Saturday, March 23, 2019

Going to Syra-Cruz

Winter. This damn, never-ending winter.

When winter gets us down, we usually pack up and go somewhere. But now that the kids are getting older and into the more important school years, we're finding that taking them out of school for vacations is becoming problematic. So, it seems that for the foreseeable future we are going to be tied into the school vacation holiday schedule or long weekend trips.

Fortunately, we live in the best part of Canada and the destination opportunities for weekend trips are unlimited. Yes, I do really mean "unlimited" because there's no way you would be able to explore all the fantastic places around here within a single lifetime.

Back in February my dad came for a visit and we took a long weekend trip to Syracuse, New York. We took off right after school on the Friday of the Family Day long weekend and drove straight there, making it in less than four hours. It took that long to train Dad how to pronounce the city name as he was stuck on calling it "Syra-Cruz" which, admittedly, is a much cooler name, but sadly, just not quite right.

As usual, we had no real plan for the weekend, so on Saturday morning we jumped in the van and headed downtown. Syracuse downtown is like many US rust belt cities - packed with magnificent, towering, classic buildings that indicate just how powerful and rich these cities were back in their industrial heydays. Somehow many of these cities have managed to keep these buildings alive, although there are always some you see that have fallen into horrible disrepair and are awaiting some shrewd developer to bring them back to life.

We parked the van and went for a blisteringly cold winter walk. The frigid wind was howling through the streets and between the buildings and we were practically the only ones walking around. We found refuge in the grand and magnificent Marriott hotel and inside found a display of typewriters from the early 1900's - some of which had the original non-QWERTY keyboards, some which were made for typing musical notation, and some which had symbols that none of us recognized. These heirlooms from the past were a testament to the large number of typewriter manufacturers that made Syracuse their home. We also found a grand piano where we hammered out a few poorly executed tunes and caused a real ruckus, but managed to leave on our own terms before they kicked us out.

From here we went to the Erie Canal Museum. Since moving to Ontario, I have been fascinated with the Erie Canal and have read several books on its history. The building of the original Erie Canal, which allowed barges to travel by water from New York City all the way to Buffalo, giving access to Lake Erie, was truly the driving force behind the incredible expansion and development that happened in this region. At the time, the idea of building such an expensive canal over incredibly difficult terrain seemed not just physically impossible, but foolhardy. But the economic impact of the canal was immediate and dramatic and the 7 million dollars in construction costs for the original 7 year canal project would be reclaimed in tolls within 10 years, both for the original project and for the later enlargement and expansion. The canal brought down the costs of transportation by a factor of 10 and resulted in an economic bonanza for the state of New York.

The museum is located in the last remaining weighlock building, which is where the barges used to enter and be weighed on giant scales to calculated the toll charges owing. It is strange to see the museum's location, because the original Erie Canal is no longer here, having been rebuilt along a different, more northern path during one of the expansions. They do have some photographs of what the area used to look like with the canal flowing through the city, but it is completely unrecognizable.

I loved everything about the museum, especially the full size canal barge and the big exhibit dedicated to the history of the mules that used to pull the barges along the canal. If you ever find yourself in the area - don't miss it:

From here, we went to take on the Destiny Mall, an All-American supercenter with a thousand and one opportunities to separate you from your greenbacks, from an indoor electric go-kart track, to hundreds of retails shops, to bars and restaurants, movie theatres, and, of course, a massive kids park with electronic gaming, canyon climbing, virtual reality and a bunch of other stuff we didn't see because we decided to get sloshed at the Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville pub instead while the kids had their fun. 

Now who would have thought drinking in a mall could be any fun at all? Not me. But I was wrong. There was a huge queue of people waiting to get into Margaritaville for dinner, but I managed to sneak us into a table by the bar, claiming we were just stopping for a quick beer. Well the beers were cheap, atmosphere strangely amazing, music fantastic, and we were surrounded by images of various lovely beaches in the Caribbean, so much that we felt we were truly somewhere else, so celebrated by spoofing our Facebook buddies with shots of us all around the Caribbean. Every 35 minutes the table would be full of empty pint glasses so we'd get the waitress to clear them all off so we had room for our elbows, more pints and nachos.

We finished up the mall adventure with an intense session of cornholing. If you are laughing nervously right now, you're probably not American, so just look up "cornhole" online and it will all make sense. It's their national pastime. Yes, you're still laughing.

The next day we had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, a big swim and hot tub, and then went to Central New York Boat Show. We weren't able to get to the big Toronto boat show this year, so needed our fix of winter boat browsing. The boat show was okay, but focused mainly on pontoon boats and small powerboats, so not much for us sailors there, although it was well set up and not insanely packed like the one in Toronto.

We headed back downtown to take in the Syracuse winter festival that was supposed to be happening, which included a big chili cook-off. Sadly, we could not find the place to buy chili tickets, nor could we find much of anything going on, and it was still freezing cold outside so instead we found an awesome restaurant, THS - The Hops Spot, which had at least fifty craft beers on tap and a dozen craft poutines on the menu. This obliterated our plans for a "light lunch" to save space for a huge meal later, but hey, who's complaining?

After lunch we went for another walk downtown and found the Landmark Theatre. There was a show about to begin, but the staff member at the door allowed us to come in and take a quick look at the lobby. It was magnificent, ornate, grandiose, and oozing with history and we were quite sad that we weren't able to see the actual theatre space...maybe next time.

The girls wanted to do more shopping so they dropped us off at the hotel where Magnus, Dad and I played a rousing game of "Ticket To Ride" (our new favourite board game) and then back for another hot tub. The girls eventually made it back and we went out to the Olive Garden for a leisurely meal and then back to the rooms to hang out the rest of the evening.

After a slow breakfast Monday morning we packed up, piled into the van and drove back to Canada, stopping along the way only for gas, but enjoying the ride back. We had a great visit with Dad and were happy to be able to visit a brand new US city, which we will certainly return to soon.

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