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The Train to Zagreb

Huge and modern Prague Train Station For the second time this trip, we caught a train. This time we headed for Zagreb in Croatia.  W...

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Home Again, Home Again

Am home again. Following my South Dakota post, we spent a night in Butte Montana. In the morning it was with great care we trod onto the motel walkway, as it was covered in snow and ice. We spent the day in a winter wonderland, or winter hell, depends on one's perspective. For Ila it was probably hell, as she was driving. The windshield wipers were coated with ice so didn't work well, and the car was totally snow covered. You would imagine that meant the car was fluffy & looked white, but as the snow wicked every scrap of dirt to the car's surface, we rolled along the highway in a crusty, mud brown Honda. Oh well! Am only glad it wasn't me behind the wheel. For lucky me, most of the day 'twas just a white blur of beautiful scenery.


Snowy welcome in Montana along the highway
This spectacle of wild swans was in North Dakota
We survived the snow and ended the day in Coeur D Alene, Idaho. We did a bit of sight seeing at some main street shops. I drove through the town maybe two decades ago, and did not recognize the town at all, it's grown so much.

What I did notice as the town's many art projects. First I noticed moose, everywhere. Moose on street corners.

There were arty moose on street corners

And even arty moose on balconys

The art that most captured my attention were located near the waterfront -feathers, of Osprey and Eagle. The giant metal feathers are near the waterfront and are called, The Guardians of the Lake.

Lovely giant Eagle Feather

Equally massive Osprey plumb, in repose

The next day - after taking the time to get car converted from filthy to shiny clean, we headed west through Washington state. I was at the wheel this time, so there were no Claire photos of the spectacular Mount Hood, an ancient volcano, kept us company on the drive.

We whizzed through Washington state, stopping in Portland, Oregon for a late lunch. There we serendipitously found a city block, lined by dozens of food concessions, most serving foreign fare.

You can probably find everyone in town here in the noon hour

You name a foreign food, and someone on this huge city block is probably selling it

There were trailers and booths serving Asian, North Indian, Slavic, German, Spanish and you-name-it, you can probably find someone serving it. Ila went for Thai, and I dove into a Japanese tray of treats. Afterwards I also bought one of my greatest guilty pleasures - a big 'ole tumbler of Bubble Tea.I love bubble tea! It's a sweet - that's the guilt bit for me - fruity mix with giant tapioca pearls, aka bubbles, floating around in it. You suck up the bubbles through a massively broad straw. Yum...

It was our last night on the road and we spent it in Roseburg, Oregon.


Roseburg, was much larger than it seemed at first. Stalwartly we drove around until we found a motel we decided to stay at. The clerk assigned us to a room, and as we parked in front of the door to our rented unit, we were filled with feelings of discomfort. Next to the room door, high up was a tiny little window. Ila & I shared a look of claustrophobic doom.

We sat in the car for several minutes, grousing about not wanting to feel 'imprisoned' in a teeny room. Just on the verge of just returning the key and getting our money back, I decided I might as well check out the room. Grumpily, I opened the door and went in.

Voila! The room was as claustrophobic as the Grand Canyon! The tiny window visible from the parking lot was the bathroom. Once inside, on the opposite wall was an immense picture window with a private balcony overlooking a beautiful garden, blooming next to - wait for it... wait for it... a river!  Couldn't imagine a prettier room or a sweeter setting. We realized our grumbling had more to do with Day Number Thirty-One on the road, than any room being too small. And it was a wonderful room to enjoy, for our final night on the road.

Our cross-counry trek is at an end.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Theodore Roosevelt National Park




I've long known that Theodore Roosevelt, my conservation hero, spent time on a ranch in the Badlands of the Dakotas.  So I was ready for a mini-adventure when Ila and I, on our way west, exited the freeway for a little tour of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.






First up we hit the Visitor Center where a lady Ranger gave us the lay out of the Park, and such. Before we left we got a few souvenirs (and you know I got my National Park stamp & cloisonne pin). Then we did a quick tour of the center museum which is dedicated to a former Bully pres.

Rough Rider, President and Frontiersman, yet born in NYC, just like me

Teddy and his mount in Popsicle sticks. Um... maybe not Popsicle sticks, but they are sticks
 Just outside the back of the visitor center is an old, 'Maltese Cross Cabin'.  The cabin was Theodore's first digs when he lived the life of a Dakota cowboy.

The cabin seemed rather small to me, but it not only had separate rooms and a pitched roof  - you may take time to express your astonishment & envy here - but it also had - prepare yourself - wooden floors. Teddy's digs was quite the upscale mini-mansion of its day.

The Maltese cabin was the mini-mansion cabin in its day.




The craziest fact about this little cabin is while Teddy Roosevelt was president, it was put on display in Portland, Oregon and in St. Louis, Missouri & it 'lived' for a while in Bismarck, North Dakota. Wasn't until the 1950s that it was returned to its present site & was renovated. Bully cabin!



Today this preserved cabin contains many items that Teddy once owned and used. I was particularly taken by the tiny desk. Loved its cunning elk antler inkwell.












After a quick sweep through the visitor center & environs, we headed out to see the park. I was in the driver's seat and got us a little lost to start. Yes, you could stuff me in a barrel and I'd not be able to find my own foot, but there you go. Soon we perused the snowy scenery where we spotted the odd herd of bison in the badlands.  It was 1883 when Teddy first hunted bison in these very hills.



The scenic drive through the park wend its way past the Little Missouri River Bottom lands which is still dotted with winter snows.

There were a couple of spots along the road where acres of prairie dogs all poofy in their winter coats, barked and ran around, looking kind of adorable in their snow covered towns.


Prairie Dog Colony spread across the valley floor

Prairie Dog

Doesn't quite look all that 'badlands' to me.

The Little Missouri River runs through these bottomlands

Our first view of the Peaceful Valley Ranch and the only remaining original farmhouse in the valley. The Peaceful Valley complex was empty during our visit, except for tourists like us. In the summer however, trail rides are possible. 

The old farmhouse built around 1887

One of the historic buildings at the ranch, either the stables or the cowshed

Following our tour of the park, we stopped at a little shop in the tiny town of Medora, just outside the park. After a purchasing a few items to contribute to the local economy, we stopped at local pub. We had a tasty lunch of elk burgers and even chatted a bit with a few of the locals.

The little town of Medora
Medora is a small town that is dependent on its summer population of tourists. Aside from the National Park at its doorstep, it also has the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame.




The Cowboy Hall of Fame is closed just now, but I could still admire its architecture. Loved the bronze dioramas on the sides of the building. On the left a cowboy urges a herd of wild steer forward. To the right, a mounted Indian brave rides after an evasive bison bull; one of the original rough riders.





So, in review, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is an under sung outpost in the wilds of the badlands. My photos do not do all of its scenery justice. Here's a dawn photo of the park when it's not snowed under; magical & not my photo.


Gorgeous, right? Hope to get back there sometime and see the northern unit of the park. Oh, and although the bison we saw were in the distance, on our way out of the park, we passed two different bison on the highway roadside, but for a few feet would have been rooting in our snack bag in the back seat, they were that big & that close!




And last, but not least, much later in the day, after leaving Teddy behind, we went off highway a bit to checkout Pompey's Pillar, a National Monument hosted by the BLM.  Like many things early in the tourist season, the park was closed, not to hikers, but to lazy drivers who don't want to take the hour or two to hike out to the monument.  Guess what? That is 'moi'.


No bother! We could view the Pompey's Pillar in the distance as seen below. Here's the facts: In 1806 the Lewis & Clark party arrived at the site. William Clark carved his initials & the date on the rock.  In his journals, Clark named the rock after Sacajawea's baby boy,Jean Baptiste, whom he nicknamed 'Pompey'.

So that's the story of how a famous explorer joined the ranks of graffiti artists who get a pass because they are famous.Well, that's how I see it!

Pompey's Pillar reminded me of photos of Ayer's Rock in Australia

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Go West Miss Thang!

Drive by scenery in Wisconsin

The past two days of westward travel took near as much strength, determination and grit as it took our early American pioneers. Ok, that is if you ignore that we actually sat in comfort, in a warm car, and with loads of food. OK, OK, traveling the past two days was a cake walk, but it had its moments.

Wisconsin 'Cheese-land' Farm
The most traumatic and inconsequential was in some tiny Wisconsin town, when during lunch at a Chinese buffet as I pondered the sushi bar, I felt a tap on my shoulder. An embarrassed looking guy gingerly told me, "Ma'am, you uh... there's... uh.. there's toilet paper hanging off your... uh... 'rear'".

Rats! It was toilet paper from the Wal-Mart rest room I'd visited earlier. The stall there was of questionable sanitation, and I'd piled paper high upon the seat and brought a banner of it with me. I almost dropped my tray as I jerked loose the streamer from my slacks. I thanked the gentleman profusely for shortening the bit of time I was standing around looking like a hapless jerk. I bet pioneers didn't have to put up with that kind of hardship. They too probably whined about their little so-called 'incidents',  "A rattlesnake bit my rear while I was hoovering it over a rock behind that cactus yonder."  Wah! The wimps.

Yeah, we had to put up with a lot on our drive through the midwest. There was snow, and for no good reason at all, I'm subjecting you to an entire minute 12 seconds of it. Experience the wilderness of Wisconsin in my comfy  shoes! 




A snowy little corner in Alexandria, Minnesota


We spent on night Oh Claire... I mean, Eau Claire Wisconsin. Then into and through Minnesota.

We stopped in a cute little town for a lunch of Walleye Pike for Ila and prime rib *burp* for me. And we there we visited a cute book shop and yet another yarn store to feed the fiber fever. 
 





We reached North Dakota yesterday, where we spent an hour or so exploring Fargo, which Ila was particularly keen to visit. I acted all, 'You've seen one vast wasteland of the Dakotas, you've seen them all', because I visited it briefly a couple of years ago. However, this visit taught me that what I had actually done two years ago was visit one infinitesimally tiny corner of Fargo, and stupidly assumed I'd seen the entire HUMONGOUS spread out town - nope, I had not.

Little Park in not-so-tiny town of Fargo, North Dakota
Strange life forms of Fargo

Save for the snow and meal stops, the drive has been unconsequential since we left Michigan. But I think my favorite time has been mornings, when herds of White-tailed Deer can be seen grazing on in the pastures along the highway. I spotted a Bald Eagle one morning, not my first for the year, but memorable none-the-less. Oh, and on Saturday evening I enjoyed driving through Wisconsin while listening to A Prairie Home Companion. Not that that particular was great or anything, but listening to it after having driven past a Lake Woebegon exit on the Minnesota highway, was... magical.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Yip, Yip, Yp'silanti!

Susan and her back-up crew
Hurrah! Nothing like spending a day with friends one hasn't seen since in a decade or so. We started the day with yummy breakfast omelets prepared by Le Chef, Jamin. Then Susan led her faithful pack of dogs - Jet & Flash -  and friends - Ila and 'moi' - on a little tour of her neighborhood.

Susan & Jamin have lived in their neighborhood for more than 20 years. They love it so much, after setting their sites on a house to better accommodate themselves they chose a one only a few blocks away. The search for a new house in the same neighborhood took them 3 years. Their new house sure looks like it was worth the wait. It has lots of room for all & a huge back yard. Early in the day, after my shower, I happily 'spied' on Susan down in her yard, working with her dog Jet, who works for food and a little pat.

The neighborhood walk was fun. Susan showed us the local homes and stories attached to them, and even showed us their old house. Later, after lunch Susan took us for a little drive around Yipsilanti and nearby Ann Arbor.

Love this historic Ypsilanti house - looks like the Bates Motel house from Psycho, doesn't it?
Yipsilanti Water Tower








A local historic spot of Freudian implications is the Ypsilanti Tower, seen above. As you can read on the sign, the construction of the tower began in the 19th century but its use only ended in 1975. Sounds like the town got sufficient bang for its bucks.
 
Popular Ann Arbor Museum
Downtown Ann Arbor
There was loads to see in the Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor and I'm sure I've forgotten most of it, but not how much fun it was to sink into the passenger seat and just enjoy the commentary.  I'm nearly certain in a former life, I would have been the spaniel with my head out the window and tongue lolling.

After our tour, the day's activities weren't over yet. We all enjoyed a delish & nutrish dinner (again, complements to Jamin), pooches and humans bundled into cars and braving the Michigan rains, went to watch Susan & Jet at agility training.

I have always wished there were agility classes back when I had my whippet, Chiquilla. Therefore it was wonderful to actually attend, albeit as a spectator, a real class. The class participants, ignoring the non-furry kind, were an ensie, and remarkably fearless chihuahua, a Jack Russel Terrier (or as Jamin put it, 'Jack Russel Terrorist'), an Aussie shepherd, a black Lab. Oh, and I won't forget Jet's brother 'Dash' who with his owner, who coincidentally is also named Susan, was also in the class. I got lots of photos, but here is a video of one of Susan & Jet's runs, which is worth a thousand still photos.


Doggie class aside, I was so impresssed with Susan & Jamin's care of their dogs. Flash is 14 years old now and pretty mellow, but Jet impressed me as being quite a handful. Yet, both Jamin & especially Susan, showed endless patience in providing their girl with a great home & an interesting doggie life. If I had that kind of patience, diligence & skill, I could train a cobra to balance a mouse on its nose. 

Although our visit was just one day, I totally enjoyed being with ever gracious hosts, Susan and Jamin.  I hope to visit them again within a year or two. Here's a day dream: I would love to visit in the Spring & haul Susan north with me to view courting Kirkland's Warblers. Been meaning to do that for the past two decades. Here's to that little dream coming true!

Jamin, Jet, Flash and Susan posing for me in front of their fireplace

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Over the Falls, No Barrel Required



Adorable fact: as you drive into Buffalo, NY, you see big, ole, shiny metal buffaloes. And, as if that isn't cute enough, there are even wee, red, metal buffalo calves. I didn't even know the calves are there until I reviewed the photos I took as we shot over the highway ramps.

Ila and I didn't stop in Buffalo, we were headed for the one time honeymoon capital of planet Earth: Niagara Falls. Born & raised in New York, I've never been there so it's been a landmark day for me.



The whole set up is interesting; you park in a big lot, then walk through the Orin Lehman Visitor Center (whomever the heck Lehman was).

The Orin Lehman Visitor Center
Inside the Visitor Center
Inside the Visitor Center is an information desk, loads of exhibits, a Imax type theater on the falls, massive gift shops and the like. Finally you go downstairs and enter a park, on your way to the falls.

View of park; the white is the river, headed to the falls, thataway--->

The great Niagara Falls, the American side
Awesome falls and LOUD; a roaring that is accompanied by the cries a thousand gulls that loiter at the base of the falls. The buildings on the other side of the river are Canada. Concerning Canada, therein lies a story...

Prior to this trip, it was decided we would visit Niagara Falls on the trip home. Knowing that, we knew we needed passports. Well, I have one, but for the life of me, I couldn't find it. Suspect I stuffed it 'some place safe' then forgot where that safe place is. We decided to try going over to the Canadian side of the falls anyway, and therein laid an adventure.

View of rainbow at foot of falls - pot of gold is guarded by Irish gulls
At the Canadian border, we made it past the American guards & their drug sniffing dogs easily. When we finally made it to the Canadian border gate, I was chewed out by the guard lady in her kiosk. "Why should I let you in with only a driver's license for identification!" she snarled at me. Thought I, "Because I an old bat like me couldn't pull off an act of terrorism even if I had TNT wired to my panties?" Thank heavens I didn't say that out loud. Long story short, after being ordered to pull over to Canadian offices where I was again scolded again, we were granted entry. Hurrah!

The Falls as seen from the Canadian side
Another Canadian view
Parking on the Canadian side of the falls cost $10! Must admit the view was even more spectacular, and a bit quieter than on the American side of Niagara.

We took some time to stroll around the shore front, then we were off, headed for Michigan, overland through Canada. The scenery was flat open farmland and to my amazement, the speed limit was 100kph, which for the shocked is only 62mph. I reckoned, if a Canadian crashes, its the government that has to paste them back together again, hence, the slower speeds.

A few hours later we reached the US/Canadian border and it was time for us to go through the mill again, as I hadn't exactly acquired a passport on the journey from Niagara. This time, it was a tough border guard guy who enjoyed himself giving me the third degree and scolding me like a naughty tot.
Again, we had to pull over, park and enter an American border office where yet another officer proceeded to give me the third degree.

Remarkably, we really didn't have to wait too long for the officer to look up the records, see that yes indeedy, I have a passport, even if I haven't a clue to its current whereabouts. We got to enter Michigan!

We were on our way to Ypsilanti, and along the way we were hit with the worse rain storm I've experience since a trip to Minnesota a few years ago. The rain came down in buckets. I relaxed, concentrated on the road and soon we were maneuvering through Ypsilanti via GPS, where we were greeted by my old friend Susan, who, with her signif. other Jamin, were sweet enough to let me come visit and even bring along friend Ila. Seeing Susan and Jamin is an immense treat and we get to visit with each other all day tomorrow. Joy!

More on our visit tomorrow. Meanwhile, here is a noisier glimpse of Niagara Falls.