Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Niagara Falls (July 14, 2014)

If you can find a place to park you can gawk at the falls all you want—for free. We didn't know that before we arrived. The website was rather vague on this matter. We could not figure it out and weren't too keen on spending a hundred bucks to see the falls. Turns out, only they park attractions cost money. The park itself is free.




Andrew was dead set on making this a memorable trip, though, and convinced me that we should do the Maid of the Mists boat ride. It was pricey, but not as expensive as I thought it was going to be. Here we are in our matching ponchos...

One picture with Benjamin smiling:



And one picture with Miriam smiling:



Miriam is wearing Benjamin's baby-sized poncho because the kid-sized poncho they handed to her was huge and made walking quite unmanageable for her. The baby-sized one was just right for her. Benjamin wasn't too fond of the idea of wrapping up in plastic, anyway, so I held him—sans poncho—until we got close to the falls and then I covered him up with the spare poncho.

Oh, and here's a picture of Miriam (before she put her poncho on) making LEGO hands:



The kids are all obsessed with The LEGO Movie.

When Benjamin makes a mistake (or thinks that anything has gone wrong for any reason) he'll say, "Oomps!" Often he'll say it multiple times, "Oomps, oomps, oomps!" It sounds just like he's beatboxing and after he says "oomps" enough times the girls will jump in singing, "Everything is awesome!" at the top of their lungs. That usually makes most problems at least a little bit better.

Anyway...

The boat ride was extraordinary! Those falls are mighty powerful.

(Did I really just type those two words in succession?).



Benjamin was so excited to be on a boat. If you were to ask him what his favourite part of our whole trip was he'd say, "Boat! Boat! Boat! Boat! Boat!" He really liked it. A lot.



He was also a very tired boy the whole day. If you have the patience to go through all the pictures in this post (probably something like 100) you'll notice a lot of tired-boy faces. Unlike the man behind him, Benjamin is not staring in awe at the magnificence of Niagara Falls. He's just yawning.



Here's me with Benjamin and Miriam, getting misted by the falls:



And here's Little Miss Rachel:



And here's Andrew snapping a selfie:



I love this picture so much—mostly because of the photo-bomber. Andrew's okay, too, I suppose.



Rachel was happy that we took the boat ride from the American side because we got blue ponchos. The Canadian-side passengers were given red ponchos...that look pink...so you can imagine how Miriam felt about riding the American boat.



Miriam said, "Mom, you should have gone on the Canada boat because you're a Cana-dan. Then I could go with you and we could have pink ones instead of blue ones!"

After our boat ride we hiked (walked?) up to the crow's nest by American Falls. It was pretty crowded...



...but, oh, so beautiful.




We accosted a gracious stranger and asked her to take a picture for us. She was so sweet about it (and took about six), trying to make sure that everything was just right.

I love how Miriam is trying to hold everyone's hands in this picture:



This, though, was the best one...except that Benjamin's not smiling:



As far as I know, the only way to get back to the top of the falls is to take the elevator (though I'm sure there are emergency stairs somewhere...a trail tucked away somewhere...) and you wait in line like you do for a ride a theme park. There are several elevators and the area in front of each one is sectioned off with railings, you're directed to a certain elevator by an employee. It's efficient, I suppose.

In our section there was a family whose son was wearing a BYU hat so Andrew struck up a conversation with them.

Quick side story: When I told my mom this on Sunday Rachel interjected, "As he always does," after I mentioned Andrew initiating the conversation. Andrew is a sworn introvert and his grandfather is notorious for striking up conversations with people everywhere, so Andrew denied that allegation quite heartily.

Anyway...

Andrew mentioned we were there for the pageant. The family told us they were part of the cast and asked if we were as well (a lot of people in Palmyra assumed we were in the cast because we stayed there for so long—many people come, do the sites, watch the pageant, stay the night, and leave because there's really not much to do in Palmyra...but it was a cheap "home base" for our vacation so that's where we stayed). The pageant cast numbers around 800 so it was perfectly reasonable for them to suspect we were all in the cast and simply hadn't met yet.

We told them that we weren't in the cast but that we'd watched the Saturday night performance.

"Well, I'm Lehi!" the father of the family announced. "It's nice to meet you! Of course, I'm not actually Lehi, but I'm Lehi in the pageant." He winked at the girls.

We chatted with them all the way up the elevator (it's probably the longest elevator ride I've ever been on in my life—not because the conversation was dull but because it's just a really tall elevator) and then parted ways.

"We were just on a boat...with Lehi!" I whispered to Andrew when I thought the family was out of earshot.

"And now we've reached the promised land!" Andrew exclaimed.

"Not quite," I said, pointing across the river. "But that's where we'll do lunch."


And so, with our travel documents in hand, and our tummies uncomfortably empty, we struck out across Rainbow Bridge:



The view from the bridge was amazing but walking across it with children was a little stressful. Children are like horses. They want to walk right along the edge. I don't think a child could slip through those rails, but I was worried about Rachel's crocs going right over the side. This is her smirking at me and saying, "I'm fine, Mom!" after I reminded her that walking right beside the rail was going to give me a heart attack.



Doesn't Miriam look like she could just slip right under the rail? Her head might stop her from falling off the bridge completely but, honestly, the picture of her dangling from a bridge by her head was enough to make me queasy. Have they done the soda can test on these rails? I don't think so.

I also never thought I'd be this squeamish about things like this as a parent. But, here I am!



Here we are approaching the international boundary line (we were glad we walked because the car line was ridiculously long):



I haven't been to Canada since May 2011, so it was a bit of a thrill to cross the border, to go "home," even though I've never been to Ontario in my life.



And here are the kids with the sign:



Miriam read the sign, stood right in the middle of it and said, pointing to the respective side, "South America over there, Cana-dan Canada over there."

And here's the beautiful view from that point:



Getting through the border was relatively simple. We showed our documents. The agent asked us if we knew our children's birthdays (and we did). He asked how long we intended to stay in Canada. We said, "Just a couple of hours." He said, "Is that all? Too bad." He asked where we were from and where we were staying in New York. We told him we live in North Carolina and were staying in Palmyra for a couple of days for a pageant they put on every year. He handed back our papers, smiled, nodded his head courteously, and said, "Welcome to Canada. Have fun!"

And have fun, we did.

Everyone was starving so we hunted out some doughnuts for lunch. Because Canada. And Tim Horton's.

Andrew used his phone to navigate us to Tim Horton's—we were careful not to "use" our phones in Canada because of extra charges but I just now realized that navigating via phone might've also incurred extra charges. I suppose we'll find out—and I was thrown into a part of Canada that I didn't know existed. It was a surreal fantasyland amusement park kind of a place with haunted houses and wax museums and ice cream cones the size of buildings and all sorts of money-grabbing schemes.



I kept telling the girls that this is not what the entire country of Canada is like.



We found our donuts and got away from that area as fast as we could because it was crazy. Instead we sat on the lawn of the Oaks Garden Theatre and had our donuts in relative peace.



Oh, and we passed this double-decker bus, which Rachel declared was The Knight Bus and demanded she have her picture taken with it:



And then Miriam did, too:



The girls were so excited about the doughnuts that they had to take turns carrying the box.



Andrew was also excited about the doughnuts:



But I'm sure what you really want to see are pictures of Benjamin enjoying his first taste of one of Canada's treasures (because TimBits qualify as a Canadian treasure, right?):




Now watch as he melts with satisfaction as the fried and frosted bit of delicatessen melts in his mouth:



Now that's a good doughnut!

I'm ashamed to admit how quickly we consumed every last crumb. They were delectable and sent my entire family into a blissful doughnut shock:



"Everybody lie down in the grass," Daddy said.

"Okay," Benjamin agreed and plopped down right on Daddy.

This day will forever live in memory as The Day of the International Doughnut Run (or The Day of the Great Canadian Doughnut Run...I can't decide) because that's pretty much all we had time for, unfortunately. We did let the kids run around the park, completely carefree, for a few minutes (though I'm sure they stressed out a few seagulls).






The grass was so lush and green, we didn't have to worry about them falling through a gap in the fence and into the river (to their ultimate peril, I'm sure), and it was fairly empty (so empty that I wondered if we were supposed to be there, but nobody stopped us (and now I see that the place we were at leads to an even bigger and more beautiful area called Queen Victoria Park and we were absolutely allowed to be there and should have done more exploring because gorgeous)).







The park is right in front of the Sheraton hotel, so it's pretty easy to find, should you ever want to.



There are fountains and staircases, gazebos and bridges (although we didn't find any of those), and all sorts of fun things to explore! The kids had a blast scrambling all over everything.



We'd heard the Canadian side of Niagara is more picturesque, and that is certainly true. From the Canadian bank you get a nice panoramic view of the falls (though watching the water rush over the edge from the American side is pretty majestic as well—even if everything was under construction and rather gross-looking when we were there (I'm sure if we ever go again it will be more appealing)).




We crossed the street and enjoyed the view from the Canadian side of the river. The kids quickly found their own little niche. Grown ups were crowding along the wall and my children expertly sneaked between their legs to enjoy the view from "below-the-waist":




Weeding through pictures is a real challenge for me, so you get to see a lot. And in case you're wondering where Miriam is, she'd found a pole and was busy running around in circles. There were no flattering pictures of her doing this, though she obviously had a lot of fun. She eventually did join the others, forcing her way into their little window. Benjamin was not pleased. This is him fussing at her for taking his spot. "All mine!" he whined, giving her a shove.


He ended up allowing her to take a turn.


And here are Andrew and I, to prove that we were there:


Rachel offered to take a picture of us together, which was sweet, but in order to get us with the falls behind us she had to lift the camera as high above her head as she could. 


And here's the view we got to enjoy:


And here's Benjamin licking a flag pole:


He wasn't dared to do it, or anything (and if you ever are dared to lick a flagpole, especially in Canada, especially in the winter, I don't suggest you do it), but did so entire on his own accord. He declared the flagpole's platform (a series of circles stacked on one another to form a circular staircase) was a cake, which meant the flagpole was a candle. He blew on it first, because that's what you do with candles, and then decided to see if it was delicious, I guess.

And here he is saying, "Fine, I'll come, but you're going to have to carry me."


Crossing to the American side of the river was a bit more of a headache than entering Canada was. First of all, there's the toll—fifty cents per person. Fortunately they have bill-breaking machines right there (for your convenience!) otherwise we would have had to go back out to find somewhere to get change. 


Once we reached customs on the American side, we were held in a little stall—with bars for a door—and were admitted to the desk one (family) at a time. They buzzed us through the barred door and we presented our paperwork. We were at the desk for a good twenty minutes. 

She tried asking Benjamin "Who's that lady?" but he, of course, wouldn't tell her that I was his mommy. Instead he pointed to his stroller buckle and said, "Buh-kle. Stuck!" And then wouldn't say anything. 

So she picked on Miriam. 

"Let's see—you must be Miriam. Ah, a citizen born abroad. And where were you born? Let's see...Egypt! Oh, I was expecting Canada. But Egypt, that's interesting. So, what were you doing in Egypt?"

And thus began all the Middle East questioning. 

"I see you did quite a bit of traveling in the region. Where exactly did you go?" and so on and so on and so on. She kept consulting her computer while she was questioning us. I'm not entirely sure what she was reading...but it was a little unnerving. She was nice enough, though, and told us about a trip to Egypt she went on right before the revolution happened.

"So, Miriam," she said pointing to me. "Who is this lady?"

Miriam looked down at the ground. 

"Let's try somebody else," the customs official suggested. "Who is this man?"

Miriam hid behind me. 

"Maybe we'll get something out of Rachel," the official said. "Rachel, who is this lady?"

Rachel looked at me, panic-stricken.

"Rachel, you need to cooperate," I urged.

"That's my mom," Rachel said, with a goofy look on her face that showed quite plainly that she was thinking this border lady was crazy.

"And who is this man?"

"My daaaaad," Rachel said, dragging out the words that were soooooo obvious.

"And who is this?" the official asked, pointing to Miriam.

"My sister," answered Rachel.

"And who is sitting in the stroller?"

"That's Benjamin!"

"And who is Benjamin?"

"My brother..." Rachel droned.

I completely appreciate that they're trying to prevent human trafficking. It would be rather hypocritical of me not to appreciate that since Andrew's in the middle of a human trafficking study right now. But I just thought it humorous because that whole week we'd been posting pictures on Facebook and my mom had been so frustrated because whenever Facebook asked her if she wanted to tag me in any pictures and she said yes, Facebook would tag Rachel as me instead of tagging me as me (silly face-recognition software). You'd think that if Facebook could identify my children as mine that a border guard could as well. 

And then I had to explain my whole citizenship-of-abroadness. 

"So you're the Canadian!"

"Well, American...born abroad," and Canadian by birth. But I was traveling with my American documents and we'd all declared ourselves as Americans, so...American. Clearly.

And then there was the whole confusing part at the beginning when they buzzed us in and a bunch of foreign (read: non-native English speakers) tourists tried to follow us through, so I told them they'd have to wait behind bars for their turn. I just held up my hand (the international symbol for "stop") and said, "Oh, you have to wait until you're called."

Then, because I'd spoken to them, the customs official had to know our connection to them. 

"Are these people with you?"

"No."

"Why did you speak with them?"

"Um, I just told them to wait until they were called."

"Why did you do that?"

"Because they were following us through..."

"So they're not with you?"

"No."

"You don't know them?"

"No."

"Are you sure?"
"Positive. I have no idea who they are."

"You have no connection to them?"

"None whatsoever." 

"You're not their tour guide or anything?"

"Nope."

"But this group—the five of you—you're all together?"

"Yes, this is my family. We're all together. We're not with them. We have no idea who they are."

And in my mind I thought, "Yup. Those non-caucasian people who look nothing like me and who don't speak my language and who don't have the same citizenship as me and who are currently wandering around, quite confused, in what appears to be a tiny prison cell because they can't read the signs to understand your protocol—they're not with me."

The scariest part was when another guard came to our guard and said, "I'm going to have to CIS them, but no hurry. Go ahead and finish."

And I thought to myself, "Oh, dear. What does CIS mean? Does he need to CIS us?"

We've had Andrew taken away from us at border crossing before (so he could be questioned about his non-existent ties to Yemen—because if you've been to Morocco you should probably be held for an hour or more while your wife waits with a toddler, a baby, and eight huge suitcases on a luggage cart (and no plane tickets) so you can be asked about whether you popped over to Yemen while you were there. Because Morocco and Yemen are close to each other and everything (hint: they're not—they're over 3000 miles apart)).

Anyway, apparently we weren't the people the other guard need to CIS. And it was eventually determined that we were neither terrorists-in-the-making or child-traffickers. Twenty minutes later we were finally on our way. It was rather ridiculous.

Once back on American soil we crossed over the bridge to Goat Island.



Benjamin finally succumbed to his exhaustion. It's a good thing he waited until we were across the border to take his little nap because he completely shut down—he wouldn't wake up for the world. His sisters were patting his cheeks and rubbing his head. We bonked his stroller down stairs. He ignored the roar of the waterfall. Not even getting misted by the cool water made him stir. He was completely out.


If he had been that unresponsive while we were crossing the border we'd have been in trouble for sure!

Our only interest in going to Goat Island was getting to Luna (Lovegood) Island (the only place Rachel really wanted to go). It was quite thrilling to be sticking out on a little peninsula of land, with water pouring over the each side—American Falls on one side and Bridal Veil Falls on the other.


From here it's easy to see how people could just trip right into the river and go over the falls—and people do! We read the list of people (and animals) known to have gone over the falls on our drive back to Palmyra. Many of them survived, but even more didn't. It seems most jumps over the falls are attempted suicides, sadly.







At last it was time to head home. On our walk back to the van we stopped by this sign:


What they actually rent are bicycles but the vendor said, "Step right up, step right up! Be the first pair of sisters to go over the falls in a barrel together!"

The girls were torn by thinking that was so silly and wondering if he was going to force them into the barrel, lug them to the falls, and toss them over.

We stopped in Rochester for dinner. We tried going to Dinosaur BBQ (because we've heard it is the best) but it was too crowded so instead we went to a nearby Wendy's. Apparently we were in a sketchy part of town because there was a security guard at the Wendy's. At first I thought he was only a customer stopping by for a burger but then I realized that he was actually guarding the place.

I wasn't sure whether to feel safer because of that or not...

Anyway, it was a wonderful day over all. Hopefully the kids will remember this trip for years to come!

3 comments:

  1. Everything (about this post) is awesome! I love all the pictures--they really tell the story of your trip. I'm so glad you got to go!

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  2. Blake teases me sometimes when I strike up conversations with strangers, often because they're wearing a BYU shirt or something Doctor Who related, and reminds me that I call myself an introvert. Doesn't mean we're shy (which, of course, you know)! Nothing wrong with saying hi to random people, as I'm sure you know. :)

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    Replies
    1. Though this was less of a "strike up a fun conversation" and more of a "stare awkwardly at the BYU-I hat and keep making fleeting eye contact with the family until the mom basically starts the conversation for me."

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