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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.