Trip Start Mar 15, 2008
30Trip End Oct 02, 2009
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The moderate-sized town of Niagara is located about an hour south of Toronto. It's an ordinary little town, quaint and quiet - aside from its main tourist attraction at the town’s edge; the Niagara Falls. The Falls sit on the border between Canada and the USA, so much so that when you look across the divide you can see the tourists on the American side looking at the same thing you are.
There are actually two falls at Niagara, both within a visible distance from each other. One, the most famous, is a majestic horseshoe-shaped waterfall located on a bend in the river. The other is located down the river slightly, and is a straight 'curtain’ falls created by a river that comes from the American side. So the better view of the falls is, fortunately for us, from the Canadian side where you can view the waterfall on the American side from straight on, and the horseshoe falls from right up close
We arrived at our hostel, which ranks perhaps as our best so far, along with the hostel we stayed in at Anchorage, Alaska (and not including when we occasionally ‘splashed out’ at pricier hotels). Our host was extremely friendly and was very eager to tout all of the benefits of the town of Niagara and the surrounding regions and gave us some great ideas about what else we do while there. And, because we were a couple he upgraded us to a double room at the same price as a dorm room – go Lyons House Hostel!
So we ventured out because it was a Sunday night and they let off fireworks over the falls every Sunday night. We were lucky to have arrived there on the right day. There was also an electric storm going on when we arrived, with grey skies turning to a romantically blue slate dusk and pitchfork lightning giving the town a really intense feel.
The main street of Niagara, leading down to the falls, has been set up as a place to entertain the tourists, so it looks a bit like a miniature Las Vegas with plenty of neon, cool-looking buildings and things to entertain the kiddies. There were, no kidding, four wax museums, a ‘Ripley’s Believe it or Not’, a Guinness Book of Records museum, two mini golf courses, an arcade and a Ferris Wheel, to name a few of the attractions. You know, just in case staring at a water fall can’t keep you entertained for a whole week. Smart Canadians. So we enjoyed watching the fireworks over the falls, even though it was almost too dark to see the falls really well, and had a burger at our new favourite fast food jaunt Wendy’s.
The next day we ventured out again to see the Falls in broad daylight. It was a perfect day, beautiful and hot, not a cloud in the sky. Niagara’s Falls are a remarkable spectacle; especially the horseshoe fall’s a powerful force to see. When you stand up close, at the very point where the water flows over, you get a really good view of how terrifically fast the water rushes by. It’s an amazing view, and you can stand literally right next to the overflow point and lean over the not-too-high concrete barrier and stare down at the thousands of litres of water that race by every hour, and it’s scary to think about how much water flows by and down and away so quickly and yet never runs out. Watching the sheer quantity of water flooding over, it impressed upon us the seemingly endless size of the world around.
We spent a fair amount of time ‘Falls gazing’ and then went to see a new Niagara Falls ‘interactive experience’, which had only just started running. The experience was a sort of theme park ride where you stand in a room with 360 degree screen showing you footage of Niagara Falls. Water, fake snow and cold air get blown at you to increase the experience. We were both under-whelmed by the experience, but we did buy a cool set of hockey puck-shaped playing cards. We both agreed they needed to intensify things a fair bit. We were interviewed for an article in the local rag about the new experience, which you can view online here (our flattering comments are near the bottom of the article).
The following day, we decided to spend some time on entertainment street, and bought a pass which let us visit a number of different places (i.e. the Ferris wheel, mini golf, arcade etc). This kept us occupied for a whole day to the point were we realised we hadn’t take the boat ride into the Falls on the famous ‘Maid of the Mist’ tour. We decided then that we liked the place so much that we would come back again after our trip up to Orillia. (See our blog on Orilla… right… seen it? Okay, skip forward a couple of days and we’re back in Niagara.)
So we arrived back and stayed again at the same hostel which, did I mention, was great and only a five minute walk from Niagara Falls. We had a hire car this time so we could explore the area a bit more.
It started raining heavily, meaning that in the three or so days we’d been a Niagara we’d seen almost every weather condition aside from snow. We headed down to a small town called ‘Niagara-on-the-Lake’, and stopped at a number of Canadian wineries on the way (yes, they have wineries in Canada! See our previous blog on British Columbia – our good fortune that we happened to visit the two main wine regions of Canada in our five week stay.) The designated driver did a very good job and didn’t go over board with their sampling of wine (thanks Leah), and we even bought a couple of bottles. We both particularly enjoyed the syrupy sweet taste of Canada’s trademark ‘Ice Wine’ where the grape is picked from the vine while still frozen from snow.
Then, we stopped off at the hydro electric plant, which was not that interesting to look at, and then down the road a little further stopped at a naturally occurring whirlpool. I know a ‘whirlpool’ sounds really exciting, but really it’s just a sharp bend in the river where the water slows, pools and spins in small groups of circles, intermittently. From the heightened distance from which we viewed this naturally occurring phenomenon, it looked like the effect you make when you sit down quickly in a bathtub. It was a bit of a let down, not like the cartoon whirlpools that come to mind when you head the word whirlpool – you know, the one’s that used to suck Bugs Bunny down into the ocean in a twirl of dramatic spinning.
We headed on to the small town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, a pretty town that reminded me of Hahndorf, due to it’s abundance of cute knick-knack stores that sell interesting aprons and pastries. It was an idyllic little town, with well-ordered houses, perfect gardens and nice, neat streets. We wandered for a while and even bought a new bag to carry the ever growing collection of souvenirs we’d accumulated, but the rain returned with persistence so we headed back to Niagara.
In the end, it rained for the rest of the day and we never did get to go on the Maid of the Mist, into the bowels of Niagara Falls. After two trips to Niagara! But we didn’t mind, we had fun and saw a lot of the area so we didn’t feel too stricken. Leah had been on the Maid of the Mist on a previous visit to the Falls anyhow. So we left Niagara the next day, having enjoyed a fun and relaxing aside to our journey. Sure, it wasn’t a hugely cultural experience, unless you consider the Hard Rock Café to be a harbinger of culture, but it was fun and relaxing and we were at the tiring end of our trip anyway.
Our trip was almost over and we had only to drive back to Toronto, pick up my UK working Visa from the hostel where we’d had it mailed, before boarding a plane to London. It would be our sixth country, our fourth continent and my first look at our new home for the next twelve months. Bring it!