Category Archives: travel

A Bit Of The Mid Atlantic States

When the “save the date” arrived for Greg & Tiffany’s wedding, Mo and I sat down and worked out a vacation trip around it in which we could leisurely visit several locations for the first time.

Our trip started on the end of September with Niagara Falls. We could easily see the mist drifting up from Horseshoe Falls in the distance as we landed in Buffalo. Mo had our first stop though for lunch at Sophia’s Restaurant, a Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives-featured restaurant in Buffalo.

After getting settled into our hotel, we walked over to Niagara Falls State Park and made our way over to the American Falls. As we got closer, we could see the Niagara River picking up speed around Goat Island. It was a real eye-opener as we reached the US side of the river and saw what all the rush was about.


Mo poses with American Falls

While the view was outstanding, it was pretty obvious why everyone says to see the falls from the Canadian side — the American side is closer (you’re right on top of American Falls!) but the other side of the river gives a better panorama of all the falls.

After a leisurely stroll across from the falls, we drove further into Canada to the southern shore of Lake Ontario, where we had a nice lunch at Lake House Restaurant overlooking the lake, with the tall buildings of Toronto visible across the lake at the horizon. We then travelled south into Twenty Valley and bought some homemade fudge, and sampled wines from Cave Spring Winery.


American Falls and Horseshoe Falls from the Canadian side

Leaving Niagara Falls, we took the NY Thruway to Syracuse and then northward to Lake Placid. The trees were changing, and there were lots of burgundy and deep orange and red colors, but not so much yellows — maybe we were spoiled by the Aspens of Colorado.

We were also spoiled by the lower elevations compared to Colorado. We hiked several trails while in the Adirondacks, but the most taxing was the 1/5th mile climb from the parking lot to the top of the Whiteface Mountain — a combination of stairs and large rocks. The temps at the top were just a bit above freezing, but the view was outstanding, with Lake Champlain visible to the east and the skyline of Burlington, VT and Montreal visible at the horizon.


Lake Placid from the top of Whiteface Mountain

Just two hours away is Fair Haven, VT, home to several of Mo’s immigrant ancestors. This was a great excuse to visit Vermont for the first time for both of us. We had a chance to hang with the locals as we lunched at The Wooden Soldier, then made our way over to St. Mary’s cemetery, where after a little searching we found the grave markers of Edmund and Mary Pinders, James and Catherine Morgan, and Patrick and Ellen Sloan, who are Mo’s g-g-g-grandparents, g-g-grandparents, and g-g-grandparents, respectively, all originally from Ireland.


Edmund and Mary Pinders’ grave marker

On our route back to Lake Placid we passed Fort Ticonderoga, and we stopped at Swedish Hill Winery, where we made my life more difficult by picking up two more bottles to pack for the flight home (plus a wine glass).

Following our stay at Lake Placid, we spent one night in Lancaster, PA, and the next morning on our way to pick up K at the Philadelphia airport we had a pleasant drive on roads shared with several Amish horse buggies.

This was the first time in Delaware for all three of us, and the wedding and reception at Thousand Acre Farm were beautiful. We enjoyed catching up with the Morgans and with others we’d met a few years back, and our time with them went by much too fast.


the wedding couple with some additional Morgans and tagalongs

(btw, the three wine bottles arrived home unscathed)

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Tulum!

Last year, Mo decided we needed to blow the dust off of our passports, and she booked a vacation package through Apple Vacations to beautiful Tulum, Mexico. Our resort was Dreams Tulum, less than 1-1/2 hour drive south of Cancun. Our early morning flight put us at the resort in time for lunch (but too early to get our room). First impressions were the green everywhere we looked, the warm breeze, and the large iguana chillin’ on the main walk who was there to greet us.

entrance
main resort thoroughfare

We were very pleased with our room, barely 20 steps from the edge of the beach and in the quieter portion of the waterfront. We were also just a short walk from the pools and restaurants. The people we spoke with praised the Dreams resorts above the other Cancun and Riviera Maya locations for their smaller size and nice accommodations. The staff was very friendly; I used my time there to practice and build a little on my limited Spanish vocabulary. We had to keep “Hola!” and “Buenos dias!” on standby at all times.

room
early morning view of our room patio from the beach

We spent plenty of time lying at the beach during our stay. Mo reserved a cabana for a day, and we relaxed on the beach in style. We also became even better acquainted with our amigo Manuel, who kept us well hydrated. While at the resort I used the opportunity to try some new drinks — some were good, some were great.

cabana
morning view from our cabana

Our sole outing was a morning trip to the Mayan ruins along the coast just south of us. It was a very bright day, and we did a lot of walking, but thankfully we had a cool breeze off the water (which we had pretty much our entire stay). And we saw our first coatimundi.

ruins
Ruinas de Tulum

Several of the evenings featured a meal out in the open with any of a variety of entertainment. We used these opportunities to visit with other couples at our table, meeting folks from Ireland, Wales, Colorado, inland Mexico, Ohio, and a host of other places. There were several large screens set up for the Super Bowl broadcast, but we had no interest in it.

evening
moonrise over the water

Tulum was a very relaxing respite. We absolutely enjoyed the friendly people, the perfect weather, and the beautiful location.

—–

Postlude: One of my personal highlights of this trip was wandering out onto the beach at 4:30 in the morning on our second morning and seeing the Southern Cross for the first time, hanging in plain sight just above the Caribbean. I made good use of Star Tracker on my cellphone to help identify the several southern hemisphere constellations I had never seen before, or only the northern portion of them.

Being unable to take an actual photo of the stars, instead I swiped my cellphone to get a screenshot of the app to capture the moment:

southern-cross
the Southern Cross

Estes Park, Colorado

My hip surgery put off this post, so to get a long-overdue writeup out of the way…

Mo and I gave some thought to where we wanted to vacation this fall, and after hearing good reports decided we wanted to give Colorado some quality time, neither of us having been there except in passing. Even better, we invited our long-time friends Dave & Sue from Los Angeles to join us, and were pleased when they said, “Yes!”

We rented a house in Estes Park and met up there on a Saturday, us flying into Denver and they driving up with their dogs Kona & Callie. The house was wonderful, and made for a terrific home base for our excursions. Although we were soon to learn that elk were to be found everywhere, we saw three in the backyard the first morning, and 36 the next morning!

morning-elk
morning elk outside our window

It didn’t take us long to adapt to our different time zones: being morning people and hour ahead of the Mountain Time, we found we could work in a trip to town to wander the streets while our late morning friends an hour behind got their beauty rest and exercised the dogs.

Estes Park is a quaint town with a scenic riverwalk behind the various shops and restaurants on the main street, overlooked by the stately Stanley Hotel, the inspiration for Stephen King’s “The Shining”. There were festivals on each of the weekends we were there, so we avoided the traffic and bustle then, opting for a later evening meal and stroll instead.

The house we were renting was just minutes from the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, and we made a few trips there during our stay. On our first visit, we watched some drama as a bull elk defended his herd of a dozen cows from two other bull elk. We also stopped at the alluvial fan at Horseshoe Park and tested our balance on the various boulders and rocks along and across the water there.

On another trip we drove a good section of the Trail Ridge Road, again watching elk interactions and photographing the peaks, valleys, and mountain lakes in the distance above and below the alpine tundra. The picturesque yellow aspens made for a nice splash of color among the pines all throughout our drives around the area. Long’s Peak was often in the background of our photos, the tallest mountain in the park at 12,400’+

mt-meeker-longs-peak-mt-lady-washington
left to right: Mt. Meeker, Long’s Peak, and Mt. Lady Washington

When we did finally get around to some serious hiking, we decided to head back into the park to the trail starting at Bear Lake. After stopping to take in Nymph Lake, we continued on up to elevation 9900′ to Dream Lake, where we discovered just why it was so highly recommended.

dream-lake
beautiful Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park (click to embiggen)

We had some nice exchanges with other hikers on the trail, and overall (like so many sites on our vacation) we gave it 4-out-of-5 stars: not enough oxygen! 🙂

bear-lake
Bear Lake, in Rocky Mountain National Park

The next day we drove over a good portion of the Peak to Peak highway, taking in the mountains and beautiful aspens, stopping at Barker Reservoir at Nederland, and being blown away by the casino-to-anything-else ratio of Blackhawk — what’s up with that? On our way back, we paid a visit to Chapel on the Rock, and then stopped at Lily Lake to watch the ducks and muskrats before sunset.

chapel-on-the-rock
Chapel on the Rock

We ate a several fine restaurants, from Strong Mountain Restaurant, YOU NEED PIE!, Poppy’s Pizza & Grill, the Rock Inn Mountain Tavern, The Egg & I, Mountain Home Cafe, Claire’s on the Park…well, you can tell we sampled quite a few places during our stay 🙂

On our last night in town for supper, we parked in the library parking lot…and were confronted by a bull elk. He was attending three cows eating tall grass near the stream just north of the lot.

downtown-elk
bull elk in downtown Estes Park library parking lot

It was incredibly relaxing to visit with our good friends and play with the dogs in the fresh mountain environment. So — would we go back again? In a heartbeat! We’d rank it 4-out-of-5 stars: needs more oxygen 😉

Epilogue: On our way to the Denver airport, we stopped in Boulder to enjoy a meal at a restaurant featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, and as we were finishing up our meal a gentleman at a neighboring table had seizure. We helped out where we could (and stayed out of the way the rest of the time) and thankfully he began recovering as we were leaving. It was gratifying to see that those tables around him at the time did not panic, offered a helping hand where needed, and kept their cool.

Ft. Myers Spring Training IV

This post is way late due to photos lost from my phone, but I had a few that survived, so here goes…

On our yearly trip to Florida, Mo and I stayed again in Ft. Myers at the same Cornerstone Resort condo we were at last year. Thanks to construction along the main drag, Ft. Myers Beach traffic was even more traffic-er than before. Still…no snow, though. And this year, we were joined for a couple days by my (retired) co-worker Ted and his wife Dixie.

Apparently attending a spring training game had been on Ted’s bucket list, so I was looking forward to treating him to the March 8th Cardinals vs. Twins game. Unfortunately, it was a Twins split squad game, plus the first day of their minor league camp, so the practice fields normally bustling with the veterans and promising prospects were empty. Still, it was a beautiful day for a game, and we both had our teams on the field.

Joe
Joe scores in the fourth

We had seats in the same location I’ve sat in the past trips to Hammond Stadium, which provided a great view of the field. The Cards went on to eventually win 5-3. We saw a little of everything, but we didn’t see Sano and Park homer, like in the other split squad game against Toronto in Dunedin.

One other disappointment with split squad games is the limited autograph opportunities. I did manage to catch one:

program
backup catcher Juan Centeno’s autograph

When it all comes down to it, though, you can’t beat the beach.

condo
the view from our lanai

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Wine!

After talking about it for quite some time, Mo & I finally teamed up with the Irvings and took a trip to the northern California wine country, specifically the Sonoma Valley.

On our drive to hotel in Windsor, CA, after arriving in San Francisco, we conferred with our cellphones to find a place for our first meal, and eventually (inevitably?) stopped at…In N Out Burger.

We had our first evening to kill, and found nearby the Williamson Wines in Healdsburg. While the wines were good, what really made them memorable was the cheeses/spices/spreads expertly paired with them, which really brought out the nuanced flavors. Also impressive: free tasting.

The next morning we left for the first of our two winery tours — Frog’s Leap Winery in Rutherford. We were immediately struck by the quite beauty of the flower/vegetable garden which was a centerpiece of the grounds behind the main building. Our guide Seth was knowledgeable and passionate regarding the vineyard’s sustainability commitment. Meanwhile, the harvest was in gear during our visit, so we saw some of the related activity.

frogs leap
a beautiful loaded grape vine at Frog’s Leap

Later that day we toured Cakebread Cellars also in Rutherford. While it was an impressive operation, I think we were just a bit let down after the earlier stop at Frog’s Leap.

The next day happened to be my birthday, and also the high point in our vacation: a guided tour by Sonoma Segway. Yes, that’s right — Segways! Hunt, our guide, set us up, and after ~10 minutes of practice around the parking lot to familiarize ourselves with the operation, the four of us and two others followed him on our four hour scenic “stroll”

After winding our way around the back streets and quite countryside, we stopped among the grapes to discuss sugar content and to sample a couple. Our first tasting was at one of the area’s few German vineyards, Gundlach Bundschu Wineries. It was nice to have a break from the primarily French wines to find some more similar to our Missouri wine country, although we found them to still be a bit drier than our liking.

We next stopped at Buena Vista Winery for a delicious picnic lunch followed by wine tasting and siteseeing at the fascinating grounds of the winery. The owner is definitely a bit of a showman.

Our last stop on our Segway journey was at the Vella Cheese Company. Besides learning about the cheesemaking process, we took advantage of refrigerated rooms to cool off, as the temps were in the mid-to-upper 90’s. We tried several variety of cheeses made here and took home a wedge of Mezzo Secco cheese, a partially dry Monterey Jack, which we shared with friends (to favorable reviews).

vella cheese
among the cheese wheels at Vella Cheese

After turning in our Segways (I named mine “Buck” btw!) and saying our thank yous, we stopped back at our hotel, then went for supper at nearby Kin Restaurant in Windsor. The atmosphere was neat, and the food very good. And a birthday rhubarb crisp for dessert as well!

On our way back to San Fran the next day, we stopped for a bite along the water at Barrel House in Sausalito. The food was great, and the view was outstanding — a fog-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz island, with layers of houses hugging the nearby hillsides.

sausalito
the view south from the Barrel House

From our hotel near SFO, I contacted my cousin Mark & his wife Amy, and we met and drove down to a supper at House of Nanking, in Chinatown portion of San Francisco, just over a block from the Transamerica Pyramid. Upon hearing that we had not eaten there before, the matriarch of the restaurant replied, “I take care of you,” and for the next half hour one platter followed another a few minutes apart. We did an admirable job emptying them all (see photo), and it was delicious.

house of nanking
Diners 6, Food Platters 0

We said our goodbyes and thanked our gracious hosts and the next day we wended our way home, wined, dined, and rested.

Stuff And Things

Thought I’d clear out a few photos, etc. in a post prior to my surgery tomorrow…

While doing a bit of last-minute mulching in the back, I came across this little guy, below. Plume moths are cool, but they’re small and hide in the grass, so photographing them is difficult. This one was okay with settling on my hand, and stayed there while I went to get my phone and find a little fading sunlight to take the picture. I haven’t added to my insect photo pages lately, so this will be a nice addition:

6091 - Grape Plume Moth (Geina periscelidactylus)
6091 – Grape Plume Moth (Geina periscelidactylus)

Memorial Day weekend took us up to Chicago area for a wedding, and at the last minute I realized that the Twins would also be playing in Chicago the same time. I was able to take in the Friday night game from the third row of right centerfield at The Cell on a clear, cool evening. While it was a good game, the only runs the Twins scored were in the first inning, when I was still a couple stops away on the “L” red line. The Twins ended up losing 3-2, but haven’t lost a game since.

The Cell
action from the bottom of the second inning

I’m still actively collecting Twins baseball cards, but things have slowed a bit. Lately I’ve managed to add a few new players to my certified autograph card collection, among those Jim Perry, shown below, along with another Bert Blyleven AU, my 62nd and 63rd different Glen Perkins AU, and some Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer jersey cards.

stuff things
clockwise, from top left: 2005 Topps Pristine Legends Personal Endorsements #PEA-BB Bert Blyleven (auto); 2005 Upper Deck Artifacts Autofacts #PE Jim Perry [298/599] (auto); 2007 Upper Deck Ultimate Collection Ultimate Write of Passage #WP-PK Glen Perkins [13/60] (auto); 2015 Topps Heritage Clubhouse Collection #CCR-JMA Joe Mauer (jersey); 2006 Topps Turkey Red White #TRR-JM Joe Mauer [94/99] (jersey); 2008 Upper Deck SPx Winning Materials SPX die cut #WM-MO Justin Morneau [090/150] (jersey); 2008 Upper Deck A Piece of History Franchise History Gold #FH-30 Joe Mauer [67/99] (jersey); 2007 Topps Chrome Refractor White #348 Glen Perkins [003/200] (auto)

Ft. Myers Spring Training — Third Edition

This year, MLB caught us off guard: we had to make our condo reservations early, and when the spring training schedules came out, the season was starting later than usual. This would call for some strategic planning…

During our Ft. Myers stay, one thing I could plan on was dropping by the practice facilities, so I picked a nice morning, fought traffic off the island, and hung out at CenturyLink Sports Complex with many other Twins fans.

practice
team gathers on the big field for drills

It was great seeing the young ballplayers — Sano and Vargas definitely stand out, size-wise.

3rd basemen
third basemen practice fielding, including Miguel Sano

The new coaches were very involved and hands-on in the drills I watched, particularly Molitor, Mientkiewicz, and Guardado. Alumni were also visible all over, including Carew and Oliva.

everyday
Coach Guardado works on fielding with the bullpen

So, what ballgame did I eventually get to? The only Twins games played in Ft. Myers while we were there were either the home opener, or against the Red Sox at their home opener the next day. There was also a road game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Charlotte Sports Park up in Port Charlotte just over an hour away, though.

The ballpark was quite nice, and the weather was sunny and beautiful. When I bought my ticket earlier in the year, I looked for my traditional spot just past the dugout on the third place side, and I found a nice seat in the fourth row with a great view of the action.

ballgame
in-game action

Only one extra base bit in this game, but overall play was pretty clean and still had its share of action. The Rays ended up winning 2-1.

I was able to get three autographs on my program: Max Kepler, catcher Dan Rohlfing, and extra catcher Mitch Garver.

autos
game program

Barring a rainout, you really can’t lose when attending a Florida spring training game.