Thursday, August 23, 2012

Niagara Falls 2012: Day 3


We started our second full day of the vacation with another trip to the breakfast room.  Anabelle attempted to be grown up and get all of her food solo. Rosa and I made fairly successful attempts to let her have her independence and not make it look too much like we were staring at her every move. Aside from the time I didn’t know where she went and ended up almost standing on the table, we did pretty well.

Following breakfast we prepared and outfitted ourselves for a real world version of the EPCOT death march:  walking across the border to see the falls attractions on the U.S. side.  We inquired into the safety of walking there with several individuals on the Canadian side and found it was commonly done and incident free. They believed the same would be true about walking from the National Park areas to the Aquarium, but their lack of sureness convinced us to check into that in more detail once across.

To continue one of our bizarre travel traditions, Anabelle and I wore our “Dog Food For Chairs” shirts on the day we planned to visit an aquarium.  While there were no direct hits worth reporting, it’s always entertaining to watch non-English speakers try to deal with us.  As crowds conversing in French would pass we could see them translate each word in their heads…then reread…then puzzle as if they were translating sections or idioms…and finally continue on figuring they did part of it wrong.

After getting lost in “the Secret Garden” because of foolishly following the signs, we reached the Rainbow Bridge.  Luckily, Rosa’s fear of heights is triggered when she’s in a moving enclosed space that she’s not in control of. She was fine with both feet on the ground next to the railing a gajillion miles over the Niagara River.  Unfortunately, my fear of heights is triggered by being on foot, in a non-enclosed space, especially if there is a railing that I am taller than.  I was less than fine, but since shutting my eyes would have increased my chances of pitching over the railing and falling the gajillion miles, I provided Anabelle with another example of pushing past one’s fear (and probably a further example of girly noises as well.)  I did pull it together enough for the requisite fooling around as we passed the international border.  Also, I was happy to see how much they valued safety when I did look down on this railing, and all others, to note the presence of signs using pictograms to indicate, “Don’t be a schmuck and fall over this thing.”

Once through the checkpoint and dealing with far grouchier guards than on the Canadian side, we traveled through an unkempt looking and mostly abandoned and closed down town following signs toward the National Park area and discussing how happy we were to be staying on the other side, above and beyond any dinosaur view benefits.  Our first stop was an observation platform.  I’m sure the views were lovely, but as it was higher than the Rainbow Bridge (perhaps a gajillion and two miles), AND had lower guard rails, I spent most of the time telling Anabelle to keep both feet on the ground as much as possible while trying to focus on far away sights that let me ignore the gut wrenching drop right next to me.

The elevator down to the U.S. side Maid of the Mist Launch also allowed a semi-close up view of the American Falls from the bottom.  We got a passerby to take a fantastic picture of the three of us using my smartphone to allow it to be e-mailed to relatives, since we were back on the side of the river with an internet connection. Unfortunately, my smartphone isn’t very smart (or perhaps its user isn’t) and the shot got magically deleted and a different photo sent in its place. In the off season, the little walkway that goes across and sorta kinda through the falls isn’t built yet which limits access to the falls on the boat launch side.  Considering they NEED to rebuild the thing every year concerns me a bit, but I’m sure I’d be out voted by my family when we go back during off off-season. (I guess that would be “On Season.”)

Obviously, the day we decided to walk across an international border is the day we also forgot to bring any snacks.  We entered the National Park little shop and learned it sold no snacks. They did have the wheel of the very first Maid of the Mist, cool! 

They also had some souvenir that Anabelle liked enough to buy with her own money.  I have no idea what it was, because of what happened next.  We went to another attraction area with a “cafeteria”, and found either a great deal of construction, or large sections simply closed off. (There wasn’t much construction going on in the construction areas.) The food place was more of a tiny snack bar and the healthiest offerings it provided were bagels and Doritos.  Anabelle then realized she left her water bottle in the little shop in the other building, causing me to sprint back to it (in my large waterproof boots).  Upon my winded return, we ate our marginal foodstuffs in view of a Teddy Roosevelt display.
It is apparently a federal law to have commemorative areas to the Hero of San Juan hill in every National Park related area in the U.S.  The primary reason for this, I believe, is to annoy my cousin – as her husband is the former President’s number one fan, and delights in any excuse to teach her about his accomplishments. (Naturally, we e-mailed them pictures of the display.)

A brief and visually exciting walk along and over some rapids lead us to the far more impressive looking than its name “Goat Island”.  Nearby the entrance to the Cave of the Winds was a statue of Nikolai Tesla. It was very cool and I planned to take a picture after the attraction. (Sadly, I am an idiot and assumed I took the picture before the attraction.  Maybe next time.)  We bought our tickets, received yet another set of ponchos and rode down in the elevator.
Two things about the ponchos were immediately apparent.

1)  The reason for needing the ponchos seemed, at first, to be the near infinite amount of seagulls around the wooden walkways leading to the bit of the American Falls (separated by a small island) on the right side called Bridal Veil Falls (behind which is the Cave of the Winds, hence the attraction’s name.)



2) American ponchos were much smaller than Canadian ponchos, (I blame some sort of metric-English conversion) meaning my less water resistant wardrobe choice based on overly trusting the poncho forced me to cram my wallet, phones and other stuff into the zipper pockets of my windbreaker, and also forced me to do the “wet jeans walk” through much of the National Park. 

Rosa switched from the super deluxe magic Canon camera in its impressive, confusing, yet ineffective covering to a small back up camera wrapped in an old poncho. This got us some cool under the falls pictures, a few of which were not merely close ups of yellow wrinkly plastic.

Overall it was a hugely impressive view of the bottom of the American Falls and we all had a great time getting extremely soggy on the edges of the spray before venturing back up in the elevator to change as much of Anabelle’s clothes (and her rain boots into something far more suitable for walking between countries) as possible. 

We wandered around various top of the falls viewing areas, including one on the oddly named Luna Island. It gets its name, not from the popular Harry Potter character, but from the fact that on certain nights of the year a full Moonbow can be seen in the spray. Frankly if that isn’t conducive to magical spells, I don’t know what is.

We asked several park rangers and were told it would be safe to walk to the aquarium.  Based on their probable inability to put up a fight due to advanced age, we took their word.  While following smartphone directions through the desolate streets, we stopped at the only viable place to fend off a rare instance of Rosa reaching crazy-hungry time before the rest of us. This was exceptionally fortunate as the aquarium was too small to have a cafeteria in it, being the size OF the cafeteria in the Brooklyn Aquarium. 

We went in to the dingy looking visitor center, the one building showing any signs of life. The place consisted of:
An “observation deck” (Translation: the roof)
A “shopping area” (Translation: T-shirt racks in the hallway)
An “International Food Court” (Translation: Chinese, Indian, Pizza, a grill, and four signs on the floor for places that closed) 
However, we were starving again, making the food excellent.

We then made our way into a semi-suburban looking neighborhood which contained the aquarium. Once again, living near New York City spoiled us.  If we didn’t catch the sea lion show complete with the Special Edition Extended Ending (which was a great deal of fun), we would have been through the less than vast exhibits in an hour.  Impressively, and probably due to the proximity of such a large amount of famous fresh water, this is the aquarium that figured out the proper formulation to make artificial sea water.

With three cameras going, we did take a large number of excellent pictures.  Many of the images, we e-mailed off to relatives with various rude comments (e.g. Purple and Yellow fish sent to my Nets Fan family with the caption “GO LAKERS!”)  I got a great shot of a lion fish.  No joke here, but after a lifetime of taking crappy photos in aquariums (as opposed to photos of Crappies in aquariums) I’m allowed to brag.

We followed the smartphone directions back to Canada, which was tricky as the smartphone didn’t know Canada existed. This may explain why it took us past a creepy looking abandoned giant slide thing.  (Or possibly, it was that I didn’t figure out the smartphone directions have different buttons for walking or driving.) We made sure to get back over the border before it even started getting dark. Again, if we saw ANY people, the area would have looked like prime criminal real estate. As empty as it was, we were concerned with the inevitable undead hordes which would rise come nightfall.  In retrospect, we probably should have tried out a couple of Canadian attractions we passed up, instead of spending time hiking across Zombie Apocalypse Land to reach the tiny aquarium. (Even though it was very nice with an amazingly large variety of fish and other creatures that listen to Aquaman.)

After being welcomed back over the Rainbow Bridge by cheerful Canadian border guards, we poked around the duty free shop for a bit.  Finding ourselves not in need of metric tons of perfume, chocolate and alcoholic beverages, we settled for some exchanged currency. I always knew the Canadian dollar was called “The Looney” but didn’t know why. Now I do, there’s a picture of a Loon on the dollar coin.  Neat!  There’s also a two dollar coin nicknamed a “Twoney”.  Upon asking around, the weird looks we got indicated there is, as of yet, no “Threeney”.

We dropped our stuff off in the room, and had to rush to catch Anabelle as she suddenly regained all of her energy. The reason for this surge was that it was time for her promised second round of Dino Golf, which she had been asking for all day, despite the constant proximity to a natural wonder of the world.

The two of us played the back side; title Raptor Run, while Rosa continued the Christmas Card quest.  It was obvious why it was the back side, not counting the various spikes, bumps and limbs that had been snapped off some of the animals.  There must have been a sale on Nodosaurs.  The T-Rex side already had quite a few, but they were more than doubled in the back.  A Mammoth was impressive enough for me to ignore its anachronistic placement. There was also Jurassic Park inspired Dilophosaurs, the local weather having reduced their neck frills to more “lettuce.” 
The Brachiosaur family was awesome and kept me from poking too much fun at what needed to be dubbed the “Whattheheckasaurus.” I have no idea which the target creature was for that construction, but I am fully assured that they missed it.

Rosa and Anabelle tell me there was a very cool/scary looking spider inside the volcano in the center of the courses, but I picked a purple ball that day which blended into the shadows and, while hunting for it, forgot to look up.  If the bats on the other side of the course, and her photo, were any indication, I missed quite a sight. 

Anabelle scored another hole in one, (as did I this time, though I still hit several into the dry river bed, at least I’m consistent.) The side finished up with really impressive looking Dimetrodons, both Anabelle and my favorite mammal like reptile. (Doesn’t everybody have one?)  
 

It was time for our “Fancy Dinner”.  To most people, it would probably count as “Business Casual Dinner” but considering we walked between two countries, fooled around under an insane amount of water, and smacked golf balls among giant prehistoric beasts, that was a fancy as we were getting.

Coupon in hand we worked our way to Kelsey’s from inside the hotel, taking note of our route to allow us to easily find our way back to the room.  After another fabulous dinner, we followed the clearly labeled and helpful sign indicating the direction to the lobby…and got totally, hopelessly, Spinal Tap style lost. 

At least we didn’t have to go outside the second time. I blame some of the lostness on my being distracted by getting over excited about the cool little portable credit card readers they can bring right to the table in restaurants up there.  Apparently this technology is too nifty to allow it to cross the border, as they’ve had it for years, and there’s no sign of us getting them any time soon.

Once we learned that our attraction cards contained two Skywheel rides for each of us, Rosa suggested a similar tactic to the golf plan to get Anabelle and I two more rides, as there was no way on Earth she was going into that thing again.  We took our second night ride which went about the same as the first, with Anabelle going:


“Yeah, yeah, yeah waterfall…


OOH! DINOSAURS!”


Meeting up with Rosa in the Canadian Trade Company afterwards I was able to generate some international laughs.  We got a coin that we didn’t recognize at all, and found out from the cashier that the Canadian Quarter design had changed.  I told her that we were American and therefore a little behind.

She said, “You’re not behind, just misinformed.”

I replied, “I think that’s our national motto.”

The Canadians found that very funny for some reason.

Normally getting a late checkout time in a hotel is a complex convoluted process involving service fees, club memberships and frequent visitor miles.  On a whim the night before we enquired as to the requirements and got the shocking answer of, “What time would you like to leave?”  We figured we’d be hitting the pool with our extended morning time, but went to relax a bit that night too.

The hot tub was exactly what Rosa needed after our cross border adventures.  Anabelle’s swimming and jumping time was a great relief valve for the end of the day.  The kryptonite salts used in the pool still managed to suck all the natural heat out of my body, but the entertainment provided by the drunken hockey team at pool side made up for that. 

The highlight of the show was the guy who was convinced by his friends to try to drink a beer they poured down to him from the balcony.  His buddies then dumped a trash can full of water on his head.  I think that flashback to my dorm life was when the lifeguard gave up. 

Our final night in Canada was filled, once again, with coma like slumber.

On to Day 4

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