Week 18: To Niagara!

Have you ever gone down to Niagara Falls for a night, in the middle of winter, mid-week? No? That’s so weird. Perhaps you are gainfully employed?

Well I’m not so I went! Actually my boyfriend had some vacation time he had to use, so we decided to go down and see the Falls, eat some nice food, and stay in a fancy (read: not fancy) hotel.

Groupon is great for a lot of things, and one of those things is travelling to Niagara. We got a hotel room with a king size bed, meal vouchers, and some other stuff we didn’t use (who would ever need a coupon to East Side Mario’s… no one wants to eat there! A slight discount won’t help), for about sixty bucks. And if the Canadian dollar weren’t in the toilet, it would have been even less.

We took a Via train down from Toronto bright and early Wednesday morning, and arrived at a desolate train/bus depot in Niagara. Even though the weather had been really nice the week before, it was snowy and windy and frigid that day. Perfect timing, Mother Nature, thanks for that.

A taxi was the only reasonable way to get from the train station to the hotel, so we taxied. We warmed up and relaxed in the room for a while before trekking outside to find nourishment. At 2pm on a Wednesday in winter, there’s not a whole lot going on in Niagara – who’d have thought? We coldly walked past chain restaurant after chain restaurant, and finally decided on a chain restaurant. Niagara is a bit of a tourist town (read: hard-core tourist trap).

But the Falls were beautiful. There was one bus of tourists to share the view with, and that was it. We were free to wander and take photos leisurely, without competing for space with the hordes. We walked the whole length of the boardwalk, read up on the history of the area (OK, I did this), and took some photos.

After a quick afternoon nap (because it’s vacation time and that’s what one does on vacation), we were off to dinner. We had made reservations at Ruth Chris’ Steakhouse, unnecessarily. There were two other people there when we arrived. But the reservation got us a gold booth, not just a red booth. They were the same booth, but with different colour fabric. Most of the booths, which made up 90% of the seating, had big walls between them, and privacy curtains. This was the coolest thing I’d ever seen.

We ordered some delicious (yet overpriced) steaks and sides, and shared a bottle of wine (and three bottles of water). The food was delicious – the steaks are seared in butter. I don’t like steak much, but I really liked this steak, and the butter.

You know how when a server puts a plate down and says “careful it’s hot.” And you’re like “but how hot is it?” And you touch it and it’s warm, but not too hot. This was a hot plate. I guess it goes in the oven beforehand to help keep the steak warm on the table. Fortunately our server told me this beforehand, because otherwise I would still be growing back my fingerprints.

While we ate the main course, the curtains were closed. It was very fun, strange, and oddly exciting. It felt like a mix between what I imagine a harem looks like, what I think the VIP area of a club looks like, and how I want the private room of a strip club to look like. But in a classy way.

After our delicious (but expensive) meal we went to the casino. This was a compromise on my part because casinos are pretty boring. But I learned how to play blackjack! Sort of. It seems like it would be a pretty easy game, but once you get into the theory behind it, apparently it gets a little more complicated. When I had a 15 I would look at the guy next to me, and he would either say “book says stay,” or “book says hit.” I lost $9.

We had a leisurely breakfast on Thursday and made our way back to the bus/train depot to return to Toronto. It was much colder on Thursday, so on the way over we were able to see white, frozen trees lining the edge of the Falls. While the Falls weren’t frozen, there were huge icicles hanging from the cliffs nearby. It looked like we’d gone beyond the Wall.

Next time I go to Niagara (which will be in another 5 years, because Google images exists), I will drive. The area is not designed for pedestrians. Most of the times the cross signal at an intersection doesn’t go, because they don’t expect people to actually use them past September. Or maybe I’ll just go in the summer.

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Week 17: Fencing

Oh man, fencing is fun. It wasn’t originally on my list, but my friend, Liz, wanted to try it, and so I fenced.

There’s a place called My Fencing Club near St. Clair West and Bathurst that offers introductory adult fencing lessons on Saturday afternoons, which was super convenient for all parties.

The class had about 10 participants, and was led by Noah and Leesa (I’m not positive this is how she spelled her name, but she didn’t seem like a Lisa spelling). They seemed to be teenagers, but they also really knew their way around a sword. We learned about the three types of fencing swords/styles (foil, sabre, and épée), and got to hold the different styles of swords. The differences were negligible to my untrained eye.

After the history lesson, we were issued our weapons. After holding the real-deal swords, I was a little disappointed to receive a plastic foil sword to practice with. But I can also understand why we were given plastic – I definitely would have taken someone’s eye out with a metal sword, despite the dulled tip.

We learned how to stand, how to attack, how to defend, and the basics of how a fencing match works. As it turns out, it’s quite a bit harder than it looks (as most things are). There’s a lot of technique and stamina and skill in fencing – I mean, to win at fencing. Losing is significantly easier. It’s especially challenging when you’re trapped inside one of those fencing masks/helmets, which are super sweaty.

For example, to get a point you have to stab someone (obviously). But if you both stab each other at the same time, the point is awarded to whoever started their attack first (an attack is when you start straightening your sword arm). But if you attack first and your opponent parries (defends) and then attacks, they get the point. But this is negated if other things happen… full disclosure, this part got confusing. I will not be becoming a fencing judge in the near future. The point is, there’s a lot going on even though it looks like people are wildly stabbing each other for fun.

After practicing how to stab people (so much fun) by stabbing gloves and walls (so much fun), we did a few practice matches (so much fun). I wasn’t too bad. I found myself attacking quite a bit, and scoring a few (unofficial, but fun) points against my opponents. I can see this being a good activity for stress relief.

The one hour class was a surprisingly good workout and a good way to spend an hour on Saturday afternoon (especially because the walk home brought me past several delicious bakeries). I don’t know that I’ll be trying it again, but at least if someone challenges me to a duel, I’ll know how to handle myself.

 

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Week 16: Meditation Take Two

After a wildly unsuccessful meditation attempt, I am getting back on the meditation horse. I am still interested in the idea of meditation – I think taking some time each day to relax and de-stress and not think about a to do list is probably a good idea for most of us.

This time, I tried meditating at home, alone, using an app called Headspace, which was recommended by a friend. I also decided to not do quite so much chanting this time, just for fun.

To get myself geared up for this 10 minute guided meditation, I went for a run and did some light stretchy-yoga, with the intention of slowing down and relaxing to prep myself for the good stuff. Of course, as soon as I turned the app on, I immediately had to pee. My scurry down the hall to the bathroom was not in the spirit of meditation, but did make me feel better.

I enjoyed this app and this 10 minutes. The guy who talks you through the meditation is perhaps the most relaxing voice in the world. They should use him to give directions in google maps instead of that lady they have now. I would listen to him. And probably get lost less.

Since it was the first meditation in a series, and they (correctly) assume we haven’t done this before, it was very simple and straightforward. Just sit, focus on your breathing, listen to what’s happening around you, and then let your mind wander.

Which sounds easy.

It’s actually quite challenging, though. I kept noticing my shoulders tightening up, or my mind thinking about something else that I needed to be doing. Of course, since this is only the first meditation, I knew I wouldn’t be good at it yet. But the very soothing voice said not to worry, so I’m OK with everything.

I think I will name the voice. Something distinguished and smart and classic.

 

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