Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Gathering Place, Maggie Valley NC

While I'm not traveling, here is a post from an earlier trip that originally appeared on another of my sites on October 18, 2008.

I'm writing this on Friday, October 17th while sitting in the West Carolina Internet Cafe in Dillsboro, NC and using their free (if you bring your own laptop) Wi-Fi. I chose WCIF because they also offer printing and faxing services and I needed to use both in connection with my employer. Earlier today we took a stroll through downtown Sylva, which is about 15 miles west of our campground and then drove here to Dillsboro which is just a couple of miles beyond Sylva so I could use WCIF, and afterward we drove another 15 miles northwest to Bryson City.

So, driving around on the "donut" spare was not something I wanted to do a lot of, but we had an opportunity we could not pass up. My in-laws have been telling us for a while about a very charming bed & breakfast in Maggie Valley called The Gathering Place and in fact Cindy's aunt and uncle were staying there on Wednesday, so we were invited to join them for breakfast at the B & B and meet the owner, Laura, who my father-in-law refers to as his "second daughter."

We had a delightful time! Laura is a sweetheart who owns and runs the B & B as well as housing abused dogs and horses on the lodge property. She is one of those few folks that I've met and liked from the moment we were introduced. Enjoying breakfast with her, my in-laws, Cindy's parents and two other guests just reinforced that affection. Later, Laura took Cindy and I on a tour of the B & B and we talked a lot about what work had gone into the B & B and our upcoming cabin construction.

I took two pictures of Laura to use on the  blog and somehow both came out with her eyes closed, which I couldn't see on the small viewscreen of my camera when I checked the photos. But here is one of the B & B from the small lake with Cindy and Laura standing on one of the decks talking.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Iowa Wind Farms

While I'm not traveling, here is a post from an earlier trip that originally appeared on another of my sites on September 6, 2008.

One of the startling things you see when you first arrive in Iowa (if you're from someplace like the Southeastern US where these are few and far between, if they exist at all) is a wind farm.

You expect to see a corn farm, soybean farm, or dairy farm; but who has a wind farm? Actually, all of the above kinds of farmers have wind farms. They install these behemoths right in the midst of those fields and let the wind generate electrical power for their farms and local electric companies.

The first time I saw one was from quite a few miles away (the land is mostly flat here and you can see across that flat expanse very well) while driving down the Interstate. Even from a distance they can be mesmerizing. The next time I saw them I was driving right next to the field they were in. Up close they look positively alien, evoking a feeling of some kind of otherworldly invasion. If they suddenly sprouted mechanical legs and began striding across the corn fields firing laser-death beams, it would seem perfectly in tune with the atmosphere they engender.

That doesn't seem to come through in the photographs, perhaps because the motion of the blades turning isn't captured in the pictures. When you're standing there watching them rotate silently, it is a completely different feeling that just doesn't come across in pictures. Still, they're awesome to see in any format.

One of the most amazing things about Wind Farms came to light during the weather forecast section of a news broadcast one night right after I arrived. The meteorologist showed a radar shot of Iowa and was talking about how clear it was...except for a section that looked like a massive system sitting over part of the state. He very casually said, "Oh and don't worry about that big spot there, it's just a false echo created by the wind farms in the area and all the movement of those turbine blades."

Iowa has 600 wind turbines that generate enough electricity to power 140,000 homes and the turbines around here are 240 feet tall.

This might give you a better idea of the size of these things.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

She's A Brick House

While I'm not traveling, here is a post from an earlier trip that originally appeared on another of my sites on August 30, 2008.

It's almost impossible to drive a mile in any direction here in Iowa without coming across a silo. Nothing unusual about that; there's enough corn alone to fill them all a few times over.

Most of the silos I've seen in my travels around the state have been made of metal, some have been made of wood and a few have been made of poured concrete. But the other day, driving along a back road on the way to a small town, I came across this incredible sight...a silo built of bricks.

I have no idea how old it is, though it certainly looks to be pretty aged and I'm assuming that, being made of bricks, it would pre-date most modern-day silos. It just looked SO compelling to my eyes, standing there like a solitary sentry, that I had to stop and take several photos of this beautiful leviathan towering above the road.

She's a brick...house.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Bermuda Triangle of Iowa

While I'm not traveling, here is a post from an earlier trip that originally appeared on another of my sites on August 15, 2008.

Almost everyone, especially fans of science fiction and/or the paranormal, is familiar with The Bermuda Triangle, a region of the northwestern Atlantic Ocean in which a number of aircraft and surface vessels have disappeared and guidance tools have malfunctioned.

According to history, Christopher Columbus was the first person to document something strange in the Triangle, reporting that he and his crew observed "strange dancing lights on the horizon", flames in the sky, and at another point he wrote in his log about bizarre compass bearings in the area.

While driving through an area of Iowa last week, I observed first hand something similar to the bizarre compass bearings that Columbus experienced in an area that, after further anecdotal history from residents, I have come to refer to as "The Bermuda Triangle of Iowa."

The branch director and I were on our way to a Board of County Supervisors meeting and to get there we had to drive through an area of Iowa known as Fort Dodge. He was driving and we were using his GPS and experiencing no problems until we turned off of State Road 20 onto State Road 169. Suddenly, the GPS told us to make a right hand turn at the next road and it named the road. This seemed odd as we knew from looking at a map earlier that our ultimate destination was still 15 miles or so north on State Road 169, but we assumed the GPS was, as we had programmed it to do, taking us by the shortest route so we turned.

cc licensed flickr photo by iowa_spirit_walker:
After a couple of miles the GPS again told us to turn right and named the road. I point out that it named the road so that you, dear reader, will know that it was not just randomly giving directions to turn, but instead that it knew exactly where we were located. Now we became concerned because at this point we were driving in the opposite direction from our destination.

Then, after a mile or so it directed us to turn right again which, after a couple of miles, brought us right back to State Road  169. We had just driven in a square as directed by the GPS.

But it gets better. The GPS then directed us to turn left onto State Road 169, which would again have us driving away from our destination. When I looked at the future trip route, it was obvious the GPS was going to take us about 2 miles back the way we had originally come and then have us drive around in a square again on the opposite side of State Road 169 and then take us back to State Road 20.

At this point I was watching to see if Rod Serling was standing on the side of this Iowa road with a cigarette in one hand and an ear of corn in the other telling us the next stop was...The Twilight Zone (cue the theme music).

Now we were in danger of being late for the meeting so we decided, of course, to ignore the GPS and proceed in the general direction of our destination and attempt to reach a contact of ours for directions. We did that and shortly before we finally arrived (right on time, thankfully) the GPS started giving out correct directions as if nothing had happened.

Later, when relating our tale to some residents and blaming it on a possible Garmin GPS malfunction, they informed us that it happens to everyone when drivers attempt to navigate using a GPS in the Fort Dodge area of those two state roads. A few days later some state officials said the same thing and a day after that a coworker of ours related a similar episode of "drive through the corn fields on dirt roads." It seems that every GPS in the area, no matter the make and always knowing exactly where you are, will seek to return you to a point near State Road 20 and State Road 169.

Fort Dodge, Iowa...The Bermuda Triangle of Iowa.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Balsam Mountain Inn, Balsam, NC

While I'm not traveling, here is a post from an earlier trip that originally appeared on another of my sites on October 19, 2008.

Cindy's mom and dad had made 5pm reservations for the four of us and Cindy's uncle and aunt to have dinner at the Seven Springs Restaurant inside the historic Balsam Mountain Inn, about 2 miles from Moonshine Creek Campground. However, we had been granted permission to arrive at 4pm and tour the hotel's three floors of rooms which weren't currently occupied that remain, for the  most part, as they were when the hotel opened in 1905. It reminded all of us of the Grand Hotel in the movie "Somewhere in Time" starring the late Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour.

The occasion for the dinner treat by my in-laws was to celebrate our 11th wedding anniversary. That anniversary was back in March, but since I had not been home any length of time since then to observe it, they were kind enough to make this meal in these very elegant surroundings an anniversary gift to Cindy and I. "Thanks, mom and dad."

The tour was a lot of fun and I have many photos that are posted on Flickr. Each room has its own style of decor and every room is unique in its furnishings. A couple of rooms were very feminine and a couple were very masculine and the rest were gender neutral, but all were interesting in that they maintained the feel of the early 1900's. There is no air-conditioning (a sign, kept from the original opening of the hotel in a lobby display case, reads, "Air-Conditioned By Nature"), and no TV's, radios, DVD players or other electronic items, though each room does have electricity. Most bath accommodations are in-room, but bathtubs are the norm (except in the masculine rooms which had shower stalls) and all are in the old "Claw leg" style while sinks are the pedestal type and usually mounted in corners. It truly is as if you have stepped back in time.

No self-respecting inn would be without its ghosts and Balsam Mountain Inn is no exception. One room, 205, is supposedly haunted, but it was occupied by a guest so we did not get to go in it and see if we felt a "presence."

I did see a shelf of blinking wireless routers, so I assume they offer Wi-Fi, but I forgot to ask. They also have a wonderful reading room off the side of the expansive lobby that was stocked with a wide variety of reading materials and furnished with an equally wide variety of furnishings for sitting and relaxing. Front and back covered porches allowed for sitting quietly in rocking chairs while taking in the beauty of the grounds or enjoying conversation with companions.

After the tour we made our way to the waiting area of the Seven Springs Restaurant to chat prior to our 5pm dinner reservation. Before we knew it, the hostess was escorting us to the hallowed alcove dining table, reserved for special parties. Our server, Lindsay, was a jewel making recommendations and answering our questions. The food was absolutely exquisite. We all shared appetizers of Fried Green Tomatoes and Fried Brie (except for Cindy's dad who ordered a cup of Peanut Chicken Soup), before moving on to our excellent entrees. Cindy had the Coffee-Rubbed Ribeye with Garlic Mashed Potatoes; I had the Angus Filet with Mushrooms; Cindy's mom had the Coconut Crusted Salmon with Asparagus; her dad had Venison (Bambi's mom, we kept telling Cindy, to her great distress), as did her uncle and her aunt had the Pecan Crusted Catfish. For dessert I had the Bourbon Pecan Pie; Cindy had the Creme Brulee; her mom had the Chocolate Torte and her dad, aunt and uncle all had the Pumpkin Cheesecake. All of this wonderful food was washed down with glasses of wine.

It was, for Cindy and I, a wonderful anniversary gift of great food and drink, coupled with the enjoyment of excellent company. If you are ever in the area, I highly, highly recommend the Seven Springs Restaurant inside the historic Balsam Mountain Inn.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Frosty's of Baton Rouge

While I'm not traveling, here is a post from an earlier trip that originally appeared on another of my sites on February 12, 2008.

I worked a half day on Saturday, then left the office and drove to the downtown Baton Rouge area for two reasons; one, to eat lunch at a "hamburger shack" that several people had recommended and two, to do some photowalking around the area. I took about 160 photos over a three hour period and hopefully will have them posted on Flickr in the next day or so. That three hours only covered the southern portion of the downtown area, so my plan is to return in the next couple of weeks and photowalk the northern part of the downtown area.

Now, several people told me that before I leave Baton Rouge (and that won't be a while, as far as I know, but I was going to be in the area anyway so...)I must try the food at Frosty's, a sort of hole-in-the-wall restaurant that serves hamburgers, fries, onion rings (mmmmmm), shakes, floats, seafood, po' boy sandwiches, and...ROOT BEER!

Frosty's of Baton Rouge exterior view.

As you can see in the photo above of the exterior of Frosty's, they pride themselves on their root beer. Too bad I've never been able to stand root beer, so I had to pass on that particular beverage choice. The outside reminds me of an old 7-11 store, with all the plate glass on the front and side, and even with it's angled placement on the corner of the block.

I ordered a cheeseburger with everything but onions, onion rings and an unsweetened iced tea. It's not something I'm really supposed to eat and I'll hear about it from my wife and my doctor, but you have to take these opportunities when they present themselves. The cheeseburger was a tasty hunk of meat; thick, juicy, nicely grilled and definitely NOT swallowed up by the bun. The onion rings were thinner and not as flavorful as I had expected, but they weren't bad, just less than I had hoped. The iced tea was VERY unsweet, for which I was grateful. Sweetened tea makes me gag.

Frosty's of Baton Rouge interior view.

Looking at the photo above (taken with my Blackberry, so it's not as sharp as it could be) you can see that the interior looks like a conglomeration of an old Steak n' Shake counter, old Denny's booths and an old Dairy Queen "special" board on the counter. The grill, fryer, bun warmer, etc were right behind the counter in full view of the customers, like the old Royal Castle restaurants used to be set up. The smell of grease was heavy in the air and the old jukebox in the corner was playing disco music the entire duration of my dining experience. The janitor was actually dancing as he swept and mopped the floors.

It was fun, even in it's "hole-in-the-wall ness" atmosphere. I won't make a  habit of going there to eat, but I'll probably try and be sure to stop by one more time before I leave Baton Rouge.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The French Quarter in New Orleans

While I'm not traveling, here is a post from an earlier trip that originally appeared on another of my sites on November 18, 2007.

Last Monday, which was Veterans Day, I took the opportunity that being off work afforded and visited the French Quarter and Bourbon Street while I was still in New Orleans.

Frankly, I was not impressed with the city of New Orleans and, after spending a few hours strolling through the French Quarter, was at a loss to explain why anyone would be attracted to this part of the city either. The only clean part of the Quarter is Decatur Street, which is like a several-block long tourist trap full of little shops selling cheap trinkets, T-shirts and other various over-priced junk. So, of course, I bought some.

A block or two over is a completely different story. The streets and sidewalks are cracking, crumbling and difficult to walk on safely because of their unevenness. The walls of most buildings are in the same condition. The streets are filled with bags of garbage as well as loose garbage and the air itself is filled with the stench of that garbage. I watched shop owners hosing down the walls and sidewalks around their businesses to wash off the urine and vomit that had been "deposited" the night before.

Maybe it's a different experience in the darkness of night with some alcohol in you, but in the harsh light of day and clear-mindedness of sobriety, it is not a pleasant encounter on the senses.

I have photos from my visit that you can see by clicking on the Flickr badge over on the right column.

Monday, January 10, 2011

New Orleans' Roads

While I'm not traveling, here is a post from an earlier trip that originally appeared on another of my sites on November 10, 2007.

Leaving my hotel each day as the sun rises and returning after dark has limited my view of New Orleans to not much more than their road system. I have a theory as to how the design process occurred. Someone grabbed a huge handful of cooked spaghetti, dropped it on the ground, looked at the ensuing tangle of pasta and said, "Let's build a road system that looks like that!"
And so they did.

And, if driving on the Huey P. Long bridge twice each day is any indication, they used thin spaghetti.

I thought I got used to driving on narrow roadways after motoring around Scotland and France, but at least on those narrow roads there were strategically placed "pull offs" you could move onto when opposing traffic was approaching. Granted, on the Huey P. Long bridge the two lanes on each side are going the same direction, but the lanes are so narrow that if two SUV's attempted to ride side by side with one in each lane, you'd be hard pressed to see 6 inches of daylight between them. The first morning I drove over the length of this  bridge I had to peel my  hands off the steering wheel when I reached the other side. I've since learned to try and stagger my compact (thank you, thank you, thank you for a compact car this time) car's position in the empty spots between other vehicles so that we're never driving side by side, but sometimes there's an idiot who wants to race by and is weaving in and out of the two lanes we're allotted. I look dubiously at the rusted railings on each side and wonder if they will hold when my car hits them or if I'll take the 135 foot plunge into the Mississippi River.

I have my doubts.

If you've ever driven across the Huey P. Long, then you know I'm exaggerating a little. The two lanes are a pretty standard 9 feet (each) in width. I think it's just the knowledge that if you go over the rail it's along way down. Supposedly there is a widening project in the works to change the bridge into three lanes that are 11 feet (each) in width going each direction.

In addition to the maze-like tangle of roadways, I've found that a good amount of streets are not blessed with signs identifying them by name. I don't know if this is a not-yet-repaired problem resulting from Katrina or if it's meant to add to the city's charm. I'd have to offer the opinion that if it's the latter, it's not having the desired effect. I've gotten lost a couple of times and probably will again if I go somewhere unfamiliar.

Friday, January 7, 2011

I'm A Travelin' Man

While I'm not traveling, here is a post from an earlier trip that originally appeared on another of my sites on September 24, 2007.

The original schedule, when I came out here to Minnesota, was that I would be going home last Saturday night. This would have allowed me to go to at least the Sunday festivities of last weekend's Orlando Comic-Con, where I had free entrance arranged with a press pass and an in-person interview scheduled with Mike Kingston, creator of the new comic book "Headlocked" for Athena Comics Guide. Alas, that was not to be and I have made arrangements for an e-mail interview with Mike which will appear soon over at Athena. I was very much looking forward to meeting  him in person and discussing his comic book creation.

My new schedule has me arriving home this Friday around noon, which unfortunately means I will not be able to attend the BlogOrlando meeting that starts Friday morning. By the time I could get my baggage and get from the airport to the meeting site most of the tracks will be over. I REALLY enjoyed last year's first BlogOrlando and was truly looking forward to this year's with it's multitude of informative blogging tracks that were scheduled.

But, that's the way things go and I knew things like this were a possibility when I took this position.

Sunday I slept in and then got up, showered and drove a few blocks over to downtown Rochester. I parked the car and spent about 90 minutes just walking around taking pictures of the downtown area, the Mayo Clinic and one of the most interesting Barnes & Noble bookstores in the country I suppose, the Chateau Barnes & Noble.

The Chateau Barnes & Noble was originally a theater, one which Dr. Charles Mayo laid the cornerstone for in April of 1927. It was originally named the Chateau Dodge Theater because the Dodge Lumber Company had previously stood on the site. By the time construction was complete 6 months later, the $400,000 theater opened with the movie, "Spring Fever."

It has a very rich history which, unfortunately, I don't have time to recite at the moment.

The outside is designed as a French Chateau and the theater marquee remains but with the Barnes & Noble name in place of movies that showed here, such as "Gone With the Wind" in 1940. The box office also remains, though now it serves to display books rather than to sell 25-cent tickets to see a newsreel, cartoon movie and comedy act.

The first two floors on the inside have been designed as a Medieval village complete with castles, arches, streets and a starlit sky above on the ceiling. It is absolutely magical when you step inside, especially as you take the escalator up to the second floor and see the castle walls that seemingly rise up at your arrival. I was wishing so much that Cindy could have been here to see this and walk through it with me because I know she would have enjoyed it and been entranced by it even more than I was.

Anyway, I took lots of pictures of it and they are over on the Flickr badge if you want to see them. I hope to get the others of downtown Rochester and the Mayo Clinic uploaded soon.

So, I return Friday afternoon to Orlando, but then 16 hours later Cindy and I leave to drive up to North Carolina for a 3-day weekend to look at some more property. We return home on Monday afternoon and then the rumor is that I will possibly be getting back on a plane soon thereafter, but to where just yet I don't know. Possibly back to Minnesota, possibly somewhere else.

That's why "I'm A Travelin' Man."

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Georgia Peaches

While I'm not traveling, here is a post from an earlier trip that originally appeared on another of my sites on June 27, 2007.

Monday morning Blog Girl and I were up bright and early so she could drop me off at the airport on her way to the Mouse's corporate offices. I had done almost all my packing the night before and gathered all my remaining items and we were out the door and at the airport 2  hours before the flight departed. We kissed on the curb in front of the departing flight level and I went inside with my baggage and got in line, happy to have everything going so smoothly. Some 5 minutes later when I stepped up to the ticket counter the young lady took my e-ticket, greeted me and asked, "May I see a picture ID, please?" I reached to my back pocket for my wallet and as my hand closed on empty space my stomach simultaneously gave me that sinking feeling that you dread having. I had forgotten my wallet!!

I stepped out of line, pulled out my cell and called BG and we quickly worked out a plan; she would return home, retrieve my wallet and bring it to me at the spot we kissed. Here is one of those (many) reasons I adore her; though this would probably make her late to work she never uttered one word of unpleasantness or displayed any kind of bad attitude. When I thanked her profusely later when she handed me the wallet, she said, "You would have done the same for me." Yes, I would have...just not as nicely. Thank you, ma chérie.

Other than that self-imposed glitch, everything else went very smooth. my flight arrived 10 minutes early, and even though I had to wait in line almost an hour, the folks at the car rental desk were gracious and helpful (I ended up with a Hyundai Sonora, a nice car that even has a sunroof which I haven't tried out yet). I arrived at my hotel at 1:30pm and they were adamant that I could not check in until 3pm, so I grabbed some lunch and then went to the office to meet folks and get started on some paperwork and training. When I got off at 5pm I drove the 15 minutes to my hotel and checked in without a hitch. My room is a suite with a front room that has a 32" TV in an entertainment center on the front wall, a three-person sofa on the left wall with an end table and a stuffed upright chair cornered to the sofa. The right wall has a two-seat table then a small sink, mini-fridge and microwave. Opposite the little kitchen area is my bathroom and then the back room is the bedroom with a king-size bed, nightstands, spacious closet and a set of drawers with another 32" TV on top facing the bed. The back wall is a double window that gives me a beautiful view of...the front parking lot. Oh well, lol. Best of all, the rooms have wireless Internet!

I went back out after getting everything unpacked and hung up and/or put in drawers to buy a few groceries, then came back to the room ate dinner and sat down to watch TV. More on that later.

Work is going well. There is a lot of training, reading of policies and practices and classes to attend. Friday I get to drive to Americus, GA for a big press conference that will involve both of the U.S. Senators from Georgia and several U.S. Representatives, a mayor, etc. I just have to "shadow" one of my trainers, keep my eyes and ears open and my mouth shut, lol. But I have a LOT to learn in a month and while I am enjoying it, I am mentally exhausted at the end of the day. Tomorrow I'm going to try and start using the hotel's fitness center for an hour each night to de-stress. Amazingly, they  have no pool! I was looking forward to swimming while here.

This is not as hard on me (I'm a cave-dweller, remember?) as it is on BG, because of my hermit-like ways, but it's still lonely here without her. Fortunately, we have a cell phone plan that allows unlimited cell to cell calls and long-distance that is free all the time, because we have been logging a lot of hours on the phone. Last night we chatted on webcams for about an hour and it was nice for both of us to see each other. Technology definitely makes being apart easier to take. Plus I've been in e-mail contact with lots of friends and loved ones (keep them coming!) and spent some time talking to my oldest friend, Dave, on the phone last night.

I noticed tonight, while watching the news on WSB-TV (the ABC affiliate) that former Orlando TV reporter Ross Cavitt is working here in Atlanta for WSB-TV. I always enjoyed Ross' space shuttle program reporting and it was nice to see a familiar face in an unfamiliar city.

Speaking of seeing a familiar face, I also saw John Morgan doing a commercial for Morgan & Morgan, which I thought only had offices throughout Florida, but apparently has expanded. I almost felt at home!

Finally, this was in today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper under their "The Vent" section (similar to the Orlando Sentinel's "Ticked Off" column) which was in response to an article a few days ago about people moving to the Peach State, and made me laugh out loud; "Floridians are now moving to Atlanta? Just what we need - more Yankees"
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