Tag Archives: Waterfalls

Day 2 – Xandari

Monday February 20 2023 – After a 23-hour day yesterday and a late night to boot, one could reasonably expect to sleep the sleep of the just completely knackered. In the event, what happened is what always happens when I travel to the American continental mass – I find that I’m wide awake at 4am. I sort of managed to drift off for a bit but sleep patterns were further disrupted by: the weather – it was windy, with occasionally very vigorous gusts whistling through whatever it was was causing them to whistle; the wildlife, which woke early and started shrieking, in voices and at volumes unfamiliar to the British ear, with joy at the prospect of the coming day; and the airport, from which jets would fly over the hotel quite low at intervals (see later).  At around 7am we gave up the unequal struggle of pretending we were still asleep and made ourselves some tea. Yes, we have brought some Twinings Earl Grey tea bags with us; whyever did you feel the need to ask?

The early morning gave us a little time to appreciate better the room we were in, which was really very substantial,

and had a decent view over towards Alajuela and San José. There were a lot of raptors out looking for their breakfasts

so we eventually went to have ours in the hotel restaurant, which shares the same view as we get from our room.

The hotel breakfast was perfectly fine without being outstanding in any way, and after it we found ourselves at leisure, with only the need to be ready to receive a hire car at 2pm on the formal schedule for the day.  So we went for a walk. Obviously.

Until we arrived and were shown the map, we hadn’t appreciated the extent of the area in which the Xandari Hotel is set.  It’s pretty considerable.

Jane had read the description in the hotel material of the trail that leads around the grounds and it told us various relevant facts: firstly, that there were some five waterfalls with vistas overlooking them; secondly, a walk to all the waterfalls would take over an hour; and thirdly that the route back from one of them was “arduous”. Whatever, it seemed a perfectly good idea to go exploring – the sun was shining, it wasn’t too hot and we needed to start to get back into the travelling habits.  So, off we went.

The immediate environs of the hotel are nicely landscaped

The path leading to our room

and there are many sculptures and artistic touches as you walk around.

The use of mosaic tiles features heavily

and I reckon is more than a small nod in the direction of Gaudi, whose modernista work can be seen all over Barcelona.

As well as the sculptures, there were some lovely flashes of colour from flowers, some familiar, some less so.

After a while, we left the hotel area and headed into the wider “jungle” of its grounds.  This is when it became apparent what they meant by “arduous”.  Some of the going was quite up-and-down.

and there were some big trees around, too.

and some huge bamboo.

One particular bamboo grove was little short of spectacular and the noises it made as the wind blew through it were amazing.

We followed the trail down and down until we found the waterfalls.  Owing to the somewhat eccentric nature of the numbering system, number 3 was the first we came across.

Further along the trail, numbers 1 and 2 were not that impressive, at least to us folk who have been fortunate enough to visit Iceland (the country, not the shop).

and number 5 was charming (and offered us some decorative seats so we could take a breather)

but the star of the show was number 4. Even an Icelander might grudgingly give this one a gruff nod.

Our walk was, as I say, quite up-and-downy

and it was also quite round-and-roundy

but we covered pretty much the whole of the hotel grounds, which was quite satisfactory, and a very pleasant way to start to get the feel of what the country had to offer.

Shortly after we got back to the hotel it was time to collect our hire car, which was brought to the hotel by a National Rental chap who didn’t speak English very well but introduced us to the SayHi app which helped us around some of the complexities of getting hold of what was to be our transport for the coming weeks.

after which a drink in the hotel bar seemed a decent logical step.

After some nachos and a couple of beers, we retreated to our room for a rest.  Just before dinner, we got the opportunity to understand the reason that jets are so noisy near the hotel. They take off from the airport

and then turn to the left and fly directly over the hotel.

We had a decent dinner in the restaurant and then retired to our room for the rest of the evening.  Tomorrow sees us embarking on the first drive of our time here, and it’s set to be a long one of about five hours as we head towards Ostional, on the west coast.  It may be that there will be nothing to report tomorrow, but I guess you’ll have to check in, just in case something interesting happens, eh?

Anne Interesting Tour

Tuesday 20 September 2022 – The weather forecast for the day was gloomy, and the reality out of our hotel window

didn’t give huge cause for elation.  So, by an accident of fate, our plan to be on a bus for most of the day looked pretty sound.  There was a little uncertainty about precisely where the bus would stop, as a result of which we failed to be first on it and therefore to get the prime seats at the front of the upper deck.  This was a little bit of a shame, as the front windows actually boasted windscreen wipers, and so would have been clear for taking photos.

The driver, Dan, gave an interesting and folksy commentary as we went along and we tried to grab photos of the things he was talking about – never easy on a reasonably swift-moving bus on a rainy day, but one or two are worth sharing.

The route went north-east from Québec City, along the north coast of the St. Lawrence river.  This is the area where original settlers, erm, settled, and it seems that it took a few years for them to find the best area: at first they made homes on the banks of the St. Lawrence, but these got washed away by the unexpectedly high tides; so the next attempt was on top of the cliffs that bordered the river, but these were subject to the  bitterly cold north-easterly winds; finally, the best location turned out to be at the foot of the cliffs, out of the reach of the tides and sheltered from the winds.

By this stage, the settlers had learned about the potentially 12 feet of snow that could be expected during the winter, and so the houses tended to have steps up to the entrances.  We tried to catch some pictures of these houses as we went by.


On thing that we noticed was the colour of the roofs, many of which were (like that church spire I mentioned in my last post) silver in colour.  It turns out that these are tin, chosen because it is reasonably long-lasting and also fire-resistant.  Many have brightly-coloured roofs.

The reason for this is historical, as there’s no real need for the colour now.  But in the days of the original settlers, with houses relatively few and far between and 12 feet of snow on the ground in winter, the coloured roof was perhaps the only landmark a person could see.  The house in the photo immediately above features a “spring kitchen” – a place where folk could gather as the weather broke after winter, to celebrate the arrival of spring.

Houses that were farms tended to a strip of land that stretched back to the banks of the river – that way it was easy to understand land ownership.  Some of the farm houses are very handsome

and some of the older buildings show , from the reduced height of the door, that people weren’t as tall then (late 16h and 17th century) as they are today – perhaps as much as a foot shorter on average.

The tour made its first stop in St-Anne-deBeaupré, a small town of perhaps 3,000 souls, but home to an astonishing Basilica.  The first church was built by sailors, seeking protection against shipwrecks off Ile-Oeuf on their way upriver to Quebec City (Saint Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary, is the patron saint of sailors).  But the church has grown and grown, and has a reputation similar to that of Lourdes as a place for the sick to come on a pilgrimage and be cured.

It is huge

and ornate, both outside

and inside.

The doors are covered in beautiful copper, both outside

and in.

and there are extraordinary stacks of crutches and other mobility aids

which have been left here by people who have been cured of their illnesses.

There are no fewer than three other religious establishments immediately around the Basilica,

a couple of churches and, above, a commemorative chapel  of the third church.   On the gentle slopes of the hillside behind the chapel and beside the Santa Scala pictured above it are twelve bronze statues of the Stations of the Cross.

All in all, it is clear that Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré is a very significant religious centre.  There’s something excitingly called a Cyclorama

which is not, after all, a wall of death for daredevil motorbikers to whizz round, but actually a 365-ft representation in the round of Christ’s crucifixion – sadly closed since the pandemic and not yet re-opened.

After this stop, we retraced our journey back towards Quebec City. Driver Dan described the next stop as a “Copper Shop” and I wondered why we would visit a police station.  At first, it seemed merely the sort of retail opportunity that is often an unwelcome intrusion into a tour, as we were ushered into the lobby lined with works of art made from copper.  I was wrong to misjudge it, though.  We were at Cuivres d’Art Albert Gilles Boutique et Musée. Our group was given a short demonstration of how sheet copper can be transformed into a work of art.

although what we saw was a mere illustration using thin sheet metal; the real material is five times as thick and takes real skill, dedication and time to make into a final sculpture.

The studio, which was started by Albert Gilles who has passed the flame to daughter and grand-daughter, also hosted an exhibition, including Albert’s work to create silver representations of the life of Christ,

a project which took him 15 years, as well as some other lovely items.

The key thing that prevented this from being an unwelcome attempt to sell us stuff came with the knowledge, imparted by Madame, that Albert Gilles had created the copper doors for the Basilica at Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré (along with work at some 60 other churches).  We left with a great, erm, impression of the man, his work and his art.

We next stopped at the Montmorency Falls.   These are 83 metres high, thus higher than Niagara, although not as powerful.

The falls are impressive enough from ground level, but one can reach the top for a different viewpoint.  You have a choice: walk up steps to the right of the falls as you look at them – 487 steps, we’re told, since we didn’t take this option (not enough time) – or a cable car to the left, which is quicker, less work but costs more.

The cable car is unique in my experience in two ways: the cars are clamped to the cable and it’s the cable that moves; and each car is clamped to two cables, which (obviously) both move. From the top of the cable car, you go past Montmorency Pavilion

and can take a couple of viewpoints, the better of which is ruined, in my photography-solipsistic world, by zipwire cables spoiling the view.  There’s a suspension bridge across the falls, which is quite exciting.  On the left from this viewpoint you can see the steps which hardy souls can climb and which would probably give the most satisfying viewpoint.

In the distance, in the upper of these two pictures, you can see a much larger suspension bridge. This leads to – indeed is the only road access to – the Île-d’Orléans, which is where we headed next.

This island is home mainly to farms, as building regulations forbid the creation of any other kind of industrial construction.  It produces mainly fruit and vegetables – strawberries, apricots, potatoes and apples. There’s a 9-hole golf course, a couple of churches and a decent selection of very handsome (and expensive, obvs) homes.  There’s a Nougaterie, and a blackcurrant farm, Cassis Monna & Filles, which Ian Burley recommends for its gin, but rather than go there, we ended up at a chocolate shop, right at the western point of the island, where you can actually see back over to Québec.

If you look carefully, you can even see the central tower of our hotel, just above the left-hand cruise ship.

The chocolate shop is very obviously a popular place for tours

but we resisted the urge to dash in and stuff our faces.  Instead, since this was the last stop of the tour and we were back at the hotel shortly afterwards, we headed to a hotel restaurant called Sam (for reasons we discovered the next day) where, by virtue of force of personality, or perhaps just plain luck, we just managed to squeeze in for a late, and very good, lunch and a couple of cold, and very welcome, drinks.

Was this a “Fabulous Country Tour”?  Well, not really – and of course the dull weather didn’t help – but it was interesting and we learned quite a lot about early settlers; and the Basilica was a truly remarkable place.  We enjoyed the day and could now look forward to our second and final day in Québec.  The weather outlook was rather better, so we could expect to have a good chance to explore this fascinating city in more detail.  Do come back and find out, won’t you?


Falls Guys

Wednesday 14 September 2022 – Although it was interesting to wander around Toronto yesterday (and tomorrow promises to be even more interesting, but you’ll have to come back and find out, won’t you?) I suppose that a visit to Niagara Falls was the principal reason for coming here. Our itinerary was a full day; not just the Falls, but some other items as well. It was a long day and a good one.

(By the way, there is more than just the Falls in this post, in case you were feeling blasé about the Falls themselves.)

Our instructions were to meet “at the York Street entrance” to the hotel. Our attempt to find this from inside the hotel met with failure, so we exited by a different door and walked round to York Street, to find that the hotel entrance was not accessible, being behind boards advertising the wonders within. We wondered whether perhaps we should wait elsewhere, but there were a couple of other people standing there looking worried and clutching bits of paper and we established that they were on the same excursion as we were; and gradually a small mob of people gathered, each new arrival checking that, yes, this was the Niagara Falls trip before joining the increasing numbers on the pavement.

Eventually a coach turned up and we all surged towards it to be met by our guide, Sandro,

who checked people off as they got on. Initially, it seemed he was not quite in control, but as the day wore on it became quite clear that he was very experienced, to the point where (within limits) he felt able to make things up as he went along. It took a while for the last stragglers to find the bus, but soon we were off on the 90-minute drive to Niagara.

The Niagara River is well-known as running between two of the Great Lakes (Ontario and Erie, you’ll remember); but it’s not the only way that water gets from the one to the other, as there is a canal enabling ships to get between the lakes via a series of 7 locks (to address the drop of around 90m between Erie and Ontario). As we approached the falls, we passed the canal and Sandro pointed it out as we went by.

And then we were at the Falls. We didn’t immediately stop there, as Sandro got the driver to take us a bit upriver, past the old Hydro Electric Power Station building

(the Falls drives the largest production of hydroelectric power in North America) to what Sandro called the locks

but which were actually sluices, controlling the flow between the American and Canadian sides of the Falls in a mutually-agreed fashion. You can see, for example, that some of the sluice gates are open in the photo above. The sluices also reduce the overall volume of water going over the Falls as a way of controlling erosion. This erosion already means that the site of the Falls has moved 11km upstream over thousands of years; left unchecked, the falls would move one metre per year, but with the sluices this is reduced to just 3 centimetres.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the area around the falls. My original mental image had them as being fairly isolated from civilisation, but a blog post from my brother, Chris, who had visited earlier and stayed at the Falls, gave me the impression that huge buildings loomed over everything, leaving barely room for the water to squeeze through. In the end, neither is the case. It’s not isolated, but neither did I feel overpowered by looming buildings.

There is a walkway beside the Falls, from which you get an increasing idea of the power and volume of them.

(This is the Horseshoe Falls – the Canadian side; there are other Falls on the US side also visible from the walkway –

the American Falls to the left and the Bridal Veil Falls to the right.)

Simply seeing the Falls is pretty dramatic, but one can join boats to go closer to them – Maid of the Mist from the US side (people in blue ponchos) and Hornblower from the Canadian side (people in red).

I made a video, which might help convey some of this, also.

The boat trip was to be our afternoon’s entertainment, but first we had lunch (with a view

and a desultory attempt to practise my Swedish with the other people on our table) in the welcome centre there, which is called Table Rock.

Then it was time for the boat. The organisation is pretty slick, getting crowds of people into an elevator down towards the river level, equipping them with the very important ponchos to protect from the worst of the forthcoming drenching, and into queues for the next boat.

The boats are, of course, pretty crowded

and it can be difficult to get a clear view of the Falls. At times that doesn’t matter, as approaching the Horseshoe Falls results in getting sprayed with a considerable amount of water

(it’s not a mist; more of a monsoon – I was very glad I hadn’t bothered to take my big camera with me, as it would probably not have withstood the treatment). However, one can get some decent shots.

(You can just make out people at the top of the Falls, to give an idea of scale.)

It’s quite a bracing experience!

After all of that excitement, we got (damply) back on the coach, exited past the other retail opportunities which have sprung up around the Falls

and headed towards the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. Away from the commercialism of the Falls, the area of Niagara is a very pleasant place – a nice residential area, a golf course, other green spaces. Sandro took us via what he built up as “the largest church in the world”

(which is also the site of a fruit farm with a very distinguished name),

and a locally well-known floral clock

with flowers grown and provided by the students of the nearby botanical gardens. Behind the clock you can see a hint of the huge electricity generation and supply infrastructure which, powered by the Falls, supplies both Canada (2GW peak power) and the US (2.4GW).

Niagara-on-the-Lake is a very pretty town – also a National Historical site – with a remarkable Heritage District because of its remarkable, erm, heritage. It served as the first capital of the province of Upper Canada, the predecessor of Ontario; was razed during battles between America and Canada in 1812; and was then rebuilt. It is so pretty and so well-maintained that it’s almost too perfect, really; but it’s very photogenic.

It’s not devoid of modern influences

and has the oldest pharmacy in Canada.

The place even has a dedicated Christmas shop – Canada’s oldest year-round Christmas emporium, we learn. Nowhere’s perfect, I suppose.

The streets are laden with beautiful flowers

which are also maintained by the botanical garden students.

The town is at the heart of a wine district. Ontario wine region is actually the most productive of Canada’s wine regions, thanks to the Niagara Peninsula province. This was news to me; I was sufficiently ignorant that I didn’t realise that Canada produced any wine at all until today. So our next and final stop was at Niagara College Wine Visitor and Education Centre

where we were treated to a brief wine tasting session

with – gosh! – the opportunity to buy some of the produce.

(Jane was so impressed with the eiswein produced here that she bought a couple of bottles.)

And so ended a very full, varied and enjoyable day of relentless tourism. Tomorrow will be our last day in Toronto and we hope to set out to discover something about it that I had vaguely heard about but hadn’t realised was A Thing. To find out more, please join us again after tomorrow when (I hope) All Will Be Revealed.