Coming Soon…Key West

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The period of time leading to a trip excites me as much as the travel itself.  All the anticipation and planning is a better feeling than looking forward to Christmas Day when I was a kid.  This is my Super Bowl.  I love to travel, I love to write, and you get stuck with my blog.

I get lost in the planning.  What airline will we be taking?  What seats?  Should we upgrade?  Should we use miles?  How do we get to the hotel?  Taxi?  Bus? Shuttle?  Train?  Private transfer?  For any one trip I have a thousand questions that need to be asked.  There was a time when I could just throw a clean pair of underwear in a backpack and go, without a care in the world.  Now that I’ve reached middle age, I need to know EVERYTHING.  I hate surprises.

And guess what?  You get to know everything too.  I’ve begun an online blogging course thru WordPress called Blogging 101.  My aim has multiple fronts.  First, I welcome critique in my writing, my ability to get my voice across.  Secondly, I want to improve the blog site itself so I can gain more readers and followers.  Maybe someday I will have enough followers that a great hotel wouldn’t mind having SirOzzy.com along to write a review.

SirOzzy will be traveling again next month.  We’ll be flying from Long Island to Fort Lauderdale, where we will pick up a car for our drive to Key West.  From there, we head to San Juan for a Caribbean cruise.  For the next month I will publish posts detailing what it takes to plan and organize such an undertaking.

In the meantime, I’m open to all critique and hate-mail.  I’ve always been a tad envious of people that have stalkers. Enjoy The Journey.

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A Hershey Holiday

A Hershey Holiday

With suitcases packed and pillows strewn across the back seat of the family wagon, the SirOzzy family left at 5 am for a weekend of adventure at Hershey.   Mrs. SirOzzy was co-pilot while the three boys were our backseat drivers.  The four and a half hour drive was hardly reminiscent of the 27 hour drive my family took to Disney World when I was a child.  During that trip there were six of us, four children, packed into a station wagon.  My mother was a chain smoker and the car was always filled with what could only be described as something similar to mustard gas.   Of course she wouldn’t roll the window down, that would mess up her beehive.  I’m also certain, without hardened evidence, my father was imbibing while driving to calm his nerves.  It was a different age.  Long gone are the days when parents brought home their newborns resting on their lap in the front seat of  a car.  Seat-belts were always lost, tucked in between the seats, when they weren’t being used to tie each other up.  To pass the time we played license plate games and had word finds.  I noticed every cow, horse, and farm along the way, my eyes were always glued to whatever was outside the window.  Maybe I was dreaming of, and planning, my future travels.  The SirOzzy kids hardly took their eyes off their personal handheld video game apparatus.  The four hours passed quickly.

A bit about the boys.  The oldest is the Quiet Guy.  He’s so quiet, in fact, he didn’t speak until he was nearly four years old.  Not a word, or a cry, or barely a sound came out of that child.  Most parents could only dream of such a quiet child, but after a while it became concerning.   By the time he was three years old my concern turned to worry that he was autistic, or had some other ailment which rendered him silent.  Consultations with specialists produced results from a slew of tests and procedures.  At the conclusion, Dr. So and So announced, “He’s perfectly fine.  He just has nothing to say.”  To this day, when Quiet Guy does have something to say, people listen.

The middle child is the Talker.  Words come flying out of his lispy mouth like wildfire.  More often than not, these words are spoken in a completely random, nonsensical manner, with neither rhyme nor reason.  He just talks and talks and talks.  The key to his puzzle is always pay attention, you just never know when something might make sense.

And then there is the Noisemaker.  For all the words that comes from the mouth of the Talker, sounds emit from the Noisemaker.  Beep, bloop, burp, whip, whop, slursh, scream, sceech, screwl, clang, clap, clop, click, fart, burp, belch, shart, deedle-deedle-deedle.  He produces a never ending array of noises that come from his mouth, his, hands, his feet, and everywhere in between.  I would take him to a doctor, but certainly the doctor would simply say, “he likes to make noises.”  Mrs. SirOzzy says, “Jim Carrey, eat your heart out.”

We checked in early to the Hershey Lodge and the boys were ecstatic over their first piece of chocolate for the trip.  Reception handed out a full Hershey Bar to all, and rest assured, it was ripped open and devoured before we reached the elevator.  There would be much more chocolate to enjoy and in due time we would learn proper tasting technique from the professionals.

The Hershey Lodge is a family friendly 665 room hotel located just a few minutes away from Hershey Park.  Strangely enough, we learned there is no actual town of Hershey, Pennsylvania.  Hershey is an unrecognized community named, obviously, after the innovative and iconic Milton S. Hershey.  So while some businesses, like the Hershey Lodge, are directly affiliated with Hershey Company, other entities, such as the Hershey Pantry, are associated with the community and thus have no relation with the chocolate company.  It’s worth knowing what’s what around town.

Because we departed so early in the morning there was time to fill up on lunch sandwiches and chips prior to departing for Hershey Park.  The park opens at noon on weekends this time of year, but Chocolate World opens at 11… YAY!

In 1973, the Hershey Factory stopped giving tours.  It wasn’t under a veil of secrecy, ala the Wonka Factory, it was simply because they couldn’t accommodate all the demand.  In came Chocolate World.  Located right next to the park, Chocolate World is a sort of super mall of all things Hershey.   A 4D movie theater, a ride simulating the factory works, chocolate tasting, chocolate bar making, and as much chocolate as you could possibly imagine buying adorn the 100,000 square foot building.  We would do and see it all in the next two days.

After watching the short Hershey themed 4D movie (admittedly, I previously had no idea what a 4D movie was), we jumped onto the Hershey’s Chocolate Tour Ride.  Of course there was “free” chocolate at the conclusion of both these attractions.  The Tour Ride features three singing cows that are only slightly less annoying than the It’s A Small World ride in Disney World.  Between the perturbing ringing of the cow’s song and the pestering of the kids hyped up on cocoa, we were ready to beat feet for the park.

Arriving finally at the park, I was reminded many times of Disney World.  Mostly, I was reminded this is NOT Disney.  Though it is a theme park for a major US corporation, Hershey is much smaller in every sense of the word.   Even with the park generally inferior, with lesser crowds (hence shorter lines), and fewer attractions, we were nonetheless occupied and enjoyed a solid 8 hours in the park.  It would have been nice to split up the time a little bit and do two days in the park, but we only had passes for one.

While sitting on one particular park bench, Mrs. SirOzzy and I had quite a sobering moment…  We realized that we were indeed sitting on a park bench…  We were sitting on said park bench while our children were on rides, without us.  We have reached that age when our children are capable of running off on their own, and we only have enough stamina to sit on a bench and watch.  It was just one more sign of middle age and things to come.

Dinner was at The Bear’s Den, a restaurant in the hotel named after the local minor league hockey club.  Following burgers and fries we tiredly retreated to our rooms.  God only knows what happened in the boys room, as it was the first time the three boys had a hotel room to themselves without direct parental supervision.  One can only imagine what kind of mischievousness and horseplay went on in that room over night.

So we woke the next morning rested and ready to tackle another full day of Hershey adventures.  We started with a buffet breakfast at the Hershey Hotel.  A 4 star luxurious  hotel, I’m glad we didn’t stay there with the kids, but I would look forward to staying there with Mrs. SirOzzy.   The Circular is the signature restaurant designed specifically by Mr. Hershey himself.  Large, open, and round, with not a pillar or obstruction in sight, there are magnificent views of the grounds from every table.  The food was delicious and the service exceptional, we really enjoyed our breakfast.  We told the kids to load up, because lunch was not likely in the cards.

Following breakfast we had the opportunity to go on a free guided tour of the hotel.  The tourguide, Albert, had his retirement party that same week and this would be his swansong, so-to-speak.  Interestingly enough, there were quite a few Hershey executives present as well.  The Hershey archivist was in attendance, as well as the museum curator, chief of reservations, head of spa, and a few others that seemed equally important.  This was a great learning tour, evidenced by the fact that during the 2 hours Albert managed to keep the attention of all 3 boys.  Little did anyone know, I read the boys the Riot Act before the tour.

We rewarded the boys for their good behavior with another trip back to Chocolate World.  This time they would partake in a Chocolate Tasting Seminar, followed by designing their own Hershey Bar.  This is another wonderful thing to do, as you can watch the bar be made from concept, to production, to packaging, and it’s all custom.

I’ve often said that kids can learn more in one or two days with their parents than they will in one month of school.  This was true when we brought them onto the Hershey Works Historical Trolley Ride.  For nearly two hours we were treated to a history lesson given by a bright and funny young man named Tim.   The kids and myself learned the fascinating story of Milton Hershey and how he was a part of the Industrial Revolution.  We also learned about the Milton S. Hershey School, a great contribution to society and education.

The school was founded in 1910 for orphaned boys.  While requirements for admission to the school has changed over the years, it is still a philanthropic institution for disadvantaged children.  Mr. Hershey always gave full credit to his wife, “It was Kitty’s idea,” he often said.  Mr. and Mrs. Hershey never had any children and thus set up a trust fund for the school.  Today, it’s valued at over $9 billion.  You will never hear me complain about the cost of a Hershey Bar.  Look under the flap of any Hershey Bar to learn more.

The tour continued with visits to all things Hershey, with plenty of chocolates and jokes along the way.  While passing the Penn State Hershey Medical Center, Tim told us the hospital even has a Chocolate Eaters Rehab.  He once spent two days recovering from the Hokey-Pokey, but he “turned himself around.  And that’s what it’s all about.”

We all slept good that night and woke to a local breakfast.  We were on the road soon after and home in plenty of time for a light, chocolate-free, dinner.  All in all, it was a very good trip filled with fun and learning.   We sure did a lot of activities in two days, and it certainly wasn’t cheap, but it didn’t break the bank either.  And finally, don’t smoke with a beehive or children in the car.

-SirOzzy

 

 

A Week In Lake Tahoe

A Week In Lake Tahoe

DSC_0213As a kid no dare was too great.  Riding a skateboard down the biggest hill and fighting the toughest kid on the block were just two of many notches on my belt.  I was King of the Ring and Run.  I could swim the furthest distances and jump from the highest peaks.  As a young man the feats became greater and more death defying.  Fast cars and hair raising adventures were my thing.  Fear was an excuse for others, not me, I’ve always had a never ending quench to conquer the greatest challenges.

Now I find myself in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, speeding along the ridge of another majestic ascent.  Switchbacks and hairpin turns race past me in a blur.  Just off the shoulder-less road is a 3,000 foot vertical drop along a sheer faced granite slab.  The cliff ends where the crystal blue water of Lake Tahoe crashes into sixty five million year old boulders. The drive is exhilarating and sublimely mesmerizing.

DSC_0379“Would you please slow down?!” Mrs. SirOzzy shrieks from the passenger seat.

“Jesus Christ, Babe, I’m already doing ten miles an hour under the speed limit, and there are fifteen cars behind me!”  My knuckles are white on the steering wheel of the Ford Focus.  I’ve entered middle age.DSC_0208Our one week stay in Lake Tahoe was supposed to be for relaxation.  It’s been a year of hard work and routine day to day stresses.  A mellow resort during the off season seemed like an ideal place to unwind and rejuvenate before the grind of yet another Northeast Winter.
DSC_0291A casual hike is always a great way to jump start a lazy day.  Granted, I’m not in the condition I used to be, but I believe I’m still better off than my counterparts.  Although I’ve gained a bit over the years in my midsection, my hairline has receded and thinned, and my beard has some aging colors in it, I swear I’m not old, fat, or bald – yet.  I only wear glasses for reading.  I also can’t jog or run like I used to, but I can still walk a few miles at a good clip.  So when we asked the concierge about a moderate hike and were told about a place called Tunnel Creek, we figured we were in for an easy morning.DSC_0302The trail head starts just behind a coffee stop called the Tunnel Creek Cafe.  A genuine establishment reminiscent of the mining period.  This is the kind of place Mad Jack would buy his supplies from on his Ol’ Number Seven Mule on the TV series Grizzly Adams (Did I just date myself?).   We were assured that the trail would be easy walking, despite the significant snowfall a few days earlier.  Of course we were looking forward to stepping into the cafe prior to our departure, not so much to load up on provisions, but rather to get a cup of coffee and maybe chat with some locals.  Ominously, the cafe was closed;  good thing we weren’t climbing Denali.  Oh well,  we’ll make do with out.DSC_0312Onward and upwards we went.  Mrs. SirOzzy will readily admit she is not an outdoors-woman, or really much of the adventurous type.  A hike to the indoor pool at a Ritz Carlton is excursion enough.  But she is a trooper and an accommodating partner.  Steadily climbing uphill, the scenic lake and mountain vistas opened itself wide to us.  The views of this region are really magnificent, they can’t be understated.  We continued plodding uphill.  The snow was thick and icy under our feet and elevation was gained with every step.  Living our entire lives at sea level, we’ve become accustomed to full breathes of air, here the cold air is refreshing, but thinner with every step.  Holy crap, this isn’t as easy as I thought it would be.  My steps slowed and became increasingly labored.  My less than eager hiking parnter was falling back quickly.  If we could just make it to the top of the next ridge.DSC_0317There was a “Bear in Area” sign.  Are you kidding me?  Of course the thoughts of being mauled by a giant Grizzly Bear were already on my mind.   The Sierra Nevada Mountains was the home of Grizzly Adams and his Bear Ben.  But who the hell puts a sign in the middle of the woods?  Ok, we’ll go back now.DSC_0305After trail blazing a few exhausting miles, and what seemed like 7,000 feet of elevation gain, we were cozily back in the car.  The drive down the scenic highway brought us to Zephyr Cove, one of the countless beaches pockmarking the perimeter of the lake.  Though we’ve made this drive a number of times already, Mrs. SirOzzy never quite got used to it.  She’d slump down in her seat, tuck most of her face into the neck opening of her coat,  cross her arms in front of her body, hands in her armpits, and stare straight out ahead, never looking out the window, as that may cause us to crash into the cold blue water hundreds of feet below to our ultimate peril.

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At the dock we boarded the MS Dixie for a narrated afternoon tour of Lake Tahoe.  This was more her cup of tea.  An old, but comfortably apportioned, paddle-wheel ship loaded with tourists, our cruise would bring us to Emerald Bay and back.  Lake Tahoe is 22 miles long and 12 miles wide filled with the clearest water this side of the Caribbean.   Surrounded by the towering pines of the Sierra Nevada, the million dollar views never get old.DSC_0356Arriving into Emerald Bay we learned the fate of Captain Dick Barter.  After a day of drinking, his ship sank off the shore of Rubicon Point in 1,400 feet of water.  His body was never found.  Some claim on a foggy morning you can see his ghost rise from the water and make it’s way back up the hill.DSC_0303We finished our boat tour and decided to drive the perimeter of the entire lake.  That’s when we had our aforementioned cliff driving event in the Ford Focus.  For our day of relaxation we nearly suffered altitude sickness, were warned about presumably hungry bears, heard about ghosts, and had a near death experience cliff driving.   But man, was it ever scenic.  It was time for a glass of wine by the fireside.DSC_0256Our adventures didn’t stop there though.  A day in South Lake Tahoe is somewhat enjoyable, but one day in a lifetime proved to be enough.  Another day trip brought us to Virginia City, an old mining town that I would recommend to anyone, also just for one day in a lifetime.  The residing attitude here was, “When everything else fails, invite the tourists, but don’t make them too comfortable.”  After a couple haunted hotel visits, beers in the Bucket-O-Blood and Red Dog Saloons, and crappy hamburgers in some run down lunch joint, we were ready to get back to the familiar environs of our noisy and smoky casino.
DSC_0224Another day brought us hiking along the Western States Trail near Squaw Valley California, home of the 1960 Winter Olympics.
DSC_0271Sand Harbour is Tripadvisor’s number 1 thing to do in the region.  A remarkably beautiful and serene state park, if I lived in the area I’d be there everyday.  But unless I get cast in the remake of Grizzly Adams, I don’t think I’ll ever live there.DSC_0309Our final day brought us back to Reno.  Homeless people, drug addicts, and derelicts littered every corner of this shit-hole excuse for an American city.  If you paid me a gazillion dollars, I might consider driving through, otherwise you’ll never catch me in that dump again.
DSC_0328But as for Lake Tahoe…  We met some wonderful people, ate A LOT better than we expected, and had lots of fun.  We came home far more tired from this relaxing vacation than we expected to.  Next stop….Margaritas in Key West!DSC_0418DSC_0442DSC_0440DSC_0438DSC_0437DSC_0427DSC_0420

 

 

 

Ces Petites Choses, These Little Things

Ces Petites Choses, These Little Things

I decided long ago, any day that starts at an airport, a bridge, or a ferry is going to be a good day.  This trip had us starting at the Cross Sound Ferry in Port Jefferson.   If you had asked me on the ferry what I thought about Quebec City before this trip, I would have not been able to tell you much.  There is a vague recollection of doing a report on Quebec around fifth grade.  The men were fur trappers, maybe religious, and the winters are brutal.  If you ask most Americans to be honest, I think they would say everybody from “up there” speaks French, are rude, arrogant, and probably hate everybody.  The town is probably dark and cold, and I think there’s a river near by, I guess that’s where they caught beaver and otter.   As with all travel, this stereotype would be blasted right out of the St. Lawrence River in no time at all.

We drove through Connecticut, then Massachusetts, and into Vermont.  Nothing quite like a long drive to open lines of communication and just talk and laugh for hours.  A brief stop in Brattleboro, Vermont found us noshing on sandwiches and fresh juice at a groovy little café on Main Street.  Back on the road, it’s going to be long day.  I love how outside New York, drivers actually use the right lane for cruising, the left for passing.  I’m sure someday I’ll write a long rant on that alone.

The border crossing was a welcome sight, and an opportunity for a new learning lesson.  We had the youngest member of our tribe along with us for this trip.  Of course his Passport has more entries than most adults acquire in a lifetime, and we are always fully prepared to provide proper documentation.  However, this time, the Border Agent, who was otherwise very friendly, asked us for a notarized letter from his birth father, granting permission to leave the country.  We’ve never needed one before, we explained, why now?  Well, apparently there is a rash of international custody battles.  We  spoke it over with her, and after some slight persuading, she obliged and let us pass.  Phew, that was close.  And the kid in the backseat was perfect, never said a word, as we direct him to behave with all Customs and TSA agents.

We stopped in a little town called Magog, not too far from the border.  A tremendous amount of restaurants located along Main St., considering we hadn’t seen any population for the last 100 miles.   With some reluctance to eat unfamiliar food, and all signs and menus in French, it took a little while to decide where we’d eat.  An outdoor seating hamburger joint caught our eye, so we settled on that.  Over an hour later, and after more than a few language related misinterpretations, we left praying that the food and service would be better in the city.

Restaurant. Magog, Canada.
Restaurant. Magog, Canada.

Our final destination brought us to The Fairmont Chateau Le Frontenac, known as the most photographed hotel in the world.   A magnificent 622 room castle, it was built, accordingly, on the highest ground in the city.  The brick façade and mansard copper roof are visible from nearly anywhere in the city, but looks most splendid from the banks of the St. Lawrence River.  We had a suite on the 14th floor, and enjoyed the benefits of the Gold Level Service.  A private breakfast and evening cocktails were just some of the included amenities.

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While the weather was gorgeous in the morning of our first full day, we learned the climate changes faster than anything here.  The cloud cover was a welcome respite from this very hot summer and added ambience to the old European-style city.  From the cobblestone streets, to gas lamps, to the corner butcher, not much has changed through the centuries.

We jumped into the hop-on, hop-off, double decker red bus.  It really is the best way to get your initial bearings in any unfamiliar city.  The 90 minute tour started outside our hotel entrance, in Terrasse Dufferin.  This area has a beautiful boardwalk that overlooks lower city and the river.  The funiculair is located here and it is a popular spot for street performers.  These are not the current type of annoying Times Square, SpongeBob Squarepants, or Minny Mouse characters that look for a picture with you and then aggressively hound you for money.  These are people that play the Harp, or sing beautiful operatic melodies, or they perform magical card tricks. These are trained acrobats, jugglers, and comedians.  They don’t harass and they don’t accost.  In classical French Vaudevillian style, their culture and history come through in all their acts and personalities.  Never a disappointing performance, always worthy of our pocketchange.  The entire time we were in the city, we saw one policeman.  Just one.  And he was just hanging out minding his own business.  No heavy artillery, no attitude.  So in this happy place, we started our tour.

Our guide, with full French-Canadian accent, requested we stay on the bus for the full 90 minute tour.  Afterward we could decide where to get dropped off.  He was an excellent tour guide, very knowledgeable with a sense of humor.  Much focus was pointed toward the roof tops and architecture of the buildings.  Discover the roofs, and you will find the history, was much of the refrain.  Mansard roofs, tincan roofs, the flat roofs of the 1960s.

We saw the famed Musee de Civilization, a marketplace, Break Neck Steps Street, government buildings, and the historical Plains of Abraham.   A beautiful, clean city,  I couldn’t help but fall in love during that 90 minute tour.  But we decided the best place to be was right where we were, at Le Chateau.

The next few days were spent sightseeing mostly on foot.  We enjoyed a guided river cruise to Montmorency Falls, a waterfall taller than Niagara.   We spent a lot of time window shopping in Lower Quebec, and people watching on Terrasse Dufferin.  The Changing of the Guard at the Citadel is a drawn out, but interesting, event to see.  But mostly, we ate.  The food is where the French culture is still at it’s strongest.  Sounds of café music and Madeleine Peyroux reverberated around the city.  The constant clanging of wine glasses and the aromas of fresh food were everywhere.  Service was generally impeccable and exceptionally friendly.  This charming old European city gradually came alive to reveal it’s more cosmopolitan side.

Ahh…. which brings me to the Poutines.  How this ridiculous mishmash of cultural cuisine has not taken off in the States amazes me.  French Fries drenched in brown gravy with white cheese curd, I enjoyed mine with pulled pork and bacon.  Washed down with a Moosehead Lager, I could feel my blood thickening as I took it all in.

Our last night brought us to the circus.  Quebec is the home of the original Cirque De Soleil, and to pay homage to it, the city funds a free, outdoor, performance every night.  The 45 minute wait on line for this 2,000 seat amphitheater is well worth it to see these amazing young performers practice their craft.

A rich history.  Fine culture.  Magnificent cuisine and wonderful music.  An extraordinarily low unemployment rate.  Virtually zero crime.  The government is the largest employer, followed by tourism.  I do believe this area of the world has got it figured out.  We left all the wiser for our experiences, and I’ve been listening to French Café music ever since.

Restaurant. Lower Quebec
Restaurant. Lower Quebec
Mesmerized by the songs of Evita.
Mesmerized by the songs of Evita.
Street Performers
Street Performers.

The drive home had us stopover for lobster in Freeport, Maine.  That was followed the next day with lunch at Mystic Pizza and another ferry ride.  SirOzzy was happy to have us home, but as always, we look forward to our next adventure.

“Ces petites choses” translates to “these little things.”  We should all strive to learn a new phrase in our host country’s language.