We still had some frequent flyer miles to use up before the merger between American Airlines and U.S. Airways possibly would mess things up. The Recreation Center where I teach water aerobics was shutting down for a couple of weeks at the end of August. We hadn’t been to Niagara Falls in like 40 years. A perfect confluence of ideas, right? I made all the hotel and air reservations and then the first week of August I slipped on a faultily-inserted pool ladder, injuring my knee and ankle. But it was too late to cancel our reservations without penalty. I did a little research about Niagara, and both The U.S.A. and Canadian sides had hop-on-hop-off buses to the sights. Looks like I could do this, after all. I check the air reservations and things seem messed up. I spend two hours on the telephone with reps from A.A. and US Airways as they point fingers at each other over the reservations. I finally get the flights revised and confirmed, seats and everything. I had originally planned to spend all our time on the Canadian side, but I seem to wind up with one night with no hotel reservation. Oh joy, oh rapture: a perfect opportunity to spend one of our nights on the U.S.A. side and see the sights there at a more leisurely pace. Hey, this is working out just fine.
We take a taxi to DCA. Because of the last-minute changes, we cannot check in curbside, so we have an agent at the counter help us. All is ok, we even get TSA pre-check status so we can sail though the security line. U.S. Airways uses a miniature aircraft to fly to Buffalo. We have to take a bus from the terminal to the plane and climb a ramp to board. Gimpy girl slows everyone down, but we make it. There are only 4 seats across, but it is a short flight. After we land we find a shuttle that will take us from BUF direct to our hotel on the Canadian side. The driver wastes no time getting us to the border crossing, but then we move by inches. The town has gone more commercial and tacky since last time we were there early in our marriage. The carillon is still playing nice music, however, just like in the movie “Niagara.” We finally make it to the booth. The agent takes passports and the driver’s information and asks us the obligatory questions. Finally she lets us enter. The driver zips us to our hotel- the Marriott Falls View. We get a 10th floor room with an absolutely stunning view of both Horseshoe and American Falls right outside. One of the windows even partially opens, so we can hear the roar. We just sit and stare for a long time before we snap back to the world and decide we have to pick up our pre-paid attraction and bus passes. We take a very convenient walkway from the hotel and find ourselves at the top of the “Falls Incline Railway.” It takes us down to the visitor center level and we get our adventure passes and schedule for the bus. We ask about accommodations for the disabled, and we get priority at the lines. The first thing we do is the “Walk Behind the Falls” where an elevator takes you down to a set of subterranean tunnels behind Horseshoe Falls. This has all been rebuilt since last time we were here, due to erosion. The tunnels have several outlets where we can see the actual fury of the water coming over the escarpment. The last time we were here, they issued us yellow raincoats and boots, this time they give everyone a disposable plastic poncho. You need it. Hubby brought along a dry bag for such an event. We needed it. Niagara Falls connects Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. The Niagara River represents about 20% of the world’s fresh water. The elevation difference between the two lakes is about 326 feet, with over half of the drop occurring at the Falls. Over 40 million gallons of water go over the brink every minute during peak daytime hours. Back on top we wander around Table Rock. This no longer juts out over the Falls like a table, due to erosion. We feel the need for some frozen dot ice cream and maple sugar fudge. Glad we brought lots of money with us. Things are FAR from cheap. Eventually we go back to the hotel and sit in front of our window watching the sunset on the Falls. It is so mesmerizing we cannot pull ourselves away from the show to go to dinner. We just make tea in the room and eat some packaged dinners I have packed with us. Then the light show begins with powerful colored lights lighting up both Horseshoe and the American Falls. Niagara was a big pioneer in electricity, and these lights were started long ago to show it off. During the summer, they add a short fireworks display as well to top off the evening. We’ve had quite a day and fall asleep with the roar coming through the cracked-open window.
We wake up to see a beautiful sunrise coming up just behind Horseshoe Falls. There is lots of pink and red and the day looks like it will be a good one. We cannot pull ourselves away from the nature show, so once again we have some packed food I brought and a cup of tea in the room. About 9 a.m. we get to the Incline Railway again and head for the hop-on-hop-off bus. This goes all over the tourist areas on this side and is a really great way to get around. We take it out to the “Whirlpool Aero Car.” This is a basket-like gondola which rides on cables suspended high above the Niagara Whirlpool. It has been operating for almost 100 years. Just downstream of the Falls the river makes a large turn and this forms a whirlpool. Visitors take the cable car across the river and back sightseeing the gorge and hearing about the natural wonders. We press on and took the bus to the “Whitewater Walk.” We descended an elevator230 feet to a tunnel that leads to the edge of the turbulent lower Niagara River Rapids. This is the closest one can get to class 6 rapids safely. The receding Falls eroded the surrounding rock and carved out the spectacular deep gorge, exposing many sedimentary layers. It is like history written in rock. As you go along the paved walk, the river is quite exciting to watch. Another bus ride takes us to the “Hornblower Cruises.” The “Maid of the Mist” only leaves from the U.S.A. side, now. The tourist boat takes us upriver and into the whitewater immediately below Horseshoe Falls. I sat on life vest chests, thank goodness, as all the benches were taken by the time I galumphed on board. They give us another pair of ponchos for this. This is an up close and personal look at both Horseshoe and the American Falls. About 2:30 we finally stopped for lunch at the café by Hornblower Cruises. Boy, did we need that. My ankle and knee were swollen, we were just about out of steam, and desperately needed something to keep going. As we ate we were entertained by an Elvis impersonator performing nearby. We had a nice view of the Falls through our window. On the way out, Hubby spotted a sign advertising a slice of pizza with fries and a drink for $9.99. Never thought of fries with pizza, But I guess they must sell it often enough. The Canadians like something called poutine, which is gravy on French fries. We take the bus back to the hotel and visit the lobby Starbucks. We then head to the pool area and soak in the spa and steam room. Ahhhhhhh……. very relaxing. On the way back to the room we stop at the lobby bar for drinks and burgers. Back in the room we watch a rather large garden spider weave a web outside our window and decide maybe we will not crack open the window tonight to hear the roar while watching the light show and fireworks.
The next morning is cloudy, with the mist and sky blending ethereally with the river on the nature channel we can watch through our window. As always, it is hard to pull ourselves away. We took the bus to the end of the line and then doubled back to the Floral Clock. The electricity plant created the clock out of pride for being on the forefront of producing electricity from moving water. Hubby scored a geocache there. The Falls are now about six miles upstream from where they were when the white men first saw them. After taking our photos we stopped in the gift shop to use the squashed penny machine. Interestingly, Canada has discontinued their pennies. Now they just round up or down. The counter staff produced some old squashed pennies and gave it to Hubby since he was also making another purchase. Wow, what luck. We got back on the bus to go to the Butterfly Conservatory. It is surrounded by a beautiful botanical garden park, but gimpy girl couldn’t walk around the paths. There are thousands of butterflies to see and interact with in here. If you stand still, the butterflies will land on you. This place is uplifting and calm. We stopped by the café and had sandwiches and drinks, which we needed by this point. We shared some bread crusts with panhandling English Sparrows. It is fun to watch the momma sparrows gather up bits of crust and either feed their juveniles take back a beakful to their nests. Another penny machine squasher here and Hubby swaps an unsquashed penny for a squashed one. We get back on the bus and go to the Ten Thousand Buddas Sarira Stupa. We walk around the grounds and snap a few pics and see the rapids from a different angle. We take the bus back to the end of the line and walk around a bit. We see a wrecked barge. There is some sort of electrical plant engine with a mechanical arm to remove debris from the water intake we kept seeing from our room. I wish we had more time here to tour more of the electrical stuff. I’m the sort of nerd who finds this interesting. In 1896, famous electrical engineer Nikola Tesla transmitted electricity from Niagara Falls using his new alternating current induction motor. This was the first long distance commercial use of the AC system of electricity, We walked back toward Table Rock and caught a line of the bus we had not yet used. We went through the rest of the town. Let’s just say I am glad we splurged on the hotel we selected. The bus took us right to the front entrance and we ate maple sugar cookies and drank tea in the room while watching the late afternoon light change on the river and Falls. We simply cannot pull ourselves away to go to bed until the light show and fireworks are over.
The next day we walk at about 6 a.m. to watch the sunrise over the river. I notice that at several spots in the river above the Falls there are some exposed mud flats. As we have our coffee and continue to watch, the mud flats disappear as the flow of the river increases. They sometimes divert some of the water to make more electricity. All too soon it is time to pack up and venture across the river back to the U.S.A. side so we can spend our last full day in Niagara exploring that side. We check out of the Marriot Falls View and catch a taxi right in front of the hotel. The driver’s GPS just doesn’t register the address for our hotel on that side. He has to call dispatch for directions. We drop our bags at the Hotel Giacomo, which is in a lovely historic building. The gentleman checking us in takes Hubby’s cell phone number and says he will give us a ring when the room is ready. He invites us to the dining area for an included full cooked breakfast. We won’t need lunch after this. He also tells us to check out their 18th floor observation lounge. It is an impressive view which looks back on the Falls and the Canadian side from where we just came. We take the short walk to the information center and buy all day trolley tickets for $2.00 each. Such a deal. Most of the attractions are in the Niagara Falls State Park- the oldest state park in the U.S.A. It is more nature-oriented and less commercialized than the attractions on the Canadian side. We rode the trolley over to Goat Island and took in the spectacle of Horseshoe Falls from the U.S.A. side. We also got a great view of the Niagara River rushing past. We watched as the Maid of the Mist and the Hornblower took turns churning their engines at full power and carrying their poncho covered tourist load deep into the mist of the Falls. This was a great spot to linger and watch the condors swoop around. We then took our trolley over to the “Cave of the Winds.” The actual cave behind Bridal Veil Falls is too eroded to enter, but nowhere else on earth can you get so close to the Falls. We rode an elevator 175 feet down into the Niagara Gorge and walked out on wooden pathways and stairs to stand getting quite wet at the base of Bridal Veil Falls. I didn’t feel up to walking up to the Hurricane Deck to experience tropical storm-like conditions. There you have a combination of 65 mph winds and water hitting the base of the Falls with tons of force. Thank goodness they issue you a poncho and rubber sandals! While we were there, a German brass band with 2 trumpets, trombone, saxophone, drums and tuba went on the Cave of the Winds Walk, playing “When the Saints go Marching In” for everyone. As we walked out of the Cave of the Winds, a flight of nine military jets flew in a diamond formation up the Niagara River and over Horseshoe Falls. We learn that the Niagara River is only 35 miles long and that its direction of flow is from south to north. We take the elevator to the top and visit the Nikola Tesla Memorial. Heart flutter. At the time, the Niagara Project was the largest hydropower facility in the Western World. Today hydroelectricity is still one of the Fall’s most important products. We took the path over to Luna Island, from which we got some of the most exciting up-close views of the Falls yet. We got back on the trolley thinking there is still time to see Three Sisters Islands and to go to the Observation Tower built over the river. There was still time, but there is not still power in my knee and ankle. So we go back to the Giacomo. We should have scheduled more time on the U.S.A. side. I am leaving far too much undone here. I have to come back after I get my knee operation and do it justice. The next morning we catch our plane back after another delicious breakfast.
Workman’s Compensation finally approved me to get my arthroscopic operation to: fix up some torn ligaments; clean out some broken fragments which were keeping me from fully bending and straightening my knee; and clean out some arthritis gook, on 11/11/2014. If only it had been the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. I was delighted with my orthopedist from Anderson Clinic. He only used twilight anesthetic, so I wasn’t all dizzy and sick afterwards. I never even filled the prescription for Percocet. I have been pleased with my progress in Physical Therapy and moved quickly from needing a walker to just using a cane. I even felt well enough to host Thanksgiving at our house for Daddy and the rest of the family.