Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The Great Canadian Roadtrip


People who haven't heard about the whole tree-on-the-house saga (and that's only about three people in our small town, where news travels fast), have been asking me if we had a good vacation. I've got a bit tired of explaining that yes, it was lovely until our house was destroyed by a giant oak, so I just smile now and say 'yes'.

And it really was lovely, so it seems a shame not to talk about it a bit here, just because the second week was ever so slightly ruined. Rather than write the whole holiday off as a time of stress and worry, I'd like to remember the good parts, and there were plenty of them.

First of all, Niagara Falls was spectacular. Not the town itself, I hasten to add - that is a hodpodge of overpriced hotels, overpriced restaurants (the most expensive meal we had in Canada was in an mediocre steakhouse there), random tourist attractions not related to the waterfall and rather seedy casinos. Everyone had warned us it was tacky, and it was. Although the part of town lower down, near the Falls, is quite pretty, with a very English looking esplanade all planted up with flowers, and a funicular railway. So overall the impression is of a weird mixture of Bournemouth, Disney and Las Vegas.

But the waterfalls themselves- both the famous Canadian Horseshoe Falls and the smaller, but nonetheless dramatic, American Falls themselves are something else. What I hadn't appreciated from photos and films was that there is a huge, swirling cloud of mist that lingers over the Falls, so great is the volume of water constantly raining down from them. It looks like the devil's cauldron, and the air around it is constantly damp with spray, like being in an enormous steam room.



Niagara Parks have done their utmost to make sure you get to see the Falls from every angle possible. There's the Maid of the Mist boat ride (where you get extremely wet). The Journey Behind the Falls, where you go down in a lift and see the Falls from tunnels carved into the rocks behind (you get a bit wet). The completely fake one (Niagara's Fury, I think it's called) where you stand in a sealed room and watch a "4D" video of the Falls, and they throw water on you (you get fairly wet). The latter was a bit silly, but the first two were fantastic, as was the walk along the White Water rapids (Littleboy 1 loved this so much that he announced he wanted to live in Canada).

If you want to escape from Niagara's tackiness, you can drive to Niagara-on-the-Lake, a pretty little town a few kilometres downstream and with a slightly classier clientele than the Falls itself. There, we managed to find a decent meal that didn't cost the earth, and drive down to Lake Ontario for a sunset view of distant Toronto.

After Niagara, we drove to the other end of Lake Ontario and stayed in a little cabin on a campsite. This was a brilliant plan. All the benefits of the campsite - activities for the kids, al fresco meals - but, importantly for me, No Tent (I am not really a fan of nights under canvas). The boys, who seemed to have very set ideas about camping, delighted in having a campfire every night and toasting marshmallows. Every night, they showed an outdoor film on a big screen just across the field from our cabin. They would walk off into the darkness and watch Toy Story 3 or something, while we drank our wine under starry skies. It was great (well, except for the times they ran back saying they were scared, which was pretty much every night).



Here, we experienced more fabulous Canadian scenery. It's all about water, really. The St Lawrence River and its Thousand Islands (where you'd probably pay several thousand million to buy a private home). The Rideau Canal, wooded and pretty and looking a little like the Thames. Lake Ontario itself, as wide as a sea and particularly attractive from the Sandbanks Park, where you can walk along an endless white beach and swim off the dunes in clean, fresh lake water.



After that, we moved on to Ottawa and Montreal, and although that part of the holiday was, well, marred by the Tree Incident, I did appreciate what rather lovely cities these were. Montreal in particular; how wonderful to be able to sit down for a croque monsieur lunch in North America, order in French and feel as if you were in Paris. The children loved the 'Biodome', an ecological park where you experience four ecosystems under one huge dome and see otters, penguins and other cute animals. They even enjoyed climbing up the 410 steps to the top of Mont Royal, the mountain after which the city is named - we made counting the steps into a game.



So would we go back to Canada? Definitely. Littleboy 1 in particular is a big fan, and not just because of the rapids in the Niagara river. Canada appealed to his love of activity, of Big Nature and the outdoors . He's announced that when he's grown up, he's going back there with his own kids, for At Least Two Years.

We might have to join him.

10 comments:

Knackered Mother said...

Absolutely love the idea of the cabin on a campsite! Now that sounds like the sort of camping I could cope with...

Paradise Lost In Translation said...

Oh yes! My parents loved Canada & lived out there for the 1st 4 years of their married life. Went by boat of course! They only came back cos they wanted to have 'English kids' & give us a British education. Maybe it was bette rin those days..?? My sister lived out there for 7 years, in Simcoe, south of Toronto. She loved it for all the reasons Littleboy 1 loves it. She still misses it even though she's been back 10 years!

Paradise Lost In Translation said...

The education I mean, (being better) not Canada.

Nota Bene said...

Sounds wonderful....if somewhat wet....

Michelloui | The American Resident said...

I LOVE the sounds of this trip, this is just my sort of holiday!

And well done on Niagara--I am always feeling a little inadequate when meeting a Brit for the first time and they tell me about their experiences travelling to the States (usually disney, but sometimes somewhere like Niagra0 and they ask 'have you been to Niagara Falls?' No, I say, apologetically. It's not even completely American.

I would love to visit Montreal one day.

PS Meant to say on a prev post, glad you're settled into your new home.

MsCaroline said...

I have never been to Niagara Falls, but have been to Montreal, a city I simply love... It all looks wonderful, especially the cabin. My boys would have loved that. In fact, they probably still would. I can't imagine how difficult it must have been to concentrate on enjoying the vacation when you were wondering what awaited you back home. Well done on living 'in the now.'

Home Office Mum said...

sounds lovely - specially the non-camping bit

nappy valley girl said...

KM - It really was ideal. You could take a proper shower, sleep on a proper bed, and not have to go outside to pee in the middle of the night (my bete noire). Would highly recommend.

PLIT - I know what they meant about having English kids. And, much as I liked Canada in the summer, I think the winters are tough. Other than that, I would be tempted to move there (and The Doctor could actually practise medicine there too).

NB - Ah but, the getting wet was all part of the fun...

Michelloui - don't worry, most New Yorkers I know haven't been to Niagara either! It doesn't help that it's an 8 hour drive. And the New York side is not very nice, by all accounts - very seedy and run down. Everyone goes to the Canadian side.

HOM - glad you agree!

Iota said...

Glad you recorded your holiday, because yes, it looks like there was lots to say about it, apart from the tree.

All that SPACE. That's what I think of when I think of Canada.

салат нежность said...

very beautiful pictures :)