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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Kayaking and Aerial and a New Stove, oh my!

Let the challenges begin! If you recall, I made myself some terms of unemployment, which include having to try something new (or something I haven’t done in a long time) every week. I’ve received a lot of great ideas for challenges from friends and family, and I started my funemployment with a bang. (Note: my last day of work is actually October 1, but I decided to start the challenges last week anyway.)

Week 1: Kayak and Aerial class

At the beginning of the summer I thought it would be cool to go kayaking. So my boyfriend got a kayak lesson and guided tour on Groupon (with Toronto Adventures). And then we never used it. Until now! We went tandem kayaking on the Humber River – which was an absolute blast. We had both been canoeing (independently) before, but never kayaked. Apparently the skills are not 100% transferrable. I was in the back of the tandem kayak as the more experienced boater – and not pleased how surprised the instructor/guide was to find out I was the more experienced! We hit a few tree branches and reeds, and somehow managed to run ourselves aground in the middle of a river even though everyone else magically avoided this. But by the end we had the rhythm down and picked up a bit of speed.

It was amazing to see how much nature there is inside the city. We started on the Humber by Old Mill subway station and went all the way down to Lake Ontario (although not onto the lake). We saw lily pads, ducks, swans, and a couple of egret (which we had originally thought were herons… oh city folk). It was relaxing and freeing to be out on the water and seemingly away from the city (until we reached the Gardiner Expressway), and a nice reminder that there’s a lot of fun stuff to do in Toronto.

Right after my kayak adventure I headed down to Liberty Village for my very first aerial class. I did this on the advice (wait, what’s the word for when someone nicely forces you to do something?) of my friend, Natalie, who has been doing these classes for a couple of years. We met up and headed to the class, which was held in what looked like a converted factory building with really high ceilings. Inside was a trapeze and two huge silks hanging from the ceiling, as well as a very fit instructor named Joanne.

We started with a warm up, which was really a quick bootcamp class and did some trapeze specific exercises including pull ups (thank goodness I’d been training for those!) and this thing where you hang from the trapeze, lift your straight legs up until your toes touch (or almost touch) the bar and then slowly lower down. I hurt from that one for a couple of days. Then Natalie and John (the other participant) practiced their upside down hangs, which is when they hang upside down from the trapeze.

Then it was my turn. I’m afraid of heights, but the trapeze was really only 7 feet off the floor, and there was a big cushy mat underneath, and Joanne would be spotting me. Still, it was a bit scary. I grabbed onto the trapeze, took a deep breath, lifted my feet up to the bar and hooked my knees over. The trick, as it turns out, is squeezing your bum together (if you don’t squeeze enough, you get a poke from Joanne). So I squeezed and let go with my hands and did my first hang! It was really cool.

Natalie and John went through their routines that they had been working on for the past few weeks (which was awesome to watch) and then it was my turn again. “You’re going to do a layback,” says Joanne. I’m going to do a what? One of those things that Natalie and John just did? But they’re so much more experienced than I am! Thank goodness aerial class is not a democracy.

I sat on top of the trapeze, let go with my left hand, and twisted around to look back while my legs lay on top of the trapeze (get the name?). It was really cool, and once I tried it a couple of times I actually got pretty good. Apparently going to an aerial class with a background in fitness is a plus.

Towards the end of the class it was time for silks. I learned to wrap my feet around the silks and climb up and then slide back down (and I have the bruises to prove it). It was a test of my grip strength and endurance, and it was so much fun. I will definitely be trying this again, and hopefully never testing the thickness of the fall mat.

Without the motivation of the challenge per week challenge (I’ve got to find a better name for this), I would never have tried an aerial class, and that kayak Groupon would have expired. I’m so glad that I’m trying new things, finding new passions, and exploring the city!

Oh, and then this morning our stove top cracked. I’m still glad I’m leaving this job, but jeez universe, not cool timing.

My very first hang. (Not really the first because I forgot to ask Natalie to take a picture. So really my second hang.)

My very first hang. (Not really the first because I forgot to ask Natalie to take a picture. So really my second hang.)

No photos from the kayak - we were not sure how wet we would get.

No photos from the kayak – we were not sure how wet we would get.