Continuing with our 2nd anniversary celebration posts, this time we share our top seven biking experiences during the period March 1, 2013 to Feb. 28, 2014. Steve is always happy when he can unload our bikes so we can actually ride them, rather than just haul them around the country. Our qualifications for these rides is the most points for: (1) the trail was nice to ride and well-maintained, and (2) the experience during the ride was memorable. The list below continues the tradition I started with last year’s top seven. Continue reading
We have crossed another milestone. Two years ago today, on March 1, 2012, we embarked on our new lifestyle of living on the road. One of our many goals was to continue to exercise and be active. Building on what I began last year, and to commemorate our 2nd year of full timing, I have compiled our new set of favorite hike/walk trails. This top ten list covers the trails we explored between March 1, 2013 and Feb 28, 2014. It does not include the dozens of beach walks we took while on the east coast. Although we love long walks on the beach, they tend to be fairly similar and we decided not to try to rate them. Continue reading
After walking much of Manhattan with our friends, we took a tour by boat that had been recommended to us. We think this is a great way to see Manhattan from a different perspective – after all, it does have the world’s most famous skyline. We chose to take the Full Island Cruise offered by Circle Line, which gave us a good tour all the way around Manhattan in 2.5 hours. To get there, we hopped on the PATH train in Jersey City and went 2 stops to the World Train Center station in Manhattan. Then we made the short walk to the subway and took the E line to 42nd Street, finally walking four avenue blocks to Pier 83. Hey, just getting there was half the adventure!
Next to Pier 83 where we boarded the boat is the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, where a British Airways Concorde is on display. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit that museum, where we could have checked out the the fastest commercial aircraft to ever cross the Atlantic Ocean. Maybe we’ll see one in DC.
Departing from the pier, the tour guide began sharing his in-depth knowledge of the city. From him, one could really get a sense of the size of Manhattan and the 5 surrounding boroughs. He helped us to keep our bearings, for as we passed by each landmark he would mention which subway line(s) stop closest to it. It was a very good tour, and relaxing on such a beautiful day.
This area of the Hudson River is where Captain Sully performed his miracle landing on the river in January of 2009. Circle Line was one of the many first responders to the incident.
Thanks to the government shutdown, Lady Liberty was left standing alone on this day, and Ellis Island looked deserted as well.
Manhattan is an island whose name is derived from the word Manna-hata, as written in a 1609 logbook. It was subsequently translated as “island of many hills” from the Lenape language. We saw only a few hills as we cruised around the northern end of the island, perhaps the high rises have hidden some them. Speaking of high rises, american architects consider 12 stories or higher to be a high rise. New York City easily leads the U.S. list with over 6,000 high rise buildings, and Chicago is a distant second with “only” around 1,100.
Being an island, Manhattan is linked to NYC’s outer boroughs by numerous bridges, large and small. On this day we passed under nineteen of them! The first three major ones we cruised under, which the tour guide called the “B-M-W” bridges, were the Brooklyn Bridge, (seen on my header), the Manhattan Bridge and the Williamsburg bridge.
And the bridge that Betsy crossed while on I-95 S a few days ago – the George Washington Bridge – is considered the world’s busiest motor vehicle bridge. It connects upper Manhattan with New Jersey.
Leading to the new Yankee Stadium were 6 street bridges with low clearances. The tour guide repeatedly warned the Yankee fans on board that we might not be able to see the stadium because it was high tide and the boat might not clear. Well, with just a few inches to spare, the boat inched very slowly under all 6 of them.
The tour gave us views of Harlem, Gracie Mansion, the Upper East Side and many other areas of the island. Culling through many pictures, I chose some which depict the fascinating diverse Manhattan skyline. Here are a few that caught my attention, featuring golden rooftops as well as green ones:
On the Upper East Side we saw luxury apartments where many celebrities reside, their rooftops decked with trees. We noticed a “nurse’s co-op housing” with color-coded doors. Neither Steve nor I could remember why the guide said they were painted that way – it had something to do with helping the nurses to find their rooms.
According to our guide, approximately 10,000-15,000 water tanks reside on building roofs across the boroughs. Buildings higher than six stories need the tanks because the city’s water system is unable to supply sufficient water pressure to tall buildings. The tanks are filled by pumps in the building’s basement, and water is supplied from the tank to users via gravity only. Wooden tanks are by far the most popular because of their insulating properties and low cost to construct.
Our knowledgeable guide helped us to learn a lot about Manhattan Island, NYC and the diverse people who live there. Once docked, we still had plenty of time to do some exploring on our own. We walked uptown, where we checked out the ubiquitous food vendors and clever pedicab drivers competing with their per-minute rates:
We strolled through Central Park and stopped at Strawberry Fields, a mosaic memorial for John Lennon.
We quickly learned that when taking the subway you need to know if you’re going uptown or downtown. Knowing that, we hopped back on, this time heading downtown. Emerging from the subway, we ended up at City Hall Park. There we caught a glimpse of a live clown dressed in red and sleeping on one of the benches. Strolling along, we learned that a group called “Lightness of Being,” had an outdoor show running till Dec. 13th, and it dotted the park with whimsical works of art. They call it “concept-based art” (or stupid art). Decide for yourself!
Our stop in The City That Never Sleeps was packed with activities – not only sightseeing, but also socializing. We caught up with Joe and Charlene, whom we had met a few days ago in Boston, and Praveen, my former coworker at PayPal. Also, we received a visit from my lovely niece Maristelle and her friend Christian. Whew, we kept a pretty hectic schedule – just like you’re supposed to do when in New York City, right? Help, we need a day off!!!
We had a fantastic time in The Big Apple. Despite the initial stress of driving Betsy through NY and into NJ, we’re glad we decided to stay here for a few nights. So much has been written about people in New York City, but we can now say from experience that the folks we observed and met on the streets were very helpful and tolerant of the tourists who raid their city on a daily basis.
Next Up: Atlantic City!
New York City was not on our planned route heading south, because we had both been there before. But in this lifestyle we realize that we need to see everything we can while we’re here, and plans can change quickly. So we decided to tackle the challenging trip to the Big Apple, and yes, it was an unpleasant drive on I-95 S from Connecticut, passing through the Bronx in New York to the New Jersey turnpike. But we made it with the only damage being to our nerves.
The only RV park with easy access to NYC is Liberty Harbor RV Park (Steve’s review is here), across the Hudson River in Jersey City. For $80 a night you get a space in a parking lot with just water and electrical hookups. They are the only game in town, as they are within easy access of Manhattan by ferry or train. And they know it!
Reconnecting with my long lost friend, Rosana – whom I had not seen for 37 years – was a great reason to stop by NYC. She and her hubby Angelo gave us a wonderful personalized tour around town, and that’s always the best way to experience a big city.
The highlight of our wanderings was visiting the 9/11 Memorial. Access is free, but a donation is requested when you get your timestamped pass, which is recommended because of how busy it gets. The Memorial is surrounded by ongoing construction on several World Trade Center structures, which is amazing to see in itself. We went on a Saturday, and a large crowd was already forming as the gate opened at 10AM. A security screening was required prior to entry, and we noticed lots of cameras and a large police presence.
The new One World Trade Center is scheduled to be completed in early 2014, and it dominates the nearby skyline. It is almost complete at 104 floors, and is topped by a spire that reaches the symbolic height of 1,776 feet – a number commemorating the year of America’s independence.
The rebuilding continues, and we observed solemnity and respect among the hundreds of visitors.
Our friends took us all around town, and for those of you who have visited or lived there, you know that getting around means taking the subway and walking on the streets and avenues. We learned that In New York City, an avenue block is 1/4 mile long and runs from east to west, while a street block is 1/16 of a mile long and runs from north to south. Believe me, we did LOTS of walking on this day!
Walking down Wall Street, I caught a glimpse of Trinity Church. It was positioned very nicely between other tall buildings.
In its yard is a two-ton bronze sculpture installed as a reminder of a large sycamore tree. The tree was uprooted on September 11, 2001 from St Paul’s Chapel several blocks away and found lying in the yard of Trinity Church. It had fallen in such a way that none of the historic tombstones around it were disturbed and none of the wreckage reached the Chapel.
When we arrived at the American Museum of Natural History, I recognized immediately that these were the actual exhibits behind the characters featured in the movie “Night at the Museum”! The David H. Koch Dinosaur collection alone occupied a large area on the fourth floor. This museum is huge and amazing, and it requires at least a full day (and maybe more) to explore. A must-see if you’re in NYC.
As you may have guessed, the Rockefeller Center is a tourist destination and we were there milling around with hundreds of other folks.
A visit to NYC wouldn’t be complete without being in Times Square at night! Our friends made sure we saw it during the day and then again all lit up.
Lastly, they took us across to Brooklyn where we were able to see the amazing Manhattan skyline from yet another vantage point. Awesome!
It was truly great seeing and reconnecting with Rosana again after so many years. Many thanks to her and Angelo, our gracious and patient hosts for giving us a fantastic tour of NYC – and for the wonderful lunch in Chinatown. You are the best!
Next up: High Rises and Many Bridges – The Big Apple pt. 2
The largest park in the lower 48, the 6-million acre Adirondack Park of northern New York was our next adventure. It is so large that we could obviously only hope to see a small portion of it during our 5-day stay. So, for this trip through we decided to hang out near the southeastern border, at Lake George.
Created in 1892 as one of the first Forever Wild Forest Preserves in the nation, the Adirondack Park is a unique wilderness area. It is the largest publically protected area in the contiguous United States. The state of New York owns approximately 2.6 million acres, while the remaining 3.4 million acres are devoted to forestry, agriculture and open space recreation. The Adirondack Park is not a National Park – there’s no fee to enter and the park doesn’t close at night. Nor is it a state park, a common misconception. It’s also the largest National Historic Landmark, covering an area larger than Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Glacier and the Great Smokies National Parks combined.
Outdoor recreation possibilities in the Lake George area are endless. The Village of Lake George is a tourist destination and at this time of the year it’s like a big recreation and amusement park for all ages. We were not ready to mingle with hordes of tourists as traffic and parking was horrendous, so we spent most of our time enjoying a laid back experience in our preferred way – hiking and driving along the numerous scenic byways.
We mapped our route starting from Lake George and left in the car early one morning, following three of the many scenic byways – High Peaks, Olympic, and Central Adirondack Trails – creating a 200-mile loop. Touring the unspoiled geographic areas of the Adirondack Mountains, we were in awe of the rolling hills, deep forests, and mountain peaks. Among the features that made our drive unlike any of our previous experiences were the waterways – literally thousands of lakes, (Placid, Long, Raquette and Saranac were only a few that we saw ) ponds, and many miles of rivers and streams. It’s hard to imagine how incredible this area looks when the leaves turn in the fall, but unfortunately we won’t be in this area then.
It appeared many other tourists had the same plan we did – take a hike! On both trails we followed near Lake George – Sleeping Beauty and Prospect Mountain – the screaming brats and their moms seemed to be yelling at the top of their lungs. Good God, can’t these people figure out what hiking and nature are all about? Both trails were a hike up to a summit, and despite the rocky terrain and the continuous ascent to the top, the area is a popular family outing destination. We’ll look for something a little more remote and “family unfriendly” next time.
We clocked 8 miles on the Sleeping Beauty Trail…
…and 4 miles on the Prospect Mountain Trail.
Our base camp on this stop was at Ledgeview Village RV Park. Click here if you would like to see Steve’s review of this excellent campground. We were excited to meet fellow campers who were from a town very near our home in Tracy, CA.
Next up: Discovering gems in Vermont – other than cheese and ice-cream!
Our upcoming stops – tell us about any “must do” tours, excursions,
restaurants, etc. you’ve enjoyed at these places, so we can check them out:
A month in the Canadian Maritimes!
Garlic and blueberries – what an odd combination! We love ’em both and enjoy them with gusto when we’re able to get our hands on fresh ones. That’s exactly what happened as we were taking a leisurely drive while staying in Parish, NY. It was not in our plan to search for them, but signs posted along the road pointing the way to u-pick blueberries and fresh home-grown garlic made our day.
The first stop was for my all-time favorite anti-oxidant, yummy blueberries. Unlike my picking in the wilds of Hoonah, Alaska , where Steve had to stand guard in case a grizzly bear showed up, here in NY he left me alone to enjoy the picking myself. In less than an hour I had picked 4 pounds of gorgeous berries, and that doesn’t include what “fell” into my mouth as I went along.
Here, have some – they’re sweet, plump and good for you!!!
Later, on our way home, Steve did a double-take and and almost ran off the road when he saw a “fresh home-grown garlic” sign. The owner informed us that they had just harvested the garlic we were looking at the day before. He also showed us a bunch of garlic sitting on his tractor that he eats raw as he works, and he insisted that we try it. It was very good – but so strong! We aren’t sure we’re ready to sit around eating raw garlic just yet.
Here’s a happy man with his bunch of fresh garlic! He has since turned into a “garlic snob” and he turns his nose up at the “junk” they sell in the grocery stores. We’ll see if his attitude changes when his fresh stash runs out!
We got busy when we arrived home, I, baking a blueberry pie, of course, and scones the following morning. Yum!
And Steve roasted garlic over coals on the Weber.
Next up: The Adirondacks!
Without a doubt, the three beauties – American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Horsehoe Falls – are the main attraction on both the New York and Ontario, Canada sides of Niagara Falls. But there are many other things to do and places to see beyond the falls. We received lots of ideas from fellow bloggers Erin of Two to Travel’s Phaeton Journeys, Gay of Good-times Rolling and Don and Lisa, our friends from Ohio. So we tried to check those out, and we discovered other fun things to do along the way.
A short 15-minute drive from our campground on Grand Island (click here if interested in Steve’s review of the KOA campground) took us to Old Fort Niagara, NY. Our next door neighbor at the campground suggested this worthwhile stop, and it was an interesting one that history buffs will not want to miss. This was a strategic site on the great lakes which played a critical role in the French & Indian War, the American Revolution and the War of 1812. It is preserved as it stood in the 1700’s when France and Britain controlled Niagara, and then it was restored between 1926 and 1934. The three flags – French, British and U.S. – commemorate the three nations that held Fort Niagara.
The buildings of Old Fort Niagara represent several different periods of history. Large plaques representing the arms of France and Great Britain indicate the nation responsible for each building’s construction.
At the museum was displayed the biggest flag we have seen, encased in its own climate-controlled compartment. It’s the original 15-stars, 15-stripes flag that was flown at Fort Niagara from 1796 to 1818.
Do you know where buffalo wings originated? Well, we checked out the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY, home to what is claimed to be the originator of buffalo wings. Caution: when in Buffalo, one should not call the wings “buffalo wings” or “hot wings” – just call them “chicken wings”. Very strange. Doesn’t make sense to us, but we don’t want to start a bar brawl with these New Yorkers. They certainly were packed on a weekday afternoon. Verdict: the wings were good – big, plump and juicy, fried crispy but not overcooked. We have had better sauce on our wings, though. So we would say they were good, but don’t bother flying across the U.S. just to try them. At least we can say we had the originals!
We crossed the border into Canada again, driving on the Lewiston Bridge to Ontario and exploring several attractions. We cruised along the 35-mile Niagara Parkway that runs beside the rampaging river. Along the route are various attractions worth stopping for if you have time.
At the Sir Beck Hydro Power Plant in Ontario, we took a tour and learned about the new additional Niagara Tunnel that was completed in March 2013. This monster is 47.24′ high and 41.67′ in diameter – “big enough for 5 school busses to park side-by-side”. The 6.3-mile underground tunnel diverts water from the Niagara River just above Horsehoe Falls, then quickly drops 328 ‘ and rushes downstream to the Sir Adam Beck Generating Station. Finally, the water enters a pipe called a penstock and through the huge turbines to generate electricity. This plant generates enough power to supply just about everything within 30 miles . We were amazed to learn the plant is so efficient that the average maintenance needed by each turbine is just 3 hours per year.
Per agreement between the U.S. and Canada, up to 75% of the water flowing toward the three falls at Niagara Falls is diverted into the huge tunnels running to hydroelectric plant “ponds” in New York and Canada. This is enough water diversion that you can actually see a difference in the flow over the falls at night. Both Ontario Hydro and the New York State Power Authorities pump this massive amount of water into their gigantic water reservoirs in order to top them up and supply the plants during the daytime hours. During the day, water diversion is reduced to about 50% so that millions of tourists can enjoy the beauty of the falls. Pretty cool arrangement!
The International Control Dam upstream has 18 gates that are raised or lowered in order control the water flow over the Falls for diversion into the Hydro Tunnels of Ontario Hydro and the New York State Power Authority.
Welland Canal is a ship canal which enables ships to ascend and descend the Niagara Escarpment, and to bypass Niagara Falls. It operates just like the Panama Canal – on a much smaller scale (click here to read our post about the Panama Canal). Welland Canal extends 26 miles from Port Weller Ontario, on Lake Ontario, to Port Colborne Ontario, on Lake Erie. We were hoping to catch one of the passing ships as we arrived early in the morning and climbed the observation platform at Lock 3 near St Catherine’s. However, we were informed that the next crossing was several hours away. Fortunately, at Thorold Lock 7 the ship CSL Niagara was just beginning to navigate into the narrow canal.
A stop at Niagara-on-the-Lake was a must, as this little town was adorned with colorful foliage and teeming with tourists. We contributed to their economy as Steve bought his Tilley hat at the Beau Chapeua Hat Store. Then we stopped at an Irish Pub so we could sample the Irish Family of Beers and have a hearty lunch (Steve’s eyes rolled back in his head as he enjoyed the corned beef). There were several fruit stands along the way, but we had to pass them since we were afraid the yummy fruits would be confiscated at the border – which has happened to us before. We did taste and buy some excellent wine at the Peller winery though, and the border folks didn’t even ask about them.
On the Niagara Parkway, we also checked out the Botanical Gardens and the cool floral clock.
Continuing south on the Parkway, we ended up back at Niagara Falls where we saw hordes of tourists gawking at the falls. The Canadian side of the falls are very popular, as you are able to see full frontal views of the huge Horseshoe Falls.
One of our final stops was at the Skylon Tower, where we were able to view the falls at night from the top.
My last picture of the Horseshoe Falls at night, viewed from Skylon Tower, is not the best of my captures, as the multi-colored lights did not come out so good. I still have a lot to learn about night time photography.
Crossing the border back into the U.S. at the Rainbow Bridge involved a 40-minute wait. Although we think we have seen a lot, we know there are many other things worth checking out here. But alas, after a busy week it’s time to move on.
As I sit here ready to publish this blog, it is beautiful out (in the 70’s) but raining lightly. We were going to ride bikes today, but it looks like we might have to delay it until tomorrow and instead do some reading and enjoy a glass of wine. Darn, life can be so difficult at times!
Next up: Parish, NY
We could never get tired of gawking at the three massive waterfalls collectively known as Niagara Falls, as we experienced them several times – on foot, bicycle and via a guided tour. How could we? The three falls – American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Horsehoe Falls – are spectacular, breathtaking and awe inspiring. They are a required destination that we attempted to view from different angles and viewpoints. So, for those of you who have been there, bear with me. I can barely contain my excitement!
Below is an aerial view of the Niagara River, of which 10% flows to the American and Bridal Falls on the left, and 90% flows to the Horsehoe Falls on the right.
After chilling out at Lake Erie for a couple of days, we had our priorities set – walk and bike around the waterfalls. On the first day, our plan was to just stroll around Goat Island, but we got so excited with the waterfalls and surrounding beauty that we decided to turn it into a major walk. Our adventure started by walking around Goat Island and crossing the pedestrian bridge to Prospect Point, where we had an awesome view of the American Falls. Then we walked up to the observation tower and continued on to the Niagara Gorge Trailhead where we followed various trails, ending at the Whirlpool Gorge overlook.
Our walk began with a glowing rainbow at Terrapin Point – the top of Horseshoe Falls on the American side – a great omen for the awesome scenery ahead. The waterfalls can be viewed from the American side at Niagara Falls, New York or on the Canadian side at Niagara Falls, Ontario.
Goat Island was so called because just a single goat survived out of many other animals during a severe winter in the 18th century. It is a small island in the Niagara River, located in the middle of Niagara Falls between the Bridal Veil Falls and the Horseshoe Falls. At this point we walked to Three Sisters Island, where along the river we saw a unique view of the upper rapids as it raced down to the Horseshoe Falls. We should point out that many major improvements have been completed during the spring of 2013 at several viewing points along the falls on the American side. They have done a fantastic job.
We continued our walk across one of the two bridges connecting Goat Island, and here is where we got a prime view of the American Falls, the rapids and Bridal Veil Falls from Prospect Point near the observation tower.
Continuing on our trek, we ambled on to the Niagra Gorge trailhead where a series of trails parallels the Niagara River Gorge. We passed under the Rainbow Bridge, where pedestrians can walk across and get spectacular views of the falls on the Canadian side.
On our way to the Whirlpool Gorge we took the more rugged and scenic trails, the Great Gorge Railway Trail and Whirlpool Rapids Trail. Returning, we took the easier Niagara Gorge Rim Trail and the Robert Moses Recreation Trail. At the Whirlpool Overlook we learned how Niagara first formed many thousand of years ago, when the falls carved through the rocks and receded, forming the 7.1 mile gorge that we saw today.
The whirlpool rapids run at 22 mph, 35 feet deep and at a Class VI rating are considered among the most dangerous in the world. Fortunately we had no desire to challenge them!
The Whirlpool Gorge is so named because of the water which circulates through this section counter-clockwise and must dive under the incoming stream to continue down the river. In 1913, the aero car you see in the picture below was built by a Spanish engineer and is suspended on 6 interlocking steel cables. It travels between two cliffs on the Canadian side of the gorge.
Not content with our 11-mile walk in 90 degree temperatures on that day, we woke up early the following morning to bike back to the falls. The trailhead was at the foot of the North Grand Island bridge.
As we biked along the Niagara River Trail we saw two water intake gates for the power plants, the mist of the falls on the horizon and finally Luna Island, where 10% of the river flows into the American and Bridal Veil Falls.
And then we did what most toursist would do – got wet under the falls, heard the thunderous waters cascading down, felt its intensity and got inspired by the spectacular views at the foot of the waterfalls!
Strolling into Ontario, Canada across the Rainbow Bridge offered another stunning view of the falls, especially during the evening. This is the best way to get between the US and Canadian sides of the falls if you can, we walked across just to take some pictures and get dinner.
Up next: Many more things to do around Niagara Falls!