Niagara Falls, Canada

Niagara Falls needs no endorsements from me but I can’t resist saying just how awesome it was to be on the Maid of the Mist at the foot of the horseshoe falls this morning.  A true “do before you die” moment. It felt other worldly – like seeing the end of time or space in front of you. I know this going to sound over-dramatic but it felt kind of like dying might.

The tour guides like to relate stories of successful and unsuccessful trips over the edge of the falls – a bizarre list of individuals, situations and contraptions:  a 68-year-old school teacher who went over in a barrel; a young depressed man who went over unprotected and miraculously survived, his first words when rescued: “I felt like I touched the face of god and he smiled”; a man who went over with his turtle, only the turtle made it. There were also tight rope walkers who crossed the Niagara river, America to Canada and back again, with wacky mid-rope walk tricks like making omelets on a little portable cooker.  I remember hearing these stories some time ago and picturing them perched high above the falls but, disappointingly, the stretch above the falls is much too wide and so these antics were carried out further upstream where the river is narrower. Absurd, romantic stories that give the falls a human history when, despite their obvious ambivalence to humans.

The town itself is a tacky conglomeration of haunted houses and wax museums, casinos, fast food joints and massive hotels – everyone we spoke to warned us off it. I’m sure this can be explained by simple economics: where tourists flock developments will spring up to relieve them of their holiday dollars. But it seems like there’s more going on – like somehow we just couldn’t cope with that much beauty, that much demonstration of the sheer force of the things larger than us and so we had to surround it with all things temporary and transient: celebrity culture, nutritionless food, gambling.

Prettier, although also intent on the accumulation of the tourist dollar is Niagara-on-the-lake in which little shops will sell you locally made marmalade, fudge, or pashminas which almost certainly hail from Asia.

Our final stop was a large commercial winery where the tastings are free and when you taste the wines they offer it’s obvious why. The girl poring the wines lead with the sentence: “Now you’re first trying a reisling: have any of you ever tasted a reisling before?” Which seeming a bad sign, and it was. The only wine of any interest at all was the German-style icewine and it was interesting to learn that 80% of the world’s icewine is produced in this region.

For other travellers: We took the Chariots of Fire tour to Niagara Falls from Toronto and I would say they are good value for money and the tour is well structured. As part of the tour you choose whether you’d like to go on the Maid of the Mist or up the Skylon tower but if you want to do both you can pay an extra $10 to the driver. I did both and would say the Maid of the Mist is not to be missed.


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