Name says it all
So, after posponing it for three and a half we finally got to go to Niagara Falls.
We looked online to try and find the cheap $5 bus that we had been told about in Toronto, and then we looked some more, and then again.
Turns out there is no $5 bus from New York to Niagara and it certainally couldnt be done in a day as it takes 10-11 hours to drive there! We thought about trying to get there by ourselves, booking our own accomodation and everything but it worked out to be just as expensive and a lot more hassle than a tour so we figured the easiest way would be to go with a 2 day tour.
The cheapest was a Chinatown tour, although the reviews said only about 30% would be in English and the journey was a bit rough. We didnt really have the money to argue much (beggars cant be choosers and all that) so prayed to the god of travellers to keep us safe and booked it. We again got up early, checked out of our hostel, while making sure our reservation for the next three nights was still in place and made our way down to Chinatown.
We arrived in plenty of time and sat resting on our backpacks for a while, watching as more and more people arrived. Shortly after 8am we were directed to our tour bus around the corner and met our tour guide Maggie. She was a very friendly Chinese lady who gave us our seat numbers and ushered us onto the bus. We then left to pick up the rest of our group from New Jersey, with Maggie giving us a brief history of the area in broken English. She also translated into Mandarin, which aparently was as good as her English. We were pretty tired so slept most of the way to New Jersey. Once we had picked up the rest of our group we hit the road to begin the loooooooooooooooong journey to Niagara.
We were sat in front of a small tv screen and started to watch the film they put on, Johnny English.
I had seen it before (funny movie) and the screen was very fuzzy so I settled back down to sleep. After several hours we stopped for lunch at Burger King, which I was glad of, Burger King at least have a veggie burger I can eat. While we were eating I half watched the tv screen above the cashiers head, it was just reporting headlines from around the country. One piece caught my eye, I first saw the words San Simeon so focused on it properly as we had driven through it on our road trip from San Francisco. The headline was 3 Elephant seals found shot to death in San Simeon. I couldnt hear the report very well as it was fairly noisy in BK but from what I could gather three seals had been reported killed, shot several times each. The reporter was standing on the very beach Rachel and I stood on a few short months ago. I remembered how uneasy I felt at the time, watching crowds of people larking about within arms reach of some of the world most graceful marine animals and I knew why I had felt uneasy, it was because I knew deep down that sooner or later man would again prove how stupid he was and hurt innocent animals.
Where they make glass
The river leading up to American falls
After lunch we continued on with our journey, stopping in Corning to visit the glass museum they have there. It is a pretty big building, housing a fairly extensive collection of glass artifacts, from Eygptian times right up to present day. There were lots of intricate pieces that only a skilled craftsman could make. We got to watch a demonstration of glass blowing, which I had been wanting to seen for quite some time and it was really good. We sat in the furthest row back and still felt the heat from the furnace, it was so hot. The museum must get a lot of chinatown tours because the demonstration was narated in English and Chinese. Afterwards we got to explore the second part of the museum, a history of glass making that explains the entire process, detailing different methods to make glass, and different ways glass is used in every day life.
It was really interesting and I could of spent a lot longer looking at everything (I am a big geek, I can admit it!) but we were on a time limit so we got back on the bus and left.
Around seven we arrived in Niagara, our first stop being an all you can eat Chinese buffet to get dinner. There were several people on the bus who didnt want to eat Chinese, they wanted to go to an Indian restaurant instead so our tour guide Maggie had to sort a compromise. The people that didnt want Chinese had to wait until the rest of us had eaten, then we would go to our hotel to check in and drop our luggage off then she would take us down to the falls, breaking off to take all those that hadnt eaten at the Indian restuarant on the way.
There were several grumbles of discontent at this as they wanted the bus driver to drop us off, take them to the restaurant then pick them up after. Hey buddy its a group tour not your own private limo! Grr. The food was ok, not the greatest but there were veggie options so I wasnt complaining and I had three plates worth. Once done we reboarded the bus and went to our hotel, the Fallside Hotel, where we got our room keys so we could dump our bags. Maggie gave us until 9pm to sort ourselves out (about 20 minutes), telling everyone to return to reception so that she could lead us down to the falls, and take the unfed group to dinner.
American falls from Canada
We dumped our bags, made use of the restroom (the one on the bus is locked) and were out front in plenty of time.
Like all of our other stops there were several people that were late in showing up so it was about ten past nine by the time we actually started walking down to the falls. Maggie pointed out the route when we were half way there and split off to lead a group of about 15 people to their dinner. Now call me stupid but even if I didnt particually like Chinese food I would still eat it rather than spend 11 hours travelling on a crummy bus just so I could waste time watching other people eat before eating somewhere instead of seeing the thing I had travelled to see. I was bursting to ses the falls and we were the ahead of the group down to the falls.
We came upon the river leading up to American falls first, the water was fast and furious, crashing into rocks half submerged in the water blocking their route.
We walked down a bit further and suddenly we coud see the haze of mist which hung suspended in the air above American Falls. It was an awesome sight, the falls are lit up at night, spotlights from the Canadian side illuminate the breathtaking view of the falls. We stood there grinning like idiots for a while, letting the spray from the falls dampen our hair. We wanted to view the falls from the Canadian side so made our way down to Rainbow bridge, which is the border between the States and Canada. We poked our heads into the US border door to check what time they closed as we didnt want to get stuck across the border. The three guys were all very friendly and said it was no problem as they didnt close. We then made our way across the bridge and presented our passports to the Canadian border control who were also very friendly and barely glanced at our passports. I guess they get lot of people crossing just to get a look at the falls.
Horseshoe falls by day
Once through we walked down to the falls, able to admire them from the front, in all their glory. Horseshoe falls is the biggest of the falls, only 10% of the water goes over American falls. The water going over both falls is also dramatically less at night as it is diverted to the Hydroelectric plant.
We stood for quite some time before realising that it was actually raining, we just assumed it was spray from the falls. It was pretty late by that time, pushing midnight, and we had to be up at 6.30 so we headed back. We crossed back into the US side and went into the border control office, glad we had stuck our head in earlier so that they knew we had been in the US side to start with and wouldnt quiz us to death.
Well we got that wrong! It seems most border control officers have a power trip as soon as they put on the uniform as we were quizzed just as much as we were back in Detroit. The same guys that saw us go over quizzed us and they were both rude and snotty. The night shift must be really boring if the only fun they get is giving us a hard time. We eventually got let back in and headed back to our hotel.
Our snazzy outfits for the maid of the mist ride
Next morning we got a 6.15am wake up call and dragged ourselves out of bed and down to the dining hall where we got a rather soggy buffet breakfast of scrabbled eggs and waffles before meeting in reception at 7.30. Again people (the same people) were late meeting so we didnt leaved the hotel until 8am. We headed to goat island, which is an island that sits in the middle of horseshoe falls and american falls.
We were given 45mins to admire the falls before we had to get back on the bus so we could go to the visitors centre where we would watch an Imax film on the falls. Goat island was amazing, we got right up to the edge of horseshoe falls, and the water was at full force. The weather was perfect, the brght sunshine mingled with the spray to produce a full rainbow, arching from the base of the falls into the water. It was an awesome sight, and one I wont forget in a hurry. We also walked down to american falls, where Rachel and I played pooh sticks (we're big kids hee hee) before heading back to the bus, determined never to be one of those annoying late people. The bus took us the short distance to the visitors centre, where we all filed in to the imax theatre. The film was about the myths and history of the falls, detailing how it came to be called Niagara (it means thundering water) and the famous events that have occured. One of the things it told us about was the 60+ teacher that wanted fame and fortune so stuffed herself (and her cat) into a barrel and let it go over the falls. Surprisingly she (and the cat) survived but died in oblivious poverty.
At the base of horseshoe falls
Once the film was over we went down to the observation tower where we got an elevator down to the Maid of the mist, the boat company that takes you to the base of the falls. We were given a lovely blue poncho to wear as it gets rather soggy on the boat. We were first in the queue so managed to get prime position at the bow of the boat. We first went past american falls, we couldnt get too close as at the base as there are huge rocks but we went right up to the base of horseshoe falls. The waves were huge, causing our poor little boat to pitch and bob like an apple on hallowen. We were drenched in seconds, it was freezing cold, we were blinded by the spray and it was fantastic!! The roar of the falls filled our ears, dwarfing us and we were awe struck. I feel amazingly lucky to have experienced such a majestic moment, it is something everyone should see, maybe then we will stop destroying the planet.