|Niagara-on-the-Lake is on the river by Rosario Albar|
|Published in the Manila Bulletin USA
July 2004 issue.
|Horsehoe Falls, a stretch of Niagara Falls on the Canadian side|
|As luck would have it, it was raining all the way from Toronto to Niagara-on-the-Lake. At times, heavy rain and strong winds bent my borrowed umbrella out of shape as we stopped to enjoy some of the many attractions along the way, leaving me drenched but exhilarated by the beauty of the region.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is situated at the mouth of Niagara River as it rambles on its way to Lake Ontario. The temperate climate and soil condition have given birth to a thriving wine industry. This is how we found ourselves in a wine cellar being educated in the fine art of wine tasting. Following the example of our guide, we raised our wine glasses, peered through the crystal to check for color and clarity, gently swirled the goblet to let the wine breath, brought the glass to the tips of our noses to inhale the bouquet of the wine before finally sipping it, tossing it around in our palates as we savored its body. Last but not least, we were told to spit out the wine (for which spittoons were provided), but I only saw the guide do this while the rest of us diligently drank the wine we were given and waited expectantly for more. The best of the lot was served last. This was the icewine which moved smoothly down my throat.
Canadian icewine is highly respected worldwide due in part to the stringent standards and regulations which are monitored by the Vintners Qality Alliance (VQA). Icewine can only be produced in limited quantities because of the demanding conditions under which the grapes are harvested thereby commanding top prices. Grape picking is done by hand when the temperature is around -8 degrees Celsius (17.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
There's something about learning that leaves the student famished. After the wine tasting that Bacchus would have approved, we drove to the center of town and settled at a cafe across from the old Shaw Theater. Niagara-on-the-Lake has been drawing visitors not only to its cellars but also to the Shaw Festival.
George Bernard Shaw is the playwrite who created the much-loved characters of Professor Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion. Every year since the 1960s, the festival presents plays by Shaw as well as those written by his contemporiries. The plays run from April to early December.
The drive along Niagara River was invigorating as we passed stately homes with sloping, green lawns. Some of these have been converted to Bed and Breakfast lodgings offering relaxing getaways. Bicycling is a favorite pastime with visitors to the area because the bucolic scenery calms the most frenzied soul.
The mist was so thick from all the rain that I could not initially see Horseshoe Falls, a 2200-ft. stretch of Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. The "Journey Behind the Falls" took me far below the rim to get up close and within defeaning distance from water crashing 170 ft. to the basin. As I watched and admired the thunderous descent of the falls, the spray left me totally wet and shivering.
Back on ground level, the skies cleared long enough to show the entire length of Horshoe Falls. What a spectacular sight it was, well worth the soggy clothes and shoes!
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Getting there: The drive from Toronto to Niagara-on-the-Lake takes approximately one hour and 20 minutes on the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW). Alternatively, there are all-day bus tours from Toronto that cover both Niagara-on-the-Lake and Niagara Falls.
Where to eat: Shaw Cafe and Wine Bar at 92 Queen Street (on the corner of Victoria Street) has an eclectic menu including salads and sandwiches and a list of delectable entrees.
Journey Behind the Falls: Purchase tickets (CAD$10.70) at Table Rock Point to take the elevator down to the gorge where you can go through a tunnel leading behind the falls. The ticket includes a raincoat but be prepared to get wet anyway.
Shaw Festival: For more information on the festival, check www.shawfest.com.
SALAMAT GID to my indefatigable guides, Harlean and Mario Billones, who made my visit to Niagara-on-the-Lake extra special.