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.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

A Walk Along Niagara Parkway

Yesterday we had an incredible day - it was busy and fun and long. So this morning we slept in and when we did get up we moved slow and took our time getting ready for the day. It was some time after 9:30am before we left the room and walked from the hotel along the promenade to Murray St and then to Queen Victoria Park. This is where we wanted to catch the WEGO bus and ride it the 10 kilometers (about 6 miles) to the Floral Clock. Our plan was to walk from the Floral Clock along the Niagara Parkway and take in some sights and do some letterboxing (which you can read about at A Day of Boxing Along the Niagara River). The bus dropped us off in the parking area for the Floral Clock where there is also restrooms and a gift shop. We spent a little time taking pictures, walking around the area and just sitting and relaxing. After about a half hour we started our walk back. We crossed the road and took the Niagara River Recreation Trail heading back toward the Falls.

 We walked along the paved trail and we passed in front of the Sir Adam Beck Generating Stations (we were across the road from the station overlooking the river) and at that point there are structures down below on the edge of the river on both the Canada and United States sides. While studying the structures we noticed some movement just on the other side of the fence. I noticed part of a head sticking out of a hole along a concrete slab. We waited a minute or two and finally the animal came out of the hole and I was able to take a couple of pictures. I am sure it was a marmot and it was so cute but looked really scared. So I stopped taking pictures and we moved on to leave the little fellow to relax. We continued along on our walk enjoying the wonderful views of the river. It was only a short distance until we arrived at the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens and Butterfly Conservatory. By this time we were hungry so we had a little snack at the Butterfly Café before visiting the gardens. At first we thought we would visit the Butterfly Conservatory but after checking out the price we decided it wasn't worth the money so we grabbed a map of the garden and took off exploring. We walked around the gardens admiring the flowers, pond and layout. I kind of lost track of time and I am not sure how long we were there but I have to guess it was over an hour.

Our walk along Niagara Parkway and the Niagara River Recreation Trail next took us to the Niagara Glen Nature Reserve. From the parking area (we were walking - no car, but that is where we entered the area) we went down some stairs. There was an open area with a large picnic pavilion and some trees and then there was a viewing area that overlooked the river. We spent a little time just enjoying the view and then we continued on our way.

We next arrived at a golf course, a ropes course and some hiking trails at Thompson's Point. We did a little hiking on some trails that went through a wooded area and lead us to some incredible views of the river. We spent about 40 minutes in this area before returning back to the Niagara River Recreational Trail.

Continuing our walk we made our way to the Great Wolf Lodge. We were only here for a letterbox and you can read about that at A Day of Boxing Along the Niagara River. We did walk around the building and quickly noticed that this Lodge is geared toward families and kids. There is a large water slide and a mini golf course. We didn't spend much time here and soon we were on our way again.

From the Lodge we crossed the road and arrived at the Whirlpool Aero Car. We didn't ride the car we just watched it as it crossed over the whirlpool. We decided we had walked enough and decided to catch the WEGO bus to the Table Rock Welcome Centre. We had to wait about 15 minutes for the next bus heading south and then we were on our way. The bus made around three or four stops before arriving at the Welcome Center. Here we decided to grab a couple of souvenirs and gifts and some snacks before heading back to the room. So we shopped for a bit and then went upstairs to Pop & Lolly's to grab some sweets for later on. Then we took the pedestrian walkway to the Falls Incline. We had walked about 8.5 miles today and we thought that we deserved to take the ride up to our hotel instead of walking all the way around and up the hill (probably another mile or so).

So, once we were back in our room we took showers and relaxed. Around 6:00pm we decided to go and get something to eat. We found an Italian restaurant about two blocks from the hotel. Even though we had pizza last night we decided we wanted it again tonight. So we walked the two blocks to Zappi's. And we did have pizza again, and it was delicious. We really enjoyed our meal and the staff was friendly and the service was excellent.  Then after eating we walked back to the hotel to get packed. Tomorrow we leave Niagara Falls, Ontario and drive to Albany, NY.