History

Chur: Gateway to the Bernina Express

Chur (KOOR), with a population just under 33,000, is the oldest town in Switzerland and the gateway to the Bernina Express. Those features alone made it an easy choice as our base for 2 nights while its well-preserved pedestrian-only Old Town added abundant charm and history.

We arrived late in the afternoon after a 2-hour train ride from Zurich with our first impressive albeit rainy views of the Swiss countryside.

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Swiss countryside from the train

 

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View of the Swiss countryside

 

We wandered around the winding streets of Old Town a bit before we found the Ambiente Hotel Freieck. It looks easier on the map below than it actually was. (We didn’t have the map when we arrived either.)

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Map of Chur, Switzerland

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Ambiente Hotel Freieck

We were pleased with our accommodations at this three-star hotel as well as the location,  and the breakfast buffet was amazing. If you follow my blog, you’ve probably read previously that we like to eat a big breakfast followed by a protein bar or something similar for lunch, then go out in the evening for a nice dinner. We always try to find a hotel that provides breakfast so we have to buy just one meal a day.  Including breakfast, taxes, and fees, we paid $178 per night at the Ambiente Hotel Freieck which I thought was a fair price in an expensive area.

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Lobby at Ambiente Hotel Freieck

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The view from our hotel room

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Beds at Ambiente Hotel Freieck

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Shower in our hotel room

After Jim rested his back for a bit, we searched out a local restaurant for dinner. It was still raining so we didn’t dawdle in spite of our umbrellas. We found Cafe Arcas on a lovely square by the same name in the heart of Old Town where I looked longingly at the outdoor seating.

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Arcas

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Cafe Arcas, Chur

We were early and only one other table in the small cafe was occupied. After asking about local dishes, we selected homemade spinatpizokel and spatzli, both specialties from the canton of Grisons where Chur is located. (Grisons is French; the German name of the canton is Graubunden.) The spinatpizokel was a spinach pasta with air-dried ham, local beef, and sausage. The spatzli was a pasta with cheese (Swiss mac and cheese, if you will). Some of you know I normally shun gluten but I wanted to try local dishes so I made an exception in this case. We shared the two dishes and left pleasantly full in spite of resisting the homemade desserts which, I admit, looked delicious.

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Spinatpizokel

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Spatzli

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Homemade desserts

Following dinner, we ambled along the winding streets of Old Town enjoying the sights.

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St. Martin’s Church

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In spite of pain medication, Jim had a terrible night. Like a beetle on his back, it was almost impossible for him to get up once he was prone. He wore his back brace to bed to try to sleep on his side but that was largely unsuccessful. He was most comfortable on his back but he snores on his back which meant I was awake whenever he slept. It was almost a relief when morning broke. At least the scrumptious breakfast made getting up worthwhile.

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Breakfast buffet

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Breakfast buffet

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Breakfast buffet

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A hearty breakfast built to last

The Bernina Express departed at 8:32 a.m. so, following our breakfast, we hurried to the train station. As we passed the Rhaetian Railway (RhB) Administration Building, I couldn’t resist a quick photo of this impressive edifice.

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Rhaetian Railway Administration Building

Incidentally, if you, like me as a child, loved the book, Heidi, you’ll be interested to know the setting for this classic was just 19.6 km (12 miles) away from Chur near the town of Maienfeld.  Although the village of Dorfli in the book is fictional, another village has been renamed Heididorf and contains a Heidi museum and other attractions based on the novel. We didn’t have enough time to check it out but the information brought back a favorite childhood memory.

Join me next time on the famous Bernina Express for a scenic journey through the Swiss Alps.

 

Based on events from October 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Europe, Food, History, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Welcome to Mackinac Island

I fell in love with Mackinac Island on my first visit as a child in the 1960’s with my parents, brothers, and a great aunt and uncle. Everything about it charmed me including the ferry ride on Lake Huron to the island, the use of horse-drawn rather than motorized vehicles, and the gingerbread Victorian architecture. When my husband and I visited in 1976 and again with our children in 1991, it seemed as if nothing had changed. In September 2017, on the surface at least, the island still appeared to be stuck in time. In today’s fast-paced world, this quality is comforting.

Fun facts about Mackinac Island:

  1. Whether spelled Mackinac or Mackinaw, the pronunciation is Mackinaw.
  2. From 1875-1895, Mackinac Island was the nation’s second national park. (The first was Yellowstone National Park.)
  3. Mackinac Island State Park was established in 1895 as the first state park in Michigan.
  4. Over 80% of the island is within the state park.
  5. Automobiles were banned in 1898 because they were loud and scared the horses.

Planning to take an early ferry to the island, we stayed at the Best Western Plus Dockside Waterfront in Mackinaw City, just down the road from Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry. While the hotel was somewhat tired and dated, its proximity to the ferry sold us. After an outstanding complimentary breakfast, we hustled down the road to the ferry only to discover we could purchase the tickets cheaper at the hotel. Always ready to save a couple bucks, we returned the several blocks to the hotel, bought our roundtrip tickets for $21.59 each rather than $26 at the dock, and we were still among the first in line for the 8:30 ferry.

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Our ride

Our goals for our visit were modest. As history nerds, we wanted to revisit Fort Mackinac; I was keen to visit the Grand Hotel which met with eye-rolling from my husband; and last, but not least, we planned to purchase some famous Murdick’s fudge to take home.

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View of Mackinac Bridge from Shepler’s Miss Margy

We enjoyed the 16-minute scenic ferry ride on a pleasant sunny morning in late September on day 11 of our Great Lakes Road Trip of 2017. Upon our arrival, not much was open on Main Street but, fortunately for us, the Visitor’s Center was ready for business and staffed by friendly, helpful workers. Armed with the map they highlighted to show our route, we set off for Fort Mackinac. The fort opened at 9:30 and we were early so we checked out Marquette Park, the Missionary Bark Chapel, and Trinity Church while we waited.

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Marquette Park with Missionary Bark Chapel to the left and Ft Mackinac above

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View of Haldimand Bay from Marquette Park

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Trinity Church

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Interior of Trinity Church

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Entrance to the Fort

During the American Revolutionary War, the British believed Ft. Michilimackinac on the mainland was vulnerable to attack by the American rebels. In 1780, they dismantled it and moved it, lock, stock, and barrel, to Mackinac Island, renaming it Ft. Mackinac. In 1796, the British departed and the Americans took over but in the War of 1812, the British surprised the American forces who surrendered without a fight. At the end of the war, the fort was returned once again to the Americans. The film shown every 20 minutes in the fort commissary provided this history and other interesting facts as a great introduction to our self-guided tour.

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The Commissary at Ft. Mackinac

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Interior of the Commissary

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Ft. Mackinac

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Officer’s Quarters

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View of the harbor from the fort

After a thorough exploration of the fort, we proceeded up Garrison Road to the highest point on the island, Ft. Holmes. Built during the War of 1812 by the British as a redoubt and originally named Ft. George, the Americans renamed it Ft. Holmes to honor Major Holmes who died in battle there. The current structure is a reconstruction.

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Ft. Holmes

From nearby Point Lookout, we enjoyed a view of Sugar Loaf, a natural limestone breccia formation that rises 75 feet.

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Sugar Loaf

As we continued our hike, we made a few wrong turns but finally found our way to the Grand Hotel Stables.

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I believe this is Carriage Road

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Grand Hotel Stables

I have never seen such a clean, well-maintained stable. The horses that reside here are lucky animals.

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Grand Hotel Stables

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A couple of the well-cared-for horses

The highpoint of my day was definitely our visit to the Grand Hotel. Possessing a vivid imagination, I’ve dreamed of staying at the Grand Hotel ever since I first glimpsed it as a child. While I have no desire to pay the minimum $199 per PERSON per day for the best deal the hotel offers, I was delighted to learn we could tour the public areas for a mere $10 each. My husband grumbled a bit (he’s an “eat the rich” kind of guy) but I told him to think of it as a museum tour. The historical value of this famous landmark built in 1887 is undeniable.

Reviews of the hotel are mixed. Looking at the virtual tour on their website, the standard rooms appear small and cramped and I’m certain the 19th-century style doesn’t suit all 21st-century tourists. Most complaints I read, however, centered around the staff stopping visitors to inquire whether they were guests of the hotel. No one asked us but I visibly gripped my brochure indicating I paid to wander around and pretend I was a guest.

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The Grand Hotel

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Relaxing on the porch

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Sadie’s Ice Cream Parlor at the Grand Hotel

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View from inside Sadie’s Ice Cream Parlor

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The Grand Hotel

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Lobby at the Grand Hotel

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The Grand Hotel Lobby

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Cupola Bar at the Grand Hotel

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What a great view

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A sign outside the hotel with 19th -century expectations of guests

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The Grand Hotel

Our last stop on the island was at The Original Murdick’s Fudge, a Mackinac Island tradition since 1887. Although we’re not big candy consumers, I wanted to take some of this iconic confection home to our adult children.

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Murdick’s Fudge on the marble slab where it’s prepared

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Murdick’s Fudge

After a last look around Main Street, we boarded the ferry for the return trip to Mackinaw City.

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Main Street

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Sail away from Mackinac Island

If you’ve never visited Mackinac Island, you’ve missed one of the top destinations in the  Midwest. With more time, a bike rental would have topped my list of fun things to do. It’s just an 8-mile ride around the island with lots of amazing views and a good escape from the crush of tourists. Many visitors take a carriage tour and I recommend that as well. While we barely scratched the surface this visit, we were satisfied with our day.

 

Based on events from September 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Family, History, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Michigan: Beacon for Lighthouse Enthusiasts

Leaving Niagara Falls in Ontario, Canada, we drove along the scenic Niagara Parkway to Fort Erie where we enjoyed our first view of Lake Erie, the fourth Great Lake on our Great Lakes Road Trip.

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Site of Fort Erie

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Lake Erie flows into the Niagara River

As we continued onto highway 3, at Dunnville we stumbled upon a bed and breakfast bearing the same name as my husband. We knew relatives of Jim’s grandmother likely lived in this region of Canada but we were unprepared to encounter the Lalor surname. While an overnight there may have proved enlightening, we wanted to travel more miles on day 9 so we drove on.

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Jim at Lalor Estate Inn

We stopped for the evening in the village of Birch Run, Michigan (pop. 1555). Its only claim to fame as far as I could tell was a fast food joint called Halo Burger that bills itself as the home of “Michigan’s best burger since 1923.”

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Our route on day 9

Back on the road the following morning for day 10 of our Great Lakes Road Trip, we decided to get off the interstate and follow the shore of Lake Huron instead.

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If you, like me, are a lighthouse enthusiast, put Michigan on your bucket list. With more freshwater coastline than any other state (only Alaska has more coastline overall), Michigan claims more lighthouses than any other state. Consequently, opportunities to visit these beacons abound along the Michigan shores of Lake Erie, Lake Huron, Lake Superior, and Lake Michigan. We picked up a Michigan Lighthouse Guide and took our time stopping frequently along the way.

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Our first stop at Tawas Point Lighthouse was especially instructive. We met a couple moving into the lighthouse who were participants in the Lighthouse Keeper Program. After a successful application for the program, these volunteers would provide tours of the lighthouse during their 2-week stay. What a fun experience if you’re looking for a volunteer opportunity in a beautiful location!

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Tawas Point Lighthouse (volunteer lighthouse keeper on far left)

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View of Lake Huron from Alpena, Michigan

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Alpena Light

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New Presque Isle Lighthouse

New Presque Isle Lighthouse replaced the old lighthouse in 1870. We had to hike a distance to reach the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse which was not open but this charming squatty beacon and the grounds were well worth the walk.

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Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

I was initially shocked to see the jockey statue below and assumed it was racist but I was relieved and impressed when I read the explanation.

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Forty Mile Point Lighthouse, named for its location 40 miles southeast of Old Mackinaw Point, opened in 1896. Today, it offers a keeper’s program for volunteers who stay in their own RVs on-site. Our keeper enthusiastically shared his extensive knowledge about the lighthouse and its history.

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40 Mile Point Lighthouse

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Volunteer guide at 40 Mile Light

When we climbed the tower, the views of Lake Huron were incredible with the color of the water and the sandy beaches which looked like we were somewhere in the Caribbean. Take note: You must wear closed shoes to climb this tower. A recent accident involving a girl wearing flip-flops brought about this rule.

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View of Lake Huron from 40 Mile Light

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Selfie with view of Lake Huron

We walked down to the water’s edge to see the location of the shipwreck of the J.S. Fay which occurred on October 19, 1905. The wooden steamer broke up on a sandbar and sank in about 12 feet of water just offshore but a large chunk of her side washed ashore where it can be viewed to this day.

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Shipwreck of the J.S. Fay

In Cheboygan, we visited this rather unassuming lighthouse, Cheboygan Front Range Light, built in 1880. Today, it is owned by the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association and open to the public.

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Cheboygan Front Range Light

Cheboygan Crib Light opened offshore in 1884 but was moved to its present location in Gordon Turner Park in Cheboygan in 1985. Keepers never lived in this facility and had to travel daily by boat to operate the beacon during its period of service. To me, it’s one the most photo-worthy of all the lighthouses we visited.

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Cheboygan Crib Light

The last lighthouse we visited on day 10 was Old Mackinac Point, opened in 1892 and operations ceased in 1957 when Mackinac Bridge opened. The lighthouse closed for the day before our arrival so we didn’t get inside but the outside was impressive.

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Old Mackinac Point

To finish day 10, we dined at the #1 rated restaurant in Mackinaw City, Darrow’s Family Restaurant. I’m always looking for locally sourced items and the parmesan encrusted whitefish met that requirement. Jim selected the roast beef with dressing and gravy.

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Darrow’s doesn’t claim to provide a fine dining experience and there’s nothing pretentious about the place. It’s a brightly-lit family-style restaurant similar to a Perkin’s or Country Kitchen. The line moves rapidly as they serve customers quickly and efficiently and the place was packed with older people who love the comfort food they offer. While we waited in line, we visited with two couples from towns that neighbor ours in North Iowa. (It seems there’s always an Iowa connection on our trips.) Our food was tasty like a home-cooked meal if you’re cooking for an army.

Come back next time and accompany us to Mackinac Island on Day 11 of our Great Lakes Road Trip.

 

Based on events from September 2017.

 

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Categories: History, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Kingston, Ontario to Niagara Falls

Disappointed to learn Fort Henry, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Kingston, Ontario, closed for the season on September 3, we, nevertheless, walked around a bit and took a few photos on day 7 of our Great Lakes Road Trip. Built in the 1830’s atop Point Henry and overlooking the St. Lawrence River on a military route from Montreal to Ottawa,  the strategic value was readily apparent and the views were outstanding.

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View from Ft. Henry toward Kingston

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The gate at Ft. Henry at the upper fort

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View of the lower fort

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The lower fort

Kingston is the door to the 1000 Islands, a region located in the St. Lawrence River along the U.S./ Canada border. We drove 20 miles east to Ganonoque for a boat tour of the Thousand Islands with Gananoque Boat Line, billed as the largest and oldest of the cruise companies in the islands.  We decided on the 1-hour Beauty of the Islands cruise departing from Gananoque for $24.95 rather than the 5-hour Boldt Castle Stopover for $48.80.

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Beauty of the Islands cruise route

The 1000 Islands are rich with history, beginning with First Nations people who inhabited the area before French explorer Jacques Cartier discovered the area in the 1500s followed by Samuel de Champlain in the 1600s. By the late 1800s, the area became the summer vacation destination for millionaires during the Gilded Age. George Boldt, the wealthy owner of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, built Boldt Castle for his wife, Louise, who died before its completion without ever seeing it.

Incidentally, Thousand Island salad dressing was created here. One version of the story says George Boldt’s chef created the recipe but another version says it was created by Sophia Lalonde, the wife of a fishing guide. Whichever story you believe, when George Boldt got ahold of the recipe, he put it on the menu at the Waldorf Astoria, and the rest is history.

Today, the archipelago of 1864 islands in the St. Lawrence River remains a vacation paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Only a few islands are reachable by ferry; otherwise private watercraft are required with plenty of boat rentals available throughout the area. Twenty-one islands comprise the 1000 Island National Park of Canada with docks, trails, and camping facilities.

As we embarked our cruise boat, the day was warm and sunny. We enjoyed the ride with commentary to accompany the close-up views of many small islands and cottages.

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I have no idea which ferry we saw in the photo below but if you look carefully, you can see it’s cable-driven. This method is safer on a river with a strong current. We were lucky to have gotten a look at this one in action.

IMG_7257Many of the islands are small enough to accommodate just one cottage. In fact, on our cruise they told us to be considered an island, it must be at least 6 square feet of land with at least 2 trees. I read on various websites, however, that the requirement is one tree and the land must be fully above water 365 days a year. Either way, some of these islands are very small and could easily be submerged by a high wake.

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Note the sign “PLEASE NO WAKE”

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Following our cruise, we crossed the Thousand Islands International Bridge to re-enter the United States.

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Thousand Island International Bridge

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View of the St. Lawrence River from the Thousand Island International Bridge

We had planned to follow the shore of Lake Ontario to Niagara Falls but when I saw Seneca Falls, NY on the map, I was keen to visit the site of the first women’s rights convention in the U.S. and Jim was willing.

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In July 1848, over 300 women and men gathered in the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, NY to discuss the rights of women. Led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, on the first day only women were allowed to attend and discuss principles. On the second day, 100 women and men discussed and signed the Declaration of Sentiments which expanded on the sentiments expressed in the Declaration of Independence and began with, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal.”

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Restored Wesleyan Chapel where the convention was held

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Interior of Wesleyan Chapel

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Sign outside Wesleyan Chapel

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Outside the Visitor Center at Women’s Rights National Historical Park

For me, the most moving exhibits inside the Visitor Center were the First Wave Statue and an exact replica of the suffrage banner. The First Wave Statues represent the first wave of women’s rights activists including the 5 organizers of the convention, the men who supported their efforts, and others who did not sign the Declaration of Sentiments.

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The suffrage banner celebrated the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920 granting women the right to vote. The colors in the banner are purple for justice, white for purity of intent, and gold for courage. The stars represent the 36 states that ratified the amendment.

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In 1980, the Women’s Rights Historical Park was established as part of the National Park Service. It’s easy to forget the struggles of those who led the way to establish the rights of women. It took another 72 years after the convention to secure the right to vote for women. Today, we have enjoyed that right for fewer than 100 years. This national park serves as an important reminder.

We finished day 7 in Niagara Falls to celebrate our wedding anniversary which I’ll share in my next post.

 

Based on events from September 2017.

 

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Categories: Canada, History, National Parks, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Algonquin Provincial Park and More

Day 6 of our Great Lakes Road Trip dawned warm and sunny, a pleasant surprise since we packed for chilly weather in Ontario, Canada in mid-September. Excited to hike in Algonquin, we departed from our hotel bright and early and soon spotted what all the tourists come for in autumn.

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As we entered the park, we pulled over to the West Gate to pay our fee. King’s Highway 60 through the park doesn’t require a permit unless you plan to stop along the 56 km (35 mi) roadway inside the park. We planned to take our time, explore, and hike a few trails so we gladly paid the $20 daily fee.

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Established in 1893, Algonquin Park is the oldest and most well-known of Canada’s provincial parks. Comprising 7630 square km (2946 sq mi), the park attracts nearly one million visitors each year who come to experience its forests, lakes, and wildlife.  We stopped several times for photo opportunities like this.

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Canoe Lake

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Canoe Lake

When we reached the Algonquin Visitor Center, we had no idea we would spend so much time there. The views were amazing, the exhibits superb, and the wi-fi connection surprisingly good.

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Panorama View from Algonquin Visitor Center

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Algonquin Visitor Center

I would love to have seen bears, moose, and wolves in the wild but, since we didn’t, these exhibits were a special treat.

 

A highlight of our visit, the hike to Beaver Pond over rugged terrain was strenuous enough to seem longer than just 2 km but so well-marked we never lost our way.

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Beaver Meadow

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With 4500 beaver colonies within the park, I was surprised we didn’t see even one of the furry creatures. While we didn’t spot them at work, signs of their presence surrounded us and the result of their labor was impressive.

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Beaver dam

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Our last stop in the park, the Algonquin Logging Museum consisted of a reception building where we viewed an audiovisual program to introduce us to logging in the park and a trail of less than a mile with 20 outdoor exhibits. At one time, over half of the men in Canada worked in logging camps in the winter. Particularly for farmers, it was an opportunity to earn additional income after harvest, albeit a dangerous occupation.

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Camboose shanty where men were housed

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Inside the camboose, 52 men slept two to a bunk

Throughout the 1800’s, felled red and white pine were squared using only axes. The notches on the tree below show how deep to cut to square that side of the log. This process was repeated on each side. The result was a log that was easier to stack on a raft for transport and the log was ready to cut into boards at its destination.

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To transport the logs to the raft, they had to be loaded onto a sleigh using a jammer, a wooden crane powered by horses.

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Jammer

On a steep descent, the sleigh could quickly speed out of control killing the horses in front so sandpipers lined the trail to throw hot sand in the path to slow the sleigh. The invention of the Barrienger brake in the photo below solved this problem

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Barrienger brake

Once the logs arrived at the river, the danger was not past. The invention of the log chute assisted loggers in transporting the logs through the water.

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Log Chute

This is just a small sample of the information we learned about the history of logging in the area. Logging continues today in over 50% of the park according to scientific guidelines in the Park Management Plan.

As we left the park, I took the photo below. We were delighted to get over 56 mpg (23.8 kpl) regularly on this trip. Traveling at slower speeds on two-lane roads through Canada and using unleaded fuel rather than gasohol each contributed to our excellent gas mileage. Also, note the temperature on September 17 was 82 degrees (28 C).

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Successfully escaping Toronto traffic, we headed south for our first look at Lake Ontario, our third of the five Great Lakes and to spend the night in Kingston, Ontario. Rather than taking the freeway at Belleville, we opted to drive along the coast as much as possible.

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My paper map showed a bridge at Glenora but Google maps on my phone didn’t show a bridge. I was concerned that we’d end up backtracking but we were delighted to find a ferry when we arrived and it was free. After a short wait, we enjoyed a pleasant crossing to Adolphustown where we continued our drive along the lake to Kingston.

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Glenora Ferry Dock

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Glenora Ferry

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Our Prius on the ferry

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Lake Ontario

We asked at our hotel in Kingston for a restaurant recommendation and headed downtown to Dianne’s Fish Shack and Smokehouse. Located near the waterfront, we explored the area a bit before dinner. The AAA Tour Book confirmed Kingston was founded in 1673 as a fur trading post and strategic military base. With a population today just under 130,000, it’s also home to over 24,000 students at Queen’s University.    IMG_7194

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Sitting outside at Dianne’s Fish Shack and Smokehouse, we could hardly believe our good fortune to have such a pleasant evening. Jim ordered the pork carnitas and I decided on the seafood poutine. Poutine is a French Canadian classic consisting of french fries, cheese curds, and gravy. Dianne’s seafood poutine, however, was made with fries, coconut green curry, shrimp, haddock, calamari, mussels, and queso fresco. Yum!

 

After a quick stroll to the water following dinner for another lighthouse photo, we returned to our hotel for the evening.

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Kingston, located where Lake Ontario meets the St. Lawrence River, was a good place to begin our drive the next morning to explore the Thousand Islands. Come back to read all about it.

 

Based on events from September 2017.

Categories: Canada, Food, History, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Silver Bay to Schreiber, Day 2 of GLRT 2017

We drove just 302 miles from Silver Bay, Minnesota to Schreiber, Ontario, on day 2 of our Great Lakes Road Trip 2017 but we saw some amazing sights along the way and we missed a few, too. We like to get an early start and after a complimentary breakfast at the hotel, we hit the road but soon thereafter made a brief stop at mile 78 on Hwy 61 at Father Baraga’s Cross.  Here the Slovenian priest erected a cross to offer thanks to God for his survival in 1846 when his small boat was blown ashore during a terrible storm on Lake Superior. He had dedicated his life to minister to the Ojibwe Native Americans and came to this area to offer assistance when he heard of a possible epidemic.

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Father Baraga’s Cross

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Early morning view of Lake Superior near Father Baraga’s Cross

Nearby Grand Marais, Minnesota, is a popular tourist town on the North Shore and one of my personal favorites. In fact, I would love to spend a week here as a base to explore the Gunflint Trail and Isle Royale National Park, two places we have skipped previously and missed again on this trip. We spent an enjoyable hour or so in Grand Marais, however, walking out to the lighthouse along the breakwater.

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Lake Superior from Grand Marais with lighthouse on the breakwater

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Grand Marais Light

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Grand Marais Light on the breakwater

It was here we learned that each lighthouse is unique both in design and signal to ensure that sailors don’t get confused and lost by lighthouses looking alike.

Check out the Bear Tree on the photo below. This sculpture was dedicated to the town of Grand Marais and depicts two bear cubs whose mother has ordered them up a tree to stay until the danger below has passed.

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Grand Marais with Bear Tree on the right

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Closeup of the Bear Tree

We haven’t visited Grand Portage National Monument previously but for a couple of history nerds, this was one of many highlights of our trip.

 

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Grand Portage National Monument overlooking Lake Superior

The Heritage Center is a modern building full of creative and informative exhibits.

 

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Heritage Center at Grand Portage National Monument

 

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View of Lake Superior from Heritage Center

 

But the outdoor exhibits and the Park Ranger interpretive walk really brought this monument to life. Grand Portage was the home of the Ojibwe Indians and the tour begins with a reconstructed village. The Ojibwe women built the lodges using a wood frame covered by bark. A fire burned in the center of the lodge in winter.

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Our guide explaining the Ojibwe lodge

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Interior of lodge

After the British defeated the French in 1763 in the French and Indian War, British traders flocked to the area and trading companies sprang up. Based in Montreal, the Northwest Company was established in 1784 and operated the largest fur trading post at the Grand Portage Depot. Here fur traders would bring their pelts and trade for goods transported along the Great Lakes. The depot fell into ruin after the American Revolution when the British company moved buildings and all to Fort William near present-day Thunder Bay, Ontario but the reconstructed depot is archeologically accurate.

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The Warehouse

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Supplies that were packed on a single canoe from Montreal

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Entrance to the Buildings Complex

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The Great Hall

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Pelts in the Great Hall

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Birchbark Canoe

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The Great Hall

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Outside the Buildings Complex

Grand Portage is near the border to Canada and for many years my family traveled to nearby Come By Chance Resort on Whitefish Lake for an annual fishing trip. Jim wanted to stop by and see the place and relive some great memories.

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Turn to Come By Chance

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Cabins at Come By Chance

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Dock at Come By Chance on Whitefish Lake, Ontario

One year I went along with Jim and our kids on the fishing trip and we also visited Kakabeka Falls so we thought a stop there would be fun for old time’s sake. I was surprised to see the sign.

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Entrance to Kakabeka Falls

We thought the falls were created during the last glacial period. (Just kidding. The park was established 60 years ago.) Incidentally, these falls are nicknamed the Niagra of the North and for good reason. They are truly impressive and the extensive accessible walkways allow visitors to enjoy the falls from both sides.

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Kakabeka Falls, Ontario

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Kakabeka Falls, Ontario

We thought we’d spend the night in Thunder Bay but somehow we missed it and we have a semi-rule about continuing on rather than going back. When we found no hotels along our route we thought surely something would appear further along. I was getting nervous, however, seeing these signs as evening approached.

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We stopped at a restaurant blaring hard rock music with rooms to rent above and inquired about hotels further up the road. The young lady assured us we’d find plenty in Nipigon so we drove on. When we reached Nipigon, we found no vacancy anywhere due to all the road construction workers who had rented every room. One kindly inn-keeper offered to call and reserve a room for us in Schreiber, an hour away. We, naturally, agreed. When he told us we had a room at Villa Bianca which we would recognize by the gas pumps out front, I was skeptical but what choice did we have with night danger lurking on the road?

We finally arrived in darkness and regardless of my impressions, we were staying the night. We inquired about restaurants to discover we were limited to the three counters side by side at Bianca Villa selling Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Robin’s Donuts. No wine either. This gluten-free girl settled for pizza and beer. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

 

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Fine dining in Schreiber, Ontario

 

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The next morning at Villa Bianca

These are the chances you take when you don’t plan ahead but all in all, it could have been much worse. We didn’t hit a moose and we didn’t have to sleep in the car.

Come back for Day 3 and more adventures on the Great Lakes Road Trip 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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American Gothic Visited

Tiny Eldon, Iowa (population 916) is home to the backdrop of one of America’s most famous paintings. The artist, Grant Wood, visited the town in 1930 and sketched the Dibble farmhouse which would later appear in the painting, American Gothic. Today the original painting resides at the Art Institute of Chicago but Eldon is worth a visit to see the inspiration that led Grant Wood to create this iconic piece.

We’ve passed nearby many times on our way to and from St. Louis via Des Moines. Eldon is just 6 miles off highway 34 between Ottumwa and Fairfield. Once you reach Eldon, signs direct you quite easily to the American Gothic House.

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The center contains an informative collection of exhibits about the house, Grant Wood, and Art Regionalism. Charles and Catherine Dibble built the house in 1881-1882. The style, called Carpenter Gothic, used somewhat incongruous fancy details on a plain farmhouse. The gothic windows in the gables of the house would normally be used in a church but were chosen from the Sears catalog to grace the Dibble home. Incidentally, my husband’s mother’s maiden name was Dibble and the Dibbles came from New York state as did my mother-in-law’s relatives. That, however, is a subject for future research and possibly another blog post.

 

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American Gothic House

 

According to information at the center, the couple never posed together for the painting and didn’t actually meet until 12 years later when the photograph below was taken. The woman was Grant Wood’s sister, Nan Wood Graham, and the man was his dentist, Dr. B.H. McKeeby. The artist assured them they wouldn’t be recognized in his painting but that turned out to be incorrect and caused some hard feelings especially with his dentist.

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Photograph of Nan Wood Graham and Dr. B.H. McKeeby at the American Gothic House Center

 

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This is our dour look

 

Grant Wood was an Iowa native, born in 1891 on a farm outside Anamosa where he lived until his father died when he was 10. His mother then moved the family to Cedar Rapids where he won third place in his first art contest at the age of 14. Following graduation, he spent a short time studying art in Minneapolis but returned to the Cedar Rapids area to teach school and lived in that area most of his short life. During a trip to Munich, he came to the realization that he needed to paint from his own experience. In 1929, he painted a portrait of his mother called Woman with Plants, launching his new style and taking his place in the Regionalist movement. The following year he painted American Gothic and, as they say, the rest is history.

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Except for one more interesting side note: Grant Wood spent the summer of 1941 painting in Clear Lake, Iowa (which is 8 miles west of our home). I found this article in our local paper written in 2008 about the artist’s stay in Clear Lake.

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Information at American Gothic House Center

Grant Wood died the following February of cancer at the age of 50.

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References: All information was found in displays at the American Gothic House Center.

Based on events from July 2017.

Categories: History, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Named Bay of Islands by Captain Cook in 1769 for its 144 islands, this archipelago was previously discovered in the 10th century by the Polynesian explorer, Kupe, who named it Aotearoa.  Inhabited by the Maori when Europeans arrived, today the area is known as the birthplace of the nation for the treaty signed by Maori chiefs and the British.

When our cruise ship, the Norwegian Star, anchored around 8 a.m., we were on the first tender boat to Waitangi Pier. We were especially keen to see the town of Russell, so we immediately took the complimentary shuttle from Waitangi Pier to Paihia Wharf where we caught the ferry to Russell. The map below shows where cruise ships anchor, Waitangi Pier, and the towns of Paihia and Russell.

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Map of Waitangi, Paihia, and Russell

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Paihia Wharf

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View of Paihia from the wharf

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View from the ferry to Russell

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Norwegian Star from the ferry

Once called the ‘hell hole of the Pacific,” it’s hard to imagine the drinking, brawling, and prostitution which were commonplace in historic Russell, the largest whaling port in the southern hemisphere and the first capital of New Zealand. Today, little of its wicked past is evident in this charming seaside town.

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Approach to Russell

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Russell, NZ

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Because it’s flightless, the national bird is threatened especially by dogs

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Russell Wharf from the Strand

The Duke of Marlborough Hotel was the first licensed bar in New Zealand. I’m sure the old Victorian has many stories to tell.

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Jim at the Duke of Marlborough Hotel

Next to the hotel is the former Customs House and Police Station, today a private home.

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This majestic Morton Bay Fig Tree was planted by E.B. Laing, the first customs collector who served from 1870 to 1886.

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The oldest remaining church in New Zealand, Christ Church, built in 1836, still holds services every Sunday and since we arrived just as services began, we attended.

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Interior of Christ Church

A bullet hole from the Maori Wars is still evident on the exterior of the church.

 

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Remnant of Maori Wars

 

We strolled around town; I shopped for a Christmas ornament as a souvenir; and we stopped at Sally’s for coffee.

 

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Sally’s

 

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Cannon at Russell

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When we headed back to catch the return ferry to Paihia, I spied these two fishing from the pier. We also watched young people jumping off the pier into the water for a swim causing me to wonder whether they scared away all the fish. I guess that’s why they call it fishing rather than catching.

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Ferry that runs from Paihia to Russell

 

On the short ride back to Paihia, we enjoyed more beautiful views of the islands dotting the turquoise waters.

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Back in Paihia, we wandered around a bit. A local art and craft show briefly attracted my attention but Jim, not much of a shopper, stayed seated while people watching…and bird watching. A sign announced the red-billed gull as the most photographed bird in the sea bird capital of the world (New Zealand) so of course, I had to take several photos. Normally a prolific species, the gull has suffered a decline of over 50% in recent years. The sign admonished, “Love them. Protect them.” Okay.

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Red-billed gull

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Sculpture at Paihia

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Water view from Paihia

We hopped on the complimentary shuttle back to Waitangi for a stop at the treaty grounds. It was here the Maori chiefs and the British signed the Treaty of Waitangi establishing New Zealand as a British colony in 1840. Interestingly, the Maori version and the English version contain different language. The English text gives Britain sovereignty but the Maori text translates to governance which the Maori interpreted to allow self-determination. Both texts are currently used to make present-day decisions.

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Waitangi Treaty Grounds

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Copy of the treaty which is now housed in Wellington

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Waitangi Treaty Grounds

As we walked back to the pier to catch a tender boat back to our ship, I took a few more photos of this incredible paradise.

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View from Waitangi

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View from Waitangi

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Photo from our tender boat, Bay of Islands, NZ

 

Based on events from February 2017.

 

 

 

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Auckland War Memorial Museum

The Auckland Museum was founded in 1852 as the first museum in New Zealand,. After several moves through the years to increase space for exhibits, the new and renamed Auckland War Memorial Museum opened in 1929 on the highest point in Auckland’s oldest park, the Auckland Domain.

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Auckland Domain

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View of Sky Tower from Auckland War Memorial Museum

We set off on foot with umbrellas in our backpack in case of rain.  Fortunately, we arrived dry at the museum in spite of the dark clouds that dogged us for most of our stay in Auckland. After a brief discussion, we decided to purchase the Moa package for NZ$55 (US$40) which included museum entry, highlights tour, and Maori cultural performance.

The highlights tour, while short, oriented us to the best exhibits in the museum. Without it, we may have missed important highlights simply due to the size of the museum. After the tour, we went back to spend more time in areas that interested us most.

We began on level 2 with New Zealand’s War Stories including exhibits from WWI, WWII, New Zealand civil wars, and other conflicts of the 19th and 20th centuries. The WWI Hall of Memories was especially moving to me. New Zealand sent more troops per capita to fight in WWI than any other country which meant every family in the country was personally affected by the war. Nearly all of the 18,166 who died were buried overseas and almost one-third of them are buried in unknown graves.

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WWI Hall of Memories with Roll of Honour listing those who died in service from Auckland Province

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WWI Sanctuary with bronze wreath of kawakawa leaves, a symbol of mourning

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Stained glass ceiling with coats of arms of all British dominions serving in WWI

The Pacific Lifeways gallery contained exhibits with information about island groups in the Pacific. Of particular interest to me was our guide’s explanation of the spread of plants and animals throughout the Pacific which indicated the migration patterns of the people in the area. New Zealand was the last area discovered and settled, probably as late as 1300 A.D. by Polynesians from Southeast Asia who became the indigenous Maori people.

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Migration routes in the Pacific

A carved statue of Kave, an evil goddess from the island of Nukuoro, greeted us at the entrance to the gallery. She was brought to New Zealand in the 1870s by a trader.

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Carved statue of Kave

An outrigger canoe in the Pacific Masterpieces gallery came from the Solomon Islands as a gift from the Melanesian Mission.

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The Red Feather Cloak from Hawaii was worn only by the highest chief for religious ceremonies or in war. The nearby sign explained a cloak similar to this belonging to King Kamehameha in Hawaii contained a half million feathers from as many as 80,000 birds.

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Red Feather Cloak

All of level 1 in the museum is devoted to natural history. The highlights on this floor for me were the moa and the kiwi. The tallest known bird, this 1913 reconstruction of the extinct moa is from the South Island.

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Reconstructed moa

The kiwi is the unofficial national symbol for New Zealand and the nickname for New Zealanders. They are unique to New Zealand but how they arrived is unclear since they can’t fly.  Because they can’t fly, the kiwi is under constant threat especially by predators such as dogs and the population has shrunk to around 68,000.

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You can listen to the kiwi here.

The most surprising exhibit to me was the axe used by Sir Edmund Hillary in his 1953 ascent of Mt. Everest. The famous Aucklander died here in 2008.

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Mountain axe and painting of Sir Edmund Hillary

I especially wanted to learn more about the indigenous people of New Zealand, the Maori, in our visit to this museum and our desire was satisfied. There are over 1000 artifacts original to the Maori. The gateway Kaitaia carving at the entrance to the Maori Court dates from the 14th to 16th century and is the oldest Maori carving still in existence.

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Kaitaia gateway

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I was fascinated by the Hotunui Preservation Project, a collaboration of museum staff, local experts, and descendants to restore a meeting house built in 1878.

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Entrance to Hotunui Meeting House

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Restoration in progress

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Painted and woven restoration

But by far, for me, the high point of this museum was the Maori Cultural Performance. Lasting about 30 minutes, the performance ended with the haka, the traditional war dance.

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It was an educational day orienting us to the natural and political history of New Zealand. With this background, we felt better prepared for our visit the following day to the Bay of Islands.

As we strolled back to our hotel, we found Solo Kitchen, a Turkish and Mediterranean restaurant, and stopped in for a late lunch/early dinner. The lamb kofta with salad and three dips (sun-dried tomato, cacik, and baba ghanoush) was delicious.

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Solo Kitchen

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And the music added beautifully to an authentic ethnic experience.

 

Come back next week for my post about Bay of Islands.

 

Based on events from February 2017.

 

 

 

 

Categories: History, natural history, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Puerto Aventuras 2017

We first visited Puerto Aventuras, Mexico, in January 2015. It was such a great getaway from the January cold and snow in Iowa we went back in 2016 and again in 2017. We don’t usually return to the same place year after year because there are so many new places to discover, but this place is special. Puerto Aventuras is located on the Yucatán Peninsula, 89 km (55 mi) south of Cancun and a short colectivo (local bus) ride from Playa del Carmen and Tulúm. It’s a small gated community with a laid back atmosphere and beautiful views of Bahia Fatima (Fatima Bay).

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View from our balcony

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View from our condo of our balcony and the bay

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View from the bedroom to the upper balcony

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Walking along the marina

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Dolphin Discovery on the marina

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Selfie while walking the beach in front of our condo

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The lagoon near the marina

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Sunset from our balcony

We arrived on January 10 and we wanted to continue our exploration of Mayan culture before our friends, Gail and Chuck, arrived on January 15.  Since we visited Chichen Itza the previous year (you can read that post here) and Tulum in 2002, this year we scheduled a guided bus trip to the ruins at Cobá. After a mix-up about our pickup location, we were finally on our way.

Coba is a large, mostly unexcavated archeological site in the jungle just 39 km (24 mi.) northwest of Tulum. Dating from 600-900 AD, the main attraction is the pyramid, Nohoch Mul, which is taller than Kulkulkan Pyramid at Chichen Itza. Nohoch Mul has 120 steps to the top compared to Kulkulkan Pyramid’s 91 steps. And, unlike Kulkulkan Pyramid, Nohoch Mul is still open to the public to climb. 😱 This pleasure, however, was saved until the end of our visit. Nohuch Mul is at the far end of the grounds, a distance of at least 2 km (1.2 mi.), by my estimation. Because not everyone wants to walk that far, they offer bike rentals and rickshaw bikes with drivers to transport visitors at a very reasonable cost. We, however, walked.

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Ruins at Coba with our guide

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Sculpture at Coba

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The walk to the pyramid

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Rickshaws transporting tourists at Coba

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One of the stone slabs or stelae that archeologists used to learn about life in Coba

When I saw the pyramid, I knew climbing to the top was out of the question for me. The slope was extremely steep and everyone I saw coming down was doing so on their butts close to or holding onto the rope.  The steps were also very uneven and quite narrow.

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Nohoch Mul Pyramid

I did climb far enough for a photo, then relinquished my phone to Jim who made it all the way to the top. It was, in a word, terrifying and I worried about Jim’s safety the entire time. Since he had the camera, I was unable to get photos while he climbed but he took pictures during his ascent and from the top.

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This was as far as I climbed at Nohoch Mul Pyramid

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Looking back down the pyramid

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Looking down from Nohoch Mul Pyramid

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Jim’s photo of the surrounding jungle from the top of Nohoch Mul Pyramid

I hadn’t heard of Coba before my research but this tour was impressive. While it’s not as extensive as Chichen Itza, if your dream is to risk your life by climbing to the top of a pyramid, this is the place to do it. So go there before they prohibit it.

And come back next time for more of our 2017 trip to Puerto Aventuras.

Based on events from January 2017.

Categories: History, Mexico, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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