Monday, April 27, 2009

On the trip to Syracuse, NY and beyond...

I have always heard good things about Alexandria Bay, NY. I can't tell you how many times I/we have drove or rode past there, over the last few years. This last Satuday though, as we headed towards Watertown on Route 37, I decided we would take a little detour to see it for ourselves.

We had left Orleans bright and early at 0645hrs. By 0815 we had passed through customs at Ogdensburg and were headed West along the river on Route 37. This road is a nice relaxed one, but for better scenery and a more 'active' road, you may want to branch off the 37 at Morristown and take Route 12 to Alex Bay. It's a beautifully scenic road, in great shape, with lots of swoops and bends to it. We arrived at Alexandria Bay by 0900hrs.

Turning right at the set of lights, we passed under the archway which announced that we had arrived at the "Heart of the 1,000 Islands". We made our way to what we reckoned was the centre of town, passing all manner of inns, B&Bs, pubs and other sundry shops and boutiques. We hauled the van around at the town's main pier, where cruises for Boldt Castle and Heart Island departed. The town was just about deserted at the time and most shops were still closed.

So... there is plenty to see and do in 'Alex Bay', as the locals refer to it. This is a boating community, make no mistake about it. There is a very nautical flavour to everything here. More specifically, the many shops and boutiques carry more 'pirate-oriented' goods than I've ever seen anywhere else... We were intrigued and decided to stop in for an actual visit and maybe even a layover. The reason for all the pirate regalia would become evident to us, once we had returned.

Leaving Alex Bay behind us, we embarked onto I-81 South, which actually starts at the bridge leading into Canada. We were off to our next destination. My better half had been recently informed of an outlet mall in Waterloo, NY. There presumably one would find 100 outlet stores from such companies as Calvin Klein, Guess, Aldo, BCBG, Polo Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, Old Navy, Nike, Reebok, Nine West and the list went on and on. They were supposedly located some twenty minutes the other side of Syracuse. This was to be our initial target which should leave us plenty of time to double back to the Dinosaur Bar-B-Cue in Syracuse itself. I had printed off a map of our proposed itinerary prior to leaving, but had unfortunately left the map at home. No matter... How hard could it be to find?

As it turned out, the map would have been pretty handy. We made our way past Watertown and sailed on towards Syracuse. Unbeknownst to us at the moment, we should have looked for and taken I-90 as we approached Syracuse. We should have, but we didn't. We skilfully followed the 690 as it threaded us through Syracuse itself and led us back onto I-81 headed South. Feeling rather smug at having been responsible for such an adroit job of driving, I settled in for a short trek to Waterloo.

Well, 20 minutes turned into an hour. We had climbed into the mountains of upstate New York and were thoroughly enjoying the panoramic vistas. We also noticed that there were scores of New York State's finest hiding here, there and everywhere along the interstate. We had yet to see any signage for Waterloo, though. I began to suspect we might be headed in the wrong direction. By the time we reached the small burg of Cortland, we had pretty much had enough of the guessing game. I took Exit 10 and we looked for a place to double back on our tracks. Stopping into a small convenience store, I asked for directions to the Waterloo outlet stores.

Sure enough, I was informed that we had overshot by quite a bit. We would have to return to Syracuse and take the I-90 (New York State Throughway) to Waterloo. Fine... Time was marching on at this point and I could feel the day start to slip away from us. It was as though destiny had taken the wheel from me and we were now just along for the ride. Still, we refused to become verklempt over a little navigational error and the day was just great. Incredibly warm, sunny, wonderful scenery... So what if we felt like we were running a little late. If worse came to worse, we'd bunk dopwn stateside somewhere tonight. We didn't have to make it back home or anything.

Before long, we had made it to the outskirts of Syracuse and fould ourselves at the toll for the beginning of the I-90. This is a toll road, so you pick up a toll card when you enter the throughway. When you decide to get off, you go through another toll, where you pay. It's not expensive or anything, as I recall paying $1.62 (US) as we got off the toll road in Waterloo. We were both under the impression that the outlets were in Waterloo itself. So turning off the toll exit road, we turned right and followed the signs into Waterloo, another 5 miles down the road.

Reaching Waterloo downtown, we decided to turn right and see what we found. I should point out at this point we still had seen absolutely no signage for these wondrous outlet stores of theirs. We cruised along at a sedate 40 mph, looking, looking, looking. After a further 15 to 20 minutes, we were again sensing that we were headed out into the wilds. We stopped at a service station for gas and some friendly directions. Gas down there by the way is a fairly good bargain. At most stations, you can buy a US gallon of regular gas for $2.24 (US). Considering that there are 3.7854 litres in a US gallon, that works out to $0.59 a litre. Pretty much of a bargain, even counting the exchange rate.

As I paid for the gas, I enquired about the outlet stores' location. The attendant was 'not from around there', to be kind about it and the directions he offered were sketchy at best. I knew that we had to retrace our steps, though. As I made my way back to the van, a heavyset, older greybeard called after me. I could tell he was a local and better yet, one of 'my people'. He sported a well-worn set of dungarees, a faded Seal Team t-shirt and the almost compulsory Harley-Davidson ballcap. His right arm bore a half sleeve tattoo, commemorating his time served in Vietnam. He provided a clear set of directions, in 'inglese' this time. He told us we were looking to take Route 318 off the main road. He advised us to be careful as the locals referred to the 318 as 'Death Alley', due to the many collisions which had occurred on that stretch. I thanked him, promising that we'd keep our eyes open and wished him a good day.

It was not long before we had found the elusive 318. It was in fact no more than 200 feet South of the toll exit road. Had we taken it immediately after exiting the I-90 throughway, we'd have been there some time ago. Again, no sweat. It was probably all of 2 miles until we sighted the Waterloo Premium Outlets.

We were famished by the time we arrived. Needing sustenance first, we headed for the air conditioned food court. The choice of food on hand was not terrible, as they had Arby's, Ben's Ice Cream, Burger King, China Express, Subway, Sun Garden Grille and Villa Pizza.

In little time, we were 'fed and watered' and ready to go explore. To be honest, my better half had become a little exasperated by the journey itself. It was well after 1500hrs before we got underway. Outside the sun was blazing. Kudos to the designer of this mall however, as each section of shops had a large overhanging area, which provided shade as you strolled along gazing into the shopfronts. There was a breeze blowing outside, but even the air itself was hot. Each store was of course air conditioned as well, which proved to be a boon as the day wore on. I have no trouble at all believing the temperature hit 29 degrees.

I found some shirts which pleased me, but my biggest score was a 4.1oz (125ml) bottle of Lagerfeld Classic, which I found at Perfumania. I paid $36.00 (US) for this, when the same bottle here in Canada is selling for like $74.00. My daughters will always equate me with the smell of Old Spice, but Lagerfeld is my very favorite cologne of all. My lady found herself a much sought after crepe maker and a variety of colourful tops for her performances with Samba Ottawa. It was the better part of 1700hrs by the time we had completed our rounds of the shops. We were feeling a little frazzled by that time and needed a little rest back at the food court before saddling up and moving on.

I decided that we would drive as far as Alexandria Bay that evening and we would camp there for the night, so that we might explore the village on foot the following morning. It was agreed then. A nice cold drink and we were on our way. I changed out of my jeans in the back of the van, opting for a set of shorts I had judiciously brought along. I swapped my runners for a set of sandals and my t-shirt for a wife-beater. I was ready for the drive back. Before long we were back on the I-90, heading for Syracuse this time. As we approached one particular overpass, I spied a dark blue State Trooper cruiser hiding in the weeds. Checking my speed, I noticed I was a bit over the State-mandated limit of 65 mph. Damn! I eased off the gas and just touched the brake, hoping to scrub off enough speed, although if he was targetting me, he already had me dead to rights.

As we cruised by him however, I was stunned to see a young twenty-something in a silver Mazda come rocketting past us. "And there's our Thompson's gazelle...", I smiled. I checked my rear view mirror and sure enough, Smokie had left his hidey hole and was headed right for us. My window was open and I could hear that big ol' supercharged engine revving as he wound 'er up into pursuit mode. He sailed effortlessly past us and you guessed it, zeroed in on that young feller in the silver screamer. As he was pulling even with him some 300 yards ahead of us, he lit 'er up and slid in behind the Mazda. My better half smiled as well: "Yep...there's our sacrificial lamb". I love it when things turn out that well...

These lads pride themselves on an aggressive program for targetting speed limit violators. Like any State police department, you really don't wanna mess with these lads. They're very good at their job and they do take their work seriously. I waved sadly in the direction of the Dinosaur Bar-B-Cue, as we passed through Syracuse. No yummy ribs or pulled pork BBQ sangies for this boy today... *Sigh!* Ah well... as I stated to my better half, it just wouldn't have felt right pulling up in front of place like that, in a mini-van. Perhaps fate had saved me from the ultimate embarassment, as a rider. That was one gift horse whose mouth I had no intention of looking into.

Arriving at Watertown, we stopped briefly at the Target store. They sell miniatures of everything, ideal for travelling, or making up care packages for military personnel serving overseas. As we would be staying the night in Alex Bay, I picked up small containers of body wash, shampoo, deodorant, a travel toothbrush complete with mini toothpaste and carrying case (these will be regular items we'll keep in the van...). They have everything from mini makeup removers, cleansing pads, q-tips, moisturizer, makeup, you name it... And in several brand names, I might add...

Having stocked up, we checked them time. It had to be all of 2000hrs by then. Fortunately, Watertown comes with it's very own Red Lobster, about 500 feet from the on ramp to the I-81 North (It's on the Arsenal Street exit). We pretty much knew where we wanted to eat... We parked as some raindrops started to fall. Nothing steady or heavy, but they were there. Harbingers of what we were in store for on Sunday, no doubt. Whatever... we entered the restaurant and were guided to a booth. I was happy to be seated away from road noise for awhile. We had been scanning pretty steady for deer since we left Waterloo, so a break was nice.

The hour was getting late and the joint was still busy. I've seen glaciers move faster than our waitstaff, but we just let it go. We were in no rush to get anywhere really, but when folks come in off the road, even if it's gonna be awhile for the food to come out, take their drink orders. At least it'll give them something to take the edge off and they won't be tempted to slash you with the steak knives as you walk by to feed other people...

Eventually, the food came and all was well. I had the steak and shrimp, while my lady went for the lobster-stuffed mushroom caps and a baked potato. We bypassed dessert and trundled off at a little after 2100hrs. It was maybe some 20 miles to Alexandria Bay from Watertown, so we took our time. I will often engage the cruise control maybe 5mph over the limit and forget about it. No cop, regardless how devoted they are, is going to stop you for 5 over. Not unless they're lonely and just want someone to talk to.

It was well dark and just about 2200hrs by the time we pulled into Alex Bay. I followed the signs for the Otter Creek Inn, down by the water's edge. Within 10 minutes, I had our room booked and had received a military discount to boot. We lugged our odds and ends into the room and began setting up for ending the day. The room initially was cool and damp. I flashed up the thermostat and very shortly, the room was warming up and drying out. Within very long, it was time for lights out. asleep. Tomorrow, we would go walk-about...

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