Sunday, December 31, 2006


Exploring the town

Getting in to the Texas "thing". We actually OWN these hats!!!

Another first on our little journey! Jim & Michelle from Brockville have joined our merry band, having arrived on December 27’th. We have been touring the Texas hill country together and, seen just about all that San Antonio has to offer. Rather than totally succumb to the “trailer trash experience”, they have opted for a Hyatt. No sense of adventure!! But, great to see them! They too have been impressed with the history of the area and the apparent harmonious blending of the Spanish, Mexican and American cultures.

The Alamo Bowl was played here yesterday, adding 65,000 football fans to the local scene. The Texas Longhorns won a squeaker in the 4’th quarter, making for an exciting game. Since I think tickets for this game were sold out in 1966, we caught the game on the car radio, as we returned from wine tasting in the Texas hill country. I feel quite confident in saying that California does not have to worry about competition from Texas. Texas needs to stick to oil and cattle. Grapes…….maybe not!!

Today being New Year’s Eve and all, we have reservations this evening at one of the more highly rated San Antonio eateries and, hope to take in the midnight shenanigans at the downtown Tower of the Americas (do you think all residents of the “Americas” agreed to this moniker?). They apparently shoot off beaucoup de fireworks around the tower at midnight, making for quite a spectacle. I’m sure we won’t have to deal with any crowds!!!! We took in a Mariachi Mass at one of the 5 original SA Missions earlier today. The good Lord may not have recognized any of the 4 of us but, we behaved and had a wonderful cultural experience. Michelle, raised a good catholic, said it was the most unique mass that she had ever attended.

Tomorrow will likely be a quiet day after the festivities of this evening. Then Jim & Michelle hit the road for home on the 2’nd. We hit the road for points west on the 3’rd and, hope to find some of the more scenic areas we have been advised to see in west Texas along the way. BIG state!!

We wish any and all readers the very best for the coming year and hope that 2007 is a great year for one and all. Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

History, art and B-ball

Some days we can't remember our names but, we ....... "Remember the Alamo"

Somewhere waaaaaaay down there, there is a basketball game going on. No nose bleeds though!!

San Antonio is a unique city. Neither of us can recall being in a North American city so intent on preserving its historical buildings. Most of the major downtown hotels are located in former factories, warehouses or office buildings which have been beautifully refurbished and improved. The “River Walk” is another of those places listed in “1000 Places to See Before You Die” and, with good cause. The San Antonio River winds through downtown, with walkways on both sides, lined with galleries, restaurants, bars and hotels; all beautifully landscaped and brought together as if planned to be combined. And…….. this all happens one story below street level!

Texas has flown the flag of 5 nations (one being Texas), making for interesting history lessons. With characters like Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, Sam Houston and Santa Ana thrown in the mix, it’s enough to make any kid pay attention in grade 5 history class. The Mexican influence is everywhere including the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA), which has a large Mexican and Central American collection. And, to reinforce an earlier point…… is located in a huge, beautifully restored “Lone Star Brewery” building complete with stables and warehouses out back. Many of the original Spanish missions, the primary tools employed to colonize south Texas, are still in existence. They are more fortresses than churches, with hundreds of indigenous people having lived at each mission, creating small, self-contained communities. The Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo) is certainly the most famous.

We enjoyed a quiet Christmas made all the better through technology. We gave our son in Toronto and his girl-friend a web-cam and, treated ourselves to one too. We enjoyed the better part of a couple of hours getting caught up on line and in video. Great stuff! ALMOST like being there. Now we know what our “grandparent friends” have been so enthusiastic about

Getting last minute tickets doesn’t necessarily mean getting great tickets. We were able to score a couple of tickets to tonight’s San Antonio Spurs NBA game, which was a sell out. Great game, which sea-sawed a couple of times and almost went right to the wire, until the Milwaukee Bucks “turned it on” at the end and sealed the game. After the game, we got out of the parking lot in about 30 seconds!!! No maddening waits like one experiences at the Corel Centre / Scotia Place or whatever it’s been renamed since we left. The police control all traffic direction for many blocks around the arena, with no turns at one intersection and, all left turns or all right turns at another. The result is that traffic just disappears. Listen up Ottawa!!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry Christmas; Peace on Earth and.........Pecans

We created a bit of a Christmas card which we attempted to send to everyone on our e-mail contacts list but, some of them bounced back for whatever reason. The ones that did go had the formatting all messed up anyway. Then we attempted to copy the card to our blog with absolutely no success. Please accept the fact that we made an effort to wish each and every one of you a very Merry Christmas. We sincerely hope that everyone has a wonderful holiday and a healthy and prosperous New Year.

The entire area from Louisiana to mid Texas is known for its pecans. There are roadside stands, pecan orchards and, processors selling from their factories. You can buy glazed pecans, whole pecans, cracked pecans, pecan pieces, chocolate covered pecans, pecan pies and, a pecan in a pear tree for all I know. We are continually being admonished for our pronunciation of the name of this delicacy. We say pee-can however the CORRECT pronunciation is pee-con. In fact one sales women at a road-side stand told us that the pee-can was located out back with a half moon on the door. With sincere apologies to those who pronounce this word correctly, it always sounded “affected” to me (I say tom-ay-toe and you say tom-ah-toe). However, you are correct!! We thought we might name our motor-home the “Pecan”. It’s the right colour. Then we can pronounce the word any damn way we please.

We have been making mental notes on our trip about the best and worst that we have experienced along the way. In the “drivers” department, Florida drivers had a lock on the worst category until we got to Texas. In Texas putting on your turn signal to change lanes is a sign to the guy behind you in the lane you are moving to, to floor it so you can’t get in. Solution…….don’t signal………surprise em!!!! Some state is going to have work hard to beat Louisiana roads for the “worst” prize. Time will tell.

The Trans Siberian Orchestra was in town today and, since it was a cold, rainy day we decided to get some tickets on-line. What a show. It was 2 ¾ hours and seemed like 20 minutes. They put on a Christmas show that was spellbinding. Tchaikovsky may have been rolling over in his grave when they performed the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies. But, we liked it!!!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


A little "reno" at the LBJ Library

No "reno" here. The Bush Library.

BIG is big in Texas. The Austinians are quick to point out that the Texas State Capitol building in Austin is BIGGER than the US Capitol Building in Washington. It IS the BIGGEST state in the union, at almost 900 miles across and, there seems to be some measure of pride in this fact. Every time we think we have seen the ultimate residential neighbourhood, we find one where the homes are BIGGER and grander. We have just returned from driving around Mount Bonnell, which is a hill-top residential area overlooking Austin and, holy mackerel the homes are BIG. The waterway homes in Lauderdale are tiny by comparison.

We visited both the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin and the George Bush (the elder) Library in College Station; both extremely well done. It is amazing how much one can learn in these facilities, not only about the President and the society in which each of them governed but, about ourselves. A guide was quick to point out that the Bush Library is not BIGGER because there is a protocol for Presidential Libraries which limits their size to an agreed maximum! The drive to College Station looked to be closer on the map than in reality however, we had a great opportunity to drive through many small rural Texas towns. It is amazing to us how BIG the high-school football stadiums (and we do mean STADIUMS) are in communities with populations of 400, 750 or 1,500. Across the Texas plain one can see the light standards at the stadiums for miles. Remember the old “water tower” game when driving cross-country. We were looking for high school stadiums!

The Bush Library is on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station, with an on-campus student population of 45,000. BIG! And, they take their football VERY seriously. Those high school stadiums pale in comparison to Kyle Stadium, the “on campus” A&M stadium, which any CFL team would kill to be able to play in. BIG!

Even the “Blues scene” is BIG in Austin. Austin claims to have over 100 live music venues in a city of only 750,000. I am sure that they are stretching the truth Texas style but, there ARE a lot of bars, clubs and theatres, where one can see live music. We caught 3 bands last night; one OK and two very good. One had a guy named Reilly Osborne playing my fav, the Hammond B3 organ. He was great. Now, can I get Brenda to return????? It still ain’t Memphis pardners!!!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Great place!!

Think this tree would be hard to trim? The Galleria Mall - 4'th largest in the US

Try this one!!! On top of the mainmast of the barque Elissa in Galveston Harbour

One of our “bibles” on this trip is the book “1000 Places to See before You Die”. We have checked many of the 1000 places off on our little journey. Fortunately for our longevity, we have many hundred left to experience! The book highly recommends the “Menil Collection” in Houston. This eclectic art collection of over 15,000 items, ranging from Greek and Roman artifacts to surrealists Max Ernst and René Magritte, is one of the world’s largest private collections and, is housed in the most spectacular, purpose-built art gallery we have ever seen……..including the Guggenheim! A magnificent collection. There are even numerous works by Barnett Newman who, you might recall, caused a storm of controversy when the National Gallery of Canada paid $1.8 million for a large Newman canvas portraying a red stripe on a blue background (Voice of Fire). The Foundation operating the large, minimalist, modern main gallery has purchased the entire surrounding residential neighbourhood and transformed all of the structures into a homogeneous arrangement of buildings with strong design integrity in all aspects, including the surrounding gardens resplendent with large sculptures and “people spaces” and 1,000’s of Paperwhites. One building, a Mark Rothko “chapel”, features 14 oversized Rothko canvases which, to my unknowing eye, look like the artist ran one work through a special Xerox and hung the copies side by side. Got to be careful…….Rothko is our son’s favourite artist and, I know he reads the blog……hi Jonathan! Guess I’ll have to work on my artistic sophistication! The “chapel” was a very contemplative space none-the-less.

Houston / Galveston is Brenda’s second favourite city along our route to date. I think we will be returning home with Chicago still firmly in first spot. For the fourth largest city in the country, Houston is a clean, modern, vibrant metropolis with a wonderful system of highways, parks, trails, and all the modern trappings of good planning. There are numerous museums, galleries and interesting things to see and do and; Galveston Island, the Gulf of Mexico, and wonderful beaches are 60 miles south, with all the Tiki Bars any self respecting sophomore could hit on a rainy March break. There is a “vibe” to this place.

We’ve toured north, south east, and west in this city; saw the sights and visited many attractions. We’re sold! All the high office buildings downtown have their roof-lines outlined in white lights. Very effective. TO could do that. We rode down Oak Post Boulevard tonight, where they claim to have 500,000 white lights on hundreds of Christmas trees. Looked like more to us but, we lost count at 56 lights. Think of University Avenue in Toronto with the power meter spinning big time! The “high rent district” is an entire neighbourhood of “Bridle Paths”. And… real estate here is cheap ………relatively speaking. Tomorrow – Austin.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Houston, we have NO problems

Full scale mock-ups of everything

Standing in front of a door to a "vacuum thermal test chamber"

Brenda taking over the historic control room [She's the one in black ;-)]

Holy rocket ship Batman, the Johnson Space Center in Houston is one huge facility. We spent the entire day there (except for maybe that time spent drinking beer and eating 50¢ oysters…..fresh off the boat……..and …….they were great). The Houston facility is NASA’s central brain where most of the projects are dreamt up, prototyped, and tested. And man do they test!! Several years ago, we visited the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, from where all flights are launched but, it is from Houston that they are controlled.

We were uniquely fortunate that a Space Shuttle flight (STS116) was “in the air” and docked with the International Space Station (ISS). We were able to visit both active control rooms (one for the shuttle; one for the space station). Unfortunately no pictures allowed however, it was a thrill to see the actual minute by minute control of a live mission. One of the astronauts on the ISS was attempting to replace a carbon filter on a water system and was seen and heard to say “This Alpha Tango blah blah thing is sticky. Ok if I use a bigger wrench?” High tech indeed!! The CAPCOM in Houston said “Sure go ahead”. Fortunately it came unstuck. I fear a big hammer might have been used next. We also watched as the ISS astronauts set a new world record for a Frisbee toss. I can’t help but think that a weightless environment might be cheating!! I guess it’s not all work.

Pictures were allowed in what they call the “historic control room”, from where all flights up to 1997 were controlled and, in all other facilities. Astronauts were practicing space station construction in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL), a huge swimming pool 100 x 200 x 40 feet deep and, at the other end of the pool; they were already developing techniques for the next moon mission in 2020. I may have overdone it on the picture taking but what the heck, I am a bit of a tech geek!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Good Bye Mississippi – Howdy Pardna

Goodbye to the big river

Restaurant decor Texas style - crystal chandelier and Texas Longhorn

We have been cruising along, crossing over, and generally in the neighbourhood of the Mississippi River since early September. I can’t remember how many times we have crossed back and forth. Monday we crossed over for the last time, leaving the river and Baton Rouge behind - westbound. I-10 from Baton Rouge to the Texas State line is unquestionably the worst highway we have ever been on. The roads in Quebec are as smooth as glass by comparison. We kept wondering how much stuff we were breaking as we chattered our teeth and jiggled our bones down that highway. God forbid that they should ever have frost heaving!!! When we arrived in Beaumont, Texas our satellite antenna system was haywire but after cycling it numerous times it settled down and finally worked properly. After visiting a sitting of the Louisiana State Legislature on Sunday and watching a whole lot of nothing going on, we thought of e-mailing and suggesting that they spend a few bucks on the highway system.

You can tell where you are on the Gulf coast by listening to which hurricane the locals are talking about. Here in Texas it’s Rita. They got hammered! We drove from Beaumont to Port Arthur on the coast and saw the usual damage patched with blue tarps and plywood. Very, very sad. Nothing is immune: businesses, hotels, homes, you name it. On the coast, we crossed to “Pleasure Island” on a very high bridge from which we could survey the surrounding countryside. Oil refineries to the horizon in both directions!! The Dupont plant in Maitland could be a lawn ornament at some of these Texan facilities. It is easy to see how an incoming hurricane can affect the price of refined oil.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Cool man........Very cool

This place is one of the most highly rated Cajun food restaurants ... no kidding. The old washing machine adds a certain "je ne sais quoi" don't you think?

I’ve always thought it would be a rush to be involved in some record setting activity. Done! 120 year old temperature records are being broken every night and we are in the centre of the action. Oh, by the way, these are not high temperature records. We are being advised to keep taps running in order to keep the plumbing from freezing. Welcome to the old South!! At least there has been no snow……..yet!

We toured the most haunted Plantation in the south the other night and had a wonderful dinner in their attached restaurant. Everyone SEEMED to be alive. Virtually every family that has inhabited this plantation from the mid 1700’s to the present has suffered numerous violent or tragic deaths in the main house and out-buildings. As a result…….lots of ghosts. We didn’t see any but, Brenda was looking a bit pale!

We spent the day yesterday touring Cajun Country around Lafayette, Louisiana. Getting there involved crossing an 18 ½ mile, low level bridge, which topped swamps, bayous and lakes. It was breathtaking. Massive cypress trees surrounded with still water for mile after mile. I wanted to stop and take pictures but figured one of our 18 wheelin’ friends might not like it! Traveling in this area requires a healthy appetite and a willingness to learn about new foods (Boudin – a spicy pork and rice sausage; Satsuma – small very sweet oranges; Cracklin’ – pork skin fried crisp; as well as the usual crayfish, gumbo, jambalaya and my personal fav – catfish). Early Cajuns must all have been brewers. The food is so spicy that you just have to have another beer. “Everyone needs something to believe in ……… I believe I’ll have another beer”.

We tried the most highly rated Blues club in town last night and…….this is not Memphis! The local blues band was workmanlike at best and, if we want to be honest, pretty wooden in their playing. But, as with all blues clubs, the crowd was interesting!

Today we will climb to the top of the State Capital building, the tallest in the US. From this vantage we hope to get some panoramic views of the busy Mississippi River. From ground level is it difficult to get a good look because of the continuous levees. We’re also heading to a nighttime Christmas celebration and bonfire at a large plantation house. Quess whose idea that is?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Mother Nature is a B*#ch

Two years after Mother Nature came "to visit". This used to be a hotel!!

Surrender or else!

Gulf Shores, Alabama (Bama to the locals) took a direct hit from Hurricane Ivan 2 years ago. The RV Park, in which we are located, one block from the beach, was hit with a 19 foot storm surge. The devastation along the beach is unbelievable and, most of it has been cleaned up!! We are told that as we head west into Mississippi and Louisiana the devastation will be even more complete. In this area, the surge lifted a 300 foot Casino Boat and deposited it10 miles away on highway 98. It blocked the only rescue route in so the Army Corps of Engineers had to blow it up to create pieces small enough to remove with machinery. They then repaired the road and the rescue began. Last year, Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall over 200 miles away, hit the park with a 14 foot storm surge. It begs the question “How much will it take to make these people move out?” They are NOT quitters!

We bought some tuna steaks and crab bisque up a river off the gulf; at a fishing “port” that looked like Forrest Gump and Lieutenant Dan could be pulling their shrimp trawler in at any moment. We were served by a wonderful old lady who was the spitting image of Granny Klampett from the Beverley Hillbillies. She knew her fish!!! The boats were being unloaded as we put our “catch” in the car. Fresh! I now know what “backwater” means. We found our way there with no problem but, getting back was another issue.

Mobile is reasonably forgettable although one must always remember that, with two major hurricanes in two years, there is little emphasis on “decorating”. Many houses, hotels and other buildings in the region are still boarded up awaiting repairs. We visited the USS Alabama, which at 40,000 tons (80 million pounds), was even moved (a bit) in the storms. Made a mental note not to join the navy. Historic aircraft at the USS Alabama Memorial were tossed around in the hurricane like so much flotsam and jetsam INSIDE A HANGAR. They and the hangar are just so much scrap metal now.

We are packing up for Baton Rouge tomorrow (Friday) where we hope to find some more blues clubs. We’ll give New Orleans a pass. I think we’ll have had our fill of devastation without going to the epicenter.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Politics and Christmas

Not a State Park

Florida snowflakes in the trees

We have moved to Santa Rosa Beach, near Destin, at the western end of the Florida panhandle and baby its cold outside. Well cool actually. Daytime 68F but, at night it has been getting down to the low 40’s or even high 30’s. Brrrrrrrrrrrr.

Yesterday, we blew the better part of a beautiful warm, sunny, Saturday watching the Liberal leadership convention and, for politics, it made for compelling television. Brenda was cheering for Bob Rae (I’m seeking help for her) and, I was supporting Gerrard Kennedy. So…..we’re both losers! I suspect the big winner may have been Stephen Harper. I could just never get my head around Mike O’Shaughnessy with his arm around Bob Rae!!!

We also visited Sandestin yesterday which is the first entire town we have even seen which is totally “gated”. Total access control in a town that looks like Inter-West moved one of its ski villages to the beach – a bit contrived but well done. But…..we got in!

We expected this part of Florida to be less developed and perhaps a bit backward. Wrong! We did not expect a “crane convention”! Wow…. If there is a bit of vacant land somewhere, someone will put up a building. Fortunately, the Florida State Parks have secured huge tracts of the best beach land and created State Parks that stretch for mile after mile, on island after island, leaving the beaches and surrounding dunes in their native condition. Some barrier islands are uninhabited. You cannot even drive to within a ½ mile of some of the beaches. This is a major breeding area for sea turtles and Florida Parks is doing an excellent job of protecting their terrain. The sand is snow white, leading Brenda to prod me into taking pictures every time we see the beach “because it’s Christmas and the sand looks like snow”????? The beaches and dunes are magnificent. One can often look down the beaches for miles with not a soul on them.

Speaking of Christmas and, thanks to Brenda’s excellent research, we did all the Christmas stuff Florida style. After a beautiful sunset, we attended the community Christmas tree lighting at Fort Walton Beach, complete with choirs and a tent shrouded ice skating rink. It was fun watching the locals in blankets, toques, ski jackets and scarves. I was in shorts. The ceremony was followed with a Christmas Boat Parade, which we watched from the comfort, and warmth, of a waterfront restaurant. Most boats, up to about 60 feet, were draped in thousands of lights. Even the police boats escorting the parade participants were decked out in lights to the extent that it was difficult to see their flashing blue beacons. Santa is an adaptive gent.

We will spend the next few days here foraging for food, internet connections and sunsets after which we will hit the road for Mobile Alabama on Tuesday. We are at a beautiful State Park but, from now on no more locations without Wi-Fi. The next post will likely be next Tuesday or Wednesday.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Found it!!!!

Beautiful Cedar Key waterfront

So the Woodstork says to the Pelican .....

For those who are of the opinion that you cannot use the words “undeveloped” and “Florida” in the same sentence, we now beg to differ. May we introduce you to Cedar Key? It is described by locals as a quaint fishing village. That might be a stretch. It is a village and, they do fish. Maybe it’s quaint after sunset. It is definitely unique. It seems to be populated by folks who may have been kicked out of Key West for failing to uphold the local moral code. Characters all!! The waterfront, of course, is inhabited by one bar after another and, they seem to be habitually, if not continuously, frequented.

In fact, we happened to set foot in one such establishment…..briefly. Being the only tourists, we nursed our beer at the bar, while listening to the neighborhood scuttlebutt. It seems that the news of the day involved a village lady shooting a village gentleman in the face as the result of a rather indelicate advance. He is apparently still alive. Rather than commiserate with either of the protagonists in this drama, the local women at the bar (all evidently single and all over 50) were commenting on how the poor victim would have fared had THEY shot him. It appears that they are more heavily armed than their village sister. One did mention something about a 357 magnum!!! I immediately decided to warn my single brethren. This is NOT a good bar to pick up chicks!!!!!

We pulled into our current location, several county road turns out of the booming metropolis of Old Town, after dark…….a new and interesting experience for us. We were cruising down the last county road at the rip roaring speed of about 5 miles an hour, trying to find the place and…..guess what? The RV Park is doing an excellent job of conserving electricity!!!! No lights! It is fair to say that the star-gazing in this region is excellent. There is NO ambient light! We finally found the welcoming ambiance of a locked gate! Fortunately, we had called ahead to advise of our late arrival and, had learned the “trick” for the gate. In the end, all went well but, we ARE stocking up on flashlights.

This part of Florida (due west of Gainesville) is undeveloped and, is likely to stay that way for some time. However, we visited a large, state run nature preserve in Homosassa that was extraordinary. They had virtually every animal and bird indigenous to Florida plus one, 47 year old, 7,000 pound hippopotamus……long story!! Most of the residents had been injured and nursed back to health. We finally saw a Florida panther and a couple of bobcats. They had literally thousands (no exaggeration) of birds: Bald Eagles, Spoonbills, Whooping Cranes, flocks of all the shore and wading species and, numerous varieties of owls, hawks and herons. Every bird you could think of. For Brenda, the hits of the place were the Manatees. We caught the Manatee feeding. They truly are gentle giants.

Monday, November 27, 2006


Elmer at work again. Double click for impressive detail.

There are waterfront properties and ...... there are ....... WATERFRONT PROPERTIES!

It’s time to hit the road again. Enough sloth!! We have spent the past month knocking around Florida, getting a tan, visiting friends and family and generally taking things easy. Had a great Thanksgiving with Brenda’s parents at their place in Sarasota and, we enjoyed visiting with friends who have a winter place on Longboat Key. We had a great evening with them. On Tuesday we will be stopping to have lunch with friends in the St. Petersburg area and then heading north to get back into some serious “exploration”.

We have been told of a wonderful RV resort in the Florida panhandle at Santa Rosa Beach so, we will “hole up” there for a few days. Apparently there are abundant wildlife and numerous nature preserves, trails, etc. so, let the exploring begin!!!

From there, we will definitely be stopping in the area of Mobile Alabama. Then, into Texas, likely around Houston. The longer we stay on the road; the more people we speak to and; the more information we accumulate; the more confused we seem to get regarding where we should plan to visit. We obviously cannot “do it all”. Input is sincerely appreciated but, at the end of the day, we’ll just have to figure it out. We’ve had wonderful advice from friends at home and people we have met along the way. All good!!

The park in which we are located in Sarasota has space for in excess of 1,000 motorhomes. To say that it was busy over the Thanksgiving weekend is a major understatement. It was a *&#@ zoo!! But……….. we returned “home” last night after the day away and dinner out and, abbra cadabra…….poof ………………..most of the “neighbours” were gone. Disappeared! Great! We had a quiet day today before we “saddle up”. We did manage to catch one last sand castle and, it was a beaut, on Bradenton Beach. The overturned pail of sand just won’t cut it any more. We also caught one last real castle – the Ringling Estate. According to Brenda, little houses on the river in Brockville just won’t cut it any more either!!!!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Wine & Cheese

The jolly fat man is here ... oh yeah .. Santa too

Since we will not be rolling down the highway making new (for us) discoveries until after US Thanksgiving, next weekend; we are left to ponder the more mundane differences between our life in an aluminum box on wheels and our life in Brockville. Many are obvious….missing family and friends……..sunshine ;-)…..etc. However, we are always puzzled at the wonderful selection of good wines at even the most modest of corner grocery stores. Our nearest Winn-Dixie, which must surely be one of their “B” or “C” stores has three complete isles of wine selections, albeit US-centric selections. The wines are not the usual “depanneur-plonk” found in grocery stores in Quebec but, a wide selection up to and including Opus One (a great, and expensive, California Cab). And, you have to love the promos. “Buy 3 bottles from the same producer and get the 3’rd bottle free”. I’ll bet that doesn’t apply to the Opus One! “Today only…….40% off all magnums”. As Yakov Smirnov, the Russian comedian, used to say…………”You gotta love this country”.

But………….try and buy good cheese. Impossible!!! And what the heck is Monterey Jack anyway? US cheese seems to have a high rubber content and, it all tastes the same. We bought an “aged cheddar” the other day that tasted like Velveeta. Oh what we would give for a nice ripe piece of Boursault or Epoisses. If anyone knows where Americans hide their good cheese, please let us know because it certainly has eluded us. With all of the security paranoia, maybe they think that terrorists have hatched a plot involving raw milk!

We always used to think that Thanksgiving was a much “bigger deal” in the US than in Canada. However, in this neck of the woods, they seem to have skipped right over it and gone directly to Christmas. All the decorating is in the Christmas theme with nary a turkey in sight. Could it be rampant commercialism????? Thanksgiving is still a week away but, you would think that Christmas was next week by all the “decked halls”. But………..NO SNOW!!!

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Has anyone seen my kitty?

Florida certainly has a diverse wildlife population. And, I’m not speaking of the blue-rinse Geritol Granny strutting down the main drag in pink hot-pants. Even the RV Park in which we have been located for the past week has a large Wood Stork population and a pair of Bald Eagles, as well as the usual Ibis, Egret and of course, the ever-present alligator.

We spent yesterday afternoon hiking through the Audubon Cypress Swamp, southeast of here hoping for a glimpse of the elusive Florida Panther. No luck however, the bird species were unique, for a couple of “snow birds” (Maybe that pun was intended). We saw both Gold-Crested and Black-Crested Night Herons, which kindly appeared during the day, as well all the usual Florida wading species. One large bull alligator was so still for so long on a sunny outcropping that it led one hiker to ask if it was dead!!! I wonder if we could have convinced the inquisitive hiker to go over and see. The locals seemed mighty impressed with a Piliated Woodpecker. I explained that we would gladly send them a few from our neighbourhood. You know………… the ones that are so big they actually kill trees.

Development seems to occupy every corner of this state and, even though the Audubon Swamp is ½ hour east of Naples, one of the volunteers there claimed that the number of breeding Wood Storks has declined in the past 4 years from 18,000 pair to 4,000 pair, all as a result of encroaching development!! I’m no tree-hugger but, that’s frightening!

The beach towns, at this time of year, are much quieter during the week than on the weekend. In a few days, for the weekend, we can expect the return of the Beer-Swilling Freshman and the Silicone-Breasted Cutie. Wildlife everywhere!!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Staying put

Elmer at work!!

It is amazing how different from each other various communities are on the west coast of Florida. Fort Myers Beach was “chock-o-block” over the weekend, making rush hour in Toronto look like speed week. But, a few miles north, on Sanibel and Captiva Islands, you could drive around at 15 MPH and no traffic built up behind. The roads were almost empty. Our exploring continues and we have found some interesting little communities.

We also learned the secret to building the perfect sand castle……….Elmer’s Glue!!! That’s how the pros do it. 3 parts water and one part Elmer’s Glue. There was a large sand castle building contest in Fort Myers Beach and the empty five gallon pails of glue were everywhere. Kinda takes some of the “magic” out of the whole thing. Even with the glue, some of the most complex structures began to collapse after they dried out. We met with some of the builders and ……….this is their career, going from contest to contest, week after week. One of the better builders, a young woman from Burlington, Ontario claims that this job keeps her out of the dull, grey Burlington winters. There is some logic at work here! Prize money for the winner was $3,000 for 24 hours of work. But……you gotta win!!!

We’ve been on the road for a total of about 7 weeks and it looks like we are about to experience our 4’th day of rain later this week. Not a bad average and, we’re not complaining. We could not have asked for a better patch of weather. We just hope it keeps up. Hurricane season officially ends in a couple of weeks but it’s been a pretty benign season. There are actually a few clouds today!!

We’re looking forward to hearing the results from the various elections back home. We are too far south to pick up the Expressvu satellite and have to rely on the internet. The US coverage of Canadian municipal elections is a tad weak!! Canada? Where’s that at? There are so many interesting election contests in Ontario this year. Even Brockville!!

Friday, November 10, 2006

And the Winner is…………….

I sure hope it's the camera that's fuzzy..... not the room

Goodbye sunsets

Trying to pick the best bar in Key West is like trying to pick the pretty girl in a beauty pageant! After much research and hours of contemplation (some of it involving one’s navel………the contemplation…not the research) we have determined that Rob was right. The Green Parrot Bar, winner by a slim margin, requires its bands in order to win. They did lose major points given that their bands only play Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Nevertheless, they won huge “quality” points because their bands are the most professional and really do rock. The clientele was also the most “eclectic” and local. Other bars have bands playing all day, every day. In some establishments using the term “band” might be a bit of a stretch. Drunk guys banging on old guitars seem to qualify in some places.

The competition was quite tight, with honourable mention going to “Schooners Dockside Bar”……happy hour starts at 7:00 ………A.M. (You gotta give major points for that) and “Hog’s Breath Saloon”…..(“Hog’s breath is better than no breath at all”), and finally “Sloppy Joe’s”, a busy, busy Hemingway favourite. The biggest disappointment by far was “Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville”. This place is the McDonalds of KW bars. All plastic and contrived!! Methinks Mr. Buffet made his $$$ and fled. He apparently didn’t even show up for this year’s “Parrot Head Convention”, held each year in his honour. Shame!

We are learning a great deal from our fellow RV’ers and… aren’t they a diverse group! It is amazing how many people have “chucked it all”, purchased palatial “coaches” (the PC word for lavish RV’s) and lots of toys, roaming the country from end to end. Yesterday a “full timer” who spends the fall/winter in KW, the spring in Arizona and the summer in Minnesota gave us a recommendation for an outdoor restaurant on a remote Key, we would never have found in a million years. All locals…and us! Lots to learn.

We said goodbye to Key West and its sunsets and, are now heading north to set down roots for 1 ½ weeks in Fort Meyers Beach. Brenda is convinced that somewhere in the Captiva, Gasparilla area, we will find a winter home for future years. More research! We have greatly enjoyed the Bahamian Out Islands for over 30 years but, they are getting more developed and we are getting less so. We are looking to find that “undiscovered corner of Florida”………. Yes mother………we did have a lot to drink in KW!!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

More from Key West

Another view of our "well protected" site

After the jets

Southernmost EVERYTHING

In spite of the cruise ships, we explored KW yesterday. The ships’ passengers only get a few hours on shore so, were a limited “problem”. The locals love the ships, making KW the fourth most active cruise stop in the world! KW is truly an eclectic collection of people and interests, all seeming to co-exist in harmony. At one time there were more millionaires per capita here than anywhere in the USA, as a result of shipwrecking! They even did secede from the USA, as the “Conch (pronounced Konk) Republic”, in 1982, after the US government closed down all access to the Keys in response to the large number of illegal Cubans who were heading to the Keys to escape government scrutiny. The Conch Republic declared war on the US, surrendered the next day, and then sought $3 million in foreign aid!! I’m not making this up! Anyone see the old Peter Sellers movie “The Mouse That Roared”? To say that this place is unique is something of an understatement!

The 26’th Annual Key West Offshore World Championship powerboat races begin today so, there is more than the usual amount of testosterone floating around town. These boats hit 160 miles per hour and rightfully belong “offshore” rather than on the St. Lawrence River in my humble opinion. Could be fun though!

We have found a few bars that are in the running with GPB! Determining a winner may be more than we can handle! The things we do in the interest of “journalism”. Just as in New Orleans, some bars even have outside walk-up windows where one can purchase a drink in a “go cup”. We may need help on this one.

In case I might be accused of making our current RV location seem too perfect………there is one little wrinkle! Our friends in the US Navy operate their U.S.Navy Airbase – Key West (Boca Chica) about 3 miles from where we are parked. Their local “Top Guns” seem to have a propensity to practice, practice, practice. As a result, we have seen the underside of numerous F-18’s and F-16’s “up close and personal”. In fact 4 of their jets went over our “Tiki Hut” at about 300 feet RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF COCKTAIL HOUR. Damn near spilled all the rum out of the Cuba Libres. They seem to cool it once the sun goes down so, unless the US is invaded after dark, we will likely get a good night’s sleep.

In KW it seems that everyone is laying claim to the southernmost something or other. There is the southernmost point of land in the USA; the southernmost house; the southernmost restaurant, yada yada………you get the point. We thought you might appreciate a picture of the southernmost broken cleat in the US. Told you this place is unique!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


An RV Park with its own airport and golfcourse. OK OK so they're combined!

A view of our site in KW from our dock. RV is behind Tiki Hut.

If you double click on the Tiki Hut picture, you can actually see the RV

The further south we go the better the RV sites get. After spending a relaxing weekend in a beautiful RV park in central Florida, we finally made the long drive to Key West. (WE have yet to see Jimmy Buffet!) Our site in River Ranch, Florida had its own dock on an inland waterway and was beautifully landscaped. Check out the sign from the on site golf course and airport. Then, we got to Key West and, not only do we have our own dock on the ocean, but a furnished “Tiki Hut” and sun lounge area! Haven’t seen any trailer trash for miles!! The sun is just coming up over the water and the nighttime temperature didn’t go below 74 F. This could be IT for the winter!!

As soon as we arrived in Key West late yesterday afternoon, we DASHED to the famous (at least on this humble BLOG) Green Parrot Bar, hereinafter to be known as GPB. As promised it, was filled with a smattering of drunks, hippies (the 60’s must be around here somewhere!), and aging beach bums. Perfect!! This IS the closest you can get to the Bahamas and still be in the US. We attempted to take a picture of the exterior for our e-mail-less buddy Rob but, alas it was too dark. I am positive that taking pictures inside would likely break some ancient code of conduct. It is reasonable to assume that we will return anon, allowing for future snap-shotting. However……….. no live band until Thursday night. What will we ever DO until then?

Key West is busy but manageable however, we have been advised that 3 cruise ships are arriving today, making today a possible “lay low and sun tan” day. Apparently, we get the town back tomorrow and will explore in more detail at that time. We had a long walk back to our car, from the Seven Fish restaurant last evening (good restaurant choice Rob – Zagat’s best) through quiet, darkened neighbourhoods. The architecture of the houses is beautiful and unique, with some having recently received intensive face lifts and others looking forward to some future TLC. Sharon J. should hustle down here! Real estate is NUTS!! Prices are almost at the unbelievable stage. Think of those juicy commissions!! The “lot” on which we are located in this RV Park can be purchased for a mere $800K. No kidding!!!! And them’s REAL dollars y’all.

Our little Tiki hut has a glass-topped table in it so……………..anyone who knows Brenda really well will know what she’ll be up to on a “lay low” day. She HATES dirty glass. Better go and get some Windex now!!

Today is election-day in the Land of the Free. We have been inundated with local TV election ads all the way and, it seems the further south you go, the dirtier the ads get. Apparently every southern politician is a crook who does nothing but line his (her) own pockets and engage is secret liaisons. Who knows……..could be “truth in advertising!” It will be great to lose all these ads…..after being subjected to all the post-election “Monday morning quarterbacking”! Go Democrats!! That’s right Mary…….no typo.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Another "homerun" for the National Park Service

"Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty, I'm free at last"

It is very difficult to be glib about the Martin Luther King Jr. Centre in Atlanta. The National Park Service has again created a site that is extremely well done, compelling and moving. The entire neighbourhood in which Dr. King grew up has been purchased and preserved, including the original Ebenezer Baptist church at which MLK co-pastored with his father, after his grandfather left the post. We had forgotten that Martin Luther King’s mother was shot dead playing the organ in this church several years after MLK’s death!!! A large MLK centre has been built in the middle of the neighbourhood in which both MLK’s life and the struggle for equal rights are portrayed in detail. Unfortunately, we do not need to travel to Afghanistan or Iraq to find hate. Having the entire struggle for human rights powerfully detailed in pictures, film and first-person accounts will hopefully remind us all, for all time, of the sins of the past. Will we ever learn??

What do you call a bar with a second storey patio looking out over a major Atlanta cemetery? “Six Feet Under” of course. Great seafood and good draft beers too! A hopping spot which my “bride” read about in a guide book. We could have stayed over to try it again but, thought better of it!!!

We finally bid adieu to Atlanta and are now comfortably ensconced on the banks of the Suwannee River (as in “Way down upon the……….”), near White Springs Florida. We are parked under a “live oak” tree with Spanish moss hanging down onto the roof of the RV. It damn well better not stain the white (who’s dumb idea was that!!!!) rubber roof of ours. We just put the RV through a truck wash (you always meet interesting people there!!!) on the way down here. Our auto-satellite dish won’t find the Bell Expressvu satellite due to the trees and the moss but, we have the best Wi-Fi connection we have had yet!! Life is all about compromise!!!

Lots of cotton in southern Georgia but not as ripe as further north. Hopefully some ag student can explain that to us. We are planning to slow it down over the next month and have even booked into a couple of sites for a week or more. It looks like we’ll be in Florida for the entire month of November, heading into Texas around December 1. So blog reports may be somewhat less frequent (unless we find daily reports from Rob’s Green Parrot Bar are necessary).

And now…….a special message for Rob Hammond…a good friend and great traveling companion who has been relentless in providing almost daily tips and advice to assist us along the way. The problem is Rob is a somewhat techno phobic lawyer whose e-mail system will not receive messages from us (maybe he’s smarter than we think). We have been trying to e-mail him twice a day…….morning and night. ROB…….HIRE SOME GEEK TO FIX YOUR E-MAIL SYSYTEM!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Back in the saddle again!

The Carter Oval Office and a new friend we met in Atlanta

It always seems to surprise us when things go according to plan. That must say something about us or the world in which we live, I’m not sure which. However, we got to Atlanta, everything was where we left it and EVERYTHING WORKED!! Damn, it’s great when that happens.

After getting groceries, filling tanks, checking and lubricating stuff, we set out to explore Atlanta. We had a great dinner with young friends from Newfoundland, who have settled here and love it. They gave us the low down on the local “scene” and, it sounds like Atlanta is a place to be if you are a young mover and shaker. Being an old trembler and shaker we don’t need to worry about the “scene” in Atlanta. But…….we did get to the Carter Library (that’s 3 presidents covered….a few to go) and the Georgia Aquarium. Both excellent stops but, the aquarium is remarkable. It has been open for just over a year and is now the largest aquarium in the world. Snorkeling was never like this!!! They have every fish and marine mammal we have ever heard of (how do you say that without ending the sentence with a preposition?) [They have every fish and marine mammal of which we have ever heard – dorky] The 27 foot long whale sharks wouldn’t have to eat you. You’d die of a heart attack if you ever met one in the water. However, they cannot eat anything larger that a quarter. Works for me!!!

We will be heading to Florida on Thursday, working our way down to the Keys at our usual snails pace (come to think of it…..I didn’t see any snails at the aquarium……….ah ha….it’s not so complete after all). We have been receiving very complete and detailed instructions from Rob and Betty as to how one handles oneself in Key West. These instructions all seem to centre on a local establishment known as the Green Parrot Bar (GPB in the instructions). I’m not sure if we’ll fit in!! A sample of Rob’s detailed instructions for a perfect day in KW …………

“OK...ARE YOU READY ??...Pedal HARD to Green Parrot not be distracted by " sights"......belly up - that's Betty in the far corner....she's trying to ignore a few particularly wasted GPB clients ( aged hippies wanderers, perverts, etc)...check the juke box (world's best)...hang in until sunset which is early in Nov so you shouldn't be too bad ..yet....Sunset is KW's main attraction,( apart from the GPB), usually offered with some sort of alcoholic stimulation...and at great cost...there's a nice park just west of the GPB where you can watch it for free....wobble over to the Seven Fish (reservation req'd)...ignore orientation of staff...great food and wines....but don't linger too long...time to wobble/pedal HARD back to Green Parrot where the " floor show" (literally ) should just be getting underway - note changed clientele...if this isn't eclectic...mingle with the band, as they play, (you have no choice )...etc.,etc.

We’ve been studying hard and hope that we’ll be able to make the grade in KW. Film at 11:00!! We hope to be in the Keys by the weekend. We may need to call Rob and Betty for back-up!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

We're done here

Brenda is still looking at real estate!!

In the past few days, at the urging of people we met along the way, we took a fast trip to Ashville, North Carolina and visited the Vanderbilts’ Biltmore Estate. Good advice! The Newport mansions ARE summer cottages compared to this place. We have visited Buckingham Palace, Versailles, and numerous of the castles and estates around Europe and North America but, Biltmore takes the cake! The Vanderbilt descendants still own the estate and, still run the farm (2500 acres) and the winery (1,000,000 bottles per year). It takes almost an hour driving slowly through the manicured estate to get from the gate to the house, to the winery, to the farm, and back to the gate. One hell of a lawn to cut!!! All the family’s furniture, many family pictures, all the art and many of the numerous collections still occupy their places from the 1890’s. It is obvious that this place is being run by the private sector as opposed to a governmental agency. The staff can answer any question you ask, they are sharply dressed and, all eager to make one’s visit memorable. Everything, everywhere is in perfect shape.

I have been remiss in not introducing our constant traveling companion – Nellie. Nellie is our Gamin 276C GPS (as in “Navigator Nellie”). Nellie has made the trip extremely easy and enjoyable. She sits in a seat (plastic Saddle actually) on the dashboard, eats very little (a few volts and amps occasionally) and normally only speaks when spoken to. She does, from time to time say “off route….recalculating” when I have failed to follow her previous instructions to the letter. She offers a moving map picture, alpha numeric written instructions and a gentle, female voice offering her directions. She has never once used the somewhat colourful language which I often hear after not following Brenda’s directions. If I don’t follow her route she keeps recalculating a new route to our stated destination until WE finally get it right. Invaluable! If anyone is silly enough to want to do this type of trip, we highly recommend the best damn GPS available and, the best available software to run on it. XM satellite radio is pretty nifty too!

In Atlanta we visited an RV dealer that had 100’s of units lined up for sale. Huge! They fixed our “chronic leak” and tweaked a few other systems. So now we’re “good to go”…………to storage. We close it down and fly home tomorrow (Saturday). Stay tuned for chapter II in November.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Hokey Smokey

Brenda has been looking at real estate in the mountains - Glad we're coming home!!!

I don’t know if anyone has been to the Smoky (the spelling is correct) Mountains in Tennessee but….were we ever surprised! Smoky Mountain National Park (the most frequently visited national park in the country) is a beautiful wilderness area. And IMMEDIATELY outside its northern border lie the towns of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville (pronounced Severville in American). Think Banff Alberta with a pinch of Las Vegas and a whole bunch of Niagara Falls thrown in. The only thing missing is Madame Tussade’s. There are more damn go-cart tracks and fast food joints than you could possibly count but………drive into that park and…..miracle of miracles…….peace and quiet; raging white water beside almost all the (few) roads; hiking trails forever; majestic vistas, wildlife galore (we only saw two black bears today); Rhododendrons the size of maple trees; Mountain Laurel everywhere…….this place must be all abloom in the early summer!!! We saw deer, wild turkeys, many bird species and the ubiquitous 300 lb. American (They are definitely not endangered…………I am actually feeling quite svelte!!)

Inside the park is located a former pioneer community, named Cade’s Cove, which has been wonderfully maintained in perfect condition. Other that this sole example, all traces of past human habitation have been methodically eliminated from the park, including non-indigenous flora and fauna. Touring “the Cove” provides an amazing glimpse at pioneer life in the mountains, with a working, water-powered, corn-meal mill; sorghum press and other primitive infrastructure. We have certainly come a long way in 200 years (or not)

Brenda had her stitches removed today without fanfare (What a trouper eh girls!!!) And to ease the pain, we had to stop in at one of the HUGE outlet malls (outside the park). We only stayed 3 – 4 hours (she has always claimed that she hates to shop). Tomorrow we are heading off for some more aggressive hiking in the mountains. Hopefully the bears will remember how respectful we were today!

We have come to have a great level of respect for the US National Park Service. In addition to managing the many national parks, they also manage the presidential sites and other sites (historical and otherwise… the St. Louis arch) of major import. By now, we have visited numerous of their projects and, are much impressed. They are keen, knowledgeable, helpful and, don’t allow any nonsense. I would compare them to our LCBO……..a governmental agency that works really well (they ARE endangered… aren’t they?).

In a couple of days….Atlanta….drain all the tanks; top the batteries; turn everything off (hopefully); make sure all the potential stinky stuff is removed from the fridge (my gym socks aren’t there are they?); and……..home for Thanksgiving. This has definitely been a great “Chapter I”. We have seen more that 1-2 live music acts per day of our trip and, visited diverse examples of the “American mosaic”. We’ve had fun, learned a great deal, and, seen things we would not have experienced without the “trailer trash” experience. We’ll be back!!!

Friday, September 22, 2006

When in Rome................

Are we good tourists or what? I sincerely thought I would die one day, able to say that I had never been to the Grand Ole Opry. Not any more! Hell…… neither of us even knew that the Opry is a three times a week radio show that is performed in front of a live audience. That was news to us!! HOWEVER, it is slick. Of course they have been doing this show since Marconi invented the radio. They can tear down one band’s equipment and set up the next one in the time it takes to do a radio commercial. Very slick. Been there, done that, DO NOT have the “T” shirt.

The Nashville area is beautiful. We drove out to “the Hermitage”, Andrew Jackson’s plantation and, toured some of the historical towns along the “Natchez Trace Parkway”. The high end residential neighbourhoods are amazing. The owners can’t all be country and rock stars. Everywhere you go, the rolling countryside is heavily forested and dotted with country estates and horse farms. And, they’re building new ones all over the place. The country music business must be good.

Still have not got our water leak fixed. Since we keep moving, the factory cannot get the replacement parts to us or a dealer fast enough so, we are making arrangements for parts to meet us in Atlanta. I must say that I can highly recommend the service offered by motor home manufacturers and their dealers. No questions asked just…get it done. They seem to take their warranty commitments very seriously. Now we’ll have to see how they react when something major goes wrong!!!

We’re heading to the Great Smoky Mountains, south west of Knoxville. Dollywood will be nearby. WE”RE NOT GOING TO DOLLYWOOD!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Good bye Memphis - Hello Nashville

The Clinton Library is a beautiful, modern building literally hanging out over the Arkansas River and, its contents could take weeks to fully appreciate. Every foreign visit, every US visit from a foreign head of state, every legislative bill, every major election event, every daily schedule, during the Clinton presidency is detailed. And, Bill Clinton’s stamp of approval is everywhere as evidenced by his narration on the audio tour, his hosting of the video presentations and, his written quotations in every display. He is obviously concerned with his legacy and, has taken all possible steps to ensure that future assessment of his presidency will be positive. I was more impressed with his accomplishments after reading “My Life” – his book. By contrast, the Lincoln Library deals with Lincoln - the man. We felt like we came away from that facility having an appreciation for who Lincoln was, as opposed to every single thing he accomplished. Next……the Carter Library in Atlanta.

We are packing up to leave Memphis after a very rainy day yesterday (tornado warnings all around us 2 nights ago). As seems to be our new custom, we could not get through a rainy day without a “little incident”. We took advantage of the less than favourable conditions to re-provision and do other “maintenance” tasks. As Brenda was carrying groceries into the RV, she smashed (and I do mean smashed) her head on the corner of our less than well positioned TV. As I was stopping the blood and cleaning her head, it became clear that a visit to the local ER was called for. We drove to the hospital and were seen less than 1 minute after arriving. Brenda was prepped by nurses and seen by the attending doctor very quickly. After 9 stitches (did I mentioned that she SMASHED her head) and the usual clean up, we left. Fortunately she is fine and not even complaining of a head ache this morning. Her great fear was that they were going to cut a large chunk of her hair so; I wasn’t too worried about her. We left the hospital without even seeing a bill. They simply said that they would mail it to our house.

Today dawned bright and cool, a welcome relief from the 35 degree, high humidity, we have been experiencing. At least the torrential rains have cooled things down. See you in Nashville.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Bluesville USA

For lovers of the blues, there is no place like Memphis. Elvis and the early rockers got their start here at Sun and Stax record companies. But, prior to the birth of rock and roll, Sam Philips, the founder of Sun Records, used to travel around the rural south with rudimentary sound equipment, recording regional blues players in their homes. As a result, Memphis was the city to which all the bluesmen (no women….but that’s another story) gravitated.

“Good Morning America” was in town on Friday but, since my “good friend” Diane Sawyer did not make the trip, we stayed in bed. Justin Timberlake (local boy) announced that he is going to resurrect Stax Records (local icon). Big news in M’town.

We spent the past 2 nights on Beale Street, which is just like Bourbon Street in New Orleans, only better. In a 3 block area of the street there must be 20 blues clubs. And these are the real deal!! For $12 on a Friday night you can buy admission to almost all of the clubs, allowing you to hear some of the best live blues ever. Some of the performers have been playing “the street” for 35 years. There are even bands set up in alleys and out on the sidewalk. The aroma of barbequed pork (Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it) hangs in the air everywhere. In our favourite club, the Rum Boogie Café (motto…….Eat, Drink, Boogie, Repeat), there hang signed guitars from just about any blues or rock guitarist you can name, past and present. They have all played here. At B.B. King’s club, the house band is better than any we have ever heard. And, Hammond B3 organs (rare and….. THE blues organ) are all over the place.

Since Brenda is still sound asleep (it is 9:00 on Saturday morning) and, the performers were starting to recognize us when we entered Beale Street clubs, it is probably time to move on and do something a bit more cerebral. We did do much more in Memphis (visited the Peabody, museums, and yup, to our mutual surprise, we even took in Graceland. Now there is garish decorating taken to a new level!!)

We are staying outside Memphis on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi and, will drive the car over to Little Rock to take in the Clinton Library. When it is said that the Mississippi alluvial plain is flat, they’re not just kidding. However, the corn and soy beans which dominate the landscape south of Chicago have given way to cotton. Neither Brenda nor I had ever seen ripe cotton, ready for picking. The fields look like they have experienced an early season snowfall; mostly white with the brown branches of the cotton plants sticking up through. In some areas the fields are white to the horizon.

We are told that the Ozarks of Arkansas are not to be missed. However, we may not get there on this leg of the trip. We have to be in Atlanta at the end of the month to catch a flight home and, have to make sure we stay on SCHEDULE. The pressure is unbearable!! ;-)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A "little" incident

We finally reached the Mississippi and were so impressed with the early views; we intentionally turned north to “cruise” along the eastern shore. The day was dull with a light mist and, every so often, we ran through a light rain. You could almost imagine Huck and ol’ Jim huddled together on a raft drifting by in the mist, except for the river tugs with large rafts of 8 or 10 barges stretched out before them. The guide books all extolled the virtues of a quaint little shore-side village named Elsah, which we picked as our turn-around point in order to continue our journey south. AFTER we turned onto the one lane, and only, road in and out of Elsah, we were greeted with a “5 Ton Load Limit” sign (our rig weighs 32,000 pounds without the car!) immediately before the bridge in front of us. We also found that there were no “blocks” to go around. All roads in Elsah “T” off the one main (one lane) road. So, we could not go forward, couldn’t go around the block to reverse direction and, could not back up due to our rigid tow bar connection to our car behind. Did I mention that by now it was POURING rain?

While Brenda remained cozy and warm in the RV, I got out, disconnected and started the car, at which point, dry Brenda dashed out and drove the car out of the way. I was able to back the RV into the only driveway wide enough to take it and finally got the rig turned around. Then, dry Brenda appeared in the car. While dry Brenda inched the car toward the back of the RV, I got it re-hitched and we were…….. outta there!!!

Elsah was, in fact, a cute little village and, we think we will take a ferry back across the Mississippi River with THE CAR and revisit. We are currently at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, just outside St. Louis, in the city of St. Charles, made famous as the departure point for the Lewis & Clarke expedition (and numerous other explorations of the west).

Due to the heavy rain and my rather dour mood, there were no pictures taken of the above incident (Dry Brenda was either laughing too hard or, thought better of it……I’m not sure which)

Monday, September 11, 2006

Mr. Lincoln was quite a guy

One thing Americans do very well is package their history for future generations. We visited New Salem, where Lincoln spent the early years on his own, in a log cabin and; toured Springfield, where he lived 17 years before becoming President. To physically visit the log cabin, then a middle class home in the city where his family grew up and then; to contemplate his journey to the White House, is to appreciate a truly amazing journey for a man with one year of formal education. To visit the Lincoln Library and Museum, which was completed just over one year ago, is a truly stirring experience, even for one who is less than enthusiastic about the Americans' propensity to wave the flag.

The examples of Lincoln’s oratorical skills, which we sampled today, lead us to assess the skills of our current crop of politicians and, they are left wanting. The juxtaposition of Lincoln's serious problems with the Civil War and George W. Bush's problems in Iraq, Afghanistan and, the rest of the world is striking! As we left one theatre after listening to snippets of some of Lincoln's speeches, Brenda commented that George W. could take some lessons here.

We are off, tomorrow, to St. Louis and then Memphis, via that Old River Road, to which I referred a few posts ago. According to web schedules that I have consulted, we are about to have another immersion in the blues (B.B. King too!). Oh boy!

In the near future we hope to hit Little Rock, Arkansas. I am looking forward to the comparison of the Lincoln and Clinton Presidential Libraries. I cannot imagine that there will not be interesting comparisons.

The first picture is of a general store owned, for a short period, by Lincoln and a partner (it failed due to competition across the street). The second picture is of Lincoln’s home, for 17 years, in Springfield where he practiced law, prior to being elected President.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Chicago & Route 66 Southwest

We may move to Chicago!! What an amazing city. Having traveled here since the early 70’s, I have seen the city evolve from a dirty, dangerous city to a world class, airy, people-friendly, city of gardens and many, many attractions. Toronto’s city fathers should camp out in Chicago until they can figure out how to develop a waterfront city to the advantage of everyone. If you live on the 5’th floor of a high rise, nearest to the water, you have a waterfront view whether your building is 100 feet from the water or 3 city blocks away! Chicago is a city of parks, gardens and waterfront, public infrastructure unparalleled in our experience.

We were able to take a city tour; the architecture tour; drinks and a sunset at the top of the Hancock Building; a fortuitous dinner reservation at Tru; an afternoon at the Art Institute (one of the most well organized art museums we have ever been in); a bit of shopping on the Miracle Mile; 6 different blues bands (including blues legend Koko Taylor) in 4 different venues and; walking, walking, walking. Not bad for a few days, huh? To all of you who recommended the architecture tour (and you are very numerous), thank you. It was a highlight! We also managed to try all of the famous Chicago food groups (one never, never puts ketchup on a Chicago hotdog…….instant tourist recognition)

Last evening at 9:30, as we sat dressed in shorts and golf shirts, at the outdoor Koko Taylor concert, Brenda was fanning herself to cool down. Great weather!

We are just now far enough south that we are in “serious RV country”. We are parked in a casino’s RV Park outside Chicago, where we are surrounded with other “big rigs”, all of which are towing cars and, equipped with all the toys. A few spaces down, there is a $ 1 million+ mobile home, which really does stand out. We are carrying a small, handheld CB radio, which has proven invaluable in dealing with traffic tie-ups; however we otherwise never have the thing on. The chatter is just too inane. Sue Stillar asked if we have learned any new “rubber ducky” slang. So far, our favourite was being invited to a “carbeque”, occasioned by a road side fire involving a “4 wheeler” (car).

The casino RV Park is a great facility. Beautifully landscaped and, all the RV amenities. However, since neither of us are gamblers, we are off tomorrow to Springfield Illinois, for a crash course in American History 101. Springfield is the home of honest Abe and, much of the surrounding country-side is filled with Lincoln history and memorabilia.

We are sitting today, waiting for our mail from home to catch up with us. I guess we can’t outrun our bills. However, if we owe any of you any money, we may try!

FOOTNOTE: I could not post the above on Friday due to the lack of an internet connection. Today (Saturday) we were packing up to leave, to the roar of Indy Car (IRL) engines less than 1 mile away, at the Chicagoland Speedway. We learned that Danica Patrick (hubba hubba) and most of the male (who cares) IRL drivers have been staying at the casino hotel less than 100 yards from our RV. I can’t help but think that hanging around that hotel bar last night could have yielded a couple of paddock passes for the weekend. Oh well……..roaring race cars and scantily clad women or…….Lincoln history. Tough choice. There had better be major “brownie points” to be had for our decision to hit the road for “Lincolnland” today. That being said, we did follow (more or less) the old Route 66 out of Chicago. (Route 66 doesn’t really exist anymore. It has been cut and chopped up. Pieces of it are now part of numerous highways heading south west out of Chicago). Memorabilia from the glory days of the old highway are everywhere. We stopped at a Route 66 festival in Lexington Ill. From the main street of town you could see corn fields to the horizon one block in either direction. Middle America. It’s sort of neat!!

By the way, the picture is of Brenda getting her “kicks” on Route 66.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Oh oh......It happened already!!!!!

Yup. We did it. We booked our first hotel room on the trip! But, it's not what you think. Brenda is not threating to leave me (at least not for lack of a hotel room). We are sitting out the Labour Day traffic jam in a little RV park in Holland Michigan, waiting to hit the road early tomorrow (Tuesday) into the Chicago area (Joliet, Ill to be precise). Not only is Chicago not very RV friendly, it's commuter train service to the suburbs makes Toronto's GO trains look like the Mercedes Benz of commuter services. As a result, we will leave our mobile palace in Joliet and take the METRA commuter line in to the city to stay a few days in a hotel. Failure is such a hard pill to swallow! But...that's it .....never again!!

However, when we listen to the weather back home, we feel truly blessed. Today we were at the beach (warm and sunny) and, who knew that palm trees grew on the eastern shores of Lake Michigan. Look very closely at the attached picture. Plastic technology has advanced so far, don't you think? We missed the Chicago Jazz Festival over the long weekend but, hope to make up for it by hitting some of the city's many Blues clubs (from the comfort of our nearby hotel room). After a few days of history, art galleries, and the odd good restaurant (blues clubs too) we'll be heading west to the Mississippi for a sharp left turn to the south following what is known as The Great River Road all the way (almost) to Louisiana. We decided today to fly home for Thanksgiving from Atlanta and have found a place to leave the RV for a few weeks while we get a direct flight home from Atlanta. We'll complete the southern section of the Great River Road when we return.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

A "Grand" time

Visiting Agawa Canyon was a wonderful relaxing experience although, with a 4 ½ hour train ride in each direction, the trip makes for a long day. Autumn is definitely on the way. The trees were just beginning to show colour with the odd maple here and there already exhibiting a brilliant scarlet. Given all the logging depots and log piles we saw along the route it is surprising that there are any trees still standing. We crossed the border at the Soo without so much as a glance from US Customs. I would have thought that a large RV would have attracted a bit more attention, given the carrying capacity of these rigs. Oh well, booze is cheaper in the US anyway so there was no sense in trying to smuggle anything. And, I guess a couple of old retired farts aren’t the demographic they’re looking for.

Joan and John had told us not to miss Mackinac Island and, more specifically, the Grand Hotel. Were they EVER right! With very few exceptions (an ambulance), there are no motorized vehicles on the Island. Horses and bicycles are everywhere; the entire island is a state park; the Victorian houses and buildings are perfectly maintained and; life is lived slowly. The Grand Hotel is…….well…….grand! It is the largest summer resort in the world, with a 3 story, covered verandah that leads you to believe that Rhett and Scarlett will show up at any moment. It is “old time sophistication”.

Today is a work day (laundry, clean the RV in and out, wash the car, shop, etc.) then we continue south towards Chicago. It seems that living the RV lifestyle requires about one “work” day for every 10 days. I guess nothing is perfect!

Most of the RV’s produced in the USA are manufactured in northern Illinois, in largely Mennonite communities, which lie directly on our route. Since we have developed a small water leak under the kitchen sink and, since the factory at which this rig was produced is straight ahead, we may stop in and have them tweak a couple of things. (Good excuse to see what the 2007 products look like…….don’t tell Brenda)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

And another thing

Well.............that last post made absolutely no sense without the picture so, here it is. The winers (please note the spelling) showed up for our departure and, we are very appreciative of their efforts. Thanks again!

Here we are 1 week into our journey and NO ADVERSE EVENTS TO REPORT!!! Go figure. Northern Ontario is more beautiful that we remember and, the Sudbury "moonscape" of my last visit (44 or 45 years ago) has been replaced with an amazing "greening". With over a dozen lakes within the city of Sudbury and, the amazing reforestation, Sudbury is a beautiful area. Also, Brenda was able to find occasional work in one of the mines for a few days, which greatly helped with the finances!!

We are now in Sault Ste. Marie, after spending a few days on Manitoulin Island, ready to board the Agawa Canyon train tomorrow and, with a new appreciation for the beauty and solitude of the northern part of our own province. It is truly amazing how this area slows you right down. We spend 2 1/2 hours on the side of the road today due to an horrific accident, which closed the Trans Canada Highway, and neither of us had a noticeable rise in blood pressure. Traffic was very cautious after seeing such a horrible sight. Far too many ambulances!!!

We hope to spend some time on Mackinaw Island after leaving "the Soo" and, have already written off Chicago for Labour Day. We'll get there!! Lots of hiking and too many interesting things to see. Perfect weather with only one overnight rain in Sudbury. Life is good! Best wishes to all.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Day 1 and more!!!!

Great start!! We finally left after talking about doing this trip for years. We were no more than nicely out of our driveway and we were ambushed by the "pirates" pictured here. At first I thought they wanted to come with us (Thank you Lord!!). But alas they merely came out to bid us adieu. It is really great to have good friends!! Thank you all. Brenda had a little tear in her eye (Being with me full time for the next year or, seeing all her good friends one last decide) Day one saw its end at Mattawa Provincial Park with wonderful trails and lots of "tended wilderness". Day two got us to Sudbury where we are now posting from a stolen Wi-Fi connection in the parking lot of Future Shop. Ain't technology grand??

It seems that most RV parks in Canada have yet to discover Wi-Fi however, from our reading, it appears that most of the good parks in the US have Wi-Fi. So......our postings may be sporadic until we cross over from the Great White North into the Land of the Free (whoever coined that phrase?)


Friday, July 21, 2006

It's getting close!

Well...we've had a few runs in the RV and one major "shakedown cruise". So far, I have managed to put the right rear dual wheels off into mid air bringing the unit down our precipitous driveway and.........buried the RV up to the frame trying to turn it around in a soft, sandy parking lot. Other than that.....all went well. All systems seem to work well and, I have read and reread most of the manuals until I almost have them memorized. I can now sanitize the water system with my eyes closed and can dump all the sewage tanks without even a drop running far!! Over the next few weeks we will load up for our departure in mid August.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Fraser Journey

Bought a motorhome. Now it's being loaded. We'll be off in August. Stay tuned