Monday, August 31, 2015

Future POIs - Duquesne Incline [Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA]

The Duquesnes Incline, built in 1877, is an incline that was built to carry cargo up and down Mt. Washington when it was originally made but later on, it carried passengers up and down.  It was actually one of many inclines that were originally built but only the Duquesnes and Monongahela Inclines exist today.

From wikipedia
It is 794 feet long, 400 feet high, at a 30.5 degree angle, can travel up to 6 miles per hour, carrying up to 18 passengers per car.  It costs $47,000 to build and actually uses the original passengers cars which are over 100 years old.  You are able to buy a one-way ticket or a round-trip ticket (which oddly there is no discount).  Open 365 days a year from morning until past midnight, check their website for details for the times.

From wikipedia
Like the National Aviary, the Duquesnes Incline is actually owned and operated by a non-profit organization after, in this case, the original owners decided to close the Incline due to low amounts of visitors and having major repairs that needed to be made.  When this happened, a group of individuals from the area raised enough funds to purchase it and it still operates today under them.

Come back next Monday for another Future Point of Interest!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Past POIs - Opificio delle Pietre Dure [Florence, Italy]

While this isn't a point of interest that I think has a lot of history behind it, I certainly felt that it was very fascinating.  In Florence, there is a museum called the Opificio delle Pietre Dure (Precious Gem Workshop).  We actually stumbling upon it by chance while we were waiting in line to see the David (we failed and ended up doing other sites and this was one of them).  It is right around the corner.

Each of the petals are a piece of stone.
The Precious Gem Workshop, opened in 1588, houses mosaics that are handcrafted and use precious gems to create a work of art.  Unfortunately my pictures don't do the works justice, if they look like a painting, you're wrong.  Each colour is actually a piece of stone, so you can imagine how time consuming it is to create one such piece.  There is nothing done to the stone, so when you see different shading, it is actually the stone itself, not paint or dye or anything like that.

Imagine how much effort was put in to pick and cut all of these stones.
On the upper floor, they have a workshop set up where you can see how they used to cut the stones into the pieces that they needed in order to make their works of art.

The top is the mosaic version of the painting below.
In my opinion, you should make an effort to come by and have a look at what is now a dying art form.  Like most of Italy and it's historic museums which house masterpieces of art, nowadays, we don't have the time and effort to create them and when I stare at them, it makes me wonder how people in the past were able to commit so much time and effort into their works.

Close up of a cabbage.
Come back next Friday for another Past Point of Interest!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Future POIs - Bicentennial Tower [Erie, Pennsylvania, USA]

During our Labor Day long weekend roadtrip, we plan to stop by Erie, Pennsylvania and one of the stops will be the Bicentennial Tower located in Erie, Pennsylvania which was built in 1996 to make the city's bicentennial.

From porterie.org
The tower is 187 ft (57 m) high and has two observation decks and is locate by the lake to give you panoramic views of Lake Erie, Presque Isle State Park and downtown Erie.  The tower costs $3.7 million dollars to build and took 13 months to complete.

From porterie.org
I think it'll be an interesting stopping point for a short visit and break from driving before we continue onto Pittsburgh.

Come back next Monday for another Future Point of Interest!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Past POIs - 1000 Islands Tower [Lansdowne, Ontario, Canada]

During our roadtrip to Cobourg and Kingston we visited 1000 Islands Tower, a 130 meter tall tower located on Hill Island which is actually between the Canadian and American borders (you will need to pass the border to get here, regardless of if you are coming from Canada or USA).


The tower was built in 1965 and was owned by the original owners until 2013 when it was sold for $500,000 to a German couple who loved the area because the original owners wanted to retire.  Approximately 30,000 visitors come and visit every year.  With the new owners comes new rules, now you can actually rent the tower for private events and weddings.


Excuse my poor camera work.
While there are stairs that loop around the tower (540 stairs), you can only take the elevator to get to the first of three floors.  On the first floor, there is always a tour guide that will provide you with information about the tower and the surrounding area.  It was nice to learn about the cruises that we can take, where the borders are, and more.  The second and third floors are both open.  All floors give you very nice views of the surrounding area just note that it does get windy at the top floor area.

View from the top floor.

I think this was a nice spot and worth a visit if you are in the area and have your passport (good thing I checked before coming!).

Come back next Friday for another Past Point of Interest!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Future POIs - National Aviary [Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA]

During out roadtrip during the Labour Day long weekend, we plan to visit Pittsburgh and one of our stops will be the National Aviary.

National Aviary (aviary.org)
The National Aviary is USA's largest and only independent indoor nonprofit aviary.  It has over 500 birds representing more than 150 species from the around the world and brings in over 100,000 visitors a year.

National Aviary (aviary.org)
The Aviary has a complex history.  It was built and funded by the city in 1952 and in 1999, the city ceased funding and through fundraising campaigns, Pittsburgh was able to save the Aviary and it became owned and operated by a nonprofit organization since.

National Aviary (aviary.org)
Admission at the time is writing is just $14 which sounds like a good deal to me.  There are 3 shows and you can include them in your admissions, admission plus one show is $19, admission plus two shows is $23, and admission plus three shows and a feeding is $25.  Check their website (aviary.org) for more details and daily feeding schedules.

National Aviary (aviary.org)
Come back next Monday for another Future Point of Interest!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Past POIs - Murney Tower [Kingston, Ontario, Canada]

Built in 1846 as part of the defensive Martello tower fortifications of Kingston, this Martello tower is actually one of four (Murney, Cathcart, Shoal, and Frederick) that still exist today and within the tower are three floors which display a collection of military and domestic artifacts from 19th century Kingston.


These were built throughout the British Empire and allowed a small group of soldiers (usually under 24) to defend land and sea relatively easily against a much larger army.  They were able to do this because at the top of the tower is a huge cannon on rails that allowed them to attack from afar and there are slots in the base that allowed them to fire at the army with relative safety.  While it worked great in the past, unfortunately by the time these were built, advances in artillery would reduce the tower to rubble within a few hours, so lucky for us, they were never used.


You will notice that the top is made out of wood and that is because the top is actually removable and this is to protect it against snow.

Admission was $5 when we went and I'm iffy about whether it was worth the cost or not since we were told that Fort Frederick is a similar tower and it is actually free to visit.

Come back next Friday for another Past Point of Interest!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

2015 - Cobourg / Kingston Summary

Duration: 3 days (Civic long weekend, left on Saturday, returned on Monday)
Cost: $307.89 in accommodations, $35.85 in admissions (Fort Murney, 1000 Islands Tower)
Distance Driven: 617 km (Toronto, Cobourg, Kingston, Gananoque, and back to Toronto)

This was probably one of the more relaxing trips that we have been on where we weren't waking up early and scrambling to get to places.  At the same time, I would say that I didn't feel like we did much that was worth telling people to go out of their way to visit.

Highlights (in no particular order):

Cobourg Sandcastle Festival, while this wasn't as large as I expected, I still enjoyed it.  I normally only see sandcastles at the CNE, so it was a nice change especially since it wasn't just open to professionals, but it is open to anyone who wanted to go and make something awesome.  One of the sandcastles that we saw unfortunately fell down 2 times and they gave up.

Inside Out from Cobourg's Sandcastle Festival.
Lowlights (in no particular order):

Dianne's Fish Shack & Smokehouse, I simply didn't enjoy the food here especially for the price.  I know that I would have much rather have gone back to Captain George's for fish and chips again and would have liked it a lot more.

Ceviche sampler on the left, fish tacos on the right.
Must try food places:

Tyrone Mills, come for the tarts and ice cream and enjoy the area.

Tarts (lemon on the left, raspberry delight on the right) from Tyrone Mills.
Olympus Burger, I really enjoyed the Ares burger that I got here even though it had a bit too much peppercorn in it.

Hermes Burger at Olympus Burger
What would I change?

I honestly don't think any changes to the itinerary is necessary.  The stops during this trip were well planned out and I didn't think we really overstayed anywhere.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

2015 - Cobourg/Kingston Day 3 (Gananoque)

Today, we visit the 1000 Islands Tower in Gananoque.


Early this morning, I woke up to some noise and I thought it might have just been the residence since it is a bit old but when I stared up at the ceiling, there was something flying around.  After focusing on it a bit, I realized that it was a bat!  I tried to figure out what to do since I didn't want to wake Allison, but eventually she did and when she did, I turned on the lights and just went back to bed.  I did tell the host about it but apparently they couldn't find it.  We spoke with some other guests at the B & B and apparently they did see one the previous day, so at least I wasn't imagining things.

Breakfast at this B & B is interesting.  They set up a guest dining area in the morning and you select a time for when you want to eat, prior to this time, you wait in the lounge area until the dining area is ready and then, as a group, everyone is escorted into the dining area.  The table is set and drinks are poured by the host one person at a time, so while waiting, you get to mingle with the other guests if you like (we were 2 of 8 guests at the table), and because of this, we got to hear stories about things that other guests did and what was worth doing and what was not.  Breakfast was a goat cheese and mushroom quiche with a nice vegetable salad as well as some fruit and home fries.  It was actually really good.  We would rank this as the second best breakfast we have been served so far, the best going to La Victorienne Urbaine in Quebec City.


I only had two stops planned today, the 1000 Islands Tower and Confederation Park, both in Gananoque.  To get to the 1000 Islands Tower, you will need to pay a toll to get here and it was $3.25 CAD when we went.  Luckily, you don't need to pay another toll to get back since the tower is actually before the border (you can see the border from the tower).  Admission is $10 + tax per person to go up to the tower.  It is by elevator only, even though there are stairs, they aren't used to go up or down the tower.  The tower has 3 levels, one fully covered and indoors, and two that are open air.  In each of the levels, there are some pieces of information in certain stops to tell you about what you are seeing which is pretty neat.  We probably spent about 30 minutes here.

Canadian side
American side
Confederation Park was our next stop but unfortunately, I couldn't find it and we just headed to lunch instead at Panache Bakery.  We ordered two sandwiches, a large soup and two slices of cheesecake for $32 which I think was reasonable.  Everything that we had was good.  After that, we headed home.

Sandwiches and soup from Panache Bakery.
Cheesecakes from Panache Bakery.
Until our next trip!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

2015 - Cobourg/Kingston Day 2 (Kingston)

Today's breakfast was nice.  Started with a variety of cereal, 3 types, your choice of coffee or tea, a glass of orange juice, eggs/bacon if you wanted and some buttered multi-grain toast with 2 types of jam and 2 types of jelly.



National Air Force Museum of Canada is our first stop this morning.  We probably spent about an hour here.  Admission is by donation and they have a number of planes for viewing and it was interesting to see.  I had no idea that some of the planes were so small while others are so large.  While there is a lot of history here, for fun, there is a simulator, a couple of cockpits that you can sit in for photo-ops, an ejector seat for pictures as well.





Trenton lock 1 was where we went to while we waited for our lunch place to open at noon.  We lucked out and we got to see the lock in action since there were two boats that just arrived.  It is neat to see although once you have seen it once, it isn't really necessary to see it again and I have seen it in St. Catharines.  As a bonus, if you go to the visitor's center here, you can get some free dog tags.



Golden Chicken and Ribs is our lunch spot, we found out that they don't have any place to eat but luckily there are several park benches across the street where you can go and eat, some of which are even covered.  The tatters were actually really good.  The chicken sandwich was very moist and tasty.  Stop by if you want some fried food.


Penitentiary Museum is our first stop in Kingston, it is a museum dedicated to historical items and history behind Canada's penitentiary system.  Oddly, I didn't find the museum itself that interesting but we lucked out and one of the volunteers for the day happened to be a retired officer and provided us with a lot of information on Kingston Penitentiary.  Admission is by donation here as well.


Me in front of Kingston Penitentiary (which is now closed).
Fort Murney is where we went for a photo-op initially, but apparently it is open to public and you can go inside and learn a bit about it.  Apparently it is one of four in Kingston and you can actually see all of them nearby and visit them as well.  $5 was the price of admission per adult for Murney.  It is skippable in my opinion unless you want to learn something about it (its purpose).  They do have a cannon at the top level though.  Walked along the waterfront area and I think it is surprisingly nice.



Rosemount Inn and Spa is where we are staying tonight.  It is a renovated home that is almost 200 years old.  It is a very nice looking place and there are welcome treats and drinks between 4pm and 7pm.  Today there were cinnamon buns and raisin cookies both of which were good.  There was also coffee and tea.


Dianne's is where we went for dinner.  Although the reviews were generally good, I thought this place was overrated for what it is.  Ordered two fish tacos, the clam chowder and the ceviche sampler.  Allison only liked one of the ceviches, I thought the tacos were nothing special and the chowder was too thin.  Right by Diane's is the visitor information centre, a train for photo ops, and the marina.

Mer-Wai!
Calm chowder and oysters

Ceviche sampler on left and fish tacos on the right.
Looking at the weather, we decided against going to drive-in due to weather and maybe it was okay, maybe it was not, but we were asleep by then.  By now, we were both wondering what was for breakfast since we have no idea what it is, part of the surprise I guess.

Tomorrow, Gananoque and back to Toronto.

Monday, August 10, 2015

2015 - Cobourg/Kingston Day 1 (Cobourg)

Off to our Civic long weekend trip to Cobourg and Kingston.  This will be day 1 of 3.  My plan is to visit Cobourg for their annual sandcastle festival, Kingston for their museums, and Gananoque for their tower.

Our first stop is the Oshawa Botanical Valley Gardens.  It is open to the public with no admissions and worth a stop if you are in the area.  I wouldn't go out of my way to visit, but it is a nice park and I can definitely see picture potentials.  We walked the entire park (at least to my knowledge) and it took us about 20 minutes.

Oshawa Botanical Valley Gardens.
Next stop, Tyrone Mill, a suggested stop for donuts and butters tarts according to tripadvisor.  I would suggest the ice cream and butter tarts, the donuts (they only have one kind) reminds me of Tiny Toms, but in donut form.  Not that there's anything wrong with them, I just wouldn't make my way out to eat them.  Everything is very reasonably priced here, $2 for a kiddie scoop ice cream (it is one scoop, more than enough for an adult), $1.50 per tart, and $0.75 for the donut.  Allison really enjoyed the raspberry delight tart that they had which was a butter tart with raspberry and coconut in it.  I got the lemon tart which tasted like lemon meringue and thought it was okay.  The ice cream that they had was really good as well especially for the price.  Also as a bonus, everything included tax.  Make sure to go upstairs to visit the mill which still exists today to see what they make and if you can step out into the back, there is a very nice pond area with chairs that you can sit on and enjoy the view.


Pond behind Tyrone Mills
Olympus Burger is where we went to for lunch and I would recommend a stop if you are in the area.  I ordered the Ares and Allison got the Hermes and I would say Ares is the winner even though it had a bit too much peppercorns.  The drinks here are bottomless which is a nice touch.

Hermes Burger from Olympus Burger
A short drive away is Primitive Designs, a local shop that specializes in woodwork and metalwork that looks to be mostly imported from Asian countries.  Worth a stop if you haven't seen any of these things before, but even though we both have, it was still pretty cool to see what they had.  No cost to visit, all they ask if a donation if you take pictures of their large metalwork sculptures.

Megaton!
Optimus Prime!
We ended up going to Cobourg and seeing the sidewalk sale.  I don't think this was worth visiting, but since we happened to be there, it was okay.  They close off Hwy 2 (King St E) for a section and it is only accessible by foot.  Located at the Cobourg beach is the sandcastle festival.  I thought it was interesting to see, there are different classes in the competition, you can enter as an individual/team, business and master sculpture and there are awards for each type.  It was cool to see the different types of sandcastles that were created.

Dragon!
Inside Out!
Checked into our stay in Cobourg at By The Pond B & B.  We were greeted by an elderly couple who told us about their life experiences and  B & B experiences and it was a neat learning experience.  They asked about our breakfast preference, whether we wanted eggs and bacon in the morning or not and we said yes (who says no to bacon and eggs?!?).

Dinner was at Captain George's and we thought the fish and chips here were pretty good.  Food was very quick, fish was golden yellow, not brown, so it was cooked just right for us and the fries were good to.  It is a chain with a lot of locations in the area.

1 piece dinner at Captain George's
We were going to try to see the fireworks but ended up calling in early and missed out.

Tomorrow, we head to Kingston!