Jun 20, 2016

Visiting Watertown, New York

Watertown may not seem like a typical tourist destination but there are interesting places to visit. Recently John and I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Watertown had time to visit some of the local attractions.  Obviously there is shopping – a lot of it, but there is shopping everywhere.  Instead of shopping we visited the historic Paddock Mansion built between 1876 and 1878 by Edwin L. Paddock, a successful local banker.  The house is an interesting mix of design styles. Mrs. Paddock favored a Swiss chalet style while her husband liked the Tuscan villa look so the architect combined both styles.  Upon the death of Mrs. Paddock in 1922 the house and furnishings were left to the local historical society.  

Several rooms on the first floor have the original furniture on display.  The widely traveled Paddocks purchased many items during their travels including intricate Asian furniture.  One of the rooms is devoted to the military where they have a tumbler that was used to draw draft board numbers.  In the basement there is an incredible display of water wheels and other machinery.  Water and the power from them is what put Watertown on the map.  I was more interested in the early American kitchen. On the second floor one area is devoted to F. W. Woolworth who started the 5
cent stores. Woolworth worked in a store in Watertown and went out to create the iconic Woolworth stores.  He pioneered the idea of buying directly from the manufacturer thus cutting cost. He also put items out on display so customers could handle them without the assistance of a sales clerk.  His first Five-and-Ten Cent store was in Utica and was not a success but the one he opened in Lancaster, PA was and the rest is history.

There is a lovely English garden behind the house, a log cabin, the Pink School House, and a carriage house with a 1910 Babcock car which was made in Watertown. It was considered one of the finest cars at the time.  The Babcock car came in various models including runabouts, touring cars and limousines. 

Just a short walk down the street is the Paddock Arcade built in
1850. It is the oldest, continuously operating covered shopping mall in the United States. Paddock was inspired by the famed Beauharnais Arcade in Paris. Today there are several unique shops and restaurants. 

For a great view of the countryside take a drive to Thomson Park and Overlook Drive. The all-season park is a Frederick Olmstead park meaning that it was designed to be used by the people so there are trails, picnic tables, a swimming pool, tennis courts, a golf course, cross country ski trails, ice skating, and a zoo.  While small the zoo is home to elks, wolves, wolverines, otters, a children’s farm and other animals. The
park is famed by those looking for a cosmic reenergizing due to the park’s Ley lines. Some people believe that Ley lines are invisible veins of energy when can improve one’s health and wellbeing. 
On my list to visit the next time I am in Watertown is the 10th Mountain Division & Fort Drum Museum. In order to visit one needs to have valid DoD identification or complete and submit a form on their web site ahead of time. When approved passes will be available at the gate. 

Jun 13, 2016

John and I have been to Nicaragua several times since our first visit in the 90s. At that time the country was trying to recover from the devastation caused by the conflicts between the socialistic Sandinista junta and the opposition, the U.S.-backed contras.  It wasn’t the first involvement by a group from the United States.  Every school child in
Central America learns about William Walker, an American who invaded Nicaragua with his private army. Walker became president of Nicaragua from 1856 to 1857.  We visited the local museum where money issued by Walker during his administration is on display. Around the same time Cornelius Vanderbilt considered building a canal connecting the natural waterways between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.  Instead the Panama Canal was built. In 2016 a Chinese tycoon started to build a canal across Nicaragua; but work is at a standstill.  The Rio San Juan connects the Atlantic Ocean with Lake Nicaragua and from there it is only a short distance to San Juan del Sur on the Pacific.  Hopes for a new Nicaraguan canal spurred hopes for increased tourism on the projected route including Ometepe Island. 

Ometepe is home to twin volcanoes connected by a narrow
isthmus. In December  John and I visited the island which is accessed by ferry from Rivas.  The island is popular with nature-lovers.  We stayed at Xalli Beach Hotel located on the isthmus with views of both volcanoes. It was just a few steps down to the long beach on the Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America. 

Xalli, whenever possible, buys organic and locally-grown produce.  It insures freshness and helps the local farming community. I loved the chicken burritos and asked the cook, Lorena Alvarez, to share the recipe with me.  She showed me how to make burritos and gallo pinto Nicaraguense with Pedro Centeno, the manager, translating.

Most likely the burrito originated in Mexico and spread throughout the Americas with each area making their own adaption.  The word “burrito” means “little donkey” and possibly referred to the bedrolls carried by the donkeys. 

Chicken Burroitos

1 large tomato – diced
1 small green pepper – diced
1 small onion – diced
1 tsp cilantro - diced
2 tsp olive oil 
1 tsp lemon juice
12 ounces cooked chicken, shredded or diced
¾ (three-fourths) cup cheese – shredded (cheddar or white Nicaragua cheese)
Salt and pepper
Small 2. burrito ingredients
Mix tomatoes, green peppers, onions, cilantro, oil, and lemon juice in a bowl add salt and pepper to taste. 

On each tortilla add place two tablespoons of chicken, two tablespoons of veggie mix, top with cheese. Fold. Lightly oil a pan. Grill burritos about one minute each side. Ingredients can be prepared ahead of time and assembled when ready to eat. Assembled burritos can be made ahead of time and refrigerated for several hours.  Serve with gallo pinto and /or sour cream. 

Gallo Pinto Nicaraguense

1 lb rice
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup onions, finely diced
1 can small red kidney beans (Goya sells Central America Beans)
1 green pepper, finely diced
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook rice, set aside. In frying pan, add oil, sauté onions over medium heat until onions are translucent. Add beans with liquid.  Mash beans a little to add aroma and color. Add green pepper. Sauté about two minutes. Add rice, sauté about two to three minutes.  Can be refrigerated for later use. 

Jun 5, 2016

NY's Road to Independence

Celebrate Independence Day by visiting one of these Revolutionary War sites to learn how the colonist fought to gain our independence. In Texas, NY, there is a sign pointing to Spy Island. Many people wonder what it is all about but few bother to stop to learn about the spy.  Spy Island is just one small part of New York’s Revolutionary past but it played a part in defeating the British army. Early in 1777 George Washington was quartered on the Hudson River and enlisted the services of Silas Town. Town was sent to Canada to determine the number of men under the command of General John
Burgoyne who was preparing to launch a three-pronged plan to conquer New York State. It was thought that conquering New York State would end the colonial rebellion.  Burgoyne was to move south from Quebec, General Howe was to travel north from New York City, and St. Leger was to travel up the St. Lawrence across Lake Ontario to Albany via Oswego. They were to meet in Albany. The plan was doomed from the start because Howe sent his troops to capture Philadelphia and the colonial forces in Central New York thwarted the plan of St. Leger. 

In July 1777 Silas Town was secreted on a small island in the Little
Salmon River when St. Leger and his men put ashore for the night.  According to Town’s story, St. Leger tried to convince Joseph Brant, the Mohawk chief, to move the troops overland from Mexico
Point directly to Fort Stanwix.  Brant would only go by way of Oswego because he knew Native Americans were waiting to strengthen their contingent. In the morning Town made haste to report to the commander at Fort Stanwix. Today, at Mexico Point Park, a monument marks Town’s grave where he overheard the British plans and a hand-carved full-size statue of Joseph Brant points the way to Fort Ontario.

Most likely Town was just one of
several “Paul Reveres” who gave warning to Fort Stanwix that the British were coming. Early warning allowed the commander of Fort Stanwix to secure the fort and to send word to General Nicholas Herkimer asking for support. Fort Stanwix was able to successfully repel the siege. Fort Stanwix has been reconstructed and has a great informative Visitor Center depicting the lifestyle of the era including the siege of the fort.

General Herkimer was not so lucky. Herkimer, leading 700 Tryon County militiamen and Oneida warriors, was ambushed by an equal force of Tories and Mohawks in Oriskany. In the six-hour battle, one of the bloodiest of the Revolution, the American force was prevented from relieving Fort Stanwix, but the British, after suffering heavy losses, retreated to Oswego. The injured Herkimer died days later. Today the monument at Oriskany is a quiet, reflective spot belying the horror that took place in 1777.  The monument reads: 

Here British invasion was checked and thwarted, 
here General Nicolas Herkimer, 
intrepid leader of the American forces, 
though mortally wounded kept command of the fight 
till the enemy had fled.  
The life-blood of more than two hundred patriot heroes
made this battleground sacred forever.
St. Leger’s troops never made it to Albany leaving Burgoyne without reinforcements when his men engaged the colonists at Saratoga. The pivotal British plan to divide and conquer the colonies failed, a major factor in the War for Independence. 

May 30, 2016

Exploring Mexico, New York

Travelers venture near and far but many have never visited the
great places near home.  It is the same all over the world.  Many times I have asked the receptionist at a hotel to suggest local places to visit and they respond with, “I hear “such-and-such” is great but I have never been there.” The same is true locally.  I do many presentations and am amazed how few people have explored places near their home – or even in their hometown.

For such a small community, Mexico, NY,  has some wonderful places to visit. Within walking distance there are three interesting places to visit.  The beautiful high school is home to "La Guerre d'Independence," an impressive scenic wall mural that depicts America's War of Independence. The historic mural was made in France and is purported to be the only place where the complete mural is on display. The White House in Washington and Fraunces Tavern in NYC have some of the panels. 

The Star Clark Tin Shop and Underground Museum on Main Street
was a pivotal stop on the Underground Railroad.  Starr Clark aided runaway slaves and planned their onward movement from the tin shop. Clark saw to that they had housing either in his Tin Shop, his home, or in the homes of other local antislavery families. He also arranged schedules for forwarding "the goods" and provided transportation to the next station. Helping runaways was illegal so records are hard to find
but in one well-documented case a runaway named George was aided by Clark on his way to freedom in Canada. Mexico was also instrumental in helping Jerry McHenry make his way to Canada in what became a “cause celebre.”  Just a short walk from the Tin Shop is the Mexico Museum dedicated to preserving the history of Mexico.  There are changing displays. 

Mexico was the sometime home of Audrey Munson, considered to be “America’s First Supermodel.” New Haven has a newly erected sign designating her burial site in their cemetery. Munson posed for about 100 statues currently in New York City and many elsewhere.  A new book, “The Curse of Beauty,” relates the life and times of Munson. It recently hit the bookshelves. It is an interesting read and has all the elements needed for a great movie. 

The Town of Mexico has the only free park on Lake Ontario. Mexico Point Park has a small beach with lifeguards, picnic tables, grills, and unique life-size hand-carved statues of people associated with the park.  There are two short trails; one has an accompanying brochure describing aspects of the trail.  The other trail leads to an historic marker designating the burial site of Silas
Towne, Mexico’s Paul Revere.  Towne warned the colonists at Fort Stanwix that the British, with a contingent of Native Americans, were on the way to attack the fort.  Fort Stanwix was readied and withstood the assault which was instrumental in the thwarting the British plan to conquer New York and the rest of the colonies.  The park is home to the unique Casey’s Cottage, a carriage house that was turned into an 11th century manor house.  The hand caved walls, ceilings, and beams are of special note.  Mexico Point Park hosts weddings and a variety of events. 

May 23, 2016

Ten things to do in Louisville

Louisville, Kentucky’s largest city is home to several iconic sites. It
is home to the Mohammed Ali Center and where the Louisville slugger is made. The city likes to be called the “Bourbon Capital of the World” but there are also beautiful parks, historical sites, and more. 

1. The River: Louisville owes its existence to the Ohio River.  Enjoy a scenic cruise on the Belle of Louisville or the Spirit of Jefferson. Landlubbers can relax in the city’s 85-acre Waterfront Park the site of many events. There is an overlook near 26th Street where people can see barges and other boats go through the McAlpine Lock and Dam.
2. Churchill Downs: Every May the Louisville Marching Band plays the derby’s signature song and 1000s of spectators join in singing, “My Old Kentucky Home,” before the beginning of the “Run for the Roses.” Daily tours of Churchill Downs are available and the adjacent Kentucky Derby Museum celebrates all aspects of racing.  Try their signature drink – a Mint Julep.
3. The Mohammad Ali Center: The tour of the center starts on
the third floor with a five-screen multimedia presentation called “If You Can Dream.” It provides an overview of Ali’s life and explains his six core principles: confidence, conviction, dedication, respect, giving, and spirituality. It preserves the legacy of Mohammed Ali and inspires people to release the greatness within.
4. Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory: The museum details the history of the famous “slugger” bat.  It is a mix of exhibits. You can have your fast ball clocked. On view is the Louisville Slugger used by Joe DiMaggio to set his 56-game hitting streak. A film, “The Heart of the Game” gives insight to the game. 
5. Old Louisville: Old Louisville is home to one of the largest historic preservation districts in the nation. It has the country’s greatest collection of preserved Victorian architecture. For an illustrated brochure call Old Louisville Information Center (502) 635-5244. The perimeter is so large that five tours are suggested. 
6. Bourbon: Visit the Evan Williams Bourbon Museum situated
on the site of their first commercial distiller. Videos, dioramas, and displays explain the history of bourbon distilling that started in 1783. By law bourbon must be aged in new white oak barrels and distilled from USA-grown corn. Pick up a passport and follow the Bourbon Trail.
7. The Frazier History Museum: The Frazier details 1000 years of history. Their vast collection includes a rifle owned by George Washington and Teddy Roosevelt’s “Big Stick.” The “The Lewis and Clark Expedition” has many interactive and hands-on exhibits. There are daily historical presentations and live demonstrations. 
8. Art: The Speed Art Museum has a collection of art covering more than 6,000 years of man’s creativity. Explore the cultural diversity of Asia at the Asia Institute Crane House. There is plenty of street art including “Kentucky’s Rushmore” depicting Mohammad Ali, Abraham Lincoln, Colonel Sanders, and Secretariat. 
9. Parks: In 1891 Frederick Olmstead, famed for designing
Central Park, designed Louisville’s park system based on his concept of parks connected to tree-lined parkways instead of freestanding parks. A 100-mile trail system that connects parks, neighborhoods and attractions. 

10. And More: There are plenty of diversions: golf courses, amusement parks, theaters, karting, and festivals.  Try Louisville’s signature dishes: the open-face Hot Brown Sandwich created at the Brown Hotel.  End a meal with a piece of the decadent Derby Pie, a tart made of walnuts and chocolate chips.  

May 9, 2016

Exploring Downtown Mahattan

Visiting NYC can be costly so I welcome any way to save money.  Hotels are especially expensive but luckily we had points that allowed us to stay at the Holiday Inn Express Wall Street for free. The hotel had a great location but the rooms are small – very small.  

From the hotel we walked to South Street Seaport’s TKTS kiosk for half-price Broadway show tickets (the line is shorter than at the Times Square TKTS kiosk). On the way we noticed a bright red Downtown Connection van which said it was free. The van runs every 10 minutes from South Street Seaport to Battery Park and up the West Side to near City Hall from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. 

There are plenty of places to visit along the route. We took the van
to Warren and Church St. where we walked a short distance to the African Burial Ground which has been advertised on a New York TV promo. It is part of the National Park Service.  The National Monument is free and basically outdoors.  From the 1690s until 1794, both free and enslaved Africans were buried in a 6.6-acre area in Lower Manhattan, outside the boundaries of the settlement of New Amsterdam, later known as New York. Lost to history due to landfill and
development, the grounds were rediscovered in 1991 as a consequence of the planned construction of a federal office building. We walked through the 24-foot Ancestral Libation Monument that led down past small waterfalls to the Circle of Diaspora where various symbols of peace are etched on the wall.  There are seven mounds that are the final burial site for 419 remains that were unearthed in the 90s. We were near City Hall so we walked through the gardens to a place where there was a view of the Brooklyn Bridge (you can walk across if you want) and happened on some street entertainment.  

Our next stop was the National Museum of the American Indian.  It
is an adjunct of the Smithsonian so it is free.  It is housed in the historic Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House which is architecturally interesting - inside and out.  I thought it was going to focus on NYS native population but it covers 12,000 years of Native American art and artifacts. I have always been fascinated by “quipus” also known as talking knots.  Tying knots in strings was the way Incas kept records; some people think it was actually a writing method.  Regardless, they are interesting and not many have survived. 

 We also visited Fraunces Tavern & Museum, the oldest building in NYC and where George Washington said farewell to his troops. The lobby of Mexico High School has the complete mural called “La Guerre d’Independence.” The woodblocks to make the mural depicting the American Revolution were made in France.  I knew Fraunces Travel and the White House had some of the panels but the only complete mural is in Mexico, New York.  When I asked the docent where the mural was located he said there was no such thing at the museum!  There
is. It had been cut up and applied as wallpaper in the Clinton Room. I guess technically it can be called wallpaper. They didn’t know it was part of a mural.

We didn’t have enough time to visit the many other interesting places in Downtown Manhattan so we added it to our “gotta’ do” list.

May 2, 2016

Touring NYC and Radio City

When I was 10, on my first trip to NYC, my parents took me to Radio City Music. I was brought to tears when the organs came out the side walls and the orchestra rose up from the floor.  To me it was magical.  Radio City’s two Wurlitzer Organs are the only two of its kind in the world.  Interestingly, the organ players crawl through a tiny door to get to their stools without
being noticed. I have been to Radio City several times since my first visit.  On a recent visit to The Big Apple John and I made good use of our New York City Explorer Pass.  The discount pass saved us money on attractions and I liked that we could build our own pass selecting the places we wanted to visit; the pass is good for a year.  The Radio City Back Door Tour is one of the things I have always wanted to do – so we used our NYC Explorer Pass. We had a 20-minute wait before our tour started but no problem. Tickets are picked up a Radio City Sweet and Gift Shop. We loaded up on our favorite candies.  

The tour started in the Art Deco main lobby with a history of the building which was built in 1929 when the stock market crashed.  The area was known as the “speakeasy belt” so John D. Rockefeller’s plan was to gentrify the area and provide jobs.  The guide pointed out unique aspects in the 60-foot high Grand Foyer such as the carpet that features abstract designs of musical instruments and the massive “The Fountain of Youth” mural. The impressive theater
was designed to bring to mind a sunset.  There is no bad seat in the house as there are no pillars.  It is the largest indoor theater in the world with seating for 6000 people. The original stage is amazing; it can be raised and lowered plus the center portion can be rotated with a push of the button.  The ladies’ powder room still retains the elegance of an earlier day when people dressed in their finest to go to Radio City. The highlight of the tour was meeting one of the Rockettes. Rockettes must be physically fit because there are times when they do four shows a day. They must be at least 18 years old and between five-six and five-ten. About 500 try out each year for the 80 positions.  The Rockette I met has been one for 15 years.

We also used our Explorer Pass for Circle Line’s “Best of New
York City” for which we paid a $5 upgrade.  It was worth it.  We had never completely circled Manhattan Island. The boat went up the East River and down the Hudson past the Statue of Liberty. There are 20 bridges that connect Manhattan Island to the mainland. Some of the bridges are lift bridges and
some swing bridges.  We had to wait for the northbound train to go over one of the bridges before it could be lifted.  Dave, our tour guide, was one of the best guides we have ever had.  He obviously had a theater background so not only did we learn a lot of interesting facts it was fun. We also used our pass to take the hop-on hop-off tour; a “must-do” when visiting any city. There are several routes to choose from.