Zurich

The next stop on my three weeks of travel was the beautiful city of Zurich, Switzerland. I spent two days here, with one of the days being a side trip to Jungfraujoch, but more on that later.

Accommodation was at the ibis Airport Hotel. The cost was reasonable at $70 CDN, although the rooms were rather simple, but the beds were comfortable.

Zurich is Switzerland’s largest city at 408000 people. Switzerland has a population of 8.2 million people. Before we take a look at Zurich let’s look at a bit of history of Switzerland and how Zurich came to be.

Switzerland’s history is rather young. Switzerland was inhabited by the Gauls Raetians and was under Roman rule in the 1st century BC. The Gallo-Roman culture was combined with German influence during 235-284 AD time period. The Swiss Confederation was founded in 1291 as a defensive alliance among three cantons (similar to states or provinces). Other localities joined the original three cantons over the years. The Swiss Confederation became independent of the Holy Roman Empire in 1499. The constitution of 1848 replaced the confederations with a centralized federal government. This constitution was modified again in 1874. Switzerland’s sovereignty and neutrality have long been honoured by the major European powers and the country was not involved in either of the two world wars. Switzerland did not become a European Union member until 2002, but maintains its own currency.

Zurich has an extensive tram network that would make many other cities jealous. The trams run every 6 minutes and are very punctual. This keeps traffic extremely light in the city as most people take public transport. Other cities that I have visited that have had great success with trams are Amsterdam, and Melbourne. Two cities that I’ve visited that used to a great tram network before the 1950’s rush to build automotive highways were Auckland, New Zealand and my home town Calgary, Canada. The mayor of Auckland even ordered the removal of some of the tram lines in the middle of the night! It’s a shame because these two cities are absolutely plugged with traffic.

Zurich is an extremely wealthy city, and Switzerland is also an extremely wealthy country with a large population working white collar jobs such as Google (3000 people in Zurich alone), fine quality jewelery and watches, chocolate, and banking and finance.

Zurich straddles both sides of the Limmat river and has many bridges that offer fantastic views, and a beautiful viewpoint from Lindenhof Park. Another wonderful spot for photographs is Grossmunster church, a Romanesque-style Protestant church, which was built between 1100 and 1220 AD.

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Check back shortly for the final installment of my trip; a trip to Jungfraujoch, a notable saddle in the Bernese Alps, connection the two peaks of Junfrau and Monch.

Santorini

I just spent a few days on the beautiful Greek island of Santorini. Santorini’s history dates back to roughly 5000 BC.

Accommodation was at Villa Danezis. This luxury villa was rather affordable at $70 CDN per night and is managed by the owners who live on site. The villa has ten beautiful appointed rooms with nice art work, a sizeable outdoor pool, a beautiful patio area, and morning coffee with delicious home made muffins.

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During my stay I rented a car as it was a lot easier than trying to take the local transit, despite it being a more expensive choice. When I was on the island I did the famous Fira to Oia hike in reverse, which took about 3 hours to complete and is rated moderate. The hike takes you through both the ancient districts, and along the mountainous terrain between the two districts, with many beautiful old churches painted in blue and white. All of the “towns” on the islands are now just referred to as districts of Thera (Thira), since 2011 when the government decided to do so.

I explored Oia and Fira in detail, visited the old Akrotiri Lighthouse on the south side, and the ancient towns of Akrotiri and Ancient Thera.

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The ancient town of Akrotiri date’s back to as early as 5000 BC, when it was a small fishing and farming village. By about 3000 BC the community had developed and expanded significantly. Akrotiri continued to prosper over the years with the introduction of paves streets, an extensive drainage system, and high quality pottery and craftsmanship. This all came to an end in 1627 when the volcanic eruption of Thera buried the entire community in volcanic ash. The community wasn’t found again until 1867 when some locals found some old artifacts in a quarry. Extensive modern excavations of the site occurred in 1967 by Professor Spyridon Marinatos. Excavations are still ongoing to this day.

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The ancient town of Ancient Thera date’s back to 9th century BC until 726 AD when it was buried after a small eruption of the volcano of Santorini covered it in pumice stone. The ancient city was re-discovered in 1895 by Friedrich Hiller von Gaertringen and excavations started to occur between 1961 and 1982, and 1990 and 1994.

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I also ate some of the most amazing food I’ve had in my life. The meat and vegetables are so fresh and the Greek meals are delicious; whether it was traditional Greek coffee, Greek salad, fresh sea food, or vegetarian dishes. Yes you read that correctly, vegetarian dishes! Santorini has vegetarian only restaurants and they serve incredible food; my personal favorite being Tranquilo where I had Greek salad and goat cheese filled hot peppers.

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Another fantastic restaurant that you must visit is To Briki. I had traditional Greek coffee served with old wine grapes soaked in honey, deep fried Greek cheese, and amazing smoked salmon and avocado bruschetta.

Check back shortly for my next blog post where I explore the beautiful city of Zurich!

Athens!

I just spent the last three days in the city of Athens, Greece. Athens, the capital city of Greece, is one of the oldest cities in the world, having been continuously inhabited for over 5000 years. Most of the history has occurred within the last 3400 years, with many prosperous moments and many moments of decline. The city was named after the goddess Athena after she won a competition with Poseidon over who would become the protector of the city. The location of the city was chosen because of its mild climate which was suitable for growing food, and close proximity to the Saronic Golf.

In 1400 BC Athens became an important settlement because it was the centre of Mycenaean civilization and housed the Acropolis Mycenaean fortress. Athens suffered destruction in 1200 BC (the bronze age) and went into economic decline for about 150 years afterwards.

In 900 BC Athens again became a leading centre of trade and was rather prosperous. This didn’t last more than a few hundred years before massive social unrest led to the reforms of Solon in 600 BC and the eventual introduction of democracy by Cleisthenes in 508 BC. Athens was also invaded twice (lets call it three times) by the Persians; once in 490 BC (which was unsuccessful) and twice within the same year in 480 BC. The Athenians and Spartans eventually defeated the Persian army in the Battle of Plataea in 479 BC.

The following decades were the prosperous Golden Age, during which time Athens became the leading city of Ancient Greece and the start of western civilization. During the Golden Age the Parthenon was built on the site of the Acropolis. Art, drama and philosophy were significantly developed during the Golden Age as well. The Peloponnesian wars between the Athenians and Sparta (yes Sparta turned on the Athenians) eventually brought an end to the Golden Age, but Athens continued to play an important cultural and intellectual center.

By mid 400 BC the Northern Greek kingdom of Macedon was becoming a dominant force and in 338 BC the army of Philip II ended Athenian independence. Alexander the Great made Athens obsolete by the 2nd century BC, and Greece was taken over by the Romans. The Roman’s ruled Greece for the next 500 years, and eventually converted Greece to Christianity and ended the Athens role as the center of pagan learning, and the schools of philosophy were closed in 529 AD, which marked the end of Ancient Athens and Ancient Greece.

The Byzantine’s ruled Athens by the end off 529 AD until 1204, a time of uncertainty and decline, but Athens was able to maintain its strong presence due to the Acropolis fortress. In 1204 the Fourth Crusade took over Athens and the Latins ruled Athens until 1458 when the Ottoman Empire took over.

The Greek Revolution occurred in 1821, and Greece was established as an independent Greek state in 1830 by the Treaty of London and Athens was once again proclaimed the Capital. Population quickly grew after the Greco-Turkish War in 1921 when over a million Greek refugees from Asia Minor were resettled in Greece.

Athens was occupied by the Nazis during World War II. Athens again began to grow as people migrated into the city looking for world following World War II. In 1981 Greece joined the European Union, which was crucial as Athens was in dire needs for an infusion of cash as it was crippled with social and environmental problems. Athens even failed to secure the 1996 Olympics because of its environmental and infrastructure problems, which should have been a huge milestone as it was the 100 year anniversary since the first modern day Olympic Games in 1896!

Since 1996 major initiatives to improve Athens infrastructure have occurred. A new airport has been built, a new metro system, and limiting the use of cars in the city centre to reduce air pollution.

Athens hosted the 2004 Olympic Games, which were considered a great success, but the facility quickly fell into disarray due shoddy craftsmanship and human destruction.

Greece again has fallen into economic disaster since the 2008 world economic recession, and has still yet to recover.

During my visit to Athens I saw the following sites:

  • 2004 Olympic Stadium
  • Technopolis (A former Coal Gas Generation Site)
  • Ancient Agora of Athens (including Hellenistic Stoa of Attalos and Temple of Hephaestus)
  • Hadrian’s Library
  • Acropolis (including Parthenon, Erechtheion, Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Theatre of Dionysus, Temple of Athena Nike)
  • Acropolis Museum
  • Kerameikos Cemetery
  • Zappeion
  • Hadrian’s Arch
  • Temple of Olympian Zeus
  • Panathenaic Stadium
  • Mount Lycabettus
  • Communities of Plaka, Psyri, and Thiseio

Athens hosted the 2004 Olympics. What once was a beautiful facility back in 2004 has been thoroughly trashed by humans and left to decay in the weather. I wish we would build a few good quality Olympic facilities throughout the world and then have participating countries pay for upkeep of these facilities rather than financially burdening the cities these are built in. Prior to the 2000’s we could build an Olympic venue for under $1 billion but now the sticker price has shot to $50+ billion.

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The site of Technopolis is an old coal gas plant that’s been converted into a museum and a trendy area with a coffee shop, restaurant, and a place to host events. I love seeing old places like this preserved like this. Coal gas was used to heat homes and for gas lanterns from the last 1800’s to about the 1940’s in many large cities including Athens, and in Seattle (I posted about this one previously. Just look up my Seattle blog. That one was also preserved).

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The Ancient Agora of Athens dates back to 6th century BC and was used as a gathering place. The ruins were found in 1931 and currently being excavated even to this day. Over 20 buildings originally resided on the site, with only two currently standing. The Hellenistic Stoa of Attalos was reconstructed on the east side of the agora in the 1950’s, and the Temple of Hephaestus.

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Hadrian’s Library was created in 132 AD by Roman Emperor Hadrian. The building was built in typical Roman architecture style. The library was severely damaged in the Herculean invasion of 267 AD and wasn’t repaired until 412 AD. During the Byzantine times three churches were built on the site, with some of the remains being preserved as you can see below.

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The Acropolis of Athens is an ancient citadel located on a rocky outcrop that towers above the city of Athens at 490 feet above sea level. The citadel houses the remains of many ancient buildings including the Parthenon, Erechtheion, Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Theatre of Dionysus, and Temple of Athena Nike. The Acropolis was constructed over time from the 6th Century BC onwards and was used to defend the city against many wars (see way above). The Parthenon and other buildings were severely damaged during the 1687 siege by the Venetians during the Morean War when gunpowder that was being stored in the Parthenon was hit by a cannonball and exploded. During the following years the Acropolis had a variety of Byzantine, Frankish and Ottoman structures. After the Greek Wars of Independence (1821-1822 and 1826-1827) these structures were cleared from the site to restore the monument to its original form.

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The Acropolis Museum was absolutely fantastic, but sadly I wasn’t allowed to take any photographs except in designated areas. The museum will open up a tour of the archaeological dig site underneath the building starting next year. You can already see the dig site through the glass floor, but it would be amazing to explore them up close and personal.

The Kerameikos Cemetery dates back to roughly to the 3rd millennium BC, but became the site of an organized cemetery around 1200 BC.

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Completed in 1888 in Neoclassical architecture, The Zappeion was erected specifically for the revival of the Olympic Games in the modern world and used as the main fencing hall. The Panathenaic stadium was also refurbished during this time. It received many different uses throughout history:

  • In 1906 it was used as the Olympic Village
  • Between 1938 and 1970 t was used by the National Radio Foundation
  • In 1979 the signing of the documents formalizing Greece’s accession to the European Community
  • Between 1998 and 1999 it was used as the first hose for the organizing committee (ATHOC) for the 2004 games
  • In 2004 it was used as a press center
  • Today it is used as a conference and exhibition center

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Hadrian’s Arch, also known as Hadrian’s Gate is a monumental gateway that spanned an ancient road from the center of Athens. Built in 132 AD, it is believed that the arch was built to celebrate the arrival of Roman Emperor Hadrian.

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The Temple of Olympian Zeus is a former colossal temple. It was dedicated to the Olympian Zeus. Construction started in the 6th century BC but was not completed until 2nd century AD! The Athenian tyrants building the greatest temple in the ancient world, but this didn’t occur and it took 638 years to complete the project. The temple included 104 columns, and was the largest temples in Greece, but not in the world. The temple’s use was short lived and fill into disarray by 3rd century AD, and slowly reduced to ruins thereafter.

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The Panathenaic Stadium was originally completed in 330 BC and was used as a multi-purpose stadium. The 330 BC creation was made of limestone, but today’s creation (since 144 AD) is made entirely of marble.

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The stadium was abandoned between the 4th and 18th century due to Christianity, and was even buried during this time frame. It was excavated in 1869 and used in 1870 and 1875 to host the Zappas Olympics.

It was then refurbished in 1896 and was used to host the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympics in 1896 and as the venue for 4 of the 9 contested sports during that time frame.

It was even used in the 2004 Athens Olympics as a finishing point for the Athens Classic Marathon and the last venue in Greece where the Olympic flame handover ceremony to the host nation takes place.

Mount Lycabettus provides a fantastic view of the city. €5 will buy you a one way ride up or €7.50 for a return ticket. I decided to ride up and walk down as the funicular only runs every 30 minutes. I had a fantastic lunch consisting of Greek Salad and a Chicken Souvlaki.

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2018-08-20 – Nairobi, Kenya

Today I woke up at 7:30am. I had a shower and went downstairs to have a buffet breakfast, which was complimentary. The buffet had an excellent selection of cheeses, meats, omelets, sausages, pancakes, etc.

After having breakfast I went and explored the city of Nairobi and bought some groceries as the hotel lunch and dinner menus are exceptionally expensive. I purchased a muffin, yoghurt, bananas, oranges, and a bag of chips for under $5 USD at a local market called Tusky’s!

Since I didn’t have too much going on today I did a lot of reading on the history of Kenya, and the capital City; Nairobi. I’ve consolidated the information that i read into something that you can read in about five minutes.

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Kenya has seen human habitation since the begging of the Lower Paleolithic, back over 3.2 million years ago! In 2011 stone tools were discovered at Lomekwi near Lake Turkana, and these are the oldest stone tools found in the world. Kenya is a very ethnically diverse country with a mixture of African, Arabs, European and Asian individuals. There are 69 different languages spoken in Kenya, with English and Swahili being the most common spoken.

There are over 48 million people living in Kenya (estimated as the last official census was in 2009 and that census had some controversy behind it), and just over 6.5 million people residing in the capital city of Nairobi (including the metropolitan area).

Kenya was colonized by the British from 1888 to 1962. Nairobi was founded in 1899 by the colonial authorities in British East Africa, as a rail depot on the Uganda Railway. The town grew quickly and replaced Machakos as the capital city in 1907. After gaining independence from the British in 1963, Nairobi became the capital city of the Republic of Kenya.

Kenya’s economy relies heavily on Tourism, Agriculture, Industrial Manufacturing, Telecommunication, and Finance. Telecommunication and Finance account for about 60% of the total GDP of the country, and only 20% comes from agriculture even though that over 75% of the workforce is employed in Agriculture. Kenya’s economy is just starting to boom and is it definitely shows when I was walking the streets of Nairobi. You see a lot of economic diversity on the streets. On one street you see wealthier business people dressed in suits with laptops, cellphones, and nicer cars; then on the next street you see slums with tents and people selling textiles and food. 20% of Kenyans live on only $1.25/day but that wage is rising sharply with the economic growth!

As with any developing country with a developing economy there is a rather unwelcome problem of pollution in the form deforestation, water shortage, degraded water quality, and air pollution.

The main source of water pollution in Kenya is the direct and indirect discharge of raw sewage into water bodies. According to the UN Environment over 80% of the world’s water is released into the environment without treatment.

The main source of air pollution in Kenya is from industrial activity and the use of low quality fuels and diesel. Kenya is one of the few African countries that doesn’t use leaded petrol thankfully. According to the UN environment, overall environmental degradation causes 1 out of 4 deaths worldwide. This is an alarming statistic!

Kenya has taken some initiative to try to and solve some of the issues. One of these solutions was to ban plastic bags by imposing some of the world’s stiffest fines. I have noticed no plastic bags so far so I can definitely say this is helping. There is still a huge use of plastic for water bottles as the water in the country is mostly undrinkable due to contamination. Nairobi supposedly has water that is drinkable, but I’m not going to chance it. Another initiative that was taken was to built a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) network in Nairobi, where traffic jams plague the city. People on average spend 3-5 hours stuck in gridlock and it has a huge tole on the air quality and economy; as its believed to cost 2% of the country’s GDP in lost productivity! I can believe it as I find the air pollution stifling here; even worse than what I experienced in my travels to Thailand and limited travels in China.

Another positive is that 87% of Kenya’s main grid electricity (not including personal diesel generators) is generated from geothermal heat, water, and wind, which puts it up there with Iceland and Costa Rica in terms of clean energy production. Way to go Kenya!

Continue following my blog as tomorrow I start my 8 day Kenyan Safari trip; so you’ll be sure to see lots of photos of animals in the wild!

2018-05-24 – US Route 66 Day 8

Today we drove 330 miles from Grants, New Mexico to Flagstaff, Arizona. We ended up staying at The Marriott. We saw the following sights today:

  • Ice Cave & Volcano, Grants
  • Tomahawk Bar, Previtt
  • Continental Divide
  • Denny’s Original Diner (now Avalon), Gallup
  • Blue Spruce Lodge Sign, Gallup
  • Lariat Lodge, Gallup
  • Giant Yellow Kachina, Gallup
  • El Rancho Motel, Gallup
  • El Morro Theatre, Gallup
  • Giant Muffler Map, Gallup
  • ARMCO, Gallup
  • Giant Teppee, Lupton
  • 1931 Car, Holbrook
  • Painted Desert Indian Centre, Holbrook
  • Bucket of Blood Street & Saloon, Holbrook
  • Rainbow Rock Shop, Holbrook
  • Joe & Aggie’s Cafe, Holbrook
  • Holbrook Inn, Holbrook
  • Wigwam Motel, Holbrook
  • Globetrotter Lodge, Holbrook
  • Plainsman Restaurant, Holbrook
  • Geronimo & Petrified Log, Holbrook
  • Jack Rabbit Trading Post Signs, Holbrook
  • La Posada Hotel, Winslow
  • Cottage Gas Station, Winslow
  • Standing on the Corner Park, Winslow
  • Delta Motel, Winslow
  • Two Guns Ghost Town
  • Twin Arrow Trading Post, Twin Arrows

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2018-05-23 – US Route 66 Day 7

Today we drove 350 miles from Vega, Texas to Grants, New Mexico. We ended up staying at The Super 8, which was a horrible hotel. We had no working air conditioner, no hot water, bed bugs, and no fire alarm. We saw the following sights today:

  • Route 66 Motel, Tucumari
  • Cactus RV Park, Tucumari
  • Tee Pee Curious, Tucumari
  • Town House Motel, Tucumari
  • Blue Swallow Motel, Tucumari
  • Motel Safari, Tucumari
  • Vista Gas Station, Tucumari
  • La Cita Flowers, Tucumari
  • Odeon Theatre, Tucumari
  • Quality Tire, Tucumari
  • Restored Gas Station, Tucumari
  • Route 66 Sculpture, Tucumari
  • Route 66 Museum, Tucumari
  • Ruins, Newkirk
  • Cuervo Church, Cuervo
  • Blue Hole, Santa Rosa
  • Joseph’s Bars & Grill, Santa Rosa
  • Club Café Sign, Santa Rosa
  • Comet II Restaurant, Santa Rosa
  • Musical Highway, Albuquerque
  • Premiere Motel, Albuquerque
  • Nob Hill District, Albuquerque
  • Route 66 Diner, Albuquerque
  • Triangle Substation, Albuquerque
  •  Kimo Theatre, Albuquerque
  • Dog House Drive In Signn, Albuquerque
  • Old Town, Albuquerque
  • San Felipe Church, Albuquerque
  • Monterey Non Smokers Motel, Albuquerque
  • El Vado Motel, Albuquerque
  • Westward Ho Hotel Sign, Albuquerque
  • Dead Mans Curve, Laguna
  • Cemetery, Budville
  • Old Town, Cubero
  • Gas Station, Cibola
  • Santa Maria Mission, San Fidel

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2018-05-22 – US Route 66 Day 6

Today we drove 230 miles from Clinton, Oklahoma to Vega, Texas. We ended up staying at The Days Inn. We saw the following sights today:

  • Glancy Motel, Clinton
  • Bess Rogers Drive, Clinton
  • Route 66 Museum, Clinton
  • Y Service Station, Clinton
  • Cotton Boll Motel Sign, Clinton
  • Canute Service Station, Canute
  • Tallest Oil Rig, Elk City
  • Old Town Museum, Elk City
  • Beckham County Courthouse, Sayre
  • Western Motel Sign, Sayre
  • Town of Erick
  • Water Hole Mural & Tumbleweed Grill, Texola. We had food here. Dad had Liver & Onions, and I had a Jalapeno Burger with Homemade Fries. Masel, the wonderful woman who owned the place, cooked us lunch and told us stories of her purchasing the place, fixing it up, and expanding it. She also purchased the bar next door and is going to fix it up.
  • Hot Rods Pizza, Shamrock
  • Big Verns Steakhouse, Shamrock
  • Conoco Tower Station and U Drop Inn, Shamrock. This beautiful gas station. Built in 1936 by J. M. Tindall and R. C. Lewis at the cost of $23,000. With its Art Deco detailing and two towers, the building was designed and constructed to be three separate structures. The first was the Tower Conoco Station, named for the dominating four-sided obelisk rising from the flat roof and topped by a metal tulip. The second was the U-Drop Inn Café, which got its name from a local schooolboy’s winning entry in a naming contest. The third structure was supposed to be a retail store that instead became an overflow seating area for the café.
  • Magnolia Gas Station, Shamrock
  • Devil’s Rope Museum, McLean
  • Cactus Inn, McLean
  • Phillips 66, McLean
  • Red River Steakhouse, McLean
  • Kiser 66, Alanreed
  • Leaning Tower, Groom
  • Chalet Inn, Groom
  • Cross of our Lord, Groom
  • Bug Ranch, Panhandle
  • Big Texcan Steak Ranch, Amarillo. This is the home of the 72 oz free steak if you can eat it in one hour or under.
  • Paramount Sign, Amarillo
  • Downtown Amarillo
  • Taylors Texaco, Amarillo
  • Helium Plant, Amarillo
  • Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo
  • Bonanza Motel, Vega
  • Magnolia Station, Vega

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