From Sea to Shining Sea

IMG_20180110_110804039.jpgPalm Springs turned out to be a lovely choice for a month…wish we would have booked here even longer.  The palms were among the highest we’ve ever seen and the population is less than 50,000, much smaller than we had anticipated.   We had read that the weather could be cool but compared to Michigan we knew we’d find it enjoyable. As it turned out the weather was in the high 70’s and 80’s for the entire month we were there.  Now that’s January weather I can get used to!  We rented our Airbnb apartment from a guy who lives in New York and it was perfect.  The two bedroom apartment was spacious, great cooking facilities, comfy bed, lots of stores were nearby and just a short drive from downtown.  Couldn’t have been better!

Our apartment faced the pool with two chairs and a table on our balcony making it a perfect location for an afternoon glass of wine to go with our cribbage game. The complex was divided into eight separate units each with its own stairway which was covered by a profusion of bouganvilla.  


One afternoon as Bob was sitting there reading he swatted what he thought was a fly away from his ear.  How surprised he was when he realized it wasn’t a fly at all but a hummingbird!

One of the jaunts we enjoyed most was a side trip to San Diego.  It’s about a two and a half hour drive through the mountains from Palm Springs and oh so beautiful.


Our route took us over the San Gorgonio Pass one of the windiest places in the US, and which acts as a wind tunnel between the coast and the Coachella Valley, so it was understandable that we would once again encounter the ubiquitous windmill.  And wide-lane highways made it possible for even the driver to take in the sights!


Our first destination was the San Diego Zoo.  It was warm and sunny, just as we would expect in San Diego, and we saw a baby giraffe, pandas, koalas, even a zoo medical assistant applying lotion to a flamingo’s feet because just like people their feet dry out in the desert climate.


We had made reservations to spend the night in San Diego so we could see a bit more of the area.  We asked locals about suggestions for a  seafood restaurant and Kings Fish House seemed to be the place.  Yummy! Bob had the seafood platter and I had the fresh salmon and both were wonderful. But I was a bit surprised that the menu marketed my plate as British Columbia Atlantic Salmon. Hmm… Last I knew BC was on the Pacific!

We woke up the following morning to unusually warm weather and headed for the boardwalk in Coronado where we watched the surfers. Then headed back to Palm Springs travelling first up the Pacific coast to La Jolla where we strolled along the water enjoying the sun and surf just like the sea lions on the beach.


In August we had been in Seattle for the solar eclipse and were a bit disappointed by how little it affected the daylight, but on January 31 we were treated to a wonderful view of a lunar eclipse.  We got up about 4:30 am, took our coffee outside, and had a seat on our balcony for an amazing show.  For nearly an hour we watched as a shadow slowly covered the moon. Then much to our surprise, it quickly disappeared as the moon went down behind the mountain.  We hadn’t anticipated that!


Another place on my “must see list” was the Salton Sea.  We had captured glimpses of it from the interstate on our initial drive into Palm Springs.  We were thrilled to find friends from Michigan were also visiting Palm Springs so we decided we’d make the trek together, about 60 miles. The Salton Sea is a really fascinating place.  It’s 236 feet below sea level and located directly over the San Andreas fault.

The sea is only a little more than a hundred years old and was formed when the Colorado River broke through irrigation gates in Yuma, Arizona, and the entire area around the main line of the Southern Pacific Railroad community was flooded.  This flooding went on for two years and wasn’t halted until 1907.  Now the Salton Sea is the largest lake in California.  In the 1950’s this was a big resort area; it has since deteriorated in large part due to the pollution of the lake.  We encountered many dead fish as we walked along the beach.


And although we had read there is a stench associated with the sea, we didn’t find that to be the case.  We also read that there are mud pots and mud volcanoes on the eastern shore but we didn’t see either.  There are some unusual man-made sights, however.  For instance, there’s a banana museum which was unfortunately closed.  Hmm…and bananas don’t grow in California; well, at least aren’t commercially grown. Then there’s Salvation Mountain near Slab City.  This mountain was the idea of Leonard Knight who constructed the mountain from adobe, straw, and lead free paint.  The mountain is covered with biblical sayings.  Hard to explain.  You just have to see it!


Driving back we came upon the now all too familiar sight of border patrol checking cars driving north. They gave us a smile and waved us on.  I can’t quite decide if this is racial profiling or credible security. IMG_0041

Palm Springs is also about a 45 mile drive from Joshua National Park.  I had seen where in the summer the temperatures can reach 115 degrees or more.  Winter is definitely the time to visit.


The park is particularly interesting because two distinct deserts meet there. The northern part of the national park is in the Mohave Desert and much prettier, I believe, than the southern part of the park which is part of the Colorado Desert (part of the larger Sonoran Desert) and much more barren. We didn’t realize there was such a difference between the deserts. The Joshua Tree is a yucca and  we were told seeing them is a good indicator that we were in the Mohave Desert and as we left the high desert and moved into the Colorado they indeed disappeared.  (But later we were told some Joshua Trees  do grow next to the saguaro in western Arizona. It gets confusing!) There is also an abundance of boulders which makes the park a favorite place for rock climbers!


We were lucky to be there on a clear day which made the stop at Keys View (in the northwestern part of the park) spectacular. Just as we walked to the top of the viewing area a ranger came up behind us and explained what we were looking at. We were standing at just over 5,000 feet.  Wow! We could see Palm Springs, the San Andreas Fault and the Salton Sea.


He also explained that the small cut outs in the road, which I had assumed were for water runoff, provided a way for desert turtles to cross the road! And while we saw lots of cut outs we never sighted a turtle! We also liked the Cholla Cactus Garden.


We’ve seen other cactus gardens but this one is natural and wild.  There’s a flat trail less than half a mile long that winds through it.  I can only wonder how gorgeous it must be when it blooms! We didn’t encounter large crowds anywhere. Perhaps because we were there on Super Bowl Sunday? And with all our stops it was about a three hour trip through the park.

Time again to move on.  As we began our trip back across country we decided we wanted to see Las Vegas.  The drive there would take us a little over four hours across the high desert.  We were reminded that we were entering desolate country when we came upon a sign indicating no services for the next 96 miles.  The vast barrenness of the land is beyond description.  As far as the eye could see…nothing…  Then in the middle of no where we came upon a row of mailboxes, here in a place where we saw no evidence of a community.  I can’t begin to imagine how self-sufficient you’d have to be to live here. Surprisingly, and perhaps reassuring, we regularly encountered vehicles traveling in both directions.


Las Vegas just appears!  This huge mecca of entertainment seems to rise out of nowhere. Evidently Las Vegas really sprang to life in the 1930’s when Boulder (now Hoover) Dam was being built.  We stayed at the Excalibur, and we walked down the steps, up the escalators along the strip and saw the famous fountain of the Bellagio, tried our hands at the slots in the Venetian.  We took in a wonderful show that was a tribute to the Bee Gees. (And were flabbergasted at how old Bee Gees fans have become!) But after a day and a half  we were ready to say enough and move on.


We drove through Lake Mead National Recreation area toward Hoover Dam.


The dam is amazing.  It is truly hard to imagine how this massive project was ever moved from a vision to a reality. Then there’s the impact it’s had on the area.  We forget that it’s created recreation areas, provided hydro electricity and irrigation. American ingenuity at its best! We also had to stop at Lake Havasu. Really London Bridge in Arizona? We were surprised by how very beautiful it is and how natural it seems in the desert environment.


The forecast continued to be good so we decided we could take a shorter, more northern, route east as we headed for our next stop North Carolina.  We spent the night in Flagstaff, elevation 6900 ft,  and asked our waiter at dinner if this 50 degree weather were typical for this time of year; he shook his head and said last year at this time they had a foot and a half of snow.  As a snowboarder he was pretty frustrated, but added that it looked like in a week they should get some snow.  Great!  We’d be far far away by then!

The next morning we continued our drive through the desolate west. We stopped in Winslow Arizona, to see the construct of the Eagles’ “Standin on a Corner.”


Then we stopped at the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest spending little time there as we remembered both from camping trips when our kids were young. IMG_0376We felt like we were making progress as we crossed the Continental Divide just 25 miles east of Gallup, New Mexico.  We’ve been surprised by the number of trains we’ve encountered throughout the west.  And they’re long…often more than a hundred cars, mostly hauling containers.  Can’t help but wonder where are they coming from?  And where are they going?


Every so often we’ve seen sights that make us laugh right out loud.


And we were always on the look out for a place of historical significance.  So when we came to Fort Smith, Arkansas, we had to stop. Fort Smith was established in an attempt to restore law and order to the area. Under the Indian Removal Act the Cherokee Indians were forced to move onto lands of other tribes, and not surprisingly the other tribes, in this case the Osage, objected. Disputes arose between the tribes as well as between the tribes and greedy businessmen who wanted the land. 

The visitor center provided a lot of information about the disputes and how as the frontier moved westward, the fort was changed to the site of a federal court.IMG_20180211_141147387.jpg  An interesting character, Judge Isaac Parker–often referred to as “the hanging judge”–presided over the court for 21 years.  During his tenure 86 men were hanged for murder or rape and once sentenced had no right of appeal. The jail was one large room where all prisoners lived together.  One can only wonder how that worked out! 

One of the Osage leaders was Chief Bad Tempered Buffalo–wouldn’t those sorts of names be helpful in the professional world of today?  Particularly in education?  They could give us some sort of preview of what communication issues may arise.  Think of it:  as an elementary principal I could have been called Chief Bad Tempered Tall Woman.  I think it has real possibilities.

IMG_0453But the greatest stop for me was the Central High School Historic Site in Little Rock, Arkansas. The school is spectacularly beautiful with stunning architecture. The high school (grades 9-12) still operates with an enrollment of about 3,000.  Since we had stopped here in 2008 they’ve constructed a visitors center commemorating the integration of the high school in 1957. 


Looking at picture books I came upon a story I had never heard.  The book, Ruth and the Green Book, by Calvin Alexander Ramsey,  tells the story of a family traveling south from Chicago and how they are given The Green Book describing for them restaurants, gas stations and motels where they could safely stay. While the story is fiction, the guide book is not.  It was written by Victor Hugo Green, a New York City postman.  It was published annually from 1936 – 1966.  1966!!! Unbelievable!

IMG_0451We came upon an exhibit that shows the literacy test that Blacks had to pass in order to be able to vote. I wonder how many Americans could pass that test today! The ranger asked if we had any questions and I think he was surprised when we responded that no, we both could remember the event.  We then drove to the Capitol to see a sculpture of the nine very brave students who on that day in 1957 made such a difference for the future of so many!   How far we’ve come!  How far we’ve yet to go! 


Moving on to Tennessee the landscape changed dramatically becoming much more lush. Yep, we were definitely in the east…we entered the eastern time zone, crossed the Appalachian Trail! And finally we crossed into North Carolina, the state that will be our home for the next two months.


We managed to drive across country twice, in November and again in February, avoiding bad weather! I’m not sure I even thought it was possible. Once again we are  feeling VERY lucky! And while technically we hadn’t driven “from sea to shining sea” we started out just 100 miles from the Pacific and 10 days later we’re just 130 miles from the Atlantic!  We’ve traveled a distance of 2707 miles!  Wow!  After spending so much time in Europe in the past few years, we are reminded of just how vast and diverse our country is!













Tucson for the Holidays

20171222_172522Although I’ve been to the southwest several times we’ve never spent any length of time here and we’ve never visited in winter before.  I loved Tucson from first sight.  The saguaro cacti, the symbol of the West, are everywhere. They’re huge; some grow as tall as 40 feet and they’re gorgeous.  Our Airbnb is unusually expensive, the highest we’ve paid anywhere in the world, the rest of Tucson seems very reasonably priced. And we love our location.  We’re in the middle of a residential area with folks who appear to live here year round. It’s the weather that I’m loving the most right now.  I had been worried; our Michigan son and his family are flying in; our son from DC is coming; our daughter and her friend are making the trek from Italy, so when I saw that the typical temperatures are in the high 60’s I began to panic.  What if it’s really cold?  Someone on-line even commented that they have only had snow once on Christmas in the last eight years.  OMG, what if after paying horrendous prices for flight tickets, it snows?  But instead the weather is exceptionally warm…in the 70’s and 80’s.  Whew!

The house is fine for our large group.  The backyard a bit on the small side but the view of the mountains is spectacular and the pool is great and amazingly warm!  With so much to do, we don’t swim often.



Checking out Trip Advisor online and then finding the nearest AAA office are among the first things we do when traveling to new places in the US.  We met a great clerk, Amanda, in the AAA office who went out of her way to help us.  She got out a map and highlighted her favorite places.  Gave us suggestions for things to see, places to eat, nice day trips. We want to do it all.

Mount Lemmon stands at over 9,000 feet and is the highest point in the Santa Catalina Mountains.  From bottom to top there are six climate zones, starting at the desert scrub and ending at the pine forest. And the rock formations are just as varied as the flora.  The winding road is very safe offering numerous pull-offs and the views are spectacular. Summer Haven is at the very top and we were surprised by the number of people we saw with sleds along the road.



Given the rocky and forest-like landscape, I asked the clerk at the general store in Summer Haven  where people went sledding.  He looked at me like he had absolutely no idea idea what I was talking about.  I tried to explain, we saw lots of people with sleds in the snow, where do they sled?  “Anywhere they want,” was his response.  I guess maybe in Michigan we just take clear snowy hills for granted!

Two people had suggested we check out Bisbee Arizona, about an hour and a half southeast of Tucson.  We decided if we were going to make the trip we’d like to go a bit further to the border and see the wall. On the way down, we stopped at a remote gas station to fill up.  IMG_0286As we were leaving the parking lot, Patrick suddenly put on the brakes and backed up saying he saw something on the ground!  I had to jump out of the car to get a picture of possibly the biggest tarantula I have ever seen!  I had no idea that the wall or at least fencing dates back to 1993 between San Diego and Tijuana.  Then under W the Secure Fence Act was proposed in 2006.  And as of 2011 Homeland Security built 350 miles of pedestrian fencing and almost 700 miles of vehicular fencing.  Also, in 2011 it was decided to use more mobile surveillance and unmanned drones in attempt to provide security in a more financially efficient manner. Border security has obviously been the subject of disputes for years! About 30 miles from the border we could see something in the sky but weren’t sure what it was.  As we got closer I got a picture of it.  The US uses blimps to monitor the border. img_0271.jpgAs we came close to the border we could see the dark fencing in the distance against the sandy colored landscape.



We encountered border security vehicles at nearly every turn. But as we got closer to the fence it just felt  wrong.  All of us, except for Native Americans, are here as immigrants and to fence people out just seems to be contrary to all that we were taught to believe of American values.

Just a five minute drive from Naco, Arizona and the wall we came to Bisbee, an artsy mountain town.  Mining began here in the late 1800s and grew to be one of the richest mines in the world.  By the early 1900’s Bisbee was the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco.  The open mining of copper began in 1917 and the mine operated until 1975.  After the mine closing, the hippies moved in and the town took on a creative folksy feel.  We parked the car and decided we needed to stroll the main street of this interesting downtown, filled with musicians, shops where the local artisans make jewelry…I found a ring made with local turquoise too pretty to turn down.  We also found  a great salsa shop.  We passed another store where they were selling local honey.  So much fun!



Leaving Bisbee we had to stop in Tombstone, the home of Wyatt Earp and the shootout at the OK Corral.  Dusty streets complete with boardwalks and stage coaches, it was about as cheesy as you could get. IMG-20180204-WA0002 We passed on the reenactment of the shooting but Cary and Claudio (her friend from Sicily) did have their picture taken with the gun fighters on the main street.  Claudio looked the part…perhaps in a previous life, Tombstone was his home!



And of course we had to stop at Boot Hill, a cemetery that had been ignored until a private citizen purchased it, cleaned it up and even provided a guide to the tombstones.  A couple of my favorites: Here lies Lester Moore, 4 slugs from a .44, no less, no more!  Or: Here lies George Johnson, hanged by mistake, 1882.  He was right; we were wrong, but we strung him up. Now he’s gone.  We’ve read online these are both fictitious, but they’re still fun to read!



Nearer to Tucson, on a warm Christmas Eve Day, we enjoyed The Desert Museum which isn’t a museum at all but more like a zoo.  We had been told to make sure we got there in time to see the free flight Raptors and boy was that right.  We walked about half a mile down a dusty trail until we came to a woman who offered interesting information about raptors.  Then we, with about another 30 people, moved forward as a guide began to tell us about the birds we were going to see.  These birds are not tethered.



The guide described a bird, and then the bird would zoom over us so low we felt we could touch it.  Then just as quickly it would zoom to great heights coming back to a nearby perch where food was offered by other volunteers.  We saw a Peregrine Falcon, a barn owl, a gray hawk and a red tailed hawk.   We were absolutely captivated.

In 1949 CB Richards started a water co-op and built a residential neighborhood in Tucson known as Winterhaven.  He also started a Festival of Lights based on a neighborhood he had seen in Beverly Hills in the 1930’s.  Richards purchased pine trees to be placed at regular intervals throughout the neighborhood and had electrical connections installed at the base of each tree.  The festival has gone on every year since 1949 with the exception of one year in the 1970s when the residents voted to not have it due to an energy crisis.  I had read about the festival on line and purchased trolley tickets for us for Christmas Eve.  IMG_0432For an hour we gazed at more lights than I have ever seen.  We found ourselves turning from one side to the other and still unable to keep up.  There were Christmas displays, sports displays, cartoons, just about every theme imaginable.  We can’t figure out how people do this year after year…do they just add an additional tweek?  And how overwhelming it must be if you buy a house there.  The previous owner must leave his lights.  I’m not sure how it works but we’re sure glad we saw it!

Tucson has many many places with great Mexican food.  But two stand out as favorites: one is Mi Nidito  They don’t take reservations and we were there on a Friday evening. The wait was long but the group was really chatty and many were locals so we met some interesting people and  learned a lot about the area.  Our other favorite was El Charro.



This is the oldest Mexican restaurant in the country that’s run by the same family.  There were nine of us and we had quite a wait for a table but again it was well worth the wait. We had our own room and the waiter explained everything in detail. He pointed out some favorites he had comparing them to food his grandmother made.  And of course, with our Italian guest we had to make a stop at Waffle House, a true American institution.  We didn’t realize the chain extended beyond the southeast.  What a pleasant surprise!

Javelinas (also known as peccaries) are sort of an icon for the area. We saw toy javelinas, Christmas ornaments with javelinas, stuffed animals, every sort of souvenir imaginable! We hadn’t heard of them.  They reminded us of wild pigs.  They are common to Central and South America.  We had read that they usually travel in groups and that they particularly like prickley pears.  Imagine the shock Kris and Andria must have had when they, along with their teenagers, took a morning walk around the neighborhood and came upon a live one.  Talk about up close and personal!download_20180205_094756

We spent one afternoon at Old West Tucson.  Many Hollywood westerns were filmed here with the likes of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Gary Cooper, etc.  We attended a short western play, went to a saloon show, took a train ride through the back lots and watched as stunt men staged fights and falls from tall buildings.



There is so much to do in the Tucson area.  We even spent an afternoon touring wineries.  What a surprise! Wineries in Arizona!  I think it’s a relatively new industry and most that we visited appeared to be run by young people who were friendly and eager to show off their distinct wines.


After a month in Tucson we were ready to head to Palm Springs.  It’s about a 2 hour drive to Phoenix and then another four hours to Palm Springs.  We decided to stop in Blythe California on the way. There was a storm predicted and because we are unfamiliar with desert driving we decided that we’d spend a second night in Blythe.  We were glad we did.  The rain was significant with ponding on the highways and leaving a lot of snow in the high desert.  I think the total rainfall from the storm was about half an inch but we are in the desert, not Michigan, and that’s significant when you get 5 inches or less in a year!

So nice to be in another warm location as we listen to horrendous weather reports from the midwest and east coast!  We are so lucky!









Driving Cross Country

Christmas rentals are always in high demand so I usually try to plan far in advance.  And because we’re a pretty large group…16 of us when all of us can make it, it becomes quite a challenge. To further complicate matters when I made the reservation last May we were unsure exactly where we’d be before and after the holidays.  So when we left Washington DC after Thanksgiving we had quite a drive to our holiday destination:  Tucson.  And then we decided we’d like to go by way of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shelbyville, Indiana, so we could connect with good friends and relatives adding 250 miles to our trek. But hey we were already committed to 2256 miles so what’s an extra 250 miles.  We had allowed nine days for driving so we could stop see sights along the way.

We both love Pittsburgh and it was extra special because we were spending the night with one of my best friends, Rita.  After a delightful dinner meeting up with her son and girlfriend, we headed off to see the Winter Light Show at Phipps Conservatory.  The rain let up; the weather was unusually warm for late November and the show was amazing!  What a wonderful time we had! I always love it when we can meet up with those special friends who no matter how long since we’ve seen each other, we just pick up where we last left off.


The next morning we headed for Indiana where we met up with my cousin and had a great night catching up with his family.  We hadn’t given much thought to our route to Tucson having made many trips across the country when our kids were young.  But then Bob sugested that we travel via Route 66!  What a great idea.  We stopped in Bloomington long enough for me to run into Barnes and Noble and find a book suggesting stops along the way.  I had no idea there would be so many to choose from.  The clerk suggested Moon’s Route 66:  Road Trip by Candacy Taylor.  So my decision was made.  Great choice.  We found the book offered lots of suggestions and she gives specific directions to reach the sites. (This is a great help when GPS fails to recognize destinations like The Blue Whale in Catoosa!)


I had no idea that Route 66 doesn’t exist any more except for an historic road.  In some states, the book said we’d find it more difficult to follow than in others.  Boy, were they right!  We first caught up with Route 66 in St. Louis. We spent our first night in Arnold, Missouri, and spent the evening poring over the book and choosing the highlights we wanted to see.  There were so many things to choose from:  historical sites, kitschy things, birth places of famous folk, the list semed to be endless.  We decided we’d like to see a blend of things keeping in mind that we wanted to be in Tucson on December 7 and it was already December 1.

Our first stop was Laumeier Sculpture Park in Kirkwood.  This is a collection of 80 sculptures including a giant eyeball (by Tony Tassett).


From there we drove on to Cuba, Missouri, known for their wall murals.  The murals were painted as part of a revitalization project and they depict the town’s history.  My favorites were the Blue Bonnet Train from World War II.  And also the one of Amelia Earhart.  Evidently in their hey day  many important personages visited Cuba!


Not far from Cuba we came to the World’s Largest Rocking Chair.  IMG_20171203_122916845Wow, a giant eyeball and the world’s largest rocking chair in the same day.   I couldn’t help but wonder how they ever got that rocking chair up to that height!

Driving on to Waynesville we came to highway signs marking the Trail of Tears.  We thought it was a long trek to drive from DC to Tucson.  But here was the reminder of the thousands of Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Seminole, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Ponca who after being moved to Ft. Cass, Tennessee were then forced to walk to Oklahoma under horrific conditions.  Nearly 800 miles!IMG_20171203_131844433We had hoped to visit the Trail of Tears National Historic Site but as we came into Waynesville people were lining both sides of the street with police managing traffic.  Waynesville only has a population of 4800!  Where did all these people come from? Finally, we realized we were driving down the middle of the main street where everyone was waiting for the Christmas parade! This was obviously a really big deal! No way were we going to be able to turn into the memorial!

Our next stop was Marshfield the hometown of Dr. Edwin Hubble.  Taylor had told us in her book that there is a replia of the Hubble telescope in front of the courthouse and we wanted to see it! IMG_20171203_150409884 And although there isn’t much else to see in this quiet town we were glad we stopped! Having seen the World’s Largest Rocking Chair we decided we could pass on the World’s Largest Fork in Springfield and instead moved on to Carthage, Missouri, to spend the night.

We didn’t use Taylor’s suggestions for places to stay as we always stay in Choice Hotels.  They’re clean, easy to find and include breakfast, and we save an enormous amount of money by staying in the same chain and taking advantage of bonus points. For our trek to Tucson we had accumulated enough points to stay free for three nights.

We generally ask the hotel clerks for suggestions where to eat and this time she was a bit stumped because it was a Sunday.  She directed us to El Charro, a fantastic Mexican restaurant not far from the hotel. We again looked over our guide book as we ate and realized that our stops were taking longer than we had anticipated and the fact that Route 66 is sort of a “on again, off again” route that too was adding to our time.

Our first stop the next morning was to be closeby near Diamond, Missouri, to see the George Washington Carver National Monument.  Unfortunately we came to a sign that told us the bridge was out and we weren’t able to get there.  So instead we headed on down the road to Joplin where we wanted to see Thomas Hart Benton’s Mural. IMG_20171204_100440780I don’t know a lot about art but I love the realism of Benton’s murals and remembered how he was commissioned to do a series of murals representing the state of Indiana for the Chicago World’s Fair in the 1930’s.  This was a definite must see! It didn’t disappoint!

Commerce, Oklahoma, the home of Mickey Mantle was next.  Again, Taylor’s directions took us right to his modest childhood home. The plaque on the house describes how as a young child Mickey’s father would come home from work and pitch baseballs to him in the side yard. The shed with the dents from missed catches still stands.  Not far from his house, near the high school baseball field, stands a monument to number 7.  As a kid growing up in the 1950’s the Yankees and Mickey Mantle, in particular, make up my first memories of baseball.


Even though it wasn’t listed in our Route 66 information, we wanted to stop in Claremore to see the Will Rogers Memorial and Museum.  As luck would have it the museum was closed on Mondays but we did enjoy the beautiful grounds! From there it was on to Arcadia and its more than 66 feet high pop bottle lit with LED lights.  And although we didn’t see it at night, it must be quite a sight!


My favorite stop on all of Route 66 was the Centennial Land Run Monument in Oklahoma City.  There are horses, wagons, men, women and children, even a dog and they are literally larger than life. Paul Moore is the sculptor and his great grandfather was one of those who participated.  I hadn’t realized there was more than one land rush in Oklahoma.  This monument represents the first in 1889 but others took place later in other parts of the state. The huge procession, one of the largest bronze sculptures in the world, is over 350 feet long and protrudes into the river!  It truly defines the word, “Sooner!”


We spent the night in Elk, City, which is located on the Great Western Cattle Trail.  It’s been called by different names and there’s a lot of controversy between the Texans and the Oklahomans about its exact name but the bottom line is that from 1876-1895 this was a major cattle trail! Not that long ago!

Murals are also a favorite of mine.  So in Sayre, a quiet almost ghost town sort of place, we stopped to see the WPA mural on the wall of the post office. This mural is by Vance Kirkland, but has a Bentonesque sort of feel to it.  IMG_20171205_093908268It also represents the Oklahoma Land Rush.  We found it sad that we encountered virtually nothing along the way that talked about the impact on the Native American displacement.

As we crossed into Texas we began to realize how sparsely populated the area is when we encountered a sign that said, “No gas between Shamrock and Amarillo” a distance of nearly 100 miles.  Not far after we entered the panhandle of Texas we came upon The Leaning Tower of Texas. (Little did we know when we were in Pisa in September that we had our own leaning tower right here in the US!) Some people think it was caused by an earthquake or other natural event or that it was struck by a plane but it appears that it was just a marketing idea!  Not much further down the road we stopped west of Amarillo to take a picture of Cadillac Beach, a place where 10 Cadillacs from the 50’s and 60’s are buried nose deep.


Today the cars are covered with graffiti and it’s become common place for tourists to add their individual marks with spray paint. (We saw several doing just that when we were there.)  I wished I could have been there after they were first buried before all the defacing.

Continuing down Route 66 this sign seemed to say it all: IMG_20171205_101224989Shamrock, Texas, is where Native Americans herded bison until the late 1880’s.  When Route 66 came through here in the 1920’s The U – Drop Inn cafe was built.  One of the few art deco buildings of its kind.  Today the building is the home of the Chamber of Commerce we met a delightful woman there who shared with us a lot of the area’s history. We found it interesting that there are four Tesla chargers in their parking lot.  The woman at the Chamber told us that the town had approached Tesla about making Shamrock a “Tesla Town” and Tesla agreed!  She went on to say that every week or so a few cars stop by to be recharged! (We did find the tow truck from the late 1940’s or early 1950’s to be an ironic touch.)


This would be our last night on Route 66 and we thoroughly enjoyed it.  But at the same time it’s a bit overwhelming.  It’s as though every town along the way has their own mark to try to attract tourists.  For us the best sites were those that had historical significance, those sites that helped us understand the people who had lived there for the past hundred years.  What a lonely existence it must have been before modern transportation and communication.

Our next stop was Santa Fe.  We had planned on spending a month here after the first of the year until we realized its altitutde and the cold weather we’d encounter.  So we decided an afternoon would have to do and we’d try to come back in a warmer season.  We headed to the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, the largest collection of O’Keefe’s work in the world. IMG_20171206_124759323  The museum is relatively new having opened in 1997 and was designed by Richard Gluckman (who also designed the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh).  We spent about two and a half hours there and that enabled us to see it all.  I like smaller museums where I can wander  leisurely but don’t have to make decisions about what I’m going to see and what I’m going to skip.  Although O’Keefe didn’t move to New Mexico until 1929 it had a major influence on her work.  We would have liked to visit her home, Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, but time didn’t permit.  We’ll definitely have to come back to this beautiful area.

When we got up in the morning we were not pleased to find the ground covered wittih snow!  It didn’t last and by the time we had arrived in Las Cruces the temperature had reached the high 60’s.  We spent the night, stopped to see the Road Runner and headed for Tucson.   IMG_20171208_094456545

Nine days and more than 2700 miles after leaving Washington, DC we arrived in Tucson! It’s been a fantastic trip! We were surprised by the topographical changes we encountered virtually every day of our drive.  The desert itself changes from location to location; sometimes filled with cacti, other times with brush. We had no idea that the southwest produces cotton! We passed signs between Las Cruces and Tucson about every 15 miles that warned us to be alert for dust storms and if encountered we should:  pull off the road, turn off lights, take foot off the brake and wait in the car! Luckily the sky was clear all the way! We now have a week to relax and get into a routine before much our family will arrive for the holidays










Prague, Paris and Home

It wasn’t a long drive from Krakow to Prague but the dreary weather continued and we were disappointed that even though we had to backtrack about a hundred miles, traveling the same road we had taken from Bratislava to Krakow, we still didn’t see much through the haze and gloom.  We continued to be amazed by how green the fields were.  drive from luxembourg to paris still green And we were thankful for good roads and once again we were pleased with our Airbnb.  The location was amazing.  We were on a main street less than a block from the tram that would be our transportation for the next week.  And between us and the tram was a tobacco shop where we could buy our daily tram tickets costing us less than two dollars each for limitless travel for 24 hours.  prague tram stopWe have found tobacco shops throughout Europe to be a convenient stop to purchase stamps and public transportation tickets.  They are also very good at answering basic questions about the area.  (Where is the nearest bank, post office, etc.)

At the top of our sightseeing list was Wenceslaus Square.  The square is named after Wenceslaus, the patron saint of Bohemia, best known for giving alms to the poor on the Feast of Stephen (as the Christmas carol tells us). It’s the main square of demonstrations. In 1968 this is where the protests took place after the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia. Protests became violent and first Jan Palack, a university student, set himself on fire followed a month later by Jan Zajic.

It was here too, in 1969 that the Czechs celebrated their victory over the Russians in Prague’s Ice Hockey Championship Games. The celebrations were short-lived and soon put down by force. I can remember seeing pictures of the crowds during the protests of the Velvet Revolution in the late 1990’s just a week after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Memorials throughout the area serve as reminders of the cost Czechs have paid for their freedom.

We made a couple of visits to Old Town Prague.  The Astronomical Clock built in 1381 and installed in the tower in 1400 is complete with calendar, clock dial and the twelve apostles who parade hourly.  But honestly trying to tell the time is no easy feat!

The Astronomical Clock sits at the edge of Old Town Square where we saw some unique buskers.  It’s amazing how energetic these folks are for what must seem like an endless day.  We were also amazed by their entertaining antics that followed whenever anyone put coins in their containers. Buscar Prague BEST Across the square from the Astronomical Clock we found  a small art museum.  Each of their three floors was devoted to a different artist:  Dali, Warhol and Mucha.  I find Dali interesting but confusing.  His unusual work always reminds me of Alice in Wonderland. We have encountered Dali and Warhol museums on various stops in our travels.  Mucha is a famous Czech artist.

Another must see for us was the Charles Bridge,  named for King Charles IV who initiated its construction.  It was built in 1357  (known as the Prague Bridge until 1870) and was the only way to cross the Viltava River until 1841. It’s an interesting stone bridge that contains more than 30 statues of saints.  On the way to the Charles Bridge we jumped off the tram for a quick stop to see the Dancing House by Frank Gehry.  The museum is nicknamed Fred and Ginger! (Gehrey also designed the Biomuseo in Panama City as well as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.)

We loved the Czech food.  Around the corner from our Airbnb we found the Andel restaurant, a wonderful authentic Czech restaurant.  We decided by the number of locals that it must be a pretty good place. We were not disappointed.  The menu had lots of traditional Bohemian dishes including: sausages, goulash, pork hocks and schnitzels.  authentic czech restaurantWhen we realized the three individuals sitting at the next table were Americans (They were discussing Big Ten sports.) we asked where they were from.  Turns out, they were in Prague to recruit international graduate students to their respective universities:  Indiana, Purdue and the University of Colorado.  How surprised we were to find out the Indiana recruiter was from Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, just 40 miles east of our address in Big Rapids.  Small world!

Markets are everywhere in Europe and Prague was no exception.  We enjoyed strolling through the Havelske Trziste (Havel Market).

The market is named for Vaclav Havel who was the last president of Czechoslovakia serving from 1989 – 1992 when it first broke away from the Soviet Union. Havel was also the first president of Czech Republic from 1992 – 2003.  He was a politically active playright whose work was banned because he had participated in the Prague Spring.

Everywhere we turned in Prague the architecture was particularly interesting.  The Powder Tower, so named because it held gun powder, was completed in 1475.  This was the starting point for the Royal Route, the route of the Coronation Parade.  Not far from there we came upon the House of the Black Madonna.  This was the first example of cubist architecture in Prague and was built with the specific goal of fitting into the existing neighbohood.  The designers had to get government permission before they were allowed to construct it.

After a week in Prague it was time to head back to Paris and turn in our rental car.  But there were a couple of places we wanted to see on the way.  Nurenberg, Germany, was our first stop.  The weather continued to be miserable.  In addition to the rain it was getting really cold.  We layered up in all we had:  tee shirt, sweater, jacket, scarf.  We decided to splurge and stay in a hotel right in the center of the old town so we could limit the amount of walking time to get to the sights!

But even with the inclement weather, both Bob and I fell in love in Nurenberg and wished we had more than a night there.  The views from the bridges were lovely and the market square was surrounded by new buildings and old.  There are interesting sculptures scattered across the area.  My favorite was the Ship of Fools which is based on a satire by Sebastian Brant.  He created St. Grobian, the patron saint of vulgar and coarse people.  This conception allowed him to use his voice to criticize the church.  sculpture nurenberg

We were looking for a place for lunch and the woman in the Tourist Information Center suggested the Bratwursthausle Werner just around the corner.  We went in and found it was very crowded. Thinking there was no availability we were ready to leave when a waiter came to seat us at a table where four people were already seated.  I had read about “community tables” but never before experienced them.  Already seated was a young couple from the US who had been recently married.  The husband had just completed his tour of military service and his wife had quit her job and they were touring Europe for a month.  There were also two older men seated at our table. And while they spoke only a little English, their English was far superior to our German.  They were from Cologne and part of a tour group.  While their wives were out visiting the sights of the city these interesting guys had chosen to avoid the lousy weather and enjoy some refreshment in the tavern instead!

We learned from the American gentleman that there’s a legend that the small bratwursts, about the size of your pinky finger, were made to a specific size so that if folks returned to Nurenberg late at night and found that the city gates were already locked, citizens could pass these little sausages through the keyhole so that while the city was inaccessible at least they could get food!  Interesting, don’t you think?

From Nurenberg, we wanted to pass through Luxenbourg and decided Luxenbourg City, the capital of the Grand Duchy of Luxenbourg, was a good place to spend the night and do a bit of sightseeing.

While it’s a lovely city we found it extraordinarily expensive. It has the second highest cost of living in Europe. Because of this many who work there choose to live in France and commute.

From Luxenbourg City it was on to Paris.  We had arranged to return our lease on the way into the city not wanting to have a car in Paris. turning our lease in in paris Now that we were back to using public transportation we had to be far more careful about how we packed our things not wanting to have to lug around more than our individual suitcases and carry ons.

The woman who ran the Airbnb was extremely accomodating telling me to text her when we got in the taxi and she would meet us at the bar right in front of the apartment.  Manuela, our host, was both helpful and friendly. Her husband owned the bar in the same building as our Airbnb and he was just as outgoing as she.  We felt like we had known them for years. cary-and-good-friend-from-paris-and-the-woman-we-rented-from.jpgWe were pleased that our apartment was on the main floor very securely located behind two gates and located in a great gentrified neighborhood with close proximity to many of the sights we wanted to visit.

While we only had a week in Paris, there were a couple of places missed on our previous trip that were at the top of our list for this visit.  Cary was able to fly in and spend a long weekend with us and she, like us, had never been to Versailles.  Since both the Louvre and Versailles are known for their long lines I decided to order the tickets online.  (As it turned out because we were there in November it wasn’t necessary to prebook but I didn’t want to take any chances.)

We were a little taken aback by our Uber driver on the way out to the palace.  While he knew the roads well, he cut from the far right lane across several lanes of traffic to make a left turn. And when we got to the Arc de Triumph I just closed my eyes and hoped for the best.  As we came into Versailles the palace dominated the landscape. It’s difficult to comprehend that it was actually a residence.  We were able to walk directly into the castle and while there were still hundreds of people touring, we in no way felt overwhelmed by the crowds.

In one room we were amused to see the place where the King ate publicly.  It’s hard to imagine having a place to eat where people can come and watch!  Also there was a sign in the king’s bedroom that read: “Here the Royal Rising and Going to Sleep Ceremonies Took Place.” But my favorite part of the palace was the Hall of Mirrors.  Having seen it in movies and in books didn’t matter; it still took my breath away. Of course since it was November the gardens weren’t in bloom; I’d like to go back in the summer or fall and just tour the gardens.

On IMG_20171116_163651247the way back we really lucked out with a fabulous Uber driver.  When he saw me taking pictures, he immediately slowed down and even opened his moonroof so that I could better pictures along the Seine and particularly of the Eiffel Tower.  He obviously loved what he did and was very much a people person!

Because our Airbnb was so conveniently located we could walk to the Louvre. The Louvre is the largest art museum in the world. When Napolean was in power he had it renamed Musee Napolean. Of course he did! In 1793 it was first opened as a public museum.  We knew there was way too much for us to try to see in one visit so Cary had searched and  found several lists of “must sees” on the internet and from those we made our own list.

The building itself is just as impressive as the art on display.  It’s difficult to comprehend that we were actually viewing the Venus de Milo or The Coronation of Napolean.  But perhaps most surprising for me were the mobs around the Mona Lisa.  People pushed and shoved to get up front in order to take a selfie of themselves with the portrait.  It made absolutely no sense!

I don’t think I could ever spend enough time in Paris but it’s an expensive city so we have to carefully plan our time there.  On the morning we were to leave we found a scrumptuous Sunday breakfast buffet at the This seemed a perfect way to end our Paris visit just before Cary flew back to Rome and we took the train to Amsterdam.  With the exception of what to do with our luggage, I find train travel exceptionally enjoyable.  It’s generally inexpensive, we see the countryside, and we meet interesting people. It did give us pause, however, that as we pulled out of the station a group of four men walked through the train with signs on their back indicating they were police.  Given that we were traveling at a high rate of speed we could only wonder what they might be looking for and what would happen if they found it!

We stayed at the Amsterdam airport Ibis just as we had on our first night in Europe a couple of months earlier.  We met two interesting older couples at dinner who were from Friesland, Netherlands and were familiar with Michigan, particularly Holland.  It seems whenever we travel we continue to make Michigan connections.

We were really lucky in that our flight home departed Amsterdam at noon and arrived back in the States seven hours later at 3 pm DC time.  We’re beginning to know the routine of coming through customs and reentering the country.  With new technology the process is becoming more and more efficient but I have to admit I really miss the customs agent’s greeting of “Welcome home!” After checking in to our Airbnb   we met up with Patrick for dinner and were able to stay awake until a reasonable bedtime allowing us to make an easier adjustment to the time difference. It was now time to relax and take a break before heading out to Tucson via Pittsburgh, southern Indiana and then following Route 66 west.  But in the meantime we had 10 days to catch up with our DC/Maryland family and enjoy Thanksgiving together.



Krakow: A Favorite of Ours

We had originally planned to go to Bratislova and Budapest from Vienna but two weeks was just not enough time to do that.  In fact we’re finding that two weeks is just too fast a pace for us traveling full time.  We don’t like to do continuous sightseeing.  It’s exhausting and we fail to enjoy it as much as we do when we move at a slower pace.  So we opted to spend all of the two weeks in Vienna and then stop and spend the day in Bratislava, Slovakia and then go on to Krakow the next day and save Budapest and Hungary for a different trip.  Bratislava is only an hour from Vienna and because it was so foggy we decided to leave a bit later in the morning.  I had made reservations at the Ibis right outside the Old City and what a great choice that turned out to be.  We had paid extra for parking. When I checked in the clerk explained that the parking was around the corner and under the building and she said our room key would get us through both security gates.  When we pulled up to the first machine Bob had quite a reach so I jumped out of the car and popped the card in the machine and then walked ahead.  Spaces are small in Europe so when I looked back at the car I realized that Bob had to back up to make the turn and OH MY GOSH, the door was starting to come down.  I put my hand under the door and realized that wasn’t going to stop it and it was moving so quickly I didn’t think it was safe to duck under it..  So luckily for once in my life my brain worked and I quickly threw the door key under the door toward the car.  Bob then was able to get the key!  WHEW!  Crisis averted!

We spent the afternoon wandering through the streets of Old Bratislava.We especially enjoyed walking along the wall and the contrast between the medieval Bratislava on one side and the busy boulevard on the other.

They also have fun quirky statues scattered about as well as the ubiquitous souvenir stands.

Slovakia uses euros but once we crossed into the Czech Republic and Poland that changed.  Again, just like we had encountered in Switzerland, the Czech Republic requires a vignette, a sticker placed on the windshield,  to drive on the motorways.  So because we had to drive through the Czech Republic on the way to Krakow and then go on to Prague we decided we’d purchase a 30 day vignette.  I had read online that there would be a place just as we crossed into the Czech Republic and just as promised, there it was, a little kiosk with a guy about 25 or so.  He spoke a little English (and funny enough he had a tee shirt that said “US Cavalry).”  The vignette cost 40 euros and they didn’t take cards! (I don’t remember what it was in Czech krone because obviously never having been in the country we didn’t have any!)  The warning on the internet was clear.  Don’t try to drive even a few kilometers without a vignette.  Electronic surveillance is everywhere and fines are hefty!  (Ah, visions of Big Brother return!)  So I forked over the 40 euros keeping in mind that this is still considerably cheaper than throwing individual tolls in periodically as we do in France or in the US.

I wasn’t pleased that our drive through the Czech Republic would be duplicated when we left Krakow.  But given the dreary rainy day, we realized it would all be new to us next time.  When we arrived in Krakow we were thrilled with our apartment.

We’re within a stone’s throw from the Vistula River, in the old Jewish quarter. Conrad, our landlord lives next door.  He was out of town so he arranged to have a friend meet us.  She not only showed us through the apartment but walked us down to the parking meter to show us how to use it, and then enlisted the help of a parking inspector, acting as the translator as I speak no Polish and he spoke no English.  They tried to show me how it would take a card but those were touch credit cards and ours is not so we had to have cash. The guy we rented from turned out to be from Canada originally and a big hockey fan.  We asked about seeing a game while in Krakow but he discouraged us saying that Poland’s neighbors, the Czech Republic where we were headed next, really had much better hockey. So we put it on hold for the moment.

We had stopped at a rest area as we entered Poland and used what we thought was an ATM (i.e. cash machine in Europe).  TRAVLER ALERT:  Never use an ATM that is not connected to a bank.  I had read that but I had also forgotten the warning.  And I should have been leery when it wouldn’t accept our Fidelity card that we always use to withdraw money.  But it accepted a different card and then the message popped up on the screen (in English) “Will you accept the conversion rate?” And it gave me an amount.  Turns out it cost us about $30 more than it should have!  Ouch!  I have learned!  As I have mentioned before, we know it is always better to have the charges on the credit card in the local currency instead of having them converted to US dollars.  But we really had to be diligent because three times the charges were automatically converted to dollars.  I don’t think it was any one’s intent to charge us more but rather that probably most Americans ask locals to convert.  But obviously the local merchant isn’t going to give the best rate.  After using euros almost everywhere but Switzerland, zlotys took some getting used to. (1 zloty equals about 28 cents. So we would divide prices by 3 and and get a handle on what something cost!  (Imagine my favorite Polish beer, Tyskie Gronie. was the equivalent of 80 cents a can!)

IMG_20171023_151425514One of the first thing I discovered in Krakow is a great app, Jakdojade. It’s a public transport app that allows you to put in the destination and your location and it tells you (in English) how to use public transport to get there.  Our apartment was about a 5 minute walk to the tram.  And then to make it even better folks 70 and over could use the tram for free!  Would our American drivers licenses act as proof should we be asked? Absolutely, we were told. Wow!  What a deal!

One of our first destinations was Schindler’s Factory.  It was amazing!  (I’m glad we were there in October since I can’t even begin to imagine what the lines must be like in the summer!) There are posters, and quotes and pictures and Nazi symbols.  Each exhibit seemed more horrific than the last:  the pictures of the young children giving the Hitler salute or the hall with the Nazi flags and iconic logos on the floors or the quotes on the walls.

Perhaps the most moving part of the museum/memorial are the interviews with the people who actually worked there. It is really emotional to listen to the victims recall their experiences.  Both Bob and I were a bit disappointed in that much of the museum  turned out to be more of a general memorial to the Holocaust than Schindler.  We’ve been to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC and so we really were interested in the specifics of Schindler’s efforts and how he managed to pull it off.

On another day we walked to the Remul Cemetery.  Not far from our apartment, many of the grave stones of this cemetery were destroyed by the Nazis and used as pavement stones for their camps.  Some of the stones that have been retrieved were used to construct a wall surrounding the cemetery.

Again, a very moving experience especially when we read plagues outside the moment remembering family that had been murdered here.


Everywhere we turned in Krakow there were reminders of the atrocities from World War II.  The Ghetto Heroes Square consists of empty chairs remembering the thousands of Poles who were imprisoned in the Ghetto during the war. It stands in the middle of a very busy area and serves as a reminder to all who pass.chairs

We encountered much cooler weather than we had had up to this time and it rained IMG_20171023_122045277most of the time that we were in Krakow but it’s a lovely city even in the rain. Our wardrobes are very limited so we took to layers, wearing turtle necks under sweaters under our jackets. And with the purchase of an umbrella we were all set.  We took a tram downtown and walked through the old city and also strolled along the royal route  from the Florianska Gate, built in the 14th century and on to the Wawel Castle; it’s hard to imagine that for centuries this is where the kings of Poland lived! In the crypt of the castle are buried Ksoscisco, Chopin and “King” Jadfwiga!

The Main Square is very interesting. As we were sitting in an outside cafe enjoying a cup of mulled wine, next to a heater, suddenly we heard a trumpeter. Legend has it that in the 1200’s the city was being attacked by the Mongols and a trumpeter alerted the town with his horn, but he was shot before he had completed his alert.  At the top of each hour a bugler sounds the incomplete alert again from his post on St. Mary’s Church.

The church itself is interesting. St. Mary’s has an historic altar piece that is more than 13 meters high and 11 meters wide and dates from the 1400’s.  During World War II it was dismantled and sent to Berlin. And after the War it was retrieved in the basement of a building in Nurenberg and returned to Poland where it underwent a great deal of restoration and was returned to St. Mary’s in 1957.  Another piece, Da Vinci’s, Lady with the Ermine, which we saw on display at the National Museum in Krakow, was also retrieved.  From what I’ve read much of the artwork was stolen by individual Nazi’s not by the Nazi regime.   I also find it particularly sad that during World War II the beautiful square was renamed Hitler Square.

The Cloth Market (also known as Ryek Glowny) in the square of the old town was incredibly interesting. IMG_20171023_120541679 It dates back to the 1500’s when Krakow was the capital of Poland and one of the largest cities in Europe. IMG_20171023_115236964We could imagine the bartering as we walked among the covered shops. Krakow began to decline after the capital was moved to Warsaw but under Austrian rule in the 1870’s the city began to see architectural restoration. Throughout the city we found interesting streets, and buscars. We even encountered a march protesting the low pay for medical professionals.

On one of our last days in in Krakow we took a morning walk along the river.  There was a statue, Dzok Monument built in 2001 as a rembrance to a dog who for more than a year didn’t want to leave the site where he last saw his master who had died of a heart attack.  People brought the dog food and after the dog died, the monument was built to honor his loyalty.

Also, on the Main Square is the Church of St. Adelbert that was built in the 1100’s. St. Adelbert lived in the 900’s and was the patron saint of Bohemia, Poland and Hungary. As we walked past the tiny church on a cold rainy Monday, a guy asked if we were interested in attending a concert.  IMG_20171023_134457077Every day at 6:00 pm the Royal Quartet made up of talented Krakow musicians play a variety of classical favorites for an hour.  There are two programs: one for the even days and one for the odd.  After we got back to our apartment and looked over the programs we decided that one looked more appealing to us than the other and we planned to go later in the week. So on a wet Friday we jumped on the tram and headed to the concert.  The church is very small…probably seated no more than ninety and that was with extra folding chairs.  Everyone was bundled up and the close quarters helped to keep us warm. But the concert was amazing. The quartet played a vaiety of movie themes and short excerpts that were very recognizable. Wherever we’ve been in Europe we’ve found wonderful concerts for very reasonable prices.

We found the people like so many other places incredibly friendly and again we were surprised by how many locals spoke English. It was the norm that cars stop at crosswalks for pedestrians!  We took a tram one day to the local mall to pick up a few gifts.  Just as in the US, we tend to forget where we are whenever we visit a mall as they look pretty generic everywhere.  The food in Poland wonderful! Having grown up in a town that had a large Polish population I was thrilled to find pierogis on nearly every menu!  IMG_20171101_184904500Yummy! We ate out here more than usual because the cost was so reasonable!  A nice dinner for two including beer or wine cost approximately the equivalent of $25.00.  Some meals for the two of us were as low as $11.00 and I think the most we paid was when we splurged and went out for a special dinner after the concert. That night it cost us $40.  Tipping is far more prevalent than we found it on previous trips but it’s really only expected when service is outstanding and then 10 percent is considered a good tip.  Wait staff are salaried in Europe which seems far more civilized than the American way but we did find on several occasions wait staff was in no hurry.

Krakow really exceeded our expectations. We fell in love with everything Krakow: the sights, the people and hope one day to return!















Waltzing through Vienna

Driving into Vienna following the Danube and listening to Strauss waltzes on Spotify is like being in a dream but I was snapped back to reality when Bob asked how to get to our Airbnb.  Erik, our host, had agreed to meet us early and let us into our apartment.  As usual it was just as we expected.  While the kitchen is compact, he has provided us with a toaster, microwave, boiler and coffee maker (although we generally have to unplug each appliance in order to plug in the one we want to use at the moment).  He showed us little things like how the quirky dishwasher works, provided us with the wifi password, explained to us where we can park (including when it’s free and when we have to pay), gave us a map of the area and provided us with a key.  I enjoy meeting our hosts as they give us little details about the area, and we can ask any questions we may have.  It’s sort of like having a friend in every locale.

Our Airbnb is located in an area near a university with a lot of students, and lots of restaurants.


Our street and our apartment is about a half block up on the right.

We are amazed at the amount of English we hear spoken.  Many young people around us speak English with accents that seem to be neither British nor American.  It does make it exceedingly easy for us to communicate!  After quickly settling in, we headed down to the Zur Grunen Hutte (The Green Hut), an authentic Austrian restaurant that Erik had recommended.  It’s been around since 1917.  Bob opted for the goulash dumplings with sauerkrat and gravy.  I had the grilled chicken breast on spinach leaves with buttered rice!  And of course the local beer!  The dinner was yummy and we were particularly pleased to see so many locals!


Messe Prater Station (about a block from our apartment)

While we usually take trams and busses in order to get a better feel for the city, the metro is a block from our apartment and far closer than the trams or busses and very easy to use! The trip to the center of the historical sights is only a few stops away and costs about $4.00  each for a senior round trip ticket (the machines have an English option) and we never have to wait more than a couple of minutes for a train.  We’re learning that many European public transportation systems run on the honor system but if the control agent comes through and asks for your ticket and you can’t produce one, fines are hefty!  We are taking no chances.  We are very pleased to have an efficient, clean system so close by!

In order to get the lay of the land we decided to first take a walking tour of the historical center. We found the maps to be extraordinarily confusing and must have really looked baffled when a local came up and in perfect English asked if he could help.  We finally got our bearings and set about to find Stephanplatz.


I find the mix of the new and old buildings in Vienna very interesting. We came upon Mozart’s Statue and the Vienna Opera House in new and busy parts of the city and just beyond we’d be wandering down narrow windy streets. While I understand that there is great religious significance to the Stephansdom, we have seen so many churches in Europe that they’re all beginning to look alike (We came upon three large churches and mistook all before we finally found Stephansdom.) We often pass on touring the inside (which is what we did in this case).


Perhaps the most moving site for me in all of Vienna is the Monument Against War and Facism. This monument was built on the spot where during WWII several hundred people were buried alive when their shelter was demolished.


Monument Against War & Facism

At the top of my list of Things to Do in Vienna was attend a concert.  While walking along the old streets we came upon a guy selling tickets for a concert on Sunday night at the Palais Palffy just across the street from the Hofburg Palace.  We looked at the program and recognized much of what they were playing, and the tickets were reasonably priced so we decided to give it a go.  After we got home that evening, I checked it out on Trip Advisor and was really disappointed with the terrible reviews it received.  Described the hall as shabby and the seating as crowded chairs. Wow!  It seemed we had really blown this one but at least we hadn’t forked out a lot of money!  We definitely lowered our expectations.  How pleasantly surprised we were when the concert turned out to be fabulous!


No, it wasn’t in an elaborate hall, but the musicians were all top rate.  The first half of the show was Mozart with the chamber group all decked out in period costumes and the second half was Strauss for which the group changed to appropriate attire for that time period!  It was a small venue but we noticed that several tour groups came in and we figured they had paid significantly more for their tickets than we had.  Many of the concerts are for the tourists and perhaps we aren’t sophisticated music buffs but we certainly enjoyed the performance and are really glad we didn’t read the reviews before we bought the tickets!

We also took the metro out to the Schonbrunn Palace and Gardens, the summer home of the Habsburgs built in the 1740’s under the reign of Maria Theresa.  Empress Maria Theresa and her husband Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor, had sixteen children.  Their youngest was Marie Antoinette.  (We’re beginning to remember how all the European ruling families were intertwined! American students thank your lucky stars! I can’t imagine studying European history in school and trying to keep all these people straight!) Franz Joseph, Maria Theresa’s grandson and Austria’s longest reining emperor, was born at Schonbrunn Palace in 1830 and died there in 1916. (Franz Josef’s younger brother was Emperor Maximillian. And it was Arch Duke Ferninand, Franz Josef’s nephew, whose assassination precipitated World War I.  I told you this is all confusing! )

Anyway, I love formal palace gardens and these were amazingly beautiful particularly because we were there in October and the majority of flowers were still blooming.  Plus, the trees were beginning to turn.  What a combination.


There were fountains and a maze and fake Roman ruins. (Nope, I didn’t get that either!) And we learn the most interesting things along the way in our travels.  For instance, a focus of the formal gardens is the Gloriette.  We learned that a gloriette is a garden building that is often elevated over its surroundings and generally has open sides.  Never heard of it before. But this one was spectacular! As we walked from the metro to the palace we were reading all the posters, looking at what the venders had to offer and generally taking in the sights. There was a large portrait of a man. I nearly jumped when as I looked closely at it, he winked! I so love buscars! Then there was the anachronistic woman who stood in her period costume using her cell phone!


On the way back from Schonbrunn while we were already on the green line we decided to get off and see the Ringstrasse, a wide tree-lined boulevard that circles much of the inner city of Vienna.  The  idea was the brain child of Emperor Franz Josef who decided to tear down the military fortifications in the middle 1800’s and replace them with historical monuments.  I had read reviews that there were cheaper ways to see it but we opted for the special Ringstrasse tourist tram because we wanted to know what we were seeing.  And after walking around Schonbrunn for more than two hours a seated half hour tour sounded wonderful! On our way back to the apartment we stopped at McDonalds.


Our sandwiches actually looked like they do in advertisements and I could order a beer with it.  Then we realized the people two booths down from us had their large dog with them and people nonchalantly just walked over him.  We Americans could learn a lot from the Europeans!

Years ago I had taken our kids to see the Lipizzaner when they came to Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan. We called them the Lipizzans but Lipizzans or Lipizzaner they are amazing horses!  I wanted to see them in their Austrian home at the Spanish Riding School attached to the Hofburg Palace.


Hofburg Palace (Entrance to the Spanish Riding School under big archway)

These fantastic horses date back to the 1500’s when they were first imported from Spain.  I think it’s interesting to note that during World War II they ended up in Bohemia.  And the Amerians were afraid that they might fall into the hands of the Russians so in 1945 Amerian forces  moved them back to Austria.


We had seats to watch the Saturday performance.  The movements are known, according to Wikipedia, as “airs above the ground” and are often appropriately referred to as a ballet. It was unbelievable!  The horses “danced” to classical music on a surface that looks like turf that has been groomed with a zamboni with chandeliers suspended over the field!  What a sight!  Just as we were leaving the building we realized that the groomers were moving many of the horses from their stables to the school for their practices which gave us an opportunity to see them up close!

We have had the opportunity to meet many wonderful people in our travels and this was especially true in Vienna. Cary had recently attended a wedding in Turkey of a good friend. There she met a wonderful couple and their daughter who live in Vienna.  Cary arranged for us to meet them while we were here.   Omer, the husband, texted me that they’d pick us up at a metro stop and I sent him pictures of us so they’d know who they were looking for. Shortly after we arrived at the metro stop, Omer and his family pulled up in his taxi.  From the moment we met, we felt like we had always known them: Omer, his lovely wife Pakizeh and their daughter, Rana, who speaks fluent English and is an amazing accomplished young lady!   When we first met, they asked if we’d prefer traditional Austrian food for lunch or would we like to try a Turkish restaurant.  Here we were with new friends who had lived most of their lives in Vienna but they were Turks by birth, so we opted for Turkish food. Omer said he knew the perfect place! We all piled back in his cab and when we walked into the restaurant and were greeted in Turkish we knew we had made a great decision. We know absolutely nothing about Turkish cuisine so Omer and Pakizeh explained (often translated by Rana) various dishes particularly those that are the most popular in Turkey.  Talk about yummy!  The food was amazing!  After we completed our meal, Omer asked if we had been to Kahlenberg .  Of course, we hadn’t, so he set about taking us to this most beautiful location in the Vienna Woods. (And in my mind I began humming Strauss’, Tales from the Vienna Woods, a recital piece from half a century ago!) From Mt. Kahlenberg,  high above the city,  we could see all of Vienna beneath us.  IMG_20171016_150456462.jpgIt was a hazy day and Omer and Pakizeh explained on a clearer day we would see all the way to Bratislavah, Slovakia.  Still it was an impressive view.  On the way down from the point, we stopped to have a glass of wine in a local wine garden.


During the harvest this time of year, sturm (called Sturm in Austria, and Federweisser in Bavaria and Fiederwaissen in Luxenburg and Junger Wein in Germany) is available and the best we can surmise it is a sort of grape juice.  And because Omer was driving he opted for the sturm.   What a fabulous afternoon we had had with our new friends!  They said they’d love to visit the United States and we would so like the opportunity to show them at least part of our country!

When they dropped us off at the metro we realized we were close to the Nachsmarkt, which was also on my list of places to visit. We spent a couple hours wandering through the stalls.  Like most European markets the Nachsmarkt has many stands selling the same things.  A few things that set this market apart: different sweets and nuts as well as middle eastern treats we were not familiar with, an entire line of sit down restaurants and throughout the market vendors calling out in English. We have also visited neighborhood markets near our apartment and find many interesting things:  fruits that are new to us, lots of local beers, and even a marijuana grow shop!


Two weeks in Vienna.  Like all our other stays, the time passes at lightening speed and it’s time to move on.  We say goodbye to Vienna, we’ll spend a day in Bratislova and then head to Krakow, Poland!  What an unbelievable two weeks it’s been!


Leaving Switzerland, a blink of Leichtenstein and on to Austria…

We left Lucerne and started toward Innsbruck, Austria, where we were to spend the night. We drove for a bit before stopping for breakfast.  We found a wonderful stop right on the autobahn, Freshmarket!IMG_20170927_105936142  It had an amazing choice of options:  croissants and coffee, a huge variety of fruits and vegetables, sweets and ice cream, amazing choices of main dishes.  And as we sat enjoying our selections we were once again surprised to see a dog curled up at his owner’s feet.  It would be so much easier to travel with a dog in Europe than in the US!

We had planned to arrive early enough in Innsbruck to do some sightseeing and then also have a couple of hours there in the morning before driving on to our stay just outside Salzburg.IMG_0180 Because of the Alps the motorway is a mass of tunnels.  (I think we counted 41 on just this single day of driving.) We left Switzerland and crossed into tiny Leichtenstein.  While there was a small building that at one time must have been the border crossing it was vacant this morning.IMG_0219 (2) I think it took us no more than fifteen minutes to cross the country.  I read where in 2011 Snoop Dogg tried to rent the country.  It’s unclear whether it ever went through but at one time it was advertised that it was possible to rent out the entire country for $70,000 a night complete with customized street signs. Novel idea!

The countryside throughout the day was stunning! We understood before we set out in the morning that a major tunnel just outside Innsbruck was closed for construction and we’d have to go over the pass.  As it turned out it was one of the most spectacular views of the day and because this had been the major route before the tunnel was built, it was well-marked and well-maintained.  I think it might be the only time in all of our travels we’ve ever encountered a traffic jam on a mountain pass.

Innsbruck is a beautiful city that sits on the Inn River (a tributary of the Danube). And we never tire of walking the streets of the old cities in Europe. Early evening is a particularly lovely time to walk among the old buildings. The Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof) was definitely a high point. The roof was completed in 1500 and designed to mark the wedding of Emperor Maximillian I. The emperor and his wife would often appear on the balcony to celebrate festivals and tournaments. An interesting fact is that in 1536 Jakob Hutter, preacher of the Baptists, was burned alive in the yard in front of the the building.

On to Salzburg…we had rented an Airbnb just outside Salzburg near Frielassing, Germany.IMG_20170930_185202648  We later read that Frielassing was an imporant Allied target near the end of World War II.  Although it had no real strategic importance it was the area where Hitler, Goering, Bormann and others had vacation homes and where they would gather to do strategic planning.

We visited the new museum, Dokumentation Obersalzberg which gives  the history of National Socialism. This area has been a tourist mecca since the 1800’s and Hitler had a summer home here since the 1920’s.

He later converted it into an “off limits” area forcing all the local inhabitants out. The region was occupied by American forces after May 1945 and was used for recreation by the US Army. The area was returned to the Bavarians in 1996 (even though they technically owned it since the end of the war).  We were able to rent an English audio guide that explained the many posters, photos and documents.  We found the museum interesting; the views from the museum stunning, but it’s also very depressing.  And we found far too many comparisons to our present situation in the US: the blatant racism, fear of people who are different from us and the willingness of thousands to follow a leader without ever questioning his ideas or motives.

Freilassing has a wonderful huge supermarket.  Two escalators facilitate customers use of the two floors.  IMG_20170928_133814371They have a huge selection of just about anything we could want from fresh vegetables and fruits to frozen food, to entrees we could heat in the oven.  My daughter had introduced me to Google Translate which is a handy free app that allows you to translate on the fly.  This had been a great help in our previous travels.  But I recently learned that you can also take a picture with Google Translate and it translates signs or any other text instantaneously!  I found this particularly useful at the grocery store when I could take a picture of a package and immediately know what the product was.  It was really helpful in deciphering subleties…like diced tomatoes from tomato paste, etc.  I also really like the app when dealing with home appliances.  For instance, when I want to do the laundry.  You may recall that two years ago we got our wash locked in a washing machine in Prien, Germany, because we couldn’t understand the signs on the machine.  With the app all I had to do was aim my phone at the machine and it translated: short wash (big difference between 1 hr 55 min and 40 minutes!), prewash, machine lock, etc.  Really helpful!

We generally don’t drive in big cities because of the chaos and also the expense of parking. From where we stayed it took us about 10 minutes to drive to the train station and then another 10 minutes by train into Salzburg.  Because Freilassing is a small town, the ticket machine at the train station was only in German. Before I could translate with my phone a young man came by and quickly showed us how to get the tickets we needed. The cost was about nine dollars for round trip for two of us (second class).  You can’t beat that!  And trains run about every 20 minutes.

We wanted to see the traditional tourist sights.  The old city is a pretty city with the Hohensalzburg Castle looming over it. IMG_20170930_145123682It is a small area that was easy to traverse by foot.  The castle was used as a prison in the 20th century first holding Italian soldiers during World War I and then Nazi activists before the Anschluss with Germany (or annexation of Austria by Germany). Salzburg is Mozart’s home; that’s what I most wanted to see.  So we walked to his birthplace and then also to his residence. We decided we’d wait and attend a concert when we get to Vienna! (We did notice a street sign near Mozart’s birthplace that read, “Urban Decay.”  We had to wonder about the history of that sign!)

The Mirabell Palace has a lovely garden that we enjoyed!   We’ve been particularly lucky this fall to have generally warm, sunny weather which is perfect for our sightseeing.

I was a bit disappointed with Salzburg; it seemed more “touristy” than most places we’ve been.  And I think I generally enjoyed the sidetrips more than Salzburg itself.

One particular day trip we enjoyed was driving to Mondsee.   It’s a pretty resort city in the Alps. This is the location of the church where the famous wedding in the Sound of Music was filmed! The village is located right on the water and while on most summer weekends it is mobbed with tourists, we found it beautiful, quiet and relaxing on a Monday in early October!

The ladies we rented from had a meditation room and were definitely into energy healing. The pastoral location seemed perfect for that!  IMG_20170929_110303508They told us a lot about Salzburg and the area’s salt history and suggested we go to Bad Reichenhall just a short distance from where we were. The salt works from this area date from the 1840’s. For hundreds of years the “white gold was mined here.” I was surprised to learn that salt comes in different colors and that it’s often white because the other colors are bleached out of it. IMG_0043The colors come from natural elements incorporated into the salt crystals.

Two years ago when we were in Bavaria I wasn’t thrilled with German food.  I found it heavy, even their salads. But I have a different opinion this time and maybe because I’ve found my favorite foods among the offerings.  We found three absolutely wonderful restaurants.  These are restaurants that are local favorites. They had great selections, wonderful staff that would help us translate to English and all were very busy locations.  One of them was a hotel restaurant (Gasthof Moosleitner), right on the edge of Frielassing.  There I had boiled beef with parsley potatoes and creamed spinach and applesauce with horseradish!  Spinach and horseradish are two of my favorite foods!  But whoever decided to add horseradish to applesauce was pure genius!  Wow!  Amazing.  We went to another, more of a tavern, and they brewed their own beer which was available throughout the area (Braustuberl Schonram). Lots and lots of locals. And wow!  I was amazed when my boiled beef, creamed spinach and applesauce with horseradish was on the menu! Yep, I got it again! And finally there was another restaurant, we found on Yelp, a local restaurant in Frielassing (Gasthaus Zollhausl). There I had the most amazing spareribs!  Bob is becoming a gourmond when it comes to his favorite: schnitzel!  He knows that the REAL schnizel is veal but he’s had pork, chicken and his favorite?  Maybe that’s what he’s eating at the moment!  And of course, German and Austrian beer are wonderful! (We hear the best is Czech beer. We’ll let you know what we think when we get to Prague!)

Soon it was time to move on to Vienna but I had a friend who said we should visit Melk with its  Benedictine abbey that dates back to the eleventh century. As we meandered through the town we came upon a memorial that honored the 4801 people (Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, Yugoslavs, French and Italians) who were brought to death in the KZ-Nebelagenmelk in 1944-1945.

We found a hotel there right in the city center, complete with parking and breakfast for $65.  The parking, however, was located through a gate, in the back of the hotel.  I had suggested to Bob that if he were to turn around it might be easier to drive out in the morning. Just as we are manuevering; Bob behind the wheel, me outside directing, a man from the hotel, I think perhaps the owner? came out to assist. Obviously, we didn’t look like we knew what we were doing.  He spoke no English but every five seonds or so, he would holler, “Stoppen!” We finally gave up and just parked faced forward! The next morning after we checked out we were pleased he was no where in sight!  We began our manuevering just as we had in the afternoon previous when, “Oh no!” He reappeared! This time we just ignored his calls, continued our process and waved a friendly goodbye as we pulled out the gate!

We had a short drive to Vienna, but we knew we wanted to drive the Wachau Valley following the Danube into the city.  Googlemaps makes traveling much easier when you want the most efficient directions to a location but it’s not quite as easy if you want to take the scenic road.  Again and again it wanted to guide us back to the motorway.  We finally decided just to try the old fashioned way and use a paper map!  The drive through the rolling vineyards and encountering castles along the way was like a trip back in time.  We encountered river boat cruises along the way, and roadside fruit and vegetable stands.  Definitely a slower way that allows the traveler to savor life along the way.

Switzerland, Leichtenstein and Austria are most amazing places and really the first landlocked countries we’ve visited.  We look forward to our next two weeks in Vienna!







Back to Europe!

Our main destination this fall was Rome!  Cary had invited us to watch her defend her doctoral thesis in the middle of September. After doing a lot of checking on flight prices, we decided to fly into Amsterdam and on to Pisa the next day. I try not to schedule flights on two different airlines on the same day because there’s the chance the flights won’t connect as planned. When leaving Dulles the pilot told us we were going to have to wait half an hour or so before take off as Amsterdam was getting tired of this United flight coming in early. We were pleasantly surprised that even with this wait we arrived at Schiphol nearly an hour before our scheduled time! Gotta love shortened trips across the Atlantic! And we definitely knew we had arrived in Holland when we saw the bulb shop right inside the airport.  IMG_20170911_092157257

We had a wonderful hotel room in Pisa, very reasonably priced ($69 +$14 taxes), included breakfast, and provided us with a view of the leaning tower. When arriving in a new city without a car we indulge ourselves by using a taxi to our hotel or Airbnb.  We’re often tired after travel and it’s one less thing to worry about. The taxi from the airport in Pisa to the Hotel Villa Kinzica was 12 euros.  The desk clerk at our hotel was astounded. He said it usually cost him 18 euros when he took a taxi from the airport to work!

We didn’t realize that the tower, which began leaning during its construction, took over two hundred years to build beginning in the 1100s and not finished until 1399. We spent the day wandering around the old town square and toured through the baptistry where Galileo was baptized in 1565 as well as the famous cathedral where he conducted many of his experiments!  We can never quite get our minds wrapped around the fact that we are looking at buildings centuries old.  Imagine! Constructed in the twelfth century! The surprising thing in Europe is not just how old the edifices are but that they are still being used!

From Pisa we took the train to Rome where Cary met us.  Her apartment is centrally located with lots of restaurants and shops in the area. She is within walking distance of her office at the Farm and Agriculture Organization (FAO, part of the United Nations). The only drawback is the 110 steps up to the fourth floor (remember in Europe you first climb a flight to get to the first floor)!  But once there it’s a lovely comfortable place.  We ordered Chinese on the first night we were there and we were amazed that delivery folks don’t think anything about the climb!  As we explored her neighborhood we found it hard to get used to ancient ruins popping up among the busy streets and modern buildings! On the tram ride back to her house from the university, we passed the Colosseum.

We have been blessed with amazing kids and spouses (and significant others). And watching Cary defend her doctoral thesis was amazing! The European process is different from the American procedure which was interesting in and of itself. And after the stress of the defense, it was wonderful to have the opportunity to get to chat with the members of her committee.  In the evening we celebrated even more over dinner with her friends and colleagues.

We had decided when we left Rome we’d take a couple of days traveling to Lyon, France where we’d pick up our leased Peugeot. You may remember from previous blogs that we’ve leased before.  Peugeot has reasonable leases for extended periods. Iinsurance is automatically included and there are no extra charges for dropping the car off in a different city from where we pick it up (as long as they are both in France). This works well for us. We can get the car in Lyon, and two months later return it in Paris.

The morning after Cary’s celebration we took a train from Rome to Turin. Again we had lovely sunny weather and it was great to stroll among Turin’s beautiful piazzas. IMG_20170917_115612581We only had a day in Turin and we had been told about the Egyptian Museum that is supposed to be the best outside of Egypt and the only one outside of Cairo that is totally dedicated to Egyptian art and culture.  Bob says he’d never seen so many mummies in his life.  We found it interesting how the burial rituals slowly changed over time. For instance, at first all the individual’s possessions were placed with him to take to the afterlife. Then over time that was changed to representations of the food. We also learned that a cubit is the distance between the tip of one’s middle finger and the elbow! Interesting tidbit!

We also found the church where the Shroud of Turin is supposedly displayed but what we found was that there are pictures of it but the shroud itself is buried in a metal vault beneath so you kinda gotta take their word that it’s there!

From Turin we took the train to Lyon, France, a trip of about four hours. Sometimes there are places for baggage on trains and other times there is not.  On the train to Lyon we were presented with a new problem, understanding the stops.  We’d not had a problem up to this time but now we were unsure where to get off.  Bob asked the women next to us and through limited English they told him they were getting off at the same stop.  Unfortunately they too were confused, but luckily we figured out because the majority of the passengers were getting off we would too! Our stops in hotels are usually for one or two nights when we want to see things on the way to our next destination. I am careful to make these reservations within walking distances to the local sites. Sometimes I do this because parking in cities anywhere is difficult and expensive and sometimes I do this because we don’t have a car. Lyon is a lovely city with a beautiful castle towering over it.  We also saw interesting murals painted on the exterior walls of buildings.

Whenever we pick up a car it takes us a few minutes to figure it all out. I often wonder why simple things like windshield wipers can’t be in standard places on all cars, but this car has an extremely deluxe dash showing us every detail of the car we could possibly want or need. The trouble is finding what we want when we want it.  When we first turned the car on, the gas gauge was displayed, but shortly after it disappeared and it took us nearly 50 miles to get it back.  It’s very scary to not know how much gas we have!

After a short distance, we entered Switzerland. I read we would need a visa to drive the motorways in Switzerland and sure enough right at the border was a guard who stopped us. They sold us a permit for the equivalent of about forty dollars.  We quite like the idea as the pass is good for nearly every toll in the country, and it sure beats stopping every few miles and putting in our debit card the way we do in France!

All of a sudden the snowcapped mountains came into view. I am such a tourist!  I spent the next hour saying “Oh wow!”  or “Oh, my goodness!”  or “Look at that!” and snapping picture after picture along the way.  It’s a good thing our GPS is accurate because I’m afraid I wasn’t much help as a navigator!

In Switzerland we also encountered a new currency, the Swiss Franc (CHF). Because it’s almost on par with the American dollar, it is easier to calculate costs than using the euro that currently is about $1.18.  But we changed as little cash as possible knowing that we’d only be in the country for a week and once we left we’d have no use for the cash.

Not knowing Switzerland at all we really lucked out.  I wanted to find a place to stay near Lake Lucerne and I found an apartment on Airbnb in the village of Brunnen right on the lake. Evidently in the summer this is a big resort area. This is the town where Winston Churchill spent his honeymoon.  The clerk in the tourist information office told us he had met both Hillary and George HW Bush here.  The view from our apartment was like something out of National Geographic. IMG_20170921_100836417 Brunnen is also the home of the Swiss Army Knife. They have a museum dedicated to it which in reality is just another gift shop.

On one of our walks in the village, we stopped at the ticket office to inquire about taking the boat into Lucerne. The woman was incredibly helpful explaining that we could buy a ticket for the boat in (It takes two and a half hours) and the train back (It takes less than an hour). And then if we changed our mind we could get on the boat and pay the difference. IMG_20170924_160505802 She also gave us a map of Lucerne so we could plan out our trip in advance. Europeans are so much more accomodating regarding dogs!  The ticket office had a sign reminding passengers that their dog would need a ticket as well.

We tend to travel by train (and boat) in second class.  The difference between second class and first in this case seemed to be main floor for second class with first class being upstairs. Both had areas where folks could sit outside. But given it was in the low 50’s with a bit of a breeze off the water, we chose to sit inside and watch the spectacular landscapes while sipping on our cappuccinos! Often as we travel Bob and I wonder aloud if folks get used to the scenery. As the boat crisscrossed the lake, I noticed a man standing on the balcony of his apartment brushing his teeth!  Ah, I guess you don’t get used to the view!

First on our list to see in Lucerne was Lowendenkmal (the Lion Monument).  This monument is perhaps my very favorite outside of Washington DC.  It is a huge lion carved in stone and honors the Swiss guards who were killed in 1792 during the French Revolution when revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris.  The monument was the idea of a Swiss guard who was on leave in Switzerland at the time of the attack. The dying lion has a spear in his side with a shield that displays the fleur-di-lis and another shield with the coat of arms of Switzerland.  Mark Twain described the monument:


The Lion lies in his lair in the perpendicular face of a low cliff — for he is carved from the living rock of the cliff. His size is colossal, his attitude is noble. His head is bowed, the broken spear is sticking in his shoulder, his protecting paw rests upon the lilies of France. Vines hang down the cliff and wave in the wind, and a clear stream trickles from above and empties into a pond at the base, and in the smooth surface of the pond the lion is mirrored, among the water-lilies.

Around about are green trees and grass. The place is a sheltered, reposeful woodland nook, remote from noise and stir and confusion — and all this is fitting, for lions do die in such places, and not on granite pedestals in public squares fenced with fancy iron railings. The Lion of Lucerne would be impressive anywhere, but nowhere so impressive as where he is. (Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad, 1880)

The old town is a much smaller area than it first appears on the map.  From the Lion we walked to the Kapellbrucke (chapel bridge) and Wasserman (water tower).  The bridge is the oldest covered bridge in Europe and crosses the Reuss River.  The paintings inside the bridge date back to the 1700’s.  The Wasserman in the past was used as a prison.  The bridge was built in the middle 1300’s.

There is also the Spreuer Bridge. This bridge was completed in 1408 and this is the only place where chaf (spreur) could be dumped in the river. Between the two bridges is the Nodelwehr Dam or Needle Dam.  This dam was installed in 1859 and still regulates the water level of Lake Lucerne manually by insertion or removal of the dam’s timbers (or needles).

When it was time to head back to Brunnen, we thought we’d try the train. It would be a different route than we had seen previously. The woman who had been so helpful told us she thought the train would leave from track 11 but we should check.  Yep, she was right.  And it was only a 10 minute wait for our train to arrive.  We find it interesting in Europe that on several occasions we’ve not been asked to show our train tickets.  I’m quite certain, however, if we didn’t have one we’d definitely be asked for it!

After a week in Switzerland we were now ready to move on to Salzburg.  Two years ago we were really close to Salzburg when we went to Octoberfest. But because of the immigration crisis at the time we were advised by locals in Germany not to try to cross into Austria because of the enormous queues both for cars and at train stations.  The fact that we are not from the EU and instead have US passports only further complicated the issue.  So now that things are a bit calmer at the borders we’ve decided we want to see Austria, particularly Salzburg and Vienna!

So we said goodbye to beautiful Switzerland and are ready to move on Austria.



Cradle of French America

Summer has been a busy time.  We left Boston in June and headed for Quebec City. Leaving Boston we decided to stop in Gloucester, a one time fishing and whaling port.  It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like when men would head out to sea without modern day navigation and meteorological resources. Placed near the sea, the Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial reads, “They that go down to the sea in ships.  1623 – 1923” In a semi-circle in front of the memorial are plaques with the names of those who set off but never returned.

IMG_20170608_132304698 (1)We were struck by the number of men who have the same last name making us wonder were they brothers or fathers and sons? Further down the boulevard is a statue of a mother with two small children. Standing at the water’s edge and taking this all in on a beautiful spring day was a very moving experience.

From Gloucester we headed up through Maine and its beautiful scenery. We continued to keep our eyes peeled for moose but the closest we got was a huge statue.



The drive into Quebec itself was spectacular with the road following the St. Lawrence River.   Our Airbnb was located right in the center of the old city with a gate that opened to a small walkway that led to a lovely apartment, old and quaint but updated with modern appliances and furniture, great wifi and even cable television with some English speaking channels. Our host was a lovely French Canadian who lucky for us, spoke English.

We had come, quite accidentally, at a time with lots of holidays:  St. Jean the Baptiste Day, Canada Day and Quebec Day. IMG_0001 There were bands, parades and locals handing out Quebec and Canadian flags. The Hotel Frontenac is a Quebec icon.  I have a picture my dad took of my mother, my sister and me in front of the hotel back in 1954.

With the changes from the last half century it is difficult to determine exactly where the picture was taken. IMG_20170611_144922244_BURST000_COVER_TOPBecause of the holidays during our stay this time, The Hotel Frontanac was decked out each evening in red and white lights. There was a small Salvador Dali exhibit at the hotel that we found very interesting. They were having a lottery for one of his paintings and I was convinced I was going to win but having not received a phone call I guess I didn’t.


We wandered down the Old Town’s narrow streets that are loaded with pretty sidewalk cafes and artists selling their paintings. From our apartment we could hear the constant clomp clomp clomp of the horse and buggy tours.

Quebec City has a real European feel to it.  And while French is the official language we found, just as we have with our visits abroad, that most people, speak at least some English and are happy to do so.  I generally tried a few (very few) French phrases and always tried to remember to thank the locals for speaking to me in English. As one young waiter pointed out there isn’t a big call for French unless one is in France or Quebec.

Hockey is Canada’s sport and Bob and I are big hockey fans. The finals of the Stanley Cup were playing during our first week in Quebec, with my favorite team, The Pittsburgh Penguins facing the Nashville Predators.  We had watched playoff games all spring but this was game 6 of the finals with the Pens up 3 games to 2.

So Bob and I trekked off to a nearby bar for supper and the game.  It was great fun to listen as the bar crowd cheered and sighed for goals and near goals. And I’ll never forget being able watch my team win in a country where just about everyone loves hockey.

We spent one day on the Ile d’Orleans located in the St. Lawrence river, a short drive from Quebec City. We visited Montmorency Falls on previous visits but still found the view of it from the islands lovely.

And the strawberries!  Wow!  Just as good as we remembered. The small French villages are reminiscent of a time long passed.  I particularly love the laundry hanging on the lines.

We also stopped at the Basilica of Sainte Anne de Beaupre, a spectacularly beautiful church. Each year nearly half a million people make pilgrimages to the church which was originally built in the 1600s. It was initially built as a place of worship for early settlers.

And supposedly the man who was hired to build it was cured of his rheumatism while laying initial stones in the foundation. This made it a place where people began to visit in the hope of being cured of their illnesses. The church has been enlarged several times since then. And upon entering the church you see two columns filled with crutches and braces of those who were healed.  The current basilica was constructed in the 1920’s.

We decided to take a side trip and spend a few days driving around the Gaspe Peninsula. The peninsula, known as “The cradle of French America” sticks out far into the Atlantic Ocean. It was here that Jacques Cartier first claimed the land, “New France,” in 1534.  On the four hundredth anniversary of this date a 32 foot granite cross was constructed in the town of Gaspe.  For centuries the area was an important fishing center, especially for cod. (When Jacques Cartier came to the area he found thousands of Basque fishermen already there. They had been fishing there for more than a century previous but kept the place as a well-guarded secret.)

There is much less English spoken in the Gaspe villages.  Bob needed a beard trim so when we came upon a barbershop as we were wandering down the main street of a quaint village it seemed like the time was right.  The woman barber spoke very little English and we speak no French so once again we were using a lot of hand gestures and smiling and laughing. It did strike us odd having just returned a few weeks earlier from Cuba that on the wall over the barber’s chair was a picture of Che Gueverra, the ubiquitous Cuban hero!

We had read that the Redford Gardens (Also known as Les Jardins de Metis) was a lovely spot so we spent a couple of hours wandering through the English garden of the estate and enjoying the variety of flowers. Elsie Redford had originally built a fishing camp on the site that she converted into a garden in the 1920’s. She was a rugged early settler who during her recovery following surgery followed her doctor’s suggestion that she take up gardening.

This lovely garden is the result. Because of its location near the St. Lawrence River which tempers the climate, plants grow here that are unable to grow elsewhere in Canada. I was struck once again, just like I was in Boston at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the role that gardens played in the estates of the very wealthy back in the day and how lucky we are that many have been maintained and are now open to the public.

I have some random memories of the Gaspe from when I visited with my family back in 1950’s.  In particular I remember following a dirt road that connected fishing villages. I still have a small carved boat that my parents purchased for me at a roadside stand. Boy, has that changed. The drive, now a totally paved road while still beautiful, has become far more touristy. But the natural beauty is still there. This time we spent a night in a hotel that looked out on Perce Rock, a huge monolith with a natural archway that protrudes from the Atlantic Ocean not far from the road.  I remember my sister, a teenager in 1954, commenting, “We drove all this way just to see a rock!”

The Gaspe also has its share of unusual sites: Given the proximity to the sea, the Gaspe is a huge source of wind power and we, of course, had to drive through Le Nordais Windmill Park where there are more than130 windmills. The park claims to be one of the largest in North America.  While the huge vertical windmill is no longer in use, the village of Cap Chat started giving tours of it in 1987 and continue to do so.  The windmill is considered by the locals to be a static sculpture. Near the town of Sainte-Flavie we came upon a sculpture garden by Maurice Gagnon.  There the artist has created a gathering of people on the beach standing out into the water. We found the display very odd, but extremely interesting.   And of course, I made Bob stop in Rimouski, one of the biggest towns along the peninsula so I could visit the L’Oceanic Ice Colisee, where Sydney Crosby played junior hockey.

Coming upon a covered bridge or passing a home with a thatched roof or seeing a phone booth on the side of the street made us often feel like we were traveling in a previous time.

But perhaps among the most unique were the sculptures of the fish and the man with the moose antlers.

But our favorite part was the spectacular views that seemed to be around every bend. And to top it off we had wonderful sunny weather to enjoy the jaw-dropping scenery for the entire four days (which we understand from locals is very unusual).

After a fabulous month of being surrounded by everything French we were headed back to spend a couple of weeks with our son Kris, and his family in Big Rapids.  IMG_20170709_184753526But we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stop in Fairport, New York to celebrate the ninetieth birthday of our  daughter-in-law, Sadie’s grandmother. We don’t know many people who get to celebrate that special day!  And it was great fun!

We hadn’t been “home” in Big Rapids since last November.  And Kris and his wife, Andria, went out of their way to make our visit special.  We played euchre, and as they are both great chefs of course we ate amazing meals. We learned a new yard game, Kubb, went on a boat ride with good friends, Ken and Ginny.  Andria even made arrangements for us to visit her sister’s family in Manistee so we could spend time on the Lake Michigan beach, which we consider among the nicest in the world. We also got to celebrate our oldest grandchild’s sixteenth birthday.  It was a wonderful two weeks that passed by far too quickly.

We’re now getting ready to head to Rome to watch Cary defend her dissertation and then on new cities and new adventures! What lucky people we are!







The Cradle of American History

After leaving Cuba we returned to the east coast to check in with our DC area kids and pick up our car before moving on.  This meant returning to our regular trivia game, watching playoff hockey (Go Pens!) as well as catching up with our youngest grandkids which included: soccer, karaoke and an early birthday celebration.

We also had tickets to see a play at Ford’s Theatre. “Ragtime” is a musical that follows three turn-of-the-century families.  The music is great and it was hard to believe we were watching it in such an historic building.

After a week of relaxing in DC we were ready to take off for Boston. Sort of moving from one part of early American history to another! We decided to drive some of the backroads to enjoy and learn more about the smaller towns in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country.  We stopped in Lititz for lunch at a fabulous deli. We had remembered the town (although not the deli) from a visit here with the kids back in the early 1980s. We toured The Lititz  Pretzel Factory then and learned about the history of pretzles dating back to the 1600’s. From Lititz Bob and I decided we wanted to visit Crossings, PA. This is the place where Washington and his troops crossed the Deleware on Christmas 1776.

We then went on to spend the night in Valley Forge and toured the encampment the following day. I’m always astounded at what the Patriots had to endure to gain our independence.  More than 2500 men died at Valley Forge from starvation, the cold and disease. It’s overwhelming to imagine.

And to think how far away from home many of them were and how concerned they must have been for their families, wondering if they’d ever see them again. I think we take our republic for granted not realizing how fragile it really is. But I digress…  We had intended to spend an hour or so there and three  and a half hours later decided we’d better get on our way if we wanted to make much progress toward our destination.

I reserved a place in Hull, Massachusetts, located on a peninsula just south of Boston. The location is great. We are a block from the ocean one direction and three blocks the other.  We have a great front porch where we can sit and enjoy our morning coffee on those few days when it is warm enough. We are also just a 10 minute drive from the commuter rail that has us at South Station in downtown Boston in half an hour. South Station is an amazing place.  As well as the commuter rail, many Amtrak trains arrive and depart for DC and parts beyond.  You can also access the T (subway) here making it a hub for travelers whatever their destinations!

The Airbnb house we’re renting is a duplex and the young man we’re renting from lives right next door. It makes it very convenient to ask questions. I love that it’s a two story with three bedrooms upstairs..feels very much like home!  And as an added bonus we can park right out front!  Boston traffic is unbelievable and parking horrific so we make good use of the commuter rail.  The fact that we qualify for a half price senior citizen ticket makes the trip reasonable as well as convenient.  Hull was founded in the 1600s by Puritans. Nearby our house is Fort Revere with spectacular views of Hull and Boston. It dates from the Revolution when it was used to protect Boston Harbor.

We briefly visited Boston years ago but as I’ve said in previous entries when we have a month to visit a place we feel more like residents and less like tourists.  It’s nice not to have to jam everything we want to do into a couple of days.

We were thrilled that my good friend Rita, from Pittsburgh, could visit us.  It seemed easiest to pick her up at the airport instead of relying on public transportation so that we could stop and visit the JFK Library on our return.IMG_20170519_112410833[1]  When Bob and I had been in Boston 1980 we had located the then new JFK library on our Rand McNally map and when we couldn’t find it stopped to ask a local. We were told, “Oh that’s where they were going to build it. They decided instead to put it out near the water.”  What a perfect location. Seeing JFK’s sailboat leaning on the shore took my breath away! I think this is one of the few museums I’ve ever visited where I could connect to and recall the stories about nearly every exhibit!

History is everywhere you turn in Boston.  We stopped to visit John Adams’ home and the national park service guide gave us a private tour of the home. It’s hard to envision the area as farmland much less Abigail managing the farm, as well as her family, while fighting is going on all around her and John is miles away! We also stopped at his library and later family home!

Most amazingly we met Keith, a young man in his 30’s I would guess, on the commuter rail on our first trip into Boston and he shared with us some sights he felt we’d enjoy.  He mentioned the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) and went on to describe some of the particular artists that were among his favorites.  There was a special Matisse Exhibit currently on display so we had put the MFA at the top of our list. Also there was a lovely Chihuly glass piece in the lobby.

Keith also gave us some practical tips about how to get around and other areas to see. We were stunned when after we left the train he tracked us down in South Station to give us his business card telling us not to hesitate to contact him if he could be of any assistance! We continue to meet the most gracious people!

Cambridge is a lovely city.  We walked through the Harvard Campus, downtown,  Lesley College and down Brattle Street past Longfellow’s Home. IMG_20170520_163711277 I had no idea that this was George Washington’s heaquarters from 1775-1776. Longfellows’ father-in-law bought the home in 1843 as a wedding gift. It’s the house where Longfellow lived until he died. We also learned that The Harvard Museum of National History houses The Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass. We decided this was something we had to see! These models of plants are made entirely of glass. There are more than 4000 models of more than 800 species of flowers.

They were made between 1887 and 1936 and were created because a Harvard professsor wanted lifelike models for teaching botany. Prior to this time there were only papier mache or wax models available.

One of my very favorite parts of Boston is The Freedom Trail. This trail is embedded in the sidewalk making it incredibly easy to follow and it’s like walking through a textbook of early American history.IMG_20170604_132647870[1] On this trail are marked the sites of the Boston Massacre, Paul Revere’s home, the Granary Cemetery (where Samuel Adams, Crispus Attacks,  as well as Ben Franklin’s parents are buried). The Corner Bookstore was originally the home of Anne Hutchinson (who was kicked out of Massachusetts for heresy) and was later a meeting place for authors including: Longfellow, Hawthorne and Emerson.  Perhaps because it has a commercial history that spans a couple of centuries I shouldn’t be upset that it is now the home of a commercial entity of the 2000’s. (Chipotle) But it really does bother me!

We paid to enter the Old State House which was particularly interesting because there were several informative narrations we could download on our phones that explained the history of the building! A realitively new addition to the Freedom Trail is The New England Holocaust Memorial built in 1995. IMG_20170520_120251170[1]This moving memorial consists of six towers which represent the six camps and six is also significant for the six years that the camps were in existence.  On a lighter note, also along the Freedom Trail, in front of the Old City Hall is a donkey.  For over 100 years Boston politics was dominated by Democratic mayors  In 2004 this donkey was dubbed “The Democratic Donkey.”  Next to the donkey are footprints with the inscription, “Stand in Opposition.”

We had seen the exhibit for Robert McCloskey’s book, Make Way for Ducklings at the Museum of Fine Arts. img_20170604_1249521891.jpg I  remembered the book from when I was a child about Mr and Mrs. Mallard who find the perfect place to raise their family in Boston Public Gardens.  So I definitely wanted to see the sculpture.  Because we had missed it on our first trip, we made a second trek to the gardens to see it.

And while I loved the Museum of Fine Arts perhaps my favorite museum in all of Boston  is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.   It’s an eclectic collection of art, sculpture, textiles and antiques and housed in beautiful rooms that were designed to resemble a Venetian palace of the 1400’s.  It’s unlike any museum I’ve visited anywhere!

We also drove out to Cape Cod. Because we were located south of Boston and didn’t have to drive through the city it made a much easier trip out to the Cape. And although there were lots of people, because we were visiting in late May we didn’t have to contend with the summer mobs.  Provincetown has lots of cute little shops and I found a place to get my haircut.  Another day we drove Falmouth which is about an hour south of Boston but not out on the Cape.  We were particularly interested in this area because of the work at Woods Hole that environmentalist Rachel Carson had done in the 1960s. Ms Carson wrote Silent Spring in 1962 about the harmful effects of pesticides.IMG_20170601_134802574 She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Carter and because she was a family friend of Bob’s aunts (having grown up in the same small western Pennsylvania town) we particularly wanted to visit her statue in Falmouth.  We fell in love with the area finding it even more beautiful than the Cape itself.

Our temperatures in Boston were cool.  The locals tell us that it has been exceedingly cool this year.  We also had quite a bit of rain, but it rarely rained all day and we found we could generally dodge between the showers. We like to read near the beach and we can do that in jackets just as long as the wind doesn’t gust too much.  Another favorite in Boston for us is the chowder.  We’ve tried it nearly everywhere we’ve gone and the cool weather only makes it taste that much better.  We will definitely miss this special taste of New England when we leave!  It seems too like we are following the flowers this spring. Starting on our drive up to DC from Florida in late February all the way to Boston in May, we find the rhododendrons gorgeous, one just exceeding the previous in its beauty. Rhododendrons have always been among my favorite bloom, but I have never witnessed any as large as we have seen this year.  Some stand almost as high as houses!

The night before we were to leave Boston we found a small wonderful Italian restaurant not far from our house. We chatted with the owner (also waitress and cook) who wanted to know more about our lifestyle.  As we were talking about all the things we love about Boston she commented, “Wow, you sound like locals!” I guess that’s what we love best…getting to really know a city, how to maneuver it, what makes it interesting, what’s its history, talking with the locals.  In this case we definitely want to know more about this cradle of American history. Guess we’ll have to put Boston/Hull on our list of places to return to!