Monday, November 1, 2010

Lake George in the Fall

Fall is a wonderful time of year. Crisp air, leaves changing colors, clear skies are predominant. Karen and I had the opportunity to get away for a long weekend at a quaint Bed & Breakfast in the town of Warrensburg, NY, just a few minutes north of Lake George. The place we ended up at was the Cornerstone Victorian, run by Louise and Doug. A wonderful couple barely begins to describe our hosts. We were greeted by Doug, and immediately it felt like we had just arrived at a close relatives home. Doug covered the basics of the house, a charming Queen Anne Home built in 1904, and then asked us what we had planned for the afternoon, making several suggestions for a rainy day. The house had a beautiful parlor and sitting area, adorned with many period antiques. We were shown to the Masters Chambers, complete with a King bed, fireplace, private bath and private porch. It was also furnished with a pair of recliners, and one modern feature-Satellite TV. Now the fireplace was only semi-functional, using a fireplace candelabra, which still added a nice romantic touch to the room.
After unpacking, since it was raining intermittently, we decided to take a ride around the lake and see what was open. After choosing a direction, we ended up in Bolton Landing, and in the area of The Sagamore. Since it was drizzly, we only snapped a few pictures, one of which was the fall display on the front lawn of the Sagamore. After a quick stop, we went back into Bolton Landing and found a cute shop with a little something for everyone. Furniture, tapestry, flowers, plants and so much more. We loved the table, but it had a huge gouge right in the middle of it, so that was kind of a turn off. I also loved the gas pump-but was a little out of my price range at $1600 Next we travel south into the village of Lake George, stopping to find the ferry boat we would ride on Saturday. The ticket office was closed, so we could not pick up early seats. Across the street was For William Henry, which is located at the southern end of Lake George on a hill overlooking the lake. It was built in the 1750's during the French and Indian war, and was the site of notorious atrocities committed by the Indians against the British and provincial troops. This event was the focus of James Fenimore Cooper's novel The Last of the Mohican's.

The fort was burned to the ground in 1757 by the French, and though several forts were built nearby, Fort William Henry lay abandoned until the 1950's when interest in the history of the site was renewed, and a replica was built and turned into a museum. For dinner, we opted to go to Aimee's in Glens Falls, which was a dinner and a movie place. Very small , but the food was decent and the movie was OK as well. Something a little different to try. We had thought about going to another theater a bit further north, but someone at the B&B said they saw a sign saying see you for Halloween. After dinner we headed back for the evening.

The next morning we woke up and got dressed for breakfast. One of the highlights of the B&B was it's 5 course breakfast! That was hard to pass up, and it turns out it also covers you for lunch as well. We walked downstairs, and the table was set, and the first course was already laid out. Fresh fruit was first on both mornings, and the first day was kiwi and melon.

Others started to come down as well, and we met our temporary "neighbors" A couple from Long Island, a couple from Ottawa, Canada, and a lady from the Lake George region via Idaho joined us in sampling the various courses, as well as conversation, much like a breakfast table at home. We were earliest down, so everyone got to see the courses as a preview. On day one we had the following after fruit: coffee cake with caramel and hot fudge inside served warm, a potato latke with blue cheese, a granola parfait with the homemade granola, and the main course was choice 1 of this, one of that or a sampler of both. So I had the sampler and Karen had 1. Karen opted for a peanut butter waffle with a blueberry jam spread, and bacon. I had a smaller size waffle and the Spanish omelet wrap.Delicious! The next days breakfast consisted of fruit, hot fresh apple crisp, mushroom-cheddar bruschetta, granola parfait and eggs over asparagus and/or pumpkin pancakes. Based on this caloric intake, a little manual movement was in order. We mapped out the day to include a boat trip on Lake George and a little sight seeing on foot. The weather cleared up quite a bit from the day before, so first we stopped in town, and looked at a local shop with lots of furniture, nick knacks and an awesome new friend for me.Across the road was the Warrensburg Museum, with an extremely colorful mural on its wall. They hadn't opened yet, so we snapped a quick picture, and headed onward.We headed back down to Lake George, picked up our tickets, and headed around the lake to a side trip up to the "Top of the World", a golf course up on the side of the mountain with the most stunning views of the lake. It almost looked like you could drive the ball right off the tee into the lake.

Driving back down the hill, we happened upon an interesting house owned by an Italian family who was a major producer of oil in Italy. Apparently they had a getaway in the Adirondacks as well, complete with a moose and a guardian gangster on the porch. We ventured back down to the lake, to get ready for the scenic boat ride. Originally we were going to take the Lac du Saint Sacrement- The Lake of the Blessed Sacrement, which coincidentally was the original name of Lake George. It was originally named by French Jesuit missionary Issac Jogues. It was renamed Lake George in 1755 for King George II. We ended up going on the Mohican instead based on a recommendation from our hosts, as this boat was smaller, and was able to navigate into the smaller bays.Cruising up the western shore, the narrator started listing off various dignitaries and others who summered on the lake. Thomas Jefferson, Roosevelt's, Vanderbilt's, Rockefeller's and more. Heads of large companies like Union Carbide, the owner of the Red Sox (how ironic he would own in NY). The houses were beautiful, of course, and the foliage was beautiful, the colors were vibrant.

As we ventured further north on the lake the colors were a stark contrast to the ominous looking sky, and the blue/black water. The sun would peek out between the dark brooding clouds illuminating the hillside.

As we maneuvered between the smaller islands, we were passed by a few jet-skis. Definitely a little too cold for me. These guys were prepared with wet suits, trying to extend their season as long as possible. I can relate to that as a snowmobiler, because our window is even smaller. As we reached the northern most point of the lake we motored past the Sagamore Resort, and what a beautiful place. Originally built in the1880's as an exclusive resort community, it was twice damaged by fire, rebuilt in the 1930's, and then fell into disrepair, eventually closing in 1981. In 1983, an investor purchased the hotel and restored it to its former grandeur.Turning around we headed back toward the port. Based on the direction, and the suns path, we had excellent views of the eastern coast, but the eastern side of the lake was less developed. During the narration they mentioned that the state had purchased all the undeveloped land around the lake so no future building would take place. This way the lake will maintain its pristine look. The sun shone on the water, inviting this picture.We arrived back at our point of departure, disembarked, and picked up our souvenir picture. After a light dinner and a little shopping we settled in for the evening. Our final morning we were treated to yet another wonderful breakfast. Again on advice from the owners of the B&B, we took a ride up the Prospect Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway. This 5 1/2 mile road had several scenic pull offs as well as a summit which would have possibly allowed 100 mile views on a clear day. Sadly the views were considerably less that day, but we captured a few great pictures.

A wonderful trip, a great time to be sure. I highly recommend a trip here, and hope to get back again soon I also highly recommend the B&B.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Yea Mon, Jamaica!

Sometimes good things happen. In this case it came in the form of a gift. Karen listens to a particular radio station most days, and when they said call now, she did. Well she just happened to be the right caller and won an all expenses paid trip for two to Jamaica! How sweet is that? The trip included airfare, 3 nights hotel at the Holiday Inn Sunspree, and all food and drinks. The only thing we were responsible for (which we found out later-more on that soon) were transfers to and from the airport.

We decided to go in early May, since that was after spring break and before hurricane season. It turns out it was a perfect time to go. The resort was not too busy so we were able to relax and enjoy it without too big of a crowd, yet it wasn't too crazy at night either. We actually left Tuesday evening and stayed at the Sheraton next to JFK in New York. We weren't there but 5 minutes, and the building fire alarm went off! Not a great way to start the trip. New York's finest showed up in quick order, and it was determined that it was a faulty sensor in the panel (it went off another 10 times over the next few hours). Fortunately the problem was fixed before bedtime.
We settled in for the evening, and the room was quite nice. A very spacious area with a huge bath area. Afterwards we wandered upstairs to the Preferred Guest Lounge-after all-Membership has its privilege! There we were able to snack on various goodies, and had a nice view of the stacked parking.
The next morning we were up very early-with the regulations for out of country flights check in was 2 hours before the flight. We checked in and waited. And waited. Finally we were boarding, and soon we were in the air for the flight to Jamaica! The snacks were definitely Jamaican too. After a few hours we were on the ground and herded into customs. After the obligatory grilling, our passports were stamped (my first!) and we were allowed to enter the country.

And now-the taxi ride. The nice part about an all-inclusive trip is everything is included. The bad part is if you skim over what is included, and not really read every word, you missed the fact that transportation to and from the airports is not included. After speaking to several people, it was determined that transportation for our particular hotel was not included. We tried to get our cell phone working, and of course it was trying to connect to a local carrier, instead of the proper roaming, so rather than get stuck with an expensive out of country charge we canned that. Going to the payphones, we saw they were conveniently out of order. Now the various taxi drivers were coming up to us and we were being bombarded with "Hey Mon" by everyone. We stepped off to a quiet corner and regrouped, finally deciding to approach them and negotiate a price. After several attempts, we found one driver that accepted our counter-offer, and off we went.

Driving toward the resort, once away from the airport, it was apparent how impoverished Jamaica really is. It was sad to see some of the conditions. As we drove by the various resorts, the quality of the area increased ten-fold. Finally we saw the sign for our resort, and we watched our driver pass our resort. The hair on the back of my neck started to rise momentarily, until I realized, because of the fact they drive on the wrong side of the road(to us at least) he had to maneuver to a proper turn around to get into the resort.
We checked in and the whole resort was very open-a large open air lobby, with a beautiful atrium and lots of color. Since we left early, we had a light breakfast, and when we arrived it was still early and breakfast was still being served, so we stopped in to grab a snack.
We walked to our unit, and while not the most lavish of accommodations, was certainly adequate. I had read some mixed reviews about this place in the preceding months, some as recent as a week or two prior to our departure. Some were glowing and others downright insulting. I was pleasantly surprised both with the accommodations and the staff.
After settling in and unpacking, we stepped outside. The view from our balcony was perfect-palm trees, water and blue sky. We headed to the beach, exploring along the way. First stop was the jerk chicken shack. They had not opened yet, so we would have to come back. Next we went to the pool area, and looked at the little atoll the resort had created. There were palm frond umbrellas and beach chairs aplenty-the perfect place to sit and sun. We explored the rest of the beach area and we were just enjoying the relaxed atmosphere. Usually when you go on vacation, you try and cram in so many activities, you need a vacation from vacation. This time we decided not to do much at all just relax, and enjoy.
So the afternoon it was basically to chill, and snack. There was a hut near the "island"that had burgers and dogs on one side, and bar on the other. We grabbed something and sat enjoying the view.

From the perch we had a great view of the island and the ocean. After laying out for a short time, I burned up pretty good. I even ended up with a few blisters on the top of my head. Darn my Irish complexion. Moving to the shade, we watched the boat people come in. We called them the boat people, but they were locals with older paddle boats loaded with all sorts of local wares. They are not allowed on property, so they walk along the shore and set up in the shallows. Then the tourist/resort guests walk out and check out what they have. And they had a little bit of everything! Carvings, mugs, T Shirts, and so much more. We sat in the water in the lounge chairs for a bit and strolled around, stopping by the gazebo, and then the beach, where one of the staff members snapped our photo. Although sunny, it was very breezy, which helped make it feel a little cooler than the 91 degrees it got up to. We decided to walk to the lobby area, with the inside bar. There they were serving the standard fare, Pina Colada, Daiquiris, Cervaza's, and the Bob Marley, an interesting combination of Creme de Menthe, Banana Liqueur, 151 rum, and Grenadine. The results were colorful, and I am sure quite potent. Beauty was all over the resort, from the flower beds to the palms, to white sand. Peaceful and serene were the keywords to describe the feelings we had. It isn't often you can relax as much as we did. No need to go anywhere that wasn't within walking distance. We had a light dinner and decided to call it an early evening and relax in our room. Tomorrow we would perhaps venture beyond the resort walls. We rose early the next morning, partly because the early night, partly because we were technically an hour behind even though we were still in the same time zone. Apparently Daylight Savings Time is not used in Jamaica. We took advantage of the early hour to walk around the resort, and not a soul was stirring, yet people had been out working through the night to turn everything back to pristine shape. The drink cups and towels were picked up, the chairs were lined back up, and even the sand was raked smooth. It was very peaceful to walk along the beach, leaving first tracks in the sand. The early dawn light and the waves crashing along the shore were spectacular. We felt alone on a desert island. Exploring the entire resort, we looked at the various places without interruption-from the snack areas, to the restaurants, to the balconies overlooking the pool and shore. Paradise indeed.
Further down the beach the crabs had been out and and now the lower tide were exposing their holes in the sand. They were elusive for pictures however.... As we wandering back towards the resort proper, a quick little rain squall hit. We took refuge under a gazebo at the end of a dock. The waves were hypnotic and peaceful. Raindrops fell all around us yet off in the distance the sky had blue spots meaning the rain was short lived. After the spot storm subsided, we went back anxious for breakfast. There was a fairly modern fare, with fresh local fruits, breads, eggs, and some various local dishes. Unfortunately, I waited too long to update the blog, and the names escape me. But we tried to taste some of the local dishes every day, to broaden our palates a bit. We were even joined at the table by someone from the island, though they didn't really talk all that much. He had a pretty good appetite though. After breakfast, there was a bus trip to the local duty free shopping. We decided we would go check it out. It was basically a strip type mall with more jewelry and watch shoppes than I have ever seen before in my life. We walked through the various shops, but didn't really see anything that caught our eye enough to say "wow". At the end of the shopping mall was a unique waterwheel and water garden.When we returned to the resort, we opted to cool off in the pool. It was very relaxing but hard to find the shade. There was always something happening next to the pool, as the resort staff tried to provide a little something for kids and adults to do, and also sharing there culture, whether through dance or song. They even had a character to help with the fun. He had the moves too, as was witnessed by his dancing around, though I cannot imagine how hot it must have been inside .
Later on we returned for dinner and the evening entertainment. Included in the dinner were a abundant choice of local dishes, American standards, and a myriad of pastries.

Later that night we were entertained by the local people with the standard calypso dance and ultimately the limbo. The girls were very good but the one man did the lowest limbo and under the flames as well! Our last day was quiet and all to soon it was time to head home. We arranged for a taxi to get us there in plenty of time to make it through the long lines. We had time to relax before our flight, and wandered about the small airport. Soon it was time to leave. As we flew home, to end our trip on another strange note, the passenger 1 row across from us developed chest pains. It was apparently severe enough to ask for a doctor over the intercom. After a quick exam, he was put on oxygen and when we landed, New York's finest sprung into action again, and boarded the plane and examined him, then took him off on a stretcher. All in all a great trip for us- a little drama at the beginning and end, but "cool runnings" in between. I hope we get back someday. If the wife asks me to go back my answer will for sure be "Yea Mon!"