When the Unexpected Happens…

We had an early flight on Jet2 from Belfast to Lanzarote and we were elated when the pilot told us it was going to be sunny and 76 degrees when we landed. While Bob and Patrick tracked down our bags, Cary and I went to pick up the rental car. Soon we were once again stuffed in a too small car with too many belongings! Luckily it was a short drive. I remembered Lanzarote as a beautiful place but after all the rain we had recently experienced, the reality truly exceeded our expectations. The sun felt absolutely wonderful. Patrick threw in a load of laundry and Cary caught up on some work before heading back to the airport at 5 to pick up her friend Rados. Shortly after they returned we decided to head down the hill to find some dinner.

Cary grabbed Bob’s walker and carried it down the few steps to the pool area with me right behind her. I turned around to Bob to remind him to be careful on the steps when I missed a step and suddenly realized there was nothing to grab onto and I was going down. I hit with a thud and even remember hearing the back of my head hit the concrete. I’m sure my screaming on the way down was heard by many because soon I had a small crowd encircling me. I couldn’t get up and I didn’t know what to do next. Several people offered suggestions and it was finally decided that an ambulance needed to be called.

When they arrived the paramedic wondered what hospital we wanted to go to. Luckily one of the locals in the group was a nurse and she offered some suggestions. It was finally decided the Hospiten Lanzarote, a private hospital, was the best choice.
Off we went. I’ve never been in an ambulance before and the trip seemed surreal. Here we were in a foreign country part of Africa, with Spanish as the local language. Thankfully so many Brits vacation here that some English is spoken by most.

Hospiten Lanzarote, the private hospital where I was taken

The stay at the hospital is filled with an interesting cast of characters Patrick pointed out that the curtness we were often initially met with, might be a communication issue. Many locals in the Canaries speak English but they will often add, “Just a little.” Their little English is usually very good, but when we are talking about medical issues they don’t have the luxury of subtlety in language. Often the resulting dialogue may appear to be abrupt or even rude but perhaps it’s just that they, and we, lack alternative ways of communication.

That being said, the first person we encountered was the guy who met the ambulance at the hospital. He pointed out that Hospiten Lanzarote is a private hospital and that they don’t deal with insurance companies. That was on us. If I wanted to be seen there then I would need to make a 2000 euro deposit. Ok, done. (Thank goodness for credit cards!)

Perhaps the main character in this story was the surgeon, Dr. Chimelewski. Because I had hit my head when I fell, they sent me for a CAT scan and then for x rays. Dr. Chimelewski came in after the x rays were taken and explained that I indeed had fractured my right hip. He immediately dismissed the idea of flying back to the States for surgery saying that it could be life threatening. I then inquired if the surgery would be done that same evening but no, there was no staff, it was a holiday weekend, and they would operate on Monday. Monday, at this point seemed an eternity away. Dr. Chmielewski first struck me as arrogant and abrupt. But as time went on I began to really like him. His reviews on line spoke to his competence and I liked his very dry sense of humor. Patrick suggested that perhaps he, like many very bright people, didn’t excel in social skills. Combine that with the language barrier and it seemed like a reasonable explanation. By the end of the week we learned that he was from Poland. (I told him how much Bob and I loved Krakow. “You’ve been there?” he inquired obviously surprised.) He had studied at SUNY Stoneybrook and I explained I had taught at SUNY Plattsburgh. His son’s wife was American. And I assume that combined with his time in the US is how he became fluent in English.

Other characters include three hospital administrators, all women. There was the German woman that Cary and Patrick nicknamed Miss Cranky Pants, who appeared to be the administrator in charge. She spread unpleasantness wherever she appeared and seemed to thrive on it.

Then there was the administrator of logistics for lack of better description. She connected with Cary early on and was an absolute delight. We had to pay a deposit to use the television and then another for wifi and when we told her the television didn’t have sound and was in black and white she was on it! She was ready to move our room so we would have a television that worked. But wait! No, she had them take the television down and replace it. This was a results driven woman! She stopped in frequently to ensure everything was up to snuff!

Then there was the crazy lady administrator, a very pleasant but harried woman who appeared to be the person in charge of all the financial details. She always entered the room in a whirlwind. She first explained to Patrick and me that she’s on duty for 90 hours and is often not included in many of things “her” doctors say and do, an obvious frustration. She was from Hamburg; her English was as good as a native speaker, and laughter punctuated her every sentence. She is the person who explained what the estimated costs of the surgery and stay were going to be. She flew in a different afternoon and let us know what we might expect when I was discharged and where to procure the items need for my home care. She continued with a list of what I would need in the way of pharmacy items, even going so far as to write it down for Patrick as well as where the items could be purchased. Then on the day before my release she came in and breathlessly explained that because Jan 6 (the day of my release) was a holiday, there were certain things that needed to be tended to before the end of the day. On my final day, the holiday, she went over my release folder, explaining its contents and telling us the final itemized billing would be sent to me electronically the following Monday, or maybe Tuesday, but definitely by Wednesday. She arranged for the ambulance to transport me to our Airbnb and she was the one who personally oversaw that process as well. She was competent, funny and entertaining but definitely exhausting! We can’t help but wonder if some of her intensity isn’t the result of being accountable to Miss Cranky Pants!

Finally, there was Roger Dodger. The crazy administrator had given Patrick two contacts for the support items I would need at the Airbnb. After trying the first number repeatedly and getting no result, Patrick tried the second, ABC Rental. Yay! The guy picked up. Patrick asked, “Habla ingles?” Turns out the guy on the other end, Roger Dodger as he calls himself, is an American from Union Town, Pennsylvania. I find it interesting to note this is the only American we met during our nearly month long stay on the island. Patrick told Roger what we would need, when we would be moving into the new, all on one level, Airbnb and made arrangements with Roger to have things delivered. Cary, Rados and Bob had already arrived at the Airbnb and Roger was there by the time Patrick and I got there via ambulance (the ambulance that Patrick directed from his Google Maps, because the ambulance driver had no idea where he was going). Roger was a nice enough guy, was very helpful and had a great sense of humor. But boy did Roger like to talk. We learned a lot about his family, how long he had been on the island, about his daughter’s restaurant and finally after many hints, he realized we had things we needed to get done and he went on his way. But he was going to be back the next day delivering a different walker. And sure enough, a man of his word, he arrived just when he said he would. And once again settled in for quite the conversation. This time he also brought me a bowl from his daughter’s restaurant. How very thoughtful! We later ordered pizza from the restaurant and it too was very good. On the day we left he came and pick up the items we had rented. he told us he thinks there are perhaps five Americans on the island. I think that might be the reason he was so eager to chat with our family. As much as he loves Lanzarote I think he really enjoys talking with people from “back home.”

Details of the admittance to the hospital for me are sketchy. I asked if someone could spend the night with me. Of course, I could have a room with an extra bed (at an extra charge) and that person would also be provided meals. I was amazed but we later realized that this may be offered because the hospital is understaffed. When I would get my daily showers they would wheel me into the bathroom and wrap my arms and wound with plastic wrap (right off the roll, just like you’d buy in the local grocery) and then I would be left alone to shower for 10 minutes or so when they would come back and help me dry and dress. I can’t imagine this happening in the US. Even more surprising was when I went down for an MRI, they asked Patrick to help move me from gurney onto the MRI table and then back again.

The staff for the most part was very pleasant and did their best to speak English and certainly appreciated opportunities to speak with Cary who speaks nearly fluent Spanish.

On Monday while we were waiting for them to take me down to surgery Miss Cranky Pants stormed into my room and looked at all of us demanding to know when we were going to pay, and why hadn’t we paid yesterday adding that there would be no surgery before payment. We all took a collective deep breath and someone made the comment that it had been our understanding that we would be notified when we could meet with an administrator and pay and of course, we would be glad to complete the process. Cary traipsed downstairs and gave her a credit card to cover the 22,000 euro estimated cost. (Thank goodness once again for credit cards!)

The only thing I remember about the surgery was coming to while I was still in the operating room, kind of a freaky experience. I mumbled something to the effect of, “So it’s all over?” “Just finishing up,” responded the surgeon. Then to my amazement, someone mentioned they were going to move me from the surgery table to the gurney. The surgeon spoke directly to me, “Don’t help us.” Then he, the surgeon, and others lifted me onto the gurney. I can’t imagine a surgeon in the US doing that.

The surgeon had told me on the evening I was admitted that unlike the US, Spain doesn’t believe in no pain and I wouldn’t be given pain killers like the US. Ok! In the end I didn’t notice any difference except that all pain killers until the day I went home were give via IVs. And on several occasions during my stay I turned down an offered IV.

The staff generally went out of their way to be helpful. Patrick stayed with me in the hospital and on more than one occasion acted as my nurse tracking down something as mundane as ice. (Turned out there was no ice in the hospital.) While I was grateful to have someone stay with me I also think it’s a good deal for the hospital. They were vastly understaffed and so I had my own personal advocate who could run errands and on top of it he was paying the hospital for the opportunity to do so. The day I was released from the hospital, Epiphany, Jan 6, there was only one nurse on the hospital floor.

While I am often critical of the American medical system, I realize now that my primary gripe is the fact that it is unaffordable for so many. Obamacare was a step in the right direction but obviously much more needs to be done. When I compare what I experienced in a private hospital in Spain to what I have routinely received in the US I realize there are so many subleties that bely great differences. Rarely did I see a nurse during the overnight hours unless I requested one. The doctor came in to see me each morning before I had breakfast. He never looked at my wound but talked with me for five minutes or less. (Both Patrick and Cary took copious notes of everything I was told. On the first morning after surgery, the surgeon stopped midsentence and looked at Patrick and inquired, “You are recording?” When Patrick responded that he wanted to ensure he remembered everything the doctor said, it seemed to satisfy him.)

Finally five days after surgery I was released from the hospital. It would still be a few weeks before I would be certified as “fit to fly.” But it was a start. When I talked with the surgeon about starting physical therapy he assured me that it would be possible to have a therapist come to our Airbnb. He gave Patrick explicit instructions how to make it happen. But when Patrick went downstairs to arrange it, he first encountered Miss Cranky Pants who shouted, “No, no, she will have to come to the hospital for it.” In the middle of her tirade a young man walked in and softly told Patrick that he would be glad to come to our home three times a week. I was a bit concerned when I learned his name was Agony! But no need; he turned out to be wonderful! I paid him what I believed to be a very reasonable charge in cash. On our last day Cary inquired if he could provide us with a receipt for his services (that I could submit to our insurance) which he said regrettably he couldn’t do because he was doing this as a favor to the surgeon. Hmmm…interesting.

There are worse places to recuperate than Lanzarote. The weather was relatively warm; most days were in the mid 60s where we were up high in the hills and much warmer down near the beach.

Cary’s friend Rados is an amazing cook and so our meals were always wonderful! Then when he didn’t cook, Cary did! (Well, there were also a couple of trips to some US favorites.)

I can’t remember the last time I haven’t cooked for this period of time! Bob and I got to relax and Rados, Patrick and Cary were able to take a few afternoons to investigate the area but for the most part they spent most of their time running errands, and doing all the caretaking/housekeeping tasks and in addition, while they took time off to support me in my recuperation they both needed to check in with work regularly. Not exactly relaxing for either of them.

The view of the New Years fireworks from our initial Airbnb were pretty spectacular I am told.

But when I was released from the hospital we obviously couldn’t go back to our first stay with all the steps. Cary found us a great Airbnb in Tias, just a few minutes away from the hospital. We were higher up and it was quite windy, but it had a great outdoor area and very nice views…

Two weeks after my hospital release and three physical therapy sessions later I was finally able to try to travel by car. I found several YouTube videos of the process. Patrick wheeled me out to the car (out the front door and up a short but steep ramp) and at that point I would take Bob’s walker to get out of the chair and back up to the car and sit on the front passenger seat, and then lift my legs in. It was far easier than I had imagined. First trip was back to the hospital to see a nurse. I found it interesting that after the surgery never once did the doctor look at my wound, always a nurse. She removed the six staples which she told me had been in too long and as a result were irritating my skin and then sent us on our way. I can’t describe how wonderful it was to be out in sunshine.

It was so great to be out that two days later Cary drove us into Puerto del Carmen and for lunch. We drove down the Avenida del Playa looking for a restaurant that didn’t have steps and then on the second pass, she dropped Bob, Patrick and me off and then went and parked the car. What great service!

From the best we can figure out, airlines require the completion of a “fit to fly” form from the doctor before travel. I wasn’t sure what to expect when we went in for my appointment the day before our flight. We checked in with the receptionist and shortly after, the surgeon came out to the hallway, called my name and then wheeled me back to his office. There he asked questions about how I felt and provided me with suggestions for the travel ahead. When I asked about how long I should leave the wound dressed and other medical details, he referred me to the nurse who he said I should see after I left his office. Again, it was only conversation. He never checked out the dressing himself.

The reaction of complete strangers really impressed us. Before leaving the first complex, Cary said every time they returned people would inquire about my well being. The woman we had rented from even returned the balance of rent for the unused time. When I was being carried into the new Airbnb via stretcher I made eye contact with a woman on her nearby balcony. The next morning she knocked on our door inquiring on how I was doing and was there anything I needed adding that both she and her son would be happy to help with whatever we needed.

The Lanzarote airport was close by so when we left the hospital we took the surgeon’s advice and drove to the airport and Patrick went in to ensure that everything was in place for our flight the following day to London. On that morning Roger Dodger came and picked up the devices we had rented from him. And we were on our way. Lanzarote is a small airport and easy to navigate. Airport staff wheeled both Bob and me through the check in process and through security with both Patrick and Cary at our side doing their own check ins. (Bob tried to clear the way waving my cane as we moved through the airport! LOL)

We enjoyed a brief time in the lounge before boarding. The walk from the doorway of the plane to our seats was a challenge but luckily Patrick and Cary had suggested I buy a cane and it made things a lot easier. The very efficient staff took Bob and me through the boarding process and while I tried to explain that I wished to wait for my son to help me I was told, “He will be here. He will be here.” I felt a little like the old lady the boy scout helped across the street even though she didn’t want to go.

It’s a four hour flight from Lanzarote to London and before we left Lanzarote I had arranged for a taxi to pick us up at Gatwick and take us to the hotel inside Heathrow terminal 2, the terminal that we would fly out of in the morning. Of course it was raining cats and dogs when we got to London but we managed to miss most of the water! First we were met by the Gatwick staff who took us via buggy to the taxi. The taxi was outside but undercover and an hour later we were in our hotel. The desk had provided me with a telephone number for a group who would pick us the following morning and get us to our United Flight.

After a bit of dinner, I was definitely ready for bed. We were to leave for our gate at 9:30 in the morning. In my humble opinion Heathrow is a horrible airport to navigate; it’s absolutely huge and processes are very inefficient. And while our initial trip to the United connection was great, the process getting through security and finally to our gate took about two hours. Our flight to DC was nearly 9 hours but it was amazing! We were on a Boeing 777 in Polaris business class in little cubicles that reminded me of office pods. The service was beyond belief. There were 11 flight attendants on board. One immediately got me ice for my leg. Did we need anything else? There was time for chit chat. With Patrick’s support I got up three times to stretch my legs and each time there was at least one attendant if not two there to support me as well.

We were met by airport staff at Dulles who wheeled us through passport control, then with Patrick’s help picked up our baggage and took us to the door and outside to meet up with Stephen. They were truly wonderful. Patrick headed home on the metro and Stephen delivered us to our Airbnb, which he had already stocked with staples as well as meals that his wife, Sadie, had prepared for us. We’re not far from his house and this is where I will continue to recuperate for a couple of months and continue physical therapy.

It’s been quite a month. But I feel very lucky. Lucky to be in a place where quality medical care was available. Lucky that this fall occurred in a warm sunny part of the world and not in the cold rainy area where we began our holiday travels. Lucky to be able to afford the surgery. Lucky that it was a fractured hip and not something much worse. But most of all I feel very lucky to have had family to support me through all this. Bob and I never could have managed alone. I think at this point, while I want to continue to travel, it’s time to perhaps plan some adjustments of what that looks like. But that’s a conversation is for another time.

The Emerald Isle at Christmas

We left DC in late afternoon heading to Dulles where we would catch an overnight flight to Dublin.  We were driving in really heavy rain but were thankful that we would be able to leave the States ahead of the predicted winter storm scheduled to hit most of the country the next day. This was the first time Bob has traveled with his walker, and we were impressed when we were met with a wheelchair for him the minute we got to the United check in desk.  It took a bit of time for the clerks to figure out how to check his walker through but with Patrick’s help the walker was wrapped and checked.  The United clerk commented to Patrick how lucky we are to have him traveling with us.  Amen to that! 

We had arrived early at the airport and spent a couple hours in the United Lounge before boarding. As Christmas, birthday and anniversary gifts to each other we had splurged and purchased first class tickets.  On this flight that translated to seats that reclined into beds, not bad for a red eye! After the fact, I’m not sure this was such a great idea because it’s really going to be hard to go back to ordinary seats knowing what a difference this upgrade means on a long haul flight.  

We arrived in Dublin to find the rainy weather had followed us there. No wonder it’s called the emerald isle!  Our Airbnb was next to the Jury Inn Hotel that we were familiar with from a previous visit, and our host said she would meet us there in the coffee shop.  Helen bounced in greeting us with all the enthusiasm of a local tour guide.  Her place, she explained, was just around the corner.  As we began to follow her, she paused to explain our location, favorite restaurants and things to do even showing me her lovely waterproof Irish hat. Unfortunately we were getting drenched as we took in all this information. 

As I was planning for our days in Ireland I had found that most things are closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day as well as the 26th (St Stephen’s Day in Ireland, Boxing Day in Great Britain). But there was one tour of Guinness available at 4 pm on the day we arrived. So we quickly got settled in our apartment and Patrick and I headed off to the Guinness Storehouse.  It’s a self-guided tour and winds up from the ground to the sixth floor.  I had purchased the tour with two extras.  The first was a lesson on how to pour a perfect brew (and of course a pint of Guinness was included with it).  The second was a pint at the Gravity Bar on the very top floor, with a 360 degree view of the night lights of Dublin.   

Helen had suggested Darky Kelly’s as a nearby pub. Dorcus Kelly was a madam who operated a brothel on this site in the 1760s.  She was arrested and executed for killing a shoemaker who was abusing her “girls.”  

Cary, flying in from Rome, was scheduled to arrive while we were at Guinness so we decided Darky Kelly’s, just around the corner from our Airbnb, was a great place to meet up for dinner.  Pat and I arrived first and were lucky to find a table back in a corner.  A crowded Irish pub two nights before Christmas complete with an Irish band and singing!  

I had booked a tour of Christchurch Cathedral for the following morning and then a walking musical pub tour for the afternoon. Because of the rain (and the fact that we had toured Christchurch Cathedral previously)  Bob and I let Cary and Patrick venture off on their own.  Christchurch was built in 1030 by a Viking King, Sitruic Silkenbeard, and then rebuilt in 1170. Cary and Patrick found the 63 meter long catacombs of Christchurch fascinating, particularly the mummified cat chasing the mummified rat inside the pipe organ from the 1860s. 

And a few hours later they were the only guests on the walking tour.  As Sean, the guide, was telling his stories, people would stop by and say hello and contribute to the dialogue. The rain prevented them from doing all that had been planned but the intimate group seemed to make up for it!

Christmas morning we woke up to the Christmas bells chiming from Christchurch Cathedral, just across the street from us.

I  had booked another walking tour in the afternoon. This tour of the Liberties took us through the historic area of extreme poverty as well as political upheavals that Patrick Taylor references in many of his books. I had painted a picture of the area in my mind and it seemed to match up well. The best part of the tour was that it was authentic; this was no canned script. Our tour guide was James, a middle aged local resident, who enthusiastically recalled for us stories of his own youth all punctuated by fond memories of his granny.  Again, we were thrilled because the tour was just the four of us and one other, a Canadian with a passion for history, who was visiting Ireland for the first time.  It was a chilly walk and while rain threatened, luckily it held off!

I had hunted for a Christmas dinner reservation before we left the US.  I found The Jury Inn, virtually next to our Airbnb, offered a set “Christmas Lunch” menu that included a glass of prosecco, an appetizer, a main and a dessert.  Bob, Patrick and Cary chose the traditional turkey dinner and I chose the roast beef. Both were amazing. After dinner we walked back to our apartment in the rain!

We had one last day in Dublin, St Stephen’s Day, and were disappointed that this is generally a day of futbol in Ireland with most shops closed including many pubs. Even the Hop On Hop Off buses weren’t running. But people were out and about. We spent the day walking along the Liffy, enjoying some street performers and stopping in at Temple Bar.

The next morning we left Dublin for Belfast. We like to travel by train because it gives us opportunities to see the countryside. Not knowing how crowded the train would be over the holidays, I made reservations in advance. How surprised we were when we entered the car and found our names lit up next to our seats. It’s only a 2 1/2 hour trip north and when we arrived we took a cab from the station to our stay at the Belfast Jury Inn.  

At the top of our list to do was the Black Cab Tour.  Bob and I had done it when we were in Belfast a few years ago and found it an amazing experience.  This time was just as interesting as the first. The area is still full of tension.  The murals for both sides, the Catholics and the Protestants evoke a very emotional responses.  Our cabbie showed us videos of the bon fires from July 11, (the night before the July 12 celebration of the 1690 victorious battle when protestant King William of Orange defeated Catholic King James).   The cabbie explained that these are no ordinary bonfires. They are far higher than the buildings around them and create a real danger to their communities. He told us many families go away on the bonfire nights because they fear for their family’s safety. He showed us a video of a bonfire from July 2022 when sparks from the bonfire started fires on nearby buildings. Check out this link if you want to learn more. https://www.todayfm.com/news/northern-ireland-fire-brigade-responded-to-over-200-emergency-calls-on-bonfire-night-1362788

Patrick and I also went to the Titanic Museum.  The thing that makes this museum so unique is that the museum is almost entirely about the building of the ship where as the Titanic Museum we visited in Nova Scotia focuses primarily on the ship’s sinking. Thankfully we had timed tickets but even so the museum was very very crowded and made it difficult to mosey through at our preferred pace.  

One more day in Belfast before we were going to head to warmer environs, Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, what should we do?  Patrick and I decided we wanted to go to Derry, about an hour train trip away.  We got a cab from our hotel, again in the rain, and headed to the what we thought was the appropriate train station, but it appeared to be closed.  A bus was parked next to the cab and we soon figured out that the tracks were under repair and therefore, the station was closed.  The bus driver told us he would take us to the next stop, Antrim, where we could get a train to Belfast.  As soon as we boarded he drove off.  Not bad service. But we did find it odd that the cab driver didn’t know the train station was closed prior to our arrival. When we arrived at Antrim we got our ticket to Derry as well as a return ticket back to Belfast.

When we got to Derry we found the train station was in the middle of nowhere. The clerk at the station explained how we could walk across a bridge and downtown, but given the continued cold rain we were looking for a dryer, warmer route.  As soon as we went outside the station, a taxi pulled up.  The guy looked at us like we were nuts when we told him we wanted to walk the wall. But then he kicked into high gear and first told us where we could get a taxi back to the train after our excursion and then went out of his way to get us to the top of the hill and next to an entrance to the walled walk.  The walls were built in the early 1600s and have over time held people in and also blocked people out.  During most of the Troubles of the late 60s and 70s the walls were closed off.  There are interesting lookouts with great views along the walk.  About halfway round we left the walk to get a better look at Catholic majority Bogside. The murals here continue to tell the same story as those in Belfast honoring the Catholic patriots and calling for the release of political prisoners still held.  

We stopped in at a little hole-in-the wall museum/gift shop.  The owner was a local who was eager to share with us the history of the area.  When he found out we were Americans he was particularly eager to chat asking lots of questions about Trump.  We thought it strange that this Irishman didn’t know we currently have an Irish president.  He was well aware, however, of John Kennedy.  

By this time we were both pretty cold so we checked out a few stores and then stopped in another Irish pub for dinner before heading back to get the train home.  Right around the corner from the pub was the taxi place our driver had told us about. Finally, after a twenty minute wait a cab arrived and got us back to our train station.

Given that there are four of us and Bob and I together have 4 bags and a walker, we decided we should order two cabs to take us to the airport.  I suggested to the hotel clerk that perhaps we could book a van but he said it was easier to book two cabs.  At 5:30 the next morning we were in the lobby waiting for our taxi.  No one; nothing.  I checked with the hotel clerk.  She called the taxi company but got no answer.  Finally one cab came!  The driver mad no bones about it; he didn’t think we would fit. Totally ignoring the driver’ protests, Cary took charge and managed to get most of the luggage in the trunk. Then with Bob in the front, Cary, Pat and I squeezed in the back seat with the remaining luggage and Bob’s walker stretched out across our laps, we set out for the the 30 minute drive to the Belfast airport and our flight to the Canaries. Oh, and did I mention? It was raining!

Traveling On

We were so very excited to be able to travel out of the US again. And as I mentioned in the last post we chose to go back to Nova Scotia even though we had been there several times before. This time our home was in the Hydrostone neighborhood of Halifax but just like in most areas of the city we weren’t far from the water and I loved the blasts from the ships’ horns communicating with each other as they came in and out of port. The first night we were there the fog rolled in giving it an eerie sort of feel.

There was a marker next to our Airbnb describing an orphanage that stood there until Dec 6, 1917, the day of the Halifax Explosion What was this explosion? We were stunned to learn that in 1917 two ships had collided in the waters just below where we were standing, and one of them was loaded with explosives. More than 1700 people were killed and nearly another 900 were injured. In addition, nearly all the buildings within a half mile radius were destroyed. At the time it was the largest explosion in the world. It seemed unbelievable that somewhere in our 70+ years we hadn’t encountered this part of history.

The Hydrostone neighborhood has a short street of cute English style shops: one that features Canadian artisans, a bakery, a knit shop and possibly the best hair salon I have come across in our eight years of traveling.

One Saturday night we thought we heard a band and went out to our deck to find there was a rock concert going on a few blocks away and after the concert we had a pretty good seat for the fireworks!

I often mention how mundane our lives are since we travel full time. But in Halifax we truly were impressed with their recycling process. Every place we travel recycling is different. In the very worst locations, there is no recycling. (That is so impossible to even comprehend in 2022!) But whether it’s city to city within the same state, state to state or country to country, it’s ALWAYS different. I often wonder, as my daughter in law, Andria, recently pointed out, if in some places it’s all a ruse. We feel better when we recycle, but when it’s single stream we do wonder if it is all pitched into the same bin headed to the local landfill?

Halifax seems to have it mastered. All plastic, metal and glass are placed in large blue bags. Cardboard goes into a separate container. A small plastic container holds a bag for compostable items. (This is emptied into the compost bin but the paper bag goes into recycle.) Residents can have 2 trash bags a week. One is black to ensure privacy and the other one is clear. If items that are recyclable are found in the trash bags, the residents are fined! While it took us a while to get the hang of it, it really was the most environmentally conscious location we’ve been in during our travels!

There are so many things to like about Nova Scotia: the people are extremely friendly; the food amazing and the landscape absolutely gorgeous. And no matter how many times we return I never tire of Peggy’s Cove.

They had built a new observation deck since we were last there and it’s lovely. But when I remember being there with the kids more than twenty years ago, I realize I miss the quiet, almost lonely feel, when I compare it against the crowds of today. On the walkway down to the lighthouse we were delighted by the music of the bagpiper, just like I remembered from the first time I was here almost 70 years ago. (That’s Mom and me with piper on the left in 1954. Piper on right is today!)

We were pleasantly surprised when a black bear darted across the road in front of us on our return drive to Halifax. And even though we were so close to a large metropolitan area, the small fishing coves were reminiscent of a previous time.

When my friend Rita visited, we took her to many of our favorite locations. Besides Peggy’s Cove, we also returned to Grand Pre National Historic Site in the beautiful valley of the Acadians.

The tides of the Bay of Fundy continue to fascinate us. On the way to Grand Pre we had hoped for Rita to witness the incredible tidal bore. We got up early and headed to the Salmon River in Truro. We were disappointed that because of the low water level, the tidal bore was barely discernable. And while we did see a video of the bore, it wasn’t the same thing. We drove on to Burntcoat Head which is the site of the highest tides in the world, and it definitely didn’t disappoint. There are signs everywhere warning tourists to leave the ocean floor before high tide!

Rita and I also spent a lot of time in Halifax proper. She is as much a bibliophile as I so I had to show her the amazing Halifax Library. We also explored the Citadel which is the reason for Halifax’s founding in 1749. The British built a wooden structure on top of a high hill that eventually became the Citadel and the city grew as residents built their homes between there and the water.

We spent an afternoon wandering through the Halifax Public Gardens and a Sunday morning in the Halifax Public Market.

The waterfront is always an interesting place to check out. Bob and I particularly enjoyed spending lazy afternoons in Mt. Pleasant Park watching ships come in and unload their cargo.

We returned to Lunenburg, a little town on the south shore. It is is thought to be the best surviving example of a planned British Community (and consequently designated a UNESCO site). It is also the home of the Bluenose II, the famous racing schooner that is pictured on the Canadian dime.

Bob and I came across a few new things in this visit as well. We were surprised as we walked down the aisle of a local grocery to encounter a woman with her dog riding in her cart. He seemed to almost smile for my camera. And he was definitely better behaved than many kids I’ve seen in stores!

The fish heads and tails in the meat case were a bit of a surprise as well! I checked online after I got home and found numerous recipes! Not sure I’ll try any of them, however.

As usual we found lots of great seafood in this port city, and we also were reminded of many of the Maritime specialties.

And a few of our favorites: mussels, Canadian style Ruffles and of course, the ubiquitous poutine!

Some of the best experiences we’ve had traveling happen serendipitously. Such was the case with the Canadian Museum of Immigration. When Rita and I purchased our tickets the woman behind the counter explained, almost as an after thought, that there was a temporary art exhibit downstairs that was included in our ticket price if we were interested. She said it was the work of a Canadian artist/photographer, Yousuf Karsh. I had never heard of him. Karsh, at the age of 15, immigrated to Canada in 1924 during the time that more than 600,000 Armenians died under the rule of the Ottoman Empire as a result of violence, disease and starvation. Karsh was one of the few allowed to enter Canada because he had relatives there. The exhibit consisted of more than 100 photographs of famous people from all walks of life: medicine, politics, entertainment, and the arts. Each portrait had an explanation next to it written by Karsh. His ability to capture the essence of the subject was truly astounding. I was thrilled when in the museum bookstore I found a book containing all the photographs along with their descriptions.

We were reminded as we drove through Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec about the dangers of encountering moose. We’ve been fortunate in our years of travel to encounter a few, always at a safe distance, but we continued to keep our eyes peeled in the off chance of seeing another. The signs seemed to indicate they are abundant in the area!

We were thrilled to be able to return to the Midwest via Canada. Ottawa, in particular, is an interesting city. I walked through Parliament Square and was mesmerized by the architecture.

Previously, we have traversed most of the Trans Canada Highway traveling through all 10 provinces but we always cut down through Toronto when coming from the east or turned down at the Soo if we were coming from the west to get back home. But this time we took Georgian Bay Route through Sudbury and then onto the Soo allowing us to complete the entire thoroughfare.

Sudbury (Alex Trebek’s home) is the Nickel Capital of the World, and they make the most of that claim. We had hoped to see the Sudbury Basin, the site of the third largest meteor impact in the world. But although we asked many people, and hunted online we came up empty. We’re wondering if because of its size of the impact the whole area is engulfed in the basin. It remains a quandary.

Our month in Nova Scotia flew by like usual. I really would love to spend every summer home there if it weren’t so difficult to get to, located as it on the far northeast coast of North America. We felt extremely lucky when just a week after we left, Halifax was hit with a hurricane. We worry about such things in the southeast portions of the US but it never crossed our minds in the Maritimes!

Since September Bob and I been in Manistee. I love waking up in the morning to a view of Lake Michigan. We had planned on returning to Port Charlotte, Florida, for November and early December but some health issues for Bob combined with Hurricane Ian made us decide that we were better off staying where we were. When we had a family crisis at the end of October we decided we were lucky to be here close to family.

In early December we’ll head first to DC for a couple of weeks. Then fly to Europe for the first time since 2019. We plan to spend Christmas in Dublin, then on to Belfast and Derry before returning to warm weather in the Canary Islands for New Years! We are lucky indeed!

My Favorite Place: The Beach

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I always seem to be attacted to locations on the water. Maybe this is the result of growing up in a beach town on the shore of Lake Michigan. As kids, the beach was the center of our lives from early summer to the end of September. I remember many years heading to the beach after the parade on a warm Decoration Day only to realize that 58 degree water was way too frigid to swim in. During the summer, there were lazy days on the beach, walks on the pier, trips to the amusement park followed by picnics on the beach. (Bob’s first summer job was making cotton candy at the amusement park!) Fireworks on the 4th of July were best enjoyed by lying on a beach towel and staring upwards as the explosions created a magical ceiling. I particularly recall going off to college and being surprised that everyone didn’t kick off the new school year with class beach parties. I think these experiences created an unconscious draw to the water wherever we travel. And when we finally were able to get on the road again, It seemed like a great idea to join thousands of others spending July in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

It was less than a three hour drive from DC to our new place but it felt like a million miles away. We were pleasantly surprised when we got to Annapolis and found no back up on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. (Some day I want to do a blog just about the spectacular bridges we’ve crossed in our travels!) The weather was definitely beach weather…in the 90’s for most of the month. But we did have a great little patio for cooler evenings.

Stephen and two of the grandkids came for a few days over the 4th. The complex where we were staying had a great swimming pool and we could enjoy a morning swim with absolutely no other people there! Nothing like having your own pool! Then we’d trek off to check out a beach. The Rehoboth Beach boardwalk itself was fun: lots of restaurants, beachy shops and a great place to watch the 4th of July fireworks. The blue and orange umbrellas that permeate the sand seem to blend into a single mass. And our grandkids loved playing in the waves and sand! The Delaware coast has so many great places to swim that each day we tried out a new shoreline locale.

My favorite and one that Bob and I returned to on our own was Cape Henlopen State Park just a couple miles north at the mouth of the Delaware Bay. In addition to pretty ocean views and a wonderful sandy beach, this is also the site of Fort Miles, which was a World War II Army installation. During the cold war the Navy constructed a terminal for the Sound Surveillance System there which continued to operate until 1981. Today the Biden Environmental Conference Center is housed in what used to be the headquarters. Top off all the history and sunshine with lots of seafood (Nobody loves raw oysters more than our youngest grandkids!) and well, life is pretty great!

Delaware is definitely proud of being the first state. The reminders are everywhere: on their license plates, street signs, restaurants and hotels. Not knowing much about the state Bob and I decided to make the short drive up to Dover and check out the capital. William Penn’s surveyors laid out the city in 1711. There were two main original sites that are on the Green, which is the lovely historic square in the center of the town. The first was the Meeting House for the “Dissenters” (the Presbyterians) and the second was the Church Square, reserved for the Church of England. (The Meeting House is today the State of Delaware Museum.) I particularly enjoyed moseying through the old churchyard at Christ Episcopal Church. This is the church where Caesar Rodney, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, worshipped. The city has a much slower vib about it with a population of only about 37,000 but because of its location between large metropolitan centers, there still was plenty of traffic. It was a hot and humid day so we didn’t wander too much. But I felt a definite sense of awe as I thought about the people who had once strolled here and the conversations they had.

Knowing the weekends are the most conjested on touristy highways, we chose to drive to Assateague National Seashore on a weekday. It was only a bit more than an hour drive but we were amazed by the almost continuous stream of touristy shops along the way. We tried to count the number of mini-golf courses we passed along the way but lost count somewhere around 20. And surprisingly, they all seem to stay busy.

We had visited Chinoteague Island, a similar place about an hour further south years ago when the kids were small but not Assateague. We stopped at the information center as we entered the national seashore. Assateague is an interesting combination of beaches, marshes, folks crabbing, and wild horses. Like most islands in the ocean, it has been defined by currents, winds and waves. But on this island there are five different natural zones which include: coastal bays, salt marshes, maritime forests, dunes and upper beach and of course, the ocean. It’s difficult to explain how strange it seems to come upon wild horses naturally wandering along the road or the beach.

On our last weekend in Rehoboth we enjoyed a lazy weekend with Patrick and his friend Ryne, revisiting many of the same places while adding in a trivia competition at a local bar as well as a few games of euchre.

Then it was time for us to head to Nova Scotia. We were thrilled; finally, for the first time since Covid began, we were going to be able to leave the country. The Canadians have set up a website with protocol for crossing the border. I completed all that I could but had to wait until closer to our arrival to finish the process. This turned out to be far from easy. The Canadians wanted to know which crossing we’d be using and what time we would arrive! Wow! I wrote down an estimate and crossed my fingers.

We decided we’d take three days to drive the 1100 miles or 18.5 hours Google estimated it would take. Our first night would be in Nashua, New Hampshire. I had just finished reading The Engineers Wife, the historical fictional account of Elizabeth Roebling’s involvement in the building of the Brooklyn Bridge so I wanted to see it with my own eyes. And lucky for me, Bob is always very accomodating when I add these incidental sidetrips to our itinerary. (Note: The Engineer’s Wife is way too fictionalized for my liking. As a result, I added David McCollough’s, The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge to my “must read” list.)

From the first glimpses of the skyline, the drive through New York City was amazing. We went from Jersey City through the Holland Tunnel, into Manhattan turning onto Broadway up to 5th Avenue just as we came to Madison Square Park, down through Lower Manhatten, across the great bridge, continuing through Brooklyn and Queens and even made a wrong turn or two in the Bronx. It was a wonderful drive, one neither of us will ever forget! I can’t wait to go back and check out theatre and musical performances and the museums.

We were however, exhausted when we finally got to Nashua and were very pleased to find that our hotel had a restaurant. We could eat and crash! Early the next morning we headed on to St John, New Brunswick. When we got to the Calais, Maine/St. Stephen, New Brunswick crossing Google took us to a small two lane bridge on a little-traveled city street. We were one of four or five cars in line. When we got to the window, I explained to the border guard that we had passports, our vaccination verifications as well as the code on my phone from the app, and asked which he would prefer. His response was quick, “Your passports would be wonderful!” He looked at the documents and asked a couple of routine questions. Then sent us on our way. No mention of the details on the app, just a routine crossing! What a relief!

When we crossed into Canada we entered the Atlantic time zone, an hour later than the eastern time zone, we changed from miles to kilometers (as well as pounds into kilograms) and signs were written in both English and French. In little more than an hour we had reached our destination for the night, St. John.

It’s only about four hours from St John to Haliax so the next morning we decided to take another sidetrip, this time to Shediac. Shediac is right on the North Umberland Sound which boasts the warmest waters north of the Carolinas so I shouldn’t have been surprised when we found lots and lots of traffic as we drove into town. We hadn’t eaten breakfast so when we saw a Victorian style home/restaurant with people eating on a large front porch we decided we needed to give it a try. The name, The Lobster Deck, says it all!

Yum! The lobster rolls were truly amazing with more lobster than imagineable! After lunch, we visited the giant lobster sculpture and of course, browsed through the gift shops, before heading on down to Halifax, the thirteenth largest Canadian city, and second largest port in eastern Canada.

This will be our home for August. And while this our fifth trip visiting this beautiful province, we look forward to revisiting many places as well as discovering new ones.

Back to Traveling

For those of you who are following my blog, my apologies. I realize my last post was more than eight months ago. Late last summer our family was challenged by a major illness and just before Christmas, Bob and I headed to the DC area to help out with grandkids. I am happy to report everything turned out fine! Now we’re back on the road.

As soon as I knew we were going to DC for an extended period of time I began searching high and low for a reasonably priced stay. I finally came up with one. Bob and I generally prefer cities to suburbs but in this case we wanted to be close enough to the kids that we could help out at a moment’s notice. I found an affordable place on Airbnb that really was close, and had great reviews. But from the moment we opened the door, we knew this was going to be a challenge. The host was very gracious, but I have never seen so much stuff piled into such a small space in my life! Even the furniture was overwhelming with a couch placed directly in front of the fireplace, enough dishes that I think we could have gone for weeks and not run out. One locked closet and the other was overflowing with pillows. Oh my goodness! This was not going to work!

So in addition to getting ready for the holidays I was faced with locating a new abode. Luckily, one of the property managers I had talked to early on had his apartment still for rent. It was no longer an Airbnb but instead a regular rental and the owners were not thrilled with less than a year’s lease but somehow he talked them into it and even though we still couldn’t get into it until after the holidays, the end was in sight. Whew! All we had to do was use this small space for 10 days. Cary got the second bedroom and Patrick, who was staying with us, so he didn’t have to make the hour trek out from the city every day, got the couch. We felt fortunate that we could get settled near family and offer support when we were needed.

We enjoyed having more family together at Christmas than usual. Stephen and Sadie and the kids don’t usually join us for the holidays because little kids just want to be home on Christmas morning to see what Santa brings.

Cary had flown in from Rome, and isolated herself in a separate area of Pat’s house for a week before we all got together. Patrick had purchased tickets for all of us to go to a Christmas event in the city. After everyone tested negative for Covid, we were finally able to get together! On the evening Cary’s isolation ended, we all met up at Nationals Field on a relatively warm evening (for December) and enjoyed lights, food and just generally making merry!

Patrick hosted Christmas Eve at his home in the city. We watched a movie, had traditional Christmas Eve snacks (and of course, lots of beverages!) and Stephen read aloud the Night Before Christmas.

On Christmas Day, we slept in and then headed over to Sadie and Stephen’s and while the grandkids played with their Christmas toys, I, with the help of our four kids, cooked a prime rib Christmas dinner.

This year, our Chrismas holidays were extended when son Kris drove out from Michigan with our granddaughter, Allison and her boyfriend Lewis. Unfortunately, our daughter-in-law, Andria was unable to come because as a PA she couldn’t get time away from her very busy office. Andria is an enthusiastic fun person and was definitely missed! But we did find many activities to enjoy our time together. They included ice skating,

games, lots of good food and fun just being together!

After testing again and masking up, we went to the Kennedy Center and enjoyed Beautiful–The Carole King Musical. On a different night, we had a wonderful walk around the White House area taking in all Christmas decorations.

We drove to Baltimore and went to the Aquarium. We spent an afternoon at the Museum of African American History.

Stephen and Sadie invited us to their home for New Years Eve where there were more fun games, karaoke and a great smorgasbord of food.

After the holiday excitement, we settled into a slower pace but still found time to do some day trips. We drove across the Chesapeake Bridge one sunny day in January and explored smaller towns like historic Easton, without all the summer crowds. On a different day we went to the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery, always my favorite museum in DC.

One particular plus of our longer stay was the opportunity to get to know our youngest grandchildren through routine everyday interactions. We had spent time with our older grandchildren when they were growing up in the same town we lived in. It was fun having opportunities to interact with our younger grandkids doing everyday things. Sometimes it was getting manicures or or making Valentine’s together.

Sometimes we’d chill in front of the tv or do jigsaw puzzles on a snow or professional development day…

Sometimes it was a school festival…

Once it was taking Hazel to her community service job and having time for a treat beforehand.

Whatever the activity the focus was on fun!

In March they surprised me with a special party to celebrate my 75th birthday complete with a video they had put together with many many dear friends and family!

Both Meta’s and Hazel’s birthdays occurred during the time we were there and so we had time for sleep overs and special trips. Patrick and I took Meta to the Baltimore Zoo, which she had chosen for her special day. I got tickets for the King Tut Exhibit at the National Geographic Museum for Hazel’s special event!

Springtime also brings cherry blossoms to DC. We’ve seen them many times but never tire of them. Besides the historic capitol area, I have many favorite parts of DC, although I really only know the northwest quadrant. I love Cleveland Park, Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, Mt. Pleasant. This spring we added Catholic University to our list of explorations as it was described as one of the best places for cherry blossoms. Not sure why we’ve never been there before. Also, as the winter began to thaw our daughter in law, Andria, was finally able to get some time off and we were thrilled she chose to come out and bring our grandchild, Brija with her. We see them so rarely. Andria really is an incredible aunt, always engaging her nieces and nephews in fun activities.

In April to celebrate Pat’s and my birthdays, we headed to Pittsburgh to see the Pens play in the NHL playoffs. We first met up with my good friend Rita, and we also visited the National Aviary and of course, the Penguin exhibit. And the game was so much fun! Our seats were great and the excitement was beyond description. With the 7-4 Pens win over the Rangers the whole city came alive! You’d have thought they’d won the Stanley Cup! And before we left town we had to stop and have one of Jake’s shakes (named for Jake Guenzel, #77) at the Milkshake Factory.

Whenever we drive into the DC we marvel at the the iconic Morman steeples towering over the beltway. To me it appears very Disneyesque . We were thrilled when they announced a rare open house during our stay. We definitely wanted to do the tour. Usually Morman traditions require you be a Morman, in good standing, to go inside the temple so we were fascinated. It was interesting and tour guides were everywhere to answer our questions. But truly I don’t understand much of their doctrine or the appeal. Still it was a beautiful building! I’m definitely glad we went!

For Father’s Day, Stephen got tickets for everyone to go to a Nationals Baseball Game. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect. It was in the 70’s and sunny, just a great day for baseball. Patrick had a favorite restaurant in his neighborhood so after the game he treated us all to dinner. Definitely, a Fathers Day to remember!

Bob, I believe, is ready to settle down, but I’m not; there’s still so much I want to see and do. So as a compromise, in March we purchased a condo, we call it our beach house, in Manistee. We’ll stay there a couple of months each year and when I want to go to destinations he has no interest in I’ll travel with a family member or friend and he can stay put in Michigan. Manistee is not far from Big Rapids and Kris and Andria. And our dear friends, Ken and Ginny have a place there too.

But for now we’re headed to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Then, if Covid will allow, Nova Scotia, then Michigan and Florida before heading back to Europe in December. I feel so fortunate to be able to define retirement the way we want to. We are very very lucky! Until next time…

Summer’s End

After spending a month on the road it feels nice to stay put for a bit. I recently read a blog that described various types of travelers. Destination travelers was the first group listed. I think those are the ones we most often encounter and until we retired I think we fell into this category. We generally aimed for a destination and then checked out all we could see in that area. When the kids were little we camped a lot. This was definitely the most economical way to go but also the kids had chances to explore and make new friends on their own in a way they never could have if we had been in a hotel. We did try a couple of summers traveling in an RV but because neither Bob nor I is particularly mechanical we gave this up. Now in our seventh year of nomadic life style I think we fall into the category of slow travelers. We like to see what we want to see and on our own time schedule. We generally aim for a couple of days a week of sightseeing. There are generally two responses I hear again and again when folks first learn of our peripatetic lifestyle. The first is, “You’re living the dream.” And no doubt for me that is true. I have yet to find the location where I want to “settle down.” After seven years, Bob would like to slow down and finding three or four locations where we could return each year may be the best compromise for us. At least that’s our thinking for now. The other response is, “Wow! You are really big risk takers.” This is definitely not true. We do what we are comfortable doing. I like to look at travel guides and see what’s out there. When folks offer suggestions as in, “Oh, you’re going to (fill in the blank), you must …” I generally write it down and check it out later to see if that’s something that would interest us. I believe everyone has their own style of travel and there’s no one way that works for everyone. For me it’s important to follow our own path. I definitely don’t consider myself an adventurer. There are so many things that I would never consider as we travel: No small boats, few amusement parks (Tivoli Gardens being an exception) no helicopter rides, definitely no down escalators. And public baths? No way! When I plan (and all the planning generally fall to me), I plan what I know we both will enjoy at a pace where we can relax as we go. I look for opportunities to: interact with the locals and learn about their culture, experience the natural beauty of the area, visit gardens and museums of all types, try restaurants featuring the local cuisine. And of course. spend time with family and friends!

Through Labor Day weekend we were in suburban DC. This was something new for us. We like cities: the excitement, the things to do, the opportunities to meet interesting people. And especially because we don’t drive after dark, we like that we usually can find interesting places to walk for dinner. If not walk, then a short Uber ride. The big plus with the suburb was we’d be within a ten minute drive of our middle son’s family and three grandchildren. And because it was summer the kids were out of school! This was going to be especially nice given that we’d not seen them in over a year!

An extended stay allowed us lots of time to enjoy being together. We visited the Palisades Library branch in DC.

We got manicures.

A second plus to being in the suburbs was the cost. Staying outside DC is considerably cheaper than being right in the city. A big drawback, however, was being tied to our car. We had to drive everywhere and because this is metropolitan DC there was horrific traffic everywhere, regardless of the hour.

One Saturday we decided to venture into Baltimore with Patrick and the grandkids to visit the National Aquarium. Even with the trip into DC to pick up Patrick before heading to Baltimore it was still less than a 60 mile trek. (Although it took nearly 2 hours!) As we were coming into Baltimore and passing near Fort McHenry, Uncle Patrick, attempting to add a bit of history into the conversation, asked the kids if anyone knew what famous song was written in Baltimore. Without missing a beat, Desmond, at age six, shouted out, ” We Will Rock You?” Hmmm…

The National Aquarium is the largest tourist attraction in the State of Maryland. From many of our travels I’ve learned the advantage of buying tickets on line. This was particularly helpful on this busy weekend. Three adults accompanied by three kids proved a very enjoyable way to see the aquarium, allowing us to view exhibits in pairs, not rushing anyone along.

The stated mission of the aquarium is to promote water conservation. There are more than 2,000,000 gallons of water in the aquarium and the facility is laid out with the water in the middle. Visitors follow a path around and up the five levels. It was a really fun afternoon. So many things to see and experience. We all enjoyed petting the sea creatures.

As we were leaving, Uncle Patrick asked if anyone wanted to take a boat ride in the harbor. We knew the kids were excited when there wasn’t one complaint as they waited for more than an hour in the hot sun for a 30 minute boat ride. The woman at the ticket counter shared her bottle of sun screen with me so we could ensure that we didn’t all end up looking like lobsters we had just seen in the aquarium! The boat tour was followed by a stop at Mr. Belal’s ice cream truck and then 3 very tired kids and 3 very tired adults made the trip back home. What a great afternoon!

When we weren’t spending time with the grandkids we found other things to entertain us. Rock Creek Park is an amazing green of more than 1700 acres making it an oasis right in the middle of all the hustle and bustle. We found this to be a relaxing place to spend an afernoon.

There was one more jaunt we wanted to make. This time to the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. It’s a bit farther but still only a two and half hour drive. It’s the private collection of Dr. Albert Barnes who had wished for it to remain in his home (about six miles from Philadelphia) but after much controversy, involving many lawsuits, the collection was moved to downtown Philadelphia. I tend to get overwhelmed by huge museums and generally prefer smaller collections and this one was perfect. It was also extremely easy to get to and we had no issues finding a place to park.

We had arrived on the first Sunday of the month, when it was free. We hadn’t known this when we planned the trip, but were amazed that it wasn’t crowded. When we first went in I was disappointed to learn that none of the paintings had descriptions next to them. Instead you had to use an app on your phone. Aim at the picture and then the description would pop up. After about 10 minutes I was sold! Using the process eliminated the need for everyone to squeeze up near the painting and read the sign (usually in very small print) hanging next to the painting. As we toured we could select any that we wanted to know more about and spend as long as we wished reading and viewing.

There are many paintings by Renoir, Cezanne, Monet, and Matisse. There are 181 Renoirs in the Barnes Collection, it’s the largest single collection of Renoir paintings in the world. A perfect museum for me; I love the Impressionists! I also discovered a painter I really liked but who I hadn’t heard of, Edith Dimock. I think it’s her droll style that I like so much.

We spent a little more than two hours in The Barnes taking it all in at a leisurely pace. On our way back to DC we decided to stop in Wilmington, a city we’d never visited, to get something to eat. I had found Big Fish Grill on Yelp and it turned out to be a great choice. It had a lovely covered patio where we were protected from the rain that had started to fall. And it had a great view of the river to accompany the wonderful food. It provided a great end to a lovely day.

Labor Day soon was upon us and our time in DC was winding down. We had one last day to spend with Stephen’s family. In previous blogs I’ve mentioned my husband’s family’s connection to Rachel Carson. And on a recent visit to the DC area we had tracked down her gravesite in Rockville. But what we didn’t know was that she also had a home there that has been turned into a national landmark. Stephen explained all this to me and said he would love to show it to us.

When we drove up to the house, we were surprised to find an older gentleman standing in the driveway. He looked at us curiously as if to ask why we were there. He explained this was a national landmark. I quickly jumped in and explained that my husband’s grandmother had been a friend of Rachel Carson’s mother, and we were here to see the where Ms Carson had lived. His demeanor immediately changed. He walked us up the driveway and explained that while it had been her home, now it was an education center, a place to share her work. He asked us to wait outside for a moment and then disappeared into the house. A few minutes later he came out and asked if we’d like to tour the home! Wow! This was far more than we had expected. He introduced us to his wife, Dr. Diana Post, who welcomed us and began to explain the changes in the home since Ms Carson had lived there. The high point for me was the room, the actual room, where she wrote, Silent Spring. Everything in the room, from the typewriter, to the pictures on the wall, was just as it had been when she wrote it.

I had no idea she had received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. After visiting for more than 45 minutes, we thanked them for their kindness. As we went to leave, Dr. Post asked the kids if they’d like to pick out a book about Ms Carson. It was definitely an afternoon none of us will forget.

The next morning as we made the drive from the east coast back to the shore of Lake Michigan we knew we had to make a stop in Springdale, just to take one more look at the Carson homestead there.

Our next stop is Manistee, Michigan, right on the shore of Lake Michigan. It’s a small town of about 6,000 but lives much bigger in the summer. We think September and October is the perfect time to be here. The weather should still be nice but the summer crowds have pretty much disappeared.

Any place along Lake Michigan is a place we like to be. It brings a peacefulness and sense of wonderment that’s not surpassed by any place we’ve ever visited. Manistee is extra special because we have good friends here, and it’s also only an hour and a half from our oldest son’s family and the city we called home for twenty years.

It was definitely nice to be here during the off season and fun to have lots of opportunities to catch up with family and friends.. We found great places to eat, went to a home football game. There was even a boat show in town.

Because Patrick hadn’t “been home” in several years, he decided to fly in while we were here. I had suggested that the closest airport would probably be Grand Rapids, but that he could try Muskegon, just an hour and a half south of us and perhaps that would be better. Imagine my surprise, when he texted me that he had a flight directly into Manistee. I couldn’t believe it. We had gone out to dinner on the night he was to arrive and because he was in a puddle jumper we couldn’t track the flight online. We decided to head to the airport a little early, just in case… The airport is small to say the least, but there he was standing right by the parking lot as we turned in. He had flown from DC National into O’Hare and then got his connecting flight. He said when he approached the gate, a woman asked him if he were Patrick. When he acknowledged that he was, she told him well, we can get on our way. “You’re the only one on the flight!” Nothing like having your own private plane! He even said the pilots asked him as he was waiting for us, if he needed a ride. And as soon as he got in the car, the lights inside the airport were turned off.

One of the best things about being on the east side of Lake Michigan is the dunes. They are beyond description. We took a drive up to Sleeping Bear Dunes. We hadn’t been there in more than a decade and were amazed to see how much it had changed in that time. There used to be a board walk out to the an overlook but that had since been buried beneath the sand. There’s a sign at the top of the more than 400 foot dune indicating what an arduous process it is climbing back up the dune and warning anyone thinking of trying it just how expensive their adventure would be if they needed help returning to the top.

The drive along the lake continues to offer beautiful views. The size of the sailboat shows just how massive the dunes are.

It was great to have time to spend with our oldest son and his family. Their home also serves as our address while we travel. We found out early on that you have to have a home address. While we were In Michigan we had all sorts of maintenance activities to complete: dentist appointments, renewing our drivers licenses, getting a new license plate, getting our Covid boosters, all those mundane things that we take for granted in our everyday lives.

Our condo is across from the marina and has several outdoor balconies. It was especially nice that the condo sleeps six so we had room for family to spend the night after nights of cards and fun!

Patrick returned to DC. This time he was on a fully booked flight with seven other travelers. And we got ready to move on. The weather is beginning to turn cool but then it is late October. We’re headed back to Florida until the middle of December. Not ready to head to Europe just yet. We’re a bit nervous but figure we’ll return to the same place in Port Charlotte where we have our own pool, can entertain ourselves reading and playing cards on the beautiful lanai and even order our groceries. We should be able to stay safe! That’s the plan at the moment. So one last trip to watch the sunset over Lake Michigan! Then we’ll be on our way!

On the Road Again (Part 2)

As I mentioned at the end of part 1, when I think of North Dakota, I think of flat plains and endless winters and not much of interest besides hockey. But Theodore Roosevelt National Park was a new find for us and that became our next destination. While Theodore Roosevelt was not the first president to establish a national park, he spent a lot of time hunting bison in this part of the country and that along with his commitment to conservation, is the reason for its existence. This is the only national park named for a president and although it has been around since 1978, we had never heard of it.

The park is divided into two parts. We arrived in the northern section in the afternoon and followed the winding road through the park.

We had arrived when the light was just right for showing off the varigated layers of rock caused by millions of years of erosion. The Little Missouri River flows through the park, and at one lookout we realized we could see a large herd of bison along the edge of the river in the distance.

We had learned somewhere along the way that there are no buffalo in the United States; instead, they are all bison. Buffalo are native only to Africa and Asia but bison are found in both North America and Europe. Bob insists that Buffalo, New York, should be renamed Bison.

We spent the night in Dickinson, North Dakota, a college town of about 25,000, and then returned to the southern section of the park the next day. The landscape in this part was much different from what we had viewed the day before. Here the erosion had still created a lot of interesting formations but the road was flatter. We found ourselves in the middle of a traffic jam created by a herd of very slow moving bison crossing the road in front of us. In another location, a bison appeared just off the side of the road. The animals were so close that I didn’t need the zoom on my camera.

And we continued to see other wildlife as well. There are several sites along the drive in the southern section labeled Prairie Dog Town. And the prairie dogs stood up and posed for my camera.

According to the park literature, there was a horse roundup in 1954 after the park had been fenced, and the horses were removed. But a few escaped the roundup, and these horses live free-range in the park making it one of the few national parks where we can actually see free-roaming horses.

Because this national park is off the beaten path, we didn’t encounter crowds. It was definitely the highlight of our trip back east.

We went on to make a brief stop in Bismark, another capital we hadn’t seen. The capitol building struck us as unusual.

We then continued on to Minot. I read about the town’s history of illegal drugs and its connection to Al Capone’s bootlegging activities during Prohibition, leading to the town’s nickname, “Little Chicago.” But because Bob is Swedish and I am Danish, it was the Scandinavian Heritage Center we wanted to see. Here the state’s immigrants from Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland are honored. The morning we visited was in the middle 90s so we spent a short time touring the grounds and seeing the highlights including the replica stave church. Then after a stop in the gift shop, we headed on.

We spent the night in Grand Forks and even though we’d been there before, we still had to take a second look at their nifty ice arena. Since our previous visit, they’d had a name change from the North Dakota Fighting Sioux to the North Dakota Fighting Hawks.

We had hoped the Canadian border would be open by the middle of the month but that didn’t happen so instead we decided to spend a week in Duluth, Minnesota, a port city on the shore of Lake Superior. We had traveled the never ending Great Plains across eastern Montana, all of North Dakota and now we were in western Minnesota. We continue to be amazed by the number and length of the trains we see.

Again in Duluth the only place I could find to stay for the week was a hotel. This one also had a separate room with a kitchenette and couch. In the lobby they even had a small bar area, almost like a closet, with a delightful host. In the middle of one afternoon as we were playing cribbage in the lobby, she plied us with cheese, summer sausage and crackers as well popcorn to go with our beverages.

On a sunny day we decided to drive part way up the scenic trail following the Lake Superior shore. We passed through many small towns with indications we were in the land of deer and winter activities.

There were spots to pull off with views of the lake and ships. We also stopped at Gooseberry Falls which even with less water than usual was still a pretty sight.

We also happened on Bridgemans, a restaurant that we knew when we lived in northern Wisconsin more than 40 years ago! Its specialty is ice cream so of course we had to have dessert, just to ensure their treats were just as good as we remembered. They definitely were!

We made a return stop at the Mayo Clinic for Bob to get his pacemaker checked. The Mayo brothers believed that the arts have a healing aspect and that exposure to them improves the quality of the experience for their patients. Throughout the buildings there is much to take in: Chihuly glass exhibits, a Rodin model of the Burghers of Calais, silk screen prints by Warhol, among others. There are grand pianos placed throughout the clinic with signs inviting folks to sit down and play. It all creates a peaceful and contemplative environment. In our case Bob’s visit was all about technology, and everything checked out perfectly. This was his three month check. We were surprised to learn he doesn’t have to have another in-person check for five years!

While we were definitely disappointed that we hadn’t been able to return east via Canada, we had learned a lot on our trek across northern United States. And we had one last stop: Milwaukee. We had invited our good friends of more than 40 years, the Terwalls from Kenosha, to come visit. How fun to be able to pick up with friends right where we left off last. We visited the Mitchell Park Botanical Domes which turned out to be a great spot to escape the continued heat.

Two more days of driving and we would arrive in DC. We stopped for a quick lunch meeting up with my friend Rita in Pittsburgh. Then finally, we arrived at our Airbnb for August, near our kids in Rockville and our son in DC. Since we left Seattle, the Delta variant has continued to grow in severity and we’re now back to wearing masks inside and even outside where we are in close proximity to others. But it’s been a year since we’ve met up with our youngest grandkids and we were definitely in need of some hugs!

On the Road Again..back east (Part 1)

We’ve spent the past five months in the West: Texas, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington, the longest we’ve ever stayed in one region of the country. It’s the end of June and our next reservation is just north of DC in Maryland but we don’t check in there until August 2. So we’re ready to leave Seattle with no definite plan for the month. This is something we never do. I usually try to plan five or six months out. But Covid has created quite the challenge for us this year. We had hoped that by the end of June, the Canadian border would be open and we could return east via the big cities of Canada. And while we were still hopeful that we might be able to do that in the middle of the month, it hadn’t opened yet. We thought about exploring the peninsula of Washington; we’d spent a little time there before but thought there was a lot left to see. Unfortunately, when I searched the Airbnb and VRBO websites I found that there was actually nothing available except for some campers which came with a price tag of more than $300 a night. We considered driving down to Boulder but there were several wildfires between us and there. I didn’t think we were being choosy. I was looking for somewhere that came with a price of not more than $100 a night and that didn’t come with 100 degree temps or a wildfire. Finally, we decided we’d head across the northern US and see what Montana had to offer.

It’s a scenic drive from Seattle across Idaho into Montana. Even stopping in the drive-thru at McDonalds provided us with a pretty view. We were struck by several empty mountain sides, the result of logging. And while we’d traveled this same road east to west previously, we realized, just as we have noticed elsewhere in the world, driving the route in reverse provides a totally new perspective.

Helena, Montana, was our first destination. We’d never been there before and I had found a Victorian Airbnb where we could spend a week. Helena, is the state capital of Montana. Its population is 32,000 which ranks it number six of least populated state capitals. (I found it surprising there are five state capitals with fewer people!) But because there isn’t much around it, it lives much bigger than most cities its size.

Our Airbnb was really an interesting home. The house was built in 1883 by John B Sanford. Mr. Sanford along with his partner, C.G. Evans owned the local feed store. Later Mr. Sanford moved out and Mr. Evans moved in. Although Mr. Evans signed his name C.G. and many called him Chris, his full name was Christmas Gift Evans, thus the name, The Christmas Gift House. We spent a lovely couple of hours with Dina, our host, and Dallas, the man who purchased the house more than 25 years ago and has lovingly been restoring it since that time. They told us story after story about the house as well as Helena and its history. Dallas’ talents are amazing. He has redone stairways, searched for and purchased period appropriate pieces as well as hung wallpaper of the time. The home has both a front and back stairway. In addition, the kitchen and baths have all been redone with modern day conveniences. We truly felt like we had been transported to a previous time. The hot weather had followed us to Helena and we were ecstatic when Dina and Dallas showed up with an air conditioner to make our stay even nicer. If you’re ever in Helena and looking for a place to stay I strongly suggest you check it out. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/47749514?source_impression_id=p3_1628787130_aGOel2qd43Gcrps1&guests=1&adults=1

Most mornings I would sit on the front porch reading and enjoying my morning coffee as people would walk past on their way to work. One morning I looked up to find a large deer running down the sidewalk, obviously in a hurry to get somewhere.

Despite the fact that Helena is the capital, the focal point of the city is The Cathedral of St. Helena. It dates from 1914. It was designed by A.O. Von Herbulis, an architect from Washington DC and modeled after the Votivkirche in Vienna, that Von Herbulis had seen during his time studying in Vienna. The stained glass windows were designed and installed by a firm in Munich.

There are many interesting buildings in Helena. The state capitol is a pretty complex and is nicely landscaped.

In addition, we saw many beautiful Victorian homes: some are private homes, some businesses and even the original governor’s mansion.

A particularly interesting building was constructed in 1919 as the Algeria Shrine Headquarters. After suffering earthquake damage in 1935 the city purchased the Moorish revival style building and converted it into the Civic Center.

After a week we headed just up the road to Great Falls. We hadn’t eaten breakfast before we left Helena so we were starving when we got there. I checked out Yelp for a place to eat and we hit pay dirt with The Roadhouse Diner https://www.roadhousegf.com/#menu While I opted for something more traditional, Bob ordered the PBJ Burger. Yep, it had peanut butter on the cheese and burger and it was served on a grape jellied bun. Bob said it was delish. He added that he had to order it. After all, when would he ever get the chance again.

The only place I could find to rent here was a hotel room, but it turned out to be a perfect fit. It was just on the edge of town, and it had a kitchenette, and sitting area. In addition, sliders led out to a patio that faced a pedestrian walkway along the Missouri River and we spent most evenings sitting out there.

Fort Benton is about a thirty mile drive from Great Falls, about 27 miles of which are under construction, the old fashioned kind that shake you to the bone as you drive over unconstructed roadway.

Definitely not a pleasant experience. Fort Benton was established as the last fur trading post on the upper Missouri River in 1848. In 1850 it was formally named Fort Benton after Thomas Hart Benton, senator from Missouri. (Not to be confused with Thomas Hart Benton, the artist. The former was the artist’s great uncle.) This was a busy port for many years as it marks the end of navigable water on the Missouri River.

Lots of interesting stories abound. As we approached the town we saw a statue of a dog on the mountainside. Near the river is a memorial to the dog, Shep. It seems that in 1934 a sheepherder fell ill and when he was taken to the hospital, his dog sat outside the hospital door. A kind nun, who worked in the kitchen, fed the dog each day. When the herder died, they took his casket to the train and the dog appeared at the platform. From that day on for the next five and a half years, through bitter winters, and hot summer days, Shep met every incoming train. At first he was shooed away as a mongrel but eventually railroad employees saw to it that he was fed. People tried to adopt him, but Shep continued to return to the railway station. On one icy morning, he slipped on the icy rail and fell into the path of the outgoing train.

This is Lewis and Clark Country. Since grade school we’ve read about their incredible three year journey but it never really struck us before just how challenging the obstacles were that they overcame. We visited the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center; we stopped at serveral pullouts along the road that explained specifics about their journey. No devices except compasses, stars and rough maps to guide them and then add in the weather, the animals and adversarial conditions they must have encountered. There were about 45 men total who began the expedition. That conjures up visions of many arguments along the way. And if it hadn’t been for Lewis and Clark establishing relationships with several Native American tribes who showed them how to find food, and survive the horrific heat of the summer and the cold of the winter, they never would have made it. It’s beyond anything we can imagine today. How strange we study them as explorers. It seems to me they’re more like American Heroes!

A staff person at our hotel had told us about a park just north of town where we could see the Great Falls. We had seen a smaller falls on our way to the Interpretive Center but were anxious to see the big one.

So before we headed further east we again drove part way up the construction area and then turned off on smaller roads to get to the Great Falls. Imagine our disappointment when we were met with a sign that said, “Road Closed Beyond This Point.”

The drive across Montana is a barren one. We were careful to monitor our gas consumption whenever we entered a place of significant size. (Significant size was any place that had a stop light, a gas station, a place to eat and maybe even a motel.) This is also big wheat country. Some of the counties in this area produce the most wheat anywhere in the country.

We spent a night in Glasgow, which is defines itself as “In the Middle of Nowhere!” Glasgow, Montana, is a town of 3,000 people and is located more than four and a half hours from any town with a population of more than 75,000. Glasgow was determined in 2018 by a group at Oxford University together with the Washington Post to be officially the “Middle of Nowhere.”

Leaving Montana we still had nearly 1900 miles left to get to Washington DC. North Dakota was next and while it’s difficult to conjure up anything in my mind but plains and hockey when I think of North Dakota, I just knew we’d find some surprises along the way!

The Pacific Northwest (Part 2)

It’s a short drive from Portland to Seattle, less than three hours. It was a pretty day and not too warm so we decided to drive through Olympia, have some lunch and check out the capitol. The capitol building is traditional and nicely landscaped.

Driving into Seattle we are immediately reminded that a major drawback to this metropolitan area is the awful traffic. As pretty as the skyline of Seattle is, it seems like no matter what direction you’re headed I5 is the major road to get you there.

As a result we generally asked Google to route us off highways. It usually didn’t take us much longer and we got to see a lot of the city neighborhoods. As I mentioned previously we were in Seattle to check in on my sister who has dementia and lives in a lovely memory care unit at Aegis on Madison. I spent the better part of the month sorting out details for her. But with most of the tasks under control, we were thrilled when my friend Rita came to vist at the end of the month and we could relax and take in the sights.

Our Airbnb was about 45 minutes north of downtown in Edmonds. Located right on the Sound, the view was spectacular. When the weather wasn’t too hot we enjoyed spending late afternoons on the deck and watching the traffic on the sound as well as Washington state ferries travel back and forth Kingston to Edmonds.

Unfortunately we also were there for their heatwave. We’re not sure what we’ve done to anger the gods but we’ve managed to experience weather extremes in an incredible way for all of 2021. First, we were in San Antonio for the great power outage and for most of the spring and summer we were in parts of the country with severe drought and now we can add the Northwest heat wave to that list. We didn’t even consider visiting California where the wildfires and drought are having major impacts on the locals. Seattle, we read, is the least air conditioned city in the country. We’ve noticed in the past that when the weather pushes 60 people are out in tee shirts and shorts, and when it gets to the middle 70s, folks complain about the heat. This stretch of weather in the high 90s and in some places exceeding 100 was unheard of! We were among the fortunate, however, our airbnb was air conditioned!

So what to do for fun? We had hoped to go to the Seattle Art Museum but as luck would have it there was a special exhibit coming the very week we wanted to go. So next on the list?

Pike Place Market is the first place many think of when you say Seattle. We’ve been there many times and always find it interesting. It’s usually mobbed with people and jammed pack with every sort of kitschy item you can possibly imagine. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. I’m not sure if it was because of Covid or the unusual heat but many fewer venders and shoppers than usual. While there were still some flower stalls, and fish sellers, the fish hawkers weren’t throwing fish and the usual hustle and bustle of the market were missing!

Feeling disappointed, I thought we needed to find something else uniquely Seattle. I had it! Let’s show Rita the troll. There is a legend in the Fremont area that a troll has lived under the Aurora Bridge ever since its construction in the early 1930s. In 1989 a competition was held to rejuvenate the area under the bridge that had become an area for dumping and drug dealing. The result was an 18 foot troll who is crushing a Volkswagen Beetle in his left hand. He is awesome!

The Washington Park Arboretum at the University of Washington has a lovely tranquil Japanese garden that folks had suggested we visit. It was a lovely place to stroll on a warm morning and surprisingly not real busy.

From there we decided to take in the Hiram Chittenden Locks near Ballard. I find locks fascinating. These go from salt water of the Sound to fresh water of the ship canal at the end of Lake Washington. Not having a science background it is difficult for me to understand why, after more than a hundred years of boats going between the two bodies (Lake Washington and Puget Sound), that the water is not all the same level of salinity. The afternoon we were there we saw pleasure boats, a tug and even a coast guard cutter go through.

There were lots of workers who eagerly answered our many questions. It seems hard to fathom that boats continuously use the locks 24/7. Knowing how expensive it is for many boats to travel through the locks at the Panama Canal, I inquired about the cost folks have to pay to traverse these locks, the response was, “Nothing. Passage is free to all boaters!” Wow! It’s also amazing how so many boats are able to move in and get tied up in such an efficient matter. I saw online there are videos for boat owners to watch explaining the process. I think it would be pretty intimidating for a novice. I was also fascinated by the safety gear worn by those working directly with the boaters. they were teathered to the railing protecting them from accidental falls in the water below.

Crossing over to the other side of the locks we were disappointed to learn that the fish ladders were closed for maintenance. But as we stood looking for seals in the water, one decided to show us what he had just caught for dinner!

Mountains are a big part of everyday life in Seattle. We were reminded of that on most days when we drove into the city and Mount Rainer loomed in front of us.

I never tired of the view and I don’t think most Seattleites do either. Several folks had suggested we visit Leavenworth, a Bavarian style town, in the Cascades. We made the mistake of going on Fathers Day, along with several thousand other folks. The best part of the day was the drive through the Cascades which still had patches of snow. The town had nice little shops but not much else. Unfortunately, everyone was driving back into Seattle at the same time and two lane mountain roads aren’t equipped to handle the traffic.

The Washington State Ferry System carries more vehicles than any other ferry system in the world! And given the heat we figured a trip over to Kingston from Edmonds would be a nice way to spend a Saturday. It’s quite a wait to board the Edmonds ferry anytime but especially on a Saturday. I read this past week that the ferry we rode, the Walla Walla, was taken out of service for mechanical issues so I guess we were lucky to only have to wait for an hour and a half. These ferries are large. Ours carried 206 vehicles and 2000 passengers. It’s was a short 20 minute ride and we could see Mt Baker to the north!

The ferry docks in Kingston on the Kitsap Peninsula. We continued on to Poulsbo, a charming town of about 11,000, known as Little Norway to the locals, honoring its immigrant history. There we found the main street, next to Liberty Bay Harbor, lined with a variety of shops with the main emphasis on all things Scandinavian. Of course, Rita and I found many items too good to pass up. The ferry ride back was a welcome break from the continuing heat!

The Seattle Center is a touristy destination built for the 1962 Worlds Fair. We decided we’d first visit the Seattle Sculpture Garden because of its close proximity to the Center. There we found several interesting pieces but were surprised that they all seemed very modern in nature and few in number.

We purchased our tickets for the Chihuly Exhibit on machines outside in the bright sunlight and were surprised when we realized we had purchased tickets for the Space Needle as well. This was something that interested Rita so Bob and I told her to go ahead and we would meet her in the Chihuly exhibit. Dale Chihuly is from Seattle and his work was greatly influenced by Native American tribes. We’ve seen Chihuly’s glass in Minnesota, North Carolina, Michigan and it all begins to look the same to my untrained eye. But what I really enjoyed in his Seattle exhibit were the baskets. These were all made by Native American weavers from Pacific Northwest Tribes. They are absolutely breathtaking.

Snoqualmie Falls is a scenic destination about 30 miles southeast of Seattle. The Snoqualmie Tribe believes this is where life began! And today the 270 foot high falls produces hydroelectric power for the Puget Sound area. There’s a walkway that takes you down along the side of the falls and of course, as we returned to our car, we found the ubiquitous gift shop!

We find that whenever we are near the sea we have to check out seafood restaurants. We have a couple of favorites in Seattle: Arnies in Edmonds and Chinooks in Salmon Bay both for their selections and their views. But we also really liked Ivars Mulkiteo Landing. It was a hot afternoon when we were there and there was no place inside, but we were able to sit at a table under an umbrella and had a wonderful meal with a great view.

It was time for Rita to fly home and the sun is soon setting on our time in Seattle. It’s been a lot of fun to have a good friend to share some of our explorations with us. The Canada border remains closed, at least for the next month, so instead of heading to British Columbia and the great cities of Canada, our next destination will be Helena, Montana.

The Pacific Northwest! (part 1)

Driving into Portland the profusion of color was beyond belief! It’s as though the earth had burst open with color! Never had we seen so many rhododendrons in such variety of colors! We weren’t sure we’d meet our host but she was just getting ready to leave as we pulled up. She showed us through the house and the lovely back patio and garden area, a perfect place for a glass of wine and a game of cribbage in the afternoon. In addition the home came with a friendly squirrel that provided us entertainment with his maneuvers on the bird feeder!

After five days of what seemed like endless driving, it felt good to finally be able to stay put for the next month. And for the next couple of days we pretty much did nothing but get settled.

Because of the mild year round climate Portland is a perfect place for gardens. We had planned on visiting the Japanese Garden but then later eliminated it because of its extensive uphill and down dale walkways. I enjoy walking but perhaps that wasn’t the best choice after Bob’s recent pacemaker surgery. Instead we chose the International Rose Test Garden just across the road. During World War I there was a great fear that Europe’s hybrid roses would be lost. The English sent many of their roses to Portland and The International Rose Test Garden was established. The roses bloom generally between April and September. And although we were there in early May, there weren’t many. But what we did see were rhododendrons. Wow! Rhododendrons have long been one of my favorites but I had no idea they grew so large or that there were multicolored varieties. And we had come at their peak! The garden was amazing. And it was free.

A week later we visited the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden. This garden which dates from the early 1900s was started by William Ladd, who was Portland’s mayor at the time, and the garden was part of his farm. There are bridges and picnic areas and ponds. I felt like I had been transported into a Victorian novel.

There are innumerable gardens in Portland, but like cherubs in the churches of Europe, I find after a couple, I’m saturated. And plus, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, every street we turned down was absolutely stunning with its own blooms, so many we had never seen before! And we saw countless types of dogwood!

One of the things we like best about Portland is the nonconformist philosophy of the city and the way the area seems to march to its own drummer. We love the neighborhoods of craftsman homes dating to the early part of the twentieth century with their low pitched roofs and lovely covered front porches. What a safe way, during Covid, for residents to interact with neighbors as they walk down the street. Neighborhoods are diverse in age and race and in our interactions with the locals, we found people to be friendly and enthusiastic about their city.

We were saddened by all the stores boarded up in downtown Portland as well as the thousands of homeless people trying to figure out how to survive another day.

The city, like so many others, is wrestling to find a solution. It seems to me that because there are so many reasons why a person becomes homeless, it’s overly simplistic to think we can come up with a one size fits all solution. Perhaps the fact that the situation has become so visably apparent to all will force us as a society to begin to address the inequities of life in our country.

The Columbia and Willamette Rivers seem to be the heart of Portland. The Willamette (rhymes with Damn It) has its source near Springfield, Oregon, and flows north for nearly 200 miles before emptying into the Columbia just north of Portland. The Columbia begins its flow at the base of the Canadian Rockies in British Columbia and eventually enters into the Pacific at Astoria, just 95 miles northwest of Portland. This was one of our first day trips. Astoria, the oldest city in Oregon, was founded by Jacob Astor in 1811, the first American settlement west of the Rocky Mountains.

We had hoped we’d be able to see its mouth where the Columbia River flows into the Pacific but were unaware that at that point the river is five miles wide. Astoria is located on the border of Washington and Oregon with a long wide bridge over the Columbia connecting the two. Still the ships and the majestic river took our breath away. The huge Victorian homes gave us a feel of what the city must have been like in times past. The states of Washington and Oregon were still restricting a lot of activities until a majority of its citizens were vaccinated so we found most establishments closed.

From Astoria we drove down the coast as far as Cannon Beach. Here there was a lot more activity than in Astoria but still folks were taking precautions seriously. Both masking and social distancing were observed. But even with the cool windy weather, we found lots of people out walking and enjoying the springtime. Rock formations, including Haystack Rock, is an iconic sight as the basalt rock emerges 235 feet high from the shallow water; however, we were disappointed that we were a little too early to see any tufted puffins.

Portland has a lot of street art. Some murals focus on the environment; others on the different cultures. There’s always more going up. There are lots of lists online so I plotted out a trek across the city on my phone and we spent an afternoon enjoying. Here are a few we saw.

Just as we were returning to our home, we came upon a poignant memorial in the yard of the United Church of Christ, just across the street from our Airbnb. The next day was the anniversary of George Floyd’s death.

Our weather was really perfect the entire month of May. So on one beautiful day we decided to drive down to Mt. Hood. We found we could avoid the interstate and still do it in about an hour and a half. We drove through a lot of small villages with lots of pretty views.

We were amazed when we got up to the Timberline Lodge that although it was in the 60s and we thought, by midwest standards, the snow was pretty patchy, folks were still skiing and snowboarding. I guess those addicted to the sport will go out every chance they get.

Late one weekday morning we set out for Multnomah Falls, but lots of other people had the same idea, and that combined with the fact that the largest parking lot had been closed, there was absolutely no place to park. We were disappointed but we had been lucky to visit a couple of times previously. We were still able to drive through the park area that took us up close to the Multnomah Falls as well as Horsetail Falls.

Okay, so what should we do instead? We’ve visited all but a few of our state capitals but Salem was one of those few. We checked Google maps and found it was less than 80 miles south of us so we decided we’d drive down to have a look. Salem is a city of about 175,000 located on the Willamette River. It’s also on the 45th parallel, halfway between the equator and the North Pole. The state capitol is known for its gold leaf pioneer statue on top.

Most interesting was the park across from the capitol that has markers in the ground explaining the history of Oregon, many of them excerpts from pioneer diaries. The Kalapuyans and their descendants, part of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon, have lived in the area for more than 10,000 years. The first Europeans, like most of the northwest, were fur traders and missionaries.

Before we left Portland we wanted to check out its Saturday market. We’ve found that lots of the markets, both in the US and Europe have mostly mass produced items with locally made crafts few and far between. We were pleasantly surprised that this one featured lots of original items for sale.

After four wonderful weeks in Portland we were now heading to Seattle for a month. Because I have a sister in Seattle, we have been there more times that we can count. This wouldn’t be a city where we’d do a lot of sightseeing. We are going there for family business. But at the end of the month, my friend Rita, is coming out to spend a week with us and since Seattle is new for her, we’ll have fun showing her the sights. So we leave Mt Hood behind and look forward to seeing Mt Ranier.