By Gerry Feehan, award-winning travel writer and photographer. Here is his latest story, Padre Island, Texas.
“…I peaked through a stack of chili-flavoured pork rinds, past a battered flag of the Lone-Star State hanging in the dirty window, and into the parking lot. Smiley was staring storeward… waiting….”
Padre Island Texas is a long spit of sand dunes guarding mainland Texas from the destructive tornadoes and winter storms that pound in from the Gulf of Mexico. Between this narrow barrier island and the mainland lies Laguna Madre, a shallow hyper-saline sea renowned for sensitive sea grass and world-class fishing.
On some Padre Island beaches, camping is free. South of Corpus Christi, at Padre Island National Seashore, free boon-docking extends for over 100 kilometres. But the sandy entrance is also the only exit. So, after you bite off as much of the hard-packed seashore road as you can chew and you’ve had your fill of remote surf and turf, a tight U-turn and a long return drive up the beach is required to get back to civilization.
It was shoulder season, so we and our RV had the whole shoreline to ourselves.
The other campers were all outfitted for fishing. “When in Rome,” thought I and asked the park ranger if he knew of any local fishing guides.
The weather was atrocious: 3°C with a 70-kilometer north wind. Only a Canuckle-head would beach in such conditions; five meters from the raging ocean and sideways to a Gulf gale. The van was a rockin’ all night.
In the morning the weather cleared, the sun shone and the wind ebbed, portending a fine day on the Laguna Madre. We drove back across the causeway to the mainland, toward Arroyo City and a lovely campground along a canal fronting the ocean. We chose a site protected by live oak trees in case (heaven forbid) the weatherman’s prognostication was inaccurate and the wind began to howl anew. As per our typical MO, we arrived at dusk, sans reservation.
The other campers were all outfitted for fishing. “When in Rome,” thought I and asked the park ranger if he knew of any local fishing guides.
“No, I sure don’t,” he said. “Y’all could check with the live-bait store back in town. Look for the big sign – a redfish – out front. They may have a’ idea.” I asked Florence if she’d mind hanging solo for a day while I went angling. “No, go ahead. I’ll spend the day relaxing, reading and knitting.” I wandered down the road. When I saw red, I stepped in. The shop smelt. After baiting the proprietor with fishing small-talk, I asked, “Do you think you could find a guide to take me out tomorrow?”
“Well, I know of a fella lives right by,” he said, chewing uncertainly on a pork rind, “but it’s kind of late and I doubt he’d be available on short notice. I could call if you like.” He picked up the phone.
Five minutes later ‘Captain Smiley’ was walking in the door. He shook my hand and arrangements were made to tackle an early morning. The sun had not yet risen when the Captain putt-putted up to our riverfront campsite and welcomed me aboard. Minutes later, dawn greeted us as we cast our first lines into the shallow, glassy waters of Laguna Madre. A fat red drum hit on my second cast; a fighting day was upon us.
I had a great time with Smiley. Affirming his moniker, he laughed and joked all day long in his charismatic Tex-Mex accent.
The night before I had warned the Captain that I was short on greenbacks and would need to pay by cheque. He hesitantly agreed. When we arrived back at dock he expertly prepped my red-fish “on the half-shell” for grilling. Driving me back to our campsite he diverted his battered pick-up truck toward the bait shop. Pulling up he informed me that there was an ATM inside. Evidently he preferred cash to a cheque written on the reputable but foreign Royal Bank of Canada. I smiled, opened the door and headed into the store.
I had no bank card, just a US Visa. Uncertain if I could withdraw cash or whether my PIN# would work, I shoved the card in, chose English over Spanish as my language of preference and, after agreeing to an unreasonable fee for using the bank machine (“in addition to whatever other charges your financial institution may impose”). I prayed silently as I entered my personal security particulars. The machine sat quietly for a time, made some distant interior rumblings and eventually announced: “Request Declined.”
I peaked through a stack of chili-flavoured pork rinds, past a battered flag of the Lone-Star State hanging in the dirty window, and into the parking lot. Smiley was staring storeward… waiting.
I checked to see if there was a back exit. The wary owner eyed me suspiciously. The rear door led through a heap of fish offal into an alligator-infested swamp. Preferring embarrassment to an awful death, I thought I’d again ask the Captain if he would accept my cheque. I took a last baleful glance at the ATM and noticed a message: “maximum withdrawal $120.” I had requested too much dinero. I started the process anew, punched in my PIN, agreed to pay the usurious fees and crossed my fingers. The machine slowly spat six tattered twenties at me. A full day of guided fishing is not cheap. I repeated the process a few times. Eventually the tired machine coughed up enough cash to retire my piscatorial indebtedness.
I handed the dough to Smiley. He smiled and asked, “Do you want to fish tomorrow?” I couldn’t envisage enduring another ATM debacle and, in any event, it was time for us to move on from this arroyo.
“No thanks,” I said, “we need to hit the road tomorrow.”
“Aw, that’s too bad,” said Smiley. “Tomorrow’s my day off and what I do on my day off is… go fishing. I’ll take you out on my dime.”
I saw my calendar clearing.
I called Florence to ask leave. She concurred, delighted. (Apparently, one day away from her beloved was insufficient to create any overwhelming desire to be reunited in the confines of our small RV.)
I had another great “caught my limit” day of fishing. As I fried up a delicious speckled sea trout that night, Florence asked, “Are you going fishing again tomorrow?”
“Naw,” I said. “Smiley’s got a customer lined up for the morning.”
“Gee, that’s too bad,” she said, “this fish is incredible.” She was eyeing her knitting.
Hope you enjoyed your trip to Padre Island Texas. Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He and his wife Florence live in Red Deer, AB and Kimberley, BC. You can read more of his stories here.
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Read Gerry’s excellent tale – The Long Road to Texas. Click below.
My European Favourites – Stockholm – Djurgården
If there was one city in northern Europe that I could easily live in, I think it would be Stockholm.
The Swedish capital has over two million inhabitants and over 50 bridges connecting its fourteen islands. The city often ranks highly on the global “quality of life index” and has over one hundred museums, plus a lively culinary, theatre, music and sports scene.
If you enjoy boating, sailing and watersports, Stockholm has Lake Mälaren with more than 1,000 islands to the west. To the east of the city centre, the Saltsjön (Salt Bay) has a lengthy and picturesque archipelago with over 30,000 islands leading all the way to the Baltic Sea. With so many cottages and activities on these islands, they are a perfect getaway from the city hustle and bustle.
Stockholm’s old city centre is on the island of Gamla Stan. The area is full of colorful houses from the 17th and 18th centuries and narrow cobblestoned streets with interesting shops, cafes, pubs and bars. The Royal Palace, official residence of the Swedish monarch, can be toured and the popular changing of the guard is accompanied by a military band in the summer months.
Stockholmers enjoy a vast green space right in their city center on the island of Djurgården. The island is Scandinavia’s number one tourist attraction and a favourite for nature lovers, walkers, runners, hikers and cyclists. In addition to being loved for its green spaces, it is famous for having four royal palaces, popular museums, cafes, restaurants and a large amusement park.
The history of Royal Djurgården goes back to 1452 when King Karl Knutsson purchased the southern part of the island. It was a royal hunting ground for many years and over time was opened to the public and expanded.
In 1995, King Carl Gustaf XVI officially opened the world’s first national city park comprising the Ulriksdal, Haga, Brunnsviken and Djurgården districts. The 27 square kilometer park is eight times the size of New York’s Central Park.
On Djurgården, you can see over one hundred bird species and eight hundred varieties of flowering plants. You can easily spend a few days in Stockholm just visiting Djurgården. Here are my favourite things to do on the island.
When you enter Djurgården from the west on the Djurgårdsbron bridge, you will find the Royal Djurgården Visitor Center. The center rents bikes to explore the island, and there is a ten to twelve kilometer path that goes around the island. They also have kayaks, canoes or pedal boats. If you want to paddle all the way around the island, expect it to take about two to three hours.
The Sjöcaféet café is located by the visitor’s center and has a nice outdoor terrace overlooking the water. They have a reasonably priced menu with a variety of Swedish dishes plus they make a nice pizza. If you want a quick bite you may want to try the Korv sausage stand for a hot dog or their ice cream stand.
From the visitors’ center, the Vasa ship museum is easy to spot. It’s located right behind the imposing Nordiska Museum and the roof of the museum has a copper roof with ship’s masts coming through it. The masts depict the actual height of the Vasa when it was in the harbour over 300 years ago.
King Gustavus Adolphus ordered the massive warship built in 1626 during a wartime period against Poland-Lithuania. To match the kings’ prestige, power and ambitions, the ship was extravagantly decorated and armed with 64 cannons on two gundecks. The immense Vasa must have been a stunning sight with all the bronze cannons, ornate carvings, painted sculptures, large masts, sails set and flags flying. The problem, which was discovered during construction, was that she was unstable and top heavy.
Despite this knowledge, on the afternoon of August 10, 1628, the Vasa set sail from the quay in the Old Town. She sailed a few hundred meters, then a squall, or sudden gust of wind, forced the Vasa to list heavily to one side, but she returned upright. Moments later, a second squall listed the boat so heavily that water started to pour in through the gunports. As the water seeped into the ship, it was too much to recover from; the Vasa capsized and sunk. About 30 of the crew and passengers drowned in the incident. The sinking of the Vasa in Stockholm’s harbour on her maiden voyage must have been quite shocking for the thousands of spectators who lined the sea front for a glimpse of the new ship.
Shortly after it sunk, efforts were made to retrieve the valuable bronze cannons, and over 50 were recovered. As the years passed, a few unsuccessful salvage attempts were made but eventually the exact location of the wreck was lost. Amateur archaeologist Andres Franzen, after many years of searching, found it again in 1956. Plans were made and the Vasa was finally raised to the surface in 1961 after laying in the “Salt Sea” for 333 years.
For over 20 years, the ship was housed in a temporary structure while it underwent examination and treatment to preserve it. In the early 1980’s, the Swedish government decided to build a permanent museum and numerous architects submitted designs. A final design was chosen, and the Vasa Museum opened in 1990, displaying the almost intact 17th century warship. It is the most visited museum in Scandinavia with around 1.5 million visitors per year.
When you walk in to the museum, the sight of the ship is overwhelming. The ship can be seen from six different levels and there are exhibits, maps and models explaining how the ship was built, it’s sailing route and eventual sinking. The museum explains the situation in Sweden during the 17th century that required the Vasa ship to be built, and has a movie theatre with a film on the ship recovery.
The Vasa museum is an absolute must if you are in Stockholm for any length of time.
As you emerge from the Vasa Museum, you will face the back of an impressive stone building, the Nordiska Museum. It stands on an area called Lejonslätten, the lions plain, because Queen Kristina, daughter of King Gustavus who had the Vasa ship built, placed lions here during her reign in the 17th century. The Renaissance style building which was partially built for Stockholm’s World´s Expo in 1897 is the home of Sweden’s largest cultural and historical museum.
The Nordiska museum was founded in 1873 by Artur Hazelius, who also founded the nearby Skansen open air museum. When you enter the museum, you will see a large oak statue of King Gustav Vasa placed in the centre of an over 100 meter long open central hall with a ceiling that rises 24 meters. As you look up, you will see multiple stories surrounding the central hall.
The museum has over a million objects depicting the Nordic lifestyle and traditions from the 16th century to today. The collections of art, furniture, jewelry, fashion, glass, porcelain and interiors are interesting. The museum also has an area dedicated to the Sami, the only indigenous people in Sweden.
If you follow the main road in front of the Nordiska Museum, the Djurgårdsvågen, for about 300 meters, you will reach the entrance to the ABBA Museum. The Swedish pop group is known the world over, and their band’s name is an acronym taken from the first letters in the band members first names, Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. They rose to fame in 1974 after winning the annual Eurovision Song Contest with the hit song ‘Waterloo.”
ABBA sold hundreds of millions of records worldwide during the 1970s and 1980s and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010. In 1999, the musical “Mama Mia!,” which adapted ABBA’s music, became a smash hit along with subsequent related films.
The ABBA Museum opened in 2013 and at the entrance you will get an audio tour device that is easy to use on the self guided tour. As you go through the museum, you just tap the audio pad, and the audio begins. Much of the audio is actually the band members telling stories of their lives before ABBA, how they met, how they wrote songs, how they became the iconic super group and some of the experiences they had along the way. There are interactive areas where you can sing their music or dance with them on stage.
The exhibits are well done including a recreation of the Polar Studio, where they recorded some of their music. There is a helicopter similar to the one used in the album cover ABBA ARRIVAL that you can sit in to recreate the photo. In the museum you will see gold records, archival film footage, interesting stage costumes and the caricature style ABBA dolls that were used in a music video called “The Last Video.”
Before you leave, you enter the giftshop where you can get everything ABBA from souvenirs to posters, apparel and CDs. We all have listened or danced to ABBA songs over the years, and although I’m not a huge fan, the museum was very enjoyable.
When you leave the ABBA Museum, you can’t miss the sounds of the nearby Amusement Park.
In the late 1880s, on the south shore of Djurgården, nine acres were approved for the building of an amusement park. The park’s design had to incorporate the existing houses and commercial buildings that were already on the property. Even though the park has a small footprint on the island, it has 30 different attractions including roller coasters, free fall rides, and the “Eclipse,” one of the world’s tallest swing rides. The “Insane” roller coaster lives up to its name as the cars flip and spin and you travel along. In addition to the rides for the thrill seekers, there are rides for young children, and carnival games where you can win prizes like huge chocolate bars.
Grona Lund often hosts rock and pop music concerts, including on the main stage in the middle of the park. Bob Marley performed at Grona Lund three times, including in 1980 when he drew 30,000 fans.
If you want a quick bite, there are about fifteen food stands offering a wide selection of items including candy, burgers, pizza, poke bowls, kebabs, gyros, churros, waffles, crepes and ice cream. If you prefer to sit and relax, there are over ten options including Mexican, BBQ and Asian restaurants and a Biergarten. Needless to say, you won’t go hungry here.
The park is open from spring to late September and may be open during other dates including Halloween and the Swedish Autumn break. You can buy your tickets online in advance and get a pass that includes unlimited rides.
We have taken many youth hockey and ringette teams to Stockholm, and Grona Lund is always a hit with the kids and parents.
If you are not into amusement parks, across the street from the Grona Lund is the slower paced Skansen open-air museum. In the late 1890s, the park was created to preserve traditions, customs and structures from different parts of Sweden prior to the industrial age. The park is much larger that Grona Lund, with over 75 acres, and it attracts over a million visitors per year.
Over 150 buildings were relocated to Skansen from throughout Sweden, and they range from simple farm structures to worskhops, school rooms and manor houses. As you walk through the small village that they have created, people in traditional dress are doing every day chores. If you enter the trade shops, you will see skilled craftsmen demonstrating their skills including bakers, tanners, silversmiths, shoemakers and glass blowers. In today’s world, we take many essential products for granted that used to be made by hand in these small community work shops. To experience 19th century transportation, a 200 meter long funicular railway has been transporting people 35 meters up the north side of the Skansen hill since 1897.
Skansen’s traditional Christmas market, festivals and folklore shows are very popular.
Skansen’s relocated farms include domesticated animals like goats, pigs and horses. The park zoo contains over 75 species of the Nordic animals including bison, bears, seals, otters and moose. In addition to these Scandinavian natives, the zoo also features non-traditional animals like monkeys, peacocks, elephants and more.
Like Grona Lund, there are numerous options for fast food, cafes and restaurants. Taking time for a “fika” is an important Swedish custom. A fika is an opportunity to take time to share a coffee, and a little bite or a pastry, usually a cinnamon bun, with friends, colleagues or family.
A walk around the Skansen open-air museum on a nice sunny day is a great family activity.
More things to see and do in Djurgården
There are so many things to do in Djurgården. I listed some of my favourites, but you may enjoy visiting some of these options depending on your interests.
The Viking Museum opened in 2017 and it includes the interesting Ragnfrid’s Saga Viking ride.
The Liljevalchs Konsthall is an art gallery and exhibition space opened in 1916.
The Prince Eugen’s Waldemarsudde art museum is situated on a beautiful waterfront estate with a castle like mansion.
The Spritmuseum & The Absolut Art Collection is devoted to alcohol including Scandinavian Aquavit. After touring the museum, you can order a tasting tray of traditional spirits, Absolut vodkas or ciders.
Featuring 20th century Scandinavian and French art, the Thiel Gallery was established in 1905.
Junibacken is a children’s centre inspired by the stories by the Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren.
Cirkus is a 1,650 person arena built in 1892 that used to hold the circus, but now it is mainly used for shows, concerts, performances, trade shows, meetings, parties and gala dinners.
On the north east of the island, you will find the Djurgården canal. The area across from the canal is Djurgårdsbrunn. Here you will find the Museum of Technology, the Police Museum, the Maritime Museum and more park space.
With so many activities and green space, you can see why Stockholmers love Djurgården. On you next trip to Sweden, be sure to set aside some time on your schedule to explore and enjoy it.
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Gerry Feehan Receives the Legendary Invitation, A World Famous Newfoundland Tradition
11By Gerry Feehan
This is the third of four parts in the Newfoundland series. Scroll down to find Part 1, Gros Morne, and part 2 North America’s Oldest European Settlement
If Newfoundlanders weren’t so damn friendly we’d have been on time for our Jiggs dinner.
Terra Nova National Park is situated in eastern Newfoundland, 399 sq km of rugged rock, trees and wetland, wrapped around idyllic fingers of Bonavista Bay. The Trans-Canada highway bisects the park, then continues southeast toward Come by Chance and eventually the capital, St. John’s, on the Avalon Peninsula. It was early October. Terra Nova was still open for business, but quiet, so we had our choice of primo campsites. As we checked in I grabbed a bag of firewood. It was going to be a cold night, with frost expected. The ranger stopped me, “No sense you paying for wood. The folks in site 17 just bought a big load. Just go over and join them when the fire starts.”
And so we did. And that’s how we met Burkey and Bev. Even before we reached their roaring fire, Burkey spotted us timidly approaching from the shadows, and without a word, pulled out spare chairs and began pouring drinks. It was Thursday before Thanksgiving. The Burkes were setting up camp, preparing for the arrival of friends and family, and prepping for the big occasion: Sunday’s Jiggs dinner. After a fun evening of chatter (interspersed with a few tunes from my ever-present ukulele) we rose to bid adieu. “You’ll come for dinner Sunday?” asked Barb. I did some quick calculating. We had a week left on The Rock but had yet to visit St. John’s. Plus there was the Irish Loop and Bonavista Peninsula to explore. And we had a long drive back west to Port Aux Basque, almost 1000km, in order to catch the ferry on Tuesday.
“Sure,” I said.
On Sunday we awoke to a gorgeous morning at the Cabot Highway RV Park, a few kilometers from the town of Trinity, on Bonavista Peninsula. (The intervening 3 days and our St John’s/Avalon/Irish Loop drive will be recounted in the fourth and final yarn of this series.) When we reached Trinity I headed straight through town, bound for the local pier, as I am wont to do. Preoccupied by the brightly painted clapboard homes, 19th century church spires and scenic fishing stages (houses hanging over the water used for cleaning cod), I failed to observe that the roadway was becoming dangerously narrow.
We ended up trapped on the town boat ramp, pointed seaward. There was no way to turn the motorhome around. Florence was starting in on my (justly-deserved) beratement when a boat pulled up to the wharf. “What are you after doing down there, b’y?” asked the operator with an amused look. With his guidance I was able to slowly reverse position and get the RV pointed away from the slippery slope and safely back toward land. I offered my thanks. “No trouble,” said he, bobbing in his boat. “I’m taking friends out for a tour of the bay this lovely morning. Would you and your wife like to join us?” I did some more calculating. It was a two-hour drive back to Terra Nova. Jiggs dinner was at 3pm. “We’d need to be back to shore by 1pm,” I said. “No worries,” he replied, “I’ll have you at the dock by noon at the latest.”
It was a fantastic outing. Skipper Bob and his partner Bonnie run www.trinityecotours.com. The tourist season was almost over and the day’s trip was just for fun. Although the usual fare is $90 a person, they refused to take our money. We followed the rugged coastline, where the remains of the ancient Appalachian Mountains slip into the sea. In Trinity Bay, while a whale spouted to starboard, we came alongside a fisherman hauling up net and cleaning cod. He offered us a bag overflowing with fillets and, with the waive of a hand, made it clear he wouldn’t accept payment.
As we motored into a protected, hidden bay, the remains of a long-abandoned village came into view. Bonnie told us, “This place is known as Ireland’s Eye. On the other side of the island is a spot called Black Duck Cove. That’s where my dad lived until he was 11years old. In the mid 50’s the government began a resettlement program to get people who lived on remote islands to move to the mainland where there would be better access to services like hospitals and schools.”
In some respects it was forced relocation. Many people, rather than abandon their homes, floated their lodgings to the mainland communities. “The old place on Ireland’s Eye was left behind but my grandfather floated a house from Pope’s Harbour to New Bonaventure in August 1965. It was a saltbox style, with the porch and bathroom added later.”
Life was hard on The Rock 50 years ago.
Time flies when you’re playing on the ocean. It was after 2pm when Bob idled the boat back into the marina. We bid a hasty thank-you and adieu and raced for Terra Nova. When we arrived at the campground it was getting dark. All sites were vacant save one. Bev and Burkey were just breaking camp, headed back to Clarenville.
“We are so sorry,” I apologized. “No problem,” said Bev. “You said you were coming for scoff so I knew you’d be here. I did up a couple of plates. They’re still warm.”
A traditional Newfoundland Jiggs dinner consists of turkey, dressing, gravy, bread pudding, carrots, turnip, cabbage, mashed potatoes, pease pudding, figgy duff – and boiled salt beef. For dessert Barb likes to do blueberry crumble and partridgeberry cake topped with hot vanilla sauce. Simple really. And easy to whip up, especially from the cramped confines of your trailer, in a campground, in the cold. Each platter held enough food for three Jiggs dinners. Burkey laughed and told us that a Newfoundlander’s idea of fine dining is a full plate. I offered him two fresh cod fillets and, although it was a little like carrying coals to Newcastle, he graciously accepted.
Florence and I were the only campers in Terra Nova that night. As they drove away Burkey said, “No sense you buying firewood, there’s plenty left.” Bev waived goodbye and they rolled out of our lives.
I looked at the overflowing feast, loosed my belt and dug in.
Next time: St John’s and the Irish Loop
Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He lives in Kimberley, BC.
Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He and his wife Florence live in Kimberley, BC!
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