Italy Part II The Heel of Italy

We love staying in our luxurious apartment right in the middle of the old city of Lecce. 20190306_144833Francesco, our landlord, told us about a car park a short walk from the Airbnb and it truly was easy.  We had leased the car for the entire 3 months we were in Europe and we enjoy being able to go exploring whenever we wish. On the other hand, we also like exploring places on foot without having to worry about crazy drivers or finding a place to park.

We entered the Old Town through one of its three main gates, Porta Napoli. The other two are: Porta San Biago and Porta Rudiae. All are equally lovely.

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On one end of the Old City we found the Castle of Charles V.  His titles were mind boggling. He succeeded his grandfather, Maximillan I, as Holy Roman Emperor from 1519 – 1556 and during this time he was also King of Spain and ruled the Spanish Empire while at the same time reining as King of Germany and King of Italy as well as archduke of Austria. He was the grandson of the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella.  I can’t begin to understand how students of European history manage to keep it all straight! Today the castle acts as a cultural center. There is a legend that says when the Orsini del Balzo family lived in the castle during the 14th century they kept a white bear in the moat. This served as a status symbol and also acted as protection against unwanted visitors!20190310_140657

Not far from the castle, we happened upon Villa Comunale, a beautiful park with fountains and flowers just beginning to bloom. And although it was the middle of March, the day was warm and it was a great place to sit and people watch.

We had been told to see the Basilica and in particular its beautiful facade, but because of the construction, its beauty was hidden behind a covering, but the inside was lovely.20190303_163219  We had two favorite squares in Lecce: one is the The Piazza del Duomo, which houses the Baroque Cathedral whose chimes we enjoyed throughout our stay and I featured in my last blog.  The second is the Piazza Sant’Oronzo named for the patron saint of Lecce who legend says protected the city from the plague in the 1700’s. In fact in the square stands a column that once stood at the end of the Appian Way in Brindisi where its twin still stands.  There are two very different stories about the column. One says that it was the gift of the people of Brindisi thanking Sant Oronzo for protecting them from the plague. The other says that the column lay in ruins for several centuries before the people of Lecce restored it. Hmmm…I think I like the first better. In any event, this column too was being refurbished so it  was hidden behind a covering!

We stood on the Appian Way in Rome, nearly 600 miles away. I find it beyond comprehension to take in the size of the Roman Empire. This was a road that was built under Hadrian’s Rule, the same Hadrian, whose wall we saw on our train trip from Edinburgh to London in 2016. That’s further than the distance from Portland, Maine, to Miami, Florida! And we’re talking second century A.D.

There’s a huge Roman amphitheatre close by the square.  And while it dates to the second century A.D. it wasn’t unearthed until the early 1900’s.  It seats 25,000 while Lecce’s population at the time was only 4,000. How those folks loved to see the competition between the gladiators and the wild animals! I think it also speaks to the importance of Lecce during that time. (The ancient column is located behind the advertising cover in the center of the second photo.)

W20190228_151820_hdrWe love Italian food and there were so many choices, always for a reasonable price.  Our landlord had suggested we try Prendici Gusto 20190301_134226_HDRwhich was just right around the corner. https://www.prendicigustolecce.it/ He said it was a place where locals ate and we could also get take away there.  What a find! I always try to learn a couple of phrases in the local language just to be polite.  So after asking the guy behind the counter, who also appeared to be the proprietor, “Parli Italiano?” and getting the usual, “Un po,” Bob and I began to point and smile and laugh. And when we had selected way too much food, he rang it up and charged us ten euros! Total! We definitely made a point to go back later in our stay. We enjoyed take out because we could pick it up, take it back to our apartment and then eat a bit earlier than the locals.

We had hoped to find some local Piccicata dancing and asked at several places but no luck,  Evidently we weren’t visiting during the right time of year. We also came across a self-serve 24 hour cannibas shop, and a fun little bar, but nothing in the way of local folk music.

Perhaps one of the most interesting events we attended was the Van Gogh Immersion which is touring Europe. We read about it online but were unsure what to expect. We had timed tickets and when we entered the convent where it was housed, we encountered several of his paintings that had been recreated in 3D form. 20190316_164407

Then we entered the area of projections. The room was dark with soft music playing while Van Gogh’s artwork was projected on the walls as well as the ceiling, totally immersing us in the painter’s world. People sat on benches, on the floor, or slowly ambled through.  There was no beginning; no end. It continued endlessly. Absolutely amazing! It was like nothing we had ever experienced. We intend to visit another, perhaps more elaborate Van Gogh immersion in Provence next month.

Lecce served as a great base for exploring the area.  We first took a trip down the Adriatic Coast starting in Otronto, the easternmost point of Italy. The scenery was spectacular. We passed beautiful olive groves, gorgeous yellow fields that Cary later told us was rape seed. 20190304_103542It belongs to the same family as mustard and cabbage. And it’s so very pretty…bright yellow as far as the eye can see. We also passed herds of goats and old stone buildings among the olive groves. The buildings, we learned, allowed in days past, for the farmers to live in their fields during their busiest times of year. 

20190304_132025_HDRThe Adriatic is as blue as the Caribbean and the views as we drove along the coast were stunning.  Around every bend the view seemed to be better than the last. At one point we could look across the sea and see just the faintest hint of the mountains of Albania. We had read that in the summer the coast is so congested you can walk faster than cars move. So we felt really lucky to be there in March.

Leuca, at the tip of the heel, is where the Adriatic meets the Ionian Sea. Although Leuca isn’t far from Lecce, we decided to spend the night there and drive up the the other side of the coast the next day.  I made a reservation at Booking.com because I thought it was a small town and there might be little English spoken. Making the reservation online would help me avoid any confusion. Wrong! Our GPS guided us to our destination which although technically in town, in reality was in the middle of nowhere. When we arrived there was a sign posted on the door, in Italian, of course.  My phone took this moment to not have data. So much for Google translate. There was a number listed. I called the number and a woman answered who again spoke only Italian. I repeated the name of the establishment a couple of times and tried to communicate we were there to spend the night. As I hung up the phone I wasn’t sure what to do but figured we should just stay put. After about 20 minutes of frustration, a car pulled up. 20190305_090653_HDRYay! I asked him if he spoke English. No. He asked me if I spoke French. No. I asked him if he spoke Spanish. No. We both laughed and he indicated I should follow him inside. I did. We made a lot of hand gestures; we wrote numbers on paper. He showed me how much we owed which matched the reservation online. We even got to the point where he gave me directions to a pizza place. Unbelievable how much you can communicate without speaking the same language.  We walked down to the room; pretty spartan. No table to play cards; no side chairs; only the overhead light. But overall an ok place: clean with a great view; reasonable price. Unfortunately, even though he turned the heater on for us, we froze. I don’t think the temperature ever got above 50. We spent the night curled up under the blankets watching an Italian quiz show that had people guessing contestants’ age. Even without speaking Italian we found it hysterical.  When we got up in the morning, we walked over to breakfast only to find an amazing spread of croissants and other breads, jams and jellies, cheese, fresh fruit, meats as well juices and cappuccino. Wow! What a fabulous surprise!

We decided to walk through the downtown before heading out. Leuca is a pretty place located right at the edge of the water.  (We found a hotel right down near the water. Couldn’t help but wonder why I didn’t find that place online the night before!) We found ourselves imagining where the two seas met as we could discern where two currents seemed to meet.

20190305_092229We then headed on to Gallipoli.  This is not the Gallipoli of World War I; that one is in Turkey. Instead this city was described as a pretty fishing village. When I hear fishing village I keep thinking of the coast of Nova Scotia. Gallipoli turned out to be a city of more than 30,000. Today it’s divided into two cities: one old and one modern.

The old city is what we wanted to see and to access it we drove across a bridge that dates to the 1500’s. Despite all the congestion, it is very pretty. We found a parking place; and then marked it with our parking app to ensure that we’d find it after following the meandering streets. Lovely place!

About two hours north of Lecce is Alberobello, a UNESCO site, that consists of little houses made of limestone with conical roofs.  These homes are called trullis. When I first read about them I decided we had to visit.  So when Cary came to spend my birthday with us off we went. We even made an Airbnb reservation to spend the night in one.    Some of them date back to the 1400’s when farmers used them as shelters or for storage.

Many of the trullis have little alcoves and fireplaces in them. And although the entire town had the largest concentration of trullis with more than a thousand, we saw them throughout the valley, and I’m thinking the stone buildings we saw on our drive down the Adriatic were very similar. They’re all whitewashed and as we walked among them we half expected little elves to appear.  Some are shops and restaurants as well as dwellings. Today many have modern conveniences. The one we stayed in had an electric stove and a bathroom complete with shower, a flat-screen television, a living room and bedroom. Pasquale, the owner, met us and explained the village as we walked to his trulli.

He was quick to tell us that because of the historic nature of the village no changes could be made to the outside. After explaining how everything worked, he told us his mom would bring us breakfast in the morning at whatever time we prefered.  He went on to explain some of the sites and also told us of a couple of great restaurants. It was cold and rainy the day we were there. But that also gave us most of the town to ourselves. We headed first to lunch, learning that in Italy you have a limited time for lunch and then rarely is food served before 7:30. One of the places Pasquale had suggested was just down the hill, according to his directions. So we set off to find it. We walked down the steep hill; we turned where we thought we were supposed to. We came to a construction site but undaunted we continued across the uneven pavement and rubble.  Finally, we found it. We walked into the restaurant, down some very narrow windy steps where we came upon two waiters who gave us very strange looks but graciously took us to a table. As we looked up from the table we saw a main door that opened right on to a busy street. No wonder they looked at us oddly! Fabulous meal! We spent the afternoon exploring the shops and the local museum that explained the town’s history. The next morning Pasquale’s mother delivered an amazing breakfast: scrambled eggs, croissants, homemade jams and jellies and of course, cappacinno.

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We then headed back to Lecce in the beautiful sunshine.  When we got back it was time to pack up, and say good bye to this beautiful section of Italy.  Next we drive back across to Rome and up through Tuscany to the southern coast of France. A special thank you to Davida, Cary’s friend who suggested Lecce; we’d never have found this fabulous spot with you!

 

Italy Part I: Rome and on to Lecce

After a long weekend in DC we were ready to head to Europe. Folks were already talking about school, business and government closings because of the snowstorm headed to the east coast.  We were scheduled to fly out about 8 hours before it started and luckily our flight was on time and the forecasts proved accurate as well.  The trip was uneventful but when we landed in Iceland we couldn’t deboard because of the high winds. Finally, the flight staff said we’d have to walk across the tarmac to the terminal and advised us to be very careful going down the stairway. We felt like we were going to get blown off our feet. I like the Kevlavik airport as it’s manageable and not huge, although I’m never sure what time it is. 20190220_063247We left on US eastern standard time and will arrive in Europe 6 hours later so in Iceland we’re somewhere in between.  Most people have the same bewildering looks on their faces; sort of like being in the twilight zone.  Luckily, the winds were short-lived, and we were soon on board for the second and last leg of our trip.

Rome is fun!  And it’s even more fun because we are lucky enough to have a daughter who calls the city home.  Cary had arranged a luncheon for us to meet some of her colleagues where she works at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. I was overwhelmed by the ease with which this bright energetic group, folks originally from many places around the globe including: France, Croatia, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Malta, conversed in English. Given that they all live in Italy, that makes them AT LEAST tri-lingual. After lunch we headed to the terrace for a coffee.  I can’t imagine how anyone could ever get used to seeing these views every day!20190222_134734As one person pointed out, on particularly stressful days, it can’t hurt to have a direct line of sight to St. Peters!  Rome, like all of Italy, has amazing food.  In the evening we met up with a friend of Cary’s to have dinner atop the Mecenate Palace Hotel in the Roof Top Garden of the Terrazza Dei Papi Restaurant.  The place had been recommended by one of Cary’s colleagues and the chef himself greeted us, and served us aperitifs on the terrace with spectacular views of the surrounding area.  20190222_192959Then inside he offered suggestions for dinner catering to our every whim.  It was an experience we’ll never forget.

The next morning we picked up our leased Peugeot and started on our way to the heel of Italy. 20190304_125911People often ask how we decide where to travel to next. And truthfully, it’s pretty random. We read something or people we meet along the way give us suggestions.  Last year when we were attending a party to celebrate Cary’s completion of her doctorate, we had a great conversation with her friend Davida.  Davida is from Rome and told us about this beautiful city, Lecce, in the heel of Italy not far from the Adriatic coast. He told us how as he was growing up, he enjoyed many summer vacations in the area.  He referred to Lecce as the “Florence of the south.” After researching it a bit, we realized that we didn’t want to try to negotiate the area during the summer and its bumper to bumper traffic.  We also didn’t think we could afford the summer rental prices. So as we often do, we opted for a month during the shoulder season.

The drive from Rome to Lecce had appeared to be long including travelling over the mountains. I had therefore decided to make reservations at a bed and breakfast in Benevento, which appeared to be about half way. And while it was much closer than we had expected, we suddenly found that we had left the sunny weather in Rome, and now high in the Apennines we were beginning to see snow in the air.

I had opted for a bed and breakfast instead of an Airbnb because we hoped to meet up with some other travelers.  Unfortunately, when Emilio checked us in, he showed us to our lovely room, but there was no lounge and when I inquired about breakfast he told us that everything we needed was right there in the room and that he would also deliver fresh croissants to us in the morning, a really nice touch, but we were disappointed in the isolation. As I have mentioned in earlier blogs, we do not travel with a lot in the way of warm clothes so after wandering around the city for a short while, we headed back to the bed and breakfast. And then only ventured out a few hours later to find a place for dinner. And this is Italy, so of course we found a wonderful place!

Sunshine greeted us early the next morning and we headed down to the parking lot a few blocks away where we had parked our car the day before.  Oops…it was a Sunday morning and while we could access the car from the pedestrian walkway, there was no parking attendant and absolutely no way of getting out of the chained parking lot. Hmmm…what to do?  Few locals spoke English; it was a Sunday morning with few people around… then all of a sudden there was a man at my window with a paper, showing me how much we owed. A few minutes later, I got a text from Emilio saying he understood we had a problem getting the car from the lot and inquiring if we needed him to come down and help us.  We have absolutely no idea how he knew we had a problem.  Crazy!

In early afternoon we reached Lecce. Francesco, the man we’re renting from, had arranged for his sister and niece to meet us and help us manage our luggage and get checked into our apartment.  The place is absolutely gorgeous! It was formerly a palace, owned by relatives of Francesco’s wife and has since been subdivided into beautiful modern apartments.  We’ve stayed in some lovely places in our four plus years of traveling, but this is definitely a WOW! The building itself dates from the 1500’s and we are on the top floor with a view of the Duomo of Lecce!  The ceilings must be 20 feet high. Many of the furnishings are antiques including beautiful Persian rugs and a hand painted cabinet that holds a record player. The vestibule alone is large enough to be a bedroom.

The kitchen has high end appliances and there’s a dining room off the kitchen. Then down a few steps to the entryway, living room with fireplace and a cupboard which is so large we can’t imagine how they got it up to the top floor and inside the cupboard is a television monitor.  There are two bedrooms with a bath off the the main bedroom and another full bath off the dining room. There is also a washer and fast wifi. Airbnb you’ve done it again! Absolutely wonderful location, apartment and views. Perfetto! As you can see there are a few steps, but the apartment and its views definitely made them worth the trek!

As I have mentioned in earlier blogs, Bob and I love the church bells in Europe.  They chime the time; on Sunday mornings they seem to ring from all corners of the city.  But we’ve never lived in a location where we could actually stand on our terrace and watch as well as listen to them chime.  See what you think…

We dropped our stuff off and went out to get aquainted with the neighborhood. Francesco had conveniently left a list of some of his favorite restaurants and one in particular seemed close by so after exploring a bit we stopped there for dinner.  We had forgotten how late, by American standards, the Italians eat so when we arrived we were told that only part of the menu was available until 8 pm. That was fine. We ordered some wine and sideboard of meats and cheeses. 20190224_185434Holy moly! We could have fed our entire family with that side board. This restaurant, The Double 00, turned out to be our favorite in all of Lecce, and we returned several times during our stay. Great food, great service, reasonable prices and close by our apartment.20190308_212357

We headed back to the apartment, tired after a day of travel but definitely looking forward to exploring the rest of the area. We feel lucky to have found this little piece of Italian heaven!

A few more observations about the Dominican…

There were so many things we enjoyed about the Dominican. I had arranged through a website I found online to take private Spanish lessons.  I couldn’t help but remember how The Lonely Planet had said The Dominican Republic had the worst drivers in the world. They didn’t list them among the most dangerous; they singled them out to be the very worst on the planet.  And I never got used to seeing kids riding on the back of parents’ scooters rarely with a helmet. 20190214_162307_hdrSo I was pleased that I was able to find a tutor who would come to our villa three times a week.  After Nairoby introduced herself, we immediately conversed in Spanish. She asked what topics I might like to concentrate on given our limited time together. I wanted practical Spanish so we focused on food, shopping, travel and general conversation. She was lovely. Each Monday, Tuesday and Thursday for three weeks we sat at our dining room table or on our terrace next to the pool and she helped me grow my Spanish skills. I told her I didn’t want at this point to study verb tenses but rather concentrate on general vocabulary.  So while it’s not pretty I can generally get my point across and usually understand the response, often after asking the person “una vez mas” (one more time).20190212_120837_hdr

Although it wasn’t within walking distance we found a grocery store nearby our villa. We were amazed at the selection they offered. While there are many tourists on the north coast this grocery was also frequented by locals.  There were many American brand names and we thought the prices were reasonable particularly because we were living on an island. There were some surprises also: I had never seen clear vanilla. And right next to the homemade bread we found loaves of Dave’s Killer Bread, one of our favorites we had discovered during visits to Seattle.

The checkers and the baggers were extremely friendly. I was really surprised when our bagger, who was helping us carry the groceries to the car, went directly to our car without my mentioning which one it was. “I remember,” he said in perfect English. And nearly everywhere we went we saw fruit being sold from the backs of trucks. It doesn’t get much fresher than that.20190130_120819_hdr

We even found a dollar store in Cabarete.  The woman, who turned out to be the owner, immediately began speaking in English to us.20190117_134011.jpg Turns out she is a Canadian who moved to the island several years ago. It was great to be able to find small things like a wine bottle opener which we didn’t have at the house. I also found two birthday cards for good friends back in the States.  Little did I know then that there was no postal service. Hmmm…why do they sell cards when there is no way to mail them? I asked Nairoby and she responded that when locals want to send something to someone they just deliver it to them in person. Interesting!

While we had purchased a wine opener, we didn’t look for measuring cups.  I was surprised when there were no measuring utensils at all in our villa that was otherwise well-stocked. The water isn’t potable so the guys who managed the villa would routinely ask if we needed another jug of water each day.  We also bought bottled water from the grocery. (The large water jug was room temperature.) One of the bottles I had purchased was 16 ounces so that became my measuring device. I could make rice by using the bottle and guessing at proportions. I got pretty good at estimating ¼ cup, ½ cup and a cup. Eggs, again like in Europe, are not refrigerated.  That still takes some getting used to. We hard boiled some for egg salad and were amazed both by the bright orange color of the yolks and also by the size. When we peeled some you could even see the yolk come through. Very different, but they were very tasty.20190123_145724

There are no libraries in the area where we were, but we were delighted to find individual “bibliotheques” in restaurants and even bars.  Some books in Spanish and others in English.20190130_125147_hdr1

The three men who took care of the villa were delightful.  Tita came each morning checked the pool and vacuumed it. Jujuan came everyday to check out our water and ask if there was anything we needed.  And Osvaldo was the main guy in charge. Their English was pretty much limited to “Good morning,” and “See you Monday,” But we always managed to communicate.  From time to time they brought us fresh coconuts with the top chopped off so we could drink the milk. Other times, they brought us plantains and fresh cherries.

When Jujuan brought us a bunch of key limes. I decided I needed to make a key lime pie. I found condensed milk in the supermarket, and graham crackers for the crust.  Again, it took a bit of figuring to calculate amounts but after Bob found a way to crush the graham crackers into crumbs I went back to my handy water bottle to guess the amounts. It turned out really yummy!  (Note that Bob is using a rum bottle for his rolling pin!) 20190106_160757The owner of our villa was Russian and we learned that our complex was owned by Russians.  Evidently there is a large Russian influx on the coast. I’m not sure what the draw is although I’m sure the weather must be part of it.  I don’t generally think of individual Russians as folks looking for investment property but then again what do I know?

When we first arrived at the villa we were surprised by the cats.  We are not cat fans but they were cute.  IMG_0037 Then they began to yowl! And fight!  We looked over the edge of the hill next to the pool! Oh my! There was a group of 8 or 9. IMG_20190102_171133170_HDRThey seemed to be everywhere! At night we’d hear them cry and they were loud. In the outdoor restaurants, near the pool, in the parks, throughout the complex it was cats! Cats! And more cats! The morning we were to fly back to DC we were up early (or was it late)? Robinson was to pick us up at 5:30 and take us to the airport.  We got up about 4:30 and as I opened the bedroom door to the kitchen/living room I saw a flash of white. I quickly slammed the door and cried out to Bob, “There’s an animal in the house!” As Bob, armed with broom in hand, walked to the front door in an attempt to give the animal a way out, I looked at a loaf of bread on the counter that had been eaten open. As Bob walked through the living room, he glanced at the slider and realized that not only had we not locked the door before going to bed the previous night but that we had left the screen door wide open.  We were lucky we didn’t have a dozen cats in the house. At this point I decided I was definitely ready to leave!

Robinson arrived right on time for our trip to the airport. Delta had sent me a chance to upgrade to business class for a nominal fee.  Having never done this we wanted to try it once. Boy, are we spoiled. A 6 am flight is definitely improved by a mimosa served before even leaving the ground. And cloth napkins? 20190215_084329

After leaving the Dominican, we first landed in DC where we spent 2 days catching up with our youngest son, Patrick, and then went out to Rockville to spend another two days with our son, Stephen and his family. 20190215_143448And then on to Rome where we’d meet up with our daughter. How lucky we are! We missed seeing our oldest son’s family but traveling to Michigan in the middle of February with snow, ice and wind chills far below zero…well, it just didn’t seem like the time to go there.

Adios Dominican Republic! Ciao Italia!20190214_143149

 

 

A Very Special Place…

We recently lost a good friend to cancer, Tuppen Hauschild.  Her family had suggested that in lieu of flowers they hoped people would donate to 3 Mariposas Montessori School (3MM) in Cabarete, one of the poorest communities in the Dominican Republic. Tuppen had visited the school on several occasions and it held a very special place in her heart! As we investigated the school we realized it was only a few miles from where we were headed for January and much of February.

Most people who know me know my two primary passions are kids and reading. I love kids. I absolutely love to read; I love to teach reading.  Decades ago, my first master’s degree was in reading, in large part, because I wanted to be able to teach part-time when my children were young and I thought a reading master’s would allow me to do that. Since that time I’ve had fabulous opportunities to teach literacy skills to kids kindergarten through college as well as teaching teachers best practices in reading and writing instruction. I’ve been so fortunate. So when the chance came to visit another school; well, I was on it!

20190108_101730_hdr-13 Mariposas Montessori School was closed for the holidays when we first arrived. But the director, Sarah Ludwig Ross encouraged us to visit the day the school reopened. Great! Patrick and Cary still had another day here and they really wanted to see the school as well.  Sarah and Cary immediately connected as fellow Michigan State grads. While Sarah guided our tour she also gave us a bit of the history of the school. She told us she had originally been involved in a non-profit here in the Dominican when she decided to start her own school.That was 2009 and they had an initial enrollment of 11 students and 2 volunteers.  

Because of the tropical climate, the school has a lot of outdoor space and most of the area has multiple purposes throughout the day.  The primary classroom is also the lunch room. Wow! What a lunch room. Small tables are set in an open air classroom. And the smells wafting from the kitchen are enticing! 20190206_113733And the behaviors! Children wait patiently with their hands in their laps until everyone is served before starting to eat. They quietly remind each other of simple meal etiquette rules: chew with your mouths closed; don’t put your elbows on the table; ask to be excused! This was unlike any school lunchroom I’ve ever been in.  And trust me! I’ve been in many!

 

The school currently enrolls 46 students ages one through nine. The diversity of the group is amazing: there are 14 Dominican students, as well as 11 Haitian students with the remaining kids coming from a variety of backgrounds. 20190206_113840_hdrSarah blew us out of the water when she told us there are seven languages spoken at the school including: Spanish, Haitian Kreyol, English, French, German, Russian and Italian.  

 

Bob and I knew after our initial visit this was definitely a place we had to return to. And what fun we’ve had reading with the kids.  We’ve read with kids, to kids, and listened to them read to us. And while there are a variety of skill levels, we’ve been amazed by how much English the kids can speak. We’ve also been amazed by the self-directedness they’ve displayed and the way they can share what they’re learning as well as the why!

 

The school isn’t grand by American standards. The library is also the activity room.  But I’ve never visited any school that was more inviting or where kids are more enthusiastic.

 

Students quickly and eagerly made book selections when they came to see me and then curled up next to me eager to share in the story. For many they know what they like and they eagerly grab a book.

It was suggested that I set a timer so that kids would spend a realistic amount of time with me and so that I could read with several students during my visit.  Generally, it was about 20 minutes. I was reading Fox’s Dream by Keizaburo Tejima with two girls, D’Jhounise and Zoe.  It’s a beautiful story about a lonely fox recalling his own childhood while imagining pictures in the icy trees. The word choice is amazing. 20190206_101849 And here I was with two girls, probably about 8, explaining words like glisten, and vixen in their second language or perhaps their third! Suddenly the alarm on my phone went off indicating our time together was over.  When I picked it up, a picture of one of my granddaughters with Santa Claus popped up. Zoe’s eyes about popped out of her head, “YOU KNOW SANTA CLAUS?” I explained that well, I had met him. Immediately she began how much she wanted a bicycle.  “Will you please tell him that I want a bicycle?” And D’Jhounise echoed the request. As they returned to their class they still couldn’t quite believe they had just read with someone who had met Santa.

Like in any other classroom each child has his or her own strengths.  I was particularly impressed when one of the teachers, Patty, was talking with a group of students about how to seek help when the teacher was busy. She was explaining they could ask another student who might be an expert in a subject. For instance, she said, if she needed help with math, she’d seek out Harrison.  If she needed help with compound words, she’d seek out so and so. She went on and elaborated a strength of each student in the group. Talk about a great way to develop self-confidence.

img-20190207-wa0010Until Sarah mentioned it I hadn’t thought about the benefits for the parents and other adults in the community.  For some staff, this is the first job they’ve ever held, the first salary they’ve ever earned. When they had an opportunity to observe a Montessori school in Santo Domingo it was the first time some staff had seen escalators, or gone to a restaurant and had someone wait on them.

 

The care of animals is part of the Montessori curriculum so there are chickens and cats and dogs wandering throughout the grounds. img-20190207-wa0011Sarah explained that the local kids do a great job of helping adults and kids understand chickens as that’s a new thing for many.  She also said that for many local kids who only know dogs and cats as strays, having them as pets is not something they’ve experienced. She said that their presence has helped many kids overcome their fear of the animals to the point that some have even begun to help bathe them.

We have been fortunate to join their sing alongs that occur just before lunch with the children singing in Spanish and in English.  Given the world we live in today, I found their song about peace extraordinarily moving.

 

The school is doing amazing things.  But oh do they need help. Most of their financing comes from individual donors in the United States as well as some grants.  And while I know that many will ask, what do they need? They generally need everything! Those of you who are in, or were in, education know that while it’s great to have people provide gifts to your classrooms, it’s far more helpful to have people donate so you can buy what it is you need most.  The same is true of 3 Mariposas.  Plus, the lack of mail service in this part of the Dominican Republic compounds the problem.   

In April, Amy Dood, a teacher at Beach Elementary in Cedar Springs, Michigan, is visiting Cabarete and she has agreed to collect money to deliver to the school. Cedar folks could give a donation to Amy or mail it to her at: 

Amy Dood, 8720 Pleasant Meadows Dr NE, Rockford, MI 49341

Or if you prefer you can mail a check to: 3 Mariposas Montessori Foundation, 133 N Villamere Drive, Dowagiac MI 49047.

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Any donation you can make, regardless of the amount, will definitely make a difference in the lives of these kids! Tuppen, Bob and I will always be grateful to you for the the special gift you gave us: enriching our lives by introducing us to such wonderful people!

To Michigan, The Dominican Republic, Infinity & Beyond

20190127_124055The middle of December we headed to Michigan to spend Christmas with our oldest son and his family. The drive from Pittsburgh to Big Rapids is about a seven hour trek. (Hold your right hand up, palm facing you and at the base of your ring finger you’ll find Big Rapids.) We know weather this time of year can be “ify.” Luckily we hit a sunny, cold but sunny, day. Each time we return to Big Rapids we’re always noticing things that have changed since we left four full years ago!  What are the new restaurants? Who went out of business? Well, you get the picture. After living there for more than 20 years,we feel very lucky to have family still in Big Rapids. And Kris and Andria’s home is always a great place to visit. They are both amazing cooks, their home is like something out of a magazine and the tenor of the house is always upbeat and relaxed! In addition, they have two great teenagers who are both very musical.

We couldn’t believe it when Andria told us that if we came the week before Christmas we could attend three of their band performances.  Talk about good timing! It was a great holiday. It was fun to watch everyone open their Christmas surprises, then enjoy a scrumptious dinner, catch up with good friends, play some euchre and just enjoy each other’s company. Of course the time passed far too quickly just like it always seems to do.

We flew to DC the day after Christmas.  Cary, coming in from Rome, would meet us at the airport. We’d get an Uber to the hotel and meet up with Patrick for dinner.img_20181226_142215187_hdr We’d make the “big switch” with Patrick. He’d bring us our warm weather suitcase we had stored at his house and we’d trade him for the colder climate wardrobe we’d been traveling with. Then in February when we return to DC we’d switch back. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, this wasn’t our best planning packing wise but we hopefully had found a solution. It’s always fun connecting with the kids at airports, whether we’re meeting their planes or they’re meeting ours. This one was no exception.  As we came through security there stood Cary with a big smile on her face. This was the beginning of another adventure.

Thursday morning, Cary, Bob and I headed to National Airport on our way to Sosua in the Dominican Republic. Unfortunately, Cary was on a different initial flight than we were but we’d meet up in Miami and then go on to the Dominican together. img_20181227_194212752  A little less than three hours to Miami and then another two hours to Puerto Plata. Not bad! We rented a 3 bedroom villa with pool in Sosua Ocean Village, about a half hour drive from the airport. Patrick would meet up with us the next day at the villa. Our host, Ruslan, had suggested his driver, Robinson, meet us and bring us to the villa. That worked out great; just outside security, Robinson had a sign with my name on it, and introduced himself. We were impressed that he also spoke English!  

The first thing that struck us was the weather.  It feels so good to be out of the cold. It’s not hot; it’s not cold; it’s perfect.  Ruslan had left the villa front door unlocked so that left us with a good feeling about the security of the area. Even though it was late we had to check everything out…particularly the terrace and pool. (Okay, you found me out; I took these pictures later!)

Wow!  First thing the next morning, the local car agency we had rented through delivered our car. Hmmm…the one we had reserved wasn’t available so instead they gave us a Porsche SUV. Our “over the top” enthusiasm quickly diminished when we realized that this Porsche was filled with dents, and torn seat covers. Besides, how would we ever maneuver this  beast on these crowded narrow roads. But whatever…we’d manage. The tank was almost on empty so on our way to the grocery we stopped and filled it. Holy Moly! Almost a hundred dollars! So we had a lot of mixed feelings when the agency called the next morning and told us that our car had been returned and they’d drop it off shortly. It turned out to be a KIA sedan, the year we couldn’t figure out, but given that it had a zillion miles on it, it wasn’t anything close to new and the driver’s door stuck. We weren’t sure this was an improvement over the Porsche or not! Lesson learned:  Stick with car rental agencies we know! OK Motors must have felt our pain though because the KIA was delivered with a full tank of gas!

Ruslan stopped over about noon to meet us and answer any questions we had. He walked us through the necessities and showed us how the wifi and the stove worked, where to take the trash, etc. He also explained that Osvaldo and his wife, Lali, would be available every day to provide anything we needed.  Also, the pool would be cleaned daily by a different gentleman and there was Juan who would garden and just generally be available for us. We would obviously be well taken care of. When Robinson dropped off Patrick late that night we were ready to start celebrating New Years!

Cabarete is a town of about 14,000 just a few miles east of us. We were thrilled to find a parking lot just a few steps from the beach. 100 pesos ($ 2.00) until 6 pm. In an area with wall to wall traffic what a find!  We had no pesos yet but surprisingly the attendant took Bob’s $10 and gave him back $8 American!

As we walked down the shop-lined block to the beach we were astounded to see kite after kite of all colors flying over the beach.

The beach is absolutely gorgeous. For $ 10 we got 4 chairs and an umbrella. Bar after bar line the beach offering beers ($3.50) to the more expensive pina colada ($6). There is a continuous parade of beach vendors offering massages, carvings, fresh fruit, shrimp, hats…well, it’s quite the market place.

We had read about the Sunset Grill…Fodor’s says this is the place to see the best sunsets on the northern coast.  So we decided to try it out after our day at the beach. We absolutely fell in love with it so much so that we returned on the kids’ last night here.

Our villa is technically listed as part of the Sosua Ocean View Resort. img_20190102_143648636_hdrWe enter through a security gate and security guards abound. But I wouldn’t consider it a resort, at least not by American standards.  And we’re fine with that! There are three nice restaurants. We’re in the tropics so they’re open air and two of them have amazing views of the ocean. The third one is a craft brewery.  All have good food that is reasonable priced. Also, all have wait staff that speak English. Probably our favorite was Al Porto.  Great view, great prices and great food!

Ruslan had told us Maria Restaurant, which is a second restaurant located within our community, was going to have a special celebration for New Years.

Dinner, served outdoors right on the ocean, live music, fireworks. It sounded like fun! And we weren’t disappointed.

We celebrated with people all speaking different languages but all having the common goal of wishing in a New Year and  with it all our hopes and dreams for a great future! A variety of appetizers were offered and choices for the main dishes were either mahi mahi papillote and coconut or skirt steak in goat cheese sauce. Plus a complimentary bottle of wine or the local rum! And of course, champagne at the bewitching hour! Definitely an evening to remember!

The Dominican truly is an island of spectacular beaches.  Folks had told us that in addition to Cabarete Beach, Sosua Beach located just west of our community, was also a gorgeous beach and that it was located in a lagoon making it quieter for swimming.  So we decided to check it out. Like so many places we go there is the ubiquitous chaos of cars. We weren’t sure exactly where we were headed but when we got close it became clear with locals ushering us to parking places.  We chose the first we came to, just at the top of a street that fronted lots of shops and led directly to the beach.

This time the cost was 150 pesos (or $3.00). Again as we approached the beach, we were greeted by a young man who provided us with 4 lounge chairs and two umbrellas for $16.  But this guy was smart; “No, he said, “Don’t pay me until you leave.” This way he could make more money by supplying us with drinks or food. And of course there were the omnipresent vendors again offering all sorts of goods from food to souvenirs. This beach was definitely lovely but as we entered the water there was a hard surface beneath the shallow sand.

I’m not sure if it was rock or concrete but it was different. We all decided that while it was a great experience we preferred the beach at Cabarete.

We had read about Las Terrenas, a beach town on the northeast peninsula.  It’s a town of many expats with a lot of French and Italian influence. Google maps said it was about 165 kilometers from our villa (or about 100 miles). We decided we’d rent an Airbnb so we’d have time to see some sites while we were there.  Good thing! It turned out to take us nearly 4 hours to make the trek. After we had been on the road a short time we realized that the car had virtually no shocks. The road conditions were sketchy. Sometimes they were filled with potholes; sometimes they had nonexistent shoulders. Going through small towns we found cars parked on both sides of the very narrow street and then often a vehicle would just stop and make a delivery and traffic would back up behind it.  Then out on the main road again we’d sometimes get behind a slow moving truck and found it disconcerting when impatient drivers behind us would whiz by just as we were approaching a hill or curve. And then of course, the scooters are everywhere. Often the scooter has the driver, the passenger and a small child or baby. We’ve seen them carrying firewood, furniture.  And if that’s not enough, we even saw a driver who had one leg, had his crutch attached to one side of his scooter and a refrigerator on the back!

It’s crazy! Cary did a yeoman’s job behind the wheel! And in spite of all the craziness, the views were amazing! We passed rice fields (I had no idea they grew rice in the Dominican!) drove close to the ocean with trees forming a canopy above. (Too bad Cary wasn’t able to see much!)

Terrenas was founded in 1946 when Trujillo forced the people living in that rural area to move into town.  At that time they were isolated from the rest of the Dominican. A great road has since been built from Santa Domingo to Terrenas. We connected with this toll road about 45 minutes from our destination. It was such a great change! The collection kiosk was unlike anything we’d ever encountered!  It reminded me of a cashier from a bank in the wild west! The toll was 250 pesos but we had nothing less than 1000 so we got lots and lots of change! But boy was the toll worth it!

As we got closer to Terrenas the road took us up and down a gorgeous mountain terrain. And we held our breath as our 4 cylinder KIA chugged along and  I found myself hoping the brakes were in better condition than the rest of the car.20190105_131437

Once we finally got to Terrenas we found scooters, cars and pedestrians mobbing the streets and virtually no place to park. So we continued to make our way to the far end of a beach road until we came to our Airbnb.  It turned out to be lovely!

We were directly across from the water. And this time the beach was thick white sand. We spent the evening playing cards in a beach pub until they closed. I think this might have been everyone’s favorite beach.  What a tough job it is…comparing beaches!

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The drive back the next day didn’t seem quite so long or quite so harrowing.  Perhaps it’s because we knew what to expect. When we got back we decided to go to dinner at Al Porto. They have a Saturday Craft Beer Fest with all you can eat Seafood Buffet and unlimited beer.  How could we go wrong. There was lots of dancing and an outgoing guest came around to the tables and invited people onto the dance floor. Even some of the wait staff joined in on the fun. Dancing obviously crosses language barriers!

Suddenly it was time for Cary and Patrick to fly home. When they first arrived we were ecstatic they could both visit for nearly two weeks. How had that time passed so quickly?  We hadn’t seen Puerto Plata yet, the city about 45 minutes west of us where many cruise boats dock. Luckily the kids’ flight back to the States didn’t leave until late afternoon so that gave us time to visit the town.  Puerto Plata has a population of more than 100,000 so it took some time to get our bearings. We finally found the Malecon. It reminded us of the Malecon in Havana. We looked it up and found that malecon is a word used primarily in Latin American countries for an esplanade along a waterfront. Ok, now it made sense!20190109_120948We even came upon a parking place on our own with no charge. As we began to walk, what we thought was a police officer directed us to a “touristy” area with shops and an historical square. He also added that it was safe. Turns out that Puerto Plata has guides whose only job is to provide support for tourists; they speak English as well as Spanish. It’s like a walking tourist information kiosk.  What a great idea.

We had a great lunch at a street restaurant right on the Malecon and then took the kids to meet their plane. We were sad to see them go but felt fortunate that we had had an amazing two weeks together.  Bob and I still have more than another month here. So glad we’re not going to back to face winter!

 

 

The Steel City

We lived in western Pennsylvania back in the late sixties and Bob grew up visiting his grandmother and two aunts in Springdale, so we had a certain feeling of “coming home” when we got Pittsburgh!  Our Airbnb was easy to find and although we knew the parking would be on the street, we found the place with no problem. Getting into our apartment was a whole ‘nother story.  The pictures online had shown a few steps up from the street which we thought would be no problem, but what they had failed to show was an entire uphill walkway around to the side of the apartment which was the only way to access  our entrance.

 

And as if that steep climb wasn’t enough there was no railing of any kind! Because it was dry we made the trek easily enough but when we tried the code the host had given us, the door refused to open. We tried it again several times, looked around to ensure we were at the right door. It was getting cold and dark! And we were frustrated! Finally we called the host only to have her tell us that she was sorry but that the cleaning lady probably had not changed the code. Okay, not off to the best start!  Then overnight the snow arrived. Over the past four years we haven’t been in snow country often but when we have, hosts have always had us shoveled out! This time, no shoveling us out, not even a shovel or salt! Luckily the wintry weather was short-lived and we were only held captive in our apartment for a day. The apartment was also listed as being in the “heart of Lawrenceville” which we had read is a funky fun area of Pittsburgh. Unfortunately that too turned out to be inaccurate. We were two miles from there and not within walking distance of anything!  

One of the nice things about Pittsburgh is that we are only a four hour drive to the DC area.  We had planned to spend Thanksgiving in DC with part of our family but when we found out that our 8 year old granddaughter had a part in Oliver, (7th from the right)20181117_213449we decided we had to see the performance! So on Friday we made the trip down, went to the play and drove back on Sunday knowing that the following Wednesday we’d make the trip again to spend Thanksgiving with them!  We always enjoy being in DC first because we’re near family and second because it’s such a fascinating city. 20181123_145345_HDRWe had hoped to visit the US Botanical Gardens on the day after Thanksgiving to see their Christmas Exhibit with model trains and replicas of famous DC buildings but the line turned out to be a couple hours long so we opted for the nearby National Gallery of Art instead. When we travel to big cities we often use a parking app.  In this case, Park Whiz helped us find a place to park near our destination It kept us from spending a lot of time hunting for parking spots, we knew in advance how much it would cost and it was close enough for even little legs to manage.

We took a very small elevator to the top of the National Gallery of Art to see the Giant Blue Rooster which is more than 14 feet tall.  It was commissioned for the London Contemporary Art Series in 2013. Designed by Katharina Fritsch, it is now on long term loan to the National Gallery.

 

We timed our jaunt to DC right so that we were going into the metro area as most people were headed out and we were headed back to Pittsburgh when most were returning to DC. 20181121_123546_HDRThe drive also gave us time to realize that we needed to move out of our Airbnb. I remembered Lynn Martin saying in her blog a couple of years ago that if things aren’t right you just have to bite the bullet and move on.  So that’s what we did. And we were really lucky to find a great place in a great location with two accessible entrances; the front door and through the garage. The host lived in the same house which we’ve found is always a good thing.  But most of all we felt safe regardless of the weather. It snowed a few inches on one of the first nights we were there and before noon the driveway was shoveled clear. We were pleased when we explained the situation to Airbnb that they made an adjustment in our rent. Definitely still an expensive mistake but not as bad as it could have been and we feel lucky that this was the first time in four years we’ve rented a place that we absolutely could not live in!

When I think of Pittsburgh I think of the Steel City. I can remember as a college student going to the drive-in theatre and being fascinated by the fiery slag being dumped over the hillside. Many rich industrialists got their start in Pittsburgh.  Among them: Henry Heinz, George Westinghouse, Andrew Carnegie, Andrew Mellon, and Henry Fick. Their wealth and resulting generosity has provided Pittsburgh residents with an abundance of cultural opportunities. But I can never quite accept the fact that this wealth was acquired at the expense of the working man. The Henry Clayton Frick Museum presented one such quandary for me. One of my very best friends, Rita, (You may remember that she visited us in Boston last year!) lives in Pittsburgh. It was great to spend time with her and in addition, it got Bob off the hook from traipsing off to places that I found that he may or may not have an interest in. Before we arrived Rita had told me the Frick Art Museum was hosting the Isabelle de Brochgrave exhibit, “Fashioning Art From Paper.” I really wanted to see it. But then we also decided to tour the Frick mansion, Clayton House.  The home is lovely but it was hard for me to appreciate the opulent interior knowing Frick’s adversarial relationship with the unions, how he stared them down in the Homestead Strike which resulted in the deaths of 11 union workers. After the home tour, we walked on to the Frick Art Museum and the Brochgrave exhibit. Wow! It was absolutely incredible. I’m always fascinated by the use of different media but how could someone possibly create these gorgeous gowns from paper. It all looked so real…even the lace. See for yourself:

 

On a rainy Saturday Rita and I headed off to Nationality Rooms at the University of Pittsburgh.  These spectacular rooms were the brainchild of the University of Pittsburgh Chancellor John Bowman in 1926.  Most of the first floor rooms were built between 1938 and 1957. They were designed to make the interior as inspiring as the outside of the Cathedral of Learning. 20181129_151618  Each room was funded and designed by individual committees after which the university would maintain it. The newest room is the Korean room which was dedicated in 2015.  Entering the building took my breath away; I felt like I was walking into a great cathedral. We went to the desk at the gift shop and gave them a drivers license and in return they handed us a key that would unlock each of the doors.  No political statements are allowed nor are any portraits of any living individual. I can’t imagine attending class in such an inspiring environment.

 

After some lunch at Market Square we headed to the PPG Building to see their “Spirits of Giving from Around the World” display. Immediately in front of the castle-like building was a skating rink with many out enjoying the season. 20181201_145502_HDR-1Inside we viewed the 32 foot Christmas tree which was surrounded by lifesize Santas from around the world.  In addition there were hundreds of gingerbread houses all part of a competition of organizations as well as individuals in the Pittsburgh area. It doesn’t get much more festive than this!

 

Although we had visited the Phipps Conservatory on previous occasions, it’s hard to pass up at Christmas time.  Flowers and Christmas are such a great combination. And again because we were in the area and Rita has a membership which gets me in free as her guest (Lucky me!) meant we could just stop in for an hour or so and take in the highlights!  

 

 Pittsburgh is a huge sports city; it seems to us more than any city we’ve visited.  For a city of just over 300,000 (well, yes the metro area is more than 2 million) they have a hockey team, a baseball team, and a football team.  And given the number of jerseys we see on the street it seems like everyone is a fan of all the teams! I read online about Museum 21 which is dedicated to the life of Roberto Clemente, a Pirate’s right fielder. I remember well the New Year’s Eve day when we learned Clemente, who was only 38, had been killed in a plane crash while delivering aid packages to the people of Managua, Nicaragua after an earthquake.  This museum is privately owned by a local photographer. It’s housed in an old firehouse and contains tons of memorabilia from his boyhood growing up in Puerto Rico through the rest of his life. Any baseball fan would find the place really interesting. l also loved the connections in the wine cellar to the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Penguins!

 

While I really love hockey and the Pittsburgh Penguins, I also love penguins of any kind so it only made sense that we would visit the aviary.  When you think about it, aviaries are really unusual places…you just sort of walk around among the birds. Sometimes with them flying over our heads; other times walking in front of us.  And so many times they act just like people. For instance the parrots were showing off in front of us, one trying to outdo the other. 20181208_135417_HDRIt was pretty cold outside but I had to go out and view the penguins, particularly because no one else was out there.  One lone penguin was standing on the edge of the pool. I tried to coax him until he finally jumped in the water. And then he’d swim back to me, swim around in circles before darting off again. Wow! I was having my own private interaction with him.

 

Years ago we had visited Legoland when we were in Denmark and were fascinated with the constructions of everything from Mt Rushmore to the Statue of Liberty.  So when Rita told me the world’s largest Lego Art Exhibit was at the Carnegie (It’s pronounced Car NEG e!) Science Museum, I really wanted to see it. The artist, Nathan Sawaya, is a fascinating individual. While he was intrigued by Legos for his entire life, he went to school and became a lawyer but he continued to stay involved with Legos whenever he wanted to relax. He finally decided to forget the law and just concentrate on the Legos.  There were two full floors of his work. His Lego creations included: “Starry Night,” “American Gothic,” “the “Mona Lisa” as well as other original pieces including one of a bridge especially done for Pittsburgh. What a creative genius!

 

We had hoped to get tickets to see Hamilton but it didn’t get to Pittsburgh until January.  So we decided instead to go see “Straight No Chaser.” They are an a cappella group originally from Indiana University.  It was great entertainment. A good combination of music and humor. We found it refreshing at the beginning of the program when they announced, “Take lots of pictures. Post them on Facebook.”  It was a nice conclusion to a great month in Pittsburgh.

 

We were now ready to head to Michigan to spend Christmas with family there.  And then on to the Dominican Republic to avoid winter! We are so lucky!

 

Bucks County

We left Portland, Maine, on a gloomy morning heading for eastern Pennsylvania, about a six hour drive. Bucks County is an artsy area about an hour and a half west of New York City and 45 minutes north of Philadelphia.  While we had driven through the area on our way to other destinations we’d never spent any time there. Because of the proximity to the large metropolitan areas it tends to be a really pricey area to stay so we decided to spend two weeks there instead of our usual month. Finally after much hunting I found the perfect place in New Hope. By the time we arrived,  the sun was shining and the temperatures were in the low 70’s. Not bad for the first of November. Our VRBO abode was billed as an English Cottage and was located in what was created as a Gothic English Village by artist and architect Morgan Colt at the turn of the 20th century. 20181102_103223_hdrWhile pretty tiny it was absolutely perfect for us. It had a small galley kitchen at the end of a fairly large room that had a queen size bed and a couch, dresser, bookshelves and a television (and also a great wifi connection). 

Our host, Eleanor, and her adult son, Kurt, live in another cottage close by.  Kurt walked us through the village that they’re trying to recreate providing us with a lot of history along the way. As we passed through huge iron gates, we came to “The Inn at Phillips Mill.” Because it was Bob’s birthday, we thought this would be a great place for dinner. Wow! We were seated in the upstairs room that held only four tables. The menu was lovely and reasonably priced. We ordered croquettes de Crabe Remoulade as an appetizer and then Bob had the steak ‘black Angus’ et Sa Sauce Au Vin and I had the Salmon Poche Florentine. Yummy! While the restaurant doesn’t have a bar, we were told that we could bring our own wine and they’d open it for us. So that’s what we did! (It turns out to be much cheaper that way, as well!)

Unfortunately we had a lot of rain during our stay.  In fact, on one of our first nights we were a bit alarmed when a tornado warning came across the crawl on our television. This wasn’t a watch but an actual warning for our location. I texted Kurt who promptly responded that we shouldn’t worry, that although they did from time to time have tornado warnings none had touched down in the past twenty years they had lived there. His response really surprised us; we are MIchiganders; we take tornado warnings seriously! I suggested in my comments on the VRBO site that they create a plan for future warnings and hopefully they will heed the request. But ah! The optimism of youth!

New Hope is located right on the Delaware River Canal which runs for 60 miles from Easton to Bristol. The canal, modeled after the successful Erie Canal in New York, first opened in 1832 and was built primarily to carry anthracite coal as well as gravel, limestone and lumber from northeastern Pennsylvania to Philadelphia. Then in reverse it would carry finished products from Philadelphia back to the northeast. The canal was the busiest before 1855 but continued in operation until the 1930’s. Because of construction on a highway bridge much of the canal closest to us had been drained temporarily.  Today the tow path next to the canal is a popular place for hikers and bikers.

Bucks County is known for its art galleries, antiques, covered bridges, and their playhouse.  We had missed the juried art show that was right in New Hope but we learned about the MIchener Art Gallery in Doylestown, about 20 minutes away. Doylestown is the home of James Michener and in 1988 he transformed the Bucks County Jail into an art museum that features the work of the Pennsylvanian Impressionists. And while we enjoyed the art, it was the George Nakashima Reading Room that I found most interesting.

George Nakashima was born in Spokane, Washington.  After getting a bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington and a master’s from M.I.T. he travelled all over the world studying woodworking.  When he returned to the United States in 1940 he began making furniture and teaching woodworking in Seattle. During World War II he was incarcerated in a Japanese camp in Idaho. In 1943 Antonin Raymond sponsored Nakashima’s release and invited him to live on his farm in New Hope.  Although at the time Nakashima could only do woodworking as a hobby because the conditions of his release required him to work as a farm laborer. Eventually he built a home, studio and workshop in New Hope. We learned that his workshop is open to the public certain days of the week.

Nakashima had a dream of Altars for Peace for each continent of the world, believing that these meditation centers would make the world a better place. Today these altars continue to be designed by the Nakashima business even though George died in 1990. What a serene, peaceful location this is for such work! In the workshop we saw many samples of his designs as well as the work of those who are carrying on his business. We were also surprised to find his son, Kevin, sitting on a chair and interacting with the many visitors.

Bucks County Playhouse is a place where many famous actors got their start. The playhouse, which originally was one of the Hope Mills, dates from the 1790’s.  After most of the mills were destroyed by fire, this one was saved from demolition in the 1930’s and purchased by a group of playwrights. 20181113_150324In 1963 Neil Simon’s, Barefoot in the Park premiered here starring Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley.  While we were in New Hope, I Hate Hamlet was playing and Elizabeth Ashley was billed as one of the stars.  I had found a groupon ticket for a reasonable price and we were flabbergasted when we realized our seats were in the sixth row. What a fun afternoon!

Adding to the nostalgic feel of the area are the covered bridges. Nowhere have we traveled where we’ve seen more than Bucks County. They even have a brochure that describes and gives directions to the 13 in the county. We set out to see a few of them.

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The four we visited were all built in the early 1870’s (although county records indicate one of them was built as early as 1832) and ranged in length from 56 feet to 130 feet long. The colorful fall leaves only added to the nostalgic feel!

Before leaving the area we decided we wanted to visit Princeton, New Jersey. We began by visiting the Princeton Battlefield State Park where the Americans and British fought on January 3, 1777. IMG_0010We then went on to Nassau Hall on the campus of Princeton University. Nassau Hall was built in 1756 and at the time was the largest academic building in the Colonies. This is where the British surrendered and where Congress congratulated George Washington on his successful termination of the Revolutionary War.  The first foreign minister to the United States was welcomed here!  I can’t imagine what it must be like today to attend class in such an historic building!20181112_133312_hdr

Albert Einstein’s house is not far from the campus.  After leaving Germany during World War II, Einstein continued his work at Princeton and lived at 112 Mercer Street from 1935 to his death in 1955. The home is presently a private residence.IMG_0020 (2)

Our final stop in Princeton was the Princeton Cemetery.  The cemetery is owned by the Nassau Presbyterian Church. Politicians, musicians, academics: so many people from American History are buried here. Among them: Stephen Grover Cleveland, (22nd and 24th President of United States) Aaron Burr, Sr. (the second president of Princeton), Aaron Burr, Jr. (vice-president of United States), Jonathan Edwards, (“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,”), George Gallup (pollster), Paul Tulane (philanthropist of Tulane University).  

As Bob stopped to let me go exploring among the graves, I was stunned when I got out of the car. 20181112_135012_hdrThere next to me was a large monument. The family name? Hendrickson! I took pictures, just in case as we learn more about Bob’s family history some of those names show up!

Just two weeks earlier we had arrived in Bucks County on what seemed like a summer day. But now he weather forecast predicted a massive snowstorm heading across Pennsylvania on the day we were to leave so we decided “just in case” to get in front of it. Next stop:  Pittsburgh, the Steel City and home of the Pittsburgh Penguins! Can’t wait!

 

More New England Fall

After a month in Hull, we continued north; yep, even further north for October. No we’re not crazy! We’ve driven through Maine on many occasions but we think it should be spectacular with all the fall color and hopefully, we’ll be out of there before the first snow falls! The drive along the ocean as we entered Salem was gorgeous even on a gloomy day. We had hoped to visit the Essex Museum but as luck would have it we were there on a Monday and the museum was closed.  The Salem Witchcraft Memorials were far more moving than I had expected.  They have a memorial to each person who died after being convicted of witchcraft.  I hadn’t realized that there were men among them and I also I didn’t know that they weren’t all hanged but that some were pressed to their death.

 

I continue to be fascinated by the age of buildings.  True, it’s not old by European standards but it is given how young our country is.

 

The tags on many of the homes indicate the pride locals feel in owning a bit of history. It’s not a long drive from Boston to Portland and even stopping along the way, we arrived at our new residence by late afternoon.  Kathryn, our host, greeted and gave us a tour of how everything worked. She lives in the front half of the house and we have the rear apartment.

 

It has a great outdoor area and is conveniently located right in the city.  Portland’s population is only a bit over 65,000 but it lives far larger than that and we were pleased to be close to shopping and restaurants.   We usually spend our first day getting settled, unpacked and some basic groceries in.  Then we head out to dinner. We had been told by many that Portland is known for their great restaurants and boy, were they right!  Kathryn had suggested DeMillos in downtown Portland.  Wow!  What a great introduction to Portland!  Right on the water and a great menu of Maine seafood.  We could even feel the slight sway of the boat on the waves. Seafood, be it lobster, clams or crab is ubiquitious! My favorite throughout our stay was the lobster salad.  I must have had it in at least half a dozen locations as well as at home.  What a shock it’s going to be when we leave the coast.

 

When I think of Maine, rocky coasts, light houses and lobsters come to mind. And with good reason, all three are everywhere. The iconic Portland Light was at the top of our sights to see.  About a fifteen minute drive from our apartment we found Fort Williams Park.  And the lighthouse looks just exactly like it I expected.  Even though it’s early October the weather was comfortable and we we didn’t have all the mobs of people that I’m sure are here in the summer.

 

The shoreline drives both south and north of Portland are lovely.  We particularly enjoyed Two Lights State Park.  This park is popular with Maine residents.  There are lots of benches; a great place to read a book or just sit and reflect. And nearby we found a fabulous hole-in-the-wall restaurant, Fisherman’s Catch.  20181009_154329_HDRhttps://www.fishermanscatchwells.com/  Like so many other places along the eastern seaboard, they were just getting ready to close for the season but the day that we were there it was in the 70’s and felt more like a summer than a fall day.  I think I may have mentioned previously in this blog that Rachel Carson grew up in the same small Western Pennsylvania town as my husband’s family.  In fact, Rachel’s mother was a good friend of Bob’s grandmother.  That said, we obviously are very interested in Ms. Carson’s research and try to visit all things Rachel when we come upon them. When we saw the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge was nearby we knew we had to visit. Starting in 1952 Ms. Carson spent many of her summers in Maine studying the beaches and the tidal pools. The refuge consists of a small building providing visitors with a brief history of the area along with biographical facts about Ms. Carson.  There are numerous trails that lead out from there.

 

Acadia National Park is about a 3 hour drive north.  This is one of our very favorite national parks but we’d only been there in the summer. The drive up was a bit drizzley and we weren’t sure we had made a good decision but it turned out to be a perfect day. The rain ended by the time we entered the park and the overcast skies made for some great pictures.  Even though we knew it was going to be beautiful in the fall, we still were amazed by the blazes of fall colors and the less crowded shorelines.

 

We love Thunder Hole where at high tide the water often rushes in and out with a thundering sound so we were a bit disappointed when it wasn’t “thundering” while we were there.  Because of the distance from Portland to Acadia we decided to spend the night in Bar Harbor and the next morning we returned to the park, but still no thunder. Guess we’re lucky to have heard it when we first visited with the kids so many years ago.

 

Closer to our Portland home was Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in Gloucester. This is the last active Shaker village. Its meeting house was built in 1794.  And at its height it had more than 200 members.  A museum was established in 1931 with the goal of educating the public about Shaker beliefs. In the museum we saw examples of their woodenware, their tools, as well as descriptions and photos helping us understand the Shaker lifestyle.  We also met a woodworker who was carving little figures that would sell in the gift shop. We had noticed highland cattle, what were called “Hairy-coos” in Scotland, and the woodworker shared a lot of information about the farm and its history. The “Hairy-coos” we later learned, thrive in harsh Maine winters and are being raised in increasing numbers because of their healthy meat which has less fat than traditional beef and less cholesterol than a chicken.

 

We never tire of Maine’s shoreline so we also made additional trips along the coast to visit small fishing villages.

 

Again, we found that while we were on the tail end of summer, many sights were still open…just without the crowds.  Kennebunk and Kennebunkport are lively places just because they were the summer homes of the senior Bushes.   What a gorgeous location!IMG_0258

Within the city of Portland there’s lots to see and do as well.  We had heard about the Portland Whaling Wall which is a 950 foot mural painted (I believe spray painted) on the side of the Maine State Pier.

 

The mural was done in 1993  by Robert Wyland as one of 17 marine murals he completed in 17 cities on the east coast in 17 weeks.  Later he went on to complete 100 murals in 79 cities in 13 countries around the world!  Really impressive!

We also got tickets for the Portland Symphony.  Isn’t it wonderful a city of 66,000 has its own symphony? They were playing Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 in D major the night we were there! Wow!  A message included with our tickets suggested we arrive early to see the beautiful architecture of the building!

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Not only does Portland have its own symphony but it also has a wonderful museum of art that dates back to 1882.  I particularly wanted to visit the exhibits of NC Wyeth (father of Andrew Wyeth), Frederick Remington and Maine’s own, Winslow Homer. But it was the art of Ashley Bryan that most interested me.  I knew Bryan best as an illustrator and writer of children’s books. The ones I knew are based on African folklore and proverbs.  Bryan was born in 1923 and after serving in a segregated US Army during World War II he settled in Maine not far from Acadia National Park. He is also a sculptor and much of his work is created from “things cast off.”  It’s his puppets that I love most.

 

Not far from the Portland Museum of Art, we found the Wadsworth Longfellow House and Garden. This was the boyhood home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  It was built for his mother’s parents in 1786. The last person to live there was Henry’s sister who stayed there until her death in 1901. And what a good caretaker of the home she was.  Because the home is small we waited in the gift shop (where else?) until our group could enter. We particularly enjoyed the little “behavior reminders” posted throughout the home.

Once in, a docent gave us a brief history and then we were allowed to go on our own self-guided tour.  In each room there was another guide who would provide us with details about what we were looking at as well as answer any questions. Bob and I aren’t big on touring homes where the furniture is replicas of the original, but here we were looking at authenticity:  the actual desk where Longfellow wrote as a child, his rocking horse, his favorite portrait. We were looking at the real thing.

 

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, an interesting challenge we have monthly is getting our hair cut.  I often go to Yelp for some help and it’s usually a good resource.  But this time it led us to a most unusual experience.  When I began to hunt for barbershops for Bob, one jumped out at me, Forest Avenue Barbershop.  Not only did they have great reviews they also have gorgeous golden retrievers in their shop.  Definitely the barbershop for us!  What a great choice!  The dogs greeted us; they are extremely well-behaved.  Both the barbers are very friendly.  It turned out to be the most inexpensive haircut and beard trim Bob’s had in four years AND it was also the best.  This is definitely a place to return before leaving Portland!  Thank you Yelp!

 

Periodically, our host would stop by and share some warm apple bars out of the oven or drop off some fresh flowers for the table. The night before we left, she invited us to dinner.  Just one more reason why we enjoy staying at Airbnb’s.  We get to meet such nice folks who also share with us interesting stories as well as suggest places to see in the area. Maine has been a really fun stay.  And while we have  enjoyed Portland, the city,  it’s also been a good base for exploring surrounding areas.

More interesting signs we’ve enjoyed in Maine:

Return to Massachusetts

A little more than a year ago we visited Boston for a month.  We didn’t stay right in the city but rather in a beach town on the south shore and close to the train that could get us into downtown Boston in 40 minutes.  We loved it so much that when we were thinking about destinations for our 2018 trek across the US and back we decided we wanted to return but this time our plan was to spend more time visiting sights outside the city.  We were thrilled we were able to rent the same Airbnb in Hull.

Hull is located on the tip of the Nantasket Peninsula which sticks out into Boston Harbor. Plymouth Colony first established Hull as a trading post in 1621.  Today a big draw is Nantasket Beach which is reportedly one of the nicest beaches in New England. We arrived on Labor Day weekend when the summer population balloons far beyond the 10,000 people who regularly reside here.  But just a few days later it turned into a much quieter, and to our way of thinking, nicer community.

One of our first stops was the Hull Public Library, and my initial experience wasn’t very pleasant.  I was told abruptly by the clerk that no, as a visitor to the area I could not get a library card.  This seemed odd to me so I sent a note to the contact on their website and quickly got an apologetic response saying of course I could use their library. When we went back in, not only did I get a library card but Ann, the person in charge, gave us a lovely tour of the building describing the building’s history which dates back to the middle 1800’s. IMG_0266The home’s original owner, John Boyle O’Reilly, was born in Ireland but later moved to England. He had been a member of the Fenian Revolutionary Army and when he was found out, he was convicted, and served in several prisons. Eventually he was sent to Australia where he somehow managed to get on a ship and escape to the US.  He arrived in Boston and became the editor of The Pilot advocating the rights of the working man and African Americans.  This home was the O’Reilly family summer residence until he died in 1890.  It was purchased in 1913 by the town to use as the library.  Fascinating…the things we learn by random connections with locals!

We continue to be amazed by how immersed we are in history.  Driving out to Hull from Boston we drove through various towns one indistinguishable from the next.  One afternoon we were coming home from the supermarket in heavy traffic passing business after business on both sides of the street when in among all this twenty-first century chaos, we were astounded to see a small sign indicating Abigail Adam’s birthplace.  Wow! We learned the building is presently in its third location and find ourselves wondering how long until it’s moved again!20180913_170351

We wanted to venture out to Cape Cod again having enjoyed previous trips to Provincetown. We finally decided on Sandwich, situated right at the entrance to the Cape making it a shorter drive (in what is usually very heavy traffic). We were also fascinated by the fact that Sandwich is the oldest town on the Cape and also the home of the oldest continuous Quaker Meeting in the country.  In Massachusetts, we’ve found several sights that boast being “the oldest continuous…” including schools and churches of various denominations.

20180907_125444_HDRDowntown Sandwich is lovely. We decided to stop at Beth’s Bakery and Cafe for a quick lunch.  Great choice! check it out! https://bethsbakery.net  I chose the haddock chowder with a lobster salad!  (Can you tell I just cannot get enough of the east coast seafood?) We continue to be fascinated the way New Englanders use crushed shells as a ground cover in much the way midwesterners use wood chips!

Glass making was a big thing in Sandwich until the Civil War, and so we decided to visit the Sandwich Glass Museum.  After a short video explaining the history of glass blowing in the area, we watched a demonstration.  The museum had two particularly interesting visiting exhibits.  The first was from The MIT Glass Lab…we had no idea MIT has a glass lab dating back more than 40 years.  They also had a special exhibit of Christopher Belleau’s.  His work reminds me a lot of Chihuly.

We were thrilled that our youngest son, Patrick and his friend came to visit for a long weekend.  While they were walking the Freedom Trail, Bob and I decided to return to the Boston Public Gardens.  We couldn’t have chosen a better day to be there…75 degrees and sunny and unlike our previous visit, this time everything was in full bloom!

Breathtaking! Later we met up with them for dinner at the Union Oyster House!  20180914_190944Yum!  We had a long wait for a table but were entertained by the guy who while serving as bartender, was also shucking oysters.  He said he could do about 60 an hour.  He went on to say he’d been doing it for more than 20 years…calculate that: 60 an hour for 8 hours times 5 days a week times 50 weeks a year times 20 years!  UNBELIEVABLE!

On Monday morning as we drove the boys back to Logan, we decided to stop and get a glimpse of John and Abigail Adams’ retirement home in Quincy.  John Adams named the estate, “Peacefield” remembering the Peace he helped negotiate in 1783.  We knew we wouldn’t have time for the whole tour, but I particularly wanted to see the beautiful Adam’s library building and the garden.  When I explained to the park ranger that I knew we had to be part of a tour to enter the buildings but could we just wander through the garden. He not only said yes, but proceeded to let us into the library where he gave us a bit of history of the building. Here we were standing in the same room where John Adams read and wrote; looking at all of his books!  One  John Adams quote stands out to me: “Posterity!” he wrote, “You will never know how much it cost the present Generation, to preserve your Freedom.  I hope you will make good Use of it.”

On our train trip into Boston, Bob struck up a conversation with a man who asked if we’d visited Hingham. And while the town was right next door to Hull, and we’d driven through it routinely, we’d never stopped to explore. So we added it to our list.  We began at the Historical Society which is housed in what was the original Derby Academy Building, the first New England co-educational school established in 1791 and still in existence (although in a different location).  The docent at the Society shared much of the town’s history and explained that Hingham is known as “Bucket Town.” During the 1700’s and 1800’s the boxes, buckets and other woodenware that were made here were known throughout the country.  She explained there was a museum upstairs (in what had been the school) that would explain the town’s history in greater detail. When I suggested that they were closing soon and perhaps we should come back the next day, she dismissed that idea and told us to go ahead and explore!  Again, I am stunned at the thoughtfulness of the people we meet; the librarian, the Ranger, now the docent. Upstairs we saw a plaque on the wall explaining that the Lincoln family were all related.  Samuel Lincoln was born in Hingham,  England, and was the 4th great grandfather of Abraham Lincoln.  Now I understood the statue of Abraham Lincoln in the city center!

As we were leaving we asked what else we should visit in Hingham and both she as well as another woman, suggested, “The Ordinary.”  Hmmm… we later learned that “ordinary” was a term during Colonial America that indicated a tavern that served a complete meal at a fixed price.  Another interesting fact learned!

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The Old Ordinary

The Old Ordinary turned out to be a fascinating place particularly because of Ellen, our guide.  At one time, distant relatives of Ellen’s called the Old Ordinary home.  After spending so much of our time in New England learning about the Patriots we were surprised to learn this house had been built in1688 by Thomas Andrews, a Loyalist, for his son Thomas. In the days of the Revolution, the house was owned by the Barker family and legend has it that the two paintings of the owners hanging on the front room wall both had knife marks in them suggesting the frustration the Colonists felt when they realized the owners had managed to escape.

The garden was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1906 as a wedding present for the Reverand Cornish  and his wife who were then owners of the Old Ordinary. Olmstead was famous for many gardens including:  the Biltmore Gardens in Ashville NC, the Jackson Park Gardens in Chicago, Central Park in New York City, and the grounds around the US Capitol; the list goes on and on! IMG_0107Inside the house were authentic pieces, not replicas, of many interesting items including a leather fire bucket. We learned that firebuckets had family names on them so that after dousing a fire the buckets could find their way back to their rightful owners.  We also found out that because all commerce was regulated by the English and materials imported directly from them,  fabrics, at this time in history, were among a family’s dearest possessions, in many cases worth more than the furniture.

IMG_0276We spent a day in Plymouth.  We had visited Plymouth Rock on previous occasions and were underwhelmed, but we learned that the Pilgrim Hall Museum was built in 1824 and is the longest continuous operating museum in America.  (There’s that term again!) It was interesting and we liked that it wasn’t huge.  Lots of Pilgrim artifacts…some that actually came over on the Mayflower and lots of information about the Native Americans in the area.  We also visited the Brewster Gardens.  They date from the 1920’s and contain several pretty sculptures.  My favorite was the stainless steel sculpture, “Immigration” honoring settlers from 1700 – 2000.

We also visited Scituate which we remembered hearing was hard hit by a nor’easter that literally had waves washing over many of the houses.  Looking at the houses lining the sea we understood how that could happen.  Here we also saw the Scituate Lighthouse that was built in 1810 for the sum of $ 4000.  During the War of 1812, two young girls, daughters of the light keeper, who was away at the time, are credited with saving the community by playing their fifes when they heard British troops approaching.  The British troops thought it indicated a whole regiment of Colonial troops and quickly retreated.

I didn’t realize how many tidbits of history I have learned from literature, Longfellow in particular.  This had been the case when Evangeline has led us to Grand Pre in Nova Scotia. Now it was happening again in Lexington.  Lexington, we knew was the beginning of the Revolutionary War so Bob suggested the Lexington Green would be a good place to start exploring of the area.

There we met a volunteer dressed in his Colonial finest who explained the happenings of the morning of April 19, 1775, how when Paul Revere and William Dawes had learned the British were going to Concord with the intent to destroy weapons, they rode to alert the countryside.

Later in the Concord Museum we saw one of the two lanterns that hung in the Old North Church.  (We were also told that the picture on the Sam Adams beer bottle is really Paul Revere because he was better looking!  Interesting!)

What we didn’t know was that Revere had been captured…and later released.  (Ah… Longfellow didn’t tell us that! ) As we stood on the green we could look at the actual house where Samuel Adams and John Hancock spent the night of April 18.  IMG_0214On this green on the morning of April 19, 73 Patriots faced nearly 800 British troops  The guide went on to explain that while the Colonists’ battle on the green was lost, they won the remainder of the battles that day. We went on to Minute Man National Historic Park in Concord, where we walked across the North Bridge and the spot where the “the shot heard round the world” was fired.  And where it all began.

Concord had another draw for me.  I am fascinated by the Transcendentalists of the early 1800’s. They included: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott (and his famous daughter Louisa May), Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau (whose name rhymes with “furrow” we learned) and my favorites: the Peabody sisters: Eliza, Mary and Sophia. Concord was the center of the movement.

As we walked the streets and grounds of their homes we could almost hear their converstations. Orchard House was the home of the Alcotts and Bronson’s progressive school. Amos Bronson Alcott is among my favorite people from history. His school stands behind the house. He was influenced by Peztalozzi. His assistant, Eliza Peabody, is credited with creating the first kindergartens in the United States.   He treated his students like adults and abhorred corporal punishment; his school was based on the Socratic Method and he stood strong behind his ideals believing that all students, boys and girls, Black and White should be educated. When he admitted an African American student to his school, he wouldn’t back down even as parents complained. He counted among his many students, Emma Lazarus (who wrote The New Colassus engraved on the base of the statue of liberty). We found the folks at Orchard House to be very helpful sharing with us many interesting facts about the Transcendentalists and offering suggestions about other things to see in the area.

Among those places, of course, was Walden Pond and the replica of the cabin that Henry David Thoreau  built and lived in for two years, two months and two days. William Ellery Channing was another Transcendentalist and frequent walking companion of Thoreau.

It was Channing who had first suggested to Thoreau that he use Channing’s land and go out to Walden Pond and build himself a hut. And it was Alcott that Thoreau borrowed an ax from to build his cabin! And it was Emerson who mentored Thoreau…such connections boggle my mind!

Finally we visited Sleepy Hollow Cemetery where for all eternity most of the Transcendentalists remain neighbors.  In 1855, the original cemetery was extended when the town of Concord bought additional acreage including a pretty park-like area that the locals called, Sleepy Hollow, probably named after Washington Irving’s short story, The Legend Sleepy Hollow.   Emerson had suggested that cemeteries like Sleepy Hollow could serve more than one purpose acting as places for contemplation and reflection as well as honoring the deceased. We hunted until we finally found Author’s Ridge, where lay the remains of the Alcotts, the Hawthornes, the Emersons, the Thoreaus, the Channings, two of the Peabody sisters.

The other Peabody sister, Mary, is buried with her husband Horace Mann in Ohio.  We passed the Horace Mann home in Concord but it is a private residence.  Imagine living in Horace Mann’s home! And it’s not far from the Wayside where Nathaniel Hawthorne lived with his wife, Sofia.  But later the Alcott’s lived there.  And then, as if that’s not enough, Harriet Lothrop, the author of The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew later lived there.

What an impact these thoughtful minds could have on our lives today.  Of course before leaving Concord, I had to visit The Thoreau Bookstore at Walden Pond hunting for another book to learn more of the Transcendentalists.

We often encounter sights that make us smile, or make us think…or just make us wonder.  Here are a few from the past month:

Massachusetts has such a rich history, even with a second month, there still remains places we want to visit.  Guess that means one day we’ll have to return!  For now, we’re headed next to Portland, Maine, and fall colors!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Slower Pace

For Bob and me summer is synonymous with water.  Last winter we had coordinated all our family schedules and managed to find a week in July when everyone was available.  After lots and lots of searching I finally found a place that was located right on the shore of Lake Michigan, just south of Grand Haven, that would accomodate all 14 of us!

And what a great place it was.  It had an open floor plan so folks could be in the living room, dining room or kitchen and yet all be together.  The whole front of the house was windows.  The house sits atop a dune so there were about 50 steps down to the beach. But just a few steps down there was a great deck with chairs so those of us who didn’t want to make the trek down could still enjoy the view.

Our family ranges in age from 2 to 72 but it doesn’t matter at the lake. There’s always something for everyone.  We played miniature golf, rode go-karts, explored the streets of the tourist town, visited local wineries, swam at the gorgeous Lake Michigan beach, and in the evenings after watching sunsets, there were s’mores over campfires and games to play. What a fabulous week we had!

Bob’s 55th class reunion was in August in nearby Michigan City so we decided to spend the month there.  Again right on the shore of Lake Michigan.  Sometimes I think you have to move away from your hometown to fully appreciate it.  At least that’s what we found. We had opportunities to attend musical events including the Michigan City Chamber Music Festival, now in it’s 16th year, and featuring free musical performances. We also enjoyed “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” presented by the Dunes Summer Theatre. We took in an Andy Warhol Exhibit at the Lubeznik Center for the Arts. We visited the Old Michigan City Lighthouse and Museum.

The “new” lighthouse was constructed in 1904 and is the iconic image of the city. It was electrified in 1933 and we’ve watched many sunsets from the pier that extends out to the lighthouse.  The Old Lighthouse, and now museum, was constructed in 1858.  We found it interesting that the light had a woman keeper from 1861-1904.  It is believed that she served longer than any other keeper in the country and most impressive is that her light never went out. http://www.oldlighthousemuseum.org/colfax_hartwell.html

And while The International Friendship Gardens has been an institution in Michigan City since 1930’s when it was modeled after gardens at the World’s Fair in Chicago neither Bob nor I had ever been there.. The original park consisted of 14 ethnic gardens.  Queen Wilhelmina donated 200,000 tulips. The King of England sent plants as well as a gardener to create an English garden.  The King of Persia sent roses for the original rose garden.  There was even a theatre for concerts and plays located on an island created in the creek in the park with seating for the audience on a nearby hillside.  In the 1960’s the Gardens suffered from neglect, but in the past five years a dedicated group of volunteers is working hard to restore it to its previous grandeur.  It’s a very peaceful place. We encountered kayakers on the creek that meanders through the garden. We followed the Path of Nations which took us by the Irish Garden, the African Garden, Romanian Garden as well as the Polish, Scottish, Lithuanian, German, Italian and Norwegian Gardens. And of course, the original Persian Rose Garden. A great way to spend an afternoon.

One of the highlights of our trip was the Washington Park Zoo. The zoo was founded in 1928 and is built on a large dune near the lake.  For our 50th wedding anniversary a year ago our kids had given us a bench honoring our years together.  We were amazed when we entered the zoo and as we approached the tiger exhibit, lo and behold there it was. How cool!  We asked a passerby if she’d take our picture.  “Oh wow!” she exclaimed, “You’re the people in the picture on the bench!”  What a cool gift! IMG_0022 (1)

We had allowed a few days travel time between leaving Michigan City and arriving at our next destination: Hull, Massachusetts, located on the southern shore just south of Boston.  Besides catching up with friends along the way there were some sights we wanted to see. We tried to avoid the interstate system much of the time so we could see more of the small towns. We initially thought we’d take Highway 20 (the longest highway in the US) from Michigan City to Boston. But traveling through eastern Indiana and northwest Ohio made us realize perhaps we needed to be more selective. We found it interesting to travel along the Erie Canal across much of New York.

One of our stops was Rochester, New York, where our daughter-in-law, Sadie, suggested we visit the Mount Hope Cemetery.  We found it very helpful that the cemetery had an office where I picked up a map.  We visited Susan B. Anthony’s grave as well as Frederick Douglass’.  Interestingly, Bausch and Lomb are buried there.  I found it odd they were buried on the same site.  As German immigrants they had begun producing monocles in 1853.  They eventually went on to lenses, binoculars and camera lenses which makes us wonder if there isn’t a connection between Eastman Kodak and Bausch and Lomb.  In any event their grave site is really lovely, located under the branches of a huge tree as though protecting their eyes from the dangerous rays of the sun.

In LeRoy, New York, just outside Rochester we visited the Jello Museum. 20180829_102516_HDRHere we learned how Peter Cooper,  the inventor of Jello, got a patent for it in 1845, but could never get it to catch on with the American public so he sold the patent to a fellow townsman for $450.  We saw Jello molds, learned about the most popular flavors.  On display were lots of Jello posters (All presence of Bill Cosby has been removed.) and saw recipe after recipe for salads and desserts made with Jello.  It took us back to the 1950s and 1960s when it seemed like every home served Jello regularly.

We really enjoyed the pastoral views across New York state and Massachusetts.  The area around the finger lakes is particularly nice. Our first stop in Seneca Falls was at the Women’s Rights National Historical Park. Central New York was the home to many Quakers so it was a natural location for the birth of women’s rights given that most Quakers favored gender equality…well, a bit more than others at the time. My favorite tidbit: When Elizabeth Cady  married Henry Stanton in 1840, the vows omitted the word, “obey.” How cool too that she is known more than 175 years later by her given, maiden and married name! I particlarly liked the statue depicting Amelia Bloomer introducing Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1851.

20180830_133456We learn so much in our travels.  I had no idea until we visited the Women’s Rights National Historic Park that there was a 19th Amendment Victory Flag. The purple represents justice, and loyalty. The white, purity of intent of the movement and the gold is the color of the torch that guides the women. Whenever a state radified the amendment a star was added to the flag. 36 were needed.

The National Women’s Hall of Fame is very much alive.  While we read the biographical sketches of each individual we understood that this is an evolution.  The present and the future are building on the shoulders of those women who have gone before.  I was also struck by the number of women who were connected to important men.

Before moving on we drove past Harriet Tubman’s home. I think we often forget what her freedom cost her.  She indeed was free but her family was all in Maryland and she was forever separated from them. It’s difficult to comprehend that she died just 34 years before I was born.

We continue to be entertained by signs and bumper stickers we see along the way…some amusing; some a bit deeper!

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We continued our drive east stopping the next day in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, at Norman Rockwell’s Museum.  What a great surprise to learn we were there on “Free Fridays.”  My very favorite works of his are the Four Freedoms that he completed during WWII. Freedom from Want, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship and Freedom from Fear.  It seems unbelievable that he completed all four in just seven months.  Having spent the past 10 months traveling across the country from DC to California and back again, Rockwell’s illustrations of everyday American life struck a special chord with us.  It was like a synthesis of all we’ve seen and experienced.  After leaving the museum we had to drive down mainstreet Sturbridge to compare his painting with the actual Main Street.

Just a few hours away from our destination, we decided to stop in Springfield at the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden.  When Dr. Seuss (Ted Geisel) died in 1991 his widow authorized the creation of the memorial that Geisel had envisioned.  His stepdaughter, Lark Grey Diamond-Cates, a noted sculpturer, created more than 30 statues.  It’s such a joyful experience walking among the characters.

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Airbnb in Hull

About 3 pm we pulled into our driveway.  We’re staying in the same Airbnb we stayed in when we were last in the Boston area.  We’re out on a peninsula, a two block walk one way from the ocean and a long block the other direction. We look forward to exploring lesser known sights in the area this time.  It feels good walking into a known place remembering the little things:  the couch that sinks a bit, the floors that aren’t quite level.  Ahhh…it feels good to be home!