Sunday, December 11, 2016

Maine or Bust! Or Maine AND Bust as the case may be.

We woke up to cloudless skies and sunshine and after a quick breakfast we hit the road. Making our way to Highway 15 we passed through rolling green hills dotted with small farms and as we rounded a corner we came upon a beautifully restored round barn with a collection of vintage Volkswagen Bugs on display. 
Continuing on we passed through a couple of small villages that seemed lost in time; their white- washed Italianate Victorian houses and high steeple churches unchanged since the 1880's, like a fly caught in amber.
Following the Lamoille River on highway 15 we stopped for a break just outside Wolcott, Vermont at the Fairmount Cemetery. This is a very old cemetery built on a steep slope and is the resting place for a number of Civil War veterans who fought for the North from the state of Vermont.

We fitted Erley into his walking jacket (The sign said "No Dogs" and nothing about No Cats) and let Max stretch his legs on the other side of the road away from the cemetery before putting him back into the Pleasure Way to have a look around.
While David strolled between the weathered marble headstones, I was, as usual, saddled with keeping tabs on Erley, a task usually about as stimulating as watching paint dry. He wandered along the edge of the cemetery looking up at this hedge of brush. All of sudden he crouched down and settled in facing into the brush about 1 foot away from it. I backed off about 10 feet and left the leash loose so he didn't have any tension on it and leaned against a headstone. I was wondering why I allowed the cat to control my leisure time and wouldn't it be fine to just pull him along so I could go and see the old gravestones too. But he seemed so contented, comfortable and focused in what he was doing that I just couldn't bring myself to disturb him. Then in a flash he leaped about 3 feet sideways into the edge of the brush and caught a shrew! A poor shrew lived there and usually rummaged about all he wanted and then all of a sudden he was in the claws of a leopard. I'm sure he was thinking "where in the world on this lonely cemetery in the middle of nowhere did the leopard come from?" Poor thing. I called David over and we alternated between being excited that Erley had actually caught something while on his lead to being sad and concerned for the safety of the little shrew. We distracted Erley a couple times so the shrew could escape but the shrew kept choosing to run underneath the cat to hide! Gawd. Finally I picked Erley up so the shrew could escape. Bet he had quite the story to tell when he got home. He will probably have to move now. PTSD and all. I wonder how many cats have hunted and been successful on a leash? Erley might have set a record there.
After we returned Erley (feeling pretty darn sassy and high on himself) to the RV we took a little more time looking around the old cemetery. There were numerous grave sites that belonged to soldiers who died during the civil war. The thought of a farmer from this small community in north central Vermont dying on a far off battlefield in Louisiana or North Carolina in 1862 was sobering. Just the logistics of getting from Wolcott, Vermont to a field outside of Baton Rouge, some 1600 miles to the south was mind boggling. What an out of mind experience it must have been for the young men on both sides of this conflict to find themselves so far from home in a hostile and foreign part of the country. Couple that with having to actually fight for ones life and you start to understand just some of the hardships faced by these soldiers during this terrible war.
About a half an hour after leaving Wolcott we pulled off Highway 15 at a small wayside park on the banks of Joes Pond in West Danville, Vermont to have an early lunch. The weather was outstanding, with just the hint of the approaching Autumn in the air. We found ourselves a nice picnic table with a lovely view of the pond and shared our lunch of the remaining summer sausage, some delicious Cabot cheese and crackers with our two traveling companions.
After lunch we left Highway 15 where it intersected with Highway 2 and made our way through some very nice scenery on our way to the town of St. Johnsbury, which turned out to filled with some of the most amazing and fantastical architecture we had come upon during our journey thus far. St. Johnsbury was "Best Small Town" in National Geographic Adventure's "Where to live and play" in 2006 and obviously by the looks of it seems to have been well thought of since it was established back in 1760.

Doing a little research I discovered that St. Johnsbury's chief manufactured goods were maple sugar candy, bowling candle-pins and platform scales, an odd combination if you ask me, but obviously a combo that worked well for this town. At one point St. Johnsbury was the largest manufacturer of theses three items in the world, who knew? I guess this was the place to go if you felt like sucking on a piece of tasty Maple sugar candy while waiting for your load of bowling pins to get weighed up on a huge platform scale!

Looking at the beautiful material, time and skill put into the construction of the many fine churches and building still standing today it's obvious that this was a very prosperous wealthy community. I can say with complete confidence that we didn't pass through another city or town of this size with as many truly magnificent buildings as St. Johnsbury. Bravo, well done indeed!
We wandered about the downtown corridor starring up at buildings that would be just as at home in Brugge, Belgium or York, England and it made us wonder why we can't seem to build anything half as nice these days. Obviously the costs would be enormous and the construction daunting, but even so, it just seems like we no longer give a damn if a building is special. Just build a great big rectangle and poke some holes in it for windows and you're done. The "screw you" style of architecture. It's a little sad when you see what we could accomplish over a hundred years ago and can't come close to today.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Not for the Lactose Intolerant-Ice cream for breakfast and cheese for lunch!

Breakfast of Champions!
Maybe we arrived a little early...
We woke early and due to the close proximity of our campsite to Waterbury, Vermont we arrived just a little bit early at the Ben and Jerry's Factory. We wandered around aimlessly trying to use up about thirty minutes before the doors opened and had a very nice visit with several of the onsite milk cows that came up to check us out from across their fence. Finally the doors opened at 9:00am and we hustled in and joined a small crowd of about twelve other early risers.
Ben and Jerry's Factory
We were led on a very nice and informative thirty minute tour of the facility which ended in...wait for it...FREE ICE CREAM SAMPLES! Ok they're actually not free as we had to pay $4 each for the tour. Yes, there's nothing like starting the day off with a sample cup filled with Chunky Monkey, followed by a helping of Cherry Garcia. Obviously feeling a little bit guilty about eating ice cream for breakfast we strolled into the "Scoop Shop" and each ordered a full size waffle cone to go! We ordered some kind of coffee flavor in honor of it being in the morning.

Just up the road Cabot Vermont is the home to the Cabot Creamery and feeling as if we hadn't met our lactose requirements we made our way inside the visitor's center where they have a plethora of cheeses just waiting to be sampled. Now we come from TILLAMOOK cheese country and we are pretty darn proud of our Northwest Cheeses, but I gotta say, Cabot makes some mighty fine tasting cheese. We particularly enjoyed the Chipotle and White Oak Cheddar. After indulging ourselves on a reasonable amount of little cubes of the stuff (we worked hard not to ingest any of the toothpicks), we purchased several small blocks of cheese in assorted flavors for the road and bid adieu to Cabot, Vermont.
Cabot Cheese Creamery Samples!
After retracing our steps somewhat we came upon a beautiful and classically "New England" village named Stowe, Vermont.  It looked fetching with it's white steepled church and quaint little shops, but before we could take a look around Erley insisted on a little walkabout of his own. We found a place to park on the outskirts of town and leashed up the the pets and headed down the sidewalk towards the village. After about twenty yards Erley cut to his left and headed towards a wooded area up a landscaped bank covered in bark-dust. Thinking he was answering natures call we followed him up the steep bank towards the tree line. Suddenly to our amazement a trail appeared and he led the rest of us on a very nice twenty minute walk on a nice little trail that included several small boardwalks and meandered up above the village. There was no way we would have ever found this delightful trail without the help of Erley's skilled tracking abilities.
Erley blazes a trail. We think he smells the trails.

 After Erley's walk we ambled into town still feeling a little full from our dairy diet. We passed several cute cafes but the idea of lunch didn't seem too inviting. We stopped in a pleasant business selling a wide variety of "Made in Vermont" items. We purchased a summer sausage, cookies and some interesting crackers to compliment the "Cabot Cheese". After completing our self guided tour of Stowe we headed out of town towards Elmore State Park.
Quintessential New England
The road passed through a beautifully scenic area of mostly forested and agricultural land and just below Elmore Mountain, in what locals refer to as "The Beauty Spot of Vermont", sits Elmore State Park and sparkling Lake Elmore.
Vermont was lovely!
 As we drove up to the Ranger Station we noticed that we had just arrived at Vermont's "Park of the Year"! How serendipitous of us. It was if we had some sort of idea as to where we were heading instead of just driving blindly to the next park with camping on the map. We'll say we planned it...
Can't do much better than "Park of the Year"
We found a nice albeit somewhat dark site sort of away from the several campsites that were occupied and got out to have a look around. It occurred to us that once again we had run into a world of signs. There were about a million of them telling us a litany of things we could not do. "Dogs on leash ONLY. No gathering of FIREWOOD. Please stay on trail. Please observe quiet hours. No tanning lotion below the waist." Well I may have made that last one up but you get the point. It's not so much that we had entertained the thought of doing any of the before mentioned activities, but it was more the idea that you had to be brow beaten with these socially constructive signs no matter which way you chose to look. There were just about more signs than trees. So just to buck the system we retired to our RV and revved up the generator and went about cooking ourselves one tasty teriyaki pork loin.
After a fine dinner we "leashed" up the dog and quietly as church mice stayed on the path, restrained ourselves from littering and took an early evening stroll down to the lake, where we were informed "to swim at our own risk" and to "recycle our trash". Not to mention "No Dogs on Beach or anywhere remotely near the beach". So we lingered looking wistfully at the empty beach and then turned around and headed back to the RV. This park was pretty militant about rules and we knew we weren't going to get away with bending them.
They just couldn't help themselves

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Antiquing in the Adironadacks, Deluge on Grand Isle

Parked right downtown Lake Saranac. The pleasures of a small RV.

The coolest antique shop. Lots of good decor for adirondack cabins.
I don't think we'll stay at the Dew Drop Inn.

Lots of historic structures along the way. We spent so much time in Lake Saranac that we had no time for Lake Placid which looked pretty inviting. We carried on towards Burlington as we had a package to pick up at the post office. We had a mail forwarding service send our mail general delivery periodically and it was always an adventure to actually get it. Always "No, no there's no package here for you." And of course it always WAS there they just didn't LOOK for it properly. The postal service is not what it used to be.
It started to rain and by rain I mean REALLY rain when we got to the top part of Grand Isle. We managed to take shelter in a great antique store called Vallee's Den Of Antiquity. We ran the 50 feet to the front steps and still were soaking wet. As we looked around the thunder started up and the lightning cracked over and over. We were shaking in our boots literally it was that scary. We were ready to get back in the RV but weren't brave enough make to run to the RV. Max was shaking in the window of the RV and we knew he needed some consoling but the lightning was terrifying.
After loitering a good 10 minutes in the entryway we made a break for it. Whew! No lightning struck us down but it sure felt like it could've.
Lots of real antiques and not just junk.
We drove into Burlington Vermont and got stuck in the worst traffic jam. This is a pretty small town and to have such horrible traffic is a fail. We finally made it to the PO and went through the usual petty "no package for you" and rolled out of town in stop and go for 25 minutes. GAWD traffic jams are annoying when you're not used to them. We spent the night at a beautiful reservoir campground called Little River.

We walked the kids around the campground loops and one very austere, serious man walked by and gave us a "look" like what we were doing was ridiculous. Well maybe it was but we couldn't leave Erley at home by himself. It was "bring the cat" or don't go. We didn't let it bother us too much. Most people are excited to see him. Plus we were pretty excited about going to the Ben and Jerry's Factory and the Cabot cheese shop the next morning.

Rural New York

When someone mentions "New York" on the West Coast our first instinct is to imagine a scene like the one below. Crowded streets overflowing with taxi cabs, skyscrapers towering above bustling sidewalks, and an overwhelming sense of controlled pandemonium.  

On the other hand one very rarely think of New York as laid back, sleepy, quiet, and rural. But if you happened to find yourself heading east on Route 104 in Northern New York that's exactly the sort of landscape you'd be passing through.

Apples, soybeans, wine grapes, and corn seemed to have replaced asphalt, high rises, and people. This morning we drove on an almost empty road, passing only one truck and a tractor with warning lights, all the while passing by century farms and much more modern wine vineyards.
This is the New York most people never see; a rural setting that would be every bit at home in Iowa, Georgia, or Wisconsin. Look at the photo above. If someone showed it to you and made you guess where it was taken what would your answer be? Pretty sure New York wouldn't be the first thing that came to mind.
We passed through a couple of small communities that didn't look as if they'd changed much since the turn of the century. The thing that caught our eye was the lack of upkeep in these little villages. This church was all but falling apart and was closed for service, likewise were many of the other old buildings in town. It was as if they just gave up trying to maintain these old relics and just shrugged their shoulders and let them rot. Weird.
We continued east along the shores of Lake Ontario looking for a place to stop and have lunch and stretch our collective legs.We finally found a lovely park overlooking the lake and walked the critters around. Caused some staring and pointing. Everybody thinks it's so novel to see a cat on a leash. We've actually seen quite a few in the various RV parks. None as cute as Erley.

We continued on through the countryside and wound up in a charming campsite right next to a lake. There were hard core warning signs all over about not swimming there but Max didn't listen and plunged right in. We lounged in the water cooling our heels while Max chased sticks and pranced about on the rocks.

The next morning we moved on early and fixed breakfast in a wayside with a cool round picnic table.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Niagara Falls isn't located deep in the woods...who knew?

Leaving Lackawanna in our rear view mirror we headed north towards Buffalo on Route 5.
If anyone ever tells you that this is the scenic route and that southern Buffalo is by far one of the most beautiful places on Earth; they are openly lying to you. (Why would anyone do that other than misplaced civic pride?)
Anyway we're here to tell you that this area is a little run down to say the least, and that we are pretty sure that zombies have infested this bevy of crumbling industrial buildings, but we can't prove it because there was no way in hell we were going to stop our RV and check it out. We've both seen the "Walking Dead".

Obviously this industrial part of town has fallen on hard times. It's really interesting to see up close and personal in a apocalyptic kinda way. To see this many gigantic buildings just sitting there abandoned and without any sort of obvious plan for their removal is wild. Look at the building in the photo above; what must it be like to find oneself on the ninth floor at say...2 AM. Spooky one would think. Although these derelict warehouses were fascinating to drive by, we made sure to keep up an average speed on fifty or so mph, and had the RV on lock-down to be sure.

Route 5 morphs into Hwy. 190 in the heart of downtown Buffalo, giving you a quick glimpse of the much more prosperous downtown core before whisking you north towards Niagara Falls.
Downtown Buffalo, NY

Following 190 we started running into late Sunday morning traffic which became more and more dense the closer we got to Niagara Falls. Crossing over the large bridges that connect Grand Island to the mainland the traffic started slowing and we fought for space with loaded tour buses and charters. Now I don't know if you are as naive as my wife and I, but if you are you probably have this vision of Niagara Falls as set somewhere in the deep woods, with maybe a an overgrown wagon trail leading up to it. On this you would be mistaken. No my friends, Niagara Falls is basically a suburb of Toronto, Canada, a city of over two and a half million; most of whom seemed to be hanging over the railings goggling at the falls when we arrived. There are parking lots the size of Rhode Island, buses, trams, helicopter tours, party boats, and tourists taking pictures of tourists.  Simply said, this place has already been discovered. Damn we were too late! With that said, we actually had a pretty good time.
Following the signs to Goat Island we found the RV parking lot and found a place to park. Erley WAS NOT GOING TO BE DENIED, and demanded that we take a slow motion walk with him near the picnic area before allowing us to visit the fabled falls. You could see the mist from Niagara above the trees, and hear the low guttural roar of all that water falling over those mighty cliffs, and see the look of excitement on the faces of the tourists that hurried down the paths towards that natural wonder, and we were headed in the EXACT opposite direction watching Erley ponder the greenish growth on the underside of a picnic table bench. This walk lasted close to a half an hour. Erley doesn't do ANYTHING with a sense of urgency, and this was all about HIM, not some over-hyped water feature.

After satiating Erley's need for "Me Time", we walked him back to the RV, and then fell into pace with the flow of humanity heading for the falls.

It was at this point that the realization that Niagara Falls was located smack dab in the middle of a major metropolitan area really hit home. The first thing that struck us as we headed down the path towards the falls was the highrise buildings towering above the mist on the Canadian side or the river. I can't ever recall seeing a shot of Niagara Falls on TV or in a book and the falls having a backdrop of a modern city skyline. Can you?
I only remember seeing images of the thundering water dropping over jagged cliffs, maybe a honeymoon couple smiling for the camera, or some ancient footage of a man sealing himself up in a barrel on his way to a suicidal adventure. It always gave you the feeling that Niagara Falls was somewhere out there in the deep northern woods of New York. But alas, false expectations always seem to fail us, and once we got over the shock of being in the center of a city we let it go and accepted the falls for what they were, big and beautiful.

After getting up close and personal and hanging out over the barrier to get the classic shot of the fall's rainbow effect, we stuck around a little while and people watched. It's amazing just how much of an international tourist destination this was. As two American tourists we were easily in the minority of visitors here. We we surrounded by a huge number of East Indians, Middle Easterners, Asians, and Europeans. 
Very few of the people within earshot were speaking English. You had a family of four speaking German over there next to a couple who spoke Japanese. Closest to us a group of five or six East Indian women dressed in traditional Sari's chatted, while a four Middle Eastern teenagers looked bored while waiting for their parents to finish taking pictures of the falls. It was hard to believe we were just miles outside of Buffalo, we could have easily been in any number of international tourist destinations. It was a very cosmopolitan crowd.
We walked back to our RV and had a picnic of sandwiches, jerky, fruit, and chips out on the same picnic tables Erley had so dearly loved when we arrived. It was nearing one PM and we wanted to hit the road and figure out a place to camp for the evening. Backtracking through a series of maze like roads we found our way off Goat Island and headed in the right direction following Route 104 north out of the city of Niagara Falls.
Just twenty minutes or so north of the tourist hullabaloo of Niagara Falls we ran into an almost eerily empty dam complex on the Niagara River called the Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant. Situated almost across the street from Niagara University, this mammoth dam and reservoir system is by far the largest producer of electricity on the East Coast, and the visitors center is really big and actually quite nice. (And I might add, completely deserted on this early Sunday afternoon.)
We checked in through security (it is a dam after all in this post 911 era) and headed up the escalator to the sky bridge that took us out to overlook several stories above the turbines and river far below. The visitor center was quite informative, with interactive exhibits, historic photography, and films. It was really large and seemed even bigger due to the fact that there was only one other couple in the complex while we were there. Quite a shock after having spent the morning at Niagara Falls. 
We poked around through the exhibits and went out on the catwalk to take in the amazing view and then headed back down to the reception area where we asked a very nice woman where we might find some good pizza in the area. She suggested a little village just northeast of there called Lewiston. So off we went in search of Pizza Pie.
The historic Village of Lewiston turned out to be nothing short of picture perfect.  It was almost too good to believe, almost in a Stepford Wives meets Disney Land sort of way, especially after having just seen the likes of Dunkirk, NY. The old town was set up along a picturesque tree-lined street where beautiful old brick buildings had been thoughtfully re-purposed into restaurants and cute little shops. Brick and cobbled walkways fronted prosperous looking bakeries and cafes, and at the end of town there was an actual city square with a honest to goodness Dixie style band playing in a whitewashed gazebo. Really!?! I kept waiting for the all the little robotic cherubs to poke their heads out and start  to sing "It's a small world after all." I think I walked around saying we should move here. That's how enamored I was.
In the center of the village stands the stately and historic McDonald Frontier House. Built in 1824 this was actually a hotel and stagecoach stop with many famous east coast dignitaries having stayed there, including Charles Dickens, John L. Sullivan, and President McKinley to name a few. We drove around for a little while trying to find a place to park our 22' RV in the popular little village. We finally took a leap of faith and parked in a Funeral Home's parking lot that was empty on this late Sunday afternoon. There didn't seem to be any "NO PARKING" signs so we took a chance and in the end it paid off. We strolled down the street looking at the shops and trying to decide which restaurant to get dinner. We had already determined that we would get something to go, because we still had to find a grocery to stock up, and a park to camp for the night. As we walked down the sidewalk we spied a bakery across the street, always a treat when you're on the road. Ducking inside we were amazed at how nice it was, and the quality of the goods displayed.
The "Village Bake Shop" was obviously well known having been featured on "Road Trips" in 2012. We went about purchasing a number of different tiny cookies, and a small apple pie which they are famous for. Loaded down with dessert items we crossed the street once again and found a nice Pizzeria and ordered a small combination pizza and an order of Buffalo Wings to go. With our dinner secured we drove back towards the modern section of Lewiston and found a great grocery store. DiMino's Lewiston Tops Market was modern, well laid out with a lot of interesting wares. This was quite a step up from our last grocery shopping experience in Dunkirk. After a quick stop to fill up with gas we went searching for a place to spend the evening. We decided to check out Four Mile Creek State Park, which overlooks Lake Ontario after one of the managers in the Top Market had suggested staying there. 
Just ten miles north of Lewiston Four Mile Creek State Park was another pleasant surprise. Set on a tall bluff the campsites were nicely spaced, treed, and within close proximity to a beautiful field and walking trails. After dinner we went for a walk with Max and Erley over to this amazing open space which we had completely to ourselves. 
There was a single bench placed all by itself off to one side and we all went and sat on it for awhile and then we let out enough line on Erley's leash so he could pretend to hunt around a big clump of wild roses. It was really nice having all of this privacy and getting a chance to share some quality time with the animals without having to worry about hoards of screaming children or cars or distractions. We were just chilling with Max and Erley and it was really nice. Erley found himself a big old fallen Oak trunk near the wild roses which he thought was the bomb and he spent at least twenty minutes exploring and scratching on his new found log.
We took Max off the leash and led him out towards the bluff and he had a great time running back and forth between Jerani and I. 
It's always nice when he gets the chance to really stretch out his legs after spending so much time on a leash or in the RV.
No sooner had we leashed him up when a couple of bunnies came out of hiding to wander the field as the sun started to set. 
The sunlight caught the tree line and created a gorgeous back drop to the field and as it started to get dark we watched a lovely moon rise on this cloudless night.
We all sat on the bench looking out over Lake Ontario watching the evening sky change from blue to purples and pinks, and when the mosqitoes finally emerged and chased us from our reverie we both knew that although they are far and few between it was days like this that had made us want to plan this trip in the first place.