Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Timeless Skies

Saskatchewan.  Our slogan has long been "Land of the Living Skies."  One of the things I was looking most forward to about being home for the summer is watching the ever changing skies, a canvas of light and color above endless prairie.  I was not disappointed -- the night I returned home I drove towards a stunning display of lightning....and into a summer storm of rain and hail so thick the visibility was near zero and I had to pull over.  The following days did not disappoint -- the spectacular Saskatchewan skies that amazed me as a child amaze me still....and I am sure they had the same effect on generations of Saskatchewanites before me.
This particular day dawned with skies of bright blue.  The tractor in the picture below was the workhorse of our farm when I was growing up.  She still runs, but this "horse" is basically out to pasture now in her later to enjoy sitting under beautiful blue skies like this.
1981 Versatile 555or "Triple Nickel"
And to watch beautiful sunsets like the one that came on the eve of that same day. 
The 555 below a colorful Saskatchewan sky

Years before, John Deere tractors were the main beast that roamed the land.  This 1924 John Deere D has seen 90 years of sunrises and sunsets in Saskatchewan....built tough, she is still intact and could be ready to go with a bit of tuning I bet.  I am not sure we humans are still built tough enough to drive her all day, without the comforts of an air conditioned cab, and vibration resistant seat.

1924 John Deere D

The "cab" of the 1924 John Deere D -- metal seat, wheel, throttle.  No bells or whistles but she did the job well.
This 1955 John Deere D had some added features, like headlights which are jutting up onto the horizon.

1955 John Deere 70

Not all Saskatchewan horizon is filled with ancient monuments....there is a whole lot of unobstructed view of the skies here as well.  I have always said there is no more beautiful sunset than Saskatchewan....Bermuda, Belize, Vancouver...I always expected the ocean, or mountains to top the view from my simple Saskatchewan home, but they  ever did.  Take a moment to look at the colors below...the pinks and purples and oranges that sweep across the sky rather routinely here have seldom shown up anywhere else I have been.  These skies that were likely near mystic to the Sioux and Cree remain so today....and will long after I, and even these tractor sturdy old tractors have long gone.

 The next morning brought new skies over another some other old friends -- a 1928 John Deere that is still operational, rolling down the street on its metal wheels in the odd parade, and its mini-me...the ever busy lawnmower for the farm.
1928 John Deere C with a modern John Deere lawnmore at its side

Monday, September 29, 2014

Goodbye For Real This Time

Sunday dawned the last day in Vegas for me.  We went for breakfast, laid out by the pool as long as we could, said goodbye to the Edmonton crew, and headed out for one last adventure minus the Dev, who muttered "Vegas always wins..." and stayed in for a nap with one eye on his Vegas prize....the 64 ounce leg glass from Freemont Street.

So as it was, we met at the Aurora in the lobby, and dabbled in a little electronic poker.  Kinda looks a bit like Flanagans when you put the usual faces in place.

The plan for the evening was to get some pictures of the Bellagio fountains, and so we hopped in the cab and headed that way.  One good thing about Vegas in August is that its not as crowded as some of the cooler months. 

Ah, pretty Vegas lights
And 5 years in Bermuda makes summer in Vegas easy to handle.  We stopped for a group photo -- now Joy from Bermuda gave Siobhan a "selfie stick," and this delighted the crowds wherever we went...especially Eileen as you can tell by this grin.  Most of the time we still missed a head, but we had a lot of fun trying, and refusing offers from people passing by offering to take our photo.

We had a great spot to stand and view the fountains as they "danced" to what I think was Pavarotti playing over the strip.

Once the fountain show was over, we started making our way down the strip towards the Cosmopolitan.  Music was still playing over the street like an extra companion, and an oldie but goodie "Queen of Hearts" by Juice Newton came on.  Eileen was bopping and dancing down the street as we sang along (which reminds me that Lizzie was dancing along to the music of a street performer the night before, and soon a crowd was watching HER perform...someone even threw in money so she is officially a Vegas showgirl in our legends).  It was one of those moments that the world slows down a moment, and I looked at my smiling, laughing Bermuda friends and realized that after months of putting it off, this was really it, the last night before time and distance would interrupt our usual and casual unusual and awesome flow of our escapades.  Eileen, Lizzie, and George would go back to Bermuda.  Siobhan would complete her disjointed Bermuda-Canada-US move back to Ireland.  Dev would go back to Qatar, although we always know he will pop up again soon, and I would be off to the States soon (or so I thought at the time).  So the moment in time is frozen in memory, and whenever I need a smile I can pull up these guys, bopping down the strip in Vegas.

Our next stop was the Chandelier bar at Cosmo.  We decided to get some Veuve Cliquot and toast the good times.  I don't think there is a sparklier place in Vegas than this, so it was the best spot we could think of!  So we toasted a good weekend, a good run, and future meetings, and ended our little journey on the same path...for now.

And on the way out the door I finally consented to letting Siobhan buy me something for a birthday present.  We found a vending machine that dispensed gifts...souvenirs, electronics, flasks, watches, and I had been determined all week not to accept Siobhan's offer of a gift.  But....there was a little stuffed dog wearing a bear suit, and when it was pointed out, I couldn't deny that it was adorable.  And so we headed back to the hotel, 2 scots, 1 Brit, an Irish lass, a Canuck, and a dog in a bear suit -- now adorned with lipstick kisses from all the girls and even George...the perfect souvenir :)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Farewell Captain Mark

I was very saddened to receive the news that Captain Mark Whayman of Sand Dollar Cruises passed away in Bermuda early Monday morning after sustaining a head injury Sunday evening.  You might recall Captain Mark from a few of my last posts in Bermuda Castle Road, The Last thing on the Bermuda Checklist, The Last Bermuda Pictures, and it was aboard Sand Dollar that I took the photos for Stalking Cinderella.

Here's what I know about Mark.  He was born and raised in Bermuda, and although he did a brief stint off island for some education and training, he came back and eventually built a life revolving around boats.  I sensed an easy peace in him.  A happiness to call Bermuda home, and appreciation for the life he had there, and a respect for the people and things around him.  That may be a lot to infer from someone you only knew briefly, but I feel pretty confident that I have it right.

When I was looking for a charter, the first place I called was busy on the day we were looking for, but the captain of that boat had no hesitation recommending Mark.  From that I know he was respected by colleagues.  When I spoke with a retired gentleman aboard the glow worm cruises, he too recommended Mark, not just as an excellent captain, but as a friend, a knowledgeable guide, and a nice person.  From this I know Mark had the respect of the community.  When the day came for our cruise, Mark was a little bit late.  A couple of men fishing on the docks reassured us that "Whayman will take good care of you guys," and that they had seen a sailboat coming around the outer edge of St. David's from the road.  I think it was the only boat out there, because the waters we very rough that day and it was a challenging course for him to take to come pick us up.  Mark also had some extra passengers that day -- a family of four that he met in St. George's at supper the night before, had invited to his home afterwards, and out on the boat the next day.  Some business owners may have charged each guest a flat rate and picked up a little more cash for the day, but not Mark, he took us out for longer than he had promised, and charged us all even less than fact we all paid 50% more than he asked because we would have felt guilty paying the reduced fee he asked for at the end of such a great day.

Captain Mark coming to get us in his bright yellow and blue skiff -- the first boat he owned he told us proudly

On board, Mark was an excellent host -- providing beverages, his own rum swizzle recipe, snorkels and masks, and when we dropped one overboard, he was most graciously nonchalant about it, and bad it retrieved while we snorkeled around the area.  He was a very knowledgeable tour guide, telling us about the history and current information of properties and forts, and he knew a lot about the local flora and fauna as well.  We all had a perfect day in the care of Captain Mark.  However, as I stayed on deck to take several hundred photos of longtails flying above, he remembered that I said on the phone I wanted a picture of Castle Island, and it had been too rocky on the oceans to dock there.  So he invited me to join his family and friends in 2 days as they were visiting the area again and expected better sea conditions.  I got the impression that he was just that kind of guy, who went out of his way for others.

And so on the second cruise, I saw more of this selfless, outgoing person.  The one who offered anything on his boat to anyone, be it food, beverages, supplies, or a camera.  The one who knew most of the other boats in the area and had a wave for everyone.  The guy who smiled as he pulled a sand dollar out between his toes, the namesake of his boat, and gave a little sand dollar lesson.  The guy who led a hike on a remote island where we found a longtail chick on the trail, and peered cautiously at it trying to see if it was injured or ok, and promised to call the Conservation officer with its location.  The kind of guy smiled and waved pleasantly at the family with the dog who were docking on that same island right below the no dogs sign and reminded them that there were no dogs allowed due to the wildlife.   The guy who knew how to find a parrot fish beak in a rock to show his guests, and who enjoyed a day floating in the water as much as sailing his boat.  The kind of guy who invited people back to his house for a barbecue at the end of a day, who watched his neighbours cats and dogs in addition to his own cat, who did modifications and repairs to other people's boats.  The kind of guy who offers you a ride to the airport when he hears you are flying out.  The kind of guy that when you tell everyone about your fabulous day aboard the Sand Dollar that they say "oh yes, he's a great guy, we sailed with him...."

So that's the little I know about Captain Mark Whayman.  I am sure there is much more to say from those who knew him better, knew him longer.  But Bermuda has lost a good son this week, a great ambassador.  May his family and friends find comfort in the many good memories they must hold.  Farewell Captain Mark -- it was a pleasure to meet you.

Captain Mark looking out on Castle Harbour

Friday, September 12, 2014

Viva Las Vegas

The final stage of this road trip....a flight from YYC to LAS (Calgary to Las Vegas).  In the cab between the airport and the hotel, the cab driver told us that the convention in town this week was the Hacker Convention.  "18,000+ registered, and let me tell you, you can pick those guys out a mile away, with the little backpacks and their faces glued to screens."  Siobhan and I had a little laugh, leave it to us to pick "nerd week" of all weeks.  After we checked in, we headed go the little lobby bar, because the free wifi at the hotel was only available in the restaurants and bars.  I don't want to say I go to Vegas a lot (but it is probably exceeds the amount of times I have been a bridesmaid, which is remarkable for any event go do, and interestingly, the two events have never happened at the same time.  I will come out of bridesmaid retirement for a Vegas wedding one day...), but when we sat down at the lobby bar I recognized the bartender.  He did not recognize me though, and to Siobhan's delight, when I flicked open my beloved Surface Pro to let everyone know we had arrived, the bartender said "Are you here for the convention?"  "You're a NERD!" Siobhan squealed!  I did not hear the end of it for the rest of the weekend.
Well, Siobhan and I never did make it out of that lobby bar that day.  Eventually "my Scots," Eileen, Lizzie, and George (Lizzie is more of an honorary Scot, since she moved from England but has some Scottish ancestry, but I lump her in there anyway) arrived at the lobby bar.  They had been out touring Vegas all day, and already had some interesting adventures and logging some time at places like the Twisted Kilt....and had a drink on the go on the other side of the lobby, so just popped in for hugs while we waited for...The Dev.  When "The Dev" arrived, he had been in transit for 34 hours from Qatar, so Siobhan and I expected an early night.  However, in true form of the legend that is Dev, something like surviving 34 hours in airports and planes is cause for celebration, and the long island iced teas started rolling.  Our bartender was about to experience the legend of Dev, and the evening was not going to be an early one after all.  Somewhere along the lines, John from Bermuda popped in, who was in Vegas on vacation with family, and a little while later Davey just rocked up, which was quite the surprise since he left Bermuda at the end of July and we weren't expecting him to pop up in Vegas!
At some point, Dev started talking to another Australian lad, who was indeed in town for the Hacker Convention.  In the best of Long Island Iced Tea laced intentions, Dev was pulling out all the stops to "be my wingman" and set me up with this Australian Hacker lad.  It was not going to happen. But he was a nice enough lad, and travelling on his own, so we told him the group meets every night at the lobby bar and he is welcome to join.  Still delighted by this hacker convention and nerd line of conversation, Siobhan was delighted to say "I can't believe it you pulled on the first night in Vegas, and a nerd!"  Again, he wasn't really a nerd, just a hacker, but there is no point arguing terminology at 3 or 4am, so I just said "Hey, that's Dev's nerd, thank you very much."  Despite this being an entire 'Act of Dev,' this is yet another thing I will never live down.  There is still lively debate on whether he belongs to Dev or me.
Friday early afternoon...dawned and began with a little shopping.  For once we were not fashion mission orientated, but utilitarian mission orientated.  The strip is not designed for utilitarian shopping, for future reference.  Early in afternoon, Barb and Heather arrived from Edmonton, and we had time to catch up before meeting the group in the lobby bar and heading to the show of our choosing.  Our hacker friend was waiting, and so our group expanded by one.  The taxi driver's were just fascinated with us, because for once they couldn't figure out where the group was from, with a mix of English, Irish, Scottish, Australian, and Canadian accents in the group...and it was even more confusing when we said we were mostly from Bermuda, except for "that guy we just found yesterday," which became the running joke for our hacker friend.  I think he quite enjoyed the humour, which is good, because we used that over and over on him.
The show we agreed on was....
...Rock of Ages, and we all loved it.  Loads of 80's and 90's music, the quality of the show was excellent....and they sang Journey "Don't Stop Believing," which is sort of the requisite for any good weekend with us anyway.
After the show, those of us still up for an outing made a brief pitstop at the Rock of Ages bar, where we were streamed live (a little too much like my last night at the Hog Penny), so we headed to a favourite Vegas haunt for all of us....Nine Fine Irishmen at New York New York.  This next photo was taken compliments of our hacker, minus solid attempts and hilarity of Shibby and the selfie stick.

Saturday it was necessary to put in some pool time, with the evening plan being to go to Freemont Street, just to go there, and also because Seether was playing a live free outdoor concert there...awesomesauce!!!  We had to take 2 cabs, and even with the split, we ended up with 6 and so it was necessary to rent a stretch SUV and travel in style.  Here are a few photos from the drive.

This ride is an excellent investment.  $60 is a flat rate fee, takes up to 8 or 9 people, and he toured us around for over and hour before dropping us at Freemont Street.  He also suggested a stop at a liquor board first so we could enjoy the cruise.  This is definitely the way to travel in Vegas.  Once we got to Freemont Street, we found a streetside pub and got a drink so we could get a couple of chairs, and settled in to enjoy the concert.

At one point I went into the Golden Nugget just for the point of it and put $5 in a slot machine.  This is what it looks like when you win $50!

Dev kept putting his head in the wrong spot for Heather's pictures, and after hearing about it a few times, he just decided he might as well do it on purpose.

Probably the tipping point of the evening was when Dev spotted this 64 ounce beer glass that was oddly reminiscent of the leg lamp in "A Christmas Story."  After that, well....there is a code about Vegas and I will plead that.

At some point a few of those left standing made it to this wheel, the new observation point in Vegas.  They include a few drinks in the ride, which we probably didn't need at this point, but Shibby and I were happy to have completed the original plan, even if it took til 2am or so.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Bow Valley Parkway

Leaving Lake Louise with plans for lunch, but no plan as where to have lunch, did not turn out quite as planned.  We turned in at the first restaurant sign that we came across, which was at this gorgeous, secluded little spot just off the Bow River.

The restaurant was in an old train station, complete with a nearby railway car.  The menu looked fabulous, and even reasonable.  But sadly the staff informed us they would not be serving until 5 om, so we did not get to eat here.  We were supposed to be in Airdrie to meet with my friend Candi by around 7, so we could not wait.

We headed in to the Lake Louise town site and into the first place that we looked like we could sit down and enjoy a meal,  This also had a sad outcome, as the wait turned out to be very long as the server eventually came over and apologized but they had decided they needed to serve the entire busload of tourists that arrived after us first.  Needless to say, this does not impress one much.  The order was also incorrect but I didn't have the time to waste on a do over or the complaint.  I wish I could remember the name of the place to warn you off, but I have forgotten...just be wary of a diner on the second floor of a building in the shopping area.  And do not order the will be overly sweet hot chocolate.

But moving along figuratively and literally, we took the Bow Valley Parkway back to Banff, which is a secondary highway.  The decreased speed limit and traffic means sometimes you will be treated to a view of wildlife.  Usually they are right on the road, so to avoid the extreme closeup of them coming through your windshield, it is a good idea to obey the 70 km/hr speed limit.  You have better luck at dawn or dusk, when the light is low, the air is cooler, and the animals come out to graze (this includes bears, they are omnivores so they eat greens AND tourists, er, mammals.  Kidding, Canadian bears eat way less people than American bears, go figure, so it's extremely rare here.)  Keep in mind that the Bow Valley Parkway has seasonal closures, both for bad weather in the winter, and between 8pm and 8am in the summer to reduce animal and vehicle conflicts (lose lose situation, these animals are pretty big and heavy, so is the car. just don't go there).

We did not see a bear.  We did see the swinging of a small skinny shrub on the roadside indicating that something relatively large had made a rapid exit back into the woods,  When we pulled over to take this photo, a car that must have just been ahead of us was stopped to, and asked if we had seen the bear on the roadside a few miles back a few minutes ago.  So close....but yet so far.  What we did see was more beautiful Rocky Mountain  vistas.

Feeling kind of desperate that we had travelled hundreds of mountains in the Canadian Rockies and only spotted a multitude of squirrels on Siobhan's first ever trip to the Rockies, I sent up a little prayer to see some wildlife on this lonely windy road so that Siobhan didn't think our mountains had nothing in them but a bunch of cheerful rodents.  There would be no bear, but within a few minutes, I spotted this fellow on the side of the road.

I quickly snapped on the long lens so that I would be able to take my time and get just the perfect shot of this guy across the road.

The elk however had a very different plan.  No sooner did I click the big lens on and he started walking, in the typical long stride of a animal that is 700-800 pounds, 5 feet tall (7 or 8 if you count the antlers), and 8 feet long.  What I mean, is he moved quickly.  Not quickly just for a giant animal, but quickly, and in 3 or 4 steps he was standing in front of the hood and there was no hope of a photo with the size of lens I had on.  Just as quickly as I could change to the smaller wider lens, he had walked off into the woods on the other side.  I was ok with this....I was mostly happy he didn't decide to sit on my car, or kick it with 800 pounds of hoof, and that my little prayer had been answered.

This lasr photo that I stopped for looks like the aftermath of an old forest fire.  However, if memory serves correctly, this area was actually a "controlled burn," meaning the forest service at one point intentionally started a fire in this area.  In this particular case, it was to create a "dead zone" or barrier to keep a real fire from spreading across a much larger area if it were to occur would die out from a lack of fuel when it hit the already burned barrier.  There are other reasons for controlled or prescribed burns, and different estimates of the recovery of the forest which range from decades to millenia, but I am not an expert and won't go there for now.  But this is the "recovery" many decades after this particular event.

The Bow Valley Parkway ends just before Banff.  We carried on from there to our destination in Airdire, where our wonderful hostess Candi set us up with conversation, wifi, a great meal and bevvy, warm bath and cozy beds for the next leg out our journey.  Thanks Candi -- was great to see your new place and get a visit in!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Leisurely Trip to Lake Louise

Once the gondola returned us to the base of Sulphur Mountain, we had to get moving to make the most of our one day in Banff.  We were hoping to see a lot of wildlife. But knowing how lucky you have to be to actually see a bear, we took photos of all of the fake ones along the way.

this guy greeted us in the Starbucks
The plan was to head to Lake Louise and stop at anything interesting along the way.  That line of thinking basically got us to the base of Sulphur Mountain, at Bow Falls.  This is near the Banff Springs Hotel if you are ever looking for it.

Bow Falls

The only wildlife I saw was this little guy, attached to a guy in a Saskatchewan T-shirt.  Siobhan thought I should have been paying attention to the handler, but all I noticed was the dog.

It would have never worked out...chances of his owner being a cat person are slim
But in going back to those falls, you can take a little pathway up and look down them.

If you do you will note that the water is a sort of stark blue green.  This color is usually a hint that the source of the water is a glacier....and it's a bit chilly!

See that icy blue color by the rock?

But, being Canadian, life goes on despite the chill, and we do this in it.

Whitewater rafters going by

One last shot of this pretty area before hitting the road again

We exited Banff and headed down the #1 Highway to Lake Louise.  It's a beautiful spot, and the Bow River winds its way there as well.

Once you get to Lake Louise, you are greeted with a stunning vista...and an unfortunate mass of people, as indicated by all the cars at the bottom of the photo.  The road was lined up for about a mile on either side as the parking lots were full.  We managed to catch a spot relatively close,  which was good because I was limping even worse than the day before after our walk through Banff the day before.  Plus that little trek around Sulphur Mountain earlier in the day

And once again, water sports on Lake Louise.

We really weren't liking how crowded Lake Louise was.  I am used to appreciating the mountains in relative solitude, and perhaps it was all the years in Bermuda, but neither of us were digging the fact that you had to almost wait around for a lake front spot to open in order to get a picture without some one's head in it.  I figured Moraine Lake would be a little quieter, and so we headed down the road that way.  We were once again mt with far more people than I expected to see

The photo above is taken standing on the shore of Moraine Lake and looking back to the parking lot.  The picture below is overlooking Moraine Lake.  There are a lot more of those logs jammed up, hundreds, which would make a beautiful picture, except there were about 50 people jostling to get on top of them an take selfies.  I pity the facebook friends of the narcissist in the yoga gear, because I was sick of looking at her poses and it looked like she had done a couple hundred before I arrived, and she was still at it when I left.  These are the photos I will have to live with....better to be a little less panoramic but people free.

The people in the canoe are allowed, they actually add to the photo in this case.  There is a great looking dining room overlooking the lake.  I had hoped to enjoy a fabulous late lunch there before carrying on, but the dining room does not open until evening.  The little cafeteria attached had lots of beverages but very little food left, so we decided to grab something down the long windy road.  But that is the start of another story, and so will leave that for another day.