Chandler Oklahoma’s Route 66 interpretive center

Located in Chandler Oklahoma on Route 66 in a beautiful building that once served as their national guard armory, is a museum dedicated to the Route 66 experience. Smartly, its designer looked at the other museums dedicated to 66 (the good and the not so good) and opted to compliment them rather than to repeat them … So, this exhibit is about the experience of some of the local high-points, rather than the road itself — for the low price of $5

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I have got to admit, this is one of the better local attempts at a museum I’ve seen.

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It has a docent, who, as soon as you walk in…. gives you a little tour of the place. First she talks a bit about the history of the building and it’s construction

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Picture of workers mining and working the stone that makes up the walls

Then she showed us the drill hall which has now been repurposed by the community for things like a wedding venue

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and finally she took us into the exhibit hall and explained how the interpretive center works. She told us (me, and two women I had run into previously at Pops), about how they had hired a curator to design the space, and I could have told her that just based on layout. (As you guys all know nothing pisses me off more than museums that don’t even TRY to curate themselves). Less is more people, less is more…

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The suggested way to start the exhibit, is a 20 minute movie (assuming you have the time) about a man originally from IL who made about his first trip on 66 in his 20s (in 1939 going road-tripping with a buddy to their university in Arizona). On that trip he had written letters to parents at every top along the way, and had taken photographs. Years later, when it was time to move his mom into managed care, upon clearing out the family home he found his mother had kept all the letters and post cards… and this stimulated in him a desire to do the trip a 2nd time, in 2000, now that he was retired. He did so, making a point of trying to stop at all the same motels (or finding out what had happened to them) and focusing on the differences between the two trips. With the help of a friend, a documentary was created which is being shown only in this museum (I looked for it on-line and couldn’t find it, other than references saying it was showing at the museum.

Then you move into a section where you can lie on beds (as though you were staying at one of the Route 66 motor homes), or sit in chairs (which were pulled from classic cars), And watch from a large selection of shorts (about 5 minutes or so each) on a variety of different topics

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This one showed either a movie about renovating the Round Barn, that I had visited earlier that day, or a movie about the former icons that are no more — and the changing awareness of local communities and the government that these road side attractions actually need preserving as they are part of our history.

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Roger “King of the Road” Miller Museum, in Erick, Oklahoma

The king of the road Is no more….‘tis sad. NONE of the web sites that I looked at told me this, heck even GOOGLE… which knows all… didn’t tell me this (when I was charting the trip… between then and now someone informed them, so this closure must be pretty recent) … So when I got there I was pretty nonplussed to discover an empty building with blocked out windows, and when I peaked in all I saw was an empty room.

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you can sort of see where they have scrapped the name off the glass

That said, I was going to seriously cheat on this one anyway. My mom used to bake, that was until she discovered the Sarah Lee factory that was about a 15 minute drive from our house that had an ACTUAL outlet store that sold items that had failed their “perfection” tests… so like the icing was lopsided or the crust was not perfectly flat, etc., which they then sold at a deep discount. From then on, she just bought their stuff and presented it as her own work. That said…

Think of it as a memory of things passed … (pun intended)

The first McDonald’s Museum: San Bernardino, CA

This is a private Museum to all things McDonald’s located on the property that HAD been the location of the first McDonald’s. It is NOT owned or operated by McD’s corporate. The actual building had been destroyed in the late 70s — and this building doesn’t even look like that one did…  but it is on the original property of the burger joint owned by Dick and Mac McDonald, who essentially invented the fast food model… that Ray Kroc took international — AND the sign out front includes elements of the original sign.

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The museum was created by Albert Okura, who owns both a chicken processing empire and a string of chicken restaurants in the California, who bought the property and created this museum. Okura is a philanthropist who has invested a LOT of money into revitalizing sites along Route 66 — in addition to this one he OWNS the town of Amboy where Roy’s Motel is located and is responsible for its renovation and upkeep.

I came here as part of my Route 66 road trip. I have to admit I was kind of let down. The website I found this one did NOT make it clear that this was not the original building.

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What the original building looked like

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And then, I was kind of irritated to discover that the collection is completely un-curated. When you walk in what you see is a collection of display cabinets chock-a-block full of stuff… as though it were a store selling collectibles rather than a museum of them

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                    Less is more people!

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Even the big stuff you can’t really look at cause its just sort of all shoved in there

Essentially… They built the building they put some stuff in it and then over the years people have been bringing and/or sending them stuff to add to the collection… so that at this point they have McD’s related stuff from all around the world. Only they completely lack the space to display it in any sort of meaningful way.

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THESE were my favorite items because we used to have them at our house. I have a feeling my brother ended up with them, which makes me sad… but that’s why G-d made eBay… apparently you can get the full set for like $20

Pony Express Station Museum & Gift Shop: Gothenburg, Nebraska

Located in Gothenburg Nebraska is a historic Pony Express Station (well, as it turned out… the walls are original, the roof is new) serving as a museum and gift store. Now granted, it’s not in its original location, historically, it was on the far side of town [they moved it to a park in the middle of town because that was better for business] …. and most of crucial importance, it has no bathroom… But, that said if what you’re looking for is a decent excuse to stretch your legs while road-tripping down I-80, this is it.

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When I first arrived the exterior of the place met my expectations for a small museum dedicated to the historically important, if short-lived, Pony express

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Most people don’t realize this but while it’s a favored features of Hollywood Westerns, the Pony express only was in service for about 18 months, partially because only the government or insanely rich people could really afford it…

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“the cost to send a 1ounce (14 g) letter was $5.00[32] at the beginning, (about $130.00 to today’s standards). By the end period of the Pony Express, the price had dropped to $1.00 per ​12 ounce but even that was considered expensive (equivalent to $27 in 2017[33]) just to mail one letter.”
— from Wikipedia, but also told to me by the docent…  and the informational signs they had attached to the walls…

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And as I already knew, about 18 month after it began working the first electrical telegraph wires had been set along the same distance, GREATLY reducing the transit time for a message from 10 days by pony express rider

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Who had to ride the whole route on horse back…. albeit from station to station, each time switching to fresh horses

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the messages were locked into the “Mochila” which were designed to sit over the horse’s saddle, and could then be quickly switched from saddle to saddle, rather than on the person of the riders themselves

to the amount of time it took to send out all the dots and dashes of the message.

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That said, on closer inspections, mostly what it is, is a gift shop — with over 50% of the space dedicated to sales, and just enough museum pieces thrown in to justify calling it a museum… that and the woman who works there knows just enough about the pony express to give you a short history of it. To be honest was expecting a bit more than this

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EVERYTHING on this side of the building, which is quite tiny anyways, is gift shop

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Tippecanoe Battlefield Museum: Battle Ground, Indiana

This travel stop was in my opinion a complete let down to the point of being annoyed that it took up so much of my time for that day (So what comes next is a very long RANT). The Tippecanoe Battlefield Museum has got to be one of the worst local community sponsored museums I’ve seen, especially when compared to all of the sites that I’ve been to that focus even peripherally on Native American history. But that said, it had hands down the BEST gift store (priorities, clearly). This place is in DIRE need of a skilled curator… it’s clear they had brought one in for the “white people” stuff, but the Native American areas are a pathetic and almost insulting joke. The focus here is almost entirely on what the Federal government did, including the blow by blows of the battle. [This is probably because the U.S. military officer in charge was the local Indiana boy William Harrison, whose success, in said battle, helped him to go on to become our 9th President — a presidency that only lasted for 31 days before he died of pneumonia making his the SHORTEST term in office]….  IMG_2254

One of the annoying things about this site was, at least with regards to the Native American’s side of the story, you didn’t really learn anything on the inside of the museum (after paying your entry fee) that you hadn’t already learned while reading what was presented on the OUTSIDE of the building from the various signs and plaques.

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Erected 1974
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This was probably the first thing put up at the site, and is clearly all about the US forces

Adjacent to the museum is this park with a massive monument dedicated to the American Forces, with a uber masculine/sexy statue of what I’m assuming is Harrison, who as I said went on to become our 9th President, in large part because of this battle. (which tells you something of its political relevance in the day). Please note the:
LOSS, Americas Killed 37, wounded 151…. Indian loss unknown …

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And then these small off to the side plaques, added in 1996 — about the forced removal of the Potawatomi Native populations in the area, called the Trail of Death that happened to the in Sept – Nov. of 1838… a 660 mile forced march during which many children died.

[An important note which I did NOT see explained ANYWHERE in the museum (DID I MENTION that the museum sucks?) is that, the Potawatomi were the tribes that were traditionally a settled/farming tribe that lived on this land, while the Shawnee Indians — the ones involved in the battle — were actually a semi-migratory nation whose lands overlapped Potawatomi land in Indiana and Illinois (in low numbers), but who had MOSTLY lived in lands that extended EAST as far as Maryland. As such, they had already been pushed off those lands by American settlers, and were regrouping and building permanent settlements in Indiana (Indian land anyone?) before the battle happened (which probably didn’t make the Potawatomi very happy)]

fullsizeoutput_4205.jpegOnce I paid to go inside it become incredibly obvious to me that most of the focus of the museum is firmly on the white people, with the Native Americans only really given lip service as an after thought… to be honest, I didn’t really read the poster (below) that blocks your entrance into the place like a warning sign until AFTER I had left the place… and was paying closer attention to the photos I had taken.

IMG_2280This attempt at an apology, which as I said was located JUST at the entrance, in the middle of the path, STRONGLY suggests to me that I’m not (by a long shot) the first person to notice this…  “Originally preserved as a tribute to the soldiers who fell here. We recognize today the bravery of both the Native American and United States military forces who died here defending their way of life.” So, what they have there was about the Native Americans is almost a “lip service” nod to them, and is presented in the most boring, cost-effective ways possible, so the likelihood of customers ‘taking it in’ was unlikely.

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So, even though you’ve walked into a museum that is supposed to be focused on the battle, the first section is devoted to the lesser findings of local archeological digs about a a village where the French and the Miami Indians were living together peacefully… which is more than a bit confusing, largely because it’s not properly segregated nor introduced (to that point, the fact that it was Miami AND French was something I figured out later as I put the disparate pieces from the various signs together — really it was NOT clear). I’m guessing the good stuff went to bigger museums or the University’s museum.) That said, what was presented was a bit scattered and a bit hard to make sense of….

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There was VERY little reference to the French traders nor any mention how well they integrated themselves into the local populations, other than by reference (they lived were living side by side)… so NO comments anywhere about how the Native Americans were never threatened by them, and how their presence was almost diametrically opposed to that of the American settlers…. just these few items

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Seriously, this is IT, this is ALL they had on the French traders

and then there is an equally tiny a bit about the later American white settlers who lived in the area other than that they were there (with some bit and pieces of archeological evidence of their lives… ). Again, NO mention or explanation about how they were invaders, from the local populations’ points of view: i.e., the settlers were forcing Native Americans off their ancestral lands, destroying their hunting grounds and converting them to farms.  And again, there’s no discussion of how those white settlers got there or why… nor of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, etc. (I did spot some reference to the Founding Fathers buying land in the area, but it didn’t come with any explanation of how those land speculations — and the fact that the British said, “sorry no, that land belongs to the French so no you can’t claim ownership of it.” Nor was there any good explanation of how this land greed was something that most historians at this point recognize as being part of what motivated the decision to break from Mother England; all I spotted was a one sentence reference to it which most people would likely miss as it wouldn’t make sense to them.

There are a few scattered references to the settlers’ presence being partially responsible for The American, War of 1812, with Britain, (which from the British point of view was a minor theater of what historians argue was actually the first World War) that happened during the same time period as this battle… but very little explanation of what that connection was….

The Native Americans involved in the Tippecanoe battle receive barely enough focus on the Shawnee Indians to make any sense of the motivations of Tecumseh (one of the most famous Native American tribal leaders EVER, whose name is probably better known than Harrison’s) and his brother Tenskwatawa (other wise known as ‘The Prophet”)… that, and their offerings were so badly displayed as to border on nonsensical (it was just stuff, it didn’t tell any sort of story).

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Also, if you DO actually stop and read what’s written on the various posters (make sure you read the one above first) it’s repetitive, and the time lines of the thing are confusing. It’s almost as though they copy and pasted things they found on-line or in books into the various posters scattered almost thoughtlessly on the walls

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Then, you come to what this museum was CLEARLY intended to be focused upon when first created; it is the section where — by far — most of the money was spent, and actually looks like a serious museum rather than a slap dash attempt at one. This section is a glorification of the American soldiers who arrived for the sole purpose of breaking up any last hope attempt on the part of the Native populations of the area to live peacefully.

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Note the concerned look of the Native American looking up the barrel of a rifleman (who is ridiculously decked out, but that’s what militaries did back then)

Right after this is a multi-media sound and light show devoted to giving you an intricate blow-by-blow of the battle.

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It reminded me of a much smaller, and more affordable version of the Battles for Chattanooga presentation in Tennessee that I love so much that I’ve gone there three times in the last 10 years.

And then back to lip service to the Native Americans… a few posters stuck up on the wall

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After these few pieces of paper stuck to walls, the exhibit returns to its true love of the U.S. Military and Harrison

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A case devoted to the medical tools of the day used by army doctors
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A case devoted to what the soldiers carried with them
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If you have a kid who likes guns, just saying….

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As I was leaving the place, the ONE thing the woman running it insisted on leaving her desk to point out to me was the fact that Harrison’s campaign for President was what we today might consider a “modern” one, in that it utilized slogans “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!” and the media in order to make Harrison popular and promote his candidacy

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But, let’s talk about the gift store….

… IF you’re searching for a decent source for historic clothing to wear to a historical reenactment of circa 1811, this is the place… IMG_2422Hand made, historically correct round hats selling for $342 are not the sort of items you normally see for sale in local museum gift stores!  While there were some items, cheap knickknacks that are more normal for these sorts of gift stores, the MAJORITY of items this place was selling seemed to be AS focused on historic reenactment. They weren’t selling little rubber Tomahawks for kids, they were selling REAL ones, and historically correct hand-made leather bags, pipes, and either the clothing, or the pattens so you could make them yourself…  as in exactly the sorts of goods for sale (but for a different time period) as what I found at the store of the  SCA Pennsic event I went to last year — which is a medieval reenactmentIMG_2423

APPARENTLY, this is because there are TWO reenactments that happen in the area devoted to this period of history (below is just one of them), one devoted to the pre-revolutionary war period, and one to the Tippecanoe battle.

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Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural center & Bush Tucker Cafe: Halls Gap, Victoria, Australia

Brambuk National Park & cultural centre is about a 3 to 4 hour drive away from Melbourne, and a 5 hour drive away from Adelaide, so if you haven’t made the effort to road trip between the two (or live in the area), odds are you’ll miss this National Park. Along with the natural wonders of the place, and a host of optional activities (which I will discuss elsewhere), there is a must see but ultimately highly disappointing Aboriginal cultural center, a really wonderful little cafe with very unusual foods, and of course a pretty good gift shop.

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From my first days of planning my trip to Ballarat, my friend who was hosting me had been describing this place to me, and it was one of the things I insisted we had to do, in SPITE of the fact that I was pretty much laid up because of the sever concussion I had suffered not two weeks before.

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TThe cafe and gift shop building

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They have a large selection of gelato available in flavors native to Australia fruits and spices… Golden Wattle seed, Quandong fruit, Strawberry Gum,  Desert lime, Macadamia nut (which is actually native to Australia, not Hawaii), Riberry and Davidson Plum

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As part of my experiencing Australian pies, I ordered a “Skippy” pie (you have to love the perversity of Aussie humor — check the link), which I shared with my friends (one of whom at 99% of the chips… I only ate two)

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we passed on the Lemon Myrtle scones and instead opted for the Wattleseed Damper w/Quandong & Peach Jam and Wattleseed cream (because I had no idea what a Damper was). After checking out their menu, we decided to go for the Bush Food Platter

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which had a little bit of everything (Kangaroo, Emu sausages, Crocodile, Wild Duck (Australia has a few different breeds, they never told us which one we were eating), 2 Bush Food Chutney’s (again we never found out which flavors) & a Garden Salad w/Bush Tomato & Balsamic Dressing) which is intended for two people, so we shared it between us. DEFINITELY worth trying, if only for all the new flavors. (see below for what some of these things look like)

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some of the spices and seeds mentioned above

While waiting for our food we raided the gift shop, which had a very good selection of items (many of which were made by Aboriginals with the proceeds going to them).

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At first I thought left versus right-handed boomerangs was a joke on the tourists, but no, apparently they need to be designed differently. That said, I was tempted to buy this map of Australia (below) showing all the native tribal lands… but didn’t.

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Once done at the first building you walk down a path to the cultural center

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The real disappointment of this visit was the thing that should have been the star, the cultural center. Even though pretty much all they have in there is photographs, we weren’t allowed to take any. There was a movie on Aboriginal culture but you had to pay to see it (and it wasn’t cheap, so we skipped it).

According to their website’s description, “The Brambuk Cultural Centre is the longest running cultural centre still operated by Aboriginal people. Come here to explore the culture, its traditions and various multi-award winning architectural establishments.” So, you’d think this would be a place where politically motivated local Aboriginals would choose to work in order to teach interested visitors about the grandeur of their own culture, and share their love of their own history.

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Note how faded and worn the sign is

But here’s the thing… the odds are when you get there, you won’t spot a single Aboriginal …  not even one with an ancestor four generations back so that all of the distinctive, but also  highly recessive, genetic traits have been bred out — lord knows we didn’t find any (and we asked).

[Rant: Firstly, let’s keep in mind that I have spent months of my life, studying, living and working on the Navajo reservation, and to this day still maintain some VERY close friendships with Native Americans I met during that period of my life who are to this day deeply involved with trying to improve things for their people. What I am not is a knee jerk liberal who attends protests and talks the talk, but has never spent more than a day or two being a tourist among said people, and has therefore never really walked the walk, let alone never spent any real-time talking to said people, whose rights they are so moved to protect; and hence doesn’t even really know who they are let alone understand their problems, and what these people might want for themselves vs., what you the privileged white person might want for them. That said, one of the things that kind of annoyed me while visiting was my observation that in the modern-day Australians (who by all appearances as white) seem to take extreme pride in any small amount of Aboriginal heritage they can claim. Keep in mind, in the case of Aboriginal Australians, that by the third generation, such heritage is difficult to identify visually, and unlike with African genes it can’t “pop up” unexpectedly — where two seemingly white parents can give birth to a dark-skinned child, the same way two brown-eyed parents can have a blue-eyed child. So for instance, I, while researching this piece, learned about a European/Anglo member of the Tasmanian government, by the name of Jacqui Lambie, who offended the Aboriginal community by claiming she was one and therefore could represent them, and then went so far as to get her DNA tested to try to prove it. While this on the surface might seem to be not unlike Americans who point to Native American roots that their ancestors would have tried to hide with embarrassment. The difference is that … where as in America that person might take pride in being “part” Cherokee, they rarely if ever have the audacity to claim the state owes them something for prejudice that they themselves never have had to face in their daily lives because of that genetic heritage. In Australia, however, they will; in the current age they will describe themselves as simply Aboriginal, not as ‘part’ Aboriginal, because it is now not only COOL to be Aboriginal, but again it comes with all sorts of benefits designed to provide a ‘leg up’ in a society that has heretofore condemned them. I was for instance more than a little ticked off to see Aboriginal art, which is sold as such rather than just as art, and it’s a big deal to be able to PROVE the authenticity of said art… only for the photo of the artist to be of someone with blond hair and blue eyes. Think Iggy Azalea, the Australian rapper who claims aboriginal heritage who couldn’t understand while Americans took issue to her calling herself, “black” and hence being an ‘authentic’ rapper…

In the US, the TRIBES would never allow such a thing, for the obvious reason that funding is finite and every kid who is part Native, but has suffered none of the deprivations of that ancestry, who takes that funding is in effect taking it out of the mouths of the folks who really need it. And now that the tribes themselves have found creative ways to pull themselves out of poverty, they are getting EVEN FIERCER about who does or does not get to call themselves “Native America” versus, being of Native American ancestry. It would be a bit like the Johnson’s (African American family, founders of Ebony and Jett magazine and first African American to make make the Forbes 400 list), who used to live near me — and walking distance from one of the very best high schools in the country — had mansion on Lake Michigan, with a swimming pool and tennis court, and had the Commodores (Lionel Richie‘s band before he went solo) play for their kids sweet 16 party taking advantage of preferred places and funding at Universities, intended to help cure socioeconomic disparities that exist in the African-American community]

According to the staff member we spoke to, while the Aboriginal community gets the final say on what happens there, and everything is done with difference to them… sadly, their interest sort of ends with that, and is mostly focused on the money generated by the place… although one of the staff members said if we signed up for the classes and performances that we had read about and wanted to see (which weren’t happening at that time, and hadn’t happened in a while, and he wasn’t sure when the next one might be), we MIGHT (but not would) see Aboriginals working those events.

What displays they had were placed kind of hap hazard, so that it didn’t tell any sort of meaningful story. Overall, it was kind of massive waste of time

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having trouble embeding the map (follow link to google maps):

 

Jeffersonville, IN

Louisville Kentucky is one of the myriad of US towns situated on a river that is a state border, so that her ‘suburbs’ effectually spread over multiple states; historic Jeffersonville Indiana is just such a suburb.

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Originally the location of a fort named after Baron Von Steuben (the Gay military genius without whom we would have most likely lost the Revolutionary war), Jeffersonville was most likely named as such the same year Thomas Jefferson became president of the united states, and the settlers of the town used the same grid layout that he had promoted as a way for distributing land.

To the town’s credit, they have embraced the historic nature of their town, and as you walk around it you’ll see numerous historic buildings, and signs attached to walls, that offer you a window into the towns past.

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Ironically, however, when I scanned the QR codes attached to those signs into my phone I was taken to a web page saying that the campaign had been disabled — not sure why they would go to all the effort to produce the signs if the city leaders weren’t committed to at least keep the associated web pages active.

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The town however is full of architecturally interesting buildings that have been, for the most part, well maintained, and was full of cute little restaurants, cafes, etc., including a two different cigar lounges (all leather armchairs and sipping bourbon), and a Cafeteria resturant, which is sort of a dying institution.

img_7068Truth be told, I hadn’t come to Jeffersonville in order to see the town, even though having seen it I would happily categorize it as a destination in and of itself, but rather U had come here because of Schimpff’s Candies, which is historic enough to have been covered by the history channel (it was, ironically, featured in the show, Modern Marvels on an episode devoted to candy production).img_7065

Having celebrated it’s 125th anniversary, Schimpff’s, which was originally opened on April 11, 1891,  is one of the oldest continuously operated, family owned candy companies in the US to still be located in it’s original location. And in case one were to forget the perils of being in a town located adjacent to a river, I found the way that the owners had proudly notated its various floods on the exterior wall of the shop to be interesting.

Schimpff’s Candies is a cute place, a combination store, ice cream and lunch counter, with a museum of the Candy industry located in the back.
img_6847I came here because I thought there was going to be a factory tour but there is not — they just do demonstrations of what they’re making that day.
img_7063They’re famous for their red hots, but today they were making Christmas candy.

While the store itself was worthy of a stop, I think that the it’s more the high point of a cute little historic town visit, rather than a full destination in and of itself.

The day I went was by sheer coincidence veterans day… and I saw this:img_6867

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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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.