The Netherlands part 6

Have been trying to finish this one up for a while!

It was January 2019 and we were in Den Haag. We woke up to an alarm clock because it was our last day and we had big plans for the morning. We were going to Binnenhof before our flight out! I had been wanting to see more of that place since we’d arrived, and we were just barely able to squeeze it in. It is a complex of buildings in a large stone plaza, the defining feature of which is the Hall of Knights, a castle built in the 1200’s.

We were going to see that hall along with some of the surrounding buildings where much of political life occurs in the Netherlands. We signed up for an online tour, the only one we could fit into our schedule, and it was listed as being in Dutch. We hoped for the best and were delighted when the tour ended up being in English and just four people- a Dutch mother and daughter and ourselves. The gracious Dutch participants offered to have the tour in English and we were relieved. Ther are headphones with a recorded tour but it wouldn’t have been the same.

The Netherlands has a parliamentary system with representatives from many political parties. They gave us a seating chart with party names, below. Several caught my eye: “50plus”, “THINK”, “Party for the Animals”, with 4, 3, and 5 reps respectively.

We got to see where they sit and hear a little about the parties. It was fascinating to be around 3 Dutch locals who could explain the Prince’s Day tradition, also called Budget Day, that takes place in the Hall of Knights each September.

It was an interesting tour in lovely company. It came to an end and we said goodbye and thank you again. Then it was time for a quick brunch of pancakes, famous in the Netherlands and something we hadn’t tried yet. Then it was back to collect our things from the apartment and head to the airport. We were sad to leave but we knew we would see our friends again in Philly. We also were a little excited because we had a 23 hour layover in Dublin! Off we went. 

We had a madcap time in the capital of Ireland. We took the bus from the airport to our digs for the night. We walked through a dark, quiet, residential area with houses of brick and stone. We met our host at his cozy home within walking distance of Dublin Castle, Trinity College, shopping, etc. Despite the hour being a bit late, it was Saturday night and we went out to wander the lively streets. We were looking for live music, beef stew, and vegan Yorkshire pudding, which we found at a pub in the commercial area near Christ Church. There was even a fireplace and decadent desserts! It was wonderful just to walk around, sit at the pub, and listen to people talking and have no obligations other than making it to the airport on time the next day.  We ate at a leisurely pace then made our way back to the house, slept well, and got up very early the next day to see things in daylight. We had porridge at a little coffee shop and talked to people about the airport bus and walked around the area a couple more hours before heading to the airport. Then it was up and away back to our family and jobs and school and the City of Brotherly Love, with many stories to tell the folks back home!

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Canaan Valley, West Virginia, August 2018 and 2019

There is a beautiful part of West Virginia in the northeast part of the state. It is green and mountainous and the John Denver song plays in your mind as you look around. It is close to the borders of Maryland (who knew?!) and Pennsylvania, and not too far from the southeast Ohio border. Good things come from bad things, yes? That is how I came to the Canaan (pronounced kuh-NAYN locally) Valley.An ebullient, unique, talented friend of mine who was very influential in my life, died suddenly about two years ago, a suicide. She had frequently gone to this area for an annual wimmin’s weekend with friends from the Athens, Ohio area. When we gathered to celebrate her life, I was invited to their annual retreat. I went last year and we scattered her ashes in a beautiful river. We also ate amazing food, had long conversations, drank wine, lounged in the hot tub, and looked at the stars at the the rental property where we stayed.Yes, I shaved my head, that’s me on the left!

This year I had some extra time, I got to the area in only 5 hours! The gang wouldn’t arrive until later in the day so I went to Blackwater Falls State Park– lovely, lovely.I hiked the (very short) Lindy Point and (even shorter) Blackwater Falls overlooks. Big payoff with views at the end of each trail. The falls were sweet and the Lindy view was phenomenal! Lindy point had some accessible rocks outside the wooden viewing platform so I scrambled my middle-aged self on over there and sat on the rock outcrops, feeling a bit daring, watching the large birds riding the wind and soothing my cynical soul. It was very windy and I almost felt like I was flying with them.Then, I found a thrift store, always a pleasure, then had some sushi, then headed to historic downtown Elkins, WV. I spent time in the West Virginia Railroad Museum and then at The Crossing, a coffee shop in a renovated railroad hotel building now called The Delmonte Market. There’s a craft store and a flower shop in the building as well. Everywhere I met friendly locals who told me about the town, the railroad history, the buildings, and the 56 beautiful hanging flower baskets that need watering every morning. What an extraordinary day. And I haven’t even met up with the women yet! When we met up, we met near the historic train depot building and there happened to be an antique car meet up and a live bluegrass band! The Hillbilly Gypsies, several of them barefoot and in overalls, had bass, guitar, banjo, and fiddle. Foot-stompin good times in the town square. We ate at a Venezuelan place called El Gran Sabor that was in a victorian house on a residential block just off the main street- beautiful wood floor, a bar in back, we had arepas, delicious! Breakfast at Henry G’s, very nice. went back to Blackwater Falls and went back to Lindsey point because my friends hadn’t seen it, walked down to the falls, and then hung out in the little town of Davis. Then we went to check in to our rental house, which was nestled in the woods and had a hot tub! The next couple of days we enjoyed the company, food and hot tub and also hiked nearby trails, namely Bald Knob, which we reached by chairlift and hiked down. The trails are beautiful here. We hiked down to a river last year, but this year we were along ridges looking at the rolling forested hills.

What an honor to hang out with this tribe of powerful women. Bliss and beauty around me like the air in this soul strengthening place. Can’t wait to come back, Canaan!!

RV or not RV? That is the question.

Thoughts after the big RV trip of June 2019

RV pros and cons
I’m a camper at heart but do not have much gear at this point in life. I like minimal gadgets but I also like comfort and don’t even have a waterproof tent these days. Anyway we went for the rental RV.

Pros:

1) Room for the siblings to get space from each other
2) Bathroom! Don’t have to stop every time someone has to pee.
3) Food- cook your own, wash dishes, cheaper and less waste, also easy to eat while moving. Saves stops.
4) Amazing views out the windows where we went- mountain ranges, rock formations, snowy peaks, waterfalls, the Grand freaking Canyon!

5) can park it anywhere for free, like rest stops and big store parking lots (where permitted, not everywhere, in fact we got kicked out of one parking lot). RVs are self-contained with water, sewage, and a generator for electricity. Of course, you do need to get fresh water and dump sewage every so often.

6) We rented from an individual who has the vehicle stocked with towels, linens, silverware, pots and pans, a microwave, everything!

Cons:

1) 8 miles a gallon!
2) Big- as in tall and wide. Scary for me to drive it. And ours was 25′. Some are much bigger! Difficult to maneuver in cities and narrow roads.
3) Slow- someone always wants to pass you. We couldn’t go much faster than 65 mph.

4) No rental apartments and limited meals out to justify the cost of rental. I like renting apartments and eating out. For this trip it was great but probably not for every trip for me.

5) lots of systems- water, sewage, electric. Need to empty sewage tank and fill water tank. I’m not sure how electric generator works, but we plugged in when we stayed at sites with hookups.

I will always remember the stunning views out the windows. We saw a rainbow once, out the large side windows as we drove for mikes. And most places we went had landscapes like paintings, just seemed too beautiful to be real. The U.S. southwest is really ideal for the RV experience.

A word on KOAs, aka Kampgrounds of America.

We stayed in several of these and I became suspicious, looking around at all of the white, middle class, happy, friendly, heterosexual people kamping around us. Were we supporting some kind of right-wing conservative Christian organization? I hoped not. Sometimes it seems they have the market on wholesome things. Anyway, not to worry. Research showed me that the business started out with a cattle entrepreneur renting riverside space for camping in Wyoming. He offered people a desirable alternative to the state parks and sketchy campgrounds that were the only options at the time. The year was 1962 and people were heading to the Seattle World’s Fair. The one that introduced the Space Needle! The current CEO is a woman. Apparently, the KOAs are highly regulated and we did find them pleasant, comfortable, well-located, and affordable. Several had pools. A surprisingly huge hit with our big kids (ages 13-18) was the bounce pillow. Also, we noticed plenty of dogs and people seemed to be responsibly enjoying the odd alcoholic beverage. We liked it so much we are considering staying in a tent at one sometime, especially if they have a bounce pillow. Anyway, that is what I have to say about that.

Burning Chicken, Aug. 2018 and 2019

Just got back from one of the best weekends of the year- Burning Chicken!! It was BC #13 and I voted for a black cat. We did not build a cat.I stand by the cat thing because, you know. Black cat, 13, etc. Also, daughter #1 is about to go to college where the mascot is a big cat, the Pitt panther (I believe) but we ended up with something also spooky for lucky #13- a big spider.It was much a shorter, wider structure than in other years. It burned beautifully.So then I realized I hadn’t written anything about last year. It was a very wet year and we talked about water creatures. The final decision was …Whaddaya mean you can’t tell what it is?! Its a seahorse, obviously. It was super tall and required an elaborate, scary rope system to raise the head.So there you have it, when Burning Chicken is discussed years from now, and people wonder about the post- world trip celebrations, you can tell them we had a camel, a seahorse, then a spider.

The US Southwest, Family Road Trip, June 2019

We spent a week in a rental RV, and experienced the quintessential American family trip out West. It was awesome!! The rest of the fam actually spent 3 weeks because they drove to and from Denver while yours truly held down the job, watered the plants, fed the cats, etc., and flew to Denver and back. Anyway, writing a quick-n-dirty short post about it all because I am now in graduate school again because apparently I can’t get enough of that. Here’s a list of what we did.

The kids and Mr. Fantastic saw, on the way to Denver, while I worked and enjoyed vicariously:

(1) Serpent Mound in southwest Ohio, a native American construction dating back to 1000 CE, (2) Cahokia, in southern Illinois, a UNESCO site that was a large population center around the year 1200 CE, 3) The Garden of Eden, naive sculpture art in Lucas, Kansas, and two reprises from our big trip in 2015: (4) the City Museum in St. Louis, Missouri and (5) the state capitol building in Topeka, Kansas. Such amazing places!! Lest we be jealous of them, though, we should acknowledge they did get robbed on Columbus, Ohio. They were parked in a suburb at a friend’s house in “a very safe neighborhood” but someone got into the car and stole the twins’ skateboards (one they had just won in a competition! Ouch!) and two suitcases (Cleverly’s favorite clothes and Poppa’s almost-full sketchbook, very sad) I recently read Dreamland by Sam Quinones (highly recommend) so can’t help thinking about Ohio’s place in the opiate crisis and that drugs had something to do with this.

They met me at the airport wearing custom made t-shirts and it is probably the cheesiest thing we’ve ever done. Photo below is at Bishop’s Castle.

We hung out in Denver, ate at Bonfire Burritos then spent time at South Pearl Street Farmer’s Market where we admired the many stands and had delicious vegan ice cream from ba-nom-a-nom before picking up the RV. Then we were off! First stop was Bishop’s Castle, a hand-built structure of stone and iron in the Colorado mountains. We met builder Jim Bishop, a talkative fellow with strong political and religious sentiments, he has survived many tragedies and challenges including cancer, check out the linked article. Next we drove to Santa Fe, NM and slept in a parking lot, because you can do that in an RV. The next day, we went to Meow Wolf, an experiential art exhibit/fun house/mystery story. Very unusual! Then we drove to Flagstaff, AZ and spent a few hours in Petrified Forest National Park on the way. Painted desert! Petroglyphs! Crystallized trees! The next day was the Grand Canyon National Park and it was sublime.

We hiked, we gawked, we drove next to the Canyon for miles. We ate at The Blue Coffee Pot in Kayenta, AZ on the Navajo reservation and had a great experience! They don’t have a website, but it’s a great place, hogan style building, many locals. We stayed that night in Monument Valley, watched the sunset glow on the mammoth rock formations all around us.

Above reminds me of seeing the sunrise at Angkor Wat, but here was even better in some ways- we slept in view of the gorgeous rock formations and there were very few people around. We were driving on route 163, which must be one of the most beautiful in the world. Our next stop was Four Corners Monument, where we had frybread and stood in four states at once. Well, one of did a back bend in all 4 states.

We stayed in Cortez, Colorado to be near Mesa Verde National Park. We wanted to see the cliffdwellers structures, and went on 2 tours there, both amazing, one with some scary ladder climbing. This was my pick. I can’t get enough of pre-Columbian cultures!! This was just stunning. There aren’t a lot of UNESCO sites in the US, but there are several here. Mind-blowing.

We also found time in Cortez for ice cream at Moose and More, and checked out Denkai animal rescue thrift store, both are wonderful! Leaving Cortez, we crossed the Continental Divide on route 160 on Wolf Creek Pass. We got out of the RV to play in the snow! Those 3 dots at center are Cleverly and the twins.

Then we continued to Amarosa, CO and stayed the night. The next day, we rented boards and a sled and went sand boarding and sand sledding at Great Sand Dunes National Park.

It was as awesome as it sounds and the surge flow was active that day as well! It was a little late in the season so we felt lucky about that. Next, we drove to Salida hot springs and spent hours soaking and playing in the warm waters, two snowy mountain ranges in view. Oh, the bliss!

While daughter #2 and I returned home by plane, delayed red-eye ugh, the trip continued with Poppa and daughters #1, #3, and #4. They returned the RV and headed out in our car to the Cowgirls of the West Museum in Wyoming. They saw bison and mountain goats from the car. They went to the Crazy Horse Memorial. And Mount Rushmore. Also Wind Cave National Park. Yes I’m jealous! And they kept going. Badlands National Park, Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum in Detroit, my parent’s place near Cleveland, and stayed with a friend outside of Pittsburgh.

They went to Chicago and the Art Institue of Chicago. They spent a whole day there, used bikeshare Divvy bikes and went to the Field Museum and also saw the Tiffany glass dome at the old Chicago library, now the Chicago Cultural Center. Then they came home with lots of bumper stickers on the car!

The End – for this excellent trip. It was Fiercely’s last, in a way, because she goes to college in about 6 weeks. Time flies; I’m glad we got this trip in before the first daughter leaves the nest! Now I want to write a little about RVs, next post coming up.

The Netherlands part 5, January 2019

We walked back through Groningen to the train station. We picked up some sandwiches for the trip and settled back on the train. We had plans to stop in Leiden for another college visit and that is what we did. We got off the train and hurried to our appointment, we had cut it close with the timing. We were kind of running to get there on time because we had been told the Dutch are very particular about punctuality. We found time for a selfie, though, it was our first windmill! We had only seen them from the train.

Leiden, founded in 1575 and with a campus in the Hague, was impressive and we had an American acquaintance who is attending there. He met with us after our appointment and gave us the inside scoop from his first semester there as a philosophy major. It was fun to see him and he left us at a french fry joint he recommended where we enjoyed truffle mayonnaise on fresh hot fries. It went perfectly with the chilly foggy evening. Then we were back on the train to the Hague.

Utrecht train station above, me with a local character below

The next day was university #4- Utrecht. It is close to the Hague, about 50 mi east as the crow flies, so we had breakfast at J and A’s then caught a train. From the train station, we took a bus to the international campus, where Fiercely had an appointment. We were shown around a very modern campus by a Norwegian student. We were a distance from the historic city center. The campus was most like an American university to me, though the architecture was very modern and surprisingly nice ( I generally prefer old buildings). We headed back to the historic city center and had lunch at a touristy area, checked out a church that was being renovated (painful to write as I sit in Philadelphia where a 19th century church a few blocks from me is being demolished, sigh). We also walked around the lovely Pandhof van de Dom, a 14th century cloister and garden.

We walked nearby to Dom tower, apparently the tallest in the country and therefore taller than the one we had climbed to the top of in Groningen.

Again the bikes impressed me- look at the dual-level bike parking!

And so we went back to the Hague. It was early in the evening so Fiercely and I walked around the town, enjoying our last night there. We had late dinner reservations with J and A so we meandered to the restaurant stopping for hot chocolate along the way. We had an extremely gezellig dinner- very comfortable and leisurely as we savored our last hours there. Our table was late but there was no reason to be bothered. A waiter made us very comfortable at the bar with complimentary wine and an impressive plate of charcuterie and cheese. We stayed until almost midnight.

Mama and kids trips- Feb and May 2019

We are very lucky to know families who make great travel partners and are up for weekend getaways. Mothers day was so wonderful, despite the fact that Mr. Marvelous was in Nepal and Fiercely on a road trip out west. While I held down the fort and kept going to work, etc, during the week before, I also had a trip to D.C. up my sleeve.

Love this family!! The Fabulous clan is headed back to Africa and we had to see them before they left. Without realizing it, we planned to meet in Washington D.C. on Mother’s Day weekend. We scored a sweet hotel near the airport with indoor pool and breakfast included.

We took the metro and spent Saturday in the city, which is irresistible with its free museums, ethnic restaurants, and general excellent urban scene. I had never been to the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art before. It was a great choice. Most of the four-level building is underground, so while it doesn’t look like much from the outside, it is large and impressive. Here (2nd photo below) is the view down from the ground level floor into a wishing well on the lowest level. We learned after breaking the rules that the kids were not supposed to toss coins from the top floor but oh well.

We also went to the National Museum of American History, which was fine but I do not like the current U.S. President and there is a lot of presidential stuff. We spent time admiring Michelle Obama’s inauguration gown and the kids liked a display on music players from the first records to MP3 players. We walked to Chinatown and got penny candy to take back to the hotel for dessert.

It was really wonderful and we will miss them but maybe we’ll visit Malawi? Who knows. The weekend made for a lovely Mother’s day with happy kids, happy mamas, and great memories.

In February we went to the Jersey shore with 3 moms and 8 kids, taking advantage of the off-season rates. We had the gorgeous beaches to ourselves.

We had dinner out with just the moms and we made everyone get up to see the sunrise.

Sunrise out our window (above) and from the beach (below).

We looked at rental apartments but found a better price at an historic hotel that has a kitchen in each room. We made breakfast there and let the kids run around between the 2 rooms. There was also an indoor pool, a bit dated but a huge draw that cold weekend. The return trip was also fun because we stopped at a ridiculous Mr Bill’s restaurant with its 22 foot man out front. Here’s to great weekends with mamas!!