Friday, October 12, 2012

The waterfall wars

Welcome to Canada, a country much bigger than I expected as second in the world for area. We start our exploration of Canada on the east coast while catching up with another friend of Elizabeth's (yes she has way more friends than me, I knew you were thinking it), in the city of Montreal with Francisco.

Friendly wildlife
Mount Royal Cross
Saint Josephs Oratory
Francisco had worked out a punishing timetable for our three days there designed to show off the best of his city. We told him that he should become a tour guide. We started in the old part looking at a lot of the beautiful old buildings that make up this area. Like Jacques Cartier, the discoverer of Canada, we climbed Mount Royal (which Cartier named and which gave the city its name). You get brilliant panoramic views of the city from up here, get up close and personal with the local wildlife and see some interesting monuments. One of these is a huge cross called the Mount Royal Cross, originally a promise by the founder to the Virgin Mary when he needed a flood stopped. We finished up the day at a very interesting and elaborate church called Saint Joseph's Oratory that included many extra chambers and halls as well as the heart of Brother Andre, which I must say I found disconcerting (decided against taking a picture).

The Olympic Stadium
Chinese lanterns
We also took the funicular up the tallest inclined structure in the world, the tower above Montreal's Olympic Stadium, before crossing the road and visiting the botanic gardens. The gardens were amazing with a huge insectorium and glass houses, and including Japanese and Chinese gardens. Both gardens had light shows on at night with fascinating colours, sounds and light. The Chinese show was called 'The Magic of Lanterns' and the Japanese had 'Gardens of Light'. Our luck is still holding out considering this is the first year that both have been on at the same time. The lights were amazing and the Chinese lanterns created a dreamlike atmosphere. A big thank you to Francisco for showing us what a beautiful city Montreal is.
Elizabeth and Francisco

Japanese garden of light

We parted with Francisco and hopped on a bus for a 12 hour trip to Niagara Falls. This was a last minute decision as we had been umm-ing and aah-ing about Niagara for a while. Problem was that everyone was telling us that Niagara was not worth the trip if you had already seen Iguazu and Victoria Falls, which we had. In the end we decided we could not be this close and not see it so we set aside a single day to visit. We were so glad we did. No, it did not compare to Iguazu but it was different and equally amazing in its own ways.

The horseshoe falls from the Canadian side
Niagara Falls has the distinction of having the highest flow rate of any falls in the world. In high flow 168,000 cubic metres of water flow over the falls every minute. The falls have a lot of history to them, as they have been a focus of daredevils, conservation efforts and produce hydro-electric power. The first person to go over the falls in a barrel was a 68 year old schoolteacher and she survived. I think she was sending the wrong message...

Journey behind the falls
We decided on the works and purchased an adventure pass, with some arched eyerbrows when they found out we were going to do it all in one day. Seriously, it wasn't that hard. This included the 'Journey Behind the Falls', where you go down an elevator and through a series of tunnels to actually see behind the horseshoe falls. The roar and power of the falls from behind is a real rush. Next was the 4D movie where, after an animated history of the creation of the falls during the Ice Age, you stand on a metal platform in a raincoat and get taken on a simulated ride over the falls where the platform moves and you get rained on and splashed while watching a 360 degree movie screen.

from The Maid of the Mist
Niagara the town
 Lastly was the 'Maid of the Mist' boat ride right up to the horseshoe falls where raincoats are definitely mandatory. We then took a walk through the town which consisted of casinos and lots of arcade type shops like haunted houses, 4D theatres, bowling, shooting, wax museums etc. A veritable little Disneyland.

As our terrific luck would again have it our single day was a Friday and that's the day that fireworks are fired over the falls. The fireworks normally finish at the end of August but as if just for us they had been extended for another month. The falls are also lit up at night with changing colours. All in all a very long and full-on day of excitement and wonder. Next morning we wanted one last look at the falls and so jogged further than we normally do and ended up needing to rush breakfast and packing so that we could commence our travel day from hell (16 hours of bus, plane, bus again) to Banff, on the other side of the country.

So how do the three top waterfalls in the world compare? Well, if you could only see one of them it would have to be Iguazu in my opinion, but they all are amazing in their own way.

If the waterfalls could speak I think this is what they would say...

'I am Iguazu Falls. I am mysterious and deep in the jungle. To get to me you have to travel by truck through Jurassic-like forest with big spiders and insects, over Indiana Jones type bridges until you come across the magnificent depth and breadth of me. I am a forest of waterfalls, gaze in awe.'

'I am Victoria Falls. I come as I am, I am all natural. Just a simple path to see me, wide and deep, plunge 100m and fill the sky with a cloud of water. I will soak you from beneath and above. I am the smoke that thunders, hear me roar.'

'I am Niagara Falls. You can see me all at once, majestic and symmetrical. You can see me from behind, you can see me up close with your engines running while I try to push you away. You can see me in lights and underneath fireworks. My town is a wonderland and I am like Disneyland, come and have fun.

Niagara is the only place we have seen a black one

Autumn is here

First video is from the Maid of the Mist boat in the thick of it.
Second video is the falls up close.


  1. Fantastic video of falls Michael. Back to feeling jealous of your travels now mine are a distant memory!!