Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Quieter Day (aka Last Full Day of Vacation)

Last night I attended a production of George Bernard Shaw's play St. Joan and had, thanks to help from my theater-loving sister, a great seat.

It was an excellent and highly cerebral play, which I enjoyed very much. That said, after a very busy and active day, I found that when I was sitting there in my comfortable seat in the dark, my body thought it was time to go to sleep, and I had a bit of a struggle staying awake at certain points. I had to clench my jaw to hold back a number of giant yawns. I didn't want people thinking I was bored. I've never had my mind so engaged and my body so determined to shut down.

Thanks to the responsiveness of my B&B hosts, my room was much cooler last night and I slept well. Speaking of my B&B, here are some pictures of the exterior as well as my 2-room suite, which is pretty fantastic. I highly recommend this place (St. Andrew's House) as the hosts are wonderful and it's just a couple blocks to the main historic area, Queen's Street.

I had planned to go on an historic walking tour of the town at 10:30 and showed up at the spot where the sign said they met, but after waiting for ten minutes, I called the number from their website (which I'd Googled--hooray smart phones!), and the woman who answered informed me that tickets have to be booked 24 hours in advance, and if I was on my own, there wouldn't have been a tour anyway. Well. Single-ism rears its ugly head! I managed to get over it and contented myself with walking around and reading the little informative plaques on various buildings and in front of statues.  Fun Fact! American troops burned this town down in the war of 1812. Whoopsy. Glad we're all friends now.

I then sat on a bench in the park to read for a bit, but when it started to rain, I decided to browse the shops instead. Given the weather, this has been quite a mellow day. Also, after a couple of days in this area, there's not a whole lot to do, and far from being a bad thing, it's actually quite nice. I realize I have an entire summer "vacation" ahead of me still, but when I'm home, I find it hard to relax. There are just too many house projects, errands, appointments, etc. So being in a pretty town with a comfortable suite and not much to do is a welcome luxury. 

And on the theme of luxury, here is what I had for lunch at a place called Treadwell, which is a farm-to-table "cuisine" kind of restaurant, but without the pretension. I was a little intimidated to go in at first, but everyone was super friendly. I ordered a sandwich that deserves some description: a lobster club, with gluten-free bread fried in duck fat layered with goat cheese, baby greens, lobster salad, and topped with smoked bacon. It tasted even better than it looks.

A little more wandering around to take in scenes like this

and then I walked back to my B&B, keeping pace with this horse carriage. I noticed, for the first time, a black poop bag hanging behind the horse's rear. This makes a lot of sense, but I wonder who has to clean that out at the end of each day. (And just like that, we go from talking about gourmet food to horse poop!).

I am now relaxing in the "living room" part of my suite to work on this blog and read, and then I will head out later for a massage. I am living the good life, for sure, and while I have saved diligently for the past year in order to do this, I have a feeling I'll need a glass of the wine I purchased when going through my credit card statement. But that's at-home stressful stuff. Right now I'm on vacation, and my theory is that if you're going to do it, do it right.

Sadly, it comes to an end tomorrow. My flight leaves Buffalo at around 3 in the afternoon, so the plan (weather permitting) is to go take one last gander at the American side of the Falls and buy some more of the best fudge I've ever had in my life (sold in the visitor's center, of all places) before heading to the airport. Then home and reality, which includes a termite treatment, getting my car serviced, and other un-fun things like that.

Meanwhile, thanks to all of you who have followed me on this journey and left comments, sent me little messages, liked my posts on Facebook, etc. It always makes me feel I am traveling with friends even though I'm solo. I also want to give a shout-out to my boyfriend, who received my many texts and photos raving about all the fun and amazing things I've been experiencing (while he continues to grind away at his work and many other responsibilities) with unfailingly supportive enthusiasm, which just goes to show what a generous-hearted and gracious man he is. Read some of his articles and give him some love here:

And now, back to my mystery novel...

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Very Good Day (Niagara-on-the-Lake day 2)

When I got up this morning, I wouldn't have guessed this post's title would be what it is because I had a rather rough night. My room stayed stuffy and warm through the night, which made it difficult for me to go to sleep and stay asleep. As I lay there, alternating between pulling the sheet over me and kicking it off, I was having flashbacks to my old apartment, which, in summer months, transformed into a malevolent force determined to simultaneously roast and suffocate me. I started having panicky thoughts that this was going to be my experience for the next two nights as well, and I wanted to cry just a tiny bit.

But my hosts here at St. Andrew's House B&B are wonderful, and when I shared my discomfort at breakfast, John got right on it. They have a fancy automated system controlled by his phone, and the phone showed things working great, but when he examined the vent, it was non-responsive and had been closed. He called someone to fix it while I was out and about, and as of right now, my room is pleasantly cool. Hooray!

But on to less tedious matters. Before coming here, I found a bike-winery tour that sounded nice, but once I got here, I decided to ditch it and go it alone. For one thing, renting a bike was only $20, and my B&B hosts gave me a couple coupons for free tastings/tours at some local wineries. The tours were significantly more money, and I decided I wanted to go at my own pace and only visit one winery instead of several. Honestly, if I'd done tastings at three, I don't know that I could have been steady on the bike ride home--I am a terrible lightweight when it comes to alcohol.

Anyway, this is an amazing area to bike around, not only because it's beautiful, but because they have a number of terrific bike trails and lanes, the best of which runs right by the Niagara River. I had the trees and river on one side, and vineyards on the other for most of the ride, and I stopped several times to marvel and sigh and try to take it all in.

Eventually, I made it to the winery I was most interested in--Reif Estates, which is one of the most popular in this area. The sign looks blurry from its own shadow :). I arrived in time for a 45-minute winery tour, which was led by a nice young man who requested we let him know if we were going to take any photos of him so that he could adjust his mustache. It pointed up on each side, and apparently one side had a tendency to droop--this request and the reason for it made me internally giggly for most of the rest of the tour. Mustache vanity aside, the tour was extremely interesting and informative. For example, I learned the difference between red and white wines:  with white wine, the juice is immediately extracted and separated from the skins, whereas with red wine, the juice and skins are mixed together so the skin stains the juice and adds different flavors. 

This tour included three tastings, one of which was something I'd never heard of before but is very popular in this area--ice wine. And no, it's not wine you pour over ice. It's wine made from frozen grapes. It started as an accident in some country or other (I forget) where the monks forgot to pick the grapes and there was a sudden freeze. Anyway, I don't know all the mechanics or chemistry, but this results in a very intensely flavored and sweet wine. It's also a very expensive wine, since you don't get much juice out of a frozen grape. Bottles of this dessert wine run from about $80-100 each.

After that, I biked to this pretty hotel for lunch.

My hostess had recommended their restaurant, and I ate out on the patio in a pleasant shaded area not too far from the pool. I don't know what it is about swimming pools, but I don't even have to be in one to feel relaxed. Just seeing one and hearing the occasional splash makes me feel like I'm on vacation. 

I returned my bike, walked back to my B&B, drove back to the winery to pick up my purchases (yes, there were purchases), and then headed into town for an afternoon treat. Even with all the biking and walking, I can tell I'm not losing any weight (precisely measured by how comfortably I can button my pants), and it's probably because I keep indulging in things like this:

This, dear readers, is some of the best gelato I've ever had in my life, and I've had a lot of gelato--some of it in Italy! I've been here about 28 hours and I've been there twice already.

I've just showered and will be heading out in a bit to have dinner and then go see a Shaw play at the Festival Theater--St. Joan, which he wrote three years after she was cannonized by the Catholic Church. I've heard good things about it, so I'm excited to see it. Plus, it's Shaw--how can you go wrong?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

It's So Hard to Say Goodbye

I know the Boys II Men song was about the end of a relationship, but seeing as I feel like I've developed a relationship with the view here in my hotel room (I know, I keep gushing--get it?--about it, but I can't help myself), the song seems entirely appropriate. Side note: I've also had "Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls" in my head since Sunday. Who knew Niagara Falls would evoke 90's music? As if the regular views aren't enough (and they are!), I was also treated to a fireworks show last night.

I realize that the show wasn't put on as a farewell to me--I looked it up and found that they go off every Monday through Friday during the summer months--but let's just pretend it was. Like Canada said, "You're checking out tomorrow, Katherine? Then enjoy these fireworks before you go!" 

I spent the morning eating breakfast by the window, savoring the morning version of the Falls. Since I didn't have to check out until noon, I took my time, and boy, was it sweet.

For those of you wondering where all that water comes from, as I was when I first saw this, here is a helpful little explanation:

After picking up my car from the casino and checking out, I headed to my next stop, Niagara-on-the-Lake. Apparently no one told Google maps that I'm on vacation and prefer a more scenic route to the more efficient one, and about 20 minutes in, as I was driving through back roads between vineyards (although that was nice too), I realized that I wasn't on the main road that's the most scenic way in. Since I couldn't check in to my B&B until 3:00 and I had plenty of time to kill, I turned around, drove almost all the way back, and started over. Why not? It's my vacation, and I'll drive where I want to! I am glad I made that choice, because the main road leading to the town is Niagara Parkway, and you drive alongside the river, which you get glimpses of through the trees. Also, a super tiny and random chapel on the side of the road, whose purpose, other than to cause tourists to stop and take pictures, I can't even begin to imagine.

On the other side of the highway are a lot of massive, stately homes where Rich Folk live, interspersed with more modest cottages and Normal People houses, one or two of which I thought I might possibly be able to afford and live in were my job and salary somehow magically transported to this location. Mind you, I've bought dozens of homes in dozens of locations in my imagination. It's always interesting to see the little postings in the real estate offices in town for a reality check. Those stately homes, as it turns out, run anywhere from 2.5 to 11 million dollars. Canadian dollars, which gets you a slight discount, but not enough. The smaller homes run from around $500,000-800,000. So maybe I couldn't live here. Sorry I do not have pictures of any of these houses I'm talking about, but I figured the cars behind me would have gotten pretty mad if I'd stopped to take photos.

But on to the town, Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is a pain to type out, but charming as all get-out. I stopped on a side street to eat lunch at the Irish Harp Pub, which was cozy and served up a very tasty traditional beef stew.

I then strolled up and down the main tourist mecca, Queen Street, which was filled with quaint buildings, horse-drawn carriages, and flower baskets galore.

Also this statue of George Bernard Shaw, right in front of a cafe named after him and some touristy shops. I imagine he would have had some choice things to say about this, all much wittier and scathing than I can manage. 

One couple stopped while I was taking this photo, and the wife said, "Oh, it's George Bernard Shaw. I guess he must have been born here." No, my dear woman, he was not. He was born in Ireland. They just have a statue of him because they have the Shaw Festival here and perform his plays. They're big fans in Niagara-on-the-Lake! Of course, I kept my explanation in my own head, exercising the same restraint I did in the elevator yesterday morning where a father was lecturing his children about the myth of Icarus and getting the story COMPLETELY WRONG. I seriously had to bite my tongue not to correct him, but no one likes a know-it-all and his children clearly weren't listening to him, so it was all right in the end.

My B&B is a few blocks away from Queen Street, and I enjoy seeing pretty homes and pretty yards like these on my walk to and fro:

I have a whole suite here, which includes a bedroom with chaise lounge (which I'm sitting on now--I'll post some pics tomorrow, perhaps), as well as a separate sitting room with a couch and TV. The bathroom connects the two. Of course I miss the view, but I'm also missing controlling my own thermostat. They have air-conditioning here, but the bedroom of this suite is rather warm with the afternoon sun beating in. I also miss the ice machine at the hotel. I mean, so silly, but tiny ice cubes whenever you want! I do like my water icy cold. But these are petty quibbles. I am thankful to be here in such a lovely home, spoiled brat that I am. It's certainly easier on the wallet as well.

And now to find some dinner...

Monday, June 12, 2017

Niagara Falls: The Canadian Version

Today's post begins with a shot from my hotel window last night. As you can see, they light up the falls at night, and the colors change periodically. Just like Vegas!

After a yummy room-service (more on that later) omelet and pot of tea, I set out for a morning of exploring the Canadian side of the falls, which, for some reason, have more mist in the morning than the afternoon. Maybe because there's more humidity in the air? I don't know. I'm not really a science person. Even though the falls look relatively close from my window, it ended up being a good 15 minutes of walking before I could get down to a road that leads to the lookout point and walkway, which was another long stretch of walking. As I look out my window now, I can see what appears to be a shortcut bridge leading to some building below, which would've been more direct. I suppose I should have asked at the front desk, but a little extra exercise never hurts. Except for my feet and legs. But I digress. Let's just take in the beauty:

These guys seem to have a different definition of "taking in the beauty."

After another stretch of walking, I was uncomfortably hot and sweaty (it's quite warm here, especially in the sun), so I decided to do the boat ride where you get right up to the falls and their mist and get soaked.

While in line, I made friends with Jolie, a fellow teacher from South Carolina, and her daughter Fleur.

And we're off! 

There were some great views and getting close to the falls was thrilling, but it wasn't very conducive to taking pictures since I don't have a waterproof camera/phone and the mist quickly became fully pelting water. As in, imagine turning on your shower and stepping under it fully clothed wearing a poncho, only it's not just coming from above you--it's also blowing sideways at you and from under you. Good times, and it definitely cooled me off, which was nice, because I had to trek another 20 minutes in the sun and up a long, steep hill to get back to my hotel.

After a bit of a rest in my room, I headed out again, this time to pick up my car. So, that mention about room service earlier? Something like that is typically a splurge I tend to avoid, but having done a little research before this trip, I found that you can park at the casino just a seven-minute walk away for only $5 vs. the $40 per day my own hotel charges. So, seeing as I'm saving $70 on parking by giving myself an extra little walk, I figure an indulgent breakfast or two in my room is okay. Especially since it's hard NOT to stay in my room whenever possible with a view like this.

Anyway, back to the car. I drove about 10 minutes away from the falls to catch my next ride.

As I watched each group ahead of me board, I was hoping I'd get a front row seat, and I am happy to report that I did. They say the third time's the charm, and this is entirely the case when it comes to me and getting airborne on vacations. Years ago, when my brother and I went on a cruise to Alaska, we booked an helicopter tour of the glaciers only to have it cancelled due to bad weather. Last summer, I got all excited to go on a balloon ride over the countryside in Belgium only to have it, once again, cancelled due to weather. Well, not so today, and while it only lasted about 12 minutes, it was a thrilling ride, especially sitting right next to the pilot.

Now I am back to my comfy chair and breathtaking view. I'm looking forward to my next stop, but I will definitely miss being able to sit here and look out at such spectacular beauty. Dinner is next, then a long soak in the tub. I don't have one of those fitbits, but I'm guessing I walked a good 6 or more miles today, including quite a bit of uphill walking and stairs. How people do those "vacations" where they walk 18+ miles a day (as one of my friends is doing with his son right now), I can't even begin to imagine. I'd need to be a lot more fit to be able to do that.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Niagara Falls--The American Side Adventures

After not a whole lot of sleep last night due to the late hour I went to bed and my seeming inability to make the air-conditioning work properly (I finally figured it out this morning), I still managed to pack in quite a day. It started with picking up my rental car and driving to Niagara Falls, which, mind you, is an entire state park, and America's oldest state park at that. Also a massive, sprawling enterprise that has extended into numerous hotels and businesses surrounding the park and trying to cash in on its glory. I didn't realize this until I arrived and found myself swallowed up in buildings and signs and cars and buses. I managed to follow one giant red arrow into a parking structure and from there followed the herds until I got to the visitor's center and a nice woman there gave me a map and marked out what she thought I ought to see.

I exited and headed straight for the roar, which you hear before you can actually see any water. You walk through this lovely parksy area, and then there it is--the rush of all those Great Lakes swelling towards the falls. But first, there are these impressive rapids.

After that, I headed for the first of the three falls you can see at Niagara, the simply named American Falls, which you can see are stunning. Also refreshing on this hot, sunny day as sprays of water kept misting us. And then there was the wind.

I took a little break by watching the 30- minute movie Niagara: Legends of Adventure, which dramatically enacted all the folks who have plunged over the edge, like Annie Edson Taylor, who was a retired teacher trying to raise funds for her twilight years and went over in a barrel (I take it unions and pensions weren't a thing then). Or Roger Woodward, who was on his very first boat ride with his sister and a friend of their father's when the engine struck a rock and died, causing them to get caught in the current and head straight for the falls. The sister was pulled out just before going over, the man went over and was killed, and Roger, only 7, managed to survive going over in only a life jacket. I wonder if he ever went on a boat again.

All that drama pumped me up for some drama of my own so I donned the special sandals and yellow plastic poncho provided, and headed down to the Cave of the Winds, which basically allows you to get up close and personal with a couple smaller falls, getting soaked and pummeled in the process. I only wish my hotel shower this morning had even a fraction of that water pressure.

At that point, I was ready for something a little more low key, and I found it exploring The Sisters Island, which was more woodsy and tranquil even with the rapids flowing past.

By the time I'd finished all that trekking, I was pretty wiped, so even though I'd planned to also do a Maid of the Mist boat tour, I decided to betray my American roots and do the Canadian version (the Hornblower, which apparently does the exact same thing with newer and nicer boats) tomorrow instead. I got back in my car, crossed the border, got interrogated quite thoroughly by the border guard, which always makes me feel guilty of something even though I'm not, and made it to my next hotel.

Some reviews I'd read said the deluxe falls view rooms here at the Marriott are totally worth it. I must concur.

Going to enjoy relaxing a bit, then hit the hay. All that beauty and walking and shrieking children and the Asian lady who pushed me out of her way on one of the viewing decks have plumb wore me out!