Sunday, July 18, 2010

Another Day, Another Winery (or two)

Carlisle, PA to Radford, VA
July 17, 2010

On the accelerated progress plan heading home, we are expressway driving, with just a brief digression planned today to sample one of Virginia’s many wine trails. Our little trip off the expressway turned into a four hour foray on beautiful Blue Ridge Valley backroads.

We hopped off I81 just south of Staunton, and headed east into the Monticello Region, where the Virginia Wineries map showed a cluster of at least a dozen wineries that could be easily visited in a day. We chose to visit just two that sounded interesting and were not too far afield.

Our first stop was Cardinal Point Vineyard in Afton. A beautiful garden planted right in front of our spot in the parking lot was all aflutter with butterflies. We hauled out our cameras and snapped away for a very long time.

When we eventually made it up to the tasting room, our host poured us samples of ten different wines. Cardinal Point’s wines are made mostly from grapes grown in their vineyard, but they fill in with about 20% of grapes purchased from other vineyards in the region.

While we were enjoying our wine, the owner of the vineyard walked in with her dog, who clearly has the run of the place. He stood up, put his front paws on the bar, and waited for our wine pouring host to come over and give him a biscuit.

After we finished tasting our wine, and buying bottles of our two favorites, we went into the winery to watch a video of a year in the life of Cardinal Point vineyard and winery. We watched from a loft level, overlooking about a hundred oak barrels, three huge stainless vats, and lots of cases of wine bottles. The family cat joined us on the couch.

No wonder wine is so expensive—there is a lot of work in the vineyard that can only be done by hand—pruning the vines, trimming extra berries (that’s what they call grapes) off the vine to make the remaining ones mature into better grapes, hand clipping the ripe grapes at harvest, and then trimming back the vines in winter. This is a family-owned vineyard, and the owners and their kids showed up in the video over and over, doing the work, along with the hired pickers. We also were interested to see all the steps to making the wine, including putting white clay in the white wines and egg white in the reds to clarify them. We hadn’t heard this step mentioned in our past tours. A chef’s secret, perhaps?

Here is a quote from the Cardinal Point video that serves as a good introduction to our next stop:
“The discovery of a wine is of greater moment than the discovery of a constellation. The universe is too full of stars.”
Benjamin Franklin

The Hill Top Berry Farm Winery in Nellysford makes all its wines from fruit and berries. They don’t grow grapes—but from afar their blackberry vines trained on wires masquerade as grape vines. Today was the first day of blackberry picking, and the winery was hopping with adults in the tasting room, and families out in the blackberry rows picking quarts of berries to take home. The berries are much larger than the wild blackberries we are used to, and they are extremely sweet and juicy. I did a little sampling out in the field.
Our sampling in the tasting room was most unusual. First, none of the wines we tasted had grapes as an ingredient. Second, the vineyard’s specialty is mead. We had to ask what mead is, because, although we vaguely remember reading about Romans consuming it during bacchanalian feasts and some Olde English bards referencing it, we weren’t paying much attention to recipes at the time. Mead is wine fermented with honey, rather than sugar, possibly the oldest purposely fermented beverage, dating back at least to 7000 BC, we learned.

We tasted about a dozen meads and wines. One of the most unusual was Lavender Methaglin, a mead infused with lavender. Some say it is calming and soothing, but Cleopatra thought it was an aphrodisiac, or at least that is what they told us at the tasting. It reminded us of Monet’s garden in the summertime, with bees buzzing all around. We tasted blueberry wine paired with chocolate, and a mead paired with smoked almonds. We tried peach, blackberry, and cherry wines, and Dragon’s Blood mead made with pomegranate. Hill Top winery’s claim is that their wines are “true to the fruit,” and our taste test backs up their claim 100%. It was a grand gastronomic adventure, and we loved every minute of it (although we didn’t love all the meads, especially the pure ones that tasted more of ferment than honey!).

We walked away from the tasting room with a whole box of bottles. We are looking forward to introducing our friends to mead.
We worked our way back to the highway via a little section of the Blue Ridge Parkway. When we stopped to hike up a meadow trail for a scenic view, we ran into a group from the Virginia Living Museum doing their annual butterfly count. They were having a very good day, with over twenty species counted already, and several more found while I was with them. If we weren’t so eager to be home, I would jump on the opportunity to spend the rest of the afternoon with them. But, I tore myself away, and we eventually made it back on the expressway again, heading south.

We considered, and quickly abandoned, a plan to drive straight home today, arriving around midnight, maybe later. Too tired, we stopped in Radford, Virginia.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Women and Wine

July 16, 2010
Rochester to Carlisle, PA
Our short visit to Rochester was full of relaxation and fun: a little birthday celebration for my sister Marcia, Rummikub games with Dad and June, lunch and a mini-tour of Rochester Institute of Technology on Marcia’s lunch hour, a family pizza party at Dad’s place, and lots of time for conversation. We even slipped in a 60,000 mile service appointment at the Rochester Lexus dealer to get rid of the big exclamation point warning sign that has been popping up every time we start the car.

Rested and relaxed, we are ready to be home. So, to cut down on the lollygagging, we take the New York State Thruway to Seneca Falls, site of the Women’s Rights National Historical Park. The first formal demands for women’s rights were recorded at a meeting of over 300 women and men at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls on July 19-20, 1848. The demands were enumerated in “The Declaration of Sentiments,” modeled on the Declaration of Independence. Their grievances included: women could not vote, own property (if married), attend college, hold elected office, or work professionally. The document was debated and finalized by women only on the first day, then read and adopted at a meeting attended by both women and men on the second day. Here I am joining some of the people from the convention, including Stanton at the far left, and Fredierick Douglas next to her.

This important meeting was many years in the making. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott met at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840. The male delegates at the convention voted to bar female participation, and they relegated the female delegates to the back of the hall. This unfair action incensed Stanton and Mott, and served as an impetus to discussions and actions that they continued after they returned home. Eight years later, they formed a group of five women reformers—abolitionists and Quakers—to draft the Declaration of Sentiments and plan the women’s rights convention.

Stanton, the mother of seven children, kept working for women’s rights after the convention. She met temperance and anti-slavery activist Susan B. Anthony in 1951, and Anthony spent the next decade crossing the country delivering women’s rights speeches writted by Stanton. Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, called them “the most maneuvering politicians in the State of New York.”

Despite all the activism, women didn’t gain the right to vote until 1920, and they still held less than 6% of national elected offices in 1990, even though they were over 50% of the electorate. Inexplicably, the museum had nothing to say about the Equal Rights Amendment. We still have a ways to go.

After our tour through the Museum, we toured Stanton’s house across town. Her father, a wealthy Albany judge, gave it to her as a gift, and she and her husband lived and raised their family there for fifteen years (although he was often gone on business as a lawyer and abolitionist lecturer). Elizabeth hosted a conversation club in her parlor, where friends met to discuss issues of the day.

Enough about strong women of vision, we are on our way south, on a rural road that traverses a fertile delta between Seneca and Cayuga Lakes. We pass cows and corn and produce stands selling garlic braids, tomatoes, “just picked cherries,” herbs and perennials. American flags and laundry flap in the wind. There are at least a dozen vineyards along a stretch of road that is no more than twenty miles in length.

We stop at the Swedish Hill Winery, where the friendly fellow behind the bar in the tasting room offers us the opportunity to sample eight wines for $2. I am the designated drinker, Dick the designated driver, so he just takes a wee sip of each. I learn that my request for the “smokyest oakiest” Chardonnay Swedish Hill has to offer is a demonstration of my out of style taste buds—the trends are going to crisper, unoaked whites, according to the expert. However, they do just happen to make a wine that knocks me over with the flavor of toasted oak--I buy that one. Dick finds one that meets his palate preference—something so fruity sweet you could almost forget that it is alcoholic.

We somehow find a spot to stow the bottles in our tightly packed car, and are on our way, resisting the temptation to stop in and taste wine elsewhere. We stop for a picnic at a large public park on the south end of Seneca Lake, then find our way to the expressway and hightail it south to Carlisle.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

July 13, 2010
Bennington, Vermont to Rochester, New York
We started across New York on Route 20, but after just two great stops, we realized that at this rate we would not arrive in Rochester before midnight. So, we suspended our “no expressways” rule, and hopped on the New York State Thruway for expedited travel, with no temptations to stop.

Our first stop was in Troy, New York, where Troy’s citizen became America’s uncle—Uncle Sam, that is. This statue in a riverfront park honors Sam Wilson, a local meat packer who donated crates of meat to soldiers quartered here during the war of 1812. The soldiers came to call the donations Uncle Sam’s meat, and eventually the name and the character (who looks very much like Sam Wilson) were adopted across the nation.

We continued on Route 20, which is Western Avenue in Albany. I searched fruitlessly for a little neighborhood grocery across from a firehouse on Western Avenue, because I lived in an apartment above that grocery while I was in graduate school. My memory of the geography was shaky, my sense of direction shakier, and it is even possible that the grocery store is no longer there, since it was pretty rickety when I was there over thirty years ago. Whatever the reason, my little attempt to acquaint Dick with this part of my ancient history failed totally.

Further west we stopped in Sharon Springs (pop.540), which was once a therapeutic spa resort town that served the Eastern European Jews who were not welcome at Saratoga Springs. Back in the early 1900s there were 100 hotels here, and up to 70,000 people bathing, drinking, and inhaling the vapors of the sulfurous waters served up at the bath houses and spas throughout town. The grandest hotel in town had a front porch so big that there was room to drive a carriage across it, and turn the horse and carriage around at the end to drive back. Now, only one small hotel is open, and the rest have burned down, been razed, or stand boarded up and crumbling.

Curious, we stepped into the American Hotel, where the hotel manager, Heidi, was happy to tell us about the history of this town that she is confident is on its way up. Her grandparents grew up here. When they were teens, her grandmother took care of a Hassidic family’s children and sold tickets at the movie theater, while her grandfather was the theater projectionist.

Heidi told us that Sharon Springs thrived after the Second World War, when as reparation to Jews who survived concentration camps, Germany paid to send them to spas like this one to recover. The longer their imprisonment and the worse their treatment, the longer they would stay here. Hasidic Jews would return year after year, but as they aged and their children had more opportunities available to them, their visitation waned. The New York State Thruway, completed in 1954, did not pass close enough, and modern medicine debunked some beliefs about the healing powers of mineral water treatments. The town headed into a death spiral.

Heidi thinks 1994 was a turning point in the life of the town. A shop across the street from the hotel opened then. Two men invested in the American Hotel that year, and spent five years renovating it. There are now a couple restaurants, a half dozen shops (half of them not open) and the hotel along Main Street. Real estate is dirt cheap, and Sharon Springs is an easy and pretty three hour drive from Manhattan. More investment is bound to follow now that they have established a critical mass here, Heidi thinks.

If you are interested in a serious fixer-upper in a town with some (not sure how much) potential, this might be the just the place for you, as long as you don’t mind hanging out in a sort of depressing little ghost town with a lot of overgrown and boarded up real estate until the rest of the world catches on.

When we realized it was almost lunchtime and we were only about a quarter of the way to our destination, we headed north to the Thruway and zipped over to Rochester distraction-free.

It was good to put in some time on the Thruway. It reminded us how much more interesting and full of character our back road choices are. At the same time, we find ourselves thinking that getting to our destination quickly is more important than optimizing the journey. We are eager to get home—more expressways are in our future, we fear. The remainder of our journey will be filled with travel trade-offs.

But first, a relaxing little visit with our family in Rochester.

Happy Birthday, Marcia!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Vermont's Sweet Treats

Montpelier to Bennington
July 12, 2010
With a population of just 8,200, Montpelier is our country’s smallest state capital, and it is our only state capital without a McDonald’s (no problem for us). We pick up our morning lattes and pastries at La Brioche, a New England Culinary Institute cafĂ© staffed by its students. I give them an A+.

We really shouldn’t be eating sweet treats for breakfast, because our next stop, hardly more than half an hour away, is the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Plant tour in Waterbury, Vermont. This is Ben and Jerry’s first plant, and it has to be their smallest, running just two lines, producing just two flavors of ice cream each day. But, we actually get to see a real plant in operation, and learn about every step in the process of making their ice cream. After the tour, of course there are samples. Today’s sample is “Chocowlate Chip,” made with fair trade certified vanilla ice cream with fudge cows. As the tour emphasizes, all Ben and Jerry’s ice cream is made from the milk of cows that have not been given any growth hormones or other bad chemical stuff, in keeping with their three pronged corporate mission—social, economic and environmental.

The tour includes a very entertaining and educational movie about the history and social philosophy of lifelong friends Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield and their company, which they started after completing a correspondence course in ice cream making from Penn State. We learn that Unilever bought the company in 2000, and Ben and Jerry have moved on to pursue other interests. Out in the entry foyer, next to the noisy machine that presses pennies, a video on a small television mounted overhead features Ben and Jerry’s side of the hostile take-over by Unilever story. They also talk about Ronald Reagan presenting them with the Small Business People of the Year award in 1988. “They gave us an award for being everything they were totally opposed to,” Ben says incredulously.

One of the many things we admire about him is that as CEO of the company, Ben limited his pay to seven times the pay of the workers on the ice cream filling line. Today the national average for CEO pay is over 160 times the lowest paid staff. A nice fringe benefit that all Ben and Jerry’s workers enjoy is the option to take home three pints of ice cream at the end of every day that they work.

Afterward, we hop on Route 7, which takes us south through Vermont farm country, where many contented chemical-free cows graze and provide milk for the cooperative that supplies Ben and Jerry’s.

In Richmond, Vermont, we stop to see this round meeting house built by five different church denominations—Baptist, Christian, Congregational, Methodist and Universalist. Completed in 1814, it has been used for church services and town meetings ever since then. We learn from our guide that the first Tuesday in March is Town Meeting Day, a state holiday when all cities and towns across Vermont hold meetings to discuss and vote on local officials and school and town policies and budgets. The Richmond town meeting was held in this meeting house from 1813 until 1973, when the woodstoves that heated the building were determined to be unsafe. Now the round (actually sixteen sided) church is a National Historic Landmark. Although no church congregation meets here regularly, it is a popular location for weddings during the warm months and the site of occasional interdenominational church services.
Further down Route 7 in Charlotte, we stop to stretch our legs at the Vermont Wildflower Farm, which has a winding trail with plentiful flower and wildlife identification signs that takes us through the farm’s fields and woods.
The New England Maple Museum is an unassuming building along Route 7 in Pittsford, Vermont. We stop in expecting a small exhibit out back that is little more than a marketing tool for the big shop selling all things maple up front. We are pleasantly surprised to find an entertaining and artifact-rich presentation of the history of maple syrup production in this region, told through the voices, videos and well-used tools of local farmers.

Here are some of our favorite fascinating facts:

If all the maple syrup manufactured yearly in the maple producing areas of this country was divided up among US citizens, each would have less than one teaspoonful. (We consumed considerably more than our yearly quota today—more on that later.)

Maple syrup has fewer calories than honey, sugar or corn syrup, and is a good source of essential minerals, with as much calcium as an equal portion of milk.

It takes 50 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. The sap begins as 2.5% sugar and boils down to 65% sugar in the syrup.

On a good day, sap runs at a rate of two drops per heart beat, taking eight hours to fill a sixteen quart bucket. A good day for running sap is one when the evening temperature is below freezing and the daytime temperature is in the 40s.

We end our museum tour in a tasting room, where we try the four different grades of maple syrup. The syrup is graded by color, which corresponds with flavor strength—Grade A Light Amber (delicate maple flavor), Grade A Medium Amber (mild), Grade A Dark Amber (robust), and Grade B (darker than Grade A Dark, and industrial strength). After multiple taste tests, I decide my favorite is Grade B, the most “mapley”, while Dick prefers the Grade A Medium Amber. Then we proceed to the product testing area, where we sample maple butters, cookies, and a variety of jellies and relishes.

As could be predicted, we depart with a big bag of maple treats, and a diminished appetite.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Three Great States

July 11, 2010
Brewer, Maine to Montpelier, Vermont
Today we pack three states in one classic road trip day!

It begins with our complimentary breakfast of waffles with wild blueberry syrup at the Vacationland Inn. The owners of this 1950s vintage motor court are proud to let us know that Maine is America’s largest blueberry producer, raising 98% of the low bush blueberries in the country. They want to be sure that we leave their establishment with our bellies full of the blueberry bounty of their state, and we are glad to oblige.

We make a slight detour into downtown Bangor to see what is reputed to be the largest Paul Bunyan statue in the world. He stands 31 feet tall--a symbol of the late 1800s when Bangor was acclaimed as “The Lumber Capital of the World.” Back then there were 150 sawmills operating along the Penobscot River, and Bangor shipped over 150 million board feet of lumber yearly. By the 1880s, Maine’s forests were stripped, and the loggers were heading west. In Maine they claim Paul Bunyan was born here, but we recall from our travels last year that Bemidji, Minnesota claimed (and provided proof) that he was born there. We vote for Bemidji, even though Maine’s statue is taller.

Our next roadside attraction is the Skowhegan Indian, who stands twice as tall as Paul Bunyan—a whopping 62 feet. Sculpted by Bernard Langlais, it is believed to be “the world’s tallest wooden Indian.

We can’t resist a stop in Rumford, Maine, where we spot another Paul Bunyan, a bit more diminutive than the Bangor version, standing next to the Visitor Center. Blue hoof prints are painted on the sidewalk, and a sign promises that we can follow them to Paul’s blue ox, Babe, who is just a five minute walk away. We follow the prints over a bridge, down a hill, and through Rumford’s main business district, which looks to have been built during prosperous times, but come down many notches since then. Many buildings have intricately carved stonework trim and elegant proportions. Now, they stand vacant or are being used for less genteel purposes than originally intended. Twelve minutes later, we finally find Babe in the Rite Aid parking lot. The wind has changed and we can smell the distinctive aroma of the very big Mead pulp mill that is responsible for whatever prosperity this town still can claim. Both the air and this little ploy to get us to walk through downtown stink a bit.
This is the Artist’s Covered Bridge that spans the Sunday River in Bethel, Maine. It was built in 1872, and is deserving of its name. We agree that it is the prettiest of the many covered bridges we have seen on our trip.
We picnic at a table beside the Androscoggin River, and are glad that we chose a table beneath a little shelter, because it starts to rain before we finish our lunch. We try to wait it out, but give up and run to the car, soaked by the time we make it there.

Dick charts a little drive through the White Mountains of New Hampshire for our afternoon enjoyment. I crush his proposal that we drive up Mount Washington, because being in a rainstorm like the one we just experieinced at lunch while driving up the side of a mountain is my worst nightmare. Mount Washington’s motto is “home of the world’s worst weather,” and it has a lot of erratic wind and storm data to back up the claim. For example, it holds the record for the highest wind speed measured on the earth’s surface—231 miles per hour. We settle for enjoying views of Mount Washington from below.

Our travels through the mountains take us to Crawford, where we see the most elegant railroad depot we can recall anywhere.
Further down the road, we have to pull off to ogle the stunning Mount Washington Hotel, which was built in 1902 by a railroad tycoon who made sure that it was served by up to 57 trains per day. The white hotel with its red roof seems to glow against the backdrop of the White Mountains. It is now an Omni Luxury Resort, and the security at the gate looks a little intimidating, so we don’t try to peek inside.
All this sight-seeing makes for a very full day. But, our most amazing sight is in the evening, when we least expect it. We are dining at Sarducci’s in Montpelier, Vermont, when our Landings friends Joe and Kathy Ginett stop by our table to say hello. What a surprise for all of us! There may be a lesson here—no matter where we travel, we are never as far from home as we think we are.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Showers and Flowers

July 10
Grand Manan to Brewer, Maine
We made our reservation yesterday for the 11:30 ferry off the island today. Getting out to the island is free, and no reservations are taken. Getting off the island requires a reservation made one day in advance. It costs $36 for the car and driver, and $18 for each additional person. We had to show up 45 minutes before departure, which gave us just enough time this morning to pack up the car (in the rain), get one last pastry and latte breakfast at our favorite bakery, and search for treasures on a beach known for washing up beach glass (in a drizzle).

We passed the Saturday morning Farmer’s Market, which was crowded with people, despite the persistent rain. There was even a tenacious guitar playing singer performing under a tarp, in addition to all the raincoat-clad venders and islanders checking out their wares. We didn’t stop, even though it was clearly the hotspot of the morning. We understand after just a few days here that to live successfully on this island, you have to be willing to carry on with your plans regardless of the weather—rain, fog and cold are inevitable qualities of island life up north. We are just glad they are not a significant factor in our island life back home. Quite the opposite. Which is why the natives are at the Farmer’s Market, and we are huddled in our car grateful that we just made it back to the car from the beach before the hard rain started pelting down.

Our ferry ride back to the mainland is once again fogbound, so we again miss out on the opportunity to spy pelagic birds or whales. Instead, we enjoy a Canadian picnic—a baguette we bought at the bakery this morning, some Canadian cheddar cheese and apples. (Obviously Dick snapped this lovely picture of the ferry on a different day!)

Fortunately, the weather on the mainland is much better. We decide to take a little detour to St. Andrews, Canada’s first seaside resort town. The Algonquin Hotel, built in 1889, still stands in all its splendor as a reminder of the island’s rich (we mean wealthy) heritage.

We visited a much newer addition to this lovely village, Kingsbrae Garden, which opened in 1998 on 27 acres of a former estate’s grounds. An Edible Garden welcomed us with the sign that said, “Feel free to munch a bunch,” and we took it at its word, gorging on blueberries (both tiny wild ones and jumbo domestics), and tasting several varieties of currants and a bit of Italian parsley. We enjoyed the fragrant Rose Garden and the colorful Bird and Butterfly garden. There were beautiful lilies blooming in the Upper Pond, and many different varieties in bloom in the Hydrangea Garden. The Sculpture Garden presented a couple dozen sculptures in natural niches, separating them by the contours of the land and by tall ornamental grasses and other plantings, so that each sculpture could be appreciated by itself in a setting constructed to complement it.

We took plenty of pictures, but the experience of the garden was so much more than just the beautiful arrangements of flowers in both formal and informal settings. The sounds of birdsongs and frog croaks, classical music and wind chimes; the wonderful aromas of the flowers baking in this 85 degree sunshine; and the experience of strolling the curving paths that led from one themed area to the next, never knowing what pleasure was around the next corner; were all part of our enjoyment of our visit to Kingsbrae Garden.
Afterward, we drove into the town of St. Andrew, the most quaint and picturesque version of a beach town we have visited on this trip. Dick was in search of the universal beach town food--fudge, and he was not disappointed. We used up our Canadian money buying fudge and fruit smoothies.

Then we took our sweet treats and sweet memories over the border to the USA. We are heading home.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Sardine Museum and Herring Hall of Fame

Seal Cove, Grand Manan
July 9, 2010
We were searching for a geocache in historic Seal Cove, a fish processing ghost town, when we saw the sign next to an open door in one of the weathered fish barns--“Sardine Museum and Herring Hall of Fame.” How could we resist?

As soon as we walked in the door, we smelled the smoking fish. There were some small fillets (pronounced fill-etts with the accent on the first syllable around here) smoking in a little oven, but most of the aroma came from the walls and ceiling of this herring smoking shed, and the tens of thousands of well-used herring sticks stacked neatly against a wall, ready to be used again if the smoked herring business here were ever to be revived.

This museum had no labels, just a few locals hanging around willing to answer questions. Valerie recently graduated from high school on the island, and her father worked here in the smoke shed before the herring plant closed down about ten years ago. She explained to us how each stick was threaded in the mouth and out the gill of about ten herring, then the loaded stick was passed hand to hand up into the rafters to be placed in many rows to dry, similar to the way tobacco is hung to dry. Evenly spaced fires of maple sawdust were kept burning beneath the herring for about four weeks. They used sawdust to make a smoke, not flame, for flavor and to keep away the flies. The men would rotate the fish from top to bottom frequently—so that all the fish in the batch were smoked evenly by the end of the four weeks curing time.

When they were done drying, the fish fillets were sent to the processing area, where women would trim and pack them to be shipped off, mostly to Caribbean Islands where folks had a taste for this sort of thing. Just about all the population of Seal Cove was involved in some way in fishing or processing the herring—either in dried or sardine form.

This museum was the inspiration of Michael Zimmer, an architect who moved to the island and bought up several of the abandoned fish processing sheds. He died before bringing his museum to fruition, but not before making a movie about himself and his vision entitled “Stranger from Away.” We watched the movie (set up in his bedroom), and were impressed by both his creativity and his ego. One of his very creative moves was to have an aluminum boat custom-made in the shape of a large sardine can with the lid rolled back. He put a little motor on the back and, of course, got a lot of attention when he tooled around the harbor in it. The boat now hangs over the door to the museum.

In his movie, he talks about his brainstorm for naming the museum—“Call it the Sardine Museum and Herring Hall of Fame—that’ll pull ‘em in off the highway. You can’t drive by a sign like that.” It worked for us.

After we were done touring the museum and I was signing the guest book, Dick disappeared on a photo safari. I had just about given up hope of finding him when I heard him calling down to me from an open loft door in one of the fish sheds. He had been photographing the shed with a young woman painting lobster trap floats visible up in the loft, and she invited him up for a look-see. By the time I found him, he was up there with Megan, the float painter; Valerie, our guide; and another one of their friends. They were enjoying answering his questions about life on the island. The lobster shed was Megan’s dad’s, and she was repainting his floats, as she does every year. Her grandfather’s shed is next to her dad’s, and her uncle has a shed a few doors down. Even though the sardine factory has closed down, whole families are still involved in fishing in Seal Cove.

In fact, whole families are involved in fishing all over this island. We have seen herring weirs in coves on all sides of the island. The weirs are labyrinths of pilings driven into the sea floor and strung with nets at the top half. They catch herring on evenings when the tide is high, since herring swim near the surface at night. (Sardines are little herring, by the way, at least around here.) The winter storms are violent, so every year, the fishermen have to repair and rebuild their weirs. We have watched them bobbing about in the waves and wind stringing nets, and we have seen their pilings—slender straight birch and pine tree trunks—on the dock waiting to be set and strung.
Big sea impoundments for salmon aquaculture lie offshore.

And, there are also lobster fishermen, though judging from the many idle traps and floats lying around, we wonder how many are actually still making a living catching lobsters hereabouts. We did enjoy the fruits of the lobstermen’s labors on our last evening at The Marathon Inn, when they threw a big lobster dinner for their guests. We had to reserve our spot in advance so that the innkeepers could get their order to the lobster boat in the morning. Caught in the morning, eaten in the evening—can’t beat that for lobster freshness. YUM!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Lighthouse Keeper in the Bakery

July 9, 2010

Grand Manan

We begin the day just as we did yesterday, at a bakery not far from our hotel. We order our baked goods, and the young woman behind the counter says, "Oh, same as yesterday. Would you also like your two nonfat lattes, one with chocolate sprinkled on top and the other with two sweetener packets on the side?" We do.

This is a family-owned bakery. The baker's daughter is the woman taking our order. She tells Dick that her dad has been in business here since 1988, and they live behind the bakery. Her dad gets up early to do the baking, goes home for a nap at around 2, and then comes back to close up and prep for the next day's baking.

The place is busy all day long. Every time we pass it, there are cars out front, and we understand why. This is our favorite bakery of the trip, with an impressive display of French breads behind the counter, sweets and croissants displayed temptingly in a glass case below, and the aroma of cooling pastry and yeasty bread always in the air. We can catch a glimpse of the baker working in the next room while we stand at the counter. There isn't much room to sit—just a little coffee bar with stools across the front window—so people who stick around to eat are pretty cozy and congenial.

This morning we are reading the paper next to a local man that we saw here yesterday. I notice a story in the paper about the Swallowtail Lighthouse, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this week. Swallowtail is one of the two oldest wooden lighthouses remaining in Canada. I point out the story to Dick, since we are planning to go look at the lighthouse after breakfast. The man next to me says, "I am not the last keeper of the Swallowtail light, but I am the last one living."

His name is Howard Ingalls, and he has led quite a life. He was keeper to three lights—Swallowtail at the north end of Grand Manan; Southwest Head at the opposite end of the island; and Machias Seal Light on the isolated island we visited to see the nesting puffin colony. He said that when he was keeper there, he stayed on the island full time, with just two weeks off in the summer. The Coast Guard keepers today have it easy, with shifts of 28 days on and 28 days off island.

He wasn't much for talking about the hardships of the job. The newspaper article quoted the daughter of the last keeper of the Swallowtail Light who lived there for seventeen years, until the station was unmanned in 1985. She remembered winds so strong and ice so bad that her family had to crawl down the fifty steps to the light. The china would rattle in the cupboards keeping her awake at night. For Mr. Ingalls, it was all just part of the job, and part of life on Grand Manan in the wintertime.

Mr. Ingalls said he could see where lighthouse keeping was going back around the 1960s, so he took a correspondence course and got a job as an electrician traveling from Maine to Miami to service Cotts Soda Company plants.

Mr. Ingalls doesn't hold much hope for preservation of the lighthouse. The Canadian Government plans to decommission this light, along with 500 other lighthouses across Canada, leaving their fate in the hands of local preservation organizations. The government gave the Friends of the Swallowtail Light a $55,000 grant during a ceremony that was part of the 150th anniversary celebrations this week. Mr Ingalls scoffs at that—barely enough to cover the cost of painting it, he says (although Rotary Club volunteers did it back in 2004 for just the cost of paint). He helped with renovations on the keeper's house, but is not sure that project will ever get finished either. Like he said, he saw where lighthouses were going back in the 1960s, and now that they are automated, there is no going back.

We visit the Swallowtail Light after breakfast and hope that he is wrong about the likelihood that this lighthouse will be left to fall into the sea. For now, it is held securely to its rocky perch by guy wires radiating in every direction, and the old fishermen who use landmarks instead of GPS units can still count on it to bring them home.

As an 82 year old commercial fisherman quoted in the newspaper says, "To me, the Swallowtail Light is like our Statue of Liberty."

Long may she stand and light the way.

No Whale Tale

July 8
Grand Manan Island (pop. 2,460 including seasonal residents, 1,800 year-round)
As we were taking a twilight drive last night, we noticed about six cars parked by the side of the road, and a crowd gathered at a cliff-top viewing area. We stopped to see what they were up to, and learned that this is Long Eddy Point, a popular whale watching spot at the northernmost tip of the island. Visibility was limited due to the fog, but in the fifteen minutes we stayed to watch, we saw a fin whale, which whet our appetite for more whale watching today.

All the morning whale tours were canceled due to fog, but Whales ‘n Sails rescheduled for 2 p.m., pending weather improvements. By 2 p.m., the fog had cleared on one side of the island, but was still rolling around pretty thick on the western and southern shores. The whale watching trip was a go. Our boat was a 60 foot double-masted sailing yacht, and there was plenty of wind to fill her sails. Even so, we traveled at a mere 7.4 knots under both engine and sail power, so we knew we weren’t going to cover a lot of territory or go chasing after a far off whale in our four hour sail.

We had some exciting moments,
but they had nothing to do with whales. The excitement, at least for me, was when we sailed into thick fog banks while the captain chatted with the passengers and seemingly paid little attention to the chart plotter or radar.

We did not see any whales coming at us out of the fog. But, the trip was not a total bust. The naturalist on board, Laurie, did share a lot of information about the geology of the island, and pointed out some sea birds, including one life bird for me, the Greater Shearwater. And, they served a delicious Pollack chowder mid-way through the cruise. By that point, we really appreciated a warm snack. When the wind was coming off the island, we were warm enough just wearing our sweaters, but when we got out into the sea wind, we needed our sweaters, a fleece layer over them, and raincoats with hoods up to break the wind. A few degrees colder and we would have broken out our winter hats and gloves. While we are piling on the layers and warming our hands on our mugs of chowder, our friends back home are sweltering in temperatures over 100 degrees, according to Weather Underground.

In addition to the fresh caught fish chowder, we had two other regional culinary experiences today. We lunched overlooking the wharf at the Compass Rose Inn, where I enjoyed a refreshing carbonated rhubarb punch with my meal. At dinner, we tried dulse, a deep purple seaweed that grows on rocks off the shore of Grand Manan. Islanders harvest it at low tide, sift out the shells and other sea debris, and dry it in thin layers in the sun. After it is dried, dulse is packed (whole or as ground flakes) and shipped worldwide.

When we sat down to dinner,
it was in a bowl in the center of our table, looking very much like potpourri. Our server invited us to try it, and we did. It tasted very much like the sea—salty and fishy—and its texture was a bit leathery, even though it was as thin as tissue paper. Dick spit his out. I nibbled several small bites before deciding that its flavor was interesting, but best savored in small quantities. When my mussels arrived, the chef had flavored the broth they steamed in with dulse, draping it decoratively over the heap of mussels, and I liked it much better that way. Nonetheless, I felt no need to buy a big bag of dulse to take home for my future cooking needs.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Foggy Fun in Fundy

July 7, 2010

Sussex to Grand Manan Island

We broke the 5,000 mile mark yesterday—our odometer read 5,080 miles when we stopped at the All Seasons Inn in Sussex. That means it's time for a little rest and relaxation, we think, so we actually make a reservation in advance at a 150 year old hotel on Grand Manan Island. We will be staying for three days of what we expect will be lots of leisure time.

On the way to the ferry to the island, we make a few stops.

First we see a scenic little wharf in St. Martins where we stop to take some photos of fishing boats and two rustic covered bridges.

Then we continue to the Fundy Trail Parkway, planning to do a little bike ride along a "multi-use" trail that runs roughly parallel with the road. The woman at the toll gate looks skeptical when we ask her where to get on the trail with our bikes. She suggests that perhaps we might want to drive the length of the trail first, and then decide if we really want to ride it. What a subtle way to tell us that no one but Lance Armstrong and his training buddies would choose to ride their bicycle on this steep terrain. The hills have the grade of a thrill ride roller coaster—we can think of only one steeper road we have ever traveled. The trail we would ride on our bicycles is not paved, is narrow, and has a lot of rocks and roots on it. No discussion needed, we both mentally abandon the biking plan.

Then we abandon the sight-seeing plan, as at each scenic overlook any view there might be is cloaked in fog. We have moments of hope, as the fog seems to clear somewhat, only to swirl back in again. We do get in one cliffside hike that takes us momentarily below the fog for a good view of the park's Flower Pot Rock. We snap a picture, and are on our way to someplace less foggy, we hope.

We stop for the best fish chowder ever at the Seaside Restaurant at the bottom of the hill up to the Fundy Trail Parkway. We dine on the patio overlooking a rocky beach and caves carved into the face of the cliff at the edge of the beach. Our view is in soft focus, due to the enduring fog. We both order the fish chowder, which is the best we have had ever—big chunks of lobster and haddock, small shrimp and a touch of potato fill the bowl with just a bit of creamy broth around the fish to keep it all moist and enhance the flavors.

We take an after lunch walk on the beach and explore the caves, then we are back on the road, passing the scenic little wharf in St. Martins again. Surprise! The tide has gone out while we were exploring and lunching. We take our photos all over again with the boats in low tide dry dock.

Then we are once again on our way to the Grand Manan Island Ferry, which leaves from Blacks Harbour, "home of the world's largest sardine industry," as the sign welcoming us to town states. This must be the place that took over supplying the market when all those sardine canneries in Maine went under, as we learned at the Sardine Museum in Jonesport.

The ferry to Grand Manan leaves every two hours, and takes an hour and a half to get there. We had been hoping to see some pelagic birds and some whales on the ride over to the island, but our hopes are dashed by the fog. The ferry is running on radar most of the way to the island, and we are left to read our books and grab some dinner aboard.

Our hotel, the Marathon Inn, is high on a hill overlooking the town and harbor. Lexie Wilcox greets us warmly, checks us in, suggests a bunch of things we need to do while we are here, and tells us stories about the hotel and her island ancestors. The retired sea captain that owned the original hotel on this site won the annex hotel in a poker game. Then he had the hotel he won rolled down the hill to sit next to his original hotel. Now they are connected by a wide porch with lots of chairs and planters of colorful flowers. It is the quintessential Victorian seaside resort, with a definite patina of age that is charming rather than run-down.

We are on the third floor (no elevator), with a grand view of the ocean from all of our windows, as we learn when the fog clears. We also are near enough to the Swallowtail Lighthouse to hear the fog horn when the fog does not clear, which will be the case tonight. Surprisingly, we find it lulls us to sleep. Not surprisingly, the long blare and three short toots of the ferry horn upon its 7:30 am departure awakens us. This wake-up call provides our first lesson that much of Island life and time-keeping revolves around the ferry.

Stay tuned for our island adventures.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Flowerpot Rocks

July 6, 2010

Halifax, Nova Scotia to Sussex, New Brunswick

Our timing is perfect today for a stop to stroll among the Flowerpot Rocks in Fundy Bay. The difference between high and low tide in Fundy Bay can be forty feet or so. Today, given the cycle of the moon, it will "only" be 23 feet. The famous flower pot rocks in Hopewell, New Brunswick look like islands with trees on them at high tide, but they get their name from their appearance at low tide. Then they look like flower pots and urns rising a hundred feet or more above the rocky beach, with the trees that somehow find sustenance at their tops playing the roles of "flowers" in the oversized pots.

Visitors can walk along the rocky beach around the pots from three hours before to three hours after low tide, which today is 2:17 pm. We are here at 2, optimum timing. After paying over $15 for the two of us to have the privilege of seeing the rocks, we walk down a long trail through quite a lovely forest, with a couple scenic views of the beach and flower pot rock formation from above. The final stage of the path is a stairway of about 100 steps down a cliff face to the rocky beach.

We are dwarfed by the tall cliffs that rise high above us, and the long expanse of rocks that lies before the ocean. Large patches of seaweed lie where the water left them sitting when it receded, some of them with air-filled pods that remind us of bubble wrap, until w try to pop one and come away with slimy fingers.

The rock on the cliffs and pots is a very soft and unstable conglomerate. It is easy to imagine how the racing water of the big Fundy tides carved the pots from the cliff sides, as well as carving caves, natural bridges, and windows in the cliffs.

We hear the unmistakable screech of a Peregrine Falcon, and look up to see it fly to a crag high on the cliff face. A naturalist is on the beach nearby with an I-pad showing pictures from chick to fledgling age of three Peregrine Falcons hatched this year by the bird we just saw flying. He is excited about both the birds and his new teaching tool/toy, and enjoys telling curious visitors all about it. One of the visitors walks away saying, "I bet half the people who saw that presentation have an I-pad by Christmas." As if to prove his point, when I tell Dick about the great presentation I just saw, he says to me, "You need an I-pad."

When we finally have our fill of the wonders of the rocky shore and start heading back up the trail—surprise—we run into our friends Jan and Jim, whom we thought we left behind on the Cabot Trail. They are stopping on their way back to Halifax to catch a plane home, while we are wending our way in the opposite direction. After warm greetings and a bit of catching up, we continue on up the trail and they continue down, intent on watching the tide come rushing in. We hope it was more exciting for them than the aptly named Tidal Bore we all shared a little over a week ago.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Pan and a Pedal

July 5, 2010

Halifax and St. Margaret's Bay

The Pan

It had to happen eventually—today we visited the first museum of the trip that we truly didn't like. It was Pier 21—Canada's Immigration Museum. Some of the things we didn't like about it included: it lacked an apparent system of organization or chronology, there were very few artifacts, and its main event-–billed as a "4D multi-media presentation"—was fictional.

Pier 21 is Canada's Ellis Island. Over 1.5 million immigrants passed through its doors between 1928 and 1971. The most interesting story the museum told was about the Canadian War Brides of World War II. Nearly a tenth of the 500,000 Canadian servicemen who went to Europe during the war married there. The Canadian government shipped 48,000 war brides and 22,000 children from Europe--primarily England--to Canada, and they all arrived at Pier 21.

We were astounded that a tenth of Canada's soldiers somehow found the time to make love, not war, while they were stationed overseas. We couldn't wait to do a little internet research to see how the United States measured up in the war bride tally. There were a lot more United States servicemen—somewhere around sixteen million. To equal Canada's per capita war brides, the US soldiers would have had to marry over a million women. Our research was a little rushed, and our internet sources did not all agree, but estimates ranged from 150,000 to 200,000 European brides and 50,000-100,000 Far East brides. The number of war brides that the US Government and Red Cross officially brought back in the fashion of the Canadian bridal boat lift was just 65,000. Any way you look at it, the Canadians outdid the United States in overseas speed dating.

A touring exhibit from the Montreal Science Center also captivated us. Entitled "Hungry Planet—What the World Eats," it simply featured very large photographs of about two dozen families from around the world, each posed with all the food they ate in a week arranged around them. A small label beside each picture told the country and the value in US dollars of the food. The values ranged from a couple dollars for the meager grain rations of a family living in a refugee camp in Darfur to somewhere around four hundred dollars for a very obese Australian family's mostly meat diet and over five hundred dollars for the German family's meals. (Could it be just a coincidence that the Canadian team putting together the exhibit chose to feature a Canadian family that followed a very healthy vegetarian diet, so unlike the typical food we have found in restaurants on our travels through this fair country?)

We were struck by how little it takes to survive, and how much more than the minimum we eat; by how many more prepared foods people in developed nations eat; by how little meat most people in the world eat in a week; by how much grain many people the world over consume. After being pretty critical of the diets of some of the folks pictured, I was somewhat appalled to imagine how many prepared and packaged foods would be in our weekly arrangement, and how few fresh fruits and vegetables. What would your family portrait would look like with a week's worth of your food?

While walking to the museum we read interpretive signs along the waterfront promenade that told us more of the Acadian story. As we have learned previously, in 1755 during the Great Upheaval, England deported nearly ten thousand Acadians from Canada, fearing that their French heritage would undermine their loyalty. From today's signs we learned that over the next ten years about half of the Acadians were lost at sea or died or disease or famine. In 1765, there were just 1,600 Acadians left in Nova Scotia. Georges Island in Halifax Bay was used as a prison for Acadians, and its first prisoners were the deputies that pleaded their case before the Council that decided to enact the Great Upheavel. The policy ended in 1764, but the government made sure that the resettling Acadians were in scattered communities to minimize the threat of upheaval. We had been wondering why we keep seeing tiny Acadian communities all across the island, and this policy explains it.

The Pedal

Our afternoon delight was a twenty mile pedal on the St. Margaret's Bay Area Rail Trail, built on an abandoned rail line that served the logging and mill towns and the waterfront resorts along St. Margaret's Bay, just half an hour's drive from Halifax.

The trail starts at the French Village rail station, so named because of the area's French history. In this case, the French were not Acadians, but rather Protestant French recruited by the British in 1750-52 to serve as a sort of antidote to the Catholic Acadians.

The trail was well groomed and packed small gravel, wide enough for us to ride side-by-side and enjoy the great scenery together. It took us through evergreen woods and summer home enclaves. Signs along the way tell the history of logging activity and saw mills that are long gone (although a huge pile of sawdust that is over eighty years old is still visible on one island). A long section of the trail is high above the bay, with panoramic views in a few spots, and tantalizing peeks of the water through the trees in others. Where the trees are thinner the trailside wildflowers are thicker.

After our ride, we rewarded ourselves with a lobster feast, and considered the day well saved from its disappointing start.

Monday, July 5, 2010

We Do a Tattoo

July 4, 2010


Before you start scrolling down to see a picture of our body art, perhaps we should familiarize you with another definition of the word tattoo—"a display of military exercises offered as evening entertainment." No needles involved, and quite the opposite of a painful experience, our three and a half hours at The Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo was a perfect way to celebrate July Fourth away from home.

The Nova Scotia Tattoo is the world's largest annual indoor show, featuring over 2,000 international performers. In addition to Mounties and military drill teams and bands, there are gymnasts, acrobats, singers, clowns, and dancers. This year, the Tattoo celebrates the Canadian Navy's hundred year anniversary, so there are lots of numbers with a nautical theme.

It is hard to pick a favorite act, but we particularly enjoyed a team of precision bicyclists—they piled more people on a bicycle than we believed was humanly possible. Here is a photo of their dramatic unicycle parade. Just when we thought the largest possible unicycle had joined the group, they added another. . . and another.

There were bagpipers, fife and drum bands, marching bands, and a navy demonstration team that did precision maneuvers with ladders. A German military team did some amazing gun juggling. We watched an Army and a Navy team compete on an obstacle course. Civilians did traditional jigs and step dances, and later tap danced dressed like sailors. In the finale, all the performers took the floor, all the musicians played and the choirs sang—over 500 voices and instruments strong. They played both the United States and Canadian national anthems, and some music that was unfamiliar to us that felt like a dose of pure grandeur. .Dick said the hair stood up on his neck; I had tears in my eyes. The next day we came upon the Belgian Navy Band performing a concert in a small downtown park, and the choir from the Tattoo was waiting to perform. I asked one of the singers what it felt like to be singing in that tremendous musical finale, and she said, "My biggest problem is that I always feel like moving and dancing, and that's just not allowed."

The show began at 2:30 and ended at 6 p.m., with just one intermission. We wouldn't have believed that we could sit through a program that long without being bored, until we actually did it. We wouldn't cut a thing.

Another title for today's blog could be "Pageantry and Tragedy."

That is because in the morning we visited the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, which seems dedicated to documenting marine disasters. With over 10,000 shipwrecks off the shore of Nova Scotia (and some think it is closer to 25,000), a focus on trouble at sea is probably appropriate.

The museum's claim to fame is "the world's largest collection of wooden artifacts from the Titanic." The reason it has this large collection is that when the Titanic sank, the Carpathia famously picked up her survivors, but the sad task of collecting the dead was left to the transatlantic cable repair ships of Halifax, Nova Scotia. When the cable ship crews found floating debris, they picked it up along with the bodies. The museum has acquired many of the souvenirs the crews collected. In addition to recovered artifacts, the Titanic exhibit illustrates life on the Titanic, contrasting the vast differences between conditions for the first, second and third class passengers, and the crew of 1,000. The class differences continued through to the end—first class passengers were removed from the recovery boats in caskets, second and third class in canvas bags, and crew on stretchers.

Another tragic disaster the museum documents is the Halifax Explosion of 1917. On December 6, 1917, the French ship Mont Blanc was in Halifax Harbor loaded with TNT, other explosives and benzene waiting to convoy to Europe in support of the War effort when the Imo collided with her. A fire began, quickly spread, and when it got to the cargo it generated the biggest man-made explosion in world history at the time, an explosion only surpassed since then by the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during the Second World War. The strength of the explosion emptied the harbor of water, which then generated a huge tidal wave. A fifth of the city was destroyed, and hardly an intact pane of glass survived for many miles around. Adding to the tragedy, a massive snowstorm with plummeting temperatures arrived that evening, freezing many of the people who were left homeless by the explosion. There were 2,000 fatalities, and 9,000 injured, many with terrible burns.

We were touched most by a disaster caused by intentional acts, rather than an accident, which makes it all the more tragic. We learned that half of Germany's Jews fled the country before war broke out in 1939. The liner St. Louis set sail from Germany to Havana just before war was declared, carrying 900 Jews escaping Nazi persecution. When they arrived in Cuba, the political situation had changed, and they were turned away. The United States and Canada also refused them asylum, so the ship returned to Europe, and its passengers disembarked in Antwerp. Belgium, France, Holland and Britain each accepted a portion of the passengers, but, sadly, all but England were soon occupied by Germany. A quarter of the ship's passengers died in German death camps.

I wish I could close this little summary of the museum on a bright spot, but there are precious few of them, because this museum understands that we are captivated by catastrophe at sea, and it feeds us an all you can eat feast of it. At least we are living on land now—if we had visited the museum during our years living afloat, I would be feeling plenty of trepidation about getting around the coast of Nova Scotia without joining the many wrecks resting on the rocks below.