Day 1: NIAGARA FALLS AT LAST!
Today was the very first day of our Iceland/New York trip. We began the day in the air as we caught a red-eye flight from LAX to JFK. Julie managed to upgrade us with our frequent flyer miles to Business Class. It was nice and roomy and made it rather easy to sleep on the plane. However, being the Business Class rookies that we were, we didn’t know about the footrests so we weren’t totally comfortable throughout the night. Julie’s foot got swollen and my knees were sore. Oh well, we live and learn for the next time…
The connecting flight to Buffalo went without any problems. We got over our anxiety about lost luggage when we did pick up our stuff at the very clean Buffalo airport. We then drove over to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls to stay in the very expensive Falls View Hotel.
We paid a premium for a room with a view of the falls. Personally, I think this was a bit contrived, but Julie insisted that this was central to the Niagara Falls experience. In any case, here we were taking photos right from the hotel room. Eventually, we’d make our way down to join the “ants” down there by the brink of Horseshoe Falls after getting settled.
The rest of the afternoon was spent strolling along the walkways getting all sorts of views of all the components of Niagara Falls – the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Horseshoe Falls. Needless to say, the falls were impressive!
The temperature was in the high 80s, but the spray from the falls were welcoming (albeit a nuissance for taking photos). With the blue skies around us, it wasn’t hard to get rainbows in our shots of the falls. You could easily get mesmerized watching the Maid of the Mist Boats shuttling back and forth along the Niagara River with a pause at the turbulent waters beneath Horseshoe Falls.
Slowly, we made our way downstream along the crowded walk skirting the Canadian side of the Niagara River. It probably took us another two hours just to get far enough to start seeing people below at the viewing platform from the Journey Behind the Falls excursion. I kept imagining to myself how much force must be in the falls since it was clearly dwarfing the people down there even though the falls was about 167ft high.
As we continued to make our way downstream, we started getting more direct views of the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. Based on their names, it’s not surprising that they’re on the American side of the river. However, it’s obvious the views were Canadian. Nonetheless, we took hundreds of more photos of the rocky American Falls dwarfing the Maid of the Mist Boats passing before it. We also had a blast comparing how the smallest component of Niagara Falls (i.e. Bridal Veil Falls) still dwarfed the folks in the rain gear on the Cave of the Winds Tour.
Eventually, we got to the ticket office of the Canadian side’s Maid of the Mist, but it was closed for the day. I guess we took too much time taking photos. Never fear though, we knew we still had tomorrow to check out the falls this way. In the mean time, we took advantage of the additional elevated overlooks here providing contextual views of all the components of Niagara Falls looking upstream.
At this point, we were quite tired. I guess all that flying we did plus the additional walking and photographing under the hot sun drained us. So we returned to our hotel and looked for an early dinner. Unfortunately, everything was a rip off (we braced ourselves for this) so we settled on Johnny Rocket’s which wasn’t much better price wise. Then, we headed back to our room and Julie started to nap. I joined her thereafter.
Apparently, we overslept because when I awoke (Julie was still asleep), it was well into evening, the falls were floodlit with nice colors, but it was already 10pm! Eventually Julie woke up and we tried to seize the moment by walking back down by the falls. Thus, we were back down there at around 11pm and took that opportunity to force our tired bodies to stroll some more and snap long exposure photographs of the colorful falls. Unfortunately, the floodlights were turned off at midnight and most of the time, the floodlights were ugly white. I guess we missed our window of opportunity earlier in the evening.
All in all, it was quite an impressive photo day. I know I took 357 photos on my camera. Who knows how many Julie took on hers? Anyhow, tomorrow’s going to be a busy day for us. We’ll spend the morning on the American side before returning to the Canadian side in the afternoon. It’ll certainly be a more interactive (and wet) experience than today as we expect to get even closer to the mighty Niagara Falls…
Day 2: BOMBS AWAY!
Julie and I slept in and awoke as the hot sun shone right into our hotel room. We actually had to check out of this hotel and spend the next night further up the street to a cheaper accommodation. So we got packed up, checked out, got our casino playing card (so we can still park here as the other hotel charged some ridiculous amount for forced valet parking), and left. We knew the morning wouldn’t be a good time to see the falls from the Canadian side since we were looking right at the sun. So we certainly planned it right as we intended to spend most of the day doing more interactive (i.e. touristy) activities on the American side of Niagara Falls.
And so we left the hotel and immediately went back over the Rainbow Bridge towards the American side. There, we were greeted by a rather long line of cars as teams of border patrol people were doing random searches of cars while accusingly asking questions about where we were going, why we were here, whether we brought agricultural stuff, etc. We got our trunk searched and we eventually passed without incident though it took over a half hour to get through this part. Now if only our Mexican border could be as diligently protected as here…
Finally, we got to the car park for Niagara Falls State Park a little after 10am. We were still early enough to find a shady spot so our stuff wouldn’t bake in the sun. At that point, we took a trolley that took us all the way to Terrapin Point. Here, we were able to see Horseshoe Falls from the American side. Under the morning light, it was interesting to see the falls profile backed by the high rise buildings on the Canadian side. The weather was also quite humid as patchy thunderclouds were building overhead.
Next, we paid for the Cave of the Winds excursion. It truly felt like an amusement park experience as we waited in line to go down the elevator and everyone had to put on rain gear as we were about to get some welcome relief from the humid heat beneath Bridal Veil Falls. I didn’t bother taking photos with the SLR camera and relied on Julie’s point-and-shoot for this. It turned out we were looking right into the sun at Bridal Veil Falls so that combined with the swirling mist around the falls made for terrible photos.
After the excursion, we strolled and picnicked near the brink of American Falls. We noticed how (outside the amusement park experiences), this side of the falls was actually a bit more calm and park-like. I sometimes wondered how much more charming the Canadian side would be if they didn’t have that road so close to the Niagara River and made it a walking path instead (complete with tram for those who are willing to pay or are disabled).
In any case, we next took the tram back to the car park area and saw the American Falls from the Observation Deck. We actually ended up paying to see the Observation Deck as well as the Maid of the Mist (could’ve just paid once with a Maid of the Mist Ticket), but we realized afterwards that there probably wasn’t a difference between doing the Maid of the Mist tour from either American or Canadian side so why wait to go back to the other side?
The Observation Deck provided very nice views of the profile of American Falls while Horseshoe Falls thundered in the background. Sure the views were nice, but the structure was hideously conspicuous when you’re not on it. We would eventually get to the bottom where there was a trail taking you closer to the American Falls. Then, we went ahead and boarded the Maid of the Mist while baking in the sun in our rain gear under the hot and humid summer sun.
During the Maid of the Mist tour, we managed to squeeze into a spot along the railing facing the American Falls as the boat passed right before it. It was quite impressive though the mist barely sprayed us as we passed before it. There were lots of gulls hovering around the falls and especially along the railed walk to Bridal Veil Falls.
As the boat pulled away from the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, I suddenly felt something warm hit me in the face. It didn’t take long to figure out what had just happened.
“OOOHHH CRAP!” I exclaimed to Julie.
Obviously, I got hit in the face by bird crap by one of the many birds flying around the American side of the falls.
It was gross!
Oh well, it was a good thing we were headed to the misty base of Horseshoe Falls so I knew it would help to clean that up. And without further adieu, we were sprayed and rocking as the boat tried to stay relatively stationary in the turbulent waters while the spray from the falls drenched everyone.
Being surrounded on three sides of thunderous water was quite an experience. Of course it’s not easy to keep your eyes open the whole time as mist was everywhere and people were screaming around us the way they do in roller coaster rides. Still, my mind was on the fact that the bird crap got washed off my face (hehe).
Later in the afternoon, we returned to the Canadian side where we checked into the Embassy Suites Hotel. It wasn’t much longer before we returned to the brink of the Horseshoe Falls where we bought tickets to do the Journey Behind the Falls. This was mostly an “indoor” experience where we left an elevator and walked through long tunnels to see the falls from behind the mighty and loud wall of water from a safe distance. Then, we’d get to a lookout platform near the base of the falls where spray would wet onlookers every so often depending on the direction of the wind. There was a full rainbow down here and we certainly felt awed by the power of Mother Nature as we stood somewhat close to the falls.
By the end of the day, Julie and I were exhausted. We debated about where we should have dinner, but that eventually faded into an impromptu nap. In fact, we overslept dinner and just let our bodies rest until tomorrow – but not before I woke up in time to snap a few more long exposure photographs from our room…