A Tale of Two Countries

Niagara Falls, New York, USA

On Saturday, we spent the day with my friend Alison who I haven’t seen in about 6 years (since she moved out of Boston). It was a dreary day; misty rain and high winds, with a gray sky. The sun seemed destined to not make an appearance, but we were determined to see the Falls, and this was our day. On the ride into Niagara Falls there was a marked difference between looking left and looking right. When looking left we had a view of the Niagara River with its increasing rapids as the Falls approached. As you looked right you saw a run down, post-industrial wasteland full of abandoned chemical factories. But we weren’t there for the city, we were there for the Falls.

After waiting our turn in traffic we parked and headed over into Niagara Falls State Park. Entering the Visitors Center and coming out into the park, we joined the line for the Maid of the Mist, Niagara’s famous boat ride. We would explore the park afterward, but figured we’d try to beat some of the crowds. The dreary weather seemed to work in our favor, so despite it being a Saturday afternoon in August, the line was reasonable.  The boat tour, which dates back to 1846, is the original Falls boat ride, though there is now a similar ride offered on the Canadian side called the Hornblower. From the platform high above we watched group after group of tourists walk through the pavilion below only to emerge on the other side in their blue Maid of the Mist rain poncho prepared for their journey.

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The line moved quickly and before long we were donning our own ponchos and boarding the boat, with the expectation that the ponchos could only do so much. We selected spots along the rail on the lower deck and moments later were on our way. The boat ride is short – only about 15 minutes, and we did get wet (really, really wet), but it was definitely worth it. Even if the view hadn’t been worth it, laughing with an old friend while trying to keep our ponchos from blowing in the wind and fruitlessly attempting to stay dry would have been (we took a photo after and remarked that we should have been smart enough to take one before we got wet).

The view, of course, was worth it, too. The boat brings you pretty close to the Falls. Hearing the roar, and feeling the wind and water from below the Falls is quite an experience. I used our underwater camera to take photos and managed some decent shots.

The Horseshoe Falls

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The American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls

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After exploring the area a bit more, we stopped for lunch at the Top of the Falls restaurant (a great suggestion from Alison, who saved us from eating hotdogs at the cart); but after lunch the rain finally forced us to retreat. But our day wasn’t over yet.  The Seneca Casino beckoned and we headed off for an afternoon of slots. Alison and I spent many hours at the Mohegan Sun Casino back when she lived in Boston, so this was a tribute to the old days.  Alison and Sriram both hit it big (and by “hit it big” I mean went home with their money). I was the big loser of the day, but it was still fun.

We ended with dinner at the famed Anchor Bar in Buffalo and definitely considered our day a success.

Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada

Our plan was to move on the following day. We checked out of the hotel in Buffalo around noon and went off in search of some lunch with the intent of heading toward Pelee Island. We chatted over lunch at Duff’s (more famous local wings), and after a brief detour decided that perhaps we’d head over to the Canadian Falls. The weather had done a 180 and we had a gorgeous day ahead of us. Rather than heading up to cross over at the Falls we headed straight over the Rainbow Bridge for our Border Crossing. It took some time – it was Sunday afternoon and the crossing was packed. 16 lanes were open and we were still easily 15 cars back when we got in line. But we got through the crossing smoothly and made our way up to Niagara Falls, Ontario.

The first big difference between the two cities was that the Canadian side is so much more commercial. Stores, shops, restaurants, chains, and lots of lights. Down on the Waterfront it’s less developed, but it’s not as preserved as the American side (due to the American side being a state park). It’s far more obvious that it’s a tourist spot on the Canadian side. We’d already decided we’d spend the night, so we checked into our hotel and headed down to the Falls.

At first glance it was immediately apparent that the claims that the “view is better” on the Canadian side are 100% true (it helped that there were lovely rainbows making appearances all afternoon). I thought that the view on the American side was impressive – and the view from the boat was certainly amazing, but the view on the Canadian side is breathtaking. We came down into the Waterfront directly in front of the American Falls. We’d lucked out again with crowds and it was easy to get to the rail for the great views. We took some photos of the American and Bridal Falls and then just enjoyed the view for a bit before walking again.

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As we made our way down to the Horseshoe Falls we stopped along the way to take a variety of pictures from all sorts of angles.

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We also repeatedly took pictures for those looking to pose with the Falls and had people take pictures for us. I nearly always shake my head after handing my camera off and getting it back. The first attempt didn’t even have the Falls in the picture. The stranger manning my camera obviously thought we were simply in need of a photo of ourselves. We did eventually get a few good choices for a photo together (including a fun selfie) with the Falls in the background, but I often find myself wishing I could employ a professional photographer to follow me around on vacation to take photos.

When we got to the precipice of the Falls we walked past the immediate drop line due to the crowds and stopped about 6 feet beyond it along the river. Even after seeing it on the other side, and approaching it from many angles, I was stunned by the power of the water. It was truly awe-inspiring to see the way it rushed over the edge. Standing mere feet from the edge you could really feel the power of that water.

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It was getting late in the day and we decided to take a break for dinner before heading back down to the waterfront for the fireworks. When we returned we discovered that The Falls are just as beautiful at night. We retreated up a small hill and managed to find a spot away from the crowd and enjoyed the fireworks display.

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When the display was over, we headed back up into town with the surging crowd. We decided that the Falls were well worth the trip and we were truly glad that we stayed the extra day. If you ever make it to Niagara, be sure to take in both sides. If you’ve already been, tell me what you thought.

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