Sunday 3rd August
We got up early on Sunday and had breakfast at Pershing Square – where we often eat breakfast if we’re in New York as a family. It calls itself the ‘busiest breakfast in New York’ and I wouldn’t argue against that! The food is good, portions are generous, and turnaround is quick.
Having packed up the rest of our stuff, we went to pick up the hire car at the airport. Delays ensued but we finally got on the road at about 11:30, and began to leave the city behind us. Some of the views back at Manhattan from the north were beautiful, but I felt another pang of sadness when the last tips of skyscrapers and glimpses of bridge down the Hudson finally disappeared.
Rather than taking us straight north, through some of the scenic bits of upstate, our Satnav took us west through New Jersey. It was quick, but…scenic? Not so much. We even got as far as crossing into Pennsylvania, before we finally started heading back North. At least I can add two more states to my checklist, which now stands at, er, 7/50.
As we re-entered New York State, the heavens opened. It was the most prolonged, and worst, rain I’d seen since being in New York, and it lasted for ages. We bypassed Syracuse – not much point in stopping if we couldn’t leave the car without drowning – and carried on to Rochester, which was our earmarked destination for the night. We stopped briefly at a service station when the rain became too heavy to drive in, and watched people running, screaming from their cars.
We used the service station WiFi to find a place to stay in Rochester, and ended up at a lovely little hotel in a quiet, tree-lined street full of large detached houses with yawning front porches, and which generally felt like a million miles from NYC. A late dinner was followed by the best night’s sleep I’d had in months.
Monday 4th August
We had a lie in, and then had a late breakfast. Sitting by the window, with the sun streaming in, Rochester innocently pretended that yesterday’s rain hadn’t happened. After all that’s happened in the last couple of months, it felt like a very odd place to be waking up to on my birthday, but not in a bad way. We packed up soon after, and hit the road again.
Rochester to Buffalo was a drive of about 45 minutes. They call Buffalo the ‘architectural’ heart of New York, and this proved true by some of the impressive buildings we saw. More impressive however, were the famed Buffalo chicken wings I ate at lunchtime. I’m remembering them now, as I write, and can hear my stomach rumbling. Why don’t I have any right here?!
Next up was Niagara Falls which I was very excited about. We’d heard that the Canadian side was by far the better viewpoint, so instead of driving up through north-west Buffalo, we went south-west and crossed the Peace Bridge into Canada. The queues to get across the border were huge, and everyone seemed to be going from the US into Canada, rather than the other way (it felt a bit like we were fleeing a natural disaster or something). Eventually we got across, and I set foot on Canadian soil for the first time in my life. It was in a customs car park, but still.
We drove on to Niagara. It becomes clear when you’re nearing the Falls by the sudden increase in volume of cars, touristy shops, and big hotels. When we looped down another road, the roads were immediately full of people, and beyond them, our first glimpse of the Falls. We parked the car and then walked to join the crowds.
It’s easy to see what brought them there. Horseshoe Falls was directly in front of us, with American Falls to the left. Between them, a fifth of the world’s fresh water flows over a height of around 51 metres. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I was very impressed. I don’t think photos can really do it justice – it’s something you have to see in person. I did find it funny to see the boats way down below, which take tourists in waterproof ponchos up close to the Falls, where they get soaked through and scream. After walking up and down, taking it all in (and confirming that this side had the much better views than if we were in Buffalo), we set off for Toronto.
About 30 minutes after we set off, the rain began again. And got worse. And worse. And worse. By the time we’d reached Burlington on the Queen Elizabeth Highway, the traffic had slowed to crawling, and then stopped completely. We thought there must have been an accident ahead – it later turned out that they had to shut the highway because of flooding. In any case, plans for my birthday meal in Toronto quickly evaporated. Instead, we passed around a pack of Cheetos and some popcorn as we inched our way forwards over the course of three hours. By the time we got to Toronto it was midnight, and we had to drive around before we found a hotel that had space for us. All the roads seemed to be undergoing construction, which made it difficult to get around. We eventually found a hotel, and were just thankful to be off the road. It was certainly a birthday to remember!
Our time in Toronto was brilliant. The next night, I was treated to a great birthday dinner at Canoe restaurant, which is very high up with a great view over the city. We did some of the touristy musts – including the CN tower, Eaton shopping centre, Chinatown etc – as well as plenty of wandering around, seeing the Toronto University campus (beautiful), and I just enjoyed a switch off from the intensive months of the course. My mum and I also spent a day at the Rogers Cup tennis tournament, where we saw some great matches and players, from Djokovic and Dimitrov, to Berdych and home favourite, Raonic. We rushed to the practice courts to see Federer too, of course. On our way to the tennis we walked through York University campus, to be confronted by a sort of big, tailless beaver thing. It ran right up to us and got up on its hind legs, and up close I recognised it from my trip to the Natural History Museum as a groundhog! I was mildly concerned that touching it would result in rabies, but the people around us were encouraging, and said that it was the local neighbourhood groundhog, Len, so I petted his head. Realising we had no food, Len moved on a passing family, whose daughter shrieked and tried to hide in some bushes, as if she were being approached by a bear.
Too soon, it was time to fly home, only to find our flight delayed. We eventually set off from Toronto at around 11:30pm on Friday – after enjoying the pretty snazzy airport, where every table comes with an iPad – and arrived back in London the following day. The sun was shining, which almost never happens when you come back from holiday!
Arriving home again felt a little surreal, especially because the last two months haven’t really sunk in yet. My task for the rest of the weekend was just to sleep, rest, recover before going back to work on Monday.
To be continued!