This Week in Awkwardness

I started using Google image search to find my stock photos all over the internet, which turned out to be REALLY FUN.  I’m selling everything from snazzy bottled water to real estate, and my images are included in goofy quizzes, horror stories, and travel articles.

I also posted a term paper I wrote for school as a 3-part article on the 1692 earthquake that destroyed Port Royal, Jamaica.  The interesting thing about it is that there are so many first-hand accounts of buildings collapsing and people being sucked right down into the sand.  Two thirds of the town just slid into the sea and was covered over by silt, creating one of the best 17th-century colonial sites anywhere in the world.

Lowry Park Zoo has evening hours around major holidays so I was able to be there when the giant fruit bats were getting dinner and watched them crawl around which was both creepy and awesome.  They also gave presents to the orangutans (one little girl thought the male was Chewbacca) which was pretty fun to watch.  The Christmas lights were pretty of course but being a retail worker I CAN’T WAIT until the Christmas music stops.  I always feel bad for the kid in “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”  I mean, from his perspective, he thinks his mom is cheating on his dad.  Should he tell him?  If he doesn’t, then he’s keeping a big secret from his dad, but if he does, they might break up and it would be his fault.  Poor kid.  Also, whoever wrote the Chipmunk Song, I’d like to give you a high five.  With my fist.  On your face.

Also, this 360° video of the Lascaux Cave replica in France:


Added to the Travel Map:

Reykjanes Geopark, Reykjanes Peninsula, Iceland – spot where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge lies above sea level. Has a footbridge between North America & Europe.

Great Falls Park, Virginia, USA – waterfalls.

Bois Blanc, Amherstberg, Ontario, Canada – abandoned amusement park – TECHNICALLY, anyone who steps foot on it is trespassing, but….

Burgruine Gösting, Graz, Austria – castle ruins.

Nuclear Shelter 10-Z, Brno, Czech Republic – hotel in a bunker!

Fort des Dunes, Leffrinckoucke, France – abandoned fort, important in WWII.

Aran Islands, Ireland – lots of ruins.

Alaska SeaLife Center, Seward, Alaska – Alaska-specific aquarium & wildlife rescue.

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Event: Live Oak International

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Every year in January horse drivers & jumpers come to Ocala from all over the world to compete at Live Oak Farms.  It’s become quite a festival, they have food trucks, vendors, even the Budweiser Clydesdale were there, all hooked up doing laps around the show ring.  It was a lot of fun except for the woman sitting next to me during the jumping saying “You can do it horsie! Oh that’s OK you’ll do better on the next one!”  It was the horse show equivalent of those people who talk to the characters during movies.

This Week in Awkwardness

All but the latest trees have their leaves, the lilacs are starting to bloom, and the temperature has been higher than 45 for several days in a row. All of the sudden it’s summer.

SeaWorld has a new commercial out desperately trying to convince me that they’re doing a bang up job taking care of their whales. One of the points they made was some “government research” finding that orcas live just as long in captivity as they do in the wild. Ummmm. Hm. Right. EVERY sign on the side of EVERY zoo exhibit, EVERY article on EVERY animal I’ve EVER read it says like the name and where it lives, and under that ‘Lifespan: Wild – 1-3 years, Captivity – a gajillion years’ or something like that. Sooooo….I’m supposed to be impressed that your whales, being fed & generally taken care of & whatnot, don’t live any longer than wild whales who have to feed themselves, fight off predators, and get by without vets looking after them? Good job I guess?


Added to the Travel Map:

New River Gorge National River, West Virginia – seems to be littered with well-preserved ghost towns.

Destination: St. Louis

 

St. Louis is, weirdly enough, the only city I’ve ever been in where I saw an actual tent community on an empty lot.  It’s also the only city I’ve ever been in where entire buildings were painted with murals and Roman columns.


The Gateway Arch

For anyone unfamiliar with St. Louis, the Arch is exactly that: a gigantic steel structure randomly sticking up from the bank of the Mississippi, holding up nothing.  It’s actually part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which also includes the nearby Old Courthouse.  They’re doing some work on the museum underneath the Arch, so until that reopens the Courthouse is acting as the museum/visitor’s center/ticketing location.  I opted for the Arch + river cruise combo for $25 ($22 with a NPS pass).  After checking out the incredible dome and somewhat comical dioramas in the Courthouse I hopped aboard the not-so-imaginatively named Becky Thatcher for a narrated 1-hour trip up & down the Mighty Mississippi.  Our captain told us some of the history of the area and pointed out some interesting things along the way, including river traffic, abandoned buildings, and a casino that filled its basement with river water to comply with the law that all casinos must be “on the river”.  I guess it works.

Disembarking from the boat, I headed back up the Grand Staircase (being sure to find the 33rd one, the high-water mark of past flood) and headed down into the heart of the Arch.  Getting in here only costs $3, but while the museum is out of commission there’s really only the documentary movie.  The cool thing to do is to head to the observation deck on the weirdest elevator ride in town, up through the leg of the Arch itself ($10).  The elevators are these crazy little round pods with 5 seats that tilt & ratchet themselves along with the leaning leg of the arch, with windows in the doors that offer a great view of the inner workings of the building.  The visitor’s center in the Courthouse has a sample one set up for anybody who’s not sure if they can handle the confined space.  It takes 4 minutes to get to the top, but only 3 to get back down (yay gravity!), and they run about every ten minutes.  The view from the top is of course spectacular, with one side facing out over the city and the other across the river into Illinois.  I stayed up there for a long time watching people and cars, and looking for whatever little oddities I could spot.  Click here for a short video I shot on the way down.  (It’s not the greatest, but hey.)


St. Louis Zoo

The zoo itself is free, but they charge a huge amount for parking in the lots.  I was lucky enough to find a single open spot on the street that I didn’t have to pay for.  It’s a surprisingly nice zoo for not costing anything.  I only had time and energy to cover about half of it.  I really liked the insect house, although I was careful to avoid the employee walking around with a hissing cockroach asking people if they wanted to pet it.  One of the coolest things was a display of ants: they had the ant nest on one side of the box and the food on the other side, with a winding vine in between that the ants walked on.  I could have stared at them for hours, going back and forth with their little leaf pieces.  I also enjoyed the indoor penguin habitat (bring a jacket, the climate is for the penguins, not the humans!) and the seal tunnel.  There’s a train ride through the zoo ($5) that I didn’t go on but I’m sure it’s fun.

Destination: Graceland (and a Little Bit of the Rest of Memphis)

 

I’m not a rabid Elvis fan (although I do appreciate some of his early work) but when in Memphis, visit Graceland.  It was smaller than I thought it would be but otherwise perfectly met my gaudy, ostentatious expectations.  What I didn’t expect was to find out that Elvis was such a nice, down to earth guy.  He apparently ran around paying off the hospital bills of strangers and driving golf carts on his front lawn.  He even bought the house partly to fulfill an early promise to his parents that he would get them a nice place to live.  The tour was a little different than my usual experience.  I bought my ticket ($36) across the street and got in line for a shuttle to take me to the house.  While I waited, someone handed me an iPad and a set of headphones, and John Stamos became my tour guide.  The iPad was interesting at first, each room had commentary, there were photos, videos, interviews, and 360° views of places that weren’t visible from the viewing areas.  The problems arose when they packed the house so full that it was impossible to stand in one place long enough to explore each section.  I ended up having to sit down in a random spot for awhile and just go through all the stuff I’d missed.  There’s a couple of outbuildings besides the house itself that hold a lot of his awards and more flamboyant costumes, plus horses on the grounds and of course the graves of Elvis, his parents, and his grandmother.  All in all it’s an interesting (if somewhat overpriced) place to visit.

While I was in town I wandered down Beale Street, with it’s bar-b-que restaurants and blues clubs, and made a quick stop to visit the famous ducks of the Peabody Hotel.  I drove by the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.  It’s now the National Civil Rights Museum and they keep a huge white wreath on the balcony where he stood.  It poured rain for a half hour or so and mist started rising off the Mississippi.

 

This Week in Awkwardness

I spent most of the week in various parts of Arkansas.  I’d heard of the Ozarks and wanted to see them, but I had no idea how beautiful this entire state really was.  It’s so stunning I don’t even know how I’m going to cram it into blog posts.

They seem to have three major obsessions here: Walmart, Bill Clinton, and antiques.

I figured out that I’ve spent a grand total of $26.50 on activities on this whole trip so far.

I got a cabin for a couple days and accidentally left the heater on while I was gone for a few hours.  When I got back it was nice & toasty, and there were hornets quite literally coming out of the woodwork.  I got a different cabin and spent the rest of the evening freaking out at everything.

In the second cabin I was joined by some new friends for breakfast on a couple mornings:

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Crossed Off the Travel Map:

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Rogers, Arkansas

Bentonville, Arkansas

Walmart Museum, Bentonville, Arkansas

Alma, Arkansas

Keo, Arkansas

North Little Rock, Arkansas

Maumelle, Arkansas

Destinations: Albuquerque & Santa Fe

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For a while now I’ve been sort of fascinated by the culture, style, and architecture of New Mexico, a state that I’d only been through on a train.  I finally had an opportunity to visit, and it didn’t disappoint.

I actually stayed between the two cities in Bernalillo and spent a day in each place. Rather than driving, paying for gas, dealing with traffic, and figuring out where to park, and paying for that too, I took the New Mexico Rail Runner commuter train. It’s really cheap (the hour-long trip to Santa Fe was $9, downtown Albuquerque only cost $4), convenient, and the scenery can’t be beat. Train tickets also get you onto the city buses at no extra cost, just show it to the driver.

The station in Albuquerque is right downtown, but a couple of miles from the Old Town section that I wanted to visit, so I hopped a bus and rode through the city. Old Town is arranged around a central plaza with a large church on one side and surrounded by many shops and tour options. I never got into Breaking Bad but apparently it takes place and/or was filmed in Albuquerque and they do everything they can to capitalize on that fact. I found a sign advertising a funeral procession for Walter White and I one point I saw a tour bus with what appeared to be a meth lab in it.

Leaving Old Town, I got back on the bus and headed over to the Albuquerque Botanical Garden. The garden is half of the ABQ BioPark, the other half being a zoo. $12.50 for one or the other, $20 for both, and a small train runs between them. The garden also contains an aquarium, so the one ticket includes plenty of animals along with the plants. The gardens are beautiful of course, with a farm section, a Japanese garden (my favorite), a lake, two greenhouses, a butterfly house (summer only) and model trains. I didn’t even know garden trains were a thing, but I guess it’s a pretty serious hobby. There’s also a playground shaped like a castle, complete with tunnels, giant flowers, and an ivy-covered dragon.

 

I really liked Santa Fe.  It was a little more desertish than my ideal but there were grassy parks about every ten feet to make up for it, and it’s at a high enough elevation (7,200 feet) to have plenty of big trees.  Some of the oldest buildings in the country are here, so I was surprised by how many high end shops there were and how artsy the town was in general.  I guess I figured it would be a little more traditional or something.

The beautiful Cathedral Basilica of Francis of Assisi dominates a whole city block and can be seen all over town.  I happened to be there on Good Friday so things were closing up all over the place for people to attend the 1:30 service.

The proximity of the Los Alamos labs to Santa Fe also piqued my interest, but I didn’t have time to visit the museums dedicated to that particular aspect of this region.  Central New Mexico is definitely interesting, and a place I’d like to explore the history of further on another trip.