O, Canada: Road Trip to Niagara and Toronto

Sometimes everything life throws at you takes its toll and you just need to go somewhere. Even if only for a day or two. Your eyes need something fresh to look upon, your spirit needs to feel like it’s free of everything weighing it down.

That was me last weekend, and my significant other, Justin, too. After months of pestering him to order a passport, it finally arrived, and we decided to cross the American border into Canada for an overnight stay. Niagara Falls and Toronto are both easy-to-reach places from where I am in metro Detroit, so we decided to take a mini vacation to ease our troubled and stressed minds.

One word to describe this trip: fog. Fog so dense in places you really couldn’t see an object until you were right next to it. Freaky to drive in during the day, scary to drive in at night. The weather did hinder our trip just a bit, but we made the most of what we could.

A few hours after crossing into Canada and dealing with a really cranky border patrol officer, Justin and I arrived in Niagara Falls first, and let me just say whoever designed the city streets in the touristy part of town needs to be smacked. After winding our way in and out of where we thought we needed to be, we finally settled on a parking garage and proceeded on foot to find a hotel in the same connected buildings.

We found fantastic lodging at the Crown Plaza Hotel, located a block from the falls. And I mean fantastic. We got a great deal on a small but super comfortable falls-view room, which included parking fees for less than $100 American. And this was on a weekend! Gotta love the off-season rates. And the hotel was connected to a Hard Rock Cafe, where we had dinner. I finally got to try poutine! Yummy.

Getting back to the fog. It was so thick we couldn’t see any bit of the falls when we arrived, and we couldn’t even see the fireworks they shot off in the evening! But near midnight the fog and mist dissipated just enough for us to see the smaller section of falls, which is lit with lights that change colors. We rushed out to get some photos while we could.

Sadly, the largest part of the falls, Horseshoe Falls, was still hidden from view that night and the next morning the entire area was shrouded in fog once more.

We did walk around the main area of the city, which is reminiscent of a tacky Las Vegas. There are enormous signs everywhere, decked in lights, beckoning you inside. There are casinos, game and arcade centers, haunted houses, bowling alleys, eateries, and more packed into a tiny area. It’s a bit odd, to be honest!

In the morning, we packed up, said goodbye to the invisible falls, and traveled two hours to our second and final stop, Toronto.

For me, Toronto was surprisingly vast, without a lot of the typical skyscrapers you’d see in an American metropolis. Most of the high-rise buildings appeared to be housing. The highway system was a bit confusing, as exits came from every direction (even the middle lane), but thank God for GPS! We passed a few sports stadiums and the famous Hockey Hall of Fame, then found a place to park to explore St. Lawrence Market.

St. Lawrence Market is comprised of three areas — the top and bottom floors of one building and the entirety of a building across the street. More than 100 vendors are available to sell products of all sorts. The ground floor featured some fresh food stalls of baked goods or honey and syrup, but most vendors sold non-food items like touristy shirts, trinkets, and woven accessories.

The second floor hosted dozens of food stalls. You could find any sort of meat, vegetable, fruit, cheese, or fish product in vast quantities. Many stalls offered fresh meals as well, such as pizza and pasta, or fried fish and chowder. The smells were pungent, everything was incredibly fresh, and sellers were ready to barter. People were everywhere and it was hard to navigate around at times, so if you’re claustrophobic, you may want to steer clear of the top floor.

After grabbing a quick bite, we said goodbye to the market. Per the recommendation of a friend of mine, Justin and I walked to the Cathedral Church of St. James, a few blocks away from the market. It’s open to the public, so we walked right in and admired the architecture of the Gothic structure. The sanctuary was exceptionally beautiful with it’s high ceilings, weathered pews, and colorful stained glass.

I had wanted to do more in Toronto, such as go up into the CN Tower and visit Ripley’s Aquarium, but the fog destroyed the tower plans and the aquarium was a bit too expensive for our super tight budget at this time. I was disappointed, but I guess it means we just have to go back!

Heading out of the city and back toward home, we stopped at a local mall to get some cheap eats and take a breather before getting on the road once more. The drive felt longer this time, but that could have been the fog. And luckily for us, the border patrol guard letting us back into the U.S. was much more friendly.

Even with the unfortunate weather and limited budget, it was great to get out of the little bubble we live in and travel somewhere new. I’m definitely looking forward to returning in a warmer season!


—Some photos by Justin McKee

About Karin

Journalist, singer, reader, movie fanatic, photography buff, GVSU alum, wanna-be-Brit, Crohn's fighter, Coca-Cola addict, animal lover, not a kid person, hater of winter, Michigander
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