The trip began very, very early. The alarm was particularly shrill at 4am, and I rose as if I were a clockwork doll, just having been wound! The memories of childhood days, when we had to get up at an unearthly hour, to drive for a whole day (pre-motorway days) to get to the seaside, were once again evoked. My dad would come into my room and say, "Wake up, Trace. We are going on holiday". I still hear those words when the alarm goes off for us to rise before dawn, and it makes me smile.
Having been allowed the courtesy of going through the pre-approved line, our wait at security was minimal. We bought breakfast, and took it to the gate, where we attempted to sweet talk our way into extra leg-room seats. We were not flying with my 'preferred' airline. In fact, this was our first flight with this particular company, and so I had no bargaining chip to play! The exit rows, and the like, are sold to those who have not earned them, and when we were asked if we wanted to pay for them, we decided against it, as the 'regular' seats appeared to be of a reasonable size in which my husband could fit! However, the lady behind the desk looked at my ticket, and 'hummed', before saying that she would put us in an exit row, free of charge. We are unsure as to what she saw, as I had only just joined the loyalty programme a couple of days earlier! It was not a time for questioning, and we thanked her very much, before going to sit down in the waiting area.
Just as we were about to bite into our sandwich, the boarding began. After inviting their preferred customers, and those who needed extra time to board, the announcer asked for those "Who purchased extra leg-room seats", to come aboard. I nudged Dana, who was oblivious to the announcer, and told him that we were being called. I wanted to tell those around me, who looked on, that I didn't actually pay for the seat, but I thought that might add insult to injury!
The flight to JKF International, in New York City, was very pleasant. We were treated to soft beverages and packets of crisps, or cookies, and there was no limit! I was very judicial and enjoyed a pack of blue potato chips, and a cranberry juice! Not particularly rebellious, but quite satisfying.
Lunch was part of the plan when we deplaned, as we had a three hour layover. We checked out the various restaurants, were seated at a rather fine looking establishment, checked out the menu and left. Although we had decided not to make an issue out of the price, as New York City, and no doubt most of the state would be far more expensive than Austin, when the establishment charge an extra $11 for fries, I considered this to be a little outrageous, especially as the burger was $20! Perhaps I am old fashioned, but I thought it was a little over the top to pay over $30 for fast food! Instead we enjoyed a sandwich, and vowed to have a 'nice' meal when we reached Buffalo!
The second flight was quick, and we picked up the car and headed out to the highway. Being an ex-air traffic controller, and not at all directionally challenged, my husband, who is most organised, and prepares little booklets containing our schedule, maps and the like, (yes, proof that opposites DO attract!) did not like the fact that the sign on the road did not match up to the one on his map, and the fact that it said 'East', when it clearly was not, meant that there must be something amiss, and decided that we would go straight ahead, instead of left. Personally, I would have had faith in the sign! We drove for a minute or two, arrived at a toll booth, collected a ticket, and headed for 'who knows where!', hoping that the prices on the ticket that should be produced when we exit, was not going to be one that was printed on the top line! Having missed our exit, because the road was not to scale, (the map was perfect,) we headed away from our temporary home. The next exit was sixteen miles along the road, and through the exit toll, where we had to pay a total of ninety cents. When the 'nine' came from the mouth of the toll operator, we were both waiting for him to add 'dollars', but were pleasantly surprised. He explained that the best way back would be to turn around, and take the toll. We did just that, and arrived at the hotel about forty five minutes after leaving airport. I did not mention that a similar thing happened in San Francisco!
The hotel was quite beautiful. The room was very large, and the bathroom consisted of a toilet and an enormous walk in shower. The bath, itself, was in the bedroom. However, it was not just a bath, but a rather large jacuzzi, set so that the television could be viewed, if so desired. We unpacked, and checked out the local restaurants. It had been a long day, and as the roads did not coincide with our maps, I thought it unwise to travel too far. We headed out along the road, in search of something other than the usual franchises, and came across a pub. As we were in the town of Buffalo, I had hoped that the meat bearing the same name would be easily found, but most restaurants failed us. I looked through the extensive menu, and then saw the 'local specialties'. 'Buffalo burger', was all that I needed to see! Yes please! Dana opted for the Shepherds pie, which was made with ground beef (so technically a cottage pie) and he was asked, "Would you like cheese on that?" Thankfully, he said "No", as I would have had to correct them again, but silently added, "That makes it a Cumberland pie!" I am a stickler for accuracy, unlike the roads!
Dinner was amazing! With unlimited popcorn and peanuts, at a 'help yourself' table, we feasted. Arriving back at the hotel, we took advantage of the facilities, and then fell asleep watching a late night movie.
Breakfast was pictured online, as a buffet. The setting was beautiful. Indoor shrubs were entwined with little lights, and the table and chairs were set like a pavement cafe. It was very pretty.
The buffet was as pictured online. There was eggs, and there was sausages, and there was toast. However, the toaster was a little temperamental. It was an horizontal burner, and after putting the bread on the moving rack, the rack would decide, periodically, whether it was going to move! Although the sprinklers were never activated, there was a lot of burnt toast! I piled my plate high with waffles, toast, eggs and salsa, and then took a bowl of cereal and yogurt, before returning to the bar to get a cup of coffee. The table in the alcove was charming, and we sat and ate, before realising that the window setting was not actually a setting, and the curtains on the inside of the window, should they be opened, would reveal a bedroom! I wondered how good the sound exclusion was! Dana and I do not make a lot of noise when eating, but there were several people in the cafe!
After breakfast, we headed out towards our goal. We took the toll and headed towards Niagara Falls. There were plenty of signs, and I chose not to take the map from the sun visor. The GPS was displayed and despite not being activated, talked incessantly! Arriving at the park, I was not particularly surprised to see the queues, nor was I surprised to see that the 'ample' parking was far from 'ample', and we exited the area in search of another place to store our vehicle, so that we could witness the waterfall. The lady in the GPS was not happy with us, and attempted to divert us to the nearest airport. I tried, in vain, to silence her, but she was far more clever than I, and had hidden the 'silence' mode, somewhere quit safely! Obviously, the surrounding car parks took advantage of the situation and we paid the exorbitant price, finding out that if he had hesitated for a few more seconds, the cost would have risen by double! We were on holiday! Walking two blocks across and two blocks down, we reached the banks of the river that led to the Falls. I had always been told that the best view was from the 'Canadian side', and watching the water tumble over the cliff's edge, from a side view, I began to see why this was so. Lovely as it was, just across the river, was Canada, and the view from that side of the water was face on! If we were to get the full effect of this spectacular sight, encompassing not only the Falls of Niagara, but also the Horseshoe Falls, which were face on, we had three options. Option one was to go onto the observation deck, which reaches out across the water. However, the lines that had formed by ten in the morning, would have dictated that we not only pack a lunch and dinner picnic, but very possibly sleeping bag, as we would probably not gain entry until the following morning, and that was not possible due to us having to fly home, and of course, return the car! (Perhaps that is why Mrs Lady in the GPS was directing us to the nearest airfield!) Option two was even more out of reach. To buy tickets and see the Falls from the famous vessel, 'Maid of the Mist', would have meant returning in a couple of weeks! Option three was the most viable. We had chosen to drive across the border into adjoining Canada, but I was rather intrigued by the other method, namely, walking. As we headed back to the car, I saw a narrow pathway, with a sign pointing to a turnstile gate, 'To Canada'. There was not a queue, nor the 'fanfare' that accompanies most border crossings, but a simple 'ticket office' type window, and the turnstile. Obviously documentation is required, but it was rather a novel sight.
Amused at the concept of 'paying' to leave the USA, we delivered the dollars to the toll booth guard and headed across the bridge, to the next stop, which was Canadian customs. Our passports, and my residency card, were scrutinised by a delightful lady, and we were asked some generic questions, such as, "Why are you coming into Canada?", and "Do you have relatives here?" We explained that we wished to see the Falls from this side, and we were on our way to see three of the five great lakes. Ambitious was the indication received from the guard, as two lakes would be viable in a day, but the third was somewhat far away, and we would probably not return until much later that night. However, she was extremely pleasant and helpful with route tips.
The Falls indeed were spectacular from the other side of the bridge, and we saw the panoramic view that was eluded from those who did not have their passports, or simply chose not to go through the turnstile! Again, parking was at a premium, and despite there being lots charging exorbitant rates, there were no spaces of which to take advantage. I suggested that we perhaps wait until our return to the bridge, and passport control, before taking pictures of the fantastic vision. Dana agreed. We headed off away from Toronto and towards Lake Ontario, which was not far away. Unfortunately, nor was the migraine that had been threatening for the last couple of hours. I fell asleep after seeing the shores of my second Great Lake, Onterio, and was quite 'out of it' for the next hour. I was aware, however, of my husband wondering where all the polite Canadians were. Everyone on the road must have been visiting, as the amount of times I heard a sharp intake of breath, as someone cut in front of our vehicle, and the sound of a hooter being blasted because someone else had not slammed on their brakes hard enough to avoid a collision, was uncountable!
Stopping at a small town for something to eat, and entering a Dairy Queen, (nothing like trying the local cuisine!) I exited the car and headed straight to the rest room. I did not have painkillers, nor the ability to speak properly and ask if there was a pharmasist within the vicinity, so that some could be purchases. Instead, I hobbled to the counter, where I found my husband in a little bit of a quandary. We did not have Canadian dollars, and his credit card was being denied. The establishment appeared to be unaware of the USA, let alone its currency! Dana was unaware of the 'protection' that is now ensured on such cards, and did not realise that it is necessary to inform the companies that issue the plastic, that you will be using it in another country. Fortunately, I was able to come to the rescue with my English variety and paid as much for the meal as I will in exchange rates!
Our cell phones were also not connecting, and the wifi was non-existent. Samantha had managed to get through to Dana's phone along the way, and we had connected for about thirty seconds before all went quiet. I started to panic, which was not good for me but fuelled the migraine into a deeper recession, and attempted to climb out of the doldrums, remembering that I was a child of the sixties, when policemen had to use call boxes to communicate! It did not help. Mrs Lady in the GPS, on the other hand, appeared to have International honours, as she continued to talk throughout our journey! Dana woke me when we reached Lake Erie, although we were unable to actually access the lake front until I was physically unable to leave the car! I looked for a while, took a few pictures, (although I am still amazed I was able to focus the camera, as my eyes were definitely not so,) and we headed off back towards 'The States', wondering if the border guard had had a premonition about my state of health, when suggesting that driving to Lake Huron would be a bit 'ambitious'.
It did not matter to me whether we took another bridge back into the 'homeland', and it certainly was not a concern that we would not stop to take pictures of the magnificent view of the Falls, as I was beyond caring about anything other than getting into a horizontal position and fading from consciousness, out of the car! I did, thankfully, have unexpected areas of lucidity, where I could enjoy the Canadian countryside, and the Lake view, but they did not last very long. As we were nearing the border, we came to a bridge, that was raised. I opened my eyes, and noticed that we were waiting for it to be lowered, and as I could not see anything on the water, I assumed that whatever it was had passed and we would be crossing momentarily. Not so! About five minutes went by, and then, I espied out the corner of my very blurry vision, a barge. This was not a regular barge, but one that was almost as long as the queue for the observation deck. Not only was it as long, but the speed at which it was moving was also coinciding with that of the observation deck! I unclipped my seat belt and informed my husband that I was about to be rather 'unwell'!
Years of experience have taught me to deal with this particular ailment, and when the prescribed drugs, or even those that are bought over the counter to deal with the pain are not present, (and sometimes when they are,) I can sometimes manage to come to a 'mind over matter' stage, and take control. This I forced myself to do, as I did not want to disgrace myself in public. I had no idea what the immigration process would require going back into the USA, and did not know if I would have to exit the vehicle. I was not going to be entering into a building looking like a reject from the casualty ward! I closed my eyes for what seemed like an eternity, and opened them to see that the barge was still preventing the bridge from dropping, and Dana's face turning from anxiety over my condition to wonder, as he watched the slow moving water vehicle.
Eventually, the barge managed to slip across and the bridge came down! We headed towards the border, and were the second car in line. The guard took our passports, and asked if we were both citizens. I knew I was starting to feel better, as I nearly blurted out, "Perhaps he is colour blind!" In his hand he held the familiar blue passport of the citizen, and the rather different red wine coloured booklet of the one who was not! Dana replied in the negative and drew the guard's attention to my 'green card', which was in his left hand. "Hmm. And how long have you been in Canada?", he said, as if an actor word perfect in his lines. "Four hours, or there about", I responded, feeling relief from the pain behind my eyes. If this was all I needed to get relief from a migraine, I wanted to know how to bottle it! "Buy anything from Duty Free? Buy anything from Canada? Bringing anything in?" Dana answered in the negative to all three. I kept quiet. He looked again at my my residency card, smiled, welcomed us back, and opened the barrier. As I placed my documentation back into my purse, I realised that when I had my picture taken for my card, I was suffering from a very heavy cold, and looked, as the saying goes, like 'death warmed up', (or 'over', if you are on this side of the pond,) and, therefore, I resembled the portrait with accuracy!
We were once again amused as we paid the toll to get back into the country, and drove the few miles to the next toll, with which we were all too familiar, from the previous day. I climbed the stairs to our room when we reached the hotel, and passed out for a couple of hours.
Once I had slept, I felt a lot better, and we went in search of something to eat. It was when I had eaten and felt quite better, that I informed my husband that he had actually lied to the border guard. We had bought something in Canada, and had brought it back into the country. "That was lunch", he said, niaively. "Even worse", I continued. You brought meat back into the country, reminding him that the chicken strips that were purchased with such difficulty at the fast food joint were in violation of the rules! "You cannot bring meat back into the country without it being checked". It was an innocent mistake, and as they had been consumed, without being shared, or sold, I told him that there would probably be no need for further action! Although not irked, he could not see the humour! However, he recognised that I was 'back to normal'!
We enjoyed our breakfast the following morning, outside a guest's bedroom window, and headed towards the airport. I managed, somewhat too late, to find Mrs Lady in the GPS's voice, and silenced her! Although I had, once again, been afforded the 'pre' status, my husband had not, and did not think it would be a problem to discuss with the man on duty, how we were not usually separated, It was after the guard made a 'hmm' sound that he revoked all rights, and possibilities of a quicker entry, as he (Dana) insisted on continuing to discuss! I should not berate him, unduly, as he is a sweetie, but sometimes, a little less 'streetwise', than his wife! We went our separate ways, as I was going to take advantage of my status, and although he did not have to go to the back of the line, as he did stop the discussion when I gently kicked him (as he was heading that way,) he was a little longer at getting through security than was I. We could not garner exit seats, but the seating was comfortable enough for my husband's tall frame. We arrived in Austin a little earlier than expected, and watched the rain tumble as we unpacked. Although I had slept through most of Canada, I had been able to witness one of the greatest sights this country has to offer, (albeit greater from across the border,) and collected two more Great Lakes. Interestingly enough, the most memorable part for me was the ease at the border; for Dana it was that very long, very slow barge!
With some more 'bucket list' items ticked off, I looked back on our trip with satisfaction. Although it had taken us a day to get to Buffalo, it was an enjoyable journey, and I had also experienced 'Up-state New York', which has also been a 'want' to do! With a trip to Alaska, to allow me to say I have been to all 50 states, looking to be a non-viable thing for the near future, I am looking for another 'never thought I would see', sight to bring to you in ...... another story!