Monday, August 2, 2021

CLASSIC TRIP: England, Ireland, Belgium 2005 - Part 2

Blarney Castle

Previously, terrorists had bombed London and transportation was in a chaotic state..

On to Ireland. From our hotel, it’s a quick bus ride to Fullham-Broaday Underground station. The District Line takes us two stops to Earl’s Court station where we change to the Picadilly Line to Heathrow.

At the airport, we just change to the Heathrow Express train to get to Terminal 4, home of Aer Lingus. Everything at Heathrow involves a very long walk and this is no exception. On top of that, security barriers placed about 24 inches apart block entrance to the train platform. There is no signage for wheelchairs as to how to proceed.

We find an employee who uses a key to remove a security barrier allowing us to proceed to the train platform. A quick ride and we’re at Terminal 4.

Heathrow is one of the world’s busiest airports. This is made obvious when you enter the check in area and thousands of people are milling about. We find the Aer Lingus check-in counter and proceed through the process. After this, we head to security to go to the departure hall.

One thing I don’t like about Heathrow is that you are not told what gate you will be departing from. You must watch the departure monitors and about a hour before your flight, the gate number will be posted there. Until then, you wait in the departure hall.

At Heathrow, this is really just a very crowded shopping mall with very limited seating. If you want to shop, I guess it’s ok. If you just want to rest until your flight, you’re pretty much out of luck.

As our luck would have it, our flight was delayed. It wasn’t until two hours later that the departure gate was listed and then it was another very long walk to the gate (forty minutes). By the time we arrived, boarding was commencing and the helpers were no where to be found. Of course, this made us last to be boarded and the crew insisted that our son Tim have a window seat (in the back of the plane) which turned out to be just impossible to accomplish due to the very limited room between the seats and his weight (145 lbs.)

A stalemate developed between the crew and us. They wanted us to take another flight that wasn’t so full where the seating could be more properly arranged. We didn’t. This flight was already two hours late and counting. The captain had to come out and give his ok that Tim could have an aisle seat instead.

Once we pushed back and took off, it was about forty minutes to Cork in southern Ireland. Cork, at this point in time, has no jetways (construction is under way so this will change soon). Instead, we had to wait on board until the food service truck arrived. We were deplaned on the food service truck.

This was one of the worst flights, with matching service, that I’ve ever encountered. In addition to the previous, everything on board…from peanuts and soda to wine and beer…has to be purchased at high prices. Luckily, it’s a short flight.

Everybody has a bad day, and I’m hoping that’s the case this time, but this whole experience will be repeated almost exactly in three more days.

Finally, off of the plane. The airport personnel, including customs and immigration, are very competent and friendly. We quickly clear the passport control (Ireland uses a cool green ink for their stamp) and pick up our rental car from Hertz. It’s a nice SEAT wagon with room in the back for the chair, CD, radio, and A/C. It has a manual transmission which means that I will be doing all the driving (auto costs an extra $100)

For this portion of our trip, we’ll be staying in Limerick, about an hour’s drive north of Cork. More on that later.

After leaving the airport and finding our route with only one minor misdirection, we head north on the motorway to our first stop, Blarney.

The motorway to Blarney is a modern superhighway but once we exit, we get our first taste of typical Irish roads. Wow! It must be a real adventure to be a passenger while driving on these roads. I wouldn’t know because for a driver used to American roads, it’s just terrifying.
Most of the roads here are very narrow, maybe one to one-and-a-half of a lane wide when compare to U.S. roads. About 90% of these roads have no shoulders, only tall hedges or stone walls block all view around turns. Oh yeah, they are two-way roads that have many large trucks, tourist buses, and farm equipment using them. When arriving in a town, the hedges and walls are replaced by vehicles parked on both sides. Usually, these vehicles are parked half on the sidewalk with the other half in the road. Some towns we encountered also had festivals or flea markets that also took place in these still open roads.

So, for the remainder of this report, we’ll just boil the above paragraph to the above code when encountering the Irish roads: Irish road…AAHHH!

Blarney is our first Irish village (Cork is a large and modern city). It’s a pretty as you’d expect. Once through the town, you drive down a small driveway to the car park for Blarney Castle. The castle is located in a large park, which has a nominal entry fee of 7 Euros. There are not a lot of facilities here for wheelchair users. Consequently, disabled and one care giver (carer) are free so we ended up only paying one admission.

From studying up on the castle’s web site, it seemed that the famous Blarney Stone was up on the second story. Just maybe, I thought, I could man-handle Tim up there so he could kiss it but reality is much different.

Actually, it’s about ten stories to the top of the castle…a long, arduous climb up worn, slippery, small, narrow, circular stone staircases with only a rope dropped down the center to steady yourself. There is no way to get someone who cannot walk up ot the top.

My wife and I took turns going up while the other kept Tim company at the bottom. If you can get to the top, what you’re rewarded with is a grand view of the park and countryside and, of course, the right to kiss the stone.

Darryl Kissing the Blarney Stone

Legend has it that this stone was the pillow that Jacob layed his head on when he had his dream of the ladder going to heaven. It is supposed to impart magical powers upon those who kiss it. Specifically, you’re granted the gift of eloquence, or the “gift of gab.”

You cannot just go up and kiss it. You must do it properly. This involves laying on your back, staring up to the sky, and bending your head back to kiss it upside down. There is about a one foot gap (protected by iron bars) to stretch across the void to the ground far below. A gentleman there will steady you. It is good form to leave him a Euro or two for a tip. A photographer will snap that instant of the kiss and you can buy a copy on your way out. You can also bring your own camera for free.

Almost as daunting as the climb up is the climb down, against traffic. I really felt for the dad whose son got to afraid to continue and had to carry him down.

We also noticed about this time that it was really warm here. No, not just warm, hot.

Accompanying this was heavy humidity. It really felt like Charleston in August. I have been assured that this is very rare for Ireland and we just happen to hit it during this heat wave.

Gingerly, I drive back toward the motorway to continue to Limerick. Maybe ten miles later, the motorway fades into a two lane road for the rest of the way.

Following the hotel’s directions, we end up on the west side of town driving along the River Shannon into the city. We eventually found our hotel but with difficulty. I think the directions could have basically said the hotel was in the heart of the city next to the bridge and it would have been easier.

We are at another Jury’s Inn. This room is not as big or luxurious as the one in London. The accessible room could only sleep two but, to their credit, the management gave us an adjoining room for no extra charge so it was like having a suite. The only amenity missing from this room as compared to London was air conditioning. I’m told this usually isn’t a problem here but there is that pesky matter of the hot and humid heat wave we’re currently experiencing.

Location is great, right in the middle of the city, across the street from the river. There’s a nice pub, Schooner’s, next to an excellent Italian restaurant right on the river, across from the hotel.

Having Drinks at Schooners

In the summer, the day ends after 10:00pm so sundown drinks at the pub last well into the night. We had dinner, drinks, and came back to bed. At 11:30pm on this Sunday night…right outside our open (due to no A/C) window…road workers commenced jack hammering in the street. Oy, what a racket. They finished around 2:00am. At 4:00am, a group of drunks started singing very loudly on the sidewalk.

With but a few hours of sleep under our belt, we make our way north heading for the Cliffs of Moher along the coast south of Galway. Along the way, we get into a big traffic jam in the town of Ennis. The bad thing about traffic jams here is that there is usually no alternat route. There is one road through town. In it’s defense, it appears that Ennis is building a bypass that will alleviate this in the future.

The reason for the traffic today is because there is a big hurling match going on. What is hurling? Haven’t got a clue, but a bit more on that later.

After we edge through the jam, we make a stop at Knappogue Castle. According to my pre-trip research, this is the most accessible castle I could find in Ireland that allows visitors. We pass through the very pretty village of Quinn, home to some impressive church ruins, and pull into the castle’s grounds just beyond.

It’s a quiet day here, I think only two other groups of visitors are here. We pay the entrance fee and a groundskeeper deploys a ramp so we can get in the front door. Being over 500 years old, access wasn’t included in the original build out so only the first floor is accessible. On this floor, you get to see the main hall with it’s large fireplace, the large banquet room, and a view of the chapel. Upstairs, there is a personal chapel and another ballroom.

Knappogue Castle

It is dark and smoky smelling in the main entry hall. Eerily, my camera won’t work in flash mode and I can’t get a good picture. As soon as I’m out of the castle, it works. Take it back inside, no flash. I have no explanation as to why this is.

The groundskeeper takes us on a little tour of the first floor and then accompanies me up to the top of the castle to show me some of the features up there. There are picture-postcard perfect views from the top of the surrounding Irish countryside with emerald green rolling hills dotted with cows.

After spending an hour or two here, we hop back in our little rental car and continue on arriving at the seaside village of Lahinch.

Due to the unrelenting heat wave, it seems that everybody in Ireland does just what we’d do in America on a hot, humid day…head to the beach. There is jammed traffic with cars parked everywhere restricting the already narrow roads. Gingerly, we make our way through it and continue on the short drive to the Cliffs of Moher. Massive crowds, many tour buses and not a parking spot to be found greet us. We also note the long, unpaved trail up to the top of the cliffs and reluctantly come to the conclusion that this just won’t be possible to see. It takes another five miles until we can find a spot wide enough for us to turn around.

Not wanting to completely waste the trip, lunch is had at the village of Kilconnel, overlooking Liscannor Bay and Lahinch. The food, pasta mainly, is very good.

Remembering the intense traffic in Ennis for the hurling match, I opt to take the coastal route instead. Lazily, we wind around the western Irish coast until we make it to the River Shannon. It’s not long until we reach the ferry crossing at Killimer. A twenty-minute cruise across this beautiful waterway and we alight in Tarbert, just a short drive along the river’s south bank back to Limerick.

Adare proclaims itself the “prettiest village in Ireland.” That’s quite a claim considering the many charms of every Irish village we’ve been to. We have to take a look and it’s only about an hour’s drive from Limerick.

It’s an early start today and we decide we’ll get breakfast when we get there. Just after the massive Adare Manor hotel (looks like an awesome place to stay), we cross the river next to the castle ruins, and – just like that – we’re in the heart of Adare.

It is indeed beautiful with its block of preserved thatch-roofed houses and pretty park with the creek running through it. It seems we’re about half-an-hour early for anything to be open though.

The only place we find for breakfast is a little counter inside the visitor’s center that serves good food but not with the smiles we’ve so far encountered on our visit.

After eating, we walk through the town shopping and snapping pictures. That’s about the gist of it. Once the place opened up, it was pretty much taken over by the tour buses and the hoards they dispensed. We were now two for three with major Irish sites we wanted to see; loved Castle Blarney, disappointed in Cliffs of Moher and Adare.

We continued on to drive through the nearby countryside with a minor goal or reaching Tipperary. It’s not so much we wanted to see the small city of Tipperary, just that on the map it seemed like there was much Irish countryside to go through along the way. Indeed, in this case it was not the destination that mattered but the journey.

This was the best decision of the Irish leg of our trip. As soon as we let go of the recommendations of friends, guidebooks, and travel web sites, Ireland opened up to us as it had so far eluded us.

Village upon beautiful village greeted us as we went along. Castles, ruins of castles, ruins of abbeys, and little Irish rivers greeted us around every turn devoid of other tourists. A stop in a random pub was an invitation to make a new Irish friend. Finally, we’d found the Ireland we’d come to see.

Bruree, Ireland

Not long before we’d reach Tipperary, we crested a hill and had to pull over at the absolutely breathtaking vista that greeted us. Thankfully, the townsfolk here had built a small parking area and picnic tables at this very spot.

Words cannot describe this but I’ll give it a try. Black draft horses with shiny coats grazed on the grassy hillside in front of a sparkling river full of rapids and a tiny little canyon (maybe fifty feet long) full of little waterfalls. On the far bank, small houses painted in many colors faced us. At the east end of this village was the remains of an ancient castle, a turret covered in vines. At the other end was an old stone millhouse, its large water wheel long since retired but resting peacefully on the side of the building. The river makes a lazy, horseshoe turn around the old mill, cascading over the rocks as a local boy dips a line in to see if he can catch a fish.  This is the village of Bruree.

Idyllic Scene at Bruree

I just wanted to stop and stay here the rest of the day. As we were sitting in our little grassy spot, a local stopped by and invited us to the town’s little museum. We didn’t make it there but whiled away the time talking to the local gentleman before moving along.

In Tipperary, a pretty large city by Irish standards, lunch is gathered up at a collection of stands surrounding a parkling lot just off of the main street. Our plan is to head generally back toward the direction of Limerick and find a lonely castle to picnic at. It’s not long before we find it along the side of the road sitting in a small, grassy field net to a cow pasture.

Our Picnic Spot

This is the Ireland we’ve come to find. Picture postcard villages and ruined castles to lazily snack in front of. Friendly locals and lively pubs. All devoid of tour buses and hordes of people.

Back in Limerick, we visit St. John’s castle, an imposing fortress over the River Shannon. About half of the castle, really more of a fort, is accessible for wheelers but a major obstacle is the large courtyard which is covered in loose gravel. A lift takes you to the museum on the second floor and docents bring inaccessible exhibits out to disabled patrons. In our case, a docent brought out the exhibit on minting coins which is located in the basement of one of the turrets.
The evening is spent again having drinks at schooners while a local band entertains the pub crowd. This was our perfect day in Ireland, and also our last

It's not over yet, come back and have a beer with us as we travel to Belgium for part 3.

Copyright 2009 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, August 1, 2021

The Cocktail Hour - Hurricane

Below is the video for the Hurricane but read the recipe at the bottom for an extra ingredient that made it much better.
The Hurricane is the classic New Orleans drink.  Sold in take-out windows so you can drink while perusing the French Quarter, it's a very tasty thirst quencher.  It's also quite potent.  Many of the recipes I found called for up to six different spirits (yikes!), so I experimented a little before coming up with this lighter version...that is if you can still call something with two shots of rum in each drink light.

In the video above, I used a different grenadine than I usually do.  It was weak and wouldn't hold its color so the drinks came out orange.  In the recipe below, I added cranberry cocktail.  It not only gave the drink its usual red color but also boosted the taste considerably.

HURRICANE - Two Drinks

2oz - light rum
2oz - dark rum
1 1/3 oz - lime juice
splash of passion fruit syrup
1/2 oz simple syrum
1/2 oz grenadine
2oz - orange juice
1oz - cranberry cocktail

Mix all ingredients in a shaker 1/3 filled with ice.  Strain into two old-fashioned glassed half filled with ice.



Friday, July 30, 2021

CLASSIC TRIP: England, Ireland, Belgium 2005 - Part 1

Aftermath of Bombing
Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Francis Tyers under CC BY-SA 3.0 license

Just about 16 years ago...on July 6, 2005...the IOC met in Singapore to award the 2012 Olympics to the chosen city. We were in London that day and there were a lot of celebrations...then the next day, the world turned on its head.   Read on to see what happened when we were in London, July 2005...

It was to be a memorable time to be in the city.

Our airline for the LAX to Heathrow portion this time was American Airlines. The service was good and the seats were wider and more comfortable than the last trip we took on Virgin Atlantic. For us, comfort and adequate service beat out Virgin’s amenities which include better service, better food, and vastly better entertainment enroute.

Our hotel for this first leg of the trip was Jury’s Inn in Chelsea…just a couple of miles west of the heart of London. Jury’s Inn is part of the Jurys Doyle chain, an Irish company that has hotels throughout the British Isles. It is in a very quiet area that is being built up on top of the old gas works. It’s a quick bus ride to the shops and pubs of Chelsea and the accessible Fullham-Broadway Underground station which provides quick links to the rest of the city.

The room featured a double bed with a fold out sofabed that would sleep three adults in comfort. Air conditioning, cable TV, radio rounded out the standard amenities. The room was large by European standards (about the size of an average budget U.S. motel room), well laid out, and featured a very large bathroom with a roll-in shower. Our cost was £59 per night (about $80 US)

A bus ride to the Fulham-Broadway tube station. A ride on the district line to Westminster station. A ride on the Jubilee line to the Kilburn station. Finally, another bus ride to Abbey Road.

Londoner’s may be sad that the old Roadmaster double-deckers are being retired, but wheelchair users aren’t. The new replacements…double-decker, articulated, or smaller regular buses…are wonderfully accessible. A ramp deploys from the back door and a space is reserved.

This round-a-bout journey is what it takes to get a wheelchair from our hotel in Chelsea (Jury’s Inn) to the Beatles studio located at 3 Abbey Road, a ways north of Hyde Park.

Our first stop on this trip is to recreate the picture in the crosswalk that graces the cover of the Beatles Abbey Road album. We take notice of the studio in the smallish, neat white building just to the north of the crosswalk and read the grafitti on the wall in front and the road sign across the street.

Mainly a spot to take pictures, there is not a whole lot more to do here so we walk towards Lord’s Cricket Ground nearby. Tours are being given but at this time the sky opens up and a heavy, cold rain begins to fall.

We decide it’s time to take this journey indoors.

I hail a taxi and we head over to Harrod’s.

The famous department store is huge – get a map at the information counter near the northeastern entrance. Five floors of expensive clothes, appliances, furniture and more. The food hall is impressively expansive, drool inducing, and expensive. The seating, along counters, is unfortunately not friendly to the wheelchair user. It is a little telling that the most crowded counter was the Krispy Kreme stall.

The rest of the store’s departments are housed in smaller rooms. They were having a big sale that day. I remember as we passed through the women’s clothing department a rack of blouses that were 50% off. I checked the price of a random blouse. It had indeed been priced at half off. The original price of 800 pounds ($1,416) was now 400 ($708).

Luckily, there is not a charge to go in and look.

It’s Wednesday, July 6th. We’re at Covent Garden passing time until the matinee performance of the Producer’s starts up the street.

A limbo dancer is entertaining the crowds for tips when a group of fighter jets roar low overhead. It is at his precise moment, thousands of miles away in Singapore, that the International Olympic Committee announces that London has been awarded the summer Olympic games for 2012. The jets, streaming red, white, and blue smoke are part of the celebration taking place a few blocks away at Trafalgar Square.

It is a joyous moment.

We go on to see our play. The wheelchair seating is excellent, twelve rows back from the stage. The staff at the theatre is also excellent and one usher is assigned to us to take care of all our needs such as getting to the restroom and even bringing drinks in. The play itself is quite good and funny. Ticket prices, as they always are in London, are a bargain compared to Broadway. Less than $100 for all three tickets.

We have found that for matinees, you really don’t need to plan that far in advance except for the most popular shows, early in their runs. I called upon arrival in London and easily reserved three tickets to this show which I picked up at Will Call. Previous trips I have used e-mail from the states, which turned out not to be really necessary. You may want to call direct a couple of weeks ahead of time if you want to go on a traditionally busy time such as Friday or Saturday night.

After the play, we start hitting pubs and celebrate the culmination of the years long struggle to get the Olympics with London’s locals. We end the evening at the Bar Room Bar on King’s Road having pizza and shooting pool with the regulars.

This is the day we are to go see the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. While getting ready, Tim notes that the BBC is reporting an explosion in the Liverpool Street Underground station. BBC is reporting that it was caused by an eletrical surge.

All cleaned up, we catch a bus to Fulham-Broadway to start our day. Not having had any breakfast and noticing that there is a Starbuck’s in the station, we strong-coffee starved Americans decide to have some coffee and muffins to start our day.

At the counter, the server asks if I want it for here or to take away. Not really thinking about it, I say it’s for here and our coffee comes in ceramic mugs. My wife, not too pleased with this, asks why I didn’t take it to go so we could just take it with us on the train. I don’t really have an answer and we take a few minutes to drink our coffee before leaving.

After we finish, we head over to the station nearby down the hall. The worker there is closing the gate over the front of the station and putting a sign up outside that says “Entire Underground closed due to security alert.”

The crowds gather outside and I keep hearing more talk about the electrical surge. We go out front and try to catch a bus into London but no driver will let us on. Frankly, I’m starting to get a little PO’d at this but calmer heads prevail and we head back to the hotel where maybe we can catch a water taxi.

Since we’re there, we decide to stop at our room and go to the bathroom before continuing on. Tim turns on the TV and there is the bright red banner on the BBC with a large and frightening caption: “TERRORISTS BOMB THE UNDERGROUND”

Much like US crisis reporting, many rumors abound while facts are being gathered. First, it’s an explosion near King’s Cross. Then it’s six explosions throughout London. Soon it’s up to seven. There is a rumor that a bus has just been blown apart. At least two people are “reported” dead with many injured. Now it’s up to four dead.

Within the hour, London’s police chief is on the air saying that everybody needs to just stay where they are…do not travel at all. All Underground and bus service has been halted.
Of course, now we know that four bombs went off that day. Three in the Underground and one in a bus killing 56 and injuring hundreds more.

While it was probably planned to coincide with the G8 summit taking place at the same time, it was sheer coincidence that Rudy Guilani just happened to be eating breakfast about a block away from one of the explosion sites.

For us, most of the day is spent in the hotel bar where a big screen is set up on the BBC and the stranded guests watch the horrible news. Later that evening, local bus service in Chelsea is running again so we’re able to go about a half-mile into town to have a pub dinner.

Trapped on the Underground
Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Adam Stacey under CC BY 2.5 license

Although stuck at the hotel and the surrounding are for the day and having our trip to Greenwich cancelled, we are very thankful that we took a few extra minutes before boarding the train. I would hate to think of trying to evacuate the Underground at non-accessible station or, even worse, through a tunnel.

It was a sad day but the locals put up a good front, were still friendly (although understandably miffed at the perpatrators), and the hotel staff very understanding. Besides the direct victims, those who got the worst of it were the thousands of London workers who had to walk many miles home that night.

The rallying cry throughout the city today is get back to what your’re doing. Don’t let them shut us down. London is open, come and enjoy. This is what you can do to support us.

Back on the Tube at Fulham Broadway

With that in mind, we took to the streets and underground and continued on. Today, we take the tube from Fulham Broadway to Wimbledon. This is actually one station beyond the famous tennis club but the closest accessible station. We are able to catch an accessible bus from the station wich drops us off immediately in front of the All England Lawn Tennis Club.

There is a museum here with many tennis artifacts such as the Wimbledon trophy, shoes, rackets, clothes (all worn and autographed by such stars as Venus Williams and Boris Becker), plus representations of Wimbledon over the years. There is a well-stocked gift shop but the highlight is actually going downstairs to visit Centre Court, home to the Wimbledon tennis tournament finals.
Centre Court, Wimbledon

Wheelchair users are escorted by a security guard and are able to get right up to the edge of the grass. The Royal Box is pointed out. We were there just about a week or so after the tournament ended and noticed the worn spots of grass that were reminders of what had taken place here recently.

Back on the tube, we navigated back to Fulham Broadway where we catch another train to Kew Gardens. It’s an accessible station here but on arrival, wheelchair users must take a two-block detour, cross a traffic bridge, and then continue on about three blocks to the gardens entrance. Upon departing, you do not have to make the two-block detour to the station.

Kew Gardens is a fantastic and large botanic park. It is a royal palace and the grounds seemingly go on forever. There are many highlights here and there is no way we can see them all.

Today, we concentrate on the large, glass hothouses which contain tropical plants from around the world. The day we were there came in the middle of an exhibit of original works by glass sculptor Dale Chihuly. His works were extraordinary and were scattered around the grounds and mixed in with the plants in the greenhouses. Of particular interest were the large chandeliers hung in each of the greenhouses.

There is a nice cafeteria here where you can dine on pastas, sandwiches, fruit and wash them down with a glass of wine or a bottle of ale.

This is our last full day in London, tomorrow we move on. We have a dinner at the Rose, a local Chelsea pub, and call it a day.

...Stay tuned for Part 2 and the Emerald Isle.
Copyright 2009 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Recipes for a Cheapskate: Poppin' Peppers

Too many things to do this weekend to really get the dirt under my fingernails but I did get to harvest my jalapeño plant.

As the peppers were starting to turn bright red, that signaled that the time had come.

I got 13 peppers, just enough to make into a side dish for this week's barbecue.
So what can I do? Make mini jalapeño poppers.
Easy in concept but the smaller size of these peppers make a bit hard to stuff.

Each pepper is sliced on one side, propped open, and stuffed with my homemade mixture of cream cheese, chopped serrano peppers, and bacon.

I wrap them up in foil, poke a few holes in the top, and then put on the grill with our burgers.

The finished product looks something like this.

Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, July 26, 2021


"There's a little hotel called the Shady Rest at the junction...Petticoat Junction!"

People of a certain age (like me) will remember those lyrics from the opening credits of the sitcom Petticoat Junction, a part of a trio of "rural" themed comedies along with The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres.

The opening featured the Hooterville Express train that connected the towns in the series. The train and the area used in filming is located right here in Jamestown, a Gold Rush era town in California's Tuolumne County.

Jamestown is a small, unicorporated town that lives in the shadow of it's bigger and more famous nearby neighbors, Columbia and Sonora (which is the county seat). The population is growing and, at almost 3,500, is almost up to the historic peak population of 4,000 during the height of the Rush after a period of decline.

Founded in 1848, gold was discovered one mile west at Woods Creek. Colonel George James, a local merchant, was elected Alcalde (it was recently part of Mexico and they still used the Spanish titles at the time) and the town was named after him.

In 1897, the railroad came into town to haul lumber for local lumber companies. A large roundhouse and turntable were built in 1910 and is one of the few operating examples left in the country. 

In 1929, the movie The Virginian was filmed here starting a long history of the railroad being used in the movie and TV industries. Credits include Back to the Future Part III, The Wild, Wild West, and Little House on the Prairie.

The railroad was made a California Historical Landmark and State Park in 1992 and is part of the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento. The Sierra Northern Railroad continues to operate freight operations between Jamestown and Oakdale where it connects to the Union Pacific system.

Our visit starts with a trip to the state park, which is called Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. While we can visit and explore the grounds, the Covid restrictions are still in place and no train rides are operating. However, as time has passed since our visit and publication, the trains are running again.

Wheelchair users can ride the train, call the park at (209) 984-3953 a couple of days ahead of time to arrange it. Excursion rides take place on weekends and on select Wednesdays through the summer.

It's midweek, the pandemic restrictions are still pretty much in effect, so...besides the's just the three of us here today. We head over to the roundhouse where a docent is happy to have someone to show around.

We're shown some of the famous movie locomotives, including the Petticoat Junction and Back to the Future trains, and taken over to a barn full of props.

Outside, we see the turntable, then over to the tracks where the trains run in better times before heading back into the station and gift shop.

Downtown Jamestown is just a couple of blocks away. We while away some timein the antique shops, a candy store, and a mining supply store where you can pan for gold then buy the pan.

Dining rooms are still closed but we can eat outside. The Service Station has a beer garden out back where we have some delicious, hot pretzels along with some cold beer.

A central parking lot in town provides a nice place to park along with holding the town's old jail.

While Letty spends some more time shopping, Tim and I wander down the short main street, checking out old buildings and getting ideas for restaurants when everything is open again.

It's a sleepy town while we're there but now the state is more or less open again. The trains are running and the dining rooms are open. 

Jamestown makes a great place to spend a day, especially as a side trip while visiting Columbia and Sonora.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2021 - All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

The Cocktail Hour - Tequila Sunrise

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Lynt under CC-BY-SA license

The Tequila Sunrise is a very visual drink, the name coming from the effect of the red grenadine sitting on the bottom of the orange drink, giving it the illusion of a sunrise.  It's a great change-of-pace beach drink when you get tired of the saltiness of your margarita or the heaviness of your pina colada.  Being that it's full of orange juice, it's also a great source of vitamin C while you sitting in the sun (hey, gotta bring the positives!).

Watch the Video!

The problem I've had with this drink in the past is that the classic juice, tequila, and grenadine only...has left me with an aftertaste that can best be described as "children's aspirin" taste...the St. Joseph's effect.  It tastes good, but that aftertaste is a bit annoying.  Even at the great bars that dot the beaches of Mexico, I still had that taste.  The recipe below is my adaption of the classic and uses pineapple and lime juice to eliminate that aftertaste.


2 oz. - tequila
2-3 oz. - orange juice
2-3 oz. - pineapple juice
spash of lime juice
splash of grenadine

Take a highball glass and fill 2/3 with crushed ice.  Pour in the tequila.  Fill about halfway to the top with orange juice.  Pour in a splash of lime juice or squeeze half a fresh lime into the glass.  Complete the fill of the glass with the pineapple juice.  Stir the contents.  Pour a splash of grenadine along one side...note - do not pour over the top of the drink...the grenadine is denser than the liquid in the glass and will soon sink to the bottom.  Do not stir the drink, you want the grenadine on the bottom when you serve so you get the sunrise effect.  Once you start drinking it, it will mix in but let your guests to the mixing or you'll just end up with a pink drink.



Friday, July 23, 2021

CLASSIC TRIP: Las Vegas II, Nevada - 2002

We're going to wrap up the Las Vegas part of our salute to Nevada with this other trip to Sin City.  This is also new to the blog and was taken about six months after our previous trip.  Enjoy...

So we had a chance to stay at Mandalay Bay which has, by most accounts, Las Vegas' best pool.  We arrived during the last week in July and were looking forward to staying at one of the city's premiere resorts...

Around 1:00pm, we pull into the valet parking area at Mandalay Bay.  That in itself is quite a feat for first timers because it is very hard to find.  There is a line of about five cars and a sign saying "sorry, lot full".  A parking attendant comes along and asks us to roll down our window.  He says it will be about five minutes and we'll be able to pull in.

True to his word, about five minutes later he's back, guiding us in.  I tell him we have a ramp and to please put us somewhere I can deploy it.  He says ok and proceeds to put us 2 feet from the car next to us with no room for the ramp.  I then ignore him and pull forward to where I can open the ramp...I figure if he can ignore my request, I can ignore his.  No one makes any kind of deal about this and we proceed to get out of the van.

About ten minutes later, a bellman comes up and takes our luggage and we go to registration to check in. 

There is a HUGE crowd at the check in counters.  

Here is the first place I see where Mandalay Bay could improve itself.  There are around fifty check-in counters open.  Instead of having one line and whoever is next in line go to the next open window (like an airport or a bank), they insist that each counter have its own line.  Too bad if your counter person is very slow and you didn't get in the line with the fast person.

Check in goes very, very slow.  An hour and fifteen minutes later we finally get up to the counter, get our keys, and go up to our room.

Our roomy ninth floor room is very nice.  Two queen size beds and floor to window ceilings.  A 27" TV in a amoire, his and hers closets, and a big bathroom.  The bathroom has a tub and a separate shower.  There are two sinks, all the toiletries you could ever want (plus more), and the toilet is in its own separate little room with a phone.

OK, so we call up the bell desk to get our luggage.  Just a few minutes more and we'll be ready to hit the town....

Except that we have to wait another hour for our luggage!  So, pulling into the valet, checking in, and getting our luggage....grand total, two and a half hours.  Mind you, this is one of the more expensive hotels in Las Vegas.

After getting our luggage, we hop on the monorail and head over to the Tropicana.  We just have barely enough time to grab a very quick bite for lunch and then settle down to watch the Rick Thomas Magic Show.

Tropicana Security escorts us around the backstage area where we can get to the accessible table seats in the Tiffany Theater.  We get good seats at the middle aisle and it's a very good show.

The illusions range all the way from simple card tricks to making white tigers appear out of thin air.  Sigfreid and Roy are not the only white tiger handlers in Vegas.  In fact, Thomas makes a point of this fact that the white tiger is rare with only about 100 left in the world.  He has one...and Sigfried and Roy have the rest.

There is no drink minimum at this show and regular price is $16.95.  You can also win free or discounted tickets at the free pull slot machine in front of the casino.  This fantastic show is really a bargain and one of the few shows in town you can be comfortable taking kids to.

After the show, we head back to our room to rest and refresh before heading out to see the evening's sights.  That evening, we drive up to the Flamingo where we park and head out to the strip.

First, we have a decent dinner at the Flamingo's coffee shop and then cross the street to the Mirage where we take in their famous volcano show.  It's pretty spectacular but short.  It's not quite up to the spectacle that the fountains in front of the Bellagio are.

Next, we were going to head over to Treasure Island to see the pirate show.  The crowds were just too thick and we couldn't get to within a block of the place, so we cancelled that one.

Instead, we head back across the street to the Venetian where gondolas ply the canals.  Really, they just do circles around the pond out from and make laps of the one canal inside.  At $15 per person, it just didn't look worth it to us (for a great gondola ride at a great price - free - see our Dining in Scottsdale report).

Inside the Venetian, I have to give high marks to their shopping area.  It's beautiful....and this is coming from a typical guy who hates to shop and will go to great lengths to avoid a mall.  The ceiling looks exactly like a daytime sky.  The grand canal with its many bridges puts a very serene backdrop to the area, and the grand plaza with its many performers is an entertaining place to sip a cool and refreshing drink.

Back outside, there is a plaza between Bally's and the Imperial Palace with a Mardi Gras theme that offers free live entertainment in an outdoor theater.  It's kinda cramped but it's still a fun place to waste some time.

The crowds on the strip have done their job at wearing us down, so we head back to our hotel at the southern end of the strip.

The next morning we order up some room service for breakfast and make a pleasant discovery.  You see, last night we were walking by the coffee shop and notice a basic bacon & eggs breakfast was around twenty dollars.  We figured for that price, we might as well order room service.  So we order just a side order of eggs, a side order of bacon, and coffee for breakfast and found out that with room service, they throw in all the other stuff like fruit, toast, and hash browns anyway. 

Although it turned out to still be expensive compared to many places, it was quite a bit less than the coffee shop downstairs  and we had a spectacular view from our little table next to the big windows in our room.

Picture courtesy of Flickr
dcwriterdawn under CC BY-ND 3.0 license

Today, our plan is to spend the entire day at Mandalay Bay's gigantic pool area.  At eleven acres, it is quite a sight.  Access is strictly controlled to allow only hotel guests in.  Everyone, down to the littlest child, must posses a room key to get inside.  All are checked.

Inside, there is a huge sandy-beached wave pool with four foot waves suitable for body surfing.  There are two smaller, traditional pools, a few hot tubs, and a lazy river.

We find some lounge chairs adjacent to the lazy river.  

Tim has never been in a wave pool, so that's the first order of the day.  We can get his wheelchair almost up to the edge, but from then on I have to carry him in.  Since the pool is very shallow at the edge and very gradually deepens, it's quite a feat to get him to water deep enough to float in.

After bounding around the waves for about an hour, I manage to get him out and we make our way over to the lazy river.  A hut rents tubes for the river but at a cost...$20 per day.  You can trade back and forth between the tube or a floating lounge during the day at no extra cost (Only tubes are allowed in the lazy river but you can take the floating lounge into the regular pools. Neither one is allowed in the wave pool).  Life jackets are free.  You can also buy a tube ahead of time at Walgreens or a sporting goods store so you avoid the rental fee.

I help Tim into his tube, jump into mine and proceed to float around for the next few hours while my wife alternates with laying in the sun and occasional forays into the river.  A cave with two waterfalls ensures that no part of you will stay dry in the lazy river.

Servers sporadically bring drinks to our lounges...very sporadically.  I also found out that giving them a big tip does nothing to speed up their rounds!  There's a couple of good restaurants here and we have lunch at the nearest one with hot dogs, burgers and salads.

The pool here is one of Vegas' great pools but I like the laid back party atmosphere of the Tropicana's pool better.  I don't know if it's the correct term I'm looking for, but the crowd around the Mandalay Pool seems a little more uptight.

After our day in the water and sun, we head downtown to what is supposed to be one of the city's finest steak houses, The Ranch at Binion's Horseshoe.

On arrival, we make our way through the smoky casino to the restaurant elevator.  Despite emphasizing we had a wheelchair upon making our reservation, no table is held for us.  We end up being the only diners that do not have a table right up next to the top floor windows.

We order and soup is brought.  I have to admit, the soup was delicious.  Next the steaks.  Supposedly dry-aged, USDA prime steaks from their own ranch, they were not near as tender or tasty as they should have been.  The Ranch, far from being the best, was a major disappointment for us.

We go back to the hotel, pack up, and the next morning - after another round of room service - check out and go home.

Lesson learned: More does not mean better.  As you can see in the main story above, the Tropicana at one third the price delivered twice as much fun and bang for the buck as the supposedly luxurious Mandalay Bay down the street.

Copyright 2002 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

The Fountains of Los Angeles

UPDATED - See Updated Content, following the Will Fountain below...

A couple of years ago, we were in a Midwest city that is renowned for its fountains. It's supposed to rival Rome with the number of fountains.  Well, we were hard pressed to find any. Maybe one fountain working and a few more that weren't.

"We seem to have more in our desert city of L.A.," I thought to myself.

Well, it's time to put my money where my mouth is. I'm going to start a catalog of all the fountains that I can find downtown in this hot city. Come back from time to time as we'll be updating this list with new additions.

ARTHUR J. WILL MEMORIAL FOUNTAIN - I'll start with my favorite fountain in downtown. It's a grand fountain that crowns the appropriately named Grand Park.  The Arthur Will Memorial Fountain (pictured at the top of this post).

Named after a 1950's era county administrative officer and built in 1966, the fountain recently got a big, expensive makeover as part of the building of Grand Park.

If you're adventurous, you can also kick off your shoes and wade around in this water play area next to the adjacent starbucks that was added to the fountain in that makeover.


Ranging a bit farther south than my usual walks, I came across a new park...Grand Hope Park...that featured a large water feature. This waterfall is part of that and can be seen near the park's entrance on Grand Avenue, just north of Olympic Boulevard and directly across from the Federal Reserve Bank.

Going the opposite direction, on the other side of the Hollywood Freeway  at Sunset and Figueroa is a fairly bland strip mall but it does feature this nice looking fountain on the corner.

In between the above two fountains, you'll find a trio of condo buildings just south of Hope and 1st Street with a large plaza in between. That's where you'll find this round fountain.

On the east side of Figueroa Street, between Wilshire Boulevard and 7th Street, they're building an 1,100 foot hotel. Across the street, at the corner of Wilshire and Fig, you'll find this spare, twin tower fountain.


Many local people around here can tell you about going to Chinatown when they were kids and throwing pennies into this "wishing well" fountain.  It's still there, not quite as colorful as I remember.

There's also this other version across the street in the older part of Chinatown.

At the corner of 5th and Flower, this bright fountain graces the courtyard of the City National Bank plaza, formerly ARCO Plaza.

On top of Bunker Hill, between the Bank of America tower and the YMCA, there's a large park area with this huge sunken pond with four waterfalls flowing into it.

Over on Figueroa, this waterfall wall sits on the back wall of the Original Pantry restaurant.

UPDATE - JULY 27, 2013

CITY HALL - I was originally going to update this as defunct, but in the last couple of weeks, city workers have brought it back to life. The Flint fountain sits on the south lawn of the Los Angeles City Hall.

Made of marble, it's had a few hard knocks as protestors and celebrators that frequently congregate here (most recently, the Occupy LA movement) have visited much damage on this pretty water feature.

Happily, it is now flowing again and in pristine condition.

UNION STATION - Downtown L.A.'s transit hub is full of fountains.  The one above is in the south patio where tables are set up. You can grab bite to eat at the adjacent cafeteria or one of the many food shops in the station and sit next to the colorful fountain.

There's also a nice koi pond a few feet away.

This large waterfall fountain is in the back of the station.

This unique water feature sits at the extreme northeast corner of the property at the corner of Chavez and Vignes Streets.

CENTRAL LIBRARY - Another great collection of water works, this is the largest. It's on the west side of the building facing Flower Street on the corner of 5th Street.

5th STREET STEPS - On the west side of the Library Tower (the nation's tallest office building west of the Mississippi), these steps provide a workout to climb up to the top of Bunker Hill. The little waterfall bisecting them has led to it being called "L.A.'s Spanish Steps."

WATERCOURT - At the top of Angel's Flight and Bunker Hill, the watercourt is all about H2O. There are many fountains here, large and small, including this shower-like waterfall in the quiet north court.

OLVERA STREET - Over at the city's birthplace is this 80-something year old fountain.

OLD PLAZA CHURCH - At the two century old church across from Olvera Street, this grotto waterfall makes for a meditative place to light a candle and say a prayer.

LAPD HEADQUARTERS - This understated waterfall marks the start of the terraced entranced gardens at the Police Headquarters on 1st Street, across from City Hall.

FEDERAL PLAZA - This fountain...and the attending artwork...has the distinction of being declared obscene by a federal judge. His ruling was overturned and the installation is still here for all to enjoy. Behind the Federal Building at 300 N. Los Angeles Street.

FORT MOORE (Defunct) - This fountain really made a statement. An 80 foot waterfall cascading over the hill to memorialize Mormon troops that built their garrison on top. Unfortunately, the city turned off the pump in the 1970's during a drought and it's been off ever since.

There is a plan to restore it but nothing has happened here, except for the occasional drug deal, for years.

WELLER COURT - This unnamed fountain in Weller Court, behind the Doubletree Hotel in Little Tokyo, sits in front of a monument to Astronaut Ellison Onizuka, who died in the Challenger explosion.

L.A. MALL - The mall has two fountains, one in each food court. This fountain sits in the south court...

...while this one pumps away in the north court. The mall sits underground and can be accessed from the plaza surrounding City Hall East, across the street from the main City Hall.

HALL OF RECORDS - One of the coolest fountains sits on Temple Street in front of the old Hall of Records building. It is very hard to capture in photos, but that is a relief map of all the water sources for the region. Each channel has a trickle of water running through it, eventually making its way to Southern California at the bottom before splashing into the large, reflecting pond resevoir.

OCHO GRILL - this small fountain sits in front of the restaurant on top of Bunker Hill on Grand Avenue.

MOCA - A pyramid of cascading water sits behind the plane wreck sculpture on the patio of the Museum of Contemporary Art.

This reflecting pool leads up to it.

THE MUSIC CENTER - Another very grand fountain is the dancing waters of the Music Center fountain.

There's no fence or barriers around it, feel free to play inside, get wet, and cool off.

DISNEY HALL - One of downtown's most stunning fountains is this Delft rose sitting behind the Disney Concert Hall. It's also very hidden. To find it, go to the extreme south or west edge of the property, climb two flights of stairs (there's an elevator at the west staircase for wheelchair users), and walk around to the garden behind the hall.

The water flows through the channels created by the rose's petals.

CITY HALL EAST (Defunct)-  In the plaza between City Hall East and City Hall South lies this star shaped fountain that, in happier days, would shoot out a very cooling mist. It has been turned off for over a year now.

Here is what it looked like when it was operable.

JAPANESE VILLAGE PLAZA - This meditative trickle fountain lies in the heart of Little Tokyo's most popular shopping mall.

SPRING STREET PARK - Downtown's newest park, between 4th and 5th Streets, has a section that looks like someone ran into the fence and left it bent. Actually, it's the park's fountain.

Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.