Ascending to the Heavens

by Eliza Myers 20. April 2011 04:28

On my fifth day of touring with Collette Vacations, I feel as though I saw the entire Canadian Rocky Mountain range from above. The vistas from the top of the Sulfur Mountain didn’t just make me feel as though heaven was close, but that I was in heaven itself.


The Sulfur Mountain Gondola is an eight-minute ride that takes sightseers 7,400 feet above sea level. As I went up and up and up in the gondola, the surrounding valley began to unfold below me, making the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel seem like a toy castle. At the top, I felt like I was on top of the world and could see forever.


After my trip to the top of the Rockies, I explored the charming town of Banff. This tourist town contains plenty of shopping opportunities for the most enthusiastic shoppers.


Inside the town, I learned about a gemstone even rarer than diamonds at the Ammolite in the Rockies. In the museum/shop, I heard a presentation about the ammolite that is found only in southern Alberta.


Originally fossilized shells of creatures that died at the bottom of the sea to be forgotten, the rainbow colored gemstones are now sold in Banff as colorful jewelry.


Banff also feeds hungry tourists up and down its main avenue with numerous restaurants and shops. May I recommend trying Mountain Chocolates’ treats if you are in the area. The shop offers handmade chocolates, caramel corn, caramel apples and other sugary concoctions that satisfy the sweet tooth.

Spectacular view on top of Sulfur Mountain

View of trail at top of Sulfur Mountain

One of the fossils used to make Ammolite jewelry

Handmade candy at Mountain Chocolates


Canadian Rockies

From Switzerland to Scotland

by Eliza Myers 19. April 2011 10:16

This morning I awoke inside a 1920s hotel designed after a Swiss chalet and tonight I am about to go to sleep in a 1911 hotel built like a Scottish castle. The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise’s Swiss design originated from the influence of Swiss mountaineers the hotel hired to ensure their mountain climbing guests would return safely from their Canadian Rockies adventures.


But the best part of this hotel is not the elegance inside, but the fantastic views outside. This morning, I took a stroll beside Lake Louise, now completely frozen over with three feet of snow on top. Even in April, I could still walk on the lake without fear of the ice breaking.


My eyes mostly stayed upward on the towering mountains surrounding the lake, including a huge glacier, which feeds the lake with fresh water every year.


This evening, I arrived at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel for more jaw dropping views inside and out. I felt like a princess arriving at this picturesque stone hotel with its grand staircases, stain glass figures, stone details and medieval-themed lounges.


Outside its windows is yet another glorious view of the Rockies, which was the reason the hotel was built there. With the snowy mountain peaks still visible in the evening light, I unwound from my long day of touring with a dip in the hotel’s heated outdoor pool. Fresh cool mountain air mixes well with steamy hot pool temperatures.

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

View out the window of Banff Springs Hotel

Medieval room within the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel


Canadian Rockies

Remnants of the Ice Age

by Eliza Myers 18. April 2011 17:46

Today, I stood on an icefield composed of snow and layers of ice that have been in the Canadian Rockies since the last Ice Age. Weird, unearthly blue glaciers seemed to be slowly pushing their way through the enormous, sheer mountains all around me on the Columbia Icefield near Jasper.


The color white was all around me in the sky, the ground and the mammoth mountains reaching to the heavens. Between the two tallest peaks was the granddaddy of the nearby glaciers called the Athabasca Glacier. The largest glacier in the Columbia Icefield, the glacier looked like water had been released from a giant dam, came rushing upon the icefield’s expansive valley, and then froze in its tracks.


I stood for a long time staring at all sides of me and trying to memorize the unbelievably majestic scene. I half expected angels to descend from the clouds and start singing the Hallelujah Chorus.


For the first time in my life, I found myself thankful for snow in April. Though there is still an exceptional amount of snow during the peak summer months, there is not the covering of white as far as the eye can see.


All along the Icefields Parkway from Jasper to Lake Louise, this scenery was one silent vista blanked in beautiful snow after another. Bighorn sheep and elk sightings were the only proof that life other than dark green evergreens could exists in the white world.

A far away view of the Columbia Icefield and glaciers

Proof that I stood on an icefield

Bighorn sheep sighting

An older model of the coaches used to take visitors to the icefield


Canadian Rockies

Winter Wonderland by Train

by Eliza Myers 17. April 2011 11:13

When I heard I was riding an overnight train from Vancouver to Jasper on my tour of the Canadian Rockies, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had ridden an overnight in economy class before when I was in college where you sleep on one of six tiny pull out beds with random other travelers in the same room. It was just as awkward as it sounds.


However, this trip wasn’t about getting someplace cheaply, but instead about the journey itself. First, everyone on the tour got their own private sleeping room on the train.


After spending the day learning about the beauty of Vancouver, I went to sleep that night in my comfortable private room. I awoke to find myself in a Narnia-like dreamland.


From my train window, I could watch the snowy mountainous world of the Rockies pass silently by. This remote land is more untamed than any mountainous region I have yet seen. Only a few lonely houses were ever visible out my window.


Evergreens covered the mountain vistas to create dark contrasts against the perfectly white snow. Even in April, it snowed for most of the day as we rode along. I watched the scenery change from the dome car to catch glimpses of turquoise lakes, waterfalls and one adorable moose.


This evening, I disembarked the train with the rest of my group with Collette Vacations to stay at the Jasper Park Lodge. After eating a delicious dinner at the lodge, I braved my fear of the cold by climbing into their heated outdoor pool.


Though snow lay all around me, I stayed warm inside the steamy pool. I just made sure to not let my head drift too high out of the 87 degree water.

My cozy bedroom inside the train where the beds pull down

One of my snowy views from the train

The beautiful city of Vancouver


Canadian Rockies

Behind the antebellum glamour

by Eliza Myers 4. August 2010 20:23

When I started my day touring the Nottoway Plantation, I thought that this was the life. The 1859 white plantation is the largest remaining antebellum mansion in the South. I felt blown away by the size of it all with 14-foot-high ceilings that seemed to indicate the house was built for giants.

An elaborate bell system to call servants into every room, beautiful imported original furniture and a ballroom bathed in white seemed to complete the elegant style of the place.

However, like most things, when you scratch the surface things aren’t as perfect as they seem. The family finally moved into the house right before the Civil War, so no one got to enjoy it for very long. After the war, the owner John Randolph had to travel to Texas in an attempt to support the expensive mansion.

Not only that, but the incredibly large work force that it took to upkeep the plantation stayed hidden behind the mansion’s back door. I got to see what one of these villages of workers would have looked like at the LSU Rural Life Museum.

Here, historic buildings dating before the war show the impoverished lifestyle that the slaves and servants would have lived in on one of the South’s plantations. Though the Southern plantations will always be remarkable, the grim realities of the plantation’s work force reveal that things aren’t always what they seem.


Nottoway Plantation

Nottoway Plantation's white ballroom

LSU Rural Life Museum's example of a more typical house in the antebellum South


Baton Rouge

Eccentric buildings and characters

by Eliza Myers 3. August 2010 20:01

Immediately upon driving into Baton Rouge, the tall tower created by former governor Huey Long rose above the surrounding buildings. The 1932 art deco state capitol building certainly stands out in the city’s skyline as the infamous Long intended.

After I toured the Old State Capitol built in 1847, I found it hard to image even the fame-seeking Long needed a work space more impressive than the original capitol’s Gothic Revival medieval castle architecture. The Old State Capitol’s imposing spiral staircase drew my upwards until I looked up at the breathtaking stain glass vaulted ceiling. In fact, every detail of the castle screams elegance down to the decorated door hinges.

The Old State Capitol is now a museum of political history with a new video presentation about the building’s dynamic history. The exhibit on Huey Long showed the two faces of one of Louisiana’s most controversial figures. The room had a reproduced crack running down the center to divide exhibits on the light and dark sides of Long.

On the positive side, Long improved roads, started a free textbook program and improved health care. On the darker side, Long seemed power-hungry and was almost impeached until he appointed himself senator.

Though his methods may be questionable, the beauty of the new state capitol Long built is undeniable with decorative marble, bronze details and a sweeping view of Baton Rouge from the capitol’s observation deck.


Vaulted ceiling of the Old State Capitol


Huey Long exhibit in the Old State Capitol

The new and current state capitol


Baton Rouge

Iceberg, right ahead!

by Eliza Myers 15. June 2010 21:28

It’s hard to miss a 30,000-square-foot ship-shaped structure replicating half of the original Titanic vessel along Pigeon Forge’s main parkway. The eye-catching size of the museum grabbed my attention immediately and easily held it throughout my tour.

Right after entering, I was handed a Titanic boarding pass with the biography of one of the actual passengers on the ship. My guide told me that I would learn the fate of my assigned passenger at the end of the museum, which gave the tour a personnel touch.

Just opened this year, the museum brought the experience of the ship to life with scaled replicas of the third class rooms, first class rooms and the Grand Staircase Kate Winslet and Leonardo Dicaprio walked down in the movie Titanic. Photos, interactive exhibits and over 400 artifacts told engaging stories from the fateful night.

To recreate the frigid experience felt by those not so lucky as to board a lifeboat, one exhibit kept the air temperature at 32 degrees. The exhibit also kept some water at 28 degrees to simulate the feel of the ocean that night. After only a minute my hand began to hurt acutely. The horror of the thousands that perished that way became all too real.

At the end of the tour, I was happy at least that my assigned passenger had survived against all odds. It was a reminder that stories both heartbreaking and inspiring came from the tragedy of the Titanic’s sinking.



Pigeon Forge Titanic Museum


I had breakfast at the Old Mill Restaurant


Future pepper shakers at the Old Mill Pottery

Well, hello Dolly!

by Eliza Myers 15. June 2010 21:16

As I watched the door of the small office room in anticipation, I could feel my level of nervousness rising.

So far on the trip, all attractions seemed to be leading up to this upcoming interview with the legendary Dolly Parton. I’d not only been to Dollywood’s Dolly Parton Museum, but also encountered mentions of her everywhere from numerous random people telling me they thought she was the greatest person alive to a media event where she gave out her 25 millionth book to a child as part of her Imagination Library program.

But now the hour had come and five travel writers and I waited in a small conference room with one seat empty and ready for Dolly’s arrival. I had my questions written out just in case I blanked, which still did not calm my worries of stumbling over my words. After hearing from someone at the table that Michael Phelps used to make himself yawn to relax before a race, I attempted to do the same in desperation.

Finally, Dolly arrived with an easy smile and familiar voice. She answered each of our questions without missing a beat with humor, sincerity, wisdom and references to the importance of her spirituality.

After she announced that she had to “go pee,” Dolly humbly thanked everybody and left the room. Her departure left everyone in the room clearly star struck, including me, for quite awhile after. Even now, I still feel the need to watch some Steel Magnolias or Nine to Five in honor of such an unforgettable 30 minutes.


Dolly Parton at a media event before my interview

Dolly Parton singing at the Pigeon Forge Imagination Library media event

I also toured Wonderworks with its many intriguing mind puzzlers

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Day tripping in Dollywood


by Eliza Myers 13. June 2010 08:37

Naturally, I started my Dollywood vacation experience in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. with a tour of the famous Dollywood theme park. Celebrating its 25th anniversary his year, Dollywood continues to go above and beyond your typical roller coaster fest with a wide variety of attractions for all ages.


A stroll through an amusement park could have been absolute torture with a hot June sun beating down, but since the park’s design integrates the surrounding mountains and trees into the attractions, the walk is a shaded one. In fact, the park’s replicated turn-of-the-century buildings give the impression you are walking through an old mountain town.


The town comes complete with a blacksmith, glass blower, grist mill and wagon maker. All the demonstrators at the park happily engaged visitors in conversation, including the wagon maker who explained his process before jokingly sending us to the blacksmith to make a noise complaint against him.


I also watched one of the many stellar shows playing at Dollywood called Sha-Kon-A-Hey! Land of Blue Smoke. Just started in May 2009, the show features songs written by Dolly Parton while telling the history of the Smoky Mountains. After watching the show’s simulated blue smoke fill up the stage at the show, I saw the real mist move along the mountaintops from my Dollywoods Vacations cabin. My view of the sunset mountain scenery reminded me that the natural spectacle always beats the manmade special effects.



My Dollywood Vacations cabin's sunset view


The Dollywood show Sha-Kon-A-Hey!


Wagon making demonstration in Dollywood

Remembering the Alamo

by Eliza Myers 14. December 2009 17:26

Though I knew the epic importance of the Alamo from the John Wayne movie, I was interested in finding out where Hollywood ended and where the truth began at the Alamo National Historic Landmark. To prepare, I first watched The Alamo: the Price of Freedom at the Rivercenter Imax Theater and visited the History Shop, where a detailed diorama of the Alamo mission illustrates the sprawling size of the mission when the 200 Texans tried to defend it against the 3,000 Mexican forces.

The only remaining building from the original Alamo mission is the chapel, which served as a sanctuary for the women and children during the 1836 battle. Exhibits and artifacts, such as a lock of Davy Crockett’s hair, William Travis’ ring and James Bowie’s knife, fill the chapel and surrounding buildings to present a more personal perspective on the battle.

When the evening caused the River Walk to once again glow with Christmas lights, I enjoyed a dinner cruise on the river. I floated near where some of the fiercest fighting of the Battle of the Alamo took place and wondered that a place once so full of violence could now look so peaceful.


The Alamo

Inside the Alamo's museum

Dinner cruise on the River Walk

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