Gatlinburg TN

Gatlinburg TN
I've been on a HUGE Gatlinburg area kick lately..... Here is a recent picture!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Parrot Sanctuary- Vancouver Island

When I was a lot younger, I had parakeets.  I had 3 of them, one for its entire lifespan of close to a decade and a half, and I had 2 others, at different times, that were adopted.

They were so much fun.  I would get home from school and they would just jump on my shirt or shoulder.  We ended up taking the door off of the cage.  They were truly a lot of fun.

Birds are so sweet, but they are needy.  They do require a lot of attention.  And they can live for a long time.

It is not uncommon for a parrot or other bird to outlive its owner.  And, often, relatives or friends may be unwilling to adopt the bird.

Luckily, the World Parrot Refuge is available to help with this problem. 

We visited the World Parrot Refuge on Vancouver Island and I must say that I am now a huge fan of this place.  We saw many birds (they claim to have over 900).

You buy your ticket in the thrift shop in front of the building where the parrots are at.  The very friendly lady running the shop told us all about the birds, mapping out the building and all.  She gave us ear plugs for one room in particular where the birds are known to get loud.

There are several large hallway/rooms once inside, with various birds all around.

I quickly found several birds that were full of personality.  Many talked very clearly and I feel like I had conversations with many of them.

"Hello" and "Pretty bird" were statements I heard a lot on this day.

Many were so eager to interact with humans in any way.  I saw several sticking their small heads out of the cages to get a better look at the humans coming by.  One did a cute trick where he held on to the cage with his beak, and then moved each leg up and down.  It was adorable!

One bird would stick his small foot out offering to shake hands, and he would say "hello".

Towards the back is a large room where the birds are pretty much in the open.  This is the room where we were warned that the birds might be loud.  We were told about a large blue bird that was pretty much guaranteed to interact with us.

I did notice that some would not go in this room.  One person in our group used the ear plugs, and a bird swooped down and stole one.  The large blue bird did come down and land on us.  In a split second, he bit off a large shiny button on my wife's coat.  Later, he landed on me and was still chewing on the button, passing it from his beak to his foot.

At one point, I was in this room pretty much by myself, and the large blue bird, and two smaller white ones landed on me.

The blue bird was on my right arm, one bird on my jacket collar on the back of my jacket, and one on my left arm.

The small white bird on my left arm was chatty and playful.  He boasted of how pretty he was.  I laughed at him, and he laughed back.  I shook my head at him, and he shook back.  When not talking he was playing with the zippers on my jacket.

I loved the three birds on me, and I hated to leave them.

It did bring me joy to know that they will surely get many human visitors most days.  They probably have an endless supply of buttons and ear plugs.  And they have each other, along with the caring people who run the World Parrot Refuge.

Check out their site.  Make sure you visit if you are on Vancouver Island!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

SteamPunk Cafe and Coffee House- Port Alberni, British Columbia

We drove to Port Alberni on the Monday of our trip through Vancouver Island.  We planned to visit a famous German restaurant that we had heard about.

Unfortunately, the restaurant was not open.  Port Alberni had just received a hammering of snow.  Also, we were visiting on a Canadian national holiday- Family Day (we did not know that the Canadians loved their families so much).  A lot of places were closed.

Luckily, SteamPunk Cafe in Port Alberni was open!

This would have been a fun place to stop for coffee, but we ended up getting soups and sandwiches too!

Check out the photos.  Everything was made fresh, and my tomato soup was super thick and unique!  These guys aren't trying to pass off cheap stuff as their own.

I love the name and decor of SteamPunk Coffee too.  The theme is exciting but not intimidating.  Sci-fi fans will appreciate it, but those unfamiliar with the style won't be scared away.

I talked to owner/operator Kevin for a bit about his creation.  The man is very artsy and obviously cares about quality- in his high quality artwork, and in the equally artistic foods and coffees he makes.  He also took a lot of pride in Port Alberni.

This is another one of those rare coffee shops that I love.  I wish I lived close to SteamPunk.  It would be great to see SteamPunk Coffee franchises, but I know that would never work.  You can't franchise something like this.  The coffee shop itself is a unique piece of artwork.

There is a lot to see on Vancouver Island.  I hope that whenever you are able to explore this part of British Columbia, you make sure you take a moment to relax at SteamPunk Cafe and Coffee House.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Pacific Rainforest Adventure Tours

I mentioned before that we talked to Gary from Pacific Rainforest Adventure Tours earlier in the week.  We reserved our spots for their all day tour across Vancouver Island.

Gary and his wife Ronda picked us up promptly at 7 in front of our room.  A couple of locals joined us on the trip.  Hazel was already in the van.  She has lived everywhere- Florida, Pennsylvania, and England.  Peter joined our group too.  He had a great eye, and pointed out several things we may have missed otherwise on our tour, including birds and deer.  Hazel and Peter both had an appreciation for Vancouver Island and it's natural resources.

Ronda narrated the entire trip which was very impressive.  She covered history, geography, and local politics.  All was fascinating.

Ronda covered the treatment of the people of the First Nations.  Just like in the US, the people who were on the land first were treated harshly.  There were reservations and missionary schools that diluted the culture.

We went through the Port Alberni area, and Ucluelet, making several stops to see plants, animals and artwork.

Some towns have attractive welcoming statues with their arms stretched outward in a welcoming stand.  I really thought this was nice.  I saw similar statues at the Vancouver airport, and I think these are great.  We also saw various totem poles that tell stories.

Eagles were everywhere on Vancouver Island.  Gary pointed out a treeline area where he counted 14!  Before my visit to BC, I had had seen a few, but never more than one at once.

During our day we went on several hikes.  On the Wild Pacific Trail we got a great view of the ocean and of all of the green growth beside it.  There is something very pleasant about walking among lots of trees and looking out at endless water.

Check out our photos of the ocean, with those perfect grey clouds above them.  Luckily, I brought my video camera with me on this trip.

After a few hours, but what seemed like a full days worth of exploring already, we were ready for lunch!

We all went to the Matterson House in Ucluelet.  In addition to being in a cozy old historic home, the place had great food.  Check out the photos.  EVERYTHING was big and fresh.  We had a great salad, club and cod burger here.

AND, as I set with everyone at lunch, I realized how casual and fun this group was.  Gary and Ronda asked us about what we would like to see on this trip.  They asked about if we would like to spend more time at one park than another.  We tried to defer the questions to the locals on the tour, but they cheerfully argued that we were the ones visiting.

Plus, Hazel goes on this local tour often.  Her and Peter both know the area, AND they still enjoy taking Ronda and Gary's tour!  These guys live in the area, and still enjoy exploring.

After that we made our way to The Pacific Rim National Park area to watch more waves.  I thought it was odd that their visitor center was closed for the season.  Still, the beach area that we went to was very accessible and pleasant.

Similarly to the views on the Wild Pacific Trail, just looking at the ocean meeting the sky was unreal.  I think the most shocking thing about this was the fact that there weren't more people around watching.

We went by some other beaches in the area, and we did see a few people surfing, even though it was very cold.  They did have their wet suits on, but the temps still seemed unbearable to me for playing in the water.

The trip was very enjoyable in Gary's roomy tour van.  He and Ronda have done this tour a lot, and they were very prepared for everything.  Beverages were readily available.  Coats, and rain jackets were offered as needed (and we did need them with the frequent weather changes during the day!).  Also, when we had time to look for shells on the beach, Gary had bags!

After visiting several beaches, trails, and other roadside we finished our day on the west side of the island visiting shops in Tofino.  Peter insisted that we visit the gallery of Roy Henry Vickers in Tofino.

We visited briefly and we were impressed.  We were, however, on a bit of a time limit, so we were unable to casually look the way I would have liked.  Anyway, check out Roy's site at:

We did pick up some nice jewelry at the jewelry shop Rubio:

AND we got a discount on some nice items (since we were on Gary and Ronda's tour) at Himwitsa

I should also mention that we stopped by the post office in town, and I talked to possibly the two funniest postal workers ever (I wish I could remember their names).  One of them could do stand up.

Before we completely left the Tofino area, Gary drove us to Chocolate Tofino.  Do you like chocolate?  Seriously do you like chocolate?  Well, this is the place.  We had small cups of their famous hot chocolate.  It was thick and rich and I wish I never had it....  but man do I want another!  It was delicious but I felt so guilty drinking it.  Oh, and we bought some of their candy bars which are just as good.

And, on the way back to the east side of the island (which seems to be about a 2 hour drive) Ronda continued to tell us about local wildlife. 

Gary drove us by two airplanes used to put out forest fires.  The planes are extremely rare.  He told us that one of the five made actually crashed in to a nearby mountain.

At the end of our adventure I had that feeling I always get after a great day- I didn't want it to end.  However, nearly 12 hours had passed since Gary and Ronda picked us up.  We said goodbye to Peter and Hazel.  I told Peter maybe we could all get together and do the trip again someday...  and maybe we will.  I hope to return to the area again, and I would love to repeat this trip with the same company.

We absolutely felt that we got a bargain touring with Pacific Rainforest Adventure Tours.  These guys helped us squeeze in about 2 extra days worth of seeing the Island.  I mean that- I think it would have taken us 3 days on our own to see all that they showed us in one.

Plus, they had access to some areas that most tourists don't.  And, the drive from the Parksville area to the Tofino area is accessible by one road that is very curvy.  Having a local who knows the road was a major bonus.  It would have taken me at least twice as long to navigate this road.

Check out Gary and Ronda's website.  These are fun folks who really enjoy what they are doing, and they are very generous.  On our tour, we missed getting a few shots with our cameras.  Gary and Ronda emailed us over a dozen photos that we asked for.

This was easily one of the all time best tours we have done, and it was a great value for what we paid.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Vancouver Island Part 2

I forgot to mention in my last post about how great things went before we got on the ferry to Vancouver Island.  We got to the ferry site early.  Not being familiar with the process, we went through the ticket area, and a very sweet lady told us that, since the earlier ferry was still lining up, we couldn't get in line just yet.  She told us about some places we could visit in Tsawwassen, giving us directions and all.

Once on the island (we stayed in the Parksville area), we had to figure out what we were going to do.  I had done some research, and I had found several parks that we wanted to go to, but we were still somewhat unfocused.

Luckily, there was a presentation at the resort about things to do on the Island!

We went and had a nice time, as the presenter, Gary, talked about all of the main attractions around Vancouver Island.  Before the talk, we chatted with some other visitors.  They like to travel too.  I thought it was interesting that some of the other travelers mentioned Sedona.  Gary would bring it up briefly in his talk too. 

AND, as we would explore the Island, I started to see a connection to a place like Sedona here.  Not in it's appearance or climate, but in the vibe.  Like Sedona, Vancouver Island is one of those places that you really have to go to to understand it.  I am amazed by pictures of both places, but photos do neither justice.

Gary gave us a lot of ideas about where to visit.  Also, at the end of his presentation, he mentioned that he provides a couple of tours to people wanting to explore.  One of the tours involved an all day trip to the other side of the island (more on that later!).

We took the rest of our day to explore nearby Cathedral Grove, where some trees are 800 years old.  On our tour across Vancouver Island that we would take later, we were told about logging controversies in the area, and also about a parking lot that was almost built for the park.  Luckily, protesters stalled the building of the lot, and eventually flooding in the area helped to influence the parking lot project from going forward.

It was a cold, snowy, and wet day while we were there, but it was amazing.

After that we stopped by Little Qualicum Cheeseworks on Gary's suggestion.

This place was fun too.  They have various cheeses, and you can sample all of them!  I sampled several before I realized that sampling all of them would not be a good idea.  They were all good though, and we bought several, including one that mixed coffee with cheese!  They make wine here too, so we picked up a bottle for friends back home.

This was a great little farm, and I would love to spend more time here the next time we visit!  Check out their site at:

We did some other stuff too.  I was excited to visit a couple of post offices in British Columbia.  The postal workers were very friendly!  I was thanked by one for coming in!  AND, these guys have great stamps!  They release stamps of Canadian musicians!  I bought several Rush and Guess Who stamps!

Near where we stayed, at Pacific Shores Resort, we collected shells on the beach.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Vancouver Island part 1

After visiting most of the states in the US, we have decided to branch out a bit. We are trying to work our way into Canada more!

We have actually spent some time in the north, visiting Toronto and Canadian side of Niagara Falls. When we lived in northern Ohio, we made that trip yearly - at least.

An opportunity came up recently, and we planned a trip to Vancouver Island!

So, I checked Amazon for travel books on the area, and on Canada in general. I REALLY like the "Curiosities" book series (there is one on just about every state, and on several larger cities). I was hoping that the good people at Globe Pequot Press had given Canada the "Curiosities" treatment too. They have not.

One of my other favorite sources of info when I travel had some information too, but not a lot. has a few odd tourist stops noted, but not enough to care about.

I have visited some of Canada's own sites relating to parks and other places.

 Maybe its just that I am used to planning trips to places in the US and I have no real experience with international travel.

I have felt very frustrated about this though. We had a week to spend at a place, but very little planned.

BUT, I have found in the past, that I get the most from life when I have low expectations.

The best fiction books I have read have been randomly selected, usually picked up as a last minute impulse buy on a discount rack.

The best concerts I have been to have been unplanned free or $5 type shows at coffee shops that I have stumbled upon accidentally.

"Maybe my trip to Vancouver Island will be like that. Not very well planned, no expectations" I thought.  And I was right!


We left Kentucky and traded flights in Texas.  We arrived in Vancouver in the early afternoon.  On the airplane to Vancouver, a couple of Canadians heard us mention we were going to the Island. One right next to us told us about various things to do. Another guy actually wrote out directions to some stuff. Very friendly. We had some great views of Vancouver on the plane. The airport was very nice, and decorated. I was getting a good vibe before stepping off of the plane!

We spent the night in Vancouver and drove to the Tsawwassen area the next day to catch the ferry.  Near the ferry are some nice shops, where we found some nice jewelry, shirts and coffee.

On the ferry I did see a killer whale!  That was VERY cool!

OK, before I get too carried away, I will write about my trip in several parts.  There are a few places that I really want to focus on......  More to come in the next day or two!

"Lincoln Legends:Myths, Hoaxes, and Confabulations Associated with Our Greatest President" by Edward Steers Jr.

I bought this book because it looked to be an interesting read relating to some of the various legends surrounding my favorite President, Abraham Lincoln.

Not only did it look interesting, it also looked well researched.  Sources are noted!  I think that is important when it comes to a book like this.

The rumors are addressed by chapters.  It seems that many rumors were started by politicians and others who wanted to make Abe look bad ("Lincoln's Father").  Some were started and spread by people who had an agenda, and wanted it to look like Abe was also on their side ("Was Lincoln Baptized?" and "The Gay Lincoln Myth"). 

There are some strange facts in general here too.  I did not know that the Lincoln "birth cabin" likely has logs mixed in with it from one of his enemies.

Forged documents, people trying to rewrite history, and haters in general fill the pages of this book.  "Lincoln Legends" is just a fun book to read, and it is probably my favorite Lincoln book not written by James Swanson.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

"Bloody Crimes: The Funeral of Abraham Lincoln and the Chase for Jefferson Davis" by James L. Swanson


I mentioned James L. Swanson's other book on Lincoln, "Manhunt" some time ago.  Here is the link-

I REALLY loved Manhunt.  In fact, I would easily rank it among my top five all time favorite books.  Even at a whopping 500 pages, you still want more.

Swanson delivers the "more" with "Bloody Crimes".

Both books center around the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  In "Manhunt" Swanson gives an account of the hiding and traveling of John Wilkes Booth during and after the the events at Ford's Theatre.  In "Bloody Crimes" we learn about the elaborate funeral of Lincoln and the movements of Confederate President Jefferson Davis after Lincoln's death, and the defeat of the South.

Before his death, Abe was asked about what should be done to the Confederate leaders when captured.  In true Lincoln fashion, he basically suggests that they should be allowed to sort of slip away on their own.  Even though Lincoln has passed away by the time Davis is captured, things still work out pretty OK for him.

Concerning the passing of Lincoln, many are mourning the great leader's death, and wanting be a part of his funeral.  A train is used to transport his remains to several cities before getting him to his final resting place in Springfield.  Along the way many tributes are made, and some cities get a bit competitive, trying to outdo other cities in their funeral related displays.  Many areas also compete to be a stopping point for the train.

In the book's prologue, Swanson draws a very interesting picture of the two Presidents, and how each left their office prematurely.  Both had sons who died while each served in their respective White Houses.  There are some interesting parallels.

I have always personally been a huge Lincoln fan, but I have to admit that I am developing some respect for Davis.  Maybe saying that isn't exactly PC these days, but he is no doubt a fascinating character.  Swanson makes it clear that he was an admired political figure even before the Civil War, and with a few small changes in political maneuvering, he may have been a legitimate contender for the title of 16th President.

Swanson mentions that he didn't want to repeat material from "Manhunt" in this book, but he still needed to cover certain events again.  He tries to tell parts of the story (especially concerning Ford's Theatre) in a different way.  He compares this to making a movie sequel by shooting scenes from a first movie at a different angle.  As a reader, I really appreciated this.  The story is still the same, but it is not rehashed.  You are definitely getting more to the story.

Swanson does a great job of giving these characters personality.  In "Manhunt", Booth's ego really comes through.  He refuses to give up and quit, thinking that he has done something heroic.  He comes off as very cocky.  

In "Bloody Crimes" Jefferson Davis also comes off as someone refusing to give up because they believe in their cause, but he seems more humble in many ways.  His love of family and the South are emphasized, as is his willingness to give up everything for the cause.  At one point, he gives away his last coin to a mother who tells him that she named her son after him.  Davis also tries to keep the Confederacy alive, after it is obviously defunct.  Even if you are not a fan of Davis as a historical figure, you can understand him better as a human.

I could actually go on and on about how much I have enjoyed the Swanson books.  Both are must reads and get my highest recommendation.  I think any book crediting the author as James L. Swanson is worth a read.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Jailer's Inn Bed and Breakfast in Bardstown

I have walked past the Jailer's Inn in Bardstown before, but this was my first trip inside.

I have said before that I love going on ghost tours, and the odd historic tour with a bit of a dark side to it.  Well, for $5 the staff at the Jailer's Inn will give you a very nice tour of the site.  We felt this was actually a great deal.

We started our tour in the gift shop.  They had the predictable postcards and trinkets relating to a jail, but there were also some other interesting items to go along with the "crime and punishment" theme.

From the gift shop we moved through to an area where items were displayed from the hangings that occurred at the jail.  Shackles and a black hood were on display, as were photos from the actual hangings.  The presentation was startling and vivid.

From there, we walked through the still well preserved jail area.  One cell is still rented out to overnight guests during the warmer months.  A door used to give inmates their meals is still in that cell's door.  Our tour guide mentioned that one young girl who was serving time there tried to squeeze out of that small door to escape.  She got about half way through and then found herself stuck.

Various homemade weapons were on display. Other inmate made items, such as a key copy and a tattoo pin were there too.

Artwork done by former residents of the jail is on the wall.  My favorite was a painting of playing cards.  VERY nicely done!

Our guide told us a great story about Jesse James relating to the jail.  In fact, there is a photo on display showing Jesse in a family photo with local law enforcement!  It seems Jesse's kin had some authority in the area, and they no doubt had his back!

We were told some stories involving ghosts too, which is a bit standard in Bardstown.  Our guide had a honest feel to her, which gave her stories more credibility than some.

After exploring the cells, the shower area, and other places where criminals were once held, we were taken to the courtyard.

The old stonewall around the courtyard is cozy and private.  Having breakfast here on a summer morning would be great.  However, knowing about the hangings that happened in this area may be a little unsettling for some.  See the photos above for a "then and now" comparison of the back of the jail today....  and a photo of the same spot with a scaffold in front of it.

The Jailer's Inn is right next to the Old Talbott Tavern making the center of Bardstown a great stop for a fan of history.