Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Long weekend, long roadtrip!

Last weekend in America it was the Memorial Day Weekend. Pretty much the same as our Anzac day, it's a day to remember the troops that have been, and are fighting overseas for the country. For the civilian population, it's a day off, so with a long weekend we decided to take a short trip out of the city, to Niagara Falls. Unfortunately with Deb's internship schedule still TBA until the very last minute, we had to rent a car from Newark Airport. It ended up cheaper, as in the city they typically wanted $350+ for the two days we wanted to rent, but renting from the airport cost us $180ish. The downside was much more hassle than just taking a subway over to a rental station.
We had to take a subway to Penn. Station,
then we had to catch an Amtrak to Newark Airport,
and THEN we had to catch an Airtrain to the parking complex where our car was waiting for us.

Overcoming this first hurdle, we arrived at the Enterprise Rent-A-Car station about an hour late because of the Sunday schedule Amtrak was operating on. We had reserved an intermediate car, but they overbooked so they bumped us up to a "standard". Unfortunately there wasn't much choice in this category, with the only no-cost option being a Chrysler 200. It was a wholly unmemorable car in that it did no more than be a car. Although it had a relatively large 4 cylinder, it was tasked with dragging about 1.5tonnes of kerb weight, so it was also quite thirsty. Some noticeable aspects of the car are that it had huge wheels for its size, and a huge boot to boot. It also pulled off the feat of dwarfing a 3-series on the outside, while perplexingly having no more room on the inside as I remember 3 series' have. This is what you get when you try to improve on the pariah of Rental cars, the Chrysler Sebring, as no matter how much you dress up a mince pie, deep down inside, it's still horse toe nails and cow tails.

Anyway, enough about the car that even I'm not interested in, more about the trip. We decided to make it a road trip because we thought it would be nice to be able to stop at places along the way. As we only had two days, we made it one stop. The Corning Museum of Glass, which was about 4 hours out of Manhattan. It was a wonderful mix of Powerhouse, Art, and History Museum, in one giant glossy building, with about the largest souvenir store of any museum that I know of. If you are ever in the neighborhood I really recommend it as it's a fun way to spend a day with the family.

There were glass blowing demonstrations in the open air,

glass sculpting demonstrations on the inside,


glass breaking demonstrations,

models illustrating the production of glass,

weird interactive exhibits,

where if you spoke quietly on one side of the "egg", even with lots of ambient noise, the person on the other side, about 10m away could hear you clearly

glass as art,

glass in history, here you see Chinese opium flasks,

more glass as art, this was actually available in the store for purchase,

And scary sculptures in the lobby,

We knew we were pressed for time, so tried to get through it all as quickly as possible, we spent 2 and a half rushed hours inside, still having skipped most of the Art exhibits because it was getting late. By the time we left the museum it was 5:30ish and we still had a 3 hour drive ahead.

After a small detour trying to avoid a toll that unbeknownst to Google Maps was actually unavoidable, we eventually arrived at our lodging for the night on the Canadian side of the falls. As it was so late we headed out to get some food before exploring the falls. We settled on an Italian restaurant named Bravo! Pizzeria and Grill (see Deb's Yelp review here), that was open well into Sunday night, accepting our reservation for two at 10:30 at night.

It was quaintly decorated and we were served by probably the most friendly waiter this side of the equator. As I said, it was late Sunday night, so it was very quiet,

very rustic and vintage inspired decoration,

filled with pretty lighting,

The price of the food was average, but the portions were quite hearty, we had a duck poutine, which was essentially shredded duck, with french fries in gravy, a prosciutto and rocket pizza, and a seafood linguine. All in all a very satisfying meal after a hard day's drive.

So having filled up our own fuel tanks, we had a short walk to see the falls bathed in moonlight. On the walk down we actually crossed paths with a skunk, I was too bewildered to take a decent photo of it, but it came out of a small park, crossed the road, and disappeared into the rock wall on the other side.

Upon arriving at the dimly lit falls with a point and shoot at our disposal, this was pretty much the best photo we could manage. Pretty good for a combination of rudimentary knowledge of camera technique and humble equipment.

Fast forward to a very well earned night of sleep, and a peaceful one since we didn't have a certain cheeky feline keeping us up, we woke up early to catch the falls at sunrise, to hopefully catch them at their prettiest, and beat the crowds.

What spoiled what was otherwise a very beautiful scene was the horrid commercialisation of the falls. And while this eyesore that Deb is pointing is funnily enough on the American side, it was probably the Canadian side that is probably the worst offender when it comes to exploiting the falls.

we tried to enjoy it in spite of the rampant comercialisation,

cue wistful photo,

I may not have caught that skunk, but I caught a squirrel... on camera...

the horseshoe falls,

 the American and bridal veil falls, (the larger and the smaller one respectively, seriously, that tiny one on the right, don't ask me why it isn't all just the American Falls.)

an attempt at a photo composed in an artsy way,

the falls throw up enough mist to make it constantly sprinkling at the side of the falls,

obligatory meta photo of people taking photos,

walking as far up the side of the falls as possible, you can get so close to them that they're running pretty much under your feet.

tourist-ey happy snap,

After our sunrise stroll on the Canadian side of the falls, we went back to the hotel for a quick nap, and after that made our way over to the American side of the falls. It's probably worth explaining that the Canadian side of the falls is vaguely reminiscent of a very crappy Las Vegas, or more appropriately a crappy Atlantic City, complete with a Casino and main street that doesn't seem to want to allow the rest of the neighbourhood any peace. We were walking back at about midnight and still people were out and about. This left a bit of a sour taste in our mouths, Deb because she was just disappointed at the sheer incongruence of natural beauty and tacky commerciality, and me because pop culture had always portrayed the Canadian falls as far more homely and quaint. Pop culture lead us astray? No... never...

ANYWAY, we slept in a little more than we wanted, we couldn't physically make it out the door until about 10:30 in the morning, we had hoped to stop at Howe Caverns on the way back, a similar halfway house to the glass museum, but being pressed for time, settled instead for a wander around the American side of the falls. We were glad we did, because as much as we were disappointed with the Canadian falls, the American side was much more of a pleasant surprise.

The way you are introduced to the falls on the American side is by a very pretty public park, being a public holiday, lots of people is probably par for course,

you could get up very close to the rapids leading up to the falls,

looky-loo over at the Maid of the Mists departing with their blue penguins,

this is your view of the American falls, and Horseshoe falls off in the distance,


an observation deck for you to walk out on, a snip at $1 for entry,

a picture of us out on the deck,

the view you get from the deck,

seen from the observation deck, Rainbow bridge (just like Tokyo?!) the only way you struggle back into America,

for the price of admission you can also ride an elevator down to the foot of the falls,

looking silly is purely optional, spray from the falls drenching you can be mandatory to non-existent, depends on the wind's mood, 

another helpful tourist helping us take a photo up at the American falls,


as you can see, there were plenty of tourists...

shot of the falls, slightly more withdrawn,

Overall, I don't think I need to tell you that this is a worthwhile trip to take if you're on the continent, the falls themselves are amazing, breathtaking, awesome and unfathomable all at the same time, just adjust your expectation of the surroundings accordingly. Do what we didn't, stay on the American side, spend most of your day in the park, pay the dollar to go on the observation deck and down to the foot of the falls as it's well worth it, and make a day trip out to the Canadian side because while the atmosphere of the American side is better, the views on the Canadian side are not to be missed. 

If you like the idea of a road trip, give yourself an extra day, make a tourist stop on the way up, go spend a day at the falls, then come back with a tourist stop in between. A good way to break up the drudgery of what is about a 9 hour journey start to finish. This way you get a well rounded holiday experience.

So that was pretty much our adventure out at Niagara falls, the drive home was long, but largely uneventful, one detour because we missed some directions, and a massive detour trying to find fuel to fill up the car, unless you have patience in reserve, or hair to spare to tear out, I recommend against renting a car at Newark airport if you can get it, we would eventually arrive home at 10:30 at night.
Home to a bed covered in cat hair, and some very empty stomachs, the cat's included, somehow he's always hungry and bugging us for food no matter what time of the day it is. As long as he hears fussing in the kitchen, he thinks there's food.

I don't get any instant noodles? You're getting extra hair in the bed tonight while you sleep...

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