Yellowstone, Winter & Wildlife
Feb. 14 – 21, 2013
We decided we wanted to see Yellowstone in the Winter, and it turned out to be a great decision! In the winter the Yellowstone National Park interior is only accessible through guided tours on snowcoaches and snowmobiles. So we booked a round trip coach tour from Wichita to Yellowstone with Village Tours & Travel, Wichita KS, and let them make all the arrangements. We have lasting memories of streaming geyser basins, snowy landscapes, and fantastic wildlife viewing.
This was our general route and amounted to approximately 2,700 miles RT. In addition to the coach provided by Village Tours, we rode the Amtrak train from Denver to Glenwood Springs, and snowcoaches within Yellowstone National Park.
In Denver we boarded the California Zephyr, Amtrak train to Glenwood Springs CO. Amtrak takes a scenic route through the mountains between Denver and Glenwood Springs. Much of the route follows the Colorado River and is away from roads and major developments. It was a very enjoyable seven hour trip with lots of lovely scenery and the opportunity to get up and move around at will.
This is the Amtrak route as provided by Google Maps.
Passing through the Coal Creek Canyon area.
Very pretty scenery from the train window.
Winter Park Ski Area
And the wheels on the train so round and round, round and round……
The railroad followed the Colorado for most of our journey.
The elevated road (below, right) is Interstate 70. On the latter part of our journey to Glenwood Springs, it ran close to the railroad for many miles.
Glenwood Springs, CO: Is known for it’s historic underground steam baths. They are over 100 years old and were used by the Ute Indians as a source of rejuvenation and healing. The city has seen famous visitors including President Teddy Roosevelt, who spent an entire summer vacation living out of the historic Hotel Colorado. (photo below, left).
Meeker Colorado: Population approximately 2,500, located along the White River in NW, CO. We stayed the night in Meeker and Jim & I enjoyed a tour of the 1891 Meeker Hotel. Think it would have been fun to have stayed here.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming: It is a major gateway to millions of tourists visiting Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and the National Elk Refuge. It has a population of under 10,000 and the elevation is 6,237 feet. A ski slope is shown in the first photo. The large arches of shed Elk antlers are located on all four corners of the town square.
National Elk Refuge: It is located between Jackson Hole WY, and the Grand Teton National Park. The refuge was created in 1912 to protect habitat and provide sanctuary for the largest Elk herd on earth, and it is managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. It is home to an average of 7,500 elk each winter. The refuge also provides horse drawn sleigh rides to the public during the winter months so that visitors have the opportunity to see portions of the herd up close. (And we did just that.) During the spring the herds follow the retreating snows back into the Yellowstone National Park region.
Grand Teton National Park: At approximately 310,000 acres, the park includes the major peaks of the 40-mile-long Teton Range as well as most of the northern sections of the valley known as Jackson Hole. Some of the rocks in the park are the oldest found in any U.S. National Park and have been dated at nearly 2.7 billion years. It is only 10 miles south of Yellowstone National Park , and it is connected by the National Park service-managed John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Highway.
Yellowstone National Park: It’s located primarily in Wyoming, however it extends into Montana and Idaho. It was established in 1872 and is thought to be the first national park in the world. It is known for its wildlife and is home to Old Faithful and two-thirds of the world’s geysers.
This maps copied from the National Park website shows the route we took through the park. (The 1st being the whole park and the 2nd a close-up of the area we visited.) We spent a day and a half in the park and traveled over 100 miles on our snowcoaches. We had the privilege of staying at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge that night.
In winter, the only way one can visit the park is with a commercial guide, either in a snowmobile or a snowcoach. There is a daily limit on snowmobile and snowcoach travel within the park. We traveled around in style in this classic, historical bombardier snowcat, which is made for over-snow travel. To stick your head out for an unobstructed view, one could open the hatch in the back, or use the opening in the center top of the ceiling.
It was fun riding around in the snowcats! Probably wasn’t as much fun for the yellow snowcoach company (below left) since one of their snowcats had run off the road and was buried up pretty deep.
Lewis Falls: The 30 foot falls is on the Lewis River, just south of Lake Lewis and located halfway in between the South Entrance and Grant Village.
Between Grant Village and Craig’s Pass we ran in and out of gorgeous, peaceful, beautiful snow.
After white-out snow, then the sun would shine brightly. We crossed the Continental Divide many times. (Below, right) is Shoshone Lake barely visible through the trees.
Kepler Cascades: The cascades drop approximately 150 feet over multiple drops. The cascades are located about 2.5 miles south of Old Faithful.
Old Faithful Historic District: Late on the afternoon we arrived at the Old Faithful area of Yellowstone. We stayed at the Old Faithful Lodge, which is very close to the Old Faithful Geyser. It was projected to go off at 5:17 and we waiting impatiently in the cold until after 5:35 when it finally did the grand performance for us. These are photos of the area near Old Faithful.
Old Faithful: It is a cone geyser and was named in 1870, the first geyser in the park to receive a name. Eruptions can shoot 3,700 to 8,400 gallons of boiling water to a height of 106 to 185 feet lasting from 1.5 to 5 minutes. The average height of an eruption is 145 feet. Intervals between eruptions can range from 45 to 125 minutes with the average today being 90 minutes. It is called the most predictable…..thus Old Faithful. More than 137,000 eruptions have been recorded.
We stayed at the Old Faithful Snow Lodge, which is located very close to Old Faithful.
Looking out the Lodge window the next morning at Old Faithful erupting.
Off we go for a full day of adventure with the sun shining brightly. First we drove through the Geyser Basin area north of Old Faithful.
Bison: The Yellowstone bison herd is probably the oldest and largest public bison herd in the United States. The National Park info indicates that the bison population fluctuates from 2,300 and 4,500 animals. There are two sub-populations defined by their gathering for breeding. The Northern Range (northern herd) and the Hayden Valley (central herd). We saw the central herd, and we saw lots and lots of the bison!
The hot geyser waters flowing into the stream.
Lower Geyser Basin: This is the walk up to Fountain Paint Pot, passing by Bacteria and Silex Spring. In referring to the National Park Service info again I will post this: “Heat from the molten rock of the earth’s interior is transmitted up through the solid rock of the earth’s crust. Ground water circulating through these rocks becomes heated and follows cracks and fissures upward. Where the hot water can escape at the ground surface, a hot spring is formed”
Fountain Paint Pot: The Fountain Paint Pot is named for the reds, yellows and browns of the mud in this area. The differing colors are derived from oxidation states of the iron in the mud.
Red Spouter: It originated with the Hebgen Lake earthquake, and exhibits the behavior of fumaroles, hot springs and mudpots. The earthquake which is referred to was in an area west of Yellowstone National Park in 1959. It lasted 30-40 seconds, and was registered as a magnitude of 7.3 – 7.5 on the Richter scale.
Leather Pool: The pool “underwent dramatic changes after the Hebgen Lake Earthquake of 1959,” reads a National Park Service brochure. “ Prior to the earthquake, it was a warm (143 degrees ) pool that supported leather-like thermophilic brown bacteria. After the earthquake, water temperatures rose to boiling and killed the microorganisms. Since that time, Leather Pool has cooled and again supports the brown bacteria.”
Fountain Geyser: The Fountain erupts 10-50 feet for 20 minutes or more. We were fortunate that Fountain was erupting while we were there.
The Lower Geyser Basin/Fountain Paint Pot was really a beautiful area!
Really enjoyed watching the thieving Raven. He unzipped the backpack, picked out several things that weren’t too his liking and dropped them on the ground, and was just settling on a tupperware with food in it when someone chased him away.
Heading east towards Canyon Village and seeing some of the parks wildlife.
Loved seeing all the Bison!
Following the old roadway between Norris & Canyon provides a great view of Virginia Cascade and some more steaming beauty.
Crossing the Yellowstone River.
Yellowstone Falls consist of two major waterfalls on the Yellowstone River. As the Yellowstone river flows north from Yellowstone lake, it leaves the Hayden Valley and plunges first over Upper Yellowstone Falls (photo, below left) and then a quarter mile downstream over Lower Yellowstone Falls, (photo, below right) at which point it then enters the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is the first large canyon of the Yellowstone River downstream from Yellowstone Falls. The canyon is approximately 24 miles long, between 800 feet and 1,200 feet deep and between one quarter of a mile and three quarters of a mile wide.
And in parting, it only seems appropriate to have the last two views of Yellowstone out the front window of our Snowcoach.
But, then suddenly what should appear before our very eyes………this BALD EAGLE…….the national symbol of this great nation of ours……..The United States of America!
Road Trip, 9 National Parks & a Wedding
4,944 miles RT to CA and the SW
Oct. 1 – 15, 2012
Since we had a family wedding in the Napa Valley area we decided that was excuse enough to take a leisurely road trip and take in a bunch of National Parks and other places of interest that we wanted to see.
Our trip highlights besides the wedding: The Great Salt Lake, Lake Tahoe, Napa Valley & Sonoma County, Driving on Highway 1 along the Pacific Coast, Armstrong Redwood State Park, Kings Canyon, Sequoia Nat. Park, Death Valley, Zion, Bryce, Grand Staircase/Escalante, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyon De Chelly, and Taos N.M. A great deal of our route was planned using “National Geographic Guide to Scenic Highways & Byways.” I highly recommended this book!
The Great Salt Lake, Utah: Located in the northern part of Utah, it is the largest salt water lake in the western hemisphere. The lake is about 75 miles long and 35 miles wide. It’s salty because it doesn’t have an outlet. The water evaporates leaving salt behind. The Bonneville Salt Flats is the largest of many salt flats located in the Great Salt Lake and is known for its land speed records at the “Bonneville Speedway.”
Lake Tahoe, California: Located along the border between California and Nevada, it’s the largest Alpine lake in the North America. Its depth is 1,645 ft. making it the USA’s second-deepest, (the deepest is Crater Lake in Oregon). We stayed in South Lake Tahoe and had time to enjoy strolling around and seeing the sights.
Sonoma County California: Our family wedding was in Sonoma county and we stayed in Healdsburg for three nights. During that time we got to see lots of the area as well as take in all the wedding festivities. Sonoma county is one of California’s largest producers of wine grapes. It was harvest time so we even got to watch as grapes were unloaded at one vineyard and saw the beginning of the process of wine making.
Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, California: It’s located in Sonoma county and it’s an 805 acre State Park of coast redwood trees. The Parsons Jones tree is the tallest at 310 feet. The Colonel Armstrong tree is the oldest, estimated to be over 1400 years old.
Highway 1, Along the Coast: Since we were staying in Healdsburg CA, we decided to take a look along the coast, via highway 1. The google map indicates it’s just 38 miles from Bodega Bay (south) to Stewarts Point (north),but we were out most of the day. We stopped at lots of State Beach areas and enjoyed the scenery. There was dramatic scenery along the coast drive. We cut back across towards Healdsburg on a tiny mountain road at Stewarts Point.
Jim found a rock to sit on so he could listen to the waves crashing into the rocks and to see if he’d get washed away!
Time for a seafood lunch at a restaurant overlooking the sea at Bodega Bay.
Continuing northward along the rugged coast drive.
We turned off Highway 1 at Stewarts Point unto a tiny road across the mountains. As per the Road Atlas map it was shown as being an “other” road. We didn’t see a soul for a very long time.
Wedding: We had the privilege of attending a beautiful family wedding at a Winery in Sonoma County.
Kings Canyon National Park: Located in the southern Sierra Nevada, east of Fresno CA, it was established in 1940 and contains 461,901 acres. We visited the General Grant Grove, with the famous Grant Tree and Redwood Mountain Grove which is the largest remaining natural grove of giant sequoias in the world.
The General Grant Tree is the 2nd largest living thing on earth. It stands 267 feet tall, and it isn’t even conceivable with a photo to see how big it really is without a bunch of people standing in front of it. It is estimated to be about 1,650 years old.
Sequoia National Park: It is directly south of Kings Canyon National Park. It was established in 1890 and spans 404,063 acres. The park is famous for its giant sequoia trees, including the General Sherman, the largest tree (byvolume) on Earth. The General Sherman tree grows in the Giant Forest, which contains five out of the ten largest trees in the world. We did the entire route of the Generals Highway from north to south through the park, it is notoriously steep, narrow, winding, and can be difficult to drive. Loved driving through the forest!
General Sherman Tree: The General Sherman is a giant sequoia tree located in the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park in Tulare County, California. By volume it is the largest known living tree on earth. It has an estimated age of 2,300 to 2,700 years. It was a glorious sight to behold, absolutely majestic!
In the photo below the inset rock area on the concrete pad shows how big the base of the tree actually is. It is an excellent way to get a concept of the massive size of the General Sherman Tree.
Driving from Sequoia National Park to Death Valley: After the drive though Kings Canyon & Sequoia we stayed at Three Rivers, CA. Then we headed in a southerly direction and cut across on “other” highway 155. As per our Rand McNally, we drove on “other” roads, and “other through highways” for much of the time. It was a very pretty drive across quite mountain roads. There was little traffic and we could enjoy the scenery.
Highway 155 hooked up with 178 which took us across “Walker Pass”. Aside from the paved road, the pass is essentially unaltered since Joseph Rutherford Walker mapped it in 1834. Walker returned through the pass in 1843, leading an immigrant wagon train into California. The pass provides a route between the San Joaquin Valley on the west and the Mojave Desert on the east.
Death Valley: Is within the Mojave Desert, and it is the lowest and driest area in North America. Death Valley holds the record for the highest reliably reported temperature in the world, 134 °F at Furnace Creek on July 10, 1913. Jim & I have always thought it would be fun to see Death Valley, but not during the summer. I will tell you that October was a perfect time to be there. It got up to 98 degrees during the day, but was really cool that night. After always hearing about Death Valley it was fun to actually see it and stay there that night.
I had reservations at a nice motel at Stovepipe Wells. Not a whole lot of choice in Death Valley, but the place was nice because it had a saloon with good food, a little store, and a gas station. The morning we left the gas was $6.05 a gallon (we didn’t need any.) On the other side of Death Valley is was $6.49.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes: Located just a few miles from Stovepipe Wells are the tawny dunes rising nearly 100 feet upwards from Mesquite Flat. We went to the Dunes at sunset.
Twenty-mule teams: Were teams of eighteen mules and two horses attached to large wagons that ferried borax out of Death Valley from 1883 to 1889. They traveled from mines across the Mojave Desert to the nearest railroad spur, 165 miles away in Mojave, California.
Zabriskie Point: Is a part of Amargosa Range located in Death Valley National Park noted for its erosional landscape. It is composed of sediments from Furnace Creek Lake, which dried up 5 million years ago.
Zion National Park: Located in southwestern Utah, Zion has some of the most scenic canyon country in the United States, and it is one of our favorite parks. Within its 229 square miles are high plateaus, a maze of narrow, deep, sandstone canyons, and the Virgin River and its tributaries. Zion Canyon scenic drive through the narrow canyon is open to shuttle buses only. The park service provides free shuttle service, with included narrative. It was late in the afternoon and the shadows about took over the pictures.
After doing the Canyon shuttle we continued our journey through the park exiting at the east entrance on Highway 9.
Scenic Byway 12, Utah: We traveled the entire 124 miles of this remarkable route. Around every bend in the road was another beautiful landscape of plateaus, canyons and valleys. After staying the night just outside Zion we went north on 89 and turned east on 12. We spent the all day seeing various splendid sights, and ended in Torrey where we spent the night. I copied this map from http://www.scenicbyway12.com
Red Canyon: Before arriving at Bryce National Park, Scenic Byway 12 takes you through Red Canyon.
Bryce National Park: Bryce is located in southwestern Utah about 50 miles northeast of Zion. It is not a canyon but a collection of giant natural horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters carved from the eastern side of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. Bryce is distinctive due to bizarre shapes, windows, fins and spires called hoodoos, formed by frost weathering. The red, orange, and white colors of the rocks provide spectacular views as you view the splendid scenery from any of the many overlooks.
Continuing on Scenic Byway 12: This is some of the scenery between Bryce and Escalante. Most pictures on Byway 12 were taken out of the car window as we drove.
Scenic Byway 12: From Escalante to The Hogsback. The Hogsback gets its descriptive name from the narrow section of Scenic Byway 12 that winds along the ridge. Picture #4 captures the straight drop-down from my window. The other side of the road looked just the same, just like driving on the top of the spine of a hog.
Burr Trail Road: Southeast of Boulder Town, we turned off Byway 12 onto a little road called Burr Trail Road. It turned out to be our favorite thing of the day. The byway cuts across the rugged canyon land of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Park, descending steeply down to a slot canyon called Long Canyon. We walked into the slot canyon and it was like being in a secret garden.
Capitol Reef National Park: Located in south-central Utah, the park is 100 miles long but fairly narrow. It is characterized by sandstone formations, cliffs and canyons, and a 100-mile long bulge in the earth’s crust called the Waterpocket Fold. Erosion has carved the rock into marvelous shapes.
Mormons settled the Freemont River Valley in the 1880’s. The National Park Service has preserved the original the Historic Gifford Farm, Fruita School House, and the Behumin Cabin which can all be seen on highway 24 that runs through the park. Petroglyphs can be seen on the sheer cliffs near the school house were carved by people in the Freemont Culture.
Arches National Park: The 73,000 acre park is located in eastern Utah just outside of Moab. With over 2,000 arches it contains the world’s largest concentration of natural stone arches. The National Park is a red, arid desert, punctuated with oddly eroded sandstone forms.
Canyon De Chelly National Monument, Arizona: It is located in northeastern Arizona within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation. It preserves ruins of the early indigenous tribes that lived in the area, including the Anasazi and Navajo. De Chelly consists entirely of Navajo Tribal Trust Land which remains in the ownership of the Navajo Nation and is home to the canyon community, while park matters are administered by the National Park Service. De Chelly is known for steep canyon walls dotted with greenery and ancient pueblo ruins. There are two paved rim drives, one of the north and one on the south. We drove both rims and got out and looked at all ten overlooks. It was straight down at all of the overlooks and it was so windy, I thought we’d surely get blown over the edge.
They say the Anasazi Indian dwellings were built between 350 and 1300 A.D. The picture on the left shows the dwellings located a little right of center along the sheer wall. A close-up picture is on the right.
Ancient Anasazi dwellings can be seen high on ledges on the canyon walls. The picture of the left shows the dwellings along the steep wall of the canyon (a little left of center). The close-up of the dwellings is on the right.
Taos New Mexico: Have always heard that Taos is a pretty town, so decided to stay the night there as we were homeward bound.
Headed home to good old Kansas. We left Taos on Highway 64 in a northeasterly direction. It was a pretty drive.
The panhandle of Oklahoma (left) and Western Kansas (right)
Almost home…..My favorite countryside in the world…..The Flint Hills of Kansas
And thus our delightful 4,944.3 mile road trip is complete. Driving up the lane to our favorite place in the whole world. HOME SWEET HOME!
St. Petersburg & Moscow, Russia
Aug. 29 – Sept. 4, 2012
This is the continuation of my previous travel blog which included the countries of Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia on the “The Baltic Capitals & St. Petersburg” trip with Overseas Adventure Travel from Aug. 13 – Sept. 4, 2012. We drove by coach from Tallinn to St. Petersburg, then flew from St. Petersburg to Moscow. (The map below is from the O.A.T. website.) Jim & I were in St. Petersburg and Moscow ten years ago, but are glad we repeated these two cities.
St. Petersburg, Russia was built at the mouth of the River Neva on the Baltic Sea in the early 18th Century by the Tsar Peter the Great. He wished to create a Russian capital to rival the splendor of Paris. Before the monarchy was overthrown in the Russian Revolution, they had built opulent palaces, and beautiful architecture throughout the city. St. Petersburg was and remains one of the treasures of world art and architecture, and a city of picturesque islands, canals, and bridges.
St. Petersburg Picturesque Canals:
Peter & Paul Fortress and Peter & Paul Cathedral: In 1703 Peter the Great built this fortress to protect the area from possible attack by the Swedish Army & Navy. In the middle of the fortress stands the impressive Peter and Paul Cathedral, the burial place of all the Russian Emperors and Empresses from Peter the Great to Alexander III. On top of the cathedrals’ gilded spire stands a magnificent golden angel holding a cross. This weathervane is one of the most prominent symbols of St Petersburg, and at 404 feet tall, the cathedral is the highest building in the city.
Hermitage Museum: The main building of Hermitage Museum is located in the Winter Palace, which from 1760 onwards, was the main residence of the Russian Tsars. Magnificently located on the bank of the Neva River, this Baroque-style palace is perhaps St. Petersburg’s most impressive attraction. The green-and-white three-story palace is a marvel of Baroque architecture and boasts 1,786 doors, 1,945 windows and 1,057 elegantly and lavishly decorated halls and rooms. The Winter Palace and four more buildings arranged side by side along the river embankment, houses the extensive collections of the Hermitage. Today, the Hermitage boasts over 2.7 million exhibits and displays a diverse range of art and artifacts from all over the world and from throughout history.
The Hermitage is so massive, that it would be impossible to see it all. Our local tour guide provided by O.A.T. gave us a wonderful sectional tour of the Museum. We toured the main opulent rooms of the palace along with the art gallery of some of the most famous paintings. We entered through the Main Staircase of The Winter Palace.
The Field Marshall’s Room: This room is the first in the Great Suite of State Rooms in the Winter Palace. Placed on the walls between the pilasters are portraits of Russian field marshals.
The Peter the Great (Small Throne) Room: The room is dedicated to the memory of Peter the Great – its decoration features the Emperor’s monogram (two Latin letters P), double-headed eagles and crowns.
The Armorial Hall: The Armorial Hall of the Winter Palace was intended for grand receptions. The entrances to the hall are flanked by sculptural groups of early Russian warriors.
The War Gallery of 1812: Its walls carry 332 portraits of generals who fought in the war of 1812 and the foreign campaign of 1813-14.
St. George (Large Throne) Hall: The columned hall with two tiers of windows is finished with marble. The hall has a parquet floor made from 16 varieties of wood. The grand decorated hall was the setting for official ceremonies and receptions.
The Pavilion Hall: The interior is a combination of light-colored marble with gilded moldings and the gleam of the crystal-glass chandeliers. A mosaic is set into the floor, a copy of one found during excavations of ancient Roman thermae.
The Italian Cabinet: Its walls are adorned by frescoes from a villa on the Palatine Hill in Rome that depict the story of Venus, the goddess of love. This room is home to one of the Hermitage’s masterpieces, Michelangelo’s sculpture of a Crouching Boy.
The Small Italian Skylight Room: is one of three enormous interiors lit from above. The 16th- and 17th-century paintings to be seen here are part of the display of Italian art, one of the largest in the Hermitage. The room is also adorned by the works of 19th-century Russian stonecutters.
The Raphael Loggias: The prototype for the Loggias that was created for Catherine II in the 1780s was the celebrated gallery in the Vatican Palace in Rome that was frescoed from sketches by Raphael. The vaults of the gallery contain a cycle of paintings on subjects from the Holy Scriptures, that are collectively known as “Raphael’s Bible”.
To complete this fabulous day of touring we attended a performance of the Ballet “Swan Lake.” This is my all time, forever favorite production to watch. We had splendid seats, front & center.
St. Isaac’s Cathedral: The dome of St. Isaac’s Cathedral dominates the skyline of St. Petersburg and its gilded cupola can be seen from all over the city. The cathedral was under construction for 40 years (1818-1858), and was decorated in the most elaborate way possible. The columns of the porticos are made of single pieces of red granite and weight 80 tons each. The cathedral which can accommodate 14,000 people, now serves only as a museum. The interior of the church is one of the most beautiful Jim & I have had the privilege of seeing.
The Church of our Savior on the Spilled Blood: This Russian-style church was built on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in 1881, with the church being built between 1883 and 1907. Both the interior and exterior of the church is decorated with incredibly detailed mosaics, designed and created by the most prominent Russian artists of the day. The church was closed for services in the 1930s, when the Bolsheviks went on an offensive against religion and destroyed churches all over the country. It remained closed and then under restoration for over 30 years and was finally re-opened in 1997.
Catherine Palace: Located near Pushkin, The Catherine Palace is named after Catherine I, the wife of Peter the Great, who ruled Russia for two years after her husband’s death. Originally it was a modest two-story building commissioned by Peter for Catherine in 1717. Their daughter, Empress Elizabeth, had the Catherine Palace changed into awesome grandeur that we see today. In 1743 the Empress instructed the architects to completely redesign the building on a scale to rival Versailles.
The interior of the Catherine Palace are as spectacular and the outside. The Palace is one of the best examples of Russian baroque. It’s also famous for housing the world famous Amber room, a complete chamber decoration of amber panels backed with gold leaf and mirrors. (No pictures allowed.) The palace was occupied by the Nazis during World War II and extensively damaged. It has been completely rebuilt.
We enjoyed the walk through the formal gardens of Catherine Palace
Moscow, Russia: Moscow is the capital city of Russia and it is home to over 11.5 million residents. About 80% of the population in ethnic Russian. The form of currency in Russia is the Ruble. Moscow holds a top spot in the world’s most expensive cities. With the Moscow Kremlin located in the heart of the city, Moscow is the seat of Russia’s government. Just as the tsars once ruled over Russia, so now does the Russian president. Visitors to Moscow today can see architecture that dates to the reign of Ivan the Terrible and gain insight into how Russia’s way of life has long differed from that of the West. The Kremlin is featured in the following picture.
We flew from St. Petersburg, Russia to Moscow. Our hotel was located less than a mile away from Red Square. We all walked down to Red Square the afternoon of our arrival in Moscow. There were huge festivities going on in celebration of Moscow’s 864th anniversary. Only special tickets holders could get into Red Square because of the evening performance which would take place there. More than 100,000 spectators attended a music, light and fireworks event that evening. We watched the festivities on TV that night.
The State Department Store called GUM, faces Red Square, so of course we needed to tour that also. The façade of the big shopping mall extends along the eastern side of Red Square. The mall was built around 1890.
Cathedral of Christ the Savior: Built in 1817, demolished during the Soviet period and reconstructed during 1990-2000.
The monument “300 Years to Russian Fleet” known as the Monument to Peter the Great was erected in 1997.
Novodevichy Cemetery: is the most famous cemetery in Moscow. It lies next to the southern wall of the 16th-century Novodevichy Convent, which is the city’s third most popular tourist site. Under Soviet rule, burial in the Novodevichy Cemetery was second in prestige only to burial in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis.
This is a view of the Novodevichy Convent from a park in Moscow. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This sculpture is given in love and friendship to the children of the Soviet Union on behalf of the children of the United States. It is based on the beloved American children’s story “Make Way for Ducklings.” Presented by Mrs. Barbara Bush, 1991.
The Moscow Metro: Was one of the USSR’s most extravagant architectural projects. Stalin ordered the metro’s artists and architects to design a structure that embodied radiance or brilliance. With their reflective marble walls, high ceilings and grandiose chandeliers, the metros in Moscow are indeed worth seeing. We rode the metro and got off at several metro stops to view the underground stations.
Moscow Circus: We had a fun evening at the circus. The Nikulin Circus is one of the oldest in Russia, and the traditional home of the world-famous Moscow State Circus. The original stone building was founded on Tsvetnoi Bulvar in 1880.
Red Square: Nestled next to the Kremlin, Moscow’s Red Square is a part of the capital’s historic center. Accessible on most days, Red Square teems with tourists and Russians alike. The name “red” square didn’t come about as a reference to communism, or large amount of red brickwork around the square, instead it was originally a reference to St Basil’s. The Russian word “krasnaya” can mean either “beautiful” or “red”. It then shifted in meaning and location to become Red Square. On one end of Red Square stands the symbolic St. Basil’s Cathedral, built by Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century, and on the other stands the white-roofed Russian History Museum. Towards the middle of Red Square is Lenin’s Tomb and directly opposite, is the long-sided facade of GUM, the State Department Store. Red Square is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Red Square has been the site of public ceremonies, grand parades, and even assassinations and executions. Red Square remains, as it has been for centuries, the heart and soul of Russia. From the 16th Century Red Square has been rich in symbols of Russian’s turbulent and intriguing past. As mentioned previously, Red Square is used for public ceremonies. It was serving as the location of Moscow’s 864th anniversary while we were in Moscow. Ten years ago when Jim & I stood in Red Square we could clearly see from one end to the other, this time the clutter from the celebration was everywhere and we certainly couldn’t see from one end to the other.
On Saturday we skirted Red Square because we couldn’t get into it due to the Anniversary Celebration. However, on Sunday and were able to enter through the gates. Horses and riders were still preforming in Red Square.
St Basil’s Cathedral: Many say that St. Basil’s is the iconic building in Russia and one of the most famous pieces of architecture in the world, and we will agree. Jim & I have come to the conclusion that St. Basil’s has the most beautiful exterior of any church we have ever seen. The cathedral is old, having been built between 1555 and 1561 to commemorate Ivan the Terrible’s defeat of the Tatar city of Kazan. This style of church is uniquely Russian. There are nine separate chapels, one under each of the onion domes, but the tall central tower unifies the structure into a single whole. The Cathedral is now a museum.
The Kremlin: Is an historic fortified complex at the heart of Moscow, overlooking the Moskva River (to the South), Saint Basil’s Cathedral and Red Square (to the East) and the Alexander Garden (to the West). The Kremlin includes four palaces, four cathedrals (Assumption Cathedral, Archangel’s Cathedral and the Deposition of the Robe Cathedral) and the enclosing Kremlin Wall with Kremlin towers. The Kremlin encloses an area of over 70 acres next to Red Square. The walls are about half a mile long, up to 62 feet high and 21 feet thick, with 20 towers and gates. The complex serves as the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation. The Kremlin, as in centuries past, is the center of government in Russia.
And thus my travel post on a fantastic trip to Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Russia is completed. It’s a great life! Praise the Lord!
Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia & Estonia
August 13 – 29, 2012
Jim & I did this trip with Overseas Adventure Travel from Aug. 13 – Sept. 4, 2012. The name of the trip is “The Baltic Capitals & St. Petersburg”. We did a pre-trip to Kiev, Ukraine and a post-trip to Moscow, Russia. (I will feature the conclusion of the trip, which includes St. Petersburg and Moscow from Aug. 29 – Sept 4, in a separate travel post to follow.) There were sixteen travelers in our group, and a fine group it was. Enjoyed our travel friends.
This was our 30th trip with O.A.T., and we were led by excellent program director, Vesma. (This map is from the O.A.T. website.) Jim & I have never been to the Baltic countries and it was a great experience. The country of Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, but became independent in 1991 when the Soviet Union dissolved. The Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia & Estonia were also part of the Soviet Union and broke away in 1990 – 91. All the countries have had a turbulent past. It has certainly made us appreciate the freedoms we have always experienced as Americans.
Ukraine: About 85% claim Ukrainian ethnicity and 12% Russian. Their official language is Ukrainian and the currency is the Hryvnia. Ukraine received its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Their government is unitary semi presidential republic. The President is elected by popular vote for a 5 year term. The legislative branch includes a 450 seat unicameral parliament. Ukraine is not a member of the European Union.
Kiev is the first city we visited. It is located on the Dnieper River, and it is the capital and largest city of Ukraine. It is a culturally rich city of gold-domed cathedrals and historic churches. Kiev has emerged from the Soviet era with a vibrancy.
We stayed four nights in a 5 star hotel in a great area of Kiev and did most of the highlights of the tour by foot. Premier Palace Hotel: 1.Lobby 2.Breakfast Room 3.View over-looking city from Breakfast Room.
1.National Shevchenko University 2.The Golden Gates of Kiev in the ancient city fortress 3.National Opera House
St. Sophia’s Cathedral: The oldest remaining church in Kiev, dating back to the 11th century. It has an interior of rich frescoes and mosaics, many of which are still intact almost a millennium later. St. Sophia’s is a UNESCO world heritage site and well worth the visit.
St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery: While standing in St. Sophia’s square gazing at it’s golden domes, just turn around and there are the golden domes of St. Michael’s and the Mikhailovsky Cathedral. St. Michael’s is a working monastery that goes back to the 12th Century. It was devastated during Soviet rule and restored in 1997-98 following Ukrainian independence.
St. Andrew’s Church: Constructed in 1747-1754, It is situated on a steep hill called Andriyivskyy Descent, with over-looks of the lower town and the Dnieper River.
Monastery of the Caves or Kiev Pechersk Lavra: Cave Monastery is an Orthodox Christian Monastery which was built around the year 1015 and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a sprawling active monastery complex with a magnificent bell tower, cathedrals and underground caves. Monks that worshipped here lived in caves where they were also buried upon their deaths, and their mummified remains are still there. (No pictures were allowed in the caves.)
Motherland Statue and War memorials – Kiev was pretty much destroyed during the invasion in WWII. This a memorial complex commemorating the German-Soviet War. It was opened on May 9 (theVictory Day), 1981, by the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. The memorial is centered around the now famous 200 foot tall Motherland statue. Near the Motherland Statue are examples of classic Soviet-era memorial statuary and hardware. There is an alley of sculptures and they depict the defense of the Soviet border from the 1941 German invasion, terrors of the Nazi occupation, partisan struggle, work on the home front, and the 1943 Battle of the Dnieper.
Cherobyl Museum: We went to a Museum in Kiev which is devoted to the 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl atomic station. A guide walked us through the museum and told and showed us a depiction of events that occurred at Chernobyl atomic station. The highlight was listening to a first hand account from a survivor. Chernobyl disaster is widely considered to have been the worst nuclear power plant accident in history. The official Soviet casualty count of 31 deaths has been disputed, and long-term effects such as cancers and deformities are still being accounted for.
Babi Yar: Is a ravine in Kiev and a site of a series of massacres carried out by the Nazis. The most notorious and the best documented of these massacres took place on Sept. 29-30, 1941, wherein 33,771 Jews were killed in a single operation. Victims of other massacres at the site included Soviet POW’s, communists, Gypsies, Ukrainian nationalists and civilian hostages. It is estimated that between 100,000 and 150,000 more lives were taken at Babi Yar.
“All yids of the city of Kiev and its vicinity must appear on Monday, September 29, by 08:00 a.m. at the corner of Mel’nikova and Doktorivska streets (near cemetery). Must take with them documents, money and valuables, also warm clothing, linen etc. Those of yids who won’t follow this order and will be found in other place, will be shot. Those of civilians who enter the dwellings left by yids and plunder stuff, will be shot.”
— Order posted in Kiev in Russian and Ukrainian, on or around September 26, 1941
Lithuania: Lithuania is located in northern Europe and is the largest, southern most, and most populous of the three Baltic states. Their official language is Lithuanian and about 84% of the people are ethnic Lithuanians. They have had Soviet occupation in 1940, German occupation in 1941, and a second Soviet occupation in 1944. Lithuania was the first occupied Soviet republic to break free from the Soviet Union and receive its Independence in 1990. They are a republic with a representative parliamentary democracy. In Lithuania, the president is elected by popular vote along with the members of parliament. The currency is the Litas. Lithuania is a member of the European Union, joining in 2004.
We flew from Kiev, Ukraine to Vilnius, Lithuania. We spent three nights in Vilnius, then drove on by coach to Klaipeda, Lithuania were we spent two nights. Really liked Lithuania and all the things we got to see while we were there.
Our hotel was located just off of Cathedral Square across from the main Roman CatholicCathedral of Lithuania in Vinius Old Town. A pretty sight, as we looked from our little hotel balcony at the church and town square.
We were walking across the Cathedral Square one evening and some young people were launching a little hot-air balloon.
Vilnius Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Even with the turbulent times in the 20th century, its historical buildings have survived. We walked the cobbled streets of the Old Town and admired the carefully restored Baroque buildings and saw the medieval charm.
Peter and Paul Cathedral: The church is decorated with over 2,000 religious depictions and has magnificent stucco sculptures.
Museum of Genocide Victims: This Museum is located in Vilnius and commonly called the “KGB Museum.” For much of the 20th century, Vilnius was under brutal, communist Soviet occupation, both before and after a three year Nazi occupation during WWII. We viewed exhibits that serve as a memorial to the victims of the atrocities that took place here, including a walk through the prison where the KGB held dissidents and freedom fighters. Hey folks, our freedoms in America are precious!
Trakai Castle: It’s an 15th century island castle located in Trakai, Lithuania on an island in Lake Galve. Trakai was one of the main centers of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the castle held great strategic location to fend off German knights. The castle has been reconstructed in the 15th century style and the major part of that reconstruction was finished in 1961. This was a fun castle to see.
Gediminas Tower: It is the only remaining part of the upper castle of Vilnius Lithuania. The first brick castle was completed in 1409. Gediminas Tower is an important historic symbol of Lithuania. It is depicted on the national currency and is mentioned in numerous Lithuanian patriotic poems and folk songs.
Okay, if you look closely you can see the red Tower in the center of the picture above the church. It is possible to climb to the top of the hill or take a funicular. (The hill is truly higher than this picture appears.) Really! Of course we couldn’t find the funicular so ended up walking forever to the farthest entrance on the far side then up, and up. However, when we came back down, we found the close entrance-exit and we ended up right behind the church. Good exercise I guess.
Rumsiskes: Traveling by coach from Vilnius to Klaipeda we stopped at Rumsiskes, an open-air ethnographic museum. We saw 18th & 19th century rural dwellings and gained an understanding of history and lifestyles of Lithuania’s four main regions.
Then highlight of the ethnographic museum was meeting Lina, a survivor from being deported to Siberia by the Communists. There is a book written about her by Ruta Sepetys, “Between Shades of Gray”. And I quote from the back cover of the book: Lithuania, June 1941: 15 year old Lina is preparing for art school and looking forward to summer. In the dark of night there is a knock at the door and life is forever changed. Soviet secret police arrest Lina, her mother, and her younger brother, tearing their family apart. The three are hauled from their home and thrown into cattle cars, where they soon discover their destination: Siberia. Lina embeds clues in her drawings and secretly passes them along, hoping they will reach her father’s prison camp. In this dramatic and moving story, Lina desperately fights for her life and the lives of those around her. But will love be enough to keep her alive?
With Vesma, our tour director interpreting, we listened with tears in our eyes to Lina’s story. She was fifteen years, barely able to survive in the extreme cold, lack of shelter, lack of food and etc. Anxious to read the book. Below are pictures of a cattle car, a hut like she built while in Siberia, and Lena. I think she told us she was there eleven years. I’m anxious to read the book.
This is what the Communist did to a once beautiful church in a small town in Lithuania. So far, they haven’t had the money to repair it.
Klaipeda Lithuania: We stayed in Klaipeda for two nights. Is the third largest city in Lithuania, is situated at the mouth of the Dane River where it flows into the Baltic Sea, and provides a usually ice-free port. It is the only port in Lithuania. Again we were fortunate to have a nice hotel in the old town. Across from our hotel is the shop called “Autentic” where I purchased some nice amber jewelry for our three girls. Jim & I also walked down to the port which was only a short distance.
Curonian Spit: Is a UNESCO World Heritage Site shared by Lithuania and Russia. It is 60 miles long and varies from 1/4 mile wide to 2 1/4 mile wide. There is a single road that traverses the whole length of the Curonian Spit. The Curonian Spit is an outstanding example of a landscape of sand dunes that is under constant threat from natural forces (wind and tide). It is home to the highest moving (drifting) sand dunes in Europe. It has been reclaimed by massive protection and stabilization works begun in the 19th century and still continuing to the present day.
It was a delightful day out with nature. First we went to the beach side and searched for amber. Amber is fossilized tree resin (not sap) and it washes up on this beach. And amber we found , even though most of it was pretty small.
Raganu Kalnas or Hill of Witches: Located on a forested sand dune on the Curonian Spit. Begun in 1979, it now contains 80 wooden sculptures along a series of trails. The pieces depict characters from Lithuanian folklore and pagan traditions. Fun!
Hill of Crosses: Since the medieval period, the Hill of Crosses has represented the peaceful resistance of Lithuanian Catholicism to oppression. From 1944 until Lithuania’s independence in 1991, the area was a part of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic of the USSR. During the Soviet era, the pilgrimage to the Hill of Crosses served as a vital expression of Lithuanian nationalism. The Soviets repeatedly removed Christian crosses placed on the hill by Lithuanians. Three times, during 1961, 1973 and 1975, the hill was leveled, the crosses were burned or turned into scrap metal, and the area was covered with waste and sewage. Following each of these desecrations local inhabitants and pilgrims from all over Lithuania rapidly replaced crosses upon the sacred hill. In 1985, the Hill of Crosses was finally left in peace. Amazing!
Latvia: Situated on the Baltic coast, Latvia is a low-lying country with large forests and an environment rich in wildlife. The official language is Lativan, with about 59% of the people being Latvian and 29% Russian. They have had Soviet occupation in 1940, Nazi German occupation in 1941, and Soviet occupation again in 1944. They received their independence from Russia in 1991. They are a republic with a parliamentary democracy. The Latvian 100-seat unicameral Latvian Parliament, is elected by direct, popular vote every four years. The president is elected by the Parliament, also every four years. There currency is called Lats. They joined the European Union in 2004.
We drove by coach from Vilnius, Lithuania to Riga, Latvia. Before arriving in Riga we stopped at the restored 18th century Baroque Palace of Rundale, Rundale Lativa. It was built between 1736-40 as a summer residence for the Duke of Courland. The palace was designed by the architect of St. Petersburg’s Hermitage, Bartolomeo Rastrelli. (Pictures were not allowed inside.)
Riga is the capital and largest city in Latvia. It is also the largest city in the Baltic states with a population of 650,000. The city is an important seaport and a major industrial, commercial and financial region of the Baltic Sea region. We spent three nights in Riga. Riga’s Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has a collection of cobbled lanes, gargoyle-adorned buildings, and restored 17th century architectural treasures.
Lots of neat outdoor places to eat or even dance in Riga.
Art Nouveau Architectural: A century ago,Riga, just as other European cities, was swept away by a style of architecture and living inspired by longing for creative freedom and daring opulence. Forty per cent of buildings in the center of Riga belong to art nouveau, which is more than in other European cities. Riga has around 800 art nouveau buildings. We were taught by Vesma that while on our way around Riga, not too just gaze at the cobblestones and shop windows but lift our eyes. These pictures were taken in the Embassy District of Riga.
Art Nouveau Museum: This house was built in 1903, as a private property of Konstantīns Pēkšēns. The design was created by Petsens. The interior has been restored to its authentic look of 1903. We could wear period hats as we toured the museum.
Salaspils Concentration Camp: (Another sad memorial). This Nazi Concentration Camp was built in 1941 and used for 3 years during the Nazi occupation of Latvia in WWII. More than 100,000 men, women and children were put to death here. There is a Memorial to the Children. More than 12,000 Soviet children, of whom at least 7,000 were Jewish children were put to death. Most of them were tortured by pumping out their blood to supply German military hospital.
Cesis Castle: German crusaders known as the Livonian Brothers of the Sword began construction of the castle near the hill fort in 1209. It is well-preserved castle in Latvia. We were provided lanterns for our venture into the castle. A fun place!
The Cesis Castle Park was laid out in 1812….loved the black swans. The oldest brewery in Latvia dating back to 1878 is located next to the Castle.
Estonia: The most northerly of the Baltic States. Estonia is a mainly flat country on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea, with many lakes and islands. Much of the land is farmed or forested. The official language is Estonian, with about 69% being ethnic Estonian and 25% Russians. As the other Baltic countries, Estonia also endured Soviet occupation in 1940. Nazi German occupation in 1941, Soviet occupation again in 1944 until they received Independence from Russia in 1991. They are a Parliamentary Republic, with a 101 member Unicameral Parliament. Members are elected by popular vote every four years, and the President is elected by the Parliament. The currency is the Euro. They joined the European Union in 2004.
We drove by coach from Riga, Latvia to Tallinn, Estonia. We breezed across the border and before arriving in Tallinn we made a stop in Parnu, Estonia which is a summer vacation resort.
Tallinn Estonia: Tallinn is the capital and largest city in Estonia. It’s situated on the northern coast of the country on the Bay of Finland, directly across from Helsinki. They have both Scandinavian and Russian influences in the language, culture, and architecture. Tallinn’s Old Town is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. The city was a European Capital of Culture for 2011. It is a beautiful place, loved the old town and the ancient town wall.
In 1988, 300,000 Estonians gathered at this Song Festival Grounds outside of Tallinn to sing patriotic songs. In 1989, the people of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia held hands to make “The Baltic Chain,” a human chain that stretched 360 miles from Tallinn to Vilnius, Lithuania. A blood bath was feared, but the people kept singing. After four years of singing and other acts of protest, Estonia achieved something remarkable–independence from the Soviets through a relatively bloodless revolution.
The Raeapteek: Is on of the oldest continuing running pharmacies in Europe, having always been in business in the same exact place since 1422. In Medieval times patients could buy unique remedies such as Dried Deer Penises and Dried Toads as shown in the jars below. The last picture is looking out the pharmacy window to the Old Town Square.
This was one of our favorite places to eat. Our traveling friends and us enjoyed Elk soup for 1 Euro and fried pie for 1 Euro. Located in the 15th century Gothic Town Hall, the atmosphere was great.
Décor around Tallinn.
The Tallinn City Wall and twenty-one towers was built in Medieval Times and is a marvelous sight to behold.
Our last evening in beautiful Tallinn Estonia.
The conclusion of this trip to St. Petersburg, Russia and Moscow, Russia will be included on my next travel blog. However, in the meantime, a wonderful trip to Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia comes to a close. Great times, new friends, and a huge thank you to our tour director, Vesma for going above and beyond and making this a fantastic adventure!
Calgary Stampede & Canadian Rockies
July 6 – 17, 2012
Jim & I have always talked about how we’d like to see the Calgary Stampede in Canada. Then one day we received an email from Village Tours, Wichita KS that they were offering just that tour, and in addition to that we’d get to see a part of the Rockies that we’ve never seen before. Jim was excited about relaxing on a coach tour and not having to drive. So we booked it that very day. We were impressed with the company and considered it to be a very well done trip.
We traveled approximately 2500+ miles by coach spending the nights in Denver CO; Sheridan WY; Missoula MT; Waterton Lake National Park, AB Canada; Calgary, AB Canada; Banff, AB Canada; Kamploops, BC Canada; and Vancouver, BC Canada. We flew back to Wichita from Seattle WA. We toured places of interest along the way which is included in this blog. A great trip!
Our first tourist stop was at the Trail End Historic Site in Sheridan, WY. Finished in 1913, Trail End was the mansion of the John B. Kendrick family. He was a cowboy who came up the Texas Trail in 1879, made his money in ranching and real estate, and later served as Wyoming’s Governor and U.S. Senator.
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument: The Battle of the Little Bighorn is a famous battle in American History. Here in the valley of the Little Bighorn River, in eastern Montana, on June 25 and 26 1876, soldiers and attached personnel of the U.S. 7th Cavalry met defeat and death at the hands of combined Lakota-Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians. The Battle of the Little Bighorn is also known as Custer’s Last Stand, because in that battle a force of 700 men, lead by George Armstrong Custer, suffered a severe defeat, with more than 260 soldiers and Custer himself dying. Small monuments dot the landscape marking the spots were Custer’s men fell. Custer National Cemetery, is located on the battlefield, and is part of the National Monument.
The following are photos taken out the window as we drove across Montana. We really enjoyed seeing the countryside.
World Museum of Mining, Butte Montana: Butte Montana experienced a century of hardrock mining and earned the reputation of being home to one of the world’s most productive copper mines of all time. The museum is located on an actual mine yard – the Orphan Girl Mine, and exists to preserve the history of Butte and the legacy of its rich mining and cultural heritage. Our guide was an old miner that had worked the mine and loved telling the story.
Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada borders Glacier National Park in Montana to the south, together making up the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, the first of its kind in the world. The uniqueness of Waterton Park is a blend of unusual geology, mild climate, rare wild flowers, and an abundance of wildlife. It is a scene which has remained unchanged for centuries.
Our first stop in the park was the Lake McDonald Lodge, a rustic western theme lodge which was first opened for business in 1914. We enjoyed a sack lunch overlooking Lake McDonald. From there we boarded historic red 1928 open-top touring cars and crossed the beautiful park via the Going-to-the-Sun Road. We discovered incredible mountain ranges, lakes, waterfalls, glaciers and crossed the continental divide.
The following pictures depict what we saw on the “Going-to-the-Sun Road.” Our 3 1/2 hour ride through Glacier National Park was absolutely breath taking!
We had the privilege of staying at the Prince of Wales Hotel which is located on Waterton Lake National Park grounds. It’s soaring gables and distinctive green roof gave it an alpine chalet feel. Constructed in 1927 by the Great Northern Railway, its stately elegance echoes the magnificent scenery of the beautiful lake and mountains that surrounded it. Enjoyed the historic hotel, the scenery, and a delicious steak dinner…and what a view as we dined!
Calgary Stampede, Calgary, AB Canada: So today began the event we’d been eagerly anticipating. We were at the Stampede to help celebrate it’s 100th anniversary. It’s billed as Canada’s favorite festival, and they were expecting a million visitors. I think most of them were there the same days as we were! Our first event was the Chuckwagon Races, where sixteen spirited horses and four determined drivers explode in an all out dash for the finish line. We really got to enjoy it and figure it out because they ran 9 or 10 heats.
As the chuckwagon race begins the outriders throw stuff in the back of the wagons, and then the teams have to race around the barrels without knocking them over.
The teams have made it around the barrels and are headed out on the race track.
Coming into the finish of one of the heats of the Chuckwagon Races.
A close-up of one of the teams in the Chuckwagon Races.
After the Chuckwagon Races we were treated to a spectacular Grandstand Show. Paul Brandt was the signer, and all the young girls were going crazy. He came down out of the sky, strumming his guitar and singing from the back of a Model T pickup. There were daring trapeze artists, motorcycle daredevils, dancers, more music….you name it. Oh, and lots and lots of fireworks every few minutes. It was an extravaganza, what a show!
Jim & I spent several hours strolling around The Stampede Park. It is a like giant state-fair with farming and agriculture exhibits, eating, an Indian Village complete with a stomp-dances, and our grand finale was the sky ride over the Stamped Park.
The Calgary Stampede Rodeo was everything it was billed to be. We saw top professionals in the sport take on the untamed fury of the wests wildest horses and bulls during some of the most exciting rodeo action in the world. The rodeo was opened with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Banff National Park, AB Canada: Is Canada’s oldest park, established in 1885 in the Rocky Mountains. We drove along the jagged peaks lining the Icefields Parkway. The emerald waters of Lake Louise surrounded by snow capped mountains was exquisite. We stayed in the delightful town of Banff.
What can I say? I think maybe Jim will be moving back to Banff so he can become a permanent participant in the “Oh Canada Dinner Show.” They called him Stud Muffin. In the photo below the three guys have been riding stick horses…….need I say more. Fun!
The drive from Banff in a westerly direction towards Kamloops was one pretty view after another. We stopped in the town of Revelstoke for lunch and got to enjoy some of the festivities of their “Timber Days.”
Hells Gate is an abrupt narrowing of British Columbia’s Fraser River. The towering rock walls of the Fraser River plunge toward each other forcing the waters through a passage only 115 feet wide. The Hell’s Gate Air Tram was a thrilling way to experience rushing water from dizzying heights.
We spent our last two days in Vancouver, BC. We boarded the Victoria Ferry and went from Vancouver to Victoria which is located on Vancouver Island. The ferry ride was about 1 1/2 hours.
The highlight of Victoria Island was Butchart Gardens. In 1904 the highly successful business man, Robert Butchart, built a Portland Cement Factory on Vancouver Island. After exhausting the limestone in the quarry near their home, Mr. & Mrs. Butchart turned the abandoned quarry into a spectacular garden. Today it is a internationally known and renowned garden.
And thus ends my rendition of more wonderful things to see in this fantastic world that we live in.
Rome, Florence, Pompeii & Ostia Antica, Italy
Feb. 18 to 26, 2012
After diligent research I discovered that a trip to Rome and a nice hotel with a great location could be booked with Go Ahead Vacations more reasonably than if I did it independently. “Rome City Stay” gave us the opportunity to see Rome and also time enough to do some other excursions in Italy. The best part of the trip was that our oldest son from Ohio and our family friend from Kansas also went and we had such a good time. This wasn’t the first trip to any of these places for Jim & I, but it was delightful to do it again because we had Eric & Steve with us.
Italy: We stayed in Rome, and saw the sights of the marvelous city. We also went north by train to Florence, south to Pompeii (bottom push pin) and to Ostia Antica which is located between Rome & the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Rome, Italy: Rome’s history spans two and a half thousand years. The original settlement of Rome developed along the seven hills that faced onto a ford along the Tiber River. It was the capital city of the Roman Empire for over seven hundred years, from 1st century B.C. until 7th century AD. Today Rome is the largest Italian city with 2.7 million residents in 496 square miles. The historic center of Rome is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
117 AD Map of the Roman Empire: This map of Rome is located on a wall by the Roman Forum and it shows the Roman Empire at its greatest size. This was the Roman World (the white area) in 117 AD at the end of the reign of Trajan and at the beginning of the reign of Hadrian.
Map of Rome: Our hotel was located in a great location between Repubblica & Termini metro stops (mid right). We purchased a one week public transportation pass for 16 Euro and could ride any metro, bus or tram. Very convenient way to save some steps, however sometimes they were so crowded that it would be difficult for the doors to shut.
Traveler’s Advisory: Jim & I have so far traveled to 53 countries and several of them more than one time. We never carry any valuables (passport, credit cards, excess money) in my purse or his pocket. I have considered myself very careful in regards to “watching out” for pickpockets. Well, guess what? I was pickpocketed within three hours of arriving in Rome. I had read that pick pockets frequent the public transportation in Rome, so I carefully warned the guys to watch their billfolds and I even put my purse under my slightly below-waist long coat. Our first mode of transportation was a very, very crowded bus and a young man stood jammed up against me and I realized about an hour later that he had stolen by billfold out of my zippered purse, from under my coat. I didn’t have a clue at the time it happened, but later probably pin-pointed the exact moment. He didn’t get anything except my 16 Euro bus pass, and approximately the equivalent of $47. I found out that I’m not nearly as cleaver as I thought I was. Be careful!
An Update About the Pickpocket Event: Today (4/13/2012) we received a letter from a family from Torino Italy. I am going to quote this remarkable letter word for word. “Dear Farmer Family, during our trip in Rome, we found, in Barberini Street, your wallet damaged and, of course, without money and documents. We are sorry for this. However, we are sending you the photos we have found in it because we believe that they are important memories. Despite this accident we hope that you enjoyed your trip in Italy.” Best Wishes, the ….. family from Torino Italy.
Does this not restore the knowledge that there are wonderful and remarkable people in this fantastic world that we live it? Thank you, kind family from Torino, Italy!! Indeed, in my wallet I’ve always carried special photos of our kids and now the pictures are at home with me again. Also returned were a few other cards with travel notations that I had in my wallet that day. I will, of course, mail the Torino family a special “thank you” for their kindness. Wow, what an amazing ending to my pick pocket story!
Colosseum: The Colosseum is considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and Roman engineering. It is the largest amphitheatre ever built in the Roman Empire. Construction was started in 72 AD and it was capable of seating 50,000 spectators. The Colosseum was used for gladiatorial contests, executions, animals hunts, mock sea-battles, and Classical mythology dramas. The Colosseum is adjacent to the Roman Forum.
The Roman Forum: Located in the small valley between the Palatine hill and the Capitoline hill, the Forum was the marketplace of Rome and the social and political center of one of the greatest empires of ancient times. The pathways through the Forum winds through the ruins of Temples, Basilicas and magnificent buildings of Imperial Rome and ends near the Arch of Constantine and the Colosseum. The Forum was rediscovered in the 18th century and now the remaining columns, stone blocks, and remnants of buildings can tell the story of times gone by.
Capitoline Hill: Is the highest and most sacred of the seven hills of Rome. From Capitoline Hill one can overlook the Roman Forum with the Colosseum in the distance. In about 1536 the hilltop piazza was designed by Michelangelo with a museum, grand stairway, and Forum overlooks.
Victor Emmanuel Monument: Construction began in 1885 on this monument which was built in honor of the first King of a unified Italy. It isn’t considered old and we were told the Italians don’t much like it and have nicknamed it the ‘wedding cake’ or the ‘typewriter’. In the center of the monument is a 43 foot long statue of the king on the horse and it is the biggest equestrian statue in the world.
Domitilla Catacombs: By law, no one was allowed to be buried within the walls of Rome. The Domitilla Catacombs is considered among the oldest and best preserved in the area outside the Roman Walls. This Catacomb spreads over ten miles of underground corridors which are laid out on four levels – one on top of another and it includes almost 150,000 burial spots. Entrance to the catacombs is achieved through a sunken 4th century church. (Pictures could not be taken in the Catacombs but I was told I could copy from purchased pictures.)
St. Paul’s Outside the Walls: This was the last major construction project of Imperial Rome (380 AD) and the largest church in Christendom until St. Peter’s. After a tragic 19th century fire, St. Paul’s was rebuilt in the same general style and size as the original. This church is part of the Vatican rather than Italy and is built upon the supposed grave of St. Paul. Alabaster windows light the vast interior and the triumphal arch leading to the altar has a 5th century mosaic of Christ raising his hand in blessing. The day we were there we witnessed the first mass of the newly ordained Cardinal Dolan from New York.
Cappuccin Crypt at Santa Maria della Concezione near Piazza Barberini: If you want to see artistically arranged bones, this is the place. The bones of more than 4,000 friars who died between 1528 & 1870 are in the basement, all lined up in various designs. The monastic inscription on the wall is: “What you are now we used to be; What we are now you will be.” (Again, pictures were not allowed but pictures could be purchased).
Scenes as we strolled around in Rome: From the Cappuccin Crypt we began our meandering journey through the streets of old Rome to see as many sights as a days stroll would allow. It was a beautiful sunny day for a delightful walk. We even got to see the Roman Forum and the Colosseum again and this time with the sun shining.
Trevi Fountain: This fountain shows how Rome took full advantage of the abundance of water brought into the city by its great aqueducts. Trevi was completed in 1762, and the magic of the fountain as been enhanced by tossing a coin over your shoulder, thinking it will assure your return to Rome. So far it has worked for us four times!
The Pantheon: It is one of the best preserved of all Roman buildings and has been in continuous use throughout its history. The Emperor Hadrian built the Roman Temple between the years 118 and 125 AD dedicated to all the gods of pagan Rome. It was given to the Pope in 608 AD and has been used as a church ever since. The building is circular with a portico of eight large granite Corinthian columns under a pediment. Inside, the rotunda is under a coffered concrete dome which is open to the sky. Almost 2,000 years after it was built, the pantheons dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome.
Piazza Navona: The piazza is built on the former Domitian’s stadium, hence the long oval shape of the square. In the 15th century the Piazza was paved over to create Piazza Navona. The main attraction of the Piazza are the three fountains with construction beginning in 1576. It is situated in the historic center of Rome and is one of the liveliest Piazza’s.
Campo de Fiori: It’s often mentioned in the guide books as a quaint market area within easy reach of the tourist attractions of Rome. Translated literally as “field of flowers” the field refers to the fact that the area was a field until the 15th century when it was paved over.
The Vatican Museum: Pope Julius founded the Vatican Museum in the early 16th century. It is located inside Vatican City and it displays works from the immense collection built up by the Roman Catholic Church throughout the centuries. It contains the most important masterpieces of Renaissance and the most renowned classical sculptures in the world. The Sistine Chapel and the Raphael Rooms are included in the route through the museum. Over 5 million people visited the Vatican Museum in 2011. As suggested in the “Rick Steves Italy” book I purchased tickets in advance from the Vatican Museums official web site. I selected the earliest tickets of the day and we walked right past the huge line, showed our confirmation sheet, went to the ticket window and were allowed in the museum well before the general public.
Spiral stairs at the entrance to the Vatican Museums…..A Egyptian Mummy in the Egypt & Mesopotamia section of the Museum
Apollo Belvedere from 120-140 AD….The Laocoon Group from 42-20 BC (over 2,000 years old)
Ancient Sarcophagi: The one on the right sculptured around 340 AD in Egypt for the daughter of Constantine
Hall of Tapestries
Raphael Rooms: The four rooms known as the Stanze of Raphael form part of the apartment situated on the second floor of the Pontifical Palace that was chosen by Pope Julius II, as his own residence and used also by his successors. The picturesque decoration was carried out by Raphael and his pupils between 1508 and 1524.
The Sistine Chapel: (Pictures are not allowed but these are from a post card) This is the pope’s personal chapel and also the place where, upon the death of the ruling pope, a new pope is elected. The Sistine Chapel is famous for Michelangelo’s pictorial story of creation, with a powerful God weaving in and out of each scene through that busy first week.
St. Peter’s Basilica: Emperor Constantine, the first Christian emperor of Rome, ordered to build a basilica on Vatican Hill. The location was symbolic: this was the place where Saint Peter, the chief apostle, was buried in 64 A.D. By the middle of the 15th century the basilica was falling into ruin. In 1506 pope Julius II laid the first stone of a new basilica which was to become the largest in the world. .
St. Peter’s is the largest church in the world with the largest dome in the world. The interior which includes 45 altars is decorated by many famous artists. Vatican is the smallest state in the world
Looking down the main aisle of St. Peter’s, and The beautiful Pieta by Michelangelo.
Bernini’s altar work and seven-story-tall bronze canopy is amazing
The Shrine to St. Helen. Bernini’s Throne of St. Peter in one of the altars in St. Peters
The papal guard of hired Swiss soldiers was created in 1505. Marilyn is just happy to have seen hours and hours worth of Vatican City.
Florence: We journeyed by train on a day trip to Florence, as an optional with the Go Ahead group. Located on the banks of the Arno River, and in the Tuscany region, Florence was a center of medieval European trade and finance and one of the wealthiest cities of its time. It is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance and it is famous for its art and architecture and for its cultural heritage. Florence is ranked as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and the city is known for its history, culture, monuments and its Renaissance art and architecture. The historic center of Florence is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore: Rome to Florence, is less than 2 hours on the fast train. The Florence Cathedral is located only a few blocks from the train station. It is a vast Gothic structure that was begun in 1296, with the construction lasting 170 years. The cathedral complex, located in Piazza del Duomo, includes the Baptistery and Giotto’s Companile.
The dome remains the largest brick dome ever constructed. The façade is white, green and red marble.
The cathedral’s interior is less colorful and the decorations were kept at a minimum. The exception is the fresco on the dome’s interior, painted between 1572 and 1579 by Giorgio Vasari and Frederico Zuccari. The fresco depicts the Last Judgment.
The octagonal baptistery stands across from the Cathedral and one of the oldest buildings in the city, having been constructed between 1059 and 1128. The Baptistery is renowned for its three sets of artistically important bronze doors with relief sculptures. The east pair of doors were dubbed by Michelangelo “the Gates of Paradise”.
Palazzo Vecchio: The Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace) is the city hall of Florence. The fortress looking building was built at the start of the 14th century. Overlooking the Piazza della Signoria with its copy of Michelangelo’s David statue as well the gallery of statues in the adjacent Loggia dei Lanzi, it is one of the most significant public places in Italy.
Basilica of Santa Croce: Built in 1294, the Basilica is the largest Franciscan church in the world. It is the burial place of some of the most illustrious Italians, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Foscolo, Gentile and Rossini. (Michelangelo and Galileo’s graves are pictured below.)
Ponte Vecchio: It’s current appearance dates back to 1345. Houses were built on the bridge, a common practice in large European cities during the Middle Ages. The Ponte Vecchio was the only bridge in Florence that survived the Second World War unscathed. The houses were initially used as workshops and a diverse array of shopkeepers such as butchers and tanners did business here. Today they are all jewelry shops.
We did a day trip to Pompeii. First we went by Trenitalia from Roma Termini Station to Napoli Centrale Station. We then transferred to the Circumvesuviana Train and rode to the Pompeii Scavi stop. The station is located only about a block from the entrance to Pompeii.
Pompeii: The ancient city of Pompeii is a partially buried Roman city near Naples. History tells us that Pompeii was buried under about 30 feet of hot volcanic ash from an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. and was lost for over 1,500 years before it was accidentally discovered in the 1600’s; excavations began in 1748. Since then its excavation has provided insight into the life of a city at the height of the Roman Empire.
Boarding the train for our early morning trip to Pompeii. Upon entering Pompeii the first thing you see is the still smoldering Mt. Vesuvius in the background. In 79 AD it erupted and smothered the city in hot ash.
In 79 AD Pompeii was a thriving commercial port of 20,000 residents. It was a place for action and shopping with bakeries, brothels, baths, bars and restaurants. Most buildings were covered with ground-marble stucco. While it’s the most ruined part of Pompeii, one can still walk in the Forum and see what remains of the pillars of the Temple of Jupiter.
The Basilica dates back to about 120 B.C. It was the most important public building of Pompeii as the center of economic life and the seat of the law courts. Streets: As one walks down the ancient streets of Pompeii it is fascinating to see the grooved marks of the chariot wheels of long ago.
The Temple of Apollo was built in the 3rd century B.C., and was dedicated to the Greek and Roman god Apollo. Located in the Temple is the bronze statue which was constructed between 100 B.C.-79A.D. The original “Apollo As a Archer” statue is now in the National Archaeological Museum in Napoli – and we’ve seen it there.)
This is one of 35 bakeries that have been excavated in Pompeii. Grain was poured into the top of the stone towers and slaves or donkeys pushed wooden bars that turned the stones. The oven looks like a modern day pizza oven that is found all over Italy. The second picture shows a typical restaurant marked by a series of marble counters. The holes in the counters held the pots for food.
Pompeii had six public baths and this is the Forum Bath, which was built around 80 B.C. We were told that this is the original roof and décor on the walls. Note the marble labrum at the back of the room in the first picture. It held cold water for guests who needed to cool off. The bathing chamber had a barrel vault ceiling while its walls were elegantly embellished with stucco work placed on either side of giants holding up a shelf.
What a fantastic experience it is to walk back into time….1,933 years to be exact.
OSTIA ANTICA, ITALY
Getting to Ostia Antica: Getting there from Rome was easy and inexpensive. It will cost you just one Metro ticket each way (your 1 Euro Metro ticket also covers the train). Take Metro line B to the Piramide stop. The Piramide Metro stop is also the Roma Porta San Paolo train station, so the train tracks are just a few steps from the Metro tracks—follow signs to Lido. Ride the train about 30 minutes to the Ostia Antica stop, leave the train station, cross the road via the sky-bridge and walk straight down the street to the parking lot, with the entrance to the left.
Ostia Antica: Is a large archeological site that was the location of the harbor city of ancient Rome. It lies between the Tiber River and the Tyrrhenian Sea. Ostia was Rome’s seaport, and a working port town, with a population of upwards of 60,000 people. It shows a more complete and gritty look at Roman life than wealthy Pompeii. The site is noted for the excellent preservation of its ancient buildings, magnificent frescoes and impressive mosaics. With the fall of the Roman Empire, the port was abandoned and Ostia fell slowly into decay, and was finally abandoned.
Entering Ostia Antica you walk through the cemetery. Ancient Romans buried their dead outside the city wall. What’s left of the entry gate is beneath the tree ahead. There were lots of very complete buildings like shown in the above picture.
Ostia Museum: This small museum is located at the site and offers a look at some of Ostia’s finest statuary which had adorned the courtyards of wealthy Ostia families. We saw some very well preserved sarcophagus also.
Storage containers remaining from the ancient seaport. The Forum, which was the main square of the city.
A lot of this fine building remains, but could never figure out what it had been. Inside the building was the remains of a splendid mosaic floor.
The Theater of Ostia was built in 12 B.C. and is considered to be one of the oldest brick theaters anywhere. We noticed almost everything in the town was made of the same kind of reddish bricks. Above is one of the remaining marble theatrical masks that sits facing the Theater.
Fare Thee Well……so enjoyed being on this adventure with our son Eric and our friend Steve.
Western Caribbean Cruise & Southern Florida
South Beach & The Keys FL, Cozumel MX, Costa Maya MX, Isla Roatan HN, Grand Cayman MX, & Everglades FL
Jan. 6 – 16, 2012
This was a fun time with friends! Our happy little group (Tom & Alana, Rick & Pam and Jim & Marilyn) flew into Miami and stayed in South Beach for two nights and from there did a day trip to the Florida Keys. Then we boarded the Carnival Glory for a 7 Day Western Caribbean Cruise which included the ports of Cozumel MX, Costa Maya MX, Isla Roatan HN, and Grand Cayman MX. We cruised a total of 1,860 miles. When we returned to Florida we did an excursion to the Everglades. P.S. Thanks Alana for the use of several of your fine photo’s.
South Beach Florida: South Beach is famous for it’s Art Deco Historic District. With our hotel being in that district, and two blocks from the beach, we enjoyed strolling and seeing all the sights of the area. We Kansas people headed straight to the beach and it appears that we headed straight to the food also.
The Florida Keys: The Keys begin at the southeastern tip of the Florida peninsula and extend in a gentle arc south-southwest and then westward to Key West. The islands lie along the Florida Straits, dividing the Gulf of Mexico to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. We had an enjoyable full day of driving and adventure as we traveled the 160 miles from Miami to Key West and back by car. With the exception of the first picture of seven-mile bridge the rest of the pictures were taken in Key West.
Port of Miami: And thus our seven day cruise on the Carnival Glory begins.
Cozumel, Mexico and the Mayan Ruins of Tulum: Our first port of call after a full day at sea was Cozumel where Jim & I had booked an excursion to Tulum. We went by ferry across to the mainland and then drove by bus to Tulum. The ancient Mayan paradise kingdom of Tulum was one of the last cities inhabited and built by the Mayans and it managed to survive about 70 years after the Spanish began occupying Mexico. It dates back to about 564 AD. The walled city is perched dramatically on 50-foot-high cliffs above the crystal blue Caribbean Sea. The three walls average 23 feet in thickness, making this one of the most well-fortified towns in Mayan history. The Maya are well known for their precise calendar and astronomy. They knew precisely the spring and fall equinox as well as the summer and winter solstice. Precisely on those days the sun is perfectly aligned so that when the sun rises the light streams straight through the little window in the Tulum Temple. Amazing!
Port of Cozumel: After our excursion to Tulum we toured the Port of Cozumel.
Cozumel Highlights: Tom & Alana saw the oldest Mayan temple in Cozumel, toured the first church on the island, went to the “Discover Mexico Park,” visited a tequila store, enjoyed lunch and shopping, and went to a beach.
Port of Costa Maya, Mexico: We were greeted at the Port by colorful local dancers. We did an excursion to the Kohunlich Mayan Ruins and it was an interesting two hour ride through the countryside. Upon returning to the Port we had time to enjoy the shopping area.
Kohunlich Mayan Ruins: From the port of Costa Maya, Jim & I and Tom & Alana did an excursion to the Kohunlich Mayan ruins. After a two hour bus ride we arrived at the ruins which are situated in a secluded jungle setting near the border of Belize. The site covers about 21 acres and it contains almost 200 mounds that remain largely unexcavated. Most of the structures were built from about 250 to 600 AD. The city was elaborately planned with pyramids, citadels, plazas and courtyards. Kohunlich is best known for its Temple of the Masks, a pyramid whose central stairway is flanked by huge humanized stucco masks. and was built about 500 AD.
Isla Roatan, Honduras: Roatan lies 30 miles off the north coast of Honduras and is the largest of the Honduras’ Bay Islands. It is approximately 37 miles long by 5 miles across at it’s widest point. Located near the largest barrier reef in the Caribbean Sea, Roatan has become a important cruise ship and scuba diving destination in Honduras. Tourism and fishing are the most important source of income for the islanders. We thought the rolling hills and lots of trees of Roatan made it a very pretty island. We just spent the day strolling around and doing nothing in particular.
Grand Cayman Island: The Cayman Islands is a British Overseas territory which is located in the western Caribbean Sea and is situated about 430 miles south of Miami FL. Grand Cayman Island with an area of 76 square miles is far bigger than the two lesser Cayman Islands. At our last port of call we all did a tour of the island where we saw Georgetown, seven mile beach, and the interesting lime formations of the town called Hell. We went to the Cayman Turtle Farm, which is home to 11,000 green sea turtles weighing up to 600 pounds. There was one less than the day before because Jim ate Turtle Soup. Lastly, but certainly not least, Alana got to kiss a Sting Ray.
The Florida Everglades: Located in southern Florida the everglades is one of the largest wetlands in the world. The tour took us to Everglades Safari Park and we glided on an airboat, got up close and personal with native wildlife, and saw lots of alligators. Jim & Rick ate alligator and thought it tasted pretty good.