From Hell’s Kitchen to Heavenly Niagara


Since I had the luxury of time, I decided to venture for the 12-hour plus NY -Toronto route via Amtrak Maple Leaf train. I have been to the West Coast part of Canada in the early 90s, and I must say that I have a picturesque and scenic recollection of that first visit in Canada. November 11, 2010 my first trip to Toronto.

As a first-time train rider, I gave myself ample time to get to the NY Penn Station and work on my ticket. I exactly arrived at the Penn Station at 6 am for a 7.15 am departure. I made my booking online and unfortunately, Amtrak still uses paper ticket and the ticket needs to be picked up either at the Amtrak Quik-Trak self-service ticketing kiosk or any of Amtrak ticket windows at Penn Station prior to boarding on the train. One thing that you need to be cautious of is to check constantly the station operating hours as times vary from station to station.

I was able to situate myself comfortably in the train. I would say that my seat was comfy with sufficient legroom. The seats were reclining and have built in electrical plugs so if you have a laptop, you have the option of listening to your favourite music selections or watch a movie.  It also has spacious over head cabin enough to store your luggage.  The journey on the NY state side was very scenic and charming.  I immensely enjoyed witnessing the countryside – the many unique natural landscapes and the beautiful farmlands where you will also see the grazing cows on the fields and the ducks swimming in endless pristine lakes after lakes.  The scenic view certainly gave me no hurry to get to my destination.  I assume that the sceneries would absolutely be more spectacular around September.

While in the train I had the chance to meet friendly people.  There was cheerful Darly who works at the car Café.  I spent my time at the café before I was transferred to the business class car. I also had the chance to chat with Bill, the inspector on board.  He recommended that it is always best to travel in the economy class especially during low seasons, as you will get to occupy two seats to yourself.  The likelihood that you get this privilege in a business class is low since there is only one business class car per train and is generally booked.

When I purchased my ticket, I paid for an economy class and decided to take the option to upgrade to business class at a very minimal amount on the latter part of the journey – this means that I can only be transferred during the last 2 hours and 40 minutes of the trip.  But Bill was kind enough to allow me to move to the business class car while we were still in Buffalo NY, since 3 passengers had disembarked.  He explained to me that it normally takes an hour to clear customs and maybe longer when everyone is asked to disembark.

Thankfully, we did not have to do that on this trip.  The food and staff also change once you cross the boarder. I had to say adieu to Daryl and Bill at the border.  Daryl and Bill were very friendly and I very much enjoyed chatting with them at the car Café – we did share great stories and laughter.

I am lucky to have a very good friend in Toronto and fortunate to enjoy the Friendstays type of lodging, and not with any strangers.

The weather was not so accommodating in most of my stay in Toronto.  Thankfully, the city invented the PATH, which is an underground walk way shopping town that links to public subway and street cars (trams), eateries and shops. The PATH is definitely designed for shoppers and commuters on winter cold, summer heat or rainy weather.  I also had the chance to do window shopping at the Bay Bloor Shopping Centre.  At the centre I made new friends – Martha from the Clarins counter and Roger, the make up-artist, who gave me a quick make over.  It was a real experience and a treat to myself since I had the luxury of time.  This promo never really enticed me in OZ.  While they were doing their “make over treat deal” to me, we had a nice chat about travels and my recent Cuba trip.  Roger & Martha consider Cuba as their favourite holiday destination.  We certainly had something in common as we shared our travel Cuban experience.

On Friday, 12 November I had my first dinner at Avenue, a bar/restaurant at Four Seasons, which is located in the heart of Yorkville district. Avenue is a popular destination for afternoon high teas as well as hangout place for celebrities. Yorkville is also the shopping and dining district of Toronto. Here you will find high end shops and boutiques, cool and groovy cafes, bars and restaurants. I love the elegance and ambience of Avenue, the food was good, but I would rate the service less satisfactory.

On Saturday, 13 November, I spent the afternoon exploring and window shopping at Queen Street, which reminds me so much of Chapel Street in Melbourne. By early evening, I had a nice snack at Dark Horse café, voted by the locals to have the best coffee in Toronto. And they prove it right.

Sunday, 14 November was the first highlight of my visit in Toronto.  After watching a very intense movie entitled “127 hours” I decided to unwind and go book shopping at Indigo, a bookstore located below the cinema in Bloor Street West. Earlier that day, I noticed a sign, which said that celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay was scheduled to do a book signing for fund raising at 6.30pm.  Chef Ramsay was launching his new cookbook, World Kitchen. The invitation says that he will only sign the first 300 Cookbooks purchased at Indigo.  I got to the bookstore at 6 pm and started queuing with 3 books on my hand to be signed. Some people were already there in the morning, so I was one of the last avid fans on the queue.  It was an entertaining night as they had a DJ in the house playing great music.  Everyone was also encouraged to send messages via twitter and they also gave away some prizes.

Two hours later, I had my moment to have a face-to-face encounter with the celebrity chef as I handed my 3 copies of the World Kitchen for his signature.  Ramsay, as you see on TV is extremely fearsome towards his contestants, but I saw the best of him.  He is a very friendly guy with great personality.  I also had a brief conversation with him, despite the warning told us by the sales assistant said that he is only there to sign book and not to chat with his fans.  It was one of the best and entertaining two hours of waiting that I have ever experienced.

Thursday, 18 November, was another celebrity chef book signing. This time it was Jamie Oliver’s book launching and signing of his new book.  I really had to think hard on this but as I just could not see myself spending another 2 hours on the queue for another book to be signed. Beside, I have no more space in my suitcase for another book.  So I waited around for his arrival and decided to just take some photos of the event. In my opinion, Gordon Ramsay’s event was well received by his fans.

Despite of the cold weather, during my entire stay in Toronto, I managed to visit TIFF Center (Toronto International Film Festival) that recently opened. For those film lovers, it is a must see place. I also visited the bottom of CN Tower.  It was foggy around the area and not the best time to go up to the observatory level.  With the combination of subway, street car, bus & foot, I also visited the Waterfront, Casa Loma, Flatiron Building, St Lawrence Market and the Kensington Market.

The second highlight of my visit in Toronto was the opportunity to watch the ‘Rock of Ages,’ a new musical play currently showing at Royal Alexandra Theatre. The play is based on a love story wrapped around the hits of the 80’s music.  If you love the 80’s music, this is a must see musical play for you.  The great performers, complemented with great selection of music really made the show phenomenal.

This was also the night that I almost got hijacked while I was getting in a cab along the busy district theatre, King Street. Okay, I maybe exaggerating but the situation seems like one though.  Just when I was getting into the cab, a young man got into the other side door at the back seat.  He was with some friends and took a fancy of me and as a joke, pretended he was getting into the cab.  It was a sweet compliment, but could have been worst. I really had a good thought about this as this may worry my family when they read this article, but I thought that I would share this event anyway.  Whilst it’s a flattering experience, it can also be scary at the same time.

Personally, this could have happened to anyone, anywhere at anytime, traveling alone or with a traveling buddy. My tip is, to consciously be highly observant around your surroundings, and the added extra precautions and common sense will ultimately give you some sense of safety.

On Sunday, 21 November, I had the taste of the first winter in the city of Toronto.  Santa Parade (click here to watch the parade) was scheduled on that day. I wanted to witness the event and spent over 2 hours in the freezing cold along with thousands of kids patiently waiting for Santa’s float to come along ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) on Queens Park. If it was well coordinated, the wait could have been shorter.  There was an apparent huge interval or gap from one float to the other.  All in all, there were certainly some nicely presented floats.  And I certainly felt the spirit of Christmas, especially being around with the kids who were having fun and a great time.

And I can’t deny that the best of part of my visit in Canada was spending my weekend at Niagara Falls. To get to the Canada side of the Niagara Falls is about an hour drive from Toronto. Witnessing the heavenly Niagara was the best treat for my birthday.  I totally forgot about the fact that I am getting another year older as I was totally awed by this historic mist.  The view of the falls from my room at the Marriott Hotel & Spa was spectacular and jaw dropping that I mostly enjoyed on my first night just sitting by my window.  The hotel is in its prime location over looking both the Canadian and American side of the falls.  The only thing that I was missing during my visit was the blue sky.

I spent my Monday, 22 November, with a beautiful lunch at Peller Estates – one of the many stunning wineries on Niagara on the Lake region. I could honestly say that the best time to visit Niagara Falls would be around summer and/or fall.

Having a good train experience to Canada, I decided to return to NY via Amtrak Empire Service. This time I boarded the train on the NY side of Niagara Falls as it was easier and quicker to drive through the US Custom border checkpoint.  The train departed at 6:40 am. The total travel time was 8 hours.

From here on, I will incline to go back to the usual Friday release of my travel update.

Comments courtesy of

Posted by Lisa 3 Dec 2010 1:14:31 PM
You have, once again, painted such a vivid picture in your tale. Happy birthday too!
Posted by Paul – Allabout Tours and Travel 3 Dec 2010 4:42:47 PM
Hey Michelle, its Paul here we used to work at AMEX together about 5 years ago! WOW what a fantastic blog this is, cant wait to read your next installment. Take care and enjoy your travels!! Best Wishes Paul
Posted by Mark 6 Dec 2010 4:43:52 PM
This is another interesting and entertaining article. Ramsay is also one of my favorite chefs – you are a lucky girl. He should read this awesome article.
Posted by Michelle 7 Dec 2010 12:56:09 PM
Hey Lisa, thanks for the birthday wish. Hopefully next year you will be there to join the fun. Cheers Michelle x
Posted by Michelle 7 Dec 2010 1:02:52 PM
Hey Paul, great to hear from you and thank you for the kind note and wishes. I hope you are doing well yourself. I will certainly do my best to keep each article interesting to read. Cheers now, Michelle
Posted by Michelle 7 Dec 2010 1:11:33 PM
Glad you like it Mark and thank you for your kind comments. I certainly saw the difference meeting Ramsay in person. I do wish one day he will get to read this article… Take care now, Michelle


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