The Falls

On our annual bud trip, my boys and I drove up into Canada to visit Niagara Falls from the Canadian side, plus a day trip to Toronto. In our usual pre-trip conversations about where we’d like to go, I offered to take them to New York City, or San Fransisco, thinking I would expose them to some serious culture and a taste of big city life. They, to my surprise, wanted to see Niagara Falls instead! At the time I thought, “Great, this will save me a bundle,” which didn’t prove to be exactly true, but close.


I’d seen Niagara Falls once before from the U.S. side, when I was 10. I remember the roar of the water and being impressed by the size of the thing, but not much more. Since then, more than one person remarked that the Falls were more spectacular from the Canadian side. So we three decided to spend all our time on the Canadian side to see what all the fuss was about.

Upon arriving in the Niagara area, the first impression is the obvious expectation that no tourist dollar brought in will ever leave the area. Everything is maximized for tourist pleasures from elevated restaurant prices to entertainment of every kind one can imagine. I couldn’t help but wonder if people came here to see the Falls, or partake of the pleasures of the wax museum, the arcades, movie houses, night clubs, stage shows, major-name concerts, casinos, and on and on. I guess after 30 minutes staring at falling water, most tourists need something else to do. Fortunately, we were intent on absorbing the Falls and avoided all those other money traps.

The two tourist events that got our converted American dollars were the Maid of the Mist boat ride that takes the passengers, rain parkas and all, close alongside the American Falls then even closer to the Canadian Falls, and the Behind the Falls attraction. Fairly recent rock falls make the American Falls less than pristine but still majestic. The Canadian Falls are bigger and more impressive, but a good portion of them are constantly covered by a mist cloud created by the falling water. Still, impressive examples of Mother Nature’s forces at work.

On the Behind the Falls attraction, one descends by elevator down to a viewing platform so close to the edge of the Canadian Falls you’d think you could reach out and touch them. Additionally, you can walk behind the falls and see the power and surge through a couple of excavated viewing tunnels. Don’t really see anything but a misty white wall of water, but you can feel and hear the power of the falls.

erosion.jpgThe most intriguing new-to-me fact came from this wall poster in the Behind the Falls tunnel. At some point in the early 1700s, surveyors begin charting the shape of the Canadian Falls and since then subsequent engineers keep the monitoring efforts revealing the alarming rate the fall was receding. Through engineered control of upstream currents over the last 80+ years, they’ve been able to slow the erosion to a level that ensures the Falls will be there for future generations to enjoy.

Even though it either rained or stayed overcast the whole visit, the Falls were impressive enough to overcome the weather. My photographs came out okay, but clear, sunny skies would have yielded some amazing blues and greens in the water. Tourist traps aside, visiting the Falls from the Canadian side was well worth it.

American Falls, viewing walkways on the east side.


American Falls, Maid of the Mist boat


Canadian Falls, Maid of the Mist boat, and one serendipitous bird shot!


Behind the Falls attraction, Canadian Falls

Victorian Sensibilities

The Dead Zoo

What do you get when Victorian-era zoologists and amateur collectors go crazy? Evidently Dublin’s Museum of Natural History, affectionately called the Dead Zoo by locals. Since 1857 this museum has been delighting young and old alike, at least those who enjoy walking among lots of dead, stuffed things. The crowded, three-story Victorian-adorned edifice is a treasure trove of animals, insects, and birds from around the world with a heavy concentration of Irish-specific species. The brochure states there are 10,000 specimens on display, selected from 2,000,000 in their collection. The experience of being there shows they couldn’t fit number 10,001.

Even though photography was forbidden, I managed (bad Gary) a quick snap from the third floor, shown above. Gives you some idea of how crowded the place is and the Victorianesque feeling. Visited twice, the first time arriving too close to closing time (5 o’clock prompt) to see much, but the second time arriving early enough to invest an hour sketching a few residents. The two sketches I managed (below) were drawn from ground floor (moose) and the narrow second-floor balcony (whale).

Bullwinkle's ancestor

whale bones

The Dead Zoo isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But if you’re the type that enjoys museum dioramas and zoos, then you’re in for a treat. If you visit Dublin, be sure to save time for this unique flashback to an era that encouraged compulsive collecting.

A Day in Ann Arbor

Yesterday I took a mini road trip up to Ann Arbor to check out the Border’s Bookstore and venture into some of the used and antiquarian bookstores this liberal Michigan town has to offer. Fortunately I headed out early, arriving in Ann Arbor around 10:30 a.m. I say fortunate, because yesterday the University of Michigan football team and about 100,000 friends gathered for one of their typical, frenzied football Saturdays. Imagine my surprise to drive up South Slate and see a sea of maize- and blue-clad people marching towards football heaven. Note to self:  next time, check the football schedule before heading out!

Lunch at SevasThe upside of a football weekend in Ann Arbor is, of course, fewer people downtown. Borders was a bit disappointing (I quick-peeked in there last time and thought it was a huge store; turns out to be very wide, but very shallow). But I did enjoy Dawn Treader and found some Medieval gems in Motte and Bailey’s store. So the booking was good, as was my lunch at Seva, a vegetarian restaurant on E. Liberty a few blocks west of Borders. Their North African Cous-Cous with grilled tempeh (above) was delightful, accompanied by a cup of gazpacho and Red Zinger tea.

I did cut my visit short, unfortunately, missing out on planned writing time in one or more of the coffee shops in Ann Arbor. I was lucky driving up early, but I did not want to test my luck twice and risk leaving anywhere near the time those 100,000 friends departed en masse to points unknown. At least it wasn’t the Ohio State-Michigan weekend:  not even a 10:30 arrival would have avoided an impassable sea of maize/blue and scarlet/grey.

Look Both Ways

Train signLook both ways, keep an open mind, try something different. Such are the attitudes de riguer when traveling to a different culture, at least, if one wants to grow by going outside the familiar.

When I ventured to Ireland for a horizon-expanding 10 days, I knew I’d experience things different from what I was used to here in the states. To me, part of the joy of travel comes from venturing outside one’s comfort zone, and with an open mind. Too many of us travel expecting all the comforts and conveniences at home, which if so, begs the question:  why not just stay at home?

We weren't the only tourists...I knew that Ireland was a “wrong side” driving experience, that they eat things like black pudding (tried it), and drink black beer. What I didn’t expect was some difficulty in being understood, or in understanding them. Even though English is the base language (some would argue we Americans speak American, not English), the varied accents made interpretation a challenge. I don’t think we ever understood any of the bus drivers, instead smiling and putting money in the till until the receipt printed out.

The highlight of the language wars had to be a visit to Burdock’s, THE fish ‘n chips place near Christ Church. As we ordered, the cook (owner?) asked if I was American, to which I said “Yes.” He then paused, and pronounced, “Texas?” Eerie. I don’t think I have much of an accent, especially since I’ve spent over a year up here in the Midwest. Yet there was proof of my true culture over the steam table of a Dublin Fish ‘n Chips place. Either that, or we stumbled onto an amateur linguist who actively practiced on unwitting tourists.

Heuston Station, Luas train and local transportation

All the differences and subtle twists on familiar things were a constant source of entertainment. From candy bars to kitchen appliances, signs, magazines, book covers, foliage, and oh yes, bathroom “pottys,” it was fun to see other possibilities. I’ll give Irish/British chocolate bars the nod, loved our host’s electric tea kettle (which I’m now the proud owner of one, Americanized of course, although surprisingly difficult to find), Irish stews, Shepard’s Pies, and do I need to re-mention properly “stored and poured” Guinness? But I’ll keep our driving style and bathrooms, thank you. The first pub we went into presented my first loo-dilemma:  what is the proper way to use the trough? With a fronting ledge too narrow to stand on, but too wide to aim over, I was a bit puzzled. Fortunately, as in most things of this sort, someone comes along to show how it’s done. Be grateful I didn’t have my camera with me, although even loos don’t escape the Irish sense of humor.

Galway traffic