I woke up early, rested, and looking to see as much of the area around Niagara Falls as possible. The view from the hotel room at dawn was impressive. I had breakfast, took another peek from the hotel room and headed out to check out Horseshoe Falls from up close. I’d have about half a morning to check out the area and then check out of the hotel to continue my trip.
There’s definitely a difference between the approach both Canada and the USA take in regards to commercializing their respective shares of the falls’ area. The Canadian side is definitely more kitschy, with tons of stores selling somewhat overpriced souvenirs, lots of hotels, a big casino, and feels less like a city and more like a theme park. This is not a recent development, since tourism-related hotel sprang up on the Canadian side in 1818, while those in the American side were more content with building factories and mills around the falls.
Even though it wasn’t summertime, the weather was great. Lots of tourists started to crowd the waterfront after 9:00 a.m, though it never got as bad as I’d seen before when the summer throngs fill the entire street.
The “Maid of the Mist” boats started their tours and all seemed to be full of tourists from the moment the ferries started their treks towards the falls. The “Maid of the Mist” name referred to a local legend about a an Indian Princess who killed herself, rather than marry a man she had been promised to by her family. She wouldn’t be the only one to attempt to jump over the falls, but for less noble reasons.
Boats operated continuously, from both the American and the Canadian sides. The boats definitely made for prettier pictures.
Since I’d made the trip in the past and because I was pressing for time, I decided to skip the Maid of the Mist tour, which takes you on a boat right up close to the base of the falls. If you’re in the area and have never done the tour, it is highly recommended.
Niagara Falls History
Niagara Falls has a very colorful history. It has always attracted its share of daredevils and stunt-men (and stunt-women). In fact, the first person to jump inside a barrel and successfully go over the falls (read: didn’t die) was a female school-teacher, in 1901. People had been attempting to dive and had crossed the Niagara gorge over tightropes much earlier than that.
The coolest attempt, though unfortunately unsuccessful, was in 1995 by Robert Overacker, a 39-year old California man who attempted to, get this, ride a jet-ski over the falls. Just as the jet-ski was over the crest, Robert planned to jump and fire a rocket-propelled parachute that would carry him safely below, as he glided down. While it took Overacker seven long years to conceive and prepare for this stunt, there was one teeny-tiny detail that was overlooked during the execution phase. Somebody forgot to actually strap the rocket-propelled parachute to his harness, which caused Robert to go in a diametrically opposed direction to that of his parachute. The poor guy did not make it down safely, though the parachute did.
While there, I could see the draw in wanting to jump over the falls in a barrel. It looked so inviting after the heat and the pressing crowds of tourists started taking their toll. One can get surprisingly close to the falls and there is nothing stopping anyone from jumping over the short railing. You stare at the rush of water long enough and eventually you start feeling the urge to want to jump in.
By the way, the maximum fine for jumping over the falls, barrel or no barrel, is USD$10,000. Think wisely.
Fortunately, I snapped out of it. There were more things to do and see and very little time.
The waterfront offered nice opportunities for pictures, once you got a little further away from the crowds and to the much quieter park on the western side of the street.
On my way to check out of the hotel, a couple of tourists offered me a free pass to go up to Skylon Tower, an observation deck next to the falls, since they wouldn’t be able to use them. I gladly accepted and rushed up to the tower to snap some pictures before eating lunch and skipping out of town. The tower also houses a rotating restaurant, which I gathered was pricy at CAN$35.50 and nothing to write home about according to reviews.
The views from Skylon Tower were pretty impressive. It gives one a pretty good birds-eye view of the falls, plus a glimpse of the Rainbow Bridge (left) used to cross the river between the two countries (USA is above the river on the pic, Canada on the lower side of the picture). The green observation tower in the pic, next to the falls, is the cleverly named “Niagara Falls Observation tower.” Admission is free with paid entrance to the park on the American side.
Once I had decided I’d seen enough of Niagara Falls, I decided it was time to head out. I grabbed a quick lunch and was on my way to Toronto, which is roughly about 2 hours away from the falls. The plan was to get into the city early, to do some sightseeing the next morning. My schedule was loose enough to plan according to the distance I felt like traveling any particular day.
From Niagara Falls to Toronto
The Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) is the highway that connects Buffalo, New York with downtown Toronto. It’s fairly busy, but I was well ahead of rush hour, so traffic was not really bad. I was now also out of my US cell phone coverage, which meant I could no longer rely on my phone’s GPS and data connection. Fortunately, I had a standard Garmin GPS.
Not having a hard and fast schedule also meant I would be unable to book hotels on the road, from my phone. It definitely looked like I was going to have to keep an eye out for free Wi-Fi, wherever I found it. Starbucks, which provides free wireless, was always an option, assuming I could find one. I was going to have to play it by ear. At least I knew my hotel stay in Toronto was covered, since I managed to inch as close to the American border without actually falling into the Niagara River and leech off my faint cell phone data connection to actually book a room.
Still reeling from all the driving from the previous day and starving from all the walking around most of the morning, I arrived at the hotel reasonably on time to shower, relax a little, then get dressed to find something to eat. Wanting to be adventurous, I decided to bypass all the regular comfort food from home (burger, fries, steak, etc) which is available in Canada and went for something really different. An Afghan restaurant caught my eye in the list of nearby restaurants, so I headed that way.
I arrived at the place, Pamier Kabob, not knowing what to expect since I was unfamiliar with the Afghan food. I asked for the “everything” Mixed Kabob plate you see below and a mango shake to wash it off.
The food BLEW. ME. AWAY. It was that great. I couldn’t finish it all, but the point was to sample everything I could and see what I liked. Everything was great. The chicken and beef kabobs, the sweet rice, the warm, tasty naan bread, everything. The salad was an afterthought when faced with so much delicious meat. I hadn’t planned on being too adventurous with the food, but hey, that’s what slow travel is all about.
After being severely stuffed, it was time to literally roll into bed and catch a good night’s sleep. I’m not sure if I’ll be stopping in Montreal yet, which I’ve already visited. That will be tomorrow’s call.
Ever wanted to see Niagara Falls? Did you visit already?