Mary Clark, Traveler

Iguazu Falls – Visited and Revisited and Revisited

Iguazu Falls is actually 275 waterfalls except in the rainy season when it expands to 350 falls. Eleanor Roosevelt is reported to have commented, “Poor Niagra” upon first viewing this natural wonder. Located in the far north of Argentina across from Brazil, Iguazu is four times the width of Niagra and has twice the water flow. If and when water gets tight, we should all hop on down there. The falls are also located on top of the Guarani , the largest underground fresh water reservoir in the world.. It is, literally, water, water everywhere.

Iguazu Falls is surrounded by jungle, nourished by the mist of the cascading waters. National Parks on both sides of the border have been strict in limiting development, preserving the “natural” part of the wonder. Commercial flights regularly land at nearby Puerto Iguazu airport dispensing visitors, most on tours. I was traveling with my cousin who lived in Buenos Aires. We checked into the Sheraton International Iguazu, the only hotel directly in the falls park. It provided easy paths down to the cascading waters and had a nice view of its spray. The constant roar kept us mindful of the falls’ presence.


Our first outing was to be a train ride along the edge of the falls, supplying the only access to the famous horseshoe portion of the falls. However, record rains had washed out the tracks. The only other way to see those falls was from the Brazilian side, requiring the purchase of an expensive visa in town and an all day excursion. Our options settled quickly on simply exploring the nearest falls both from above and below, via the Upper and Lower Circuits. Over the next two days, I walked both of these paths three times, with a very different experience for each.

The Upper Circuit stretches along the top of a set of falls for about ½ mile. Metal cat walks allow the flow of water to rush underfoot while promontories furnish a safer place to view. Soon after arrival, we eagerly reached the end of the upper trail for our first panoramic view of the Herman, Bosetti, Chico, Ramirez and San Martin Falls. Actually, there was little distinction in the individual falls because of the massive waters flowing over from the recent rains. Anyone who can’t watch an IMAX movie would be dizzy here.

After lunch, a second walk down the Lower Circuit took us closer to the falls where Great Dusky Swifts floated in and out and orchids clung to vines. Every turn revealed a new, powerful fall until we walked out at the end to look up at a panorama of water and mist. In normal times, a boat escorts you across the river to an island for a closer look. But that crossing had been also stopped by the excessive rain and flow of water. We did take a boat ride that took us as close to the cascading water as was safe. Watching the boat from the shore, it seemed to still be far from the heart of the falls. But in the boat, the spray of water from the falls alone drenched us all as if we were directly under the water. To return to port further down the river, the boat was simply put in neutral and rapidly whisked away.

My cousin was under the weather the next day and I tried both the Upper and Lower Circuits in the morning. The difference from the previous day was startling. I could hardly move because of the crowds. I had to push my way to the front of the look-outs as well as wait for people to pass across bridges. I kept looking for the weight limit signs on the catwalks. Photos were almost impossible to take without including a stranger’s head or hand.

At 4 p.m. that afternoon, I tried the Lower Circuit again and the trail was all mine. The crowds were gone. At the end of this trail, a metal walk extends to the spray of the nearest fall. I had watched others make that walk in swim suits and I wore mine to try it. I was alone as I eased out, holding tight to the rails. 2000 cubic yards of water per second were roaring past, ready to whisk away anything in its path. I was surprised how hard it was to force the final steps. At the end, the falls seemed close enough to touch but you couldn’t. The spray drenched me and the sound blocked all other thoughts.

On the solitary walk back up the trail, a herd of coatimundis, cousins to the raccon, obstructed the way. Several iguanas also eased by. The animals stay low when the crowds are out. Fortunately, that includes the snakes.

We were up at 6 a.m. the last morning to make our final pilgrimage along the Upper Circuit. Only the local birds joined us at that hour. Toucans and Motmots moved freely about. At the end of the trail, we simply stood over the fast moving falls and watched flocks of parakeets play. A parrot filled tree swayed nearby. On the mist covered island below, rainbows competed for attention. It was mystical and breathtaking and the view I carry in my head today.

We missed the train ride and the free boat ride. We missed the view of the horseshoe falls. We missed the walk to the Devil’s Throat falls. But our treks brought us much nearer to the heart of the falls where nature ignores the crowds and keeps on moving.

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The Pyramids Fascinate Tourists for Thousands of Years


The Giza Pyramids outside of Cairo have been a tourist destination for over 3,000 years. Let me repeat that. Three thousand years ago, tourists from ancient Greece and Rome had heard of and traveled to see this marvel. It is the only original Seven Wonders of the World that survives. By looking up at the tip of these structures, you join Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Mark Twain, William Thackeray, and millions of others who were stunned at the skill of workmanship and the effort needed to complete them. On the wall outside the Khafra pyramid, original hieroglyphics, or early day graffiti, revealed Ramses II had been there when he was Pharoah around 1300 BC. Writers from Herodotus in 449 B. C. to Amelia Edwards in the 1870s have tried to describe the significance of these tributes to the Pharoahs and their queens.

There have been dips and rises in the numbers who have come. It wasn’t a good time to visit in 969 when the Tunisian Fatimids marched 100,000 soldiers over the desert to take Cairo or in 1258 when the Mongols invaded Egypt. But tourism picked up in the 1800’s. Ancient Egypt was all the craze in Europe and camels were required, not just for photo ops but to ferry hoards of Englishmen to the site. Women, in their fine dresses and hats, insisted on viewing the pyramids up close and even on top.

As thousands year old graves were discovered filled with gold bejeweled masks and other finery, the frenzy continued. Despite occasional tourists attacks even in our time, tourism is by far the number one industry in Egypt today. Until the latest recession, Russians were taking their turn at overrunning the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and museums. Salesmen at the Pyramids shift effortlessly into English, French, German and Russian as they try ply their miniature pyramids, stuffed camels, and plastic jewelry, all made in China.

So, can it still be worth it? That interesting? Worth fighting the crowds? Of course it is.

The Giza pyramids stand in the middle of a Cairo suburb but with sufficient desert immediately surrounding them to maintain their integrity. From a distance they seem small. Only by standing at its base can the achievement of their construction be felt. Amelia Edwards wrote in her book, “A Thousand Miles Up the Nile”, of the Great Pyramid “in all its unexpected bulk and majesty towers close above one’s head, [and] the effect is as sudden as it is overwhelming. It shuts out the sky and the horizon. It shuts out everything but the sense of awe and wonder.”

The tallest, the Great Pyramid, is the largest single structure in the world. Its limestone blocks are so tightly packed that a knife can’t be inserted. Very recent excavation reveal that the workers were not slaves as commonly believed. They worked three month shifts and were fed well with meat and beer – similar to our modern day, off-shore oil workers.

In the past, tourists could climb to the top of the pyramids. But today, the major “extra” adventure offered is burrowing through tunnels inside either Khafra’s or Cheop’s pyramids into the chambers where kings were previously buried. Signs warn claustrophobic visitors shouldn’t try this. The tunnel into Khafra’s was about four feet tall and wide. I thought I wasn’t claustrophobic but learned otherwise. All had to walk hunchback, a kind of compressed duck walk, seeing only the person in front. It was hot and humid. Imaging helped calm breathing. We were only in the tunnel about five minutes but it felt forever. Finally, we burst into a remarkably large inner burial room with only an empty sarcarphogus to prove its original intent. A “guide” pointed out that it was indeed a sarcarphogus and then asked for “baksheesh” or a “tip”. I was so happy to be standing, I would have given him anything.


Outside , you also have many opportunities to be photographed with a bedecked camel and to ride on said bedecked camel. Negotiating is de rigeur and saying no impossible.

The Sphinx was the surprise and has its own riddle. It may be older than the pyramids and no one is sure of its purpose. The lion’s body lounges patiently in the sand with its tail circling comfortably around. In “Innocents Abroad”, Mark Twain described its great human face as “so sad, so earnest, so longing, so patient………… It was stone, but it seemed sentient.” This is where the crowds congregated late in the afternoon as all tried to get as close as allowed to the excavated feline.

The Sphinx supervises the Nile and modern day Cairo, a view that has evolved over 3,000 years of watching. But having tourists nearby hasn’t changed much. The fascination with the shape, angles, size, placement and reasons for the pyramids will surely continue for another three thousand years as visitors connect with a fascinating past that has slowly revealed its secrets.

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APTN – A UNIQUE TELEVISION STATION OPENING THE EYES OF VIEWERS

The television station’s call letters were APTN – Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. Based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, this was the world’s first television station dedicated to native people and one of only four officially licensed TV networks in Canada. Its broadcasts reached across the country and into our hotel room on a recent visit to Quebec. Curious about the First Nation people’s issues in Canada, we tuned in every evening.

Canada has over 600 recognized First Nations governments or bands and approximately 1,200,000 Native Canadians, about 3% of the population. First Nation People, Amerindians, Native Americans, and Aboriginal people are all terms used to refer to those who first occupied Canada. Although First Nation tribes were not conquered as they were in the United States, Canada has struggled with how to integrate federal and provincial laws with the treaties and land claim agreements negotiated over the last 250 years. The first proclamation in 1765 was meant to protect territories reserved to the tribes for their hunting grounds. The Indian Act of 1876 determined how reserves would operate, who qualifies as a First Nation descendant and how to enfranchise their inhabitants.

The 1927 Indian Act forbade First Nation people from forming political organizations and speaking their language in schools. 150,000 children were removed from their homes and placed in government supported boarding schools to assimilate them. On June 11, 2008 Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for the schools and the abuse many children received.

The Indian Act has been amended over the years. But it wasn’t until 1983 that the heads of the government sat down with the leaders of the Aboriginal groups. The issues were not a surprise – land claims, natural resources ownership, education and self determination rights. Those concerns continue today as evidenced by the news stories at APTN.

During our viewing, we learned there was an election for a regional chief to the Assembly of First Nations. The candidates talked about the problems of poverty, advancing human rights, and remembering their ancestors. A second story featured members of a tribe in the far north who were blocking the trucks of an oil company until claims of ownership of the natural resources could be determined. A feature advised of the growing number of native teachers in the First Nation schools, a process started in the 1970’s.

I was particularly interested in the discussion of the Sharon McIvor case, a sex discrimination suit that had just been settled the summer before. In 1985, the Indian Act was amended to correct a discrimination against Aboriginal women. Previously, an Aboriginal woman who married a non-status Indian lost her own status. The amendment corrected this problem but did not extend the protection to the woman’s children. An Aboriginal man’s children were protected even if he married a non-status woman – classic sex discrimination. It took ten years but Ms. McIvor won her case and now Aboriginal women’s children’s status are protected regardless of who their mother married.

Reading newspapers and watching local television in foreign countries helps with perspective. I realize the United States in not alone in its complexity. Canada, with ten provinces and three territories, must deal with the same federal and states rights issues we do and blend in past treaties. The most basic question of what nationality are the First Nation people is even a concern. I read that a tribal chief in Canada had recently developed a passport for his aboriginal nation which was accepted by several European countries.

Our English/Spanish debate is multiplied in Canada. At the APTN station, 56% of their broadcasts are in English, 16% in French, and 28% in Aboriginal languages. And the question of what children are taught in school is magnified in Canada as the First Nation people ask that their descendants and fellow Canadians learn of their traditions and history. Amerindians continue to protect their way of life by being politically active and by promoting tourism on their lands and in their crafts and arts. APTN helps keep them and us informed of this important goal.

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Baby Boomers Sample Budget Travel in Vietnam

The poor dollar seems to take a beating wherever it goes. Many Americans are letting their European cousins visit them this year. Others are dusting off their campers. But there is good news. In Vietnam, the dollar’s value has increased over the last year. In fact, with an exchange rate of around 18,435 dong to the dollar, a $100 bill can make you an instant millionaire. The even better news is that it is an economical place to travel.

Vietnam as a travel destination was discovered by the young back packer set at least15 years ago. They found a country with beautiful beaches, deltas laden with boats, motorcycle packed streets, interesting ethnic mountain tribes, hand tailored silk suits, and ruins from an advanced civilization hundreds of years old. Halong Bay took their breath away and Saigon’s night life beat most anything in the U.S. Hotels and food were cheap and the Vietnamese people welcoming. It was Europe in the early 1970s.

The older traveler has now caught on and Vietnam is experiencing a surge in tourism. Tour groups and even cruise lines have added Vietnam to their itineraries. The French have embraced their former colony and are coming in large numbers. Older Americans, however, first had to be convinced that they would be well received by the Vietnamese. Since seventy percent of the Vietnamese population is under 30 years of age, most Vietnamese only know of the “American War” from their history books. We’re treated as any other tourist, which means they want us to enjoy ourselves and come back.

What I noticed on my last visit was the number of older independent travelers who were venturing out of the luxury hotels and were really taking advantage of the low cost of travel here. The budget hotels in the “backpack” areas of Saigon and Hanoi are no longer just for the young. With bargaining, the hotel rates in these locations ranged from $12 to $25 per night. This buys you a clean room with a private bath, a small, stocked refrigerator, air conditioning and a television with CNN and BBC stations. Some even throw in a continental breakfast and if you’re really lucky, that includes the wonderful Vietnamese drip coffee.

All travelers enjoy the low cost of the food. The Vietnamese traditional soup, Pho, is as varied as Italy’s pasta, and is served all day long on the streets and in many restaurants for under $3. We got hooked on Bun Thit Nuong, a grilled meat salad with a rice vinaigrette dressing which cost a whopping four dollars. International food is now available in the larger tourist areas where a pizza and a glass of Australian Shiraz can be had for $6.

Even the high end travel scale in Vietnam is reasonable. In Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City, I treated my traveling companions to a nice night out and was determined to spend $100 on the three of us. After drinks at the Saigon-Saigon bar on top of the elegant Caravelle Hotel, we enjoyed a meal at the Temple Club, a renovated former Chinese temple, where we retired to their drawing room for dessert and coffee. It was only with a large tip that I was able to spend the last of my $100.

Being an older independent traveler doesn’t mean you have to buy every ticket and book every hotel yourself. Vietnam is loaded with travel agencies. I counted 10 in one block of Hanoi. They have a variety of day or multi-day tours to explore the Mekong Delta, Halong Bay, Hoi Ann or the ethnic tribes in the mountains of Sapa. An overnight stay on a wooden junk boat in Halong (including food) will cost between $35 and $150, depending on the elegance of the boat. These tours can be booked after you arrive. Tour guides may be hired for each destination for $15 to $30 per day. The other nice choice is to custom-build your holiday through a consolidator. We found an operator recommended by responsibletravel.com. who helped with hotels, transportation and occasional guides, all on the economic level we requested. Even with their 25 percent cost added on, it was reasonable and saved a lot of time.

With baby boomers retiring and having time for an extended vacation, Vietnam offers both variety and value. A little investigation, determination, and adventurous spirit will land you in a beautiful country where your dollar goes a long way.

References:
SinhCafe Travel Agencies – reputable company with many locations. www. sinhcafe.com
responsibletravel.com for recomendations of local travel agents
For very personalized service, contact Ninh through www.havietninh-tours-vietnam.com

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Traveling with a Christmas Tree


I’m not often jealous of an inanimate object. But I have never had a helicopter ride and our Christmas tree has. It wasn’t a long flight – only about a minute. This was just enough time to lift 30 to 40 other trees and transport them to a warehouse for shipping. I was talking to Erin Fletk, an owner of Emerald Christmas Tree Company in Bellevue, Washington, who assured me that transportation by helicopter keeps trees fresher by cutting the time needed to move them out of the field.

Fletk’s company has been supplying trees to the Kroger grocery chain from Oregon land for over 50 years. The trees are hand tagged in August, cut in November and early December, flown to the warehouse, sprayed with chipped ice, placed in a refrigerated truck and transported to the stores. That’s a lot of traveling for such a young tree. Kroger’s trees come from the upper Michigan peninsula or Oregon. Home Depot also buys trees from Michigan and Oregon as well as North Carolina and Canada.. The time period from harvest to store varied from 12 hours to 7 days, depending on the destination.

In these days of carbon footprints, the question is whether the growing and transportation of our tree is an ecologically smart one, especially compared to artificial trees. And that is when I waded into the sometimes sharp discussion of real vs. not real trees.

The first issue in the debate is what to call “not real” trees. The Christmas tree industry uses the word “fake” while the artificial tree industry doesn’t call them anything at all. I looked at some artificial trees at Wal-Mart and Home Depot. There was no mention of the fact that these trees were made of plastic. On the tree and the boxes they were simply named for the tree that they resembled – such as 7 ft. Douglas Fir or Yonkers Pine. The boxes did state clearly they were MADE IN CHINA.

As an aside, the first artificial tree was developed by the Addis Brush Company. In 1950, they patented the Addis Silver pine tree, designed to revolve with lights under it. While we never had that tree growing up, many of my friends’ families bought it. And upon reflection, it did look a lot like a silver brush.

The real tree people have some pretty strong ammunition in support of Christmas tree farms. The first is that natural trees are MADE IN AMERICA. Many American farmers are supported by this industry. There are 176 members of just the Michigan Christmas Tree Association, translating into thousands nationwide. And, according to Erin Fletk, three trees are planted for every tree harvested from a farm so that no trees are taken down in any of our national parks or forests. The numbers on the other side are startling – 85 % of artificial Christmas trees are from China. . This argument hits close to home. Paris had its own Christmas tree factory (Paris Industries) for several years but it closed when the competition from China became too stiff. Obviously, Asian artificial trees travel even further to arrive in our local stores.

The disposition of the trees are starkly different. Natural trees are biodegradable and can be placed in lakes for fish habitat. They are recyclable and used to prevent beach erosion and for mulch. Our Christmas tree will be mulched by the big horizontal grinder owned by the City of Paris and made available to nurseries, schools, and residents. Artificial trees don’t disintegrate well. Some come with a PVC warning and in California, a lead warning. So, they hang out in our waste disposal site for many, many years.

According to Ms. Fletk, the movement is back towards natural Christmas trees. Their numbers are up even in these tough economic times. The Kroger chain also is selling more and at a lower price than last year. Home Depot couldn’t release numbers but would tell me they are the world’s largest retailer of Christmas trees. That’s a lot of tree movement and traveling. Our tree traveled by helicopter and truck over 3000 miles to Paris just to light up our home. What I particularly like is that this Oregon tree will soon become mulch for a Texas garden – certainly worth the trip.

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Riding The New Mexico Rail Runner With an Expert

I’m not often jealous of an inanimate object. But I have never had a helicopter ride and our Christmas tree has. It wasn’t a long flight – only about a minute. This was just enough time to lift 30 to 40 other trees and transport them to a warehouse for shipping. I was talking to Erin Fletk, an owner of Emerald Christmas Tree Company in Bellevue, Washington, who assured me that transportation by helicopter keeps trees fresher by cutting the time needed to move them out of the field.

Fletk’s company has been supplying trees to the Kroger grocery chain from Oregon land for over 50 years. The trees are hand tagged in August, cut in November and early December, flown to the warehouse, sprayed with chipped ice, placed in a refrigerated truck and transported to the stores. That’s a lot of traveling for such a young tree. Kroger’s trees come from the upper Michigan peninsula or Oregon. Home Depot also buys trees from Michigan and Oregon as well as North Carolina and Canada.. The time period from harvest to store varied from 12 hours to 7 days, depending on the destination.

In these days of carbon footprints, the question is whether the growing and transportation of our tree is an ecologically smart one, especially compared to artificial trees. And that is when I waded into the sometimes sharp discussion of real vs. not real trees.

The first issue in the debate is what to call “not real” trees. The Christmas tree industry uses the word “fake” while the artificial tree industry doesn’t call them anything at all. I looked at some artificial trees at Wal-Mart and Home Depot. There was no mention of the fact that these trees were made of plastic. On the tree and the boxes they were simply named for the tree that they resembled – such as 7 ft. Douglas Fir or Yonkers Pine. The boxes did state clearly they were MADE IN CHINA.

As an aside, the first artificial tree was developed by the Addis Brush Company. In 1950, they patented the Addis Silver pine tree, designed to revolve with lights under it. While we never had that tree growing up, many of my friends’ families bought it. And upon reflection, it did look a lot like a silver brush.

The real tree people have some pretty strong ammunition in support of Christmas tree farms. The first is that natural trees are MADE IN AMERICA. Many American farmers are supported by this industry. There are 176 members of just the Michigan Christmas Tree Association, translating into thousands nationwide. And, according to Erin Fletk, three trees are planted for every tree harvested from a farm so that no trees are taken down in any of our national parks or forests. The numbers on the other side are startling – 85 % of artificial Christmas trees are from China. . This argument hits close to home. Paris had its own Christmas tree factory (Paris Industries) for several years but it closed when the competition from China became too stiff. Obviously, Asian artificial trees travel even further to arrive in our local stores.

The disposition of the trees are starkly different. Natural trees are biodegradable and can be placed in lakes for fish habitat. They are recyclable and used to prevent beach erosion and for mulch. Our Christmas tree will be mulched by the big horizontal grinder owned by the City of Paris and made available to nurseries, schools, and residents. Artificial trees don’t disintegrate well. Some come with a PVC warning and in California, a lead warning. So, they hang out in our waste disposal site for many, many years.

According to Ms. Fletk, the movement is back towards natural Christmas trees. Their numbers are up even in these tough economic times. The Kroger chain also is selling more and at a lower price than last year. Home Depot couldn’t release numbers but would tell me they are the world’s largest retailer of Christmas trees. That’s a lot of tree movement and traveling. Our tree traveled by helicopter and truck over 3000 miles to Paris just to light up our home. What I particularly like is that this Oregon tree will soon become mulch for a Texas garden – certainly worth the trip.

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Riding The New Mexico Rail Runner With an Expert


My brother, Gary, has always loved trains. He’s ridden the Rocky Mountaineer across Canada, Coastal Starlight from L.A. to Seattle, SW Chief from L.A. to Chicago, Sunset Limited between L.A. and Houston and the Northeast Corridor from Washington, D. C. to Boston. He can still name the passenger lines that no long exist such as the Lone Star from Houston to Chicago and the San Francisco Chief. For the last 24 years, he has helped the Albuquerque model train society construct a model train set for the New Mexico State Fair and currently, he’s refurbishing an old Santa Fe steam engine. But I never understood how train savvy he was until we rode the New Mexico Rail Runner together.

The New Mexico Rail Runner opened for business in 2008 offering service between Belen (30 miles south of Albuquerque) and Santa Fe. The railroad caters to commuters during the week and tourists on the week-end. The charge is modest. To travel from the downtown Albuquerque station to the heart of Santa Fe costs $4 on the week-end or $6 round trip. This, obviously, doesn’t cover the cost of operation. According to Gary, no urban commuter train in the world pays for itself. Government supports the rails for various reasons – to relieve traffic, eliminate road building and protect the environment. Whatever the reason, it is a delightful option.

On a whim, my brother, mother, and I hopped on board late one Saturday afternoon in October to travel to Santa Fe for dinner. Surprisingly, it was Gary’s first ride on the train and he couldn’t stop smiling. As is often the case, railroad tracks pass through warehouse districts and run-down neighborhoods and Albuquerque was no exception . We picked up speed as we exited the suburbs to our top velocity of 79 m.p.h.( to be exact). My brother noted that if the train traveled 80 m.p.h. or faster, special electronics were required. He also identified each spur as it was passed – that one goes to the General Mills cereal plant and this one serves a sheet rock plant, etc.

The passengers were a mix. A group of women cyclists had biked from Santa Fe earlier that day and were hitching a ride back. Storage was available for the bicycles. A Native American family played cards while a young couple sat close. All of us had wonderful views from the upper deck of our car.

The track moved between the Rio Grande River on the west and Interstate 25 on the east, occasionally favoring one or the other. Bright yellow cotton wood trees followed the river and the Sandia mountains supervised the action. An announcer advised that we would be passing through Indian Reservations and that no picture taking was allowed during that time. Children played volleyball in the San Felipe Pueblo and Indian moms were baking bread in the traditional “hornos” or ovens behind their homes in the San Domingo Pueblo. – views that are not available on the interstate. We passed close to an old water tower, all that remains from a saw mill that processed lumber from the nearby Jemez mountains.

I learned today’s engines stay on just one end of the train. If the train is headed in the opposite direction of the engine as ours was, an engineer sits in a telephone booth size compartment in the last passenger car (now the front of the train) and directs from there. The diesel powered engine is like a mini power plant. It generates electricity that is transferred to electric motors on each of the wheels.

Gradually, our Rail Runner began to climb. The original tracks from Santa Fe to Albuquerque went through Lamy, a more gradual route currently owned by the Santa Fe Southern RR. For the New Mexico Rail Runner, the state of New Mexico bought the entire line from Belen to Trinidad, Colorado from the BNSF Railroad. Gary gave me a short history of all the mergers of railroad companies and what the initials meant but I got lost. Even modern day trains can’t climb the steep La Bajada hill where the Interstate runs so the state had to blast through some smaller hills and lay a new track for a part of the line. On the older portion of the track, old telephone and telegraph poles can still be seen. Nearby are solar powered reception poles to provide future WIFI coverage along the route.

We pulled into the old Santa Fe railroad station on time as the sun was setting. A crowd awaited our exit from the train as many were ready to return to Albuquerque. Zia’s Diner was only a short, one block walk where my sister-in-law held a table for us. What a relaxing way to travel. We can only dream of being able to make a fast trip to Dallas on rails without having to keep an eye on the road and the cars whizzing past. New Mexico made a commitment to an old form of mass transit in a new package. Anyone near the area should take advantage of it – even without your own personal guide.

www.nmrailrunner.com

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Mary Grace’s Little Pink Case and Other Packing Suggestions

I travel a lot. That doesn’t mean I’m the most organized voyager. I do know to make copies of the itinerary, check on the electrical current at the destination, and even confirm the expiration date of my passport. But despite reading articles on how to pack efficiently, reviewing check lists, and keeping a well-stocked toiletry kit, something is always left behind –Tylenol, lotion, … something. When that happens, I’m glad to be traveling with my friend, Mary Grace, and her Little Pink Case.

The bag is not large – 6 ¾ inches wide, 2 ¾ inches high, 4 ¾ inches deep to be exact– but it’s filled with well-reasoned travel needs. Mary Grace tucks it inside her larger purse to carry on the plane. Some articles are obvious – a sewing kit, an emery board, small toothbrush, an extra contact lens case. Dental floss, Band-Aids (2), and a large tooth comb are also available.

But it took traveling with Mary Grace to discover what other gems the case held. When my husband’s glasses fell apart on a trip to Italy, she popped out an eye glass repair kit from the pink interior. Blisters from a long day of walking through Roman ruins were quickly protected with moleskin. Available batteries (4 AA and 2 AAA) relit the small flashlight we carried.

Mary Grace anticipates common, on the road medical problems and conditions and stores aid for most. Corn cushions and a blister treatment (2) help with foot sores. Preparation H (1), Alavert for allergies (2), Valtrex for fever blisters (2), Benadryl (8), Domeboro, a soaking solution for rashes (2 packets), and Tylenol pm (2) also await a distress call.

Fashions needs aren’t ignored. A “Gal Pal” pad allows her to remove white deodorants marks, make-up, lint, and dirt from clothes. Fashion tape protects against gaping blouses and fallen hems as do safety pins. She throws in some Q-tips and a razor for emergency needs.

The kit is not static. Previously, it carried a blanket bag (the silver fold up kind) but Mary Grace has deleted that item. After we forgot to claim our car keys at an airport security basket, she added a spare car key. (By the way, DFW rental car places are open 24 hours a day, in case you ever do the same.) Earplugs, eye mask and fold up glasses are also newcomers to the unit.

Much is written about the art of traveling light. I picked up “The Packing Book” at a half price book store in Austin and found it filled with two hundred and fifty eight pages of packing lists for week-end travel, a trip to Europe, beach wardrobe, and even adventure travel needs. Readers tips include “sell your jeans”, “leave appliances at home”, and “take a vacation from make-up”. There were too many suggestions for me.

The best site on the net for lightening your load is www.onebag.com where you learn the “Art and Science of Travelling Light”. Doug Dyment is the guru of efficient packing in a single carry-on bag. Over-packing is the number one travel mistake. Four pairs of shoes are not a problem if you’re driving. But if flying, the extra bag for shoes can seriously slow you down as well as cost extra. No iron shirts are a god-send for guys. www.TravelSmith.com is a good source for versatile travel ware for men and women. And don’t forget that scarves are a great, light accessory to dress-up any outfit.

Doug Dyment, Mary Grace and her husband have convinced us to keep it at one small suitcase. I do cheat, though, and bring a fold up bag “in case” I find something to bring home. I haven’t duplicated the Little Pink Case, though. So, I’ll just have to continue to travel with Mary Grace.

Contents of Mary Grace’s Little Pink Case

gal pal
emery board
large tooth comb
toothbrush
dental floss
spare contact lens (x2)
contact lens case
razor
fashion tape (good for gaping blouses and fallen hems)
safety pins
Q-tips

4 AA batteries
2 AAA batteries
eye glass repair kit
sewing kit
polish off (fingernail polish remover)
contact lens case (2nd one)
band-aids (2)
corn cushions (good for blisters)
blister treatment (2)
moleskin (1 square)
domeboro (soaking solution for rashes)2 packets
preperation H (1)
alavert (2)
valtrex (fever blisters) (2)
benedryl 8
tylenol pm (2)

spare car keys
ear plugs
eye mask
fold-up glasses

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JE ME SOUVIENS – QUEBEC ‘S CONNECTION TO ITS PAST

It was one of the first things we noticed in Quebec City. We arrived late at night and hailed a taxi to our hotel. While waiting at a stoplight, my husband read these words on the license plate of the car ahead – “Je Me Souviens”. I asked our driver in French its meaning. Fortunately, he replied in English – “I remember”. Our next question wove its way throughout the trip. “What exactly do you remember?”

The taxi driver believed it meant they remembered a 250 year old battle from 1759 when the English defeated the French in Quebec. This was not just any old skirmish. The Battle of the Plains of Abraham permanently changed the boundaries of what eventually became Canada. General Wolfe surprised the French by sneaking up the cliffs at night and attacking behind the city. French Commander Montcalm had expected a landing from the river level and his troops literally had to run five miles back to the real battlefield, arriving exhausted and disorganized. Twenty minutes later the battle ended. Seriously, in 20 minutes, the time it takes to drive from Paris to Honey Grove, Quebec City became English. The actual war didn’t end for two more years but this battle gave the English control of the St. Lawrence River and soon all of La Nouvelle France joined the British Empire. The French government left but the most of the French citizens that had settled there stayed.

I relate this story in detail because its history permeates Quebec City, even today. A cannon ball from the shelling of the city by General Wolfe is still lodged in a tree along Rue St. Louis. The Plains of Abraham is now a wonderful park where Quebecans stroll, play soccer, and lounge on the many benches to enjoy the view of the St. Lawrence. And at the lovely Jardin des Gouverneurs (Governors’ Park), the Wolfe-Montcalm Monument pays tribute to both the winning and losing generals in the big battle.

On a walking tour the next day, we heard the official interpretation of “Je me souviens”. Our guide explained the phrase to mean, “I remember my history”. Canadian history is divided into thirds, French, English, and then Canadian. “We remember each part of our heritage,” she explained dutifully. This is supported by the large number of statutes in front of their parliament building that reflect the heroes of the founders, clerics, French and English governors, and the Amerindians.

A visit to the incredible Citadel fortress, built to protect the city from the Americans, provided a third interpretation of the phrase. The 22nd Royal Regiment, the only French speaking unit in Canada, has its headquarters in the Citadel. It is a fighting unit. Of the 2800 Canadians in Afghanistan, 1500 are from the 22nd. The flag was at half mast on the day of our visit because a Canadian soldier had died in Afghanistan. The unit’s motto, “Je Me Souviens”, is meant to honor their fallen comrades. Every day, an officer reads out the names of the members of the regiment who have died so they will not be forgotten.

With the rest of their country speaking English and the giant America at its heels, Quebec Province decided thirty years ago to get serious about remembering its heritage. Signs in English were taken down. Students were required to attend French speaking schools with only a few exceptions. The Quebecans consider their French more pure than that of France, albeit with a different accent. Quebec Province even came close to voting to secede from Canada. Today, the secession fever has abated but their pride has not. It is reflected in their truly wonderful food. The population is far more Catholic than the mother country. At a hotel in the country, our room had a list of daily masses at the nearby church. And they welcome immigrants, provided the newcomers learn their language and accept their culture.

It is important to promote an area’s history. “Remember the Alamo” is a proud Texas phrase that inspired those fighting for our independence. It may become our motto if we ever wanted to secede. “Je me souviens” has come to reflect Quebec’s pride in its roots and has given the citizens of Quebec the determination to protect their language and culture. The result is a bonus for tourists – a beautiful French speaking location, historical preservation and wonderful cuisine – all without having to cross the ocean.

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Many Reasons to Meet in St. Louis

Meet me in St. Louis, Louis
Meet me at the Fair
Don’t tell me the lights are shining
Any place but there.

We will dance the Hoochie -Koochie
I will be your Tootsie-Wootsie
If you will meet me in St. Louis, Louis
Meet me at the Fair

I don’t know what the Hoochie-Koochie is nor if I would want to be anyone’s Tootsie-Wootsie, but I do know that St. Louis is a wonderful city to visit, even for just a wedding week-end. A nice surprise, really.

St.Louis was established by a French fur trader in 1764. If you had lived in St. Louis for the next 40 years, you could have been a French resident, then Spanish, then French again, and finally American in 1804 (rather hard on which language to learn) The city was named for a King Louis but there is some confusion on which one. Louis XV reigned at the time of its establishment and his patron saint was Saint Louis IX, the only canonized King of France. It is the latter King whose statute supervises Forest Park outside the St. Louis Art Museum and was the city’s symbol until the Gateway Arch was built.

There is still a strong Roman Catholic presence in the city which was once known as the Rome of the West. Established in 1829 by the Catholic Bishop of Louisiana, St. Louis University (SLU) was the first institute of higher learning west of the Mississippi. And the Basilica of St. Louis, King, founded in 1770, was the first Catholic Cathedral west of the Mississippi.

The most memorable event to take place in St. Louis was the world’s largest fair ever in 1904 that celebrated the Louisiana Purchase a century before and spawned the song, “Meet Me in St. Louis”. In a six month period, 20 million people visited the 900 buildings constructed for the event in or near Forest Park. The only remaining original building is the Art Museum. However, the park continues to serve the community with the world class St. Louis Zoo, lakes and green spaces galore, an Art Deco, glass Jewel Box, an old fashioned band stand, and the Missouri History Museum – all free to the public.

We were tipped off by our fellow travelers, Keith and Janet Green, that the St. Louis Cardinals were playing after the rehearsal dinner in the new Busch Stadium. Only standing room tickets were available. The last time we had the pleasure of being upright for an event was at an opera in Vienna, Austria, made even longer by the standing. At the time, we swore never again. But memory fades and we decided to try again.

Finding a place behind our allotted painted yellow lines was not easy. We hung out on the first level with the other late slackers until an usher gently encouraged us to find another spot where we would actually be behind the yellow lines and not to the side. On the third level, space was available and included a metal bar to lean against. But the top level was bright and empty of fellow standees. The arch could be seen in the background as well as downtown St. Louis – a very pleasant experience except that the Cardinals lost.


Fortunately for us, the wedding took place in the immense Botanical Gardens, one of the oldest in the United States. Besides being a popular wedding spot (five other young couples said their vows that day), over 100 researchers work at the gardens, one half of them with Phds. A 1960 Climatron (think metal Geodisic dome) provides an authentic rain forest experience while one can also stroll through the Chinese, Japanese, day lily, and rose gardens.

And what trip to St. Louis could be complete without venturing to the top of the Gateway Arch? It surprised and delighted us. Underneath the silver rainbow, the guides direct five persons at a time to stand in front of individual, four foot tall painted doors. Suddenly, each pops open and five people cautiously exit the spacelike capsule. We mold ourselves in, the doors close, and the tram clanks back and forth up the curved interior of the arch. Because of the physical weight of the structure at the top, the windows at the top are narrow and rectangular, but the view spectacular.

St. Louis has lost its influence over the years. In 1818 it was the 4th largest city in the U.S. but now ranks 53rd. In the past , it produced the most beer, shoes, stoves, and wagons in the world. Today, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, Edward Jones, and Wachovia Securities anchor here, and much beer is still brewed through the giant company of Anheuser Busch. Because of its long, rich past, St. Louis has beautiful old buildings, neighborhoods, homes, and gardens. A wedding week-end was not enough to take it all in. So, we’ll just have to meet again in St. Louis.

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