Monday, September 28, 2009

Finding Here And There

Posting a few more pictures from our Nova Scotia trip including one of Big Dave himself, if I may speak of myself in third person. I rarely like any picture taken of myself but this one isn't so bad, especially since I'm sporting my Michigan sweatshirt and my Wolverines pulled out a thrilling victory against Indiana this past Saturday.

Also pictures of the Green Gables farm on Prince Edward Island that inspired the popular book Anne of Green Gables, and the iconic Bluenose II schooner, very famous among Canadians. It is a replica of Bluenose I which is featured on the Canadian dime.

One thing I don't miss from my trip is navigating unfamiliar roads and fighting all too familiar traffic. Boston area drivers are particularly infuriating. While driving I-495 near Boston late one night a driver sped up behind me, flicked on his high beams and laid on the horn. He wanted me to move over so he could continue doing 80 mph in a 65 mph zone.

That was it. I said to Wendy, "Let's get a hotel for the night." I'd prefer dealing with I-495 before Monday rush hour the next day. Though we rose early then and were on the road well before six, I-495 was already becoming busy at that pre-dawn hour. The crazies were out too. No sooner had I come down the on-ramp when a car careened across all three lanes of traffic, slamming into the guardrail in a shower of sparks.

Traffic immediately slowed, some drivers laying on their brakes so heavily that the smell of burning rubber was thick. We passed one car flipped onto its top. I don't know if anybody was hurt. We didn't stop. Within ten minues, the radio station carried a traffic report of an overturned car. Never did find out how it all came out. I told Wendy later that my experience driving go-carts during our annual trip to Silver Lake helped me to dodge the wreck, the other cars involved, as well as the debris in the road. Think NASCAR.

It's moments like that which convince my wife to avoid a turn behind the wheel. She prefers map duty. She did excellent there too, from the busy downtown of Halifax to the meandering coastal roads by Nova Scotia's southern shore, we hardly made a wrong turn. Observation: I think about half of Nova Scotians in the rural south do not own a dryer, judging my the amount of clothes I saw hanging on lines there.

Not to say that we always got where we were going successfully. Returning through extreme northern Maine, I wanted to get a picture of the famous Quoddy lighthouse, the one with the candy stripes that's been reproduced in so many calendars.

While at a visitor's center in St. Andrew's, New Brunswick, a guide pointed out the lighthouse on an area map. Of course, it wasn't easy
to get there. Long drive, winding local roads, and lots of small towns to go through. AND surprisingly we had to go through Canadian customs again as the lighthouse lay on Campobello Island which is under Canadian control.

Though we had cleared customs twice already, the border guard this time reprimanded Wendy for trying to enter the country without a valid passport. Holy cow! Wendy an illegal?

"Wendy, your passport isn't valid until you sign it," the matronly woman scolded good-naturedly.

But then, after driving an additional ten miles to the tip of Campobello Island, I discovered that this lighthouse was not the one I had expected to find there. Apparently, there's an East Quoddy Lighthouse and a West Quoddy Lighthouse. The guide's directions weren't quite accurate. She took us to the wrong freaking island!

Well, that's not totally accurate either, but I've always wanted to use that line from the movie Captain Ron in one of my blogs. I may not get another opportunity.

I took a picture of the lighthouse anyway, what I could see of it anyway. Couldn't get too close though because it sits on a small rocky outcrop in the Bay of Fundy, only accessible at low tide for an hour and a half each day. And we were already running late. Not even time to find the lighthouse on West Quoddy.

Well, that gives me an excuse to come out this way again some day (with a better map).

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Bullwinkle They're Not


My wife Wendy wanted to see them on our recently completed trip to Nova Scotia, having missed them in our previous trips to the northeast. Seeing deer here in Michigan is a big thrill for her and seeing the largest member of the deer family would make her vacation.

So I checked guidebooks and figured the best chance would be on Skyline trail in Cape Breton National Park, a five-mile round trip hike that's also billed as one of the most picturesque along the Atlantic seaboard. They said we were almost "guaranteed" to see at least one moose and maybe more mooses (meese?).

We hit the trail early, having tent-camped nearby along the coast. We were the second car at the trailhead parking lot. Ironically, in the 'it's a small world' department, the first hiker we came across on the trail said he was from Ann Arbor too.

Then we spotted our first moose, a bull moose, feeding in the woods nearby. I told Wendy they were like dinosaurs in the forest, so huge for their surroundings. Later down the trail we came across a family of moose, the bull moose sporting a monstrous rack of antlers.

He didn't appear to like my maneuvering to get a better picture (what I won't do to post a good picture on my blog for my blogging buddies). When he started shaking his head and waving his antlers I decided we should move on.

As the morning wore on, we encountered more people on the trail, lots more. There was one boisterous group of French-speaking women who hustled past us, more interested in their conversation than what lie in the woods and hills around us.

When we got to the end of the trail, at a series of overlooks over the Gulf of St. Lawrence, I didn't see the women anymore. I asked some bystander with a distinguished French accent if he'd seen a large contingent of women pass by.

"The ones that scared the moose with all their talking--pop pop pop pop pop?" He nodded dismissively towards one of the overlooks below. "Down there," he said.

Later, I saw on a sign how to interpret moose moods. Head and ears up? He's listening. Waving his antlers? He's getting agitated (I could have used this information BEFORE I started taking pictures). Head down, ears up? He's getting ready to attack. Wow. Thankfully I didn't see that.

The pictures above show a few of the moose we saw--we saw five on the trail, one on the highway. Note the big guy eyeing me warily. My sister-in-law thinks it's just a "get lost" look. Also the overlook that I spoke of as well as part of the park signage on moose.

Monday, September 14, 2009

On Vacation But . . .

Wendy and I are in Nova Scotia today (Monday) but since we have wi-fi at our motel here, I thought I would try to blog anyway.

After this past Saturday, how could I not? Two exciting football wins for my favorite teams. First, my alma mater Central Michigan scored a thrilling last second upset over Michigan State. Then my ultra fav U of M Wolverines came back in equally a-maizing fashion with a last-minute victory over the Irish.

I have to admit however, I missed the crucial moment in each. We had met up with my boys, and my daughter-in-law Lindsay in Ithaca, where Scott is going to college now. We went to a sports bar where we caught some of MSU versus Central. But when we checked in at our motel later, I'd forgotten about the game until I heard Greg yelling from his adjoining room. Like me, Greg is an alumnus of Central Michigan.

Greg had just seen our Chippewas make a remarkable comeback in the closing seconds. In case, anyone missed it, Central recovered an on-side kick, then drove the field before scoring a winning field goal.

Then I booked a dinner cruise on one of the Finger Lakes. We had to leave the Michigan game with U of M in front by almost two touchdowns. Game's in the bag anyway, I thought.

But Notre Dame came back and went ahead, so we heard on the car radio. Then we had to board our boat. How could we keep up with the game now? Fortunately, Greg had a friend who was at the game. He sent occasional texts to Greg to keep us abreast.

Michigan took the lead. "How much time left?" Greg texted. We figured the game to be over as our cruise commenced. He heard back--lots of time left in the fourth quarter.

Then another text followed, "The bad guys went ahead." Dang! Go Blue!!! Then another text followed--Michigan's quarterback was leading them back. Great. It was very hard waiting. Time passed. More time passed. And no more texts.

"No news is bad news," I said. The game had to be nearly over.

Then Greg got a one-word text message. "TOUCHDOWN." But who scored? Was the game over? Finally after a little bit, he got another message, "GO BLUE." That gave us a big clue. Then later we heard that the big house in Ann Arbor was rockin.'

Wow! One of the biggest football victories in Ann Arbor in quiet some time, and we had to be in the middle of Seneca Lake. But I have a whole new respect for cell phones and texting now. Viva la information age. And go blue.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Time Capsule

As my wife and I continue to “de-clutter” our house, I ran across the pictured item in our attic. If the lettering on the bin is difficult to read, it’s a year 2000 time capsule. They were selling these capsules right before Y2K (remember all the Y2K hubbub?) and I bought one, completing the questionnaires that came with the kit and sealing the canister securely with packaging tape.

It’s to be opened on 2025, so about 16 years from now. I’m not sure why I picked that year, but it certainly seemed far enough in the future. I remember getting ribbed a little, buying something so corny and gimmicky. Since one of the sections in the questionnaire asked for predictions, one of my friends volunteered, “I predict you got ripped off.”

Yeah, I still remember that. When Wendy saw what my cleaning had uncovered, she said, “Let’s open it!” No, I responded. Not until 2025. That’s the point of a time capsule.

“Who cares? Let’s open it now,” she insisted.

I pushed back. No. It’s not like we discovered an unopened gift or something. What’s the point of a time capsule if you open it just a few years after you put it together?

So Wendy pointed out that we probably could open it, take a peek inside, then close it up again and forget it all in a few weeks. Sorry, it stays sealed for now.

It is incredible sometimes to thing of the changes that have occurred in the past century or so. While going through some old sheet music I inherited from my grandfather, I saw an ad that pitched buying music for your “talking machine.” I guess something in the line of an old Victrola.

Even more recently, when I went to pick up some film for my camera, I was shocked to find what little selection there was. It’s assumed everybody has a digital camera now. I do have a digital camera, but I like the quality my old Nikon provides. Wonder if I can still buy film for color slides.

Whoever thought people could do without a landline phone. My eldest son doesn’t have one in his home. The computer age has spelled the demise of the daily newspaper, including our venerable Ann Arbor News. It’s almost a given now that Saturday mail is going by the wayside.

When we go on our vacation this week, I’m going to take my laptop. Who would have thought that some day you could take a picture, upload it to your computer, and post it to a program like Facebook, all in the span of minutes. Who sends post cards anymore? Well, I will be sending some post cards still. Any time I go on vacation, I always send one to my grandmother, who is 97-years-old this year. (She doesn’t have a computer.)

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Planning A Trip

[I'm a little later than usual getting my weekly blog published. Last night we had the family fantasy football league draft so I was busy collecting players for my team The Lean Mean Blog. I think it's going to be a successful season.]

It's time for my wife and I to take our annual fall vacation. Wendy and I like to travel in the fall to avoid the summer crowds and to hopefully take advantage of off-season pricing at hotels and resorts.

Last year we made it all the way to the Porcupine Mountains in the Upper Peninsula. The year before it was Savannah, Georgia. The year before that we drove to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Good thing I love the road (and hate to fly).

This year we had thought of doing something more exotic, like California, but the logistics of arranging a vacation there in the limited amount of time we had proved to be too difficult. So we decided to take advantage of the fact that this year we both have passports. We like Maine. Why not Nova Scotia? Hopefully, that's where we'll be two weeks from today.

On the way we'll stop off at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, to check how number two son Scott is doing in his Master's program there. He left for there a couple weeks ago but we thought he might need us to bring some things he forgot to pack. We were right. In fact, he's making a list.

I'm trying to do all this as cheaply as possible. I search the internet for the best hotel rates, AARP and AAA cards in hand. But I'm finding a lot of chicanery going on this time around. I made on-line reservations at a Super 8 in Ithaca and a chat box appears immediately afterwards.

"For making your reservations on-line, you have qualified for a $20 rebate," a text message read. I was supposed to type an answer to indicate I received the message. I did. Then another message came on saying that I actually was going to get a $30 rebate. Wow, sounds too good to be true.

It was. Eventually after a few text messages, it became clear that if I accepted the rebate I would be enrolled in a program whereby I would get discounted rates at all Super 8 and affiliated hotels. They would simply charge me a monthly fee on the credit card I had just given them. I could cancel at any time.

"No, thank you," I responded. They insisted that I could cancel at any time and still keep the rebate. No thanks. I don't trust anonymous messages on the internet.

So I had one night's lodging all set. We would have to stay somewhere between Ann Arbor and Ithaca the first night however. No problem. We stayed at a Red Roof Inn in Erie, Pennsylvania back in May that seemed reasonable. And Red Roof Inn has been advertising heavily on the internet, touting rooms as cheap as $39.95 a night. We might even get the room for less in September than we did in May.

But when I pulled up the price for the room in Erie, it was $99 a night now. Huh? That seemed like a lot more than what I paid before so I checked my credit card statement and, sure enough, I paid $69 in May. So I tried punching in an AAA discount. That got me to $89. I even collected a corporate discount card from the company where I work. That got me to $84. Hmmm. What's going on here? Is there a big convention in Erie, Pennsylvania a week from Friday?

Anyway, I found another Red Roof Inn down the road in Buffalo for $59 a night. Ha! I just hope their rooms have private lavatories. And a shower or bath would be nice too. You never know what you're getting on the cheap.

Whew! Lodging reservations for two nights secured. Only about eight more to go. Wendy was ordering a couple books from After she put two books in her shopping cart, a message appeared saying that if she spent $6 more dollars she would qualify for a special discount.

Hea, I could use a travel book for Prince Edward Island in Canada. So I picked one out and she put it in her cart. She was about to hit the "PLACE ORDER" button when I noticed something. We didn't get any discount. The book prices were the same as were the shipping charges. Another crooked hook. Dang!

I said forget the Canada book. Take it out of your cart and put it back. Easy to do at the store; hard to do on-line. There were "PLACE ORDER" prompts and buttons everywhere on the screen. One false click and our credit card would be dinged. Nowhere was there a "Cancel Order" or "Change Order." It was buy or else, it seemed.

The only thing I could do was hit the 'previous page' button several times until our order finally appeared, with a "delete" next to the book I ordered. Heck, I can get it cheaper at the local Border's anyway.

So tricky buying on the internet. I went to the Nova Scotia ferry page, ready to make reservations there for passage across the Bay of Fundy. They advertised an AAA and an AARP discount. But the ferry service also had a toll free line in case I wanted to talk to a live representative. Oh yes I do. I want to make sure I get my discount.

When the lady quoted me the full price for a one-way ticket to Nova Scotia, I explained that I have an AAA card AND an AARP card (maybe I would get a double discount).

"I'm sorry, sir. Those discounts only apply to round-trip fares."

*sigh* It didn't say that on the internet.