Today is the day. Spent last evening down at my brother’s, along with my dad having a great meal at restaurant called the Madagascan Gin Palace. Quality food but I would have gone there for the name alone.
I was originally planning to fly out on the 11 September having not connected the date in my head. Having realised the significance of the date and believing that with the world’s security staff being on alert the vibes would be bad, I booked to fly out today. It didn’t save me, as Canada’s immigration and customs officials were double checking everything and it took about an hour to get through. I was concerned that Jim and Cari would not realise the reasons for the delay and would think they had missed me somehow. I needn’t have worried as a combination of traffic and heading to the wrong terminal initially meant they pulled up just as I got outside. Things looked up as we bought a case of beer on the way to the apartment and Cari told me how she had put her heart and soul into a giant pot of Chilli. Welcome to Canada……..
Jim was the first person I shared a flat with on moving to Birmingham and we got on well from the start. Despite this only being for 18 months in the mid 90’s we have stayed in touch. Since then Jim moved on to University in Glasgow, before dropping out and running most of the small comedy clubs in that city for a while. He then moved to Canada to look for new opportunities and join his parents and sister. Since arriving he has met Cari and they share a great apartment in Hamilton. Cari is great fun and has grown up locally with a huge extended family.
I decided to explore Toronto for the first couple of days of the trip, catching the local bus / train service from Hamilton. In doing so I noticed that the express train in the evening takes longer than the midday bus to do the same journey. On catching the train back I found this is because the train moves at walking pace, but it is modern, clean and comfortable.
A noticeable feature of Toronto is that you can move through most of the commercial district of town without ever emerging outdoors, the whole area is linked with a series of pedestrian and train subways. Not something I used whilst the weather is so good but I assume the winters must be harsh for this level of investment, either that or Canadians have picked up mole genes along the way.
The weekend saw a trip to Niagara Falls, one of the features of the world that you know of from an early age. It is a gorgeous and powerful sight, especially from the edge of the Horseshoe falls where you can look down on the water as it throws itself over the edge. The falls and the gorge look wonderful and it is possible to find fairly unspoilt views, however there has been rampant development all round in the form of tall hotels with a “Fall View” and Clifton Hill with its tacky attractions and snack joints (so tacky it almost goes out the otherside to become a feature in itself).
There have also been opportunities to meat a fun bunch of people, Cari’s Aunt Lynne and her best friend Shaun dropped round the night I arrived with chilled beers. Then on friday it was Jim’s sisters birthday (Sue) so I got to meet her family and Jim’s parents who I had not seen for over 6 years. I hadn’t realised that Canada produced much wine, but it does and of high quality, particularly those marked with a VQA label.
Today’s plan was to head to Montreal on the train but the price (226 Canadian dollars!!!) and journey time have put me off. Think I’ll get better acquainted with Toronto and will spend part of my savings in Chinatown.
Instead of heading to Montreal I checked into a hostel in Toronto that I had passed a few days before. It seemed a good idea to give Jim & Cari a break whilst getting a reminder of how I would be living for much of the rest of the trip. The hostel had a bar which opened at 7 so I headed down for a drink with my book. Very quickly people were chatting to me discussing trips so far and the journeys planned. Ironically several were catching the bus to Montreal tomorrow, but at a journey time of 7 hours each way I would have had to turn around almost immediately at the other end. The bar stayed open till the small hours and so did many of us still talking and occasionally dancing. A great night and I hope Danni & co enjoyed their time in Montreal.
Have got through to the departure gates of Toronto Airport on the way to New York. Changed my flight to an early one to make sure I beat Hurricane Isabel to NYC. Will add further details of Toronto later but have to thank Jim & Cari for being wonderful & tolerant hosts.