Thursday, September 27, 2012

It's Fall in New England!

There is something that I've pondered for a while, and came up with the answer the other day.  I've been trying to find things around the country and around the world that were unique so that travelers like me would have something special to add to our bucket lists.  The conundrum that I was having was to find what was special about where I live?  Connecticut and Southern New England is special to me.  I moved here because I loved the view, but what about everyone else?  What is that thing that makes people want to come here where I live?  I finally figured it out.  Fall.
There are beautiful places in the fall.  I've been to the Smokey Mountains, driven on Skyline Drive in the Blue Ridge Mountains, gone to the shores of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, spent the harvest season with the Amish folks in Indiana, and many other things.  However, there is nothing that compares to Fall in New England.

  There's that air here that makes you want to get off of I-95 and take a back road just to see the leaves.  This is the time when New Englanders fight against the machine that is Mother Nature and cling to the outdoors that we love until the snow flies for the season.
  Our sense of humor comes out in the displays that we only put in our yard this time of year with scarecrows and ghosts.  Our amusement parks open Haunted Graveyards so that the kids can go at night and have the wits scared out of them.


This is the time when New England has their country fairs and also the Big E, or the Eastern States Expo.  Here in New England we don't have state fairs like other places do, so they gathered all the little states together and have one in Springfield, MA.  But I like the little ones.  All the locals come out for food and contests, local band music and just to see old friends that they don't see any other time of year.
We pull out all our best country stuff in New England in the Fall.  We have some of the best pumpkin patches and corn mazes you'll ever see.  One of the things that we love to do in the Fall here is visit our local farms and pick a pumpkin, walk a maze, or get some great baked goods on our way home.
We New Englanders love to go to the lake or the shore one last time before winter.  Columbus Day is one of our favorite times of the year.  It's that time that we drive to Vermont for no reason, or go to a festival, or take in a tourist attraction that we could have gone to all year, but seems like a better idea in the Fall.
   Here's something that I never did until I lived here.  We like to take that one last trip out sailing or fishing before it gets too cold.  That's another thing that we like to do in the Fall.  
  Here's quintessential New England though.  There is no better way to view Fall foliage than by scenic gondola ride at one of our many ski resorts.  And, there is no better foliage around to view than here in New England.  Let's just say that if you ever wondered why you might come to Connecticut, Massechusetts, Rhode Island, or Eastern New York even or Vermont or New Hampshire or even Maine--it's for the beauty.  And the beauty is never better than in the Fall.
So, come to a ski resort to take one last ride down an alpine slide and get a great view from a ski lift.  Come and visit a country fair or the Big E.  Come and pick a pumpkin and walk a corn maze.  Come to Lake Compounce or Six Flags and play in a haunted playground.  Come to the shore and sail that one last time.  Take a hike to a beautiful place with a waterfall or a panoramic view.  Take a drive and visit the little shops and farm stands all along the way.  Have some local cider, play some mini golf, and by all means, enjoy Columbus Day Weekend.  It's one of the best times of the year to catch a UConn game or even the NFL.  Fall is the best in New England and it's where I've chosen to spend my life because it's so beautiful.
Here's a rare little piece of me for you.  This picture is of the Barkhamsted Reservoir.  This is literally my favorite place on Earth.  It's the colors of fire in the Fall and it's the main reason that I now live in this area today.  Once it gets in your head, you won't be able to forget about it.
Don't miss New England in the Fall.  You'll kick yourself.  Have fun!

Michigan's Locks, Bridges, and Islands

Isn't that beautiful?  Now, I've been to Michigan a hundred times in my life, and I've seen some wonderful things.  I love the dunes that run along Lake Michigan's shores.  I love little burgs like Saugatuck and Holland.  If you like Christmas, you have to go to Frankenmuth. Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum are terrific.  I even like Hell.  But, if you go far enough north, you will find things that you never knew about Michigan.

This is the Mackinaw Bridge.  It leads to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  You can find it on a map.  It's not hard.  The bridge is a 5 mile long piece of amazing construction with views of the area that you won't get any other way.  But, why would you be in the area in the first place?  Interesting question.

This is Mackinaw Island State Park.  It's an island.  It's a park.  What is so unusual?  Let me show you.

Life is a little different on Mackinaw.  There are no cars.  There are no buses.  There are no vehicles powered by engines.  That's right, it's a step back in time.  The whole island is that way.  You can get around by horse and carriage, or you can rent a bicycle.  If you ever wanted to get away, this is your spot.
Now, while on Mackinaw you will learn about history.  The people in the historic village will show you how they lived back in their time.  You will see how they sew, cook, garden, and tend to animals.  If you're lucky, they'll teach you some old time dancing.
   While visiting the island you can visit Fort Mackinac and see what it was like to operate a very sought after military outpost over 100 years ago.  The British established the fort and during wartime the Americans took it over, landing it on Michigan's shores for all eternity.  Workers dress in period garb and do period activities to show what life was like in this fortress.

There are many beautiful sights to see, both natural and man made on Mackinaw.  You can go horseback riding, hike to beautiful vistas, see the old lighthouse that still works today, visit the fort where the kids will find plenty to do, and watch demonstrations of how life used to be.

There's plenty of dining and shopping too. 

The island sits in the shadow of the Mackinaw Bridge at the entrance to Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  It's a great place to visit.  It's not like the other villages that are made to interest tourists.  There are never cars permitted on this island.  The entire island is a park dedicated to preserving the past.  This is different.  This is all encompassing and really gives you the feel of stepping back in time.  Take the trip, and be Dr. Who for just a day or two.  You'll really enjoy it.
Now, I have to mention another thing while I have you in the area.  That is Sault Ste. Marie.  This is the border to Canada where the rest of the Great Lakes come together.  Located on Lakes Superior and Huron, this city is home to the Soo Locks which were designed to bring together the Great Lakes for shipping.  
 is23-1229625193-78197.jpeg  The Soo Locks are every bit as fascinating as the Panama Canal only on a much smaller scale.  They are still in use today, and there are several viewing points where you can watch and take pictures of the ships coming through.  Now, if that doesn't satisfy your reasoning for driving all the way up there, then you can take a boat tour and go through some of the locks yourself.
 is58-1229626113-56854.jpeg  The Soo Locks Boat Tours will take you on a trip that will let you see first hand what it feels like to travel through the locks and it will allow you to see exactly how it all works.  I recommend experiences like these, because it seems droll and boring, but you'll find out that when you are doing it yourself, it's quite exciting and you'll feel like an explorer on your way across the new world.
There are many things to see in Sault Ste Marie while your there.
 is11-1229626097-65075.jpeg  is11-1229626098-79673.jpeg
Brady Park and the Tower of History are two spots to visit where the view is great.  The Tower is something that you can go up in and get a great panoramic view of the town.  There are also casinos in town for the gamblers in the crowd and museums, including a site dedicated to the Edmund Fitzgerald.
But, Sault Ste Marie has one more wonderful attraction that you won't  want to miss.
   This is the Agawa Canyon Railway that takes passengers 114 miles into the wilds of Ontario outside of Sault Ste Marie.  This train is another view into the past and is loads of fun.
  You can see some of Southern Canada's best landscapes as you travel on this unique train that takes you down into Agawa Canyon, over 500 feet down, and lets you explore Canyon Park while they wait to take you back later in the day.
   The views are amazing there, especially in the Fall.
So, if you've never been to the northern most points of Michigan's mitten, then you don't know what you're missing.  Take the time to step back in time with old time lifestyles, old time locks, giant bridges, and antique trains.  Take the time, enjoy the view, meet the people and take home memories that you can't get anywhere else.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

You've Never See a Waterway Quite Like Hennepin

   This is the Hennepin Canal, not far from Tampico, Illinois.  Why would you travel here?  Well, this is a working piece of history.  
The canal was originally conceived as a way to connect the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers in Northern Illinois in the late 1800's.  By 1892, the canal was underway.  By the time it was completed in 1907, it did indeed cut over 400 miles off the journey between the rivers to the Mississippi where goods could then head to the Gulf of Mexico, but it was too narrow for the modern boats of the time to use.  Therefore, the canal was obsolete before it was finished.  By the 1930's the canal was mainly used for recreational traffic.
The Hennepin Canal was one of the first to use cement containment walls and has Marshall Gates which are unique to that canal.  For the engineer, simply looking at the structure of the canal is worth the trip.  Much of the innovation that went into the canal pre-dates even the Panama Canal.
These days, the Hennepin is used for recreation.  It is supported by The Friends of the Hennepin Canal and they are constantly working to fully restore the workings of this magnificent old beast.
The sights along the way are some that you won't see anywhere else these days.  Most canals are all but lost.  They're nothing more than historical markers along the sides of country highways across the Midwest.
The Hennepin Canal is being preserved for all to enjoy.  There are hiking, biking, cross country skiing, and horseback riding trails along the way.  You are welcome to bring your canoe, kayak or boat along, as long as you follow the speed rules.  There are campgrounds along the way that are open from April 15th to October 31st every year.  There are some great towns along the way, like Tampico, where you can enjoy the local ambiance. 
   Tampico is where Ronald Reagan was born and they have a museum dedicated to that.  File:Tampico main street.jpg 

Tampico is the kind of small Midwestern town where the sidewalks roll up at night and everyone knows everyone else.  It's the kind of place with small shops and restaurants that make you want to spend a lifetime there.
So, If you want to spend some time in good old fashioned Midwestern America and kick back and relax, the Hennepin Canal is 50 miles and 32 locks of pleasurable vacation for you.  There's no place else like it.  That's why I like to tell folks about it. 

Take a trip back in time in Illinois.  There's more there than Chicago.


Would you vacation in a Monastery or Convent to go to Rome?


Monasteries and Convents are being turned into boutique hotels in Rome.  Beautiful, right?  Well, why not stay in the real thing.  That's right, take your Rome experience to the hilt.  Stay in a monastery or a convent.  There are around 200 of them right in the Rome area and most of them rent out rooms.
 There are religious guesthouses scattered all over Europe, including the one attached to the Centro Culturale Don Orione Artigianelli in Venice (+39-041-522-4077,   

Why would you do such a thing?  What if you're not Catholic?  Doesn't matter.  You, my friends are supposed to be travelers.  travelers like to get involved in the places that they visit, and there's no more Catholic place on Earth than Rome, so go see how it all works.  It's not enough to just see the places.  I'm a believer in going there to understand things--understand the people.

Patio behind the Convent 

There is so much beauty in Rome.  There is so much history to explore.  If you stay in a convent or monastery and meet the nuns and monks, you will have a view of the place that few are ever going to have.  Looking at Rome through the eyes of the deeply devoted is like being in an art gallery when one of the artists shows up.  It's a unique view of the world around you at the time.  Embrace it.
Imagine, being able to go and ask someone about something that you've seen or are going to see in the city, and they can tell you exactly how to appreciate it.  Imagine, being able to take some quiet time and get in touch with your spiritual side when you return from a day of sight seeing.  Imagine, getting to know your hosts and hostesses and how they live and why.  You will never forget it.  That is why you should stay in a convent or a monastery, particularly in Rome.

The rooms tend to be simple in these locations.  Sometimes you may share a bath.  There may be a curfew or a quiet time.  But, you also may be able to eat in the dining room with your hosts, you may be able to attend mass with them, and you may just learn something special that you will remember for the rest of your life.  The beauty will stick in your mind.  And so might the faces and names of those who have shared their lives with you for a short time.

So, come to Rome.  See the sights.  Go and ask your new friends at the convent or monastery about them.  Learn what they really are.  Learn what they mean to those who follow the faith that's made the city what it is today.  Be part of your vacation, don't just look at it.
Also, look to a book that I found called "Good Night and God Bless."  It's a guide to this kind of unusual accommodation.  It tells you the details about how to find it, book it and do it.
And, be aware that you can book stays in monasteries and convents around the world.  Also, you can stay in Buddhist monasteries as well.  

You've never stayed anywhere quite like Sausalito, California

Sausalito house boat community
It's certainly one of the most incredible communities I've ever seen.  Now, if anyone has read my blog, my books on Fiction Press, or seen My pictures on Facebook, you know that I love a great water community that isn't entirely about the beach.  Sausalito is most famous for it's fantastic historic houseboat community.  They are unique, they are artistic, they are beautiful, and if you're lucky you can rent one for the week or the month.  That's right, you can stay in one of Sausalito's beautiful houseboats, instead of a hotel.  That's what I like about this place.
 Yellow Ferry on a Fall Morning 
Check it out.  These houseboats are all available as vacation rentals.  They range from cheap to expensive, but what a way to stay for a vacation.  
 Sausalito is a beautiful little town, day or night, and it's just a ferry ride to San Francisco.   

california, horizontal, marin, marin county, nite, north bay, northern california, san francisco bay area, sausalito, stores, streets, west coast, western usa, photograph  

There are a ton of things to do in the area.  Number one for me is always the sea plane ride.  

  Sea Plane Adventures will take you on any number of flightseeing tours around the bay area.  There is no better view of a seaside metropolis than by plane, and there's no more fun plane to fly in than a sea plane.
But who am I kidding?  The San Francisco Bay area is full of things to do.
   Whale watching is a great activity.
  You can learn to sail, and go sailing.  You can also get with a tour company and go sea kayaking in a number of locations.
  At Spaulding Wooden Boat Center, you can not only sail, but you can see how the old style wooden boats are made.  It's a piece of history being preserved in the area and well worth the time to go and see.
   Then there's the Marine Mammal Center, dedicated to healing and preserving the animals in the area.  If you get a chance to spend any real time in the area, there are always ways to volunteer at this amazing organization.  You can help make a difference to at least a sea lion that's been caught in a net.
  Now, if you love art, Sausalito is a long standing artist community.  There are several galleries, most of which offer original art by locals.  Every year for Labor Day there is also the Sausalito Arts Festival that you can attend.  If art isn't your thing, but opera is, there's the Golden Gate Opera with a variety of shows for all ages.  But, if structure and architecture is your art, there's the tall ship society with their old time ships, and of course the most famous addresses in town, the houseboats.
Sausalito is a refreshing, relaxing place to spend your time.  It has one of the most amazing views in the country, it's only a ferry ride to San Fran, and there's a ton of stuff to do.  The locals are open and friendly, there's a lot of gourmet food to try out, and the night life is fun too.  This is a bucket list item, folks.  This is a chance to go somewhere and live like the locals do.  This is a chance to feel like you've come into the inner circle.  Don't miss Sausalito.

Come check out Sausalito and a whole different way of life.


Holes in the Ground are Different in Lalibela, Ethiopia

lalibela rock hewn church
Well, that's something you don't see everyday.  The picture above is from Lalibela, Ethiopia.  What you see is not just a statue of a cross carved in the rock in the ground.  That's a church, and the people around it are awaiting their Sunday morning services.  That's right.  It's a church, carved in the ground 800 years ago, by a monastic society that was trying to survive oppression.  Ethiopia is largely Christian in a hugely Islamic arena, and sticking to their guns was difficult during certain eras in history.  The idea of hiding the church in the ground and carving it from rock was to hide and make a permanent institution.


There are eleven churches carved in the mountainside in Lalibela.  It's quite humbling to be in the area and see the magnificence of these churches.  They've been referred to as the eighth wonder of the world, and can only be compared to the city of Petra in Jordan.  The most amazing thing about these churches that have been standing in these holes for the last 1,200 years or so, is that they are still in use.  In a world of Islam, the Ethiopians are still primarily Christian and they still have services in these churches.

The detail is amazing.  Just imagine, these places were carved by hand out of the rock where it stands.  This building used to be a solid piece of stone.
Now, the village of Lalibela was named after King Lalibela, who was the person who started having the churches carved.  Asheten Mariam is the most remote of the churches and was carved by King Lalibela's nephew.  Bete Medhane Alem, Bete Mariam, Bete Meskel, Bete Emanuel, Bete Rafael, Gabriel, Bete Mercury and Aba Libanos are several of the churches that you will want to see.  Bete Giorgis is the one with the cross on top and probably the most photographed of all the churches is a must see.

The interior of the churches do not look like caves, as one might expect.  They are ornate and posh, to say the least.  When you are inside, you would never think that you are standing in a carved out building in a hole in the ground in Africa.  It's an amazing place to be.

I mean, this is how you get there.  It's like a hike through a state park gorge in New York.  The contrast is phenomenal.  The experience is truly biblical.  The people are amazing.  The only catch with this one is that it's remote.  The best way to go there is to contact a tour company.  Most tours fly their customers in and out of the area, and most tours will spend a few days in Lalibela in order to see all of the churches.
One of the advantages of going on a tour is that they think of things that no one else does, because they are familiar with the area.  There are many amazing things to see in Ethiopia.  There are ancient stone masterpiece bridges.

There's the beautiful countryside.  Ethiopia is famous for having some of the most beautiful scenery in all of Africa.

And one of my favorite parts of any trip is to experience the culture.

But, there is one thing that Ethiopia has that no one else on Earth does.  It has Axum. Axum was the capital of the great Axumite Empire which lasted until around the first century BCE.  It's also still home to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world.

This building is the Church of St. Mary of Zion in Axum.  This is one of the better views that you'll see of it in a picture.  This is one of the holiest sites in Christendom according to millions of believers around the world.  It is reported that the Arc of the Covenant is housed here.  The place is surrounded by security, and no one is allowed inside except the one high priest who holds the job of guarding it.  Is it really in there?  I don't know.  Is it worth a trip to Axum to check it out?  Yes.  Will you get inside the church to see it?  No way on Earth, baby.  Take a picture and cherish the fact that you got that close.
So, Axum will most likely be on your tour that you take to go and see the churches of Lalibela.  Sit back and enjoy the thing that you never thought you would go to see.  Enjoy a country full of traditional people, religious traditions, and I hear, great food.  Go and see the beautiful, the amazing, the unforgettable Ethiopia and the churches of Lalibela.