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What Happens When A Small-Town Family Visits The "World's Largest"... Whatever!

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BIG Views of Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

Binoculars and Camera

It’s one of the world’s largest waterfalls, though technically Niagara Falls is a set of three: Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side, and American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls on the U.S. side. To make the most of your visit, there are several ways to view Niagara Falls – you can ride a boat to their base, peer down at them from a tower 700+ feet overhead, or even take a peek from a tunnel behind them.

We took the kids to Niagara Falls, Ontario, and seeing them from different vantage points was important. The Teen has become a budding photographer, so great views were an overriding priority. So, these were our locations of choice:

At the Bottom of the Falls: The Hornblower Niagara ride

It’s one of the most popular things to do in Niagara Falls for a reason. Riding in a boat ride along the bottom of falls is a thrilling adventure for all ages! You’re close enough to get drenched by the powerful spray, and it feels as if you could reach out and touch the rainbows arching through the mist. If you’re on the American side, you take the Maid of the Mist. If you’re on the Canadian side, you take the Hornblower cruise, operated by Niagara Parks.

Hornblower cruise

Hornblower Cruise, Niagara Falls

Our 700-passenger catamaran traveled from the dock on the Niagara Great Gorge past the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and into the midpoint of Horseshoe Falls. We didn’t get completely soaked—much to The Girl’s dismay—because we chose a relatively dry spot in back of the bottom deck, and we made use of the complimentary souvenir ponchos. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bird Kingdom, Niagara Falls, ON: World’s largest indoor free-flight aviary

Sure, you go to Niagara Falls to watch 225,000 cubic feet of water per second plummet nearly 200 feet into the gorge below. After taking in the scene for 15 minutes…then what? With kids in tow, you need a plan. Luckily, there is plenty to do in Niagara Falls, especially on the Canada side. One of our favorite attractions was Bird Kingdom, home to the world’s largest indoor free-flight aviary.

You can easily spend an hour or more here, going through the three floors of exhibit space – themed as the “lost kingdom” home to hundreds of both bird and animal species. You set your own pace in each area, which for us meant less time in the Nocturnal Zone looking at the bats and Brazilian giant cockroaches (eek!), and more time in the Explorer’s Base Camp, where you can pet and talk to several animals, like Bearded Dragons and Toucans.

Bearded Dragon

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CN Tower, Toronto, Canada: Tallest Structure in the Western Hemisphere

CN Tower

The CN Tower / La Tour CN, Toronto, Canada

When you’re a chicken, it helps to have brave friends. During my recent trip to Toronto for the TBEX conference, I wanted to visit the CN Tower, the tallest structure in the Western Hemisphere. I knew that a highlight of visiting the attraction is the ability to walk over a glass floor, with a view straight down 1,122 feet. I also knew that chances were good I would not be able to maneuver my jelly knees over the glass.

I enlisted my friend Karon, who blogs at All Things Lifestyle, to come with me. She’s jumped out of an airplane, so I was pretty confident she could handle standing on a 2 ½ ” thick tempered glass plate.

When you visit the CN Tower, you have options. You can take the 58-second elevator ride to the glass floor level, which is connected to the Outdoor SkyTerrace. You can also take a photo one story up on the LookOut Level. For an additional fee, you can take the special SkyPod elevator up an additional 33 stories, to 1,465 feet.

Within the building there’s also a 3D movie theater, the “Himalamazon” motion theater ride, the 360Restaurant, and a gift shop. For the exceptional daredevil, there is one more can’t-miss experience: Edge Walk, the world’s highest full circle, hands-free walk, on a 5-foot wide ledge encircling the top of the Tower’s main pod, 1,168 feet — or 116 stories — above the ground. I’m not prone to text-speak, but O.M.G.!


An EdgeWalk group at CN Tower, minus me. Photo credit: EdgeWalk

Regardless of which level you end up on, you’ll get a fantastic view of Toronto, Lake Ontario, and the surrounding region, up to 100 miles away. Apparently, you can even see Niagara Falls under ideal conditions.

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World’s Biggest Bookstore and World’s Longest Street, Toronto, Ontario

Two debatable world records didn’t keep me from checking out a “world’s largest” and a “world’s longest” while I was in Toronto last month for the TBEX (Travel Bloggers Exchange) conference!

Yonge Street

Yonge Street, Toronto, ON

Yonge Street

Until 1999, the Guinness Book of World Records recognized Yonge (pronounced “Young”) Street as the world’s longest street, because at the time, Yonge Street proper was considered part of Highway 11. The entire length of that configuration is nearly 1,200 miles end-to-end, beginning at Queen’s Quay in downtown Toronto to Rainy River, near the Minnesota and Ontario border. The world record for longest motorable road is now held by the Pan-American Highway.

I still took a stroll up Yonge Street, about a mile from the intersections of Wellington Street and Edward Street. It was such a lively thoroughfare in this section of the city, with great shopping and dining. Along the way, I resisted the pull of the tractor beams drawing me toward the Eaton Centre, Toronto’s largest mall. I had a bookstore to see.

Yonge Street

On a mission to find the “WBB.”

World’s Biggest Bookstore

It’s becoming a habit for us to visit world’s largests which are in peril of losing their title, or being lost forever. Last year, we visited the World’s Largest McDonald’s in Orlando, knowing that it would soon be oversized by a new London restaurant. In this case, the lease on the building housing the World’s Biggest Bookstore is set to expire at the end of 2013. Indigo Books and Music, the Canadian national chain which owns the “WBB,” has said it doesn’t plan to renew the lease.

World's Biggest Bookstore

Found it!

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BIGGISH – World’s Second Largest Botanic Garden, Montréal, QC

Montreal Botanic Garden

The Exhibition Gardens

Hear that? It’s spring approaching. The daffodils have broken ground, and they’re a relief to see! Not to push things along too much, but it’s a good week to revisit our trip to the Montréal Botanic Garden. It’s not the world’s largest — that title belongs to the Royal Botanic Gardens (or Kew Gardens) in Great Britain – but it’s the world’s second largest botanic garden. Perfect for our “Biggish” category!

Where we went, and who was coerced into going:

We went to Montréal last summer, mainly because Matt had a business trip, and it’s only a five hour drive. This was the kids’ first international travel, and this small, bilingual city was the ideal destination; a perfect combination of fun and cultural immersion. While we were there, we risked our lives (not really) riding to the top of the world’s tallest inclined tower, and discovered the secrets of poutine in the world’s largest underground pedestrian network.

WHY did you go there, exactly?

I had my doubts that the kids would be jazzed about the Montréal Botanical Garden, with nothing remotely virtual, electronic, or 4-D to offer. We all enjoyed it though, mainly because we didn’t try to push our luck to see all 180 acres, 10 exhibition greenhouses and 30 outdoor gardens.

I must also point out that the weather was – surprisingly – perfect, and this further convinced us to spend the day outside.

Okay, what was so cool about it?

Within this immense garden are several smaller themed gardens; each more fascinating than the one before. The kids would tell you that their favorites involved water features – how surprised are you? Given the “all clear,” The Girl would have immersed herself in any one of the pools within the Aquatic Garden.

The Chinese Garden, surrounded by a bright blue koi pond, was also a hit, especially with its opulent walk-through pagoda and an exhibit of impossible-not-to-touch bonsai trees. (Me: “Don’t touch those. Please don’t touch them. See the sign that says “don’t touch” in both French AND English?! DON’T TOUCH!!”)


Chinese garden pagoda, with the Olympic Tower in the background. We went to the top of that!

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British Columbia’s Tallest Tree House

Good lord, it’s November! Who else has seen Christmas commercials on TV and has broken out in a cold sweat?

This month’s guest post is a FUN one, especially if you ever had a tree house when you were a kid (or wished you did)! Tanya Bennett is principal writer at DrivingandDining.com, which features great places to visit and eat at on the road. Check out her most recent post, “Happy Fried Day,” for a tantalizing peek at a deep-fried Mars bar…mmm…

Where we went and who was coerced into going:

tallest treehouse

I'm thinking that's a lot of stairs...

We rented a 22-foot trailer and hit the road for 8 days, traveling around British Columbia, Canada. Our itinerary included The Enchanted Forest, home to  British Columbia’s (maybe even Canada’s?) Tallest Tree House.

The adventurers: my husband (and, it turns out, expert trailer-backer-upper), me (roadside attraction connoisseur), and our two daughters (aged 3 and 10 months).

The route: We arrived at the Enchanted Forest via Vancouver, Bridal Falls (DinoTown! – just in time to visit before it closed forever), Kamloops, Salmon Arm, and Craigellachie (Beardale Miniature Land!).

The Enchanted Forest roadside attraction is located halfway between Sicamous and Revelstoke, in South Eastern British Columbia, on the side of a densely wooded hill. You enter through a fairy tale cottage (think Hansel and Gretel) and then stroll along windy paths. You pass settings that portray favorite children’s stories from nursery rhymes, fairy tales and literature. Kids (and flexible adults) can actually enter most of the small buildings, where they will see tiny little beds for the seven dwarves or a table set with three bowls for the three bears.

WHY did you go there, exactly?

To see BC’s tallest tree house, of course! During a previous visit to the Enchanted Forest I was 8 months pregnant and unable (or at least, unwilling) to climb to the top of BC’s tallest tree house. I’d been complaining about it ever since, so this year my husband agreed to go again. My daughter didn’t need to be persuaded – her response was, “Are we going right now?” “No.” “How about now?” “Not yet.” (Pause.) ”How about now?” (You get the idea.)

Okay, what was so cool about it?

The surrounding forest sets the scene and then you feel like you are entering a very special, magical place as you climb the twisty staircases to the top of the enchanting multi-level structure. My three-year-old daughter and I thoroughly enjoyed our exciting adventure to the top. The bunk beds there sparked our imagination as we pictured ourselves sleeping in the treetops, surrounded by the fantasy figurines below.

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World’s Largest Underground Pedestrian Network, Montréal, QC

Where we went, and who was coerced into going:

Montreal Underground Network

So much shopping. Just not before 10:00am, when we were there. D%&#$!

While we were in Montréal, we enjoyed utterly perfect weather – warm, sunny, breezy. It framed the city in such a favorable light, it was difficult to imagine the brutal winters which settle early on this island. In 1966, a major initiative began to build an underground network to connect downtown buildings, and allow the city’s weather-beleagured residents to get in out of the cold.

Today, the world’s largest underground pedestrian network, known as RÉSO, is 22 miles of malls and shops, office buildings, 14 hotels, three universities, the World Trade Centre, The Bell Centre hockey stadium, and16 Metro stations.

We found ourselves in and out of the network several times during our trip, although it was never really our true and final destination.

WHY did you go there, exactly?

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World’s Tallest Inclined Tower, Montreal, QC

Where we went, and who was coerced into going:

Parenthood puts a damper on a few things, one of which is international travel. Now, I know many will disagree with this, and there are several excellent websites dedicated to facilitating the process of crossing time zones with toddlers. I am not a fan of changing poopy diapers in the comfort and convenience of my own home, let alone in a tiny French bistro with a w/c the size of a phone booth.

This year, the Girl is finally old enough to travel beyond our border, and far be it for me to deprive the world of her tempestuous public fits triggered by the denial of ice cream / gelato / crème glacée / helado. We set our sights on Montréal, Canada for our trial run, since Matt had to go on business. We were accompanied by Matt’s cousin Stephanie, who’s our age and a favorite relative. Having three adults against handling two children is a much nicer traveling dynamic.

Montreal Tower

No sweat.

The very first attraction on our itinerary was the world’s tallest inclined tower, The Montréal Tower and Observatory, the world’s tallest inclined tower.

WHY did you go there, exactly?

From a distance, the tower looked innocuous, even tame. Which is an important consideration when three-fifths of you travel party fall under the category of “chicken.” The tower offers a nearly 360-degree view of the city, accessed by a short, easy ride in a funicular, which travels upwards at a 45 degree angle to an elevation of 574 feet / 175 metres.

Perspective is a funny thing. Standing at the base of the tower, watching the funicular cabin pacing up, up, up at a quick clip, we three chickens began to have our doubts.  It went…gulp…high.  This is what we saw:

Okay, what was so cool about it?

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Miscellany Monday

Some updates on our Go BIG travels, news, and links to sites we like!

We just got back from Montréal! I didn’t realize that I had the power to control the weather, but whaddya know, I do. It was perfect – sunny, warm but not humid, and breezy. The locals we met raved about how lucky we were. Over four days, we visited three sites which will be featured in future posts:

The World’s Tallest Inclined Tower, the Montréal Tower in Olympic Park. You ascend to the top in a funicular, at a 45-degree angle. Over 570 feet of “dear God, please don’t let today be the day those steel cables snap.”

The World’s Largest Underground Pedestrian Network. Nearly 85% of the city’s downtown is connected underground by“RÉSO,” over 20 miles of tunnels connecting malls, office and apartment buildings, hotels, museums, universities, metro and train stations, the convention center, and more. Over half million people per day use the network during the winter, which is quite a civilized way to stick it to Mother Nature.

The Montréal Botanical Garden, the world’s second-largest botanic garden, was a trip highlight, even for the kids. They loved acting like explorers along the pathways in the Alpine and Chinese gardens; riding the red tram around the perimeter, and blowing off steam in the playground outside the Insectarium.

Usually coming home from vacation is a BIG letdown. I, however, now get to enjoy the World’s Largest Pile of Laundry.


On Friday, we were oh-so-thrilled to be the featured guest blogger on Nerd’s Eye View, one of our favorite offbeat, sincere, amazingly written sites!!

GBOGH is now listed among an illustrious group of favorite blogs on Larry Cultrera’s Diner Hotline Weblog! Love retro diners? Check out this site!


I attended the BlogHer conference on August 6th, one of the oldest and largest annual events for professional bloggers, particularly women. I participated in a few seminars on creative writing and social media, networked with other bloggers, and visited the exhibit hall, where 100 companies vied for the attention of powerful, influential women bloggers like…the ones standing next to me.

Through a sea of some 2,500 attendees, I was fortunate to meet several great travel and lifestyle bloggers. It was reassuring to meet others who are equally enthusiastic about sharing their own unique point of view. I invite you to visit their sites and see what I mean: 

Anne from Hip Travel Mama

Glennia from The Silent “I”

Holly from The Culture Mom

Julie from Coffee with Julie…

Julie from Road Trips for Families

Lexy from KissMyCountry.com

Lisa from Frisco Mama

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