ONE WAY TO SPEND A FREE WEEKEND IN NEW YORK
A few weekends ago, I embarked upon an impulsive trip out of the city, and by 'the city' I mean New York City, but I'm imagining it in an American accent and 'the city' is just cooler.
I wanted to do something new or see something amazing, and although I would have been perfectly happy staying in 'the city', where I know what I like and I like what I know, and where there's plenty of new and amazing things to find, sometimes I get this overpowering urge to just leave all of my things, to leave what I’m used to, and go and experience something or somewhere entirely new. (This urge has always been within, but has sadly been suppressed since I started my business). It is indescribably freeing and fascinating, and somehow calming. I get this feeling that I can only describe as something similar to cabin fever when I'm in a city for too long. I get caught up in the busyness of it all, and, whilst I love cities, I hate the stress of them. (That's mainly aimed at you, London).
With so many cities and states surrounding my current location, with such little knowledge about any other them really (particularly geographically - I couldn't even tell you where Glasgow is if it wasn't for Google. But, seriously) and with several pieces of advice collected over the years, I booked the weekend off with my agency and booked a long distance Amtrak journey to Niagara Falls, NY. I had no idea what an Amtrak was either, but read on - I was pleasantly surprised.
You take the Amtrak from Penn Station, and if you’re visiting New York, and are rich with time, I highly recommended that you do. Fully aware that a 10 hour journey is enough to put most people off anything, I still find it hard to understand why there isn't more hype around this trip. I was excited to establish that Niagara Falls was so close to New York City (it blew my mind when I discovered it was actually in New York state, but I am possibly the last person to find this out so I won't go on about it now) and literally booked everything as soon as I'd gotten over all this new knowledge.
I had no idea what to expect of the train journey but the Amtrak train turned out to be more comfortable than some living rooms I’ve been in. You could sit on the floor in front of your chair for the amount of legroom you get. The chairs are huge and recline fully (literally the lazy-boy chairs of public transport). There is fast, free Wi-Fi on board for the entire journey, fully functioning power sockets, air-conditioning, heating, plenty of toilets and a café. The time spent on that train ended up being some of the best quality, uninterrupted me-time I’ve ever had. I took an early train at 7am to ensure I saw everything along the way. Leaving the city, congested highways turned all of a sudden into miles of countryside. I was surrounded by vast fields lined with copper-coloured trees, illuminated in enchanting autumnal hues by the soft morning light, which made my eyes want to melt with pleasure. Somehow that’s the most accurate way I can describe it, but I'm beginning to think it might sound more off-putting now I see it written down. I was going for the opposite effect.
The majority of the journey takes place along the Hudson River, and when I say along, I mean on. We travelled through the Hudson River Valley, in and out of several tiny yet characteristic towns including Yonkers, Albany and Buffalo, and then made our way through the incredible gorges of the Finger Lakes region. The tracks were level with the water most of the way and only the occasional caramel-coloured tree separated the carriages from the waters edge. Listening to your favourite music whilst gazing out of the window will make you feel insurmountably grateful – for life, for the world, for music, for the seat you’re sat on, for windows – for whatever. It will make you realize that when you actually consciously stop to take the things around you in, there is so much to be taken in. So many of us go about our lives not fully aware of what we're doing or where we are, and we definitely don't take time to consider and appreciate the world we are in. Or on…
Hostels are one of my favourite accommodation options, not because they're inexpensive, and definitely not because they're comfortable, but because I genuinely feel that the people you meet and the knowledge and advice you collect from the owners of each place is invaluable – you just can't purchase that shit. I’d choose an uncomfortable nights sleep in the same room as a chatty traveller I had nothing in common with over having a hot shower and a bed that’s possibly more comfortable than mine at home. I don’t know what I’m trying to say here, but I think I’m trying to persuade you to step out of your comfort zone and embrace your inner traveller next time you go abroad.
I spent my first evening visiting the falls in the dark. It was an interesting order to do it in, because I didn’t really know what I was looking at, apart from a lot of water creating a lot of beautiful backsplash, illuminated by subtle lights shining over from Ontario. Needless to say, it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever stood so close to. The air was so fresh I didn’t recognize it, and the spray coming off of the falls felt deeply purifying against my skin. I started at Rainbow Fall, walked along the rapids composed of the five great lakes, across a bridge onto Goat Island, along a little path, via the Bridal Veil Fall, to Luna Island, and then back onto Goat Island to Terrapin Point and the Horseshoe Fall, which joins to Canada. This is beginning to sound like the narrative of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I am aware.
On Saturday I woke up at 6am in attempt to catch the sunrise. It was pitch black and ice cold, but the air was crisp and fresh and I went for it anyway. There was no one around and I felt like I was running through the set of a zombie movie, but I got to Three Sister Island in time to watch the sky brighten from the comfort of a boulder (and to send a photo to my two sisters back home - cute I know). The sight of the waterfalls in the daylight was blindingly beautiful, and as I peered over the railing directly into the waterfall, I understood what it meant to have you're breath just taken away.
By Midday I was joined by a lovely roommate , and after briefly acting as her tour guide, we took a boat tour directly beneath all three of the fall's. We got ponchos, we got soaked and we got selfies, then we walked over the bridge and through border control to have lunch in Ontario. It was like a Mini Las Vegas, complete with casinos, Planet Hollywood, Rainforest Café, Hard Rock Café, a waxwork museum, a Guinness world book of records museum, arcades, haunted houses, a Ferris Wheel, and a few other things I couldn't stand around long enough to absorb. We hid inside a little diner and watched kids running around high on Maple Candy and Salt Water Taffy, whilst we ate our lunch and tried to adjust to our surroundings. We stocked up on Maple Syrup and other souvenirs, watched the sun set with a completely new perspective of the waterfalls and then got the hell out of there, hoping one day to see a calmer, more genuine side to Canada.
On Sunday we ventured away from the falls, taking a brisk hike through endless woodland to the ‘Whirlpool Skate Park’, which has nothing to do with skateboarding and a lot to do with being a class six whirlpool, almost the entire width of the Gorge. It’s a lesser-known part of Niagara Falls, but just as beautiful as the rest of it, and exceptionally tranquil.
+ Little heads up - if you're looking to keep healthy whilst you're here, my only advice is to prep and pack. Take whatever you know you'll want with you, as this is not the kind of place that has a Wholefood's Market. There is nothing healthy in the area and the main food attractions are Rainforest and Hard Rock Cafe, so unless their fully loaded burgers have recently been proven nutritious, don't expect to find a menu tailored to the gluten, grain, dairy or sugar free.