Monday, April 21, 2014

April in Ottawa

Ottawa, our nation’s capital, is usually a beautiful city. Our tax dollars are used to ensure the city looks it’s best for visitors and guests. However like some great beauties she is not the best after just waking up from a sleep. It has been a hard cold winter, and in April the city is not quite ready to receive visitors.

The Ottawa River
We have experienced winter in Ottawa, and the civic workers who maintain the city have their hands full during the winter months just keeping the snow off the streets, so the daily debris from Ottawa’s busy inhabitants simply gets pushed around with the snow rather than picked up, and as the snowbanks disappear in April, months of neglect start to appear. Not only the public areas, but the little private patches of gardens and green in front of the houses are littered with winter’s debris.

Yesterday was a warm sunny April day, and fresh air and exercise was just what my stubborn cold needed, so I set off on a leisurely stroll around Ottawa, down through Centertown, Chinatown and down to the Ottawa river where I walked along the pedway below parliament to the Rideau which I followed to Summerset and finally cutting through
Tire Garden needing weeding
Elgin & Bank to get back to Ryan’s house. My walk showed me that Ottawa really is not at it’s best in April.

The Ottawa River was carrying the last of the melting river ice from upstream, but the ducks and Canada geese were dodging not only ice, but chunks of Styrofoam, logs, campfire remains and all other unsorted debris. The Rideau Canal looked no better, drained to a minimum water lever (for Spring cleaning?) with melting ice chunks still remaining, the skate changing houses sitting at awkward angles at the edges, and showing the castoff from a busy winter season of skating on the longest outdoor rink in Canada.
The River's Load

The normally pristine public walkways look the worse. Stairways corners are filled with leaves and garbage, and the grass alongside paths show the scars of snow plows and other Winter damage. I was surprised to see the amount of animal damage along the river. Many trees and shrubs were stripped of bark by hungry animals and one large tree was gnawed through and toppled by what I suspect was the good old Canadian symbol, the beaver.  The Rideau Canal walkways showed it’s use by winter skaters and the number of wet, lonely and muddy single woolen socks, mittens and hats was amazing.
A Garden?

Don’t worry, it’s only April, and on my walk I saw many little private gardens raked and cleaned with Springs flowers already poking through, and sawdust and piles of branches are evidence that the work crews have started the annual Spring cleanup. I’m sure that by the time the Canadian Tulip Festival in May rolls around, the city will be looking her usual best.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The wheels on the Bus

The last stop of our Tour of the South, was in Myrtle Beach South Carolina. We had friends from back home spending a month here, enjoying the sun and playing golf. We had planned on taking in another NASCAR race at the famous old track in Darlington South Carolina, nicknamed “The Lady In Black”. I had arranged to take our friend to the Sprint Cup race and he had another friend who also wanted to be introduced to the NASCAR experience.

Darlington Pit Lane
Regis and I drove to the track on Friday and it was not a bad commute, but is almost 2 hours away depending on traffic, so we decided to take a shuttle bus on Saturday leaving us free to enjoy a few beer as we watched the race. The bus was great getting us to the track. It picked us up at the designated location on time, and we had a relaxing drive to Darlington.

Not so much on the way home . . . . . the trip started out good, and it was nice to allow the bus driver to fight the traffic jam as thousands of people tried to leave the track at once, but about half way back to Myrtle Beach, the bus slowed and the driver pulled off the road announcing that her bus had “Quit”. After a couple of failed attempts to get the engine started, she left to confer with the driver of the other bus driving with us. Together, they tried a couple of things but to no avail.

Not exactly as Illustrated
Then the other driver pulled his bus (Full of people) out onto the road and pulled up beside our bus to attempt to jump the batteries. As a constant stream of traffic funneled into one lane around the two busses, they made a couple of attempts to fire the bus this way, but no luck. Finally the other driver closed his door and pulled away promising to come back for us if we did not get going. We were left on the side of the road in a dark bus, with 4 way flashers steadily growing weaker and dimmer as the poor batteries drained away.

By this time we had figured out that they knew this bus had a bad alternator and could not possibly make it to Darlington and back so they arranged to park together at the track to recharge the batteries, but this did not work properly. Our driver announced that she had a gas generator and battery charger, but with the busy road was not keen to be standing on the road setting this up as vehicles whizzed by her at 100 kph. I’m sure this is not standard equipment for “Operational” busses . . .

Finally someone suggested she call the police, and in the ensuing phone conversations we discovered that there was a serious question about who’s responsibility we were, because she was not exactly sure which side of the county line we were on. She knew we were next to the slaughter house, but not much else. This was starting to sound like a plot to a low budget horror movie – deserted road, broke-down bus, slaughter house . . . . .  They seemed to be arguing back and forth about who might come and help us.
The Fuzz

Finally we ended up with not one police car, but four sitting behind us with lights flashing. This did finally slow traffic down, and I’m sure that with four sheriff cars surrounding the bus and the highway full of police officers and passengers milling about it looked like a major drug bust or some serious crime.

After setting up the generator & charger the batteries took a charge and the company owner arrived and after some fiddling managed to get the bus running again. We were back on the road again.

Now the company was very apologetic about the trouble, and they brought the second bus to speed up the process and at our first stop everyone going to Lowes got off and went with the other driver. Now he did not however know where he was going and our driver had to keep him on the phone to give him directions. Sometime during the trip our driver checked to make sure we were all on the right bus, and asked “Are there any people going to Lowes?” no response.

“Ok good, so you are all getting off at Dick’s Sporting goods?” This was followed by lots of positive responses.  “Great!” she answered over the bus intercom, “You are all Dicks!”

This of course got an immediate response and she suddenly realized what she had said. Oops . . . .

And the wheels on the bus go round & round!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Golf Cars

Your Standard Golf Cart
Our Snowbird tour of Florida has brought us to “The Villages” a community north of Orlando. The Villages occupies an area of close to 32 square miles and has a population on 80,000, and is always growing. The concept is a series of small “villages” offering a Florida lifestyle all in one location. There are golf courses all through the communities, and although all the houses are modern the Villages each have a central area with services, stores and restaurants that has almost a  a historical feel.

Everyone in the Villages has a golf cart. These carts however are not just for getting around the many golf courses, they have become one of the primary means of transportation within the community. People may bring their cars down from the cold snowy north, but they get stored in the garage waiting to be packed back up for the return trip once the snow is gone. Some people don’t even have cars, they fly down and use their golf carts when they are here. This phenomena is not unique to the Villages, it is common in many retirement/lifestyle communities all over the south.

Golf Cadillac
In the Villages it has been taken to the next level however. I noted that the shops selling and servicing the golf “carts” no longer call them “carts”, they now refer to them as “Golf Cars”, and they have become serious business. There are of course hundreds of your standard beige golf carts around, but slowly many are morphing into Golf Cars. You can purchase deluxe models in many colors with all the options; turn signals, custom upholstery, stereos, side curtains, mag wheels and even completely enclosed bodies. The prices raise from the standard few thousand, to well over $10,000.00.

Got some Freight you need moved?
Then there is the customizing of the carts, into not just “cars”, but luxury cars, hot rods, 18 wheelers, or pick-up trucks. You can buy custom bodies to turn your golf car into your dream machine of choice. I saw Cadillac, 57 Chevy, Rolls Royce, or Freightliner bodies. You can also add more powerful batteries or speedier electric motors, if you want, but many people use them so much that they have had to go to the gas powered option because the charges do not last as long as the owners trips do. I spoke to one fellow who said that he often put 200 miles on some days, and noted almost 8,000 miles in the first year.

City Car
There is even some movement from the Golf “Cars” towards actual “City Cars”, the tiny two passengers vehicles seen in the orient and Europe, smaller that the “Smarts”, but with all the Automobile amenities. The golf “carts” do not need any licensing and are limited to special lanes on the roads and to limited speeds, but the Cars must be licensed for road use and carry much more insurance.

I’m thinking a pale blue 1960’s Cadillac with those huge rear fins would be pretty cool conversion . . . . .   

Monday, April 7, 2014

A Sea Day

The "Crew"
Today we decided to rent a boat and tour the area around Sebastian FL from the inter-coastal waterway. After some internet research a couple of rental spots were found and some phone calls narrowed it down to one called ‘Held’s Indian River Island Adventures’. We called and reserved an 18 ft Pontoon boat with a 50 hp 4 stroke engine.

At the Wheel
Deck Fluff
Our ‘adventure’ however did not start well. We pulled into the address to see lots of boats, all complete wrecks, in very bad states of repair. A hand painted ‘OFFICE’ sign directed us to a door sorely in need of alignment and a coat of paint, and it took three tries knocking on the door to bring a weary yawning man to the door. He ushered us into the messiest office I have ever seen. A bag of cat food leaned against the wall by the door, a child’s drawing sat on a make-shift table, boat parts occupied most corners, and a bare mattress with a blanket was on the floor behind the desk. After signing an 8 page ‘waiver’ and turning over credit cards, we were directed down the road to the dock while he “Went to get gas”. Was it gas for the boat, or could he finally afford gas for his truck now that some tourists were renting his boat?

Beer Stop
Down the road, we did indeed find a dock with a pontoon boat with “HELD’S RENTALS” on the side. Not new, not shiny, seats a bit worn, but it looked mostly sea-worthy. Gary one of our friends and the ‘Captain’ for the day (also always an optimist), suggested “This is perfect; we don’t have to worry about how we treat this boat, no one will notice a few more scrapes and bangs.” No Bill, the ropes were not coiled – in fact they were so short we had to tie three together to tie the boat up at one of the islands . . . .

Now, the boat actually worked like a top, ran perfectly, was nicely set up, comfortable, and perfect for our day on the waterway. The owner was a great help, giving us a brief operating course and lots of helpful advice about attractions in the area. 

Drinks on the Island
Relaxing On Board
Dolphin Entertainment
We spent a wonderful day on the water. We visited a couple of islands and explored them, stopped at a local “Bar & Grill” where we could motor right up to the wharf to tie up, and get a nice cold beer. We visited a Manatee preserve (Didn’t see any however), and were entertained by a pod of dolphins who circled our boat playfully for fifteen minutes, jumping out of the water right beside the boat.

Although the boat was slightly less than perfect, the day was. Everyone had a great time, got way to much sun, and came home happy and tired from a wonderful day at sea.

Friday, April 4, 2014

It's a Dog's Life

I don’t own a dog, but have always been a ‘dog’ person; I like dogs and they generally like me. When I was younger the family always had a dog, and often the family dog was sometimes mostly ‘my dog’. As I result I tend to notice the dogs around me, and I have written a number of blog entries about the dogs in the countries we visit.

Come on in - buy a house
Here in Florida the dogs lead pretty good lives. I have not seen as many out for walks as I did in Spain or Portugal, but the other day walking around the neighborhood a couple of the local dogs stopped to fill me in on the “Doggie Scene” here in Naples.

Although I have not seen so many dogs, I have certainly seen the extensive infrastructure in place to serve their needs. The first thing you notice is how many pet supply shops there are. There seemed to be one in every shopping area, and these are not just places to go get pet food and flea collars. Just check out some of the names, “Fergie’s Closet Doggie Boutique”, “Pucci & Catana Luxury Pet Boutique”, “Daisy Collars” (Can you say diamond studded dog collars?), and “Topcoat’n Tails Inc”. You can get entire designer outfits for you pet from these shops.

Need to find some place to leave your pet while you go on vacation? You can take them to “The Pet Nanny TLC”, “Love My Dog Resort & Spa”, or perhaps “A Dog’s Dream Daycare, LLC”, where the testimonials speaks volumes . . .

"If Bogey could speak, he would tell you that Jill's daycare is his favorite thing on this planet. Check out his videos and you will see why. It is an experience I cannot offer him at home." 

"Bailey loves going to daycare! Every morning when we drive up she gets all excited to be there and runs to the front door. When I pick her up after work she is happy and tired (but still happy to see mommy). Going to daycare has also made her very social with other dogs. It's nice to have a place to leave my 'baby' during the day so she is not alone all the time, and everyone at A Dog's Dream Daycare takes good care of her!" 

Somehow this sounds like a bit more then a dog kennel & kibbles . . . .

A memorial to "Peanut"
Hey, wait a minute, all these doggie daycares and pet resorts, I thought everyone down here are already on vacation . . . these pets are getting a vacation from their vacations.

The pet grooming places are just as elaborate, and they look as fancy as the ones dedicated to the pet’s owners.

Strolling the downtown area one day I found a real estate office with dishes of fresh water and bowls full of doggie treats on the steps outside and just down the road was a city fire hydrant painted and decorated to honor a fallen pet. Even the local SPCA is upscale, with a Pet Adoption center in one of the big shopping malls.

Jim, keep this Blog Post away from Jude, he will want to go on vacation with you next time instead of going to the “kennel”.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Naples Beach Sunset

Naples Beach
Naples is a very pleasant place to visit. Our friends love it here, and have built a lovely house here to come down to the warmth and chill-out from the day to day hustle-bustle of their busy lives back home. They are here to relax, so they do not put pressure on us to “Do stuff”. If sitting by the pool all day is all we manage to accomplish, that is just fine with everyone.

They did insist on showing us the Naples Beach Sunset. This involved a drive downtown with beach chairs. Normally a lot more equipment is needed, including I was let to believe a few bottles of wine, and getting to the beach well before sunset is the normal procedure to get the best viewing location, but since our day was busy with relaxing by the pool, we did arrive a bit late, and left the wine back at the house for later.
Sailing into the Sunset

Really . . . a nice sunset
Now Naples Beach is a beautiful beach, but we quickly discovered that arriving early had nothing to do with getting a good spot, it was all about socializing, meeting friends and chatting (Discussing the sunset I am sure) over a good glass of Chardonnay. In fact the beach was in no way crowded, there was lots of room and not many people.

As the sun was still quite high in the sky, we left our friends, with their friends, discussing sunsets and other important subjects, and we set off for a walk down the beach. We discovered that this “Naples Beach Sunset” was a serious event. There were people all down the beach, and some were obviously there to see the sun sink into the Gulf Of Mexico. There were many people with cameras, and some were setting up tripods and elaborate stop action set-ups, serious about getting that perfect sunset snap.
Sunset, what sunset?

There were also people there exercising; people more interested in each other than the sunset; people trying to catch fish; children playing in the sand; people sailing off into the sunset, but mostly people socializing with their friends as the sun announced the end to another lovely day in South Florida.

Oh . . . . the sunset really was pretty nice.