Sunday, June 11, 2006
Into the realm of the mist - Niagara Falls
After arrival in Canada and an adventurous first day, it was the weekend. S's uncle had planned out the weekend for us. Uncle, aunt, the kids C and B, Shilpa and me were to go to Niagara Falls on Saturday. Yippeee!
Saturday morning, we got up with a little less reluctance than usual because we were supposed to have breakfast at Saravana Bhavan. And wonder of wonders, the breakfast was a buffet! Where I come from, Saravana Bhavan serves food a la carte only and waiting for 30 minutes to get a table was not uncommon at all. You can imagine how excited S and I were.
The moment we entered the hotel (again, surprise, surprise, no waiting at all!), we made a bee-line for the buffet. Just looking at it made our mouths water. For the benefit of all of you who weren’t there, here is what the buffet had: halwa (yup the authentic red-orangey square one), som-paapdi, idli, sambhar, chutney, puri, vadai, ven pongal, upma, puliyogare, dosa, uthappam. I think I missed a couple of more dishes, but these were the main ones (I think). The food was yummmmy, slurp. Oh man, I feel hungry now :-(.
Anyways, after topping off the wonderful breakfast with filter coffee, it was: Niagara Falls, here we come! I have already seen Niagara Falls twice before this, once with my friends and once with my family. I had enjoyed both previous trips immensely. But both times, it was from the American side. I was wondering how much more different viewing the Falls from the Canadian side would be.
Niagara falls is just 100 kilometers away from Toronto. We reached in about an hour and a half. As we entered the city (is it called Niagara Falls?) and steered into the main road near the Falls, we could see a fine spray of mist from the background! It was the Falls :-)! We parked at a complex, took a restroom (or rather washroom as it is called here) break, dragged B away from all the video games there (which she wanted to play rather than see the Niagara Falls!!) and began our walk down the pathway beside the Falls.
The view was simply breath-taking. Standing on the American side, you can only see the side view of the American side of the falls. Admittedly, that view by itself is beautiful. But on the Canadian side you have the additional attraction of seeing the frontal view of both the American as the Canadian falls. Huge torrents of water, gushing down at the rate of some million gallons per second - it was simply awesome.
The first stop was for the Maid of the Mist boat-ride. Though the queue was quite long, the wait itself was not too long. When we reached the boat, we found a place on the top deck. Shilpa and I had decided to get drenched and so did not wear the ponchos we got before we set off on the ride. The ride was good fun - we got to view the Niagara falls from up close. We did not get very wet though as we were on the side of the deck away from the falls.
After the ride, it was already lunch time. So we all walked back to the city center. It was a long walk and a hot day. S and I had been under the impression that Toronto would be very cold, the city being further up north and and all. So we had brought along not-too-summery clothes for the trip (mercifully, S convinced me to not bring along my winter-jacket also - I am sure people in the airport would have pointed at me and laughed had I landed there lugging a thick jacket!). Sure enough, after some time, we were beginning to feel rather too warm. But the entire area around had a lively, carnival-like atmosphere. So we all had a good time looking at typical touristy attractions like horror-exhibitions, souvenir shops, palm-readers and so on.
We had lunch at an Indian restaurant. The food was so-so and the service was pathetic (if you folks want to avoid it when you go there, the name of the restaurant is The Guru). After lunch, it was souvenir-shopping time. B got a stuffed dog and C bought a t-shirt. Surprisingly S and I stopped with just buying "Niagara Falls" magnets (for quite sometime now, I have been buying magnets as souvenirs at any place I visit - lightweight, easily portable and not to forget, cheap too :-)). S's uncle got us some souvenirs too. After lunch, all of us were feeling very lethargic. But S and me really wanted to do the Journey Behind the Falls walk. The rest of the family though, was willing to skip it.
So we left them with a tarot-card/palm reader and walked back to the main falls. It was a long walk and a hot day. But, after sometime, the spray of mist from the main falls started showering us with refreshingly cool drops of water as we walked on the path near the falls. And, we spotted the rainbow! First, it was just a partial bit we could see. As we got closer to the falls, we could see the whole arch - at some point, we spotted two rainbows, side by side :-). We went berserk, clicking picture after picture. It was really beautiful and we thoroughly enjoyed the walk.
We finally got to the ticket counter for the Journey behind the falls attraction. We were told that there was a half-hour wait for the next available trip. We thankfully sank into some nearby seats and waited. Half an hour went off in a flash and we took the elevator down to the base of the falls. Once again, we decided to not wear the ponchos we had been given.
Once we reached the base, we followed the directions in the tunnel. The first stop was a view of the Canadian Falls from behind through a big window. We could hear the falls thundering down. The sheer force of the water as it came down in huge torrents was fascinating as well as frightening. We watched, mesmerized. After some time, we proceeded further down the tunnel and again watched the falls through another window.
It was very, very nice - but then, was this all to the attraction? Were these two views supposed to drench us with water - why were we given the ponchos? A trifle disappointed, S and I made our way back to the entrance, pausing to read all the pictures and descriptions they had in between (we were justifying the around 10 bucks-a-person entry fee, you see ;-)). Then, just as we had almost reached the entrance, we noticed another passage way which we had missed on the way in. We literally ran down that passage way and found ourselves standing on a deck next to the falls!
We were now looking up at the Falls from below! It looked as though the Falls was pouring out of nowhere from the sky. We gaped at it for quite sometime. Then looked at the side view of the Falls and saw how the force of the water had eroded the layer of shale at a faster rate (yeah, we did learn something from reading all those boards in the tunnel). We took lots and lots of pics.
I know I am being mean - but this story still makes me laugh. So here it is. As usual, after taking turns shooting lots of pics with either S or me in it (unfortunately, all of them turned out rather scary as our faces were too close to the camera) we wanted a pic with both of us in it. So we approached a lady, gave her the digital camera and then positioned ourselves on a ledge with the Falls thundering immediately behind us. The lady lifted the camera to her eyes and I noticed something very peculiar. The front of the camera, pointed towards us, had the close up of a huge eye on it - what on earth was happening!!
Then S and I simultaneously realized what had happened even as the lady plaintively exclaimed "Oh, I can't see you guys in the camera". This smart lady had turned the front side of the camera towards her face and was looking through the lens to shoot the pic! Which was why we were seeing a magnified version of her eye on the LCD screen of the camera!! Maybe she had never used a digital camera before - nevertheless S and I started shaking with silent laughter (we may be mean but we still are polite) as we tried to point out that she ought to turn the camera around. Finally her husband took the pic for us!
After all these stunts, it was time to descend to the lower deck. Everyone standing there was covered with the yellow ponchos. Except S and yours truly. As soon as we reached the lower deck, the spray from the Falls felt like a mild shower. Then we got to the side of the deck nearest to the Falls. It was as though someone was throwing buckets of water at us. It was simply heavenly. S and I stood there, arms streched out, giggling, tasting the water and generally feeling on top of the world. It was the single most enjoyable moment of the whole trip. Soon, we were completely drenched and the cool evening wind was causing us to shiver.
Finally, we reluctantly tore ourselves away from the lower deck and proceeded back to the elevator. Dressed as we were now, in completely drenched clothes, we got plenty of "are you crazy" stares. Looked like we were the only two souls in the entire vicinity who had decided to brave the spray without ponchos. We may have looked crazy but I doubt if anyone else there had enjoyed the Falls at that moment as much as we had :-D!
When we got back to the top, we were still laughing about our appearance. But we were decidedly feeling cold now and made a stop at the washroom to dry off as best as we could. In Canada, a lot of environmental-friendly measures seem to have been taken. One of these measures seems to be discouraging the use of paper-towels. Most public washrooms we visited had only electric dryers and no paper towels. So we were left with nothing to dry off with. S though, hit upon the brilliant idea of using the dryer instead and could be spotted in various convoluted postions beside the dryer as she dried off her clothes. I follwed suit and soon, we both were dry enough to begin our walk back in the open air to the Skylon complex where our van was parked.
The rest of the family was waiting for us inside the complex. B had finally got her wish of playing video games and was happily occupied (she won a couple of "prizes" too). We had a light dinner of shared pizza, banana-split sundae and chai-lattes. Soon, it was time to head back home. It was dark by then and the Falls had been lit up. We wanted to stop and look as the Falls from up close as it got lit up in red, blue, green and yellow lights in turn. However, there were no nearby parking spots and after all our exertions earlier no one (other than, of course, energetic B) wanted to walk a long distance. So we just took in the beautiful sight as S's uncle slowly drove by. The colored mist had an ethereal look to it. Finally, we had one last glimpse of the Falls and we were off on the freeway to Tornonto.
I remember, when I was small, in order to entertain ourselves during long car journeys, we used to play games like spot the license-plate, spot-the-thing, word-building, antakshari, bus-game, memory-game etc. Nowadays, the need for coming up with such games seems to be slowly dying out. You see, our van had a DVD player in it. We had got a bunch of DVDs along. In the morning, watching The Incredibles brought us to the Falls before we had even realized the passage of time.
During our return journey, we played a DVD with a collection of Shah Rukh Khan songs. The first song was from the movie Kaal and had some really funny costumes and dance steps. S came up with the idea that we should all dance for the song. We had a total rip-roaring time as the four of us in the back (B, C, S and me), strapped to the seats with seat-belts, but nevertheless waving our arms and legs, followed the dancers on the screen. Thanks to B's insistence, we played the song (and danced) some five more times before we reached home!!
We were all extremely tired and exhausted when we landed at home. The rest of the family went to bed immediately. While S and me, ha, you guessed it, were awake: chatting, downloading pics, putting up some of them on S's blog, laughing at our exploits and doing other such activities late into the night.
Thus ended day two. As I am keeping with my tradition of narrating every single thing (other than actually counting out footsteps ;-)), I think this post can also compete for the longest post ever :-)! Cheerio, folks!