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Boldt Castle (and a little TI Park)

>> Tuesday, August 26, 2014

This summer my family (my husband, father, sister, brother-in-law, niece, and my Dad's friend S) spent a week up at TI Park on Wellesley Island.  Wellesley Island, for those who don't know, is a pretty spot in the 1000 Islands on the St. Lawrence Seaway.  It has a State Park with camping, cabins, hiking trails, and a nature center, which was my childhood favorite place to camp.

The Island is also home to a variety of summer home communities, including the quaint community called TI Park, filled with historic homes, community outdoor recreation spots, and a few restaurants and shops. There are daily soccer and kickball and tennis activities for kids, an outdoor movie theater screening old favorite family movies in the evenings (I got to introduce my niece to The Princess Bride), and lots of ways to enjoy the river.  The homes are all close together, and the people incredibly friendly.  Most of the families who spend a week or a summer there have been doing so for years and a lot of Central and Northern New Yorkers will reflect on their childhood experiences at the place wistfully when it's mentioned.

TI Park was indeed a lovely place to spend a week, (though sadly, as I write this, I realize I took almost no photos of the community itself).  My father and I had been wanting to spend a week there since I was a little kid, when we'd camp at the Wellesley Island State Park and take a drive down to the enchanted little island community of pretty historic gingerbread houses.  It's kind of awesome to do things you've been vaguely dreaming about doing for years.  This year I got in a trip to Israel AND a week at TI Park - not too shabby.

Of course, while we were there we enjoyed the Guzzle, which is (was) the center of social life at TI Park. The Guzzle was, and hopefully will be again, a great little ice cream parlor positively packed every summer evening with families enjoying a treat at the end of the day.  The fire that destroyed it and the adjacent fire house just shortly after our visit was so sad (see here for more on it), but I have high hopes that it will return again.

ANYWAY, I digress from the actual intended topic of this post.  One day we took the obligatory trip to Boldt Castle, on an island right near Wellesley Island. As the Boldt Castle web site states "At the turn-of-the-century, George C. Boldt, millionaire proprietor of the world famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, set out to build a full size rhineland castle in Alexandria Bay, on picturesque Heart Island.  The grandiose structure was to be a display of his love for his wife, Louise."  Louise sadly died before it was complete, and George Boldt abandoned work on it.

When we visited it when I was a child, very little of it was complete - it was largely a crumbling castle with unfinished decaying rooms covered in graffiti.  But OH MAN did those rooms appeal to my active imagination! Check out these before photos.  They are basically how I remember the place from my early visits.

The Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the property in 1977 and has been working on restoring it ever since.  They're making amazing progress.  Not only have the brought the house back to the state it was in when work was abandoned in 1904, but now they are working on completing the plans that George Boldt had drawn up for it, as well as restoring the children's play house (seen above) and other buildings.  I hadn't been to the island in maybe 5 years, and was absolutely astonished at how much has been done in that time. I recommend visiting it if you've never been, and visiting it again if it's been a while!

I took lots of photos, though very few are, ah, well, typical tourist shots I guess.  I somehow zoned in on odd little details, quirky carvings, etc.  I basked in the atmosphere various rooms and buildings exuded.  Pretty much my usual.

For your viewing pleasure, here is my version of Boldt Castle.

The power house that would have housed generators.

I love the little squashed lion-ish face carved over the heart.

This is the amazing stained glass dome over the main staircase.

I LOVE the atmosphere in this shot, which best I can tell, was just a covered walkway to be traversed mostly by servants between the main house and the power house.

The dovecote, which would have been home to exotic fowl but also to a water tower.

I was absurdly excited to see this pool room somewhat restored.  It's one of the spots in the house I've always liked.

Industrious creature.  This was up on the roof of the castle, in a pretty hardy wind.

This is a kind of pepper plant.  It's black.  BLACK.  How cool is that?

My niece's friend Flopsy accompanied us on our visit.  He looked so picturesque on this bench.

Most of the time I don't want any kind of grandiose house, because it wouldn't feel very homey.  I love my old, battered, inviting 1831 Erie Canal Village house the size it is.  I love to visit castles, but wouldn't want to live in one.  But let me tell you how much I want a "porch" like this.  It's got an outdoor fireplace, too.  A gal can dream!


Qumran, Masada, and the Dead Sea

>> Thursday, August 21, 2014

One day during our visit, my sister and brother-in-law hired a private tour guide to take us to some historic sites outside of Jerusalem.

We drove out of Jerusalem, into the Judaean Desert.  It was incredibly beautiful, and a bit frightening.  How long would I survive in those rolling sandy hills?  Not long, I'd wager.  I'm amazed that the Bedouin have been doing it for Centuries.  We did spot several Bedouin communities from the road, but they are no longer dignified encampments in goats hair tents.  Instead, they were little shanty communities, built out of corrugated metals and odds and ends.

Our first stop was Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.  There had also been a Hellenistic Period community there, but that was eventually destroyed by the Romans, and only some excavated ruins remain.  Apparently there have been many theories about the people who lived in the area, and debates rage over whether they were Essenes, or a Sadducean sect, or others.

Whoever inhabited them, the caves are everywhere.  I can easily imagine the 900 some-odd rolls of parchment and papyrus remaining hidden in them for Centuries, given how remote the area is, and how many caves there are in that whole region.  I wanted, as probably every tourist does, to go in the caves, though of course that's not an option, for safety reasons and for preservation reasons.  Still, they were amazing.

From Qumran we moved on to Masada, which is an extremely popular tourist site.  If you don't know the history, I'll try to give it to you in an absurdly abbreviated summary.

Originally fortified by Alexander Jannaeus in the 1st Century BCE, it was turned into a palace by Herod the Great between 37 and 31 BCE. Masada stands on the top of an isolated plateau, in the middle of nowhere. You can see the Dead Sea, the desert hills, and various wadis and ravines from atop its 300-1300 foot cliffs. Thank heavens there is now a cable car running to the top of the plateau, and we did not have to pick our way up the winding snake path to the top in 100 degree heat.  I would never have made it.

The focus on Masada now is not so much on Herod's use of the site, but rather on the story Jewish Roman historian Josephus recorded about Masada. Between 66 and 73 CE, a group of Jews call the Sicarii took control of and lived at Masada.  When the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in 70 CE, additional Jews fled to Masada.  They survived using the many cisterns Herod had built on the plateau to collect rain water. This is a view inside one of the cisterns, hewn right out of the rock:

Masada became essentially the last Jewish holdout in Rome's conquest of the land, with Josephus recording that about 900 people were living there.  In 73 CE, led by Lucius Flavius Silva, a Roman legion surrounded Masada, built a wall surrounding it, and constructed a siege ramp against the western face of the plateau. Eventually the Romans managed to break through the fortifications, but Josephus's story says they only found dead bodies.  The Jews had killed each other when they realized the Roman breach of their defenses was imminent, rather than permit themselves to be conquered, killed, or enslaved by the Romans.

Remaining bits of Herodion stones:

There is scholarly debate over whether Josephus's account is accurate, based on archaeology.  But whether it is fully truth or an embellishment of the truth, for many Jews Masada has come to be a symbol of courage and resistance in the face of enemies who seek to conquer Israel and the Jewish people.

On top of that plateau in July, it felt, quite honestly, like it was about 120 sweltering degrees.  Sadly, the wilting heat kept us from exploring the entire site, but we did see a good deal of it, and the ruins are remarkable.

Just before our trip, my sister had encouraged me to read Alice Hoffman's The Dovekeepers, which tells the story of the siege on Masada from the perspectives of four different women.  I loved the book, though at moments I did feel its length, especially since I knew how it had to end.  It helped me see the beliefs and lifestyles of several different Jewish sects more clearly, and told the story of the Roman siege on Masada in a way that made me feel like I was there.  It also told the story from the perspective of women, which far too few historical accounts do.  I certainly recommend it, but feel it's fair to mention that my mother was far less enthusiastic about the book than my sister and I were.

Ruins of the dovecotes.  Doves were important largely for their droppings, which were used as fertilizer.

Anyway, Masada, and some of its inhabitants.

If you look at the bottom right of this photo, you can see a square where one of the Roman encampments was during the siege.

A closer view of one of the Roman encampments, to the left of this photo:

A begging grackle.  Their wings are orange when they fly - beautiful.

Our tour guide said this adorable fellow is a golden spiny mouse.

This is what remains of the siege ramp, against the western side.

I have no idea if this is ancient or a recreation, but it is lovely.

A window through the remaining wall of the dovecote.

Scraps of mosaic floor from Herod's time at Masada.

Finally, the Dead Sea.  Along with Hezekiah's Tunnel and Zedekiah's Quarries, the Dead Sea was one of the things I was most excited to experience.  It's hard to describe what it was like.  We duly slathered in Dead Sea mud, and waded in to the warm, insanely salty water.  One doesn't swim in the Dead Sea; one bobs like a cork.  It's utterly disconcerting and lovely at the same time.  My sister and niece complained that it was so salty it made various parts of them burn, and to be sure, where I got splashes on my face it left red spots. Thankfully though, I escaped without real discomfort, and thoroughly enjoyed the magical sensation of bobbing in the Dead Sea, looking at Jordan across the water.  I still can hardly believe I was there, and got to actually BE in (sort of on) the Dead Sea.

The amount of salt is discernible when one examines the rocky shore and spots all the salt deposits on and around the rocks.

This post, sadly, concludes my tale of my Middle East experiences.  For now.  Until my next trip.  There will be a next trip - I can hardly wait to go back.  If only peace could return...


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