Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Trip to the Near South (6-7)

News flash. It's hot in Indiana. And apparently, we've been lucky and missed the worst of the heat (so far).
Too Darn Hot!
Still we've managed to do some recreational climbing...
Frisbee Rescue
Merlin in Camouflage Mode
And go for a night ride on horseback.
Anwyn and Spitfire
Actually, the night ride was a little unnerving. We were undercover of trees and the moon rose late, so by 1/2hr into our 90 minute ride, it was dark enough that only the sharpest eyes in our group were able to see anything. It's a good thing the horses knew the route well -- even so, we had a few scraped legs and poked eyeballs. The horses also seemed to "know" one another pretty well (if you know what I mean) and my stallion gave me more than a few frightening moments when in season mares got a little friendly. As it was only my second time on a horse, I found agressive neighing and rearing to be a little above my skill level. But, what doesn't kill you makes for a great story :)

The following day, we went swimming and a few of us went climbing at a great indoor wall that Peff frequents (no pictures).

I managed to take some really nice portraits of Teela and her kids (Peff still eludes me). I thought I'd leave those pics in the gallery, for the truly interested :)

Trip to the Near South - Chicago (day 5)

My coffee woes continued this morning at the EconoLodge. The staff member in charge of the continental breakfast thought that recycling coffee grounds was an okay thing to do. I decided to make coffee in my room, but housekeeping hadn't removed the last used coffee sachet. I don't know how many days it had been there, but it appeared slightly mouldy. Sigh.
The good news is that soon after the day began to heat up, we passed a lemonade stand. Leora and Anwyn have had many stands over the years and are always excited when someone from outside the family purchases their lemonade. We paid it forward by giving these cute kids some international customers.

Traffic started to look a bit crazy, but never really got out of control and we got into Chicago without incident, aside from a couple of skipped toll booths. I wasn't really sure how they worked and I quickly ran out of change. They'll have to bill me, I guess.

It took us a couple of times around the airport to find the international arrivals at Terminal 5. Wendy had landed and cleared customs before we even got there and hence forward joined our merry gathering.
It was recommended that we visit the fabulous Millennium Park which is right against Lake Michigan. Being noon, we stopped at a deli for sandwiches. Since Wendy was now with us, the deli was researched in advance and thus we were able to have the best meal of our trip. I guess this "planning" thing has it's advantages. Pastoral was indeed fabulous.
We toured the park, including this wonderful sculpture entitled "Cloud Gate", which will make a bit more sense if you look at the classic image from the park's website.
The park was very beautiful, though Wendy was not impressed with their vaunted xeriscape project, Lurie Garden. I didn't take any pictures of it, but I think it can be cut some slack on account of the drought that the eastern US has been suffering.

We pressed on but only managed to get to Teela's well after dark.

Pictures continue in this album, as usual.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Trip to the Near South - Lost Island

We started our day by saying "goodbye" to the Hilton staff. It was a beautiful hotel and aside from the coffee faux pas (which they quickly fixed when I mentioned it) we thoroughly enjoyed our two nights.

We headed south into Iowa and the terrain finally started to look substantially different from home (although it's still pretty flat). The presence of windmills is one of the most obvious differences. We have passed hundreds of them over the last couple of days. Leora makes jokes about having terrible headaches every time we pass one of these giant turbines. The other thing I can't help but notice is the omnipresence of corn. It is everywhere.

About 1pm we arrived in the city of Waterloo and made our way to Lost Island Waterpark where we ate the last of our bagels and fresh veggies from the cooler.
The cost per person is far less than the World Waterpark in Edmonton -- $23.50 vs $37. This was definitely a step up, both in terms of variety of slides and general ambiance. Considering it is a "water" park, there was a conspicuous lack of free, fresh water, yet no shortage of grass huts selling bottled water, pop and liquor. Fortunately, I filled our water cooler with ice before we left the Hilton in Minneapolis.

I left my camera and phone in the van for the first 3 hours so that I could participate in the fun with Leora and Anwyn. I was glad I did. It was blazingly hot and it felt just incredible every time we rocketed through a wall of water or plummeted backwards down an unexpected waterfall. I did eventually get tired of sliding and grabbed my camera for some fun that involved a little less stair climbing.
My favourite -- 1/2 roller coaster, 1/2 waterslide
This giant cone was the girls' favourite
Still having a blast after their 10th time down.
I finally dragged them out of the park just before the gates were about to close. We got a LOT more entertainment value for our money than at the Nickelodeon park yesterday. I certainly enjoyed it more.

We had fast food veggie burgers and fries on the road and are now falling asleep in a seedy EconoLodge in Debuque. Despite many signs declaring it "smoke free" and a stern warning from the woman at the front desk, I was surprised when I had to remove a plastic bag from over the smoke detector when we arrived.

If you don't hear from me tomorrow, consider sending someone to look for me... perhaps you should start by calling the fire marshal. Really, you shouldn't worry. I'm sure the 4 four-leaf clovers we picked at a rest stop two days ago will see us safely home.

As per my promise, the photos continue in the same gallery as before.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Trip to the Near South - The Mall of America (day 3)

My body aches all over from two long days of driving. I could have survived this alone, but when I went to make coffee this morning, I discovered only decaf!!! If that doesn't sound horrifying, you may accidentally be reading the wrong blog.
The Hall of Mirrors symbolizes my mental state after only decaf this morning.
Today was our day to explore the Mall of America (MOA). Not being much of a shopper, this was a mostly disappointing experience for me. However, Anwyn and Leo found some nice jewellery and Leo and I enjoyed getting some new shoes. Perhaps my expectations should have been adjusted. After doing some reading, I discovered that the MOA is less than 1/2 the size of the West Edmonton Mall. I guess they left out the half of the stores that were interesting to me... except for this LEGO display ;)
My zoom lens only captures the foot of the 30' tall LEGO Transformer on display
Although everyone was exhausted, the girls eventually woke up enough to enjoy the Nickelodeon Theme Park. They did some climbing and rode several of the roller-coasters.
Looks fun, but for 40 min in line, I'd expect to be able to go WITHOUT the tether.
Anwyn told me you should try to do one thing that scares you every day
Mission Accomplished!
It has been fun boldly driving wherever we want with the aid of my iPhone's GPS. We had a bit of a scary moment on the freeway when my phone's battery went dead. I actually had to pull off the road and unfold one of the paper maps that Wendy made me take. Kind of fun actually. The girls ran through a torrential rain to buy subs for supper while I deciphered the ancient markings scrawled on an archaic medium known as PA-per, or some such. It was a harrowing ordeal. Let this be a reminder to all of you kids to always have clean underwear (or so my mother told me) and a charging cable on hand.

Back at the hotel, I had a half hour run (in my new shoes) followed by an agressive bike ride. Drenched with sweat, I feel like I may have counteracted some of that time wasted sitting in the van. I managed to talk the girls into going to sleep early.

There is a terrific thunderstorm outside as I write this post. I want to stay up really late to watch and take pictures, but I should really get some sleep. We travel again tomorrow.

I am going to continue to add new vacation pictures to the same album. Newer ones will be towards the bottom of the page.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Trip to the Near South (Days 1 & 2)

An uneventful drive through Saskatchewan. The highlight was the discovery of a park in Weyburn that had basic parkour training stations scattered about.
At the border, there was a heart stopping moment as the guard inspecting our vehicle threatened me with a $300 fine for the single orange I neglected to eat before getting there. Of course, it was a Florida orange, but who knows what pathogen it may have picked up in disease ridden Canada. As the orange flew into their garbage receptacle, I felt that the world was just a little safer. Job well done.

Most of the day was spent driving. I was entertained by alternately listening to music and having Anwyn read to me from my favourite book of childhood, The Hobbit.

We arrived in Velva, ND near supper time. The owner of the campground was run off her feet and said if we didn't need electrical hook ups, we could pitch our tent anywhere we liked for free. I made sure to choose a great location.
We set up our tent, ate and then drove back into Minot to watch some fireworks. I was concerned we might not be able to find where the city was having a show, but turns out I had nothing to worry about. Apparently, every individual in the USA has enough fireworks that if the President should call on him, he could host the fireworks festival himself.

It was a pretty great evening. There was a terrific sunset...

An airshow...

A colourful moon-rise...

And some exploding things...

Today was day 2. We drove most of the day in 37 degree heat. The terrain was quite boring today, although the parks continue to be far above par compared with Saskatchewan. One highlight was that we managed to find 4 four-leaf clovers at one of the rest stops.

By the time we checked into our hotel in Minneapolis, we were all tired, but Anwyn had her heart set on going to a restaurant: "This is a vacation, Dad!" So, armed with her iPad and complimentary hotel wifi, my 12 year old set about finding us a place to eat. She found a pizza joint that looked near enough on the map, not realizing that Minneapolis is not the same size as Saskatoon.

View Larger Map
In this case, "near enough" turned out to be about 10 miles (16km). That is just a little more than driving from my house all the way across Saskatoon to the Credit Union Centre. I didn't have the heart to say she couldn't go to this cool vegetarian pizza nook, so off we went to Galactic Pizza.

It's an over-the-top concept. Leora hated the decor, though Anwyn and I quite enjoyed it. The chef was wearing a superhero outfit complete with cape. We found the pizza to be competent, but it was on the bland side. The kids thought they could have used a cheese with more punch.

Very tired...

I will keep a running gallery of the trip pictures here...