3 posts tagged with “travel”

  • Road Trip Worthy: The Finger Lakes, New York

    Seneca Lake

    A version of this story appeared in Niagara Life Magazine. 

    I’ve been in love with The Road Trip since being rapt by a documentary about Route 66.

    Peter Fonda was fittingly the narrator. I was in my early 20s and filled with torturous amounts of wanderlust. I wanted to put rubber to asphalt that night and take in Americana at its finest.

    We never did the family road trip as a kid. The farthest we ever drove together was the three hours to our cottage near Oliphant. There was a lot of “How long until we’re there?” especially on rainy days with our Newfie, Bismarck, in the back of my dad’s station wagon, drooling on my sister and I, and fogging up the windows.

    But I started to realize the joy that a getaway by car could offer when I was 19 and drove to Newfoundland with my mom. Arguments about music aside (she cringed at my choice of the Beastie Boys; I rolled my eyes at her selection of 10,000 Maniacs), road tripping was pure bliss.

    The sense of freedom that came from the open road unfurling before us was intoxicating. The change of scenery at every stop was eyeopening. The agony of a full bladder with no rest stop in sight is also something a person never forgets.

    I’ve since learned you don’t have to venture far to feel like you’re escaping the day-to-day. Bonus: short roadies mean less worry about mapping those rest stops. It’s even better when a weekend away, compliments of a full tank of gas, doesn’t require negotiating Toronto traffic.

    Give me the American border over the 401 at rush hour any day. Give me the Finger Lakes. It’s New York’s Niagara, only three hours away depending on your final stop. Here are a few ideas of where you might want to put the car in park.

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    Category Beyond Niagara

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  • Peach Tree
  • Taking a day trip to Hamilton

    A scene from Kim Adams' Bruegel-Bosch Bus at the Art Gallery of Hamilton.

    If I were the one calling the forecast, there’d be lots of fog in it.

    That’s how I’ve felt all week — foggy — after using up all creative credit on Sunday night when I mapped out my to-do list and schedule for conquering it.

    Fog started rolling in on Monday morning after dropping my car at the mechanic’s and learning a simple repair job was anything but. I drive a 16-year-old Toyota Echo with 350,000 clicks on it. My boiler suit-wearing friend warning me of all that ails the Echo needs to be approached with a measured response. I have to weigh how many new car payments his big bill would cover.

    Then there was the time eaten up as I moved from coffee shop to coffee shop to work and not seem like too much of a loiterer while I waited for my sickly wheels to be brought back to health. Productivity wasn’t where I’d hoped it would be by day’s end, what with all the self-conscious moving from one seat to another. The to-do list needed some revising and the week had only begun.

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    Category Beyond Niagara, Food Finds

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  • Peach Tree
  • Where Niagara, BC and Germany collide

    Take one part Niagara, one part Okanagan and a pinch of Germany and mix it all together.

    What you get is the Finger Lakes. I saw shades of all three places last week in the geography, the sights, the tastes and the people as my mom and I travelled hilly and winding roads through this absolutely stunning region that is so close, it’s like honourary Niagara. I’m embarrassed to admit how long I’ve lived in true Niagara before visiting these spindly lakes.

    Having so many wineries within spitting distance of each other reminds me of home. So did food finds like verjus and local concord grape juice (with the vintage on the label) and the overall importance of the grape to the region. But aside from the usual suspects of Riesling, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay, there are plenty of grape varieties growing there that I’ve never heard of or only in far away places — well, farther away than two hours by car.

    Take  Gruner Veltliner, Rkatsitelli and Lemberger (oh my!), for example.


    Disclaimer: I am not an oenophile but my heart nearly skipped a beat when I found Gruner Veltliner, that flagship Austrian grape, being offered up in fermented form at two of the wineries we visited: Zugibe Vineyards in Geneva and Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars in Hammondsport.

    I fell in love with Gruner Veltliner last year while visiting Salzburg and as much as I enjoyed this sometimes minerally, sometimes citrusy food-friendly tipple, I equally enjoyed saying Gruner Veltliner. Grooner Felt-leener. Said in a singsongy way and it just rolls off the tongue (and down the gullet).

    To get my fix of this fast favourite, I figured another trip to Europe was in order, so I couldn’t help but be just a little ecstatic when I found it growing so close to home. I’ve heard that Gruner Veltliner grows at Inniskillin Wines in Niagara-on-the-Lake, but ever since Vincor bought the winery, the grapes are used only in blends and not in standalone vintages. Pity, because I can’t imagine I’d be the only person clamouring to buy it.

    At Zugibe, the first place I noticed GV on the tasting list, one sniff took me back Salzburg, to the alcove of a patio at the Alt Salzburg restaurant, a proper Austrian dining spot where the waiter wore a tux and a slight sneer. One sip of the New York GV, though, and the stodgy waiter was gone. My memory of him didn’t come back until I got to Dr. Frank’s abode overlooking Keuka Lake, where I tasted a GV that was more like the Austrian vintages that put a perma-grin on my face during my European vacation.

    Then came that mouthful of a grape, Rkatsiteli  (R-cat-sit-tell-ee), a Georgian varietal that has been grown for thousands of years in the former iron curtain country and for more than a few decades at the Dr. Frank’s in Hammondsport. But for me, it was new.

    The late Dr. Frank, a doctor of viticulture and the patriarch of the Finger Lakes wine industry, came to the US by way of eastern Europe, bringing with him one of the most widely planted grapes in the world and one that can hack the cold well. Just like the climates it tolerates, Rkatsitelli is crisp and refreshing and, like GV, entirely fun to say. It was dry, lemony and light, like how I figure the love child of Riesling and Sylvaner could be.

    It’s also worth the drive back to Hammondsport for more after I drink the one bottle I brought back. Hey, That’s what a budget and fear of overzealous border guards will do to a girl.

    Then along came Lemberger, another grape that takes me Germany and makes me giggle just a little bit because mere mention of it reminds me of smelly cheese. It seemed as though just about every winery we visited had this blue-skinned grape blended with other reds or available on its own.

    A love for Lemberger would compel my Oma’s late husband, Helmut, to drive for hours to buy cases the stuff at his favourite winery in Germany when he probably shouldn’t have been driving at all. Not being much of a red wine drinker, the Finger Lakes editions were my first tastes. Fruity and far from heavy they were perfect reds for a Riesling girl like me.

    Really, it was being able to try wines so different from home that made me love this trip even more. I’m always curious to try something new, and along with some other unique cold hardy varieties developed by the masterminds at Cornell University in nearby Ithaca — I kind of liked the Cayuga and it’s apple notes — there was plenty to keep my tastebuds piqued.

    And now the downside: Give me an off-dry Riesling and I’m smiling but wow, if I thought I liked a sweeter wines, Americans must love theirs. So much so, in fact, some wineries were serving up vintages with sugar added on the back end. Yikes. That’s begging for a bad headache before the hangover even sets in.

    Good thing the Seneca Lake wine route is also known as the ale trail because while there’s no shortage of wineries to woo visitors, there’s also plenty of craft beer to help someone like me get their bearings again.

    Other points of interest about the Finger Lakes:

    It’s more common than not for wineries to charge for tastings but they’re very reasonable. It was $2 for five or six samples, depending on the winery. At Dr. Frank’s, there was no tasting fee. If you’re on FourSquare, be sure to check in because some wineries waive tasting fees for us social media geeks. Others offer $5 off if you pay for any purchases with American Express.


    If you like cheese, there are numerous fromageries on the lakes, including a few goat dairies. If you can’t make it to any, some wineries, such as Fox Run Vineyards, have food shops featuring local fare where you can grab the fixings for a picnic, or you can eat there and take in some gorgeous scenery.

    Dining out was surprisingly inexpensive, even in some of the more upscale places. My mom and I got away both evenings with supper comfortably under $100 for the two of us. That included appetizers, entrees and wine. It helped, too, that the B & B we stayed at, Bragdon House, had connections with some of the eateries and we were given a free glass of wine with an entree. Eating is also easy for the vegetarians among us.

    Greens and beans abound. I have no idea if this is the quintessential Geneva dish but so many of the restaurants in town had greens and beans on the menu. It was sautéed escarole with flageolets (a fancy word for white kidney beans), garlic and olive oil. We had ours at a neighbourhood Italian haunt called Torrey Park Grill that was packed with locals and they were delicious. Also an idea for the perfect vegetarian meal at home because it’s such a simple dish to replicate. Served with bread, its super slurpy goodness.

    Best of all, everywhere we went people were friendly. We didn’t find an ounce of pretension anywhere, which, I hate to say, I have encountered locally when wine tasting, though it’s a rarity. Everywhere we went, staff were friendly, gracious and knowledgeable. They were proud of their product and grateful to share it with visitors.

    And we were grateful for it.

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    Category Food Finds, Reviews

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