To top off our very exciting time in Toronto we decided to take a two day trip to none other than Niagara Falls. Being in Toronto we were not too far away, the trip only consisted of a one hour train ride from Union station to Burlington, from there we took a one hour bus ride to Niagara. The entire trip cost $18.00 with the ‘Go’ regional transit system (a bit cheaper than VIA rail).
Most of the transit systems I have encountered in Ontario allow passengers to transfer from subways to street cars to buses with ease, for example you can exit the subway straight to the bus station and not even have to show a transfer. Though it is possible for people to hop the fence and get on the bus with out paying, if transit authorities ask to see your ticket and you cannot produce it there will be a heavy fine. As was the case on the train to Burlington, a man came through the cars checking tickets, two girls across the isle from us were asked for their tickets, one girl said her friend had the tickets and was in the washroom. Apparently they were in the city for the weekend to celebrate her 20th birthday, when her friend came back she confessed they had not purchased tickets. We overheard the man lecture them about what they had done and at the next stop they were escorted off the train and each given a fine.
Another exciting point was when we got off the train at Aldershot, one stop too far. We only realized this when we couldn’t find the correct bus to transfer to and asked the ticket clerk. The lady instructed us to go back one stop and mentioned that if a transit authority checked our tickets to have them call her and she would explain the situation, allowing us to not have to pay for the extra stop. We managed to get on the train leaving to Burlington just as it was about to leave, this detour did mean we had missed our connecting bus but because the Go system allows for travel with in 4 hours of purchasing your ticket the only reprimand was that we would arrive in Niagara an hour later than originally planned. At the bus station we did unfortunately have to wait 50 minutes for the next bus but we took that time to eat our packed lunches and stretch our legs. Our bus was one of those double-decker tour buses, we lucked out and got front row seats on the second level, giving us an awesome view of the trip.
On hostelworld.com we had booked a room at The Diplomat Inn for $20.00 per person. The bus we had taken from Burlington dropped us off about a 10 minute walk away from our hotel.
We had a slight hiccup when we received our room, the room had not been cleaned from the previous guest. The owner apologetically changed our room for us. What had happened was that he had stepped out to help a tourist find the bus station so his father watched the check in desk. Unfortunately this very elderly man did not speak much English, was very hard to understand, and did not know the proper check-in procedures and gave us a room that was not ready for new guests. It was a genuine mistake and we did not hold it against them. The new room was freshly cleaned, well dressed, and met our expectations of a $20.00 hotel room.
After dropping off our gear, which consisted of a change of clothes and a bag of snacks that we had packed for the train, we wandered down the street to the main attractions. The first thing we noticed was that prices for most of the shops were raised from regular, ie. Starbucks had increased their prices… and on the other hand Tim Horten’s had slightly lower prices due to Ontario’s Harmonized Sales Taxes. Niagara was much more touristy than I was expecting with shops like Hersheys, Hard Rock Cafe, Wax museums, carnival rides, haunted houses, and thousands of gift shops etc.
Online at niagaraparks.com I found these passes that cover admission to 4 attraction plus a 2 day bus pass on the WEGO transit system, all for $50. We chose the ‘Nature’ pass as I was really looking forward to seeing the butterfly conservatory and this pass covered the cost for it. The ‘Nature’ pass included; a Hornblower Niagara Cruise, the Butterfly conservatory, the Whirlpool Aero Car, and the Flower Showhouse. Because the weather mentioned rain for our second day we decided to do the outdoor activities first. We headed straight for the cruise to see the falls up close and personal!
Niagara Falls is the collective name for three waterfalls; the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls, and the Bridal Veil Falls, that straddle the boarder between Canada and the United States. They are located on the Niagara River, which drains from Lake Erie into Lake Ontario. The combined three falls form the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world, with a vertical drop of more than 165 feet (50 m). Horseshoe Falls is also the most powerful waterfall in North America, measured by vertical height and flow rate.
This is the view from the boat of the Horse Shoe Falls. After this point we got drenched and it was too wet to take out the camera.
This is the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls
I recommend anyone going to Niagara should wear comfortable sandals as our runners got drenched and then we had to walk around with soggy feet for the rest of the day…very uncomfortable. Our next stop was the Whirlpool Aerocar, we took advantage of the WEGO bus pass that is included to get there.
The Whirlpool Aerocar is a some-what vintage cable car that takes passengers across the Niagara Whirlpool. The Niagara Whirlpool is a natural whirlpool located in the Niagara George. The attraction itself is 2 years shy of a century old, but the conductor informed us that over the years almost every piece of the cable car has been replaced with newer pieces. There was only two other tourists on the cable car with us so we got a nice quiet ride, though it takes less than 15 minutes so it was over rather quickly. I’m not sure I would go out of my way to see this attraction but our pass included it so why not?
We decided to have dinner next, because it was not peak season most of the restaurants were not busy so finding a table was easy. We decided to be really touristy and eat at the Rainforest Cafe. It was kind of cute in a childish way, decorated like a forest with animated animals and all.
I don’t know if I will be in a hurry to return to this restaurant as it was super way over priced and the food was OK, nothing special. There was also a loud thunderstorm that happened every 30 mins and the elephants and gorillas would freak out every 15 mins. A lot of families with small children ate here, I can see how this would be fun for kids. Another aspect of this restaurant that was iffy was that every beverage you ordered was around $13.00 because it came with special souvenir cup/glass, for that reason I just had water, and tried to order the cheapest thing on the menu.
After dinner we browsed the gift shops and carnival-like attractions. You can be prepared to spend at least $10 on any thing here; the ferris wheel, haunted house, mini golf, everything was $10 or more. At the Hershy’s store I found heaven…
That’s right, 1 lbs of Reese peanut butter cups. Drool.
Earlier our inn keeper had mentioned there would be fireworks in the evening over the falls to celebrate the American holiday; Memorial Day. After our fill of the main strip we decided to get a good spot for the fireworks, we ended up sitting on the tone fence that surrounds the ‘Secret Garden’ (which I recommend a stole through during the day) this gave us a great view above the crowd of people.
I want to share a moment I had waiting for the fireworks to start. There was a point where conversation between Bobby and I ceased and we were silent for some time when it hit me; I was sitting in front of a magnificent natural wonder, with my best friend, chatting about our thoughts and worries of what the future holds for us as if sitting in a cafe. I have to remind myself that in my life I have been able to experience amazing things that not every one can say they have, and I am very grateful for the opportunities I have been afforded in life. It was breath-taking.
Afterwards we returned to our hotel for the night, we ended up walking because apparently the WEGO transit isnt as useful as they make it sound, but we were probably only a 15 minute walk from Clifton Hill. One thing I have to comment on about the hotel is that though they advertise T.V. and WiFi, neither are very reliable, the T.V. only had a handful of channels, all airing news stations, and we never managed to get the WiFi working, even after talking to the front desk.
In the morning we packed up, checked out and got breakfast at Denny’s, a little pricey for breakfast but we needed fuel for the day, I ended up packing up some of my pancakes (which were topped with pecans and bananas). Our first attraction for the day was the Butterfly Conservatory!! The moment I had been waiting for, can you tell I like butterflies??
Located down at the end of the green line of the WEGO transit, about a 10 minute drive from the falls, finally we had a use for the bus pass. The conservatory houses over 2,000 butterflies, made up of 45 different species. Since captive butterflies usually have a life span of 2–4 weeks, the conservatory imports up to 3,000 butterflies per month from world butterfly farms in Costa Rica, El Salvador, the Philippines, and Australia. Butterfly food is served in the form of plants at the conservatory such as Lantana, Cuphea, Zinnia, Ixora, Liatris, andPentas. They are replaced every 2–3 weeks due to the amount caterpillars eat.
If you wear bright colors and perfume, and move slowly some may even land on you. I even had them land on my hair hah.
After reluctantly leaving the conservatory (Bobby even agreed to go around the conservatory a second time just for me) we headed to the Floral Showhouse, which was on the the other side of the falls.
The Floral Showhouse is one of the cheapest attractions in Niagara at $5, since it was apart of our passes we decided to give this attraction a fair chance. The building is mostly a greenhouse, calling its soil home are orchids, succulents and other tropical plant species that are on display throughout the year.
The green houses also contains a small pond with fish and turtles, as well as ‘tropical’ birds, they mostly looked like Finches to me. It was decided that when I have a house, there will be a heated greenhouse, and in it will live my pet birds that I have always wanted…maybe even some butterflies! Apparently the greenhouse was constructed to help populate the Queen Vitoria Park with plants and flowers as it required many high-quality plants for its development.
An interesting surprise on display at the Floral Showhouse: The Titan Arum (Amorphophallus Titanium).
Found in the rainforests of Western Sumatra, the Titan Arum can reach 8-10 ft in height, producing the tallest flowers in the world. In 1989 only 21 flowerings had been recorded, in 2012 Canada had its first bloom, at the Floral Showhouse in Niagara, worldwide it was the 151st recorded bloom. The plant emits an unpleasant odor when it is in bloom to attract the insects that pollinate it. The smell has been compared to that of rotting meat, which attracts carrion-eating beetles and flesh-flies giving it the nickname ‘Corpse Flower’. The plant also has an underground ‘corm’ or tuber that can weight up to 200 lbs, the largest in the plant kingdom. The staff at the greenhouse were very excited to educate guests about the plant, and were highly anticipating it to bloom (the bloom only lasts about 12 hours). They estimated it would be in bloom Wednesday…the day after left Niagara Falls…Once we were back in Toronto I found a local news report saying it had indeed bloomed on Wednesday.
This is the life cycle of the plant.
Since the greenhouse was south of the falls, a view we had not yet seen, we took a walk along the river. I think this was my second favorite view of the falls (1st place going to the view from the boat), you could get so close to the edge of the falls, watch the water rush over the rocks, and witness it crash at the bottom lifting up into white clouds of mist.
There was even a rainbow!
For lunch we sat on a ledge nearby and ate what was left of the food we had packed, how many people get to have a picnic in front of Niagara Falls?
With all of the attractions finished we decided to take a walk over Rainbow Bridge and cross over into the United States. Why not? This is when the WEGO proved very useless, they didn’t provide useful information on the routes or the schedule so we ended up walking to the bridge. Apparently it also costs $0.50 to walk into America…Anyways, as if on cue, the moment we touched American soil it started raining. Thankfully we kept our ponchos from the boat tour and every thing but our feet stayed dry. We walked over to the two major look out points on the American side of the falls, definitely not as impressive as the Canadian view but they do let you get a lot closer. The walk took us through the New York State Park, there was even a pedestrian bridge over the river. For travelers who wish to see the falls from the ‘Falls View Bridge’ make sure you bring a dollar, there was a large crowd so we skipped this look out and opted for the free ones further down the path.
This is the Horseshoe Falls from the American view.
The American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls from the American View.
We had about two hours until our bus would leave from the depot back to Burlington where we would catch the train, we decided to grab some fast food for dinner instead of a sit-down restaurant due to our time constraint. At the burger joint I started a conversation with the cashier and he mentioned, to our surprise he did not enjoy growing up and living in a tourist town, weird hey? I figured it would mean you always have some thing to do, and you could just move if you don’t like it. I think its better growing up with the options available to you rather than not, oh well.
This is the point when I got super fed up with the WEGO system, there was apparently a bus, purple line, that would take you right from Clifton Hill to the bus depot, except the stop for the purple line wasnt on the list of stops it makes, nor could we find definite information on when the bus would arrive next. Fear not! For I have a smartphone and a data plan! Except their website is just as helpful as a bag of rocks, but it did mention an app I could download, use the GPS and figure out when the next bus is! “Perfect” I thought to my self, only to find they charge $1 for the stupid thing, and who knows if it will actually work! Frustrated and worried we might miss the bus if we wait for it and it never shows up, we started walking, it felt like a long 15 minute uphill walk. When we got to the bus depot we had about 10 minutes before the bus arrived…on the walkover however we were passed by the purple line bus…Good thing I like being active…
We managed to get the front seats on the second level of the bus again and sat back to enjoy the ride home. This time we got off at all the right stops. However there was an incident involving Bobby on the train, apparently when he scanned his card at the train station (it’s sort of like a prepaid travel card) it hadn’t gone through properly. So when the transit authorities came through checking every ones ticket’s it didn’t register as if he had paid his fare. As we know from the previous day this is a serious offense and comes with a $100.00 fine. He didn’t panic however, just calming answered the man’s questions and it was clear that he had tried to pay, but a malfunction on the machine did not register it, so he got off with a warning. We were both so thankful that the stern looking transit authority man must have been in a good mood or an understanding mood and let it slide!
Finally back at the apartment, exhausted, we settled in for the night with great memories of our Trip within a Trip.