This being our 20th anniversary year, we decided to splurge on a vacation with a little more scope than just visiting New York City or Chicago or a city with a knitting convention (that would be last year's trip to Portland, Oregon). There's nothing wrong with any of those cities--New York is infinitely visitable, and even though we've been to Chicago four times in the past 10 years, we've pretty much covered the same ground there each time: the Loop, the shopping mile, Millennium Park, etc., so I know we could expand our vistas there.
But twenty years seemed to call at least for something different. Our first plan was a train trip; Don has always wanted to do one of those journeys where you go through the Western National Parks, but those are hugely expensive. Instead, we decided on a Northern trip, at least as far north as I could get excited about going: Canada. We (OK, Don and a travel agent) planned an eight-day trip that involved 1) driving from Columbus to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls; 2) 2 nights at Niagara; 3) leaving the car in Niagara and taking a train to Toronto for 3 nights; 4) taking a train to Stratford for 2 nights for the Shakespeare Festival; 5) train back to Toronto, bus to Niagara, drive home. (BTW, the picture above is of us a few years ago on a plane, but trust me, we still look exactly the same ;-)
I've never been out of the country except for a couple of day trips from Tucson to Nogales, Mexico when I was 10 years old, and this called for my first passport, which made me feel so grown-up. We bought a Toronto travel guide, did some minimal planning for sightseeing and shopping (books for both of us, yarn for Don), and got tickets for two shows at Stratford. And we're off...
Six-hour drive to Niagara with a Google Maps printout, a road atlas, and a borrowed GPS that was nothing short of fabulous. Smooth drive, with a bumpy patch at the Peace Bridge at the Canadian border (see above); traffic lanes were poorly marked, resulting in us being in a lane that wasn't really a lane. But we got through it and got to our hotel, the Tower Hotel at Fallsview, around dinnertime. Our room on the 27th floor (the tower is mostly empty, with only four floors of rooms, 27-30) had a kind of sideways view of the American Falls, but the view from the 26th floor observation deck was a knockout.
We took the Vertical Railway down to Table Rock at the falls (pictured above), and spent some time taking in the truly majestic sight of the mighty falls. The constant roaring of the falls and the constant presence of mist in the area were both easy to get used to. Table Rock had lots of gift shops, slightly more upscale than Don was expecting--he's a big fan of the TV show Wonderfalls, which was set at a rather kitschy shop. A friend of mine from the library requested one of those pressed pennies that you can get at arcades, and since I'm always thinking of others, that was the first thing I did.
We strolled along the Canadian side and took some pictures--that's Don to the left, with the permanent Falls rainbow behind him--then had dinner at My Cousin Vinny's, a pleasant Italian restaurant which is apparently a chain, though I'd never heard of it. Had a good Italian beer, Birra Moretti. This was the first of the increasingly expensive and mediocre meals we had in Niagara Falls. Yeah, it's a tourist trap and I should have expected this outcome. Meals that we could have had for 45-60 bucks in Columbus (including cocktails and sometimes a dessert) were 60-80 bucks or more in Niagara Falls, and the food was completely undistinguished--not exactly bad but not worth the price. If we do Niagara again, I would plan to either eat fast food the whole time, or cut to the chase and go to the fancy-fancy places. Days 2-7 coming up...