Rocky Mountains Wedding Crasher


I had booked on to a tour from Jasper down to Lake Louise. The pick up was at 8:30. I did not make the pick up. Possibly $100 wasted.

Packed up my tent and strolled back to town to see if I could still get to Lake Louise that day. Made up an excuse about my watch being in another time-zone. I even wound my watch back an hour and showed the woman I was begging to. She may or may not have bought my lie. Either way I was able to swap my tour for the direct bus. Missed out on some apparently special sights but the drive was still spectacular, past a glacier and a black bear.

Tried some root beer. Didn't like it.

Lake Louise (gorgeous) was followed by Banff (also gorgeous), things were good and met good people and saw more great views but let's spin on to the fun of Canmore.

Had a two hour wait for the bus to Canmore so I decided I'd try to hitch-hike. Was picked up after ten minutes by a hungover girl who took me to McDonalds in her beaten up old pick up. Thanked her for the lift then tried to find a bed. Four hours later, having walked out to the hostel 5km out of town and back and around town I managed to find a motel with a bit of space. Even though it was the cheapest motel in town, at $100 it was still three times my daily accomodation budget. As the Canmore Highland Games were in town it was my only choice. Why the Canmore Highland Games are a thing I have no idea but they've been running for twenty two years.

If I was used to hotels the first things I would have noticed about my motel room would have been the badly stained carpet and odd smell. As I'm not, I was excited by the fridge, hob and little bottles of shampoo. Having a room to myself I did as any self respecting man would have done: Got naked and had a wee with the door open.

Met up with Pete and Shauna and their friends Kristy, Clayton and Megan. They were in town for their friends wedding so were squeezing in to one hotel room where we played drinking games and had a fun evening. Clayton was asking Kristy about her heated mattress
Clayton: 'What temperature does yours go up to?'
Kristy: 'Max'

We joked that I should be a wedding crasher the following night but I said that wasn't cool on someone's big day so I couldn't. Popped back to their hotel the next morning to steal breakfast and thank them for having me. Next up I figured I should check out the highland games.

Briefly strolled the park and watched some people throw heavy stuff then found my way to the beer and music tent. The music was all Irish but it was excellent. Watched the official opening ceremony which was a load of ridiculous pomp and ceremony. I loved it. Found myself smiling like a special child all day. Bagpipes though, what a cack instrument. There were three hundred pipers and most seemed like normal people. I don't understand that.

Over some Irish dancing I befriended a girl who had had a very full and troubled life. She had been given the all clear two days earlier after suffering from ovarian cancer, her ex boyfriend was murdered and she was fairly well off thanks to her talents as a cocaine dealer in Vancouver. She'd left the city to escape that life and was working in a restaurant for a bit before moving on to Spain. We drank for several hours and then she went to work half cut.

With the sunshine, bagpipes, drinking and new friend I was feeling very good and decided that crashing a wedding might be okay after all. To do this I needed a suit and luckily the taxi driver was happy to help out. The only issue was that his waist size was 40 inches and he had definitely given me the shirt and tie he cared least about. I looked idiotic, but at least I'd made an effort. I'm not sure how acceptable my presence was at the reception but I certainly felt welcomed and I think I behaved myself, not taking advantage of the free bar. I did take advantage of the limo that was provided to ferry guests back to their hotels though and I joined Pete, Shauna, Clayton, Megan, Kristy and two others at their swanky hotel room to conclude the night with some Royal Reserve (dreadful rye whisky).

Canmore and everyone in it had been good to me. I recommend it.

KFC Buffet, Williamsburg, VA

Yes - KFC - Kentucky Fried Chicken - Buffet. This is something that KFC does not make well known. There is nothing on their website that some of the KFC locations have a buffet in addition to their usual take out or take from the counter and sit down menu. I have only seen a few of these and the ones that I have seen have all been in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. I have seen

It's Good To Walk


Time for The Rocky Mountains.

Jasper.

My accomodation was in a 44 bed dorm in the one hostel in town, which isn't in town it's 7km away. So not great but Jasper is a beautiful small town.

Found out that despite normally needing to book three months in advance one camping spot was available to walk The Skyline Trail - rated one of the best walks in the world. This is one of those lovely times when things just work out for you. Got myself kitted out with an extra pair of warm socks and set my phone alarm for the next morning.

I haven't seen that phone since. It was only being used as an alarm and had no SIM but I can't work out where it went. Fortunately I woke at 8am anyway, only an hour late, and figured even though I couldn't make the bus to the start of the trail I'd maybe be able to hitch a lift. Things work out for me moment number two: Found a guy in the hostel who was one of the other twenty people walking the trail that day, his friend was driving to the start and they could give me a lift. Too easy this travelling lark!

The group became five as their friends joined us and as we seemed to get on well we spent the first day walking the 22km together. I won't go on about the views because you can see them in pictures and they don't do it justice. Plus reading about pretty things is boring. I'll try and sum it up with one word: Incredible.
Cooked some supernoodles then went for a walk up to a waterfall where I saw an animal that I thought was a goat crossing the fall. It was too big for a goat though so maybe a deer? Then it faced me and it was quite clearly a wolf, reminded me of the gmork from The Never Ending Story. They are much bigger than all but the freakiest big dogs. It was the icing on the cake of the views I'd been spaffing over all day.

Both days had a great variety of jaw-dropping, incredible scenery and blah, blah, blah. Sorry, but it was dead good and the two days were the highlight of my trip so far.

After finishing the trail I still had 13km to go back to town and another 7km to the hostel. I tried hitching but nobody fancied picking me up so I was still walking as the sun started to go down. I'd left a note at the hostel to see if they could reserve me a bed when their computer was working again. Nothing was guaranteed but I was on a run of luck... which came to an end. No beds at the hostel.
I had enquired on my way through Jasper at an average looking motel. The girl on the desk said 'I'll write the price down for you'
'No need to do that I won't be offended' I replied. It's a good job she did write it down - $174. I pretended I'd think about it but we both knew the kid who needed a shower wasn't coming back.

The panic ended before it had begun as the campsite only 3km from town had space for a walk on spot so I headed back, finally getting a hitchhike lift from a family of South Africans and pitched my tent in the fading light. I was overdue a shower and they had some, indeed I liked the campsite so much I signed up for four nights.

The days in Jasper were good. Got my haircut one day, thought I was doing good flirting with the hairdresser until she said 'So what is this trip some sort of mid-life crisis?'. Ego dented, no big tip for the hairdresser.

Loved Jasper so much I wrote a poem, this is how it goes:
Mountainous peaks, peaceful creeks,
I'm in Jasper
And as per my wishes I will make this the time of my prime,
By drinking wine,
Really? Wine?
Sure a beer wouldn't go down better?
Alright, I'll have a beer.

Won't try poetry again for a while.

Trail Shots from Today...

Just a quick post of a few trail shots from today.  Had enough sun yesterday afternoon and today to dry things out enough for a fun ride.  There was still a bit of water and mud in the low spots but nothing that couldn't be ridden through.  If some of the shots look familiar, I tried to shoot from the same place, to see the differences from past rides.  Ended up lakeside again at the halfway point.  No rain this time but needed the shelter of the sala to get out of the sun.







Edmonton

While in Edmonton I was a guest at Pete and Shauna's new house. They are a couple I met in New Zealand and had stayed friends with them since. For the next three days this friendship worked out very useful for me as they are overly generous hosts. If you know them and they like you, go and stay with them, make sure that Zorro - the cat - doesn't steal your breakfast though.

Day 1: Checked out the Edmonton Fringe Festival but we didn't see any shows just soaked up the atmosphere and watched the uniformly awful buskers. One man by the moniker of Magic Brian spent ten minutes building up to a trick with a false thumb that I had in my Paul Daniels set when I was ten. We later saw him outside his empty show tent looking depressed.

Day 2: Shauna and I played golf. They have girls driving round in carts selling beer to the players here. That seems like a good system to me. Most of my round was rubbish but did hit a purple patch of birdie, par, birdie. Followed that up with 8, 7. This is similar to how it goes with beer and pool, two beers and Glyn kicks ass. Three or more beers and ass kicks Glyn.

Fun day followed by a couple of the good shows of the Edmonton fringe, an improv show called Truth or Dare and a late cabaret show.

Day 3: Elk island provincial park. I was looking forward to this as I'd heard it was full of loads of bison, moose and elk. Technically we did see a moose and a bison but both from a distance. The main walk of the day was a two hour stroll, we didn't realise however that it was through mosquito territory. We were destroyed and couldn't enjoy the walk. I asked if we might see a beaver as there were lots of dams. Apparently they're nocturnal though. Shauna did say 'You can see a beaver tonight if you want'
Pete quipped in 'Steady on Shauna, don't I get a say in this' hee hee.

I thanked them both but would see them again in a weeks time further down the rockies when I would have need to thank them some more. But we'll come to that later.

Khao Yam and Dim Sum for Breakfast

Not far from our house in Kathu, a few km outside Phuket Town, a small restaurant opened towards the end of last year. Nothing unusual there, small roadside restaurants are all over the place and are often the best place to find good local food (just try to pick a clean one). There are a number of small local places within 5 minutes drive of our house - it's good to live in a more local area rather than a tourist zone! This restaurant that opened last year does not have a name. the sign on the front just tells you what it sells - freshly steamed dim sum, kanom jeen and khao yam.

Kathu Dim Sum Restaurant

That's the full menu. A lot of small restaurants are like this, specialising in a couple of dishes like the Moo Grob restaurant we like to visit. I think most people know about Dim Sum, it's like Chinese tapas, little portions which are steamed before serving. Can come in 100 different styles made from veg, tofu, different meats. It's mostly eaten at breakfast time. This restaurant is often very busy when I drive past heading to work at around 8:30 - 9am. Usually it's closed by midday. Here's some of the dim sum on offer ...

Dim Sum

Salapao with Pork

The white buns above are 'Salapao' which are a popular snack, you can even get them in 7-11! These are filled with BBQ pork (moo daeng). And (below) some dim sum on the steamer before serving ...

Steaming Dim Sum

And dim sum for the kids! You can't get away from those birds...

Angry Birds Dim Sum

Also on the menu - 'Kanom Jeen' which is a kind of white noodles normally served with different kinds of curry. My wife loves it, but I have (so far) not been weened onto it. There's a lot of Thai food that I eat now which I would have avoided 10 years ago, my tastes are changing, but Kanom Jeen is not my style.

Now, on the subject of trying different foods. The 3rd item on the menu here is 'Khao Yam' meaning rice salad. It's a very popular southern Thai dish, my wifes loves this too, but somehow I had never eaten it until this year when i tried the khao yam at this very restaurant one morning. Maybe I'd seen it before, but at this new, very clean restaurant I was finally tempted when I saw my wife's plate. I'll have one of those too! Khao Yam consists of rice with various other ingredients such as bamboo shoots, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves (Bai Ma Grood), crushed nuts, some coconut, dried shrimp, sliced green beans, sliced wingbeans .. and more! They prepare it very nicely with all the ingredients around the rice ...

Preparing Khao Yam

And the finished product with a slice of lime and some sauce made from shrimp paste and raw sugar... Looks good!

Khao Yam

And then after all that preparation, you pour the sauce on the rice and mix everything up. Damn, it tastes good! I am now a Khao Yam fan!

Khao Yam mixed up

And this plate of Khao Yam is only 40 Baht! The dim sum is 18 Baht per portion and you can get drinks (tea, coffee) for about 15 Baht. No wonder it's always busy! Good taste, new restaurant and good price. Win.

Dim Sum and Khao Yam Restaurant - Location Map


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Wild, Wild West Casino in Atlantic City, NJ Buffet Closes

In June 2012, the Virginia City Buffet located in Bally's Wild, Wild West Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey was closed permanently. There is no intention to have another buffet in this casino and Bally's is looking at redeveloping the space toward entertainment. If you are a regular reader of this site you know that this was my buffet of preference among the casino buffets in Atlantic City and

The Old Thavorn Hotel in Phuket Town

Phuket Town is where you'll find much of Phuket's history, and I like to spend time walking in the older parts of town, somehow always finding something new to photograph. I had meant for a long time to write about a couple of historic hotels in the town. There's the On On Hotel (on Phang Nga Road), which is currently (summer 2012) being renovated - I actually stayed 1 night in that hotel back in 1999 and I'd say the renovations are well overdue - the hotel opened in 1929 and think my bed was 70 years old! On the next road (Rassada Road) is another piece of Phuket's past - the Thavorn Hotel. Not as old as On On, but maybe marks a turning point in the story of Phuket. The Thavorn Hotel opened in 1961 and was Phuket's first 5 star hotel. The faded 1960's architecture does not look too thrilling now, but I guess for a small town like Phuket it was quite fancy 50 years ago.

Thavorn Hotel in Phuket Town

The old Thavorn Hotel

The Thavornwongwongse family who own this hotel are a Phuket Chinese-Thai family who, like many others, made money from the tin mining boom in the 19th and 20th centuries. I have a feeling they keep the Thavorn Hotel for sentimental value more than anything else, it can't be making much money with rooms being promoted on the hotel website for as little as 600 Baht per night. The Thavorn group owns 2 large resorts in Phuket - there's the Thavorn Palm Beach Resort at Karon Beach, and the Thavorn Beach Village at Nakalay Beach, just north of Patong.

The old Thavorn Hotel is kind of a living museum. Just walk in the front entrance and you are in a scene from a movie with a wide lobby, wood paneled walls, a wide staircase leading to the second floor and a long wooden reception desk.

Thavorn Hotel Staircase

Inside the Thavorn Heritage Hotel

Apparently the Thavorn Hotel also had Phuket's first elevator. Most of the old buildings in Phuket are only 2 floors, whereas this hotel has 5. Of course I had to take a ride in the elevator, though I don't think it's the original! Inside I saw a common sign - "No Durian" - the durian is a popular fruit but has a very strong smell, and is often banned from hotels, as the smell will linger.

No Durian in the Elevator

Thavorn Hotel old Luggage

And here's an old luggage trolley complete with old leather suitcases, ready for a ride up to the 5th floor. There are odd little decorations all over the ground floor. It may not be the best hotel these days, but I do recommend people to stay a couple of nights in town, to get an idea of the other side of Phuket that existed before the tourism. By comparison - the Thavorn opened in 1961, a good 10 - 15 years before any major tourism hit Phuket and Club Med, which was the first really big mainstream tourist hotel, opened in 1985. There are plenty of newer places to stay in town - see my list of recommended Phuket Town hotels, or look at Agoda for more options.

Thavorn Hotel Lobby

And I've not mentioned the Thavorn "museum" yet! Well, given that the whole place is a museum, I'm surprised they have a special room that they call a museum. Looks like it was formerly the dining room, and you can enter if you pay a 30 Baht entry fee. So I did, and a lady turned on a few very dim lights. Almost too dim for photos, I'll have to go again with a tripod. The museum is a collection of old junk and photos, all mixed up in one room. Now, I happen to like places like this, as you're never sure what you'll find. I'll add in a couple more photos later. The largest object in the room was this enormous old movie projector.

Thavorn Hotel Museum

And there were a couple more projectors gathering dust in a corner. A rusty sword was on display with a notice claiming that the sword belonged to one of the two Heroines of Phuket. Certainly looked old and rusty. There were many signed photos of (I guess) Thai celebrities who (I suppose) had stayed at the Thavorn way back when it was fashionable. Another wall had a collection of royal photos documenting a tour of Europe over 50 years ago. Here a young royal couple meet another young royal couple ....

Thavorn Hotel Museum

It's a room full of all kind of photos, old toys, musical instruments and it's only 30 Baht, so why not have a look! Phuket Town is full of little oddities and so I keep going back to find more...

Thavorn Hotel - Location Map


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Dutch Way Family Restaurant, Myerstown, PA

I have been writing about a buffet that has been new to me for less than a year. It is the Dutch Way Family Restaurant in Gap, Pennsylvania. The three Dutch Way Markets in Pennsylvania each have a restaurant but only two of those restaurants have a buffet - Gap and Myerstown. Since being so happy with the buffet in Gap, I have been looking forward to an opportunity to try the buffet in

Dreams and Nightmares ...

After dealing with a forum stalker lately, who seems to be off his meds, I was in dire need of some trail time yesterday.  I pondered for a while which route to take to avoid the worst conditions.  Anyplace where they are hauling corn or lamyai the trails were sure to be awful so I settled on trying to find a strange place I had stumbled upon once before.

It looks like someone’s dream turned into a nightmare.  A resort in the middle of nowhere, deserted and dilapidated, a dream abandoned to the forces of nature and time.  To get there I started by traversing our village from west to east.  Popping out into the rubber plantation on the other side I was confronted by a road closure sign. 


Riding up to where the backhoe was digging I enquired as to the possibility of getting past.  The only path I could see was wading through deep loose freshly excavated clay.  To my surprise the backhoe driver drove from one side of the trench he was digging to the other, making a relatively stable track for me to walk my bike across.  After thanking all the workers profusely, I was soon back up to speed and heading on my quest.


Since most of the day’s route was familiar I had not bothered to glance at Google Earth before leaving.  I had found it before so surely I could find it again, I thought.  As the trail got narrower and more overgrown nothing looked familiar and it began to cross my mind that I could be lost.  The thing is, thinking you are lost and being lost are the same thing.  Unwilling to acknowledge defeat I persevered, when suddenly I found what I was looking for.


Across an area of open scrub was a small gap in the vegetation that I recognized as a way into the ghost town I was searching for.  What was once a road and cul-de-sac, meant for houses, was nothing more than a narrow overgrown trail by now.  After riding around the property and taking a few pictures I put my attention to finding a way home.



Nearing the river I caught sight of what looked like a potential photo op.  A large mound of corn husks was populated by a herd of cows lazily munching away and a few farmers and their equipment taking a break after bagging their corn.  More photos, and a little friendly banter this time, confirmed my suspicion that the best path forward was to stick to the road all the way back to Phaya Mengrai.  The cross country route was heavily rutted, I was informed, by the hauling of corn in overloaded farmer trucks.



Trying to make the best of this more trafficked route, I stopped at the main market to replenish my water bottle and indulge in some fried bananas.  Sticking to the back lanes took me past the village pond and recreation area where I stopped to eat my bananas and take more pictures.  While being pestered by some little kids who perhaps should have had adult supervision, I managed to capture a few rainbow shots both over the pond and out in the fields.






From there it was a fairly easy 11 km ride home, 3 km of which have been recently resurfaced, making for a very smooth ride.  Arriving home I was dirty and tired but content as endorphins continued to flush through my system.  The world was in balance once again and nothing could dislodge that smile upon my face.  Just another wonderful day on the trail.

All the excitement of the greyhound


The bus journey from Ottawa to Edmonton took 52 hours in total. Here are the events of day one:

I sat on a bus today.

And here are the events of day two:

For most of today I sat on an uneventful bus. For most of the journey I had had two seats to myself, that changed at Thunder Bay when the most enormous passenger of the trip boarded. Of all the seats available he chose to sit next to me, perhaps I have a friendly face, or a skinny arse. Either way I was left with half a seat thanks to the 6'5" (height and breadth) of the excellently named Andrew McCooey. As the driver came down the bus to count the passengers he pointed out that there was a double seat available further back. To my astonishment Andrew declined. Unbelievable! I was too shocked/polite/British to say I'd take the other seat but if Andrew was staying on all the way to Edmonton I'd have to move.

After half an hour of squashed silence Andrew spoke 'Where you from?'
'England'
'I got a friend from England. He used to live here but he got deported'
'Oh'
Five minutes passed then Andrew spoke again
'How long you been here?'
'About a week in Canada'
He reached in to his wallet 'You seen Canadian money before?'
'Err. Yes I've needed to use it a fair bit this week'
'How about American?'
'Actually yes, I was in New York at the start of my trip' He seemed disappointed that he had nothing to show and tell so he rooted in his wallet and puled out a card: 'Firearms Licence'. Oh God.

'You wanna know why my buddy got deported?'
'If you want to tell me then yeah'
'He stole his Dad's money and car and got in a high speed pursuit with the cops'
'That would do it'
'He like to drink too much'

For five hours I was sat next to/underneath Andrew McCooey and the conversation ran as smoothly as a rubix cube down a sandpaper slope. I couldn't figure him out, he was either slow, a danger to the public, desperate for a new friend or all three. It was like the most awkward first date. Topics he covered: What movies do you like? What food do you like? What music do you like? Do you like drinking? - actually that part of the conversation went on well for a while.

Some good and odd McCooey conversation tit bits, usually dropped in with no link to any other part of the conversation:
'If you go to a strip bar you know how to get the girl to dance up to you? Ignore her. I'm telling you it works'
'Thanks, I'll bear that in mind'

'Your light on your watch, you know how that lights up?
'No I don't actually'
'Uranium.'
'I'm not sure that's right'

Occasionally it got scary. After I'd fallen asleep for half an hour Andrew woke me with a nudge and asked 'Did you get some sleep?'
'I was sleeping yeah'
He leaned in and whispered 'Did you hear about the guy who had his head chopped off on the greyhound?'
I became very aware that I was pinned in to my corner of seat with no escape route. Andrew continued 'After he did it he walked up the aisle holding the head up by the hair. It was on this route too.'
I nervously replied 'It wasn't you was it?'
'No. But that's why I never sleep on the greyhound'
And thanks to Andrew I didn't sleep again on the greyhound.

Eventually an explanation came for Andrew's conversational oddities. At age thirteen Andrew had been knocked off his bike by a truck and suffered brain injuries that took him years of rehab to recover from. I felt bad for judging him earlier but was glad I had chatted to him. It had been the most interesting part of my journey and he was just looking to be friendly.

Phuket Meteorological Radar Hill near Phuket Airport

I was rather happy last week to find a hill that we could drive up, one that I'd never been up before. It was a fairly sunny Sunday afternoon, one of those afternoons when we sometimes just "go for a drive" in a random direction. Sometimes we follow new roads, or roads that we've not explored for a long time. With Phuket island being over 500 square kilometers, there are plenty of roads to try, and with neighbouring Phang Nga province being just over the bridge, even after all this time in Phuket, we still find new places. On this day, I did have an objective in mind. I had seen this hill on Google Earth with a couple of photos of the view, and it looked nice. I just never realised it was possible to drive up there...

Just north of Phuket airport, there's a hill where the Phuket weather radar is located. I knew it was there, but figured it would be closed to traffic / private or something. Well, maybe it is... but we drove up anyway. I went with the kids and we first took the narrow road that runs alongside the airport runway, hoping to see a plane land right next to us, but it must have been a quiet afternooon for flights. We've done that before and my kids like it.. when a plane is zooming along the runway less than 200m from the car. Dad likes it too :) A bit less than 1km north of that road, is a left turn heading towards the West Sands resort and Splash Jungle Waterpark. And a little more than 500m down this road, a narrow, crappy looking road to the right, it was not signposted but I figured it would be this way. The little road was bumpy and got steep, passing several Thai style villas (seemingly not occupied), heading up through the trees. And up. I hoped this was the right road! Finally topped out and for a second I thought it was all fenced off, but we could drive through to the met station buildings (nobody there) and park.

Phuket Weather Radar

According to Google Earth the hill is about 250m above sea level, but it's quite flat-topped and covered in trees, so there were no 360 degree views. Damn trees, always getting in the way of a good view. Nevertheless, there was a fair sweeping seaview to the west just peeping over the tops of the tees ...

View west over the sea from Phuket Weather Station

And looking southwest we could see the airport, and Nai Yang beach. Again was hoping to see a take off or landing, but this seemed like a very quiet Sunday afternoon at the airport! Didn't want to hang around too long with the kids on a lonely hilltop, plus they were asking for dinner, so we didn't wait for a plane.

View from Phuket Weather Radar

There's also a small shrine on the hill, facing to the west.

Shrine at Phuket Weather Station

Another hill conquered! Maybe not the best view, but it was in the spirit of "adventure". My kids enjoyed the scary, narrow jungly road and the feeling of seeing something new. They do get dragged around by us quite a lot, but mostly they are happy to be exploring. I always enjoy a view and some fresh air. Phuket is very hilly, plenty of hills you can drive or walk up - see Phuket Hills and Views.

Phuket Weather Radar View - Location Map


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