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by Claudette Chandonia
You name it in or near Niagara Falls and we were there -- the Lockport Caves, Goat Island, the Maid in the Mist (the boat ride into the Falls), the Cave of the Winds (the walk down alongside the Falls), the floral clock, the strawberry festival (frozen!), Niagara-on-the-Lake, Rainbow Bridge, the Botanical Gardens, the Butterfly Conservatory (a walk through 2400 live and free-flying butterflies), Goat Island (yes, I know I said it before, but some people walked it twice), fireworks over the Falls, slot machines in the casino, a carriage ride around Niagara, Ice Wine taste tests, the Pan-Am Expo Observatory, Goat Island (some people walked it three times!), De-Dee’s ice cream, unexpectedly and explicitly interactive dinner theatre, the Bisons’ AAA ballpark, Tim Horton’s, and beautifully intricate architecture throughout Buffalo. Add to all this the 9 sanctioned YRE’s and you start to appreciate the Bad Pennies’ four-day trip to Niagara Falls. Fabulous pictures, always smiling.
The attractions were amazing, and we were lucky enough to have three local area members serve as hosts and city guides. But the most awesome parts of the trip for me as a first-time Volks-traveler (I hadn’t even filled my New Walker card yet!), were the Bad Pennies themselves. Male, female, single, married, employed, retired, age range from youngest to oldest of (I’m guessing) about 30 years -- what a warm, diverse, and friendly group of people these were! We relaxed and laughed for four straight days. And, oh yes, walked. And walked. And some even walked some more, while the rest of us had ice cream.
Anyone who has ever coordinated a group event knows that it is relatively simple to provide a rigidly structured agenda, and very difficult to organize a user-flexible one. Consequently, I expected a tightly planned, no-room-for-movement-outside-the-agenda type trip. I should have known better! I was delighted to discover that the scheduling was ultra-flexible. We had three vans rather than one bus, so groups could splinter off and go different directions, as they chose. We simply shuffled ourselves among the vans each day, and sometimes mid-day, grouped according to preferred activity. The start and end points for each day were near the standard attractions, so we could mix-and-match walking with sight-seeing, as each of us saw fit. The numerous YRE opportunities meant plenty of K’s for those who wanted them but no pressure to those who preferred a less strenuous, more attraction-centered visit. You could do each activity as a group of 21 or do it later on your own. Everyone was welcome, and no one was pressured. Main priority: fun, as each person defined it for himself. A special thank you goes to the organizers, the drivers, and the navigators – your willingness to accept responsibility meant the rest of us could just relax and enjoy the ride. And the ice cream.
THE BAD PENNIES FALL FOR NIAGARA
By Alex and Judy Estrin
Facts that made Niagara Falls famous:
The Great Blondin in the 1870's walked across the Falls on a tightrope set up from the U.S. to Canada. On one of his most famous walks, he carried his manager on his back.
In the early 1900's Napoleon Bonapart's brother went on his honeymoon to Niagara Falls. Niagara Falls became famous as the Honeymoon Capital of the world.
In 1901 Annie Taylor, a 63-year-old school teacher from Michigan, was the first person to go over the Falls in a Barrel, and she survived. Since then, a total of 15 people have gone over the Falls (the last attempt was in 1995), with 10 surviving.
We always thought of someday going to Niagara Falls, so when Matt Pernick and The Bad Pennies announced a trip, we signed up. Soon, there was news that SARS struck Canada. The day before our trip came another surpise: the Blackout of 2003. But we were not deterred. The morning of the trip, we called Soutwest Airlines, and after waiting on hold for 14 minutes, we learned that all flights from BWI to Buffalo-Niagara were on schedule.
Upon arrival in Buffalo-Niagra, vans were rented. We were in the van with Klaus and Gale Waibel, Jerry 'Speedy' Baugher, Bob Lumbert, and Amber Ewing. We were warned that this group was not for sissies. Off we were to Lockport for our first volksmarch. As we came to Lockport, which was the last stop on the Erie Canal we began to sing: "There was a mule and here name was Sal, 50 miles on the Erie Canal"... It's amazing what you remember from grade school.
The walk in Lockport took us along the Erie Canal, which still operates by raising and lowering the water level but no longer serves industry. What brought on the demise of the Erie Canal (and the C&O Canal) was the advent of the railroad, which could move goods faster and cheaper.
The entire group assembled for the Lockport Cave Tour. The Cave was blasted out of solid rock as a tunnel to channel running water, which would turn the wheels of three factories that helped make Lockport an industrial powerhouse in the early 1900s. Some splendid mansions in Lockport attest to the level of affluence at that time. The tour included an unusual boat ride through the dark, drippy cave.
Our van group decided to do another 10-km walk. So off we went; by the end some of us were dragging, which meant we needed a good dinner. We dined at Jerry's favorite restaurant, The Olive Garden. The 7 of us got a private room and sampled all the wines that were being offered in a wine-tasting promotion.
On day 2, we drove to the Sheraton Hotel, the start point that is right next to the falls on the American side. We were off to Goat Island, from which we had nice sidewise views of the falls. Marty and Barbara from the local club led a large group of walkers and recommended the "Cave of the Winds" tour. We waited on line for our yellow rain ponchos and rubber sandals, then took the elevator down and walked along the wooden ramps and decks to where the Bridal Falls splashed and roared. We sure needed those ponchos and nonslip sandals. Bravest in our group was Amber, who went as near the falls as possible. We lunched and relaxed at the restaurant looking out at the Falls.
We then walked across the Rainbow Bridge to the Canadian Side of the Falls. Here the view of the American Falls and Horseshoe Falls is straight-on and truly spectacular. It took our breath away! For dinner we went to Applebees because we were thirsty after all that walking and could get free refills.
On day 3 we were off to Niagara-on-the-Lake in Canada. The community is a resort area on Lake Ontario with beautiful hotels, summer homes, a golf club, a view of Fort Niagara, and a cute touristy town. After the walk, we heard that the 'Maid of the Mist' was running (unlike the previous day). Irv and Jan Hite joined us as we took the elevator down to the dock and donned blue ponchos. We took positions at the front of the boat as it carefully approached the thundering whiteness of Horseshoe Falls--fighting the powerful flow of the rapids. Looking up through the mist, we knew there was nothing else quite like this experience. The arching rainbows added to the splendor.
Then it was off to the "Oh, Canada, Eh?" dinner theater--a fun show featuring Canadian characters and songs. Matt got an award from the show's Master of Ceremonies for bringing our group, and he deserved it.
On Day 4 (and last day) we went to Buffalo for a city walk. We stopped at several architectural highlights--City Hall (an Art-Deco building) and the Guaranty building designed by Louis Sullivan (built in 1895). We took elevators to the top of both buildings to enjoy the views. We also visited Hilary Clinton's office, and the building guard provided some other insights. Then it was on to the Lake Erie Marina and a view of the Buffalo lighthouse. From there we returned to town center, passing some U.S. Navy ships, stadiums, the business area, the Allentown district with antique shops, and--just across the street from the start point--the house where Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as 26th president in 1901 after President McKinley was assasinated in Buffalo while visiting the Pan-American Exposition. The tour of the house/museum was quite interesting.
Then it was back to the airport and our 1-hour flight home. Our thanks go to Klaus, our expert van driver, and to Matt for making all the arrangements and planning. Niagara was worth every bad penny!