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ONTARIO

TORONTO

Toronto is a fabulous town and a world class city in every respect. Itís a big modern city yet it has a lot of wonderful of old historic buildings. The people are quite friendly and the city is very safe compared to U.S. standards although crime appears to be on the rise even in T-town. The mass transit system (subways, light rail vehicles, busses and trolleys) is outstanding. In fact you can just park your car if you’re gonna HQ in the downtown area.

To get acquainted with the brilliant TTC mass transit system, click here.

Attractions in Toronto include the incredible Hockey Hall of Fame, which we highly recommend, the CN Tower (again, a top recommendation and one of the tallest free-standing erections in the world), the Canadian National Exhibition and various ethnic neighborhoods. It was once explained to me by Dick Symth (he was a big radio news guy on radio station CHUM who was kind enough to offer me a job a couple of times) that unlike America, Canada is not a melting pot. It’s a pot of un-stirred ethnic pockets. So you’ll find a Greektown, Chinatown and even a Zulu Town in Toronto--or at least they used to have one there. There are outstanding international restaurants and the Indian restaurants serve up the hottest food we’ve ever eaten anywhere!

If you live in Michigan or New York, you can cross the border and take VIA Rail to Toronto or elsewhere in the country.  Great service. Affordable rates.  If you pop for first class they serve meals complete with wine right at your seat during the journey.  From Windsor the route takes you along the lovely Canadian shores of Lake St. Clair and on up through Chatham, London, etc.  This trip is especially rewarding during the fall when the leaves are bursting with color.

Hotel choices are endless with most of the major chains represented.  Over the years we've lodged at the Hilton, Sheraton, Delta Chelsea, etc., but our favorite place is the Marriott at Eaton Centre.  It's great for shopping and leads directly to the massive underground shops of T-town.

Not that it matters to most but there are two Hard Rock Cafes in Toronto.  The one in the downtown area on Yonge Street was the first Hard Rock in North America.  The second cafe is located at Sky Dome.

Dining is a real treat in Toronto.  I wish I had reviewed more restaurants over the years.  We've had excellent seafood, Indian food, Italian food, Chinese food and Greek cuisine.  In fact at one place in their little Greektown the waitress didn't speak any English.  The owner, who spoke very little English, personally took us into the kitchen to point out what was being offered that day.  At one point he showed us some sort of meat and said, in broken English:  "ra-beet...ra-beet."  He then said:  "You know, ah, bugs bunny!"  Okay so it was rabbit.

During a recent trip to Toronto we did review an excellent restaurant called Bangkok Garden.  To read our review of the restaurant go here.

One slight disappointing note about T-Town.  On a visit there during the Christmas/New Year holiday in '98/'99, we found some of the cab drivers to be downright rude!  What are they doin'...recruiting these guys from Boston?  Maybe they're sending them to Boston for rudeness training!

NIAGARA FALLS

It's funny.  People always needled me when they asked if we had been to Niagara Falls.  They would quip: "Geez, you've been to China, Indonesia, Fiji but never Niagara Falls!"  Well we resolved that situation with a spring trip to the falls.  At least it was supposed to be spring.  We left our Detroit area home on Friday, April 1st, and took the Canadian route (Sarnia, London, Hamilton and then on in) arriving late in the afternoon.  It was cloudy and probably 42 degrees.  We awakened the next morning to a raging snowstorm and it only let up for an hour or so for the entire weekend.  I'd estimate that we probably got 15 inches and they were predicting a storm total of closer to 20.  The drive back home on the 403, 402 and 401 was nothing short of treacherous.  We almost bought the farm several times.  Blizzard conditions existed with extremely heavy snow and winds howling at 55 to 60 miles an hour.  Finally as we arrived in London the storm abated.  And amazingly when we crossed back into the U.S. over the Blue Water Bridge, it was sunny and 60.  Man, what a difference a few hundred kilometers makes.  By the way, Canadians pronounce kilometer "kilo-meter" and not "ka-lometer."  Just thought you otta know!

Our hotel was the beautiful Marriott.  It sat right on top of Horeshoe Falls.  The hotel was fantastic and the staff very efficient and courteous.  The breakfast buffet, while adequate, could have had more selections, however.

Niagara Falls was pretty much what I had expected.  A mix of fabulous high rise hotels and a lot of small "mom and pop" type establishments.  Even though this was "off season" our hotel was full as were most in our area.  Traffic was bad and parking was tight.  I'd hate to be here during the "high" season.  Getting around must be downright impossible.

The best part of the trip was just sitting in front of the window in the room, nursing a cocktail, and watching the relentless falls.  Billions and billions of gallons cascade down leaving a big mist over the falls most of the time.  At night the falls are illuminated.

The weather was so horrendous with all the heavy snow blasting down on us that we only got a few good snapshots of the falls when the action let up for a brief hour or so.  Click here to view those pictures.

There are two casinos and quite a few restaurant opportunities on the Canadian side of the falls.  But to be honest with you, most of the offerings appeared to be cheap pizza and Chinese joints.

NIAGARA FALLS RESTAURANT REVIEWS

The Keg Steakhouse & Bar, a chain of mainly Canadian restaurants (they have some in the U.S., too) was outstanding.  There are at least two in the Niagara Falls area and the one we selected was on the 9th floor of the Embassy Suites Hotel with a great view of the falls -- although the relentless snow obscured the view.  This is a large restaurant and it was jam packed with patrons.  The starters and main courses were just super.  Most at our table had steaks.  Our son-in-law went with fresh Mahi Mahi and loved it.  Our grandchildren threw whatever tid-bits of food they could find! We've eaten at other Kegs in Canada and can highly recommend them.  And I really appreciate one thing about the Niagara Falls Keg at the Embassy Suites Hotel.  They didn't engage in price gouging.  Many places are guilty of doing this in this area.  Their prices at the Keg, as far as I could tell, were the same here as they were anywhere else at Kegs in Canada.

A Fine Kettle of Fish did not measure up.  I had done some homework on the internet before setting out on this trip and came across this place.  They web site looked great and the menu was most tempting.  I especially liked the fact that it was off the beaten tourist path, very off the beaten path.  We took several wrong turns getting to this place but finally we pulled into the parking lot.  From the front it looked like a tiny fish market.  Then as we pulled around to the side, we saw the entrance to what appeared to be a pretty good sized restaurant.  When a fish joint has it's own fresh seafood market, that's usually a good sign.  As we entered this place it was painfully obvious that we were the only tourists in the joint.  Most patrons were older Canadians and the place was packed.  Both good signs.  Lots of local eaters and nearly all the tables filled.

Our waitress was kind enough and two of us ordered ice cold 20 ounce schooners of Molson Canadian beer.  Turns out this would be the best part of the meal.  We then placed orders for appetizers.  Quahog clams got my immediate attention.  I've eaten clams all over the world and while I love Quahogs, I've never seen them on a restaurant menu.  By definition these are large clams and while I like 'em steamed (we used to dig our own in Florida) most restaurants grind them up and use them in chowder.  But I decided to try 6 of them.  As soon as they arrived hiding under a plate to keep them hot I smelled a foul odor.  Two of them were bad and really bad.  And they were not large Quahogs but some were little necks the others cherrystones.  (I might explain that these are all the same clam -- it's just the size that changes the name.  The small ones are little necks, mid-size are the very desirable cherrystones, and the big boys are Quahogs.)

Shortly after my clams arrived we heard a loud crash.  The waitress showed up explaining that she had dropped some of our other appetizers, namely cheese sticks for the kids to throw.  Finally they arrived along with fried calamari.  The cheese sticks were passable but the squid was rubbery and most of it went uneaten.

For our mains I ordered a fried seafood platter and it was okay at best.  The shrimp were okay, the scallops were actually pretty good but the fish fillet was fishy and nasty.  My son-in-law ordered fish and chips and was extremely disappointed.  He took a couple of bites out of it and then gave up. My daughter ordered what the menu billed as premium snow crab and it the legs were the skinniest I've ever seen.  I could go on but at least on this particular night, this place left a lot to be desired and the price wasn't cheap.  I'd pass on this restaurant if I were you.

Weather was so bad that we didn't get very many good shots of the falls, but if you'd like to see a couple of them, click here.

As you explore this tightly packed tourist choked town you'll find all sorts of summer arcades, some of which are open in the winter.  But we noticed that just about everywhere you went you were charged for something or other.  Just parking to dine at the Hard Rock Cafe cost $15 Canadian.  So if you'll go you'll need to take plenty of cash.  But the falls alone are worth the price of admission.

OTTAWA

Ottawa as a bit of a surprise.  Having been a fan of the CBC show "Royal Canadian Air Farce" on Canadian t.v., I was expecting a dingy, old run-down type of town.  Instead it was vibrant, modern, and surprisingly ethnic in flavor.   We only spent one night there but we will be back. Only one complaint.  Unlike most other major Canadian cities, the train station is way away from the city centre so you've got to catch a cab into the heart of town.  The city had an overall good feel about it.

RESTAURANT REVIEW

Mama Teresa was an outstanding find and we came upon it by accident.

WINDSOR

Those living in the Detroit area are blessed with a wonderful little suburb.  We like to call it "our own little country."  Windsor, known also as the Rose City, lies just across the Detroit River from downtown Detroit and offers wonderful and safe shopping and dining opportunities.  And with the favorable exchange rate it's a pretty good deal.

To get to Windsor there are two main options -- the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel or the Ambassador Bridge.  From time to time the tunnel can become busy with a long wait and the bridge sometimes becomes a "car tangled spanner."

Since the 9-11 attacks immigration and customs agents on both sides of the river have gotten a little tougher but that's understandable.  Just be sure to be polite leaving and  re-entering the U.S. and have documents showing proof of citizenship ready.  You don't need a passport (although we usually take ours with us) but you will need a birth certificate with a raised seal and some sort of picture I.D. like a drivers license.  A drivers license alone is not proof of residence.

As I mentioned, be polite to the immigrations and customs people.  One time I had gone to Windsor with a bunch of friends and I was the designated driver.  As we came back under the tunnel to re-enter the U.S. the officer leaned his face in the car and asked for our citizenship.  I immediately applied "American" but my slightly inebriated friend riding shotgun blurted out "Libyan" and off we went to the "little room" for a couple of hours of questioning!

One "must do" restaurant in Windsor is the legendary TBQ - Tunnel Barbecue.  Is it the best barbecue in North America?  Absolutely not!  But it's a long time tradition. Their ribs are not slow smoked over live hardwood.  They are roasted on a big rotisserie in clear view of one of the windows.  And the sauce is extremely different, too.  Read our review of the TBQ here.

Many people cross the river to tempt Lady Luck at Casino Windsor.  The facility comes with a nice hotel that's really a bargain on weekdays.  We've gotten rates as low as $55 U.S. a night for a beautiful room with a Detroit skyline view across the Detroit River.

If you're ever in the Detroit area and would like to sample the delights of Windsor, we highly recommend it.  And if you love Italian food, be sure to take in Erie Street!

LAKE OF THE WOODS

This is one of the great treats in Canada - freshwater fishing for walleye, northerns, small mouth bass and the undisputed king of freshwater fishing -- the mighty muskie.

For us, the game plan has always been to drive on this trip crossing into Canada at International Falls.  Once on the Canadian side we always drove to Kenora.  From there we either took a motorboat launch to our isolated fish camp or flew in via seaplane.

Lake of the Woods is a massive lake and fish camps provide Indian guides to help get you to the fish.  We usually stayed at Crow Rock but there are dozens and dozens of humble but adequate fish camps.  Just go into Google and type in "Lake of the Woods Fish Camps" and you'll get an idea of what's out there.

One of the great joys in life...for a fisherman, anyway...is a fresh shore lunch.  After a morning of angling boats from the same resort meat at a pre-designated island out in the middle of nowhere and the Indian guides clean some of the fish you've caught that day, build a campfire, and then batter and cook those incredibly fresh walleye filets in hot lard.  Yup - hot lard.  There's nothing like it.  They usually fry up some potatoes or open a can of baked beans to go along with your fresh fish. In the odd---almost unheard of---event that you are unsuccessful in catching any fish during the morning session---the guides always come prepared with a few cans of Spam, just in case.  Personally, we never had to resort to it.

During the summer it stays light until almost 11 o'clock up that far north.  One time while casting giant plugs for muskies around 10:30 we had problems with bats.  As we'd cast these huge plugs bats would grab them and hold onto them briefly - just long enough to drop them in trees along the shoreline and our poor guides would have to climb up the trees and fetch them because they weren't cheap.

We portaged up to a little lake called Bass Lake.  We had to haul our boat, engine, gasoline and supplies over quite a long distance.  We left gasoline supplies up there for subsequent visits but the dog gone black bears seemed to always tip the glass jugs over and break them.  Black bears are very common but not to worry.  We've found them to be much more scared of us than we are of them.

One thing that you'll have to deal with on a fishing vacation up here are the bugs!  Ticks are a problem and mosquitoes are about the size of a B-2 bomber.  Take lots of bug spray with Deet and you should be okay.  But a nightly inspection for ticks all over your body is a good idea.

All meals are taken care of at most fishing camps and while not lavish, they are pretty good.


 

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