Dec 15, 2014

Give the Gift of Travel

We all have people who are very difficult to find the perfect gift for be it a grandchild or an adult. There are those people who seem to have everything.  Gifting travel creates unforgettable memories. At first thought it may seem like travel is an expensive gift but it doesn’t have to be. There are inexpensive gifts of travel and the more expensive ones can be affordable if people/family make it a group gift.  Keep in mind that off season travel is usually much less expensive. Unused air miles or points at a hotel can be used to create a special gift at little expense.  We were gifted with three nights at the Venetian in Vegas with points from our son-in-law. It was wonderful. Many times our children have given us theater tickets which were much appreciated and enjoyed. Most places offer gift certificates so the gift of travel can be used any time. If a gift certificate is not available then a gift certificate can be created on the computer. Travel does not have to take place immediately. Anticipating travel in the months to come is always something to look forward to. 

For the hard to buy for person consider creating a package with tickets to an SU game or theater tickets for a play at the Landmark or Syracuse Stage with an overnight at the Genesee Grande or Skyler Hotel. Both are close to the dome and Syracuse Stage. Parking is free. Make it even more special with a dinner at the Genesee Grande or another Syracuse fine dining establishment. For those who enjoy the theater another package idea would include tickets for Merry-Go-Round Theater possibly with an overnight stay at the Holiday Inn in Auburn or dining at a local establishment. 

I love the Erie Canal and a gift that includes a day on the canal with
Mid-Lakes is an excellent opportunity for people to relax and learn about the canal while traveling in the slow lane; and, tickets are reasonable with some including a meal. The speed limit on the canal is five miles an hour. Another great water trip is aboard one of Uncle Sam’s Boat Tours. Tours include stop at the castles, there are two – the well-known Boldt Castle and Singer Castle which is completely furnished. 

 A great anniversary or wedding gift could be a night at the Best Western Plus Captains Quarters in Oswego where their King Suite has an in-room whirlpool spa. This would be great for a couple with children if it was accompanied a promise to babysit making it the perfect romantic getaway without going far from home. 

As a high school graduation gift for our grandson we gifted him
with a trip to Cleveland. He was majoring in music so he really enjoyed the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and in the evening we took him to dinner at Nighttown which included great jazz music.  Before heading home we had lunch at the Hard Rock CafĂ©.  We enjoyed it as much as him because we did things that we would not have done if he had not been with us.   

There are a multitude of travel experiences that make great gifts.  Need to get a gift for a snow mobiler or a cross-country skier?  How about a night at Tailwater in Altmar and include dinner? Think local: keep in mind that the gift of travel helps the economy. 

Dec 7, 2014

The Boston Tea Party Museum

I enjoy visiting places where history comes alive. I especially like watching the visitors, young and old, get excited about historical events while learning more about history and it is even better when they get to participate in the event. Such is the case at the Boston Tea Party Museum.   Most of us know the basic facts of the Tea Party.  On the night of December 16, 1773, colonists dressed as Indians boarded three ships in Boston Harbor and threw crates of tea overboard as a protest to the Tea Tax but for many that is the limit of their knowledge and some of the facts get skewed with the retelling. 

At the Museum, the staff dressed in period costumes summoned
visitors to a meeting by ringing a bell.  Everyone got a feather to stick in their hair to resemble the colonists who were dressed as natives because their actions were illegal and considered a source of treason.  Their identity remained secret even after American Independence for fear they could still face civil
and criminal charges; also many did not want to be associated with mob behavior and destruction of public property. Inside the museum had recreated Old South Meeting House where the protestors met before dumping the tea. Visitors were given name cards of actual participants with a short biography. I was Francis Akeley, a self-employed wheelwright, who died in 1775 so he never lived to enjoy freedom under a new American government. Some were given roles to play shouting out protests to the Tea Tax – the rowdier the more realistic. 

What a lot of people don’t realize is that the Tea Act actually
reduced the tax on tea and would have allowed colonists to purchase tea at half the price paid by those in Britain. The protest was not on the tax itself but the fact that the colonists had no say in governing the colonies.  The cry was “no taxation without representation.” The British reaction to the Tea Party caused more protests.  It wasn’t called “The Boston Tea Party” until 50 years later. As punishment the British parliament passed what the colonists called the “Intolerable Act” which closed the port of Boston until damages were paid. The port was the focal point of business at that time.  Also, more hated British troops were sent to Boston. Other tea protests took place in the other colonies.

After the protest meeting visitors converged on the ship and took turns dumping the tea in the harbor.  The young patriots especially enjoyed the “act of civil disobedience” of tossing the tea into the harbor. No one died during the 1773 Tea Party but one participant was knocked unconscious by a crate and thought to be dead only to awake hours later. 

Our tour then continued to a museum where the only known
surviving tea chest is on display.  In the Minute Man Theater we saw an excellent multi-medium, giant screen presentation “Let it Begin Here” where the sounds of the horses galloping and musket firing made the events of the American Revolution come to life. 

After our Tea Party experience, John and I went to Old South Meeting House where the actual meeting took place on that fateful day and we learned more about the revolutionary actions in Boston. I think the Boston Tea Party Museum is one of the best museums of its kind that we have visited. 

Dec 2, 2014

Remember the "Day of Infamy"

Tora! Tora! was the Japanese code-word made famous when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 propelling the United States into World War II.  The term means “tiger” but in this case it was an acronym meaning “lightning attack.” On December 11, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt declared war on Japan; in return, on the same day Germany and Italy, Japanese allies, declared war on the United States.

Visiting Pearl Harbor on the Hawaiian island of Oahu is a profound experience and visitors should plan to spend the better part of the day there because there is a lot to see and do.  The main attraction is the USS Arizona Memorial with an informative 23-minute movie followed by a boat ride to the USS Arizona Memorial which is built atop the ship that is the final resting place for 1,177 of the USS Arizona’s crewmen. It was the greatest loss of life on any US warship in American history. The names and ranks of the crewmen are listed on the memorial wall. There were 37 sets of brothers on
board that fateful day. Nearby in the water are memorials to the other ships destroyed on that Day of Infamy. When the USS Arizona sank there were more than a million gallons of fuel on board. Some of it still surfaces. Survivors have called the oil droplets “Black Tears.” It helps to get USS Arizona tour tickets on line; however, the National Park Service gives out over 2000 free walk-up tickets each day on a first come basis. The tour of the USS Arizona take about two hours but there is much more to see there.

For Americans the Pearl Harbor attack was the beginning of World War II but the war had already started in Europe with the German invasion of Poland in 1939 and in Asia the fighting started when the Japanese invaded China in 1937. The formal end of the WW II took place on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945 and was broadcast
throughout the world.  Gen. MacArthur said, “Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world and that God will preserve it always. These proceedings are closed.”  Today the USS Missouri is at anchor in Pearl Harbor. Nearby on Historic Ford Island is the Pacific Aviation Museum with two hangers of exhibits.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was intended to prevent the US Pacific Fleet from interfering with the Japanese plan to take over other areas in the Pacific.  Many people do not realize that the attack on Pearl Harbor was part of a greater offensive. On the same day (it was December 8 in Asia) they were simultaneous Japanese attacks on the US-held Philippines, Wake Island, and Midway Island; plus, there were assaults on Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. The Japanese did not occupy the island
of Oahu like they did the other places they attacked which led to the people in those areas suffering from Japanese occupation much the same as those in China. Interestingly, Hawaii and the Philippines, prior to December 1941, were considered great places to be stationed. We learned more at the US National Parks in Guam and Saipan, plus the WW II museum in Singapore. At the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas they have a realistic battle reenactment several times a week.

Nov 25, 2014

Learning to make Hot Pot

One of the places I check when I am researching a destination is Global Greeter Network, Greeters are volunteers who love their city so much they volunteer to give free two-hour tours. They take visitors to parks, shopping, or lesser known neighborhoods.Greeters are not professional guides so Greeters do not take their guests to museums leaving that to professional guides. On our recent trip to China we signed up for a Greeter tour in Chongqing. We wanted to learn about hot pot which originated in Mongolia one thousand years ago and is a signature dish of the Sichuan Province. 
Our guides, college students proficient in English, met us in the lobby of our hotel, the InterContinental, located on a pedestrian street lined with high-end shops. Our guides took us to a traditional food court on the lower level of a mall. There was a variety of food from grilled corn to dim sum and a hot pot area.  The hot pot table had a recessed area for the hot pot which
was divided into spicy and mild broth – the ying and yang of hot pot. The menu of items to cook in the hot pot was in Chinese so Nick, our guide, ordered for us. We preferred vegetables but Nick preferred the organ meats. With hot pot everyone gets to eat what they like because the items are served on a plate and diners dunk the items in the preferred broth. Wooden chopsticks work best for selecting items and cooking them. Selected items can be placed in the broth and retrieved when cooked or held in the broth with chopsticks until ready. Eating hot pot is a very socially interactive way of dining and great from dining with a small group of friends.
John and I learned how to eat hot pot but it was not until we were on board the Century Legend Yangtze cruise ship that we learned how to prepare hot pot. Chongqing is one of the ports used by Yangtze cruise ships. The cooking lesson was just one of the activities offered. Hot Pot is easy to make and can be created to please the palate of everyone from mild to tongue-numbing hot.  Divided electric hot pots are available but in lieu of that consider using a fondue pot or crockpots. 

6 cups of chicken or beef stock
¼ cup diced green onions
¼ tsp minced garlic
¼ tsp minced ginger
3 bay leaves
To the above ingredients add and adjust amounts to desire hotness
1 tbsp minced dried chili pepper
1 tbsp doubanjiang (spicy bean paste)
3 star anise

Suggested items to be cooked in broth
Thinly sliced beef and chicken (frozen meat and chicken is easier to slice)
Zucchini cut in long, thin strips
Mushrooms of any variety
Spam (a favorite in Asia)
Place broth, onions, garlic, ginger and bay leaves in a pot, bring to
a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes creating the mild broth. For a spicy broth pour off half of the mild broth, set aside until serving time. To the pot add chili pepper, doubanjiang and anise. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes. The broths can be made ahead of time. Heat desired broths in a hot pot or in a crock pot. Place items to be cooked on individual plates.

Nov 14, 2014

The Covered Bridges of Ashtabula County, Ohio

There is something about covered bridges that makes people stop to take a picture. There have been movies, books, and puzzles that featured covered bridges. They have been around for a long time. One of the most famous is the Rialto Bridge in Venice built in 1591.  Basically bridges were covered to protect the wooden structure. Uncovered wooden bridges had a life span of less than 20 years but not all covered bridges are/were wooden. Some just protect the structure while other also serve as a shopping arcade and few even have homes on them.  I like the term “kissing bridge” that came from the days when sleighs would cross the bridge and a bold boyfriend would steal a kiss in the dark. 

Ohio’s Ashtabula County has a slew of covered bridges.  On the way to the Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake John and I visited some.  After we checked into the lovely Lodge we discovered that the hotel offers a tour of some of the covered bridges. Their tour is narrated/guided by Carl E. Feather, author of “Covered Bridges of Ashtabula County.” We had to make do with our driving tour map of the county’s covered bridges but it worked out just fine. 

America’s Longest Covered Bridge is the Smolen-Gulf Bridge.
 Not all covered bridges are old. The 613-foot long bridge 93 feet above the Ashtabula River on County Route 25 was dedicated in 2008.  It has a life expectancy of 100 years. There is a great view of the bridge and countryside on the hill above
the bridge plus storyboards. Near the The Lodge in the town of Geneva is the shortest bridge in the United States, The Liberty Street Bridge.  It only has a span of 18 feet and is a one-of-a-kind design supported by a single king post and was built in 2010. There is also a typical toll-keepers booth next to it. 

Several of the bridges are over 100 years old with some built in late
1800s. The Olin Bridge is the only one named for a family. The Olin’s have owned the property next to the bridge since it was built in 1873 and family members were instrumental in preserving the one-lane bridge which is in a
bucolic setting.  Near the bridge is the Olin Covered Bridge Museum which has a plethora of memorabilia associated with covered bridges.  There is a special room devoted to Coca Cola items that feature covered bridges, children can make a paper model of a bridge, and there is a gift shop plus information on covered bridges. 

In the unique category we stopped at the Graham Road Bridge
which is on dry land in a small park.  It was built from remnants of a bridge that washed downstream in the 1913 flood. While at The Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake I took their wine bus tour and it stopped at the Liberty Street Bridge and the Harpersfield Bridge which has a walkway. As we were leaving the area we got one last look at a covered bridge from the main highway. 

The people of Ashtabula County understand the importance promoting what they have to offer for tourists.  Many come for the wineries, Lake Erie ambiance, and covered bridges. To that point they have repaired, maintained and built new covered bridges upholding the concept of build it and they will come. Each year in October they have the Ashtabula County Covered Bridge Festival. 

Nov 8, 2014

Visit Syracuse and Dinomania

John and I have been tourists in many cities in the United States and many foreign countries but we had never been a tourist in Syracuse. Sometimes that which is closest to us becomes the most overlooked.  Of course, we go to Syracuse to shop and go to the doctors but never as a tourist. We packed out bags and set out to explore
Syracuse.  We decided to stay at the Genesee Grande, which is, indeed, grand.  I loved all the unique items in the lobby: the beautifully inlaid table topped with flowers, the chandeliers with Tiffany glass, the “peanut” chairs designed to make using the cell phone more private, the koi fish, and the two “guardian” lion, just to mention a few neat points

Our first stop was The MOST, but when we parked and saw the Creek Walk and the sun was shining we decided to take a short jaunt along the creek.  The walk goes all the way from the MOST to Onondaga Lake.  We stopped at Point of Contact art gallery where the work of Gwenn Thomas on display then headed to the MOST.

John and I remember when the Syracuse science museum was
housed in a store front. The last time I was at the MOST was with 200 seventh graders so it was like visiting the museum for the first time. Their popular Dinomania exhibit is excellent.  In fact it was so good that one little girl didn’t want to continue on when she heard the critters roar but she was coaxed to continue and ended up making friends with the dinosaurs. I saw her
sitting on a Triceratops. I think most people are intrigued by the thought that 65 million years ago these behemoths ruled the world. There is an IMAX, “T-REX: Back to the Cretaceous” but we went to “Island of Lemurs: Madagascar” because I have always wanted to go to Madagascar and it will probably never happen. Lemurs are fascinating and incredible leapers hence the phrase “Leaping Lemurs.” 

One of the great things about the Permanent Exhibits is that there is something for everyone. Learning is fun. John had to be dragged away from “Energy: Powering Our Future” while I felt compelled to try to all the interactive displays. The man who created “Toothpick World” has more patience than anyone I have ever met. Take note we have been to all the sites he created but one.  I was fascinated with the presentation in the Earth Science: Discovery Cave. I loved watching the small children be amazed by science.  The gift shop is a great place to buy gifts for children. 

After leaving the MOST we walked up a block and had dinner at the Empire Brewing Company.  Located below street level in one of the re-purposed buildings of the revitalized Armory Square, the Empire Brewing Company had a fun speakeasy ambiance. The food was excellent and so were the brews.  I was glad we went directly after the MOST closed because
even though it was mid-week it quickly filled with patrons. We returned to the Genesee Grande and relaxed in their lounge before heading to our room. Being a tourist in Syracuse was wonderful.  Because we may have visited the MOST but we would never have taken the time to meander down the Creek Walk, visit Contact Point, and would never have dined at Empire Brewing Company. 

Nov 3, 2014

Mathis and Castellani Art part of a stay at Seneca Niagara Casino in Niagara Falls USA

There were several reasons John and I wanted to visit Niagara Falls USA.  First of all we wanted to see Johnny Mathis at the Seneca Niagara Casino.  When people hear the word “casino” they think of gambling and rightly so but there is so much more to today’s casinos. The accommodations are usually the best the area has to offer.  Guests can count of upscale rooms, excellent restaurants and entertainment plus, in many cases, added benefits like spas, swimming pools and other activities all under one roof.

The Johnny Mathis show was sold out.  Mathis was born in 1935 and he is still singing up a storm.  I was impressed because he started singing and never stopped for an hour and a half.  It was one great song after another. Mathis is one of the most successful recording artists of the 20th century. John and I knew all the songs and were surprised at how many we knew but forgot that Mathis made them famous: “Wonderful! Wonderful!” “It’s Not For Me to Say,” “Chances Are,” “The Twelfth of Never,” and so many more.  It was a great a trip down memory lane. We had planned to have dinner at the Seneca Niagara Casino but because of the Saturday night crowd there was a long waiting line.  We should have made reservations.
I wanted to go to the Noodle Bar.  Instead we went to Morrie’s Express and bought deli sandwiches and a delicious carrot cake which we took to our room where we enjoyed our late repast while looking out at the view of the Niagara Falls area. Tip: Ask for a falls view room.  The higher the better.  There is a spectacular fireworks display every Friday and Sunday Night at 10 pm but it was Saturday so we had to be content with just a great view. 

The other reason we wanted to visit the Falls area was to visit
Niagara University and the Castellani Art Museum to check out their Underground Railroad display called “Freedom Crossing.”  We had stopped by several years ago but it was Monday when museums are usually closed. The art museum has a nice collection that includes the works of such famous people as Picasso, Miro, Dali, and Warhol.  And, the best part is it is free.  The founders, Mr. and Mrs. Armand Castellani were in the grocery business which grew, merged and expanded to become Tops Markets. The Castellani collection and the museum have also grown to become a modern art gallery.  One section is
devoted to the Underground Railroad in the Greater Niagara area. During the 1800s, many fugitive slaves came through the area crossing into Canada and freedom.  They used the Suspension Bridge and the Niagara River to make the crossing. They traveled by boat, rail, and some even swam. The Interpretive center at the Castellani, while not extensive, tells the
story of the movement in the Buffalo-Niagara area and the people who risked their life in the name of freedom. On display are historical documents from a nearby Quaker Meeting House and actual shackles used in slave auctions. One picture shows Harriet Tubman, the “Moses of her People” who often escorted fugitives across the Suspension Bridge of which only fragments are remaining today. There are several associated sites nearby including the Freedom Crossing Monument on the bank of the Niagara River in Lewiston that was dedicated in 2009.