Friday, February 19, 2010

Cuyahoga and Erie - a weekend in slow motion...

I cannot believe it's been almost a week since our last trip. Time seriously flies and I don't know where. That is a topic to be pondered later. For now, here's an account of our uncommonly relaxed weekend trip.

Last Friday Arun and I took off on a 6 hour drive to Cuyahoga, Ohio. Thanks to evening rush hour, it took us an hour in crawling traffic just to get out of city limits. We passed the time by copiously cursing the New York-bound folks who clogged the roads, and derived much sadistic pleasure from not allowing drivers to switch into our lane in front of us. We were finally on the freeway and reached Akron, Ohio, where we were to stay the night, at 1am.

On this trip, I managed to coax Arun into not planning any 7am starts to the days. Can you believe that?! Alright, who am I kidding? It was snowing continuously and there was nothing to photograph until the sun decided to show. It's a victory nevertheless. Anyway, the first item on Saturday's agenda was a ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Rail. The train was almost full despite the crappy weather. It was a 3 hour round trip that took us through the entire valley. I think the vast expanse of the valley was more evident thanks to the barren trees and miles of snow. There wasn't much color, but the untouched snow was so sparkly and pristine! The conductor told us that he spotted animals from time to time. All we spotted were animal tracks and some lame deer. Nevertheless, I have always loved train rides. This train was a such a cheerful sight, with its bright yellow engine and shiny metal and red carriages.

Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Rail

After the train ride we grabbed a quick bite for lunch at a local deli, and then drove to Cuyahoga Valley National Park to check out Brandywine Falls. At the trail head it said it was a short 1/2 mile hike to the falls. What it didn't say was that the entire trail was covered in about a foot of powder snow. Thankfully the trail was open. The snow was awesome, it felt like walking on loose face powder, without all the skidding. There were a few flights of stares which looked treacherous, but we managed just fine because we had our hiking boots on. Midway we found a branch of the trail closed, but that was the one that led us to the best spot to view the falls. So we jumped the barrier and went anyway. After 3 steep(ish) flights of stairs we reached the vista point. In a couple of minutes we found that two more groups had followed our lead. So much for rules, eh?!

We'd seen frozen rivers and frozen lakes before. This time we got to see a frozen waterfall. It was a beautiful and very different sight to see a water body that usually has such force, silently frozen in place.

Brandywine Falls, on the extreme right

Next, we drove a couple of hours to get to Erie, Pennsylvania for the night. Erie is supposed to be the fourth largest city in the state, but hardly feels so with its cozy streets, and parks every few blocks and its classic architecture. When we were looking for lodging options in Erie we stumbled upon the George Carrol House. It is a house constructed in 1872, now converted into a bed and breakfast. It had a classic atmosphere with modern amenities and was squeaky clean. The innkeeper Christine lives in the same house and was the sweetest person ever. I'm glad we selected this place over the regular hotels.

We usually are on the road so much that, more often than not, we end up having dinner at a Subway or some Pizza place in a service exit on the freeway. This time we got into Erie pretty early in the evening. So we went to one of the local restaurants for dinner. It was called Pufferbelly and was one of those old fashioned places with really high ceilings, dim lighting and antiques adorning the walls and surfaces. After loading up on some great Italian fare, we decided it was too snowy and too windy to walk around. So we warmed up in front of the faithful LCD TV for the night. Arun also got some awesome shots of the foot long icicles hanging from the roof, just outside our window.

Icicles adorning the window

Sunday was a day of lighthouses. The first one, Land Lighthouse, was actually within a residential property. I wonder how encroached the residents would feel on a warm summer day when their front yard is flooded with tourists and kids and dogs.

Land Lighthouse, Erie, PA

The next two lighthouses we visited in Erie were nothing great. So we drove to Presque Isle, an island which is a part of the city. The island was really beautiful with rows of pretty houses and shops. Lake Erie was completely frozen. We joined a few people who were carefully trudging into the lake, testing for thin ice before every step they took. We weren't sure we wanted to drown that day (pssst, Arun can't swim you know), so we didn't venture too far. There were also people who had come to the island to ski, and some crazy others who were para-sailing!

The last lighthouse for the day was the Presque Isle North Pierhead. There was a narrow walkway leading up to it. The water on either side was frozen and covered in snow, so you had to be really careful to ensure you stayed on the walkway. Arun risked his life and got this shot.

Presque Isle North Pierhead

Near this lighthouse there was a tall sand dune, now covered completely in snow. Give it to the Americans to make a sport out of it. There was a group of people there taking turns to crawl up the dune on all fours and slide down on a snowboard. It was super fun to watch and made me wish I had a snow board too.

People snowboarding down a sand dune

On the way out of the island we stopped at a cafe called Sunset Cafe for a late lunch. We arrived there just in time for a live performance by a guy who played the guitar, sang and played the harmonica, all at once. His singing wasn't too shoddy either. So we lounged around listening to him for a while over
our coffee and sandwiches.

Dinner that night was at another old world restaurant called Serafini's. We were forced to do Italian again because most places were fully booked for Valentine's day or closed for the Winter. We are not complaining because the restaurant had some great food and decor. Arun ate nearly a pound of chocolate cake, which made his evening and watching that sinful sight made mine.

We had planned to hike in a couple of famous Pennsylvania state parks on Monday. It's a pity to admit that we had to abort the plan, as even the entrance to both of them were inaccessible. "No winter maintenance" said the large welcoming sign. Hmmph, where do our tax dollars go? Job creation anybody? After taking a couple of silly pictures we set out for home and were back by 7pm, 6-7 hours earlier than the norm.

The only bear we spotted on this trip, he even let me hug him

That was our chilled out weekend trip! It's weird, but as much as we enjoyed this one-off laid back travel experience, Arun and I are sure now that we actually prefer our jam-packed itineraries that leave us happily exhausted in the end.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

SNOW! SNOW! SNOW! And then some...

It's official. I LOVE the snow and the cold! As someone who grew up by the sea in the boiling cauldron called Madras, I was amazed at how easily I adapt to the cold. I went through my first winter here with no gloves or hat without so much as a sneeze. I relished walking the 20 blocks to school and back in the freezing weather. The crunch of the snow beneath my feet, the bite of the chill on my ears, steaming coffee cupped in my hands, I loved them all. It's my third East Coast winter and the love affair continues...

From a snowy trail run

As much as I was lamenting not getting out enough in the cold this winter, I completely capitalized on the blizzards the North East has been hit with in the last fortnight. We got 27 inches of snow last week and another 24 inches today. It's really coming down even as I write this! There are gusty winds at 20-30mph, the freeways are closed, airports are shut down. Some of the popular names going around are Snopocalypse, Snomageddon, SnoOMG!

However I find that snow, much like rain, really captures my imagination. There is a very serene beauty in the miles of sheer white blanket, with the essential road threading through it and the occasional car dotting it. I simply cannot resist the temptation to step into the soft white pillows on my balcony (and jumping around to keep from freezing). Even the tree that peers over the railing, once lush and green, seems reluctant to shake off the crystals that frost it.

Tree outside the balcony, while the snow storm rages on

I even enjoyed slushing around in the snow as Arun and I shoveled to get his buried car out...

Half shoveled parking space drive 10 slippery miles and go here:

Soldier's Hut at Valley Forge National Park, PA

Lastly I've never been out in a snow storm before. And the first time I did it I ensured there was a lot to write home about. Here are some pictures that made my mom want to send me some of her hot Rasam to keep warm.

Looking the storm in the eye!

Taking a walk in the dying storm

Finally I could not let such a golden opportunity to do this pass by:

Making a Snow Angel!

So it's been one helluva a winter folks. Hope you enjoyed reading about all the craziness. We'll be back with more after this weekend, from Erie this time. Ciao!

Friday, February 5, 2010

President's day solicits visit to Ohio!

We can't believe we are running out of places to visit in the East coast already. Wait, let me rephrase - we are running out of famous places to visit in the East Coast already. So, we started scouting around the web to find places that could be interesting within driving distance. There is, of course no scarcity for remote places in this country, most of them quite beautiful in their own way.

After a little bit of googling, we have decided to do a road trip to Cuyahoga National park in Ohio (about 6 hours drive from Philadelphia) for the upcoming President's day weekenF. In the park, there are a number of hiking trails, a scenic railway, and a couple of waterfalls (which could very well be nothing but falling icicles now, but hey, who cares?!).

The plan is to spend a day at the National park and then drive to Presque Isle (which translates to 'almost an island' in French) in Pennsylvania. There is a state park, cruise rides, shopping district and what not? We have booked a mansion/hotel to spend a couple of nights there. And then on the way back, we'll visit one of the state parks in the Pennsylvania Wilds.

If I sit back and think, my visit to this country started off as a 'short-term work assignment' for 3 weeks, back in 2004. It has transformed into an almost 5 year stay making me learn a thing or two about this country and myself in the due course. Having visited more than 30 states, I still feel there is a lot to explore in this country, or for that matter, any place one lives in. The smallest, the most remote, less visited, less popular - all kinds of places have their own unique style and beauty.

Any time I step out of my doorstep, a whole new experience always seem to greet me! I'm sure any avid traveler would agree with me!