Niagara Falls

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niagara  001Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve wanted to visit Niagara Falls.  And even though we lived in New York City for awhile, my family didn’t have the opportunity to take the trip at that time. Later in life, other places captured my interest, and I moved on.niagara  002

But now that we’d spent some time on the east coast, it was time to take care of this childhood wish.  So Hector and I planned a short stop in Niagara Falls on the way from Southern Vermont to Cincinnati, Ohio.niagara  028

Four Mile Creek Campground in Youngstown, New York, just north of Buffalo, was quite lovely and our site looked out over Lake Ontario.

niagara  006niagara  003niagara  007Niagara Falls is actually three waterfalls, American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls on the American side, and Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side.

Walking into the park from the parking lot on the American side, I was surprised to immediately hear the sound of the falls, and to actually see them shortly after that.  I’m used to hiking to waterfalls and had no idea what to expect.  But this area is very developed with a sidewalk along the side of the Niagara River and by the waterfall, parking lots, gift shops etc.

niagara  004In spite of the highly developed surroundings, the falls are a very impressive sight.  The sound alone makes you appreciate the power of the water tumbling down from the river.   And the rapids just above the falls are pretty impressive as well.  But at times the falls seem surreal in this “theme-park” like setting.niagara  015

niagara  010We purchased tickets for the Cave of the Winds, one of the “attractions”.  The name of the attraction refers to a cave that collapsed years ago.  The attraction now includes an elevator ride down to a series of walkways designed for a very close look and feel of the American and Bridal Veil Falls. niagara  014

The highest portion of the boardwalk is about ten feet from Bridal Veil Falls.  And since the walkways would be damaged by ice in winter they are torn down and rebuilt every season!niagara  013niagara  012

A rain poncho and rubber sandals (mandatory) are included with the entry to Cave of the Winds, but I highly recommend wearing a rain jacket underneath the poncho.  If you climb to the top walkway, it’s a very, very wet experience, so it’s also important to be mindful of camera equipment.niagara  009niagara  008

niagara  016niagara  017It was a very cloudy day but we signed up to go out on “Maid of the Mist” boat cruise anyway, a longtime tradition at Niagara Falls. niagara  040

niagara  018niagara  019niagara  020These boats cruise past the American and Bridal Veil Falls (too rocky to get too close to), and over to the Canadian side, where the boat stops for a few exhilarating minutes right in front of Horseshoe Falls.  Horseshoe Falls are known for the mist they generate, sometimes creating a cloud above the waterfall.niagara  022

It’s relatively short, but highly recommended.  And in spite of the ponchos you WILL get absolutely drenched.  So plan accordingly.niagara  021

niagara  023Maid of the Mist boats leave from both the American and Canadian side and have the same exact route, but the tickets from the American side are a little less expensive.niagara  025

While on the boat, we heard the “Miracle of Niagara” story of a boy who’d fallen off a boat above the rapids (there is literally a line way up river where the water goes from calm to rapids).   He came down the rapids and falls unprotected except for a life vest and was rescued by someone on the Maid of the Mist.  And survived.   Unbelievable.niagara  026

A tradition of people who intentionally went down the falls started in 1829 when someone who called himself “the Yankee Leapster” jumped from a high tower to the gorge below the falls and survived.  Then, in 1901, a 63 year old teacher was the first person to go over the falls in a barrel.  It was a publicity stunt and she survived.niagara  049

niagara  029niagara  050niagara  048We’d heard that the views from the bridge across to Canada and from the Canadian side were even better than the views from the American side.  So the next day, we walked over to Canada across the bridge, figuring that going through immigration and customs on foot would be much easier than doing so in a car.  Especially since we always carry a lot of “stuff” piled up in our car.

And we were right, after the approximately ¼ mile walk across the bridge, it only took a couple of minutes to get through immigration.  And there were some great views from the bridge.  Not to mention that “walking to Canada” was kind of cool.

There is a bus you can take that tours the falls and a couple of other sites, it’s one of those “hop on, hop off” affairs.  We didn’t want to pay extra for stuff we weren’t going to see, so we took the approximately one mile walk over to Horseshoe Falls.niagara  051

niagara  049niagara  044On the way, there are great views of the American and Bridal Veil Falls.  And Hector and I agreed that Horseshoe Falls were even more impressive than American Falls.   Surprisingly, the Canadian side is just as touristy (if not more so) than the American side, and we opted out of the “attractions”.  So we just walked around to different viewpoints to gawk at the falls.
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niagara  034niagara  033niagara  042niagara  041niagara  045niagara  046And we learned more about daredevil traditions.  Wire walking across the gorge began in 1859 and continued through 1896.  Then, in June, 2012, Nik Wallenda became the first person to walk across the falls in 116 years.  He walked across 1,800 feet of tightrope near the brink of Horseshoe Falls, further upstream than previous walkers.  According to Mr. Wallenda, it was the longest unsupported tightrope walk in history.  He carried his passport on his walk, and was required to present it when he reached the Canadian side of the falls. Amazing.niagara  039niagara  043niagara  038

niagara  032Walking back towards the bridge to the U.S., we stopped by the Skylon Tower to explore the possibility of riding to the top, but it got really cloudy once again, and we held off for a possible return trip that evening.  At 775 feet in height, I imagine the view must be fantastic on a clear day.  While in the tower, we succumbed to a touristy activity, having a photo taken of us “going down the falls”.

It was quite a full day but we still maintained the possibility of returning later that evening to see the falls lit up with colored lights.  And once again getting through immigration on the U.S. side of the bridge was a cinch.niagara  047

That evening it rained quite a bit, and we didn’t return to Canada.  But I finally got to see Niagara Falls and they were beautiful.

~ Brenda

One Year Fulltiming!


Leaving Colorado 1

Leaving Colorado 2It’s true, we’ve now passed the one-year mark since we began our journey.  It has been a rich and full experience and yet time has passed very quickly.

Before I forget, I’ll answer a question that was asked just before we left:  What if we don’t like it?  Well, we love it.  Even though the first time I woke up in Island Girl knowing that I’d be living here for a while, my first thought was – What have I done? – I quickly came to love it and have never looked back.Isl Grl Redo  004

In fact, I was surprised at how easily I adjusted, particularly to the confined quarters. Hector and I decorated our new little 400 square foot home just as we had our other homes, and we really enjoy our interior space.

And we’re also really happy with our upgrades and our custom office space.   Hector is able to work on his Apple computer (the photographer gets the big computer) in our comfy chair by the desk, while I work on our laptop on our comfy couch simultaneously.halifax

Island Girl feels downright roomy with her 39’ length, and we have plenty of storage space.

And the journey has far exceeded our expectations. We’ve spent quality time with friends and family across the country, many of whom we’d not seen in waaay too long.  And other friends have come to visit.

Along the way we’ve also met lots of different people, learned new things, and just enjoyed spending quality time together.  We’ve visited a total of 14 states, including parts of the Midwest, South and Northeast.

We’ve experienced the lovely Arkansas autumn, Buffalo National River  024the fabulous gulf coast of Florida,Henderson Beach   080

the wild and subtle beauty of the Everglades,flower  024

and the wilder side of Florida in general. Ft Myers  056

We returned to the “black” waters of the Okefenokee Swamp,Swamp 011

and to the Great Smoky Mountains.Smokies  007

We visited the Outer Banks of North Carolina, OBX  055

and spent the beginning of our summer on the breathtaking coast of Maine.Penobscot  169

keys  021We traveled to extreme opposites; in Key West, Florida, we stood at the southernmost point of the U.S.sunset  027

And months later made it to the furthest northeast state of Maine.boothbay harbor  095

We spent just under 12 weeks in Canada, where we visited four provinces and learned a ton about our neighbor to the north.

There we saw the amazing tides of the Fundy Coast,New Brunswick117

the unique rock formations and the beautiful lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove,peggy 25

and the rugged beauty of Cape Breton Island.cape breton  030cape breton  011We traveled to the southern tip of Nova Scotia, brier 50along the gorgeous landscapes of Prince Edward Island,

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and the spectacular Gaspé Peninsula,Perce  073

where we visited its Northern Gannet colony in Ile de Bonaventure.Perce  049

We saw the whales of the St. Lawrence River,st lawrence  115

and took many walks around beautiful Québec city  046

And Angel visited rivers, lakes, rocky and sandy beaches, forests, went boating on various boats and ferries, and even went whale watching.River Dog  006

In total, Island Girl traveled 8,534 miles this first year.

And Hector and I have grown even closer during this journey.  Living together in such tight quarters can bring out the best or the worst in couples and sometimes both.  We’ve been married for a very long time and are very comfortable spending lots of of our time together while traveling.  Even after all of that we had a few grumpy patches along the road, but ultimately found our groove.

And, interestingly, some of the working aspects of RVing helped us to strengthen our partnership.  I named a previous post about leaving and arriving at our destinations “The Departure Dance”.  And I really do believe that there is a choreography that you both create and “perform” on a regular basis.  But it’s important that the choreography feels right for both of you.

That extends to the day-to-day chores and responsibilities as well.  Learning to support each other in a way that takes into account each of your likes, dislikes, talents and skills can make the journey much more enjoyable.

Rv Repair SedaliaAnd, not surprising to any RVers out there, we’ve discovered that things tend to go wrong in the most inconvenient of times.

The first time was on the first week we were on the road, when our water inlet broke.  Another time, our refrigerator broke down on a Sunday, the day before we planned to cross the border into Canada.

The first Hector fixed himself, the second, we found someone who was able to fix it.  But we learned that when things go wrong (not if, but when), we should:

  • Stay calm
  • Ask for advice and/or help, there is a very helpful community out there
  • Be flexible
  • Have or make a plan B

footAt the same time, it’s been difficult to be away from most of our friends and family in Denver, and we really miss them.  But we can always visit and plan to soon.

And there have been other challenges along the way; minor medical issues and having to figure out which doctor to go to in unfamiliar places.  The same for finding veterinarians.

And, less critical challenges like not having access to cell phones, internet or TV (sometimes a good thing) in some places.

But right now we wouldn’t trade this lifestyle for anything else.  And we are continually learning and growing.  For me this blog has been a huge learning experience.  I’m not the most tech savvy person, and when we began this blog, we knew nothing about blogging.  But I took on the task of figuring out how to get started, and spent several frustrating weeks using the process of elimination to figure out certain aspects of the blog.

Well, we just passed the 100 post mark on the blog.  And it’s is another example of working as a team.  Hector is in charge of the photography, I write the posts.  Then we combine the two.  From organizing how to divide the subjects to creating the final product, we support each other.   Sometimes we collaborate from the beginning, other times we work independently and get together at the end. The blog is another choreography.

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When I started writing this post, Hector wrote me a little note with some numbers and fun facts from the year.  He ended the note with “i love you still”.  And I feel the same way.

And the journey continues.

~ Brenda

RVing in Eastern Canada

Our Canadian summer finally came to an end.  And leaving was bittersweet, especially after having spent twelve weeks there.leaf_flag_1200x600_wm-1024x512

Going back to the day we crossed the border into Canada, here are some things we learned that other RVers may benefit from:

  • It’s a good practice to check websites and forums for the latest information on requirements and restrictions not just in advance but just before crossing the border into Canada.
  • More often that not, there are at least some restrictions on produce, it’s best not to try to bring any in.
  • Liquor over the limit is subject to duties, as advised by RV forums we identified ourselves as fulltimers and told them we had some open bottles, and they waived duties on those.   We brought in cheap wines from Trader Joe’s and even after paying duties  (determined by the average price you paid) they still wound up costing less than wine prices in the Canadian liquor stores.
  • Liquor laws differ in the different provinces as they do here in the States.  In Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island wine, beer and other liquor was available only at state liquor stores.
  • We like our wine so were unhappy to find that in those provinces there was a limited variety of wines, and prices were near double what we’re used to paying.  Canadian wines were cheapest.  Beer and liquor were also expensive.
  • In Quebec, however, wine and beer were available in grocery stores, and there was much more variety.  Although prices were still higher than in the U.S., they were noticeably cheaper than the other provinces.  Note to self:  Start out the next trip to Eastern Canada in  Quebec 🙂
  • Fuel is sold in liters and prices were 20-30% more than U.S.  prices.  We’d not adjusted our budget for this, but will do so next time.   Also important to plan routes to avoid excessive mileage.
  • Food and toiletries were slightly more expensive, another budget adjustmet.
  • There were many rural areas that had very small grocery stores, and small city or large they may not offer the brands you’re accustomed to.  So if a specific brand of a particular product matters, stock up.  For example, I brought enough of my brand contact lens solution to last the entire stay, as I’m allergic to some brands.
  • The larger grocery stores do sell many of the same brands we have here in the States.   But some different brands and items, particularly in Quebec with its French flavor, are very interesting and tasty, so make sure to to check out the local delicacies.
  • New Brunswick123Needless to say, seafood is abundant and fresh all over the maritimes.  Often you can get things harvested locally and even that same day.  Oysters, mussels, scallops, haddock, salmon, snow crab, lobster, etc.  All reasonably priced and delicious.  Enjoy!

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  • annapolis 70Farmers markets are also abundant, from the small hamlets to the larger towns.  They offer wonderful locally grown or made foods, prices are reasonable (except for high end specialty items, like artisan chocolates – yum!) and are a wonderful experience.  Unique local crafts as well.
  • Mid-July to mid-August are peak times for RV travel, reserve ahead if possible.
  • Paying for purchases in cash is best, as many credit cards will charge you a currency conversion fee for each transaction.
  • Canada stopped using pennies earlier this year, but pricing didn’t change.  So prices are rounded up or down to the nearest nickel as needed.
  • Our card worked in some ATMs and not others, so it’s best not to wait until the last minute to get cash.
  • 0511-1007-2118-0632_Cartoon_of_a_Man_Running_and_Screaming_with_a_Swarm_of_Mosquitoes_on_His_Face_clipart_imageMosquitoes can be brutal in certain areas, bring repellent with you.
  • In Quebec, speaking a little French (or trying) is helpful, especially in the more rural areas.  Although English speakers can be easily found, we met numerous folks who spoke none.

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  • It’s even more important than normal to check driving routes in advance, we encountered lots of steep grades in Quebec.
  • There is a short paving season here, be prepared for some delays due to construction.
  • Canadians are generous people, don’t be shy about asking for their advice or for help if you need it.

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  • Parka, the park mascot

    Parka, the park mascot

    Canada has a wonderful National Parks System. and many National Historic Sites.  There is an entrance fee per person per day ($4 to perhaps $10) and there is also an annual pass available.  We bought two of the annual passes which quickly paid for themselves.

  • And, last but not least, it’s a beautiful place, staying longer is better.

Now for our experience crossing the border back to the U.S:

We’d read in the RV blogs that crossing the border back to the U.S. could be more complicated than crossing into Canada, so I was a bit apprehensive.

But we prepared well after reading all of the information on the various websites.  We had no produce, no milk, no eggs, no meat nor poultry with us.  We did have a couple of unopened sausages with labels from Canada, which were supposedly allowed.

This time around, we made sure not to buy any liquor within a certain amount of time from crossing the border, so we only had one bottle of wine, a couple of beers and a few open bottles of hard liquor.  I’d made a list of exactly what we had.  If opened liquor counted as full bottles (which it shouldn’t), we’d only be slightly over the allowed amount of 1.5 liters per person.

quebec city  101quebec city  10226-us_badgeWe had our passports, car and RV papers, and Angel’s rabies certificate at the ready.  So we confidently drove up to the border at Stanstead, where, by the way, there were only a couple of other cars.  A very quiet border crossing.

Well, Hector started out by getting in the wrong lane, which the customs officer immediately let him know.  Oops.  The officer then asked Hector to park the RV and come into the office.

So Angel and I waited calmly.  A little while later, another customs officer came over to the RV and said he needed to come on board to make sure we didn’t have any extra people with us.  Angel of course laid happily in his way, but he was nice and said “no problem, I  love dogs”.  But he did ask me to leave the coach and Angel could stay or leave with me.  But Angel is a smart girl and she dashed out the door after me.

While walking Angel I wondered – how does he check for extra people?  Since the slides are closed he couldn’t open the closet without climbing up on our bed on top of a pile of coats.  Would he do that or did he have X-ray vision goggles?  What exactly was he doing in our coach?  I’ll never know.

It seemed like a long time passed, and he finally came out and said everything was fine.  Hector was still not back.  A little while later Hector returned saying everything was ok – he told them we were a bit over on liquor and had the detailed list we’d compiled at the ready and they didn’t bother to look at it or charge duty.  This is why it’s always good to be honest.

I-love-CanadaSo we bid adieu to Quebec and Canada and entered Vermont.

But we’ll be back someday, eastern Canada was spectacular in more ways than one.

~ Brenda