ROAD TRIP DAY 21: ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER CASTLE

We have been enjoying our stay in Alexandria Bay very much. Once again, we landed at a great little motel recommended by Trip Advisor reviewers, and it has served as a comfortable home base for our Thousand Islands visit.

The Rock Ledge Motel is well-managed by Cindy and Jim, our warm and friendly proprietors. If you are ever in the area, stay here. It’s ranked #1 in Alexandria Bay, and its great reviews are well-deserved.

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Today, we used the second half of our combination ticket with Uncle Sam Boat Tours to see Singer Castle. Our one-hour boat ride each way to and from the castle was narrated, and we had a guided tour of the castle.

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Our view of Boldt Castle as we pulled out from the dock for our cruise to Singer Castle

Built by Ernest Flag in 1902-1905, Singer Castle is now owned by a European castle enthusiast group that restores castles and opens them for tours. This particular castle also has one room of accomodations available if you are willing to fork over $725 per night (which includes breakfast and dinner). As the only guests, you would be treated as a king and/or queen.

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The most interesting thing about this castle were the many secret passageways running throughout. I also happened to like one of the rooms with large windows on three sides. If you gazed out the windows to the east during an early breakfast, you could watch the sun rising over the United States. Return at the end of the day for dinner, and watch the sun setting over Canada.

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Although we enjoyed the castle and tour, it wasn’t nearly as impressive as Boldt Castle. It also wasn’t as well-maintained. The difference? Singer Castle is privately owned and for-profit. We’re guessing they’re going to get what they can out of tourists and possibly sell it before sinking any more money into renovations. Just a guess…

Boldt Castle, on the other hand, is continually being meticulously renovated by the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority, and it’s quite evident they are not sparing any expense in the materials and methods used for construction. It is well-funded and will always be well-preserved.

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After our tour, we returned to Clayton for a leisurely walk around town.  Here, we came upon an Amish man selling beautiful baskets and baked goods.  After buying some cookies (six thick and hefty cookies for $2), I was able to shoot his photo inconspicuously from the shop across the street.

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ROAD TRIP DAY 20: BEAUTIFUL BOLDT CASTLE

Can you imagine designing a castle to be built as a symbol of your love for your wife, hiring 300 men to build it over a four year period, and your wife dying suddenly just two weeks before the castle’s completion? This was the tragedy that broke George Boldt’s heart in 1904 as he neared completion of the castle he designed to have built on Heart Island, named for the heart shape of his private one-home island.

After this happened, he sent a telegram ordering his 300 employees to immediately stop construction. They dropped their tools, left the island, never to return. George Boldt never returned either, and the 127-room castle was abandoned and fell into disrepair. Vandals looted the castle and obliterated the walls with graffiti, adding to its sorry state.

In 1977, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority assumed ownership of and immediately began a rehabilitation program. No government funds are used in its ongoing renovation, and it is completely supported by tour revenues and private donations.

George Boldt was quite the self-made man having come from a poor family who immigrated to America. Ultimately, he became the most successful hotel magnate in the U.S. and is most known for managing/ profit sharing the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, and the Bellevue-Stratford in Philadelphia.

You’ve heard that phrase, “The customer is always right.” Right? George Boldt coined that phrase.

Today, Bruce and I hopped on an Uncle Sam’s Boat Tours sternwheeler cruise for their “2 Nation Tour” of islands belonging to both the U.S. and Canada. The narrated tour ended at Boldt Castle where we did a leisurely self-guided tour before taking a shuttle back to the mainland.

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Fortunately, we had PERFECT weather today, a dream scenario for an open-deck tour of one of the most gorgeous places we had ever seen. To say this was the highlight thus far in our road trip would be an understatement. It was magnificent!

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The view from the boat of Boldt Castle’s outer “playhouse.”  We later returned on foot for a closer look.

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The view of the “power house” from the boat. This is where power was generated for use by the castle.

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Boldt Castle’s Boathouse

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The boat tour continued before returning to the castle.  We went from viewing mansions, to Boldt Castle, to, well, this humble little cutie.  This is the one I would love to rent for a late-spring vacation!

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This bridge connects the United States to Canada.

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Following our narrated boat tour, we were dropped off on Heart Island to tour the castle.

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There was a “before” photo in each renovated room of the castle showing the damage done by vandals.  The “after” was exquisite!

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The remainder of the afternoon was spent exploring the nearby village of Clayton where we visited the Antique Boat Museum and wandered through the quaint historic village streets. Lovely.

HITTIN’ THE ROAD (THANKS TRIP ADVISOR!)

Soon, Bruce and I will be hittin’ the road in Scarlet (our Prius V) on a six-week adventure that meanders through 18 states in an odd-shaped loop.

It’s been in the planning stages for six months, and now we’re excited to see our plan through, especially since most of the states we’ll be visiting will be firsts for us.  (I’ve been to 26 states so far.)

For the longest time, I couldn’t quite figure out how to plan for such a trip.  We had a (very) loose idea of where we wanted to go; however, I just didn’t know where to start.

Is there a right way to organize this long of a road trip?  As the old saying goes, there are many ways to skin a cat.  (Where did that saying come from?  The visual in my mind when I hear that… oh, never mind.)

After reading several blog posts and internet sites, I learned there are as many ways to plan a road trip as there are people who have done it.  After I pondered them all, I hit the delete button and decided to do it my way.  Bruce agreed—

a good thing since he’s leaving all the planning to me anyway!

The first place I started was sending an e-mail to my family and friends asking for recommendations after giving them a loose idea of the states we hoped to hit.  As it turns out, most of those recommendations made the cut, and we are planning our travels around them.  (Take Niagara Falls, for example.  More than one of them said, “Bring your passport and see the falls from the Canadian side, because the American side is TACKY!”)

While researching on the computer, I also visited the tourist bureau of each state and requested a map and guide.  Sure, all of the same information is available online, but the paper guides were for Bruce who spends as little time on the computer as possible, thanks to burnout from a computer-intensive career.

As for the maps, they’re going with us in a file box with a folder dedicated to each state.  I will be adding AAA maps where needed, and I plan to file keepsakes that I collect along the way such as chocolate labels from chocolatiers I hope to visit (and sample!).

My favorite source for planning this road trip has been Trip Advisor (www.tripadvisor.com).  You can find my reviews there as “ElaineK-SunCity-GA.”

Skeptics out there will claim that many of the reviews on Trip Advisor and Yelp are fakes posted by friends and family members of the business owner.  Sure, there are probably plenty of restaurant reviews posted by the Aunt Bobbi Sue’s and Uncle Billy Bob’s of the world to help out their entrepreneurial nieces and nephews who just opened up rib shacks off some godforsaken highway.  I’ve seen them myself, and those reviews are easy to spot.  Type in the restaurant’s name on the site, and you see ten restaurant reviews giving the joint a perfect rating.  Not one of those reviewers has ever written a previous review about anything else.  That should be your first clue.

Now, type in “Boldt Castle” (located in Alexandria Bay, New York) into Trip Advisor’s search engine.  The castle was recommended by two friends, so I thought I should check it out.  Bingo!  590 people have reviewed it, and it gets a 4-1/2 out of 5 rating.  In addition, many reviewers posted photos, so I can see for myself how beautiful and photogenic it is.  I immediately added Boldt Castle to our itinerary.

When reading reviews, I give the most credibility to other top contributors who are experienced travelers and have posted a lot of detailed reviews.  I also make sure to read a selection of the positive AND negative reviews on a particular listing, so I can evaluate whether a particular restaurant or hotel is worthy of our business.  (I will ignore one bad review of a Mexican restaurant, for example, if the reviewer criticized the margaritas, especially if all of the other dozens of reviewers raved about the excellent food.)

Thanks to Trip Advisor, I now have a seven-page Word Document filled with recommendations for places to see, things to do, restaurants to dine in, and accommodations where we can crash each night (if we don’t stay with other Affordable Travel Club members www.affordabletravelclub.net ).  I organized it in itinerary order, and I’ve included the driving time required to get from place to place.  Finally, using www.SwimmersGuide.com , I found pools to train at throughout our travels and listed their locations, and lap swimming times.

The itinerary is just a loose guide; weather and our moods will dictate how closely we follow it.  One thing for sure, though; we will definitely be visiting the Canadian side of Niagara Falls and Boldt Castle!

Stay tuned for future posts from the road IF/WHEN I have time and feel like writing.  Otherwise, I’ll catch up with y’all when I get to it!  A big THANKS to my friend Cynthia who will be watching over the house while we’re gone!