Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Two Lakes at the Hotel

Looking closely at this picture reveals two different things. The first is a small boat we used to cross the lake, the second is the remaining glimpse of a glacier on the mountain. Our journey this morning took us to the other side of one lake, and after a short walk, another ride in a different lake.

The Many Glacier Lodge Park was once home to 125 different glaciers. Our climate is changing and there are only 25 now. Here's the first boat on the first lake:

As we walked a short distance to the other lake, we saw this "sign" of grizzly activity on a tree along the path. It's always wise to make yourself known by carrying a little "bell" as you walk around here. This grizzly reached high to scratch is claws on this tree to show other bears that "this was his territory".

I'm still not sure how this "other boat" reached this lake which was on the other side of our current one. There was something mentioned about a frozen creek and transporting it in the winter season but I'm still confused about as to how it ended up here.

When the winter season is at it's worse here, everyone leaves with the exception of a few maintenance people. Snow drifts can be 50 ft tall and it's quite an effort to keep it off the roof of the hotel.

Rumor has it that animals had once fallen through the "skylight" on the roof  as they walked across the top in the snow. There are several stuffed "mountain goats" in the hotel lobby.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Beautiful Scenery

There's a small lake at the Many Glacier Hotel and we decided to walk around it just before sunset. The next morning we would catch a small boat, and ride to the other side. A short walk from the other side is yet another small lake. This area is a hikers paradise with pristine air and water being the norm instead of the exception we normally tolerate in busy world.

Getting out like this made us feel "alive" and in harmony with nature. 

Sunrise the next morning was a sight to behold. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Parks

Our coach soon headed towards the first of several National Parks we visited on this trip. Our first day on the road took us back into the United States to Glacier National Park in Montana. The prairie was a sight to behold for me and I was impressed with the miles and miles of grain. I was also impressed with the miles of windmills we saw heading back toward the US.

We stayed at the Many Glacier Hotel which I found unique among all the places we stayed on this trip. The scenery here was spectacular; both inside and outside the hotel. It felt good to relax around an open fire in the lobby. This hotel was built around 1915 and remains much the same today. I found the lobby to be a very unique place.

A walk around the lake was wonderful, and around sunset, a very beautiful place. One thing we learned quickly on this trip was that this part of the country is prime territory for Grizzly Bears. We never saw any on this trip but it's always a thing to keep on your mind.

Here's another view of the lodge: 


Downtown Calgary

Calgary was our first, and only the only big city in Canada that we visited on this trip. Our hotel was centrally located about a block from the Calgary Tower. There was also a “walk only” section nearby where we ate before taking a short nap to adjust from “jet lag”.

As usual, there’s also the mandatory visit to the nearest bank to exchange currency. Normally, we don’t consider this a big chore but we were surprised to find our credit cards would not work at ATM machines. It seems Canada is a few steps ahead of us when it comes to security.  

They do things differently in Canada when it comes to credit cards. In Canada, there’s a computer “chip” built into the card. They don't have “pennies” now and they have dollar and two dollar “coins”. The currency exchange rate is almost equal between our two countries and many stores will accept American currency but using a credit card (from America) can be a real bummer. Fortunately, we were able to use our American Express card without any problems. We also noted that restaurants “bring the charge machine to you” when paying for a meal. Operating this way; the card never leaves your sight. A good measure indeed!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The City of Calgary

We always enjoy seeing a city from a high vantage point and the "Calgary Tower" fit the bill on this trip. We viewed this city from the observation deck. Designers always delight in presenting something "special" on this type of structure. The Calgary Tower was no exception.

Psychologically, one part of my brain says this  "glass" floor is strong enough to withstand the weight of a large elephant, the other part of my brain says "don't stand here very long". Marilyn seems so cool and collected but I can assure you "I did not". Standing here takes all the courage I can muster.

I quickly moved off this "floor".

Calgary is a city of just over a million people. They've diversified now and the city is a large oil and gas center; but in the beginning, it was a "cattle town" and even today, that life is celebrated with an annual event known as " The Calgary Stampede ".

This year (just a few months before we arrived ) the town received 14 inches or rain in a very short period of time. True to Canadian spirit, a reclamation of gigantic proportions restored the area where the stampede is held each year.

It required work seven days a week and 24 hours a day. I'm amazed they were able to keep "the show on the road". It's difficult to imagine the area looked like this just two months earlier.....

▶ Stampede Grounds Calgary Flood June 21, 2013 

It required the evacuation of 70,000 people.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Glaciers in the Canadian Rockies

Marilyn and I had a wonderful trip to view the Canadian Rockies which started in Calgary Alberta Canada. Calgary is a city with just over a million people and originally began as a cattle town. That culture still abounds every year with the advent of the annual "Stampede" celebration. The skills and life style of the early cowboys in this part of Canada are celebrated in this event. The "Stampede" draws thousands here and is an important social time for everyone in the city. The city of Calgary now has diversified into a major producer of oil and gas.

The picture above is of our tour guide, Rob White who works for "Tauck" and which both Marilyn and I agree, is the best director we've ever had the pleasure to travel with, on any trip. We've traveled with this company previously in the United Kingdom and also California. They've all been excellent trips, with excellent tour directors; but Rob is the most sociable and knowledgeable director imaginable; he's a walking encyclopedia of history, geology, and traveling experience.

On this trip we were fortunate to experience the city of Calgary, the Many Glacier Park in Montana, Lake McDonald Park in Montana, Lake Louise in Canada, Jasper National Park in Canada, and Banff National Park in Canada.

Thank you Rob, for a wonderful trip!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Big Rocks

It takes a lot of guts to climb these big rocks. Yosemite is one of the top three "world class" climbing challenges in the world. It's not unusual to see climbers on the face of these monoliths or spending several days on some of them. They "hang" on the face and sleep overnight in primitive hammocks or tents.

The very best of the climbers "free climb". John Muir was know to do this. The modern day equipment makes this much easier now.

Our Hotel had some of the most beautiful views anywhere to be found. 

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Yosemite Park

After wandering around the big city and the redwood trees a few days, we were ready for the "high country". I now realize why John Muir thought this was one of the most beautiful places on earth. This is the view first a person sees after driving through a highway tunnel into the valley.

This summer has been extraordinarily hot and it's taken a toll here this year. The entire state of California is under drought conditions. The last time I was here, water cascaded over the main ridges much like an entire swimming pool. It crashed and rumbled like a rocket taking off into space.

If not for a short shower upstream last night, there would be nothing cascading along this path today. Fortunately, we saw a small "trickle". It was to disappear this next day. I was shocked at this! We decided to do some hiking a few days later to a waterfall we knew would have a strong current. Little did we realize the tragedy that would await us.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Big Big Trees

The Sequoia tree grows differently, from other trees. They reach a certain height, and then begin to widen as they grow older. Sort of like getting fat and bunchy, like a rabbit. Some of them are centuries old. It's a humbling experience to walk among them. John Muir was known to climb some of them during a strong storm just to feel their strength as they swayed in the wind.

The biggest of all the Sequoia's is called the General Sherman Tree. It's VERY large and VERY wide. We walked down to this giant from a trail above it through the woods. Although this is a populated place, it's possible to see just about anything around here.

As we walked through the woods to the tree, we came upon a female black bear with two cubs. This is potentially a dangerous situation and concern for everyone. She avoided us and the cubs followed behind her down the hill through the woods. When we arrived at the big tree, she once more appeared with the two cub trailing behind. There are mountain lions is these woods also. Best to always keep an eye open...

The mother is difficult to see, but the two cubs are quite obvious. 

Cool Foggy Weather

Marilyn and I have always enjoyed walking, as a slow mode of travel. It forces a person to see the real things in a town. We had originally planned to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge but every evening, the fog just rolled across the city around 5pm and often was still around as late as 1pm.

We decided to cancel this attempt in order to see more in the immediate city. Here's what the Golden Gate Bridge always looked like in the early morning traffic.

Our trip was divided into different segments and we were soon headed to a different place where John Muir found true wilderness. I was looking forward to seeing nature up close and personal.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Go Car Tours

These might look like toys, but they're not. I first thought they might be fancy golf carts, or maybe bumper cars, but they are much more. These "Go Cars" are a three wheeled, two person carrier. They're an amusing GPS, self guided driving  machine. Rented by the hour, it's a unique experience.  

Here's what they look like in action. 

If you listen closely, you can hear the "pre programmed narrative"  of the stopping point in the background. Needless to say, they're illegal on bridges and freeways, but in town, they're quite functional.

Getting Around as a Tourist

The price of these machines keep dropping as economics kick in. I've never ridden one but they sure look like fun. I never saw anyone take a fall the entire time we were in San Francisco. I'm assuming all these folks were "first time riders". After a few hours on these machines, they were masters.

Friday, August 31, 2012

More Transportation

Moving along on the transportation theme, I've always thought it a little "nuts" to drive a car in a big city. These are "street cars" powered by overhead electrical cables. The really neat thing about these were the "variety". I saw gasoline at $4.30 a gallon and the parking fee at the hotel was $53 a night.

San Francisco has a variety of different modes for the savvy traveler. I saw hundreds of "Prius" taxi-cabs. I saw Segways, and some really neat motorcycles with GPS features that were VERY interesting to ride.

I saw so many Prius hybrids that I was beginning to think they were the "state car" of California. I'll post more information and pictures about these on the next entry.

Oh yes.....and bicycles were VERY big here too. I saw thousands of them. It was refreshing to see so many on the flat areas near the coast. All the streets had special "bike lanes" specifically for the riders.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Cable Cars in San Francisco

I've been to many places in the world and they all have their own "unique" characteristics. In San Francisco it's the transportation system that caught my eye. This city has the most "fun" mass transit of any I've ever visited in the world.

Marilyn and I soon figured out how to travel from one place to another very easily in this town. The "hills" demand it, and this is the perfect solution for those not used to them. The "incline" is amazing in this town. Although boarding one of these cable cars may take a few minutes, they're well worth the wait for a nice ride. It's especially fun to hang onto the "outside of the car" when moving up or down these steep hills.

We just couldn't get enough of them and rode them as often as possible. Here's another quick video of the fun.

Have you ever wondered what they do at the end of the line?  This is what happens when you get there and need to turn around and head back the other way.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

San Francisco

My last trip to California was less than 10 years ago. At that time, the Midwest was lush with tall vast acres of green corn. Today I noticed big changes in those fields.. A record heat wave has scorched the land and created desolate brown splotches below us as I fly across the United States towards San Francisco. Below me, I see vast fields of natural gas wells as I fly above Colorado. A new technology called "fracking" has enabled mega corporations to profitably harvest this resource but it also emits a deadly methane gas which harms the environment. Before our trip is over, we will experience 109 degree heat on the train in Fresno. I wonder if this foretells the inevitable in my home state of West Virginia.

Our tour group consists of around 40 travelers this year. Most of them are retired professional people. One is a doctor, another is a practicing lawyer, and another is a school teacher. The rest appear to be former businessmen and women. There are also several former Foreign Service people on this trip.

Our tour revolves around the naturalist icon of John Muir and the giant redwood trees. John Muir was born in Scotland and raised under the Calvinist theology of his father. Upon entering the United States, he soon found himself in the midst of a horrible civil war and the possibility of forced enlistment in the armed forces. He quickly fled to Canada and lived there until the end of war.

Although self taught, he was an expert in Botany and Geology. He heard tales of giant redwood trees in the wild places near San Francisco and wanted to see them.  Our first sighting of these trees would be just outside the San Francisco city limits in a grove of coastal redwoods appropriately named John Muir woods. These trees are not the largest of the giant redwoods but are the tallest of the species. We got our first glimpse of them in the higher elevations above the town of Sausalito.

This is the second trip Marilyn and I have taken with the Tauck Company. Our first was to Scotland, Whales, and England. Their guides are the best in the business, their lodging is superb in both quality and location, and the coach service is outstanding. As an example, we are staying at the Weston hotel in Union Square; it's the shopping hub of this section of the city and Macy's is just across the street.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Special Kind of Boat

I've posted earlier about the uniqueness of our boat but a picture (or video) is worth a thousand words. This trip would have not been possible with a "normal" boat because there were many bridges and locks which had very close tolerances. Several times we passed through places with only a foot or two clearance above the pilot house.

The answer to this problem is here:  

Even with these extreme measures, sometimes there's not a lot of room to spare. Standing up (or not stooping down) could be a real headache.

Exiting a set of locks can be challenging.

As much as I enjoyed the cities along the rivers, being ON the river was just as much fun. As they say, getting there can be half the fun. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Danube Waterway and Bicycles

Being a "biker" myself, the long paths, along the entire length of the Danube River made me long for a ride here myself. I was VERY impressed with their commitment to "basic transportation"; I think the bicycle is one of the worlds greatest inventions. Here's just one view of the "bike path" running along the river near a small town.

On this trip, I saw (literally) thousands of bikes, and hundreds of "families" riding together on the weekends along this long path. It was not unusual to see small kids, and even the family pet, being towed behind the bike on a little trailer, as they moved along the Danube River.

These "ramps" (just for bikes) were common along all the towns on the river. Although I saw a few families with the traditional bike panniers carrying a tent, stove, air mattress etc, most of them stayed at convenient "bed and breakfast" homes along the river.

The more I watched them, the more I envied them. In my mind, this would be the "ultimate" bike trip. I could envision riding a thousand miles along this river.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Moving on Down the River

There are some great towns along this waterway and the history of many of them span centuries. As most of Europe, boundaries have changed many times due to wars. In the early days, many rulers built elaborate castles to protect themselves from their enemies. An entire book could be written about each of them, if one choose to do so.  

Many of the towns in Germany were bombed into shambles during the second world war. Although not a large nation, Adolph Hitler came very close to ruling the world. He killed millions of innocent people in his own country. Fortunately, those days are in our past. I choose not to dwell on them and move forward.

Modern Germany has many good qualities. One of the best is their “mass transportation system”. I found most Germans to be well educated, very environmentally conscious, and very resourceful. Germans think in very “social” terms. They like music and cultural activities.

I think many of their lives can be both complex, or very simple. Myself, I like the simpler things in life. Although I saw several industrial sites along the river, I never noticed pollution spewing from them like here in America. Despite using electric to power their “mass transit” systems. I never once saw a coal powered power plant! (I’m sure they existed somewhere).

I did however, see many windmills and many solar powered homes.  Germany uses nuclear power, but with the recent accident in Japan, most of these have been shut down.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Leaving West Virginia, we were in the midst of a hot spell with temperatures in the mid nineties. As we prepared to navigate the Danube, the weather began to turn much cooler. So much so, we needed to bundle up for warmth. I was amused at the selection of fleece jackets available in the ships store the next morning. It was a welcome change. 

The highlight of the city of Melk is the enormous Abbey overlooking the river. (not the above picture) Although very few monks live here now, it’s an active school for about 900 students. It’s also the depository for thousands of very old books. Some of them are hand written and priceless. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Last Days in Austria

Looking back on the trip now, I think Vienna was one of the best cities we visited. The general population speaks several languages, of which English is one of the majors, so it’s easy to communicate with the local people.

On one of our excursions through the busy city, we found ourselves in an “authentic” Austrian café. I love the wood in these places and the craftsmanship of their work. Some of these establishments haven’t changed the décor in decades, and it‘s like walking backward into time. They’re unique….

People in this part of Austria love their animals. Especially their dogs, and it’s quite common for the bar keeper to keep a small clean bowl for drinking water, just for the dogs in the café. The dogs are a true members of the family, and are served just like their owners.

When we asked for a menu, the waiter gave us a puzzled look….”just sausages, pastries, and beer”…no menu. They’re good….

Bring us two with dark wheat beer please…Danke.

A few moments later they arrived in a porcelain dish along with some sweet mustard and some bread, and with some beer. All of it was delicious, the beer was fantastic. Beer over here is totally different from the states. The dark wheat beer is especially good. It comes with a head that is tall and strong enough to float a quarter on. (maybe I’m exaggerating a bit)

The next morning we checked out of the Motel and took a cab to the dock where we boarded our ship, the “River Melody".

We had most of the afternoon to explore the walking and biking paths beside the Danube River. We walked several miles along the river just taking in the sights and enjoying the exercise while watching the activity on the river.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Different Life

Austria, like most of Europe has a long history. While some churches in America may be quite large, but it’s rare to see one like this church, which was just outside our Hotel room.

Life is also very different here because of the price of gasoline. Most of Europe is paying $7 to $9 dollars per gallon. This discourages traffic and encourages everyone to use public transportation. Public transportation here is VERY good! There’s no need to spend all your money on automobiles.

It didn't take us long to figure out this very common transportation mode. Although many bikes in this part of Europe are the standard bikes we know in America, we saw hundreds of these new "electric" bikes. I've ridden one of these recently, and they're a pleasure to move around a town. Peddling is almost effortless and they will move along at about 20 MPH for about 40 miles before needing a re-charge.

I truly hope to see more of this in America. It's a very good idea.

These sold for about 2000 Euro's....not cheap, but very functional and flexible. It's the perfect commuter bike. I'd like to have one someday.