Monday, November 27, 2017

Arriving in Cuba

This morning is overcast and cloudy with a light drizzle. Thomas and I woke up around 6:30am and went out onto the balcony to see the beginning of the day. Today we anchored off the coast of Cuba at Cienfuegos and will be tendered onto shore for our excursions. We don't meet for our excursion until 9:00am. So we showered and dressed and then went for some breakfast in the World Café. We returned to our cabin around 8:00am and got our things ready for the day. We need our passports, visas, custom forms, ship ID card and our shore excursion tickets. Of course, I had my camera with extra batteries, our hats and sunglasses, and some toilet paper, wet wipes and hand sanitizers. We were warned that some of the public restrooms lack toilet paper and soap. So once we were ready we just did a little reading until it was time to go to the meeting area for the tender to shore.

We arrived at the Star Theater at 8:55am, were told we were in Group 6 and then we found seats to wait until we were called. At 9:05am they called our group and we made our way to Deck A and climbed aboard the tender. It was a 10 minute ride to the dock. Once on shore, we made our way through customs. First, we entered an air conditioned building where a man watched a computer screen. We noticed a camera on the wall that pointed to about head level. When we reached the computer we saw on the monitor a thermal image on the heads of the people walking through. We assume they were checking people for a fever to make sure no one was sick - not sure if that is correct or not. Then we entered a second building with agents at booths where we had to turn in our customs forms, give one half of our visa and get our passports checked. Then we went through a gate and were directed to the bus for our excursion.

On the bus, we met our guide (Letty) and headed for our first stop - Laguna Guanaroca. The bus ride lasted about 30 minutes. We parked in front of a small hut with a covered patio area. There really wasn't a parking lot, we just parked in the grass off the road. Our guide divided us into two groups and then we had to wait for a second guide to take our tour of the park. The weather was overcast and cloudy but luckily we had no rain. When the guide for our group showed up we headed out for the tour. We followed a small path for a little while. Along the way our guide pointed out a few things. We saw large ant hills along the trail and termite nests in the trees. We also saw some calabash trees (Crescentia cujete) along the trail. The tree produces a gourd like fruit that they use to make maracas. The trail led to a small dock area where we saw some small row boats with rowers. We were divided into small groups of three to a boat. So me, Thomas and Deanne got into a boat and our rower took us out into the lagoon. He paddled out to the middle of the lagoon where we saw a flock of about 26 flamingos. Our rower paddled us around the lagoon but didn't get too close to the flamingos and we were able to get some pictures. The lagoon was beautiful - surrounded by mangroves with some views of mountains in the distance. On our way back to the docks our rower took us to the edge to the mangroves and caught a small crab that was climbing up one of the trees. I loved being on the water and seeing the flamingos in the wild. Then we got off the boats and then finished the trail and returned to the patio area. When the second group returned we got back onto the bus and headed to our next destination - Jardín Botánico de Cienfuegos. The drive to the botanic garden took us about 15 minutes. We stopped at a visitor center and picked up a guide for the gardens and then drove a short distance down the road. The bus stopped and we all got off and then the bus continued down the road. Our guide walked us along the road and talked about the trees and plants along the way. We learned about bamboo, different fruit trees, flowers palm trees, banyan trees and brazil nuts. After about an hour the tour ended and we returned to the bus and headed back to the port. Our drive took us abut 45 minutes and we got a tour of the outskirts of Cienfuegos and then the city itself. Most of the buildings were run down and needed a lot of TLC. You could tell that once upon a time it was a beautiful place with lots of color and splendid architecture. I loved the lagoon and gardens but would have liked to see more of the city. We made it back to the dock and boarded a tender and we were taken back to the ship.

Once back on the ship we headed to the World Café for a late lunch but it was closed so we ended up at the Pool Grill. Thomas and I had a burger and fries and we just sat and relaxed by the pool and enjoyed the afternoon. After an hour and a half we headed to our cabin where we took showers and rested for a bit. At 5:00pm we met Dave and Deanne in the Explorer's Lounge for a drink. We relaxed and talked and then at 6:00pm we headed to Manfredi's for dinner. We had reservations in this specialty restaurant (no extra charge) for a nice, special, delicious Italian meal. The meal was so good and we all enjoyed ourselves. It was a quiet, relaxing dinner that lasted two hours. After dinner Thomas and Dave went back to the cabins and Deanne and I went to the Explorer's Lounge for another drink. An hour later I was ready for some sleep.

We had a great day in Cienfuegos and a wonderful meal back on the ship. We have to be up early tomorrow for our trip to Havana so it is time to hit the pillow.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

A Relaxing Day at Sea

Yesterday afternoon we left Key West and started cruising for Cuba. And today we have the entire day at sea with nothing planned. I did get up at 6:00am and go to the fitness center. I walked on the treadmill for about two miles and then went onto the jogging track and did one lap.
After walking I returned to the cabin to shower and get dressed. At 8:00am Thomas and I met Dave in the restaurant for breakfast. Deanne decided to go to the World Café. After a nice breakfast I returned to the cabin to get some papers filled out - we need visas to get into Cuba so we needed those filled out as well as a customs form. We also needed to fill out a disembarkation form and an embarkation survey. It took me 30 minutes to get all that done. Then I took everything down to the guest services desk to get checked and turned in.

With all of that completed I decided to wander the ship and take pictures.
Explorer Lounge
Last night Deanne and I had a drink in the Explorer Lounge but we only saw one small area of it. So this morning I explored the entire area (both levels). I have to say that I think is the most beautiful and relaxing part of the ship. And my second favorite is the Wintergarden. I didn't get to see the entire ship but I did get a lot of pictures. Then at 11:00am we all went to the Star Theater for a lecture about Cienfuegos. It was called Port Talk - Cienfuegos. We learned a little history and a little about the culture and then we got some information about the excursions we are going on while in Cuba. The talk lasted about 70 minutes and by this time we were ready for lunch. We ate at the buffet in the World Café and just relaxed as the ship glided through the water.

After lunch we returned to the cabin, did a little reading, organized a few things and relaxed. At around 3:00pm Deanne and I headed to the spa.
We did the Nordic Bathing Ritual. This was described in the spa booklet as . . .
Bade [Bathing] - The tradition of alternating sauna bathing with cold dips or snow runs in our Nordic culture. It detoxes the body, relaxes tired muscles and boosts circulation.
And this is how it is done . . .
* Relax in the sauna
* Dip into the cold plunge
* Heat up in the sauna again
* Step into the refreshing snow grotto
* Repeat as many times as you like
It was invigorating and relaxing all at the same time. After enjoying the ritual we found a couple of lounge chairs and relaxed for a while before returning to our cabins to get ready for dinner.
Thomas and I met Dave and Deanne in the Explorer Lounge for a drink before dinner and then around 6:30pm we headed to the restaurant. Thomas had Caesar Salad, Szechuan Style Beef Tenderloin, and Walnut Cake. I had Shrimp & Corvina Ceviche, Gambas Sauté Provençal (shrimp with rice), and Maple Pecan Bread Pudding. Another incredibly delicious meal. After dinner we walked around the ship a bit and then returned to our cabin. It has been a relaxing day and now we are ready for Cuba. In the morning we dock in Cienfuegos - I am truly excited about the next three days.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Cayo Hueso, Key West, The Conch Republic

Cayo Hueso translates to 'Island of the Bones' which was what Key West was named when Ponce de Leon arrived in 1851 to find nothing but a burial ground. Later the name was changed to Key West and then for a short period of time it became The Conch Republic in protest of a blockade on US1. To get a better history of the island go to The History of Key West. So, as you can guess, today we are in Key West, Florida.

Why did the chicken cross the road?
My day started at 6:00am when the alarm went off. I got dressed and made my way to deck 2 to the jogging path. I met Dave up there and we walked a couple of miles. It was a great way to start the day and we got to see the sunrise as we walked. After completing the two miles I returned to the cabin and took a shower and got changed. Then Thomas and I met Dave and Deanne in the World Cafe for breakfast. Here there is a buffet but you can also order eggs the way you want. So we had a leisurely breakfast and made plans for the day. At around 9:00am the ship docked in Key West. To get into town we had to take a trolley. We docked at a naval base and you are not allowed to walk through or take pictures. You can only leave and enter on the trolleys and you have to show your ship card and a government photo ID. So we took a shuttle which dropped us off in Mallory Square.
"Embracing Peace" by Seward Johnson
From here we walked along Front St. for a while and then turned around and went back to where we started. Then we walked down Duval St. for a while. We just enjoyed looking at everything and went into a few shops. Around 11:15am we got back on the trolley and returned to the ship for lunch. We ate again in the World Cafe at the lunch buffet and then relaxed in our cabin for a short time before leaving the ship again - this time for a guided Trolley Tour. We were on the Old Town Trolley Tours which is one of those hop-on/hop-off tours. There are 13 stops on the tour we took. For the most part we stayed on the tour until we got to the stop for the Southernmost Point of the Continental United States. We got off the trolley and walked about three blocks to the marker. We had planned to all take a picture here but when we arrived we noticed a line that was almost two blocks long of people waiting to do the same. I just went and got a picture of the marker and then we decided to just walk along Duval St. back to Mallory Square to catch the trolley back to the ship.
The trolley driver/tour guide was extremely talkative and funny. One story he told was of the three names that Key West has had as I mentioned in the title and first paragraph. The interesting part was the name 'The Conch Republic'. It started with a blockade by the border patrol to fight illegal drugs and immigration. This was an inconvenience to tourist and Key West relied on tourism. So, to fight this they decided to secede from the United States in 1982. Of course, this only lasted a short time (only a minute), and then The Conch Republic surrendered and then demanded one billion dollars in foreign aid to rebuild their nation. You can read more about this at Our History - The Conch Republic. Their motto is "We seceded where others failed.".

Once back on the ship we went to our cabin, showered and changed for dinner and then joined Dave & Deanne for  drink in the Atrium. While having drinks the ship left Key West and we set sail for Cuba. At 6:30pm we headed for the restaurant for dinner. Tonight Thomas had the chicken and I opted for the destination menu. I had Key West Conch Chowder, Cilantro Crusted Grouper and Key Lime Pie. All were amazingly delicious! After dinner Thomas and Dave went for a walk around the ship and Deanne and I went and worked on a jigsaw puzzle and had another drink. We weren't worried about making it an early evening as tomorrow is a day at sea with nothing planned.
We thoroughly enjoyed our day in Key West but we would have loved more time. No problem, we will plan another trip just to visit the Keys. So far the trip is definitely living up to expectations.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Dirigido a Cuba

Thomas and I are off on another trip. This time on a Viking Ocean Cruise. Our trip is called Cultural Cuba and we are on the Viking Sun. We sail from Miami to Key West then to Cienfuegos and then back to Miami. The plans for this trip began about a year ago and we have had a couple of hiccups along the way. Originally, we were suppose to go to Key West, Havana, Belize, Cozumel and Miami. But because of docking issues they changed it to the current itinerary. Not too bad as the new trip gives us more time in Cuba. And Viking gave us a $500 ship board credit. Then came all the hurricanes. Thankfully for us, Cuba wasn't hit too bad and our trip didn't change. So now we are off on this new adventure.

Our day began at 3:30am when the alarm went off. We got ready and loaded the car and left for the Albuquerque International Sunport a little after 4:00am. Everything went smooth, we checked our bags in and got our boarding passes. We were TSA Pre so going through security was quick and easy. Our flight from Albuquerque to Dallas was on time and we had no problems until we landed in Dallas. Our connecting flight has been delayed two hours. Now we have a cause for concern. We were landing in Miami around 2:00pm and then we would get shuttled to the ship by Viking. But with the delay we wouldn't arrive in Miami until 4:00pm. This worried me as my itinerary said the ship left the port at 5:00pm. So, after checking with the airline about the delay I called Viking. They changed our arrival time and said a Viking representative would be waiting for us and they would get us to the ship. I inquired about the departure time and was told that the ship wasn't leaving the port until 7:00pm. There wasn't anything else we could do so we just found a place to sit and read until our flight at 12:30pm.

Our flight didn't change again and we boarded our plane starting at noon and we took off at 12:40pm. The plane was pretty big - two seats on either side at the windows and three seats in the middle. There were 44 rows (not sure if this included first class or business class). We were in row 42 and we had all seven seats across for ourselves. Obviously, the plane wasn't full. We spent the two hours and 45 minutes reading and resting. We arrived in Miami a little after 4:00pm and after what seemed like an hour we got off the plane. Once we arrived at baggage claim we found the Viking representatives and let them know we had arrived. Then we waited about 15 minutes for our bags. There were two other people (also on our flight) and they shuttled us to the ship. It took us about 30 minutes to go through security and to get checked in. Once we had our cabin keys we made our way there to get settled. Then we contacted our friends (who happen to have the cabin next to us) and they came over and we visited for a few minutes and then we all decided to head to the lounge for a drink before dinner. Then at 6:30pm we headed to the dining room and had our first dinner on board the Viking Sun. It was fantastic. The ship offers a nightly menu, a destination menu (based on food from the area we are cruising to) and a set menu that is available every night. Thomas and I both got the destination menu which consisted of bacon wrapped plantains for a starter, coffee crusted ribeye with potatoes for the main course and peanut butter brownie sundae for dessert. Viking offers free wine and soda at lunch and dinner so we each had a couple of glasses of wine.  After a great meal and a lot of talking we headed out to explore the ship a bit. The thirty minutes later we headed for our cabin. We got things put away and took showers. Then figured out what we are doing tomorrow.

It has been a long day and now we need some sleep so we can enjoy Key West tomorrow. We are meeting our friends for breakfast at 8:00am and then we will head off the ship and explore Key West.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Buffalo and Beyond

Its our last day in New York and this morning we packed up, checked out of the hotel and headed out for one last day of adventure. Our first order of business was to find a letterbox which took us on a beautiful drive (avoiding interstates) along NY5 following the shore of Lake Erie.
You can read about that at One Last Box in New York. During the drive to Dunkirk for the letterbox we stopped in at a Tim Hortons for a coffee and snack (we had to do it - we saw Tim Hortons almost every day of our trip and we couldn't fly home without stopping at one). After finding the letterbox we retraced our drive back toward Buffalo. We stopped along the way to take pictures of the lake and we stopped at Evangola State Park. This is a beautiful park with a beach along Lake Erie. We took a little walk around the park and along the beach, took some pictures and relaxed on a bench enjoying the views of the beach and the lake. I am so glad we took the time to stop here. After about 40 minutes we shuffled off to Buffalo.

Once in the city we headed for the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens.
When you turn into ground of the gardens you are greeted with an amazing view of a beautiful Conservatory. We parked and entered the building from the front. We paid our fees and then took a self guided tour or all the houses in the Conservatory.
There are 12 houses, each with a different theme. We got to walk through all of them except one - it was being remodeled and was closed. Once we made it through all the indoor gardens we then went outside and walked through those gardens. This is a beautiful place and we enjoyed our visit. We decided to leave our car in the lot at the gardens and walk down the road to visit Our Lady of Victory Basilica. We first walked around the interior and took pictures and then we walked around the exterior and took pictures. A very beautiful building both inside and out - just incredible. We then walked back to the car and headed to one last stop.
We drove to Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site. Once we parked and made our way inside we paid our fee, I got the Passport Stamps and bought some postcards. Then we went on a guided tour of the house and learned some very interesting facts about Teddy. It was a very enjoyable visit. After the tour we decided to call it a day and head for our hotel.

Our hotel for tonight is right at the airport. We fly our at 6:00am and I didn't want to drive from Niagara Falls or Buffalo so I made reservations close to the airport - like right across the street. Once we found the hotel we decided to grab some dinner and then fill the car with gas so it would be ready to bring back in the morning. Then we checked into the hotel, showered and then got things packed for the trip home. Now time to get to sleep - it will be an early morning and a long day tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Niagara Falls USA

I was up early this morning (somewhere around 5:30am) but opted to lay in bed and read. After a while Thomas and I got up and ready for the day. Around 8:00am we left the hotel, turned left and walked along Rainbow Blvd. to 1st St. where we took another left. We followed 1st St. which took us onto a bridge that crossed the Niagara River over to Goat Island.
Once onto Goat Island we turned right onto Goat Island Road and followed it to Cave of the Winds. We were a little early and had to wait about 15 minutes before they opened the ticket window. We were two of only five people there waiting and I was excited that it wouldn't be crowded at the exhibit. We followed the roped off walkway, was issued a poncho and sandals and then we entered an elevator that took us to the platform that lead to the base of the American Falls. With the water falling from above, hitting and flowing over the rocks and wind it was a very wet experience. And as we went from platform to platform and got closer to the base of the Falls we definitely felt that Cave of the Winds was the perfect name - the wind whips around and sprays water everywhere. We made it up to a platform called Hurricane Deck. Being from Louisiana and having experienced a few hurricanes I think they aptly named this area. This brought us to the end and we made our back to the elevators totally drenched. The poncho and sandals helped some but not much. Thankfully it was a beautiful, sunny, and warm day which helped us to dry off relatively fast. I loved this tour - it was fun and exhilarating!

We had towels so we were able to dry off a bit and then sit on a bench in the sun for a while before continuing with our day. Off we went to Terrapin Point. This brought us to the edge of Horseshoe Falls. We took pictures, enjoyed the views and talked about how much we have loved this trip. Then we walked over to the Nikola Tesla statue and then crossed over to Luna Island which brought us to the edge of the Bridal Veil Falls and the American Falls.
At this point we had great views of the Cave of the Winds Decks, Bridal Veil Falls and the American Falls. We could also see the boats for the Maid of the Mist tour and the Observation Tower. Next we followed a trail along the Niagara River and crossed a bridge to Green Island and then over to the main part of Niagara Falls State Park.
We took paths that lead us to Maid of the Mist ticket booth. We got our tickets and followed the line to the boat. When I say line it really wasn't a big line, more like a trickle. Once on the boat it was a short wait for the ride to the base of the Horseshoe Falls. This was our second trip to the base of the Falls. We took the Hornblower Tour on the Canadian side a few days ago. We enjoyed the first trip so much we decided to do it again. We didn't get nearly as wet as we did at Cave of the Winds and we dried off much quicker this time. After the boat ride we made our way to the Observation Tower just to get some views. We took a few pictures, hung out, and then decided it was time to move on.

By this time we were hungry so we made our way to Hard Rock Cafe and had a leisurely and relaxing lunch. After eating we walked through One Niagara Welcome Center and looked around a bit. Then we decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel. Tomorrow we check out of this hotel so we took some time to organize and pack and then we sat around and read for a while. Later we walked a couple of blocks to The Twisted Olive for some dinner before calling it a night. We had a great time in Niagara Falls and I am so glad we took this trip. We also came at a great time - it wasn't busy and there were no crowds - extremely enjoyable and we check off another item on our bucket list. We have one more day on this trip and we will spend it in the Buffalo area.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A Rainy Day in Niagara Falls

We woke up this morning to a pouring rain. So we lounged around and read for a while and hoped that the rain would at least slow down. Eventually it did and we decided to skip any of the Falls activities and doe some things around the area - it mostly involved letterboxing.
You can read the details of that adventure at Niagara Scenic Parkway Boxes.

We left the hotel and drove the Niagara Scenic Parkway and ended up in Youngstown. We did our letterboxing and thought we might go to Fort Niagara State Park but the rain kept coming on and off. So we headed back toward Niagara Falls. We stopped at Devil's Hole State Park when the rain let up and we had a bit of nice weather to walk around along the river. I was surprised to learn of all the State Parks in this area. Here is the list I made of the State parks in this area . . . Fort Niagara State Park, Joseph Davis State Park, Devil's Hole State Park, Whirlpool State Park, De Veaux Woods State Park, and Niagara Falls State Park. Amazing!
We only made stops at Devil's Hole and Whirlpool. Mostly because it rained off and on and we didn't feel like hiking in the rain. But when the rain stopped we did get to walk around and enjoy the views. And we did get some letterboxing in and you can read about that at Niagara Scenic Parkway Boxes.

Eventually, we became hungry and decided to find a place to eat. We ended up at Rock Burger. A small hole in the wall at the back of a sports bar. After a great burger we decided to call it a day. We were a little damp and wanted to take showers. Once at the hotel and cleaned up we spent time reading and relaxing. The forecast for tomorrow calls for a beautiful day and we will probably spend the day at the Falls.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Head Back to Niagara Falls

Early this morning we left Albany and headed west making our way back to Niagara Falls. We had a few options of stopping along the way to see some things. Nothing was set in stone we would just play it by ear as we drove the New York State Thruway. Our first decision to stop was in Rome to visit Fort Stanwix National Monument. But before we made it to the Monument we decided to have breakfast. We stopped at Raspberries. When we arrived the place was empty and we were a little concerned if this was the right choice. But right after we placed our order four people walked in, then three more and then a bus load of students. I was glad we got there before the bus or it could have been a very long wait. Turned out that the food was delicious and the service was excellent. After breakfast was done we made our way to Fort Stanwix. We arrived just in time to join a guided tour that had just started. We got some history and information in the lobby and then headed into an exhibit and then off to the Fort itself. The tour lasted about half an hour and then we were free to roam around the Fort. After another half an hour we made our way back to the Visitor Center where I bought some postcards and got the Passport Stamps. Then it was time to hit the road again.

Before we reached I90 it started to rain. At first it was a soft rain that soon developed into a downpour. We had to slow down to about 30mph and the visibility was horrific. There were a few time we thought about pulling off but we continued to drive just going slow and being careful. The rain lasted for a little over an hour and then the sun came out and it turned into a beautiful day.

We made our next stop in Auburn to visit the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park. Unfortunately, the Site isn't open on Mondays so we missed that and incidentally we also wanted to visit the Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls but unfortunately they were only open on the weekends due to not having enough staff. After striking out on these two places we decided just to head to our hotel in Niagara Falls.

After checking in and getting settled in our room we thought we might head toward the Falls and walk around but we were both worn out. The pouring rain during the drive really exhausted us. So we read and rested until around 6:00pm when we decided to find something to eat. We ended up walking just a few blocks from our hotel to Villella's Italian Ristorante. Again, we worried because there wasn't anyone else there. Turned out we shouldn't have worried. The food was delicious and it was nice being in a quiet environment. It was also a nice way to end the day.

Once dinner was done we headed back to the hotel and relaxed. We have no plan for tomorrow - we will see what happens.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Spending the Day with the National Park Service

Our plans for today involved a drive from Albany to Hyde Park. We are going on a road trip to visit a few National Monuments. I had mapped out a drive that avoided any interstates, so we traveled state and US highways. It was a beautiful drive. We stopped in Hudson for some coffee and a snack about halfway through our drive. It took us about half an hour to arrive in Hyde Park.
And we made our first stop at the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site. The only way to visit the home is through a guided tour. We had about 45 minutes to wait until the next tour started so I made sure to grab my Passport Stamps and visit the gift shop for some postcards and a patch. Then we walked around the Visitor Center and looked at an exhibit until the tour began. The tour started with an introduction of the area through an inlaid mosaic map on the floor of the Visitor Center. Then we walked to Springwood (FDR's home) and we got a tour of the downstairs and more history and information. Then we were free to roam around the house and go upstairs. When we were done we could visit the grounds on our own. The views from the back of the house were incredible. We also toured the garden and graves of Franklin and Eleanor in the gardens. Our last stop here was FDR's Presidential Library and Museum. This was the first Presidential Library ever and it was opened while FDR was still President (he was the only President to be elected to four terms). Here is blurb about FDR felt about opening a library.
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed the idea of building a library to house his papers and memorabilia, detractors believed he was simply interested in constructing a monument to himself. Roosevelt, however, viewed the library as a solution to two problems – how to simultaneously preserve and provide public access to the records of his presidency. His was an attitude of “open government,” believing that the people of the United States were entitled to a better look at how their government was working, even at the executive level.                
We spent about an hour and a half in the Library and barely got through the main floor exhibits. We didn't have time to visit the lower level so we will definitely have to make a trip back here.
So we left the FDR's place and headed about a mile and a half away to the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site. We stopped in at the Visitor Center and paid our fee, grabbed the Passport Stamps and some postcards and then took the guided tour of the house - Val-Kill. We had the most incredible tour guide. I think he is probably the best tour guide I have ever had at a National Park Unit. Not only was he knowledgeable and fun, he was also inspired and filled with emotion. You could tell that he truly loved everything about Eleanor Roosevelt. He brought her to life through his tour - it was an amazing time walking through the house and learning about this incredible woman. By the time we finished the tour it had started to rain and we still had a couple of things we wanted to see. So we left Val-Kill and began our drive back toward Albany. But while still in Hyde Park we made a stop at Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site. When we got there we learned that the mansion was undergoing renovations and there was no furniture in the place. So we decided to skip the guided tour and just looked around the gift shop and at a couple of exhibits. I did get the Passport Stamps and some postcards before we were back on the road headed back to Albany.
We made another stop along the way at the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site. Here we wanted to take the tour of Lindenwald - his home. We made it to the Visitor Center just in time to get some postcards and the Passport Stamps before the last tour of the day started. The Ranger at the Visitor Center locked up and the escorted us to the house for the tour. Here we met a young man who gave us a 40 minute tour of the house. Such wonderful history and information. Ever since we had left Eleanor Roosevelt's place it had been raining and it was still raining when our tour ended at Lindenwald. Still I wanted to get a couple of pictures of the outside and thankfully the rain at this point was only a light drizzle and I was able to get a good picture before we returned to the car.

I have to say that his was one of the most enjoyable days of this trip. I learned so much about some incredible people and have a new appreciation of what they contributed to our country. I was most impressed with Eleanor Roosevelt - what a strong, intelligent, dedicated, caring, and hard working person. I think I have found a new hero.

We finished our drive back to Albany and decided to stop for a bite to eat before heading back to the hotel. It was around 6:30pm when we got dinner and it was almost 8:00pm when we arrive at the hotel. It has been a long day, full of information and history, very enjoyable.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

A Day in Albany

We didn't have any major plans for this morning so we didn't set an alarm and when we did wake up we stayed in bed and read for a while before getting up and ready for the day.
When we finally left the hotel we headed a little north of Albany to Cohoes Falls. The Falls are located on the Mohawk River in the town of Cohoes. There is a small park that sits up above the river with great views of the Falls. And there is a walkway that leads down to the river. We didn't quite make it to the river because there is a gate and they lock it if the trail is too wet or not passable. But we still enjoyed visiting the Cohoes Falls and after a little time and some pictures we headed back to Albany.

Our first stop in Albany was the Albany Heritage Area Visitors Center on Broadway. We stopped in and talked with two very nice women and got lots of information. There was free parking behind the building for the weekend. So we decided to leave the car here and walk around.
We walked along Broadway to Maiden Lane. Here we stopped in at Stacks Espresso Bar for some coffee and a snack. We spent about 40 minutes here just relaxing and then continued our walk. We walked up Maiden Lane and then merged onto the Mohawk Hudson Hike Bike Trail. This is an elevated walkway that took us over Interstate 787 and to Jennings Landing. From here the Trail continues in both directions following the Hudson River. We headed south on the trail, taking our time and enjoying the views along the way.
We walked for a while going under the Dunn Memorial Bridge, passing the USS Slater and eventually ended at Dutch Apple Cruises & Tours. We had reservations for a Hudson River Boat Cruise at 1:00pm. We arrived about an hour early so we found a spot to sit and relax while we waited to board for the cruise. Around 12:40pm they opened the gate and we were able to board the boat. We went up to the second level and found a table with two chairs and picked that as our spot to enjoy our tour of the Hudson River. Our tour took us south on the river but I am not sure how far we went. I do know that the tour laste an hour and 45 minutes. It was interesting and informative. Our tour guide was knowledgeable and funny. We saw wonderful areas of nature and beautiful homes as well as deer, herons and an eagle. I really enjoyed the relaxing boat ride, the history and the scenery. I really recommend Dutch Apple Cruises & Tours.
Once we were off the boat and back on solid land we started our walk back to downtown Albany. We followed the Mohawk Hudson Hike Bike Trail for only a short distance again going under the Dunn Memorial Bridge until we came to a stop light and crosswalk that took us across Quay Ave. and through an underpass to Broadway. Since it is Saturday and all the office and government agencies were closed the downtown area was quiet and peaceful.
We walked along Broadway enjoying the beautiful afternoon and stopped along the way to take pictures or sit and relax on a bench. One of the first stops we made was at SUNY (State University of New York) Administration Building. The building was stunning. After taking pictures and sitting and relaxing we decided we were hungry. We saw a sign for Jack's Oyster House and headed there. It was still early for dinner but we hadn't had anything today except for our coffee and snack before our cruise. So we needed a good meal. The restaurant was a little expensive but the food was incredible. Thomas had a Filet Mignon and I had the Crabcakes with Mango Chipolte Herb Aioli. Both meals came with a salad and fresh steamed vegetables. Absolutely delicious! From the restaurant we continued along Broadway and stopped and relaxed on a bench in Tricentennial Square. After a short rest we finished our walk back at the Visitors Center and our car.
 We had a great relaxing day and decided we were ready to return to the hotel and do some more relaxing and some reading. I also did a little research to see what we could do in the area tomorrow. I found something for us to do but will require a drive. Now that I have this post complete it is time for some sleep.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Driving Across New York

This morning we were up early and getting things ready to leave Niagara Falls and Canada. And today is my birthday. Our plan is to drive across New York and make our way to Albany. So about 6:30am we caught a shuttle from the hotel to our car and then we headed to the border crossing. There wasn't any traffic and we drove straight to the booth.
The border agent asked us two questions, looked at our passports and waved us through. Once over the border we headed to I90 and then headed east. I90 is a toll road and part of the New York State Thruway system. One of the things I liked about this road was the rest areas (or travel plazas) along the way. They were all inclusive - meaning they had restaurants, gas stations, stores, coffee, bathrooms and information. Anything you needed, not having to worry about where the next gas station might be.

Once we had maneuvered all the roads and arrived on I90 we decided to look for a place for breakfast. We noticed a sign for a Denny's and we headed there. After getting something to eat and then filling the car with gas we got back on I90 and continued our drive.
Near Port Byron we pulled off the thruway at the Erie Canal Heritage Park at Port Byron. We met the nicest woman who gave us a lot of history and information about the canal and the area. Then we explored some locks that are still intact. After about an hour we got back on the road and continued our trip.  We drove for a while and made our next stop at the Guilderland Travel Plaza. Our main reason for stopping was to find a letterbox and you can read about that at A Rest and A Box. While here we also got some coffee and then continued on our way. Finally, we arrived in Albany and in plenty of time to go and take a tour of the State Capitol. We wanted to arrive early enough to take the tour since the Capitol is closed on the weekends. Once we were near the Capitol finding a parking spot was a challenge - thankfully someone pulled away from a  parking meter and we grabbed it.

Once on the Capitol grounds we walked around the building and took some pictures and then headed inside.
After going through security we made our way to the information desk and asked about the tours. There was a tour starting in the next 30 minutes so until then we went to the gift shop and got some postcards and then returned to the information desk. Just before the tour started I got my Capitol stamp and then we met the other three people that were joining the tour - two of the other three were from Albuquerque - 'small world'. Our tour guide was an incredibly knowledgeable and entertaining man. The tour lasted about an hour and 15 minutes and we got to see all the important areas, artwork and features. This Capitol building is one of my favorites - beautiful. classic and interesting. I thoroughly enjoyed our tour and it was worth our drive across New York to visit.
It was about 4:00pm when we left the Capitol area and headed for our hotel. We had reservations at a Hampton Inn off of Wolf Road in the northwest part of the city. So we got to the hotel and checked in and then got settled into our room. About an hour later we walked next door to the Warehouse Grill & BBQ for some dinner. After eating we returned to the hotel and relaxed. Now I need to get some rest. It has been a long day and we are both tired and thankfully we don't have to be up early. It was a good birthday and we had a great time and we look forward to our weekend in Albany.