Go East, Young Lady, Go East!
Having a granddaughter move back east with her husband is bad since she is really missed but, having a granddaughter who lives in Steubenville, Ohio is really great since it gives me and my daughter a reason to pack up the car and head out on a road trip! My daughter, Jennifer is a wonderful traveling companion and a fantastic navigator - the kind that gives easily understood directions, allows plenty of time for the driver to be in the correct lane for any highway change, and has eyes good enough to read all the road signs from a distance.
Since this was our first trip in over two years, Jennifer planned our itinerary to include a stop in Indianapolis so I could visit the Mecca of racing - Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We packed the car, readied ourselves for an adventure and headed up Highway 59 to Texarkana then up through Arkansas where we made our first stop for the night in a small town across the river from Memphis. Looking at the map, we noticed that we were close to St. Louis and The Gateway Arch. The arch is Missouri's tallest accessible building and the world's tallest arch. This was not something we could pass by. The next day we drove to St. Louis and headed to Gateway Arch National Park. The monument stands six hundred and twenty-three feet tall and is built beside the Mississippi river at the site of St. Louis' founding. We visited the museum and learned that there was a tram that carried visitors up to a viewing area at the very top of the arch. Thinking how wonderful it would be to see St. Louis from the top of the arch, I looked around to see what kind of tram they were using and saw a little 4 ft. tall pod that looked a little like a trash can with doors. Just looking at the small car brought about intense feelings of claustrophobia and my desire to make my way to the top, suddenly vanished. We just went to the museum instead. Later we walked around the area and the sight of the towering steel catenary arch beside the wide iconic river with paddlewheel boats full of tourists, truly depicted the gateway to the west.
Leaving St. Louis, we drove up to Indianapolis where we would spend a couple of nights. The next morning, we woke early. This was the big day - the day where after listening or watching the Indy 500 on Memorial Day for the past 65 years, I would finally get to see the hallowed race track known as the Brickyard. The drive from the hotel wasn't too long and suddenly we were on 16th Street at the entrance to the Indy Speedway. It was total excitement for me and very difficult to drive since my head was spinning around like a bobble-head grandma. We headed to the museum first and made arrangements for a guided tour of the facility. We were loaded into a small golf cart type of vehicle with narrow doors that caused me great consternation in trying to get in or out until I discovered that the better way to exit was to stand up and then turn, lean forward and back out. Me climbing out backwards probably was not a very pretty sight and a man who was walking by when he saw my egress through the narrow door, laughingly mentioned he would never be able to unsee the image.
Continuing the tour, we drove around all the buildings that surround the race track and then ended up at the front straightaway where there is still a thirty-six-inch strip of the original bricks at the start/finish line. This is the area where drivers and their teams line up to kiss the bricks to pay tribute to the history of the speedway. Unfortunately, we couldn't walk on the track since there was a Porsche race that day. We did visit the podium where the first, second, and third place drivers stand to get their trophies. I actually stood on the first-place step in the footsteps of Hélio Castroneves, this year's winner and four-time winner of the Indy 500 race. While I stood there in his footprints, I clicked my heels together three times and said his name out loud so if I'm not mistaken, I think in the world of Indy racing, that makes me married to Hélio! Leaving the podium, we headed to the media center and the lower control tower. We saw the room where the decision to go to caution, stop, or go is made. It is all done by the push of buttons on a little control box on the desk. (Our tour guide did suggest that we refrain from pushing any button since there were drivers on the track.)
We finished our extensive guided tour and entered the museum. I was surprised by the size and completeness of the museum. They had cars from all years and all teams. It was very impressive and educational. I have never seen so many race cars in one place in my life. One of the most interesting displays was the car that won the 1911 race next to the car that won the 2011 race. Lot of changes in car design in the one hundred years! I easily could have spent a week there just wandering around, looking at all the cars. The one disappointment in the timing of our visit is that they weren't offering the bus tour that takes the passengers out for a lap around the track - but, there's always next time. Leaving Indy was difficult and if things work out, I hope to go back someday.
We arrived in Steubenville, Ohio to visit my granddaughter and her husband. Ohio is a wonderful state and Steubenville is a great place to spend some time. We went to a nutcracker shop in the downtown area and then visited Fort Steuben. The historic fort was built in 1786 for the protection of surveyors who had been sent by the Continental Congress to make maps of the Northwest Territory. At that time, the Indians in the area were considered hostile. The fort was later named after Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, a Prussian army officer who had assisted George Washington during the Revolutionary War. Today, the site has been reconstructed and open to the public. Tours of the fort also include visiting the first Federal Land Office west of the Alleghenies. The original structure, houses, and antiques are on display.
The next day we drove into Pittsburgh to have brunch at the beautifully preserved Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Station's restaurant - The Grand Concourse. The food was excellent and being served in an elegant room with cathedral-stained glass vaulted ceilings, marble columns, and an impressive staircase brought about feelings of being transported to an earlier and more glamorous time. I had been there before in 1960 with my husband when the building was a still an active and very busy train station. It was good to see that the building had been saved and put to good use. The next day we drove into Pittsburgh to have brunch at the beautifully preserved Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Station's restaurant - The Grand Concourse. The food was excellent and being served in an elegant room with cathedral-stained glass vaulted ceilings, marble columns, and an impressive staircase brought about feelings of being transported to an earlier and glamorous time. My husband and I had traveled to Pittsburgh by train in 1960 to visit his parents and at that time it was still a very active and busy station since it served as the hub for many trains heading to the east coast. It was great to see that the building had been saved and put to good use.
After brunch, we headed up to Mount Washington to visit one of the best viewing areas for seeing downtown Pittsburgh. I was totally amazed at the beauty of the city. Pittsburgh, at the time of my first visit many years ago was a nice city but seemed dark and stained by coal dust but that image has been gone for years. From the observation deck high above the city, we could view the whole city skyline that lies along the Monongahela River. Looking to our left, we were able to see Heinz Field right at the point where the Ohio and Allegheny rivers join the Monongahela. There was a game that day and the stadium was glowing from the abundance of gold shirts worn by the Steelers loyal fans and as far away as we were, we could even hear the cheering from the crowd. The view from the observation deck was phenomenal and showed Pittsburgh off to its best advantage. Mount Washington also offers a lot of upscale restaurants and there is an inclined plane railroad and two uphill trolleys that will take visitors up Mount Washington for tours. A lot to see in Pittsburgh but the view from Mount Washington was the perfect way to end our visit to the city.
Early the next morning, we began out on our three generational girl's trip to Niagara Falls. We planned to stay on the American side of the falls due to Covid19 restrictions on crossing over into Canada. The drive from Steubenville was only about 4 and 1/2 hours and was an easy, scenic trip. We had reservations at the Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino which turned out to be a wonderful place to stay. The room was great and we could even get a glimpse of the falls from our window. The major difficulty was in being able to eat at the hotel restaurants. They probably were on reduced seating and reservations had to be made many hours in advance of the meal. We left the hotel and found a Rainforest Café not too far from the hotel and after about a 45-minute wait, we were seated at a table and very ready to eat. The food there was excellent. I had fried shrimp, cooked to perfection with a batter that was very light but had a lot of flavor. The service was excellent and the ambiance of the restaurant was fun with all the animals howling and the rain pouring down on cue. I definitely recommend the restaurant to anyone visiting the area.
When we arrived back at the hotel, we decided to try our luck in the Casino. My granddaughter, Cadie, had never known the fun of the one-arm bandits and I was eager to introduce her to this form of gambling. After playing one machine to show her the ins and outs of how slots function, we each found a machine that spoke to us and began to seriously feed the hungry mechanical beast all the quarters we had. I ventured up to a dollar machine and after playing for a while, my winnings grew to an astounding win of $88.00 over my original bet. Cashing in and securing my fortune, I went to check on the others and see how they were faring. Cadie wasn't having too much luck and wandered over to the bar and a blackjack game. There, she found her true calling and came out $15.00 richer than when she entered. However, in spite of our obvious winning streaks, it was time to head upstairs and to bed since we had a tour of the Falls early the next morning.
Our tour bus arrived promptly and took us to a tour boat that was the first stop of the day. As we boarded the Maid of the Mist tour boat, we were given a rain poncho to wear during the excursion. The tour promises that you can "soak up every drop of powerful stray." They were not kidding. We followed our tour guide's advice and stood at the very front of the boat as we churned through the waters past the American falls and Bridal Veil falls headed to Horseshoe falls. The dramatic trip that took us through the powerful waterfall whitewater and huge rock formations until it appeared that we were almost directly under Horseshoe falls with the strong mist hitting us from every angle. We stopped in the basin for a viewing opportunity and there were falls to our left, to our right, and almost on top of us. It was a beautiful, ethereal feeling with the gray skies merging into the foaming mist from the tons of water pouring over the falls that blurred the line between ground and sky. It felt like we were swept up in an altered, and very wet, world. We discovered that standing at the front of the boat was probably the wettest place so it was almost impossible to get a picture since our cameras would have been soaked. All in all, it was a wonderful tour and the better way to see the falls if you don't mind getting a little wet even with the ponchos.
The tour continued with stops at various viewing points and the whole area was well worth seeing. There was a lot of walking and I recommend making sure you have good shoes and take a bottle of water. The Park covers about 400 acres and was designed by the same architect who designed Central Park. The area surrounding the falls includes gardens, 15 miles of challenging hiking trails with stunning views at each turn. I read on their website that there is a scenic trolley for an historic overview of the area. We did go to the Adventure Theater and saw a film showing the story of Niagara Falls explorers and daredevils. Looking at the power of the water, I cannot even imagine what would possess someone to want to go over the falls in a barrel - I got enough of a thrill just standing close to the rushing waters. All in all, Niagara Falls is a fantastic place to visit. What we didn't know is that the falls are lighted at night and there are fireworks displays over the falls that are said to be magical. If you plan a trip, it would be a good idea to visit their website at https://www.niagarafallsstatepark.com/attractions-and-tours to learn about all the attractions and tours that are available.
Our time passed very quickly and soon it was time to head back home. While this blog centers on short trips in our great state of Texas, it is always good to get out and visit other states and see the wonders our fantastic country has to offer. I have been fortunate enough to have visited all 50 states and I can truthfully say that I've never been anywhere that I haven't found beauty and fantastic people!
Let us know what your favorite things to do or places to go were when you were younger. Go to the CONTACT US page and email the information or any comment you have about the trips that have been featured. We always want to hear from our friends and neighbors!