An invitation from new friends made over the summer, coupled with an old desire to visit the famed Niagara Falls, plus the chance to reconnect with a high school pal 21 years later, and the opportunity to get out of the house once more before autumn hits, adds up to – you guessed it – a quick trip north of the border to Canada. Southern Ontario, to be exact.
Just across the river from Detroit, the area around Windsor – the most southern city in Canada – claims to be the country’s automotive capital. Sure enough, there seems to be a Ford, GM or Chevy assembly plant or parts facility at every turn. And in tune with southern hospitality, we were very well received by our dear friends in Belle River, right on the edge of Lake St. Claire. [by well received I mean pulling all the stops, all the way to the ‘best stuffed cabbage rolls’ my daughter ever had and fresh polenta (mamaliga) prepared at 4 AM; true connoisseurs of this culinary delicacy would fully understand what a warm welcome this was!!].
|Toronto barely noticeable in the background...|
The Niagara Falls itself is a solid 10 on the “WOW” scale. Sure, there’s all the cheesy, touristy stuff one would expect around this beautiful natural setting – after all, commercialism recognizes that after a few minutes the jaw retracts but the hand has to keep reaching for the wallet (back to that aspect later) – but the experience is definitely one for the ‘bucket list’.
By sheer magnitude, it is impressive. And if it looks so from a distance, the effect is exponentially enhanced the closer you get to it. And close to it you can get (all for the appropriate fee, of course). Yes, the Maid of the Mist (the local 165 year old monopoly when it comes to navigating by boat right under the Horseshoe’s drop) gets you as close as you can imagine. Plastic ‘raincoat’ and all, you’ll still get drenched no matter what. And the deafening noise, the curtain of water dropping at an amazing 600,000 gallons/second, swirling wildly under the boat, leave no doubt about the fact that only a true miracle can save anyone that manages to be caught in the plunge. Quite frightening, actually. The ever-present rainbow, however, makes for a guaranteed Kodak moment.
|US Side - American Falls and Bridal Veil|
|The Maid of the Mist against the Horseshoe Falls|
|The Maid of the Mist venturing under the Horseshoe|
|That ever-present rainbow...|
From the ground level, only a few short feet and a railing that’s not much taller than the average 8 year old separate you from the raging 20 miles/hour current that is barreling down the 175 feet drop. And then, there’s the top view from the 520-feet tall Skylon Tower… the Merry-go-Round… the multiple ‘Falls-View’ restaurants at the top of every hotel in the area… etcetera… etcetera…I’m sure they’ll think of many other ways to exploit the view in the near future.
|Light show over the falls (from the Skylon Tower)|
At ground level again, there’s every tourist gimmick, trick and trap in the book: Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Wax Figures Museum, Dracula’s Castel [yeah, that’s right!], arcades, mini-golf, water park (a big indoor one to maximize year-round revenue), cheap [meaning quality, not price] souvenir shops… you name it, it’s there. All ‘loud’ (both to the ear and the eye), cheesy, overcrowded, chromatically uncoordinated, a distasteful [mad] man-created ‘cacophony’ of sound, color and style, in complete and utter contrast to the natural wonder on display only a few hundred yards away…
Every hotel and restaurant chain is present. A couple of casinos as well, just to keep the adults busy. You’d have to venture quite a bit off the beaten path in order to find some peace and food choices above par. But that’s always good advice around any heavy tourist setting: wonder off a few blocks. We stumbled upon such a place where an older Greek (her) - Italian (him) couple ran a decent ‘Mediterranean’ place. Sandstone I think it was called…Yet, in the end, I’m not sure if it was as much the food (still very authentic), the wine (from the local Ontario vineyards I mentioned earlier) as it was the company: making new friends and reconnecting with a high-school buddy I have not seen in 21 years. Pretty much one of those Master Card ‘priceless’ moments!
|21 years later ... on the other side of the world...|
But with all that (or maybe because of it) people visit every year in millions; 28 or so last year alone. And despite it all, it is worth the trip. Once.
|An old tram downtown Toronto: |
a throwback to Romania, circa 1975
The city itself has a very European metropolitan feel to it. High-rise apartments (expensive from what I hear), plenty of attractions and the proximity to the water give it a nice character [I’m partial here, since - for me - even a ‘dump’ that’s by the water has character] …
|Driving into downtown Toronto|
There. Southern Ontario in a [small] nutshell. A nice place to visit, but not sure about living there. Not with the current gas prices, expensive booze and sub-zero temps [nearly] year-round. Kudos to all of you who have adapted to those conditions!
PS: a million thanks to freelance photographers Laura and Mari who have enhanced the visuals for this posting. For additional video footage check out these links: