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Published: April 15th 2018
Niagara Falls always had such a romantic air to it. The kind of place you go for a proposal or to take super adorable photos with your long-time beau. That's how I imagined I'd end up there - probably a weekend trip using a Groupon Getaways deal. But Prince Charming never came (or if he did, I promptly pushed him away), so I took myself.
Ithaca, NY is only about 4 hours from Niagara Falls, Ontario. After our Bachelorette Weekend group ate wayyy too many carbs and checked-out, I checked out Cascadilla Falls and Ithaca Falls, then had a dirty chai and brunch snack at Moosewood Restaurant (the hip vegan spot in downtown Ithaca).
When I hit the road toward Niagara, I had planned to stop in Rochester, NY for a break, but by the time I reached the exit on Route 90, I was still energized and kept moving. Buffalo, NY was also noted as a pitstop location (figured I could stop in Planet Fitness), but I kept going. The entrance to Niagara Falls National Park in New York was quick. The road drives you along the Niagara River, past rapids stretching across the wide body of water.
It seemed to be moving well, although there were also chunks of ice floating near the shoreline. In the distance were a spattering of tall casinos and hotels and the ominous cloud of mist I would later learn to be the Maid of the Mist.
My intention was to stop in the National Parks on both sides of the falls, but the NY side demanded $5 or $10 to park and I didn't want to pay just for a quick peek. Unceremoniously, I arrived to the border guard at Rainbow Bridge ($3.75 toll). The Canadien guard was far from friendly and tried to throw me off by telling me my car wasn't registered to me and the proceeding with the line of questioning. Fortunately, I've got nothing to hide and my passport and I moved along. It was such a thrill to cross a border by land in my own car.
Rainbow Bridge carries you straight over the Niagara River so there's a view of the Maid of the Mist to your left and downtown Niagara Falls, Ontario. I was hoping I could park to walk out to the main trail that runs along the entire length of
the sights, but parking was now $20 (Canadien). After driving South along the water, I turned around to head North along River Road up to Hostelling International. I checked in at 4:00, left most of my stuff in my car, and then walked along the river to the Falls. (Sidenote: someone moved my stuff and took my bed in the dorm. People actually do that?! Whatever, I ended up with a top bunk and had more privacy anyway.) It took me almost a full hour to make it to the Maid of the Mist and the very busy Welcome Center, but the walk was serene and beautiful. The other set of falls always seemed just a minute or so away, but it was a trick of the eye as their enormity kept me walking past them forever. The silence and peace of that walk was amazing and welcome. The river to my left and big old homes converted into BnBs along my right.
After trying to take some selfies with the Falls, I stopped in the Welcome Center to warm up and then headed back. The Tim Horton's in the main center had a line an hour long, but
if you walk a little further South, the next one was empty. I bought the most disgusting coffee to warm my inside and then proceeded back via the casino, Hershey's store, and a street lined with funhouses, wax museums, and Rain Forest cafe.
I made it back to the hostel around 7:00 as the sun was starting to turn the horizon pink. The hostel was right near Queenstown (I think), and claimed to have a bustling downtown, but the area looked so deserted I wasn't even comfortable walking to explore it. Maybe it's there when the weather is warmer.
I was so grateful for the peace and space in the hostel (and excellent WiFi) so I heated up leftover Indian food, made chammomile tea, and sat down to blog and do some Ayurveda reading. A lovely evening. My all-girls dorm was even pretty nice aside from the girl who came in at 10:30pm and had to noisily fumble to make her bed.
The next morning, I slept in (7:00) and then positioned myself in the kitchen to read and research my destinations in Toronto. Showered and checked-out at 11:00.
The slightly longer route up to Toronto
(2 hours vs 1.5) brought me through Niagara-on-the-Lake. The road followed the river and massive wineries and mansions (would have liked to try the Ice Wine House, but even I frown on drinking along at 11:00 and then driving). NotL reminded me of Cape May mixed with Chestnut Hill. The population was noticably older and wealtheir. The buildings were clean but had character. I parked near Prince of Wales (hotel?) and grabbed a coffee in Balzac's. The coffee shop smelled like a cedar closet and was decorated in a classy way that mathed the charm of the city. Feeling dehydrated, I walked a few blocks to the only grocery to get a coconut water and nearly got blasted by the fake snow machine that was decorating the block for Christmas. I dunno...Canada.
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