Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Watkins Glen State Park

After a great visit with Katherine to Taughannock Falls, I was a wonder at the gorges that riddle through upstate New York.  The region of the great Finger Lakes are carved and divided by gorges with raging waterfalls and walls rising 30-40 metres above your head.  Her university (Cornell), beautifully balanced at the top of a gorge with beautiful views over the lake has amazing ground and even a waterfall that felt to me as if the water was actually coming from underneath the walls of the old buildings.  Apparently they have started to build fences over many of the bridges as there are a few too many either suicidal or stupid students who get up to silly antics over and around the gorges and waterfalls.  Following the short visit to the Falls (they were very impressive Katherine, despite me having just been to Niagara!), she took me to a great local American restaurant – home of the Pineburger and we enjoyed some great food and MORE LOCALLY BREWED BEER! YAY! 


With Katherine trapped in class the next day, CSDV and I set out to the nearby Seneca Lake and Watkins Glen State Park.  On the way we encountered a lovely woman who provided coffee and good conversation at her cafĂ©.  She immediately recognized me as a Queenslander and said that she had studied in Townsville “a long time ago”.  She was lovely – shame I couldn’t say the same for the coffee, but I wasn’t there long before moving on again to the park.


Coming down the hill into the town at the southern tip of Seneca Lake was a sight.  While trying to keep one eye on the twisting road, I looked out over a vast lake – many times smaller than Lake Ontario (which looks like and ocean) on the map, but still very big.  There seemed to be very few sailboats out, but it would have been a lovely day for it.  Some cloud cover, but also plenty of sun to enjoy.


I headed straight to the park, eager to see all of the 19 promoted waterfalls that flow through the gorge.  There were numerous trails you could follow; opting for the “Gorge Trail” right through the heart of the gorge, under waterfalls and close enough to touch the water at points and guaranteed to flood with any volume of rain over either the “Indian” or “South Rim” Trails I really enjoyed seeing the geology that shaped the entire area.  Water seeps through cracks in the rocks all around; the whole area used to be underwater some 400 million years ago, with mud and sand deposited at the bottom forming into solid rock with distinctive layers.  As the sea-waters receded and turned to glaciers, the rocks would break up and erode away.  Now even the glaciers are gone, but the water continues to carve its path through the rock, taking eroded rock debris (and even a railway bridge built in the 1800’s) along with it to deposit into Seneca Lake.  More recently, the massive collision of the African and Atlantic tectonic plates has caused distinguishing “joints” in the rock, the same movement that has forged the Appalachian Mountains.  A straight line right through the gorge wall.


The path through the Gorge Trail was very well maintained, and artfully done.  Rather than detract from the beauty of the gorge itself, I thought that it really contributed to my enjoyment.  It was obviously man-made, but the weaving under waterfalls and proximity to the flowing water was fantastic.  Getting to the end of the trail, it was very peaceful and quiet, I just sat down to enjoy the rush of the water through the many pools and cracks.  I remember wondering why I couldn’t do something as lovely and beautiful as this every day.  The giggle and grin that adorned my face during the visit to Niagara Falls was well and truly back.


I returned via both the Indian and Southern Rim trails – as they crisscrossed over bridges, but I didn’t like it as much.  It was far more peaceful being down in the gorge, by the side of the water, touching and feeling the water coming from the rocks with the walls oppressively towering above me.  I wish I could have spent more time in New York, but next was the great return to Toronto/Oakeville to catch up with the wedding party!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Lady of the Lake

After an amazing experience at Niagara Falls, I polished the evening off with a visit to the local Taps Brewery.  An amazing selection of beer, and being alone, I managed to attach myself to a group of locals to while away a few hours.


The following day was somewhat of a surprise, which I put down to horrible planning, good flexibility and wanton abuse of the free time available to me.  I was originally going to move on quite early from the Niagara Peninsula to hit up Katherine the Killer Ensler down in Ithaca, NY.  However it seems her Law class schedule cares little for Nepali friend reunions and meant she would be unavailable until quite late in the evening.  I facilitated eating quite a serious amount of the free breakfast on offer at my hostel (certainly too much for someone doing a half-marathon in less than a month) and went for a jog to the previously reconnoitered Canada Post shop to send off a flurry of Niagara Falls postcards. 


Vaguely in the plan (as I pondered it over breakfast) was the basic idea that at this point (being the visit to Canada Post) I would have a bicycle which I would then continue with to explore the bikeways to the north of town.  Unfortunately I did not have sufficient currency to see this part of the plan through to fruition and rent a bike from the hostel, therefore I had to make a stop at the ATM, near the post office. 


While already drastically off-plan (I was already about 1.5 hours behind the original schedule), I figured that I may as well investigate the rental car I intended to pick up later in the afternoon.  Dressed quite casually in gear I expected to be jogging and cycling in (i.e. a singlet and shorts) I found the rental car company and after I-knew-it (because the blithering process took an hour and 15) I found myself in St Catharine, 20 minutes drive north of Niagara Falls and further away from the un-rented bicycle than ever and in the possession of n obnoxiously non-miniscule minivan (dubbed the CDSV [Crysler Soccer Dad Van] complete with doors that open just by thinking about it, sun roof, SatNav [aka Satty], and enough space in the back for 2 hockey teams).  Rather than squander further time returning to the hostel and wasting my expensive tenure of CDSV, I decided to investigate the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake.  I had not read good things about the place, I gathered that it was somewhat like a Sovereign Hill without as much entertainment.  Well I have a thing or two to say to those guide books and brochures!


I started out just trying to get to the Lakeshore, to see the southern side of this remarkably over-sized Lake Ontario. However on my way I was interrupted by some interesting things indeed.  Firstly, from the corner of my eye, I spotted a place giving away free maps.  I already had 2 or 3, but an extra couldn’t hurt, so I stopped and stepped inside.  What I found in there was an astoundingly big nostalgia shop.  I did the rounds without finding very much of interest, save the shop itself.  I grabbed my map and was on my way.


I would have driven all of 30 metres when I saw a winery’s cellar door with an inviting sign out the front.  I had been driving through roads side-to-side stacked with grapevines and knew this was somewhat of a wine-growing region.  Naturally, CSDV turned inside.  I had a very enjoyable conversation and tasting of some local wines, and even bought a bottle (d’oh, Katherine and I didn’t drink it!)  This kind of activity continued until we found ourselves downtown.  Unlike Sovereign Hill, where you have to pay to enter the ‘old town’ and enjoy classic toffees, sodas and beers, or archaic shop frontages, this was all immediately accessible to anyone going past.  I stopped and wandered up and down the lovely main Queen St, and stopped for a beer (my weakness) at the oldest pub in town.  Unfortunately my experience of the beer was somewhat sullied by the indifference of the barman, completely un-shaken with my outrageous Australian accent and far less friendly than his countrymen had led me to believe all barmen/Canadians to be.


In bits and bobs I learned some of the history of this here Niagara-on-the-Lake.  A center-point of the War of 1812, something significant happened here involving an American attack.  I learned the details an hour or so later at Fort George.  The Americans attacked and took Fort George in 1813, putting the town to fire and wresting control of the all-important Niagara River from the British.  This was a significant blow as land control in the area was vital in order to move supplies and trade around the dominating Niagara Falls.  What I found fascinating is how the local culture (and if you believe them, the Canadian ) national image grows from this incident.  The defense by the British/Canadians and  American Loyalists of their land was also see as a moment where the Canadian nation was forged. 


I loved every bit of it, standing on the reconstructed battlements staring across the river at Fort Niagara (SO CLOSE, you didn’t need a cannon to get to the other side), the redcoat who gave a musket demonstration, the leftover artillery and home-wares of the locals; I went down to the river too, where one solitary man was fishing, seemingly oblivious, or at least ambivalent to the history around him.


The trip to Katherine’s was arduous, rainy and altogether unexciting, except for the various antics Satty put me through.  She tried to send me through a “important people only” bridge. I was only stopped by common sense and the kind-hearted Canadian Border Patrol officer telling me to go back to the Rainbow Bridge, where I got another beautiful view of both sets of Falls as I crossed over into America.  Satty also sent me through all kinds of back-road pain, but we pulled through, wet, bleary eyed but happy, to Katherine in Ithaca.  What a day!


NB I will load photos tomorrow !

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Falls!

How do I possibly start this post without saying WOW? OOPS, just did. 

What an experience.  It was quite a different one to the Grand Canyon or The Great Wall or the Pyramids.  Perhaps these Great Wonder experiences shouldn’t be compared in this way.  For those others, I sort of had moments where I just stood there, sometimes pointed, but always with a completely dumbstruck or incredulous look on my face. 

This time, I literally was out for a jog, with my camera and I had the intention of having a look and then going back to the hostel to get changed, and change to go back for my real  look.  Well, even the ability that I could just go for a jog, and see this amazing place contributed to my experience of it.  I don’t think I can stress enough just how much of an impact.  They are so accessible, that it is comical.  And so comical, that rather than standing incredulous, I was swaying with a ridiculously comical look on my face.  I didn’t stop grinning for about 4 hours.  Of course, I never made it back to the hostel in that time.

Actually as it happened, I still had no map, so while out on my run on Sunday, I first encountered the tourist district.  It was like one giant big side-show alley.  Complete with greasy smelling food, lame attractions, haunted houses and cheap trinkets.  An entire city built up around these amazing Falls.  I kept running, knowing that the Falls were off to my left, but not exactly sure where.  I did ultimately cut left, only to realize that I had run so far that I was now upstream of them (my hostel was at least a kilometre or two downstream).

From a long way off, you can feel the mist on your face.  The water thrown up by the violent impact at the bottom of the millions of bathtubs of water pouring over the Falls every second.  

The mist is so big that it ascends up above the Falls and was the first thing that I could see as I crested the hill near the Marriot Hotel. I actually had a long way to go down to get to the popular viewing platforms, but so much the better view for it.  

As I wound my way down the streets around the Casino and hotels, in prime position for a wake-up view of the Wonder, I caught glimpses through the trees. 

I could hear it, but it certainly was not the thunder that I was expecting.  I crossed streets and wound my way around hot dog and ice cream stands and then, there I was.  

Directly across the way were The American Falls.  Crashing straight down onto rocks below, how they haven’t been rubbed or washed away over thousands of years I can’t imagine.  They are a straight line on the not-so-distant horizon.  An amazing sight!

Off to the right, are the even more famous Horseshoe Falls.  The semicircular Falls that we all know from a thousand postcards and photographs.  And they were just there, for anyone who happened to be “walking past”. 

There is a boat called the Maid in the Mist that can take you right into the Horseshoe Falls to see them right up close and personal.  It must be a great experience, equally wet and terrifying and powerful.  The cost was not disagreeable, but it certainly seemed like an experience best shared with others (that you like), not something to do on your own.  Not having done it, I think I would still recommend it (hint hint, DJ & Christie!), but I satisfied myself walking around them (just at the very top you could practically reach your hand through the railing and touch the water.  There were no security guards or really anything much to stop the suicidal or stupid from hopping in the water and quite quickly being carried over the drop!

I kept walking upstream and saw the almost 100 year old barge teetering near the top threatening to go over.  I walked through the nearby gardens, a nice respite from the mist rain and the tourists that were everywhere (how dare they).  Upstream, it’s quite a different place altogether. I imagine, if you were to follow the downstream, for the very first time, you would have no idea what you were up for!  A huge crashing waterfall!  FREAKOUT!

Such an experience.  Had I realized just how simple it was, I would have crossed the Rainbow Bridge into the States (just crazy that you could throw a rock across this river and it would suddenly be in another country) and see the American Falls – even just about touch them.  However on Sunday, I thought it was going to be a mammoth bureaucratic experience to get in, I saved that for yesterday.  But that, as Douglas Adams says…is not this story.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

King in the North!

Toronto – from what I saw of it was a pretty amazing place. While I am loath to compare places, it had a very Melbourne-esque vibe (right down to the trams aka streetcars) that was hard to deny. I’m looking forward to exploring it some more later this week.

However, I’ve already moved on, catching a rather unexciting yet somehow infuriating Greyhound from Toronto to Niagara Falls.  I’ll come back to that, because I first must mention how weird it is to be in a place yet not have really seen it yet.  The same happened with my first night in Toronto.  I arrived around 9pm, cleared Immigration and Customs and spent the next hour and a half navigating public transport.  I found the Bus to get me to the Subway and the Subway to get me to the Downtown and the Footpath to get me to the Hostel.  It was late, I wasn’t really sure what time my body thought it was but I think I’d eaten breakfast (I’m just not sure in which timezone).  It’s weird to be at a hostel/sleeping the night away when you have a very limited view of what is around you.  Exhausted and malnourished, rather than fall asleep I did the next logical thing.  I went for a walk.  The streets were dark but I felt remarkably safe, the night was mild and there were plenty of people coming and going and it was great to see the buildings lit up better than the footpath in the night.

The infuriating Greyhound came after a day of planning and exploring.  With no apparent accommodation available (in my price range) in the entire city, the obvious course of action appeared to be to fast-forward my plans to go and visit the Killer and the Rorminator in upstate New York.  Only, I hadn’t been able to raise either by email, I have no mobile phone number and it wouldn’t do me any good anyway, as I don’t have a number to call them on.  Saturday morning, isn’t always the best time to be making plans as both myself and other move very slowly.  I decided to go ahead and head to Niagara regardless, and hope things picked up, within moments of making that decision, Killer & Evan both came online and it seemed like this plan was going to fit into everyone’s schedules. 

With a much more solid 24 hour plan in place, i.e. accommodation, a bus timetable and a generally framed destination/timeline for getting there I went to visit the Steam Whistle Brewery.  They ‘do one thing and do it well’ allegedly, and I would find it difficult to disagree.  The tour was good fun, and they appear to be a very green (in both senses of the word) company.  Their recycling and power usage stories are quite fascinating and their reasons for having a single type of beer (a Pilsner) quite logical, at least the way they were presented on the tour.  They buy their heating from “Bullfrog” which apparently means that it’s clean, and get their cooling from Deep Lake water.  There are piped going below the surface of Lake Ontario that apparently provide incredible cooling powers, meaning no air-conditioning is required in the building/brewing process.

I followed that up with a visit to the Baseball Park, where I could admire the gigantic CN tower and the Roundhouse Park – a decommissioned roundhouse using for services steam engine trains, Thomas the Tank Engine-style.

The bus was infuriating because the driver seemed to have no appreciation of the need for a customer to know when he would arrive at his destination.  Constant demands were made of him as to where we had just stopped and how long to the next destination (at least if he wasn’t going to mention where it was).  He reacted quite negatively to this – odd, when all he needed to do was announce over the speaker and everyone would have left him alone. 

Regardless, I made it to Niagara Falls and once again put in a solid effort in finding the hostel, settling in, and then realizing that I really could be anywhere, and if I truly was in Niagara Falls, then I should surely be able to hear or see something to prove it.  Marching out without a map, in the wrong direction after ignoring advice from a Frenchman to turn right and then right again, I got a bit lost.  As we know, I find backtracking to be a tiresome exercise, so I pressed on.  I listened to the river rage below, and rage it did.  50-100m below me you could just work out the speeding white rapids.  I wandered cluelessly through neighbourhoods, following the bright lights to what I assumed to be downtown.  The lights actually represented the tourist district, and I never made it there, or downtown, but sort of slipped right in between them both.  I felt better though, having a general idea of the lay of the land.  And that brinigs me to here, needless to say, I’m off to see the Falls, before I get on with more planning and more randomly self-infuriating adventures!!!