Niagara Falls: The Great Falls

So the last month has been pretty crazy for me. Not only has work been busy but I’ve also had two people from abroad come visit me. As a result, I feel like I’ve always been doing something or going somewhere.

I’ve noticed that when a lot of people from outside North America think of Canada, they think of two things: Quebec and Niagara Falls. So, when my friends came to visit Toronto, it was natural that they wanted to go check out Niagara Falls.

Considering how it’s only a two hour drive from my house, it’s not terribly far which meant that I ended up going twice in the last month.

Niagara Falls
The three falls of Niagara.

I’ve been to the falls a couple times growing up and to be completely honest, nothing much has changed. You wouldn’t expect it to change much anyways; they’re waterfalls.

Niagara Falls is comprised of three waterfalls. From the Canadian side, the first water fall you see is typically the American Falls. It’s large and the water crashes down on these large boulders. The Bridal Falls are immediately next to it, but it’s small and pretty much just a part of the American Falls.

The waterfall that people normally think of when they think of Niagara Falls is Horseshoe Falls. This is the giant crescent shaped one that’s right at the border between Canada and America and it’s by far the most impressive of the three.

Horseshoe Crest
The crest of the Horseshoe Falls.

I think the American Falls by themselves would still be notable, but it really does pale in comparison to the Horseshoe Falls. But, the fact that they’re all together in the same area is really what makes Niagara Falls so special.

My first of two trips took me to just the Canadian side: Niagara Falls, Ontario. We drove to the casino, ate lunch there, and then took a walk along the falls boardwalk and just took it all in.

Previously, when I’ve went to the falls, I’ve pretty much only just done the boardwalk. This time though, I figured it would be nice to try one of the many activities they have at the falls. After some deliberation we decided on doing the Journey Behind the Falls.

Inside the Horseshoe Falls
I really didn’t know what I expected to see when looking out of a waterfall.

That’s essentially a trip below the boardwalk and it gets you pretty close to the waterfall, so you get a pretty different view of the falls than if you stayed up top. You also have a chance to actually go behind the falls but there isn’t that much to see from the little openings since all you see is algae and water.

From the viewpoint next to the falls, you really get reminded of the sheer power nature has. It’s really something else to stand right there by the falls and get soaked by the mist, experience the constant downpour of water, and to also hear the roaring of the water cascading down.

And it’s seriously an incredible amount of water. We got absolutely soaked and it got to the point where I couldn’t tell if it was raining or not. There was just that much water sprayed into the air.

Journey Behind the Falls
2.5 million liters per second.

The Journey Behind the Falls ended up being a pretty cool experience. You didn’t really get to do anything super special or anything but it gives you a better idea of the scale of the falls and just how much water is flowing. Can recommend.

The second time I went back to the falls, I decided that I wanted to do something different since it didn’t really make sense to do the exact same things. As a result, me and my friend ended up spending a bit more time at the casino.

We tried Casino War which is essentially just War but.. at the casino I guess? That was fun but it was a stark reminder that casinos are really designed to make you make bad decisions. We didn’t lose that much money but we could’ve also easily made a bit of money if we just cashed out while we were ahead.

Lesson learned I guess.

Niagara from Niagara
A view of Niagara Falls, Ontario from Niagara Falls, New York.

Anyways, after that we decided to do a walk along the boardwalk on the Canadian side again. But then we doubled back afterwards and made our way to the Rainbow Bridge and walked across to America.

I’ve actually never done that before so it was also a pretty neat experience. It was only a dollar to cross the bridge but after a short walk on a bridge with a cool view of the water, you arrive at Niagara Falls, New York.

The American side is honestly a bit less developed than the Canadian side. Instead of a large boardwalk they have a park where you can walk around. There’s less people and you can get closer to the falls, which makes for a very different experience.

Above the Falls
The best part is how a part of the falls actually just straight up falls onto that walkway.

Honestly, it was kinda nice.

There’s a few smaller bridges that go over the water leading down to the falls and you get a much less obstructed view of the edge of the water from the American side, which at times seems a bit irresponsible but simultaneously awesome.

It was a pretty nice walk and I think it is a really good option if you want to avoid the crowds. But of course, if your passport allows, you should just go to both.

Rainbow Bridge Border
The Canadian-American border.

Essentially, the Canadian side has better panoramic views of the falls but the American side gets your a more intimate view. The Canadian side is also a bit more touristy and so will have everything you expect from a touristy place like restaurants, casinos, bars, etc, but you’ll also need to deal with more people.

Overall, Niagara Falls is great. I will definitely go again but after two trips within a few weeks of each other, I think I’m good for the near future.

New York City: The Empire City

With all my trips to the States for work, it’s a wonder that I would ever go down there for fun. Well, last week that’s exactly what I did.

I have some family in New York and so we decided to drive down there on a long weekend to visit them. My cousin lives in a suburb outside of New York City so we spent most of our time there, but we made time to go into the city and check it out.

Grand Central Concourse
Grand Central Station, like Union Station but bigger and grander in every way.

I’ve been to New York City before but the last time I went was a year or two after 9/11. I don’t really remember that trip that much but I do remember driving past the site of the attack and remember seeing a void where the towers used to be.

I remember 9/11 quite clearly. I was a bit too young to understand the gravity of the situation but as I grew up and got a bit older, I realized that that event honestly changed the world. So many things are different because of the events of that day and despite not being American, it’s probably the most consequential event that occurred in my lifetime so far.

So, I made it a goal to make sure I visited the site this time around.

One World Trade Center
From the ashes, a phoenix.

It was kind of a weird feeling being there. I’ve been to other disaster sites before, like the Hiroshima Peace Park, and I remember how calm and soothing it felt there. The 9/11 Memorial, on the other hand, felt a bit eerie.

I think that that’s probably a result of the design of the place. You’re in the middle of a giant city with supertall skyscrapers and you just see two holes in the ground; water pouring into the void.

When I wasn’t by the pools and was just somewhere in the park, it almost felt like a regular park. But when I was near the pools and could hear the water, there was just this odd somber feel to it.

The North Pool
The North Pool.

It was made even weirder because my cousin was saying beforehand how she knew a person that died in the attack. The names of those that have died are etched into the sides of the pools and we were going to look for his, but we didn’t have to look far because it was literally right in front of me.

We were all so surprised that his name was literally right there. That was so strange.

The South Pool
The South Pool.

To me, the visit to the memorial was the most important part of my trip. In a way it felt like a mini pilgrimage to just go there. But as far as time goes, we didn’t actually spend that much time there.

I mean, New York City is a huge city with a lot to see and do. When you’re there on such a short amount of time, of course you have to go and hit up all the major sites.

Times Square is one of the biggest and so we made sure to go check it out. It’s kind of a neat place but it honestly kinda confuses me as well. It’s really just a rectangular public space with.. a bunch of ads?

One Times Square
I had no idea they left the ball up there during the year.

The atmosphere there was quite touristy and festive but for the most part I couldn’t really figure out what was so interesting about the place other than the fact that it was Times Square. It’s almost like it’s a place that’s famous for being famous at this point and people go there to just check out the ads and billboards.

We also went to Central Park, the most visited urban park in the world. Now, I love urban parks. I think they’re an incredibly great idea since it provides people with a place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and it also balances out the pollution a bit and emits some fresh air.

Central Park is huge so we didn’t have a chance to visit all of it. In fact, it would probably take a long time to do so since it’s such a big park. It was pretty nice though. I could totally see myself doing some long walks in the park or even renting a bike and going through it.

Central Park Skyscrapers
A giant park surrounded by supertall skyscrapers.

One of the smaller goals I had for my trip to NYC was to also grab a hot dog at Central Park. Why? I have no idea, it just seems like it’s a thing. So, despite everyone telling me the hot dogs are gross and that it was a bad idea, I decided to get a hot dog anyways.

It was ok. Nothing super special.

In continuation of the idea that NYC has everything, we also went and checked out some bridges. There’s a “secret spot” (that’s not so secret) in Brooklyn where you can frame the Empire State Building between the feet of Manhattan Bridge. That was a pretty sweet spot to take some pictures.

The Secret Spot
The not so secret spot.

From there, we walked up to the Brooklyn Bridge and walked across it. I didn’t expect that the pedestrian path was actually above the road and so that was kinda cool. The bridge itself has an interesting construction so it was neat to be up there and be able to see both Brooklyn and Manhattan.

That said, there was like a trillion people on that bridge and it was so crowded. It was really difficult to just take it slow and try to enjoy the view since there were so many people walking by, taking photos, or ringing the bell on their bikes.

By the time we walked to the other side I was really glad to be done. It probably would’ve been a much nicer walk if there was like, a quarter of the people.

Walking the Brooklyn Bridge
So many people, not enough bridge.

Overall, it was a short trip to New York City, but it was a really good one. Not only did I have a chance to hang out with family, but I also had a chance to check out well, New York City.

I think New York City is a really special city. It’s one of the biggest cities in the world in terms of.. pretty much every metric. I feel like it’s one of those cities where you could spend your entire life in and still have a lot to explore.

New York City is a city where you can get lost in a forest of super tall skyscrapers. A city where you can take a breather and hang out in nice parks or by the water. A city where you can meet people and eat food from all over the world. A city that is incredibly modern but still have its fair share of history.

The idea of New York City is pretty nice and I’m definitely looking forward to the next time I go back.

Quito: The Equatorial City

Originally, my plan was to just make myself an extended long weekend trip to Mexico City and then go home. But then due to sheer coincidence I had a friend who was going to Ecuador to visit a mutual friend so I thought hey, what the hell, let’s continue heading further south.

So I did and it was awesome.

It’s kinda neat because through all of my travels, I’ve never once set foot in the Southern Hemisphere. That is, of course, until I visited Quito, the capital of Ecuador.

Monumento Mitad del Mundo
A monument to an imaginary line.

Quito is the biggest city by the equator. By virtue of that, it means I’ve officially the Southern Hemisphere. It also means that it essentially exists in a weather limbo where there aren’t anything that I would consider seasons.

All year round the temperatures are pretty much the same and the amount of sun they get per day is about.. 12 hours. Exactly half the day.

It’s pretty crazy when you think about it. As a person from Toronto, seasons are definitely a real thing. You can have temperatures dip to like -30 in the winter and rise to 30 in the summer and the length of the day varies so much throughout the year as well so honestly, I can’t really comprehend the idea that things stay so.. constant throughout the year.

Quito from Fundación Guayasamín
The weather is constantly cool.

In addition to that, Quito is the second highest capital in the world, with an altitude of about 2800m, so it’s not uncommon for travelers to experience something related to the altitude.

It’s wild.

Again, as a dude from Toronto, which sits at a comfortable 0m above sea level, it’s pretty crazy to get to a city that far up and be winded going up the stairs. Now, I’m by no means a physically fit person but even I can do that much.

But on my first day there we were going up these stairs at the Basílica del Voto Nacional and I noticed my breathing got a bit harder even if I went up just one flight of stairs. The church itself was beautiful and it gave a wonderful view of the city from above, but the climb up was actually pretty tiring just because of the altitude.

View from the Basílica del Voto Nacional
View from the Basílica del Voto Nacional.

I eventually got used to it, but on my second last day in the city, we took the TelefériQo up to the top of a volcano. The gondola ride itself brought you up to almost 4000m and again, the view from up there was amazing. But, at that altitude you could definitely feel it affecting you.

We took plenty of breaks and eventually found a place up there that would let you rent some horses to go sightseeing on. I’ve never ridden a horse before and I really wanted to so I was so surprised to learn that it was only $5 for a 25 minute ride.

That was so fun and definitely worth every penny. The view was nice, my horse was cool, and I got a chance to catch my breath. Wonderful experience all around.

Sightseeing by Horseback
Checking out some stuff by horseback.

Speaking of volcanoes, Quito is situated right in the Andes so it’s essentially in a volcanic mountain chain. That’s why the city is so far above sea level but it also means the city itself is surrounded by mountains.

Now, I love mountains and it’s always great to visit a city that’s surrounded by dramatic mountains. It also means that there are a lot of nice day trips out of the city to visit even cooler mountains. For example, we did a road trip out one day to visit Cotopaxi, a volcano, and Quilatoa, a crater lake.

Cotopaxi
Cotopaxi, an active volcano.

Both of those are technically not part of Quito but I thought they were worth mentioning. It’s neat because Ecuador in general is in a neat part of the world where you can find everything from the ocean, mountains, and even the rain forest.

Quito is kinda right at the middle of it so there’s a lot of cool opportunities to travel to different biomes. I would definitely love to do that next time I go. I especially want to go to Galapagos.

Anyways, back to the city. Quito was one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It’s kind of wild to think that of the over 1000 sites across the world that this city was one of the original members.

La Ronda
The view from La Ronda.

I can kinda see that though. The historic downtown portion of Quito is quite nice and really well preserved. A lot of cities have historic centers that have been dramatically changed throughout the years. Maybe they constructed some newer buildings or demolished some older ones, or maybe they just let it get run down to the point where it doesn’t look that nice.

But Quito’s is different. It’s quite well preserved and there are a lot of cool buildings that have stood the test of time. For example, there are a bunch of churches there but my favourite one is the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús. From the outside it doesn’t look too special but then you go inside and it’s just, a golden spectacle.

Quito Historic Centre
The outside of the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús.

They didn’t allow people to take pictures inside (in an attempt to keep it preserved?) but I’m telling you now that it was really cool. I’ve been to a lot of churches in my time but I’ve never been to a church that elaborately decorated.

They also have this giant statue near the center of the city. It’s slightly elevated on a small hill/mountain and it depicts a winged Virgin Mary standing on a dragon.

Now, I don’t know about you but just that description alone is pretty badass. The view from there is also pretty spectacular too. And what made it even better was that you could take an Uber up to the statue and it only costs like 2.50 USD because Ubers are dirt cheap there. So great.

El Panecillo
The guardian of the city.

Since this was also my first time in South America, it makes sense that the food would be different as well. They eat a lot of corn down there and there are a lot of different types of corn that I’ve never seen before.

But, by far the most interesting thing I’ve had the opportunity to eat was cuy, guinea pig.

I’m all for eating new animals and when I was given the chance to eat this one I couldn’t turn it down. But, to be completely honest, it wasn’t very good. There wasn’t a lot of meat and it just kinda tasted like weird pork. For that price it didn’t seem like it was worth it since regular pork is better and cheaper.

Cuy
Roasted guinea pig, with teeth and all.

But hey, now I can say I’ve eaten guinea pig before and that just adds to the list of unconventional animals I’ve tried.

From a geographic point of view, I think Quito might be one of the most interesting places I’ve been to. Between the altitude and the fact that it’s at the equator, it means you experience a lot of things that you might not experience at other cities.

In all, I really enjoyed my trip to Quito. It was definitely a plus that I had friends there that could show me around but the city itself was quite beautiful and I feel like there’s a decent amount of stuff to do. I could definitely see myself going back, if anything just to transit to go to other places in the country.