Boat At The Niagara Falls

Meeting people in Toronto and some minor problems

Since you seem to enjoy my stories best when stuff does not go according to plan (based on the web statistics), this story will contain some minor hiccups for your entertainment (you can go directly to the *HICCUP* section if you don’t care about the stuff that did not go wrong). But let’s start with some good stuff. The first stop after Montreal was Ottawa. The capital of Canada. Slightly traumatised by my previous parking experience, I made sure I knew where to park in Ottawa. But Ottawa isn’t a real city, it’s more of a town. Traffic was easy! Ottawa itself was interesting and the weather was perfectly sunny. So I spend the first half of the day strolling through the city stopping in parks to read a book in the sun. I went up the tower of the Parliament for a nice view and also wanted to go on the guided tour of the rest of the parliament. However, the people in front of me got the last English tour tickets of the day. So it was time to work on my French and go for the French tour. I think I understood about 1/3 of everything (partially because Jonas had already told me all the good stuff). But a large part of the audience understood nothing of the tour and were just there for the pretty building.

*HICCUP*
The last few days it had been getting pretty cold at night. I knew that this part of my trip would probably be the coldest, but instead of the normal +5 degrees at night it was now -2. In a van without heating this is pretty cold. I started putting the tent on the roof down because I was loosing too much heat through there. (Pro tip: don’t forget to open up a window, otherwise you will have a terrible headache). To make things even worse, the (paid!) shower at my Ottawa campsite had barely any warm water. So it was time to head south towards Toronto. Driving down I noticed some white spots in the bushes. The white got closer to the road and was clearly snow. Then it actually started snowing. Fun! The first stop was the 1000 Islands region. 1800 islands spread through the St. Lawrence river. I hopped over a huge suspension bridge to a island which has a border with the US. The Canadian side was supposed to have a viewing tower and loads of shops open from beginning of April. However they were closed. Next stop Kingston, a pretty town with loads of shops and a daily market. You can already guess what happened: it was closed. I was done for the day and decided to head for the campsite. Since many campsites are still closed I look up three campsites every day that should be open. I drove to number one: closed (the dates on the website are from 2015). Campsite number 2: same story. I call campsite number 3 and campsite number 1 for the next day in Toronto: no answer. Well that sucks. It’s getting late already and I really can’t find anything open. Time for a B&B
*END HICCUP*

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The Van in the snow

Proof that good things can come from bad things: the B&B was much warmer than my van that really cold night; they had a very good very hot shower; the breakfast was awesome (eggs Benedict); they let me make my own dinner that I was planning to eat in the van; on the way to the B&B I came by a fuel station that was tax free (don’t ask why, I didn’t ask either). The owners of the B&B were a very friendly couple that wanted to know everything about my plan and wanted to buy my van once I’m done.

*HICCUP #2*
The second hiccup is one of the financial kind. No, don’t worry I’m not running out of money (yet). I’m only running out of ways to pay… Problem 1: Canadian stores do not accept either of my Dutch debit cards; Problem 2: because I only just moved to the Netherlands and don’t have a job I could only get a credit card with a low limit and because of some high initial charges (some shipping stuff, buying gear), I’m at the limit of my card. Solution: pay everything in cash. Problem 3: trying 4 ATMs from 3 different banks with my 2 Dutch debit cards, I always get the message “We’re sorry but we cannot process your request”. No reason why, I just don’t get any money. I have enough money on my account, I’m not on my daily limits, my cards can be used abroad… After some more trial and error I found out that I can only get max 80 Canadian dollar per transaction (or at least 80 works, 100 and 200 doesn’t). Hurray! Money!
*END HICCUP #2*

Driving through Toronto was a different story than Montreal. The city is huge, the roads are ginormous and the traffic infinite. I followed the instructions on my navigation which send me to the express part of the highway (there were some 4 local lanes and 4 express lanes, per direction). And without any delays I got to my campsite. I did decide that I was not going to drive into the city, luckily the campsite was a 10 minute drive from the local train station. I went to the city, walked to the shore of lake Ontario and the CN tower. The Blue Jays (baseball) were playing a home game so there were loads of people to watch. In the evening I met up with Louise and Wells (Elena’s friends) and we went for dinner in the distillery district at a brew pub (too bad I still had to drive to the campsite).

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At the brew pub with Louise and Wells

The next morning I met with Nimisha, Mark, Utsab and Sue (Pratik’s whole family minus himself) to go for hot chocolate and cake. Nimisha and Mark invited me to come to the world premiere of their new documentary on Saturday. I still have some spare days left so I decided to stay for the movie. With the big premiere coming up Nimisha and Mark were very busy but Utsab and Sue invited me for lunch with one of their friends. Their friend had made some extremely good home made Indian food with rotis, cabbage, daal. Very tasty! After lunch I went up the CN tower (It’s really expensive, but I cannot skip towers…). And called it an early night.

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With Nimisha and Sue at the coffee place

Since I was now staying in Toronto for two extra nights I had an extra day to fill. There was one stop on the way during my trip where I didn’t know if I should go there. Most people said I shouldn’t: too touristy. Other people agreed with that but said I should go anyway because it is pretty. With the extra day to spend, I could go for it: Niagara Falls. When you arrive in the town called Niagara Falls you immediately notice that there is something big here. But you notice even more clearly that it USED to be big. Everything looks old, worn down and broken. The parking lot I found had a little entry gate. At the window there was a sign saying: “Please pay at the machines”. I parked my car, walked to the machines “Please pay inside the Skylon tower”. The Skylon tower is a viewing tower from the time when concrete was the prettiest thing ever and grey was a beautiful colour. Inside the building there were half empty and closed shops. I got my parking ticket and walked down towards the falls. The streets were filled with casinos, hotels and restaurants that had not seen any renovations since the 80s. Another interesting thing were the tourists: loads and loads of Japanese people (but not the standard Japanese tourists, these looked very hip and were quite young), old French and German couples and obese Americans and Canadians. For some weird reason, all the people that went on the boat kept wearing there poncho when they got off the boat. It was completely dry there so I don’t know why. The falls themselves are impressive, but you can see that the water does not flow through its natural path anymore (a sign explained that a large part of rock on top of the falls was blown up in the 60s for “safety” reasons. But more than the falls I enjoyed watching the people and the the touristic machine that has been build around the falls. I finished the day at Niagara-at-the-Lake which is a very pretty old village at lake Ontario. Form the shore you could see the skyline of Toronto on the other side.

Saturday was a beautiful sunny day. Good to walk around town: Queen Street with all the shops and restaurants, Chinatown, the University of Toronto, the Royal Museum of Ontario (too sunny to go inside). The evening was time for the world premiere of “Tempest Storm“, the documentary made by Nimisha (director) and Mark (editor). Tempest Storm is the Queen of Exotic Dancers. The documentary covers her life and long career (she performed until 2012 at age 84). Tempest herself (age 88) was at viewing and it was the first time she saw it. It was great to see someone watch a movie about their own life. After the movie it was time for the afterparty where I was introduced to all of Pratik’s family and friends. They all wanted to take pictures with me to send to him. Another unexpected meetup was that Shani (Pratik’s cousin, who I met last year while travelling through Iceland with Pratik and Sabine) was there too! It was a great night, too bad I had to leave early to take the slow train back to my campsite.

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Movie poster for Tempest Storm

Now it’s time to head back to the US. A big thanks to all the people in Toronto for showing me your city and inviting me for the world premiere, lunch, coffee, and everything else: Louise, Wells, Nimisha, Mark, Utsab and Sue! (And of course thanks to Elena and Pratik for organising the meetups from Zurich).

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Song

The song for this post: a documentary about Tempest Storm, in Canada: time for Patrick Watson with The Storm

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Maybe you’ve found other solutions by now, but it should also be possible to wire transfer money to your credit card. I did that while in the US and my student-account credit card’s limit was too conservative for buying a laptop: I had to transfer to some bank account with I believe my CC number in the comments and voilà: +€1000 credit on the card, with a €1500 limit, made €2500 spending possible.

  2. Indeed, that also did the trick for me.

    And besides that I got a free Revolut card, it’s a debit MasterCard. I transfer money from my Dutch bank account to it. The advantage is that they use the real interbank exchange rates, instead of my Dutch credit cards which always add every time 2% to the conversion rate. It can also be used to ATM, without fee to a certain limit.

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