Exploring Ontario in the dead of winter was a unique, and sometimes challenging, experience. Ultimately, it proved a rewarding adventure.
It’s not often that you get to indulge your palate with world-class cuisine while sitting on top of the world, but my family and I did just that recently in Toronto, Ontario.
If the old real estate adage of "location, location, location" holds weight, the CN Tower has nailed it. Situated on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, it defines the Toronto skyline at a height of over 1,815 feet. It is the world’s tallest building and includes Sky Pod, the world’s highest public observation gallery, at 1,465 feet. Thankfully, we visited during a crisp, clear January evening when the city was glowing like an ocean of miniature suns.
On the first observatory level, we found ourselves peering 1,221 feet straight down through the glass floor to the street. Walking across that invisible surface, my mind told me it was safe; my stomach, however, flipped and kicked.
Venturing outside to the adjacent observation deck came with a price because I had to brace my shoulder against the frigid winds as they whipped my hair and whistled in my ears. I call it altitude with attitude. But it was worth the effort as the city view was laid out before us like a giant, endless blanket; it was hard to tell where the city’s twinkling lights ended and the stars began. The sky was so clear we could see Niagara Falls, New York, across the lake, lit up.
We ended the evening by dining in the 360 Restaurant, a slowly revolving restaurant of epicurean delights sitting 1,150 feet in the atmosphere. "After three bottles of wine, everything will spin," our waiter, Wayne, told us with a smile.
My four-course dinner started with house smoked rainbow trout. This was the amuse bouche, which is French for "amuse the mouth," appropriate since the piece of fish, though tasty, was the size of a bottle cap. Next up was the smoked Atlantic salmon appetizer, which was tender and fleshy. My entrée of fish steak frites (grilled swordfish), garnished with red onion salad, reminded me why I love expertly prepared seafood so much. I topped off my meal with the Dark Chocolate Tower, a chocolate dessert shaped like a tower, but not the CN Tower, as one might expect. It was rich and creamy and the delightful complement to my meal. The meal wasn’t cheap--$386.11 (the tip was automatically added) for six--but how often do you get to dine in the clouds?
Wayne was aware of only one occasion when the CN Tower closed, when a snowstorm prevented anyone from navigating the city. Fortunately for us, this January night afforded a perfect opportunity to dine on fabulous culinary creations while enjoying the sky-high lights and sights of Toronto.
Niagara Falls is the honeymoon destination for over 50,000 couples a year. Niagara Falls is the birthplace of the world’s first hydroelectric power station. Niagara Falls formed about 12,000 years ago from retreating glaciers.
But none of that mattered to my family and me (well, except for the glacier part) as we scrambled for survival because we journeyed to this mighty force of nature in the dead of winter. In Ontario, Canada to visit family, we took a detour to the landmark to snap some photos, and little did we realize what was in store.
The thermometer rested below freezing as thrashing winds whipped spray from the falls and pierced our skin like glass shrapnel while we stood at the railing. Conversing was out of the question as the roaring waters, sounding like a thousand stampeding horses, obliterated all nearby sounds. Nearly two-inch-thick white ice laminated everything from the cliff side vegetation to the concrete path leading from the sensible, heated visitor center where we purchased flimsy ponchos meant to keep us dry—-fat chance! Thick icicles hung like stalactites off everything. Walking proved little easier than skating in quicksand. And, though I’m sure it was my imagination, my brain felt like it was frosting over.
A winter wonderland? It felt more like a narrow escape from a Ted Williams cryogenic treatment.
Once my toes, fingers, nose, and brain thawed out, I was able to appreciate just how beautiful and enchanting these falls straddling two countries really are. The Canadian side offers a panoramic vista of all three falls—the American, Bridal Veil and Canadian Horseshoe Falls—-not available from the American viewpoint.
Even in the middle of January, Niagara Falls is a smorgasbord for (most of) the senses. The swirling water at the base of the falls was a brilliant turquoise and the 20-story-high cascades—-one million cubic feet of water goes over every second of every day, providing one-fifth of the world’s entire supply of fresh water—more than lived up to what Native Americans called "Onguiaahra" or "Thundering Waters." I wouldn’t describe hanging out at the falls this time of year as romantic (I’m sure taking advantage of one of the many nearby hotel rooms would have been another story), but our frostbitten adventure was worth every challenging second. We made sure to depart before wearing out our welcome with Mother Nature.
To more than 14 million annual visitors, Niagara Falls is an unforgettable display of wonder and discovery. It’s a place I won’t hesitate to visit again—-no matter the time of year.