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Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Road to Muskoka


              My family visits Toronto Canada at least once a year.  My sister and her family lives there.  Generally, when we visit, we hang out in and around the house, with few trips to the downtown area.  We get lazy, we lose track of time.  Whatever our reasons, we don’t do a lot.  Also, when we visit, we drive. The drive feels like a necessary evil and we try to complete it with very few stops.  This year was different.  I managed to convince the other people in the car that we should savor the journey and make the best of it.  My friend had mentioned that Ellicottville NY, directly on our way, was a charming town, so that’s where we stopped.  At the Griffis Sculpture Park.  This place is literally in the middle of nowhere, but someone had a remarkable vision to scatter over 250 large sculptures along trails on 450 acres of forestland.  A sculpture candy store of sorts.  Admission is on an honor system, with a specified donation amount.  You’re instructed to place the cash in a metal box.  Oh, and that the location is under camera surveillance.  Hmm. What do you do if you’re missing a dollar or if you only have large bills, but there is no one to give you change? What is the ethical thing to do?  Just wondering. I’ve also never quite understood the concept of asking for a donation but specifying the amount.  Seems like a contradiction, but I diverge.  Anyways, the park is serenely beautiful.  The ideal place for the art enthusiast to commune with nature with minimal interruptions.  It was also a stark contrast from the crazy Toronto traffic that we dealt with shortly after we left. 
This year’s visit with my sister’s family was also different.  We got out of the house.  We rented a cottage in Severn Bridge, Muskoka – just under 2 hours and a world of difference from Toronto.  Cottage country, they call it.  Muskoka is apparently where Torontonians escape to during the summers.  The cottage, or “the lodge”, as my 6-year old niece insisted on calling it, had “a view to die for” – also her words.  It was right on the water and had every amenity that we could ask for.  We hung out, we grilled, we hung out some more, but we did break away to visit the Muskoka Wharf in Gravenhurst and the Centennial Park Beach in Barrie.  The kids had fun.  We all had fun.  And I think there was a general consensus that this should become a family tradition.  Now for the long drive back to central Pennsylvania.  Thankfully, we’ve decided to stop at Niagara Falls on the way.

World's Largest Muskoka Chair

The cabin

View form the pier
View from back porch of Cabin

Griffis Sculpture Park

Griffis Sculpture Park

Griffis Sculpture Park

Griffis Sculpture Park

Griffis Sculpture Park

Griffis Sculpture Park

Niagara Falls, Canada

Friday, June 15, 2012

Flashback Fridays -

360 Restaurant - CN Tower, Toronto
May 2011

I had the pleasure of dining at the 360 Restaurant at the top of the CN Tower in Toronto.  This is one of those things that you do more for the experience than the food.  Don't get me wrong - the food was good, but it is nothing compared to rotating on the top of an 1800 ft tower, as the day transitions to night.  This is just about as close to a sunset as you can get, while still being connected to solid ground. 

Most photos were taken from our dinner table.

CN Tower at night

Glass-bottomed elevator.  Not for the acrophobic.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

2 days in Dubrovnik, Croatia

I visit at least one new place every year and this year, it is Dubrovnik, Croatia – Jewel of the Adriatic.  From London, Sangs and I got tickets on one of the discount airlines for just about $160 round trip!  We rented an adorable little 4th floor apartment in Old Town, with a pastry shop right downstairs.  Whenever I have a choice, I go for vacation rentals or bed and breakfasts over traditional hotels any day and would eagerly give up the concierge and room service for more space and a more homely feel.

Outside the city wall - Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik is like a postcard.  Really.  You could point your camera in just about any direction and get a shot that is postcard appropriate.  Sangs and I used this as an opportunity to engage in impromptu mini photo shoots all over town.  Celebrities, in our own minds, and maybe that of the elderly tourists that seem to make up about 90% of all the people we ran into. That would explain why there were random people from Turkey following me around to have their photos taken with me.  Either that or they’ve never seen a 5’10” brown skin girl before.  I’d like to think it’s the former. 

Day 1: Old Town is fairly small.  In the morning, we hiked the wall that surrounds the city.  Ok, maybe hiking is a bit of an exaggeration, but the leisurely walk did take us several hours, again, mainly because we stopped at every corner to take photos.  Then it was time for lunch.  Now, there are stairs everywhere in Dubrovnik.  Seriously, everywhere!  We climbed several hundreds or something like that, just to get to lunch!  It was worth it.  Lady Pi Pi had great food, great views and was by far the best food that we had in Dubrovnik.  Most other places had the same uninspiring Italian food.  Then came the moment we had been waiting for – gelato!  Since we got in the night before, that was all we talked about. But we thought it would taste even better if we delayed the pleasure.  It was good, but definitely not as good as the gelato that we had the following day.  My choice – extra dark chocolate and Whiskey cream.  Divine. For days after, I talked about Whiskey cream.  Maybe because it reminded me of Rum and Raisin ice cream that is so popular in the part of the world that I come from?  After lunch, we explored Old Town, stopping in spectacular corners to just sit and take it all in.  We hung out on the beach and watched the sunbathers.  That evening, we sat on the steps of a church to listen to the most beautiful music that came seeped through the cracks of the door.  It was a classical music performance that we were too cheap to pay the cover charge for, but later realized that it would have been well worth it. 

Day 2 – We left the apartment as early as we possibly could, which worked out to be around 10 a.m. We ate and headed to the harbor to catch the ferry to Lokrum.  We did not know what to expect.  One of the online reviews spoke of a place with a rundown monastery and a poor excuse for a botanical garden.  What we saw instead, was an island paradise inhabited by peacocks, surrounded by crystal clear water and very few other people in sight.   We wandered around aimlessly.  “Wandered aimlessly” because we had no maps and the island had many forks in the road, but no signs. We even wandered unto the nudist beach without realizing that non-nudes were not allowed. In this case, there was a sign, we took a photo of the sign, but fail to absorb what it was communicating to us. It worked out, since we left before anyone could demand that we strip.  We stumbled on to Mrtvo More (Dead Sea) Lake and got lost in its beauty.  Only the growling of our stomachs jarred us back to reality, sending us on a quest for food.  Why were we not as organized as those suntanned 20-something year old boys who had to foresight to pack a picnic lunch?  We found sustenance at the island’s main restaurant and ate in almost complete silence as we were way too hungry to attempt to formulate a sensible conversation.  Then, once we were recharged, we were good to go!  1-hour photo shoot at the old monastery.  For a second, guilt set in as we realized that we were reveling in one of the 7 deadly sins at a former place of holiness.  That feeling was fleeting.  After all, I’m not sure that anyone appreciated the beauty of the place as much as we did.  We were willing to climb over rubble to explore rooms that I am sure were out of bounds to snoopers. 

After the monastery, we walked and walked and eventually found our way to the fort at the very top of the island.  Breathtaking views.  Well worth trudging through rocks in our inappropriate footwear.  After Lokrum, we made our way back to Dubrovnik, had more ice cream, took the cable car to the most stunning vistas, basked in a sunset at the incredible Buza Cafe, and had dinner at an awful restaurant with bad food and a “cover charge”.  By this time, it was late, we hung out for a bit, then headed back to the apartment to get some rest before our early flight the next day.

Dead Sea Lake

At Lokrum Monastary

Buza Cafe nestled on the rocks

Red Roofs

Old Town from above

Banje Beach

climbing the rocks at Dead Sea Lake

peacock on Lokrum

lonely boat