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 !

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