Friday, April 29, 2016

Penn's Cave

On a slightly blustery day back in March, we took a trip to "Historic Penn's Cave" in central Pennsylvania - about 2 1/2 hours drive from home.  Penn's Cave is a series of underground limestone caverns with beautiful stalagmite and stalactite formations, but with the unusual feature of only being navigable by boat.  Sounded like fun!

The caves were reportedly first discovered by the Seneca Indians, and there is an old Indian legend surrounding the caves and the ghost who may haunt them, as well as the origins of the Nittany Lion (now the Penn State Uni mascot).  They were first opened to the public in 1885, and an old Victorian hotel (now staff offices) sits close by, which used to host visitors to the cave.

The tour starts by descending a steep stone staircase into the mouth of the cave, where we met our tour guide and our "barge".  The relatively small area of daylit water is a temporary haunt of some large trout, who love to be fed by hand (they can only survive in the daylight waters, and presumably scoot back through the caverns to freshwater when they've eaten their fill!)  The caves are also home to the occasional owl (spot him?) and a large bat population (spot one?) during the winter months.  The caves stay a mild ~50 degrees throughout the year (50 degrees being the average temperature for the area).  

Spot the owl?
Spot the bat?
Once settled, the boat slowly made its way through the caves, mostly in darkness, with occasional modern lighting effects, or simply the tour guide's torch, to highlight some of the beautiful formations.  The caves are vast, and at times it was difficult to get a fix on the actual size of some of the areas we were shown.  And the tour only covers a very small percentage of the caverns which have been explored so far...  Lots of the shapes were named after everyday objects or famous sights, such as the Liberty Statue and Gibraltar Rock.  There was even a naturally formed heart shape.

The headroom got a little low at one point, too!

And then suddenly the air moved a little differently, a spot of daylight became visible, and we were back in the open, through the "back door" which links with the wildlife park also on site (sadly not yet open for the season when we visited).

After a little trip round the lake, and a long distance view of some of the residing animals, we headed back into the darkness again, through the caves for a last glimpse of the limestone forms, and then all too soon we were back at the stone staircase at the end of the tour.

We'll definitely be back - if only to get a proper glimpse of these bison!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Toronto - Part 2

After all that walking, we decided a change of pace was needed, so the next day we took a trip or two on the "Hop On Hop Off" tour buses for a wider view of the area.  Have you ever noticed that these are always ex-London buses, which means you have to get in and out of the bus via the road in countries which drive on the right, which is always interesting...

The tour bus was by far the best way to see the sights, with added commentary, and we got great views from the top of the open top deck in the relatively mild weather.  (Just before we got on the bus, we did spot a random spiderman...)

We headed up Younge Street from it's originating point by the waterfront.  For a long time, this road was in the Guinness Book of Records for being the longest street in the world, but in 1999 they decided it was actually joined onto another, separate road (Ontario's Highway 11), and instead of the combined distance of 1178 miles, it actually measured only 53 miles...  Ooops.

We toured the Old Town district, past St Lawrence Market, the Distillery District and Toronto's first Post Office.  Then back into the midst of town where we stopped briefly for some shopping in one of the large malls.  

Then we hopped back on and headed up to Casa Lomo - allegedly North America's only full-sized "castle".  It's really a huge mansion house, which sits proudly on top of a hill overlooking Toronto, and was built in 1911 by Sir Henry Pellatt.  Spread across 5 acres, it was once the largest private residence in Canada, costing $3.5m.  Sadly it was only lived in for 10 years before Sir Henry was forced to abandon it due to financial misfortune.  There are lots of large stately rooms to explore, and some lovely gardens, although most of these were blocked off for a wedding later that day.  We also climbed through the extensive attic spaces to the top of one of the towers for more (breezy) views back across the city.

Our trip was coming to an end, but we couldn't leave without exploring the Waterfront area further, and decided to take a tour boat round the Toronto Islands.  These are situated just off-shore from the city centre, and are used mostly as recreational land, although there is also a small airport and a community of about 300 residents (considered the largest urban car-free community in North America).  I can imagine it would be very popular in the warmer summer months, with beaches, picnic areas, parkland, cycle hire, paddle boats and frisbee golf all available.  And as our boat headed back into harbour, we got some more great views of the city skyline, although the sky was a bit grey and threatening.

We explored a little further along the Waterfront itself, where there was a festival or two going on at the Harbourfront Center, as well as shops, bars and restaurants.  And then we finished the day with a spontaneous visit to a Comedy Club in town!

All too soon it was time to head home again, past the vineyards to the border, and then the long drive back to Lancaster...