I love planning trips. Something about poring over maps, checking destinations on the internet, and leafing through travel brochures excites me. I get to forget about my job, cleaning the house, and whatever else I'm doing for a little while, and I get transported to places all over the world.
In early 2002, the time to choose a summer vacation destination rolled around. Crystal and I thought about going to the Ozarks in Arkansas, the Outer Banks in North Carolina, and the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. Then we thought about Niagara Falls. We both love waterfalls. We both wanted to leave the country. I started poring over maps, travel brochures, and internet articles. We decided to make a big loop through Ontario: Niagara Falls, Toronto, and the Bruce Peninsula.
Crystal, Stewart and I headed north toward Canada on June 29, 2002. We drove through Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio; Erie, Pennsylvania; and Buffalo, New York on the way to Niagara Falls. Our first stop was at Niagara Falls State Park on the New York side of Niagara Falls. We parked the car and walked down to the falls. The view of Horseshoe Falls (the part of Niagara on the Canadian side) was pretty decent. I was amazed by the sheer volume of water pouring over the cliff. Once we had taken a few pictures, we headed back to the car.
We crossed the border into Canada at Rainbow Bridge. I had never been out of the country before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. Getting through customs was a piece of cake. The customs official asked who we were, what we were doing, and if I had any firearms. Then he waved us through without even searching the car.
We proceeded to the Niagara Glenview Tent and Trailer Park, where we had tent camping reservations for the next two nights. I was a little bit shocked because am used to staying in spacious government campgrounds. This campground was anything but spacious. We were basically given a few square feet in the middle of an old orchard. One of the main tourist highways was just a few feet from our tent; it was pretty noisy. However, it was a (sort of) cheap place to sleep, and it was the only campground in the area that wasn't full for the weekend, so we made camp. As it turned out, it wasn't too bad at all. It was just a little crowded for my taste.
We spent the next day acting like most of the other tourists at Niagara Falls. We started by riding the Spanish Aero car, an attraction that takes visitors across the Niagara River where it makes a ninety-degree turn upstream from the falls. The turn in the river creates a huge whirlpool. This ride was interesting, but it was much less exciting than the things we did later in the day.
After we left the Aero Car, we took a ride on the Maid of the Mist, a boat that travels to the base of both American Falls and Horseshoe Falls. We were issued blue raincoats and herded onto the boat. We pulled away from the dock and went to American Falls. We got a bit wet and continued on to Horsheshoe Falls. It was like being in the middle of a torrential downpour. We were wearing blue ponchos that were provided by the company who runs the boat rides, and we still got pretty wet since we weren't wearing the hoods. The volume of water coming over the falls is controlled by the power plants, and there was a huge amount of water being released when we were there. Being so close to the spray made me feel like I was truly experiencing the falls.
We left the boat and purchased tickets for the Journey Behind the Falls. Our journey was not scheduled to begin for a couple of hours, so we walked up the street to find somewhere to eat supper. Along the way, we stopped to shoot some video and pictures of the sunset light on the falls and the rainbow in front of the falls. We ended up at the Victoria Park Restaurant. This was a charming little café with tables overlooking the waterfall. We ate our supper listening to the roar of the falls and occasionally feeling the mist that boiled up from the falls.
After dinner, we walked back down the street to take our Journey Behind the Falls. This attraction sent us down an elevator to the base of Horseshoe Falls. This time we were given yellow raincoats to guard us against the spray. When we emerged from the tunnel, we were standing right next to the thundering torrent of water. It was like being in the middle of a rainstorm all over again. We marveled at the falling river, and then walked backed into the tunnel. We took a left, and there we found three openings directly behind the falls. We could see nothing but sheets of water crashing down over the precipice. That ended our Journey Behind the Falls.
A local business shoots fireworks over the falls most summer evenings. I wanted to take pictures of the fireworks, so I left Stewart and Crystal to enjoy the falls while I took the People Mover back to the campsite to pick up some of my camera gear that I had forgotten to drop into my day pack. The traffic was horrendous because of the holiday weekend, and I just barely made it back for the fireworks. I finally spotted Stewart and Crystal just as the show started. After the fireworks, I took some pictures of the falls lighted by spotlights, and we hopped the people mover back to the campground. The problem was, the bus that we got on was headed in the wrong direction. We ended up being transferred to a van that finally took us back to the campground.
We woke up the next morning, packed up our gear, and headed toward Toronto. We drove past a lot of vineyards and soon entered the city of Toronto. The most obvious feature was the C.N. Tower, with its sharp top that pierced the sky. We drove through town and located our hotel. We checked in and then drove back downtown to see some of the attractions. Our first destination was Casa Loma. We got there and found, to our great disappointment, that the castle had closed for tours for the day about fifteen minutes earlier. We hopped back on the subway and got off at the stop for the Royal Ontario Museum. The museum was running a special exhibition of the art from the Vatican. We bought tickets and went inside. The Vatican collection was extremely impressive. It consisted of paintings, sculptures, tapestries, and old Bibles, and it focused on biblical themes.
After we had finished perusing the museum, we walked through Victoria Park, where we found some black squirrels and the Parliament Buildings. We relaxed a bit there, and then got back on the subway to go to the C.N. Tower, where we had dinner reservations. An elevator shot us over a thousand feet into the air to the viewing platform. The elevator was glass and on the outside of the tower. I was beginning to experience some vertigo before we finally stopped. My queasiness went away as we stepped out of the elevator onto the viewing platform. The tower gave us panoramic but hazy views of Lake Ontario and the city of Toronto. We got back up the elevator and went up to 360°, the revolving restaurant in the tower. We sat back to relax and enjoy our meal while we watched the sunset and the ever-changing view from our table. The chicken and vegetable dish that I ordered was superb. The chicken was tender and superbly flavored, and the vegetables tasted fresh even though it was early enough that no local vegetables were in season. Dessert was tiramasu with an ice cream that was so rich it could have only been made with pure cream. After dessert, which we ate as we satched the sunset from our thousand foot high seats, we went back down to the viewing platform so we could see the Canada Day fireworks. Once those were over, we drove back to the hotel for the night.
The next morning, we packed up and went to the Ontario Science Centre. The first exhibit we saw was a collection of huge robots built to look and act like insects. Next, we went to a reptile show given by a local reptile zoo. We were shown a snake, tortoise, and other reptiles. I was beginning to get a bit worried that this museum was totally geared toward children and that I would get very bored before we got finished. We moved downstairs to the space exhibit. This was basically the history of space exploration shown through pictures and hands-on exhibits. Next, we moved to the athletic exhibits. This part of the centre totally banished my boredom. It was full of interactive exhibits like a radar gun for measuring the speed of thrown baseballs, a machine to test reflexes, and a device to test balance. We had a lot of fun playing around. Our next stop was the cafeteria for hot dogs, chips, and sodas for lunch. The last exhibit we visited was the food exhibit. This constisted of information about food around the world and an excercise that told us how healthy our typical meals are and things that we need to do to improve our food choices. We could have spend more time in the museum, but it was starting to get late, so we headed out to the car and drove out of Toronto.
From Toronto, we headed across Ontario to our next destination: the Bruce Peninsula. The scenery was quite beautiful. We drove through rolling hills blanketed by farmer's fields. We passed through several small towns, the most charming of which was on the tip of the Georgian Bay. In another little town, we discovered some wonderful Cadbury chocolate bars that are not sold in the United States and indulged in a few of those.
Late that afternoon, we arrived at the Cyprus Lake Campground in the Bruce Peninsula National Park. We found our campsite and starting setting up camp. This campground was a stark contrast to the campground we called home while we were at Niagara Falls. One of the first things that I noticed was how utterly quiet it was. There was absolutely no sound: no wind, no birds, no people talking. It was erie. The sites were large and private. The campground was nearly full, but you would have never been able to tell from the noise level.
The next day, we decided that we wanted to go canoeing. We found an outfitter called Tobermory Adventure Tours where we rented a canoe. We carried the boat to the edge of the water, climbed in, pushed off with our paddles, and promptly capsized. I was embarrassed, but we dumped the water out and tried again. This time we managed to stay in the boat and started paddling around the coast. We had a few more scary moments when the wake from some of the larger boats on the lake nearly caught us broadside, but we soon got the hang of paddling into the waves. Everything went well until I decided that I would step out of the boat onto a rock and pull the boat to shore to escape some incoming waves. I stepped out of the boat, but the rock wasn't where I thought it was. I landed on the curved, slick edge of the rock and fell into the water, taking the boat and its contents -- my wife and nephew -- along with me. Crystal almost broke her ankle, but other than that we were fine. We dragged the canoe to shore for the second time in just a couple of hours to empty it of water. We paddled a little further down the coast and then noticed some storm clouds forming, so we turned around. By this time, Stewart and I had gotten the hang of the boat, so we flew back down the shoreline. Before long, we made it back to our launch point safe, sound, and dry. We turned in our boat and headed back to the campsite.
That night, it rained a bit, so we drove back to Tobermory to find a restaurant for dinner. We chose Craigie's Harbourview Restaurant. The food was good but not superb, and the management was tight fisted with money to an extreme. We didn't get ice in our water until we specifically requested it, and we overheard one of the waiters tell a customer who had waited far to long for food that he would have to pay for the meal out of his pocket if the customer walked out.
The next day we did what I had been looking forward to the entire trip: we went hiking. We followed the Georgian Bay Trail and then the Bruce Trail to the Georgian Bay. The view was breathtaking. I have seen many pictures of the Caribbean during my life. In those pictures, the water is blue or green and crystal clear. The waters of the Georgian Bay were a lot like those pictures of the Carribean. The water was not as clear, but they were a pristine blue-green. We swam in the refreshing waters for quite a while that morning. We followed the trail along the coast for a few tenths of a mile, where we turned back toward the campground on the Marr Lake Trail. The stretch of the Bruce Trail along the coast was pretty rugged. We were jumping down rocks for much of the distance.
Friday was the last day of our trip as we had to have Stewart at church the next morning for a trip he was going on. We made the drive back to Kentucky in one day. It took us about thirteen hours. We roughly followed the Eastern shore of Lake Huron down to Detroit. The trip through customs going back into the United States was almost as easy as the one into Canada. The agent looked through our trunk and waved us through. We continued through Toledo, Dayton, and Cincinnati. We arrived back in Wilmore that night having immensely enjoyed our vacation.