Archive for the ‘Travel’ 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.

 

 

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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West Virginia Barns

As you can tell by my lack of  blog posts lately, I have become preoccupied with photography. I should be working on my third book or writing here more often, but it seems to have taken a back seat to what has become my passion: pretending to be a photographer.

My father was a photographer when he wasn’t working as owner and broker of his real estate company. He used a press camera which I wish to God I had in my possession. He loved taking pictures and vacationing through West Virginia meant getting out of the station wagon at each hairpin turn so he could get a photo of the “beautiful view.” There were at least 150 “beautiful views” per vacation. I didn’t mind because I was little and a ham for the camera. He has since passed, but I honestly feel him beside me when I frame a shot.

I love photography more than writing.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy receiving a royalty check each month from Amazon for my 2 ebooks.  It’s not much, but it still pays a bill or two, so that is nice. But, I’ve decided to concentrate on writing after I retire in a few years. My summer writing time has been replaced by day tripping and photography.

When you focus your camera, it is interesting to find out what your interests are. I had no idea when I started taking pictures that my eye would find old barns appealing. Old stuff. Maybe that’s why I like to haunt antique shops.

But, I credit my love of old barns to my grandfather.  He didn’t actually live on a farm, but purchased one to house his prized palomino horses. He named it Cherry Farm and I loved going there.  I believe he rented the house  to a family who took care of the horses. There was an old barn full of pigs. And I was sold. A couple of years later that barn and the pigs inside burned to the ground, but my love of barns lived on.

So, the first time I decided to take a drive, I was surprised what caught my eye. I seem to like old bridges, barns, and abandoned buildings. Who knew I would take back roads in hope of finding a wonderful farm to photograph. Here are just a few of the barns I have photographed in the past few weeks.

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Old Route 250 on the Marion/Taylor County line. It’s a goat farm and I love driving by it.

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Dean Drive. This is on the road behind my former home. I’ve driven by it hundreds of times…funny how it is now a

focus.IMG_2972Near Seneca Rocks, WV

The rest are from my little jaunt yesterday.

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I took about ten photos of this “truck graveyard.” Of course, that’s not really what it is.

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Near Watter Smith State Park

Near Watter Smith State Park

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Had to put the dead tree in this shot.

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This is the best I could do. It was on a winding road with no place to pull off. I rolled down my window, and aimed.

This is what happens when we finally get a break from the snow and the sun is shining on a Saturday afternoon. For those readers who are barn lovers, I drove from Fairmont south on I-79 and took the Lost Creek Exit. I drove on Route 270 from Lost Creek to West Milford and took Duck Creek Road (love the name) to Watters Smith State Park, which was CLOSED…bummer. I doubled back to get some photos I missed on the way and then took I-79 to the Jane Lew Exit in Lewis County and took Route 19 to Clarksburg. I had never been on either road before, so I had fun.

When I was young I told my grandma I had been on every road in West Virginia. She laughed at me and I got mad at her. In my defense, it seemed like I had. My dad couldn’t be away from his real estate business for too long (although I know now he really didn’t want to be in the car with my mom for very long), so our vacations were traveling around West Virginia.

I still love traveling around this state. The barns are becoming old and decrepit. Pretty soon a  new Walmart  or housing development will spring up on old farmland and  yet another barn will be just a memory. I hope to photograph a lot of them before time, or perhaps another derecho takes one down.

Blackwater Falls

I am ready to move to a warmer climate. I am tired of snow, spinning tires, and 2 hour school delays. But, despite this long snap of frigid weather and mounting snow drifts, I still find inspiration to get in my car and snap some photos. It would be much easier to snap pictures during the other three seasons, when I actually want to get out of my car for different angles, but right now I am basically a “shoot from the car window”  kind of pretend photographer.

When my son was in for Christmas, we decided to drive to Blackwater Falls right after a frigid couple of days. We wanted to see if the falls were frozen. What was I thinking?

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We stopped to take photos of this lovely old house.

Blackwater State Park is located in the Allegheny Mountains of Tucker County, West Virginia near the town of Davis. The park is about 1 1/2 hours away from my home.  It is named for the cascading falls of the Blackwater River, whose amber-colored waters plunge 62 feet and then tumble through the Blackwater Canyon, which is roughly an eight mile long gorge. The so-called “black” water is from tannic acid from the nearby fallen hemlock along with red spruce needles.

According to wvencyclopedia.org

“The river enters Blackwater Falls State Park at an elevation of 3,040 feet. For the next 2.2 miles it is a wild river, dropping 57 feet at the main falls and then descending another 560 feet, before leaving the park. The river, geologically young, has carved the spectacular, deep, and almost vertical walls of Blackwater Canyon, which cuts through the surrounding plateau. Blackwater Lodge opened in 1956 on the south rim of the canyon, and a 65-site campground was opened in 1961. The state park, consisting of 1,688 acres, was established in 1937.”

I have never been to the falls in the winter. Summer is a beautiful time to visit the whole area, but we wanted to see what it looked like after a few days of frigid temperatures. I was not too smart and wore tennis shoes and my gloves might as well have been made of thin cotton. But, I had my camera and it was great having my son along with me.

We arrived at the falls parking lot and were surprised to see so many cars. I thought we would be all alone, seeing that it was so cold. I noticed license plates from Virginia, New York, Delaware, and Ohio among the many from West Virginia.

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Did I mention there were 214 steps to get down to the falls? I hadn’t been there in years and hoped the slipping and sliding would be worth it.

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It was a beautiful walk and I was so happy the wind was calm. I am not a fan of cold, but I trudged on, hoping the falls would not disappoint.

They didn’t There were parts that were frozen, but a majority of the falls were plunging, business as usual. I was taken back by the surrounding beauty. This was a winter wonderland, no doubt about it.

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Trees in the canyon below showed the beauty of winter.

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My son is a great photographer. His photos look a lot better than mine.

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Blackwater Falls, one of the most photographed areas in the state.

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So, if you go down, you must go back up. In all honesty, the stairs that snaked their way down to the falls had many platforms along the wall. There were benches and different viewing areas for those who did not want to take the whole journey. It was not bad, and I am a complainer.

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My son was able to make this snowman while he waited for me at the top of the stairs..just kidding. I did fine. But, we felt we deserved a break, so we stopped at the Mountain State Brewing Co. for a beer.

 

IMG_3945All in all, I was glad we ventured into the mountains to visit Blackwater Falls. The best part, though, was spending the day with my son.

 

Driving Through Manhattan

My daughter usually takes the Megabus or Greyhound from New York City when she comes home to West Virginia for a visit. I don’t know what got into me this last visit, but I offered to drive her back to her upper East Side apartment so she wouldn’t have to take the bus back. Why did I do that?

I never wanted to drive in New York City. I have been there now about seven times to visit my daughter, and the traffic is a nightmare. I have either taken a plane or Amtrak, but knew I would never drive into Manhattan. Oh, I don’t mind sitting in traffic. That doesn’t bother me. What bothers me about New York City traffic is how other drivers don’t seem to mind cutting people off.  It should be called Sideswipe City.

But, I prepared myself. I had my trusting  GPS system, which I named Maggie, and I marked the route I wanted to take to avoid most of downtown Manhattan. She lives in Yorkville, which is in the upper east side. I was ready.

It was a nice drive for the most part. I really enjoy driving on Route 68 through Maryland. I have driven that route many times. But, I then had to turn north and head on Interstate 81 and then Interstate 78 in Pennsylvania and immediately noticed the heavy volume of long haul trucks. I mean, it was like being in the middle of a truck parade, minus truckers throwing candy out of their windows.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind driving in the least. I love taking road trips, but I had to wonder if this interstate is a main thoroughfare for truckers. Not only where there many many trucks, but there was a huge debris field of rubber tire pieces lying in the road and off to the side. It was a tire graveyard in some respects. Oh, sure, I see tire pieces along our Interstate 79 all the time, but this was different.  And then we got to see one in the making.

A truck had blown a tire and as we passed him we could see the tire shred right before our eyes. He managed to get off to the right side of the road, but not until he left a wake of rubbery debris in the middle of the road. It’s a wonder it didn’t fly up and hit another car.

Well, as I thought about this, a car in front of us ran over another tire shred and it flew up in the air and came right at us. And there was nothing we could do. It hit my front passenger headlight and then went under my car. Thank goodness it didn’t hit the windshield. I looked in my rear view mirror to make sure nothing was punctured and we continued on our semi-merry way.

As we approached New York City, after about 7 hours on the road, my GPS told me to take the next right. I looked up at the road sign that clearly said to stay on this road, as I needed to take the George Washington Bridge, but my daughter told me to follow what Maggie is saying.

Where are you , bridge?

Well, Maggie was banned to the glove compartment after she took us down by some loading docks along the river in New Jersey. This is after she made me go through a toll. I immediately turned around  as I  knew something was very wrong.  Maggie then took me the wrong way on the toll road.

“Dammit, Maggie, I don’t want to go West.”

After paying a toll three different times, I  found myself in front of the Holland Tunnel……..the $13 entrance fee Holland Tunnel. Seriously? It costs that much money to drive through a damn tunnel?  I was mad at Maggie, who made me backtrack three times and pay a toll three times only to drive me to the $13 Holland Tunnel. This is where she went into the glove compartment.

The Holland Tunnel is considered to be one of the most high-risk terrorist target sites in the United States. Is that why I had to pay $13 to travel through it? I didn’t understand.

Did not want to go this way…sigh

This was not good. The George Washington Bridge would have taken me along New Jersey and I would have been able to drop down from north Manhattan right onto the FDR Parkway, avoiding those mean Manhattan streets. But, now, with traveling through the Holland Tunnel, I would be deposited onto South Manhattan, where the street names don’t start with a number yet…..and I had to travel all the way to 95th Street. Great.

My daughter didn’t recognize any of the streets at first, but quickly got her bearings. I began seeing NYU flags on some of the downtown buildings, so I knew she would be able to pin our location. We were on the west side of town and we needed to get over to 1st Avenue, which would take us to her apartment. We passed through Greenwich Village via my daughter’s directions. I hoped she was going to do a better job than Maggie. After all, the glove compartment was too small for my daughter. I put my trust in the fact that this was her city and she was taking me on the right roads.

The traffic wasn’t so bad on the side streets. Oh, it was congested with a mix of cars and people on bikes with no bike lane, but it was manageable. You have to understand that I did not want to do this.  I was adamant in the fact that I was never going to drive through Manhattan. If there was a bucket list for things not to do before one dies, this would be #1 on my list. But, I now had no choice. I was in Manhattan…..in a car.  I’m not Catholic, but felt like doing the sign of the cross as we approached 1st Avenue.

Once we turned left on 1st Avenue, I gripped the steering wheel and charged on.

Drivers in this city are crazy. The best advice I can give is to never hesitate. Once you hesitate, a double decker sight-seeing bus will pull into your lane, even if you are there. I had to honk my horn, which is illegal in many places in Manhattan. We were almost side-swiped  more times than I can count on my fingers. Taxi drivers must have their own laws, bikers zipped in and out of traffic, and buses think they are the only ones on the road.

I found out quickly not to drive in the far left lane as delivery trucks will just stop there to unload and then you are stuck. People won’t let you back into traffic. Motorists in New York City aren’t courteous. They have places to go and people to see. My license plate clearly stated I was from West Virginia. And I was being eaten alive. I think other drivers smelled my weakness, as they were changing lanes right on top of me. I hope that some day they had to drive through West Virginia and were stuck on the top of Mt. Storm after a heavy snowfall. Yeah, city drivers, take that.

My daughter was nervous, as she was the passenger and on the side where most of the potential side-swiping was taking place. After driving about 45 blocks, with about 50 more long blocks to go, my daughter, who was holding on to something on her side of the car, looked over at me when we stopped at a red light and said:

“You’re sitting there, smiling, you weird-o.”

I was smiling. I couldn’t help it. I was driving in New York City! I guess I was having fun with the realization that I was doing something so brave, so daring, as to actually drive 95+ blocks through Manhattan. I deserved a prize or something. I was not scared at all. In fact, I was kind of enjoying the drive. I have been a guest in a taxi numerous times on these streets, sometimes wondering if I was going to arrive alive, but this time I was in charge of my own fate in my naive West Virginia Subaru.

I arrived on her street with no new dents or scratches. I was just going to drop her off and get the hell out of the city before rush hour.  But, she talked me into staying and I found a place to park on the street just one street over. We had a nice afternoon in Central Park north and we headed to a great Thai restaurant that is a requirement each time I visit.

I left the next morning at 4:15, hoping to beat morning traffic. This city never sleeps.  I followed the FDR right over the George Washington Bridge and back the way I was supposed to travel on my way in. It was so much easier.

But, I would never have had this experience. I can honestly say I drove through New York City.

Thanks Maggie. I may let you out of the glove compartment next trip.

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.

The Cab Ride

Most of you know my daughter has been living in New York City while attending grad school at NYU. I was able to take a few personal days to travel up there to attend the graduation ceremony for Steinhardt, her grad school. At first I was going up to the all school graduation which was held at Yankee Stadium, but my daughter asked me if I could change my plans and come up to her earlier one since the venue would be a tad bit more personal than Yankee Stadium. I wish I would have just taken the whole week off and went to both, as I had a wonderful substitute in place, so I didn’t have to worry about that while I was gone.

Since the last time I went to New York, the major airlines decided to quit flying directly from Pittsburgh to JFK. Jet Blue used to be pretty inexpensive, but now wanted to take me from Pittsburgh to Boston and then to New York and jacked up the price on me. Delta did have one direct flight, but it was now $709. Gee, thanks major airlines.

My options were driving to New York City (oh, hell no), taking the MegaBus (when I googled it, pictures of burning wrecked Megabuses came up that I just had to go and look at), and Amtrak. I took Amtrak before and although it takes several years to get to New York from Pittsburgh, I enjoyed the ride. So, I booked my trip with Amtrak. This time, however, to avoid sitting near a woman with 4 children who wanted to sleep while the children squirmed, fought, and tattled, I decided to see what the business class car might be like, and upgraded to business. Wow, what a difference.

It was worth the $30 upgrade. I really thought I was getting away with something as there were about 64 seats and no one had to share the other seat with anyone else. At each stop, the conductor would make an announcement, “Folks, we are going to have a full house today. Please keep personal items off the seat next to you so people will be able to find an open seat.” I would look around and see people spread out watching movies or sleeping. Business class was definitely worth the upgrade.

Nine hours later, I arrived at Penn Station. It was raining and of course I did not bring an umbrella. Penn Station is attached to Madison Square Garden, so I thought it would be better to catch a taxi if I was out front there, instead of a side street, and I did. I put my hand up in the air like Carrie Bradshaw did on Sex and the City and immediately a cab pulled over. Well, it pulled over because there were people getting out. I asked if I could use the cab, despite seeing about 10 other arms in the air nearby. I clearly pissed off people who were standing on the long street in front of Madison Square Garden. Remember, it was raining, not sprinkling.

I hopped in the back with my carry-on, laptop bag, and purse and off we went. But, it can’t be that simple for me. I had to go and say “Hello, good afternoon!” to the taxi driver. You wouldn’t think it was a big deal to talk to a taxi driver. But, Oh, Dear God, the conversation took a dramatic turn, or a comedic turn. I will go with comedic. Now you have to realize that traffic was heavy and I had to go up all the way to East 95th Street. Madison Garden is on West 33rd, so the following conversation is abbreviated somewhat.

“So, is this your first time in New York?”

“No, this is I believe my sixth time.” blah blah blah. Found out he has lived in the city for 19 years, from Bangladesh, he told me I should visit there, blah blah blah…more chatter. He started to talk about the April Bangladesh earthquake and handed me a flyer to look at while he talked about the disaster.

He asked what I did in West Virginia. I told him I was a teacher. He asked if I wanted to share half of his banana. No, thank you, I told him. I had eaten on the train.

Then, he went down the wrong road…not literally, being in a cab and all, but the wrong road, figuratively. I looked at the street sign and we were only at 59th. The traffic was bad. I was wishing I would have taken the subway and lugged everything up the subway steps.

“So, what does your husband do in West Virginia?” he said with his heavily broken English.

“I’m divorced.”

“How long you divorced?”

“4 years.”

“That is so sad.”

“No, I’m pretty happy about it.” I smiled. I was hoping there would be silence for the rest of the ride. Oh, hell no.

“Do you have a boyfriend?”

“No. I’ve had my share of goofy dates, though.” He looked at me strange. Maybe “goofy” was just a West Virginia word. Then he started.

“You know…. I believe in God….I love God….and I know God would want you to share your life with a man until you die.”

“You don’t think God would be okay that a person can be alone but happy for the rest of his or her life?”

“Maybe, but you should share your life with someone until you die.”

“Oh, you know, I am happy the way my life is.”

“Maybe………………..I’m going to fix you up with someone so you can share your life with him until you die.” I had to laugh.

“No, really. I’m ok. I am just going to get a cat.” I laughed, but he didn’t understand the whole cat lady scenario.

“You give me your phone number and I will have you meet someone.”

“No, I am only in New York for a few days, so I don’t have time to meet anyone, but that is so sweet of you to be worried about me since you don’t know me.”

“I can tell you are a wonderful person. You need to share your life with a man. God would want you to.”

“No, thank you, really. I really don’t want to meet anyone right now. I was married for 25 years and really enjoy being by myself right now. If it happens,it happens….. I’m not going to go out searching for a man.” I nervously laughed.

“I sorry I bother you. I can tell because you talk to me that you are a good person. God would want you to be married until you die.”

I can’t tell you how long this conversation went on, but by 80th street I was ready to jump out of the moving cab and meet God without a man. I know the Bangladeshian meant well, but he was spending too much time looking through his mirror at me in the backseat and little time watching cars changing lanes and waiting until the last second to stop at a red light. I was ready for a nerve pill.

When he pulled up in front of my daughter’s apartment, I handed him cash and a few extra dollars as a tip. After all, he did offer half of his banana and wanted to play matchmaker for me.

“I’m sorry I bother you. I won’t fix you up. Have a good time in New York and I do hope….God hopes…that you find a man to share your life until you die.”

“Thank you for being so worried about me. I will be fine. Thank you!”

I walked up her steps and as I opened the door to her apartment building, I noticed that he was still parked at the curb, watching me. I couldn’t buzz in fast enough. My daughter came down the steps, and I didn’t want to turn around again, but out of the corner of my eye saw a hint of yellow go past. He was gone.

And all I could think of was that quote from Casablanca, altered a bit to fit my situation:

 

“Of all the taxi cabs, in all the towns, in all the world, I stepped into his.”

NYC Trip Report: Scoring tickets to the Colbert Report

I’ve been to New York City to visit my daughter several times, and let me tell you, it is exhausting. Every time I come home I am pissed at myself for being out of shape. And people, if you plan to visit New York City, you will walk. Oh, sure, there will be some of you who taxi from one place to the next. That is the smart thing to do. I am one of the stupid tourists.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I had a great time in New York. I love New York. But, my daughter walked me all over the damn place. And I will admit that I need to lose weight. I was able to lose 22 pounds last year and did pretty well hoofing it around NYC last summer when we went apartment hunting. Oh, hell, that’s a lie. I was ready to have a stroke. Like I said, I’m not very smart. I picked 90+ degree weather to walk around the city. I’m beyond stupid. This year was the same.

My journey to NYC is not quick. First I have to drive two hours to Pittsburgh International Airport. I have to park in the extended long term parking lot, which is not close to the terminal. By the time I make it to the building, I really want to just stand on that people mover thingy. When I hear someone coming up behind me, I will start walking, but I don’t wanna.

After my nice flight with Jet Blue, I arrived at JFK airport. I like airports. Just thought I would mention that. I don’t know why taxi cab men scare me, but I feel like I am imposing on them. So, I head outside to the ground transportation area and buy a $15.50 ticket to ride the NYC Airporter bus. It takes a while to exit the airport, as the bus driver stops at each terminal.  I didn’t mind. As long as I didn’t have to drive through New York, I don’t care if I was on the back of a donkey. Again, quite a lie. I would care.

The bus dropped me off at Grand Central Station, where I have to find the 6 Local Uptown train. Again, it’s easy. Well, except that I found out while I was on the subway that the Local 6 was not working this particular day. What? I’m on the local 6. Well, apparently it is allowed to change to be called the Express 6 which bypasses my stop. Someone sitting next to me tells me that I can get off at 125 and then take the local 6 downtown to my stop. What?

So, I get off the stop and walk across to the train going in the other direction and hop on, hoping it is the right one. It was. I then walked a couple of blocks to where my daughter was meeting me for lunch. I could see her smiling at me. I know that smile. I am doing somethig stupid.

“Mom, you are such a tourist. You don’t need to look both ways when it is a one way street.”

We had a nice lunch and walked back to her apartment so I could drop off my carry-on. Our plan for the day was to head to the Brooklyn Bridge and then head over to High Line. We walked the several blocks up the hill to the subway. I had to stop several times on the way up. I am weak. We got off the subway on Chambers Street. I had never been this far south before. So, there was the Brooklyn Bridge. And it was all boarded up on the sides of the bridge for construction. I had no idea we were going to actually walk over to the other side. What?

My daughter on the Brooklyn Bridge

Well, we had to walk over to the other side. I don’t know why. Because everyone else was doing it? There was nothing to see for quite a while. We stopped and wrote our names on some plywood…because everyone else was doing it.

It took us forever to get to the other side. And it was 90 degrees and 2:00 in the afternoon. Where the hell are the clouds? I was complaining a lot. My daughter told me to stop. I stopped.

It’s a 1.3 mile walk, but it takes a long time to walk due to the amount of foot traffic….and baby strollers…..and people like me who take pictures along the way and complain about the heat and stop alot. But, I was glad I did it. Because when we got to the other side, there was a park. And that park had a water taxi. Oh, hell yeah, I was on that thing.

The water taxi cost $25 and takes people around the statue of Liberty, past Ellis Island and Battery Park and up the Hudson. It makes stops along the way for those who want to get off in a different stop. I sure as hell didn’t want to walk back over the Brooklyn Bridge.

It was pretty cool. The taxi was huge and besides those who just wanted to look from inside the air conditioned lounge area, there was an upper berth and lower outside viewing areas. It was nice. We opted to get off at one of the piers on the Hudson, Christopher St., Pier 45 on West 10th Street.

This is also Grenwich Village, which was pretty darn cool. We walked past a Bareburger, where we had an early dinner. After that, my daughter wanted to take me to High Line Park. We had to walk again.  I thought she was taking me to a normal park. Boy, was I surprised when I saw High Line. High Line is a park built on an elevated freight line railway. The freight line wasn’t in use since the early 1980’s. It was slated for demolition as it became an eyesore for those who lived in the neighborhood. One man’s crusade led to the development by the city of New York to create this elevated park. It is magnificient. We walked along the park until a storm hit us. That’s not the best place to be when a thunderstorm approaches you. Luckily, there were places for all of us to hide. We then hailed a taxi and headed back to the apartment. We had great aspirations for the next day. We were going to wake up early and head to the local bagel shop for breakfast and then rent bikes in Central Park. However, we ate a huge breakfast and opted to go back to bed for a little bit. We then showered and headed via subway down to visit the Top of the Rock.  I’ve always wanted to visit Rockefeller Center and see the ice skating rink and the NBC Studios. It didn’t disappoint. Several blocks are pedestrian only, and it is just a really neat area. We finally found the place where we were to buy tickets to the Top of the Rock. I wanted to see Central Park from the top of this building. It was great.

After we left Rockefeller Center, I looked at my watch. We were late. My daughter wanted to go to the Colbert Report Studios to see if we could get standby tickets to that night’s show. We were supposed to be there by 2:30. So, we started walking. We had to go to 54th Street. We were on 50th Street. The Colbert Report was filmed on 54th Street. We had to hurry. Oh, but wait. We got to 54th Street. Alex asked a doorman and he told her it was about four blocks to the west. What? Four long ass blocks. We walked some more. And walked some more. We passed by where The Letterman Show was filmed. Nope. We kept walking. I was ready to give up. We had to be there in ten minutes. Not going to happen. I really thought she got the address wrong. We were headed into a less commerical area, one that had auto repairs and……nothing else. My daughter was laughing at me. Finally, we found it.

It was 2:40. We didn’t make it. Alex walked up the steps and a guy stepped out of the office. He told her that we needed to go stand by that garbage can. He pointed to….a garbage can. Someone would be out at 4:00 and hand out stand- by tickets if there were any to give out. It was a slight chance that we would get tickets and we had to discuss this.

Well, right by the garbage can was a narrow covered alley and there was a guy sitting there eating lunch. He told us he was in line for tickets. Except he had tickets. Oh. So, we were screwed. We stood there talking to another couple who came to stand in line. They too had tickets, but came to stand in line, because if wasn’t a certainty even with tickets that you could get in. I was ready to give up when the couple told us they had 2 extra tickets that we could have. What? Omg.

So, we sat and stood in line from 2:40 until they came out at 4:00 and took our information from our driver’s license and then left. Now there were two lines…one for ticket holders and one who were stand-by’s.

We were now full fledged ticket holders. They let us go into the studio at 5:50. We had to go through a metal detector and hang out in the lobby for a long time. We took pictures.

So, we got to watch the Colbert Report being filmed. Since, we got there so early, and they took us in after the VIP people, Alex and I were #7 and 8 to be seated. It was great. By the time we got out, it was time to hail a taxi and head to a Thai restaurant in Upper East Side. We then walked to her apartment. I was one tired tourist/mom.

 I left early the next morning. I hope to return in the fall sometime when the weather is a bit cooler. I’d like to see the 911 Memorial this time…and Central Park again. I missed it this visit.

I just love visiting my daughter.

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.

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)

Feeling Mousey (Part One)

  When I decided that I wanted to take a solo trip somewhere, I thought hard about the places I wanted to go. My ultimate adventure is to take a train across Canada. To get ready for such a solo venture, I needed to pull up my big girl pants and journey on, alone. At first I thought I would go to the beach.  The relaxation would be nice, but it wasn’t how I wanted to test myself.

 Yes, I guess I felt the need to test myself. You have to understand that I was married for 25 years and really didn’t have to do anything by myself. I was a stay-at-home mom. I didn’t have to take out the garbage, although I was the weekly “house gatherer.”  I didn’t have to fiddle when my car started making noises like a mechanic was traveling under the hood of the car, banging on something that would soon smoke.  I didn’t do anything that inconvenienced me. I guess I pretended to be a princess. I made my husband check the air pressure in my tires about once a week because I have issues with my tires looking low. Everyone has issues. Mine are pronounced, however.

 Well, fairy tales don’t always come true, and next thing you know, you’re divorced after 25 years of marriage, you no longer can get by acting like a princess. I mean, there are limits to how long one can get away with that. (imagine Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane). One day, you wake up and actually have to work for a living, and make your own appointment to get your car fixed. And I think I’ve done well. Well, I still whine about garbage night, but really, I honestly don’t think I should do that one. But, someone has to, right?

 Ok, so I felt the need to scratch the beach trip off of my list. I needed to go somewhere that was filled with families, with couples ogling each other, and friends laughing and pointing. If I could get by a few days of being inundated by this test, I could go anywhere by myself.  Remember in Sex and the City, when Carrie went off to Paris to be with the Russian? She saw four girls walking by and immediately called home, lonely. And she was only there for like a day.  I didn’t want to be Carrie Bradshaw. I didn’t want to phone home and cry..in the middle of a train trip across Canada. No, I had to make sure this solo travel is for me. And so that is why I chose a harsh environment for a single traveler. I chose…Disney World.

 Say what? Yes, the one place where people don’t go by themselves. Disney World. I thought that if I had many “boo-hoo” moments, then solo travel would not be for me. So, I made my reservation, and decided to embark on a quest to celebrate my independence, to acknowledge that I had fortitude and perserverance to sit by myself at an eatery, and to leave and return still inflated. That was my goal.

 So, I made my flight and hotel reservation through Orbitz. Now mind you, I haven’t flown in 30 years. I have inner ear problems. But, I was ready. I had my gum to chomp on, my ear plugs and yawning techniques so the descent wouldn’t make me grimace in pain. After all, there would be no one there to listen to me whine.  I had to…..(worst phrase EVER)…..”Buck up.” 

Well, I did fine. I’ve been to Pittsburgh Airport plenty of times. I just never had to park all the way in section 19E in the extended lot. I could have hopped on the shuttle, but I was trying to toughen up, right? So, I strolled with my two bags and my lead laden purse all the way in my “clompy” shoes to the terminal…only to find that the People Mover was not moving..More walking. No problem, I can walk.

 Checking in was a breeze. Disney had sent me a voucher book called Disney’s Magical Express. And magical it was. They also sent me a yellow tag to put on my checked suitcase. Once in Orlando, I could bypass baggage claim and just hop on the Magical Express bus to my resort. How easy does that sound?  I was feeling pretty princess-like once again. Once at the resort, my bag would be in my room, waiting on me, or there shortly after my arrival.  Well, up to 3 hours perhaps. So, I packed things I needed in my carry-0n.

 My flight to Orlando left on time. I liked Air Tran. They are ranked the safest airline in the United States. I was feeling pretty safe.I sat wedge in between a man who was with his family, who were seated across the aisle, and a dermotologist from Ohio. We talked most of the way. The descent was pretty bad on my ears, and although this is funny now, I couldn’t hear a damn thing for a few hours after the flight. It was like the ear plugs were still in my ear. I am sure I was shouting to people. Poor Helen Keller.

 The Orlando airport was easy to manuever and great that I got to bypass the baggage claim. I could walk straight to my waiting Disney Magical Express. What efficiency. People from three resorts were jammed into a very comfortable thirty minute bus ride to the resort. For those of you who do not know this, Disney World is actually located in Kissimmee, Florida, not Orlando. Which is nice, because Orlando is the 3rd. most dangerous city in the United States. Really. I’m glad I was staying on Disney property.

 By the time I go to the resort, it was about 9:45pm. That was probably a stupid move on my part. I should have arrived early early to take advantage of the day. But, hey, you live and learn. But, it was a cheap flight with a safe airline, so I booked it. The check-in was quick and easy. The one thing that I couldn’t believe is that there was no wi-fi in the resort. AND there was a $9.99 fee for 24 “contiguous” hours. I thought that was a loop hole, because I had no idea what contiguous meant.  But, yeah, I want internet. Put it on my charge. Sure, two days at the Disney parks. Just put it on my charge.

 The Port Orleans French Quarter resort is inspired by New Orleans. The man holding the door open reminded me of the Mayor of Munchkinland, only a tad bit taller.  After check-in, they gave put beads around my neck, Mardi Gras fashion.   I got to my room and my suitcase was not there, smiling at me. Not to worry. They said it may take up to three hours to get my luggage.  I was surprised to see a fully refurbished ugrade. I was supposed to have a room with 2 double beds overlooking the parking lot. When I got to my room, it had a king sized bed and was beside the Sassagoula River, which was quite pretty. Upgrade. Yay!  There was also a greeting on my bed, created by the lady who had my room spotless each day. I’m talking spotless. Immaculate. Never in my life have I seen a room so clean. Of course, I didn’t know at the time that the room was totally re-done in March. I loved my comfy room.

I was starving. So, I changed out of my “It’s damn cold in West Virginia” clothing, and threw on some shorts and flip flops. I went to hunt for something to eat. The Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory is a warehouse where old Mardi Gras float props are hung. It was 10:30pm and luckily the place stays open until midnight. I decided to go with a meatball hoagie. Well, the meatballs were huge and one actually fell out of my bun and onto the floor. I sat and stared at it, looking back at me. Well, the whole thing was a mess and so I ate as much as I could with my 25 napkins, and gave up on the mess.  Time to get back to the room and plan my next day. I was heading to Epcot Center.

Oh, did I forgot to mention that someone knocked on my door with my suitcase at 2:29a.m.? Yeah, that’s what I thought. What’s worse, is that I was half-asleep and opened the door without looking  in the peephole. Just glad I had on my long buttoned down sleep shirt, because I obviously didn’t reach for a robe that I didn’t bring with me. I was half asleep. Glad the 3rd dangerous city in the United States robbers didn’t pretend to bring people their luggage at 2:29 in the morning.

 (See Feeling Mousey (Part Two)

Making Mountains out of Molehills

I really should have a full head of gray hairs. I probably do, but thanks to Clairol #whatever, I am keeping the gray away.  But, one of these days, I am going to wake up to white hair that no dye or shoe polish will be able to cover. It’s either that or a stroke.

I think it goes back to when I really wouldn’t let my kids climb to the top of the really high sliding board.  I would stand there and picture them waving at me from the top, “Watch, mommy!” and as they wave their little wave, lose their grasp and fall backwards to the ground and explode. I could create scenarios in my head one after the other. My cause and effect machine was working overtime. I had one hell of an imagination.

Fast forward to their college years. They were both at WVU, about 30 minutes up the road from our home. That was just far enough away, but close in case we had to get their fast. We took homemade soup when they were sick and drove them home when they needed extra pampering. But, nothing prepares parents for the news that they both want to study abroad.

“You mean, like Canada, right?”  I could only hope. Canada was a great country. They could learn all about their culture, such as hockey, curling, Canadian bacon, and could come home, saying, “Eh, dontcha knowl.” That sounded great. They just looked at me.

So, off they went. The first summer, Adam went to Strasburg, France for a month. He flew by himself. Why the hell he didn’t travel with the rest of the WVU students and teacher is beyond me.  He was also the only one who rented a bicycle and toured the countryside while he was there. I didn’t want him to ride a bike, because I would probably get a phone call, in French, “Madam, do you have zee son named Adam, with zee red hair, smashed under car..we send him home in a box, oui.”

After he came back, Alex went to Santander, Spain with a WVU Spanish group. Nothing is worse than two weeks of crying on the other end of the phone. She hated it. She said there is nothing worse than “forced admiration.”  She said that being part of a tour group is horrible. She wanted to go off by herself and see the sights that she wanted to. I pictured getting that phone call. “Senora, Alexandra was at the end of the tour group line, when someone must have abducted  her.. All that was left was her camera. We will send that home to you…in a box..Ole”

This is awful but I was sitting home, saying to myself,  “2 down, 2 to go.” I still had 2 more study abroad experiences to live through, and I wasn’t even leaving my home. I was exhasusted. Adam went to Morocco for 4 months. Luckily for me, WVU had asked him to blog every day and his blogs were entertaining and scary. I think that is when I started going gray. He traveled in an old, small plane from Casablanca and could see the runway as they landed, bouncing down the runway. He climbed the second highest mountain in Africa and I had him frozen like Jack Nicholson in the Shining. He wrote about how he and a friend from Italy rode horses bareback through the woods. Whaat? On tv, people who race horses through the woods always catch their neck on a low tree branch. That always happens.

When he came home, Alex went to Guanajuato, Mexico. She loves Mexico. I didn’t. She said that they don’t have screens in their windows and she would wake up with bug bites all over her body. Her roommate was stung by a scorpion that was on the dresser handle. Gray hair….She joined a Mexican ultimate frisbee team and traveled 6 hours on a bus by herself to Mexico City,then traveled in a van with frisbee players she never met before. She didn’t tell me until much later that their van was hit  broadside by a truck. We sent Adam down during his spring break because she was so sick, we thought he was going to have to bring her home. After several trips to a hospital, she recovered and they were able to ride horses up to a volcano. Horses? Volcano? Deathly ill? Scorpions? Open windows for rapists and questionable flying bugs?  I was a mess for those 5 months. She, meanwhile, took private salsa lessons and had a blast. I never left my home and thought about drinking heavily.

I thought I would be done worrying while they traipsed around the world, having fun.

Adam in the Alps

But no, they weren’t done driving me crazy. Adam climbed part of the Matterhorn and drove a compact car around the Alps one summer. Alex worked for the Japanese embassy and the JET program for a year and was placed in Kobe, you know, the place that had the devastating earthquake. And yes, there was an earthquake while she was there. Seems that Japan has earthquakes somewhere almost every day.

She flew to Korea for a long weekend, so I had her accidentally stepping into North Korea. “Hello, Alex mom?  She in North Korea. Not good. Must be spy. Never coming home. Goodbye.”

And today, I have spent the whole day in tears. Alex went to teach in France. So, of course she was up in the Eiffel Tower several weeks ago when they evacuated it because of terror plots. She flew to Japan last week to see her boyfriend and she was supposed to be back last night. No word from Alex. No word all day today. I saw on CNN where South Korea was cracking down on airport security because of a supposed bomb on planes. She had a 2 hour lay over in Seoul. So, that had to mean her plane had a bomb on it. I was ready to call the airlines, because I was sure her plane disappeared over the Meditteranean Triangle, or a taxi driver abducted her. When we finally talked on skype, she told me that she was sitting at the train station in Paris, when security people came and asked her row of 6 people to please leave the area. Next thing you know 300 people were evacuated and they taped off the area where Alex had been sitting. She went to a cafe after seeing a friend from Moscow (probably the bomber) and they heard a loud boom and they ran outside. She said she never heard what had happened, but that her train had left on time.

I’m ready for the looney bin.

Friday the 13th

When we went to Myrtle Beach this summer, and stepped into the resort’s elevator, my son accidentally leaned against the numbers that you push for the floor you want to go to.  So, it took us a while to get to our floor. On our way up, Adam noticed that there wasn’t a 13th floor in our resort. So, we discussed how that superstition was a bit weird.  We thought, that perhaps, our people are beyond that kind of thinking nowadays. So, I have been reading. And  boy am I wrong. People were, are, and will always be superstitious.

There are several origin stories for how Friday the 13th superstition began. There is  a biblical reference to the unlucky number 13.  Judas, the apostle said to have betrayed Jesus, was the 13th guest to the Last Supper. in Norse mythology, (and this sounds like I am getting ready to tell a joke)  12 gods are having a dinner party at Valhalla, Norse mythology’s heaven. In walked the uninvited 13th guest, the mischievous god Loki. Once there, Loki arranged for Hoder, the blind god of darkness, to shoot Balder the Beautiful, the god of joy and gladness, with a mistletoe-tipped arrow. Balder died, and the whole Earth got dark. The whole Earth was saddened. Not a good day. What the hell, Hoder. If Loki told you to jump off a bridge, would you? (Yikes, one of my mom’s sayings..)

For all of you who suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia, a fear of Friday the 13th.,  this is the only Friday the 13th in 2010. In 2009, there were three. It is estimated that about $800 million dollars are lost on this day because some people are afraid to fly, buy a car, or even go out to dinner. A great stock tip may be overlooked on this day. There are even some who are so paralyzed by fear of  Friday the 13th, that they call off work and stay in their homes. (I bet those types don’t even take a shower for fear of slipping and hitting their head and the bathtub has a slow drain and they lie in the tub, unconscious, facedown and drown. I mean, who wants to be found naked in the bathtub?  If they survive bathtime, they won’t go out to eat, for fear of choking, or getting  food poisoning. I know a couple of places that you really shouldn’t eat at anywho, let alone on Friday the 13th.

This is not a US phobia. In Florence, Italy, houses are numbered, 11, 12, 12 1/2, 14.  I wouldn’t buy the 12 1/2 house. Heck, I can count. I’m not that stupid.

I don’t think it is so bad. Think of a baker’s dozen. 13…. Are you going to turn away 13 items for the price of 12?? Huh??  According to CNN.com, one British couple bought their winning ticket on Friday 13 shortly after a mirror at their home fell off the living room wall and smashed. The lucky couple won $17 million.  I think the lottery commission should have pocketed some of the money and said the jackpot was $13 million, just to freak people out.

But, as a teacher, I do have believe in  the craziness connected to a full moon.  I will have to save that blog for another day, but trust me, teachers know when there is a full moon.  A full moon AND Friday the 13th?  Should be a day off for teachers… Seriously. The combination of full moon and Friday the 13th is rare, the last one happening in 2000.

Luckily, school will be out on Friday, June 13, 2014. That is when the next toxic combination occurs.

Now, I may stay in the house that day. I will make sure my bathtub doesn’t have a slow drain.

Riding With My Hand Out the Window

I get car sick.  Pukey Vickie.  I’m surprised that nickname didn’t stick.  When I was little I got sick on the school bus almost every day. When I did throw up, my best friend, Ramaine, would yell out loud for everyone to raise their feet (especially if we were ready to travel up a hill).  Sometimes I would run up to the front and throw up on the stairs. I guess I thought it would be confined and easier for the bus driver to clean up. Except for the fact that each child would be taking home a piece of me each day.  That’s why people should take their shoes off in their homes. Anywho,  I know the bus driver hated me.  A couple years later he ran over my Chihuahua, Smokey. I am sure he did it for revenge.  Poor Smokey.

My parents kept a bucket and a towel in the back seat for me. And kept the air conditioning running, even in the winter.  On top of that, I rode with my hand out the window.  That really helped.  Anyone who says this doesn’t work  is wrong.  And no longer my friend.   Needless to say, weekend jaunts down the Blue Ridge Parkway were quite fun.  That road had many hairpin turns. I  know that  I would think twice about going on back roads if I had a child that was pukey.  I guess if you live in West Virginia, you aren’t going to have straight roads.  My brother and sister pleaded with my parents to turn off the air conditioner.  Next trip they had a blanket.  Now that I think about it, they were always sick.  I didn’t care. What was important was my well-being.

When I was in fourth grade, my mom handed me a little green car sick pill. I took it every day for a long time. Didn’t really seem to work. I did quit vomiting when I started sitting in the front of the bus and started watching the road. The bus driver (new guy) would have the window opened up a tiny bit, so I sat there, looking straight ahead, with my little bony arm stretched up so my hand could greet the air. I was in business.  I didn’t find out until I was in my 30’s that the little green pill was a mild tranquilizer. The hell you say!   Mom said it was given to me because I couldn’t concentrate on anything and I was diagnosed with hyperactivity.  I’m thinking she diagnosed me.  Then she added, “That’s why I taught you how to play chess when you were in second grade.  You needed to learn to concentrate.”  Meanwhile, I’m concentrating how to murder her and get away with it.  I mean, seriously, a mild tranquilizer?  Ok, yeah, I was nicknamed Cricket when I was little because I hopped all over the place. I was like a little Mexican jumping bean.  But, I am sure I was endearing. To stifle that energetic creativity with a tranquilizer is just so wrong.

Nowadays, as a teacher, I can’t go on field trips unless I take Dramamine, sit in the front and stare ahead. People think that if you get car sick, once you are stopped and out of the car, you are ok. That’s not true. I’m sick for hours. So, I try to take the day off on field trip days. Yeah, my kids want me to go, because I am incredibly fun. But, seeing me with my hand out the window diminishes great teacher status.

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