Niagara On The Lake- Canada
Thanksgiving- Niagara On the Lake
Thurs. 11/25/ -Amherst, N.Y.
We were up early at 7:30 A.M. It was cold out, with a light mixture of snow and sleet falling. We drove over to the Eastern Hills Mall to walk inside, but it was closed for Thanksgiving. A nearby Starbucks, On Transit Rd, claimed our attention. We read the paper and enjoyed some of their delicious brew. The place was crowded with early morning travelers.
By now, the nasty weather had abated somewhat. We went for a three mile walk along Dan Troy Blvd. and stopped at the Wegman’s supermarket on Sheridan Dr. for more coffee. The store was a hubbub of last-minute shoppers who were preparing their holiday meal. We stopped by the prepared foods section, to greet the son of one of our friends who was working there that day.
After our walk, we showered, packed a bag and loaded the car for the one-hour run to Niagara on the Lake, in Canada. We took Maple Rd. to Rte. #263 South, to Rte. # 290 West, to Rte. 190 North, and finally onto the Lewiston/Queenston Bridge at Youngstown. A line had already formed. There was an American “review station” that preceded the Canadian customs stop. “9/11” has changed everything about border crossing here abouts. We exchanged $100 for Canadian funds. The exchange rate is now $1 American for $1.00 Cdn. down from $1.37 Cdn and reflecting the American dollar’s fall from grace on the international currency markets.
Canadian customs was both polite and perfunctory as we sailed into Canada. The traffic circle, at the General Braddock monument, near Queenston, was newly designed on the Niagara Parkway. We drove along this beautiful stretch of roadway and admired the Niagara gorge and river that runs through it. The homes along here keep getting bigger and more elaborate every years as Torontonians and other wealthy Canadians discover the scenic beauty of the region. Several winery conglomerates, like Inniskillen and Peller, have huge tracts of land under cultivation here, with vineyards along the Parkway. A new hybrid, of disease resistant Lambrusco vines and vinifera grapes has created ideal conditions for the production of Merlot, Cabernet and Pinot Noir wines. The region is fast acquiring a reputation for its wine and drawing tourists by the busloads.
We were too early to check into the venerable Obann Inn, so we cruised along the Mississauga Road. The Hillebrand Winery complex and restaurant is out this way and is fun to tour. We passed the White Oaks Inn and Conference Center, where we had stayed with friends when playing the nearby Royal Niagara Golf Course. The area is awash with tourists in the warmer months. Finally, we stopped by Tim Hortons, for coffee and pastries, to hold us until dinner. Then, we drove back to Niagara On The Lake.
The familiar brick-solidity and attractive appearance, of provincial Niagara on the Lake, soon hove into view. The festival Theater complex, Fort George and a several-block collection of very pricey and fashionable shops, eateries and hotels make this a very pleasant stop for travellers. The town had once been the capital of “upper canada” and seen several pitched battles between the English and Americans in our Revolutionary war era. Just across the mouth of the River, sits the looming bulk of Fort Niagara. The French, English and now American flags had all flown from those formidable ramparts since the early 1700’s.
It was a little windy and cold out as we parked the car on the main street and set out to browse the toney shops. Expensive leathers and imported woolens, from Denmark and Scotland, made for pricey shopping. The stores were uncrowded. We admired the style and variety of the clothing on sale. It was a little rich for our pockets, so we made the tour abbreviated. A visit to a large wine store introduced us to the Peller wines, a new and rising winery in the area. We tasted the Chardonnay and found it agreeable. Outside, workers were stringing Christmas wreaths and decorations on the trees and stores along the Main street. The Town has a Norman Rockwell flavor to it.
It was nearing 3 P.M. as we pulled into the Obann Inn parking lot. Lake Ontario is just across the road from here. The waves were choppy with whitecaps from the wind. The Obann Inn is a venerable and Dutch Colonial style Inn.It is three stories in height with a large restaurant complex. It also has a delightful, warm and comfortable bar area with paneled walls and a huge fire place that is always ablaze and enjoyable. We have eaten here many times and always enjoyed their food and hospitality. I should mention that the Inn had stood on this spot from 1824 until 1993 when it was totally destroyed by fire. The Inn had then been rebuilt according to original plans and was a complete replica of the original. It is part of a hotel syndicate that Includes the Pillar and Post, The Prince of Wales and the Queen's Landing Hotels. All are attractive and comfortable in their own right. The syndicate had been compiled and is now run by a Vietnamese woman of mystery who is reportedly somewhat at odds with the local business community. I don’t know the particulars, but it has the ring of drama to it. Whatever the case, the lady runs some pretty fine establishments.
We checked in without issue and were assigned room #15 on the third floor. The tab was a moderate $150 Cdn per night. It included a gourmet breakfast, and was more than reasonable. We unpacked in a very comfortable room with cherry wood beds , laura secord wall paper and down comforters. It was a very pleasant. We settled in, with a glass of Pinot Noir and readied for our 5:00 P.M. Thanksgiving dinner.
The dining room, on the main floor, is elegant. Much of the seating lies along large windows, that allow a view of Lake Ontario. The crowd was sparse this early, as we sat down and were greeted by our server Lois. We ordered some decent Gamay Beaujolais, from Inniskillen, and then perused the menu. The Canadians, ever graceful and considerate, had arranged for an American style dinner of turkey with all the trimmings. Their own Thanksgiving holiday is Oct. 12th or there abouts. Mary ordered the Turkey. I asked for the same meal only requested Salmon instead of turkey. We had wonderful salads, a hearty main course and then an enormous apple cobbler, with really good coffee. Everything was wonderful. We were much pleased with the meal, the service and the surroundings. The tab was reasonable.
It was early, so we walked outside to catch some air. The moon was near full and it shone upon a quaint Inn and two pilgrims on the shores of Lake Ontario, just across from the spectral presence of Fort Niagara. It was brisk out, at 35 degrees, but we were happy to be here. We soon repaired to our room to read our books and relax. It had been a very nice Thanksgiving in a story book village. We were properly Thankful for what we had.
Friday 11/26 Niagara On The Lake, Canada
We were up early at 7 A.M. The skies were clear over Lake Ontario. It was a frosty 34 degrees out. We joined the other guests, in the dining room, for a gourmet breakfast of omelets, english muffins and marmalade. The coffee was again very good. Lois made the meal more enjoyable with her attentive service. It was pleasant looking out over the lake Ontario, from this comfortable Inn. We enjoyed the experience.
After breakfast, we saddled up the chariot and drove 20 miles South, along the scenic Niagara Parkway, to the tourist mecca of this neck of the woods, Niagara Falls, Canada. Nine million visitors, from all over the world, stroll by this scenic wonder every year. The semi-circular Horseshoe Falls, on the Canadian side, and the smaller American and Bridal falls, on the other side, are a scenic wonder that draws them in by the tens of thousands in the warmer months.
We scouted out the location of the Marriot Courtyard, where we would be staying with English Friends on New Year’s Eve, and then parked our car in the multi-story garage of the huge and very new Fallsview Hotel and Casino. The whole complex is both new,having just opened last Summer, and impressive. A large mall area has pricey shops, several restaurants and is both broad and open to the light. The complex sits along a second tier shelf of land, on a hillside, immediately above the whole array of tourist complexes that line the road-level falls area. A broad esplanade, along this shelf, now affords breath taking scenery.
Inside the Hotel and casino, we browsed the shops and then sat down to play some video poker in the roomy and busy casino area. We might as well have been in Las Vegas. It is that nice a place. We played for an hour and managed to break even from the stingy slots, a not inconsiderable feat. It was time to move on. Outside the casino, a new city was emerging from the tacky collection of tourist shops along the Clifton Hill area. A Ramada Renaissance, a Cambridge suites and other hotels had now grown up. A whole variety of restaurants, to feed the hotel guests, had emerged. It is clean and lively. We walked over to the lofty Minolta Tower and hotel, and took the elevator up to the 25th floor for a rather amazing view of the Falls area. We would be having dinner here on New Years Eve, with the Martins from Brighton. I had forgotten what heights like this did to an acroophobic. No more coffee for me when visiting places like this.
We walked back to the nearby casino and retrieved out car. The scent of economic success is everywhere about you here in Niagara Falls Ontario. It is nice to see something like this in a region where this is not all that common. On the way out of town, we noticed about 100 Bed and Breakfast facilities, now converted from private homes. Prosperity is spreading. We stopped once more, for coffee and pastries, at a Tim Hortons. We mused on when this franchise had been but a coffee and donuts shop in Ft. Erie, started by Buffalo Sabres linesman Tim Horton. Now, it a is a huge conglomerate spreading everywhere in Eastern Canada and the Unites States. It was early afternoon as we returned to Niagara on the Lake. The main drag, of this quaint town, was now awash with shoppers. Many were day trippers from around the area,who had come on the buses we saw parked out side of town. It was calm and a brisk 40 degrees out. We changed at the Inn and set out for a walk along the Niagara River and into town.
Fort Niagara, across the placid Niagara river, seems like a hollywood setting now. But in centuries past her guns had commanded the river mouth and helped rule North America for the French and the English. The homes along the river here are colonial in style and very picturesque. They have a solid Georgian and Queen Anne feel to them that is reassuring. We walked along Front street, admiring the casual affluence on display. The Queen's Landing Hotel, and a few smaller establishments, sit along this street. Walking past them, we came upon Fort George. The sprawling complex has earthen works battlements facing the river , perhaps to deflect cannon shot from river gun boats and ward off canon shot from nearby Fort Niagara. On the landward side there are three earthen breastworks with openings for cannons. A wooden stockade wall, with gunsight openings, stretches between the breastwork emplacements. I don’t remember what, if any, battles had been fought here, but I know that in nearby Queenston Heights, and Lundy’s lane further South, there had been several pitched battles between British and American troops during our War of 1812. We enjoyed the serenity of the river, the fort complex and the festival theater area, sans busloads of tourists. Like many scenic areas, they are at their best in the “off season.” The day was lengthening and we were tiring. we walked back to the Inn and settled in for an afternoon nap.
Along our walk, we had noticed a sign for a “New Italian Restaurant” at a small place called the Anchorage Inn.” We decided to try it for dinner. It was larger than we imagined but quaint and comfortable. We settled in for some crab and lobster raviolis, that were wonderful, washed down with a decent Australian Merlot. It was pleasant and relaxed. Nearby us, we watched a brewing domesitc. A couple and their daughter were having dinner. The father was wagging his finger to beat the bad at both his daughter and wife. The girl, having had enough of that abuse, excused herself and left. The wife soon followed, leaving dufus to sit alone in embarrassed silence. We cheered the wife and daughter on.
After dinner, we drove back to the Inn. The moon was full and shining on this scenic spot. We admired it for a time, passed on another drink at the comfortable bar and returned to our room to read and enjoy the end of this pleasant day on the Canadian shore.
Sat. 11/27 Niagara On the Lake, Ontario
We were up early as is our custom. We showered and packed our bags, ready for departure. Then, we descended to the dining room for one last gourmet breakfast. Lois seated us along the windows and we chatted with her a bit before ordering. She worked long hours. Her husband is an electrician in town. We talked about all of the many pricey homes springing up in the area and their mounting costs. Lois said that many Canadians still come across to the USA to shop. Even though their dollar is at discount, the American taxes are much less on commercial items, making it economical for them to shop in the USA. We ordered another omelet special and were again pleased with the quality of the meal. A week of this would add five pounds or more.
We made our goodbyes, checked out and drove South for the Queenston Bridge. The round-about entrance way for the bridge had been moved a few miles south, to accommodate the massive traffic jams that had been occurring in the warmer months. The new, free-trade act had caused massive amounts of trucking to pass this way. Waits of up to four hours had occurred at the three area bridge crossings. We were hoping to be early enough at 9 A.M. to beat the crowds. We had no such luck. The bridge traffic was backed up all the way across the bridge and into Canada. Most of the license plates were from Ontario, so i suppose it was part of the whole Christmas shopping bonanza. We sat patiently and made it across to customs in under 40 minutes. US customs was perfunctory in t that we had valid US passports.
We sailed on into the USA and drove south along the Niagara Thruway and then on into Amherst. We reached our castle, unpacked our bags and settled in for the day. We were seeing the Beatles Magical mystery tour, with the BUffalo Philharmonic, at Kleinhan's music hall this evening and were in need of a nap. It had been a nice trip and were pleased we had made it.