Wednesday 31st Oct
We wake up to a fresh snow fall, not surprising given the weather last night. We are disappointed we missed the northern lights though. We don’t have to be up too early this morning as the flight is not until about 5pm, but we will have to start making our way to the airport around 1pm. As we had our breakfast more snow fell outside. The day is not as cold as yesterday, but we are told a big storm is brewing, so it seems we are getting out of town at the right time. Our trip to New York is in doubt as Hurricane Sandy has hit, and wide spread damage is being reported.
We stored our luggage and Tony went for a walk to the hot baths for a last swim and sauna, and to get a few more photos around town. Cynthea stayed back at the hostel to try and do some research on the computer, but too many others want to use it for her to get much of a chance.
At 1pm the minibus collects us to go to the bus depot, we are surprised that the depot is just down at the bottom of the hill. We hade been taken around in circles when we arrived, so we had no idea we were so close. When we leave for the airport around 1.30 it is very cold out, but no wind, snow is falling lightly, and there is ice on the sea shore.
We arrive at the airport with a lot of time to spare. There is no queue at check in, and we have plenty of time to look around once we have been through security. There is an optician at the airport, you can be tested and have new designer glasses within half an hour. Tony considers it for just a moment, but the ISK70,000 price tag is a bit too much.
We head to the departure gate, and it is a shambles there. The gate itself is cordoned off until boarding, and there is not a lot of room for people to wait. It is made worse with people from a couple of flights waiting in the area. Iceland Air finally opens up the cordon, and we are crammed into an even smaller area, before being allowed up the stairs. There is a bit of a walk to the aircraft, but there is no control over boarding, so people at the front of the plane are holding up the rest of us while they fluff around with bags in overhead lockers.
We fly out about 5pm, the Boeing 757-200 flight takes around six hours, our clocks go back four hours (Ontario is still on daylight savings), and we arrive in Toronto at 7pm. We order a coffee and snacks on the flight, but for some reason our debit travel won’t work, so the hostess says she will come back and sort it later. As she moves up the cabin the hostess accidentally knocks Tony’s coffee into his lap. It was hot, but Tony was more worried that it would run into his laptop and wreck it. She is very apologetic, and gets some paper towels, but there is still a big brown stain on the front of his pants. It could have been worse, the stain could have been at the back!
The staff at Pearson airport are very nice, and we get a wonderful welcome. However immigration and customs are rude and barely speak to us. We have a long wait, around fortyfive minutes, for our luggage. At customs there is only one staff member on the exit to check everyone’s declaration cards. He looks at ours and “thumbs” over his shoulder to indicate us to go, not even a smile, hello or welcome. Carol and Don waiting for us in the arrivals lounge with a big sign to welcome us, but the sign is facing the wrong way, haha. Their daughter Angelica made the sign for us.
On the drive back to Burlington we see lots of homes decorated for Halloween, but it is too late for the trick or treaters to visit now. Spooks and carved pumpkins are everywhere, we knew that Halloween was really big over here, but we still we were not quite prepared for how big.
Carol has got special menus planned for our visit. We are told we have to have ribs while we are here, and there will be a Thanksgiving Dinner, seeing as we have missed the real one (Canada celebrates about a month before the USA, they will have theirs while we are in San Francisco). The five cats are taking a bit of getting used to visitors, but a couple of them have come over for a pat. Tony says one looks like a grey Garfield, he is very big and fluffy.
We have a late supper, and talk into the night, we head to bed around 1am, but the body clock is still on UK time, it is 5am back there, we feel a tad worn out!
Thursday 1st November
We have had a hectic few days, and it will be nice just to sit and chat, with the occasional wander out and about. We go to a camera store, but they do not have anyone who can look at the faulty camera (it does still work, just not as well as it should). We go to a chain store to see what they have on offer (Angelica works at one of their branches, we might get something decent with a good discount). If he could get his head around photography he would consider a more upmarket model. He picks up a Canon with a touch screen, it is the next model after his other one, but they have dropped a lot from it, and the zoom is only 5x, but it was all he could afford at the time.
Tony checks the bank account and is annoyed to find the car rental company in Windermere has placed a £150 bond on the credit card without telling us, so he sends a terse email asking for an immediate refund. It took them a good couple of weeks to refund it.
On Friday Don and Carol take us to the university in Guelph, about an hour away, to collect their daughter Marianna. We get a tour of the campus before heading back home.
Carol takes us shopping. We call into a Bulk Barn store that has lots of chocolate and cake decorating things for Cynthea, and she buys some moulds and a chocolate mould kit.
At the supermarket ribs are on special, guess what we are having for tea? We buy a few new fruits to try as well - dragon fruit (red skin, and pale yellow with black seeds inside), star fruit (green inside and out, and is star shaped when sliced), and cactus fruit called a prickly pear (green on the outside, and deep red inside). Tony warns Cynthea about handling the prickly pear too much, but she tells him the prickles have been removed. Tony says she still needs to be careful. We had them for dessert that night, though we really aren’t too sure how they should be served, so we just ate them raw. We didn’t find them unpleasant, but probably wouldn’t rush to have them again. Cynthea is itching as tiny cactus needles have gotten into her hands. Tony has a look at the supermarket receipt, and sees that is sorted into categories – meat, seafood, produce, bakery, grocery, etc, and wonders why they feel the need to do that.
On Saturday Don takes us over to Newmarket to see a relation of Cynthea’s, we are certainly travelling the right direction, the traffic on the other side of the freeway is more like a giant parking lot. Don makes a note to avoid this route on the way back. Cynthea met Cathy and Ian through the ancestry website. They are not exactly sure which link is the correct one, but there are two possible matches. We have a wonderful lunch (chicken) and really enjoy the afternoon. Don picks us up and we head back to Burlington. He looks at an alternative route home but the on ramp is at a standstill, so he decides to try our luck on the 401. We hope that whatever was holding things up this morning has cleared, but unfortunately that was not the case. The traffic is moving very slowly, and it takes us an hour longer than normal to get home.
Accommodation is booked for four nights in New York. We decide to go despite the hurricane damage, and hope that things are running better when we get there. A room at the YMCA is expensive, (they are obviously not so affected by the hurricane that they need to discount room costs), we are at the south west side of Central Park. It looks to be fairly close to Times Square, Broadway, etc, but it is hard to tell on some maps, especially if you are not sure of the scale! The website we booked through has a price guarantee, and Tony later finds a cheaper option. He is sceptical of their claims, especially given all the hoops you have to go through, and of course they want to see the site for themselves. The problem Tony has there is that the site has a limited number of beds at that price, and if they take too long to check it, the proof has gone. He takes a pdf copy of the page and sends that in with his claim. They accept it, and refund $28.
Clocks go back an hour tonight.
Sunday 4th November
We have two friends coming over for lunch today. Wendy and Sharon have known Tony for about eleven years, along with Carol they were all part of an online chat group (Coronation St). We have kept in touch over the years, and it was good to finally meet in person. We had a great afternoon.
Carol takes us to a BulkBarn store, and Cynthea stocks up on more chocolate moulds (CA$35, NZ$42). There is more choice here than at home, and it is a lot cheaper too. It looks like we will have to send another parcel home!
Monday 5th (Guy Fawkes isn’t commemorated in Canada)
We go to Walmart, but don’t see any “Walmartians” here. We have a quick look around, but we are not that impressed, we guess that we are well used to these big stores now. Tony has a look at the Tshirts, and cannot resist the one with Darth Vader on it, asking “Who’s your Daddy?”
We then go to the mall where Carol works at a jewellery store, and Angelica works at a mobile phone shop, the two stores are just across from each other. There is a huge Hallmark store, and we just have to go in there. Cynthea used to buy their annual Christmas decorations, but they are not stocked at home any more, it is probably a price thing as they had become very expensive. The price is not much better here. We buy a few tree decorations, and get Nadine a birthday present. We are definitely going to have to send a parcel home in the next few days.
We book our tickets to New York on Megabus US$130 ($163), we will leave Toronto on around midnight on the 14th, it will take about 10 hours to get to New York.
Carol takes us to Michaels, a specialist cake decorating store. She has coupons for discounts and Cynthea is keen on seeing what cake pans they have. Carol scores a bargain, several actually, when the shop has huge $2 mystery bags to clear out a lot of Halloween stock. Cynthea has a hard time deciding what to get, there is a problem with lack of room in our packs. While we are in the store a couple of customers ask Cynthea where things are, she shows the first chap what he wanted, and explained that she doesn’t work there. When it happened a second time she asked the woman why she thought she was a staff member. The woman tells her it was because Cynthea is not wearing a jacket (we didn’t think it was that cold out, and it was only a short walk to the store).
Cynthea decides on a couple of cake tins, one is a 3D bear, it is sitting up when baked. The other has a hollow heart shape through the centre. There is a lot more that Cynthea would just love to bring home… We call at a Shoppers drug mart and get a few more chocolate moulds, and head home before we have to buy another suitcase. We call at the Post Office on the way, but prices are quite high to send a small parcel, so we will have a rethink on what goes, and how. Carol says that it will be cheaper to send from the States, but then we have the hassle of carting it with us and finding a Post Office.
It is time to leave Burlington, the last few days have whizzed by. Don drives us to Etobicoke, where we will stay with Joanne and Michael. Joanne flatted briefly with Tony in Roxburgh, that was over thirty years ago, and we have stayed in touch ever since. Their two girls, Lauren and Alyssa, live away from home, so we wont get to see them this trip.
Wednesday 7th November
Cynthea needs her hair cut, the first since her “baldy trim” in February. Joanne and Tony leave her at the hairdressers and take Mini, Joanne’s whippet, for a walk in the park. We get back to find Cynthea has gone, and it doesn’t take long to find her along the road in another cake decorating shop, the same one Joanne took us to when we were last here in 1995. After that visit we had to buy a new suitcase (yes, seriously!). We are surprised at the prices in this store, they are just a few dollars more than the “special” price we paid at the Michaels store. Rip off bastards. There is not a lot more here for Cynthea, well not that we can fit into our already over full bags, so she just buys a couple of small moulds. The X-rated ones stay on the shelf.
Cynthea is not happy with the hair cut, especially as she told the hairdresser that she has trouble getting a decent cut. The hairdresser replied that she had been cutting hair for 30 years, and knew what she was doing, and then proceeded to do the opposite of what was asked. CA$18 for a bad cut, and there was no tip!
Thursday, 8th November.
Joanne, Cynthea and Tony go to the historic Distillery district, in downtown Toronto. The Gooderham and Worts Distillery was founded in 1832, and by the late 1860s was the largest distillery in the world. These days the historic buildings are home to numerous stores, cafes and restaurants. One section is dedicated to artists’ studios, there are about three floors of them. It was an interesting visit, and we saw some amazing works. There is a huge sculpture in the square called Still Dancing, by New Yorker Dennis Oppenheim, it looks like a giant kitchen whisk and an upside down funnel, which is perched on top of a couple of half circles. The “whisk” looks like it lights up, and people can walk underneath some of it. A massive Christmas tree is ready to go up, though these days it is more likely to be called a holiday tree. It seems to be a popular place for child carers, we see several with four seater pushchairs, we haven’t seen those before.
Flight bookings are made from New York to San Francisco, and on to Los Angeles. We are not sure what New York airport to travel from, it is not straightforward to get to either of them. Public transport looks to be complicated, using several buses and trains, so we will opt for a shuttle service. We will check it out once we get to New York. Virgin has a good price from JFK, US$168 ($211) each, and our bags are another US$25 ($31) each. We are travelling a few days before Thanksgiving, so there is not a lot to choose from, but the price we pay seems reasonable compared to some on offer.
With Thanksgiving happening there will be days when it is really difficult to get to Los Angeles, or anywhere for that matter. We decide to travel on the Friday or Saturday, as the really heavy travel will be the Sunday. Southwest has flights on the Friday from San Francisco to Los Angeles for US$68 ($81) each, including luggage.
Friday 9th November
The big news today is that Tony’s sister-in-law, Karen has accepted a position as Deputy Principal at an International Charter School in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, southwest Siberia! She will leave Whangarei early in January, it will be a hell of a shock to go from a New Zealand summer to a Siberian winter! Tony’s brother, Jeff, will follow in March.
We drive over to Burlington for a quick visit. Murphy’s law kicked in, and the power cord that Tony ordered for the laptop arrived the day after we left Carol and Don’s. We take our parcel to the Post Office, it is an expensive exercise, CAD$19 ($24) and that is surface post. It will be mid January before we see it again. Oops, the Christmas tree decorations are inside. Oh well, there is always next year.
We go to (another) Walmart to pick up Joanne’s Christmas cards, we tell her just to give us ours now, and save the postage. At the door there is a big inflatable snowman waving at everyone, it is taller than Cynthea, even without the top hat. CA$75, but it won’t fit in the packs and the last parcel has been sent home.
Back at Joanne’s Cynthea has a go with the icing set she bought a couple of days ago, she uses different coloured chocolate in the moulds, and places an Oreo biscuit (oops, we mean cookie), in the centre, and ices over that with coloured chocolate. They look impressive, but the chocolate that came with the kit is very sweet. We “had” to use it up though, it was just more weight in the bags.
Cynthea has sent a few requests to Couchsurfing members in San Franciso. It is over Thanksgiving weekend so we are not holding our breath. When we get replies they are all unable to host, so she puts a general notice out there and we will see what happens. Tony decides that with the bad weather in Yosemite it will be better to take a tour than risk driving ourselves. A day tour is available through Extranomical, it also includes a trip to Alcatraz, and costs US$348 ($438) for the two of us. A bit more than we budgeted for, but we feel we will learn and see more this way. Yosemite will be a long day, pick up around 6.30am, back around 8.30pm, and we will travel a good 600km.
We have a meal out a Mamma Martinos tonight. We have been here before, in 1995. Hayden (then aged 6), went over to the fountain in the restaurant and picked up a handful of coins – “Look, free money!” he told us. There is a line out the door, but it is fairly fast moving. The same family still owns the restaurant, although the parents have passed on. The owner greets everyone in the queue and chats while we wait. The food is great, and we leave “happiness filled”. We forgot to get a photo of us by the fountain.
Saturday 10th November
We all head into Toronto to visit the Steam Whistle brewery in the downtown area, near the CN Tower. There is no going up the tower today though, the top of the tower is hidden in the mist. The brewery is housed in an historic railway building that is part of the Toronto Railway Heritage centre.
The heritage centre has a lot to see, a roundhouse (where locomotives were serviced), working turntable, old steam engines, coal towers. All very interesting, but this is a whistle stop tour, we are here for the beer.
Three former employees of the Upper Canada Brewing Company started the brewery. The original name for the beer was going to be "Three Fired Guys Brewing Company" since they were all fired from the brewery when it was purchased by Sleeman’s. However they chose Steam Whistle Brewing, because steam rushing from a factory's whistle signals the end of the workday, it’s beer o’clock! Embossed at the bottom of every Steam Whistle bottle is "3FG" an inside joke, referring to the "Three Fired Guys".
Michael was given four tickets as a gift, so we get to go on the tour for free. We have a short wait for the tour, and make use or our free glass of beer while we wait. The bar area has an art display around the wall, an initiative of the owners. They charge to artists to display their work, the fee is one piece of art from the work on sale. They have quite the collection upstairs in the office. The current works are an amazing set of photographs that have merged a current photo with one of the same area taken several years ago, a mix of the old and the new, in sepia and colour.
Joanne takes a photos of “Chuck”, a toy yellow sneaker that is a geocaching trackable. Geocaching is a sort of treasure hunt, you get given clues and a GPS location to find a hidden cache. Sometimes there are things to collect or swap, and sometimes there are trackables. Chuck is coming with us to NZ, where we will leave him for someone to find and take on another journey. We will take photos on the way and his progress is logged on the geocache website. There are a lot of caches near our place in Dunedin, so it should be easy enough to find a spot for him to hide.
On with the tour! We start with a bottle of beer and are issued radio headsets. We are given the history of the company, and are told that they have one aim, “to do one thing really, really well”. That is why they make only the one brew, a pilsener lager that they package in distinctive green glass bottles. They only use four natural ingredients: spring water; hops from Germany; barley and yeast. We are given a jar of hops, and our guide says we can try them if we are game, but warns they are very bitter. Tony tries one, just a wee nibble, and she was right. They actively recover the bottles for reuse, and Joanne gets the question correct – bottle caps are the hardest things to remove from the bottle when it is cleaned. Her reward is to pull the chain and blow the steam whistle, which she gleefully does several times. At the end of the tour we have another beer, this touring business is thirsty work.
Tea is cooked on the bbq, a “beer can” chicken. Michael says they have heard of it before, but never tried it. It is delicious, and they will be having that again.
Tony, Michael and Joanne head away with Mini for a walk in the park. The weather is staying fine, and there is no wind, so it is a pleasant walk.
Some Couchsurfing replies have came back as unavailable as people are away for thanksgiving. Cynthea puts out a general message to see what pops up.
This morning Greg is coming over to collect us. We are staying with him and Cindy, and their two sons (Cameron and Jaret), in Pickering for the night. Greg was with Joanne when they came to NZ and flatted with Tony in Roxburgh for a few weeks, waaay back in the 1980’s.
We head downtown to the CN Tower. When we were last here Cynthea wasn’t able to walk on the glass floor, so we are going to give it another go. There is a bit of a wait to go up, but there is no queue if you are going for a meal, and entry to the observation floor (normally CA$32, plus tax) is included if you buy a main course. It is well past lunchtime so we decide to do that. The food is wonderful, we enjoy a long lunch in the revolving restaurant. There is a bit of a scramble when the waiter knocks a glass of water over. At 350m (1150ft) the view is just amazing, but we can see that the weather closing in.
We go down to the glass floor, at 346m (1122ft) many are plain terrified at the prospect of standing on it. Tony and Greg manage without a problem. Cynthea takes a little time to get there, but is fine once she does it. We are talking to a girl from Australia, she wants to walk on the glass floor, but is she terrified. Cynthea tells her that was her 17 years ago, and she regrets not doing it. We talk her out on to the glass, she does it, but is not on there for long. At least she did it, but there is no photo, so she stands with her feet over the edge and takes that photo. The size of the glass floor has been reduced since we were there, apparently it was too big and scary for people at that size. It still is for a lot of people. We cannot go outside because the weather has packed up, and it is too windy. The Edgewalk is also closed, not that we would be doing that again, once is enough (Auckland, 2010, at a height of 200m).
We drive to Greg and Cindy’s home in Pickering. Cindy is just finishing work, the Cameron and Jaret are due home shortly. Rob calls over to briefly say hello. Tony met him when he was with Greg in London last year. We have a bbq tea tonight, delicious.
Tuesday 13th November
It is a cool day, but at least it is dry. The cold wind is a bit on the lazy side though, going through you instead of around you. Tony sees snow on the roof, but Greg says is it just frost. Tony reckons it is a bloody deep frost. Greg takes us for a drive down to the lake and around the Pickering area. Our first stop is under the towering cliffs, Greg tells us that there are problems with erosion, and some of the properties are losing land. We have a good walk around the area, but it is bitterly cold. We have to watch where we walk too, there are quite a few Canada Geese about, we are told they are protected, but a nuisance, and nothing but a “poop” machine. Greg drives us around the area a bit, and then takes us over to the Pickering nuclear power plant.
We have had an email from a Couchsurfer near San Francisco, Jen has asked us to stay with her and her daughter, Ruby, and join them for Thanksgiving with friends of the family. We have a look at her profile and accept, she lives in Fairfax, Marin County, about an hour out of town by bus. We will stay for two nights.
We spend a bit of time trying to book a hostel for our first few days in San Francisco. We have trouble only because it is a big city and we don’t want to be stuck miles out, or in a really dodgy area, but it is pricey in the city centre. We settle for a hostel near Union Square, some of the reviews have concerns about the area, but others say there is no problem. We find out after we book that the NZ$169 price didn’t include 15.5% sales tax and a hotel tax. Bastards, it should be compulsory to include all these costs, it is not as though we can avoid the charges.
Tonight we have tea at a Chinese restaurant, a fantastic buffet meal, there is so much to choose from. We have a great night, and all too soon it is time to go.
Greg drops us at the bus station around 11pm. We had been told check in was 15 minutes before departure, but we are not sure what the process is compared with the UK. Anyway, we wanted to leave home in plenty of time just in case there were delays. Dundas Square look a bit like Times Square, all lit up with huge billboards. It is only a block from the bus station, so Tony walks back up there for a better look and to take photos. There is a huge Christmas Tree made of L.E.D. lights, oops, it is not a Christmas Tree, it is a Holiday Tree. This PC crap is getting out of hand. It is even getting difficult to find a card that wishes people Merry Christmas, instead it is Happy Holidays.