Apr 1, 2020

Taking a walk in Central New York

With the concern over the coronavirus Central New Yorkers can
take heart in the fact that it is not winter when everyone gets cabin fever.  It is spring and it can be lovely in Central New York: the grass is getting green, crocuses are budding, trees are being to leaf out and nature will become even more dynamic in the next couple of weeks.  Social distancing is easy while on a walk and the area is blessed with many places to walk besides around your neighborhood. 

Roop’s Loop at Mexico Point Park has just been upgraded and is easily walk able.  Sign in at the kiosk.  It is just under a mile. There is also a short walk to Spy Island. Cross the bridge inside the park and when you arrive at the open area make a sharp left to continue on the trail. Sometimes there is a wet area just before Spy Island.  The island is historic and, before the state reconfigured the mouth of the Little Salmon River, the island was in the middle of the river. There is also a trail across from the elementary school.

Oswego City has a plethora of great walking areas.  My favorite is
across the old railroad bridge, The Harbor Rail Trail.  The Trail goes all the way to Fort Ontario.  There is also a walkway along the river and canal. The Breitbeck Park trail is a 5.9 mile loop that has great views of the river and lake. The Rice Creek Field Station building is closed but the trails are open to the public during daylight hours.  

Just about every town, village and city has walking or nature trails. In Fulton there is the Lake Neatahwanta Nature Trail and the Oswego River Pathfinder Trail which goes through the city. Great Bear Nature Tail has 11 miles of trail, rustic but well maintained. There are wooded bridges across the streams.  The terrain is varied. In Amboy walk the beaver trail.  This is the time of year when the eager beavers build and repair their lodges.  Walk quietly so as not to disturb them.  Beaver Lake Nature Center has trails of varying lengths so there is a walk for everyone. The Nature Center building is closed.

The trail to the top of the falls a Salmon River Falls is handicap
accessible as are many of the other trails mentioned including those in Oswego.   Remember when walking in the woods to be aware that Lyme disease is still with us. Check your clothing for ticks and stay on the trails. 

Walking is not only good for your physical health but also for your mental health. The Japanese and many others believe in what the Japanese call Shinrin-yoku Forest Therapy. Shinrin-yoku is a term that means “forest bathing.” It was developed in Japan and has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine.  It is simple and free, just go to a forest, sit for a while or walk slowly. No need to go au natural or be prone. It is best to go alone but it you are with other people spread out and no talking. Stop, look, and listen. 

Actually, social distancing while on a walk will allow you to clear your mind and absorb the nature and beauty around you. No head phones means you can listen for the sounds of nature, be it birds or the sound of the water.  

Mar 9, 2020

All-inclusive getaways in New York State

When people think of all-inclusive vacations they often think of
those in the Caribbean or other foreign destinations but there are several here in New York State that make excellent getaways especially in the summer.  Since no airfare is involved they are more reasonable than some of the ones in the Caribbean.  Also, they are a better value if people are looking for something for only a couple of days.  Think of the following for a family getaway, a family reunion, a gal/guy bonding vacation. 

Rocking Horse Ranch Resort in Highland, New York is open year-round. Rocking Horse gets high ratings on Trip Advisor and other sites.  Perfect for anyone with a love of horses. The horse trails are open year round and geared for everyone from first time horse riders to Junior Wrangler for the younger set to those who are “horse whisperers.” The family-owned resort also offers all sorts of water fun including an indoor waterpark; and, during the winter snow tubing, learn-to-ski programs plus during the summer there is mountain tubing, banana boat rides, and more water fun on their private lake. There is plenty of live entertainment including jugglers, animal shows, magicians; and, in the evening, live music with dancing or relax around the campfire and sing along. Something for everyone.

Sunny Hill Resort and Golf Course is another award-winning resort.  The family-owned, all-inclusive has been welcoming families for 100 years. For golfers there are two courses with a total of 36 holes; accommodations are adjacent to the courses. They offer special golf packages.  But there is also a lake for fishing and boating plus a pool and playgrounds with bocce ball and shuffleboard nearby. There is no end to the activities designed for all age levels and interest. All you can eat meals are served family style.  There are family movies under the stars, train rides, merry-go-round, concerts on the lawn, fishing tournaments, wine & cheese mixers, Zumba, yoga, fencing, and Friday night lake parties with fireworks. A unique feature is their Monday night rides in their one of the various military vehicles that includes a real tank. 

Looking for something more sublime? Check out the Mohonk Mountain House high on the hills overlooking the Hudson. The Victorian castle resort is a National Historic Landmark surrounded by 40,000 acres of pristine forests. They offer farm-to-table cuisine and an award-wining spa. All meals are included plus afternoon tea. There is an indoor pool and year-round activities including hiking and kayaking. The Mohonk is designed to provide renewal of the mind, body, and spirit and has for more than 150 years.  The award-winning spa offers more than 80 treatments along with tai chi, yoga, and other rejuvenating programs including hiking along the 85 miles of trails. There are workshops, classes, and even a Kids Club.  A peaceful respite for the entire family. 

Want to vacation like the Rockefellers and experience the life style
of the Robber Barons, then check out The Point near Saranac Lake.  The wealthy “roughed it” in what is referred today as the Great Camps.  This is the only Forbes Five-star hotel in Upstate New York. You don’t have to bring your own servants and staff as guests used to because The Point’s staff is ready to personalize everyone’s stay.  There are gourmet meals, campfires on the edge of the lake, picnic excursion of the like most only see in movies, rides in their traditional mahogany boats, and a staff that organized each day to meet the desires of their guests. 

Mar 3, 2020

Visiting Northern Wales

Looking for a destination in the United Kingdom that is often overlooked?  Check out Northern Wales. Northern Wales is truly enchanting from the rolling green hills dotted with sheep to romantic castles and from the seaside to the mountains. Driving is easy with little traffic and gorgeous scenery.  Northern Wales is truly enchanting. 

Beaumaris Castle, begun in 1295, was the last and largest of the castles built in Wales by King Edward I. King Edward is not the most popular person as his takeover of Wales was the end of their independence.  Even though the castle was never finished it is considered to be one of the most technologically perfect castles with an inner ring of defenses surrounded by an outer ring making it nearly impregnable. The "murder holes" above the huge wooden gates could rain a heavy crossfire of arrows on the attackers followed dousing them with boiling oil. Today swans and ducks serenely glide along the waters of the moat.

Penrhyn Castle is a neo-Norman castle built in the early 1800s
covering earlier structures except for the spiral staircase. The owners made their money, in part, from mining slate from the nearby mountain. One of the interesting items is a one-ton slate bed made for Queen Victoria.  The view and grounds are lovely. 

Not too far away was the impressive walled city of Conwy also built by Edward I. He brought in English settlers and instituted English laws showing no respect for Welsh culture.  In fact, the local Welsh people were forbidden to enter the castle walls except at the bidding of the English inhabitants to deliver goods or to work.  Nearby Plas Mawr is an Elizabethan Town House built between 1576 and 1585. It is one of the best-preserved town houses of the era in Great Britain with bold red and white decor in the main rooms. The wealthy always live well regardless of the time period.

Not to miss is Portmeirion, a fantasy village that was designed and
built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis to resemble an Italian village. Today there are shops, a spa, a beach, a pool, excellent dining and delightful accommodations. Surrounding the village are 70 acres of exotic woodlands with easy to follow trails and coastal walks. During the day the village is bustling with activity but a special hush descends over the village when the day-trippers leave making the place seem magical.  

Nearby are Bodnant Gardens, considered one of the most beautiful gardens in the UK, and Trefriw Woolen Mills that has been in operation since 1859 making traditional Welsh bedspreads, tweeds and tapestry.   In Llanuwchllyn take a ride along the lake to the town and back on the narrow gauge steam train.

Ruthin Castle Hotel started out as a Welsh wooden fort in 1277 and over the years was altered to become the large red fort-like castle of today. According to legend, King Arthur disguised himself for a romantic liaison with his mistress at Ruthin. Unfortunately he was recognized and by an old adversary. Arthur had him executed on a stone block now displayed in the Town Square. Peacocks put on their proud display in the gardens.

In Llangollen take a two-hour motorized canal boat trip crosses the awe-inspiring Pontcysyllte Aqueduct 126 feet above the Dee River. Only one canal boat can cross the aqueduct at a time. It is an amazing 1007 feet long supported by 18 stone pillars. It was built between 1795 and 1805 and is a World Heritage site. 

Feb 24, 2020

The Panama Canal tour

The Panama Canal is an architectural wonder. In 1513, when the

first European, the Spanish explorer Vasco de Balboa, crossed the Isthmus of Panama, he became the first European to reach the Pacific Ocean from the Atlantic Ocean. Thus began a dream to create a water route that would provide quick, easy access between the two great oceans. The first attempt was by a
French Company in 1880. At that time Panama was part of Colombia. The French attempt failed mainly due to the cost in money and lives. When the French abandoned the project the United States became interested in a canal and even considered one across Nicaragua. The Nicaragua Canal concept is revived every so often, most recently by a Hong Kong company but it too was abandoned. The United States ended up building the canal which opened in 1914. Control of the Panama Canal Zone was transferred to Panama in 1999.  

There is a museum in Old Town devoted to the construction of the
canal plus many like to visit the Mirafloras Visitor Center located
on the canal lock where displays provide the history of the canal and the canal’s operation.  Visitors can watch ships transiting.  The Mirafloras lock is one of three on the canal; two on the Pacific side and one on Lake Gatun.  The locks allow ships to raise and lower 85 feet to accommodate for the change in the terrain. 

However, the best way to experience the canal is on tourist boat.  So, that’s what I did.  John and I did it when we were here in 2002 but I have a love and fascination for waterways so I booked the trip.  The tour company picked me up at the hotel and I was lucky because the departure wasn’t until 10 a.m. The cargo ships get first dips on the canal because the average ship pays nearly $500,000 to transit. It is first-come first-through except for those who pay an extra $15,000 or more to go to the head of the line. Princess Cruise Line pays about $425,000 plus $35,000 to have a pre-reserved time to transit. A full transit takes eight to 10 hours. Most tours are for a half transit and include a meal.

It took me a while to figure out why when one ship left the lock
another didn’t enter going the other way.  The problem is the Continental Divide.  It is too narrow from more than one ship to go through at a time so the alternate traffic; one way for 12 hours and the other way for the next 12 hours. 

My tour started with a bus ride to Gamboa on Lake Gatun, basically in the middle of the canal. We went through the Continental Divide and into Pedro Miguel and Miraflores Locks where we waited for a ship to join us.  

The Erie Canal had a lasting
influence on all canal building.  Both shortened the distance and time to travel drastically and, of course, brought money into the area. When ships enter and leave the locks they are drawn by “mules,” not a mule called “Sal” but today the electric ones are still called “mules.” Two on each side of the ship to keep the ship in the middle. They run on tracks. 

The complete canal transit on a tour is long and one has to return by the tour’s bus so people wishing to visit Colon on the Atlantic side of the canal might consider taking the train. 

Feb 19, 2020

Sancocho, Panamanian National Soup

One thing I have noticed is that every country I visit seems to have
a national soup. Two of my favorites are pho in Vietnam and caldo verde in Portugal.  Soups have to be one of the first recipes developed by a group of people.  All that was needed was water, a fire, a waterproof container, and some ingredients. We humans have been making soup for at least 20,000 years.  The earliest soup to be discovered by archeologist is hippopotamus soup dating back to 6000 BC. The word “soup” comes from the French word “soupe” which means “broth” which was derived from other sources as the word hop scotched from one country to another.

When I was in Panama City, Panama I attended a Panamanian Buffet and Folkloric Show at the InterContinental Hotel. I noticed that the line was the longest to get the soup which was called sancocho. I had used my InterContinental Hotel points to for my nine-day stay so I had no qualms about upgrading myself to Club Level for $20 a day. Club Level is a private dining area with a great view and is used mainly
by business people so it is quiet and includes the internet, breakfast, and evening libations with snacks.  I find eating alone in a crowded restaurant filled with family groups makes me feel alone and isolated.  The club is a perfect fit for me.  I asked the staff at the club about sancocho and was told the Chef Nicolas Prager, the Executive Sous Chef, would be happy to show me how to make it.   

Sancocho is common in all of Latin America but is best loved in Panama.  It can be enjoyed any time of the day and is considered the perfect hangover cure.  The Panamanian version originated the Azuero Peninsula south of Panama City.  It is claimed that one way to keep cool on super-hot days is by having a bowl of Sancocho for lunch. I have been told that in other countries.  When it is 90-plus have a hot soup or a spicy hot dish.  If it makes you sweat you will cool off because the sweat will evaporate which is a cooling process.  Can’t prove it by me.  

I loved sancocho in part because it was easy to make but included
one of my favorite flavors: cilantro. I learned there is cilantro and culantro. Culantro is common in Latin America.  It tastes and smells like cilantro but is said to be stronger.  Whereas cilantro looks a bit like parsley culantro is a slender flat leaf about four inches long.  They can be used interchangeably. Chef Nicolas said, “Culantro is in the Panamanian DNA.” This recipe is for basic sancocho but cooks have been known add vegetables such as yams, corn, and yucca.  

Panamanian Sancocho
Cooking oil as needed
1 white onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, diced 
3 leaves of cilantro, finely sliced (3 Tbsp cilantro)
1 tsp Oregano
1 Yucca, one-inch cubes
Whole chicken (with bone) chopped in 2-inch piece
Salt and pepper to taste 

In a large pot add vegetable oil, when hot sauté the onion and garlic. Add salt and pepper. Cook until the onion is transparent. Add oregano and culantro. Add chicken chunks sauté for 2 minutes to taste. Add 1 quart and a half of water. Add name or yucca. Cover the pot and let it boil. Check occasionally to see if more water is needed.  The cilantro should give it a slightly green color.  Skim off any solidified blood that may come from the chicken.  Serve hot with white rice.

Feb 12, 2020

Panama City, Panama

Panama City is the “New York City” of Central America. It has become a skyscraper city. It is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement on the Pacific coast of the Americas.  John and I were here in 2002 and the changes are amazing. The modern airport was extremely busy and I am impressed by the diverse nationalities I see represented here at the hotel. There are tourists from all over. Caravan Tours, which the people I talked to seemed to really like, bring in groups almost every day. A recent final Jeopardy question asked “What Central American capital is the farthest east?”  The correct answer was Panama City.  

There are three distinct parts to Panama City.  One is the old city called Panama Viejo founded in 16th century and is a World Heritage site.  There is a museum and some ruins. The city was destroyed in 1671 when it was attacked by Henry Morgan and his band of pirates. The “new” city was built in 1673 and is also a World Heritage site. 

Why am I in Panama you may wonder.  Simple.  I had frequent flyer miles on United and for only 38,000 miles I could fly round trip.  They wanted 36,000 miles to fly one way from Syracuse to Portland, Oregon.  Plus, I had points with InterContinental Hotels (think Holiday Inn) so I booked the InterContinental using points and for only $20 a day I was able to upgrade to Club Level.  I like Club Level because it is quiet with a lot of single business travelers so I don’t feel strange being alone, plus it includes breakfast, and evening cocktails with snacks.  For me it is a perfect world. One reason I picked the InterContinental is because they have a beautiful pool and are located on the water; plus. it is centrally located. 

I took a cab into the “Old Town” to visit the Cathedral and other attractions. The Old Town, called Casco Viejo, is being rejuvenated and the Cathedral is being painted. Construction on the cathedral started in 1688. There is a statue of a young boy in a glass casket, Saint Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio, who refused to
denounce his faith under torture.  Typical of many places, in the beginning the wealthy lived in the area around the Cathedral, then they moved out to the “suburbs,” and the poorer people took over, now wealthy are moving back in.  A cycle that happens in many places.

I like to go to folkloric shows when I am in a foreign country. Even though such shows have become commercialized I still like them because it helps to preserve the culture and promotes national pride. I was fortunate because on Wednesdays the InterContinental has a
Panamanian night with a Panamanian buffet and folkloric show. It started with two “devils” which comes from their European heritage and the time of the plague.  It represents the battle between good and evil.  I would like an explanation of the dances. 

I am not a fan of buffets; too many decisions, but it is fun to watch.  There are several tour groups here and the people attack the buffet like piranha that have not eaten and others circle trying to find a way to get in the circling group.   There were several interesting desserts on the buffet made from coconut, yucca, plantains, and nance, a small yellowish fruit that takes a bit of getting used to as it is rather tart.  

Feb 2, 2020

Looking for the Old Florida

Looking for the Old Florida?  The Old Florida before high rises, superhighways, and traffic jams still exists in Franklin County just an hour south of Tallahassee, Florida’s capital. Franklin County is a kickback place with something for everyone – fishing, shopping, boating, hiking, and history. The county includes Apalachicola, Carrabelle, and St. George Island. 
1. Life is a beach: With miles and miles of pristine sandy beaches most people come for the beaches that are perfect for tanning, swimming, shell hunting, or just walking and hoping to catch sight of dolphins at play. St. George Island alone has 22 miles of beach and their beaches are dog friendly.
2. On the briny foam: There are plenty of marinas so bring your own or rent a boat. Go fishing for flounder, grouper, snapper, amberjack and sea bass. Or go diving for an up close and personal look at the water life or take a leisurely trip in the Gulf. Take a relaxing one hour tour of Apalachicola’s historical waterfront and estuary with Captain Larry of Wheelhouse Tours.

3. Oystering: Gourmands generally agree that Apalachicola oysters are the best in the world. They are plump with a mellow taste that should be enjoyed raw untainted by sauces. Go oystering with Book Me a Charter to learn how to tong, cull, and harvest oysters the way fishermen have been harvesting these delicacies for over 150 years. 
4. Wild things: The area is filled with wildlife including deer, bear, and other critters but the most amazing are the sea
turtles.  From May to November the sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs for your viewing enjoyment as they have for over a thousand years but do not disturb them. Most accommodations have information on how to protect the turtles. 
5. Birding: Birds are everywhere but a hike in Tate’s Hell State Forrest, St. George Island State Park, or with birding expert Alan Knothe in the Apalachicola National Estuarine Reserve tickle the feathers of all birders. The Apalachicola National Forest is home to the world’s largest population of red-cockaded woodpeckers.
6. Camp Gordon Johnston: The World War II museum is
dedicated to the 250,000 amphibious WW II soldiers and support groups who trained at the camp. A video shows their intensive training, which included practicing for the D-Day landing. 
7. Lighthouses: In Carrabelle climb the 112-year-old fully restored Crooked River Lighthouse and tour the replica of the Crooked River Lighthouse Keeper’s House that recently opened. The historic St. George Light that was reconstructed by a dedicated group of local citizens after the original succumbed to beach erosion. 
8. Museums: A walking or Golf Cart Tour of Apalachicola with stops at John Gorrie State Museum, historic homes, and the recently renovated Dixie Theater. Over 900 historic homes and buildings are in Apalachicola’s National Historic District.
9. Shopping: Art galleries, antique shops, and boutiques make shopping a joyous adventure in Apalachicola, Carrabelle and St. George Island. The beauty of the area has inspired artists including watercolorist Linda Clark and photographer Richard Bickel’s insightful photographs.

10. Tee time: Golfers will love St. James Bay golf course an Audubon International “Certified Silver Signature Sanctuary” 18-hole, par 72 championship course with wetlands and water hazards present at every hole. Spectators include herons, egrets and even an occasional lazy alligator. 

Accommodations range from the historic Coombs Home Inn in Apalachicola to beachside villas on St. George Island to a cozy beautifully decorated Barrel House on Alligator Point.