The trip Drill Sergeant woke us up this morning, but David & I were tired & had to be beaten with large sticks in order to get us up & out of bed. Heck, even Libby was tired. Does this look like a dog that wants to go to Niagara Falls?
Within a short amount of time we were dressed & in the van, heading towards Niagara Falls. Along the way, we would be passing through some great wine country, so we'd timed our mini-journey so that we could tour at least one winery, eating a picnic lunch there if we were really slick. The ride was pretty, & finally we reached the wineries. Just as in Northern California, there's one after the other, so all that a tourist has to do is pick one. Denise had read somewhere about Inniskillin, & when David found out that Inniskill made Ice Wine, it was decided—we had to go there.
We parked the van, stepped out, & found ourselves surrounded by grapes, buildings for working with the grapes, & shops for selling the products of the grapes. David took a movie showing the area.
2005-0818-inniskill-winery.mp4 (2.2 MB MP4)
Now, I've toured many a winery before, & eventually they all kind of start looking alike, at least to me. Inniskillin was really nice, & their wine was good, but it's a winery like many others. Except for one thing: Ice Wine. To create this particular wine, the grapes are picked in the middle of the night, in the middle of winter, when they are completely frozen. The wine that comes from those grapes in unique in its sweetness. And it's price, it should be added … the extra labor involved in creating Ice Wine jacks up the price considerably, so that a bottle might cost $50 or so, to start. On our tour of the winery, we saw the grapes set aside for Ice Wine.
We stood around listening to our tour guide, as we've done so many times before (see the last trip we took, which details our adventures at Northern California wineries).
We even got to see the Inniskillin wine holdings, where they store past bottles of wine for historical reasons. The very first bottle of Ice Wine ever bottled at Inniskillin was in the group shown here. Our guide unlocked the grate & pulled it out, then told us it was priceless. Priceless? Then why is she handling it?
After our tour, we bought some Inniskillin wine (including Ice Wine, of course), but we were told that under Ontario law, we couldn't drink it on site! Shoot. Well, we had our own wine back in our cooler, so we went back to the van, got that wine, took food we were chilling in the cooler, retrieved Libby, & found a picnic table in the shade right by the grapes. We had a nice picnic, with gorgeous weather, tasty food, & good company. And the view! Wonderful.
We drove the rest of the short way to Niagara, parked the car at a motel where our tour guide was supposed to pick us up. A large van was already there, driven by a Canadian man named Paul. Paul was an excellent tour guide—he knew the area (since he'd grown up & spent his whole life here) & was able to tell us fascinating stories about the sites we saw with panache & skill. A natural born storyteller, in fact. He even injected some politics into our tour, which we found interesting. For instance, we found out that he thinks Canadians are taxed too highly, that the Mob runs Niagara, that the rich & powerful control too much of the city, & that the town is getting difficult for many types of workers … like his kind, for instance. Even more amazing than his skill as a guide was that he had only been doing it for 9 weeks. Prior to that, he was a welder, but not a union welder, which meant that when the job market got tight, he was out of a job. Based on his performance with us, he'll do well as a tour guide. I'd recommend him to anyone.
First he drove us around the Falls area. We heard about people going over the Falls & surviving (rarely). We also saw a ship that, 86 years earlier, had lost all of its steering & was about to go over the Falls with 2 men still in it, when those 2 basically flooded the ship & stopped it just above the Falls. I mean, just above. Another couple of hundred yards, & that whole vessel would have plunged hundreds of feet in millions of gallons of water. You can see the ship, still stuck to this day, on the right side of this picture. It's the low, flat object in the water.
We also saw the locks that control the water going over the Falls. Currently, thanks to these locks, only 50% of the water that used to flow is let through, greatly reducing the erosion that was occurring. Before this, erosion was measured at about 4 feet yearly; now it's about a foot every 10 years. Huge difference!
Here's another one: on the American side, there used to be a power station. I can't remember the date, but sometime in the 1950s, a manager noticed a small trickle of water in a wall. Not a good thing, so he kept his eye on it. Later that day, it had developed into a stream of water. Knowing that this was bad news, he had everyone evacuate the plant. Just after they were all out safely—all but him—the entire plant & the rock it was standing on collapsed into the water below. You can still see the rough, broken rock where that plant once stood.
We were taken to an observation tower so that we could look down at the Falls from a gods-eye view.
From the tower, we had an awesome view of both sides of Niagara Falls. David took a panoramic movie that shows the American side first, which is nice, & then the much more impressive Canadian side, which is shaped like a horseshoe. And notice that boat steaming its way toward the Falls? That's the Maid of the Mist, which we were going to be standing on in about an hour!
2005-0818-falls-panorama.mp4 (2.4 MB MP4)
Here's a picture of the Canadian falls. Keep in mind that 1/3 of the fresh water in the world cascades over there!
Here's another shot, showing the brave little Maid of the Mist amongst the maelstrom.
We descended the observation tower, got back in Paul's van, & headed to the Maid of the Mist. It was a long line, crowded with people speaking in tens of different languages. In particular, these Italian women worked hard to butt in front of everyone else, which made me a bit hot. Once we reached the final ramp where we were going to board the Maid, we were given blue plastic ponchos to keep from getting sopping wet. I didn't think we'd need them that badly, but boy, was I wrong. Once we all had our ponchos on, I thought we looked like some weird suicide cult.
Just as we were about to step onto the boat, I looked at the water around the dock. It was thick with white, evil-looking foam that didn't look healthy at all. Nasty.
The boat left the docks, & we started our slow putt putt putt towards the Canadian Falls. As we passed by the American Falls, we could see yellow poncho-clad tourists getting up close & personal with the part of the American Falls called The Bridal Veil, due to its narrow width, color, & beauty.
The larger American Falls, to the left of the Bridal Veil, are pretty awesome up close, with lots & lots of rocks at the bottom to ensure that anyone stupid enough to go over on the American side will not be around to contribute to the gene pool.
David took a movie of the American Falls, & in it you can see the Falls in all their glory & danger, but also the other Maid of the Mist boat, heading back, the docks, & the observation tower we'd been in just a little bit earlier. Good job, David!
2005-0818-falls-maid-heading-in.mp4 (4.8 MB MP4) ← Warning! 4.8 MB file!
We passed by the American Falls & started getting closer to the Canadian Falls. We could see them from the side, & they looked, well, awesomely big.
Now we were even closer to the Canadian Falls. The air began to mist, & there was a mighty roaring.
David took a movie of our entry into the base of the Canadian Falls, & in it you can hear the roar of millions of gallons of water crashing down every second, & you can also see what appears to be a wall of mist & water—a wall that occurring we were heading towards.
2005-0818-falls-maid-going-in.mp4 (2.9 MB MP4)
A few more lengths forward, AND SUDDENLY WE WERE ENGULFED IN WATER, MISTS, & WHAT SOUNDED LIKE THE BIGGEST RAINSTORM YOU'VE EVER BEEN IN. ANY PART OF YOUR BODY THAT WASN'T IN YOUR PONCHO IMMEDIATELY GREW SOAKED FROM THE WATER, WATER THAT WAS COMING IN FROM EVERY DIRECTION: DOWN, SIDEWAYS, LEFT, RIGHT, BACK, FRONT. IT WAS LIKE STANDING IN THE MIDDLE OF A HURRICANE, BUT IT WAS EXHILARATING & ECSTATIC. I STARTED LAUGHING—REALLY, THERE WAS NO CONTROLLING IT—& I COULD HEAR EVERYONE ELSE AROUND ME LAUGHING AS WELL. IT WAS MORE FUN THAN I'VE HAD IN A LONG TIME, TO STAND ON A BOAT & SAIL TO THE EDGE OF SUCH IMMENSE NATURAL POWER. OF COURSE, IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE TO FILM ANYTHING, UNLESS YOUR CAMERA OPERATED UNDER WATER.
And then we turned around & began to sail out. David took a movie that shows just how wet & happy we all were. This is literally just a minute or so after leaving the wall of mist & water. I was trying to take pictures of Denise, David, & myself with my cameraphone & upload them.
2005-0818-falls-after-maid.mp4 (1.9 MB MP4)
Man, that was fun! If you can ever do it, do it!
On our return journey, we saw the American Falls from a different perspective. They still look dangerous. Notice the balloon hovering over it all. That would be a pretty neat way to see this amazing natural spectacle, wouldn't it?
We landed, disembarked, wadded up our ponchos & placed them in a big box set aside for that purpose, & walked back up above the Falls. I stopped to get a drink, & when I turned around, I saw something terrifically incongruous: David was standing there, checking his camera, & behind him stood a group of Mennonites, or Amish Lite, as I like to call them, who were buying tickets to see the Falls. The women evidently had two dresses to choose from (I wonder if white signifies an unmarried woman, while blue is for wives?), while the men all wore black pants & shoes, & the same shirts. If they were old enough, they had the beard-without-mustache combo that is so distinctive.
We met up with Paul, who had two more sights to show us. First was the large whirlpool that forms downwater from the Falls where a particularly sharp turn in the river valley causes the water coming in to the area to actually get forced below the other water. The result: a beautiful but deadly whirlpool.
And finally, a large clock in the Niagara Park. I can't remember the name of the clock—sorry!—but the designs on its face are changed several times a year. Unfortunately, one of the current designs belongs to the Boy Scouts, a group I'm not too favorably disposed towards right now (homophobes). So please imagine Denise & I sitting there without the Boy Scout logo behind us.
David joined us for a nice group shot as well. Aren't we all cute?
Our day of sight-seeing around Niagara was over. Paul dropped us off at our van, we got out, thanked him heartily for his great job as tour guide, tipped him, & rescued the dog from the van. She was, predictably, asleep, but she perked up immediately when she saw us. She stood up on her hind legs, with her forepaws on the car door, while her tail wagged at about 90 revolutions per minute. We hugged her & told her how glad we were to see her, & then we took her over to a grassy area by the motel so she could run & relieve herself. Denise ran her back & forth in the grassy area.
I took a great picture of Libby after she finished her business. I love the way she looks in this picture: tough, like she's a "don't mess with me" kind of dog (when in reality she's a total sweetie).
And then Denise & Libby & I posed for a nice lil' family portrait. I don't know why Denise was so delighted—it must have been something funny that David said. It turned out pretty well, I think!
We all piled back in the van to head the two hours back to Toronto. First, though, we drove through the small, chi-chi, incredibly gorgeous & flower-laden village of Niagara by the Lake. Every place we drove past looked like it would cost a bundle to eat, sleep, or shop there, but still, it was a beautiful town. It was so nice, in fact, & so small, that we forgot to take any pictures, so you'll have to use your imagination!
About 45 minutes after we left Niagara Falls, we were getting hungry. The 2 D's, carnivores both, saw a restaurant's sign advertising Prime Rib for $10.95. Even better, the sign advertised "Casual lakeside dining on outdoor patio". Sounds great! (Well, for them. Being a pescetarian—no meat at all except fish—I didn't care about the beef)
So we go in, & it turns out that the patio is closed 'cause it's kinda windy. Okey dokey. Then we sit down at a table inside. I'm already eying the buffet, which looks pretty good, & then the 2 D's get some bad news: they're out of the Prime Rib! Horrors! I've never seen two people so completely gobsmacked. "Bu … wha … huh … prime rib … waaah!" It was 3 buffets for our table!
I was content with the meal, although our waiter wasn't too good. He was from the "leave you the frick alone during dinner" school, so our glasses only got refilled when we tackled someone walking by & begged them to give us more water. David was especially disappointed because he really wanted the salmon in the buffet, but just as he walked up, the guy in front of him took the last of the salmon. "Bu … wha … huh … salmon … waaah!" He asked the carver if more salmon was coming, & that guy said "Sure!" One of the few times we saw our waiter's face, we asked him about the salmon, & he assured us that more salmon was definitely, positively, for sure coming out. Lying bastard. We were there well over a half hour, & a new salmon never made its appearance. Not good. If I could remember the name of that place, I'd tell you just to warn you off of them.
From there we drove back to HoJo's in Toronto, & man, we were beat. It had been a long day. We'd spent over 4 hours on the road, traveled about a small city, sailed into the maw of death, seen one of the natural wonders of the world real close like, & been cheated out of salmon. We didn't last long in our beds, & lights were turned off within minutes.