Saturday morning I’m getting ready to go out to brunch with a friend of mine. I ask Sage one more time: “Do you want to come along?”
“Why do you keep asking? I told you, I want to save my money for tomorrow when we go to…” And then she gives away the town we’re going to be spending Sunday in. At least she doesn’t give away the specific destination.
On Sunday we walk out the door at 6:30 AM. Our first destination is Union Station, Toronto’s train station. But because it’s before 8:00 AM on Sunday there’s no subway service. What is normally an easy, fast, air conditioned trip has packed buses with poor AC and longer waits on the streetcorner. Fortunately the weather is beautiful. There are a surprising number of people outside at this hour, all of them milling about restlessly occasionally looking for the bus. Both Sage and I think together we all look like a flock of pigeons waiting for someone to bring us breadcrumbs.
We arrive at the station at the same time as our outgoing train. Despite our being there before 7AM, for some reason it is absolutely packed with people. Every seat on this train but the ones we are in are packed. Most people are dressed up. We slowly leave the station but within ten minutes we’ve stopped again. An announcement tells us that we’re waiting for the train in front of us to deboard but it is packed so it’s also taking a long time.
At this point I notice several people wearing lanyards that say “Love Never Fails”. Putting that into Google tells me that they are all heading to a Jehovah’s Witnesses convention. When we eventually get to the next station, our train is also delayed as the train empties. There is one other person in the car left with us, and after the next stop we have the entire double-decker train car to ourselves.
About eight stops later we get off and switch from a double-decker train to a double-decker bus and ride for another hour or so. Finally we reach our destination.
Throughout this whole experience, Sage and I are sharing this in Instagram stories. Like you, we are keeping them in suspense as to where we’re headed. If you don’t want to miss the next one, follow me here.
We arrive in a relatively small and quiet downtown area. It actually looks a bit down on its luck.
We’re nearly the only ones out walking. We’re a good 20 minutes from our destination so we keep walking. The view improves steadily.
Off in the distance we see a big cloud rising. Some of the people following us on Instagram have guessed where we are. Even though we’re not near there yet, the view off to the left is getting gorgeous.
For those who haven’t already guessed, here’s an even bigger clue:
Yes, we’ve arrived in Niagara Falls, Ontario. I’ve been here a couple of times. This is where we were granted permanent Canadian resident status. In that case we went to the Canadian customs office and they said “Sorry, you have to go to the US and then come back before we can process your paperwork.” and so we walked over to the US side, cleared US customs, and literally turned back around and walked across the bridge. A few years after that I decided I was going to ride my bike there from Toronto – it was a lovely ride but quite long – over 170 km (100 miles) through some glorious countryside.
We go to a store and pick up bus passes for ourselves, enabling us to go to where Sage has planned to take me and a bus is waiting for us almost as soon as we walk out the door.
Soon we arrive at our destination: The Whirlpool Aero Car, a cable car that goes across the river. It goes at a corner in the river so we don’t have to deal with US customs and in fact we don’t even get out. We just go across. We’re about 250 feet above the rapids below but the trip is slow and stable. The water is a beautiful, but a little disturbing green. Far below we see people fishing at the edge. The water is moving very fast and as we ride we see a jet boat braving the rapids below.
Sage tells me how we ended up here. She saw a post about this car and thought it looked like a lot of fun. But then she immediately talked herself out of it. “It’ll be expensive to rent a car and too much hassle so let’s not bother.” but then soon after decided that that was silly to just throw away a cool idea like that. And so she did more searching and found out it was not only possible but easy to get there via transit.
By the time we get back we are hungry and decide we will head for the more touristy part of town. Off we go – closer to the falls themselves. We soon find ourselves at The Secret Garden restaurant where we order burgers and fries – touristy food for a touristy place. The place is pretty tacky with some odd touches like this group of Scrabble players near the entrance:
Inside the restrooms there are more dolls like this. Another “old woman” is permanently installed in the ladies room Sage tells me. A man-sized moose, wearing clothes and standing on two legs stands permanently at a urinal in the men’s room.
We head up Clifton Hill after this. Clifton Hill is the most touristy and tacky place I’ve ever been with everything from wax museums to the Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum to overpriced “4D cinema experiences.” Every single business is overpriced and many of them are known for being disappointing.
We go get “Beavertails” – deep fried bread dough – mine with Nutella and Sage’s with lemon and sugar on it and then have ridiculous amounts of fun at the arcade playing Skee-ball and modern versions of classic games like Space Invaders.
Satiated on kitsch, we head back down to the falls. I’m a bit indecisive about what else to do. The jet boats sound interesting but admission is steep: $60 each. There’s a zip line to the bottom of the falls that looks moderately interesting but that’s also $60 – and it lasts about 45 seconds and isn’t particularly fast or scary looking. Definitely not worth the money. We wander along the river talking about what to do next.
I finally remember someone telling me about an interesting attraction: “Behind the falls”. For $20 each we line up for about an hour. Half way through we’re handed disposable raincoats and we put them on.
and load 8 people at a time in to an elevator. Down we go, into the rock behind the falls. Tunnels lead in two directions.
In the first direction we line up and look out through cave openings that are behind the falls. As you get closer you can not just hear the water falling, you can feel it’s subsonic vibration. There’s something disturbing to me on a very primal level. We get to the opening and it looks like the biggest torrential rainfall you have ever seen. There is light coming through but mostly there is just water crashing down.
We head toward the other branch of the tunnel. This one leads us outdoors. We find ourselves at the bottom of the falls. This part of the experience, alone, is worth the price of admission. We stand on the upper observation deck and look out across at the other side of the falls and at a permanent rainbow.
The sound is really loud and we can feel the spray on the wind as we stand there. We join the folks downstairs and get as close as we can to the bottom of the falls. I’m awe-struck at what I see: All of the water of the Great Lakes upstream of here: one fifth of the world’s fresh water supply – over half a million litres per second, are passing by me.
We record a bit more video and head back up. It’s been a great day and even though I knew the destination, I had no idea of all of the fun things we’d get up to. Clearly the lesson for today comes from Sage and that is not to immediately search for reasons why the cool idea you have is not going to work.
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