Monday, April 30, 2012

Animals Who Steal The Scene: Part Three

Cats Around The World

Full disclosure here - I am a cat person, have been forever.  So I notice them when I travel.  Like this lovely tabby above - he was the resident cat in a canal house museum in Amsterdam.(Museum Willet-Holthuysen,)  He was happy to be petted by any visitors to the canal house gardens, purring loudly and cuddling up indiscriminately. He was a pleasant grace note in that historic garden.

And cats seem to be everywhere.  A new study says that cats outnumber dogs as pets, but many of the cats I have seen on my travels have been more like free spirits than somebody's tame kitty.  

In the centre of Rome I was astounded to come upon an important archaeological dig of historic ruins that was densely populated with cats. Torre Argentina is home to about 250 feline friends, sheltered amongst the oldest temples in Rome. 

 Seven days a week, volunteers from different countries feed, clean and look after them. Visitors can help by donating, or even by adopting one of the cats.  You can watch a video of one of the cats, Eva, being bathed lovingly by the staff at Torre Argentina.  She is a rescued cat who cannot wash herself.  Amazing to see all the cats sunning themselves happily in this historic place in the centre of Rome - it is said to be the place where Julius Caesar was stabbed by his friends, with Brutus dealing the first - "Et Tu, Brute?" - and most painful cut.

In New Zealand, I visited a farm and culinary store, where cats lounged in the sun, greeting visitors with haughty dignity.

And in Israel, in the ancient ruins of the city of Massada, where I had climbed in the dawn darkness to be on hand to witness the dramatic sunrise over the Dead Sea, this lazy gentleman was there before me, scratching his back on the ancient stones.
Mexico has its share of cats, and in one of the markets in Puerto Vallarta, I came across a table set up by a group who ran a home for homeless and abandoned cats.  "People drive by and throw kittens over our wall into the garden.  I guess they know we will take care of them." one of the organizers told me.

An artsy cat in an art gallery in Jaffa in Israel was intriguing.  I loved his coloured face, part orange, part black. He had the artistic temperment to go with his surroundings, too - aloof but willing to accept any attention.

This is a beloved cat from Rochester, since passed on.

And these are my girls, sisters who usually get along quite well, unless cat treats are involved.

They are allowed to roam in the back garden, but only on a rope, as the ravine harbours coyotes who have killed cats in the past.
It's clear that cats are worldly creatures.  But so are dogs - the next post's subject.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Animals Who Steal the Scene: Part Two

Reptiles from Around the World: 

Iguana Hold Your Hand.

I was admiring the odd spotted bark on an ancient tree in  Bermuda when one of the spots moved.  The little guy above was curious and beautiful, and stayed still long enough for me to take his photo before he slithered away.

 He was an anonymous reptile, but in Fiji I met one with a reputation. 

His name is Hector and he’s a rare Crested Fijian Iguana found on the island of Malolo in the Mamanuca Islands of Fiji. He was rescued by the people who work at Likuliku Lagoon Resort on the island and he has attained instant celebrity. Guests spend more time visiting Hector than they do the Spa.  He’s one of a highly endangered species, and he seems to know he’s important. He’ll pose, with attitude, for photographs, and there are many guests who track his exploits on face book. He’s probably the most famous iguana in the South Pacific.

 And here's another Fijian iguana, from the nature reserve in Fiji.  This British tourist was a bit nervous about letting him climb on his shoulder.

This next one is a resident of Kaua'i and he was artful enough to pose on a flower of bright red, his exact complimentary colour.  Obviously an experienced poser.

And this fellow with the black tongue lives at the aquarium in Napier, on the South Island in New Zealand.

These little guys may be cold blooded, but they sure have a lot of character, and they seem to love the camera.
Keep an eye out for them on your travels.
Next post - It's A Cat's World!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Animals Who Steal The Scene: Part One

Animals Around The World

The cow above was one of the prettiest cows I have ever met - She had big liquid brown eyes, soft brown and cream coloured ears and a deep musical moo. Around her neck was a bell, and we had been hearing its noise for the last ten minutes of our climb to the top of one of Austria's lovely mountains.  We turned a twist in the trail and there she was, with her cow friends, eating grass, soaking up the warm alpine sun and just generally being bovine.  She is one of my best memories from that climbing expedition to the Austrian Alps.
Which is not to say that I didn't love the scenery, the people I met, the Alpine culinary specialties, the art - all good, but that sweet cow made an impression.  She was a part of the experience.
Listen to her and her friends and see if you don't agree.

Many of the animals I have encountered on my travels have made their impression.  I will never forget the little kitten I found in the souk in Casablanca.  He was so tiny and skinny, and one of his eyes was missing.  He had either been in a fight, or had lost it to infection, but he was obviously sickly and weak.  He was shaking.
The souk was awash in what were probably feral cats, and this one little guy probably had no chance of survival. 

 I couldn't rescue him - I was returning to a ship where I would never get past the security check with a kitten. The poor helpless thing was doomed.  I often think of him.

On Fiji I found two lovely doggies who were having a quiet snooze under the trees on a day that was scorching hot.  They seemed totally comfortable.

 In the desert in Israel I met Rhonda, a rather bad tempered camel with awful teeth but lots of character -
And just outside Quebec City, I met these two handsome gentlemen who pulled my snow sled, and were much more attractive from this angle -

Than from this one.

 Just a few of the memorable creatures I've met on my journeys.  More to come!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Follow The North Star To Freedom

For many slaves fleeing a life of endenturement in the United States, Canada represented freedom. It was the shining Northern star at the end of the Underground Railroad, the secret network of helpers and hiding places that aided runaway slaves on their journey.

Niagara Bound Tours is a tour company that custom designs tours that will explore the history and heritage of Black immigaration in Niagara, with particular emphasis on the slaves who arrived here as a result of their journey along the Underground Railroad.
The tour features several places of interest, including Hariet Tubman's church, the crossing sites of freedom seekers on both sides of the border including the Canadian site of for the crossing of Josiah Henson (Uncle Tom’s Cabin character), and the Welland Canal Centre – home of the permanent Black history exhibit.
Tours can be individual or in groups. The customized tours include a step on guide who is a direct descendant (fifth generation) of a freedom seeker from Kentucky who came to Canada in 1850 settling in the Niagara Region. Recently added are tours of the Buffalo-Niagara Underground Railroad tours as well.
87 Masterson Drive
St. Catharines, ON L2T 3P8

A Margarita by the Falls? Why not?

Photo courtesy of Margaritaville Niagara
Seems so out of season, but sometimes doing the opposite of what is expected has a frisson all of its own.
One of the newest additions to the dining/nightlife scene in Niagara Falls is Margaritaville, one of a chain of Jimmy Buffet's establishments that have honed the art of casual entertainment to a high gloss.
This attractive bar and restauarant has a great patio that shines in good weather, but the view is pretty good from inside, too. And the margaritas are guarranteed to be great. Food is the usual pub grub, tasty and plentiful.
Plus every Wednesday night is Beach Night, so you can wear your flip-flops and pretend.

Photo courtesy of Margaritaville Niagara
It's a nice place to stop in for a drink and nibbles, or for a casual meal. Situated so close to the Falls, it is easy to walk to any of the attractions.

Photo courtesy of Margaritaville Niagara
Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville - Niagara Falls
6300 Fallsview Blvd.
Niagara Falls, ON
Phone: 905-354-1245

Niagara Falls Bird Kingdom

It may be cool and rainy outside as Fall sets in, but inside the Bird Kingdom, the atmosphere is warm and steamy, and the birds are happy to see you.
This family friendly attraction located near the Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls is the perfect place when the family wants an outing and the weather is iffy. Even in good weather, the Bird Kingdom is a pleasure.

(Photo Courtesy of The Bird Kingdom)
It's the world's largest free-flying aviary with hundreds of exotic birds in a climate controlled jungle atmosphere, filled with bird song. Visitors can feed the birds and even hold them, with the help of a trainer.

(Photo courtesy of Bird Kingdom)
There's an historic hand carved Javanese Tea Room as well as a good gift shop.
Why not let everything go to the birds and spend a few hours with our feathered friends? It is fun, educational and good for the soul. Studies say that time spent with nature lowers blood pressure, reduces stress and increases positive emotions.
5651 River RoadNiagara Falls, OntarioL2E 7M7Toll Free: 1-866-994-0090Phone: 905-356-8888

Canada's Bloodiest Battlefield

Old Fort Erie is a place that is of particular appeal right now, as Canada and America prepare to celebrate 200 years of peace, and to mark the end of the War of 1812.

The original Fort Erie was built by the British in 1764, and was improved into the Fort you can visit today in 1805-1807. Over the next seven years, the fort was fought over by both American and British troops, changing hands and being partially destroyed. It was witness to brutal combat that resulted in huge losses on both sides.
Old Fort Erie was the first fort built in Ontario by the British - in 1764 during Pontiac’s Rebellion. The fort was abandoned by American troops in 1814, and subsequently occupied by Britisth troups after the Treaty of Ghent brought an end to the War of 1812. The fort lay in ruins for years, until the Niagara Parks had it rebuilt as a make work project during the Great Depression in 1939. Fort Erie remains Canada's bloodiest battlefield, and stands today as a brilliant and authentic replica of military and domestic life as it was lived in Canada from 1812 to about 1814.

The fort is a truly fascinating place to visit, both entertaining and informative. There are tours of the grounds and the buildings, weekly 'ghost tours', battle recreations, and costumed guides. A perfect destintion for a family outing.
If you are interested in a bit of a fright, consider the following special events at the Fort:
Murder Mystery at Old Fort Erie: September 10 & 11 at 7pm
Experience a murder most foul in the creepy interior of the old stone fort. A different story each night - Friday: "Militia Muster" Saturday: "Wedding in the Fort". Exciting prizes to be won! Adults 13+ $10 per night or $15 for both; Children 6-12 $5 per night or $8 for both. Tours will depart from the front gate of the Fort. Please call for reservations 905-871-7211.

Horseplay on the Beach

Spend the day Horsin' Around!

(Photo Courtesy of Horseplay Niagara)
As another long hot summer weekend - possibly one of the last of the season- approaches, here's an idea of something different to do. Why not take a horseback ride through a cool forest trail or along the beach, maybe with your lover, friend, mate, even your kids? And this is an adventure you can take in any season - it operates all year, with special winter rides that have their own unique charm.
Horseplay Niagara runs trail rides through scenic forests and along the beaches of Lake Erie. There are over 300 acres of trails, and Horseplay Niagara will tailor the ride to fit the riding abilities of the clients. Children as young as 6 can enjoy this experience.

(Photo courtesy of Horseplay Niagara)
There are several types of rides available , including cookouts and sunset rides, and rides can last from one hour to half a day.

(Photo courtesy of Horseplay Niagara)
Horseplay Niagara is only a 30 minute drive from Niagara Falls. So, grab your gear, haul out your cowboy hat, saddle up, and enjoy the outdoors on horseback!

Bargaining, Eh?

Regretably, we are a nation of non-hagglers.

(Photo courtesy of ed yourdon)
Canadians, in general, are not good at bargaining. It's somehow - well - not polite to badger someone into cutting their prices. Bargaining is not a Canadian thing.

(Photo courtesy of tonylanciabeta)
But paradoxically, there is no one who enjoys a bargain more than we do. So what we are good at is searching out the best places, best prices and best buys.

(Photo courtesy of eblaser)
Here's five of the best buys in Niagara Falls, no bargaining or bartering required. (Now that's a real Canadian deal.)
1. The Bundled Attractions Pass: The Niagara Falls and Great Gorge Adventure Pass is a great way to save money. The pass costs 40% less than if you bought four attractions seperately. For $39.95 per adult, and $27.95 per child, between April and October, you get admission to the Maid of the Mist, Journey Behind the Falls, Niagara's Fury and White Water Walk, along with two day's rides on the Peoplemover, an all day on-and-off shuttle service along the Niagara Parkway. Also, you'll receive reduced price admission to the Butterfly Conservatory, Sir Adam Beck 2 Generating Station Power Tour, Whirlpool Aero Car, Old Fort Erie, McFarland House, Laura Secord Homestead and the Mackenzie Printery and Newspaper Museum. An added bonus of the Pass: visit a Niagara Parks Welcome Centre and staff will reserve your times to see several attractions, allowing you to bypass line-ups and feel like a real VIP. You can buy your pass online and print your own, and you can even arrange to download a guide to your MP3 player. Great Value!
2. Free Light Show: The Falls are illuminated 365 days of the year and they are a spectacular sight. Smart visitors find a good spot in Queen Victoria Park to sit on the grass and just enjoy the view. Costs nothing.

(Photo courtesy of diego_3336)
3. A Night on-the-town Bargain ( if you are a female) Rumours Nightclub welcomes all females on Friday night. No cover charge all night for ladies at this popular dance and drinks bar.

(Photo courtesy of Rumours )
4. Gamble on a Great Night Out for 25 cents ( and up): The people watching is great at the Fallsview Niagara Casino. You could spend a night just roaming through the gaming rooms watching the action. But you can gamble yourself - you can bet the minimum amount in one of the one-armed bandits (slots) - 25 cents. If the stars were aligned correctly, you could go home with more money than you spent.

(Photo courtesy of Hamik_Bey)
5. Even a Bargain Hunter Has to Eat: Dining in Niagara Falls can be expensive, but if you are willing to go a little bit away from the Falls area, there are some real dining bargains. For a delicious. filling and affordable meal, try the calzones at Johnny Rocco's Italian Grill on Lundy's Lane. Have a glass of wine, a salad, one of the best calzones in town, and you'll be out of there for under $20.

(Photo courtesy of Dyanna)

Eat Like a Local In Niagara Falls

The locals know where to eat for good reliable food at good prices. That's why, whenever I travel, I try to hang out with some of the neighbourhood characters who will share the secrets of their town with me.
In Niagara Falls, there are a huge number of places to dine, many of them on the touristy side, and many of them more expensive than they should be. If you want to avoid the fast food route without breaking the bank, there are several delicious choices, but you may not find them on the standard tourist list.
Here's a few of the places that a friendly resident of Niagara Falls would direct you to, if you asked him where to get a great meal at a reasonable price:

Betty's Restaurant

(Photo courtesy of Betty's Restaurant)
This casual and unassuming restaurant has been in the Chippewa neighbourhood for over forty years and has been an enduring favourite for families in Niagara Falls for a reasonable and filling meal. Famous for their fish and chips ( $11.99) and their generous slices of Trudy's homemade pies ($3.29) this is a perfect place for a relaxed dinner with the kids. The decor is simple and the service is fast and friendly.

Napoli Ristorante & Pizzeria

(Photo courtesy of Napoli Pizzeria)
There's an explanation for the abundance of really fine Italian restaurants in Niagara Falls. A large influx of Italian immigration in the early part of the 1900's and again after the second world war brought many Italians to Canada. The Niagara area has the largest concentration of Italians in the country and the culinary scene has reaped the benefits. When in doubt in Niagara Falls, choose an Italian Restaurant and chances are you will have an exceptional meal. Napoli's is one of the long time places where the food is freshly prepared, with Italian zest. The gnocchi are freshly made and the pizzas are excellent. The Classic basic pizza with tomato and mozarella, a bargain at $8.50, is a great choice. Pair that with a fresh salad, a glass of wine and some good Italian bread, and - Cia, Bella! -you have some good eats.

Johnny Rocco's Italian Grill

(Photo courtesy of Johnny Rocco's Italian Grill)
This is the place for calzones - those half-circle stuffed pizzas that are filled with meat, vegetables, or cheese, then folded over to resemble a large turnover, baked and served with tomato sauce. Try "Johnny Rocco's Choice ", with mozzzarella, kalamalta olives, mushrooms, hot peppers, pepperoni, proscuitto and chicken ($13.99). The pizzas and calzones are done in a super-hot pizza oven. Sit out on the patio, enjoy a good cold beer, and try a calzone. Lovely.
These are three of the "frequently-frequented by locals" restaurants that will give you a more intimate, less big chain, dining experience in The Falls.
Tell them a local sent you.

Lunchtime for Butterflies

A Peaceful Place in the Middle of a Busy Tourist Mecca - The Butterfly Conservatory

(Photo courstesy of Barbara Ramsay Orr)
- Need a quiet retreat? A reaffirmation of the beauty of the natural world? A dose of rejeuvenating greenery? Get thee to the Butterfly Conservatory , a totally pleasurable place to visit. Photographers will go crazy here, and kids will be mezmerized.
The Niagara Parks Commission runs this idylic place. There are winding pathways that curve through lush tropical greenery and flowers and, all around you, in the damp and warm air, are over 2000 free-flying butterflies, from more than 65 different species.

(Photo Courtesy of Barbar Ramsay Orr)
Food for the soul, ladies and gentlemen, and total eye candy. Better than meditation for clearing the head. An hour spent here reaffirms the splendor of nature, reminds us that there are wonders to be seen and that the world is good.
There's also a unique gift shop. Be prepared to shed a few layers of clothing - it's warm in here, just as the butterflies like it to be.

(Photograph Courtesy of Barbara Ramsay Orr)