|DAY 2 (Thu 7th Oct)
Woke early in my large bedroom in the basement. Why don't British houses have basements? They are so useful, in this case divided into a bedroom, store-rooms and the laundry room, all of good size. The principle is of a small excavation, say about 4-5 feet down, and then the ground floor of the house is raised enough to give the headroom below. This put the kitchen about 3 or 4 feet above the lawn, which gave an excellent viewpoint of the birds. Just over breakfast I saw species new to me, although common garden birds here such as the crested Tit-Mouse and the House Finch (looked a bit like our Linnet). Also, species that we know and love such as the Lesser and Greater Spotted Woodpeckers (kown here as the Downy and Hairy respectively), the Nuthatch and the Turtle Dove (Morning Dove or Mo-Do). Bob and Jean's life list of American birds is approximately 550 out of about 750 species. That must represent a lot of hard work.
In the morning we headed west to Niagra Falls, some 80 miles away. I've been all over the world, but I realise that I haven't done many of the "main" tourist attractions, so I am starting now. Homeland security was evident when we all had to present our passports at the border to Canada, and mine at least was stamped. The Falls are astounding, especially from close up, at their base, in the Maid of the Mists ship. It makes a mere human being feel very small indeed, surrounded by all that un-tamed power. Apparently, a couple of years ago, a teenage boy fell into the river upstream, and was swept over the falls, to survive! He was wearing a lifejacket, which must have been his saving grace. I bet Bugee-Jumping will feel a bit tame to him now. Rumour has it that he was a dare-devil, and had planned it out, and it was all deliberate, but as it is illegal to go over the falls, he's not saying a word! There was a huge contrast between the Canadian and American sides of the Falls, with the US side being very run-downand neglected, while the other side was smart and well groomed. A lot of that might be the fact that Niagra represents the southernmost part of Canada, and as such attracts people to the somewhat better climate (like the south of England?) while the US side is at the northern end of the nation, and people migrate from there to further south (like the North of France, which is also less economically robust than the rest of France?) I drove part of the way back, getting my first taste of driving on the wrong side of the road!
DAY 3 (Fri 8th Oct)
We stayed local today, as Jean needed to go to the Dentist. Bob spent 40 years working for Kodak Eastman, which is the biggest employer locally. At it's height, there were up to 60,000 people employed in the ROchester factories alone, although this down to only 25,000 today. Bob is very proud of the company, for what it made and invented, but also the way it looked after it's employees. It was one of the first to intoduce pension and welfare schemes, and by all accounts looked after it's people really well. The main plant is 3 big blocks wide, and 7 miles long. That's right, seven miles! It's enormous, but not all of it used today. We went to the Museum celebrating the life and achievments of George Esatman, who endeared himself even more to the people of Rochester by bequeathing his entire fortune on death to fund the University and Medical School, having also financed during his lifetime the construction of Museums, Theatres and Art Galleries. An amazing man. In the late afternoon we went to a viewing point on the edge of the marshes which is used during the migration season. Being at the edge of a huge body of water (100 miles wide?) the spot is used by vast numbers of birds at the right time of year (not Oct sadly), and up to 60,000 raptors (Hawks, Buzzrads etc) are said to pass through in a good year. Not to mention the millions of other birds that come through. It was interesting to me that the viewing hide was not a hide at all - just a raised platform in the open. The birds are so numerous that they hardly take notice of human presence. We watched the first Presidential television debate that evening between Bush and Kerry. Opinions were venely divided between Bob and Jean, so I did my best not to enter political debate. I'm glad I don' have to vote!
DAY 4 (Sat 9th Oct)
Set off early to visit the Finger Lakes, south east of Rochester, and area of long lakes created by glaciers moving across the countryside. Very beautiful, with a hint of the Italian lakes to it. Ended up at Watkins Glen, possibly familiar because of the race-course there, that has held Formula 1 Grand Prix in the past. The Glen itself is a mile and a half ravine through Slate, Shale and Shalestone carved out over the last 10,000 years. The river has created exotic and tortuous patterns as it has carved it's way down through the rock. The Conservation Corps (an initiative of President Roosevelt) helped make a superb riverside pathway, tunneling through the rock in places, diving under waterfalls in others, at all times giving the walker superb views of the tumbling water. Very well organised as well, because the shuttle bus takes you 600 feet up in the hills, and then you only have to walk down the 800 steps. (Jean's knee was playing her up, otherwise we would have walked up and down the ravine. Honest.) On our way back we kept to country roads, unpaved to a large part, to give me a sense of rural life in up-state New York. Autumn is fast approaching and the leaves are starting to turn, but the difference between one valley and another was distinct. Sometimes there would be little colour, or what there was would be dull, and then we would find a valley with some lovely vivid splashes of colour. Another 2 weeks and the hills will be on fire. We drove through some really exceptionally beautiful countryside, in a part of the country that is well off the tourist track. Long may it stay un-found and un-spoilt.