Archive for the ‘Blogs’ Category

Solo Adventure to Nova Scotia

  Pre-trip Decisions

I was supposed to fly into Halifax from Pittsburgh and rent a car to drive around Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. I thought that was adventurous enough for a solo journey.

I had airline tickets and a rental car reserved, but my airline changed my schedule with no comparable flight home. I was secretly happy about that, as I made the mistake of googling “car rental horror stories,” and decided all those things would happen to me if I rented a car.

But, then again, the pessimist in me wondered about driving the whole way from West Virginia. What if I got a flat tire? You have to understand that I always think my tires are low. I have a problem with that. But, I belong to AAA, so I needed to get over that prospect. And then I read about the moose. There are a lot of accidents involving moose in Maine. That would suck.But, then I realized I live in West Virginia, where avoiding deer crossing the road should be an obstacle course race.

But, sometimes the optimist wins and I began planning a road trip. My main destination was Peggy’s Cove, on the east coast of Nova Scotia.

I knew this when I made a reservation at a bed and breakfast near Peggy’s Cove. Since I am a pretend photographer, I hoped to drive to Peggy’s Cove at sunrise and again at sunset, before and after the tour buses and throngs of people come and go. I was staying for four nights and would use the bed and breakfast as my home base while I head to places like Burnt Coat Head and Lunenburg, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The main reason I chose the dates I did was to be here during a full moon. At the time, the weather looked good, but you can never depend on weather 7+ days ahead.

You have no idea how long it took me to make a decision on my route to Nova Scotia. Did I really want to have several 10+ hours a day in a car to get to my destination? Did I want to take a 5 1/2 hour ferry across the ocean and Bay of Fundy when I have motion sickness as quick as you can say, “motion sickness.” I was called Pukey Vickie when I was young and got sick on the school bus every day, so why would I do that to myself?

Google maps is such a great tool and I abused the little yellow guy many hours each day. I picked him up and dropped him off on roads left and right. He let me see if there is a cool looking fishing shack by a lake on a particular road. I jotted down cool photo opportunities in my “Nova Scotia” notebook. I know, I’m such a nerd.

I hoped to travel about 11 hours the first day and  try to make it to the Portsmouth, New Hampshire area. I wanted to visit Nubble Lighthouse on Cape Neddeck the next morning before the crowds arrive. There is also a web cam of the parking lot from the top of the lighthouse.

And from there I  was stumped. Should I continue to drive through Maine, cross the border and head to Saint John, New Brunswick, or do I drive to Portland and catch the ferry to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia?  I posed the question on Trip Advisor and a reader wrote that Route 9 from Bangor to Calais and the border is desolate and traveled by trucks. The statistics for vehicle/animal collisions is high on this road. My little yellow Google guy didn’t show me much in the way of photo ops on this road. I guess there would be one if there was a moose in the road, but did I want to be alone for two hours on a road with not much in between towns? I also have a weak bladder. I know you don’t need to know that, but I stop often at rest stops. I guess that is why the back seat in my car is littered with brochures.

On the other hand, did Pukey Vickie want to spend $306 one way to ride on a catamaran ferry for 5 1/2 hours? I would be stuck if I decided to throw up after three minutes on the ferry. And I’m pretty sure that is going to happen. My subconscious made me laugh one day when I saw that my buggy in Walmart contained the following: Bonine, a Sea-Band wrist thingy, a book called Mrs. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, a Sudoku puzzle book, and a pack of mechanical pencils. I guess that meant that I was going to reserve the ferry.

With that out of the way, I made reservations  at a cute-looking bed and breakfast about three minutes from the terminal. The CAT ferry was supposed to arrive around 9pm. We will had to set our clocks ahead an hour before we arrived. Little Yellow Google Guy showed me a McDonalds nearby, just in case I am through vomiting (pessimist) and need some late night food in my stomach. I like the thought of arriving late so I won’t have to hop in the car and drive hours to my next destination. I can crash at the bed and breakfast and put my foot on the floor to make the room stop spinning.

What Really Happened

So, I was off. My new Subaru was packed and ready for a long road trip. I was about to find out how long it really was going to take. I wanted to make it to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, but didn’t make reservations anywhere just in case there were some time restraints.  I’m glad I didn’t, as it took me 15 hours to get from West Virginia to the border of Maine. I guess the road construction people decided to get work done in every state I drove through. I finally checked in at a Best Western in York, Maine at 7:45 p.m.

This was actually a very convenient place to stay. It was closed to I-95 and very close to the Nubble Lighthouse. I got up early and drove to the Cape Neddeck. I was one of the first in the parking lot and had great views of the lighthouse.

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I came back and loaded up my car to head to Portland, Maine. The ferry was to leave at 2:30, but I wanted to head to the Portland lighthouse before I got in line for the ferry. I am so glad I took a side trip to see this lighthouse. I could have sat there all day. It was breathtaking.

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After walking around, snapping photos and talking to locals who come to paint or just sit and reflect, I found a place for lunch and then headed into Portland to find the ferry terminal. Once there, I checked in at the gate, and sat in line waiting to board the ferry. I was excited for this part of my journey. I got out of my car and talked to others who decided to be early, like myself.

When they opened the gate, we got into our cars to travel up a ramp into the belly of the ferry. This is a huge vessel. As I started my car, my tire light came on.

What? This can’t happen now. I’m in a line with a hundred cars, motorcycles, and motor homes. It did go off after driving about 10 seconds, but that didn’t make it any better. I was sure my tire was going to be flat when we disembarked in Yarmouth. Well, that cranked my anxiety level up a few notches. As soon as we parked, I found the pursor and asked him if one of his crew could check my tire pressure about an hour before we came ashore. He assured me they would take a look at it, which made me feel better…..for the moment.

I really liked the CAT ferry. It had many areas to relax. There were screens playing movies, a bar, and a lot of amenities for a 5 1/2 hour journey across the bay. I just wished I was able to enjoy it. I had my book, a Sudoku puzzle, and people nearby to chat with. I was fine for about an hour. The ferry rocked back and forth, but it didn’t bother me until I went to the bathroom. As I entered a stall and turned around, it hit me. I got quite sick and had to stay in the bathroom for a while. When I finally made it back to my table, I couldn’t move my head left or right. To make matters worse, the movie they were showing on the screen in front of me was about an ocean voyage/storm at sea.

The crew was very helpful. One got me some water. Another told me I should go outside on the back of the ferry. I waddled back and plopped myself in a deck chair. It was chilly and mist was hitting me in the face, but I didn’t care. The air did make me feel better. The captain slowed down the ferry at one point and announced there were many whales off to each side. People were running all over the place to take photos. I didn’t care. I was sick. I actually was mad at people for having a good time while I was green and feeling greener.

It wasn’t until I decided I should eat something that a guy behind a counter said he would make me a concoction. It was a ginger ale and water, which then he microwaved, and told me to drink the whole thing. I did, and felt so much better. By the time we landed and I drove off my tire was not low at all), I was feeling good. I was running late for my bed and breakfast, as I was supposed to be there by 10pm, but also had to find a drive-through restaurant. There’s nothing like McDonald’s when you are sick….I’m serious.

My bed and breakfast, the Lakelawn Motel, was wonderful.

The breakfast in the morning was wonderful. The presentation was great and the food abundant. I checked out and headed to Cape Forchu, home of the Cape Forchu lighthouse.I was excited because it was a little foggy, and I usually have luck taking decent fog photos, but as I continued to drive, it became apparent, this was more than just a little fog.

For those considering the trip to the lighthouse, it is full of photo opportunities along the way. But, as I got closer, the fog became thicker. In the photo below, you would normally see the water and the lighthouse. Bummer.

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When I arrived at Cape Forchu lighthouse, I was all alone. People probably checked the weather before heading out. I didn’t get a very good photo of the lighthouse…and didn’t crawl up into the huge chair.img_4060

I then drove towards my next night’s lodging, which was White Point Beach Resort. Along the way, I had several stops I wanted to make. Remember, I abused the little yellow google maps guy and made note of places I had to see. The first one was the town of Shelburne. There was a building I wanted to photograph. But, alas, it was the town’s Founders’ Day Celebration, and many roads were blocked and parking was nowhere to be found. So, I took a few photos and went on my way.

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From Shelburne, I drove south for about 10 minutes to the Sandy Point Lighthouse.

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I then visited some small coves to photograph fishing shacks and then made my way to the resort. I’m so glad I stayed there. It was wonderful! I made a reservation at their dining room and the food was delicious.

The next morning, after taking a walk along the beach, I checked out and continued on to my next destination, Lunenburg.

Along the way, I stopped at places like Moose Harbor, had lunch in Liverpool (a pirate’s haven back in the day), and Fort Point Lighthouse. I also took a side trip to Port Medway lighthouse and then arrived at my bed and breakfast in Lunenburg.

I checked into the Lunenburg Inn. I would stay there over and over again. It was lovely. I was met with cookies and my room was wonderful. Breakfast was great and I had a nice conversation with several other visitors in the small dining room.

One of the biggest draws besides Lunenburg itself, was a small fishing village of Blue Rocks. I just had to go there.

 

Part 2 coming soon.

 

 

Cat Eye Glasses

Way back in the day, I remember hoping one day I would be able to wear cat eye glasses. I really wanted to wear them. They were very popular in the early sixties and I thought the women who wore them, especially if they were secretaries, were at the top of their game.

Why, oh, why, did I have to have great eyesight?

When I was little, I wanted to be an actress when I grew up. But, not just any regular actress. I wanted to be a smoking actress. You know what I’m talking about; the ones who adorned gowns, strategically placed a wisp of their hair over their left eye, smoked, and said, “Dahling” a lot. That’s what I wanted to be.

Until I saw my dad’s secretary wearing cat eye glasses.

I used to spend a lot of time after school and some Saturday’s at my dad’s real estate office. I played secretary a lot and pretended I could type at a very fast speed. Most of my creations were quite sad, but it was fun pounding the keys on the black typewriter. Back then, ink ribbon was used in the typewriter, so I am sure my dad’s secretaries were not happy to come back on Mondays to see the ribbon needed replaced. I sure as hell wasn’t going to do it.  There was no way I wanted purplish ink on my fingers, especially when my dad often took me over to Mom’s Lunch for lunch. How can you possibly pick up a french fry to dip in ketchup when you have purple ink on your fingers?  Besides, I was a kid. Kids weren’t expected to change typewriter ribbon, right?

So, imagine how my jaw dropped when I saw one of the secretaries wearing cat eye glasses for the first time. Now, you have to understand that both of them were young and very pretty, so the cat eye glasses didn’t make them look like nerds or anything. On the contrary, it made them look smart and beautiful, which was a pretty great combination. As my mom repeatedly told me, “You have to be pretty on the inside before you can be pretty on the outside.” I thought that was a stupid comment, because I was pretty sure lungs and kidneys were not pretty. But, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I guess.

After staring at my dad’s secretary, I wanted a pair of cat eye glasses. I couldn’t wait to go home and ask my mom to take me to the eye doctor. I had to have these glasses.

“Vickie, you have perfect eyesight. You do not need glasses.”

“I really do, Mom. I can’t really see what is written on the board.”

Yes, I lied. I was, after all, a big fat liar, minus the fat part. So, off we went to the doctor. Looks like my left eye was perfect and my right eye was just a little weak, but not enough to need glasses. But, after my mom told him I had a hard time seeing the board, I got a pair of glasses “to use as needed.”

Shit.

They didn’t have cat eye glasses for kids. What? Sure they do. You must be mistaken, Mr. Doctor.

I came home with a pair of brown glasses that looked an awful like my mom’s. I was not a happy liar. I think I wore those glasses a total of four times. My mom wrote a note to the teacher to make sure I wore those damn things, but I think it somehow got lost before I gave it to her.

So, it looked like I was back to wanting to be a smoking actress when I grew up. My hopes of being a secretary with cat eye glasses were dashed.

But, maybe my mom could get a little spiffy looking with a pair.

I wished my mom wore cat eye glasses because she had a pair of  what she called “Ben Franklin” glasses and they just looked stupid on top of her mop of a hair-do. I couldn’t understand why there was a line running right through the middle of each lens.

She was about as stylish as my dad, who wore suits every day and looked  dapper, but who could not coordinate casual clothes to save his soul. He wore stripes with plaids and couldn’t understand why he didn’t match, as long as the same color was in both pieces of clothing. He also had no problem wearing black socks with sandals.

I was surrounded by the misfits of Toy Land.

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He was pinching her butt in this photo….

I have to admit I have never been back to the eye doctor. I know, my bad, especially since I’m pushing sixty.  I do wear Dollar General or Walmart Foster Grant reading glasses, mostly on top of my head like a head band.

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I don’t think I look like a secretary. I look like a pretend photographer.

 

 

I’m Back

Well, it has been about a year since I have written a blog post. I apologize for leaving without notice, but when you get threatened with a law suit because of something you have written, it takes  the wind out of your sail.

A few years ago I wrote a post about how names for certain items have changed over the years. For example, no one ever says “pocketbook” anymore.  I haven’t heard anyone use the word, “dungarees” in a long time either. And that  was what my blog post was about. I also mentioned “peddle pushers” and how they are called something else now…(afraid to even mention the word).

In June 2014, I received an email

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Dear Vickie,
     Since you are misrepresenting inaccurate historical facts about the inventor,  **********,  and the invention of the ***** which also includes a trademark violation, we ask you kindly to Email us your address.
Thank you,
Sincerely,
(The Lawyer’s name)
(The person’s company)
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     Well, needless to say, this email took my breath away.  I was going to be sued for what? I didn’t use a photo that didn’t belong to me in this blog post, and only mentioned that another designer started selling these types of pants in his boutique during the 1940’s. The designer, who is in his/her 90’s right now, must have had a case of sour grapes because I did not mention him/her as the inventor of these types of pants, and as a result of said omission, sent me this email. As I read through the blog post for the tenth time, I realized I did nothing wrong at all. I immediately googled this person’s name and saw where he/she also wrote on other people’s blogs to kindly remove the inaccurate statements or else. I then realized it was a case of sour grapes. I am sure it would tend to get old when another designer gets credit for something you designed.
So, I wrote back.
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Dear (Mr. Lawyer Guy),

    I apologize if you feel I was misrepresenting historical facts about the inventor, **********, and the invention of the ******. Please note that I never mentioned (his/her)  name, and only stated that (the other designer) “introduced” the **** pants in his boutique. I never said he invented them.  There is no trademark violation.
   Although I did nothing wrong, I removed the blog post.
Vickie
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     Although I then knew I did not violate anything except creating more anguish for an elderly person who never really got the kudos  deserved, I decided to mark Jumping in Mud Puddles private until I could calm down a bit. I then began reading where bloggers were being sued or charged for using photos without permission. Oh, that’s just great.
     A lot bloggers use photos found on the internet. I personally try to give credit to the photographer, but evidently, that isn’t good enough. Several bloggers have been sued for as much as $8,000 for using a photo. I also used photos from Wikipedia, with credit given, but that is not always full proof either. So, I decided to go through each blog post and delete photos unless they were my own. Needless, to say, it has taken a very long time as I have other irons in the fire.
     But, I’m back…sort of. I hope to pick up and continue writing as much as I can. I still have many blog posts marked private because I want to read every sentence of every blog post….. just in case.  I am now only using my own photos. This editing process has been long and quite boring, and there were months were I didn’t edit at all, so please excuse my inconsistency for a while.

West Virginia Day Tripper

I’ve started a new blog about my jaunts around the mountain state for those who enjoy armchair traveling. I thought I would keep it separate from my blogs here.  I have a lot of  photos of my travels and plan on doing more, so I thought it would be good to house them all in one place. I hope you will visit  West Virginia Day Tripper. Thanks!

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Pill Compartment Thingy

When people turn 40, 50, or 60, they usually get gag  gifts from friends who want to rub it in their faces that they are getting up there in the age category,  Black balloons add a festive touch to the marked occasion. And when the fun is over, the balloons burst and the gag gifts are put in a closet and forgotten about until they can be re-gifted when their next broken down friend reaches the golden age of creakiness.

I’m all about re-gifting goofy presents to the next birthday boy or girl, but wait a minute. What if you can actually use a gag gift? I think I can.

When I turned 50, I received some strange gifts to mark my creaky, decrepit, broken down, sapless body.  Some people receive prune juice, arthritis rub, or Depends undergarments. I was presented, among other treasures, a magnifying glass, a saggy boob bra, and a pill compartment thingy.

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It’s actually pretty big, you know, for all my medicine. I laughed when I opened this one, but after the party was over, I walked my rickety legs over to closet and shoved it somewhere to sit forever beside the rest of the gag gifts. I did later re-gift the bra to the friend who bought it for me since she was just a year behind me.

One day, a year or two after the wonderful birthday party, I couldn’t remember if I took my blood pressure pill or not. Strange. I mean, what the hell? Did I take it or didn’t I? Well, shit, this was frustrating. I didn’t want to take another one because maybe it would kill me or put me in a coma.

Hey, where is that pill compartment thingy my dear friend Debbie bought for me? I could actually use the thing.

And I have for several years now. Every Sunday morning I put a new week of blood pressure pills, calcium pills, and multi-vitamins in each little container so I won’t forget to take my medicine. Good grief, I am old!

When I travel, I really don’t have the room in my purse or bag for this giant pill reminder, so I carry pill compartment junior when I hit the road.

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Pretty sad, aren’t I?  I’m using my gag gift and purchasing more for my benefit. Yes, I am an old fogey now. But, I need to remember to take my medicine since I have little brain cells left.

But, take a look at the photo….

Yes, that’s right. You can barely see some activity going on in compartment M (which means Monday 🙂 Today is Saturday and on Tuesday I realized I missed my Monday medicine.

I obviously need a 24 hour nurse.

Etched in Tree

When my daughter graduated from NYU in May, I was hoping to squeeze in a visit to Central Park after all the activities.  We did and as usual, it didn’t disappoint. Spring had sprung and people, wildlife, and flowers were all around us.  I took pictures of turtles,

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my daughter watching ducks

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and just took in the beauty of the park.

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I then walked by and noticed a beautiful tree littered with initials carved into its base. I kept walking, but then smiled and turned around. It needed to have its picture taken and I immediately thought “blog post idea.” I’m just now getting around to writing about the  tree with the initial tattoo (ala The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)

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This tree had initials carved on it on all sides. I am terrible at estimating how old the tree is, but I am sure many of the initials were from long ago. I thought about the people who carved the initials. Long ago men carried pocket knifes. I don’t know if this is still the case, but I imagined people strolling along the path in the park, holding hands when they decide to mark that specific moment in time by carving their symbolic love in the tree, a permanent reminder of their love.

This custom has been around for centuries. I know one instance of tree carving, but decided to google and see what else came up on the subject.

Well, I’ll be damned. There is even a name for tree carving: arborglyphs.

The lifespan of an arborglyph ( I feel smart writing that) is of course limited to that of the tree. If a tree in the forest dies, so does its etchings…eventually. So, archeologists are confined to perhaps a few hundred years with the tree carvings, unlike petroglyphs, which may date back thousands of years.

Too bad trees don’t last forever. What a story that could be told!

Which brings me to a lesson I teach every year about the lost colony of Roanoke and a famous tree carving.

 

On May 8, 1587, a group of 117 men, women and children left England to sail across the Atlantic Ocean.  The colonist,s under the command of John White, headed for a destination on the Chesapeake Bay, but landed further south.

This colony on Roanoke Island was the first English settlement in the New World.  White, then governor of the colony–left the settlement and returned to England to get more supplies. Because of England’s war with Spain, there were no ships to spare. Three years passed before John White could return to Roanoke Island with the supplies. When he finally returned to the colony in 1590, he found the island deserted. The only trace left by the colonists was a mysterious ‘cro‘ carved in a tree, and ‘croatoan‘ carved in a fence post. Croatoan was the name of the nearby island and a local tribe of Native Americans.

It is possible that some of the survivors of the Lost Colony of Roanoke may have joined the Croatans. Roanoke Island was not originally the planned location for the colony and the idea of moving elsewhere had been discussed.

In this case of tree carving, it was done for the purpose of relaying a message. There was no heart with an arrow through this one. But, in the end, it was etched in a tree and made the fourth grade history book ever since.

So, the next time you want to  show your love by etching the big plus symbol between your name and the one you love, remember that  announcement  will  last a couple of hundred years.

So, be sure of it.

Our Disappearing Roadside Rest Areas

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 

Robert Frost

Years ago, there were no interstates. We had two lane roads and that’s about it. Sometime during the summer we would hop into our family car and travel around West Virginia. My dad was a realtor and land developer and said he could not be away from the business for too long at a time. I’m thinking that he just didn’t want to be cooped up in a car with my mom, who was so much more than a co-pilot; she was a drill sergeant  driving instructor and a callous wife. That combination was not fun if you were sitting in the front seat…which I was not.

No, I was sitting in the backseat…with a bucket between my feet and my face out the window. The hairpin turns on these West Virginia roads did not make me a happy traveler. My dad would also make us get out at almost every scenic vista to pose for a picture. He had one of those huge press cameras, and also took home movies. So, it took us a while to travel 60 miles through the mountains.

The great thing about traveling on a two lane road back then was the fact that there were numerous places to pull over and take a break. You could tell  because there was a place to pull over and the three main requirements:

1) shade

2) a great view

3) a picnic table right by the road.

Many people would pack a lunch before their little jaunts as  restaurants and gas stations were just here and there. Nowadays, there are interstate rest stops along the way where you can buy food and drink out of vending machines. Just writing this makes me feel sorry for the youth in 2013, as this way of traveling in the 50’s and 60’s was ideal now that I think about it. Well, except for the fact that most of the pull-off picnic rest areas did not have a bathroom. But, for the most part, they were a welcome break from traveling with three fighting young children in the back seat and one continuously perturbed woman in the passenger seat. My dad would always say the same thing:

“Look at this beautiful view. We need to get a picture.” We would then get out of the car and strike a pose.

If you lived in West Virginia back then, there were certain places your family would travel.  I will never forget stopping by the smallest church in the lower 48 states.   Right alongside Route 219 in Thomas sits Our Lady of the Pines. My dad even let me sign our name in the guest book located right inside. This cute 24×12 foot church has only six pews and seats twelve people. Peter Milkint, a Lithuanian immigrant, built Our Lady of the Pines in 1938. You know, I’m thinking that since Hawaii and Alaska did not join the United States until 1959,  perhaps Peter billed the church the smallest before those states had their statehood. I may have stepped into the smallest church in all the 50 states.

This tiny sanctuary receives about 30,000 visitors a year.

There were other places we would venture on our yearly 2-3 day “jaunts” around West Virginia and stopping by the roadside rest areas were always part of the plan. We would visit Senaca Rocks, Smoke Hole Caverns, Spruce Knob, and come to think about it, we never went anywhere else except for the Monongahela State Forest area. Naturally, they had many pull over rest areas with added concrete fireplaces. But,the  one place I remember most vividly, and that was Cool Springs Park.

Cool Springs was not a destination, but a stop along the journey. It was what our interstate rest stops are today, minus the animals and rusty tractors. It was such a surprise the first time we came down a 3 mile hill and saw this great rest stop/souvenir shop/petting zoo and I was thrilled to death. Kids love souvenirs and this place had everything. This was roadside kitsch galore.

I’m pretty sure my brother bought a tomahawk and I liked the penny in a small bottle with the words Cool Springs Park written across the front. Parents are more than obliged to purchase these souvenirs because it may mean some quiet time once the kids climb back into the car. Well, not when there is a tomahawk involved. But, regardless, it was a vacation pressed in my memory and I decided last week to travel to Cool Springs once again on my way to nowhere in particular.

Now, this isn’t my first trip back to Cool Springs since I was little and was continually tomahawked in the back seat of the car. No, we traveled along Route 50 when I had my own children. But, it had changed since the early 60’s. In the early 90’s, it was, well, more rusty. The owners of cool springs had many displays of train cabooses and other mechanical devices showcased around the acreage beside the gas station/ souvenir shop.  You could walk through the park like grounds over bridges and see the large water wheel in action. But, the tractors had a lot of rust on them and I didn’t want my children to touch anything. The animals weren’t around that day, but there were a couple of peacocks walking around.

Inside, the kids picked out a souvenir or two. The tomahawks were still there. Thank goodness my kids walked right by those. I smiled when I saw the penny in a jar and I believe I had a thimble to add to my printer’s tray.

Cool Springs was the ultimate roadside park. So, fast forward to 2013, and I decided to stop there once again, this time with camera in tow. Earlier in the morning I decided to do something spontaneous and hurriedly packed an overnight bag and I was on my way. The only certain plan I had was to travel east on Route 50. I was going to get to visit Cool Springs again.

Since I was looking out for photo opportunities on my drive, I noticed numerous abandoned buildings along the way. Once an interstate is built, a lot of restaurants, motels, and small businesses had to close due to a decrease in people stopping. Roadside parks had decreased also. People weren’t really stopping to stretch their legs or check out their map. Afterall, that’s what a GPS is for. Coolers are kept in a car for longer jaunts, and people wanted to stretch their legs where ever there were also restroom facilities. But, Cool Springs Park was still open, after all these years.

Ah,nostalgia.

The sign was still the same.

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I smiled as I got out of my car and decided to walk left through the park and save the store and restaurant for later.

I immediately noticed the neglect of the once magnificent park.

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The collection box was quite rusted. I think they quit checking for donations years ago 

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There was a very pretty covered bridge, but what you didn’t see is that it was jammed with old pieces of machinery and cars so there is no way anyone could cross the bridge any more.

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I’m thinking this is where all the old steam engines and mechanical devices go to die.

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There were a couple of birds in a very muddy pen. With the amount of rain the area had earlier, the whole park looked as if the creek bed washed up over its banks and covered the whole park. It was a very muddy walk.

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The more I walked around, the more I realized that this park will probably not be here in twenty years. Fences were down, the water wheel was no longer working, and the shelters had fallen down.

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I remember climbing into this caboose when I was little.

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The water wheel is no longer working. It was such a wonderful thing to see.

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I have no idea why this wishing well is enclosed by a chain link fence and is now full of water. I stared at this for a while, trying to figure it out. I should have asked someone.

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Sit at your own risk.

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And then I walked into a swarm of about 25,000 gnats. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating, but they went up my nose, in my eyes and ears and all through my hair. There were so many shallow pockets of water throughout the park, I immediately thought that this could be a prime breeding ground for the West Nile virus as the bugs and mosquitoes were plentiful. Since there were a couple confirmed cases of West Nile Virus elsewhere in West Virginia, don’t think that wasn’t on my mind.

I was miserable. It is not fun having bugs up your nose or in the corner of your eyeballs. And then I stepped in donkey poop.

Yes, I didn’t see them, but I knew there were two donkeys on the property. And there was donkey poop everywhere.

So, now I was just a mess. I decided to make my way into the store so I could clean the donkey poop from my sandals and splash water on my face, you know, to drown the gnats.

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Once inside, a flower arrangement sits in one of the sinks in the bathroom that no longer works.

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A souvenir store on one side and a restaurant/hardware store on the other. I could not find a penny in a bottle.

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Darn, a blurry picture and I only took one of the crowd that was sitting for lunch. The place was crowded with tourists wanting a tomahawk, locals, and those just stopping for gas. There were three people in front of me at the cash register, so I knew this was still a hit with those passing by.

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As I left to continue on my trip on the scenic byways of West Virginia, I pulled over to take one last photo of Cool Springs Park. I then just sat and looked over the whole place. I remember such a manicured place with a water wheel and people sitting under shelters eating food they brought in their cars. This is the ultimate roadside park. And unless something is done, the shelters will be on the ground, the fences that are still up will have fallen, and the rusty tractors and train engines will be a further rusty mess. There’s no going back unless the decay is stopped.

I would so prefer driving the back roads. Interstates are rushed, impersonal, and agitating. Back roads offer scenery, a meandering pace, and a greeting from a roadside picnic table for stretching your legs and taking in the beauty that surrounds you.

I hope Cool Springs Park survives for future generations of tomahawk buying children. It was a West Virginia treasure, and still is, despite being so very rough around the edges. Luckily, it is a major route for those enjoying a ride on their motorcycles and short cuts across our state.

I hope you stop if you are ever in the area.

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Canadian Rockies: Day 6, 7: Lake Louise and Calgary

The bear jam broke up after a truck pulled up and two people from I assume Banff National Park walked towards the bear. I decided this might be a good time to walk away. The bear took off up the path and into the woods. This was a highlight of my trip to Lake Louise and I just got to the place.

I was hungry, but I wanted to walk on the path around most of the lake. I found this guy first. I have no idea why I take a picture of it wherever I go. I must just be a weird individual. The lake is absolutely beautiful right now in the evening, and you will see how different the photos look from evening to morning. I plan to wake up early for sunrise. We will see how well that works out…zzzzzzzz

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I love taking pictures of the canoes on the water. I actually zoomed in on this. The lake is huge and the canoes are just tiny specks across the way.

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I took a gazillion pictures. Seriously.

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IMG_2050I have absolutely no idea what kind of birds these are..They are noisy and are hyperactive.

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There was one shot I was hoping to get while I was at Lake Louise. I was hungry, but was willing to wait a bit to get it.

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Maybe I will wait for this boat. It’s close.

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Not there

IMG_2076Almost but not really. I think I will go inside and get something to eat.

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Looks they are calling it a day too. I was wanting to get a shot of a canoe near the center without another one around…wishful thinking. I’m hungry, but stopped to take a few more pictures. I hope to come back outside for a bit after dinner.

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I ran into my first unfriendly person. She was leaning against this wall in front of the sign. When I asked if I could get a picture, she sighed, picked up her bags and moved over about a foot.That’s why the sign isn’t framed nicely.  Gee thanks, German lady.

But, when I turned around and saw this beautiful sight, I forgot all about rude people and took another picture.

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And then ran into this little guy.

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I took his picture, told him how pretty he was, and then walked towards the steps, and looked around one more time, and noticed the little guy was  following me. He stopped in his tracks when he saw I turned around.

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I decided to eat at the Glacier Saloon. Chateau Lake Louise has several restaurants, but this menu was right up my alley. I ordered a hickory smoked Chicken club….smoked chicken breast, crisp prosciutto, provolone, tomato, lettuce, avocado mousse on a ciabatta bun and a side order of fries. It was absolutely delicious. I think the avocado mousse in the mix was what made it so tasty.

After dinner, I went back outside. I have to leave at 8:15 in the morning, so I wanted to spend as much time outside as I could.

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I took a picture of the glacier, and then……

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Yay…close enough

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The runner-up..lol… my day of pretending to be a photographer is drawing to a close. It was fun framing shots and seeing how each one is different.

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The little guy needs a hat or scarf…

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IMG_2117I’m back in my room now after taking many photos after dinner and can’t wait to wake up early to get morning photos on the water. It will make a big difference as you will be able to see. Since it is already 9pm, I decide not to get online since it is not complimentary.

Morning!!

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I need to get outside. There are two men standing by their tripods ready for the reflection pictures that make this lake even more beautiful. I’m glad I got up early and am ready to go. But, wait….

IMG_2127Is that a beaver in the same place where the grizzly was yesterday? Stay there, beaver thingy, I’m going to walk like I’m on fire again….down the hall, into the elevator, down 5 floors, out the door, down into the veranda, turn a right on the path and I can see it scurrying away. Darn.

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Ah, come on! Turn around! He was gone. But, I was outside and ready to take some pretty pictures.

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IMG_2134That rounded bank of windows is my room..front part and one window on the side….I was a lucky girl.

IMG_2136My favorite photo of the whole trip!

IMG_2143It’s not even funny how many pictures I took this morning.

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Another shot with some rocks in the front.

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Trees and rocks added

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Goodbye Moon, I need to go inside, check-out, and wait for my 8:15 transfer to Calgary Airport

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After I checked-out, I decided I better grab something to eat. So I headed to the deli. I hadn’t been down this hall before.

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Hi dead elk on a wall

Hi dead elk on a wall

My 8:15 transfer with Brewster arrived right on time. We traveled to Banff where we had to change buses, and then it was off to the Calgary airport. We are lucky the roads are now open after the flooding in Canmore and Calgary. We could see the devastation as we traveled.

 

On my way to Calgary. Just a few more photos.

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This adventure has truly been a trip of a lifetime. Canada is just beautiful, and the Canadian Rockies are majestic and just really moved me. I have never seen such a beautiful place in all my life. The Icefields Parkway is something everyone should witness, with stunning vistas at each turn. The Rocky Mountaineer and its goldleaf service was a dream. I’ve always wanted to travel through the Canadian Rockies on a train, and the trip was everything I could hope for and more. Vancouver was a beautiful city and its famous Stanley Park rivaled (but I still prefer) Central Park in New York City.

I  am all about wildlife and have seen a marmot, 20+eagles, numerous ospreys and blue herons, a moose, 3 bear and a grizzly, 2 elk, one with gigantic antlers, many deer (which should be West Virginia’s state animal because they are everywhere), 2 coyotes, numerous mantled squirrels, chipmunks, ravens, and the list can go on and on. I can’t believe I was close to a grizzly.

Bravo, British Columbia, and Alberta, Canada!  Thank you, Fresh Tracks Canada, for creating a wonderful vacation for me. I will call you again for my next Canadian adventure.

Oh, yes, I will be back.

Canadian Rockies, Day 6, Part 2: Lake Louise and a Bear

Even though I got to see Lake Louise yesterday on the Icefields Parkway tour, I deliberately stayed to the left by the boat house during our short stop. I didn’t want to go inside or even see the front of the hotel and veranda. I wanted to be surprised.

Our Sun Dog tour guide dropped us off and I stood in a short line in the immense lobby.

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My room wasn’t ready yet, as it was only 3:30 and check-in time was at 4:00. No problem, I will just sit down on a chair and take some pictures. I looked up at the enormous chandelier. Some women were looking at me. Well, not really.

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I didn’t want to lug my bags around or leave them behind the desk, so I continued to scope out the lobby area from my seat. Out of nowhere , a white labrador retriever walked slowly right by me, just taking its good old time. I then saw a dog bed and a dog food bowl near a pillar with a picture of the dog and an explanation. I wanted to get a picture of the dog on his bed, because a picture of an empty dog bed just didn’t cut it, but he never sauntered back my way. I found out later the dog is the official mascot at this pet friendly resort. If you can’t bring your own dog, he is here to welcome you. I found a short video from 2010

I had a great people watching spot and honestly, the 30 minute wait went by quickly. I got back into the short line and got my room key and I was on my way. I was in room 501. I had to walk a far distance down from the elevator. I loved it though, because it reminded me of a scene from the Jack Nicholson movie, The Shining.

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When I opened up the door, I immediately saw two suitcases by the door. Uh oh.This can’t be good. I walked all the way back down the hall until I found two maids cleaning a room. They were so very friendly and called for a manager to come up immediately. They brought out a chair from the room they were cleaning so I would be more comfortable. I sort of smiled to myself, because this was the first bump on my previously unblemished trip.

The manager appeared in a few minutes and immediately looked up the information. In the meantime, she asked if there was anything I would like to drink while I waited, and she called down for a coke to be brought to my room. She  then looked at her papers and informed me that was indeed my room. The luggage must have been part of a tour group that had not arrived as of yet and was put in the wrong room. She took the bags out of the room, and I entered. This was taken care of in less than 5 minutes. Not much of a blemish. I put my stuff down and looked about the room. There were so many windows. I was at the end of the building. No wonder it was a long walk down the wing of the building. I had so many windows.

Room 501

Room 501

Here was my view from my room:

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Room service brought up my coke and I then looked to the left. Another great view.

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I looked out the right side of the room, which was right beside a field and the tree line. What the hell?

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Seriously? Was this a grizzly bear in the side yard?

It was. Whaaat? This is crazy.

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Can this trip get any better? I grabbed my room key and my purse and walked like I was on fire down the hall, into the elevator, down 5 floors, out the door, stopped to take this picture of the veranda-

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I don’t know why I stopped to take this picture. After all, on was on fire, right? I hurriedly made a right on the path and noticed he was still in the field. He had walked over a bit and now had an audience. Please forget me with the amount of bear shots I am going to post, but I was excited to see a grizzly bear.

This was my favorite photo of him.

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IMG_1993 Watch out, orange shirted tourist! Ok, just kidding. He wasn’t close to the bear.

 

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 The management was right on top of things and didn’t let us too close. I had a contingency attack plan. See those two little girls in front of me?  Just kidding….maybe, I mean, you just never know what would happen if a bear came after you.

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Canadian Rockies Trip, Day 6: Banff Gondola, Upper Springs, Moraine Lake

I woke up very early because I had to jam a visit to the top of Sulphur Mountain via the Banff gondola before check-out time. There was much to see and do before my transfer to Lake Louise after lunch. So, I took a shower and off I went after another enjoyable breakfast at the Rimrock. I had a voucher, courtesy of Fresh Tracks Canada.

Sulphur Mountain is basically right up the road from the Rimrock Resort.  I could either wait for the ROAM bus, which would be free, courtesy of the Rimrock, or I could walk. All I knew is that I had to get to the top of Sulphur Mountain because I had heard the view from the top was absolutely stunning.  Everything I had seen thus far has been stunning. Actually, I have run out of adjectives. I am in awe.  I had my camera and off I went.

It was a quick walk to the gondola, only about 5 minutes.

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The views were amazing just on this short walk.

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Since I was early, there was a short line. A tour group from China was in front of me, but the gondolas came and went quickly.  I gave the person at the window my voucher and received my ticket. If you take the Banff Gondola, make sure you keep your ticket, as there is a charge to go up and a charge to go down. If you buy the combined ticket, keep it. A lot of people  who visit hike to the top and then purchase a ticket to go down.

The gondola, a four passenger cabin, is tiny, and rocks a bit while going up Sulphur Mountain. It is an 8 minute ride up the mountain in the cable car to the summit of Sulphur Mountain….2,292 ft. almost perpendcular.  On top, at the Summit Upper Terminal, I was standing at an elevation of 7,486 feet. I’m quite sure I have never been to a higher elevation. The highest mountain in West Virginia is Spruce Knob, which is 4,863 feet in elevation, also the highest in the Allegheny Mountains. But, this view is to die for. Every which way I turned, I found a majestic mountain view. Do I really have to leave here today?

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One gets a bird’s eye view of six mountain ranges. We could see Cascade and Tunnel Mountains, plus the whole town of Banff. Tunnel Mountain was first called, “Sleeping Buffalo” because, well, it looked like a sleeping buffalo from the north. As for Tunnel Mountain, it’s a great name considering there is no tunnel through the mountain. There were plans years ago to put the railroad through the mountain, but it was not cost efficient.

View from the gondola

View from the gondola

Up at the summit, the visitor’s centre contains restaurants, gift shops, and an observatory up at the top for the best view. I could see the Banff Summit Walk, which must have taken forever to complete the decking. I could see a small buiding on top of the next mountain, Sanson Peak.

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There are two research facilities up on the top of the mountain. The Banff SummitWalk  leads to the Cosmic Ray Station National Historic Site of Canada, and the Sanson’s Peak Meterological Station. In 1903, a meteorological observatory building was completed atop Sanson Peak. The stone building is still there and since I am a weather dork, I wanted to peek inside. First, though, I wanted to get a better look. I didn’t have a lot of time and had no idea how long the hike would take over to Sanson Peak.

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I don’t know about this. I looked at the walkway and walked down a lot of steps. There were benches at each landing. It looks like this is an interpretive trail, as I am reading markers full of information at each landing.

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I decided that I just didn’t have enough time to hike over and up, so I concentrated on getting my pictures of the view from where I was standing.

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I zoomed in on the Banff Springs Hotel, a beautiful building. I was supposed to stay here, but changed my plans for the Rimrock due to its proximity to the gondola and hot springs, which I plan to visit after descending this mountain.

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I headed inside and climbed the stairs to the Observatory deck. The views were even more impressive.

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To see the view from the top, check out the Banff National Park webcam

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Town of Banff

Town of Banff

There is an interactive giant compass located at the top of the Upper Summit Terminal. I enjoyed taking a picture of this compass. You are able to find out the distance and direction to your home and other cities around the world.

This is for my daughter, who lives in NYC

This is for my daughter, who lives in NYC

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Is that West Virginia? :)

Is that West Virginia? 🙂

Since I wanted to visit one more place before I left Banff, I got back in the short line for my trip down Sulphur Mountain. I tried to take a picture of the Rimrock, but it was a bit blurry because the darn tiny bucket of a gondola was swinging just a bit.

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Once off the gondola, I started the short hike over to Banff Upper Hot Springs.

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It really didn’t take too long to get there from the Banff Gondola. I would say it was a 5 minute walk, maybe shorter. I tend to stroll when I like the surroundings and there’s a nice shade along the path. Since it was morning, it was crisp and just a really nice leisurely walk to the hot springs. You do go through a small section of a parking lot before you reach this sign.

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The mountain was named in 1916 for the hot springs found in the area. I walked over to the water coming out of the mountain in the picture above and immediately smelled sulphur, hence the name, Sulphur Mountain. Banff Upper Springs opens early and closes around 11pm, so if you have time to soak your weary bones, the time frame is wide open to you.

The water temperature is kept between 37 and 40 degrees Celsius or in my world, 98 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit

The hot springs in Banff National Park are what made Banff so famous in the first place. It is the reason the Banff Springs Hotel was built. At first, there was a railroad that was built right to the hotel for guests who wanted to visit the warming powers of the hot springs.  Guests came here for the medicinal waters and would take a dip year round as had an ideal temperature for soaking throughout the seasons. They are the highest springs in Canada.

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After taking a few pictures of the springs, I noticed the hotel was directly across the road. I could see it through the trees. So, I saw a long wooden ramp and thought I would try to take it to see if it leads down to the main road. There weren’t any signs, but I knew it was there for a reason. I was right. It took me to the bus stop and all I had to do was walk across the street.

Speaking of the bus, Banff became the first municipality in all of Canada to use an all-hybird electric transit bus. All four of the buses have wildlife imagery all the way around it, with pictures of grizzlies, wolves, elk, goats, fox, deer and moose looking at me as the buses pass by. It’s a convenient schedule and I never had to wait for more than 5 minutes until the next Roam bus appeared. Maybe I just have great timing.

I went to my room and packed. Check-out time is 12 noon, which is great for me. Sun Dog Tours will be picking me up for a transfer tour to Lake Louise at 1:30. I will have time to hang out in the lobby and write.

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I found the perfect spot by an open door leading to a terrace. The fresh mountain air combined with great scenery of the surrounding mountains made for an easy wait.

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The doorman, Jeff, or Geoff, or maybe I am wrong as I only heard him say, “with 2 f’s,” so I guess I made the assumption his name was Jeff. Could be Ralff, perhaps, but anyway, Jeff came over and we began talking about Banff. He knew a lot about West Virginia, which surprised me, I guess. He told me Banff is indeed wonderful, but not if I don’t like snow.

I don’t like snow. Darn. There goes my dream of moving here when I retire. All kidding aside, I would move to this area in a heartbeat. I am over the moon with the Canadian Rockies. West Virginia is known as the Mountain State, but in all honesty, in comparison maybe we should adjust that moniker to the “Mound State.” The Rockies reach high into the sky, poking right through the clouds. I have decided I am no longer a “beach person.”

I took a final picture of the Rimrock before I had to leave. This was a great hotel.

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A Sun Dog Tour bus pulled up at exactly 1:30. This promptness is just unacceptable. It made me smile, because I have never seen such promptness as I have witnessed on this trip. Bravo, Canadian work force.

There would be only 4 others joining us on the transfer tour to Lake Louise. When I climbed on board, I saw a couple from Texas who were on the Rocky Mountaineer with me in the same carriage. We then stopped at Banff Springs Hotel to pick up another couple.

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How ironic. They were also on the Rocky Mountaineer, sitting just a few rows in front of me. They were from England. After we got settled and began our trip to Lake Louise, we discovered we were all using Fresh Tracks Canada for our trips. We discussed how wonderful it was to use such a wonderful travel company. I told them that what drew me to call them in the first place was the fact that I liked their polar bear on the front page of their web site. You know, sometimes it’s just those little things that make you decide upon something. So glad I did. There is no doubt I will be using them for any future Canadian adventure I hope to take.

Our tour guide asked if we minded taking a side trip to Moraine Lake as she needed to take the couple from England there. Are you kidding me? Can this vacation get any better? I was wishing I had more time on this Canadian Rockies adventure to visit the Cave and Basin National Historical Site in Banff and Moraine Lake. The Cave and Basin is one of nine sulphurous hot springs clustered in three groups near Sulphur Mountain. Since I already saw one, I will visit The Cave and Basin on my next trip to the area. (See, already wanting to come back.) But, I will get to see this beautiful lake, even though we will only have a few minutes to get out of the bus and snap some shots. I’m a lucky duck.

We first went by Castle Mountain. The tour guide tried to go a back road, but the route was closed due to the recent flooding and mudslides. So, we had to turn around. I did get a photo of Castle Mountain from a closer vantage point.

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We were near Lake Louise and took the left towards Moraine Lake. The sign said “11km.” It was a nice drive. Our tour guide told us the road is closed in the winter and used as a cross country ski trail. The thought of snow closing a road made me shudder. They must get an awful lot of snow up here.

Finally, we reach the sparkling blue Moraine Lake. It was stunning.

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From where I stood Moraine Lake did not look so large, but looks are deceiving. It is a large lake. It is situated in the valley of the Ten Peaks, although being at an elevation of 6,183 feet does not seem like a valley. The photo does not do it justice. I even looked it up on Google Earth when I got home to see if looks were indeed deceiving. Indeed. It is spectacular. As I have learned earlier on this trip, the color is due to the refraction of light off the rock flour deposited in the lake on a continual basis.

After dropping off the couple from England and snapping a few pictures from this one end of the lake, we are on our way to Lake Louise, where I will spend the rest of the day exploring the lake.

Next up: Canadian Rockies, Day 6, 7: Lake Louise

Canadian Rockies Trip: Day 5: Athabasca Glacier/Icefields Parkway

Today I dress in layers and head to the Athabasca Glacier.  I think I’m more excited to drive along the stunning Icefields Parkway on our journey to the glacier. The total tour takes nine hours.

There are over 100 glaciers that line the Icefield Parkway, which makes it one of the most scenic drives in the world. I looked it up, and it is actually ranked the third most scenic drive in the world. That’s a big deal.

Normally, on the Essential Rockies by Fresh Tracks, I would have had the day to discover Banff. I wanted to visit the Athabasca Glacier, so Tyler from Fresh Tracks custom designed a great day for me. I don’t think he has any idea how well that worked out.

I looked at my itinerary, and was ready for the van or bus from Discover Banff Tours to pick me up. There are many tour operators who have tours along the Icefields Parkway, but this tour was supposed to have a small group and a knowledgeable tour guide for the day. The  company is rated quite high on Tripadvisor, so I was ready for a great day.

After I ate breakfast at the hotel, which was fantastic and opened at 6:30 so I didn’t have to rush as I was getting picked up at 8:15, I checked out the lobby area in depth.

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At exactly 8:15, a Discover Banff Tours van pulled up. The was one guest already in the van. The driver informed me he would take us to the Banff Springs Hotel to pick up our other guests and to change vehicles. I was hoping it was a small group, no larger than 20, so I could take great photos without squeezing in somewhere to get a good shot.

When we pulled in, there was a girl standing there. A short time later, a van pulled up and our tour guide jumped out. Mia, who will look after us for the day, informed us that normally the minimum guests they would take on a tour is 4, but since I had a voucher and purchased it a long time ago, they decided to honor it and give the tour. I have a feeling that there were a lot of cancellations due to the terrible flooding in the area. So, there were only three of us on the whole tour! It gets better. The girl was only going as far as Lake Louise, so that meant the man from Scotland and I were the only guests on this tour. Thanks, Fresh Tracks for setting us up with a fantastic tour company. I can’t believe they didn’t cancel the tour. What a class act!

This full day sightseeing tour that travels a glacial landscape begins at Lake Louise.  We settled into our comfortable Mercedes van and off we went. We weren’t even out of Banff when we saw a coyote walking near us on the railroad tracks. Mia is extremely interesting and knows her stuff. She told us about all the history of the area and was very sensitive to the environment. It was going to be a great day.

The first thing on the drive that we came across was the overhead wildlife pass. Built for the animals to traverse the highway safely, the park system painstakingly created a series of over and underpasses for the animals. Mia answered every question I had concerning the animals safety and was a wealth of information on the protection of the bears and the fences put up to help keep them from the highway. I found myself looking for the underpasses along the way. She had stories about some of the poor animal deaths due to motorists who stop and create a “bear jam” which can scare the bears into running into the road through the fence.  So, she let us know that she would not stop if there were any bears along the road. I smiled, as I agreed 100%, but I had my camera ready just in case.

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Our first stop along the Trans-Canada Highway is Lake Louise, which is 34 miles from Banff. We had some time to take pictures of the area before we headed back onto the parkway. I was spending the night at Lake Louise the next day, so I just walked over to the boat house and talked to the tour guide working there and snapped a few photos of the lake.

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We met back in the parking lot and continued on the Icefields parkway. It was amazing. The mountains completed surrounded us.

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Along the way, Mia told us stories about the early explorers, such as Wild Bill Peyto and David Thompson.

Well, we approached the so called, “bear jam.” Mia slowed the van down so we could get a good shot and planned to communicate to the park people as soon as we reached the Columbia Ice Centre as we are in an area without cell phone service. The bear was very close to the road…and to people. I hoped it would traipse back into the woods very soon.

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We came across Crowfoot Glacier, which has now retreated and has lost one of its “toes.” I see it through the window and decide to take a shot even before we get out of the van.

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Next up, Bow Lake. Mia explains how it gets its color, which as a teacher,  I find quite interesting. It is a beautiful color. It is beautiful.

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The landscape was remarkable at each turn

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I was in awe when I saw Peyto Lake. This can’t be real!  We just beat a huge tour bus to the small wooden platform. We were able to get great photos before the bus arrived. Mia noticed they were directly behind us, so we quickly got out of the van and made our way on the short trail. Yay, Mia! The beauty of the lake was beyond words.

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The place looks like a postcard. There is no way you could take a bad picture.  I could have stayed at this lake for hours. I think I took about 30 photos here alone. It was stunning.

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Mia explained what a moraine was near a glacier. I think this is what she meant. A retreating or melting glacier leaves a lot of debris of rock and soil behind. She was a wealth of information. How fortunate to be taking a tour with only one other person. The other tour bus was filled with people who filed out without commentary outside of the bus. Mia was pointing and discussing all aspects of the Canadian Rockies with us. I was lucky Fresh Tracks Canada put me with a tour company that specializes in small group touring.

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A moraine is a glacially formed accumulation of debris, as in rock or soil deposited in the area. I guess I just mentioned that.

Mia has informed us that since she usually has tour groups up to twenty people, we are well ahead of schedule since there are only two of us. She asks if we would like to see Mistaya Canyon. How wonderful.

As soon as we pull into the parking lot and we get out of the van, a raven flies right at me and then plops down right in front of me and just stares at me. I have never seen a raven, so this was a treat. I ‘m thinking he was looking for a treat as well. We have crows back in West Virginia, but ravens are much larger. And crows don’t want anything to do with me. I have tried to tame a few. This fellow hopped behind us until we were at the top of the trail.

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We weren’t even on the path yet when a chipmunk like creature crawled out of his hole and stretched in front of us. The animals in Canada are not afraid of people at all. I guess when you live at a scenic stop, you are bound to get use to the humans.

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It was a decent .31 mile walk down the rocky path to the canyon. Most of it was straight down. I was hesitant because I have the lung capacity of a worm. Really, a worm. But, boy was it worth it. Mistaya Canyon is beautiful. Over the years, the water has carved a path through the rock and has left just a beautiful canyon.

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And the drive continues

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like something you would see on a postcard

like something you would see on a postcard

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I can’t begin to tell you how many pictures I took on this magnificent drive along the Icefields Parkway. We have been traveling for a while and have now reached the Columbia Icefields and the Athabasca Glacier. It is amazing.

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I noticed little specks of black and realize those are the snocoaches we will be riding. I zoomed in to see if I was right.

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We take buses over from the Visitor’s Centre to a place where we will then climb aboard the Snocoach explorer.

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Once on board, our driver, who was from England, told us how fast the Snocoaches could travel (28 mph) and how each one cost $1 million dollars to build. I tried to listen, but the sight was just too amazing. I do remember hearing the driver also tell us about the Continental Divide and how the melt water from the Columbia Icefield flowed to the three oceans: The Arctic, the Pacific, and the Atlantic (via Hudson Bay) The glacial water is the purest natural water known. I couldn’t wait to taste it.

You could see the road we were about to travel onto the glacier.

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I felt like I was on a different planet.

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We had 20 minutes to take pictures before we had to return to our Snocoach. That was more than enough time to walk around, drink the water, and take some photos. It was remarkable to think that we were actually standing on a glacier.

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I took so many pictures while standing on this glacier. It would take me forever to load them all.

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We then loaded up and started our journey back to the Visitor Centre. Our tour guide was waiting for us at the bus, and we started on our journey back to Banff.

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As we traveled on our way back to Banff, Mia informed us that this is usually where her clients fall asleep as it is a long day, but I can’t keep my eyes off these amazing views. After driving for a while, we stopped at Bow Lake, but from the other side of the lake in a First Nations village. The scenery was just as beautiful.

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Back in Banff

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What an amazing day with an amazing guide. Mia, from Discover Banff Tours, could not have done a better job. I gave her a nice tip and she let me out in town as I wanted to get dinner and check out Banff one last time before I head to Lake Louise tomorrow afternoon.

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Discover Banff Tours at http://www.banfftours.com and their facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/discoverbanfftours?fref=ts

Fresh Tracks Canada at http://www.freshtrackscanada.com/ and their facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/FreshTracksCanada?fref=ts

Canadian Rockies, Day 4: Kamloops to Banff

I’m very excited for this leg of the journey. I deliberately chose to travel eastward because I wanted to climb from the lower elevation of Vancouver up into the Canadian Rockies. The Rocky Mountaineer does operate in both directions. I think it would be more awe-inspiring than if I reversed my trip. So, yes, I’m excited. My camera batteries are charged (yep, I have two of them) and I am ready to go. We found out that we were not going to be able to make it past Golden today because of the horrendous flooding in the area. We are going to miss the Spiral Tunnels, but I’m glad the whole trip wasn’t canceled. Rocky Mountaineer is bending over backwards to make sure we are happy customers despite this drawback. It’s just something that has happened and it’s just a disruption for the last two hours of our journey. There doesn’t seem to be one person who has had a problem with this whatsoever. So, we carry on.

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Not only do I get to sit by myself, I am sitting at a place where there are no seats directly in front of me. I am right by the stairs, so I have a long counter in front of me and an amazing amount of leg room. It’s wonderful.

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I sort of liked the scenery approaching Kamloops and I’m excited to climb higher into the Canadian Rockies. This is the part I have been looking forward to the most. Kamloops is only at 1,100 feet in elevation and the Kicking Horse Pass between British Columbia and Alberta is over 5,300 feet, so we are going to be climbing higher, that’s for sure.

As I was eating breakfast, we came across the hoodoos outside of Kamloops. Since I was on the other side of the train, I knew there would be a glare in any pictures I took. We learned a trick on the train to get our cameras as close to the window so it would help eliminate those darn spots.

Anyway, about the hoodoos…

So, while researching the different places I would be seeing on my Canadian Rockies adventure, I stumbled across the word, hoodoos. I was going to get to see the hoodoos in along the way near Kamloops and in Banff. Ok, that’s cool, but I had no idea what hoodoos were. Sounded like something I would see on a ghost tour during Halloween night. Oh, no, here comes a hoodoo. Something like a Boogeyman…I’m not even close.

I’m a 4th grade elementary teacher, and we have studied rock formations. I’ve heard the word spires, but never hoodoos. So, I thought I would share what I found out about hoodoos, and if someone ever brings up the conversation at your next dinner party, you will look pretty damn worldly, because, you too, will be able to talk about hoodoos. You can thank me later.

Hoodoos are tall skinny spires of rock that protrude from the bottom of arid basins and “broken” lands. They have also been called fairy chimneys, tent rocks, and earth pyramids. Hoodoos are found mainly in the desert in dry, hot areas. That would explain why I had never heard of them. We don’t have any in West Virginia.

Hoodoos remind me of the drip castles we used to make every year while vacationing in Myrtle Beach. So, there you go; a little information about hoodoos.

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Since I had breakfast first yesterday, I will be in the second seating today. But, wait. The onboard director came back and said there were some open slots for first seating if any of us want to take it. I walked down and sat with a lovely couple from Tennessee and a woman from Alabama who had a strong southern accent. I enjoyed listening to her talk.

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We are traveling on the South Thompson River, with volcanic hills, and the hoodoos on the left across the river. I enjoy hearing the clickety-clack of the train in this portion of the country. We learn about Billy Miner, who committed Canada’s very first robbery in 1904 and coined the phrase, “Hands up!”  Our attendants came up the stairs, donned with a white scarf (napkin?) over their nose and mouth, yelling, “Hands up!” but we weren’t too scared, considering we knew who they were and for the fact they were carrying bananas. We all laughed, as it was quite amusing.

 

"Hands up!"

“Hands up!”

 

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This is one of my favorite photos of the whole trip

This is one of my favorite photos of the whole trip

The landscape is changing again as we are coming along lakes and the hills are getting higher.

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Lake Shuswap is also known as Osprey Alley, but to be honest, we saw many more osprey nests yesterday. I have called out “Eagle!” several times already this morning. I’m sort of having fun with it. We have been traveling for such a long time along the lake that I wanted to call out “Shark!” I knew that would get a laugh, but probably wear a little thin after a while, so I behaved myself and just said it to the Australian family. Speaking of the Aussies, the mom, Margaret, lost her voice and could not talk to anyone. I could tell she wasn’t feeling well today.

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We keep seeing the telegraph poles along the way. Some are sitting precariously over the lake. I like taking their picture.

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We pass places like Salmon Arm and Lake Mara. Salmon Arm is home to the longest wooden wharf in North America. I didn’t see it.

Craigellachie- Last spike for the  Canadian Pacific railroad is on the left. The train slows so we can all get a picture. I bet they were glad when the railroad tracks were complete. What a job!

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There are streams and creeks all over the place as we climb higher. Some of the water is still quite high due to the flooding as many of the trees and bushes are knee deep in the rushing waters.

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I am outside on the vestibule more this second day. I love the feel of the fresh air on my face. It is cooler, so I am wearing my new red fleece Rocky Mountaineer jacket. Feels wonderful.

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Ah, here come our snow-capped mountains. We all reach for our cameras to snap this one.

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A popular photo stop

A popular photo stop

We inch across the Stoney Creek bridge, a steel girder structure high above the canyon floor. I’m talking high. We travel slowly over the bridge, but approach it head on, so we aren’t able to get a picture of it. I have seen a picture of it, and it is imposing and scary. But, yet, since many of the guests have no idea what we are crawling over, they are taking pictures left and right and below.

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The creaking noise is a bit creepy. This bridge reminds me of one you see in old westerns, where the black locomotive goes over it and something bad usually happens. The creaking noise was unsettling, but we are over the bridge quickly, even though we are crawling.

looking down

looking down

 

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We are still climbing and the views are stunning.

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The last thing we pass through is the Connaught Tunnel, which is a long tunnel. I believe we travel through it for 5 miles. . The trip takes around 8 minutes to get through the tunnels. Our attendant tells us stories about the building of the tunnel at this time.

Our train journey is coming to an end and our attendants gather to talk to us and to pass out a postcard with their names on it. What a great group we had! I tipped them handsomely, as they did a great job to make sure our time on the Rocky Mountaineer was a good one.

 

IMG_1653We pulled into Golden, where there are buses waiting for us. I am on bus #7 with the other guests who will be traveling to the RimRock Resort.  Rocky Mountaineer is so very prepared in this flooding diversion. We have two onboard attendants who answer questions about what we are seeing next. But, what we are seeing next is amazing: two bear near the railroad tracks that are running parallel to the highway.

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I’m a big believer in things happening for a reason. Maybe today those bears are alive because we didn’t take the train like we were supposed to. That would have been awful and I know this happens every year on the tracks.

We missed traveling the Spiral Tunnels, but all the buses pulled over at the overlook so we can all get a good look across the mountain. We soon pass Lake Louise and follow Castle Mountain for a very long time. The Bow River follows us.

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We are soon entering Banff and I have immediately fallen in love with the town. Our bus meanders up a hill to the Rim Rock Resort, where my bags are supposed to be waiting for me. Check-in is smooth and easy.

It is hard to believe that my Rocky Mountaineer adventure has just ended. It was an amazing experience. I will sing their praises until the day I die, as for a solo traveler, I was in awe the entire time. Some people think it is an expensive vacation, and it is, but, you get what you pay for over and over again. I was pampered from start to finish, met some incredible people from all over the world, and saw a part of the country you can’t see in a bus or car.

I am ready for my days in Banff and Lake Louise.

So, when you are a guest at the RimRock, you are able to use your room key to take the Roam bus downtown. I entered my room to a most wonderful view. I have to thank Fresh Tracks Canada for recommending this hotel. It is closer to the gondola and hot springs and just a quick shuttle ride downtown. Thanks, Tyler!

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What a fantastic view.

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I was hungry, and decided to check when the next shuttle was coming through. It was almost 8:00 and I was ready for some pasta at the Old Spaghetti Factory. (Yes, I checked up on the eating establishments before I arrived. I knew exactly where I wanted to go.)

The concierge smiled and pointed outside. The bus just pulled up. I hurried outside and stepped on the bus. What luck, considering it arrives every 40 minutes. I would be eating 40 minutes sooner now.

Banff is already my favorite town. I love it! It is postcard beautiful!

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I ate, looked through some stores, purchased a t-shirt and a Banff Christmas ornament, and then walked to the bus stop. There is a live message board that lets you know when the next bus was coming through. I only had to wait 5 minutes. This was wonderfully efficient.

I got back to the resort to find complimentary internet, so I wrote a blog post and went to bed since it was such a very long day. Tomorrow I’m headed on a 10 hour tour on the Icefields Parkway. Off to bed I go.

Canadian Rockies, Day 3, Part 2: Hell’s Gate to Kamloops

We are still traveling along the Fraser River.  It’s very long and just when you think you have seen the most beautiful sight ever, another one pops up around the bend. The Rocky Mountain newspaper, The Milepost is very imformative concerning the history of the area according to the route and milepost. I sure as heck wish I had time to read it, but I can’t read on this trip; that should be against the law.

It looks like I’m the bald eagle lady, yelling out whenever I saw an eagle perched along the way, today I  saw something and I had no idea what it was. So, I yelled, ” Something alive on the rock on the left.”  I got made fun of the rest of the trip.

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There is a listing of  all the towns and cities we pass on our way and the next one I see is Yale. Yale is right on the Fraser River and is considered to be on the dividing line between the coast and the interior.

According to Wikipedia, ” In its heyday at the peak of the gold rush,  Yale was reputed to be the largest city west of Chicago and north of San Francisco. It also earned epithets such as “the wickedest little settlement in British Columbia” and “a veritable Sodom and Gomorrah” of vice and violence and lawlessness.

The town of  Spuzzum is up next.  The town is usually made fun of because of its small size. Until the town burned down at the end of the last century, Spuzzum boasted one gast station and general store, which served as a roadside lanmark.  At one time,  both sides of a sign on the Trans-Canada Highway read, “You are now leaving Spuzzum.” During the 50’s, 60’s, an 70’s,  the tiny hamlet was once a popular tourist stop as they even had their very own Playboy Bunny restaurant.

As we climbed higher into the mountains, we passed a mountain that was named as a memorial to the donkey: Jackass Mountain.  There once was a treacherours part of  the old Gold Rush trail and many of the poor pack animals who walked up and down the grade didn’t make it. The mules lugged supplies across the narrow wagon route, also known as the Cariboo road. But, the interesting part of this story is the the gold rush guys decided to also use camels to travel this route.  Seems only fair that it should be called Jackass Camel Mountain.

We have now made it to Cisco Crossing. It’s hard to squeeze in to get a good picture as this is the area of the most famous of rail bridges in western Canada.

We’ve spent most of our time on the north side of the river but at the Cisco crossing we swap over. There’s two lines along the Fraser, one on each side of the river. The Canadian Pacific was built first and thus got the best route, whilst the Canadian Northern (now part of the Canadian National railway) was built later and at the town of Siska the two lines cross and swap sides.

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Lytton is the self-proclaimed “River Rafting Capital of Canada.”  I can see why. The river looks angry and rushed, which I guess it what brings rafters to Lytton. We see one raft and someone waves at us from their raft. I had to laugh. Every where we have gone today, starting with the Rocky Mountaineer employees and never ending after that, people on our route are always waving to us.

Did I mention I’m having a wonderful time? Before you can even think that you may be thirsty, an attendant is standing beside you with a tray of water on ice.  I have been thrilled that the Rocky Mountaineer uses Coke, as I would have been quite stuck not having it to drink. Some people drink coffee in the morning; I have to have my Coke. My vacation could not be any better so far.

We soon left the Fraser river and started climbing up the Thompson river canyon. We are at the confluence of the Thompson and the Fraser. Where the Fraser was beigy muddy color, the Thompson is not and the color difference is obvious as they meet.

The landscape is dramatically changing as we approach the Thompson Canyon and an area known as Avalanche Alley. The railroad follows the track on a narrow area close to the river and hugs the imposing rock cliffs above the tracks. There are avalanche shields to protect the train in case of an avalanche, but it looks ominous and I was thinking I should be downstairs on the outside viewing platform at this time. But, I was wrong. We traveled on the other side of the Thompson and have a birds-eye-view of Avalanche Alley.  It seems so close to the river and you could see in numerous places where there have been recent rockslides.

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A series of tunnels and avalanche bridges protect the railway line from the continuous voyage of falling rock into the canyon, allowing the Rocky Mountaineer to traverse the mountains.

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I like tunnels..lol

I like tunnels..lol

I should have mentioned that right before we entered the Black Canyon and Avalanche Alley, the scenery began to change. It sort of reminds me of the old west.

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I wouldn’t have been surprised if cowboys with scarves over their nose and mouth stopped the train to rob us of our Rocky Mountaineer freebie souvenirs we just purchased. It seems drier and desert like almost in places. We approach Ashcroft, which is known as the driest town in Canada. It did stop raining while back, so I guess being a dry town at times is not so bad.

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Our carriage is great in that everyone is so friendly. People walk up and down the aisles talking to each other. It’s been great thus far.

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We have passed many little towns and some like Walhachin have a sad history:

“Ghost of Walhachin” “Here bloomed a “Garden of Eden!” The sagebrush desert changed to orchards through the imaginiation and industry of English settlers during 1907-14. The men left and fight-and die- for king and country. A storm ripped out the vital irrigation flume. Now only ghosts of flume, trees, and homes remain to mock this once thriving settlement.” Dept. of Recreation and Conservation

Our landscape has definitely changed since the beginning of our journey. We are no longer in an arid, dry part of the country, where it rarely rains. Or so they say, because it is raining right now.

Finally we’re free to arrive into Kamloops at its heritage railway station and we’re handed keys to our hotel room. We load aboard buses according to the hotel we are staying. I’m staying in the Coast Hotel, so I will ride bus #10 with other Goldleaf guests to that hotel. When we arrive, sure enough, my bags are waiting for me in my room. Nice touch, Rocky Mountaineer. I immediately head to a restaurant on site to eat dinner and back in my room. It’s amazing, but for sitting all day on the train, we all mentioned how tired we all were. Despite the rain, it was a great first day.

Here are some more pictures taken throughout this portion of our journey.

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Canadian Rockies, 1/2 of Day 3 : Vancouver to Hell’s Gate

I had to wake up pretty early as my driver was picking me up a little after 6:00a.m. We were heading to the Rocky Mountaineer train station. He met me right on time.

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I prefer to call it a depot, as that is what we call the building beside a train track here in West Virginia.  Anyway,  the Rocky Mountaineer train depot is a former Canadian National locomotive maintenance building. It’s a cavernous structure, and I am pretty sure that when the “alllll aboard” whistle sounds, it will echo about the place. I’ve watched a video about the Rocky Mountaineer and remember seeing a bag pipe player. I look around to see if there is someone wearing a kilt.

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The place is abuzz with people like me, excited this day has finally come. I see a lot of people standing by themselves, so either their partner is in the restroom, or they are like myself, on a solo adventure through the Canadian Rockies. Last week I emailed Rocky Mountaineer and asked them if they could put me in the last car so I can take pictures from behind, or at least place me in a car with a bunch of rowdy Australians. I mean, I don’t want anyone reading or sleeping on this trip like I have read. One should never nap on a luxury tourist train, right? They immediately sent back an email, apologizing they are not able to handle requests, but then posted several photos of how no matter where you sat, you would get great pictures. It didn’t hurt to ask and I appreciated the quick response from Rocky Mountaineer. They are a class act.

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There is a 60% chance of rain this morning, which should move to 100% as it is raining. But, you know, I don’t care right now. I’m about to embark on a great adventure. As I look around, I see a full-length glass wall so we can get a great view of the Rocky Mountaineer waiting for us on the tracks. It made me smile even more. I even see a red carpet leading to the double leveled Gold leaf cars (or carriages as they say in Canada). I feel special.

The waiting area within the train depot provides guests with an array of services while we wait for that all important “All Aboard” whistle.  There is  softly playing music in the background by a lady with a harp while we may enjoy complimentary tea or coffee. There is a lady walking around with a tray of orange or apple juice.  Since there is no departure board as we are the only train leaving the station, I mean, depot, we just check in with the person at a kiosk. Our bags are marked and placed altogether as they travel separately by truck and will be waiting in our rooms in Kamloops. Now, that’s something you don’t see every day.

After everyone was told it was time,  the bag piper started piping, and the “All aboard” was called, the glass doors opened and we all made our way out to the platform….in the pouring rain. Yeah, it’s raining cats and dogs and Canadian loons.  I don’t care. I’m getting ready to travel on the Rocky Mountaineer. The Gold Leaf cars were right in front of the depot, so I didn’t have far to walk. It seems like the red leaf single level cars were right behind the engine, and also at the end of the train. I had previously made a mental note to count how many carriages were on this particular trip, but in my excitement, I forgot.

I could already feel the pampering beginning. Each of the Gold leaf carriages had a Rocky Mountaineer attendant standing beside the red carpet, Canadian flag flying in the background. I climbed the spiral staircase to the upper level of the Goldleaf dome coach and settled into my comfortable and spacious reserved seat. I knew from the time I sat down that this was going to be one hell of a trip of a lifetime.

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I did notice that Rocky Mountaineer put me in the back gold leaf car in the very back seat. All I had to do was turn around and snap some pictures. And I sat with a lovely family from Austrailia. This was already starting great and it was only going to get better, for the four seats right in front of us were vacant and the car manager told us we could spread out if they didn’t show up. So, we all got window seats. It was perfect!

I chose the First Passage to the West route, also known as the Kicking Horse route and will go on to Banff.  With the horrendous flooding in Calgary, our second day may be abbreviated by  two hours as they will only be able to go as far as a town called Golden. We will be put on buses at that time and taken to our hotels in Banff.

Rocky Mountaineer then announced it was giving us each $150 to spend in their catalog free as an apology for the abbreviated trip. I thought that was great and eagerly filled out my request…I’m getting a jacket and a bunch of  other stuff. This was like Christmas on the Rocky Mountaineer. I applaud them as they are trying so hard to make everyone comfortable during an unforeseen event.

Any way, each trip is two days long with an overnight stay at a hotel on the way because the Rocky Mountaineer does not travel at night. We would miss so much of the wonderful scenery if it went all the way to Banff, and would defeat the whole purpose of this scenic train.

In the pocket in front of my seat is a Rocky Mountaineer newspaper, called The Milepost. This will be important as it will let me know when I need to jump up and head downstairs to the outside vestibule to snap some great pictures. It is possible to get photos right from my seat, but there may be a glare from the windows. But, then again, maybe not.  Oh my, those windows!  I can see right above me. Rocky Mountaineer is right; there is no bad seat on the train. The transparent, domed roof throughout the carriage ensures us that we won’t miss a moment of the splendid Canadian Rockies.

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Right away I look around at the other guests in my carriage. Since I really don’t know a stranger and could talk to a wall ( and did a few times in college), I won’t have a hard time conversing with others. My ears perked up as I thought I already heard an accent. Most of the clients on board the Rocky Mountaineer are generally from Great Britain and Australia. I wonder if anyone from West Virginia has ever had the pleasure of riding on the Rocky Mountaineer. I’d like to think I am the first. Actually, an attendant who met me at the door of my car told me I was the first from West Virginia for him, anyway.

I couldn’t wait until we started this trip. I felt a slight tug and then realized it was time to start the show. I looked outside my spacious window and noticed that all of the employees were standing outside, all in a row, waving to us as we left. I smiled and waved back at them. I thought that was sweet…especially since it was raining.

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Our carriage has 72 reclining seats with a lot of leg room and drop-down tables just like you see on an airline. Downstairs, there are restrooms, a galley kitchen, and a 36 seat restaurant for breakfast and lunch. And at the end of each carriage there is a small open-air viewing vestibule for fresh air and perfect photography.

There are 4 attendants in each Goldleaf carriage who are extremely attentive and knowledgeable about the area. As we begin our journey, we are all served a chilled class of mimosa for a toast to our Rocky Mountaineer adventure.

Breakfast and lunch are served downstairs in two sittings, and guess what? We got to go first.  Well, that excited me because I was quite hungry. The attendants passed out hot towels and as we walked downstairs, another attendant was waiting to squirt some anti-bacterial soap into the palm of our  hands. I sat with my new Austrailian friends. Their son, who is in eight grade, or 8, as they say in Aussie Land, kept kicking me under the table. It hurt one time so I gave it right back to him. The rest of the meal was injury free.

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The presentation of each meal choice was wonderful.  I decided upon the Rocky Mountaineer. We first got a plate of fruit.

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And shortly after, our breakfast arrived.

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It took us a while to get out of the Vancouver suburbs, or perhaps I was just excited to see some different scenery. I wanted out of the city and into the wild. I wanted to see a bear…..from far away. One of the first bridges we went over was the Fraser River Swing Bridge. I have never been on a swing bridge. I have been on one where there is a drawbridge that lifts up a section of the bridge so a boat may pass underneath, but this is my first time on a bridge that actually has a portion swing over so the boat or ship may pass through. It moves horizontally at a 90 degree angle to let the passing boats through. Pretty neat for just starting out on the trip.

We had a full day of train travel ahead of us and I hoped to multi-task the best I could. I wanted to meet people but also at the same time watch the mileposts for that all important first photo. I did my research and hoped to be downstairs when the first photo op approaches. I have to laugh at that, hours later, as the whole trip was a photo op.

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One of the first towns we passed was Fort Langley. Fort Langley is the exact location where, a century and a half ago, a huge fur trade business called the Hudson’s Bay Company established a small post to trade with the First Nations of the West Coast.  (First Nations is the same thing as what we call our Native Americans). The furs were shipped to Europe and other local produce was traded with the Russians in Alaska. In 1858,  there were rumors of  “there’s gold in them thar hills ” ( a saying that was made popular after gold was discovered in some areas.)  The gold rumors near this small town on the  Fraser River caused a massive influx of Americans to the area. Fearing annexation by the United States, British Columbia was proclaimed a colony.

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Along the route, I have noticed  many decaying telegraph poles. Some of them are photo worthy.  Once used to send messages between villages on the railway line, advances in technology has left telegraph standing behind. Time has not been kind and many are sitting precariously close to the Fraser River. ….The Telegraph Trail

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We approached the town of Hope, which is known as the Chainsaw Carving Capital of the World. But, it is better known as being the “Hollywood of the North” as many movies have been filmed in and around Hope. Sylvester Stallone starred in Rambo:First Blood 30 years ago and the town is still going strong with the cult following of the movie. Rambo put this small town on the proverbial map, that’s for sure.  A free map of filming locations is available at the visitor center.

The attendants gave us a heads up when a great photo opportunity came up. Some stood up, and some, like me, ran downstairs to the vestibule. It became apparent later on that if an attendant needed me, they had to come outside because I was out there when it wasn’t raining.

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After breakfast and before lunch, the attendants were busy filling drink orders. We were able to order anything from water to Coke, to juice, wine, beer, and mixed drinks….complimentary and for the whole trip. I didn’t see anyone swagger and lose their footing on the vestibule, so I would say everyone drank and rode the train responsibly.

Next thing you know, it’s lunch time. We’ve been traveling for several hours by now and first seating people are called to go downstairs after we get our hot towel. Some people put it directly on their face. I would have needed a nap if I put mine on my face. We were given a menu and I took  another photo of it. I told my new Aussie friends that I blog, because it seemed a bit weird to take photos of the menu. Oh well.

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We are coming to an area that I have been looking forward to: the rushing waters of Hell’s Gate. I imagine it would be a creepy place to visit on Halloween.    The towering jagged rock walls create an abrupt narrowing of the Fraser River, forcing the waters through a passage only 115 feet wide. I sort of gobbled down my chicken so I could head out on the vestibule. The server had to come looking for me to see if I wanted dessert. I didn’t want to budge from my spot.

The other guys outside had great cameras and I could hear that quick shutter speed noise. I quickly realized that my Canon Power Shot may have a great zoom, but missed a lot of photos because it wasn’t as fast as the others. I felt inferior, but that didn’t stop me from taking hundreds of photos.

So, anyway, we have arrived at Hell’s Gates. It looked imposing.

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According to the journal entry in 1808 of  explorer Simon Fraser, the name Hells Gate was described for this narrow passage as “a place where no human should venture, for surely these are the gates of Hell”. And the name sort of stuck. Nowadays, there is an aerial tram that carries visitors aboard one of the only descending gondolas in North America over the thundering waters.

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We had a bird’s eye view of the historic landmark from the Rocky Mountaineer, where 200 million gallons of water per minute push through the narrow passage. It was easy to picture what Simon Fraser first thought when he came upon the area.

This area is also of importance because there is a fishway that was designed to improve the run of salmon to the spawning beds. First Nations people…attracted to area for the salmon fishing. Fishways help the salmon through the difficult areas of Fraser River. Remember, salmon swim upstream. Can you imagine how difficult it is to get through an area that has 200 million gallons of water rushing from the other direction.

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This was also the site of the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway.  Supposedly, for each mile of track laid, three chinese workers were killed. Hey, maybe it is haunted. Ghost Hunters International paid them a visit.

We saw many more old telegraph poles along the tracks. From what I found out before the trip began,  there used to be a telegraph line secured to them and that men used to live in shacks near critical areas.The railroad would send telegraph messages, which the men would record on paper and clip to a wooden pole attached to the telegraph pole. If the engineer saw a message attached to the telegraph pole, he would slow the train and grab the message

Like I mentioned above, the attendants made sure that we had enough tine to get our cameras ready for photo opportunities. The train slows so we can all hurry down to the vestibule and get our photos. I don’t know how, but I was able to find eagles perched left and right, so I would yell out, “eagle on the right,” etc. I could not believe my eyes, as we saw at least 16 eagles on this leg of the journey. There were many osprey nests and we even saw a herd of some sort of horned sheep goat deer. I don’t know what they were called, but the atttendant said that the females had horns but the males were “hornier.” Oh, that made the laughing women travelers four seats in front of me cackle for about 5 minutes. It was great to see everyone having a great time on the Rocky Mountaineer.

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Next up: Day 3, Part 2-Hell’s Gate to Kamloops.

Canadian Rockies Trip, Day 2: Stanley Park and Grouse Mountain

I woke up early this morning as I wanted to make a full day of my short time in Vancouver.  I jumped out of bed to look out of the window to make sure it wasn’t raining. If it was raining, I was going to go to the Vancouver Aquarium.

Well, the first thing on my agenda was to eat breakfast and then hop on the trolley and hop off somewhere in Stanley Park.  I walked downstairs to figure out where I wanted to eat, and decided to waltz  in to the Sutton Place’s  restaurant,  Fleuri. I got the breakfast buffet and it was very good. I really like Sutton Place. It’s a very classy place.

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After breakfast I looked at the Vancouver Hop on Hop off  trolley tour  schedule and decided since it didn’t make its first run until 9:20, I would get an early start and I just had the doorman wave a taxi up to the door. I really am feeling the love. I didn’t even have to stand on the curb and hail one. This is high class, people.

I had him drop me off at the  First Nations totem poles. (For those of you who don’t know your canadian history, First Nations people are the same people we call Native Americans). Same thing, only different.

No trip to Stanley Park is complete without visiting its famous landmarks: Lost Lagoon, Siwash Rock, the Hollow Tree, Beaver Lake and Prospect Point. I didn’t see Lost Lagoon up close and personal and I didn’t get to Beaver Lake because beavers bite and I didn’t want one sneaking up on me and taking my leg for a tree stump or something. No, actually, I just didn’t get around to it today.

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Ouch

Ouch

The nine totem poles at Brockton Point are British Columbia’s  most visited tourist attraction. I had to see these totem poles. My fourth grade class makes totem poles out of paper towel tubes every fall when we study the Pacific Northwest Indians. It would be great to have some photos of them to use in their designs.  So, I took a lot of pictures. I don’t think I will be using the photo right above, though.

After I took  totem pole pictures,  I could see the seawall and decided to take a little stroll. A little stroll in my world means walking about 50 feet and then leaving. But, today I was feeling it. The breeze from the water and the Brocton Point Lighthouse in the distance made me want to walk as much as I could on a stupid ankle partially messed up because of arthritis.  I guess the ankle wanted me to walk, too, because it wasn’t hurting  much and I just kept walking. (I sound like Forrest Gump, but at least he ran.)  I ended up walking around a majority of the park, more than 4 miles. That’s 4 miles more than I usually walk. I took a lot of great pictures, because I’m a great pretend photographer.

Brocton Point Lighthouse

Brocton Point Lighthouse

 

A closer look

A closer look

 

I just kept walking because the sights were just unbelievable.

 

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Lions Gate Bridge up aheadIMG_1221

 

I came across a park bench with a bouquet of flowers lying on the ground. Uh oh…I imagine something didn’t go as expected, perhaps.

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The Vancouver Canadian geese seem much happier than the ones permanently visiting West Virginia. Well, that’s what I think.

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Lions Gate Bridge and what's on that rock?

Lions Gate Bridge and what’s on that rock?

Why, it’s a girl in a wet suit

Close up of the girl on a rock

Close up of the girl on a rock

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The girl on a rock represents Vancouver’s dependence on the sea and the necessity to use the sea for the benefit of all.

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There was an orange hazard cone on the seawall, so I cropped the whole sea wall out of this photo and like this much better.

 

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I was excited to take this picture of a great blue heron until I realized they were all over the place…which was still exciting for me.

 

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It wasn’t until I was under the Lions Gate Bridge and there was no way out but to continue walking did I realize I was not very smart because I didn’t bring any water. I’m not the brightest star in the sky, that’s for sure. But, I decided I had to see one more landmark: Siwash Rock. When I came around the fifteenth bend or so, there it was, smiling at me. (Well, you know.)

 

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Yay…there it is!

 

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Such a relaxing place, this seawall

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and now with a kayaker. He was all over the place.

 

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After I took a gazillion pictures,  it started raining. So, I hopped on the hop on hop off  bus and went to the Aquarium. It was expensive, I thought, for $30, but it was a nice place to hang out while it was raining.

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After I left the aquarium, and went and stood in the line for the Hop on Hop off shuttle. I’m thinking they should re-name it the Hop Off Shuttle, because once you are off,  good luck getting back on. I waited an hour to catch a trolley. After I finally caught one, we stopped at the next stop, and there were at least 15 angry people. One lady had waited for 2 hours.

Well, I had to hurry home and get ready for my big evening on top of Grouse Mountain.  I was picked up at 6:45, and climbed into a van with 6 other people. We were supposed to go on a trolley, but since it was RAINING,  people must have canceled. We got to the top of Grouse Mountain, only to find that many of the activities were closed down for the night. And since it was raining, my thoughts of getting a picture of  Vancouver and the supermoon was all but gone. But, I did see two grizzly bears and managed to get a picture of one before it attacked our bus driver. Ok, kidding.

Nice climb to the top

Nice climb to the top

We did get to see orphaned grizzly cubs, Grinder and Coola as they hung out right in front of us, separated by an electrified fence. It was eery being so close to the bears.  One looked at me as I told him the same thing I always say to animals, “Look how pretty you are.”

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Grouse Mountain Bear Cam http://www.grousemountain.com/wildlife-refuge/bear-cam

I got home around 10:30 and am packing everything up as tomorrow I head on my Rocky Mountaineer adventure. Good-bye Vancouver. I hope to see you again!

Canadian Rockies Trip, Day 1: Arrival in Vancouver

Well, I am finally here in Vancouver…..  And it just really sucks. Ok, just kidding.  Everything so far as gone like clockwork. Thanks, Fresh Tracks Canada.

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Before I talk about my first introduction to this great city in the Pacific northwest, let me back up and tell you about my experience at the Pittsburgh airport before my flight. I wish someone would have been filming me.

I read where Air Canada is really strict about their carry-on dimensions.  And you know from a previous post that I was planning to just pack a carry-on because of my tight connecting flight timeline. So,  I went out and bought a nice piece of luggage that correlated with Air Canada’s carry-on policy.

I do try to be a rule follower.

So, when I got to the airport, I looked around and saw where my carry-on looked larger than everyone elses. Uh oh. I didn’t bring checked baggage. Oh, sure, I bought my old carry-on and left it in the back of my car….just in case, but  I had everything looking good.

So, I happened to see an Air Canada metal thingy, you know the apparatus where you put your carry-on in to make sure it fits to their dimensions for carry-on baggage. Well, it was in a little corner and there wasn’t an Air Canada person around, so I put my carry-on in the size thingy. (I’m sorry, I don’t know what the darn thing is called.)

It would not fit…. Not even close.

This is not good, Vickie, not good at all. So, I pushed it and manuevered the wheels, and scraped my fingers  pushing it down, and lo and behold, it finally plopped down!

Stuck

Stuck

And so I thought I would be a smart alec and I took a couple of pictures so that if and when the Air Canada people say, “Hey, you can’t take that monstrous bag on the plane,” I can just bring out my camera and show the picture, like, “Take that, obsessive compulsive Air Canada person.

Sounded pretty good except for one thing: I couldn’t get the bag back out. At all.

It would not budge.  I tried everything. I even had the metal apparatus on its side. I was working so hard I broke out into a sweat, although I think it was more because I was afraid I would have to check my bag AND the metal thingy with Air Canada.

Really really stuck

Really really stuck

So, there was only one thing I could do: I started wrestling with it….I mean, I was sitting on the floor. I was standing on the silver things on the bottom, I flung it one way and then flung it another way. I punched at that bag and jiggled its wheels.  I finally had to start pushing the whole thing out into the open and I was going to find a maintenance guy who had a welding gun…or something to break my poor carry-on free. Finally,  as I alsmost started to cry (not really, but almost),  I was able to free it.

I really wish someone had filmed it.

Anyway, back to my trip report. My flights were great and Toronto Pearson was pretty efficient I thought. I arrived in Vancouver and went to the baggage claim just like Fresh Tracks Canada instructed me to, and there was my driver waiting for me, holding a sign with my last name on it.  The driver was wonderful. He had two bottles of water waiting for me in the car and gave me a commentary about Vancouver: best places to go and history of the area. It was a great ride into the city.

When we pulled up to Sutton Place, the doorman got my bags and lead me inside. I had asked Fresh Tracks if they could get me an early check-in, and it was all taken care of before I walked in today. I was impressed.  Tyler from Fresh Tracks suggsted this boutique hotel since it was right in the middle of everything, and how right he was. This place is really great!

I really didn’t do much today in Vancouver. I bought a 2 day Hop on Hop off tour of Vancouver from the Vancouver Trolley Company, but stayed on the whole loop just to get a feel for the city and to give me ideas what I wanted to do in the morning. There is a trolley stop right in front of the hotel. All I have to do is flag one down as it comes by.

Really big trees in Stanley Park

Really big trees in Stanley Park

The concierge confirmed my sunset tour to the top to Grouse Mountain tomorrow evening, so I will be taking more pictures tomorrow.

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After I hopped off the trolley, I started to walk down Robson Street since I am right in the middle of everything. Robson Street is the heart of the city, some say. It s the most famous street in Vancouver, known for its shopping and dining establishments.

According to robsonstreet.ca, “Robson-goers may spend their day people watching and sipping coffee on an outdoor patio; they may start off shopping at unique boutique stores before being pampered at a day spa and then relaxing at a hotel. At night, the streets come alive with colorful buskers and performers. Visitors enjoy delicious drinks and fine foods at some of the city’s most celebrated restaurants. The street is recognized both on a worldwide level as well as locally as it remains Vancouverites’ favorite shopping destination. Robson is undoubtedly the street to see and be seen on.”

I had to look up what a busker is. I have never heard that term before. A busker is a street performer. The first thing that comes to mind when I think “busker, or street performer” is an organ grinder. I’ve always wanted to see one. I’ve only seen one on tv. But, here in Vancouver, they are called “buskers.”

“Maximum performance time is 60 minutes at any one location. After 60 minutes, you must move to a different location at least one full block away or in a different park.”  So, if you are busking and play a harp, be prepared to move every hour. Just sayin’.

I did walk down Robson, looking for a restuarant as I was starving. And because I’m always up for something new and exotic….and entered a Red Robin. I know, I’m pathetic. But, I’m tired. Tomorrow will be the day for pictures.

At least I won’t have to wrestle my bag anymore. It is sitting in the air-conditioned elegant room, sitting on a chair resting from being beat up on earlier.

Pretty sad when I try to bring a suitcase to life….I’m really tired.

I really like Canada so far.

Canadian Rockies Trip: Vancouver Eve

I’m ready to go. I have my detailed itinerary from Fresh Tracks Canada, my passport, Canadian moolah, and my camera with several memory cards. In a few short days I will be hearing the clickety clackety sound of the Rocky Mountaineer train as it takes me through the Canadian Rockies. But, up first, Vancouver, British Columbia.

I’ve decided to drive up tonight and stay in a motel close to the Pittsburgh airport. My flight is at 7:00 a.m., so I really don’t want to travel on Pennsylvania roads with suicidal deer and other critters with their red eyes looking at me while they pause in the middle of the interstate. No, I’ll find a hotel tonight that has an airport shuttle, you know, just in case my car doesn’t start in the morning. I have a neighbor who has eyes in the back of his head keeping an eye on my house and he knows under any circumstance should a vehicle or person be “visiting” me. The guy has a gun and he is craaaazy. (That should work, potential blog-reading-robbers)

You have to understand that I over-think everything. My main concern about this trip was the fact that I would be staying for six nights in four different hotels. What if Air Canada loses my luggage? I was watching the nightly news and they were giving statistics about how many bags are lost or delayed at the airports. How in the world would they catch up to me, depending on when (and IF) they locate my luggage? So, I have decided to learn to pack like a pro and just take a carry-on…and a computer bag…..and a purse…..and a jacket.

That may prove to be a silly dream. I need to take a jacket and clothing for 7 days. And that means 14 days in my world. I always over pack because you just never know. I will also need warmer clothing because one of the days I am going to visit a glacier. But,  I have been watching  youtube videos on “How to Pack for a Week in a Carry-On” and think I can do it. I’ve been trying to do it for the last couple of hours.

I don’t think I can’t do it..

not even done....

not even done….

I am supposed to land at 12:04 p.m. After picking up my baggage that I’m still thinking I won’t take, I am supposed to wait in baggage claims for my personal driver. I will have a personal driver…. You know, someone who stands at the airport holding a sign with  a name on it.   How special am I?  I hope he won’t be annoyed when I snap a picture of him. It will be hard for me not to talk to him, but I have learned my lesson from the New York City cab driver a few weeks back and will try to keep my mouth shut.

I’m excited to visit Vancouver. I didn’t realize it until last week, but I will be in Vancouver during our next “Super moon.”  And not only that, the photo opportunities will be greater the next night when I travel to the top of Grouse Mountain on the “Sunset Tour.” It is almost like I did that on purpose. I hope the weather cooperates.

It’s not supposed to cooperate….well, now it is as I go to post this. Yeehaw!

For those of you who don’t know a lot about our northern neighbor, let me tell you a few things about the vast country up above us.  Canada is divided into 8…. or maybe 10 provinces. (Be right back) Ok, Canada is divided into ten provinces: Alberta, Nova Scotia, British Columbia, New Foundland, Ontario, Saskatchewan……damn, I’m not very smart. (Be right back)

…..and Prince Edward Island, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Quebec. There are also three territories. Vancouver is located in British Columbia, which is way over there above Washington state. My grandparents lived in Spokane, Washington, so that is the closest I have ever been to British Columbia. When you look at the atlas, it is amazing how enormous British Columbia really is. And I get to go there tomorrow.

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*Vancouver is one of Canada’s warmest cities…uh oh, and it’s wettest…. There’s just no way it better rain on my parade. The Weather Channel online states that the weather in Vancouver this weekend will be partly cloudy on Saturday, 20% rain on Sunday,and 40% rain on Monday. Bummer for Monday. I think Weather.com  may be lying. After all, this is a trip of a lifetime, so it can’t rain.

*Vancouver is a very diverse city. 52% of its residents do not speak English as their first language  Over 30% of the population are Chinese. I will have to remember that if I get lost roaming the streets of Vancouver. I wonder if they will know what “pop” is, because I’m sure as hell not asking for a soda. (Be right back)…………… Ok, good, both British Columbia and Albert say “pop.”  I knew I liked these provinces.

*35% of Vancouver’s population is foreign born, the highest figure in the world.

*Vancouver is North America’s second largest Port (in tonnage & physical size) – after New York

*Vancouver is the second or third largest film production centre in North America. The X-Files was filmed here as was the Twilight movies.

*Vancouver is probably the only place in the world where it is possible to ski, play golf, and go sailing all in the same day.

*-Vancouver is the birthplace of the one of the worlds largest environmental organizations – Greenpeace

*Vancouver sits atop one of the worlds most dangerous faults. Well, that’s nice to know. There is also a sizable active volcano (Mt. Baker) close to the city in nearby Washington state. Well, I guess I am close to the famous “ring of fire.” My students learn about earthquakes and volcanoes each year. I hope I don’t have a story for them when they return to school this fall.

*Stanley Park, Vancouver’s largest, is 1001 acres—making it 10% bigger than New York City’s Central Park. I was just at Central Park last month. I will scope it out and compare the two. I can not imagine any park being more beautiful than Central Park. We shall see….even if it is raining….sigh.

*The Vancouver Aquarium ranks in the top 5 around the world. I plan to go there if it is raining. I keep a penguin cam from the Vancouver Aquarium up on one of my computers in my classroom and turn it on at the end of most days. The camera is right in front of the penguins and it is fun to watch. I just may have to pay them a visit and wave into the camera for someone like me who is watching the penguin cam.

Well, I think I have everything. The next time you hear from me, I will be in Vancouver, British Columbia, day 1 of my Canadian Rockies adventure. If you don’t hear from me, that means I am still at the airport or the wi-fi sucks at the hotel. We shall see.

I guess I could always find a Starbucks. The have free wi-fi….  Vancouver has over 200 of them.

Too bad I don’t like coffee.

Travels with Atticus the Cat

I just got back from taking my son to the Dulles airport. I wrote earlier that Adam was moving to Tbilisi, Georgia, which is pretty far from West Virginia. And he decided to take his cat, Atticus, with him.

This wasn’t an easy feat. First Adam had to make a flight arrangement with an airline carrier that would permit a cat on board as carry-on. I guess some frown on letting a mewing cat hang out under a seat. Turkish Airlines would let Atticus travel with them. But, hold on. They looked through the reservations, as they only permitted one cat or dog per flight. I guess that makes sense. I wouldn’t want to travel with five barking dogs on one flight. But, as my son pointed out, crying babies are just as bad. So true, Adam, and they don’t have to be put into a carrier and shoved under the seat. Not yet.

There are too many reports about animal deaths and loss after being checked as baggage. I would have let Atticus stay with me if Adam couldn’t keep him on the airplane. Most cargo compartments are kept unventilated. Delta Airlines doesn’t permit animals in the cargo area during the summer or winter months. Sometimes dogs or cats get loose somehow during transit. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 224 dogs were lost, injured, or killed during airline travel between 2005 and 2009.  Airlines currently do not have to report the deaths, so that number could be much higher. So, checking Atticus as baggage was out of the question.

So, Adam was able to book a flight for he and his cat for June 19. Well, that was easy. Oh, but Adam had only started. There were so many procedures that Adam had to follow:

1. Quarantine or No Quarantine- Each country has a different protocol for pets entering their country. Adam had to first find out if Atticus would be warmly welcomed or thrown in the slammer for a certain amount of time. Adam found out that Georgia would welcome Atticus with no problem, whatsoever. But, he also had to make sure that since he had a layover in Turkey that Atticus would not be taken into custody and thrown into a Turkish kitty cat quarantine for a while. Adam had to have the vet examine Atticus, however, and sign the proper health certificate that he was a healthy cat. It was his passport, so to speak. He also had to have a USDA endorsement on the health certificate, I think.

2. Vaccinations and shit- While Atticus was at the vet’s office, he also had to have entry-required vaccinations that were quite expensive. I am sure one was the rabies vaccination and another may have been a feline shot. Throw in a prescription for kitty cat Xanax, and he was on his way.

3.. Pet carrier- Adam couldn’t just shove Atticus into the carrier that most people use. You know, the metal white carrier with the door and bars on the front.

No, Atticus had to have an expensive one that could be put under the seat on the plane.

I really liked the pet carrier Adam purchased. There was also a zippered compartment where he could put Atticus’s leash and Xanax..

4. I can not stress the Xanax enough. The vet wrote a prescription for Atticus. It was a “real people” Xanax that would calm Atticus down. Because, he had quite the adventure ahead. First of all, we had to travel by car for four house from West Virginia to  Dulles Airport, outside of Washington, D.C. Adam told the vet that Atticus freaked out in the car just to get to the vet’s office. After the drive, there would be a 2 1/2 hour wait for his international flight. The fight was then twelve hours to Istanbul, Turkey. There was going to be a seven hour layover before boarding again for another 1 1/2 hour flight and then the drive to the university. So, yeah, Atticus needed to be knocked out, or at least given an anti-anxiety drug. Hell, I would need to be knocked out for an itinerary like that.

5.  Pretty blue harness- Atticus could not wear just any collar. He would be able to slip right out of  a collar. Some people have their pet microchipped. That probably would have been a good idea for Atticus. I don’t think he had any identification on his body whatsoever. That probably wasn’t a good idea.

5. Animal diapers- Oh yes, Atticus was going to have to wear a diaper. It was going to be a long day. Adam quit feeding him right before we left for the airport and gave him 1/2 of a Xanax right before we left.

Ok, so we were ready to head to Dulles. Atticus was given a Xanax and Adam put the blue harness on him. He had a hard time walking with it on, and I have no idea why. We put the kitty litter box in the far back of the car since we were going to let Atticus hang out inside the car. I was going to drive while Adam played baby sitter to his cat.

Well, he was fantastic. The Xanax just made him mellow out and he sat on Adam’s lap the entire trip, listening to music and letting the air conditioner hit his face. He really enjoyed the air. When we pulled into the parking lot, Adam put a diaper on him, which was hysterical, because Atticus just lay on his back and let Adam put the damn thing on him. There was a hole for his tail. It was too small, so I am sure it came off during the flight.

Adam put Atticus in the cat carrier and we were on our way into the airport. I left as soon as he checked in with his airline and he was headed to security.

I drove the four hours home and while I was driving, got a text from Adam. I pulled over to read it, and smiled. Adam had to take Atticus out of the carrier and lead him through the x-ray machine at the security check-point, diaper and all. I hope someone was amused. Adam said the cat was excellent.

Adam has arrived in Tbilisi and sent me a Facebook message that they got in safe and sound and that Atticus did great. Of course, I read where there were only two pieces waiting at the baggage claim for Adam, instead of three. I sure hope it isn’t lost forever.

Because it could have been the suitcase that had Atticus’s kitty litter box and food.

In the end, if your pet must travel with you, make sure he will be comfortable. There is no way that Atticus could have gotten through everything that he had to go through if he was not doped up. Just sayin.

You tore up my couch and terrorized my cat, but I’m going to miss you, you little shit.

Atticus, Warrior Cat

We never owned cats when I was young. My mom said they were sneaky and that was the end of that. We had dogs. And I brought home a skunk and iguanas and african frogs. But, cats were out of the question. My bff, Ramaine always had cats. I thought they were so cool. They weren’t sneaky at all. My mom was a loon.

Even after we had children, my husband didn’t want to have any inside animals. But, he cracked under pressure and brought home a cat for my daughter. She is still alive and my husband, now ex-husband, still hates the cat.

My son decided to go the cat route. He got a cat and named him Atticus. He had planned on training it to be “Atticus, Kick-Ass Cat.” He told me he was going to get a little ninja headband for him and would teach him to use and flush the toilet. Yeah, good luck with that. Well, he did turn out to be a killer cat. I am lucky to have survived the vicious cat attack inflicted upon me.

My daughter warned me not to cat sit when Adam went to Europe over Christmas 2010. She stayed at his apartment one time and awoke, finding Atticus right by her face, eating her hair. She was afraid for her cat, Whiskers. Whiskers lived with me when Alex went off to college. She will be seventeen this July and can hardly walk. Atticus, warrior cat, would simply destroy her.

Sure, looks are deceiving

It was hell. It really was. Whiskers would scream and hiss at Atticus. Atticus would jump out at Whiskers whenever he had the chance. Whiskers would attack, and Atticus would back off. Atticus was just a young cat, still learning how to act around another cat, perhaps. But, then he found my leg.

I guess he thought I wanted to play. He came over and took a little playful bite. But, I didn’t want him to play Warrior Cat with me. I wanted him to be a gentle, non hair eater. I simply pushed him away and told him, “No.” Well, that was like an invitation. Atticus came at me and bit my leg.

I pushed him away. And he came at me again and really let me have it. He really bit into me. I screamed and pushed him away. He came at me again. I had about three good sized bite marks on my leg. I screamed at him again. It was like he turned into a monster cat.  I grabbed my door mat, the closest thing I could find to hide my legs. I had exercise capri pants on, so he was concentrating on my lower legs. I was very afraid.

Well, Adam returned and came back for the little shit. Whiskers slept for days. But, what happened next was bad, very bad. The cat bite became infected. I washed it with soap and water after he bit me, but  I had no idea that a cat that has been  kept inside could have such a potty mouth. I read how the cat’s mouth is just laden with bacteria. And now it was showing up on my leg.

At the time, I didn’t really want to worry my son. I did show him the corner of my new pull out couch where Atticus decided to use as a scratching post.

“You owe me a couch.”  Adam felt bad. I didn’t really want to tell him how bad my leg was. It was getting bad. So, I thought I should probably go to the doctor. Probably means no. I decided to head to the internet instead. Looks like I needed antibiotic. And I should go to the doctor. Should means no.

Well, not a good idea. I started taking amoxicilin. Thank God I had a stash. My leg became ugly and oozy. I babied it and looked at it all the time, worried that pus was just not a good thing.  The information on the internet about cat bites scared me to death. Every day I would say to myself, “Today is the day I should go to the doctor.”  I have since decided that I am very stubborn about visiting a doctor. Not my cup of tea. The picture below was taken a few weeks after the bite. It was looking much better at this point. Really it was.

Ew, I know, right?  Notice the dark mark. That was my brilliant attempt to monitor my condition. I took a pen and drew around the redness to see if it was getting worse or getting better. Why didn’t I just go to the doctor? Well, because I have no brain.

It took almost a month to heal. I probably have some sort of parasitic cat worm traveling around the inside of my body. I am pretty sure that the overdose of anitbiotics helped.

After the cat bite, I bought some betadine and keep it in my medicine cabinet. Good thing, because he bit me again this evening, the little shit.

Yeah, I’m cat sitting again.

He can be a sweet cat. He really enjoys jumping on the table and sitting on my arm. When I graded school papers, he sat on my arm. He is furry and soft and I really like him.

But, then he turns into Psycho cat. He just looked at me and then promptly bit my hand. Oh, it was just a little bite, didn’t really break the skin. I ran to the bathroom, washed it with soap and hot water, then put some Betadine on it.

He’s been here seven nights and he will be here six more. Tick Tock Tick Tock.

At least Whiskers seems to be doing ok.

Feeling Mousey (Part Three)

    When I got back to my room (after walking past creepy jester statue guy) after my time at Epcot, I thought I’d better figure out a type of itinerary for Hollywood Studios. It is funny, but when we took the kids when they were little, I had an itinerary down to the minute. I was a Disney nazi. But, it did save time standing in what my daughter, Alex, called the “Ride of Misery.”

 So, as soon as I got to the park, I went straight to the Tower of Terror. This was the one thing I wanted to experience at Disney World.

I decided not to take a Dramamine today. I took a 1/2 pill yesterday and although it said, “non-drowsy formula,” they lie.  The Tower of Terror was so much fun. When I got off the ride, I noticed that there was already a 30 minute wait listed on the board. I got there just in time. I headed over to the Aerosmith roller coaster and got a Fast Pass  because it was already a 30 minute wait. I had to come back at an assigned time period to ride it. I then went to stand in line at Toy Story, the most popular ride at Hollywood Studios. Oh Dear God, it was a 100 minute wait. So, I decided to get a Fast Pass. I got this instead.

Damn. I messed up. I didn’t even really want to ride the Aerosmith Roller Coaster. I had my head torn off by a maniacal roller coaster at Kennywood Park called the Steel Phantom. I didn’t want to die again. So, what to do? I decided to stand in line. For 100 minutes. Which is like almost two hours…This was going to be more fun…than a barrel of monkeys.

I do have to admit that it was a great queue. And the ride didn’t disappoint. It snaked through Candy Land, and dominoes, Chutes and Ladders, toy soldiers, Mr. Potato Head and other games that were enlarged, like this picture of Candy Land with the red queue bars in front of the wall. It really wasn’t a bad wait.

I then went back to ride on the Aerosmith ride. As soon as it started I knew I was in trouble. I put my head to the left and closed my eyes. I breathed through my mouth because I knew that one more loop would do me in. I hate roller coasters with loops. I was feeling pretty brave by this point, ready to experience what I couldn’t before. Well, motion sickness is not in your head. It’s real and I’ve lived with it all my life. I can’t even swing on a swing. I HATED the Aerosmith ride. Hated.

Disney boasts of the ride on its Web site, “Zoom from 0 to 60 mph with the force of a supersonic F-14, take in high-speed loops and turns synchronized to a specially recorded Aerosmith soundtrack and zip through Tinseltown in the biggest, loudest limo you’ve ever seen….The 3,400-foot-long track is more than a half mile of sudden accelerations, dips, loops and twists and turns.”

Well, you go from 0 to 60mph in 2.8seconds. That’s when I knew to shut my eyes and hold my head to the left. The picture that they take of each car, you know the one that you can buy at the end of the ride? Well, mine was hysterical. I should have bought it.

 I loved Hollywood Studios. I took my time and enjoyed all of the shows and street entertainment throughout the day. Muppet 3D was fun. I’m a muppet/Swedish Chef fan, so I was in my element.  The whole park was wonderful. It was a lot of fun. I got back at dark, walking past Jester and Jester junior. I quickly turned around, half expecting them to be right behind me. I scared myself..lol

 Well, hopped back on the plane to Pittsburgh yesterday evening and headed home.  I learned a lot about myself on my first trip. First of all, what was I thinking? I teach small children. Why in the world would I want to use my spring break to go where there were children running amok? 

 I think, though,  that I did great and now know that I can  travel by myself…if I HAVE  to.   Would I go to Disney again by myself?  Oh hell no. 

In the end, I think traveling solo is fine. But, I like to talk. I enjoy companionship, camaraderie. So, in the future, I will first see if anyone wants to join me. Then, maybe join a travel group. And if I still want to go bad enough, I can go by myself. Because, again, in the end, I won’t be lonely. Afterall, I will be with me. And I think I’m pretty good company. That’s  my new Puerto Rican attitude talking. I learned a thing or two while standing in lines.

Feeling Mousey (Part Deux)

 

   I set my alarm for 6:00. I had a hard time getting back to sleep after Ted Bundy delivered my luggage at my door in the middle of the night. So, I hit snooze a couple of times. I hoped to take a quick shower, get some breakfast at the Sassagoula Floatworks Food Court, and hop a bus to Epcot Center. I only had two days at Disney, and decided to head to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. I thought they would be best for me, the solo traveler. I had never been to Animal Kingdom, but  I knew from being a Weather Channel dork that the temperatures were supposed to soar to 94F, and there isn’t much shade or inside time at Animal Kingdom. So, I scratched that from my choices. Plus,would zebra poop stink in the heat?  Sorry zebra’s, you were the first animals I thought of. Anywho, off to Epcot I went. But, first, breakfast. I decided to get biscuits and gravy. I tried to behave myself and the eggs, bacon, pancake and sausage platter seemed too much for me. I got under the bus shelter and within 3 minutes a bus going to Epcot pulled up.

 The great thing about Walt Disney World is a thing called Fast Pass. Too freaking bad that I didn’t understand how it worked. Evidently, you can go to a ride and if the queue area is long, you can get a fast pass ticket to come back later. I was going to do that. By the time we got to Epcot, it was almost 9:00am. People are allowed in the park, so far and then you are stopped by Disney folks holding ropes. To hold us back, because people were on a mission. That’s when I first noticed Disney tattoos on people. Real tattoos with Disney stuff. Wow. I had no idea people were so obsessed with Disney. I mean, I know a teacher who has a Disney license personalized license plates. That means she is was the first one in WV who wanted one. How special.

 I didn’t know what the hell I was doing or where I was going. Was I supposed to be in a hurry. I thought maybe I should be. So, I decided to get to Test Tracks first, located on the left side of the map. You’d think that Epcot would be easy. The map is great. Except that the park  is s p r e a d out, making the map quite wrong.  You can’t use the Great Golf Ball spaceship Earth as a focal point because it is circular. You don’t know if you are coming or going. I decided to ask where most people are rushing to. “To Test Tracks.” one replied while looking at me like I didn’t own Disney stock. I guess I need to know where I was going. My bad.

 Well, the ropes dropped and people took off  like a bat out of hell. I walked quickly and it paid off. Well, except that there was a “single rider” line and well, I was right up front in no time. Score one for the loser by herself. The one without a Disney Tinkerbell tattoo. So, I rode Test Track, a roller coaster sort of thing by GM. After the ride, everyone got to see the new cars GM is coming out with. I fancied the new Camaro. But wait, people were rushing off to another ride. Damn. Why didn’t I prep for this journey?

 One thing one should never do is travel to Disney World during Easter. It is about the worst time to go there. So, of course, I go there. Another test, so to speak. Did I have patience to endure long, snaking queues? Could I handle being behind little screaming children who needed to get out of the heat, and perhaps fly back where they came from? Would I hit them? (Well, you just never know) I was lucky there wasn’t much of a line during the first ride. Oh, but that was the end of free time. It was crazy after that.

Ok, lunch time. The place was packed. All the food places were packed. I headed to the Land and ate at the Sunshine Seasons place because they use the foods they grow in their greenhouse as stuff on the menu. I ordered a turkey with monterey Jack cheese on foccacia with chipotle mayonnaise and a side of their potato salad. It was the best sandwich I have ever eaten. That or I was just really hungry. But, it was delicious. It was also the first time that I noticed people looking at me. Ahhh, they finally noticed I was a solo traveler. Well, apparently, if you are by yourself, you really shouldn’t sit at a table that four people can sit at, even if that’s all they have in the whole place. I even told a familyof three they were welcome to sit with me if they wanted to, trying to be nice and all. And the mom said, “Well, are you done?” Uh no, and I have lice. Please sit down.

After taking in as much as I could in Future World, I headed to World Showcase. By this time I was hot and miserable. It was 94F and World Showcase was out in the hot sun for the most part. People took advantage any way they could.

April in Florida. Yikes. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t get into World Showcase. I think it was because I was so hot. I got back to the resort at around 9:00. I had pizza and a salad (well, it was like a cup o salad) or more like an ice cream scoop o salad.) I had to walk past a statue of a jester back to my room. He was creeping me out because his eyes look like they are following you. His friend on a stick was creepy too.

 I had a bit of a culture shock my first day at Disney World. I always talk to strangers. I guess it is for all the times when I wasn’t allowed to when I was little. But, I don’t know much Espanol and a majority of the guests at Disney World were Spanish speaking.  A majority for sure. The nicest people were the Japanese, but I couldn’t understand them. I loved the British. They were fun.  I tried to talk to a couple from Scotland, but I couldn’t understand them at all, and they were talking English. I smiled, because I thought how much fun it would be if I broke out in my Appalachian dialect. “I’m so tard.” The Puerto Ricans were not friendly at all.  A bit arrogant. This whole “lost in translation” made me feel, well, …quiet. I can’t be quiet. I never expected this.

I headed to Hollywood Studios on my second and final day. This was by far my favorite. See Feeling Mousey (Part Three)

Guinea Pig Children

With Christmas just around the corner, it reminds me of  the toys and games I received for Christmas when I was young.  The 1960’s and early 197o’s were the decades of  “The Misfit Toys.”

I don’t think they had testers back then. If someone invented a toy or game, perhaps the toy manufacturers just packaged it and put it on the shelves. I really think that  if there were toy testers back then, some of them surely would have died. I’m thinking specifically of  my first chemistry set. I can’t find any research on “toy tester deaths.”  I did look. If they would not have perished,  toy testers  would have received brain damage,  an amputated finger, or if not injuries, than stains on their clothing. And on the carpet. And on the couch.  Which piss mothers off to no end. Probably worse than the brain damage. This mother hates glitter. Just thought I would add that because if glitter gets in your eye, you WILL  go blind. For that reason, it is banned in my house.  I know I read that somewhere. You can’t dispute facts. Especially if you make them up.

Anywho,  children got to be “guinea pigs” when the product actually game out.  And of course you know that a “guinea pig”

is a person  is a person who is subjected to experimental or other observational procedures.  Like children of the 1960’s and early 1970’s. That would include me. I very well may have been one of the “Guinea PigChildren.”   I was, after all, hit in the temple by flying clackers.

I loved my Clackers…. until  THE incident. Clackers were popular in the early seventies, when I was about 13-16 years old, perhaps.  Clackers  were  two hard plastic  marbles, (if marbles can be plastic), each about two inches in diameter. They are attached to a ring with a sturdy string. A person  puts their index finger in the ring, allowing the marbles (or balls) to hang below. Through an up-and-down  motion, the two balls swing apart and together, making the clacking noise that give the crazy toy its name. With practice, it is possible to get the marbles swinging so that they “clack” together above and  below the hand.

Clackers were discontinued because children were being injured. I continuously hurt my fingers while honing my clacker craft. Not all children follow rules. They also made an excellent weapon. If you swing them over your head, and let them go, they could fly across the room and either hit or strangle a kid…. Or a poodle. I read that cave men used Clackers. Or bola’s, as the South American gaucho called them. (See, I do research). I heard that if struck too hard, the acrylic balls could shatter, with flying consequences. I became really good at clackers. I could hit them above and below. I was the Crystal Lane Clacker Queen.  Self-imposed title, perhaps, but queen, nontheless.

One day, several of us were “clacking”, and mine flew across the room and knocked over a glass of water that was on the coffee table, which in turn, spilled the water, which then flowed  into my mom’s pack of Salem cigarettes. I guess water-logged cigarettes aren’t easy to light. I tried to get one out of the pack and it just wilted in half. So, I put it back in there. We were done clacking for the day. My sister told on me and off to my room I went. When I came out, my Clackers were gone.  Damn….

 

I really don’t know what the fascination was with Clackers. You didn’t win anything. You didn’t have a high score. But, you could be timed to see how long you could “clack.”  Time clackers, so to speak.  Maybe it was a lesson in eye-hand coordination.

I really think that I could have been a ninja assassin with my clacking skills. But, I preferred to grow up and become a teacher.

Same thing.

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Scarf on Head

     I recently found a picture of my roommate and great friend, Jeri, and myself  that was taken in 1976. Or maybe 1977.  We were either at the beach or we had just come home. Our faces were  peeling and we looked quite ugly. So, what do you do when you are looking ugly?  Of course, you put “scarf on head” and head to the mall. We headed right to the photo booth to capture our beauty for all to see. We looked like lepers. I bet neither of us knew that 30+ years later, one of us would be posting our mugs on facebook.

The “scarf on head” look was very popular on our college campus during the 1970’s. I’m pretty sure that it was like that everywhere. We didn’t wear silky scarves. That would have been silly. And we didn’t tie them in front like a babushka. That was saved for Russian women and Queen Elizabeth.

CSI: West Virginia

If you are a mom, you have to wear many hats. You are (in one long breath), a doctor, a nurse, a vet, a teacher, a psychic, a story teller, a cop, a beautician and barber, a chef, an EMT, a genealogist, a bodyguard, a maid, a professional organizer, a seamstress/costume designer, a personal shopper, a referee, a fashion coordinator and a chauffer. I would like to add another to the long list of  jobs that mothers perform daily :  crime scene investigator.

You may not think that mothers should put crime scene investigator on their resume, but I beg to differ. Case in point: The Case of the Smeared Ladybugs. It was a new case that I was working on for a few weeks. I had just finished solving,  The Case of the Baby Powder all Over the Carpet with an arrest in that one.

I had two suspects in that case: Big Boy Adam Jay, a curly red-haired punk, age 6.  He’s been downtown at the station several times.  We had his mug shot hanging up all over the place.  He knew the ropes.  The kid  knew how to use his noodle.  I soon found out  he had an accomplice, Baby Face Alex. Alex was Big Boy’s sister. She was 5 years old. Soon, she was singing like a canary.  Big Boy called her a Stool pigeon. I told him to shut his yap. She didn’t want to go to the big house.

During interrogations under the lights, Alex spilled her guts. She fingered Big Boy as the culprit. He was the brains of the operation. In a nutshell, Baby Face told me that they didn’t want to move. It was explained that the new house was almost complete and that she and her brother were to box up their possessions for the move to the country. They talked and decided to sabatoge the house-selling process. Big Boy figured that if they made the house “ugly and smelly”, no one would want to buy it. So, one night, they took a large container of Johnson and Johnson Baby Powder, and sprinkled it all over  their bedroom carpet, beds, and dressers. It looked like snow on Christmas morning.

During the investigation, I also found smashed jelly beans in the carpet throughout the house. They also put Match box cars on the steps leading to the second floor  for the prospective buyers to trip on and tumble down the stairs to their death.  The cars appeared their daily, but the two denied any involvement. I had to interrogate the only other occupant in the house that could have been responsible, their father, Clueless Jay. He wasn’t aware there was a second floor.

After I shut the books on that case, and we made our move to the country, so our children could lead a normal life away from the big crime city of Monongah, population 345 1/2 (Don’t ask) , I noticed a smashed lady bug on my kitchen nook window. Somehow lady bugs entered our new home and enjoyed crawling on my nice, clean windows. Someone had murdered the lipstick-red insect. It appeared upon further investigation, that the perpetrator put his or her finger directly on the lady bug, crushing it to the window,

and then smearing its remains down the window for approximately 4 inches. Someone in the new house was a cold-blooded killer.

a line-up, several years and 4 cases later

This did not sit well with me. After all, Jeffrey Dahmer started off by taking wings off of butterflies. Soon, he was eating people. I had to nip this in the bud. First, lady bugs, and then the killer would move on to ant hills or earthworms. I was an animal lover. A lady bug has worth, and perhaps some bug children somewhere else in the house.

I immediately ruled out Baby Face Alex. I knew she had it in her heart not to hurt anything. Her stuffed animal dog buddy, Fluffy, recently fell off of her bed and Baby Face cried  because, “Fluffy is paralyzed.”  I was impressed by the kid’s vocabulary. So, I eliminated her as a suspect. I interrogated Clueless Jay, who had no idea what a nook was. My only other suspect was Big Boy, and he didn’t squeal. He denied any involvement, especially after my “all animals have feelings” talk. I saw him crying outside , while playing with his Tonka trucks. Good. That meant there was still time before we had to start calling him Jeffrey.

But, he still wouldn’t budge. So, I  brought out the big guns. I had Scotch tape and powdered sugar. And a big ole lie. I brought them into the kitchen nook.

“Big Boy, Baby Face, this is how I am going to find out who killed the lady bug and smeared it down the window.  I am going to take some of this powder I got from a police officer and lightly put it in the smear.”  I took some powder and brushed it with one of those little plastic watercolor brushes onto the lady bug guts. “Now, I will take a piece of tape and press it against the window. I will leave it on their for exactly one minute. This will then give me a fingerprint.”  I looked at my watch for a minute. ” Ok, now I will carefully peel the tape off of the window and hang it in the air for 30 seconds.”  Some more watch looking. “Ok, now, I have fingerprints of the person who smeared the lady bug.  The police officer told me that after I do this, it will only take about 10 seconds for the white powder to appear on the finger of the person who did this.”

As soon as I said that, Big Boy Adam brought his hands up and looked at his fingers. “Gotcha!” I said to him. The procedure made absolutely no sense, and that’s what made it brilliant. Score one for the mom.

And that’s how I solved The Case of the Smashed Ladybug.  Big Boy and Baby Face grew up to be upstanding citizens and although there were a few more cases I will delve into at a later time, they never spent any time in the big house. And that’s because of yet another hat I wore.

So, yeah, mom’s should add crime scene investigator to their portfolio. And we should all get to look like Marg Helgenberger.

Ringing in the Holidays, Literally

I usually put my Christmas tree up on the day after Thanksgiving.  I was a Christmas tree perfectionist. I placed an ornament on the tree, then stood back to see if it looked ok. It took me hours to decorate the tree. I popped popcorn days earlier, because stale popcorn is easier to string. I would sit and string popcorn for a very long time. I also made my own 30 foot garland by cutting strips of material and tying it onto a jute rope. My tree was beautiful if I may say so myself.  My children would be home, out of school for a few days over Thanksgiving, so I thought I would start our very own holiday tradition. I believe this began when they were six or seven years old.

One Thanksgiving day, after our big meal at my in-laws, we were sitting around, relaxing, when I said, “Wow, did you guys feel that cold air come through here?”  I shivered. The kids shook their heads and they went about their business. Adam got up and walked through the kitchen, into the Hearth Room, where he had been playing with his Lego’s before we left.

I heard him yell to me. “Mom! Dad! Come here!”  We got up and walked into the Hearth Room. The Hearth Room, by the way, is our living room, which I refused to call a living room. I wanted to be a little more creative than that. I dubbed it the Hearth Room when we built the house, and that’s what we all called it. When we walked into the room, I could tell Adam was excited.

“Look!  Santa dropped it down the fireplace!”  It was a vhs movie. I can’t remember what the movie was called, maybe Otis and Milo. I then added, “Maybe he dropped it down the fireplace at the same time I felt the cold air. Santa was here!”  And that’s how it started.

Every Thanksgiving evening I would say different phrases: “Boy, I have the shivers………Is it cold in here all of a sudden?”…….”Did someone  just open the door?…… I would say it nonchalant like, and they would look at each other, get up, and try to beat each other to the Hearth Room. There would be a movie waiting for them every time. Score one for Mom.

One year, I had just decorated the mantel and tree in the Hearth Room. I must have dropped a little elf hat that came off of a stuffed elf  that I usually left in the box of unused decorations. Adam felt the breeze before I said anything, and ran into the Hearth Room. The movie was sitting in the fireplace, on logs like it had been dropped down the chimney. But, Adam also found the little elf hat and about freaked out. I guess it would be scary to think that there was a little man in your home.

“There was an elf in the house. He dropped his hat.”  Adam looked a little unsettled. I just got him to be able to sleep after being scared by an R. L. Stine book weeks before. He would wake up, yelling for me because the “Green Witch” was in his room. I think they were watching “Are you Afraid of the Dark” also, so that didn’t help. And now there was a freakin elf in the house. Looks like his sleep patterns were going to be disrupted again.

That night, my husband had to go to work and set the security alarm. He never set it on “Instant”, which meant the lazers would be on and anyone moving inside the house would set off the alarm. We used to set it that way when we would go on vacation. I was in a deep sleep and all of a sudden I heard the alarm go off AND Adam screaming at the top of his lungs. I jumped up and ran out into the hall. He wasn’t in his room. His screams came from downstairs. It was about 3:00am, so I thought for sure someone was in the house and was trying to take Adam.

I quickly shut off the alarm and noticed that the Hearth Room was breached.  I rushed downstairs, a mother on a mission. I didn’t have a gun or a knife or a shoe. I had adrenaline. My son was screaming. I ran into the room, and found Adam, clad in his cute little Ghost Buster pajamas,holding his hamster cage in his arms.

“Chuck was making too much noise in his cage and so I thought I would bring him down here so I could sleep.” He was scared. Adam, I mean, not Chuck. I looked around and noticed that the alarm had been set to “instant.” There was no intruder. Adam walked through one of the lazers and set off the alarm. My poor little guy.

I walked Adam back to bed and tucked him in and assured him that his dad set the alarm by mistake. Adam seemed to think that the elf set off the alarm.  Just great.

All was well the next morning and the kids watched the movie that came down the chimney. They seemed to enjoy our new holiday tradition and I hope they pass it on to their kids.

I just hope they leave the elf hat in the box.

Well Intentioned Untruths

It’s just part of life that you remember who peed their pants and cried in second grade. You remember the kid who ate his scabs and the girl who got gum caught in her hair and had to have it cut out, making her look really bad. You remember their names. And use them when you get older.

As a teacher, I am faced with weird predicaments on a daily basis.  I always worry about the kid who puts an eraser in his mouth,

the girl who continually rocks on her chair, the boy who plays with pencils.  So, I bring up names from the past.  “Do you want to end up like Kenny Myers?” I asked today.  A kid put an eraser in his mouth. They know a story is coming.

“Well, in fifth grade, I watched Kenny swallow a bic pen cap. They had to take him to the hospital and have his stomach pumped. His parents had to pay a huge bill just because Kenny put something in his mouth that wasn’t food. So, if you want to end up like Kenny Myers, put a pen cap in your mouth.”

I have no idea what happened to Kenny. He may have swallowed the little blue part on the other end. I didn’t see it. I heard about it. And remembered it, I guess, so I could pull a story out of the “Useless Information” file I have stored in my brain. Now, you have to understand that my kids know I am pulling their leg, so they just sit there, smiling. They are in fourth grade and understand what’s going on.  But, they also know that I have drifted off topic once again. They keep tally marks.

I have another student who rocks on her chair. They know that that is the number one no-no in my classroom. I hate rocking on chairs. My son was a notorious rocker. He still rocks on his chair. He is 25 years old, and I had to tell him to quit rocking  just last week. I don’t know why it bugs me so much. Probably because of what happened to Joey Minco.  Years ago, I was sitting next to Joey and he was rocking on his chair. He then tipped back too far and went back, hitting his head on the corner of a desk and then landing smack on his head.

“He cracked his head open and had to go to the hospital. Joey had a lot of problems remembering his name after that. So, please quit rocking, unless you want to end up like Joey Minco..or whatever his name is…” Lie. Joe Minco was an old man who lived across the street from me.

On breaking pencils on purpose- “Do you want to end up like George Dragovich? (Another old neighbor. I have no idea why I use neighbors from my youth.)  George broke the tips off of the pencils so he would be able to get up in front of everyone to sharpen his pencil. He slipped on a piece of paper on the floor and landed on the pencil. It just missed his eye and the lead is still under his skin right here…(as I point near the corner of my eye.) So, if you don’t want to end up like George Dragovich, quit breaking your pencils on purpose.”

Chewing 23 pieces of gum at the same time- “Are you chewing gum? Do you want to know why I don’t allow chewing gum in my classroom? When I was little, there was a girl name Ethel Mertz  (sometimes tv character names come out of my mouth). Ethel was very poor. Her dad worked very hard to save up so Ethel could have a brand new dress. He bought it for her for her 10th birthday. She couldn’t wait to wear it to school and show off her beautiful dress. But when she sat down in her desk chair, someone had put a wad of gum on her seat, and she sat in it. Back then, you couldn’t get gum out of anything. It stained and turned dirty looking over time. Her dress was ruined and school hadn’t even started yet….

And you know who put the gum on her seat?….No, not me…..Joey Minco. He thought it was the wastepaper basket.”

Walking down the hall at the end of the day with a sucker in their mouth- “Hey! You’re not allowed to have suckers in school…..Why, when I was little, I had a sucker in my mouth and fell down the steps and you know what happened to me?……..A piece of the  sucker stick is still stuck in my throat. I can’t eat anything solid…So, quit walking with a sucker in your mouth unless you want to eat pudding for the rest of your life.”

On taking your shoes off in class every single day- “Please put your shoes back on. Do you want to end up like Gladys Kravitz?……Poor Gladys. She was my cousin…..WAS my cousin………..Gladys was in fourth grade, and always took her shoes off. One day there was a fire drill. They thought it was just a fire drill. Gladys took her time putting her shoes on…..when the class got outside, the teacher noticed that little Gladys was nowhere to be found….I’m not even going to tell you what happened to her. But, if you want to end up like Gladys Kravitz, go ahead and take your shoes off.”

I really can’t stop. I continually make up scenarios for kids because if you just explain why it is unsafe to rock on a chair, they won’t

remember it. But, if you give them a vivid description, something they can put a face to,or in my many cases, a name,  they will remember it. I mean, I don’t use blood or guts, because that is just wrong for a great teacher like myself to do. And I guess I should mention that the kids know I am lying, right from the beginning…but they seem to love my “Unless you want to end up like….” stories.

When I was little, my mom told me that  there was a special  place in hell for liars. I know, because Lars Peters is in hell.  My mom told me that Lars always lied and he is now in hell. “So, Vickie…if you want to go to hell like Lars Peters, keep on lying.”

Sigh……I really have become my mother.

The Fish Head Story

My dad used to go fishing all of the time and would bring back live fish.  My mom would let them swim around in the large kitchen sink, and then she would chop their heads off and I would cry.  I can’t even tell you how many times I asked her not to chop off their heads, and just let them be my pets. You have to understand that I have an Ellie May Clampett love for animals.  I once went into anaphylaxic  shock from picking up a hornet that I accidentally brushed off my shoulder and that landed wounded on the pavement. It stung me on my cheek. (Yeah, I put it close to my face as I apologized to it.)  But, I love animals. My stuffed animals had a place to sleep each evening. Later in life (4 years ago, I had a physically challenged cricket that lived in my kitchen window. Don’t ask.)

When I was a freshman at Brooke High School, I thought I would recycle the next fish head, take it to school, and give it to my biology teacher. So, after my mom cut its head off, I wrapped it up and put it in the freezer. The next morning I took it out as soon as I woke up, because I didn’t want to forget it. Fish Head made the trip on the bus and I was all ready to give it to my biology teacher before school started. Major brownie points for the freshman.

Well, Fish Head didn’t make it to his classroom.  A bunch of us were standing around, talking, and I decided to take Fish Head out of its wrapping and show my friends before he went into the biology room. What I did next was unexpected and random.  I yelled across my little circle to a friend,  “Heather, think fast” and tossed the fish head to her. Why? Who knows how my brain thinks.

Well, old Fish Head went flying and Heather didn’t catch it. Instead, one of his teeth hooked onto a buttonhole on Heather’s blouse.  She had no idea what came flying at her, but she looked down, close to her neck, and saw a fish looking at her.  Heather started screaming, and old Fish Head started swinging back and forth. He must have started thawing out, because he had guts or something coming out of its head, and they were swinging too.  Was that a great throw, or what?

Heather was screaming a little too loud, and by this time I was laughing so hard, I peed my pants. I remember what I had on…brand new pair of red coulottes and I thought I looked hot. (or “tuff” as we said in 1971.) Well, until I peed my pants. I guess that is a turn-off.  I had to sit down on the floor because I was laughing so hard. I couldn’t stop.  Fish Head was still swinging and Heather was going into shock. Someone finally got the tooth unhooked and everyone involved (Heather, Fish Head, and me) went to the office.

While I was waiting for my mom to bring me clean clothes…and socks, I had to confess to the principal what I had done. But, I couldn’t even get the words out, because I was still laughing.  Well, laughter does tend to be contagious, and by the  end of my explanation, I had the principal, the secretary, and even Heather, laughing. The only one not laughing, was Fish Head, who was put in a garbage bag and taken away somewhere. Well, my mom wasn’t too happy either.  It wasn’t the first time I had peed my pants from laughing.  Not even close.

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