Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Lighthouses of Door County

Door County boasts about 300 miles of shoreline and much of it is rocky. Because of this and other navigational hazards, a network of 10 lighthouses (the most in any Wisconsin county) were constructed in the 19th Century in order to help guide ships through the treacherous waters. Out of Door County's 10 area lighthouses, I was able to visit and/or take photographs of four of them today. You can access the photos through the Flickr link. Meanwhile, here's what I have to say about them specifically:

  • Cana Island Lighthouse - Located on Cana Island and accessed via a small throughway to the island, you'll be charged $5 just to set foot on the grounds and another $5 to access the lighthouse. Neither of the fees are worth it. There isn't much to see and do on Cana Island and the lighthouse itself isn't impressive enough to merit paying for a tour. If you show up after 3:00pm, it's likely that there will be nobody around to charge you the fee to get onto the island, so, you can just walk through. 

  • Eagle Bluff Lighthouse - In order to get up close to this one, you'll have to pay the entry fee to Peninsula State Park. There's so much to do there, I gladly paid the access fee and spent a lot of time pursuing a number of non-lighthouse related activities. The lighthouse itself can be found about 4 miles inside the park and faces the Strawberry Islands. Keep in mind that parking near the lighthouse is limited, so you might be better off parking a little further away and walking. It's worth the trip because there are plenty of great photo opportunities along the way. Access to the lighthouse itself is $5 for adults and about $1 for kids depending on their exact age. The tour was definitely worth the price and features a lot of historical stories as told by the enthusiastic tour guides. Be prepared to spend about 30-45 minutes on the tour.

  • Bailey's Harbor Range Lights - This pair of lighthouses were arranged in a range light configuration and are located in the Ridges Wildlife Sanctuary. You'll be asked to pay $5 to access the sanctuary, but you can easily avoid that expense through a number of means. One of the easiest is to simply drive down Ridges road which passes between the Upper Range Light and the Lower Range Light. I couldn't in good conscience skip this fee. It's a worthy cause, and I was rewarded for my nature-karma when my daughter and I happened upon a doe and her fawn less than 20 feet way from us. We startled them, but they just sat there and watched us until we left.

  • Old Bailey's Harbor Light - This one is privately owned, so getting access to it probably carries a trespassing charge along with it. However, both Anclam Park and The Beachfront Inn in Bailey's Harbor offer decent views of it. I was able to snap some great pictures of it using my mega zoom camera. 


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Trip Back To The Alpine Lodge

Nice To See Old Gus Is Still There
I spent a lot of time exploring around Door County today. One of the first things I wanted to do was check out Peninsula State Park over in Fish Creek. From there, it's just a quick jaunt down to Egg Harbor and the Alpine Resort where I spent many vacations as a child. We always stayed in the same cottage each year and always spent a lot of time in the main lodge. It was there that I once ran afoul of the owner, "Dollar" Bill Bertschinger when my seven-year-old self insisted on pushing the start button for him during one of his video bowling games.

Aside from that scary incident, I always had a great time going to The Alpine Resort and was more than a little sad when we stopped going there in favor of another resort across the peninsula. Given how much Door County had changed in the last 30 years, I had thought that The Alpine was going to be a lot different as well. Aside from a pool attached to the lodge, nothing seems to have changed. When I walked into the lodge, the lobby looked just like I had remembered it with its German inspired decor nestled beneath a canopy of cedars. The Hof Restaurant looked as if it was waiting for me, my siblings and my parents to come down for a meal. Even the old bar and game room were still there, both looking just as they did 30 years ago (except that there are new games in the game room). I half expected to see myself run through the door behind my brothers to play a few rounds of pool while "Cat Scratch Fever" played over and over again on the jukebox.

I smiled to myself and shook my head in awe about how little the place had changed. One of the ladies behind the counter noticed and asked if I needed some help. I informed her about how I used to spend vacations at The Alpine as a child and it turned out that it was one of "Dollar" Bill's own daughters. I didn't have the heart to ask if the old guy was still alive, mainly because, if he wasn't, I didn't want to know. Of course, that meant that I couldn't apologize for the button pushing incident, but, my sense of nostalgia will let that one go.

A keen eye will notice that Gus's placard refers to him as "Gus, der Schewitzerboob" which I take to mean "Gus The Swiss Dude". I could have sworn that, thirty years ago, that placard said "Gus Von Alpine". Also, even though my German is very rusty, I think that "Schweitzerbube" would have been the correct spelling rather than "Schweitzerboob". Maybe it's a slang form that I'm not familiar with, or maybe old "Dollar" Bill was trying to be a little cheeky.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Vine Sucks

I really liked using Vine for about three days. I was having fun with it, creating a few random six-second videos of what I happened to be up to at any given time. I even started to consider scripting a few things. Then an update came through and now I cannot upload videos anymore. I suspect it may have something to do with Vine using colons in its file names, but, whatever the cause, my vines just sit in the upload queue failing over and over again on my Samsung Galaxy S4. Which is too bad because I captured some really great vines over the last week.

The biggest Vine bug is by far the dreaded "upload failed" message that nearly every Android user seems to be getting at the moment. Aside from that, I'm told that there are still issues posting from Vine to Facebook. You still can't search via hashtag and still can't upload from your library.

The above being said, Vine is slowly getting better. Over the last few months, they've fixed the lag, added support for the front facing camera, and have sped up the video recording time.

I get it. Vine is an app that is still in its infancy. But Vine currently has so many bugs and is missing so many features that it really should be regarded as a beta release. As it stands right now, Vine is a completely useless app on the Android platform.

EDIT: I may have found a way to solve the "upload failed" message on Vine:

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Visiting The Gateway Arch

I had been wanting to visit the top of the Gateway Arch for quite some time now. Aside from visiting the St. Louis City Museum, it was the first thing I wanted to do when we got into town. I booked a hotel practically right across the street from the Gateway Arch and, over the past few days, had wandered over there to see how long the lines were to get in. The line just to get through the security check was always long. At 9:00am this morning, however, the line was incredibly short, so Kiddo and I got in. Once you get through the security checkpoint, then you can get in line to purchase your tickets. People often recommend purchasing your Gateway Arch tickets in advance online, but this may do you more harm than good if the line for the security checkpoint is incredibly long and you don't arrive in time to account for it.

After breezing through security and after a short line at the ticket counter, we had to wait an hour for our assigned time. That's not so bad. I had heard tales of people who have had to wait up to 4 hours. We visited the Museum of Westward Expansion adjacent to the ticketing area while we waited for our lift time. The museum is well put together with some very informative exhibits featuring Disney-like animatronics. Once we were done with that, we considered getting something to snack on and soon noticed that the only food and drink source was a small pool of vending machines. That struck me as odd. You'd think that they'd have put a restaurant in there somewhere. How about a McDonald's? The marketing practically writes itself.

Actually getting to the top is a little rough. You get assigned to a specific lift, generally with a few other people (about 5 to a lift). The lifts are cramped and the seats are small, so if you're polite, you'll want to make sure you've worn some deodorant. The lift takes just a few minutes to get to the top where you're greeted with a cramped observation deck that features small windows. Even though you can stay up there as long as you like, once you've spent about 10 minutes up in the Gateway Arch, you're pretty much done so you can get in line to catch a lift back down.

All things considered, I'm glad we went. It had been on my bucket list for quite some time and I was happy to check it off. Kiddo had a great time too.

It Sort-Of Looks Like The Starfleet Emblem

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Review Of The Old Spaghetti Factory

I had first heard of the place about 15 years ago when I was on a college field trip to visit the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. After visiting the Fed and the Trans-World Dome (now known as The Edward Jones Dome), the class went to Laclede's Landing for dinner. Our Professor invited anyone who wanted to join him to the Old Spaghetti Factory, and, although some students chose to accompany him, most of us dispersed into the bars. This included me. I had no desire to visit some spaghetti themed restaurant that conjured up images of a pasta-fronted TGI Friday's. When I stepped into one of the bars to order a drink, I realized that I had forgotten my ID on the bus and I didn't look nearly old enough to get served without it. I spent most of that night trying to get served while thinking that going to the Old Spaghetti Factory would have been the better option.

So, earlier tonight, I returned to The Landing with my daughter in tow and we went to the Old Spaghetti Factory for dinner. It was not at all what I had pictured, and that's a good thing. Instead of a post-modern theme restaurant, I found an old style Italian restaurant. The decor definitely has an old world charm to it right down to its waiting area. The restaurant was busy, but we were seated within 10 minutes.

After debating over various options on the regular menu, Kiddo decided on the macaroni and cheese from the kid's menu. It's a huge portion and she really seemed to enjoy it, despite not being able to eat it all. I had the minestrone which seemed a little bland followed by the baked lasagna which was a little light on the cheese but still pretty good. The Old Spaghetti Factory apparently is known for their signature cream soda concoctions, so I had a cherry cream soda and Kiddo had a vanilla. I thought mine was great, and the souvenir glass you get for ordering one is a nice touch. Kiddo didn't like hers as much and I can't say that I blame her. The vanilla creme soda was just bland.

Overall, I'd say we had a good experience at The Old Spaghetti Factory. The fresh baked bread and the spumoni sealed the deal for me and I'm sure I'll be back at some point to try something else on the menu.

Baked Lasagna

Monday, July 15, 2013

The St. Louis City Museum

I'm in St. Louis this week seeking further rest and relaxation. I packed the kiddo up and we headed down to check out a few of the attractions that St. Louis has to offer. First on our list was the St. Louis City Museum. You'll find it in the old International Shoe building in the warehouse district of St. Louis. The museum takes up the first 4 floors of the building as well as the roof. The rest of the building is office and apartment space, so, you'll often find yourself taking the elevator with people who actually live and/or work in the building.

It's a pretty insane, eclectic, ultimately fun place to spend a few hours. There are a number of slides and climbing pieces each with a different degree of difficulty. Everyone is encouraged to climb, play, and experience just about every aspect of the museum. Some of the spaces are a little tight, so I feel a bit bad for the more corpulent adults who have to try to squeeze through various openings in order to chase their kids. I had no problems going through the various re-purposed industrial equipment, although I will say that the heat in the building was, at times, nearly unbearable.

Admission is $12 plus an extra $5 for rooftop access. There's also an extra charge for the aquarium, but we didn't feel the need to do that. However, the extra $5 for the roof is well worth it. There are a number of things to do up there, including a 10 story slide. The slide was once used by the old shoe company to transport shoes from the top of the building down to the bottom. So, as you can imagine, the slide has a lot of twists and turns. I'm told that, in order to maximize your speed, make sure you don't lie on your back like the instructions say. Lay on your side.

Below you'll find a video of me going down the 10 story slide at the St. Louis City Museum.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Crying Fowl: Some Cock Ducks A Mallard Up With A Cheep Shot!

Some friends of mine own a farm outside of town and I visited them for dinner over the 4th of July weekend. As part of the tour of their little farm, they brought me around to their chicken coop where they harvest farm fresh eggs. We were shocked to find one of the roosters standing over the dead body of a duck and looking rather proud of it while the rest of the fowl went about their business pretending not to notice.

It was like a scene out of "The Godfather". But with fowl.

"What Are You Lookin' At? You Didn't See Nothin'!"

Monday, July 8, 2013

Duck Dynasty vs Swamp People

I spent a few days last week confined to my bed while I recovered from a fairly serious surgery. During that time, having been on the losing side of a bet, I worked my way through several episodes of both Duck Dynasty and Swamp People. Maybe it was the pain killers messing with my brain mojo, but, halfway though my viewing, I decided it would be a good idea to write up a comparison between Duck Dynasty and Swamp People.

 If you’re looking for a show about backwoods and long beards, you now have two choices on television; Duck Dynasty on A&E or Swamp People on the History Channel. Take your pick between the Robertson’s Duck Commander empire in Northern Louisiana or the inhabitants of the Atchafalaya River Basin in Southern Louisiana; both shows feature heavily drawled moments of wisdom and laughter.

Though, to be entirely fair, the people of Swamp People seem relatively more grounded and wise than those in Duck Dynasty. Hunting alligators is a high-stakes business, and often the revenues the cast earns feeds their family for the entire year. Viewers who watch Swamp People almost universally laud it as authentic. Even people born and raised in Cajun country feel that their home is being represented fairly, that the intensity of alligator hunting isn’t faked by editing or scripting, that these people truly risk their lives every day to make a few bucks. Given only thirty days to collect these alligators and a limit on how many gators they can wrangle during that time, the Landry, Edwards, Broussard, and Molinere clans have to decide whether to get as many as they can as fast as possible, or if they should wait for the prime catch.

While it’s not true that Duck Dynasty is inauthentic, it’s probably true to say it’s not as dangerous. The most action-packed Duck Commander adventures center on being locked out of the truck or the potential of losing a wedding ring. And though in one episode an alligator does find its way onto the Robertson’s property, they pretty much treat it like another unwelcome uncle (Sorry, Si) and just sit and watch it until someone responsible shows up to get rid of it. No alligator wrangling here, just making fun of their crazy Vietnam veteran uncle and duck-call-related hijinks. That’s not to say that they don’t have their fun over on Swamp People. There’s still the innate hilarity of Cajun culture, of the language (let’s be honest, those of us who have been to New Orleans know that Cajun is a totally different language), and of the alligator-related mishaps.

In contrast to the high-powered nature of most reality shows, these two focused on the laid back, simpler life of Louisiana natives are a nice change. Instead of featuring the ultra-rich (okay, while the Duck Dynasty cast is very rich, the show isn’t about how rich they are), these two channels have decided to perpetuate a more laid back, purely American lifestyle—our very own mountain people. Or mole people. Whichever you prefer. Either way, both shows give a glimpse into a way of life most people assumed was extinct. Instead, we see that it is alive and well, and bringing the entertainment, whether you want to see the Atchafalaya crew wrestling alligators or the Robertson family getting into trouble.

I had gone into this thinking that Swamp People and Duck Dynasty were two different flavors of the same moonshine. It turns out, though, that both shows have something unique to offer the viewer. And, if you're not a reality TV fan, either one of these two shows just might change your mind. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

I Am Iron Man

Last Saturday, I went to a Star Wars themed 40th birthday party for my old college room-mate, Dave. Dave's wife had arranged for a number of actors to arrive dressed in Star Wars costumes. I figured it would be a laugh riot if I showed up dressed as Spock from Star Trek. Unfortunately, when I arrived, the Star Wars characters and the guest of honor were all late, so my joke fell flat. I changed into my civilian garb and lamented the lost opportunity. When the Star Wars characters did arrive, a number of the kids at the party were being rounded up for pictures with them, which was odd because few of the kids knew who any of the characters were. As I grumbled to myself, a little girl dressed like Princess Leia tugged at my shirt to get my attention. She said "You look like Iron Man!" and I replied "I am Iron Man. But, you can call me Tony Stark". And, suddenly, I was mobbed by a gaggle of kids wanting to give Iron Man a hug. I was so taken aback by the gestures that I almost cried. This must be what Disney World actors feel like every day.