Thank You, Dear Readers

If you’re an occasional or regular reader of my blog, you may have noticed a dearth of posts in the first quarter of 2018. I started this blog in February 2014 and honestly, I was thinking after four years and 192 posts, it may be time to stop. I have plenty of material (my husband still says I need to travel less and write more) but I was finding it more difficult to discipline myself to write and rewrite each day to publish a post weekly. I found myself procrastinating, throwing a post together at the last minute, and I wasn’t satisfied with the product. Consequently, I published no posts in January, only one in February, and none in March.

Then a convergence of events occurred. First, late in March, I had a reader who found my blog on the internet ask me some questions about Keukenhof in the Netherlands. I was delighted to answer her questions and I felt I had provided a valuable service if my answers helped make their trip better in some small way. Then I noticed the number of views on my blog remained high during the months I wasn’t posting anything new. That was a big surprise and it told me people were finding my blog by internet searches. Finally, when I told Jim I thought I’d quit he told me when we were too old to travel he thought we’d just read all the posts I’d written and we could enjoy all those trips again.

I felt my enthusiasm return and I began to write. Friends commented on posts which encouraged me. April stats showed the second highest number of views since I began my blog which encouraged me even more. Although I originally started writing this blog just for my own travel record, it turns out readership is a big motivator. So thank you, dear readers, for getting me back on track.

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Example of stats for one day by post viewed and location of the viewer

 

 

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Broke Back Mountain Meets the Swiss Alps

When my husband, Jim, announced he was cleaning the roof of our two-story house two days before we were scheduled to leave for Switzerland, I responded, “That’s not a good idea,” which turned out to be a monumental understatement. I told him I’d be gone all day at Pilates, a hair appointment, lunch with a friend, and shopping. “No problem,” he said, “I’ll get Brian to help me with the ladder if I need him.” Our neighbor, Brian, also had other plans that day.

When I got a text from my stylist to tell me she was running late, I decided to stop at home for a quick shower after Pilates. As I was getting into the shower, my phone rang. In a dazed voice, Jim said, “Where are you? I don’t know what happened.” Buck naked, I ran to the window, looked out, and saw him lying on his back under the tree. WTF? Grabbing a robe, I raced outside.

After successfully cleaning debris from the roof, Jim decided to attack a branch that annoyed him on the Russian olive tree. The ladder apparently rotated and he fell 12-14 feet (3-4 meters), knocking himself out. Fortunately, he had his cell phone in his pocket which he used to call me. And fortunately, I was unexpectedly at home.

We argued for the next half hour about whether I should call an ambulance. When I tried to help him up, he howled in pain, and begged, “Just give me a couple more minutes.” We repeated this dance of suffering at least four times while in between, I texted my stylist to cancel my appointment and went into the house to get dressed. My patience finally ran out and I took charge and called 911.

A police officer who Jim knows was first on the scene and they chatted, Jim flat on his back, while we waited for the ambulance. Jim insisted he was fine; he could move his fingers and toes, arms and legs; he just couldn’t get up. That didn’t sound fine to me.

The ambulance transported him to the hospital and I followed in the car, calling my friend, Lori, to cancel lunch. After a long wait in the Emergency Room, lots of drugs, a cat scan, and sincere apologies for ruining our trip, we learned Jim fractured his T12 vertebra. He was moved to a hospital room for overnight observation and I called our two sons to inform them.

That evening our son, Brian; his wife, Abi; and our son, Michael, arrived to visit Dad in crisis. That’s when Michael dubbed him Broke Back Mountain and the name stuck. Jim, of course, joked if he’d known it would be so easy to get them home, he’d have fallen off a ladder sooner.

IMG_8402All joking aside, we discussed our trip while we waited for the neurosurgeon to tell us whether Jim could travel. We had planned to travel to Switzerland for a week, then join my friend, Lori and her daughter for an 8 day Viking River Cruise on the Rhine River from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, Netherlands. I told Jim we had several options. We could cancel, I could go alone and meet up with our friends, I could delay the trip and travel with them, or we could go together if the doctor allowed it. My one condition was I didn’t want Jim to go and complain the entire time that I made him go and he was miserable.

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Jim sporting his $1800 back brace

Since the fracture was stable, the neurosurgeon, Dr. David Beck, pronounced Jim fit to travel with restrictions. Jim was game to go well-armed with an industrial strength back brace and pain medication. We would slow our usual break-neck pace (no pun intended), I would manage the luggage for both of us, keep track of Jim’s meds, and make sure he followed doctor’s orders.

I immediately called the airline to arrange for a wheelchair to meet us in Chicago. It was a little complicated because we had two partner airlines to deal with, but it was a godsend because Jim was moving so slowly at that point. We checked our bags through to Zurich, a new experience for committed carry-on luggage only travelers. When the airline announced they would first board people who needed extra time on the jetway, we looked at each other and chortled in unison, “That’s us!”

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Smiles because we were first to board (and heavy meds for Jim)

Please check back for more tales from Broke Back Mountain as we travel through Switzerland, Germany, France, and the Netherlands.

Based on events from October 2017.

 

 

 

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The Best Laid Plans for the Swiss Alps

We enjoyed our first Viking River Cruise in October 2016 so much we were eager to go again. In April 2017 when I saw an affordable Rhine cruise sailing that October from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, we booked it. We’d never been to Switzerland and this was a great opportunity to visit a new country. As I began my research, I quickly learned two things. First, Switzerland is expensive and second, a week wasn’t enough time to see everything in this small country. Thing one, however, limited us to one week. After all, we still had the 8-day river cruise and a couple extra days in Amsterdam afterward.

Part of what made this trip with Viking a good deal was their offer of free airfare. Upon checking, I discovered we could request an “air deviation” for $100 per person. With the air deviation, we extended our trip to depart a week early and return two days later and flew into Zurich instead of Basel. We would fly to Zurich on October 22, board the ship October 29, arrive in Amsterdam November 5, and fly home on November 7.

With the dates for our journey established, I began planning in earnest starting with an online search of the top sights in Switzerland. There were so many I really didn’t know where to begin. I’d heard of the Bernina Express, a scenic rail trip through the Swiss Alps which I thought maybe a good place to start. My research, however, introduced me to another route further south, the Glacier Express, which appealed to me, too. As it turned out, the Glacier Express was closed from mid-October until mid-December and the Bernina Express was closed from the end of October until mid-December. I was so relieved to find one of them open during our visit that I actually built our trip around the Bernina Express.

We decided early on we would travel by train. My brother and his wife had recently driven through Switzerland in a rental car. Their tales of adventure convinced me my anxious personality wasn’t suited to riding by car in the mountains or the cities. The train was a better choice for us. That said, deciphering the rail system in Switzerland was a challenge, to say the least. I spent days poring over the various options and comparing the cost of rail tickets with no pass, with a Swiss Travel Pass, Swiss Travel Pass Flex, and Swiss Half Fare Card. A special offer for a second person to travel for free only added to the confusion. Three websites were especially helpful: the official Swiss Federal Railways, Seat61, and My Swiss Alps. In the end, I only purchased a reservation for the Bernina Express in advance. A rail ticket will get you on the train for the Bernina Express route but you must reserve a seat in advance for the observation car. All other tickets could be purchased on-site with no difference in price so I held off but I was quite certain the Swiss Half Fare card was our best option.

We considered purchasing day trips out of Zurich or Lucerne with various tour companies to the popular tourist sights. Both the price and the time it took to travel out and back discouraged that plan. Besides, we generally prefer to do our own thing rather than be herded with a group on someone else’s schedule.

I reserved hotels in advance for every night. Traveling by train, I didn’t want to arrive in a city and not find a room for the night. I selected hotels based on location, price, and reviews. Since we would be dragging our luggage, I preferred a hotel close to the train station but I also wanted a reasonable price with good customer reviews.

This was our itinerary:

Day 1. Arrive in Zurich at 6:20 a.m. and take the train from the airport into the city. Store our luggage in lockers in the train station and take a self-guided walking tour of the old city which would get us to all the highlights. After seeing Zurich, take the train to Chur (pronounced Koor) (2 hours). Overnight in Chur at the Ambiente Hotel Freieck.

Day 2. We had reserved seats on the Bernina Express departing from Chur at 8:32 a.m. for a scenic 4-hour journey through the Alps. Rather than carry our luggage, we decided to take the train back to Chur to spend a second night.

Day 3. After an early breakfast, we would take the train to Lucerne, which takes about 3 hours. We planned to see Lucerne on foot and spend the night at Waldstaetterhof Swiss Quality Hotel right across from the rail station.

Day 4. We would leave our luggage at the hotel while we took a boat to Pilatus or the train to Titlis, depending on the weather. When we returned we would take the train to Grindelwald (2.5 hours) where I reserved a room at Hotel Alpina.

Day 5. We planned to take the train up to Jungfraujoch, then spend another night at Hotel Alpina.

Day 6. Take the train to Basel (3-3.5 hours) to meet our friends Lori and Heather at the Gaia Hotel before our cruise the following day.

Day 7. Board the Viking Kara for our cruise on the Rhine River.

You can see our planned route highlighted in yellow below.

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It was an ambitious plan but still didn’t allow visits to the Matterhorn, Geneva, and many other highly recommended sights in Switzerland. As events unfolded, we were lucky not to have committed to more. Be sure to check back to read how these best-laid plans went awry.

 

Based on events from April to October 2017.

 

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A Bridge Far Enough

The Mackinac Bridge is the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere and the fifth longest in the world. The suspension section is 8614 feet long and the overall length of the bridge is 26,372 feet. Opened to traffic on November 1, 1957, today over 600,000 vehicles cross the bridge during the peak month of July. Built to withstand heavy winds, the bridge only closes 3-4 times per year, but I did see travel was restricted recently and the photo showing the weather conditions terrified me.

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Mackinac Bridge

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Mackinac Bridge

As we crossed the Straits of Mackinac on the Mighty Mac, to our left we got our first glimpse of Lake Michigan, our fifth and final great lake on our Great Lakes Road Trip of 2017. After some discussion, we decided to continue along the shore of Lake Michigan and head to my hometown of Wausau, Wisconsin just 318 miles away. We were homeward bound, not in a hurry to get there, but headed that direction. Mackinac Bridge was our bridge far enough.

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First view of Lake Michigan from Mighty Mac

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Mackinaw City, MI to Wausau, WI

Jim drove, I checked for lighthouses along the shore of Lake Michigan, found several, and we stopped to check them out.

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Manistique East Breakwater

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Manistique East Breakwater Lighthouse

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Menominee North Pier Lighthouse

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Lake Michigan

As the sun was setting, we headed west along 2-lane back roads through Wisconsin, enjoying the scenery and feeling satisfied that we’d accomplished our goal to see all five Great Lakes on another epic road trip.

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After spending the night with my brother and sister-in-law followed by a visit with my dad and his wife the next morning, we began the last leg of our journey back to Iowa. Near Warrens, Wisconsin I spotted a sign announcing the Warrens Cranberry Festival that weekend. What luck! I’ve always wanted to attend so we made a slight detour to check it out. Fortunately for us, we noticed some activity at a farm outside the town and pulled in. We learned we should have purchased a ticket in town for a bus tour to the cranberry bog but a kind woman working there allowed us to sidestep that requirement and listen to the tour since we were already there.

The number 1 fruit crop in Wisconsin, the state produces over 60% of the cranberries consumed in the U.S. While the berries grow in sandy marshes or bogs, they do not grow under water. In fall, when the berries are ripe, some berries are harvested using a dry method with a machine that combs the berries from the vines. Using the wet method, bogs are flooded with 6-18 inches of water, then berries are shaken from the vines with an eggbeater tractor. The berries float in the water and are corralled and scooped up. The water is then recycled through other fields in the same process.

To me, possibly the most interesting fact about cranberry production is that every acre of cranberry bog is supported by 6-10 acres of natural and man-made wetlands, woodlands, and uplands that provide habitat for bald eagles, loons, wolves, trumpeter swans, sandhill cranes, and other wildlife.

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Jim with a bag of fresh cranberries inspecting an applicator boom for fertilizing cranberries and other equipment. Note the school bus in the background to transport visitors.

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Cranberry marsh

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Close-up of cranberries on the vine

We were fortunate to happen upon the cranberry marsh tour because we never would have experienced it if we had gone into Warrens first. It was a total madhouse! Imagine a village of 363 inhabitants flooded by over 100,000 visitors in a 3 day period with 1000 vendors selling arts and crafts, flea market items, and food. This is one of the largest craft fairs in the country and people take it very seriously. They actually arrive with carts to carry their purchases as you can see in the photo below.

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Warrens Cranberry Festival

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After enjoying some free samples of cranberry items, cheese, sausage and other foodstuffs, we tried to “get the hell out of Dodge” which was easier said than done.  By the time we were finally out of there, we were definitely ready to head for home.

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Based on events from September 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

Celebrating 35 years at Niagara Falls

 

We arrived in Niagara Falls the evening of day 7 of our Great Lakes Road Trip on our 35th wedding anniversary. Our honeymoon consisted of a visit to my grandmother followed by a camping trip so what better place to spend our 35th than the “honeymoon capital of the world”? I had visited as a child but Jim had never seen the falls and we were eager to see this natural wonder together.

Even without a reservation, we had no trouble getting a room at Comfort Inn The Pointe located directly next to the park on the American side. I looked for a hotel with a view of the falls but in retrospect, our location was perfect with just a short walk to the falls and all the viewing points.

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View from our hotel room toward the Niagara River

After checking in, we set off immediately to see as much as possible on foot before dark. Our first breathtaking view impressed us beyond description. We are so grateful to those early environmentalists who founded the Free Niagara movement in the late 1860s to protect this majestic natural wonder from commercial interests. America’s oldest state park was founded in 1885 as a result of their persistent efforts.

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View of American Falls from Prospect Point

Today, Niagara Falls State Park is open and free to the public 365 days a year. We walked the trails to all the viewing areas and, as darkness fell, we watched in wonder to see the falls illuminated by red, white, and blue lights.

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Map of Niagara Falls with the viewing areas we walked to circled in black

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View of American Falls from Prospect Point

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Raging Niagara River looking toward the American Falls Pedestrian Bridge to Goat Island

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Trail in the state park

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American Rapids

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Above Bridal Veil Falls

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American Falls from Luna Island

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American Falls from Luna Island

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35 years of wedded bliss

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American Falls

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Looking toward Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side

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Looking toward Canadian side from Terrapin Point

The Serbian inventor, Nikola Tesla, designed the first hydroelectric plant in the world which opened at Niagara Falls in 1895. Today over 4 million kilowatts of electricity can be generated here and shared between the U.S. and Canada.

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Monument to honor Nikola Tesla

In our excitement, we neglected to plan for dinner. By the time we finished exploring the park, we couldn’t find a restaurant in the immediate vicinity to sate our hunger. We ended up celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary at a Pakistani buffet near closing time in an open mall. While the restaurant lacked romantic atmosphere, the food was tasty.

The following morning, on day 8 of our Great Lakes Road Trip, after a hasty breakfast we made straight for the Maid of the Mist. We were among the first in line for the drenching must-do boat trip to experience Niagara Falls from below. Tickets were $18.25 but I see they’ll increase to $19.25 in 2018. It was well worth it. Get there early unless you have plenty of time to stand in line and PLAN TO GET WET!

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The observation tower above the river

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Another Maid of the Mist ahead of us at Horseshoe Falls

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American Falls

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Horseshoe Falls

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American Falls

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A totally drenching experience

Following our ride on the Maid of the Mist, we explored the trails and stairways to numerous additional viewing points on the American side before driving to the Canadian side to experience Niagara Falls from those viewpoints.

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View of the trails and steps as you leave Maid of the Mist

I’d always read the views are better from the Canadian side but, in the end, I thought both had their strong points. While the views on the Canadian side are better straight on, the park seems more extensive on the American side with lovely paths and numerous views from various directions.

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Horseshoe Falls from the Canadian side

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Trail with landscaping on the Canadian side

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View of American Falls from Canada

I would place Niagara Falls right up there with the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone in terms of grandeur and awe-inspiring beauty. If you haven’t been there, what are you waiting for?

 

 

 

Based on events from September 2017.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a 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

Lake Huron on Day 5

Every day on a road trip doesn’t have to be remarkable. Some days just entail driving from point A to point B. Day 5 of our Great Lakes Road Trip was a point A to point B kind of day with one notable exception. We were excited by our first peek at the second Great Lake on our trip, Lake Huron, along the North Channel at the town of Bruce Mines, Ontario.

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North Channel of Lake Huron

We stopped again in nearby Thessalon for another look.

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Okay, so we stopped again a third time in Blind River.

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At Blind River, we struck up a conversation with a couple from New York headed the opposite direction and a man from Ontario. All agreed we should definitely avoid Toronto traffic on the 400 if we didn’t plan to visit the city. We decided right then to avoid Toronto by continuing east to North Bay, then south to Huntsville for the night. The following morning we would drive through Algonquin Provincial Park, Canada’s oldest and most famous provincial park.

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I called several hotels from the car to reserve a room for the night and found the rates were high for a town of fewer than 20,000 inhabitants in rural Canada. I finally asked one hotel why the rates were so high and she told me the following weekend was the Huntsville Fall Fair and rates were always high in the fall when people came to visit Algonquin Provincial Park to see the autumn color. Besides that, she said the weather had been beautiful and wasn’t expected to last much longer. Convinced, I reserved a room at the Comfort Inn Huntsville for nearly $200.

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We arrived in Huntsville a week too early for the Fall Fair but the next week we probably wouldn’t have found an available room at all. It was a charming town, reminiscent of small resort towns in New England or Wisconsin and I’m sure they attract a huge crowd for the Fall Fair.

After dining on chips and salsa in our hotel room the previous evening, we were anticipating an outstanding meal at the highly recommended 3 Guys and a Stove.

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We arrived early and requested a table outside which, as you can see, was easy to accommodate. I think we may have been the first diners to arrive. Our table was upstairs and the view through the trees was especially lovely.

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Looking at the menu, we experienced sticker shock. Is that a thing for menus? The entrees cost $30+ and a salad was an additional $9-$14. Fortunately for us, our server told us the special that evening was a BBQ dinner with three meats (brisket, ribs, and chicken), potato salad, and mediterranean salad for $33.95 which he said was plenty of food for two. We ordered it and quite honestly, it wasn’t exceptional in taste or adequate in quantity. Including my glass of wine, our bill was nearly $51CAD. In US dollars, that was $42 for essentially one meal. A little pricy but the setting was pleasant and the weather was perfect for outdoor dining.

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We returned to our hotel immediately following dinner to make it an early night in preparation for our visit to Algonquin Provincial Park the next morning. Stop back next time to read all about it. I promise the next post will be more interesting than this one.

 

Based on events from September 2017.

Categories: Canada, Food, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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