Nov 13, 2018

Maximize Your Travel

My family has been fortunate to travel to so many places.  I imagine some people think we are wealthy or have a secret source of money.  Not true.  Like much in life if one wants to travel one needs to make choices. Jim, our youngest son, used to say things like, “All my friends have snowmobiles” and “I am the only one who hasn’t been to Darian Lake.” My response was usually something that annoyed him like, “Oh, well, you have been down the Nile in a felucca.”

From the very beginning we tried to take advantage of every travel opportunity.  We always volunteered to be bumped.  It happened more frequently years ago than it does now.  I was penalized if I missed the first day back to school after a vacation so sometimes I flew home alone while John and Jim stayed behind to get the reward for being bumped. 

If you have a credit card it should be rewarding you.  For years we
had one with United Airlines but I recently cancelled it.  Airlines’ rewards have changed so that the rewards are hard to accumulate and use.  We have, over the years, booked many flights for free using our points. In fact, our winter trip to Asia will be with the points we have with United.  Our new credit card is Sapphire which allows us to use the points for money, flights, and they can even be transferred.  We are using the points for our next trip. That makes two trips with free air travel. Credit cards offer bonuses for signing up and no service charge for a year.  Some people get a credit card to use the bonuses then discontinue it at the end of the year before the yearly fee is due. Never charge more than what you know you can pay at the end of the month so you don’t accumulate interest charges. For international travel it is best to have both a Visa and Master Card.  Credit Union and Discovery cards are not accepted out of the country.  Your card should not charge foreign transaction fees. 

Our second card is with InterContinental (think Holiday Inn).  We chose it because they have the most hotels worldwide.  We often use points and dollars to get a reasonable room rate. We find it is best to book directly with the hotel and always sign up for their loyalty programs. We have never found a better deal on any of the sites offering special hotel prices regardless of what they say.  Booking a B&B or a condo is also a great way to save money.  And, if you do your own cooking you will act like a local when shopping. This is the best option if you have children, however, Holiday Inn often has “children stay and eat free.” We haven’t done this but you can swap accommodations with people and even couch surf.  

If we are going to book a tour we do it with a local group.  Many

places offer free or almost free walking tours. Try Freetour.com. We have used Globalgreeters.com several times.  Meeting the locals is a big plus.  Volunteering to teach, work on a farm, or some other community service is another great way to get in touch with locals. 


Go off season or where it is the least expensive. It is sometimes less expensive to fly to Shanghai than it is to fly to California. I check google.com/flights and then decide.  It doesn’t matter where you go as long as you go.  

Nov 6, 2018

Unique places to visit

When I travel, besides seeing all the usual tourist spots, I like to see some of the off-beat things.  There are several books and websites that I found helpful.  “Roadside America” has a web site where I can bring up a map and pick out the unique things to see in the area in which I am traveling. It is easy to search by location. Some are places we’d visited without checking their web site like Boldt’s Castle but I like to check out the ones that I might miss such as the statue of the large cow with sunglasses in
Lowville. 

I also like letterboxing which is an intriguing “treasure hunt” style outdoor activity. Letterboxers hide small, weatherproof boxes in publicly-accessible places (like parks) and post clues to finding the box online.  Many of them are in or near historic sites and/or parks where there is something unique or offers a great place to hike or just relax and enjoy nature. There are over 200 in Oswego County.  We “planted” some but got a notice from a letterboxer that it had washed away but the website is set so people can place notes to let people know the last time the letterbox was checked and any other pertinent information.  There used to be a couple letterboxes at Mexico Point Park. 

“Atlas Obscura” is my new go-to when I travel.  When I was in Ithaca I checked out their site and while I knew that most of the students at Cornell were “brainey” I didn’t know that the college is home of the Wilder Brain Collection. Burt Green Wilder, a professor of anatomy founded the Cornell Brain Society in 1889 to collect the brains of “educated and orderly” people.  There is one of Helen Hamilton Gardener, a suffragette
who wanted to prove that a woman’s brain was not inferior to a man’s and one of a murderer.  I also like that “Atlas Obscura” lists 15,000+ places from all over the world.  I have visited some of them.  I think Myanmar’s Kyaiktiyo Pagoda is one of the most amazing things I have seen.  The 611-ton golden rock defies gravity as it teeters on the brink of a 3625-foot precipice. I have seen many of the things listed but I am always on the lookout for unique things to see. I like the fact that they add new places. I just submitted Casey’s Cottage, which is one of the most unique places in Central New York.  The cottage is closed for the season but, if you haven’t seen the inside of the cottage put it on your “must-visit” list for next year.  

We will be going to Honduras again soon and we are always
looking for something new to see so I checked Atlas Obscura’s site.  They list nine places in Honduras. We have visited the Hieroglyphic Staircase, the Rosalila Temple, the fort in Ooma and Lancetilla Gardens now I want to see the Talgua Caves which are called “The Caves of the Glowing Sculls.” There are a couple of other things listed that I’d like to see. When we were in Cincinnati we took pictures of the Mushroom
House which was listed in Atlas Obscura. It is not made out of mushrooms but looks like mushrooms. Wonder what the neighbors thought?


I think it is fun to check out the larger than life things on Road Trippers. Many were done to advertise a product or something and many have outlived their original purpose but are now just fun attractions. 

Oct 30, 2018

Cool Weather a great time to visit an Art Museum

Let’s face it.  Winter is coming.  Happens every year but that doesn’t mean the traveling has to stop.  There are many great
indoor places that are warm, snugly and interesting to visit. You don’t have to be an art enthusiast to enjoy an art museum; in fact, I am willing to guarantee even those who usually shy away from art museums will find something of interest and, who knows, maybe, learn to like something new. When I took my grand kids to the art museum in Cleveland we signed up for the children’s tour. It was fascinating.  We all learned.  A docent tour is important as they point out things one might not normally notice.

On our recent trip to Ithaca we visited the Johnson Museum of Art. We often take docent tours but this time we started on the top floor and worked our way down.  The museum has something of interest to everyone – trust me. The top floor of the unique building (can’t miss it as it is the tallest building around) has excellent views of Cornell and the surrounding area. Their collection is eclectic featuring art from all area and time periods.  We spend a lot of time in Asia and I am still trying to unravel the mysteries of the Hindu iconography and pantheon.  I do recognize Ganesh and know why he has the head of elephant.  I am not telling… you can look it up – great story. Ganesh is considered the remover of obstacles, patron of the arts and science, god of intellect and wisdom. 

I enjoy art museums but I am not even remotely art savvy. I do like Botero’s works because I can easily identify his non-svelte figures plus there is always some sort of humor even if I miss his message.  In this case the bulbous figure dressed like a child is smoking a cigarette aptly titled “Little Girl Smoking a Cigarette.” Several of his pieces show people smoking so I decided that he is trying to say it is foolish for people to smoke but I guess it is open to individual interpretation.

Interpretation is one of the fascinating aspects of art – and life!
Such was the case with the 18th century painting, “View of Roseau Valley” by Agostino Brunias. It is the island of Dominica showing Africans, Carib Indians, and Creole Planters. Cornell professors of four different disciplines were asked to view the painting and give their interpretations. Brilliant! One saw it as an example of Imperial Social Engineering (slavery to the benefit of the governing country). Another saw the economic relationship between raising sugar and agriculture while yet another focused on the textile making and trade.  Another saw the gentrification of the elite society juxtaposed with the violence of slavery. I would like to see more museums do this.  I think it is important to see all sides of an issue and looking at art is a good way to start. Wonder what the artist was trying to portray.

One does not have to go to Ithaca to see great art. Oswego’s Tyler Art Gallery has three locations: on the SUNY Oswego campus, downtown Oswego, and on their Syracuse campus. Their collection represents a wide range of artistic voices and points of view.  The Everson in Syracuse, an I. M. Pei design, is home to an internationally recognized ceramic collection. Don’t forget local artists. Check out the Art Association of Oswego and visit the Common’s Riverside Artisans.

Oct 23, 2018

Fall Hiking Ideas in Central New York

The leaves are falling and there is snow in the air but there will still be a couple of warm, sunny days perfect for a jaunt in the woods.   Recently John and I were at Cornell’s Ornithology Lab where we watched a video in the theater detailing the patience and endurance of photographers trying to get an
image of a bird-of-paradise in New Guinea. I was not endowed with that dedication and patience.  They also have a lab where one can listen to and learn bird sounds.  On the massive wall they have a world map mural that shows one bird for each of 243 bird families. Amazing diversity. Admission is free and so are the frequent guided bird walks and other presentations. We enjoyed a short walk through Spa Sucker Woods.  

One doesn’t have to go to Ithaca to see and learn about birds. 
Derby Hill Bird Observatory is nearby and well-known as the place to see thousands of raptors from March to the end of May, mainly broad winged hawks.  It is on a low hill on the shore of Lake Ontario in the Town of Mexico and in the fall Parasitic and Pomarine Jaegers can be seen along with geese, ducks, gulls, and terns. 

Don’t forget Beaver Lake Nature Center. Besides the nature center there are over nine miles of trails of varying lengths. I like their canoe trips but you will have to  wait until spring for that bird watching adventure.  My favorite trail is the .6-mile bog trail much of which is on an elevated boardwalk.  I like looking for the insect-eating picture plant and, of course, birds. There is a 3-mile lake loop that takes in several habitats. 

Lesser known but just as interesting is Camp Zerbe. Camp Zerbe has three rare "kettlehole" lakes, created at the end of the last ice age by immense chunks of melting glacier. Not only can one see a variety of birds, especially waterfowl and game birds, but there is a variety of other wildlife including deer, rabbits, squirrels, beaver, mink, porcupines, and other mammals.  If you have never see a beaver dam here is your chance. Nearby there is a parking area on Co. Rt. 183 giving easy access to the beaver dam trail.  It is short, easy walk.  Walk quietly if you go and you may be luckily enough to see the beavers.  They carry the mud to build the dam on their tummy. Along the way we could see stumps where the beavers had chewed down the trees needed to build their new home.  It was easy to be impressed with their work and understand the phrase, “busy as a beaver.” 

There are several easy outdoor hikes before winter sets in.  Mexico
Point Park has two short trails: one is Roop’s Look, named for the founder of the park, Grace Roop; the other goes to Spy Island, a Revolutionary War historic site. 

If you haven’t been to Rice Creek Biological Station near the college in Oswego in a the last five years you will have missed their new field station with a rebuilt pavilion and new observatory structure with a 12.5” telescope with an H-alpha filter for solar viewing. All nature centers offer special programs. On my to-do list is a visit to the Clark Reservation south of Syracuse; where, according to the brochure, there is fun and learning for the whole family. 


Oct 15, 2018

Making Rahkine Chicken Curry

When the leaves start to turn red and yellow my mind begins to
think of winter getaways and it always conjures up beautiful Ngapali Beach in Myanmar – my happy place.  When we first stayed at Ngapali’s Amazing Resorts in 2008 there were virtually no tourists and Amazing Hotel Ngapali was the only hotel on this stretch of beach. The hotel, while beautiful and modern, had only a few tourists. Things have changed.  Now there are a couple more hotels on the sweeping two-
mile beach but they are at the rocky end. Amazing Hotel is now fully booked most of the time, the airport has expanded but the beach is still virtually empty and the people are still friendly. Hope things don’t change too much.  I think the government would like to see Ngapali turn into another Phuket.  They have been expanding the runway; I think, with the
intention to make the runway big enough for charter planes to land.  Ten years ago arriving flights (there were only a couple) were announced by a bull horn and people could walk out on the tarmac to meet their friends. No more but the ground crew still lines up to wave goodbye as a plane departs. On the plus side, the internet is available and many places now accept credit cards – we no longer have to take pristine USDs to pay for things. 


The beach has none of the annoying things we have encountered at other beaches: no sand flies, no annoying vendors, and the beach is still virtually devoid of tourists.  John and I enjoy our morning walk to the north end of the beach to the rock topped with a small temple.  Late in the afternoon we walk the other way to where there is a mermaid atop a rock.  The sand is soft and the water is warm.  During the day we relax on the beach, read, refresh with a dip in the small infinity pool or ride the gentle waves on an inner tube.


At the end of the day we watch the sun set and wait to see the lights of the fishing boats that line the horizon like a string of Christmas lights.  Then it is time for dinner. The food is great often with a grilled catch-of-the-day fish dinner. On our last visit I asked the chef, Ms. Myint Oo, to show me how to make traditional Rakhine Hot and Spicy Chicken Curry.  Rakhine, a state in Myanmar, located on the country’s western coast, and is known for its spicy hot cuisine. This recipe is versatile. It can be made with fish and the spice can be adjusted to please the palate of everyone; plus, it is quick and easy to prepare.

Traditional Rakhine Hot and Spicy Chicken Curry




1 each: red and green chili diced (as desired)
2 tsp. chicken powder
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. turmeric powder
2 Tbsp. shrimp paste
2 Tbsp. peanut oil
2 chicken breasts
2 tsp. tamarind juice
1.5 cups water
5 pieces hot basil leaves
1 tsp. diced coriander leaf garnish


In a mortar grind chili, chicken powder, salt, turmeric powder, and shrimp paste. Heat oil in skillet. Add chili mixture, stir until it turns yellow. Sprinkle mixture on chicken and rub it in. Cut chicken into one-inch pieces. Add chicken, tamarind juice, water, and basil leaves to skillet. Cook over medium heat until chicken is done.  Garnished with coriander and serve with rice. 

Oct 9, 2018

Learning about the Tommy Plane

I had never heard of the Tommy Plane and, to my surprise, neither had my aviation-enthusiast, John.  The WW I Thomas-Morse S-4B aka the “Tommy Plane” was made in Ithaca. The Wright Brothers will always be known as the first flyers for many reasons; not withstanding is their agreement with the Smithsonian that states that, “Neither the Smithsonian Institution or its successors, nor any museum or other agency, bureau or facilities administered for the United States of America by the Smithsonian Institution or its
successors shall publish or permit to be displayed a statement or label in connection with or in respect of any aircraft model or design of earlier date than the Wright Aeroplane of 1903, claiming in effect that such aircraft was capable of carrying a man under its own power in controlled flight.” Taking Teddy Roosevelt for a ride was a public relations coup. But the Wright Brothers feat has overshadowed some other remarkable steps in aviation including the Tommy Plane.


For a few short years in the early 20th century, Ithaca was a
thriving center of the aviation industry. The Thomas-Morse Aircraft Corporation produced hundreds of WW I-era “Tommy” Scout Planes. At first the “scout” was used for fast reconnaissance planes but they were soon modified to carry weapons; the term “scout” was retained. One of the few remaining planes has been lovingly restored and on Sept. 29 it took flight at the local airport.  

John and I took the Tommy Bus Tour while we were in Ithaca.  We started at the Hanger Theater, formerly the municipal airport, where there was a picture of Amelia Earhart’s visit to the then airport. I didn’t realize she was so glamorous.  

The first stop on the Tommy Bus Tour was at the Airplane Factory which is today a multi-use
building. The next stop was the Morris Chain Factory. Over 100 years ago the Thomas-Morse Airplane Co. produced nearly 600 Tommy Scouts making Ithaca one of the largest suppliers of military aircraft at the time. The factory employed more than 1100 people. At the Morris Chain Factory we toured the large vacant property.  (Similar to the Wright Brothers bicycle chain factories played a part in the beginning of aviation.) At one time the train track ran right through
the building and the Tommy Planes were loaded for delivery to a variety of destinations. The first big order came in 1918 when the British Admiralty ordered 25. Armed guards were posted outside that building for security.  In the fall of 1916, Thomas Brothers got their first significant U.S. order, from the Navy, for 15 float planes.  The production was going great until the end of the war which eliminated the need for the plane and that
coupled with the advances in aviation brought a close to the Tommy construction. The one place we didn’t visit is now called Barton Hall; it is where Cornell ran a school during WW I training pilots. 



We were unable to go to the Ithaca Airport to see the Tommy take flight.  We were on the Teal Boat tour.  I had hoped that the plane would fly over Cayuga Lake but, sadly, it did not. I hope to return next year when the restored plane will have a place of honor in the new Tompkins County Historical Society building which will, at that time, be in a new location of the Commons. 

Oct 3, 2018

Driving the West Side of Cayuga Lake

When the leaves start to turn people often head to the Adirondacks and, for sure, they have some awesome foliage.  I especially like the ride to Old Forge and beyond. The panoramic view from the McCauley chair lift is awe inspiring. A boat ride on the Clearwater from Old Forge on the Fulton Chain is a relaxing way to see the area but they are coming to the end of their season. 


However, the Finger Lakes are also a wonderful place for a fall trip.  Recently, John and I drove down the west side of Cayuga Lake. We stopped at the 215 foot-Taughannock Falls, one of the highest waterfalls east of the Rockies.  The last time we were there it was basically dry – not this time.  There are trails in the area and steps to the bottom.  We enjoyed the view from the top. 

They claim that the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail was the first of its
kind.  There are many wineries and u-pick farms.  We went to the Wednesday Farmer’s Market in Trumansburg.  There was music, homemade items and plenty of fresh produce.  We went on a Wednesday because the Atlas Bowl is just down the road from the Farmer’s Market and every Wednesday during the harvest season, the chef, Brittany Laughlin, creates a locavor menu. What is a locavor?  It is a person whose diet
consists only or mainly of locally grown or produced food. Each week Chef Laughlin shops at the farmer’s market and creates a special menu from the items available. So, each week is different. Our meal was a scrumptious mix of grilled chorizo, roasted chicken, sweet corn, red potatoes, beet greens, and tomatoes.  Basically, it was all tossed together. The chorizo gave it a bit of a kick. There were a lot of flavors that melded together making it a great meal.  It was served with grilled corn
bread which was the best corn bread we ever had.  The restaurant is called Atlas Bowl because it is part of a bowling alley.  It must be the “in” place to eat in Trumansburg because there were many families dining there but only a father and two sons bowling. I know many restaurants now try to use locally grown produce whenever they can but I think there should be a restaurant in every area that offers a locavor menu once a week – on farmer’s market day.  



We know how to end a great meal. In Ithaca we went to Purity Ice Cream for dessert.  Since it opened in 1936 Purity Ice Cream has been making ice cream “…the way it used to be made! In small batches. With local, high quality ingredients, including BGH-free milk from upstate farms.”   


The next day, before starting home, we took a boat tour on CayugaLake. The lake is the longest Finger Lake but not the deepest.  The weather was perfect so there were many recreational water crafts on the lake.  I was surprised there were no resorts on the lake.  Most of the houses are privately owned (some people have more money than others!) some of
which are rentals.  I was surprised to see that Cargill has a salt mine.  They load the rock salt in train cars and off it goes to communities to be ready for the winter. At one time there were steam ships that crisscrossed the lake now there is the Teal and private boats, canoes, and sailboats.