Sunday, December 23, 2012

Lots of Hemming

I've finished both sets of towels that I talked about in the last post.  I wound up with a stack of seven towels to hem and enough extra fabric to make two potholders.  By Sunday (yesterday), all the hemming was done and the potholders were made.  I'm happy with the results!

Gypsea's Towels (and Potholders)
First up are the towels for the sailboat.  We've neglected poor Gypsea for the last couple of years.  We haven't been up much at all, and I know she's suffering from lack of care.  We'll start back at New Year's.  We like to spend New Year's Eve on the boat and have plans to do so again this year.  At least I'll have a small pressie for a neglected sailboat!

Ripsmatta Towels
And the ripsmatta towels are finished.  The project plans called for three towels from the warp.  By the time I'd finished the third one, I had quite a bit of warp left.  I wasn't sure if I had enough for a fourth towels, so I made a smallish hem at the beginning.  It was nerve-wracking, but indeed, I had enough warp for the fourth towel!
Squeaking Out a Fourth Towel
As you can see, I was pretty much out of room to work, but I did it and that's what counts!

I like ripsmatta so much that I decided to warp a second set of towels onto the loom.  I've wanted to make these Southwestern Mission-inspired towels for some time.  They're in one of the 2002 editions of Handwoven magazine.  I ordered the thread for them at the same time I ordered the thread to finish up the last of Cassie's towels.  After Gypsea's towels came off the loom, I got the Mission towels on.  Here's the beginning of the first towel on the loom.

Mission Towels on the Loom
These almost look better if you look at them upside down.  Anyway, I'm very pleased with how they're turning out. Now that I understand how they work, I think I'll play with the treadling pattern and see what happens!

This is just a short post.  But I also want to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Towels for a Sailboat

The last set of waffle weave towels are off the loom, waiting to be finished.  I did, indeed, run out of the teal weft thread, and ordered more.  Just after I warped the ripsmatta towels onto the Glimakra, I realized that I had the same teal thread in the kit I wanted to weave for the boat's towels.  I had plenty to use for the boat towels and still finish my daughter's towels.  So I did.  I had enough warp left on her towels to weave fabric for matching potholders.  Now, of course, it's a search to find the heat resistant fabric for the backing, but I think I've found a source.

Old time weavers would save warping time by tying a new warp to the end of the old warp and pull the new threads through the heddles and reed.  This only works, of course, if you're doing the same weave.  Since the new towels are exactly the same structure as the old ones, the pull-through technique was at least viable.  The modern version of this technique is how many people thread their sergers.  Tie new threads to the end of the old threads and pull them through!  Well, tying four or five threads isn't that big a deal.  Tying well over 400 is a bit more daunting.  But I persevered and I think it did save some time.  Anyway, I have a very nice warp.

Gypsea's Towel #1 - Lavender weft
Here's the first towel in-progress.  I finished this one today and started the second towel, which uses the darker blue in the middle of the stripe.  I'm liking how it's turning out.  The third towel technically uses the white as the weft, but I'm not sure I'm going to like it.  I'm considering using the teal of the warp.  I have a full cone of it, so there's plenty of yarn there.  We'll see!

In the meantime, this is a fun structure to weave.  It goes quickly, and with my new end-feed shuttle, quite smoothly as well.  Gypsea will have herself some handwoven towels soon!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Weaving Something New

Ripsmatta Towels
Sometimes things just don't always go the way you want.  I've had Custom Woven Interiors, a weaving book by Kelly Marshall, for several months.  All the projects in it are in a structure, ripsmatta or rep weave, that I've never tried before.  All the projects except this one are for some kind of interior design fabrics; rugs, upholstery fabric, what have you.  I've never done any of the above.  But the thing that really grabbed me about this book was the use of color.  I fell for these towels because of the colors and subtle patterning created by the color play.  I thought these towels would be a good place to begin this exploration.

I ordered the thread for the towels at the beginning of September.  However, I really wanted to get the Dog off the Loom (see last post) before starting anything else.  And then I really wanted to get my daughter's towels done before starting anything else.  Sadly, I ran out of the teal weft thread I was using for the last of the three towels.  I've ordered more, but it'll be later this week before the thread arrives... and there may be dye lot color problems.  Yikes!  So I decided it was time.  Get these towels on the loom!

My first challenge was simply understanding how the drafts in the book worked.  I made it harder on myself by overthinking it, but I really think that some experience with ripsmatta would be helpful before tackling this book.  I tried several times to make it work in my weaving software.  Finally, it made sense to me and I got it into the software.  However, there was still this niggly feeling that I'd done something wrong.  I figured, though, that I'd never learn until I got the warp on the loom and started weaving.

Last week saw me setting up two more shafts on the loom and getting them into the new countermarche system.  I wound the warp on Friday evening and finished it off Saturday.  I had some problems coming up with a way to wind the warp.  The colors change with every thread and most times there are four colors alternating.  I really wasn't willing to wind four threads at a time.  I ended up by winding one layer of warp in one bout and then a second bout of the second layer.  It worked quite well on the board, but not so well at the loom.  It tangled more than I've had a warp tangle in a while, but it wasn't bad.

Saturday was a marathon session at the loom.  I got the warp sleyed, threaded and beamed onto the loom.  I have to admit, it looked good.  There are few things that make me smile like a nice warp on the loom!
Nice warp on the loom
I got the weft thread wound onto bobbins for two shuttles.  I sat at the loom.  Okay, weaving the hem for the towels wasn't all that big a deal, but when the pattern weaving started I just wasn't sure.  For one thing, warp threads started breaking.  First one, then four more, then two after that.  Seven broken threads inside a foot of weaving??  Scary!  I sometimes missed locking the warp threads at the selvedges and had warp floats.  Sigh.  I wasn't sure how hard to beat and no matter how hard I beat, I could always see some weft threads.

After broken thread number seven, I gave up and went to bed.  Today, I'm more at peace with it.  I think that at this density, the weft threads aren't hidden.  The weaving is what it is.  And, quite frankly, I think it's really pretty!  I'm looking forward to trying more projects from this book.

Although I'll probably choose different colors!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Towels On The Loom

Since I've been traveling so much, I haven't gotten much weaving done in the last six months or so.  I have some wonderful projects in the design phase, but few have made it to the loom.  I've had a "dog on the loom" going for almost a year.  A dog on the loom is a project that the weaver has lost interest in and just can't seem to work on.  The dog takes up space on the loom that could be used for a more interesting project.  Well, I decided that I'd finish the dog - two scarves that really should be pretty and kind of aren't.  The scarves were overshot - my favorite weave structure.  Normally, overshot uses a pattern weft twice the thickness of the warp.  In this case, the warp (the variegated yarn) and the pattern weft (the red) were the same thickness.  The tabby weft that kind of holds it all together was khaki sewing thread.  I wasn't happy with how the red weft formed large blocks.  I was hoping that the colors would fade from one to the other.  Nope!

Red Dog on the Loom
But since I was on a Dog-Off-The-Loom mission, I got the red scarf woven.  I was planning on cutting off the rest of the warp and saving it.  But hey.  It was already on the loom and why not just weave it off.  So I started the purple pattern weft.
Purple Dog on the Loom
I'm glad I did, because I think it's much prettier!  I still need to finish the scarves, but I had the purple woven off within a week or two of starting it.  So, that freed up my good old Schacht 4-harness loom.

My daughter wanted dish towels for her university apartment.  She chose a kit from Halcyon Yarn.  Normally, I don't weave with kits, but I wanted to try out their 8/2 unmercerized cotton.  The jury is still out on how well I like the cotton, but the towels are coming out very pretty.  This is the first time I've woven waffle weave.  The waffles will show up better when the towels are off the loom and washed, but you can see them forming now.  There will be three towels when I'm finished and each will be a different color in the weft.  Here's Towel Number One, woven with a light green weft:

Towel Number Two is woven with a dark green weft - almost a grey-brown-olive color:

Towel Number Three is woven with a teal weft.  I'm scared about this one because I don't think there's enough weft thread.  We'll see!

I've finished some projects that were woven earlier in the year.  I think I like to weave, and hate to hem!  Here is a set of four towels in a Barleycorn weave.  I love barleycorn almost as much as overshot.  It's very similar, but not quite the same.  These were woven at the General Sam Houston Folk Festival this past April.  Such fun!

Well, I'd better get back to the loom and finish Towel Number Three!  I have at least two towel project lined up after this one!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Look For America Trek

So what is this Look for America Trek?  At the end of October I drove my parents to the Blue Ridge Mountains to visit family.  This is THE time of year to do it, so we did.  Since I wasn't totally recovered from my Disney adventure and illness, we took it slow.  Day 1 was from San Antonio to Lafayette, Louisiana.  Not much to report there.

Day 2 - Montgomery, Alabama
Day 2 was from Lafayette, Louisiana to Montgomery, Alabama. About halfway through the drive we came to Mobile, Alabama and the beautiful Bellingrath Gardens.  This was maybe the fourth or fifth visit for my parents, but my first visit.  Technically, this wasn't the best time to see the gardens.  However, the flowers were well into their autumn bloom cycle.  The roses were blooming as were some azaleas, and a few camellias.  The mums were set out for the huge November festival .  A few had started blooming, but most were still in the tight bud stage.

Let's face it.  I love roses.  Anybody who knows me, knows I love roses. Of all the photos I took of them, here are three: Sadly, I don't know the name of this rose.  But it's gorgeous!

Here is a Wild Blue Yonder rose.  It's kind of purple, not blue, but who cares??
Wild Blue Yonder
And the last is a Moonstone rose.  I'm not usually a fan of modern roses, but I might just have to get myself one of these!  The rose retains the pink edging to the petals throughout its life, although it fades as the rose matures.  It's beautiful!
Moonstone Rose
I could go on forever about the flowers in the greenhouse.  There were pineapples growing and hibiscus and all manner of tropical flowers.  However, the orchids really caught my eye.  Here's just one of them - a classic cattleya.
Cattleya Orchid
The house fascinated me as well.  It's not a huge place in an ostentatious style, but it's big and comfortable.  I couldn't take photographs of the inside, but here's one of the courtyard from the outer walk.

Here's the same courtyard from the other side. (Standing inside the arches.)

Here's the last flower photo - a camellia we saw on the walk out.

Day 3 - Blue Ridge, Georgia
We got a late start from Montgomery and decided to take a detour around Atlanta to visit Stone Mountain Park.  I'd never been there before and had always wanted to.  Okay, I'll be honest here.  The park is amazing and I'd love to come back sometime, but the carving is not quite up to what I expected.  Here's the best shot I got of it.
Carving on Stone Mountain
Day 4 - In the Mountains!
We visited quite a few places around north Georgia, but I took the most photos at Amicalola Falls State Park.  It's difficult to get the waterfall.  It's the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi (although I can't believe Niagra isn't higher), but it's impossible to get a clear shot of the entire fall.  Here's my best try:
Amicalola Falls
Here's a photo of the lower falls:

After visiting the Falls and having a wonderful lunch there, we visited a pumpkin farm and an apple farm.  The apple farm was dangerous!  I walked out with a half-bushel of the best Pink Lady apples I've ever tasted, a jug of apple juice and a bottle of sparkling apple cider.  Didn't get any photos, but the pumpkin farm was awesome!  People take their little ones to be photographed there the same way we take ours in the spring to photograph them in the bluebonnets.

That's my shadow in the lower left.  It's as close as I have to a photo of myself.

Day 5 - More Mountains!
Again, we spent the day visiting places around North Georgia.  It's been a dream of mine for years to hike the Appalachian Trail.  We stopped at Mountain Crossings at Neel's Gap which has the distinction of being the only covered part of the trail.  I left my parents and cousins at the store and hiked a little way up the trail by myself.  I wish I could have gone further, but at least I got my boots on the Trail!

My cousins know all the best restaurants.  The following photo is one I'd have never thought I'd ever take.  It's a mural on the wall of the ladies' room in Antonietta's in Blairsville, GA.  It's a great restaurant, I must say, but who would have ever thought to disguise a vent so cleverly??

After driving through the National Forest, we came upon this wonderful old bridge.

I don't know if it exactly qualifies as a piano bridge, but it's very small and rattles quite a bit.  However, the views from it are awesome!
Upstream, I could see a man fly fishing.  I've never actually seen anyone fly fish before.  It's fascinating, but I don't think it's my sport!

Day 7 - Johnson City, TN
On day 6, we left my cousin's house, heading to Johnson City, TN.  I've wanted to visit my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather's farm, the Tipton-Haynes Historic Site.  My parents visited it several years ago and told me about it.  We got there too late to visit the site, so we spent the night and visited the site the next day.  Dad forgot to get a photo of COL John Tipton's grave when he was there, so I insisted we find the cemetery and get a photo.  COL Tipton had quite a bit to do with the founding of Tennessee as a state.  Apparently, he was a strong-minded, rather colorful old character.  I do love his home and am proud to call him one of my ancestors.
Tipton-Haynes Farm
We got to share the site with several classes of second-graders.  Even so, the staff of the site was very kind to us.  I'm especially interested in an overshot coverlet in the museum.  I'm working on figuring out the draft and hope to have a sample woven before too long!

And yes, we saw the cemetery.  What a quiet, beautiful place!
COL John Tipton's Grave
The grave is at the lower right of the photo.  The marker is hard to see as it's sideways to the photo.  They aren't really sure which of the two (or possibly three) graves there is COL Tipton's.  He is buried alongside at least his second wife.  I'm descended from his first wife who may or may not be buried there.  It's such a beautiful place, though!

After leaving Johnson City, we drove through Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg on our way to drive through the Sequatchie Valley.  My mother's family lived there and migrated from there to Mississippi.  Okay, just forget Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.  For years I've wanted to visit the big October craft fair in Gatlinburg.  No.  The place is so heavily commercialized, it just isn't fun at all. However, after fighting 10 mile-an-hour traffic through both cities, we did get to drive through the Smokies.  Again, a beautiful, beautiful place!
The photos need no commentary!

Sadly, by the time we got to the Sequatchie Valley, it was dark, so I didn't get to see it.  After a rather grueling trip across lots of mountain passes and up (and down!) Signal Mountain into Chattanooga, we couldn't seem to find a hotel for the night.  We finally found a Days Inn in Trenton, GA.  Trenton is in the extreme northwest corner of the state.  I didn't even know it was there, but they had a hotel with two rooms remaining, and we got those!

The next two days were the long drive back to San Antonio.  Day 8 was distinguished by crossing five states in one day.  Okay, we were almost out of Georgia when we started and we spent the night in Tyler, Texas, but that's still quite a bit of driving!  Day 9 brought us home to San Antonio.  The worst part of the drive?  IH-35 between Roundrock, north of Austin, and home.  The traffic was awful!

But this was a wonderful trip and one I look forward to making again sometime.

Since this trip, I've been staying home and am back to my looms again.  But that's a story for the next post!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Visiting Disney - Part IV


Epcot Pins

Day three of our Disney adventure found us at Epcot.  Epcot is an interesting park and not everyone's favorite.  Epcot is really two parks in one.  The front part is FutureWorld with all kinds of exhibits for techie fans and environmental fans while that back part is for fans of traveling.  The World Showcase is there, featuring such countries as China, Japan, Mexico and Canada, Norway, Morocco and Africa (which they call the Outpost), France and Germany, Italy and England.  Oh!  And the United States!  I don't think I'm forgetting anyone, but I apologize if I am.  Each of the countries has food offerings and a shop where you can buy things typical of that country.  Also, each area is staffed by young people native to that country who are bilingual.  They're very nice and it's great for practicing your language skills!  We decided to use our snack allotments here and snack our way around the world!

For some reason, we always turn left out of FutureWorld and head into Mexico.  Because of that, we've never really gotten to enjoy Canada and England!  One of these fine days I AM going to turn right and start with them.  Mexico, we usually bypass as we live so close to Mexico and can visit any time we like.  Next up is Norway, and this is the place for breakfast!  We each had a yummy pastry and juice while waiting for the Maelstrom ride to open.  It's a water ride and some people think it's getting long in the tooth, but I still love it.  After your water adventure, you exit in a small "village."  There's a small sailboat tied up to the dock on the "river."  As nearly as we can tell, it's a real sailboat.  The buildings in the village are adorable, but what excited me was looking up to see an SAS (Scandinavian Airlines) placard over one of the doors.  A dear family friend recently retired from SAS, so this one is for him:

After our adventure in Norway, we went next door to China.  (No, I have no idea how they decided who would be next to whom.)  This one really made me think.  As we approached what looked to be a beautiful temple, a lovely young lady in native dress beckoned us in for the movie, Reflections of China. This is a 360, Circle Vision film that is just this side of IMAX.  You start your tour of China on the Great Wall with one of the ancient poets as a guide.  I had no idea just how beautiful China is.  Perhaps someday I'll be able to visit there.

After visiting China, we passed through the African outpost (after all, we're STAYING in an African outpost!) and had our mid-morning snack in Germany.  Throwing caution, and possible repercussions to the wind, I made George order our pretzels, his beer and my water in German.  I thought he did quite well!  Of course, this meant that if we ate in France, I'd have to do the ordering!

Now the World Showcase lets me indulge my love for architectural photography and sketching, so here we go! Patience, please!
An adorable shop in the German area
After Germany, we found ourselves in Italy, but we didn't stop for all that long.  We pushed on to America.  There's a replica of Independence Hall there where they have a wonderful film and animatronic show, a concert given by the most incredible a capella choir, and a show given by a Colonial fife and drum corps.  Of course, we had to stay for that.  The show, The American Adventure, is hosted by Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain. It's a bit corny, maybe, but I love it, too.  The choir is simply awesome.  They do American folk songs and patriotic numbers.  They end with a version of the Star Spangled Banner that never fails to bring tears to my eyes.

After America, we visited Japan.  This is one of the most beautiful areas of Epcot.  My feet were really giving me trouble, so I didn't take photos here.  We listened a bit to the Taiko drummers while my wonderful husband gave me a foot rub, we looked around the shop and then headed to Morocco for lunch!

Morocco is my favorite of all the countries represented in Epcot.  The architecture is wonderful!  It's probably the most complex of them all being a bazaar area with all kinds of twisty little turns and places to lose yourself.  This is normally my favorite place to photograph and sketch, but we were ready for lunch, so we devoted our time to a magnificent lunch at the Tangierine Cafe (what a wonderful pun!).  We would have loved to have stayed and listened to Mo'Rockin but we realized that we needed to go get ready for our Adventure of the Day!

Dive Quest

George and Me
The Seas in FutureWorld (the front part of Epcot) is a 6-million gallon salt-water aquarium.  There are all kind of viewing windows onto it and the wonderful restaurant, Coral Reef, has windows into the aquarium.  The aquarium is home to lots of sea life, including three species of shark, sea turtles, eagle rays and many, many more.  The coral in the aquarium, however, is all man-made.  Because the aquarium is completely enclosed and receives no natural sunlight, coral cannot grow.  The Disney Imagineers have created very authentic-looking coral made of concrete.

There are several extra events you can do in The Seas, but for certified scuba divers,  you can go on a 40-minute dive in the tank.  The entire event is two hours and you see parts of Epcot that no outsider ever gets to see. We all met outside the park and were taken in hand by our tour leader, Andy - a guy with the most positive attitude and the greatest sense of humor.  After a quick tour of what most visitors see of the Seas and our safety briefing and release-signing, we received our wetsuits and booties and headed to the lockers to change. We were then led to the aquarium itself to meet our divemasters and get started on our dive.

Both George and I are certified divers, but neither of us has done any diving in 10 years or so. We decided that this dive would be a good way to get back into it.  I was concerned about my left ear as I had an ear infection in it several years ago.  It has never been as easy to clear pressure in that ear since the infection.  I had a couple of problems at the beginning.  I didn't have enough weight in my BC, a situation our divemaster quickly saw.  I surfaced (actually, I couldn't keep from surfacing).  She surfaced with me and as she was confirming that I needed more weight, I was hit hard from behind by what I thought was another diver surfacing.  Nope!  It was one of the sea turtles.  We all signed releases that we would not touch the turtles, but we'd been warned that they don't sign the releases and sometimes they touch us!  I hadn't been prepared for just how much mass one of those creatures has!  I felt terrible about the encounter, but I don't think I could have done anything to have avoided it.  After our divemaster got my weights straightened out, I descended, yes, having trouble equalizing the left ear.  After a little coaxing, it equalized and off went for our dive.


I think we enjoyed playing with the humans the most.  We would swim up to the windows and wave to the visitors, both in the observation area and in the Coral Reef Restaurant.  However, I wound up doing some serious observation of the sharks.  Let me be very clear here.  I am deathly afraid of sharks.  It almost kept me from getting my scuba certification.  On my very first ocean dive, I saw a shark.  I've gradually come to realize that they have a beauty of their own, although I really don't want to get all personal with one.  While laying on the bottom of the tank, watching the marine life swim by, George and I had a very large, maybe 8' shark swim straight for us.  I decided (fearfully) to hold my ground and see what he'd do.  He broke and swam away from us, but not before I had time to decide what  stupid idea that was!  I'd never do it in the wild.  I swear those things have more than two rows of wicked-looking teeth.  I think their entire mouth is full of wicked-looking teeth!  Yikes!

Anyway, after our 40 minutes of bottom time, we surfaced, turned in our equipment and headed to our wonderful hot showers.  After meeting up again, we updated our dive logs and bought our copy of the video from the dive.  The stills here are taken from that video.

 What a fun thing to do!  I probably wouldn't do this again, as I would the Wild Africa Trek, but I'm glad I did it once.  Next time (given I get over my ear problems) we're going diving in the Keys!

We ended our day with supper in the France area of the World Showcase and yes, I had to order in French.  I think I did quite well, thank you!

After supper, we found places to watch the fireworks, Illuminations of Earth.  This has been my absolute favorite fireworks show in all of Disney.  But yes, there were changes to Epcot, many of which I wish hadn't happened.  Remember the loud music in Animal Kingdom?  There is a loud Celtic/rock band in the England area of the World Showcase.  Sigh.  And the fireworks are maybe a third of their original length.  What a disappointment!

Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM Studios)
Hollywood Studios Pins

Our fourth and last day at DisneyWorld was at Hollywood Studios.  This is home to three of our favorite rides. As we arrived, I decided to do the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.  This has been George's favorite ride and I just couldn't make myself do it last time we were here.  This time I decided that two minutes of anything probably wouldn't kill me, so off we went to get into line. Yep, this is definitely one where you don't want a FastPass.  The line snakes through the "grounds" of the Hollywood Tower Hotel.  They are beautiful as is the interior with all its interesting things to see!
Hollywood Tower Hotel
Okay, here's my last architectural photo:

Angel Statue in the Courtyard of the Hotel
After viewing the Twilight Zone preshow - yes, it's Rod Serling, but the voice is an incredibly talented impersonator - we went to the service level to take the elevator up to our "rooms."  We were lucky the first time to get seats in the front row.  (This is truly where you want to be.)  After fastening our seatbelts, the elevator took us upstairs... to see the ghosts of the five former visitors who entered the Twilight Zone beckoning us!  Then the doors closed and we went up again... and out of the elevator shaft into the Twilight Zone.  As the lights go out and you have ample time to regret ever doing this... You're suddenly weightless!  I was simply not prepared for what a beautiful, peaceful feeling weightlessness is.  The Tower of Terror is a wonderful, wonderful ride!  My first thought was that I wanted to do it again!

We ran around to the Rock 'N' Roller Coaster to get FastPasses (yep, you want them here) and then ran back to do the Tower of Terror again!!  This time we had to sit in the back (sigh) but oh such fun!

After our second Terror experience, we rode the Rock 'N' Roller Coaster.  Okay, this is my absolute favorite rollie.  Yes, it's mostly in the dark.  Yep, it does two (some people say three) inversions, the first of which is immediately after it catapults you up to 60mph.  But it's smooth and awesome and I adore it.  They say it pulls 4 G's on you, but I swear I don't feel it.  One thing.  Do put your head back into the cushions when you get into the car and keep it there.  Your head's coming back into the cushions one way or the other, but it's best that you put it there yourself.  And me, yes, I sing the Aerosmith songs at the top of my lungs while riding the coaster.  Such fun!!

And yep!  We rode the Rock 'N' Roller Coaster twice!  PS, don't eat just before this one. Just sayin'.

And our last ride was the Great Movie Ride.  I love this silly thing!  Your guide takes you through all kinds of classic movies, Wizard of Oz, Casablanca, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and many more.  This is a must-do for all movie buffs.

Since this was our last day, we watched the parade and then left to go do a little shopping at Downtown Disney.  We also booked a wonderful dinner at Jiko.  If I hadn't been coming down with what I now know was an ear infection, I would have enjoyed it even more, but Jiko is always awesome!

And there you are.  Our trip to Disney, just two adults, with strong child-like leanings.

I hope you've enjoyed this small tour through a very magical place!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Visiting Disney - Part III

Animal Kingdom
Tree of Life

Day two of our Disney trek was at Animal Kingdom.  Again, I was surprised at how crowded the park was.  I think this was because of what has functionally become a fall version of Spring Break, but I'm not sure.  Animal Kingdom was where I saw the most changes, and the most that I'm sorry were made.  It's always been my favorite of the parks, and it's lost something of its charm. However, some good changes have happened, and there are some really FUN things to do here!

Detail from the Tree of Life
 How can you not love Discovery Island and the Tree of Life? They have several cast members interpreting animals, which is wonderful.  They're very knowledgeable and very personable.  We loved chatting with them! There are also wonderful little paths that take off and wind around.  They're often empty, even on the busiest days, as people tend to run straight to their favorite rides or such. We even managed to get in a little smooching in some of the quiet places! Gasp!!

Kangaroo seen from one of the little trails

 After exploring Discovery Island, we crossed the bridge into Africa.  I LOVE to pretend that I'm really crossing into a small (and very crowded!) African village.

African Drummers
I love these African drummers.  They've held a special place in my heart ever since our second trip to Disney. I found one of those wonderful places to get away from the crowds and was sketching a stairway when into the courtyard they came!  I didn't realize that their "escape" was through a door right by where I was sketching.  One of them, held a pose for me for a few seconds so I could do a quick sketch of him.  How sweet!

This time, George and I were both brought into the dancing.  Fun!!  Honestly, though, I'd rather they taught me how to drum!

An Architectural Shot!
 Yep!  I had to do it!  I really love the architecture in Animal Kingdom, especially in the African and Asian areas.  I just HAD to show you this one of the "hotel" where the dancers perform.

Animal Kingdom Ride Pins
The two rides I've always loved are the Kilimanjaro Safari and the Kali River Rapids.  We didn't do Kilimanjaro for a very, very good reason!

Wild Africa Trek
Our special treat in Animal Kingdom was the Wild Africa Trek.  This is at an additional cost and you have to make reservations ahead of time, but it is SO worth it! If you don't do anything else at Animal Kingdom, do the Trek. In fact, don't do the Kilimanjaro Safari and do the Trek instead! The Trek takes you "backstage" through the Kilimanjaro route. You do have to be in good enough shape to walk over unimproved trails for a couple of hours. Lack of fear of heights is a good thing, too, which you'll understand shortly.
George suited up for the Trek
The first thing that happens, after signing release forms and all, is that you put anything that can't be tied to you in a locker.  No kidding.  This means cell phones and everything! If you want to take your camera, be sure it has some way - a wrist strap or something - of being tied to you. After putting your things away, you're fitted out in a safety harness. This will be used to be sure you don't pay any unexpected visits to certain animals.  You'll also get a water bottle to fill and keep with you, which is one of your souvenirs of the Trek. Lastly, you're fitted out with a receiver and earpiece so you can hear the guide's commentary no matter where you are.

Next you'll be taken to a small plank-and-rope bridge to try out your bridge-crossing skills. It's only about five feet above the ground, and it does sway.  You step from plank to plank, carefully avoiding the gaps between planks.  Such fun!!

After the safety briefing and instructions as to how to use the large carabiners to clip into safety lines, you go with two guides, both of whom are totally awesome. You'll start out on the Pangani Forest Trail, but you won't make it far inside.  You'll take off on a trail off to visit the hippos.

Hippo, and we're actually this close
You'll be at the top of a small cliff above the hippo pool. You clip into the safety line which allows you to get to the edge of the cliff and look down at the hippos. We had a researcher there to talk to us about the hippos.  He was as awesome as everyone else and very knowledgeable. He tossed some lettuce to the hippos, one of whom came to dine right below us.  Such fascinating creatures!

Hippo Arriving for a Snack (Not Us!)
 After spending time with the hippos, you're off on the trail again and you come to...

The Bridge!
 Okay, actually, the photos are of the second half of the bridge.  This one was taken while I was waiting my turn to cross the first half. Only two or, at most, three people are allowed on the bridge at any one time.  I don't think it's a weight consideration.  I think it's because several people will cause it to sway more, which can easily frighten the Trekkers. I discovered that it's hard to get photos from it because it does move, even when you're still.

The first bridge crosses about 20 feet over the Kilimanjaro Safari river.  The trucks are below you, but the riders can't really see you much because of the tops of the trucks.  There are "broken" planks on the bridge and it's a little dance step to go from plank to plank.  However, you're clipped into the safety line above and there's a net below just in case...

The Plank Bridge Again
The first bridge ends at a small pavilion.  One of your guides will be there to help if you freak out and to space Trekkers across the second bridge.  The second bridge runs beside the river and over the... 

Nile Crocodile
Oh yeah!  Nile Crocodiles!! We were lucky in that the crocs were out and about as active as they get (when they're not eating). Fascinating creatures they are.
After visiting the crocodiles, you hike a little further and come to the Kilimanjaro Safari road where a truck is waiting to pick you up.  You shed your safety harness (about five pounds!) and your sound system and retrieve  your camera and water bottle.  Then you load up onto the truck where there's a frosty towel awaiting you.  After the heat and all, it feels WONDERFUL!  The truck heads out to the Boma (Swahili for safe or protected place) where your snack will be served. Before  you get there, you can see all kinds of the animals visible on the Safari.  This time, though, you can stop and watch them and take photos. Here are some photos of the animals we saw.
See the Kilimanjaro truck in the back?
Probably my favorite photo!

A real elephant, not an animatronic one
At last you make it to the boma, a lovely permanent camp with bathrooms (yea!), tables, ceiling fans, and most important... Lunch!  They advertise it as a snack, but you get quite enough food for a meal, even after the walking you've done. Your nice, cold lunch comes in a two-tier pail.

Snack - Top Tier
The top tier has curried chicken salad, fresh fruit, and air-dried meats.  It's topped with a lovely, edible dendrobium orchid flower.  I put my flower in my shirt pocket and brought it home.  I put it in a glass of water and it lasted until the end of our stay.

Snack - Bottom Tier
The bottom tier has pita bread, a spicy hummus, a sushi-type roll and two spicy, yummy shrimp. The food is prepared by the Tusker House Restaurant, which is linked to the restaurants at Animal Kingdom Lodge, so you know the food is good!  Your snack is served with passionfruit / orange / guava juice, which just totally hit the spot for me!

After your snack, you load back up on the truck to visit the last animals of the day...
The Rhinos!
It's so sad how many animals are in danger of extinction by poaching.  Rhinos are valued for several things, but primarily their horns.  Animal Kingdom has re-introduced two (I think) rhinos back into the wild.  Long may they live where they belong!

Which brings me to a wonderful change in Animal Kingdom.  The first time I visited was about five years after they opened.  They were struggling at that time to be taken seriously as a zoo.  They have come so far in the decade or so since I made that first visit.  They are now a breeding zoo.  This is a major step forward for them.

Kali River Rapids
I didn't get any photos from the Kali River Rapids. This is one of my favorite rides, but for some reason, it seemed a little long in the tooth this time.  I think that was just my imagination, however, because we were so enchanted with the Wild Africa Trek, I'm not sure anything could have lived up to it.  This is one to consider not getting a FastPass. The lovely buildings that the line passes through are definitely worth seeing!  Oh, and we got turned just right during the drop and got totally soaked!  Which was just fine.  Let's hear it for quick-dry clothes from the skin out!

Expedition Everest
Expedition Everest is a new ride in the Asian section of Animal Kingdom.  We'd been looking forward to it, but both came away with mixed feelings.  This is definitely one to think about not getting a FastPass.  The approach to the rollie itself is SO worth going through.  My camera was beginning to run out of power, so I didn't get many photos.  Here's one of the "temple" area:

The Yeti "Shrine"
After going through the "shrine," you go through an outfitter's store with all kinds of wonderful things to look at.  Then you go through the "research area" for Yeti, the Monster of the Himalayas. After that, you find yourself waiting to board the train to take you up Everest.

From a rollie point of view, Everest is okay.  There's not much to see on the ride itself. It starts off like a relatively gentle train ride.  Then you climb a huge hill to see that the tracks have been pulled up and you're going to plunge down the side... except that the train stops.  Honestly, the best thing to see here is that there's apparently a place where girls take the ties out of their hair and throw them to the side of the train.  I thought about it... for about a second or two.  You stay stopped for longer than I would have thought.  Apparently, they are changing the track behind you so you don't go backwards the same way you came up.  From here for about half of the ride, you're riding backwards and mostly in the dark.  There's very little to see and you have no idea what's going to happen.  Both George and I became a little disoriented.  I think this is where he had the problem.  Strangely enough, I had it when we reversed direction and went forward again.  The ride isn't really jerky, but it's just totally uninteresting from a story point of view.  Also, this is the only time I've become a little disoriented on a rollie.  Neither of us were sick enough to want to lose our lunch, but neither of us really enjoyed the feeling. Both of us decided that we'd do the line again to see the wonderful things and then bail at the chicken spot!  (All Disney rides have one.)

Here's a little shrine on an island near the Everest ride.  You can't walk to the little island, but I love it anyway.

Maharajah Jungle Trail
I love this walking trail.  It goes through areas that look like abandoned temples and buildings in an Asian environment.  We were very close to closing time when we did this one and we fell into conversation with a very knowledgeable interpreter at the Bengal Tiger exhibit.  By this time, my poor battery was about done, so this is the only photo I got of the kitties!

And this brings me to the last changes at Animal Kingdom that I really didn't like.  When I've come here before, the background music is gentle and meditative.  Mostly, the music is now either completely gone or drowned out.  I expect the African drummers in the African section, although I swear they perform more frequently now.  I did NOT expect the Indian rock and roll DJ music blaring out from the Asian area.  It's constant - no breaks and there's a dancer performing.  She's good, but it's right in the middle of the walkway.  Argghhh!!!  It's almost impossible to get away from it.  When we've been here before, every vendor in the Asian area would greet you with "Namaste!"  That's gone now as are the wagons where you can get chai.  Oh, there's a tea vendor, but it's not the same and they will NOT serve the chai over ice.  You want iced chai, you get a frozen drink thing.  Sigh.  Not the Disney I remember.

What a full day!  Here's one last photo from Animal Kingdom.  It's the view of Everest from the bridge crossing into the African area:
Although I know it doesn't really look like Everest, it makes me want to visit the base camp of the Goddess Mother one of these fine days!

Stay tuned for the fourth (and probably last) installment of our Disney Adventure!