You want lots of water? This is the place to be!

Trip Start Dec 26, 2012
Trip End Jan 15, 2013

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What I did
Niagara Falls
Read my review - 5/5 stars

Flag of Canada  , Ontario,
Monday, July 29, 2013

I was really glad I had chosen the train journey to upstate New York when travelling to Niagara. I was over airports and flying for a while. It's also nice not to have to take your shoes off, have all your luggage scanned as well as your person, and be asked probing questions by customs officials before boarding your transportation for a change!

A journey up the Hudson River, through small and larger towns with names I'd heard for years, Yonkers, Poughkeepsie, Schenectady, Hudson and Buffalo to name a few, is a pleasant and relaxing way to travel, especially if you've booked a business class ticket and virtually have the whole table to yourself in the dining car. The scenery didn't take long to change from built up city to a peaceful, wide brown river, with forests, lilly covered swamps and ponds, and cornfields hidden away in between them for as far as the eye could see. The train left just before 10:30, and didn't arrive on the American side of the falls until nearly 8pm.

I took a taxi to cross to my accommodation on the Canadian side, and am still not sure if I should have booked the train to the Canadian station. The conductor told me that it would be quicker and easier to get through customs checkpoints at the border when in the taxi than at the other end with everyone from the train. The American side I was driven through is the town that tourists forgot, and has so many boarded up businesses and neglected buildings it resembles a ghost town by comparison with what I was about to encounter. When you see even a KFC with "closed down" on boards nailed across the door, you know something's gone wrong! (Or right, depending on how you feel about fast food chains...)

I had my first glimpse of the horseshoe falls as we crossed the rainbow bridge, at the end of which is the border crossing into Canada. As it was dark by now, they were lit by blue, pink and purple lights, and even from this distance, were impressive. I could hardly wait to get up close to them tomorrow. It took quite a while to get through customs. It's a bit hard to explain sometimes that yes, you're Australian, but you've been living and working in Winnipeg for the last 7 months, and you've just been to America, then up in Canada again in the Maritimes for several weeks, and after that New York. I guess it's because I'm going back and forth like a yo yo, or seem to have an awful lot of time on my hands for someone who's working full time. Maybe it seems suspicious, I can't quite believe it myself at times! Anyway, after more questions than I thought necessary, I found myself on Canadian soil once again.

I'd been warned by several friends who have been to Niagara that parts of it can be a bit "commercialized", even tacky, so was only partly surprised when we drove up Clifton Hill. Maybe it can be compared to a kids version of Vegas, with a few things thrown in to make the adults feel included. The pavements were thick with people, traffic crawled between game parlours, takeaway joints, dodgy looking nightclubs, souvenir stores and more tacky, brightly neon lit attractions than even a kid at a carnival could wish for. I use "attractions" in an ironic tone, as I certainly wasn't finding them so! I hadn't come to see the house of horrors, the wax murderers crime museum, "Louis Tussauds" (the not so cheap but definitely nasty rip off of Madame Tussauds) or Ripleys Believe it Or Not. However, the place was crawling with tourists, so obviously there's room for all tastes here!

My motel was in a quiet street only a few minutes walk from the huge, multi-storey Hyatt, Marriott etc, where people who have lots of money choose to stay. If you're high enough up in THEM you'll have a view of the falls, however, I decided I could manage quite nicely without that in my hasn't-been-updated-since-the 1970's motel just down the road. Although, I thought calling it Fallsview Inn was a tad misleading, as even before all the Multi story hotels were built in front of it, the only thing you'd have seen of the falls from there would be the mist rising hundreds of feet above them. The room WAS old, and despite a no smoking policy, the smell indicated that obviously you were allowed to at one time, and the carpet and curtains had not been updated since it was put in place, but the bed was fine, as was the bathroom. I was to discover that the bath drained so slowly that I was calf deep in water by the time I'd finished a shower! I'd asked for a kettle, which had been provided, but had to ask for a spoon, and go and buy a cheap mug, milk and teabags at a service station nearby. Strangely enough, they did provide a fridge in the room. That cup of hot tea tasted even better because of the trouble I had to go to to make it. It wasn't long before I slept like a log.

The next morning I didn't hurry to rise, and once I did it was to find a bus that would take me to the closest Laundromat. I had decided that I needed to wash all of my clothing again, just to make sure I had gotten rid of every bed bug I'd picked up in Boston. I had a mortal horror that they had followed me, my 70+ bites from, let's not forget the name, 40 BERKELEY ST HOSTEL, were still tormenting me. I was slathering them with hydrocortisone cream regularly, taking antihistamine tablets to the recommended limits, and using every ounce of will power I possess not to scratch them. It stopped me from feeling the least bit guilty for giving them a bad review on when asked to submit one, that's for sure! So by the time I'd hauled two bags across town (and cursed myself for bringing so much clothing), put it through the dryer on high, then washed it, then dried it all again, the best part of the day had gone. After taking it all back to the inn and hanging it to air, I jumped on the next bus and headed in the opposite direction this time to the falls.

Niagara Falls has had a relatively new tourist bus system installed within the last year, called WEGO. For $7, you can get a 24 hour pass on any of the four routes, which cover all the major attractions in the town area, and a few further up the Niagara river. For $11:50 you can buy a 48 hour pass. The one I bought, halfway through that first day, was only a 24 hour one, but lasted the entire 3 days that I was there, don't ask me how that happened! I kept going to buy a new one but every time I scanned the old one, it just kept accepting it, so who was I to question, I just enjoyed and made the most of the two days of free rides!

Arriving at Table Rock, I heard them and saw that spray rising hundreds of metres into the air before the incredible rush of water appeared before me. The river was a deep, dark blue right up to the edge of the falls, and then just as it tumbled over the edge of the cliff with a mighty roar, it turned a beautiful aquamarine, before plunging into a cloud of white spray over 165 feet below. It was a sunny day and rainbows appeared frequently, giving me what would turn out to be the best photo opportunities in my entire time there. You can see all the photos and guidebooks that you want before you get there, but I don't think anything can really prepare you for their power and beauty.

This is what I had been hoping to experience, and no amount of crappy entertainment, loud and boozy holiday makers and outdated accommodation was going to spoil that for me! I spent the rest of the day walking around the area and exploring the Canadian side of the falls, managing to get on the last Maid of the Mist tour of the day at 7:45pm. That turned out to be wonderful timing as well, as we weren't packed in like sardines as all the other tours I'd observed from above. There was plenty of room to move around in our big blue garbage bag-like raincoats as we steamed down to the roaring Horseshoe Falls. If they'd seemed intimidating from above, observing safe and relatively dry from the edge, then they were awesome and even a bit terrifying from below. If you'd stood right at the front of the boat, you may as well have just turned a hose on yourself and be done with it, I've never heard so much screaming when people are obviously enjoying themselves! There was a point when there was really not much point in taking any more photos, unless you had a waterproof was great fun, and I got a couple of shots just as the setting sun touched the top of them, but I know they won't do justice to how beautiful they were.

Looking up at them, I shuddered to think that a woman, aged 63, was the first one to attempt to go over the falls in a pickle barrel. Her name was Annie Taylor, the year was 1901, and she had nothing other than compressed air from a bicycle pump and a "lucky pillow" with her(!) She had chosen to go over them to prove you could survive doing so. More like prove you were in need of psychological intervention! Someone who did not go over by choice, and yet lived to tell the tale, was the even more incredible story of 7 year old Roger Woodward. After a boating accident further up the river, he was swept over in July 1960. He was wearing only a life jacket and a swim suit. The Maid Of The Mist II picked him out of the water, and above the falls, his 17 year old sister was rescued by on lookers before she went over as well. The driver of their boat tragically drowned. Don't tell me a higher power wasn't looking out for that boy, because surviving that was nothing short of a miracle.

I enjoyed a late dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe after this, filling in time until the fireworks I'd been told were on Friday and Sunday nights at 10pm were to begin. As they exploded over the lit falls, I knew I'd had an amazing end to the day, even if it hadn't started with anything more exciting than washing for hours in a laundromat. The buses were so crowded that three went past without letting anyone on before I decided it would be quicker to just walk back to the Fairway Inn. I determined to explore a little further afield the next day.

Day two, Saturday the 27th, and I went to see the rapids further up the river, some lovely gardens, and then as far as the bus went in the opposite direction. The whirlpool car crosses at a point where the river takes such a sharp right angled turn that the force of the water has gouged out a huge gorge from softer rock and soil, and the rapidly turning water spirals into a churning mess below. I thought I got a good enough view from the edge without paying to cross it.

Once back in town, I decided it might be a good idea to see the falls from the American side, so I walked up to the pedestrian crossing on Rainbow Bridge. You don't have to answer any questions until you reach the other side, but you better make sure you've got your passport with you, or you won't be going anywhere, and I mean getting back into Canada as well! It cost all of 50c, and is the cheapest border crossing I'm ever likely to experience. There was plenty to see on the other side, and I crossed an angry, churning, blue-grey part of the river that rushed toward American Falls to Goat Island. This is the piece of land that separates the two main falls. A smaller fall right next to the American one is known as Bridal Veil Falls, and you can get incredibly close to them, so that it seems as if there's no barrier between you and where they plunge over when you take a photo! I did lots of walking that day, and the views once again were brilliant.

The final day in Niagara was alternatively sunny and overcast, so I headed to the falls once again, after first exploring a local shopping centre and buying myself a pandora charm to represent New York, a silver apple. I explored more around Table Rock, right at the Canadian edge of the Horseshoe Falls, and saw the Niagara 4D movie, which saw me getting soaked again in a poor attempt to recreate the spray of the falls. After experiencing the real thing, this just didn't cut it, so either do it before, or better still, don't bother!

I managed to find the nice Canadian Mountie who was scheduled to be around to pose for photos with tourists, and then wandered right down to Clifton Hill again. The main attraction for me there was a 24 hour Tim Hortons coffee shop, which I was sorely missing after several weeks in America. Also, their food is so much better than what Starbucks offers! The big sky wheel is right next to it, so that was next on the agenda. That gave a great view over the whole area and put things in perspective. After this I went to a park just across the road from the falls, found a comfortable tree to lean against, spectacular view in front of me, and finished off my New York blog while it was still fresh in my mind.

It was Sunday night, I was due to leave early the next morning, I'd organised a taxi to come and pick me up at 5:30am, but I decided to stay and watch the fireworks again. This time I'd scouted out a much better position, from which I'd have no one in front of me, and a completely clear view of all the falls in all their lit up glory. With the battery on my camera telling me it was flat, and no new ones to hand, I just managed to get a couple of shots in, but they don't give you much idea of how the sky exploded into every colour in the rainbow for several minutes. It was a spectacular way to end my time in Niagara Falls, and I caught my last WEGO bus back to finish packing the last few things so I'd be ready to get up in not much more than 5 and a half hours, groan!

It's so hard to judge how much time you should spend in some places, I could have seen everything I wanted to see in Niagara in two days, and spent another night in New York, or as I was to wish, in Quebec City. But I don't regret travelling by train to get there and back, as the journey was scenic and a nice way to relax and not feel I had to run around and see as much as I could.

Niagara, glad I got to experience it, but definitely would not want to live there...too many tourists!
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