When I was ten, we moved from Maryland to Trinidad in the West Indies, where we lived for approximately four years. During that time, I had the opportunity to see many of the Windward and Leeward Islands, and as an adult I have slowly ticked off my list the ones I wanted to visit, but I had never set foot in Saint Barthélemy. In early 2016, I decided it was time to see the Leeward isle and made plans for a late-November trip. read more…
For years, a train ride through the Canadian Rockies has been on our bucket list. What reignited this interest was a comment from Diane, who we met at the Hermitage in Aoraki/Mount Cook, New Zealand, in 2014. As I gazed out the windows of the Old Mountaineers’ Cafe, Diane said, “Do you find these mountain peaks impressive?” I replied that I certainly did. She shot back with “Have you seen your Rockies?” I said I had but only certain sections of the range. “The Rockies, now they are impressive,” she informed me.
Diane’s comment revived our desire to see this entire majestic mountain range. We would start with the Canadian Rockies and eventually make our way south. The Rocky Mountains stretch from British Columbia and Alberta, Canada, through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and into northern New Mexico in the United States—for a total of three thousand miles. I’ve seen a portion of the Colorado Rockies, and I’m quite familiar with the southernmost range, which is the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in New Mexico.
When we returned to the US after our Down Under trip, we began to map out plans for our Canadian rail tour, and the following May (2015) we flew from DFW to Vancouver, BC. On previous stays we booked bed and breakfasts throughout the city, but this time, curious about the Fairmont hotel chain, Dave decided to reserve a Fairmont whenever they were available.
We arrived in Vancouver late on a Friday afternoon, took a leisurely stroll along the wharf, and returned to the Fairmont Waterfront to dress for dinner at Miku Vancouver. We sat on the patio, a tad chilly, but the waitstaff immediately brought a blanket to drape over my legs, and I turned my attention to ordering sushi and hot sake.
After dinner, we took a tour of the Fairmont’s rooftop herb garden and watched the beekeepers tend to the hives, pleased to see Executive Chef Karan Suri’s sustainable creation. And while I am all in favor of minimizing our carbon footprint on the earth, the Fairmont’s sustainability program threw a small wrench into my “good night’s sleep.”
Around midnight, when we were sound asleep, our smoke detector blasted us awake. I went to the window and saw no lights on in the hotel, and the lights in our room weren’t operable. We called the front desk and they asked us if we had read the hotel notice left in our room. Bottom line, we never found a letter in our room stating that for conservation purposes, the electrical system would be shut off and only emergency lighting provided for the rest of the night. Neither one of us had a problem with this. We just wished we had been notified beforehand, such as at check-in. To add to the fitful night, we were dozing off again, after lying awake for three hours, when the electricity came back on and once again our smoke detector blared to life.
Bleary-eyed at 5:00 a.m., we packed to catch our taxi to the railway station. At checkout, the front desk manager apologized profusely for housekeeping not leaving the letter. We suggested that they tell their guests upon check-in rather than rely on a notice being left in the room. Having the smoke detector wake us from a sound sleep, twice, was certainly disruptive.
A bit surprised that the manager did not comp us in any way for a lousy night’s sleep, we hopped into a cab, only to discover that the driver had no idea where the rail station was located. While he was contacting dispatch, David dug out his cell phone and gave the cabbie directions.
“This isn’t starting out well,” I mumbled as I stood on the railway platform shivering in the blustery early morning, waiting for the train—the Rocky Mountaineer Whistler Sea to Sky Climb—to take us from Vancover to the resort town of Whistler. Our seats were at the very front of the train and on the upper deck, giving us a panoramic view of the vivid blue sky overhead and nothing but snowcapped mountains all around us.
Three hours later, we arrived in Whistler and boarded a bus to the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Upon check-in, the front desk clerk informed us that management had upgraded our room to a luxury one-bedroom mountain-view suite and apologized for the previous night at the Fairmont Waterfront in Vancouver. He wished us a pleasant stay in Whistler, albeit a short one.
We unpacked and walked into town for a light lunch at Brew House and then spent the rest of the day wandering the shops. On the way back to our suite, we stopped at Marketplace Shopping Centre for wine and made a second stop at La Cantina for tacos. We ate on the small balcony off our room, watching the sun sink over the mountains and Whistler Village. By the way, the tacos were delicious.
Happy New Year and the best of everything in 2018—Darcy, Bullet, and Pat.
Cruising Milford Sound.
Today I’m wrapping up my Down Under blog series and want to share a few parting photos that I hope you will enjoy. As I’ve mentioned on several occasions, I am not writing a travel blog per se. I only post about locations that will appear in future Darcy and Bullet thrillers. So yes, I do plan to set a novel Down Under, and many of the countries in my current posts will be settings for forthcoming books.
Cruising the Milford Sound
a glimpse into my 2018 blog posts: in the coming months I will post about my Canadian trip and my St. Barth’s visit, also settings for new Darcy and Bullet novels. After these travel posts, I will do a series on art and architecture. Why, you might ask, would I write about these? Because both subjects are dear to Darcy’s heart and mine. Watching a talented person create a work of art, design a structure, or write a book is inspiring unto itself, and art and architecture play a part in my thriller series.
Let’s start with those cheeky keas, heralded as the world’s most intelligent birds. Dubbed “the clown of the alps,” and the only alpine parrot in the world, the kea is native to the forested and mountainous regions of New Zealand’s South Island. The screeching cries of “keeeaa” alert you to the presence of these highly social and inquisitive birds.
Although I haven’t had the privilege, I’ve been told that if you see a kea in flight you will never forget it. The birds transform from olive green to brilliant flashes of orange, scarlet, yellow, blue, and turquoise.
Keas are hardy birds that tolerate a range of temperatures, and they thrive on everything from berries, fruits, roots, and leaves to even carrion. They also loiter around picnic sites—an easy source of junk food. Insatiably curious, charismatic, and mischievous, these natural sleuths are bold, relentless, and downright destructive, but so cute. Easy for me to say when I haven’t experienced their fondness for rubber—destroying car door seals or chewing through wiper blades. I did get a kick out of seeing several board a bus during our tramping tour.
According to a British tourist, he had his passport stolen by a kea. The passport was stored in a brightly colored bag in the luggage compartment of a bus headed for a boat tour of Milford Sound. The kea struck when the bus stopped and the driver was busy in the luggage compartment. The driver startled the kea, which flew away with the passport.
Years ago, when a kea was spotted attacking a live sheep, the birds were branded as killers and a bounty was placed on their little green heads. Tens of thousands were killed, but today they are a protected species.
But why all the signs warning people not to feed them? Besides the bounty, their love for high-fat junk food very nearly killed them off. So for their sake and ours, do not feed the keas.
In the wilderness of Tasmania’s Southwest National Park, the history of its first inhabitants, and later its mining explorers, is being preserved at Melaleuca—renowned for its world heritage area and also for its mining history. A small mining settlement was established in the region in 1930s, where high-grade alluvial cassiterite (tin oxide) was mined.
I also discovered during a conversation with one of the “birdies” from our tour of Melaleuca that they were not in search of “simply a green parrot” but were on a heated search to catch a glimpse of “the critically endangered orange-bellied parrot that breeds only around Melaleuca.”
The Melaleuca was originally part of the homelands of the Needwonnee Aboriginal people, and the Needwonnee Walk shares the stories of these original custodians of the land. Photo left: On the Needwonnee Walk.
Black swans at Melaleuca
Today’s Melaleuca is still virtually untouched, with only six thousand visitors each year. Due to the remoteness of the region and limited accessibility—by foot, plane, or boat—the area has maintained its wildness. Visitors’ facilities are intentionally rugged, catering to trampers, bushwalkers, day-trippers, and bird-watchers. As I wrote in a previous post, we flew into the small airstrip and then traveled on foot and by boat to tour the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.
The infamous staircase at The Henry Jones Art Hotel
A last word on Sir Henry Jones. While Jones had a reputation for frugality, he was a very generous man who simply disliked spending money on “fripperies.” Rather than use first-grade timber to panel the Top Room at the Henry Jones hotel, Sir Henry preferred to reserve the high-quality wood for the crates that would be used to export his IXL jams around the world.
This grand staircase, also in the Henry Jones Hotel, has four carved newel posts, which support the handrail. Three have been decorated with stippling. When Jones walked by and saw a young lad from the factory floor working on the last post, he sent him back to work packing crates—an example of Jones’s abhorrence for needless expense.
From the Pont des Arts bridge in Paris to bridges in Melbourne and Sydney, love locks have been cut off footbridges, melted, recasted, and refiled. In some cases, they have become works of art with the proceeds donated to charity. From a previous post of mine: https://patkrapf.com//2015/06/18/europe-2013-the-notre-dame-bells/
My last shot of Australia as we flew back to the Unites States from Sydney.
For now, I will say a fond farewell to the land Down Under, but I will see you soon, Aotearoa—the Maori name for New Zealand, which translates as “the land of the long white cloud”—for we are already planning a repeat visit.
Writers Walk in Sydney.
You will notice I use famous quotes in all of my Darcy McClain and Bullet thrillers and I’ll leave you with one now from Eleanor Dark. “Silence ruled this land. Out of silence mystery comes, and magic, and the delicate awareness of unreasoning things.” The Timeless Land (1941).