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August 27, 2016 / Retirementallychallenged.com

The Power of Niagara Falls

Horseshoe Falls

Horseshoe Falls

I’ve been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to see many amazing sites over the years – natural wonders, great works of art, and man-made structures of historical significance. Many have inspired genuine awe, but only a few have brought me to tears; bowled over by their impact deep inside of me. The Statue of David, the Grand Canyon, and Mount Rushmore are a few that come to mind. The Niagara Falls is another. I’m not sure where the heightened emotional response comes from, but it’s powerful when it hits.

We arrived in Niagara Falls well after dark but, thankfully, not too late to see the 10pm fireworks display. Our Airbnb was located down-river and as we hurried towards the main observation area, we started to hear the relentless pounding of the water before we could see the falls. When they came into view, my eyes immediately welled up and my heart started to beat with what felt like the force of the falls. Their incredible beauty and power stopped me in my tracks.

My husband and I were back in Canada after spending almost half of our month-long road trip in the U.S. (Vermont and Upstate New York). On the other side of the Gorge from us was Niagara Falls State Park – America’s oldest state park – but we had read that the Canadian side has the better views and accommodations. Our Airbnb – it actually turned out to be a B&B (Lion’s Head http://www.lionsheadbb.com/) – was nicely situated and the delightful owner, Helena, a trained chef, provided incredible breakfasts for her guests each morning.

Our room at Lion's Head B&B

Our room at Lion’s Head B&B

After a restful night’s sleep and sumptuous strata for breakfast, we headed off to see the sites. In order to get the most out of our one full day in Niagara Falls, we decided to purchase an Adventure Pass which allowed us to visited four main attractions (White Water Walk, Journey Behind the Falls, Hornblower Niagara Cruise, and the 4D film, Niagara’s Fury). The pass also included bus transportation.

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The Niagara Falls were formed at the end of the last Ice Age when the glaciers receded and the water from the newly formed Great Lakes began to carve a path towards the Atlantic Ocean.  The three waterfalls – Horseshoe Falls, American Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls – are geological wonders estimated to be about 12,000 years old. Millions of gallons of water spill over the falls every minute – about 750,000 gallons each second. The water’s force has been producing hydroelectric power since the first generating station was built in 1881.

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I read recently that New York State is planning to divert the water from the American Falls sometime in the next few years so they can replace two 115-year-old stone arch bridges. If this happens, it will be the first time since 1969 that the water flow has stopped.  The American Falls was slowed to a trickle in 1969 to study the effects of erosion and buildup of rock at the base of the falls. When that happened, people came from all over the world to see the falls turned off.

1969 water diversion. Photo credit: Niagara Falls Public Library

1969 water diversion. Photo credit: Niagara Falls Public Library

If they do in fact divert the water – a once (or twice) in a lifetime event – it could be a perfect excuse for us to visit Niagara Falls again.

August 23, 2016 / Retirementallychallenged.com

GratiTuesday: Those who make our world more beautiful

Tens of thousands of people probably had passed by the large concrete walls at the entrance of North Creek, NY over the years, and never thought anything about them one way or the other. They just… were.

Artist Kate Hartley saw a blank canvas.

1Kate

In 2011 Kate requested and gained permission to decorate the walls with a mosaic mural depicting the natural wonders and recreational offerings of this small town in the Adirondack Mountains. Since its beginning, the North Creek Mosaic Project has relied on the enthusiastic support of local businesses and organizations, as well as nearly 900 volunteers of all ages.

2Mosaic

The mural was just steps from the North Creek Airbnb where my husband and I were staying and we happen to walk by one day that the artist was working. From the moment we began our conversation with her, it would be hard not to get swept up in her positive aura. She was delighted to talk to us about the project and even took the time to tell us the story behind a few of the vignettes. She remains as passionate about the mural as she was when she started and especially enjoys teaching kids how to work with mosaics. And, of course, the kids love to see their artistic endeavors displayed as part of the mural.

3Kate

The mural is about 2/3rds complete (these are really big walls), but progress is being made just about every day. It is slow-going and, at times, back-stressing work, but, for Kate Hartley and her volunteers, it is truly a labor of love.

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I am so grateful for the Kate Hartleys of this world. They have been blessed with a creative gift and we are lucky that they have chosen to share it with the rest of us. Their generosity lifts us all up and brightens our lives.

August 16, 2016 / Retirementallychallenged.com

GratiTuesday: “As long as we are going…” travel

One of a zillion beautiful covered bridges in Vermont

One of a zillion beautiful covered bridges in Vermont

Our latest road trip adventure started with the desire to attend the yearly car club gathering. We had traveled to several of the week-long events in the past, but never further east than Colorado. If we were still working, we probably would have opted not to attend this year, given that we would only have so much vacation time available and it would be hard to justify the expense based on that.

Now that we are retired, we have started to look at trips like this in a different light. Instead of having a limited amount of time to visit just one or two destinations, we find ourselves saying, “As long as we are going…” and looking for ways to expand our trip to include more: more time for travel, more places to see.

Vermont chairs

Vermont chairs

Look... a car patty!

Look… a car patty!

Lots of opportunities to purchase maple syrup at roadside stands

Lots of opportunities to purchase maple syrup at roadside stands

 

Unfortunately our rental Hyundai didn't qualify for this drive

Unfortunately our rental Hyundai didn’t qualify for this drive

This year’s event was being held at a ski resort in upstate Vermont. My husband and I agreed that driving across the country in our car wouldn’t be the most comfortable way to go (not to mention the very limited luggage space available for a multi-week trip) so flying and renting a car seemed to make the most sense. Once this decision was made, we started to think about what else we could do and see while we were in that area of the country.

Let’s see…

  • I had never been to the eastern part Canada before, except for a day trip to the Niagara Falls when I was five.
  • My cousin lives in a small town in Vermont. He and his wife visited us about ten years ago but now they have two daughters who we had never met.
  • A childhood friend now lives with her husband on several acres in the Finger Lakes area of New York. She had been encouraging me to visit and I was curious to see why she loved living there so much.
  • We thought it would be fun to see Niagara Falls again. It had been awhile for my husband too.

After identifying all the places we wanted to see, we worked out a possible travel route and plugged in some preliminary dates. In order to do everything we wanted to do, we figured that we would need about a month – an amount of time that would have been problematic if one or both of us still worked. In fact, we would have started our planning process with the number of vacation days we had available, then figured out what we could see in that limited time.

I am so grateful that where we want to travel and what we want to do are now more important factors in our travel planning than how much time we can be gone.

As long as we are going… we might as well see as much as we can!

August 13, 2016 / Retirementallychallenged.com

Cycling to the Chute

 

Street rider

Québec City – like most Canadian cities we visited on our recent road trip – is very bicycle-friendly. When we mentioned to our Airbnb host that we like to cycle, he recommended a ride that would take us from Lower Old Québec to Chute-Montmorency, Québec’s majestic waterfall on the Montmorency River.

Fortunately, Québec City not only has a wonderful network of hiking and bike paths, but they have several rental shops that are happy to provide bikes, helmets, locks, and a helpful map. For about $25 dollars (Canadian) each for a four-hour rental, my husband and I had everything we needed to explore the area via pedal-power.

Me rider

The ride to Montmorency Falls was a pretty easy one. Just under ten miles and fairly flat, it took us alongside the harbor, under and around railroad tracks, and through parks, residential areas, and some commercial zones. We made the ride on a Saturday but, because we started early, we didn’t have a lot of company on the trail.

Montmorency Falls Park is just a few minutes from downtown Québec City and is easily accessible by car (but, I really encourage anyone to go by bicycle if they can). There is plenty of parking, several picnic areas, and a visitors’ center where we picked up a map of the park and bought tickets for the aerial tram.

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The waterfall is 275 ft (84 m) tall, which is actually higher (98 ft or 30 m) than the Niagara Falls (as you will be proudly told more than once) and is truly spectacular. The park is really laid out nicely with well-groomed paths, a suspension bridge that spans the top of the falls, and an amazing 487-foot wooden stairway that hugs the side of a cliff. We opted to ride the aerial tram from the bottom of the park to the top of the falls and come back down via the stairway, but plenty of hardy souls take the stairs both ways. And, for the real adventurous types, there is a zip line across the falls and rock climbing opportunities.

Bike path home with Quebec City in the distance.

Bike path home with Quebec City in the distance.

After spending a couple of hours enjoying the falls, we returned to beautiful Québec City for our final afternoon and evening. We were happy to find that the main avenue had been closed off for a street fair and enjoyed several hours of music and people watching.

Then, to top off a glorious day, we were treated to a spectacular sunset. We had to leave in the morning for our next destination, but we knew that some day we’d be back.

August 11, 2016 / Retirementallychallenged.com

Thursday Doors: Quebec City’s Holy Door

I had never participated in Norm 2.0’s ongoing Thursday Doors linked posts before, but when we saw—then walked through—the Holy Door of the Basilica Norte-Dame de Quebec, I knew it would be a perfect way to share the experience.

I am not Catholic, nor am I particularly religious, but it’s hard not to be awed by the splendor of the world’s great churches. The practical side of me thinks the construction costs could have been better put to use feeding the poor and housing the homeless, but I also admire the magnificence of the architecture and opulent adornments.

Cathédrale_de_Québec

Notre-Dame-de-Quebec has a large physical and a spiritual presence in Quebec City. It was the first Catholic parish in North America, north of Mexico, and is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Quebec.

To celebrate the 350th anniversary of the Basilica, the Vatican awarded Notre-Dame-de-Quebec the exceptional privilege of installing the first Holy Door outside of Europe. There are seven Holy Doors in the world: four in Rome, one in France, one in Spain, and now this one in Quebec City.

What is a Holy Door? According to Catholic teachings, a Holy Door is a visible symbol of oneness with the Universal Church and of internal renewal, which begins with the desire to make peace with God. Holy Doors are typically only opened during Jubilee years, which are “years of remission, of indulgence, and also of reconciliation, conversion and sacramental penance.”

Quebec City’s Holy Door was installed in the wall of the Chapel of the Sacred Heart on the north side of the Basilica and first opened December 8, 2013. Following Church tradition, it remained open for one year and then was to be sealed by mortar and cement for about 25 years (until the next Jubilee in 2039).

So, why, in 2016, were we able to pass through the Holy Door even though it had been sealed shut? Fortunately for us, Holy Doors can be re-opened if the Pope deems it appropriate and, in 2015, Pope Francis declared that current international events called for an extraordinary year of mercy. He announced that the Jubilee of Mercy would take place from December 2015 to November 2016 and all Holy Doors would be open during that time.

Also fortunately for my husband and me, walking through a Holy Door is not restricted to practicing Catholics, but it is available to “all persons of good will.” We were told that by passing through the Door one can “reconcile with your neighbors, restore in yourself everything that has been damaged in the past, and reshape your heart.”

Catholic or not, who wouldn’t want to experience that!

August 9, 2016 / Retirementallychallenged.com

GratiTuesday: European charm without the jet lag

Our second stop after enjoying a few days in Montreal was Quebec City, North America’s only walled city north of Mexico City. Based on a visit my husband made there many years ago (pre-me), we decided to allow for a longer stay so we had more time to take in the sights.

The fortifications were developed between 1608 and 1871, erected under both French and British regimes.

The fortifications were built between 1608 and 1871, erected under both French and British regimes.

Upon entering the old walls, it was easy to see why Old Town Quebec has been designated a World Heritage site. The stone buildings and cobblestone streets are reminiscent of European cities and, of course, the French influence is evident everywhere. We were eager to check into our Airbnb and ditch our rental car. This was a town that begged to be explored on foot.

This was to be our first experience with Airbnb and we weren’t quite sure what to expect. Fortunately, from the moment we met our host, Frederick, and saw our apartment, it was obvious that we made a good choice. The apartment was well-equipped and comfortable, and the small kitchen would help us avoid too many expensive and unhealthy meals out.  It was just a few blocks from a busy area, but, since the apartment was located on a side street, it provided a quiet respite from the hub-bub. We were also pleasantly surprised that Frederick had put together a nice guidebook with helpful suggestions of things to do and see as well as places to eat.

As soon as we got unpacked, we put on our walking shoes and left to explore our new neighborhood, pick up a few groceries, and sign up for an English-language walking tour the next day.

 

I am so grateful when I visit an historical gem like Quebec City. Even though the streets are filled with tourists (and, there wasn’t even a cruise ship in port), and Subway Sandwiches and a few tacky T-shirt shops have found their way in, Quebec City has managed to hold on to its core beauty. The centuries-old architecture, historic sites, beautiful views of the Saint Lawrence River, and lovely sidewalk cafes invite you to explore this living museum.

Read more about our visit to Quebec City in my next post.

August 8, 2016 / Retirementallychallenged.com

Oh Canada!

Although I have visited Canada several times, my most recent trips have been to the west coast (Vancouver and Victoria).  I was five when I visited eastern Canada, and that was only a day trip to see the Niagara Falls.

I was very much looking forward to the first stop on our month-long road trip, which began on June 14. Our itinerary had us flying in and out of Montreal, but, when we’d be in Montreal again one month later, it would be quick stay overnight by the airport. For our initial visit, we booked our hotel for two nights; not nearly enough for a city with so much to offer, but we had a lot of stops ahead of us and we could only fit in so much.

Even though we lost three hours when we travel from the west coast to the east coast, we still arrived at our destination with plenty of daylight and energy to enjoy a beautiful summer evening in Montreal. We were thrilled to discover that just a few blocks from where we were staying, Les FrancoFolies de Montreal was in full swing. This 10-day, multi-stage musical event has been held in downtown Montreal every summer in since 1989. It features hundreds of French-language performers from all over the world and many of the venues are absolutely free… how great is that?!

FrancoFolies

Our only full day in Montreal was devoted to sight-seeing. Our hotel was well-located within walking distance (a long distance, but we like to walk) from Old Montreal, the waterfront, China Town, Little Italy, and the Norte-Dame Basilica.

I love street murals and Montreal didn’t disappoint!

That evening, we treated ourselves to a lovely dinner at a sidewalk café and then wandered over to the outdoor FrancoFolies stage area for more music and people-watching.

Even though we were only at the beginning of our trip, we agreed that future travels must include an extended stay in Montreal. There is so much to see and do and we knew that we had just scratched the surface.

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