Friday, March 31, 2017

Blue Whales, Dinosaurs - a visit to the ROM

I'm not a skier anymore, truthfully I was probably never a skier, but I did like the outfits and the hot chocolate.  So what to do on a dreary day in March in Canada.  Andrew told us about the blue whale exhibit at the ROM, so it sounded like a great idea for a Friday night.  Double bonus, prices go down at 5:30 and we got seniors rates :).  $17 each.  Not bad.  

 I had been hearing about the REDress display blowing on trees in Toronto, here was my 1st view of them.  They are very eerie and do make a strong statement about the 1200 indigenous women that are missing.
 This is the first time I have seen the new facade of the ROM, quite impressive, I love the reflections.

This gigantic dinosaur, the enormous titanosaur Futalognkosaurus is your official greeter as you enter the ROM.  The first time I saw the dinosaurs at the ROM, the only movie that brought them to live was Godzilla and King Kong.  Thank you to Jurassic Park for allowing me to look at these amazing creatures and feel goosebumps as I picture them roaming across Canada and the world.

The dinosaurs in the entry way brought back so many wonderful memories of school trips and trips with our children.  But it was time to head down to see the amazing blue whale and hear about its story.  

 This magnificent female blue whale will be on display until September.  In 2014, 9 whales became trapped in the ice off Newfoundland.  This is 3% of the already endangered blue whales of the Northwest Atlantic's population.  There was nothing anyone could do.  What made this so unusual was that 2 of them washed up on shore in Newfoundland and Labrador.  How do you make a disaster into a teaching experience, you send ROM scientists down there to study and save the bones so that hopefully it will help save the whales.  

It took the scientists and towns folk 10 days to clean the bones and then 3 years before she was ready to be displayed.  At the end of each day the scientists were hosed down, the stench was so bad they had to pay a fine to get their rental car cleaned.  This story has some great pictures of the process and work involved.
 This is its mouth, they eat 1.5 million calories of krill every day, sometimes just lying on their side and letting them swim in, they then get caught in the hairs and swallowed.
 They weigh around 200,000 lbs the equivalent of 15 elephants.  Their heart beats 10 to 30 bpm, ours beats around 60 to 100 times a minute.  Their tongue weighs the equivalent of 2 hippos, around 2 tons.  Their heart is around the size of my Mazda 3.  Honestly my mouth just kept dropping as I walked around the displays.

There are still around 200 blue whales in the North Atlantic.  Some of the blue whale populations are growing, thanks to education and funding.  It is amazing how much information they know about these mammals as they are very hard to see in the wild.  Definitely feeling a trip to Newfoundland in my future.

Can't go to the ROM without a trip to see the dinosaurs.  Crazy to think there are so many new dinosaurs since the last time I was there and they know so much more about them.  I guess being frozen in an ice age preserves an amazing amount of information.  Maybe there is something to cryogenics.

 OK I know I know, how many pictures of their mouths could I take.  Lots.  With these old knees I wouldn't be getting to far if one of these was chasing me.  I might beat Jim :).

 I have definitely seen this guy in a horror movie.

Next stop was the Bat Cave.  I remember going in here with the kids and being absolutely terrified.  At one point as we were walking through it (much smaller than I remember), lights would go on at the holes in the wall.  I thought maybe by touching the glass the light would come back on so I could see better.  Well my hand just kept going in deeper and deeper, LOL  I actually jumped back, forgetting I was at the museum not the zoo.  Bats are ultra creepy for me.

The ROM also have some amazing interactive activities for the kids.  In the blue whale area you can dress up like a krill.  Jim for some reason wasn't too keen on that.  He was more than willing to be attacked by a T-Rex.  This definitely wasn't there the last time I was.  Such fun.  It takes a picture and you can email it to yourself and then post it on the ROM twitter feed (@ROMtoronto).

Thank you to these amazing scientists and the many people who contribute to the ROM and museums around the world for helping to bring these amazing displays to us.  

Finished off with a burger and fries - yum at the Museum Tavern across from the ROM.  They have a lovely patio too, bring on the good weather.  

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

New Orleans - a touristy day

Today is a full day of touristy things.  First stop "Cafe du Monde" for breakfast.  Well Jim and I and everyone else in New Orleans seemed to be at the Cafe du Monde where your only choice for breakfast is a beignet and coffee.  After lining up for 15 minutes, we finally got a seat and voila within seconds our breakfast was there.  Not knowing any better we ordered 2 beignets and 2 coffees.   Well 1 order consists of 3 beignets (donuts), that white stuff isn't snow, it is icing sugar.   And I like sugar in my coffee so you can imagine how much sugar this body absorbed before 10 am.  Thankfully we had walked down to the French Market from our hotel.  btw they were delish :)
This bustling area is known as the French Market, it is right beside the water but luckily because it is above sea level, did not flood that bad during Katrina.  Every day Jackson Square is full of artists and musicians getting ready for the large influx of tourists.  

At the top of Jackson's Square is Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France, also called St. Louis Cathedral, built in the 1700's and a witness to all of New Orleans history.  Take the cars out of the picture and you would think you were back in time.  

The organ was damaged during Katrina when a tree fell on the roof and allowed the rain in.  It was totally restored and reinstalled in 2008.

Artisans, Artists, Architecture all displayed beautifully around Jackson's Square.  And you can also get your fortune told.  Not sure why but I just couldn't pick up any voodoo stuff or have my fortune told.  Probably something to do with all the books I have read, if there is someone who is going to be able to see your future it is probably in New Orleans.  

Next stop was the Hop On and Off Bus for a tour of the city.  The astrodome was renamed the Mercedes Benz Centre after Hurricane Katrina.  The Mercedes people were instrumental in helping to rebuild the city and bringing relief to so many people who were stranded in the dome.  According to our tour guide, there is no better thing to add to your trip to NOLA, then a ticket for a football game, party central.

Our tour guide did such a good job of describing the beautiful Garden District, that Jim and I finally decided to hop off.  A wee walk was needed before we ate again.  This area has lots of shops and some great restaurants, it was hard to choose.  This market was open with some lovely jewelry and a home made ice cream stand.  Still too sugared out to partake.

I love these, old beer taps being used for a lovely water display in their patio.
Our tour guide said if you want to buy something authentic this is the area to buy it in.  These are all local artisans.  The shops all survived the flood, but most of the owners homes were destroyed.  Because tourism took so long to rebound it took these shop owners a long time to recover.  This was an interesting little shop, they take old keys, cabinet hardware, etc and turn them into jewelry, knobs, etc.  I picked up a Christmas Mouse for my collection.

Finally time for some food, a pizza for 2 and a local beer.  Perfect before we set off again.  

Our next steps took us through a beautiful residential area full of large houses and large trees as we headed towards Lafayette's Cemetery #1.  This cemetery is open to the public and have guides waiting at the doors to tell you about the movies that were filmed here and the resident ghost.

 Most of the tombs were above ground.  Because of the heat in New Orleans the tombs are like mini ovens.  If this is a family tomb, then they can be reused in 1 year and 1 day, that is how long it takes for you to turn to ash.  At that time the ashes, which are still very sacred, are pushed usually to the back of the crypt where there is a hole and you head down to join your other relatives while a new body is placed in the top.

Some of the tombs are bought by societies, like the one below which is owned by one of the fire departments.  Each crypt would over the years have been the final home for many a firemen, each rotated based on the 1 year 1 day principal.

 A number of the tombs are crumbling, the fronts were made of marble, but over the years they discovered because of it's porous nature, they started cracking.  These broken tombs are still considered a tomb, so if you think you want to crawl inside you will be charged with desecrating a body.

 This family buried 5 children and a grandchild.  One of the many sad stories from the 1800s.

 Back on the bus and next stop was the casino and waterfront.  Once again my vision of New Orleans was totally different, I was expecting a beach, nope.  Again this is a working harbour with cruise ships and freighters coming in and out.

Back to the hotel and after another 13000 step day, we are going to Arnaud's for dinner and then up to Fritzels to watch the Saturday night band.  Camera is being left at home.  Saturday is twice as busy and twice as wild as Friday.  Don't think my camera could handle all the x-rated pictures it would be tempted to take.  Our early night turned a wee bit later then we expected.  Our favourite seat by the door was waiting for us, for the first bit we shared the table with a couple our age celebrating their son's engagement.  They were from Ann Arbor.  Next up was a couple from Houston who Jim tried to talk into opening a Mexican restaurant in Toronto and finally a lovely couple of Australia who are coming to Toronto next week.  A wonderful way to end a wonderful holiday.

New Orleans is situated on an amazing piece of the environment.  On the drive over from Texas, for over 30 miles the road we were on was a bridge (like the Gardiner expressway), over the swamps and bayous and this was just one piece of it.  They are so surrounded by life and by water that at times they must feel like living on a sponge.  For 200 years New Orleans has survived floods and hurricanes, the land comes back, the people come back, it truly is an amazing part of the world.