Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Erie Canal Earworm

Niagara Falls
I’ve gotta mule, her name is Sal, 15 years on the Erie Canal…  

Remember this song from elementary school?  I had forgotten all about it until about three months ago when we got the idea to include the Erie Canal in our itinerary.  Now seeing parts of the canal in person and reading many of the historical signs, this song just won’t go away.  (The rest of the lyrics are at the end of this post—read at your own risk.)
The original route.  The Hudson flows from
Albany to the Coast

The 360-mile canal route runs from Albany to Buffalo, as the song says.  It was and still is an engineering marvel.  First started in 1817 and completed in 1825—ahead of schedule and under budget.   Since then, extensions of it connect many other areas and regions.  A major widening project was completed 100 years later in 1925.
Old canal near Syracuse

The old (L) & new (R) at
Lockport, NY
A "new"  (1925) section on the
Mohawk River
at St. Johnsville

An old section near Syracuse

It was a huge economic engine that made New York the Empire State, opening up the Great Lakes region and bringing unimaginable wealth to Buffalo and other towns along the way.  Coal, wheat, lumber, people, steel, ore, and later autos were transported on it all the way to the Hudson and New York City.  By 1845 there were 4,000 boats on the canal, operated by 25,000 men, women, and children, plus about 2-4 mules or horses per boat.

Footings for an aqueduct above river tributaries 

About 18 months ago we read Peter Zellen’s The Accidental Superpower, who argued that one of the reasons the US is a superpower and will keep it so is our great proliferation of navigable waterways.  Seeing the canal and reading the many interpretive signs along the way really drives that point home. 

View of canal from our campsite
at St. Johnsville, NY
We only bicycled three small parts of it, both in the old and newer sections.  We also stopped at a couple of significant parts around Little Falls, Lockport, and Buffalo.  The grade was easy, but mostly on crushed stone in 90 degree heat and 90% humidity.  It made us wonder what it would have been to be a little boy or girl leading the mules in bare feet 12 hours per day.
A very old abandoned section.
A major garbage and toxic
waste dump until about 15 years ago.

The Maxwell School, circa 1924
My old dive from 42 years ago.
My roommate & I organized a rent strike
over no heat and too much vermin.
We also visited part of the Syracuse University campus, where I received my MPA in 1974.  Too many new grandiose  buildings have cropped up and crowded the campus since then, making it very unappealing.  Syracuse, with its abandoned 100+ year old factory buildings then and now, is still depressing and an example of poor urban planning and crazy traffic.  I also found my old apartment building, a sole survivor standing alone among vacant lots in a dicey part of town.  It was a dive then, and it still is.  Some things don’t change after 42 years. 
Niagara Falls are spectacular, but on the American side the park was crowded, dirty, and highly commercialized.  However, we found the nearby historic town of Lockport on the Erie Canal much more enjoyable. It has both the original narrow 1825 canal and the modern 1925 canal next to each over with locks that covered 60 feet of rapids.  

The lobby at city hall
Buffalo was a very delightful city.  We loved its city hall, waterfront, and neighborhoods with gigantic 100-175 year old mansions.  We toured two Frank Lloyd Wright homes built for Darwin and Isabella Martin, who made their fortune creating a soap and household mail order business at the turn of the century.
Buffalo city hall
The Darwin Harris Home in Buffalo
Today, the 26th marks the one month anniversary of this trip.  It seems like an eternity ago, but also just like yesterday.  We’re now heading home, sort of retracing our steps, but staying at different places along the way.  Once we get through the Midwest and into the wide open spaces of the Rockies, we’ll really believe we’re homeward bound.  We’re antsy to get back, but we’re committed to enjoying every mile until we return.  

The Darwin summer home on Lake Erie

"I've gotta mule, her name is Sal,
15 years on the Erie Canal.
She's a good old worker and a good old pal,
15 years on the Erie Canal.

We've hauled some barges in our day,
Filled with lumber, coal, and hay.
And every inch of the way we know,
From Albany to Buffalo.

Ohh, Ohh...
Low bridge, everybody down,
Low bridge, because we're we're going through a town.
And you'll always know your neighbor,
You'll always know your pal,
If you've ever navigated on the Erie Canal."

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Beautiful Berkshires

On the way up to Mt. Greylock,, MA
No, we’re not talking pigs here, but rather the beautiful mountain area in NW Massachusetts which is a cultural hub and a summer retreat from the stifling heat of the big East Coast cities.    It always was an enclave for the very rich (and there are many amazing mansions in the area) but it became a cultural hub in the Great Depression.  

The Shed at Tanglewood
Residents hosted the Tanglewood Music Festival to keep the musicians of the Boston Symphony from literally starving during the summer off season.  It worked--the wealthy from New York, Connecticut, and Boston flocked to the area and enjoyed music at Tanglewood and dance at Jacob’s Pillow. 

If you listen to Prairie Home Companion on PBS, you’ve probably heard Garrison Keillor broadcast from “The Shed” every summer.   It’s basically a huge shed with amazing acoustics, and a massive lawn for those of us without season tickets to hear world-famous performers in a picnic atmosphere.  I call it a tailgate party without the generators, RVs, pickup trucks, barbeque grills, and buffalo wings. 
Our 'Prefunc' at the Tannglewood Lawn
Spencer, our daughter Skyler’s boyfriend, sings with the Boston Symphony Chorus.  Therefore, we got free passes to the picnic area and to the private beach on a delightful lake.  We enjoyed an evening concert that featured Rene Fleming and Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony, and a matinee with several pieces including Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue which United Airlines ruined by making it its theme song.

We rented a “cottage” with three bedrooms in a forest, just a few miles from all the performances, bakeries, cheese shops, and more.  

Our 'Cottage' which seemed like a mansion
After three weeks on the road, it felt good to sleep in  a real bed, move about in a real kitchen, flush a real toilet, and above all, to hang with our kids, their boyfriends, and Skyler and Spencer’s dogs.  Shanti and Alan flew in from London.  

The gang on our last morning together
Both girls and Spencer are real foodies, making us look like meat and potatoes types, which as most of you know, we definitely are not.  We ate well—too well!  And they are masters at board games. 

One of many memorable meals together

All in all, a memorable week in a beautiful apart of our country.  
Spencer teaching Alan all about grillingt

We miss them already, but on the other hand, we love being back to just the two of us on the road again and heading in the general direction of home.  We’re in Upstate New York now, and the next post will be about bicycling parts of the Erie Canal, visiting my graduate school, Syracuse University.

Skyler & Lucy doing paddle-board yoga

Shanti and Alan at Mt. Greylock, MA
Kathy & Rye Rye practicing 'Downward Dog' 

Spencer, Skyler, Rye Rye, and Lucy at Monument Mt.

The Edith Wharton home at The Mount

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Beautiful and Historic Hudson River Valley

The Mid-Hudson Bridge from the RR Bridge
This place was never on our radar screen 18 months ago.  But thanks to the serendipity of a casual conversation with a former business colleague in California and a delightful experience at the Tanglewood Festival in western Massachusetts last summer, here we are.  The Hudson River Valley is rich with beauty and history.  And we’re delighted to spend five (5!) whole nights in one place in a quiet wooded campground.

FDR's home in Hyde Park, NY
After the Ken Burns'' PBS documentary on the Roosevelts and listening to No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin, we wanted to make a pilgrimage to Hyde Park on the Hudson, home of FDR and Eleanor.

Through the vast open spaces of Montana and South Dakota, we listened George C. Daughan’s Revolution on the Hudson: New York City and the Hudson River Valley in the War of American Independence.  We’re glad we did, as it put all these places into perspective and made us want to learn more.

A most pleasant afternoon
FDR's desk from the Oval Office

Biking the former railroad
bridge over the Hudson

View of Phougkeepsie from the bridge

We biked and walked across the Hudson on a Rails to Trail path and toured the FDR presidential library, Eleanor’s home, some Revolutionary War sites, the Vanderbilt mansion, and the home of Frederic Church, the famous painter of the Hudson Valley School in the early-mid 19th century.  

And being the foodies we are, we ate at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) twice.  Because of my Racine Car Wash Blues (see our July 7 blog), I still have no photo ID and thus couldn’t tour West Point—a very important part of the Revolutionary War.

The Culinary Institute in a
former Jesuit monastery
Cook (or Bart Simpson?)

The highlight of this segment has been the FDR and Eleanor homes.  After he died, Eleanor vacated the place and moved to her own residence at Val Kill, basically across the road.  She left their home exactly as it was, so we could see everything as it was back then.  We could see where he and Churchill smoked and drank in the living room, discussing the Lend Lease program and war strategies, where he made many fireside talks, or where FDR served King George VI and the Queen a hot dog state dinner/picnic.  All the homes we visited were so dark and poorly lit.  I guess people back then didn't need or want a lot of light.  

Vanderbilt Mansion from
the 'Gilded Age'
Washington's HQ at the end of the war

At New Windsor Cantonment, a large
Revolutionary War camp

Learning how
to amputate

Kathy’s strep throat is over and my cold is almost gone. Our temporary repairs seem to be holding.  Today (Friday) we head to Stockbridge, MA and the Tanglewood Festival, and are so excited to spend a week with Skyler, boyfriend Spencer, their dogs, and Shanti and Alan from London.  Above all, we’re looking forward to staying in a real rental cabin, not our beloved—but claustrophobic—trailer. 

Artist Frederick Church Esttate

View from the Church Estate Veranda

By the way, we find the East Coast with its dense forests and stifling humidity to be claustrophobic.  It’s hard in the haze to tell north from south, and we look forward to the occasional farm where we get just a glimpse of open land.  That’s probably why we love the vistas of the West so much and also the Hudson River Bridge.  (Also, the drivers in the West are much more courteous and not so aggressive.)

Taking care of business on the road

Monday, July 11, 2016

Three Walls, but Many Doors & Bridges

Pink Floyd's Wall
Walls have been the news the last year and more, but not all of them are on borders. We experienced three different kinds during the Midwest segment of our cross-country road trip.  One was Pink Floyd’s wall —a gigantic prop for one of his tours now suspended from the ceiling at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.  He hit the wall on drug abuse, and hence the title of his tour.

We love museums and think that this one ties with the Newseum in Washington DC as the most engaging. However, it wins hands down for the most energetic.  It is filled  with artifacts, history, music, interactive displays, and FUN!  It even partnered with the Newseum for an exhibit on Rock and Politics over the past 60 years.  As we said in a Facebook post, it was well worth the detour.  But how did that detour come about?
Michael Jackson's

Beyonce's Outfits

One of many of Lady Gaga's
performance outfits

Ringo's Drumset
In three words, we are klutzes.  We carelessly  pulled out of a large commercial campsite in Bristol, Indiana (Amish country), and our wheel chock banged the grey water tank, creating an embarrassing  flood of sink and shower water on the campground road.  By the time we finally hit the road, it was too late to make it to Buffalo, but if we headed due east and put Buffalo on the return trip, we could hit Cleveland in a few hours.  Excellent decision!  Even in our bad luck, we are lucky.  

The whole field and adjoining forest to ourselves
The ultimate lawn gnome

East of Cleveland, 150 miles, we happened upon an Airstream-only campground. We had a secluded spot and, unlike other campgrounds, immediately got into the full socialization mode with interesting people from all over.

Our next wall was hitting the wall of driving and spending a large sum on tolls. Yesterday (Sunday) we covered 380 miles through the beautiful rolling hills and forests of Pennsylvania to the Hudson Valley, but it was tense high-speed interstate driving with a lot of trucks on the road and construction detours.  Kathy was still loopy from her strep throat and and allergy meds, and I had a sore throat, but our goal was to park in a place for five whole nights.  Feruza, our Uzbek daughter from New York, met us in the campground with some homemade bread and delicacies just brought to the US by her brother.  Worth the trip!

The third wall was was in Racine, last Friday, but it was a good wall.  We experienced the power of ceilings and no walls in Frank Lloyd Wright’s S.C. Johnson administration building and research center.  Unfortunately, we could only take photos outside, but our previous blog has one from the inside that I downloaded from the Internet.

The entryway to the admin. building

Entry from the executive carport

SC Johnson
Leaving the tour, we noticed the protective rubber plate beneath our transmission was dangling.  The roads in Wisconsin and Minnesota are so rough, but Racine’s are the worst.  The helpful VW dealership put in place with zip ties at no charge  and we were on our way, to Chicago and beyond, delayed once again.

But now all is well, even though our grey water tank still leaks despite more repairs.

We’re in the Poughkeepsie-Hyde Park region now, and everything is so green, beautiful, and rich with history.  After I talked my way into an urgent care clinic without my health insurance card (see previous blog) to get a throat culture (negative so far), we  rode our bikes on a four-mile loop across a bike-pedestrian converted railroad bridged and back over  a toll bridge.
Starting the Hudson Walk/Bikeway, built in 1886,
made into a R2T in 2009

View from above

High and wide!

The RR bridge from the toll bridge

We toured Eleanor Roosevelt’s home and hiked a mile up the hill to FDR’s summer cottage.  We sat on the veranda and wondered about all the thoughts and discussions he had there overlooking the Hudson before the trees took over.  Tomorrow will be FDR’s home and library.  While we talk about walls, in retrospect we've encountered way more bridges and doors--infinitely better than most walls.

One of the cottages at Val Kil, Elanor's modest estate