Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls is by far the most famous waterfall in the world. It has been the backdrop to many honeymoons, proposals, daredevil stunts, and even key moments in the history of the United States. If you haven’t heard of this falls, you may not be an American!

Niagara Falls is collectively made up of three separate waterfalls straddling the American and Canadian borders where the great lakes of Ontario and Erie meet. The largest of the falls, Horseshoe Falls lies almost completely on the Canadian side, while the American Falls and smaller neighbor Bridal Veil Falls all lie completely on the American side.

Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls

While not exceptionally high, Niagara Falls are still very wide. Even though Niagara does not near the top of any list as one of the highest falls in the world; combined they do however form the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world and is the most powerful waterfall in North America. Horseshoe Falls has a vertical drop of more than 165 feet and more than six million cubic feet of water falls over the crest line every minute! Because of this, they are a great source of hydroelectric power for the region. But this is not why millions flock to the falls each year, we go for their remarkable beauty, roaring waters, and to experience the “mist”.

I started my exploration of the falls from the Canadian side, arriving in the ultra touristy town of Clifton

Aboard the Hornblower
Aboard the Hornblower

Hill. Clifton Hill is the major tourist promenade near the falls built specifically for those wishing to stay near the falls. The street reminded me a lot of Pigeon Forge TN, as it contains loads of gift shops, their very own Madame Tussauds wax Museum, haunted houses, video arcades, mini golf, restaurants and of course a Ripley’s believe it of not. But I have come for the falls, parking was remarkably easy near the falls and the main strip in Clifton and reasonably priced at $10 CAD for the whole day. There are no real directions needed for the falls, you can hear the rushing water from the strip. Approaching the falls the first thing I saw was the American Falls, spanning the hillside and covering 1,060 feet in width. Turning the corner you see the magnificent Horseshoe Falls. If I am to be honest, since you are almost eye level with the top of the falls from the street they do not appear as high as I thought it would.

The Hornblower
The Hornblower

Niagara offers several activities on and around the falls, but the most popular of these is a ride into the falls on the infamous Maid of the Mist. Maid of the Mist is the boat that takes tourists on a ride near the American Falls and into the Horseshoe itself. Recently the Canadians opened a similar boat ride called the Hornblower. Loads of research left me undecided on which to take prior to arriving at the falls, but once there I decided to take the Hornblower being that I was already on the Canadian side of the falls. Truth be told, the tours are exactly the same so choose however you like. After embarkation it is only a short journey from the dock and you are approaching the American Falls. I am eating my words now; here at water level these falls are huge! I snapped a few photos then quickly placed my camera back under my iconic poncho as the mist has set in, but I think ok I can handle this. (One of the things I hate most in life is wearing wet

The Force of the Falls
The Force of the Falls

clothes) Cameras back out snapping a few more quick photos as we approach the Horseshoe. Coming in from this angle you can also see the sheer force the water has coming off the top-it shoots several feet outwards over the top before starting its downfall-truly remarkable and would not have been noticed if not from the boat. Once in the Horseshoe you cannot even look straight into the falls. Mist is nowhere near an accurate description; I was getting drenched! I imagine this is exactly how news reporters feel when a hurricane is approaching landfall! All we can do is laugh, as a view of the falls is almost impossible. However, you can turn your back to the mist and from within the Horseshoe looking out the falls surrounds you creating a spectacular view in every direction. If you are going to Niagara a boat ride is a must.

Top of Niagara Falls
Top of Niagara Falls

Ledges run all along the falls on both sides, so a walk up and down is in order as well. The full frontal view of the falls is far different from being at the top of the falls, where you see the water rushing down the river and roaring over the top. At the top I discovered two things; first on the boat I was sure we were right next to the falls in the horseshoe as we were getting soaked, however from this angle you see they only barely enter the falls but it sure didn’t feel that way; and second, how unmistakably high the mist is, it rises almost as high as the top of the falls! It is hard to believe all the people that have risked their life in stunts going over the falls in barrels. Yet, it was these attempts that helped put Niagara on the map. A barrel ride over the top has been attempted by 14 people starting as far back as 1901, a few have even performed the stunt twice and

Rainbows over Niagara
Rainbows over Niagara

survived; although others were not so lucky. Personally I believe they all had to be mad to attempt such a stunt.

No one can discount the absolute beauty of the Falls. Personally, I found the color of the water to be surprisingly stunning; it hailed beautiful hues of emerald and jade green. You are also almost guaranteed to catch a glimpse of a rainbow while at the falls. It must be something with the sun and rushing water, and mist that produces so may rainbows and if you are lucky you will catch one on camera!

Toronto

The defining characteristic of Toronto is its multiethnicity. Although diverse, it’s no melting pot; rather a medley of intrinsic neighborhoods that pleasantly exist to create what I would say was one of the friendliest big cities I have ever visited. While it may not be perfect, it comes the closest to conveying the Canadian dream of a classless society!

CN Tower
CN Tower

First you must tick the tourist boxes as a first timer here in Toronto. So first I was off to the iconic CN tower to get the best view of the city and hopefully my bearings. Upon its completion in 1976 The CN Tower was the world’s tallest freestanding structure and worlds Tallest Tower. In fact, it held both records for 34 years and was only surpassed by the completion of Burj Khalifa and the Canton Tower in 2010. Its name “CN” tower originally referred to the builders, Canadian National Railway Company; however, due to its fame it became know as Canada’s National Tower, but still more commonly referred to as CN tower.  In 1995 the CN tower was added to the list of the Seven Wonders of the World. (Greatest civil engineering achievements of the 20th century)

A rush to the top, I was surprised with all the green areas throughout Toronto. But for me it had the one thing my home Atlanta is missing; a stunning backdrop known as Lake Ontario, so large it feels like a Sea. Like most other observation towers, it offers panoramas of the city,

Cheering on the Blue Jays
Cheering on the Blue Jays

an open air viewing deck and the glass floor, but unique to the CN tower you can go over the ledge! A ticket buys you the chance to go outside and on the top of the tower for a peek straight down!

Torontonians are dedicated to their professional sports teams, so depending on what time of year you are visiting you should try to catch a game. Lucky for me during my visit the Blue Jays were hosting the Seattle Mariners, so off to Rogers stadium it was for me.  Routing for the home team was a shoe in to making friends at the game; we enjoyed our foot long hot dogs, local Sleeman Beer and a win for the home team and our newly beloved Blue Jays!

The best views of Toronto’s Skyline are to be had from Centre Island. Join the locals for this early morning ferry across Lake Ontario to

Centre Island
Centre Island

the largest of the barrier islands. Here you can capture the essence of the CN tower as it dominates the city skyline. This is a sure hotspot for locals on the weekends; you may be invited to join in on a barbecue or at least a toss of the Frisbee.

But what makes Toronto unique is its many distinguishing neighborhoods, so jump on a streetcar and dig deep into the one-off boutiques, quirky coffee shops, and secret bars of the West Side. My first “hood” to discover was in search of style, China town and Kensington. At first glance this hood may seem like a tourist trap; but it is known for everything exotic from produce and discount goods, cutting edge clothes and street graffiti. From Jamaican record shops, to clothing stores with racks specializing in 1960’s and 70’s garbs, to the iconic Blue Banana Market that mixes Canadian goods (maple everything) to Peruvian handicrafts and instruments from Africa. A walk through Kensington is sure to stimulate all your senses!

Street Graffiti
Street Graffiti

Midtown (not exactly in the center of the city so slightly misleading) is where downtown financial titans and successful professionals retreat. A cozy neighborhood that is only minutes north of all the chaos of Toronto; but it feels miles away. It is however, the striking silhouette of Casa Loma that provides such a romantic backdrop to this posh Toronto hood. A visit to Toronto’s only Castle is a must; its architecture, well-manicured gardens, stained windows or just the city views the back terraced garden it offers is worth the visit. Truly a unique part of Toronto’s history.

Distillery District
Distillery District

The ‘hood’ that most appealed to me was Old Town and the Distillery District. This hood caters to lovers of food and culture. It is filled with art galleries, restaurants, breweries, sweet shops and more. Not to mention its ideal location, housed in historic factories modernized but still industrial and situated right near the water. Don’t miss the tribute to brotherly love with a photo op at the giant Heart, or by “locking in your love” on the suitable Love Installation. Not necessarily a beer drinker myself, but I fell in love with Mill Streets’ own Ginger Cat-light and refreshing for a hot summer day!