A town called Patty…

31 07 2010

Not really, but we did meet one of the biggest legends of the entire trip in this particular city. I am of course talking about Niagara Falls (Ontario), and our wonderful hostel owner, Patrick. What a guy!

For those of you who’ve never attempted it, carrying 20kg backpacks (plus hand luggage) isn’t most people’s idea of a fun, relaxing holiday. Surprise, surprise, it isn’t! It’s hard work. I’m surprised my shoulders and hips haven’t sustained permanent damage. Oh well, at least I have guns of steel. Get your tickets, people…

I digress. We had just hauled these backpacks up 2 flights of stairs, to be greeted by one of the most cheerful people I’ve come across since arriving on this continent. Patrick, an absolute unit, sort of reminded me of a long-haired Canadian version of the BFG. After giving us the most comprehensive introduction to any city I’d ever been to in my life, he gave us the keys to our dorm, which was to remain private for the duration of our stay. It was by far the cheapest hostel we’ve stayed in – at approximately $12 per night it was an absolute steal – and it was also one of the best hostel atmospheres. We could hang out with people if we were feeling sociable, or we could relax by ourselves if we weren’t. The breakfasts were INCREDIBLE – Patrick bakes muffins every morning, with blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and chocolate chips. I’ve never had muffins that tasty in my whole life. This is on top of the tea, coffee, oatmeal, muesli bars, fruit and yoghurt that was all provided free of charge. Amazing.

The floral clock

Floral Clock, Niagara

Niagara Falls itself is beautiful – particularly Horseshoe Falls, but the city centre has been ravaged by the tourism industry. Horrible gimmicky stores line the streets – haunted houses, Ripley’s Believe it or Not museums, arcades, mini golf, and all that Canadian junk food has to offer. The Niagara region on the other hand, is stunning. One of those idyllic areas of the country with lots of greenery, lots of flowers, lots of beautiful big houses – it’s wonderful. We did the ‘disorganised-organised’ tour with another Australian couple – it basically involved setting a price with a cabbie, who drove us around to a bunch of the major spots in Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake (where a lot of the wineries live). We saw the floral clock, which has a new pattern each year, the whirlpool (which looked much less ‘whirly’ than I’d imagined, but still treacherous water nonetheless), visited Lake Ontario and a couple of wineries. Our unofficial guide was surprisingly knowledgeable about the area, which made it seem much more authentic. Of course, we tried the famous ‘Ice Wine’ – which is quite unlike anything I’ve ever tried before. Ridiculously sweet, almost like drinking a much nicer flavoured honey (no, I don’t like honey).

We visited The Keg Steakhouse for dinner, which turned out to be AWESOME. The restaurant is on the 9th floor of the Embassy Suites hotel,

Still mooing...

Now THAT'S a steak!

 which sits right next to Horseshoe Falls. Patrick told us that we should order a steak to share, and that they’d bring us out a bigger salad, extra sides and an extra baked potato for free. He wasn’t wrong – one of the best tips ever! The steak was expensive, but it was melt-in-your-mouth prime rib that tasted a-ma-zing, so it was worth it. Plus, we asked for a seat overlooking the falls, and it was one of the nicest views I’ve ever had while eating dinner. Awesome stuff. It’s nice to treat yourself every now and again.

We of course did a few of the obligatory crap touristy things – seeing the falls ‘light up’ at night (tacky, tacky, tacky), and the ‘Journey Behind the Falls’. They made it seem as though Journey was like a guided tour where they take you behind the falls and talk to you about stuff. It isn’t. They take you down in a lift, give you a poncho, and then send you off into a tunnel with 50 million other people. You walk out to the end of the tunnel, which takes you onto a balcony where you get very wet while looking up at the side of Horseshoe Falls. Then you follow the tunnel around, to see a person-sized opening where the water is gushing over the falls. Then, a little further along, is another opening showing (guess what) EXACTLY THE SAME THING. Yes, it’s furious, yes it’s quite awe-inspiring thinking about how much water is going past the tunnel opening, but is it worth $12? Hell, no.

One thing that WAS worth its $12 admission fee was the Maid of the Mist. Being massive fans of the Office, we knew this was the setting for Jim and Pam’s wedding, so we were interested to see what it would have been like. Nigh on impossible! It was so windy from the falls that you really had to hold onto your (classy) blue poncho to stop it flying away, and it was WET. Not just a little spray of water on your face, but actual, swimming in your clothes kind of wet. Going past the American Falls (the less-exciting side), it was pretty wet, but we knew it was going to get a whole lot worse, as the boat goes right into Horseshoe Falls, and stays there for about 10 minutes, so you get properly soaked. Couldn’t hear a damn thing that was being said over the loudspeaker, apparently it was telling the stories of all the people who’ve gone over the falls (either in barrels – by choice – or by accident).  I believe 16 people have done it on purpose, and 11 have survived. Those aren’t really odds that would inspire me to have a crack at it to be honest.

Maid of the Mist

Swimming in your clothes

Anyway. I’ve been left with very fond memories of this place. I’d go back in a heartbeat, and I definitely wouldn’t stay anywhere else. ACBB Hostel is where it’s at, people.




2 responses

2 09 2010

Hi Mark and Chloe,
Just found your blog. Thanks for the mention and the props. As you found out, there are two sides of Niagara to discover the “typical , schlocky, tacky tourist side and the untamed beauty that is easily found here in Niagara. Three days is about right in the summer and two days in the majestic winter season when the natural forces of nature overwhelm everything and really put the emphasis on the truly Canadian experience. Thanks very much for mentioning us on your blog and thanks again for staying with us.

See you next time ’round

3 10 2010

Thanks so much Patrick, we had a wonderful time 🙂 We’ll be sure to recommend you to anyone going to Niagara, and I definitely hope to see you again!

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