Tacky, Cheesy, Touristy, too many people, too many cheap distractions. Giant hotels blotting the sky, chain restaurants every which way. Big casinos trying to lure you in. I half-expected this before booking the quickie weekend jaunt, but figured it’s just a couple of days, they can be avoided. Yet as I finally drove through town I started second guessing my travel decision. I found the hotel, checked in and grabbed something to eat. Then, wandered down to see the big deal,… Niagara Falls. Yeah, it was a big deal!
The Falls are impressive, a never ending cascade of river plunging into a mighty swirl. The roaring spray drifts up to form a continual mist. Rainbows shimmer above, while droplets of cool water rain down on your skin. You see the Falls, hear the Falls, feel the Falls.
I stood in line for the Journey Behind the Falls elevator ride that dumps you into some caves that lead to the base of the Horseshoe Falls. Everything was drowned out by the noise and I got drenched, but it was the kind of drenching you laugh off afterwards. I later stood in another line for another drenching on the Maid of the Mist boat ride. You get so close that the whole world seems to disappear except for a screaming, moving mountain of water all around.
It was all very touristy but also very fun. Niagara Falls is a combination of a natural wonder, with all the silliness found in a typical summer beach town added on. Crowds and food and amusements and wax museums and souvenir stands abound.
Beyond the town however is beautiful wine country on the Ontario side of the Niagara River worth exploring by car. Head up to Niagara-on-the-Lake and the Fort George National Historic Site to find good food, good wine, a scenic town and history all about. The Niagara region was a major battleground in the War of 1812 as the upstart Americans foolishly tried to bring the war into Britain’s Canadian colonies. Fort George is preserved as a nineteenth-century time capsule even though it was not decommissioned by the military until 1965.
In other words there is much more to see and do beyond the falls themselves, even if the falls remain the tourist epicenter. After spending an afternoon sampling ice wine and standing amidst cannon aimed at the American interlopers across the river, I returned to Niagara and decided to ride up Skylon Tower.
I confess to being drawn to tall ugly things offering the promise of panoramic views, no matter how tacky or out of place they seem. Skylon Tower looks like someone stole the Space Needle from Seattle and plonked it down next to the falls. But it delivers as promised. A thunderstorm was brewing and the skies darkened. As I meandered about the viewing platform soaking in the view, surrounded by folks clicking away with cameras and clutching their plastic souvenirs, the sky began spitting forth bolts of majestic lightning. It was spectacular and I realized with satisfaction that you should never, ever second guess your travel decisions.