I love the New England countryside. Forested mountains, hilly pastures, red barns. Pictures like from a postcard. We decided to go there in the middle of September which was too early for the famous autumn colors so that we could escape crowds which usually ascend to the rural roads during October. After three days in Boston we headed north and that’s where, for me, the real New England begins.
My favorite New England state is Vermont. Especially the Lake Champlain coast and islands. From Burlington we took US Hwy 2 north and then across the causeway, to visit tiny settlements located on the islands on the lake. From the south they are: South Hero, Grand Isle, North Hero, Birdland, Alburgh and some other tiny hamlets with names I don’t even remember. There you can visit country stores, art galleries or local cafés. Even just stopping for petrol you can chat with friendly locals over a cup of tea or a coffee. We would have liked to stay a few more days in the area but, as it is usual with such road trips, we had more things to see and not that much time. After crossing yet another causeway we entered the New York State. Specifically a town called Rouses Point. Most people associate this state with urban craziness of NYC but up there north, next to the Canadian border, things couldn’t be more different. Towns are small, country music rules and the sky is big.
We decided to have a pizza at the tiny Gino’s Pizza. It was place where furniture remembers early eighties, people are friendly and chef looked like he just came from Naples but spoke with a strong Yankee accent. When we asked for a big pizza, he said that because we are Europeans we should first have a look how big the big pizza actually is. It was absolutely enormous so we took his advice and scaled down to the medium one (which was still bigger than any big pizza you can get anywhere in UK).
Absolutely full we headed north again. After crossing Canadian border without too much hassle at the quiet and deserted border station we drove towards Montreal. I expected a lot from the famous city but unfortunately I was seriously disappointed. The biggest reason was a dreadful weather. It was raining like a hell for the whole afternoon so we only had a quick around the city center walk and went back to our car completely soaked. At this point we decided to pass the Montreal sightseeing and drove west towards Toronto, hoping for a weather change.
And what a difference a day can make. The following day was absolutely fantastic. Sunny and warm but not to hot. Perfect for a peaceful drive. We went off the main motorway and decided to explore the back roads. I especially recommend the Thousand Islands region and the best way to visit it (apart from a boat of course) is to drive the 1000 Island Parkway. It is an absolutely amazing road, hugging water all the time, with great views over the islands. Some of them are tiny with just one tree, on some there are houses, on others the whole mansions and even one castle. Yes a castle. It was build by a millionaire and apparently has 120 rooms.
Another good way to see the varied topography of the St. Lawrence waterway is a visit to the viewing tower located on the Hill Island, right next to the border crossing to US. To get there you have to drive narrow and steep suspension bridge next to the massive 18-wheelers. It is a bit scary. From the top of the tower you can see how many island and channels create the region. At the westernmost point of the region is historic city of Kingston where you can stop for dinner or a bit of shopping.
Our next destination was Toronto. Driving from the east we used the famous (or infamous) Hwy 401. Some say it is the busiest road in the world. It has anything from12 to18 lanes and it is a weird experience. Fortunately we arrived to the Toronto area late in the evening and avoided famous rush hours on the 401.
Toronto is actually a very nice city. If Montreal was a disappointment, then Toronto was a big positive surprise. Great weather definitely helped for a positive experience. The day started with a visit to the CN tower. For a long time it was the tallest free standing structure on earth but by the time of our visit it was already overtaken by Burj Dubai. To be honest it doesn’t really matter if it’s not the tallest any more. It is still an amazing structure and offers stunning views from the viewing platform located at 346 meters. Everyone brave enough should try to walk over the glass floor panels. Even I knew this is very strong, perfectly safe floor I still tried to step on the little metal frames joining the glass panels. I also realized that most people did actually the same thing. After the tower we walked around the nice and compact Toronto downtown and visited the provincial parliament building which offers quite interesting, free, guided tours.
But the best part of the whole Toronto experience was visit to the beaches. Yes, Toronto has beaches. Just a few miles east from downtown. All you have to do is to take one of this cool, old fashioned, red trams and in 30min you can enjoy the seaside-like environment. Actual beaches are surrounded by some nice old houses and the main drag (Queen Street East) offers great food and shopping. There are even Kew Gardens for Brits with a homesick feel. They are a bit smaller than our Kew but it is still a nice spot. So our day in Toronto ended with a nice long walk, on the beach, at the sunset.
The following day we went towards Niagara. But before we reached the famous waterfalls we popped in to Niagara-On-The-Lake. It is a lovely small town set, as the name suggests, on the lake shore, and surrounded with wineries. It is totally a tourist trap, full of tour buses and American tourists looking for a British experience close to home. But don’t worry’ it is still worth visiting and offers some good shopping. Locally made wine, Irish accessories, antiques, organic food. Almost anything that shopping addict might need. And of course it is the perfect place for an afternoon tea.
The best way to approach Niagara Falls is to drive Niagara Parkway. It is a scenic road connecting Lake Ontario with the Lake Erie and it follows Niagara River for all of its 56km.
Some say, Niagara Falls is so commercialized, kitschy and tacky that going there it is a total waste of time. I don’t think so. True, you have all the possible gift shops you can only imagine, and all the tacky attractions, but the falls itself are still worth seeing. You just have to ignore the kitsch around and concentrate on the falls. And believe me, it is not that difficult because they are truly amazing. I would recommend going down to the base of the falls. After paying quite a hefty fee you can enter the tunnel leading to the base of the falls. It is worth of all the money you paid. Once you approach the falls itself you can feel that everything is actually vibrating. Thousands of tons of falling water makes the ground shaking. Then you enter the platform offering view of the falls right next to you, actually almost above you. You can also see the falls from the smaller side tunnels which opens right behind the curtain of water. After the whole experience we were almost completely soaked. The plastic ponchos you get when you enter the tour don’t give much of a protection against the eternal mist forming behind the falls.
After the falls we continued south on the Niagara Parkway which becomes very rural and quiet just a few miles from all the hustle and buzz of the falls. But it still offers a beautiful scenery and is worth driving.
We entered back to US at Buffalo which is completely insignificant and not worth stopping. But countryside around is very pleasant. We went off the main highway again to drive the back roads of upstate New York. We got lost a bit and almost run out of fuel but saw some nice towns and villages. After diner in one of this small towns we headed east towards the Big Apple, still long way to go. We had to spend a night somewhere and it wasn’t easy to find motels off the main interstate highways in this rural region. We finally spotted one in the town of Warsaw. It was one of the dirtiest and dodgiest motels I have ever slept in, but it was late, it was raining, we were tired and it was extremely cheap. Anyway, if you can, avoid staying in motel in Warsaw, NY.
The next day we spent driving quiet highways on the New York – Pennsylvania border region heading steadily toward the New York City which was our final destination.
But this is the subject for a completely different story.