Arizona Vacation Safety – Stay AWARE to Stay SAFE

Why? To save yourself grief. And pain. ENSURE your Arizona vacation safety. Learn about safety issues NOT found in the travel brochures or vacation websites.You see, when on vacation in Arizona there are a few things that one should be aware of when visiting here. These are the type of things that you won’t read about in those slick brochures you find in the travel agent’s office.These are the only things that one will learn about by living here for an extended period of time.Let’s face it. It’s a real downer to not have a safe vacation. It’s not fun to spend a night in the local emergency room with the kids when they get sick from eating some bad local food or have an accident. Not fun indeed.But, these vacation safety tips I’m going to share are not about the infrequent accidents that do happen on vacation. The vacation safety tips I’ll be sharing here involve things that are totally preventable.As long as one is aware of them first.So, let’s get started with vacation safety tips that’ll help you have a safer vacation here in Arizona.1. The first of these vacation safety tips is for you to be aware of where you go when you’re vacationing in Phoenix. Phoenix is a big place and like most big cities it has areas of the city that are not too upscale.Now, what are you to do about this?Well, just realize that there are certain places within a big city like Phoenix that one should be extra careful about visiting.If you find yourself in a part of town that has a lot of run-down houses, properties with garbage strewn around them, and abandoned cars parked along the streets – then common sense should tell you that these neighborhoods are not too safe.Trust that instinct. I’d suggest you find other areas of the city to visit or drive around.You see, Phoenix has, in my opinion, a high crime rate.I moved here from Canada twelve years ago. What truly shocked me when I moved here was that Phoenix had more murders occur in two months than where I used to live had in a year. And I lived in, at the time, the ‘murder capital of Canada’.So, just do yourself a favor with this vacation safety tip and stay aware of your surroundings. If it doesn’t look like a good place to be – it probably isn’t.Trust your gut and get out of there.2. The second of these vacation safety tips involves somewhat of a local health issue. I’ll explain…The entire metropolitan Phoenix area is located within a large valley. It’s surrounded by mountains and mountain ranges. And within this valley is a certain type of ‘bug’ that lives in the soil.Actually, this bug issue is similar to most other country’s bugs (e.g. Canada’s Beaver Fever bug, Mexico’s ‘don’t drink the water’ type bug) because it’s a bug indigenous to Arizona.And what does this bug do? It wreaks havoc on a persons health when a vacationing visitor is infected with it. In our case, this bug causes what is known as Valley Fever.And how does one get infected with Valley Fever? By breathing in the microscopic spores that make up this nasty bacteria.And what does this bacteria do to a person when breathed in? Well, it can cause flu-like symptoms that grow all the way up to pneumonia, internal bleeding, and very, very rarely… death (gulp).Now, I’m NOT trying to scare you. So don’t go cancelling your vacation plans to Phoenix……Because we need your sales tax revenues.You see, this Valley Fever bug usually only becomes a problem when a person who hasn’t had Valley Fever comes in contact with it.And a person comes in contact with it by breathing the bug in.And the bug is found in soils that are not old and dried out, but rather soils that are newly disturbed.So, how can you protect yourself with regards to this vacation safety tip? Easy.Do all you can to stay away from soil disturbing activities.* Like to visit new construction sites on your vacations?* Like to do local gardening?* Like to take up archaeology as a hobby when you’re on vacation?One word of advice… DON’T.Essentially, don’t go digging around places or near digging activities that you shouldn’t be around. At least not while on vacation here in Phoenix.I know, I know, why would you go on one of your southwest vacations in Arizona just to dig in the soil, right? Silly me.Well, just so you know. I got Valley Fever the first year I moved here. It progressed on to walking pneumonia and left scars on my lungs. I was lucky that that’s all that happened to me.And what was I doing to be exposed to the bug? Just some simple landscaping in my desert landscaped yard.See? It doesn’t take much.So, just do your vacation planning while keeping this vacation safety tip in mind. Let’s not have you getting sick on us. Okay?3. The last of these vacation safety tips applies to most of Arizona. This one is about bugs too. But this is about a different type of bug.The real thing…Scorpions and Black Widows.Why is this one of our vacation safety tips? Because these little critters can be a nasty safety issue when you vacation here and get bitten by one of them.You see, these two bugs are extremely common here in the state. Not quite as common as cockroaches, but almost. Why? Because it’s a desert here and they’re desert creatures.They like the heat and they like dark cozy places. So, when you vacation Arizona just be aware that these little critters do like to live in places that the kids may go probing around in. Don’t let them do that.Keep probing hands away from dark crevices both inside and outside the house, rental, villa, hotel or apartment.And if someone does get bit, err on the side of caution and call the local poison control center ASAP and ask for help.Oh, and by the way, unlike the Hollywood horror movie depictions, these bugs are NOT half the size of a horse. They’re SMALL. Black widows are maybe half an inch long. And scorpions get ‘as big as’ two inches. But… scorpions are FAST. And both can HURT you big time.So, please ensure vacation safety for your family. Stay away from places these critters habitate. And when you get up in the dark in the middle of the night to get a drink of water – wear slippers. Just in case.So, to sum up…Don’t get paranoid about these vacation safety tips.Go vacation.Have fun. Just keep your eyes open to possible vacation safety concerns. Simple, right?.Anyway, I hope these vacation safety tips prove helpful to you. Do have a safe trip here to Arizona. Just improve your vacation safety by ensuring you remember these vacation safety tips I’ve shared with you.Good luck.

Cobra Motor Scooters

When you go to check out the brand selection at any mainstream motor scooter retailer you will find only the most well known names, which is, for most consumers, beneficial because then you know the scooter you are buying is from a reliable company that can back up their product. Of these well know motor scooter manufacturers is Cobra, a company that produces and sells all varieties of motor scooters. The chances are high that you have seen a Cobra motor scooter at sometime while shopping around.The Cobra company also manufacturers Vento motor scooters which are another popularly bought product for the average scooter driver. The Vento scooters from Cobra are mostly made for commuter usage around large cities. The designs typically feature a two passenger style, similar to what many people know as mopeds. At any motor scooter retailer there is likely to be a variety of colors on each model, though you may not find the color and model you want together, but buying online guarantees that you can get the color and design you prefer.Cobra scooters also have several models under their name, such as the Cobra Gas Commuter, which is a fairly new released motor scooter. At most web sites this scooter sells for just under $600. The Commuter model is intended for driving through downtown areas, inner city areas and short distances around neighborhoods. Because this scooter model was designed to be used as an alternate vehicle, Cobra included several features that improve the quality of the ride. One beneficial feature is the front and rear shock absorbers that help compensate on slightly rough roads. Maximum speed on the Cobra Commuter is estimated at 30 mph.

A version down of the Cobra Commuter is the Cobra Gas 2 Stroke. Most of the features are the same, but the engine is slightly reduced and maximum speed decreases about 5 mph. Though it is a bit smaller version the weight capacity, set at 385 lbs, can still carry two people.Cobra also has several models of electric motor scooters, such as their Strike Pro Electric Scooter. The twist grip variable speed on this model allows you to go up to 17 mph. Although this Cobra electric scooter is a traditional standing scooter there is a special casing that holds and protects the battery and electric motor. The electric motor on the Cobra is more efficient that many other brands in that it runs for approximately 2000 cycles while others are generally at 800 cycles.One of the newest Cobra motor scooters is their Extreme Cobra Off-road model. The two stroke engine on this model lets you speed off-road, but not without the help of the extra wide wheels. The wheels on the Extreme Cobra measure 38 in. by 15 in. whereas other street use motor scooters have about 12 in. wheels. The larger wheels provide a greater surface area where the scooter is making contact with the ground, and this is helpful when driving on uneven, rough terrain. The wheels on the Extreme allow for better balance, traction and steering capabilities.

Meet Me In St. Louis

Go West, Back In Time

Venture on the Shores of MississippiIntrinsically woven through time, the old and the new, St. Louis abounds with rich color, flavor and taste. Whether you are passing through on historical Highway 66, or visiting on business, St. Louis will whet your appetite for more. More rich, mouth-watering entrees. From southern to soulful. Satiate your appetite with historical finds like Lewis & Clark. Top it off with dozens of cultural and sporting events.Grab your walking shoes, sunscreen, bottled water and camera. You can walk through the botanical gardens, ride on a horse drawn carriage or fly in a vintage aircraft.The Gateway Arch is an inverted, three-sided catenary curve, gleaming, historical monument which commemorates Lewis & Clark’s expeditions. A quick four minute tram ride to the top gives a spectacular view of the city and the mighty Mississippi River. America’s freedom and explorations into Western Territory are methodically illustrated here. Underneath the Arch is the Museum of Westward Expansion featuring 100 years of human history with murals depicting scenes along Lewis & Clark’s “journey of discovery.” Dozens of national treasures including handwritten journals, maps, equipment and other artifacts are displayed here.After the advent of the steamboat, St. Louis grew into a thriving river city. Then came the railroad and in the 1930’s an ambitious local movement led to the purchase by the Federal Government of a large riverfront area and plans were begun for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Due to its industrial and engineering capacity, St, Louis emerged as a leader in aviation and automotive production after World War II and the Korean War.

St. Louis began as a fur-trading outpost on the site of what is now called Laclede’s Landing. Named after the French fur trapper Pierre Laclede who began the first settlement, The Landing, is an interesting assortment of shops, galleries, offices and restaurants. At night it comes alive with music and entertainment; Blues, Jazz, Opera, Cabaret, Symphony and Rock ‘n Roll can be heard on the streets.Music, dance and theatre are plentiful in and around the city. St. Louis launched many talented actors, musicians and writers. Playwright Tennessee Williams lived in St. Lois, as did poets T.S. Eliot and Maya Angelou. Actors; Betty Grable, Vincent Price and Buddy Ebson from the Golden Age, to current favorites, John Goodman and Kevin Kline have all called St. Louis home. From comedy and drama, to Shakespeare, a cultural experience is offered for any age. (www.explorestlouis.com) (One Lewis & Clark Trail

Hartford, IL 62048, Phone: (618) 251-5811, URL: [http://www.campriverdubois.com]) Museum of Westward Expansion, Under the Gateway Arch, St. Louis, MO 63102, Phone: (314) 655-1700, URL: http://www.nps.gov/jeff/index.htm)Sports & RecreationThe International Bowling Museum stands proudly adjacent to Busch Stadium endowing the public with a century of history and colorful memorabilia. This is the only bowling museum in the world and offers more than 5,000 years of bowling history.A team of archeologists from the University of Pisa, Italy, found the oldest bowling alley in a city called Medinet Madi. The Italian team has unearthed an open structure dating back to the Ptolemaic age. The floor is composed of a single large block of limestone with a groove 10 cm deep and 20 cm wide. In the middle there is a 12 cm-square hole. They also found two balls of polished limestone, one of which fits the groove and the other the square hole. The structure is like no other found in the ancient world.

Earlier versions of pins are on display at the museum.Until medieval period, sports were steeped in pagan rituals. Denounced by priests, a ban was placed on bowling in 1443 and 1447, and was permitted again in 1468. Bowling was popular at festivals, dances, and baptisms with variations. One variation of bowling is Quilles De Neuf (ninepins).

Bowling was first mentioned in Rip Van Winkle, by Washington Irving.

Pinsetters in the 19th century earned .03 to .05 cents per line. The sport prospered in the 1930’s and ‘40’s. The poor image was upgraded by the 3 A’s; automation, architecture and air conditioning. In the 1950’s, television turned regular people into heroes. The Women’s Professional Hall of Fame is on the third level. And on the lower level, a bowling lane is set up for visitors and enthusiasts to enjoy a few frames with their admission. (Across from Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO 63102, Phone: (314) 231-6340)Shared HeritageA candy apple red convertible given to Mark McGwire, has been donated to the city and is on the display in the St. Lois Cardinals Hall of Fame Museum. A plethora of leather worn gloves, home-run tattered bats and printed tickets adorn the glass cases. Young and mature athletes started their careers in St. Louis and leave behind a legacy. Heroes were made from honest, hardworking down-home lads who have a passion for baseball.Sports are an obsession in St. Louis with active sports centers, loyal fans and professional athletes. St. Louis is home to: Cardinals (baseball), the hockey Blues, and the NFL Rams. St. Louis is one of the few cities to host the summer Olympics, 1906, in conjunction with the World’s Fair. The U.S. Senior Open draws crowds from every state in the union. A single admission price of $6.00 for adults and $4.00 for children ages 5 to 12 covers the entry fee for both the baseball and bowling museums. A joint museum/stadium tour ticket costs only $9.50 for adults and $7.50 for kids. The museum is open daily from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., Monday through Saturday and noon until 5:00 p.m. on Sunday. Hours are extended to 6:30 p.m. before Cardinal home night games.Plenty for KidsForest Park offers a Zoo, (www.grantsfarm.com), (www.purinafarms.com), Art Museum, Science Center, History Center, skating and more, at little or no cost for the little ones. Petting farms, botanical gardens and butterfly gardens (www.butterflyhouse.org) also bring young ones up close, presenting educational opportunities as much as fun! Wild rides, cool waves and family fun at Six Flags St. Louis. The Spirit of Thrills! (www.sixflags.com) Explore rivers, caves (caves will be in another article) and wine, Mount Pleasant Winery , 5634 High St. , Augusta, MO 63332, Phone: (636) 482-WINE

Toll-Free: (800) 467-WINE, URL: http://www.mountpleasant.com as you tour charming villages from Louisiana Purchase territory, vintage Cathedrals and unique historic towns. Visit Mark Twain’s historic boyhood home, museum and a live imitation, in Hannibal. Cruise on nostalgic riverboats.

Picturesque, sun-drenched rolling hills can be toured by bike, skates, car or canoe, Trailnet – Hiking and Biking Trails, Various Trail Locations, St. Louis, MO 63125, Phone: (314) 416-9930, URL: http://www.trailnet.orgOld Chain of Rocks Bridge, on of the world’s longest pedestrian and biking bridges and a Route 66 landmark, offers breathtaking view, with occasional spottings of bald eagles.Another roadside attraction is the Wax Museum, in LaClede’s Landing. More than 150 life-size wax mannequins dressed in period costumes, depict their culture, our history. Beware of the shop of horrors in the basement.

The noble Budweiser Clydesdales are the most recognizable symbols of Anheuser-Busch. Known for their size, strength and beauty, they can be seen at the flagship brewery of Anheuser-Busch. Witness state of the art technology and historic architecture at the corporate office and brewery; open for tours daily, year round. Anheuser-Busch Brewery Tours and Gifts, I-55 & Arsenal St., St. Louis, MO 63118, Phone: (314) 577-2626, URL: http://www.budweisertours.comShopping, golf, theatre, dance, music, museums, sports, day trips, fine dining and recreation are abundant and worthy for the whole family in St. Louis, Missouri.

Enjoying Really Good Cigars

When you imagine cigars being smoked does the image of seasoned, robust, and wealthy foreign men sitting around with brandy swishing in their snifters come to mind? That is probably not an uncommon image, but it is not accurate for this modern age of cigar connoisseurs.These days it would not be surprising to find a group of women in a cigar shop. More commonly there will be men. It could be men from every walk of life, every income bracket, and any age all enjoying cigars. And you thought all cigar smokers were alike? No more than all cigars are alike. That idea would actually offend many people in the right circle.Obviously there are your run-of-the mill cigars. There are also cigars that are costly, aromatic, and have a life all their own. In researching the time and consideration that goes into creating the latter type of elite cigars you might be amazed that the process is quite similar to that of wine production. The finest cigars begin with the tobacco plant from which it originates. The grading moves forward to encompass where it is grown and when it is harvested. The truly great cigars end with it totally mattering if a master handler is at the wheel for the curing process.Cost for the primo cigars will vary greatly. Taste will also vary. People who have humidors in their home might be true connoisseurs but anyone who appreciates a good smoke can benefit from the variations available. Both cost and taste are affected greatly by the care and attention master tobacco handlers provide. Knowing when and how many times to turn the tobacco leaves is an essential part of the totality of a great cigar. There is a true gift to knowing when the leaves have sweated properly.The leaves are graded and separated. Each grade level produces different taste and cost of cigars. Many specialty shops throughout the United States offer cigars in all sizes and grades to the public. And in a society where smoking in public has fast become an invasion of air space these shops offer a place to smoke. Enjoying really good cigars indoors with other people around you is not a far-reaching dream.

The Essential Normandy – 8 Must-See Venues

To fully understand Normandy, one has to visit more than WWII sites and museums. To experience this region and understand its history and culture, one should visit these eight venues:1. Honfleur- This picturesque little port village has been a magnet for artists for years, including the French impressionists. The cobblestone streets of the town and the old basin full of sailboats are especially gorgeous. One can visit the many shops and galleries, and there are excellent restaurants nearly everywhere. There are several museums and unique old wooden churches to see as well.A drive of about a half-hour to Deauville and Trouville is also worth the effort. Walk the famous boardwalk in Deauville, which has hosted the annual American Film Festival for years, and observe the interesting architecture of the huge beach houses, unique in Europe. On the way to or from Deauville, stop at a cider/calvados tasting location. Several are marked along the road. Grapes are not grown in Normandy to make wine, as the local beverages are made mostly from apples or sometimes pears. The cider is fizzy and has only about one-third the alcohol of wine. It goes well with a local favorite, moules-frites (mussels and fries). Calvados is brandy made from apples. Speaking of food, Normandy is famous for its dairy products, and you’ll no doubt sample the butter (this is one of the few places in France where one is encouraged to butter bread) and cheeses, especially the three Normands (“les trois Normands”) camembert, pont l’eveque, and livarot.2. Caen- This city was rubble after the bombings of WWII. The Caen Memorial is easily the best of the WWII museums. There are many WWII museums throughout Normandy, and some are almost tacky, with only a handful of old pictures and a few old uniforms and medals. This one is first class and tells the story of the events leading up to WWII and the Battle of Normandy. The film is also first rate and shows the American and German sides preparing for the invasion and then after the battles began. There is also a display honoring Nobel Peace Prize winners. One can easily spend half a day at this museum. Downtown Caen is also very pleasant, especially the pedestrian street with its many shops and cafes. One can also visit the chateau, constructed by William the Conqueror, and several impressive abbeys and churches.3. Bayeux- This city was not badly damaged in WWII as the Germans retreated to defend Caen. The cathedral is imposing and is among the top gothic cathedrals in France. The main attraction in the town, however, is the famous Bayeux Tapestry. This remarkable work, commissioned shortly after the conquests of England in 1066, tells the story of William the Conqueror and the Battle of Hastings. It was originally meant to hang in the cathedral. It is only 19 inches high, but it’s length is 203 ft. It is remarkably well preserved. Be sure to see the film, and rent an audio player to use while viewing the tapestry to get the most out of your visit.4. Omaha Beach/American Cemetery- For Americans, this is hallowed ground. People from other countries, Canada and Britain, for example, might prefer to visit the sectors of their soldiers, such as Sword, Gold and Juno beaches which are several miles to the east. There are numerous British, Canadian, German, and other cemeteries throughout Normandy as well. I was originally not excited to visit the American cemetery, thinking it would be a deflating experience. However, when one sees the fabulous white marble headstones and the meticulously kept grounds (the grounds are owned and maintained by the U.S. government) it is clear that there is huge respect for our fallen countrymen. To understand what these men did and the ultimate sacrifice they made in France makes one proud. The largest of the two American cemeteries at Colleville-sur-Mer looks directly over Omaha Beach. (The other is at St. James, farther to the west, and is also worth a visit, although not many people go there. It’s about half the size of Colleville and unique in its own way). Leaving the parking lot at Colleville, one can see a small monument to the American 1st Infantry Division, the Big Red 1, which was responsible for that sector on D-Day. This is also worth a quick visit.The best way to truly understand what happened at Omaha is to take a tour with an expert. We have used the services of Col. Oliver Warman, British Army Retired. Col. Warman will take you to places must tours don’t visit, and he has intimate stories about what took place there on D-Day, when several thousand American soldiers lost their lives (the official figure is in the hundreds). He’ll take you from the hills overlooking the beaches down to the beaches themselves and explain how effective the German defenses were, especially the 12 machine gun nests that spanned Omaha.5. Arromanches- It was here that a huge artificial floating port was erected. The Germans knew the Allies would need a large port, and all of those in France were heavily defended. The sections of the port were constructed in England and were floated across the English channel just after D-Day. The museum has an excellent model of the port and a good film. There is also a 360 degree theater on the hill overlooking the town. This film is one of my favorites, and it show scenes of the area, both during the Battle of Normandy and then contrasted with how they look today.6. Pointe du Hoc- At this strategic location American Rangers scaled the cliff walls on D-Day. There are bomb craters everywhere, destroyed German bunkers, and one gets a feeling of how difficult the fighting must have been. There were many casualties, and the Americans were almost driven back over the cliffs, but for some still unknown reason the Germans pulled the big guns back from the point to the rear. These were found unguarded by an American patrol, and they were quickly destroyed. If you take a tour with Col. Warman, as described above, he can take you here as well, and his perspective and stories about this location are more than worth the price.7. Utah Beach- I was surprised to learn that the fighting here was much less intense than at Omaha, and the number of casualties here on D-Day was low, only about 15 KIA before noon. It is, however, a big part of the American D-Day story and therefore worth some time. The museum is reasonably good as well, and the grounds, again owned and maintained by the U.S. government, are well kept.8. Mont St. Michel- This spectacular setting on the border between Normandy and Brittany is one of the most popular tourist locations in Europe. The island village is dominated by the cathedral at the top. At certain times of the year the tides are high enough to surround the island by the sea. If possible, spend a night on the island itself, and you’ll have a chance to wander around without the normal crowds. The shops are mostly tourist traps, but Mont St. Michel is worth a day. There are hikes and horse-back excursions one can take as well.The above general itinerary goes from east to west and will take nearly a week. There are of course other venues in Normandy to visit. The eight listed above, however, will give you a fulfilling experience, and upon completion you’ll be able to say that you have truly experienced and understand the culture and significance of this outstanding region.

Travel Outlook For People With Disabilities

If you think walking to the corner market might be intimidating for a person who is blind, imagine how it might feel to navigate a bustling open-air street market in another country. If you’ve ever been on a cruise, you already know it can be a sublime experience, with inspiring sights, tranquil sounds and an abundant array of leisure activities available at all hours. Imagine, though, how it would feel to know that you could not take full advantage of the shipboard amenities because of the lack of wheelchair access. What if you were deaf and your heart’s desire was to lose yourself in the cool confines of an art museum, but for lack of a docent who could communicate in sign language, you could not avail yourself of the rich historical context in which the precious artifacts were created?Although these scenarios make travel seem impractical, if not impossible, for those with disabilities, it doesn’t have to be that way. With a little research, planning, and spirit of adventure, nothing has to come between you and the trip of your dreams. Below is a short list of a few places to begin your investigation. If you are a person with a disability or if your special someone is disabled, you’ll want to explore these wonderful travel websites, which specialize in accommodating travelers with disabilities.111 Travel DirectoryThis website caught my attention because it is easy to read and navigate. My favorite features are the “Tips For Trips” sections, where travelers from all over the world have contributed practical words of wisdom. There are tips lists just for traveling to specific destinations, tips for parents traveling with small children, safety tips and, of course, tips for travelers with disabilities, all submitted by people who have been there, done that. You may even find a few of my own recommendations there.Disabled Travel USAFrom Acadia National Park to Zion National Park, this wonderful list of accessible places would be awfully handy when you’re ready for a road trip. The list briefly describes the type of accommodations you can expect. Call ahead to verify that your needs will be met, and relax knowing that a warm welcome awaits. Also see Disabled Travel Europe, and page after page of disability-related resources by Ability.org.Accessible JourneysThis is the world’s largest cruise travel company specializing in wheelchair travel. Visit the “About” page and read their story. It offers great resources for planning your trip, understanding shipboard illness and a variety of tour types to suit the adventurer in everyone.Independent Living Links

http://www.independentliving.orgA head-spinning list of links for every aspect of independent living. Don’t miss their extensive list of travel resources. This site could keep you busy for hours.Tips for Travelers with Disabilities Brochure

http://travel.state.govThis is a U.S. government site with additional brochures and links to other travel sites. Lots of important international travel information here.Remember that outside of the U.S., there is no such thing as the Americans with Disabilities Act. Other countries are under no legal obligation to make accommodations that will ensure fully accessible passage.For even more options, just type “disabled travel” into your favorite search engine. You will be amazed at the choices. You can find travel companies that specialize in a full range of services, such as mobility equipment rental, travel companions, medical supervision, and more. There are travel companies that will arrange every detail of your holiday, from your door to your destination and back. Thoroughly investigate your options during the early planning stages of your trip. Whether you walk or roll, set your sights on these great web resources and bon voyage!Copyright 2005 by Laura Legendary. All rights reserved.

Hello from Vancouver (1) – Arrival in Vancouver

I left beautiful Victoria early yesterday morning at 8 am and took the Pacific Coachlines bus/ferry combination back to the mainland. It was another gorgeous day and I spent the entire ferry ride on the top deck soaking in the scenery and the sunshine. At about 11:30 I exited at Broadway and Cambie as the bus driver had advised me and caught the 99B bus to the University of British Columbia campus and arrived about a half an hour later. First I found the student union building where I picked up a bus map and a campus guide. Then I asked my way to the student residence where I was staying and checked myself into a comfortable reasonably priced student room that is part of a 6-unit apartment at a very affordable C$38.00 a night.After dumping my luggage and getting changed I had a few hours until check-in for the Servas conference and I decided to use the time by renting a bicycle at the local university bicycle co-op to explore the area on 2 wheels. I rented a mountainbike and started heading west to North West Marine Drive which is the road that is parallel to the coastline, but the view to the ocean is obscured by dense forest. In various areas trails and steps lead down to to Spanish Bay.I then cycled eastwards and found a beautiful lookout spot from where I could see the mouth of the Burrard Inlet and the mountains of North Vancouver. The university grounds in this area have several mansions that are surrounded by gorgeous flowers and this is a just a superbly scenic area. From there I took NW Marine Drive down towards Spanish Banks and kept cycling eastwards past Locarno Beach and Jericho Beach which is a recreational paradise. The water level was quite low, however, and people had to walk out quite a while over the sand to reach deeper water. After a couple of hectic days I figured I deserved about an hour of downtime and bought myself an icecream which I savoured sitting at a bench while observing the action on the beach.Of course after this little respite I had to cycle all the way back up, which ended up not being as bad as expected. The campus of the University of British Columbia (UBC) is a beautiful facility. It is very expansive with a large number of mordern buildings interspersed by green zones and parkland. UBC is home to about 45,000 students and it is the 3rd largest university in Canada. The UBC Campus is also the home of the world-renowned UBC Museum of Anthropology, the Nitobe Memorial Gardens, the UBC Botanical Garden as well as the Rose Garden & Chan Centre. The First Nations Longhouse serves as a gathering place for native students and features sculpted log poles and various pieces of First Nations art. UBC also houses the largest university bookstore in Canada as well as the Astronomical Observatory, located beside the UBC Geophysical Observatory which monitors earthquake activity.My first outing on the bike gave me the lay of the land and a first glimpse at the Vancouver skyline which certainly has one of the most stunning locations of any large city I have ever seen. I am glad I had a bit of a chance to explore it before I return back to the student residence to get ready for the Servas Conference.

Hello from Vancouver (2) – Wheeling Around Stanley Park

Stanley Park is Vancouver’s famous urban paradise and I knew weeks in advance that I would need to explore it in detail, preferably on a bike. So this afternoon at about 1:30 pm I set off from the UBC Campus, and navigated my way downtown by bus, taking 3 buses to get to the eastern edge of Stanley Park. This was my first chance to glance at the city of Vancouver. It is a relatively new city and according to some accounts, its origins date back to 1792 , the year when Captain George Vancouver explored this region. Most buildings downtown west of Granville Avenue were built relatively recently as Vancouver has experienced a huge building boom over the last few years. A large part of downtown is covered by modern residential skyscrapers and Vancouver’s building frenzy continues unabated. It’s evident everywhere that this is a very popular place to live.My rental bicycle was waiting for me at a place called Spokes Bicycle Rentals, a place that had been mentioned to me several weeks ago by the Vancouver’s Visitors Association. I met one of their managers, a young sporty guy named Phil who was extremely helpful in helping me lay out my itinerary for this discovery on two wheels. We started chatting and I found out that Phil is originally from Montreal and moved to Vancouver 3 years ago. He loves the outdoors and has gotten involved in snowboarding, mountainbiking and diving and he mentioned that Vancouver is among the world’s top dive sites.After laying out my route for me and giving me information on all the important sights along the way, Phil selected a comfortable bicycle for me that would be able to handle leisure riding as well as some mild offroading. Once outfitted I hopped on the bike and started my tour along the seawall of Stanley Park. At 20 times the size of Central Park, Stanley Park is the 3rd largest urban park in North America, and its setting is just stunning. From the east side you have a view into downtown Vancouver towards Canada Place and the cruise boat terminal. Several ocean liners were docked in town.One of the first major sights along the bike path are the Totem Poles, imposing in their height and number. I circled around Brockton Point towards the north-facing side of the peninsula, and a stunning view towards North Vancouver and the Lions Gate Bridge opened up. As per Phil’s advice, I cycled up to Beaver Lake which is a quiet little oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the seawall. It is a large pond surrounded by lush forest, covered in a water lilies. I cycled all the way around the pond and then headed back out to the seawall and quickly came to the Lions Gate Bridge which is surrounded by Prospect Point, the highest point in the park. From there I soon reached the northernmost point of Stanley Park and started cycling westwards again. Just past a single outlying rock called Siwash Rock I arrived at Third Beach that was just completely teeming with people. I bought a drink and relaxed for a while until I resumed my trip and passed a group of inukshuk builders close to Second Beach.The crowds were intensifying and every conceivable spot on the burnt-out grass was taken up by sun-worshippers. The largest beach, located closest to the city, is English Bay Beach, replete with daytrippers. The crowds were a bit too much for me, so I crossed False Creek over the Burrard Bridge and explored Vanier Park and Kitsilano Beach. The view from the bridge is simply breathtaking. On the other side again there were thousands of people, barbequeing, sunworshiping, and picknicking.I turned around and headed back on 4th Avenue, crossing back to downtown Vancouver via the Granville Street Bridge and headed straight across towards Canada Place and the seashore west of Burrard Street. Since my stomach was growling after about 3 hours of cycling, I returned the bycicle to Spokes and asked Phil for advice as to where to eat. He suggested an Italian place named Ciao Bella almost right across the street. I took his advice and plunked myself down on a nice patio and thoroughly enjoyed an Italian meal in the evening sunshine.At 8 pm I was ready to head back to UBC and walked up to Robson Street, one of Vancouver’s main thoroughfares. Thousands of people were coming towards me since they were planning to catch the fireworks. The sidewalks were just totally full with people. I was walking in the opposite direction and ended up doing a quick little photographic tour of downtown, including the Hotel Vancouver. I saw a few more interesting buildings: the Vancouver Block and the Art Gallery of Vancouver.Quite exhausted from a full day I started walking down Granville Avenue, still surrounded by throngs of people and had to wait 45 minutes for a bus since all buses were going down Davie Street to take people to the fireworks. Finally the bus came and I was listening to a bunch of teenage boys that were planning their under-age drinking escapades at the occasion of the fireworks. After a really long day I finally arrived back on the UBC campus at about 9:30 pm. Now it’s 11 pm and I can’t wait to hit the hay.

Hello from Victoria (1) – Reaching the West Coast

Jetlag is an amazing thing. It’s barely after 5 am and I have already been reading for an hour an a half. So I figured I might as well use this bout of sleeplessness and record my first impressions of British Columbia.My WestJet flight out of Toronto left a 7:15 am yesterday, so that meant I got up at 4:30 am, after 2.5 hours of sleep, to check all my luggage, eat a brief breakfast and get myself out to the airport. Sometimes a little travel savvy goes a long way, I had decided to use my Airmiles to go to BC and upon doing some research I found out that WestJet had a special on that only required me to use 1600 Airmiles instead of the regular 3900 Airmiles, so off I went and booked the trip, saving myself 60% of the Airmiles that I would have otherwise spent. When you travel frequently, you have to look at every available option of savings costs and my travel reward miles came through big for me.I was able to book a flight from Toronto to Calgary and another from Calgary to Vancouver. WestJet is always an interesting experience because its flight attendants are known for cracking jokes over the PA system. The flight to Calgary was actually really bumpy and for about an hour we went through what felt like a dirt road in the sky full of potholes, hitting the occasional air pocket and dropping a few feet. But the WestJet crew brought us down safely and humorously, something I was very happy about.In retrospect I actually felt pretty lucky, considering that the very night before my departure an Air France flight had crash-landed in Toronto. Fortunately, all 300+ passengers and crew survived and only 43 people ended up with light injuries, despite the fact that the plane went up in flames. Not surprisingly the newspapers referred to this incident as the Miracle Flight.Well, my aerial transport went a lot smoother and after about 7 hours of flight and transfers our plane touched down in beautiful Vancouver. The natural setting of Vancouver is indeed impressive: it is set in the Coastal Mountain Range, surrounded by Vancouver Island and the Pacific Ocean. It certainly looked breath-taking from the air, but my exploration of this city had to wait since my first item of the agenda was to get myself to the City of Victoria, on Vancouver Island.I located the Pacific Coachlines desk at the Vancouver airport and for just over C$70.00 I bought a return ticket for a coach and ferry ride across to Victoria, the capital of British Columbia. I only had about a half hour between my arrival at the airport until a comfortable air-conditioned bus whisked us to the Tsawassen Bay Ferry Terminal, following which the bus went onto the BC Ferries boat itself.The ferry was a very large vessel with 3 different decks for cars, trucks and buses. There are 3 additional passenger decks including an open-air sitting area in the front of the ferry. We slowly started our crossing of the Straits of Georgia and I thoroughly enjoyed the panomara of mountains and water. Due to my lack of sleep my head got a little heavy and I fell asleep on the open-air deck. When I woke up we were just chugging through the narrows between Galiano Island and Mayne Island. The narrow channel is embedded in between these islands which are covered by coniferous forests. The entire approach to the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal was one of the most scenic waterways I have ever seen.Punctually at 2:25 pm people headed back down to the bus, at 2:35 the bridge was lowered onto the ferry and our bus was the first vehicle out of the boat. Another 45 minutes later and we arrived in downtown Victoria at the bus terminal, right next to the Fairmont Empress Hotel, one of Victoria’s most famous landmarks. Designed as a chateau-style luxury hotel, it was built in 1908 for $1 million and was extensively restored in the late 1980s to the tune of $45 million. But more extensive exploration of this stunning building would have to wait, since a local friend was picking me up at the bus station.My co-worker Clare, who works with me in my full-time business in new business development, relocated to Victoria with her husband Haishan in March of this year, and the two of them have been graciously accommodating me since my arrival yesterday. Both Clare and her husband are originally from mainland China and have been calling Canada their home for the last few years.Haishan came to pick me up and after a beautiful drive through Victoria and some of its suburbs, I arrived at Clare and Haishan’s beautiful house in a little hillside community outside Victoria. After a couple of hours of rest due to my utter exhaustion, I got up to a beautiful Chinese dinner complete with 3 different meat dishes and the most delicous chicken with chestnuts dish I had ever eaten.While we were savouring this gourmet meal, a deer made its appearance in the backyard, and Clare had already informed me earlier that deers show up in the backyard on an almost daily basis and take care of all newly planted landscaping and flowers, much to the chagrin of the residents.After this delicious dinner we went on a little drive in the neighbourhood and drove down to the lagoon from where we had a perfect lookout to the Olympic Mountain Range in Washington State, across the narrow strait from Vancouver Island. One of the mountains was snow-covered and this majestic mountain range combined with the waters of the Pacific creates one of the most stunning sceneries this lovely planet of ours has to offer. We had a view of a historic light house and the Esquimalt navy base and after a brief drive through the hilly coastal roads (and another close encounter with a deer) we drove back to Clare’s beautiful house on the slopes.After another hour or two of shop talk I was positively exhausted and dropped into bed like a sack of potatoes, only to wake up before 4 am, unable to sleep. Well, this early rise has given me a chance to record my first impressions, and I have avidly been reading my guidebook on Vancouver and Victoria, laying out a draft itinerary for today. The sun is coming up now so I’ve got another couple of hours of reading ahead of me in preparation of today’s discovery.

Hello from the Ottawa River – Learning How to Whitewater Kayak (and How the River Kicked My Ass…)

Way back when in February I went to the Outdoor Adventure Show and I twisted my friend Leslie’s arm to go on a learn-how-to-kayak weekend with me. We booked 2 days including meals, kayaking lessons and camping accommodation with a company called Equinox Adventures that has a rafting and kayaking camp located on Calumet Island in the Ottawa River.So Friday we got ready, I picked Leslie up from work and we headed off on Highway 401 east of Toronto. We got stuck in rush hour traffic for a solid hour and half until I decided to go north of the highway to take a country road. We stopped in for a nice little dinner in Belleville, and after driving through the beautiful countryside in Eastern Ontario and after getting lost on the winding roads near our destination, we finally set up our tent at about 11 pm, illuminated by the headlights of my car.The Equinox river camp is very basic, located around an old farmhouse are 3 different campgrounds (for noisy, semi-noisy and quiet campers..), an outbuilding with extremely basic men’s and women’s bathrooms that have 2 toilet stalls as well as 4 functioning shower stalls in a co-ed shower and an outdoor eating area covered by tarps that are draped over metal railings. Luxury accommodation this is definitely not.Saturday morning we got started early, we actually got woken up by the mooing of cows in the farmers field next door at about 6 am. Other campers reported that some of the cows took a walk right through the camp ground and actually left some sizeable paddies behind. It was fabulous to be in a tent again after not having gone camping for about 8 years…. We got a simple breakfast, some pancakes and pre-packaged muffins (some of them a little furry) and we started picking our kayak gear and headed off with our knowledgeable guide Christine and her helper Krista in a van to the Ottawa River. We got suited up with our life jackets, helmets and sprayskirs, and then put our kayaks in the water.I had a devil of a time getting my sprayskirt over the kayak’s opening because it was so tight. We started with simple paddling exercises in the calm waters of the Rocher Fendu dam and first learned how to do a “wet exit”: after you tip the kayak and are underneath the vessel (panic time for most people) we were taught to rip the sprayskirt off and swim our way out of the kayak.Paddling was quite difficult since the angle of the blades of the paddle is offset, so while your right hand is supposed to stay still, the left hand is supposed to tilt a little so the left blade of the paddle goes into the water at the proper angle. I had a bit of a problem with that since my right arm is way stronger than my left arm (from playing tennis) and I couldn’t get the entry angle of the left side of the paddle right, so many times I ended up going in a circle off to the left, having to paddle 3 or 4 times on the left side just to straighten myself out again. The kayaks are perfectly flat on the bottom, so there is no hull to help you out with the tracking on the water.Paddling got a little more difficult when we went up the Ottawa River and my own personal faulty technique caused me to veer off to the left all the time, causing me to get caught in the current of the river, drifting downstream, against the direction of where we were trying to go. I then realized a few things: that the currents on a river as big as the Ottawa River are extremely strong and that my upper body strength was waning pretty quickly. I really developed some major respect for the river and for the skills involved in kayaking.To be honest, I never quite got the hang of it. We were taught skills like “ferrying”, i.e. getting across a current at an angle, or the “T-rescue”, where a second kayak comes up to you after you have tipped your kayak and are trapped underneath the boat in the water. You are then supposed to tap on your own kayak 3 times to make noise to alert other paddlers that you have capsized. Then you have to reach along the side of the boat to locate the second kayak, and then you put both hands on the other kayak and twist yourself out from underneath your own vessel with a flick of the hips.I have to admit, I am a pretty athletic person, and I love speedy sports like downhill skiing and mountain biking, and I am actually pretty good at them. But some things about whitewater kayaking gave me the chills, just the idea of getting entrapped upside down underneath the kayak, possibly snagged by a rock underneath the water, and not being able to get back up freaked me out.So I decided that in the future I would try calmer water sports such as canoeing or sea kayaking on a calm lake, instead of facing mortal danger on the rapids. To reassure all of you readers though: all the other kayaking students did fine, they went upriver, and came down through some mild rapids and had a great time paddling themselves around on the Ottawa River on Saturday and Sunday. And Christine, our guide, was very helpful, and there was always another kayaking student around to help you if you were in trouble, so assistance to safety was never far away.Saturday evening we actually watched a safety video for whitewater kayaking and in the video I realized that advanced whitewater kayaking is a pretty dangerous sport and the risk of drowning or hurting yourself by getting entrapped in rocks or “strainers” (fallen tree branches that stick out of the water) is substantial and must be avoided at all cost. We also learned that working as a team and rescuing one’s team mates are critical life-saving skills. By this time I had already decided that I would trade my second day of kayaking lessons in for some mountain biking on Sunday, combined with a little photo safari of Calumet Island.So Sunday morning, after my interview with Krista, she was kind enough to lend me her mountain bike and I grabbed my camera and started my discovery of Calumet Island, a large island in the Ottawa River wedged between Ontario and Quebec. I cycled through forests, rolling hills, grazing pastures and past a few extremely well-kept country properties. I spent about an hour cycling on dirt roads to the edge of the Ottawa River where I started to experiment with my camera a little bit.My brother-in-law Roger, a consummate graphic designer and visual artist, had recently taught me how to do close-up shots of plants and other objects, so I started experimenting taking close-range shots of plants and flowers right next to the Ottawa River. This was the first time I experimented with this photo technique and I have to say I was reasonably pleased with the outcome once I came home last night and downloaded the images.On my way back from the river I had an interesting encounter: I drove by a barn and saw 2 horses grazing in the distance. They looked up and noticed me, and as if on cue, two other horses came out of the barn as well. They started approaching me, as I was standing on the side of the road, behind a wire fence. All four horses came trotting towards me. About half way from me they stopped in unison, checked me out, then looked at each other, figured they had seen all they needed to see, and trotted off in perfect coordination again. It was a really comical cross-species encounter and I ended up chuckling to myself when the horses disappeared again into the barn.After my 2 hour mountain biking excursion I spent the rest of Sunday exploring the island in my car and drove through rolling hills and farm land. Upon my return to the camp ground I spread out a blanket under a tree and did some open-air reading. All the other campers were gone to either river raft or kayak, and the campground was totally quiet, all you could hear were the crickets and an occasional moo from a cow. It was serenity at its best. The other rafters and kayakers came back in the afternoon and they all reported that they had had a fabulous time at their respective water sports.At about 4:30 we headed back out on the road and did a nice 5 hour highly scenic drive through towns like Eganville and Bancroft that are surrounded by rolling hills, lush green forests and ancient rock faces, before we headed into the serene lake district of the Kawartha Highlands. It was a perfect weekend – a combination of adventure and relaxation under crystal blue skies, and it just taught me how beautiful the back roads of Ontario can be.