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Tuesday 30 December 2014

Statue of Liberty

Battery Park

Location: New York, New York, USA
Address: Liberty Island
Date: Jan 2009
Website:  www.nps.gov/stli/index.htm

  As we traveled on the subway towards South Ferry station there was an announcement that you needed to be in the first five cars if you wished to exit the train at that stop.  Being tourists, we were not sure how many cars make up a typical New York subway.  Is there ten cars? Is there more than that? How far back in the train were we anyway? At the next stop we ran forward from the car that we were in.  The train stayed at the station so we ran forward some more.  We were not alone as other passengers revealed themselves as tourists and joined the rush.  Eventually there was another announcement along the lines of  "You have moved forward far enough you only need to be in the first five cars".   We assumed this announcement may have been for us so we took a chance and stayed where we were.  South Ferry station is an older station with a platform that can only fit half of the train.  Luckily when the doors opened we had a platform to exit onto.
  We arrived in Battery Park and the lines of people circled through the grounds.   There was one line to get your Statue of Liberty tickets and then you moved on to the next line, where you waited to board a boat that would finally take you to Liberty Island.  Neither of the lines looked very promising.  We waited for some time and then noticed that people were arriving and heading straight to another line to wait for the boats.  We inquired and were told that they had timed tickets which they purchased on the internet.  This seemed like the better idea as it was a rather cold December day and we still had lots of New York to see.  We took one last look out towards Lady Liberty and vowed to return next year.

Statue From Battery Park

  Later that night we went online and purchased our timed tickets for two days later.  On New Year's day we returned to try again.  We sat right up in the front car of the train, but this time we were on an R train going to Whitehall Station so it was not required.  Whitehall and South Ferry stations end up being right next to each other so either one will get you close to Battery Park.  New York might be the city that never sleeps, but on New Year's day we think they make an exception.  The lines were considerably shorter and the weather was also considerably colder.  Despite the poorer turnout, our timed tickets still saved us from standing in line in the cold.

Boat to Liberty Island.

  Soon we were on our way sailing towards Liberty Island which is part of the National Park Service.  The Statue of Liberty was a gift from France and it was shipped in pieces to the USA.  It's official title is "Liberty Enlightening the World" and was designed by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi.  It sits on an American pedestal created by Richard Morris Hunt and was dedicated back in 1886.  Once we were on the island we made our way from the dock and had a view of the back of the statue.  This view is limited only to those who visit the island, or someone in New Jersey.

Back of the statue.
Side of the statue.

  We made our way around the right side of the statue and we could tell that Lady Liberty is actually stepping forward.  You can see the heel of her right foot off the ground.  From the front or the left sides of the statue she always appears to be standing still.  Finally, we were able to stand beneath her and look up at her face from the front.  The statue itself stands just over 150 feet tall.  If you include the pedestal it is just over 300 feet.  She has seven rays on her crown to symbolize the seven seas and continents.  To go inside the crown or pedestal you must book online well in advance to get special tickets.  The tablet she holds reads July 4th 1776 in roman numerals.  This date is Independence Day when the United States of America declared it was independent from Britain.

Close up of Statue of Liberty

  The Statue of Liberty shares Liberty Island with not much else besides some trees and The Crown Cafe.  It was from this cafe that we purchased a spring water bottle which contained many of the facts included in this blog.  Once you have visited Liberty Island you must then board another boat to take you either to Ellis Island or back to Battery Park in Manhattan.  Be sure to check the ferry times and line-ups to minimize your wait times.  Any trip to the Statue of Liberty includes the trip to Ellis Island so that is where we were headed next.

Liberty Enlightening the World

Map of Our World
Statue of Liberty

Post # 33

Saturday 20 December 2014

Toronto Zoo (The Santa Clause)

Why yes, I was in a movie with Tim Allen.

Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Address: 2000 Meadowvale Road
Date: Nov 2010
Website:  www.torontozoo.com

  If you have ever taken a ride on the zoomobile at the Toronto Zoo you may have heard the guide state.  "Our reindeer are movie stars. They appeared in the hit movie The Santa Clause starring Tim Allen."  Not only did the reindeer appear in the movie, but there are also a couple of scenes that were filmed on the zoo grounds.

Polar Bear Underwater Viewing

  The first scene takes place in the polar bear underwater viewing area where Scott (Tim Allen) and his son Charlie debate whether or not he is Santa Claus.  This area has undergone a bit of a facelift since the 90s, but it is a great spot to watch these huge bears as they swim through the water.  If you are lucky one may come right up to the window to check you out.

Come on in. The water's cold.

  The second scene shows Scott and his son walking along the Camel Trail continuing the discussion.  The Camel Trail used to loop around the Eurasian section of the zoo and if you look closely you can still see some of the yellow camel feet painted on the pathway.  As they walk further along the path the son turns and smiles.  This is the big movie moment for the zoo's reindeer as they follow behind them walking in a row.  Why else would they be following Tim Allen?  He must be Santa Claus.
Yellow Camel Trail footprint

Click here to take a virtual tour and see our collection of Toronto Zoo animal photos.

Map of Our World
Toronto Zoo (The Santa Clause)
Toronto Zoo (Tundra Trek)

Post # 32

Wednesday 10 December 2014

South Street Diner

Oh you want my name?  Maxwell Hause...er

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Address: 178 Kneeland St
Date: Sept 2010
Website:  www.southstreetdiner.com

  South Street Diner used to be known as The Blue Diner.  It is one of those old time, 24 hour diners that looks sort of like someone deposited a railway dining car on the corner of the street.  It is also the type of place that will have interesting characters both as staff and customers.  We drove past the restaurant while on a Boston Upper Deck Trolley Tour.
  The diner was used as a filming location for the movie Hiding Out staring Jon Cryer.  Jon Cryer is best known as Alan on Two & a Half Men or Duckie from Pretty in Pink.  In this movie he plays Andrew Morenski who ends up wanted by the mob and is taken into protective custody by the FBI.  He manages to convince them to let him have a meal at the diner.  In the movie you can see that the sign on the roof still says the Blue Diner.  During the meal a mob hit man takes out the FBI agents and Andrew has to crash through the window and run for his life down the street.  He eventually escapes on a train leaving Boston's South Street Station.  He hides out by enrolling as a high school student under the name Maxwell Hauser, which he made up while looking at a Maxwell House coffee tin.

Catch Me (I'm Falling) out the diner window.

Map of Our World
South Street Diner

Post # 31

Sunday 30 November 2014

Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room

If we weren't in the show starting right away. We'd be in the audience too.

Location: Anaheim, California, USA
Address: 1313 Disneyland Dr
Date: May 2012
Website:  disneyland.disney.go.com/destinations/disneyland/

  When visiting Disneyland one of our absolute favourite places in the park is the Enchanted Tiki Room. The Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room.  It is a show performed by animatronic birds and has been part of the park since 1963.  We find that whenever we are walking through Adventureland we have to stop and watch the show, which repeats about every fifteen minutes.  The show is currently sponsored by Dole and they run a juice bar right out front.
Maui tells us time to go.  Time for wondrous Tiki show.

    Everyone waits outside of the Tiki Room. The Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room.  A few minutes before the main show is about to start, the different Hawaiian gods introduce themselves from their locations around the Tiki Garden.  Then the doors to the Tiki Room open. The Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room.  You are then welcomed to a world of joyous song and wondrous miracles as everyone goes inside and takes their seats.

My siestas are getting shorter and shorter.

  Ole! Ole! It's showtime! Up above you can see some of the birds on their perches.  The four main birds are Jose, Michael, Pierre and Fritz who introduce the show.   You may recognize some of their voices from other attractions in the park or from Disney films.  The most recognizable voice belongs to Thurl Ravenscroft who is best know as Tony the Tiger and for singing "Your'e a Mean One, Mr. Grinch".  Then the whole glee club of birds break out into song and sing "The Tiki Tiki Tiki Room".  All the little animatronic birds flap and move their beaks as they belt out their tune.
  Next the enchanted fountain in the center of the room is lit up.  "Look. Here come the girls."  We are introduced to Collette, Suzette, Mimi, Gigi, Fifi and Josephine, who rise from the fountain and perform "Let's All Sing Like the Birdies Sing".  You will soon find yourself happily tweet, tweet, tweeting along.
  The final song is the "Hawaiian War Chant" which starts out beautifully but then the whole room is filled with drumming as the walls come alive.  The tension builds and the birds get more and more excited until a storm breaks out.  Then it all clears up again, but the show has to come to an end and the birds must say adieu.  You have now heard the birds and the flowers sing and seen the Tiki's play their drums.  Don't worry you can always go back around and wait in the garden for the next show.  No matter what, the songs of the birds will now be with you always. All together! In the Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Tiki Room.

As long as your'e standing.  We are going to make you all disappear.

Map of Our World
Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room

Post # 30

Thursday 20 November 2014

Dip 'n Sip Donuts

Kick-Ass Donut Shop

Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Address: 663 Kingston Road
Date: July 2014

  Kick-Ass is a movie based on a comic book.  It is a story about an average teenager (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who decides to take matters into his own hands and becomes an unlikely superhero.  He dresses up in a green body suit and sets out to stop crime.  His first attempt does not go very well, but his second attempt takes place outside of Dip 'n Sip Donuts.  While trying to rescue a cat, he inadvertently gets caught up in someone else's fight.  He ends up defeating three thugs who were ganging up on one guy.  The whole thing is caught on video and soon becomes one of the most watched clips on the internet.  It rises to fame even faster than any of our Life Is Better on Vacation videos.  All this attention soon gets him involved with the likes of Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage), Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) and Red Mist.
  A large part of the movie was filmed in both Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario.  When we finally got around to visiting this location it was already fenced up, covered in graffiti, and ready to be demolished to make room for condos.  By the time you are reading this post we expect it will already be gone.  You would think that there must be some group that would stand up and get this location designated a historical landmark.  "Hey man!  You can't build here. This was where Kick-Ass first kicked ass!"
Who are you?  I'm Kick-Ass

Map of Our World
Dip 'n Sip Donuts

Post # 29

Monday 10 November 2014

Everglades Alligator Farm

Here comes the rain again.

Location: Homestead, Florida, USA
Address: 40351 SW 192 Avenue
Date: Aug 2004
Website: www.everglades.com

  It had been raining a lot that day, but we were determined to make it to the alligator farm.  As we got closer to our destination, the rain started to let up once again and it looked promising.  We were in Florida after all, where it rains like someone pouring a bucket on you and then 5 minutes later the sun comes out and instantly dries up any evidence.  We headed past the prison.  We headed past the pickup truck with the Confederate flag and two crisscrossed rifles in the back.  We pulled into the Everglades Alligator Farm driveway.  Wham!  The skies unleashed another torrent of rain down on us.
  The rain let up just a bit and we made a run for the ticket office.  Due to the rain they had halted any airboat rides for the day.  An airboat is a flat bottomed boat that is propelled through the swamp by a huge fan at the back.  In the swamp a regular submerged propeller would not work due to the very shallow water filled with hidden vegetation and alligators.  We were told that maybe if the rain stopped the rides would resume.  We waited for a little while as the rain continued and eventually we gave up and ran back to the car.  As we headed past the prison the skies cleared up once again.  Our day ended up working out for us after all.

Air boats.

  We stood near the water's edge waiting to load into our airboat.  All the while we wondered just how many alligators may be lurking in the water nearby.  Even before our boat ride began, some of the local residents came by to check us out.  A softshell turtle poked his head out of the water to see what was going on. Just as our boat moved slowly from the shore, a pair of eyes glided along the surface of the water to let us know that we were in gator territory now.

Sometimes I feel I've got to... Run away
 I've got my eyes on you.

  Once the boat made its way out into the swamp, the driver picked up speed and we skimmed across the water propelled by the giant, noisy fan.  He then killed the power to the fan and turned sharply so that we spun about 180 degrees.  We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves as he repeated this stunt several times.  We never once feared that we would tip and end up in the murky water hiding who knows what. 

Male boat-tailed grackles.
Female boat-tailed grackle.

  At one point our guide handed out some food and it wasn't long until every outstretched hand contained a hungry boat-tailed grackle.  The male grackles have a bluish black hue to their feathers while the female is brown.  After about a half hour or so, our airboat ride came to an end and the huge fan fell silent.  We jumped back up onto the bank and away from the water just in time to head over for the alligator feeding.

Hungry eyes.

    A green moss covered the alligator pond.  As we looked closer we noticed that the pond was filled to the rim with alligators.  Every little bump you see sticking above the water was part of a gator.  A staff member of the farm came through the crowd with a bucket of chicken.  This was not a KFC dinner, this looked like beaks and feet and all.  He went in through a gate and stood just behind another little fence that separated him from the alligators.  The alligators knew what was about to happen and more and more of them crawled out of the pond and up onto the bank, the moss still covering their bodies.  Some of them started to let out a slow hissing sound.

Gators galore.

  Then the birds began to fly as the staff member threw a chicken into the mass of alligators.  As the chicken landed near or on a gator, they quickly snapped their mouth shut with a thud.   Then all the gators next to them instinctually snapped their mouths.  The wave of snapping jaws rippled out from the epicenter deep into the pond.  The excitement in the crowd and in the pond began to increase as more and more gators crowded up onto the bank.  Again, another chicken was thrown and the snapping thud of jaws passed like a wave around the pond.  Some of the gators started to push up against the wire link fence in front of the staff member bending it in towards him.  He finished off his bucket and joined the rest of us behind the stronger protective fence.

Gators close in on their meal.

   The Everglades Alligator Farm also has other reptiles like snakes and turtles.  They also have a growth area where the small gators (like those below) dream of being large enough to join the adults in the pond.  As we left the farm we were glad the rain had stopped and that we didn't need an airboat to get us up the road, past the prison and back to our hotel.

Map of Our World
Everglades Alligator Farm

Post # 28

Saturday 1 November 2014

Monterey Bay

Monterey Bay

Location: Monterey, California, USA
Address: 720 Cannery Row
Date: Feb 2014
Website:  www.seemonterey.com/things-to-do/animals-and-wildlife

  As we were driving north to San Francisco we stopped in the town of Monterey.  We wanted to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium and also hoped to see some of the local wildlife we had heard about.  Our first order of business, after driving for a few hours, was to get some lunch.  We had also done our research in this area and knew where we were headed.

 My name’s Forrest Gump. People call me Forrest Gump.  Bubba was my best good friend.

  Monterey Bay is home to the very first Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.  The restaurant chain was created by Paramount Pictures after the success of the Forrest Gump movie.  It is based on the shrimping company that Forrest started after the suggestion of his friend Bubba whom he met during the Vietnam War.  Out front of the restaurant is a bench with Forrest's suitcase and running shoes all ready for photo opportunities.  We have always enjoyed our food at Bubba Gump and this time we had some very tasty blueberry and strawberry lemonades as well.  One neat thing about Bubba Gump is that at your table are two license plates.  One says Run Forrest Run and the other says Stop Forrest Stop.  If you display the Run Forrest Run plate the staff will pass you by, but if you flip to the Stop Forrest Stop plate the nearest staff member will stop to see what you need.  The best thing about this restaurant is its location.  The restaurant is right on the bay and from our table we spotted some sea otters out on the water.  We had to wait until we had finished our meal before we could run outside to take a closer look.  

Down by the bay.

Birds and seals on the rocks.

  Sure enough, when we looked out into the bay we saw harbour seals lounging on the rocks surrounded by Brandt's cormorants and seagulls.  Looking further into the bay we once again located the sea otters that had entertained us during our lunch.  In North America, sea otters can only be found along the Pacific coast and the Monterey Bay area is one of the best spots to see them.  Sea otters spend the majority of their time in the water moving between the kelp.  They are known for using rocks as tools in order to crack open shells on their bellies.  They are also known for being incredibly cute.   We stopped and watched the sea otters play in the water for a while and then we headed off to get an even closer look at more sea otters inside the Monterey Bay Aquarium. 

Map of Our World
Monterey Bay
Bubba Gump Shrimp Company (Monterey Bay)

Post # 27

Thursday 30 October 2014

Cannery Row Monument

Cannery Row Monument Ceremony

Location: Monterey, California, USA
Address: 700 Cannery Row
Date: Feb 2014
Website:  canneryrow.com

    When we arrived in Monterey, California it was raining.  After parking the car we noticed a crowd gathered around a statue and a podium.  We took a quick photo and carried on our way towards lunch and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Later we discovered that this was the unveiling ceremony of the Cannery Row Monument.  Cannery Row is the nickname that was given to this area due to all the sardine canning plants that used to line the streets.  The monument features several important people sitting on rocks in a fashion not unlike the birds and seals we had seen from the shoreline.  At the top sits John Steinbeck who was the author of a book called Cannery Row, published in 1945.  He is best know for his novel The Grapes of Wrath.  Beneath him sit other figures who were important to the success of the area.
  After leaving the Aquarium, which was built inside one of the old canneries, the rain had washed away the crowds and we were able to get a proper look at the monument.

Cannery Row Monument

Map of Our World
Cannery Row Monument

Post # 26

Monday 20 October 2014

Television City at The MGM Grand

MGM Grand Las Vegas

Location: Las Vegas, Nevada, USA 
Address: 3799 S. Las Vegas Blvd.
Date: March 2003
Website:  tvcityresearch.com

  Deep within the MGM Grand in Las Vegas is Television City.   It is a place where those who are tired of trying their luck on the casino floor can try their luck with the CBS television schedule.  We were walking by when the staff out front asked us if we would like to take part.  It would take less than an hour and we would get some discounts in return.  We did end up redeeming our gift shop discount for a CSI t-shirt and a Late Night with David Letterman hat, so we did not do too badly.
  Basically you sit and watch a TV series pilot episode and fill out survey questions that ask you what you liked or did not like about the show.  They will in turn use this information to ultimately decide whether this show makes it to air or if any changes are required.  Often on TV, a show can change drastically between the pilot and the second epsiode.  Actors get replaced, characters removed, or the overall tone of the show is adjusted.  It was all up to us.

Televison City at the MGM Grand

  The show we watched was called Charlie Lawrence and starred Nathan Lane in the title role.  Nathan has had many roles throughout the years, but is best known for The Producers, The Birdcage and as Timon the meerkat in The Lion King.  Other recognizable actors were Ted McGinley, who has appeared on both Happy Days and Married With Children, and Laurie Metcalf, who starred in Roseanne and plays Sheldon's mother on The Big Bang Theory.
  While the show was not bad, it was not something we would watch again unless we were on vacation and getting some gift shop discounts in exchange for our time.  When the show was over we filled out our surveys and let them know what we thought.  Several months after we returned from Las Vegas, Charlie Lawrence did appear on television.  Only 2 episodes ever aired before the show was abruptly pulled from the schedule due to poor ratings.  Hey, we tried to warn you CBS.

Map of Our World
Television City At the MGM Grand

Post # 25

Friday 10 October 2014

Wombat Encounter

5 cute wombats.

Location: Beerwah, Queensland, Australia
Address: 1638 Steve Irwin Way
Date: May 2012
Website:  www.australiazoo.com.au/our-animals/animal-encounters

  Few things have brought us more joy than our wombat encounter at the Australia Zoo.  We still can't look at these pictures without a huge smile on our faces.  The Australia Zoo is located about an hour's drive outside of Brisbane and offers many special animal encounters.  We have always had a soft spot for wombats since seeing our first one at the Toronto Zoo.  For about 40 dollars each we had the chance to spend half an hour inside the wombat enclosure, up close and personal with our 5 newest friends.

How nice of you to join me for lunch.

  It is always surprising that more people are not familiar with wombats.  Everyone you meet knows about koalas, but not their close cousin the wombat.  Both animals are marsupials and only found in Australia.  Marsupials carry their young in pouches and both the koala and wombat have backwards facing pouches.  This is useful for the wombat which spends a great deal of time digging in the ground and would not want to fill its pouch up with dirt in the process.  Both animals also have hardened backsides of cartilage.  The koala uses it to sit comfortably high up in the trees, but the wombat uses it for protection.  If a predator, like a dingo, attacks a wombat, it will dive into its burrow filling the opening with it's behind.  The dingo will be unable to get a grip on anything to pull the wombat out. In fact, often the wombat will allow a small opening over its back and when the dingo reaches further inside it will use its hardened backside to crush the dingo's head against the roof of its burrow.  The final thing koalas and wombats have in common is that they are both adorable.

A couple of wom-butts.

  We were drawn to the wombats because they are so cute, but we had to be wary as they can also be aggressive and could easily charge and bowl one of us over.  They are almost like tough little bulldogs.  When we were at the Cairns Tropical Zoo one of the keepers told us that just the day before a female wombat had attacked another keeper and she required stitches from her wounds.  The Australia Zoo staff told us that we could only approach the wombats from behind and only while they were eating.  Once they had finished eating we would have to leave.

Pat a wombat.

  Five bowls were placed in a row in the middle of the wombat enclosure and each wombat took their position behind one of the bowls.  It was then that we were instructed that we could touch the wombats.  We hopped from wom-butt to wom-butt and back again stroking their fur.  All the while the wombats munched away.  We even had the opportunity to lay down on the grass with one arm around a wombat and have our pictures taken.  Then we went back to running from butt to butt, giddy with delight.

A Southern hairy-nosed wombat poses for a photo.

  There are three types of wombats: Common, Southern hairy-nosed and Northern hairy-nosed.  The Northern hairy-nosed wombat is the most endangered.  The Southern hairy-nosed and Common are, well, more common.  The Australia Zoo had 5 wombats that we are now on a first name basis with.   They are Laura and Meg the Southern hairy-nosed wombats and Minibus, Tonka, and Wendy the Common wombats.  In the photo above, one of the Southern hairy-nosed wombats is facing us.  In the picture below, a Common wombat is enjoying its meal.  The Southern hairy-nosed wombats have a thicker, softer fur, while the Common has a shorter, coarser fur.  Trust us we checked them all.

I might be Common, but I'm special.

   Once our wombat experience was over we still could not get enough, so we continued to watch the wombats from outside of their enclosure.  If you ever get the chance we highly recommend this experience.  If you are still not convinced, watch the video below and try not to fall in love.

Map of Our World
Australia Zoo (Wombat Encounter)

Post # 24