A Travellerspoint blog

Kayaking the Ghost River

Moscow, TN

sunny

For years, I have been wanting to kayak the Ghost River. Today, it became a reality when I coaxed Eric, my brother, and sister-in-law into a day of adventure.

The Ghost River is a pristine section of the Wolf River located about an hour outside of Memphis. Its name comes from where the channelized river seems to lose its current and disappear into an area of open marshes and cypress-filled swamps.

Since this was our first time kayaking, we decided to take a guided trip with a company called Ghost River Outfitters. We met our guide at Bateman Road Bridge and a van drove us up river to the put-in point at Yager Road. There, we were set up with life-jackets and sit-on-top kayaks.

We could not have picked a better day to go. The weather was perfect with blue skies and temperatures in the mid to upper 70's. The water was cool but not freezing.

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Once on the water, the kayaks were very easy to maneuver. It was so peaceful and quiet out there that we felt like we were a million miles from civilization.

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After a couple hours of paddling, we stopped at a popular resting point to eat lunches that we had packed. As we were getting there, another group with kids was just leaving. That was the only time we encountered other people on the entire trip.

After setting off again, our guide told us that the Ghost River section was coming up soon. It was easy to tell once we got there because of the change in scenery. The river disappeared and we suddenly found ourselves in a swamp filled with cypress trees.

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There are blue canoe signs posted on trees in this area to show the way but I'm really glad we had a guide. I was too busy taking in the scenery so would have easily missed them.

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Our guide told us stories of drunken college kids and others over the years who went into the Ghost section unguided and ended up staying the night when they couldn't find their way out. Cell service isn't great and rescuers won't go in at night. I can't imagine being in the swamp...in only a kayak...in the South...in the summer. The mosquitoes alone would eat you alive!

Luckily, we were there in October so bugs weren't a problem for us.

Everywhere I looked, I was spellbound by the swamp. It was eerily beautiful.

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Most of the trail goes between trees that are so close together that we didn't need to paddle. We just used them to leverage and push ourselves from tree to tree. It literally sounded like bumper cars as you heard the kayaks bumping off the trees. It was crazy!

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It seemed like we were in this section forever. Just when I thought I couldn't take any more trees, the trail opened up into a wider "lake" area that was much easier to navigate unless your kayak got stuck on a submerged cypress tree. You either had to scoot to get off it or someone had to paddle up and bump you off.

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Then, the swamp narrowed again and we were back in the river. After a bit more paddling, we were back at Bateman Road Bridge.

Whew! What a day!

All together, I think the trip took about 5 hours but I thought that was pretty good for beginners. We loved it!

Posted by tammy_b 09:07 Archived in USA Tagged kayaking canoeing memphis ghost_river wolf_river ghost_river_outfitters Comments (0)

From Chihuly to Streisand: It's a girls' trip to Toronto!

Toronto, Canada

I met up with a couple of friends to spend a few days in Toronto. I was excited to explore the city because my only time in Canada so far has been a day trip in Victoria, B.C. while on an Alaskan cruise a few years ago.

Our downtown condo was in a perfect location. Located in the Maple Leaf Building, there was a Longo's grocery store, bank/ATM, liquor store, and several restaurants on the first floor. It was also right next door to the Air Canada Centre and across the street from Union Station. Being so close to the train station made it easy to take the UP express train from the airport to the condo and it only took 25 minutes without having to contend with traffic.

This is our view of the CN Tower from our balcony...both day and night.

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Day 1

We started the day with breakfast at Marche's. What a feast for the senses!

The restaurant focuses on fresh foods and has unique food stations where you can choose things like eggs made to order, sweet or savory crepes, fruit, meats, pasta made to order, sandwiches, quiches, soup, coffees, and fruit smoothies. Upon arrival, you get a card and as you go to each station to make your food selections, it is scanned. When ready to leave, you just give the cashier your card and pay for your selections.

There were so many things to choose from but I settled on a Belgian waffle with vanilla sauce and strawberries with a mixed berry smoothie. Yummo!

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Afterward, we walked a few blocks to Dondas Square to catch the Hop On/Hop Off (HOHO) bus. A ticket gives you two days of access on the double-decker bus and you can ride the route to see the major tourist attractions and hop off when something interests you. It also includes a 45 minute boat tour around the harbor and islands.

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We hopped off at the Royal Ontario Museum for the Dale Chihuly exhibit.

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Admission was a bit pricey but totally worth it if you are a Chihuly fan. The pieces were incredible and I loved it.

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With limited time to explore the city, we didn't walk around to see any of the other exhibits. Feeling cultured, we walked toward our next stop...Kensington Market.

On the way, we passed the university's sports field and I had to get a picture of it with the CN tower for Eric.

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Misjudging how far Kensington Market was from the ROM, we felt the need for a little respite. So we stopped at Flock to relax on their quiet patio and enjoy drinks.

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I had the Blood Orange Negroni which was very nice.

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Afterward, we walked on to Kensington Market which was a vibrant, hip neighborhood full of artwork, cafes, bars, and food markets.

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By this time, it was getting late and we were starting to get hungry again so we made our way to Queen Street, passing Chinatown on the way.

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Our destination was Burger's Priest per Anthony Bourdain's recommendation when he did his show on Toronto.

I had the "California Classic" which was a cheeseburger with sauteed onions, topped with secret sauce, lettuce and tomato and sandwiched between two buttered and grilled buns. It was sooo good, I ALMOST forgot to take a picture. I finally remembered with about three bites left so it looks a little manhandled. My apologies...

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We then caught the HOHO bus and rode it down to the Harbor area. We wanted to take the harbor cruise but the boat had just left and there was an hour wait for the next one along with a very long line. So, we decided to skip it and just walked around there for a bit.

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We stopped in for Beavertails which are flat, fried pastries that can be topped with a multitude of things from sugar and cinnamon to nutella, peanut butter, and candy bits. I opted to keep it simple and just had sugar and cinnamon. It was pretty good...basically a flattened donut.

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All in all, we logged 16,000 steps today...not too shabby. Back at the condo, after a few glasses of wine and girl talk, I slept very soundly.

Day 2

Our first stop of the day was breakfast at Carousel Bakery in the St. Lawrence Market. I was on a mission to sample a peameal bacon sandwich and a butter tart.

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I chose the "Breakfast on a Bun" per the recommendations of the gentleman standing in line in front of us. It had peameal bacon, with a fried egg and cheese layered on a soft bun. It was really delicious and filling. Note: U.S. Canadian bacon is completely different from real Canadian bacon. The U.S version looks like round ham while the real thing is sliced pork loin and was pretty lean.

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There were several butter tart flavors to choose from so I got the one filled with pecans. It reminded me of a miniature pecan pie from home and tasted like one, too.

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After breakfast, we walked around the market which contained the usual fare.

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Then we moved on to the Distillery District since we had an 11:00am Segway tour scheduled.

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Walking into the district is like stepping back in time with its cobblestone streets and Victorian industrial buildings. There are sculptures all around and a mix of both historic and modern buildings.

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Chain businesses like Starbuck's are not allowed so there are all kinds of unique galleries, shops, and restaurants.

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It's a great place to explore and we were excited to ride the segways through it.

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This was my first time on one, but it was very easy to learn. We had a brief training session and then did a 30 minute tour all around the area. Afterward, we walked around some more and took time to people watch and take in the sights.

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We also enjoyed some of the offerings like lemon tea beer...

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...and gelato.

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Then we caught the HOHO bus again, but this time we rode the whole route to get a feel for the city and drive by some of the places that we didn't have time to visit.

This is my view from the top of the double-decker bus after I snagged a front row seat.

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One of my favorite things about the city, were all the murals that were around every corner.

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A passing glimpse of Casa Loma as we drove by.

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We had an early dinner at Taverna Mercatto which was within walking distance of our condo and it was virtually empty. It was a neat place with a mix of industrial and antique d├ęcor.

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I had the Pollo Alla Diavola which was divine. Spicy chicken on a bed of fregola (type of pasta similar to cous cous) with a creamy pancetta sauce and a side of cavolo nero (black leaf kale).

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While in Toronto, we wanted to do something girly and artsy and our choices were the play "Matilda" which is based on the children's book or seeing Barbra Streisand.

Yes! Toronto was the last stop on Barbra's mini-tour and she just happened to be playing on our last night there.

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My mom is a huge fan so I grew up listening to her music and I love her movies. We couldn't pass up a once in a lifetime opportunity to see her...even if our seats were in the nosebleed section.

What can I say? I though she was incredible! A great performer with such an easy rapport with the audience. Between songs, it felt like you were sitting in her living room chatting about life.

It was the perfect ending to a fantastic trip in Toronto.

Posted by tammy_b 21:45 Archived in Canada Tagged toronto royal_ontario_museum dondas_square dale_chihuly kensington_market burger's_priest carousel_bakery st._lawrence_market distillery_district Comments (0)

The Emerald Isle - Galway (Part 3)

Galway and Surrounding Areas

Today we were headed to Galway and on the way we stopped in Adare which was a quaint storybook village. We had a little time to walk around and take in the sights.

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We also stopped at the Cliffs of Moher. It was a really windy day but the cliffs were incredible.

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Afterward, we made a quick pass through the village of Lisdoonvarna which hosts a month-long matchmaking festival each September. As many as 60,000 attendees from all over the world descend on this tiny village with hopes of finding love...or at least a cute Irishman for a few days.

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Castle ruins were everywhere throughout the countryside. I would have loved to stop and poke around some of them.

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After arriving in Galway, we checked into the Harbour Hotel. It was adequate but nothing to write home about. I guess I was spoiled from my previous few days at Dunloe. Looking out my hotel room window, I noticed the view of the cemetery across the street.

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Creepy or quaint? I couldn't decide.

Other than the hotel, I loved Galway. It was easy to navigate and very walkable with lots of shops, restaurants, and street buskers. It felt artsy and vibrant.

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Over the next several days, we saw the following places:

Inishmore

We took a ferry to Inishmore which is the largest of the three Aran Islands. It turned out to be one of my favorite places that we visited.

How can you not fall in love with a place where people build tiny fairy houses in their front yard?

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Dun Aengus is a Celtic stone fort that sits dramatically on a cliff. The hike to get there was a little long but the views were stunning.

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These are some additional pictures from around the island.

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Kylemore Abbey

This estate was absolutely breathtaking and has quite a colorful history. It started as a hunting lodge where a couple honeymooned. Later they purchased the land and built their dream home...a castle. When the Mrs. died unexpectedly, it was then sold to an American heiress and her husband, the 9th Duke of Manchester. It's rumored that the Duke had a terrible gambling problem and subsequently lost the estate in a bet. Later, the castle became a sanctuary for a group of nuns that fled Belgium during WWI and today it continues to be a working monastery.

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This is the neo-Gothic church on the grounds.

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This is the Victorian Walled Garden

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This tree looked like one inhabited by a fairy so I had to get a picture. There were lots of them everywhere.

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Well, my Irish adventure was coming to an end as I was flying home in the morning. What an incredible trip! There were so many beautiful sights, each more amazing than the last, and the people were some of the friendliest that I've ever encountered.

The group I travelled with was fantastic. The schedule was hectic at times with little down time but I never would have seen as much on my own. Because I didn't have to worry about all of the logistics and planning on this trip, I returned home truly relaxed.

Posted by tammy_b 12:59 Archived in Ireland Tagged inishmore galway cliffs_of_moher adare dun_aengus kylemore_abbey Comments (0)

The Emerald Isle - Killarney (Part 2)

Killarney and Surrounding Areas

This morning the group was heading out to Killarney to spend the next three nights.

On the way, we stopped at the Rock of Cashel which is an imposing walled structure that looms over the countryside. Within the walls is a cathedral, Cormac's chapel, round tower, and cemetery. Most of the surviving buildings are from the 12th and 13th centuries.

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These ruins are the Hore Abbey just below the main site.

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After a little time to explore and grab lunch, we travelled on to the Dunloe Castle Hotel.

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It was located in an idyllic country setting and very peaceful. I loved wandering the grounds on my own to take it all in. I would have loved another day or so just to enjoy the serenity. By far, this was my favorite hotel while in Ireland. Absolute perfection!

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There was a small castle on the grounds just past the gardens. Only the outer shell remains but it was still cute.

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I especially loved the horses. I was so enthralled by them...I think I took a hundred pictures. My room had a balcony overlooking the back pasture so I could watch them come in for the night at sunset and then watch them grazing in the morning.

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The next few days were spent exploring:

Killarney National Park

Muckross House was a mansion built in 1843 and is part of the Killarney National Park. We did a brief guided tour of the interior with a little time to explore the grounds and gardens.

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From Muckross Pier, we boarded boats and crossed the three lakes of Killarney (Lower Lake, Muckross Lake, and Upper Lake.) It was a perfect day to be on the water with blue skies, sparkling water, and the wind in your face.

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Upon reaching the other side, we refueled on icecream at the small snack bar and boarded horse-drawn jarveys which took us on a 7 mile ride through the stunning scenery at Dunloe Gap.

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Our poor horse couldn't finish the trip. Ireland was having unseasonably warm temperatures and this was the horse's 2nd trip of the day. Luckily, his owner decided to call a truck to pick him up and take him back to the barn. We felt relieved since he really seemed to be struggling. We were happy to join others from our group in the jarvey behind us.

The ride ended at Kate Kearney's Cottage which was a group of buildings housing souvenirs and food.

Dingle Peninsula

This area had picturesque coastal and village views.

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Posted by tammy_b 21:44 Archived in Ireland Tagged dingle_peninsula rock_of_cashel muckross_house hore_abbey lakes_of_killarney dunloe_gap dunloe_castle_hotel Comments (0)

The Emerald Isle - Dublin (Part 1)

Dublin and Surrounding Areas

My trip to Ireland was a gift to myself for a long-time personal goal that was finally achieved. The plan for this 10-day trip was to stay in Dublin, Killarney, and Galway for three days each and take day trips to nearby areas for further sightseeing and exploration.

Getting There

On my day of departure, Eric dropped me off at the airport and I made my way to the counter to check my bag. The ticket agent proceeded to tell me that I wouldn't make my connecting flight in Newark later because of bad weather. I needed to come back tomorrow.

Wait a minute...what?!!?

I could see her lips moving and I could hear sounds but my brain just couldn't register what was going on.

I had the day off from work...my bags were packed...I made it to the airport in enough time...so why wasn't I leaving for Ireland today???

Apparently, there were terrible storms all across the northern U.S. with Chicago and Newark experiencing long delays and ground-stops.

So, I did the only thing, I could. I called Eric and asked him to turn around and pick me up.

I came back the next day and, luckily, made all of my flights. There were still some delays due to weather, but after travelling overnight, I finally made it to Dublin. After getting to my hotel and getting a shower, the first thing I wanted to do was sleep. BUT, I knew I needed to stay awake so I went down to the hotel restaurant and had lunch.

My first Irish meal...fish & chips!

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I look a little haggard but it was the best I could muster at this point. I just needed to make it through the day to get my sleep on track.

Later that afternoon, I met with my travel group in the hotel lobby and we officially started the tour with a glass of prosecco and introductions.

Then we set off for a whirlwind historical walking tour of Dublin.

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This is Trinity College where we saw the Book of Kells.

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Ha'penny Bridge

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The Temple Bar area

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St. Andrew's Church

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Dublin Castle

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St. Stephen's Green

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After the tour, we walked to Dax Restaurant for a wonderful dinner and time to get to know each other.

Over the next several days, we saw the following:

Powerscourt Estate in County Wicklow

The house was not really open for tours but the ballroom has been restored and can be rented for weddings. I love architecture and gardens so walking the grounds was really the highlight of this estate for me. Meandering foot paths took you to various gardens past ponds and fountains. Some of my favorite areas were the Japanese garden, walled garden, and the pet cemetery.

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Afterward, we stopped for lunch at a local pub and this was the first of many Irish coffees that I had during my vacation :-)

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Glendalough

South of Dublin and through the Wicklow Mountains is the ancient monastery of Glendalough. It was founded in the 6th century by St. Kevin. These buildings are thought to date between the 10th and 12th centuries.

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Riverdance

One night, we walked to the Gaiety Theatre to see "Riverdance." What a dream come true! Those dancers were incredible and exuded so much energy. How do they kick their legs so high?

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Newgrange

Newgrange is a prehistoric monument built around 3200 BC which makes it older than both Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. It is a circular mound with a narrow passageway that leads to an interior chamber. It was constructed so that sunlight from the winter solstice enters a small opening above the entrance and lights this chamber. At one point in the tour, the guides turned out all lights and demonstrated with a flashlight so we could get a sense of how the chamber was lit. There is actually a lottery for the winter solstice. You can enter a drawing and the winner can be in the chamber for the winter solstice when the sunlight enters.

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The landscape around the monument looked just as I had imagined the Irish countryside to look. It was magical.

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On our last night in Dublin, we had dinner at the Brazen Head Pub which included an entertaining storyteller who recounted various fairy and folk tales to us throughout our meal.

Posted by tammy_b 21:43 Archived in Ireland Tagged dublin glendalough newgrange powerscourt_estate riverdance Comments (0)

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