Rattlesnakes in Sweetwater, Texas

This past weekend was the annual World’s Largest Rattlesnake Roundup in Sweetwater, TX. Thousands of people and rattlesnakes show up for the event, which is in big part educational. Members of the Sweetwater Jaycees stand in a pit of slithering snakes, talking about the reptiles’ various features, capabilities and uses in medicine. People can touch a snake, and even take a photo with one. Competitions are held about the tastiest snake dish, and no, it does not taste like chicken, in my opinion. It tastes just like alligator. And I should know, after alligator tacos in one restaurant in Dallas a few years ago. Not my favorite, but you’ve got to try everything at least once, right?

Larry Martin shows a snake to the audience.

Larry Martin shows a snake to the audience.

 

Lyndall Sharp, front row, left, and Grace Porter lean as far back as the crowd allows as the handler brings a rattlesnake close to them.

Lyndall Sharp, front row, left, and Grace Porter lean as far back as the crowd allows as the handler brings a rattlesnake close to them.

Rattlesnakes stay together in the pit.

Rattlesnakes stay together in the pit.

Children look at the rattlesnakes on display.

Children look at the rattlesnakes on display.

Cooks compete in making the best chilli, brisket, chicken, pork ribs and rattlesnake.

Cooks compete in making the best chilli, brisket, chicken, pork ribs and rattlesnake.

Rattlesnake Sweetwater Jaycees member Larry Martin, right, holds the head of a rattlesnake, while Sally Rangel, left, from Plainview,  holds the tail. Jaycees provided snake handling demonstrations and answered questions.

Rattlesnake Sweetwater Jaycees member Larry Martin, right, holds the head of a rattlesnake, while Sally Rangel, left, from Plainview, holds the tail. Jaycees provided snake handling demonstrations and answered questions.

A rattlesnake is on display.

A rattlesnake is on display.

david sager

 

Rick Wilkinson demonstrates to the Rattlesnake Pageant contestants how a rattlesnake swallows its prey.

Rick Wilkinson demonstrates to the Rattlesnake Pageant contestants how a rattlesnake swallows its prey.

People line up by the food stands in the afternoon.

People line up by the food stands in the afternoon.

Abilene, Texas

I live in Abilene, TX, so this is not travel for me, however, it could be for you, the reader. Here are a few moments and people I met last year.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News Flamingos interact at the Abilene Zoo. The zoo was recently granted accreditation by The Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ independent Accreditation Commission.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News
Flamingos interact at the Abilene Zoo. The zoo was recently granted accreditation by The Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ independent Accreditation Commission.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News Jack Hatler, whose son is showing animals at the West Texas Fair & Rodeo, is resting in a chair with his service dog. The dog carries a life-saving medicine in case Hatler suffers a heart attack, he said.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News
Jack Hatler, whose son is showing animals at the West Texas Fair & Rodeo, is resting in a chair with his service dog. The dog carries a life-saving medicine in case Hatler suffers a heart attack, he said.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News Lt. Col. Mitch Spillers, right, greets sons Reed, 6, and Eli 4, wife Bridgett and daughter Halle, 2, on the runway at Dyess Air Force Base, after returning from a six-month deployment in Afghanistan, Monday, Sept. 15, 2014.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News
Lt. Col. Mitch Spillers, right, greets sons Reed, 6, and Eli 4, wife Bridgett and daughter Halle, 2, on the runway at Dyess Air Force Base, after returning from a six-month deployment in Afghanistan, Monday, Sept. 15, 2014.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News Betty "B. J." Naranjo-Smith, owner of Antiques & Almost, is closing the store, but plans to continue running estate sales.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News
Betty “B. J.” Naranjo-Smith, owner of Antiques & Almost, is closing the store, but plans to continue running estate sales.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News Sam McClure, left, superintendent of the llama show, helps Kendall Pharis, 7, dressed in a "Belle of the Ball" theme along with her llama, get into the show area at the West Texas Fair & Rodeo Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News
Sam McClure, left, superintendent of the llama show, helps Kendall Pharis, 7, dressed in a “Belle of the Ball” theme along with her llama, get into the show area at the West Texas Fair & Rodeo Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News Dyess Air Force Base firefighters demonstrate how to extinguish a jet fuel fire on the base training grounds Friday, July 11, 2014.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News
Dyess Air Force Base firefighters demonstrate how to extinguish a jet fuel fire on the base training grounds Friday, July 11, 2014.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News Summer Smith, 4, greets the Texas High School Rodeo Association Finals  contestants at the grand entry to Cavender's Special Kids Rodeo & Party Wednesday, June 11, 2014.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News
Summer Smith, 4, greets the Texas High School Rodeo Association Finals contestants at the grand entry to Cavender’s Special Kids Rodeo & Party Wednesday, June 11, 2014.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News Ethan Cypert, 3, high-fives the Texas High School Rodeo Association Finals  contestants at the grand entry to Cavender's Special Kids Rodeo & Party Wednesday, June 11, 2014.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News
Ethan Cypert, 3, high-fives the Texas High School Rodeo Association Finals contestants at the grand entry to Cavender’s Special Kids Rodeo & Party Wednesday, June 11, 2014.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News Lynn Barnett walks by The Grace Museum as rain is pounding down Tuesday morning.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News
Lynn Barnett walks by The Grace Museum as rain is pounding down Tuesday morning.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News Ellen Pagel takes a spin around the neighborhood with Curt Farmer. Pagel had not been on a motorcycle until about three years ago.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News
Ellen Pagel takes a spin around the neighborhood with Curt Farmer. Pagel had not been on a motorcycle until about three years ago.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News Brooke Trammell ropes a calf during the Original Team Roping Association World Finals Monday, July 7, 2014, at the Taylor County Expo Center.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News
Brooke Trammell ropes a calf during the Original Team Roping Association World Finals Monday, July 7, 2014, at the Taylor County Expo Center.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News Maria Warren, left, and Shaelynn Luna, right, throw balls of snow up in the air at Day Nursery of Abilene on Vine Street Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News
Maria Warren, left, and Shaelynn Luna, right, throw balls of snow up in the air at Day Nursery of Abilene on Vine Street Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News Jacob Densmore, 11, feeds some hay to his show cattle at the West Texas Fair & Rodeo Friday, Sept. 5, 2014.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News
Jacob Densmore, 11, feeds some hay to his show cattle at the West Texas Fair & Rodeo Friday, Sept. 5, 2014.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News Coleman Franz competes in the steer wrestling event at the Texas High School Rodeo Association Finals at the Taylor County Expo Center Monday, June 9, 2014.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News
Coleman Franz competes in the steer wrestling event at the Texas High School Rodeo Association Finals at the Taylor County Expo Center Monday, June 9, 2014.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News Billy Jones analyzes raw lake water, looking for metals such as iron and manganese at the Environmental Laboratory. Sudden cooling of the lakes responsible for our water supply causes the bottom layer of water to rise to the top, bringing with it algae. The water treatment plant can filter those out, but the algae byproducts that remain have been causing an unpleasant taste and odor to the Abilene drinking water.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News
Billy Jones analyzes raw lake water, looking for metals such as iron and manganese at the Environmental Laboratory. Sudden cooling of the lakes responsible for our water supply causes the bottom layer of water to rise to the top, bringing with it algae. The water treatment plant can filter those out, but the algae byproducts that remain have been causing an unpleasant taste and odor to the Abilene drinking water.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News A dog takes a drink from water draining away from a firefighting effort at a house in the 3300th block of S. 6th Street Friday, Dec. 7, 2014.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News
A dog takes a drink from water draining away from a firefighting effort at a house in the 3300th block of S. 6th Street Friday, Dec. 7, 2014.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News Lesley Deaver says goodbye to her son Grayson Deaver on his first day of kindergarten at Bonham Elementary School Monday, Aug. 25, 2014.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News
Lesley Deaver says goodbye to her son Grayson Deaver on his first day of kindergarten at Bonham Elementary School Monday, Aug. 25, 2014.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News Benny Melton, left, and Ben Torres, right, wait for cattle to be delivered at Abilene Livestock Auction Monday, Sept. 29, 2014. Tuesday will be the 55th annual Roundup for Rehab auction, which is one of the Rehab's biggest fundraisers, Dan Huggins, Director of Donor Relations said. The event will start with a chuck wagon lunch, sponsored by the Rehab, at noon. The auction will begin at 1 p.m., and cattle, donkeys, horses, pies and knives and other memorabilia will be sold.

Nellie Doneva/Reporter-News
Benny Melton, left, and Ben Torres, right, wait for cattle to be delivered at Abilene Livestock Auction Monday, Sept. 29, 2014. Tuesday will be the 55th annual Roundup for Rehab auction, which is one of the Rehab’s biggest fundraisers, Dan Huggins, Director of Donor Relations said. The event will start with a chuck wagon lunch, sponsored by the Rehab, at noon. The auction will begin at 1 p.m., and cattle, donkeys, horses, pies and knives and other memorabilia will be sold.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

IMG_5876

This was my second visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It is large, the displays are large, and there are a variety of feedings with informational talks, so that we ended spending the entire day there. I also visited the aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, and I found their aquarium to be much better than this one. The SF displays were smaller, so you could see the creatures inside much better. They were placed lower, so kids could view them without the parents having to lift them. And the SF one had a much greater variety of sea life.

I did enjoy the cafeteria at Monterey Bay Aquarium, with its ocean view, and healthy food options. The jelly fish displays were very extensive, and there was a really cool huge octopus.

IMG_5910 IMG_5890
IMG_5863 IMG_5826 IMG_5806 IMG_5783 IMG_5772 IMG_5762

San Luis Obispo, California

SLO5

 

San Luis Obispo is a small town in the central coast area of California, with a population of about 45,000. It seemed a very family friendly town to me, with a lot of events geared towards children and younger people.

The Children’s Museum is one of the most incredible kid-related places I have ever seen. It contained three floors of exploration, educational toys and lots of fun. Kids could pile fruit and veggies into kid-sized shopping carts, or make plastic meals in a well-stocked kitchen on the second floor. They could drive a locomotive, or play with a large train set on the third. Or learn about science on the first, at the magnets table, or watch balls fly upwards in a wind tunnel. They could climb a tree house or splash some boats in a water tank outside. In the doctor’s office, they could sit on an exam table or practice walking on crutches, or brush giant teeth with a giant toothbrush. They could put on a fireman suit or vacuum the floor with a mini toy vacuum. Tons of stuff for all ages to enjoy, and to top it off, it is free once a month, from 5 p.m. -8 p.m. The free days vary, so check with the museum’s website, http://www.slocm.org.

Something Ridiculous jugglers Mark Wilder and VonJon perform in San Luis Obispo, CA.

Something Ridiculous jugglers Mark Wilder and VonJon perform in San Luis Obispo, CA.

The best day to visit San Luis Obispo is Thursday, which is when they have their farmers market downtown, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. The market was amazing, with fresh fruit piled on the stands, trinkets and gourmet food for sale. The shops were all open. There was a band playing hard rock covers into the night. Two street performers, dressed as super heroes performed risky tricks, like juggling fire on top of free-standing ladders while running a funny commentary at the same time. The group was called “Something Ridiculous,” and they were indeed, ridiculously good.

 

 

Another event we attended was the 22nd Annual Wiggle Waggle Walk for Woods, which included a Halloween dog costume competition, and was organized by the Woods Humane Society. The turnout was great, and the costumes hilarious. I am posting pictures of some of my favorites. 

SLO1

SLO2

SLO3

SLO4
SLO7 SLO6

 

 

Bozeman, Montana

Bright lights on a carnival ride blur against the sky on the final day of the annual Gallatin County Fair in Bozeman, Mont.

Bright lights on a carnival ride blur against the sky on the final day of the annual Gallatin County Fair in Bozeman, Mont.

From left, Bronson Forge, Dylan Tabull, Heather and Jacob Pocha and John Kavajo play against the backdrop of a spectacular sunset on Bozeman's south side.

From left, Bronson Forge, Dylan Tabull, Heather and Jacob Pocha and John Kavajo play against the backdrop of a spectacular sunset on Bozeman’s south side.

The area around Bozeman, Montana is known as Big Sky Country. And that is well earned, as the sky appears to go on forever. The colors at sunset can be truly amazing, and the above picture captured only a small part of the various shades of pink. Montana is a wonderful place for a vacation, especially of the outdoors variety. People there love to hike, fish, go to the park for a picnic or just to read a book. Unlike here in Abilene, Texas, when you sit on the grass in Montana, you don’t expect to be attacked by fire ants or chiggers. Even in summer, the air is crisp and fresh.

Avignon, France

 

Pont d'Avignon

Pont d’Avignon

In Avignon, population about 90,000, we visited two major attractions: Palais des Papes or Palace of the Popes, and the Pont St-Benezet, also known as Pont d’Avignon.

Avignon served as the papal seat from 1309 to 1377, under seven successive French-born popes. According to my Lonely Planet guide book, Pope Clement V and his court fled political turmoil in Rome and established the Holy See in Avignon. Opponents of the move, many of them Italian, called the city “the second Babylonian captivity.” Lonely Planet says: “Pope Gregory XI left Avignon in 1376, but his death two years later led to the Great Schism (1378-1417), during which rival popes – up to three at one time, each with his own College of Cardinals – resided at Rome and Avignon and spent most of their energies denouncing and excommunicating one another.”

Avignon068

 

Door to Palace of the Popes

Door to Palace of the Popes

 

The palace in Avignon was rather large and spectacular, with the best view of it from a distance, from the bridge I mentioned above. Inside it is mostly bereft of decorations, but its Gothic architecture makes it well worth a visit. The view from its towers of the city was nice. Several statues and tombs were scattered throughout. There was a large courtyard with off-limits grass, an amazing ancient door, and plenty of stairs to keep you in shape.

 

 

 

Avignon013This is also where I saw another fine example of dictionary-translations that the French seem very fond of. It said, “Toilet temporarily closed because of works. Want, excused us.” You would think they can find a better English-speaker to fix their signs in tourist areas, but you would be wrong. Saw another funny one in another language at a train station ticket line in Paris, where it was trying to thank patrons for waiting patiently. Too bad I was overwhelmed with impatience there, having waited in the wrong line for 45 minutes, to which I got directions from a man working at the station. Then, when my turn finally came in the right line, the very helpful clerk sold me one ticket, rather than two, so I had to run down and line up again, and ended up sitting separately from my travel companion. As you can see, a sign advising patience in this spot was vital. You could buy your ticket from machines, but they did not take cash, and American credit cards do not work in them. Later, I learned it is possible to obtain a chip credit card from some U. S. companies that would work in the few European countries that demand this type of card.

Palace of the Popes

Palace of the Popes

Anyway, this kind of language mix-up is not confined to foreign languages. A sign on the Pont St-Benezet, or Pont d’Avignon, that’s a bridge for those of you not in the know, explained how this bridge was the very one mentioned in the popular French nursery rhyme “Sur le pont d’Avignon.” However, the sign said, dancing happened in reality not “sur le pont” or “on the bridge” but “sous le pont” or “under the bridge.” Even though most of the bridge itself washed out in the mid 1600s, what’s left is pretty cool. It has two levels, and the bottom one contains what looks like jail cells, but now only a statue was locked up inside. The bottom level also had a nice look out point, as you see in the picture I took from above of a man in a red jacket.

Palace of the Popes

Palace of the Popes

 

Palace of the Popes

Palace of the Popes

 

 

Avignon051

Carousel, Avignon center

A zucchini paste appetizer

A zucchini paste appetizer

 


 

 

Eglise St. Trophime

Arles and Nimes, France

Les Arenes, Nimes

Les Arenes, Nimes

FRANCE

Recently returned from a week-long trip to France. I feel my long-researched itinerary worked out in the end. It took a lot of effort to put together, because of time and distance constraints. You see, unlike other European countries, France is pretty big! Even with the high speed TGV trains, day trips from Paris can take hours. Driving can take even longer, since the TGV is faster. Spending the night in a different place each day adds the checking in and out, and dealing with luggage, which adds more stress than it’s worth.

I decided to spend a day in Paris, a day in Versailles, and dedicate the rest of my time to the south of France. Found a hotel in Montpellier, very near the train station, which is essential to frequent travel. Montpellier is situated somewhat in the middle between Lyon and Carcassonne, so being based there reduced both of those trips to 2 and 1.5 hours respectively. Another day was spent in Avignon (an hour away), and a day was split between Arles and Nimes. I selected these cities by not only reading a guide book, Lonely Planet being my favorite, but also by looking at photos on Trip Advisor and Google street view.

ARLES

Arles013

Arles’ claim to fame is that Vincent van Gogh used to live there, and paint its cobbled streets and cafe-laden squares.  It hosts the Foundation Vincent van Gogh, which displays works by other artists, inspired by van Gogh. The yellow Cafe van Gogh on the place du Forum is supposed to be reminiscent of the painting Cafe de Nuit, but I found it completely lacking in charm, crowded with tourists, with a huge, also yellow, awning to shelter the large outdoor area from the rain.

We arrived in Arles on the Monday after Easter, which is a day of bullfighting in their Roman amphitheatre, called Les Arenes. Streets were blocked off, to allow the populace a taste of the horned creatures. The bulls seemed puny by Texas standards, but they did feature impressive horns, which they pointed at every silly young man to wander in their vicinity. High school boys would bravely rush the bull, yelling, then quickly slip through the bars of the fence lining the street. Food vendors were positioned nearby, with sizzling meat, bell peppers and onions, which you could get on a bun, and cover with French fries, which here are known as “frites.”

Street bands would clog the narrow alleys, with people following and dancing to the merry tunes. The city was full of people and festive atmosphere.

Eglise St. Trophime

Eglise St. Trophime, Arles

The city of Nimes by comparison seemed too quiet – perhaps everyone was in Arles! Nimes has its own amphitheatre, Les Arenes, which looks a lot like the one in Arles, and also like the famous Colosseo in Rome. I checked the tourist postcards, to make sure there wasn’t a sight I was missing, but mostly the city was proud of its arena. Visited their other famed building, La Maison Carree, a 1st century temple. Admission was not free, like my guide book said, but in its defense it is an old guide book. It has also been used, according to Lonely Planet, as a meeting hall, a private residence, stable, church, and archive.

La Maison Carree

La Maison Carree

We attempted to find a place to eat before heading back to Montpellier, however, all restaurants we encountered were closed until 7 p.m. Furthermore, the menu on display frequently featured either sea food or, oddly, burgers. Ended up buying food at a grocery store, which offered pre-made salads, cheeses and salami, a variety of bread rolls, and an overwhelming abundance of sweets.

Nimes, France

Nimes, France

Keukenhof2

Keukenhof Garden, Netherlands

Keukenhof2

I scheduled my most recent trip abroad in early May last year. I know, cold weather and rain! At least, it was so in northern Europe. We went to Holland, and had to go in May, to see their famous Keukenhof Garden. It is only open for two months, from March 20- May 18.

The place is much like the Disney World of flowers. Took a full day to see most of the park, which according to its website, contains over 7 million tulips, daffodils and hyacinths, over an area of 32 hectares. Located near the city of Leiden, you can either travel by train to Leiden and then city bus to the park, or you can get on a direct bus from the Amsterdam airport. Right off the entrance is a large fountain, which looks like a dandelion about to blow off on the wind.

And then, an overload of color. Tulips, yellow, red, pink, purple, orange, white and even black, and in all sorts of shapes I could never have imagined. The variety is astounding. The little flower shop section at our local grocery store did not prepare me for what was out there. Flower designers have also used different batches of tulips of the same colors to create geometrical patterns in their flower beds that please and astonish the eye.

Other than flowers, the park has several amazing fountains and a petting zoo, where you can go scratch the ears of cows, baby pigs, bunnies and sheep. A playground offered some delight to the youngest visitors, and various statuary temptations to parents. My favorite was a metal dragon about to take flight, and much time was spent taking silly photos and making faces next to its vicious snarling toothy mouth.

Enjoy the rest of the photos below taken at Holland’s Keukenhof Garden. Keukenhof14 Keukenhof13Keukenhof11 Keukenhof10 Keukenhof9 Keukenhof8 Keukenhof7 Keukenhof4 Keukenhof3  Keukenhof1   Keukenhof45jpg

Keukenhof6

Abilene version: A. Drive down to Fredericksburg for a day of shopping along Main Street. As you get near the town, you will see a plethora of wildflowers along the way. Be sure to bring a camera. B. If you can’t get out of town, go to Garden World, and enjoy their spring selection.

Garden World in Abilene, Texas

Garden World in Abilene, Texas