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.

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.


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.