June 26, 2010

Falling for Niagara

Last August, I took a road trip to Niagara Falls, Ontario. I had heard so many great things about the naturals wonder of this place and it did not disappoint; it is absolutely breathtaking!

There is a boat ride called "Maid of the Mist" that takes visitors right up along side the falls. The crew hands out plastic rain ponchos before departure, then the boat sails right into the mist. In photographs, the boat looks like a toy beside the falls, but it is really a huge ship. Being next to so much rushing water makes the heart race. The steady drumming is awe-inspiring! The mist kicked up just surrounded me and I felt like I was standing in the middle of an amazing outdoor shower. Another great way to experience Niagara is to take the "Journey Behind the Falls"--an elevator takes guests to a system of tunnels that run in back of the falls. To be so close to such a force of nature is humbling, to say the least.

Of course, the falls aren't the only thing to do in the city of Niagara Falls. There is an extremely touristy section called Clifton Hill. It is a street filled with max museums, haunted houses, miniature golf courses, theme park rides, gift shops, 3-D movie theaters, restaurants, etc. Clifton Hill has an incredible nightlife. All throughout the evening, the street is lined with people; it is like the world's greatest carnival set in the middle of Times Square, if that makes any sense. One can truly feel the pulse of the city running through Clifton Hill. I had lunch there at the Rainforest Cafe, a restaurant decorated to look like dense jungle. I ate my meal among the wild animals, beneath the stars. Once every twenty minutes, a thunderstorm passes through, it starts to pour rain inside the restaurant and all of the animals come to life. It is a very unique place. There is also an attraction in Clifton Hill called "Skywheel." It may look like a small ferris wheel in photographs, but it is really tremendous. It gives a panoramic view of the Falls from high in the air.

One funny story that immediately comes to mind took place in the "Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum." Ever been to one of those? It's a fun place, a museum of oddities. In one of the first rooms of the tour, there is a huge mirror on the wall, below it is a sign that reads "Only 60% of people can roll their tongues" with a photograph next to it of a person demonstrating proper tongue-rolling technique. Of course, one is immediately inclined to look in the mirror and roll one's tongue. I can recall a few of us standing in front of the mirror for several minutes giving it a try. Most of us found that we were able to do it, myself included. Well, the museum tour continues through many more rooms, passing by the world's tallest man (over 9 feet), passing the man who could swallow a light bulb and regurgitate it unbroken, finally arriving in a special room at the end. This is where I discovered a large group of people standing in front of a window, all laughing. I had no idea what was so funny, until I spotted the people on the other side, looking into the window rolling their tongues. It was two-way glass! Oh, the sinking feeling when you realize that you've just been rolling your tongue in front of an audience. Embarrassing, to say the least. One woman confessed, "I stood in front of that mirror for ten minutes; I fixed my hair and make-up there!" It was all in good fun and I got a great laugh out of it afterwards. :)

Some of the less touristy things to do in Niagara Falls are the Bird Aviary, Niagara Botanical Gardens, Butterfly Conservancy, and the Floral Clock. The Bird Aviary is amazing. Inside of the building is like a step into a system of ancient ruins. Exotic tropical birds fly all around without fear. There is a waterfall cascading off of the rocks that creates a serene atmosphere. I was so surprised to find such a beautiful setting; the exterior of the building lent no clue as to what waited inside. It is a wonderful place and it was a pleasure to stand there and become part of it, allowing the lush surroundings to absorb me.

I also got the chance to visit the Niagara Casino. I'm not a big gambler, so I only lost $20.00. One evening, I also took in a dinner/theater show called "Oh Canada, Eh?" It was wonderful; a lot of fun and laughs! Everything about it was traditionally Canadian: the music, the costumes, the food... The cast really made it into an intimate experience; they not only performed on the stage, but also served the food! :)

One the way home, I stopped off on the American side of Niagara Falls to visit Old Fort Niagara. It is a place rich in history, constructed at a time when men fought wars with muskets and cannons. All of the people working there were dressed up in the authentic garb of the era. It was fascinating and a little bit spooky at times, with its underground bunkers and gunpowder storerooms. I got the chance to see a cannon fired. It was so loud and powerful; the earth shook! I cannot imagine what it must have been like to be on a battlefield in the middle of heavy cannon fire.

The very best thing that I did during the trip was to see Niagara Falls at night. After the sun sets, the Falls are illuminated with brightly-colored spotlights. On Friday and Sunday evenings, a fireworks display is lit up over the Falls. It is so lovely; I hope my photographs capture a little bit of the magic...

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy
and peace as you trust in him, so that you

may overflow with hope by the power
of the Holy Spirit."

~Romans 15:13