So we took the boys on our first real road trip as a family near the end of summer.
Our original plan was to go to Chicago, stopping in Niagara Falls for a couple of days before moving West-ish around the Great Lakes. Unfortunately, a work-related meeting had us shortening our vacation to one city and a long weekend. I'm disappointed. Neither of us had been to Chicago, it's been years since we have taken a real road trip and I was really looking forward to this.
However, it took us 9 hours just to get to Niagara, and we left late enough that too much of the trip was in the dark. We sort of blew right through the Finger Lakes region where we used to spend some time nearly every summer for about 5 years.
Pumpkin has lately been obsessed with maps and states and their shapes and roads and other characteristics; and he was able to follow our route on the map. Another reason I was hoping for Chicago was that I really wanted him to have the opportunity to take note of the different states and cities we travelled through. Much as I like the smaller cities of Western NY, to an 8 year old, they don't seem like cities.
Indeed, he often seemed more impressed with the waterfall-imitating light sculpture on the side of the Niagara Seneca Casino, than he did with the actual waterfalls. The bad iPhone photo that I have of the building doesn't do it any justice, so here are some pictures of real waterfalls.
Perhaps the point of the trip was not so much to see Niagara Falls, though they were beautiful, as it was to have done the trip at all. There were years where we weren't sure we would ever be able to do a road trip again.
Except for a few flare ups though, the boys were great. The fighting and the hypersilliness was kept to a minimum. There was a pool in the hotel that kept the boys entertained during down times, and there was enough to do in Buffalo/Niagara to just enjoy being somewhere other than home for a while. There's a park surrounding the Falls that provides for views from a bunch of different angles. You can cross over into Canada with the right documentation.
There's a whole host of the tacky and odd things you might find at a tourist destination run by people trying to make a buck off the dwindling industry in the region. We spotted a Daredevil Museum which Piper was all excited about until he discovered it was in the back of a convenience store. There was the Tudor-ish Haunted House that we investigated, but ultimately decided against. I was pretty sure they wouldn't understand the Wax Museum.
Other than the Falls themselves, what stood out for Piper and me were three things:
Niagara as a honeymoon destination is pretty much a thing of the past. We spotted one car with the traditional "Just Married" graffiti and another couple who came down to breakfast in their bathrobes (the groom wore dreads). Other than those two, it was mostly families walking around the city.
The region has clearly seen better days. Like a lot of cities whose primary industry has suffered from modernization or offshoring, much of Buffalo and Niagara seems stagnant and in need of repair. However if you are a fan of Indian food, you're in luck because there are myriad restaurants to choose from. Apart from the hotel restaurants, you won't find much else. We got lost on the way to our hotel the first night, and were a bit worried about the neighborhood we found ourselves in. Turns out we were not all that far from the hotel, it only felt a world away.
Finally, Niagara is still popular and still considered important to international travellers and recent immigrants. There were so many different languages spoken among the tourists, and I felt good that my kids were observing and interacting with people from other cultures.
Much of what we did do centered around the Falls themselves. There are a few opportunities to don plastic ponchos and get wet. We boarded the Maid of the Mist, shown here, and got the short, but very waterlogged tour. The kids loved it. They liked the Cave of the Winds poncho tour better, though the wait for the elevator was not so fun. Niagara Falls may be one of the wonders of the natural world, but the 14-story elevator shaft built into the cliff was quite the feat of engineering.
The other highlight of the trip was the small but sweet Niagara Aquarium where some of these pictures were taken.
On our final night there we stayed up late and walked back down to see the fireworks over the Canadian side.
Always a great way to end a trip, or a summer, or a post!