Day-tripping to Niagara Falls

Our friends, Dave and Antony, arrived from Perth (via Vancouver) on Friday so Saturday we got together with them for our first day trip out of Toronto: Niagara Falls. We met them at their hotel at Union Station for buffet breakfast before jumping in their hire car and heading out to Hamilton to pick up Dave’s friend Richard and his partner Jim.

Glen sat in the front of the car while Dave drove. I’m not sure that was such a wise move. Firstly, everything is on the other side of the road, which made Glen pretty nervous. I had the luxury of being in the backseat so could ignore it a bit. Secondly, the car was flash enough to have cruise control that sensed when cars ahead were slowing down or stopping. The car then braked, adjusting its speed accordingly, all by itself. It braked a touch later than we thought was safe, resulting in screams every now and then as the back of the car in front came rapidly closer. We survived, however, and made it to Hamilton to pick up Richard and Jim.

Our first stop was Peller Estates Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake. This weekend is the International Cold Climate Chardonnay Festival (yes, there is such a thing) so it was busy with people piling into the cellar door to taste things. We had a quick look around, seeing they sold Ice Wine (which we giggled at, giving it a slight accent, because we’re so mature), and then went into the restaurant. We sat outside, thankfully the heat and humidity wasn’t too bad today.

The waitress was excellent. Friendly, chatty and fun. Helpful too, giving us tips on where to park for the falls (though we didn’t end up taking her suggestion). We had three courses, with an amuse bouche and a palate cleanser. The amuse bouche was an oyster, which didn’t go down well with most of table. Jim, Antony and Glen didn’t eat theirs. Richard was fine, I think, and Dave forced his down. I swallowed mine (though I couldn’t tell you what it tasted like as it just didn’t look all that appetising) then ate Glen’s and Antony’s.

I had tuna sashimi as an entree, then a very nice ocean trout as a main. In between we had a granita palate cleanser (pronounced granitay) which was flavoured with lychees (lee-chees) and one of their sweet wines. It tasted like the Freezer icypoles (the triangular ones) you buy in Australia. Nom nom. And then to finish everyone except Glen had the chocolate cremeux, which was very decadent. The cuvee we had at the start was delicious and the pinot grigio was very drinkable. Sitting outside and having great company made it a very enjoyable lunch. Very civilised. Afterwards, Glen and I bought a three pack of icewine to try and then we jumped in the car and headed to Niagara.

We drove through Niagara-on-the-Lake and saw a lot of fruit sellers. We’re planning to go to the Peach Festival there in early August so it was good to have an early look around. We can take the train and a shuttle bus (and from there I don’t know) or we might hire a car (if we can steel ourselves to drive on the right). Like Perth, once you get outside the city, you usually need a car to get around.

Driving through Niagara was a bit of a depressing experience. It used to have a big automotive industry but that’s since shut shop so the outskirts of the city look rundown. It’s not until you get to the main tourist area of the falls that it picks up. And instead of run down buildings, it’s full of tourist places – hotels, arcades, rides, amusement parks, casinos – and tourists. To be honest, it’s awful.

We paid for parking then walked down to the Maid of the Mist boarding area, then joined the queue. You squeeze into a lift and descend (potentially through the side of a cliff) to “ground level” where you can join another queue to board the boat. The lifts are manned by teenagers who seem to have all the life sucked out of them. If you look at any of the attendees around the place, you can see they’re not having the time of their lives. And you can kind of see why.

Each boat probably takes about 100 to 200 people and there’s a boat every 15 minutes for about 8 hours. Each of them leaves full. When one arrives, it unloads its passengers and then the next bunch swarm aboard. It’s like herding cattle. You can see that after a while, probably a day, you’d get sick of the sight of people and think the falls were just horrible.

Nevertheless, we joined the herd, were given our blue ponchos (the Americans across the way were wearing yellow ones) and waited in line. When our boat arrived, we headed up top and took a space at the edge. Soon enough, we were off and heading close to the American Falls. Sidenote: Some years ago, the US removed the boulders at the bottom of the falls to make it look more idyllic. Pretty soon they realised the boulders were stopping the falls from eroding the cliff so they all had to be put back again.

We got a bit misted at this point but it wasn’t until you get closer to Niagara Falls that you really get wet. It’s like rain but you’re only there for a few minutes and then the boat turns around and you’re heading back. Total time for the experience: 15–20 minutes. It was a lot of fun and the crowds going wild for getting wet. Really an uplifting experience. I’m glad we went.

Once back on land we along the top of the cliff towards the top of Niagara Falls. When you look at the water cascading over the edge, it doesn’t look quite real. It looks like moving glass or ice. It’s quite mesmerising and peaceful to watch this huge torrent just disappear over the edge. You can see why people might like to try going over the edge. And perhaps it’s a nice spot to commit suicide because it’s such a force, a part of life that sweeps you away. We wouldn’t mind heading there in winter to see what it’s like when there are fewer people around (if that ever happens).

By the time we got back to the car it was about 6:30 or 7 I think. We dropped Richard and Jim home, then they came in convoy to Mississauga where we went to RibFest2013. Natural wonders haven’t got anything on ribs.

We arrived about 8pm I think and the queue to get in was really long. Thankfully, there was a VIP area and for $10 you could get quick entry, fast-track to buying food and access to the VIP seating area (and washrooms). Normal entry was $2 so it was kind of a no-brainer. Plus it was going to charity (Rotary, to fight polio I think).

We pushed our way through the crowds of people clambering to buy their pork and beef ribs until we got to the end of the food stalls line where there were fewer people. We took advanced of the fast track lane and bought our food. I bought half a chicken. We then went through to the VIP area, nabbed a table and ate. I don’t eat chicken skin so mine was really just cooked chicken meat, which was fine as the sauce wasn’t all that great. Glen had some ribs, pork and chicken monstrosity and devoured that. And the others just bought ribs (either pork or beef). The main opinion was that the food wasn’t all that great. Oh well.

We hung around for a while after as there was live music on the stage and we had a nice place to sit. It was also a really nice evening (especially compared to the storm experienced by most of Ontario the night before). Some of the boys had beer, Glen bought a crepe and a corn on the cob.

We had intended to go to a nightclub later in the evening but we were all flaking out by 9:30 and decided to call it quits and head home. Being out in the sun took it out of us I think. But Richard and Jim are keen board-gamers so we’re going to catch up with them, play Settlers of Catan and then go to a club. Yay for new friends.

And so ended our first day trip in Canada.

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