After about 15 minutes of waiting we decided to walk to the hostel, stopping on the way to get a bacon, egg and cheese roll and, quite frankly, I am surprised I'm not dead. The 'egg' was actually described on the packaging as an 'egg patty', and tasted a lot like a wet sponge. What the Americans have against real eggs I do not know. Still, it stopped my stomach rumbling uncontrollably for a while and I carried on to the hostel.
The hostel is actually just a big house with a little Chinese lady running the place who likes to fuss over its residents. It's friendly and clean, though we are not allowed alcohol inside and have to be in bed by 11:30. Still, this doesn't matter too much and Ilkwon and Paul are both good fun to chat to.
The town is a bit of a dive, and (apart from the signs pointing the way) there is actually no indication that one of the world's natural wonders lies just beyond the derelict buildings, unused real estate, tacky souvenir shops and building sites that fill what's left of this ghost town... It's quite sad really, and I find myself thinking that the place should be full of parks and gardens and people on bikes with baskets full of bread. Fortunately when I reached the falls themselves, all was forgiven. They really are as stunning as all the hype would have you believe. Oddly, the first thing I noticed was how quiet they were - you'd think with god knows how many millions of litres of water crashing down every second that the ground would shake and your eardrums would bleed but, not so.
After staring at the falls from my vantage point about six feet away, I bought a ticket for the Maid of the Mists boat which carried me and many fascinated Asian photographers to the base of the Horseshoe Falls where we were sprayed with freezing cold water and bitten by wind which ripped around our ponchos. Trying to get a decent photo was nigh on impossible for fear of soaking the camera, or losing the hood of the poncho, the latter most likely resulting in my face being permanently deformed by frostbite.
When I had thawed in the sun I made my way across the river and into Canada. Now, if Niagara Falls, NY was Steptoe then Niagara Falls, ON is Dame Edna. It was like I had just walked into a bad theme park complete with haunted houses, casinos and movie wax museums. Just bizarre. Fortunately when you move away from all this - back towards the Falls themselves - you're greeted with greenery, proper walkways, and all of the tourist regimentation you'd expect from such a destination.
After Niagara, I went to a place called Buffalo - the 2nd largest city in New York State. I had about 10 hours to kill until my train to Chicago so I took the bus downtown with a couple of Germans to have a look around but the place is like Niagara Falls on a larger scale. It's like loads of people came and set up a bustling city with huge buildings and massive roads but then they all just left. It was a Saturday afternoon and there was hardly anyone about at all. It started raining. Hard. After realising there was actually nothing to do here I got back on a bus towards the train station and stopped at the mall on the way. Ahh so this
is where all the people are. People in the US drive everywhere. The streets of cities are often empty of people and devoid of shops. People drive into the multi-storey malls, do their shopping, eat their food and then drive back home, and Buffalo (along with Salt Lake City later in the blog) is a prime example of this behaviour. All this makes for a fairly soulless, spooky atmosphere and it's a shame because these places are all so huge that they should really be balanced with an equal compliment of people. Nevertheless I indulged in some cultural American food (a Subway) in the mall like everyone else, and made my way to the train station.
The train from New York took about 10 hours in all but it wasn't too bad. The trains here are much more comfortable than in England with loads of leg room, reclining seats, and more often than not you will get two to yourself so you can lie down if you fancy a snooze. When I finally reached the Niagara Falls station I found myself miles out of the city centre waiting for a bus with a Frenchman I had met in New York.