Monday, October 3, 2016

VA-CA Report: A Tour of the Finger Lakes with Road Scholar

Watkins Glen
It is not often that you can combine a vacation and an education. We returned last Friday from a wonderful week of traveling to the Finger Lakes region of New York. I want to write this up now because much of the trip will be gone from my brain soon. I had such a good time I never turned on my computer and didn't blog at all for the first time in a long time. Some people contacted me, worried about my health.

I bought one of these

For 4 of the past 5 years we have taken longer trips abroad in the fall - New Zealand (2011), Portugal (2013), Sicily (2014) and Japan (2015.) All have been tours - with OAT, Rick Steves and Road Scholar. We used to do these type of trips on our own - mostly planned and executed by my wife who finally got fed up at doing all the work. We also found that despite the restrictions of tours and the expense, we discovered that we have enjoyed sharing the experience with new people, often from all over the nation. Meeting them and learning about their lives enriched the trip.

Historic women at Women's Rights National Park
Well, this year we decided to stay local -- in NY State. For years my wife has been bugging me to go up to the finger lakes region of NY. I had an aversion to the finger lakes because we had very boring lessons about them in the 7th grade. But I decided to relent -- and we found a 5-day Road Scholar tour. Our Portugal and Costa Rica trips had been with them (formerly Elder Hostel) and we found them very informative even if a little more rustic -- you won't be having scrumptious meals or super accommodations but you will get guides who are loaded with knowledge and love to share it.

The tour began Sunday night and dealt with the southern finger lakes around Corning NY. So we went up on Friday to explore the northern area on our own - a visit to Seneca Falls - the purported base for Bedford Falls in the movie  It's a Wonderful Life - and the inspiration for the bridge Jimmy Steward jumped off - we went to the museum founded by the youngest daughter in the Capra movie -- Zuzu of the famous petals. We may go back in December for the 50th anniversary. Watch Frank Capra movies -- many relate to social justice. Then on to Skaneateles which if you remember was a Clinton vacation spot. Had my daily ice cream. On Sunday morning we went up to a garden called Sonnenberg Gardens - the summer home of a very rich couple - with spectacular gardens.

We got to the Watson Center at around 5PM to get ready for the first dinner and meeting with the group.

We had lectures on history, geology, history of aviation, history of glass, the local Iroquois nation - a confederation of democratic Indian tribes that gave power to women. A day at Corning glass works museum -- one of the best museums. Another day at the Glenn Curtiss museum -- look him up for a remarkable story. And the final morning at the Rockwell Museum. A boat ride on the lake.

My head is just loaded with "stuff."

What was most surprising to me was the political content of this trip as we discovered the historical significance of the area -- western NY between Pennsylvania and touching on the Rochester area on Lake Ontario, and how it relates to so much of what is going on today.

A quick political hit list:
  • Seneca Falls - Birth of women's rights (1848) - National Park
  • Elmira - first college in US to admit women
  • Area was bed of anti-slavery and underground railroad
  • Inspiration for Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life" - one of my favorite movies that touches on so many social justice issues
  • Home of historic aviator Glenn Curtiss who is ignored but did so much more than the Wright Brothers
  • Corning glass - the impact on a corporate town
  • Geology
  • Watkins Glenn gorge
  • Mark Twain spent enormous time there - wrote much of his stuff - his wife was from the area.
I could write pages on these issues but don't have the time right now.

This was the biggest tour we've been on -- over 30 people - all in our age group and from all over the nation - as far as Idaho. The guide for the week was local and so enthusiastic with sharing her knowledge. We were quartered at the Thomas Watson - the founder of IBM - conference center - you know that computer that won the Jeopardy tournament. No TV in the room - so we had to watch the debate in the few locations where there were TVs. We shared all meals except for 1 - all at the conference center so we ate together and got to know people. We especially bonded with an older couple from Indiana - he's a minister who plays in a classic rock band. He gave us his books of poetry. So interesting.

We were careful politically, assuming there were a batch of Trump supporters - in fact I believe I bonded pretty well with someone from Ohio who was either a supporter or leaning. Which goes to show you. (On our Sicily trip my best pal was a Tea Party guy and we had a blast arguing.) These people were more serious in this trip. But we saw indications of support for Hillary, especially from women.

Well, back to the hum-drum of retirement -- just kidding.


  1. I suspect you meant "Rick Steves"

  2. Your retirement is anything but hum-drum.

    Abigail Shure


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