The Great White North - Day 12 (Finale) by Mark

Reporting from SFPPN HQ, Grove City, OH

As you complete a vacation, you pass through familiar territory. This was doubly true today, as we drove from my college town to northeast Ohio where I grew up, and finally to home. So, I just have a few notes to wrap things up.

First off, the hotel was VERY nice. In fact, I was shocked we got such a good deal on it. It was a “business hotel”, and so I guess they don’t get a lot of Sunday night business? I checked the rates for next weekend (College Homecoming), and it’s at least 3X as expensive.

We just make a few stops on the way home—to have lunch with some old friends, and a local orchard we like to visit when we get up that way. We left with apples, pumpkins, cheese, squash, and hedge apples (look it up).

Then a boring trip down I-71 to central Ohio and home.

My top memories of this vacation?

Mindy making her own kazoo

The Star Trek set tour

The abandoned space shuttle replica

Our 25th anniversary dinner on the dock

Glass bottle houses

The friendly B&B on Prince Edward Island


High and low tides on the Bay of Fundy

The Starway to Nowhere

Avery Soda

and spending lots of time with my lovely wife.

That does it. We’re wiped out—time to unpack and do laundry.

I promise to do more blog entries soon.

The Great White North - Day 11 by Mark

Reporting from Grove City, PA (Latitude 41.14, Longitude -80.15)

Today was the cross-Pennsylvania journey.

The hotel at Wilkes-Barre was nice, if a bit strange (the rooms had hardwood floors).

We headed off to Bill’s Old Bike Barn, which started with bikes and became a destination for—stuff. They weren’t open yet, but we got a good idea of the place.


Next, a trip to the food factory where Chef Boy-Ar-Dee was “born”.


Then, we had lunch at Doolittle Station, a melange of cafes, restaurants, trains, and goats.


Finally, we wound up in Grove City…PA. It’s not only the home of my Alma Mater, but listed three sites there. They turned out to be art installations/parking signs.


The final run back home is tomorrow.

The Great White North - Day 10 by Mark

Reporting from Wilkes-Barre, PA (Latitude 41.22, Longitude -75.88)

This was another day of hopscotching all over the Northeast.

It started at the hotel, where we caught a glimpse of Catwoman driving away.


Our first stop was the Avery Soda Co. There were hundreds of small independent soda pop companies a hundred years ago—this is one of the few remaining still in business. We got to see where they make the soda, and then picked out a selection of their flavors.


We then stopped for a sentimental lunch at Friendly’s. The chain used to be all over the midwest, but it has shrunk to a tiny presence on the coast. Of course, I had to have a Fribble.

An old friend worked at Friendly’s, and met his future wife there.


We then journeyed to the Holy Land—an abandoned “educational” park in a bad section of town.


Then it was two displays—a giant Santa at a storage facility and a statue of P.T. Barnum in his hometown (Bethel, CT).


It took us a while to find thge next oddity—a rock that balances on some smaller rocks, which allegedly happened naturally. I call shenanigans.


Finally, it took a half-mile walk thru a graveyard to find the border of NY, NJ, and PA (actually out in the river near this stone).


Then we found a hotel and a place to eat—an Italian restaurant where we were underdressed. The food was good, though.

More to come.

The Great White North - Day 9 by Mark

Reporting from Windsor, CT (Latitude 41.87, Longitude -72.66)

We’ve just completed a whirlwind tour of the Northeast, going from Maine to New Hampshire to Vermont to Massachusetts to Connecticut.

We started the morning at a coffee shop (it rhymes with Schmarbucks), so we could post stuff online after the hotel beefed it with the wifi.

We then went to Yarmouth, ME and DeLorme/Garmin’s HQ, home to the largest rotating globe (other than the Earth itself). It’s like 3 stories tall, and situated inside an atrium.


We then started south into New Hamphire and a great sammich with homemade bread at Northwood Diner.


A quick comment regarding Google Maps—people don’t ALWAYS want to get somewhere in the fastest time possible. There should be a way to set a “scenic drive” option. We had to keep either adjusting the app or ignoring it to stay off freeways. Also, it would be nice if I could rearrange stops without getting out the laptop…

We did find a bizarre monument at Keene State College—a guy set up an endowment in order to find a way to CONTROL GRAVITY. Thanks,!


The same site brought us to “The Stairway to Nowhere”—the remains of a mansion in the middle of a forest in the middle of nowhere (it took us two apps on two phones to track it down). The mansion burned down in the 60’s, leaving only the stones.


One the final leg to the hotel, we checked out the Yankee Candle Superstore (or whatever it was called). I was O.D.’ing on whimsy.

Tonight on Land of the Giants…

Tonight on Land of the Giants…

Winter is coming (so get your candles now).

Winter is coming (so get your candles now).

OK, that’s enough for now. More tomorrow.

The Great White North - Day 8.5 by Mark

Reporting from Freeport, ME (Latitude 43.81, Longitude -70.14)

Note: Actually at a nearby Starbucks, since our hotel had a different idea of wi-fi, in that they didn’t have any although they said they did. This is also why this is late.

With better weather than yesterday, we checked out of the Tara Inn and headed over to nearby St. Stephen for the Chocolate Museum. Ganong is a high-end Canadian chocolatier, and they set up a museum in their old factory. It was rather interesting—plus free samples.


We then found a local diner, where I had some great homemade clam chowder.


We followed that up with the day’s main event—seeing the high tide at St. Andrews.

You could barely see these boats at low tide.

You could barely see these boats at low tide.

Remember the causeway from low tide. Now, not so much.

Remember the causeway from low tide. Now, not so much.

That wrapped up our time in Canada—we jumped over to Maine (which was just as easy as it was the first time), where we were promptly attacked by a giant lobster.

We tampered in God’s domain.

We tampered in God’s domain.

I took the crustacean by the claws and turned it into a lobster roll.


A late afternoon trip down US Route 1 followed—here’s a cool bridge—


--and here’s a tourist mainstay, as referenced in John Hodgman’s Vacationland (which we were listening to during the drive), Perry’s Nut House.

It’s everyone’s favorite mascot, _utzy.

It’s everyone’s favorite mascot, _utzy.

More to come.

The Great White North - Day 7 by Mark

Reporting from St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada (Latitude 45.09, Longitude -67.06)

We headed back to the mainland, after a very fun 3 days on PEI. We had a wonderful stay at The Lookout Inn, a great B&B:

We stayed in the “Turret Room”, which you can see on the right.

We stayed in the “Turret Room”, which you can see on the right.

Unfortunately, our string of great weather ran out, so this was a typical view for much of the day.


We drove down to New Brunswick, and made our was to the Bay of Fundy. Why? Because it’s the biggest difference between high and low tide on the planet (about a 20 foot swing here, with as much as 50 feet elsewhere in the bay).

We stopped at the village of Alma and had our first poutine (a Canadian dish with french fries, cheese curds, and gravy). It’s kind of like mashed potatoes, but different—and very good.


We wound up at St. Andrews and the Tara Manor Inn. An old style motel, but comfortable. It’s just across from Minister’s Island, where an old industrialist has a mansion. It’s only accessible via a causeway which is above water at low tide only. Otherwise, you’re out of luck.

You can see part of the causeway in the background. It’s much larger at low tide.

You can see part of the causeway in the background. It’s much larger at low tide.

Mindy is standing on the ocean floor. She would be underwater (and then some) at high tide.

Mindy is standing on the ocean floor. She would be underwater (and then some) at high tide.

We’re planning to hang out here until high tide in the early afternoon, and then return to the USA and Bar Harbor tomorrow. More tomorrow.

The Great White North - Day 6 by Mark

Still reporting from New Glasgow, Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada (Latitude 46,40, Longitude -63.35)

Another big day started with breakfast—today, it was tasty Eggs Benedict. Then we were off to Le Musée de la Pomme de Terre, aka The Potato Museum. PEI is a major source of tubers, especially “seed potatoes”, grown to grow other spuds.

They grow ‘em big up here.

They grow ‘em big up here.

This is the Oscar for potato growing.

This is the Oscar for potato growing.

We followed that up with the West Point Light House, where we were able to climb up to the top. Stairs became more like ladders as we ascended.

It’s still an active beacon, except it’s automated. The house is also an inn.

It’s still an active beacon, except it’s automated. The house is also an inn.

Don’t look at it, Marian!!!

Don’t look at it, Marian!!!

More fun was found at the Glass Bottle House—actually three houses, using old glass bottles and cement for the walls, along with pretty gardens.


We ended the afternoon at the Island Honey Wine Company, where we tried out a few varieties of mead. I particularly enjoyed the Apple Cider, made with their own apples and honey.


We wound up the day at the Blue Mussel Cafe, to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. It was a little more casual than expected, but the food was top notch.

We shared the Lobster dip

We shared the Lobster dip

I had the Seafood Bubbly Bake

I had the Seafood Bubbly Bake

Mindy had the Stuffed Chicken (!?!?!)

Mindy had the Stuffed Chicken (!?!?!)

Well, that’s plenty for one day. We leave PEI and our B&B HQ tomorrow—off to New Brunswick.

The Great White North - Day 5 by Mark

Still reporting from New Glasgow, Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada (Latitude 46,40, Longitude -63.35)

(A quick note—I’m posting my content in the evening for awhile, including Facebook and Instagram, since cell service on PEI is spotty at best).

Our first full day on PEI was fairly packed—a great breakfast at the B&B, and then off to the the home that L.M. Montgomery used as the basis for Anne of Green Gables. We went through the historically-correct house, and then walked the trails that “Anne walked”—Lovers Lane and The Haunted Woods.


We also visited two beaches—Cavendish in the late morning and Robinson’s Island in the late afternoon. Both were gorgeous, breezy, and cold.


We also found a possible investment opportunity—an abandoned Science Center right on the coast of a bay. Did I mention the full-size replica of the Space Shuttle? Or the massive Planetarium?


Before we went down into downtown Charlottetown, we stopped at a tea shoppe in the middle of nowhere for lunch. This included a tea leaf reading. I’m supposed to ride a horse, and Mindy is to learn to play the guitar. Life goals!


Well, we’re worn out. More fun tomorrow—and a big occasion.

The Great White North - Day 4 by Mark

Reporting from New Glasgow, Prince Edward Island (PEI), Canada (Latitude 46,40, Longitude -63.35)

We are now “north of the border”, after a day of mostly driving with few stops. We started off from the Howard Johnson’s in Bangor, ME (in a related story, Howard Johnson’s still exists) and went downtown to the hipster zone for bagel sandwiches. We declared them “not really bagels” (they looked like bagels without the chewiness) but good anyway.


We then headed to the border, not sure how long the process would take. Turned out to be about 60 seconds. I’m sure it will take longer the other way around.

We drove through Saint John’s, New Brunswick and saw a blurry cruise ship at the dock.


Once we figured out how to set the car to kilometers, it was more driving in very pretty (but monotonous after a while) forests and mountains. Then we crossed the bridge into PEI.


We are now ensconced at a lovely Bed and Breakfast somewhat near the north shore, which will be out HQ for the next few days. Tired out—more tomorrow.

The Great White North - Day 3 by Mark

Reporting from Bangor, ME (Latitude 44.78, Longitude -68.81)

After an interesting night (the motel room’s floor undulated, and the bed creaked LOUDLY), we found a very fine coffee shop in town, and then moved on to the main event, just down the street.


I was tamping down my expectations, in case it was a bust—and the outside display wasn’t promising.


Once we got inside, it was another matter. WOW!!! A complete, meticulous re-creation of the Enterprise sets. Here’s just a few highlights.

Beam us down!

Beam us down!

Risk? Risk—is—our—business!

Risk? Risk—is—our—business!



Crayola-style doors.

Crayola-style doors.

I’m a doctor, not a…

I’m a doctor, not a…

A tall ship, and a star to sail her by…

A tall ship, and a star to sail her by…

Me wee bairns won’t take it!

Me wee bairns won’t take it!

Captain’s log…

Captain’s log…

I’ll post the whole set on Facebook (once I can find some decent WiFi).

Later, we stopped at the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream factory. No pics are allowed on the tour (company secrets), but I did take a shot outside, at the “flavor graveyard”.


We got to the hotel later than we had planned, but it was definitely better than last night (not a hard hurdle to jump). More tomorrow, including our first day in Canada (assuming we make it across the border).

The Great White North - Day 2 by Mark

Reporting from Ticonderoga, NY (Latitude 43.84, Longitude 73.43):

After an early start (traveler’s tip—unplug the hotel alarm clock so it doesn’t wake you up at 6a), we grabbed breakfast, used the pool, then headed off for adventure.

First stop—The Jell-O Museum in LeRoy, NY. This is where Jell-O was born, although it took a few owners (and a lot of advertising) until it became a hit. Some very interesting exhibits. Here, Mindy presents some Jell-O molds.


Our second stop is one of those “Roadside Attractions”. It’s a traffic light in Syracuse that is upside down, with the green light on top.

Check out the  link  for more info.

Check out the link for more info.

…and then we made our way to Ticonderoga. Not exactly a bustling metropolis. Here’s our lodging for the night.


Let’s just say an enterprising fellow would do well if they wanted to build a hotel here. We made a reservation a week ago, which is good, because every room in town is full. Why? I guess there’s a bunch of small events in the area every fall weekend.

There’s a “Hot Biscuit Diner” across the street that doesn’t have a lot of competition, so they just microwave pre-made biscuits. At least that was our guess.

Why Ticonderoga? Because there’s an attraction we’re going to in the morning here—a place I’ve wanted to go since I heard about it. One hint: “Risk? Risk—is—our—business!”

More tomorrow.

The Great White North - Day 1 by Mark

After a long hiatus, I’m back with another blog entry.

We haven’t taken a real vacation in quite a while, and remembered that we really enjoyed the long “Southern Sweep” drive. With our 25th anniversary imminent, we decided to drive to Canada’s Prince Edward Island, site of “Anne of Green Gables”.

Day 1 - a drive from Columbus to Batavia NY (Latitude 43.01, Longitude -78.19).

Basically, drive to Lake Erie and turn right.

Like I said.

Like I said.

We stopped for lunch in Ashtabula (the bridge made our decision for us).


We had deviled eggs and a Cuban sandwich at Rennick’s Meat Market (quite the hipster locale).


Then a touristy stop at the Original Kazoo Company in Eden, NY. Mindy made her own kazoo!


We made it to Batavia and got dinner at Ken’s Charcoal Pits—I made the mistake of getting the special, and they treated it like I had ordered the “Gutbuster”.


Tomorrow—there’s always time for Jell-O.

Southern Sweep - Day 9 and Wrap Up by Mark

Like most vacations, it's great to visit, but it's nicer to get home. Unfortunately, we left the longest drive for the last day--Memphis to Columbus.  So no pics for today--it would be a lot of freeways and construction.

We stopped at a very pretty Starbucks in Jackson, TN that might be the least organized location in their chain. You would think if you were paying by phone and knew exactly what you wanted, it would be easy. However, we got a barrista who I assume was a trainee and didn't know how a register worked, that "rewards" could be redeemed, or how to complete an order.  I think we could have made the breakfast sandwiches and coffee at the side of the road more quickly. We knew there was a problem when two of the same order appeared.  They were nice--just untrained.

I drove, Mindy drove, the other dozed in the car, drive, drive, drive--repeat.

The temperature dropped as we went, forcing us to hit a rest stop and change from shorts to pants.

We stopped at a Skyline Chili in the Cincinnati area (if you haven't had their 3-way, stop reading and drive to Cincinnati), and we ordred, were served, ate, paid, and left in less time than the Starbucks order took.

As nightime arrived, we made it to the Schmidbauer homestead.

Overall, the trip was a lot of fun, we got to see our nieces, ate some great food, and saw giant animals. What's not to like?  We're discussing a Western Sweep next--but first some sleep in our own bed.

Southern Sweep - Day 8 by Mark

Niece #3 - Betsy, who lives on the Texas side of Texarkana with her husband Kai and two kids.  We got a picture to document the event just outside the IHOP.

Back on the road--and a chance to stand astride two states. The county courthouse was built on the border to save money--go to the left for Texas cases, and to the right for Arkansas cases.

On the way to Memphis, we stopped at the biggest scam since the casino--the Crater of Diamonds State Park.

Site of an ancient volcano, they offer the chance to dig through a field for real diamonds--at only $8 plus the cost of shovels, buckets, etc.  It drew a decent crowd, including us.

We made it to Memphis in time for BBQ at the legendary Germantown Commissary.

The pile of meat in a bowl? That's a salad.

Logy and tired, we made it to the hotel. 

Tomorrow--driving, driving, driving, and wrapping it up.

Southern Sweep - Day 7 by Mark

First off, more donuts--this time at Glazed. We joined Maggie and her friend Cade for the feast.

Before we left, we got a chance to tour the athletic facilities at McNeese.

Then off to Shreveport--and the mysterious Giant Dalmation. At night, you can change the color of the dog's spots.

Then, in the outskirts of Texarkana, in Fouke, AR, a celebrity sighting. MST3K's own Boogy Creek Monster!


We then followed the GPS to the hotel right on the state line with Texas. Unfortunately, there were two of the same hotel chain there, straddling the border. Once that was straightened out, we hit the hay.

Tomorrow--one more niece, diamonds, and meat.

Southern Sweep - Day 6 by Mark

A late day to start--but Mindy got her donuts (Louisiana is crazy about them).

Then off to a McNeese tour

Then down to the shores of Lake Charles--very pretty and restful

Did I mention restful?

Off to the glitter of Lake Charles' casinos! I would put them at mid-Vegas level.  We hit a few slots and walked around.

And if the hotel rooms aren't big enough (actually docked at the casino)...

Finally, we moved onto a local Maxican joint for dinner.

Tomorrow--more donuts, giant dogs, and look out for the monster!

Southern Sweep - Day 5 by Mark

We drove over to Avery Island, home to Tobasco.   This is the sole factory that makes 700,000 bottles/day for 150 countries.  Based on how complicated the process is, Tobasco should cost $500 a bottle.

I do enjoy Tabasco on my crumpets...

Then, a drive over to Lake Charles and McNeese State University, where our niece Maggie is a goalie on the soccer team.

She took us to Steamboat Bill's, a famed seafood place.  Be ready to order at the counter, then sit down and they bring a pile of fish over.

Tomorrow--donuts, a campus tour, and Viva Lake Charles!

Southern Sweep - Day 4 by Mark

Started late--off to the deep South.

Mississippi--a lot of this out the window...

Then these--Palmettos?  Nope, it's "pinus palustris".

Can you tell that Mindy drove today?

Finally Louisiana--and Lake Ponchatrain.  This is a very long and impressive bridge.

Then N'awlins. The French Quarter seems very run down. Mindy referred to it as "creepy". We were tired and so we decided to move on to Lafayette, LA for the night.

Tomorrow - Hot Sauce, Lake Charles, and niece #2.

Southern Sweep - Day 3 by Mark

We began our first full Tuscaloosa day at City Grille, and a huge breakfast.  Grits, eggs, sausages, biscuits...


Yes, those are grits. Anything that's half butter can't be bad.

The review said the breakfast was dynamite, and I have to agree.

Then a jaunt out to a place called "Pie Lab"--which was unfortunately closed.

On the way back, we stopped at the Moundville Archeological Park


Back at 'Bama, and the world's second largest Starbucks at the Student Union


Two more pics at the University...


We stopped at Steel City Pops--an artisinal popsicle store. I had Pumpkin, while Mindy had Cherry Sour Cream.

Later we had dinner with Abby and her friend Will at an Irish pub. We were worn out, so it's off to bed.

Tomorrow--sleeping in, lots of driving, and a loooonng bridge.



Southern Sweep - Day 2 by Mark

We drove into Nashville and the GPS sent us straight into Titans tailgating--wasn't sure if we would get out, since we kept being directed back into the fray.

We finally made it over to Broadway (the touristy area).

They make boots big in Tennessee

An Elvis sighting

Various signage



We then took a quick jaunt to Greece--no,no.  There's an exact copy of the Parthenon in Nashville.


Of course, no trip would be complete without a giant chicken with a chef hat (Elkton, TN)


Onto Tuscaloosa!
One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas.
How he got in my pajamas, I don't know.
Then we tried to remove the tusks. The tusks. That's not so easy to say. Tusks.
You try it some time. As I say, we tried to remove the tusks.
But they were embedded so firmly we couldn't budge them.
Of course, in Alabama the Tuscaloosa,
but that is entirely ir-elephant to what I was talking about.

Groucho in Animal Crackers (Movie)

Abby gave us a tour of the University of Alabama--Roll Tide! 
We also went down to the boat dock (Abby's on the rowing team)
Finally, we took Abby out to a BBQ place—decent food plus cheesy muffins! We’re still in “vinegary” sauce territory though.


Tomorrow - Southern food, lack of pies, and more 'Bama.