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.


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


The American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls


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.


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.


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.


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.




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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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.


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.

Project Adventure: Plan vs. Wild


My husband and I, while agreeing on the big things in life (finances, morals, lifestyle, future goals, etc.), have shockingly little in common when it comes to the day-to-day. Not counting the fact that I grew up just north of Boston, while he grew up a world away in southern India, we are two very different people. We don’t share the same hobbies, nor do we gravitate to the same things. I’m Yankees, he’s Red Sox. He’s a Mac, I’m a PC. He suffers from an inability to sit still, while I could sit on the couch and marathon TV watch for days. I recently had a Firefly marathon, but won’t bother to lament the fact that such genius didn’t take days, even with the Serenity movie included. (I’ll never really forgive Fox for screwing that up…sigh…but I digress). Despite our differences, travel unites us.

Our first real trip consisted of 7 days in Arizona. We spent time in Holbrook (Joe & Aggie’s – BEST. PANCAKES. EVER.), the Grand Canyon, Sedona, and Winslow (where, yes, I stood on a corner). Aside from one day where things went a little wrong, it was that trip that sealed our relationship. Since we both had interest in traveling it was important that we be travel compatible. It was a relief that we were. 5 years later, we have countless successful trips under our belts.

Still, when I’ve talked about our upcoming trip and mentioned that we travel well together, people have repeatedly asked me, “But do you ROAD TRIP well together?” The first few times I was asked the question I mentioned the few local road trips we’ve taken with success. But the more people asked, the more I realized that virtually every trip we’ve taken has been a road trip. That trip to Arizona? We stayed in 5 different hotels in 9 days (including the iconic Rte 66 teepees). Hawaii? 11 total plane rides, 3 islands, and 6 hotels in 11 days. Montana? 6 hotels in 8 days, with 1,000+ miles put on the rental car. I could go on, but I’m sure you see my point. Even when we fly to a new place, we never just land and stay put. Every trip is a road trip. We’ve had lots of practice.

But none of that means that our planning process is similar. We attack travel planning from two totally different directions. He likes to dive straight into the travel books. He recently picked up the newest edition of Moon’s Road Trip USA (after already reading the older version over the previous month) and has been plotting out maps and itineraries. We’re in agreement that our trip has no firm timetable or set locations, but we’ll have a general idea and then see where the wind takes us. But he has numerous potential routes mapped out with potential events marked on a calendar each day. I appreciate his hard work, and have provided input to his planning, but I prefer a more freestyle method.

I’m not even sure when that happened. I used to be the girl that would plan a vacation within an inch of its life. Event tickets were usually purchased 6 months in advance. Every minute was accounted for before my bags were packed. I’d always say I was flexible and willing to change things on the fly, but I hated the thought of landing someplace and not being able to find anything to do. Of course, I never changed anything, but then, I was never left without something to do either. These days, I like knowing a few options and then just letting things fall into place.

So, while my husband is pouring over guide books and maps, I’m taking to social media to find ideas. I have a few Pinterest Boards devoted to our trip. One is camping specific, complete with packing tips and tricks, as well as campfire recipes and dos and don’ts. Another is devoted to fun places we might stop. I’ve pinned many articles with specific routes, quirky attractions, or travel advice. I like knowing I’ll be able to access them as we go.

More recently I’ve given a shout out to all of my Facebook friends looking for suggestions for off-the-beaten-path type places that they’ve encountered on their travels (have had a few good suggestions, but could definitely use more). Places that won’t be in a guide book. Places that I wouldn’t think of. We’ll hit up a lot of National Parks, and historical monuments, but then we’ll also likely hit up more off-beat places like Captain Kirk’s future birth place in Iowa and the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, home to the original buffalo wing (Bonus that I have an old friend in the area. Hopefully a reunion over a plate of wings is in order).

So tell me – what are your best road-tripping, travel tips? Where have you been? What’s your can’t-miss recommendation? Because, where you lead, I “might” follow.