Friday, November 29, 2013

Walking and Drinking Beer in Yosemite

On March 27, 1851, a gold miner named James Savage, led a group of militia into the rugged Sierra Nevada mountains of central California in search of Tenaya, chief of the Ahwahneeche people.  The tribespeople had burned Savage’s trading post, so in revenge, Savage formed the Mariposa Battalion and ordered his armed men up the Merced River.  Every time they encountered a Native American camp, they burned it, destroyed its provisions, and drove the people from the land.

El Capitan, Kenny Karst, DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, Inc. 
As they marched up river, these soldiers were the first European-Americans to ever enter this strange valley of sheer cliffs and thundering waterfalls.  One of them, Lafayette Bunnell, was greatly moved by what he saw and as he passed along, he named the prominent features.  A mountain of granite (later proved to be the largest piece of exposed granite in the world) he called El Capitan.  The valley itself, he named Yosemite, a corruption of the local tribe’s word for grizzly bear, Oo-soo’ma-te. 

When he returned from the campaign, he wrote a book about his adventures, stating, “We had explored one of the most remarkable geographic wonders of the world.”

Today, the four million annual tourists who come to Yosemite would agree.  Whether enjoying the same view of El Capitan, or hiking among the world’s largest concentration of granite domed mountains or climbing up a cliff through the spray of a waterfall on the Mist Trail, or strolling on quiet paths through mature 2,000 year old groves of redwood sequoias, the landscape of Yosemite is unique.

Yosemite Valley, Kenny Karst, DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, Inc
So is its position in history as the world’s first national park.  From its bloody encounters with Native Americans through 150 years of encounters with tourists, the magic of Yosemite has endured.  But it hasn’t been easy.

Saving Yosemite

Bunnell’s book and its incredible descriptions of Yosemite caused a sensation, and by 1855, the first tourists were arriving.  So were lumberjacks, who began clear-cutting the giant sequoias.  Sheepherders let their flocks eat fields of wildflowers, while shoddy entrepreneurs built cheap tourist camps, starting forest fires, polluting the streams and piling up mountains of garbage.

Half Dome by Kenny Karst, DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, Inc
By 1864, conditions were so extreme that early environmentalists went to the U.S. Congress.  At the height of the Civil War, just days after one of its bloodiest battles, President Abraham Lincoln took time out to sign the Yosemite Grant, preserving Yosemite Valley as a state park.  It was the first park of its kind in the world and the first attempt by anyone to protect wild lands for future generations. 

But what was a government owned park to be like?  No one was sure, but some ideas started to ferment in 1868, when a Scottish naturalist and writer landed in California and set off for Yosemite on foot.  His name was John Muir.  Over the next 46 years, Muir would hike and write about every corner of Yosemite.  The foundation he started, The Sierra Club, would eventually convince the public and the U.S. government of the need for conservation.   In 1890, Congress made Yosemite a 1,300 square mile national park – an area larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined. 

View from valley floor in mid-November
To maintain order over such a vast territory, the government had little choice but to send in the U.S. Army.  For 26 years, Yosemite was managed by the army, including the 24th Infantry, a segregated regiment of African-Americans who were known at the time as “Buffalo Soldiers.”  The army built roads, kept out poachers, and stopped illegal lumbering, but that was the extent of their improvements.

Then in 1914, Yosemite had another fortuitous visitor – retired millionaire Stephen T. Mather.  Mather had made his fortune by advertising Borax, a laundry detergent, and had retired to his love of being an outdoorsman.  But Mather found camping conditions at Yosemite to be deplorable.  The campsites were filthy, the roads in disrepair, and services non-existent.  He wrote to his old friend, Secretary of the Interior, Franklin Lane and told him so.

Lane wrote back:   “Dear Steve, if you don’t like the way the National Parks are being run, come on down to Washington and run them yourself.”

Stephen T. Mather in Yosemite
Mather did, and in the next 14 years he created the National Park Service.  Nearly everything we associate with national parks today began in the Mather era, from the uniforms and “Smokey the Bear” hats the rangers still wear to the popular campfire and naturalist programs. 

At the time, many people wanted to build railroads and golf courses in national parks.  Others saw these well preserved areas as perfect for logging and dams.   But Mather resisted, writing, “Is there not some place in this great nation of ours where lakes can be preserved in their natural state; where we and all generations to follow us can enjoy the beauty and charm of mountain waters in the midst of primeval forests?  The country is large enough to spare a few such lakes and beauty spots.”

Late fall colors in the valley, mid-November
He used his own money to purchase the rundown, privately owned 56-mile Tioga Road that twisted across Yosemite, and then repaired it and donated it to the government.  He hired naturalists as rangers and introduced educational programs on botany and geology.  He lobbied Congress, took senators on camping junkets and criss-crossed the country on publicity trips.  The result?  Funding for national parks increased 20 times while he was director.

Believing that it was hard to enjoy nature after a bad night’s sleep, Mather approved the building of deluxe accommodations in the parks, leading to construction in 1927 of Yosemite’s amazing Ahwahnee Hotel. 

Considered one of the great hotels of the world, it incorporates a mixture of Art Deco, Native American and Middle Eastern designs.  The exterior required 5,000 tons of stone and 30,000 feet of timber to be transported over twisting mountain roads.   To make it safe from fires that had destroyed many previous Yosemite lodges, the wood-like exterior façade is actually concrete, poured into wood frames and stained to look like redwood. 
The Great Lounge of the Ahwahnee, by John Bellenis Photography

The huge Ahwahnee Dining Room has 34-foot high ceilings and is surrounded with floor to ceiling windows framed by stained glass, all affording panoramic views of Yosemite Falls and the Valley.   Sitting by the massive fireplace in the hotel’s Great Lounge with a view of Half Dome is one of the top Yosemite experiences.

Touring Yosemite Today

An attraction 65 million years in the making cannot be seen in a day.  But if time is short, Yosemite offers three distinctive zones worth visiting. 

Vernal Falls in November
Yosemite Valley.  The seven mile long, half-mile wide valley was carved by glaciers and was at one time the bottom of a lake, so the land is board flat with meadows and forests of oak and conifers lining the Merced River.  Rising on all sides are granite cliffs that climb as high as 3,000 feet.   Waterfalls tumble down between the granite domes and pinnacles.  Upper Yosemite Falls drops 1,430 feet in one fall – the equal in height to nine Niagaras.  No single photo can capture the valley, and in fact, most photos give sort of a false impression.  The view is almost always 360 degrees and changes as you walk along.

You can explore the valley by foot, bike, or horse, in shuttle buses and tour trams.  The one way you shouldn’t attempt to explore it is by car.  Traffic, especially in summer, can be horrendous.  I was there in November and there was ample parking everywhere, but in summer, the reverse is true.  The park service has instituted ingenious one-way roads and central parking areas.  Stash your car near the visitor center and get around by foot and shuttle bus.  Popular waterfall hikes range from an easy but spectacular stroll to the base of Yosemite Falls a strenuous 600 stair climb up a cliff face on the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Falls.  In summer, this is the park's most popular hike because climbers get wet from the spray of the falls. There was no mist in November, but it's still a fantastic hike on a stairway built into cliffs.
The view from Panorama Trail at Glacier Point

Glacier Point.  This observation point is 30 miles and 3,214 feet above Yosemite Valley, offering the park’s best views of Half Dome and the area’s other pinnacles, granite domes and waterfalls.  There are long (but downhill) hikes to the valley, or you can go along the contour for a bit on the Panorama Trail with endless views, or follow it all the way down to Vernal Falls.  There's a fairly easy two mile  scramble up Sentinel Dome with views down the valley.

The Grizzly Giant is 210 feet tall
Mariposa Grove.  This grove is home to 500 mature giant sequoias, one of the oldest, largest and fastest growing species on Earth.  One tree is so large, a tunnel was cut in 1895 to allow stagecoaches to drive through it.  It is still alive.  The Grizzly Giant is 1,800 years old and 96-feet in circumference.  Trails wind through the giants, taking in many of the most famous trees.  Walking here, it’s easy to agree with the eulogy given Stephen T. Mather in Congress:  “There will never come an end to the good he has done.”  People complain about the crowds here in summer, but in November, I was literally the only one doing a 4 mile high in the grove, which was annoying -- I was not able to get people in the photos for scale until just as I was leaving. 

If you go:  Yosemite Valley is 195 miles from San Francisco (with lots of twisting, mountain roads so it takes 4-5 hours) and 313 miles from Los Angeles.  Staying in the park at the Ahwahnee Hotel requires reservations months in advance and can cost $400-500 a night.  A better option – visit the hotel for lunch or tea, and stay in the great old Gold Rush town of Mariposa, about 45 minutes from the park.  There are ample and affordable motels (I stayed in the Miner's Inn which was very reasonable and is close to everything).

The Gold Coin in the Gold Rush town of Mariposa

The "Old West" town of Mariposa is an attraction in itself with a colorful main street, a mining museum and interesting architecture.  A bus service from Mariposa to the park makes it easy to get to Yosemite without the trouble of trying to park the car, a real bonus in summer, but not as necessary in the off season.

The Prospectors Brewing Company in town does several nice beers (I liked Long Tom IPA), but for dinner, try Bett's Gold Coin, an historic Old West saloon that dates back to 1849.   It is the real deal.  There's an antique firearm collection, but the highlight is four wall-size murals of ships, sea wrecks and sea battles, including the Battle of Mobile Bay (of all things).  They were done by local artist Cornelius J. Vejer.  It was John C. Fremont, "the Pathfinder and one of the first explorers of California, who started the building in 1849 and it's been a gambling hall among many other things.  The Basa catfish is superb, but the bar offers great food, wonderful history and a good selection of local craft beers.  Ask if the owner Bob is around -- he has lots of colorful stories on the bar and the town. is great site for all to know in the area.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Walking and Drinking Beer on the Street of Dreams -- Hollywood Boulevard

From the 1920s to the 1950s, Hollywood Boulevard was the most glamorous street in the world – a place where movie stars came to party, walk the red carpet to film premieres past search lights and popping flashbulbs, meet with their agents in Art Deco offices, cruise in convertibles with hair flying,  palm trees overhead, or hobnob with writers and directors in long, cool dark bars like the Musso & Frank’s or the Cat & Fiddle.  

But times change.  In the 1960s, the street, like the movies, went into a steep decline.  Hollywood Boulevard became a joke on Johnny Carson – a haven for drug users, prostitutes, bikers, and run-a-ways.  It was here that Hugh Grant was arrested in his BMW for lewd conduct.  Along its darker edges, Janis Joplin and John Belushi died of drug overdoses, while Charles Manson and his followers murdered a house full of strangers.  

The New Hollywood

Hollywood and Highland Shopping Center
It has taken decades and billions of dollars of investment, but today, Hollywood Boulevard is finally coming back to its glorious past.  Oh, don’t expect too much glamour.  There are still two dozen look-a-likes posing for tips -- everyone from Superman and Elvis to Lady Gaga and Michael Jackson – and the street has more than its fair share of tattoo parlors, biker bars, rotting and abandoned old movie theatres and wandering homeless hippies. 

But today they share the same real estate with flashy clubs filled with black-skirted high heeled hipsters and high style restaurants, mixed in with wax museums, souvenir shops, tiki bars, and an assortment of gorgeous old Hollywood bars and theatres.  It's a mish-mash alright, but an interesting one.  

The movies have moved on and are made elsewhere, but Hollywood Boulevard has rebounded as the ground zero tourist center for the world’s largest entertainment industry.  There are Hollywood walking tours, theme parks, studio tours, cemeteries...and 10 Hollywood museums

Look-a-likes pose for $1 by their star on Hollywood Blvd
The Hollywood History Museum is a dusty version of a Planet Hollywood with an ecletic mix of stuff (from Hannibal Lecter's prison cell to the plastic cannons from Master and Commander) .  It's mostly props and costumes, but how could you not like seeing W.C. Field's top hat from My Little Chickadee?

You can see the homes (or at least the front gates) of today’s stars by buying a map, or going on only slightly cheesy narrated bus tours.  You can even fly over the star’s homes on a helicopter.  You can buy daily production sheets to see where movies are being filmed on location, or hang out at popular industry eateries like Mr. Chow in hopes of seeing stars in person.  Incredibly, there's a jogging tour of Hollywood, where to give you a taste of what it’s like to be a star, you are chased by running paparazzi. 
Whether you dream of being a star -- or just seeing one – the first stop is Hollywood Boulevard.  Marilyn Monroe knew the street well.  She grew up in a orphanage just a few blocks away and wrote:  “I used to think as I looked out on the Hollywood night, ‘There must be thousands of girls sitting alone like me dreaming of being a movie star.’ But I’m not going to worry about them.  I’m dreaming the hardest.”   

Touring Hollywood by Foot

Universal CityWalk is pedestrian (and neon) friendly 
A good itinerary is to stay around Hollywood and Highland (The Roosevelt has been restored -- it was here in 1929 that the first Oscars were held, and the ghost of Marilyn Monroe has been seen in a mirror).  Cheaper and a tad dodgey, but centrally located is the Hollywood Liberty Hotel.   You can walk Hollywood Boulevard in late afternoon to dusk, see the lights come on, have drinks at the old Hollywood bars, and then take the Red Line subway from Highland to Universal CityWalk for dinner and neon, then come back and get off the subway at Vine and walk back to 

your hotel (about a mile) along Hollywood Boulevard past the clubs and bars.  It's sketchy at night, but there's plenty of people about, and lots of packed clubs and bars you would never know existed in the day.  The street, however, is absolutely dreadful on a Sunday Morning, so head immediately to Universal Studios. 

Some Top Things to Do in Hollywood:

Marilyn is everywhere
See the stars – There are 2,400 bronze medallion stars set in the Walk of Fame sidewalk of Hollywood Boulevard and along Vine Street, honoring the legends of the film, television and recording industries.    Some are obscure, behind the camera folks, but it’s a rare block where you don’t bounce from one super star to another as you stroll along.  Some of the most popular:  Marilyn (at 6744 Hollywood);  Jack Nicholson and Michael Jackson (6925 Hollywood); and Marlon Brando (1765 Vine).  Modern stars pay about $25,000 for the honor of having a star on the street.

Buy a map of the stars home's and you can see the site of Marilyn Monroe's elementary school, where she shared an apartment with actress Shelly Winters, where she spent her first honeymoon or the apartment where she lived with Joe Dimagio, where she posed for her famous nude photo and the house where she was found dead.  There are murals, wax sculptures and look-a-likes of Marilyn up and down Hollywood Blvd.
Have a drink – There are three classic old Hollywood bars.
Musso & Frank Grill (6667 Hollywood) opened in 1919 and is today the same dark wood haven that was familiar to Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart, and Elizabeth Taylor.  Raymond Chandler immortalized the bar by putting it in his classic LA mystery, The Long Goodbye.  Step out of the bright California sunshine into this dark oasis and place your cocktail on the same polished wood bar where Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable once rested their martinis.  
Here’s Chandler’s homage: 

“I like bars just after they open for the evening. When the air inside is still cool and clean and everything is shiny and the barkeep is giving himself that last look in the mirror to see if his tie is straight and his hair is smooth. I like the neat bottles on the bar back and the lovely shining glasses and the anticipation. I like to watch the man mix the first one of the evening and put it down on a crisp mat and put the little folded napkin beside it. I like to taste it slowly. The first quiet drink of the evening in a quiet bar—that’s wonderful.”  Chandler’s drink was a gimlet – half gin, half Rose’s Lime juice.

Pig ‘n Whistle:  When it opened in 1927, this was a concession stand for the Egyptian Theatre next door. Shirley Temple bought candy here, and Spencer Tracy and Cary Grant were regulars.  Today, it’s a bar and restaurant known for the hand-painted decorative tiles of the Pig ‘N Whistle logo – a dancing, flute-playing pig -- and for the elaborate carved wood ceiling.

Snow White Café:  The best beer bar in Hollywood just might also be the weirdest. Opened in 1946, it features Disney murals allegedly painted by real Disney artists.  With a slogan like “Where your problems dwarf,” how could you not like it? Funky and 40s, but good beer selection.

Visit Grauman’s Chinese Theatre
This is the “Ground Zero” of Hollywood, the world’s most gaudy movie palace, and the spot where the crazies and tour buses gather.  And why not?  It’s fun, and there are never less than a dozen costumed characters posing for photos.  Since 1927, stars have been setting their footprints and handprints in cement, and tourists have been walking around putting their own feet in the prints and snapping photos.  Most popular appeared to be Michael Jackson, John Wayne and Judy Garland (who went to high school just down the block at Hollywood High).  Most eerie?  On a dry day, Natalie Wood’s footprints were filled with water.

Red Line subway stop at Hollywood and Highland
See the Famous Sign from Hollywood & Highland – The huge Hollywood and Highland shopping and entertainment complex has a Lowes hotel, the usual mall stores, three levels of escalators and outdoor cafes, and the modern Dolby Theatre, which is now the annual home of the Academy Awards. You can take a pricey tour of the theatre and look in the Green Room.  But what really makes the shopping center worth a look is the incredible décor – a throwback to the sets for D.W. Griffith’s 1916 masterpiece, Intolerance.  Few people today have ever seen or heard of Intolerance, but you will still be impressed, if slightly bewildered, by the 33-foot high white elephants and gigantic Babylonian columns.  In the background, framed by the mall’s grand arch, is the famous “Hollywood” sign, now a symbol of the industry.  

There's explosions every minute at Universal Studios Hollywood
Actress Peg Entwistle jumped to her death from the “H” in 1932.   During a recent restoration of the sign, Alice Cooper purchased one of the “O’s” in honor of Groucho Marx.  Other letters were “saved” by Hugh Hefner, Andy Williams and Gene Autry. 

Ride the Subway to Universal CityWalk Hollywood
LA has an amazingly complex and beautiful subway system.  Catch the Red Line at the Highland shopping center for a one stop ride to Universal CityWalk.  Free outdoor trams meet each train and will whisk you up the hill to this incredible complex of restaurants, bars, shops and neon that serves as the fun entrance to the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park.  CityWalk is huge, loud, and touristy, but it’s free to walk around, pedestrian friendly, there’s some amazing neon sculptures and it offers great people watching.
You can feel the heat from the explosions at Universal Studios

Tour a Studio
Universal Studios Hollywood is the studio tour de rigor.  Part homage to movies like King Kong, Jaws, and Jurassic Park, it’s also a working studio where you can see sets for everything from Desperate Housewives to Psycho.  But it’s also a movie-based theme park with indoor roller coasters, water thrill rides, 3-D movies, animal trick shows, stunt shows and explosions galore.  Special effects are the specialty, and more than a few times you can actually feel the heat from an exploding gas tank or be drenched by the spray from power boats.

Exploding gas tanks in the Jaws portion of the tram ride
For a more serious look at movie making, Warner Bros., Paramount and Sony Pictures (formerly MGM) all have more subdued behind-the-scene studio tours where you get to walk or take a golf cart through backlots, viewing everything from Old West towns used in hundreds of Westerns to streets from medieval Europe to New York  There are artifacts from classics like Casablanca and Wizard of Oz, and (depending on filming schedule) you can often walk right on to the set of current television productions (although they are mostly obscure television shows now).  You can't take photos on these tours, which is disappointing, but it was a thrill to walk down the same Western street at Warner Bros. that Gary Cooper did in High Noon.

Stargaze in Beverly Hills
Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills
You can see where the stars lived on the manicured, palm-lined streets of Beverly Hills (Jack Benny, Lucille Ball and James Stewart all lived next to each other in pretty modest houses on the 1000 block of Roxbury Drive).  Or see where they shopped and dined on Rodeo Drive, before being driven out by hordes of tourists.  But you’re still as likely to see a celebrity here as anywhere, and the architecture and setting on Rodeo will be familiar from a hundred films, and it is pretty, and there are amazing cars parked, and you can at least afford a coffee and a look.  If you truly want to go “star-gazing,” the best bet is at a cemetery.  Westwood Village Memorial Park has Marilyn (but you have a better chance of seeing her ghost in the Roosevelt Hotel); Forest Lawn Glendale has Walt Disney, Spencer Tracy and Errol Flynn; Forest Lawn Hollywood has Betty Davis, and Liberace; and
Hollywood Forever has Cecil B. DeMille.

IF YOU GO:  “Hollywood is a place where they'll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul. I know, because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the fifty cents.”  Marilyn Monroe   Best overall site is Fodors.  For a car free trip (yes, you can do it in LA!):
Everything else in LA:

Monday, July 8, 2013

Thunder by the Falls

Walking and Drinking Beer,
On The Bloody Battlegrounds for the Niagara Frontier

Battle of Fort George (courtsey of Friends of Fort George)
At just 36 miles in length, the Niagara is one of the shortest rivers in the world.  And one of the most violent.  Almost a million gallons of water cascade down the river every second, reaching speeds of 30 miles per hour.  The river is actually not a river at all – it is the drainage runoff from the higher Great Lakes of Erie, Huron, Michigan and Superior.  Water spills down from these higher lakes into the Niagara Gorge and over the legendary Niagara Falls on its way thundering and roaring to Lake Ontario.
Horseshoe Falls on the Niagara River
Another historical reason the Niagara is a violent river is that it forms the border between the United States and Canada.   For 1,000 days between 1812 and 1814, it was the scene of desperate fighting with bloody battles on both sides of the river in what came to be called The War of 1812.
More than 25 percent of the casualties of the entire war took place along this 36-mile stretch of river.

American troops, courtsey of the Niagara Parks Commission
Today, the U.S.-Canada border is the longest and most peaceful in the world, but for the 200th anniversary of the forgotten War of 1812, both sides are restoring forts, cleaning muskets, sprucing up battlefields and planning re-enactments.   As a bonus, the battlefields and forts are just a few minutes drive from the most famous waterfall on the planet.

A Mere Matter of Marching

Events began on June 17, 1812, when the young United States declared war on the most powerful nation on earth, Great Britain.  To many, this seemed like an insane act, but England had angered Americans by interfering with their commerce at sea.  Equally important to expansionist Americans, the time appeared right to seize Canada.  The population of the U.S. was 15 times the population of Canada.  British armies were occupied fighting Napoleon on the European continent.  Many people thought Canadians wouldn’t fight and might even welcome invading American armies.  Thomas Jefferson wrote that taking Canada would be “a mere matter of marching.”
The Americans planned a three-pronged invasion:  a force from Detroit would capture western Canada; another army would cross at the Niagara frontier, while a third would move on Montreal. 

In the end, it wasn’t quite that simple.  All three invading American armies were destroyed or captured.  Not only were the Canadians willing to fight – they were damn good at it.  

As the war progressed, American armies became better trained and scored some victories.   The war surged back and forth across the Niagara River at more than a dozen battlefields.  Finally, Britain won its war with Napoleon, freeing the Empire to send large numbers of trained redcoat soldiers to America.  By 1814, cooler heads prevailed and the so called the War of 1812 came to a close, ending as a “draw” with the borders reverting to exactly where they were at the start.    Ironically, at the end of the war Americans held Fort Erie on the Canadian side of the Niagara River while the British held Fort Niagara on the American side. 
Who won the war?  No territory exchanged hands, but at the start of the war, it was unclear if French and English Canadians considered themselves one country.  Would they fight? Before the War of 1812, no one knew.  Afterwards, no one ever questioned it again.  The War became a defining moment in Canadian history and gave the country many of its greatest heroes.

Touring the Battlefields

Three forts and five battlefields are all within a musket shot of the Niagara River Parkway, a road that Winston Churchill called, “The prettiest Sunday drive in the world.”   The best sites to visit during the 200th anniversary:

Fort George and Fort Niagara: 
Two of the great historic forts of North America are within sight of each other, less than a mile apart on opposite sides of the Niagara River.  On the Canadian side, Fort George has been reconstructed as a dirt, stone and wood stockade with soldier’s barracks, a guardhouse and an excellent small museum.  The Americans attacked and seized this fort in May 1813.  Today, British soldiers in bright red uniforms give musket demonstrations, fire cannons and march to the sound of fife and drum.   Regimental sergeants “enlist” kids into the army, outfitting them with blue or red uniforms with wood guns for some basic drill in 19th Century tactics.   

"New recruits" form and charge at Fort George
On the other side of the river, Old Fort Niagara has been restored to its appearance in 1759, when the British captured it from the French in the earlier French and Indian War.   But there are also military artifacts and exhibits on the story of how the British re-captured it, this time from the Americans, in December 1813.  In summer, a company of redcoats guards the fort and there are ramparts and drawbridges to explore, as well as regular reenactments and military and Native American encampments.

Pretty Niagara on the Lake is known for an annual summer Shaw Festival
  With an ideal location on the banks of Lake Ontario, the town offers a pleasant main street lined with flower baskets, art galleries, craft stores, restaurants and pubs. The surrounding gently rolling landscape is home to 30 wineries that produce 80 percent of the wine in Canada.  Stop by the Angel Inn, an authentic-looking English pub, for a pint under a low timber ceiling. The Americans burned this beautiful village to the ground in 1813, but today it is called “the prettiest town in Canada.”

Laura Secord, the “Paul Revere of Canada:”  
Laura Secord homestead, courtsey Niagara Parks Commission
On June 22, 1813, American officers took over the home of James and Laura Secord in Queenston, Canada, and began planning a secret attack on a nearby British army.  James was bed-ridden recovering from a wound, and the Americans dismissed Laura as just a woman of no concern.  They were wrong.  Laura overhead their plans, snuck out of the house, and walked 17 miles in the dark, past hostile Native American camps, to warn the British outpost.  The next day, it was the Americans who were surprised and their entire army was forced to surrender. 
Today, Laura is a Canadian hero.  You can visit her homestead where she overheard the plans, follow her 17-mile trek on a driving route, walk the battlefield where her husband was wounded at Queenston Heights, or stand by her grave, which is at a cemetery on another battlefield, Lundy’s Lane, in downtown Niagara Falls, Ont.  

The Niagara Falls Museum, a short walk away, has Laura’s bonnet and some of her other possessions, as well as a superior museum on the battle and the war for the Niagara region.  They also have British uniforms and shakos (their hats) that you can try on, while hefting a Brown Bess musket.

Old Fort Erie: 
Aerial of diamond-shaped Fort Erie, Niagara Parks Comm.
Old Fort Erie is the site of the largest and bloodiest battlefield in Canada, and their worst defeat of the war.  Although it is on Canadian soil, in the battle, the Americans were defending the fort and the British were attacking it.  This means in the resorted fort of today, Canadian historical interpreters wear American uniforms.  When they conduct cannon firing demonstrations, the fort’s historians are careful to point the cannon toward Lake Erie and not toward visible Buffalo, New York. Firing a cannon at America might be considered an act of war.   This large fort has ramparts lined with guns, soldiers in uniforms from both armies, and the best and most comprehensive War of 1812 museum in the Niagara region.

Old Fort Erie
In the gift shop, they sell two different bumper stickers that ask the same question, “Who won the War of 1812?”    One says the Americans, and one says the British.
Touring the Famous Falls
And then, of course, there are the famous falls that attract some 12 million honeymooers and sightseers a year.  And justly so.  They are amazing.  Some quick tips on seeing the falls along with the forts: 
Maid of the Mist in front of the American Falls
The views are superior on the Canadian side, and that is where to stay.  But do walk across the Rainbow Bridge to the U.S. on a day trip for the spectacular views and to visit Cave of the Winds. Here, an elevator takes you down 175 feet of solid rock to within 20 feet of the base of the falls.  You must trade your shoes in for plastic flip-flops and a poncho, and you’ll be thoroughly soaked, but standing at the bottom is the true way to appreciate the power of the falls.
Cave of the Winds
Ride the Maid of the Mist. Boats have been carrying passengers up the river to the base of the falls since 1846, and they have all been called Maid of the Mist.  You’re guaranteed another soaking – and a thrill, as your boat rocks and rolls in the churning waters under the falls.
Be prepared that Niagara Falls is a schizophrenic destination with two distinct personalities.  Queen Victoria Park along the gorge on the Canadian side is majestic – a wonderful green space with gardens and continual views of both the American and Canadian falls.  The Niagara Parks Commission does everything first class, the part of Niagara Falls that they run compares with any national park in the world.  It is best in early morning before the tour buses arrive at 9 a.m. or at twilight, when crowds are at a minimum. 
Clifton Hill
But be warned.  The rest of the town of Niagara Falls, particularly Clifton Hill, can be dreadful -- a loud, tacky tourism nightmare with haunted houses, a “Hall of Fame” dedicated to serial killers, wax museums, miniature golf, and other oddities.  There are also two casinos, every chain restaurant and a dozen other ways to see the falls, from helicopters to IMAX films to huge towers.
But it’s always easy to escape the madness.   From anywhere in town, it’s no more than a ten minute walk to the park and a drop-dead view of the falls…and if you’re lucky, a rainbow.
Horseshoe Falls from the Canadian side.

Beer on the Niagara Frontier:

Niagara is not a craft beer center.  This is wine country with 80 percent of Canada's wine produced in the region.  The nicest bar in Niagara Falls, Ont., is in EdgewatersRestaurant.  Run by the Niagara Park Commission, it’s in the park near Horseshoe Falls.  There’s an outdoor patio and a nice bar with views of both the American and Canadian falls. Try the Creemore Springs larger from Toronto. 
Kelsy’s is another outdoor bar at the top of Clifton Hill. It’s in the center of the insanity, across the street from the Criminal Hall of Fame, but they have a live singer, and you’ll need a beer after experiencing Clifton Hill.

For great craft beer, travel 90 minutes to Toronto.  Steam Whistle Brewery is built in an old roundhouse in the center of town; their pilsner is a popular beer available all over the city.  Mill Street Brewpub is in the Distillery District, a fashionable area of old warehouses that are now restaurants and one-of-a-kind shops.  Worth the short cab ride.

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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Walking and Drinking Beer on the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere

Paul Revere statue and Old North Church 
Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

When poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote those lines in 1862, he was correct -- hardly anyone had heard of Paul Revere.  The early histories of the American Revolution didn’t even mention him.

But the poem changed that.  Overnight, Paul Revere became one of America’s greatest heroes. Today, he is practically an industry in Boston.  You can tour his house, see his portrait, buy reproductions of his silver work, walk the streets he walked, have a drink in his favorite tavern and even leave pennies on his grave.  In a city that spawned a revolution, there is no greater figure than Paul Revere -- a fact that would have surprised every Boston resident in 1775, the modest Paul Revere most of all.

Paul Revere by John Singleton Copley
Why did this practically unknown, stocky, 40-year old silversmith become one of the most cherished icons of freedom?  Perhaps it’s because he did something that few other men have accomplished:  in one evening’s work he changed history.
On a day trip in Boston, it’s quite easy to follow the dramatic story.  Every significant building associated with the famous ride has been preserved and can be toured.
Like many a good story, this one begins in a tavern.                    
In 1775, Boston was a powderkeg.   Three thousand British soldiers patrolled the streets,
trying to crush a growing rebellion, while a rag-tag group of rebels called the Sons of Liberty made their secret headquarters in the Green Dragon Tavern.

The original tavern was torn down in 1854, but a reconstruction has been built nearby at 11 Marshall Street.   Although not an exact reproduction, it does have the feel of a Colonial inn with its dark wood beams and old pub exterior.  A mural inside helps you imagine the Green Dragon as it must have appeared in 1775, filled with rebels engaged in deep discussion while smoking clay pipes and downing tankards of ale.
The Green Dragon Tavern
One of these rebels was a silversmith and engraver named Paul Revere.   An active patriot, he led a group of 30 “mechanics,” as artisans called themselves, whose purpose was to watch the redcoats.  Whenever the British army tried a foray into the countryside, Revere and his men acted as “express riders” to spread the alarm.

On the afternoon of April 18, a 13-year-old boy named Sam Ballard overheard two British officers talking about a raid to Lexington and Concord to arrest revolutionary leaders Sam Adams and John Hancock.  Ballard told the landlord at the Green Dragon, who sent a messenger to Paul Revere’s house. You too can walk to Paul Revere’s house from the Green Dragon in about 10 minutes.  

Paul Revere's house is the oldest in Boston
Built between 1650 and 1680, the Revere House is the oldest dwelling in Boston.  It is the only colonial building of this type to survive in the heart of an American city.   

Paul Revere lived here for 30 years (1770-1800).   The gray dwelling with its second story overhang was restored in 1907 to reflect both its original 17th-century appearance and the later Revere period.

It is now a museum where on self-guided tours, it is possible to rub shoulders with hundreds of international visitors, as you squeeze up narrow stairways to view rooms and exhibits that tell the story.
It was from this house that Paul Revere gathered his spurs and riding boots and set off on a 20-mile ride to Lexington to spread the alarm.  His first stop was right around the corner at the Old North Church.  Built in 1723, it is Boston’s oldest standing church.  Though the steeple has been rebuilt several times, it is today as tall and white against a blue sky as it would have been 225 years ago.  A
small museum continues the tale.

In 1775, Boston was built on a neck of land completely surrounded by water.    If the British sealed off the neck, an express rider would be trapped.

The answer was to send the message across the river by light.  Revere planned for the church sexton, Robert Newman, to hang lanterns in the Old North, which offered the highest steeple in the city.  The code was one lantern if the British were leaving for Lexington by land, two if by sea.   

About 10 p.m., with two lanterns dimly glowing across the water and the moon rising, Revere had himself rowed across the Charles River, directly under the guns of an English ship.  On the other side, associates tipped off by the lanterns provided him with a swift New England saddlebred horse named Brown Beauty, and he set off for Lexington.

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all!  And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night.

A sea of suburbia has settled around Boston into what was once farm country with stone walls and twisting dirt lanes.  There is no point retracing the exact route of Paul Revere; it’s easier to follow the Concord Turnpike and head directly to Lexington.  
It was here, at the Hancock-Clarke House, that Paul Revere finally arrived at midnight, his horse’s flanks coated with sweat and blood.  A sergeant guarding the house told him to stop making noise, there were people sleeping.

“Noise!”  Revere shouted.  “You’ll have noise enough before long. The Regulars are coming out!”              

This was as close as he ever came to the famous, “The British are coming!” Actually, that would have been an insane thing to say.  In 1775, everyone in Massachusetts was British. 

The Hancock-Clarke House, Lexington
The pretty yellow house where Hancock and Adams were staying has been preserved with furnishings and portraits owned by the Hancock family.  Of particular interest are exhibits from the coming battle, which include William Diamond’s drum -- the very instrument the young man beat to call the militia to Lexington Green.

         Just a five-minute walk away, Lexington Green is a traditional New England town center, surrounded by white houses and churches.  On the edge of the green is the Buckman Tavern.  It was here that Revere “refreshid” himself (no doubt with a tankard of ale) before setting off yet again, this time to spread the alarm to Concord.  The Buckman Tavern is also where the militia gathered to ward off the cold night waiting for the arrival of the British.

Buckman Tavern
You can stand in this same room today, and look out the window toward the green, trying to imagine what it was like in the pale light of an April morning for a group of minute men to see 700 of the world’s finest troops in their bright red coats as they marched into town. 

       Revere, by this time, was racing for Concord.  Long stretches of the road have been preserved as Minute Man National Historical  Park.  Lined with stonewalls and an occasional 18th Century building or tavern, it’s a wonderful walk where little has changed since 1775.
Battle Road in Minute Man National Historical Park looks like it did in 1775.
Revere’s luck finally ran out when on the pitchblack road he galloped into a party of British cavalry.  An English officer clapped a pistol to his head and threatened to “blow his brains out."   There is a historic marker that indicates the site of his capture. 

But for the British it was too late.  Revere had warned Lexington and his companion riders William Dawes and Dr. Samuel Prescott (left out of the poem because their names are harder to rhyme) got through to Concord.  When the red coats finally arrived in Lexington, there was an small band of minute men waiting for them.

You know the rest.  In the books you have read,
How the British Regulars fired and fled, --
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farm-yard wall.

Depiction of the battle at the Bloody Angle, Minute Man National Historical Park
What happened in the next few hours changed the world.   On Lexington Green, as the redcoats and armed rebels faced each other, someone fired a shot, and the tired British soldiers began shooting, killing eight colonists before they could be ordered to stop.  The redcoats marched on to Concord, but enraged minute men followed, and at the North Bridge, the rebels fired back.  The British began a
Lexington Green
long retreat to Boston, with minute men sniping at them from behind every tree and stonewall.

By nightfall 273 of the King’s troops were killed, wounded or missing, along with 95 casualties among the colonialists.  It is impossible to overestimate the shocking effect the high casualties of this battle had on both sides.  In today’s U.S. population, it would be the equivalent of 30,000 troops killed or wounded in a single day. 

There was no going back.  The American Revolution had begun.   And it had begun to a large extent because of Paul Revere.  His network of express riders were able to spread the message so well, that by the end of the day almost 4,000 militia had mobilized and fought in the battle, coming from as far as 20 miles away. 

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm, --
A cry of defiance and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!

Longfellow's House where he wrote the poem, Cambridge MA
Strangely enough, Paul Revere’s role was forgotten for almost a century.    In 1862, during the bleak days of the Civil War, Longfellow was looking for a subject that would give the Union hope. He  
found his inspiration in the forgotten tale of a silversmith express rider.

Although the poem is a thrilling account of the ride, it is the closing that best captures why Paul Revere’s popularity has endured into the 21st century, and will probably do so forevermore.

For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

Old State House on the Freedom Trail
Best Book To Read First: Paul Revere’s Ride by David Hackett Fischer, Oxford University Press 1994, is the best account of the ride and the fighting at Lexington and Concord.  It reads like a novel with spies, daring escapes and bloody battles.

Freedom Trail,  This 2.5 mile long walk in downtown Boston connects 16 historic sites.  The walk is marked by either a series of red bricks or a painted red stripe down the sidewalk and is easy to follow as you move from the site of the Boston Common to the Boston Massacre and on to Bunker Hill.  An interesting stop is Granary Burying Ground, where Paul Revere, John Hancock and Sam Adams are laid to rest, and the Old State House, built in 1713.   Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market are two of the city’s biggest tourist stops, and are along the trail and worth a look.  Don’t assume everything interesting is on the trail – there’s many great things to see a block or two off.  The trail was laid out in the 1950s and many things have changed…but it’s a good start.

Tour group at Paul Revere's grave, Granary Burying Ground
Green Dragon Tavern, 11 Marshall Street,  The historic looking tavern today attracts a young crowd and has live music, but it is still worth a look and a beer.  Better for meals is to head next door to the Union Oyster House,, Opened in 1826, it claims to be America’s oldest restaurant and it’s certainly one of Boston’s most famous seafood houses.  It’s a huge, rambling place with lots of different rooms, creaking wood floorboards and plenty of atmosphere.  Sit at the unique circular raw bar on the main floor and watch them shuck your oysters and clams, or ask to be seated in the Kennedy room (this was John F. Kennedy’s favorite Boston restaurant and there is a plaque at the booth where he often ate).  There are five Irish pubs adjacent or a short walk from Oyster House and this is one of Boston’s most popular streets of bars.
Union Oyster House
The Bell in Hand claims to be America’s oldest continuously operating pub, but it is in name only – the building is brand new.  If you want to go to a bar where Paul Revere actually drank, you have to go to the Warren Tavern in Charleston.  Paul, George and John (Revere, Washington and Hancock) all drank here.  It’s at the base of Bunker Hill and was the first building rebuilt after the British burned the town during the famous battle.  Worth a stop, but the interior is more local pub than historic site.

The Paul Revere House, 19 North Square,  It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but go through the gate there’s an interesting courtyard and the interior rooms are well worth the $3.50 entrance fee.   Some of the rooms have the original floorboards.


Lexington Green
Old North Church, 193 Salem Street,  Open every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.  It’s beautiful inside and out.  The Paul Revere statue is located in a park behind the church.  As you walk around Boston and Charleston, always keep an eye out for the church tower.  It was the highest building in Boston in 1775 (which is why it was picked for the signal lamps) and is still one of the most prominent buildings in the North End Italian district. The neighborhood is even better. There are five Italian bakeries within a musket shot, and dozens of Italian restaurants nearby.

Hancock-Clarke House, Lexington contains furnishings and portraits owned by the Hancock and Clarke families and exhibits from the battle of Lexington.  36 Hancock Street, Lexington.

Buckman Tavern, across from Battle Green in Lexington, appears very much today like it did on the fateful morning in 1775.

Old North Bridge, Concord
Minute Man National Historical  Park, preserves 900 acres of land over which the battles of Lexington and Concord were fought. They have done a spectacular job of preserving parts of the road along which the battle took place, and today you can hike or bike five miles of the Battle Road Trail.  It’s particularly nice from the Paul Revere Capture Site to the Minute Man Visitor Center, or from Hartwell Tavern to the Bloody Angle, scene of the most severe fighting.  Walking along the trail here is like strolling into an 18th Century painting.  The North Bridge in Concord is another very pretty area with a nice trail.

Longfellow National Historic Site, preserves the home in which poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow lived from 1837 to 1882, including the time when he wrote his famous poem about Paul Revere.  George Washington was headquartered here for 16 months from 1775 to 1776.  Located in Cambridge at 105 Brattle St. 

USS Constitution.  Built in 1797, this is the oldest warship still floating in the world. The copper sheathing for the 54-gun frigate was done by Paul Revere, who dabbled in many metal trades including engraving and early dentistry.  Free tours let you stroll the two gun decks.  Next door is the Constitution Museum which has interactive displays on the great battles of “Old Ironsides,” as well as fun exhibits on how she was constructed and how a three-masted frigate was sailed.   Look for a new scrimshaw and cane to be added to the ship's Time Line exhibit.  They belonged to my great-grandfather, Charles Ball. The cane is dated:  July 4, 1841, Bay of Callao -- the day of a notorious party on board where the crew was allowed to get drunk to celebrate the Fourth and their imminent return home.  Certainly an event one of my relatives would think worthy of commemorating!