The Best Graveyard-Stirling, Scotland

If you are like me and LOVE, LOVE, LOVE genealogy than you will understand this post. Otherwise, you just might not.

Sometimes the perfect place to visit is the cemetery. Some people talk to loved ones and some take along picnic lunches. I love to look at the stones. Especially the ancient ones. Usually they are a piece of artwork and often the artists behind them have their own story to tell. I take pictures of these headstones and put the pictures of them up on http://www.findagrave.com so people can connect to the relatives in their past. To date, I have contributed over 5,000.

My favorite graveyards happen to be in Scotland. I am going to introduce you to the one in Stirling known as Old Town Cemetery. It’s a great place to go. Sitting atop a hill between the huge Stirling Castle and the Church of the Holy Rude it is the only cemetery in the UK that was laid out to celebrate the establishment of Presbyterianism. It is a vast place containing graves from the 1600’s up until the present. Because it encompasses so many eras you can really see how headstones change with the times.

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There are many Key Stones contained within the cemetery including Martyr’s Monument which recognizes those who suffered martyrdom in pursuit of religious and civic freedom in Scotland. The Reformer Statues stand in honor of those ministers who fought King Charles who was attempting to establish Episcopal teachings throughout the country. Here you will also find the ornate monuments of local businessmen who carved enormous headstones to honor their families.

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But my favorite monuments are the small unique ancient ones. Often devoid of names it is the unusual carvings that capture my fancy. Skulls, ancient symbols…they are all there.

So next time you are visiting a city take a trip to the local cemetery. It usually has a great view and you just might “meet” some interesting people too!

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Kepaniwai Heritage Gardens-Maui, Hawaii

Nestled in the Iao Valley on the island of Maui is a park dedicated to the native people of this Polynesian island and the immigrants who settled within her arms. It is a peaceful hamlet of lush tropical plants contained within the memorial gardens and traditional homes/buildings of the Koreans, Portuguese, Chinese, New Englanders, Japanese and native Hawaiians.

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This beautiful park was established in 1952 and within you will find such items as a New England Salt Box, a Hawaiian grass hut, a beautiful Chinese moon gate and many other treasures as diverse as the people who settled here.

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You will also find small waterfalls and ponds that are fed by the Iao stream which meanders through this county park.  This is the perfect place to picnic, cook a few burgers and just chill out from the “stress” of a Hawaiian vacation. While not maintained to the high caliber you would expect of such a unique and national treasure, nevertheless it is a place to relax and learn a little more about the peoples who grew this island to what it is today. Hopefully in the near future Maui will step up and give this park the attention and showcase it deserves.

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Ross Errilly Friary-Headford, County Galway, Ireland

This is one of those stories that show the importance of being spontaneous when traveling. We had never even heard of Ross Errilly Friary when we first saw it in the distance as we were traveling to our next hotel in Ireland. It certainly was not on our agenda.

I said to Dave, “Quick. We have got to go there. Turn us around!” Now he wanted to keep going to our hotel but he indulged my whimsical nature and he turned us around: past a few homey looking come-on-in sort of bars, past a dozen or so Irish cows ripping shoots of new green grass from the earth, and eventually following a small narrow road through the outskirts of Headford. As we came closer the enormity of the place became exceedingly apparent. This place is HUGE.

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As we parked and left the car walking towards the Friary we became engaged in a conversation with a gentleman who was removing out-of-place looking fence posts from the place.  Seems a movie had just been shot using the location less than a week ago. Unfortunately, he couldn’t remember the name.

Ross Errilly is a medieval Franciscan friary and is considered to be one of the best preserved monastic relics in the entire country of Ireland. It is believed that the friary was begun somewhere between the mid 1300’s to the mid 1400’s but when the first stone was laid is a mystery to this day.

The sheer size of the bell tower is the first thing that captures your attention as you walk through a small courtyard-like area.

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A small well preserved central cloister with recent burials contained within its walls. The sun reflecting and resulting shadows make this area magical and mysterious. There is also a second cloister located on the grounds.

At the north area of the complex you will find a huge kitchen complete with a water tank which once held live fish for the evening’s supper and enormous ovens. A massive dining room is nearby.

Huge altars dot the inside of the yard and many gravestones can be found littering the walkways, on walls and covering those altars. One can just imagine those movie actors brandishing swords and jumping from stone to stone as they dueled to the end.

Due to political and religious upheaval the Franciscans were forced to abandon the abbey many times during its history but by the end of the 18th century the friary was all but a neglected ruin. By 1866 it has become a well-known site where locals left the remains of the dead without proper burial and mounds of skulls and bones were could be found littered throughout the place.

Today it is operated by the Office of Public Works and is open to the public free of charge.

This one was of the best ruins in Ireland and for some reason it really spoke to my heart. When we arrived it was raining but as soon as we exited the car it stopped and didn’t begin again until we arrived back and hour later. Obviously,  history was kind to us that day and so were the Gods. I am thankful for the discovery it all.

 

Mushroom Houses-Charlevoix, Michigan

In the beautiful resort town of Charlevoix, Michigan lie an amazing array of “mushroom” homes designed by Earl Young (1889-1975). For a span of 52 years this insurance man/realtor spent time designing and/or building over 30 homes in the area. Following Frank Lloyd Wright’s philosophy that a home should fit into the landscape of the area; Young crafted his “hobbit” or “fairyland” houses of local stone many with “hidden” doorways. He refused to remove trees in order to build, instead, incorporating them into his designs. He also employed the use of multiple curved lines in his masterpieces foregoing the traditional use of straight lines and angles.

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Many of Young’s houses can be found in the Boulder Park area of the city. Each home is unique; some large and ornate while others are more mouse-house sized. During the summer there are occasional tours of these homes but brochures which offer a self-guided walking tour can be had at the Charlevoix Chamber of Commerce.

But if visiting the inside of a Young building is on your bucket list  you can always head over to the Weathervane Terrace Inn and Suites. Located on the Pine River overlooking Round Lake it is the perfect place to explore Young’s sense of play in his creations.

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Today, new houses are springing up in the area reminiscent of the ones designed by Young. Below is a beautiful example that I saw being built last summer (2015). Utilizing thatch like many of Young’s early homes, it gives this unique and stately beauty the sense of being an old English manor located somewhere on that great Island.

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While there are many other things to do in Charlevoix  besides house gazing there are few places you will ever visit that has such a wonderful legacy available to anyone on a drive-by. So slow it on down and head into town. It’s definitely worth a stop.

 

 

 

Conquering The Fear

 

Okay, I am not a big spender. I prefer things that are FREE and I plan my vacations to take in as many of these as humanly possible. But today I splurged. After an eight hour doctor visit I decided my son had earned a big reward so we went to iFLY- the place that gives you a taste of skydiving courtesy of HUGE indoor wind tunnel.

I had not planned on going. It was against everything thrifty in my nature but after arriving I decided “Damn, I am going!”

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There was a reason for my reluctance. I am deathly afraid of heights.  Relinquishing control in any way, shape or form to someone else is also a big NO-NO in my book. But I decided that this would be a way to kill two birds with one stone….or just me anyway. So I shelled out $139 for two people (which includes your two videos) and watched the group before us take to the sky. Frankly, watching them scared the living **** out of me and several times I almost went back up to the cashier to get my money back. But my mind was changed for me when K said, “I am so glad we are doing this together. It will be a great memory.” GULP. There was no way I was going to back out now!

One half-hour before our 6 p.m. fly time we were called back to watch the instructional video where hand signals were discussed as well as the way to enter and exit the tunnel. It appeared to be easy peasy! I just prayed I didn’t knock the guy unconscious with my big feet and float to the top slamming my body against the walls all the way up. After all, there must be a reason they make you sign a release stating you have never dislocated your shoulder!

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Next we suited up and were provided with goggles and helmets. A few quick selfies and it was into the chamber we went looking like lambs being lead to slaughter.  I was the last to go and by then I had watched who flew well and who didn’t so I had the position engraved into my mind. WHOOSH! I was in. Chin up. Check. Arms bent and out in front of face. Check. Legs split. Check. And off I flew…kind of. At first I would say I vibrated and rocked like a baby on a rocking horse. After a few seconds though I got the hang of it…all except that drooling thing. I think spit must have been flying everywhere!

All in all it was a lot of  short time indoor fun for a lot of hard earned money but I am not complaining. Nor am I looking to go skydiving from a plane anytime soon. I am just happy to have had the experience and to have let go of a few of those fears. In that vein, iFLY is cheaper than a session with a shrink!

iFLY has multiple locations throughout the United States and the world. HINT: Coupons are available to make your first fly cheaper. Costco has discounts available.

 

 

 

 

World’s Biggest Truck At Sparwood, British Columbia-Canada

Two years ago, Dave and Kullen were traveling through British Columbia, Canada, on their way to Waterton. Along the way, they came across the world’s largest truck…the Terex Titan 33-19 … which was once used in mining operations on the west coast of California and at the Kaiser Steel Mine located in Sparwood, B.C., Canada. Today it sits as a roadside tourist stop after being decommissioned in 1991. Sadly, it no longer holds the title of the World’s Biggest Truck which was been passed on to some other behemoth steel creature but who cares! This is one big fella in its own right and the engineer in you will love to go inspect it and kick a tire or two.

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The Titan 33-19 was built by a division of General Motors who expected the Titan to become “THE” mining truck used by the top operators in the world. Yet, the Titan never did enter into regular production because shortly after it was introduced at the 1974 World Mining Congress in Las Vegas; prices for coal decreased dramatically resulting in mine closures or significantly decreased outputs. Thus the truck with a $1.5 million dollar price tag in 1976 was just too expensive for companies to invest in and plans for it to become “The Top Model” serving the industry were scrapped.

Some of the more impressive facts concerning the Titan33-19 are:

It has a wheelbase of 29 ft 11 in with an overall length of 66ft. 9 inches. It stands 22ft. 7 inches tall, her width is 25ft. 7 in  and she weighs in at  over 548 tons.

The truck has served as a tourist attraction since 1993 after being decommissioned in 1991.

According to Kullen, “The truck was bigger than I expected it to be and one tire is bigger than the length of your entire body. I would love to visit it again sometime.”

The Titan is located off HWY 3 in Sparwood, British Columbia, Canada.

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Best Time To See Mt. Rushmore-Keystone, South Dakota

With the day crowds being what they are at our nations National Parks it often makes the park experience less than desirable. Too many people in too small of a space =grumpy, shoving, tired and hot adults who are in desperate need of deodorant. Not exactly what one thinks of when they envision a trip of a life time. That is why the Evening Lighting Ceremony at Mt. Rushmore is the perfect time to visit one of our most beloved parks.

The first time I visited Mt. Rushmore was when I was about 8 years old. I didn’t remember much about it because the only thing an 7 year-old would take away from the experience is wondering how much kleenex it would take to blow Washington’s nose. So this year as we caravanned across the country we sought activities that would be enjoyable for our children. Now Mt. Rushmore is questionable at best for kids (they look for all of 1 minute and then want to spend the next 20 minutes in the gift shop) but what better way to see it than at night when the sizzling sun has disappeared and temperature has dropped a good 25 degrees. Yes, this is the perfect time to visit.

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From the end of May until Near the end of May until the end of September Mt. Rushmore comes alive at night. At 8 or 9 p.m., depending on the month, your first glimpse of the area is the Avenue of Flags and it is a sight to behold when its lit up. The 56 flags are arranged in alphabetical order which include the 50 states, one district, three territories and two commonwealths of the United States of America. Bold colors with interesting stories line the promenade which will enthrall even the youngest child.

From there you proceed to the outside theatre where visitors watch a 20 minute film about the presidents whose faces grace the granite…George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. Their faces are a remarkable 60 ft high and a combined 185 ft long. Begun in 1927 by sculptor Gutzon Borglum his Shrine of Democracy Sculpture shines as a beacon for democracy throughout the world since its completion in 1941.

After the film, visitors join in the singing of a patriotic song and veterans are invited to the stage where they give their name and their branch of service. If you are into military patriotism this is a treat as you see the last of the WWII vets slowly make their way forward… frail but proud. Spend some time with them after the show and ask them about their experiences. You will be glad that you did.

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Then, finally, when things just couldn’t get anymore emotional the mountain is illuminated and a hush falls over the crowd. The beauty and the enormity of the sculpture fills the dark as the lights shine into every nook and cranny so you see items which escape you in the daylight and all of a sudden everyone lets out a collective sigh of delight and awe. It really is just that magical!

So if you are planning a trip to Mt. Rushmore remember the best part of the day to visit the monument is really at night!

For more information visit the park service website at:

http://www.nps.gov/moru/index.htm

Exploratorium-Embarcadero at San Francisco

Billing itself as a public learning laboratory the Exploratorium encourages kids and adults alike to use science, art, and their senses to explore the world around them. Located on the Embarcadero this stunning location on the wharf is worth the cost of admission in and of itself.

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The kids will easily want to spend the entire day visiting the hands-on exhibits. During one hour they may spend their time learning how neurons react while actually working with them and perhaps learning about Mars while investigating its many up close and personal images. Many times throughout the day children can take classes in subjects such as model plane building and flying. Rotating exhibits often include astonishing art which encourages visitors to use machines that allow sculptures to change shape and purpose. And using a vocal visualizer will delight your kids as they use their voices to transform laser lights into incredible shapes and patterns. With both inside and outside venues it allows the little ones to burn off some energy easily.

This place is science as it is meant to be explored but mostly it is just a place where your kid can engage in FUN!

When everyone gets in need of their own fuel you can head down to the eatery. The food is good but be prepared to shell out some dough for fresh salads and homemade mac and cheese. After noshing down head out to one of the decks where you can glimpse the bridge and watch the boats ply the waters.

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The Exploratorium also sponsors “After Dark Nights” programs for adults only. Here you can have a lesierly dinner and sip a few cocktails too. Pairings are also offered featuring some of the best organic foods in the area. Obviously, this is a great place to meet like minded folk and I suspect it is probably a better pick up place than the local grocery store!

HINT: Yes, I agree completely that ticket prices of  $29 for adults is a bit pricey but if you invest in a CITY PASS in which discounts are provided to some of the areas favorite tourist sites then you can save 44%. Prices are a little less for youth and FREE to kids 3 and under. But smart San Franciscans wait until the six annual FREE days to visit and California Public School Teachers can receive free entry by filling out a form online. Check the website for dates.

Valkenburg Caves-Valkenburg, Netherlands

What brought us to the charming town of Valkenburg was my 13th G-Grandfather, Jan Van Valkenburg (1515-1575). It was his home town and I wanted to see it. And we did. It was fabulous. But what touched us more were the caves (Cauberg Cavern-Gemeentegrot/Fluweelengrot ) radiating out beneath the center of the city and did they ever have a story to tell. So we listened.DSC05816

You can enjoy the caves either by guided walking tour or by “train.” I would advise walking. The walk is easy not steep and you will be given plenty of time to ask any and all questions that your heart desires.

As for the history of the caves, the Romans began excavating them 2,000 years ago for use as building material in and around the area and significant buildings still stand today as a testament of its worth. The caves have also been used for centuries as a sanctuary for refugees during the French Revolution and more recent wars.

Be sure to step up close to the walls and you will see limestone littered with fossils and shells proof of an underwater world that existed here 100 million years ago. It is fascinating to see all the “fossil gold” left behind.

Yet,  the real treasure in the caves is the art work left by miners and residents of the town  since  before the 1700’s. Drawn in charcoal and created by the dim light thrown off by candles and later, lanterns, these works of art depict a living history of what was known or imagined by these dedicated artisans.  In addition to the paintings there are also huge statues carved into the walls throughout the entire labyrinth of corridors that run under the city.

But perhaps the most compelling picture is the Liberation of the City by the Americans in on September 17, 1944. It is a tribute to those brave men who worked to reclaim this city from the Germans and deed her once again to its citizens. And below the painting you will find the signatures of some of the soldiers who participated in the liberation.

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But perhaps even more astonishing is this fact: that during the 10-day battle the towns 10,000 residents all lived in the caves together while fierce fighting raged in the streets. It gives you pause as you wander with your guide thinking about what it must have been like underneath the city not knowing if you might live or die.

At the end of the tour you will be lead to another set of tunnels in which various eras of artwork are projected onto the walls of the cave creating a living-breathing art show that  surrounds you and disorientates you at some level.Very cool!

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While we did not visit during Christmas it is my understanding that a huge Christmas Market is held on weekends during the weeks prior to the holiday. Here you will find crafts and fine works of art offered for sale by local craftsmen.

Entrance fee about 5 Euros

Hint: Wear a jacket as it is chilly deep underground.

Trainland USA-Colfax, Iowa

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If you are a train aficionado then this is the place for you. Set out in back hills of Iowa this is one man’s model train dreamland and after your visit it will be yours too.

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In 1964, Red Atwood began collecting Lionel O gauge trains and like most hobbies it took on a life of its own. Soon Atwood was building a new home to house his Lionels and then he decided to create one of the world’s largest model railroads museums in order to display them. And display them he does. Using various backdrops visitors can see the progression of the railroads across the USA using steam, diesel and frontier trains. And with over 60 interactive buttons to push and operate different displays the kids (and adults alike) load freight cars, turn ferris wheels, make broncos buck and take the trains down steep passes. Along the way you can “see” Mount Rushmore, The Statue of Liberty and The White House and over 4,000 ft. of track. This place is amazing!!!

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Along with the museum there are several old train cars set up as shops where you can purchase old Lionels and the necessary supplies until your heart is content.

Trainland gets a five star rating (out of 5) from this family. With so many things to see, touch and explore our original “lets stop for a 1/2 hour” turned out to last much longer than we originally anticipated. Sure it’s a short drive off the freeway but it is worth it!

FYI there is a small entrance fee to help with the upkeep of the 25,000 ft of wire, 600 lights and 120 automatic switches. It’s a small price to pay for such an educational and entertaining museum.

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Colfax, Iowa