Canada celebrated Victoria Day (the British Queen's birthday) a few weekends back - Monday 21 May was a public holiday. Brendon and I decided to take a drive and go on a shopping trip across the border in Buffalo, New York. The promise of outlet stores and cheap designer shoes was enough to motivate me...
The Canadian dollar has strengthened to a 30-year high against the US dollar (CA$1 = US$0.95), and it seemed a lot of other people had the same idea. The drive there was pretty long, since an accident had created a backlog on the highways. So we took the scenic route and drove along the Lakeshore Boulevard (alongisde Lake Ontario). It took us about 4 hours but it was good to take it easy, and we drove through the smaller, obscure towns and roads.
Crossing the Border in to the US... took 2 hours. On reaching Niagara, we joined the long line of cars to cross the 'Rainbow Bridge' at the Niagara Falls. The wait to get to the booth was about 30 minutes. We handed in our passports with shiny US visas and completed immigration forms, and were then instructed to park and 'go upstairs'. The waiting room was pretty crowded and hot with precious few seats - at least we had brought our own magazines, snacks and water. We waited almost 90 minutes to be called up - we were the only South Africans there during that period - and were processed quite efficiently. We were simply asked what the purpose of our trip was, and how long and where we would be staying. While having our fingerprints and photos taken, we saw some people being escorted out (with their hands behind their backs...) . The US Immigration officer was friendly and I guess quite impressed that we had all the relevant forms completed. He asked where we had got the forms from (we didn't see blank forms anywhere at the border), so I told him honestly... "the airport." On my trip to Philadelphia earlier in the year, I had helped myself to some additional forms to save time on future trips ;)
Not much to write about Buffalo. Small US town. Unremarkable enough that I wasn't compelled to whip out my camera and take photos. The shopping... spectacular. Taxes are low compared to Ontario, and so are the prices. The selection and quantity of goods was scary, and it was so tempting - we had so much space... an entire trunk (boot) and backseat for purchases... ;) However, being a paranoid South African, I did not go overboard, for fear of being stopped, searched and taxed by Canadian customs.
There were tons of Canadians around everywhere we went - we just saw Ontario licence plates everywhere we drove. The most amusing thing I saw in the malls were waste bins completely full and with shoeboxes filled with old shoes strewn around them. Guess some shoppers were very eager to wear their new shoes!
In comparison to the 2-hour clearing of US Immigration, coming back in to Canada took 15 minutes, including a quick stop at the duty-free to pick up some cheap liquor. The line of cars was short and we were only asked where we live, and what items of value we were bringing back in to Canada (err... two bottles of rum? Well within our customs allowance.) A glance at our PR cards and a simple wave of the hand... and we were on our way home :)
The drive back was quick - under 90 minutes from border to front door. Guess we'll be making that trip again in the future ;)