertaining. The two sets of waterfalls, the American Falls and the more famous, horseshoe-shaped Niagara Falls were an impressive spectacle, and it was hard not to be impressed by the sheer volume of water flowing over the ledges and crashing onto the water below, creating a layer of mist rising around the falls.
Niagara Falls is the premier tourist attraction in Canada, attracting more than 12 million tourists a year. There were signs of this with the large casino and hotels, in addition to the Hard Rock and Planet Hollywood cafes, but the most obvious sign of catering for the mostly American tourists, was the fun, but tacky street of Clifton Hill.
Clifton Hill was a cross between the circus and Disneyland, having everything from Jurassic mini-golf to wax, Ripleys, Guiness World Records, celebrities and criminal museums to the Daredevil Hall of Fame and at least four haunted houses. After lunch in the street, as I had always loved the ghost trains at the school holiday fairs when I was a youngster, I decided to be brave and visit the House of Frankenstein, a walkaround house that would probably scare little children.
The is just about every way imaginable to view the falls themselves, from the numerous platforms and viewing towers, to tunnels that go behind the falls (apparently not that exciting), but I chose to see them from the water below on the Maid of the Mist. The Maid of the Mist is a boat that sails right into the horseshoe of the falls, where everyone on board gets a very close perspective of the world wonder. Each tourist is provided with a blue, souvenir raincoat, as there is a lot of spray up that close. The rocking ride right in the currents was a fantastic ride and is well worth while.
After a walk down through the nicely manicured parkland on the shores of the river I had some unlucky attempts on the casino's pokie machines, before catching the bus again.
I must have been a little tired, because as soon as I sat down on the bus I fell asleep. When I awoke, the bus was completely empty and stationary in a bus stop that didn't look familiar. What had woken me was the driver coming back in to get his jacket. He almost jumped out of his skin, when he heard me call out to him and seemed awfully confused as to how I had got on.
Apparently the bus load had transferred to another bus in the township of Niagara, about 10 minutes away from the falls, but I must have slept right through it, including the bustling of the passengers leaving.
The bus driver recommended a Chinese restaurant that he frequents, where I had dinner until the next bus left.
It probably wasn't such a bad thing missing the transfer as it meant that I was travelling back in the dark, so I got the full effect of the vast collection of neon-billboards and huge TV-screens dotting every spare area beside the expressway, bombarding Torontonites with all kinds of advertising. But the highlight of the light show was the downtown area, where the skyscrapers were complimented with the bluely-lit SkyDome, and the spotlights from the Air Canada centre, where Toronto's national hockey and basketball league teams play.
12/4 Back in 1997, my great aunty Ismay had her 80th birthday, which a lot of the extended family attended. One of the attendees was Jim Paterson and his wife Donna, from Toronto. Jim had a keen interest in genealogy and had come out to New Zealand to meet his distant relatives, with my father being his third cousin.
I thought that I might pay him in visit while in Toronto, so I caught the bus out to their house in the suburb of Branford for lunch. They were as nice as I remember them, and I also had the please of meeting their neighbour and their son Ian, who is my fourth cousin, about as closely related to me as the queen of Sweden.
Coincidently, also out in Branford is the Nortel head office, where Trev worked. Trev is an old rugby buddy of one of the old Net Nanniers, Lance Craven, and I met him a couple of times when he came out to Vancouver to see Lance.
Trev knocked off early from work and took me for a tour of the huge, extremely flash Nortel headquarters, which were complete with just about everything imaginable to make the office environment enjoyable for the staff, right down to the treadmill/climbing wall cross and the massage chair room - a bit of a change from the Net Nanny offices on Seymour.
Trev then drove us to the enormous CN tower, where we caught the glass elevators to the world's highest observation deck at 447m up, and then we went down a bit to walk on the glass floor and take a gander in the fresh air on the outdoor deck. The views were amazing and allowed one to get an appreciation of the size of the sprawling city of Toronto.
Back down on ground-level, we went to a nearby pub, Smokeless Joes, a cosy, friendly little pub with over 175 beers from all around the world (not Australia) to choose from. To add to the international flavour, all but one of the bar-people were foreigners, including two kiwis, who are always good to see.
A little bit tiddly, we caught a flick and then went to a nice Greek restaurant in Greektown for dinner.
13/4 It was a glorious day, perfect to take the short ferry ride out to the Toronto Islands, a small grouping of islands just out from the downtown area. After the closet thing that I was going to get to a harbour cruise that I was going to get, I arrived on the islands.
They were a magical place, with one side of the island offering compelling views of the palacial skyscrapers of downtown Toronto and the other side feeling like a world away with sandy beaches leading into Lake Ontario, with nothing to break the peacefulness except the sound of birds singing.
I wandered past the cute cottages and through the parklands of the almost car-less islands and caught the ferry from the other end almost 6km away.
Back on the mainland, I walked up for a tour of the SkyDome, via the redeveloped waterfront. The SkyDome is the stadium where the Toronto Blue Jays Baseball team play in addition to many other events. The dome was an engineering feat, with the world's fully retractable roof, that can open or close in 20 minutes. The American owned facility has a hotel and four restaurants where people can view the event from.
I stopped at the grandiose headquarter of the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company), where I tagged along on a tour with a class of high school media studies students. My cover was blown when my cell-phone rang and I lost the tour party, and upon the guide's return, I was given a stern lecture about it being a private tour with public tours costing $7, etc, etc...
I wandered through downtown back home for a pleasant dinner with Jackie.
14/4 The first stop on the agenda was Casa Loma, a grand castle on a hill overlooking downtown Toronto. I took an audio tour through the magnificent establishment which in 1911, took 300 men nearly 3 years to built and cost $3.5m at the time.
A neat thing about Toronto is that there are many neighbourhoods, each with their own unique character including Greektown, China town, Little Italy, Little India, Little Portugal, Cabbage Town and many more.
As I was craving Italian food, I went to Little Italy for a delicious lunch, then onto the provincial parliament buildings and the lovely old brick buildings of the University of Toronto. I then had a look around the city's gay neighbourhood and then went to Cabbage Town, a part of town of extremes, where the bankers and lawyers rub shoulders with the unemployed and refuges live next to yuppies.
Aiesec, the organisation who I got the job at Net Nanny through, have their national committee in Toronto, in a well located office in the heart of town. I stopped for a visit and a couple of beers before going to watch the Blue Jays baseball at the SkyDome, that I was inspired by yesterday, with Aaron and Brenda who were on the committee. The Blue Jays who won the World Series in '92 and '93, went down to Seattle 11-9, after being down 9-0 after 2 innings.
I finished off the balmy evening meeting Jackie and her friends Nia and Phil for a good beer in a nice little pub in GreekTown.
15/4 It was a perfect sendoff to what had been an awesome stay in the big smoke. A pancake breakfast, eaten outside, basking in the 20° C sunshine.
After breakfast, which would be hard to beat, I packed everything up which had been in a large untidy pile for the last 5 days, said my good-byes to Jackie and, in sandals for the first time, rode down a route recommended by Jackie, past the beaches on the provided bike trails.
It was a beautiful spot and the weather was perfect, with a lot of people out in the sunshine enjoying the sand, enhanced with the irresistible smell of smoking barbecues.
I got a couple of flat tyres shortly after getting onto the highway east, due to a worn tyre, but a routine front-back tyre swap seemed to alleviate the problem.
There were a lot of traffic lights to stop at to stop at in the suburban sprawl. I finally got out into the country and as it was starting to get dark, I found a spot to camp.
The weather was exceptional and I sat outside and ate dinner with a T-shirt, but the warm air had marked the first signs of the mosquitoes, which were making a nuisance of themselves, until I pulled out some repellant which I had fortunately been sporting since Vancouver.
16/4 The last couple of days of sensational weather had been short lived as I woke today to chilly winds and drizzle.
The first leg of the journey was nothing special, but after about 20km, the road I was travelling on, crossed over the 401 expressway and headed east fairly close to the shores of Lake Ontario.
The scenery was low, rolling hills of a rural nature, with the odd barn and farm house dotting the landscape, with the most gorgeous, little towns, dating back long ago, appearing every now and then.
I had lunch at Port Hope, which was a town settled in the late 1700's which had many lovely old brick homes and buildings. There were a lot were a lot of similar towns further along, built in the same era, and to put the icing on the cake, the area was a fruit growing spot with a lot of little orchards along the way.
The weather had cleared by the time I had reached Prince Edward County, which was similar to the previous spots, but even more rural with less traffic.
It was that beautiful time of the day when the sun is setting, and I found an excellent site to pitch my tent on the fine, white sandy beach of North Beach Provincial Park. The setting for dinner was great with the waves lapping on the shore.