Thursday, September 30, 2010

Big Trip: Statistics and Lessons Learned

Now that we've been back for a while and I've had time to get my thoughts together, I thought it would be interesting and/or useful for future reference to do a run-down on some trip data and lessons learned.

If you would like to take a look, click here.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggy-Jig

I can't believe we're home!  We arrived at the house around 4 PM today and spent less than an hour with Mary, the house sitter, for the hand-off.  Then Mary finished loading up her car and off she went.

The cats are hiding because the dogs are running around. We've caught a couple glimpses of Rosco but Celia is tucked away somewhere - no doubt planning her grand entrance. It may take a little while but I'm sure everyone will get used to each other and things will settle down.

And so we'll spend the new few days transitioning back into the house. The Trek is parked out front (our neighbors must love that) so we can begin unloading tomorrow... it will take several hours to brings clothes, books, tools and other equipment back into the house and then put everything away.

I wonder how long it will be before I get restless and want to get back on the road?  We hope to go to Florida in January, but that is months away... can I last that long? We'll get the Trek all cleaned up over the next week or so and have the oil changed so she's ready to go again when we are.

I miss her already.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ohio - Dayton: Visit with Dede

We left the Streetsboro KOA yesterday morning and made the 200-mile drive to the Dayton area without any trouble.

We were settled into the Bass Lake campground at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (AFB)  by around 3 PM and took the dogs for a walk.  This campground is not fancy, but its clean and functional and a good place to stay if you need to be in the Dayton area.

Our friend Dede came over around 5 PM and it was so nice to see her - its been about 18 years!  I first met her in 1986 when we were stationed at Travis AFB in California, and then we were stationed together again in Germany at Lindsey Air Station from 1990 to 1992. This is also where I first met Lynda, and so the three of us have known each other for 20 years or more.  Dede is now retired from the Air Force.

Dede was very pleased to meet Sydney and Barley. A big-time dog-lover, she is very involved in the local dog obedience club and frequently runs her dog, Sadie, in CPE trials, etc.  Dede loaded us and the dogs up in her SUV and took us out to a dog park where Sydney and Barley ran around off-leash and got some real exercise.  They really had fun!  Then we dropped them off back at the campground and Dede took us over to the Gem City Dog Obedience Club land facility, which is very impressive. She told us a good deal about how this 43-year old club is run and it sounds excellent. The GCDOC would be a great club to model after!  We spent some time at the outdoor area, watching dogs undergo various training and meeting some of Dede's friends.

Dede came over again this morning, and the three of us went over to the National Museum of the Air Force, which is on Wright-Patterson AFB.  Enthusiasts come from all the world to visit this museum and you could easily spend several days looking at the hundreds (perhaps thousands) of exhibits. We were there for about two hours and barely scratched the surface, but at least we saw a little bit!

After the museum, we had lunch at Olive Garden and then went over to Dede's house to visit Sadie. Not surprisingly, this little dog is very cute and we could easily understand why Dede is so fond of her!

 Dede had a commitment to teach a dog obedience class this evening and so she dropped us back at the campground around 5:30 PM.  It's been a nice visit and it was great to have this time to catch up - hopefully, we won't let so much time go by before we see each other again!

As hard as this is to believe, we head home tomorrow! I'm a little sad that Our Great RV Escape is winding down, although it will be nice to see family and friends after being gone for over 5 months.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ohio - Streetsboro: Visit with 'Rain and Mare

We left the Riverside Park Motel and  Campground around 10 AM, in plenty of time to make the 220-mile drive to Streetsboro, Ohio where we would spend the night and have dinner with some old friends.

We made the border crossing at Buffalo, NY and got through without any issues. This was our 10th and final border crossing for Our Great RV Escape. Although other people have reported unpleasant experiences going back and forth between Canada and the US in their RVs, we've had no trouble at all. Perhaps we're just lucky.

The plan was that my friends would pick us up at the Streetsboro KOA at 6:30 PM, and I wanted to arrive at least a couple hours early so we had plenty of time to set up, walk the dogs, and freshen up. In fact, we even had time to take Sydney and Barley to the little KOA dog park and let them run around off -leash, which they really like.

I met 'Rain and Mare, who are cousins, in 1976 when I was a sixteen year-old exchange student with the American Field Service (AFS). Although I was an American citizen, AFS selected me to represent Barbados and I spent a year attending 12th grade at Euclid High School in Euclid, Ohio. I had already graduated from high school in Barbados but attending 12th grade was part of the deal.  Anyway, I made some great friends during that year in Ohio, with 'Rain and 'Mare being a big part of the core group I hung out with.  I have not seen these "girls" since we were 18 or 19, when they came to visit me in Barbados during the summer of 1978.  I was really looking forward to catching up!

Just as planned, 'Rain and Mare picked us up from the KOA at 6:30 PM and we went to a nearby Applebee's for dinner. It was so great to see them!  We exchanged news about children, husbands (a mixed bag), parents, and other friends. Although 32 years have gone by, we slipped right back into our friendship... isn't that amazing and wonderful?  And Lynda was such a good sport - she sat quietly and just absorbed as much as she could.

Well after a couple hours, we had to end our little reunion and the girls brought us back to the KOA.  We promised not to let another 32 years go by before we see each other again!

We leave tomorrow for Dayton, Ohio to visit Dede who we both knew in the Air Force. We reconnected via Facebook last year and it will be really good to see her. Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Canada - Niagara Falls: Butterfly Conservancy, Botanical Gardens, Legends of the Falls

Our little group got going around 9 AM this morning and we stopped at the Boathouse restaurant for a good breakfast in preparation for another day of sightseeing.

This time we parked at the Butterfly Conservancy and Botanical Gardens and then spent the next couple hours enjoying the butterflies and the gardens. I must say the Butterfly Conservancy in Niagara Falls is the very best facility of its kind that I've ever visited, and I've been to several. The variety and numbers of butterflies is amazing - there are over 2000 butterflies floating freely among the lush, exotic blossoms and greenery in the conservancy.

After enjoying the Butterfly Conservancy, we spent quite a while walking around the Botanical Gardens, which are free for the public to enjoy.  The Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens were originally established in 1936 as the Training School for Apprentice Gardeners and in 1959 were renamed the NPC School of Horticulture. With an increase in garden development and quality of the plant collections, the school campus was officially declared a botanical garden in 1990.  The gardens are beautiful and definitely worth a visit - pictures speak louder than words!

While walking around the gardens, we happened upon an aviary housing ducks and other domesticated fowl. In this aviary was a most amazing bright-red streak of bird which a park worker told me is a Golden Pheasant, also known as a Chinese Pheasant and as a Red Golden Pheasant.  It was very difficult to get a good photo of this bird because he kept dashing around, pecking at the ground and generally staying very busy.

After strolling around the gardens, we got something to eat at the Butterfly Cafe and then hopped back in the cars to make our way toward town.  We did make one stop along the way, however, at a large souvenir shop where Lynda and I bought some shirts to commemorate our visit. Then we went on to the IMAX theatre, where there was plenty of parking, to watch the Legends & Daredevils movie. I give this movie a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10 - I was glad to see it, but the movie was not the amazing experience it was advertised to be and really did not add that much to our knowledge of Niagara Falls.

Back at the RV park, Lynda did some laundry while I began to pack up the Trek. Later on, we gathered over at the Fleeman's coach to have some of Judi's homemade chili for dinner.

The Fleemans and Chip and Carolyn are staying for another day or so, but we are leaving in the morning to visit long-time friends in Ohio. We've had a fun time here at Niagara Falls but I'm ready to get on the road again for a couple more adventures before we finally head home.

It's hard to believe that our Great RV Escape is winding down and we'll be home in less than a week!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Canada - Niagara Falls: Behind the Falls, Niagara's Fury, Whirlpool Aero Car

Our little group got going around 9:30 AM this morning and, once again, we parked at the Floral Clock and took the Peoplemover bus toward town.

On the way, we decided to stop and visit the Cham Shan Buddhist Temple. Cham Shan means "Ten Thousand Buddas," probably in reference to the precious collections of Buddhist arts and artifacts housed in the large Chinese style building on the 3-acre compound. A giant bronze Buddha statue and a statue of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara are on the property so devotees can make offerings and pay homage to the Buddha. It was interesting and peaceful to walk around the grounds.

After our temple visit, we rode another bus into town and got off at the Table Rock Welcome Centre to go on the Journey Behind the Falls - the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, to be specific.

We were each issued a yellow rain poncho and then took an elevator 150 feet down to tunnels that lead to the Cataract Portal and the Great Falls Portal. Walking through the tunnels themselves was not that impressive but when we stood out on the observation deck, it was amazing to watch one-fifth of the world’s fresh water crashing down to the basin below. The noise and the wind and the water were overwhelming!

Back up top, we decided to check out Niagara's Fury, which is an intense presentation about the creation of Niagara Falls. It began with an 8-minute animation that explained how the Ice Age shaped Niagara Falls. After that, we were herded into an enclosed room with a 360 degree screen. We got a pretty good hint of what was to come when we were each given a rain poncho on our way into this second area.

And that's when the "Fury" part kicked in: there was thunder, and lightening, and earthquakes, and water roared down the precipice, and the platform we stood on tilted and shimmered while water jets above and on the sides sprayed us unmercifully.  I laughed and laughed at Judi and Carolyn - the looks going across their faces were priceless!  The whole experience was great fun, even if we were fairly drenched when it was over.

After Niagara's Fury, we got some ice cream and collected ourselves. Judi, Gary, Lynda and I decided we would walk to the big shopping area by Ruby Tuesday's to do some souvenir hunting. Chip and Carolyn opted out and so we arranged to meet them later at the bus stop area behind the Table Rock Welcome Centre. And so off we went. Well, after hoofing it for a few minutes we realized it would take up too much of our sightseeing time to walk that far, shop, and then walk back. So we aborted those plans and went back to find Chip and Carolyn.  Of course, they weren't expecting us back so soon so it took a little time to find them but it all worked out and our group was re-united.

So, once again, we boarded a Peoplemover bus and headed in the direction of the Floral Clock but got off at the Whirlpool Aero Car. Except for Chip who does not care for such things, we all wanted to ride on this famous cable car. The Aero cable car was designed by Leonardo Torres Quevedo, a Spanish engineer, and has been in operation since 1916. It is suspended from six cables and offers a wonderful view of the Niagara Whirlpool. The Niagara Whirlpool is formed at the end of the rapids where the gorge turns abruptly counterclockwise and the river escapes through the narrowest channel in the gorge.  As it turned out, the cable car experience was very tranquil and felt totally safe. In fact, it was the smoothest cable car ride I've ever been on - Senor Quevedo knew what he was doing!

And so it has been an eventful day... we returned to the RV park, took the dogs on another long walk, and served up left-over spaghetti for dinner. And now we're tootling off to bed - tomorrow is another day!

Click here to see photos of today's adventures.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Canada - Niagara Falls: Maid of the Mist and Oh Canada, Eh!

By the time Friday morning rolled around, we were all ready to get going and do something fun in Niagara Falls.  I spoke with the ladies in the campground office and they explained we should buy the Niagara Falls attractions package.  As it turns out, these packages are a good deal because they include discount passes to all the major attractions and also all-day bus passes for two days.

We also learned that parking around Niagara Falls is expensive. So we decided to park for free at the Floral Clock and ride the Niagara Parks Peoplemover bus back to the center of Niagara Falls. By that time we were all a little hungry and so we had an early lunch at Ruby Tuesday's before going on the Maid of the Mist.

And so it was with full bellies that we boarded the Maid of the Mist for that classic Niagara Falls experience. It was a lot of fun, and we definitely got an up-close sense of the power of the Falls standing on the deck of that boat!

The noise was tremendous - you couldn't shout about the roar - and there was no way to stay dry, even wearing those **pretty** blue raincoats.

We were able to get quite a few photos - click here to take a look.

I must say that the city of Niagara Falls is very pretty... the area is full of beautiful gardens, mature trees, generous sidewalks, clean bus stops, and attractive buildings. Of course the Falls themselves are the primary focal point, but the city of Niagara Falls has many other attractions and things to do and see. 

After our Maid of the Mist experience, we caught a bus back to the Floral Clock parking lot.  This Floral Clock is quite an interesting thing, and very pretty. According to the Niagara Parks web site, The planted face is maintained by Niagara Parks horticulture staff, while the mechanism is kept in working order by Ontario Hydro, the organization that originally built the clock. The intricate designs on the face of the timepiece are created with up to 16,000 carpet bedding plants. The floral design is changed twice each year - it features viola in the Spring and four cultivars of Alternanthera along with green and grey forms of Santolina Sage during the Summer and Fall.  Aside from the Floral Clock (as if that is not enough) visitors can also walk around and enjoy the pretty gardens that are landscaped around the grounds.

We headed back to the RV park to clean up and then go out again to the Oh Canada, Eh dinner show, which is now in its 17th season. This hugely popular show usually sells out and so we had purchased our tickets a few weeks ago.

Oh Canada, Eh is high-energy, tongue-in-cheek entertainment and it was a whole lot of fun!  The wait-staff are also the performers and so between taking care of customers' dining needs and jumping on stage to sing and dance, they definitely earn their keep. The woman who was our waitress turned out to be the lead female performer and she was great!  Here she is, giving Gary some "special" attention.  Click here to see some more photos.

And now we're going to get a good night's sleep, because we'll be heading back out in the morning to enjoy another day at Niagara Falls. We've planned a full day of sight-seeing, including going on the Journey Behind the Falls, Niagara's Fury, and the Whirlpool Aero Car.  Stay tuned!