Friday, September 18, 2015

Niagara on the Lake

All too soon, it was time to leave Niagara and head to our next destination, Toronto.  But we took a slight detour on the way.

We headed through the state park, following a popular bike route along Niagara River that leads to the small but perfectly formed Niagara wine region.  It reminded us a lot of our trip to Margaret River in South East Australia several years ago.  We stopped briefly at the Whirlpool Rapids and the Devils Hole Rapids, then drove on through lots of lovely vineyards and towards the town of Niagara on the Lake.

This was a gem of a place - a little town surrounded by lovely little boutique wineries (vineyards), with random names like Frogpond Farm, Coyote's Run and Stonechurch.  We discovered the sweet delights of ice-wine (harvested during the winter months when the grapes are still frozen and giving a sweeter and more intense flavour to the wine). Obviously it would have been rude not to have stopped at a couple of the vineyards on our way through and sampled (and purchased) their fare...

The town itself was very pretty - flower-filled streets and lots of boutique shops and cafes / restaurants lining the main street.  Also, possibly the prettiest and most under-stated Starbucks I've seen in a while.  I can imagine it would be a blissful place to retire to...

Then, after a spot of home-cooked lunch in one of the vineyards, we were back on the Expressway and headed for Toronto.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Room with a View

This was the view that greeted us from our hotel room at Niagara.  Pretty amazing, huh? That's obviously the Horseshoe Falls on the right, and (unknown to me), the American Falls and the Bridal Falls in the background on the left (US side), all three of which collectively make up "Niagara Falls".

We took a late afternoon stroll along the waterfront, taking advantage of the light and lack of crowds to get some photos.

The sheer power of the Horseshoe Falls, and the volume of water continuously pouring off the edge was awe-inspiring.  We got our first glimpse of the famous "Maid of the Mist"" (US side) and "Hornblower" (Canadian side) boats which perfectly synchronised their alternating tours to and from the falls every 15 minutes.  We also got our first taste of "Niagara Rain" - perfectly dry pavements at the Falls themselves, and then 250m down the road it "rained" - from a fine spray to a full-on down-pour, as the "mist" from the Falls fell to earth!

The following day we did the full tourist thing.  First was a "Walk Beneath the Falls" - a tour through the tunnels beneath the Horseshoe Falls, looking out onto the full force of the ever-tumbling water, and also a glimpse into the brave Victorians who dug the original tunnels. The tour ended with a balcony walk at the bottom of the Falls.  Very wet - hence the lovely yellow ponchos!

Who knew that Niagara had a tackier side?  We found it when we walked further round to Clifton Hill and fell upon a tourist trap filled with amusement arcades, chain fast food restaurants, about a dozen haunted houses (why?), an upside down house (again, why?) and the "Niagara Sky Wheel".  We didn't linger long...   But we did have a lovely meal at the Wein Keller restaurant / craft winery round the corner.  On the walk back to the hotel we could see the ghostly plume of Niagara mist rising into the sky.

We couldn't go all the way to Niagara without experiencing the boat tour, so we donned the compulsory ponchos once again.  From the boat we got a much better view of the American Falls, and then right up to the Horseshoe Falls themselves, and a proper soaking from the roaring waters.  Impossible to keep anything dry, including a camera lens, even with the ponchos!  

Finally, to get some proper high rise views, we went to the top of the Skylon Tower for a 360 viewpoint and some good panorama opportunities:

Friday, September 4, 2015

Road Trip!

In pursuit of our ongoing goal to explore as much of the USA as possible during our stay, Hubby planned us a road trip at the end of August (hence the radio silence for the last couple of weeks).  The initial wisdom of this was debatable, given that me+hubby+driving *anywhere* generally doesn't reveal the best of our personalities.  However, game for a challenge, and with some amazing sights promised and a bag full of snacks for the journey, we were off.

Driving any distance in the USA isn't really like driving in the UK (even apart from the whole wrong-side-of-the-road thing).  Speed limits are really slow compared to what we're used to in the UK - 55mph being the average speed limit on most of the roads we travelled.  Hence, it seems to take ages to get anywhere, and often the roads are single lane too (if you avoid the even more boring expressways).  Our journey was only about 350 miles, but was set to take us about 6 1/2 hours...

It was a murky misty morning when we set off, and the rain seemed set to follow us all the way, which made the views and the driving a little bit boring at times.  There were also a lot of lorries on the road (probably 80% of the traffic we encountered), although to be fair, most of the roads appeared completely empty - a little disconcerting to start with!

We quickly left behind the flat farms and barns and cornfields with looming black clouds overhead, and headed north towards the state border with New York.  The landscape became more wooded, and we gained height to about 2,250 feet. Slightly concerning, we passed road signs warning about bears (didn't see any :-().  We passed through small towns with recognisable names like Grimsby and Bradford (a little surreal), and also slightly odder names like Burning Well, Brandy Camp and Kill Buck.

We passed through what looked like a charming little town (in a brief break of sunshine) called Ellicottville - obviously a ski destination in the winter, with lots of winter lodges and snow mobile signs, and you could just about see the chair lifts through the woods above us.  (Not sure I fancy the drive there in the winter, though!).

Eventually, we reached Buffalo, close to the US / Canada border and things became much more industrial looking.  We crossed Peace Bridge, and with it the Canadian border, into Ontario and passport control. Magically, as we crossed the bridge, the sun made a welcome appearance, and pretty much stayed with us through the rest of our travels!

From there, it was a relatively short drive via the Queen Elizabeth Expressway (Canada feels more familiar already!) to our fab hotel, overlooking Niagara Falls.  More adventures to follow!