Murals of Portland Oregon

Public art rocks!

It can bring a flash of wonderment into an otherwise mundane day. Portland sports innumerable outdoor wall murals created by artists with something to share. Some of their messages are overt, others more obscure. Color, shape and creative design are a unifying theme in Portland’s murals.

 I took advantage of beautiful fall weather, roaming the streets of my home town, camera in hand, searching for murals to share. I peeked around corners, across parking lots and into alleyways looking up, down and all around. My treasure hunt was rewarded.

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This is just a small sampling of outdoor wall murals around Portland.

I hope you enjoyed seeing these depictions as much as I enjoyed creating this blog.

Although I didn’t use it, I found there is a map of murals around Portland.

I would love to see your photos of murals from your neighborhood or from travels around the world!

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For All You Geezers On The Go, Keep On Keeping On!

America’s Wild West – Road Tripping!

PART TWO!

We loaded up the car, heading East from Portland for a 3½ week road trip.
Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

What an adventure!

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We drove southeast from Bigfork (SE of Kalispell), stopping now and again to cast a fly  into the cold clear rivers along the highway.  Our destination, Three Forks Montana, 35 miles northwest of Bozeman.

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The Lewis & Clark expedition traveled through Three Forks. Sacajawea, a member of the Shoshone Indian tribe, served as an interpreter. She and her son traveled with Lewis & Clark from 1804 until 1806.

Three Forks was an important stopping point for tourists traveling to Yellowstone National Park on the Milwaukee Railroad. In 1910 Railroad Agent J.Q. Adams developed the Sacajawea Hotel at the town’s entrance, directly across the street from the train Depot. Smart guy.  In 2010 the hotel was restored to its historic grandeur. It is a beautiful place to stay with an elegant lobby, comfortable bar and very good restaurant. The “Sac,” as it is called by locals, is Montana’s only member of the Historical Hotels of America. Breakfast in bed is provided to all guests.

Three Forks is a tiny town with a museum, theatre, and a second hotel aptly called the Lewis & Clark Hotel. Other choices seemed to include religion, alcohol or activities at the Senior Citizen Center. Or perhaps a combination of all three.

I’ll remember Three Forks as the place little Ari got a HUGE grass seed lodged in his ear next to the ear drum. We went for an early morning photo walk. When we returned to the hotel, Ari started shaking his head, left ear down. I couldn’t find anything but it was clear he was in discomfort. About an hour later he let out a series of ear-splitting small dog shrieks. I was pretty sure security was on the way. An internet search and calls turned up a veterinarian in Bozeman who could see him in a couple of hours. It was settled, we loaded up the car and headed to Bozeman for lunch and a vet bill.

P1100153Compared with other parts of Montana visited, Bozeman seemed downright progressive. While awaiting our vet appointment, we found Dave’s Sushi located a few blocks off Main Street. A perfect choice. We then drove to All West Veterinary Hospital. Dr. Karyn Cook was wonderful. Little Ari needed to be sedated to remove the HUGE grass seed from his ear. We had a couple more hours to kill in Bozeman. I distractedly fretted away the time while waiting for Dr. Cook’s “all is good” call.

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Cumberland Island taught me a lot about the Carnegie family. In Bozeman I learned Andrew Carnegie donated roughly $41 million for construction of 1,679 public libraries in the US between 1886 – 1917. The Bozeman Classical Revival Carnegie library was built in 1902 and is one of 17 Carnegie libraries in Montana. The revolving golden horse on the Gallatin Lodge No 6 is iconic and somewhat mesmerizing. This Mason Lodge was built in 1883 and is still used for their meetings.

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Bozeman Street Art

Little Ari survived the medical process with no problems. And, he was really doped-up. I had to curl him up like a rag doll in his backseat bed. We were off to Yellowstone National Park.

P1100158 2We made a last-minute reservation at the National Park System’s Old Faithful Inn. If we had a first-born child it would have been sold to pay for one night in a dorm room style setting. The hotel is facing Old Faithful Geyser. But not our cheap $300 annex room with a parking lot view. First opened in 1904, the Inn is the largest log hotel in the world. The lobby is gorgeous. If you can see past the thousands of  human bodies, long lines, shrieking children and tired staff. An after Labor Day experience would have been much better. Next time.

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Old Faithful Inn – original wing
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Re-creation of sedated Ari.

When we checked into the Inn we learned it was not dog friendly as believed. Another place to stay was hours away and would have cost us dearly. Conde’ decided to smuggle Ari into the room. He gathered our sedated limp dog into a tiny neon lime green towel. Ari’s large bushy tail hanging out the side. Conde’ rushed to the Inn’s back door, up three flights of stairs and “secreted” Ari in to our hotel room. Only a million people saw it. Somehow, no one complained.

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Old Faithful erupting

I barely had time to start settling in when Conde’ burst back in the room,”Old Faithful is erupting, come now! Hurry!” I rushed out behind him to the hotel’s Old Faithful viewing deck. It was only after I noticed people staring at my feet that I realized I had forgotten to put on shoes. The scene reminded me of trying to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre through a mass of humanity. Pretty sure someone captured the back of my head in a photo.

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Steam rising from the earth 

The next morning we started early while the masses were still sleeping. Ari was groggy but happy to be out and about. The Yellowstone geysers are truly phenomenal. A vision into the hot boiling cauldron of middle earth. If you must visit during peak summer season rise early for the quiet morning calm and stay up late for the night stars.

We crossed the Continental Divide on our way to Grand Teton National Park.  When I first glimpsed the Grand Teton range, it  was love at first sight. A majestic rugged beauty.

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We stayed at the Jenny Lake Lodge right in the heart of the park.  An idyllic place, perfectly situated for hikes along the river. Our cabin was a quiet oasis with views of the Grand Tetons. Bicycles were included for rides down to Jenny Lake, or wherever one might want to go on two wheels. The restaurant was first class. I could have lived there forever.

They aren’t kidding when they say watch for bears. It is a bit like Southern Oregon where black bears abound. Don’t be deceived by the name “black bear.” They come in many colors, including ginger and brown. Black bears remind me of big goofy dogs. On the other hand, Grizzlies, aka Brown Bears, scare me.P1100419

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This guy was eating berries and didn’t care when we passed by on the trail.

I was sad to leave Grand Teton National Park. It was busy, but not crazy like Yellowstone. Jenny Lake trail was a beautiful. Wildflower were in full bloom. Next time I’m in the area I’ll take time to raft the Snake River. Alas, we had already over-stayed our allotted vacation time.  It was on to Jackson Hole Wyoming for a quick look around before heading across Idaho homeward bound to Oregon. The local paper says Jackson Hole has the biggest disparity between high and low-income levels of any city in America. It shows.

The sidewalks in Jackson are raised boardwalks. The shops vary between good value resale to high-end jewelry shops. It is very clean and surrounded by the true American West. Rugged mountain peaks in all directions. Restaurants everywhere.

Sculpture art abounds around town. Lewis & Clark’s presence is rightfully pervasive. P1100480

I’ve traveled the world and this is an interesting first. I saw this instructional illustration in the public bathroom at the Jackson Hole bus station … An illumination of  some very basic cultural differences around the world, and an unexpected fascinating representation of the diversity in visitors to the area.

Thanks for joining my adventures.  See you next time!

For All You Geezers on the Go – Keep On Keeping On!

 

 

 

 

America’s Wild West – Road Tripping!

PART ONE
We loaded up the car, heading East from Portland for a 3½ week road trip.
Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

What an adventure!

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Along the Columbia River Gorge

I’ve traveled along the Gorge and hiked the area’s trails on multiple occasions. Each time I am awed by nature’s beauty.

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Bridge of the Gods – photo compliments of the internet

We crossed from Oregon into Washington on the  Bridge of the Gods.  The construction of  the Bonneville dam caused river levels along the Columbia river to dramatically rise, necessitating the bridge. The toll for car crossing is a whopping $2.00. The bridge is a part of the Pacific Crest Trail. Pedestrians. Watch out for backpackers. They cross for free.

I do love a bit of trivia! Hang with me. Cheryl Strayed featured Bridge of the Gods in her book Wild. The bridge was notable as it ended her journey along the Pacific Crest trail. Reese Witherspoon portrayed Strayed in the film. Just after you cross the bridge and turn east, there is a scenic view-point with a tiny visitor’s center on the right. Denise McSweeney staffs the center. Her claim to fame? She acted in Wild as the toll booth operator.  Several times a week tourists (like me) take her picture.

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Wind and kite surfing on the Columbia river abound. One of the best spots to catch a view or to launch a board is three miles west of the Hood River bridge on the Washington side. We parked at the Spring Creek fish hatchery, stretched our legs and watched the scene. Wow!

Along this stretch of the Columbia river, Native Americans harvested salmon for over 10,000 years. Celilo Falls was a sacred tribal fishing area. The construction of the Dalles dam in 1957 buried the falls and tribal villages deep below the river’s surface.

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Maryhill Museum

Have you ever wondered where the euphemism, “where in Sam Hill” came from? Well, here you go. Quaker Sam Hill made his fortune building railroads and in the stock market. He migrated to Washington in the early 1900s, believing he had found Heaven on earth. Sam built roads across the state to allow others to share his vision. In the middle of nowhere, he built the Maryhill château for his wife. She was not pleased. I can envision her asking, “where in Sam Hill are we?”  Sam died in 1931. In 1940 Maryhill opened as a museum. It houses an interesting and eclectic collection. Sitting on a knoll above the river, the scenery is spectacular. There is an art studded vista walkway and a small sculptor garden. Maryhill is an interesting surprise in the middle of nowhere and is well worth a visit.

Walla Walla to Spokane

Just east of Maryhill we crossed the river back in to Oregon. It was getting late and we were ready to ditch the car. The Oregon side interstate suited the mood. Our destination for the night, Walla Walla Washington (say that 10 really times fast). The Walla Walla area is known for its sweet onions and Washington State wines.

Downtown is small, safe and clean. The city’s Main Street is line with wine tasting rooms, decent restaurants and fun shops. I like staying in the Marcus Whitman Hotel. It is a dog friendly hotel located in city center. Built in 1927, it underwent a major renovation in the 21 century. The old tower rumored to be haunted. If you stay there, skip the annex rooms and stay in the old tower.  P1090902Leaving Walla Walla we drove the Palouse Scenic Byway toward Spokane Washington. Stunning wheat covered rolling hills sculpted with plows go on for miles and miles. A wonderful drive.

Along the way we passed through Dayton Washington. I spotted a HUGE Jolly Green Giant etched into the hillside. What the heck? We stopped for refreshments and found this interpretive sign explaining why a town would showcase the Jolly Green Giant. More  trivia for the brain.

Spokane is a large city with a balance between old and new. And, it is home to the Historic Davenport Hotel.  The hotel opened in 1914 and “has served as a beacon of culture and refinement throughout the region for the better part of a century.”  The lobby is grand and the rooms luxurious. The hotel brags about the long list of famous people who have stayed there over the years. We arrived late and enjoyed supper in the lobby bar. The next morning I treated my Little Dog Ari to a walk in Riverfront Park. An auspicious way to start the day before loading up the car and heading to Montana.

Through Idaho to Montana

Interstate 90 crosses the Idaho panhandle over the Bitterroot Mountain range. The highest pass is 4,750 feet above sea level. In the heart of Silver Valley between exits 61 and 62 sits the small town of Wallace Idaho, pop. 784.  Wallace bills itself as the Silver Capital of the World. All downtown buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. Near town center is a huge public pool, constructed in 1939 as a WPA project. It has been fully restored and provides a perfect respite during hot summer days.

I like Wallace for its quirky personality and openly civic pride. There are plenty of good restaurants, fun shops and hotels. I enjoyed Sunday Brunch at the Blackboard Cafe. The owner monitors the kitchen, serves diners fresh savory meals and creates whimsical fun-filled art on her Blackboard. Outdoor activities around Wallace are unlimited. Silver County sports a 1,000 mile trail system, fishing, camping and 2 downhill skiing areas. Next time, I’ll stay longer.

Welcome to Montana

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Dayton Montana – a worthy cultural introduction

Bigfork

Friends invited us for a week-long visit to Bigfork, a perfectly situated small town in the Flathead Valley.  Flathead Lake is huge and plays host to a myriad of summer water activities. Hiking opportunities abound. Clear views of the craggy Rocky Mountain range are the vista de jour.  Warm days and cool star-filled nights make Bigfork a great summer destination.

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Bridge Street Cottages are near the heart of the town and are a great choice for a short or extended stay. The Cottages just added a fully remodeled 2 bedroom 2 bath cottage with a huge deck. After an owner tour, I wanted to invent a special occasion just to stay there and celebrate on the deck. Another favorite of mine in Bigfork are the creations by Meissenburg Designs – Old Wood Signs. It’s a mom and pop operation producing fun vintage signs and great pillow covers. You can find their locally made creations while shopping downtown or just go online. Their humor and cheerful retro designs crack me up.

Glacier National Park – Day Trip

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Our gracious hosts, Don and Lou Ann, guided Conde and me north on an 1½  hour drive from Bigfork to Glacier National Park for a day hike. This park is a true American jewel. In 1910 President Taft signed a bill establishing Glacier as the country’s 10th national park. I am so grateful for our elected leaders who had the foresight to create a national park system that has lasted more than a century.  May our current leaders find that same foresight for our future generations.

We took a delightful 3-mile hike, crossing snow fields. In the middle of July! We were blessed with dramatic Rocky Mountain views, rivers and lakes all around. What a great day! Sometimes I feel so lucky.

Mother Nature didn’t let me down. The mountain goats and ground squirrels were out. We even spotted a grizzly bear. If you look in the picture on the bottom right, just where the streams create a vee, you can see it. Really…I swear!

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If you are driving into the park, a word of caution. Parking during peak summer season can be a hassle. Go early and consider some of the public transportation options.  Years ago we stayed in Glacier for 4 nights, hiking a myriad of trails. I highly recommend this technique. When you permeate the interior of the park, the quiet magnitude of the great American west truly emerges.

Please Join on Part II of America’s Wild West

Southern Montana & Wyoming – Yellowstone & Grand Teton

Thanks for joining my adventures.  See you next time!

For All You Geezers on the Go – Keep On Keeping On!

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Women’s Camping Trip

It’s an annual event I NEVER miss.  A group of women gather, set up Shantytown, and spend a week off the grid grooving on the outdoors. Talk about chill! We’ve been doing this for years … Geezers for sure. Laughter is our activity du jour.

A few days after the summer solstice we gathered at Hart-Tish Park  in southern Oregon’s Applegate river valley.  Destination — Doe Point peninsula on the lake’s Squaw Arm. Our personal paradise. First night we were treated to a Strawberry Full Moon. It really is rose hued! An auspicious beginning to a perfect trip.

We are the Solstice Sisters

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Chandra & Ginny
Terry
Terry
Doreen Chilling
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Trish reading
Trish
cathi chilling!
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Applegate lake was created in 1980 when the Corps of Engineers completed construction of a 242-foot rockfill embankment dam along the Applegate river. The lake covers 988 acres. Its southern end abuts the California border. Water depths average 85 feet. Starting in May, water is quickly released to regulate downstream water temperatures, ensuring a healthy steelhead migration.

calm lake view

Most of the lakeshore is maintained in a natural state. The water is cold and clear. Night skies are star-filled, echoing with bull frogs croaks and cricket chatter. The quiet pine scented air soothes the soul. A hiking / mountain bike trail is tucked in the trees along the lake’s shores. Boats are limited to 10-mph. Canoes, paddle boards and kayaks are a staple. Not a place for the party-hardy cigar boat / jet ski crowd. Stocked with trout, bass and crappie, Applegate lake is a fisherwoman’s mecca. Grumpy old fishermen are welcomed too.

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Chandra’s Boat – Patio Princess II

We pile our gazillion pounds of gear (no exaggeration, I swear!!!!!!) load by load, onto Chandra’s boat for the short cruise from Hart-Tish dock to Doe Point. We schlepp, and we schlepp, and we schlepp our stuff up the hill, setting up camp among the trees.  Truth be told, we now hire strong young friends to help set-up and break-down camp. We have a stocked kitchen, dish washing station, shower tent and portable loo enclosed by designer curtains. No girly need is gone unmet.

We each bring a tent.  Mine is equipped with two cots, one outfitted with down comforters and a full-sized pillow for a sound night’s sleep. The other cot serves as a surface for my “stuff.”  I love to leave the tent lid off. Perfect for star gazing and feeling the cold night air through the screened ceiling.  At night deer quietly graze amongst us.

tent ceilingAs with most years, this year we had visitors. Pre-designated dock pick-up times were arranged. Louretta, Amy and Ginny arrived with a wonderful array of foods to add to our larder. Lunch was served on the boat. They stayed all day. A wonderful time was had by all.

girls on the boatJust as we were finishing dinner, Glenn and Brenden – proprietors at Hart-Tish, unexpectedly boated up. They gifted us a cooler filled with ice cream bars. One bar made it  until morning  breakfast. Talk about happy campers!

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Louretta and Terry catch up
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Amy and Chandra swap stories

Trump & chandy's armLouretta brought a squishy headed squeezable Trump. The package label read, “love him or hate him.” I found myself aggressively twisting him into knots. Suddenly he burst, spewing white liquid from the back of his head. The gunk got all over my blue tee-shirt … just sayin…  He hung around for awhile until we regressed to gang mentality and stomped him into oblivion. We thankfully relegated him to the trash.

Terry conducted a Tarot card reading.  Two of us picked the same card urging purification through detoxification. We were pretty sure it actually meant purification through retoxification.  IPA yoga poses were demonstrated.

We call them “our’s.” A pair of bald eagles and several mated osprey pair were predictably nesting on the lake’s shores. Every single sighting of these majestic birds of prey brings excitement and joy. The osprey oftentimes announce their presence by a loud splash. If lucky, it rises from the water with a sizable fish gripped firmly in talons.

Mid June – early July the waterfowl hatch babies. This year we shared our space with Canadian geese and their goslings. A Merganser mama braved the waters with her babies in tow. They huddled so closely, it was hard to count their numbers. Each day the babies grew bigger, showing more independence. Our last morning I saw the babies cavorting on the shore and diving back into the lake. Mama kept a close eye.

The weather was perfect for daily water play.  Our paddle board collection now numbers three. We paddle, swim and float perched on styrofoam noodles.

We cruised to the dam to say hello to our swifts. If you look hard you can see their eyes and yellow beaks peering out from the mud daub nests.

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Swifts nesting beneath the dam
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More swifts nesting beneath the dam

Breaking down camp is  bittersweet. The lure of a long hot shower and flushable loo is pretty strong, but the desire to remain isolated from the “real world” is a tough competitor.

breaking down camp

We made a commitment …  in the afterlife we will each appear at Applegate Lake’s Doe Point from midnight until dawn on the summer solstice. Word of warning for future campers. We’ll be there!

Sunset

Thanks for joining my adventures.

See you next time!

For All You Geezers on the Go – Keep On Keeping On!

 

Cumberland Island National Seashore

I had heard of Cumberland Island. After all, I am a Georgia native.  I just never got around to going there, until now. We spent a whirlwind thirty hours on the island and I loved every minute of it.

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The largest barrier island off the coast of Georgia, Cumberland is 18-miles long and ranges between 3/4 to 2½ miles wide. The Atlantic Ocean bounds the east. Tidal estuaries  and salt marshes flow along the west. The St. Mary’s river separates Cumberland’s southern tip from the northern tip of Amelia Island Florida. In 1972 the island received a National Seashore designation, preserving most of this pristine and history rich land.

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Approximately 150 wild horses now roam the island.
It is believed they descended from horses abandoned by the Spanish 500 years ago.
What a joy to encounter these beautiful creatures!   
Just don’t get too close. They kick and bite.

The National Park Service owns 40,000 acres on the island. The remaining 1,000 acres are split between 22 fee simple private owners. The 1,000 fee simple acres are not under the park’s jurisdiction. Recently, one of the fee simple owners (Lumar, LLC composed of Coca-Cola Company heirs) has been seeking permission to subdivide its land into multiple houses. Their acreage is located on one of the narrowest parts of the island, just north of the popular Sea Camp campsite. Negotiations have been ongoing. I sure hope heart conquers greed. The quiet regal beauty of this unspoiled island is a true treasure.

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The beach is the finest I have ever seen. We walked for miles. I couldn’t quit smiling. Good thing I brushed with sunscreen.
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Pristine dunes run the length of the island’s 18-mile long beach.

There are two public options for overnight stays: the Greyfield Inn or camping in one of four campgrounds. Either way, reservations are required. If you come for the day, or opt for overnight camping, take the Cumberland Island Ferry from St. Mary’s Check the rules and costs for bringing your own bicycle. The ferry has a first come – first serve policy with a limit on the number of bicycles allowed. Arrive early. Only one of the campgrounds has potable water. Make sure you have access to plenty!

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Entrance to the Greyfield Inn

Rather than camping, we opted for the Greyfield Inn. A couple of weeks before our NE Florida trip, we decided to visit Cumberland. We didn’t know the inn fills up months in advance. As luck would have it, they had one room for one night. A rare last-minute score. The cost to stay there is exorbitant. After catching our breaths and rationalizing, (the cost includes parking in Fernandina, transportation on the Inn’s private ferry, full breakfasts, lunches, dinners, kayaks, bicycles and guided tours), we bit the bullet. You only live once. Right? No regrets for me! When we arrived at the Inn’s private ferry dock, we were greeted by staff and taken on a tour and orientation. I kept thinking, “welcome to fantasy island.”

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Rock and nap on the porch to your heart’s content. But first, grab a lemonade from the kitchen.

Carnegie family roots run deep on Cumberland. One could spend hours reading about their influence, both positive and negative, on the island. Here are the basics. In 1881 steel magnate Thomas Carnegie and his wife Lucy purchased a huge part of the island. In 1916 Lucy died, leaving the lands to her nine children. Her will included a very complex and restrictive trust fund. The trust restrictions ended in 1962 after the death of Lucy’s last child. The Carnegie property was divided among heirs in 1965.

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Plum Orchard Estates – Construction of the 22.000 sf mansion began in 1898. It was a wedding gift for George Lauder Carnegie and Margaret Thaw.  The property is now owned by National Park Service. Daily tours are open to the public. Well worth the time!

Between 1881 and 1965 the Carnegie family built 5 sprawling mansions, including Greyfield and Plum Orchard, for family members. The family lived in Pittsburg during summers and on Cumberland in winters. It was a social honor to be invited to stay with them. The lifestyle was rich and famous east coast blue-blood.

P1080060Each generation of Carnegie heirs have lived at least part of their lives on Cumberland Island. Greyfield was converted to an inn in 1962 by descendant Lucy Ferguson. The Inn is still managed by the family. The sprawling estate is well-run and maintained respectfully with care. During our short time on the island we met several Carnegie descendants in chance encounters. We chatted with Lucy’s granddaughter on the beach. A sister-in law who manages the Inn was found in the Greyfield kitchen accompanied by her sweet terrier. When leaving, we rode the ferry with one of Lucy’s great-granddaughters and her toddler daughter. All were friendly and seemed pretty normal to me.

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Organic gardens provide fresh produce to the Inn.
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We hopped on bicycles and roamed the island along tree-canopied one-lane sand roads.

Long before the Carnegies, Cumberland island was occupied by humans. Aboriginal shell mounds evidence occupation as long as 4,000 years ago. Much later, the island was used by the Spaniards, who built missions. The British used it as a military outpost. There are African slave villages. The first African-American church on the island still stands. John Kennedy, Jr. was married there. It is open to the public.

Over recent years, most areas used for agriculture and grazing have been allowed to return to mature oak and pine forests. It is quiet and the birds play songs in surround-sound. The air smells of the sea, pine trees and horse poop. Nature offers adventure around every corner. Wild turkeys, boar, and armadillos roam freely. For a more structured visit, the National Park Service offers interesting activities and tours.

We even enjoyed dressing up for dinner. Sitting at communal tables, plied with ample food and wine, we chatted with interesting folks. Georgia accents were all around. How many syllables are in the word “four?” I eased back into my old roots, fittin’ right on in.

Thanks for joining my adventures.

See you next time!

For All You Geezers on the Go – Keep On Keeping On!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach Shrimp Festival

northeast-florida-at-a-glanceWe traveled north from St. Augustine to Amelia Island.

Driving the scenic coastal route, we stopped for fortifications along the way. Neptune Beach, east of Jacksonville, was the perfect place for lunch and a short walk on the beach.

 

After lunch and coconut margaritas (for the non-drivers), we journeyed to the St. Johns River car ferry for a short ride across the river, docking at the south end of Amelia Island.

Leaving the ferry, we traveled through Amelia Island State Park, 200 pristine acres with trails, beaches and abundant opportunities for bird watching. Further north, we stayed in an ocean front condo for 2-nights, taking in the festivities of the Fernanadina Beach Isle of Eights 55th Annual Shrimp Festival.  Starting in 1562, Fernandina Beach has flown the flags of France, Spain, Great Britain, the Republic of Florida, the Green Cross of Florida, Mexico, the Confederate States of America, and the United States of American. The area is known for its abundant shrimp harvest. Thus, the name of the festival.

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View from the condo
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View from the condo

Filled with shops, restaurants and beautifully restored buildings, Fernandina Beach old town sports a historic designation. Typically quiet, (pop. 12,500), the town fills with thousands of people for the shrimp festival. I over-heard much grumbling from locals. It is safe to say they are not terribly fond of the hordes invading their typically quiet mecca. From a tourist perspective, it was a load of fun. The pirate and looting theme cracked me up.

P1070748P1070761P1070767The shrimp and crawfish were both super yummy. Dining tables? Communal plywood lidded garbage cans with slits in the middle for tossing shells. I do love this part of the country.

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After sunset, the Indie Rock Bank Flipturn  played a nice long set. Watch for this upcoming group of young Florida university students. They’re really good! Next, we were treated to the invasion of the pirates (an overblown lead-up resulting in a lame “event” with lots of “ARGHING” and not much more).

The night ended with a great fireworks display over the bay.

From Fernandina Beach, Conde and I traveled to Cumberland Island Georgia. Wow!!!

See you there.

For All You Geezers on the Go – Keep On Keeping On!

 

St. Augustine Florida

Spanish moss thrives. It drapes ancient Live Oaks and nestles into Palm trunk crannies, playing host to clusters of ferns. Towering Magnolia’s sport huge creamy blossoms. Doves coo in the morning. And, …I swear it…, the crows caw with a southern accent. People generously share smiles and pleasantries. There is no mistaking, this NE corner of Florida has deep south roots.

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St. Augustine bills itself as “America’s oldest city.” In reality, it is America’s oldest continuously occupied by Europeans city. A fascinating place with a diverse, and often violent, history incorporating cultures from around the world.

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Modern Day Florida

In 1565, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés arrived on the shore of Matanzas Bay with 5 ships and 800 Spaniards, settling San Agustin, La Florida. It was the perfect strategic base for protecting resource rich Spanish territory and treasure ships from marauding Portuguese, French, English and Dutch challengers.

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1,000 years earlier, the Timucuan tribe settled the same area, creating towns and living off the riches of the sea. The Timucuan and Spanish formed an often tense co-existence.

To protect its sprawling territory from pirates and invaders, in 1672 the Spaniards constructed a massive fortress,  The Castillo de San Marcos.  Now a National Monument, it is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States.

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View of Matanzas Bay from Castillo de San Marcos
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Castillo de San Marcos with Old Town in the background.
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The Fort walls are constructed with coquina.  Coquina is unique to this region and continues to be quarried and used in modern-day construction.  Lovely to look at and sturdy!

 

Spain ruled St. Augustine until 1763. Then Great British took control. Under the Treaty of Paris ending the Seven Year War, Spain abandoned Florida in exchange for full control of Cuba. The Brits were not too fond of anything Spanish, so proceeded to destroy communities in St. Augustine. This pillage lasted for 20 years, a part of history not fondly embraced by many in St. Augustine. In 1783 the Peace of Paris accord recognized the independence of the United States, ousted the British and returned Florida to Spain. The Spaniards proceeded to fully develop the city.  Many of the structures erected during this time remain. In 1821 Spain ceded Florida to the United States.

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The lives of enslaved and freed Africans comprise an important, and under-reported, part of St. Augustine’s history. While Spain granted freedom to runaway British slaves in 1783, this right was not extended to all.

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This monument is located in the gardens of the Collector Hotel where the Emancipation Proclamation freeing Florida slaves was reputedly read.  2,000 slaves were freed that day.

During the 1960s, St. Augustine played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement. Dr. Martin Luther King sent Andrew Jackson to St. Augustine to stage a non-violent march. Horrific violence ensued when a white mobs attacked and beat marchers. On the site of the former slave market, a small tribute to this event was erected.

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There is much to do in St. Augustine. Old town has been lovingly restored, filled with amenities for every visitor. Lots of good restaurants and bars. Hop on/off tour trolleys. Horse drawn carriages are easy to hail. The Lightner Museum is housed in a beautiful building with a well curated collection. Just walking around old town is fun.

Our hotel was one of the best places I’ve ever stayed. The Collector Luxury Inn & Gardens is a cluster of meticulously restored old homes in a bucolic park-like setting. The property occupies a full city block in the heart of Old Town. The hotel offers a complimentary hour-long historical tour led by Melissa. Her enthusiasm and intimate knowledge of the people who occupied the area is infectious and awe-inspiring. A native of St. Augustine, Melissa exhibited the immense pride many St. Augustinians carry for their city.  The entire hotel and its staff reflect this spirit.

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Historian and tour guide – Melissa know’s where everything is buried including the electrical lines and a small Spanish horse.

Minorca Prince Murat built the block’s first home in 1790. Napoleon’s nephew stayed there, as well as Ralph Waldo Emerson. We stayed in the “newer” section of the Murat house. Maybe Emerson channeled my brain while I slept? I can only hope.

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From Dow’s collection

Other homes were added and expanded over the years filling the block. In 1939 Kenneth Dow, an eccentric and very wealthy collector (aka hoarder), purchased most of the houses. He and his wife filled them to the brim with amazing, and not so amazing, items collected over many years from their world travels. It was Dow’s dream that the houses and his collection be utilized as a public museum. Although the scale of this dream was not realized, the Dow Museum of Arts & Sciences was created, opening in 2000. A few of the houses were cleaned-up, furnished and opened to the public. There were self-guided tours operated group of women volunteers. As hard as they tried, it was clear the place was falling apart and the museum’s owner had no interest in restoration or helping realize Dow’s dream.

 

In 2014 David Corneal purchased the property and turned it into a luxury hotel, opening in 2017. Corneal was not a developer or hotel manager. Yet somehow he managed to meticulously incorporate artifacts from Dow’s remaining collection through-out the property. Corneal was respectful of preserving the history of the property while creating a wonderful peaceful refuge for visitors. It is a ton of fun to walk around the gardens looking for items from Dow’s collection, which are everywhere.

Oilman and Railroad magnate Henry Flagler’s wealthy fingerprints dominate sections of Old Town. Flagler was responsible for the beautiful brick roads throughout the city. Years later, when the city decided the brick was too difficult to maintain, it pulled many  out. Kenneth Dow followed the city trucks, filling his vehicle with discarded bricks. These reclaimed bricks were used to pave the paths throughout the Collector’s gardens.

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Flagler College
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Fountain Frog, in case you can’t figure it out.
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Sun Dial Fountain at Flagler College

St. Augustine lays claim to everything Old. The oldest house in America. The oldest fort. The oldest wooden school in America … It even lays claim to Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth  The oldest fountain of youth in the Country? Hmmm.

Properties throughout the city have been cleverly repurposed. The St. Augustine Distillery  is housed in “Florida’s oldest ice plant.” This craft spirits distillery is hugely successful, producing good products with a local bent and an environmental conscience. Tours of the facility are conducted daily. Upstairs there is a nice restaurant and bar. Definitely worth a visit.

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My lovely nieces!

Anastasia State Park is located on Anastasia Island. The park entrance is a 10-minute drive from Old Town, accessed across the Matanzas River via the stately Bridge of Lions.                                                        There are beautiful squeaky white sand beaches with dunes intact.

Gopher turtles burrow in the dunes. They are a protected species, unknowingly helping to preserve an area well worth preserving.

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Gopher turtle burrow

 

We traveled to St. Augustine to visit family. They showed us a great time! There was enough to do to fill a week. Unfortunately we only had a couple of days. We will return to finish-up.

Thanks for joining me on my adventures! See you on Amelia Island.

For All You Geezers on the Go – Keep On Keeping On!

Washington State Road Trip

Dismal Nitch, Cape Disappointment and Jake the Alligator Man?

In typical Geezer On The Go style, we morphed a 2-day Seattle seminar into an 8-day road trip through Washington State.

Twenty minutes after leaving our Portland home, Conde’ and I, with puppy dog Ari in tow, crossed the Interstate-5 Columbia River bridge.  The Oregon / Washington state lines are at river’s center.  I find comfort in this equitable division. The Columbia is North America’s 4th largest river and a critical resource for the environmental and economic well-being of all who share her bounties.

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Interstate 5 Columbia River Crossing – Internet Download.

We followed the river’s north shore for several hours. It was a cold stormy day with high buffeting winds accompanied by a staccato rap from slanting sheets of rain. Apt weather for a visit to Dismal Nitch.

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Lewis & Clark Expedition Route

On June 20, 1803 President Thomas Jefferson instructed Captain Meriwether Lewis to lead a 10-12 man exploration mission of the Missouri river and its “principal streams” to the Pacific ocean. They were to map and take detailed notes during the journey. The goal, to establish the best means for commerce across the great expanse of land, now known as the United States mainland. Lewis recruited Lieutenant William Clark to join the mission. The infamous Lewis and Clark expedition was born.

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A November 10, 1805 entry from Clark’s journal details a miserable 10-day delay to cross the Columbia and to return to Fort Clatsup (Oregon side). Clark’s precise description of their temporary campsite was “that dismal little nitch.” It is now a picnic area with interpretive signage along Highway 401 across from Astoria Oregon.

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I easily imagined the expedition’s angst on our visit. I too saw the rage of the mighty Columbia river roiling with windblown whitecaps. Without a doubt, attempting to cross in a small vessel during such weather would be foolhardy. I wondered what Clark’s journal entry would have read if they had traveled in the middle of August instead? Perhaps a historic picnic area called “Devine Nook” would have resulted.

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Jake the Alligator Man – Former Bar Bouncer in New Orleans?

The Long Beach Peninsula claims fame to the longest beach in the US. In the town of Long Beach one can snag a great basket of fish and chips, eat Willapa bay oysters and shop for souvenirs. Long Beach is also home to Marsh’s Free Museum which is a misnomer. Marsh’s is actually a shop crammed with trinkets and curios for sale. Marsh’s main draw is the mummified body of Jake The Alligator Man, an unofficial and hugely embraced mascot of Long Beach. Stories of Jake’s origin’s remain murky. Part of his mystique.

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Continuing Along The Lewis & Clark Trail

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Cape Disappointment State Park  comprises 1,882 wooded acres on the peninsula’s far southern tip. You can see the Columbia river and Pacific ocean merge in a majestic confluence. The narrow passage from the ocean into the river used to be very dangerous and often resulted in disaster, including many sinking ships. Thus, the park’s name.

In reality the area is far from disappointing. There is ample camping and lot’s of hiking trails. The Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center is well curated and fronted by the remains of Fort Canby’s two circa 1905 batteries. The historic lighthouses are interesting, offer stellar views of the ocean and are, well, historic.

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The Willapa National Wildlife Refuge is divided into three distinct areas. One section is on the north end of the Long Beach peninsula, just past Oysterville and abutting Leadbetter Point State Park. Plenty of bucolic nature filled hiking trails, some with views of Willapa Bay to the east and the Pacific ocean in the west. A delightful way to spend a few hours among nature.

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Leadbetter Point State Park
Long Beach to Port Townsend for a Ferry Ride

After 2-days exploring the peninsula, it was time to move on.  We got an early start for a 4-hour drive northeast. The goal, a 3:30 pm ferry reservation from Port Townsend to Whidbey Island with extra time for exploring along the way.

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Art Trail – Willapa National Wildlife Refuge – Can You Spot Conde?

Our first stop was a section of the Willapa Wildlife Refuge along southern Highway 101 just west of the peninsula. A bayside gallery art installation trail meanders in a 1-mile loop peppered with interpretative boxes and wildlife sculptures. The morning was clear and chilly. The air damp and filled with the sweet aroma of fresh evergreens and earthy forest mulch. I relished the head clearing tree bath stroll. An auspicious beginning for a fun-filled sunny day.

 

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One Of Many Tiny Sculptures

Leaving the refuge we traveled northwest, stopping at Alderbrook Resort in Union for lunch. The food was very good and a healthy welcome change from fish and chips. The restaurant overlooks the Hood canal with views of snow-capped mountains. After lunch we continued north along the Hood Canal on a scenic, twisty, two-lane section of Hwy. 101 through the Olympic National Forest. I learned the canal is popular with scuba divers due to its “calm clear waters and giant Pacific octopus.” Didn’t partake in that adventure. Just before the Hamma Hamma river we encountered the Hama Hama Oyster Farm Can’t explain the spelling disparity. Too bad we weren’t hungry!

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Giant Mounds of Oyster Shells

We arrived in Port Townsend almost an hour before our car ferry reservation. The ride is 45-minutes across Puget Sound to the Coupeville ferry port on Whidbey Island. We took advantage of the extra time to drive through Port Townsend. Beautiful historic Victorian homes spot hillsides overlooking the Sound. A dreamlike setting. Almost made we want to live there … almost… It was a rare sunny day.

The Washington ferry system is incredibly efficient. We disembarked right on schedule, drove to our cabin on a pond in the woods arriving before 5:00 pm. We cooked our dinners in. At night the frogs serenaded with oddly timed symphonic compositions. What a wonderful base for exploring Whidbey Island!

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Our Cabin in Greenbank, Whidbey Island
Whidbey Island

Whidbey Island is approximately 50 miles long by 12 miles wide, population 80,000. It is home to a large US Naval Air Station and Field. There are acres of active farmland, old growth forests and plenty of public spaces for hiking, camping and enjoying the spectacular scenery.

On our first day we visited Oak Harbor, the island’s largest city, pop. 22,000. I was really glad we happened upon, and popped into, the Chamber of Commerce Visitor’s Center  A delightful young woman imparted ample useful information. I left with an armload of free maps that proved essential for planning daily hikes. And, she threw in a couple of bottles of water, gratis. Made Ari happy.

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A Funny, And Apt, Twist On Typical Park Signage

Washington State Park system requires a paid pass for parking. Called the Discover Pass, you can pay $10 for each single day or $30 unlimited for one-year access. Many parks have kiosks where you can purchase on site. There is a $99 penalty for failure to use a parking pass.

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View Of Fidalgo Island From Deception Pass State Park

Deception Pass State Park is at the far northern end of Whidbey. The park’s name comes from the area’s proclivity to shifting fogs. There is hiking trails on both sides of Hwy. 20 and across Deception Bridge on Fidalgo Island. (Learned this from a Chamber map). We picked the areas of West Beach by Cranberry Lake and then to North Beach for our hike. It was rainy with welcome sun breaks. Loved every minute of it.

Whidbey Island has a number of cities ranging from “don’t blink” tiny to real cities.  Each area has a distinct personality. Some are touristy and others totally local. We ate everything from  local Bar-B-Que in Oak Harbor, Jalapeno Cheesburgers  in Clinton to duck confit in Langley.

Just north of Langley are lush hiking and horse back riding trails, created, preserved and maintained by the non-profit Washington Trail Association. The Putney Woods, Saratoga Woods, & Metcalf Trust Trail System provided a quiet clean air escape from the world on well marked and maintained trails. We did not see another sole the day we visited.

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We spent a couple of hours in the delightful tourist town of Langley before catching the Clinton ferry for a 20 minute ride back to the mainland north of Seattle. Lot’s of good shopping, book stores and cafes. Whales frequently pass through the Sound along Langley and can been seen from the beach or boardwalk.

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I’m ending the story of our Washington road trip on Whidbey Island. Seattle is a story in and of itself.  Thanks for joining me on my adventures! See you next month in St. Augustine Florida.

For All You Geezers on the Go – Keep On Keeping On!

Palm Springs California – Mini VaCay

Portland winters can be tough. Bone chilling drizzle and endless gray skies. When ennui settles in my soul its time for SUNSHINE!  Nature’s Vitamin D. Southern California is a sure bet and is only a 2 hour plane flight direct on Alaska Air.

Palm Springs has become a repeat destination. With a disclaimer:  A sprawling automobile centric lifestyle spans from Palm Springs south to LaQuinta. The main roads are lined with ugly big box stores fronted by expanses of asphalt. Ritzy resorts with high-end golf courses are in over abundance and consume an obscene amount of water in an arid desert climate. Wealth is frequently flaunted like a badge of honor.

Yet, I’ve developed a fondness for Palm Springs proper and many of the surrounding amenities. I enjoy the distinctly California mid-century modern architecture with a Hollywood legend vibe. It was a renown playground for the stars in the 1950s and 60s. Old Palm Springs is a fun place to window shop, browse galleries and eat California style.

 

 

The air is dry and winter nights can be delightfully chilly with star studded skies. The high-desert sunlight and drop-dead gorgeous mountain views are stellar. Great hiking opportunities include the Santa Rosa & San Jacinto Mountains National Monument

I just returned from a six night mini vacation to Palm Springs with my friend Sue. She bought a hip home in a Mobile Home Park developed in 1958. Common areas are painted turquoise and the streets have names like Mars and Jupiter. A hiking trail to Bob Hope’s old home runs right above her back yard. What’s not to like about that?

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Norma’s Restaurant at the Parker Palm Springs Hotel. Yummy lunch with Sue.

While in Palm Springs we participated in some Modernism Week events including a 2½ hour open double decker bus architectural tour guided by the flamboyant Charles Phoenix  Tons of fun and a great opportunity to soak up sun.

 

One of my favorite sites is a home smack dab in the middle of The Movie Colony neighborhood. Artist Kenny Irwin, Jr. has turned the yard of his father’s home into an alien inspired sculpture gardens. Tickled my fancy.

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Alien Sculpture Garden

A fun thing to do while in the area is take a Big Wheel Bike Tour downhill along the San Andreas Fault. The tour company takes you to the top of the mountain where you mount your bike for the 20 mile downhill roller coaster ride.

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Downhill along the San Andreas Fault

 

The Mojave and Colorado deserts come together in Joshua Tree National Park  which is only an hour drive from Palm Springs. You can drive the park road, stopping for hikes along the way.  Pack a picnic and take plenty of water, as there are few amenities in the park.  It’s fun to sit and watch rock climbers while soaking up some rays.

 

It can be fun to stay in the community of Joshua Tree for a couple of nights, spending days exploring the park.  Spin and Margie’s is a great 1950s gussied up motel.  The rooms have been remodeled, some with little kitchenettes. Their desert garden has a BBQ grill and fire pit for guest’s enjoyment. Camping is another great options. Make sure to blanket up as the high desert nights can be cold!

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Mini Vacays can do the trick when time is in limited supplies. Next month we head out on a road trip to Washington State. I look forward to catching up with you then.  Thanks for joining me on my adventures.

For All You Geezers on the Go – Keep On Keeping On!

Hanoi

We took the train from Dong Hoi to Hanoi. Vietnam Railway’s Online schedule and reservation system is easy to use. The train was timely, clean and comfortable. The cost, $28 per person for the 11-hour journey sitting in reserved “soft seats.”  Lunch and dinner were included. (Note to cook: please quit your day job).

 Click Here! Train Ride To Hanoi

Arriving in Hanoi at 8:00 pm, we took a short cab ride to our home for the next six nights. Located on the edge of the Old Quarter, we chose a bright airy one bedroom apartment rented through VRBO. Typical to Hanoi, the entrance to our 6-story building is down a narrow alley co-occupied by food vendor kitchens, a nail salon / massage parlor (legit), day care center and other “stuff.” It’s been fun getting to know our neighbors and their daily routines.

Friends recommended we check out a Hanoi Kids tour (thanks Jamie & David!).  Hanoikids is a non-profit student-run organization based in Hanoi. College student volunteers escort English-speaking travelers on free tours of Hanoi. The goal is exchanging cultural information while the students practice English. Our delightful well-informed guides, Momo and Daniel, led us around Old Town and the French Quarter. What a great first great impression of Hanoi! Kudos to Hanoikids! Caution: there are some fake organizations out there using the name Hanoikids. Don’t reward them. 

No way I was going visit Hanoi and not scope out the spot where Anthony Bourdain and Barack Obama shared a meal. Talk about two of my idols! If you haven’t seen it, Bourdain’s show on Hanoi is a good watch. The Bun Cha Huong Lien restaurant food was  good. The scene beyond fun. Order the Obama Combo.

I really wanted to see Ho Chi Minh. Okay, I know he died in 1969. But his body is displayed in a large glass coffin inside a giant mausoleum. Depending on your source, he is sent to Russian or China for an annual beauty makeover. He must have been napping when we visited. No one was getting anywhere near his heavily guarded compound. The map of Hanoi shows a huge green area around the mausoleum including the presidential palace, botanical gardens, Ho’s stilt house and the Ho Chi Minh museum.  I expected a delightful day of exploring the area. Instead, all roads led to the exit. Clearly a showcase where the masses are not welcome.

The Vietnam Military History Museum is worth a visit. There are 30 galleries tracing the history of Vietnam’s armed forces, starting with battles against the Chinese and Mongols and chronologically moving to the wars against France, Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge and America. I found the exhibits of the Vietnam war disturbing. Too close to home even though the Vietnamese perspective rendered was fair.

The Temple of Literature was established in 1070 in honor of the Chinese philosopher Confucius. It served as an institute of higher learning. The complex is huge, takes a couple of hours to meander through and is well worth a visit.

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Tortoise Stele – 112 of these were inscribed with the names and personal information about the scholars who passed Van Mieu’s examinations. Only 82 remain.
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Confucius flanked by cranes standing on turtles.  An auspicious symbol.

The Dong Xuan Market is the oldest and largest covered market in Hanoi. It is a fun manic place to visit. Think Walmart Superstore, Home Depot, the Party Store, JC Penny’s and the Food Court combined. Each section of the market specializes in different types of goods. I so love the smells, sights and energy of a bustling market place!

Hanoi is a great walking city. There are countless nooks and crannies for exploration. Truly something for everyone. The streets teem with motorbikes and the constant din of honking horns. The smell of cooking permeates everything. People are friendly and the city safe.  One of our favorite spots turned out to be Hoan Siem Lake. It is surrounded by trees and comfortable benches for relaxing and people watching. The mythology of the lake is delightful. I would return to Hanoi in a heartbeat.

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Vietnam makes it into the football finals!

IMG_4490We were treated to a special local scene when Vietnam made it into the finals for the Asian Soccer Cup. In the hour leading up to the game’s end, huge crowds gathered around shops with visible televisions. Groups huddled on curbs hunkering over cell phones streaming the game. The tension was palpable. When Vietnam made its final winning goal, the city erupted in cheers. I found myself shouting along. The partying went on into the wee hours of the morning, way past Hanoi’s enforced midnight curfew. Joyful chants of”Vietnam Ho Chi Minh” erupted while thousands of people paraded on foot, motorbike and car waving the Vietnam flag. I’ve never seen anything like it. I sure hope Vietnam wins the finals!

Our Final Day in SE Asia

There is something incongruous about our final day in Vietnam beginning with a visit to the Hoa Lo Prison, aka the Hanoi Hilton. The truth be told, Conde visited the prison. I opted out. Just downloading the photos he gave me caused the HeBeeJeBees. Here are a couple.

We rounded out the day with a visit to the Vietnamese Women’s Museum and the National Museum of Vietnamese History. Both well worth a visit. What a great city.

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Hanoi Street Vendors rule!

Thanks for joining on my SE Asia Adventure.

For All You Geezers On The Go – Keep on Keeping On!

 

 

 

 

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

Designated a Unesco World Heritage site in 2003, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park borders the Laotian Hen Namno national reserve. The Vietnamese side is 340 square miles of near-pristine mountainous evergreen jungle. Formed 400 million years ago, the park sports hundreds of limestone cave systems and crystal clear underground rivers. New cave systems are being discovered annually. On your high-tech map above, the park is located just NW of the city of Dong Hoi.

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Hollywood Style – speeding toward the park

From Hue, we drove (aka were chauffeured) north on the Ho Chi Minh Highway for 4½ hours. Formerly the Ho Chi Minh Trail, the highway was fully paved in 1995. One section is paved directly over an aircraft runway, visible on both sides of the road and serving as extended road shoulders.

We began and ended our four night stay in the National Park area at Chay Lap Farmstay As suggested by the name, accommodations are located in the heart of farmlands. Kayaks and bicycles are available for guest use. We paddled the river and rode bicycles along the country road. The Farmstay rooms are comfortable, the staff amazing, views to die for, decent wine and pretty good food. Locals found our photo op choices humorous.

After a night at the Farmstay, we embarked on a 3 day 2 night Wild Tu Lan Cave Adventure guided by Oxalis Adventure Tours. Once on board their van we met our fellow trekkers. Ten of us in all. Nationalities included French, British, Austrian, Australian, Vietnamese and two Geezer Americans. It was a compatible fun-loving group. Lot’s of laughter. Zero drama.

The 1½ hour van ride over bumpy rural roads ended at Oxalis Headquarters in Son Trach Village, pop. 3,000. We were briefed and suited-up. The adventure was billed as moderate fitness level. Little did I know…

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Crossing the Nam River

 

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My boots, mud and all, for the next 3 days
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Our first shared meal

We forded rivers, scaled mountains, squeezed through narrow cave openings and swam across deep cave rivers fully clothed, boots and all. I made the trip with help from the kind professional Oxalis staff and support of fellow travelers.  Had I understood the physical challenges of the adventure, I would have said I can’t do it. But I did! I’m so proud — ripped pants, bruises, aching muscles and all. I learned I am much better at swimming than rock climbing. It was an experience of a life time.

Each of the 5 caves visited showcases a different personality. The magnificence is overwhelming. We took hundreds of photos. Here’s a small sampling that does not do justice to the overall experience.IMG_1650

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We were pampered by a cadre of Porters and staff. Campsites were fully erected and our belongings already delivered when we trekked in. Meals were expertly prepared, delicious, plentiful and diverse. The toilets composting, using giant scoops of rice hulls to aid the process. I learned that night jungle rats have an affinity for rice hulls. Better to shine your flashlight and kick at the toilet before sitting down. Fewer surprises. All equipment was provided. Our job was to show up, rock scramble, swim, gawk, eat, play games and laugh. Applegate Glamping Ladies, we need to up our game!

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Taking down Christmas decorations

After 3 days and 2 nights of being lulled to sleep by waterfalls, it was time to leave jungle paradise. We ended where we started. After showers and a chang into clean dry clothes we had a final group meal at a village restaurant.  Here are a few photos of Son Trach.

Oxalis delivered us to Chay Lap Farmstay for our final night in the area. First thing, we delivered a giant plastic garbage bag filled with wet mud caked clothes to the hotel laundry. Two hours later, at a cost of $10, we got back a basket of spotless folded clothes.  How they got the mud out, i’ll never know. Before bed we shared wine and a light dinner with our new Aussie friends. The next morning it was an early start to Dong Hoi for an eleven hour train ride to Hanoi.

See You In Hanoi!

For All you Geezer on the Go, Keep on Keeping On!

Cambodia to North Central Coast Vietnam

We flew Cambodia Air, an 8 plane carrier, from Siem Reap Cambodia to Danang Vietnam. A couple of overhead bins were secured shut with duct tape. The bathroom door literally fell off when I paid a visit. No worries. A flight attendant monitored to ensure privacy. I chose to believe the airlines spends their money on mechanical maintenance rather than interior features. We didn’t crash so I guess I was right.

Hoi An

We pre-arranged a private car for the 50 minute drive from Danang to Hoi An. Along the way we saw one massive resort construction site after another. We were told it was Chinese money. Someone else said Russian money. Anyone’s guess. Just glad  these behemoths don’t bleed over into the charm of Hoi An.

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Hoi An is a bit like San Miguel de Allende Mexico or Santa Fe New Mexico.  The original old town stayed intact during the war. The city took advantage and developed a thriving tourist industry. Lots of shops, galleries and restaurants. And yes, there are tourists here too. But plenty of locals as well. The town is known for its custom clothing industry. There are hundreds of tailor shops to chose from. I had three cotton skirts with matching silk blouses custom made. The turn-around was less than 24-hours. Nice quality at a very reasonable price.

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Having a Ball!

The weather in Hoi An was cool and rainy. For my 61st Birthday Conde signed us up for a 2½ cooking class.. We ate everything we cooked and then some. We had a blast at Vy’s Market and Cooking School

While in Hoi An we stayed at Camilla Homestay The Homestay is literally a family home with four large ensuite guest rooms. A full breakfast is included in the $26 per night room cost. The family, Ms. Nahn, Mr. Chinh and their niece Ms. Hoa, are kind generous hosts. The home, a beautiful old four story with marble floors and a sweeping staircase. The location is ideal.  Far enough from the hubbub to be quiet at night and a nice 20 minute walk to old town and the river center. Unexpectedly, the family invited all the guests to a homemade Vietnamese Bar-B-Que on Saturday night. There was no charge on our bill for this delightful surprise. The guest roster included a couple from Great Britain, a German woman, a Finnish couple and Conde and me. I loved the warm hospitality of the home and slept like a baby while under their roof.

Another notable activity in Hoi An is a visit to the Precious Heritage Museum. The museum houses a collection of photographs documenting ethnic cultures in Vietnam.  Photographer Rehahn focuses on the faces of women. Directly across the street from the museum is a nice gallery worth a visit.

Hue

After 3 nights in Hoi An we traveled north to Hue. A 3½ hour drive by private car. I’ve really taken a liking to this chauffeur driven mode of transportation.

Hue is a little less than half-way between Hoi An and Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. At the last minute, we cancelled a forth night in Hoi An to break up what would have been a 7½ drive.

As a disclaimer, we spent less than 24-hours in Hue. With that said, other than its huge historical significance, Hue has been my least favorite destination in Vietnam, thus far.

IMG_1317 (1)The air quality is poor, the wide boulevards almost impossible to cross, sidewalks are either torn-up with construction or filled with parked motorbikes. The Perfume River is brown and littered with debris. Definitely not a pleasant place to walk around and explore the sights. Fortunately we booked a stellar hotel that offered respite and a chance to recharge.  La Residence Hue is elegant and we nabbed a last minute deal. If you go to Hue, save some shoe sole and use cabs or bicycle driven Tuk Tuks.

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The Hue Citadel: Imperial City was established in 1802 by Emperor Gia Long and declared a World Heritage Site in 1993. The complex is huge and surrounded by two moats. At one time it clearly was magnificent. Now, a bit shabby and in need of lots of TLC, it is still worth a visit. The exhibits are well curated and taught me a lot about the history of Vietnam.

Here’s my cliff notes version. Vietnam’s long reign of Emperor rule ended in 1945 when Emperor Bas Dai abdicated the throne and Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam’s independence from France. Thus began the first Indochina War. In 1946 France began its fight to regain control of the country. In 1954 the French finally suffered a huge defeat. That same year a Geneva Convention Treaty was signed sanctioning Vietnam’s partition into North and South. US money was committed to prop up the leadership of South Vietnam. When that wasn’t enough, in 1960 the US military arrived in Vietnam. A bloody 15-year war ensued known either as as The Vietnam War or The American War, depending on your perspective. In 1975 the US conceded defeat. North and South Vietnam reunified under a communist government. The economy suffered. In response, Vietnam declared Reformation in 1986 and adapted a more market driven economy.  Vietnam’s constitution was amended in 1992 in recognition of the impact of the private sector on the economy. In 1994 the US embargo on Vietnam was lifted and in 1995 diplomatic relations with the US were reinstated. Today, the economy of Vietnam thrives and memories of the war seem a distant past.

The Hue War Museum was shuttered-up. The only remaining exhibits on display were on the grounds and unattended.

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For dinner, our hotel recommended a local family run restaurant called Le Hanh on Tri Phuong right off Ben Nghe across from the market.  Not much ambiance but definitely worth the visit. Order the spring rolls and you can assemble them yourselves.

 

Did You Know?

What grows on a Curmudgeon On The Couch…

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For All You Geezers on the Go, Keep On Keeping On!

See you in Nha-Ke Bang National Park!

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