Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: Canada & Mexico 2011

Day trip to Niagara

I got up around 7am, having set an alarm in order to ensure that there would be no hitches in picking up my booked rental car. I had planned a day trip to both Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake, and was therefore dismayed to see a return of heavy rain outside. Once again, I had breakfast in the top-floor Executive Lounge. I set out at 0845 and, rather than get soaked immediately, rode the subway for two stops to Union Station and then walked under cover to Brookfield Place mall. I presented myself at the Avis counter a little early (0915), but it didn't matter; the formalities were straightforward and the agent took me down to the Avis / Budget corner of the mall's underground car park.

I got settled into my Kia Rondo and then made my way through the maze of the car park to emerge into Wellington Street, a short distance from the on-ramp for the Gardiner Expressway. Driving conditions were initially quite unpleasant, thanks to the combination of rain and heavy spray. The direction signs proved to be nice and clear, however, and in due course I left the so-called QEW ("Queen Elizabeth Way") and started to make my way along relatively quiet ordinary roads towards the falls.
Another unpromising start

I soon found myself driving past first the American Falls and then the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, before pulling into a large car park: it was time to abandon the car for a while in favour of exploration on foot. Both major falls, but especially the closer Canadian Falls, were shrouded in spray at this point, but I couldn't help noticing that the air temperature, despite the spray, was much warmer than over the previous few days.

ABOVE: Brightly-coloured lunch stop!
I decided around noon that it would be a good idea to have some lunch, and found that I was comfortable sitting at an outdoor table, helped a bit too enthusiastically by overhead heaters. I had a bowl of clam chowder and a 'cross-border' chicken and bacon toasted sandwich. As I ate, a minor miracle happened: blue sky appeared - just a suggestion at first - and then came the first direct sunshine that I had seen since leaving Europe! BELOW: Suggestions of blue sky

With energy levels restored and spirits lifted by the improved weather, I set off for a long walk around the area, taking plenty of photos of the falls and other sights. I was pleased to discover the Rainbow Carillon Tower that played such a prominent part in the classic movie Niagara; having not previously visited the Canadian side, I had never been able to see it properly before. I was also absolutely delighted to find that the town of Niagara Falls, Ontario was nowhere near as tacky and down-market as my memories of Niagara Falls, New York, just across the gorge. When enjoying one of the world's greatest natural spectacles, I can do without being bombarded by tasteless wedding chapels and horrid honeymoon motels.

ABOVE: My trusty Kia
I made my way back to the car at around 2:30, having decided against visiting the observation tower on the grounds that it looked like a tiring climb just to get to its base. And besides, I was conscious that the day was passing all too quickly.

I set off in the direction of Niagara-on-the-Lake, making a few stops along the way at various points of interest. It turned into a beautiful drive along a sunny, tree-lined road, passing the occasional winery. Soon enough, I reached the suitably quaint-looking Heritage District of Niagara-on-the-Lake and decided to park the car and undertake further explorations on foot.

There were lots of period buildings, many of which gave prominence to the British heritage of the area. Perhaps most notable was the Prince of Wales hotel, which was serving afternoon tea at the time. There was even a red Routemaster double-decker bus from London showing tourists around, and much evidence too of the town's annual George Bernard Shaw festival. I have since found out that N-o-t-L is also the only town in Canada whose first citizen carries the title 'Lord Mayor'! I had a walk around and took some photos, before indulging in an impressively sugar-free maple and walnut ice cream.

It was finally time to head back to the big city, at first through some fairly extensive wine country. I had a relatively easy run on the QEW until it snarled up close to the downtown area. As I still hadn't located a filling station, I continued past my exit and onto Lake Shore Boulevard, where I quickly found what I was looking for. The fuel tank replenished, I retraced my route to Yonge Street, turned into Wellington Street and drove into the parking garage where it had all started that morning. I settled up with the Avis agent and used the subway to make a swift return to the Hilton.

A local branch of The Keg seemed like a good choice for dinner, but unfortunately there was a 45-minute wait for a table. My original plan thwarted, I decided to patronise Barrister's Bar a second time and had a delicious Striploin steak. I made a quick visit to the Executive Lounge to check my emails and then had an enjoyable telephone conversation with my Canadian friend James, who hails from Saskatchewan. Before retiring at the end of an excellent day, I made sure that I was ready for an early start the next morning.

Wed 18 May

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