The Best of the Maritimes

This wasn’t our first trip to Nova Scotia, but we’d never stayed more than a week previously and this time we really wanted to experience life in this eastern maritime province.  I had found an airbnb apartment that was located in Dartmouth, just across the harbor from Halifax and this turned out to be a perfect location.  It was a quick drive into Halifax or to other parts of the province and there was even a ferry that was within walking distance and took us across to Halifax in just 10 minutes for the grand sum of $1.75 Canadian.

The apartment itself was perfect as well.  The owners were a young couple who are currently living in the DC area and so their mother met us and showed us around.  I had to laugh when she told us it was really small:  

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Looking at Halifax Harbor from our living room

two bedrooms, two baths a large living room and kitchen with an island and a separate laundry room. Obviously, it’s all relative.  To us the place was huge!  All the rooms had views of the harbor.  We watched sailboats, cruise ships, container ships, military ships, every kind of water vehicle we could imagine all while never leaving the comfort of our living room.  And while the weather tended to be cool while we were there, there was even a balcony to enjoy a glass of wine on those days when it was warm enough.  It truly exceeded all our expectations.

 

 

Our first jaunt took us to Grand Pre which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012. It’s located on the Bay of Fundy’s Minas Basin in the Annapolis Valley. This is the area the French Acadians settled (by reclaiming the land from the sea) in the 1680’s.  It retains its rich farming soil today. But in the second half of the 18th century the Acadians were forced to leave.  When the English defeated the French, there was fear that the Acadians would continue to pledge allegiance to the French. And as a result a decree was issued that all Acadians would be deported and shipped to English colonies, or France or the Caribbean.  Many were attracted to Louisiana because of the familiar language.  Between 1755 and 1763 nearly 10,000 Acadians were forced to leave and thousands of those died.  When Longfellow published his poem Evangeline, the story of a young woman searching for her love, the English speaking world became aware of the forceable removal.  The deportation cross, erected in 1924, marks the actual spot of the Acadians’ departure. Today a lovely park in Grand Pre traces the history for visitors.  There is a statue of Longfellow’s Evangeline, as well as a bust of Longfellow.  The park has a bittersweet feel to it.

 

 

On our way back to Dartmouth, we stopped at a sidewalk cafe in Wolfville, a small quaint village close to Grand Pre.  Here was our first of many reminders of the importance of hockey in Canada.  I ordered a beer, and since this was Stanley Cup time, it was served in a glass hockey skate mug! img_20180607_155616534  Later in our travels around the province, we encountered: a collection of hockey jerseys on the wall of a restaurant, hockey icons on Canadian food brands in the grocery, Cole Harbor city sign advertising they’re the home of Sidney Crosby. We saw additional posters of Crosby and other NHL players’ pictures from Nova Scotia on the walls of buildings throughout the province.  Given our love of hockey we found this really fun! We were surprised to find a liquor store just outside Halifax advertising, “Cold Beer Drive Through.”   Wow!  Beer and hockey.  The Canadians get it!  

 

 

We decided to take three days and explore Cape Breton which is connected to the rest of Nova Scotia by the Canso Causeway.  The Cabot Trail is a spectacular road that circles the island.  The views at every turn are more beautiful than the last.

 

 

We started up the sunset side, also known as the musical coast. We were aiming for Cheticamp for our first night. This again is the land of the Acadians. And Cheticamp remained a fishing village until the 1930’s when tourism in the area began with the creation of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

 

It’s still a blend of tourism and fishing today. We stopped in at the Celtic Music Interpretive Center where we enjoyed a local ceilidh (pronounced ‘ka lee) while we lunched on seafood chowder and a local beer!

 

Signs and literature are in both French and English. And we noticed more French spoken in the little villages.  Acadian flags along with Nova Scotian flags and Canadian Maple Leaves fly everywhere.  When we left Cheticamp in the morning we stopped at a local donut shop for coffee and donuts.  It was a cozy place with four or five tables. As we sat down we realized that the table to our left was speaking English while the table to our right was speaking French.  We get the impression, however, that they both understood the conversation of the other.  

We headed next toward Sydney, the second largest city in Nova Scotia, with a population of about 31,000. Sydney is on the tip of Nova Scotia. (This is where in 2004 we caught the ferry for Newfoundland.) Previously we were in Nova Scotia in August, but this time we decided to visit in June.  We were a bit taken aback when we first arrived that snow, significant snow, was predicted for parts of Cape Breton and Newfoundland. And many of the summer festivities don’t begin until July. But we enjoy not having to contend with huge crowds. And luckily the snow never materialized where we were!

Sydney has a lovely boardwalk with a huge fiddle and monuments to those who made their livlihoods from the sea.

 

And we spotted various  interesting signs throughout the province.

 

  

Heading down the other side of Cape Breton we stopped at The Fortress of Louisbourg.  It was a cold blustery day, especially for our expectations of June. We tried to quickly grasp the general history of the fort and move on. We learned that there is a difference between a fort and a fortress.  A fortress encloses a town while a fort doesn’t. The Louisbourg Fortress was the home of the first lighthouse constructed in Canada. The fortress was founded by the French in 1713 and then fell to the British twice.  It was finally demolished in the 1760’s. After it was destroyed, some of the stone was used for building in Sydney, Halifax and suprisingly Boston.img_0222

I had read in several places about Rita’s Tea Room in Big Pond.  Given my very best friend is Rita; I knew we had to stop!  It turns out that this tea room started as a one-room school house back in the 1930’s.  Canadian singer and song writer, Rita MacNeil, lived closeby with her family.  And in the 1980’s she was able to purchase it and later converted it into a tea room.

 

Wherever she performed, Rita would invite her audience, if ever in Big Pond, to stop by for a cup of tea. Rita needed tea cups so she went out and started buying them but she was particularly touched when people would come by and donate all sorts of them.  The cups are displayed throughout the tea room. Rita died in 2013 but her tea room is lovely!  Definitely worth the stop if you’re in the area!

The Bay of Fundy is known for its incredibly high tides.  After consulting a guide of tide times we drove to Truro to see the bore. A tidal bore is the reversing of a river’s current by the force of the tide.  It is amazing.  You have to be there at the right time and then you can actually see the bore coming up the river. img_0321-1We knew that the Bay of Fundy has the highest tides in the world and while we had seen them on a previous visit this was definitely something we wanted to do again.  We consulted our guide again so we could see both high tides and low tides during daylight on the same day.  And then we headed out early in the morning for Burntcoat Head Park. We got there just at high tide.  While the views were breathtaking  we were also careful not to get too close to the slippery edges.  We visited the interpretive center and then toured the area.  Everywhere we drove we saw fields and fields of gorgeous lupine and huge stacks of wood as folks readied themselves for the cold long winter  ahead. 

 

We returned to the park a few hours later at low tide!  Wow!  Even though we knew it was going to be different.  It’s hard to comprehend.  People were walking on the ocean’s bottom where just a few hours before were under more than 30 feet of water!  

 

Whenever you see pictures of Nova Scotia, the lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove seems to be the ubiquitous icon.  We thought that perhaps Father’s Day would be a good day to visit thinking that most families would be celebrating with their relatives at home.  WRONG!  I think that perhaps half of all the residents of the maritimes had decided to visit Peggy’s Cove.  Parking lots were overflowing; tourist busses and cars were everywhere.  Mobs of people were walking down the streets.  We were glad that we had visited years ago at a much quieter time; we took a couple of quick shots and then high-tailed it out of there. 

 

Following the slower road along St Margaret’s Bay we enjoyed the scenery and then came to The Finer Diner where we decided to stop for lunch. http://www.finerdiner.ca/  What a great choice.  All of the crowds left behind, we sat on the front porch looking out at a quiet cove.  The menu gave us lots of seafood choices.  I finally opted for the lobster roll and Bob got the seafood platter.  Prices in most Nova Scotian restaurants tend to be reasonable but the exchange rate allows us as Americans to discount the price by 25 per cent.  Boy, it’s going to be tough going back to the States! 

 

 

The south shore of Nova Scotia is very different from Cape Breton but equally lovely.  We drove down to Shelburne on the highway and then worked our way slowly back along the coast.  In 1783 loyalists from the American colonies settled in Shelburne Harbour lured by promises of free land. img_0435 The city grew larger than Halifax or Montreal. And not far from Shelburne we found the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre.  This is the place where Black Loyalists came seeking freedom at the end of the 1700s.  At that time this was the largest Black settlement outside of Africa. We came to the Old Schoolhouse and were surprised to find the door open but no one inside.  We spent about an hour in the one room reading the stories of this settlement that we had never before heard of. As we left the schoolhouse we found the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre next door and here there were guides who invited us to see a short film and then view additional exhibits. There was even a book entitled, Book of Negroes that listed the names of many who had made the journey.

 

We then drove into Shelbourne itself where we toured the Ross-Thomson House; it’s the only original store building remaining.  We also toured the dory factory; dories are small fishing boats with flat bottoms and sharp sides that have been used for centuries for fishing off the southern coast of Nova Scotia.  We were shocked to learn from our guide that most fishermen didn’t know how to swim because the water was so cold that if you didn’t swim, drowning would shorten the amount of time you were in the water. And fishing was so dangerous that brothers or fathers and sons were never allowed to go out in the same boat! 

 

After spending the night in Shelburne (in a motel that made us feel like we were back in the 1950’s) we headed along the shore traveling from fishing village to fishing village. img_0461The landscape was beautiful. Old Town Lunenburg is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was recognized for having the best surviving example of a British Colonial grid-pattern street layout as well as for its authenticity as a working city. It is also the home of the Bluenose II,  a gaff rig schooner, which is featured on the Canadian Dime.  And from Lunenburg we headed to Mahone Bay, which is well known for the beautiful churches that border the water. 

 

Having seen a lot of the rural areas of the province there was a lot we wanted to see within the metropolitan area. We were pleased our Airbnb location gave us such easy access into Halifax.  The city has a lot of great shopping and eating areas right along the harbor. And we particularly wanted to visit the library downtown.  In 2008 a joint venture between a Halifax architecture firm and a Danish firm won the international competition for the library. The resulting design resembles a stack of books.  And since its opening in 2014 it has become a major gathering place for folks downtown.

 

It’s a very modern typically Danish design with open bridges connecting various departments on every floor and beautiful views overlooking the city.  There are cafes as well as meeting areas, and the upper floors are designed as quieter areas.  It is filled with water saving devices and designed to be energy efficient as well.  Wired Magazine named it to their list of the 10 most beautiful libraries in the world.

The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 is located in an old ocean liner terminal where the majority of immigrants entered Canada between 1928 and 1971.  img_0664Our guide was an immigrant from Scotland. There were exhibits of the ship’s cabins as well as recorded interviews of immigrants, even a display of the items a person had packed in their trunk.  Moving on to the other part of the museum, which we toured independently, were explanations of the trends of immigration and how they’ve changed over the decades.  There were places for comments by those touring the museum and we were saddened to read the feelings of at least one person:  img_0656

We also found the Halifax Public Gardens to be a relaxing place to spend an afternoon. They are the oldest Victorian gardens in North America and date back to the middle 1800’s. Once again we were surprised to learn that there was no charge to access them.

 

On a rainy day we decided to head to the bookstore, Chapters.  It’s a large Canadian chain.  I had just finished reading Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule, an historical fiction work  by Jennifer Chiaverini. So when I saw The Spymistress, a story she wrote about Elizabeth Van Lew who was a spy for the Union during the Civil War, I knew I wanted to read it.  And it was discounted! I asked a clerk where I’d find it and she told me that while they didn’t have it, it was at a nearby store. So I put the address in my phone and off we went. When we arrived at the store the clerk there apologized but said it was in their warehouse and they’d go get it and she could call me when they had it.  Okay, that was fine. We hadn’t been home for more than 10 minutes when I got a call saying that they had the book at the store and we could pick it up the next day.  Great! We were going to go right past that store on our way up to watch the tidal bore. But she added it wasn’t $5.00 but $2.00.  When we got to the store the next day, the clerk told me it wasn’t $2.00 but $1.08 with tax.  We figured with the exchange rate the book cost me about 80 cents American.  What a find! And the book was great!

In Holland in the 1600’s a military signal would indicate to pubs near military garrisons to stop serving beer, to turn off the taps.  That Dutch phrase over the centuries has turned into “Tattoo.”  If you’ve read my previous blogs you’ll know that two years ago when we were in Scotland we attended the Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle. That is the greatest of all the tattoos.  But when we realized that the Tattoo would be performed during our stay in Nova Scotia we knew we had to see it.  Unlike Edinburgh this Tattoo was performed inside so we didn’t have to worry about whether we’d get rained on or not.  And among the participants in this tattoo were a police band from Singapore, a Jordanian drill unit, circus performers from Brazil and an American Military band. I don’t know how anyone can listen to a military band and not feel patriotic!

 

It had been raining most of the morning so we decided to take a taxi to the performance.  (Ubers don’t exist in Nova Scotia.)  But the skies had cleared when it was over so we walked down to the water, ate at an outdoor cafe and then walked to the ferry terminal and took the short ferry ride back to Dartmouth, just a couple blocks from our apartment. What a fun day!img_20180629_1827041141

On Canada Day, July 1, we went downstairs and in front of our apartment building we could watch sky divers with parachutes displaying the maple leaf!  We went to a nearby park in the afternoon and enjoyed a band that played music from the 1960’s.img_0010 The woman who managed our apartment building had suggested that we had to try “John’s Lunch” while we were in Halifax.  https://johnslunch.com/  She said it was a real dive but had the best fried clams and is a favorite with the locals.  Sounded like our kind of place.  It turned out the diner had a single row of seats at the counter and about 6 booths and I got the idea that people were always waiting no matter the day or hour.

 

Everyone was very friendly and when the waitress found out we were Americans I got a big hug and then she pointed out that Nova Scotians LOVE Americans it’s just our president they can’t stand!  At the end of the day we headed back to our apartment and right outside our front door we had a marvelous view of the fireworks!  What a perfect end to a perfect stay in what turned out to be both Bob’s and my favorite province!  In the morning it’d be a stop at Tim Horton’s for a cup of coffee and then we were headed back west.

Bits and pieces along the way…

img_0247As Bob and I reflect on our peripatetic lifestyle of more than three years, we’ve come to realize little things often seem to fit together into larger generalities. For instance, we never realized how attracted we were to the water until we went back and looked at how many of our stays were close to the oceans…many within direct sight.  In the United States there was Boston, Seattle and two locations in Florida. Beyond that was Gosport, England, both the southern tip of Portugal and the northern coast of Spain, Lanzarote in the Canaries as well as Sicily, Panama and now Nova Scotia. We find the water provides a peaceful, relaxing environment and we often wonder if growing up on the shore of Lake Michigan has anything to do with our attraction to large bodies of water. The draw continues as we have reservations to spend next January and much of February in the Caribbean before heading to Lecce, Italy not far from the coast and the rest of spring in Antibes, France, on the Cote d’Azure.

We also have found the food to be generally wonderful wherever we go.  Because we’ve spent so much time near the water we have devoured delectable seafood dishes in more places than we can count. We’ve had endless lobster and mussels in the northeast and Canada; our fill (well, almost) of shrimp in Florida. We find ourselves comparing favorites:  “Okay, how would you rate this seafood chowder compared to…? Or I think this lobster roll is even better than…”  We had never tried food trucks until in DC and it’s now become one of my favorite venues.  And the Mexican restaurants in the southwest were amazing!

We try to get recommendations from people we meet for suggestions where the locals eat. Sometimes it’s the setting not just the menu. For instance in Nashua New Hampshire we ate at “The Common Man.” img_20180531_183605693_hdr http://www.thecman.com/restaurants-and-menus/common-man-restaurants/common-man-merrimack.aspx Not only was the food scrumptious, but the restaurant was the former home of Matthew Thornton, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence!  The restaurant seated groups throughout the small rooms of the home making it feel very cozy.  There were crackers and two kinds of dips as you entered the front door of the restaurant as well as a large cheese round upstairs for all to try.

In Saint John, New Brunswick we found ourselves in a lovely casual restaurant, (http://www.lilylake.ca/lilys.html) Lily Lake Cafe that featured local food made from scratch and to our amazement it was listed as a charity.  When we inquired, our waitress explained that the restaurant proceeds benefit community programs in the area.

On the surrounding grounds are biking and hiking trails.  There are nearby statues honoring the Canadian worker.

More than a hundred years ago, Lily Lake was a major source of fresh water for the area, and there was a huge dispute between the ice cutters and the skaters which the skaters eventually won.  Our waitress explained that this was the lake where she had learned iceskate and also where she taught her granddaughter to skate as well.

If you’ve read my previous blogs you know that historical sites are a major destination for us wherever we travel. We traipse around battlefields, and stop to read monuments, often of people we’ve never heard of. We wander through cemeteries reading names, dates and interesting quotes. We find the architecture of churches interesting but were a little overwhelmed by the sheer number in Europe so while we still check them out, we are less apt to go inside unless.  We also like to visit sights off the beaten path like an old residence of a famous person or the Thomas Hart Benton murals in rural towns in the midwest. Or just random things we read about. We enjoy museums of all sorts.

We enjoy art. And we take advantage of local festivals whenever we can.  We were in Ireland during the Galway International Arts Festival.  The Fringe, along with the Tatoo, were among  our all time greatest experiences when we were in Edinbourgh. (We loved the Tatoo so much we got tickets to go to the Halifax Tatoo next week. More about that in my next blog.) We love music so we seek out concerts, particularly those reflecting local heritage, wherever we travel.  So far it’s ranged from the waltzes of Vienna to the Celtic Music of the Cape Breton Highlands.

We like trivia games though we’ve not tried them in a foreign country yet. We did find an interesting one at Politics and Prose  one of my “must stop at” bookstores whenever we are in DC.  The night we went they had one topic, “Broadway.”  Wow.  I can’t think of any topic we might know less about than Broadway.  But it was still a fun and enjoyable evening.img_20180519_200434822

We are often asked how we decide where to rent and what to take with us. Over time, we’ve become more attuned to what we need in our rentals. A washer is really important for us, but after living in Europe for a while we realize while a dryer is nice, not having one is not a deal breaker.  We like the car for getting from one destination to the next but it’s really nice to have a supermarket, parks and restaurants within walking distance.  We get a better feel for the neighborhood on foot. img_20171121_1040540631And a really big plus, is proximity to public transportation.  DC has become a second home for us, I believe in large part, because it’s so easy to get around without a car. We take advantage of discount cards when available.  We have senior metro cards for DC which allow us to ride the metro for half fare and the bus for $1.00.  We also have senior Charlie Cards for Boston with similar discounts. When we have a car, it’s nice to have a place nearby to park (even when we leave it there for days or weeks at a time).

We’ve found dollar stores to be a real god-send as they provide an inexpensive way to acquire those little things that sometimes aren’t provided in our rental. With only one exception, Wi-fi has been available everywhere we’ve traveled.  I generally don’t access wifi in hotels as I’m nervous about being hacked, but I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it would be to make travel arrangements without a computer. We have found that virtually no rentals provide a good can opener, and the ones at the dollar stores just don’t cut it. So we carry one with us. We have found, with our age, that futons are definitely not comfortable over time.  They’re not bad for a short term stay but since we are doing this full time, we generally look for places that have REAL couches.  And a side chair or two is really nice. We’ve been pleasantly surprised by how good the beds have been in almost every place we’ve stayed. An added bonus is a place to sit outside, either a patio, balcony, deck or front porch.  (And it’s really nice when the weather accomodates such activity!)

Another thing I really enjoy is doing the grocery shopping.  It’s so interesting to see the variety of foods. Meatmarkets and seafood counters are particularly intriguing.  Octopus, squid, tongue…so many things we don’t have in our usual markets in Michigan.

The variety of fruits and vegetables are wonderful as well and so tasty! But even in the US things supermarkets are very different on the coasts than they are in the midwest. We particularly loved the “clip your own” herbs we found in a supermarket in Raleigh.

By traveling on the shoulder seasons we are able to avoid the crowds and things are generally less expensive.  But as lovers of summer, this often means for us cooler temperatures.  We lucked out in Palm Springs by having r warm unusually warm weather in January but other places including Portugal, Spain and Quebec have been chillier.  Still we’re generally able to get by with just spring/fall wardrobes with an emphasis on layers.

Where next is always a question we have in mind. We have crisscrossed some countries several times. (France, Germany and the US come to mind.) And while I’m sure there are more efficient ways of traveling, part of the thing I love best about our lifestyle is not planning too far out. And we always find new and different things to see wherever we are…whether we’ve been there before or not.

We find that we travel with “more stuff” in the US and Canada than we do elsewhere.  Our car sort of takes on the role of a closet and just as when we owned a home we tended to fill any closet we had, we tend to take more with us when we have the car to put it in.

But when we’re using trains, planes and boats, we’ve found that traveling light is the only way to go. Using brightly colored suitcases also makes it much easier to find our luggage among the ubiquitous black cases. We have learned when we leave a location to drop off our remaining can goods at a local food pantry instead of just leaving it in the house. Often our rentals have very little storage space in the kitchen and we know that the food pantry will be glad to get our donation. When we move from one destination to another and it’s more than a day’s drive, we pack the clothes we need in one suitcase and all our really valuable stuff (like passports, computer, tablet) in our rolly bag so we only have two bags to take into the hotel.

We have stored a few bins of things in our kids’ homes. To simplify things, I created a spreadsheet that lists the location and bin number, and then I list the specific items in  each bin.  Then too I have a list in the same folder, called, “Things with Us.” Whenever I take something out of one bin and move it to another, I update the spreadsheet.  This way, if I need to ask one of the kids to mail something to me I can tell him or her exactly where to find it.  Makes it much easier for all of us.  Also, whenever we leave one location, I go through my “Things with Us” list and ensure that I have everything on the list. Whenever we visit one of the kids, I take the opportunity to update this list, as well as pitch anything that we no longer need.

Our kids have a difficult time remembering where their parents are or where we’re headed next so I found that creating an itinerary for them with dates and phone numbers is helpful. I share that with them on Google Sheets.  Also in case of an emergency, that would be helpful information for them to have. Generally we set aside one day a month to balance the accounts and pay our bills (all online). I also have electronic copies of our passports and credit cards.

Even after three years we  continue to get mail through the postal system. Ugh! Since we use our oldest son’s address as our residence, it all goes to him. Every month or so he boxes it up and sends it on to us. (Sometimes that entails sending it to one of his siblings’ addresses where we pick it up.) I had truly thought by this time we’d be done with that but no luck!

Traveling fulltime requires a lot of organization and planning but we’re continuously refining the process and in doing so I think we’re becoming more efficient which gives us more time to have fun and enjoy our everyday travels.

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The Tar Heel State

Tar Heel State!  We asked around and were told that there are varying explanations regarding how the state got its nickname.  But there was one that was repeated several times. Because of the vast pine forests throughout the state, North Carolina has from its beginning been a large producer of tar, pitch and turpentine.  And legend has it that during the Civil War North Carolinian troops were referred to as “tar heels” because of their ability to stick to their guns like tar on their heels!

We have visited North Carolina before, but we’ve really only seen the seashore except for traveling across on the interstate in route to other destinations.  So here we are for two months in Raleigh.  We’ve visited museums, gone to an NHL game, visited county parks as well as state parks, traveled to nearby towns, strolled through battlefields and made new friends.  It’s been a relaxing and interesting eight weeks.

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Raleigh skyline

Raleigh is a relatively big city by US standards.  Population of the metro area is well over a million but it doesn’t feel that big.  It’s an easy city to maneuver.  Traffic isn’t bad. (Well, we don’t drive during rush hours and that probably makes a difference.) The couple of times during the week that we’ve gone to a big mall near us we’ve been flabbergasted by the number of people.  The mall is huge and it’s always difficult to find a place to park.  During the week?  When do people work? We thought malls were dying out but perhaps that’s not the case everywhere.

Because we’re here for two months and are both avid readers we decided to check out the local library. (We often get library cards in places where we’re staying for more than a month.)  The folks were most accommodating and there was no charge for a temporary card.  The reference librarian made it seem like he had absolutely nothing better than to help me locate the subjects I was interested in.

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Sign in the Garner branch of the Southeast Regional Library

They even have a service where you share with the librarians your interests and they select books for you so you can just pick them up.  I think that’s really amazing.  Talk about promoting readers!  And when the woman behind the check out desk learned that I was returning books for the final time, she said she hoped we had enjoyed our stay in Raleigh and added, “Ya’ll come back and see us sometime, ya hear?”

We found a lovely place to stay in a wooded area outside the city complete with free range chickens!

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That’s the home for the chickens NOT our apartment!

One thing that sold me on the place was the fact it has a piano in the living room.  Not since Galway have I had a piano.  In fact that might have been the selling point on this place. It’s a bit more rural than we’re used to but we love how everything has come into bloom during our stay and wherever we turn there are bursts of pinks and whites and reds!  On the other hand, we’ve never lived in a place where cars, steps, sidewalks, literally everything is coated with pollen.  It’s as though the landscape here has a canvas covering it that has been swept with a light green brush!  We even saw on the news that on their weather cam pollen shows up like snow!  It’s crazy!

 

This is an area of parks and we’re often struck that just like the library, parks, including state parks, are free. Raleigh is also home of the Charlotte Hurricanes, an NHL team, so when we learned that shortly after our arrival they were playing my Pittsburgh Penguins we got tickets.  The guy next to me, from Pittsburgh, said the Raleigh area has lots of retirees from the north as well as younger northern transplants in general.  That combined with the fact that Pittsburgh is less than an eight-hour drive away must have contributed to the fact that nearly half the arena was filled with Penguin fans. What a fun night!

 

Raleigh is only a short drive from Mt. Airy, the town that the Andy Griffith Show was based on and given that’s probably Bob’s favorite show of all time we definitely had to make a side trip there.  Driving into the town was like entering a time warp.  It’s easy to forget that this is a fictional place.  The downtown has everything from Floyd’s Barber Shop to Wally’s Filling Station.  We stopped at The Snappy Lunch and had a hot dog and root beer.  It claims to be the “oldest continuous eating establishment serving Surry County (and Mayberry) since 1923” but we were most amazed  with their 1950 prices.  After lunch we went to the Andy Griffith Museum that houses a lot of memorabilia from the show complete with the jail.  We were surprised by how busy the town was on a Saturday in early March; obviously, the show had a huge following!  Maybe we’d better go home and watch some reruns on Netflix!

 

We often associate North Carolina with the Civil War but we were surprised to find out that there were many Revolutionary Battles fought here as well.  On our way back from Mt. Airy we stopped in Greensboro and meandered through the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park. This is where Green and Cornwallis met up.  The British were victorious but lost over 25 percent of their men.

 

I was most impressed with the statue of Kerenhappuch Norman Turner who lived in Maryland. ( The plaque says she was married to one Maryland’s early settlers, James Turner.  Wait a minute!  I don’t get it.  Wasn’t she one of the early settlers as well?)  Anyway, her son and several of her grandsons were fighting in the battle of  Guilford Courthouse when she got word that her son, James, had been badly injured in battle. She rode on horseback from Maryland to care for him. Imagine! Then she attached tubs to the rafters of a building and filled them with water from the nearby river. She bore holes in the tubs and the constant dripping of the cool water on to James lying below lowered his fever and saved his life. She then continued to care for other wounded soldiers. After the war, she moved to North Carolina where she lived with her son and her daughter.  She continued to ride and hunt but in 1805 she fell from a horse, broke her neck and subsequently died.

We spent the night in Greensboro because we wanted to tour the International Civil Rights Museum the next day.  We went down to breakfast and struck up a conversation with the woman, a couple of years older than us, who was staffing the breakfast area. She said she continued to work because one of the perks of the job was that she could stay for free at the hotel chain when she traveled; we concurred that’s a pretty nice benefit. When we told her we were headed to the Civil Rights Museum she began to tell us what she remembered about growing up Black in Raleigh in the 1950’s and 60’s.  It was like a history book coming alive. She explained that she could recall her parents often going without food so that she and her siblings could eat. And if it hadn’t been for their farmer neighbors, she said, they would have starved. She explained how as teens they could only sit in the balcony of the theatres (and then added with a smile, that of course, as teens that where they preferred to sit)!  She also told how Blacks could only order food to be carried out of places, never allowed to sit and eat at the counter or in the restaurant. She was a junior in a high school in 1960 when the sit-ins occurred.  And the amazing thing to me was the gracious way, without rancor,  she told these stories that she must have found very humiliating.  We chatted with her for nearly half an hour and  I wished it could have been much longer!

The museum is housed in the F. W. Woolworth building where in 1960 David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Jr. and Joseph McNeil, all freshmen at North Carolina A & T, an historically Black university, courageously decided to sit at the counter to be served, thus,  breaking local laws at the time.

 

When we got to the museum a tour was just beginning and we were told we could tag along with them.  It turned out to be a group of high school students with their two teachers.  I found it a really emotional experience to see the artifacts including the original lunch counter, and watch videos retrace events that I could remember…remember like they happened yesterday also knowing that many of the parents and grandparents of these students were directly impacted by these protests. Robin, our guide, did a great job of making the tour interactive and relevant for the students.  (Interestingly, just as we were leaving, a group of student wearing CMU shirts entered the museum.  I asked one if he were from Central Michigan University, a university about half an hour from Big Rapids, where I used to teach and where my daughter-in-law, Andria, graduated from college.  Yes, indeed, they were.  According to the museum director, a group from CMU comes every spring break to volunteer at the museum!  Again, small world!)

We continued to find more Civil War battlefields in the area.  Both Bentonville and Averasboro Battlefields are close by.  We encountered two delightful and knowledgeable volunteers at one of the battlefield museums.

 

We knew that Averasboro Battle had resulted in Sherman’s army defeating the Rebels  and had been a prelude to the bigger battle at Bentonville. But I was taken aback as the volunteer explained, “We did our job when we slowed Sherman’s army down just as we were supposed to.”  Some people are obviously still fighting the Civil War down here! I wonder if she knew that both General Sherman, from the Union, as well as Johnston, an important general for the South, were pallbearers at Ulysses S Grant’s funeral.

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Lebanon House near Averasboro Battlefield

 

One of the more interesting sights near Averasboro Battlefield is the Lebanon Plantation so named because of the number of cedars on the land.  This home was given to Farquhard Smith by his father as a wedding gift in 1824 along with more than 3000 additional acres.  During the Civil War the home served as a military hospital.  Jane Smith penned a diary that tells of the horrors of war that she experienced while living there.  But most amazing is this house has remained the property of the Smith family since its construction and descendants still reside there.

There’s a huge dispute going on right now about whether to move statues of Rebel leaders from various locations around the city to the Bentonville Battlefield.  Many are saying these are local heroes and their relatives died fighting the cause.  But I don’t get it.  To me that’s like saying my German relatives died fighting for the Nazis so we should maintain statues of the Nazi regime holding them in a place of honor.  On the other hand, I think it is important to maintain landmarks reminding us of less than honorable times in our American history like the auction market we saw in Fayetteville.  Remembering and honoring are two different concepts to my way of thinking.

 

We took one weekend and drove up to suburban DC to surprise our son Stephen on his birthday. Because of our interest in the Civil War and the fact that I am currently plodding through Ron Chernow’s, Grant, we took the opportunity to stop at the battle field at Petersburg, Virginia, and also at General Grant’s Headquarters at City Point.

 

Wow!  Looking at the land where the fighting actually happened and knowing the horrible conditions they endured is overpowering!  We visited one of the first national cemeteries.  Many of the parks have apps for our smart phones enabling us to understand the significance of the various events that occurred there. How awful the siege of Petersburg must have been for all involved.

 

Raleigh also has some beautiful museums.  We enjoyed the North Carolina Museum of Art.  It is in a lovely location and has a lot of nice exhibits  but is small enough that we could view the whole museum in less than three hours. Lots of sculptures as well as paintings.  I particularly enjoyed their variety. Among my favorites are the very modern works of Kehinde Wiley  and the more traditional works of Auguste Rodin. There are also lovely outside exhibits and trails.  We went on Easter Sunday an absolutely beautiful day!

 

The North Carolina Science Museum was also recommended by several people.  And we enjoyed it too.   We timed it just as a docent was showing a variety of local animals.  She walked among the people (probably about 35 or so) carry various animals and letting us pet them.  It was really fun.  But we probably only got through half of the museum before we ran out of steam.

As usual we found some great places to eat.  We had read about and then someone suggested Moonrunners to us.  This saloon was featured on Spike TV’s Bar Rescue in 2013.  It’s has a prohibition theme to it, complete with still in the corner of the bar. (It’s functional too!)  We had just arrived in Raleigh when we went there and when we shared our peripatetic lifestyle with our waitress, Natalie, she went out of her way to be helpful even calling her mother to get ideas of what we should see and do in the area. And in addition to our charming waitress the food is amazing and their Wednesday night trivia game is fun too!

 

Another favorite restaurant we found was Irregardless.  Yep, that’s the name.  As teachers “irregardless” has always made us cringe so to see a restaurant by that name we just had to try it.  The menu had lots of vegan as well as other healthy choices.  And the restaurant is located in a pretty little neighborhood.

 

When I inquired, the manager explained that the name came from the owner who is Jewish and whose grandmother always used the word, “irregardless.” She said according to Jewish tradition a way of  honoring a deceased relative is by associating their memory with something about them.  Thus the name, Irregardless.

When we drove up to DC for the weekend we found another fun place to eat, Uncle Julio’s in Gaithersburg.  Instead of a birthday cake, they had a birthday pinata.

 

There was a hollow chocolate ball in the center and when broken fresh fruit and churros rained down amid the chocolate!  Talk about scrumptious!

One of our goals this year is to meet more locals as we travel.  We joined Weight Watchers while we were in Palm Springs and found that going to their meetings really helps us get a glimpse into the people who live here (not to mention getting healthier as a side benefit).  Folks in the meeting we attend in Garner are absolutely among the friendliest we’ve met anywhere.  After just a few moments we’ve felt like we’ve known them for years.  And when we walked into our second meeting I was greeted with a hug by a woman I had just met the week before.  People call us by our name…even without name tags.  Southern hospitality really is something special!

We had thought about taking a side trip to the ocean but decided instead to save that for our trip to Florida where we are going to spend our last month before heading north. So as we leave here we’ll spend a couple of extra days and check out some things still on our list to see.  One more trip to the Atlantic; something just keeps drawing us back to that ocean!

Our plan for 2018 has been to spend the better part of the year in the United States.  We camped a lot when the kids were young and have also visited them in various locations in recent years.   This has enabled us to see much of the country visiting 49 of the 50 states.  But even with all these trips there still remains a lot we want to see.  We’ve learned a lot during our stay in North Carolina, a place despite its similarities is very different from our home state of Michigan.  It’s been a great two months.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. http://kingsfishhouse.com/.  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. 

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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! 

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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 http://www.minidito.net/  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. https://www.elcharrocafe.com/

 

 

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

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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 http://die-nuernberger-bratwurst.de 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 https://www.letoiledunord.fr/letoile#. 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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!