Ask any tourist visiting America, “what’s on your itinerary?” and it will include Statue of Liberty, Times Square, White House, Disney World, Golden Gate Bridge, Hollywood and Niagara Falls. There may be other places such as Yellowstone or Chicago or Grand Canyon, but Niagara Falls is a definite.
I had the good fortune of seeing all of the places listed above in my first 2 years in America. Seeing a place is one thing, experiencing is another. Experiencing requires the right location, and more importantly, the right mind-set.
Niagara Falls, is an experience. There is a great episode of This American Life about Niagara Falls. The radio show beautifully describes the drive along the river where the rapids get faster and frothier; the noise rising to a thunderous crescendo; the feel of the mist in the aptly named Maid of the Mist, getting wetter and ultimately soaked; feeling the hurricane in the Cave of the Winds; seeing the short lived rainbows that may form at any given moment – this is one of the greatest experiences in life. A word of warning – the radio show is rather graphic in some of its content and very depressing for most of it. So, please listen to it after your visit and not before.
My first Niagara Falls experience happened with my grad-school buddies during my very first summer in this country. I was able to visit again some years later with my family. To watch others experience this for the first time is a treat. Grownups become awe-struck little children. It gave me great pleasure to watch my dad and brother experience this.
Ask anyone who has been to Niagara Falls and they will tell you the Canadian side is better than the US side. However, due to the extra effort and expense needed to apply for a Canadian visa, I never got to see that side on either trip. I always told myself, one of the first things I would do after I get my green-card was to go to the Canadian side. Well, green-card and citizenship happened, but Niagara Falls, Canada did not. It is one of those things in life – as soon as something becomes attainable, it suddenly ceases to be as desperately attractive.
In the last five years, I have had to travel to the Greater Toronto area frequently for work. Flying to Buffalo and driving has been a lot cheaper than flying to Pearson International. I would give myself plenty of extra time for the border crossing and it almost always went quickly (especially after I was approved for Global Entry by the TSA) and I would stop by the Falls and have had the opportunity to see it frozen in winter, crowded in the warmer months, lit up at night – but always from a distance and from a car.
There were several times in the past few years when Kristen and I would think of going to see (correction, experience) the Falls but never got around to it. So, once we decided to take this road-trip, the Falls were definitely on the itinerary.
When Kristen had made plans to meet her friend Alison in Buffalo, I was curious if she would be interested in going to the Falls. I have had friends who lived in the Buffalo area who fell into two categories – those who said “yeah, it was great the first couple of times, but now I don’t care for it anymore” and the others that said “I go there every opportunity I get and I have been hundreds of times and will never tire of it”. I was curious which category Alison would fall under. Turned out, it was the second and she visits once a year.
The dreary weather on the day of our visit didn’t help; neither did the crowd and chaos all over. But the Maid of the Mist experience was as awesome as I remembered – a little wet, a little loud; getting wetter and louder every minute. We reached the point where we couldn’t tell the difference between water and air – it was just foam. I am told that’s what a Force 10 on Admiral Beaufort’s scale feels like – not sure I would want to experience that at sea.
And to watch Kristen’s reaction was truly the best part. She loved every minute of it – as detailed in her version.
We thought we would walk over the bridge to the Canadian side and wander around, but the weather took a turn for the worse and we went to the casino instead.
Thankfully, the weather got better the next day and we decided to stay an extra day and we found a hotel room on the Canadian side. Rule of thumb – falls view hotels cost about $100 more than hotels that are a couple of blocks away. The Canadian side is more commercialized and it has a carnival atmosphere. From what our taxi driver (who drove with one hand, eating pizza with the other and cut through traffic by driving on the wrong side of the road) said, I am led to believe that it is like a mini Las Vegas all year long, unlike the US side.
Yes, it’s better! Yes, it’s worth getting a Canadian visa to see it from that side!
Like many of the great experiences in life, words are grossly insufficient to describe the feelings – I scrapped a 1,000 word write-up because it sounded so lame.
Just go experience it for yourself! And don’t put it away because it is attainable.