Autumn in the Adirondacks

Oh, the pure bliss of it all. Autumn in upstate New York is one that you hear talked about a lot, along with Vermont and New Hampshire (ok basically all of New England). It’s one that everyone says is absolutely incredible (actually I’d argue that people tend to exclude New York from that conversation, which is completely unfair, but that’s a post for another day), but you always wonder…”can it really be that good?”. The answer is yes, yes it can be, in fact it’s better. 

In fact, when I dreamed about what Autumn in New York would be like, I dreamed of spending a weekend in a cabin in the middle of the forest and just watching in wonder at the beauty around me. However, rentals go FAST around here, and you’ve got to plan almost a year out to get what you really want at a decent price (and I was determined NOT to do a hotel in a city for this particular dreamy weekend). My husband took over the plans and ended up booking us an RV and a campsite for the weekend in the Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain area. There aren’t a lot of words that I can really give to the sheer beauty of it all, and so, while there will still be words in this post, the real star of the post will be the pictures that I took throughout the weekend. 

Now, before we go much further in this post, I’ll address the elephant in this post. Yes, we stayed in the RV in a KOA campground…and we LOVED every minute of it. My husband has been trying to sell me on the whole RV thing and while I wasn’t opposed to it, I also wasn’t jumping up and down and going out to buy one. This weekend convinced me though that an RV for the bulk of our travel is actually a really good idea. Let me briefly explain. When we travel to certain locations, we do a lot of outdoor activities. We are big outdoors people, loving to explore nature, hike through the woods, see waterfalls, and just general do everything we can within nature. When you spend all day just reveling in Mother Nature and the beauty that is around you, only to go back to a hotel in a city it can be a bit…jarring. Especially if what you are craving is an escape from “the real world”. Enter: the RV. It was brilliant and honestly, really added to our weekend. The boys loved it and, at least for this weekend, I didn’t feel like I was truly missing anything by staying in an RV instead of a hotel. It is something that, while we will be renting a few more times first, we are definitely going to be looking at investing in. I would say we do a fairly equal amount in our travels between visiting cities and escaping into nature, so this would definitely be something to have. 

Anyways, tangent over back to our post about Autumn in Upstate. We pulled in on a Friday afternoon and got all set up and unpacked at the campsite. Made up the beds, set up our little cooking and dining area and feasted on some dinner. Like I said, we stayed at the Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain KOA and we really liked it. It had good amenities, very active and sweet owners (this was actually their last weekend there) and was VERY beautiful. It is a perfect spot to stay due to its location close to everything to see in the immediate region. 

Our first full day in the area we spent chasing leaves across Whiteface Mountain. Whiteface Mountain is the 5th highest mountain in New York and part of the Adirondack High Peaks. It is unique in that you are able to access the summit by car, with the Whiteface Memorial Veterans Highway. This highway was constructed as part of the New Deal public works projects and funded entirely by New York State. It winds up the mountain giving absolutely incredible views of the valley below (with several pull off points to step out of the vehicle and stare in awe), stopping just shy of the summit you are able to then walk through a tunnel and ride an elevator to the fully developed summit OR hike the stairway trail to the summit. The tunnel walks you through to the center of the mountain where an elevator whisks you to the top. We chose to take the elevator due to weather and little children (if the weather hadn’t been windy and damp, we would have probably hiked the trail up). The summit is the most incredible view of Lake Placid and the surrounding area. On a clear day you can even see the skyscrapers of Montreal on the distance. We didn’t have a clear enough view to see Canada, or even Vermont, but we were able to see down to Lake Placid and our further out surrounding area. Whiteface Mountain Summit is only open May to October (in fact the weekend we went was the last weekend), in part due to weather at the summit, but also because on the opposite side of the mountain is the Whiteface Ski Resort. The workers who work the roads and top, also work the ski resort, so they transition from one side to the other to prep for winter and the upcoming ski season.

So, like I said, the opposite side of the Veterans Highway is the Ski Resort. The Ski area is noted by the Olympic Regional Development Authority as a major ski area and is known for hosting the alpine events of the Winter Olympics as well as an Olympic Training Site and just a generally good spot to ski. There are two double black diamond trails within the ski area, as well as quite a few standard trails, and a great separate beginners’ area. Year round, you are able to ride the Cloud splitter Gondola up to the summit of Little Whiteface, which is what we did after leaving the summit of Whiteface Mountain. I will say- this is totally not necessary. In fact, I would recommend just choosing to drive the Veterans Highway and summit Whiteface Mountain. Yes, the gondola rides up to Little Mountain is INCREDIBLE, but it’s just not as good as the drive up the mountain. Just a personal opinion. 

We finished our day out at High Falls Gorge, a nature park that has been around since 1899. This nature park provides trail access to look throughout the falls of the AuSable river with bridges, clear viewing platforms and several photo spots to get close to the falls. There is also a nature trail that walks you through a protected untouched forest called Climax Forest. While the trail, river, and foliage was gorgeous, I don’t know that it was entirely worth the cost. It’s a really pretty area and maybe if we hadn’t spent time touring various waterfalls in the Finger Lakes (HERE) the month previous I would have felt differently, but this just wasn’t absolutely worth the cost. It’s one of those, I recommend, but I also wasn’t overly enthusiastic about it. It was neat I suppose.

And that wrapped up our first full day in the Lake Placid region. I’ve literally never been so in love with a trip (maybe if we had rv’d or camped that Finger Lakes trip, but we stayed in a hotel instead) and a space at a moment in time, but I just kept looking around in awe at every turn. A tear may have been shed over just the sheer beauty of it all. After the High Falls Gorge, we went back to the RV for the evening and spent our night around the fire, munching on some smores and just reveling in the area. 

On our second full day in the region, we headed into Lake Placid proper. Lake Placid, originally known as North Elba, started as a location for an iron ore mine. It started to grow in the late 19th century, starting as a place for former slaves to own land (thanks due to Gerrit Smith and John Brown) before turning in to a resort town. The name change was brought about by Melvin Dewey (of the Dewey Decimal System) who made a “Placid Park Club”. Lake Placid was incorporated in 1900 and became known as a resort spot, as well as a rest and recouperation area (especially for those suffering from tuberculosis- Saranac Lake had a sanatorium for those sick with the disease to convalesce). Before too long Lake Placid became known for alpine sports, later on going on to host the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics. 

We started our morning off on the lake itself, taking a boat tour and looking at all the different “camps” and lodges that sit right on the water. It was a peaceful start, giving us a little look into some of the more “known” families that lived there at one time or another. We were also able to spot loons on the water and an eagle up in one of the pine trees. Not to mention, the leaves were just starting to wane from peak season, so all those beautiful reds/yellows/oranges were still standing amidst a sea of green and gray (from the trees that had already lost their leaves). It was a special bit of time. 

Once finished with the boat tour, we headed into downtown Lake Placid. Lake Placid is actually currently under construction…yes, the entire town is undergoing a massive overhaul. This made walking the main street a bit of a struggle, but we wandered down amongst all the shops and scenery of Mirror Lake. We did not make it to the Olympic Complex in town as it was under construction too. It was open to the public, however the reviews that we had read, it was only a fraction of the complex and so we decided to head to a different Olympic attraction from the overall complex. 

The Olympic Ski Jump Complex is one to see. You cannot accurately understand what the jumps are like, until you are standing in front of them, on top of them, riding the lift up next to them. They are MASSIVE. The current jumps are the only free-standing jumps and are listed at 90 and 120 meters tall. The 120 Meter jump is the one open to tourists, but we’ll get to that in a minute. The original jump was built into the mountain in 1920 and was known as the Interval 35 Meter. This jump was initially lifted, still within the mountain, to 50 meters in 1923. In 1927 they built the first tower to increase the jump to 60 meters. Ever few years this was increased, with a 75-meter used for the 1932 Olympics, until 1977 when the entire complex was demolished to build fresh towers for the 1980 Olympics standing at 70 & 90 Meters. The current towers date back to 1994. Another feature of the complex is the freestyle aerial training center, seen from the right of the jump towers. Athletes can train on two similar jumps and jump into a massive pool of water. 

Now, I’m terrified of heights. More specifically, I’m terrified of FALLING from high up. I do not have the personal strength to actually do this jump, just standing up at the tower, a few feet above where the ski jumpers would launch from was more than enough for me to get nervous (aka panic panic panic), but it was pretty incredible to think that people actually do jump and enjoy it. 

And that really wrapped up our weekend in Lake Placid and the Adirondacks. It was one of the most incredible trips.  I really just fell in love with this area of New York (and specifically at this particular time of year, but I’m sure of its beauty year-round) and will happily go back again. I think that we talk about New England as being such a hot spot for Autumnal Foliage, but don’t write off Upstate New York. It’s just as incredible and I would highly recommend checking it out. 

A Morning in Salem

It’s officially October, officially the Spooky Month, and officially time for me to talk about our stop during our Summer Holiday (HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE) that I haven’t yet. I’ve been waiting, because to me, Salem is the heart of October, and while we went during the middle of Summer, I held on to that spooky feeling the entire time. We only stopped for a few hours, for several reasons, and didn’t do much, but it was a really exciting stop. 

With all of that, it’s definitely time for me to level with you…I went to Salem mostly for Hocus Pocus. I wanted to see the history, pay homage to those who were killed during the Witch Trials and learn their stories, but I also very much wanted to stop at certain points for filming purposes to see them for myself. There was A LOT more that we could have done, but after leaving Boston, the boys were tired, it was sunny and hot, and so we tried to limit our stops. 

So, a little recap on Salem history…

Salem was founded in 1626 by a group of immigrants from Cape Ann, with the Massachusetts Bay Company arriving two years later in 1628 to settle it for the Puritans. Over the following decades the town grows, militia is established (Salem would later be recognized as the birthplace of the National Guard), trade is established, a cemetery is created (“Old Burying Ground” or Charter Street Cemetery), a custom house is built to deal with taxes, and so on. In 1668 the House of Seven Gables is built, known later as a home of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and in 1675 the Witch House is completed, which played a large role in the Salem Witch Trials as one of the presiding judges lived there and some cases were heard in the home.  Finally, in 1692 the Salem Witch Trials, what would bring this little town to the history books, began. I think we all have a fairly good idea of what the Salem Witch Trials were, but you can read through HERE to get a good look into that history. The trials concluded (after a whopping 3 months and an accusation levered at the governor’s wife) with at least 20 dead by ruling and many others dying in prison. 

After the trials, life in Salem quieted down for a time until 1775 when Salem conducted the first armed resistance of the Revolution. The British were attempting to collect ammunition that had been stored in the town, but the militia of Salem successfully blocked them. The town of Salem continues to grow and expand and in 1799 a group of Sea Captains worked together to found the Peabody Essex Museum, the oldest continuously operating museum in the country. It features culture from the New England area, as well as around the world. 

Once again, a period of time passes; Nathaniel Hawthorne publishes a Salem local book (Fanshawe in 1828 and in 1836 Salem is incorporated as an actual City.  Then, thanks to Nathaniel Hawthorne, Salem comes back in the spotlight with the publishing of The Scarlet Letter in 1850. The residents were not a fan as they felt it mis portrayed the residents. However, Hawthorne followed up with The House of the Seven Gables, which turned the house into one of the most famous historic houses in the country. In 1866 Salem held the first public demonstration of a long-distance phone call. 

After a massive and devastating fire in 1914, and a National Historic Site designation in 1938, Salem becomes part of pop culture when the seventh season of the show Bewitched is filmed in town. This reignites interest in the city and the city starts to lean a bit more into its…darker past. In 1982 it hosted a one-day Haunted Happenings Festival, which still continues to this day (every October for the entire month now) and offers a variety of spooky and historical events to attend. You can see the site HERE if you’re interested! 

In 1992 they added the Witch Trials Memorial, which is simple, but contains stone benches around the perimeter with the names of every accused witch along with the execution date.  Finally, in 1993 Hocus Pocus is released into theatres and catapults Salem not only from the history books, but into a constant pop culture sphere (in my opinion). Fun fact, the very very opening scenes (think like opening credits) were actually filmed overhead the Plymouth Patuxet that we visited in Plymouth (you can follow the first link in my vacation above or HERE). 

So, what did we actually manage to see on our quick morning? Well, first I could not help myself but see the house from Hocus Pocus. It’s privately owned and while they don’t mind folks taking photos of the front, be courteous. Don’t leave your trash, don’t block traffic, don’t blast their personal information (such as cars, license plates, etc.) into the online world. We literally pulled over long enough for me to take a couple photos and then we left- a total of maybe 5 minutes. Then, we parked at the downtown mall, paid for two hours parking, and trekked through main street. 

We stopped to pay our respect to the accused Witches at the Memorial, we wandered over to Town Hall, to the Witch House, and stopped at the Ropes Mansion. The main street is absolutely delightful and the perfect spot to buy all your souvenirs, take in the sights, grab a bite to eat and just enjoy the small-town vibes. It was all in all, a delightful stop and I would definitely recommend making a least half a day to a full day to learn the history and take a step into both real life history and a world of pop culture.

A Weekend in the Finger Lakes

Our final trip of the Summer was over Labor Day weekend and involved over 12 miles of hiking! It was a last-minute trip of sorts as we wanted to do something but didn’t know if schedules would work out for us to go anywhere. When it came out that we were going to be able to make it work, we decided to opt for a weekend in nature. We are a big “outdoors” active family, we love walking and hiking as a key part of our travel. I personally am a big water person (think lakes, streams, waterfalls, NOT beach). So, we decided to opt for a weekend in the Finger Lakes Region of New York. 

The Finger Lakes is a region in New York featuring ~11 lakes that run North to South. The Finger Lakes were actually formed during the last ice age when glaciers in the area receded to form these unique gorgeous lakes that do look like fingers from above. Each lake even has its own “claim to fame”, with Skaaneateles Lake being considered one of the cleanest lakes in the United States, Keuka Lake (the third largest) being a “crooked lake” like Lake Cuomo as well as for providing an excellent microclimate for wine. Cayuga is the longest lake in the grouping, running just under 40 miles and 435 ft deep. Seneca Lake is the largest by volume, with 618 ft deep. Finally, in fun facts, Canadice Lake – the smallest of all the lakes- is the most “untouched” of all the lakes making it the perfect peaceful spot for hikers and wildlife. 

Though the Finger Lakes have been existence for quite a long time, they weren’t actually referred to as “The Finger Lakes” until the 1800’s. The region was home to several Iroquois Tribes, which are referenced and respected throughout the areas you visit. The Tribes were actually able to fend of colonization for quite a long time, some of the last in their area to be colonized after putting up a large fight. 

Ultimately The Finger Lakes region is known for Waterfalls & Wine (or Beer), making it a pretty perfect vacation destination. This region is actually the main wine region in New York. In some ways it reminded me of Lauterbrunnen Switzerland (although, much to my disappointment it is very much not Switzerland- haha), in that you can be driving or walking down a road, look to your side and there is a waterfall. It is also the home to Watkins Glen International Raceway, which is home to several races of varying caliber drivers. 

We decided to explore the more Southern Region of the Finger Lakes, Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake. Our initial plan was to RV or camp in the area, but a) camping wasn’t going to be an option and b) RV sites (and RV rentals) book up months and months in advance. So, instead we booked a hotel in Horsehead (which was all that was available!) to stay in. I will say, in some ways this would have been the only thing I would have changed about our trip. We spent 75% of our time out in the woods, in nature, and to leave that to come back to a hotel was a bit jarring. Otherwise, it was the perfect weekend. 

Our first stop was Buttermilk Falls State Park.

This is a park featuring a foaming cascade of waterfalls coming from an offshoot creek heading towards Cayuga Lake. There is a large amount of hiking trails throughout the park as well as camping, RV, Cabin, and Cottage sites to stay in the park. We walked the Gorge and Rim Trail, which allows you to see the different water spots. There are a couple of trickier spots to navigate, but overall, I would say these two trails are fairly easy for any level of hiker. I did not actually where my hiking boots for this trail or the next if that tells you anything. As for the falls themselves, these were pretty incredible to see. They are definitely a cascade effect, so you’ll be able to see several different smaller falls that lead down to the bigger Buttermilk Falls at the “bottom”. From Buttermilk Falls State Park we went over to the sister park of Robert H Treman State Park.

Similar to Buttermilk this State Park is home to not only waterfalls, but also campsites, hiking spots, AND (unlike Buttermilk) you are able to swim in the stream fed pool at the base of a waterfall. There are two waterfall spots; the one I previously mentioned that you can swim in and then the Lucifer Falls which is a 115-foot waterfall. Now, normally you would be able to hike through Enfield Glen gorge and get up close and personal with Lucifer Falls, however when we went there was a section that was closed, so we weren’t able to hike it down. We still managed to hike the trail opposite and see the falls in all of their glory, which were incredible. The trail was a bit more up and down than Buttermilk, but otherwise still pretty straightforward. After that we decided to call it a day, head to the hotel and let the kids do a bit of swimming in the pool. 

The next morning we were up bright and early to head to what became the real highlight of the trip: Watkins Glen State Park. I’ll say it here and now, Watkins Glen State Park was my favorite of the whole weekend hands down. The Park and falls were beautiful and expansive, the gorge trail was easy to navigate and if you walk the gorge in, the rim out, you get the perfect mix of both water and woods. 

The gorge was formed over time, starting during the same glacial event that formed the Finger Lakes.  As the water of Glen Creek cascades through the glen, cutting away at the rock. This is an ever-changing gorge, and you can feel that what you are walking through will continue to shift and change and move over time. The gorge opened for tourists in the 1860’s as a privately owned resort destination. In the very early 1900’s, New York State purchased the gorge in an effort to protect the land, the wildlife, and the people who would trek through. The goal was to create a safe and welcoming environment for everyone to enjoy. The stone trails that make walking the gorge so easy were crafted in the 1930’s through a program to help put Americans back to work post Great Depression. 

Like many of the other State Parks we’ve visited, there are camping options in the park, both primitive and basic cabins. The hiking trails were fairly easy (the official pamphlet calls them “moderate to challenging”), but I would definitely wear some sort of hiking shoe boot as the trails are wet. Another thing to note is that the Gorge trail does close during winter so you’ll want to keep that in mind as you plan a trip, and I would highly highly recommend walking the gorge trail. It’s incredible. 

We spent a good 2-3 hours in the park before wandering through the main street of town and over to Seneca Lake. We had a little snack and walk to the end of the pier at the lake before heading out. We stopped over to Shequaga Falls, which were easily the most incredible “side of the road” waterfalls as well as Hector Falls. From there we decided to do end our weekend on a high note of things for the boys and went to look at the international speedway and play a round of mini golf. 

Our final stop on our weekend was Taughannock Falls State Park. Taughannock Falls is a 215-foot waterfall right near Cayuga Lake. Like many of the other parks we’ve been to, it provides hiking, campsites, and cabins, along with a boat launch and marina for Cayuga Lake. We walked the Gorge Trail, and it was probably the easiest walk we did the entire weekend, the most accessible for anyone. I’ll be honest, the great thing about these falls is the accessibility, you can easily see them from above or below and while they are really nice, but they weren’t a highlight. 

And that really rounds up our weekend in the Finger Lakes! It was easily one of my top long weekend trips (rivaled by…of course Switzerland) and I think that it was the perfect way to close out the summer. As I previously stated, I do wish that we had camped/RV’d or stayed a little more remote in a cabin, but it was still a phone trip and the boys got to have a little hotel pool time. 

A Weekend Upstate

One of our final Summer Hurrahs was a weekend in the greater Albany region. We spent a total of 3 nights in Schenectady, exploring Saratoga Springs, Schenectady, and Albany. It was a relaxed weekend trip that covered quite a few cute spots. Our first evening was spent getting settled into our Airbnb and heading over to a nearby park for some live music. We didn’t really “start” our exploring until the next morning. 

Fueled with some delicious bagels, we headed out for a day in Saratoga Springs. Saratoga Springs is really known for two things, horse racing and spring spas. The city’s slogan is actually “Health, History, Horses”. We started with the latter and ended with the former. So, Spring Spa’s. This dates back to the Native Americans believing that the springs (High Rock Spring) held medicinal properties- this is nothing new, there has long standing been a belief that mineral springs are good for you/your soul/your body/etc. This was then expanded when a British soldier was brought by the Native Americans to the spring to treat wounds from the French and Indian War. 

But back up for a moment… The land was originally “settled” by the British who built the Fort Saratoga in 1691, which was actually now Schuylerville. This is most noted in the location of The Battle of Saratoga, which actually took place in what is now Stillwater and the surrender at Saratoga took place in Schuylerville. Saratoga Springs was settled in 1819, incorporated in 1826, and then became a city in 1915. There are two turning points for tourism in the history, one of which was the arrival of the railroad, which made it much more possible for anyone to visit and be cured by the legendary springs. The second was the doctor Simon Baruch advocating for the “European Spa” (aka springs and bathhouses) coming to America. At one point in time, Saratoga Springs was the home of the largest hotel in the world.

Saratoga Spring State Park was developed in 1962 when the state of New York to control to preserve the springs. The property was then labeled a state park and gained National Historic Landmark status about 25 years later. There is a wide variety of activities to do within the park, between walking trails and taking in the springs, to snowshoe and cross-country skiing in the winter, to golf courses and pools to enjoy. We enjoyed walking along the creek and seeing a couple of the springs, as well as the wells that would have been used in its heyday. 

After we were entirely relaxed from the Springs, we headed over to the excitement of the Racetrack. The Saratoga Racecourse is the fourth oldest racecourse in the US, though many think it is the oldest. The track dates back to 1863 and has been in use almost every year since (notable exceptions would be during an anti-gambling legislation, as well as during World War II). The track itself has three tracks within the complex, a dirt track, a turf track, and a second inner turf track, which offers steeplechase races. We watched I think 4 or 5 races and enjoyed the excitement of the tracks and were swept away in the anticipation of the race. The boys enjoyed it and then were able to go in the kids’ zone to play some games in between. It was a fun way to spend a couple hours and an experience to have (this was my second time going to the races). 

We spent much of the rest of the day wandering the downtown shopping district, popping into bookstores, clothing stores, and tea shops and enjoying the afternoon in the quaint little town. It was a lovely way to spend a day in Saratoga Springs and the city itself is a really nice spot to stop for a weekend of fun and relaxation. 

Our second day of the weekend we headed into Albany. Albany is the state capital of New York (as of 1797) and a relatively modern city in the area (whereas quite a bit still has some original architecture, I saw a much more modern look to Albany). Originally founded by Dutch colonists in 1614 (though inhabited by the Mohican tribe at the time), the city of Albany was officially chartered in 1686 (under the English). The Albany region has its’ own long and storied history involving the Native Americans, the fur trade, and the shipping trade. It is one of the oldest of the original 13 Colonies and the longest continuously chartered city.  We headed into the city with no real plan, just a list of sites we’d like to see. This actually came out to be quite handy as we quickly learned that there is very little open in the city on Monday’s and Tuesdays. Every museum and attraction, save for the State Museum is actually closed those two days of the week. A bit of a bummer, we ended up driving past two of the attractions we wanted to see (The Schuyler House and The USS Slater (DE-766)) so we could still see them, even if we couldn’t tour them. The one place we were actually able to visit was the New York State Museum. Located within the Empire State Plaza (which also houses the State Library and Archives) and across from the Capital, this imposing building and museum details the history of the state of New York. It is the oldest and largest state museum in the US. As we walked through, we learned about the mining activities, the native American presence in the state, the history of New York City and its diverse makeup and neighborhoods. There is also a section devoted to September 11, which was incredibly meaningful and special to see. 

From the state museum we walked over to the Capital (though due to security you are not able to tour it at this time), and up through some of the neighborhood streets, admiring the old architecture (all of which is plaque dated and so awesome). We spent most of the rest of the day stopping in at different antique stores and bookstores as we wandered from little town to little town. 

The final thing we did on this little weekend away was see one of the Erie Canal Locks. The Erie Canal was built to provide a route from the Atlantic to the Great Lakes (Hudson River to Lake Erie was the original stretch). Originally proposed in the 1780’s, it was considered again in 1807, this time gaining approval and funding. Construction started in 1817 and finished in 1825 with a total of 34 locks. At the time water was the most cost-effective way to ship goods (as there were no railways) and this was a way to transport goods at less cost and faster transport. By and large this is considered the most successful human built waterway and one of the most important works of civil engineering in the United States. We saw Lock 7, also known as Vischer Ferry, though we also drove past Lock 8 (and have since seen the Oswego Canal). I will say, the sheer engineering of these locks is impressive, and it was very cool to stand right at the edge and see it first-hand. 

And that was our weekend in Upstate New York.

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2021 – Portland ME

It’s time for our final stop on our Summer Holiday, a couple of nights up in Portland, Maine (you can see our other stops by clicking the following links: PLYMOUTH, BOSTON 1, BOSTON 2). We did make a stop in Salem on our way up from Boston, but I’m gonna save that post for a little bit closer to Halloween time ;). Anyways, I’m a big fan of Maine. This was our second time in the state, with the first being a cabin in the Rangely Lake are and this second one in Portland. I swear, I don’t know many prettier spots than upstate North East and Maine is certainly a dreamy spot no matter where you look. 

I”m going to start this post out by saying, that I think a trip to Portland can have a lot gained by simply going child free. Portland is the home of a lot of breweries and such and we could have done some tastings, hopping around from place to place had we gone without our children, but alas, we still had a fun time. The main shopping district is brimming with people and music and cute, quaint little shops, you are able to do just about anything you’d like on a boat, and you can get some incredibly fresh (and delicious) seafood. 

Portland is the biggest city in Maine (or the most populated at least). It has a good mixture of the older district and modern convenience. The region was originally called Machigonne by the local Native American tribes, however in 1623 the English moved in to settle the land. The first settlement attempt ended in failure and dissapearences of all those that went. In 1632 a fishing and trading village was settled called Casco, then it was “re settled” with the name of Falmouth, before finally being named Portland in 1786.  Historically, Portland has served as a…port city a hub for transportation and shipping. Nowadays it still serves that shipping and transport purpose, BUT it also is home to a thriving community. 

So, two things to note about our time in Portland…1) It was HOT. Like I think probably the hottest temps we had our entire trip. Not only hot, but sunny clear blue skies too. So no relief. 2) This was our last stop, so we were a bit tired, the kids were tired, and Portland is much…further spread apart than the previous stops we had made (and parking is a bit more expensive). Also, we had our kids, and this is very much a hipster town with breweries and nightlife, more so, so there was that to take into account. 

So, we got to Portland kind of mid day to early afternoon, We checked into our hotel and then headed in to town. We mostly spent that first chunk of time just walking through Old Port and the main streets of the “downtown district”. We got some dinner, local seafood, right on the water and then just walked up and down the streets. We also were able to watch the evening fog start to come in, as well as a couple of shipping boats and tug boats navigate the canal space. It was a relaxing nice way to spend the afternoon/evening.

The next morning we were up early (ish) and out the door to go explore some of the sights. We had started with a plan of seeing some trains for the kids, a mansion and lookout for us, and then a couple lighthouses to finish out the day. This quickly changed as we realized the weather and distances between attractions was going to make it a bit difficult for us to see everything we wanted. 

We started off the day at Hifi Donuts for a little donut and coffee moment. From their we headed over to the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Co & Museum. When Maine started its rail travel, they not only implemented regular railways, they also implemented what is known as a narrow gauge railroad. The rails on a narrow gauge are only 2 feet apart, as opposed to almost 5 feet apart. In its’ height there were a total of 5 narrow gauge railways that transported both freight and passengers. The benefit of narrow gauge is since it’s narrower than standard rail tracks, you are able to lay tracks in a wider amount of places, connecting rural spots that wouldn’t have been able to utilize a standard railway. 

When visiting, you are able to choose from a variety of seat options, we decided on first class just due to the outdoor seating options. I will say, that we visited this attraction mostly for the children and if they (or perhaps your own) were not as interested in trains, then I would honestly pass this along. The train ride is a total of about 40 minutes long, just taking you along the waterfront. Halfway through the train stops for a break and kids are allowed to go up to the engine and pull the whistle. Our train obsessed boys loved it, BUT if you/you’re kids are not as obsessed or interested in trains, I would give it a miss. 

From there we ended up deciding to skip on the two other sites that we had picked out for within Portland proper. We had intended on going to Victoria Mansion and the Overlook (as well as maybe the Botanical Gardens of the Longfellow House), but the heat and sun were very quickly getting to both kids, as well as us, so we did a quick pivot in our plans and headed straight for some lighthouses. 

Lighthouses are one of those things that I feel like the Maine Coastline is really known for and they are beatiful and well worthy of that. The first lighthouse we visited was the Spring Point Ledge Light. This is what’s known as a caisson-style lighthouse located on the grounds of Fort Preble, right next to the community college. The lighthouse itself sits at the end of a 950 foot breakwater (what the rock outcroppings are called- which I JUST learned). You are able to walk out on the breakwater over to the lighthouse and even tour the interior on certain weekends. Dating back to 1898, this lighthouse is still functioning and has become a landmark in its own right. 

The second lighthouse we went to is probably the most photographed lighthouse in Maine, definitely in Portland (whcih- rightfully so, there are just some spots that lend themselves to that). That would be the Portland Head Light. This is Maine’s oldest lighthouse, built in 1791, it is located right along Fort Williams Park and is still in use today (we heard the bell/horn), as it sits right at the entrance of the shipping channel into the bay. It was incredible, easily one of the highlights of our entire trip, just to stand there and listen to the sounds of the water and the punctuations of the lighthouse horn. 

And that pretty much sums up our time in Portland. In so many ways I wish that we had done more with our time in this gorgeous place, but I also recognize that there is usually one spot on our “multi city” trips that ends up being a bit less than the others and this just happened to be that spot on this trip. We still loved it (and it settled my love of the state of Maine) and I still think it’s a great spot to visit. 

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2021 – Boston, MA Pt.2

It is time for the second part of our few days in Boston (you can read the first part HERE). As much as I had thought that I wouldn’t write too much about the history, I found myself getting swept away in it all. So, here we are, a second post. Todays post is going to be all about The Freedom Trail located within Boston. We split the Freedom Trail into two days, doing half each day, but it is completely feasible to do it in one day if you’d like. I always appreciate when a city puts something like this together (and trust them when they do) as they usually have the best directions to hit everything you want to see- Luxembourg City did this very well too.

The Freedom Trail is a highlight of a trip to Boston as it is a 2.5 mile red line that wanders through the city, taking you to all the important spots in Boston history. Dating back to 1950, it allows you to view museums, meeting houses, churches, and other buildings that hold a special significance to the city. Anything from churches and cemeteries (with Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and others gravesites) to a plaque on the side of a building signifying the first book store, The Freedom Trail will give you a little bit of everything. The tour (or at least the direction we went with) starts you off in Boston Commons. 

Boston Common is America’s oldest public park, dating back to 1634. The Puritans purchased the grounds from William Blackstone, it was originally used as a common grazing land for local livestock. It also became a spot for public punishments (featuring everything from stocks and pillory for theft to the hanging of witches and others). During the Revolution it served as a training and camp ground for the British. Today it serves as a public park (the smaller park across the street is where you can find the famous ducks) and a place for rallies and marches, as well as live music and festivals. Towards the end of the park there is a monument to Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment. This memorial honors and commemorates the first all-Black volunteer regiment during the Civil War. Most of them died during an assault in South Carolina, but they are forever memorialized here.** You also get a glimpse of the Massachusetts State House as you exit the Common. This has been the home of the state government since it was opened in 1798. 

The next stop on The Freedom Trail that we made was to the Park Street Church and Granary Burying Ground. The church dates to the early 1800’s, but the burying ground is the real attraction at this stop. This cemetery is the final resting place for some of the key players of the founding and fighting for the colonies of America. This is the final resting place for around 5,000 of Boston’s own, though there are only markers and knowledge of 2,300. Notably buried here are Benjamin Franklin, Paul Revere, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and a memorial for those massacred at the Boston Massacre. On these headstones you won’t find religious markers, rather these motifs of skulls with wings (to symbolize flying to heaven). Keep an eye out for grave markers- similar to those in Plymouth, there are metal markers signifying when the person participated in a momentous occasion, such as the Boston Tea Party. You are also able to go to another church and burying ground- the oldest in the city. We didn’t end up going in the church, but we did have a peak at the cemetery. Similar to Granary, this boasts several “big names”, the first woman off the Mayflower, Mary Chilton, William Dawes Jr, messenger sent to warn that the British were coming, as well as many others. 

The next few stops on the trail are “bunched” together in that you have the first public school of America (which boasts educating 5 of the signers of the Declaration of Independence), a statue of Benjamin Franklin (who actually dropped out of the school just mentioned), and the Old Corner Bookstore, which is the oldest commercial building in the city (it’s now a Chipotle). 

From there we headed over to the Old South Meeting House (this deviates slightly from the trail, but as I said, we split this in half so there was some deviations here and there). The Old South Meeting House is “the room where it happened”. It was the center piece to debate, to sermons, to public meetings. The largest building in colonial Boston, this was originally built as a Puritan meeting house. The congregation boasted members such as Samuel Adams, William Otis, William Dawes, Benjamin Franklin, and Phillis Wheatley, the first women and enslaved women to publish a book. The building also served as THE site, where the Boston Tea Party was decided, with 5,000 men in attendance debating the tax and what to do about it.  It now is recognized as the first in what are now regular history conservation projects. But the road was not easy, the building was actually sold in the 1870’s and it took a group of 20 women to save the building from being demolished (which also makes it the first building to be saved due to historical significance- lots of history in just one building). It has been a museum since 1877 thanks to their efforts. 

We made a last stop on our first day of the Freedom Trail over to the site of the Boston Massacre and the Old State House. The Old State House is the oldest surviving public building in the city, dating back to 1713. It now serves as a multi functional museum, documenting not only life in Boston, but the revolution, the Boston Massacre, and has a hands on second floor exhibit for kids to see what certain aspects of life were like. The boys especially loved this as they got to play “King” and “Governor” and dictate things. Right in front of the Old State House is a marker for the location of the Boston Massacre. Taking place on March 5, 1770 the Boston Massacre was a fight between the Redcoats and the people of Boston that ended with the death of 5 people. The tension between the two groups of people had finally boiled over and this tragedy became a turning point leading to the fight for independence. 

The next stops on the Freedom Trail are to Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market. I talked about Quincy Market in my previous Boston Post (HERE) and we didn’t actually get to properly go into Faneuil Hall during our time in Boston. Faneuil Hall served as a meeting place for public speech and commerce. You were able to protest, loudly, you could conduct various forms of business, you could swear an oath of allegiance. Basically it was a center of politics, conveniently located right next to the markets and commerce place. 

And that was the end of our first half of the Freedom Trail. I am noting this BECAUSE I feel like, if you want to split it into two days, that is a good place to split it. Most of the above attractions are within the same are of Boston, with convenient and easy walking distances. Then, the below would be the other half of The Freedom Trail. Again, you can do it in one day if you like (and public transport is actually decent if you need it), but this would also be a good stopping point for the day. 

**I also want to note, that there is an African American portion of The Freedom Trail. This trail takes you through the sections that the freed African Americans would have lived, their meeting house, the various monuments (including Phillis Wheatley) and other spots. You can find the trail right off of the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial at the end of the Boston Common. 

The second half of the Freedom Trail gets a little bit more into the battles of the city. Starting at Paul Revere’s home, you are able to get a good glimpse into how folks of his stature, in his time, would have lived. Built sometime near 1680, his home is the oldest remaining structure in downtown Boston. It is also the only “home” listed as part of the Freedom Trail. You are able to walk through the home, see the kitchen, the sleeping areas, AND see quite a few of the artifacts from his life. You can also see the famous Revere Bell (as we always seem to forget the Paul Revere actually was a craftsman by trade). THis is a quick but easy stop to make and a great way to start off a second day of the trail. 

From the house, you then head over to your third and final church The North Church. This church plays an important role (maybe even more important than the other two) as it was THE church that the light was put up in to signal the midnight ride. Dating back to 1723, inside the church you are actually able to see one of the lanterns that was placed in the window for the ride. You are also able to see the bust of George Washington that Lafayette said was the best representation of him. Right around the corner from the church is Copp’s Hill Burying Ground. This was, by and large, the burying site of many of the craftsmen and merchants that lived on the North side of Boston. A couple notable people buried are two of the ministers involved in the Salem Witch Trials, the founder of the Black Freemasonry, as well as the man who hung the lanterns on the night of Pau Revere’s ride, and a builder of the USS Constitution. This particular burying ground was also a marker for the British to aim at during the Battle of Bunker Hill (which we ARE getting to, I promise). 

Speaking of, the next stops that you can make are entirely up to you. You can either go up to Bunker Hill at this point (which is what we did), OR you can go down to the USS Constitution. We chose to go up first, then back down, and at the end we took the Ferry back to the “main” part of Boston. It is entirely up to you how you want to walk this part. 

The Battle of Bunker Hill was the first battle of the Revolutions, and while the British technically won (after three assaults) it did prove that the colonists were not going to go down without a fight. The order of “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes” is believed to have originated in this very battle. The monument was started with the laying of the first stone by Lafayette (excuse me, The Marquis De Lafayette) in 1825. It was completed in 1842. 

The final stop (for us) on the trail was at the USS Constitution (and then the USS Cassin Young DD 793). The USS Constitution is the oldest, still afloat, commissioned warship. It was launched in 1797 as a three-masted heavy frigate, one of six authorized by the Naval Act of 1794. The ship is known for the War of 1812 and the defeat of 5 British Warships and where the nickname of “Old Ironsides” was given. The Constitution was retired in 1881and was designated a museum ship in 1907. It is still a fully commissioned Navy ship and is manned by active duty Navy personnel on special duty assignment. 

The USS Cassin Young is a destroyer from World War II. It was launched in 1943 and is only one of four of the Fletcher Class destroyers still afloat. The ship served in both World War II (where it was damaged in two kamikaze attacks) and the Korean War, being retired in 1960 and serving as a memorial ship ever since. The ship was intended to serve as an escort to the larger ships and defend them from attack. Unlike the USS Constitution, this ship has been permanently loaned to the National Park Service and it maintained and operated by them rather than The Navy. 

And that wrapped up our time in Boston! Boston was a definite highlight for our entire family. The boys loved the history, the boats, the endless exploring and my husband and I loved the pace of the city (and obviously the history). I don’t know that we’d ever be “city people” (most are just too crowded and busy for us), but Boston was such a nice surprise! 

A Cuppa Cosy Summer Holiday 2021 – Plymouth MA

It is time to talk about our annual summer holiday and travels! This year we decided to do a “USA history” tour of sorts, starting in Plymouth Massachusetts, then heading up to Boston, MA, a quick stop in Salem, MA and ending in Portland ME. Honestly, the trip was overall so relaxing and enjoyable. I don’t know if it was the amount of time in each stop, or if it was just the fact that the boys are older, we are more “travel experienced”, and that we haven’t traveled (thus the excitement is greater), whatever it was, this really worked for us. A quick overview of our trip, we did two nights in Plymouth, three in Boston, two in Portland. 

We arrived mid afternoon in Plymouth on our first day, prior to the check in time at our hotel, so we decided to just head over to a first stop. We started at Plimouth Patuxet. 

The Plimouth Patuxet or Plimouth Plantation (the original name) is what’s known as a living museum. Started in 1947 it features two central locations, plus the Mayflower II and the Grist Mill (in separate locations), one a replica of the village of Plymouth from 1627 with first person historical “actors” and the second is a replica of the Wampanoag village as it would have stood in the 17th century along with guides to help visitors understand life for them. It gives visitors an insight into not only what life would look like and be like, but a chance to learn about some of the people who would have lived in the Plymouth Colony.

Most of us know the history of America, the Colonies, etc., so I’m not going to focus too much on it, but I will say that there is a big difference between the colonies of Jamestown (the first) and Plymouth. Jamestown was founded by entrepreneurs who were seeking new land to develop, live and to expand fortunes. Plymouth was founded by a sect of Puritans (later as we all know as Pilgrims) who were fleeing religious persecution. They did not actually sale directly to the “America’s” though, they first went to The Netherlands to avoid the persecution. That didn’t end up working and they ended up making the journey towards the “America’s”. 

The Patuxet was really neat to walk through and I found it to actually be quite respectful to both the Wampanoag, the Patuxet, and the Colonists. The boys really appreciated the first person actors and being able to be involved in this living history (even though they truly couldn’t comprehend the entire grasp of it). 

We spent a couple hours at the Patuxet, then headed over to check in to our hotel. We stayed at the John Carver Inn for two reasons, one being its location right off the main street of town, and the other being the very cool pool that it offered. I will say, that while we loved the pool (which has a makeshift Plymouth rock holding the hot tub, and a slide within the “mayflower”), the hotel rooms were a bit dated. There isn’t anything wrong with that and we enjoyed our stay, just something to note. After checking in, we decided to just go venture out on the town.

Wandering along the main streets of downtown Plymouth offered a variety of breweries, small boutiques, and tourist shops. We ended up stopping at Tavern on the Wharf for dinner that first night, watching the sun light up the water as it started to set. From dinner, we continued to walk along the bay, watching the sun set slowly over the bay. Walking along the bay puts you right at the Plymouth Rock. This is when I would recommend seeing because a) you get to see the sunset on the water, and b) it tends to not be as crowded. 

So, Plymouth Rock. I want to start with the fact that there is no writing from the Pilgrims in regards to Plymouth Rock. It wasn’t recorded until ~1715 when it was used as part of the town boundaries and was simply a “great rock” and there wasn’t even a claim to it being the landing place until 1741 (~120 years later). Second, the rock itself (as it stands today) is quite small. It is not even the full size of the “original Plymouth Rock” due to its being moved around and pieces being taken, bought, and sold. Today it stands at about 1/3 of the size that it actually was. There is also a crack in the rock where it was broken in an attempt to place it in the town square, the two portions were put back together and the date was stamped in the 1770’s. So, it’s cool to see, but also a bit anticlimactic in a way. 

We finished out the evening with a  stop at Burial Hill, which was located right behind the John Carver Inn. Since there was still daylight (this cemetery sits much higher than the bay), we decided to take a little wander through the cemetery and see some of the oldest gravesites in our country (documented- there are much much older sites obviously from the indigenous peoples). Burial Hill was originally the site of the Pilgrims first meeting house and was first used as a burial spot in the 1620’s. There are Pilgrims and Mayflower passengers buried in the cemetery, as well as various revolutionaries and soldiers. Any person that has a history tied to a battle/war, the Mayflower, or the colonists has a medallion placed next to the grave marker (some of these still stand, some have been destroyed over time by the elements). 

The next morning we started out somewhat early, to get some breakfast from Munchies & Milkshakes. Robert had found this spot and read reviews about donuts and baked goodies, so we figured why not give it a try. I can tell you, it did not disappoint. We took our donuts to a bench overlooking the Mayflower II and the bay and had a lovely little picnic. Then it was off to tour the Mayflower II. 

As the same organization owns all three “Pilgrim”/Plymouth related attractions, you are able to purchase one ticket for all three locations, which is what we did. I can’t say that it was a cheaper option or a good bargain deal, but I can say that it was definitely easier when it came time to visit the other locations. We walked right into the Mayflower II and were able to get on the boat almost immediately. 

The Mayflower II is a reproduction of the original Mayflower. It was built in the 1950’s in partnership between an English builder and the Plimouth Patuxet. It was a partnership to honor the alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom during World War 2. Considered a generic reproduction with modern additions (like electric lights and a ladder) it sailed from Plymouth, Devon recreating the historical journey of the Pilgrims, landing at Plymouth Massachusetts after about 2 months. It has journeyed through various ports and cities on the East Coast both for tours and for restorations, but in 2020 it made a permanent return to Plymouth in honor of the 400th anniversary (lucky for us!). 

I do think that this is a very worthwhile attraction to see. Not only does it put the voyage in perspective and the conditions and turmoil that the Pilgrims faced during their voyage, but it also is neat to check out. The “crew” on board is a mixture of modern day guides and first person interpreters and you are able to see just about every area of the ship, including the mooring boat that they would have used to send expeditions from the ship to the mainland to find a settlement space. 

From the Mayflower II we walked the opposite direction (away from Plymouth rock and towards the shipyard area) to walk the riverfront. The town has a rocky area that you are able to walk a bit out into the bay waters and see the town from the water (in a way). Now, you are walking on rocks that have been piled up and around coming out of the water to form a walkway. It’s not a “sidewalk” or anything of that nature, just a man made path. We walked about halfway out and decided to turn back (as it’s just an outcropping to see the view). 

At that point in the day we were reaching the peak of the sun and heat, so we decided to head back to the hotel and spend a bit of time at the pool. This is something we don’t often do, but we had partly booked this hotel for the pool, so we figured we should take advantage of it. It was a lot of fun and allowed some of that sun and heat to pass over us. 

After a brief lull, we headed back out, this time to the Plymouth Grist Mill. This Grist Mill is a working mill recreated on the site (and similar to) the Jenney Grist Mill, which was one of the first operating mills from the Pilgrims in Plymouth (built and operated by John Jenney who came over on the Little James in 1623). The Mill was originally built in 1636 and remained in operation, though passing through different hands as owners passed away or sold, until it burned down in 1840’s. The property stood as it was until the town went through some re devolopment and mill was rebuilt/reproduced in 1969. It is a fully functioning mill processing what, rye, barley, and corn (which is ground on the primary millstones). You are able to watch the mill at work if it is the time of year for it to run, otherwise you are able to tour the mill and the workers will show you how everything operates. A Very kind tour guide turned on the outside portion for the boys to watch. 

I will say, this was another neat stop to make, BUT if you can’t fit it in or you are wondering which of the three attractions you don’t need to visit- this can be cut from your itinerary. It’s a short visit (which worked out really well for us), but I wouldn’t say it provided much “first hand” insight. Cool to see, but not necessary.

The final stop we made in Plymouth was the National Monument to the Forefathers. Originally known as the Pilgrim Monument, this is thought to be the worlds largest solid granite monument standing at 81 feet tall. It is dedicated to and commemorates the Mayflower Pilgrims and their ideals. The idea dates back to 1820, but the cornerstone was not laid until 1859 (after plans started almost 10 years earlier). It opened in 1889 and features a total of 5 figures. The top one is known as “Faith”, with the four buttresses featuring “Morality”, “Law”, “Education”, and “Liberty”. These are then broken down further on each buttress to give more ideals for each overarching concept. The front and rear panels both have quotes engraved, with the side panels containing the names of those on the original Mayflower. 

We wandered from the monument, which is tucked up on a hill back in a neighborhood, back down to the main street and stopped for dinner at the Waterfront Bar & Grill before heading back to the hotel to pack and leave the next morning. 

And that wraps up the first stop in our 2021 Summer Holiday. I will say, I’ve only ever been mildly interested in the Pilgrims tale (more so in a respectful manner of history), so while this was a cool spot and town was pretty, this wasn’t a highlight for me. It also wasn’t for the kids (minus the pool), but that’s because they much preferred the next stop on our destination…

A Stone’s Throw – 2 Day Trips

Sackets Harbor

Sackets Harbor was our first day trip and our first little exploration after moving to upstate NY. It’s a small bay town that sits on an inlet of Lake Ontario. Founded in the early 1800’s, it’s been on the list of Historic Places since the 1980’s for its well-preserved buildings and historic district. Aside from views, it’s most known for its support during the War of 1812. The Navy used Sackets Harbor as a major shipyard and turned the quiet little town into a major city, the third largest populated in the state at the time. Shortly after the war a selection of local businessman helped support the building of the first US Steamboat, Ontario. 

In Sackets Harbor you are able to walk the battlefields from the War of 1812 that take you alongside the lake as well as through the town (depending on which route you take). You can, when open for the season, walk through the various buildings that talk about life at the time. You can also walk-through Main Street and feel that old small-town vibe, popping into various little shops or cafés as your day goes on. 

We walked through a portion of the battlefield (we have plans to go back and bike ride the entire path), walked through a bit of the harbor, and then along Main St. We stopped in to the Junk in you Trunk antique store, which was one of the coolest little spots we’ve stumbled upon. They had everything from modern to antique, local businesses, and nationally sourced small business. We also stopped in Tea Thyme; a small tea shop that made all my tea loving dreams come true. I picked up a couple samples to try out. Overall, I think it would be one of those spots where you can easily spend a Spring day.

Wellesley Island (Thousand Islands)

Original called Wells Island (renamed Wellesley to honor the 1st Duke of Wellington in 1815), Wellesley Island is located partially in Canada and partially in America. It is one of the largest of the Thousand Islands, it is home to not only a thriving community, but also two State Parks, a nature center, and several golf courses. 

We spent a day visiting a section of the Wellesley Island State Park. This State park in particular offers a life guarded beach, nature center (with the cutest little chipmunk), hiking, hunting, fishing, snow shoeing/cross country skiing, boating and a marina, as well as a variety of camping spots and options (everything from primitive to cabins to rv’s). We hiked from the Nature Center over to Eel Bay, through the Narrows, and an inter trail or two through the woods. It was seriously one of the prettiest spots, reminding me so much of Eibsee and Konigsee in Germany. We stopped for a snack on one of the rocky inlets, resting, watching wildlife, and enjoying the sun and water. 

We did also walk briefly through the nature center, where they have educational materials about the different wildlife located on and around the island, as well as a little chipmunk that was attacked by a dog. 

I can foresee this being one of those spots that we return again and again, hiking different trails and doing a little boating and camping. We drove around a little after our visit to look at the different amenities and were very impressed by the sheer variety of options. It’s an incredibly family friendly area, however someone without kids would enjoy it just as much. Both of these day trips are within a “stone’s throw” and make us very excited to be able to explore more or our area. We seem to have a good combination of historical small towns and nature trails, which, in all honesty, is our happy spot of living locations. We are very excited by all of the hike and outdoor activities that are around and, with the weather starting to shift, we are looking forward to getting some more h

Auschwitz I & Auschwitz II-Birkenau Concentration Camps

***Disclaimer at the beginning of this post , there may be content in here that is painful to view . Please be cautioned***

We recently spent a morning visiting Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau in Poland. This was our third concentration camp (fourth overall site as we also visited Lidice), we had done Dachau Concentration Camp and Kaufering VII, a Dachau subcamp. Visiting Auschwitz was different from the first due to its history and the information we learned after the liberation. Similar to my previous Concentration Camp posts, I don’t truly have the words for what this experience was like. There is nothing to truly do it justice, so instead of writing a whole bunch of words that will not come close, I am going to let the pictures tell the story. Maybe I’ll share my personal thoughts/experiences/tips in a later post. 

A quick note on our visit before anything else. We went early Sunday morning (an 8:30AM tour time) and took a guided tour. While I would recommend visiting in the early hours, as it is emptier and quieter, whether you take a tour or not is completely your choice. As someone who is Jewish, was raised in the faith and still maintains the faith (to an extent and for another post entirely), I am incredibly familiar with The Holocaust and the concentration camp history. My husband is familiar with the history as well. I don’t know that I learned any new information, BUT the guide helped put things into perspective and really walked you through the barracks and locations. The tour guides (at least ours) do not mince words. Everything is in exacting detail, which can be something to take note of. We did take our boys (aged 4 &3) and they were incredibly respectful throughout our entire visit (I don’t know that I am really going to talk about this decision- to each their own in this instance). 

If you do choose to visit, please note that the two camps are not truly within walking distance of each other. Auschwitz I does have a bus that runs between the camps OR you can drive. If you take a tour, you will start at Auschwitz I and then take the bus over to Auschwitz II-Birkenau to continue. Both are necessary to visit. 

I’m going to start with some brief history of the camps before I get into the photos. This will brief, if you are wanting a full breakdown, I would suggest any of the many books and survivors’ experiences (I find that a combination of both will be best). You can also see the Auschwitz website here for an introduction, however I would highly encourage you to do some reading in addition. It will allow you to get a true feeling for the time, the life, the camp. 

Auschwitz was established in 1940 (the first transport to arrive was actually mid Jan 1940) in the suburbs of a small city called Oswiecim. This city was annexed to the Nazi’s (The Third Reich) and later the residents and city was relocated as a way to hide what was happening within the camp. The original reason the camp was created was to house the Polish prisoners who were being arrested in large numbers. It was initially intended to simply serve a similar purpose to those the Nazi’s had already been setting up since the 1930’s (such as Dachau). True to its’ initial plan, Auschwitz did remain in this function of prison camp, even with the addition of the extermination centers. Auschwitz is actually 3 different camps. Auschwitz I was the “main camp” and held around 15,000-20,000 prisoners. The second was Birkenau, later known as Auschwitz II-Birkenau, which was the largest part of the complex and the main center of the Jewish population of the area, as well as the main extermination camp. The Nazi’s built up this second camp in 1941 (and this was when the residents were relocated) and, in 1944, it held over 90,000 prisoners.  The final camp was created from the largest sub camp (of which there were 40), Buna with 10,000 prisoners. It opened in 1942 and is not able to be visited (I believe it no longer exists).

In total, 1.3 million were sent to Auschwitz (across the board), within 1.1 million of those people dying. While the majority of the deaths were Jews (of the 960,000 that died, 865,000 died upon arrival), there were also Poles (non-Jewish), Roma, Soviet POW’s, and others. If the prisoners were not sent to the gas chambers, they died of starvation, disease, medical experiments, or from many other causes to include individual executions. The camp was liberated January 27, 1945, a day now commemorated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, by the Soviet Red Army.  Auschwitz has become a symbol of the Holocaust and all of its atrocities and the location was named an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. 

Most people know about Auschwitz and Dachau (and Treblinka or Bergen-Belson or some of the other known, but smaller camps). As I said with visiting Dachau, it is one thing to read/hear/talk about these places and the atrocities that occurred, but it is something wholly different to walk them. To walk these paths. To see the tons of shoes, or suitcases, or hair (so much hair) taken from the victims. To walk from the rail car to the chambers. To feel the weight of those who came and died before you. I am not going to mince words; you don’t need words. You need images. So, I’ll be giving you the general gist at the start of pictures (and you can hopefully see the captions under the pictures to tell you what’s what), but nothing more than that. 

***PLEASE NOTE THERE WILL BE IMAGES THAT ARE DISTURBING TO VIEW. PLEASE BE CAUTIONED***

So, as I’ve already mentioned, we started our tour at Auschwitz I. It’s important to note that this particular camp was for polish prisoners, military/command barracks, and was used for Nazi propaganda. This is not a camp that the Jews or…well anyone who wasn’t a polish prisoner, or a consumer of the propaganda would see. 

Within Auschwitz I there are displays set up to show not only how certain aspects of the camp were run, but also in memorial of the victims who were murdered. 

You are also able to walk through the gas chamber and crematorium of Auschwitz I. These were not the main locations of the mass extermination, just temporary. These are the only chambers and crematoria that you are able to see as the Nazi’s destroyed the main complexes. 

From Auschwitz I, we headed over to Auschwitz II-Birkenau. This was the main camp for the Jews, Roma, and anyone deemed “undesirable”. This was where they were brought (again, they didn’t see Auschwitz I, just this). Those that lived through transport were then selected for either the gas chambers, hard labor, or medical experiments.

The two main gas chamber and crematoria complexes were exploded by the Nazi’s as they attempted to hide these atrocities, but the remains are here (and you are able to see how they were operated above).  

Finally, at Auschwitz II-Birkenau we were able to walk into one of the barracks that would have been used during the camps operation.

The one that we walked in was actually used for isolation of women prisoners who were selected as unfit and were to be sent to the gas chambers. If this barrack was full, they would be placed in the yard and the gate was locked until they were taken to the gas chambers. 

“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness” – Elie Wiesel

Interlaken-Oberhasli District, Switzerland – A Long Weekend

We recently just spent a long weekend in Switzerland. Ok, I need a moment already, just from typing those words. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would utter that sentence. Never. 

Ok, shock over. We recently spent a long weekend in Switzerland, and it was glorious. Where do I even begin? My husband’s only requirements for the trip was to be able to see/be at the top of the Alps, so we picked a spot right near Interlaken, in the heart of the mountains and lakes. With COVID-19 restrictions we were restricted from traveling to some of the major cities, and we wanted to be a bit…off the way. When a local friend posted about a hotel she stayed at right on Lake Brienz, I knew that was where we needed to be. 

One little, teensy, note to make about Switzerland before we get into the meat of this post. If you know anything or have heard anything about Switzerland it is that it is an expensive place to visit. This is not an exaggeration. You will need to plan accordingly for this visit and budget if you need. There are certainly ways to make it a “cheaper” trip, but it will never be inexpensive. For us, I knew that this was going to up towards the more expensive trips we took on our time here and I was 100% ok with that. It was more important to me that we did what we wanted to do and enjoyed our time without worrying about the cost necessarily. With that being said, there were a couple of things that we DID NOT do, which I will get into later. 

Before we got to Switzerland though, we made a stop at KZ-Lager Kaufering VII. This is a European Holocaust Memorial in Landsberg Germany and is the largest remote area (sub camp) of Dachau Concentration Camp. There was a total of 11 of these sub camps of Dachau and this one has the actual remains of the tube style barracks. In total these camps saw 30,000 prisoners, with at least 14,500 prisoners dying over the time the camp was open. Exact numbers are not known as the records do not match up (one study found upwards of 44,000+). The camps were intended to put prisoners to work on an armament project, without any consideration by the guards for the health and safety of the prisoners. During the war crimes investigation, it was discovered that these sub camps were the worst in Bavaria and the prisoners came to refer to them as “cold crematorias”.     

We were not able to walk inside the camp and see the buildings and cemetery up close, but you could still get a feel from outside the fence. This is the second concentration camp we’ve been to (Dachau Concentration Camp being the first and hopefully a visit to Auschwitz soon) and I will never be able to fully verbalize the experience. So, once again, I will let pictures say what I cannot. 

After that, we headed off on our Switzerland Adventure. We stayed at the Hotel Seiler au Lac. Not only is the hotel itself incredible (you can request a lake front room, all of which have balconies looking right out to the water- swoon), but the staff were incredibly helpful and went above and beyond our needs. We opted to have breakfast at the hotel (included), which was handled excellently with COVID restrictions. We did also opt to have dinner at the hotel restaurants (one night at each- two restaurants attached to the hotel), and both meals were delicious. This particular hotel is located in Bonigen, Switzerland, a quick distance away from Interlaken (you can walk or take a bus- passes were offered by the hotel), and only a 20-30 minute drive to either Lauterbrunnen or Grindelwald (Berne is about 45 minutes away if you want to go there as well). 

Our first evening was mostly spent wandering around Lake Brienz before settling into our hotel and grabbing dinner at the Pizzeria attached to the hotel. 

We set off late the next morning to head into Interlaken. 

Here is where I am going to clarify some of our choices in activities. There are a couple of things that I base “what we do” on, the biggest factor being the weather. It was a wet and rainy morning in our area of Switzerland, so we knew going to Jungfraujoch (the top of Europe- aka the highest point of Europe) was going to be hit or miss. The second factor, less so than weather, is cost. This is really only specific to Switzerland as things are, generally, more expensive in the country. We made the decision to pass on heading up to Jungfraujoch as the potential for bad weather combined with the cost was not worth it for us. Instead we chose to top some of the smaller peaks, and this was just as incredible as anywhere else we could have stopped. 

So, back to our day. Chances are, if you’ve tried to take a train or summit one (read: many) of the Swiss Alp peaks, then you’ve gone through Interlaken. Not only is Interlaken the central city between Lake Brienz and Lake Thun, but it is also a main transport gateway to the Alps in the region. You’ve got the two lakes, then the River Aare which flows between them (and therefore between the city). There has been a city in this location since the 12th century, but it was originally known as Aarmuhle (changed to Interlaken in 1891). It started out as the home of a convent and monastery, but as it continued to grow, it became a large city. It started to become known as a resort town in the early 19th century, with a railway opening in the 1870’s (and more following in the next 20-30 years). 

We spent most of the rainy morning walking throughout the town seeing all the beauty that is offered in the valley. I think one of the best things to do sometimes is to just walk around the streets. We didn’t have any “set ideas” of spots to see until the weather cleared, so we just walked. We stopped in for a light lunch and during that, the weather started to clear out. Faced with breathtaking blue skies, snowcapped peaks, and a new look at Interlaken, we decided to head up to Harder Kulm. 

Harder Kulm is the top of Interlaken. Rising 1,322 meters above Sea Level you are able to get an incredible view of Interlaken, the peaks around the city (opposite), as well as the two lakes, Brienz and Thun. There is a viewing platform that you can stand on for a truly breathtaking experience. You don’t even have to worry about hiking up if you don’t want to (though you certainly can), there is a funicular that takes you to the top in just under 10 minutes. You are also able to go up top in the evening, and I believe there is a hotel located right above the restaurant if you would like to stay. 

We finished out the day at an indoor playground for the kids. Most of our travel is not necessarily based on our kids in terms of places we visit (maybe I’ll talk about different traveling styles in a blog post?), but we saw that there was a neat kids play park and we had a bit of time to kill between finishing up in the center of Interlaken and heading to dinner. So, we let the kids go a little wild and run off all the pent-up energy for a little while. They really enjoyed it and it was nice to be able to do something just for them on our trip. 

Our second day we decided to go over to Lauterbrunnen. It was a tough call as to whether we wanted to go to Grindelwald of Lauterbrunnen, you can’t really go wrong with either option, but I wanted to be able to see the waterfalls that Lauterbrunnen is known for. Honestly, I don’t think you could really go wrong with anywhere in this particular region, so explore it all if you can!

Lauterbrunnen as an area is first mentioned in the 13th century, with the name Lauterbrunnen being mentioned in the beginning of the 14th century. It has an early history of battles and rebellion between the villages and the Interlaken Monastery, ending in the 16th century. The villages that make up Lauterbrunnen were actually very poor. The area started out as a mining area, but all of the profits went to the noble families, and the working-class people remained below the poverty line. It got so bad at one point, that most villagers moved away, joining regiments and emigrating to the United States of America (settling in the Carolinas). At the end of the 18th century, Lauterbrunnen started to gain more traction when mount climbers would start expeditions in the town, and once the road was built from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen, tourism exploded. Lauterbrunnen has inspired many a writer and film maker (with Goethe and Tolkien both referencing it in their own works, and the 1969 On Her Majesties Secret Service being filmed in the city). 

Lauterbrunnen is really known for its waterfalls and mountain peaks. It is one of the largest nature conservation areas in Switzerland and easily one of the prettiest spots we’ve ever visited. The valley is home to 72 waterfalls, the largest being Staubbach Falls which are one of the highest free-falling waterfalls. Another set that you can visit up close are Trummelbach Falls, which are a natural waterfall phenomena situation behind the rock face. 

We started the morning off hiking through the valley to get to Trummelbach Falls. You are able to park right at the waterfalls if you’d like. HOWEVER, I would highly recommend parking in one of the bigger “in town” parking lots and then walking through the valley to the falls. It was an incredible semi sunrise hike (it definitely wasn’t sunrise, but the light still hadn’t reached in to the valley when we started walking) and you see so many more of the waterfalls this way, as well as get the chance to see some of the local cattle life and ranchers (we got to see a minutes old baby cow on our way back from the falls as well as buy local cheese from a little self-service booth). It’s all flat ground and we really loved being able to soak in all of the natural beauty. 

So, we started at our furthest out point, Trummelbach Falls.

Trummelbach Falls are the largest subterranean water falls in Europe and can carry up to 20,000 tons of meltwater from the glaciers of Jungfrau. They are incredibly loud (thundering loud), cause the mountain to almost tremble at the power, and are the most incredible thing mother nature does. If you’ve read my Garmisch-Partenkirchen post, you’ll recognize a pattern of water going through rocks makes me just swoon and feel overwhelmed with amazement, and Trummelbach Falls was no different. We were lucky with our timing as we were able to see all 10 chutes of the falls (at a total height of 200 meters), whereas during certain times of year you are only able to see the top chutes. They do not recommend this activity for younger children (in fact they don’t typically allow children under the age of 4 in) and I would be careful walking through the paths- it can get very slippery. 

From there, we walked back towards town with a stop at Staubbach Falls.

Staubbach Falls has a height of almost 300 meters (297 to be exact) and , in addition to being the highest in Europe, are the most famous of the waterfalls in Lauterbrunnen. The waterfall inspired Goethe’s poem, Song of the Spirits over the Waters and disperses water as if it were dust. You are able to climb a portion of the rockface to be “under” the waterfall; HOWEVER, I would not recommend this for young kids. I was the only one who went up the rockface and, once I reached the end, was glad my boys did not head up. It is a really cool experience though, and if you can, I would recommend it for adults.

The entire valley is one for the nature lovers and reminded us just how incredible the world around us really is. So much beauty and a place I’m glad we spent a whole day in. 

From the falls, we decided to head up the mountain towards Murren. From the base of Lauterbrunnen you are able to take a gondola up the mountain to Schilthorn, then either hike or board a train towards Murren. We chose the train (much to the boy’s excitement) and were treated to a narrow-gauge railway and breathtaking views.

Murren is a traditional mountain village at 1,638 meters above sea level. From Murren you are able to see Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau mountains around you. I think this is a great alternative, if you just want to get up in the mountains, but don’t necessarily want to do the Jungfraujoch. There is an element of “off the beaten path” and an actual look at what life is like up in the alps, even though during the summer this is one of the more popular alps spots.  

We finished out our day in Lauterbrunnen with a hot chocolate made in a local coffee shop before heading back to our hotel and our dinner reservation. 

And that wraps up our long weekend in Switzerland! Easily one of the most incredible places we’ve visited, and it definitely makes my top 4 places we’ve traveled. I’ve used a lot of words in this post (2319 at this point to be exact), but none really can come close to what this region was like.