Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bannerman (Okay, Pollepel) Island: Hudson River Part 2

Because I finish what I start, I have to do a second post about the Hudson River. And because 2009 is the 400th anniversary, I have to do it before Friday. Bugger. So this is gonna be a short one.

The subject? An island I always thought was called Bannerman. Turns out it's called Pollepel but I don't think I'll really bother with that.

Anyone who's taken the train north from New York City, along the Hudson, as far as the <>lovely destination< /sarcasm> of Beacon may have seen an interesting sight oh, maybe a third of the way across the river (maybe a little less?) or so. Yeah, I know that's probably not very many people but honestly, it is a worthwhile sight. What is it? Why, it's Bannerman Pollepel Island, of course!

And what is this island other than just an island? It's a supposedly haunted island that now has some ruined castle-like buildings on it. And I mean really cool castle-y buildings. I've taken that along-the-Hudson train many, many times and that island is something I've always watched out for and, as I child, something I was always curious about.

The people who eventually owned the island (the Bannerman family, though they weren't the first owners) and did all the building there owned some kind of munitions business. I have some vague memory that they also had something to do with fireworks or something? Maybe just ammo? I think some of the buildings were eventually destroyed thanks to some kind of explosion or something. I keep saying "or something" because I really don't remember, their website isn't specific, and I'm feeling a bit too lazy to actually do the research.

The point: Bannerman Island is a really cool place with some ruined castle buildings on it. Why am I going on and on about it? Because I've been there.

A few years ago, it became possible to visit the island on a boat tour. I think my mother thought it would be a nice family excursion (I know I agreed) and so we went. The visit begins with a nice boat ride but that's the boring part.

Once on the island, everyone has to wear a hard hat. I know the island's buildings aren't stable but I have to wonder if the whole hard hat thing maybe isn't somewhat of a gimmick. The island is overgrown and it can be hard to walk, even on the paths. Unlike many castles I've visited, it isn't possible to go into or really very close to the buildings. They don't build 'em like they used to, I guess.

For some reason, I don't remember this island visit in all that much detail. I certainly remember being there, I know what it looked like, and I definitely learned some history. It's still a little fuzzy, though. This is especially strange since this visit was, at most, six years ago.

Unfortunately, no one brought a camera that day. I really wish I had because it really is a neat-looking place. I'd post some pictures from elsewhere on the internet but I'm still a little scared of that "may be subject to copyright" thing. Instead, here's a link to the Bannerman Castle Trust with more info and some pictures: http://www.bannermancastle.org/
Here's one picture, I think it's kind of old and it doesn't really do it justice:

According to an article I just read, the Bannerman family that owned/developed the island were descendants of the MacDonald clan that mostly got slaughtered at Glencoe. I may be the only person who finds that interesting but I do. That might only be because I've been to Glencoe, though. And just FTR, those MacDonalds were (mostly?) killed by members of the Campbell clan. They went on to make soup. According to my tour guide in Scotland, many people still think of them as traitors... Just thought I'd pass that along, no judging here. (For those who like history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massacre_of_Glencoe Apologies for using Wikipedia.)

Since I have been there, here's a picture that might be of Glencoe:

Edited to fix my sadly unrecognized "sarcasm" html code and to add the following:

While there is more info about the island itself out there, I do think I should mention that part of the castle just collapsed. There's a fund to stabilize the buildings and the need for that is currently more urgent than usual.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

And the Winner Is...



No, wait, Sadako and Sabrina!
Expect email/comments soon and thanks again all for participating.

As everyone was able to guess, the answer was in fact Yellowstone National Park. Which will be featured in both a post of its own (some day!) and in BSC in the USA, the snark/recap of which I'm working on.

In other news, I am actually a winner, too! I have a lovely Beautiful Blogger Award courtesy of Sadako! Thank you very much, Sadako. And I'm actually gonna try to do it (can there be blog overlap? I hope so...)

Here are the rules that came with the award:

1) Thank the person who nominated me for this award.
2) Copy the award & place it on my blog.
3) Link to the person who nominated me for this award.
4) Tell us 7 interesting things about yourself.
5) Nominate 7 bloggers.
6) Post links to the 7 blogs I nominate.

As I said, from Sadako, of the amazing Dibbly Fresh: http://dibblyfresh1.blogspot.com/

Hmm, interesting things...
1. I have perfect pitch (I'm told this is interesting).
2. I am a somewhat crazy collector of autographs/slightly stalkerish fangirl. (Might waiting for Bebe Neuwirth at 1 in the morning be a pretty good story? It wasn't cold but it was late...) I often have a most excellent partner in crime for this so it's all good.
3. I once (co-)won a bottle of port thanks to my knowledge of countries and their capitals and my competitive spirit. (The capital of Liechtenstein is Vaduz, in case you were wondering.)
4. I probably (re)read about as many kids books as I do adult books. Especially BSC. Because they are amazing(ly bad). Except they're actually fantastic.
5. One of my goals is to visit all 50 states. I'm at 48. Stupid Alaska and Hawaii.
6. Even though I love to travel, I really hate flying. I'd never do it if the other ways weren't so slow. (eh, that's not that interesting. It's true, though.)
7. I play the viola. Even so, I think I have quite a few brain cells.

Blogs I nominate:
1. Get a Pencil and Your Casebook: http://pencilcasebook.blogspot.com/ See what I did there? It is a great blog...
2.Not That Kind of Girl: http://notthatkindofgirl.net/ Am I cheating? It's all the crazy stuff I know I could never do and funny.
3. Psyched on the Prairie: http://psychedontheprairie.blogspot.com/ More fun than a long winter. (Careful though, that book hasn't been reached yet.) I might be cheating again.
4. BSCAG: http://bscag.blogspot.com/ Baby-Sitter's Club and continuity. New but great.
5. Are you there youth? It's me, Nikki: http://whatireadbackthen.blogspot.com/ Fun book blog!
6. Luke's Diner: http://coffeeatlukes.com/Lukes/ Yay Gilmore Girls!
7. BSC Chronologically: http://bscchronologically.blogspot.com/ Isn't the BSC great? Book by book and everything!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Contest/Chance to Win Stuff!!! WHERE AM I?

Inspired by some great blogs out there and filled with holiday spirit (kidding, sort of), I've decided to have a CONTEST with a chance to win PRIZES! Actually, I plan to do this fairly often and eventually I'll be offering stuff from my prize closet (yes, I really have a prize closet. If virtual closets and real shelves/boxes count). For this contest, the prizes are a bit more specific. And they are:

1. The Food Prize. Consists of one Peppermint Pig (http://www.saratogasweets.com/), a Christmas/New Year Victorian tradition. They are delicious and totally unique (like, in the world) to my hometown. Aaaand a box of potato chips. But not just any potato chips, original recipe potato chips like they were when they were invented. Which happened in my hometown. (Or so they say, and believe me, they do say. Did that make sense?)

2. The Book Prize. One copy of Bill Bryson's amazing book A Walk in the Woods (http://www.amazon.com/Walk-Woods-Rediscovering-Appalachian-Official/dp/0767902521). One of these days I'll do a whole post on it. I did pick that book for a reason (other than it's general awesomeness) but if you win and you don't like it have already read it, we'll work something out.

BTW, two prizes means two winners! I'll mention here that winning takes some work. My contests are trivia based (20 Questions-ish) and may require a little research sometimes. I think this one's pretty easy, though.

Next up, how to enter:

Anyone reading this can have up to three entries in the contest.

Entry one: the freebie. Everyone gets one just by leaving a comment (and, uh, guessing).

Entry two: Be(come) a follower. Whether through Google, Facebook, RSS, or whatever, I don't care. If it's RSS, mention in a comment.

Entry three: All about networking. Post about the contest on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, or wherever you like (with a link please!) and mention in a comment. Please.

I have turned on comment moderation for the duration of the contest (I hope) so no cheating that way! When the contest ends (at 11:59 on 12/22), all correct entries (and remember you can have three and if you are sure of the answer, using it three times does increase your odds. Otherwise, three guesses means one might be right!) will be put in a hat and two winners will be selected. Make sense? On with the contest!

The contest itself is, as I said, sort of like 20 Questions. I pick a place somewhere in the world (for now we're staying on Earth), probably a place I've been though that might not be much help. I'll give a series of clues that lead to the one (hopefully) specific answer. I think I'm starting with a pretty easy one and just for the record, this place will be featured in an upcoming post. On with the contest.

Where AM I?
  • The Grand Canyon is not located within my borders.
  • My visitors like things that are faithful.
  • Part of me can be described as mammoth.
  • One might ask me, "What's the story, Morning Glory?" (The author of this blog thinks I should respond with, "What's the tale, nightingale" but that's not really relevant.)
  • I sit on a massive supervolcano.
  • Most of me (though not all) is found in one U.S. state.

I AM.....................

The contest is open until 11:59 on Tuesday, December 22. Happy guessing!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

400 Years of the Hudson River (part 1)

Once again, I'm adding a new feature to the blog. I'm from (upstate) New York and I've decided to (re)visit interesting places near where I live and to then post about them. Why? Because it's fun, for one. And to, well, point things out to people who may not be aware of what there is to see in my (and possibly their) part of the world. So, if you're from NY, um, hello neighbor? And if not, here's why you should visit:

First up, the Hudson River. 2009 marks the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson sailing up the river that now bears his name. On his ship, the Half Moon, Hudson sailed up the river as far as Albany which is about 150 miles north of what's now New York City. There's a lot of interesting history about the area, the Native American tribes that lived there, and the eventual Dutch and English settlements. I, however, am going to skip most of that. For now. I may expand upon the history in later posts but for now, I'm going to focus on me.

Before I do, here's a little geography. The Hudson River begins (some sources say) at Lake Tear of the Clouds which is on Mount Marcy, the tallest mountain in New York. I remember being taught that the lake is at the top of the mountain. It isn't. I know that because I've been to the top of Mount Marcy and also because I've since read about it. The river meanders downhill and south, often as little more than a wide stream. Driving through upstate NY's Adirondack Mountains (something I'll post about later), you may cross the river often or simply drive along it. The river eventually widens, flattens, curves a bit, and flows down to New York City. Enough for now?

For most of my life, I've lived within ten or so miles of the Hudson River (and much closer, like within two blocks, when I was in college). As a result of that, I have many fond memories, pictures, and experiences that somehow involve the river. Here are a few of them:

Growing up, I often traveled to Poughkeepsie, NY to visit my grandparents who, for some unknown reason, decided to stay there even after retiring. On these visits, I always noticed a tall, imposing railway bridge slightly north of the Mid-Hudson Bridge which is used by cars. Somehow, I always knew that that railway bridge had "burned down" although I never quite understood that. How could something burn down and still be standing? I guess "caught fire" might be a better description, and that's certainly true. There was a fire on that bridge, in 1974, that stopped trains from crossing the bridge after nearly a century. In 1992, efforts began to turn the bridge into a walkway. On October 3 of this year, that walkway opened. The bridge/walkway is now a state park, allowing pedestrians to cross the Hudson between Poughkeepsie and Highland (places you may have never heard of).

I visited the bridge and crossed it (both ways) just a few weeks later. The leaves were at their peak (changing color, remember?) and the view was clear and colorful: blue sky, blue water, red and gold leaves, and enough sun to make the water shimmer. Unfortunately, I didn't bring my camera.

Not just a walkway and a state park, the bridge also contains information panels detailing the history of the bridge and the area as well as the kinds of fish found in the water. Even more than that, there's a cellphone guide where visitors can call a number and hear all sorts of information. I learned a lot including that the bridge was considered a technical wonder when it was built. It doesn't seem so special now! I seem to remember also learning that a Native American name for the river means something along the lines of "the river that flows both ways" because the river is tidal for many miles, I've heard as far as Albany. As I said, that's 150 miles.

More Information (and pictures!): http://www.walkway.org/index.php

Next up, the Hadley Parabolic Bridge (sometimes called the Hadley Bow Bridge). I hear what you're saying already: that's over the Sacandaga River, not the Hudson. You were thinking that, right? Well, if you were, you are correct. So why am I writing about it? 1. It happens to be right next to a no-longer-in-used railroad bridge. Weird, huh? 2. It's considered a technological oddity of sorts. 3. It's within spitting distance of the Hudson.

This bridge was built in a somewhat unusual style and is quite unique. It's now on the National Register of Historic Places. I'd rather not go into the technical details and history of the bridge (much too complicated and I'm not sure I completely understand it all) so instead, here's the Wikipedia page. Not that I recommend Wikipedia or have any idea if the information is accurate.
Once again, I hear what you're saying. You want to know why I visited this bridge, right? Well, I was actually driving along on a road parallel to the road with the bridge (the old road's replacement, basically) when I saw a sign for the "parabolic bridge". Naturally, I was curious. Wouldn't you be? Having decided to check it out, I found this neat looking little bridge:
The railway bridge River!
Today's third Hudson River mention is very close geographically to the parabolic bridge. On the same day I visited the bridge, I saw Rockwell Falls (name courtesy of this fabulous site: http://www.angelfire.com/ny4/waterfalls/home.html), a small but powerful waterfall in the Hudson River.


The river below the falls (I think).

More on Hudson 400: http://www.hudson400.com/
Part 2 coming soon! Along with Seattle (/Washington), BSC in the USA and Yosemite.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving: Plimoth Plantation

First I was planning on writing about Yosemite, next it was going to be BSC in the USA, then someone suggested I write about Seattle. Then, Thanksgiving came around. And I figured I should probably write a little something about a place somewhat relevant to Thanksgiving. With that I give you this (relatively short I think) post on Plimoth Plantation.

I visited Plymouth, MA (and the plantation and the rock) eighteen years ago. Because of that, my memory is a little bit fuzzy. I do remember a few things about the visit. One, Plymouth Rock. I remember looking down on it and I think it was separated from visitors by some kind of net or fence. Many people try to drop coins on it, maybe they make wishes, I don't know. And I have a little trouble believing a rock can grant wishes. Maybe if there's a troll or something living under the rock... but I've never heard of that.

Moving on to Plimoth Plantation which is a museum/recreated village. I think. I remember wooden buildings, demonstrations about living/eating/cooking etc. during Pilgrim times. The space is "set" in the year 1627 (did you remember that the Mayflower arrived in 1620? That little bit of trivia once won me a free glass of juice at Denny's! Come on, you know you're jealous). My most vivid memory is, I think, learning about tomatoes. If I'm remembering correctly, people didn't eat them back then. I think people used to think tomatoes were poisonous (or just unfit for eating). I did actually just try to verify this which led me to this, uh, interesting website: http://www.tomatoesareevil.com/index.html Try the tomato shooting gallery, it's decent stress relief.

Quite honestly, I don't remember much else. I think I also visited the Ocean Spray factory or museum, or store, or whatever the hell that thing was. Not nearly as much fun as the Hershey Factory, that's for sure. But hey, cranberries are totally relevant to Thanksgiving. And that's all she wrote. Happy Thanksgiving!

Blogger is being extremely obnoxious (or maybe it's my computer...) Pictures to be added soon!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Gulliver's Travels

While procrastinating recently, I decided to watch one of my favorite movies from childhood, the animated version (from 1939) of Gulliver's Travels. How I came to have and love this video I really don't know but it definitely is a classic. The movie was, I believe, the first American, non-Disney, animated movie. And it's pretty awesome. I actually found it on DVD pretty recently (for very cheap) and this was probably my first time watching the movie in about a decade.

Gulliver's Travels is based on the Jonathan Swift book of the same name, though it is, being a children's movie, not much like the book (although I must confess I haven't actually read it... yet).

The movie takes place entirely in Lilliput, a land of tiny people. Lemuel Gulliver (seriously? Lemuel?), the traveler, finds himself shipwrecked there and though the locals (Lilliputians, they're called) are scared of him at first, they all end up friends. And no one gets eaten. Of course, there's more to it than that including a big fight over a couple of songs, a king I always thought was the queen, and some very sneaky guys who help start a war and stuff. In the end, Gulliver pretty much fixes everything and everyone lives happily ever after. I am curious about how these things go in the book (I'll get to it someday!) because I know what Swift was like with his satires. I will mention one scene from the movie in which Gulliver helpfully puts out a raging fire with a little bit of water. Apparently this also happens in the book (I'm guessing in a similar scene) although he, well, doesn't use water. Just thought I'd mention that. My point is that the movie does seem to care about what happens in the book but totally overlooks the messages and/or social commentary presented. Well, it is meant for kids.

While I naturally thought a movie with the word "travels" in the title was appropriate for my blog, I can actually relate this in another way as well. When I went to Ireland, I decided that instead of flying, I would take the ferry from Holyhead, Wales to Dublin. Why am I mentioning this? Because the name of the ferry was the Jonathan Swift. See, here's where the ferry company decided to be cute. The Swift is the fast ferry so the name is quite appropriate, if slightly groan-inducing. And I say that as a great lover of all kinds of word play. I think they actually had a contest to name the boat and that was the winner. Clever.

I actually do have more to say about Jonathan Swift and his post as Dean of St. Patrick's in Dublin. That will have to wait for another day, like when I figure out which church pictures in Ireland are which. Or maybe around Christmas when it makes sense to write about Handel's Messiah which also has ties to St. Patrick's. We shall see. Meanwhile, here's some water in Ireland:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

New Toy!

The day we've all been waiting for has arrived! I bought a slide scanner! See, back in the days before digital cameras, people had to use this stuff called "film" to take pictures. And people who wanted to be artistic took these things called "slides". Well, for a long time, my father was one of those wanting to be artistic people. And therefore, many of my family vacations are now documented with hundreds of (until now) useless slides. I should mention here that many of the pictures-from-slides I'll post were taken by my father. Credit where it's due, I guess.

So, since I'm here to write about the places I've been and include photographic evidence, it's fallen to me to get those slides into a useable format. Hence the slide scanner. Long story shorter, I'm in the process of converting old slides to digital files. They're fun to look at (for me anyway) and hopefully they'll um, illustrate my posts. Unfortunately, the quality isn't fantastic. I'm trying to edit and work with this scanner thing to make things better but no real success yet. And really, I don't know if the issue is the slides or the scanner. I do know that I've accidently scanned some slides backwards though I haven't decided yet if I'm going to rescan them in the name of accuracy or leave them as they are and call them "artistic". Thoughts? Anyone? Bueller?

Good news? BSC in the USA coming soon!

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Hills Are Alive with The Sound of Salzburg...er, Music

Set and (partly) filmed in Salzburg, Austria, The Sound of Music must be one of the most visually stunning movies ever. In my opinion. Since it also happens to be one of my all-time favorite movies, I naturally jumped at the chance to go to Salzburg and see the setting for myself. And it really is so beautiful that it has stood out as one of my favorite things places.

First, a test of my recapping abilities for the benefit of anyone who lives under a rock or really hates musicals and therefore hasn't seen The Sound of Music. TSOM is the fictionalized account of a real Austrian (turned Vermontian) family that fled Austria and the Nazis before World War II. Basically, an enthusiastic but hopeless nun becomes governess of seven at-first-obnoxious-but-eventually-lovable children and falls in love with their strict, naval captain father who falls in love back. Most of this is accomplished with singing. They escape from the Nazis. The end! Since I like accuracy, I'll just point out here that the movie is quite different from the real story. Okay, moving on.

As I mentioned, a lot of the movie actually was filmed in and around Salzburg. (Check this out for some recognizable city sights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCq92OKg9jE&feature=related I wish I knew how to just post the video.)

And even now, more than forty years later, you can still tell. Salzburg is both beautiful and well-preserved and, although the lack of Nazis was a clue, I wouldn't have been surprised to see Maria kicking her heels up and singing or the kids hopping up and down steps in Mirabell Gardens. Actually, that would have been pretty awesome. I wonder if they do reenactments.

I think I took this picture right from the bottom of the steps.

For those of us that love TSOM, there are Sound of Music tours that visit all the places featured in the movie. Sadly, I did not have time for one of those tours and I'm still upset about that! I'm determined to get back to Salzburg though, and next time I'll definitely do it. Even so, I got to see quite a few places featured in the movie. Some examples:

This is used as the back of the von Trapp house. Note the lake, look for a capsized boat and waterlogged children with their governess. Maria has confidence here.Last time I saw this, people were skipping through it...

And I do have one neat little fact about the von Trapp's great escape to Switzerland to share. Actually, several little facts:

First of all, as many people already know, it never happened. Yes, the family fled the Nazis. No, they did not walk to Switzerland. For one thing, it's much too far. For another, they didn't have the manufactured drama of a movie to deal with and were able to just leave. I believe they took the train to Italy. And on a related note, the other side of the mountain crossed in the movie is, in fact, in another country. Switzerland? No, remember? I already said it's not Switzerland. Could be Italy, right? Well, it could be but it isn't. Believe it or not, it's Germany. Yes, the von Trapps technically escaped the Nazis by running right to... the Nazis. Oops. Even more than that, one of Hitler's houses was just over on the German side of the mountain. Double oops.

Salzburg is "alive with the sound of music" in other ways as well. (I'm sorry I went there. Truly.) Mozart was born there and in fact, the Salzburg airport is named for him. I love that. Both houses Mozart lived in are now museums and nice places to visit. Many people know that Mozart's grave is unknown, though there are some myths surrounding his burial and grave. His sister Maria Anna, however (also a musician), is buried in Salzburg, in the cemetery of St. Peter's Abbey:

This cemetery is notable for other reasons, including the inspiration for the part of TSOM where the von Trapps literally hide from the Nazis in a cemetery. Yes, this really is a cemetery and it's actually really impressive--those openings are part of a cliff that borders the cemetery and (I think) houses the catacombs.

Well, if I didn't manage to convince anyone else that Salzburg is fabulous, I certainly convinced myself. Time to go back, I think.

Monday, October 19, 2009

To The Possible Disappointment of Karen Brewer

As I may have mentioned, I'm a huge fan of the great Baby-Sitters Club series (which shall hereafter be abbreviated with the usual BSC). Part of the vision here at Travel Rambling involves writing about travel books or books that are somehow related to travel. With that in mind, I've been thinking about one of the best/worst BSC books out there, a perfect one for this blog: BSC in the USA. At some point, I'll get to a full-on snark/recap/rant about my experiences at the places visited by the BSC but that's for later. For now, I'll just hate on Karen Brewer, which is something I really enjoy.

In BSC in the USA, each person chooses a place to visit somewhere in the continental US, between CT and CA, north-ish or south-ish depending on with whom they're traveling. Basically. Karen (step-sister of BSC president Kristy for anyone not in the know) chooses Four Corners, the place where Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico meet. As it happens, her choosing of this particular place isn't exactly presented well... there's this idea that they won't be able to find the spot which makes no sense. After all, if it isn't a monument, how does Karen know to call it Four Corners? That is an official name after all. All stupidity aside, they actually do go there. Well, I too have been to Four Corners. Noting that the title of the post indicates disappointment, here's what's sort of wrong-ish with visiting Four Corners.

The Four Corners monument is in the wrong place. Well, kind of. The location of Four Corners has in recent months brought the monument into the spotlight and sparked a lot of discussion. I believe the official answer/solution is that the monument is in the right place although the location may technically be slightly off, though less than originally thought. The real explanation is waaaaay too technical and I'm not even going to go into it. Now that I've gone on about pretty much nothing, I realize this post doesn't really make a whole lot of sense. To bring things back to the BSC and obnoxious Karen, the character of Karen likes accuracy and insists on things being correct. If she were real, I would expect this location discrepancy to really bother her. (Oh dear, I'm putting way too much thought into what a fictional character might think...)

Anyway, all issues with location aside, Four Corners is a fun place to visit. In addition to the four states, two Native American Nations (Ute and Navajo) have boundaries at the monument. The monument is, I believe, maintained by the Navajo Nation and there are souvenirs available since nothing completes a monument visit like a little shopping.

The best thing about visiting Four Corners is the opportunity to be in all four states at one time. It's so much fun, people wait in line to do it (leaving someone back in the picture-taking area of course). A marker stands on the spot, listing each state with crossing lines marking the exact boundaries (I think that's the case... that's how I remember it!) To once again mention BSC in the USA, Karen wanted to stand in all four states and wave toward Connecticut which seemed to be somewhat difficult as she expected to need all hands and feet on the ground. However, she thought of the same thing I did (to my great shame): put half a foot in each state. In my defense, I hadn't read the book then. In fact, it may not have even been published when I visited Four Corners. I certainly hope that's the case.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Jennifer's Body Made Me Do It

Okay, I admit it. I went to see Jennifer's Body and I paid for it. More than that, I actually kind of enjoyed it! So, slight spoilers ahead for anyone who may read this and hasn't seen the movie.

Jennifer's Body takes place in a town in Minnesota called Devil's Kettle. The town is named for a waterfall that drops into a pothole and ends somewhere unknown. Since I happen to really like waterfalls, I naturally wanted to find out if this one was for real. As it turns out, it is. There actually is a waterfall called Devil's Kettle located in very northeastern Minnesota. (The town is fake.) Although judging by the pictures I saw and my memory of the movie, the waterfall used in the movie isn't the real one. That doesn't surprise me since visiting the waterfall requires a hike with lots of stairs. In addition, the actual waterfall is really two: one flows on as a river and one disappears. Since I've never been there, I dont have any pictures. I could probably, uh, borrow some... but there are lots out there. Anyway, from what I've read, it seems like the general thought is that the water from the waterfall eventually flows into nearby Lake Superior.


That isn't the case in the movie. Okay, it's not that major a spoiler. And anyway, this whole thing just makes me wonder if they couldn't just throw some kind of tracking device down the waterfall or something. If they really care. And if it would work underwater.


Anyway, thinking about this waterfall got me thinking about the concept of a waterfall where no one knows where the water goes. As it turns out, I've had a couple experiences with waterfalls somewhat like that. One was at a state park in Florida (yes, that Florida, the one most people seem to think is completely flat) and one (sort of) in a cave in upstate New York.

First up is Falling Waters State Park, which is located on Florida's panhandle. Northern Florida, unlike the rest of the state, actually has some hills. In my recollection, a lot of the changes in elevation are due to sinkholes (created by the gradual wearing away of rock) that are very common in that part of the state. Some of these sinkholes are dry, some have water in the bottom, and some are basically lakes. And then there's Falling Waters. Falling about 73 feet into a 100 foot deep pit, Falling Waters is Florida's highest waterfall. The waterfall flows over some rocks and into what is basically a bottomless pit. In my memory, it really isn't possible to see where the water flows meaning not all 70 feet are visible. And as with Devil's Kettle, no one knows where the water eventually ends up. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of Falling Waters. However, more information can be found here: http://floridastateparks.org/fallingwaters/default.cfm

The second waterfall I thought of as somewhat similar to the movie is in Secret Caverns, a cave near Cobleskill, NY. Secret Caverns is the less commercial, darker in atmosphere, and more natural neighbor of the more famous (well, in NY at least and maybe beyond) Howe Caverns. Someday I'll do a post on caves... Moving on. Secret Caverns has a few draws (such as a natural entrance rather than an elevator) but its biggest and most famous draw is the 100 foot underground waterfall. Unlike the previous falls, everyone knows where this water flows. If I'm remembering correctly, a tour of the cave basically ends at the pool of water into which the waterfall flows. Although they say the waterfall is (over) 100 feet, you certainly can't see that far up. After all, caves are dark.

While I'd love to say that the origin of the waterfall is unknown, that isn't the case. I don't remember if it's a lake or river or what and I don't really remember the process of how it gets underground, but I do know that the water's origin is known. In fact, there have been experiments to determine how long the water takes to get from basically where it starts to the pool (or river or whatever) in the cave. I seem to remember it being about 20 minutes but I'm not sure about that. Hey, give me a break, I visited this place about seven years ago.

Once again, I have no pictures. And besides, it's apparently very difficult to take good pictures of the falls. Here's the website with more information (obviously) and some pictures:


The conclusion? Waterfalls are very cool and sometimes really mysterious. Since I'm posting about waterfalls, I may as well post a picture of one. This waterfall is located in Ein Gedi which is an oasis in Israel. Although the falls isn't very high, it's a great place to visit. It's possible (and extremely relaxing) to lean against the rock over which the water flows. Plus, it really cools you off.

Somewhere I have a very short video of a waterfall in Scotland. If I find it, I'll post it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Wales at Last

I'm done putting it off. It's time to talk about Wales. Wales (Cymru in Welsh which I think is pronounced something like "kim-ree": what a neat language) is, as most people know, part of Great Britain. Basic location: west of England. I was only in Wales for a few days but found it a beautiful and interesting place I'd love to explore further. However, my main interest in Wales has been in its architecture. Specifically, castles.
Wales is a country of castles with many existing in various states (some are still lived in while others are ruins). With limited time and transportation, I was only able to visit one Welsh castle: Conwy Castle, found in the town of (guess!) Conwy.

Conwy Castle was one of several castles built by (or rather, for) King Edward I. It's a massive structure and much of the castle is open to the elements though some "rooms" remain. Although it's well preserved, the castle seems to have survived years of gentle decaying; moss and plants grow in cracks in the stone, helping the castle seem like an impressive feature of the landscape. Like any good castle, Conwy has many towers that can be climbed.

They offer views of the nearby landscape out to the sea as well as the castle and town of Conwy.

(Not the greatest picture I know, but it is what I'm trying to show.)

Like many European towns, Conwy is walled. The walls are there for the walking; it's an interesting way to see a town for sure. My time on the walls was mostly limited to the area near/entrance to the castle itself. Still, an enjoyable walk.

Initially, I actually approached the castle from across a river, the River Conwy actually. Although the town has a train station, few trains stop there and I think it's necessary to tell a train worker if that's where you want to get off. For simplicity's sake, I walked from Llandudno Junction (I think) which is just across the river. The extra exercise was worth it: the castle lay directly across the Conwy Suspension Bridge, appearing as an imposing feature of the town.

I was there in late April and the blue sky, green grass, and gray (or should I say grey?) stone complemented each other to form a vibrant picture that remains a vivid memory.

Exploring a castle is always a fun activity. Personally, I really enjoy the ruined ones--you might find a stairway leading nowhere or a passage opening into a cavernous (if roofless) room. Definitely an adventure.

Coming soon: Yosemite if I ever get a slide scanner, BSC in the USA (same condition), otherwise hmm, maybe a post about NYC again. Or maybe not.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Oh, Bologna!

Well, I lied about my next post being about Wales. Oh, well. Why? Because I remembered a recent Jeopardy episode answer/question about an interesting fountain in Bologna, Italy. If my memory is correct and my vision as good as I think it is, I've been to that fountain. And they definitely didn't show the most interesting part. I guess that makes it my job.

Come on, how much fun is that? Bologna is worth a visit just to see the fountain. Well, maybe.

As long as I'm posting, a few other notes about Bologna. I visited the city while spending a semester in England. A friend and I went on a weekend trip to Italy (Bologna and Florence) in the extreme cold (okay, it wasn't that bad) of February. Thanks to the greatness that is Ryanair, plane tickets cost close to nothing though the out-of-the-way airport isn't the most convenient. Whatever. Basically, our trip there was somewhat like a random pin in a map. (Other country? Check. Low airfare? Check. Gelato? Check.)

Bologna is a city of towers. Apparently, there used to be over two hundred though now I think about twenty remain. These two are (obviously) right next to each other, right in the middle of the city. I love the idea of random medieval buildings suddenly appearing.

No, your eyes and my photography are not deceiving you; they are leaning. That's right, leaning towers in Italy are not unique to Pisa.

Also notable about Bologna? The walkways, or porticos, I guess. Basically, a lot of "downtown" Bologna is connected by covered walkways that help shield people from rain, snow, sun, and the like. The city is famous for them and they are nice to walk through.

Once again, my post isn't as detailed as I'd like. Maybe my upcoming post about Wales will be better.

Friday, August 28, 2009

SHARK! For real this time.

Here it is, the long-awaited, much anticipated (ha!) aquarium post! Hooray! I've actually visited two aquariums recently so what is it with me and fish? Anyone who may have actually read my blog knows I went to the New England Aquarium just last week. While that's a great aquarium, it's not the one I'm writing about today.

On my recent weekend trip to New York City, my good friend Sadako (I'd turn that into a link if I knew how) and I ventured out of Manhattan, across all of of Brooklyn, to that strange remaining vestige of a bygone era: Coney Island. Ah, yes, Coney Island. Home of the Cyclone, the sideshow, and the New York Aquarium (oh, and a kick-ass merry-go-round). Our main destination was, as one could probably guess, the aquarium.

The journey there started with a long ride on the subway. (Did we take the Q? I think so.) Here's where I recommend 20 Questions as a fun game for long trips. Okay, back to the trip adventure. I'm trying so hard to make this sound interesting. Sigh.

After getting off the train, it was only a short walk to the aquarium. The New York Aquarium is not huge, not flashy, and not, to my knowledge, a big tourist destination. It does have its charms, though.

The aquarium is actually a series of buildings and outdoor tanks (often with indoor viewing areas). This is nice because the noise level is generally not too bad and, even in a small-ish space, things don't get too crowded. The design also helps designate types of animals and exhibits.

This aquarium visit brought out the movie-maker and photographer in Sadako and the results are a sight to behold. First, maybe my favorite: the jellyfish. The jellyfish building (there are a lot of jellyfish at the NY Aquarium) uses blacklight (I think) to create a cool, underwater effect. It's actually pretty eerie though the sound on this video might not demonstrate that. I still love it though:
I wish I knew how to just post the video here...

The NY Aquarium is also, as the title of my post suggests, a good place to see sharks. In captivity. Where they can't hurt you. Or something. Here's their video:
Fun, huh? Even if someone lied about a seal.

For your viewing pleasure, one more video:
Impressive, isn't it? There are some great pictures as well. I should probably post them...

Anyway, the aquarium was, as always, lots of fun. Pretty fish, scary sharks, and so on. Definitely worth a visit.

More information: http://www.nyaquarium.com/

Up next: Wales, for real this time. After that I'm thinking Yosemite, if anyone cares. I have a pretty good story there.

Sidenote to Sadako: sorry if I didn't do this justice... Too tired.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Coming Soon

Confession time! Occasionally when boredom strikes, I do crappy jigsaw puzzles online. Some of them result in pretty cool pictures and there's the option of linking them to blogs. And so we have a new feature here at Travel Rambling: The Upcoming Post Post. It's a game! Where everybody wins!

What's the point of this? Well, I'll sometimes post a puzzle that relates to something I'll actually be posting about soon. For the bored, it's a quick way to fill a little time. For anyone who may ever actually read my blog, it's a teaser for an upcoming post. So, here's the first one:

Let's hope this works...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

SHARK! no, wait... WHALE!!!

I'm cheating. I was supposed to post about the NY Aquarium. Oh, well, screw that (for now. I'll get to it very soon along with the New England Aquarium.) Why? Because I went on a whale watch yesterday and it's totally worth posting about.

Given my love for crappy kids books and the BSC in particular, eventually I'll get my snark on and post about Dawn's Family Feud, a fabulous book including a trip to Boston and, yes, a whale watch. But for now it's all about me.

Lots of companies offer whale watches from Boston/Gloucester/eastern MA. I went on the New England Aquarium's whale watch which leaves right from Boston. Convenient. And a decent deal with a combo ticket to the aquarium. For about $50, I got to visit the aquarium and spend almost four hours on a boat. I even saw some whales. Hooray!

The trip begins with a slow-ish half hour, getting out of Boston Harbor. It's quite nice, offering great views of the Boston skyline and nearby islands.

After that, it's the open ocean. Thanks, I think, to plankton, the North Atlantic of the MA coast is pretty green. Not the prettiest ocean around but that's okay. I do have to say it's really nice on the open water. To me, it didn't feel rough at all (they said waves were 1-2 ft.) and the ride was really pleasant.

Our whale watching destination was Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary, home of lots of marine life. It takes about an hour on the open ocean to get to Stellwagen and the trip is relaxing. Whale sightings are guaranteed (if you don't see whales you get a voucher for another trip) and yesterday's trip was not a disappointment. We saw three different kinds of whales including minke whales (apparently they're usually very shy but they seemed to be quite frisky yesterday!) and I think a fin whale. Plus one other. I'll check the log when it's up.

In my experience, contrary to the depiction in books, whale sightings are often pretty brief. Maybe you'll see a spout, a huge dark shape surfacing and disappearing, and that's about it. All from a distance. Which isn't to say it isn't exciting. It is. Whales are wild animals, they're huge and impressive, and it's pretty cool to see them in their natural habitat. I definitely tried to get pictures of the whales but I'm not sure I ever really succeded. Here's one possibility, the dark dot in the middle might be a whale. I think. Or maybe this is the wrong picture. Well, here's a picture of the open ocean:

The actual whale watching portion of the trip lasted about an hour. We traveled a bit through the ocean based on where whales had been sighted recently. The part I found really exciting (honestly) was searching the water and every so often spotting a whale and, along with others on the boat, pointing and shouting. Hard to describe I guess... I think I mean that although there was a naturalist on board, whales would often be seen first by people on the boat. Like me. And it's oddly thrilling.
After the watching of the whales, it was time to head back to Boston. The trip back was really just like the trip out so nothing particularly exciting there. All in all, a fun experience.
Coming up: a post about Wales.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Digging for Diamonds

As someone from New York, I've rarely given much thought to the uneven square-shaped southern state that is Arkansas. For a long time, my knowledge of Arkansas was limited to Bill Clinton and Hot Springs National Park (which I've never visited). However, there's quite a bit more to Arkansas than that. With that in mind, let's talk about Arkansas.

With the nickname The Natural State, it's obvious that much of what Arkansas has to offer somehow involves nature. And I guess a state park/diamond mine does fit into that category. I first learned about Crater of Diamonds State Park, apparently the world's only public diamond mine, from the side of a U-Haul truck. As soon as I realized you could dig for real diamonds in a real mine and keep what you found, I knew I had to go there. Several years later, while driving from Colorado to Florida, I finally had my chance.

Crater of Diamonds is located near the tiny, pretty much middle-of-nowhere town of Murfreesboro. It's a little hard to get to but definitely a worthwhile trip. First stop? The diamond discovery center. Featured there is an exhibit with the history of the mine and the park, some samples, and information about diamonds. After that, it's off to the rental desk. (I think I skipped the paying admission part... Oops. It's cheap though.) After acquiring a bucket, digging tools/shovels, and sifters and a quick mining lesson, it's off to the mine.

I know when I hear the word "mine", I picture a shaft, darkness, and those funny little carts. Well, Crater of Diamonds is not at all like that. In fact, it's a plowed field that looks more like this:

At Crater of Diamonds, there are two digging methods: the wet method and the dry method. When I was there, only the wet method was allowed and oh, it was messy. Here's the basic process:

1. Fill a large bucket with dirt.

2. Lug the bucket (and sifters) to a nearby pavilion with giant tubs of water for sifting.

3. Fit your two sifters together and place them in the water along with a clump of dirt.

4. Work through the dirt (now mud) to filter the grains of sand out and leave the rocks behind.

5. Repeat.

6. (unofficial) Talk and share stories with your fellow miners. Some of them might be regulars with good advice.

7. Once you're fed up (or have found some diamonds), wash off at the uh, washing off station. You will be gross.

All in all, it's a good way to get really dirty. What could be more fun than that? Plus, there's a nice pool right there, perfect for the hot summer months, like when I was there.

So, did I find any diamonds? Sadly, no. Neither did anyone else while I was there. I did find some nice rocks though and their on-hand expert told me what I had found. Since it's finders keepers, I did keep the rocks but as souvenirs, they don't quite live up to diamonds. Oh well, maybe next time.

More information: http://www.craterofdiamondsstatepark.com/

Saturday, July 25, 2009

First post!

I love to travel. I have always loved to travel. And I've always meant to write about it. No, I'm not talking about fancy published travel books or the NY Times (as much as I love both of those things). I just want to remember the places I've been and to relive the good, the bad, and the funny.

Quick confession: I can't keep a diary. Never could no matter how hard I tried. Granted, I usually didn't try very hard... So instead I create an online diary, available to all (you're welcome), which might actually motivate me to write down some things. That's the plan, anyway. So here goes:

My name is Ali and I love to travel. I love to read about it, plan it, and hear about it. Over the last quarter century or so, I've visited a few places. I have a lot of stories (warning: some of them might be pretty boring to people who aren't me) and many great memories, not to mention a ton of pictures. With any luck, here's where it all comes together.