Friday, December 14, 2007

Next Stop Texas

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Well, we're not sitting still! One day we went off to Mississippi (it's really not that far from here-Biloxi is only about an hour). The road is suspended over one swampy area after another. People are parked and fishing along both sides of the road and there is still evidence of damaged and destroyed buildings - restaurants, houses, businesses. Replacement buildings sit 15 feet above the ground presumably to protect them in the case of another hurricane and flood. Mind you, Katrina brought in a 35 foot wall of water, so one wonders.

Well, we're not sitting still! One day we went off to Mississippi (it's really not that far from here-Biloxi is only about an hour). The road is suspended over one swampy area after another. People are parked and fishing along both sides of the road and there is still evidence of damaged and destroyed buildings - restaurants, houses, businesses. Replacement buildings sit 15 feet above the ground presumably to protect them in the case of another hurricane and flood. Mind you, Katrina brought in a 35 foot wall of water, so one wonders.

As we headed west, the damage and destruction caused by Katrina is far more evident. We had a great opportunity to talk to the gal at the "
Biloxi Welcome Center" for over an hour telling us about the storm, the destruction, the evacuation and the on-going restorations.

They have just opened the new bridge leading to Biloxi. It replaces a draw bridge that replaced the previous bridge taken out by the previous big storm.

Prior to Katrina Casinos were only allowed off-shore - now they are prominent throughout the city, giving Biloxi a total different look.

We did the casino (Fred came out $80.00 ahead I lost $2.00); we ate (it was a 2 for one buffet)
AND we didn't once take a wrong turn all the way there and back!! Were we ever proud of ourselves.

We knew it was time to move on when we were no longer taking wrong roads and not getting lost trying to find places – so off towards Texas.

To get to Texas we had to go through Mobile, AL, through Mississippi and through Louisiana. Both Mississippi and Louisiana are very narrow so we made it almost to Texas the first night. But going through Mobile offered us the same challenges most cities do. Our stress levels increase at a rapid rate as we try to be on the right road, read signs and get into the right lane to take the exit we’re supposed to take (Actually, Mobile wasn’t nearly as bad as Houston). Our entire exposure to Mobile was from the highway so I really can’t comment on the attractiveness of the place. It has big buildings and a neat tunnel!

Unlike Mississippi and Louisiana no matter what part of Texas you are in (north, south, east or west) it is vast – something like Ontario. Livingston, TX was the place we decided to stop and figure out what we were going to do for the next four or so months. It is the headquarters of Escapees RV Club and I needed to pick up the payment they owed me for the article in their Magazine. We also wanted to tour the Care Center.

Now that's an interesting place. They've set up a whole RV park area devoted to RV'ers who for reasons of health or infirmity cannot travel. They live in their own rigs, get three meals a day; someone comes in and cleans their place and there are volunteers that drive them to appointments and stuff. Mostly volunteers run the place. It costs them $800.00 a month ($1200 for a couple) I think it is a great concept!

Rio Grand Valley or being near the water (the Gulf) – that was the question. We have opted for the Gulf.

So we arrived here at Rockport, TX a few days ago and are still trying to get our bearings. Supposedly, Rockport is a great place for birding and it is where the Whooping Cranes winter. We have visited the beach and the wild-life refuge and still have so much more to do.

How long are we here for?? Haven’t got a clue – maybe until we don’t take wrong roads anymore?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Stars Fell on Alabama

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We've started exploring our surroundings!! We are South-east of Mobile, Alabama towards the Gulf of Mexico.

On our first outing we headed down towards the water on the local back roads. The houses that line the shore roads all sit on pillars about 10 feet off the ground and many of them are spectacular and have cut off any access to the water.

The nearest place of any size is Foley. Foley's major claims to fame seems to be 'The Tanger
Outlet Center - a 120 store factory outlet mall; there are an incredible number of medical services; and Lambert's - the 'Throwed Bun' restaurant - that will feed you till you get sick (After 2 days, I'm still suffering from overeating or a reaction to too much MSG). We brought home enough for at least one more meal. This could put me off food for a while!

The area is VERY flat and has vast fields of growing things we aren't all that sure about. We did find out that they are just now harvesting the soy bean crop, got some pictures of peanuts being harvested and saw fields and fields of cotton growing.

Peanuts grow like potatoes, underground. They plough them out and leave them for a time so the peanuts can air dry. Then they are gathered up – we’ve seen the windrows sitting in the fields but are yet to see what they do next.

Foley is the next town up from the Gulf. Gulf Shores is right at the water. Apparently Katrina took its toll on the area and most of the older buildings were either destroyed or badly damaged. They are now replaced with new high apartment buildings and condo complexes. There is very little public access to the beaches but the public beach we did find was absolutely empty - too cold – they call this winter down here (it went up to 75 F that day).

As far as we are concerned, the weather is great. Mind you, the TV is warning people to make sure to bring their animals inside because it might go down to freezing - dah! The daytime temps might go down the mid 60's but will return to mid 70's by the end of the week. Tough, eh?

The Naval Aviation Museum

Everybody we talked to here at the Park said the Aviation Museum was incredible and that we just had to go see it. I kind of took this with a grain of salt knowing how military Americans are BUT I have to agree with those folks – it is pretty spectacular.

It looks to me like it covers about four football fields and they say it houses about 150 aircraft and covers every war where aircraft were involved. There is even an IMAX theatre in there. We spent the most part of a day there and still only scratched the surface. I still want to go to the IMAX to see a film on Hurricanes and Katrina so we’ll go back again.

Food and other Interesting Places

Of course a fair amount of time is spent finding places to eat and eating foods we’ve only heard about before. Some we’ll try again and others – well I just don’t think I’ll bother. The other night we went to an Asian
Buffet-type place where we managed to fill up on Crab legs and Crawfish. They’re O.K. but geez they’re a lot of work before you get to the good stuff!!

The other day, we went out to a small village (Fairhope, AL) that used to be primarily a fishing village but got hit pretty hard by the hurricane. It completely took out their pier and wharf. They have since replaced it with a pier that extends out over the water for about 1/3 of a mile.

We did manage to talk to a few of the local fishers and watch them catch a 27 pound ‘Red Fish’ – whatever that is. I was funny; I was trying to eavesdrop on what they were talking about. I could hear them O.K., but their accents were so heavy I couldn’t understand a word they were saying.

Like so many other places along the Gulf, with the destruction came all the land developers. Apparently Real Estate prices have increased triple-fold and there is house construction everywhere.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Going from Tennessee through Georgia to Alabama

We left Tennessee early Friday Morning - about 8:30, I think, heading down some back way so we would miss the traffic and Knoxville completely.

It was the kind of road that I love and Fred hates to drive - lined with big old trees - winding - occasional clearings where you can see the hills that surround the valley - but travel speed is slow - the road is narrow and has no shoulders - but it's pretty! We wound in and out amongst the hills and trees until we finally hit a semi-big highway that had traffic lights, I swear, at every other intersection and then onto the BIG (Interstate) highway heading for Chattanooga, TN.

Then came the fun!

The gal who suggested what road to take neglected to tell us to change from highway 27 to highway 24 before we got onto the major south-bound road - so we managed to go right through the centre of old Chattanooga and we finally ended up in a War-type Museum in a place called Ft. Ooglethorpe, Ga.

No room to park there so we pulled into a Church parking lot down the road to figure out exactly where we were and how we were going to get out of there and get going on the right road again.

Aha! Highway 2 meets up with the BIG Hwy I-75 so we could easily get back to Chattanooga, TN and get onto the right road to get through Georgia and into Alabama.

So, back we went - everything went well until we encountered BOTH Road Work and an accident.

I bet it took us twice as long to get through there as it would have going back through the town - but by this time we really had no choice - we kept going and finally got into and out of Chattanooga, TN (again) and into and out of Georgia (again), this time on the right road - quite a trip!!

Georgia has never been a positive experience for us. It was that great road through the centre of Georgia where we encountered those funny little "grease monkeys" when the van broke down on the way back from Florida - some 30 odd years ago.

So, we've finally made it through Georgia (all of 18 miles two times) and into Alabama.

The next day, Saturday, was the day of learning how to set up the GPS so it would work for us and we might be able to avoid all the wrong roads and colourful language.

We set in the supposed route and were so proud of ourselves!! Now, we THOUGHT it was set for this innocuous female voice to come on and tell us where we were, when to make a turn and when to take a different route. Yeh, right!!

The computer is secured on the shelf above the driver so we can have it running when we're driving. The radio is set on an off frequency that matches the frequency on the GPS thing. All set!!

Well, the system worked really good but no voice!! So there I was with the usual collection of maps, books, directions (all having different sized scales) having to totally disregard the GPS cuz the voice thing wasn't working.

Needless to say, we made it to the park but with the usual blame thing about the GPS system not working and taking the wrong turns.

Rainbow Plantation Escapees Park

This park - it's called the Rainbow Plantation Escapees Park - is much larger than the last one in Tennessee and that creates a whole different atmosphere.

It's big, flat and there is a enough space between the sites for at least three RV's. On one hand, it is less crowded but on the other hand, more isolated and less likely to meet your neighbours.

This park has house and leased lots - that tends to change the character of the place but there are some standard things that happen at all Escapees Rainbow Parks - like the 'social hour' at 4 every afternoon, 'ice cream social' on Sundays and things like that - what differs is how well these activities are attended. It seems the bigger and more diverse a park, the lower the attendance at the 'social' activities.

It's a beautiful setting with 'living oak' trees lining the roads and dispersed between sites.

We're about 10 miles from the beaches at Gulf Shores, AL to the south and about the same distance east from the west side of Florida - Pensacola.

We expect to be here for almost a month and have so much exploring to do.

We are on-line the whole time we're here - that makes me happy.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Cumberland Gap

Another place our fellow RVers recommended was the Cumberland Gap - a National Park that straddles Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.

It is considered the first great gateway to the west. The buffalo, the Native American, the longhunter, the pioneer... all traveled this route through the mountains into the wilderness of Kentucky. Daniel Boone’s trek exemplifies the hardships and experience of the new settlers.

I couldn’t help but wonder how those pioneers felt when they looked out over the miles and miles of hills and forests wondering how they would ever find a place to settle and survive.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Rugby, Tennessee

One of the nice things about Escapees RV Parks is that they tend to have a Social Hour where fellow RV’ers discuss local attractions, the good and the not so good, other places and how to get there. There is usually a map or two out on the table and someone who has been there and is willing to give you directions, as well as their opinion on what it is like and the advantages and disadvantages.

This is how we found out about the historic village of Rugby, Tennessee and decided to go out and see what it was all about. To our good fortune, there was a big gravel truck behind us and we ended up going past Rugby to a ‘Y’ in the road just to get away from him.

R. M. Brooks Gen. Mdse. sat there in the crook of ‘Y’ and (to my mind) was more interesting and gave us a better insight into the local history than we got in ‘the historic village of Rugby.’

Even though the fellow who ran the place (and for the life of me, I can’t remember his name – it wasn’t Brooks cuz the store was started by his wife’s grand daddy - twice removed) looked the part of the old store keeper he obviously had something to do with the goings on of the village (we overheard his cell phone conversation). He told us about the history of the place starting when his wife’s great grand daddy opened the store for the miners and then they expanded it for the road construction gang.

He talked about how they built onto the old store and collected all the stuff he had there. There seemed to be a story for each piece.

The pot-belly stove was lit and sat in the middle of the store. He told us how he could get it all red and ‘just-a-jumping’ in the winter when he burned coal in it to keep the store warm.

The store carried locally cured hams, local

preserves (with the R. M. Brooks label) and more odds and ends than you can imagine.

The village, itself, was founded as a colony for the ‘second sons’ of the British peerage families. It has a number of historic structures that are either restored or replicated. The old Episcopalian Church was constructed in the 1800’s and has been used continuously for public worship since 1887.

We're off to the Cumberland Gap before we're off to Alabama!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Museum of the Appalachia

The Museum is a 65 acre exhibition of the way folks of the Appalachian Mountains worked, played and survived over the years. Settlement of this region stretches back into the late 1700’s.

For over four decades, one man, John Rice Irwin, has collected buildings relics and
remnants of their unique and colourful ways of life – many stretching back into his own family history.

There are between 30 and 40 buildings – cabins, barns, an old school house, workshops, smokehouses, church and the like.

They are set out along a village-like path that surrounds a big farm-yard where most of the animals hang out.

A couple of the buildings house treasures belonging to local ‘heroes’, some unusual hand-made musical instruments, folk art and an extensive Native artifact collection –everything in the collection is authentic and the notes on all the exhibits are hand written.

Mark Twain family cabin

The Big Tater Valley Schoolhouse was moved from nearby Big Tater Valley
on Bull Run Creek between
Union and Grainger Counties, and is completely furnished in the manner of an early mountain school.

Musical Instruments

Folk Art


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Quick Update

What I never thought about when I started blogging was that you have to be on-line to create the posting as well as upload it. Right now we have access for a very limited period of time so I’m going to update quickly and probably continue on the Web Site so I can work on it when we don’t have access.

Well, we made it to Tennessee. We're just north of Knoxville in an Escapees RV Park call Raccoon Valley RV Park and thinking about staying here for a couple of weeks.
This is a new way for us to travel – we don’t usually move this much or this often and it take some getting used to.

Before we would travel for a time, then stay put for a while. The only times we stayed in one place for any length of time on this trip were in Halifax and then in Little Narrows and even then it was only for a week or so.

We stayed a couple of nights with a couple I had worked with in
Calgary (Bob & Diane) at their newly built place just outside of Antigonish.
What a beautiful place they built in a spectacular setting.

Going across the Causeway onto
Cape Breton had a strange but very familiar feel - it was almost like going home, but not? Hard to explain!

The more things change - the more they stay the same?
Not Cape Breton - there seemed to be so little change except maybe for the people who were teenagers when we left and they now have grown children of their own.
Many old friends have died and others have gone away but there were still ever so many who we remembered and who remembered us.

We chose NOT to go out the old place but visited one of Theresa and Johnny daughters who lives in their old house (The first house in on our road).

We toured the Cabot Trail but the leaves lacked the brilliance I remembered. The folks around there agreed that the colours were not as vivid. I think we were about a week too early.

I left all the copies of 'Jacob's Tails' we had with Louise (she owns the general store at Little Narrows) except for one I've brought with me. When we left, she had two left.

It was the wrong time of year to promote ‘Jacob’s Tails . . .’ Every place I talked to wanted copies (consignment, of course) but they would be closing down for the season right after Thanksgiving and did not want any extra stock, right now but almost every one wanted copies in the spring. So I'm going to send a box down to Louise in Little Narrows and she will take care of distributing them for me.

As we moved back onto the Mainland and into
New Brunswick, there was more change in the leaves and the colours became more intense.

We had a wonderful visit with Suzanne and Howard (Ann Marie's sister) in
St. John but it was raining pretty hard and we decided to move on.
We went from
St. John into Maine and toured around Acadia National Park on Desert Mountain Island near Bar Harbor - beautiful, but touristy, touristy, touristy - it was just about as bad as Banff - BUT - the leaves had started their transformation and were just glorious.
New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania literally flashed by - all I really remember is a zillion-billion semi-trailer trucks whizzing by and watching red tail lights as we were boxed in on all sides by big white trailers or trees you couldn't see above, below or around.
Super highways have never been my favourite and this was no exception.

We finally slowed down in
Virginia and spent a couple of days around Lexington and toured the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Coming into
Tennessee is like a breath of fresh air. Partly because it has turned out to be another lesson in Natural beauty, partly because the weather is so agreeable (high 20’s C daytime) and partly because we have agreed to stay put for a couple of weeks.
We seem to be out of the threat of cold and icy weather - (although they experienced a few tornadoes just west of here last week) and Fred can calm down and relax.
Getting on the right roads going the right directions has been the topics of many heated and loud discussions in the past few days.

We're using WiFi Satellite that doesn't support SKYPE very well and we haven't been able to set up the International Long distance function on the cell phone we got.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Change in Plans!

Yes, we actually did make some plans for after we left Quebec. We would do our visiting in New Brunswick – after Cape Breton and the mainland Nova Scotia – on our way to Maine. So we went right through New Brunswick only stopping for the night. All this because we thought we might meet up with the repaired computer after October 4th.

One phone call – that’s all it took to turn our plans absolutely upside down! Bob let us know that the old computer was irrepairable and would be replaced!! AND the new laptop was chosen (up-grade from the old one – which it had to be because they don’t make that one any more) and was being shipped to our friends in Halifax by Purolator.

(Plans for us tend to be things that constantly change - we should just stop making them!) Off to Halifax and the South Shore area and what a delightful divergence!!

We set up at an RV park on the road to Peggy’s Cove and spent almost two weeks visiting, touring and promoting ‘Jacob’s Tails’. Patti & Bob are wonderful guides. Our first stop was a ‘Words-on-the-Street’ event in Halifax – a huge gathering of book stores and individual authors doing readings. They are all selling their wares. The tremendous challenge of promoting and selling a book is creeping in like a bomb!! This was not the right place – they were all too busy but I did collect some good information and possible contacts.

I managed to leave a couple of copies on consignment with one bookstore vender there and then when we went out to Mahone Bay, another store took 6 copies.

I never thought about the consignment process before. Another example of my drive to control – it must be like sending children off to places unknown and wondering if they will succeed or if they will end up coming back again and again. It takes a lot of books, good record-keeping, and a good sized bank-roll to leave copies on consignment.

Everywhere we went seemed to be one Kodak moment after another – Peggy’s Cove; Mahone Bay; Lunenburg; all places in-between; and now Antigonish, Cape Breton and into Maine – all just fascinating and breathtaking. We are spending so much time touring that there is little time left to write or do the Photo Journal or find WiFi connections. We are enjoying ourselves so much.

Here are a few shots from the South Shore area of Nova Scotia; Cape Breton and Maine. I’ll try to say less and BLOG more often so you can follow our journey.

Classic Peggy’s Cove shot

Mahone Bay during the Scare Crow Festival


Blue Nose II and friend

Places In-Between

Fishing Boats:

Ducks on Queensland Beach:

We left this area and Halifax shortly after the new computer arrived to head up to Antigonish and Cape Breton.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Destination – Quebec City: Hurray for pictures on signs

Thank goodness for pictures on highway signs! I am loathed to admit that most of the French I learned in high school is lost – and that my French is about as good as their English. Having said that – Quebec is one of the most fascinating places I have ever visited.

As we travel the secondary roads, the countryside resembles a classic picture of the narrow farms that run back along both sides of the road. Clusters of houses, outbuildings and towering silos line up one after another between lush fields of ripe corn. The towns and villages reflect the extensive and unique histories of the area.

We managed to stay away from most cities but Quebec City is one we chose to explore. We stayed at an RV park across the river at Levis, QC. That way we could leave the car in Levis and take the ferry across directly into the ‘old city’.

And what a great view of the harbour and the old city, itself! Those are containers on the freighter and the cruise ship must be 10 stories high. Netting encloses the Hotel Frontenac as they spruce up for the 400 year celebration next year.

Because of its distinctive character and location on the St. Lawrence River, Quebec City has become a popular stop for cruise ships. There were two huge ships in while we were there and the town was teaming with people.

My memories of Quebec City are dominated by narrow winding streets and working artists. Even though the city is far more sophisticated and there seem to be less working artists, there is an abundance of art work on display and the narrow winding streets have retained their charm and attraction.

Added to that are some incredible wall murals I had never seen before.

We hung around Quebec City for a few more days before we headed off towards New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.