Ain't It Grand - Page 2

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The International Bridge at sunset
BORDER CROSSING: The International Bridge, which spans between the United States and Ontario, Canada  (courtesy, New York Tourism)

The cruise by the Victorian summer homes along "Millionaires Row" on U.S. waters remains one of the best boat trips in the region. As you glide through the water, guides relate tantalizing stories about the rich and famous who frequented these elegant summer homes around the turn of the century. Then, continuing down the main channel of the St. Lawrence, your boats become dwarfed as you pass under the 1,000 Islands International Bridge. Over two million cars a year climb over 100 vertical feet to cross this span, which hopscotches across Wellesley and Hill islands on its way to Ontario.

Wellesley, a nine-mile-long New York island, has marinas, golf courses, protected wetlands, and Thousand Island State Park, which includes a nature center, eight miles of hiking trails, and a quaint beach. If you're camping or RVing, the park—which dominates the southwestern end of the island—makes for the perfect place to pitch your tent or park your rig. Worthy of a Disney movie set, an ornate white bandstand punctuates the riverfront village, while hundreds of lacy, pastel-colored Victorian cottages flank the unpaved streets.

From Wellesley Island the bridge crosses to Hill Island and on to Canadian customs. Then it's a short drive to historic Kingston, Ontario. Founded in 1673, this English-flavored town was briefly the capital of Eastern Canada. In addition to some unusual museums, including Canada's Penitentiary Museum, MacLachlan Woodworking Museum, and International Hockey Hall of Fame, and a downtown area filled with boutiques and restaurants, Kingston also boasts Fort Henry, a restored 19th-century British fortress. Though never tested by enemy attack, the fort was used as a jail for political prisoners and an internment camp for enemy soldiers. Today, students make up the Fort Henry Guard, which performs fully-costumed daily drills in the summer months. On the road heading back toward the bridge, the town of Gananoque marks the beginning of a popular biking, walking, and jogging trail that follows the scenic St. Lawrence shoreline 25 miles to the Canadian city of Brockville.

On the New York shore, the villages of Alexandria Bay and Clayton provide all the amenities needed by visitors to the area.Clayton is the quieter of the two, with a tranquil main street lined with shops, galleries, and restaurants that face the river. The River Rat Cheese Store sells a delicious local New York cheddar, which is hard to resist, and the patio of the Riverside Cafe is the place to have a casual meal with an uninterrupted view of the river.

A few blocks off the main drag, the Antique Boat Museum displays vintage wooden boats polished and varnished to better-than-new condition, their brass rubbed until blindingly shiny, their engines pristinely steam cleaned. Claiming to be one of the world's largest freshwater maritime museums, the collection celebrates the days when pleasure boating around the Thousand Islands area of the St. Lawrence River was a leisurely pursuit done in quiet inboards with beautiful facades. Over 100 beautifully restored boats are on display, as well as boat engines that cover the development of marine engines from the late 1800s to post-World War II.

For a uniquely Thousand Islands river experience, the museum rents out St. Lawrence skiffs, a type of rowboat first developed in the area in the late 19th century. A peaceful row around protected French Creek Bay is the perfect way to enjoy the river up close and personal, and, better yet, the skiff rental is included in the museum's admission price.

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