Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Getaway

They really are that polite.

So, we went to Canada and didn't see one moose!

Despite the lack of 1000-lb. wildlife (in the urban area of the Niagara Peninsula, so that's probably a good thing), we had not made a neighborly visit across the northern border since the late 70s and thought it was past time to do so.  Back then, we went to Montreal during a beautiful summer week, discovered Salade Nicoise and the beauty of hearing French spoken all around, then (pre-GPS) got hopelessly lost in its southern suburbs, but had a great time overall.

No such good fortune with the weather this time, but everything else was as delightful as before.  We lucked into a 29th floor room at a Marriott looking directly at Niagara Falls, which is quite a view to have both at night (with the illumination by giant lights and the weekend fireworks) and in the morning.  And not only had the iPad GPS directed us without fail, but some Trip Advisor internet research allowed us to escape the punishing $25-a-day parking fee by using the nearby casino's garage at only $5.  And gas prices are down while our aging car is getting better mileage all the time (why?), and the whole thing was arranged through a thrifty Groupon offer.  It pays to keep up with things.

Speaking of which, we didn't exchange domestic cash for Canadian, but instead relied on the VISA for everything, and that worked out fine.  We brought back the legal limit of wine (which isn't much), but the duty really isn't very high even if we had gone crazy.  The only problem there is that it's illegal to bring it into PA, so if on the very off-chance that we'd lost it to PA's finest, I'd rather lose four bottles than 40.  We did bring back more internally, starting with our waiter Brian's recommendation of a rose from a family operation named Trois Femmes.  We made sure we had one of Brian's tables thereafter, in gratitude.

Tourist season was pretty much over, which made getting around quite easy.  Despite the U.K. heritage, they don't do that wacky driving on the left thing, and the road signs aren't undecipherable European symbols.  Not only that, but the drivers actually obey the rules, yield to pedestrians, and don't yell and honk.  A Philadelphian would be dumbstruck.  But he'd still run the pedestrians down.  I guess there must be some disagreeable people somewhere in Canada, but I challenge you to find one.

 Unlike beach towns in October, though, all the restaurants were still open.  If you're a steak fan, you'd love downtown NF; I counted at least 14 steak places just in the neighborhood.  We, however, had our culinary sights set on getting to a Tim Horton's (Canada's Starbucks), and despite the one by the Falls being closed, you can always find another nearby (just like Starbucks).   It was too early for lots of heavy Canadian-style winter wear, but we felt that hanging out there gave us some genuine northern exposure.

You wouldn't think that a place with such trying winters would be a big producer of very fine wine, but the Peninsula is indeed that, so we set out on the one nice day to find out about it (get into your Eastern Canadian pronunciation here; it's aboot).  Both the Trius and Peller Estate establishments have lovely tasting rooms and impressive restaurants.  We took the tour at the latter to find out about (there it is again) ice wine.  It's a specialty of Canada and Germany, although produced in many other places with an appropriate climate.  After the first freeze, the winery calls the people who have signed up to come immediately and pick the now-frozen grapes all at once and barehanded (they do switch off on jobs, so no one is out long enough to get frostbite!).  After a taste of both their Vidal and rare Cabernet Franc ice wines, I'm very glad they do all that, but I'm surprised they get people do it more than once.  There is very little juice in the frozen grapes, the handling is labor-intensive, and it all depends on weather and timing, so the result is expensive and comes just in the little skinny half-size bottles.  We're saving ours for the holidays to go with that great Collin Street Bakery fruitcake  (and I don't want to hear from you fruitcake haters out there).


Old Town, N.O.T.L.  Like Williamsburg, with the occasional stuffed moose.

Last was a visit to a tasting shop in the charming Old Town area of Niagara-On-The-Lake, just a few miles past the wineries, where we discovered that the Wayne Gretzky wines were even better than the wonderful ones we'd sampled earlier.  Who knew?  If you ever find it near you, don't pass it up.  You really can't go wrong with any hockey/beverage connection in Canada, eh?

Canadian-flavor joke we heard at the dinner-theater production, "Oh Canada, Eh?" --

How are the Titanic and the Toronto Maple Leafs similar?

-- Both looked pretty good until they hit the ice!