Friday, August 17:
More family visiting today, this time with Jodi, Micheal and granddaughters, Stephanie and Olivia. Although it turned out to be a little cool for the pool, Michael barbequed salmon, shrimp and scallops to perfection, after which we got our exercise with Stephanie’s new Wii system, throwing ourselves (literally) into baseball, bowling and tennis matches. Olivia’s birthday is coming up soon, so we were delighted to be able to participate in an early celebration with Jodi’s mouth watering chocolate cake.
Saturday, August 18:
We moved Shoestring over thye Frann and Steve’s this morning and enjoyed breakfast in the backyard of their new home, complete with outdoor pizza oven and bocce ball pit. Our itinerary for the day was an exploration of the Niagara region, thus coming to the beginning of the Niagara escarpment, a journey we had started weeks ago on the Bruce Peninsula. However, despite the fact that we have now set foot on the beginning and the end of this rocky 850 km ridge, we have yet to travel more than just a few kilometers of the remarkable trail that connects the two ends.
Our first destination was the lovely Niagara-on-the-Lake, an oasis that is even more welcoming given the traffic you have to fight through to get to it. Steve did the driving which was a nice break for Massey. We drove along the historic Niagara River past the historic sites of both British and American forts. As Steve remarked, “this is War of 1812 country”, and we later also saw the historic home of Laura Secord. We arrived at the other side of Lake Ontario, and were actually able to see a portion of the Toronto skyline, including the CN Tower, from its shores.
Niagara-on-the-Lake passed in a series of images – vineyards and wineries, palatial homes of brick and stone contrasted with tiny little doll-like cottages, orchards and fruit stands, parks, brilliantly coloured flowerbeds and tree-lined streets, unique little shops and businesses, sandy beaches and sailboats on the lake – it is truly a an idyllic setting. Steve told us that the area is now maintained by the Niagara Parks Commision, but that people who had previously lived there have been allowed to stay. It is “Pleasantville” to be sure.
Of course, we had to stop at one of the many fruitstands to purchase some fresh fruit and vegetables and sample some of the many jams, preserves and chutneys. Later, we also stopped at the Peller Estates Winery (to the accompaniment of Frann singing “Heard It Through The Grapevine”), touring their boutique and tasting their grapes in the field. The whole area is simply a “foodies” dream, and the produce even tastes of the earth and sun that nurtured it. Frann had prepared a fabulous picnic lunch, so we sat on the grass over the Niagara River, looking across to New York State on the other side. Later we drove under the Queenston Bridge that crosses over to New York State. My geography is definitely on the shallow side, as I hadn’t realized that New York is just a hop, skip and a jump away.
From Niagara-on-the-Lake, we drove to Niagara Falls where the contrast between the two Niagaras couldn’t be more dramatic! From a quiet pastoral setting, we quickly found ourselves in “tourist central” The traffic along the street running by the falls was unbelievable, and there were hordes of people everywhere. Although the falls themselves are “free”, there are a multitude of ways in which enterprising entrepreneurs try to extract money from this natural wonder. Less than an hour of parking cost $18 alone, and there all kinds of tours, viewings and tacky souvenirs that seemed to have eager takers.
However, we did make it to the Falls, and it truly is worth the trouble it takes. As we stood over the boiling cauldron at the horseshoe end of the Falls, the marketing slogan “Hear The Thunder” (formerly “Cave of the Winds”, for those over 40, says Frann) took on a whole new meaning. It is mesmerizing in all senses – the turquoise of the water changing colours as it pounds, froths and rises up again in mist … the incredible roar that you can feel throughout your whole body … the glistening drops on rocks and foliage … the fresh marine smell of earth and water … the gentle sprinkle of rain coming down again from the mist … certainly there can be no question about the status of this natural phenomenon as one of Canada’s 7 wonders! We are so lucky to have the spectacular horseshoe on Canadian shores, while the much punier falls lie on the American side.
As we watched from above, we saw an assembly line of “Maids of the Mist” arriving at the foot of the Falls, loaded with blue raincoated tourists snapping photos. As one turned around to head back to the dock, another moved in to take its place, while a third waited in the distance.
But if we thought the Falls were surrounded by a bit of a carnival atmosphere, they proved to be just a warm-up to the main event as we found ourselves on Clifton Falls – the fun street. It was like driving right down the middle of a midway, with attractions beckoning from every corner. We saw the House of Dracula and another one of Frankenstein. King Kong and the Incredible Hulk were hanging from various buildings. There were mannequins (whom we initially thought were real people) climbing up and down ropes dangling from the sides of buildings. There was a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum. And there were wax museums – we counted 3 – a Rock Stars Wax Museum, a Criminals Wax Museum, and Louis Tussaud’s Wax Museum. There was a ferris wheel … there was music blaring from every angle … there was every type of food imaginable on offer … and there were tourists, tourists, tourists!
Making our escape, we drove into the actual town of Niagara, finding it to be a “normal” town, not even faintly resembling the Clifton Falls Niagara we had just left. Meeting Frann’s brother and sister-in-law, Steven and Linda, we enjoyed an entertaining evening and a great meal at a local Chinese restaurant. After a full day, we dragged our full stomachs back to the car and began our trek back to Richmond Hill through the traffic that never stops. By the time we made it home, poor Zorro, Tassie and Java (the cats) had had a long day too; however, they were fine and soon forgave us, as our pets always do.
posted Sunday August xxxx