Saturday, August 5th - Depart Mackinac Island Airport, Mackinac Island MI
Arrive John C. Murno Airport, Hamilton ON Canada
Flight time - about 2 hours
Hotel for 2 nights, Hampton Inn Brantford
Rental car secured for ease of local transport
Let's see ... last we talked, my son and I were snoozing in the back seat of the plane, totally missing our chance to sing "Oh Canada" in a round as we crossed the international border.
Yep, sounds right.
Thanks to naps all around (well, not my husband of course), our flight from Mackinac Island into Canada was uneventful and passed relatively quickly. Before I knew it, we were on the ground in Hamilton, Ontario. Of course, we weren't OUT of the plane yet ... but that's another story.
By the way, I know customs has to be pretty dry so as to keep an air of professionalism but ... man. When people are traveling with a kid and it's the kid's first international trip, which the parents are obviously excited about, btw ... show a little bit of personality, eh?
Yes, I said eh. We're talking Canada now, eh? We're supposed to use that word.
With customs officially cleared, we were finally able to get out of the plane and stretch our legs, which despite all the walking we did earlier in the day at Mackinac ... stretching and standing again felt amazingly good.
After unloading the plane again, my husband journeyed out to pick up our rental car while my son and I toddled around the airport lounge wasting time. Oh! I guess I should mention, about a week before this trip my son finally started walking - hooray!
Not too long after going to get the car, my husband was back, and we loaded up to take the car to our hotel. Which I should mention, our hotel was located in the beautifully aesthetic town of Brantford. (That's sarcasm, folks).
At least we were just down the road from the Ferrero plant. So there's that.
If only they offered public tours. Or a factory store. Or a chance to swim in their vat of nutella.
Yes, I grew up watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Can you tell?
With our hotel room ready, we checked in and dropped off our luggage ... and promptly realized we had little to nothing on the agenda for the rest of the day. I don't recall exactly what we did to help burn off an evening, but I think part of it included getting some snacks and other refreshments for our hotel room and driving on a really awesome road.
Since our hotel was marvelously located in the middle of nowhere, and was therefore very quiet, it resulted in a fantastic night's sleep for all of us that evening. That meant after enjoying our hot breakfast included with our room the next morning, we were well rested and ready for our first BIG adventure of our trip: Niagara Falls.
I guess it was a little windy that day, eh?
Since we had a rental car, and our "natural alarm clock" had my husband and I up nice and early, the three of us took off driving to Niagara around 8 in the morning. This had us arriving at around 9 in the morning - right around the time that most tourists are still waking up at their hotels and having their first coffee of the day. While there was a small crowd of Asian tourists at the main viewing park of the falls (basically the street level access point on the Canadian side), my husband and I quickly realized most of the crowd present was not interested or possibly not able to exit Canada ... which meant amazingly beautiful viewing of the falls, tourist free, on the walking trail headed towards the Rainbow Bridge - which is the pedestrian bridge servicing the US/Canadian border.
Overall, I'd estimate we walked maybe 1.5 miles or so from where we parked our car (in what I'll call the tourist trap surface lot on the Canadian side) and were already at the US border. That's how easy it is to go between the US and Canada at Niagara. Here's a little map to demonstrate where we parked, and our walking route.
FYI - there's actually a pedestrian foot path that takes you past a Canadian duty free liquor shop, and right up to the walkway on the bridge. Just be sure that you have your passport with you before you exit the doors on the Canadian side ... and bring yourself fifty cents to pay the exit fee (yes, the US wants to collect two quarters from every person who walks onto "their side" of the bridge ... sigh ... Canada didn't ask for that in return ... ).
Loose change aside, I highly recommend taking this walk - for two reasons, really.
First of all, you get spectacular views of the falls from the bridge. And with fairly few tourists coming and going, you are pretty much guaranteed a clean portrait in front of the falls if you desire it.
Second, it is actually quite interesting to see the falls from both the Canadian and US sides. While the Canadian side offers the panoramic viewing of the falls (as per my two photos above), you are actually in a pretty non descript park that is packed with tourists and, sad to say, the area surrounding is somewhat dumpy. Whereas, on the US side you don't get to see the falls as well, but the area surrounding the falls has a beautiful park area and visitor's center, and it's actually kind of cool to see the rapids building up to the falls and the spray that forms ... with accompanying rainbows, of course.
I'm sure some people will wonder if I took the boat ride to the bottom of the falls, or if I saw the falls backlit a night.
The answer to both of these questions, unfortunately, is no. Having a young child and not staying nearby the falls themselves, we knew going into this visit that it would be a daytime walking trip only.
I suppose we could have explored the boating option, but at $30 or something per person, and not knowing how patient my son would be for the duration of the charter ... it didn't seem worth the investment. Regardless, I don't feel short changed by skipping the boat experience, as I felt I saw plenty of the falls by visiting both sides via foot.
After spending our morning walking the falls and surrounding parks/trails/bridge, we headed back into the tourist area on the Canadian side of the falls and had some lunch. Since my son has never been to a Rainforest Café, as exotic as that is (ahem, chain store, ahem), we decided to let him try that restaurant out. Despite the fact that Rainforest isn't exactly known for good food, I didn't really feel bad eating there, since all the options we passed on our way to and from the car were chains with relatively unhealthy or unappealing options anyway. No to mention, my son loved the experience of eating there, and couldn't stop dancing to all the Caribbean style music.
We just won't talk about his response to the twice hourly "thunder storms" ... the second of which didn't go so well once a girl at a nearby table started to cry. Oh well! At least my son recovered quickly.
After lunch, we took the 45 minute or so car drive back to our hotel and settled our son in for a nap. And since our hotel had a pool, we took advantage of that as an afternoon play activity before dinner.
Since Brantford didn't have a lot of interesting dinner options, and being that our hotel room was surprisingly upgraded to a kitchenette suite, we opted to spend our evening cooking a meal in our room. Which basically wrapped up for first full day in Canada, and brings us into day two - Toronto.
When originally started thinking about a potential trip to Niagara, we didn't realize that August 7th was a national holiday in Canada. And a pretty big one at that, since it's like the Canadian equivalent of July 4th in the US. So, on the second full day of our visit to Canada, we weren't quite sure what to expect, especially in a bigger city like Toronto. Would shops be closed? Would most tourist type activities be unavailable?
Hedging our bets, we decided to plan our visit to Toronto a little differently by avoiding traditional touristy type activities, and also opted for an early start into the city to hopefully beat the holiday rush / increased automobile traffic.
This plan worked great, as we were one of the only cars parked in the lot when we arrived, and the lot was in a fantastically central location to our chosen activity of the day - Toronto Island Park.
I will warn you, the parking we chose wasn't cheap at around $20 Canadian per car. But what big city ever has cheap parking downtown? None that I know, that's for sure!
From the lot where we parked to the ferry, it was about a 1-2 block walk. Super convenient! Within minutes of parking, we had already paid our $7 Canadian per adult to board the ferry, and were off on our adventure to Toronto Island Park.
For those of you unfamiliar with Toronto Island Park, a brief overview of the park goes like this:
(1) The park is only accessible by boat, with public ferry being the easiest method of transport. If you ride the ferry, there are three points of entry to the park - Centre, Hanlan's and Ward's.
(2) The islands are all connected, and if you walk from one end to the other of the entire park it's about a 5K distance.
(3) Once inside, there are asphalt paved trails throughout the entire park suitable for running / walking / strollers / bikes / etc.
(4) The park is largely green space with a handful of beaches scattered throughout. Centre Island does feature some additional amenities, including options for food, a small amusement park, a well manicured garden area, and a large pier looking away from downtown Toronto (the view is out over the lake, which feels like an ocean due to it's vastness).
Since we had no preference as to where to start on the island, and no plan of what we wanted to do, we took the first ferry available which dropped us at Hanlan's Point. This was actually kind of a fun place to start, since Hanlan's is near the airport, and while we were on the ferry we could watch all the activity on the Toronto Harbor and also see air traffic at the airport as well.
Being it was so early on a holiday, our 9am ferry was fairly empty as was the park itself. Aside from a handful of teen girls who quickly departed from the ferry, and a few occasional bikers, we didn't see much of anyone on our first mile or so of exploring the island. Though we did see one particularly entertaining sight:
The majority of our first mile or so of walking (or around 2K, for you Canadian folks), was largely just lake views and green space.
Finally around the 1 or 1.5 mile mark we found a little park area and took a break from our walk.
Since the play equipment at the park wasn't exactly toddler friendly (it was intended for slightly older and more mobile children), after a brief visit we continued on. It wasn't long until we reached the Centre Pier and nearby gardens.
At this point, after literally taking baby steps on the first half of the island, and after viewing the area around the pier, it was already 11am. Knowing we were on a limited timeline until our son needed to eat, we opted to skip the remaining walk to the far end of the island and started heading in towards the Centre ferry point.
Along the way we passed the Centre Island amusement park, where I particularly liked the landscaping around the log ride.
I also liked these very interesting tulip sculptures, that were actually chairs. If you look closely at the far right, you can see someone sitting in one.
Finally, after taking a non direct route to the ferry pier in order to see the entire amusement park and garden areas, we made it to the ferry.
Since our ticket purchased earlier in the morning included round trip service, we simply boarded and were off. And of course, it goes without saying, the views on the ride back were spectacular.
As you might guess, based on the slightly overcast look of most of the photos I'm posting from Toronto Island Park, shortly after we departed the ferry it began to rain. That was pretty unfortunate for us, since we had a bit of a walk to get to our chosen lunch spot of the day - The Works Gourmet Burger Bistro. At least the rain was manageable, despite our lack of umbrella. And we saw an interesting sight along the way to lift our dampened spirits.
I don't know. Don't ask. But did you notice ... the dogs are all "howling" to a golden bone at the top of the fountain?
Anyway, our walk in the rain was worth it. The Works had excellent food and a great assortment of locally brewed taps. Plus, I got to eat my first authentic Canadian poutine - which I would guess must be fairly authentic given Toronto's proximity to Montreal, and the fact that we had some non English speaking Quebecers at the table behind us.
Yeah, it was good. I don't care what you think. (Click on that link, btw, it's worth it)
After lunch, we tried without success to find a Canadian trinket shop to bring home some souvenirs. I guess due to the holiday they must have mostly been closed. Oh well, as you can see - we survived.
Being that it was nearing nap time once again, and wanting to avoid holiday traffic leaving Toronto, after lunch we packed up shop and headed back to the hotel again.