Steeped in the history of the founding of the United States, Boston feels different than other cities. It is more colonial feeling, has more statues and building plaques, has a “Freedom Trail” marking the major sites of the American Revolution. Oh, it also has sleek, modern skyscrapers and a presidential library, but we have been struck by all the gorgeous old buildings and churches and their power to evoke a sense of patriotic pride.
We have been to Boston several times and this time tried to do some new things, as we had been to JFK’s presidential library and had walked the Freedom Trail several times. So this time, we ventured out onto a ship to throw tea overboard! The Boston Tea Party Museum was excellent. Costumed actors made the audience part of the action, and we were able to do some rabble rousing and experience the colonists’ outrage at taxation without representation. We got to see the one remaining actual outer box from the Boston Tea Party, which over the centuries had been home to a family of cats, a checkerboard, and a dollhouse until it was donated to the museum as a prized historical object. Children of the families who owned it regularly took the box to school for show and tell. It is interesting that the importance and value of historic objects becomes so much dearer with the passage of time, and now we look upon the box with an almost-reverential gaze, as it is part of our American heritage. (No photo of it, as photography was not allowed inside the museum.)
As we were visiting sites like Boston Common, Boston Public Garden, and dining at the Union Oyster House, we inadvertently became aware of TV and movie filming taking place around us. It was interesting to see all the preparation and equipment necessary to film a few minutes of action. We went out for breakfast on Newbury Street and were delighted with all we saw on the street as we walked to the Public Garden. Such a pretty and busy street! For our meals here, we made it a goal to only eat dinner in historic buildings, to eat seafood (as it is so fresh and ubiquitous here), and to eat clam “chowda” (as the Bostonians say) daily. We have succeeded!
We walked the downtown enough to finally know in which direction to head to reach different areas. As usual, we found people and workers to be very friendly. Shutdowns during the worst of the pandemic have made people happy to be out again, whether working or traveling. Massachusetts has one of the country’s highest vaccination rates, but masks are required everywhere when you are indoors. Sadly, this wasn’t true in the less-vaccinated states we drove through.
Those Falls! You just can’t get enough of them when you are in Niagara Falls. We stayed on the New York side this time, as usually we visit the Canadian side. We found the town to be very quiet, with not too much going on. All the activity was in Niagara Falls State Park, which had quite a few visitors, more than we had seen around the city. In contrast, the Canadian side has Clifton Street, filled with Vegas-style lights, restaurants, museums, fudge shops, mini-golf, arcades, and even a gigantic Skywheel, which can be seen in some of the photos. The New York side is quite calm in contrast. Buying tickets for the Cave of the Winds and the Maid of the Mist were the longest lines in the state park. We were in the Cave of the Winds about 10 years ago, and you can see people experiencing it in one of the photos. Easy instructions: 1) Put on the yellow or blue rain poncho; 2) Climb the stairs adjacent to the waterfall; 3) Get wetter than you have ever been in your life, outside of your morning shower. After we returned to dry land, we commented that it was the most MISERABLE/most WONDERFUL thing we had ever done!
On the American side, the waterfall has a height of 176 feet and spills 75,000 gallons per second! It can make the states experiencing drought positively jealous. Wherever you are, water droplets get you wet. It was quite a breezy day, so everyone got even wetter. We had dinner the first night at the only American restaurant with a view of the Falls, the appropriately-named Top of the Falls restaurant. Being in a state park, with overall moderate prices given its exclusivity, the food was surprisingly tasty and satisfying.
The second highlight of our visit here was having dinner at the Culinary Institute of Niagara Falls. For an incredibly low price of $25 for a three-course experience (menu below), we enjoyed a spectacular five-star experience. Each dish was balanced with contrasting flavors, which was especially evident in the desserts. The Chocolate Peanut Butter Crunch had peanut butter mousse that, finally, was strong enough to stand up to the strong chocolate-flavored base, and also featured a smooth and creamy texture along with crunchiness. The Peach Cherry Galette was a bit tart, which made a great foil with the sweet and creamy ice cream, AND there was also a crunchy drizzle. Both were outstanding. Our server, Jennifer (if you are reading this – thank you!!) was really top-rate. Older than the other students, she had taught classes on vegan cooking, but was getting her certification in Hospitality. She was over-the-top friendly and super knowledgeable about each item on the menu. She gave us great tips for several restaurants in New York City when we are there next week. As we were leaving, the hostess told us that Jennifer had only been “on the job” for one week, astoundingly. Great job! As we left the restaurant we talked to the hostess for a few minutes about some of the other offerings. It made us wish we had the time to go back and sample more of the menu. Oh well, next time.
Cleveland. Cleveland? Cleveland! We came for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We ended up wandering the downtown and loving the buildings. It has a small town feeling, with down-to-earth, friendly people, yet it is quite expansive, with lots to offer.
We had visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame many years ago and thought it was one of the best museums ever. There were not only instruments and clothing from famous bands and singers, but lots of interactive screens with headphones for listening to musical styles and genres. Our favorite was one that featured a select song by a band or singer that you could listen to, followed by its earlier version (sometimes 50+ years) so that you could hear the song’s “grandmother” and how the current musician was influenced by either the style, or the exact song. It was quite fascinating, and we intended to spend more time at that exhibit. Sadly, none of the interactive displays are permitted to be used due to Covid. Since we had already seen everything else, and couldn’t “hear” what we most wanted to, we decided to skip it and see the downtown.
The first three pictures are of Lake Erie in early morning, at sunset, and just after sunset, taken from our hotel room. You can see FirstEnergy Stadium, lakefront home of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. After that are photos of buildings, ornamentations, statues, etc., of both an old, and a vibrant new, city. We loved it. We discovered a few breathtaking interiors that made us glad our plans changed! We had dinner at Zanzibar Soul Fusion, a Southern Cuisine restaurant with great food. We had salmon with watermelon BBQ sauce, and it was delicious. The bread served was Blueberry Cornbread, also very tasty.
We have discovered that midsize cities have a lot to offer. They are less pricey and a bit more cozy than the very large cities. They usually have a lot of color and fun in their decorations, as they don’t take themselves very seriously. The people in hotels and restaurants that we encountered are less busy, more inclined to talk, and more friendly. We had long conversations in our hotel with employees Ray and Clint about travel and how great it is to see the world, encouraging them to just “go for it” as far as trying to shape their lives and see their goals through. Whenever we can help steer or change people’s lives through our story of travel, we feel that we have accomplished something positive. But like in Chicago, we sorta/kinda hated to leave so soon….
Chicago has always been one of our favorite cities. In fact, we were lamenting that we had “only” scheduled a week there. However, we have heard more and more about the Covid Delta variant causing a lot of new cases and deaths, particularly in the southern states, where the vaccination rate is quite low. We had planned to be in those very states for about three weeks, but as we became more alarmed, decided to cancel, reroute, and return to Chicago in late October. Yes, that is how nervous we were about the states we would have been in, and about the possibility of contracting Covid. Our cousin Sandra, who lives near Lakeland, Florida, said that 20 vaccinated people in her senior community contracted Covid, and one woman died this week. So we changed our travel plans and all the time we had planned in the south.
We have wondered if the unvaccinated realize the true “cost” of their decision. Not only do they risk hospitalization and death, but if they work in any service industry, they are losing money as couples like us avoid their cities or states. Multiply us by several hundred or several thousand people who will not be spending money in hotels, cafes, restaurants, tourist sites, museums, gas stations, mini marts, and all sorts of businesses in between. If they work in a restaurant, for example, there are tips they will never receive from us, and the lack of business could lead to a restaurant’s temporary or permanent closure.
Okay, enough of that. We bought tickets to the Art Institute of Chicago, as we thought we had never been there. But inside, we noticed that we had previously seen several pieces by Chicago architects, many years ago. But we are always happy to support museums and the arts. Some of the photos below are from the art institute.
It is fun to just walk around and check out the great 19th and 20th Century buildings in Chicago, with so much ornamentation and style. In fact, we took a tour to take a peek inside some of the older buildings and see what treasures lie within. There were some surprises! You will see them below.
The other photos are from various spots around the city. On Michigan Avenue, there was a series of topiary….musical instruments! A guitar is shown below. We love the first photo, the woman’s face on Crown Fountain in Millennium Park, spouting/spitting water. There are 1,000 “ordinary” Chicagoans’ faces on the screens. Across the street, shown in the second photo, was the “Chicago Traffic Jam,” a quartet busking for tips and playing some pretty wonderful music.
We walked a good portion of the downtown, traversed the Magnificent Mile, stopped by Navy Pier, went to a few of our favorite restaurants, ate some Polish pierogies and halupkies, took the architecture tour, rode the “L” around, and just had a blast. As I said, we will return for 10 days next month, so watch for more on this great city. We end our photos with the Balloon Man. He brought a smile to our faces, as he was so intent on twisting his creation when we took the photo.
Well, we – and you – deserve this post, after a year and a half of quarantine, yearning for something to smile about and just enjoy. This will be our least serious post ever, but so fun.
Des Moines was a curiously deserted place. Walking the streets, we honestly passed maybe 3-4 other people. There weren’t many cars. Our huge hotel lobby was always…empty. We encountered nobody in the hotel hallways. Seriously, it felt like there had been – A ZOMBIE ATTACK! The population of Des Moines was decimated!!
We ate dinner at the Zombie Burger + Drink Lab, and encountered one of the best-decorated horror-themed places ever. We have a great love for horror movies, so this was perfect for us! We talked to a very gregarious and affable employee named Donnie, who took it upon himself to walk us around the restaurant and bar and show us all the zombie/horror memorabilia. He noted that George, the owner, has been collecting items over the life of the restaurant and keeps adding to the decor. We found it very fun, very tongue-in-cheek. Donnie did note that during the pandemic, this restaurant stayed open and helped keep the city supplied with food. It is very good food too.
The second photo shows Mike’s choice of dinner…the Undead Elvis, consisting of peanut butter, fried bananas, bacon, an egg, and cheese. Anything peanut butter, and Mike is right there! It actually tasted quite decent, as weird a combo of ingredients as that is. Jan opted for Soylent Greens (a salad) and some very good chili. The photos that follow are just to scroll through and a feast for your eyes, IF you like fun horror items. If not, cover your eyes and peek!
Denver was a delightful stopover on our journey. We decided to take one of the world’s many free walking tours. Ours was led by an extremely knowledgeable and personable guide, Blaine. We walked about two miles for just over two hours, and all of our photos except the last were taken on the tour.
Our last stop on the tour was Union Station. Denver Pacific Railroad was opened in 1870, after Union Pacific decided not to include Denver on its route. The city realized that would have doomed their economic prospects, so they built their own railroad and put this beautiful building downtown. The inside is white and gleaming and just lovely. Businesses are dotted around the circumference.
We saw the State Capitol, City Hall, and the giant red chair outside the library. Can you tell from the photo that the red chair is 21 feet high, and the “tiny” horse standing on it is 6 feet high? The Denver Art Museum, shown in the photo after the chair, leads people to think it is a prison, with its slender slit windows. But it was constructed with the goal of protecting the books and other resources that it houses by letting in a minimal amount of light. Everyone delighted in the blue bear peering into the convention center, and seeing him has become a favorite tourist destination in Denver.
We didn’t have any of the smoke from California wildfires that the city experienced in the prior weeks. In fact, it was warm and sunny, a perfect Rocky Mountain high. The streets were clean, the people friendly, the food amazing. Just minutes from our hotel is the 16th Street Pedestrian Mall, which runs for quite a way, and is jammed with retail stores, restaurants, and coffee shops. Free buses travel along the sides of the mall to help people get from one end to the other. It is quite convenient. A great city! As always, we wish we had had more time there!
Grand Junction was a one-night stop for us on our cross-country road trip. Normally, we would just have dinner, stay the night, and leave, without seeing any sights. But we walked out of our hotel on “historic Main Street” to have dinner and walked into a four-block summer fair/farmer’s market, so we had to wander through. Along the way, we discovered that downtown Grand Junction is dotted with artwork that is whimsical and beautiful. So, photos were in order and hence, this blog.
There were many fruit and produce stands, and the nectarines we purchased were at their absolute peak: juicy, sweet, and delicious. We found worms for sale, as you can see in the photo, and we ran into rainbow-haired Nicky and asked if we could feature her on our blog. We loved looking over and seeing all the colors of her coiffure. The weather was sunny and warm, and the people all very friendly. We wished we had planned to stay longer!
We made a brief stop in Las Vegas as we start our three-month road trip across the US. We don’t gamble at all, but we do enjoy being around people and going to our old favorite places there. Las Vegas was the same as ever, except there were more empty buildings than in the past, and of course, far fewer people walking around. It was very hot, around 100° F, so we didn’t spend much time outside.
Our friend Sol told us about the National Atomic Testing Museum, which we had never heard of or come across. It sounded interesting, so we bought tickets and headed over there. It is affiliated with the Smithsonian and is quite small, but very interesting. Besides atomic bomb testing, the museum covers a lot of other subjects, such as early research into atomic-powered rockets (!), the “Atoms for Peace” project, the Cold War, and technological and pop culture events of the 20th century.
As you can see in the first photo, we were thrilled to see Robby the Robot, a major character in several old tv shows and movies from our childhood days. And, they even had a Miss Atomic Bomb in 1957, which actually is quite jarring and strange, if you think about it. You can also see photos of some unusual soda names, for sale in the gift shop. The quotes from the men who saw the creation and first tests of the atomic bomb are most poignant, given that a combined total of 200,000 people died from the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Of course, that doesn’t include the injured, who lived the rest of their lives with burns and radiation poisoning.
Our two favorite casinos to visit in Las Vegas are, first of all, Caesar’s Palace, as walking through the Forum Shops and stopping to sit at the aquarium are so delightful. The second is the Bellagio, with the dancing waters show and the over-the-top Conservatory that they change four times per year. It is always so whimsical and just begs to be photographed. So, we did, and there you are!
Part 4 is our last entry on the beautiful city of San Francisco. Today we are focusing on the Marina/Presidio area along the north shore of the city, leading to the Golden Gate Bridge; the Botanical Garden; and the Haight-Ashbury area.
First – the Palace of Fine Arts, immediately adjacent to the Presidio on the east. Wow! We were dazzled, amazed, and awed. In all of our visits to San Francisco, neither of us had seen the Palace before. It was built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exhibition and was so beloved that the public clamored for it to remain as a permanent part of the city. It is 162 feet tall, and evokes a decaying ruin of Ancient Rome. It is framed by a lagoon, and we walked around the lagoon, looking at the Palace, and couldn’t believe this 100-year-old sight was new to us! Just gorgeous, as are the weeping women around the tops of the colonnades, the angels standing guard, etc. We walked from here along the north shore as far west as we could, until we were almost standing underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, the eternal, iconic symbol of the city. It is a beautiful walk, with soft waves splashing ashore, and, always, a nice breeze cooling us.
The Botanical Garden isn’t very big, but there is a lot of variety in a small space. We enjoyed wandering on the trails as well as off-trail. There weren’t any formal gardens, just lots of areas with planted flowers gracing our way along the trails.
Haight-Ashbury is up next. One day, as we sat stopped at a light on the bus, we noticed a beautiful Victorian house and talked about the wood carvings and details on the house. We later found out it was on the National Register of Historic Places – the John Spencer House, and we walked past it as we toured Haight-Ashbury. Actually, this area is all about beautiful buildings and lots of color, which is so evident in the photos. A lot of the district still looks quite psychedelic, with lots of artistic creativity.
We have added San Francisco to our list of favorite cities, and intend to visit more frequently when we are on the West Coast. We like the vibe, the diversity, and the feeling of a big city in what is a very compact area. We will be back!