August 27, 2011

The Calm Before the Hurricane

Columbus Avenue Facing South

Hello from New York City where citizens are bracing for the arrival of a rather unwanted guest - Hurricane Irene - the first hurricane predicted to hit the area since Hurricane Gloria in 1985. Officials are taking this storm VERY seriously with Mayor Bloomberg taking the unprecedented step of shutting down all public transportation effective at noon on Saturday and ordering the evacuation of people living in low lying areas along the waterfront.

I must admit that I did not pay the impending storm much attention until yesterday when I thought it was time to stock up my fridge and larder and was confronted with long lines and some empty shelves at the market. Then came the news reports of gas stations running out of gas and the airports planning to shut down at noon today and the threat became much more real.

This morning broke cloudy and quite humid and I thought it would be a good idea to head out and pick up a few more supplies before the storm hit. My neighborhood, usually teeming with activity on a Saturday morning was like a ghost town! All the shops and restaurants were either closed or getting ready to shut for the next two days and sand bags and plastic sheeting was the order of the day. Even the fancy new Apple Store, a magnificent glass structure, was sealed up tight not to open until Monday at 9.

Of course, supermarkets, convenience stores and wine shops were doing land office business with lines extending out the doors! I quickly accomplished my errands, took a few photos and made it home just as the first deluge hit at 11 AM.

Now I am tucked up in my apartment with a full refrigerator, lots of candles and a flashlight and a few indoor projects to work on - providing we still have power! I am watching the news flashes from coastal North Carolina where Hurricane Irene has come ashore and looks like she is heading directly up to Manhattan. It is an eerie feeling to be waiting for the onslaught of wind and rain but a bit of an adventure as well. Let's keep our fingers crossed that there is a minimum of damage and I will report back soon.

August 15, 2011

Exploring the Beautiful Niagara Parkway

Greetings from the Niagara Peninsula where I am spending a few August days with my family. This historically significant region was originally settled by the Iroquois Indians, then known as the Ongiaras, and later by the Loyalists escaping the American Revolution. Due to its strategic location on Lake Ontario, it was the scene of massive fighting between the British and Americans during the War of 1812 climaxing in the burning of Fort George. Today the area could not be more bucolic with acres of orchards and vineyards, immaculate gardens and parks, imposing homes, and charming inns and B & B's dotting the roadsides. The jewel in the crown must be considered the town of Niagara on the Lake, home of the renowned Shaw Festival, and a destination for day trippers seeking a nice meal, interesting shopping and fine entertainment in an exquisite setting.

So on this perfect summer day we decided to take a ride on the Niagara Parkway and enjoy the region's natural beauty. We began our tour near General Isaac Brock's statue and behind the Sir Adam Beck Power Plant, at the Floral Clock in Queenston. Created in 1950 by Ontario Hydro, the clock features 16,000 carpet bedding plants changed twice a year and maintained by the Niagara Parks Horticultural staff. It is a landmark in the area and is accurate as well as beautiful.

A little farther down the road is the Butterfly Conservatory located on the manicured grounds of the Niagara Parks Botanical Gardens and School of Horticulture. A visit to the Butterfly Conservatory is pure magic. Imagine walking among 2,000 tropical butterflies in a rainforest setting as they flutter about in a riot of color! And then, very briefly, one lands on your shoulder or hand and you can't believe that these delicate, beautiful creatures are real - but they are!

As you can imagine, the Niagara Falls area is very busy during the summer tourist season and we decided to leave the driving to the professionals and hop on the Niagara Parks People Mover. The bus makes several stops along the route including at the Whirlpool Aero Car where you can take a gondola ride over the Great Gorge, the elevator down to the White Water Walk along the raging rapids and the Maid of the Mist boat tour - the oldest tourist attraction in North American. We hop off the People Mover at Queen Victoria Place and have a quick bite of lunch on the terrace at Edgewaters Grill. The food was not great but the view could not be beat as we looked out over both the American and the Canadian Horseshoe Falls.

Restored, we set off to see the main attraction - Niagara Falls - a tourist destination since the mid 1800's, the major source of hydroelectricity for the Eastern Seaboard and a lure for daredevils from tightrope walkers to barrel divers. Now this was not my first trip to the Falls. I've had the good fortune to visit several times and during every season but the reaction is always the same - awe inspiring. Majestic, beautiful, powerful, thundering are mere adjectives to try to impart the impression made by this natural wonder. Looking over the stone fence at the millions of gallons of water rushing to the edge, plunging over the precipice to fall 73 feet into the roiling, foaming gorge below is both mesmerizing and terrifying at the same time. Especially since the day before a tourist from Japan had missed her footing, fell into the river, was swept away and is still missing at the time of this blog.

The Table Rock Welcome Centre offers tourist information, access to the Journey Behind the Falls, and the newest attraction, Niagara's Fury, a 4-D virtual experience recreating the sights and sounds of the formation of the Falls. Here we picked up the People Mover again and continued South to the Floral Showhouse.

For over 60 years visitors have come to enjoy the outdoor gardens and indoor greenhouse displays of the Floral Showhouse. A paradise of flowers and tropical birds, the plantings vary by season and offer an Arcadian respite to the energy and crowds of the Falls.

It's time to get back on to the People Mover and head back to our starting point. Along the way we pass the abandoned Ontario Power turbine plant, the wreck of the Niagara Scow, a barge that went aground in 1918 (fortunately no one on board perished) and remains lodged at the edge of the Falls, through the mist created by the thundering waterfalls and on past the myriad attractions and sights that line the route. We return to the Butterfly Conservatory, but before getting into the car I couldn't resist an ice cream and a walk through the magnificent park of the Niagara Park Botanical Gardens!

Celebrating 75 years of bringing floral beauty to the region, the School of Horticulture, who plant and maintain the gardens, have put on an anniversary show that is absolutely gorgeous. The 99 acres of grounds showcases an arboretum, a rose garden, perennial gardens, a European allée, herb and vegetable gardens and a formal parterre garden. Charming surprises like a small waterlily pond or a sculpture of garden tools add to the overall pleasure of wandering the exquisitely planted and manicured green. It was a perfect conclusion to a wonderful day exploring the beautiful Niagara Parkway!