(My frustration with having no photographs from this trip continues….)
Not content with a week in New York, my parents and I headed North West to Niagara, to see the mighty Niagra Falls.
The Train There
Descending into the dark underbelly of Penn Station and boarding the train for the long journey wasn’t quite the novelty ( i use the train all the time) but it was still very exciting to see the difference in the Amtrak train compared to the carriages I was used to. The seats were deep and wide, they even reclined. You could happily sink into one and doze the journey away, all the way there. However, there is very little chance you would want to.
The train, that eventually ends up in Canada, follows the Hudson Valley up through New York State towards Albany. It then makes a sharp left and passes through Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo. Travelling in October, the leaves on show were bursting into colour. Brown, gold, pink and deep reds spread across the horizon. If you’ve ever wondered how to avoid the leaf-gazing traffic in the “fall” months, get the train. At points, the tracks hug the side of the valley with the river directly beside it, wide and grey. Even Buffalo has a desolate charm when viewed from a train window, maybe because you know the train will leave again, with you on it.
Niagara Falls, New York. USA
According to the State Park website, it is the oldest state park in the US, and a year round destination. The waterfall itself may well be, but the town of Niagara wasn’t exactly happening. We arrived and set out to find some dinner. Our B&B had warned us against walking down the road in one direction, lest we be mugged or worse, and so we hurried off in the other direction. The town was in darkness. A huge mall that contained a Hard Rock Cafe and other gastronomic treats was closed for winter.
After what felt like two whole hours, we gave up and walked back to Pizza Hut, the only building with its lights on. We pushed through the door, exhausted, and realised we had entered the land of plastic.
- The plates were plastic
- The glasses were plastic
- The menus were plastic
- The tablecloths were plastic.
Mum perused the menu with a nose that was trying not to wrinkle. At least we were eating the local food. Her mask, so carefully positioned not to offend, slipped when she was politely informed that the restaurant didn’t have an license to serve alcohol. I was happy enough when I saw the size of my pizza though. I believe it was my breakfast the following day too.
The State Park
The next morning we wandered through the slightly more lively streets to the State Park. With the daylight, we could now see the mist rising in the distance, it definitely felt more like we were in Niagara. The park centre itself was somewhat of a disappointment. It was very factual and rather dull for a teenager. I wanted flashing lights, popcorn and the other garish features that I associated with American tourist attractions. Thinking about it now, it’s nice that these beautiful national parks escape rampant commercialisation, but being unprepared, I felt a little underwhelmed.
We hopped aboard the Niagara Scenic Trolley for a drive towards the falls themselves. The commentary was a lot more interesting, several stories of those who had jumped, fallen and in general, gone over the falls. The river was flowing quickly but seemed incredibly placid until we got closer. Small rapids interrupted the flow and the roar of the falls crescendoed. Approaching the edge, the sound crashed around us and the full force of the falls came into view.
Karl and I have a running joke that I love physical geography (rivers, glaciers, volcanoes etc) and he likes human geography (city planning, counting cars, yawn). I love a good waterfall, that’s for sure! We gazed at the Bridal Veil Falls, and slightly less imaginatively named American Falls for as long as we could keep warm. The sun was out in Prospect Point Park but there was a still a nip in the air. I loved the gorge that the retreat of the falls had left in the rock, you could even see where the harder rock had forced it to turn the corner slightly. It was all stuff I had been learning about at school and to see it in such grand reality was rather satisfying.
Niagara, Ontario. Canada
Across the Rainbow bridge we went, towards the Skylon Tower and the giant hotel that dominate the Canadian side of the falls. Here at last was the American tat I had been craving…in Canada! We wandered slowly up the road surrounded by “Ripley’s Believe it Or Not and Moving Theatre” (an over the falls simulator), Louis Tussaud’s waxworks, huge theme park-esque frontages, and gift shop after gift shop. I was in heaven. Somehow we were awfully classy, well comparatively classy, and went to a restaurant where I had a delightful bowl of Linguine Vongole.
Behind the Falls
After dinner we did some more touristing. The Canadian side has underground caves where it seems like you are inside the falls. You can see the water thundering past a meter from your face, but stand there for more than a few seconds and you are well and truly soaked. People in plastic ponchos seemed to enjoy the thrill of getting soaked without feeling it, and then brushing up against you so you got soggy. I remember wandering round the gift shop staring at the many different varieties of maple syrup, maple candy and other maple things. I don’t think we even bought any but we seemed to be there for an age. Walking back across the bridge to enter the United States, was considerably more nerve-wracking than exiting. What if they didn’t let us back in because my Mum’s face in Pizza Hut had pissed them off!?
Back in Niagara, New York, USA
Jonathan spent a happy evening watching TV in the front room of the B&B. I can’t remember exactly what it was he was watching, but I feel like it may have been an old cop drama or something. He thoroughly enjoyed himself.
The Train Back
We were all relieved to be heading back to New York on the train the next day. The train on the way up had dropped us, seemingly, in the middle of an area of scrub. There was no platform, just some wooden planks laid in the dying grass. Slightly weird for a tourist hub, we thought, but at least we knew where we were going for the way back. Not so, we discovered. The train picked up from a totally different point on the line. Sheer madness.
To unwind, my parents decided a stiff drink was in order. Luckily, the train dining car DID have an alcohol license. They decided that it would fun to have a Manhatten cocktail. A great discussion ensued where they all tried to remember, Mum, Jonathan and the train catering guy, how to make one. I think it ended up being a cranberry juice and whisky, a new drink, let’s call it an I-just-want-to-get-drunk-tini.
For those that would like an actual Manhattan:
- 2 parts whiskey
- 1 part sweet vermouth
- 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
- Orange peel
- Maraschino cherries
Pour the liquid ingredients into a cocktail shaker with some ice. Shake well. Run the orange around the rim of your serving glass. Strain the drink into your glass. Add a cherry or two. Drink. Repeat.