Sunday, November 30, 2008

Niagara Falls for Thanksgiving

Rather than staying in dark, gray, cold Michigan for Thanksgiving, we decided to run to the border and visit Canada, our ultimate goal being Niagara Falls and Toronto. Fortunately the weather was good and we encountered no snow on the way, making the 5.5 hour drive no problem. On the way, we stopped in London, Ontario, a neat little city with a nice downtown with lots of restaurants, cafes, bars and shops. We took a walk there to stretch our legs and enjoyed being in a city again. We also enjoyed some Canadian humor: at construction sites there are signs that say "Danger due to _________" and the workers have to fill in what the danger comes from. Well, on the sign in London it was "Danger due to Ninjas" where they were working on a church. London is also where Labatt beer is brewed, but due to time constraints, we couldn't take a brewery tour. After leaving London, we got a little bit lost, and wound up in Hamilton, actually a bit north of where we wanted to be. After establishing that the people there seemed to be unable to read (maps, at least) we decided to just spend the night there on Thursday because the remaining drive to Niagara Falls was only about another half hour. In Hamilton we also discovered something else that was interesting: beer can only be purchased in Canada (or at least in Ontario) in "Beer Stores", which are actually named "The Beer Store". This only after a trying incident in a supermarket where my German husband attempted to ask for beer, but the supermarket employees couldn't understand his pronunciation of beer. "Bouillon?" they asked. Then he said "Beer! Alcohol!" and they tried to direct him to the wine section. Wine was not what he wanted. Finally, "beer" was understood, and they directed us to "The Beer Store".
On Friday we got up and had a quick drive to Niagara Falls, and were lucky to have not so cold sunny weather. The only drawback of the falls is all that water that they spray! But regardless of getting soaked, it was still nice to get out into the fresh air and walk, and the spray did have a nice side effect: rainbows!

Here's the rainbow created by the sun and all that mist from the falls. In the background is the Rainbow Bridge, which connects Canada and the United States.

All that natural beauty is not without danger: if you feel yourself drawn to the falls like sailors used to be drawn in by the song of the Lorelei, these signs are there to remind of the evil lurking behind that natural splendor.

We had actually planned to drive on to Toronto on Friday afternoon, but after spending the day walking around the Canadian and American sides of the falls, and noticing that they light the falls in the evening, we decided to spend a little more time and have a look at the falls at night as well. The city of Niagara has been built up like Las Vegas--in the top picture you can see the big flashy hotels, and yes, at least one of those buildings is a casino. In the downtown area there are also all of the tourist traps you find in every major tourist destination these days: Hard Rock Cafe, Rainforest Cafe, Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum, Guiness World of Records Museum and of course lots of restaurants that you can also find in your local mall. And once you leave these tourist areas on either side of the border, all you can find are some sad, run down little towns that look like they've seen better days.

On Friday evening we crossed the border back into Canada after a long wait on Rainbow Bridge and being questioned intensely by a Canadian border guard with a bullet proof vest on. We drove back to Hamilton, where we stayed again due to its convenience and proximity to Toronto. Saturday morning we drove to Toronto. I've never visited Toronto before, but it definitely has the flair of a big city like Chicago or New York with its skyscrapers and shopping areas. We didn't do any touristy stuff there really, we just walked around town and soakedup that big city feeling. We also had a great breakfast at the Sunset Grill--definitely a good choice for all day breakfast if you are very hungry, like friendly service and want a change from the normal fast food fare! This seemed to be a popular destination for the locals, as it had an amazing turnover and was completely full the whole time we were there.

One more thing that gave me a laugh in Toronto: fries poutine. This is something I had heard of before, but couldn't really believe. It's fries smothered in cheese curds and gravy. Delicious? You be the judge. I didn't try it.

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