August 27, 2006

Philippines lessons

As I said a couple of posts (and over a month) back, we took a trip to the Philippines for two weeks around the end of July/beginning of August. We travelled with my sister-in-law (Becky's brother's wife) who was born there and lived there until she was 12. We stayed with family and were thoroughly spoiled. We flew from San Francisco to Manila, stayed in Capas in the province of Tarlac, took a brief trip to the island of Boracay by way of Panay, and took a road trip to Pagudpud.

The attentive will have noticed that I got some pictures from the trip up on flickr a couple days ago. It's easiest to look at them from this album which has them in somewhat chronological order. There's some commentary there too.

I wrote a journal during the trip, but I don't think it'd be very interesting to just transcribe it here, so instead, here are 46 things we learned or had affirmed by our foray to the tropics. I could probably write a whole post about any one of these, so if any of them particularly pique your interest, drop me some email (commenting is still down, sorry) and I'll expand. Items are listed roughly in the order they occurred to me while I was reviewing my trip journal.

Your regularly scheduled gloves and cats will return soon.

  1. My new Fisher Space Pen makes me happy
  2. I can survive two weeks without computers
  3. Computers and their attendant systems are ridiculously complicated to use and maintain
  4. My five-year-old niece can be entertained for 10-40 minutes by a Willy Wonka "go fish" card game
  5. Probably would have been better to leave our camera clocks set to Pacific time
  6. Becky is really good at conversing with strangers
  7. Bathroom attendants are more annoying than helpful
  8. Toilet seats are optional
  9. Customs and Immigration aren't worried about us
  10. Having a professional driver to cart you around the Philippines is good
  11. Transportation primarily by car is not universal or optimal
  12. Freight movement primarily by truck is not universal or optimal
  13. Three wheels is good
  14. Chow King is good
  15. Just because you don't see slums doesn't mean there aren't any
  16. Just because someone lives in a slum doesn't mean they don't have clean clothes, a job, electricity, and happiness
  17. Torn plastic bags are the least reclaimable, most insidious component of the waste stream
  18. Rice is still farmed by people with wet feet
  19. The broom is an excellent piece of technology
  20. If your camera's battery charger is electrically omnivorous (like mine is), you don't need to schlep a heavy power transformer halfway around the world to power it (like I did)
  21. Proper plug adapters are good
  22. A fork and a table spoon are sufficient eating cutlery
  23. Covered outdoor living space is good
  24. A sufficient supply of known-safe drinking water makes me happy and should not be taken for granted
  25. Getting up early suits life in the tropics
  26. Jet lag allows night owls to fake being morning people
  27. Ocean beaches with water temperatures above 80 degrees F make me happy
  28. If you're already soaking wet it doesn't matter that it's raining
  29. Having the beach to yourself because it's the off season is good
  30. Having to say "no, thank you" every 20 feet as you walk down the beach because you're the only tourist on the beach to be solicited for boat rides and jewelry and fresh fruit and other things kind of sucks
  31. Sunscreen is good
  32. Unrefrigerated food isn't as deadly as you're led to believe
  33. Never underestimate the drive of a family to feed their guests in grand style
  34. Animals have parts you'd never suspect from eating mainstream American meat
  35. Videoke is kind of cool
  36. A 95% Catholic country can still support lots of other kinds of churches
  37. The US attitude toward pets is not universal
  38. The good electric fans are in the tropics
  39. Humans are fractally diverse
  40. People pictures don't really happen if I'm behind the camera
  41. Car travel is not conducive to photography
  42. In the city, it's easier to forget you're in a "foreign" country
  43. Six-foot-two-inch white guys with long hair and beards have no hope of blending in
  44. Six-foot-two-inch white guys with long hair and beards are sometimes mistaken for Jesus Christ
  45. Also John Lennon
  46. The thing about the sunscreen? Not kidding.
Posted by jeffy at 09:42 PM | Comments (0)

April 10, 2005

Vancouver, BC

We took a short vacation to Vancouver the week before last. We took the Amtrak Cascades from Seattle. It left at 7:30 in the morning which is pretty brutal for us, but the views along the water made it worth the pain.

One of the reasons we went to Vancouver is that we could get there without using a car (this was even back when we still had a car ;-), and Vancouver is dense enough that we could do lots of things without needing a car when we got there. In the end we didn't use any cars or buses on the trip (except for Rachel shuttling us to and from the station in Seattle). We walked just about everywhere and used their Skytrain light rail system to get us from the Amtrak station to within walking distance of our hotel.

We've vacationed in two northwest cities with light rail now (Portland was the first), and every time it makes us wonder why people resist it so much in Seattle. It's a wonderful way to get around. The trains come by every few minutes since they don't have to fight with cars for right of way. That frequency makes them immeasurably better than buses where if you miss your bus you're in for a half-hour wait or even longer especially out here in the suburbs. If you miss your train, you wait five minutes and get on the next one.

Plus, in Vancouver, light rail resulted in this beautiful bridge we saw as we came into the city on the train.

light rail bridge over the Fraser River in Vancouver, BC

We stayed at the Buchan Hotel which is in the West End neighborhood only a few blocks from Stanley Park and 8 or 10 blocks from downtown.

I was excited to stay in the West End since I keep hearing about it as a model of high-density living in the northwest (mostly from Northwest Environment Watch). I've never been anywhere with as many high-rise apartment buildings. All these people living in close proximity has all kinds of good side effects. It makes for a thriving commercial district with uncountable good restaurants, and shops. It makes transit viable so there are numerous bus routes that run frequently making it easy to get places without a car. The transit availability and business proximity make it possible to not even own a car so you need less area devoted to parking and roads, and the whole area gets quieter because there are less engines and tires moving through. It seems non-intuitive to anyone raised in the west that more people can mean fewer cars, but it's true.

Since we were so close to Stanley Park we spent one whole day there. We started off at the Vancouver Aquarium. We happened to be there during spring break so there were some lines to get in, but it was worth the wait. The most unique draw of this aquarium is their Beluga Whales (White arctic whales. The link is to the aquarium's real-time beluga-cam.), but their less flashy exhibits are all top-notch as well.

It was a nice sunny day when we were there (though windy and cold), and these two otters were just basking in the sun. The one on the right is holding on to the other's back foot to keep them rafted together and was in charge of thrashing his tail about to steer them back into the sun when they drifted into the shade.

two sea otters basking in the sun

Another of the attractions of Stanley Park is their collection of First Nations totem poles. Most of them are fairly modern reproductions, but they're a fascinating art form and these are nice examples.

totem poles against Vancouver, BC skyline

Another day we went to the Vancouver Art Gallery. We started off with their current exhibit Real Pictures: Photographs from the collection of Claudia Beck and Andrew Gruft (running through May 29), which has photos spanning the history of photography, over 300 pictures in all. I was all ready to buy the catalog until Becky pointed out the $85 cover price and sticker shock allowed me to escape the building without the big heavy book I would have had to carry home. We also saw their collection Emily Carr: Art, Place, Culture (ongoing) which highlights Carr's later work painting northwest forests and native culture.

On our last day in the city we bought day passes for the light rail and rode around a bit to see some more of the area. Our only major stop was at the Vancouver Public Library Central Branch, which opened in 1995. It's a really cool building. The library itself occupies a rectangle set within an ellipse forming the outer part of the building. All the seating and study areas are in the curvy outer portions of the ellipse with open air galleries running the full seven floors of the building. They have a spiffy self-guided architectural tour of the building (pdf) that we followed. We didn't use the library as patrons would, but based on our wandering around it seemed like a really wonderful library building.

The building complex includes a multi-story office building at one end of the ellipse which houses some government offices. One of the long sections of the ellipse has small shops and food vendors. I was enjoying a hot chocolate from one of those vendors when I took this picture

indoor courtyard outside the entrance to the Vancouver Public Library

The main entrance to the library is just to the right of this shot. We were happy to have a dry place to sit and enjoy a warm drink on this only rainy day of our trip.

We got back to the Amtrak station with plenty of time to catch our train home. Becky bought a book in the station shop which we realized as we were filling out the customs forms was the only thing besides postcards and food that we bought on the whole trip. The immigration check was handled right in the station in Vancouver before we got on the train. For some reason they X-rayed our bags. There was no baggage screen at all leaving Seattle. Then when the train crossed the border at Blaine, WA, the customs check was handled by agents from our Department of Homeland Security who worked their way through the train randomly questioning our trainmates. They barely glanced at our paperwork, just took it and moved on. Maybe it's just the name of the department that made them seem so odious. No matter how polite you are, the presence of a gun on your belt makes you kind of menacing.

We had a great time on our trip and will probably go again. It's a super-easy vacation from Seattle. I really recommend the car-free vacation. It's so much easier to negotiate a new town when you don't have to guide your own vehicle and find a place to put it and pay to park it and worry about it getting broken into. On foot you have the luxury of taking your time and moving through the city at a pace that lets you notice the details and feel the pulse of its life.

Posted by jeffy at 03:33 PM | Comments (1)

October 13, 2003

chronological trip report

I've created a chronological version of our trip to the northeast.

go here:

Posted by jeffy at 01:00 PM | Comments (0)

October 07, 2003


Confession time. From the point that my dad reminded us that Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece house Fallingwater was just a couple of hours from Pittsburgh, our starting and ending point for the trip, we'd been hoping to squeeze in a visit. I checked out their webpage and saw dire warnings that reservations were a near necessity. We barely made reservations for anything on this trip, and even though the day we'd make it there had been fixed from the moment that we started on our clockwise turn around the region, I never managed to get on the phone to them until yesterday outside the Hershey Museum where I was told that their earliest open tour slot was at 2:30pm. That time was completely useless to us since we had to return the rental car at 3:30 and it's a 2-hour drive from the house to the airport. I knew that they had the option of a grounds pass where we'd be able to at least see the exterior of the house, but we figured we'd try to get there as early as we could in the hopes of slipping into a tour if there were cancellations.

Got up bright and early. Loading the car was super easy with only four bags instead of our usual 6 or 8. We backtracked over the territory we'd covered the night before in search of a motel and got to the Fallingwater park right at their supposed opening time of 10am. At the admission booth I told my tale of woe and asked whether it might be possible to sneak into a tour group without a reservation. They said that it was possible and probably only about 45 minutes away. Yay!

We put our names on the standby list at the desk and read through the exhibit about the house at the visitor center. The visitor center is kind of a cool structure in its own right. It's a big grid of hexagonal platforms held up on concrete pillars so that it sort of hovers over the landscape. It had a nice feel of being there, but not interfering with the site, which fits very well with the mission of the operating organization.

We figured we had to leave by 1pm at the latest so we were a little worried, but apparently a tour bus cancelled out because they had a completely empty tour group that we and the rest of the standbys filled up. It's a five-minute walk from the visitor center to the house itself. The last part of the walk is along the original drive to the house. We ended up on the bridge across the stream whose falls give the house its name. Here we were met by our tour guide.

Fallingwater viewed from the drivewayThe house was commissioned by Edgar J. Kaufmann and his wife to serve as a vacation spot. The waterfall was one of their favorite parts of the property and they asked Wright to design a home for the site. Wright was in his late 60s when he designed the house and integrated all of his experience into the project. Rather than place the house in a position to view the waterfall, he put it right on top of the falls. There is actually no view of the falls from within the house, it can only be seen from the terraces and then only by looking straight down over their edges. The sound of the water is omnipresent.

The Kaufmanns had one son, Edgar Jr. who lived until 1989, but the family's wish was that the house should never be sold, but be given into the public trust for enjoyment by everyone. To this end, the land, the house, and all its contents were given to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy on Junior's death.

On the tour (no photography inside the house again, though they do offer a 2-hour extended tour on which photography for personal use is allowed) you walk through all the rooms and terraces in the main living areas of the house. If the house weren't such a marvel, it would be worth the tour just to view the Kaufmanns' art collection which includes works by Picasso, Diego Rivera, and many other notables. Wright actually consulted with the family on appropriate locations for much of the art.

It was really thrilling to go through the house in person. I've seen multiple tv programs on the house over the years, but there's no substitute for seeing it with your own eyes. Everything is both bigger and smaller than it seems on tv. Many of the rooms in the house are small so that when filming, wide-angle lenses are used which make the rooms look much larger. Fallingwater from downstreamThe actual scale of the house is very human. Each room feels like it should be lived in. The architecture, dramatic as it is, fades into the background and you are drawn through the space. In the rooms with terraces, it's almost as if you're pulled physically to and through the doorway and onto the terrace. But the rooms themselves have a gravity that calls out for you to linger and live in them. It's almost like magic, really. I think my only regret of the tour is that there is never the opportunity to sit in a room and just be in it.

When our tour was over we were getting close to our departure time so we buzzed through the gift shop (lots of crap, but they did have some interesting looking books and cool (and expensive!) reproductions of some of the light fixtures from Fallingwater and some of Wright's other buildings.)

We grabbed some lunch for the road and headed out. 381 north to 711 west to 119 north to 76 north to 376 and west into Pittsburgh. We attempted to go to Point State Park which is on the point between the Allegheny River and the Monongahela where they join to form the Ohio. We overshot and went across the Allegheny on the Fort Duquesne Bridge then we went to the Steelers' stadium where Becky asked a gentleman for directions which he gave (lots of right turns and one surprise left) and we followed, going back across the Roberto Clemente Bridge and into sight of the park where we choked and overshot again, this time going straight into a minor traffic jam on the Ft. Pitt Bridge across the Monongahela.

Time was running out so we decided to drop back and punt, heading on to the airport. Filled the car up with gas, and ditched it back at the rental drop off. Checked in for our flight and shepherded our checked bags through x-ray (little bottles of maple syrup look suspicious on x-ray, FYI). Got all our carry-on bags and our persons through the security checkpoint and took the train out to the concourse. We had an absurd amount of time before our flight so we hiked out the moving sidewalk all the way to the end of the terminal just to see what was there, then grabbed some snacks and sat at a table in a food area. Becky wrote some postcards and I started yesterday's writeup (wrote this one back at home in Issaquah).

The flight back was uneventful, and Rachel met us outside baggage claim and brought us home to our kitties.

Posted by jeffy at 03:31 PM | Comments (0)

October 06, 2003

Hershey, PA

When we arrived in Hershey, it was Sunday evening and the factory was not working. When we left the motel this morning, work was on and you could tell by the fact that the whole town smelled of chocolate. Strongly. Becky kept kind of spacing out from the pungency of her favorite aroma.

How could Becky resist going to Curves in Hershey? We found our way to the local Curves (on Chocolate Avenue), and to no one's particular surprise, it turned out to be the biggest one Beck had ever been in with the full complement of 12 machines and very active use. I sat in the car and wrote yesterday's log. It's gotten harder and harder to get them written the same day they happen as the trip has gone on. This one is actually being written in the Pittsburgh airport as we wait (and wait and wait) for our boarding time to arrive for the flight home.

After Curves, we went to Chocolate World, the visitor center of the Hershey Corporation. Here we took the simulated factory tour ride complete with piped in aroma of chocolate. The walkway to the ride had displays about the growing of cocoa and its processing before it's shipped to the Hershey plant. At the end of the ride we got a little sample of Mr. Goodbar bites, which were yummy. The ride lets out into a gargantuan gift shop with various fresh chocolate-oriented products as well as glassware and t-shirts and other stuff with Hershey products emblazoned across them. We managed to restrict our consumption to a bag of dark chocolate kisses, some chocolate-filled caramels, and some postcards.

There was no opportunity to ask questions on the "tour", so I went to the Chocolate World Information Boothinformation desk and asked why the recipe is so different for Canadian KitKat bars vs. the inferior product sold in the US. The woman working the desk looked a little startled and said "I've never heard that question before!" She wasn't able to answer it either, but gave me a phone number for their Nutritional/Consumer Information hotline (1-800-468-1714). I haven't called them yet.

The other thing we got at the gift complex was the day's milkshake special, a Special Dark shake. Oh. My. God. Serious religious experience milkshake. Yum.

Right next to Curves we had noticed a hoagie restaurant called South Philly Hoagies and decided to get a cheesesteak figuring Hershey is close enough to Philly for authenticity. We split a small (12 inches long) with mushrooms and were both stuffed therefrom. Good stuff too.

Hershey Public LibraryHershey Public LibraryOh, I forgot that in between Curves and Chocolate World we went to the Hershey Public Library. As you might expect from such a prosperous and civic-minded burg, it was a big new facility with an impressive collection and what seems to be an active Friends group.

Before leaving Hershey we wanted to see the Hershey Museum. The other thing in town is a Hershey-themed amusement park with multiple roller coasters and other rides. It seemed to be shut down while we were there, but we still had to negotiate our way through the extensive parking and queueing areas to get within walking distance of the museum.

Chocolate World was free (as long as you resisted the multitude of commercial temptations), but the museum was $6.50 a head. The museum details the building of Milton Hershey's chocolate fortune and various events in the history of the company and town that he created. The museum also shows some of the treasures that the family accumulated. Hershey seems to have been a collector of collections so he'd buy a collection of clocks or a collection of Pennsylvania Mennonite or German items or Native American artifacts. I was hoping for a little bit more about the social aspects of the company and town. The town was basically engineered as a Hershey company town, so fit in well with the semi-utopian theme of some of the other stops on our trip, the Women's rights convention site in Seneca Falls, the Canterbury Shaker Village, and the Transcendentalist concentration in Concord. Unfortunately, there was very little in the exhibits about this aspect of Hershey's work. Or rather there were a number of statements about how he planned things with his workers in mind, but very little about how it actually worked and works in practice.

From the museum we headed west once again, getting back on the Pennsylvania Turnpike to make time towards our final tourist destination of the trip. We hit Somerset where there were a bunch of motels right on the freeway, but we continued on through hoping to find something farther off the beaten track and maybe closer to Fallingwater. Well, it turns out that Fallingwater is way out in the middle of nowhere and there really isn't anything very close to it so we actually ended up going past it and getting a motel (the Blue Mountain Inn if I remember correctly) 15 or 20 miles away in Hopwood.

We spent the evening watching television (caught The Big Lebowski halfway through, then hung around to watch "The Daily Show", but, my gosh, there's a whole lot of crap and advertising. I forget how bad it is in between these occasional binges on trips). But while watching we also worked on getting all of our stuff back into bags that could be successfully checked or carried onto the airplane. We brought a big suitcase with us and packed inside it a second suitcase and a collapsible ice chest for food on the road. Most of the increase in volume was due to the mountain of flyers and pamphlets and maps and guide books and postcards and things that Becky or I (mostly Becky. I call her the paper magnet.) had collected along the way. We actually managed to keep the purchased paraphernalia pretty limited on this trip. Maple candy, the stuff from Hershey's, a few books. We managed to get it all apportioned to two checkable bags and two carry-ons.

Posted by jeffy at 02:59 PM | Comments (0)

October 05, 2003

On the road in CT, NY, NJ, and PA

We're continuing in head-back-to-the-barn mode here at the tail end of the trip. That coupled with the fact that we didn't have a whole lot of destinations in mind between Connecticut and Pittsburgh means we're spending more time on the road these last few days.

Today, from Cheshire, CT, we took 70 to I-84 into NY and across the Hudson all the way to Port Jervis on the other side of the state (the lower part of it anyway. Getting across the whole state of NY in its midsection is more than a few hours). Port Jervis is right at the corner of NJ, PA, and NY. We had breakfast there at Arlene and Tom's Diner where the food and service were quite acceptable, but the music was simply dreadful (muzak versions of pop classics. Ugh.)

We crossed the Delaware on 209 south to Milford, PA, then crossed the Delaware again into New Jersey on 206. 206 took us all the way down to I-80 at Stanhope, NJ then I-80 across the Delaware again into Pennsylvania, then south on 33 from Stroudsburg down to I-78.

New Jersey was a new state for both of us. Not that just driving through it really counts as a visit. We pulled off at a couple of scenic overlooks off the freeway. The first wasn't very scenic as the trees seemed to have grown up since they created it. NE New Jersey sceneryThe second had a nice view of an interesting geologic formation. The highway went right through that gap when we continued. I think that was on I-80.

The landscape of central Pennsylvania is extremely dramatic. You can tell this even looking at a map. There are all these sharp ridges in parallel curves across the state like ripples. I-76 cuts across the ridges and has several mile-long tunnels to get through the ones that don't have convenient breaks. It's beautiful country, but it's hard to get a picture of it that tells its story.

Our destination in PE was the town of Hershey, home of the chocolate company. We got in pretty early and got situated in the Cocoa Motel just south of town. While driving we'd heard a review of the movie School of Rock on Fresh Air along with an interview with its star, Jack Black. The theatre in Hershey was playing the movie so we went to dinner (at Froggie's, a sports bar and grill that makes a pretty good burger (and showed signs of being a chain, but since we'd never seen one and weren't sure it was a chain we decided it didn't violate our no-chains pact)) and saw the flick (at the Cocoaplex on Cocoa Avenue just a long block from our motel). The movie wasn't quite as good as the gushing review we heard, but it was cute and fun. It was also fun watching all the fidgety teenagers who shared the theatre with us. It was actually one of the better-behaved movie audiences we've encountered recently.

The other thing we did on the road was to finish listening to the audio book of The Bad Beginning, the first volume in Lemony Snicket's "A Series of Unfortunate Events". This first book is read (or rather performed) by Tim Curry and his voicing of these characters is a hoot. I'll write a separate review of the book (School of Rock too), but suffice it to say that the doom and gloom of the title is entirely accurate. The book starts off with dire warnings about the fact that it details extremely unpleasant events in the lives of three small children and is not redeemed by a happy ending. This is no joke. (Kate, don't even think about reading this book!) I haven't decided yet whether the witty presentation, great characters, and page-turner-ness of the book is enough for me to want to read about further disasters in the continuing volumes.

Posted by jeffy at 11:06 PM | Comments (0)

October 04, 2003

Concord, MA

The StromgrensToday we bid adieu to Ann and Jeannie and John. And I keep forgetting Spencer!Spencer lamenting the mass exodus

We're starting to reach the end of this trip. We're running out of time, but we're also running out of energy. It's been a lot of time on the road and hunting lodging every day and seeing cool sites (and sights), and we're tired.

So we looked at our map and evaluated where we might get the best bang for our spiritual buck. The answer: Concord, Massachusetts.

Concord must be some kind of historical harmonic convergence zone.

We started at the Concord Museum. Here we learned about the various events and personages that distinguish the area.

The first is the Old North Bridge, the site of one of the first skirmishes of the Revolutionary War. It was this bridge that witnessed the first colonial victory in that war. The British were in Lexington and Concord to search for a supposed cache of weapons of mass... well, they thought there were weapons and supplies to support the colonial rebellion. They didn't find the weapons, but they did find some pissed off colonists. War never really changes all that much, you know?

Concord's other main claim to fame is that it was home to The Transcendentalists. Alcott, Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, all lived and worked there. Walden Pond is a mile from town.

Replica of Thoreau's Walden Pond CabinThe museum has a replica of Thoreau's cabin on the grounds. I paced off 14 feet by 9 feet with a door in one short wall and a fireplace on the other, and windows in the long walls. Pretty nice, actually.

The other thing at the museum while we were there was an exhibit called "Degrees of Latitude" consisting of a bunch of maps from the collection of Colonial Williamsburg showing the progression of the mapping of the new world. I was especially amused by a couple of maps that showed the eastern colonies with their north and south borders extended in a straight line off the western side of the page as if to say "we don't know what's out there, but it's all ours."

Becky contemplating the Alcott homeFrom the museum we went to Orchard House, the home of the Alcott family. Patriarch of the family was Bronson, Transcendentalist and educator, but the most famous was to be his daughter Louisa whose memoir thinly veiled as novel, Little Women was a huge success as soon as it was published in 1868. The girls in the novel correspond to the Alcott girls with eldest Anna being Meg in the book, Louisa herself being Jo, Elizabeth as Beth, and May as Amy.

The house is open for tours and has a gift shop. The tour begins with a video giving background on the family and the book, pointing out all the places where art diverged from life. After the video, the tour moved from kitchen to dining room to parlor to Louisa's room to May's room to the parents' room and finished in Bronson's study. The house is furnished in the style it must have been back when the Alcotts lived there, and contains numerous items that were actually owned by the family.

Many of the more visible touches left by the Alcott family were those left by May. May was the visual artist in the family and drew on the walls and windowsills and breadboards. When Louisa made a fortune with her book, she spent part of it sending May to Europe to study art, and much of the work she did there has found its way back to the house and is on display in the tour. My favorite piece is a kind of mural painted on the beam from which Louisa's original writing desk is cantilevered. The painting shows calla lilies and nasturtiums twining up the column lending an air of summer to the room where Louisa did her writing.

One of the more interesting divergences between the book and the Alcotts' lives is that their father was not the one to serve in the Civil War. That duty actually fell to Louisa herself who served as a nurse in that conflict.

From Orchard House we went to Sleepy Hollow cemetery where we viewed the graves of all these people. Didn't see any headless horsemen.

the Thoreau family plot.  Henry's has the stuff on it the Alcott family plot.  Louisa's is the one with the flag recognizing her service in the Civli War. Emerson is planted under that big old rock.  The lettering on the plaque is worn away to illegibility. Writer Hill at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

A whole busload of tourists on the old north bridgeThen on to the Old North Bridge where the residents of Concord have placed a number of memorials to that skirmish, the most conspicuous of which is the statue of a minuteman sculpted by Daniel Chester French (famous also for the Lincoln Memorial in DC).French's statue of a Concord Minuteman French actually has a link back to the Alcott family: his first art lessons came from May Alcott, Louisa's artistic sister!

Finally we took a spin past Walden Pond. We probably would have stopped, but they wanted $5 to park and we could see from the road that it was, indeed, a pond, and it was getting on towards 5pm so we skipped town without even stopping in to the Walden Pond gift shop, though we did snicker about the existence of such a thing. What would Henry have thought?

From Concord we headed west on 2, south on 495, south on 290, west on 20, west on 84, and south on 10 passing through Worcester, MA and Hartford, CT before ending up in Cheshire, CT at the Welcome Inn. We ate the salads that we got at the Hannaford grocery store salad bar in Portsmouth this morning and finished our day with two pieces of carrot cake from the kitchen of Jeannie, Ann, and John. Yum!

Posted by jeffy at 10:29 PM | Comments (0)

October 03, 2003

Strawbery Banke

This is the only day of the whole trip where we weren't travelling. Our main tourist destination in Portsmouth, NH was Strawbery Banke.

In the 1950s, the Puddle Dock neighborhood of Portsmouth was slated for "Urban Renewal" which meant knocking down all the old houses and erecting apartment buildings. History buffs in the city rallied and managed to save the area as a historical park.

There seems to have been extensive, rigorous, and tedious archaeology performed to bring the various buildings and archives back to certain periods in time. The area had been constantly reworked and remodelled over the decades of its existence (the original settlement was in the 17th century), so rather than bringing the whole area back to a single period, they have concentrated on representing certain periods with each house as appropriate.

The Sherburne House shows 17th century construction techniques by highlighting the remaining portions of the original structure. The Shapiro house shows it as it was in the early 19th century when it was inhabited by an immigrant Jewish family. The Shapley-Drisco House shows the abode of a 17th century sea trader side by side with the 1950s household that it became 200 years later. A building that had served as a general store in WWII has been restored to its condition in that era, complete with shelves stocked with reproductions of the products available at that time. There are a couple dozen more buildings all with different focuses.

Many of the houses have docents whom we found to be uniformly well-informed and helpful with questions. Some of them were in character for the site with canned speeches, but even those were very natural and eager to interact with visitors.

There are also various gardens on the site, including an herb garden and a WWII Victory Garden.

The parts I personally enjoyed the most were the Lowd House, where they had displays of the tools used by various trades including cutaway displays of furniture construction, but the best of all was the Dinsmore Shop where a gentleman who works on the site as a cooper (maker of barrels and other stave-built objects like buckets) was out splitting red oak with a froe and talking to the people who came by. It was great fun to watch him work and talk about the wood he was working with and the process and history of barrel-making. Hand tool cooperage was basically dead as a craft by the mid- to late-19th century with automation taking the place of the craftsmen who had provided storage and shipping containers for centuries.

I didn't take any pictures at Strawbery Banke (at least none worth posting here) since they discourage indoor photography and there wasn't much to the buildings themselves to my eye. Plus my batteries were all dead.

We returned to Ann & John & Jeannie's place for another lovely meal and evening of conversation.

Posted by jeffy at 10:13 PM | Comments (0)

October 02, 2003

Canterbury Shaker Village

It was co-o-o-old out this morning! We left the Pilgrim Inn and headed off on a Curves hunt. If you find yourself in Plymouth, NH, beware that their traffic circle requires people on the circle to yield to people entering instead of the other way around. Very odd, very dangerous. Anyway, we found the Curves after negotiating the curves. I sat out in the car and read (re-read, actually) Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep. I had to start the car and run the heat to keep from turning into a popsicle, though.

Last night we decided that today we would go to Canterbury Shaker Village, and if we had time go on to Concord, NH before heading to Portsmouth to see our friends John and Jeannie and their multi-talented daughter Ann.

The last practicing Shaker to live in Canterbury died a number of years ago so the place is more of a time capsule of what it was like when there were Shakers than an actual living community.

Canterbury Shaker Village, NHThe site is operated as a non-profit museum and education center. We took the "Shaker story tour" which was a good overview of the history and beliefs of the group. They're another one of those religious orders based on a divine revelation to a single charismatic person, in this case Ann Lee who had a vision of a heaven on Earth consisting of men and women living to worship and work in preparation for Christ's second coming. A vision of men and women living together in celibacy. There were a number of questions on the tour about how they expected their ranks to grow if they weren't going to procreate. The answer was that the grew through recruiting whole families, and by taking in orphans.

Despite the staid image the celibate community implies, their worship practices sound to have been particularly raucous with speaking in tongues and singing and dancing. All with men and women separate, but still it sounds like they had some fun.

The group was amazingly progressive for its time and for a fringe religious order of any time. The governing of the community was conducted by elders, both men and women. They accepted members of all races. This is in a community founded in 1780!

The Shakers were also no Luddites. Their mission was "Hands to work, hearts to God," and any modern convenience that would make their work in God's name more productive, they adopted. They were the first in the area to have electricity, the first with telephones, the first to have automobiles. They're credited with many inventions related to the automation of work including the modern industrial-size washing machine. Flower garden at CanterburyThis particular village made much of its living in the production of medicinal herbs in dried, seed, and pill form which they sold by mail order to customers all over the world.Becky check's out the Canterbury vegetable garden

But while they changed their methods of work with the times, the growth of their communities failed as times changed. Now, the Shakers are nearly extinct. They leave behind a legacy of their way of life preserved in museums like this, and an enduring design sensibility in furniture and other useful crafts.

The Canterbury Shaker Village has a number of buildings with rooms arrayed as they would have been when the village was at its height with furniture, clothing, and other artifacts available for viewing. They also have some craftspeople on site demonstrating some of the work that the group did including broom making, spinning and weaving, gardening, building. They seem to have been fairly rigorous about reconstructing buildings in the way that they were built originally, right down to using the same kinds of materials gathered on the site. newly-raised barn at CanterburyIn particular they had recently rebuilt an old barn when we were there and all the lumber they used was harvested from trees on the site. It's almost shocking to see 2-foot-wide boards in use in construction in this day and age.

My only gripe about the site, and it's a mild one, is that they don't allow any photography inside the buildings so I was unable to capture the interesting furniture they had on display. I was able, of course, to buy a book in the gift shop showing representative designs, but it's just not the same as having a visual reminder of a specific piece you've actually been in the same room with.

In addition to the story tour, there are a number of other tours investigating other aspects of Shaker life more deeply. You could easily spend a whole day here.

We headed off towards Portsmouth on highway 4 where we were able to spend our first night in a private home since our trip started. Conversation, entertainment, a wonderful meal, a real bed, and high speed internet access. Bliss!

Posted by jeffy at 09:54 PM | Comments (2)

October 01, 2003

The Kank

Today saw us driving back across Maine and into central New Hampshire.

We started at Bucksport on highway 1 west, then 3 then I-495 at Augusta and wiggled about west of Lewiston (202 to 122 to 26 to 11 to 302 into Conway), then 112, which is the Kancamagus Highway through the White Mountain National Forest. From there we took I-93 south to Plymouth, NH.

Frankly it's all a blur.

I know that we saw some fine forested coastal areas in Eastern Maine.

I recall Becky marvelling over the innovation at the paper mill that keeps it from being at all smelly such that you'd never guess there was a paper mill there.

We stopped at one antique tool store in Maine that was sadly only open Thursday through Sunday, and another that was open and having a sale, but didn't offer up anything I couldn't live without.

We drove back and forth and back and forth through the town of Conway looking for a place that wanted us to eat there, and miraculously ended up in probably the most convivial place we could have. The Chinook Cafe is named not for the Northwest Indian tribe of that name or the salmon species named for the indians, but instead for Chinook the dog who belonged to Admiral Byrd. This dog was brought to their attention due to the fact that some highway in New Hampshire is named after the dog. Or something like that. This is all from Becky's sketchy, low blood sugar recollection of the story on the menu. In any event, the cafe is a place with unique natural food and an extensive tea and coffee menu. Their molasses ginger and oatmeal raisin cookies are world class. On the minus side, they have established to Becky's satisfaction that a shot of espresso introduced to a quantity of steamed chocolate milk is not a mocha.

They had a poster for an upcoming performance in the area by David Wilcox. We saw Wilcox at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle this summer as the opener for Suzanne Vega, and while that was decidedly not the ideal venue for his performance style, it was enough to show us that we'd like to see him in a more intimate setting. But anyway, the poster pointed out that the show was co-sponsored by the Chinook Cafe and the local radio station, WMWV whose signal we invited into our vehicle with considerable enjoyment as we departed on the next leg of the day's journey.

Conway is the gateway to the Kancamagus Highway (referred to as "The Kank" by locals if the woman who told us that is to be believed ;-) which runs through the White Mountain National Forest. It is a notorious locale for observing "the foliage", and, indeed, many "leaf peepers" were in evidence. Unfortunately it seemed like "the peak" has not yet occurred, so while there are quite a lot of trees with bright reds and oranges and yellows, the overall effect on distant hillsides is more subdued than the endless postcards and posters lead one to expect. Color along the KancamagusBut as I've said before and will undoubtedly say again, we didn't come for the color, but for the experience of areas we've not seen before. The Kank is a beautiful drive regardless of the color of the leaves. It parallels a mountain river that rushes over granite boulders between wooded banks. There are many camp grounds, hiking trails, and viewing points along the way. We stopped to hike a quarter mile through light rain showers to Sabbaday Falls (named for its discoverers' habit of returning to visit on the Sabbath). We tried to take a picture of the two of us kissing in front of these falls as requested by Becky's sister Rachel, but as they were not especially wide or tall in extent, and as my arms are not long enough to hold the camera far enough away to keep our heads from completely filling the frame, our success was limited.

kiss picture attempt #1 kiss picture attempt #2 kiss picture attempt #3 kiss picture attempt #4

Plymouth, New Hampshire is the home of the aptly named Plymouth State University, a fact we became aware of when we found ourselves driving through the campus on our nightly rambling search for suitable lodging. The campus looks agreeable, and they're playing host to a show by David Sedaris, one of the funniest people alive, on Saturday.

We're in a cottage at the Pilgrim Inn and Cottages, and once again are without a phone. (Last night's place had phones but also had dire warnings about the phone system being incompatible with use by computers with modems.) I am now so far behind on posting these missives to the blog that I will never die.

Posted by jeffy at 09:35 PM | Comments (1)

September 30, 2003


To their credit, the Lucerne Inn was gracious about accepting our early departure. They offered another room when Becky told them we were leaving due to excessive noise. There were so many other things that bugged us that we declined.

We headed east on 1A towards Ellsworth in search of Curves since we weren't able to find one yesterday. A check of the phone book showed that there was one on Main Street. We figured we wouldn't have any trouble finding Main Street, but we were mistaken. 1A has seen extensive development of endless strip malls and there's hardly any signage for any of the original streets in the town. After a couple of u-turns (my specialty) we did get there and I was able to whip into a parallel parking space just a few feet from the door. While B did her workout I browsed a nearby toy store and a slightly-less-close-by used book store. Didn't buy anything, though I was tempted by a Bendo on clearance at the toy store.

From Curves we continued down on 1A and then 3 over the bridge onto Mt. Desert Island and on into the town of Bar Harbor. There were a whole lot of people there! We thought on a Tuesday it'd be pretty dead, but the joint was jumping with people walking around all over the place and other people driving around all over the place. We got out of there pretty quick. On the road out of town we went right past the Jackson Laboratory which Rachel specifically asked us to take a look at. It looked like a lab, Rach. (They breed lab rats there so it probably smells like rat food all the time.) Sorry, enough private jokes. Shortly after seeing the lab we stumbled onto an entrance to Acadia National Park.

Acadia Park is scattered across parts of a couple of big islands, a handful of tiny ones, and a mainland peninsula. The largest contiguous part is on Mt. Desert Island and our travels today took us through only about half of that. It's a big park. The island is called Mount Desert because some explorer guy saw its glacier-scalped summit and thought it looked like a desert up there. It's not as bare as all that. The whole island is heavily wooded, but as it's also largely exposed granite and other stone, there are stretches of bare patch as well. After a couple of days of rain, it was beautiful and clear today, perfect for appreciating the varied terrain of the park.

Becky communing with the Atlantic Ocean
We started off at Sand Beach, and you can guess what happened there. Jeff and Becky at Sand Beach in Acadia National ParkA nice gentleman offered to take our picture so you get proof that I'm actually on the trip and haven't been replaced by some imposter. Half-a-mile around the park loop road from Sand Beach we found a nice rocky beach that's more what I think of as the ideal ocean experience. This is no doubt from my childhood visits to the rocky Northern California coast, which this strongly resembles except for the completely different kinds of rock. Jeff communing with the Atlantic OceanThe sound of this beach was really cool. When the waves were going out, the stones would bounce and churn against each other. Rocky beach at Acadia National ParkImagine you're rolling half a dozen marbles around in your mouth. Now imagine that the marbles are the size of your head (and your mouth is commensurately larger!), that's the sound of this beach.

We stopped for a snack from our stores at a picnic area where we had to fight off ferocious chipmunks. I didn't take the camera there, but you know what chipmunks look like. These had a wicked gleam in their eyes that said they'd happily kill us for the nuts we were eating. They reminded me of monkey pox-infected groundhogs, only smaller and cuter.

Bar Harbor, ME from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National ParkRefueled, we decided to make the drive up to the top of Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the island at 1,530 feet. The view from up there was spectacular.

We took a drive over to one of the other towns on the island and did a little shopping (very little), then headed back to the mainland.

We headed west (woohoo!) on highway 1 and fetched up in the town of Bucksport where a motorlodge set back from the road caught our eyes. Pricetag: $62 with tax and an end unit to boot. The walls are as thin as those at the Lucerne, but at this price point, it's a lot easier to take. The owner suggested a restaurant so we went to MacLeod's and split the two seafood specials. One was haddock in a very light pesto sauce, the other a combination of shrimp, scallops, and haddock in a cream sauce. Both were yummy. The scallops in particular were cooked perfectly and delicious. Becky had raspberry shortcake and I had lemon meringue pie. We split a half carafe of a nice Chilean Merlot/Cab. Total bill including tip: $65. A wonderful dinner and a night's stay for $20 less than last night's lame motel.

We were feeling stuffed so we took a stroll up the street and saw that there was a book store in town. Much to our surprise, it was still open (M-F 9-8). The store is called "BookStacks" and has an impressive selection of books and a mindboggling array of magazines plus a bookstore cat in training (cute little polydactyl kitten I had fun playing with). It turned out that the owner was sitting right across from us at the restaurant with his family and came into the store after us.

So, Becky's favorite kind of beach, my favorite kind of beach, lovely scenery, a decent motel room, a delicious meal, and a fine bookstore. Not too shabby a day for our fourteenth anniversary.

Posted by jeffy at 08:55 PM | Comments (0)

September 29, 2003

St. Johnsbury, VT

So the Holiday Motel turned out to be not $79, but $92! Apparently Becky misheard the clerk last night. It was okay, but we've had better for far less and certainly with far less attitude.

We started off the day at the recently-relocated visitor's center for the town of St. Johnsbury. Today was actually their first day in what appears to have been a train depot. The gentleman working the desk was quite helpful.

Our first site of interest was the Fairbanks Museum. The Fairbanks family made big bucks in the scale business (you know, those things they use to weigh stuff) back in the middle 1800's after one of them invented the platform scale. I wish I could tell you more about why the platform scale was such a big deal, or how it worked, but the part of this museum dedicated to the Fairbanks cash cow is woefully lacking in details.

Fortunately the bulk of the museum is dedicated to showing the immense collection of stuff the family accumulated with all that scale money. There's an extensive array of stuffed birds from South American hummingbirds to an enormous albatross. Most are presented alone, but some are in elaborate dioramas and one impressive "tree" (third picture below) which was evidently a uniquely Victorian display strategy.

cardinal or Don King?A whole batch of little brown jobs Victorian bird tree.  There's even a pair of passenger pigeons Description of the bird tree

The other artifacts on display include a smattering of primitive items from various indigenous cultures of the world, a small mineral collection, a small but wonderful selection of Japanese netsuke carvings, an array of children's toys including some doll furniture supposedly made by Mark Twain, Doll furniture made by Mark Twain?!a fair number of swords and daggers, a display of Civil War stuff, and on and on. Anybody who thinks stuff accumulation is a late 20th century phenomenon hasn't been to this place!

The building is an artifact in its own right with finely crafted wooden interior and an exterior festooned with arches and towers made from limestone and red sandstone.

If all that isn't enough, there's also a planetarium (only in action on weekends this time of year, alas) and working meteorology lab.

There's currently an exhibit of photographs by Zeva Oelbaum. She found a Victorian botanical journal in an antique shop and photographed the pages in an interesting multi-layered extension of the work of the young botanist who created the original journal. I didn't take any pictures in there (couldn't take another layer of indirection without having my head explode), but I'm sure there's examples on the artist's website, and the whole exhibit is available in a book that seems to be following us home.

Anyway, it's an extremely cool museum and well worth a visit if any of that stuff sounds interesting. Bright orange bracket fungusPlus there's a bright orange bracket fungus on one of the trees outside.

After the museum we headed East on highway 2 and stopped in for the factory tour at Maple Grove Farms of Vermont, one of the largest distributors of maple syrup. The tour consists of a video about the maple syrup making process followed by a walk through the bottling room and the maple candy making facility (sorry, no pictures of me in my hair and beard net) The inevitable gift shop offers samples of the four different grades of maple syrup they produce and the opportunity to buy all their various and sundry products as well as all the other normal tourist kitsch. It's a quick tour and worth the $1 charge.

Last night we decided that we'd head straight up to Bangor, Maine within striking distance of Acadia National Park, so we headed east on highway 2. We saw some of the brightest foliage (a word that gets tossed around a lot in conversation in this corner of the country this time of year) of the trip so far on this drive across northern New Hampshire and central Maine.

I haven't taken a lot of countryside pictures on the trip. One reason for that is that I don't feel like you can really capture a sweeping vista with a 35mm lens, at least not without doing a panoramic mosaic, but also because I haven't been able to figure out how to compose a picture that captures the terrain we've been seeing. All this area from NY through VT, NH, and ME has been kind of softly crumpled, thickly wooded hills. There are very few hard edges, everything is blanketed with trees. It's lovely country, but nothing has been catching my photographer's eye (such as it is) white birches and autumn leavesBecky did take these shots of a stretch that was just thick with white birches, which are especially striking with the fall colors.

Maine is a big state, so it was a long drive to get to Bangor.

Becky's been carrying around a New England country inns book from the library and we decided to make reservations at one last night, so this morning Beck called and reserved a room at The Lucerne Inn. Our wedding anniversary is Tuesday (the 30th) so we thought we'd splurge and stay two nights at a nicer place. This one is charging us $140 a night. On the plus side, the furniture in the room is quite attractive with a four-post bed, comfortable reading chairs and classy artwork on the walls. The view out the window across the grounds to a nearby lake and the wooded hills beyond was very nice before it got too dark to see. Free local calls, and inside Bangor's local calling area so I can get to my ISP. But for $140, we expected a little more and certainly didn't expect to hear the TV from the rooms next door or every step the person in the room above us takes. We didn't expect the room to be a typical hotel room with slightly fancier furniture. We didn't expect the bathroom to be less than spotlessly clean. Add to this all the fancy crap we didn't want in the first place like whirlpool tub (with illogically placed jets) and heated towel racks (which don't actually work) and gas fireplace (with timed switch that ticks loudly the whole time the thing is on). We made reservations for two nights, but we won't be staying past tonight.

The last couple of nights' less-than-stellar accommodation experiences have led us to think about what we really want out of a motel room vs. what we expect to pay. We might put that in a later entry.

Posted by jeffy at 07:16 PM | Comments (1)

September 28, 2003

Quechee Gorge

We had a wonderfully peaceful night in our cottage with all the windows open and the wind whispering through the trees. It started raining early this morning and kept up all day long with pretty heavy fall, about 2-1/4 Seattle normal (a measure I just created in my head).

We spent most of the day in the car. We drove south on highway 7 to Rutland, then east on highway 4 through Woodstock and on to Quechee (pronounced Kwee-chee).

Quechee is home to one of three Simon Pearce glassblowing studios. The site is an old grist mill that Pearce bought and converted to generate electricity with a hydroelectric turbine. Currently the site's electric glass furnaces are run from the power generated there with the excess being sold back to the local utility company. There are glass blowers and pottery turners working on the site so the tourists can watch them before they go upstairs and buy stuff. The products are quite attractive, but overpriced by at least 50% to my eye. The glass work in particular is all clear glass which I really liked in sharp contrast to the Seattle area's Chihuly-influenced unbounded riot of colors. I got a bad vibe from the place, though. Something about the mass-production methods coupled with individual craftsman pricing combined with the over-the-top self-promotion (Simon Pearce's name appears countless times) and the whole retail outlet as tourist attraction thing (a tour bus stopped in while we were there) all rubbed me the wrong way. Of course it could just be that I hadn't eaten yet.

Looking down into Quechee GorgeQuechee's other claim to fame is Quechee Gorge, a narrow gorge 162 feet deep. It's an odd feature because the terrain is lower at either end of the gorge making it seem like the river somehow sliced down through a whole hill. My camera doesn't have enough of a wide-angle lens to capture the effect. It's really not much of a natural feature by West Coast standards, but it's touted as a "natural spectacle" and "Vermont's Little Grand Canyon". I don't mean to disparage Quechee Gorge, it's a pretty spot, I just found the advertising amusing.

After leaving Quechee we headed north on highway 89 and stopped for lunch at Eaton's Sugarhouse in Royalton. The joint was jumping at 1pm and still serving breakfast. We both had pancakes (Becky's with blueberries, of course), as they seem to be the place's claim to fame. And justifiably so! They were big fluffy cakes served with real maple syrup. We both felt kind of sick afterwards from all the sugar, but I guess that's part of why it's called the "Sugarhouse".

After our meal we continued north on 89 to Waterbury, home of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream. The factory has tours seven days a week so we were able to take one on this Sunday. The place was packed! We had to wait about a half an hour to get on a tour. It cost three bucks and includes a movie about this history of Ben & Jerry's, the opportunity to look down on the production facility and see how the ice cream is made, and two small samples. Theirs is an inspiring story of a successful business with a social conscience. Even now that it's no longer publicly owned, but run by a big European conglomerate, they're still able to give 7.5% of their pre-tax profits to charity.

After the ice cream tour we backtracked a bit to the state capital, Montpelier, then east on highway 2 to St. Johnsbury where we are holed up at Holiday Motel, which is one of the more stuffy places we've stayed, and someone should explain to them that the word "soundproof" would mean that we wouldn't be able to hear people talking outside our room. They've got phones in the rooms, but they charge 50 cents for local calls. Bastards! It's also the most expensive place we've stayed so far at $79 plus tax.

When we got here I discovered that the leftovers of my lovely steak from last night had become waterlogged from ice melt in the clamshell box in our icechest :-( (what's the emoticon for the anime girl with tears gushing out of her eyes? That'd be about how I felt about that! Waah!) No more clamshell boxes in the "ice" chest without a waterproof wrapper.

Posted by jeffy at 09:30 PM | Comments (0)

September 27, 2003


After yesterday's orgy of webification and connection, tonight we're back in a place with no phone. This does not bother me particularly, believe it or not.

We started off our day searching for a Curves so Becky could get her third workout of the week. Becky was prepared with a list culled from the telephone directory. The first one was closing at 10:30am, so there wasn't enough time for her to do her required circuit before they turned into a pumpkin. They suggested another one on her list which was alleged to be open until noon. We set off to find it armed with the phone book notes. We got to the vicinity and drove through half a dozen completely disconnected strip mall parking lots, but there was no Curves. Becky called them and found out that they had moved but that the woman working there was new to the area and couldn't tell us how to get from the old location to the new. All we had was a AAA map of the whole state, so the few landmarks the worker was able to give us were not much to go on. diet dilemmaBut somehow Becky managed to wrest the info she needed out of the too-general map and we found our way there. Well, almost there. We actually found our way to another parking lot from which you could not drive to the one where Curves was. I had Becky walk to Curves (horrors!) and I took the car through the two traffic signals, two u-turns, and other random maneuvering that was required to attain the correct parking area for accessing the front door of the establishment. While Beck worked out, I sat on my ass and read The Lord of Castle Black like a good little geek.

From there we headed up 87 to Lake George which seems to be an extremely popular vacation spot based on the density and proliferation of places of lodging. It was pretty deserted as we drove through. The lake is long and lovely, and will be even more lovely next week when more of the trees have started to turn colors. So far on the trip the extent of the color has been a few isolated trees or parts of trees which have jumped the autumn gun. The color was just an added benefit of going at this time of year, it wasn't the reason for our trip, so we're just as happy to have less color and less tourists. At a turnout we chatted with a guy walking his dog from his RV. Turns out he was from Grass Valley, CA and moved out to Syracuse to escape the high cost of living. Unfortunately (or fortunately, for him, depending how you look at it), there's a new super mega Mall of America slated for Syracuse so property values have gone up by tens of thousands of dollars since he bought his house. You've got to work hard to escape it.

From Lake George we took Highway 9N up to Ticonderoga where we had lunch at "The Hot Biscuit". I was disappointed that we were there outside of breakfast hours but I ordered some biscuits and gravy to go with my grilled ham and cheese. The server asked whether I wanted turkey or beef gravy. I was so startled by this question that I answered it as asked, then changed my answer (from turkey to beef) before realizing after she had left that I didn't want either, I wanted that white sauce with sausage that is the only gravy I've ever known to be closely associated with biscuits. And indeed, when my order came my biscuits were drenched in beef gravy. The biscuits were quite good, the gravy less so, and the combination just wasn't what I had in mind. I didn't interrogate her about this strange culinary infraction, but Becky and I theorized that biscuits and gravy being a principally Southern concoction, and us being pretty deep into Yankee territory, it's conceivable that the dish hasn't made it into this part of the country. I'll test this later in the trip. The other possibility is that my server was especially dense. You'd think, though, that a place called "The Hot Biscuit" would know how to serve biscuits and gravy!

We proceeded out to Fort Ticonderoga after lunch. The Fort is privately owned and operated by a non-profit. It is also largely restored. The location is truly idyllic in its current peaceful existence. model of Fort TiconderogaThe Fort sits on a hill at the southernmost point of Lake Champlain where the waters of Lake George run into it through a short river. Lake Champlain runs north to the St. Lawrence Seaway. flag that never flew over the active fortLooking at the location today it's hard to imagine how it could have ever been of strategic importance, but apparently it was. Many battles were fought there both before and during the Revolutionary War.

one of many cannons at Fort TiconderogaThe Fort itself is open to the public for a $12 per person fee. Both the Fort and the museum displays inside are well worth examining, but the interpretive material could be better. Becky and I were both disappointed that there wasn't a high-level overview showing the importance of the Fort through its history. Fort TiconderogaNeither one of us has much of a head for history unlike Becky's siblings so we were clueless about the big picture of the Fort's history. We got there between guided tours so we might have a different opinion had we caught that. I was especially annoyed by the lack of any indication of what portions of the fort were original and what reconstructed. I suspect that pretty much all of it is reconstructed, but it would have been nice to know when and by whom and using what reference materials.

Fort Ticonderoga Ferry Established 1869After the Fort we headed to the Fort Ti Ferry. Ferry coming in to the NY shoreThis is an automobile ferry that runs across Lake Champlain from New York to Vermont. The trip across takes all of 7 minutes. The ferry holds 18 cars. It runs across the lake on two cables, one at either side of the boat. Fort Ticonderoga Ferry pilot houseIt's propelled across by some kind of motor in the pilot house on the side of the whole contraption. Fort Ticonderoga VT landingBeing from Puget Sound country where ferries hold hundreds of cars and run for hours, we found the thing adorable.

So, Vermont. New state for both of us (as have been PE and NY, and OH for Jeff). It looks just like Vermont should. Rolling hills, charming hamlets, cows. It's Saturday night and this is the first time we've seen "no vacancy" signs on the trip. We didn't have any trouble finding a place with space, though. We're in Brandon at The Lagasse's Steak House & Country Cottages. The cottages are a variety of little salt boxes back away from the road. When we inquired about them they just gave us keys for two available units and told us to go take a look. We chose the one farther from the road. The weather today is just perfect for humans. The air is the perfect temperature, just warm enough to avoid a chill, just cool enough to be refreshing. We availed ourselves of the steak house for dinner. Becky partook of the Saturday special all-you-can-eat prime rib buffet which, despite the name, also included roast turkey, salmon, pasta, potatoes and other tasty comestibles. I had a lovely delmonico steak. Both meals included their standard all-you-can-eat salad and bread bar, plus all-you-can-eat fresh jumbo shrimp (not an oxymoron in this case). Goodness, that's a lot of food. All good too. Most expensive meal on the trip so far, but we've been mostly only eating out once a day, so we thought a bit of a splurge was in order.

Posted by jeffy at 05:04 PM | Comments (3)

September 26, 2003

Seneca Falls

Got up at a reasonable hour and made our way to the Women's Rights National Historical Park, which was just a block away from our hotel. The Park is on the site of a Wesleyan Methodist chapel that was the venue for the first convention for women's rights on July 19 and 20, 1848. Waterwall version of DeclarationThe convention drafted and adopted a Declaration of Sentiment modeled after the Declaration of Independence in an attempt to jumpstart a women's rights movement. With the help of well-known attendees like Lucretia Mott and Frederic Douglass, they were successful in starting a movement even if the attainment of most of their goals was still decades and decades away. In fact, only two of the signers of the Declaration lived to see the passage of the 19th amendment to the Constitution which finally gave women full voting rights in 1920.

Wesleyan ChapelThe park preserves the shell of the old church where that first convention took place, and has an extensive interpretive display in an adjacent building. We arrived just in time to hear a park staff member give a very interesting talk about that first convention. There was a guided tour of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton house as well, but we skipped that in preference to spending some time exploring the displays.Becky as President

After the National Park we also went to the Seneca Museum of Waterways and Industry, a free museum with interesting displays about local industry. The town of Seneca Falls doesn't actually have a falls anymore, but it once did, and the museum has a series of dioramas that show where they went. They had a display of old tools on the bottom floor. There was nothing especially rare, but nice examples of broad axes and planes and other tools of the woodworking trade. One amusing mislabelling was on an Emmert Pattern Maker's Vise which was tagged as an "Inert Pattern Maker's Vise". The middle floor had an extensive display on the history of the Sylvania company, which had a manufacturing plant in the city up until 1985 for the production of glass tubes for aerospace and defense electronic display devices.

We grabbed some snacks at Pantusi's Bakery, then headed out of town.

We were getting a little worried about covering all the rest of the territory we were planning on for this trip, and thinking that we'd better work on getting the heck out of New York, we consulted our map. The only problem with that plan was that we still hadn't visited Lake Ontario, one of our must-see sights. We plotted a course that would take us up to Oswego for a quick visit to Great Lake #5, then head east from there, skirting Syracuse (for no particular reason but expediency) and heading back to the thruway for a quick jaunt towards the eastern Adirondacks.

This plan was quickly put into motion and after a quick stop in Oswego for provisions we soon found ourselves at Selkirk Shores State Park. There was a posted $7 day use fee, but no one to collect it so we proceeded to the "beach" despite the sign that declared it closed! The beach was a rocky one, and was populated by a number of salmon fishermen. Again, despite signs warning against wading, Becky dipped her feet into their fifth and final Great Lake. Lake OntarioIt was by far the least welcoming of the Great Lakes we have visited, though it's probably not fair to blame the whole body of water for the shortcomings of one short stretch of its shoreline.

Against a steady stream of salmon fishermen swimming upstate, we drove south back to I-90 where we buzzed out to Amsterdam and from there by a diagonal route to highway 87 which we followed north to South Glens Falls, NY and the friendly and feature-rich Landmark Motel whose telephone line I've been using continuously since shortly after we arrived in our large room.

Tomorrow, into Vermont.

Posted by jeffy at 10:25 PM | Comments (1)

September 25, 2003


Got out of Angola by 9:30. Becky did Curves while I secured fuel for the car.

Curves in Derby, NYIn Curves, Becky talked to a couple of locals. One had lived in the area of Niagara Falls and had suggestions for how best to enjoy that spectacle. The other had a brother who lives in Issaquah! How small a world is that?

Headed off to Buffalo and had lunch at Frank and Teressa's Anchor Bar which purports to be the original home of Buffalo Wings, that bar food staple. We shared some medium wings (they come in mild, medium, hot, and suicide. I'd have had suicide, but to share settled for medium.) I'm sorry to report that they tasted pretty much exactly like the wings I've had in establishments on the West coast, my brother-in-law's opinion to the contrary notwithstanding. I had the "beef on weck" sandwich, "weck" being a local kaiser-style roll topped with coarse salt and caraway seeds. The table condiments included fresh horseradish which made a fine sandwich with nothing else but beef and bread. Becky had a chicken caesar which met with her approval as well. The service was abysmal despite the liberal ratio of wait staff to customers. I left a big tip just to mess with our inattentive server's head.

After a brief disagreement on directions (Becky was right as usual), we made our way to Niagara Falls. We thought to go to the visitor center to get the lay of the land and determine where and how best to see the Falls. Becky's acquaintance at Curves had suggested that the best view was from the Canada side, but we thought we'd check and see before proceeding. We followed the signs and found ourselves headed for a Native American casino. We asked the parking attendant where the visitor center might be found and he gave directions for a couple of turns. We followed them (in our own creative round-the-block way), but found no visitor center. We drove around some more, Becky consulting the AAA tourbook, me using my usual intuitive navigation style. We made our way onto Goat Island, an island just above the Falls on the American side. They seemed to have an interpretive center of some kind, but it was $8 just to park and we were really just looking for information. We tried following the signs to the visitor center one more time and once again found only a construction site adjacent to an enormous casino. At this point we were pretty disgusted with the US handling of the landmark so we headed for the border to see if our northern neighbors could do any better.

We determined that our passports were at hand and proceeded to the Rainbow Bridge border crossing. There is a $2.50 (US) toll to cross the bridge. The bored toll taker asked what our citizenship was and how long we expected to stay in Canada. At our answer of "a couple hours" he sent us on our way. Didn't ask for any ID.

Across the bridge, we turned right, then right again, following the signs to the Falls and we found ourselves on a road paralleling the cliff edge with a view that made it quite clear that here was the best place to view Niagara Falls. We proceeded to the parking lot which cost $12 (CAN. $9 US) which included a little souvenir guide book. The parking lot was a museum of US and Canadian license plates. We saw at least half the states without even trying.

Barrel's eye viewWe walked along the cliff edge snapping photos with all the other tourists. We started at the up-stream end where you can see the wide, fast-moving river and the edge. Becky playing touristFrom the top, it's a gentle thing, the water moving swiftly, but smoothly along its way, then there is the edge, and it is just gone, quietly and smoothly following gravity off the precipice and into space. As you walk along you can look back and see the curtain of foaming water cascading down and down, lost in a cloud of white mist at the bottom where it all rejoins to become a river again. Rainbow Bridge and its namesakeFarther along, you see that "The Falls" is actually two falls. The river splits around Goat Island. The first and more impressive is the one you've seen in endless photographs, the Canadian Horseshoe Falls. The other half of the Falls is on the other side of Goat Island and is known as the American Falls. It is a huge waterfall which looks puny only in comparison to the great torrent of the Canadian Falls. The American is not a single drop, but a more gradual descent cascading down a rocky slope. So next time you see the main Falls Canadian Horseshoe Fallsknow that as much water as is streaming over that lip, just a few hundred yards to the left there's even more water from Lake Erie hustling on its way to Lake Ontario and the sea.American Falls

We bought some tourist junk at the gift shop (again paying with US money at not quite the prevailing exchange rate) and went back to the car. Our plan was to head east in earnest today and get into the northern New England states for the weekend so we didn't tarry in Canada. TouristsAt the crossing back into the US we were again asked our citizenship, how long we'd been in Canada, whether we purchased anything while there (he was unfazed by my answer of "tourist junk"), and who owned the vehicle we were driving. The guy's entire interview was conducted in a goofy fake English accent that made me expect "What is your quest" as the next question (be assured I had my answer all ready), but alas it was not to be. Again we were sent on our way without showing any identification.

In the interest of alacrity we decided to get on I-90 to jet east to Seneca Falls, NY. In this end of the country the interstates are toll roads. When we got on I-90 in Buffalo we were issued a card showing our time of entry along with the toll we could expect to pay depending on what exit we chose to leave the highway by. Since you pay when you leave the road there is a strong disinclination to make idle side trips, and to further discourage you, the state of New York has established "service areas" at which you can find a gas station and 2 or more fast food chains sharing a building with a set of restrooms and a gift shop, all of which can be visited without actually leaving the highway corridor and hence without having to reset your toll-point. This is all very nice unless you prefer to patronize independent businesses. Apart from a couple of brief construction slowdowns we covered the 150 miles to our destination in reasonable time (while listening to Tim Curry read the first few chapters of The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket) and paid our $2.90 to leave the freeway (thankfully) behind. We proceeded south on 14, then met up with our old friends 5 and 20 for the brief jaunt east from Geneva (on the shore of Seneca Lake, one of the "Finger Lakes", so-named for their parallel elongated shapes) to Seneca Falls. Here we found the Gould Hotel, a building of early 20th century vintage with a few rooms to let.

This is our second night in an establishment without phones in its rooms. We hadn't checked in with home since leaving so I went out and tracked down a payphone (harder than you might think--I went through three minimarts before finding a functional payphone) and phoned home (using my newly-acquired phone card. Appalling number of digits, reasonable cost-per-minute). Unfortunately our housesitter wasn't in, but there were no messages on the voicemail which is a good sign and I left a message assuring whoever might hear it that we are alive and well. We'll try again tomorrow. Hopefully we can find somewhere to get on the net in the next couple of days so I can get some of this stuff uploaded.

Oh, I almost forgot, while on the Canadian side of the random line of demarcation we bought some of the Canadian KitKat bars that tyd of thenyoudiscover has been going on about. We got some takeout dinner at the Downtown Deli here in Seneca Falls and got a pack of American KitKats. After dinner I broke off chunks of each and fed them to Becky in single-blind fashion. She preferred the Canadian bars and so did I. They taste much more strongly of chocolate than the US version. What is up with that? The ingredients are in a completely different order for the two bars. Plus the Canadian bars are significantly bigger at 50g compared to 1.5oz. My only gripe with the Canadian candy is that, contrary to appearances, the packaging isn't water-tight so some moisture snuck in while the bar was in our ice chest waiting for its chance at a taste test.

Posted by jeffy at 07:32 PM | Comments (2)

September 24, 2003

Presque Isle

Today we went along Lake Erie through Pennsylvania and into New York. I dub this region "The Land of Excessive Lawn Care". Seemed like every house had acres and acres of lawn and it was all perfectly green and carefully clipped. I lost count of how many people we saw out tooling around on their little lawn tractors or pushing their mowers around their yards. It's almost like there's a local ordinance or something.

We stopped near the city of Erie at the Presque Isle State Park. They pronounce it "presk" and say the name is French for "almost an island". It's a small low peninsula, little more than a really big sandbar, actually. I say "small", but it's got a 14.5 mile perimeter, so it's not insignificant. There's a road all around the perimeter and a parallel multi-use trail for bikes, blades, and peds.

There's some argument about how the thing formed. Some say it's a byproduct of glaciation 11,000 years ago, others that it's a purely sedimentary formation in the last thousand years. It's strange because it's the only obvious protuberance on the entire shore of Lake Erie. It was disconnected from the mainland repeatedly as the thin spit leading out to it washed away and reformed, but they took care of that in the 1950s with a whole lot of rock.


The shore on the Lake Erie side has beautiful sandy beaches, so anyone who knows Becky won't be surprised to hear that it was less than five minutes from the time we parked at one of the beaches until her toes were in the water. This was Great Lake number 4 for her tootsies.


The pictures show the intermittent breakwater they've constructed to prevent the erosion of the beach. It's an interesting effect. Sort of alien.


While Becky was wading, when I wasn't taking pictures I was skipping stones. This beach is a stone skipper's paradise. If you can't skip these stones then you can't skip stones.


Becky can't skip stones ;-).

At the visitor center they had some really interesting maps of the Great Lakes. Erie is the shallowest with its deepest point being only 210 feet. Compare that with something like 1500 feet for the deepest parts of Superior. Most of Erie is only 50 feet deep. The other fascinating map there was one showing all the "ghost ships" (meaning sunken) in the vicinity of Presque Isle. There's at least 100 of them! The dates were from 1800 into the middle of the 20th century.


At the visitor center we also learned that when Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge was a kid he was a lifeguard at the park. Apparently when he became governor a lot of money found its way back to the park. Glad to hear he's good for something.

We swung through the town of Erie and were going to eat there but we didn't have change for the parking meter. Instead we drove farther along the Erie shore skipping back and forth between highway 20 and highway 5, both of which run parallel to I-90. After way too much driving, we ended up in Westfield, NY where we ate at Vine City Restaurant. It wasn't terrible, but wasn't great either. Good onion rings.

From there we headed out 394 to Chautauqua whose claim to fame is having more "u"s and "a"s in close proximity than any other city. (Actually it was originally a training camp for Sunday school teachers. These days it's home of the Chautauqua Institute which does a whole passel of educational things.) It's on the shore of Chautauqua Lake which is about the same size as Lake Sammamish back home. Supposedly Chautauqua is home to boatloads of artsy antiquey establishments, but we didn't see any of them. We didn't hunt too hard though.

We crossed the lake on highway 86 and went down to Jamestown which is home of the Lucy and Desi museum which we didn't care about but thought was amusing (the fact that such a thing exists. We didn't go to it!). It's also the home of an Audubon Society nature preserve and the Roger Tory Peterson Institute. These we would have liked to have gone to, but it was quarter-to-five when we hit town and both were closed.

We headed North on 60 back to the shores of Lake Erie and did more 20/5 skipping until we saw the Angola Motel. Hunted down a couple of grocery stores to supply our rarefied tastes in comestibles, scoped out the local Curves for Becky's morning workout, drove out to Evangola State Park, then headed back to the motel for an evening of picture resizing/cropping and blog writing. There's no phone in this room so the upload will have to wait.

Posted by jeffy at 06:43 PM | Comments (1)

September 23, 2003

To Lake Erie!

Got up today at the absurd hour of 5am.

Collected the last few things we remembered that we "needed" to take with us on the trip when we were trying to sleep at 1am.

We kissed the kitties and Rachel drove us to the airport. (!) Got there about an hour and ten minutes before departure (USAir recommends 1 hour). Checked a bag, went through security, took the little train out to the terminal, and got to the gate 45 minutes before departure. Sigh.

When they started boarding they announced that there's no complimentary food service on USAir flights. So we found out that we could pay $7 for crappy airline food or go without it. Fortunately, we'd already stocked up on snacks.

Got ourselves installed in our dinky little seats (though they feel a little less dinky since we got more dinky). Chatted with the woman in the seat next to us who was returning home to the Pittsburgh area after visiting her great grandson!

Survived the 4 hours in the tin box. Pittsburgh is very pretty from the air with hills and trees and rivers all over the place only intermittently marred by malls and costcos and such.

Retrieved the bag and got the rental car. The Teamsters were asking for a boycott of Budget, but since we made our reservation a month ago and didn't hear about the boycott until today we weren't in a position to comply. We ended up in a Taurus which is sort of deja vu.

Headed west into Ohio and when we saw the sign for Heck's Restaurant, how could we not stop? We made an agreement that we'd avoid chain restaurants on this trip, and unless I'm sorely mistaken, Heck's is safe from franchising at least without a name change. But they're doing just fine with a half-full house at 3pm on a Tuesday and the food was quite satisfactory. If you find yourself in Columbiana, Ohio, you'll know where to eat. The turkey dinner is good.

Becky wanted to get straight up to Lake Erie (no surprise) so we took highway 11 up past I-80 (didn't turn left towards Sacramento) and I-90 (didn't turn left towards Seattle) and on up to the lake. It looks like a Great Lake.

It was getting on towards 7pm local time so we went hunting for a motel. Ended up at the "SunSet Motel" in West Springfield, Pennsylvania. After checking in we discovered that the place is within a stone's throw of I-90. It's like we never left home.

Posted by jeffy at 06:31 PM | Comments (1)