Put that Phone Down

Whenever I’m out and I see people spending their time together looking down at their phones or gadgets instead of engaged in conversation with those around them, I think it is sad that it has become so common to spend time in someone’s presence without actually spending time in their company. I try to avoid falling into the trap, but know that I sometimes give too much of my time to gadgets.

Still, this trip is turning out to be sort of unique in that I’ve realized recently that Sriram and I spend a lot of our meals looking down at our phones. Strangers who see us probably shake their heads as we sit at a table attached to our devices, barely speaking to each other. They are thinking we are typical 2014 younguns (I like to think they think that anyway), glued to our technology and unable to interact together.

Meal times, as it is turning out, are often our first quiet moments of the day to review places and plans for our next stop (a lot of times our moments of looking at our phones are punctuated with “What do you think about…?” types of questions. We have lots of time to interact while driving and seeing, and certainly talk about the travels along the way. But often we need to look things up, or book things from our phones.

We also take those moments when we’re not driving, and not actively engaged in some type of site-seeing activity to catch up with the outside world. We use those moments to read Facebook posts, respond to emails and messages, check phone messages, pay bills, check in with friends and neighbors, and deal with normal day-to-day issues. I often find myself wanting to explain to those around us, that we’re capable of normal, human interaction – it’s just when your used to talking to people several times per week, and now you can’t, you take the moments you can to reach out and say hello.

So, I hope those that see us in our travels will not judge us too harshly. We’re spending 24 hours together, 7 days per week, for 2 solid months. I think we’ll be OK if we spend a couple lunch breaks looking down at our phones. One of these days, I might even break out a book.

Ontario: Eats and Treats

Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse
Niagara Falls

Between our day time Niagara Falls viewing and the fireworks over the Falls we stopped into Ruth’s Chris for dinner. While on the road we don’t usually choose places we could dine in at home, but after not finding seating at a couple other places we wandered in and found bar seating. The design of the restaurant was actually very different from any other Ruth’s Chris I’ve ever been in. In the evening there would be live music and the bar area would essentially turn into a night club. A woman was walking around selling roses to diners. The ladies room had an attendant (which I always find strange), a shoe shining stand and a large variety of perfumes to choose from. It was all a bit bizarre.

We skipped our typical steakhouse fare in favor of salads (the Ruth’s Chris Chopped Salad for Sriram and the Harvest Salad for me), which both turned out to be terrific. For dessert, I ordered my favorite – the Berries and Cream. It’s definitely my go-to dessert.

The staff at the bar was great, and were the ones to give us the tip for the Trius Winery, so it was definitely worth the stop.

Niagara on the Lake Golf Club
Niagara on the Lake

In the morning we grabbed a couple of muffins at Tim Horton’s for a quick bite before heading to Niagara on the Lake where we eventually had lunch at the Niagara on the Lake Golf Club. We lucked out and got there just slightly ahead of the crowd so were seated at a nice patio table with a wonderful view of Lake Huron. The tables were same as the tables at one of my old favorite places, Cafe Shannon – which made me smile.

We ordered drinks. I got the special, which was a Mango Smoothie. It was ridiculously fresh and delicious.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

After reading through the menu, I decided I had to get the Baked Cranberry Walnut Goat Cheese with Tortilla Chips. It was a warm dip and extremely good. It was different from any other warm cheese dip I’d had. Better, too. The cranberry added just enough tang, the walnuts added crunch, and the goat cheese was as wonderful as you’d expect goat cheese to be.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

For lunch Sriram got the fish and chips and I got a spinach sausage sandwich which must have been a special, as I can’t find it on their menu. My meal was amazing, and not only for the discovery that Canadians put bacon in their Caesar salads (brilliant – why do we not do this, America?).

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The service was a little slow, but they had seated the entire patio within 15 minutes of our arrival, so that was to be expected. Besides, when you are sitting someplace so beautiful, there is no hurry. We simply enjoyed the sailboats going by and the view of the fort over in the U.S.

Shipwrecked Lee’s
Tobermory

In Tobermory, after our tour boat adventure, we wandered over to Shipwrecked Lee’s. It seemed like an appropriate place to stop in. It looked like a lot of fun from the outside, and how could I resist a place advertising a beer called “Flying Monkeys” – even if I don’t drink.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The atmosphere in the outside dining room was fun and festive. The staff were super friendly, some dressed in the restaurant’s pirate theme. Locals and tourists alike filled the picnic tables, staying out of the rain under the awning.

We ordered a strange array of items – Pepperoni pizza sticks (just because we kept seeing them on menus and decided to give them a whirl – they were a miss), mini vegetarian samosas (which were quite tasty), a jerk chicken dish (that was good, but the sauce was not quite as good as others we’ve had), some spicy corn on the cob (delicious), and poutine fries. The portions were really big, so we ended up with a bunch of leftovers that we packed into the cooler for a later date. I’d say a successful outing.

The Sweet Shop
Tobermory

After dinner we strolled over to the Sweet Shop. The shop was filled with the usual fare – fudge, brittles, candies of all sort. There was also a pretty extensive ice cream bar. We checked out the menu and noticed an item called a “Boston Cooler.” Intrigued I went to the counter and asked what it was. I was told it was ice cream and pop blended. Once my brain translated “pop” to “soda” I realized it was like a float, but put through the blender like a Frappe (or a milkshake for those not from the Boston area). Interesting. I asked why it was called a Boston Cooler, as after 41 years in Boston, I’d never heard of one, but no one in the shop knew. Sriram was intrigued enough to get one, while I opted for a cone. I ordered a creamsicle (orange sherbet swirled with vanilla ice cream) in a cone. It came in a wafer cone. A pointed wafer cone. In Boston wafer cones come with a flat bottom, only sugar cones come with a point. Fun and delicious.

Cafeteria
Chi-Cheemaun Ferry

Our final day in Tobermory started with some toast at the motel’s continental breakfast. Lunch was on the Chi-Cheemaun Ferry. The ferry has a pretty big cafeteria. The options were basic, but still more plentiful than any ferry I’ve ever been on. My last ferry ride was on the Provincetown II. I was riding it last January in the Virgin Islands, where it winters. I had a hotdog. I’m pretty sure the hotdog had made the trip south with the ferry. On the Chi-Cheemaun we each got a salad for lunch, and then after seeing the size of the bowl, split a bowl of chili. Our expectations for the chili were not high, but it turned out to be pretty good.

Tim Horton’s
On the Road

Before heading to the border, we stopped for one final treat on the road. Just as we had headed out of Massachusetts with a Boston Crème Donut, we thought it only appropriate to leave Canada with a Canadian Maple Donut from Tim Horton’s.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Farewell Ontario!

Greetings from Tobermory!

Tobermory is a small town situated at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula, which separates the Georgian Bay from Lake Huron, and is considered the fresh water diving capital of the World. The harbor boasts over 25 shipwrecks that divers and snorkelers can explore, as well as a few wrecks that tour boats can take visitors to. Tours also include a visit to nearby Flower Pot Island.

After much debate about how to spend the day we headed toward the Visitors Center for Bruce Peninsula National Park and Fathom Five National Marine Park. Shortly after arriving at the center, the rain started up again. That would turn out to be the theme for the day. Rain, short break, rain … and so on. We contemplated skipping the day and simply moving on, but decided that, just like our first day at Niagara, the reality was – we were here, and this was the weather we had. So, we took a brief tour of the museum at the visitor’s center, watched the museum movie, and then geared up for a rainy day.

After the visitor’s center we headed downtown in search of a boat tour of the famed shipwrecks and Flower Pot Island. Stopping into the Blue Heron Co. revealed there were a few options to choose from. A quick 25 minute jet boat tour; a 2 hour round trip tour; and a 1 hour, 20 minute tour that dropped you off on Flower Pot Island for hiking, picnicking, etc. As tempting as that last option was, a look at the radar showed we could potentially be stranded on the island, in the rain, for two hours. A not-very-appealing prospect.

We opted for the two hour round trip tour on the glass bottomed boat, and with 45 minutes to kill, set out for a quick lunch. Most of the places we checked in on looked like they would definitely not get us to the boat in time, so instead we ducked into the local grocery store and picked up some salads and such at the deli counter. By the time we finished our purchase the sun was miraculously out again for one of its brief appearances. We spread the rain poncho I had packed on a bench and sat and ate before getting in line for the boat.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

As the weather had cleared up (for now), a lot of passengers headed topside for the open boat experience. We had debated our choice while in line and had decided the inside was better in case the rain came back. Plus, what was the point of being on a glass bottomed boat if we were upstairs and couldn’t benefit from the view? The decision was definitely the right one.

The first shipwreck came into view about 10 minutes after we left the dock. From the outside, looking down from the side of the boat, it was mostly just shadow. You could see that something was there, but that was it (the view is apparently better from the outside on nicer days). Looking through the glass bottomed section of the boat was very different. I was shocked at how closely we passed over the wreck – a mere 5 feet above. And the water was so clear you could see remarkable detail of the ship. Here is a collage of a few of the photos I took.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

It was fascinating looking at the remains of the ships and hearing the stories of survival and loss. One shipwreck of particular interest noted that while no one had died in the wreck itself, many people had died diving to the wreck. Diving in the area is only recommended for the highly skilled.

The boat tour continued on it’s way over to the famous Flower Pot Island. The island gets its name from rock formations along the shore that look like flower pots. Along the way we saw many kayakers and boaters; beautiful shorelines; and a variety of birds, including two immature bald eagles.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

As we finally approached the side of the island with the “flower pots,” the boat began to list to the side – everyone had moved to that side of the boat for the best view. I glanced back at the crew member manning the snack bar. If he wasn’t worried, neither was I. The “flower pots,” which are sea stacks formed over many, many years, were interesting. I didn’t think they looked much like flower pots, but they were certainly unique.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

One of the formations had a face in profile, reminding me of New Hampshire’s famed “Old Man of the Mountain,” which collapsed in 2003. For anyone who never had the pleasure of seeing it in person, you can find it memorialized on the back of the New Hampshire state quarter.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

After the boat tour, we took a drive around town and strolled out to the Tobermory Lighthouse over in Big Tub Harbor.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

We happened upon a group just finishing a shipwreck dive. We stopped to chat for a bit. One of the divers seemed really exhausted and frazzled. He mentioned that he’d been diving many times, but had never had such difficulty.

On the way back to the car we came across a couple who were also from the States. They had just come from the area we were heading next so offered some ideas of places to check out. They were really friendly and it was a great chat.

As the weather still wasn’t terrific, we later checked into a local motel for the night. The next morning we packed up (with the never ending tweaking of our systems included) and headed for the Chi-Cheemaun Ferry which would bring us to South Bay Town on the other side of Lake Huron. It was the first time I’d been on a car carrier ferry. It was fascinating.

The Chi-Cheemaun (which is Ojibwe for “big canoe”), holds 638 passengers and 250 cars, and can travel at 16.25 knots. The ship is 111 meters on length, and 19 meters across the beam. The bow of the boat opens up to allow cars to drive aboard.

As we waited in line to drive aboard we watched as small passenger cars drove into a long chute. The entire chute is then lifted to create a new row for larger vehicles beneath it. Our roof box put us onto the lower level, as the car became too tall to be in the chute. Just ahead of us in line were approximately 25 Mazda Miatas, with their owners all donning Mazda jackets. Clearly they were heading to or returning from some large Miata-family gathering.

The crossing was otherwise uneventful as there was no view to speak of due to the fog. Sriram actually remarked on the unusual fact that our ferry repeatedly used its horn while at open “sea” due to just how thick the fog was.

When we arrived on the other side we headed for the border via Sault St. Marie. We’d heard the American city of Sault St. Marie was more interesting than it’s more industrial Canadian counterpart. However, a quick drive through left us unimpressed. Despite being tired and hungry, we moved straight through Sault St. Marie on both sides of the border, and headed to our new destination of St. Ignace.

Hello Michigan!

Night at the Roxy’s Campground

Roxy’s Gas, Variety, Cabins & Tent Sites – scene of our second night of camping. May seem like an odd place to set up shop, but Roxy’s turned out to be a pretty great campground. We knew the campsites in the National Park in Tobermory were full for the night, but Roxy’s was only a short drive from our final destination, and they had tent spots available (their cabins were all sold out).

The owner Craig, and the store employee Alex, were super friendly and helpful. While Sriram picked out a site with Craig, Alex set me up with some firewood and kindling. Once the firewood was loaded in the car, I headed into the store for basic groceries and camping needs. I picked up a few supplies, and headed down to our spot.

Unlike our spot at Glimmerglass, Roxy’s wasn’t gravel, so that was certainly a plus for my feet. However, the sandy quality of the ground there made our tent not hold as taut, so that was a bit of a downside (the one problem with the style of our tent is the stakes aren’t just to keep the tent from blowing away, but are also key in the structural integrity). Still, we got the tent up, and then set out our camp chairs and began work on the fire.

One problem at Roxy’s (if you can consider natural things in nature a problem), while setting up I did notice an unusual number of spiders (well, daddy long legs, actually, which I realize aren’t technically spiders). Enough to be creepy. I found myself hearing Rupert Grint’s voice in my head as I worked. “Why spiders? Why couldn’t it be ‘follow the butterflies’?”

Once camp was set up we pulled out our camp stove to make dinner. Our dinner was pretty basic – a can of beans, a chopped onion, and a diced up potato, all made up in one pot. For seasoning we used Ms. Peppa’s Jerk Sauce, which is a crazy-authentic sauce that a friend of mine makes. She’s from Barbados. It’s legit. So, thank you Ms. Peppa for a great dinner.

Rather than dirtying up dishes just for dinner, we put the pot on a makeshift table between us in front of the fire and ate right out of the pot. Later, we sat by the “fire” for a while, but neither Sriram nor I have truly mastered the art of making a fire, so we eventually retreated out of the wind and into the tent. It was another chilly night under the stars, so we bundled up.

Our morning started rather abruptly the next day. We’d planned to reheat our leftovers from camp dinner as breakfast and spend some time reorganizing our camp stuff. Incoming thunderstorms put a quick stop to those plans and we broke camp as quickly as we could, finishing the last few items and packing up any way we could just before the rain set in.

Before heading out, we took advantage of the camp’s showers. I haven’t been to a ton of campgrounds, but enough to know that hot water is not usually an option. In my experience, it’s a good day when you have water bordering on luke warm. The showers at Roxy’s were hot, fairly clean, and had a really good set up (in fact, the National Park campgrounds don’t have showers, and send people down to Roxy’s – we only just beat the rush). The only downside was 2 minutes would cost you a Twooney. But, even though it was quick, it was a well spent $4.

If you’re ever in the area and need a place to stay, I’d definitely recommend Roxy’s.

New York: Eats and Treats

With our crossover into Ontario, we finally left New York behind. We’ve seen quite a bit already, and had some great food. I figured I’d post some highlights for those of you that might care about such things.

Depot Deli and Lakefront Restaurant
Cooperstown, New York

I previously mentioned the delicious sandwich I had at the Glimmerglass Opera Festival the first night. The next day in Cooperstown we started the day at the Depot Deli. We ordered bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches on Texas toast. They were a good start for the day – just a quick meal to get us going before our tour.

For lunch, at the suggestion of Jackie from the BHOF, we dined at the Lakefront Restaurant, at a table with a lovely view overlooking Otswego Lake. After looking over the menu, we decided we had to give their Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Poppers a try. They are typically drizzled with a crab based sauce, but as I have a mild sensitivity, we got that on the side. Sriram said it was delicious. I enjoyed the peppers on their own.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

After the appetizer, I had the Cranberry Waldorf Chicken Salad Croissant (chicken salad with apples, cranberries, and walnuts served with lettuce, tomato, a side of potato chips and a pickle), and Sriram had the Roasted Beet Salad (spinach and kale with apple, cranberries, goat cheese, candied walnuts, and a fresh orange vinaigrette). They were both delicious. If you’re in the area, I would definitely recommend stopping in.

Dinosaur BBQ
Syracuse

The highlight of the day was certainly dinner. Our stop in Syracuse (on our way to Buffalo) was specifically to go to Dinosaur BBQ. The wait for seating was more than an hour (the place was packed), but we were told there were tables around back in the “Boneyard” which was essentially an outdoor bar with some shared picnic tables. We lucked out in getting a shared high top table to ourselves and looked over the menu. We decided on a combo plate to share. While waiting for the food to arrive, I checked out the variety of sauces – knowing I’d likely try them all. The choices were Wango Tango, Devil’s Duel, Garlic Chipotle Pepper Sauce, and Sensuous Slathering.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

When our order arrived it all looked fantastic. The combo consisted of pulled pork, smoked hot-link sausage, mac and cheese, black beans, and corn bread. We split the platter between us and each had a ridiculous amount of food.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Everything was absolutely delicious, and as predicted, I tried all four sauces. Wango Tango was good, while Devil’s Duel and Garlic Chipotle Pepper Sauce had the most heat. The Sensuous Slathering was OK – it was sweeter than the others. My favorite turned out to be the Devil’s Duel.

It was a great stop, and easily the best BBQ I’ve ever had.


Top of the Falls

Niagara Falls

As mentioned in the Niagara post we lunched at the Top of the Falls restaurant. We got off to a good start with the loaded fries appetizer. Alison and I were both intrigued by the Barreled Over Burger. The menu’s description read, “Be adventurous! Gorge yourself with our signature burger hand-stuffed with WNY favorites! Angus Beef, Yancey’s Fancy Buffalo Wing Cheddar Cheese, Candied Bacon, Sweet NY State Apples, Lettuce, Tomato, Onion, Brioche Roll.” Despite it’s description turned out to be a bit of a dud – it mostly tasted like a plain burger, the “stuffing” was so limited. And despite the claim that it came with a free souvenir photo, we were never offered one, and forgot about it until it was too late. Sriram had the Beef on Weck and said it was quite good. But, despite it not being the best meal, the view was wonderful, and as that was mostly the point of eating there, I’d still recommend it to a friend.

The Anchor Bar
Buffalo

For dinner we journeyed back to Buffalo and The Anchor Bar – home of the original Buffalo Wing. I wasn’t sure if I was amused or frightened by our “greeter.” Probably both.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

As it was really crowded with an extended wait for tables, we opted to hang out in the bar with it’s fun and chaotic design and hoped for seats. We lucked out pretty quickly and settled in. We were intrigued enough by the Spicy Hot Chicken Wing Soup to each order a cup. It was really good, though more mild in flavor than the description implied. Still, it was hearty, and after a long, cold, damp day at the Falls it was a great way to warm up, so it definitely hit the spot.

After soup we shared a large order of wings (hot) and onion rings.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The rings were very good, a little thicker than I prefer, but crispy and tasty with a nice dipping sauce. The wings more than lived up to their reputation. The heat was just right and they had perfect crisp. We agreed that they were indeed the best buffalo wings we’ve ever had.

If you like wings, it is more than worth the stop.

Duff’s Famous Wings

Buffalo

The next day we were up for more wings at Duff’s simply because we were there. I got my wings boneless this time round, and based on this warning, I ordered the medium.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The sauce seemed a little tangier than the Anchor Bar, but it’s impossible for me to make a 1:1 comparison between Duff’s and the Anchor Bar because I got boneless wings at Duff’s, and it’s just not the same. Still, they were delicious, but despite the warning, I was very quickly asking for a side of the medium hot for more heat. But my tolerance is probably higher than most, so Duff’s probably has it right.

Sriram opted for the fried bologna sandwich and noted that it tasted like bologna, so I guess they got that right.

Other than some delicious Saranac Sodas (a creamsicle and a rootbeer) that we picked up at Dinosaur BBQ for the road, that was it for New York. Stay tuned for more sites and adventures and the next “Eats and Treats” installment.

Niagara on the Lake

While everyone has heard of Niagara Falls, just a ways down the road is the quaint town of Niagara on the Lake. We spent a morning strolling around the town and I positively loved it. The streets were lined with wonderful shops, galleries and restaurants. It was a bright and sunny day when we visited, so tourists were aplenty.

One of the things I loved about the town was how floral it was. I’d be surprised if there isn’t some type of city ordinance regarding landscaping. Everywhere you looked were beautiful flowers – park benches were surrounded by wonderful landscaping, the light poles had flower pots hanging from them, every restaurant and building contained a lovely burst of color and fragrance. Even the homes we passed seemed to be full of flowers.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

On our stroll, we came across a statue of George Bernard Shaw. Intrigued by the connection we did a little research and discovered that the Shaw Festival Theater, established in 1973, is located in Niagara on the Lake. It would have been nice if we were able to take in a show, but we were only passing through.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Though we very much enjoyed our time there, the town wasn’t without flaws. We drifted into one shop called The Cheese Secret. Turned out the secret was terrible customer service. Beyond saying something along the lines of “nice weather,” the two employees simply stared at us the entire time we were in the store. They made no inquiry of our needs and offered no assistance, so we moved on without a purchase, despite the fact that we love trying new cheeses.

We had lunch on the water, across from Old Fort Niagara.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

After lunch we decided to check out a local winery that had been recommended to us the night before at dinner.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Our visit to the Trius Winery at Hillenbrand was a lovely way to spend the afternoon – if you ignore that pesky wine tasting part. It was fun to see the vineyard and hear about the process for the various types of wine, including their ice wine (80% of all ice wines come from that region), which is made from frozen grapes harvested in January and contains no added sugar despite being the sweetest wine they sell.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

There were fun facts mentioned on the tour including the fact that Trius produces much of the wine for the area vineyards, including the wine for the Wayne Gretzky No. 99 Collection (we’d seen some for $30 per glass the night before).

We also visited the winery’s cellar, which included a beautiful tasting room.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

A very brief overview of the processes and equipment involved in making the wines was given before heading back out to the grounds and the garden for our official tasting. I went through all of the steps of the tasting – checking the wine’s appearance, smelling the wine, swirling the wine – I even tasted the wine, which only confirmed the notion that I don’t like wine.

We were offered three wines in all – a white, a red, and an ice wine. I tried both the white and the ice wines. The ice wine was slightly more palatable to me, but that’s not saying much. Sriram was impressed enough with the ice wine to purchase a bottle. As the teetotaler in the marriage I was happy to have simply enjoyed the stroll of the grounds and the information presented.

And I did learn a nice tip for my next party. Our guide recommended always following the 15 minute rule for wines. If you’re serving a white wine, take it out of the refrigerator 15 minutes before serving to allow it to reach optimal temperature. If you’re serving a red wine, put it into the refrigerator for 15 minutes before serving for optimal temperature. Easy enough. I can definitely remember that.

Niagara – The Other Side

Sriram’s Perspective

Ask any tourist visiting America, “what’s on your itinerary?” and it will include Statue of Liberty, Times Square, White House, Disney World, Golden Gate Bridge, Hollywood and Niagara Falls. There may be other places such as Yellowstone or Chicago or Grand Canyon, but Niagara Falls is a definite.

I had the good fortune of seeing all of the places listed above in my first 2 years in America. Seeing a place is one thing, experiencing is another. Experiencing requires the right location, and more importantly, the right mind-set.

Niagara Falls, is an experience. There is a great episode of This American Life about Niagara Falls. The radio show beautifully describes the drive along the river where the rapids get faster and frothier; the noise rising to a thunderous crescendo; the feel of the mist in the aptly named Maid of the Mist, getting wetter and ultimately soaked; feeling the hurricane in the Cave of the Winds; seeing the short lived rainbows that may form at any given moment – this is one of the greatest experiences in life. A word of warning – the radio show is rather graphic in some of its content and very depressing for most of it. So, please listen to it after your visit and not before.

My first Niagara Falls experience happened with my grad-school buddies during my very first summer in this country. I was able to visit again some years later with my family. To watch others experience this for the first time is a treat. Grownups become awe-struck little children. It gave me great pleasure to watch my dad and brother experience this.

Ask anyone who has been to Niagara Falls and they will tell you the Canadian side is better than the US side. However, due to the extra effort and expense needed to apply for a Canadian visa, I never got to see that side on either trip. I always told myself, one of the first things I would do after I get my green-card was to go to the Canadian side. Well, green-card and citizenship happened, but Niagara Falls, Canada did not. It is one of those things in life – as soon as something becomes attainable, it suddenly ceases to be as desperately attractive.

In the last five years, I have had to travel to the Greater Toronto area frequently for work. Flying to Buffalo and driving has been a lot cheaper than flying to Pearson International. I would give myself plenty of extra time for the border crossing and it almost always went quickly (especially after I was approved for Global Entry by the TSA) and I would stop by the Falls and have had the opportunity to see it frozen in winter, crowded in the warmer months, lit up at night – but always from a distance and from a car.

There were several times in the past few years when Kristen and I would think of going to see (correction, experience) the Falls but never got around to it. So, once we decided to take this road-trip, the Falls were definitely on the itinerary.

When Kristen had made plans to meet her friend Alison in Buffalo, I was curious if she would be interested in going to the Falls. I have had friends who lived in the Buffalo area who fell into two categories – those who said “yeah, it was great the first couple of times, but now I don’t care for it anymore” and the others that said “I go there every opportunity I get and I have been hundreds of times and will never tire of it”. I was curious which category Alison would fall under. Turned out, it was the second and she visits once a year.

The dreary weather on the day of our visit didn’t help; neither did the crowd and chaos all over. But the Maid of the Mist experience was as awesome as I remembered – a little wet, a little loud; getting wetter and louder every minute. We reached the point where we couldn’t tell the difference between water and air – it was just foam. I am told that’s what a Force 10 on Admiral Beaufort’s scale feels like – not sure I would want to experience that at sea.

And to watch Kristen’s reaction was truly the best part. She loved every minute of it – as detailed in her version.

We thought we would walk over the bridge to the Canadian side and wander around, but the weather took a turn for the worse and we went to the casino instead.

Thankfully, the weather got better the next day and we decided to stay an extra day and we found a hotel room on the Canadian side. Rule of thumb – falls view hotels cost about $100 more than hotels that are a couple of blocks away. The Canadian side is more commercialized and it has a carnival atmosphere. From what our taxi driver (who drove with one hand, eating pizza with the other and cut through traffic by driving on the wrong side of the road) said, I am led to believe that it is like a mini Las Vegas all year long, unlike the US side.

Yes, it’s better! Yes, it’s worth getting a Canadian visa to see it from that side!

Like many of the great experiences in life, words are grossly insufficient to describe the feelings – I scrapped a 1,000 word write-up because it sounded so lame.

Just go experience it for yourself! And don’t put it away because it is attainable.

A Presidential Detour

Before leaving New York and heading for the Canadian Falls we stopped by the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site in Buffalo.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The site, which was declared a National Historic Site in 1966, is small, yet detailed and chronicles the Pan American Exposition, President McKinley’s assassination, and Roosevelt’s subsequent inauguration. An issues theater presents the myriad of issues facing Roosevelt as he took office. A brief tour takes you through the lower rooms of the house, including the library where he was inaugurated, and explains how Roosevelt had come to stay there after McKinley’s assassination (the house belonged to Ansley Wilcox).

The upper level of the house tells the story of Roosevelt’s presidency through a variety of exhibits, including a recreation of the White House Green Room which served as Roosevelt’s office. Here are a few shots from the tour.

Newspaper announcing a new President

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The library where Roosevelt took the Oath of Office

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Recreation of Roosevelt’s White House office

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

In closing, as a fan of the National Parks System, Roosevelt is a favorite of mine for his role in bringing that to life. So, I’ll leave you with the conclusion of one of his quotes regarding the Grand Canyon:

Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it. – Theodore Roosevelt

A Tale of Two Countries

Niagara Falls, New York, USA

On Saturday, we spent the day with my friend Alison who I haven’t seen in about 6 years (since she moved out of Boston). It was a dreary day; misty rain and high winds, with a gray sky. The sun seemed destined to not make an appearance, but we were determined to see the Falls, and this was our day. On the ride into Niagara Falls there was a marked difference between looking left and looking right. When looking left we had a view of the Niagara River with its increasing rapids as the Falls approached. As you looked right you saw a run down, post-industrial wasteland full of abandoned chemical factories. But we weren’t there for the city, we were there for the Falls.

After waiting our turn in traffic we parked and headed over into Niagara Falls State Park. Entering the Visitors Center and coming out into the park, we joined the line for the Maid of the Mist, Niagara’s famous boat ride. We would explore the park afterward, but figured we’d try to beat some of the crowds. The dreary weather seemed to work in our favor, so despite it being a Saturday afternoon in August, the line was reasonable.  The boat tour, which dates back to 1846, is the original Falls boat ride, though there is now a similar ride offered on the Canadian side called the Hornblower. From the platform high above we watched group after group of tourists walk through the pavilion below only to emerge on the other side in their blue Maid of the Mist rain poncho prepared for their journey.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The line moved quickly and before long we were donning our own ponchos and boarding the boat, with the expectation that the ponchos could only do so much. We selected spots along the rail on the lower deck and moments later were on our way. The boat ride is short – only about 15 minutes, and we did get wet (really, really wet), but it was definitely worth it. Even if the view hadn’t been worth it, laughing with an old friend while trying to keep our ponchos from blowing in the wind and fruitlessly attempting to stay dry would have been (we took a photo after and remarked that we should have been smart enough to take one before we got wet).

The view, of course, was worth it, too. The boat brings you pretty close to the Falls. Hearing the roar, and feeling the wind and water from below the Falls is quite an experience. I used our underwater camera to take photos and managed some decent shots.

The Horseshoe Falls

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

After exploring the area a bit more, we stopped for lunch at the Top of the Falls restaurant (a great suggestion from Alison, who saved us from eating hotdogs at the cart); but after lunch the rain finally forced us to retreat. But our day wasn’t over yet.  The Seneca Casino beckoned and we headed off for an afternoon of slots. Alison and I spent many hours at the Mohegan Sun Casino back when she lived in Boston, so this was a tribute to the old days.  Alison and Sriram both hit it big (and by “hit it big” I mean went home with their money). I was the big loser of the day, but it was still fun.

We ended with dinner at the famed Anchor Bar in Buffalo and definitely considered our day a success.

Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada

Our plan was to move on the following day. We checked out of the hotel in Buffalo around noon and went off in search of some lunch with the intent of heading toward Pelee Island. We chatted over lunch at Duff’s (more famous local wings), and after a brief detour decided that perhaps we’d head over to the Canadian Falls. The weather had done a 180 and we had a gorgeous day ahead of us. Rather than heading up to cross over at the Falls we headed straight over the Rainbow Bridge for our Border Crossing. It took some time – it was Sunday afternoon and the crossing was packed. 16 lanes were open and we were still easily 15 cars back when we got in line. But we got through the crossing smoothly and made our way up to Niagara Falls, Ontario.

The first big difference between the two cities was that the Canadian side is so much more commercial. Stores, shops, restaurants, chains, and lots of lights. Down on the Waterfront it’s less developed, but it’s not as preserved as the American side (due to the American side being a state park). It’s far more obvious that it’s a tourist spot on the Canadian side. We’d already decided we’d spend the night, so we checked into our hotel and headed down to the Falls.

At first glance it was immediately apparent that the claims that the “view is better” on the Canadian side are 100% true (it helped that there were lovely rainbows making appearances all afternoon). I thought that the view on the American side was impressive – and the view from the boat was certainly amazing, but the view on the Canadian side is breathtaking. We came down into the Waterfront directly in front of the American Falls. We’d lucked out again with crowds and it was easy to get to the rail for the great views. We took some photos of the American and Bridal Falls and then just enjoyed the view for a bit before walking again.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

As we made our way down to the Horseshoe Falls we stopped along the way to take a variety of pictures from all sorts of angles.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

We also repeatedly took pictures for those looking to pose with the Falls and had people take pictures for us. I nearly always shake my head after handing my camera off and getting it back. The first attempt didn’t even have the Falls in the picture. The stranger manning my camera obviously thought we were simply in need of a photo of ourselves. We did eventually get a few good choices for a photo together (including a fun selfie) with the Falls in the background, but I often find myself wishing I could employ a professional photographer to follow me around on vacation to take photos.

When we got to the precipice of the Falls we walked past the immediate drop line due to the crowds and stopped about 6 feet beyond it along the river. Even after seeing it on the other side, and approaching it from many angles, I was stunned by the power of the water. It was truly awe-inspiring to see the way it rushed over the edge. Standing mere feet from the edge you could really feel the power of that water.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

It was getting late in the day and we decided to take a break for dinner before heading back down to the waterfront for the fireworks. When we returned we discovered that The Falls are just as beautiful at night. We retreated up a small hill and managed to find a spot away from the crowd and enjoyed the fireworks display.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

When the display was over, we headed back up into town with the surging crowd. We decided that the Falls were well worth the trip and we were truly glad that we stayed the extra day. If you ever make it to Niagara, be sure to take in both sides. If you’ve already been, tell me what you thought.

The Great American Pastime

For several years while Jason Varitek was playing for the Boston Red Sox he hosted an annual celebrity putt putt tournament. Red Sox players and other local athletes/celebrities would play mini-golf against ticket-paying fans, with the proceeds going to charity. You could also buy tickets just to watch the action. Back in 2009, I attended one of the events with my sister and bid on (and subsequently won) a four pack of tickets to the Baseball Hall of Fame in the event’s charity auction. Included were tickets to the Hall, as well as a behind the scenes tour. I never used it. After finding the certificate a few months ago I contacted the Hall to see if they’d still honor the package. They asked me to send them copies of the document and said they would be more than happy to honor it. We decided that it would make a great stop at the beginning of our trip.

We scheduled the tour for 10:30am on Friday morning (Day 2) and after checking in with Jackie Brown at the Administrative Offices we were sent off with Lenny DiFranza, an Assistant Curator at the Museum. We were told that the behind the scenes portion would take about 90 minutes and then we’d be free to explore the Museum and Hall at our leisure.

We didn’t really know what to expect from the tour, but were a bit blown away by the experience. Lenny began with the brief “history of baseball” – invented by General Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown, NY. A fun story, Lenny explained, but not a word of truth to it. You can find lots of info about the “Doubleday Myth” on its official Wikipedia page, but needless to say, the myth did lead to Cooperstown becoming the home of baseball’s HOF.

We moved into the first part of our tour – the Hall’s photograph collection. While we were not able to to simply flip through the Hall’s extensive collection, specific prints had been pulled for the purpose of our tour. It was fascinating listening to the stories told through the photographs. The first baseball game filmed, early panoramic photographs using two different methods, opening day at the Polo Grounds (a copy of that image is on the linked Wikipedia page), baseball’s first World Tour organized by Albert Spalding, ladies day at the park (interestingly enough, we were told the majority of baseball tickets are now purchased by women), and a picture of Honus Wagner, among others. I related a story to the Lenny about the television show Prison Break in which one of the characters receives a five year sentence for having stolen some baseball cards. What should have been a misdemeanor is bumped up to a felony because the cards included a  Honus Wagner T205 card – considered one of the most rare cards in baseball and valued at over $1,000,000.

At our next stop, boxes and boxes of jerseys lined one wall. Boxes of other artifacts (balls and gloves, etc) lined other walls. We were required to wear gloves (white cotton or disposable) before touching anything. Once again, while we weren’t allowed to simply pull things off the shelves, a series of items had been pulled out for us to explore. Sriram was handed a baseball bat and realized it was the first time he’d ever held one (he grew up with cricket, which has a different style bat). The bat in question was the bat that David Justice used to hit the game winning home run in the 1995 World Series. Not bad for the first bat he’d ever held.

Another bat was presented (I don’t recall whose). It was made of maple (not the traditional ash). Maple bats apparently splinter on contact and break more frequently than ash, so the league requires that they be tested before being used. A new maple bat comes to a player with the following marking.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

If you’re interested in more about the maple bats, I found a great article here.

Lenny picked up the final bat and held it out to me. I took it carefully in my white gloved hands and held it with more reverence than an inanimate object probably deserves. I read the signature – Lou Gehrig. As a Yankees fan, it doesn’t get much better than that. A strange sensation overtook me. Perhaps it was the impact of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that’s currently so popular (which I know I’ve been challenged – I will definitely get to it), but it was really cool holding that bat.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

We moved on to some other items: Ty Cobb’s Shriner’s hat, some memorabilia from the short-lived Federal League (including a medallion that was a “season ticket” that would get you into any Federal League game), Pedro Martinez’s 2004 World Series hat, and a harmonica.

The harmonica in question was presented to NYY Phil Linz after an incident on the team bus in 1964. As the story goes, Linz had been playing the harmonica after a loss. Yogi Berra, who was managing the Yankees at the time, wasn’t pleased with the light-hearted atmosphere and told him to stop. Linz was at the back of the bus and asked what Yogi had said. Mickey Mantle, who loved to stir the pot, relayed back to him, “He said, play louder.” Yogi eventually slapped the harmonica from Linz’s hand. The Yankees later credited that moment with turning their season around, though they did eventually go on to lose the WS to the St. Louis Cardinals in 7.

Finally, we came to a small collection of balls. Within the case, which was closed to light to protect the signatures from fading (note to self: put autographed balls someplace dark), was a series of balls. The first was a ball signed by both Kenny Griffey and Ken Griffey, Jr. The second was a silver plated souvenir ball that the Federal League used to give out. Another ball was signed by the members of the Spalding touring team. The most notable signature being that of Jim Thorpe, considered one of the greatest athletes ever.

The final ball in the series wasn’t a baseball at all. It was a small green, oddly shaped ball. I’d wondered about it since the moment he’d opened the box.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

It turned out that it was a stress ball that belonged to, then Yankees Manager, Joe Torre. During the 1999 season Joe kept two things in his Yankees jacket – a picture of his daughter, and the stress ball. When Joe was inducted into the Hall of Fame (in this year’s class) he donated his 1999 Yankees Manager jacket to his display. The photo was removed from the jacket. The stress ball was left behind. The Hall now keeps it in its collection. An interesting artifact, indeed.

We moved on to a library of sorts. The Hall keeps a folder of newspaper clippings on every player in the game. The folder that was out for our viewing was for a player by the name of Ronald Wade Wright. Never heard of him? I suppose you wouldn’t have. While his pro career lasted eleven seasons, all but on game was played in the minors. The one game he was called up for in 2002 he played as the designated hitter and ultimately struck out, hit into a double play and into a triple play. He was pulled in favor of a pinch hitter at his last at bat and never made it back to the majors. In the article we read, it referenced that he had joked to the effect that despite being responsible for 9 outs, it was the best day of his life.

Also out for us was the 1947 stats ledger. The ledger contains every statistic on every player for the entire season. The ledgers were a wonderfully maintained source that were eventually converted into digital archives by Major League Baseball. Once the project was completed, MLB planned to destroy the books. As explained to us, an unknown MLB employee suggested contacting the Hall to see if they wanted the ledgers. A good save, indeed. Here is the ledger, opened to the page documenting the breaking of the color barrier with Jackie Robinson’s first season.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Other items we saw included a promissory note for the sale of Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees…

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

…and a gold record of the famous Abbott and Costello, Who’s on First? recording.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

We saw so many wonderful things on the impressive behind-the-scenes tour. After completing the guided portion we checked back in with Jackie, who very sweetly gave us a packet of goodies for the road. It was a wonderful experience.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

We entered the main section of the Museum to begin our self-guided exploration, and spent 2 hours exploring parts of the museum. I was thoroughly impressed (and dismayed) by the collection. I feel as though I could have spent days in there and hardly made a dent in seeing the contents contained therein.

We decided to take a break for lunch before heading back for more (the ability to come and go all day is definitely a help). Items in the main collection are more easily accessible to the public, and I tend to take too many pictures anyway, so I won’t bore you with them all here. But after nearly 5 hours taking in the museum, I can definitely say, I’ll go back again to see all that I missed.