Canada Trip Part 1

We left for Canada (via automobile) at about 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 25, and crossed the Lewiston-Queenston bridge at 8:00 p.m. or so. It took over an hour to cross the bridge and get through customs, which seemed to be an abnormally long wait. After finally reaching Canadian soil, we drove a few kilometers (Canadian-speak) and found our way to Niagara-on-the-Lake. We checked into the Mi Casa Su Casa Bed & Breakfast at about 9 p.m. Our friends Isabel and Carlos Reyes, proprietors of the B & B, greeted us and made us feel at home as they have done each time we’ve stayed with them. Their home is spotlessly clean. They have only two guest rooms, each of which is equipped with an “en suite” bathroom. We have yet to share bathroom facilities with other guests in our many stays at beds and breakfasts, although some B & Bs have this arrangement. If sharing a bathroom with others is not for you, make sure you find out before you book reservations.

We started frequenting B & Bs about 10 years ago and have stayed in them whenever possible ever since. We have yet to find one that hasn’t beaten all the motels and hotels we’ve ever stayed in. They are very quiet, relaxing, and interesting places to visit and to sleep in. Besides having nice beds and owners who personally attend to your needs, they also provide good (and often excellent) breakfasts. It’s at the breakfast tables where you find the most interesting advantage of staying at B & Bs. Unless you happen to be the only guests on a particular day, you will find other travelers eating at the same table. You never know who you might end up having a conversation with. We’ve met many interesting people during our B & B stays. Most of the guests we’ve met are friendly and talkative, and enjoy sharing experiences with others. Not only are the guests interesting and entertaining, but many of the proprietors are worth the price of admission in their own right. It takes a certain philosophy and open-minded disposition to be able to manage a bed & breakfast, and for this reason the proprietors are often people who have experienced a great deal, have seen and done lots of things, and are not prone to levy judgment on others for their views or lifestyles.

We visit the Niagara region in Canada fairly often. We enjoy the quiet atmosphere, the many wineries and fruit farms, and the friendly nature of the Canadian people. We always visit the Falls while we’re there, even though we’ve seen them many times. The Falls are beautiful and breathtaking of course, but it’s almost as interesting to watch the people who visit there. You never run out of people to watch and wonder about. If you go, make sure you ride the Maid of the Mist. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget.

That handsome fellow in the photo is Trevor, our grandson. He was with us last year when we visited the Falls. You have to wear rain gear on the Maid of the Mist. It gets very wet when you’re a few meters from the bottom of the falls and the spray is coming at you from all directions.

We spent four nights in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and during our stay we visited a few wineries that we had not found in previous visits. One of them is the Sunnybrook Farm Estate Winery. Sunnybrook specializes in fruit wines. I don’t care for sweet wines and didn’t think I’d much care for the wine at Sunnybrook when we started the tasting process, but I was very much surprised when I found the wines very tasty and not the least bit cloying. They were light and very refreshing. The Sunnybrook folks make peach, pear, apple, and blueberry wines among others. We also bought several bottles of “Chocolate Embrace,” a blueberry wine infused with chocolate. This stuff is very good.

We also visited the Coyote’s Run Estate Winery. This place is noted for its two soil types, each a distinct color and composition. One soil variety is dated at 15,000 years and the other at 450 million years! That’s some old dirt.

Coyote’s Run has vineyards in both soil types, and the vineyards are differentiated as the Black Paw and the Red Paw due to the color of the soils. The grape wines they produce from each vineyard have distinct bouquets and tastes. Very interesting stuff.

We left the wineries with 12 bottles altogether, just enough to get through customs without having to pay duty fees.

We rented bicycles one day and rode down the Niagara River Trail. This trail follows the Niagara River and offers great scenic views of the river and the the U.S. (New York) side. Bikes can be rented for $20 for 3 hours or $30 per day. Those dollar figures are Canadian. These days, the exchange rate is almost even between US and Canadian funds. We used to benefit from an advantageous exchange rate. During at least one of our trips, 75 US cents was worth a Canadian dollar. Those days are gone, however, and there’s little economic advantage in visiting Canada or purchasing Canadian goods. In fact, we talked to several Canadian citizens who said that they travel to the US these days to make purchases.

Our visit to the Niagara area isn’t complete until we dine at the Queenston Heights Restaurant. If you follow this link, be sure to click on the photo of the restaurant interior and drag to the right or left. You get a panoramic view of the place. We found this restaurant one day when happened to spot the sign as we drove by. We stopped in for lunch, and went back that night for dinner. A few years ago, reservations were a necessity. These days, with the world economy still struggling and the number of US visitors greatly diminished because of the exchange rate, you can pop in just about any time unannounced. The food is always great and the service is excellent. Many of the employees have worked there for decades. We’ve become friends with several of the waitresses. They are efficient but entertaining.

Our original reason for visiting Niagara-on-the-Lake, however, was the Shaw Festival. This is an annual event lasting from April through October. There are four theaters in Niagara-on-the-Lake, with a total of ten plays staged between them this season. The festival is named for George Barnard Shaw, whose plays are presented regularly during the festival. Other playwrights get their chances too, including contemporaries of Shaw as well as those from other periods.

We usually purchase tickets months ahead of our trips. This year, however, we thought we’d just forgo the planning and see what was available when we arrived. As it turned out this year, we were so busy with other activities that we only purchased tickets to one play – “The Women” by Clare Boothe Luce. We managed to get good seats because someone had turned in their seats when they were unable to attend. We were in the center section about 15 rows back. The play was performed in the Festival Theatre, the largest of the four in town. Many attendees at the plays are of advanced age. I like going there because I feel young, relatively speaking. One year we witnessed an old lady fall down on her way out the door during intermission. She was promptly plucked off the floor by an observant usher and in a minute was on her way to the ladies’ room as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

We enjoyed “The Women,” which was performed by 19 women and no men. Men held significant roles in the play, but only in the conversation of the women. This made for an interesting perspective. Ms Luce, after writing “The Women,” went on to become influential in publishing and politics. She was the US Ambassador to Italy for three years and was elected to the US House of Representatives.

We also visited the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens. We have visited them before, but there is always something new to see. There are 99 acres of trees, plants, and flowers. Well worth the few hours it takes to see it all.

More on our trip to Canada in the next post.

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