CANADA HIGH

MATT NEWBURY HEADS OFF TO TORONTO, HOME TO THIS YEAR’S WORLD PRIDE – TAK­ING IN THE BIG AP­PLE AND NI­A­GARA FALLS ALONG THE WAY

Pride Life Magazine - - CONTENTS -

On the road from New York to Toronto by way of Ni­a­gara Falls

I’m pre­car­i­ously hang­ing off the roof of the re­volv­ing restau­rant of the CN Tower, 116 storeys off the ground be­low, per­form­ing an ex­er­cise our in­struc­tor calls “Toes Over Toronto”. The stunt in­volves each of our group slid­ing their feet to the edge of a plat­form so our toes are just over the edge and giv­ing a hands-free wave to the peo­ple in the city some 365 me­tres be­low. That’s like the height of 36 Olympic high div­ing boards on top of one another, Tom Da­ley fans! Not only that, but the chirpy in­struc­tor has just de­scribed the frankly terrifying ma­noeu­vre as “a nice tame start” in a se­ries of ever-more chal­leng­ing dares he has up his sleeve for us.

I’ve done both a para­chute jump and a bungee jump, but nei­ther of th­ese was any­where near as butt-clench­ingly pet­ri­fy­ing as The Edge Walk, a dizzy­ing guided walk around the cir­cum­fer­ence of the tallest build­ing in the western hemi­sphere, on a plat­form barely five feet wide. And none of them in­volved a breathal­yser test be­fore we set off.

The dare­devil ex­pe­ri­ence is of­fi­cially the world’s high­est ex­ter­nal walk on a build­ing, with ad­ven­tur­ers at­tached by wire to an over­head safety rail that cir­cles the build­ing. I think it’s the peer pres­sure of be­ing in a group that pre­vents me from grip­ping the ex­te­rior door of the build­ing, frozen and stub­bornly re­fus­ing to move, and I soon find my­self hang­ing both back­wards and for­wards off the build­ing and some­how even en­joy­ing the spec­tac­u­lar view of this in­cred­i­ble city.

The Edge Walk Ex­pe­ri­ence (edge­walkc­n­tower.ca) is a lit­eral cli­max to a won­der­ful ad­ven­ture that be­gan 500 miles away in New York City. We’d dis­cov­ered that it was far cheaper to fly into New York than di­rect to Canada and after a bit of re­search dis­cov­ered the ex­is­tence of the ro­man­tic sound­ing Maple Leaf Ex­press train up to Toronto via Ni­a­gara Falls – a per­fect three-cen­tre hol­i­day.

I first trav­elled to New York when I was 18 as part of the Camp Amer­ica pro­gramme (yes, it re­ally was called that), and then re­turned for two of the fa­mous Stonewall Equal­ity Walks that took hun­dreds of sup­port­ers on a 10mile hike through the gay his­tory of the city, fin­ish­ing at the leg­endary Stonewall Bar. New York was also the first place I ever went on hol­i­day with my boyfriend Aaron, so we were very ex­cited to re­turn and not only reac­quaint our­selves with this mag­nif­i­cent city, but also dis­cover what’s new as well.

We stum­bled upon the per­fect place to stay, Dou­ble Tree by Hil­ton in Chelsea (dou­bletree.com) which is lo­cated in a funky area within walk­ing dis­tance of Times Square and Broad­way and only a short stroll from Penn Sta­tion for air­port trans­fers and also for jumping on the train to Canada at the end of our Big Ap­ple visit. We stayed in a stylish View King Bed­room. As the name sug­gests it had a won­der­ful view of the Em­pire State Build­ing, which was lit in a pink colour for our ar­rival – or per­haps for Breast Can­cer Aware­ness. That said, the build­ing is lit in rainbow colours at the end of June for New York City Pride Week.

Adding a some­what surreal el­e­ment to our stay, ev­ery cor­ri­dor, el­e­va­tor and ta­ble in the bar seemed to have been taken over by Ly­cra-clad su­per­heroes. Comic Con was tak­ing place in the area, which couldn’t have been any more per­fect as we’d booked evening tick­ets to see Spi­der-Man: Turn Off the Dark, just be­fore it closed and headed off to Ve­gas. The spec­tac­u­lar high-fly­ing show with mu­sic from U2 is part of The Broad­way Col­lec­tion (broad­way­col­lec­tion.com), which in­cludes other shows that can’t be seen in the West End, like Pip­pin, Newsies, and Kinky Boots (a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Cyndi Lau­per and the amaz­ing Har­vey Fier­stein). Hav­ing spent hours queu­ing for the­atre tick­ets at some ridicu­lous time in the morn­ing on our last visit, we’d highly rec­om­mend book­ing shows in ad­vance.

For sheer con­ve­nience, we both pur­chased a New York City Pass (ci­typass.com) which cost around $100 each and gives you some­thing like a 40% re­duc­tion on half a dozen of the best attractions in Man­hat­tan. This means you can go up both the Em­pire State Build­ing (es­b­nyc.com) and Top of the Rock (topofthe­rock­nyc.com) - per­haps one sky­scraper in the day­time and another at night? - , as well as tak­ing a Cir­cle Line Cruise and vis­it­ing the rather won­der­ful MoMA (The Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art, moma.org). It also in­cludes the Amer­i­can Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral

“Adding a some­what surreal el­e­ment to our stay, ev­ery ta­ble in the bar seemed to have been taken over by LY­CRA-CLAD SU­PER­HEROES”

His­tory (the one from Night at the Mu­seum, amnh.org) which is con­ve­niently lo­cated look­ing over Cen­tral Park, mak­ing it a per­fect stop be­fore ex­plor­ing this mag­i­cal green heart of the city. Don’t miss the Plan­e­tar­ium visit (it’s also in­cluded) with Whoopi Gold­berg as your guide!

Our ho­tel in Chelsea was also per­fectly lo­cated to stroll over to the start of The High Line (the­high­line.org), an ex­tra­or­di­nary pub­lic space that has seen a friends’ group con­vert a mile long length of an aban­doned el­e­vated rail­way line into an amaz­ing green walk through the Lower West Side of Man­hat­tan. Nat­u­ralised plant­ings in­spired by the self-seeded land­scape that grew on the dis­used tracks add amaz­ing colours to the walk through Chelsea and the Meat­pack­ing Dis­trict. It then con­tin­ues past some amaz­ing ar­chi­tec­ture (the project kick-started a re­nais­sance in the area that has made it a highly de­sir­able area to live, and with a sig­nif­i­cant gay pop­u­la­tion) with un­ex­pected views down over the Hud­son River. There are loads of art in­stal­la­tions and live per­for­mances to stum­ble upon along the way, as well as places to just chill and es­cape the hec­tic city be­low.

Nei­ther of us had ever vis­ited the 9/11 Memo­rial (911memo­rial.org), a gen­uinely mov­ing trib­ute of re­mem­brance and hon­our to nearly 3,000 peo­ple who lost their lives at the World Trade Cen­ter site in 2001, as well as those aboard Flight 77 and the six peo­ple killed in the World Trade Cen­ter bombing in 1993. The ar­chi­tec­turally breath-tak­ing memo­rial in­cludes two twin re­flect­ing pools, each nearly an acre in size and fea­tures the largest man­made wa­ter­falls in North Amer­ica. De­signed by Michael Arad, the pools sit within the foot­prints of the Twin Tow­ers with the names of ev­ery per­son who died in­scribed into bronze pan­els edg­ing the pools. An ecofriendly plaza sur­rounds the main memo­rial, planted with 442 swamp white oaks trees, a nat­u­ral re­minder of life, re­silience and re­birth.

After two hard days of sight­see­ing and be­ing in a city that never sleeps, a bit of nightlife was also on the cards. Although Hell’s Kitchen has be­come the new gay-trendy place to hang out (check out the spec­tac­u­lar OUT NYC Ho­tel, the­out­nyc.com, and XL Night­club, xl­night­club.com), I still have a fond­ness for Green­wich Vil­lage and the bo­hemian charm of the area around Sheri­dan Square and Christo­pher Street. After a pil­grim­age to the Stonewall Bar (the­stonewallinnnyc.com) for a first beer, noth­ing beats ex­plor­ing the pi­ano and cabaret bars around the area en­joy­ing a so­cial sin­ga­long with some tal­ented ine­bri­ates.

The fol­low­ing day we jumped on the 7.15am (ouch…) Maple Leaf Ex­press Train to Canada and were soon sit­ting in some in­cred­i­bly com­fort­able seats ready for the scenic nine hour jour­ney to Ni­a­gara. Two top tips – if you book early (am­trak.com) Business Class seats are only a few dol­lars more than the reg­u­lar ones, and sit on the left hand side in the di­rec­tion of travel for the

best views. The early part of the jour­ney takes out of the ur­ban me­trop­o­lis of NYC through the spec­tac­u­lar Hud­son River Val­ley (it was au­tumn when we took the trip, so the fo­liage was mag­nif­i­cent) and then on into the dra­matic gorges of the Fin­ger Lakes re­gion, New York’s wine coun­try.

It’s a tad odd clear­ing cus­toms in a train sta­tion (although greatly helped by some rather buff Cana­dian se­cu­rity staff), but we were soon un­pack­ing at the Radis­son Ho­tel and ready to go ex­plor­ing. Our first view of Ni­a­gara Falls was at night from the top of the iconic Sky­lon Tower (sky­lon.com), with im­pres­sive light­ing show­ing the wa­ter­falls off in spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion. Ni­a­gara Falls is the col­lec­tive name for the three wa­ter­falls that strad­dle the bor­der be­tween New York State and On­tario - Bridal Veil Falls, the Amer­ica Falls and Horse­shoe Falls. The lat­ter is clos­est to the Cana­dian side and is the most pow­er­ful wa­ter­fall in North Amer­ica.

It was up bright and early the next morn­ing to be picked up by Vin­tage Wine Tours (ni­a­gar­avin­tagewine­tours.com) for a highly quaf­fa­ble tour around the nearby wine re­gion. We’d booked the Ap­pel­la­tion Wine Tour which con­sisted of a full day of tast­ings around four award-win­ning winer­ies, learn­ing ev­ery­thing there is to know about wine from our ridicu­lously knowl­edge­able guide Gus. As well as vis­it­ing some fas­ci­nat­ing fam­ily-run winer­ies (and mak­ing a fair few pur­chases along the way), the tour also in­cluded a stop for de­li­cious à-la-carte lunch at the 4-di­a­mond Oban Inn sit­u­ated in the charm­ing town of Ni­a­gara-on-the-Lake. Ni­a­gara Vin­tage Wine Tours con­sis­tently win the award for the best thing to do in the re­gion on Trip Ad­vi­sor and as we floated back into the ho­tel, mel­lowed by de­li­cious lo­cal ice wines, it’s easy to un­der­stand why. Hic…

Ni­a­gara it­self has a touch of the Ve­gas about it, boast­ing casi­nos and end­less en­ter­tain­ment dis­trac­tions, but it is the nat­u­ral won­der of the falls that wins hands down and we en­joyed them from ev­ery pos­si­ble an­gle. Jour­ney Be­hind the Falls, as the name sug­gests, takes you be­hind the pow­er­ful cur­tain of wa­ter, and close up on an ob­ser­va­tion deck at the foot of the falls, although our favourite way of en­joy­ing them was from the air in one of the rainbow-coloured Ni­a­gara He­li­copters (ni­a­gara­he­li­copters.com). It’s a gen­uinely thrilling ex­pe­ri­ence and we both had sat­is­fied grins on our faces for at least an hour af­ter­wards. The company also do wed­dings, should you fancy say­ing “I do” in the chapel in the sky!

Two other top places to visit if you are stay­ing in the area are Nightmares Fear Fac­tory (night­mares­fear­fac­tory.com), a gen­uinely terrifying haunted house at­trac­tion, and the Ni­a­gara Sand Sculp­ture Ex­hi­bi­tion (v2­ni­a­gara.com) which is not only the big­gest of its kind in North Amer­ica, but cov­ers a fas­ci­nat­ing part of Canada’s his­tory so you learn a lit­tle some­thing as well.

We jumped on Mega Bus (yes they have them too…) for the short jour­ney to Toronto and checked into the rather won­der­ful SoHo Met­ro­pol­i­tan Ho­tel. The SoHo Met is a mem­ber of Pre­ferred Pride (pre­ferred­pride.com), Pre­ferred Ho­tel Group’s world­wide col­lec­tion of ho­tels and re­sorts that are ei­ther TAG-cer­ti­fied or a mem­ber of the IGLTA.

“Our first view of Ni­a­gara Falls was at night from the top of the iconic Sky­lon Tower with im­pres­sive light­ing show­ing the wa­ter­falls off in spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion”

Not only does this mean you are to­tally wel­come as an LGBT trav­eller, you’ll also get a wel­come treat. Check­ing into our suite we were de­lighted to find a bot­tle of sparkling wine on ice and choco­late-dipped straw­ber­ries in rainbow colours taste­fully pre­sented on a ba­nana leaf. What a nice wel­come!

We’d re­ally wanted to come to Toronto, as not only is the city sup­posed to be amaz­ing but the gay scene is re­garded as be­ing one of the big­gest and best in the world. Toronto is also host­ing WorldPride 2014 in June and we’d heard that the or­gan­is­ers are tak­ing the hon­our very se­ri­ously. To find out more we met up for an in­cred­i­ble seafood lunch at The Chase Fish & Seafood (thechase­toronto.com) with Michelle Simp­son from Tourism Toronto and Kevin and Trevor for Pride Toronto. And after chat­ting to the en­thu­si­as­tic, pas­sion­ate and pro­fes­sional team, the cel­e­bra­tions do sound like they will be out-of-this-world.

Pride Toronto is al­ready one of the largest events of its kind in the world, at­tract­ing more than 1.22 mil­lion peo­ple. For WorldPride Toronto they are ex­pect­ing to shat­ter th­ese fig­ures with a 10-day fes­ti­val that prom­ises to “turn streets into pa­rades, parks into par­ties and strangers into friends”. High­lights will in­clude spec­tac­u­lar open­ing and clos­ing cer­e­monies, the pres­ti­gious WorldPride Gala and Awards, an in­ter­na­tional hu­man right con­fer­ence, the vi­brant and colour­ful Pride Pa­rade, the Trans March and the Dyke March, bustling street fairs and one of the big­gest and best arts and cul­ture fes­ti­vals in the world.

We were ea­ger to find out where the fes­tiv­i­ties would be tak­ing place, so after fin­ish­ing the sump­tu­ous seafood ban­quet it was off for a guided tour of Toronto’s gay vil­lage with the won­der­fully named Liz Devine from Rainbow High Va­ca­tions (rain­bowhigh­va­ca­tions.com). The Vil­lage, which is cen­tred on the in­ter­sec­tion of Church and Welles­ley Streets, is home to Canada’s largest gay com­mu­nity and is packed with cafés, restau­rants, shops and a stag­ger­ing num­ber of gay bars and restau­rants.

Liz pro­vided a fas­ci­nat­ing in­sight into how the LGBT com­mu­nity has be­come one of the most es­tab­lished and proac­tive in the world. It’s a cap­ti­vat­ing and of­ten mov­ing tour look­ing at how gay civil rights have been won, tak­ing in ev­ery­thing from the Bath­house Ri­ots (Toronto’s Stonewall) to the es­tab­lish­ment of the 519 (an amaz­ing LGBT com­mu­nity cen­tre), the Toronto AIDS Memo­rial and the Cana­dian Les­bian and Gay Ar­chives. It’s worth not­ing that if you are think­ing of go­ing to Toronto WorldPride, Rainbow High Va­ca­tions have put to­gether some amaz­ing ac­tiv­i­ties you

can book in­clud­ing open air rooftop din­ing, a meet a drag queen ex­pe­ri­ence, and our favourite – a mys­tery date night in the dark. They will take you to a restau­rant that is com­pletely dark (the en­tire wait­ing staff are blind) and match you with a din­ner date you’ll only get to know through din­ner and con­ver­sa­tion! Are you brave enough…

The Vil­lage looks re­ally fa­mil­iar as the Amer­i­can ver­sion of Queer As Folk was filmed here, while many places in the city are recog­nis­able as film lo­ca­tions. One of the most popular places to film is the Dis­tillery Dis­trict, a charm­ing re­de­vel­op­ment of the for­mer Good­er­ham and Worts Dis­tillery, packed with cafés, restau­rants and shops housed within 40 her­itage build­ings. Films that have used the area as a lo­ca­tion in­clude X Men, Cin­derella Man and Chicago (ob­vi­ously…). One of the most fun ways of ex­plor­ing the area is on a tour or­gan­ised by Seg­way of On­tario (seg­way­o­fontario.com), tak­ing in a lit­tle choco­late and beer tast­ing along the way. Nei­ther of us had ever been on a Seg­way be­fore, but they are in­cred­i­bly in­tu­itive and easy to use, while our bril­liant guide made the ex­pe­ri­ence one of the high­lights of our stay.

For pure unadul­ter­ated fun, a visit to Canada’s Won­der­land (canadas­won­der­land.com) just north of the city is a must. The theme park is open from May to Septem­ber and again for Hal­lowe’en and

“Not only is Toronto amaz­ing but the gay scene is re­garded as be­ing one of the big­gest and best in the world”

fea­tures 16 roller coast­ers, more than any park out­side of the United States. The park boasts one of the world’s big­gest and tallest coast­ers, the aptly named Le­viathan, as well as Canada’s long­est wooden coaster, the Mighty Cana­dian Mine­b­uster.

Toronto also boasts some world-class restau­rants and one of our favourites while in The Vil­lage was Smith Restau­rant (553church.com). Both the dé­cor and food are funky and nos­tal­gic, while the cock­tails are dan­ger­ously mor­eish. While in Yorkville (the Bev­er­ley Hills or Toronto), Sas­safraz (sas­safraz.ca) is the place to for lunch sur­rounded by the glam­orous and beau­ti­ful, even if you didn’t ar­rive by Fer­rari. Fi­nally Men­grai Gourmet Thai (men­graithai.com ) could very well be the best restau­rant in Toronto. The Red Chicken Curry with Ly­chee, served in a fresh carved pineap­ple is ridicu­lously de­li­cious and it’s no won­der that the restau­rant at­tracts all the stars when they’re film­ing in the coun­try. Chef Sasi and her charis­matic hus­band Al­lan are also a de­light to meet – make sure he shows you the Sa­muel L Jack­son pics on his phone, taken in the restau­rant’s kitchen.

Our fi­nal meal is in 360 The Restau­rant at the CN Tower and some­how food seems to taste in­cred­i­ble when you’ve just sur­vived half an hour hang­ing off the roof above. En­joy­ing a glass of wine from the world’s high­est wine cel­lar, we take in the in­cred­i­ble views from the re­volv­ing restau­rant, from the stun­ning water­front area to Casa Loma – a ma­jes­tic cas­tle that served as the Xavier In­sti­tute in the X Men films. The city re­ally is one of the most ex­cit­ing and fun ci­ties in the world and by com­bin­ing it with a visit to New York made the whole ad­ven­ture a hol­i­day of a lifetime. We cer­tainly can’t wait to re­turn to Toronto (we only scratched the sur­face on our all too brief visit) and World Pride seems like the per­fect op­por­tu­nity. Who fan­cies com­ing?

THIS PAGE FROM TOP: DIS­TILLERY DIS­TRICT, TORONTO; CHASE FISH & SEAFOOD RESTAU­RANT IN TORONTO; NI­A­GARA FALLS; NI­A­GARA HE­LI­COPTER; WINE TAST­ING IN NI­A­GARA

CLOCK­WISE FROM OP­PO­SITE: TORONTO’S CB TOWER, THE TALLEST BUILD­ING IN THE WESTERN HEMI­SPHERE; TOWER EDGE WALK; MATT AND AARON WITH TOES OVER TORONTO

THIS PAGE CLOCK­WISE FROM LEFT: THE HIGH LINE IN NEW YORK; 9/ 11 MEMO­RIAL, NEW YORK; VIEW FROM THE EM­PIRE STATE BUILD­ING

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