Toronto, Niagara and home

Niagara Falls, Canadian style

Back from a whirlwind five day trip to Toronto for the wedding of Danny (Tom’s son) and Rachel. Now Tom has two daughters named Rachel! 

It was the first trip for me since March 2020 and our first trip together EVER, which is odd since we’ve been a couple for about eight years, but here we are. 

It was a great trip and one of the warmest and happiest weddings I’ve ever been to. We arrived on Thursday, August 18 and had a little trouble connecting with our shuttle to the Best Western, but it eventually came and we got to the hotel around 7 pm. We had dinner, watched a little TV and then collapsed into bed.

The next day (Friday), we didn’t do much. Tom didn’t feel like exploring the city (we were about 25 to 35 minutes via Uber from downtown Toronto) so he slept and I wandered around in the vicinity of the hotel, which was located near the airport in Mississauga. Not much to see but there was a nearby creek and a ubiquitous Tim Horton’s and I actually found a small Sobey’s which was great because in spite of all my lists and organization, I forgot to pack my toothbrush. So toothbrush, Timmy’s Iced Capp and a couple of muffins in hand, I walked ‘home’ in the 27C heat. Needless to say, it wasn’t the heat, it was the humidity. The entire time I was in Toronto I was damp.

That evening we Uber’d to Rachel’s sister Anna’s place for a pre-wedding family dinner. The route to their place was one freeway or construction site after another and it took a long time, but when we turned the corner into their neighbourhood, the scene turned from grey to green. Lush green, with lots of flowers and big, brick homes. Their place on Wembley Road is stunning. We do not have any houses like this in Edmonton. For one thing, few houses are made of brick and the other, most of these homes are about 100 years old or more. I feel like I know these houses from the many HGTV shows I watch that are set in Toronto, but seeing them in person was really something. Kinda felt a little like London.

There were more people than I thought there would be but Rachel has a big (and wonderful!) family. It was also the first time I’ve formally met Philippa, Tom’s ex-wife, but that went very well. Sam was also there but not Tom’s daughter Rachel, who was arriving in Toronto later in the evening with her boyfriend. Some good conversations, but I mostly kept to the periphery, as is my usual position at parties.

The next day we took another Uber to a Thai restaurant to have lunch with Sam, Rachel and Rachel’s boyfriend Pier-luc, who we were meeting for the first time (he seemed great!). Good food, good company. I had broken my sunglasses the night before, and Sam and Rachel needed cards, so after lunch Sam navigated to a Shopper’s close to Danny and Rachel’s, and then to the wedding itself (in their backyard), so about a half hour total. I wasn’t expecting to walk and I was in my wedding gear, so the humidity and heat did a number of annoying things to me, including changing my hair from pleasantly coiffed to simultaneously frizzy and flat (frazzed? flizzed?) and covering my entire body in a slick layer of coconut-scented sweat. Painfully, it also caused my sandals to manifest a few blisters on my slippery feet. I arrived at the wedding limp and wet, but cold beer and water are the great revivers.

The wedding itself was lovely. Informal, friendly, warm, funny and overall just incredibly enjoyable. The attire was everything from shorts to suits. Rachel’s heritage is Jewish, so there were a few traditional gestures – the chuppah (canopy), a beautiful song sung by Rachel’s aunt, the breaking of a glass, the hora, or circle dance (where I was just damn grateful I didn’t trip and bring the whole thing down) and finally, the lifting of Danny and Rachel on chairs. I have a great action shot of Danny being launched off the chair.

Mazel Tov!

Rachel and Danny (being launched off the chair)
Philippa, Rachel, Sam, Tom and Danny
Rachel, Danny’s new bride

The two Rachels! Tom’s daughter on the left, and new daughter in law on the right

Danny and Rachel were actually married earlier in the day, I think, so that their friend Josh, who is not an officiant, could MC the ceremony which was good thinking because he was very funny. After the couple sweetly exchanged vows (privately), rings and kisses, Tom and Philippa and Rachel’s parents were invited up to give their speeches, which went very well. Tom especially was relieved that the speech part was over and he could relax, and even more pleased when folks came up after to express how much they liked it. After that, the party began in earnest with food, music and dancing. In fact, I couldn’t get Tom off the dance floor! Danny and Rachel sang a couple of songs and did a great job curating the music. There was even some Abba and a Grateful Dead song. It was very hot and humid, but the wedding was fantastic, one of the best I’ve been to for sure. Danny and Rachel are lucky to have found one another and their circle of friends and family are truly wonderful.

Tom, going over his speech
Philippa and Tom going over their speeches, again and again…

Me and Tom (thanks humidity!!)

It took awhile to get our Uber but we made it home sometime after midnight. The next morning was our day trip to Niagara Falls.

This trip was the first time I had ever used Uber and it was pretty seamless. On a couple of occasions, Tom asked the drivers where they were from. This is not an uncommon practice (to my horror) when he encounters someone who is darker skinned and speaks with an accent. Tom is a world traveller and his intention with these questions is to prompt a conversation about Africa or wherever people are from, and 100% of the time, folks are very receptive…once they find out that he knows about or has visited the places they’re from. However, I can imagine the immediate apprehension they must feel being asked ‘where are you from’ from a older, white man. One of our drivers was from India and another from the Congo, and Tom and these guys became best pals by the end of the ride, exchanging familiar locations and in the case of the Congolese guy, a shared love of the music of Tabu Ley Rochereau, Mbilia Bel and Franco Luambo. I knew that when we got home Tom would be listening to this music again, and I was not disappointed (honestly, it beats the Grateful Dead). As Tom frequently mentions, his son Sam has a much deeper knowledge of this music than he does.

The following day, the alarm went off at 6 am for our 8 am Niagara Falls day tour bus pick up. Once again, we took an Uber to downtown Toronto, in this case Ripley’s Aquarium, which is right next to the CN Tower and between the Roger’s Centre where the Blue Jays play, and the Scotia Centre, where the Raptors and Leafs play. It’s a busy spot, but not that morning as we scoured the area for a bathroom. Happily, the bus driver said he would make a pit stop for Tom half way through the two-hour trip, which alleviated Tom’s worry.

Some tower…

Niagara Falls was breathtaking, as you would expect. We first went up the Skylon Tower for a bird’s eye view, and then to the Falls which as most people know, features the only ok American falls, and the spectacular Canadian falls, also known as Horseshoe Falls. We chose not to take the Maid of the Mist boat, and instead had lunch and wandered the length of the falls. The area around is very cheesy, almost like a low-end carnival, and after two and a half years of being around very few people, the crowds were nuts. In fact, everywhere we went, there were crowds and crowds of people. Also for the first time in two and a half years, neither Tom nor I were wearing masks. It was very much like the beforetimes, and I liked it.

The impressive, but not as impressive American side of the falls

When I booked the day trip, I thought it would be less structured than it turned out to be. The driver talked the whole time in a weird sort of monotone, focusing on the many people who had died going over the falls or some other local adventure. The death roll continued throughout the entire trip, as the area is home to several historical sites, most often involving the War of 1812 or some other instance where the Americans tried and failed to take over Canada. I mean, we definitely have the better waterfall.

Niagara Whirlpool, also the site of many deaths (according to our driver…)

We also visited several other attractions on the way home, including Niagara-on-the-Lake, which at some point had been voted the prettiest town in Canada. It was, indeed, very pretty, but also very, very crowded. We strolled the streets and had some raspberry sorbet, and then headed back to the bus. The rest of the way home was mostly a series of lurches. It seemed to take hours. So. much. traffic. headed into Toronto, and it didn’t help that the Red Hot Chili Peppers were playing the stadium right next to our drop off spot. Somehow, we managed to get an Uber and back to our hotel by about 7 pm. I was anticipating a nice dinner at the hotel restaurant but for some reason it was closed so under very dark skies we walked to Tim Horton’s and brought our veggie wraps back to our room just minutes before it started to pour.

Hibiscus, Niagara-on-the-Lake

The final leg of our trip began at 4 am the next morning. We boarded the shuttle to the airport at 5 am, and entered the airport at 5:15 for our 7 am departure. There have been all sorts of horror stories about Pearson and all the snaking lines and delays. I think it was voted the worst airport in the world earlier in the summer, so I was braced for chaos. However, our boarding passes were already loaded on my phone, so with our carry on luggage, we walked directly to security to join a very long line, but were ushered out of that line by an airport person who said (looking at Tom), the elderly and families can go in this line, which consisted of one family who were already making their way through the door. We were both laughing. Tom says, well I guess it pays to be a senior! I said, they’re not calling you a senior, they’re calling you elderly! Ha! I will admit that it’s impossible to look ‘fresh’ at 4 am, but ‘elderly’ is a bit of a stretch. Nevertheless, from the moment we entered Pearson to sitting comfortably at our gate was maybe 20 minutes. Thanks Tom!

It was a fabulous trip. Toronto sucks thanks to the suffocating traffic and crowds, but the company was awesome and it was wonderful seeing Tom’s kids again. We are ever so grateful to Danny and Rachel, and Rachel’s family, for hosting the wedding. We loved it and had a lot of fun.

Both Tom and I really missed our cat Sweet Pea, especially Tom I think, but we came home to a purring and happy kitty thanks to Barb who stayed with her while we were away. We also came home to an air conditioned house, and weather that, while hot, wasn’t trying to kill us with humidity. Sweet Pea was a little spooked at first, but within a few minutes settled into her usual behaviour, with perhaps a slightly elevated demand for belly rubs.

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