I went to Niagara Falls for the first time in my life and could never have expected to feel the level of giddiness that hit me the second I saw them. I’ve seen waterfalls before. I’ve even seen Iguazu Falls at the intersection of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina. They were stunning. But something hit differently about seeing Niagara. Maybe it was all the stories I grew up hearing about, like all the going over the falls in a barrel. Maybe it was seeing firsthand how powerful they are. But I think most of all, I just didn’t expect to see them that day.
I didn’t go to Niagara Falls to see Niagara Falls. I went to Niagara Falls to see my friend Kristin and her family. I met Kristin in 2006, my first year living in South Korea. Kristin was cool. She had been there longer than me. She was friends with everyone. She was always smiling. She was good at volleyball. I admired her from afar before I really got to know her. But as soon as we finally spoke, we were fast friends.
One of my first memories of Kristin is when she asked me to go paragliding with her. At 8am. The day after Halloween. She picked me up on her motorcycle and we drove to the hills. Both extremely hungover, we were too nauseous to feel nervous as we soared over the trees and bush of Busan.
As I came and went from South Korea over the next several years, Kristin stayed, and we stayed close friends. Eventually we both left Korea for good, and Kristin ended up in Niagara Falls with her Canadian husband, Steve, who she had met in Busan. We even saw each other a few times in Florida in the following years.
In early September I flew into Toronto to see other friends from my time in Korea; since Niagara is also in Ontario, I knew I had to find a way to make it work to see Kristin and Steve. Luckily my friend Erin was onboard with a mini road trip, so off we went one morning to Niagara Falls.
In all the weeks of making plans to go to Niagara, my focus was on seeing my friends, and not on seeing a natural wonder of the world. But as soon as we arrived, it hit me! We’re so close, seeing the falls was a given.
After visiting for a bit at Kristin’s house, and hanging out with her kids, we were off to the falls. The first moment I saw the falls was from a distance, in the passenger seat of the car. My breath was instantly taken away, and the excitement started to creep up. Kristin dropped Erin and I off while she went to park the car. We meandered along the path, stopping every few seconds to admire the rapids, the mist rising up, and the sudden drop of thousands of pounds of water instantaneously. I was like a child at an amusement park for the first time. I couldn’t stop laughing and smiling.
The best surprise was when Kristin called and asked that we meet her at the Visitor Center. She had passes to go behind the falls. Both Kristin and Steve work for the Niagara Parks, so they get passes every year to do various Niagara activities. If you ever visit a major tourist attraction, I suggest having friends who can get you free passes.
Kristin, Erin, and I went down an elevator and down a long hallway carved out of the stone behind the falls. There were several hallways off to the side where you could get close to the water falling down just a few feet away.
One of the side hallways opens up to a terrace where you can see the falls up close, soaking our (unfortunate) plastic ponchos. It was thrilling.
The terrace was crowded with other tourists in yellow ponchos, but the energy was felt. It’s hard not to stand next to such powerful nature, and not be in absolute awe. It’s truly an emotional experience.
Once we finished up here, we headed over to a local Niagara brewery, Counterpart, to meet Steve for lunch, where the obligatory poutine was had. I try my best to eat the local foods wherever I go, and poutine was on the top of my list for Canada, even this was Ontario and not Quebec. It did not disappoint. Neither did the craft beers which were not only delicious, but beautiful in color.
After lunch we opted in for one more activity- the White Water Walk. About ten minutes down the road from the falls, along the Niagara River, is a nature walk. It puts you just above ground level, and you can walk along the wooden path while admiring the crazy high rapids. Apparently adventure seekers will often attempt to kayak through these rapids, but it doesn’t always end well.
The nature walk was beautiful, and peaceful, and a great way to end our sightseeing adventure for the day.
We then went back to Kristin and Steve’s house for one last chat before saying our final goodbye’s and heading back to Toronto. Reconnecting with old friends is the best way to spend a day.