Tuesday, March 30, 2010

At Banff with my Head in the Clouds

Over 4 million people and rubber chickens visit Banff National Park in a year. This week I'm one of them. Established in 1885, this beautiful place became the first national park in Canada.

Banff National Park is exciting. It’s filled with mountains (the Rockies), animals, cool places and stories both weird and wonderful.

Did I mention mountains? There are lots. Nestled in them is the town of Banff which is the highest town in Canada at an elevation of 1,383 metres or 4,537 feet.There were many times yesterday that I walked in clouds.How’s that for being high up.

The highest mountain in Banff National Park is Mt. Forbes at 3,612 metres or 11,850 ft.

Mountains in the park are ancient, ranging between 45 and 120 million years old.

I can’t wait to explore some more today!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Bob's Night Out

Bet you didn’t know that besides good looking, I’m also cultured. Here I am sipping a latte at Prana Coffee in Toronto on Tuesday night as Mom and I attend an author’s reading night.

Presented by Sherry Isaac, nine authors entertained the audience with stories. Kimberly Scutt read a chapter from my not yet published “Kids Travel Guide of Venice,” while I cheered her on from the sidelines. Adoring fans were everywhere.

I must say, I looked like a cool celebrity in my leather motor cycle jacket and helmet. It wouldn’t surprise me to see newspapers and magazines highlighting my new look.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mysteries at York Minster Cathedral

Here’s a great shot of Mom giving me a kiss under the stained glass heart of York Minster Cathedral, in England. You can't see the heart in the picture because it's too high above us. There’s an old legend stating that those who kiss under the heart, stay in love forever. I must say, Dad was looking rather jealous.

York Minster Cathedral is the largest gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. The first building on this site was a military headquarters during the Roman occupation of England. Stories of Roman ghost sightings at the church are plentiful.

There are so many fun things to discover here. One of my favourites is in the East end of the church. If you look in the north choir aisle you’ll find a bunch of panels that show animals and birds that can be found in other areas of the Minster. I like to write down the animals and search for them. Here’s a hint, look in windows, carvings and on tombs.

Don’t forget to search for York Minster’s mysterious green men. Green men are carvings of faces surrounded by leaves and vines. The history of these figures can be traced back to ancient times and symbolise springtime and rebirth.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sugar Shack Shenanigans

It was a gorgeous day in Huntsville, Ontario, Canada. I joined the family in checking out Deerhurst Resort’s Maple Sugar Tour.

Chowing down on maple sugar treats, I wondered, who first figured out that a tree could hide such yumminess inside. I soon found the answer to this and more from my new friends Brian and Dave at the Sugar Shack.

No one knows for sure but most stories agree that the native peoples of North America discovered maple sap and syrup. One legend says that the Iroquois Chief Woksis, in a fit of frustration, threw his tomahawk into a maple tree after an unsuccessful hunting trip. (I’m glad I wasn’t standing near him). The bucket that his wife used to collect water for cooking sat empty at the base of the tree. The next morning, the chief took his axe to go hunting again and this time came home with a deer. Sap had dripped out of the gash in the tree and filled the bucket. His wife thought that the bucket was filled with water and used it to cook the meat. Chief Woksis, his wife and their son, Little Woksis sat down to dinner that night and the conversation went something like this:

Chief Woksis: Hmmm. Good deer, wife. Very sweet. It tastes better than usual.
Wife: I don’t know why. I cooked it the usual way with the water from the bucket.
Chief: I forgot to fill the bucket today.
They both look at little Woksis in horror.
Little Woksis: Don’t look at me. I didn’t pee in the bucket. It must be that dripping tree .

They soon realized that the sap was sweet and when boiled it turned into syrup. When it got really hot, it became a sugar. Because they didn’t have many sweeteners, this sugar became very popular. The aboriginal people taught the settlers how to farm the sap and make the sugar.

In the old days, the settlers often used maple sugar as a currency to trade. They collected the sap with taps and buckets.

Now, they use a system of blue tubes from each tree spigot that are threaded through the trees and then attached to a large line which empties into a big syrup collection tank. The maple syrup producers repair the lines regularly. Most of the time wind or falling branches mess up the tubes but sometimes animals are the cause. Brian told us about a bear coming out of hibernation that decided to snack on the blue lines. Squirrels and deer also gnaw through the tubes to get to the sweetness.

Before we left the Sugar Shack, we sampled apple cider, maple muffins and maple toffee which we cooled in the snow before eating. Yum.

I listened to adults talk about their favourite maple recipes but knew it was time to leave when someone mentioned maple chicken tenders.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Facts that are Crazy and True, from the Zoo

I spent today at the Toronto Zoo. I found out really cool things about some of the creatures I saw:


Did you know that Gorillas are the largest of the great apes and only live in some tropical areas of Central Africa?

An adult gorilla’s arms are 20% longer than their legs and they walk using both their arms and legs, supporting themselves on their knuckles.

Gorillas live in family groups of between 6 and 30 other gorillas.

I was relieved to find out that Gorillas are vegetarians and have no interest in BBQ Chicken.

Polar Bears

These guys are the world's largest land predators. They would happily eat a chicken. They could clear out a whole hen house and still have room for dessert. Luckily, there aren’t too many chickens running around in the arctic so they mostly eat seals.

As I said before, they are really big. An adult male can weigh up to 1500 lbs, a female up to 550 lbs.

The females usually have two cubs which can stay with the mother for up to 2 ½ years.


Turtles and tortoises evolved before mammals, birds, (including chickens), crocodiles, snakes and lizards. They've been on earth for over 200 million years.

Some turtle species can live for over 100 years.

There are species of turtles found on every continent in the world except for Antarctica.

Turtles can breath through their butts…Now doesn’t that just give the phrase ‘morning breath’ a whole new meaning.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Gory Legend from Krakow

Here I am in Krakow, Poland. I’m standing in the Main Market Square which is the largest medieval town square in Europe.

Look behind me and you’ll see a gothic church named St. Mary’s Church. Did you notice that the towers are different from each other? One of the towers is much taller.

There’s a gruesome legend about the towers. Those of you with squeamish stomachs, stop reading now.

Back in the 15th century, there were two brothers skilled in architecture. They were asked by the town’s people to build the new church towers.

Once the building started, it became obvious that the younger brother wasn’t as talented an architect as his sibling. No matter how hard he tried, his tower didn’t rise as quickly as his brother’s. He became very jealous.

Finally, he became so envious that he stabbed his brother to death.

After calming down, he felt awful about what he’d done. He climbed up the highest tower and threw himself down.

The supposed murder weapon still hangs above one of the doors in the old Cloth Hall across the square.

Now this is just a legend, but let it be a lesson to us all. Sibling rivalry never pays.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Tiki Talk

This is a great shot of me cuddling up with a Hawaiian Tiki God.

Tikis are carved from wood or stone. You can find them all over Polynesia including Hawaii, New Zealand and Easter Island.

Tikis are not just scary statues. Some Polynesians believe that Tiki was the first man ever created…kind of like Adam.

The ancient Polynesians carved Tikis to look like their gods or goddesses. These people believed that the Tiki sculpture contained the spirit of that god.

Tikis became popular with people outside of Polynesia around the 1950’s, after WWII. These days you will have no problem finding both tacky and nice Tiki souvenirs to bring home.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Ravens at the Tower

Here I am at the Tower of London in England. Take a good look at the Raven in the picture. He’s really important.

There’s an old English superstition that says if the ravens ever leave the Tower of London, the monarchy and kingdom will fall.

Most people don’t believe this but to be on the safe side, the British Government pays to take really good care of ten tower ravens. They keep six official ravens and four spare ones…just in case.

A Beefeater (also known as Yeoman Warder) is put in charge of caring for these birds.

During WWII all the ravens except one died from the shock of bombing raids. The British quickly replenished the flock.

In 2006 the Beefeaters brought the birds inside for a few months to make sure they didn’t catch avian flu. I still say they should have done the same thing for all those unfortunate chickens.

The ravens don’t fly away because the flight feathers on their wings are clipped. It doesn’t hurt the birds, it just makes flight difficult.

Ravens live between 25-45 years, unless they come to an early, unfortunate end. The tower’s oldest raven was named Jim Crow. He was 44 when he kicked the bucket.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Mystery in the Airplane Toilet

Winter break is just around the corner and some of you may be flying to a holiday destination. Have you ever given a thought about what happens to the contents of those airplane toilets?

Airplane toilets are different than the ones at home. Most land toilets work on a gravity based plan; when you flush, approximately 6 litres of water fills the bowl. It’s then sent with the waste down to the sewer. This system wouldn’t work on an airplane because if the plane goes through a bumpy spot, the water would splash all over the person perched on the toilet. Depending on where they were in the process, it could get really ugly.

Airplane toilets use a powerful vacuum which makes a rather frightening noise. About 2 litres of blue cleaning liquid helps clean out the bowl as the yucky contents are sucked through narrow pipes to the holding tank.

In the old days, when bucket toilets were still used, airlines dropped the contents unto the unsuspecting world below. Now this is illegal, however, accidents have happened when a leak occurs in a jet washroom.

At higher altitudes the leak turns into blue ice. When the plane descends it starts to thaw and creates an unappealing missile which falls to the earth.

A number of years ago in California, a blue poopsickle hurtled from the sky and broke through the skylight of a boat. The owner took the airline to court and won.

Close your umbrellas, guys. This was an unusual case.

Once waste goes to the airplane holding tank, it cannot be released from inside the plane. It can only be pumped out of a valve on the outside of the aircraft. The smelly gunk is then sent to a waste treatment facility.

Personally, I still prefer the drop as you fly method used by my fellow birds.