Lake Erie Circle Tour Journal: Day #5 Niagara-on-the-Lake

Day #5 Friday, May 31, 2019

I woke at dawn and slipped out onto our hotel balcony. A ship had entered the lock from the north. I had not seen it enter and it was hidden by the lock walls. I was unable to tell if it was a small boat or a big ship. Only the very top of it was visible above the lock walls to prove that it was there.

The morning was crisp and cold. The birds were just beginning to stir in the trees. Seeing the sky alone would have been worth admission. Painted cornflower blue and soft coral, the colors swirled together like a watercolor wash, a stunning background that made watching the lock show somewhat magical.

As water filled the lock, the ship began to slowly rise. After several minutes, I could see what at first, I believed to be two ships, one parked against the front gate and one resting near the back gate. As the minutes ticked on, and as more and more of the ship became visible, I realized that — Holy Moly! — it was one single ship, so massive that it barely fit inside the lock—too big even for me to get a photo of the ship from end to end.

The Sten Arnold is an oil tanker that measures approximately 473 ft. long x 75 ft wide. Deadweight is over 16k tons. How do I know that? Never one to let curiosity go unchecked, I ran inside to my laptop and Googled it. I’d never seen anything so big in my life. I debated waking John. He needed to see this. Everyone needed to see this.

But John was already awake, curious as to why I was outside on the balcony instead of asleep in bed. We stood side by side and watched as the front gate opened and the oil tanker sailed silently forward on its way toward Lock #8. It was a common occurrence for the men who work at Lock #7. For us, it was a morning to remember.

Rory found one of the only breakfast restaurants in town that began serving breakfast when we wanted to eat it. The four of us were early risers. We also valued our sightseeing time. The earlier we got started, the more we would get to see in a day. It wasn’t a struggle for us to get up and get moving. It was our natural rhythm.

The Early Bird Restaurant opened at 7 a.m. and we were there just a few minutes later. Three thick slices of French toast, a scrambled egg, bacon and half of fresh fruit bowl that John and I shared was more than I could eat.

Having no set plan for the day we decided at the breakfast table that we would visit Fort George in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The night before John tried to convince me that everyone would enjoy visiting both Fort George and Fort Erie as well as Fort Niagara when we crossed back into the U.S.

“We’re not going to visit three forts,” I argued.

“Why not? You like forts.”

“Yes, I do. But not all at once on a single vacation. We’ve already been to Fort Malden and there are other things we want to do.”

“But—”

“Pick one.”

“But—”

“No.”

When John gets interested in a subject he can’t be accused of not studying it thoroughly.

Fort George was the scene of several battles during the War of 1812. The fort had earthenworks, palisades, barracks, and other buildings within its walls. We walked through each of the buildings. Red coated reenactors were well informed and interested in talking about the history they knew. A musket demonstration and its failed shots showed how different and less effective guns were during previous centuries.

Two red coated young men were baking gingersnap cookies over a kitchen fire using one of the fort’s original recipes. They offered us a sample but said that the cookies were not sweet enough. Tasting the cookie, I thought it was good even though less sweet than what we expect from a cookie today. I speculated that maybe early Americans/Canadians/British Soldiers had not been used to using as much sugar in their recipes as we are today. Maybe they needed to conserve their limited supplies or perhaps they were never in the habit of baking the same overly sweet cookies that we eat.

Other costumed workers in different buildings explained what life was like for the officers, soldiers, and the few family members that lived there.  As forts go, Fort George wasn’t as spectacular as others we’ve seen but I was glad to have visited. The hour or two we spent there was adequate.

Niagara-on-the-Lake is known as the home of the Shaw theater festival. It is also what I’d call a people watching town and a shopper’s paradise. We walked sidewalks filled with tourists coming and going from shops and restaurants that competed for the tourist dollar. More inclined to be drawn to the roadside barn sales or the second hand junk stores, the four of us were not much interested in shopping, at least not this kind of exclusive fashion and upscale shopping, Being lunchtime we stepped into a place called Orzo. I recalled that it had good reviews. There was plenty of seating with no waiting which made it a good pick as far as I was concerned.

After lunch, we took a look inside a Scottish gift shop. I found a newer version of a handbag I’d recently bought at Goodwill. The bag in the gift shop was $89.99. The one I had purchased “second hand” was more or less new with the tags still attached. But it had cost me $4. Gotta love thrift store shopping!

As we were leaving town Rory took a side street and drove through one the nearby residential neighborhoods giving us all a glimpse at some of the grand old (and new) houses. This, I believe, was my favorite part of Niagara-on-the-Lake. I love seeing how other people live and I particularly like seeing their landscaping and gardens which allow me to collect ideas for my own yard.

Before getting too far out of town, we stopped along the highway at one of the many wineries that offers tours, tastings, and retail sales. We purchased a bottle of wine for the evening.

In Port Colbourne we made a brief visit to the viewing area that overlooks Lock 8, the final lock before ships enter Lake Erie. The viewing area which had sounded so appealing in tourist literature was a bit disappointing. It has a nice water feature, but the surrounding landscaping was uninteresting, perhaps just a result of it being too early in the season (May 31) for planting annual flowers. There is a fairly good-sized park area that overlooks the lock. It would be nice if there was some reason to walk there – perhaps some informational boards or art pieces or pretty garden areas. With no ship in the lock though, we stayed just a few minutes, agreed our time would have been better spent visiting the Lock 3 museum.

We had planned to grab take-out pizza for dinner and spend our evening at our hotel overlooking the locks.  There were two independent pizza shops in downtown Thorold that appear to be competing for best pizza in town. I thought it might be fun to get a pizza from both shops and do our own comparison. But when we got into town, having forgotten the address of both pizza shops back at the hotel, we were left to rely only on our eyes. Papa Vince’s Pizza was easy to spot with its large, glowing sign. Tony’s Pizza we never did find. Getting a later start than we had expected, and all of us hungry, it would be pizza from Papa Vince’s for all of us.

Rory and I went inside to order. It was lucky Kay and John waited in the car because the shop was so tiny the four of us could not have fit inside the door. I was surprised to find that a pizza shop didn’t serve salads. I wondered if this was a Canadian thing (like the lack of unsweetened iced tea) or just a failing of this particular shop. We placed our orders and then left to give other customers a chance to get inside. When we picked up the order I asked for paper plates. One of the workers had to look for some. I thought it strange that a pizza shop that did take-out business and probably made a lot of deliveries to hotels wouldn’t have a good stock of paper plates, napkins, and plastic utensils. How did people in hotels manage without basic paper supplies delivered with their meal?

Back on our balcony, the four of us enjoyed our pizza and wings on paper plates as we sipped wine from plastic glasses and watched ships pass through the locks in front of us. One was a sailboat. We spied a man enter and ride through the lock while sitting in his crows nest. As we watched the boat, Kay knitted. She knitted every chance she got. I enjoyed watching her watch her yarn. I learned years ago, the basic knitting stitches. Watching Kay (and seeing some of her cool projects) always inspired me and made me want to relearn those skills. This part of the day was my favorite, relaxed and filled with good conversation with favorite friends.

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