Thursday, December 14, 2017

Pigeon Forge, TN

I would like to think it was just a few years since I last visited Pigeon Forge but it's been a decade or more. To be perfectly fair, I have never really visited Pigeon Forge. Only Dollywood. And that was just a few day trips. My first visit was in the late 80's so I was was quite amazed at the changes.


Since I'm a big believer in doing the most I can on my travels, I started off with booking a room in Margeritaville Island Hotel. Was it expensive? - Oh hell yeah. Was it worth it? Absolutely! I booked very late and literally got the last room available so no discount but even so - I made the most of the amenities. The location alone had so much to do I could have just stayed right where I was. But what fun would that be.

Just down the road was the Titanic Exhibit. I've seen many a documentary and a famous movie about the Titanic but there was still so much to learn and see. I don't want to give much away but there is an Iceburg inside you can touch and a model of the seafloor where the Titanic rests that is as big as a tennis court. So many interactive exhibits you can spend a half a day experiencing them.


In the same area as the hotel I found this playhouse. Since I had no idea it was there I had no reservation. To the rescue came the concierge at Margaritaville. Not only did she get us a ticket for the same day we rolled into town, she got us front row. No extra charge. Considering it was a full house I was more than a little impressed. Even more impressive was the show. Nothing like the Stampede - Dolly's other famous show - but I think I prefered this one.


The main reason for this trip was to re-visit Dollywood. I am a huge roller coaster fan. My friend is not. Dollywood is the perfect place for us. There is a whole new crop of coasters since my last visit but also the grist mill, Gazillion Bubble show (a must see), and various bands that just pop up all thru the day. I even toured the Dolly Parton Museum - first time. I am still blown away by her accomplishments and the way she gives back to her community.


I ran out of time in the day to enjoy this particular coaster. A return trip will be in my near future. I may need to schedule a two day trip to squeeze everything in.


I did many more things on this trip than I've written about. The Island has so much to see and do like the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel, food, shops, bands, and a water and light show every night. I did as many as possible in a 3 day visit. Yep - I may need to book a full week next time.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Gatlinburg TN

I remember my first visit to Gatlinburg TN like it was yesterday. It was actually 1988. I remember not having enough cash to stay in town but a little up the road. Still within walking distance. I also remember how much I enjoyed my visit.


I've been back a few times over the years. Each trip with a new set of memories. This last visit I stayed at the Greystone Lodge right in the heart of town and right next to the Aquarium. I could not have picked a better place to stay.


The recent devastating fires did not diminish the experience. Memories are a funny thing though. Some of the places I remember so well were in different locations than I recollected, very run down, or completely missing.  The roaring river through town was a mere trickle.


On the other hand, there were so many new restaurants, attractions, and additions it was impossible to fit them all in as hard as I tried. The biggest surprise was the size of the Moonshine establishments. I'm not much of a drinker but I now own two bottles of Ole Smoky Moonshine. If I should run out, I discovered I can acquire this fine corn liquor at the local store in my home town.


Some of the attractions are what might be considered tourist traps but this haunted house was certainly worth the visit. There is another one that looked terrifying. I'll catch that one on the next visit.


The aquarium is well worth the admission price. I think it was actually the attraction I enjoyed the most and would definitely go again.


Finding a meal was a challenge in that there are just too many great looking places to choose from. We decided to go with the coolness factor such as the stunning micro brew just off the main drag or the rooftop restaurant  right on it.


Gatlinburg might not be everyone's idea of a getaway destination but it certainly is one of mine. I have a lot of years and a lot of memories invested. I like that it's mostly the same but that the old is making way for the new. My next visit I will start with the 4 wheeler trail ride and the roller coaster that I ran out of time for this visit.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Chimney Rock NC

Chimney Rock, North Carolina will always be a mystical, magical place in my life. When my parents decided to move to Florida from Pennsylvania in 1978, I was in no way enthusiastic about it. Even though I've lived near the beach all these many years, I still feel more at home in the mountains.


After I graduated college in 1982,  I was well on my way to launching my career a few years later. I decided to take my parents on a little vacation. I was making some pretty good money, no college debt, and living at home so I was banking most of it. We traveled up Florida, Georgia, and went as far north as this park in North Carolina.


While my parents took a break, I walked the entire two mile, two hour trail to the waterfall and back. That trip was etched in my mind for life. It was the most difficult hike I had done to that point and set a pattern for me that I still enjoy.


I have come back every few years. Probably 10 times or so. This last time was a bit more difficult as 1) I'm older, and 2) the elevator was being repaired. Yes there is an elevator built right into the side of a mountain here.


I often think of this place and one particular trip comes to mind. After a most devastating year with many personal failures, I basically got on a plane and took a one way trip to Asheville. Yes there was a time you could easily walk into the airport with a bag and just pick a destination and hop a plane.  At the time of my departure I had no real plans of returning nor did I tell anyone I was going. I'm sure most people have days they feel like that. Not everyone acts upon them.


I remember driving up the steep, switch back road to the park so fast, the tires on the rental car were smoking. Try it. See if you can make it or sling yourself off the road. I remember I didn't really care either way. It was a wet, rainy, foggy day. The steps then were not nearly as even and regularly spaced as they are today and the trail was mostly uneven rock. Easy to twist an ankle or slip right over the side of a sheer drop. After sitting in the cafe here for a bit, I just took off up the stairs.


Along the trail I passed a woman and her boyfriend. The woman had an artificial leg. I walked by them in total disbelief. My all fired hurry to get somewhere turned into a wait for them to catch up. There were at the time little rain shelters along the trail. It was raining. I took shelter and waited. In a few moments they arrived and sat with me. I asked what were they doing on this trail that I could barely navigate.

Apparently she was in a car accident but loved this trail so much that she wanted to walk it again. A trail I was hardly noticing in my hurry to run away from my life. It was my first time meeting anyone superhuman enough to make this journey with little better than an old fashioned wooden leg. It was also the first time I ever saw in person this level of determination in the face of incredible odds against success.

I am pretty sure this happened in 1994-1995. I remember why I was there, just not exactly when. I also remember how insignificant my problems and possibly my entire life became in the moments after I spoke with them. Not being very social at the time, I headed on. The trail is a loop so I did not come across them again. I did spend a very long time sitting perfectly still in a light rain memorizing with every possible sense a particularly scenic spot among the trees. I still to this day go to it in my head whenever life seems more than I care to handle. I will always remember the two people who I will never meet again and who will never know they were the biggest positive change in my life. I remember driving very carefully down the mountain and back to the airport. I also remember that when I got home I saw everything in my life differently. Even though the circumstances in my life never really changed all that much, I became a much happier and contented person.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

SeaWorld Orlando - It's been a long time.

Not only has it been decades since I visited this park, it's also been months since I've posted in this blog. Time to catch up.

My intention on this trip was to ride every roller coaster in the park. None of which I took photos of. That's because they make it very difficult to carry pretty much anything on the rides so wallet, keys, phone, camera all went into storage lockers most of the day.


The roller coasters are incredibly fast, hugely varied, and put a tremendous strain on this old body of mine. All for pure enjoyment and thrill. Around noon or so I needed a slight break from being upside down at 60 miles an hour and decided to take in a show.


I had forgotten how much I enjoyed these shows as a kid. I had also forgotten how much I enjoyed the penguin exhibit. Especially on a 90 degree day in the Florida sun. That is real ice and there is no glass between the birds and the visitors.


The temperature shock was exactly what I needed to cool down a bit and finish my goal of riding every coaster in the park. A mission I accomplished but with no second rides on any of them. I will go back and visit again before my ticket runs out I'm sure. I am pretty sure I screamed for real on the Manta. Luckily - no video evidence.


By far the best part of the day was enjoying a nice quiet meal with my special coaster buddy in a restaurant with a unique view. We were just a bit early for dinner when I snapped this photo but all seats were filled not long after.

I did not take too many photos on this visit but for the rest [click here]

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Moon Shot - Finally Nailed It

After my recent success capturing the Roosevelt Bridge at night after so many years, I thought I would try once more to capture a clear shot of the full moon. I left all the settings on the camera untouched and waited the almost two weeks to make the shot. The results were instantly disappointing. Nothing but a white blob. The thing I like about photography is the constant learning curve. The constant frustration can get old sometimes though. 

I am still and will likely always be an amateur photographer with expensive but mostly all used equipment.  My $1,800.00 used lens, as good as it is, just can not seem to make this shot with my level of skill. 

I had some luck previously with my $99.00 Vivitar Series 1 lens with the 2X converter giving me a full 1,000 MM. This is a fully manual lens. I set the camera to 400 ISO but the focus and aperture are manually set on the lens.

The one thing I had always done in the past was set the aperture wide open. For this shoot, I slowly closed the aperture, took a few shots, closed a bit more. I also used the remote to lift the mirror, count to 5, then take the shot. There was a pretty small shutter speed range I could use. If I had a bright smear or black screen, I knew I was out of the range. I took about 100 shots and only these two had the magic. 

Many years ago bought the wrong sized UV filter for one of my lenses. I just threw it in a junk drawer. A few months ago I found it and checked to see if it fit anything. It only fit this cheap lens so I put it on and took a few shots then put the lens back in the cabinet. I forgot to take it off for the moon shot. Seems pretty fortunate now. All of my moon photos to this point have always been less than crisp. 

I may not be a pro but I am persistent. I think I'll take this setup out in the daylight once in a while as well. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Roosevelt Bridge - Stuart FL

Long before I moved to this area, I attempted to take an artful photo of this bridge. I seen many photos from other photographers and it didn't seem that difficult. Three cameras, three lenses, 2 tripods, multiple combinations of equipment, dozens of settings, hours upon hours, and several locations later, I have finally captured a few photos worth sharing with the world.


The actual magical mix was, in the end, pretty basic. I was just missing one important element at a time to create awful photos, not worth the edit time. I could of course do better and I will keep trying but these three are pretty close to what I was aiming to achieve.


What's more important is I kept trying for years. Photography is one of those fun hobbies that is as frustrating as it is rewarding and always with more to learn.


Monday, April 17, 2017

Kayaking Stuart Florida - South River Outfitters.

New town. New kayak. My inflatable Sea Eagle kayaks have served me well in my former home in South Florida but the waters in my new town seem a better fit for a hard sided kayak.

A lot of the places I want to visit have either sharp oyster beds or sharp teeth just below the water. I bought my new kayak about 6 months ago when Sports Authority had a going out of business sale. As soon as I got it home, it seems, the algae blooms that got national attention began. It has been in the garage ever since. But finally I had a break in the weather, my schedule, and clear water.

The first trick was to figure how to secure the kayak to the roof of the car. A few youtube tutorials helped with that. Next trick was to actually get it on the roof. I'm 6' 4" but so is my vehicle. Not only that, but I was about to take it on the highway just a few blocks from the house. Solid tie downs seemed appropriate for my first ever high speed cargo transport. 

My launch point for my first time with this kayak was South River Outfitters in Stuart Fl. I have rented kayaks here in the past and I knew exactly what to expect for half the trip. This time I was going much farther than in past visits. 

The trip starts off with houses on the left and nature on the right. About 20 minutes later it's all nature. Last time I did this trip I came across a few small alligators. This time, as you can see in the video above, I ran into a 4 footer right past the last house. There were several smaller ones close enough to the kayak that I got a tail splash by one as it dove for deeper water. When I got way out into the swampy area with the tighter waters, I ran into a huge gator who did not back down or submerge. I did not film it. I just back paddled away and decided to call it a day. As long as you stay alert and stay away so will the gators. I had one bump a canoe many years ago and there is no way I want that to happen again. 

This was a great starter trip and one I've been looking forward to enjoying in my own water craft for quite a while. I will be back - With friends I hope next time. I miss kayaking in the Florida Keys so next time I will try a more open water adventure.  

Friday, March 31, 2017

Roller Coaster Day At Busch Gardens, Tampa

I've always been a roller coaster fan since my first time on the big wooden roller coaster at Hunt's Pier in New Jersey. That would be in the early 1970's. My first looping roller coaster was the SooperDooperLooper when it first opened at Hershey Park in 1977. I've ridden some pretty large coasters all over the country but not for many years.

Of course I have always ridden the Disney rides and even Universal's in Orlando but I had to put a pause on the really ferocious rides for a while. A high stress life and a high G-Force roller coaster leads to seeing black spots, chest pains, fainting, and balance problems.

Now that I have gotten away from the high stress life, blood pressure under control, no more ice pick in the chest mid day job stress, I just wanted to give it a try again. It was always my dream for retirement to ride the biggest rides in the country. That ended 5 years ago on the Hulk in Orlando, A ride I've been on many times prior, made me get my blood pressure checked. 190/110 and an ER visit was the result. I was tipped off by the 3 day migraine and loss of balance. Sometimes you just need to know when to give it a rest. - Fast forward to last week.

I started my day at
Busch Gardens, Tampa very early. Took a few shots with my cell phone to start off. There is plenty to see and do
 even if you don't ride the coasters. I arrived on Food and Wine Festival day but I had no plans to eat. I was on a mission. The first coaster I walked up to - Sheikra. I watched a couple of test runs then started to regret the fact I drove to the park alone... This might have been a situation where a little prompting from a friend might have been needed. I wandered around a bit and made it to Kumba as they sent the last test car by and started loading passengers. Ummmm - Nope - Not ready - How about that train through the animal park. Sure - I'll start with that.

The nice thing about the train, you get to see all the coasters in the park. Some pretty close up. Helps with the courage thing as you watch hundreds of happy people fly by. I could have stopped at several stations but I was making my plan. That was to ride every one before days end.... starting the moment I got off the train.

First up - Kumba. I first rode this when it was new. Montu when that opened as well in 1996. That was the last new coaster I rode in Tampa so I had quite a few to catch up on. Well - it had an issue while I waited so I got out of line. By the end of the day, it was the only one I didn't ride. 

About this time, the park was starting to get crowded - Hey look! Sheikra only a 10 minute wait - I wonder why? Oh cool! Front row!! So at nearly noon, after stalling all morning..... this is how I started my day. 

Now I've been told in the past, riding with me is like riding with Glenn Close in the rollercoaster scene from Fatal Attraction. It takes a lot for me to do much more than smile a little. This one had me screaming and laughing at the top of my emotional register. Just the first drop alone had me shaking like a quadruple espresso. 

After that it was ON! I rode one right after another. Just a tip - Montu, then Cobra's Curse
Those spinning rides still get to me. All in all, best day ever. No serious medical situation, not even the slightest headache. I have several Florida coasters to check out then I'm hoping to start my quest to ride the biggest and baddest. I threw together some cell phone clips to enjoy. But better yet - go ride. Nothing gets the stress out like a scream. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Bay Area Renaissance Festival - 2017

Taking a quick count, I've been to seven other Florida festivals, most in the last few months, but this was my first ever visit to the Bay Area Renaissance Festival. Two reasons - It runs the same time as my home town fair and it's 300 miles from my home. My goal this year was to catch them all. Mission accomplished.


I have heard wildly mixed reviews on this show from it's a must see to not worth the drive. I can say with certainty my review will not be mixed. I LOVED IT!!!! Easily takes the top spot of my favorite Florida Festival.

DSC_7660The first thing I noticed were the trees. As the sun got higher in the sky, I appreciated them more and more. The next thing I noticed was this fair is huge. I managed to walk through much of it before the crowds but it took a while. Later in the day the crowds made walking quickly impossible.


Unlike every other fair I have been to, including Scarborough Renaissance Festival in Texas, and The Georgia Renaissance Festival, I knew virtually no one at this festival. Pretty much 3 acts, 2 vendors, and 1 Human Chess Match fighter. Meeting new people has never been my strong suit and it was pretty obvious as the day wore on that there are not a lot of photographers at this show. None I recognized at least.

Since I did my typical thing of showing up before the pre-show at the gates and being escorted out a half hour after closing, that situation changed dramatically. Considering the 20,000 views on my photos already, I think it's safe to say I made a few new friends.

So what can you expect on your visit? A very colorful royal court. I strongly suggest getting to the fair before opening to watch their show at the gate. You will also thank me for this tip when it's time for your journey home. Being closer to the street will greatly cut down your time exiting the parking lot at the end of the day.

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DSC_9646Like any good forest, this one is full of fairies. They show up in the most unexpected places. It's hard to tell from my photos but there is a larger percentage of children attending this fair then most I visit. That was keeping the faires and children's stage acts very busy.  Long before I brought my cameras to these fairs I brought my daughter. The best way to unplug your children is to take them to a full day of live interaction. And if you accidently get called up on stage and have to run around shouting about wearing your man pants....  yep, that's a memory you will share with your child and cherish forever.... apparently.




One of the the big deciding factors in attending this show was to see the Human Chess Match. I caught their show recently at a different fair and yes - it was worth the drive to see them again. Could I have photographed it better? Ummm Yes. I missed the real action shots. My camera is fast - the action on this stage is faster. At least you will know these are the slowest moments in the whole show. 





Then there is Acrobellum. This is my third time seeing this troupe and I'm not sure how to describe them. They put on an amazing stage show but they are also everywhere during the day. Collectively they are like a toddler, high on sugar and maybe a spoonful of adult cold medicine. They are non stop everywhere from the opening gate, to the parade, to cheering at the chess match, wandering the lanes, to the last ones I saw as one of them escorted me to the exit after closing. They raise the energy level of any fair but here they were on fire.

DSC_7753 DSC_7796 DSC_8157 DSC_8126

This is barely a fraction of what I saw in two full days and really I would need two more to even begin to say I saw it all. I am seriously considering going back the last weekend. If not - Next year for sure.

For my many photos on this trip [click here].