Who are we

We are a family of 3 who took a break from our routine. Usually we live in Scotland but February to the end of July 2011 we were on the road in North America for 6 months. We are Mark (also known as Dad), Rachel (also known as Mum... and a whole bunch of other names... my usual at-home blog is here) and little h (10/11 years of age during the trip).

Friday, 11 March 2011

Extremes of everything

What is it about travelling that makes the whole world suddenly seem to start falling to pieces? Since we’ve been away there have been earthquakes aplenty … on what would normally be the other side of the world. My brother was close to the Christchurch one (very close… but he’s fine) and now there is all this in Japan and elsewhere. We’ve had a death (in England) in the family too… and yet still, here we are on the much-acclaimed ‘trip of a lifetime’ and kind of duty-bound to be having-a-great-time. And we are, of course, but it doesn’t stop it being weird sometimes… especially when the place we’ve been in this week has been Canadian Niagara Falls (the capital of weird in some ways). And why so? Well, read on….

Recipe for Niagara Falls cocktail - take one originally-natural wonder of the world, add several layers of weirdness, some frankly depressing architecture (think Cumbernauld, think new-town-‘60s-anywhere... but with even more carparks), throw in every chain restaurant and hotel you’ve ever heard of (except maybe Little Chef) and lots of kids attractions and waxworks and stuff, make it spookily quiet (mid March lull before the real season starts and also before Canadian Spring Break)… and then you have our two days in Niagara Falls. And you know what? I still really liked it. The rush of the water, the closeness of ‘other’ (the USA always in view), the huge melting pot of nationalities and, as I say, the weirdness (someone dressed as a giant Hershey Kiss just walked by as I type…). What, as they say, is not to like?

We didn’t start with the Falls though, no no! We drove down the crazy highway from the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) and then we headed for the small, country, wine-growing place that is Niagara-on-the-Lake first (where we had lunch, walked in rain, bought wine, looked at lake). N-o-t-L is one of those places that looks like a film set and you feel like you should be wearing, at the very least, a long frock and a bonnet of some kind. Oh and look, here comes Pa with the pony and trap, gonna go pick me some apples (except these days round here it would be grapes… nothing but grapes). It was lovely, pretty as a picture… and quiet, so quiet (it being March).

Then we went to (Canadian) Niagara Falls, just down the road. We had booked into the hotel that claims the best view of the Falls (Oakes – overlooking the Falls) and got a very good deal (again, it being early March). And up on the 11th Floor we did have a great view of the biggest Horseshoe Falls (the ones the Canadians call their own… the Americans have the smaller, straighter ‘American Falls’ and the even smaller ‘Bridal Veil Falls’ alongside). Our hotel was fairly no-frills but it was all about the view anyway – no rainbows during our stay but still pretty amazing and different to how I’d imagined it. Somehow I had expected all the town developments to be at the foot of the Falls but our hotel, as you can see from the photos, actually put us up above them – strange! In some ways what amazed me most was the view of the river as it surges towards the drop of the Falls… especially when you think that people have gone over that edge (some on purpose, some by accident, some in nothing but a bathing suit). It is one heck of a river.

Our first evening in town we walked (hurray for walking!) all around…in dark and drizzle…looking at the Falls, at the town, at the neon. h’s reward for her excellent walking-without-moaning (she’s a great walker) was tea/dinner at the Rainforest Café (a chain restaurant that kids love… we’ve never been to one before). It was fun… totally surreal of course (a rainforest by the Great Lakes in March…) but lively and better food than many a fancy British gastro pub (despite the chain merchandise, staff in shorts and the display of plastic gorillas in the corner). Then it was back to the Hotel and listening to the Falls in bed. It reminded of me of the days when we used to really live by the sea and hear the water pounding the rocks at night.

Thursday dawned and we headed for the full Falls tourist experience. We took lots of photos, we mixed in with tourists (lots of Chinese – some insisted on taking h’s photo… I suppose she has more than a hint of Anne of Green Gables…). We also went for the ‘Fury’ making-of-the-Falls experience (h loved it – think standing in a room with someone throwing buckets of water over you… quite Monty Python…) and we saw more souvenir stores in one place than I think I’ve ever seen before (and you can get everything with a moose on you know – everything!). Then it was up to Clifton Hill for tack with more tack on top… a Fun House, a place with lego models of the Falls, the Taj Mahal and, er, an AC/DC concert, a Guinness Book of Records museum… there was lots more we could have done but we were worn out by then. h chose Planet Hollywood for our evening meal location this time but it was closed (I know, shame) so we headed to her next choice, the Hard Rock Café, which was actually really good (delicious grub, the usual pleasant staff and, of course, non-stop music videos which we all quite enjoyed… Chumbawamba… Chumbawamba in Niagara Falls!). This time we got a taxi back to our hotel (it was pouring!) and met the loveliest half-English, half-French Canadian driver.

On our final Falls morning it was snowing (there were visitors from Miami out playing in it – never seen snow before). h fancied the aviary (Bird Kingdom) so she and Mark went down there whilst I… went to the huge Hersheys store over the road and wrote this in a Coca Cola soda fountain type outlet to a totally Motown soundtrack whilst now and then watching cars flow onto the Rainbow Bridge (the one that heads to the USA). We are taking a longer way round (family over by Detroit) but we will get there too... soon... very soon.

Niagara region


Niamh B said...

I stayed one night in Niagara on H'moon, could hear nothing over the aircon noise in our hotel which was like a town... tis worth seeing alright.

Really sorry to hear that news from England btw.

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, ours was one of the smaller hotels. It was overshadowed by huge Sheratons and Hiltons and Embassy Suites. Lots of little motels elsewhere though - I loved the name of Thriftmotel (in the photos).

hope said...

I think our Niagara trip was in early May one year...and the Canadian side was the most beautiful! I remember the tour bus parking us in front of a giant flower bed that was a working clock face!

The night time light show is fun but I swear the power of Mother Nature was almost overwhelming! Like you, my mind drifted lazily down the river, my heart only pounding as it neared the "falls" part.

The Bug said...

I can't believe we've never been to Niagara Falls. We're going to have to remedy that soon!

LOVE Chumbawumba. Or the one song anyway :)

Rachel Fenton said...

Sometimes surreal makes a lot of sense.

I photographed the second man sized white rabbit I've seen in NZ on Friday. Thought that was surreal but your Hershey takes the odd spot!

Rachel Fox said...

h is fond of the band known in Leeds as Chumbas. She especially likes the album 'The Boy Bands have won'... which came after the big hit single (though it was the latter playing in the HRC).

I should admit too that the Hershey in the photo is a static one outside the store. The person in the suit was inside but I didn't get a photo... they are about the same size though.