Welcome to Canada

by anna on November 1, 2013

in Anna's Blog

Welcome to CanadaLeaving snow, rain, and roadwork of Pennsylvania behind, we drove through the state of New York and into the town of Niagara Falls. From there we got to the Canadian border, showed our U.S. passports, answered a few standard interview questions – and were let in. From the border we went into a Canadian town with the exact same name – Niagara Falls, only already in Ontario province. 

Crowne Plaza hotelThere we stayed in the Crowne Plaza hotel. My husband’s family has been staying in these hotels since the hotels have been around. My Mother-in-Law used to call the Pittsburgh one “Dirty-Sock-Under-The-Bed” because that’s what she found there when they first arrived into the city 🙂

In the Canadian one, there had been no socks under the bed, just some bottle caps, napkins, shoe lace, and some other random things belonging to the previous guests. We got in late, around 1 AM, listened to our neighbors’ TV for a some time (sound isolation was about the same as in the U.S., aka none), and went to sleep. The fan in the room was not working, but we had opened the window (about 30 F outside) and enjoyed sound of the Falls.

View from window

In the morning we opened our eyes to the spectacular view out of the window. The day was beautiful and the sun was shining.

BreakfastHotel offers breakfast in the room service, and breakfasts are rather good. They will give you a card on which you can write which one you want and then leave it outside of your door. Breakfasts cost $10-25 each. The one you see here was $20. Breakfasts aren’t only good, they’re also big 🙂 Ours included bacon, eggs, sausage, potatoes, fresh fruits, toasts, jam, coffee in a pot, and fresh orange juice.

Maid of the MistWe ate our breakfast sitting by the sunlit window and enjoying the gorgeous view. The tour boat you see here is called “Maid of the Mist” and the little white tent is for people who like to get wet and cold, walking the tour at the base of the Falls. As to me, freezing to death while paying for it does not sound like a fun idea at all 🙂

Maid of the Mist name refers to the ancient ritual of the Ongiaras tribe where every year the most beautiful maiden of the tribe was sent down the Falls in a white canoe as a sacrifice to the Thunder God Hinum, who was believed to live with his two sons in a cave behind the Falls.

After breakfast, we shamelessly went back to sleep and slept until at least 2 PM. Nothing like a good nap after a good meal 🙂

Duty free shopThen we decided to go for a walk. This is when we fully realized that living in a southern state of Virginia and living in a northern country of Canada are two very different things. Still, we put on the warmest clothes we got and went on. Me – without any hat or gloves on. No worries, across the road I spotted a Duty Free store and thought that I’d get something warm there. No way. When we went to pay for our purchase, we were explained that, unless we were going straight back to the U.S., we couldn’t buy anything from them. I thought it was really lame.

 

On we went, still without warm clothes. However, the beauty of the nature soon made me forget about the cold. Niagara Falls is an interesting place. On the U.S. side, we have Niagara Falls National Park, where law prohibits any kind of development or construction. On the Canadian side, it is not a national park, save a narrow ribbon of land along the river bank, and the development is everywhere you go 🙂 Number of casinos per capita is higher than in Monte Carlo, where I have also been. City is quite beautiful, with man-made and natural landscapes intermixing with each other. There is something for everyone – souvenir shops for traditional tourists, Falls for nature lovers, casinos for game fans, and fancy restaurants for gourmets.

City view 2Tourist attractions area

City view 1Niagara Falls cityscape. Park on the foreground belongs to the Hidden Garden restaurant, the tower is Skylon Tower

Candy Planet shopCandy shop – bummer, it’s closed until the warmer days! 🙂

Bridge history

This information plaques explain some of the complicated history of Niagara Falls bridges. There had actually been a few epic bridge and prominent vantage points falls into the Niagara River. Which is not at all surprising, as the whole Falls area is slowly eroding over time.

 

Numbered leavesOne of the interesting phenomenons I have noticed were trees with numbered leaves. Each leaf had a sticker or two with a number on it. Unfortunately, no one was able to explain what the stickers were for or knew anything about them, so this will remain a mystery 🙂

By the way, about the leaves 🙂 Canadian flag has a red maple leaf on it. To be exact, it is a stylized 11-point image of an Acer saccharum (sugar maple) leaf. Maple leaf has been a symbol of Canada since the 18th century. Canadian flag in its modern form has been first officially presented to the public on February 15, 1965, which is now celebrated as National Flag of Canada Day.

Evening Falls

 

I had set it as a goal to walk all the way across the Niagara River to see the Falls from all possible angles, and that is exactly what I did.

Niagara Falls actually consist of three different waterfalls – American Falls (medium one), Bridal Veil (smallest one), and Horseshoe Falls (biggest one).

Peaceful beauty of the evening Falls

Beauty of the Falls

Stone pagoda with the view to the Falls. Inside, you can somewhat successfully hide from icy wet wind

Stone tower

Boiling water

 

The Horseshoe Falls (the biggest Niagara waterfall) has water literally boiling in it, as it goes down 165 feet (50 m) from a vertical wall the waterfall forms. It is the most powerful waterfall in North America.

Above it, evaporating water forms magically looking clouds not seen anywhere else. To me, it always seemed like there would be a unicorn or a Pegasus stepping from behind them at any given moment 🙂

Magic clouds

 One of the observation towers decorated by blooming sakura trees mosaic. There are also many paid telescopes along the Niagara River banks from which you can see close-up view of the Falls. Just drop in 4 Canadian quarters (1 dollar) – and enjoy a few minutes of close-ups

Tree motif observation tower

At night, special lamps go on and light the waters of Niagara Falls with changing bright colors. It is a show worth seeing!

To see powerful beauty of the Falls in motion, click to watch the video:

Niagara Falls 

After enjoying amazing views we finally got to the Visitor Center where we found and got a nice warm hat and gloves for me. At last I was warm. Hooray! 🙂 There of course was also a lot of souvenirs sold in the little shops at the Center. I do not like traditional plastic souvenirs; however, I left the Center with a new friend – this gorgeous amethyst druzy.

Amethyst druzy

After the walk, Ken wanted to see the Skylon Tower. Tired as we were, right to the Tower we went 🙂 As I understand, Skylon Tower and its revolving restaurant come from the happy 1960s and 1970s when people were inspired by the perspective of space flights and possible space colonies. Skylon Tower is a  typical sample of Space Age architecture and aesthetics, when projects had been developed to build tall and proud floating towers on planets without hard surface.

As we were not only tired, but also mighty hungry, we decided to have a dinner at the Skylon Tower restaurant. Restaurant is located at the top of the Tower and is revolving, i.e. rotates around the Tower core. To have a dinner there, you need a reservation. You can make a reservation downstairs at the attractions center. Dining at the restaurant gives you a free admission to the attractions room (game machines of all kinds, much like Luna 2000 club in my home city of Yekaterinburg), as well as to the observation deck. Full course dinner with drinks and a dessert is $75 – $90 per person + tip. Even though Canada is supposed to be more of a European country, food comes in U.S. sizes 🙂 If it is a soup bowl, you can basically swim in it.Canadian change

All prices I mention here are in Canadian dollars (CAD). USD to CAD is 1 : 1.05. Basically they are the same, as difference in cross-course is currently very insignificant. In Canada, all money (bills and coins) bear portrait of the reigning UK monarch. Official head of the state is currently Queen Elizabeth II. When monarch changes, all money is remade.

Skylon Tower restaurant has a wonderful view to the city and to the Falls. This is a beautiful ferris wheel and a park around it, as seen from the Tower

Ferris wheel view from Skylon Tower

While we were at the Tower, there had been amazingly beautiful fireworks in the city, which I have recorded.

Spectacular fireworks viewed from Skylon tower

For $11 you can order a cocktail in a souvenir Skylon glass, which your waiter will later wash and pack for you, so you can take it home. All cocktails come in regular and alcohol-free versions, each decorated by a little plastic Tower model. The cocktail you see here is called Skylon Cooler

Skylon Cooler

After dinner, we found our way back to the hotel through the darkness and went to sleep. Next day, as Rewards Club members, we had a late 2 PM checkout. Despite that fact, starting from 12 PM, hotel staff systematically harassed us, knocking on the door and asking if we were leaving, laboring hard on earning their 1 or 2 star review from me. In addition to that, there were no luggage carts available, and we had to manually haul all of our things to the garage which was located a loooong way down from our room. So, when checking out from this hotel, prepare to go through some hardships 🙂 We will probably be staying at a different hotel next time.

Surviving the checkout, we got into our trusted car (with some people behind us already waiting for our parking space), hit the road, and went to the next destination on our Canadian journey.

Next stop – Toronto!

Toronto here we come

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