Visiting: Kalispell, Montana

The Stuck at the Airport adventure crew recently touched down in Kalispell, Montana for a quick visit to Glacier Park International Airport (FCA) and attractions in town.

The bear (above) greets arriving passengers in the airport bag claim area. And is a good reminder to visitors to pick up some bear spray before heading out into the woods.

Thank goodness one of the amenities at FCA airport is a place to rent bear spray.

Mansions, Museums, and Lots of Boots

Near downtown Kalispell, we stopped in for a guided tour of the 26-room Conrad Mansion Museum.

Built for the family of Charles E. Conrad, a Kalispell founding father, in 1895, the three-story home has been completely restored. Better yet, it is filled with an incredible amount of furniture, clothing, china, toys, sports equipment, books, guns, and other items that are original to the house.

In one of the guest rooms, we spotted this early handmade doll of Amelia Earhart with a great handmade toy airplane.

And in the pantry, we were delighted to find jars filled with old food.

In downtown Kalispell, the Hockaday Museum of Art is housed in a repurposed Carnegie Library building from 1904.

In addition to selections from its permanent collection, the museum’s current exhibition features paintings by Flathead Valley artist Nancy Dunlop Cawdrey, who is known for painting on silk.

The exhibition runs through June 17, 2023.

And over at the Northwest Montana History Museum, we learned a great deal about the natural, social, and political history of the region. And we made some new friends.

Of course, we also went shopping. And we were both delighted and overwhelmed to find more than 3000 pairs of boots and more than 1500 hats among the offerings of Western Outdoor.

Out & About in Arundel, England

Stuck at the Airport is out and about in the English countryside for a few days with Gary Gatwick, the mascot for London’s Gatwick Airport.

Arundel, in West Sussex, is an easy one-hour train ride from Gatwick Airport. The town looks like one of those storybook English towns we sometimes see on TV travel shows, castle and all.

Arundel offers charming B&Bs such as the House Arundel, as well as charming coffee shops, antique stores, and traditional English country pubs, such as the one we visited in The Swan Hotel.

Among the main attractions here are the Arundel Museum and the medieval Arundel Castle.

Collections at the Arundel Museum include pre-historic flint tools found in early settlements around the town, Roman floor tiles found at the site of a luxurious Roman villa, and the large WWII air raid siren that once sat on the roof of the Town Hall.

It’s a good idea to stop in at the museum to learn about the history of the town and get your bearings before heading up to the castle.

If you’re lucky, local history expert John Barkshire might be around to take you around the museum and point out his favorite objects. His family has been in Arundel since the early 1800s and we were honored to have him pose for a photo with Gary Gatwick while standing next to an exhibit about a rare illuminated church choir book from Arundel.

Arundel Castle

In a country that seems to be chock full of castles, the Arundel Castle stands out because it is so well-preserved and cared for. And because it is one of the longest inhabited castles in the United Kingdom.

First built at the end of the 11th century, it has been restored and rebuilt over the years and is currently the home to the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk and their children.

Before you visit, you can read all about the history of the castle here. When you do visit, be sure to wear sturdy shoes. That way you’ll be able to comfortably make your way through the hallways, bedrooms, staterooms, library, magnificent gardens, and up the narrow stone steps to the Keep. And there you’ll be rewarded with great views and, like Gary Gatwick, perhaps have an encounter with one of the knowledgable, in-character guides.

Touring London with Gatwick Airport’s Mascot

Stuck at The Airport is spending a couple of days in London as a guest of Gatwick Airport,, the airport’s mascot, Gary Gatwick, and a growing list of new local friends, some of whom got us out of a sticky situation. (More on that soon…)

After landing at Gatwick Airport and making the 30-minute journey to London’s Victoria Station on the Gatwick Express we were able to take in some sights before jet lag set in.

The View from Above

With Gary Gatwick in tow, we did what a lot of locals and tourists were doing on a warm, sunny day: we rode the elevators to the top of the Shard building. It’s the tallest building in the United Kingdom and the view from the observation floors at the top is just unbeatable.

Bonus: visitors can purchase drinks and snacks up top, get selfies galore, engage in some people-watching, and enjoy the gelato and air conditioning.

The View from the Water

Once we saw the views of the river from above, we wanted to see it from the water level.

The View from the River 50-minute circular cruise on the Uber Boat by Thames Clippers made that easy.

With a smart and witty tour guide on the microphone, we cruised by many of London’s iconic landmarks, including The Shard, the Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe theater, St Paul’s Cathedral, Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, The London Eye, and the Tower of London.

We also sailed under the Tower Bridge, which just happened to be opening to make way for a larger boat as we approached.

At one point our tour guide asked for a show of hands from all the Americans on board. No one but me raised their hand. A quick “Do you call it ‘football’ or ‘soccer’?’ survey from our guide confirmed that this tour has become quite popular with locals.

The Superbloom at the Tower of London

Day 2 of our whirlwind London tour included a visit to the Tower of London, the urban castle that served as a secure fortress, royal palace, and infamous prison, and is now also home to the very closely guarded Crown Jewels.

Courtesy Historic Royal Places

Again, we found ourselves mingling with more locals than tourists when we headed to the Tower of London to see how the historic moat around the tower has been transformed by a flower display dubbed the ‘Superbloom,’ and planted to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.

The flowers may die and fade and die back in the fall, a Superbloom volunteer told us. But he also assured us that the flowers should return each spring for at least the next four or five years.

Our tour in London also took us to the historic floating museum known as the HMS Belfast and on an unusual adventure on the underground. We’ll share details on both uniquely London experiences, and more, tomorrow.

Visiting ‘The Big Dipper’

You can’t get everywhere by airplane. Sometimes you need to paddle.

In Killarney, Ontario, on the North shore of the Georgian Bay, they get that.

That’s why they built ‘The Big Dipper,’ – a canoe paddle that is 107 feet long, with a blade width of 17 feet, weighing in at 22,000 pounds.

The paddle sits beside Canada House, which claims to be the world’s largest log conference center, located at the Killarney Mountain Lodge.

Why a big paddle?

According to the local tourism folks, it is meant to celebrate the history of the area.

The Great Lakes and Georgian Bay offered the voyagers access to miles of boating to transport all their products. They paddled their canoes through all kinds of conditions to establish the fur-trading economy, which was the origin of one of the oldest companies in the world: the still operating Hudson Bay Company. 

Seattle’s Space Needle gets a reboot

Seattle’s space-age inspired Space Needle marked a milestone in its $100 million makeover this week, with the unveiling of the first batch of specially-slanted clear glass benches on the outdoor Observation Deck at the 520-foot level.

The benches, dubbed “Skyrisers” are attached to some of the viewing deck’s newly-installed 11-foot tall glass windows and invite visitors to lean back and snap selfies that will make them appear to be floating out over the landscape.

Courtesy Space Needle LLC

Over the past year, while the Observation Deck remained open to the public, construction workers replaced the view-obstructing but structurally-necessary half wall and caging installed when the 605-foot-tall Space Needle was built – in just 400 days – as a centerpiece for the World’s Fair held in Seattle in 1962.

“We needed to update some of the aging mechanical and electrical systems in this 56-year-old building originally designed to look like a flying saucer on a stick,” said Karen Olson, chief marketing officer for Space Needle LLC, “And we figured, while we’re up there, let’s update the experience and expand the view.”

Seattle-based design firm Olson Kundig, the project architect, maintained the landmarked features of the building while significantly opening up the Observation Deck view with 48 floor-to-ceiling glass windows that are each 7 feet wide and 11 feet high.

The group also added direct viewing lines to the outside for everyone who steps off the elevator, a state-of-the art ADA lift that (finally) makes the outdoor deck fully accessible, an indoor café and the newly unveiled inclined glass “Skyrisers” that will make a trip to the top of the Space Needle super selfie-worthy.

While ten glass benches were unveiled this week in time for Memorial Day visitors, Space Needle officials say all 24 of the Observation Deck’s planned Skyrisers should be installed by the end of June.

Next phase: World’s first rotating glass floor

When the Space Needle opened at the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962, it featured a rotating restaurant on the 500-foot level, just below the Observation Deck, that operated on turntable powered first by a 1 horsepower and, later, a 1.5 horsepower motor. (While novel, it wasn’t the world’s first rotating restaurant. That honor goes to a restaurant that operated in the Ala Moana shopping mall in Hawaii.)

Over the years there have been three different restaurant concepts in the rotating space and, when the current makeover is completed, there will be a fourth.

In the meantime, construction workers have built a grand, open circular staircase to connect the two decks and replaced the original rotating floor on the lower-deck with a 37-ton glass floor that is being billed as the world’s only rotating glass floor (in a building open to visitors).

Inspired by the (non-rotating) glass floor the Eiffel Tower opened in 2014 on its 1st floor, 187 feet above the ground and by the glass floors at Chicago’s Willis Tower and the Grand Canyon Skywalk, the rotating glass floor at the Space Needle will offer visitors a view down at the fountain, the green spaces and museums on the 74-acre Seattle Center grounds. The mechanics of the new turntable, now powered by a series of 12 motors, will also be visible through the see-floor flooring.

Space Needle officials expect the rotating glass floor (and wine bar) on the lower deck to be ready for visitors by the July 4th weekend. Details about the new restaurant concept to occupy the space are expected to be announced this fall.

Planning a visit

Admission: Entry costs for the Space Needle usually shift (up) to summer pricing on the Memorial Day weekend, but because the makeover is not fully complete on the upper deck, off-season/preview pricing of $26 for adults, $22 for seniors (65+) and $17 for kids (ages 5-12) is still in effect.

Around July 4, when both the upper deck (with the open-air observation area) and the lower deck (with the rotating glass floor) are open, admission prices will go up to $29 for adults; $24 for seniors and $22 for kids.

Discounted admission may be available with bundled attraction passes or some auto club and other organization memberships.

When to go:  More than 1.3 million people visit the Space Needle each year, and lines can be especially long during the busy summer tourist season. The attraction is likely to get even more popular now that the Observation Deck renovations are nearing completion and once the rotating glass floor feature opens.

Consider purchasing a timed entry ticket online and visiting first thing in the morning (the Observation Deck opens at 9 a.m. Monday to Thursday and at 8 a.m. Friday through Sunday) or at the end of the evening: closing time is 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 12 a.m. Friday to Sunday, with the last entry 30 minutes prior to closing.

To get a unique view of the iconic 650-foot-tall Space Needle, plan a visit to the Sky View Observatory on the 73rd floor of the Columbia Tower, in downtown Seattle. At nearly 1000 feet, the observatory is the tallest public viewing area in the Pacific Northwest.

(My story about the reboot of the Seattle Space Needle first appeared on USA TODAY).