We had a little day trip today. To say the least I’m pretty tired. We went to Toronto, stopping at various places along the way and then came back to Niagara Falls and I went to see them for the first time since getting here. Here’s a more detailed rundown.
I got up around 8:30 this morning which is friggin early for me. I’ve been accustomed to the sloth-like laziness I’ve been exhibiting over the past week or so. As such, getting up at that hour was not fun. So I dragged my ass out of bed and to the shower and we eventually headed off in the direction of Toronto at about a quarter past 9. I spent the drive to St. Catherines propping my eyelids open with sharp objects. (well, okay that’s a lie, but it was damn hard trying not to fall asleep again) We had a few things to do in St. Catherines including getting my driver’s license and health card switched over to the new Ontario ones. Just another tie I’ve severed to the Island. Anyways, I was struck full force by Ontario’s sometimes wacky rules. This province has a graduated driver’s license system. That basically means there are multiple steps to acquiring your ‘full’ license. At the age of 16 you can get your G1 license which is comparable to the Island’s beginner’s license. Then after a year you can take your G1 road test which gets you your G2 license. That’s more like the first year of your actual driver’s license on the Island. Basically it says you cannot have any blood alcohol level and only as many people as seatbelts. That’s reasonable. But to get your full G license you need to wait another year to take another road test. I’m beginning to think they do this to squeeze more money out of you. 😉
In any case I only got a G2 license since I’m supposed to hold a driver’s license for at least 2 years before I can get my full G license. In a way I’m ahead of the curve since in Ontario I’d still only have my G1. Hooray for shortcuts! I’m not sure how much I’ll be driving in the near future since I’ll be living on campus at Waterloo. Then to get around the city of Kitchener/Waterloo, I can always use the buses, so that’s not too big of a deal. The problem will be to actually take that test two years from now because I probably won’t have had too much practice on Ontario roads. To say the least, I think driving on the 401 would be suicide for me at this point. I’ll cross that bridge when it comes though.
Driving along the QEW (Queen Elisabeth Way, a highway linking Fort Erie, Niagara Falls, Toronto and many destinations in between) along the south of Lake Ontario, I was greeted by a very spectacular sight. Just past St. Catherines, there is a stretch of the QEW that runs almost right along the shore. I happened to glance over at the lake and I saw a bunch of sailboats; however that’s not what astounded me. My parents and I were discussing the fact that the lake was still a lake and not the ocean like what it was on PEI. However I pointed out that you couldn’t see the other side, so it felt like the ocean. And that’s when I noticed it. As I looked across Lake Ontario, I saw the city of Toronto appear out of the haze. You could only see a few of the taller buildings, but the CN Tower was unmistakable. It was truly remarkable to not even see the coast due to the curvature of the Earth but see the top parts of the buildings 60 kilometers away.
Next stop was in a place called Burlington, really just an extension of Hamilton and Toronto creating a 150K population city in between. I was pretty excited by this stop because I was going to go have my very first IKEA experience. Yes, it was an experience. It truly is different from any store I’ve ever been in. The way they have their store set up is very unique. I’ll also mention now that the store was absolutely massive! The top floor was set up as a showroom. They had mock home interiors where they set up their furniture and other things to mimic how it would be in a real house. It was definitely interesting to see how they designed the layout for all the furniture. There was a seemingly endless number of things sold there. Almost anything you could want in a home aside from electronics could be found. To be honest though, I had expected something different. I pictured a store that sold only high-end stuff. But in reality, they’re like the Walmart for homes. They sell anything from the lowest priced magazine to very expensive, modern/weird looking items. There’s even a restaurant included in the store that made things like Swedish meatballs available for the eating. The store is not laid out like your ordinary store with aisles. Instead it’s kind of like a journey where you follow the arrows and make your way through areas that sell different things for different parts of the home. Sort of annoying if you’re just there to buy one thing and end up walking through the whole store, but it’s great for people like us who just felt like browsing and taking it all in. Anyways, there are shortcuts you can take if you absolutely don’t feel like navigating the store. I got disoriented several times because you can’t really get a sense of where the exit is if you left the predetermined path due to the lack of aisles/etc.
After wandering through there, we started the grueling process of looking for home furnishings, again I might add. After spending multiple hours on that, we had the smart idea to make a trip into Toronto right during rush hour, around 4:30PM. To say the least, crawling around on the 401 at 10km/h isn’t exactly the best way to get anywhere. After about an hour and a half of driving (which should only take probably 15 mins when it’s not congested) and a few wrong turns, we ended up at our destination. We needed to buy some Chinese groceries for the coming while. That was where I was thrust into the middle of another interesting experience.
In the Markham area north of Toronto itself, it actually feels like China. The only difference is that the people, especially the younger ones, have been seriously affected by the culture here. Back on the Island, there was a young Chinese male (who I won’t reveal at this time) who I thought was perhaps the exception, not the rule. He was fairly gangsta’d up and whatnot. It seems like that is perhaps the rule here in Toronto. At every turn I’d see the male teenagers with big hats turned sideways with big, baggy shorts and shirts. If I didn’t know better, I would’ve thought there were like 500 Nelly lookalikes in that area alone (well lookalike aside from the fact they’re, well you know, Chinese and all…). I felt seriously out of place with my polo shirt and well fitting shorts. I may as well have been the white man in ‘Da Hood or something… (no offence meant by that at all to any party) The girls weren’t much better off. The older ones (20+) were fairly conservative, but the teenage ones have obviously been watching too many music videos and reading too many magazines. They looked 3/4 fake with the amount of makeup on them. I probably could’ve dragged my fingernails across their faces and only dent the nearly impenetrable layer of it. It was quite the sight up there in Chinatown… It was less Chinese than anything in my opinion. I’m probably being too old fashioned, but don’t expect me to start thuggin’ it up anytime soon. 😉
On the way back to Niagara Falls, I saw the most beautiful moonrise ever. At first I thought it was the sun setting because there was a haze and you could see a huge reddish/yellowish orb right near the horizon, but as I watched, I realized it was rising, not sinking. It was an absolutely sight. We decided that it would be a good time to visit the Falls as well. I hadn’t seen them yet since I arrived here. Oh, and you thought the Island gets a lot of tourists.
It was around 10PM when we arrived in Niagara Falls so the sky was pretty dark. They had the multicolored lights shining on falls and you could see the crowds of people lining the railings for their own look at the falls. The night life there I’d say rivals anything I have ever seen, including Montreal. The fallsfront area has to be one of the most commercial places I have ever seen outside of Las Vegas. I’ve only seen Las Vegas in photos but if you took one of the Niagara Falls downtown region, I could definitely mistake it for Las Vegas in a cursory glance. Of course the actual waterfalls gives it away quickly, but the high-rise hotels and bars that line the falls are rediculous for a city this size. You’d think a million people instead of about 80K lived here. Just goes to show just how much we sell ourselves out for money… We decided to just drive along the road that runs along the river (or whatever it is you call that area) because we didn’t feel like navigating the huge amount of people. Along our probably 2 or 3 kilometer run by the falls, I did not once see the crowds thin out on either side of the road. There was a constant flow of people from the bars and restaurants on the land side of the road and the rails were completely filled by aghast tourists and sightseekers. Let’s just put it this way. The Island gets slightly over 1 million visitors during the tourism season. Niagara Falls gets over 14 million. In recent years, two casinos have sprung up in the area along with several very large, very expensive hotels. This is all so we can shaft as many tourists as we can. Our course, these tourists really want to get gouged. After all, what fun would it be if they came here worrying about every penny they spent. So they give us money and we gladly take it. And then the area expands even more, making it more extravagant and awe-inspiring, drawing more tourists. For godsakes, they have fireworks over the falls every Saturday night in the summer. Talk about waste. Hehe…
Anywho, that’s just some of the things I wanted to share with you about my day today. It was pretty filled with interesting experiences to say the least. I have the Waterloo Student Life Day to look forward to this Saturday. I’m hoping to meet some people my age for the first time in Ontario. Wish me luck. And its off to bed I go; I’m thinking about getting up relatively early tomorrow as well to see if I can’t plot a course for my (hopefully) daily run. We’ll see how that goes.