Make You Mark

Tony and I took a trip to London while we were staying in France. We flew out of there at 11 in the morning and were in England by 2 in the afternoon. The flight landed at London Standsed airport, which is about 45 minutes out of London. We took the regional train system, which was much better than the bus that my friends and I had taken the last time we had gone to London. We got to see much of the English countryside and were able to relax and plan the rest of our trip.

We were staying at a hostel that was located near to an underground station; which made transportation for the weekend quite easy to access. It was a bit further out of the way than the hostel from earlier this year, but it was nice nonetheless. When we arrived at the hostel, we couldn’t quite believe our eyes, it was like a fairy-tale hotel! We had to check the address twice to make sure that it was actually our hostel, because on the outside it looked quite beautiful. It was called the Clapham Common Parkside Hotel, and we had found it, of course, on the internet.

Before we could go check in, however, we had some business that we needed to attend to When I had gone to London with my friends the first time that semester, it had been a question of whether we wanted to see a show or not, which of course we decided in favor of. In this case, Tony and me, as most of you will recognize, it was never a question of IF we should go to a show. It was WHICH shows shall we see?

We had decided even before he had arrived in Pau that we would see two shows. One of them only played Thursday nights, and it was for THIS reason that we left for London on a Thursday. Therefore, as soon as the regional train let us off on the underground system, we headed towards Leicester Square, where we knew that we could find reasonable, perhaps half-price tickets to the show we wanted to see. After we had purchased our tickets for that evening, we headed towards the hostel.

It ended up being a very nice place indeed. It was also VERY cheap, for London, which is the main reason we had booked it. We were shown a rather large basement room that contained, for a mere 33 pounds a night, two rather good sized beds, a closet, chest of drawers, sink, AND fridge! Perhaps the drawback would have been that the windows were barred shut, and the fire door which was located next to our room appeared to lead to an abandoned hallway.

HOWEVER, such is the life of young students visiting their way through Europe, and such is a HOSTEL. We were pleased to be insured of the fact that the sheets had been changed, because as we arrived, a woman was actually DOING this, and we had to wait several minutes before we could put our things in the room, and head back downtown for our show.

On Thursday night we saw “The Bible, abridged” which was performed by the same company that had done “The Complt wks of Wlm Shaskp.” that I had seen the last time I had been in London. It was a fantastic show, and was VERY funny.

Friday and Saturday we spent sightseeing in London. Friday afternoon we visited the wax museum, and took many interesting photographs. Tony and I were both able to stand with such celebrated figures as GW and Hitler, as well as the Queen of England and the Beatles. Being “theatre people” as we are, I can tell you that many of the photos were QUITE interesting indeed. We had a GREAT time wandering through the rooms and I believe that both of us took several rolls of film. It was a great day!

We ended Friday by taking a walk to Abbey Road. Its one of my favorite places to visit in the entire world. There is something just WONDERFUL about walking across that famous crosswalk and taking pictures of each other and ourselves together. Perhaps one of my favorite parts of being at Abbey Road is to read the scribbles of the people who have visited before.

People come to Abbey Road from all over the world to take their photographs in the very same crosswalk. The traffic stops of course, because the crosswalk is one that ALWAYS gives the right of way to people walking across the street. The drivers seem to understand that people will forever be walking across the street at this very point, and there aren’t even too many horn honks as they come to a halt and wait for fans to cross. Tony and I dared even to step into the street and halt, waiting for another tourist to take our photo.

After you have walked across the crosswalk and found the studios, you write your name and date and place on the wall. This has been done for years and years, and it is beautiful to read. “Long live the Beatles!” “I love you John!” and “we will never forget!” are scribbled across the wall surrounded the studio. People want to leave their mark, and its expected to do so. There are things written in all sorts of languages, things drawn, song lyrics, and many, MANY different names.

And of course we added our own. “Here Comes the Sun, Tony and Liza” we wrote on the wall, and on the ‘Abbey Road’ sign, as well as on the light pole in front of the crosswalk. We then left Abbey Road, content in knowing that we, too, had left our mark.

ON Friday night we saw The Lion King. The show is absolutely fantastic and beautiful. The people who have done the sets and props and costumes have done a fantastic job of creating a truly African cultural experience. The songs and dances and bright colors work together to form an amazing show that simply leaves the viewer on the literal edge of the seat. Tony and I had a most fantastic evening.

On Saturday we tried our hardest to see all that there was to see in London. Of course, since Tony and I have both been to London before, there was no pressure to see EVERYTHING. We walked around the Tower of London and shared some Tango and Kindereggs in front of beautiful buildings. We saw some of our favorite sections of town, and even visited the mall that was near the place we had both stayed before, many years ago. It was a rewarding experience for both of us, and brought back many wonderful memories to share.

Saturday night was the only night we ate in a restaurant. We are poor students, you all realise. We ate some fantastic Mexican food and stood in Leicester Square sharing a bottle of wine. We watched people, and we talked to people. After about an hour, shortly after I had finally gotten a hold of my littlest brother to wish him a happy birthday, we heard a street preacher talking in a megaphone. Tony, who had been practicing his English accent the entire weekend, was keen to engage this man in a conversation about the bible and various religious things the man was saying.

I have to say that it was interesting to hear his opinions and views, and it was also interesting to see the way the street preacher, who at first glance might SEEM concrete in his ideas and views, had no answers for Tony other than more biblical quotes. The man got frustrated with him I believe, and left. Later on, we saw another preacher who was doing a much better job. While the first one was simply shouting quotes into a megaphone, this man was standing amongst a crowd of people and he was not simply repeating the same verses over and over again. He was preaching love, and he was using the crowd to make his point.

We very much enjoyed our evening, and managed to just barely catch the final train back to our hostel. The train was full, and we were talking rather loudly. Of course, by this time, Tony had convinced me to practice my own English accent, that I wasn’t even aware I had the ability to do. I am sure I didn’t do it WELL, but it was well enough for two young and very nice English men to turn to us and start a conversation. Wisely, I stopped talking, knowing of course that Tony’s accent was by far the better.

The two young men tried to decide where on earth we were from. They knew that Tony’s accent wasn’t LONDON English, but they couldn’t guess where else it might be from “Cyprus? Greece? Italy?” They guessed, over and over. The United States was about the 7th place that they guessed, and they laughed when Tony said he was from there. “We don’t believe you!” They said, and we both laughed. They then asked Tony to “do your American accent!” And when Tony said, in his normal voice “I am an American from South Dakota” the two men laughed and looked at each other. “Wow! ” They said “He does a GREAT American accent!”

Tony and I laughed as the men continued to try to guess WHERE on EARTH we could have come from. “Nah!” they finally decided “He’s putting us on! He’s English!”

Sometimes its fun to pretend to be who we are not. It is fun to talk to others and to try to figure out what others are thinking, and where they are coming from. Part of the fun of being an “actor” is trying to make other people believe you are who you are pretending to be. I haven’t done theatre myself for quite a long time, but I remember the feeling very well. That of stepping into another’s place and wandering, for just a bit, in their shoes. Sometimes, by listening to others as they try to ‘devinir’ where it is exactly you come from, one can learn a great deal about themselves.

Yes, it is fun to pretend.

And other times, it is important to be completely yourself. To leave your mark on society and be certain that the people around you know exactly who you are and what it is that you stand for. For much the same reason that people come to Abbey Road from all over the world to leave their own mark on the place that helped to contribute to some of the greatest music ever recorded, it is important to leave your own mark on the things that are important to you.

Sign a guest book for somewhere you have been. Scratch a smiley face into the dust of your best friends rear car window while you wait for them. Write your name in the sand on a completely empty beach and walk away before the words are washed out to sea. These things, too, are important.

When Tony and I boarded the plane that took us back to France, we left knowing that we had left our mark, in some small ways, in London. The young men on the train might not have been able to guess where exactly we were coming from, but the wall outside of Abbey Road bears to this day our own words.

“Here Comes the Sun, Tony and Liza”.

Find your own symbolic things to leave your mark on. Have fun, sometimes, pretending to be what you are not, but always know for sure, who you are. And when it is important, leave something of yours behind to prove that you have been, that you are… that you exist.
Greece? Italy?” They guessed, over and over. The United States was about the 7th place that they guessed, and they laughed when Tony said he was from there. “We don’t believe you!” They said, and we both laughed. They then asked Tony to “do your American accent!” And when Tony said, in his normal voice “I am an American from South Dakota” the two men laughed and looked at each other. “Wow! ” They said “He does a GREAT American accent!”

Tony and I laughed as the men continued to try to guess WHERE on EARTH we could have come from. “Nah!” they finally decided “He’s putting us on! He’s English!”

Sometimes its fun to pretend to be who we are not. It is fun to talk to others and to try to figure out what others are thinking, and where they are coming from. Part of the fun of being an “actor” is trying to make other people believe you are who you are pretending to be. I haven’t done theatre myself for quite a long time, but I remember the feeling very well. That of stepping into another’s place and wandering, for just a bit, in their shoes. Sometimes, by listening to others as they try to ‘devinir’ where it is exactly you come from, one can learn a great deal about themselves.

Yes, it is fun to pretend.

And other times, it is important to be completely yourself. To leave your mark on society and be certain that the people around you know exactly who you are and what it is that you stand for. For much the same reason that people come to Abbey Road from all over the world to leave their own mark on the place that helped to contribute to some of the greatest music ever recorded, it is important to leave your own mark on the things that are important to you.

Sign a guest book for somewhere you have been. Scratch a smiley face into the dust of your best friends rear car window while you wait for them. Write your name in the sand on a completely empty beach and walk away before the words are washed out to sea. These things, too, are important.

When Tony and I boarded the plane that took us back to France, we left knowing that we had left our mark, in some small ways, in London. The young men on the train might not have been able to guess where exactly we were coming from, but the wall outside of Abbey Road bears to this day our own words.

“Here Comes the Sun, Tony and Liza”.

Find your own symbolic things to leave your mark on. Have fun, sometimes, pretending to be what you are not, but always know for sure, who you are. And when it is important, leave something of yours behind to prove that you have been, that you are… that you exist.

Getting the Most Out of Barcelona

I was nearly to the point of not going on spring break because I couldn’t find anything that fit my budget for this semester. However, 6 of my friends were heading to Barcelona at a VERY reasonable rate, so I decided to go along with them!

We left around 810 for Barcelona. This was a long process that took all of the day. We had a three hour train ride to Toulouse, which all of us slept through, and then another three hour trip from Toulouse to Le Tour de Carol, which is a boarder town with Spain.

If you have a map in front of you, you can see that Toulouse and le Tour de Carol are not really places that you would expect to travel in order to GO to Barcelona. However, the French train system, while it goes lots of places and is very affordable, is very time consuming because most little towns only have a couple of trains that go a couple of directions. The trains MOSTLY run from each town to Paris and back again, and they don’t often run the directions in between. So we had to go to Toulouse, even though it is in the other direction from Barcelona.

At any rate, we were in Le Tour for about three hours before our train left for Barcelona.
The last train took us to Barcelona and we arrived at about 8:30 pm. We found our hostel with no problems and started to check in. This was the moment in which we all realized that perhaps 11 euros a night was a bit too little to pay for a decent place! When Lisa went to check in, she paid, like all of us had, with a credit card.

When she went to sign the slip, she noticed that the man had charged her 558.00 euros instead of 55 euros and 80 cents! It was obviously a mistake, but she was upset and the language barrier made it difficult to insure that the problem was taken care of…and the man was a little mean with us. However, a call to the manager and a check with the credit card company insured that it was, indeed, taken care of.

We had all been a little disappointed to discover that we were staying in a room with 18 beds. There were seven of us, and we had really wanted out own room. However, we found that through the five days, many interesting girls came and went. We met three from Germany, followed by three that we never spoke to because they danced all night and slept all day, followed by three from the states who gave us cookies because they had packed too many. Never underestimate the value of meeting new people. You just might get free cookies!

We spent the next four days sightseeing. Saturday we shopped a LOT because the stores in Spain were MUCH cheaper than the stores here in France. We went out on Saturday night and didn’t come home until 4 in the morning. This is the way it goes in Spain! Many of the bars and clubs do not even open until 11 or 12, and if you show up before one you are looked at funny. So we went to the Hard Rock Cafe around 10 for dinner, and found a dance club after that! In Spain the night life doesn’t seem to start until dinner does, and that doesn’t start until after 10 PM. Bars are open AFTER dinner, and clubs are open after that. People make up for staying out so late however. We were frustrated to discover nothing open until 10 or 11 on our first morning there. We decided we would stay out late like the Spanish and sleep in like they did as well!

We had a fantastic time, but of course we didn’t get up until 12:00 on Sunday. We bought ourselves 2 day passes on a hop-on hop-off tour of Barcelona. Sunday we rode the entire tour from top to bottom, seeing all of the sights from a double-decker bus… the houses of Gaudi, his Sagrada Famillia, the Olympic park and all of the buildings built for that, the pier and the beach, and the older downtown areas of Barcelona.

On Monday we rode the same tour again but this time we got off of the bus at various locations. We climbed to the top of the Sagrada Familia, a cathedral built by Gaudi, which is still being completed. Look it up on the internet, it is amazing!

This is perhaps the most beautiful building I have ever seen! We had so much fun wandering around and looking at it and also visiting the museum that showed us the history and CONTINUING plans for this remarkable building. We also saw the Olympic village and an old Spanish Village where we walked around and took more pictures. We took pictures for two days straight! It was a fantastic trip. On Tuesday we visited the Picasso museum and did some more shopping. Some people we love are getting lots of stuff from Barcelona! It was so cheap and SO much fun!

Yesterday was spent again on the train. I am beginning to really enjoy train rides. There is something wonderful about getting onto a car in a station and watching the countryside pass you by until the car stops and you are in another town. It is interesting for me because unlike a REAL car, in which you can go ANYWHERE, the train cars go from the same place to the same place, and back again. The track that you begin with continues without an end until you reach your destination.

I suppose this could be somewhat like lives. Some of us get in our cars and pick roads, and some of us stick to the same track until we reach our destination. The same track might be safe and predictable, and there might be an awful lot to see on it, but think of the train cars, and the monotony of seeing the same mountains and trees every single day of life.

While we were on the streets of Barcelona, some of the girls with us wanted to constantly be looking in the guidebook for a map to make sure we were always on some great big street and we always knew exactly where we were at all times. I put up with this throughout the sightseeing days, knowing that there were certain things that we WANTED to see, much like the fact that there are certain train stations you should ALWAYS stop at in your life. However, as we left the Picasso museum on Tuesday, and they hunted in their book for just the correct street to lead us SOMEWHERE, I decided that I had had enough. I reached over to Amy and shut the book.

“Listen up, guys” I said to the group. “My mom has got this great system for going places.”

My friends all listened intently. In London, a few weeks ago, I had referenced my mother when we were lost and everyone was grumpy because we couldn’t find our underground station. In the rain, I had stood in front of them and said “My mother says that ATTITUDE is the difference between an ADVENTURE and an ORDEAL” We had all smiled, laughed, and continued on our trip.

And so in Barcelona, when they heard me mention my mother, they knew that perhaps I was onto something. “My mom picks a road, you know;” I said.

And it’s true. My mom picks a road and goes, and she sees what she sees and she always arrives at the destination, usually after having seen much more than the same mountains and trees. She always arrives where she meant to arrive. Of course, some days it might take her a couple of hours to drive across town, and some trips to North Dakota certainly have taken much longer than they should. But every time she picks a road, she ends up going exactly where she wants to, in a much better way than simply hopping on a train and taking the path of least resistance.

And so we picked a road at random, leaving the Picasso museum. We turned down an alley, and again it was raining a little. We splashed through the puddles and laughed and talked as we looked at buildings and explored the alley. One more random turn brought us to the most amazing shopping street that we had found yet, and we happily spent the afternoon going from shop to shop, finding great deals and fun things to see.

When the sun was setting, and people were getting antsy to head back to the hostel, we picked one more road, and took a turn, by random. And there, in front of us, was the street that led directly to the place we were staying.

“Hey!” the girls exclaimed. “This whole picking a road thing works pretty well!”

A track works great for a train, yes. And on days like Wednesday, when you are tired and your braids are VERY fuzzy, and all you want to do is get home, call the people you love, and go to sleep, a track is a great way to go. You don’t have to think about it, you don’t have to consult any maps or make any plans. You step up on the platform and choose a seat, and watch the world go effortlessly past your window. Trains are wonderful ways to travel. We enjoyed being on that track, twice. One time it took us to a beautiful city, and the other time it took us home again.

And tracks work well, too, for sightseers. Our bus rides might have taken us around the same track a few times, but we were sure not to miss any of the important things in Barcelona, and the bus was always waiting to pick us up when we were ready to head to the next stop. The bus was affordable, easy to use, and very useful. And it followed a track.

But by far our favorite day was Tuesday, the day that we picked a road. We all found the most amazing things, and saw things that we would have never seen on a track. We saw the little cafes and the small children playing in the courtyards. We visited tiny stands where the men in charge would bargain with us until we walked away with something wonderful for a very little bit of money. And we found a tiny diner to eat in, where the man fed us salads, roasted chicken, rice, diet cokes AND flan for desert, all for 7 euros and 50 cents.

We would all agree that picking a road works the best. Thanks, Mom.

French Social Life and Family Customs

It truly is a new century in France. After traveling abroad in France this summer, living and learning in a country different from my own, I was able to see this with my own eyes. It was enlightening to witness many of the things I had previously read and learned about while in France. As a traveler to France for the third time in eight years, I was able to see the changes that have taken place there even in that short of a time. A month and a half, this time, was much longer than any of my previous European travels, and allowed me to appreciate much more of the culture and social life of the French people.

While I was abroad, I was able to witness many things that I had read about in John Ardagh’s book France in the New Century . The overviews presented in this book were detailed and descriptive, and provided me with much background knowledge to draw from. The discussions in class, personal experiences and conversations, as well as the other material that I read helped me to tie much of the information together and get what I believe is a firm understanding of the cultural and social life of the French people. I was able to witness, not just read about how they live, educate their children, work, play, and pay for what they want. All of my French experiences have tied into what I believe is a more culturally accurate and detailed knowledge of the Francophone culture. I am grateful to have had this experience, and plan on using what I have learned many times over in my life to come.

Knowing much about French social life, their customs and education, as well as the place of the French in the world must have its base in history. An overview of anything related to France must begin with the most obvious aspect of French life – their culture. The life of a French citizen is dominated by the French culture. Unlike America, where all cultures are celebrated and encouraged, the French culture is the only culture that is truly accepted in France. This is not to say that other cultures don’t exist, or are not allowed, but simply that in France, people live like the French. Every aspect of the French culture is carefully controlled and regulated – the Minister of Culture maintains the “correct” way of French life, while the Academy maintains the French language.

It is important to be “French” while you are in France. This is made clear by the ideals and opinions of the citizens of this country. If you are not “French” you do better to pretend you are trying. I had been told dozens of times that French waiters will be rude to you – unless you try to speak French to them, in which case they will be considerably nicer. In French stores, if you greet them in French they will help you more. If you don’t wear anything that screams you aren’t from France you will be better off than if you do. These things I learned.

But what is “French”? What does it mean to be French? There are aspects of life that are very important to the French people. John Ardagh discusses these ideas fluently in his book France in the New Century and I have learned much about what it means to be French by living in France.

To be French means that great importance is placed on the family life. In chapter 8, Ardagh discusses the importance of a tightly knit French family. He explains that historically the French family is very close and important to people. Who you are in dependant on who you live with – literally who you are – who your parents are and who their parents were. Through the years the idea of family has gone from the extended family to the small family units, parents and children, which has become the most important aspect of a French person’s life.

The family is central. In France, people don’t have a lot of “stuff”. They don’t have things that cost money; instead they spend their money on people. They take long vacations to be with family and go out to eat or to concerts or events that they can all do as a family. To be French means you care about the people around you more than the things you own. The French spend their money on things like flowers and food, things that people think of as romantic and loving. It is important to a French family to get back to their “roots”, or to re-discover themselves on vacations and trips together.

I did witness this in France. It seemed to me that it was true that people didn’t have a lot of stuff. They had bookcases with just a few books on them, but they would spend hundreds of Euros to take their children to a fancy restaurant or rent a car to go to the seaside. It wasn’t important for the French women to have fancy clothes, but rather to take an extra week to travel with their husbands.

The family and social life, therefore, that I witnessed, was all rolled into one. Most families would have large dinners at their house where the entertained all of their relatives. They would attend concerts in the park or take a vacation to England or Spain. It was apparent that even the poorest people would try to take a vacation rather than buy anything new for their house or themselves. It just wasn’t as important to own things as it was to eat good food and enjoy the company of their loved ones.

Enjoying things together as a family is possible in France because of the huge emphasis that is placed on cultural activities. In France there are many opportunities to enjoy cultural experiences and to witness things that involve the French idea of culture.

Ardagh discusses the importance of French culture throughout his book, and I witnessed it throughout my stay in France and all of my travels. I found that above all else, cultural ideas were very important.

Perhaps the reason that culture is so important in France is that it is at the height of everything the people do. As Ardagh talks about in chapter 6, French people spend money on what they believe are truly culturally important things. 50 million Francs on the parade to open the World Cup, thousands spent to open museums and exhibits, money that the French will spend to celebrate a cultural event. Many times the French will spend money on cultural events rather than on remodeling their apartments with brand new furniture.

I witnessed this enthusiasm for cultural events while I was in France. The Tour de France – the parades and merchandise give-aways that proceeded and followed it – the crowds of people waiting in line, following the race, buying things for their racers. I also saw many festivals and exhibits while in France – everyone seemed to want to celebrate some aspect of the French culture. We walked through parks that were full of people sharing and buying French art, or music. We saw dancers in Paris and artists in Bayonne – all wanting to celebrate where they came from and allow others to help them maintain the French lifestyle.

Ardagh goes on to talk about, in chapter 6, that however much the French might want to celebrate culture, it is usually having to do with a group of people or performers rather than one single person or artist. This we saw also in great detail. Instead of having an art exhibit of one artist, we found exhibits of certain types or mediums of art. The focus never seemed to be on a single artist. While touring the Béarnaise cities, we saw a highly publicized exhibit about artists who worked with the clay medium. Most of the artists had a similar theme, but in the exhibit itself, the focus was on the medium. There were signs about the detailed work that had gone into the clay artifacts, but hardly anything about the artists themselves.

This was similar throughout the places I traveled in France. Even in Paris, many of the museums that we toured contained wings with focuses on the medium or the project, and almost on the side references to the artists themselves. Compared to the American style, where oftentimes you see exhibits of a particular person, it is different to see the people themselves not as important as the idea behind the art.

Performing Arts are also discussed in Ardagh’s book. He mentions that performing in groups has become very important, while solitary performers are not as important. In the musical scene, I can see this trend. While we were in France, I saw many advertisements for musical groups – I did see advertisements for solitary musical performers, but many more for groups.

More importantly, regarding the arts, is Ardagh’s point that France is slowly becoming a more artful society. This might seem strange, given the idea of France as a cultural and artistic place. It was once, but in the recent past France had fallen into a less artistic mind set. Ardagh explains that in these changing times, the French are beginning to be more involved and excited about music and art than they have been in the past – more comparable to the great traditions in years gone by. For instance, Ardagh notes that summer music festivals and amateur activities like choral singing and drama are becoming more and more widely accepted and performed. I witnessed this as well. France is turning away from the solitary closed performances of the past and the stuffy recitals and opera halls and becoming more and more open and excited in its music and arts scene.

While we were in France, we visited many such outdoor festivals. I saw a Blues Brothers concert which was quite enjoyable, where the people in the town sat around on the grass and enjoyed themselves. There were also large, open gatherings while I was in Pau. Free outdoor movies and concerts that celebrated the openness of summer and the delight that the French have for their cultural heritage.

Another aspect of the cultural importance in France and the way that it is changing is that the French are becoming more and more aware of the visual arts. Ardagh talks about the French people’s continuing effort to bring new museums and exhibit halls into the French landscape. I also witnessed this while I was in France. Every town we visited, it seemed, was having the grand opening of some museum or another.

France is a cultural society. And the cultural ideas of the French citizens are extremely important. However, one of the things that I noticed the most while I was in France was that it was French culture that is important, not necessarily the culture of the people who are in France. As Ardagh discusses in chapter 3, the French are making social progress. The French have a great social welfare system. They take care of women who give birth, they take care of the poor and the sick and the children. Education is free, maternity leave is mandatory and paid. Doctors are free. In France the elderly don’t have to chose between food and medicine like they do in America. It is important to the French to take care of everyone, and it seems that no one minds paying for it.

However, in France, it is almost always the French that benefit. The problem or racism is continual. Immigrants aren’t considered to be “French.” In chapter 3, Ardagh discusses some of these problems. He mentions that the poorest areas are those with the highest number of non-“French” born citizens. These are the places with the most crime, and least number of advantages, the worst schools. The technical stance in France, coming from the revolution, is that all citizens should have equal rights, and therefore their ethnicities don’t matter. However, this is not the case in “life”. There is much hatred towards minorities, and a general sense of French nationals being “better” than others.

While I was in France, I didn’t see much racial violence. I think that I went to bed too early and stayed in safe neighborhoods. However, I did see a lot of graffiti that spoke out against the Arab population, as well as the United States. Also, I heard tales from students who were in Pau for longer periods of time about seeing violence among the races.

What I did see was an obvious distinction between the upper and lower classes. It seemed to me that an awfully large number of minorities lived in the high rise apartment buildings that would be called the “slums” in the United States. I don’t know if I saw a single person of a minority who lived in the upper class neighborhoods I traveled in.

I also saw racial differences in jobs. Many people who worked as street vendors, or, worse, who begged for money on the streets were minorities. Banks and restaurants and stores employed “French” people only. I seemed to notice the racial differences more in the larger cities, but even in Pau it was important that the minorities lived and worked in a very different France than the natural born French people did.

Within all of these cultural aspects of French life, there is a struggle for Globalization. In the world today, there is a push for the countries in power to be more open and more accessible. The French are generally opposed to the issue of Globalization. According to Ardgah’s book, it is hard for them to give up the cultural ideas that they have had for hundreds of years. The French are a proud country of people, and it is important to them to maintain life exactly as it has always been. In France, the people do not want to change, although they like the modern conveniences of the Globalized life. The Academy, for instance, strives to control the French language. Whenever a new idea or produce is introduced, the Academy will create a French word for it to prevent other languages from creeping into French. The French people, however, still use these words, whether they be American or otherwise. The Academy will give a word for something, but if the American way of saying it makes more sense to the French people, or if they are used to saying it that way, the French word might not be used as much, except in the highest society.

The French also try to globalize without losing who they are. In this Stealth Globalization, the French attempt to become a globalized nation without actually admitting they are doing it. Ideas that the French say they dislike do well in France because they are convenient. While I was in France I saw this in numerous ways. The shopping center, for instance, a purely American idea, is creeping into even the smallest towns in France. American music is thought of as being bad and not really music, but it plays on the airways. English is spoken more and more as the French people realize that speaking English is a necessity.

While I was in France, I began to realize that this is true. I saw many examples of anti-American sentiments. Graffiti on the walls, anti-American propaganda, and a general dislike for American ideas. However, I saw many examples of American things that the French people enjoyed. The computer – many French people have and use computers – to name one of many.

France is moving towards globalization. One of the oldest states in Europe, with a permanent seat on the security council, France has always been an important nation. The French people and the French government understand that to become globalized is to be important in the world, and they need to become globalized to continue to succeed in the world today.

However, it is difficult for France to become globalized because it is a centralized state with deep set traditions, values, and cultural ideas that make it nearly impossible to change quickly. The view that only the state understands the public good, and the idea that it is important to have a state that controls everything so it can look out for everyone are hard set ideals that people don’t want to let go of. It is hard to imagine a France any different than the one there is today, but changes are slowly coming into it.

Although the Academy is in charge of the language, and although they continually recreate words to fit the new ideas presented, words like “week-end” and “Disney” creep into the vocabulary. When it comes to globalization, culture is the most easily affected and quickly noticed. American culture is becoming the most important culture in the world, and therefore Globalization is associated with America. This happens in France as well.

The French do not want to become American. They don’t want American ideas or products to become the norm in their society, but it doesn’t seem there is anything they can do about it. Take McDonalds, for example. Although the French will say they HATE McDonalds you can hardly ever get into one because of the vast number of people inside.

Globalization is a huge challenge for the French people. In his book, Ardagh tries to explain the ways that the French are attempting to become more global-minded without losing their ideas. While I was in France, I saw this.

From watching and listening to my host family, the teachers at the school, and the French friends we met, I realized that the French really are a people who are intent on keeping their culture while moving towards the future. If France is able to do that, it will continue to be a place that is truly a wonder to visit. This beautiful country full of culture and cultural ideas has the ability to become one of the world’s strongest nations.

New Shoes and a French Hike

I have been very busy at school these past few weeks. They keep us busy with little bits of work every night, not enough so that we are swamped, but just enough to keep us doing well. I am very intent on learning as much as I can, so I try to do little bits of homework each night to improve my writing and spelling (and my accents, which I still cannot remember!) The snow has faded and has been replaced with very nice temperatures, around 8 and 9 C. I don’t really KNOW exactly what the temperature IS, because I don’t yet have a handle on the Celsius, but I know that it snows at 0 and BAKES at 35 (the temps we lived through two summers ago…) so for February, 8 and 9 and 10 is nice.

Last Saturday our excursion to Bordeaux was cancelled because of the half inch of snow. The bus company did not want to send out the busses in the case of accidents. On Sunday, however, we did have an excursion to San Juan de Luz, a coastal town that I had been to in the summer of 2003. It was a gorgeous trip through the country to get to the town. We had signed up for it on a whim, seeing the beautiful picture posted on the door of the office of foreign students.

“Randonnee!” The sign proclaimed. We didn’t know what a Randonnee was, but the town looked beautiful and the trip was very cheap. We knew that Sundays in Pau can be a bit boring, so we decided to go. We were excited and the few of us that had signed up climbed on the bus and enjoyed beautiful scenery and a little bit of the town as it coasted by past the windows a couple of hours later. We were excited to visit this town, and watched the shops as we went past, glad to see that some of them were open, even though it was a Sunday. My friend Laila was wearing a brand new outfit and was excited to be headed to a new town to sightsee and do a little shopping. Laila came to the US from Brazil when she was 13. She has thick hair and calls me things like ‘babe’ and ‘hon’. And she likes to shop, a lot. She showed me her brand new shoes the second we got on the bus, and I had told her that I thought they were GREAT new shoes for a day in a new town.

The bus seemed to be heading OUT of town though, before it stopped. We were slightly concerned with this, but as it began to climb a huge hill and wind in and out of tiny country roads we were excited that perhaps there was another winery, or some neat touristy thing at the top of the mountain. We arrived, the bus stopped, and we gazed below us, at the town of San Juan de Luz as it spread out beneath us. Tiny houses gleamed in the sunlight, roofs of spectacular colors shimmering like jewels in a long forgotten lake of some distant fairy tale, the kind where mermaids are nice and will share their treasure with you. The town was very small beneath us and the rain clouds that were coming in off of the mountains made the view quite distracting. So much so that we didn’t see the leader of the group changing her own shoes.

There was a despairingly long path leading down the face of the hill and into the forests that separated us from the tiny French town. A VERY long path. I snuck a glance to the other people in the group. Some were lacing up running shoes, some were stomping out hiking boots. No one seemed to be wearing brand NEW shoes, like Laila, nor fake converse All Stars (paid for during the SOLDES, 4 Euros a pair!) like myself.

Worried now, I pulled out my trusty little yellow dictionary. Of course, my friends and I had signed up for the excursion thinking it was simply a tour of this town and another in Spain. “Randonnee” the little dictionary innocently proclaimed “drive; ride; walk; hike.” My brain attempted to process those words as the occupants were shuffled onto the deserted forest ground, and the bus doors firmly shut. Hike?

Laila was trying not to get her new shoes muddy while at the same time reaching for her camera to take a picture of the beautiful town, the obvious, to her, reason the bus had stopped so far out of the way of the quaint streets and little, tame shops. She grabbed my arm and turned in quiet surprise as the bus threw itself in gear and back up quickly, heading down the windy mountain road.

“It’s a HIKE, Laila.”I said, and she laughed at me, at first, until she noticed the others hefting their backpacks onto their shoulders with determination and following the leader through the undergrowth that clawed at their feet, like a tide rising to drag them out to sea. The town was MILES away.

We followed the leader for quite some distance through trees and forests and mountains, keeping the view of the town and the spectacular sights in the foreground, hoping that a trick of the air made them seem quite further away than they were. Eventually we were amongst the trees, which made it hard to SEE the town stretched out before us, and I convinced myself that this was a GOOD sign, that perhaps it would just jump out of the forest like a jack in the box and scare us all silly. “Here I am!’ It would say “Come shopping!” and we would laugh with delight and scrape the mud from our shoes and join it for tea in a nice, pleasant, climate controlled cafe.

But it did no such thing. In fact, before we knew it we were somehow in a residential district on the outskirts of town and the leader of the group was squinting at street signs and regarding her map. She had left the path behind, and we were finishing our hike in a suburbia that had quickly become hell. Our feet hurt, we were hungry, and every French car that drove past seemed to contain a driver who most certainly did not understand why a French woman was leading a scraggly group of tourists through the neighborhood. And it had begun, of course, to rain.

Three hours after the bus had left us on that muddy forest path, we arrived in the center or San Juan de Luz. We DID at last scrape the mud from our shoes and settled on benches that seemed very appropriate to the location. The woman in charge looked us all over as we collapsed gratefully and pulled out the sandwiches we had brought, expecting to eat them sitting beside the water, enjoying the view.

“We meet the bus in 30 minutes.” She said, not at all unkindly. We hadn’t complained much during the hike. Most of us had been too tired to mutter more than simple words under our breath. The woman gave swift directions. “Over there. Find a bridge, then take a turn, and find the bus.” Before we could even remember how to tell her in French that we didn’t understand, or manage to ask which direction to turn, she had pivoted and vanished into the crowds on the street. Laila sighed into her sandwich which was no good anyway: it was soggy with the rain, and stood up on her now muddy and broken-in new shoes.

“We had better head that way. Find a bridge, or something.” We laughed, and we did.

We found a souvenir shop that happened to be open on Sundays and I bought some items with the Basque symbol on them. I did NOT buy any shoes. And that was all the time we had in the French Basque country. The bus found us and we climbed back aboard. Once upon it, I frowned and looked at the schedule. There was another town on the list.

Our bus took us across the boarder into Spain, to a town called Hundarrabia. I vowed silently to watch the leader and see if she put her hiking shoes back on. If she did, no way was I going to get off of the bus, adventure or no adventure! She left her regular shoes on, however, and we got off the bus in the center of town. The day was cold and everything was closed because it was a Sunday. However, we ended up walking around and taking pictures of the buildings and trees that looked like fingers spread out into the sky. We made Brenda practice her native Spanish and all bought pastries to eat. We met the bus and were back in Pau by 7 PM on Sunday night. We were exhausted and none of us felt much like walking anywhere, so we all went home.

My mother has always taught me to treat each experience like an adventure, and to learn from it. I have generally thought that this was good advice. I certainly DID learn a lot on this trip, and I saw things I had never seen before. Tiny houses, shimmering like diamonds, trees with fingers that reached heavenward. It had been quite the day to see new things. Even so, I would like to add one small piece of advice to hers, however wise it might be on its own. It’s all nice and dandy to have adventures all of the time. But look up words you don’t know BEFORE you leave on them. At least that way you can take along the right kind of shoes.

The St. Lawrence Seaway and The Great Lakes (part 1)

The St. Lawrence River is a body of water that runs from the Atlantic Ocean through to the Great Lakes. The river pours out like a tap running into a sink in a downward motion. The Seaway enables large ships come into the heart of North America by way of these Great Lakes.

The St. Lawrence River is sandwiched between the Appalachian Mountains to the south and the Canadian Shield to the north. The Canadian Shield stretches across most of Northern Canada up towards Hudson Bay. The river runs the length of 1,290 km from the Atlantic to the edge of Lake Ontario and allowed early settlers to make their homes in Canada. In 1535, Jacques Cartier sailed up the St. Lawrence to modern day Montreal to make his home. He, like his predecessor, John Cabot was searching for a route to China and instead they discovered a gateway to a new continent.

For these early settlers, the St. Lawrence River was seen as the only practical means of moving both people and goods in towards the heart of the continent. Overland routes were too difficult (because of weather) and very dangerous. Between the Atlantic Ocean towards Montreal, the water was smooth sailing. However, the rapids just upstream from Montreal, made it almost impossible to navigate small boats through to take goods upriver, thus was the beginning of canals, dams and locks being built in the river.

As the ships became larger and as early as 1833, the first canal was built to bypass Niagara Falls. In 1855, the Soo locks and Canal were built allowing the first shipment iron ore from Lake Superior soon after.

Fast forward to the present. If you travel to the province of Ontario and northern NY state, you will find a series of ship elevators that allow ships (both lakers, which are longer and allow for more content) and salties, which are shorter than lakers and are ocean going vessels). This series of lake elevators run through the St. Lawrence River all the way to Lake Superior and Lake Michigan which enables these ships to deliver their goods to American ports such as Duluth, MN, Detroit, MI, Cleveland, Milwaukee, WI and Toledo, OH and as far south as Chicago, IL and includes Canadian ports such as Hamilton and Toronto, ON which in turn allows the goods to be shipped farther over land either by truck or by train.

Between Montreal, Quebec and Lake Ontario, there are five Canadian Locks and two that are American. Between Lakes Ontario and Erie, there are eight Canadian, not to mention the Sault St. Marie locks and that is just the beginning. The St. Lawrence Seaway was first opened in 1959 by Queen Elizabeth II and President Eisenhower and took 15,000 people to build beginning in 1954.

Maybe not a tourist site that you would think of visiting, but it is definitely a place to consider. These locks are quite a sight to see. They are quite literally, a ship elevator that carries a ship to the next level. The Great Lakes are at different heights with Duluth (on the top corner of Lake Superior) is at 183 metres above sea level, where as Lake Ontario is only 75 metres above sea level. The amount of time it takes to go through a lock takes about 45 minutes per lock and for instance, between the eight locks of the Welland Canal (between Lakes Erie and Ontario) and getting through the canal takes about eight hours from end to end.

It is something for the whole family to see. I live close to the Welland Canal and have always taken visitors that are visiting from other places there. It is a marvel of man’s technology to view it and to that end and to encourage visitors, several of the locks have built visitor friendly viewing platforms and have added restaurants, gift stores and rest stops. For instance, on lock 3 of the Welland Canal, you will find its viewing centre. It has a platform for looking down into the lock itself, a gift store, a museum, washrooms, a playground for kids, a snack bar and a restaurant.

Not only for lakers or salties, the St. Lawrence River as well the other locks are also open to pleasure crafts, so viewing the locks from the water is also a possibility. Tours with stop overs in cities such as Prescott (to see Ottawa), Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City, Kingston or the Welland Canal to visit Niagara Falls are even available if you do a little bit of research. One I found comes out of Quebec City and ends up in Buffalo, NY. Massena, NY also offers some special events to encourage people to visit the Eisenhower locks and would be a great place to visit during the fall months.

While you are visiting the locks you can learn a lot about on how they work, how many ships travel through them (the Welland Canal is open from the end of March till the end of December) and sees about around several hundred ships pass through its locks every season. There are a lot of opportunities to visit the various locks, both in the United States and in Canada and should be viewed at least once during one’s life time. Besides airplanes and trains, it is another of man’s wonders in seeing these big ships and how they travel into the inner parts of North America.

Places to Check Out in Northwest Arkansas

By Brandi M. Seals

The Northwest corner of Arkansas has gone through a boom recently. People from all around are moving here because industry giants like Tyson, Wal-Mart, and J.B. Hunt are headquartered here. With these people come visitors. No longer is Arkansas being thought of as a hillbilly state. It is now joining much of the rest of the country as a tourist destination.

While you may come to Northwest Arkansas for work, pleasure, or to live, there are destinations that everyone should check out. Whether you have got only a day or the rest of your life, make sure to pop in at one of these great Northwest Arkansas locales.

1.) The 112 Drive-In
The 112 Drive-In movie theater, located on Arkansas-112, is a rarity. Only a handful of drive-in theatres remain in use across the country and Northwest Arkansas is home to one.

The theatre shows double features every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday during the Summer and in early Fall visitors can catch movies on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Larger vehicles, like SUVs, vans, trucks, and RVs are restricted to the last four rows while cars are given free reign. Every spot has a great view of the screen and no one needs to worry about parking close to the speaker stands. Most of the original speakers have been removed (though visitors can spot a few in the last few rows). Instead movie-goers turn their radios to 92.7 FM to catch the movie feed.

The drive-in is the place to be, so arrive early to get your spot. Guest can bring food and drinks or purchase something at the concessions stand. However, alcohol consumption is not permitted on the grounds. Call 479-442-4542 for the current week’s movies and show times.

2.) Devil’s Den State Park
This gorgeous state park is located south of Fayetteville in the small town of West Fork. Set back away from modern conveniences, entering Devil’s Den is like wondering into the forest of yesteryear. There is a feeling of calm and serenity that takes over in Devil’s Den State Park.

The park offers several hiking and biking trails, along with camping opportunities, rustic cabins, caves and waterfalls. If you like nature, you will love Devil’s Den. While there, you will not notice many bugs. The bat population in the park is surprisingly high and they control the pests through out much of the northwest corner of the state. If you are afraid of bats, do not worry. They are rarely seen in the park during the day. They mainly stick to the caves.

Next time you feel the urge to see green trees and hear running water, pack up your family and head to Devil’s Den. Pack a picnic and spend the whole day exploring.

3.) Walton Arts Center
The Walton Arts Center is located on Dickson St. just off the University of Arkansas’ campus in Fayetteville. The Art Center always has something going on. From ballets to productions of Aida and The Producers, there is something for everyone. See what will be playing while you are in town by visiting Walton Arts Center (

4.) The Jones Center for Families
This wonderful center in Springdale offers children and parents alike something to do. Go ice skating with the kids. The Jones Center has an indoor ice rink. Be sure to brink a thin jacket or a sweatshirt. It can get cold in the ice arena. Check their website ( for open skate times. If you are a horrible skater and don’t want to let anyone in on it, opt instead to use the center’s pool. There are hours set aside for lap swimming and for open swim.

Aside from the skating and swimming, the Jones Center offers more recreation and a few programs. The building has a multi-purpose gym with various courts and track. Check with the Jones Center for a listing of current programs.

In the summer time, the Jones Center for Families’ parking lot also serves as the location of the Springdale Farmer’s Market. While the kids are indoors working up a sweat, you can be outside loading up on the freshest peaches, tomatoes, and much more. The farmer’s market is held every Tuesday and Thursday from 7am to 1pm and Saturday 7am to 7pm.

Chicago: Department Store Shopping on the Magnificent Mile

Chicago is very well known for its Magnificent Mile, and well it should be. Where else can you cover such ground in such a short distance?

Department Stores
Just about every well-known name is represented on Michigan Avenue. Starting at the South end is the relatively new Nordstrom Mall with a nice Nordstrom store as anchor. This is not as large or as glamorous as some in the chain but it does have a fine selection. Their customer service is second to none. Last year my girlfriend, and fellow Ya-Ya, bought me a beautiful nightie and robe as my Christmas gift and somehow managed to misplace it before returning to the hotel. She went back and tried to see if she had left it there in the store and they ended up ordering her a new set and only charging her for postage! Now that is world-class service. Of course maybe they checked to see how much she spends in their store and figured she was worth it, ha, ha!

As you move North along the avenue you come to Chicago Place which contains the Saks Fifth Avenue womens store. The mens store is across the street and down the block. The stores that are in malls are kind of nice because we go in the first week of December for Holiday shopping so being able to get inside out of the cold and hit a lot of stores at once is as Martha would say, a good thing.

Across the street and down another block on the east side of Michigan Avenue is Neiman-Marcus. They have the most incredible cosmetics department I have ever encountered. They have lines I have never heard of and the more expensive ones that the normal chains do not carry as well as all the well-known brands. My daughter has a girlfriend that works there and she is a floor salesperson. Rather than working for an individual cosmetics line, she actually works for Neiman-Marcus. When you work with Reena she can sell from any counter so you feel like you are getting the best recommendation, not just what a particular line has to offer. The cosmetics person at the counter where she leads you still helps out with specialized knowledge of that brand. Lets face it one size does not fit all and as we age, there are certain products that suit us best that come from a variety of manufacturers. She also throws in a lot of samples. I try and save up my cosmetic buying needs for this trip so I can work with Reena. She also can gather information on you and let you know when there is a sale and ship items to you.

As you continue north a couple of blocks you come to the famed Watertower Place. This mall contains two departments stores, Lord & Taylor and Marshall-Fields, soon to be Macys much to the chagrin of almost everyone. This is a smaller Marshall-Fields and in my opinion cannot hold a candle to the main store in the Loop. The flagship store contains the famous Walnut Room where people line up for hours to have lunch in a room with a massive multi-story Christmas tree.

Lord & Taylor is nice, if not a little crowded. Most of the other stores are less cluttered with merchandise spread out a little more. Some of this depends on your taste. I am not fond of the stores that have narrow aisles and a crowded feel. But they usually have very good sales during the Holidays.

The final department store on the Mile is Bloomingdales. For this you need to go one more block and cross the street back to the west side to the 900 North building. My favorite part of the Bloomingdale store is the shoe department. Most women love shoes, but this shoe department is exceptional. It is located on the first floor and back to the right when you enter from Michigan Avenue.

There are some good Chicago shopping websites that also might help when trying to decide the best hotel location for shopping but one of the best is this map that details where each store is located.
( I wrote a recent blog on where to stay so you might want to check that out as well (

Freight Cruise Travel

In ages past, the great transatlantic and transpacific ocean liners were all the rage. After all, there was no other way in the days before plane flights that one could cross the ocean or travel around the world. Even when airlines started to become successful the great ocean liners were still popular. But, all eras come to an end and, in time, these great ocean liners were retired do to lack of interest. Yes, there are cruise ships a plenty. But the days of using a ship to travel around the world have become a thing of the past. Or have they?

Anyone who has watched an old B-movie is probably fairly familiar with the cliche of the stow away on a freight boat who volunteers for duty. This was, the adventure seeker could see the world by conning the people in charge of a great freight ship into joining their journeys. These days as well belong to an era that is no more. Haven’t they?

Well, while no one will accept a work for passage deal, quite a few freight ships will take on a passenger if the passenger buys a travel tickets with them. Yes, while they are not all that well known, freight cruises have grown in popularity in an amazing fashion in the last decade. The idea of visiting anywhere in the world in any manner one sees fit appeals to those who will enjoy the comforts and the fairly reasonable tickets prices of a freighter ship cruise.

For those unfamiliar with what a freight ship does, it is no different than a tractor trailer that one sees on the road. Freight and cargo are loaded upon the ship and then transported from port to port where drop offs and pick ups occur. It is not uncommon for a freight ship to be at sea for three or four months in a row, making several overnight stops in ports all over the world.

Some of these freight ships have a cabin or two that they are not using and they offer their cabins as a place to stay on the boat while one travels to a multitude of destinations (or even just one destination, depending on how long one wishes to stay at sea). Meals are also included as part of the trip which makes this quite a fabulous deal.

Is freight passage inexpensive? Freight passage usually runs $75-$100 a day. This is not a bad deal. Considering that three meals a day and a hotel room can run $200 a day and the hotel is traveling across the world. Booking a freight travel trip is kind of unique as most destinations are one way tickets and one will need to purchase another ticket on another freight cruise to get back home. (If one decides to return at all, that is!) Because there is quite a number of freight liners that accept passengers and the fact that each freight ship is following a different path across the world, one can create a wild adventure comprised of several composite tickets that will result in bouncing the traveler all over the planet!

For those interested in this type of travel, the website is a great place to check out for news, information, bookings and articles. Freighter World is not the only site, however, as there are many others out there providing valuable information as well. In fact, when one takes all these sites into consideration, then it becomes fairly obvious that freight travel is far more common and popular than one would think. It is, however, far more popular with college age adults than with families. Perhaps this type of travel, since it suits the adventurer, attracts young males traveling solo a lot? Maybe. But it is a form of travel that can be enjoyed by anyone looking for a fun traveling experience.

Looks like the days of the great cruise liner traveling across the world still live. And, mercifully, because of the nature of what a freight cruise is, this type of trip will always be an intimate experience and not one that a person would have to share with a hundred other vacationers. Hopefully, freight travel will never suffer the poison of over-commercialization and stay such a wonderful little secret.

Things to See and Do in Michigan

By Brandi M. Seals

Finding something new to do when you have lived in state all your life can be difficult. Visitors can also find it tough to find something to fill their time between dinners and sleeping in at their favorite hotels.

Next time you are in Michigan or are otherwise just looking for something new to do, stop by one of these great places:

1.) Visit Ojibway Island. Pronounced Oh-jib-way, Ojibway Island is located in the Saginaw River in Saginaw. It is wonderful place for concerts, riverside walks, biking, picnics and other family activities. It is also home to several large concerts throughout the year and probably offers the best spot to catch the Saginaw fireworks on the 4th of July.

If you and your family are looking for a good time outdoors try out Ojibway Island. It is named for the Ojibwa Indians that used to inhabit the area. It is also close to several great Saginaw locales.

2.) Drop by the Binder Park Zoo. Binder Park Zoo is located in Battle Creek (home of the Kellogg Cereal Company). It is home to several unusual animals that cannot be found at every zoo. Go see the red pandas. Check out the ring-tailed lemurs. Or, feed the giraffes that wonder through an open range that also houses ostriches, zebras, and other African animals.

The zoo is divided into two sections. The first features animals from the Americas. The African animals are a short train ride away. One the way over to the train, visitors pass under flags from nations around the world as peacocks mill about. This zoo is perfect excursion for any animal lover.

3.) Stop in at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. This wonderful locale is right on the Grand Rapids East Beltline. It is easy to get to and showcases some magnificent plants that would be hard to find in the cool Michigan climate.

There are Venus fly traps, several types of cacti, palm trees and much more. The gardens are mainly indoors, but there is a large outdoor sculpture park. The sculpture park is home to over 170 magnificent pieces, most notably a sculpture known as the American Horse by Nina Akuma. It pays homage to the Leonardo Da Vinci plans to create the largest horse statue.

During the springtime visitors will be delighted by flutter butterflies. Frederik Meijer Gardens is home to the largest butterfly garden in the United States. Over 6000 tropical butterflies from Central and South America and Asia are on display each spring in the Lena Meijer Conservatory.

4.) Experience Dutch Culture. Drop by Holland, Mich., on the coast of Lake Michigan. Here there is a thriving Dutch community that offers visitors a glimpse into Dutch traditions.

Holland was settled in 1847 by Dutch Calvinist separatists who were escaping persecution in The Netherlands. At the time the land was inhabited by the Ottawa, but they relocated after a clash with the Dutch settlers. Upon setting Holland, their leader Dr. Albertus Van Raalte established a congregation of the Reformed Church in America. Now known as the First Reformed Church of Holland, the religion has strong roots in the area.

Holland is known for its annual Tulip Festival and its unique charm. The Tulip Festival has been going strong since its start in 1930 and features approximately 6 million tulips around town.

Visitors can also stop by Dutch Village, a theme park and shopping center. Watch performers do traditional Dutch dances; workers dip and carve candles or the making of wooden shoes. Vendors also show the process of making delft, a blue and white pottery that the Dutch are known for.

5.) Visit the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes. This area located along the Eastern coast of Lake Michigan is a National Lakeshore. It covers 35 miles of coastline. Get out a break a sweat climbing the sand dunes or if you are looking for a little more leisurely fun, try taking a Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. This 7.4 mile self-guided auto tour features spectacular views from the top the dunes.

The Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes are said to get their name from an Ojibwa story of a mother bear and her two cubs. The story goes as follows:

One day, a mother bear and her two cubs were in the Wisconsin woods searching for food when a fire broke out. To escape the blaze, the mother bear and her cubs swam across Lake Michigan to Michigan. It was a very long swim. It was so long that the two cubs grew very tired and fell behind their mother. When the mother bear came to the shores of Michigan, she climbed to the highest point she could find, a large hill made of sand. She waited for the cubs but her cubs could not make the long journey. Instead, the Great White Spirit, who watched over all the animals, turned the cubs into two islands. The mother bear, who soon grew tired, saw the two islands form in Lake Michigan and knew they were her cubs. Knowing that her cubs were safe, she soon fell fast asleep. Now, the cubs are known as North Manitou Island and South Manitou Island. Their mother was covered with sand to keep warm by the Great Spirit. She now watches over her cubs from her spot atop the giant hill made of sand. We call her Sleeping Bear Sand Dune.

Indoor Amusement Parks

By Misti Sandefur

Scattered throughout North America and various other locations are numerous indoor amusement parks you can enjoy with your entire family. Don’t let rain and thunderstorms put a damper on your vacation or fun again. An indoor amusement park is the solution!

If you want to still experience the outdoor surroundings then take your family to The Park at MOA (formerly known as Camp Snoopy).The Park at MOA is 4.2 million square foot, and includes over 50 rides, arcades, unique shops, electronic shooting gallery, petting zoo, dining and much more.

The Park at MOA is located inside the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn. — roughly five minutes from the airport.

Load your family in the car and head to Ohio to visit the I-X Indoor Amusement Park at the I-X Center in Cleveland. I-X Indoor Amusement Park has 30 rides for the kids, over 30 rides for teenagers and attractions and entertainment for everyone! Note: I-X Indoor Amusement Park isn’t open year-round. Check their Web site ( for dates, times and admission fees.

Jeepers presents fun and excitement for kids ages 2 to 12. Their indoor amusement park provides families with rides, games, a playground and events. This indoor amusement park is located on the Northwest corner of Alma School Road and Guadalupe in Mesa, Ariz.

Go Bananas in Norridge, Ill., has rides and entertainment for the young and young at heart. Bumper cars, roller coasters, trains, games, bowling, simulators and more are part of the excitement awaiting your presence at Go Bananas. Go Bananas is less than 30 minutes from Highland Park.

Visit Disney Quest’s Indoor Interactive Theme Park where you can experience 3-D and virtual reality — entertainment in five levels. One of the many experiences you can participate in while visiting Disney Quest’s indoor theme park is creating your own roller coaster — oh what fun! You can construct your roller coaster however you wish, then, once complete, get into the simulator and ride the roller coaster you just created. Oodles of fun for everyone!

Disney Quest is located in the West Side section of Downtown Disney. Hours of operation: Sunday through Thursday, from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Friday through Saturday, from 11:30 a.m. to midnight.

Not into gambling, but still planning a trip to Las Vegas? Stop at The Adventuredome Theme Park where there are no slot machines but still loads of fun! Behind the West Tower at Circus Circus is five acres of rides and attractions for the entire family. The Adventuredome Theme Park is proof that there is more to Las Vegas than just casinos. Besides, wouldn’t you rather blow your money on fun and excitement with your entire family instead?

Some of the rides at Adventuredome include the double-loop, double-corkscrew roller coaster, the Rim Runner (water ride), the Sling Shot, bumper cars, pirate ship, carousel and many more.

When you need a break from the rides, you can enjoy some of Adventuredome’s attractions: miniature golf, simulators, interactive games, video games in the arcade, clown shows and more.

West Edmonton Mall in Canada is home of Galaxyland — the world’s largest indoor amusement park. While visiting Galaxyland you will discover roller coasters, a backwards tilt-a-whirl, a freefall ride, a pirate ship that swings, swings that swing and move in a circular motion and much, much more!

Cosmo’s World Theme Park in Asia features 14 rides. Cosmo’s World Theme Park is located in Berjaya Times Square, and covers over 300,000 square feet of floor space. Enjoy rides, live entertainment, games, places to buy snacks and more.

Wild Zone Adventures in Ontario, Canada (a short drive from the U.S./Canada border) has something for everyone no matter what your age. Some of the fun rides at Wild Zone Adventures include Emerald Mine (rollercoaster), a ferris wheel, flying airplanes, flying bus, laser rescue, bumper boats, go-karts and more.

Ontario, Canada is home to Fantasy Fair, another indoor amusement park. Fantasy Fair is located on the second level inside Woodbine Shopping Centre. At Fantasy Fair you can take a ride on the Fantasy Fair Express, enjoy a ride on their antique carousel, or make yourself dizzy in Ships Ahoy (you control how fast you spin).

No matter which indoor amusement park you plan to go to see, make it a family adventure! If you cannot decide on the amusement park you want to visit first, then you can always visit one amusement park, and the following year you can load up the family car again to visit another amusement park. Make your family adventures an annual event and try out all the indoor amusement parks listed above.