We said Au revoir to Montreal early in the morning on Saturday and began trekking South through Quebec and Ontario. About a half an hour before we hit the US border we decided to stop for lunch at a Canadian fast food chain called Harvey's. Their hamburgers were served with Canadian Cheddar and after they were prepared they ask what toppings you would like on it. The choices included standards like lettuce, tomatoes and pickles (albeit the long, flat, stacker variety) to more interesting fare like banana peppers and hot sauce. They also offered a delightful combination of French Fries and onion rings that they called "Frings". For fast food it was a pretty decent meal.
As we drove into Buffalo I tried to repress the thought that this was the last day of our trip and that we would be heading home the next day. Our vacation went by so quickly and Dad and I enjoyed it so much, it just didn't seem right that the journey was already coming to an end. The more I thought about it, the more depressed I became. We still had Niagara to look forward to though and I had to push all of that remorse aside so I wouldn't miss out on what we had left.
We saw the mist of the great falls about a mile away. It rose off the lake like it was trying to escape. We pulled into the tiny village nearby and tried to find a place to park, eventually settling on one of two spots in a hotel parking lot that WASN'T labeled as "hotel parking only". Following the signs that pointed to Niagara Falls, Dad and I began walking. After about a quarter of a mile we came upon a bridge with a rushing stream below and stood and took pictures of the fury of water. I noticed a sign ahead that read "Niagara Falls Parking" with an arrow pointing the direction we were heading. As we peered around the bend in the road, we noticed lots and lots of roadway. Dad told me to wait where I was and he sprinted back to get the car and pick me up. He came and got me and we followed all of that roadway a good half of a mile to Goat Island and a large parking lot. Happy that we decided to drive instead of walk, we parked as close as we could to the park entrance.
Whomever planned Niagara National Park, should make movies or write books. The park was laid out in a way that built up great anticipation to see the falls for a good distance before you actually ever reach them. We wound our way around statues, gift shops and restaurants. Listening to the ever louder sounds of water crashing upon water. We passed over foot bridges with expansive views of the lake,the city and of trees that just blocked the view of great waterfalls themselves. Then the landscape opened up to reveal giant sheets of water flowing down with such force, you're left breathless at first glance.
To say that Niagara Falls was beautiful or amazing would be the same type of understatement as saying it was just water. My first and most frequent thought upon seeing them was of just how powerful nature is. I couldn't help but to be in awe of the raw magnitude and ancient beauty of those crashing falls. The Grand Canyon is a wondrous sight to behold but to the viewer appears stagnant. The foliage we saw in Vermont was jaw-dropping and and view of wonder but again it's still. The Canyon and the trees are landscapes, like paintings. Niagara Falls is all movement. It's sight, sound, feel, smell and by extension, taste. This was Nature (with a capital "N") in motion. The foliage in Vermont brought a tear to my eye for it's beauty, Niagara made me want to drop to my knees.
After soaking (pun absolutely intended) in the scenery for a while, Dad and I purchased tickets to "Cave of the Winds". They issued us ponchos, sandals and bags to hold the shoes we came with. We were then led into a large locker room type area filled with benches. With care and a little trepidation, we changed into the sandals, pulled on our plastic ponchos and prepared for the expedition. A manned elevator took us down several stories and let us out into a long and narrow cave which led to a deck that was almost level with the lake's surface. We followed walkways, gang-planks, landings and wooden staircases that brought us closer and closer to Bridal Veil Falls. We were able to see them from nearly every angle and height. All of that was essentially just a buildup though for the real show. At the highest point of the decks was a large landing, dangerously close to the falls themselves. Every 10 seconds or so large gushes of water would split off the side of Niagara and splash the landing, covering all onlookers in it's staggering waves. Dad walked off to the side to videotape me trying to keep my balance while bathing in waters of Niagara. I felt an exhilaration like nothing ever before and I finally understood the type of rush that sky-divers or bungee jumpers must feel.
Once we dried off (as much as possible) we headed back to the car and drove back into Buffalo. We knew we wanted to eat at The Anchor Bar, the birthplace of the Buffalo Wing (or "Hot Wing" as they call it in Buffalo). I walked in to a restaurant that was crowded like no other I've ever seen before. Dad was parking the car so I went to add our name to the list. The person in charge of taking and calling out names was a barrel-chested fellow with the kind of fiery attitude usually reserved for mobsters and mechanics. When I asked how long the wait would be he replied "Lady, it could 20 minutes or an hour and 20 minutes. How am I supposed to know?". I wasn't sure whether to be insulted or amused at the gruff man who was essentially a caricature out of a Scorsese movie. Dad came in and was as confused and intrigued by the establishment as I was. We waited for over half and hour before deciding to place a to-go order. Dad ordered the classic hot wings and I ordered pizza sticks. The order was ready in about 20 minutes and we headed out with our food. Next door to the Anchor Bar was a Wendy's, so we picked up a couple of drinks from there and ate our meal in the car at the Wendy's parking lot. My pizza sticks weren't too bad, they were basically bread sticks filled with Mozzarella and pepperoni and had a marinara dipping sauce. I usually don't like hot wings but after trying a couple of Dad's wings from Anchor Bar, I changed my mind. They had a kick but were not overly spicy and the sauce was glazed on and dripping wet like most hot wings. They also didn't taste nearly as heavy with vinegar as others I had previously tasted. Simply put, they were awesome.
Back at the hotel we finished our last night of the trip by packing and organizing all of our belongings. We had a acquired a fair amount of new items along the way and they all needed a place of their own. We wrapped, tucked, folded and packed everything away and crossed our fingers that everything would survive the journey home.
Early on Sunday, in the blackness of the pre-dawn morning we headed out to the Rochester airport. The first leg of flight was into Chicago O'Hare where we had a spectacular view of the city flying in. Dad and I were both hungry by the time we got there and since we had a little under 2 hours to kill before our connection we decided to get lunch there. The smell of Chicago deep dish pizza filled the gates and terminals of the airport so I knew what I was having. We found a little Italian style walk up restaurant and I saw a personal pan, pepperoni and sausage pizza that called out to me. Dad also noticed they had hot Italian Beef sandwiches dipped in their own juices, which are a favorite of both of us. For the last time on the trip we both split what we had ordered with the other and enjoyed a delicious lunch there in the American Airlines terminal.
We made it home just fine as did all our luggage and belongings. I had been fighting back tears most of the trip home, I managed until I got back to my house and was alone before I lost that battle. It was a strange and short cry that packed a lot of emotion. I cried for the grief of our trip's end. I cried for the joy and happiness the trip had brought me. And I cried at how lucky I was to have the kind of Dad that other people only dream about. This was a trip of a lifetime for me, I enjoyed it more than any trip to Disney World I ever took or ever will. It was the kind of journey that I will look back on in another 30 years and my smile will be wistful and my eyes will have a dreamy far off look that will let people know that I'm in a car with my Daddy in Vermont, singing along with Lindsay Buckingham and falling in love with the trees.
Anchor Bar Buffalo Wings
36 chicken wing pieces (one wing makes 2 pieces - the "flat" and the "drum")
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tsp salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons Frank's Louisiana hot sauce
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
blue cheese dressing
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. If necessary, cut whole wings into two pieces. In a bowl toss the wings with the oil, and salt. Place into a large plastic shopping bag, and add the flour. Shake to coat evenly. Remove wings from the bag, shaking off excess flour, and spread out evenly on oiled foil-lined baking pan(s). Do not crowd.
Bake for about 20 minutes, turn the wings over, and cook another 20 minutes, or until the wings are cooked through and browned. While the wings are baking, mix all the ingredients for the sauce in a pan, and over low heat bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, and then turn off. After the wings are cooked, transfer to a large mixing bowl. Pour the sauce over the hot wings and toss with a spoon or spatula to completely coat. Reduce oven temperature to 350 and return wings to oven for 5-10 minutes to glaze.
These are usually served with celery sticks and blue cheese dressing on the side.
Our sneak preview of Niagara
Bridal Veil Falls
Dad of the Mist
Dad at Chicago O'Hare Airport
Video of a just a little piece of Niagara
Coincidentally on this day in 1901, 63-year-old Michigan school teacher Annie Edson Taylor was the first person to go over the Falls in a barrel as a publicity stunt; she survived, bleeding, but virtually unharmed. Soon after exiting the barrel, she said, "No one should ever try that again."