The nature surrounding Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls is a truly horrible town near an awesome (in the biblical sense of the word) waterfall. We were there for three full days and did just about every single thing there is to do in the area. Besides the actual falls – which you can hardly see past all the tourists – we discovered there are many wonderful corners. One of those that we found especially impressive was the rapids a few kilometres downstream of the falls, which are some of the most dangerous in the world:

Equally recommendable, if arduous, are the hiking trails at Niagara Glen. They’re not very well marked, so you might not always end up where you meant to go and you’ll definitely break a sweat along the way, but no matter where the trails take you, it will be worth it. Did I mention that it’s for free? If you don’t suffer from vertigo, the Aero Cart
, which takes you across the famous Niagara whirlpool, is also a must-do:

Optional Attractions

We also visited the Butterfly Conservatory, which turned out to be exactly like every other butterfly conservatory in the world. Niagara’s Fury, a show «for all senses», we found absolutely horrible. After watching a confusing cartoon about a timetraveling rodent, you get to stand on a vibrating platform where you have water sprayed at you while nigh unidentifiable images of the geological history of the falls are projected all around you. There’s also a somewhat sub-par botanical garden which you could absolutely skip. The Hornblower tour, which takes you very close to the falls on a ship is a must but didn’t exactly grab us.

Worst of all was when we decided to go into the town to grab a bite to eat. Turns out that Niagara Falls is essentially a would-be Las Vegas without any charm, who knew? We did however end up finding some good food at the edge of the city.

New York – strong first impression, a bit overwhelming

Sailing into the Manhattan harbour might very well be the most impressive way to first see New York. Under a beaming sun, we cruised underneath the Verrazano-Narrows-Bridge and past the statue of liberty. The entire way, we had a fantastic view of New York’s skyline. Up till this point we only knew it from movies, tv or the internet. It took a while to fully internalise that buildings like the One World Trade Center or the Empire State Building actually exist. This was an almost surreal experience.

Overwhelmed by the Big Apple

Since we had only one full day before we had to take a train to Niagara Falls, we decided to explore the area around our hotel. This proved harder than we had anticipated; Midtown Manhattan, it seems, is bursting out of its seams with people. I had sever seen this many people crammed so close together – safe for maybe at a festival. I don’t think there was a single moment where we couldn’t hear a single siren or car horn. Another thing we had to get used to, is that, because of all the buildings, you often can’t see the sky unless you specifically look for it. To get over the shock, we treated ourselves to a burger and some fries at a real New York burger chain, called Shake Shack, and put up our tired feet in the surprisingly calm Bryant Park.

Boston – Love at first sight

The penultimate scheduled stop of our cruise was Boston. A city which immediately captured Rik and me. We started exploring from the center and made our way over the Commonwealth Avenue. On our way to our goal – the Mapparium, a three-story-tall, stained glass, inverted globe depicting the earth – we encountered many charming little corners of Boston.

The Mapparium was very impressive both optically and acoustically. Unfortunately, the visit left us with a bit of a sour taste since it was located in the Mary Baker Eddy Library. In case you are unfamiliar with that name – as we were – Mary Baker Eddy founded «Christian Science». Followers of Christian Science strongly believe that prayer can heal all kinds of illnesses and actively discourage fellow believers to stay clear of any modern medicine. So, any money you spend going to the Mapparium goes towards religious nuts.

By water

We had a significantly less trouble parting from our money when we spent a few bucks on a ride in a paddle-powered swan boat in Boston’s public garden. What made it even better was the saxophone player playing the Star Wars theme song on a nearby bridge.


By foot

After a nice stroll along the Charles River we decided to top off our day in Boston with a brief visit to the Faneuil Hall Marketplace. We found it to be a beautiful building, but very much geared to tourists. Safe to say we didn’t buy any food there. For that, we made our way back to the ship where we could enjoy Boston’s beautiful skyline.

Halifax – Sport and Games

When we arrived in Halifax, the weather left a great deal to be desired. So we decided to kick the day off by walking to and subsequently paying a visit to the Public Library. This hyper modern library is located in the heart of the city and contained an eatery which offers a fantastic piece of cake. And since it was the weekend, we also got the opportunity to play some pinball. Yes, pinball, in a library. On the third floor, where you can find all kinds of media for kids and teenagers, there is a room with pinball machines from all decades which you can play for free on the weekends.

We were making our way to the citadel when we were surprised by a rain shower. As entrance into the citadel was free, as a way to celebrate Canada’s 150th birth year, we used the opportunity to visit the citadel and the museum inside it. By midday, the raining had stopped and we could step outside to see – and hear – a historic canon being loaded and fired at 12 exactly. If you ever visit Halifax, we can recommend making sure you’re there for this midday ritual.

In the afternoon we took it upon ourselves to shed some of the Calories we consumed on the cruise. In two hour kayak tour, we explored the harbor and the nearby Georges island. Tons of fun was had! The weather got a lot better as the tour progressed and by the time we got back to shore, the sun was beaming down on Halifax where the ongoing busker festival had really kicked off. Myriads of food stands, musicians and acrobats lined the streets. Luckily we had time until 11:30 to board the ship.

Sydney – no, not that one, the other one

The Opera House, the Harbour bridge, the Queen-Victoria building – Sydney, Australia is known accross the globe. Sydney, Canada slightly less so. And it’s not particularly surprising. The city has a few nice houses and the largest fiddle in the world. And… that’s about it. We also visited the Brenton Centre for Crafts and Design centre, which had a very interesting exhibition featuring two photographers’ perspective on Japan. Though that didn’t kill much more than 20 minutes of time either.

Luckily enough, the day we were in Sydney happened to be Pride Day. This meant that we were witness to an incredibly colorful and cheerful Parade celebrating all things LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender). It really brightened up the somber town and the even more somber weather.

Paamiut – an hour will do

Our first impression of Paamiut from our ship was not exactly breathtaking:

Our second impression was better, but not by much. This town is miniscule and offers no noteworthy sights safe for an old-ish wooden church. We had to take a tender boat to get on land and took one back scarcely an hour later. That’s all the time you need to see everything Paamiut has to offer. Besides the church, there is a bar and two cemeteries. That’s it. To top it all off, the town also lacks the idyllic charm of Qaqortoq, is in much better shape and surrounded by stunning nature. It also tends to get more sun.


The Blue Lagoon

We got up early on day two to catch a bus to another Icelandic classic: the Blue Lagoon. It’s a geothermal spa that received it’s name because of the bright blue colour of the water. It is man-made but the water naturally maintains 37 to 39 °C because it runs close to lava in the ground before being fed into the pool. When you get close to the areas of the pool where the water gets injected you feel that it is actually way hotter, but it cools down because the air temperature is much lower.

At the lagoon we were able to store our luggage before getting changed and washing ourselves, which gets taken very seriously in Iceland, and spending about an hour in the pool which was very relaxing. The water is rich in minerals such as silica and sulfur and it’s believed that it has “healing powers” – but then again more than half of all Icelanders believe in invisible elves so I’m not sure if you can trust them. What I can attest to is that they are not lying when they tell you the water will make your hair hard to manage. Even though I followed the instructions and put tons of conditioner in my hair it felt – and looked – like straw for a few days.


How to become Icelandic

Turns out all you have to do to become Icelandic is to attend a comedy show in the Harpa concert hall in Reykjavik. Now I know how to behave like a local: be rude, love the smell and wash!

If you’ve never been to Iceland this might seem strange to you, but it was actually pretty good advice for our first few days on the island.

1. We learned that the icelandic people have a very northern charm – they aren’t exactly talkative. So don’t expect the receptionist at the hotel or your taxi driver to say anything to you that’s not strictly necessary for getting the job done. Don’t take it personally!

2. Iceland stinks – literally, not figuratively. Every time we took a shower the entire bathroom suddenly started smelling like rotten egg. At first we thought there was a problem with the shower but when we smelled the same at the geyser area and the Blue Lagoon we looked it up and found out that it’s the smell of sulfur, caused by the volcanic activity in Iceland. There is no avoiding it so you just have to get used to it!

3. When you go to a public bath or as we did to the Blue Lagoon you are expected to wash properly before entering the pool – naked that is, leaving on your bathing suit is not allowed. Do it and you will be rewarded with a great bathing experience!

These were just three of 12 lessons the show thought us while also being quite entertaining. We would recommend it to everyone who likes some lighthearted comedy and wants to learn something about Iceland.

Touring the Golden Circle

On our first day in Iceland we went for a classic tourist attraction: the Golden Circle. The tour consists of several stops at iconic Icelandic sights of which the Thingvellir National Park, the Geyser Hot Spring area and Gullfoss waterfall are the most famous and impressive. Unfortunately there were tons of people at all these stops which spoiled the experience a bit. We later heard it’s better to go later in the day so that’s what we would do if we came to Iceland again. Here are a few impressions of these beautiful natural wonders:

Thingvellir National Park

Thingvellir National Park was my favourite stop of the entire tour. Not only is it a really pretty place it’s also loaded with Icelandic history. The Vikings came to Iceland in 871 (or did they?) and as population grew there was a need for a general assembly to settle some affairs – for example passing laws. The Thingvellir area was easily accessible from the most populated regions of that time and offered some great acoustics so that’s where the Vikings decided to hold their parliament.

Fun fact: This is also where they some scenes for Game of Thrones, for example the battle between Brienne and the Hound.

Geyser area

At midday we stopped at a geothermal area that featured several geysers, among them the one in the picture, the Strokkur geysr, which erupts every ten minutes into a fountain of 15 to 20 meters. In between it sometimes does so called “fake eruptions” that are less high, so stay around for a bit as to not miss the real thing!
The eruptions are caused by water seeping down onto rock heated by magma. The water gets turned into steam but it can’t immediately rise, as steam usually does, because there is more water from above that keeps it down – until there is just too much energy and the steam breaks out. Or something like that, check out How stuff works for a way better explanation.

Gullfoss waterfall

And finally what looks like it could be in New Zealand: the Gullfoss waterfall.  Around 140 cubic meters of water fall down every second – in two steps of 11 and 21 meters – into seemingly nowhere. On the picture you can’t see it very well but there was constantly a rainbow in front of it that made it look quite magical. I’m not sure if the Niagara Falls will be able to top that.