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Hello From Niagara Falls: The Tropical Splendour Of Bird Kingdom And A Musical Encounter With Charlie Brown

Feb 22, 2008
So far I had already enjoyed a great day, full of action: after a tour of the tropical court yard at the Best Western Cairn Croft I had gotten a great 360 degree view over Niagara Falls from its most famous landmark: the Skylon Tower. A wonderful IMAX movie "Niagara Falls: Miracles, Myths and Magic" introduced me to the colourful history of this place, and the actual vessels of many daredevils who had gone over the Falls (in some cases with tragic results) sent shivers up my spine in the Daredevils Gallery, also housed in the Niagara Falls IMAX Theatre. Then, my first hand exploration of these majestic waterfalls as part of the "Journey Behind The Falls" experience gave me an up-close and personal impression of the sheer power of the millions of litres of water that tumble over the edge of the Horseshoe Falls every second.

Now that I was thoroughly chilled on this grey and clammy day, I was looking for a quieter place where I could warm up and I found the perfect spot: Bird Kingdom, a tropical aviary housed in the former 1907 Spirella Corset Factory.This building, one of the first concrete poured buildings in Canada, housed the Niagara Falls Museum from 1958 until 2000.

Bird Kingdom is a relatively new attraction in Niagara Falls: the building was purchased in 2000 and a new 50,000 square foot addition enlarged the original space. Today the complex houses a number of different bird habitats. The first one I saw is the small aviary that houses more than 40 species of small birds, some very colourful. On the east side of the exhibit there is a large panorama window that overlooks the Niagara Gorge. All sorts of cheerful bird songs filled the air and little birds were flitting all over the place.

From here I passed into the nocturnal area which houses all sorts of creatures that come awake at night: from owls to bats to crickets and various reptiles you get a good look at animals that normally remain hidden from us. These animals would normally be asleep in the day time, but a smart strategy of keeping the rooms dark during the day and turning the lights on during the night reverses the body clock of these elusive creatures so visitors can actually experience them.

The darkness of the nocturnal area opened up into the large bright expanse of the Main Aviary which impresses with its 35 foot tall palm trees and a 40 foot waterfall. This space is the world's largest free flying aviary. The architectural jewel of this area is the Java House, an authentic hand carved teak nobleman's house from the Island of Java that is 125 years old. The intricately carved details of this unique structure captured my attention and I took a bit of time to relax in this inviting space. Coffees, teas and iced drinks are on offer inside the Java House and invite visitors to sit down for a while.

Outside again I admired some of the large and colourful birds that live in the Main Aviary. More than 35 species are represented here, and one of the most eye-catching is the intensely red coloured Scarlet Ibis, a resident of tropical South America and incidentally the national bird of Trinidad and Tobago. The Scarlet Ibis only turns red from its original grey/white colouration once it ingests red crabs in tropical swamps.

Curious Blue and Gold Macaws peaked down at me from their high perches and a large Pied Imperial Pigeon, indigenous to the Indian Ocean and Australia, was just starting to feed and slowly walked around the ground, picking up kernels. I also spotted a Red-billed Toucan, normally a resident of Central and South America and one of the most colourful specimens of the aviary.

On my way out of the Bird Kingdom I briefly stopped off at the Macaw Market, a shopping area on the main floor that offers all sorts of bird-related collectables. A visit to Niagara Fall's Bird Kingdom was a great way of warming up in a tropical environment, surrounded by exotic feathered creatures and a jungle-like environment.

It was now late afternoon and I decided to catch a rest for a couple of hours. I drove to my new home for the next two days: the Kilpatrick Manor Bed and Breakfast. Located on Second Street, not far from Niagara Fall's train station, I drove up to a beautiful Victorian mansion and met Nance Kilpatrick, who together with her husband Kevin, runs this impressive bed and breakfast.

Nance showed me to my room for the next two nights: the luxuriously decorated Hunniford Room, featuring a large king-size bed with a sitting area, a fireplace, a high-definition television and a phenomenal private bathroom with full-body jets. Slippers and bathrobes were waiting inside the antique armoire. No doubt I was going to be comfortable here! I just wanted to fall into the imposing king-size bed and relax in the softness of the high-quality linens.

Nancy was gracious to give me an entire tour of the house which included the two other guest rooms and their magnificent bathrooms. Nance then sat down with me for an interview. I am always interested in learning the story of bed and breakfast owners, because just as each B&B is unique, so are the owners. Nance and Kevin's story and their international hospitality experiences are indeed special, and this young couple is truly passionate about providing the best possible guest experience that they can. Their upscale bed and breakfast has enjoyed great success since its beginnings two years ago, and Kevin, a professional chef, will soon start offering catering services as well. Kilpatrick Manor is also a favourite for romantic getaways and offers special getaway packages that include romantic massages. Nance and I spent a good hour and a half chatting before I had to rush to my next activity for the day.

My last stop of another intense day of explorations was the famous "Oh Canada Eh?" Dinner Theatre. This theatre company has two locations: one in Niagara Falls and one in the Canadian Rockies, more specifically in Canmore, Alberta. Since 1994, when the Niagara Falls location opened, "Oh Canada Eh?" has put on more than 3100 performances. It has been voted "Attraction of the Year" a total of six times since its inception and has done road shows in Toronto, Buffalo, Cleveland and even as far away as Palm Beach.

This dinner theatre performs a variety of shows, including "The Rocky Horror Show" and "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change". The longest running performance is the "Oh Canada Eh? Dinner Show", which features a variety of Canadian icons, including singing Mounties, lumberjacks, a hockey player and many other typically Canadian characters.

Ready to enjoy tonight's performance, "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown", I sat down at my table inside the large, chalet-like building. The hearty dinner featuring French Canadian split pea soup, roast beef, Atlantic haddock, roasted chicken with roasted potatoes, vegetables and salad was very tasty and filling, and I enjoyed my conversation with my neighbours at the table: a retired couple from Brampton who took their granddaughter on a special trip to Niagara Falls. Over maple chocolate cake they told me that they regularly book outings in Niagara Falls with their grandkids since there are so many things to do for young children.

After dinner the entire cast of the Peanuts came to life and re-enacted a day in the life of Charlie Brown. Enthusiastic performances and great singing by young actors and great costumes evoked all the famous characters - Charlie Brown himself, Lucy, Schroeder, Linus, Sally and Snoopy. Ultimately, Charlie's quest for what it means to be a good man is resolved - simply trying your best and making the most out of what life gives you. The entire audience, old and young, could relate and had a good time, and their enthusiastic applause confirmed it.

Another day full of new impressions had passed and Niagara Falls had shown its multi-faceted face to me. As I fell asleep, wrapped into the soft linens at the Kilpatrick Manor, I was thinking that I had only one more full-day left in Niagara Falls, and this day would be dedicated to exploring one of the most popular tourist areas in this town: Clifton Hill...
About the Author
Susanne Pacher is the publisher of a website called Travel and Transitions. Travel and Transitions deals with travel to foreign countries and is chock full of advice, tips, real life travel experiences, interviews with travelers and travel experts, insights and reflections, cross-cultural issues, contests and many other features.
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