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Thursday 25 February 2016

Tundra Buggy Tour (Day One)

Lazy Bear Lodge Tundra Buggy.

Location: Churchill, Manitoba, Canada
Address: Churchill Wildlife Management Area
Date: Oct 2014
Website: www.everythingchurchill.com

  Most people come to Churchill with hopes of seeing a polar bear, but as you walk around the town you hope that you will not have an encounter with one of these giant predators.  The best way to see the bears is from the safety of a Tundra Buggy as it crawls across the rocky terrain of northern Manitoba.  A Tundra Buggy looks sort of like two school buses welded together and then put up on some giant wheels from a construction vehicle.  We spent two days inside one of these buggies in search of some big white bears.

All Aboard the Lazy Bear Bus.

  We first had to travel from our lodge on red school buses.  The buses took us into the Churchill Wildlife Management Area which was just outside of town.

Churchill Wildlife Management Area.

  We then had to transfer directly from the bus into the safety of our Tundra Buggy under the watchful eye of our guide.  You never know when a bear may be nearby.

The Tundra towards Churchill.

  The first thing we learned is that polar bears can hide surprisingly well on the tundra.   You would think that on a terrain that is mostly grey rock, orange moss, and shallow water, that these white animals would pop right out.  In most cases they do, but if a polar bear lays flat it can hide behind even the shortest of bushes.

  A sleeping bear laying low.

  There are also many white rocks scattered across the tundra.  We had a fun time playing "Polar Bear or Rock".  Someone would shout out "Bear!" and all the binoculars and cameras would zoom in to inspect the area.  Coming to a conclusion proved rather difficult.  In one instance, after several minutes of observation,  our entire group had determined one white lump to be just a rock.  When we returned to that area later in the day we were surprised to see that the rock was walking around.

Polar Bear or Rock?

  So far we had only seen a few signs that the bears were there.  There were some tracks by the water's edge which were obviously made by some huge paws dragging across the sand.

The Bear is Near.

  In fact there were more signs that other Tundra Buggies had been roaming around than bears.  There were huge tracks where a Tundra Buggy had taken a wrong turn and its tires had sunk deep into the muddy terrain.  Our Tundra Buggy had also headed into the same area and then wisely decided against that route.  We wondered what would happen if a Tundra Buggy broke down or got stuck in the mud or rocks?  On the second day of our tour we would get our answer.

Tundra Tracks.

  After much searching we learned that traveling in a Tundra Buggy looking for polar bears is a slow process that requires patience.  A glimpse of white was spotted up on a rocky edge.  Just as quickly it disappeared again.  A helicopter flying overhead turned towards the area.  We held our cameras up over our heads as high as we could and fired away.   A bear lifted its head above the rocks and looked straight up at  the helicopter.  Then just as quickly it was gone.  Perhaps it had wandered off down the rocks or just put its head down to take a nap.  At this time of year polar bears are saving their energy before they face a long hard winter trying to survive out on the sea ice.  As the water begins to freeze, more and more bears come to the shoreline waiting to step out onto the ice.

Polar Bear vs Helicopter.
  We finally spotted an active polar bear out in the open, way over on the other side of the water.  Our guides let us know it may take about an hour to get over to where we could see him better and they could not guarantee the bear would still be there. We took our chances and after bumping and crawling along around to where the bear had been, we pulled up onto some rocks.

  Tundra Buggy On The Rocks.

  Our gamble had paid off as the bear was still there busily digging through whatever had washed up on the shore.  You could see the grooves from where the bear had been digging most likely for many hours, if not for days.

Can You Dig It?

  We spent some time admiring this bear at work and then it was time for our buggy to make the long trek back to our red school bus.  From there it was a drive back to our lodge for the night.  Tomorrow would be another day spent bouncing around the tundra in search of the bears and we could hardly wait.

You can read about Day Two here.

Map of Our World
Tundra Buggy Tour , Tundra Buggy Tour (Digging Bear)

Post # 98

Saturday 20 February 2016

Toronto Tea Festival

Chinese Tea Ceremony.

Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Address:  789 Yonge Street
Date: Jan 2016
Website: teafestivaltoronto.com

  This is the fourth year that Toronto has hosted a tea festival.  It is the largest festival in Canada for tea lovers.  As tea lovers ourselves, we decided to attend.  The event took place on the 2nd floor of the Toronto Reference Library.  We enjoyed sampling many different teas from around the world.  Some were good and some were not so good.  We also learned about many of the health benefits that the different teas can provide.  One of the highlights on the main stage were the tea ceremonies.  We witnessed the Chinese tea ceremony.  There were also tea ceremonies from Japan and Korea.
  The tea ceremonies are for those who take their tea very seriously.  The Chinese tea ceremony was performed by a woman with a major in Tea Science and Ceremony.  Everything had to be just right, down to how the items were displayed on the table.  She delicately cleaned the vessels and then took steps to warm them up so they would not steal any of the heat from the water when making the tea.  About 15 minutes later the finished tea was finally presented.  While we enjoy the formality of a high tea, we found that the wait for a tea ceremony would be a bit much.  After the ceremony we visited a few more of the vendors who promptly offered us their teas for sampling.

Map of Our World
Toronto Tea Festival

Post # 97

Monday 15 February 2016

Gibson House

Gibson House.

Location: Toronto, Ontario Canada
Address: 5172 Yonge Street
Date: Feb 2015
Website: www.toronto.ca/gibsonhouse

  David Gibson was a farmer and a public land surveyor.  He was also involved in local politics.  He was a leader of the Rebellion in 1837.  As a result of his involvement in the Rebellion he was exiled to the United States for ten years.  When he and his wife Eliza returned they built this home in 1851 and both became active and respected members of their community.  They raised their seven children here.

Back in Time.

   Since 1970 the house has been used as a museum.  It gives visitors a glimpse of what it was like to live during this time period.  We have visited the museum twice to enjoy their Valentine's Day Sweetheart Tea.  The tea includes a selection of scones, sweets and sandwiches.  We even had carrot jam, which went quite nicely with a well buttered scone.

20th Century Girl.

  As we entered the museum they had some artifacts on display.  The 20th century dolls above were leaning on a small fur covered trunk.  The Kodak film tank below was designed for developing film without a darkroom.  It was produced from 1907 until 1922.

Develop Your Kodacraft Roll.

  Our scones and tea were prepared in the kitchen of the home.  There is a fireplace and an oven that also serve double duty of keeping the building warm.  Looking at the back of the building you can see where the oven protrudes.

Oven Wall.
Kitchen Shelves.

  After our tea was completed we were free to wander around the house and see the different rooms.

Responsible Government Now.

  There was the drawing room on the ground floor and the other rooms were located upstairs on the second level. With seven children there would have been at least two to a bed.  The girls room had a few dolls for playtime.  The boys room had a stick on the bed.  This was not a toy or for discipline, but in order to straighten out the thatch bed after a night's sleep.

Girls Room.
Boys Room.

  The front room was the bedroom of David and Eliza Gibson.  This room was extra special and is the only one with wallpaper.  It had an interesting pipe for heating the room.  It is called a dumb stove and would have drawn heat up from downstairs and then effectively radiated the heat out of the round section in the pipe.
A very clever stove.

  Next to the master bedroom was the sewing room.  The Gibsons would have hired someone to make clothes for the entire family as well as perform any necessary mending.
Sewing Room.

  Next to the sewing room was a guest room.  At the opposite end of the house was a room where the man who tended to the farm would sleep.  Most farm hands would spend their nights sleeping in the barn.  In the Gibson house the room might have bare floors and a low ceiling but was luxury compared to sharing a barn with the livestock.  In the corner of the room were some of the tools that would have been used for the farming duties.

Sure beats sleeping with the cattle.
 Farming Tools.

  Another set of stairs led us back down to the kitchen again.  Some other guests were still enjoying their tea in the parlour room.  We walked back through the kitchen and then exited from the main museum entrance.  We took a look up at all the condo towers hiding the Gibson house from Yonge Street and imagined what it would have been like 150 years ago when the Gibson house was most likely the tallest and possibly only building for miles in any direction. 
The Gibson House Museum.

This location is near North York Centre subway. Visit other Toronto TTC stations.

Map of Our World
Gibson House

Post # 96

Wednesday 10 February 2016

Pier 39's Musical Stairs

Climb The Musical Stairs.

Location: San Francisco, California,USA
Address: Pier 39
Date: Feb 2014
Website: www.pier39.com

  Pier 39 in San Francisco has seals and stores and carnival rides and more.  Part of the more is a set of stairs designed by Remo Saraceni.  Remo also created the floor piano used in the Tom Hank’s movie Big. (You can read more about the Big piano here.)  The stairs follow a similar concept where the keys are activated by your feet.  The stairs are painted like the keys of a piano and as you walk up the notes get higher.  As you head back down the notes get lower.  If you practice a little bit you might even be able to work out something that resembles a tune.  Just be aware that a floor piano is much safer than jumping up and down stairs trying to hit the correct notes.  One wrong move and you may end up sliding all the way down to a low A flat.  You may want to get a few friends together and each pick one or two notes to play.  Also be aware that other people are just trying to use the stairs to get where they are going and may walk noisily through your masterpiece.  These musical stairs are far more interesting than your average set of steps.  We enjoyed doing a little people watching to see people's expressions when they take that very first step.  It was also fun to see the people who pretended they were not enjoying themselves as they musically scaled the stairs.

Map of Our World
Pier 39's Musical Stairs

Post # 95

Friday 5 February 2016

Toronto Zoo (Woodchucks)

How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck?

Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Address: 2000 Meadowvale Road
Date: July 2013
Website:  www.torontozoo.com

  The Toronto Zoo has two types of woodchucks.  There are those that can be found in an enclosure in the Kids Zoo and those that live wild on the grounds or in the surrounding Rouge Valley.  We have encountered both types during our visits to the zoo.  Woodchucks are large rodents which are part of the marmot family and can be found throughout Canada and the eastern USA.

I'd Chuck As Much Wood As I Could... If I Could Chuck Wood.

  Another name for woodchucks is groundhog.  Most people may be familiar with Groundhog Day which takes place on February 2nd.  It is said that on this day if a groundhog comes out of his burrow and sees his shadow then there will be 6 more weeks of winter.  If the groundhog does not see his shadow then it will be an early spring.  Two of the most famous groundhog prognosticators are Punxsutawney Phil in the United States and Wiarton Willie in Canada.

Where's Bill?  He was supposed to drive me home.

  The two woodchucks pictured at the top of this post are permanent residents of the zoo.  The woodchuck pictured above is one that we encountered as we walked along the pathways of the zoo.  We could tell that we startled him because he stood up on his hind legs and looked around to ensure he was not in any danger.  Once he was confident that we meant him no harm, he went back to rummaging through the grass.  Another woodchuck we encountered seemed to enjoy a little danger.  We spotted him inside the Indian Rhino enclosure.  The Toronto Zoo displays its animals by geographic region, so we knew that an animal from India would not be on display with one from North America.  While the rhino was over by the fence, this little woodchuck decided to eat from the rhino's hay.  He had better be careful.  While the woodchuck may not have the strength to chuck any of the wood he was hiding behind, the rhino could chuck the whole pile with just one swing of its head.

How Much Wood Could A Rhino Chuck?

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

Map of Our World
Toronto Zoo (Kids Zoo) , Toronto Zoo (Indian Rhino)

Post # 94