36 Hours in Ireland

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I arrived in #Dublin, the capital & largest city of #Ireland with a population of more than 1M, with only 36 hours to explore. I wasn’t sure what to expect… despite what many people say the service by Ryanair  was excellent, departing & arriving as scheduled. Landing at Dublin Airport, I proceed to get a taxi to downtown Dublin. The taxi driver was extremely chatty & told me that he had a connection with Canada & in fact his sister lives in #Chilliwack (British Columbia, Canada) – my wife’s hometown! He advised me of the things to do while in Dublin, how to use public transport, I thought this very helpful. When I arrived at the Ashling Hotel the driver asked me for 50 Euros in cash. I asked to pay by Visa, he declined saying that no taxis will take Visas in Ireland… I thought it was odd, but had cash so paid the driver what he asked. **As a side note: on the return trip from the Ashling Hotel to the airport, I also had a very friendly, former civil servant taxi driver & when we arrived at the airport he asked for 25 Euros… he said paying by Visa was no problem… I explained the issue with the first taxi driver when I had arrived to which he shook his head disdainfully.

The Ashling Hotel was a grand old #hotel, it was clean, had that antique feel & the service was excellent. I was informed about a tourist spot named Temple Bar, where all the #restaurants, #pubs & #entertainment can be found. Since the following day would be a packed day including a trip to #Belfast, I thought I would venture out, that very day to Temple Bar. The concierge told me to catch the public tram just yards away from the hotel, that would take me to downtown Dublin. I paid 3.7 Euros for a return ticket, hopped aboard a packed tram to downtown & jumped off the tram at the third stop. I walked across the Liffey River for the first time & entered Temple Bar. It reminded me of a hustling, bustling downtown Amsterdam, with live music in the cobblestone streets – every bar & pub overflowing with very happy people. Enjoying a quick meal, I returned to the hotel to get organized for the Belfast trip in the morning.

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A Day Tour of Belfast
Getting up at 6 am, I headed to the rendezvous point at the Gresham Hotel (23 O’Connell Street) for the 7 am pick up. I was about to embark on a day tour of Belfast including a visit to Giants Causeway, and The Game of Thrones filming locations with the Wild Rover Tours Company. Once aboard the 60 seat luxury coach, I had the pleasure of sitting next to a retired private school teacher. As we were to travel a number of hours, we got to share a bit of each other’s lives, it was fascinating to hear of he and his wife’s travel exploits around the world, and about their home city of Perth, Australia. As we departed Dublin, the guide explained about the Millennium Monument, The Spire of Dublin located across the River Liffey. Dubliners were disappointed as the big celebration planned for the Millennium that was to include the monument did not happen as the monument wasn’t finished until 3 years later. It has been given many names (some I cannot repeat!) but one popular name that is frequently used is the ‘Stiletto in the Ghetto’. We travelled for about 2.5 hours, heading to Belfast. We were given the option of either taking a Black Cab Taxi Political Tour or visiting the iconic Titanic Museum. I opted for the Black Cab Taxi Tour. We were dropped at a nearby shopping mall, grabbed a tea & a sandwich, then in groups of 5, were piled in to a series of Black Cabs. My fellow travellers included a couple from Germany & students from Toronto, Canada. The taxi driver was full of vim & vigor & couldn’t wait to tell us about the history of Belfast, and in particular, the division of Catholic & Protestant communities that still exists today.

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Our first stop, was called Battle of the Falls, where the famous murals of history are all displayed on the Catholic side of the Peace Wall. We got out of the cab in the pouring rain, were given umbrellas & marched along the Road of Murals with our tour guide in tow. Passionately, he explained about the brutal violence over 30 years that took place in the streets of Belfast, with thousands of people losing their lives. This included his own personal trauma during the troubles. We spent about 80% of our time on the Catholic side & the remaining on the Protestant side. When we stopped at the gates that divided the two communities it struck home to me, that the violence and the troubles were still very real.

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Dubbed ‘The Troubles’ – Northern Ireland 1968-1998
The memory of a 30 year stretch of violence in Belfast is still very apparent. The Catholic/Nationalist population together with the IRA (Irish Republican Army) was in a brutal conflict with Protestant led RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary), UDR (Ulster Defense Regiment) and the British Army. The aim by the IRA was to achieve a United Ireland by removing British rule. Violence in the streets was common between Unionist/Loyalist Protestant population and minority Catholic/Nationalists, including; rioting, house burnings, shootings & bombings.

Our taxi driver, Martin May, with Black Cab Tours, said “There were troubles on both sides. I will never forget the death squads (RUC/UDR) as they were known, who came & simply hunted Catholics to kill. On the other side, I recall the IRA getting information that leaders within the Protestant groups were enjoying a meal at a local fish & chip shop. They planted a bomb & blew it & everyone in it up. No one survived. They later found out the leaders had already left & innocent people were killed. The conflict in Belfast/Northern Ireland was officially ended with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. 3,500 people lost their lives & 50,000 were injured over the thirty year conflict.When you enter Belfast, in particular along the Peace Wall, it is evident that there are many reminders of the conflict however even today the main gates between the two religious groups are locked every night at 6:30pm & all day Sundays.

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Back on the coach, we then departed Belfast for Carrick-A-Rede and Larrybane, about a 40 minute drive away. When we arrived at this location, we were told it had become extremely famous throughout the world as it was a major film location for The Game of Thrones (since I was not a current fan of the show, it was difficult to follow all of the characters that were discussed & what they had done here). It also struck me when I saw a National Trust logo, that we were in Northern Ireland under British control. Before we disembarked the coach, we were reminded that currency would now be in pounds at the gift shop, not in Euros. The tour guide explained that the walk along the cliff path would be about 2 kms & that we had an hour in total before the coach would depart. Out in the rain, I headed to the famous rope bridge which was featured in The Game of Thrones. About a hundred people ventured along the cliff path with me, but only 8 people at a time were allowed on the rope bridge. The bridge named Carrick-A-Rede, allowed you to cross over to Carrick Island. The bridge was approximately 100 feet in the air, and in the name (Scottish Gaelic) means The Rock in the Road. It has been used for over 350 years by fisherman gaining access to migrating salmon. It was awful weather, pouring with rain & very windy, so I stopped at the gift shop for another quick hot tea & warm up before boarding the coach. The tour guide, who was extremely entertaining, explained to us that on a good day you could see Scotland as it was only 13 miles away from Carrick-A-Rede.

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Basalt Columns – photo Wikipedia

We then headed off to Giants Causeway, which was about a 40 minute journey. The guide explained that you could walk to the Causeway (about 2 kms), you could ride in a shuttle for 1 pound or you can visit the pub, sit by the fire & enjoy a beer (or two!) before venturing out to the Causeway. Almost everyone headed to the pub! After my own liquid refreshment, I headed out once again into the rain & wind, to the shuttle pick-up point. Disappointingly, the only ‘ride’ that stood in front of me was a golf cart full of garbage. It looked like another 2 km walk down the cliff path would be inevitable. The Giants Causeway is a World Heritage Site with an area of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. The Causeway is located in Country Antrim, on the North Coast of Northern Ireland, 5 kms from a town called Bushmills. In 2005, the Giants Causeway was named as the 4th Greatest Natural Wonder in the United Kingdom. All owned & managed by the National Trust, it remains as one of the most popular tourist attractions in Northern Ireland. Once again, sopping wet, I headed back to the coach, for a three hour return trip to Dublin, in Southern Ireland. Interestingly, there is no border between Northern & Southern Ireland, making it quite difficult to distinguish between the two, however, as noted, the currency did change. On the return trip, just outside of Belfast, we passed through the small village of Ballymena, famous for being the hometown of actor, Liam Neeson.

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Happy New Year!

And just like that, it’s 2018 . . . Make the best of this bright, blank slate of a new year. Make goals & break them. Set your sights high & keep them there. Do something inspiring. Put out your hand to help a stranger. Be kind. Do your best. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Stay in touch with your family, even a text is better than nothing. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today UNLESS it means putting off doing the laundry to play with grandsons. . . always do that. Find a hobby & enjoy every minute spent doing it.

For God’s sake, T. R. A. V. E. L. See the world, learn about others’ way of life, walk a mile in their shoes, absorb their history. . . If you’re lucky enough to be blessed with the love of your life, tell them, tell them every day, multiple times a day & give all of yourself to them. . . Be their partner, their cheerleader, their sounding board. . . Love them through everything. We’re not promised tomorrow. Not any of us. Live today the best way you know how. Make it your best year yet.

Every. Last. Minute.

Photos by myreturnticket.ca on News Year’s Eve Day, December 31, 2017 #travel #winterwonderland #snow #icy #abbotsford #britishcolumbia #canada #fraservalley #landscape #nature #photography #mountains

Found a new #coffee spot!

I met a friend for a LONG overdue visit at this really great, #rustic #cafe called oldhandcoffee.com in #abbotsford #britishcolumbia the other night. It’s comfortable, #casual has plenty of #food & #drink options & has great business hours. There are lots of choices for #coffee & #tea (see photos of some of their offerings here) or if you’re looking for something a little stronger, they do serve #alcoholic drinks as well. #Craving something #tasty to go with it? There are #scones, #cinnamonbrioche or #savoury treats, even #sandwiches I enjoyed the creamy, rich #advocaatcappuccino which is #espresso poured over frothed #Eggnog and my friend enjoyed a #peachgreentea It’s easy to chat away with a friend but I can see dropping in with clients to work on their marketing here too. The staff are friendly & the cafe is immaculate. Definitely will be returning! The #decor is a combination between rustic & #antique with lots of seating & high beamed ceilings. It’s easy to chat away the hours with a friend here but I can see dropping in with clients to talk about building their business here too. The staff are friendly & the cafe is immaculate. There are various coffee #accoutrements from #pourovers to locally handcrafted #cups I even noticed some Old Hand Coffee clothing items that would make a great #gift I even picked up a #giftcertificate for a Christmas present Definitely will be returning to this quaint little spot!

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There are plenty of #coffeeshops & #cafes, even fast food outlets are trying their hand at making a Cappuccino or an #Americano … to be brutally honest *whispers* I don’t actually mind the @mcdonald’s #Cappuccino … but there is nothing like the #experience of a really good cafe. I have been to many a cafe in my years as a #coffeedrinker. Yes, I love a good strong starbucks.com and I’ve had #cafeaulait in #Paris In #Athens #Greece I was made the most #delicious #foamy cappuccino every morning in our #hotel. In #Rome I went with #espresso shots. But I must say, over many visits, over many years, I have always enjoyed @decadescoffeeclub in #Chilliwack #BritishColumbia #Canada They are a lovely cafe with rooms for private #meetings and an upstairs #balcony with #fireplace just perfect for a #chat with a friend or to #work or meet a client. I love the strings of lights that make it so snug. The #decor is #artsy #whimsical #rustic and #comfotable They serve delicious #food and have #mouthwatering #desserts and I notice they have many flavours of #tea I love to #support this #business because they are so #CommunityMinded and are always #GivingBack and that is something that needs to be #celebrated So I raise my mug to you, Decades Team, and send new business your way any chance I can. #Cheers

Victoria, British Columbia

#BritishColumbia #Canada is beautiful. It just IS. There are so many stunning #mountains bordering us, expansive bodies of water surrounding us & countless #trails where you can get back to nature. There are also many #historic buildings with rich #history throughout our gorgeous #province. 

There happen to be quite a few just in #Victoria, the capital of British Columbia. www.victoria.ca Victoria sits on the southern end of #VancouverIsland. With abundant parkland, it’s known for outdoor activities. Some of the city’s most known landmarks are #CraigdarrochCastle thecastle.ca/ & #ButchartGardens www.butchartgardens.com, with 55 acres of vivid floral displays & water features. 

The walk around the #marina in downtown Victoria has always got something to see. Places to #shop, restaurants, walking or sailing tours, even a super fun #DragonBoatFestival. 

Here are some of the lovely sights in Victoria:

#TheEmpressHotel http://m.fairmont.com/empress-victoria


The #Waterfront marina 


The British Columbia #Parliament Buildings

www.leg.bc.ca/learn-about-us/visiting-the-legislature

Venice, Italy

Venice, a city in northeastern #Italy & the capital of the Veneto region, is listed as a #WorldHeritageSite. It sits across a group of 118 small #islands that are separated by #canals & linked by 400 bridges! The islands are located in a shallow bay that lies between the mouths of the #PoRiver & the #PiaveRiver called the #VenetianLagoon. #Venice is renowned for its beautiful #architecture & #artwork & of course the #gondolas. 

My brother & sister in law took a quick #trip this past week & shared a few photos. They loved it & recommend it highly – – even though they got a little lost 😉 They suggested visitors wear good shoes for all the walking you’ll want to do. 

Personally, I think the photos speak for themselves & I can’t wait to #travel there myself! myreturnticket.ca

Tsawwassen to Victoria & Back… 

Such a gorgeous nearly-Fall day with the beautiful sky, warm sunshine but crisp air & breeze. It’s perfect for having to take the ferry from the #Tsawwassen Terminal over to #SwartzBay #Victoria #BritishColumbia #Canada even if it is for work purposes. The ferry is a cool way to see the stunning scenery, the lush smaller islands that you’ll sail past (such as #Mayne & #Galiano) & sometimes if you’re lucky, you can spot sea lions, Killer Whales – otherwise known as Orcas, and mountain views that​ can’t be beat. You can walk on the ferry or drive your vehicle on. Here are some photos & video that tell the story better than words of the trek aboard bcferries.com & once on the Island. For more #travel & #adventure follow myreturnticket.ca



Through My Lens – Victoria Harbour 

Yesssss, we do have day jobs . . . Can’t just count on winning the lottery 😉 My husband’s job requires him to travel for work sometimes & today happens to be to Victoria. He flew to Victoria Harbour with www.harbourair.com & this is what that looks like on a stunning day like today. #Victoria #britishcolumbia #canada #harbour #flights #houseboats www.myreturnticket.ca


Through My Lens – San Francisco Airport

The Typewriter – An Innovation in Writing (museum display)

I cannot tell you my excitement when I saw this display from a distance on the concourse. . . I have a love for typewriters that goes WAY back to when I was a little girl. My Nana C taught me to type on her electric typewriter with my little 4 year old fingers. . . no would could type xyzzy as quick as me 😉 My grandfather Britton left me his old manual typewriter that I loved pounding away on to do reports for school etc. . . Yes, I’m that old – -pre-computer. . . That typewriter is what the logo for My Return Ticket is based on. This was a neat distraction while we waited to board our flight.  www.myreturnticket.ca

Ray Bradbury’s typewriter

John Lennon’s typewriter 

This was just like the one I learned on at my Nana’s – she even had that typing course you see in the top right corner! 

Love love love the brass details on this model – – seriously swooning here 

They came in RED?! 

This. Is. Just. Cool. 

Ughhhh I remember having black fingers from the carbon paper no matter how careful I was 

Tennessee Williams unit that he used to write Cat on a Hot Tin Roof 

Ernest Hemingway’s typewriter

Guest Post – Mt. Cheam Hike

This is a selection of photos from Rhiannon Turney, of #Chilliwack, British Columbia of her Mt. Cheam #hiking #adventure. There couldn’t have been a more gorgeous day to get such #stunning photos! #mtcheam #britishcolumbia #canada #fraservalley #bc

My Return Ticket I Love British Columbia  

Driving to the trails by Jeep

Our guest photographer, Rhiannon

A pheasant in a tree!

Looking down at the Fraser Valley below

Living on the edge

San Francisco Tips

Go to Alcatraz – just do it. We recommend alcatrazcruises.com & do the recorded tour with the headsets… it’s creepy & very interesting. 

We figured we’d better do a wine tour since we were in Wine Country. We recommend greendreamtours.com as they were reasonably priced, fun, the bus was air conditioned & it was well organized. We went to clinecellars.com & homewoodwinery.com two little vineyards that are quaint & good at what they do. 


We visited Carmel and within minutes thought we’d seen former Mayor Clint Eastwood… we didn’t but it was funny. The beach is unreal. The town is adorable. I wish we could have spent more time there or even stayed there. 


This is a great central place to park (although $40-$50 a day but that’s the case in any parkade in SF). Here is a HUGE tip ✍🏼 shop anywhere in Anchorage Square & get your parking pass validated. We didn’t realize this was the case & paid full price. Lesson learned for the future – ask about parking validation juuuust in case. 


Muir Woods is cool but set aside more time than you think. There are LOTS of people & it doesn’t have the best parking situation… there are plenty of places TO park but they aren’t close by if it’s busy… but of a rugged walk from the parking area when busy. Wear comfortable shoes etc & take lots of water as it is full of trails (short & easy to longer & more difficult)

Room with a View – My Day Job

How do we fund our life & our travels? My husband & I both work for a media company. He’s head of our company’s digital marketing and I sell advertising for our Real Estate newspaper (print, digital & online). You’ll note a theme of travel, photography, memories from friends & family and 2 necessities… starbucks.ca  & davidstea.com & yes, I have a small obsession with stationery. I like to be organized. I like it to be pretty 😉 This is where the magic happens… 

Golden Gate Bridge ~ San Francisco

The first day we crossed the 6 lane, 1.7 mile Golden Gate that now ‘bridges’ the communities of San Francisco & Marin County, we were lucky enough that @KarlTheFog had taken the day off so we could see it in all it’s suspension bridge glory. This is one of the seven wonders of the modern world & opened in 1937 after four years of struggling to build against winds, rock, treacherous tides & of course #KarlTheFog. 11 workers’ lives were lost during the construction (10 on the same day) & over $35 million was spent in principal. Pedestrians can walk, bicycle, jog, go in a wheelchair or stroller on either side of the Golden Gate (but no roller skating, roller blading or skateboarding please).

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Some crazy stats are:
• 5,000 – 10,000 gallons of paint are used to repaint the Golden Gate Bridge each year
• three babies have been born on the Golden Gate Bridge – all three were boys
• it’s named after the Golden Gate Strait at the entrance to San Francisco Bay from the Pacific Ocean
• International Orange was actually the color of the primer but then was chosen as the finished
colour as it provides visibility in the fog for passing ships & suits the environment
• the bridge has only been closed three times due to weather since it was built – all three times due to
high winds gusting close to over 70 miles per hour
• the bridge has also been closed for the visits of President Franklin D. Roosevelt & President
Charles De Gaulle of France and also on its 50th & 75th anniversaries.
• the chief engineer Joseph Strauss’ first design was rejected as being too ugly
• the bridge has lost some weight! 12,300 tons to be exact! How? when the roadway was replaced in
the 1980s
• The twin towers are 746 feet high, with 2 cables, each more than 7,000 feet in length, both
containing 80,000 miles of wire. This looped around the Earth’s equator in a single strand would
circle the planet three times!
• more than 2 billion motor vehicles had passed over the Golden Gate Bridge by 2015

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Muir Woods National Monument

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We decided to go on a trip to the 100 year old Muir Woods, one of the country’s oldest national parks. We had rented a car but found that we could take a shuttle bus from the Visitor Information so thought that would be better for us both enjoy the drive. Now, here is what we learned – there are literally tens of thousands of people going there in August… TENS… of THOUSANDS. It was crazy busy. The parking situation is not great so there were constant backups but there was a park ranger out front directing traffic the best he could. This made us happy we had taken the shuttle bus. It’s $5 per person to take the shuttle – PLEASE REMEMBER THIS: you pay once you get to the park & if you do not get your shuttle ticket you will NOT be allowed back on the bus. It was $10 per person to go in to the park… we didn’t have a problem with that as the money goes to help preserve the park – what we did have a problem with was that tons of people were walking in right past the ticket window without paying since there is no gate. We also discovered that it took nearly two hours of waiting before we could get the bus back down to our car because there were so many people. I’m not saying don’t go to Muir Woods – I’m just saying to expect your excursion there to take a lot longer than you might think. Despite waiting for the shuttle for so long, I would still suggest doing it that way because if there are even close to as many people as when we went… you’ll be walking miles from where you’ve parked to get in to the park. Miles. Muir Woods is one of the last stands of old-growth Redwood forests on Earth. If you’ve read my other posts about our trip to San Francisco you’ve seen me mention @KarlTheFog, he is, well, the fog in San Francisco. Not only is he super helpful for growing some wicked, awesome grapes for Sonoma & Napa Valley wines but he is also partly responsible for such lush & green forests such as Muir Woods. These trees thrive because of @KarlTheFog, as do the ferns & other ground cover that helps protect the Redwoods roots. William & Elizabeth Kent purchased this forest in 1908 & then donated it to the nation, requesting President Theodore Roosevelt name it in honor of John Muir, an intrepid explorer, naturalist & environmental activist. There is a gift shop & a nice cafe with a lot of choice for food & drinks, but you can only take water on the actual hikes with you as there are wild animals, of course & National Parks does not want any form of litter to be left around or any feeding of the animals.

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Here are the hiking routes in & around Muir Woods:
Main Trail Loop – takes about 30 mins to an hour, it’s about 2 miles round trip & is classified as easy to hike. The path is wide, paved & wheelchair/stroller accessible.
Bootjack Trail to Ben Johnson Trail Loop – takes about 4 hours, it’s about 6 miles round trip & is classified as moderate to hike.
Canopy View Trail to Lost Trail To Fern Creek – takes about 2 hours, it’s about 3 miles round trip & is classified as moderate, and is steep in sections.
Canopy View Trail to Redwood Trail to Sun Trail to Dipsea Trail – takes about 3 hours, it’s about 5 miles round trip & is classified as moderate to hike.
Ben Johnson Trail, Return Via Dipsea Trail – takes about 3 hours, it’s about 4 miles round trip & is classified as a moderate/strenuous hike.
Fern Creek Trail to Camp Eastwood – takes about 2 hours, it’s about 3 miles round trip & is classified as moderate to hike.
Redwood Creek Trail to Muir Beach – takes about 2 hours one way, it’s about 3 miles (one way) & is classified as an easy hike. PS there are poison oak & ticks along this trail.

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Alcatraz: Escape Attempts

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Since 1859, when Alcatraz was a military prison to when it became a federal super max penitentiary from 1934 to 1963, attempts were made to escape The Rock. After walking through the cellhouse & hearing the audio tour, you can sincerely feel the isolation of the cold prison cells. You can begin to understand the motivation behind these desperate escape attempts… In the words of former inmate Jim Quillen, prisoner #AZ586, ”Nothing could blot out the knowledge of what and where you were, or the certainty that this was all that life held for you in the future. Man was never intended to live as a caged animal; I often speculated as to whether life was worth living under these conditions.”

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Commandant Colonel G. Maury Cralle’s famous response to the rumour of a planned mass escape in 1926 was “Go ahead, swim!’ Many a desperate man reconsidered escape when thinking of the frigid 58 degree waters & strong 6 to 8 mph currents of San Francisco Bay.

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In the movie Escape from Alcatraz, one famous line “If you disobey the rules of society, they send you to prison. If you disobey the rules of prison, they send you to us.” sums up the role of The Rock. There was one guard for every three inmates & 13 official head counts in each 24 hour period. Another excellent quote regarding the necessity of Alcatraz also came from former prisoner Jim Quillen (in his book Alcatraz From Inside) “The institution was there for the purpose of proving to unruly prisoners that they had reached the ultimate termination of their undisciplined way of life.”

A total of 34 men tried to escape from1934 – 1963, in 14 separate official attempts. Five of those men were never seen or heard from again, and are presumed to have drowned. Two inmates tried to escape twice.

Escape Attempts
• April 27, 1936 Joseph Bowers didn’t get far – he climbed the fence in full view of a guard; he was shot & killed
• December 16, 1937 Ralph Roe & Theodore Cole sawed through a window bar, squeezed through & were never seen again
• May 23, 1938 James Lucas, Thomas Limerick & Rufus Franklin beat Officer Royal Cline to death with a hammer stolen from the furniture shop. A guard in the tower killed Limerick & wounded Franklin. Lucas was captured.
• January 13, 1939 Arthur “Doc” Barker, Dale Stamphill, Rufus McCain, William Martin & Henry Young sawed through window bars in D Block, made it to the water’s edge, but Barker was fatally wounded & the others were captured.
• May 21, 1941 Joseph Cretzer, Sam Shockley, Arnold Kyle & Lloyd Barkdoll overpowered guards but gave up after unsuccessfully trying to saw through the window bars.
• September 15, 1941 John Bayless made a one-man escape attempt when he slipped away before garbage detail but he was spotted in the water & brought back.
• April 14, 1943 Floyd Hamilton, Harold Brest, Fred Hunter & James Boarman jumped guards & broke through a rear window. All four were spotted swimming. Boarman was fatally wounded, Brest & Hunter were picked up by the prison launch & Hamilton was found 2 days later, hiding in a cave.
• August 7, 1943 Ted Walters sneaked out of the laundry & climbed over the fence. He was found entering the bay with 2 large cans tied around his waist for buoyancy.
• July 31, 1945 John Giles had collected an entire Army uniform during eight years of working on the dock. He stripped off the coveralls that concealed the uniform & walked on to the Army launch. A head count taken on the boat revealed the extra man.
• May 2, 1946 This bloody attempt, known as the Battle of Alcatraz, raged for three days when six inmates – Bernard Coy, Joseph Cretzer, Sam Shockley, Marvin Hubbard, Miran Thompson & Clarence Carnes made a break for it. They overpowered several guards, captured weapons, took over the cell house, but were foiled by not being able to get the key to the exterior door. Guards William Miller & Harold Stites, inmates Coy, Cretzer & Hubbard were killed. Shockley & Thompson were executed for their roles in this attempt.

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• July 23, 1956 Floyd Wilson disappeared from the dock crew & hid in a crevice in the rocks, working his way along the sea wall, eluding search parties for 12 hours before being discovered.
• September 29, 1958 After tying a guard to a tree, Clyde Johnson & Aaron Burgett ran from their garbage detail to the shoreline. After 2 hours, Johnson was found clinging to the sea wall. Burgett was missing for 13 days before his body was discovered in the bay.
• June 11, 1962 Frank Morris & brothers Clarence & John Anglin escaped from their cells after enlarging their air vents by digging with spoons. Dummy heads were left in their beds. They climbed to the top of the cellblock & on to the roof along a ventilation shaft. They climbed down a cast iron stovepipe, entered the water with flotation devices made from raincoats & were never seen again.
• December 16, 1962 This marked the last escape attempt & the only known successful swim from The Rock to the mainland. John Paul Scott & Darl Parker sawed through bars in a basement room under the kitchen, inflated gloves then shoved those into their clothes for buoyancy, jumped in the bay & swam. Parker gave up & turned back. Scott was found clinging to rocks near the Golden Gate Bridge, too exhausted to pull himself out of the water.

Laughter & Sightseeing ~ San Francisco

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What do you call an all encompassing fog, that covers everything, as far as the eye can see?? You call him Karl… at least that’s what San Franciscans call theirs! Most days until noon or later there is a thick dense fog that makes it near impossible to see anything on the horizon, much less the Golden Gate or Bay Bridge. Apparently a weather team decided to name the fog Karl & gave him his own Twitter account. You can follow him @KarlTheFog for a chuckle & some weather tips if you’re heading to San Francisco any time soon.

It’s a funny city in a way, full of microclimates, where it’s cloudy, chilly & windy in one area and then 2 blocks away – off comes your coat as it’s hot & sunny. Dress in layers & you’ll be just fine. There are 2 major airlines here – Oakland Airport & San Francisco Airport. San Francisco Airport is further out of town where Oakland is much closer to Fisherman’s Wharf and the downtown core.

Whenever we visit a new city, the first thing we try to do is go on the Hop On Hop Off bus. It’s usually one of the cheapest ways to get around if a city is fairly large (& not everything is walkable). This is one of the best ways of learning the quick rundown of the history of a community and the lay of the land, so that you can decide where you want to begin really discovering where you’re at. You can purchase 1, 2 or 3 day passes and there are usually extra discounts that come along with your passes for restaurants & museums etc.

Our Hop On Hop Off hosts were Naughty(our driver) & BB Hayes(our commentator – follow him on Twitter @DJBBHAYES) BB was hysterical yet full of really interesting information. Our favourite saying he had was “San Francisco has 2 seasons – rain & construction!” Luckily for us, we only experienced FOG & construction… BB also told us why Van Ness is the only road in the area that is so wide… it’s due to the 1906 earthquake. On the morning of April 18, at 5:12 am, a 7.8 quake lasted about 45 seconds but had an impact that was disastrous. There were 22 aftershocks. Several fires were ignited around the city that burned for 3 days & destroyed nearly 500 city blocks. The only way to stop the fires from spreading further was to have firebreaks that were created by ruthlessly dynamiting buildings that were in the fire’s path. It worked. There was nowhere for all of the mess & rubble to be taken, so eventually it was pushed down to the waterfront where it was compacted and then built upon. (One quick note – don’t bother ordering your Hop On Hop Off tickets online. We did, thinking we were so organized & that it would save time when in fact, you still have to line up at the office to pick up your tickets anyway.) There are stops close to where the TV show Full House home is and also the home used in the movie Mrs. Doubtfire. We also saw: Fisherman’s Wharf & Pier 39 (a massive naval ship was docked as was a submarine); Ghirardelli Square (yes, the CHOCOLATE! best smelling street EVER!); Lombard Street (the most crooked street in the world); Palace of Fine Arts, the Golden Gate Bridge (which was in fog the day of our tour BUT we happened to go over it the day before & captured amazing shots without Karl blocking our view);

IMG_2424Golden Gate Park; Haight-Ashbury (the birthplace of hippie culture & Summer of Love); Alamo Square (beautiful Victorian homes – some of which are known as the Painted Ladies – Victorian homes painted in four of the heritage colours); City Hall/Civic Center – stunning photo ops of City Hall, the Opera House, Symphony Hall & Bill Graham Civic Auditorium; Union Square (San Francisco’s nicest shopping area & best night life); Chinatown (the largest outside of Asia); North Beach (Little Italy – Italian neighbourhood full of cafes & authentic Italian restaurants); The Presidio (National park, historic & architectural treasures); Bay Bridge (another massive bridge but actually longer than the Golden Gate); Sausalito (picturesque little town across the Golden Gate, with galleries, bay views & restaurants galore); Financial District (what WAS the largest building – Transamerica Pyramid is now in the shadow of THE largest building – owned by SalesForce; Embarcadero (eastern waterfront, restaurants, shopping & the Ferry Building) & Nob Hill (some of the best evening views of San Francisco).

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There are always things to be on the lookout for, we parked in an area downtown just off of Pier 39, called Anchorage Square, the day before our Hop On Hop Off tour to figure out where we needed to be the next day for our Wine Country & Alcatraz Tour. There was plenty to see & do, tons of shopping, & restaurants. What we didn’t realize was that we could have gotten our parking validated dollar for dollar just for shopping in the Anchorage Square stores… we had spent about $100 between 2 days of parking so could have spent that on gifts instead… sighhhh.

 

We decided we couldn’t come so close to Napa Valley & Sonoma & not do a wine tour… we’re hardly connoisseurs but do enjoy a nice glass of wine. We prearranged a trip with Green Dream Tours (contact them at http://www.greendreamtours.com) & our tour guide was Chris. He was fantastic! Funny, knowledgeable & an excellent driver in the crazy San Francisco traffic. We learned a lot through him like: What was the Otis Redding song that was inspired by renting a houseboat in Sausalito, California? Sittin on the Dock of the Bay! San Francisco is known for being the birthplace of mountain biking… huh, who knew?! Interestingly, the Agricultural Reserve has designated any land that is already farmland be sold or operated on only as farmland & cannot be redeveloped or subdivided. We stopped to get pictures of the most used building in San Francisco for wedding photos, the Palace of Fine Arts. We then passed through the Robin Williams Tunnel(coincidentally it was the 3rd anniversary of his death the same day). Sonoma has been known as a place with hoity toity wineries but that is so not true. The majority of the vineyards have been family run for many years. We visited 2 – Cline Cellars which was beautifully run by the Cline Family. There are wine tastings, a gift shop, exotic birds, gorgeous grounds & of course the vineyards themselves to see.

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Our host was named Mark, an architect by day, who was quite charming & knowledgeable about the wines he was serving & also about the family’s vineyard that has been around since 1989. This property was originally a horse farm but went into receivership, and the Cline’s snapped it up. We then travelled down the road a ways to Homewood Winery. This was a much smaller vineyard, run by one man who just… loves… wine. Mostly red wine, but he does create some whites as well. Our host this time was Robert. The wine tasting was done with suggestions of food pairings so was pretty cool as well. We did purchase a 2014 Roussanne to take home with us WHICH I stupidly packed it in our CARRY ON, not thinking… I saw the perfect spot where it wouldn’t get broken, popped it in there… of course we had to give it up at security…

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Hyatt Regency San Francisco Airport

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We arrived late morning, our room wasn’t ready so we left our bags with the hotel & went to have breakfast at 3Sixty Cafe & Market. Our waiter was John, a lovely man who asked about us & our trip. When he found out that our room wasn’t ready, he tore up our receipt for breakfast & wished us a good stay. There is a breakfast buffet with quite an array of hot & cold foods but unfortunately it doesn’t change much daily. You could have an omelette or eggs done another way other than scrambled if you asked. There was only an a la carte menu some days, we never really did figure out which days those were. They automatically come to pour you orange juice, coffee or tea but we were a bit disappointed to see when we received our bill that the juice was FIVE DOLLARS A GLASS!! We were able to get into our room later in the afternoon only to discover when I checked the bed linens (yes, I do, EVERY TIME & you should too) that there were black stains on the sheets. My husband went alllllll the way back downstairs… back up! I didn’t mention that there was only one bank of elevators all the way across the hotel from where our room was. So in one spot in the entire hotel there are 6 elevators but not at the other end of the hotel anywhere. We’re fit *snicker* & healthy but guests with any physical issues or small children couldn’t make that long trek. Back to the soiled bed linens, when we spoke with the front desk, the woman was quite short. Suffice it to say, it was NOT good customer service… she informed my husband he would need to speak with the head of housekeeping about it all… not sure why that would be the case – that is not the duty of a guest. Housekeeping never did arrive so we were finally given another room. This room was a good size, linens were clean this time, the view was of the ocean & we could see planes landing at the San Francisco Airport, where it juts out into the ocean. There was plenty of room for clothes storage, a safe, a small fridge & the desk & bed side lamps had both power outlets & USB outlets, as did the alarm clock. They serve Starbucks coffee & Tazo teas in the rooms & in the restaurant, so that was a plus of course. The 3Sixty Cafe & Market was really lovely with it’s soaring ceilings & open, modern floor plan. The food was always good & you could take coffee or tea to go. The market had boxed salads, cheese & fruit plates, baked goods, small bottles of wine, even bottled Cosmopolitans! Our room came with one free breakfast buffet each day, but on the last day we thought we’d enjoy a leisurely breakfast before we left for the airport… that was not going to happen. It was quite busy in the restaurant but there were clearly seats available in the bar & lounge area. We were told it would be a 20 – 25 minute wait despite these seats being open. It seems they would rather turn us away then allow us to sit at the bar tables – interesting, as I had seen others enjoying meals at those tables twice before. VERY annoying. We took yogurt from the market up to our room instead. Another staff issue – we had rented a car for day trips & spoke with the front desk when we took it back so that we wouldn’t be billed for more parking. We noticed on our bill that we were in fact still charged for parking despite not having the car any longer & having let the hotel know that. When we brought it up to the front desk upon checkout the staff member obviously did not listen to us saying we had already reported the car being gone & he said to us “Well how are we to know if you don’t have the car anymore if you don’t tell us??” Condescending much? It got sorted in the end but now we have hard feelings on a few occasions from the staff at The Hyatt. Due to that we wouldn’t stay there again. More & more we are finding it’s incredibly hard to find the same level of service & the attention to detail that we had in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Lastly, the shuttle & driver to & from the airport was very efficient so at least that was good.

 

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Welcome to Alcatraz (Video)

This was such an interesting trip on the perfect day. It was sunny, yet incredibly windy and made for a bit of a bouncy, scary ride across on the boat to Alcatraz Island – you could imagine what it must have been like for the inmates. Apparently there is a night tour but I’m afraid this was creepy enough for this girl in the day, thanks… 0_o As you dock, you’re greeted with a large painted sign that states: Warning persons procuring or concealing the escape of prisoners are subject to prosecution & imprisonment. Very ominous even though this prison has been closed since 1963. As you walk towards the cell house there is another old, large warning sign:

United States Penitentiary
Alcatraz Island.
Area: 12 acres.
1.5 miles to transport dock.
Only government boats permitted.
Others must keep off 200 yards.
No one allowed ashore without a pass.

 

You quickly note the guard towers, the bars on the windows & the desolation here yet when you turn around – the ocean & stunning views of the city of San Francisco… I imagine it must have been torturous for the inmates to see this out their window every day of their incarceration. It was said that certain times when the wind was just right, the inmates could hear the laughter & shouting of boaters, transport boats & seagulls. It is about 1/4 mile nearly straight up to get to the cell house (there is a little transport shuttle that can take those unable to walk between the dock & the prison building). There are outdoor interpretive walks, self guided tours, an orientation video (Alcatraz: Stories from the Rock), exhibits, an audio tour in English, Spanish, Italian, German, Japanese, French, Mandarin & Dutch & even 3 bookstores with memorabilia. We wanted to take in the audio tour but soon learned that there was an actual former inmate in the bookstore signing his autobiography that very day.

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William G. Baker #1259, was 23 when he was sent to Alcatraz – he was originally in for car theft but continued to escape 3 other prisons so was sent to The Rock. While ‘inside’ he learned to become one of the world’s *ahem* best counterfeiters. He is one of only three free, surviving former inmates of Alcatraz. The audio tour was extremely well done, it was narrated by four former guards & four former inmates. As you walked along there was even the clanging of cell doors, interactions between the prisoners themselves & points of views from both guards & inmates. Alcatraz had to be shut down in 1963 due to deteriorating buildings, the lack of stage system & high operating costs. Alcatraz was never filled to capacity – the average was about 260 inmates, although the highest was 320. There are four actual cellblocks with D Block being Isolation. Al Capone was here from 1934 – 1938. Robert ‘The Birman’ Stroud arrived in 1942 where he was placed to D Block (Isolation) until in 1959 when he was moved to a medical facility in Missouri. Some of the officers even lived in apartments, houses or in the duplex on the island. The warden lived on the island with his family too. In the 29 years that Alcatraz served as a federal penitentiary, 36 prisoners tried to escape. All but 5 were recaptured or otherwise unaccounted for. Three who were unaccounted for participated in the same breakout, the June 1962 escape (this event was made into a movie called Escape from Alcatraz with Clint Eastwood). Eight inmates were murdered here by other inmates, five committed suicide & fifteen died of natural cause, including disease. This is such an excellent trip & we booked it through Green Dream Tours (greendreamtours.com) along with the Wine Tour to Sonoma. Both guides, Chris of our wine tour & BB of our Hop On Hop Off tour were excellent!

 

 

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London in 180 minutes

London in 180 minutes
London in 180 minutes
London in 180 minutes

With less than three hours available between flights from UAE to London and then to Vancouver, we had the opportunity to take in Westminster Bridge, Big Ben (perhaps London’s most famous icon) and the London Eye for a few minutes. Travelling on the tube from Heathrow Airport to Earl’s Court on the Piccadilly Line was very straightforward. From there we hopped onto the District line which took us right to Westminster (all in all about 60 minutes on the underground). Enjoying some temporary blue sky and sunshine, Big Ben stood proud as did the Houses of Parliament. Seeing the London Eye for the first time (up close and personal) was quite amazing.

Note: Big Ben is part of the Palace of Westminster originally started in 1020. The palace was burned down in 1834, so the Gothic architecture you see today is comparatively recent.

The palace houses both of the the UK’s ruling bodies — the Houses of Parliament and the House of Lords.

Hundreds of people eagerly gathered in the area representing dozens of nationalities; even one lonely piper merrily played a Scottish medley on Westminster Bridge. After snapping a few photos we could not resist taking in a quick lunch at the County Hall, the place to enjoy ‘Great British Fish & Chips’.

Leaving County Hall we gazed at the London Eye — at 135m, Coca-Cola London Eye is the world’s largest cantilevered observation wheel. It was conceived and designed by Marks Barfield Architects and was launched in 2000.  When enjoying the sights from the ‘Big Wheel’ you can also add to your experience by  ordering a ‘mouth-watering’ bottle of Champagne for a cool 165 pounds. (Pommery Cuvée Louise)
With a quick dash back to the Airport we managed to catch our flight back to Vancouver.
Other useful links include; Big Bus Tours and Thames River Cruise.

 

Back in the UAE – never disappointed

Whether it is the hotel staff, sales staff in the malls, or tour operators they all have one thing in common. They want to show you world class hospitality. Nothing is ever too much trouble. This vacation has taken us from Abu Dhabi to Dubai, from Delhi to Agra, India and from Dubai to Dibba, Oman.