Saturday, November 1, 2014

Thousand Islands & Boldt Castle

Posted by Stu On January - 15 - 2014

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Photos Taken October 2011

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From my experience, few people are aware that The Thousand Islands refers to an actual place and not just salad dressing.  The area in question is between Ontario and New York, along the St. Lawrence River and the uppermost section of Lake Ontario.  The name The Thousand Islands is also a little off; there are actually closer to two thousand of them.

Several companies offer boat tours of the islands.  Many tours allow you to visit one of two castles, either Boldt Castle on Heart Island or Singer Castle on Dark Island.  This time, we opted for Boldt Castle.  Someday we’ll return and check out the other one.

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If you are coming from the US side, you do not need a passport for these tours since the boats do not land in Canada.  The two islands with castles are also entirely within the United States.

The tour itself consists of a boat ride with a guide giving short histories and random facts about many of the islands, houses, and owners.  At the end, if you want (and why wouldn’t you), the boat drops you off on Heart Island, and for a small fee you are allowed to roam the island and its buildings.

One story I found fascinating involved some statues on the US side.  During Prohibition, according to our guide, whether or not the statues’ eyes were lit up let bootleggers on the Canadian side of the river know whether or not it was safe to bring over their booze.

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The following is a somewhat blurry photo of the smallest official island, known as Tom Thumb.  Our guide said to qualify as an “official” island, it must be bigger than a square foot, has to be above water year round, and must have at least one tree.

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So those are some of the sights to be seen during the boat tour.  It’s amazing how some of the houses have virtually no yard between them and the water.

After going up and down the river a bit, the boat then pulls into Heart Island.  A quick history – in 1900, multimillionaire George Boldt ordered the construction of Boldt Castle for his wife.  She died four years later.  Heartbroken, George halted all work on the island and never returned.  The castle and its surrounding buildings remained abandoned until 1977, when the Thousand Islands Bridge Commission  paid one dollar for Heart Island.

All money made on the island goes toward restoring and preserving the castle and grounds.

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You are allowed to roam most of the castle.  There are two other buildings on the island as well.  The powerhouse is at the back of the island and now serves as a museum.  Alster Tower, at the front of the island, was closed for repairs when we visited.

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Popularity: 4% [?]

Fort Ticonderoga

Posted by Stu On August - 27 - 2013

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Photos taken October 2011

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Fort Ticonderoga, if even mentioned in any of your US History textbooks, was probably briefly brought up for a sentence or two in a chapter about the American Revolution.  The fort was actually built by the French during the French & Indian War (or The Seven Years’ War for you non-Americans) and was originally named Fort Carillon.  The French, outnumbered four to one, managed to repel an initial British attack, but then surrendered the fort later in the war.  I’d crack some joke about the French surrendering, but the French-Canadian part of me won’t permit me to do so.

The fort was significant during the American Revolution.  Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys (militiamen) managed to capture it from the British.  Some of the cannons and other weaponry from the fort were then brought to Patriots in Boston to help drive British troops out of Boston, ending their occupation and control of the city.

Fort Ticonderoga would switch hands again.  Not far away from it is a hill known as Mount Defiance.  The British dragged cannons to its top and aimed them at the fort.  The Americans retreated and once again the British controlled the fort.  After the American victory at Saratoga, however, the war began moving south, and Fort Ticonderoga had little importance.  Eventually it was abandoned and stripped.

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So…  French, then British, then American, then British.  Then… nobody cares anymore, so let’s abandon it.  Got it?

Much of the fort has been reconstructed.  Monuments to soldiers from both wars can be found on its grounds.

This monument honors the Marquis de Montcalm for defending the fort against the initial British invasion (the guy who was outnumbered 4 to 1):

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This is a monument dedicated to the Black Watch, or Scottish regiment, during the French & Indian War.  The Black Watch is sometimes referred to “The Ladies from Hell” due to their kilts and intense fighting.

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These and other monuments can be found on the road leading to the fort.  To walk the actual fort grounds costs a reasonable admission fee.

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The inside of the fort serves as a museum. Also on the grounds is The King’s Garden.

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Popularity: 19% [?]

Maid of the Mist

Posted by Stu On December - 27 - 2011

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The Maid of the Mist is a boat (there are several Maids, really) that takes off from either side of Niagara Falls and brings tourists almost next to the bottom of the falls.  You get a tour of the basin and surrounding area as well.  The “Mist” part is an understatement; you’re going to get wet.  Mist patrons are given ponchos beforehand.

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When you get close enough, you can barely hear anything over the noise of the falls.  The boat gets pretty close and just hovers there for a few minutes.  Getting shots without getting my camera drenched was quite a challenge.

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Rainbow Bridge connects the NY & ON sides of Niagara Falls.

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Of all the tours/attractions we took/saw, not one acknowledged this place on the shoreline of the Ontario side.

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Elevator/observation deck for Cave of the Winds on the NY side.

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Popularity: 8% [?]

Cave of the Winds and Niagara Falls State Park

Posted by Stu On December - 27 - 2011

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We were told this was a must-do if going to Niagara Falls.  The Cave of the Winds can be found on the New York side.  The name is somewhat misleading, as there is no cave anymore; it was made unsafe and then ultimately destroyed by falling rock.  When we learned we weren’t going to a cave, we began to wonder what exactly we paid for.  Well, there may be no cave anymore, but there is the opportunity to walk almost directly under the falls.  Many platforms and walkways constructed by wood (the tour guide said these are dismantled and rebuilt every year) let visitors walk directly into the falls’ power.  Seriously.  It can throw you around a bit.

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The Cave of the Winds is found in Niagara Falls State Park, which has some great views from the top of the American Falls.

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Popularity: 6% [?]

Lockport Cave

Posted by Stu On July - 12 - 2011

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Not content spending our mini-vacation just looking at water, we found some other things to see on the way up to Niagara Falls.  I saw something online about a cave tour with a boat ride not too far away from our destination.  Still on somewhat of a cavern kick (we visited 3 in Pennsylvania over the summer) and being in a part of New York we had never visited before, we figured it’d be worth checking out.  So after seeing the World’s Smallest Church, we were off to Lockport Cave.

The tour starts in what is the old City Hall building; from the inside, it looks like it was more recently a diner.  Here the tours leave.  You get a quick spiel about the canal’s lock system and then it’s off to the cave entrance. You walk down several steps and are led to a large…pipe?

Lockport Cave isn’t actually a cave; it’s completely man made and was blasted out during the mid-1800’s.  It was actually a hydraulic tunnel that ran power to local factories.

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The entrance into the cave is sort of bizarre, as you’re walking down this long tube.  Kind of reminded me of the end of ET a bit.  There is a bit of a walk, and then everyone is piled into a small boat and taken farther into the tunnel.  All in all, decent tour.

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Popularity: 12% [?]

World’s Smallest Church (Cross Island Chapel)

Posted by Stu On July - 12 - 2011

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On our way to Niagara Falls, we make a fairly far-off side stop at a little place I’d been meaning to see for years – what is supposedly the smallest church in the world.  There are many tiny churches, but this one claims to be the tiniest of them all!  With room for only 2 people and less than 29 square feet, you’d be hard pressed to find one smaller. It is only accessible by boat, as it’s sitting in the middle of a pond.  A metal cross stands a few feet away.

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I tried for a week prior to our trip to get in touch with someone regarding getting inside the church, but nobody answered the posted phone number.  Shame.

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Popularity: 10% [?]

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