I made it to Niagara Falls Tuesday afternoon after a pretty simple drive across the border. There was really nothing too noteworthy to mention about that drive except for the difficult border patrol officer that ultimately let me into Canada. I'm not sure what it is about border patrol, but they seem to be on a serious power trip. I get it that they're protecting borders between our countries, and that sometimes there may certainly be a threat, but from what I can remember, the Canadian-US border has been a peaceful border for quite some time so the harshness with which I was met seemed a bit over-the-top. I had a hard time understanding why he was being so difficult with me as, in my mind, I'm a fairly unthreatening individual. I didn't think the amount of money in my bank account or the profession of the friends I'm visiting in Canada would be questions he would need to ask, but alas, I was wrong. I made it through in one piece.
Once getting into Niagara, I quickly found a Tim Hortons to hit up some wifi. I don't have my phone set up for international use so wifi is my only means of connecting to the outside world (it still blows my mind that just 15-20 years ago, the internet wasn't a thing...). I had planned initially to camp at Niagara, but due to a threatening rainstorm, I decided a solid hostel would do. My experience thus far with them has been positive, so I saw no reason this one shouldn't be. Niagara only has one hostel so it made my decision quite easy, and after an online reservation, I was good to go.
Once getting to the hostel, just down the road from Tim's (we're on a first name basis now as I've eaten the majority of my meals there thus far), I checked in and got myself situated in my 6-bed room. It was a pretty nice place considering Niagara isn't a major city, nor a big touristy destination in early May, but it was a Hostels International establishment, so I assume they pump money into it from some of the other more popular destinations around the world. One nice thing about hostels is that they are flexible with cooking and tend to have accommodations for you to make your own meals. This was great to see as this is the first part of my year-long trip where I'm traveling on a budget, so I'm not looking to go out to eat for every meal.
After getting situated, I walked down to the falls, which turned out to be nothing short of 45 minutes. As I walked I could hear the thundering sound of the falls, but due to the rain, mist, fog, and other cloud cover, it was pretty difficult to so much of anything so I decided to walk back for the night.
After making it back and cooking a bit of dinner, I was feeling pretty tired so decided to just hang out in the basement lounge. I'd noticed a few other people walking around, but no one seemed to take interest in the lounge so I figured it'd be a pretty easy spot to relax. Within a few minutes of getting down there though, a few others decided to join and we ended up playing pool for about 2 hour. They were from Belgium and Germany, and each was over in the US and Canada for school and traveling respectively. As I'm planning to spend some time in both those countries I figured it's never too early to start learning a little bit more about them. We talked for a while before being joined by someone else who is also in the middle of a year off to travel. She was from Copenhagen, a city I'm familiar with, so we all talked a little about differences in culture, entertainment, etc.
Like I've said before, staying in hostels is pretty much the easiest way to meet new people.
The next morning I woke up and started to get my things together for the day. The girl from Denmark and I had decided to head to the Falls together in the morning, so we met up for breakfast and started heading down there. It was a much clearer day today so we assumed it would be a great day to not only see the falls, but get some good pictures of them as well.
We were right. We both wanted to do some of the "adventures" that Niagara has to offer, so we bought tickets for the "Beyond the Falls" experience, and it didn't disappoint. A short elevator ride down into the tunnels behind the Falls gave us some awesome viewpoints that we wouldn't have gotten anywhere else. This platform jutted out just next to where the water is falling, and even on a sunny day, makes it a pretty rainy experience.
We left the Falls area and started heading back toward the car. I really was in no hurry to take off from Niagara as Toronto is just a few hours away, so we decided to take the car up the river and into the wine region of Niagara. I didn't even realize this part of the world was known for that, but it turns out they do make great wine. We made quick work of a few tasters, learned a bit about the dryness and sweetness of some whites, and then headed back to town.
I left for Toronto mid afternoon and made quick work of the drive. Upon arrival, I spent a few hours downtown in the Entertainment District and saw a few of the iconic Toronto buildings like the CN Tower and the arenas where the Blue Jays and Maple Leafs/Raptors play. Toronto reminded me a lot of Chicago in that it's right on the lake, the people here love their sports, and they drink a lot of beer.
Thursday I decided that I would head up north toward Lake Huron to do a bit of camping. Note to self: Don't try camping in Canada in the first week of May. Nothing is open.
After roaming around the several thousand small lakes, I eventually made my way into a small town called Parry Sound. Now, apparently this place is famous, but I'd never heard of it. I spent a little time walking around, passed a pizza place and a cafe, and then happened upon the Sound. I soon realized this place was really, really beautiful. It reminded me almost entirely of northern Michigan, with it's scenic pines and unending lakes. I took a stroll along the water and found a nice spot to enjoy the sunset over the lake.
After a quick dinner at the pizza place, I roamed into town to see if there were any bars to grab a beer or two. I wanted to take a chance while in a town like this to meet some locals and see what they thought of the place. It didn't take long for me to make a few new friends, as Canadiens are quite friendly people. I met a couple from a small town called Dorset, ON which they told me I needed to visit the next day on my drive back to Toronto, and they gave me a few recommendations for spots to visit along the way. I'll be looking forward to those spots tomorrow followed by a few more days in Toronto before heading up to Montreal until next Wednesday.