Jun. 11th, 2009

occultatio: (Default)
Time on road: 6 hours
Distance covered: 300 miles

Total driving time: 15.5 hours
Total distance: 774 miles

We woke up at 8 again, and then failed to actually leave the house until 9:30. This turned out to be okay, though, as we only ended up needing to spend about an hour and a half at Watkins Glen State Park. Watkins Glen is a place that I went a few times when I was like 9 or 10 or so and [livejournal.com profile] tiamat360 had never been; it's a huge water-carved gorge that still has a little river running through it, and as you hike up you follow the river through both pools and cataracts, even getting to go directly behind a 20-foot waterfall at one point (you can stick your hand out into it, or just stare through the rushing water, which is a trip in and of itself). We hiked up past most of the waterfalls, and then went back along the south ridge of the gorge, on an utterly unpopulated trail. There was a pond at one point where we saw several dragonflies and surprised a frog, as well as a suspension bridge that ran probably 75 feet above the canyon.

Afterwards, we met my grandparents for one last lunch at Seneca Harbor, a restaurant literally on the southern shore of Lake Seneca. They explained that it was the sort of place where, during full-on tourist season, you wouldn't be able to find a seat, but for now it was nice and mostly empty.

Moving on towards Niagara Falls, we once again deliberately ignored our GPS so that we could go up north on Route 14, which runs directly alongside the west shore of the lake. I was hoping to pass a soft-serve stand (in my memory, upstate New York has really good soft-serve ice cream), but instead we got basically nothing but wineries for 40 miles. Still, the countryside was beautiful and the views across the lake abundant, so we both rated it a worthwhile detour. Especially since, immediately afterwards, we got on I-90, and had nothing but boring fields for most of the rest of the way.

We arrived in Niagara Falls around 4 PM, and headed straight to the state park, where thanks to our parking stub from Watkins Glen earlier that day we got in for free (apparently it's buy admission to one NY State Park, buy admission to all of them, and WG was half the price of NF). We had been advised both to see the falls from the Canadian side and to spend the money for the boat tour, and so upon determining that the latter was identical regardless of which shore you boarded from, we bought tickets aboard the Maid of the Mist.

To anybody else thinking of going: this is, in fact, totally worth the price. We got to go way up close to the Canadian falls, where the curtain of mist was so thick that we couldn't even see the top of the falls the whole way around. Those definitely won for most impressive waterfall of the day, but I frankly liked the American falls much more on an aesthetic level, as they tumbled down onto a huge bed of rocks, and you could see the water dancing down across the moss-covered boulders. Many pictures were taken, and Alexa discovered that her camera is at least labeled "all weather."

It was about 5 when we finished, and we set about trying to find somewhere to eat. I've made it something of a goal for this trip, or at least a bonus achievement, to entirely avoid eating at chain restaurants, and so we wanted to find a restaurant somewhere in downtown the city of Niagara Falls. First, we tried the Seneca Niagara Casino, on the basis that a brochure claimed it contained several restaurants. This turned out to be true, but it also turned out that it was legal (and frequently practiced) to smoke inside the casino, and so our collective coughing drove us out rapidly.

Next, we thought, we'd try driving around the city until we found a restaurant that looked okay. Problem: pretty much everything in Niagara Falls that isn't the falls themselves looks like a shithole. We nearly gave up until we saw an archway over an intersection declaring one identical-looking stretch of road to be "Little Italy," and figured that there must be okay restaurants in there, surely. Thus, we found Lou's Pete's Market House, a really nifty little neighborhood restaurant with lots of totally okay food for totally okay prices. This was the kind of place where, for instance, the people at the table next to ours seemed to know about half the other tables in the restaurant -- as Alexa put it, it was the exact sort of place you hope to find on a trip like this one.

Afterwards, we wanted to get a couple hours' more driving in towards Cleveland before stopping for the night, and so we drove around beautiful Buffalo. The route took us through a really unpleasant industrial district, but about a mile before we hit I-90 again it turned unexpectedly into a much nicer neighborhood, and shortly afterwards we spotted (at last!) a soft-serve ice cream stand by the side of the road. It was everything I was hoping for and more, and even had some nice picnic tables out back by a big field, where we sat and ate. When we finished (which did not equal eating everything they served us), we got back on the road for another couple of hours, eventually stopping at a La Quinta in Erie, where we learned that the room rates advertised on GIGANTIC GLOWING SIGNS outside the hotel are not, necessarily, the rates which are actually available inside the hotel. Ah, well -- we have two more nights to put this new knowledge to use.

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