31.10.2011 - 01.11.2011 10 °C
Niagara Falls Circus
We love the occasional luxury of having a hire car on holidays. You’ve got so much more space to spread around. It’s like having a portable motel room. Not that we have that much stuff to spread. There’s a wonderful freedom in driving too – you just stop whenever you want and there’s definitely more of the countryside to be seen. So we set off early one morning from Toronto, to see the wonders of Niagara Falls.
It’s an easy 2 hours drive for around 130 klm, on a large freeway to the small town of Niagara Falls.
This time of year visitor numbers are much less thanks to winter, however the circus at Clifton Hill still exists. If you’ve been to Niagara you’ll know what I mean. Just a few blocks walk up Clifton Hill from the Falls, the main street turns into an amusement park with ferris wheel, knock ‘em downs, several Wax Museums (including the lame Rock Music Museum with a wax Gene Simmons in the front window), a Ripley’s Believe It or Not; a bowling alley, hundreds of tourist shops selling tacky tourist crap and the inevitable, Casino. Loud music and advertising blares out down the almost empty street. I want to know why it is that Ripley’s and Wax Museums have found their way to almost every conceivable tourist location across North America?
We didn’t know there were several parts to the falls – the larger Horseshoe Falls, visible from the Canadian side, and the second, lesser falls – the American Falls (also more visible from the Canadian side). There’s also a third, smaller falls – Bridal Veil. Seems like Canada got the best deal here, because the view from the Red & White side is much better. Whilst it’s not the largest falls in the world, it takes the title of the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world. We discover this when trying to park our car. We drive past the falls and it’s like coming into a heavy rain shower. Once parked, Weps dons a very smart white plastic, maple-leaf patterned rain poncho to walk through the spray, which pretty much saturates us. In summer I’m sure it’s a lovely, refreshing change. In winter however, the breeze makes it a little cool. Winter is apparently maintenance time, and sadly the Maid of the Mist boat tour isn’t operating (actually, none of the tours are operating) so we walk for several kilometers along the length of the Niagara River taking in the amazing views.
A young woman perished in the falls a few months before our visit, slipping off a cement pillar she was attempting to stand on for a photo. They don’t post danger signs for fun so this is one for the Darwin awards I guess. If she’d survived, there would have been a nice $10,000 fine waiting for her, and banishment from Canada. Apparently the falls authority don’t take daredevil stunts too lightly and aren’t afraid to apply hefty fines to those attempting a go over the falls (and there’s been plenty – not all deliberate of course).
Before leaving, we picnic next to the falls, and a rainbow appears, as if just for us over the aptly named Rainbow Bridge (collective ‘awww’ here).
Back in the car we drive over the bridge, crossing the Niagara River to the USA town of Niagara Falls just because we can. The sarcasm of the USA border official isn’t the most welcoming (Do you speak English in Australia? Umm, yes. Good, well can you read the sign saying don’t cross the white line?. Of course if we’d seen it, being the good, compliant travelers that we are in not wanting to risk the wrath of US border officials, we would have complied. A quick drive around several blocks and being the cheapskates we are, we refuse to pay $10 for a carpark for the shitty view from the US side.
Amusingly, there’s a Pakistani family selling cheap t-shirts on the side of the road but we give it a miss and head back to Canada for the two hours to Toronto. On the way, we detour through the historic and very Stepford-wives like town of Niagara-Falls-By-The Lake, past heaps of vineyards and wine outlets. Ontario has a special variety of ice wine (the grapes are harvested when frozen) but we don’t stop and I make a note to try and find it somewhere else. We go past pollution central in Hamilton, where waterside steel factories pump out pollution at a rate sure to give China a run as most polluted place in the world. We hit peak hour heading back into Toronto, and the five lines of traffic either side are challenging. It’s up early the next morning. Forgetting we’re in a major capital city, we misjudge the volume of traffic likely to be on the road at 6:30am, and our GPS gives us a bum steer near the airport. We only just make it (out of breath from our run) to our five hour flight to Vancouver. We’re seated next to a retired school teacher from Yuko who sadly lost his wife to cancer several years ago and we discuss his loneliness in being a relatively youngish widower in a small town.