ROAD TRIP DAY 14: WINE, CHOCOLATE, AND FALLS

What a gorgeous day we woke up to this morning! We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day.

We drove the scenic route along the river north of Niagara Falls to Niagara-on-the-Lake, a lovely little town on Lake Ontario. I had read about it on Trip Advisor, and then my friend, Concetta recommended it as well.

She wasn’t wrong when she said it was beautiful and a must-see place to go in the Niagara Falls area. We were most struck by how meticulously maintained all the homes were, especially the landscaping. It was obvious these homeowners take pride in their gardens, and we were amazed by the variety of trees and plantings we saw while driving through the neighborhoods. The one in the photo below was just across the street from Konzelmann Winery where we visited in the afternoon.

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As they say, “Life’s short. Eat dessert first.” Taking that advice to heart, we began our day at Chocolate F/X for a chocolate tour and tasting. We arrived early for our tour, so we took their advice and sampled chocolates while we waited. Having skipped breakfast this morning, that was our breakfast. Life’s good!

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The tour by Barb was informative and entertaining, so it was a great way to start our day!

Next up was our tour and tasting at Konzelmann Winery. We had planned on going there anyway, because of its #1 ranking on Trip Advisor for Niagara-on-the-Lake, but Simeon gave us a voucher for a complimentary tour and tasting when we checked in to The Rex Motel, so that was a nice little bonus!

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We were fortunate to be on our tour with just four other people, so it was a cozy little group with Karyn, our knowledgeable guide who was just delightful.

Our tasting was at a table they set up out in the vineyard– perfect on such a gorgeous day. It was so clear that we could see Toronto across the lake!

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After lunch in town, we explored the area, visited another winery, and then headed back to enjoy the beauty of the falls.

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 Emelia had suggested checking out the view from the bar on the 34th floor of the Hilton Hotel, so we headed there after a walk through the Fallsview Casino & Resort.

WOW. Check out this view!

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ROAD TRIP DAY 13: A LITTLE BUTTERFLY AND A LOT OF BUTTERFLIES!

This post was written yesterday:

I have felt like a fish out of water without getting in my daily swims, so we started out the day at the YMCA just up the road from our motel. While Bruce walked the path outdoors, I got in a short swim before the attack of the noodlers- all 30 of them who invaded the pool for their 9:30 Aqua Fit class. For the next 45 minutes, I came up with inventive ways to get in a good workout at the deep end of the pool. At 10:15, I finally got to stretch out and get in a little butterfly. Ahhhh.

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From a little butterfly to a lot of butterflies, the day continued at the Butterfly Conservatory, another highly rated Trip Advisor recommendation. Bruce and I had enjoyed the one in Washington, D.C., and my sister, Gail and I had a great time at the butterfly house at Callaway Gardens, in Georgia, so we were excited to see the varieties of butterflies here in Niagara Falls.

Wow, what a sight! In addition to the gorgeous variety of tropical plants and flowers, the 40 varieties of butterflies currently flying about were beautiful! One landed on Bruce’s pant leg and managed to hitchike a ride around during our entire visit. We finally had to remove it before we left, so it wouldn’t escape.

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The drive along the the falls and river between the various Niagara parks was beautiful. There were several places to pull off and enjoy the view, and it was fun meandering along for a casual exploration.

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The day ended with a delicious dinner at Paris Crepes Café with with a couple who stayed at our house a few nights before we left for our trip. Tom and Bonny are members of ATC (Affordable Travel Club) like we are, and they stayed with us on their way from their home in Florida to their home in Fort Erie, Ontario. Although we won’t be staying with them while we are up here, we were able to arrange to meet them for dinner tonight.
Dinner was fabulous, and we topped it off with a Canadian Cabernet Franc and Merot tastings at Tom and Bonny’s home in Fort Erie. What a fabulous day and evening!

ROAD TRIP DAY 12: FALLIN’ FOR NIAGARA FALLS

During our 3-1/2 hour drive this morning, we left Ohio, passed through the northwest corner of Pennsylvania, and buzzed around Buffalo, New York, before landing in Niagara Falls, Canada.

The Rex Motel where we will spend three nights was our final destination, and we were pleased with our choice. I wondered how a little motel could land a #1 ranking on Trip Advisor, but when we arrived, we learned why so many people raved about this best-value accomodation in Niagara Falls. It’s owned and managed by the warmest, sweetest couple who want to bend over backwards to make their guests feel welcome. We received a lot of helpful tips about the area after we checked in, and when we opened the door to our room, we smiled with delight. Each room at the motel has a different ethnic theme, and we arrived in Venice, Italy. Very cute, spotlessly clean, and well-priced. Perfect.

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The falls are just a short drive away, so we headed downtown to catch our first glimpse. To sum it up in one word: WOW! 34 million gallons of water flow over these falls each MINUTE, and it’s an amazing spectacle to see.

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More photos and travel tales to come on this amazing sight!

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!