Holiday Day nine (March 10th) Niagara and Dinner in the air
Tuesday started with a pleasant, if costly, breakfast at the Hilton. (I remember the hotel now because I took a photo of it the night before.)
This was a day for an escorted tour, complete with a knowledgeable guide, and we were corralled into reception at a certain time to ensure all 20 of us were present and correct. Hands washed, a clean handkerchief, shoes cleaned… Oh, that was boarding school, sorry. It was a more laid-back affair as everyone met one by one and shared stories of where they’d gone the night before and what the rooms were like – huge. At the appointed hour, Tour Manager Keith moved among us, counting and tapping on his phone as he always seemed to be doing, said something about meeting our guide and the coach, and herded us outside to a comfort bus. We’d been joined by our two American guests by then, Maxine and her translator. Maxine (who I called Maricie by mistake) soon became a firm favourite thanks to her lack of hearing and sit-com character. Conversations with Maxine often ran thus:
‘Good morning,’ you’d greet as you found your seat.
‘What did he say?’ she’d ask her companion.
‘He said, good morning.’ (Spoken deliberately and close to the ear.)
‘Are you having a good time?’
‘I think it’s nine. Is it nine?’
‘Yes, it’s nine.’
‘Yes, I’m fine. Why d’you ask?’
It was a grey day that promised a morning of rain, but a brighter afternoon, which as it turned out, was precisely what we got. Niagara Falls are about 80 miles from where we were staying, and the journey took us through Mississauga along the Queen Elizabeth Way. Place names are a mix of British and North American as you go through Burlington, Stony Creek, and close to Aldershot, before seeing the delights of Grimsby, Port Dalhousie and finally Niagara. You could be forgiven for thinking you’d arrived at Blackpool what with the arcades and tourist ‘attractions’ that didn’t look so attractive in the grey drizzle. A multitude of coloured lights spangled the windows through the rain, reminding me of Hastings in autumn, and the streets, teaming in summer no doubt, were more or less empty.
As was the car park when we drove in and unloaded with directions and instructions given by our guide. The rendezvous time was arranged, and toilets pointed out to Maxine. ‘No, I’m still fine, dear.’
There were a couple of things that struck me about Niagara Falls. Firstly, how small they seem in comparison to expectations, and then how much the town is a tourist trap. However, you can’t help but be awed by nature, and the third thing that struck me was how close you can get to the water. There are places where, if you had a death wish, you could step over the fence and go for a swim. It would last about three seconds before you’re swept over the drop to your doom.
Having said that, in 1960, seven-year-old Roger Woodward and his sister were in a boat on the upper Niagara River when the boat capsized. The man with them went over the falls and died, the sister was rescued 20 feet from the edge, and young Roger went over but survived. I wouldn’t advise it, however, not with 681,750 gallons of water per second accompanying you to the plunge pool at the bottom. (That, apparently, is what it’s called.)
We learnt all manner of information as we took to the tunnels that have been built into the rock so you can get behind the falls, get wet and, if you can hear yourself think, say things like ‘Oh!’, ‘Good Lord!’ and ‘Bloody hell.’ The tour involved a lift, of course, and plunged us into the depths where we followed a few people through the tunnels which open out in off-shoots to arches where you can be splashed by the spray and wonder at the rumble. The bears enjoyed it, as did we.
That done, we had some time to explore the true wonder of the Falls, the gift shop, where you can pick up all kinds of quality tourist tat from fridge magnets to sweatshirts (which we did, as presents for the Godboys you understand). There are good views of the spectacle from the upper gallery, and plenty of information about other sights to see and things to experience in the locale. A few to mention and marvel at include, the IMAX Theatre Daredevil Exhibit, the Fun Factory, the Dinosaur Adventure Golf (not to be missed for its cultural contribution to world wonders), the House of Frankenstein (why?), and various other houses including, Upside-down, Fun, and Haunted. We did none of those, but we did let the bears sit in Robert Wadlow’s chair. He was 8’11” tall, the world’s tallest man. He lived from 1918 to 1940 and died when he was 22, poor chap.
I should mention that from our lunch table on the upper floors of the Sheraton, we were able to see both the Horseshoe Falls (Canadian side) and the lesser American Falls (below). The two countries are joined by a bridge, and the border checkpoint is right in the middle of it. That was about as close to the USA as we were going to and wanted to get.
Lunch done, we had some free time away from the herd to explore the delights of Blackpool in the rain. We trudged up the hill to look at a few shops, decline several offers to feed slot machines, avoid the lure of the glitzy arcades and amble down again to meet the coach. By then, we were clutching our most treasured memory of the Falls, an iconic interpretation of a family day out taken beneath the rocks against a green screen.
The weather was showing signs of clearing by then, and we were trundled off to spend something like three hours in a ghost town.
Actually, it wasn’t that bad and would have been lovely in summer. But Niagara Village (aka, ‘The Village of the Damned’ as Neil called it) appears to exist to service tourists, in the nicest possible way. Quaint shops and pubs, even an all-year-round Christmas shop, and a pleasant walk along the river’s edge, but, frankly, in early March, not a lot else to do.
We investigated the post office as we like to see how the locals live, and then, naturally, found a pub and sat to write postcards. Using tracking skills learned at GLAD (the Group Leaders’ Academy of Detection), Keith tracked us down and told us the others had rebelled and wanted to leave early. We were fine with that, so we re-joined the coach an hour ahead of schedule only to have to wait for Maxine and her translator.
‘We could have had another glass of wine, Maxine!’
‘What did he say?’
‘They could have had another glass of wine.’
‘Not for me. Where are we now?’
The CN Tower
Cutting a long story as short as I can, we drove back to Toronto through sunshine. During the day, and before we set off from home, we’d been in touch with Martin Sulev, a Canadian author who has been to Symi, and who has written two books in the well-received Demon of Athens series. (Follow that link for the books which are more than worth reading.) Martin, who we’d never met, invited us out for the evening, and we’d arranged to meet later at the hotel.
The previous evening, some of our party had somehow managed to find time to nip up the CN Tower, and as it wasn’t far from the hotel, we suggested we go there. The CN Tower, as I am sure you know, is the ninth tallest free-standing structure in the world, and in 1995, was declared one of the modern Seven Wonders of the World by the American Society of Civil Engineers. It’s 553.3 meters high (1,815.3 feet) and has a revolving restaurant at 1,250 feet above the ground.
Now, I know I am used to the Kali Strata and can still walk up it without getting out of breath, but where the Kali Strata has roughly 380 steps (depending on route and destination), the CN Tower has 1,776. The record for climbing them stands at nine minutes and 54.9 seconds, but it’s worth it as the building offers free wi-fi. We, however, weren’t going to take the stairs because there is no need. It has a lift. (I told you lifts were going to make a reappearance in these posts.)
To be precise, it has a scenic elevator complete with glass panels in the floor, a fact I didn’t know until I was inside it with no way out. The lift catapults you 1,250 feet into the air at a speed of 22 kmph in 58 gut-churning seconds, though, strangely, you feel like you’re hardly moving as the ground drops away, you rise about 100 floors and wonder what would happen if the cables broke.
You empty out on weak legs into a dining room reminiscent of The Towering Inferno, your husband rushes to look down through the sloping glass with nothing between him and death apart from engineering supplied by the lowest bidder, and you wonder if you will be able to manage dinner. Your mind is distracted slightly as you negotiate from static carpet to slowly rotating carpet and step over the threshold knowing there’s little beneath you and the ground now as you’re protruding over the central structure. Still, the menu looks good and if the bears can do it, so can I.
The unfortunate things about that photo-op is the window stays still while you revolve, and if Martin hadn’t grabbed him, Little-Pad would have endured a complete rotation before returning to us 72 minutes later.
Dinner was delightful (thank you, Martin), and we chatted about writing, Symi and life in Canada as we slowly revolved, took photos and, when necessary, waited for the gents to come round again, so we didn’t have to chase after it. That was the first time I’d been in a revolving restaurant, although I vaguely remember going up the Post Office Tower in London when I was little. (Pah! Call that a tower? It’s only 581 feet high.)
Another dubious attraction of the CN Tower is the glass. If you’re so inclined, and many people are, you can stand on a glass floor over 1,000 feet in the air and look down. If you’re barking, like Neil, you can lie on it and take photos of the mirrored ceiling, and if you’re a Canadian like Martin, you can just wander across it as though it were an Axminster. If you’re a little hight-wary, like me, you can scoot across a corner of it, daring one quick step on the glass to say you’ve done it.
It was a wonderful evening at the end of a remarkable day. I should point out, that at this stage, the word on the incredibly wide and clean streets was that the Tower might have to close soon because of the virus. Toronto was certainly pretty quiet when we were there, but otherwise, the ‘thing’ was still a way off, attention was focused on Italy and other faraway places, and there were still only instructions to be wary, avoid doorknobs and sing Happy Birthday in public restrooms (as the very polite Canadians very politely call a toilet).
Tomorrow, we finally get to the heart of this trip and start the journey on The Canadian. That’s the name of the train that runs between Toronto and Vancouver, crosses three time zones, and travels roughly 2,087 miles. Make sure you are here in time for the whistle when the guard shouts ‘Aaaaall’board!’