Archive for July, 2007|Monthly archive page

Eat Well and Sleep Cheap – Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada

PEI Culinary Arts Institute

I’ll try to do as quick a catch-up as I can – we have a few hours in a WiFi Hot Spot in downtown Charlottetown, on Prince Edward Island.  Chris is off getting a massage and getting her eyebrows neatened at the Aveda spa we found here.  We tried to go to the Culinary Institute yesterday to check into times to eat there, but the students are on a 2-week break.  They’re traveling to Germany to defend their Junior World Prix culinary championship.  Instead we had a wonderful chat with John MacInnis (photo, with Chris).  He’s the security guard who caught us peeking in the windows, chatted with us a while, and invited us in to see the harbor views from the dining room.  The building in the photo is right on the harbor in Charlottetown (where 1/3 of the PEI’ers live) and houses a Culinary school, a Travel & Tourism school, and a Hotel & Hospitality school.  The University of PEI also has a veterinary school. 

We were successful in finding the property north of Montreal, updating the address records, and handing off all the legal info to Chris’ sister Laura.  It was a challenge and ended up being a disappointing story of a land swindler from New York who sold 5 acres of property in Canada to someone in the states on a multi-year loan basis, upped it to 20, and then at the insistence of folks who wanted to actually receive a deed and see the property, sent them off to see one property and gave them a deed to another – which is surrounded by his own property and therefore somewhat useless.  Laura (a lawyer, who’s been described by her close friend and legal associate as a pit bull with a briefcase) is figuring out what they can do.

We drove from the Mont-Tremblant area through Quebec and New Brunswick to arrive in PEI.  We were interested to see that in New Brunswick they allow what looked to be Soap Box Derby Cars on the divided highway – and they have traffic lights with RR intersections on it – and we passed a bizarrely-named city, St. Louis du Ha! Ha!.

We arrived in PEI on Friday and have enjoyed biking, staying in the provincial parks, and even staying a few nights at the local Wal-Mart.  Each night we stayed there we had at least four other RV/campers in the lot with us, and felt very safe.  They’re having the highest temperatures here people remember – in the high 80’s with humidity.  Thankfully there’s a breeze most of the time.  Everywhere serves LOBSTER – even the Subway and McDonald’s.

We’ve enjoyed fresh seafood a few times and biking on the Confederation Trail, an old train track that they have resurfaced for biking and walking.  We spoke to a local who works as a truck driver for the food distribution company here, Cavendish Farms, who has work from May through October and is on unemployment otherwise.  We saw people parasailing (on a surf board).  We’ve seen signs for Cow Crossings and Moose Crossings.  I tried to take a turn on my bike in large rocks and fell completely over sideways (hard to get my feet out of the stirrups quickly) and now have more bruises than a 3-week old banana.  We were serenaded one evening in one of the parks by a fellow camper that Chris described as Willie Nelson swallowed by Bob Dylan.  We chatted with a neighbor camper about “those SOBs in the White House” who were so scary to the rest of the world these days.

For those who don’t know, PEI is full of small farms – primarily potatoes, oats, and grain.  They are also the site of the author Lucy Maud Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables” – which in the 7 years since I’ve been here has been expanded to a ridiulous level of tourism.  When I was here last I toured the house on which the book was based, which was charming.  Now they have everything from an Anne musical about what her life might have been like as an adult, Anne cottages, Anne dolls, Anne stores, and just about everything you can think of.  Oh, well – Memphis has Elvis.

Lac LaJoie – Parc Mont Tremblant, Quebec

Chris silhouette in lake

Since we last communicated we were headed to Labelle, Quebec but we couldn’t get a reservation starting Friday so we went into Parc Mont-Tremblant and stayed in one of the last two spaces they had in the entire park for that night.  We were on a small site with no electricity or water, but near a beautiful lake (Lac Lajoie) and Chris was able to record the sound of some loons on the lake.   I took the photo above from behind, capturing the reflection of the sky in the lake.  The next morning we saw a gentle breeze knock over the pyramid of beer cans left on a picnic table by three twenty-something boys in tents.

We stayed in the campground in Labelle for two nights.  The first day we toured around checking out the town and finally finding the biking trail we were looking for.  It turns out (we think) to be a the railroad track mentioned in directions leading to the land inherited by Chris’ mother.  We need to return to the municipal building tomorrow to talk to someone there who speaks English and hopefully make progress in having the property re-titled in her name (or at least getting the tax bills sent to the correct address).  Hopefully we will be staying in another location soon with WiFi access and will contribute again to the blog…

 Oh – and on the second day we rode a round trip of 37 miles (60 km) on the bike trip and then watched “Oh Brother, Where art Thou” on DVD…

Rue Du Camping – Labelle, Quebec

RV on Rue du Camping

Now we have to go in silent mode for a while – just because we pay $/kb in Canada for internet usage on my phone.  If we find free internet we’ll check in – or when we return to the states.

We’ve just been warming up for our next excitement.  We’re going into Canada north of Montreal to find a small piece of property Chris’ mother inherited from her uncle many years ago.  Her sister Laura has been paying taxes on the property for several years – but last year stopped getting a bill.  And when she called, someone who claimed to be the maintenance man who didn’t speak English was all she found.

We’re going in somewhat blind.  We have the uncle’s name, a description from an old letter that describes “go past fast rapids” and railroad tracks.  About the only concrete thing we have is the name of “Labelle” and Hwy. 117.  I know how to say something about “big black dogs with birds on their heads” in French.  Wish us luck and helpful Quebecians.

Day off in Paradise

Hoyle DoubleCross Solitaire

OK, for those of you who think we’re off in paradise doing nothing normal people do, we did take a break yesterday to do some “normal” things.  Chris filled up water in the batteries, recaulked the shower (this is important later), and lubed the slideout.  I reduced my son’s car insurance (since I no longer own a car or house it bounced up a bit) and created a handy spreadsheet to track how often we pay money for lodging and (based on the type) how much we’re paying on average per night.  Chris modified one dental appointment she had for August, made another doctor appointment in November, and … we both played solitaire most of the day while listening to our XM radio.     Lots of miscellaneous puttering-around things.  There was a thunderstorm and lots of men poking fire with sticks (this is something Chris notices about men – that they like to poke things with sticks, especially fire).

My excuse is that I couldn’t take a shower since the caulk needed to set (see where the caulk comes in?).  We also had lots of interesting neighbors to study.  And it rained in the beginning of the day and it was supposed to the rest of the day.

Luckily we had purchased a Hoyle solitaire game and loaded it on both PCs before the trip.  It has about 25 games on it from backgammon to this “DoubleCross” game that is something like scrabble but you can lay partial words down.  I win often but it’s only because I don’t understand the rules.  Once I read how dominoes were scored I started losing.

Cool Adirondacks – Wilmington, NY

River in Adirondack Pk

The Adirondack Mountains are full of pines, birches, lakes, ponds, and rivers.  We arrived in our campsite around 7pm, after more driving from Ithaca than we expected – I guess we didn’t realize how much slower we’d have to drive on the winding roads through the park – but we were glad to make it to a place we could set up and stay for a few days.  We are staying in a campground in Wilmington NY just northeast of Lake Placid.  The campsites are packed together again, but the weather is cool and the campground is very pleasant.  There are many primitive sites down near the river, small cabins and lean-tos, as well as pull-through sites for very large RVs.

Today we went on a 2-hour hike from the campground along the river (above), it will be a minor miracle if we don’t feel the effects of poison ivy.  We  then returned for Chris to get another haircut.  I didn’t chop off enough last time.  We set up the RV awning and are still working on the Sunday Times, drinking our lattes.

A Livable City – Ithaca NY

 

After exploring Watkins Glen we were ready to explore Ithaca, which has become one of our potential places to live if/when we stop traveling around.  For those who don’t know much about Ithaca, it has much more than Cornell going for it.  Utne magazine rated it the top US city in terms of community focus.  They even have their own currency, “Ithaca Hours”, which people can get paid in and which are accepted by community businesses – to encourage people to contribute their earnings back into their community.  When we were researching the city we looked for cinemas showing “Sicko” (Michael Moore’s new film on the US healthcare system) and then for vegetarian/organic restaurants.  That led us to all kinds of fun places to explore and enjoy.

On Thursday night we explored downtown Ithaca to get our bearings.  We found a small municipal lot where parking was free after 6pm and where the RV wouldn’t block anyone else from getting in and out.  We had our favorite soy lattes at Starbucks (creamier than we remembered), walked through Ithaca Commons, and scoped out what turned out to be a fantastic vegetarian-friendly Mexican restaurant that was mentioned on the Green Star Co-op site.  We found the Moosewood Restaurant and decided to have dinner there.

Moosewood is located in the DeWitt Mall, which is an old multi-floor high school building that was renovated around 1970 as an urban shopping mall.  For dinner we had appetizers of fish-lentil patties, a dill sauce, slaw and a watermelon slice.  We split a sweet potato/black bean enchilada for our meal, and drank ginger tea (which tasted more like a ginger lemonade).  Also in the mall were book stores, an antique store, a guitar store, and a small DeWitt Cafe.  Just before we ate dinner we put a call into Laura to ask her to send us our mail to date, as Chris was expecting papers needed for her insurance.  Laura got them into UPS that night.

We ate dinner then walked to the local arts theater to see “Sicko” and listen to a panel discussion (a local physician and a Cornell professor of Medical Ethics and Public Health Care Policy) afterwards.  “Sicko” was very disturbing and the best advice the panel discussion generated afterward was to vote for politicians who are pro-single payer, or who are at least for reform of political action committee contributions.  The first step toward a single payer system, universal health care, would utilize the same inefficient process of payment but at least cover everyone;  a single-payer system would reduce the 30% of the cost of health care that is spent reconciling (or avoiding) the payments we have now.

We spent the night in the Walmart parking lot – finally a cool night with no need for A/C.  After all the employees and parking lot sweeper left around 11pm it was very quiet.  On each of the three nights we were there, there was one more RV/motorhome utilizing the parking lot with us.  We felt very safe – chef/chauffer Chris parked under a parking lot light.

As we left Walmart on Saturday to drive into Ithaca we engaged the services of a youth group from the First Assembly Church of God, who were raising donations by offering a free Car Wash (with water donated by the Walmart).   We ate lunch at the DeWitt Cafe and then drove to the Fall Creek Cinema to see “Paprika” (Japanese anime) in the afternoon and “Once” (an Irish film that featured two musical artists) in the evening.  In between we just relaxed in the RV in the parking lot (Chris didn’t think her legs would handle another significant hike or bike ride).  The weather was cool and breezy.  There was a tempting restaurant next door, “Willow” but we stuck to what we had in the cupboards. 

On Sunday we drove back to Ithaca, parked, and explored again by bike.  We found the Ithaca gorge hiking path, got caught in a downpour and had to stop for coffee, and generally got some good exercise and better appreciation for the town.  We saw more of the Sagan Planet Walk – a very cool exhibit of the solar system.  It consists of a scale set of “balls” from the size of our sun to the other planets – each suspended within a separate 6-foot statue with text describing the planet and relative gravity, etc. to the earth.  The scale is such that the sun is about a foot wide and the planets are placed blocks apart on different streets.  It really brings home the scale of the universe.

In the afternoon we saw “Paris, Je T’Aime” – an integrated set of 18 short films by international directors – those I recognized easily were Wes Craven, the Coen brothers, and Gerard Depardieu.  Then we drove up to tour the Cornell University campus in the RV – got somehow lost in the Cornell Plantations – and eventually returned back to the Walmart.  On Monday we dropped by downtown to pickup the packet of mail, drove up to Syracuse to a Chase bank, and then we headed up into the Adirondacks.

Gorge-ous Watkins Glen NY

Glen Falls Gorge

As we checked out of the campground Canadians Ian and his wife walked over to chat about our RV.  They were planning to buy one and thought the Navion was just about the perfect size for them.  We gave them a tour (including the storage area organization and custom foam mattress we’ve added, plus the espresso maker as a key kitchen appliance) and the benefit of our experience so far and went on our way down the hillside.

We stopped at the entrance to Glen Falls to hike “The Gorge Trail”.  Chris took her turn with the camera for the day, and we walked up 500 stairs (with level areas and stops in between) and 1 mile into the gorge, and then back along the Indian Trail to the entrance.   Along the way we explored an old cemetery that is still in use, and as we left we saw Ian and his wife again.

The navigation system is really proving to be handy.  Chris mentioned we could use some more propane, and I found a place on the way to stop and re-fill.  So we start our boondocking experience full of fresh water and propane and with a clean “black tank”.

TOUR DE LAKES: Watkins Glen NY – Finger Lakes District

Seneca Lake

We arrived in Watkins Glen NY (Finger Lakes district in central NY state), checked into the State Park campground, and then drove back down into town in search of some bottled water and good ground coffee.  After seeing blank stares on three people we asked in the Walmart where to find good coffee in Watkins Glen, we decided to just head for the Great Harvest Bread Store and see what they had.  Sure enough, the guy working the counter (who has a 5 year plan to do the full-time RV life) ground us up some Finger Lakes  coffee which he said was really good.  We haven’t tried it yet, but we enjoyed the ready-to-drink coffee and a good muffin we bought there.

I had researched bike tours in the Finger Lakes on the web and we had picked Watkins Glen because of the 21-mile “mild to moderate” loop starting from there.  After spending the night at the campground we drove back down the hill (Chris had to put the RV in granny gear for a mile and a half to get up to the campsite) and started off.  We quickly confirmed that we were on a street/road tour rather than a paved bike path.  We were sharing the road with big trucks going as fast as they could given the incline.  I ended up walking up the most steep hills but after getting warmed up I did better – I probably walked about a mile of the 21 miles.  I guess “mild to moderate” in NY is different than “mild to moderate” in OH!

The bike route followed the side of the lake but climbed the hill beside it.  Then it turned East for a few miles climbing the rest of the hill beside the lake, then returned across the top of the hill and back down into town.  When we returned we were proud we had completed the whole route, but our legs were made of jelly.

Above the lake at Hector NY we stopped for lunch near a vineyard;  Chris walked over to a very cool Art Shop/Cafe where she got us some coffee to drink with lunch.  She had checked out the food and would have loved to eat there – they had some fruit soups that sounded really wonderful after biking up a hill chased by trucks.  Instead we munched our peanut butter and jelly, carrots, cheese sticks, and nuts. 

When we reached the parking lot with the RV we saw a tour bus had pulled alongside – and soon it was filling up with boys between the ages of 10 and 12 wearing ball caps or yalmekes – they were curious about the RV and started peeking in the windows and poking on the rear view mirror until their chaperones got them under control.  On the other side was a woman and two sons from Denmark who had rented an RV in the US for three months and looked to be waiting for the rest of the family to meet up with them.

Exhausted, we returned to our campsite where I took the job of handwashing our biking clothes while Chris rummaged up supper – Sesame Tofu and Mushrooms, Chipotle Black Bean Enchiladas with Provolone, and a salad of Romaine, sliced fresh peaches, and walnuts with a concocted dressing.   Delicious and healthy!

Tonight we’re relaxing watching “Junebug” on the DVD player.  Tomorrow – we head to Ithaca to wait through the rain before we head somewhere else to play outdoors.  Hopefully we can “boondock” at the Walmart there for free.

Almost Heaven – Allegany State Park NY

Red House Lake Allegany SP NY

After Sara’s Campground and Erie PA, anything would have looked wonderful.  But we agreed that Allegany State Park (in southwestern NY, just above PA) and in particular the Red House area was almost perfect.  The countryside was hilly and green and the park was well designed and maintained.  There were bike trails, hiking trails, Red House Lake with rental boats, cross-country/mountain biking trails, playgrounds throughout, laundry facilities, and a really well-stocked camping supply store.  Our campsite was wooded and separated from our neighbors by several trees.  They had a dumping station and fresh-water fillup site that was convenient.

We had our first experience with using leveling blocks.  We backed into the campsite, checked out how level the RV was, and then backed over a configuration of lego-looking blocks to adjust.  The block set comes with configuration suggestions and heights for each.  We successfully balanced right-to-left and helped the front-to-back, but were still sleeping with our heads slightly lower than our feet, until we added some pillows.  We may need another set.

The campsite provided 20 Amp electrical service, which required some trial-and-error to determine which lights and amenities we could run in parallel without having to go back out and reset it.  There were several notices about Black Bears, and while Chris kept her eyes peeled for her first sighting of a real bear in the wild – we didn’t see any.  She decided that I was “Whistle” and she was “Pepper” (I would use my WMD whistle to scare the bear and she would use her WMD Pepper spray).  I decided that assigning an asthmatic the job of Whistle was a testament to her intuitive sense of self-preservation.

On our first bike ride we headed right out of the campsite, since we hadn’t been in that direction.  We spent about 35 minutes climbing steadily uphill – OK, at times I had to walk uphill to slow my racing heartbeat and regain my breath.  After that 35 minutes there was no end to the climb in sight and I was just not willing to go further, so we turned around and coasted back down.  It took so long to coast down that I didn’t really feel bad about all that huffing and puffing.

 One of the few points in our park adventures that provided phone service was the hill overlooking Red House Lake.  Chris used that opportunity to check in with her Dad, nudge her sister to send some info on Montreal property we’re going try to find and photograph, and to check messages on whether she’s been accepted into the Nationwide Ohio Farm Bureau health insurance plan.  No news so far.

Although it was merely 2 days after leaving Home Base in Findlay, we decided to catch up on laundry.  We were entertained by a woman from NY (License plate:  FUHGETABOUDIT), four children, and mother.  The youngest girl(about 2) was being pushed around and around the vibrating washers in a laundry basket.   Her name seemed to be “Tinkerbell” or “Bell” for short.  There was a small pile of crushed Cheezits under her, some in her hand.  The baby boy (Matthew) had a rubber ducky jumping into and out of his focus with his oldest sister Sierra saying something about him wanting hot or cold.  Madison, his younger older sister, competed with Sierra on being the playmate for the younger set.

 Although we had forgotten the foaming nozzle from the espresso maker in Findlay, Chris cooked up a storm.  One night we had Hancock County Beans with Mustard Thyme Butter and Fried Eggs (she makes these up).  We packed almonds and tuna fish sandwiches for our bike ride.  No complaints – especially about the non-foamy soy lattes.

Sardine City – Sara’s Campground outside Presque Isle State Park PA

ZZTop from RV as we leave

Ann Arbor sightseeing was going to be just too hot for fun, so we headed up to Presque Isle State Park (PA) instead.  Stayed at Sara’s Campground nearby since the park is day-use only.  We pulled into our campsite to find a ZZ Topp lookalike holding what looked to be a bottle of Grey Goose vodka in his lap, in the campsite right in front of us (pop-up, 3 adults, one child, small playpen, one Harley, one SUV).  There were a lot of full-time or seasonal campers throughout.  Campsites have level concrete pads but are packed close together and close behind the restaurant/stores associated with them.

The park has a 13.6 mile looped road that promised to be bike-friendly, and we hadn’t really stocked up on sandwich fixins, so we went to the local camp store and bought the cheapest sandwich bread we could find (we’re on a fixed income and tight budget after all).  That turned out to be $1.09 for a package of white bread hamburger buns.  Peanut butter and jelly with a leftover banana, here we come.  After exploring the Lake Erie beach we settled in for a night of googling for better planning, solitaire, and PC upgrades to make my Palm HotSync compatible with Outlook 2007.

Early the next morning we headed out for our bike ride.  As we walked the bikes toward the road another neighboring couple inquired “Planning to ride to the park?”  “Yep”  “It’s closed today.  Don’t know why.”  I had read in the NYTimes about NY state parks being closed due to budget shortfalls but wasn’t aware it applied to PA parks.  We decided that we’d just had enough of that campsite anyway, packed up our belongings and headed out.

 The night before I had scribbled directions to a Giant Eagle with the Natures Basket (organic/natural foods section).  We headed out following my directions.  Coordinating the navigation and driving of a 25-foot RV requires communication between the driver and navigator that we haven’t finely tuned yet, even when we have our GPS navigation system up and running.  We took a turn thinking it was Rte 5 and realized it was Alt Rte 5.  Mistake:  we didn’t immediately turn around to get back on track, we decided to go with the flow and mosey in the right direction [lesson learned:  in a strange city go ahead and use the GPS/navigation system.  It’s too late by the time you see the street names].  Anyway, to make a long story short – we ended up driving around in the first of I’m sure many circles Chris’ father had thought we would end up driving when we took off without knowing exactly where we were going.  Eventually we found a Giant Eagle, did some shopping knowing we would not likely be in a “large” city for several days, and loaded up with some diesel at $0.80 off per gallon (thanks to our frequent shopping card at Giant Eagle).  Even the GetNGo coffee tasted good by that point.   And off we go.