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Travel stories, tips and advice for those wanting to take a step beyond

Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

 

 

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is Cleveland's sleek, glass monument to the soundtrack of our lives.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is Cleveland's sleek, glass monument to the soundtrack of our lives.

 

 

Yes, There’s a Rock and Roll Heaven…in Cleveland

You won’t even have stepped inside the sleek glass building, when the sound hits you.  The Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Who, ZZ Top…the rhythms fill your chest and the harmonies roll over you in waves.  Almost unconsciously, you start to walk in time to the music.  How can you resist? 

This is the soundtrack of your life.

Call me sophomoric if you will, but the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is my hands-down favorite museum.  Yes, I’ve seen the Louvre and wandered through the British Museum – and yes, they were indisputably fascinating.  For all their treasures, however, none of the world’s famous galleries have the power to push my emotional buttons in quite the same way as Cleveland’s most famous landmark.  

Its floors are jam-packed with memorabilia from performers ranging from Sam Cooke to Bon Jovi.  You can gaze at Mick Jagger’s concert gear and wonder just how those thrusting hips of his could ever fit into such tiny pants, or view one of the 14 purple Cadillacs purchased by Elvis during a generous spending spree.  Concert photos, tickets, platform shoes, drum sticks, fur vests…you name it and you’ll find it showcased in a frame, draped in a glass case, or perched on a pedestal.  But that’s not where the real magic lies.

 

Star-studded memorabilia fills every corner at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Star-studded memorabilia fills every corner at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

 

 

It’s the music itself and the interactive audio and video displays that bring the power of rock and roll roaring to life.  Trust me.  Once you pop on the headphones and start to explore, you’ll find it nearly impossible to drag yourself away. 

Ever wondered how the Rolling Stones got their name?  It’s the title of a song written by their favorite R&B performer, Muddy Waters, a man who influenced much of their work.  The ‘Influences’ display at the Hall of Fame not only tells you about the relationship, but also plays a selection of Stone’s songs in conjunction with Waters’ works so you can hear the connections.  It’s fascinating, and that’s just the beginning.

Perhaps the most riveting area of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is the Inductees floor.  There, you’ll see a year-by-year compilation of priceless film clips from the performers honored thus far for their contributions to rock and roll.  Those of us who grew up ahead of the video generation and in the kind of small towns major rock groups never heard of, much less toured, only saw our rock idols on album covers. The glimpses provided in this unique show, therefore, hit you like a shot of teenage adrenaline, transporting you back in a heartbeat to the days when you cranked up your stereo and wondered what Jackson Browne really looked like.  Now you’ll know, as you watch greats like John Mellencamp, Lynrd Skynrd, Tom Petty and the Ramones roll by on the gigantic screen.  It’s like going to all the concerts your parents wouldn’t drive you to!

All the big names are there of course, and more are added each year. Be sure to watch for The Sex Pistols who, miffed by not having been offered inclusion soon enough, sent a grammatically disastrous, ranting letter of rejection to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame committee members.  Unfazed, the Hall of Fame simply included the letter, mistakes and all, in the film.   Sid is apparently not only Vicious, but also illiterate.

Planning a visit to Cleveland in the near future?  Be sure to set aside far more than an hour or two for your visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  A day might give you almost enough time – but two would be better.  After all, it takes time to explore the soundtrack of a lifetime, one singer and one song at a time.

Posted 7 years, 1 month ago at 1:04 am.

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Avoid Travel Trouble

 

Avoid Travel Trouble!

Sarah met Sandra on the beach at the Caribbean resort where they were both holidaying.  After a shared snorkeling excursion and some giddy nights at the disco, the two felt like old friends, so when Sandra asked if Sarah would mind delivering a gift to her aunt in Toronto, there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation. 

But the customs official who tore apart her bags in Canada certainly gave Sarah reason to be seriously concerned when he told her Sandra’s beautifully wrapped package contained cocaine and not the coffee she thought she was delivering. 

Like Sarah, Don had no idea that he was setting himself up for a security disaster when he took his prescription medication out of its pharmacy-issued container and packed it in a zip-locked plastic bag.  The customs officials at the airport in Tunisia took a dim view of what they considered to be illegal narcotics.  Without proof that the pills had been prescribed by his doctor, Don was in serious trouble.

Jennifer was equally innocent of any evil intent when she snapped a few shots of the naval vessels docked in the harbor near her hotel.  That made no difference to the government official who saw the impromptu photo session, and followed Jennifer to confiscate her camera.  In some countries, military and other government controlled areas are off-limits to tourists and cannot be photographed, even from a distance.  Ask your tour guide to be sure.

It is against Canadian laws to import items of historical importance from other countries.  Check the regulations before making any purchases.

It is against Canadian laws to import items of historical importance from other countries. Check the regulations before making any purchases.

Bill actually thought he was doing a good thing when he bought the stone carving from the young man outside the famous shrine.  The kid looked stressed, as if he really needed the money.  It wasn’t until Bill was told that he’d bought a piece marble chipped from the wall of the shrine and that exporting items significant to another country’s cultural heritage was against the law, that he had any idea he’d committed a crime.

If you break the laws of the country you’re vacationing in, don’t count on your Canadian citizenship, or your lack of knowledge of the local rules or language to get you a get-out-of-jail-free card. You could also find yourself sentenced to far harsher penalties than anything you would ever experience at home.  It’s worth noting that some countries routinely sentence those convicted of drug possession to many years of jail time, whippings, or even, in rare cases, to death.  It’s scary, but true.

So what do you do if you’re arrested while far from home? Get in touch with the nearest Canadian government office immediately.  Although they will not be able to have your fine or sentence reduced, the consular officials can contact your family and friends, ensure that you receive fair treatment, and provide a list of capable, local lawyers.   What happens from there will be up to the judicial system of the country in which you’re being detained.

So what’s your best protection from these legal travel nightmares?  Good judgment and plenty of information.  If you’re not certain about what is and isn’t allowed in a foreign country – particularly when it comes to photographing people and places of military, historical or religious importance – ask.  If you’re planning to purchase an item you suspect might not be allowed into Canada, check at http://airs-sari.inspection.gc.ca  And if you’re asked to bring anything home with you that you didn’t purchase or package yourself, play it safe and say no.

Sidebar:

While we’re talking about terrifying things, we might as well cover all the bases.  Not only do the laws of other countries apply to you while you’re visiting, but you’re also subject to Canadian laws regarding certain crimes, no matter where you are.  Perhaps the most vigorously prosecuted of these are the laws regarding the sexual exploitation of children.  If you are suspected of committing such heinous acts while abroad, you can be charged at home, under the Canadian Criminal Code, and could face up to 14 years in prison.

 

Posted 7 years, 1 month ago at 12:54 am.

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Top Ten Packing Tips

Pack Like a Pro!

Have you ever noticed that some people seem to travel with a greater sense of ease than everyone else?  Their clothes are wrinkle-free and always just the right thing for every occasion, and yet they never seem to be lugging an extra heavy bag.  What do they know that the rest of us don’t?  I polled a list of the best travelers I know and have come up with the following list of top ten travel tips. Try a few – I think they’re all great. 

 

A well packed bag means a savvy traveler.

A well packed bag means a savvy traveler.

 

1.  The outfit that works in the Caribbean may be completely inappropriate for Austria – even if the summer temperature is the same.  Somehow bright florals and electric colors look better under a tropical sun. Consider your destination and what will and won’t look appropriate before packing your bag.

2.  Always throw a collapsible tote bag into your suitcase. It can be used for a day-bag, to carry a lunch or your rain jacket etc. or be pressed into service as a carry-on if you buy more souvenirs than you’d expected.

3.  Balance your bag by packing heaving things at the bottom, so it won’t tip over if left to stand on its own.  And while it’s always good to pack lightly (particularly if you’re using the European rail system and will be running between tightly scheduled trains) you should also try to pack tightly.  Gently roll your sweaters and t-shirts to fill the space in your bag evenly.  When you have too few items in too large a bag, the pieces tend to fold over on themselves, creating wrinkles you’ll find hard to press away. 

4.  Bring old shoes and new socks.  A walking holiday is never the time to break in a new pair of shoes – always bring your most comfortable, well-worn pair.  On the other hand, old socks can have bare areas or even holes, which can lead to rubbing and blisters.  Ouch!  To be doubly sure your feet will stay comfortable, toss some moleskin and a package of liquid bandages into your knapsack.  If a blister does appear, you’ll be prepared.

5.  Jewelry is best packed in a plastic fishing tackle box or even a plastic pill sorter, so earrings can be kept together and chains won’t tangle.

6.  Be sure never to put your jewelry in your checked luggage, but instead keep it with you , in your carry-on bag. 

7.  Before packing, write out a list of the days you’ll be gone and list the clothing you’ll need.  Be sure to plan for both warm and cool weather, and remember to include underwear, socks, shoes, bathing suits and accessories.  By writing out your list on paper, you’ll be able to see opportunities for certain clothing items to do double duty and you’ll end up packing less.

8.  Because shoes take up so much space in your bag, it’s important to make the most of your packing opportunities by filling them with socks and underwear etc. 

9.  Heading for a country where you won’t be able to speak the language?  It might be a good idea to bring along a few photos of your home, your neighbourhood and your family.  Even if you can’t communicate everything, you’ll at least have a few conversational aids.

10.  Never trust that your checked luggage will arrive.  To be sure you’ll have something to wear, trade a few pieces of your clothing for a few of your traveling companion’s.  If one checked bag doesn’t make, at least you’ll both have something to wear.

Posted 7 years, 1 month ago at 12:06 am.

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Learn to SCUBA in Bequia!

 

Dive Bequia!

 

SCUBA instructor Nick suits up in Bequia.

SCUBA instructor Nick suits up in Bequia.

 

 

 

It was something I’d always wanted to do, but my new classmate Wayne couldn’t say the same.  Raised in rural England, far from any lakes or public pools, swimming was an unfamiliar and frightening activity for him.  The resort dive course we were both about to take – an introduction to SCUBA taught by the pros at Dive Bequia in the beautiful Grenadine islands might have sounded like the adventure of a lifetime to me, but for Wayne, the prospect was positively nightmarish.

Our instructor, Nick Baxter, a sun-tanned young Jacques Cousteau from South Africa, exuded intelligence and confidence.

“I’ll teach you what you need to know in the shallow water,” he said, wading into the waves, “and then we’ll go out in the boat so you can really give it a try.  You’ll go down 20 or 30 feet on this first dive.”

Wayne paled.

His girlfriend, watching from the shore, hands on hips, was determined.  An underwater photographer, she was keen for Wayne to learn to dive so he could become her assistant.  The pressure was soon on – in more ways than one.

Pressure is a huge issue in diving. Learning to deal properly with its effects as you sink beneath the surface and rise again can literally mean the difference between life and death.  Nick carefully explained the use of our air tanks, regulators, weight belts and personal buoyancy devices, vests into which air is pumped or released.

“And what’s the number one rule of diving?” he asked and answered. “Don’t hold your breath!”

From the look on Wayne’s face, I think he was fairly certain our heads would explode if we did.

Nick paid particular attention to the discussion of emergency air sharing – and so did I, breathing being one of my favorite pastimes.  We learned that if, during a dive, your partner’s air supply should be cut off, you can share, using an auxiliary regulator clipped to your belt.  We practiced in the shallow water, pulling the regulators off our belts and passing them to one another.

We were ready for deeper water.

Wayne’s girlfriend joined us for the boat ride out to the reef as he slapped on sun block, looking as if he was on his way to the electric chair.

Love is, however, a powerful motivator. Stoically suited up in mask, snorkel, flippers, buoyancy vest, weight belt and tank, Wayne hung his butt over the edge of the boat, rolled backward and sank like a stone.

I followed suit.

There was a brief moment of wondering if the whole breathing thing was going to work, but then I remembered the number one rule and sucked in a huge gulp of air from my regulator.  I was on my way.

Wayne wasn’t so lucky. Nick released me to explore the reef while he helped Wayne to adjust to the underwater world. 

Because we were just 25 to 30 feet below the surface, the sunlight illuminated the brilliant seascape. I was entranced and had been happily swishing around for ten minutes when I remembered Nick’s admonition to keep my partner in sight.  Guiltily, I turned towards Wayne, only to see that his face was an icy shade of blue.  Kicking frantically, I was just about to stuff my extra regulator into poor Wayne’s mouth, a strange thing happened. 

He rubbed his face.

A huge swath of blue disappeared.

The sun block so carefully applied on the boat was of the kiddy variety, designed to change color when applied. So much for my daring under-sea rescue!

Well-run and carefully executed, the Dive Bequia experience was the highlight of my visit to the Grenadines and my goal is to return and complete a certification course. 

And if Wayne can find a different color of sunblock, he’s welcome to join me.

 

 

Posted 7 years, 1 month ago at 11:48 pm.

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In search of the elusive puffin in Newfoundland.

And then, there they were...puffins, and more puffins.

And then, there they were...puffins, and more puffins.

It was my fifth trip to Newfoundland and I’d still never seen a real one.

Their images graced hats, coasters, posters, photos, paintings and postcards.  I’d seen carvings and statues, earrings and necklaces, belt buckles and tea towels.  On the rock, puffins – small black and white seabirds with large, red, back and yellow beaks – were a hot tourist feature. I’d just never managed to lay eyes on a real one, in the flesh and feathers.

This visit, I determined, would be it.  My husband and I wouldn’t go home until we’d found and photographed Newfoundland’s most famous feathered friend.

We started in St. John’s, at the Admiral’s Adventure B&B in the old battery neighbourhood, where houses cling precariously to the cliffs overlooking the sea.  Birds of all sorts wheel over the waves.  Surely, we thought, one of them must be a puffin.

“Nope,” said Bruce Peters, owner of the B&B.  “I’ve seen lots of puffins in my day, of course…just not here.”

Bruce was only the first of the many people we asked who assured us that they’d seen hundreds, all over Newfoundland, but coincidentally, never where we happened to be at the time.  We began to suspect a puffin concealing conspiracy.

The smiling gentlemen outside the drugstore in Carbonear were encouraging.

“Puffins?  See ‘em all the time.  Just not today.  And not here.  You’d have to go over the bay,” one assured me, while the other insisted that puffins aplenty could be found south of St. John’s – back where we’d come from.

“Oh sure,” said the man cooking fish cakes at the Mad Rock Café in the small village of Bay Roberts, “I see puffins all the time.  When I was a boy, my mother used to cook a pot of them for Christmas dinner.”

Had we uncovered the terrible truth of the puffin paucity?  Had they all been eaten?

“You crazy t’ing!” snorted his wife.  “She never cooked puffins.  Those were terns.”  She smiled, as if to clear up any confusion. “We called ‘em mers, but they were terns.”

Ah, perfectly clear.

But had she seen any puffins?

“Never.  But my father told me he did.”

A startling pattern began to emerge.  Men always told us they saw puffins on a regular basis, while women swore up and down that they’d never laid eyes on one.

“Puffins?” laughed the woman in the gift shop as she straightened the display of puffin spoons, hand towels and soap. “Where would I see one of those?”

Only in a tiny museum, in a remote fishing village on the Avalon peninsula, did we find a woman who promised a sighting.

“I’ll show you a puffin.”

Up we climbed to a second floor gallery of treasures, where, tucked between rusty anchors, fish hooks, nets and old marine maps, was one, dusty, slightly moth-eaten, stuffed puffin.

Not quite what we’d had in mind.

The town of Elliston, on the shores of the Bona Vista peninsula, was our last stop. Home to a puffin island sanctuary, it was our last hope.

“Puffins?” said the visitors centre lady, shattering the pattern, “Oh my loves, yes!  We’ve had ‘em there all morning.”

We raced to the shore, and ran along the slippery pathway overlooking the island.

And suddenly, there they were.  Black and white and stunningly gorgeous, their huge, colorful beaks gleaming in the spray.  As hundreds of them sailed by us, we reveled in their existence!

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus and there are puffins too – you just have to know where to find them.

Posted 7 years, 1 month ago at 3:54 am.

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Learn to drive a Land Rover at Chateau Montebello!

Harnessing The Beast at Le Chateau Montebello 

“As slow as possible but as fast as necessary,” says my calm instructor, “It’s the Land Rover creed.”

The U.S. boasts Land Rover driver training centers in North Carolina and California, but Canada has just one, at Le Chateau Montebello, in Montebello, Quebec.  It’s a popular place. Not only do hotel guests and conference delegates sign up for the two, four and six-hour courses, but the Center also draws Land Rover purchasers from across the county.

Wondering about the wisdom of flying across the country for a driving lesson? You haven’t tried a Land Rover. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever piloted before.

 

Learn to pilot a Landrover over impossibly challenging terrain at Chateau Montebello.

Learn to pilot a Land Rover over impossibly challenging terrain at Chateau Montebello.

 

 

Land Rover driving is all about terrain response, the signature feature of the line. Designed to provide the precise reaction required on any given surface - ranging from grass, gravel and snow, to mud and ruts, to sand, to rocks - terrain response harnesses the Land Rover’s more than 2,800 kgs of metal.

My first taste of terrain response came early.

“This,” said my instructor as we pulled into Fairmont Kenauk, a 265 sq. km. private forest reserve owned by Le Chateau Montebello, “is where you’ll get to know the vehicle.”

The training area, which looks like a giant’s sandbox, studded with rock piles, deeply rutted trails, enormous mucky puddles and a stone-lined river bed, has been built to Land Rover’s exacting specifications. It’s designed to introduce drivers to both the vehicle’s capabilities and, all too often, to their own limitations as operators. 

Think you know everything because you’ve had your driver’s license for a few decades? Think again.

Lessons starts slowly - a disappointment for Mario Andretti wannabees but when you’re driving a $70,000 vehicle you’re not going to be allowed to wreck it.

It doesn’t take long for the tension of real adventure to set in.

Driving less than two kms/hour can cause you to break out into a cold sweat because you’re concentrating so hard. This is serious stuff.

.

With my instructor riding shotgun, I shifted into drive, feeling keenly aware of the size of the vehicle. It took a moment to gain confidence, but I was soon rolling around the flat bits of the course.

“Shuffle your hands on the wheel,” my instructor advised, “so you always have a firm grip. Thumbs up… hands at nine and three o’clock. If the vehicle jerks, you need to hang on.”

Land Rover drivers use a ‘pull down’ steering technique. 

“Pull down right a quarter turn…good…now another quarter….perfect…edge forward…”

Sound precise? It is. Driving a Land Rover involves making many small technical movements to enable the terrain response, steering, ABS brakes and hill descent systems to maneuver over, around and through obstacles that would stop other vehicles dead in their tracks.

Off-roading is no mindless pursuit…it’s all about concentration and learning to trust the vehicle.

The forest trails had enough slippery rocks, mucky ruts and sheer drops to satisfy the biggest thrill seeker, but we easily navigated routes I’d have thought too narrow, too muddy and too steep for a mountain bike…or a mountain goat, for that matter. Over my two training days, I drove a Land Rover and the more expensive Range Rover, and fell madly in love with both. If I ever win the lottery, I’m buying a whole fleet, but in the meantime, I’m going to tell every Land Rover driver I see to head for Le Chateau Montebello. They need to get to know the beast they have in harness. 

Posted 7 years, 1 month ago at 3:44 am.

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Top tips to help women travel safely

Hey Lady!  Travel Safe! 

Thinking about traveling solo?  There’s no reason why you can’t enjoy a wonderful holiday on your own, provided you take a few precautions to ensure your safety while away from home. 

Travel Light

The fewer bags you have to manage, the simpler it will be to maneuver through crowded airports and the less likely you’ll be to lose track of your belongings.  If possible, keep your luggage to one wheeled bag and one carry-on tote that can be attached to it.  If possible, avoid carrying a shoulder bag, and instead, put your wallet and passport in an internal, zippered pocket in your tote.  Make things as difficult as possible for would-be pick-pockets. 

Choose Your Cabs With Care

Don’t practice your cab hailing skills in foreign countries.  You might just catch a whole lot of trouble.  Instead, ask the concierge at your hotel to arrange for a reputable taxi company to pick you up.  If you need a cab from the airport, ask a uniformed airport employee to show you which of the many cab companies vying for your business are actually licensed. 

 

Lost?  Ask another woman for directions.

Lost? Ask another woman for directions.

 

Keep Your Map Out of Sight

There’s nothing that screams “tourist” more loudly than an open map. Do your map studying in the privacy of your room, before you head out so you’ll be able to proceed confidently and keep your eyes on your surroundings. 

Put Your Hotel’s Business Card In Your Pocket

If you get turned around and can’t find your way back to your hotel, find another woman and show her the card.  She may be able to help you get reoriented. 

Bring Your Own Doorstop and Smoke Detector

Before leaving home, go to the hardware store and invest in a simple rubber doorstop.  After you’ve locked your hotel room door, slip it under the jam as an extra bit of protection against anyone trying to enter from the hallway.  A small, portable smoke detector is easily set up in your room just in case the hotel isn’t properly equipped. 

Leave a Note

If you’re venturing out on your own for the day, leave a detailed itinerary of your plans in your hotel room and tell the front desk what time you’re expecting to return.  If, for any reason, you don’t come back on schedule, you’ll have left a trail for others to follow.  

Stay in Touch

Send emails and/or phone home regularly to let friends and family know what you’re doing and where you are.  

Stay Safe

Ask for a room on an upper floor, so you won’t have an easily accessible terrace or balcony door, and always request a location as close as possible to the elevator.   

Trust Your Instincts

Don’t like the looks of the gentleman in the elevator?  Make an excuse and don’t get in.  Trust your instincts even at the risk of seeming rude. 

Lighten Up

Pack a small flashlight in your purse.  Some resorts have pathways that are very poorly lit at night. 

Leave the Bling at Home

Flashing expensive jewelry is an invitation to be robbed.  Leave your valuables at home and be safe.  

Posted 7 years, 1 month ago at 3:56 am.

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Banff’s Johnston Canyon shows trekkers the glory of ice.

Daggers of ice fill the Johnston ice canyon in Banff National Park.

Daggers of ice fill the Johnston ice canyon in Banff National Park.

Awesome Ice  

“Bring me your feet,” says Tim Robinson, my guide from Discover Banff Tours, digging through his ice cleat collection. “You’re gonna need these.”

The evil-looking metal cleats are simple to attach to my boots but vital for safety. Not only will they make walking easier, but they’ll prevent slipping as we hike the 4.5 kms of hard-packed, occasionally icy trails winding through the wintry glory of Johnston Canyon.

One of the most breathtaking parts of Banff National Park, the canyon offers visitors stunning ice sculptures formed by water seeping from giant limestone walls, as well as a living lesson in the power of glacial land formation and erosion.

The canyon fascinates Robinson, a self-professed ‘rock geek’ who’s spent years exploring its many faces, and he’s eager to share his knowledge. Using a ski pole and an endless flow of informative Bill-Nye-the-Science-Guy patter, he points out ancient rock formations to illustrate his points and show us how the passage of millions of years is recorded in the stones around us.

“Not convinced?” he asks a shy Japanese tourist shivering in a stylish-but-skimpy ski jacket and seeming a little overwhelmed by the avalanche of information. “Come over here then,” says Robinson, choosing a new rock formation for his next lesson, “and let’s evolve a few million years.”

Explore millions of years of geology in Banff's Johnston ice canyon.

Explore millions of years of geology in Banff's Johnston ice canyon.

As we hike 122 meters up the canyon to a spectacular lookout, we discover that Robinson has a sense of humor.

“Come over here and tell me…what kind of rock do you think this is?” he asks, deadpan, pointing to some curious-looking terrain above the mouth of a small cave. I peer intently, trying hard to remember a long-ago high school geology class.

“I’m pretty sure, ” I venture after some careful consideration, “that’s limestone. Yup,” I continue with growing confidence. “That’s limestone. Just look at the pink and gray streaking…”

“Good try.”  Robinson laughs, “Actually, it’s spray-on concrete. The park folks put it there to prevent erosion.”

Funny guy.

Psychology plays a big role in Robinson’s guiding. Canyon visitors are sometimes surprised and even frightened by steep spots on the trail and it’s the guide’s job to coax and encourage, diverting their attention from the scary bits while leading them to more comfortable ground. In reality, the likelihood of falling, even on the most dramatic verticals, is slim. Parks Canada has installed rugged steel railings to prevent tumbles into the canyon, and to keep tourists in their place.

“The walkways and railings are more for the protection of the environment than the tourist,” explains Robinson. “By keeping people on the paths, we discourage them from hiking off into the bush and disturbing the flora and fauna. The terrain looks rugged, but the plant and animal life is fragile.”

Occasionally, the ascent proves too challenging and Robinson shifts into coach mode to encourage participants to finish. ?“I can’t do this,” puffs one hiker. “You guys go on to the top and I’ll wait here.”

“It isn’t a race,” says Robinson, encouragingly, “so we can take our time. We’ll just go at your pace and then we’ll all get there together. C’mon…you can do it. Photo ops, hot chocolate and cookies at the top!”

Who could resist?  The reluctant hiker is encouraged and together we make our way, albeit a bit slowly, to the top. Every huff and puff of the three-hour hike is rewarded by the goodies and the breathtaking view from the peak of the frozen upper falls. Gigantic daggers of ice stab the walls of the canyon, shimmering blue and white sculptures that only nature could fashion. Not only a spectacular reminder of man’s relative insignificance, Johnston Canyon also offers a rare opportunity to witness the awesome powers of water and ice. 

For more information, contact www.banfftours.com  ? ? ? 

Posted 7 years, 1 month ago at 3:45 am.

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Petra, the pre-biblical wonder of Jordan, takes your breath away.

Petra, Jordan was built by pre-biblical workers without even the most basic stone carving tools.

Petra, Jordan was built by pre-biblical workers without even the most basic stone carving tools.

Let Petra Take Your Breath Away 

There are some things in life that can literally take your breath away, stop you in your tracks and change your perspective of the world forever.  Finding the lost desert city of Petra, in the far away Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, is one of those things.

Petra, whose name comes from the Latin word ‘petrae’ meaning ‘rock’,  was built by early Nabataean artisans who somehow managed to carve a magnificent city of more than 3,000 temples, tombs and dwellings – gigantic, multi-storey monuments – from the rugged, red sandstone cliffs of the desert.

A visit to Petra is not an excursion for the faint of heart and don’t forget your walking shoes. You’re in for a hike.

Just getting to the entrance to the ruins involves a warm-up stroll of nearly two km along a dirt and stone roadway. Puffing a bit? You’re just getting started.

Your first stop is the Treasury – a remarkable structure that took generations of labor to build, but only a taste of the wonders that lie ahead.  Another several kms of walking or camel or donkey riding, if you prefer, will take you to the Street of Facades, an impressive row of structures once used as tombs.  Think you’re tired now? Don’t give up. If you really want to experience Petra, you have to be prepared to climb.

When you tire of walking, camels and their drivers are always at the ready.

When you tire of walking, camels and their drivers are always at the ready.

The High Place of Sacrifice is one of Petra’s most impressive sites – and it sits at the top of a 750-step pathway rising straight up towards the clouds.

Our exuberant guide Ibrahim, a young Jordanian historian with a constant grin on his face, led the way, leaping from rock to rock in his eagerness to reach the summit.

“C’mon!” he shouted. “You Canadians are supposed to be tough!”

This particular tough Canadian puffed and panted her way to the top, right behind a friendly herd of mountain goats. The view of the ancient city was spectacular, and so were the various shopping opportunities all the way up.

Intrepid and highly entrepreneurial Bedouin women who live in tents, caves and small villages in the desert around Petra climb up the mountainside each day to set up small tables of necklaces, earrings and other souvenirs at various points on the stone stairs and pathway.

While it seems like an odd place for a makeshift shopping mall, browsing through their wares helps to take your mind off the fact that your lungs are about to burst – it’s retail therapy at its best.

You might think that 750 steps straight up would be the ultimate Petra climb, but you’d be wrong. Ad-Deir, or the Monastery, is another must-see. To reach it, we climbed for more than three hours – again, straight up. Narrow pathways wound around the edges of steep cliffs, so keeping our minds on the climb was essential. At one point, the path narrowed to a breathtakingly small rock outcropping…narrower than the length of my shoe…and there was no way around it. I leaned into the cliff face, hung on tight as I inched along and never looked down!

The Treasury building lit by hundreds of luminaria is a sight never to be forgotten.

The Treasury building lit by hundreds of luminaria is a sight never to be forgotten.

A visit to Petra is more than a tourist experience, more than an opportunity to view a site of historical, archaeological and cultural importance. Seeing Petra by day, when the sun throws the ancient carvings into magnificent relief, or by night, when hundreds of candles encased in small brown paper bags light the way along the Siq to the softly glowing Treasury, is pure magic.

We are, after all, by comparison to ancient Petra, so very tiny and so ridiculously impermanent.

Posted 7 years, 2 months ago at 11:08 pm.

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Alaska’s Red Onion Saloon is a fascinating step back into a hot bit of history.

Sweet Bea Hind and the Red Onion Saloon 

 “My name is Sweet Bea,” drawled the babe in the red bustier. “Sweet Bea Hind.”  With a swish of that behind, she started up the wooden stairs, “Come on up. It’s $5 for fifteen minutes…same as 1898…but the services have changed a little!”

"The price hasn't changed at the Red Onion Saloon brothel in Alaska, but the services have!

"The price hasn't changed at the Red Onion Saloon brothel in Alaska, but the services have!

In its heyday, the Red Onion Saloon and brothel in Skagway, Alaska had a staff of ten working under the entrepreneurial eye of Madam Diamond Lil.  Known as the ‘Madam that Had’em’, Lil was pricey – $100 an hour or $1,000 a night. An alluring “alabaster goddess”, Lil had diamonds mounted between her front teeth, stood six feet tall and weighed more than 250lbs. Perhaps her clients paid by the pound! 

The Red Onion’s system was efficient and profitable. Each of Lil’s ladies was represented by a china doll, whose hair and clothing matched the live one upstairs. Customers pointed to their choice, then climbed the wooden stairs, while the bartender placed the doll face down. After 15 minutes, a bouncer removed the client, and the doll went back up, ready and waiting.

With 15,000 miners passing through on their way to the Dawson Creek Gold Rush, and just 300 working girls in the area, business was brisk. Each 10’ x 10’ room was equipped with a hole in the floor for payment deposit. Money rolled down the tubes and right into the cash box behind the bar. Diamond Lil took 50 percent, the bouncer got 25 and the working girl kept the rest. In high season, they made $5 an hour and were the wealthiest women in town.

Visitors to the Red Onion are welcome to climb the stairs, just as the customers must have long ago, and marvel at the tiny bedrooms used by the entrepreneurial ladies, each of whom was able to choose her own paint and wallpaper – important for those who spent so many hours in the workplace!  On display are not only some fascinating old photos but also some still very glamorous gowns and accessories worn by Lil and her ladies. It’s a flashback to the days of fast fortunes and faster ladies. 

The brothel museum above the Red Onion Saloon in Skagway is a fascinating little surprise…just one of the ‘must-sees’ on a recent Alaskan adventure that knocked the socks off every member of the family. It’s well worth the $5 admission, even if the services have been significantly reduced!  If you like, you can round off your tour with a quick meal in the bar and slide a red satin garter around your sleeve to prove you’ve had the Red Onion experience.

And what happened to to the notorious Madam Diamond Lil?  Sadly, for all her hard-headed business sense, Lil let love to be her downfall.  According to Sweet Bea, poor Lil allowed her heart to be captured by a fast-talking con man who ruined her business, lured her away from Alaska, took all her money, and left her to end her days, working as a night cleaner.   

Posted 7 years, 2 months ago at 10:51 pm.

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