Sunday, September 9, 2007

Landed in Ithaca

After almost 5 weeks on the go, covering 1303 miles, we've finally arrived in Ithaca, our home for the next 4 months.

Our final leg began in Stratford, on the Avon River of course, which naturally drains into the Thames River, which logically flows through London, which then proceeds to . . . Lake Erie! These Ontario cities and rivers were named by homesick Brits who settled this part of Canada in the mid-1800s. In the late 1800's a Stratford citizen rallied the citizenry to create a Shakespeare garden in a town park, i.e. a garden containing every plant and flower mentioned in the works of Shakespeare. With a name like Stratford and a Shakespeare Garden on the premises, another visionary citizen rallied the town to create a small Shakespeare play festival in 1953, and things have not been the same since.

The Stratford Festival is no longer limited to Will, and in fact we saw three plays here, two by others: an adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird and Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband. Our first play was A Comedy of Errors, which we saw Friday night on half-priced rush tickets when we decided that we still had a little energy left after arriving in town at 3:30 in the afternoon. The play is fairly outrageous to begin with, and Stratford pulled out all the stops to put it on as a broad farce, with excellent results. Now they did push the limits here and there, and we are fairly confident that Antipholus did not say "We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto" to Dromio in Will Shakespeare's time, but hey, it fit the mood, so why not?

All three plays were terrific productions, each casting a strong mood, each very different. Mockingbird was remarkable for the performance of 11-year-old Abigail Winter-Culliford as Scout, a role that required her to be onstage for almost the entire performance, and to memorize more lines than most adult actors get. And she did not merely occupy the space onstage, she occupied the role. She's from Vancouver BC, and we hope we can see her again some day in that neck of the woods once we return to Seattle. The Oscar Wilde play was nonetheless our favorite, given the clever plot and even cleverer dialogue. We also stayed off the bike for 2 whole days, so we refreshed the body as well as the mind.

While in Stratford, the wind finally adjusted itself to assist us, and we left town with a tail wind for what turned out to be the longest day of the trip, 69 miles. Ian, our B&B host in Stratford is an avid cyclist himself, riding every day at the age of 74 despite heart surgery last year, and he found us a terrific route on low-traffic roads and even accompanied us for the first 3 miles out of town! The fact that it was Labour Day meant that the truck traffic was extremely light, and the largely shoulderless roads tolerable. A second days' journey from Stratford and we were in Niagara-On-The-Lake, a wonderful community 20 miles down the Niagara River from the Falls. N-O-T-L is a quaint, well-to-do community that hosted two major battles in the War of 1812.

In the Depression the Canadian government put men to work re-creating Fort George to look like it did in that era, and we had a great tour of the fort from a woman who exemplified the rarely-realized ideal of Canadian bilingualism as she explained everything in alternating segments of English and French and answered questions from the group in both languages, smoothly. Modern NOTL is more focussed, however, on the wine industry, and we passed half-a-dozen wineries going in and out of town, and passed within a few miles of another two dozen had we chosen to wander. We stayed at one of roughly three dozen B&Bs and walked past a number of high-end (and pricey) restaurants before stopping for a reasonably-priced nouveau Thai sort of place that served arguably the best meal of the trip.

The ride from Niagara-On-The-Lake to Niagara Falls was another highlight of the trip. A bike trail took us on smooth, car-free asphalt for the first 15 miles and put us on a reasonably low-traffic street the remaining five miles to the Falls. The route was never far from the Niagara River, and numerous times the scenery opened to spectacular vistas to our left of the Niagara River and Gorge, culminating of course with a view from the Canadian side of the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Horseshoe Falls, dropping all that Great Lakes water we had ridden by for the prior three weeks over a 170' precipice. We returned on foot after dinner and were treated to the light show, as powerful beacons on the Canadian side light up the falls in varying colors. What a treat!

The next day was yet another one of those days that keeps us biking. Once more, a tail wind. Once more, great bike trails alternating with roads that had wide shoulders, low traffic or both. Once more, great scenery, but this time of idyllic river and canal rather than dramatic rock canyons and waterfalls. We amused the border crossing guards when their computer selected us by random drawing for a complete search -- they had never had a bicycle hit the border crossing jackpot before, and they settled for a few questions about bringing in agricultural products before sending us on our way (we answered that we had eaten any and all that had come our way). A few miles out of Niagara Falls NY and we hit the western end of the Erie Canal in Tonawanda, and were immediately rewarded with a bike trail along the canal.

The Erie Canal was completed in 1825 and was truly the first superhighway in America. It moved not only goods at a fraction of their prior freightage, but also people -- more people moved out West on the Erie Canal than moved into America through famed Ellis Island. It had major rebuilds in the 1850's to make way for yet larger boats, and in the early 1900's when it converted from mule-power to motor power for the vessels using it. Today it has a very small amount of commercial use, but is maintained (beautifully) by New York State as a tourist draw, both for boaters on the water and for hikers and cyclists using the old towpaths alongside it.

For most of three days, we followed the canal. The very western part of the canal today is a channelized section of Tonawanda Creek, and never had a towpath since the 1918 rebuild. Bike trails filled the gap, sometimes right on the Creek but sometimes in nearby woods. At Lockport we came to Locks 34 and 35, the final ones before Lake Erie. Originally two sets of five small locks raised boats to the west on one flight or lowered them eastbound on the other. They now provide a flow-through for water to keep the canal water level up below the locks. Today two locks do the job of moving boats 49 feet up the Niagara Escarpment (note the lowered boom on the sailboat in Lock 34, to let the boat get under the many low bridges). From Lockport the original towpath has been smoothed out for cyclists, and it stretches now almost 100 miles to and through Rochester to Newark NY, and further extensions are being worked on still.

While the packed limestone surface was a little slower than a highway, maybe 1-2 mph at any given power output, the old towpath put us right next to the canal and past various historic buildings and canal structures, such as the lift bridges that have stairways so that pedestrians can still cross the canal when the bridge is in the "up" position, or the viaduct that carries the canal past the town of Gasport, part of which is in the photo.
Our first night along the canal was spent in an 1831 brick home that is now the Canal Country Inn B&B, to the right of Jeff in the photo. We walked along the towpath a mile into town for dinner at a restaurant called the Old Basket Factory that was once, in fact, a basket factory serving local farmers shipping produce on the canal.

On Saturday September 8, we reached the final reserved lodgings, Van Cleef Homestead B&B, built in 1825 by the founder of Seneca Falls. One more day to go! Then we checked the weather forecast -- 90% chance of rain, 1-2" expected. Well, we had stayed overnight twice before in Seneca Falls and fallen in the love with this charming town, and the B&B had no one booked for our room for the next night, so we pulled out our novels and had a quiet day of reading, with one trip out using the B&B's guest umbrellas. Through 1-2" of rain, in fact.
Our delay paid off. Our new "final day" was splendid, in the low 70's with a tailwind and on roads with wide shoulders all the way to Ithaca. Not only that, but they rose hundreds of feet on a ridge above Lake Cayuga, giving us vistas far across the Finger Lakes. What a way to arrive!
There was only one cloud on our arrival, and it has taken a few days to pass -- our grandaughter Elise was still in the throes of a bad virus, and not a very happy camper. But little Issei, our 6-week-old grandson, has been all we could want in a grandchild, and we're getting quite used to him and he to us in the three days since we arrived. We're looking forward to spending lots of time with the grandchildren and their mom and dad, Lisa and Ray, in the coming 4 months.

We're delighted with the apartment we sublet, sight unseen, from John Blake, a Cornell Law student who is studying in London this fall. Actually Lisa, Louise's daughter, checked it out for us last spring, and we met John this summer when he came to work in Seattle, of all places, for the summer! It's a neat, clean, attractive place with a garden view we will have difficulty leaving in 4 months. We'll put up a photo or two in our next entry.

Thank you for following our travels on this blog. We will update it maybe once a month with some photos of our family here and of the Finger Lakes region we expect to visit by bike on weekends, until we get on the road again in January, in Florida, for a trip up the East Coast.

We'd love to know who's reading our blog, how you've enjoyed it, what suggestions you have, and any news of your own you'd care to share with us (which we will NOT put in the blog!) Please email us at!

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