Return to Germany – Part One (Cruising the Rhine River)

In the early 1980s I commanded a National Guard unit that was the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) company for the US VII Corps in Germany. Over the years I took several trips to Germany for conferences and war planning and participated in two Return of Forces to Germany (REFORGER) exercises. I loved traveling through the country and talking with the locals and always wanted to return. Finally, after over 35 years, we did it.

We traveled with Viking River Cruises from Amsterdam to Basel, Switzerland. From there we traveled on our own to Fussen, Salzburg, Munich, Rothenburg ob de Tauber, and Berlin.

We visited and experienced far too many sights to cover them all in a blog post, so I’m going to try to share the highlights in the next few posts. I hope you enjoy them.

We arrived in Amsterdam a day before the cruise. The two most fascinating sites we visited were the Ice Bar and the Anne Frank House.

We had heard about the Ice Bar in Amsterdam from a friend and stumbled across a coupon for it, combined with a canal cruise and we jumped on it. The weather had not been nice, a lot of rain off and on throughout the day but fortunately it was clear while we took the cruise. Two things stood out as highlights of the cruise. The number of people that live in boats moored in the canals and that many of the buildings were leaning as their foundations settled into the marsh land that Amsterdam was built on.

The Ice Bar is literally the coolest bar in Amsterdam. When we entered the bar our virtual host “Willem Barentsz” welcomed us via a video into his world as a Dutch explorer. He invited us to experience the feeling of living on his ship, the Mercury, in 1596, survive the hardships of the extreme cold and be brave enough when the ship becomes stranded on the island of Nova Zembla.

Inside the Amsterdam Icebar we found two bars. In first, the lounge, we were given three coins, two gold and one silver. The gold coins were used inside the Ice Bar, and the silver one for a cocktail in the normal lounge to enjoy while we warmed up. At the back of the lounge was the entrance to the second bar, the Icebar. Here we were given a thermal coat and gloves to keep us warm at -10 degrees Celsius! Inside we were surrounded by a staggering 60 tons of natural ice, sculpted into the form of a real bar. The furniture, the walls, the art – everything was made of ice! State-of-the-art light effects gave the Icebar all the colors you can think of. Our drinks were served in a glass… made of ice, of course! It was certainly the most unique bar we have ever visited.

The next morning we walked to the Anne Frank House. If you do this make sure you get tickets online ahead of time as time slots fill quickly. While I had never read the “Diary of Anne Frank,” I was familiar with the story.  Anne’s father, Otto, owned and operated a business in the front of the building and he turned the back of the building into the “secret annex.” I always imagined the family hiding in an attic, but it was actually three floors behind hidden doors. There were two families and one friend hidden in the annex and they lived there for two years before they were betrayed and captured by the Nazis. It’s hard to imagine how eight people could exist in such close quarters, not being able to walk around, use the toilets, or pour water down a drain during the day for fear of being heard.

No one knows who betrayed the families.  With the exception of Otto Frank, all of them died in the concentration camps. After the war Otto was given Anne’s diary by a neighbor and he had it published. This was an amazing place to visit and one we will not soon forget.

Our stop in Cologne was a unique blending of new and old. First we saw the cathedral. It is a massive structure and the building of it spanned, not decades, but centuries. The cathedrals of Europe are so huge that it was not unusual to take hundreds of years for them to be built.

As in most of the cathedrals we visited there was a central aisle and naves on either side. The naves were typically decorated with paintings or wood carvings of the cruxification. The most unique thing about the Cologne cathedral is the ark that the church claims holds the remains of the three Wise Men (Magi). The church has performed DNA testing on the remains and believes they have sufficient proof to make this claim.

While touring another part of the city we found that the excavated remains of the residence of the Roman governor, the Praetorium, were discovered on the site of the current city hall. An earthquake had destroyed the residence and in digging the foundation for the city hall, it was uncovered. Archeologists excavated the site and once the archeological work was completed they put a roof on it and built the city hall on top of it. This is probably the most unique archeological site I have ever visited.

An interesting aside is that civil weddings are often conducted at city hall on Saturdays. We saw one wedding party after another come to the city hall for their wedding and then they would hold the reception in the square outside of city hall. Our guide told us that passersby are sometimes invited to join in the festivities. We stopped to listen to a wedding party sing to the new couple, but we weren’t invited to join them.

During our time in Europe we saw more cathedrals than ever before. Being an American gives one a rather limited view of history. Yes, we have studied it, but until you are looking at it you don’t have an appreciation for how young our own country is.  For example, construction of the cathedral in Strasbourg, France was begun in 1015, almost 500 years before Columbus landed in America.

I struggled to comprehend the amount of time it took to construct these huge houses of worship. Using the cathedral in Strasbourg as an example, while construction began in 1015, it was not completed until 1439 – 424 years. Can you imagine being on the board of trustees for your church and trying to get approval for a building program that would last for more than 400 years?

After seeing so many cathedrals and churches they started looking very similar, but each had their own unique features. For example, the cathedral in Heidelberg was used by both Catholics and Protestants and each faith had their own entrance.

Also unique, in the Black Forest local farmers didn’t have the time to attend religious services at large central churches so they built their own small chapels on their land so they could worship whenever they had some time.

Near Koblenz we toured the Marksburg Castle. This was one of many castles we would see on the Middle Rhine. The Marksburg Castle was built to protect the silver mines in the area, but the royalty of the castle would also maintain the tow paths on the Rhine to pull boats upriver through the rapids and would collect tolls from boats traveling upriver.

The fortress was used for protection rather than as a residence for royal families. Consequently it is smaller than many of the other castles we saw and had, at the most 30-40 people living there. Of the forty hill castles between Mainz and Koblenz, the Marksburg was the only one which was never destroyed.

Our final stop before the cruise ended was the small town of Breisach. From here we took a bus ride into the Black Forest (Schwarzwald). The Black Forest is so named because it is so thickly forested that little light penetrates to the forest floor. Legend has it that the Romans called it the black forest because they were afraid of the monsters they thought lived in such a mysterious looking place. Maybe it’s true, but who knows?

We stopped at Hofgut Sternen, the Black Forest Village. I joined a group going on a short hike in the Ravenna Gorge and Pat watched Cuckoo Clock building and a glass blowing demonstration. I wouldn’t say that the Black Forest is any different from any other forest I have hiked in, but it was fun. The mountain streams were beautiful to see and it was interesting to see how the water power was harnessed to power a mill. I got back to Hofgut Sternen in time to watch a demonstration of how to make an authentic Black Forest cake. I swear the baker doing the demonstration must have been a comedian on the side.

We ended our cruise in Basal, Switzerland. The cruise was a great introduction to Europe and our Viking crew did an outstanding job. I’d be happy to recommend Viking Cruises to anyone who wants to do a river cruise.

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A Michigan Summer, Part Two – August 2017

After our trip to Mackinac Island, we returned to the family cottage on Rifle Lake. While Dave and Elisabeth enjoyed the day with the twins, Pat and I drove to Detroit Wayne County Airport to pick up our other granddaughter, Katrina.

At the cottage, the girls wanted to spend as much time on the lake as possible. Being towed on a tube behind the boat was their favorite activity. From the cottage we went back to Bad Axe. The girls loved playing with the dogs, picking berries in the garden, and getting rides on Geri’s four-wheeler. Of course we had to go back to the Grindstone City General Store so Katrina could have a “Kiddie Cone.” She wasn’t able to finish it.

The highlight of the trip was being invited by Pat’s cousin, Rosemary, to come to their place for horseback riding. Rosemary has three horses that we could ride. It is a much better experience than riding at a stable where the horses only follow the one in front of them. Here we were able to ride our horses all around her place. After the ride, we went to dinner and blueberry picking. Blueberry pie was definitely in our future!

We would have enjoyed spending more time in Bad Axe, but we had plans to go to the Detroit area for my 50th high school reunion. We camped in an RV park near Ypsilanti, the Detroit Greenfield RV Park. It was a convenient location, but a bit of a disappointment with the sites being pretty cramped and the office staff nickel and dimed us with charges for most of the park’s amenities, such as the water slide. They had a nice lake but wouldn’t let us use our own kayaks, they had kayaks for rent.

The reunion was a great time and I was able to see classmates, some of whom I had not seen in twenty years. The dinner was great and the conversations better. On Saturday one of our classmates, the former high school principal and district superintendent, took us on a tour of the upgraded high school, complete with a new 650 seat auditorium. A big improvement from 1967!

Sunday we drove to Lansing to stay in the Cottonwood Campground. Cottonwood is a great park with a swimming pool and pond. The girls enjoyed the pool, went kayaking on the pond trying to catch turtles, and generally had a terrific time. We especially like the fact that it is close to the Lansing River Trail. This bike, walk, and running trail goes from the south end to the north end of Lansing as well as east to East Lansing and Michigan State University.  It’s a great place to exercise and bike ride to events downtown and on the MSU campus.

It’s not possible for us to visit Lansing without going to dinner at DeLuca’s. DeLuca’s has the best pizza in Michigan, if not the whole USA. At least that is our opinion! The leftovers made a perfect lunch for the girl’s last day in town.

One night we made pie iron pizzas for dinner and with my special Dutch oven, pineapple upside down cake for desert. I may have burned a couple of the pies, but the cake came out perfect.

All good things must come to an end and on Thursday, August 10th we had to take the girls to the airport for their flight back to Washington. Fortunately everything went without a hitch and we got a text message from their dad that they had arrived safely.

Saturday Pat and I rode our bikes on the Lansing River Trail to East Lansing for the Great Lakes Folk Festival. This event began years ago as the National Folk Festival through a grant from the National Council for Traditional Arts. The funding was for three years and the organizers were able to draw big names like Gordon Lightfoot; Peter, Paul, and Mary; Amy Grant, Hootie and the Blowfish; and Peter Cetera. Although the national funding ran out, both the City of East Lansing and the MSU Museum were committed to continue the festival tradition. The festival continues as the Great Lakes Folk Festival. While the performers are not the big name shows of the past, the Festival continues to attract great performers. Between ballad singers, country-western singers, and Celtic bands we had a wonderful time. A new addition was the street performer tent where local performers can entertain whomever walks by for 30 minutes. I wish I had known about this in advance, I would have brought my guitar and given it a try!

During the next week we simply relaxed, finished doctor appointments, seeing old friends, and preventive maintenance on the truck and trailer – a very easy week. Monday, August 21st, we headed up the road, back to Bad Axe. There we will make our final preparations for our next adventure – a trip to Germany. Next stop, Amsterdam where we will board a ship for a cruise on the Rhine River.

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A Michigan Summer, Part One – June/July 2017

As I mentioned in an earlier post we have now camped in all of the fifty states. We are often asked what is our favorite place. We don’t have a favorite place, but I think we would both consider Michigan our favorite state. Maybe that is because we are from here and we still call it home. Michigan is a special, unique place. As one of our early explorers once said, “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look around you.”

This year we had a special reason to return home. My sister’s husband passed away in April and we came to help my sister put on a “celebration of life” to memorialize her husband’s life. Gerry was very generous with his time and resources. As well as I knew him I was even more impressed as some of the 150 guests shared their stories with us. I know my sister will continue to grieve her loss, but it was our honor to help her to celebrate Gerry’s life.

From there we headed to Bad Axe, to Pat’s brother’s place, where we “moochdocked” in his backyard. Pat’s sister and brother in law from Milwaukee pulled in the next day with their trailer and our niece and nephew from Florida. From then on the pace got rather hectic. We all went to the cottage the two brothers have near West Branch. A couple of days later we went to the Detroit Wayne County Airport to pick up our oldest son, Scott and his twin daughters, Sierra and Clarissa.

We all had a great time at the cottage. There was way too much food to eat and it was all delicious. We went swimming, kayaking, and tubing in Rifle Lake. I was able to get in some good time on my small sailboat and Scott and I serenaded the gang on the deck of the cottage, overlooking the lake. Unfortunately I had to drive Scott back to the airport on July 5th, but we were able to keep the twins with us!

On July 9th we drove back to Bad Axe, where the Pat took the twins to enjoy Bad Axe Days. Sierra was even featured in the local newspaper!

North of Bad Axe is Port Austin and Grindstone City. These are a couple of the most popular  tourist attractions in the area. We walked out on the breakwater in Port Austin, looked for old grindstones and geocaches in Grindstone City.

Grindstone City is a collection of homes and a few businesses clustered around a crescent-shaped harbor a bit off of the beaten path of M-25 as it traces its way around Michigan’s Thumb. This natural harbor drew Captain Aaron Peer to Grindstone City in 1834 when his schooner, the Rip Van Winkle, found safe harbor here during a storm on Lake Huron. The ship’s crew went ashore to explore the wooded wilderness and found some unusual flat stones along the waterfront. Peer’s sailors rigged up one of the stones to use for sharpening their tools, and Peer decided the stones would make excellent grindstones.

In 1836, he purchased 400 acres of land to establish a grindstone quarrying and manufacturing operation. The outcropping of Marshall Sandstone that Peer discovered was an abrasive stone with a very fine grit, unique to Grindstone City, and perfect for grindstones and scythe stones. Worldwide demand soon earned the town the nickname of Grindstone Capital of the World.

Our highest priority was the Grindstone City General Store, they have the largest ice cream cones I have ever seen. The cones in the pictures are “Kiddie” size.

Later in the week our daughter, Elisabeth, drove up from Raleigh, NC. She met us in Bad Axe and we took the trailer to Mackinaw City, where we were met by our son, David, from Lansing, MI. The campground was a short drive outside of Mackinaw City and we walked along the shore of the Straits of Mackinac and checked out some fudge shops (a must do activity in Mackinaw City).

From the beach at the campground we could see the Mackinac Bridge. As night fell the bridge lit up like a chain of jewels suspended above the water.

Our plan was to make a day trip to Tahquamenon Falls, but the weather didn’t cooperate so I met a fellow geocacher and his wife for coffee while everyone else went shopping (and more fudge tasting). That afternoon we went to an indoor water park where everyone had a great time.

The next day we woke up to beautiful weather and took the Shepler ferry to Mackinac Island. Mackinac Island is a unique place. When the first horseless carriage arrived on the island in the early 1900’s it scared the horses and the local carriage companies lobbied to have them banned from the island. That ban continues today and the only motorized vehicles on the island are fire engines and one police car. Because everyone travels on foot, bicycle, or by horse there aren’t a lot of high speed pursuits.

We signed up for a carriage tour and our guide told us that there were seventeen fudge shops on the island. She said if we tasted the fudge in every shop we would eat about one and a half pounds of fudge! My wife, Pat, and I have visited the island several times and have never visited the stables. Here we discovered more about the history of the island and the horses on the island.

One of the most popular stops on the tour is Arch Rock. The Indian legend goes like this:

“A long time ago, a beautiful young Indian woman named Ne-daw-niss (She who walks like the mist), while gathering wild rice, met a handsome young man who was the son of a sky spirit. They fell in love, but she was forbidden to marry the non-mortal by her cruel father. He beat her and tied her on a rock high on a bluff on the Island of the Turtle. She wept softly for her lover. Tears flowing down the bluff washed away the stone and formed the arch. In time the young man returned, untied her and took her in his arms. Together they returned to the home of his sky people.”

This could be why some believe the arch is a way for departed souls to cross over to their resting place.

Our final stop on the tour was Fort Mackinac. In the 1800s the Straits of Mackinac were a center for commerce. The French built Fort Michilimackinac on the southern shore at what is now Mackinaw City as part of the French-Canadian trading post system. In 1761 the French relinquished the fort along with their territories to the British. In 1781 the British decided the wooden fort was too vulnerable, moved to Mackinac Island, and constructed the present limestone fort. Americans took control in 1796. In July 1812, in the first land engagement of the War of 1812 in the United States, the British captured the fort. It was returned to the United States after the war under the Treaty of Ghent.

The fort remained active until 1895. During these years Mackinac Island was transformed from a center of the fur trade into a major summer resort. The stone ramparts, the south sally port and the Officer’s Stone Quarters are all part of the original fort built over 225 years ago. In 1875 Mackinac Island became the nation’s second National Park. Like Yellowstone, as a National Park, it was operated and maintained by the U.S. Army. In 1895 the fort was decommissioned and turned over to the State of Michigan to become a state park. The buildings have been restored to how they looked during the final years of the fort’s occupation. Interpreters depict U.S. Army soldiers from this same period, dressed in distinctive uniforms.

We all enjoyed touring the fort and watching the demonstrations, such as marching and cannon firing. The girls really enjoyed the “Kids Barracks” that provide hands-on activities for kids.

One stop the girls found fascinating was the American Fur Company Store. Here they were able to learn about how on June 6, 1822, an employee of the American Fur Company on Mackinac Island, named Alexis St. Martin, was accidentally shot in the stomach by a discharge of a shotgun loaded with a buck shot from close range that injured his ribs and his stomach. Dr. William Beaumont, the surgeon at Fort Mackinac treated his wound, but expected St. Martin to die from his injuries. Despite this dire prediction, St. Martin survived – but with a hole in his stomach that never fully healed.

Beaumont recognized that he had in St. Martin an unusual opportunity to observe digestive processes. Dr. Beaumont began to perform experiments on digestion using the stomach of St. Martin. The girls looked at every one of the displays about this. After a stop at the blacksmith shop, we took our tired bodies back to the ferry.

Back in Mackinaw City we had one last opportunity for souvenir shopping, and then we treated everyone to a northern Michigan specialty – pasties.  The girls had never had one before, but gave them their seal of approval.

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Exploring the Thousand Islands, June 2017

The fastest route from Vermont to Michigan is through Canada. We had an option to travel straight north through Montreal or to go west through New York and cross farther down the St. Lawrence River. We chose to do the later and cross the border into Ontario at Ogdensburg. It’s usually easier to cross at a smaller crossing, away from a major urban area, and our crossing was uneventful.

We decided to camp at the Ivy Lea Campground, an Ontario Provincial Park. Ivy Lea is a good location to use as a base to explore the region. We had been rained on rather continuously since we left Virginia and it was apparent the rain had been in this region as well. The grassy areas were very wet and signs warned us not to drive in the grass. We awoke to heavy rain the next day and we decided it was a good day to sleep in, catch up on our reading, make some plans, and just “chill out.”

I had been in touch with the Brockville Adventure Centre, a SCUBA dive center on the St. Lawrence River, and was able to join a pair of divers who booked a charter to dive on a couple of wrecks in the St. Lawrence River.

Wednesday afternoon our dive boat took us upriver to our first site, the Henry C. Daryaw. This steel freighter had struck a rock, penetrating the hull. After multiple salvage attempts the Daryaw rolled upside down and sank into an underwater ravine.  The water level of the St. Lawrence was five feet above its normal level as a result of all of the rain in the region. Consequently, the current was running faster than normal. The three of us descended along the mooring line to the stern of the wreck. I could feel the current pulling on us as we descended. The water was very clear with visibility of 20 – 30 feet. Unfortunately there were a lot of micro particles in the water that made it a bad day for underwater photography. When we swam under the wreck we were sheltered from the strong current and we could explore the ship’s holds. You really don’t know what black is until you are 95 feet underwater and underneath a wreck. If it wasn’t for our underwater lights we wouldn’t have seen a thing. We swam out at the bow and ascended to the keel. There we were literally blown towards the stern. We skidded along the surface of the ship, dragging our hands and feet on the surface to try to slow down. When we reached the stern, we dropped out of the current, checked each other out and made our ascent up the mooring line. A unique feature of our dive boat was a platform that is lowered into the water where we could stand to remove our fins, then walk up a set of stairs onto the deck, much better than climbing a ladder!

Our second dive was on the Lillie Parsons, a sailing schooner that ran aground and capsized in 60 feet of water. Unlike many sailing vessels, her masts had not been removed and her masts were visible on the dive. She is lying on a slope with her stern at 60 feet and her bow at 30 feet. When we jumped into the water the current was flowing so fast it pulled the mooring buoy underwater.  As we descended we could feel the current pulling on us even harder than on the Henry Daryaw. We had been briefed to follow a guide line on the river bottom, but soon discovered it was no longer attached to the wreck. The current was so strong that we had to hold on to rocks on the river bottom and sort of crawl along the rocks until we reached the wreck.  As we worked our way along the ships gunwale, we had to hold onto the exposed ribs to keep from being swept away. We were able to look at some of her cargo of coal that was spilled on the bottom and some other artifacts from the ship. After exploring the Lillie Parsons we were to follow the rock wall of the island to the ascent line. We controlled our drift by holding onto cracks in the wall. At the ascent line, when we held onto the line at our safety stop, the current stretched us out like flags in a strong wind. Both of these dives seemed like I was swimming in a hurricane. Without a doubt, the most challenging dives I have ever made and I hope to return to Brockville to do more dives in the future.

Thursday, we launched our kayaks from the campground and paddled upriver. By staying close to the shore we were able to avoid the worst of the current. You could easily tell that the river was high. We saw one cabin after another where the water was above the level of the dock. There were many nice homes and cabins built on the shore and on the islands. We were able to paddle out into the channel, using the islands to shield us from the current as we explored them. It was a beautiful day for paddling and the current was not as much of a problem as we thought it might have been.

That afternoon we drove over to Rockport where we had our lunch in a park overlooking the St. Lawrence. After lunch we boarded a sightseeing tour boat for a tour of the Thousand Islands. As we cruised through the islands we saw all kinds of cabins, cottages, homes, and mansions. Some of the islands were so small there was hardly enough room for the building. In fact, in one case, a cabin was built on nothing but a rock. They built the cabin so big that you can’t even see the rock it was built on.

This island is international. The house is in Canada and the small island, across the bridge, is in the USA.

We saw many mansions of all sizes and shapes on the river. However, the most talked about mansion is Boldt Castle on Heart Island. George C. Boldt, proprietor of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City,  built this massive structure on the heart shaped island for his wife. He employed 300 artisans and craftsmen to create this 120 room castle. In 1904 a telegram from Boldt announced the death of his wife and commanded, “stop all construction.” Broken hearted, Boldt abandoned the project and never returned to Heart Island. For 73 years, the castle and various stone structures were left to the mercy of the wind, rain, ice, snow and vandals. When the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the property in 1977, it was decided the castle would be preserved for the enjoyment of future generations, funded through the use of all net revenues from the castle operation. Since 1977, several million dollars have been applied to rehabilitating, restoring and improving the Heart Island structures. Today it is an impressive structure and hosts daily tours.

One of the benefits of camping at the Ivy Lea Campground is that you get a free pass to tour Fort Henry or Upper Canada Village. We opted to visit Fort Henry. The original fort was constructed during the War of 1812 to protect the Kingston Royal Naval Dockyard on Point Frederick from a possible American attack during the war and to monitor maritime traffic on the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. Fort Henry was used for several different purposes, including a compound for enemy Prisoners of War. In the early 1900s it began to fall into disrepair, but in the 1930s, under the leadership of Ronald L. Way, restorations took place as part of a government work program during the Great Depression. “Old Fort Henry” was opened on August 1, 1938. What sets Fort Henry apart from many other restored forts that I have visited is the pageantry. When Ronald Way began the restoration he knew that the physical restoration was only part of the effort. He wanted the fort to come alive and tell a story. Today Fort Henry is administered by Parks Canada, operated by the St. Lawrence Parks Commission, and is a living museum with the introduction of uniformed military interpreters known as the Fort Henry Guard. These interpreters staff the fort, conduct demonstrations of British military life, and lead tours for visitors. Our tour guide played the role of a Canadian soldier in the fort and the Afternoon Parade by the Fort Henry Guard was impressive.

The next morning, Sunday, June 11th, we  began a two-day drive to Lansing, crossing the US/Canadian Border, the longest undefended border in the world.

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Burlington, VT – Where Ethan Allen is More Than a Furniture Store, June 2017

Hurray! Vermont was state #50, Fifty states in six years. This didn’t start as a goal but it does feel good to have filled in the map.

As we planned our route into Vermont we discovered that we would be driving right by the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory. With a little research we learned that they give tours every hour and have parking for RVs. Having decided that this was too good to pass up, we made it a planned stop.

Ben and Jerry’s is a unique operation. They buy their milk and other ingredients from select, local farmers who meet their standards for raising their herds and growing their crops naturally. They use Fair Trade growers, support non-GMO agriculture practices, and educate their employees in environmental awareness. They are active in the community, supporting local food banks, rebuilding houses in New Orleans, and donating ice cream to local organizations to celebrate events or fund-raising.

I may not agree with all of Ben and Jerry’s political positions, but I have to respect a company that operates with a set a values that supersede profit, puts its financial capital behind what it deems to be important, and doesn’t denigrate others in the process.The tour was great, very informative, and fun. We finished the tour with sample of ice cream. After that we had lunch – more ice cream!

We thought it would be nice to stay on Grand Isle, unfortunately we were not able to find any campgrounds on Grand Isle with vacancies for a trailer of our size. We did find a site in the North Beach Campground, just north of Burlington. This park, operated by the City of Burlington, is a nice location. There is a row of sites that are “big rig friendly,” a short walk to the beach, and right on the Burlington Recreation Path. This path is another “rails to trails” path and made it possible to ride our bikes into downtown Burlington.

We decided to take a cruise on Lake Champlain. We found a website called “” that let us get two tickets for the price of one. This looked like a good deal and we went with it.

The next morning we rode our bikes to the City Hall Park for the Burlington City Market. Our first pleasant surprise was free, secured parking for our bikes. As we wandered by the vendors stalls I was impressed by the number of local food vendors. There was everything from cheese and organic vegetables to wine and distilled spirits. It was the first time that I felt the food vendors outnumbered the craft vendors.

After the City Market, we rode to the docks and boarded the “Spirit of Ethan Allen” for the cruise. As we traveled around the southern portion of the lake we discovered that Lake Champlain was named after Samuel Champlain who discovered it in 1609. Lake Champlain is also believed to have the best collection of historic shipwrecks in North America. Shipbuilding was big business in Lake Champlain’s history and at least one shipyard is still going strong. I found it interesting to see the “ways” where the ships are constructed and then launched. Locke Ness in Scotland has its monster and Lake Champlain has its own, called “Champ.” As with the Locke Ness monster, there is evidence that Champ exists, but also plenty of doubt. The largest mass sighting of Champ was aboard the “Spirit of Ethan Allen” in 1984.

After the cruise we were more than ready for lunch and rode to the Shanty on the Water. Fish is definitely popular on the menu and the maritime decor was right up my alley. We had great seats overlooking the harbor, but it was too bad the weather was so poor.

The next day we drove to Grand Isle to see whatever there was to see. Our first stop was the Snow Farm Vineyard. This is a great place to visit. When we got there we asked if they did any tours. They told us we could look around, and suggested a trail that led to a hill behind the vineyard that was the highest point in Grand Isle County. We took that advice and hiked to the hilltop and enjoyed our picnic lunch from some benches with a magnificent view of Lake Champlain. The winery has a patio and picnic tables outside so you can enjoy your wine and the view at the same time. Inside we did a wine tasting, discovering some wines we liked. Unfortunately we were going to cross into Canada the next day and we already had more wine than we would be allowed to take into Canada, so we didn’t want to buy a bottle, and maybe have to dump in out. We’ll just have to come back again!

The State of Vermont operates the Ed Weed Fish Culture Station to do research and breed fish to feed into the lake. The displays were educational and enlightening and we could see the fish raceways where the fish are bred.

Burlington is the home of Ethan Allen. Ethan Allen was the leader of the local militia, known as the Green Mountain Boys, in the Revolutionary War. Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys were instrumental in winning the battle of Fort Ticonderoga. The artillery cannon that were captured in that battle were sent to General Washington and helped him defeat the British in Boston. At the Ethan Allen Homestead Museum you can learn about this history and tour his former home.

We enjoyed our brief stays in New Hampshire and Vermont, but the biggest thing we learned was there is a lot more to see in these states. We are looking forward to returning to spend more time exploring them in the future.

The next morning we had some more rain, but not very heavy as we hooked up the trailer and headed northwest to cross into Ontario.


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Have You Ever Seen the Old Man of the Mountain? – Franconia Notch State Park, NH, May 2017

This spring our plan was to complete our goal to camp in all 50 states. That is what brought us to New Hampshire and Franconia Notch State Park. Franconia Notch is a scenic mountain pass, traversed by a parkway winding between the high peaks of the Kinsman and Franconia mountain ranges. As a teenager I camped in Franconia Notch State Park with my family. At that time we were able to see a geological feature known as the Old Man of the Mountain. This granite formation has been here for centuries, and is featured on the New Hampshire quarter. Over the decades, there was increasing erosion and decay of the formation and in the summer of 1958 the state emplaced four steel rods with huge turnbuckles, weighing up to 700 pounds, to hold the forehead in place. They sealed cracks with fiberglass to keep water from seeping into the granite and prevent further erosion. Unfortunately on May 3, 2003, it all failed. Apparently the granite that supported the chin had been weakened by decades of water reacting with the feldspar potash and the chin fell from the mountain. Once the chin fell away, the remainder of the face was unsupported and it collapsed within seconds – The Old Man of the Mountain was gone.

Since my trip as a teenager, the park opened up an RV park near Cannon Mountain. The sites are at the end of the parking lot for the Echo Lake beach. This may not sound pleasant, but it made them real easy to back into. There are pine trees between every site, and the sites back up to a grassy slope with Cannon Mountain in the background, a great view. I don’t know what it is like in the summer, but this early in the year, there was hardly anyone in the lot.

As soon as we were set up we drove to the Visitor Center to get general information on the park and information on hiking in the area. We only had part of the afternoon left and we decided to take a short hike at a site called the Basin. Here a mountain brook had eroded the rock face and formed a rock bowl, or basin. It is amazing to see what water can do to solid rock, over the centuries it continually and relentlessly wore away at the rock, the power is irresistible.

The weather was clear the next morning and we hiked up to the Artist’s Bluff where we had a spectacular view of the Franconia Notch, Echo Lake, and our campground. From there we continued to the higher peak of Bald Mountain. The trail was well marked, but not for the faint-hearted. At times it was more like rock climbing than hiking, but that only added a bit of spice to the experience.

After we cleaned up we decided to give ourselves a special treat and drove to Patty’s Pancake Parlor for lunch. Obviously their specialty is pancakes. They offer different flour and add-ins, such as chocolate chips and blueberries. Because each guest can order multiple combinations, the servers prepare the pancakes themselves. In short, the food was good, the prices reasonable, and the service was great. I recommend Patty’s Pancake Parlor to anyone visiting Franconia Notch.

It looked like that day was going to have the best weather so we decided to hike the Flume gorge that afternoon. Other than the Old Man of the Mountain, the most significant geologic feature is the Flume. The Flume is a natural gorge with spectacular waterfalls, vistas, and covered bridges. The trail is paved for the first part, but then you go uphill along a walkway/stairs that allows you to look down into the flume. The way the water has cut into the mountain in such a sharp gorge is impressive. At spots you can see where dark volcanic lava has filled in the cracks formed in the lighter shade of granite. The covered bridges added something special to the hike.

The next morning we awoke to somewhat clear skies. Partly cloudy is turning into the new clear. Is this rain ever going to stop? We took advantage of the good weather, packed a lunch and drove to the trailhead for the Falling Waters Trail. This trail goes to the top of the ridge where it  meets the Appalachian Trail at a spot called the Haystack. We set out, planning to make it to the Haystack. The trail started our easy enough, but soon we were climbing. On our way to the top, we had to traverse four “wet” crossings. This is where the Walker Brook and Dry Brook crossed the trail and there was no bridge on the trail. These crossings definitely added some excitement to the hike, and we had a few challenges on a couple of them.

As we climbed the scenery of the brooks tumbling down the mountain was magnificent. As opposed to the Flume where we were restricted to walkways and trails, here we could go wherever we wanted. We thought some of the parts of the trail to Artist’s Bluff were tough, but climbing over the rocks and boulders on the Fallen Waters Trail made those look mild. After the fourth water crossing we took a break and chatted with other hikers as they passed us. Finally we decided that it was time to turn around. I checked my GPS and determined that we had climbed 1130 feet since we left the trailhead, no wonder we were feeling it! You would think it would be easier going back down, but that was not the case. As we descended we had to traverse the climbs we had made over those rocks and boulders. We had to be careful as more climbers get hurt going down than going up.

Earlier, at the visitor center, we had seen information on a program where you could purchase a card for $25 that would cover the cost of your rescue if you got into trouble. As we started out on the Fallen Waters Trail we saw a sign that clearly stated if you are not properly prepared or act recklessly and had to be rescued, you would pay the cost of that rescue. I joked about paying $25 in case you are stupid, but as we discussed it we changed our minds. If you’re a local and are on the trails a lot it would be fairly easy to make a mistake and get hurt to the extent that you had to be rescued, and $25 wasn’t a bad insurance policy.

We made a couple more stops on our way back to the trailer and one was Boise Rock. In the 1800s a teamster named Thomas Boise was caught in a blizzard and took shelter under this rock. To survive he had to kill and skin his horse, and wrap himself in the hide. When his rescuers found him the next day, the horse’s hide was frozen around his body and they had to cut it off of him with axes, but he survived the blizzard because of it.

Our final stop was at the Old Man of the Mountain Profile Plaza. Here we were able to see in detail how people had attempted to preserve the Old Man’s face on the mountain and how nature took her course in spite of their efforts. One of the best features of the Plaza are the metal stands they have built to replicate the profile that used to be the Old Man of the Mountain. When you stand on the designated footprints for your height, you can look at this metal arm and see this replica of what used to be the profile of the Old Man of the Mountain. How special to allow people who have heard of this to still be able to see what is no longer there!

Next to the Old Man of the Mountain Profiler Plaza is the New England Ski Museum. Downhill skiing got its start in the United States in this area. In fact, the first Ski School in the USA is in a small village nearby. This museum is dedicated to that history of skiing. The museum is small, well done, and free to all. When we visited it, they had a special exhibit on the 10th Mountain Division that was formed in World War II at the urging of skiers and mountaineers from this area.

The next morning we had the “enjoyment” of packing and hooking up in the rain. Next stop, Burlington, VT.

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Pleasant Memories of Boston, May 2017

In my last post I described the Revolutionary War history that can be seen in almost every nook and cranny of the Boston area, but there is more to see than the Freedom Trail and the Battle Road.

We stayed at the FAMCAMP (Air Force Campground) at Hanscom Air Force Base near Bedford, MA. This is a nice campground, just across the airfield from the base. There are full hook ups available with 30 and 50 amp electrical service. One of the nice aspects about the campground is the community fire circle with firewood stocked for anyone to use. However the best thing about this campground is that it is a short ride to the Minuteman Bicycle Trail.  This is a Rails to Trails bike/pedestrian path that puts you at a ten minute bike ride to the North Bridge in Concord or a fifteen minute ride to Lexington Green. To go into the City of Boston, it is a short twelve mile drive to the Alewife T-Station to take the train into the city. Talk about convenience!

After touring the historical sites in the area we took our kayaks to the Concord River and paddled under the North Bridge. The Concord River is a nice river for paddling as the current is mild enough that you can paddle up and down stream with little effort. Because there has been so much rain in the area, the river was well above its normal level.  It’s always fun to paddle back in the trees.

We stopped by the North Bridge for lunch and found out there was a small concert scheduled nearby that afternoon.  We finished our paddling and drove back to the bridge. We were entertained by two local musicians that played the violin and banjo, but also played a wide variety of unique instruments that I had never seen before. It was a free concert, sponsored by a local group and a great way to spend an afternoon.

On our last day we observed Memorial Day by attending the ceremony in Bedford. While the parade and outdoor events were cancelled due to the poor weather, the ceremony was held in the high school auditorium. I was most impressed by the speaker from Hanscom AFB, a Lieutenant Colonel, who reflected on meeting a veteran while shopping one day. He said the man seemed to need to tell the stories of his fellow vets that had passed away. In closing his presentation the Lieutenant Colonel said that he had once been told that you are only really dead when people don’t say your name anymore. That is why we observe Memorial Day, to speak the names of those who made, in Abraham Lincoln’s words, “that last great act of devotion.”

That evening we had a potluck dinner with our fellow veterans at the campground and Tuesday, May 30th we left for Franconia Notch State Park in New Hampshire.

Posted in Celebrating Holidays, Fulltime RV, Massachusetts, Michigan Traveler, Military RV Parks | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment