Oct 21, 2014

Hauntings in New York State

The Rolling Hills Asylum in East Bethany is a sprawling brick building built in 1827 as The Genesee County Poor Farm and in the 1950s it was a county home and infirmary. Over the years people reported strange occurrences of the paranormal kind. It was declared the “Second Most Haunted Place in the United States” by Haunted North America and has been featured
on many TV shows. So, maybe that makes it the most haunted in NYS but it depends on who is promoting what.  I find it interesting that paranormal activities are so popular again.  There are groups that go to places to discover paranormal activities.  C.I.T Pit Cru is a CNY group that had done paranormal investigations at Casey’s Cottage at Mexico Point and recently investigated the Starr Clark Tin Shop and Underground Railroad Museum.

Forts are often places with hauntings and Fort Ontario is no
exception. The ghost of British lieutenant who lost his life in a 1759 duel has been seen by many; and also Corporal Fykes who died of disease in 1782. According to local legend anyone who walks over Fykes’ grave in the Post Cemetery will be haunted forever but if you jump over his grave he will haunt the person of your choosing.

Lighthouses are another favorite places for hauntings and the iconic Oswego Lighthouse is no different. It is said to be haunted because people have reported seeing lights in the windows and sensing a “presence.” Probably the most familiar Oswego tale is that of the Seneca Hill ghost who is reported to make an appearance in early November. Clad in white nightgown, she and a child have been seen running on the Route 57 hill. Supposedly, she committed suicide by jumping from a barn window after the end of the world did not happen as predicted.

In Syracuse the opulent Landmark Theater is said to be haunted by
the spirit of Clarissa who fell to her death from a balcony in 1930. It may have been when she saw her husband electrocuted while working on the stage or, according to another version she was an actress distraught over losing a coveted role.  It is just one of the hauntings at this historic “movie palace” theater.

There are a variety of paranormal activities and I think one of the interesting ones deals with vortexes and ley lines. Vortexes and ley lines are places where there are special energy forces.  In fact, some say the vortex portal at Thompson Park has sent people into time warps and has transported people to other parts of the park. For more than 100 years there have been reports of people who have “gone missing” only to show up claiming they were transported to the “past.”  I first heard about the phenomena when John and I visited the Great Serpent Mound in Ohio.  It was late in the day and there was only one other person there.  She was walking around with what looked like divining rods looking for ley lines.  She said she had driven all the way from NYC because she felt the ley lines would reenergizer her. Later we saw her stretched out on the ground in the head of the serpent.  I hope it helped her because the drive alone would have sapped my energy.

Oct 14, 2014

Visit New York's Letchworth Park

Letchworth State Park is located 35 miles southwest of Rochester
and 60 miles southeast of Buffalo in Livingston and Wyoming counties. The park is roughly 17 miles long, covering 14,350 acres of land along the Genesee River with three major waterfalls and several lesser ones. The largest is 107 feet high. The canyon was carved by the river over thousands of years with some of the cliffs nearly 600 feet above the river

John and I have been to Letchworth several times and it is at its loveliest in the fall. I would love to go in the spring when the water is high and the falls are at full expanse.  There are several ways to access the park but everyone should explore the entire 17 miles. There are many overlooks, campsites, and picnic areas. From the northernmost entrance at Mt. Morris driving south the first stop is to view the 230-foot Mt. Morris Dam.  It is a dry dam designed to control flooding. I saw pictures of the flooding in 1972 during Hurricane Agnes when the entire gorge filled with water.  Amazing.  

The people of New York State owe William P. Letchworth a debt of
gratitude for donating the land to the State of New York in 1906.  He bought the land and what is now the Glen Iris Inn as a retreat from his business life. More land was added to the park in later years.  During The Great Depression several CCC camps were established. The “boys” built roads, bridges, trails, camps and made many improvements during their tenure.  When the “boys” went to fight in World War II the camp was used to house prisoners of war. There are storyboards where one of the camps was located. 

John and I stayed at Glen Iris Inn which is only $100 ($120 in October, their peak season). The rooms are small but nicely decorated all with an ensuite bathroom. The suites have a roomy sitting room and one has a small balcony. There is a lovely library/lounge on the third floor. The dining room is large and I was surprised at how many tour buses stop for lunch.  We enjoyed relaxing on the long porch with an adult libation as the day ended.  I definitely want to go back again, and again.

Just behind the Inn is the Museum. We watched a couple of their
videos and marveled at the huge mastodon head that was uncovered nearby in 1876.  At the top of the hill behind the Inn is the Council Grounds with a statue to Mary Jemison, “The White Woman of the Genesee” and two log buildings.  Letchworth had Jemison’s remains reburied there. Today there is a statue of Jemison. She was born on the boat from Ireland to America and while her family was moving west through Pennsylvania all but Mary were massacred by the Senecas. She was adopted and raised by the Senecas, married, had a family, and acted as a moderating influence in the relationship between the Seneca and the white settlers. 

At the end of the day while relaxing on the porch of Glen Iris we watched the hot air balloons owned by Balloons over Letchworth over the Middle Falls.  The view must have been outstanding.  I put Balloons over Letchworth on my Gotta-do List. The same group also organizes rafting. Letchworth has something for all seasons.

Oct 6, 2014

Smokin' Joe's Native Center in Niagara Falls USA

John and I love to stop in Niagara Falls whenever possible.  The Seneca Niagara Casino is our favorite place stay because of the many things to do in the hotel and nearby.  Besides the gaming the restaurants are excellent and so it the spa. I also like all the Native American touches.  In the lobby there is a large statue of an eagle with the Hiawatha Belt carved in the wings.
 The Hiawatha Belt has a pine tree in the middle to represent the sacred tree and the Onondagas who are the “Keepers of the Flame.” The symbols on the side represent the other four nations of the original Iroquois confederacy: the Senecas, Cayugas, Oneidas and the Mohawk. There is a lot of Native American artwork throughout the casino.

After we checked in I had time to go to the spa for a relaxing manicure/pedicure and then we set out to check out one of the newest attractions in The Falls. From the hotel we walked down the pedestrian mall to Smokin’ Joe’s Native American Center for their show.  It is the newest attraction at Niagara Falls and a favorite tour bus stop especially for foreign groups.  It is difficult to
connect with the Native culture so this is a great new venue for Americans and foreigners.  The show called “The Spirit of the Mist” is billed as the “Longest running Native American Dance Show in Niagara Falls, USA and North America”; however, it has only been open since 2013. That is an indication of the dearth of Native American cultural experiences available anywhere.  Such a presentation is great for learning about and preserving a culture. 

The multimedia show is vibrant in costuming, music and dance. The presentation is called a “spirit” journey.  One dance calls on the
power of thunder before heading off to battle.  Another invokes the lilting sounds of the native flute to woo a loved one. The eagle, an important symbol in native culture, carries all prayers to the Creator. During the dance of the buffalo hunt the buffalo is honored for providing food, clothing and tools.  The dancers are all professionals in elaborate costumes with the Hoop Dance being an amazing display of dexterity and skill. The sound of the drum in all the presentations helps to tell the story and is said to represent the heartbeat. 

Smokin’ Joe is the tag name of Joseph Anderson who started a smoke shop that has now grown into the Native Center with a retail area divided into one featuring handcrafted Native American articles while the other is basically Niagara Falls souvenirs. There is also a restaurant and other facets of the Center. The show is a do-not miss with at least one presentation each night and an excellent addition to Niagara Falls USA. 

On the way back to Seneca Niagara Casino we stopped in the
pedestrian mall to listen to some excellent country music.  It is another example of fun things to do in Niagara Falls besides all the thrilling experiences associated with the waterfalls – most of which we have done but they are always fun no matter how many times they are experienced. 

At the hotel the musical evening continued at the new trendy Stir Stage, where they feature live performers. It is adjacent to the casino floor.  Our musical evening included Native American, country and ended with an all-girl group from Canada playing contemporary rock.  

Oct 1, 2014

Great things to do in Bangkok

John and I have been to Bangkok many times.  It is a great
destination but also a connecting city to other destinations in Asia. There is no city quite like Bangkok.  We have several favorite things to see and do. The Temple of Dawn, Wat (Thai for temple) Arum is located on the “other side” of the river so it is not always on a typical tour as it is located across the Chao Phraya River from most of the favorite tourist destinations. It was built in the 17th century and was the first place to catch the sun but the views in the evening are just as stunning. It still has sweeping views from its higher terraces where it catches the morning sun.
It is different from other temples in that the 230-foot spire is decorated with tiny pieces of colored glass and Chinese porcelain arranged in beautiful patterns. It is a Buddhist temple and a place of worship so visitors need to keep that in mind and be respectful. 

Across the river is Wat Po, Temple of the Reclining Buddha. The
Buddha is nearly 50-feet high and 141-feet long. Of special interest are the soles of Buddha’s feet which are inlaid with mother-of-pearl designs that are associated with Buddha. Nearby are 108 bronze bowls that refer to the characters on the soles. People drop coins in the bowls which is believed to bring good fortune and help the monks maintain the temple. The temple complex is considered Thailand’s first public university. The murals that are spread throughout the complex explain a wide variety of topics from geography to science to religion. It is famed as the birthplace of Thai massage and, of course, massages are available. Thai massages can be gentle or intense.  John says a traditional Thai is like being beaten up in slow motion. 

On the must-do list is the expansive grounds of the Grand Palace that are awash with golden temples and glittering mosaics. We have been several times and it is actually best to go when there is nothing special going on as it can be very crowded or in some cases closed to the public. The most revered temple in Thailand is the one that houses the Emerald Buddha. The small Buddha is actually made of jade and has a fascinating history of being captured and recovered, then lost and found.  While there are many incredible things to see and do I am always impressed with the Yaksha which are the guardians of the temple based on the Thai benevolent nature-spirits even though the faces do not look kindly to me. They are impressive is size and design. 

I love rivers and the Chao Phraya that winds through the city with many side canals (klong) is a great place for a tour on a classic long-tail boat. There are tours of the river, klongs, to a floating market and also dinner cruises. 

Shopping is not my favorite thing to do but there many malls, street stalls, and wet markets. I did enjoy the home of the American Jim Thompson where silk is sold. Thompson was the Thai silk entrepreneur who mysteriously went missing in 1967. The house is a traditional Thai-style building with Thompson’s collection of Thai paintings and rare Buddhas on display. Bangkok is a good base for day trips to the River Kwai, the Death Railway; or to Ayutthaya, the ancient capital. 

Exploring Route 20 in New York State

Route 20 is the longest road in the United States starting in Kenmore Square in Boston, Massachusetts and ending in Newport, Oregon.  It is 3,365 miles from coast to coast. Each state, working alone and in conjunction with adjoining states, is trying to promote the road to the benefit of all the towns, villages, accommodations, restaurants, and tourist attractions along the way.  What they need is a TV show and a song similar to the one about Route 66. The song and TV show made Route 66 a “gotta’ do” for many tourists and even though the show ran from 1960 to 1964 it still pays off for tourist attractions along the way.  By the way, Route 66 is only 2,451 miles long.

In New York, State Route 20 is 372.32 miles long making it the longest surface road in NYS. It starts at the Massachusetts state line and runs south of the NYS Thruway turning near Buffalo and following Lake Erie to Pennsylvania and onward across the country.  With the exception of Albany it doesn’t go through any large cities but connects wonderful towns and villages separated by beautiful countryside. Any portion of Route 20 will make a great day trip or, better yet, spend a couple days staying at one of the lovely inns or B&Bs along the way. Visit the local attractions plus there are also great places to dine.  Considering driving Route 20 in just one county.

Schoharie County
John and I recently explored Schoharie County.  Schoharie County
calls itself “Picture Perfect” with good reason. The scenery is beautiful and fall is a great time to buy fresh farm produce and/or take a walk in the woods. Where Route 20 and Route 30 meets there is a sign that leads to Landis Arboretum, a 548-acre public garden featuring plants, trees, old-growth forest, hiking trails and educational activities. It is also “New York’s Land of Caves” as it is home to Howe Caverns, the largest cave in the Northeast.  We have been several times and the thrill is always the same, especially on the boat ride on the underground river. The Secret Caverns are on my “To-do” list.

Madison County
Route 20 along the stretch that includes Bouckville is a treasure trove of items for the antique hunter. The lovely village of Cazenovia on the lake of the same name is home to Cazenovia College, many fine shops, restaurants, and historic inns and historic Lorenzo. The Lorenzo Visitor Center has an introductory video and several informative displays. The house overlooking the lake is worth a visit in its own right but the gardens are wonderful. I loved the double hedge of white pine, hemlock and Norway spruce area called Dark Alley.

Cayuga County
Auburn is an excellent destination with something for everyone.
John and I once spent the night at the Holiday Inn so we would have more time to take in the sites plus attend a play at Merry-Go-Round Playhouse in the evening.  The Seward House is a powerhouse of historic information. Auburn is home of Harriet Tubman, known as “The Moses of Her People.”  The Willard Memorial Chapel has outstanding examples of Tiffany glass.

In Oswego County one of my favorite day trips is to Salmon River Falls with a stop at the Salmon River Hatchery and now that we can also stop at Tailwater Lodge for a meal it is even more enticing. 

Sep 16, 2014

Visiting Schools while traveling

There are many places where students go to school six days a week
including the school I visited near Siem Reap, Cambodia. Interestingly they only have classes five of the days.  On Thursdays they clean the school and work in the garden where they grow food that is used for their lunch. When I entered the fourth grade classroom all the students stood up.  After greeting them I said that they could be seated. My guide said, “No, they must stay standing as a sign of respect to their guests.”  Oh, my, I can talk for a long time.  I noticed they had their math books open to a page of problems similar to what I saw when I visited a school near my house.  

I do school programs in the United States and in many of the countries we visit.  Visiting schools is a great way for me to meet the local people and learn about their customs.  What we learn in foreign countries we then share via presentations here in the United States.  Some schools are very modern such as International Schools but in most countries there is a wide diversity in the quality of education.  I was surprised when I visited an
International School in Yangon, Myanmar.  The students were dropped off by their parents in new cars just like here in the United States.  In most international schools all subjects are taught in English. There were familiar signs in the school such as “Don’t run in the halls” and the school was decorated for Valentine’s Day.  
We also visited schools in the remote part of Myanmar where the one classroom was made of bamboo with three walls.  Most of the students wore the traditional longyis, a waist-to-ankle wraparound “skirt.”  The girls’ longyis were more colorful than the boys. I noticed one boy had on blue jeans.  He must have thought he was stylish in his Western-like outfit but the truth is that the longyi is better suited to hot, humid Myanmar. 

In many Asian schools we have visited English is being taught.  In some the more remote schools the teachers had an extremely limited command of English but taught the words they knew so we would do an impromptu English lesson.  Tourism plays an important part in the economy of many countries and the language of tourism and business is English so those with a command of English have the opportunity to get a decent job. 

Some things that are the same world over: All students have to sit in
their seat, listen to the teacher, do their work, and afterschool they like to play with their friends.  Schools around the world are interesting in their differences. In a city school in Laos the students stood in line by grades in the yard for morning announcements made by the principal on a megaphone.  At the end she mentioned all the students who had not been doing their work. Many of the remote schools, especially those in Buddhist monasteries, know that visitors will leave a donation that is much needed. Buddhist schools are free and often offer the best education in some areas.

One school we visited in China was for students who went to Chinese schools during the day but in the evenings they attend English language schools. There were one thousand students just in this one location. 

Sep 9, 2014

Tailwater Lodge in Altmar, New York

John and I loved many things about Tailwater Lodge.  I love old buildings that have found new life as something entirely different.  Such is the case of the Altmar Elementary School. This is the third school turned hotel we have stayed at but the only one that is not even remotely recognizable as a former school. School-to-hotel is not a quantum leap. They have a lot in common: halls, rooms, and a kitchen making the adaption easier.  I read a little about Tailwater Lodge before our visit but it still caught me off guard. I never expected to find one of the finest hotels in Oswego County in Altmar. I was impressed – very impressed.  

Every aspect of the property has the stamp of quality. My first impression was of the well landscaped lawns with the tree-lined tailwater as a backdrop.  Tail water refers to the water immediately downstream from a hydraulic structure such as a dam, bridge or culvert.  In this case it is down river from Bennetts Bridge Hydroplant. Through the trees I could see the sun sparkling on the water so I took the short trail to the water’s edge. The scenery along the tree-lined water is bucolic. My husband thought he might like to go fishing again someday. This would be the place to do it.  The hotel rents everything one needs for a day of
fishing at a reasonable rate except for the license but they are easily obtainable locally. New York State had a license-free weekend at the end of June. Anglers staying at Tailwater Lodge have private access to 2000 feet of the best stretch of the Salmon River and, to sweeten the deal, it is only a short walk from the accommodations, restaurant, and bar. When I went into the hotel and saw how posh it was I tried to imagine fishermen trodding in with wet, muddy waders.  Not to worry, there is a wader washing station. 

Tailwater Lodge has its own guide who can arrange everything and it doesn’t have to be fishing. Tailwater is a destination resort and while the area is a mecca for anglers during fishing season and a hotspot for snowmobilers during the winter months there is much more to experience.  Bird lovers and hikers have plenty of trails to explore. White water rafting is nearby.  Not to miss in the area is the beautiful Salmon River Falls and the Salmon River Hatchery.  The Lodge hosts interesting events including the recent Uncorked Canvas that paired wine and painters,and recently a musical group performed under a tent on the expansive lawn.

It is not necessary to be an angler, hiker, bird watcher, or any other nature lover because when I was there people came for the bucolic atmosphere and diner.  The restaurant in the former gym is beautiful with a great bar and the one-time stage is now home to a unique,
specially made pool table.  The meals, as one might expect, are excellent, which is only one reason to visit.  The accommodations are comfy and luxuriously appointed with rustic touches creating a relaxing getaway for a night or more.  John and I can’t wait to go back.  I am imaging a beautiful fall evening, or maybe a wintery evening with gentle falling snow, sitting around their fire pit eating s’mores. Tailwater Lodge would make a great fall driving trip. For more information check tailwaterlodge.com.