Saturday, March 28, 2015

Winter Weekend at the Falls

Having spent my entire life in the Greater Toronto Area, I have been to Niagara Falls more times than I can count. When family and Friends from abroad came to visit they were always eager to see either the iconic Toronto focal point, the CN Tower, or the world’s most powerful waterfall located just about an hour down the Queen Elizabeth Way.

In my adult years trips down to Niagara have been fewer and further between. Maybe I took this wonder of the world for granted, or maybe it’s one of those things you can only see so many times. However Niagara Falls is so much more than the falls themselves. The city is home to two world-class casinos, there is a plethora of fantastic restaurants, a brand new outlet mall and even the kitschy tourist trap known as Clifton Hill.

My wife and I decided to spend a night at the falls during a recent winter's weekend as a chance to see the falls in their partially frozen state (something, in my years of visiting the falls during the warm summer months, I had yet to experience).

We started things off by taking a nice stroll across Niagara Parkway, admiring  the postcard-worthy views of both the Horseshoe and American Falls in their glorious part-frozen, snowy state.

The half-frozen American Falls, with the City of Niagara Falls, NY in the background 
The majestic Canadian Horseshoe Falls
From there we headed up Clifton Hill where you will find a colourful, kitschy display of pop culture. A wax museum, a ferris wheel, an arcade and even a giant Frankenstein on top of a Burger King. We didn’t spend much time on Clifton, as it is easily one of the largest collections over-priced establishments you will find anywhere, but the uphill walk was refreshing and provided a few great photo op’s.

The kitschy charm of Clifton Hill
No shortage of activities (bring your wallet)
Ripley's Museum - A Clifton Hill institution
At the top of Clifton Hill we settled in for dinner at Antica Pizzeria, a great pizza place we try to make it to anytime we are in Niagara. Then it was off to try our luck at Fallsview Casino.

First opened in 2004, Fallsview Casino is about as close as you are going to get to a Las Vegas super-Casino in Canada. It is massive, chic and loaded with Vegas-style extras like boutique shopping, several restaurants including the classic all-you-can-eat buffet, a performing stage and much more. On a Saturday night the casino was expectedly packed and many games were hard to come by. I initially tried to get my hands on some digital roulette (prefer that over the standard table roulette which requires some etiquette), however there were no terminals available, and plenty of people circling waiting to grab anything that did open up. We decided to switch our attention to the slots and digital blackjack where we lost a combined $40, an acceptable “cost of entertainment” for non-gamblers such as ourselves.

Fallsview Casino would not be out of place on the Vegas strip.
Using our Player’s Advantage Card (the Casino’s loyalty program) we were able to earn free parking at the casino’s underground parking structure. Since our hotel was only about a 7min walk from the casino, this saved us the $20 the hotel wanted to charge us to park for the weekend. 

Niagara Falls is rightfully one of the top tourist destinations in the world, and it doesn’t have to be expensive either if you do the right research. There are plenty of mid-week hotel deals available through sites like Groupon or WagJag, and sometimes they even include meal, attraction and/or gambling incentives. The falls are beautiful all year round, the dining options plentiful, and you can always find some action at the 24-7 casinos. There is a little something for everyone in Niagara Falls. 

Here is our review of the Radisson Fallsview Hotel. An affordable and conveniently located home base for your Falls trip.

View from partial fallsview room at the Radisson
In my next post I'll get to the 2nd portion of our winter getaway weekend. Touring a winery by snow shoe!

Mike @ Palms & Pints

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Snow Shoeing - Winter's Cardio

About 5 years ago I discovered the joy of running. At first it was all about fitness as I was terribly out of shape and looking to lose some weight. By the second or third year however it became more about my passion for the sport, the love of the outdoors and the desire to be in the sunshine on anything from a crisp April morning to a sweltering July afternoon.

Proud of my first medal at one of my first running events

While my running evolved over the first four years, one thing stayed the same. I did not run in the winter. Something about the temperatures dipping below 5C just turned me right off the sport and had me indoors until the following spring. This winter, however, I was able to put that behind me and run right into the depths of January and February. This new found love of cold weather activity sparked a new interest which made use of the snowy, slippery terrain; snow shoeing. 

It started by chance. Early in the winter a buddy had bugged me to try cross-country skiing with him. I did... and I hated it. I had trouble staying on my feet and even when I could I must have looked like a drunk flamingo. He saw my struggles and recommended we try something with a lesser learning curve for the rest of the afternoon, so we strapped on some snow shoes and headed for the trail.

First snow shoe adventure near Barrie, Ontario

Fast forward two months and I now own my own pair of snow shoes (Atlas 9-series), and have been out on many adventures both back-trail and urban. My first big run was High Falls trail in the southern tip of Algonquin Park's panhandle. Great views of a mostly frozen river/waterfall and beautiful forest scenery. Algonquin is one of my favourite places to visit, and the snowy winter setting puts a fresh spin on it.

Beautiful frozen scenery
High Falls Trail - Algonquin Park 
Moose sighting after leaving the High Falls trail

Not being able to 'get away' every weekend however has forced me to track down some great urban snow shoeing. I explored the parklands of my own neighbourhood here in Mississauga and while there were no wild life sightings, I had myself a great view of a passing GO Train. I feel as though you don't really know even your own neighbourhood unless it is explored outside of a car. In the summer this can be done on a bike or even on foot, but in the winter time snow shoeing is a fantastic option.

Loving my Atlas snow shoes

Many chilly Sunday mornings have been spent with my father-in-law in Brampton trekking across several city parks. We cruise through thick powdery snow that boots alone wouldn't dream of, passing by small half-frozen duck-filled ponds. These trips even include a bit of urban exploration checking out an abandoned highway overpass which had been decommissioned since the closing of a quarry many years earlier.

Urban exploration - a decommissioned highway overpass
Out exploring, even on the coldest of winter days

While snow shoeing doesn't offer the adrenaline of snowboarding or downhill skiing, it is a great (affordable!) winter sport for those looking to explore nature, see their own local park from a new perspective or even just keep up with that outdoor cardio in the harsh Canadian winter. Just remember to layer up!


Note - For those who like to track progress I highly recommend the Strava app/site. It is great for running, cycling and even has an option to track other types of movement like snow shoeing. 

Mike @ Palms & Pints