Trip Summary Calendar - Where we went and when

August 29, 2004

St. Louis, Niagara Falls, and four months on the road

Tomorrow is August 30th, which marks four months since we left our house in Douglas, Massachusetts and began our merry cross-country journey. And only a week from then, on Labor Day, Monday, September 6th, 2004 - we arrive home.

Which means I should bring you up to date. We left Oklahoma City on Saturday the 21st, and expected a two-day drive to St. Louis. We hit nice weather the truck behaved marvelously, so we drove the full 521 miles and arrived in St. Louis that night. The RV park we found was right in the city, just over a mile from the famous arch. A glorified parking lot but fine for out needs. We stayed two nights.

On Sunday the 22nd we took a cab to a shopping area nearby the arch ("The Landing" if I recall correctly) and had a nice lunch. Most shopping was closed, so after lunch we walked to the Arch, which is really called the "Gateway Arch at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial". We've never been to St. Louis, and knew very little about the Arch, but it's significantly larger than I'd imagined. It is 630 feet tall, and the same in width. They claim that's twice the height of the Statue of Liberty. And like the Statue of Liberty you can go up to the top to peer out smallish windows although the process and experience is quite different.

Each side of the Arch contains a "tram," a chain of eight very tiny cars each holding up to five people seated (and in my case, hunched over). You buy tickets in an underground lobby, are assigned to a scheduled ascent, and make your way up to the top. The ascent is four minutes, the descent three. At the top are several small windows on either side where you can view the city of St. Louis or the state of Illinois across the Mississippi river. There is room for 15-20 comfortably but they packed about 80 so we took some quick photos and took the tram ride down. Thus ended our tour of St. Louis. It looks like a nice city and may be worth a follow-up visit if we're in that part of the world again.

Monday morning we started the drive east again, but didn't get very far. We crossed southern Illinois then into Indiana, when I started to tire. We drove just east of Indiana to a small town called Greenfield where we found an absolutely beautiful RV park. We only stayed one night so we could continue our traveling.

After a good night's rest we started our drive early Tuesday morning, and made significant progress. We drove completely through Ohio and stopped for the night outside Erie, PA. We could have gone further but we were making such good time we didn't see the need. Suddenly we had a new problem - what to do with all our extra time? We aren't planning to go home until after moe.down Labor Day weekend. So we decided to head up to the Niagara Falls, NY area for a few days.

And that's where we are now, in Grand Island, NY (just outside Niagara Falls). We've been here since Wednesday afternoon.

After a day of working and staying at the campsite Thursday, we met up with Alysa's friend Michelle and her son Nicolas on Friday and headed north (or possibly west?) across the border into Canada. Michelle and Alysa are old hats at this, as they went to Buffalo State College nearby. But this was my first time on the Canada side of the Falls and only my second time into the country to our north. Our first stop was the Butterfly Conservatory which is really something. We walked into a massive room filled with plants, trees, and thousands of butterflies. I mean they're everywhere. And they weren't shy, having no problem landing on shoulders, heads, or my camera bag. It was hard not to instinctively swat at them as they flew by my eyes. But they all survived, and after taking many photos we left for the Falls.

The day was overcast and drizzly so not the best weather, but the Falls are impressive at any time. The Canadian view is what's usually on postcards as it's an unobstructed view of the largest of the falls. But in the end, I like the American side better. The Canadian side is little more than a sidewalk at the cliff's edge, with a street behind and endless stores, hotels, and at least one casino. The American side is a beautiful state park. At least on this day the mist from the main falls came straight to the closest Canadian areas, obscuring the view.

The trip to Canada meant something else interesting - our vacation now included trips across both our international borders. On August 13th we crossed the border near San Diego into Tijuana, Mexico (we haven't even written about that yet!). Exactly two weeks later we're over the border from the opposite end of our country.

The two border crossings were also quite different, although we did each differently. We walked across the border with Mexico. Going into Mexico there was zero security - nobody to even ask who we were or how long we're staying. Obviously the Mexican government isn't worried about Americans crashing their party. Coming back into the USA from Mexico was a moderately long line through a border control building, where we were prompted to show photo ID and answer a few basic questions.

We drove into Canada, and in both directions had to stop at border control which looks just like a toll booth. Each direction were the same questions by the person in the booth - how many people in the car, where do we live, and are we taking anything across. In neither case were we asked to show ID. While convenient for us I'm not sure how comfortable this makes me feel about our border security. We were in Michelle's minivan and it's possible they would have given more of a look if we were in our huge black truck. But all someone has to do to get across is look American, say you're American, and drive a minivan. Good or bad, you be the judge.

Yesterday was Saturday, the day we visited Buffalo. We started at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, a truly excellent museum across from Buffalo State College. Their collection is really something, and well worth the trip. They have paintings and sculpture from the mid-19th century onward representing all the big names and periods, from French impressionism through American pop-art. Upstairs is a rotating exhibition currently showing a variety of very odd (but curiously interesting) modern art pieces of sculpture, video, and everything in between.

After the museum we had lunch at Pano's, an old favorite of Alysa's. They'd expanded since she was there but still had great food. We walked down Elmwood Avenue a bit and quite accidentally ran into a large arts festival that took over several blocks of this main road. What a lucky find! Once finished with our tour we drove by Alysa's old apartment and then to the Buffalo State campus where I got a tour of the student union building. After that, back to the trailer.

And today is Sunday. Alysa's friend Liz visited, along with Liz's daughter Katie. I did some work while they went to the campground's pool. We hadn't seen them since last summer, and Katie has sure grown (she'll be two in November).

Tomorrow we'd planned to drive to our next stop, Verona, NY. But we decided to hold off a day due to expected rain. We're in no rush and the only reason we're going to Verona is it's near Turin, NY - location of next weekend's moe.down music festival. So we'll head to Verona on Tuesday, likely a three hour drive. We'll leave there for Turin on Thursday or Friday for the start of the festival. That goes until Monday when we drive back to our hometown of Douglas, MA!

Posted by Mitch at August 29, 2004 10:10 PM
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