The Canadian Side, Tourist Traps, The Falls, and Burlington, Vermont
08/30/2011 79 °F
I could tell we were entering the land of tourists long before we ever crossed the border into Canada. Giant signs touting “FALLS INFORMATION” were festooned all over the American side, and everyone wanted a piece of the action. After all, a natural feature as fantastic as a giant waterfall must be exploited, and cash carrying tourists are the quarry.
I knew I was heading into Disneyland, but I still wanted to see the falls. I’ve always liked falling water, and the immensity of these falls attracted me.
We crossed the Rainbow Bridge into Canada with ease on a balmy summer evening in mid August. The fine mist from the spray of the falls was on my left, and the gorge was on my right. I had to concentrate on driving however, and didn’t get to gawk at the falls. My girlfriend has a small white subcompact, that I dubbed “Little Tooth” which is great on gas, but doesn’t offer much elevation to see much over the sides of bridges.
After passing customs, we followed the signs to the edge of the gorge and past the two sets of falls towards the parking lots, which are some distance away from the falls. The lots were charging twenty dollars a pop to park, but since my companion knew the area well, we continued past the lots and pulled into a small park with free parking. She’s got beauty and brains, hot damn, I’m lucky. We parked and walked back toward the main overlook of the falls past small streams, the old power station (which is an impressive architectural site as well). While walking along, I looked out over the rushing water, and wondered what it was like to see these falls for the first time if you didn’t know that they were there. Imagine taking a raft down the river, and suddenly you start to hear a dull roar that only kept getting louder as the water became much swifter.
Then I started wondering what it was like to go over in a barrel. Daredevils have been trying this stunt for as long as there have been people coming to view the falls. These days, these kinds of stunts are highly illegal and frowned upon. The Niagara Falls operators have been trying to discourage this kind of stunts for decades. I suppose they feel it makes their falls kind of a sideshow act or something.
Just recently, one of the “Flying Wallendas” (of tight rope walking fame) was trying to set up a high wire act to walk across the gorge in front of the falls. The City of Niagara Falls, New York sponsored the idea as a way to bring in more people to their struggling city. However, the casino/hotel rich Canadians of Niagara Falls, Ontario aren’t facing financial difficulties at the moment, and won’t consent to the attempt.
Niagara Falls consist of two sets of falls, Horseshoe Falls and American Falls. They are formed by the awesome power of water that drains from Lake Erie into Lake Ontario. Horseshoe falls are around 2600 feet and drop around 170 feet into the gorge. The American falls are just over 1000 feet wide and fall somewhere between 70 and 100 feet. That’s a lot of water.
Both sides of the gorge offer views of the falls, but the Canadian side offers a head on look at them, compared to the side view the Americans see. The overlook sidewalk was full of tourists, all of them were milling about, taking pictures of their companions (big smiles), then handing off the camera to another so they can get in on the act (more big smiles). A woman saw my camera and asked me to take a picture of her and “Bob” with their camera. I was happy to do so, and I wished them a good evening.
Finally, I neared the edge of Horseshoe falls. I had to wait until an opening appeared at the rail. The aforementioned cliques of tourists swarmed to the rail and away from it like flocks of migrating black birds, each taking turns with their backs to the falls, then moving on for another perspective.
I was impressed. The falls are powerful, robust, and awe inspiring. They were cool to see, and I enjoyed my time at the rail. I had my camera out, and tried to focus more on the natural side of things (of course). It was hard, but not impossible to get good portraits of the falls without including smiling tourists.
I won’t lie (much). I took the obligatory couples shot of my lady and myself in front of the falls. I think it’s a requirement to seeing the falls. I happily paid my dues. What I don’t understand is the allure of getting married or engaged at the falls. What’s romantic about a tourist trap? I mean the falls are beautiful, and would make a nice backdrop for such things, but the fact is, you aren’t going to get the falls all to yourself, ever. But I guess I’m a loony and don’t know much about true love. Ah well, maybe in time I’ll understand.
We ended our evening on a high note with a beautiful sunset. Unfortunately we were back in Little Tooth and couldn’t get out to take advantage of the scene (aka take a photo), so we just enjoyed it, just as I enjoyed my visit to Niagara Falls.
If you were in the business of designing a city, you might want to consider Burlington, Vermont as your footprint. Burlington has many good things going for it, and people from around the country are starting to take notice.
Burlington is located up in the northwest part of the state, on the east side of Samuel De Champlain’s Lake. Champlain was credited with being the first hombre to come stomping by, probably in search of beaver pelts.
Vermont takes great pride in promoting local food first, and Burlington leads the way. In every restaurant we visited the menu was full of ingredients from farms surrounding the Burlington area. It was also really cool to see were all the small farms that were in business on the way into town. We drove in on highway seven past the lush farms in the peak of their growing season. There were rich cornfields with corn straight and tall. Beans, berries apples and peaches, fresh eggs and grass fed beef among other farm fresh products were for sale, and it was hard not to get excited. This is how food ought to be. Buy it local, support your neighbors, and get it fresh.
Burlington is an old city (established in 1785). Burlington is mixing pot of college kids, working professionals, crunchy green culture, and progressive thinkers. It was a refreshing place to look around and say, “Uh Huhn. Looks like these folks are doing it right.”
The city has a reliable and very good public transit system. On busy weekend evenings, it’s better to leave your car at home if you are heading downtown. Take the bus, or expect to walk a ways, the city is trying to encourage public transit use and therefore doesn’t make downtown parking very accessible. The five o’clock rush hour is a good time to avoid the downtown area, and that’s probably the most negative thing I can say about the city.
It’s a bike friendly town. There are ample bike lanes and routes along the streets. There are many bikers. , and biking is a good option for anyone interested in seeing the city.
Beyond that, it’s an active town, there were many people out running, walking, biking, rollerblading, long board skateboarding, among others. During the weekend, Burlington was hosting the national championships of triathlon, and the town was full of fit athletes preparing for the race.
While I only had a brief visit in Burlington, I enjoyed it immensely. Here are my recommendations for places to eat, and places to see while in the city. For breakfast, try Sneakers, The Skinny Pancake (serving crepes) and their sister shop The Chubby Muffin.
My favorite restaurant was by far The Farm House. I spent all day hiking up to the top of Mount Mansfield and I had a monstrous appetite. The fresh food was served hot was delicious, and I ate my meal like a boa constrictor. I recommend the house macaroni and cheese, and a side of homemade summer sausage. Beyond that, their beer selection was amazing with a featured local brew, and dozens of choices of regional micro brews. I am a chocolate nut so I visited the Lake Champlain Chocolate company. Their chocolate is divine. Ben and Jerry’s are still serving ice cream from their first ice cream shop downtown. Finally, if you are into the outdoors, you’d do well to visit the Outdoor Gear Exchange. This is a dangerous shop, full of new and used outdoor gear of all varieties. You can buy and sell equipment there, so make sure to check out the consignment area to find good deals on good gear.
Most of these places are downtown along Church Street. Church street is closed to motorized traffic and allows foot traffic only. It’s a cool little street full of people milling about shopping, eating or simply people watching.
My only regret was not bringing my camera out more. I’ve no pictures to back up my claims, but please take my word for it. Burlington is a class act.