Niagara Falls, NY Trip Report

We embarked on an 8-day/7-night trip to the East Coast mid-July 2009. Unlike the week-long Eastern Canadian road-trip we did the previous year, this time around the trip was more detail oriented as we had company. Grand parents and a great aunt and uncle added to the merriment. The flight tickets from Oakland to Buffalo with Southwest came to around $195 per person each way – Southwest’s “Wanna Getaway” fares varied between $109 and $189 (plus around $34 in taxes and fees) but given our inflexibility in flight schedule this was the best we could net.

Getting good accommodation on the American side of the falls for a reasonable price for one night is an exercise in futility. Our group was a party of eight and reserving a suite was not easy. The imposing Seneca gambling resort is the only newer hotel in the area. If gambling is in the plans (even slot machines) then Seneca Niagara is the best option. The rooms are nice and the pricing especially the week-nights are pretty good – they are the only game in town and hence payouts and service are just average. Some hotels have a two-night minimum stay restriction in place which they were not inclined to waive in favor of a larger group size. Most of the hotels, even the well-known brands, are located in really old buildings and are saddled with age-related problems. Our reservation was at the Crowne Plaza – the location was ideal (few blocks away from the falls), but everything else was below par -
  • The elevators and the lobby area were constantly jam-packed with teenagers and luggage (as one of the few available options, this is a popular choice for youth soccer and other teams),
  • The suite itself fit six people with two of us having to use portable beds (subject to availability),
  • The almost $600 per night tab was lofty for our frugal standards.

In fact, if there is no visa problems (US citizens need to show passport, others need visa) in getting across the border, our overwhelming recommendation would be to find accommodation on the Canadian side even though there are interesting attractions on the US side.

A quick run-down on the naming of the three different falls for the novice:
  • What the world identifies as the Niagara Falls is the Horse-Shoe Falls (aka the Canadian Falls) and it carries more than 90% of the water that cascades down into the gorge. The brink measures at 2500 feet and sits about 170 feet high.
  • The American Falls that carries less than 10% of the water sits 180 feet high, and the brink measures around 1200 feet.
  • The Bridal Veil Falls is the smallest with brink measurement under 60 feet.

The view of the waterfall from land is undeniably better on the Canadian side, but there are a few things that make a trip to the American side worthwhile. We visited the Observation Tower, Cave of the Winds, Maid of the Mist, and the Niagara Falls State Park areas. Here is a description of the attractions:
  1. Observation Tower: It is a platform that extends over the Niagara Gorge and provides a great view of the falls. Granted this view is not comparable to the one from the Canadian side its beauty is that both the Bridal Veil Falls and the American Falls, the two narrower falls on the American side can be observed. Admission to the observation tower is a dollar from April through October and free the rest of the time – the Maid-of-the-Mist boat tour (a must in our opinion), includes in its price the admission to the Observation Tower.
  2. Cave of the Winds: This tour, located on Goat Island, takes one down to the Gorge. The entire-tour is open May through October and the Gorge-only tour is available in April. A 175-foot elevator gets the visitors to the permanent deck located about 75 feet from the base of the Bridal Veil Falls. The walkway that leads up to the Hurricane Deck, the proximity of which is 20-feet close to the Bridal Veil falls, is reassembled every year in April to avoid damage to the deck due to inclement winter weather. The deck is aptly named for it does simulate tropical storm conditions. This unique experience lets one appreciate the wonders of nature in all its triumphant glory - in our opinion a far better value for money compared to the ‘Journey Behind the Falls’ attraction on the Canadian side as the Hurricane deck gets you closer to the falls. Admission is $11 for adults and $8 for kids over 5 and includes the souvenir yellow poncho and sandals.
  3. Maid of the Mist: This world renowned boat-tour takes tourists to the front of the falls. The tour is offered both from the Canadian side and the US side April through October and is priced reasonably at $13.50 for adult and $7.85 for kids over 5 (the US side pricing includes admission to the Observation Tower, Canadian side pricing is slightly higher).
  4. Niagara Falls State Park: The most underrated attraction on the US side is the Niagara Falls State Park area around the falls (see the green area in the map). The all-day hop-on/off trolley service that covers the 3-mile loop is again affordable at $2 per adult, $1 for kids 6-12, and free for under 6 (Service Hours: 9AM-10PM, subject to change). The service starts from Prospect Point conveniently located very near the Visitor center. If time and spirit allows, walking the scenic park is a great alternative - compared to the Canadian side, the park area is far less crowded and one gets to appreciate the beauty of the place – American Rapids Bridge, the scenic walk by the side of the rapids in Goat Island, the Terrapin point with one of the best views of the Bridal Veil Falls, and the Three-Sisters Island all make the experience memorable and will be cherished for years. And the icing is, the entire experience comes free and at one’s pace…
  5. Others: There is an IMAX 40-minute movie offered at the lower level of the visitor center on a 45-foot screen about Niagara Falls Explorers, Settlers, and Dare Devils. It is $11 for Adults and $7.50 for kids between 6 and 12. For visitors interested in geology, this is a great option, otherwise it can be given a miss.The place is located on Robert Moses Parkway at the tip of Bath Avenue. It also has the Trailhead center which is the starting point for hikes – the trails vary in difficulty and can take anywhere between one and three hours.
If the plan includes all six major attractions on the American side (Maid of the Mist, Cave of the Winds, Scenic Trolley, Adventure Theater, Discovery Center, and the Aquarium), taking advantage of the discount using the Discover Pass is recommended. But, keep in mind that only the Maid of the Mist and Cave of the Winds involve the Falls per se...

Last Updated: 02/2011.


Australia - Travel/Philately/Numismatics/Memorabilia Profile


Australia, a country in the Southern Hemisphere is comprised of the main island, the Island of Tasmania in the South East, and several other smaller islands. Neighboring countries to the North include Indonesia, East Timor, and Papua New Guinea - Australia is pretty much isolated otherwise with only New Zealand to the South East and few other smaller island nations as neighbors. Indigenous Australians (Aborigines) are known to have inhabited the place as early as 40,000 years ago. The major industries are mining, agriculture,  tourism and forestry.

Travel Resources:

Tourists all over the world flock to Australia primarily for the unique flora and fauna and the unlimited natural beauty. Kangaroos, Wombats, Koalas, and Emu can all be found in their native setting in Australia. The major Australian landmarks include the Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge in Sydney, Uluru (iconic rock formations in the Northern Territory), the Great Barrier Reef, and the Blue Mountains. December is peak season Down Under and ticket prices are not tourist friendly at all. As the climate can be all over the map for Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Cairns/Great Barrier Reef it is best to plan and dress accordingly.

ResourceISBN or ASINBest PriceDescription
Frommer’s Australia 2011978-0470640135$17Updated every year, the guide has the most up-to-date practical info such as prices, directions, reviews of hotels, and reviews, etc. Pocket Map included and the guide has other regional and town maps. Itineraries, walking tours, and trip-planning ideas.
Lonely Planet Discover Australia978-1741799910$17Introduction followed by region-wise complete coverage including practical tips.
In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson978-0767903868$11Avoids stereotyping while being funny and informative! Author of ‘Walk in the Woods’.
Australia the Beautiful DVD by Reader’s DigestB0002PUGXE$18170 minutes. Documentary with excellent coverage of the landscapes and biodiversity of this country.
Streetwise Sydney Map978-1931257428$8Folding and Laminated, Scale – 1:10,000.
Universal Plug Adapter for Australia New Zealand China Argentina (VP 103)B00374I2T2$6
LodgingVaries


Philatelic Profile:

The commonwealth of Australia was formed on 1 January 1901, when the six colonies (New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania) became a federation. The colonies issued their own stamps and these stamps were used until 1913.

The first stamps of Australia were a definitive set of 15 stamps with a “Kangaroo and Map” design with denominations from half-penny to two pounds (Scott #1 to #15) released on 2nd January 1913. The issue is significant in that the design does not incorporate any reference to the Monarch as the Fisher government at the time was opposed to the idea. The set is very valuable with the lower denominations valued at tens of dollars to a few hundred dollars and the higher denominations valued in the thousands. The two pound stamp in rose and black (Scott #15) in MNH condition catalogs for almost $9000 – used copies catalog for about one-third while hinged unused copies go for about half that price. The change of government in June 1914 resulted in the issue of a short set of two stamps with a KGV and Kookaburra designs (Scott #17 & Scott #18). The KGV stamp catalogs for around $5 for either used or MNH while the Kookaburra stamp catalogs for almost $200 for MNH and a one-fourth that for used. From 1914 to 1927, Australian stamp issues consisted of just two designs – the “Kangaroo and Map” design and a slightly different version of the KGV design. Most of the “Kangaroo and Map” stamps from this period are highly valued especially in higher denominations. Many of the KGV designs and certain varieties also fetch a heavy premium.

On May 9, 1927 Australia issued their first commemorative stamp to mark the opening of the first parliament house in Canberra (Scott #94). The stamp catalogs for under a dollar for either MNH or used. Vertical and horizontal Imperf pairs of this stamp exists but is very rare. Those catalog in the thousands. Australian flora and fauna along with the monarch theme dominated the Australian stamp issues for several years. One significant issue outside of this theme was the “Nurse, Sailor, Soldier, and Aviator” design issued on July 15, 1940 in a set of four stamps (Scott #184 to #187) to represent Australia’s participation in World War II. The set catalogs for around $20 for either MNH or used. A set of three stamps with a Peace theme followed after World War II (Scott #200 to #202). This set is fairly common and catalog for around a dollar for either MNH or used.



Australia issued an Arms set of four high-value stamps in 1949-50 with denominations from five shillings to two pounds (Scott #218 to #221). A MNH copy of this set is valued fairly high at around $200 while a used set catalogs for just $20. Other significant issues over the years include:
  1. A set of two stamps issued in September 1950 to mark the hundredth anniversary of stamp issues in Australia – the stamps (Scott #228 & #229) have the same designs that were used in 1850 by the colonies of Victoria and New South Wales (Queen Victoria and Seal of the Colony respectively). The pair is very affordable and catalogs for about a dollar for used or MNH.
  2. Two separate issue to mark the Melbourne Olympic Games of 1956. The first was a single stamp issued on December 1, 1954 with a design that combines the Olympic circles emblem and the Arms of Melbourne. The issue in dark blue (Scott #277) catalogs for less than $3 for either MNH or used. The second was a set of four stamps (Scott #288 to #291) in three different designs issued on October 31, 1956. The designs were Melbourne Coat of Arms, Olympic Torch, and a beautiful multi-colored design of the Collins Street in Melbourne across the Yarra River. The issue was significant also by the fact that this was the first multi-colored stamp issue of Australia (production was outsourced). This set is also fairly affordable and catalogs for a few dollars. A lithographed miniature version of the set also exists with very little philatelic value as they were invalid for postage and was of private origin.
  3. The September 5, 1962 issue to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Australian Inland Mission founded by Rev. John Flynn. This stamp (Scott #346) is also very affordable at under a dollar. The stamp is significant also by the fact that it was the first multicolored issue that was printed in Australia. There is a very scarce error variety of this stamp (red omitted) and that catalogs for around $400.
  4. A set (Scott #375 to #379) of 5 stamps issued in two designs between 1963 and 1965 to honor early European explorers of Australia. The first design incorporates a portrait of Abel Tasman and his ship - the Dutch explorer is credited to have led the first known European expedition to reach Tasmania. The second design incorporates a portrait of George Bass and his whaleboat – a British surgeon who explored Victoria and Tasmania in 1797. The high-value set (denominations from five shillings to two pounds) catalogs for around $150 for MNH and around $100 for used.
  5. The Foods set of 1972 (Scott #519 to #522) depicting different basic foods (apple and banana, rice, fish, and cattle). The set catalogs for around $10 for MNH or used. A similar set showing themes of Australian Economic Development was released in 1973 (Scott #550 to #553) and this set also catalogs for around $10 for MNH or used. The designs show iron ore and steel, truck convoy, and aerial mapping.
  6. The animals set of 1981-83 (Scott #784 to #800) depicting 17 different animals. The beautiful set is very affordable at around $10. A similarly valued sister set featuring sea life was also released 1984-86 (Scott #902 to #920).

Australia has a well-developed philatelic community and Australia Post issues several philatelic souvenirs and related items to cater to this community. Within philately per se, such items have limited value.

Numismatic Profile:

Australia’s first coins were British Colonial sovereign gold coins issued in 1855 from the Mint in Sydney. The designs showed the head of Queen Victoria (QV) in obverse and Mint and Denomination along with the Banksia wreath in reverse. The first issue is highly valued at around $100K for UNC and around $9K for Fine. After the founding of the Australian Colony of New South Wales in 1788, coins of other countries were used along with barter exchanges during the first twenty-odd years. The status changed in 1812 with the purchase of 40,000 Spanish Dollars. These coins were holed in the middle and counter-marked to form two coins – the famous Holey Dollars and Dumps. The 1850s decade saw private tokens becoming popular as currency – some 100-odd firms were active at the time and produced over 500 different tokens.

Numismatic items of Australia include:


ItemPrice RangeDescription
Bullion$3 and upRecent 1oz silver UNCs start around $3. Certified and Slabbed Silver coins in MS69 and above start around $30. Gold sovereigns from the early 1900s in F start into the 100s. 2001 Lunar 1oz, Treasures of Australia 1oz, etc start into the 1000s.
Gold Coins$80 and upRecent 0.05oz Gold Coins start around $80. Early 20th century sovereigns go well into the 100s. Slabbed and Certified MS60 and above gold coins go into the 1000s.
Other Coins$1 and upCommon coins in VF start around $1. Early 20th century coins in VF start around $10. Recent proofs, early UNCs etc start around $30. 10oz silver proofs from the 1990s and 2000s go well into the 100s.
Paper Money$5 and upCommon UNC banknotes start around $5. Pound and Shilling Banknotes from the 1940s and 1950s start around $50. UNCs in scarce dates start around $100.


Collectible Memorabilia:

Aboriginal Art is one of a kind souvenir from Australia. Young at heart will definitely want to munch on vegemite, tim tams and the like. Boomerangs in various shades and sizes are a typical takeaway.

ResourcePrice RangeDescription
Mineral Specimens$1 and upMeteorite samples at the low end and semi-precious and precious specimens, jewelry, and curios fetch a premium based on size, material, clarity and other factors.
WW Memorabilia$3 and upPatches fetch a few dollars, WW photo reproductions fetch a slight premium, and original badges, medals, prints, and equipments start in the 10s of dollars
Art$5 and upRecent no-name arts & prints fetch a few dollars, while their nineteenth century counterparts fetch a slight premium. Framed art prints start around $100 and originals from famous artists like Joseph Lycett, Des Spencer, Pete Peterson, James Wilmot, John Gould (Birds), Nancy Crosby, and F. Cousland fetch much more.

Related Posts:
  1. New South Wales.
  2. Queensland.  
  3. South Australia.  
  4. Tasmania.  
  5. Victoria.  
  6. Western Australia


Last Updated: 12/2015. 

Ascension - Travel/Philately/Numismatics/Memorabilia Profile

Ascension is a small isolated island nation in the South Atlantic (Lower Antilles) about 1000 miles away from the African Northwest coast and about 1400 miles from South America. Its land area totals less than 40 square miles and the population just tops 1,000. The country is of volcanic origin with a barren landscape predominated by remnants of lava flows and craters. Though the island was first discovered in 1501 by the Portuguese it remained unpopulated until 1815 when the British military used it as a precaution against the chance of Napoleon I trying to escape from his imprisonment in Saint Helena. In 1922, Ascension became a dependency of the British Crown Colony of Saint Helena. Its location makes it a great interim point for communication, ships, and even aircraft – the British installed an under-water cable system from Ascension that connected UK to its colonies in South Africa as early as 1898.

Travel Resources:

Though open to tourists it is not very touristy. Flying in requires advance planning, for the flights are normally operated by British Military Bases. But once there, the diverse flora and fauna (green sea turtle leads this list) can hold one’s attention. The main activities are fishing, surfing, snorkeling, and diving.


ResourceISBN or ASINBest PriceDescription
St Helena – Ascension – Tristan da Cunha: The Bradt Travel Guide978-1841620503$50Great guide even if you have no plans to visit one of these far away islands in the South Atlantic.
A Dutch Castaway on Ascension Island in 1725978-1446189863$12Story of a Dutch ship’s officer who was set ashore on this island as a punishment for sodomy based on his diary and excellent research work by the author on other 18th century literature.



Philatelic Profile:

The first stamps of Ascension were a set of 9 stamps of Saint Helena (Scott #61 to #64 and #66 to #70) overprinted “Ascension” in red or black released in 1922 (Scott #1 to #9). They were KGV designs showing the KGV head and crown on top. The two designs varied only in the picture at the bottom which was either a Government House or The Wharf in Saint Helena. The original set of Saint Helena issued between 1912 and 1916 are valuable at close to $150 for MNH and twice that for used. The Ascension overprints are even more so at around $600 for MNH or used. Forged cancellations exist for all denominations and so collectors need to be careful before paying up for a used set. The first original issues were of very similar design with a “Seal of Colony” and KGV design in similar format. The set consists of 12 stamps (Scott #10 to #21) in single or double colors with denominations from 1/2p to 3sh. This set again is very valuable at around $600 for MNH and close to $700 for a very fine used set. Three other sets and several Common Design types dominated the issues during the early period till 1958 – a set of 10 stamps (Scott #23 to #32) released in 1934 in three different designs (View of Georgetown, Map of Ascension, and Sooty Tern Breeding colony), a set of 16 stamps (Scott #40 to #49 and a few varieties) released between 1938 and 1958 as definitives, and a set of 13 stamps with many local scenes of similar design issued in 1956 (Scott #62 to #74). The sets are valuable with the first cataloging at around $200 MNH and about $150 used, the 2nd cataloging at $350 MNH and around $200 used, and the last cataloging for around $125 for MNH and around $75 for used.

Ascension did not issue any stamps during the period from 1958 to 1963. On May 23, 1963 Ascension commenced issuing stamps again but this time with a dual purpose – a) as a source of income for the islands from the sale of postage stamps to collectors all over the world, and b) for postal use. The first issues were a bird set of 14 stamps (Scott #75 to #88) with denominations from 1p to £1. This set is valued at around $75 for MNH and around $50 for Used. Ascension issued close to one thousand different stamps in the last fifty years, a figure comparable to the current size of the population – it is clear that the vast majority of Ascension stamps issued was for philatelic purposes- as such, most of these stamps have limited catalog value. Some prominent sets include:
  1. A set of four stamps issued December 1, 1967 to mark the opening of the BBC’s (British Broadcasting Company) South Atlantic Relay Station in Ascension Island. The gold impressed set (Scott #111 to #114) is very affordable at less than $1 for either MNH or used.
  2. The aircraft set of 1975 in four different designs. The set (Scott #185 to #188) catalogs for around $10 and the souvenir sheet for a few dollars more. The aircrafts in the designs were the US Air force C-141A Starlifter, Royal Air force C-130 Hercules, Vickers VC-10, and US Air force C-5A Galaxy.
  3. The 40th anniversary set of the US Wideawake Airfield released on June 15, 1982. The set of four stamps (Scott #309 to #312) catalogs for around $5 for either MNH or used. The Wideawake Airfield was used as an interim point by American aircrafts crossing the Atlantic on their way to Africa and Europe during World War II.
  4. The ships set of 15 stamps released on October 14, 1986. The set (Scott #401 to #415) catalogs for around $30 for MNH or used.
Numismatic Profile:

Standard British Administration Coinage started in 1978 and used the Pobjoy Mint. The early copper-nickel and silver issues are affordable cataloging in the $10 range for UNC. Prior to this, Saint Helena coins were used in Ascension Island. During the colonial period starting around 1821, British East India Company issued coins for St. Helena – Ascension Island was dependency of St. Helena at the time. Numismatic items of Ascension Island include:


ItemPrice RangeDescription
Coins$10 and upCrown Anniversary Issues and Bimetal issues from the 2000s start around $10. Certified Sterling Silver proofs from the 90s and gold coins go well into the 100s.



Last Updated: 12/2015. 
 

    Aruba - Travel/Philately/Numismatics/Memorabilia Profile

    Aruba is a small island nation in the Caribbean north of Venezuela in the West Indies (Lower Antilles) with a total land area of less than 75 square miles and a population of around 100,000. The per-capita GDP is over $22,000. The country is flat with no rivers. Tourism is the main industry and its white sandy beaches and the year-round predictable climate attract close to twenty times its permanent population of tourists annually. The majority of the tourists come from Venezuela and the United States.

    Travel Resources:

    Aruba has a tropical climate with a rainy season that runs from November to March and a dry season for the rest of the year. Beaches aside, the Arikok National Park, Guadiriki Caves, Butterfly Farm, Numismatic Museum  and the Aloe Factory are all well worth a visit.


    ResourceISBN or ASINBest PriceDescription
    Fodor’s In Focus Aruba978-1400008735$10Concise book with practical information for visitors including maps, directions, and information about where to stay and eat.
    Laminated Aruba Map by Borch978-3866093423$11Folded laminated road and travel map. Scale – 1:50,000. Legend with sights, museums, etc. Inset map of Antilles, ABC Islands, Beaches, etc.
    An Island Away978-0981595900$12Tells the story of a young mother from Colombia who comes to San Nicolaas (a refinery town which is a stark contrast to the touristy beaches most travelers are familiar with) and works as a prostitute.There is also a Kindle Edition.
    LodgingNAVariesMany resorts and timeshares offer good deals over the Internet.


    Philatelic Profile:

    The first stamps of Aruba were a set of 16 (Scott #1 to #16) depicting local scenes released following independence in 1986. The designs included Traditional House, Lighthouse, Owl, Pre-Colombian bisque pot, and Aloe plant. The whole set catalogs for around $20 MNH and $15 used. Aruba has released around 300 different stamps and many were issued as CTOs. This makes it fairly easy to accumulate a complete collection of Aruba. eBay has listings selling the complete collection for a few hundred dollars, although with patience one can accumulate the same from a series of auctions for less. The second set also released in January 1986 is the Independence Set of four stamps (Scott #18 to #21) in different designs – Map of Aruba, Coat of Arms, National Anthem, and Flag were the themes. This set is also very affordable at less than $10 MNH and less than half that for used (CTOs).



    Tourism is the mainstay of the Aruban economy. As such, Aruba released a couple of stamps in June 1987 in that theme. The set (Scott #27 and #28) show a Beach and Sea, and a Rock and Cacti designs, representing the unique features of Aruba (dry with white sandy beaches) that make it a major attraction for tourists. Global designs (Environment, Equality, etc) and local flora and fauna dominated the theme for Aruba stamps during the period till 2000. On January 31, 2002, Aruba released a set of three stamps (Scott #212 to #214) with airport themes - the majority of the tourists fly in and so the airports are of major importance. These catalog for around $5 either MNH or Used.

    Aruba earned its place in modern world history because of its prominent role in World War II as a major supplier of refined fuel to the allies from its refineries – German U-BOAT 156 attacked the refinery on February 16, 1942 but was unsuccessful in destroying it due to a blunder by the main gunman. A set of three stamps were released on September 9, 2002 (Scott #222 to #224) to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the event. The designs show the U-BOAT attacking the Lago refinery, the aftermath of the attach that show a tanker in flames and a torpedo ashore, and a statue of “Boy” Ecury a freedom fighter against German occupation in Holand during World War II, born in Oranjestad Aruba’s capital city.

    Numismatic Profile:

    Aruba has issued coins since 1986. The initial issues were all Nickel Bonded Steel with high mintage and they catalog for very little. Aruba is famous for its Numismatic Museum with 40,000 coins and paper money from 400 countries. Numismatic items of Aruba include:


    ItemPrice RangeDescription
    Coins$1 and upUNC coins from the 2000s start around $1. 1992 Royal Visit Proofs and other issues with low mintage start around $10. 50 Florin and 100 Florin Gold coins have very low mintage and catalog for a good premium over bullion value.
    Paper Money$10 and upUNC banknotes start around $10. 1986 First Issue UNC notes and other rare date notes go into the $100 range.



    Collectible Memorabilia:

    Needlework, art and aloe products are by far the best takeaways. However good deals can be obtained on Delft, Dutch cheese, and chocolates.


    ResourcePrice RangeDescription
    Sea Shells$1 and upExotic varieties can go as high as $100.
    Miscellaneous Travel Memorabilia$1 and upSouvenir fridge magnets to hand carved items.



    Last Updated: 12/2015.

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