Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Bridge in Spain

Ever since I made my fancy header thingy at the top of this page, people have been asking about the picture. Yes, really. I swear I'm not making that up. So I've decided it's time to tell that story: where that bridge is, why I was there, and why I chose it to, er, represent my blog.

First, the location. The bridge is located in a tiny Spanish town called Barco de Avila (I'll just call it Barco. It's easier). The town is located in the province of Avila (hence the name) and is known for its beans. You can't make this stuff up. So why was I in this little, middle of nowhere-ish town? I actually stayed in a hotel called Puerto de Gredos just outside of Barco while participating in a program called Englishtown. Now I guess I have to explain what that is.

(That building on the left is where I stayed.)

Englishtown is an English immersion program aimed at Spanish (and I think now Italian) businesspeople. With a one-to-one ratio of English and Spanish speakers, people basically spend a week just talking (and playing Trivial Pursuit which is the best) in order to improve the Spanish speakers' English. It's not the best way to see Spain but it is a fun week in a four star hotel*. For those of us used to hostels, that was a welcome break. Would've been better if you didn't have to pay to use the pool. And if it was open for more than, like, an hour a day before breakfast. I signed up for Englishtown during my semester abroad; I had a month-long holiday which I mostly spent traveling around. My plan was always to end the month in Spain (I had a place to stay in Madrid for a few days) and I decided that I wanted to relax a little rather than staying in a different city every few nights. Englishtown, which is free for "Anglos" (the English speakers, obviously) provided a way to do that.

Ultimately, spending a week at Englishtown meant a week of a lot of talking and just a little sightseeing. We did get to take nice walks through the countryside--the Sierra de Gredos (mountans)--which was pretty stark, but, then again, it was April. I don't exactly know when spring comes to west-central Spain.

One of the not-highlights of the Englishtown program is Fiesta Night. Well, it wasn't a highlight for me because I (confession time) got approximately the drunkest I've ever been in my life. It was miserable and it totally wasn't my fault. I blame the elementary school principal sitting next to me at dinner who kept refilling my wine glass. Yes, I'm totally serious about that.

Fiesta Night was about halfway through the week; supposedly it's some kind of magic turning point for the Spanish speakers and there's a fancy dinner/satanic weird ritual/dance party to make that all happen. Unfortunately, that special dinner turned out to be really gross (baby squid on a stick? No thanks) and I pretty much just ate bread and not much of that. I didn't even think to order my absolute favorite Spanish food ever (which also, fortunately, happened to be an option for practically every meal) which is the amazingly delicious tortilla de patatas. So, no, I didn't enjoy Fiesta Night.

For some reason, the day after Fiesta Night is the Day of the Walk to the Village. It's a miserable experience since people tend to be a bit on the hungover side. I think the powers that be (the powers that be being a man appropriately named Richard. Figure it out) do that on purpose in order to torture us but I really wish they hadn't done it: I, for one, actually wanted to enjoy the visit and it wasn't nearly as much fun as it would've been under, uh, different circumstances.

The walk into town felt interminable, though not nearly so much as the walk back. Fortunately for me and my also hungover roommate, we had a large bottle of Diet Coke to sustain us on the way back. I braved a store with hanging animal carcasses in order to make that happen. TMI? Moving on. The town itself wasn't too impressive; it had many typical Spanish town features including:

A nice town square.

Old men sitting around in said town square.

A castle.

A church with a mystical past. If you want the story I'll try to remember it. Some other time.

Also like lots of good old towns, Barco de Avila is on a river. And that, dear readers, is where the bridge comes in. Most of Barco is on one side of the river, that church I just mentioned is on the other side. In order to get there, one must cross a bridge. Not just any bridge, but the bridge all my lovely readers (both of 'em!) see when they visit my blog.

A view from the bridge!

And there you have it. Where the bridge is and why I was there. Oh, wait, I said I'd mention why I chose it to represent my blog. You don't want to read a bunch of made-up symbolism crap, do you? I didn't think so.

*I seem to remember reading that the program doesn't use Puerto de Gredos anymore. Whatever.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Gambling and Ghosts

In honor of Halloween and my Bat Mitzvaversary, I hereby present a post on my home town. I've mentioned before that I enjoy visiting places close to home and posting on them, especially since I haven't really been able to go anywhere fun or new lately. So, Ghost Hunters recently featured a building called the Canfield Casino (yes, it used to be an actual casino, no, you can't gamble there anymore). I knew the building was supposedly haunted; everyone knows that. Another fun fact about the Canfield Casino? I had my Bat Mitzvah there, sixteen years ago (I feel old) last week. So of course I have to post on it.

The Casino (as it shall be known hereafter) is located in my home town of Saratoga Springs, NY, in Congress Park, right in the center of town. While I don't exactly understand the concept of "home town pride" (you don't choose where you're born and you probably didn't choose where you grew up), I have to say there are a lot of great things about Saratoga. One of those things is Congress Park, where the Canfield Casino is located. Just for fun, I headed to the park last weekend to enjoy the fall weather, take a few pictures, and be a temporary tourist, even though I wasn't seeing anything new.

I think Congress Park is pretty special; it was designed (or at least enhanced) by Frederick Law Olmstead, famous for Central Park in New York City. Cooler than the park itself is some of the stuff found there including a sculpture by Daniel Chester French, he of Lincoln Memorial fame. His sculpture/reflecting pool, The Spirit of Life, is a memorial to a prominent summer citizen, Spencer Trask. I'll be writing about him later (for a good reason, I promise). I was hoping to capture The Spirit of Life in all its reflecting pool glory but alas there was no water.

However, this post is supposed to be about the Casino, and so it shall be. As I mentioned, the Casino used to be an actual gambling hall. Gambling has a long and proud tradition in Saratoga, continuing to the present day though, to my knowledge, the Canfield Casino is the only former casino still standing and recognized as such.

Ordinarily, I might not think the building is so deserving of its own blog post despite being pretty cool. However, its recent appearance on Ghost Hunters definitely elevates the cool factor as well as the building's visibility. Today, the building houses the local historical society/museum which I visited in full for the first time last week. Like many local museums (and I've been to more than my fair share, in many places), this museum offers a mish-mash of local history and artifacts with some not-so-interesting "historical" details thrown in along with some relevance to the rest of the world. Interesting to me since I recognized buildings and aspects of local life and culture but not necessarily so interesting to people unfamiliar with the area. That said, the town is pretty famous (there's a famous racetrack (I told you gambling is big), you may have seen Saratoga water for sale or even tried it, etc.) so maybe some people do kind of sort of care. Maybe.

The most interesting and relevant to this post parts of the Casino/museum are a recreated gambling room and a former mansion that was sort of transferred from its original location to the Casino. These are the areas where the ghosts are supposedly found. I'll start with the Walworth Mansion, formerly a house called Pine Grove, now approximately one floor of the Canfield Casino. I'm not an expert in ghostology (is that a thing?) but I don't understand this: supposedly this floor of the Casino is haunted by members of the Walworth family. But they never lived there! Just their furniture and some family history is found at the Casino. Now, granted, if I were a member of the Walworth family, I'm not sure I'd want my dirty (and it is dirty) laundry aired in public, dead though I'd be since I think the family has died out. Or that branch has, anyway. But really, who wants people to know about a family member who shot (and killed) his father? Perhaps not so exciting is the stepsister and brother who married a la Clueless. Never mind the fact that he was abusive and the marriage didn't last. Interesting though their furniture is--and it is, being of a certain period in history and all--despite their having been a prominent local family, I confess to being a little baffled regarding their place in the local historical society. Sure, the last family of the member wanted the stuff preserved but is that really so unusual?

Anyway, Pine Grove was sort of relocated to the Casino and is supposedly haunted by members of the Walworth family. I guess they decided the gas station located where their house used to be just isn't worth haunting. While I saw no sign of any Walworths, I know I wasn't there at the right time. They've started having late-night ghost tours of the Casino/museum which I'm guessing would be better for history and chance of ghost-sighting for any believers. I haven't been yet but ghost tours are a lot of fun (I may post about York before Halloween. Maybe) so I think it'd be a good time. Hopefully they'll keep 'em up.

Another supposedly haunted room is that reconstructed casino room. There are random audio clips throughout the museum and so the sound of a spinning roulette wheel is generally audible in that particular room. I was hoping it was a ghost but no dice. Remember? I said roulette.

I wish I could report that being in that building was really creepy but it just wouldn't be true. Maybe at midnight. After all, I'd already been there many, many times without even thinking about the whole ghost thing. Still, fun experience so no regrets there. Sorry for the lack of pictures, photography isn't allowed in the museum. Somewhere I do have Bat Mitzvah photos though... and if I'm remembering correctly, part of the movie Seabiscuit was filmed there.

Lastly, thanks to a pseudonym-less friend for telling me about the whole Ghost Hunters thing. If you're interested, here's part of it:

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I Could Live There, Thousand Islands-Style

It's finally time for the second post on houses I want to live in. Rules/background on this here. In a nutshell, I post about really cool houses. The two featured in this post are quite near each other; both are in the Thousand Islands, a region once known as a major summer destination for very rich people. I suppose a little background on the Thousand Islands--where the salad dressing was invented*--might be appropriate. So.

The Thousand Islands region is in the St. Lawrence River, between New York and Ontario. There are actually way more than one thousand islands there, the number is closer to 1,800. The region is technically an archipelago, stretching for about fifty miles. Some of the islands are protected or parks, many contain homes, and one is even owned by Skull and Bones. Since we're talking about a river here, boats have always been pretty important. A lot of shipping occurs through the St. Lawrence though shoals (basically (mostly?) underwater islands that don't count as islands) make that a little difficult which means there are a lot of shipwrecks around. A more fun boat fact is that a lot of alcohol was smuggled over the border from Canada to the US during Prohibition. Enough?

Although the area is not too far from my home, I had only been to the Thousand Islands once, on a family trip to Toronto, and we just drove through without stopping. This summer, I decided it was time for me to finally go back and actually see the place. I had wanted to visit the area for a long time because I really wanted to see Boldt Castle, number one on the houses list:

1. Boldt Castle, Heart Island

If you're not familiar with Boldt Castle, it's an unfinished mansion located on Heart Island (originally spelled "Hart") which, thanks to George Boldt who owned the island and had the home built, actually is somewhat heart-shaped. In fact, the whole island and the house incorporate a heart theme, perhaps appropriately since George Boldt had the home built as a gift for his beloved wife, Louise. Sadly, four years after construction on the house began, Louise died. George was so grief-stricken, he immediately ordered that all work on the Castle be stopped and he never set foot there again.

Unfinished, the building lay in disrepair for many years (along with other buildings on the island) until it was acquired by the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority in 1977. In the following decades, a lot of work has been done to restore the Castle and it has seen many visitors. There are, however, a few conditions regarding the building. One is that it can never be finished. Another is that no one may ever spend the night inside the Castle because George and Louise never did and (supposedly) no one ever has. The cynic in me thinks that condition's a little unlikely since the structure did just sit there for about seventy years. Plus, I have to wonder if maybe that condition might be revoked in the event of some kind of disaster.

On to the building itself. Since Boldt Castle is on an island, the logical way to reach it is by boat. It's very close to the mainland; you can see the building from Alexandria Bay, the mainland NY "gateway" to the Thousand Islands region. There is a small replica of the Arc de Triomphe (with, I think, deer on top) through which visitors were initially expected to pass in order to reach the island. The arch was never used during the Boldts' lifetimes and so it has not been used since. Visitors now approach from the side.

One of the most impressive features of the building is the beautiful glass, domed ceiling that dominates the main entryway. I think the ceiling is about six stories high and, walking up the grand staircase through the center of the building, it's hard not to look up. Rooms and hallways are built around the open center of the building, many offering glimpses of what life might've been like for the very rich in the early twentieth century. This is done both through furnishings in the style of the time and through background information and artifacts of the Boldt family. The result is an interesting mix of historical home and museum.

Even more of an interesting mix results from the various stages of completion of the house's rooms. It seemed to me that the higher up one goes, the worse the rooms look. Much of the building is not restored and, presumably, some of it never will be. It's very strange to see a perfectly painted and furnished room followed by a room with boards everywhere and graffiti all over the walls.

Heart Island also has very impressive grounds. There are other buildings on the island including a funny-looking tower where the Boldt family actually did live while on the island. Unfortunately, it wasn't open so I couldn't go inside. I did walk around, though, visiting the gardens and other island buildings:

Pictured above is the Power House, meant to supply the island with power, which is now a museum. It also isn't exactly original; the building had a bit of a run-in with some fireworks with rather disastrous results. A nearby island contains the Boldt Yacht House, that's apparently very impressive though I wouldn't know. I had hoped to go there but it had started to rain and it was getting kind of late. Next visit.

2. Singer Castle, Dark Island

When I first decided to visit the Thousand Islands, as I said, I really wanted to visit Boldt Castle. I had never even heard of the less well-known Singer Castle. Reading about the boat trips around the region, I found one that went to "Singer Castle on Dark Island" and knew that I absolutely had to take it. How could I not? And I'm so glad I did as it turned out to be the highlight of my trip.

Singer Castle was built during the late 19th/early 20th century for Frederick Bourne, then president of the Singer Company, you know, the one that makes sewing machines. Hence the name Singer Castle. As in other homes both in the Thousand Islands and elsewhere (Newport, Rhode Island comes to mind), Singer Castle was originally and often referred to as a cottage. I wonder what that makes my studio apartment.

The castle's architect, Ernest Flagg, based plans for the castle on Sir Walter Scott's book, Woodstock. The result is a bizarre but amazing building with secret passages, tunnels, and even a dungeon which was not, as the tour guides joke, for punishing Bourne's children.

Another interesting fact about Singer Castle is that, although it's in the United States, it is literally just over the border. In fact, Bourne's daughter Marjorie (who owned the castle after the death of her father) kept her wine on a nearby Canadian island. Pretty ingenious considering that was during Prohibition.

Unlike Boldt Castle, Singer Castle has been cared for continuously since it was built. As a result, the whole building is furnished and in good condition, as though people still live there. In fact, the building can actually, in a way, be lived in. It's possible to book the Castle as though it were a hotel and, so they say, basically get the run of the place. I'm rather desperate to do that! As interesting as the tour/main visit was, it was only possible to see some of the passages and "secrets" built into the home.

Well, that's it for now. I do have quite a few more pictures of both "castles" but, as always, posting pictures can be a bit of a pain. If there's another (better) way to post pictures with Blogger, I'd love to hear about it

*Wikipedia doesn't necessarily think the dressing was invented in the Thousand Islands. But who cares what Wikipedia thinks?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Cohoes Falls. Again.

Since I'm currently working on a pretty long post, I figured I'd just take a few minutes to post something quick, keep the blog going, you know. So here goes. A few months ago, I wrote about Cohoes Falls, a powerful but not particularly scenic waterfall near where I live. I mean, there's often not that much water, there are power lines all over the place, and perhaps because the waterfall spans the width of a wide river and isn't as high as the gorge surrounding it, it doesn't look as tall as it actually is and dry spots throughout kind of diminish the effect.

The last time I posted, I mentioned that the "good" falls-viewing area wasn't yet open for the season. After thinking about going back for several months, I finally did it. Today. Okay, technically it was yesterday. Close enough. And I don't know if it was the beautiful weather (blue sky, puffy white clouds), the better vantage point(s), or the fact that I now have a much better camera, but this visit was a lot more exciting than the last. Also, I kind of expected the waterfall to be a lot drier than it was. It hasn't rained much lately and this waterfall is usually much more powerful in the spring. But it looked pretty good today.

The areas from which I viewed the falls were considerably closer than the open-year-round park I visited last time. While the waterfall is still somewhat far away, the seasonal park is probably a quarter of a mile closer to the falls and that does make a difference. There are several viewing areas there, two that are about even with the top of the falls, one that's close to the base (in height) but still a little far away (in distance), and one that's often closed (it was today) which I'm assuming is much closer. I wouldn't actually know since I haven't been there.

I did view the falls both from the top viewing areas and from the lower one which meant climbing down some stairs into a gorge. It's an easy "hike" and worth it for the view but a large fence makes it hard to see the falls well and harder to take a good picture.

Okay, back to work on my other post...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Snapshot: Lake Ontario

I don't have much to say about this but I wanted to get something on the blog. So here's a picture of Lake Ontario. I went on a mini-vacation recently and figured I'd just keep things going by posting a picture. Anyway, I happened to be in a small town called Pulaski, NY which is just a couple miles from Lake Ontario. I figured I'd just take a quick ride over to the lake because, well, I like lakes. And Ontario is a great one. Anyway, the way the sun's rays were beaming towards the water was incredibly beautiful.

So here it is:

Anyway, other parts of the trip were more interesting blog-story-wise. Expect a post on structures called castles and, hopefully, a multi-blog extravaganza with a Laura Ingalls Wilder theme. I know, try to be patient.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Trapped at Yosemite

When I began this little blog thing almost a year ago, I had a few particular memories I wanted to include. The following is one of them; it's one of my most vivid travel memories which is kind of amazing considering it's from twenty years ago, almost exactly. I've been thinking about this post and writing it in my mind (posts always sound better there) for just about a year now so I'm feeling just a little pressure to do this thing justice. Wish me luck? Here goes:

Wait, stop. Before I actually begin, I have to make a few things clear. 1. I was six when this happened. If the writing sounds like someone who's six, that's why. 2. Since I was six, I may not remember every little detail exactly as it happened. I think most of it's pretty close (if not totally accurate) but if it isn't, I'm sorry. I tried. 3. The pictures are scans of slides, hence the not-so-good quality. Also, some may be backwards. Also, some may not be Yosemite. Again, um, I tried. 4. Due to a request from my brother, this post has been edited.

From the time I was six until I was about fourteen, my family took a two-week vacation every summer. Our first trip, twenty years ago this August, was to California and Nevada with a quick side trip to the Grand Canyon. One of the places we visited early in the trip was Yosemite National Park, an area of almost 1,200 square miles in the Sierra Nevada in California. My family didn't actually plan to stay in the park but in the nearby town of El Portal (funny that I should remember the name of the town); we drove into the park each day taking in famous sites like Yosemite Falls--but wait, I'll get to that. We'd return to our motel each evening to go swimming and eat dinner: I actually remember eating chicken fingers. Twenty years ago. So far, basically your average family vacation.

At the time of our visit, Yosemite was 1. very dry and 2. plagued by forest fires. In regard to how dry it was, I remember in particular visiting, as mentioned above, Yosemite Falls. In order to show what Yosemite Falls usually looks like, I would have to borrow a picture from some website. So, um, try Google. There are tons.

I think that's a stream. Now read the next paragraph. Please.

For me, walking to the falls involved walking by an almost dry stream bed and crossing a bridge with little water flowing beneath it. Close to the falls, signs offered warnings such as, "Beware: Dangerous Waterfall" (or, uh, something like that) and other similar words of caution. I remember that approach clearly, even seeing that rocky, dry terrain in my mind, right up to viewing that powerful, gushing waterfall.

See the waterfall? It's backwards, I think. On the left (should be right?)

Except that last part never happened. My short, six year-old self looked up, and up, and up, hoping to see the terrific force of nature of a thundering waterfall and instead seeing a small stream of water falling lazily over a rock. But the point of this post is not Yosemite Falls or even the lack of it. No, what I remember most about Yosemite involves the fires.

By reading about the 1990 fires at Yosemite I've learned that, as a park visitor, I was never in any actual danger. I wish someone had told me that then. Views of the park's famous mountains and valleys that summer often included an unexpected sight: there were apparently several large fires in addition to many smaller ones that announced their location with plumes of gray smoke. Although the fires were very real and obvious, the didn't ruin our trip. *In fact, my brother noticed and reported a fire which was a great thing to do and a definite positive memory. Way to go, my brother!* (Ah, that sounds silly. Oh well.)

I don't remember how many days we spent in Yosemite but I do remember driving in each morning and out each night, spending the days in a nature center and walking along trails. Well, that's how it was until our final (planned) day there. I think that last day was really only supposed to be half a day. In fact, my parents debated whether or not to go in that day at all. They decided that since we were there, we might as well make the most of it and go. Maybe that was a mistake.

I think my brother and I attended some kind of children's nature program that day. I know I spent some time coloring, only going out of the lines twice! In my (possibly not accurate) memory, that's where I was when I heard the news: all roads in and out of the park had been closed. All the people inside the park were stuck there.

What happened next is slightly blurry in my memory. I know my family split up; I went with my father to try to arrange some cot-sleeping situation for the night while my brother went with my mother with the hope of getting a room at The Ahwahnee Hotel*. More on that later.

Although I was an impatient six year-old at the time, I don't really remember the waiting that must have come next. Instead, my memory jumps forward to my father discussing some sort of lodging arrangement (I think cots, emergency style, or so I've been told) with someone official. It was at that moment that my brother ran up to us and told us not to bother with that: we had gotten a room at The Ahwahnee.

The Ahwahnee, in case you're not familiar with it, is Yosemite's very luxurious, very expensive hotel. Back then, rooms were about $200 per night (now they're about $500) which was, well, slightly more money and slightly more luxury than a family that often stayed at the Holiday Inn was used to. I think the available rooms were due to cancellations and, although staying there wasn't exactly the greatest experience ever, we were lucky to get the room. I just learned that the room-getting situation was a bit more complicated than that and made possible by a helpful stranger. Thanks, stranger, twenty years later.

Once again, my memory jumps forward a bit. Suddenly it was dinnertime and our option was the hotel's fancy restaurant. Thinking about it years later, I realize the restaurant's patrons probably weren't wearing tuxedos and ball gowns and we probably weren't the only family wearing jeans and t-shirts. And yet, I remember feeling awfully out of place--not to mention grubby--walking into that dining room.

Other than that, dinner is mostly a blur as is the evening. What I do remember is that there was a fruit basket in the room; I'd never seen that before (or since?) and, I don't know, I may have thought it was, like, for decoration or something. It wasn't. In my memory, that night didn't involve much sleep. For one thing, I was just a bit scared (I'm the scaredest of scaredy-cats) and I know I wasn't the only one.

As I mentioned before, the fires were numerous and I really didn't know that the people in the park weren't in any danger. At that point, I think I had only seen smoke and ash but there had been plenty. And we were literally stuck inside the park which made the whole fire situation seem even more dire. Additionally, we had seen the fires on TV which certainly didn't make being stuck in the park more pleasant!

When we went to bed that night, we didn't know how long we'd be stuck in the park. At about 6 the next morning, the phone rang and we found out: the park was being evacuated. I remember sitting in the backseat of the rental car as we inched our way out of the park in a long line of traffic. I think I was sitting on the right side, behind the passenger seat. There were brush fires and ash by the side of the road and, even though we were leaving the park, there was still an eerie feeling about the whole situation. I think parts of this story may have been embellished in the many tellings since it actually occurred; I don't know if there were really scarred and scared animals watching the cars leave or if there was just sympathy for all the creatures in danger.

Oddly enough, that's where my memory ends: driving out of Yosemite. I don't even remember exactly where we went next (Fresno?**) although I remember a whole lot more about that trip. But, again, we'll get there.

*The capitalization of "The" is theirs, not mine. I'm willing to go with it but I do think it looks a little weird.

**Confirmed. It was Fresno.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sorry, Blog-World. Have a Snapshot

Well, my high hopes for productivity have basically been dashed thanks to a stressful couple of months including a major computer crash and no current internet access. Fun, huh? So, contest winners coming soon, I promise.

Meanwhile, I'm on a public computer and therefore if I post for real cannot add pictures. Damn. Not that my own computer currently has any pictures on it (thanks, crash) though luckily I didn't lose any.

Well, I've just realized that I do actually have a few pictures handy--as of about two months ago, I can email pictures from my phone without a charge. So let's all pause for a moment while I do that.

I have pictures from several rather varied places on my phone: the Lincoln Tunnel (expect those in a future post, yes, really), a nearby lake, and a not-quite-as-nearby park with caves and waterfalls. Unfortunately for that last one, my better pictures are on my real camera. So, we'll just stick with one picture for now. This one:

I recently purchased a book called Trails with Tales (I think? I don't have it with me) which consists of walking/hiking trails with neat stuff either geologically or historically or both. The book is published by a company near where I live and as far as I know, they publish a few similar books that I believe are all focused on this area (upstate NY). Perfect for me. I'm hoping to cover a lot of the "trails" both in person and on this here blog.

So far, I've done a couple including the place featured above. I don't remember the name of the park; it's in central NY and it's somehow connected with a school. The park is absolutely beautiful: it consists of several easily walked trails leading to streams, caves, and waterfalls. Of the places I've been, this area reminds me most of a place in Israel called Tel Dan. I'll be writing about that some day. Cool even in the hottest weather, fresh-smelling, full of rushing water and soft breezes. The waterfalls are especially beautiful, but maybe that's just because I love waterfalls.

The picture above is the glare-filled view from inside one of the caves. I don't know how deep the caves are because I didn't bring a flashlight and because I got dripped on. Someday, a braver me may return to explore further. I know I'm not doing this justice so I'll just leave it there for now. And as I sit in my miserably hot apartment, well, I'll be thinking of a cool oasis full of waterfalls.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Oh, Goodness, It's CONTEST Time Again!

It's been a few months since my last contest so I think it's time for another! Unfortunately, I believe in hard work and I therefore do not just give things away for nothing like many blogs do. No, my giveaways are a little harder. Not much though. I hope. AND I've EDITED. So here's the new and easier version!

This week, you'll be competing to win one of five BEAUTIFUL New York City T-shirts. I'd post pictures but I'm lazy so, two are pretty classic "I heart NY"s, one has an apple, one has some other stuff, and so on. If you win, I'll offer pictures etc. For anyone who might live in NYC or already own a T-shirt or something, I'll consider digging through the prize closet for another decent prize. If you just don't heart NY, you're SOL. Sorry.

Okay, here's how to enter: I will post a bunch of clues that all point to one particular place. It can be anywhere in the world although it's more likely to be somewhere I've been. Not that that's especially helpful. You can have up to FOUR tries to guess the place. If you're sure of the answer, you can make the same guess up to four times. Make sense? The goal here is to be pretty easy so don't make fun at me if you think the answer is really obvious. If it's hard, I'm sorry. As with volcanoes, one never knows with these types of things. Here's how you earn each guess:

1. Just comment with your answer. First one's free.

2. Be a follower. I don't care if it's through Google, Facebook, RSS, or whatever. Up to you. I'll even accept Twitter for this one (I'm @travelrambler hint hint). Just let me know where you're following if it isn't obvious.

3 and 4. Broadcast. Post about this contest/giveaway on your blog, Twitter, Facebook, or whatever. Post once, get one entry. Post twice, get two. Post three times, get two. Sorry, no more than two.

After all that explanation, here are the clues. First hint, this has something to do with an upcoming post:

1. Although you may know that I am in the United States, you might be surprised if I told you in which state I'm located. I know I was when they told me.

2. I used to have an interesting job; I was kind of a bouncer. When I got the job, I replaced a guy named Clinton. (Full name: either Castle Clinton or Fort Clinton. Come on guys, approximately 30 seconds on Wikipedia--bad me--will give you the answer).

3. I met lots of people through my job including many of this blog owner's relatives (ancestors, really). Even though I'm retired now, lots of people visit me. They like my old stories.

4. One of my neighbors is a really (like really) famous woman who also happens to be, er, rather large. Make that incredibly large. In fact, I can't think of a larger woman.

5. I am a gateway.

6. I am a rock. I am an island.

I AM.......

Comment moderation is on for the duration of the contest which ends at 12:01 AM on WEDNESDAY, MAY 26. Happy guessing!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Snapshot: Leon Sinks

In an effort to post more often, I'm doing what I discussed here. I've decided to be a little cutesy and sort of name types of posts a little. So this is called "snapshots". PLEASE comment or something if you've got a better name. Thank you.

So here's my latest:

I lived for a short amount of time in Tallahassee, Florida. Although it's the capital, it's not what you'd call touristy as much of northern Florida isn't. Topographically, a lot of northern Florida isn't really what people generally think of when they think of Florida: there are lots of hills, pine trees, and, at least around Tallahassee, few of those endless, white, sandy beaches that grace "normal" Florida. And nothing even remotely Disneyfied--in fact, I don't even think there's a Disney store at the mall.

I've actually talked a little about this before so instead of writing endlessly about the amazing geography of Florida, I'll just briefly mention that there are a lot of sinkholes in the northern part of the state.

Just a few miles south of Tallahassee is a park called Leon Sinks. A short drive from Capital Circle, Tallahassee's ring road brings you to an easy to miss turn-off with a small sign pointing to Leon Sinks. Like many parks in the area, parking/visiting costs a few dollars but it's sort of honor system--no parking attendants. Technically you're supposed to put a hangy-thing on your rear-view mirror but I never saw anyone check for them. The park itself is pretty much right off the road--you're already in the wilderness.

Of the park itself, I remember a long walking trail that loops around offering a nice walk of maybe two or three miles. I think? Some of that is on wooden walkways because of the sinkholes and the fact that some of them are basically lakes or something. So anyway, the picture above is one of the water-filled sinkholes. It's not very large but I honestly have no idea how deep the water is. It's my understanding that the worn-away rock that essentially creates the sinkholes creates a vast network of caves and tunnels underground. I know I read about some exploring of those caves and I must look for details because it was interesting. Really.

What else can I say about Leon Sinks and sinkholes? Although I clicked on this picture randomly, it's actually one of my favorites because of the way the sky is reflected in the water. Although it's possible to see alligators there, I never did and I'm not sure if I'm disappointed or not. Despite the threat of alligators, walking through the park was peaceful, serene, tranquil, and just about any other synonym you might think of. The light breeze ruffles the green leaves, the sun gently warms without beating down (except in the summer, I think), and, as far as I can tell, it's rarely crowded.

Warning, after all that happy, floaty talk, I'm about to sound insane. Maybe it's just me, but Leon Sinks and the places like it around northern Florida seem just the tiniest bit sinister. Part of it is that the Earth could literally, like, yawn up a gaping hole at pretty much any time. Not that it's likely (I hope) but it is possible. And while I think there are sinkhole/lakes with swimming and boating access, the lakes seem the tiniest bit bottomless-pitesque to me. I know they're not bottomless even if they are part of a major cave network. And Loch Ness which totally has sinister connotations and caves etc. scares me not at all. I just think it's awesome.

So, does anyone think the lake looks nice? Peaceful? Scary? Jekyll? Hyde? I just can't decide.

Next up: a contest, a post on New Jersey (yes, really), the rest of BSC in the USA, and Yosemite. Hopefully all this month. I'm working on being motivated.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Other Niagara Falls?

While I have lately been truly sucking at posting things, I haven't stopped thinking about things to post. Or having great and fabulous (read: pretty boring) adventures. So while I know I need to finish BSC in the USA and I really have to post about Yosemite, I figured better to just get a little something up on here, even if no one reads it.

In a recent conversation, I casually remarked that I wished I lived near a decent waterfall or two, since, you know, I absolutely love wateralls. I was indignantly informed (technically reminded) that one of the biggest or widest or most powerful waterfalls in New York is actually pretty close by. Maybe I knew that, but past viewings of the falls were unimpressive enough that seeing it (them?) didn't make much of an impact.

Suspense effectively built? I'm talking about Cohoes Falls, on the Mohawk River just before it dumps into the Hudson (remember the Hudson? I talked about that one). Just for fun, I decided to take a look at the Wikipedia page for Cohoes Falls (remember kids, never, ever cite Wikipedia. I'm going straight to hell for this) where I read that in the 18th century, Cohoes Falls were considered, in beauty, second only to Niagara. Bear in mind, Niagara Falls, beautiful or not, are extremely famous and visited simply for being waterfalls. Further "anaylsis" revealed that Cohoes is better than the American Falls but "not as good" as the Canadian Falls. Bloody Canadians, getting the good waterfall and the good town.

After reading important comparisons between Cohoes and Niagara, I realized it was time to go back to Cohoes Falls. Even though it's close to home and I've driven by countless times, I have much more vivid memories of Niagara Falls. I don't know, maybe it's the rainbow. Or the commercialness. Or the fact that the Canadian/Horseshoe Falls is actually kinda pretty. Cohoes, on the other hand, is really just a waterfall in a city, small viewing area, usually empty of people.

While the city isn't exactly on my way home from school/work, it isn't really out of the way either. So, one warm and sunny day, I felt the open road calling me away from my usual highway exit and into the city of Cohoes. As a city, Cohoes apparently used to be quite something; I'll call it the (former) Venice of New York (I'm guessing no one else ever did) because it used to be full of canals. At one time, Cohoes was a thriving industrial city, I think there were a lot of mills there, all powered by water. Cohoes also essentially has the end of the Erie Canal, you know the one with the mule named Sal, right?

So, anyway, my visit. The time was early spring, the water was high and the air warm and breezy. All very good things, especially the water since, at times, the falls runs almost dry. There's a theory that the name for the falls (and city) comes from the "potholes" that appear when the water is low. As you can imagine, this really isn't always the most stunning waterfall.

I parked on the street, right next to the little Cohoes Falls Park. A short walk led to the year-round viewing area; a closer walkway doesn't open until sometime this month, I think. Since it's close by, I may go back and check that out. My impression? Didn't change all that much from the last time I saw the falls. Sure, there was more water, I know it's higher than it looks (somewhere between 70 and 100 feet) and it looked kind of powerful. But honestly? It's not the most beautiful waterfall, not by a long shot. I have an upcoming post about a waterfall in the Adirondacks (I said I've been adventuring) that was much more exciting. Don't believe me? Check out the picture:

Sunday, March 28, 2010

BSC in the USA: Team North

Now that we're done with Team South, it's time to head north with the Schafers and the BSC members that matter. (Seriously, how ridiculous is it that the original members all ended up going north? I'm thinking of crying racism, anti-semitism, and everyone-hates-malloryism.) Just to recap really quickly, in the northern RV we have the following people and destinations: Jack Schafer (San Francisco), Jeff Schafer (rock climbing), Dawn (a ghost town), Kristy (baseball stadiums), Claudia (Art Institute of Chicago), Mary Anne (Maynard, Iowa), and Stacey (Seattle). On with the trip!

First stop for Team North is Cleveland so Kristy can visit the stadium where the Indians play (Official Kristy Stadium Count: 1). Who's impressed that I know which baseball team is from Cleveland? Stacey doesn't, and she's actually there. After a lame joke about Cleveland Indians versus Native American Indians and Stacey's statement that basketball players are way hotter than baseball players, we're treated to a long look inside Stacey's head; she tells us she's only met her BF Ethan once and that "coffee shop" is New Yorkese for "diner". That's funny, I thought I could speak New Yorkese. Actually, I think the language she's speaking is McGillese, a language which frightens me more and more with each passing day. Frankly, I'd rather be watching the baseball game which is exactly what Kristy wants to do. Jack (easier than Mr. Schafer) agrees, against the wishes of almost everyone else, and in they go. Fortunately for Stacey, she learns that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is in Cleveland and thus a side trip (that's not so side) is born.

It's 9:53 and therefore time for a rant. They just learned about the Rock Hall? Seriously? First, it's a pretty famous place. Second, way to open a guide book, guys. Did no one ever think to look up fun stuff to do/see in the places they were planning on visiting before ever leaving Stoneybrook? I mean, I'm all for discovering new things along the way but seriously! As we'll see later, it's like no one put any thought into this trip at all.< /rant>

So. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It's a fun place to visit. The building itself is all glassy and modern so that's cool, I guess. The hall of fame part isn't all that extensive but worth visiting. Most of the building is really a museum with a lot of rock and roll history and rotating exhibits. When I was there, one of the exhibits was actually about music and baseball. Too bad Kristy missed that. Anyway, I thought I took pictures of the Rock Hall but I can't find any so I guess I didn't. Oh, well.

The next chapter is Claudia's, leading up to her destination in Chicago. She tells us that so far they've stopped in Cleveland and Detroit. First of all, Detroit? Really? Was that a strictly baseball stadium stop? That puts the Official Kristy Stadium count at 2. Plus, Chicago is pretty much directly west of Cleveland. Detroit is west of Cleveland but also quite a bit north. As in, definitely not on the way. How obnoxious of Kristy.

Meanwhile back in the RV, we learn that Dawn eats wormy apples, Kristy washes her hair with soap, and Mary Anne likes to knit. Except we already knew that last part. We also learn that Stacey is a bitch (only we already knew that too). She yells at Claudia for reading her journal even though Claudia was just looking for a sketchbook. By the way, their fight continues all the way to Washington... The other really annoying person in the RV is Jack who makes jokes/mean comments about Mary Anne's father. Okay, I know Mary Anne's father is married to Jack's ex-wife but you don't do that to a thirteen year-old. Seriously.

So, the next stop is Chicago. There is a stadium stop (Official Count: 3, presumably ignoring the fact that Chicago has two baseball teams) though that actually comes after the visit to the Art Institute. Claudia especially wants to see the Impressionists (as does Mary Anne) which, sure, whatever.

I, too, have been to the Art Institute of Chicago but that was a long time ago. Sorry, no great insights there. Um, it was nice. So, yeah, back to the BSCers. Before leaving Chicago, they ate at Pizzeria Uno. Why, I ate there just last week!

Oh, they ate at the original one. Humph. I guess they also went to Water Tower Place while in Chicago. Apparently mall visits on cross country trips are all the rage, who'da thunk it. I'm pretty sure this mall stuff is mostly a set-up for Mary Anne's storyline so I'll just pretend they aren't idiots for going to malls, which, for the most part are generally fairly similar to each other.
After Chicago/Illinois, the next stop is Milwaukee. Why, you ask? Whose destination was in Wisconsin? Not to mention, the stop after that is Minneapolis. You don't remember someone wanting to go there either, do you? Well, it's time to up the Official Stadium Count to 5. No, not 4, 5. I think it's time for my major Kristy rant!

Okay. Everyone on the trip got to pick one place to visit. One. At this point (maybe halfway across the country?) Kristy has visited FIVE places. THREE of them were out of the way! After Chicago, the next destination should've been Mary Anne's grandmother's house in Maynard, Iowa. Now, I don't know if the real Maynard, Iowa (which does exist) is the same as the one in the book. If so, Maynard looks pretty much west of Milwaukee which isn't so bad. Of course, that's assuming the roads go that way, too (I'm almost positive the Interstates don't) but it still seems like a pain. What the hell, Kristy? Why are you so damn special? Okay, I get that she wants to go to the field where the Brewers play, her stepfamily's name being Brewer and all. But honestly, the whole thing is pretty ridiculous. And Minneapolis is definitely out of the way. Not to mention, there are still more ballparks to come. Sometimes I just hate you, Kristy. < /rant>

All of this driving way the hell out of the way (and all of these visits to malls which Mary Anne can't stand) mean they'll be late getting to Iowa. When Mary Anne calls her grandmother, Granny Baker (not what Mary Anne calls her but I like it) insists on meeting them in Minnesota. Because Iowa is OUT OF THE WAY and because Midwesterners like to drive. Where do they meet? At Granny Baker's suggestion, they all go to the Mall of America! Just what Mary Anne wants!

While I do think it's pretty silly to visit malls all over the country, I would make an exception (hell, I have made an exception, though it wasn't my idea) for the Mall of America. Why? Because it's like the mall to end all malls. Yes, there's an amusement park inside, yes, there is a roller coaster, and yes, the mall is huge. Because I can't find any pictures of the MoA (can you imagine taking pictures of a mall?) I'll offer you a video instead. Yes, I know this takes place in Canada but if you get the context, you'll know that someone wanted to get married at the Mall of America. So I say it fits.

Back to BSCWorld. At the MoA, Dawn gets the award for Most Obnoxious Person Ever by leading everyone to a health food restaurant for lunch. Okay, maybe it's just that I was taught manners so I expect others to act like decent human beings but couldn't they have at least discussed where to eat lunch? Or maybe, just maybe, considering that was Mary Anne's day, she or her grandmother could've picked a place to eat? Instead, they were stuck eating seitan which is apparently supposed to taste like steak but doesn't. We're told as much and I'd like to know how the vegetarians that are telling people to eat this crap even know what steak tastes like. FYI, seitan is wheat gluten which sounds about as appetizing as the sweatshirt I'm wearing.

The best thing that happens in this chapter is Granny Baker telling off Jack for making fun of Richard. The worst is that Mary Anne the Doormat thinks it's her fault they ended up at the MoA even though her grandmother suggested going there. Look, it's a miracle of modern medicine! See the girl without a spine! Mary Anne's logic (or lack of it) is confusing me so I'll just press on.

So Team North skips Iowa. I will therefore skip Iowa as well; my poor loyal readers will just have to wait for my great Iowa stories. I know it's tough. Since I'm skipping Iowa, I'll just offer a few more notes (and pictures!) from earlier in the trip. First, since Mary Anne basically didn't get her destination, I think she's entitled to another. As we find out from the discussion of where to visit in South Dakota, Mary Anne is a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan and would be interested in visiting the LIW site. Okay, first of all, there are quite a few LIW sites out there, so, way to be specific, Lerangis. Second, they weren't all that far from the LIW site in Pepin, Wisconsin. The museum in Pepin, not the actual cabin of which I only have one picture and it contains me so I'm thinking maybe I won't post it:
That's Little House in the Big Woods for any non-fans who may have at least heard of the books. Though, sadly, the Big Woods aren't there any more. But wait, this is a BSC post not a Laura Ingalls Wilder post so I guess I have to move on.

To Minneapolis! Now, I don't remember much of Minneapolis. Walkways between buildings, right? I do remember this unusual sculpture:

(Quick note: some pictures may be backwards. I haven't quite figured out my scanner yet...)

It's part of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Apparently this sculpture has become quite the symbol of Minnesota. If I'm remembering correctly, it doesn't even look out of place in the sculpture garden. By the way, I think the garden is part of or somehow affiliated with the Walker Art Center (it's modern art, FYI). Maybe Claudia would've liked to visit? Or maybe a visit would've resulted in Claudia wearing spoons with glued-on cherries as earrings. Which would've looked completely ridiculous on anyone else.

Next up for the BSC is South Dakota. I'll have to depart from the BSC narrative again for a few minutes in order to talk about how great South Dakota is. Dawn (the current narrator) tells us that, when she thinks of South Dakota, she thinks of nothing. The implication is quite obviously that South Dakota sucks. Which it most certainly does not. Now, I'm generally a city person (not so much in South Dakota) but I think I can appreciate some nature-y stuff now and then and that is something SD has in abundance. The state has the Black Hills, Custer State Park, cool caves, mountains with presidents and Native American chiefs carved into them, and the Badlands!

Plus Wall Drug. Here's a little preview since they do get there:

(Don't worry, I'll use this same exact picture in the next BSC post.)

But that rant's coming. Stay tuned! (Or just tune in. Please?) I'd really hoped to finish Team North in one go but, due to some technical difficulties, that's just not happening. Stopping for now, hopefully back very soon to finish!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

BSC in the USA, Part the Second

Taking a break from my fascinating life, here we finally have the long-awaited second part of BSC in the USA. I'm sorry to say this'll probably be part two of three, mostly because of all the pictures that'll hopefully be coming up. Please cross your fingers or something to make that happen.

When we last visited Team South, the BSCers and Co. were just leaving Graceland. The next stop for them is Dalton, Mississippi, Jessi's destination. I have to say I find it a little hard to be snarky in this chapter. Jessi's destination was the plantation where she thinks her ancestors worked. Apart from the obvious reaction of 'what kind of eleven year old chooses to visit a plantation and what kind of parents does she have?' I kind of have to respect her wanting to learn more about her ancestors. I don't know much about mine, either, and I understand why she'd be curious. However, aside from a warning something along the lines of, "Uh, Jessi, there might be some, uh, difficult stuff there" from her grandmother, I don't think anyone prepared Jessi for what she might find. And the Dalton plantation had a museum with it with some pretty nasty stuff (pictures of lynchings, for example) and yet, no warning that maybe, just maybe the material would be tough for an eleven year old to handle? Not to mention, Jessi, Mal, and Abby were the only kids visiting. Maybe shoulda been a clue.

Anyway, Jessi meets a woman named Annie who's doing research at the plantation. She says her ancestors were slaves there, too and Jessi figures they must be related. In the part of the book I usually skip (the postcards and stuff at the end), Jessi writes to Annie and mentions that they may actually be related. Too bad we don't get Annie's response though in my head it's something along the lines of, "Leave me alone you crazy stalker. We aren't related. Please get a life. Love, Annie." One other thing about Jessi's visit: she didn't seem to know that slaves weren't allowed to read or write. I'm pretty sure I knew that long before sixth grade so learn your history! C'mon Jessi, being black is one of your two personality traits! Own it, girl.

Next stop after Dalton is Lester, Oklahoma, home of Watson's college roommate, Chet Romney. Watson and Chet (the roommate, obvs) hadn't seen each other in ten years and I'm still trying to figure out this timeline. Have they seen each other since college? If not, Watson would only be about 32. If so, well, Chet's wife just had a baby and Watson's kids are pretty young... meh, I don't care. Whatever. It's been a long time and they're visiting. Hooray.

So. Anyway, first up is lunch. A very large lunch. Reading about is making me just a little bit hungry... And then everyone decides to go to the bathroom together (well, this is a Lerangis book).

No, no, not like that (try explaining that to Andrew). Because the BSC can't go five minutes without being involved in something exciting or dangerous, there's a tornado. Of course there is. The Romneys don't have a basement or shelter or anything, despite living in Oklahoma, so it's into the bathroom they go. Something about the plumbing protecting the "young ones". Except Karen. She's given a long metal pole and sent onto the roof to play lightning rod. Unfortunately, that's only in the book in my head.

Picture taken in Oklahoma, of Texas. So, really, it's both states.

After a Wizard of Oz reference or two, the tornado is over and it's time to move on. Next stop: Ten Gallon, Texas home of the Walkin' Tall Rodeo. A quick Google search tells me that neither that place nor that event actually exists. Shame. So anyway, no one likes the rodeo. They last all of five seconds before leaving. Mal, Jessi, and Abby spend the whole time playing soul-sucking, murderer-inducing video games while David Michael rides a mechanical horse. Yup.

This one is all Texas. I must find/post more pictures. These aren't so great.

After that, it's on to New Mexico. Because everyone loves continuity, the travelers go out of their way to visit Zuni, the Native American reservation that had a penpal program with Stoneybrook Elementary. Anyone remember the one with Dawn and the sleepover? I think that was Lerangis's first book! So, yeah, the Zuni school burned down, Dawn rebuilt it single-handedly, and Kristy's family and co. went to collect Dawn's official Lifetime Achievement Award. Don't worry though, Dawn was able to get to Oslo to collect her Nobel Peace Prize.

Moving on. Karen's destination of choice was Four Corners, which, considering the Zuni detour, was no longer on the way. Being the brat that she is, Karen insisted on going there anyway and for once, I kind of don't blame her. Four Corners really is a fun place to visit (I've covered this on the blog before I wish I could find pictures of Four Corners, I know they're in my house somewhere! I may add them later.

The next stop for Team South is the Grand Canyon. This is Elizabeth's (or should I call her Mrs. Brewer) destination, despite Abby's best efforts to get Liz (easier, no?) to change. Why? The Grand Canyon was the favorite destination of Abby's father who was killed just before the family's scheduled Grand Canyon vacation. So naturally that makes it a bit difficult for Abby, though of course she doesn't say anything to anyone. Honestly? The whole thing is kinda sad so I'll focus on my visit to the Grand Canyon instead. Hooray! Everything is about me!

First of all, I visited the canyon in the summer, just like the BSC did. In fact, I'm guessing their visit was in August as mine was. It's my understanding that August tends to be a rainy month in Arizona; it was raining and COLD when I visited the Grand Canyon and, from what I've read/heard, that's pretty normal. Not so in this book.

Since this is all about me, I'll just mention that my experience getting to the canyon was just a little different from theirs. I flew in one of those tiny little planes from Las Vegas and over the canyon. Since I was six years old at the time, I either didn't think to say "HELL NO" or I just didn't have the option. I actually remember those flights pretty well (one there, one back, get it?) I know that each seat on the plane had a radio and I listened to the Spanish station. I think six year old me thought they might play La Bamba. I was wrong. I think I do remember the view out the window; I'm pretty sure it was kind of misty and so the canyon wasn't all that clear. What I know for sure is that I'll never do that again. Are we sick of me talking about me? I'll continue and possibly post pictures later, if I find them.

Ugh, I thought that was it for Team South but it turns out there's one more destination: Andrew's pick, the San Diego Zoo. Poor, forgotten Andrew... So, yeah. The San Diego Zoo. When they get there, who should the Brewers/BSCers run into but the annoying Hoyers from back in Virginia! So, basically, they all visit the zoo together and it's not terribly exciting. Andrew was especially looking forward to the pandas, one of which was due to give birth around the time of their visit. Unfortunately, no one knew that the panda was being sent back to China so that the baby could be native Chinese. Can't risk that panda running for president. While panda cubs have been born at the San Diego Zoo, it does make sense that this one was born in China. So we'll go with that. However, it turns out the panda hadn't left yet so everyone got to see the pandas after all (minus the Hoyer brat who complained and left early with her grandparents). Andrew seemed to not understand the difference between bamboo and chopsticks and I have to say, considering how dumb Andrew usually seems, I'm surprised he even made the whole chopstick connection. Congratulations Andrew, even though you said something stupid you aren't all that dumb.

Hey, I've been to the San Diego Zoo, too! And somewhere I must have pictures... but that's enough for now. I'm fading. And that's basically it for Team South. Northerners coming soon.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Little Bit Petrafied

My poor, neglected blog. I feel like I should post something, just to well, keep things going or something. So a quick (and hopefully painless) post it shall be. How am I going to do that? Well, I've come up with a new method for (some posts). Basically, I went to my "pictures" folder and clicked randomly until I managed to open a picture, taken by me, of a place I've visited. Here's the picture I ended up with:

This picture was taken at Petra, in Jordan. While I do plan to write a whole post on Petra, I'm much too tired for that now. And I have better pictures. So what can I say about this one? Well, not much actually. It's a ruin. It's very cool. It was disgustingly hot when I was there.

Okay, I'll talk about it just a little. If this post ends up not making sense, bear in mind I'm writing it at two in the morning. Petra, for anyone who might not know, is an ancient city in Jordan. It consists of sort of buildings built into rock (including this most famous one, the Treasury, which actually has nothing to do with money):

Recognize that from Indiana Jones?

There are also some more freestanding buildings (like the one above). Um, Petra is in a valley but it's mostly pretty open, if that makes sense. It's very sunny and someone got a bit sunburned and quite dehydrated there.

So, moral of the story? Don't go to Petra in July, if you can help it. If you do, wear a hat. And bring water. Be careful though, water does not stay cold.

Petra is, however, a really neat place to go. I really must try harder.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

New Blog and Loo of the Year

Since one blog I forget to update isn't enough, I now have another! This one's all about books. Check it out here:

Since I'm posting, maybe I should make time for a quick travel story. Okay, I'm too lazy to bother with a real story. Instead, a comment on the awesomeness that is Scotland. Did you know that they have a Loo of the Year award? Yes, an actual award honoring really nice bathrooms. I was lucky to find myself in two of the winners and, let me tell you, they deserved it. One was in a restaurant called The Green Welly. I don't think I have any pictures of the bathroom but I did take one of the sign:

The other winning bathroom was even nicer but sadly I don't have a picture of that one either. That was in a hotel on Loch Ness. I believe that hotel was also the home of the "official" Nessie gift shop. With that in mind, Loch Ness:

Friday, February 5, 2010

I Could Totally Live There (part 1)

While thinking about possible posts, I decided it would be fun to do a top ten list of sorts. In this case, ten houses (or castles or palaces, really) in which I wouldn't mind living. As it turns out, there are way too many to limit this to ten. So I'll just start with a few and go from there, every so often. Plus, it’s a huge pain to upload all the pictures.

Anyway, the keyword here is ostentatious. I'm really only talking about ridiculously grand, fabulous, waaay over-the-top places. And, since we're civilized here at Travel Rambling, there are a few rules:

1. These are all places I've been. And generally been inside. I may bend that part a little.

2. They must be habitable. As in, there must be a ceiling and enough walls to keep out rain/animals/ax-wielding psychopaths etc.

3. They have to at least be somewhat open to the public. No (currently) private houses.

4. All these places are or were meant to be lived in.

Okay, on with the list!

Number 1: Pena Palace, Sintra, Portugal

Since this amazing palace actually inspired this post, I figured it would be a good place to start. Located on a mountain in Sintra Portugal, this is one of the most bizarre looking buildings I've ever seen. It was built in the mid-19th century but I think there was a monastery on the site before the palace was built and that was somehow incorporated. The result is strange but really amazing. I honestly think the building looks like it belongs in a fairy tale or something. First, the exterior colors are varied and bright. Some of it's red, some yellow, and some blue and white tile. There are numerous towers built in various styles. Also, the thing is absolutely enormous. I don't think I could ever see the whole thing, let alone fit it all in a picture. Unfortunately, photography is prohibited inside but there are some pictures (worth seeing) on the Wikipedia page ( I can't seem to find any pictures of the part I liked best which consisted of rooms opening out into a courtyard.

Even better than the palace itself (maybe…) is the incredible view. I do have pictures of that:

Note the Moorish castle on the top of another hill. I’m not sure if the palace is as precarious as I remember it. I’m a little (or a lot) afraid of heights and walking around the walled perimeter was just a little bit scary. In fact, I think one woman in the group had to turn back. So, maybe avoid that part in bad weather.

Number 2: Versailles Palace, Versailles, France

(Yeah, that's just a corner...)

Sure, everyone knows Versailles, Louis XIV's palace in France. How could I not include it? It's not only huge and fancy but a symbol of the French monarchy. Located just outside Paris, Versailles would be an ideal home for someone who likes the suburbs. A little bit country, a little bit rock and roll city. Close enough to count.

What is there to say about Versailles that hasn’t been said? Well, the grounds are pretty fabulous:
Not to mention the interior:
And the front gates are pretty imposing. Good for scaring off the peasants who don’t travel in large packs (if that’s a concern).

For another, slightly less fancy royal chateau in France, try number 3:

Number 3: Fontainebleu Chateau, Fontainebleu, France

What’s there to say about Fontainebleu? Well, it’s big. It’s grand. It’s got a great front yard.
Fontainebleu’s setting is much more rural than Versailles’s is. If you’re royal and in need of a palace but would prefer a country setting, Fontainebleu would be a great choice.

Number 4: Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee

Graceland (where Elvis lived, remember?) is definitely worthy of a high rating on the Tack-O-Meter and therefore worth a mention here. Yes, the kitchen is carpeted. Since Graceland was already covered here (, I won’t go into detail.

I just have to say, it’s really tough to upload a lot of photos. If anyone knows of an easier/better way than the standard Blogger way, please let me know!