Sedona, Arizona – Arriving In The Desert

Rachel and I were a phone call away from moving to the southwestern United States in late 2019. The desert vibe really called to us and I love the heat. I enjoy when my face is melting off from the toasty warmth of the sun. When things fell through, we still kept talking about exploring more of the western half of the country. It was an area largely untapped by us except for a handful of trips in the past.

Overlook at a rest stop on I-17.
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My favorite hikes in Sedona

Sedona was chosen for a few reasons. The two biggest were that we’ve read so much about how beautiful of an area it was and it was a good spot for outdoor activities, which was a plus for COVID times. Here’s how our trip went:

Reagan National Airport (DCA) is not an airport we fly out of often in the DMV area. We usually find ourselves at BWI or IAD. The first thing we noticed was how ridiculously expensive parking was at DCA. The economy lot was $17/day and there were essentially no nearby lots available with better rates. Lesson learned from this: book parking well in advance or get a ride to the airport.

We flew with American Airlines for the relatively quick flight cross-country. There were two minor inconveniences that we ran into, however – first, I was unable to use the trip credit I received from switching our flights back in May. Since I couldn’t do that, I booked the tickets through the Hopper app which saved us a good chunk of change. When boarding passes became available, I was notified that my seat selections didn’t go through so we were randomly distributed into the cabin. No biggie, I was able to nod out for a good portion of the early morning flight.

Rental car Volkswagen Jetta from Hertz
Whip for the week.

We were picking up a car from Hertz which according to their website, “is prohibited from providing Pick Up and return Service if you arrive at an airport- either from the Hertz airport location or from any Hertz off airport location.” A quick Uber ride over, we were able to pick up our car for the next few days. I went with dealer’s choice netting us an early 2010s VW Jetta. A few dings and smoke stains, but an otherwise reliable vessel to get us from point-A to point-B.

We set off on our venture, an easy two and a half hour drive up I-17. The first thing we noticed was how green it was. We had expected it to be a barren desert all around with a few cacti poking up. It was really green however, with some rolling meadows and small tree forests blanketing the landscape. We passed the first two exits that our GPS had suggested, opting instead for the famous State Route 179, also known as the Red Rock Scenic Byway.

[To be continued in the next post…]

Highway 179, also known as the Red Rock Scenic Byway
Driving into Red Rock country

Two Of The Best Hiking Trails In Sedona, Arizona

Devil’s Bridge Trail and Doe Mountain Trail

Sedona, Arizona is a hotbed of outdoor excitement with fun excursions for every tier of adventurer. From fast mountain biking to a leisurely round of golf. Off road jeep tours to mind-blowing hot air balloons. In this post, I’m going to talk on hiking, specifically two trails that we did on our recent trip to the beautiful city.

Rachel had just broken one of the toes on her right foot one week before our flight left from Reagan National Airport (DCA) to Phoenix Sky Harbor (PHX), so despite her ability to manage the pain and keep it properly bandaged (remember, she had to nurse up an injury in Koh Tao, too), we wanted to keep the trails to beginner-to-intermediate in intensity. That turned out to be just fine, because the two that we did ended with rewarding treks and incredible vistas.

Devil’s Bridge Trail

One of the most popular hikes in Sedona is Devil’s Bridge Trail. We found three places to start from – if you have a 4×4 vehicle with high clearance, you can drive up to the parking lot for the trail and it’s a quick 1 mile hike to the viewpoint. If not, most people park in the Dry Creek Road parking lot and spend most of their hike walking along a dusty, dirt road until they reach the “official” lot. What I recommend is starting on Mescal Trail, which is just a few meters to the right from the end of Boynton Pass Rd. This will give you a more scenic walk.

We woke up at 4:00am for this hike, which is my usual wakeup time for work, but Rachel was surprisingly spry and ready. I made some energy giving breakfast in the form of eggs, tomatoes, and toast (I would later add onions and call it T.O.E. Toast.) I took 5 units of basal insulin and we set off for a twenty minute drive from our resort.

You start into the Mescal trail, which is an easy walk through some low trees, cacti, and yucca. As you pass by a shallow run and through the remainder of the trek, there are dozens and dozens of tiny little frogs hopping out of your way. I think I’ve figured them out to be Western Chorus Frogs because of their size, but I don’t recall them being particularly loud, nor does it fit the behavior section of their Wikipedia page. I will be sure to get a picture of the small amphibians the next time I’m there.

It’s a relatively easy walk without much elevation change as the glow from the sun has finally started to peak above the mountains, giving you just enough light to illuminate the path. By this time, you may start to see some of the nearby hot air balloons being inflated for a sunrise takeoff.

Devil's Bridge Trail, Sedona, Arizona
Panorama from just below the bridge. You’re almost there!

You’ll soon cross over a wide, dusty road into the actual parking lot and onto a wide, smooth path. It’s only about a mile to the finish from here, with a brief section of steep rock scrambling. Here is where your work pays off, as the view is more incredible than any picture can give it justice for. We got to the bridge at 6:35am and there were three parties of people in front of us, waiting to get pictures. Everyone was super nice, however, and swapped photography jobs while the others got to pose. A couple of girls were doing some intense acroyoga poses when we arrived!

My glucose levels had fallen to the mid-60s during this hike, but we had picked up some vegan oatmeal bites from Whole Foods on the way that provided a high-fiber source of carbs for me. In hindsight, I should have stopped to have one every half hour, instead of waiting to get to the top.

Devil's Bridge Trail, Sedona, Arizona
The views are spectacular!

The way back is just the same trail reversed and when you get back to the trailhead, you’ll now have the entire day ahead of you and an incredible hike already notched in your belt.

Doe Mountain Trail

While Devil’s Bridge is one of the most popular trails in Sedona, Doe Mountain Trail is arguably one of the most underrated hikes in the area. We took the same approach to this hike, waking up at 4:00, but we really wanted to get to the peak before sunrise, so we got ready and scarfed down some breakfast much quicker, reaching the parking lot at 5:00am. This lot has a public restroom and requires a $5 parking pass, which is payable with card via a kiosk at the trailhead. I scaled back to 4 units of basal to avoid a low, which kept me at a much steadier blood glucose level.

We started into the path, which was essentially just a series of switchbacks and moderate rock scrambles until you reached the final climb. We were here to beat the sun, so we didn’t stop to take much in. On the way down, however, we were slower and able to appreciate the trail a bit more, including a view of Bear Mountain to the north.

The final ascent is a climb through a narrow cut in the rock. It’s easy, but you’ll need to use your hands.

Rock scramble at Doe Mountain, Sedona, Arizona
The final rock scramble.

Once at the top, a series of markers will lead you to the other side of the mesa and reward you with an amazing view of the valley. We beat the sun to the mountain top and were able to set up on a perch while we watched it climb over the mountains in the east.

I call this trail severely underrated, because it offers 360° views of the area and we shared the top with only one other guy who raced up the trail with the same, sunrise-beating intention.

There is a loop around the top which is fairly easy to stray off of, which we managed to do. The cell reception is actually pretty good, so we used the AllTrails app and followed the perimeter of the mesa until we found the trail again. Going as early in the morning as we did, granted us plenty of time to explore around the top; however, in the later parts of the morning, you’ll want to be aware of the sun and how much its beating down on you in the limited cover.

Hugging the edge of the mesa, we followed a group of hot air balloons as they ascended around the mountain, getting so close that we could hear the whoosh of the flame and the chatter of the ballooneers.

Unparalleled.

The trek back down is fine and when you turn around and see the scale of the mountain you just climbed, you feel really proud. We even got to see one of the hot air balloons land which is much more impressive feat than I had thought – they worked in tandem with a van on the road to land on a trailer it was pulling!

These were two of my favorite hikes I’ve done, and I cannot wait to get back to Sedona to see more of its beautiful scenes.

Have you been to Sedona? What are your favorite trails?

A Weekend In Charlotte – Pt. 1

Weekend getaways are among my favorite things in the world. I have always had a hard time staying home, whether it was a weekend from school when I was younger or my days off from work now.

Realizing I had a weekend off (I work at a job that is open 7 days a week so my days off rotate) with my partner, we decided to take a trip down to Charlotte, North Carolina to visit my best friends.

The 6 1/2 hour drive down wasn’t bad. We didn’t hit too much traffic and the couple stops we made were really easy.

Charlotte has a vibe to it.

You’ll come to learn that I procrastinate a lot some and I didn’t book a cheap AirBnb that my girlfriend sent to me and I didn’t want to stay with my friends because I was having some sleeping complications. We ended up staying at a Holiday Inn Express in the University area. The room was nice and the staff were courteous, however the general manager walked around all day in the lobby without a mask on which I found distasteful.

Courtney and Thomas picked us up and we drove to NoDa, or North Davidson, a fairly millennial-centric arts and entertainment district. Our first stop was Great Wagon Road Distilling Co. where I got a flight of their whiskeys. Their RUA Gold is a 33-month old single malt that has a sweet finish with a touch of spice.

We walked towards the downtown area for dinner where our first option had an hour long wait. Our bellies opted to find a shorter queue and we found Bill Jack’s Shack, an excellent place to indulge on cholesterol-heavy plates like Fried Mac Nuggs, Tot-chos, and Chicken & Waffles, plus they have plenty of brews on tap.

I didn’t say my diet was the most healthy this weekend.

After the long drive, booze, and full stomach, we were dropped back off at the hotel to get some rest before the next day.

Continued in Pt. 2

QUICK READ: Driving from Maryland to Charlotte, NC.

For a quick weekend trip, we went down to visit some friends in Charlotte – it’s about a 6.5 hour drive from west-central Maryland where we live. The drive is mostly along one of my least favorite highways, I-81, but it wasn’t too bad for the way down.

Starting from Frederick, MD, I can either drive all the way back up towards the MD/PA border to get onto 81 or I can take some backroads through the boonies to merge onto it in West Virginia. I chose the latter.

Slight majority of the drive is open like this.

The first half of the trip offers plenty of stops and sights. Some of my favorite being:

  1. Harper’s Ferry – a historical beauty of a town where Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia meet at the crossroads of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. I really enjoy stopping here for the Maryland Heights hiking trail then grabbing some well-deserved ice cream or a beer on the way out.
  2. Hollywood Casino at Charles Town – I went a few times over the stretch of two years in my younger 20’s. I made the mistake of winning a little bit on my first couple trips which boosted my confidence enough to lose all of those winnings in subsequent trips. Nevertheless, it’s a fun place to give away your money until 3am.
  3. The next couple hours are home to some pretty vies of farms and tons of farm animals. Seriously, I have never seen that many cows in one span of time.
  4. Natural Bridge and Virginia Safari Park – I have been to the second one and it’s a great time that I highly recommend. I’ll write about it here in the near future. The first stop, however, I have not been to, but would love to see the 215-ft tall limestone gorge.
  5. Luray and the surrounding caverns – I can’t say I have a big interest in cave systems or the underground (read my post about the Parisian Catacombs for my thoughts on naked mole rats), but it would be neat to see the largest and most popular cave systems on the U.S. east coast.
  6. Asheville, NC. – Okay, so this isn’t exactly on the way. It’s at least 1.5 to 2 hours out of the way, but it’s a badass town that I only got to explore once and have plenty more to see.

There’s a beautiful vista along the highway just before you get to the VA/NC border that makes you say “wow” when you pass, and if you’re lucky enough to get on the road without a bunch of tractor trailers, the drive isn’t too bad.

Pop on a playlist or podcast of your choosing and enjoy the drive.

Have you been down 81 in Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, or North Carolina? What stops do you like to make or do you just drive straight through/

7 Ways To Have A GREAT Weekend In Philadelphia

Philadelphia is a fantastic place to enjoy an extended weekend. Known for its raving sports fans and its historical significance to the founding of the United States, Philly can provide so much more and these experiences aren’t hard to find. Here are seven ways I recommend enjoying a short trip to the city of brotherly love:

*Disclaimer: These are all assuming COVID-related restrictions are no longer needed*

1. Chow Down On A Cheesesteak

Let’s get this one out of the way. Whether you order yours “whiz with” or just steak and provolone, be prepared for a salivatingly (this is the word I want to use) delicious mouthful. Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks are famous, can’t miss spots to grab a bite, but I recommend Jim’s South St for the perfect lunch. It’s cash only, so know that before holding up the line.

2. Run Up The Steps At The Philadelphia Museum Of Art

Sometimes you just have to do the touristy things. Put the highlight on your own underdog montage as you climb the 72 steps, turn around, and lift your arms triumphantly overlooking the Benjamin Franklin Parkway a la Rocky Balboa. Stop in the museum while you’re here. Tickets are $25 for adults, but have pay-what-you-want specials on the first Sunday of the month and every Friday night. Make sure to grab a pic with the Rocky statue at the bottom of the steps on your way out.

“Every champion was once a contender who refused to give up.”
3. Fascinate Yourself With Medical Anomolies

Originally created as a collection for research, the Mutter Museum houses displays of medical tools and instruments, specimens, wax figures, and over 100 skulls, allowing you to learn the advancements of our medical technologies and how we differ anthropologically. I really liked the preservation of tattooed skin display. No pictures are allowed, but tickets are only $20 and well worth it.

4. Learn American History

Philadelphia was the largest city in colonial America (which boggles my mind, because my small hometown of 40,000 dwarfs pre-Revolution Philly) and thus one of the most vital locations during the American Revolution. The Liberty Bell and Independence Hall are both free admission (with limited access during COVID) and offer plenty of information surrounding the Declaration of Independence and the founding of the United States.

5. Take a Picture With The Love Statue

Normally, I’d say skipping a cliché moment like this was the right thing to do, but this shot has become synonymous with the city of Philadelphia. Recently the park has been revamped and reconstructed to allow more green space, leaving it as a fantastic place to grab a selfie or picture with your loved ones.

*Top tip: Check out the “Amor” statue just a short walk away.*

6. Catch A Game

Philly sports fans can get rowdy. Really rowdy. I come from the Baltimore/DC area, so I’ve seen more than my fair share of Philadelphia-involved sports fights, but for the sake of this blog post, we’ll use the word “passionate.” From the Flyers to the Eagles to the 76ers, at least one of the teams are doing well any given season, but don’t miss out on the excitement of college basketball. This city is one of the meccas of collegiate hoops – UPenn, La Salle, Saint Joseph’s, Temple, and Villanova all competing for bragging rights as top dog of the city.

I was able to see the US Men’s World Cup send-off game against Turkey back in 2010 and that was a really fun atmosphere.

So many goodies, so little time.
7. Eat more Food at Reading Terminal Market

So you’re having a cheesesteak for either lunch or dinner. What are you doing for your other meal? You’re stopping at Reading Terminal Market, that’s what you’re doing. Walk in and immediately lose yourself in the winding alleys of baked goods, vendors, and bar-service restaurants. The smells are intense and you start to feel guilty about which food you won’t enjoy that day. I highly recommend grabbing some souvlaki and baklava from Olympia Gyro and some bon-bons and macaroons from the Pennsylvania General Store.

Philadelphia is a great city and a wonderful weekend trip for anyone living in the mid-Atlantic.

Have you been to Philly? What are your favorite things to do or places to go?

Staying In A Historic Cottage Near D.C.

A brief history

Consistently listed among the most expensive counties in the United States to live in, Montgomery County hugs the west side of Washington, D.C. and is home to many industry leaders, especially in the biotech field. You can find city shopping centers that rival any large metropolitan area and awe-inspiring skyscrapers that don’t just look like pick-and-place rectangles. But for all of the modern conveniences and allure, the area has a lot of misunderstood history ready to be explored.

Public education in America often starts its US history lesson with “the shot heard ’round the world” and ends around the shot from John Wilkes Booth’s gun. Unless we use our own time to research, we miss out on the gritty, labor-heavy endeavors that existed outside of our many wars.

Our home for the weekend.

In an effort to connect the eastern shore with the Ohio River Valley, President George Washington advocated for a canal system to be built around the Potomac River to help boats traverse its several waterfalls. 50 years and several leadership changes later, and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (C&O) finally opened in 1830. It held on for almost 100 years, finally connecting as far as Georgetown to Cumberland, but due to some bad flooding and the rise in popularity of the automobile, had to close in 1924. Today, an organization seeks to maintain the parkland that the C&O Canal and its towpath exist on. Among the attractions are several lockhouses, where keepers would live to raise and lower the locks at moment’s notice for boats traveling by. We had the chance to stay in one of the houses, Lockhouse 6, for a weekend.

Getting there

Our lockhouse sat on the side of the Clara Barton Parkway, which runs one way during parts of the day, and both ways during other parts of the day. This is fine, because it enabled us to arrive later in the evening and avoid rush hour on the Beltway. Siri took us into a turn too early and that caused us to revert all the way back to I-495 before revisiting the map and seeing our stop was only a few minutes past where she originally told us to turn left. This would come back to annoy us once or twice more as the only way to get to that side of the road was to drive fifteen minutes out of the way just to get on the correct side of the barrier. By the end of the weekend, I had started from further down the road and just popped a U-ey in the middle of the street before we got to the barrier.

The cottage sits almost directly on the canal with a lock on one side and a small stream on the other. Back on the opposite side of the Clara Barton Parkway, atop a hill were large, eccentric houses, pretentiously looking down on us common folk (we ended up on top of the hill during one of our drives and passed one of the houses that had an armada of Teslas pouring out of their driveway.) We checked ourselves in with a lockbox and checked out our home for the weekend. It was cozy, clean, and decorated like the 1950s never ended (seriously, there was chinaware with Dwight D. Eisenhower’s face on it.) There was one downside, however; it looked 100% like the set of a movie where a young couple would be killed by a ghost during a weekend getaway. The bathroom was downstairs in the dungeon basement. Other than having to doublecheck behind every door before bed for the lingering spirit of the former lock keeper, it was nice.

I held it all weekend so I didn’t have to find the bathroom down there…
What to do

The area doesn’t have a shortage of things to do, but staying here in the winter and during a COVID-lockdown makes things a bit difficult. With everything within 15 minutes driving, we drove over to Bethesda Row to look for a late night dinner before things were all closed and had to revert to cooking after a day of work, packing, and driving. We grabbed a delicious Mexican meal at Uncle Julio’s, a multi-state chain-restaurant, before retiring back to the cottage to catch up on some reading and grab some Zzz’s for the next day.

The lockhouse sits along the towpath.

The C&O towpath is a great place for an easy nature walk; it is flat and topped with soft dirt. We bundled up (it was about 30°F) and started to trek north, encountering a group of kayakers coming out of the nearby Potomac River. None of them seemed happy or satisfied with their feat. They just had a look on their face like “why did I do that?”

The dirt had frozen over and we shuffled along at a leisurely pace pointing out pairs of ducks and generally taking it easy. After an hour-or-so long walk, we lounged around the lockhouse a bit longer, catching up on more reading and I turned on our 50s-style radio to listen to the Capitals hockey game and some Tony Bennet.

The vibe inside.

We never really got hungry again, but were worried we might, so we headed back into the city to do some mild shopping. The whole area was very COVID-conscious, everyone wore their masks with regard to others and there was plenty of hand sanitizer available at each establishment. I’ve been reading a book about a family’s venture through Japan and its culinary history, so naturally I had a predisposition towards sushi that evening. A quick Google search, and we found a highly-recommended place to make reservations. I waited a little longer than I should have, so our wait time was pushed a little further than expected. No worries, I came across a mezcal bar that we could check out in the mean time.

We took a 15-minute walk over to Gringos and Mariachis. This place had a cool, trendy vibe to it – a mural-coated brick wall, antique liquor cabinets, and rustic wood décor. Our server was super nice and very knowledgeable about their cocktails. We talked briefly about how chartreuse liqueur balances perfectly with a clean mezcal in drinks and understood our ask to adjust the amount of agave syrup in a margarita to make it a little less sweet. I 100% recommend checking out this place if you’re in the area.

Few things better than a nice cocktail.

As our reservation time came closer, we strolled back towards Raku, where we were now getting excited to eat because our bellies were starting to wake up by now. Again, remarkable service and delicious sushi were a perfect nightcap to the evening.

The next morning, before returning home, we stopped by Praline Bakery & Bistro, and picked up a couple danishes and some macaroons with the most perfect shell I’ve ever had.

The drive back wasn’t bad at all. Traffic was pretty fluid and non-troublesome the whole weekend, which made getting home a piece of cake. Or a piece of apricot pistachio danish, if you prefer.

One last selfie to thank her brother for gifting us the reservation.

Taking A Road Trip To Toronto – Pt. 2

Continued from Pt. 1

Despite dorming with seven other guys, it was pretty easy to get access to the bathroom. I took a shower, got dressed, and set off for some breakfast. The first thing I got excited about (I was a little too visibly happy about this) was all of the black squirrels running around. In the mid-Atlantic, where I’m from, all of our squirrels are brownish grey. It was cool, okay…

Now, I’m one of those people that will walk a million miles to get somewhere. “It’s not that far.” Sorry to those of whom I’ve traveled with. Mapquest has a really neat feature where you can put in the addresses of a bunch of places you want to go and it’ll route you the most efficient path. So I plugged in a bunch of landmarks I was interested in and got a little map to use. Two of the places – the Art Gallery of Toronto and the Royal Ontario Museum were a little out of the way, so they were going to be “if there’s enough time afterwards” places to check out.

Strolled by this fountain in Berczy Park on my way to the CN Tower.

I headed towards CN Tower to see about doing the Edgewalk around the top of the building, but at around $200, it was out of my budget. Nonetheless, it was a cool and there were banners around celebrating Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation. Nearby were the Rogers Centre and Air Canada Centre (since renamed to Scotiabank Arena,) home to the Blue Jays, Raptors, and Maple Leafs sports teams. Just around the corner was my next stop, the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Entry was $20 plus the program I got with it. I don’t remember how much extra that was and I’ve since lost it, so we’re going to pretend like that just didn’t happen. This place is a must for any hardcore hockey fan and still really fun for the casual fan too. Between the displays of equipment through the ages, memorabilia from the Olympics and Miracle on Ice, and of course a few Wayne Gretzsky shrines, there was plenty of stories and stats to get lost in. My favorite section was the temporary exhibit of goalie masks even if they didn’t have a display for Olaf Kölzig, the Washington Capitals goalie I grew up watching. Towards the end, you come into a room that displays the trophies won by the best defenseman, best goal scorer, and the coveted Stanley Cup.

By the time I left, it was the afternoon, which means a socially acceptable time to have a drink. Outside of Steam Whistle Brewing is a pretty neat train display and a lot of people wandering around. A middle-aged gentlemen with a walker asked me to help him get across the train tracks that were running through the sidewalk. I gave him a quick assist while I listened to him speak in the most stereotypical Canadian accent I have ever heard. He was incredibly polite and spouted out a few “eh” and “aboot”s during our brief walk together. We wished each other a good day and I headed inside the brewery for a tall pilsner. Despite it being a Saturday, most of the people in there looked like they were coming right after work, dressed up a little and chatting like colleagues more than friends.

They made the grey/green aesthetic work.

After my mid-day cap, I continued on to check out Old City Hall and (new) City Hall to get a picture of the Toronto sign. I passed through St. James Park where I saw a bunch of people walking their dogs around with little boots on their feet. I somehow managed to arrive at the Toronto sign and snap some pictures just moments before two tour buses rolled up and a few dozen people poured out to take over the area. Somewhere in the mix of things I had strolled into St. Lawrence Market. I didn’t get anything to eat, but I did enjoy a lot of people watching and the sights and smells of the market. Just observing is one of my favorite things to do when traveling.

Around dusk, I took a walk along the waterfront and stopped for dinner at The Goodman Pub. It was pretty empty so I sat at the bar and I had a much better experience than the reviews for the place suggested. The only weird thing was a woman at the end of the bar ordered a beer with ice cubes (since going to Thailand, I’ve learned that it’s not completely uncommon.)

My late night exploring took me through the shopping district, back around the CN Tower, which was lit up with various colors, and back towards my hostel. I had put some mileage on my pedometer so going to bed was welcomed. Remember my normal looking bunk mate from last night, well now it’s a short, chubby, older guy that has decided to get ready for bed wearing nothing but a very revealing set of briefs. Please don’t have nightmares about that image…

I was able to snap a few pictures before the tour buses unloaded.

When I woke up, I checked out and grabbed a chai latte and muffin from Starbucks. Carlton was written on the cup. I chuckled. When I got to my car, my GPS wouldn’t turn on after a few minutes of trying. No big deal, I had just arrived two days prior so I just used memory to get back to Queen Elizabeth Way – a straight shot back to Niagara Falls.

I wanted to spend some time on the Canadian side of the Falls, so I found some parking and started walking around. This side was much better than the American side. There were tons of restaurants, bars, arcades, things to do, and people venturing around. Was it because it’s a weekend day or is this all the time? Let me know in the comments if you’ve had the same experience. The Canadian side also affords you a visit of the horseshoe falls, the most famous of the falls here. I got a few pictures in and stood in awe at the amount of water that dumped over the falls, it’s incredible.

My phone still wasn’t working, so I stopped in a café to pull up their Wi-Fi and try to map my way home. I put together a plan to get me back one city at a time, using Wi-Fi at the different stops. This plan was going to add 2-3 hours to my former plan, but there was no way I’d get back through countryside New York and Pennsylvania without Apple Maps. As I approached the border guard, he asked me the standard questions and after I answered them all, he told me to turn off the car and pop the trunk. I complied and this guy took a solid few minutes to rip apart my trunk. It was empty, save for a few tools, a blanket, and my spare tire. He let me go without much of a courtesy. Eventually, when I got near the NY/PA border, my service came back. Turns out, the phone bill was past due so once I got that situated, everything went back to normal.

I was a little grumpy because of the phone situation and border guard leaving my trunk a mess, otherwise I would have spent some more time on the Canadian side of the falls and probably more time in Toronto before leaving. I’ll be back sometime, hopefully sooner than later.

Taking A Road Trip To Toronto – Pt. 1

Having just returned from two multi-week trips to Europe, I was in full-on wanderlust mode and ready for more. I was binging some travel channels on YouTube one day when I stumbled across a few solo travel videos. I had never traveled alone before, mostly because of my innate introverted personality. Looking back at this trip, I have to say that solo trips are some of the most important ones you can take.

I took off a Friday at the end of September and already had the weekend off. Living in Maryland, I had a few places in mind to travel to but I wanted to make it an international trip, so Canada was the only realistic option (read as: cheaper). I woke up at the crack of dawn, around 6:45, got ready and set off. My GPS took me the length of the Maryland pan handle until I turned north towards Pittsburgh and beyond. I was about an hour into my trip when I realized I was still tired. Like really tired. My eyes got to the point where they were so heavy I started fighting to keep them open so I pulled off the highway into a lot where contractors met in the morning before going off to a job site. I tilted my seat back and nodded off to get some more sleep before I continued the drive.

The drive through Pennsylvania was tough. I was signed into a friend’s Spotify account at the time, but it could only be used by one device at a time and they were using it all day. I was left with radio music, which in western PA is country music, bible talk, or static. Static it is.

The views are ridiculously beautiful

Eventually, I made it to Niagara Falls and stopped on the American side. It was Friday around 5pm and the place was dead. I had parked in a little mall lot, found the nearest restroom, and walked down to the falls. They are epic! The power is awesome and the views are great. I recently purchased an external lens from Olloclip for my iPhone and found it made a decent improvement in my photos of the falls. One restaurant was prepping for live music later and provided a good burger. Across the street on the way back to the car was a little alley way covered in really cool graffiti art. Onward to Canada.

Graffiti walls in Niagara Falls

As I approached the border, the traffic looked busy, but it was incredibly efficient. I was asked the standard “What are you doing?” “Why are you here?” “How long are you staying?” questions in fourteen different ways before getting the nod of approval. As soon as I got out of the traffic, there was a sign welcoming you to Ontario. I had just driven to a different country by myself. This was exciting.

You’re going to spend the next hour and a half finishing the drive to Toronto on one road – the Queen Elizabeth Way. It’s not a bad drive, and you pass a bunch of signs for wineries that might peak your interest. But it’s the evening at this point and I just want to be done driving.

My GPS navigates the streets easily and an email exchange with my hostel (the Hi Hostel Toronto) shared an easy to find, nearby parking garage. I walk up the block to where I’m staying, check in and lay down to settle down. I’m in an 8-person all guys dorm room and I’m top bunk on the bed at the end of the room. Shortly after I gather my things and lay down, my bunk mate walks in – slightly taller, my age, red hair, normal looking. We exchange acknowledgments and I fall asleep pretty quickly.

Continued in Pt. 2.