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. 

Oct 27, 2014

Exploring Ashtabula's Wine Country

John and I like to break up our road trips by stopping at new places.
On our way to visit family in Ohio we had a wonderful stay at The Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake.  Yes, there is more than one Geneva-on-the-Lake.  The one in Ohio is part of Geneva State Park where there is picnicking, camping, cabins, boating, trails, swimming,
fishing and more.  The Lodge is a beautiful resort with rooms that have great views of Lake Erie.  The first day we were there it was rainy and the lake was kicking up but the next morning the water calmed, the sun came out, and it was beautiful.  It was interesting to see the lake on two very different days. Wonder what it looks like in the winter. There is a lovely walk along the lake’s edge, great dining and an indoor and outdoor swimming pool, both of which are heated.  

The hotel has its own bus that offers a variety of tours on a regular basis.  I took the Vineyard Tour which started at Pairings. It is not a winery but a newly opened, non-profit all-Ohio wine center offering award winning wines from all geographic areas of the state.  Besides wine tasting and flights they offer cooking classes and other events.  I like the concept of Cork & Canvas.  They insure that even novices will end up with a painting suitable for framing.  

Our next stop was the Winery at Spring Hill. They feature 22 different wines and an extensive menu. I liked their method of serving flights. Small glasses were placed on a paper placemat and labeled allowing the true wine lover to make notations. Our guide, Roger, said they have the best steak and that he and his wife love to eat there. While driving around Roger explained that the sandy soil which was the bottom of the lake in days of yore is great for growing the grapes but the awful winter of 2014 took its toll on the vines and many died making it a difficult year for wine making.  Our next stop was Grand River Cellars. They took us down into the wine cellar where the finer points of wine production were

explained. I couldn’t leave without buying their olive oil infused with dried tomatoes. At the M Cellars, one of the newer wineries, the
view of the vineyards was great. Each winery seemed to have something unique.  At M Cellars their handcrafted wooden rockers had a special place in the arm of the chair to hold the wine glass.  Great idea.  Across the road from M Cellar was Red Eagle Distillery where they make bourbon, rye whiskey, and vodka plus they have 10 craft beers on tap.  I could not resist the Gingerbread Cream Vodka cocktail.  There are many wineries in the area The Lodge tour does not always visit the same wineries.  All the wineries offer food from tapas to full course meals often with entertainment. 

Roger was an excellent guide who shared information on the local area and made an unscheduled stop at the smallest covered bridge plus drove through the main street of Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio’s first summer resort.  It is similar to Sylvan Beach on New York’s Oneida Lake.  It was basically deserted because the season was over but it looked like a “cool” place to visit during the summer. I’ll add it to my “Gotta’ Visit” list.

Oct 21, 2014

Hauntings in New York State

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

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

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

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

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

Oct 14, 2014

Visit New York's Letchworth Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oct 6, 2014

Smokin' Joe's Native Center in Niagara Falls USA

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

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

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

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

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

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