Even deep behind the former Iron Curtain, Niagara Falls was known as one of the wonders of the world. So under the ruse of making this quintessential tourist pilgrimage, we hijack our visitors from Hungary to make a lesser-known but equally memorable expedition.
The fertile orchards of the Niagara Peninsula put on a dazzling display every year in the middle of May.
We take the QEW over the Burlington Skyway and turn onto Fruitland Road toward Highway 81. Winding through valleys along the foot of the Niagara Escarpment, 81 (which becomes route 8 at Grimsby), the lifeline of Lincoln County, connects pretty farming villages.
Our rural pilgrimage leads us past orchards, fruit stands and large stone homesteads with flower-bedecked front yards. The spring blooms are a tonic for our winter-deprived city eyes.
Between Beamsville and Vineland, side roads take us into a sea of white cherry and pink peach blossoms. In one orchard the earth is covered with cut branches after spring pruning. We get out to tramp ankle-deep in the colourful petals.
Other fields are gilded with rows of yellow dandelions between the ranks of pastel-crowned trees. The air is abuzz with the humming of bees. There'll be a good crop of fruit this year if these hard-working pollinators have their way.
In Jordan, at the top of a steep winding stretch, we turn right off route 8 and up the escarpment. Bearing right at the Y in the road, we pass vineyards on one side and the pretty Twenty Creek on the other. At Glen Road we follow the conservation area sign to Ball's Falls along a narrow, wooded curving road.
Named after C. Manley Ball, this miniature pioneer village still has farmer Ball's original brick house, log cabin, mill, smokehouse and schoolhouse and even some old buildings moved here from other locations. Our visitors revel in exploring the historical houses and learning about early Canadian life.
The tiny hamlet lies at the crest of a waterfall. We could spend hours walking trails to the upper and lower cataracts, but the big one in Niagara beckons us on. We drive over the narrow bridge and down the wiggly road to Jordan, where we're sidetracked by another museum complex with wooden cider press, mail coach, Conestoga wagon and the old clapboard Frye House.
Lunchtime. We pass on Jordan's tony old winery-cum-antique-shoppe complex to introduce the foreigners to an all-Canadian meal at Butterball's in Jordan Hollow. This long-standing Lincoln County institution is famous for its Sunday flea markets. I want to show my friends Elvis Presley Lane, an alley that connects a row of old shacks behind the market stalls, but alas, the name, along with the fleas, is gone.
Our guests try an old Canadian staple, the hot sandwich. Ugh! They're more impressed with homemade blueberry pie.
Next we head for another local highlight, the Welland Canal. A series of step locks built to carry ships over the escarpment line the canal road from St. Catharines to Port Colborne. From the viewing platform at Lock 3 we see lakers from Sault Ste. Marie and "salties" (ocean ships) from Russia.
To watch the locks raise and lower the huge behemoths up and over the steep incline of the escarpment is a study in hydraulics. With the aid of a tugboat, each mighty vessel is manoeuvred into the lock's lower channel and the gate is closed behind it, creating a sort of giant bathtub. Water pours in, raising the ship to the level of the tub in the next channel ahead. The front gate is opened, and the ship sails through to the next tub.
Several bridges cross the canal. These traffic-stopping mechano toys split open in the middle, swinging to the side or rising up in the air magically to allow the ships through to their destinations. This awesome sight keeps us entertained while idling in the resulting traffic jam.
At 7 pm we're still waving to the sailors at Welland. Niagara Falls will have to wait for another day.