Insta-Travel

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I do have plans to post a few things this week while I’m away from home. If you can’t wait for the prose, check out the Instagram link on the lower sidebar. I’ve just posted a vignette of snapshots from our first two days in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Included in the photo are:

  • Historic Site of Margeuerite Bourgeoys et Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours – outside and altar
  • Emtpy tomb of St. Kateri Tekakwitha in Kanawake (the site where she died)
  • One of the oldest doors of the first hotel in Montreal. A nearby historical buiilding is keeping its historical features and turning into an Air-bnb
  • Largest potted plant *I’ve* ever seen – Town of Mont Royal
  • Riding the Metro
  • Poulet et poutine at St. Hubert’s
  • Gelato! Creme broule, napolean, and raspberry sorbet
  • Sculpture on our walk through towards the Port of Montreal

I will try to post photos on this Instagram daily.

Any suggestions on what to see and where to go in Toronto and Niagara Falls are welcome in the comments.tm

Travel – Crossing the Canadian Border

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As of August 9th, travel to Canada by US citizens has been approved by the Canadian government. (The US side continues to be closed to non-essential travel, although if traveling to Canada, US citizens should have no issues returning to the United States, according to the Consular Affairs of the US State Department.)

Our family is planning on spending a week north of the border, but in order to do that, there are some atypical (as well as the usual) hoops to jump through first. I have been traveling to Canada since I was five, and so for many of us it’s taken awhile to get used to the changes when crossing the border. It is sometimes hard to remember that Canada isn’t simply US-North, but an entirely different country with policies, procedures, and laws that differ from ours. (It’s been especially challenging to those of us who have family in Canada that we’ve visited over several decades pre-9/11 and pre-pandemic.)

Some things to remember to as you plan your vacation to Canada this year:

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The Feast Day of St. Kateri Tekakwitha

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St. Kateri Tekakwitha was the first Native American woman to be canonized. This was in 2012, the same year I joined the church with my ongoing attendance. It would be another two years before I came into full communion and participation.

There were many reasons that I was attracted to St. Kateri as I considered her among others while I discerned a confirmation name (ultimately choosing St. Elen of Caernarfon as many of you know).

I have always felt a connection to the Native American people and interested in their culture and spiritual practices. As kids our parents took us to the pow-wow out on Long Island with the Shinnecock Indians. It’s hard to live anywhere in New York State and not find nearby towns with Native names.

A gift from my friend in South Dakota. It is a dream catcher and it has helped me at times when I’ve had trouble sleeping. It is Native made near the sacred Black Hills.
(c)2021

Kateri was from nearby; just west of the Capital District. She was born in the village of Ossernenon, now known as Auriesville. The village is mapped out at the Martyrs Shrine. After a small pox epidemic killed her family and left her scarred, the remaining Mohawk burned the village and moved (as was done when a disease ran rampant through their homes).

They moved further west and to the other side of the river to what is now Fonda, above where the current Kateri Shrine is located in the village called Caughnawaga. The footprint of the village can be seen and can be reached either by car or by walking the trails to the village and the spring.

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Travel in the Time of COVID

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Traveling during the covid epidemic offers several differing perspectives and our family seems to have lived through all of them. Should we go? Should we stay home? Stay local? Visit another state? For the better part of last year, we planned our August vacation to Canada. It became apparent that would not be an option. The Canadian border closed in the spring and remains closed.

We couldn’t help but notice that the rest of the country was not exactly cooperating in “flattening the curve”. It didn’t take long to make the decision to remain in New York State. We live here and we felt safe with the covid policies that the state has put into place.

Now that Thanksgiving is upon us, and Christmas not far off, if you are traveling, I hope you will benefit from our experience.

If you’ve decided to stay home, these will hopefully help you the next time you venture out.

Vacationing on COVID-time is *different*.

First, have a plan, have a second plan, and be flexible in all things. We decided on a location we’d only visited for a couple hours last year – Niagara Falls, located in western New York. We would spend one week; it would be an adventure. Customarily, we would change hotels mid-week. We did not. This was a direct result of covid.

We did many things outside: Niagara Falls State Park and the Falls, Broderick Park at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo. Though I prefer indoor dining, we ate outside at restaurants, coffee shops, and ice cream shops. We also visited three monuments that we may not have seen if I wasn’t looking for outdoor things to do.

Masks. You need more than one mask. Ideally, you should have one cloth mask for each day or at least two: one to wear, one to wash (and hang to dry).

Hand Sanitizer. Though you’ll find more hand sanitizer than you can ever imagine everywhere, a travel bottle of hand sanitizer is a must.

Hotels. I was very happy with our hotel. The prices did not seem to be any higher than a regular end of summer week. However, several amenities were not available or drastically changed. The pool and fitness center were closed, but vending machines and ice machines were available. I think they suspended the airport shuttle. We were required to wear masks in the public areas, hallways, elevators, and walking through the lobby. There were hand sanitizer stands next to every elevator on all the floors to use prior to pressing the elevator buttons.

The included free breakfast was a menu to choose items from, and then bring to your room, microwave, and eat there. It usually included a muffin, a fruit, water, milk, or juice, breakfast sandwich, yogurt, and other related items. There was no housekeeping unless you requested it. We did not. We chose to ask for necessary items at the front desk. These included new towels, shampoo, cups, toilet paper. They were extraordinarily nice and very accommodating. Considering the circumstances, I thought they did an excellent job.

Attractions. Many places were closed. Those that were open had restrictions. Masks required, hand sanitizer stations, 25%-50% capacity, 6ft. distancing between groups. Some displays – where placing your face close was necessary in order to see the item – were temporarily out of order. At interactive displays, we were provided with a sanitized mini stylus to use instead of our fingers. We returned them for cleaning when we were finished with the tour.

Due to reduced capacity requirements, several locations issued timed tickets. This combined with lower capacities meant that every day about mid-afternoon tours were sold out for the day, so this required going early, getting your ticket for later in the day and then coming back. Some places preferred that you buy tickets online and show the attendant the ticket on your phone.
Many places used directional arrows on the floor directing so people weren’t intersecting with each other. Many places would not accept cash. The Niagara Falls (NF) State Park as well as the NF Visitor Center only accepted credit/debit cards.

Contact Tracing. Many hotels, attractions, and restaurants asked for our name and phone number for contact tracing.

Restaurants. We felt comfortable at each location we ate at. One place, the Hard Rock Cafe, took our temperature. Due to lower capacity, we were required to wait…outside. If we got up to use the restroom, masks needed to be worn. Some restaurants had no menus and a QR code on the table allowed for viewing the online menu on our phones.

Shopping. Only some places offered samples, like chocolate or ice cream. Fitting rooms were closed as were some public bathrooms. A few places did not take cash.

One of the good things that I noticed was that as crowded as it was, it wasn’t that crowded. There was room to stand and move around on the Maid of the Mist boat ride, which is typically wall-to-wall people.

Because the Underground Railroad Heritage Center limited two at a time in the small gift shop, I was able to have a somewhat lengthy and very educational conversation with the attendant while I waited my turn.

People were both wary and friendly at once. There may have been a glare when you got too close to someone but it turned into a smile and a laugh as we both said “oops, sorry.” It was a delicate dance.

I didn’t know how much we needed to be out of our house. Overall, even with the changes and the restrictions, we still had a great vacation, and it was nice being out and about and almost-kind-of “normal”. Niagara Falls is one of those places that never gets old; we’re thinking about returning next year, although a trip across the border would also be welcomed.

Inspire. August.

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August’s inspiration posts were delayed by the entire month, but I am determined that this post tonight at the latest. It is the last day of August and there is still inspiration to be had.

August began with my being sick, some days quite ill, and I went to the Department of Health to take a covid test, which fortunately came back negative.

We’re still receiving updates from my children’s school and they are almost ready to return; one virtually and one in an in-person hybrid model.

We also were able to take a much needed family vacation, which we understand is a privilege in these uncertain times. I credit that to many things, not the least of which is the seriousness that New York State took in combatting the coronavirus. We remained in New York, and that gave us the ability to travel and to do so without a fourteen day quarantine anywhere else we may have gone. It wasn’t our original plan, but we were all together and we had a great week.

I mention this because the one thing I want to share with you for the August inspire post is a museum that we visited that I would encourage everyone to visit. I will write more about it in later days, but here is a small glimpse:

The Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center is located at 825 West Depot Avenue West in Niagara Falls, New York. It has only been open for about two years, and was reopened on July 18th after Covid closures.

It is very reasonably priced: $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors (62+), $6 for children 6-12, and Free for children 5 and under.

There is limited parking shared with the Amtrak station and it is on the Discover Niagara Shuttle, a free service in the city of Niagara Falls that operates May through October. They’ve recently reopened after Covid closures.

The Heritage Center is a beautiful balance of the heartbreak of slavery and escape from bondage and the people who helped them flee. It is at once inspiring and emotional. In one instant, a story caused me to weep while others made me feel joy at their new lives in Canada.

It is a small venue, but well worth the time. I would return again to enjoy the few things that were not available due to covid restrictions.

Inside the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center. (c)2020
We are *this* close to freedom.
Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center. (c)2020

Clipped Wings

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​My passport expired on May 31st. My passport lapsed once before, but other than that very brief time, I have had a passport since approximately 1986. I remember checking it’s validity when President George H.W. Bush tapped Dan Quayle to be his Vice President. Remember potatoe? I thought we could not get anyone stupider to run our government, and then the Republicans in 2015 said, “Hold my beer!”

In looking back at my twenty-one year old self, a mere child compared to the knowledge I hold now, it was epically short-sighted and judgmental, especially towards VP Quayle. That’s not to say that I’m no longer judgmental. I do try to be a bit more even-handed in my judgment calls and personal opinions on people in the public sphere. In looking back on Dan Quayle, he wasn’t a terrible Vice President. He was non-descript. I was just out of college when he and Bush were elected, and despite my working for the federal government I really didn’t have a whole lot of attention spent towards the upper levels of the Executive Branch.

That continued for quite some time. Despite each of the following Presidents’ difficulty and shortcomings, I slept well. I trusted what was in their hearts in spite of the disapproval of some policies by them and the Congresses that opposed them.

Now, we have a malignant narcissist running our country into the ground. I’m not going to get into the legalities or the politics of impeachment or armchair psychological diagnosis of dementia or any other possible cognitive or personality disorder. We do know that anything can happen because of the President’s lack of knowledge on many issues and his pettiness and impulsiveness and I live each day in fear for myself, but moreso for my children.

However, other than the security of an escapist sense of protection; a shield against the unknown and the rising anxiety, not only in me, but in the country, the expiration of my passport is a cryptic feeling; not bittersweet, not unambiguous, a little sad, a little motivating to get it renewed, a little feeling of captivity; of being a prisoner in my own land. I’m stuck.

Now, in a country the size of the United States it’s not as though I’m trapped in a 10×10 cell or even a two acre plot of land. I have the entire expanse of the width of the North American continent, so there is definitely a bit of privilege slipping out into my bluster.

We’re planning a family vacation, and with one child already on his own, I’m not sure how many more of these will be available to us. We really love spending time with our kids, and I miss them when they’re off with their friends. 

One of the places on our list of possible destinations is Toronto, which is closer to us than many of our states. 

But… 

I need a passport to get there, to cross the border into Canada. It has never felt more like a foreign country than it does now. I traveled to Canada many, many times as a child and young adult. We had (and continue to have) family there; my grandfather and his family were from Toronto and I have many cousins still living there. For a time, I had considered moving there to go to college, but that didn’t work out for a variety of reasons. I certainly wouldn’t have needed a passport back then. Even though we are not planning on seeing family during this trip, Canada, and especially Toronto and Niagara Falls still feel like going home. While so many things change, the awe of being a tiny part of this foreign land is like breathing new air.

So here I sit, contemplating a haircut, a special outfit for my photo, and popping into the post office to get a renewal application, and then sending it in as soon as possible. I do know that whether or not I use my passport or if I just carry it in my purse, it is the freedom that it grants that lets my heart rest easy. And gives peace of mind. And perhaps, one day will lead to adventure again.

Crowdsourcing Travel

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Earlier in the month our family was having some difficulty deciding on a vacation destination. Our original plan was to take nine to ten days, but our son couldn’t get the first day off (or approved yet) and a very close friend is getting married during the second weekend. Consequently, our time away was cut down to five days. That’s still a decent chunk of time, and we are very grateful to be able to take our kids somwhere special.

I made a Facebook post solicitating suggestions from my friends. I gave them three criteria:

1. Nothing south of the Mason-Dixon Line

2. Nothing west of the Mississippi

3. Able to enjoy ourselves for 5 days with no air travel.

I’m sharing what places were suggested along with some links to the area tourism and travel guides.

Fort Wayne, Indiana

     Visit Fort Wayne

Maine

     Visit Maine

Nashville and/or Memphis, Tennessee

     Nashville

     Memphis from Lonely Planet

     Memphis Travel – free map and guide

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
     Visit Pittsburgh

Ontario, Canada – Toronto and Niagara Falls (or Niagara Falls, NY)

     Toronto from Lonely Planet

     See Toronot Now

     Niagara Falls, Ontario

     Niagara Falls, NY

General Travel Info

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Lonely Planet