To close out the summer, and to fulfill some of my wife's corporate obligations, we packed the SMV one more time and headed north. A business meeting in Toronto would serve as a final mini-vacation before school started. My wife would spend a day secured within a conference room while the kids and I wandered the streets of Toronto, exploring Canada. But first we had to get there.
Driving to Canada is quite easy, just head north and eventually you will come to a border crossing. The one we chose was in Niagara Falls, NY and would put us just a few kilometers from Toronto once we paid the toll and cleared the checkpoints. One would think that a touristy destination such as Niagara Falls would be accustomed to an increased level of traffic. The Canadian border guard thought otherwise, or maybe he was just having a bad day, but he could somehow not comprehend a family road trip to Canadian Niagara. A trip without an itinerary, pre-planned and written out, seemed extremely foreign to him, though this was somewhat strange and quite frustrating juxtaposed against the Ripley's and Hard Rock attractions within spitting distance of the guard shack we were stuck in. After some more witty banter between disgruntled border guard and increasingly frustrated "international" traveler, we were welcomed into Canada.
The road to Toronto was like any other highway, only measured in kilometers, until we actually arrived in the metropolis. Then the road transformed into a nightmare of detour and construction and quickly narrowed into a gridlock of streetcars and electric bikes. This was NYC with cabs being replaced with a never-ending stream of trollies. Mayor Bloomberg would be in heaven with all the changes he could make, or ban. Smoking is much healthier in Canada, or so it would seem. Work stops for lunch, which seems to be most of mid-day. And a quick snack of a couple of burgers set us back more than $50. The hotel was nice enough, though the construction followed us to the doorstep and a crane was erected overnight right outside our balcony. The kids loved visiting the beach along the shore of Lake Ontario and the waterside lunch we had at the European café. We appeared not so much as tourists as we sat outside, legs crossed, nibbling on crepes and spanakopita and loukoumades, sophisticatedly enjoying the second-hand smoke and lattes. Our lunch spanned nearly two hours before most of the diners began drifting back to work. I checked the time and found it nearly time to make our way back to the tall buildings of the city's center, with all the detours and construction easier said than done.
We arrived in front of my wife's building just in time for her to hop into the escape vehicle. The journey to the highway would prove more than an adventure. The sun was leaving us as we closed in on our home country. It was decision time, cross the border now as the traffic waned with the day or spend the night sightseeing in Canadian Niagara and fight more traffic tomorrow. We all voted to dash back to America while the getting was good. The U.S. side of the border was far less glamorous and the hotels should be ashamed of themselves compared to the spectacle across the river. In the cool night air we enjoyed strolling around the national park and gaping at a miniature version of Las Vegas, replete with glaring neon casinos and a ferris wheel, glowing in the darkness just a bridge away. The falls at night from either side is a sight to see and they are illuminated for a few hours to add to the attraction.
The following morning we stepped out onto the park's observation deck to take in the glory of the falls in the daylight. A quick elevator ride down into the gorge brought us to the Maid of the Mist's dock. The boat ride is almost mandatory for any visitor and you get to keep the iconic rain poncho for the trouble. The disclaimer here is you will get wet. Just how wet is completely up to the tourist, but you will get wet in some fashion. The power of the water is humbling and the closeness one is able to achieve, through hiking paths or wooden stairways, grants true scale to the magnitude of the falls. It is strange here, a glorious natural wonder sandwiched between a carnival-like atmosphere and a dilapidated small town fighting to keep up, with its lone temple to gambling standing amongst the boarded up buildings.
It seems the falls are now overshadowed by the casinos and the whole place has become more of a rest stop along the highway to other more interesting destinations. The countryside along the 7 hour journey to the border is quaint farmland along the back roads or boring, monotonous asphalt along the highway. Either way, the family is over the falls. Maybe, one day we will be back, perhaps when another business meeting calls but a single stop was nearly enough.