Niagara Falls

For some reason I always imagined that Niagara Falls faced South, but for the record let it be known that the Niagara river flows North and the main Falls face North-West.   And in case you didn't realize it, there are actually three waterfalls, the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls and the Bridal Falls.   The Horseshoe Falls are sometimes called the Canadian Falls, presumably by Canadians, but in fact one end is on American soil and the other is in Canada.   Also in dispute is who really  lives in the town of Niagara Falls, since the towns on both sides of the border share this name!

A helicopter ride around Niagara Falls would have told most people which direction is North, but for me it didn't make much difference - however, it was a very worthwhile experience nevertheless!   From high above it's easy to get a sense not only of the Falls themselves, but of what lies downstream as well, including the monstrously ugly Prospect Park observation tower jutting out into the river between the American Falls and the Rainbow Bridge between America and Canada, the Whirlpool Rapids below the bridge formed by the huge volumes of water flowing through the narrow gorge, and The Whirlpool itself, which can be crossed by the Spanish Aero Car, a large open air cable car pulled from one end to the other.

Apart from the helicopter ride and the cable car, another "must do" excursion is the Maid of the Mist boat ride, available from either side of the border.   Equipped with disposable raincoats, passengers get a closeup view from below of all three waterfalls, with a particularly drenching experience at the base of the Horseshoe Falls.   For a close view powered by your own legs, you can again don a raincoat for the Cave of the Winds walk on the American side, which takes you along a wooden walkway to the appropriately named "hurricane deck" directly below the Bridal Falls, or on the Canadian side for the Journey Behind the Falls, which follows a tunnel behind the Horseshoe Falls with windows facing the falling water.   Naturally, it's also possible to see all three waterfalls from the top.

I happened to be at the Falls on Canada Day, which meant a fireworks display one evening, but there's also a regular light show each Friday night.   Both the American and Horseshoe Falls are lit up by huge floodlights, which cycle through various garish colors.   To me it seemed very tacky to degrade such a magnificent natural phenomenon with such a seedy show, but my work colleagues back in New Jersey thought these photos were the best of my trip.   I'll leave you to decide!

The two sides of the border are quite a contrast, one fairly quiet, laid back and green, and the other a continuous asphalt and concrete strip devoid of trees, with trashy attractions like a Ripley's Believe it or Not museum (whenever you see one of these you know you're in a serious tourist trap!), a Planet Hollywood, Hard Rock Cafe, arcade game halls, a casino, golf courses and a large commercial arrangement right beside one of the waterfalls.   Ironically, there's even an IMAX cinema which advertises that you can experience Niagara Falls "larger than life" on a giant six-storey tall screen, despite the fact that the real falls, less than half a mile away, are actually three times higher than this!   Having built all of this up, however, let me pop the bubble by revealing that it's the American side which is park-like and the Canadian side which is the make-a-buck nightmare!  In its defence, however, there are also some very worthwhile attractions on the Canadian side, including the Spanish Aero Car mentioned previously, a nice walk at river level beside the Whirlpool Rapids, a combined greenhouse and aviary, and a butterfly house with hundreds of colorful denizens of the tropics.