Sunday, January 30, 2011


This is about our drive to Toronto in the summer of 2011.

I started this as an email, but it has grown enough so that it's better I just pass on a link instead of many words.   As with my other blogs, I'll assign fake dates so the blog will read in date sequence.

Marge and I retired to  Brunswick, Maine in 1985-87.   She has used a cane outside our home since a back operation in September 2010, and is diligently working at getting rid of it.

We had to decline an invitation to attend the recent wedding of grandson Michael and Kristen in Maui partly because of the long plane ride.   Marge's Boston back surgeon advised against the trip, and Marge knew she couldn't handle certain complications of being sealed in an aluminum tube for many hours, in the air or has happened, maybe on the runway. 

You can read some of my other travel blogs by clicking on:            

Friday, January 28, 2011


As usual we left home late.   Our Prius was in good condition, with a new set of tires.   As we shunpiked westward through southern New Hampshire, the right front tire went flat.   At a gas station we cell-phoned AAA for help , but they and local people said there was no garage to fix our tire, since it was Sunday.   Then a young man came over and said he worked for the AAA garage that would be helping us, that he was off duty  and waiting for them to fix a broken brake line on his truck, and that AAA would only replace our tire with the "toy tire" spare underneath all our luggage.   So he swapped flat for spare before the AAA truck showed up.   We never spoke to the AAA truck driver, and there were no papers signed.   Our helper said we could or should only drive 50 miles under 50 mph on the toy tire, but there might be a garage open until 5 PM in Keene on our route ahead.   Indeed there was.  The Tire Warehouse people immediately replaced our ruined tire, with smiles and a $27 discount.   What a relief !

We drove through Troy, New York, past impressive buildings apparently built since son Phil attended Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute there, then through a mile of slums.   We stayed the night at an excellent Fairfield Inn we had booked.  For that we got triple points on our Marriott Visa, and using Marge's retired Federal employee card, as usual a much better rate than the AAA or AARP rate.

The next day we drove the long New York Thruway westward near the old Erie Canal, past lush scenic farms.

We entered Canada at Niagara Falls, where overhead signs then long lines indicated up to a 2 hour wait at Customs.   Actually it took less than a half hour.   The young lady Customs officer was one of the few very rude Canadians we have met.   As at any frontier, we remained courteous, since we were otherwise helpless.   August 1 is a Canadian holiday, which would have complicated any problems there.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

AUGUST 2 - 3

Canada, once cheap, has become expensive.    However, the costs of this trip were offset by things we did two years ago and this year.

In November 2009 we put a large share of our retirement funds in a Canadian bank (TD)  because we thought massive USA government deficits would erode the value of the USA dollar.   Since then our TD funds have appreciated 12% against the USA dollar.   As we started this trip our government was in crisis, when disagreement about raising the debt limit threatened financial chaos.   A smaller advantage of the TD investment is that we got a Canadian chip-and-pin Visa, a technology now nearly universal in Europe, and safer because when you use it, it doesn't have to leave your hands, and you have to key in a PIN.

We booked four nights, essentially "free", at Marriott's Residence Inn two blocks from the iconic CN Tower.   Rack rate is about $200, a bargain for a nice city hotel, especially for the elegant one we got.   From our USA Marriott Visa we had a credit for one night expiring August 4.   We had vouchers for two more nights from a previous Marriott 3-for-2 promotion.   We used accumulated Marriott points for the fourth night.    The free breakfasts and free buffet suppers were the most elaborate ever, with attentive staff.   We were welcome to take enough from breakfast for lunch in our full kitchen.

Our hotel experience agreed with very favorable comments about the Inn on the Internet.  We asked for a high mini-suite with a view of Lake Ontario, and got it.  However, although it was on the 19th floor, the view included very little water.   We then asked to move to a view of the Tower, so the lady manager showed us a mini-suite with the Tower seemingly right outside and far above our windows.   The view is especially spectacular in the evening, when the Tower is lit with constantly changing rainbow colors.     

Since Marge is not up to striding long distances, especially in the heat of this week, I walked several blocks to a TD bank to make some changes to our bank accounts and Visa.   Those accounts are now paying 1.10%, a lot better than our Key account at home, with the equivalent of FDIC, and the Visa is now fee-free.  Enroute I had a great time exploring downtown on foot, its businesses, its innovative and skyscraper architecture, and its people.  Toronto has the highest perentage of first-generation immigrants of any city in the world, a real United Nations.   Each of these people I've approached seem to welcome my asking where they are from, even telling short stories of their background, so this has become a  fascinating highlight of the trip.   I've talked here with immigrant residents: the maid from Tibet, the quite young waiter from Poland (he didn't like Lech Walesa), the bank manager (elephants, tea, Sir Arthur Clarke, the civil war with Tamils) and floor sweeper both from Sri Lanka, a radio host from Guatemala (Julietta, long talk), others from Philippines, India, China, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Pakistan, California (really !).  This is on Canada's immigration policy:  click here

A highlight of our two trips to Toronto many years ago, and this trip, has been supper in the revolving restaurant in the CN Tower, once the world's tallest free-standing structure.  We've enjoyed high revolving restaurants in San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto, but the latter is the highest and best.   We arrange these experiences to start an hour before sunset.  The leisurely supper takes about 2 hours, which is about 2 revolutions.  During the first revolution we see around and below us the dozens of skyscrapers in this financial center of Canada, and the New York shore far across Lake Ontario.  Then sunset.  In the second hour a spectacular sea of lights extends to the horizon all around, beyond the shining skyscrapers.  Expensive, but romantic beyond price.
Here's a slick video on the tower.  Note the airport. click here
I think this is uproarious, although real:   click here

The food was elegant.  I took this picture looking northeast as we started our meal.  In the middle is the turnpike we'll take to return to New York and home.

About a half hour later we saw below us the airport at which we landed our club Cessna about 30 years ago.  We could walk from there to our hotel.  Beside it is the 400 foot wide channel traversed by the "world's shortest ferry".

The airport traffic pattern is not the usual one, because skyscrapers and the Tower are in the way.  Occasionally a small plane flew closer than I would have thought legal, but the waiter said that before 9/11 they flew closer, close enough to exchange waves.  Apparently this Canadian icon could survive being hit by a Cessna, although not by a 747, and they don't seem worried.  There's been a lot of local controversy about the airport, because some want to remove it, as Mayor Daley of Chicago did in 2003 to their similarly convenient airport there.

The next day, August 3, we went around the city on a tour bus, then a boat ride to the pretty islands off the city shore.   This was a less positive experience: a hidden fee was added, the bus was late so long walks were necessary, it was cold and rainy on the boat.   Still, it was educational and worth it.  

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Marge and I walked around downtown to watch the polygot crowds, get lost in the labyrinth of underground stores, and eat a half lunch at Penelope's on King Street, a locally famous Greece restaurant with reasonable prices and mostly older Greek immigrant staff.   We enjoyed long segments of conversation with our waitress Victoria, 59, a gem.  The walking was tough on Marge's locomotion, so we took a taxi back to our Residence Inn.   

We considered returning to the Tower restaurant for our last evening, but returned to Penelope's instead.  We asked for Victoria, but she had gone home, so we got Konstantinos (Kostas), pushing 70, another gem, whom we left as friends after a superb lamb supper and more long conversation.  He told us about what a great person Victoria is, and that he wishes he had remained in Greece, where he would be retired now.   He treated us to Drambuie for Marge and a fiery Greek drink for Dick.  When we return to Toronto, Penelope's rather than the Tower will be our first target.

The walk back to the Inn via the theater district was hard on Marge

1)  CN Tower and tall buildings.  Restaurant is the bulge in the Tower, actually much higher than buildings shown, because of perspective.
2)  Skyscrapers and bronze bulls.  There's lots of outdoor art here.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

AUGUST 5 - 6

As usual we got up later than planned, and had distractions we hadn't anticipated.

We posted our suite for no service during our 3 1/2 days there, but there was a Tibetan housekeeper/maid assigned to it.  Earlier when I mentioned the Potala and the Dalai Lama to her, her eyes got big, she beamed, and she clasped her hands in prayer.  So on this departure morning I tried to print a colored picture of the Dalai Lama for her.   For that I had to use the house printer, which meant using the house computer too.  Since it was not an Apple, I had great difficulty.  Lela, a beautiful and charismatic desk clerk handling the needs of other guests like a circus juggler, worked to help me, and finally produced the colored photo.   I presented this and several inadvertent sepia copies and $5 to the Tibetan, and she was ecstatic.

Driving through Toronto's extended sprawl to the distant countryside reminded me that the city has 5 1/2 million people.   Beyond that, the divided turnpike along the north shore of Lake Ontario was quite like the USA interstate highways, but the service centers seemed to us superior in cleanliness, appearance, efficiency and food quality.

By the time we returned to the USA, where Lake Ontario drains through the Thousand Islands into the St. Lawrence River, it was clear we were going to end the day far short of our original goal of Burlington, Vermont.   The USA customs officer was as friendly as a Fuller Brush salesman, contrary to the stereotype.   At the Welcome Center, the ladies made phone calls and found that all motels/hotels before the scenic Adirondack Mountains were full, and there were none of them anyway along scenic Route 3 through those mountains.   We had no choice but to drive onwards, hoping to somehow find a  spare room enroute, or reach Burlington before midnight.  Suddenly we spied a Microtel, a chain we've found inexpensive and adequate.  So that's where we stopped, gratefully.   Apparently only establishments that pay a fee get listed at Welcome Centers, as with Yellow Pages.  We ate a "breakfast" for supper at the local diner, where the portions were gargantuan, so all the staff and the majority of customers looked at least 100 pounds overweight.

That was in the town of "Calcium".   Now there's a story, but I haven't found it yet.

August 6 we drove 411 miles home, mostly shunpiking through the mountains of NY, VT and NH, via Lake Placid,  a Lake Champlain ferry, Burlington, Montpelier, the Kankamagus Highway.

Enroute in the New York Adirondack Mountains I spied the remains of a strange-looking complex nearly hidden behind a fence and trees, so Marge waited while I squeezed through a fence and investigated on foot.  There were the skeletons of several big steel and concrete buildings, and trees growing up through acres of pavement.   It was spooky, especially the interiors.   Later Google told me it was the corpse of the Benson Mine, which in 1950 was the largest open pit magnetite iron mine in the world, closed in 1978.   I was very surprised to learn there had been such a mine in the east, certainly not in a New York forest.   A policeman in the next town told me the site would probably be levelled and compacted, except for the huge open mine hole, because it's surrounded by a National Forest, and some underground shafts are apt to collapse.   It was just as well that I went no further.

I've ordered a book on this fascinating story:
 Gem of the Adirondacks: Star Lake, Benson Mines, and the Global Economyby Russell J. Hall