blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Monday, April 24, 2017

A long drive northeast

We left the RIDC Park hotel at 7:50am this morning; at about 5:15pm we reached Pulaski, the same stopping point as on our way down, so we have been on the go for about nine-and-a-half hours. When I stepped out of the car for supper at the Ponderosa steakhouse, I felt dizzy from the constant motion. I think my body is still vibrating, although our car is at rest near our motel room (at the Super 8 once more), plugged into an outside socket.

It has been another pleasant drive. We only got lost twice on the backroads, first on the back roads between Clarion and Kane in the Allegheny National Forest area (because there turned out to be an old Route 36 and a new Route 36), and this afternoon on the stretch between Prattsburg and Geneva in upper state New York. It didn't matter. All the way along were dark Dutch barns with white picket fences round the farms, and amalanchia trees bursting into flower. The fields were full of flooded hollows from the recent downpours. The up and down route took us to an altitude 2010ft at one point. In these higher, more northern regions the daffodils in people's gardens still look fresh, whereas in Pittsburgh they had already wilted from the heat.

For lunch we stopped at Allegany on the Allegheny river -- don't get confused by the different spelling! -- at La Roca, an excellent, inexpensive, authentic Mexican restaurant staffed by a family of Mexicans.

Over the New York State border in Cattaraugus County we saw horse drawn buggies steered by bearded young Amish gentlemen in straw hats, some of them with children along, the little girls wearing long skirts and caps. Here in Pulaski, even, I have just bought a handwoven basket from such a family standing beside a horse at the crossroads near our motel, the little girls in black capes and caps. They looked very solemn until I showed them the picture I had taken of the horse (the father allowed me to do this, "so long as you don't take a picture of us!") on my cellphone, whereat they smiled. Maybe no one had showed them a picture on a cellphone before. If not, they must have thought it was magic.

This evening we walked by the Salmon River again, very full, seeing several fishermen but no catches. I like the quiet side streets of Pulaski.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Discovering Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh lies in the hilly woodland at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monogahela Rivers, the starting point of the great Ohio River. The Ohio, in turn, becomes the Mississipi as it continues beyond Cairo, Illinois, so in principle you could sail from Pittsburgh to Mexico.

In the 1750s the Marquis du Quesne / Duquesne, Governor General of New France, sent an expeditionary troop from the north to establish a military base on the spit of land where the rivers meet, claiming the surrounding territory for France. A world war between the French, the British and other nations was taking place in those days, a quest for Empire and supremacy; three years later, Fort Duquesne was destroyed by a British troop arriving from the east, who built Fort Pitt in its place. George Washington, at that time a Major in the British army, was involved in the skirmishes.

On Wednesday morning I stood above the fountain in the Point State Park where these forts used to be.

The native tribes also played a major role in the fighting, on both sides, for although their traditional culture was the antithesis of land ownership, they needed to make alliances with the Europeans for practical purposes. In the 1760s the natives tried to drive out the incomers and laid siege to the fort, but failed to capture it. Captain Ecuyer, the commander of Fort Pitt, gave two Lenape (Delaware) envoys blankets that had been exposed to smallpox, with famously devastating consequences. Then later, in the 1770s, the "colonists", British settlers from Virginia, took over Fort Pitt in their turn.

In the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, peopled by English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish and German settlers and their descendants, Pittsburgh became industrial, building boats and manufacturing iron and then steel, brass, tin and glass products. Coal was mined nearby. Important railroads ran through it and still do. We saw an extremely long train of coal trucks pass us by, rattling up the Allegheny valley, on Wednesday evening. The passenger trains are all but gone, though.

On Wednesday morning, I caught the 91 bus from our Comfort Inn and Suites all the way to its furthest stop downtown, getting out on Liberty Avenue. It only cost $2.75. A bus ride is a good way to learn about a city and its outskirts. Leaving the RIDC park behind (along Alpha Drive, Beta Drive, Gamma Drive, etc.), the bus rattled me down Freeport Road past the Waterworks Plaza and the old Pinwall Pumping Station itself, built in the days when water treatment plants were palaces. Opposite is a hospital and then you're in pretty and prosperous Aspinwall. Still only three passengers on the bus. Beyond the Highland Park Bridge the smaller houses have clapboard sides and here more people got on. Unlike Aspinwall, which has little shops like the Nota Bene Fine Paper Boutique, Sharpsville (built around James Sharp Landing on the Allgheny River) is the sort of district where people use rolls of dollar store wrapping paper in place of window curtains. Thence across the river on the R D Fleming Bridge, the one I'd crossed by mistake on my way back from the zoo the day before. From the bridge I got a view of the distant skyscrapers. Onto Butler Street for a long ride through Lawrenceville and other suburbs, past an extensive park-like cemetery. Again, the area became more gentrified, with cherry trees along the sidewalks and artistic graffiti. Dark brown cliffs loomed above us. Butler Street turned into Penn Street, lined with red brick buildings and a long series of warehouses, one large building labelled Ironworkers Union. The road surface was terrible. We passed a Mother's Milk Bank, a Blumengarten (sic) and a sign that said German Motorwerks. Now we were on Liberty Avenue, "Entering Strip District" where a former PRR (Pennsylvania Railroad) station stood. Finally the bus announced that we were "Entering Downtown" at which point I had to pay attention and request my stop.

Then I walked and walked, first up and down the streets, finding at 9th Street the series of bridges over the Allegheny and seeing Pittsburgh Pirates' stadium on the "North Shore" across the river, then further, under flyovers busy with traffic and through a tunnel to the Point State Park and its fountain, marvelling at the trees in blossom there. This must be the very best time of year to visit this city. Having admired the meeting of the waters, I returned to the city streets for a bite of lunch with office workers then crossed the grid of streets to the footpath over the Smithfield Street Bridge, my plan being to ride the Monongahela Incline, the funicular cog rails, up the cliff to "Mount Washington" at the top, 400ft above the city. I got into the cable car with a Chilean family, also tourists. Seniors ride for free and are supposed to show their Medicare cards for ID, but the kind man at the top let that go. I then walked another mile along the cliff top, along Grandview Avenue, although the buildings on my right rather obscured the Grand View, except at the lookout points. All the same I got some good photos. The view from the Duquesne (pronounced Doo-Kane) Incline coming down, was even more splendid, the Ohio flowing away to the southwest, although the ticket lady at the bottom was not lenient enough to grant me a senior's free ride because I failed to show her a Medicare card. My Canadian ID was not valid as a substitute. Anyhow, from there I could see that there was a footpath (part of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail) across Fort Pitt Bridge, that also carries the very busy Lincoln Highway to and from a tunnel in the cliffs; this is the main access road between the city and its international airport and it vibrated with heavy traffic. I descended from the bridge at the Point Park again, to spend at least an hour in the excellent Fort Pitt Museum where, earlier in the day, I'd seen a woman in 18th century dress load and noisily fire a rifle for the entertainment of a party of schoolkids. I think I was the only visitor at the museum, that afternoon.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Staying on the ground: an experiment!

Chris has work in the RIDC park near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, this week, and as usual, it was our intention to fly there in PTN. However, we are perhaps becoming over-cautious, these days, because, when we looked at the weather charts on Sunday morning, we decided to take the car instead. Sunday's weather in Ottawa was unpleasant, tipping with rain from low clouds, and the immigration offices at airports across the border were closed that day, so in any case we couldn't take off until Monday. Even so, we had to make the decision on Sunday, to allow enough time for the long drive. On Monday it was due to clear up, particulary in the afternoon, but the morning forecast was for "broken" cloud around Lake Ontario, windy conditions, and a temperature not much above 0 degrees, meaning that there might be supercooled water droplets in the clouds, depending on how thick they were, on our descent into Rochester, where we would land to clear customs. Chris and I had a mini conference and decided it was too risky. We had already filed an EAPIS (Electronic Advance Passenger Information System) manifest with the border guard. Once we made the decision to stay on the ground, we cancelled this manifest, and set off at 2:45pm on Sunday in our own car.

Wikipedia image of the 1000 Islands Bridge
Chris later told me it was his "worst flying decision ever"! Our substitutory drive was going to be an Adventure and an Experiment, but I have a feeling it isn't going be repeated too often, even though I quite enjoyed the ride and drove part of it myself. We do have to return by road next weekend, so shall see what that's like. 

Unfortunately, the outward journey turned out to take longer than expected, because we got stuck in very long traffic jams on both days. Almost all the way, the weather was fine: the heavy rain as we turned south from Ottawa on the 416 cleared away even before we reached Kemptville, and by Brockville it was pleasantly sunny. Not far beyond Brockville on the 401 the flow of traffic slowed to stop-and-go speed; an exit ahead was closed and the westbound traffic channelled into a single lane. That exit was the one we had to take. We live and learn, should have looked up the likely hold-ups before choosing this route. We could have diverted to the much nicer but usually slower route along the 1000 Islands Parkway. As it was, once we had wasted the hour it took to crawl 10km, we followed a quick diversion onto the International Bridge, and were through the border check in less than a minute: the fastest crossing ever, only one car in line ahead of us, and the border guard friendly and efficient. Chris had rehearsed what to say about the purpose of his visit, with an official letter of invitation ready, but he wasn't asked to show it.

The highway to Syracuse was a smooth ride in light traffic. We felt hungry near Watertown, and made a short detour for the sake of a Subway sandwich (nothing else available on the evening of Easter Sunday, most eateries being closed) before heading further to find somewhere to stay for the night. At Pulaski, in Oswego County, about half way between Watertown and Syracuse, we struck lucky. This is an attractive little town on the Salmon River, with a village green, old houses with pillars and porches, shops with Italianate facades on the High Street, and the rapids of the Salmon River running through it. One soon becomes aware that the main thing about Pulaski is the salmon. Indeed, the place was originally called Fishville! During the salmon run of September and October it is devoted to the fish, and hundreds of tourists come along with their fishing tackle. We'd have been hard pressed to find a room at the Super 8 Motel or anywhere else at that time of year, we were told. As it was April, no problem, all was quiet. Once we'd checked in, while it was still light enough to look around, we walked back to the town centre, noticing the Fish-On Motel that offers to clean your fish for you, with the associated "Tackle and Tavern" building on the opposite side of the street. Here there'd probably not be any notices posted to say No Waders, No Cleats! as there was at the Super 8.

Monday began with a substantial breakfast at Artie's Home Town Diner on the high street, rather than a complimentary polystyrene bowls of cereal at our lodging. Then I got into the driver's seat and took us south towards Syracuse, passing Lake Oneida, near Mexico Bay. In fact, during the course of the day, we passed turn-offs to Mexico, Geneva, Manchester and Cuba. We also came through New (sic) Bethlehem, eventually. No longer it felt like such a long drive! By the extensive wetlands south of the bottom right hand corner of Lake Ontario, we began to realise what a long drive it was going to be when, once again, on the stretch of the Interstate 90 highway between Syracuse and Rochester, we were once again held up in stationary traffic, due to "an injury accident between Geneva and Manchester," as the woman on the radio said. We pulled into a service station to change drivers, then, after a long, frustrating hour of crawling along, we finally made it to the freedom of the 390, turning south towards Corning. We had another American fast food meal at Tom Wahl's, an obviously popular stopping place at Avon where all the patrons seemed massively overweight, a short distance from the Expressway.

Now it was my turn to drive again and I enjoyed the next stretch, that took us off the Expressways onto rolling country roads switchbacking through fields and forest, the Google Directions taking us onto many different roads. We started to follow the upper reaches of the Allegheny River on a wider road heading for Erie, where we swapped seats again, and then Chris took us round the bends through the Allegheny National Forest, passing frequent bodies of deer and other creatures that had been murdered by the traffic, stopping for a short break and leg-stretching moment at Kane, a somewhat god-forsaken spot that had seen better days. No nice little coffee shops there, so I bought a wrapped cookie in a pit stop place; I also bought a map, because I feel more comfortable with old fashioned paper in my hands, while navigating.

The final leg to our hotel on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, near the Allegheny River again (far broader, here), took us 30km further than the total distance that Google had predicted for us. I guess we'd made a few detours on the way. The total time en route was supposed to be 8 hours 26 minutes, but we had taken a good three hours longer than that. Never mind. The last half of the journey was more and more wonderful for me, watching the trees become more and more alive with spring colours, with whites and pinks amongst the pale green blotches on the steep slopes where leaves were unfolding --- the cherry trees in bloom, maple trees too, their blossoms red, pale yellow and russet brown --- and daffodils, tulips, forsythia, redbud bushes in people's gardens, lush with green grass. 

After supper at the Rte. 28 sportsbar at the hotel, with no fewer than 12 TV screens entertaining us (?) as we ate, we took an evening walk through the RIDC Park to see where the bus stops were and where Chris would be working, seeing the sun set behind more trees in flower. This morning (Tuesday) Chris walked there to start on a demanding week's training course, he being the trainer.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

A flight to St. Catherine's

(Photos to be added later.)

It was a hectic start, this morning: we finished the packing and drove to the RFC so that Chris could have his 9am flight sim session, Kathy giving him an IPC (Instrument Procedure Check) pre-test; the actual test will come at the end of next week. Having drunk my morning cup of tea in the car, I hurried back to the house to book this evening’s accommodation and finish off the last minute jobs around the house before our weekend away. The phone calls took 45 minutes! Every hotel and Bed & Breakfast place in Niagara-on-the-Lake seemed to be fully booked, so eventually I chose a B & B (The Redcoat) 10km south of there, in Queenston. They had one room left: “The Brock Suite”. The snag was that we’d have to find ground transport to reach it. I enquired about car rentals without success, speaking to St. Catherine’s airport staff and a car rental company. So we assumed we’d be spending lots of money on taxi rides.

Engine on today, 2.9 hours, flying time in the air totalling 2.6 hours. PTN has now spent more than 4900 hours in the air since her first flight. The first leg of our flight this weekend was to CYOO: Oshawa airport. I was nervous of the gusty conditions but it wasn’t so bad up there, once we rose above 4000ft or so. Our chosen altitude was 8000ft, from which we could see for 60 miles or more. A tiny clouds floated over the Ottawa River, beyond which, no more cloud worth mentioning. We crossed flooded fields near Carp, full rivers and their weirs, and saw the whole of White Lake where we’d spent a great day boating, last summer. At this time of year it really is white, from the ice and snow. Other nearby stretches of water are beginning to melt. The rocky area around Oompah looked wild and remote, and then we crossed Bon Echo Provincial Park reaching the more cultivated parts of eastern Ontario. Turbulence was not noticeable until we were nearly at airport level, descending into Oshawa.

A splendid old DC3 enhanced with turbo-prop engines and belonging to Bell Canada was sitting on the ramp there, waiting to depart for Croatia, of all places. I fancied stowing away, although it would have been a long flight. For lunch Chris and I walked for a few minutes round the perimeter of the airport to reach The Mandarin, an all-you-can-eat, buffet-style Asian place, very popular with the locals, obviously. I had some luck phoning St. Catherine’s FBO from Oshawa: the lady who works there gave me the number of a car company that was willing to to leave an unlocked SUV for us at the airport, with the car key and paperwork ready for pick-up on the seat. I paid in advance over the phone.

Then we climbed into PTN again and she climbed out over the Great Lake, in very bumpy air, to start with, which I found disturbing, although the views of Toronto City from that angle and altitude (“not above 2000ft” and then “not above 1700ft” near YTZ, so that incoming traffic to Pearson International would be above and able to avoid us) were phenomenal, a good distraction from the discomfort. We weren’t allowed to climb to 3500ft until it was hardly necessary, since we were already round the far end of the lake (over Hamilton) by that point. The industrial landscape beyond Toronto is interesting too, with the factories and harbours and canals, and then comes the wine country along the Niagara escarpment; we made our approach to St. Catherine’s airport, CYSN (its official name is the Niagara District airport) over vineyards.

The plane was fuelled and the rental car was waiting for us in a parking space behind the hangar. Staff at the airport terminal building had given me a street map, so we managed to leave the airport in the right direction for Queenston. We failed to find the guesthouse at the first attempt, driving half way along the Niagara Parkway to Niagara-on-the-Lake, but realising we had gone wrong we turned around and tried again. Front Street, the location of our B & B, was somewhat hidden behind other little streets in Queenston, which is not a large place, fortunately. It is at the foot of that wooded hill on which the Brock Monument stands. We might explore that park again tomorrow. This afternoon and evening we explored the area between here and Niagara-on-the-Lake, spending a long time in the town after we found a parking spot opposite the Shaw Theatre. This year’s shows will include St. Joan and Androcles and the Lion, by Shaw, so it would be well worth coming back here in the summer. They are performing Alan Bennett’s The Madness of George III, as well.

The flowers are starting to bloom here: crocusses, snowdrops, daffodils, anenomes, scyllas, all coming out at once, and the grass looks very green. Niagara-on-the-Lake is well ahead of Ottawa, as I’d hoped it would be. Most of the buildings in the centre of towndate from the 1830s, with one or two 18th century ones, even. The town makes capital out of its history, offering horse drawn carriage rides and turniing some of the old properties into museums or inns.

We ate fish and chips for supper and took a walk by the water where the Niagara River flows into Lake Ontario, with gloriously limpid views, and Port Niagara in the USA very close on the other bank of the river. Toronto was clearly visible on the horizon, a good 50km away.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Flora and fauna

(Photos to be added later.)

This has been a really pleasant weekend: a visit to the Ikebana exhibition at the Canadian Museum of Nature yesterday, walking 8km to get there and back, and a sunny walk to our local [Maple] Sugar Festival in Vanier this morning. It is definitely Spring weather today, so most appropriate. We lunched at Arturo's Market afterwards and I sat in a patch of sunshine in the garden for some of this afternoon.

The nature museum also gave me the chance to see a 3D film and I was lucky to be there at the time when the film about migratory birds was showing. I was touched by one of the sequences in it where cranes, having flown to the point of exhaustion for thousands of miles, reach their destination, wetlands in Scandinavia. When they get there, to the right place, they literally dance for joy, in pairs, leaping into the air from ground level and flapping their wings, the young ones trying to impress a potential mate, of course, but the older pairs, faithfully committed to one another for as many as 40 years sometimes, simply to reinforce or celebrate their bond. Perhaps the vocabulary I'm using is too anthropomorphic, but that was the impression I got.

Apart from the maple sap dripping into the metal buckets, the other attraction at the sugar bush event this morning was the animals. A team of sled-pulling huskies was standing, sitting or lying on tressle tables at a level where they could be petted by human visitors of all ages, and in a tent were farm animals, sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens, a donkey and a llama. I stroked as many as I could reach and children were allowed to give them animal food.