Thursday, January 13, 2011

Niagara Falls and My Eventful End to US Trip

Finally, Niagara Falls, one of the highlights of the trip! To visit one of the 7 natural wonders of the world and during winter, should be quite an experience! But 1st, the journey there to endure! As the saying goes 'No Pain No Gain', so in order to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Niagara Falls, you need to endure the pain of the journey there, which is a 12 hour bus ride from NYC. And, one thing I learnt, getting a ticket does not necessarily guarantee you a seat!! Yes, alot of passengers were faced with the problem of not getting seats for the timing as per ticket and had to wait for the next bus which could be like 3-4 hours later!! Luckily i was not one of them, if not, I'll just cry! And lest u think, overnighter should be quite comfy, you're forgetting that it's Greyhound, Not Grassland or 5-stars here in Singapore! You get a normal 40-seater bus, with minimal inclination and cramped space to TRY and fall asleep, with numerous breaks (4 in total) in between. Try getting sleep under those conditions!
So, I arrived @ Niagara Falls with barely a winker (maybe 3hours in total), braving myself for the cold assault which actually turned out to be milder than I thought it would be! Maybe it's cos I was decked out in 2 layers of pants, 2 layers of sweaters + down jacket + thick scarf + beanie hat + gloves..... But seriously, not as cold as I would expect (at least not yet). 1st thing 1st, settle my return bus ticket. Checking with the counter and after much confusion and explanation, I finally got my return ticket back to NYC!! As it turned out, the timing printed on the ticket is redundant cos apparently u can hop onto any bus scheduled on the date specified on the ticket! See what I mean! It's a matter of luck and fate! Anyway, onto my Niagara Falls Whirlwind tour!
1st stop - Canadian falls (aka Horseshoe Falls)

Note for winter visiting, quite a number of attractions/rides are closed due to weather, but u get a different feel of the Falls. I visited on Xmas Eve (probably not the best time of the year) so alot of attractions close early, and surrounding shops are closed during the day. Still you get to go on Journey Behind the Falls, where u walk behind the Horseshoe Falls and witness the mightiness of the Falls. Of cos, the attraction prices are lower!

Cute B&B Houses

I decided to give Canadian side a quick tour and move to American side as I was to come back to Canada for night view & my bus ride home. So I crossed the rainbow bridge! And you have to pay a toll to cross it!! Even if you're just walking across!! But u can a great view of the entire Horseshoes Falls

The American side had more attraction stops compared to Canadian side, and you get to go on the gorge walk (reduced version) where you can see Canadian side & the Bridal Veils, which is AWESOME!!!!! The park is open 24/7, however attractions follow opening times. So best advise is to visit all the attractions 1st, then take your time to explore and admire the park views. Also, the tram is FOC and it takes you around the park. So if you're lazy, hop on it! I just walked my way around. Too bad the observatory tower was closed due to weather, but it's also FOC if it were open! I think probably only so during winter...

How gorgeous is Bridal Veils

The gorge walk was fantastic!! Especially the Bridal Veils cos during winter you see those ice formations and they add a different take to Niagara Falls!! Really beautiful!

The mist is forever there 24/7
Walking the entire park took a good 1.5hour, slowly walking and stopping along the way to admire the scenery and take photos! Luckily the weather was not that cold during the day so the walk was enjoyable!

Of cos, after much walking, time to some food and during Xmas eve, it's not the easiest time to find eatery open! I stopped by Denny's for late lunch cum dinner and waited for evening to come where Niagara Falls come to live!! The Illumination. I was still @ America side as I wanted to view the night scenery from both sides, and it's very troublesome to keep crossing here and there (crossing the custom is a chore, so once is tiring enough!) While waiting, I stopped by the casino and promptly lost USD20 playing the slot machines. Actually, I had no idea what I was playing, just put $$, and press. I think i won like $10 but lost them back. Anyway it was no fun! I thought Beginner's Luck would bestow upon me but alas, that is only a myth! Damn it!
At 6pm, i promptly walked to the American Falls, set up my tripod and photo taking begun! Niagara Falls started to be illuminated with Green, White, Red, Blue lights! Well, it was beautiful, but maybe I was expecting much more brightness...

Night Illumination of Niagara Falls

Soon after, I made my way across the Rainbow bridge and onto Canada! As it was still early (my bus was past midnight) i decided to rest abit, have a cup of hot choco @ starbucks and wait for later when fireworks begin (9pm).

Fun fact (at least i find it fun): U have to change your USD to Canadian $$ for most shops, but of cos some accept USD, but they return Canadian to you, and you CANNOT change back to USD. However, there is no exchange difference between the two!! At 1st, i thought there is, so when I wanted to change, i asked 'What's the exchange rate', no answer. I just got back the change without inspecting. Then after a few payments, I realized 'Hey it's weird that they don't ask how much when I pay in USD and just accept!' Then I realized, duh there's no difference between the 2 currencies!! So what's the point!! They even look alike! Just trying to make your life more difficult!

So after a cuppa, I made my way to Horsehoe Falls close to 9pm and started taking photos of the illumination! The colours looked prettier at the Canadian side, with Orange, Green, Blue and Purple (My favourite!!)

People were starting to gather, and by 9pm, crowds were gathering, waiting for the fireworks! Yes, I had stayed late because I wanted to see the fireworks! A few mins after 9pm, it just started 'Boom' 'Boom'... After like 10-15mins, it stopped just as suddenly as it started... Some pple complained that it was too short but it was alright..

Fireworks, not that fantastic but good enough

Crowd started to dissipate after the fireworks, and I felt empty after that cos I had nth to do, and my bus was like 3hrs away... Not hungry, so nth bter to do than to walk back to the bus station and wait... Apparently, it's much more happening @ the Canadian side as compared to American Side. It was like a dead town over US side, but all shops, restaurants were in full force and pple were out over @ Canadian side! The casino also looked classier...

Thinking that I can finally get some warmth (it was getting cold at night) sheltering at the bus station, I walked briskly... But!!! The bus station closed at 1030pm, and they just chased us out in the cold to wait for our bus!! Yes, those heartless pple!! They didnt care abt us at all! A bunch of us had no other choice but to sit out in the cold (extreme cold!) and wait for 3hrs!!!

The 1st 1hr was not too bad, I occupied myself watching movie on my HP, but my HP died on me soon, and i was left freezing in the cold and counting down to my bus arrival... We all were freezing terribly! The wind just cut through your skin! Even with all those layers of protection!! You just wanted to DIE!!!!! Finally when the bus came, it was like striking the TOTO!! Finally warmth!! However, it could be the extreme hours we spent in the cold but it felt like eternal coldness in the bus that refuses to thaw away.......

Anyhow, after another tortuorous 12hrs bus ride, it was back to NYC!! Where i finally get a nice bed and room to rest & recharge! It was a great feeling to be back to sleep... Before my s'posed flight to paris the next day...

However, good fortunes do not last long!! The next day, thanks to warning by my colleague, I went to check my flight status (even though it was 'On Schedule' just the night before) and was SHOCKED (yes i was truly shocked) to find 'cancelled' without any notice or email warning from the airline! I was stunned and didnt know what to do in like 5mins...Thinking through my brain what was going on! Apparently, a snow storm was approaching and the airport is closing at 3pm! So with my fastest speed ever, I poured everything into my suitcases (luckily i sorta packed most of the things the night b4) dressed up and rushed to the airport with my bags hoping for a miracle!

Alas, a miracle was not to be had! The line for re-accomodation was hellishly long!! After an almost 3hours wait, I was finally @ the counter and got my next available flight - 2 days later! Damn it! Totally ruined my Paris plan! Now only down to 2.5 days in Paris! I was comtemplating whether to extend or not, but decided against it cos the result of extending my NY stay ended up with delayed flight, and I was afraid the bad karma will continue should I decide to extend.. So hey 1 more extra day in NYC, although not much could be done as weather wreaked havoc throughout NY, and sorta crippled the Transport system...

Bravely, I decided to venture out to Manhattan the next day, seeing that the morning sky was clear and bright. Transport was madness as trains were delayed, and no buses in operation, but I still managed to get into Manhattan to witness the tremendous pile of snow on the sidewalks, and experience the mighty push of the wind! I was almost knocked off by the wind! But it was a good day for shopping and great bargains await (post-Xmas sale). Greedily after purchases from H&M, i walked over to Macy's hoping for more bargains instead of following my instinct to head back to the hotel. THis proved a deathly MISTAKE!!! Just cos of my 30min tour of Macy's (with nth to buy), I boarded THE TRAIN that would make the day a bad one! The train got stuck soon after it departed NYC, due to faulty train ahead. After 1hr wait in the train, it was discovered that power failure prevented trains from crossing over to Newark & we had to turn back. I was just totally shocked and in a mess! What was I to do in a foreign city with no means of getting home! Then all other trains were delayed. Communication was scarce, and noone was there to help stranded passengers! Some people pointed to PATH (another means of tpt) to get to Newark, but when we got there, we were told otherwise (No we do not go to Newark).

Luckily, I met a group of pple in the same situation and we just tried our luck on PATH to get to some destination where there's possibly a way to get to Newark! So from 3-6pm, I was just frantically searching my way around NYC, finally reaching some station where there could be a way to Newark. 1hr later, no news of any further trains available and everyone was just frantic!! Luckily for me, a family was staying in Ramada Hotel nearby (funnily, they had no idea the hotel was so close by until they called the hotel after like 40mins waiting with us!!) and I followed them back to the hotel and waited for the airport transfer to get to my hotel! All in all, I wasted a good 7hrs of my time doing nth when I could have been laying in bed watching movies!! I only managed to reach hotel at 11pm..

If only I had not wandered to Macy's, I would not have been in such a situation........ Damn it! If i had bought sth in Macy's it would not have been that bad, but I didnt! Why did I go to Macy's?!?!?! It was damn tiring. And it's under such situation that you begin to miss Singapore's efficient transport and communication systems! Of cos we don't have weather conditions to deal with, but I wld think that the govt is efficient to deal with any kinda situation! Passengers would not have been left stranded with little/no information! But then again, it's little things like that that make your life experience more wide! In times like these, u meet pple in same situation who would take their time to help you even though you're just a stranger! The group of pple i met were totally strangers to me and each other, but we stuck together and tried our luck! The family had no obligation to help me, but they did!! Then again, if I had not gone to Macy's nth like this would have happened... Haha it's a vicious cycle.....

And that ends my USA trip... BTW, my flight was further delayed 2days later..How sucky was that! And the airport was in a terrible mess!! Horrible I tell you!!..... Till next time, onto bter things Paris City of Lights...

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