Saturday, December 12, 2015

Fuzzy in Caceres

Hi Kids,

This is me sitting outside the wall of historic Caceres in western Spain. Caceres is really a city in a city. The historic part is centuries old -- parts of some of the buildings go back to Roman times. It's such a wonderful place, it has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In olden times, many cities built walls for protection and Caceres is one of them. Once there was no more room inside the wall, more of the city built up outside. Today Caceres is a large city with modern skyscrapers -- but the heart of the city is very old. That's where Miss Elaine and I stayed. Here's part of what we saw the first day there.

As you can see, the buildings don't look like downtown Edmond! These buildings are 400 to 500 years old.
The streets are very narrow and the town is hilly. Early builders liked to build their towns on top of hills so they could see if an enemy was coming!
There are a number of plazas in the town -- public squares where people gather to visit or to eat. Spanish shops close for several hours every afternoon so everyone can go home and take a siesta (nap). When they get up -- you can tell this is late afternoon by the shadows -- they like to have a small snack. Spanish people eat dinner much later than we do. Many restaurants don't open until 8 or 8:30. I'll tell you more about that in another post.
This is a statue of San Pedro -- we'd call him Saint Peter -- in front of the main cathedral. People think it will bring them good luck if they rub the statue's toes. If they want to find a boyfriend or girlfriend, they kiss the toes. You can see how shiny the toes are from all that rubbing! Miss Elaine and I rubbed the toes, too. But we knew we were already lucky -- we were in beautiful Spain!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Big Cheese

Hi Kids,
Have you ever been to a cheese museum?  This building is over a hundred years old and it used to be a house where shepherds lived. They kept their sheep out in the hills and would watch them every day. And they milked them, just like people milk cows. And they made cheese from the milk.   
These are Merino sheep -- the kind that make the milk that my new favorite cheese is made from.  The tree is an olive tree.  Did you know olives grow on trees?  I thought they came out of jars!
This is what the kitchen looked like when the shepherds lived here. The big pot is the stove -- they would build a fire under it. This doesn't look like our kitchens today, does it? The lady at the museum let me sit in the child's chair. The mother would have sat in the other chair and stirred the pot.
After we visited the cheese museum house, we went to a modern factory where they make the cheese today.
Everybody had to wear hairnets and aprons and shoe covers and gloves so everything would stay very clean. They didn't have any my size, so I had to wait outside while Miss Elaine went in. When she came back, there was a nice surprise.
We got to sample several kinds of cheeses that they make here.  Yum!
This is Ricardo Vivas. He is holding a torta del Casar (cah-SAHR) -- that kind of means "cake from Casar" -- because it is round and flat like a cake. But it's not cake -- it's cheese. The outside is called the rind -- you don't eat that part -- but when you slice the top off.......
Inside is wonderful, creamy cheese! It's the consistency of pudding but it's not sweet. It's cheesy -- a little salty, a little stinky--in a good way-- and it's wonderful. It is only made in a tiny area in Spain and only eight family businesses make this cheese so it's very hard to get in the United States. I hope Miss Elaine will take me back to Spain some day so I can have some more torta del Casar!

We had lots of good food on this trip but I liked this cheese -- and all the desserts -- best!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Fuzzy Goes to Madrid

Hola, Kids,

I hope you got my postcards -- so you know I am in Spain.  Miss Elaine and I are at a restaurant called Platea. That's a strange name for a restaurant because it means a certain kind of seating in a theater. But this restaurant used to be a movie theater so that's why.  The restaurant has several levels. We were eating in an area where people order small plates of food called tapas -- they share with one another and usually get several plates so they can try different things.

Lots of people like to shop when they travel.  We went to a big department store and I found a friend. Her name is Carolina. In the toy department there were many of the same toys we have here in Los Estados Unidos (that's Spanish for The United States) -- even Elsa and Spiderman toys.

Our favorite thing to do is sightseeing. We loved the beautiful buildings with their pretty colors and little balconies. Many of them had red tiled roofs.  There were lots of trees in downtown Madrid and a number of beautiful parks.

One of the parks was called the Plaza de Espana (Square of Spain) -- it was right across the street from our hotel.  There is a huge monument there to Spain's most famous author, Miguel de Cervantes. His most famous book is called "Don Quixote."  This is a statue of Don Quixote (on the horse) and his friend Sancho Panza (on a donkey). Some day you may want to read this book.

Miss Elaine and I got to see the Royal Palace (the one on the post card I sent you). We bought the card and the stamps nearby.  We didn't have time to see inside the palace.  It is very big -- there are more than 3,000 rooms.  I would like to go back to Madrid some day and see it.  There are lots of things to see in Madrid and we were only there for two days!

This was my very favorite thing in Madrid!  We met a very nice policeman and he let me sit on his horse. The police in Madrid have regular police cars and motorcycles but I like it that they still have horses, too.

Madrid was very beautiful and people were very friendly. As we say in Spanish, "Me gusta Espana!'  That means "I like Spain!"  Any way you say it, Spain is a wonderful country!



Monday, October 19, 2015

Rock Stars

Hi Kids,
     Did you know that over one hundred years ago, people in our government gave us a great gift?  As explorers headed west, they found many beautiful areas of the country -- places no one had ever seen. These explorers knew that these places should be saved for all time -- so their children, grandchildren and even great-great-great-grandchildren could see them, too.
      In 1872, President Grant declared that the area around the Yellowstone River was so special it should be a national park. That was our first one.
     As time went on, this seemed like such a good idea that President Theodore Roosevelt decided in 1906 that other special places should be preserved also. Ten years later, the National Park Service, the department of the government that is in charge of all the national parks and other nationally-designated sites, was created. Next year the NPS will celebrate its 100th birthday. I want to help celebrate by seeing as many of these places as I can.
     On my recent trip, I got to see several of them. The land in the picture above is in the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. I think I sent you a postcard from there. Part of the land in the park is called the Painted Desert. You can see why by looking at all the colors in the hills. These colors are created by different minerals in the soil.
           I met a new friend here. She is seven -- just like some of you -- and she liked the colors, too.
     This is Mr. Jack. He is standing by some petrified trees. These trees were alive and growing over two million years ago. They have become fossilized. That means that water seeped into the wood, depositing minerals which eventually replaced all the natural wood material with stone. Over thousands of years, the stone trees broke into smaller pieces.

                                                                      And this is me!

     This is what the petrified wood looks like up close. You can tell it is rock -- it doesn't look like wood at all. I think it is very pretty, don't you? Aren't you glad that these special places are protected? No one is allowed to take even a tiny pebble from a national park. So all these great things will be there for you when you go!

More travels soon,

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Fuzzy Wuzzy Saw a Bear

Hi Kids,
     Since I wrote to you last, I have been to eastern Tennessee twice! Tennessee is very proud of having a lot of bears, especially in the mountains in eastern Tennessee. Miss Elaine and I stayed in Sevierville in December and in Pigeon Forge in January. Both towns are close to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
     Do you see the blue mountains in the background of this picture? It's that hazy blue color that give the mountains their name. Miss Elaine and I got to visit the park. This is me with Park Management Assistant Dana Soehn. We met her at the park visitor center. They have a cool little museum there and a great film about the park. Miss Elaine bought a copy of the film -- we would like to come show it to you someday.
     We took a hike in the woods. 

                                    And guess what we saw!
     No, that's not a big black rock! It's a bear! We weren't very close to him. Miss Elaine has a special lens on her camera that makes things look close-up. And he wasn't very cooperative about posing. We couldn't see his face. I was glad he couldn't see us!
     Back in Pigeon Forge, we visited the Old Mill. This mill is 175 years old. They still grind corn into corn meal here -- without electricity. Do you see the big wheel? The water falling over the dam turns the wheel which is connected to gears and pulleys inside the building. This machinery turns a big stone called a millstone. There's another stone, which doesn't move, beneath it. The moving stone is called the runner stone and the stationary stone (it stays still) is called the bedstone. Corn kernels are dropped onto the bedstone, then ground by the runner stone. Miss Elaine bought some corn meal there and we had some good cornbread when we came home!
     Near the Old Mill is the Pigeon River Pottery. We got to see potter Tommy Bullen making some pottery bears.
     He and the other potters who work at the Pigeon River Pottery make lots of things -- dishes, sinks and lots of bears. Miss Elaine and I ate at the Pottery House Cafe and the salt and pepper shakers were made by the Pigeon River Pottery!
    There are lots of cool shops in Pigeon Forge. We even found a Build-a-Bear store. I'm a Build-a-Bear bear, you know. I tried on some clothes but they didn't have a nice fur coat so I decided I didn't need anything.
     It was fun meeting some new bear buddies!
    There are many interesting things to do in this part of the country. One of my favorites was visiting Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg. They have a really long acrylic tunnel through the shark tank. That's a carpenter shark, more commonly called a sawfish, swimming overhead.
     They have lots of other kinds of fish, too. I really like the jellyfish because they are so pretty.
     In some of the tanks, they have pop-up bubbles in the middle so you feel like you're right in the aquarium with the fish. A nice little girl took me in with her.
     I hope you get to visit Tennessee sometime. I really enjoyed my trips there!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

King of the Castle

Hi Kids,
     To the right is a map of the United Kingdom (sometimes called Great Britain) -- ask your teacher to show you where it is on the world map.  Miss Elaine's daughter Zoe lives way down toward the left corner of the map.  Can you see the small green arrow?  That is pointing to Penzance in the county of Cornwall in England.
      The little yellow lump on the left is the country of Wales.  It's not very large -- less than half the size of Massachusetts and about the size of the Oklahoma panhandle plus the two contiguous (I love that word -- it means "next to" something) counties.
      Miss Zoe, Miss Elaine, Mr. Jack and I drove to Wales.  Actually, Miss Zoe did all the driving.  In the U.K (short for United Kingdom) everybody drives on the left side of the road, which is very confusing for people used to driving on the right.
     Wales may be a small country but it is packed with fantastic scenery, things to do and CASTLES.  There are 641 castles in Wales.  They are very old. I don't think anybody lives in them any more -- at least not in the ones we visited!

Can you see me in the picture above?  I look very small in front of the huge gateway into the Cardiff Castle grounds.  The castle is surrounded by a huge wall.

This is part of the wall.  There are cool animals on top of it.  I like this proud lion.  Beside him is the Clock Tower.  There is a lot of space within the castle walls.  The actual castle is very small.

     This is the real castle.  It is very old.  Originally there was a Roman fort on the site.  Later some people called Normans invaded Britain and built a wooden castle here but it didn't last and they replaced it with this stone one about 800 years ago.  The castle has been repaired so you can walk into some of the rooms but no one could live here.  About 150 years ago a very rich man bought the castle property.  There was a medieval (about 500 years old) house built into the wall on one side.

 He it restored and decorated like he thought a medieval castle would have looked.  Below is the banqueting hall -- much bigger than a regular dining room.

     The fanciest room in his house is called the Arab Room because he thought an Arabian palace might look like this.  The ceiling is covered with real gold.

     Zoe's favorite thing was seeing the falconry exhibit.  She got to hold this four-pound eagle owl named Hector.  Miss Elaine wanted to take my picture with him but I didn't want to get too close.  Do you see those talons?

          Below is a picture of Castle Coch.  It was almost a total ruin until the family that bought Cardiff Castle bought it and fixed it up.  It is one of many castles built by King Edward I of England.  He wanted to control the people in the area so he built castles all across the land and stationed his soldiers there to keep order.

     Cerreg Cennen Castle is another of Edward I's castles.  As you can see, no one has restored it.  The hilltop location gave the soldiers a good view of any approaching enemies.  Long before Edward got here, the Romans had built a fort on this site for the same reason.

The day we visited, it was drizzly and chilly.  My fur was getting damp and Miss Elaine was cold and didn't want to climb that big hill so Miss Zoe took the camera and took pictures while the rest of us stayed inside and drank hot tea!

The largest castle we saw was in the northern part of the country at Caernarfon.  It's not the biggest castle in Wales but probably the most important and has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It was here in1282 that the son of Edward I was born -- the first English Prince of Wales.  

     The castle's location by the River Seiont gave the King easy access to the sea.  Here's a view from inside the castle.

     This is another of Edward's castles, Beaumaris, on the island of Anglesey.  It, too, had easy access to the ocean.  This is me by the moat.

     A little over a hundred years after it was built, it was captured and held by Welsh soldiers of Owain Glyndwr, who held it for two years before the English recaptured it.  Owain Gwyndwr was the most important leader for the independence of Wales and he is still a hero there today.  He's kind of their George Washington, except Wales is still a part of the United Kingdom instead of an independent nation.

     In olden days there was a heavy wooden grill that could be lowered over the entrance.  The castle was also protected by murder holes where soldiers inside could pour boiling oil down on anyone trying to break in.  Arrow slits were built so that archers could shoot out but it would be very difficult for anyone to shoot in.
Conwy Castle was the last castle we visited -- we only have 635 more to go!  Here is a drawing of the castle:

     By now, Miss Elaine and I were a little tired of castles.  We went inside but didn't spend much time there.  I did pose with a large wooden sculpture called "The Guard".  Can you see me on his lap?

     The castle is built into a wall which surrounds the whole city.  This is part of the wall near where many of King Edward's most important helpers worked.  Do you see those little boxy-looking pieces that stick out of the wall?  Those are toilets the king built for his men.  Plumbing was very different in those days -- just a bench with a hole in it.  Watch out below!

     After we toured the castle, we went to dinner.  When we came out, it had rained and the sun was coming out.  The sun was going down but just hit the top of the castle.  Don't you think this is pretty?