Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Branson, Missouri: Something for everyone

Yes, there is country music in Branson but today the music includes all genres from country to soul. Branson has grown to be so much more than music. There are fascinating museums plus fishing, hiking, boating, and much more. Truly there is something for everyone.

1. Big Cedar Lodge: Just a few miles from the center of Branson is a beautiful full-service resort tucked in the wooded hills. Big Cedar Lodge, located on Table Rock Lake, is the perfect retreat offering boating, fishing, and swimming in a natural setting.

2. Golf: With a name like Murder Rock Golf & Country Club golfing has to be exciting. The name comes not from golfers but from a legend about a gang that ambushed travelers during the mid-1800s. Today it is a place of beauty with lush fairways, pristine greens, and expansive views.

3. Dogwood Canyon: Fall in love with the beauty of the Ozarks hiking, biking, or horseback riding. The 2,200-acre nature park sprawls across the Missouri-Arkansas border, just south of Branson. Fly fishing lessons and guided fishing trips are available.

4. Shopping: Branson is a shopper’s delight. Explore Branson Mill where local craftsmen demonstrate their skills. The new Branson Landing includes more than 100 shops. Don’t miss Dick’s 5 & 10, an eclectic mix that includes the owner’s collection of sports and aviation memorabilia.

5. Museums: Car lovers will enjoy the more that 100 vehicles on display at the Branson Auto Museum. Pretend to be one of the paparazzi while visiting the Hollywood Wax Museum, the only wax museum devoted entirely to celebrity figures. The spirit of the Titanic lives on at the Titanic Museum with over 400 artifacts on display.

6. Silver Dollar City: It would take several days to see and do everything at Silver Dollar City. Enjoy thrilling rides including the new $7 million Tom and Huck’s RiverBlast, watch craftsmen at work, explore Marvel Cave, take a Culinary Class to learn how to make the local version of succotash, relax in the shade while listening to a storyteller, and visit the circa 1800s church and school.

7. Dining: Enjoy Andy Williams’ favorite family recipes at his Moon River Grill or head to Mel’s Hard Luck Diner with the singing waiters. Not to miss is the Chuck Wagon Dinner at Big Cedar Lodge and the Hilton’s Level 2 Steakhouse. Try the local version of succotash, which is a meal in itself.

8. Ozark Zephyr: Take a scenic ride on a vintage train through foothills of the Ozarks. Travel over trestles, through tunnels, and past small communities while listening to local stories. Enjoy their seasonal Polar Express experience complete with snow upon arrival back at the station.

9. Music: Of course music is Branson’s mainstay. Enjoy the music of the Baldknobbers, Platters, Oak Ridge Boys, Andy Williams, and many more performing artists. It is possible to enjoy a different show every morning, afternoon, and evening. Branson is especially exciting at Christmastime when the town pulls out all the stops to celebrate the season.

There is so much more. Visit Bonniebrook, the home of Rose O’Neil, creator of the Kewpie doll. Enjoy the trill of the Branson Ballknocker and the Vigilante ZipRider, parasail high above Table Rock Lake, visit a winery, take a cruise on the Lake Queen, dine while enjoying a great show on the Branson Belle, and/or relax with a spa treatment. For a free vacation guide log on to or call 800-296-0463.

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Visiting Kingston, Ontario: The Limestone City

Kingston is a wonderful place to visit. It is called the “Limestone City” because so many of their buildings are constructed of limestone. We decided to make it a circle drive so we crossed over the 1000 Island Bridge and headed west to Kingston. We stayed at the First Canada Inn located conveniently off the parkway. The price was reasonable and parking, breakfast, and the Internet were gratis. The city bus stop is nearby but it was only a few minutes drive to the city center.

It is always best to tour a city on Sunday or a holiday because there is less traffic and often free on-street parking. Our first stop was the Visitor’s Center where the train that carried the body of Canada’s first Prime Minister home is adjacent to the center and it is where the city trolley begins.

The Confederation Trolley Tour gave us an excellent overview of the city. We got off at Bellevue, the home of John A. MacDonald, the first Prime Minister of Canada. Restored to the 1840s period, and staffed by costumed interpreters, the house and gardens are kept much as they would have been during the time that Macdonald lived here with his wife and infant son. No matter how many historic homes I visit there is always something interesting to see and learn. The Italianate-style house has three floors but on seven levels. I was impressed with his wash tub that was shaped like a boot and covered so as to keep the water warm.

After the tour we had just enough time to drive to the Penitentiary Museum located in the limestone former Warden's residence. It is located across the street from the current prison, Canada's oldest penitentiary. Most amazing was the artistic creativity of the inmates and their ingenuity in developing escape plans. If only those traits had been properly channeled. One of the docents who was a former guard said, “Some of the inmates just could not deal with the outside world and after they were released they were returned. They were glad to be back.”

A visit to the Cathedral of St. George pointed out a Central New York connection. A plaque on the wall told about Molly Brant, sister of Joseph Brant whose statue is at Mexico Point Park. Because the Brants were loyalists during the American Revolution they moved to Canada. Molly bridged the gap between the Indian and white cultures. Molly and her children by Sir William Johnson were key members in the founding of the church with Molly being the only female founder.

We stayed three nights, which turned out to be perfect. We really enjoyed the luncheon cruise on the St. Lawrence that included information on the area interspersed with music. There were many great homes and camps along the shore We were duly by the new multi-million dollar mansion built by an American from Watertown whose wealth came from those green pine tree deodorizers that dangle off car rear view mirrors.

We also visited the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes. The Alexander Henry, an icebreaker, is in the adjacent dry dock. It is being renovated and may be reopened next season as a B&B. That’s where I would like to stay on our next visit.

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