|Next Stop Canada
© Copyright 2007 by Craig McCarthy
It was all we could think about for weeks, the big road trip to Montreal, Canada. When we told people about our upcoming vacation we usually got one of two responses. “You’re going to have a great time”, some would say. Others, surprised, would say, “You’re driving to Canada?”
Thinking back, the idea to drive north never really dawned on us until research online revealed how expensive airfare was into Montreal. Frustrated, another search turned up a drive time of 16 hours - if we started just outside of Chicago where my parents currently live. Living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin we considered this doable.
We soon realized another benefit to driving, besides saving money on airfare, would be the additional places we’d get to visit. “Niagara Falls [just outside Buffalo, New York] will be the perfect spot to stop and spend the night,” I told my girlfriend who was accompanying me on the trip. My estimation put the drive time from Chicago to Niagara Falls at about nine hours. The following day we would drive the remaining distance to Montreal. We decided that coming back we would leave Montreal and drive to Toronto and spend the night there before returning home. The vacation was now starting to take shape and since neither of us had ever visited any of these locations it added to the excitement we both felt.
Traveling to another country presents it’s own set of challenges, but having been aboard before we both had passports and felt confident we would be able to handle any situation that might arise. We’d also been on several other trips together so we knew we made good travel companions.
With the change from Central Time to Eastern Time during out first leg of the journey, we would lose an hour, it was important that we got on the road early. To make sure we had plenty of time to sightsee in Niagara Falls we decided to leave at five o’clock in the morning on a Monday to begin our trip.
It was early September and the weather was ideal for our upcoming travels. The morning pre-dawn air upon our departure was cool and crisp. While watching the local news the night before we were assured by the weather forecaster it would warm up nicely into the 70’s by early afternoon. Perfect weather we thought.
Besides the great driving conditions, leaving early meant less traffic to deal with during the first several hours of the drive. Once we got out of the Chicago Metropolitan area we anticipated smooth sailing all the way to Buffalo, New York.
The hours rolled on as we made our way northeast on I-90. The drive through Indiana, then Ohio, seemed effortless. We then drove through a portion of Pennsylvania finally making it to New York State. Reaching New York seemed like a milestone and we knew at this point we were in the home stretch for the day.
As the distance between Niagara Falls and us became smaller and smaller we noticed just how beautiful the landscape was. While the fall colors were just beginning to show, we couldn’t help but image the explosion of colors that would be occurring over the next month or so. We found ourselves a tad upset that we would not be around to see them.
Within no time the Buffalo skyline was in our sights and we found ourselves giddy with excitement - like kids on Christmas just before opening up all of his presents. As we made our way through the city we paid careful attention to the signs that would lead us to Niagara Falls and all its splendor. We knew we were close when in the distance we saw what appeared to be steam rising between several large buildings. Later when we viewed the falls up close we realized it wasn’t steam we saw earlier, but rather midst from the massive amounts of rushing water.
Like most people visiting a strange city for the fist time, we were a bit confused upon our arrival in Niagara Falls. We weren’t exactly sure where we needed to go to catch a glimpse of the famous falls. Despite this, one thing was for certain, we were going to take the Maid of the Midst voyage. This was a short boat ride that took dozens of tourists into the heart of the raging waterfall. We had read up on the ride and heard from others that it was a must do while visiting.
Once we parked the car we began to explore the area and made our way along the rushing Niagara River – we assumed this would eventually lead us to the falls. To my surprise, what we came upon first was something known as the American Falls. While unbelievable impressive, I learned that this was not the waterfall most people associate with Niagara Falls. My girlfriend knew this. I, on the other hand, did not.
This spectacular natural wonder is on the U.S. side of the border and completely within the state of New York. It’s much smaller than the more famous Horseshoe Falls, which is on the Canadian side of the border. To compare how much bigger the Horseshoe Falls is to the American Falls, almost 90 percent of all the water from the Niagara River flows over the Horseshoe Falls. It’s amazing some to the things you learn while on vacation.
While watching the water flow over and down the American Falls more than a hundred feet below, in the distance was the sight we traveled all this way to see, the magnificent Horseshoe Falls. It wasn’t long after catching out first glimpse that we found our way to the Maid of the Midst boat tour and experienced the wrath of the Horseshoe Falls and its massive midst up close. To remember the occasion I kept the poncho given to me to keep dry while on the boat ride. I figured it would make a nice souvenir.
After the tour and once the boat docked we did a little more sightseeing around the falls and then crossed the border into Canada and checked into our hotel. The first leg of our trip was now complete and to say we were having a great time would have been an understatement.
The next morning we awoke to some clouds and light rain, a complete contrast to the day before. While we didn’t want to rush, we knew we still had at least six more hours of driving ahead of us before reaching Montreal. After having a light breakfast at the hotel we decided to get one more look at the falls before departing. Venturing over to one of the fancier hotels on the Canada side we went up more than 20 floors to get a one-of-kind panoramic view of the falls and the surrounding area. The amazing view was definitely picture worthy as several photos were taken to capture the breathtaking sight. It was a wonderful final impression of Niagara Falls as we now redirected our focus to Montreal.
Since we didn’t want to head west around Lake Superior to reach our final destination, we had to head back into the U.S. and drive several hours northeast through upstate New York before crossing the border once again into Canada.
Once we cleared border patrol for the second time that day we knew Montreal was only a few hours away. Right away Canada greeted us with changes we had to quickly adapt to. Miles per hour were now kilometers per hour. Gasoline was no longer sold by the gallon, but rather by the liter. And taking French in high school instead of Spanish would have been helpful - since most of the road signs were no long in English.
As we cruised on the 401, the highway leading to Montreal, we were talking about and planning the days ahead in Montreal. Four full days would give us a lot of time to see the things we wanted to see. On the list were: Mount Royal Park, Olympic Stadium, Notre Dame Basilica and Rue Saint-Catherine Street, to name few.
Less than two hours from our hotel, which was located in Old Montreal near the city’s port, a torrential downpour started and didn’t let up until after our arrival. While it dampened our spirits a bit, the woman who checked us in to our quaint little hotel, called the Champ de Mars, assured us it was only a one-day event and that sunny skies were being forecasted for the next several days.
We settled into our room, which we would call home for the next few days, and noticed the rain had let up. Since we were tired from the long drive and didn’t know the city very well we decided to stay close to our hotel and explore Old Montreal by foot. It didn’t take us long to find the cobblestone streets and old buildings that had been bragged about in many of the guidebooks we’d read. It was a Tuesday night so the streets were empty - that along with the rainy weather had kept people inside we concluded.
Water from the rain glistened the streets and gave the city a romantic backdrop. We were both in awe of the beauty and couldn’t believe we were finally here. We walked until we stumbled upon an Italian restaurant that made as feel as they though we’d been transported to Italy. The service was superb, the food even better. We knew at this point we were going to like Montreal and have a wonderful week.
The next morning we awoke to the shinning sun and could feel its warmth through the windows of our room. The days that followed were similar to this and allowed us to do all the things we had planned: sightsee, shop, eat and basically enjoying all that Montreal had to offer.
On the morning we left we were sad to be saying goodbye. We had just started to become accustom to the city and wished we had a few more days. Upon checking out of our room we thanked the employees at the hotel for their hospitality. In turn they thanked us for staying with them. We took pictures so we’d remember their faces and they told us to send them copies - which reminders me we still need to do that. It was a nice way to end our stay in a city we hoped to return to some day. While the focus of our vacation was Montreal, the trip wasn’t over yet. Next stop, Toronto, for one night only. Hopefully the rain would hold off.
I work at a television in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as a news producer. I began my journalism career more than 10 years ago in college. I recently began focusing my efforts on creative writing with an emphasis on fiction.
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