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Bus Adventure to Lancaster PA

I have frequently considered trying a bus tour type of trip. One where I could “leave the driving to them”, as well as the planning and figuring out where everything I’d like to see is located. Someone else could determine what the best venues are, where the best food is, and what attractions have the coolest things to do. But……I really enjoy mixing my need to have somewhat structured plans with my love of having the flexibility to be spontaneous and veer off course when something interesting catches my eye. So, I have always opted to leave the bus tours to others and mold my adventures on my own. Also, I had a really bad experience on a bus trip a little over 30 years ago (the one and only time I traveled by bus) that has stuck in the back of my mind and pops up whenever the idea of traveling on a bus even remotely enters the realm of possibility.

Well, I changed all that this past weekend! Several months ago, some friends from church asked me if I wanted to go along with them on a bus tour to Lancaster, PA to see a production of Moses at the Sight and Sound Theater there. It was going to be a two day – one overnight stay – trip down and back, the price seemed reasonable, and I thought it might be fun…….so, the trip was booked…….and, now, it is over and in the memory books!

The trip, in general, was very nice – parts of it was awesome and parts left a lot to be desired, but over all, it was a good adventure and I had a really nice time. I’ll address the parts that fell flat for me, first, because there was much more that was really good and I want to devote the bulk of this post to the good parts!

I have only one “in general” complaint — I felt confined by a really structured itinerary. There was some time when we were “on our own”, but only in the sense that we got off the bus at a location and had a set amount of time to just wander and do what we wanted to do at that location – not that we could go where we wanted or choose to do something different. As we rode around from place to place, I saw several things that I would have stopped to get a closer look at or snap a photo of if I was driving, but couldn’t and that made me sad.

There were two more specific parts that made me wonder if I had made a serious mistake in agreeing to go……and, both were right at the beginning. First – the seating was assigned and REALLY cramped on the bus! It wasn’t long before the lack of leg room made my bad knee start to throb and the lack of elbow room made me feel tense and achy! This went on for the first five and a half hours or so until the first major stop in Lancaster when my friend and I discovered there were empty seats in the back that had a LOT more room and we moved to them and were able to stretch out – we claimed those seats for the rest of the trip! :)

Speaking of that first major stop in Lancaster…….that was the other part that made me question my decision to go – and it was one of the items on the itinerary that I was really looking forward to! That first stop was at the Rockvale Outlet Mall for shopping and lunch on our own – we had three whole hours there. I looked it up online and got excited about some of the stores – I envisioned putting a huge dent in my Christmas shopping! But, when we got there, we found that it was a HUGE sprawled out place with all outside entrances and several pockets of buildings that weren’t attached - including all of the places to eat. AND…..the weather was not the best for a situation like that – it was cold and drizzly and windy! There were trolleys, but you had to stand and wait outside for them to come around. There were benches, but, again, they were outside in the cold! So, we waited for a trolley (that killed almost 1/2 hour) and went to Bob Evans for lunch – killed as much time as we could there! By then, the sun came out a little and the drizzle stopped, so we thought we’d check out some stores within short walking distance from where we needed to be for the bus. Every store was SUPER crowded – you could barely get in the door of some of them – and the prices were not what I would call “outlet” prices! So, we gave up and went to wait for our time to get back on the bus. I didn’t purchase anything…..all I accomplished was lunch and getting cold and wet! I couldn’t believe that they dropped off a bus load of mostly senior citizens (not all, but a majority) with no means of transportation in bad weather at a place that required so much extensive walking and no place to get inside to sit comfortably if they didn’t want to (or couldn’t) shop! It would have been a very different and likely more enjoyable feature to the trip if it was an indoor mall with seating areas.

So, that was the first half of the first day…….like I said, I was seriously doubting my judgment, here!

But……things began to look up from there! Like I said, the sun started to show itself and we discovered the better seats where we could stretch out and be more comfortable on the bus! So, now that I got the griping out of the way, on to the awesome parts!!!

We arrived at the hotel to find a really nice LaQuinta Inn and a very nice, comfortable room. We changed and went down to go to dinner. Dinner was a group thing that was included in the package. It was a family style dinner at an Amish family owned restaurant called Hometown Kitchen. They put on a full Sunday Dinner type meal – turkey and filling (they call dressing/stuffing “filling”), roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, buttered noodles, peas and carrots, a salad, homemade cranberry jam and strawberry jam, rolls, and dessert! IT….WAS….AMAZING!!!! Surprisingly, the pie wasn’t very good, but everything else was just incredible! We ate until we were stuffed!

Then, the main event for the trip – the Sight and Sound Theater production of Moses! I have no appropriate words for how awesome it was…..is there a good word that trumps AWESOME??? If you’ve never been to a Sight and Sound Theater, you will just have to take my word for it cause I don’t believe I’ve ever been anywhere that compares to it! They only do shows that bring the bible to life and they are located in both Lancaster, PA and Branson, MO. It is a humungous theater with a stage that surrounds the audience on three sides, as well as aisles where the performers also take the action. There was an extremely large cast of very talented actors/singers and lots of animals – REAL animals!!! Egyptians came charging down the aisle on horse drawn chariots or on horse back, Hebrew peasants and others lead camels and herds of sheep and goats, and large beautiful birds (parrots, I presume) flew in over the audience to perch right where they were supposed to be! The voices on the singers were so amazing – what talent they have in their shows! The only complaint I had was that the actor who played Moses didn’t look a bit like Charlton Heston, so he wasn’t very convincing! hehehehe Seriously, the entire cast, sets, animals, costumes, etc. were perfect! I did have one real complaint……not really a complaint, but something that did bother me – I wasn’t crazy about how they had the actors talk in more modern language – at times a little TOO modern for my taste. I realize it was done for the humorous factor and entertainment value, but I thought it took away from the authentication of the story – at times – not throughout! When Moses went to the mountain and God spoke to him, the voice of God bellowed through the theater and it gave me chills! The burning bush and the fiery etching of the Ten Commandments onto the stone tablets brought tears to my eyes! The angel of death flew in from the back of the theater over the audience, did her thing to those children not of houses of God’s followers (as evidence by sheep blood painted on their doors), and then raised way up out of sight……it was heart stopping! Then……there was the parting of the red sea…..I wondered how they were going to make that seem real…..I won’t spoil it for those who may want to go see it, but I will say that the wind whipped through the theater at high speed, rushing through our hair and across our faces, and there was a visual that took my breath away……and the sea was parted so that God’s people could escape down the aisles through the parted sea! From the time Moses was put in the basket by his mother and floated off to sea, to his time in the palace as the Egyptian Pharaoh’s son (taken in by his wife when she found him floating in his basket), to his exile from the palace and return to being a peasant, to his rejection by his Hebrew people, to his work on behalf of his God……it was all so real and awe inspiring! Just incredible! I do have to say that I thought parts of the first half were a tad boring, but not a lot…..and the second half more than made up for it! It was the highlight of the trip!

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Statue of Moses in the lobby of the theater!

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The curtain covering the set designs prior to the start of the show

That was about all the excitement we could take for one day – we went back to the hotel and got some much needed sleep (we left Batavia at 6:00 am…..I was up at 4:00 to be ready to head to the bus by 5:00!)

The next morning we got on the bus at 8:30 after breakfast and a tour guide joined us for a driving tour of the Amish communities. She was very knowledgeable and told us all about their customs and traditions. We drove around the area for a couple of hours and learned so many interesting things about these incredible people. We have Amish and Mennonite communities around here, but not as populated or as strictly traditional as they are in Lancaster County, PA. It was Sunday, so there wasn’t a lot of activity going on – it is worship and family time for them. We also didn’t have any stops where we could get out to take photos, so I only got a few that I took through the window of the bus when it stopped for a brief viewing. But, we did see a gathering for a worship service – they don’t have churches because they worship in the home – each family holds their own worship in their own home and then every other Sunday they all gather at one home for a day of worship, food, and fellowship. They rotate the homes and the host family is responsible for the food for the entire community - they all prepare the same meal so that they don’t feel like they need to compete with each other.  The following two photos are of a worship gathering we came across – you can see some of the buggies parked and (hard to see) some children wandering around by the tree.

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It was also wedding season…..we saw a few houses prepared for wedding festivities – one had temporary additions built on their homes (after the wedding, the additions are taken down and moved to another home needing them for a wedding) and one home had a HUGE tent that will be used to hitch the many horses out of the weather. The following photo is of a cemetery we went by.

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An interesting tidbit of info I learned — young, unmarried Amish girls wear a white mesh apron, once married the apron is put away and kept until it is taken out and placed in the casket with the girl at her funeral. The tour was wonderful……I really enjoyed it a lot! Also, there are a couple hundred one-room school houses in this area – one for each small district or neighborhood community. The Amish always homeschooled their children. Then, at one time, the government told them they had to consolidate all the small district schools and their children had to go to state approved schools, so they accepted that and sent their children to public schools. Then, at some point, there was the removal of the ability to pray in school and the requirement for PE (and the horrible gym uniforms all kids had to wear), so the Amish appealed to the courts to allow them to school their children in their own schools. The courts agreed, so long as they followed state sanctioned curricula and some other stipulations. All agreed and now they school their children in their little one room school houses until the age of 13 – at which time, the courts agreed that their “schooling” can end because they recognize that their “learning” will continue through their work and family life. Interesting!

Then, we stopped at the Intercourse Canning Company – a store that sells canned goods made with authentic Amish recipes canned under the Intercourse Canning Company label and the Jake and Amos label. It is not Amish run, which is why it was open on Sunday. There were samples out and about throughout the store – jams, pickles, beets, chow chows, mustards, dips, soup mixes, and on and on…….I tried just about everything and bought several items that I fell in love with!

We then traveled to Lewisburg, PA to stop at the Country Cupboard for lunch and shopping. Great food and lots of beautiful things to look at. I didn’t purchase anything, but really enjoyed the lunch and the browsing!

And, then we were homeward bound!

So……that was my latest adventure!!! Despite the questionable start of the trip, it was a great time and I really did enjoy it! I wish I had the opportunity to venture out a little more and had more chances to get some good photos, but C’est la vie……. I hope to make a trip back to Lancaster County, PA in the future – next time I will drive and take my time to see more of the local interests and less of the bigger commercialized attractions. Until then, this was a great little taste of a very interesting area and a truly inspiring production of one of the great Bible stories!

Corning and Hammondsport Adventure

Check it off my bucket list…..I made it to the Corning Museum of Glass! This has been on my “places to go and things to do” list since I moved back home – three years – and I have finally completed it and can chalk it up to another great adventure in the memory books!

Synopsis of the adventure:

We left Monday (09/29) morning with plans of a leisurely drive taking the scenic route and stopping at points of interest along the way – the end goal of the day was to get to Hammondsport by dinner time. We decided to go through Piffard and stop at the Abbey where they make Monk’s Bread to see the chapel and grounds. I have never been there before, so I was really looking forward to it. But – we were disappointed to find that they were under construction and all we could do was browse through the bread store. I’ll have to plan to go back, someday, because it really did look like it was really beautiful there. We proceeded to drive through the country side looking at the scenery and made our way to Naples – the plan was to stop there for lunch and we were told that they are famous for their grape pie! Well, disappointment # 2 – a couple locals told us where the best grape pie was and that we “couldn’t miss it”……we missed it……twice! After driving back and forth up the main drag, we decided to give up and just head on the Hammondsport to get checked in and have our lunch there!

Hammondsport is a sleepy little town situated right on the tip of Keuka Lake in the Finger Lakes region of NY state. It is beautiful there! We had an OK lunch – nice, but probably wouldn’t recommend it to anyone – and then walked around the historic downtown area and stopped in at an ice cream parlor for dessert. After a long drive along the lake looking at the scenery, we got settled in to our motel – Keuka Lakeside Inn – a very nice little 1960s style motel that has been modernized and renovated (the owner has done a really nice job on the place) with lake views. Our room faced the lake and there were chairs and a gazebo on the property to sit and enjoy the lake – very nice! We sat out by the lake and talked for quite a while, went in and took a nap, and then went out for dinner.

The next day was spent in Corning – mostly at the Corning Museum of Glass. What an amazing place that is!!! Beautiful glass of every kind and from every era and every country around the world! They also had an incredible exhibit of Lalique pieces that was breathtaking and totally emotional to see. We watched a glass blower do his magic to make a pretty ruffled bowl, learned a lot about the history of glass making, saw some gorgeous works of art (and some really strange works of art), and we even did the “make your own glass” session – I made a set of wind chimes and my friend made a clock – that was a lot of fun and I love the finished product! After leaving the museum, we wandered around the historic Market Street area of Corning — what a quaint place that is — and we had dinner at the nicest Italian restaurant and had the BEST pasta EVER!!!

We spent our last night back at the motel in Hammondsport, stopped back in the Corning Museum of Glass to pick up the glass pieces we made and look around a little more, and then headed back home. On our way back home, we drove through Letchworth State Park, stopped to shop at The Giggling Pig (an Amish furniture store and gift shop) in Caledonia, and had dinner in Leroy. It was a GREAT trip!!!

Photos from the adventure:

From Hammondsport, NY at the tip of Keuka Lake

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First photo I took — we got out of the car in downtown Hammondsport and this took our breath away!!!

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This little church had a prominent spot in downtown Hammondsport — so pretty and inviting!

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We had lunch at the Village Tavern Restaurant and Inn — the historic downtown area is so quaint!

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This was a little park literally in the center of the historic downtown area – everything circled around the park!

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I found an ice cream parlor……

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……and had a delicious chocolate soda – all chocolate!!! YUMMO!!!

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The gazebo and chairs at our motel…..it was a lovely evening to sit outside and enjoy the lake!

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Beautiful Keuka Lake

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Docks at our motel – so peaceful and relaxing

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More of the view from the lake side seating at our motel

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And, one more…….the autumn colors really made our view so beautiful

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Dinner was at the Luna Mezza Grille — VERY good and a lovely restaurant!!!

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I had the pork medallions with a zucchini/tomato medley and seasoned steak fries! DELICIOUS!!!

From the Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, NY

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Loved this old truck right at the entrance near the store

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Loved it so much I had to have my photo taken with it……but, I really should burn it – it is HORRIBLE

(even though it shows off my new purple hat with the glass crystal embellishments on it)

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There was glass of every kind on display — like this quirky chandelier……

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……and this bowl with a delicate and intricate city skyline carved in the upper rim……

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……and this beautiful gown on a lady’s torso….

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…..and this crystal light….

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…..and a room FULL of bottles and dishes!

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There were several stained glass windows and lighting pieces made by Tiffany – this one was huge and gorgeous!

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This one really touched me – I turned the corner, saw it, and instantly started to cry!

It is called “The Righteous Shall Receive a Crown of Glory” – based on the bible verse Peter 5:4

It was made for the United Methodist Church of Waterville, NY about 1901

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I’d like this window in my house……along with the matching lamp in the display to the right

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Here I am sitting in a display at the opening of the room that housed the Lalique exhibit

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A few of the many delicate and incredibly beautiful pieces designed by Lalique

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One more from the Lalique exhibit

Windchimes_made my own glass

And, this is MY work of art……the wind chimes I made in the “Make Your Own Glass” session!!!

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There were several demonstration stops – like this one where they blew a beautiful ruffled bowl and explained the glass blowing process

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And interactive displays, like this one where the glass reflects you upside down (that’s me and my friend at the top of the glass) and then, you flip right side up as you walk towards it!

From the historic Market Street area of Corning, NY

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I loved this little park – if it wasn’t about to dump a thunderstorm on us, I could have sat here for hours

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The historic buildings were just gorgeous

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More of the park — this marks the center of Market Street – just loved it there!

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What an incredible framework for a bank’s drive thru lanes!!!

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The best restaurant and meal of the trip!!! Sorge’s Italian Restaurant on Market Street in Corning!

Beautifully decorated, great service, and the BEST homemade pasta EVER!!! They make it fresh every day!

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Now, doesn’t this make your mouth water? It was absolutely AMAZING!!! (if I lived closer, I’d eat there every day)

From Letchworth State Park

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The middle falls at the Glen Iris Inn

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The gorge with the Genesee River below

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I always find it sad that signs like this are necessary - you’d think common sense would prevail, but……

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More of the gorge from a different spot along the 19 or so mile drive through Letchworth

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Me next to a HUGE chair at the dam

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The Mt. Morris Dam

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Downstream of the dam

Miscellaneous photos from the rest of the drive home

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The Gigglin’ Pig – an Amish furniture store and gift shop we stopped at in Caledonia, NY

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Final meal of the trip – steak, mashed potatoes, and carrots at the Depot Restaurant in Leroy, NY

So, that’s it for this adventure……next planned adventure - I’m going to Lancaster, PA with a group from church later this fall! Can’t wait!

Cooperstown Adventure

I traveled to Cooperstown, NY this past week – mainly to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame, but I discovered so much more! Cooperstown is a lovely little village on Lake Otsego in the foothills of the northern Catskill Mountains. I have never been to that area of NY state – I’ve been to the Adirondacks, but never the Catskills area. It was a real treat! The surrounding area is beautiful and the village of Cooperstown is like driving into a town that time forgot……beautifully maintained Victorian homes, a pristine lake, quaint little parks, friendly people – didn’t run into a single rude or unkind person anywhere I went, no big chain stores or restaurants, and tons of history everywhere you look. I have visited a lot of places that I really enjoyed – places that are wonderful to visit, but I wouldn’t want to actually live there! Until now, there has only been one place I’ve ever visited that I felt like “I could live here”……now, there are two: Savannah, GA and Cooperstown, NY!

My adventure was filled with “firsts” for me! I already mentioned it was the first time I visited the Catskills area of NY and, obviously, the first time I was in Cooperstown. But, there were other firsts, as well. I started out on my drive at 5:00 am on Monday morning – taking the scenic route – the first time I’ve driven so far on the beautiful Route 20 – and expected to arrive in Cooperstown by lunch time, which allowed for some sightseeing stops along the way. I arrived in Cooperstown ten hours later – the first time I’ve allowed myself to truly just take my time and soak up all the wonderful sights and places our great state has to offer! I’ve never had the luxury of no set agenda or time line expectations and the ability to just decide to stay extra days, if I wanted to – which I did, actually! :) So, the first day of my adventure was packed with mini adventures throughout the day. I stayed at a lovely bed and breakfast inn – another first for me – I’ve always wanted to stay at a B&B, but never had the pleasure – until now! And, it is the first time I felt like an adventure really needed to be broken down into four blog posts to give each segment of the adventure the attention it deserved! Oh, there have been times when I broke out a piece of an adventure into a separate post so that it would stand alone, but this time was different – I felt like I didn’t have one BIG adventure, I had FOUR big adventures!!! So, you will find four blog posts covering the main segments of the trip – Bed and Breakfast, Taking the Scenic Route, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, and this one – Cooperstown Adventure! I spend three short days traveling and crammed a multitude of amazing memories into them! So, scroll down or look at the “Recent Posts” list to the right to find the other three posts to read about my entire experience!

Here are just a few photos of the things I saw and did in Cooperstown – other then the National Baseball Hall of Fame (which has its own post):

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My first view of Cooperstown was this main intersection of Rt 80 and Main Street. The village was beautifully decorated with corn husks, straw bails, and fall flowers…..and the trees were a blaze with gorgeous fall colors. The couple standing on the corner made me chuckle – they were taking turns having their photo taken with the colorful tree in the background and an orange leaf in each hand! I wondered where they came from that the fall colors would be such a novelty for them.

It was a lovely day – just cool enough to be comfortable walking downtown, but warm enough to not need a jacket. I checked in at the Bed and Breakfast Inn and took a stroll down Main Street to check out the village. I wasn’t surprised to find a distinct baseball theme to the shops and restaurants downtown.

088 Shoeless Joe’s – a baseball memorabilia shop

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Right next door to Shoeless Joe’s is Mickey’s Place – baseball themed shop and restaurant

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One of several baseball themed restaurants that also demonstrates the quaint feel of the village with its brick and vintage wood façade

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Another example of the village ambiance

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The first evening, I had dinner at a restaurant that came up several times in my research - Alex & Ika Restaurant - it wasn’t anything special. But, the second night, I accidentally came up on this restaurant while driving around town. It is The Pit Under the Tunnicliff! The Colonial brick building is the Tunnicliff Hotel – The Pit, down the stairs to the basement, is a very eclectic pub with delicious food – I really enjoyed it!

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Then, there is the pristine Otsego Lake – a large crystal clear, vivid blue lake that borders the town and out along Rt 80 – breathtaking!!! This is a small park one block over from the Baseball Hall of Fame with an historic marker indicating it was an Indian Meeting Place.

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And, yes, much to my delight, there is a lighthouse!!!

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Downtown is also home of Doubleday Field – the birthplace of baseball!

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At the entrance to Doubleday Field is a sweet bronze statue called “The Sandlot Kids”

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In this large corner building is the Heroes of Baseball Wax Museum — the ground floor is a baseball memorabilia shop and the second and third floors are home to more than 40 wax figures and “The Baseball Bloopers Movie Theater” – what a riot that was – I laughed and laughed!!! The following two photos are just examples of a couple of the more entertaining figures: Wade Boggs on a horse with a cop and Abbott & Costello, which was accompanied by a recording of their “Who’s on First” skit — great fun – it never gets old!!!

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The other two major museums in Cooperstown – just a mile from downtown: The Fenimore Art Museum – an elegant folk art museum sitting on the banks of the Otsego Lake and the Farmer’s Museum – a recreation of an 1800s village and working farm.

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Following are a few photos from the Fenimore, including examples from the Native American Indian exhibit called “Splendidly Dressed” and shots from the patio where I enjoyed a light lunch and glass of wine overlooking Otsego Lake.

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I particularly enjoyed the Farmer’s Museum, which is located across the street from the Fenimore — fascinating!!!

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This is the main barn and entrance to the museum. The main barn is home to an exhibit of pick up trucks (work trucks) through the years – including this one:

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The first thing you come to after leaving the main barn is the Empire State Carousel — a hand crafted carousel that highlights NY State with names of many of the small towns, points of interest, and interesting facts. The animals are not your typical carousel animals – they are all the different animals that can be found in NY State. Very cool – you know I love a carousel!!!

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The 1840s village consists of buildings that were actually in use in nearby towns in the 1800s and moved here to recreate the vintage community. There are people in many of the buildings dressed in period costume and performing typical tasks of the time – they were happy to explain what they were doing and some history around the task.

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Spinning flax into linen yarn

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Forging a specialized ax farm tool

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Removing the whey from the curds in one step of the process of making hard cheese

So, that was my adventure in Cooperstown……one I’ll never forget! It was educational, enjoyable, and so very special! So glad I made the trip!

National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum……baseball’s mecca……..the history of the game and all those who made it great preserved and displayed for future generations! Walking through the front doors gives you a feeling of pride in America’s game……continuing on through the building brings a sense of awe and emotion that can’t be described……it conjures up memories of every baseball game you ever played or attended and every dream of meeting one of your heroes! Being there is an education and an affirmation of all the joy that baseball has to offer.

I admit I’m not a fanatic when it comes to baseball, but I do love the game. I remember being at bat on the field at Waterport school during gym or recess, hitting the ball as far as I could, and running the bases with all my might. I remember the feeling of accomplishment whenever I was able to make it to home plate. I remember cheering on my brother at his little league games – he played for the Carlton Clippers – and going along when the coach took the team to the Tastee Freeze for ice cream to celebrate a win. I remember sitting in the cheap seats with a dog and a beer watching the Rochester Red Wings play a double header on a warm afternoon. I remember my first major league game – it was on a business trip in Pittsburgh and I got tickets to see the Pirates play at Three River Stadium – I remember entering the stadium and thinking that this was not just any baseball game. I remember a very different feeling when I watched the Orioles play at Camden Yards in Baltimore. And, then, the absolute thrill of a lifetime when I saw the Yankees play at Yankee Stadium – the old stadium before it was closed. I don’t watch a lot of baseball on TV – I think it loses some of the excitement on TV – but, I follow the Yankees and catch their games every now and then. Yes, I’m a Yankee fan – loyal in good and bad years!

So, visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame has been a dream of mine for many years – it was on my bucket list and, when I moved back home, I put it on my “things to do and places to see” list. This week, I was able to cross it off both lists! I drove to Cooperstown, NY with the main goal of fulfilling this dream. I did it. I walked the hall looking at the exhibits, reading the stories, feeling the emotion well up inside me. One of the brochures has a quote that sums it up nicely: “[The Hall of Fame} is a place of grace and class…You arrive expecting to tour baseball’s past. What you discover is your own…It is pictures of places you’ve never been and belongings of people you’ve never met. Yet you are drawn to its scuffed baseballs and gritty photographs as if they were your own. And in a way, they are.” ~ Bill Pennington, The Record (NJ)

The museum motto is: “Preserving history. Honoring excellence. Connecting generations.” Says it all!!!

The Hall of Fame was founded in 1939 by local hotel owner, Stephen Carlton Clark to provide a permanent, safe place to preserve baseball’s history and to attract tourists to Cooperstown – a town suffering after the Great Depression. The first inductees were actually elected in 1936, but they and approximately 20 others chosen after them were formally inducted at the June 12, 1939 opening. The Hall boasts a collection of 38,000 bats, balls, uniforms, gloves, etc. 130,000 baseball cards. 2 million research files. 500,000 black and white and color photographs. 12,000 hours of recorded media. And counting….. I spent about an hour and a half on day 1 and only made it through the first of three floors. On day two, I was there for almost 3 more hours touring the second and third floors and revisiting some areas on the first floor……and, I’m sure I missed something!!!

So……on with the photos and my personal experience at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum:

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The main entrance

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Looking down the street across the front of the building

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As you enter the hall on your way to the ticket counter, you see this amazing exhibit of Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, and Roberto Clemente called “Character and Courage”. I was struck by the photos behind each bronze statue of the men posing with children – each one wasn’t just a photograph of him playing baseball, but doing something with a young fan – the true spirit of a baseball hero!!! This one exhibit set the tone for my entire experience!

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The plaque beside the “Character and Courage” exhibit.

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Just beyond the ticket counter is a display honoring the current year inductees – Hank O’Day, Jacob Ruppert, and Deacon White. Along with these three inductees, the 2013 ceremony also formally recognized 12 members who were elected to the Hall of Fame during WWII and could not attend due to travel restrictions during the war – most notably, Lou Gehrig and Rogers Hornsby.

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John J. “Buck” O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award display – in 2008, this bronze statue was dedicated and the “Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award” was created with Buck being the first honoree for his career and contributions that spanned eight decades. The award is given out not more than once every three years – the second honoree was Roland Hemond in 2011.

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I got a big chuckle out of this cow in pinstripes with catcher’s mitts on his horns located just under the massive sweeping staircase.

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The Hall of Fame Plaque Gallery is an impressive oak and marble lined room with section after section of inductee plaques – each section is marked with the induction year and the bronze plaques of those elected to the Hall of Fame in that year. The very first induction class and the most recent classes are at the head of the gallery in the Rotunda.

I arrived late the first day and only had time to do the first floor, which included this gallery. There were only about 8 or 10 people viewing the plaques. I was such an emotional experience – there was no sound, except for the foot steps of those walking from section to section – no one spoke, except for an occasional whisper from someone who found one of their heroes. It was really quite humbling.

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The first class of inductees was in 1936 and included Christy Matthewson, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, and Walter Johnson.

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Along with the many stunning bronze statues, there were also wax figures – this one is of Babe Ruth, who can be found in many different formats throughout the museum!

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Here is a testament to exactly why he is still considered the greatest in baseball history!

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This is the entrance to the Babe Ruth room – a room dedicated to his memorabilia and stories!

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In “Chasing the Dream”, another room dedicated to a specific player – Hank Aaron – you can follow his career and contributions to the game.

The following photo is his Atlanta Braves # 44 uniform.

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Adjacent to “Chasing the Dream” is “One for the Books” – a room dedicated to all the records set throughout history – here are a couple photo from this inspirational room:

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Most consecutive games played set by Lou Gehrig and beat by Cal Ripkin, Jr.

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Records were also set in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League – Sophie Kurys set the record for most stolen bases!

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And the most unbeatable record of all………The Yankees for most World Championships!!!!

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The Pride and Passion room is dedicated to the history and contributions of African American ball players with special recognition to Jackie Robinson!

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Movie clips and memorabilia from the recent movie of Jackie Robinson’s life – “42″

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There is a room honoring the women who kept the game going while the boys were off serving our country in WWII – Diamond Dreams

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Memorabilia from the Women’s Leagues

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A nod to the movie, “A League of Their Own”

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More memorabilia from the All American Girls Professional Baseball League

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And you can’t ignore the movies that glorified baseball — many, many, many movies with baseball themes over the years! There is a room dedicated to movies – displays, items from the movies, and clips – lots of clips! This display includes information on “A League of Their Own” and “Field of Dreams” – two of my personal favorites!

Aside from the specific exhibits and displays, there are rows and rows and rows of displays from each and every team in baseball history. I, of course, focused most of my photos on anything associated with the Yankees, but here are some examples of the displays that can be found throughout the hall:

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The Orioles – the second team I sometimes follow, if the Yankees aren’t involved!

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And, then there are exhibits featuring players – like the next two photos of actual lockers from Yankee Stadium with uniforms and things from Mickey Mantle and Lou Gehrig

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And then there were statues of the game, in general…….just outside in a small courtyard, there is a sculpture of a pitcher and catcher at regulation distance showing the action of a pitch

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This shot from behind the catcher

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And this shot from behind the pitcher

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In the same courtyard – one commemorating women in baseball

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And one winding up for a throw!

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This display is outside the “Sacred Ground” room – an exhibit dedicated to reliving the experience of going to the ball park!

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If you ever make a trip to the Hall of Fame, don’t miss seeing “The Baseball Experience” – I almost skipped it because the line was long and the wait was longer than the 13 minute film! I am so very glad I didn’t give up and leave!!! It is a short 13 minute film all about experiencing baseball – it starts out with silhouette figures of sandlot kids and their excited voices and their mother’s calling to them in the background and goes on to everything I mentioned earlier that I (and likely everyone who ever experienced baseball) remember! It tugs at the old heart strings and warms the heart! And, the session ends with the entire audience singing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” and cheering!!! You wouldn’t want to miss it!!!

So……that is the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum…..in a nutshell!!!  There is so much more to it than I could possibly ever capture, here! All I can say in closing is that I truly enjoyed this adventure – it made me feel good!!! How amazing is it that we have such national treasures like these that touch our lives and stir up wonderful memories and personal experiences and emotions!!!??? If you ever have the chance, go…..experience…….enjoy…..feel!!! You won’t regret it!

Taking the Scenic Route

I’ve had an interest in visiting Cooperstown, NY for many years – mainly because of the Baseball Hall of Fame. I put it on the “things to do and places to see” list when I first moved back to Albion. I finally decided to do it now – before the nice weather ended and became wise to push it out to another summer, but, hopefully, late enough in the season that the leaves would be starting to turn. I new it was down south and east of here…..somewhere…….but wasn’t sure exactly where it was. So, I got on Map Quest to figure out what route to take. Map Quest really wanted me to take the NY State Thruway….boring!!! And the alternate route it provided was taking Rt 104 east and something else later on in the trip to head south to Cooperstown – that didn’t seem like a good alternative, but would be more scenic, so that’s the route I was likely going to take. Both options gave an estimated travel time of about 4 hours. Well, I was talking to a friend about the trip and told her the routes that Map Quest was recommending and her advice was to get out a map and look up Rt 20 – she was sure it would take me to Cooperstown and be a much prettier route! I looked it up and saw that 20 did, indeed, take me very close to Cooperstown – I just needed to catch either 28 or 80 south from 20 right into Main Street in Cooperstown! But, when I plugged it in a trip estimator, it was showing the trip would take 5 hours, instead of 4….however, it looked like a great route through the Finger Lakes Region! I debated the options with myself and finally decided to get up early, leave by 5:00 am, take Rt 20, and – given some time for a few photo stops along the way – arrive in Cooperstown before lunch!

So, with a plan in hand, my GPS on the dashboard, and a map in the passenger seat, I headed out…….and TEN HOURS later, I arrived in Cooperstown! There were so many wonderful things to see and do along the way and I really didn’t have any pressing need to arrive by lunch time……so, I just took my time and enjoyed my trip!!!! I am so very glad I did!

Here are just some of the great experiences I had taking the scenic route!

I must say, Gabby (my new GPS) was very helpful on this trip! But, she kept trying to get me to skip over to the Thruway and stop this longer route – she’s all for getting me there the fastest way possible! I wouldn’t give in, though! To keep her from trying so hard to get me off Rt 20, I set it up for shorter, intermediate goals that helped her think “OK, it isn’t worth heading north to catch the thruway”! The first thing she helped me with was finding a place for breakfast! I left the house at 5:00 am with nothing to eat. By about 7:00, I was starving!!! I was coming into Canandaigua, so I asked Gabby where the nearest restaurant was. The first choice was Patty’s Place – sounded quaint, so I attempted to go there. But, street construction made finding a place to park near the diner nearly impossible. So, I took the second choice – The Villager Restaurant and Diner! Good choice!!! With my belly full, I was back on the road!

The first place I stopped for a photo shoot was the Montezuma Winery! I was just tooling along and noticed this place set back a little from the road. I chuckled about the name and felt compelled to turn around and get a photo! I didn’t go in or check it out, so I have no idea why they named it “Montezuma Winery” – but, the reason I just had to stop and take a photo was because I instantly thought of “Montezuma’s Revenge” and wondered why anyone would want that thought linked to their wine!!!??? I pulled into the parking lot, snapped the photo, laughed a little, and got back on the road! That was the LAST “quick” stop I made all day!!!

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Route 20 goes right through the Finger Lakes region and in several spots skirts right along the top edge of most of the Finger Lakes, so the views were incredible. But, it was the next town I came to after the winery that really got me off track! As I started to drive through the lovely town of Seneca Falls, I began to notice signs for historic sites that I knew would be fascinating to see. The first one that I knew I had to stop for was the National Women’s Hall of Fame! I followed the signs and located the building on Fall Street - the main street in downtown. But, when I got out to go in, I discovered that they were closed on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday……today was Monday!!! UUGGHH!!! I was so disappointed!

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So, I looked around downtown and tried to go to the Visitor’s Center across the street – thinking maybe I could just pick up some information and be on my way! But, they were closed, too! It was going to be another hour before they opened and I didn’t want to wait around for that. But, I noticed a distinct theme about women throughout the town – like this store devoted to items only made by women! Unfortunately, it was too early to shop, here, too.

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So, I got back on the road, but before I could leave town, I noticed a sign for the Women’s Rights National Historical Park. I pictured a park like setting that wouldn’t need to be “open” to enjoy, so I followed the signs to find it. WHAT A TREAT!!! Yes, it was a park, but they also had a Visitor’s Center that was open and if I waited just a 1/2 hour, I could go on a park ranger guided tour of the historic church that was part of the park. So, I decided it was worth hanging around there. I wandered around the park and the Visitor’s Center and learned that this was the site of the very first Women’s Rights Convention — long before the Civil War and the Suffragettes and all the rest that I knew about from my history lessons! I had no idea that Seneca Falls played such a huge roll in the history of women’s rights (or, if I did learn it, I had long since forgotten)! In July of 1848, a group of women were having a party in a nearby town. At this party, they decided to organize the convention. Within a few days, they had a draft of what was called the “Declaration of Sentiments” and plans for the convention. They secured a location – the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Seneca Falls, which was becoming known as a congregation interested in freedom of speech for all groups – and invited friends who spread the word and invited more friends. The organizers – Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Martha Wright, Mary Ann M’Clintock, and Jane Hunt – hosted the First Women’s Rights Convention ever held in the United States on July 19 and 20, 1848. In those two days, the gathering of three hundred people discussed and edited the Declaration of Sentiments and resolutions calling for equality for men and women under the law. The document was signed by all 300 attendees, including men and women and became the baseline document that all future women’s rights movements and resolutions were built from. I spent close to two hours here and found it absolutely fascinating!

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This is a monument to the “Declaration of Sentiments” – a wall with water continuously flowing over the words from the original document etched into the stone! Beautiful!

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Inside the Visitor’s Center was a gift shop, library, and several exhibits, including several groupings of statues of the pioneers of the Women’s Rights Convention!

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Once I was done with this amazing experience, I hit the road, again……

My next stop was in Auburn. I drove by a stunning church that I was drawn to. I turned around and went back for a closer look and some photos! This church is the Trinity United Methodist Church and it is incredible!

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Then, I came upon Skaneateles and Skaneateles Lake. I had heard of this town many times – pronounced like Skinny-atlas, but have never been there. I think it was one of the towns we rode through or near on the train ride to NY City when I was fresh out of high school, but don’t really remember! As I drove into town, I couldn’t help but notice the beautiful lake and lovely look of the town. I stopped by the lake to walk around and then walked downtown a little. I spent quite a while there just enjoying the peaceful atmosphere. The park by the lake was so elegant and the lake was so crystal clear and clean that I really was tempted to get a bottle and scoop some up to take with me to drink!!! It was a great place to visit and walk around for a while, but looked just a little too rich for my blood – not a place I’d likely afford to stay for long, if you know what I mean!

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So, back on the road, again……

I was driving along and came up upon Cazanovia Lake. It was interesting because the road went right along the shore line – literally! There was a small parking area that you could get off the road for a scenic overlook – which might imply the need to look down on something, but it was actually right at the edge of the water – and an historic marker. If it weren’t for the row of boulders, I could have driven right into the lake without the least bit of a bumpy ride!!! When I got back in the car, I noticed my GPS actually looked like it thought I already DID drive into the lake! hahahaha

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Just past Cazanovia, I saw signs for Chittenango Falls – a place Mom had mentioned that she thought it might be worth taking a side trip for. So, I took Route 13N – a long, narrow, winding mountain (big hill? not sure which) road. I came up on the Chittenango Falls State Park and parked the car. I then walked a trail to the falls……..OMG……..it was definitely worth it!!! There was a rushing creek (not sure if it was considered a river or not) and a series of waterfalls – a smaller one, a couple of ledges, and then the big one that actually fell over several ledges that made it jog a little on the way down! It was so tall……down to the continuation of the creek/river in the gorge below! How beautiful! I stood there just gazing at it for the longest time! A lady walking her dog came by and we chatted for a while – she lived nearby and said that people around there don’t realize what a treasure they have, here! I was in total awe of it! I took a bunch of photos – none of which do it justice, but you get the idea!

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A sweet ten hours after I left the house, I arrived at my intended destination – Cooperstown, NY! I had a wonderful day of discovery and adventure! For the first time ever, I do believe, I had the luxury of not having any real set time line I had to meet and no specific time of arrival requirement! I also had the luxury of deciding to spend another night in Cooperstown to compensate for not getting there early enough to get a good start on my planned activities while there – if I wanted to – which I did!!!! I could just take my time and enjoy the beauty our great state has to offer, learn some new things, gaze at some breathtaking views, and just get there when I get there!!! How amazing is that?

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And, then, on the drive home, I gave in and took the Thruway to get home as quick as I could to see my girls!!! The scenery was really quite different! I have no idea where these were taken – could have been anywhere – the scenery was the same the entire way! At least the sky was gorgeous!!! :)

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Bed and Breakfast

One thing I have always wanted to do is stay at a Bed and Breakfast Inn. I’ve never really had a chance to…until now! As I was planning an adventure to Cooperstown, NY, I thought I might check out the local B&B Inns as an option for accommodations. I discovered that this was the perfect trip to consider this option because the town is loaded with them and well suited to this type of experience! I took my time and researched them all – quickly eliminating any that were not within walking distance of the downtown/Main Street area. Once narrowed down to those close to downtown, I researched each one extensively – checked out their web sites, sent emails to ones that I needed more info about, and read the reviews on Trip Advisor. (BTW – I’ve never used Trip Advisor, before, either – if you haven’t utilized this site to help plan your trip, I highly recommend it – great info can be found there!) So, after all the research, one Inn stood out as the one I wanted to book for my very first B&B experience!!!

Main Street Bed and Breakfast on, you guessed it, Main Street in Cooperstown was my choice. And, I have to say, it was the PERFECT choice! The photos on their web site and Trip Advisor won me over, immediately! Oh, the other inns had photos that piqued my interest, as well, but the photos of this one just seemed to speak to me. I was so hoping that they weren’t building me up for a disappointment – you know how sometimes you see photos in a brochure or web site that look amazing and then, when you get there, all you can think is “how many centuries ago were the photos taken and were they even taken of the same place?”. But, I can tell you with all honesty that the photos that drew me to choose this inn pale in comparison – they don’t begin to do it justice! I was not at all disappointed! The other deciding factor was the reviews on Trip Advisor – it was the only one of the ones that I narrowed my decision down to that didn’t have ANY customer ratings under a “Very Good – 4″ and the 4s were a small percentage of the whole! I was impressed! Not that I actually decided against any of the others because of low customer ratings — NONE of the inns I researched had an overall bad rating and I quickly discounted the bad comments as coming from people who wouldn’t have been happy if they stayed at the Ritz located on Main Street in Heaven – you know the type! I will say that, from what I read, you couldn’t go wrong with any of the inns in Cooperstown. But, I am so very glad I chose this one! The final decision was due to the lovely comments from past customers that just seemed to have an edge over the others and, especially, because of the photos!

Main Street B&B is owned by Ron and Susan Streek, who are the sweetest people I’ve met in a long time. One thing I was concerned about staying at a B&B was how I would feel staying in a stranger’s home – that’s what you’re doing when you choose a B&B – you’re literally choosing to stay at someone’s home – someone you don’t know! I wondered if it would feel awkward. But, there was nothing to worry about, here! When I arrived, Susan met me at the door and I immediately felt like I was visiting an old friend. Susie showed me around the common areas and my room. It was such a lovely, comfortable home. Right away, it was the subtle details that grabbed me – like Susie greeting me like an old friend and finding out quickly that I preferred tea to coffee and that I would likely be ready to crash after my long drive and desire to head out to start my sightseeing. When I came back after a walk downtown, a little sightseeing, and dinner, I put my things in my room and came down stairs to read for a little while in the sitting room. Susie came in to see if I would like a cup of tea and find out if I needed anything to make my evening comfortable. The next morning, she was concerned that I might be chilly and brought me a shawl and a hot cup of tea while waiting for breakfast.  The bed was extremely comfortable (none of that stiff feeling I usually get from sleeping in a different bed) and the house was very quiet (no unfamiliar sounds to wake me in the night). I would quickly recommend this as THE choice in Cooperstown to anyone I know planning a trip there. My first stay at a B&B was so enjoyable, I would definitely consider another B&B over a hotel when traveling, again…….however…….this first experience set the bar so high, that others may have a hard time meeting my new expectations! :) My original plan was to stay one night and drive back home the next evening, but, I decided it was better to stay a second night and drive back after a good night’s sleep…….and, my experience the first day/night with Ron and Susie helped make that decision an easy one!

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The house is a quaint Victorian home built in the late 1800s. I didn’t take a photo of the front porch, but can tell you that it is very inviting with chairs and a hammock to relax and enjoy the quiet neighborhood. Since I was gone during the warmer hours of the day, I didn’t take advantage of the front porch, but could easily imagine how wonderful it would be to sit our there and read, if the evenings had been warmer.

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To the left of the entrance, there is a comfortable, impeccably decorated sitting room. I enjoyed that room for reading and morning tea!

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The entry hall and stairway to the second floor welcome you with a warmth that is immediately felt!

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A full country breakfast is served in this delightful dining room. On the first morning, breakfast was a plate of fresh fruit (super ripe and bursting with flavor) and coffee cake, peach upside down French toast (to die for), and sausage with orange juice and tea! On the second morning, I realized I totally forgot to mention that I was allergic to cheese! When Suzie mentioned she was making baked eggs, I asked if it had cheese in it! I felt horrible when she said yes! But, despite my insistence that she not go to any extra trouble (the fruit and juice were plenty to eat), she whipped up a plain omelet, bacon, and an English muffin with some amazing homemade blueberry jam – a quickly put together breakfast fit for a queen!

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There are three rooms to choose from. I chose the Queen Anne room with a large four poster bed and Queen Anne style furnishings – a lovely room! The bed was a dream to sleep on – plush and high (the top of the mattress came just about waist high on my short body, so I had to get creative to get in, but it was sooooo worth it)! The room had air conditioning (which I didn’t need this time of year) and a TV with cable (which I was too tired to watch more than a few minutes). After my long days of sight seeing, I was happy to crawl into this bed, wrap up in the warm covers, and fall sound asleep before 8:30 each night….and slept like a baby all night long!

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There was a full bath in the room – I was happy to read that when researching it – not all B&Bs have in-room bathrooms!

I was so happy to have met Ron and Susie and be able to stay with them while in Cooperstown! It was a lovely experience and really was the icing on the cake for my adventure! Thank you, both, for your gracious hospitality!

Olive Oil…FYI

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 While on vacation in Arizona a few weeks ago, my friends and I visited the Queen Creek Olive Mill in Queen Creek, near the Apache Junction / Mesa area. What a great place and unique experience! Queen Creek Olive Mill is a family owned business with olive orchards, pressing mill, bistro, and store. The owner is also the master-blender. They grow and press olives into handcrafted extra virgin olive oil from “blossom to bottle” and it is the only olive oil producer in Arizona. Their products are of high quality, as they ONLY produce Extra Virgin grade olive oils. They offer tours, which includes a class called “Olive Oil 101″, that we really enjoyed. I never gave olive oil much thought – it is just a more healthy oil, right? I mean, I like and use it and knew it was made from olives, but other than that, it wasn’t something I ever wondered about. But, I have to say, I learned a lot and went away with a new view of olive oil!

 The plan was to take the tour and then have lunch in the Bistro. But, we arrived just a tad too late to join the tour that was about to start, so we switched gears and did lunch first. It was not easy to decide what to eat…..there was a large selection and everything sounded absolutely wonderful!!! But, I finally settled on the Lucca sandwich - Herb roasted turkey breast, brie (of course, I asked that they leave the cheese off because of my allergy), sliced apple, seasonal greens, and caramelized red onion and fig tapenade (their own product) on a multi-grain ciabatta roll. Oh…My…God, it was so amazing!!! I enjoyed the caramelized red onion and fig tapenade so much, I bought two jars to include in what I had shipped home! The sandwich came with chips and olives. Now, I have to include here that I am not an olive fan…..never liked the taste of them at all. But, I decided that I really should try the ones that were on my plate because I may never have a chance to try some that were grown and processed so close to when I ate them! So, try them, I did…….and………I still don’t like olives – but, no one can say, “but you’d really like them if….”! HAHA! But, the sandwich was incredible! The bistro not only had sandwiches, but they also served made-from-scratch soups, pizzas, fresh-baked desserts, wines, and gelato and sorbetto! I didn’t have anything other than the sandwich, but Ronald tried the gelato and said it was very good!

After we ate, we still had a few minutes to browse through the store before our tour started. I decided I wanted to take some things home with me, but my suitcase was already stretched to the max and I knew the liquids wouldn’t be allowed in my carry-on! So, I asked if they would ship my purchases to me and the girl I spoke with was very excited to tell me that they absolutely would! :)  So, I got an idea of what I wanted and then, after the tour, we went back in the store and I picked out several items and arranged for them to be shipped. When the box came, I was so happy to see my purchases — a bottle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, a bottle of roasted garlic flavored EVOO, a bottle of Mexican lime flavored EVOO, a bottle of aged balsamic vinegar, a bottle of balsamic and fig flavored vinegar, two jars of caramelized red onion and fig tapenade, a copy of their family cook book, a jar of lavender-scented body cream made from EVOO, and a couple pour corks for the bottles. Yeah, I went a little crazy, but it was all so fresh and so good and after the tour I had an increased awareness and respect for EVOO, so I couldn’t help myself! :)

The tour was really cool…….it started outside at an olive tree where we learned all about how olives grow and are harvested and some history of olives and olive oil. We, then, moved into the pressing room where we learned how the olives are processed into olive oil and the differences between the various grades of olive oil. It was very informative and absolutely fascinating!!! I’ll go into some of what I learned, but I want to leave this paragraph with the bottom line piece of info I left the tour with…..I always bought “extra light” olive oil because I just assumed it was better for you and had a lighter taste when used on salads……after learning what I learned, I will NEVER buy anything other than Extra Virgin Olive Oil again……ever!!!

OK, so what did I learn?

  • The Queen Creek, Arizona olive grove is located in an area that has ideal conditions for growing olive trees – long sunny days, cool nights, very fertile soil, and located in a flood plain. Also, by growing the trees in the dessert, there is no risk of their natural predators – the olive fly and olive tree molds – so there is no need to use any kind of pesticide or mold inhibitors!
  • Olives are harvested in Arizona in the months of September thru December.
  • Olive oil is made from a carefully timed blend of both green and purple olives (color denotes degree of ripeness), as well as oil pressed from the pits, so the whole olive is used.
  • It takes 50 pounds of olives to make one gallon of olive oil…….no wonder it is so expensive!!!
  • Extra Virgin is the highest quality grade of olive oil. In order to be graded Extra Virgin, the olives MUST be cold pressed and not undergo any treatment other than washing, grinding, mixing, gentle separation, and filtering. It also must have a free acidity level of less than or equal to 0.8% – this measures the degree of freshness of the olives at the time of pressing. To get a grade of Extra Virgin, the oil must be pure and not be refined in any way – any use of heat pressing or chemicals to extract the oils results in a lower grade olive oil. “Virgin” (without the “Extra” designation) is processed the same way, but will have a free acidity level of more than 0.8%, but no more than 2%.
  • Queen Creek Olive Mill’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil typically has a free acidity level of 0.3% – pretty high quality, if you ask me! This shows their level of dedication to processing the olives as close to harvest as possible so that the oil is as fresh as it can possibly be.
  • During the cold pressing process, the freshly harvested olives – pit and all – are milled into a coarse paste, which is blended very slowly in a large mixer prior to going through a centrifuge to separate the oils from the solids. Extra Virgin is the grade of oil that is extracted during this process. The fresh oil is decanted and transferred to an oxygen-free stainless steel storage decanter with a conical bottom where the oil and any remaining water can naturally separate. The oil is then blended to achieve the best taste – grassy, peppery, fruity, bitter, or buttery are all positive flavor attributes of a good batch of EVOO and blending batches with these different flavor attributes makes the perfect tasting bottle! The blended oils are stored in stainless steel tanks and kept fresh until it is bottled. They blend every 6 weeks and bottle every 3 weeks to ensure the freshest oil at the time of bottling.
  • Shelf life – as long as the oil is fresh at the time of bottling, it will remain fresh for one year – opened or unopened!
  • Do not refrigerate olive oil, as it will solidify. The oils I had shipped to me must have gotten very cold during shipment, because they were solid in the bottles when they arrived. But, I didn’t panic, because I remembered learning that if they do get cold enough to solidify, that you can just set them out and let them re-liquefy – that it won’t harm the oil in any way! And, sure enough, I actually watched them gradually liquefy over about an hour! Cool!!!
  • Don’t let the terms “Pure”, “Light”, “Extra Light” or any other descriptor other than “Extra Virgin” or “Virgin” fool you…….they sound like high quality grades – especially the term “Pure”, but they are NOT! All grades other than Extra Virgin or Virgin have free acidity levels higher than 2% and are heat and chemically pressed. Remember the centrifuge step I mentioned above? Well, the “good” oil is procured from the front of the press and the solids and water are captured out the back of the press as “waste”. Well, the waste product does still contain extractable oils, but you can’t extract it further without heat and chemicals — so, any oil extracted through those methods are considered “refined” and can no longer be graded as any form of “virgin” oil.
  • Remember my comment about always purchasing “Extra Light” olive oil? Well, that is the absolute lowest, bottom of the totem pole, grade of olive oil – the farthest end of the spectrum from “Extra Virgin”!  eeeewwww…….yeah, I’m never buying it, again! In fact, I have a full, large bottle that will now be used to moisturizer my skin……or maybe I’ll just toss it out!!!!

So, that is what I learned about Olive Oil……now, we also learned a little about olives, in general! They do not process olives for sale as olives, there, but some of their grove does get processed by another partner company not far from there. Here is what I learned about olives…..which, as I stated earlier, I don’t particularly care for! :)

  • Don’t eat an olive off the tree – it will be very bitter and must be cured before it can be eaten!
  • The color of the olive is a reflection of ripeness – green olives are less ripe than the very ripe dark purple olives.
  • Olive trees are harvested when the percentage of green and purple olives reach a ratio best for whatever purpose they are being harvested for – oils or olives.
  • There is no such thing as a BLACK olive — black olives are the riper purple ones that have been chemically colored to give them the black appearance. They are sweeter than the green ones because they are riper.
  • Olives are not naturally salty – they obtain that salty taste from the brines they are cured in.
  • It takes 3-5 months to naturally cure olives in the brines. The best tasting and highest quality olives are naturally cured. The olives that were included with the sandwiches in the Bistro were naturally cured – which is why I thought maybe, just maybe, I’d like them better than store-bought ones I’ve tried in the past……..oh well, I tried them!!!
  • Most store brand olives are more rapidly mass cured over 3-5 days using food grade lye and other chemicals.

So, there you have it……..everything you ever wanted to know about olive oil and olives, but were afraid to ask…….in a nutshell!!! If you ever get to the Phoenix/Mesa/Apache Junction or surrounding area, be sure to put the Queen Creek Olive Mill on your tour plans — it really is a unique experience and one I’m sure you’ll enjoy as much as I did!

** Info in this post came from my memory of what we learned in the tour, as well as from the brochures I took home with me and their website. You can click HERE to visit their website for more info or to shop online for their products! Check it out!!!!

Photos we took at the mill:

The press and centrifuge assembly

The press room is very small with just this one press and a few stainless steel tanks

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Ronald and me  /  Ronald and Lisa

photos taken after the tour in the courtyard outside the store and bistro

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