Aged 22 I travelled across Canada. 4 weeks on a Greyhound Bus covering 4,500km. I’d already backpacked around the world for 18 months. Canada, my final destination, added to my growing list of incredible experiences but also provided my biggest travel disappointment.
It seems almost blasphemous but, Niagara Falls fell flat. Underwhelming. Even now, with more travel under my belt, Niagara Falls sits stubbornly at the top of my lists of sightseeing disappointments.
My visit to Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls are part of the Niagara River. On the border between Canada and the USA. Such was my excitement at seeing this iconic natural wonder, I fell asleep on the grass.
The bus from Toronto dropped me on Clifton Hill. A Vegas-style tourist street close to The Falls. Quite a shock. Here you can visit a waxworks, play Dinosaur Adventure Golf, ride a roller coaster or have your photo taken in a fake barrel about to plummet over a fake Niagara Falls. Treat yourself. Take a look a look at everything that’s available at Clifton Hill. It wasn’t my cup of tea. It could be yours.
Shaken, I headed south, towards the rising mist from the real Niagara Falls.
Tourists were everywhere. Every nationality. Stood in a row along the wall facing the Falls. Craning to get a good view and photo. A space became available. I stepped forward to take my turn.
There it was. A waterfall. A big, powerful bloody waterfall. No sense of awe or wonder. Numbness. A few pictures. Gazing a few more minutes. I wandered off to find a quiet spot to take a nap.
Niagara Falls, we hear as kids, is synonymous with power and vastness (‘that’s as big as Niagara Falls!’). I never thought I’d get the opportunity to visit. But here I was. And I was disappointed.
Why was Niagara Falls win first prize as my biggest travel disappointment?
I had plenty of time crossing the Canadian Prairies on a Greyhound Bus, to muse on why Niagara Falls was my biggest travel disappointment. I came up with 3 possible reasons:
- Expectations. There’s such a level of fame and hyperbole around Niagara Falls. Reality could never live up to the reputation.
- Tackiness. Excessive, tacky tourism is a shock. This great wonder of nature is surrounded by unregulated (it seemed) commercialisation. All natural beauty leached away. Niagara Falls is part of its own theme park.
- It’s not you, it’s me. I was at the end of a long, life-changing trip. Was I projecting my gloom onto my surroundings? I don’t think so. A good theory but I was thrilled and moved by other parts of my Canadian Odyssey so not true. (I woke on the bus see to see the Northern Lights dancing in the sky above me – beautiful, magical, genuinely awesome).
What I learned
I’ve learned that memorable travel experiences mostly come from encounters with unexpected places and people. Seeing iconic landmarks rarely lives up to expectations.
From images in books and on TV programs, we’re intimately familiar with these places already. The mystique long since evaporated. We’re just one in a crowd of many. Easing (or elbowing) our way past others to get a good selfie.
My advice? Yes, visit the places on your bucket list but go off the beaten track too. Enjoy the journey. You never know what you’ll find.
In contrast to my Niagara Falls experience, and by way of a teaser, my night sleeping in a prison elsewhere in Canada was truly memorable. But more of that in a future blog…
Over to you
I’d love to hear – what is your biggest travel disappointment?
Have you visited Niagara Falls? What did you think?
Use the comments below?
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