14 Oct A Strange Trip to Niagara Falls
To visit Niagara Falls we took a nine-hour detour from our road trip through New England. During the drive up through New York state I was hopeful, convinced that the falls would stun us and the trip would be worthwhile. While I wasn’t wrong about the majesty of those mighty waterfalls, everything else about our trip to Niagara Falls turned out to be a bit – strange.
Our Trip to Niagara Falls
The weirdness began in Buffalo, a town on the New York side of the falls where we had chosen to base ourselves, having found a cheap guesthouse there. Perhaps we’d been spoilt by the beautiful cities we’d visited so far, but we quickly realised that Buffalo was certainly no Boston, New Haven or Providence. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Buffalo, it just felt grey and drab, industrial and unwelcoming – I guess we just didn’t hit it off.
Our guesthouse wasn’t much better. The building was an old nunnery which gave it a spooky air, the manager’s dog persistently barked at every guest, our room was musty and dark and the whole place smelled faintly of old cigarette smoke. Still, it certainly wasn’t an awful place to stay and we settled down for the night, excited about visiting the Falls the next day.
Niagara Falls NY
On the American side, Niagara Falls sits in a state park and because of this I imagined that we’d be surrounded by woodland and able to access the waterfalls through forested trails. Instead, I was surprised to find that the Falls sit right on the edge of a town, one filled with fast-food and Indian restaurants, casinos, malls and huge hotels. Oddly, even though it was just a few weeks into September when we visited, the Discovery Centre where we’d hoped to learn more about the history of Niagara, was closed.
We were also surprised to see rubbish scattered along the riverbank as we made our way past the Rainbow Bridge which leads to Canada and caught our first glimpse of the famous crashing waterfalls. We’re used to seeing litter after travelling in Asia, but we hadn’t expected to find it at a major natural wonder and tourist attraction in America.
Still, there’s no denying that Niagara Falls is damn impressive. Standing at Prospect Point, we were right on the edge of the American Falls, separated only by a guard rail, and we could hear the roar of water crashing onto rocks below. We stood for some time, mesmerised by the churning river rushing over the rock-edge in a never-ending curtain into the mist below. From the observation deck we got even better views of the American and Bridal Veil Falls, although the view of Horseshoe Falls is obscured from the US side.
Later that evening, after taking refuge from the rain in a rundown cinema where the broken air conditioning system froze us, we returned to see the Falls in darkness. Each night lights are shone from across the gorge, illuminating the water; from where we stood the waterfalls were bathed in a pink-red mist. To be honest, we found the whole thing a bit tacky, do these amazing natural wonders really need to be dressed up in lights and frills?
Niagara Falls Canada
We’d heard that the best view of Niagara Falls can be found from the Canadian side, so the next day we ventured across the Rainbow Bridge with our passports in hand. The view certainly lived up to the hype; for the first time we were able to see the much larger Horseshoe Falls, as well as a face-on view of the American Falls. Combined, they form one hell of a natural spectacle; I can’t imagine how incredible they must have looked to the people who first stumbled across them hundreds of years ago.
Eager to get as close as possible, we donned some souvenir ponchos and boarded a boat. Looking up from the base of the falls gives you a completely different perspective, as we sailed past the American Falls we could see the water violently hitting huge rocks in the river and our faces were coated with a frosty mist. Feeling very small in our bobbing boat we moved as close as the driver dared to Horseshoe Falls, where we were enveloped in its sights and sounds, unable to hear each other above the terrible roar as icy spray covered us. It was then that I realised the full, terrifying, awing power of Niagara Falls – you don’t mess with them.
Exhilarated from our close encounter we planned to spend the rest of the day on the Canadian side, so we could give the nightly illuminations a second chance. We walked hopefully into town, only to be greeted by a surreal, Las Vegasy scene that stopped us in our tracks. For some reason, the streets are full of weird, carnivalesque attractions; Wizard Golf, 5D cinemas, haunted houses, Elvis impersonators, casinos, amusement arcades, wax works with dodgy-looking models in them and ghost trains. We were baffled, what any of that has to do with Niagara Falls, I don’t know.
Suffice to say, we didn’t hang around for long. Instead, we went back to drink-in the view of the incredible waterfalls we’d driven all that way to see before leaving early, keen to put the strange trip behind us and move on to Vermont.