After 8 days our Empire State adventure is almost over. We have just boarded a train from Albany-Rensselaer station to Boston south station after spending one night in Albany to break up the long train ride from Niagara Falls. The train from New York City to Niagara covered pretty much the whole length of New York State and we got to see some amazing views on the comfortable 9 hour ride, particularly of the Hudson River as it narrowed up stream from its mouth at the big apple. The train to Albany was back along the same railway line that we had come in on but had only seen under the cover of darkness so it we got to watch the flat lands covered in snow roll past the window. These two trains formed part of Amtraks’s Empire Service which connect New York City with Toronto, Canada they are slightly different from the Silver Service we had been taking on our way from Miami, slightly less leg room and no foot rest, but still very comfortable and more spacious than any UK trains. All have been equipped with a seated cafe car where you can go to eat and enjoy a slight change of scenery as well as panoramic views of the outside world roll past.
We arrived at Niagara ahead of schedule and easily walked down to our Airbnb from the station even though snow covered the ground. It was noticeably colder up here than further down south but our room was plenty warm enough and we had food supplies to not need to venture out again. Niagara Falls, NY seemed like a very quiet town as we walked through and understably given no one in their right mind would really go and visit the falls in the winter, I guess its akin to going to perranporth on New Year’s Day! By contrast the opposite side of the river looked like it was a bit more alive, the other side of the river being the town of Niagara Falls, Canada. A lot of people had said to me that the views of the falls were better from the Canadian side, but I figured they couldn’t be too much different and didn’t investigate getting across to Canada for a look as it seemed more hassle than it was worth and so as far as I was concerned we would be staying in the USA for our visit to the falls. The following morning, thumbing through our Lonely Planet USA book, I read again that the best place to be when coming to Niagara Falls was north of the USA/Canadian boarder, I was beginning to think I had made a mistake in not researching excursions into Canada when I read that you could easily stroll over the bridge that spans either side of Niagara Gorge and check out the falls from Canada as long as you had your passport. We certainly had those, although the book is about 5 years old and we weren’t sure, particularly given the current political climate, whether we would still be allowed. We decided we would at least investigate later. In the mean time we wanted to at least go and see the fall so we walked the short mile from our accommodation down to the falls. You could hear them from about half a mile away, but it was still a few minutes of walking from when we first heard them to when we actually laid eyes on them. They were incredible. We were both shocked about the sheer size of the falls, the amount of water going over them and how fast it was flowing and just how close you could get to them. Getting close to them meant getting quite wet, even at the top of the falls the mist and spray was towering above our heads and falling back down onto us somewhere between water and ice, good job we were decked out in our ski gear!
After exploring as much of the falls as we could from the American side (it was clear views would be better in Canada as we were always behind them) we headed into the visitor centre to find out if there was anything else we could do, I’d read somewhere that you can walk behind the falls all year round but we were told that was only available in the summer. All they had on was a 40 minute film about Niagara Falls’ various stunts artists which was quite interesting and gave us some history of the falls. Having watched this and decided we had exhausted all there was to do short just standing and watching the waterfall we decided it was time to try to walk to Canada. As we approached the bridge we were confronted by a huge iron gate reading “Access to Canada, do not continue without ID and proof of access allowed back into the United States Of America” confident we had all of these and feeling very fortunate to be white British Passport holders we continued through. Do your worst Donald! It seemed strange that there was no physical person to check us entering into Canada at that point, but it turned out Canadas boarder crossing was on the other side of the bridge, we were in a sort of no mans land. Strait away we were afforded better views of the falls and as we got closer to the middle we could see the physical boarder marked on the bridge. Of course I took the opportunity to have one foot in Canada and the other in the US (who would miss an opportunity like that right!?) before continuing across the bridge. The Canadian boarder control man was very nice after the usual intimidating “why are you visiting Canada today” question (sarcasm adequately held in check here, but only just) he explained this was about one of the only pedestrian crossing points between Canada and the US and asked us where we would like our (unexpected) new stamp in our passport. That’s now our eith country since we landed in Ethiopia in November!
From the bridge walked along the river bank back towards the falls, there’s no doubt the panoramic views of all 3 falls afforded on the Canadian side are better than what you can see south of the boarder. You can also get right up to the largest of the 3, Horseshoe falls, the speed and volume of the water going over this is even more incredible than we had seen on the other side and the mist created is so thick that you cant really see all of the falls clearly! It is also over on this side that you can go under and behind the fall all year round through a set of tunnels built behind horseshoe falls. You are also able to access a viewing deck at the bottom of the falls from here which we did and got to watch the water plummet down toward us! When we went behind the falls it was increadilble to see how much water was falling over you, it completely blocks out any other sights so that all you can see is the white water!
Once we emerged back at the top of the falls we decided to head back towards the Worlds most powerful country, as we did the sun had started to set and great big lights that illuminate the falls a night began to shine. We crossed to bridge back to US boarder control who were less than friendly but let us back in to the country albeit with a warning not to exceed our 90 day limit. It must be a miserable job being an immigration officer because none that I have ever met greet you with a smile. Back on US soil we decided to walk back to the falls to get one last glimpse and to see them lit up, they were very pretty glowing in the dark, but a little surreal. By this time the temperature had fallen to below zero so we decided to head back towards our digs and find some food. As I said earlier, it wasn’t a particularly vibrant town and it was a Sunday evening so the only place we managed to find was a Burger King, Suzanne has never been into one, begrudgingly she accepted that she was hungry and cold enough to go in and get something to eat. She seemed to leave happier than when she went in which suggests she very much enjoyed her first Burger King experience. This is what we are doing this trip for: new experiences!
The next morning we had a few hours to kill before our train so we headed down river, in the opposite direction to the day before, to view the whirlpool and rapids that were about a mild and a half from the falls. There had been fresh snow overnight and so it was lovely walking along the trails above the river. After a nice morning stroll we caught our train to Albany and found our Airbnb by about 8pm. There didn’t seem too much to do in New York State’s capitol which is why we had only scheduled an overnight stop although we took ourselves out for a run at -6 degrees Celsius the next morning which was a questionable decision but actually quite enjoyable and we were lucky as when we left our accommodation again two hours later to catch our train the snow was falling and the ground was completely covered! It’s snowed ever since, our train is now in Massachusetts tearing through snow covered forests like the Polar Express! There is a snow storm forecast for Boston tonight and then sun for the 3 days of our stay before we head south again. Lets hope the way down will be as enjoyable as the way up!.