Magnolia Service Station in Vega, Texas

Located on Historic route 66 in Vega, Texas you’ll find the almost fully restored Magnolia Service Station. It was first built, in 1924, on what then the Ozark Trail (a system of locally maintained roads that connected towns in the southwest, that predated the Federal highways). The station already existed therefore, when Route 66 was developed (so as to connect the short pre-existing paved roads into one fully connected paved road that traveled through main streets of towns from Chicago to California), and continued to serve its travelers.

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The station was closed when I got there, but they’ve placed so many historical explanations into the place’s windows, that I still learned a lot and the visit was totally worthwhile, in my opinion

IMG_0384And by looking through the windows, I still saw a great deal and got a pretty good gist of the whole thing…

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Across the street from the station you see this….

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The view across the street

I think it may be there to give you a feeling of what the station may have looked out towards back in the 1920’s, but with no docent on duty, I’m guessing.

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Sovereign Hill: an historical amusement park near Ballarat, Australia

Sovereign Hill is located in Golden Point, a suburb of Ballarat (a small city located about an hour northwest of Melbourne, by train). This attraction is a bit like a Disneyland for history geeks, and probably the best living history parks I’ve been to yet, i.e., right up my alley and definitely would like to come here again.

IMG_1105To be realistic, in any other part of the world Ballarat is so small that it should have swallowed up Golden Point, making it a neighborhood within the city, the same way that for efficiency reasons modern Chicago has swallowed up what were its numerous surrounding villages, such as the Pilsen neighborhood, and New York has swallowed up Harlem, etc., … but this process of city expansion for some reason hasn’t happened yet in Australia. When I look at Melbourne and Sydney neither seems to have done the same to the towns and villages that surround them.

[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. I was in Sovereign Hill about 5 months ago, on Feb 13, 2018, which was only 19 days after my accident on Jan 25th which resulted in a sever concussion.  As such, I wasn’t really able to appreciated it in fullness (we were there only for about two hours, and it really was all I could manage at the time before having to head back to bed). That said, I would really love to come back here at some point, buy a one year pass and spend a good few days there, just like I do at Disney. BUT, that said, because of the accident I couldn’t really focus the way I needed to in order to blog about much of what I saw for the next month after, and as such have fallen woefully behind on the posts the Australia trip … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

Sovereign Hill actualizes for its visitors the history of Australia’s Victorian gold rush (1851 – 1860’s) which had the same impact on Melbourne that Sutter’s Mill had on San Francisco.

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(The video above is a TV ad for the attraction, and while it won’t be AS inhabited as when you arrive, a lot of what it shows is in fact visible… candy being made, metal being worked, etc., as my pictures show)

This is a video I found on YouTube shot by a tourist

One of the distinct aspects of Sovereign Hill, is that while “visitors” of course includes basic tourists (both Australian and international), more importantly it means groups of Australian school children;

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One of the four school rooms in the park

they are sent here (and other not quite as nice locations scattered around the country, this according to my travel buddy for Australia, who is also an Aussie but who did not join me on this leg of the trip) to spend two days in (what my friend told me was) government subsidized experiential learning programs.IMG_1106.JPGThe above is the 2nd of the four schools in the park, located in an abandoned shop, and shows children lining up to attend a class; I spoke with the girls as they waited for their teacher and they said that each of them had been given a “story line” of who they were, and that all the students in this class were the ‘less affluent’ students in town, miner’s children, orphans, etc.

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They told me that these children (below), on the other hand, were playing children from more affluent families. The woman in blue is their actual accompanying teacher/guardian from home, while the man on the left is a teacher who works full-time at the park. I found this newspaper article about talks not only about him, but verifies some of what the children told me, and adds how the different groups have different curricula, with the richer students being taught genteel skills, like drawing and sewing, while the poor “ragged” students spend half their day being taught trade skills.

IMG_1107.JPGFor those tourists who don’t know what’s going on, these teachers and students just become part of the overall show

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The third school room (I never saw the fourth one), held in a church

The following is a video I actually took, and uploaded to YouTube of these kids being taught cursive (a form of writing soon to be relegated to history):

This next ‘Welcome to Sovereign Hill’ Video, is actually the seven minute introductory video shown to students when they first arrive. It gives an overview of the town with an explanation of the historical evidence they relied on for its construction, as well as some basic instructions to the students on how interact with the tourists they will be sharing the space with, who will think of them as part of the show and hence will want to take their pictures (the video is well worth watching):

In fact (according to my friend who brought me here who has worked here for years as volunteer) it is these educational programs, more so than general tourism, that constitutes the bread and butter funding for the park and keeps it profitable enough that they can keep it in top repair, and pay for things like upgrades to the experience and professional actors and animal experts to work there.

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The woman clutching the jug plays the role of the town drunk

In support of their educational mandate, Sovereign Hill’s web page also offers up a large selection of teaching/educational videos that they produce including various performances at the park’s theater, a musicologist discussing the songs miner’s sang, an informational video on how to pan for gold, a historian discussing how the industrial revolution changed Australian life, and a video that offers up quotes from writers of the time exemplifying how what the park offers is an “improved” version of history, etc.

Sovereign Hill is not only about the time period of the gold rush; because of its location, the park has a specific focus on the events of the Eureka stockade, which Australians are in general taught (correctly or incorrectly, historians dispute this) as being the birth of the movement towards democracy in the country.

This video (above) gives you an overview of the historical events that occurred not far from where the park is located (the specific location is still debated but it was definitely a location visible from the park)

While these video’s below talk the special ticket night-time sound and light show devoted to events of the Eureka stockade, which they call Blood on the Southern Cross

A vast section of the park is devoted to Victorian homes of the sort that more affluent town’s member might have lived in. Every home is decked out with historical elements designed to make it look as though it’s actually being lived in, but the owners just happen to be out at the moment.

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Other parts of the park are devoted to trades that one might expect to find in just such a town, in this case either there are people working there, or it tends to look more like a museum (with signs explaining what you’re looking at).

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bottom right is broken wheel, supposedly waiting to be fixed; this shop occasionally has a craftsman on staff explaining the craft, but not today
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The undertaker’s, my friend says no one actually ever works here

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One part of the mining camp section of town is the Chinatown district. While there was no one working in this section when we visited, it was clear that a tidy sum of money had been invested into its development, as each aspect of it comes complete with multimedia aspects to make up for the lack of staff.

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Inside the temple is multimedia show, worth listening to

IMG_1134.JPGWhen you stick your head into these tents, you’ll hear the voices of the non-existent Chinese miners speaking to each other. If you pay attention you’ll actually learn things about the prejudices and injustices these miners faced, as Chinese.

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In this tent you can listen to the Chinese miners arguing amongst themselves about the choices they were having to make, and about how they organised themselves into self-help organizations, since they couldn’t count on the white to treat them fairly. It was fairly obvious from the items in some of the stores to the composition of the tourists, that Chinese tourism constitutes a fairly large percentage of who comes to this park, and their concerns and interests were therefore fully met.

 

That said, Sovereign Hill, while it has a huge educational mandate and is a living history museum, it is also first and foremost an amusement park type attraction — A Disneyland for history geeks, and hence must provide its visitors with amusements. As such, it provides the obligatory schedule of free of charge performances that visitors can attend during the day.

 

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One of the interactive activities that the park offers is the opportunity to pan for gold in their stream. According to my friend, this isn’t a real stream and gold that’s there is seeded, but no one really cares. You’ll find any number of people happily devoting at least a good hour to panning for gold.

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If you want to cheat there’s also a gift shop set up as a miner’s tools shop, where you can buy little vials with tiny bits of gold in them, but what’s the fun in that?

And in addition, even though Sovereign Hill –unlike Disney — is a non for profit, they take every reasonable opportunity to separate you from your money after you’ve paid your entrance fee (which is almost as high as some of the smaller Disney parks). That said, most of the payment-to-go options (after the initial entry) are all very reasonably priced…

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Coach Rides: $5.50 Adult, $4.00 Child (5-15), $17.00 Family

There are also tours that take you into a genuine historic gold mine that sits beneath the entire park, and constitutes one of the other “highlight” things to do in the park

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There are three different tours; well, 1 tour, but with a choice of 3 different movie endings

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According to my friend all of the tour guides who lead chinese tourists through the park (this one is about to lead a group into the mines) are required to dress the way this woman is dressed, i.e., what is historically accurate clothing for a Chinese resident of the town, just as the tour guide for our group was required to dress the same way a miner of the day might have.

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Everyone takes the same walk through tour, lead by a guide

At the end of the tour you watch what is essentially a VERY fancy Powerpoint presentation with all the animation bells and whistles on one of three topics (see above). You do this while standing in a small hollowed out, rounded but still craggy space (with the evidence of it having been mined out), deep inside the mine.  The presentation is projected onto the craggy rock’s face rather than a smoothed surface, which is pretty cool. It’s supposed to kind of make you feel like you’re in it with them. My friend and I opted for the presentation called the secret chamber, about Chinese minors and their trials and struggles with local prejudice; is the story of two brothers one of whom went home rich, the other who died in a mine collapse.

IMG_1123After the presentation you walk past a past a large patch of exposed gold still embedded in the quartz, so that you can see what it looks like… but that you are separated from by a bulletproof-glass wall and a whole bunch of security equipment which they make sure you can see.

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After the tour you come back topside and are let out into the obligatory gift store, this one selling a lot of gold, with a very strong focus on their Chinese tourist customers (because I’m guessing they’re the ones most likely to buy some).

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The one thing I was tempted to buy was the snow globe full of gold flakes, the minor inside it looks SO happy, and it’s relatively affordable.

In addition to this obligatory “after a ride” gift store, there are two varieties of stores in town, those selling period specific goods that you could probably find outside of the park if you looked hard enough, but presented in the style of store in the 1800’s

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I love this photo, note my friend in the reflection
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We ran into this same guy working at three different locations, but he’s so pretty we didn’t mind at all; he’s behind the counter at the Criterion (above), this jewelery store, and the candle works (below)

[Regarding my friend, it was almost karmic good luck that I was scheduled to stay with her for two weeks at exactly that point in my trip. She’s one of the few Facebook friends I ever made (we used to play this same FB-game, one of those that necessitate that you friend complete strangers, and we found we had so much in common that we continued to stay in touch long after both of us stopped playing). She had invited me numerous times to visit her in Australia, and she lives quite near to Sovereign Hill. In addition to being a successful realtor who has returned to University to obtain her undergraduate degree in history, AND a professional psychic (see the blog post for the tour of a haunted former Nun’s abbey, that she guides)… she also used to work as a registered nurse — which was infinitely useful for me in terms of her being understanding the needs and limitations of my health predicament while visiting her.]

The second variety of stores are those selling items that were handcrafted by the skilled craftsmen demonstrating by hand what in this day and age are almost lost arts

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in the Town there are six different places selling food during the day (plus a seventh that’s only open for the sound and light show in the evening)

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A candy store with historic candies
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This bakery was selling a full meal in a bun: one end was the appetizer, the other dessert

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As we were touring through the town, my friend took me to the room where she would normally work while volunteering… the ladies lounge in the hotel. Normally my friend would sit there, doing needlepoint, and talking to any visitors who might wander in

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The day we visited we found this woman is doing what my friend normally does, so the two of them had a nice chat exchanging pointers.

New Echota Historic Site & Museum; Calhoun, GA, (2 years later)

This was my second visit to the New Echota historical site. A memorial to, and attempted recreation of, the former capitol of the Cherokee nation — a city that was modern for it’s time ….  until it’s people were uprooted and moved west during the trail of tears — one of the more disturbing events in US history — even after they had fought their case all the way to the Supreme court (at the time headed by John Marshall) and WON their case, to which President Andrew Jackson replied:

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My first visit was by myself in 2016, this time I was touring around my childhood best friend (who has joined me previously in my travels, but only ever for a few days at a time, in: Victoria, Washington D.C. and DisneyWorld; usually we’ll go to do a High-Tea together when she visits, but this time I wasn’t able to find a good one nearby). She had asked if she could visit me wherever I was going to be in March…  at which time I was planning on staying not at an Airbnb, but at the home of another old friend who lives in Dalton (I said, “you can, but you’re going to have to find someplace else to stay”).

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As such, since this is a second visit… I’m not going to repeat what I wrote then, but rather focus on any updates and or changes I find interesting or relevant.

As I commented last time I was here, “while I’m glad they built/are building this place, and I doubt it’s much of a money-maker… I question the motives that created it as much as I appreciate the results.” So, … it’s been two years… what’s new you ask? Not much. There was evidence of some construction/repairs going on at the front entrance/ roadway, but even though the last time I was there they said they were going to add to the “reconstructed” homes of the town, I didn’t see ANY evidence of said additional homes being built.

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Picture from last my 2016 visit, the area was JUST as empty in 2018….. except for more grass

That said, there seems to have been cuts to their budget, as evidenced by not only the lack of developing the property, but also they are now selectively mowing the lawns, rather than doing it regularly and completely (like in the picture above from 2016)

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Rather than mowing all the lawn, they’re just clearing paths

… and in the age of a high risk of catching Lime disease (which has serious derailed a few of my friends lives, one of whom used to be a researcher for NASA and now can’t hold down a job) from something as simple as a SINGLE tick bite, that’s a MAJOR issue

Please note the OLD picture on the left, the lawn was mown all the way out to the far trees, while in the most recent photo (on the right) they are only mowing the most high traffic areas and cutting some narrow paths for people to walk on. This is a problem because, to quote this website: “Ticks are attracted to areas with tall grass, moisture, and shade, so keep your grass cut short, your shrubs trimmed and your leaves raked up.” The first things I asked the park staff member when we were paying our entrance fee was how bad the ticks were in the park were… she responded that just yesterday she had pulled three of them off her body, and she didn’t remember going into the deeply wooded areas that day, i.e., she probably got it just by walking through the unmown lawns.

Last time I talked about how one of the coolest elements was they had created a narrated walking tour that you could call up with your phone, or by scanning the QR code with an application in your smart phone. What I hadn’t mentioned at the time was that you of course had to do it with your phone, and the free WiFi that is in the building (and insanely slow) does not extend outside of the that build’s four walls. As such, you’re reliant on your phone’s data signal to be able access it… and on while it had worked relatively well the first time I was there, this time… not so much. That said, the grounds are small enough, that it would be relatively easy and inexpensive to create free WiFi that covered that grounds… again, hasn’t happened (as I noted in my update on Ruby Falls, which is located about a half hour drive away, they HAVE wired all the caves for free WiFi).

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The first time I was here I commented about how “What I would have liked to see but didn’t (which does not mean it isn’t happening, just that it wasn’t front and center in the museum) evidence that tribal elders are somehow involved in this site, etc.” Again, I really didn’t see much of that. However, one thing I noticed (it wasn’t new, but last time I didn’t really notice it) was this one hand cranked device that included descriptions voiced by individuals with distinctly Native American accents… that said, it would be SO easy to attach a solar panel to this…. cranking it was kind of a pain (we ultimately figured out you can crank it slowly).

As I said last time: “Counter to the Hollywood stereotype, The Cherokee lived in western type wood homes, grew crops, had their own written language using a unique alphabet (actually a syllabary) developed by Sequoyah;

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That said, a few weeks after visiting New Echota the first time (back in 2016) and learning about Sequoyah and his invention of the Cherokee syllabaryI was able to visit his birthplace.

So, not only did the Cherokee have their own democratic government systems, but they also had their own newspaper called the Cherokee Phoenix (written half in English and half in the Cherokee language) edited initially by Elias Boudinot  (the paper is still active) which had a world-wide distribution (according to the docent), and literacy level among their people that was actually was higher than among the surrounding white communities (but at the time that wasn’t all that hard to achieve).”

Another difference I noticed between the two visits was when visiting the Print shop, which in my mind is probably the highlight of the who park; last time, visitors were allowed full access to the print shop to the extent that children and parents were even allowed try their hand at using the printing machine (under supervision)

This time, we were kept firmly behind various barriers (one being a rope extended across the work space), even thought there were only two of us, both adults. And when the guy printed something he did not ask us if we wanted to try our hand.

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That said, I did learn a bunch of interesting printing related fact from him, a collection of everyday phrases that were inspired by printing,

 

Victoria, B.C., Great Destination town

I spent a full month living in Victoria, a popular port-of-call for cruise ships, and liked it so much that it is now on my list of favorite cities on the planet (and I’ve been to most of the good ones) … so much so that I could almost see retiring there, if the Canadian Government would allow it.

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So … as an explaination of WHY I like it much, let’s start with with a seemingly insignificant fact ….. no bugs — seriously! And this lack of annoying little critters extends to all of the Island, not just British Columbia‘s capitol city, Victoria.

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One of the seemingly infinate pieces of outdoor art to be found along the streets of Victoria

Now, granted, of course there are bugs, there wouldn’t be life if there were not bugs… but not so much that you’d notice; and more to the point, other than chiggers (out in the woods) not much in the way of bugs that bite. I was on Vancouver Island  for two whole months and only suffered ONE … seriously… ONE mosquito bite. And it really doesn’t seem to matter what time of day we’re talking about. Granted this may seem trivial, but after having spent a few months in places like Florida or parts of the upper midwest — where you’ll be eaten alive at certain times of day; and when you are bitten you run the risk of things like zika and other nasties … 24 hours a day; and let’s not forget to mention myriad places on the North American continent where if you drive at dusk, within miniutes your car will become so THICK with dead bugs that you’ll have to get it washed, and the job will HAVE to be by hand, or you won’t to get rid of them all (and if you don’t … you’ll have the pleasure of watching other bugs swarm your car to feast on the carcasses of their dead friends. So, really, you learn to appreciate ‘no bugs.’

Beyond that, let my list the other reasons why I love Victoria so much:

Architecture

As my pictures will show, it is a visually GORGEOUS city; the local government has put laws into place that require that all historical buildings be maintained (at the very least their facades) and/or restored. The result is panoply of colors and designs to delight the eyes. Architectually it’s buildings range from Stuart influenced Victorian British and early 19th century Americana, to a smattering of modern glass and steel on the outer edges of town.

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This is the capitol building for British Columbia

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The red pagoda looking building is a school that serves the Chinatown community

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History:

Victoria it is a city that with British zeal embraces and honors it’s history in a myriad a ways; if you pay attention, stop, look and read, you almost don’t need a tour guide to learn about the place; and it’s not allways done via obvious things, like this memorial to Captain Cook,

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The plaque below it reads:

Capt. James Cook, R. N. (1728 – 1779)

“After two historic voyages to the South Pacific Ocean, Cook was cruising the waters of the Pacific Northwest on his third and final voyage, with his two ships, Resolution and Discovery. He was searching for the western exit to the legendary Northwest Passage. In March 1778, they put into Nootka Sound for repairs and to trade with the native people. With him on the voyage were Mr. William Bligh as master of the Resolution and midshipman George Vancouver.

This statue was commissioned by the Victoria Environmental Enhancement Foundation and unveiled by The Honourable William Richards Bennett, premier of the province of British Columbia. July 12, 1976.”

Rather, in Victoria you really need to pay attention and look, because the place is RICH with historical documentation, but it tends to go overlooks; for instance, one of the things I noticed (during my month long stay in Victoria where I passed this statue almost daily) was that MOST tourists never seem to stop and take notice of is the LONG line of smaller plaques all along the wall located right behind that statue (see picture above), and all along the dock which memorialize all the notable ships that docked in her port (below are just a few example, but they line the whole dockside):

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Another example is that there is ample evidence and explaination regarding the location of the original fort on the main shopping street in Victoria, but if you don’t stop and look (as the Asian tourists who were being led by a professional guide — the guy in the red shirt — are doing in the picture below) … you’ll miss it:

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The large tan and white building, across from where the fort had stood, was the first office building of the Hudson Bay Company, when Victoria transitioned from a fort to a city
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Every name memorialized in these bricks is that of a founding citizen of the city

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And then every single historic building that’s been renovated and repurposed (and there are LOADS of them) has attached to it a sign explaining the history of the building. Below for instance is a bank building that is now a bar.

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img_9582And then Victoria has different districts, and again, if you stop and look you’ll find plaques, and the like, explaining the area’s past.

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And then in the front of the Government building, there are little vignettes, describing the history of the city, performed by the Parlimentary Player’s, a group of young actors dressed in historiacal garb that try to ‘bring history to life’ in a way that might be more appealing for those who don’t enjoy reading — including one playing the role of Queen Victoria herself. After which, you can enjoy a enjoy a tour of building itself (either self guided with a pamphlet, or led — for a fee, see my blog post).

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That said, it is STILL worth your while to invest in one of the many historically themed walking tours, because they will often add more information than the signs and plaques, not to mention point out little historical tidbits that city has overlooked — or chosen not to — document… for instance, as you walk along Fan Tan Alley in Victoria’s China town you might easily walk right by this little piece of history which links back to the active opium trade that used to exist in the area.

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What the picture doesn’t show (or at least well) is that across the alley from the door are two peep holes in the opposite wall. From here, guards would check the alley for cops, and if they gave the all clear, the metal door would open, handing a customer his or her opium.

In addition to the history that exists in historic parts of town, There are more historical spots, just on the outskirts like the  Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site (see my blog about it), which host historical events, Craigdarroch Castle (again, see blog), and Christ Church (ditto).

Public Art:

Public Art is visible almost everywhere you look; be it street art, murals (government sanctioned or otherwise) that either celebrate the city’s history and rich cultural past — or simply decorate boring buildings, sculptures that range from monuments to famous people involved with the city’s history, to the more esoteric and fanciful, Victoria almost doubles as an outdoor museum.

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Mother Nature, Natural beauty:

Although one could argue that Victoria’s proximity to the ocean is such an incredible an asset, that the aforementioned, massive investment in public art, is “gilding the lily” just a bit …

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And in addition not only have the Canadians inherited the British love of gardens, but they the almost perfect weather for a wide variety of flowers and plants. The weather is SO good (not too hot, not to cold), that it is considered to have a mediteranian climate (PALM TREES growing outdoors, north of Seattle, REALLY!).

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To that effect, a short drive away (maybe 20 minutes) is the world famous (see my blog post on) Butchart Gardens, which not only hosts musical events, but also serves up a very nice afternoon tea

Shopping:

I was really impressed by the shopping in Victoria. The prices for pretty much everything are low (well, at the exchange rate at the time, that could change); And there is great shopping from high fashion to antiques;

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A bank, converted into a book store

img_3255The guy who owned this store, which was stocked with stuff that made my history major heart swoon, said that he USED to have significantly more WWII era stuff, but that the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. bought out most of his best items a few years ago.

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This next store was probably the coolest of of the MANY gaming stores I found in Victoria, as in one every few blocks — apparently gaming is a popular activity there. You could come with friends, or join up with other folks already there, play board games, etc., and buy them if you enjoyed them… plus it was a cafe.

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The owner of this next, historic store, which is the oldest contiuously running store in the city, said he was worried now that US and Cuban relations were about to normalize, as a large chunk of his business was selling Cuban cigars to Americans tourists who couldn’t get them at home.

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Once many years ago, while in the UK, I accidentally purchased a t-shirt made of hemp, found it to be an amazingly comfortable, sturdy, and breathable fabric, and have been looking for clothes made of it ever since; hemp clothing was difficult to find in the US, till quite recently, because of it being a variety of cannabis plant, i.e., marijuana).

So when I saw this store, I got excited; Now, granted, there wasn’t much I could buy — since living out of the trunk of a car limits one’s closet space,  but since I was supposed to attend the orthodox Jewish wedding of an old friend a month later, and didn’t have anything appropriate to wear, I had a reasonable excuse to buy myself a really nice formal (yet informal) dress made from hemp.

Safe!:

From the perspective of a girl from Chicago, Victoria has an impressively low crime rate (see happy homeless people for part of why that is) so that as a single woman I felt completely comfortable walking around alone, even at night;

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Great resturants:

There are no shortage of really great resturants,  (see the blog post about my favorite, the Ferris Grill) all of which have fresh from the ocean seafood obtained from the local, and more importantly working, (see my blog post about) Fisherman’s warf; so that I got spoiled with buck-a-shuck amazingly fresh oysters, most of which were HUGE… and then keep in mind the exchange rate, so that from my viewpoint it was actually cheaper than $1 each. While there is a China town, I was not overly impressed with the Chinese.

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RedFish BlueFish is a VERY popular foodstand on the dock across from the fancy hotel (not fisherman’s warf)

Music and Art:

There is an active music and arts scene! (Although, sadly, not much in the way of Theater) For instance, there are free concerts almost every week day in front of the city hall, not to mention orchestral presentations at the local cathederal, and a plethera of street performers.

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Tourism:
From a straight tourism point of view, there’s relatively little in the way of “tourist trap” attractions (which is not necessarily a bad thing). There’s the aforementioned fisherman’s warf area, there is one really good museum (see my post about the Royal British Columbia Museum) which hosts really impressive traveling exhibits, and a few small ones. There are also in addition to the aforementioned historically themed walking tours a few tour different bus tour companies, whose offerings are for the most part, the same (I took two of them).

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of the multiple tours the most amusing one I spoted (although not for me as I don’t drink) was the rolling pub tour.

And, as a Jew, I was very excited to see an active Jewish community (albiet a tiny one) that was active in the city

Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria Canada

This Royal BC Museum of natural and human history is 130 years old, and is located right off of the TransCanadian Highway at the western edge of the ‘tourist’ area of downtown Victoria, next door to the British Columbia Capitol building. It is a VERY good museum with interactive/experiential display, that make learning more exciting while still protecting the exhibits. I saw something with my actual eyes I never expected to ever see in my life, an actual mammoth.

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The museums displays extend beyond the building, to encompass the entire property, and all ingresses and egresses from the building; and this includes some of the doors themselves, which in some cases are beautifully carved; as such, it really is worth while to explore the entire property, and not just B-line it to the front entrance.
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Inside the museum (assuming you came in via the front entrance), the first thing you see is the Imax theater, and the adjoining gift shop (which has some REALLY nice stuff with much BETTER prices than I saw for similar items at the local tourist shops). This included a lot of T-shirts, hiking gear, clothing, etc. There are in fact TWO gift shops, on the ground floor, so it is worth it to check both of them out. The one in the picture below is smaller, and tends to have more ‘useful’ type stuff, while the 2nd larger one has more ‘artistic’ sort of things.
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Based on my math, if you intend to go there at least three times in a year, the one-year-pass is by far the smartest buy. And since I was going to be living for a full month only a few blocks away from the museum, and expected to see it at least that many times during my stay (rainy days, etc), and maybe even take in some of their IMAX movies, I bought the pass.

The layout of the Museum is more narrow and tall, rather than low and wide, like most museums; as such in order to enter the exhibits sections of the museum (laid out on three separate floors), you need take an escalator — at which point you will be asked to show your tickets and or pass (or the elevators, available for handicapped access). This can be a bit confusing as you can easily spend a full day on just the first exhibit floor (2nd floor of building) and spend so much time there that you end up missing the other exhibits.

On the first floor, just where you exit the escalator, they have the rotating exhibition rooms. When I went it was an excellent exhibit on mammoths that really awed, over whelmed and stunned me. The first rooms taught you all about mammoths, and was very high tech and interactive and interesting.
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But the stunner, was after that room you entered a very small and very dark room which included an ACTUAL baby woolly mammoth.. they have named Zhenya.
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When you first entered the room, your eyes actually need to adjust a bit, but I assume this is to protect this oh so priceless find… which I’m actually kind of shocked they’ve allowed to go on tour.
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Seriously, I cannot overstate my excitement, delight and awe at being able to see in the flesh, an actual woolly mammoth, even if it was a tiny baby. I was completely farklemt.

(I will note, whoever was in charge of curating the display was not particularly careful in setting it up — look carefully at the photos and see if you can pick up the major OOPS!)

In the next room (well lit) there were more interactive displays to help teach kids about the lives of these now extinct animals
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Another set of rooms was about the Natural environment of the British Colombia region, and displayed taxidermied local animals arranged into impressively ‘simulated natural’ settings — remarkably natural, some of them even included moving water.

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this was followed by a very Steampunk/ Jules Verne, ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea type esthetic, showing off the underwater life of the area.
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Another section of the museum is devoted to the human history of Victoria, as a seaport town belonging to the British

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Their collection includes George Vancouver’s Uniform, among others

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AND — and I thought this was really cool, the “actual” dagger (or at least it’s believed to be) that was used to kill the famous explorer, James Cook.
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Alongside these displays is life size “walk through” of the dock, and of a section of a British Sailing ship, with all the appropriate sounds (and some smells) piped in.

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This is followed by a small section devoted to the Gold Rush that help make the navel base /trading post into a city, where you can try your hand at sifting gold

(What the sign says: “Wig and Case: within a year of the rush to the gold fields in 1858, British law was imposed. As head of teh law enforcement, Judge Matthew Baillie Begbie was responsible for justice … The wig was just one of the many effects used by the judiciary to impress upon the sometimes rebellious gold rushers that British justice was paramount.”)

In another section of the museum there is a reconstruction of what Victoria looked like back in time, that is again, completely lifesize. You can walk into stores, go into the movie theater and watch a black and white movie, or walk through a hotel and see the rooms.

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And then there’s a whole section of the museum devoted to the First Nations (Canadian term for their Native American Tribes, which is gaining acceptance in the USA as well), their languages and their art.

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World’s Largest Buffalo & Frontier Fort

A nice FREE break if you’re driving past Jamestown, ND (I 94)

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This place is kind of cute and there’s plenty of free things to see: there’s the “world’s largest buffalo” (but of course it isn’t — it’s a statue of a buffalo), and frontier fort — a whole town just sitting there unattended, as in nobody standing around to make sure you don’t steal anything, and you can walk through all the different buildings.

There is also a (not free) museum devoted to the American buffalo with a petting zoo, but by the time I got to the town and found the place, it had closed.

And on that note, Oh boy did I get misdirected on the way to this the buffalo! I had learned about it via one of the many road tripping apps and the address they’d included may have been completely wrong, or maybe it was my GPS in my car. Anyway, I found myself in the middle of … not much, so I ended up waving down a passing car — which had two women in it, and they told me to drive behind them and they would lead me here… and it took us about 10 minutes to get from where I was to where this. The thing to remember is the buffalo museum, the worlds larges buffalo and the frontier fort are all located alongside each other

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Viking Statue & Runestone Museum

Because nothing says Minnesota like a massive Viking!!
History of the area via its historic buildings and consumer goods,
and… the rune-stone

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Cute local museum: Essentially, it’s a combination of the trend of collecting historic buildings to one central location in order to save them from demolition and a history of the area via consumer goods. However, there is also a massive ‘rune-stone‘ which a farmer ‘dug up’ from his farm that he claimed is supposed to be proof that the Vikings came to America way before Columbus — while the museum refuses to say it, and some in the local community believe it’s the real deal… the fact is that it’s never been considered anything but a hoax by serious researchers.

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If you dial the number below, or scan the QR code (the box thing) you’ll hear about the stone and a translation of what it says.

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In fact one of the most interesting points, from my perspective, was how local small budget museums are able to utilize these technologies to upgrade the customer experience. Throughout this museum there are descriptions you can access via your cell phone or smart phone (using a QR scanning program), which are available in English AND Norwegian.

I had previously seen a TV show, I forget where, that talked about how in Norway there is a very popular reality TV show about kids who come to Minnesota to try to find their families and experience their lives in the USA. Apparently there’s a huge tourist population of Swedes and Norwegians discovering small town MN, and these narrations in Norwegian are the proof of that.

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Granted, this place is nowhere near as well laid out is the last local museum I went to, but they’ve done a fairly decent job of collecting junk from all of the surrounding town members and housing it in a way that at least people can see it and understand what it is.

Paul Bunyan & Chippewa Valley Museums

While I came to see the Paul Bunyan, and it was OK, it was the unexpected Chippewa Valley collection that I was deeply, deeply, impressed by — ardently so, to the extent that I would argue that if you’re ever within (let’s say) an hour drive of there, it’s definitely worth making a special trip to Eau Claire just to see it. In fact just before leaving — while telling the elderly woman at the front desk how much I loved the place, I learned that their former curator (who was the one who had set the tone) had been ‘stolen’ away from them by the Smithsonian. Yes, it’s THAT good, but on a much smaller budget.

What brought me to the Paul Bunyan Museum was I had remembered seeing a truly massive statue of Paul (and his Blue Ox “Babe”) when I came here with my mother as a child (maybe middle school aged?). Apparently, based on what other people who also came to see the statue as I was waiting for the place to open, that one had fallen apart and been replaced with this much smaller and far less impressive model.

img_0034With regards to the hand, I saw a bunch of these sculptures scattered all over Eau Claire. I thought that they were a bit like the Chicago cows — which are much larger, also decorated uniquely and scattered around the city — or something of that sort, and it turned out I was exactly correct.

Initially, I arrived at the Paul Bunyan museum just as it was closing. They let me walk in and look at the gift shop collection, but that was it. As such, I opted to spend the night in Eau Claire and come back the next day before continuing my trip westward.  (I stayed at an Airbnb, a REALLY nice apartment in a high rise with an amazing view; the owner made me home-made quiche and some really good coffee for my breakfast.) The next day, because my host had to go the work, and I was intending to not return to her digs before leaving town, I arrived an hour before the Paul Bunyan was due to open.

As I sat there, I was looking at the sky and saw that there was a slight beige tint to it. It’s not as bad as say the skies in Korea but there was clearly a lot of something between me and the blue. I think Eau Claire Wisconsin is beginning to get the downdraft from that contagion of fires spreading all over southern Canada that were why I opted to take Interstate 94 across till I got to Glacier National Park, rather than going straight north and taking the Trans-Canada highway all the way to Vancouver Island, where I plan to spend to months.

The Paul Bunyan museum to be honest struck me as something of a tourist trap-ish… the employees were for the most part a bunch of spoiled teenagers who are paid to essentially sit there and do nothing (LOUSY customer service). When I went there was in fact this one blonde girl who is clearly the bully/leader who was doing her best to avoid actually working, and expected the other employees to stay with her so she could laud it over them. When I finally demanded help, she send over this other girl, a kind of passive and sweet brunette to see what the problem was. It was a rather small museum and most of what was in there in terms of interactive displays didn’t even work.

To be honest the best part of the Paul Bunyan is what I refer to as the “living Museum” part out back — a collection buildings representing a logging camp; and… I saw many locals go STRAIGHT to these, bypassing the completely the building where you pay your entrance fee… and like I said before, all the teenagers on staff were just sitting in there not doing their jobs — which would have included stopping people from entering without paying.

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Note the Green button on top of the silver box in the bottom right picture, every area had one of these and when you pushed it a “local” in this case the ‘store owner’ would begin offering a detailed narration of the room, its contents, and tidbits of about the life of the loggers who worked there.

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Again on the left, the green button you pushed for the narration

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As you continue back through the buildings you pass through a wooden gate and come to more houses, only these are no longer the logging camp and look more like part of what might have been early Eau Claire, WI, marking the transition to the Chippewa Valley Museum, in the large post office type looking building in front of you (no pic, sorry).

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Even though the two museums, the Paul Bunyan and The Chippewa Valley, are located right next to each other within a park area (surrounded by a sort of moat — see map below) they are not in fact cooperative with each other — you can not even get a discounted combo ticket for both — because they are their owned by two different groups.

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The price is the same for both places seven dollars each, but this place which is the non-for profit devoted to the overall history of the area, not just logging, actually has a much better display in my opinion. Rather than having to hit a button, the who place is automated with movement activated ‘background noises’ to give each area a feeling of veracity. So for instance, in the section about how the Eau Claire area used to be devoted to logging and wood industry, as you enter you hear the manager of the woodworkers talking to them about doing their jobs or when you walk into a section that supposed to be a schoolroom children saying the Pledge of Allegiance, that’s what you hear.

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They also have really taken a good advantage of the video game architecture as a way for people to be able to go back in time and experience various things. … So for instance, fir you walk into an area devoted to the original Native American tribes the lived in the area

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and in the trading post you can actually in a video game (built by local students) sort of manner interact with the trader. You are a Native American of the region and your language shifts between English and your native language is you negotiate with the trader and socialize.

Perrault’s Trading Post Game from Alex Bostone on Vimeo.
(The actual interaction between you and the trader begins 1 minute into the video)

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This is followed by a fairly devastating area devoted to the cultural havoc wrought on the tribes when they children were forced into boarding schools where they were forcibly ‘converted’ to meet the cultural norms of the dominate white population. This included a selection of interviews with Elderly tribal members recounting their own memories of the place, and of the abuses.

And then the presentation moved into modern times…

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Then they talk about problematic things, like the resettling of the Hmong refugees in the area and the problems they had when they came to settle,

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And then of course there are ‘fun things’ like the local fishing pond

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And the functional icecream parlor where you can get a snack

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All in all this was probably one of the best local history museums I’ve ever seen; while there I talked to a local who said as he was walking through one of the sections devoted to what life was like between the late 1800’s and around 1960, also broken down into subject categories (jobs, health, technologies, etc)… as he went through he was reading all of these quotes, and noting to me that they were from locals he knew—  and he’s lived here all his life — so whoever organized the exhibitions clearly had anthropologists and historians going through the community and collecting the local stories and supporting objects from the area in order to re-created the experiences….. and they skipped nothing, the good, the bad, and the ugly… it’s all in there….civil strife, strikes, economic upheavals, it’s all in there …. I am deeply impressed

 

President McKinley National Memorial & Library

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For those who are weak on their presidential history, McKinley was the 25th President, and was shot six months into his second term, in 1901, by Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist (he didn’t think we should have any sort of government); McKinley is probably best remembered for, by the simple act of dying, making way for Teddy Roosevelt — which might not be fair to McKinley who was actually a fairly effective president (depending on how you feel about US expansionism/colonialism), but is none the less an accurate statement.

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As mausoleums  go, this is a pretty impressive one, and doubles as a popular place to work out, a phenomena that I seriously doubt the folks who designed and built it had in mind. While there I saw any number of ‘dressed to work out’ women and some men doing the steps. I even saw one class of orange clad 2nd graders assigned by their teacher to run up the stairs as a way of calming them down after a long bus ride, before entering the presidential library/museum portion of the memorial.

 

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Next door to the mausoleum is a really impressive little museum (completed in 1964) that is most definitely worth a visit. It kind of reminds me of a miniature version of Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. There’a small planetarium (because of all the school kids I was lucky enough to see a light show on a week day), a gallery devoted to the McKinley’s that shows furniture and various items that belonged to the and includes an animatronic President so good that I’m thinking they may have gone to Disney for his production.

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There is also a whole wing dedicated to recreating a small town of McKinley’s era, with various shops, a post office, a doctor’s office, a dentist, etc., which is in and of itself worth the price of admission, etc., and that’s just on the top floor. I consider this to be part of the living museum trend, even though none of the ‘buildings’ are saved historic ones.

 

The basement is devoted to dinosaurs, but I barely got to see it. There is in fact way more thing to do that I made time for because I wanted to make sure I was able to fit in a visit to the first ladies museum on the other side of town before it closed. If I go to Canton again, which I intend to, I will devote a whole afternoon to this museum.

 

Sequoyah Birthplace Museum & Fort Loudon Historical Park

Worth a good two hours, possibly more, both attractions are on a man-made island. In the valleys near this location sat both a Colonial era British Fort, and an Indian village that was the birthplace of a Famous Native American; the original valley locations for both the fort and village were submerged in 1979, in order to create the Tellico reservoir, and  island.

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I came here wanting to see Sequoyah’s birthplace, having been told about this it by the folks at New Echota in Georgia, where there is a whole display describing his achievements. Sequoyah was so famous in his day that the trees of the same name were named after him; he achieved this notoriety because, after recognizing the importance of the written language in empowering the invading whites, he sat down and all by himself invented a phonic alphabet for the Cherokee language so that his people too could be literate. And the village in which he was born was called Tuskegee

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Below a plaque in memory of the Cherokee people who had lived in the valley that had been flooded in 1979, and the 191 burial sites that had to be moved to this new burial mound in order to create the Tellico reservoir

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I am putting this on the list of places that I didn’t schedule in near enough time for. I honestly was expecting it to be less than it was. By the time I was getting there, it was due to close in about 10 minutes. I had the phone number and called, and the lady working the desk said she would stick around for an extra 15 for me, and another Family that happened to show up can see the place at the same time I arrived (they had not called).

As I said before, this is not actually the original location, the Tennessee Valley Authority had flooded the whole area to create a electric damn and this is where they move to the his home, and created the visitor’s center which explains all about the history of the tribes, and the import of Sequoyah’s achievements.

Once this place closed, I moved across the street to the rebuilt British fort built there. By the time I arrived the visitor’s center had already close, so I can’t speak to it.

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Behind the visitor’s center however is the fort, which only closes at sundown… and it is kind of seriously cool. It’s a living history museum which includes everything, down to sheets on the soldiers bunks