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Travel Logs February 2015

Toronto and Niagara: A Perfect Pair

By John C. Liburdi

Canadian ATMs and merchants accept conventional U.S. credit and debit cards. That is, it's not necessary to have one of the new smart-chip type cards that are required in Europe.

A valid passport is your ticket to visit two fabulous places for the price of one. Toronto, Canada, is a wonderful city, often touted as being just like New York but brilliantly managed by the Swiss. Coincidentally, a visit to Toronto is also the perfect opportunity to make the requisite once-in-a-lifetime trip to glorious Niagara Falls.

Getting to Toronto is easy enough. Major cities as far south as Atlanta offer non-stop flights to Toronto, and interstate highways in the Midwest and New England provide easy access to that part of Canada. The best time to visit is late spring or early fall; however, avoid the International Film Festival in September when hotels are all booked full and room prices are as high as the city's famous CN Tower. Speaking of money, Canadian ATMs and merchants accept conventional U.S. credit and debit cards. That is, it's not necessary to have one of the new smart-chip type cards that are required in Europe.

The optimum place to stay is in the downtown lakeside area; from there, it's easy to get around Toronto on foot, via trolley, on the subway, or aboard big, red, hop-on, hop-off tour buses that continually travel a loop around town. Even if you drive up to Toronto, it's best to park your car and use those forms of transportation. That's because it's hard to drive or park amongst all the busy construction sites in the city. High-rise condos are being constructed everywhere downtown to accommodate the swelling population -- 50 additional residents per day!

The big challenge to dining in Toronto is selecting a place to eat when faced with such a wide variety of ethnic cuisine. That said, it's a good idea to opt for your hotel's daily breakfast buffet, if one is offered. The strategy is to get a heavy-duty meal in the morning, a light snack for lunch, and then a sensible supper in evening more cost-effective than three expensive restaurant meals each day. Again, choices abound, including clusters of fast-food joints throughout the 19-mile-long "PATH" shopping and subway underground environment. 

Toronto has plenty of world-class sites. The CN Tower, Ripley's Aquarium, and the Steam Whistle Brewery are located together, along with nearby harbor tour boats. The Art Gallery of Ontario is extremely impressive, including its unique Galleria Italia cafe. The old Distillery District is a car-free zone that has industrial character. Nearby St. Lawrence Market is an expansive indoor food bazaar, with many specialty shops that offer lunch fare. Kensington Market is populated with colorful clothing boutiques and artisan shops. Among many other places to visit is the Casa Loma mansion (now a museum) that has an intriguing history.    

At some point during your Toronto visit, you'll be eager for a day trip to Niagara Falls. It's smart to make a tour reservation for a date early in your stay so there's flexibility to reschedule in the event of foul weather. Go for an organized tour-bus excursion, preferably one that offers the Sheraton Penthouse lunch buffet. It's a two-hour trip out to Niagara, but it's a comfortable ride if your bus is equipped with a washroom. Niagara Falls is a breathtaking sight, and getting close to the falls via one of the huge boats is a real thrill. You'll also enjoy many floral panoramas in the surrounding area, mostly created by alumni of a nearby horticulture university.

Leaving Toronto will be the toughest part of your visit. It's sad to walk away from a city so rich in culture – especially the stunning architecture! Albeit full of melancholy thoughts, you'll need a prepared response when your taxi driver asks which of three terminals you're departing from at the international airport. Be sure to arrive very early, and don't forget to exchange leftover Canadian dollars for U.S. currency. You'll actually pass through U.S. Customs and Immigration at the Toronto airport. Once you're back in the USA, simply step off the plane, claim your baggage and head for home.

My wife and I truly enjoyed our combined Toronto and Niagara vacation. Everyone was so nice to us, and we felt safe and secure everywhere we went. The one regrettable part of our vacation was not getting to meet any of those Canadian house-flipper stars that regularly appear on HGTV. On more a positive note, I'm pleased to report that, after 47 years of marriage, my wife gave me a big hug instead of a hard shove as we were standing at the top of Niagara Falls. Perhaps we've finally become a perfect pair, just like Toronto and Niagara, eh?


Liburdi's recent book "Italian American Fusion: Italy's Influence on the Evolution of America" is available at on-line bookstores and the Kindle Reader.

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