Saturday, April 28, 2018

What's New at Disney World? April 9-16, 2018

Well, it has been a long time since a blog entry has been posted.  It's not been that I didn't have anything to write about, it's much more that a just didn't have time to complete an entry start to finish, but let's see if I can crank this out.
It came up early in the school year that we would be able to travel during spring break this year.  As Craig and I were about to turn 50, and wanted some way to blow a wad with our family in celebration, it was quickly determined that we were going back to Disney World.
The last time we were there was just over two years ago, but in that time in true Disney fashion a lot had changed and was new to experience.  Most was great, with only a few disappointing exceptions.

ANIMAL KINGDOM:

Of course, when Disney goers talk about what's "new", they are most often referring to the biggest, most thrilling, and most innovative new rides.  Well, at present they are at Animal Kingdom, both within the the brand new Pandora: Land of Avatar, which opened May 27 of last year.
The more popular of the two is "Flight of Passage" which is by far the most technologically advanced ride of any currently in the Disney Parks.  The ride mimics riding a
Photo courtesy of disney.go
Banshee through the land of Avatar via use of VR and other effects.  It is almost like a combination of  Star Tours and Soarin', though more beautiful and more thrilling than both these rides.  I came out smiling so widely that I practically split my head open.

I am not the only one that feels this way.  Everyone seems to know how great Flight of Passage is, making this ride wildly popular.  As we were not staying at a Disney property, we were unable to get FastPasses for this ride.  If ya don't have one and you want to ride this is pretty much how it's going to look.  We arrived at Animal Kingdom at 803 am, just about one hour before the park opened.  Within minute the turnstiles opened and we proceeded promptly toward Pandora where we were stopped by cast members behind a large crowd ahead of us.  
THIRTY minutes prior to park opening the crowd was escorted to the ride and a queue was formed by cast members.  The queue area is extensive and themed in detail.  I would say we were on the ride within 25 minutes, but by 920 am the wait time was 210 minutes---3.5 hours! The line never dropped below 90 minutes.  My daughter was dying to ride it again.  It never happened.
The other new ride is the Na'vi River Journey.  This family friendly ride is less popular, though still never got to less than a 60 minute wait.  I was able to FastPass this ride, but had to wait until mid-afternoon to ride.  The ride is a 4 minute float down the Na'vi River.  It doesn't really do anything, but it is still well themed and makes great use of light, music, color, projections and animatronics--so I thought it was enjoyable.
Even without the rides, Pandora is a must see, especially at night when little by little , as the sun drops down, the land, including the ground, begins to glow, actually, to luminesce.
Animal Kingdom is open at night now, previously having only been open until 5 or so.  There is now a night show over the rivers of Asia titled, "Rivers of Light," but we were out of energy and didn't stay to see it.

MAGIC KINGDOM:
"Happily Ever After"
We DID stay to see the new fireworks at Magic Kingdom. On May 12 of last year, "Happily Ever After" ended the seemingly eternal run of "Wishes," which my children had memorized.  This show was so over the top fabulous that we saw it 3 times, twice from right under Cinderella's castle (once during rain) and once from the beach at the Polynesian following dinner.  The show was completely superlative, like nothing I had veer seen before, a mesmerizing combination of perfectly choreographed fireworks, colorful projections onto the castle, and music from every Disney film imaginable, including a lot of the newer favorites like Frozen, Tangled, and Moana.
Position is critical to enjoying this show, because the projections on the castle produce so much of the effect.  We were not there during peak season, so we were amazed at the ability to just walk up and grab a spot right in the middle of the hub just 20 minutes before the show.  I would imagine this is not the case during busy times, so get there early!


"We wants the RedHead," or should I say, "...The life of a pirate for me.?"

Let's face it.  From the day of its opening (1973 in WDW), Pirates of the Caribbean has
Yeah, it really is pretty bad....
well, no longer...
never been what I would call a politically correct ride full of strong heroes and moral messages.  For goodness sake, it's about PIRATES, and PIRATES are generally not upstanding citizens!  In one iconic scene, a row of women, roped together, some of them crying, are being auctioned off, aka sold, into a life of bridal slavery.  As your little boat floats on, the next scene used to show these same poor women being chased through the inn by the men with the goal of  bedding them against their wishes.  Wow, Walt! Nice work! The scene was made more livable in 1997 when a refurbishment altered the scene to show the women carrying food, so at least they weren't chasing them for sex anymore. Well, now at Magic Kingdom and coming I hear to a Disneyland near you, the bride auction has been removed.  Now it's just a regular auction of the pirate's loot, causing a collective groan from Disney traditionalists.  People are lined up selling hens and portraits and other stupid stuff.  The chase scene following still exists but now it really makes no sense.  The pirates still go on to burn up the city and brag about it in the little ditty you will know your entire life, "we pillage and plunder and rifle and loot...and don't give a hoot."  Nice try, guys.  Even without the "wench auction," your ride still glorifies crime.  Apparently these new reformed nice pirates don't disrespect women, but they still "maraud, embezzle, and even hijack."


EPCOT:

I said this two years ago and I'll say this again, Epcot is in bad need of a facelift.  Vacant pavilions and boarded up entrances already exist where tired attractions went to die (case in point--Ellen's Energy Adventure), but so many outdated attractions still remain.  The films in Canada, China, France, and in Living with the Land are so outdated the featured populations all look like they could have appeared on Three's Company.  And don't ever drag me onto that Journey into Imagination with Figment again---that journey into imagination is more like popping LSD.
Well, in some effort to spruce things up, Epcot has introduced 3 ride "layovers" that either replaced old rides or made an attempt to improve old ones.
The first of these three is "Frozen Ever After," a dark boat ride which replaced the worn out viking tale "Maelstrom" in the land of Norway.  "Frozen Ever After" opened on June 2016
Anna, Elsa, and Olaf
finally enjoy summer in Arendale
and is Epcot's newest attraction, but its lack of thrill factor and its semi distant location within the World Showcase keep the crowds somewhat reasonable.  The ride is a sweet re-tell of Anna and Elsa's adventures.  We liked it and rode it twice, both times with a FastPass.  It's a big improvement on what was there.  Epcot really needed to bring some "kid factor" to the World Showcase, and with "Frozen Ever After, " Disney succeeds.

Soarin' Over California was revamped and released as Soarin' Around the World in June 2016 (seems to be a popular date..) We used to LOVE this ride.  I actually used to say this was my favorite of all Disney rides, but the CGI effects in the new version have kind of killed it for me.  Many of the images now, like elephants running under Kilimanjaro (which strongly smell like grass, not elephants) look really fake.  Another huge yuck is that if you are not sitting in the center bay (aka Bravo), the tall images, like the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal are NOTICEABLY distorted.  C'mon Disney!  Anyway, one nice bit is that the last scene is actually Epcot, not Tinkerbell flying over Disneyland like it was before.
Lastly, Mission: Space has "relaunched" its Green version.  Now you don't go to Mars, you just circle the earth.  It's like Soarin' Around the World but higher up.  It's stupid and boring and I let my second Fastpass for this ride actually expire.  I had no interest in riding it again.

DISNEY'S HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS:

This park is being given a bad rap these days because of all the construction going on.  Recently, DHS has said goodbye to "The Great Movie Ride", "Light, Camera, Action" and the extreme stunt show to make way for huge changes, including Toy Story Land, which will open June 30 of this year, and Galaxy's Edge, a full scale Star Wars Land which will open sometime in 2019.  
The kids thought we would be bored in this park and thought we would be out of things to do quickly, but we stayed busy until about 5 and then returned only about 2 hours later for Fantasmic and fireworks.
DHS is quickly becoming THE park for Star Wars junkies, and as they wait impatiently for the opening of Galaxy's Edge, DHS has come up with some simple but fun and creative entertainment to hold over those of us that just can't get enough.
About 7 times a day on the hour, in grand Imperial fashion and to a grand imperial soundtrack, Captain Phasma and her band of First Order stormtroopers make their way
"Star Wars:  A Galaxy Far, Far Away"
down Hollywood Boulevard, pausing to check out bystanders before proceeding to Center Stage where they continue to intimidate in a short production before they March on down the street again.  The March of the First Order is both cool and hilarious and I tried to catch glimpses of the event several times during the day as we passed by on our way to other things.  

For those of us that can't resist a Star Wars film montage, the "Star Wars:  A Galaxy Far, Far Away" is a 15 minute must see.  Film clips from all 9 Star Wars movies are shown on three large screens while our buddies C3PO, R2-D2, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, BB8, and Kylo Ren take their turns appearing on Center Stage.
At 9:15pm following Fantasmic, all Star Wars fans will want to return to the same three screens to watch "Star Wars:  A Galactic Spectacular, " Hollywood Studios night show featuring a combo of projections, film clips, music, and fire.  It's awesome, and even better, EASY to get a great spot far up Hollywood Boulevard to watch.

Well, I could write more, but this seems like enough for now! Not headed anywhere for a while but I'll try to post when I do!
Thank you for reading this post!
Here are a few more pictures!!  Family Selfies in every park!

Hollywood Studios:  waiting for Fantasmic

At Crystal Palace celebrating with Pooh


Animal Kingdom:  Kilimanjaro Safaris

Okay...at Epcot no selfie!

Just through this in cuz it's so funny
I swear the best part of Splash Mountain
is posing for the picture!





Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Unexpected Canada! July 14-July 24, 2017


Well, I have been back for over a month now and it took me a little while to rummage through my head and come up with a good idea for a blog post that would encompass our experience.  Every aspect of our trip was "not to be missed," so it was rather difficult to come up with a blog post full of must sees.
We began our trip in Calgary where we experienced "the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth," the Calgary Stampede.  My kids loved the rodeo, the chuckwagon races, and the completely over the top closing ceremony show and fireworks.  We experienced the expansive (and expensive) Midway, ate any kind of food imaginable (literally, there was deep fried EVERYTHING-coffee, lemonade, twinkies, cheesecake, oreos, and no we had none of it), and viewed shows from kitchen stadium to Bollywood!  Calgary is a beautiful clean city with wonderful people which really comes alive during Stampede week!  Free pancake breakfasts start in Olympic Plaza about 8am and the party continues down the Stephen Avenue walk until the wee hours of the morning!

Free pancake and bacon breakfast on Stephen Avenue

The colorful Midway at the Calgary Stampede


Just had to include this...these pristine bovine beauties
are vacuumed and blow dried before being judged!


The stirring and patriotic night show
O Canada!

After the Stampede ended we moved north into Banff National Park where we took in the majestic snow capped mountains of the Canadian Rockies.  Here we conquered amazing hikes including the Lake Agnes Trail from the base of  Lake Louise to the delightful Lake Agnes Teahouse, the highly recommended Bourgeau Lake Trail, and last but far from least the Larch Valley to Sentinel Pass Trail, which rises 3000 feet above the pristine and jewel-like Moraine Lake (my favorite!).  We canoed on Moraine Lake.  We took Gondola rides affording us expansive views of Lake Louise and of the Bow Valley.  We rode bicycles all the way from downtown Banff along the Banff Legacy Trail to Lake Minnewanka to Vermillion Lakes back through downtown to the Cave and Basin Historic Site.  We also ate at some great restaurants, relaxed in our hot tub overlooking Tunnel Mountain, and slept like babies.

On the Bourgeau Lake Trail

Atop the Banff Gondola..


Early morning canoeing on Moraine Lake


This is my favorite picture I took in Canada..
Iphone 6s...



So worth it..at the top of Sentinel Pass

A few nights later it was off to Jasper National Park via the Icefield Parkway, which passes by some notable landmarks, including Peyto Lake, Tangle Falls, Athabasca Falls, Sunwapta Falls, the Glacier Skywalk, and most notably the Columbia Icefields, where a behemoth of a vehicle, called an "Ice Explorer" takes you (and a million other people) right out onto the glacier.  The little town of Jasper itself has some great places to relax at the end of a long day on the road, including the Jasper Brewing Company and the Jasper Pizza Company, and an even better place to start your day, the Bear's Paw Bakery, where the line out the door starts at 6am!  Seeing the sights requires some driving in Jasper. Both the breathtaking Maligne Canyon and Maligne Lake are accessed by a lengthy trek down Maligne Lake Road.  After hiking Maligne Canyon in the opposite direction of those who get there on a tour bus, we trekked out to the lake and boarded the scenic Maligne Lake Cruise to charming Spirit Island.  Possibly most majestic in Jasper is the 3000 foot (okay 1000 meters!) ride up Mount Whistler on the Jasper Skytram.  The ride itself is challenging for claustrophobes and those afraid of heights, but the views at the top are unmatched.  If you are up for the challenge another 600 feet of elevation gain will take you to the true summit of the mountain, where you are literally enveloped in clouds.

The top of the Jasper Skytram surrounds you in clouds


Maligne Canyon


Maligne Lake


Maybe my favorite spot in Jasper..the Bear's Paw Bakery!


Okay, so why is your blogpost called "Unexpected Canada?"  Okay so let me share some things we did NOT expect in Canada!

CROWDS!:

Oh was it crowded!  Somehow everyone decided to go to Canada this year.  This year Canada celebrated it's 150th year of independence by making admission to all of its National Parks free.  This was a savings of about $160 dollars for us and quite possibly a lure for just about everyone else on the planet.  Tour buses and cars were everywhere.  The crowds made reservations for all activities absolutely imperative.  You also better get your butt moving and out the door early in the morning, or you can forget finding parking once you get there.  We reached Lake Louise after spending the early part of the morning at the Lake Louise Gondola at about 10:30 am, and on finding the parking lot full we were redirected to an overflow lot about 5 km down the Trans-Canada Highway!  There you waited in line for a school bus sized shuttle bus to take you back to Lake Louise.  Then when you were done, you waited again to catch the shuttle back!  A few days later, not wanting to repeat this experience, we arrived at the popular Moraine Lake at 830 after about 45 minutes of driving to find the parking lot full and a row of cars lining the road back a good distance.  Luckily, parking karma prevailed and just as we were being hailed on, someone's reverse lights alerted us to an opening spot. Phew!
Banff Avenue in the middle of the day was like Main Street USA, wall to wall with pedestrians.  One night at the grocery store every checkout line reached back to the butcher's counter in the back of the store!  Everywhere we went, we stood in line to use the public restroom, which was usually a portapotty.
Every stop along the Icefield Parkway was shared with a tour bus, or five.
Jasper was less crowded, but only slightly.  We still crammed the Jasper Skytram with 30 people to ride up at 440 pm and waited nearly 45 minutes in line up at the top to return to civilization.
This paints a more dismal picture than actually occured.  We were prepared with reservations and a plan of action of what we were going to do each day.  We rose early and planned to be out late. Because we always had a plan we didn't waste time deciding what to do only to be thwarted by a full parking lot or full tour times.
There is another fact for sure, the more physically active you are willing to be, the farther away from people you can get!

COLD!:

It's the middle of summer, right?  I read all the tour books and knew not to expect real high temperatures.  However, I ALSO was watching my weather app and approaching the date of travel it was looking like we could expect some above normal temperatures, like into the 90's in Calgary and 80's the rest of the week.
Hmm..well I'm not sure where it all went wrong, but we were NOT prepared for the weather that awaited us, which was far colder than expected.  Some days it may have reached 80, for like an HOUR, and it took until 5 pm!
It all seemed to go south on the last day of the Stampede.  We had been inside an exhibit hall for a while and when we came out it was raining, windy, and suddenly about 20 degrees cooler.  There I was..in my shorts and sleeveless shirt at about 4pm..about as cold as I had ever been. There was no way we were going to survive so back we walked to the hotel.  We had nothing.  Nicholas and Ally each had one pair of jeans and each had one long sleeved shirt and one sweatshirt.  I had only Capri jeans and a jeans jacket, not even a sweatshirt or a long sleeved shirt.  Natalya didn't even have jeans, so she wore yoga pants the entire week.  Craig came with a sweater, a raincoat, a windbreaker, and a fleece jacket, so he doled out his clothes to the lot of us.  By the end of the night it was 53 degrees.
Craig saved us, or at least me.  Immediately after reaching Banff, I bought a long sleeved shirt as did Ally.  I wore that dang shirt everyday, but even so I was quite dependent on having the fleece handy.
The mornings were wicked cold, occasionally into the 30's!  Another punishment was anytime spent at the top of a mountain.  I had never hiked in a long sleeved shirt, but we did it in Canada.  At the top of Sentinel pass, after crossing two large patches of unmelted snow, it started to hail and I swear it was like 40 degrees, but there I didnt really care, cuz we were sweating like fiends.
On the last day, we drove back via the Icefields Parkway.  There was fresh snow on the mountain peaks and our car indicated a balmy 3 degrees Celsius.
I had a bunch of tank tops in my suitcase that were never worn...
I think we have a few pictures in short sleeves and shorts...but far more in Craig's loaner clothes.

We are wearing everything we own here on the
Columbia Icefield

Fresh snow!!  July 24th


I heard you double the centigrade and add 30, so that's....


A FEW MORE GREAT UNEXPECTATIONS!

1)  Canadians are very low key about alcohol and the drinking age.  The drinking age is 18 but it seems that if you are with your parents and order something, they really don't care.  My 17 year old ordered her first alcoholic beverage in Craft Beer Market in Calgary, some hard cider of some sort, and the server didn't blink an eyelash.

Cheers, Natalya!


2) It gets dark really late.  Though not quite, I could almost say we never saw a dark sky while we were there.  While at the Stampede in Calgary, we did stay until it was dark enough for fireworks.  In Disneyland, fireworks start at at 9:30.  In Calgary, the fireworks didn't start until 11:15!  The two hour night show can't even begin until about 930, cuz it's just not dark enough.
As we drove farther and farther north, the days became longer and longer.  In Banff, we drove to Lake Minnewanka at 10:30 because it was dusky and we thought we'd have a good chance at seeing some wildlife. Pretty much in Jasper , the only time we saw a dark sky is when we got up at 4 to make it back to the airport.

Banff Avenue at about 10:15 pm

Probably taken about 10:30pm or later

3)  The server never takes your credit card.  She brings a mobile charger to your table.  Your card is never out of your sight.  A nice security feature, I must say.

Regardless, of whatever we ran into, this was one of the best vacations I ever took.  Canada was fabulous.  I can't wait to go back and see it again!  Thanks for reading my post!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Russian River Camping: June 9-11.2017

Oh my poor blog.  Do I just not have anything to write about?  I don't think that's it.  I just have trouble getting to the computer!  The last time I wrote it was winter.  Now it is most definitely summer, and off we went to Russian River, more specifically to the city of Guerneville, to camp with our church family on the grounds of the Our Lady of Kazan Church.

Not ironically I suppose, the Russian River area seems to hold a lot of nostalgia for Russian people. History holds that in the early 1800's Russians migrating from Sitka, Alaska (which WAS Russia at the time) began to settle in the area, hoping to be successful in the sea otter pelt and agriculture business.  They didn't last long there, however, somehow the river was named in their memory.  Anyway, most children and grandchildren of immigrant families have fond memories of summer weekends at Russian River.  Located just half and hour from Santa Rosa, it seemed to be the getaway for all those Russian families who had settled in San Francisco.  My grandparents, who were not wealthy people, along with many of their friends, had a vacation home here. In those days working families could afford such things.  My parents have all sorts of stories of beaching and overturning canoes and burning barbecue dinners and berry picking while they visited Russian River in the 50's and 60's. On Sundays, those immigrant families packed up their families and headed off to worship at the Our Lady of Kazan Church, otherwise known as "Vacation Beach Church" for those not quite so lofty, where we set up our group of 48, for a camping adventure.

I had no expectations of this venture turning out well.  Our church used to do camping weekends in the past (it had been a good 20 years, because my children had never gone) and there were really solid reasons that we stopped.  But our parish had been through a lot and were eager again to spend this kind of time together.  Before we knew it, the date was on the calendar, the adventure was announced and within one week the camp registry was full-40 campers, 2 infants, 6 campers staying offsite.  Though I had no great inclination toward doing so, in my usual fashion I starting to become involved in the planning process.

Camping in the parking lot on the concrete, one toilet/sink/shower to be shared by all the campers, (though the men were supposed to take their "business" to the portapotties we rented), a small ill equipped kitchen with no pots where groups of 5-8 were to prepare meals for 46, a small fridge to keep all the food.  I foresaw lines for the toilet while people took lengthy showers, no ability to dry my hair, a fridge stuffed with leftovers, cold meals not served on time.  What was worse--it RAINED the day before we were to leave.  It was pouring in Los Gatos when we left.  More imaginings of finding shelter to eat and leaking tent seams.

None of this happened.  I couldn't believe it!

Everyone ate and ate plenty.  The food was creative and even hot!  Everyone brought their own adult beverages, making for a happy bunch.  The weather cooperated, though a few complained about cold nights.  With a little monitoring, the kitchen stayed clean rather than becoming a dumping ground. There were no lines for the bathroom ever, and even the portapotties were bearable (though I made no attempt to try them).  We ate and hiked and sang and talked and of course drank.  Some of the kids even swam.  Our services in the little church were peaceful and joyful.  The setting was so green and shady and quiet, you couldn't help but have a good time.

In general, our camping adventure was deemed a success.  Russian River was going to be our new yearly camping destination.

There is something about living in these types of conditions that makes you more a family.  Brushing your teeth at the same kitchen sink, hearing the snoring in the tent next to you, seeing your usually polished choir director in yawn and stretch mode staggering for the coffee, sharing popcorn with your friends' kids as they sit on your lap.  I can't say there is anyone who went who couldn't say our little bunch of 48 was now more bonded.

Well enough about all that.  If you are not stopping by Our Lady of Kazan, what can you do?

WHAT CAN YOU REALLY DO ON OR NEAR THE RIVER??

Our camping area had direct access to the river.  Despite how much rain we had earlier this year, the river was low and moved slowly.  Though the river did not smell bad, there was a lot of green algae like muck making swimming unappealing.  We did hear that the following week "they" were going to "open up" the river which would make the river higher.  I think a lot of the kids swam in it anyway--we just told them to keep their mouths closed.

CANOEING

The big thing to do on the river seems to be to canoe.  Burke's Canoe and Kayak and other such outfitters offer a ten mile self guided canoe tour DOWN the river with a return shuttle for 68$.  Not sure how long this takes. We were on paddleboards going UP the river (more on that later) and let me tell you, canoeing looked a whole lot easier.  Most of the canoers, however, looked like they had never paddled before.  Plenty of out of control drunk people with minimal ability to master steering aiming toward my little board...with me on it.  We witnessed couples hurling the f word at each other as they dove in to the hull to avoid being gored by branches, or as they beached themselves on shallow rocks.  Ouch.  Sounds like a recipe for divorce!
 Anyway, you can take your cooler and you can drink while you canoe, something that's hard to do on a stand up paddleboard, though most of those in canoes did not seem to need to be drinking anymore.
I hear these reservations fill fast.

STAND UP PADDLEBOARDING

I love to stand up paddleboard.  It is super peaceful while being good exercise and a way to see nature others do not get to experience.
This is Jeff and his little dog
I hope he wont mind being part of my blog
Google steered me in the direction of SUP Odyssey.  Jeff and his little dog Zen run their outfit at the Schoolhouse Canyon Campground at 12600 River Road in Guerneville, about 10 minutes from where we were staying.  I thought the price was pretty good, 25$ for an hour of paddling.  3 hours was 65$ but that would have been quite a bit of paddling.  Jeff took reservations with a 50% deposit but was pretty low key about when we arrived and how many of us arrived.  What is kind of nice about the deal is that for 5$ per person (which is not optional) you had access to the coin op hot showers in the campground--1 minute for 25 cents.  Refer back to our shower limitation issue back at the campground.  So the eight of us all took showers there.  Though my single quarter never ran out during the duration of my six minute shower plus my daughters...my shower was anything but hot.  In fact, I screamed through the whole thing--much to the amusement of the guys in the next door men's room and the young lady in the adjoining shower, which billowed with clouds of steam. Anyway, it was refreshing and I was clean.
riverbank right across the street from
The website today says that 2 hr guided trips are now being offered going in the same direction as the canoes, with a return shuttle included for 70$.  This would have been easier than what we did, but was not offered at the time we went.  This seems to be the case because of the current high flow of the river--once again, refer back to the river being "opened up" the following weekend.
I must admit that paddling up the river was hard.  In some narrower spots the current really fought you and you had to paddle hard.  We tended to bunch up in these spots which was no bueno.  If you fell off or stopped paddling the current took your board, sometimes right into the person behind you. My son fell off and lost his sunglasses which led to a massive freak out.  His board knocked over the young lady behind him and I got pushed into the branches luckily without losing an eye or getting my swimsuit hooked.  Also there is not much distance to paddle before it gets quite narrow and clogged by canoers. The canoers are going downstream, are moving fast, have minimal control and are much bigger than you are.
It's just dangerous.  Next time I'll canoe.

WINERIES

We did plenty of wine drinking at the campground, but there are plenty of opportunities to visit actual wineries in the immediate area.  Porter-Bass seemed to be the closest, located at 11750 Mays Canyon Road in Guerneville.  If you are a champagne drinker, Korbel Cellars was actually on the path between Schoolhouse Canyon Road and our camp area.  I am not a champagne person, but my godson picked up some brandy and I poured it in my Costco Sangria.
There were a lot of wineries along River Road as we drove from 101 toward Guerneville.   Nice to make a day of it sometime!

HIKING

A great place to go to do some hiking is Armstrong Redwoods State Park, located about 10 minutes away from where we were camped.  After paying an 8$ day use fee, you can take a short drive to a redwood shaded parking lot which serves as a trailhead area for hikes of a variety of levels.  Many in our bunch, those of advanced years and those with small children chose to take a short stroll of about one mile at quite a slow pace.  Another group of about 14 of us took the hard hike, about 5 miles including about 1600 (estimated) feet of elevation gain.  In our group, which quickly became only nine, we had a 57 year old and several tweens (9,12, and 13). There was no way I was going to let any of them show me up! What a workout!

We made it to the top
and I lived to tell about it!!

On the way back

A littler hike for the older and the younger
among us


A WORD ABOUT TRAFFIC...

Traffic, no doubt, was ugly.  If I can, I will find a better way to do this.  We left at 1pm from Fremont, which is already at quite a distance from San Jose, and it took us two and a half more hours to get there.  We were in traffic almost the entire way, despite the use of Waze, which always sends you the fastest way.
The way back we left Guerneville at about 1130 and it took us nearly 4 hours to get home, with a quick swing through Fremont again and a quick stop for gas.  We almost didn't make it back in time to get to my son's baseball party which started at 4!  My poor parents, who left later and had to go through San Francisco, also took forever.  There's got to be a better way.

Well that's about it for this post.  In a week I am going to Twain Harte/Pinecrest Lake so hopefully I can get creative and get to my computer again!  Hope you enjoyed this posting!  Now for some pictures!!


Here's our whole bunch in the obligatory silly picture!!

The Our Lady of Kazan Church is rarely used..
too bad, because it is beautiful..


Our services in the little church were sweet and peaceful



All the kids, down to the littlest ones, had a great time

All good things come to an end, and it's time to take our tent down!


We were a little packed in, but no one cared...except, who's snoring??
These are not my kids, but they might as well be...
Everyone was mighty wiped out after an eventful weekend!!



Thursday, March 16, 2017

Bend, Oregon--why ski anywhere else? February 20-24, 2017

This year there was no drought in California.  In fact, the California of February 2017 is a virtual skiing wonderland.  Everything is open.  The snow has come and more is coming.  Just tell us where you want to go!

Bend. We want to go to Bend, OR.  We started going to Mount Bachelor three years ago, when nary a snowflake graced the slopes of Dodge Ridge just days before our departure.  Despite the 9 hour drive..which this time actually took 8.5, even with some fairly hairy weather in the Bay Area and around Shasta, Bend is worth it for us and here are some reasons why...

1)  It's not really THAT far.  Mostly what I heard from the Tahoe goers this year was that the trip up/back was a nightmare.  Traffic, closed roads, white out conditions.  People were taking 6-8 hours to get to and from Tahoe.  Why not take another couple hours and have it be smooth sailing all the way?  I read, watch PBS episodes, listen to podcasts, I even drove a little bit this time.  Before you know it..you are there.  That being said, I do believe good fortune was on our side.  We had friends leave two days before we did and they were delayed by unprecedented FLOODING in the town of Williams on Highway 5, requiring them to take 12 hours to get to the same destination.

2)  Ladies and gentlemen, it's CHEAPER, a LOT cheaper.  Everything is cheaper--lift tickets, rental packages, accommodations...what's more?...there is no sales tax in Oregon, so when you buy four ice creams at 4 dollars a piece, you hand over a 20 and you get 4 dollars back!..not some random amount dictated by the needs of the state at any given time.  Anyway, a three out of five day adult pass ran us $205, roughly 69$ per day (Teen 165, or 55$ per day).  This was with our taking advantage of a 10% discount for buying the tickets four days in advance.  I looked up three day advanced package purchases in the Tahoe area.  Kirkwood was comparable, but you had to book 7 days in advance, and the teen deal was not as good.  Northstar's 3 of 5 adult ticket even seven days in advance was $321 or $107 a day.  THIS IS THE DISCOUNTED RATE, PEOPLE.  And let me tell you, Bachelor is every bit as much a mountain as Northstar, actually Bachelor is 1000 skiable acres bigger.
We also paid 450$ for three days of rentals for five people for the run of the mill sports package.  Big shout out to the guys at Powder House in Bend who set us up for the third time. There is some break down that occurred between adult prices and teen prices and second and third day discount prices--but this translated out to less than $17 per day.  Are you kidding me?  I won't even try to compare that to any mountain rentals, but I did look up a few "in town" rentals in Truckee and Tahoe City.  Tahoe Dave's was $30/day for a beginner package with a two day in advance reservation.  Tahoe Sports Hub was about $26.  So you see where I'm going with all this.
But there's more...We stayed in a 3 bedroom,3 bath recently renovated townhouse with a full kitchen and a stunning view of the Deschutes River for four nights during ski week for a grand total of $1087.22.  I can't imagine how that would be remotely possible in the Tahoe Area.

3)  The snow is amazing and the mountain is huge..and just seems to be getting huger!  The addition of the Cloudchaser Chair (check out this YouTube video about opening day!) added 635 acres of skiable terrain and 6.2 miles of groomed runs to the south east side of the mountain making Mount Bachelor the fifth largest ski area in the United States, and the 8th largest in North America.  It doesn't get warm enough to melt and then get hard and icy again overnight.  The powder actually stays powderey, so forgiving and soft under your skis.

THIS TIME IN BEND....

Well so far I have reported on Bend three times, and I would have to say that in terms of weather, this year fell right between the other two.  The first time we endured snowfall and winds and treacherous visibility. The second it was so sunny that we skied without hats and in sunglasses and open jackets. This time, somehow qualified by the fact the weather only permitted us to ski two days...more on that later...no snow fell, no wind blew, and we could see, but the temperature was colder than that I had experienced even in Canada and Sun Valley Idaho.  Even double gloved and double wool socked, it was hard to prevent the 6 degree temperature at the top of the mountain from turning your hands and feet into ice sausages.  I had on six layers, plus a scarf around my face.  This year I decided to get on the band wagon and wear a helmet while I skied.  The helmet provided a lot of warmth and was comfortable.  I don't know why I didn't start wearing one a long time ago.  Well, I know why..I thought it would be clumsy and I wouldn't be able to see or turn my head.  None of those things happened.

See the EXT?  well...that's the temperature outside in the parking lot
On the top of the mountain it was much colder!!

Hard to believe this is the same parking lot 24 hours later...

Gearing up for some extremely cold weather!

A few had to ask which kid this is...
Sometimes it's easier to just stay dressed..even indoors!


WHERE DO YOU GO WHEN THE WEATHER SAYS NO??

We heard around town that the weather on the mountain the day we arrived had been pretty nasty, and that maybe it would be slightly better the next day.  It wasn't.  We knew as we drove up the road to the resort that things were going to be ugly.  Howling winds near our condo gave way to blasting snow at higher elevations, and by the time we reached the parking lot the snow was sideways, slamming your car doors shut as you struggled to open them.  I trudged to the ticket window and secured our prepaid three day passes, and got the delightful information that every lift on the mountain, minus one little beginner chair, was on wind hold.  Many chairs were not expected to open the entire day.  We met for a little family pow-wow as we watched the horizontal precipitation blast away at the parked cars.  As long as we made no attempt to ski, we didn't lose the day on our three day passes.  We dragged our sorry butts back to the car and drove home.

This is the weather saying "no."

But no matter!  Make lemonade, right.  Luckily Bend has a lively downtown with lots of cozy hangouts.  We made our stop Thump Coffee.  Thump is a cute little place with seating for about 10 with another 10 at the bar.  Most of my team had the Belgian Mocha but I opted for the Spicy Mayan Mocha.  We cozied with our travel books, our magazines, and my daughter with her SAT prep stuff and made our best use of the time.


Now doesn't this look like a nice way to spend a winter day?

Right across the street from Thump is Bonta Artisan Gelato.  This place was so crazy good the first night we tried it, that we went back a second time a few nights later. Bonta has gelato made from all organic ingredients.  Many vegan flavors are featured, making it a good place for those avoiding dairy.  Unique flavors including pumpkin spice, marionberry, salted chocolate, peanut butter with chocolate and chocolate lavender tempt customers even as they stroll in from the chilly streets.  The second night I scored a big hit with the fire strachiatella, a chocolate chip and cayenne pepper concoction.  Wow!  The website said they have a pint of the month club....OH SO TEMPTING!

 Yeah, baby!  Natural Artisan Gelato goodness!!

Yeah, we were stuffed from Mexican food, but
when will you be back in Bend???

And when in Oregon, drink like an Oregonian!  After a little lunch back at the condo, Craig and I left our disinterested kids at home and made a return trip to Deschutes Brewery Tasting Room.  There is a tour you can take and we have taken it before, but this time on finding out we were going to have to wait for quite some time, we decided to go straight to the Tasting Room.  The set up is spacious, with a bar, bar tables, and friendly staff.  For free, you can select four beers from a menu of about sixteen choices ranging from the very light Deschutes River Ale to the 12.2% ABV Abyss 2016 Reserve, beer so specially crafted it has a vintage!  As the pours are about 6 ounces, there is plenty to share with a friend if between the two of you you want to try even more by requesting different things.  The beer is good.  Frankly, since coming to Deschutes the first time, we are complete converts to the brewery. My fave is the Inversion IPA, which is available at Nob Hill and Whole Foods here in our neck of the woods.
 I couldn't have said it better myself!!

My choices for the day will be.....

After all this you are ready for a little soak in the hottub and a little homemade mac and cheese while looking forward to better weather on the slopes tomorrow!



WINTER WONDERLAND!

Thank you for reading this post!  Next it's off for a little southern CA jaunt to visit colleges with my daughter.  Don't know if will make the blog, but something's bound to soon!!
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