Saturday, August 30, 2008
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Ithaca, Day 2
The “free breakfast” provided by our hotel was inedible. The coffee, undrinkable. But why would I expect better from the Discomfort Inn?
I needed an excuse to visit Wegmans anyway. We bought enough food to carry us through until dinner, and coffee besides. Wegmans is awesome. While standing at the deli, I controlled a desire to take a picture of the display of fine meats. Here's what the Wegmans deli does that is awesome: they preslice their cold cuts ahead of time. You go to order, say, a pound of turkey, and there is all the meat, nicely fluffed and ready for you. Unlike every freaking store in Charlottesville, where all the meat is displayed as scary solid pink lumps wrapped tightly in plastic, and if you order some, you have to wait twenty minutes for the deli person to unwrap it and heave it onto the slicer and then slice it too thick.
I didn't take a picture of the deli, but I couldn't resist asking Drama Queen to take a few discrete photos of Wegmans' fabulousness. In this photo, I am speaking to Drama Queen through my clenched teeth. I am saying, “Don't take my picture in Wegmans. Don't take my picture in Wegmans.” Because I couldn't imagine anything more hokey than posing oneself in a supermarket.
Here's a mile long display of yogurt. That's ALL yogurt, folks.
Our first event of the day was a hike to Taughannock Falls, the tallest free-falling waterfall in the eastern US. The guidebooks say it's disappointing in the summer because the creek sometimes dries up, but NY is having a rainy summer this year. It was an easy, level hike along the bottom of a gorge. As we progressed, the gorge walls rose higher and higher above us until we reached the falls.
Miss G, Drama Queen, Jon and Mad Scientist by Taughannock Falls.
Jon and me.
The water was low, so we hiked back in the creek bed and stopped to rest, enjoying a rare moment of family harmony. The kids discovered skipping stones. Mad Scientist was able to skip a stone five or six times, sometimes skipping a stone all the way across the creek, where it would shatter on the opposite bank. The rocks were shale and you could break them with your hands.
Miss G found a fossil.
Later, we went to Buttermilk Falls. You drive to the top of its gorge. The road up was incredibly steep and twisty. Living in Charlottesville, I'm used to hills, but this hill was scary. We hiked our way down the gorge along a series of waterfalls. It was a stunning hike and my pictures don't do it justice. It must be a sight to see in the spring.
As we descended, the water descended faster, and was ever farther below the trail, which was stone, and soaking wet. Sometimes there was a low rail to keep you from falling over the edge into the falls, and sometimes there wasn't. The wetness of the trail worried me. It hadn't been raining and I imagined the creek suddenly roaring to life and filling the entire gorge. Then I realized that water was dripping from between the layers of rock in the gorge walls as if squeezed from a sponge.
Buttermilk Creek. I love the erosion patterns.
Cool rock chimney.
I worried we would slip on the wet rocks and die. Water was dripping out between layers of rock all along the trail.
At the bottom of the long hike, the falls end in a natural pool where you can swim. The water was what my German grandfather would have called “refreshing,” i.e. ice cold. The pool was crowded with what I instantly recognized as New York City people. Long forgotten memories of my childhood in upstate New York came to the surface: You'd get home from a day in some attraction or other and say with irritation, “It was full of New York City people.” They are unmistakable. Eventually, they got on their tour bus and returned to NYC, while we rested and I tried not to think about the long hike back up to the car and the drive down the scary, twisty road.
Jon and Drama Queen.
Hiking back up to the car
We went to downtown Ithaca for dinner. Jon spotted a place called the Lost Dog Cafe. It looked like a dive to me, and the map of the world tablecloths on the patio said “vegetarian.” The girls and I wanted to try a place called “Mustard” which was painted a cheery yellow and advertised comfort food, which I felt I deserved, but Jon was not at all impressed with Mustard, so we settled the question by stocking up on New York State wine and asking the wine store guy what he thought and he recommended Lost Dog, and we were not disappointed. My martini came in a Charlottesville sized glass, there was a kid's menu that had options other than “pasta with butter” and “natural peanut butter on bread” and the food was excellent. It was cheaper than Moosewood too. We ordered dessert and still the total was a lot less than what we paid at Moosewood.
Getting ready for dinner.
And that was it. We drove back to C'ville the next day. It was a long drive; scarcely shorter than the drive from C'ville to Buffalo, even though Ithaca is significantly further south.
The kids found ways to amuse themselves.
Edited to wonder why this piece didn't show up on Charlottesville Blogs. Trying again. I had a terrible time with blogger today, getting my pictures to upload and then the whole piece refused to publish due to some sort of HTML error. Blogger sucks, btw. If you're shopping for a blog hosting site, choose something else.
Monday, August 25, 2008
After Buffalo, we still had a week of vacation left. Usually we spend our vacation time visiting friends and family, which is fun, but we felt it was high time we had a trip that was just for us. The difficulty was picking a location that was somewhere between Buffalo and Charlottesville and we eventually settled on Ithaca, NY, the city where Cornell is. I'd been there a few times in college, but just for regattas. We'd drive down in the afternoon, sleep in the dorms at Ithaca college, not go out at night due to having to get up early in the morning, row for most of the next day and drive home immediately. I never felt I'd gotten the true Ithaca experience.
It's a short and pretty drive from Buffalo to Ithaca. Actually, the NYS thruway between Buffalo and Rochester is pretty ugly, with its snowplow garages and non-descript fields. There is no attempt to beautify the highway here. It's like, “You're in New York. What more do you want?” Still, it was a pretty day and Meatloaf was playing on the radio and we were content.
We'd booked two rooms in the Comfort Inn, Ithaca and they have to be the worst hotel rooms I've ever seen. And my standards aren't all that high. But there we were, and it seemed there was nothing to do but make the best of it and head out to explore the town.
We headed for Cornell, and after getting lost and having to ask for directions, finally pulled into a parking space in front of the Herbert F. Johnson museum of art, which was, unfortunately, closed. From here we hiked down to Ithaca Falls and over a suspension bridge high above the water. After descending a long staircase on the far side of the creek, we rested on little ledges of shale alongside the rapids. I suddenly felt very afraid that one of us was going to slip off the edge and get sucked into the current. I generally don't mind small thrills, but in this case I felt almost wild to get away from the falls and nagged the kids ceaselessly about not going too close to the edge. When we finally turned to hike back up to the top of the gorge, I spotted a wooden cross partially hidden by a bush. It was a memorial to someone who had died on that spot.
Us on the bridge.
View from bridge.
Stairs down to the creek.
Jon by the falls.
Drama Queen and Miss G
We recrossed the suspension bridge and hiked a bit further downstream to a second waterfall. Close to the water's edge were two more memorials to people who had drowned in that spot, and I remembered that there was a bridge near the Cornell campus that students sometimes jumped from during exam week. Surely the bridge we were on was the one. Now it was raining lightly and once again I felt extremely anxious that one of us would fall into the water. I know I was being ridiculous, but I swear I felt a bad vibe in that place. I'm not a suspicious person, but I do believe that sometimes a place will be infused with energy left behind by previous people who have been there. An article I read later in the Ithaca Journal, talks about the dozens of drownings that have occurred in that spot. The top current is moving away from the falls, but underwater are different currents that will suck a swimmer under rock ledges and not let him up. Horrible to contemplate, even from the safety of my computer chair.
We left the falls and headed downtown for dinner. Ithaca has a downtown pedestrian mall similar to Charlottesville's, but C'ville's is more happening. Ithaca's mall was practically deserted. Granted, it was a Monday, and the students were gone, but when, in the summer would you ever see C'ville's downtown mall deserted at 6:00pm?
Ithaca's downtown mall, aka "Ithaca Commons." See? Just like C'ville.
Is going to Ithaca and eating at the Moosewood Restaurant an awfully touristy thing to do? Who cares, I was a vegetarian for ten years and the Moosewood is my mecca.
It turns out, Moosewood is pretty expensive, even by Charlottesville standards. I started with a chai martini, which was tasty, but came in a stingy-sized glass. We had to pay extra for bread for our table, and had to get a double order so that there'd be enough for the six of us.
Me and my martini.
We thought the salads were high quality.
Moosewood's menu changes daily, and between the six of us, I think we ordered one of every entree. All the food was very good, including the “Lentil Sambar” I ordered, although later I realized that I'd just paid $15 for a plate of lentils and rice. Their children's menu wasn't very appealing, so Mr. McP had to order an adult entree, adding considerably to the Moosewood's coffers. Overall, I would recommend the Moosewood as long as you are prepared to pay through the nose.
Drama Queen's Moosewood lasagna
Gratuitous shot of Mr. McP
Thursday, August 21, 2008
We went with my mother-in-law and Jon's brother, his wife and their four kids. It seems that at any gathering with Jon's family, there are never fewer than eight children in the group, but that is how we like it.
Picnicking in the rain. Niagara Falls, NY is one of the dumpiest cities in the US. I don't know why, although the collection of chemical plants and the evil reputation of Love Canal probably have something to do with it. It's too bad, because it could be lovely. The park, even though it is on the American side, felt very cosmopolitan, with all the foreign languages spoken all around us and the obviously foreign tourists. On the Maid of the Mist, the verbal information went out over the loudspeaker in English, French, and German, but curiously, not Spanish.
The Maid of the Mist was something I hadn't done since I was about eight years old. It was actually kind of thrilling, and almost scary, which surprised me because I have no memory of being frightened on my previous trip. Still, you get into the Horseshoe falls, and the boat is pitching under you, and the wind is whipping, and the deck is soaking wet, and suddenly the rail seems very flimsy indeed. A long way above you can see the water pouring over the falls, but there is such an explosion of spray at the bottom of the falls that you can not see a thing at eye level, or for a significant space above it. Once in a while you'd see rock the size of a one-car garage looming out of the mist but it would quickly disappear into the spray. Somewhat disconcerting, and there are no buoys or markers of any kind and while I appreciated the Awesome Power of Nature, I also wondered how the captain knew how to avoid the rocks. And maybe I said a "Hail Mary" or two. And gripped Mr. McP tightly by the arm. And reminded myself that the Maid of the Mist has never lost a passenger.
So you toss about like a toy for a long time, and suddenly the ship makes a neat turn to port and the falls swiftly recede into the distance. I stole a look at the captain in his little spray-free booth and I don't think I've ever seen a look of more utter boredom on anybody anywhere. Still, I suppose if I piloted a ship straight into the most dangerous waterfall on earth 8,000 times a day, I'd be bored too.
Once off the boat, we climbed a little wooden walkway up the side of the American falls. This seemed tame, but then as I contemplated the wet mossy rocks over which we stood, I realized that if much of the water wasn't diverted upstream by the power authority, we'd be standing directly in the path of the falls. I pointed this out to Jon and he said, "Wow, I think you're right. Well, I think I'll go down now." And it was a creepy feeling to imagine a malfunction at the power plant allowing all the water to suddenly rush over us.
Later we went to Goat Island, which separates the American falls from the Horseshoe falls. You get a great view from there.
Here we are ready to embark on the Maid of the Mist. All of these pictures look a lot better if you click on them to enlarge.
Passing in front of the American Falls. Rock falls have considerably shortened the distance that the water falls here, as you can see. Obviously, rock slides are an issue here, and later, when I told my brother about the scare factor of the Maid of the Mist, he pointed out that a major rock slide in the enclosed space in front of the Horseshoe falls would create something like a tidal wave and obliterate the ship altogether. I guess something similar happened to a ship in a Norwegian fjord.
Approaching the Horseshoe falls.
This is the last picture I could take. You really need an underwater camera to take good pictures here.
Return trip, with the next boat on its way out. There are several Maids of the Mist: three on the American side, and two or three on the Canadian side.
On the walkway up the American Falls.
Here is where I realized that only the Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation stood between me and death.
Maid of the Mist, seen from Goat Island.
Horseshoe falls. It's difficult to get a good picture from the American side. I remember a few years ago, hearing about a German tourist who leaned too far over the rail to get a picture and falling in. Plus, there was so much spray that even up here my camera was getting wet.
One of Drama Queen's shots looking down at the walkway. You probably need to click to enlarge it enough to see the line of people in blue raincoats at the mercy of the water diversion system. Hah.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Drama Queen came home annoyed about the problem I already heard parents grumbling about at the open house: they reduced the number of honors classes at CHS so that the honors classes are ridiculously crowded. Whose decision was that? But I don't want to risk angering the middle class guilt crowd. God forbid.
I am so happy that at least Mad Scientist is no longer in the city schools.