Category Archives: Travel

When Good Restaurants Go Bad!

SarahRocks.jpgWe just returned from a wonderful trip to Willsboro, NY after a wonderfully relaxing family vacation on the shore of Lake Champlain.

After settling in and unpacking we headed out for something to eat.  We stopped first at a small grocery store attached to a gas station (which seems to be the norm in this neck of the woods) and asked the employees for a good family place to eat. Two of them recommended Zeke’s pub and, not seeing a huge amount of options, we decided to give it a try.

From the start the signs were not good.  A surly waitress waved a hand to the near empty restaurant and indicated we should take our pick.

(Warning sign #1)  The fact the restaurant was empty at dinnertime on a Saturday should have been a sign to turn tail and run, but we toughed it out and sat down at the only table that could fit five.

The menu contained the usual pub fare and so the men selected the usual assortment of burgers, while my daughter and wife went for pizza and fish and chips respectively.

(Warning sign #2) We were a little surprised when the french fry options were presented as “hand cut or frozen”.  I honestly thought I had not heard correctly because I have never been to a restaurant that offers you frozen french fries, even if that is what many of them actually do provide.  We all opted for the hand cut.  Perhaps that was a mistake as we will see later.

There followed a long delay in which we sat in direct line of the A/C and tried to stave off hypothermia.  We made it…just.

The food finally arrived and we tucked with gusto. It had been a long day and we were famished.  That enthusiasm soon faded when we discovered the food was tasteless. The menu said that Joanne was supposed to get two pieces of fish with her fish & chips, but she only got one. She was going to complain, until she tasted it and decided to just let it be.  Then we found the first long black hair in Joanne’s fries…then Greg found a long BLONDE hair in his burger…and at that point we were pretty much done.  We paid the bill and left vowing NEVER to return to Zeke’s again.

A couple of days later we stopped at Johnny’s Family Smokehouse just a little way down the road from Zeke’s.  What a difference!  The place was packed and we had to eat in the bar area.  We were greeted warmly, the menu was interesting and the food was excellent.  The pulled pork sandwiches were wonderful, the calzone tasty and we left feeling full and happy with a new discovery.  This place definitely warranted a second visit before we headed home!

As always happens on vacations the last day arrived far too quickly and, before we knew it, we were heading out for the last meal of the trip.  We asked the kids where they wanted to go and Johhny’s was a unanimous and resounding favorite.  They received no argument from us and off we went.

(Warning sign #1)  We pulled into the parking lot and, despite being Friday night, it was mostly empty.  Odd but this meant that the large open air section near the carpark was available and we opted to sit outside as it was a beautiful night.

zekesAs we walked to the door one of the kids pointed at the new sign which read “Johnny’s and Zeke’s”! The “Zeke’s” part was more of a footnote at the bottom of the sign… they seemed to be trying to make that part look unnoticeable. We should have turned around right then but the sign nearby read “The best of both worlds” so we figured that they must surely have kept all the good stuff…right?

(Warning sign #2) The menus arrived…they were the menus from Zeke’s. They were even the same cheap white paper, rather than the high-quality Johnny’s menus. The glasses were the cheap plastic glasses from Zeke’s also.  Both places had pulled pork so Joanne asked if this was the pulled pork we had the other night only to be told “No, this is a different recipe”.  I eyed the car parked nearby and absentmindedly fingered the car keys.

(Warning sign #3) The first thing out of the waiter’s mouth was a long list of things they were out of, which covered about half of the menu.

(Warning sign #4) The french fry options…you guessed it…now it was hand cut or frozen! Not only that, but you now had to pay an extra two dollars to just get the french fries, unless you would prefer your burger with cheap Lay’s potato chips straight from the bag (a Zeke’s specialty) .

I chanted the optimistic mantra that surely they would keep the best while we waited for the food to arrive.

(Neon warning sign #5) My optimism lasted right up to the point where the only other table requested to speak with the manager and then spent the next 30 minutes blasting her and then what I presume to be the co-owner with phrases such as “Disgusting and unsanitary”.  He reminded them that “shrimp scampi isn’t normally served as a soup” and that it was “not normal for the chef to decide what he would serve someone after realizing that they were out of what he had ordered.”

(Flashing neon warning sign #6) Our neighbor said he couldn’t understand it because he knew the chef…and that was when we heard that we heard that the old chef had quit because he didn’t like the new arrangement.  Yes…it seems we were back to the “Chef” from Zeke’s!

We had plenty of time to listen to this tirade in detail because about 45 minutes had passed since we placed our order with still no sign of it appearing.  The waiter did come and tell us they were backed up, which was hard to understand considering they place was nearly empty.

I was now actively campaigning for an immediate exit after leaving enough cash to cover the drinks.  Joanne was much more hesitant as she had never left a place after ordering food.  That continued right up to the point where we pointed out that one of the things our neighbor complained about (and the reason for the disgusting comment) was that he found hair in his food.  The look on her face was priceless, followed by a comic swirling dust cloud as she headed for the car at top speed.  I pushed some money under a glass and, without a second glance, peeled out of there in a tire smoking dash for safety. We went to another restaurant and, admittedly, the food there wasn’t that great either. But it was hairless, and that was good enough for us.

As we were driving home from that other restaurant, we passed by the sad building that was once home to a wonderful restaurant. The parking lot of this PUB was completely deserted… at 9:30 on a Friday night. That was a sure sign that something had gone horribly wrong.

We now have a new phrase in the household.  To be “Zeke’d” is to take a great restaurant…and destroy it thoroughly. Also, whenever we pull into a restaurant, we double-check to make sure there’s no “and Zeke’s” on the sign.

Ahh, family vacations, they are all about making memories…and this one is going to stick with the family for a while!

 

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Filed under Children, Life - or something like it, Travel

Where Did Empathy Go?

Coach_USA_ShortLine_50889A detour on the commuter bus into NYC clearly showed how little empathy people have for their fellow passengers.

Because of construction the bus was sent on a detour and ended up taking a wrong turn.  When the driver realized what he had done he asked if anyone knew how to get back to his route.

I provided directions to quickly and easily turn around and get back on track and was immediately shouted at by several other passengers who insisted that he should take the next right and go directly onto Rt. 208.  

When I pointed out he would then be unable to pick up the people still waiting along the regular route there was a collective (and loud) “So what!?

I’m assuming the people acting this way are the same ones that will be on the phone to the bus company if the bus is a minute late.

When did getting to work 5 minutes earlier become more important that making sure that other people are looked after and treated fairly?

 

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Filed under Life - or something like it, Travel

900 Miles on a Motorcycle – It’s All Dolphins!

I have just spent the past few days enjoying the best scenery and back roads that the Catskills and Adirondacks have to offer with the wonderful folks from Backroads magazine.  

It’s hard to put into words how great this trip was.  The weather was perfect and the ride pace set by my good friend MB was spot on – fast enough to enjoy the roads to the full but without being a hero.  We rode through spectacular scenery and little towns with architecture straight out of a fairy tale.  I spent a good deal of time checking out the beautiful old stone churches with tall spires and thinking how great they would look photographed from the air – my current obsession.

While on the trip I finally came to realize that the bike I bought new in 2001 is now the old girl of the group. Despite that she still rides great and, even though at least 50hp down on most of the bikes we were riding with, can hold her own.  After 15 years the old girl can still fly. 

MB and I were joined by Jeff, an honest to goodness private detective sadly minus the obligatory fedora.  Hanging out with Jeff and MB was a blast.  Their irrepressible charm and quick wit turned even the mundane items such as ordering lunch into a laugh fest for all concerned.  My cheeks ached from laughing so much.

Over lunch on Friday we talked about how sad it is that so many people are afraid to enjoy life.  When I told people I was going away for several days of motorcycle riding many assumed the worse.  As Jeff put it “People are afraid to go in the water because of the one in a million possibility of being eaten by a Great White when they are far more likely to encounter Dolphins.”

This led to the catch phrase “It’s all dolphins” being used for the rest of the trip.  This caused a few raised eyebrows with the wait staff:

  • “How was dinner guys?”
  • “It’s all dolphins!”
  • “?”

Backroads motorcycle magazine

On Backroads rides most of the riding is done in your own group, and at your own pace, with everyone meeting up at the end of the day for some lively chat and a few drinks.

If this is your first time with Backroads the first thing you will notice is just how friendly people are.  Everyone is family. People will walk up to you, shake hands and start chatting as though you have known each other for years.  Brian and Shira somehow know everyone personally and have great stories of their own but, as hosts, are in much demand.

Sadly our little troop all had things to do and couldn’t stay so we headed home early on Saturday morning.  I followed MB down as far as Lake George where we ate breakfast and then went our separate ways, with him blasting home on the highways while I took a more meandering route down through the Catskills and Bear Mountain.

I arrived home mid afternoon on Saturday after about 900 miles of amazing back-road riding in near perfect weather.  My BMW performed flawlessly and now needs to be rewarded with a service and a new rear tire, which is completely shot.

It’s a shame that many people will never experience something like this because of fear of the unknown.  Yes, things can go wrong.  But more often things go right and, personally, some of the most amazing times I have started out as a disaster and ended with the making of life long friends and memories.

I once heard the quote “Everyone dies, but not everyone lives” and that resonates with me personally.  Don’t be afraid!  Get out there and enjoy life.  It’s all dolphins!

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Filed under Automobiles and motorcycles, Life - or something like it, Travel

Tail of the Dragon – Part Deux – Wheels Through Time Museum

Wheels Through TimeWhile taking in the awesome roads  in North Carolina I felt compelled to visit the Wheels Through Time Museum, and I’m so glad that I did because I’ve never experienced a museum quite like it.  

The Wheels Through Time Museum is home to the world’s premier collection of rare American Vintage Motorycles.  Located 5 miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway, in beautiful Maggie Valley, NC, this All-American motorcycle museum houses over 300 of America’s rarest and most historic classic motorcycles, with over 24 marques on display, including the likes of Harley-Davidson, Indian, Excelsior, Crocker, Henderson, and much more.  Featuring dozens of motorcycle-related exhibits, ranging from board track racers, hillclimbing, and original paint machines to American Dirt Track racing, choppers and bobbers, and one-of-a-kind motorcycles, this is a must-see place if you are a motorcyclist.  And if you are Harley Davidson fan then this must be as close to Mecca as one can find.

Riding from Deals Gap I once again found myself surrounded by amazing riding roads and the most gorgeous scenery.  This was also my first opportunity to ride a section of the Blue Ridge Parkway and riding the full length of that was immediately added to the bucket list.

From the outside the museum seemed a little disappointing.  I’m not sure why but standing in the parking lot looking at the entrance it didn’t seem that big and I was wondering whether I should bother.  I went and was immediately greeted by staff that were so genuinely happy so I paid my $12 and headed through the gap in the wall that serves as an entrance.

On the other side begins an Aladdin’s cave of motorcycle treasure and the atmosphere and attitude of the staff was beyond friendly.

IMG_0736

Only when heading upstairs and looking out across the whole space did I truly start to appreciate how vast the place is – truly TARDIS like.

I wandered around with no particular goal but just taking in the wonders of the place.  Every nook and cranny is filled with motorcycle memorabilia and, just when you thought you had seen it all, another aisle would appear with something new to behold.

While standing and admiring one particularly beautiful old Henderson one of the staff came by and the following conversation occurred:

  • “Beautiful machine isn’t it?”
  • “It sure is.  I’ve always loved Hendersons”
  • “Yup….Want to hear it run?”
  • “What?….Ummm…really?  SURE!”

At which point he fiddled, twiddled, tickled and twisted a few things and then spun the rear wheel.  Immediately the bike roared to life sounding both raucous and silky smooth at the same time.

I can’t think of any other auto museum that I have been at where they are happy to actually start the vehicles right in front of you, but that happened multiple times during my visit.  Sure every so often it made your eyes sting a little…but it was worth it to see and hear those amazing machine run!

All too soon I was out of time and needed to get back on the road but what an amazing experience.

This is a must-do event for any gear head that is in the area.  Just make sure that you have plenty of memory in that camera!

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Filed under Automobiles and motorcycles, Travel

An Unexpected Discovery!

Don’t you love it when a simple activity turns into an unexpected discovery?

Yesterday was such a beautiful day that I just had to take the bike out for a run and, with no particular destination, I just pointed the front wheel down the roads that looked fun.

Around noon I found myself near Greenwood Lake…and hungry.

A small triangular island with a café on it appeared and I decided to stop for a quick bite.

Little more than a kitchen with a couple of tables and a tiny parking area I wasn’t expecting much but the proprietor (Jason) was very friendly and the place clean.  I ordered bacon, egg and cheese on a roll and a coffee and was told the coffee comes with it.  Great!

While the sandwich was made I helped myself to a coffee from the nearby stand and was stunned to find that it was actually good coffee!  I didn’t see that coming.

I settled at the table and was presented with a sandwich nicely presented on a clean white china plate. No paper plates here.  I tucked in and…it was fantastic!  OK, I know we are not talking about high-end food here but it was tasty, perfectly cooked, not greasy.  Really…it was exactly what I was looking for.

I was enjoying a nice chat with my neighbor when Jason when brought over a little container of bar-b-q sauce and said to us “Try it…it has strawberries in it”.  It was delicious!  Tangy and sweet but not too much of either.  Apparently they have a smoker coming in soon and will be offering a variety of BBQ fare.  I’ll have to remember to stop in and try that once they are up and running.

My neighbor was raving about his potato salad and Jason asked if I wanted to try some of that too.  Another hit!  And it was fun to see someone so excited about the foods he was preparing.

Finally it was time to pay and the grande total for the unexpected culinary experience and friendly conversation – a whopping $4.27!  I was so impressed I even did a Facebook check-in there…which I never do.

I left with a smile on my face, refreshed and ready to hit the road again – not bad for under $5.

If you’re interested in trying them out you can find them at:

3 Corners Cafe
160 Windermere Ave
Greenwood Lake NY 10925
845-595-1664 
threecornerscafe@yahoo.com

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Filed under Automobiles and motorcycles, Life - or something like it, Travel

Permission to change your mind

routeIn the spring of 2011 I planned motorcycle ride from New Jersey to San Diego to visit some friends and see the country along the way. Unfortunately it had to be postponed due to a ridiculous work deadline – a decision I later came to regret.

Two years later the stars were finally in alignment and I had the green light to make the trip.

The day before everything was prepped, the bike was ready, bags packed and a comprehensive route planned   And then I woke with the realization that I just wasn’t into making the trip anymore!

There were logical explanations of course.  Being away now would mean missing my son’s 13th birthday, Mother’s day and possibly our wedding anniversary.  There’s also the expense, loss of earnings, risk etc.

None of those had anything to do with it.

Two years ago I couldn’t wait to get started.  I needed it. Work was incredibly stressful and I needed a break.  But after several weeks of working from home I find I’m the most relaxed I have been in years and the need to escape has evaporated.

I was moving forward with the trip because it was expected and I came to the conclusion that wasn’t a good enough reason to go.

The trip had stopped being an adventure and had become a chore, so I gave myself permission to change my mind.

It’s amazing how difficult it can be to give yourself permission to do that, even if every instinct tells you that you’re doing something for the wrong reason.  Instead we feel the need to keep going at all costs and pretend that everything is OK.

Why do we feel that way?  How often do people keep going in the wrong direction out of fear of criticism?  Whether in battle, politics, or relationships how often should something have been stopped that was not, and at what cost?

As for me when the decision was finally taken I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. More importantly I surprised that everyone involved not only accepted my decision but supported it.

Will I ever get around to making that trip?  Possibly.  But only if it starts to feel like an adventure again.

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Filed under Automobiles and motorcycles, Life - or something like it, The Human Condition, Travel

Foreign travel this year? You need Google Translate

If you are planning on traveling outside the US this year then Google Translate is just the thing to slip into your pocket before you head for the airport.

Offering translations in over 50 languages there’s a good chance that it’s got your back wherever  you land.

Translation is performed by selecting the languages to translate between, entering the text and pressing the Go button.  The text in your target language will then appear below in large text and can even be expanded to full screen.  Touch the small speaker icon and it will speak the phrase with an accent that, while I’m sure funny to natives, is far better than I could muster.

If you’re using an iPhone or Android phone then speech entry is also possible, which might help you with the response you receive from the locals.

The one downside is that for this to work it needs an internet connection.  That’s fine if you can find a wi-fi hotspot, but if you turn on your internet connection while overseas you’re likely to run up a huge data charge by the time you get home.  Then again, if you’re trying to explain to the police why you couldn’t possibly be “The butcher of Paris” it might be worth the cost.

As a travel companion this is one app that you definitely not be without.  It’s free, easy to use, and could avoid this sort of unpleasant interaction with the natives.  

Download the app from here.

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Filed under Education, Free Software, Travel