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Mischief and Stunts at Niagara Falls

Posted in Worldwide Travel Destinations  by admin on August 2nd, 2009

In the 1820s, when War of 1812 fighting had ceased in the Niagara Falls region, local hotel owners wanted to revive tourism. The Niagara Falls had once made popular tourist destinations of two cities along the international border: Niagara Falls in Ontario, Canada, and Niagara Falls in New York, USA. To attract attention, the hotel owners sponsored the first daredevil Niagara Falls stunt on record: they sent a defunct ship over Niagara’s Horseshoe Falls.

The hoteliers’ stunt drew a crowd indeed. On September 8, 1827, about 10,000 people gathered to watch the condemned schooner be swept over the waterfall. The ship crashed 173 feet down to a whirlpool gorge below.

Within two years, daredevils were risking their own lives in Niagara Falls stunts. In October of 1829, a man named Sam Patch dubbed himself “The Yankee Leaper”. He survived a long, deliberate fall into the gorge at the bottom of the waterfall. People also swam across or tried to sail. In 1886 a man named Carlisle Graham was the first to fall down Niagara Falls in a barrel. Many people, including women in petticoats, imitated this stunt. For example, in 1901 a 63-year-old schoolteacher named Annie Taylor rode a barrel over the edge.

Some people tried crossing over Niagara Falls instead of riding its force downward. Tightrope walkers like French acrobat Jean François “Blondin” Gravelet strung wires across the gorge and traversed it before giant crowds of onlookers. In 1859 Gravelet crossed the water blindfolded, in a sack, pushing a wheelbarrow, and carrying a man on his back! He even succeeded tightrope walking while on stilts. Most famously perhaps, Gravelet sat down midway across a wire to cook and eat an omelet.

Despite stories of successful crossings, many people have died or been seriously injured in daredevil stunts at Niagara Falls. When Annie Taylor emerged from her barrel, she warned, “No one should ever try that again!” Such stunts are now forbidden by law in both cities of Niagara Falls. After Kirk Jones jumped the Falls in 2003 (and was released from hospital), he was arrested for “Mischief” and “Performing a Stunt”.

Until the winter of 1912, anyone was permitted to cross an ice bridge that formed across Niagara Falls. The water froze into ice blocks as thick as 50 feet, and the Niagara River became a popular sledding destination. People even erected shacks on the ice and sold liquor! However, a tragedy involving cracked ice put an end to the winter tradition.

Horseshoe Falls is the highest section of Niagara Falls and is in Canadian territory. The American Falls on the US side drop about 70 feet into rock. These two main sections of the waterfall are divided by the uninhabited Goat Island. (The goats were gone by 1780.) A third section on the American side is called Bridal Veil Falls (earlier called Luna Falls and Iris Falls). It’s separated from the American Falls by tiny Luna Island.

These waterfalls are the most powerful in North America. An average of 4 million cubic feet of water rush over Niagara Falls every minute. The flow is higher in spring and summer when ice melts and more rain falls. Most of the water flows over Horseshoe Falls, and the remainder is harnessed for hydroelectric power by the Sir Adam Beck Station in Ontario and the New York State Power Authority.

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Hong Kong – A Stroll Through Kowloon Park

Posted in Worldwide Travel Destinations  by admin on March 6th, 2009

Hong Kong, like New York is a concrete island. Also like Manhattan, Hong Kong has built a ‘Central Park’ as an oasis in the middle of the bustling metropolis – Kowloon Park.

Once a British military base, the park offers over 13 hectares (33 acres) of greenery, sculpture, swimming pools and quiet gardens and buildings. There’s even a large piazza for concerts gracing the park. Visitors to Hong Kong could easily spend a weekend vacation in Kowloon and still not see it all.

For those who want to relax in an active way, the park provides several athletic facilities. For younger kids there are two playgrounds with supplied equipment and the bruise-proof floor helps parents’ minds rest easy. Kids will love The Discovery Playground, reconstructed from some of the old British fort components, including cannon.

Older ‘kids’ of all ages can enjoy soccer, handball or take a ride along one of the many bike paths. The Sports Centre features regular events and anyone can have a game of squash or basketball.

For those who like their physical activity a little more serene there are still dozens of choices. A simple walk down the lane among the greenery is an option in many parts of the park. Birdwatching is an often enjoyed activity along the way. Bird Lake hosts a variety of species and the aviary holds nearly forty local waterfowl types.

Tai Chi is a common activity in Kowloon Park, often with advanced masters leading a group of regulars and drop-ins from the local stock exchange who want to relieve a little stress. Guests are welcome to join in.

For purely mental exercise there are numerous tables in Banyan Court with chess games always in progress. Visitors can watch quietly or test their skill against one of the elder experts who frequent the park.

Just walking along to see the sights is a pleasant combination of physical and mental exercise. The many sculpture in Sculpture Park provide a mini-outdoor museum. The multi-colored bird sculpture spiraling around the fountain is a particular favorite of the locals. One of the more unusual offerings is the large totem pole, a gift from Canada.

Any of the Chinese gardens will delight fans of botanical gardens. Woven throughout the park, they offer a variety of local plant and flower species. Set off among them are several ponds, including the delightful turtle pond holding several who happily while away the day in the cool shade and clear water.

If you feel like emulating the turtles, there’s a public swimming pool in Kowloon Park that’s open to locals and tourists alike. A swim is often a good way to get information about Hong Kong that isn’t in the tour guides from a friendly resident.

But visitors don’t need to feel pressured to do anything. Just sitting in one of the many quiet nooks, reading or merely soaking in the surroundings is a commonly enjoyed pastime in Kowloon Park.

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Panama Canal

Posted in Worldwide Travel Destinations  by admin on February 7th, 2009

A great vacation and one that is educational and fun as well is a trip to Panama City, where you and your family will see first hand the Panama Canal. Let’s take a look at a typical itinerary.

Day 1 – Arrive Panama City

Upon arrival at the airport you will be met and transferred to your hotel where your Panama family vacation begins.

Days 2 and 3 – Chiriqui Highlands

Cloud forests, volcanic peaks and coffee plantations create the remarkable landscape of the Chiriqui Highlands. Along with beauty, there is plenty of fun to be had here too. Enjoy these family tours:

* White water rafting trip down the Esti River. It is beginner-friendly and a great opportunity to get a glimpse of the tropical surroundings, including cormorant kingfisher birds, otters, tropical trees and orchids.

* Take the Zipline Canopy Tour where you will wind your way through a course in La Amistad International Park. The excitement of gliding from platform to platform high in the rainforest canopy is indescribable.

Days 4 and 5 – Bocas Del Toro Archipelago

Bocas is a scattering of seven islands off the northwest coast of Panama and there is a unique funky and relaxed ambience throughout the region. Your family excursion to Bastimentos Island to snorkel and explore the wildlife rich rainforest will make for an unforgettable day.

Also included are:

* Go hiking in the Bastimentos National Marine Park where you will find white-faced titi monkeys, sloths and red poison dart frogs (that aren’t poisonous at all). Bring your sneakers and get those cameras ready! It’s a beautiful hike.

* You’ll stop at coral reefs and mangrove isles for some snorkeling. There is a large variety and an abundance of fish here – keep an eye out for sea horses, barracuda, and clown fish.

* Most children traveling with us share letters with a local child of similar age before leaving on their adventure. While on the family trip we organize a pen-pal meeting with a scheduled activity like soccer or hacky sack. It’s amazing how such interaction can be a real eye-opener for everyone involved.

Days 6 to 8 – Panama Canal

There is something very moving, for children and adults, about seeing the Panama Canal for the first time. The enormity of this engineering marvel boggles the mind. The vast jungle that had to be divided, the massive locks, and then there’s the forty ships that pass through the canal every day. Your family will see it all on this Panama adventure.

Also included are:

* Miraflores Locks is a mile long and is part of a lock system that takes ships from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific and return. After watching a ship go through the locks, be sure to go to the museum.

* See how the Embera Tribe lives. Explore their native dances and traditional artwork during your time in the village. These friendly indigenous people will also go over how and why they moved to their current village on the Chagras River.

* Voyage across Gutan Lake in the Panama Canal, passing gigantic cargo and passenger ships. Children are never disappointed with how immense some of these vessels really are. Many dwarf everything in sight! And of course you’ll see plenty of wildlife too – iguanas, crocodiles and peacocks just to name a few.

Day 9 – Depart Panama City for Home

This is sure to be a memorable, educational, and fun trip for the entire family. Take plenty of pictures for the family scrapbook.

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San Francisco – Alcatraz

Posted in United States, Worldwide Travel Destinations  by admin on December 2nd, 2008

For a structure that served the purpose that made it famous for less than 30 years, Alcatraz is an enduring monument to a bygone era.

By the time it first came into use as a U.S. Federal Penitentiary in 1934 prohibition had already ended. (Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to outlaw the sale of alcoholic beverages was passed in January 1919, but repealed in December 1933.) Nonetheless, Alcatraz’ most famous figure from that activity, Al Capone, took up ‘residence’ from 1934 to 1939, when he was released.

Arriving not long after Capone’s release was another prisoner, almost as well known. Robert Stroud was transferred from Leavenworth in 1942. Nicknamed the ‘Birdman of Alcatraz’, he wrote several books both before and during his incarceration. (The nickname was popularized by a best-selling book and subsequent film.) Ironically, he kept no birds at Alcatraz.

But apart from its inmates, the prison offered several reasons for its fame, or infamy.

Long isolated, the island a few miles off the coast of San Francisco housed a military prison beginning in 1907. In the early 1930s Federal prison system officials decided to use the location to hold its most hardened criminal detainees. It was thought that the cold, rapidly moving currents off the coast would discourage escape attempts.

Even so, many tried. Evidence of the results – bullet holes and blood stains – can still be seen on some of the walls.

Guards were hired that were thought to be much less subject to bribes. When Capone arrived and attempted it, he was thrown into solitary confinement. Prisoner’s were entitled to food, clothing, shelter and medical attention. All else was a privilege to be earned by good behavior.

After its closure in 1963 (among other problems, the facility was twice as costly to maintain as other prisons), the island was mostly unused for the next 10 years.

In 1973, Alcatraz was incorporated into the burgeoning National Parks system and began its career as a tourist attraction. Since then, over 14 million visitors have taken the 10-minute boat ride from Pier 41 to see ‘The Rock’.

The tour encompasses an introductory video explaining the history of the prison and the island. At the site are books, audio guides and other items. Tour guides then direct the group up the hill to the cellhouse.

The audio guide contains former correctional officers and inmates describing what life was like at the prison. Tour guides provide interesting commentary while visitors explore Al Capone’s cell and other areas.

Touring after dark is especially good for getting a sense of the dismal living conditions. Since San Francisco stays light in the summer long after the tour leaves, that can only be done in winter. But conditions then are particularly unpleasant, so decide how much authenticity you want to experience.

Both the boat rides to and from, as well as the island itself can be windy and cold, so dress appropriately. Of course, San Francisco can get quite warm in the summer, as well. Dress in layers. Between the ride and the tour a great deal of standing and walking is involved, not all of it on level ground. Be prepared for some exercise.

Tickets generally sell out, sometimes weeks in advance. Plan ahead by purchasing from Blue and Gold Fleet at or call the number listed at the site.

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