Part 7 Arizona. Am I still writing about this trip? Yes! It was that awesome!!

So awesome I couldn’t finish my posts! Ran out of space so please join me at trippingfantastic3!

And now back to Arizona…

So we were on our last day. Hat had to go back to work. S and I were headed back to Phoenix because we had early flights the next day. So we decided to do a few last things in our way there. Farewell, Hat, see you soon! It won’t be another twenty years if I have any say in the matter. Sedona for breakfast. Chocolatree was the Sedoniest place I think we could have found. Mandalas, raw food, outdoor tables in the garden.

Heart warming tea for our chakras. Homemade honey-sweetened chocolates. Yes! Then to Palatki Ruins, a site with dwellings and painted pictographs in the Cococino national park. We wanted to see prehistoric rock art and Hat had recommended Palatki as a good place to go. There is a free guided tour but you need reservations (we called on the way) and there is a drive on dirt roads for several miles to get there. Worth it! The ruins and paintings below are Palatki. In the foreground of the paintings are park service projects having to do with preservation of the site.

We really wanted to see the V-bar-V ranch after that. It is known for petroglyphs, which are carved rather than painted, and for it’s more recent history as a homestead and cattle ranch. It was a bit of a drive from Palatku but we found it and made it just before closing. We were glad we could see both places. V-bar-v had what researchers think is a time-keeping series of carvings. See the photo below with sunlight- the sun patterns are thought to have made a timekeeping pattern on the drawings. We were told an area nearby was restricted for visitors and was a place where women gave birth. There are many remnants of prehistoric culture in the area, many on private or sacred land.

We had excellent tour guides at both sites, and both sites were in beautiful, out of the way places. I highly recommend both!

Next we went to Arcosante, an experimental living community I had heard about in the 1990’s. We were too late to get a guided tour and the cafe was closed for repairs but we did walk around outside and also checked out the gift shop.
The architecture is really interesting. The community is known for making bells- there are metal and ceramic styles, all sizes. We met other visitors on the trail who mentioned that the community also hosts music concerts on their gorgeous property.

And then I ran out of blog space!

See next post on trippingfantastic3!!

Harrisburg, November 2019

Brief notes on a tiny yet lovely getaway. Mr. Fantastic and I took a little vacation weekend to the capital and the capitol of Pennsylvania. I had gone a couple of times for school and really liked the place- walkable, nice riverside, good archetecture. We didn’t even need a car!
We took the train from Philly. 2 hrs, lovely sunset over the Susquehanna river.
Rental apartment on North street. A block from state building and its glorious green-tiled dome. You can see it from blocks away. My photo below really doesn’t do it justice.

Outside and inside the capitol:

About two blocks the other way to the Susquehanna river. New coffee shop maybe 15 steps from our door! Elementary coffee. Matcha latte with oat milk! Felt like our living room.

We had tapas at Suba tapas a few doors down then walked around. It was 3rd Friday- 3rd in the burg– so there were a lot of places open. Beautiful new bump outs on many intersections. Safer pedestrian crossing and wastewater collection!! LOVE! Went to a presentation at Harrisburg historic association in a historic bank building with low marble teller counters and massive vaults in the back. Stopped by the Susquehanna art museum and the Broad Street Market. Decided to see Korean movie Parasite at Midtown cinema. Great indie theater, so-so movie. Theater is a repurposed building, not historic but yay Harrisburg for having an independent movie theater!! Light dinner just before closing at Home 231. So much great archetecture! I’m obsessed with the above-door stained glass street numbers.

In the morning went for a run next to Susquehanna river and across an old train bridge turned pedestrian bridge. Beautiful sunny day! There’s an island in the river- City Island. I ran to the island and back. Mr. Fantastic ran further, across the island and to the other side of the river! Hung out at the coffee shop, then walked back to Broad Street Market to eat. Sat elbow to elbow with other diners, the place was packed, in a good way. Noodle soup for me at Yami Korean food noodle house. The movie made me want Korean food! Next was a leisurely time across the street at Midtown Scholar, a venerable Harrisburg bookstore housed in an old movie theater. It has three levels, two cafes, and 250,000 books! There’s another two million books in a warehouse for their online business. What?! We browsed and lounged here for a while. Next, we hit a couple of thrift stores and looked into the live theater scene. We had options that night to see a Disney hunchback of Notre dame show, or one about Cindy Lou Who gone bad. We chose the latter even though it was sold out and planned to go to Open Stage Theater because the people at the box office said we might get last minute tickets. We didn’t get tickets but we did enjoy hot spiked cider while we waited! We had dinner at Ad Lib, local ingredients, housemade goat ricotta cheese and other yummy things. Relaxed back at the rental apartment which had a sweet fireplace. Binge-watched Key and Peele.

Next day, back to Elementary Coffe, then brunch at 231 Home, then to the Statehouse! Gorgeous, ornate building. We took a tour, it was awesome! Marble staircase, Moravian tile below.

Below: PA supreme court dome from inside, Tiffany-trained artist did gorgeous stained glass window like this one “railroads” in the PA senate chambers.

Not too long after, we had to pack up and catch the train back. I can’t say enough about how relaxing it is not to drive. Note to self: go to every state house you can!! The Kansas Statehouse was amazing!! So was this one. And there are 48 more!!

Blairsville and Pittsburgh, PA and Painesville, OH. October 2019. Plus bonus 2 other trips. What were we thinking?

Blairsville, PA. Madcap weekend trip to see the college daughter and the grandparents. Stayed at an amazing Victorian home of a friend-of-a-friend who has become like family. She has lived in Blairsville, PA for decades and has a hand in the community development of the area. I loved it there. Its a small town that is struggling but has so much going for it. We all fell in love with Market Street Bakery. The Riverfront Trail was especially beautiful on this cold and sunny October morning. There’s a pretty good thrift store on the way out of town to Pittsburgh, which is about 40 miles away. We weren’t there long but I love me a good small town and I hope Blairsville continues to grow.

Saw the collegiate Fiercely at U of Pittsburgh. The rest of the family had been to her dorm and campus when I was in Arizona. So I had the tour finally. Must mention the Harry Potter-esque building called the Cathedral of Learning. It has many “nationality rooms” devoted to individual countries with astonishing detail. Woodwork, tiles, pottery and art from the country fill the rooms, which are used as classrooms. We saw the rooms from the nations of Greece, France, Ukraine, Wales and Israel, and a few more. Impressive! Also in the campus area in the Oakland neighborhood but not part of campus the Carnegie library is a wondrous place. Vibrant library attached to a science museum- historic, gorgeous. We had brunch in the campus area at a colorful diner-style place I can’t remember the name of but it had board games all over the walls.

Three hours to the northwest, Ohio and my parents. We only spent one night but managed to see my two brothers, go to a few thrift stores, and have some of my mom’s excellent vegetable soup. We even saw a little snow! Then back to Pittsburgh and lunch with Fiercely. This time we went away from campus into the Southside neighborhood. Lunch at over the bar bicycle cafe, then a wonderful candy and ice cream store called Grandpa Joe’s Candy Shop. Back to Philly from there. It was a lot of driving but good to see everyone. Of course I love seeing my kids all together, all 6 of us together. Ahhhhh.

Have to mention that the two weekends before this trip we also went out of town. Ithaca one weekend (last weekend of the semi annual book sale! Cookout on a campfire at the cabin!), and medieval reenactment event called River Wars in New Jersey where there were horse events and a lot of other things including a big feast. We camped out medieval style in our massive canvas tent. It was a crazy few weekends!

Part 6 Arizona

We drove to Sash Diné and were happy to meet the owner and see the large property where the family raises sheep and host guests in several unique lodging structures. There are wooden wagons, large “bell tents”, and a handmade traditional hogan where we stayed. We walked around the property, had Navajo tacos for dinner, and looked at the massive starry sky.

The gorgeous rainbow we had seen at Horseshoe canyon was dazzling as the sun set. We had no problem with skinwalkers. It was an extraordinarily lovely night. We saw the milky way!

The next day we hiked around the property some more, then packed and headed out. Some morning pics of the hogan and some sheep:

We checked out and went to Lone Rock, just over the Utah border. We swam, it was wonderful.

There is way too much to see around here!! Must come back. Next we drove to Grand Staircase Escelante National Monument. We went on toad stool trail and saw amazing rock formations. It was a flat hike through what looked like dry river beds. Then we explored the Dr Suess style natural playground!

Awesome awesome day. I love these two and it was like reliving my 20’s. Unbelievably beautiful places. Already planning to go back!!

Arizona part 5

The next day we had reservations for antelope canyon. This is a hyper-famous slot canyon known for gorgeous colors and undulating walls. I really wanted to see it. Hat scared us with the forecast of 30% chance of rain and how 11 people died in a flash flood there in 1997. We decided to go anyway. It didn’t flood.It is incredibly crowded with tourists and also incredibly beautiful. We got there early because there are 2 time zones in Arizona and I picked the wrong one. Rather than wait with the busloads of people, Hat took us to a beautiful, short hike to see the hanging gardens at Glen Canyon national recreation area. There were vast sightlines on the hike and the wall of ferns was lush and unexpected in the desert.Then we took our places among the masses at antelope canyon. I don’t regret going but I also don’t plan to repeat the experience. Its a little claustrophobic, almost like being in a cave with a crowd. But so beautiful!!More photos:We next went to nearby Horseshoe Canyon. Another popular spot but much more spread out. We’d like to go back and kayak the river. For now, we walked the trail to the view and enjoyed a rainbow that appeared, making the place even more beautiful.It was getting towards sunset so we headed to Sash Diné, a bed and breakfast on the Navajo reservation where we were staying the night.

Arizona part 4

I woke up at Hat’s place and went for a short hike on one of the trails adjacent to his neighborhood. Many tall pines, fresh air, quiet.

And then began our adventures! We had a park pass (Fiercely’s from last spring!! We also used on our family trip in June!) So we went everywhere we could.

Montezuma castle national monument: cliff dwelling from prehistoric Sinagua people. Short, flat path next to the cliff, touristy

Montezuma well national monument- magical water in the desert! Cliff dwellings here too. Short uphill hike to the gorgeous view below, a limestone sinkhole replenished by a spring to the tune of 1.5 million gallons daily! Then we walked down along one side and also over to a creek. Wonderful!!

Bell trail, Cococine National Forest- this was flat and took us to a perfect swimming hole. We turned off the main trail to get to the river and that’s when S saw a rattlesnake!! Hat and I moved a waaaasays back then when it seemed safe, we got a good look at a relaxed rattler heading away from us into the brush, going about his/her business. I saw the rattle!! And the diamond shaped head!! No I did not take a picture! So glad we weren’t at the tooth end of that snake! We continued veeeerrry caaaarefully after that the the red rocks and a lovely swimming spot. I got under the little waterfall and it was like a massage.

Next was Sedona. I had always wanted to go there and Flagstaff is only 45 mins away! Hat knew of an excellent hiking area close to town. Margs Draw. We walked around the massive red cliffs as the sun got lower. It was a stunningly beautiful place. Hat almost stepped on a tarantula!!

Arizona part 3, Sept 2019

It was raining, barely, my last morning in Tucson. Everyone was excited about it and I had the rare opportunity to smell the damp desert. Creosote is famous for having a wonderful, unique smell after rain. I loved it. Then it was back to Phoenix! I was sad to say goodbye to J.K. and family. But I’m already planning to go back. So, there I was back in the van, then the airport and soon I found S. Hooray!! We got a rental car and headed north to Flagstaff. We were a little early to see Hat, who was still at work, so we walked around downtown Flagstaff. Thrift stores, the Sweet Shoppe (excellent! Old fashioned! Loved it!), lots of crystal shops and more new age stuff than I care to describe. Then we met Hat at his cozy abode, amidst the pine trees on a hill a few miles from Flag. Hat, S and I were now joyously reunited and the adventures started right away. We went to see the sunset at Kachina Wetlands right near his home, below. Beautiful!!

We went back to Flag and spent time with Hat’s girlfriend A. We discussed the upcoming days and what we would see. Hat had mentioned a somewhat ominous phenomenon that we wanted to know more about. Skin-walkers. He said A knew more, however when we brought it up she didn’t want to say much about it other than “just don’t go out alone at night on the reservation.” Ummm, ok. And she gave us a type of root to carry for protection, which I tucked into my clothes and wore the rest of the trip. Of course I looked it all up later and it is scary. I didn’t want to look it up before we stayed on the reservation. That was 2 days away and I didn’t need the nightmares! Besides, there were tarantulas and another rattlesnake in our future- stay tuned!

Arizona part 2, September 2019

I had a day in Tucson before heading back to Phoenix. JK had some errands to do so I was on my own. But first we walked Jojo. We saw the pack of coyotes (?!?) that hang out in her neighborhood! But unfortunately did not see the javelina I would love to have seen! Later, JK loaned me her bike and off I went. Her husb biked with me into town at the beginning of his work day. I was surprised how winded I was trying to have a conversation while biking slowly on flat ground. Elevation! Tucson is 2400 feet above sea level; Philly is 130. I was out of breath and it was hot (though locals kept telling me otherwise) and I was loving every second! I ended up having a tour of Mr. JK’s awesome office- a historic building once called the Owl Club. Gorgeous!! Next I went to Food Conspiracy. It is a wonderful food co-op I remember from visits to Tucson in the 1990’s.

The main street is nice, many small shops. I biked through the University of Arizona campus, which was lovely with tall palm trees. I went to the State Museum of Arizona there on campus and experienced its spiral layout of information and artifacts from different indigenous groups in the area. Bonus for me was a diorama with prehistoric camels that lived in the area. I’m always telling people camels evolved here, I learned that in India when I became obsessed with them. Apparently, for 40 million years camels only lived in North America! Looking around in the southwest, they should be here now, but I digress. I liked the museum.

JK was now ready to do some sightseeing with me and we headed to Sabino Canyon. This is a national recreation area in the foothills of the Santa Catalina mountains with gorgeous rock cliffs, many hiking trails, and Saguaro cacti everywhere. These exotic beasts are 80 years old before they grow an arm. We hiked in dry river beds, in a paved road and near a river where we may or may not have gone skinny dipping. We took a bus that goes to the end of the road and has a hokey but lovable recorded tour of the sights on the way.

We went to Gate’s Pass to see the sunset, and we were treated to a spectacular lightening show! Then rain! People get really excited about rain in Tucson so no one was unhappy about the weather. Gate’s Pass is a neat place in the western part of Tucson. It is a ridge where you can see for miles to the east and west, a popular place for sunsets. I got one photo below.

Then we had dinner at a round building with lots of windows so we could see more lightening if it happened. Great day!!

Arizona, Sept 2019

Solo trip! There would be reunions, rattlesnakes, prickly pears, siguaros, and slot canyons but first came the planning. I had been bothering a certain friend in Ohio, let’s call her S, to go on a trip with me for years. We have a mutual friend who I’ll call Hat, a forest service employee in Flagstaff. I thought this made for a promising adventure. Hat is like my brother and we shared heartaches, political causes, and all kinds of life experiences back in our college days. S is a foodie, a participant in the annual West Virginia wimmins trip, and all-around great person. I bought my ticket as soon as S picked the date. She chose a Tuesday but I was keen to maximize my vacation time so I planned to go the Saturday before. That way I could enjoy the full 9 days that come from taking off 5 workdays and 2 weekends.

Hat, me, S in Sedona. I am so blissed out!!

What to do on my own in Phoenix? I turned to another college-era friend JK, an Arizona native. I thought she was living in California and might have ideas for me. I was beyond pleased to learn she lives in Tucson; I was gobsmacked to be invited there to hang out with her biology professor, desert expert self. I was on one of those pink clouds of bliss inspired by longtime friends and that particular beauty of the southwest. I was out there in June with the fam and an RV, and was even then making plans to go back. And now it was to be.

JK and prickly pear fruit below

So first, Tucson! I was loathe to rent a car unless really necessary so decided to take the bus from PHX to Tucson. The bus schedule was not ideal, so I went by shuttle. It was pleasant on that jet-lagged morning and I was happy not to drive. Two hours later I was hugging JK! Hooray!! Our first stop was an excellent lunch at Tumerico. !Dios mio! Exelente! Then, we readied for a night in her cabin near the New Mexico border with the two of us, her 8 year old son, and JoJo the dog. With the exotic desert surroundings and the star trek name of the town we were headed to- Portal- I truly felt transported!

We drove out of town and soon were in pink rocky mountains. JK and her husband had bought a cabin on Coronado national forest land years ago and they come here to cool off from the Tucson heat and get away to the country. It is a darling wooden structure with a stone fireplace built by the park service and improved by owners, who own the structure but not the land underneath. A creek runs next to the cabin, perfect for most water needs. As I know too well from our place in upstate NY, water can be a formidable necessity in an off-the-grid cabin. Jojo the dog and JK’s son got right to work settling in. We stayed a night and hiked to a stunning view (above) of the Chiricahua mountains, right near the American museum natural history research station. We saw a rattlesnake and ate prickly pear fruit. I got up on East coast time and took a long hike as the sun rose. I sang slavic music to the mountains and breathed deep the pine cleansed air. It was glorious. And that was only the first day!

JK rescuing a rattlesnake below- it was in danger of getting run over by a car

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!

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 miles. 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!!

The Netherlands part 4, January 2018

The next day was surprisingly sunny with blue skies and we were headed for Groningen. All four of us went with overnight bags to the train station and settled in for the 3-hour trip. We were leaving Holland for the night and heading north, almost as far north as one can go in the Netherlands. Views out the train windows below:

I loved looking out the window. Pyramid shaped barns, flat fields, horses, birds, empty land, a rainbow! More bike roads, a small freeway, some industrial buildings but mostly fields and canals and sky. The Netherlands sky is vast, above flat land it dominates the landscape and we understood why it is a strong subject in Dutch paintings.

Arriving in Groningen, we had plenty of time to walk around its charming, small town streets and canals. There were winding brick sidewalks with many bikes and pedestrians but no cars! The city bans cars from the downtown! We found Martinitoren, a gothic 1482 clock tower in a stone plaza. We paid the small admission and went up the 250 steps to look at the view. We saw the massive bells on the way.

At the top, we looked out from behind the clockfaces, all 4 of them, It was windy and a little scary for me up there! Very high up! Very windy! We could see the whole town in any direction and the bright blue sky with some clouds.

We walked back down then to the university Academie building, a beautiful structure where Fiercely was to meet a student for a tour. We had a tour and asked many questions, we also saw some professor types who were bedecked in academic regalia but didn’t seem to take themselves too seriously, in fact we recognized them as the friendly people behind the desk when we had first entered the building. By the way, outside the building, I have never seen so many bikes in one place!

After another excellent dinner, we went to our lodgings for the night- a barge on the canal! We were staying in one of the boats like we had seen in the Hague and in Amsterdam. The one we stayed was a historic barge, with an iron hull and a history that may include bringing food to starving citizens during WW2. It was a strange and lovely place to stay. We were in the canal next to a street with shops. We got there after dark and the lights were so pretty on the water.

Here’s a view inside the boat.

It was so cool to be in a barge in a canal. It was extremely comfortable and updated with a beautiful kitchen and two bathrooms. I slept well and in the morning we just hung out in the captain’s deck, or at least that’s what we called it. A went to get coffee and croissants while we lounged and enjoyed the scene.

Here we are on the deck, check out the neighboring houseboats!

So it was a new day and we eventually left the houseboat/barge and went to see more of Groningen and catch our train back to the Hague.

The Netherlands, part 3 Jan 2019

The next day our hosts returned. They were jet-lagged and settling in, while we were feeling more energetic and ready to explore. Fiercely had the lovely idea of biking to the sea, and so we went. The place we headed for us called Schenevingen and is so difficult to pronounce that it was used to identify foreign agents during the war. We found it to be a little underwhelming, mostly geared to visitors interested in shopping and gambling, but the North Sea and the bike journey were delightful. J and A had sturdy Dutch bikes- I’ll have to write about biking here in its own post, so much to say- and with those and the bike roads, we were in fine form in another grey, drizzling day.

We biked on the beach and went to another excellent, leisurely lunch, followed a few hours later by dinner with our hosts, who were well-rested now an ready to show us their favorite Thai restaurant. The biking was sublime. Hanging out with our longtime friends who are kind of locals- they have lived here over 3 years after all- was so wonderful because they could explain things like recycling (brought to a park location and placed in large bins, the bulk of which are underground), the marijuana situation (re: coffee shops, ‘koffee’ for coffee and ‘coffee’ for pot*, curious, but we didn’t partake!), and the train system.

The next day we went to Amsterdam- A, myself and Fiercely. The idea was to look at the university there. We found it, kind of, but did not get much information. It is stunning in relation to US colleges in terms of how little interest schools in the Netherlands display in recruitment. I find it refreshing that the Dutch schools are not commercially driven, do not have dorms, and do not seem to have sports teams. As for U. of Amsterdam, it is spread out over many blocks, interspersed with businesses and apartments and other city things, so it was difficult to tour. We had a connection but it fell through. The school was on break, and this did not help matters. Fiercely was more interested in the three other schools we were planning to visit, and at which we had meetings organized, so we checked out a library and a few other buildings and moved on.

Everyone in the Hague told us that Amsterdam was too loud and busy and that they preferred the Hague. I could see their point, but I still liked Amsterdam. There was more of a hectic pace, but there were also canals and historic buildings and plazas, trams, pedestrians, and the constant movement of countless bicycles. There were quiet cafes as well, with the same cozy vibe as the Hague.

Though the Van Gogh museum is a well- known attraction, locals we met disliked it and recommended the Rijks Museum instead, above. We went with that, knowing there are Van Goghs there along with works by other Dutch artists. We were not disappointed. It was a beautiful historic building with works going back to the 12th century. Vermeer, Rembrandt, early Christian artifacts, an elaborate collection of model ships, and my favorite, the ‘doll’ houses- late 17th century miniature houses that were commissioned by the house-proud and wealthy, not for children but for the adults to revel in their love of home.

So we spent the afternoon at the Rijks Museum then we’re lucky enough to have dinner in the lovely apartment of another ex-pat friend from Philly. We had dinner with a couple of her friends and discussed interesting particulars of life in the Netherlands- Kings Day, Black Pete, and the Netherlands second. At the evening’s end, after conversation and speculoos and admiring the views out her front window (a city block of historic brick buildings with ground floor businesses and apartments above) and rear balcony (the warm light from the rear of similar buildings), we headed back to the Hague. We went to the train station via a clean, bright, efficient subway, then on the train to the tram to J and A’s apartment and the sweet german shepherds.

  • I was double checking this and happened upon a sweet blog, 3sistersabroad.com and you bet I am now following them and wondering if the 4 sisters I am raising will ever travel together as older women, I love that thought!!! And you go, 3sisters!!

The Netherlands part 2, Jan 2019

We visited two excellent museums in the Hague on our first day. The Mauritzhuis is an impressive art collection housed in a mansion built by Prince John Maurice in the 1600’s. I enjoy walking without a map or directions, especially in such a beautiful place where I have never been before, so when I realized how close we were to the place we set out rather aimlessly by foot. It was a Sunday late in the morning and we stopped at a random cafe to eat before continuing our meander to the museum. The food was wonderful, it seemed we couldn’t go wrong choosing from the many tiny restaurant-cafes that lined the streets.

When we reached the museum, we noticed a line for one exhibit and soon learned that it was the last day of “Dutch Masters from British Manors” – a collection of paintings produced for wealthy Britons by Dutch artists at a time when they defined the genre in the 17th century. The paintings were displayed in large English estates that have since been placed in the care of a national preservation group. The exhibit displayed the paintings as well as information on the associated estates and families. It was a beautiful case of art works being displayed in the country where they and their creators originated. If these paintings could talk! They were crafted by masters, displayed in castles, and witnessed centuries of humanity. They were beautiful and I immediately began brewing plans to see some of these estates some day. The exhibit was wonderful and we were among the last few people to see it, since we were there just before closing time on the last day. It all felt even more special!

We toured the rest of the museum, and saw the warm tones of Rubens Old Woman and Boy with Candle, a saucy young Rembrandt self portrait, and another in which he was older and looked a little sad, Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring, Fabritius’ The Goldfinch, and many I’d never heard of such as The Bull, approximately life-sized and the most popular attraction when the museum opened in 1822.

Jan Steen (Beware of Luxury, 1663, above) had been recommended to me and I loved his boisterous depictions of peasant life, often with naughty references that have to be explained to the modern viewer. I downloaded the Mauritshuis app, borrowed free headphones at the desk, and happily enjoyed the artworks and stories behind them.

When we realized the Escher museum would be closed the next day, we headed to its nearby location and took in the surreal, geometric, mesmerizing images created by a more modern Dutch artist, Mauritz Cornelius Escher. The museum is in a building that served as a home to Dutch Queen Emma and several other royals, so alongside the prints and other Escher works are some artifacts of the late 19th century queen and her family. The displays are nicely arranged and lit by unusual chandeliers- a seahorse, stars, a skull- shapes that were designed for the space by Dutch artist Hans van Bentem. Some early works and photos are included along with more well-known images, such as the impossible staircases, water flowing upwards, and fish morphing into birds. The third floor of the museum has interactive optical illusions, and also we saw a video installation that was pretty trippy. All around an amazing experience.

Afterwards, we went back to the Mauritshuis and the closing hour of the exhibit. As evening came, we again wandered in a gentle drizzle, admiring the warm light inside the many shops and cafes. We found an Italian restaurant that we weren’t sure was open, but it was. We were welcomed inside by a sweet couple who owned and ran the place, we chatted with them, hung up our coats, and settled down to homemade pasta near a window where we could look out into a mellow Sunday night in the Hague. Fiercely, who had turned 18 a couple of months prior, ordered her first-ever legal glass of wine. We video chatted with the rest of the family who were immersed 6 hours earlier in a Sunday afternoon, and showed them around the place. Here’s the tiramisu and ginger tea for dessert.

We often had tea there, ginger or peppermint, and it is simply hot water with the plant root or leaves. It comes in a glass jar accompanied by honey and the ever-present sweet baked treat on the side. It was a nice ending to our first full day in the Netherlands.

The Netherlands, January 2019

A bicycle enthusiast’s paradise, Amsterdam was always a distant, magical place I had heard of but never imagined I’d see. I knew it was a city in Europe somewhere, maybe in Finland or Holland. My ignorance did not prevent me from going; I was lucky enough to visit a few weeks ago with Fiercely, my firstborn. She had applied to several university programs there on the advice of neighbors of ours who have been living in The Hague for several years. They offered to host us and check out a few college towns with us, and you know before they finished that thought I was checking out flights. Fiercely grappled with the international applications and such while I researched a 20-hour Dublin layover on the return trip. It all came together after the holidays. Thank you, A and J!!! And to Mr. Fantastic for encouraging us to go.

A wooden windmill! We must be in Holland!

After two flights and a lovely train ride from Schipol airport to the Hague train station, we were jetlagged but happy. In our second act of public transportation, we immediately went the wrong way (and incidentally saw a lot of the city!) on the tram to their apartment. We extended our travel time by riding the tram for well over an hour when our destination was only 3 stops, maybe 10 minutes, away. Ah well.IMG_4171.jpg

Rembrandt! The Night Watch!

The six- hour time difference and roughly 14 hours traveling were not ideal, but we were there! I was buzzing from the lack of sleep and the excitement of being in a new place. Looking out the windows we had seen some amazing buildings, gentle rain, a flat landscape, lots of bicycles, windmills, gardens, canals, sheep, all kinds of things. Now we could drop off our bags and explore by foot while avoiding sleep until at least 8pm local time, aka 2am on the US east coast. Time for coffee!IMG_3888.jpg

Fiercely in a cozy coffee shop

Truth told, I do not like coffee. Show me a coffee shop, though, especially an independent one with baked goods made on site, and I will extravagantly profess my love and settle in for quite a while, longer if it’s raining. It is gezellig, that untranslatable Dutch word for coziness, well being, relaxing, comfortable surroundings. Every coffee shop we went to in The Netherlands was, or had gezellig; I’m not sure how to use the word properly, but I loved it. I ordered a latte that first day and it came pale with lots of milk, exactly how I like it, with fair trade sugar on the side and a small piece of a brownie. The Dutch coffee shops and restaurants cannot refrain from giving you some little pastry with your coffee, or tea for that matter. It was wonderful. Then Fiercely and I lounged for some time, drinking our coffees, looking out the window at the brick sidewalks and the many bicycles and pedestrians going by, feeling extremely content. We went to one of these places at least once a day during our time there. We always were given a little piece of cake or cookie with our coffee or tea, and we never got a bill until we asked for it, and they seemed surprised we were ready to leave. There was no pressure to vacate our table or order more from the menu. I could get used to this!20190106_191639

ginger tea made with fresh ginger and tiramisu for dessert! They made mint tea like this, too, fresh leaves in hot water.

Piet Heinstraat, the street where we stayed, has many little ground floor businesses, each with a bright window display, and above the shine of wet bricks there are lit arches that differ by neighborhood. Ours had a star at the center, another one had a crown. It was festive and bright in the early darkening, overcast sky. Just off this street were many residential blocks, with curved streets and large, famously drapeless windows, perfect for my nosy wanderings as the sun went down. I felt like I was in a fairy tale village, looking at these homes and shops, neat as a pin, lit up warmly inside and seemingly without clutter or disturbance of any kind. Such are the delusions of this traveler; I’m sure there is darkness and drama here like humanity everywhere but I was only there a week, appreciating the superficial aesthetics of it all. I walked all over the neighborhood in a mild drizzle, a pleasantly hazy state of mind, and enjoyed my new surroundings.

Our hosts were not to be there for a couple of days so we busied ourselves making beds, greeting their dogs we have known since their puppyhood, and chatting with their dog-sitter Michael. Then we slept late into the next morning and planned our first full day. We knew we wanted to go to the Mauritz House art museum, Mauritzhuis, and probably the Escher museum as well. But first, brunch in another coffee shop. The food was fresh, housemade and probably local, judging from the large greenhouses we had seen from the air and from the train. The Dutch produce an enormous amount of food despite being a tiny country with much farmland being under sea level.

IMG_3892.jpgAnd here I will say that the country is called The Netherlands, the people people and language are Dutch, and Holland is a state in The Netherlands- actually 2 states, North and South Holland. And I wasn’t at all clear on that before I left, partly because I never met anyone from there. After spending time there, I think I know why: the Dutch don’t leave The Netherlands because it is such a nice place! More to come.

Le Super Grand Continental, Philadelphia, Summer 2018

The moment came, and I lay down in a puddle on the wet ground. Rain was falling on my face and into my right ear, and as I snuck my hand around to protect my ear from the rain I could hear the music and imagine what was going on around me, though I couldn’t really see it. I curled up a little to protect my head and hands from the dancing children and I thought about how I had ended up here, on a cold and rainy Sunday in Philadelphia, in front of the Art Museum steps of Rocky fame, how unlikely it all seemed, and if any of my sequins were coming off.

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My home for 20 years, the City of Brotherly Love, where It’s Always Sunny, known for Soul and the Eagles and violence and cheese steaks- there is also a lot of art here. We have a church that hosts punk rock shows, the 118-year-old Mummers, the longest running feminist choir, puppet based community parades, and many other unusual, accessible forms of artistic expression. Every fall there is a Fringe Festival for several weeks that spreads edgy art into unusual spaces all over the city. In the 1990’s, I was lucky enough to be in Edinburgh, Scotland and viewed several shows in their Fringe, the original and largest arts festival in the world. When I moved to Philadelphia in the late 1990’s, the Fringe here was immediately, happily recognizable to me.

In 2012, the Philadelphia Fringe opened with Le Grand Continental, a community dance performance by 200 locals, almost entirely amateurs, choreographed by Montreal artist Sylvain Emard. The 30-minute line dance had been performed in cities all over the world. In 2018 it was coming back as Le Super Grande Continental. As I fastened a number onto my chest at the audition, feeling very A Chorus Line, I had no idea of any of this, or what I was in for, having come on a whim to the very last audition at the suggestion of an acquaintance. I just tried to mimic the man with the French accent and “have fun!” as he and the other teachers instructed. It was a mixture of stress (they were filming us! They were judging us!), concentration, and undeniable fun. It was to define my summer.

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above, the author, left of center in pink shirt

We rehearsed in a cement, nearly 100-year-old, dimly lit hockey rink, devoid of ice, in fact it was uncomfortably warm and humid, stifling even, like the long, hot summer outside the doors. The irony did not escape notice; as fans futilely pushed around the warm air, we were practicing on a surface covered by ice most of the year. Week after week, twice a week, for 2-3 hours each evening, there we were, sweat beaded on foreheads and blossoming through clothing, 1,2,3… we counted to eight over and over, with and without the music. Over 150 of us thinking and moving and trying to coordinate with each other and this dance. We were professors, nurses, students, laborers, cisgender, transgender, asian, black, white, kids under 10 to retirees over 70. Some people seemed to know each other, most did not, and more than a few recognized fellow dancers from the 2012 performance. Trains rumbled by outside, and a sliver of the setting sun would pass through the group each rehearsal, right into your eyes if you were i a particular spot. It rained several times as we danced, thunder booming and lightning flashing into our space through the narrow windows above the tiered seats. The sense I had was of beauty in squalor, our colorful clothing against dreary cement, our synchronization against political chaos in the world, our coordination with strangers in a city known for urban woes.

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After a few weeks, when I began to realize and accept the commitment this dance required, it dawned on me that I was in a charmed environment. In my years here, I have witnessed epithets against Philadelphia I consider unfair. With time and a few unhappy experiences of my own, I stopped defending the city and even agreed with many criticisms. I traveled partly to escape the displeasing things about this city. This stance, however, did not jibe with what was happening twice a week at rehearsal. Everyone was so positive, friendly, accepting of each other, happy to be sweating and even to be frustrated as they learned fairly complicated choreography. We were all vulnerable, looking awkward and unkempt in the pursuit of something beautiful. And the dance itself, to be performed in the street, outside- it reminded me I had wished for this as a 12-year-old in suburban Northeast Ohio as I watched the TV show Fame and especially as I watched this scene from the Blues Brothers movie. I wanted to live in a big city and dance in the street! This was magic; I was living the dream of my 12-year-old self.

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The summer groaned on and there were shootings, political disgrace, relentless humidity. Yet we danced. We were many shapes, genders, backgrounds, and we were all twisting, kicking, snapping our heads to look to the right, making a wide arc with the left arm, sometimes we got it right. I would have teared up at the sight, but I was mired in my own learning. For we learned differently, too. I felt optimistic watching the teachers do a new move, it looked easy, then I became inadequate and close to hopeless sometimes as I tried, only to figure it out between mind and body over repetition and assistance from the pros and my fellow dancers, at yet more rehearsals on the weekends.

Finally, the calendar turned, the performance date was upon us. It had rained an unusual amount over the summer, and it looked as if our performance would involve rain as well. We showed up at dress rehearsal outside the art museum on a Friday night. The rain began, a serious rain that did not abate, relax, or tame itself. We were thrown together in a much smaller space than usual, unable to dance, waiting it out. It was enjoyable there, dry and full of friendly people, in the trailers I never knew existed behind the art museum. We waited hours but our dress rehearsal was cancelled; the lights and sound would not tolerate the water pelting us from above. The next day we had a previously unplanned dress rehearsal just a few hours before the show. Skies were grey but it did not rain. We performed as scheduled- it was magical! -then again after sunset in the lights that night, then for our final show on that Sunday in a fairly steady rain that created puddles and dampened my ear. It was an explosive, joyful, soggy, glittery mess that I think none of us will forget.41351732_10217424090331314_3939040697595723776_n

Family Road Trip, Florida and the Carolinas, Aug 2019, part 4

Leaving the Gainesville sinkhole, the daughter foursome became even more unhappy because we parents had miscalculated the distance to Chapel Hill and their friends. So not only did we drag them to the dreaded educational, character-building experience-slash-sinkhole, but we would arrive much later than planned at our much-anticipated rendezvous with the Fabulous family. I was not happy to learn of the extra driving either, but we were still having a pretty good time. Our car was doing great, the air conditioning worked, and the views out the window were nice. As I drove along, I savored the road trip and the road…but what was that bumping? I had recently taken over the wheel and hasn’t noticed it earlier…it didn’t seem to steer correctly and there was a definite rough feeling…it soon was revealed to us we had a flat tire. On a Friday after 5pm before a 3-day weekend. And we were in nowheresville, northern Florida, or maybe South Carolina. Anyway, we found a local place but it was closing time, so we went bumping along slowly to a mega-store that appeared like an oasis in the flat rural distance. They did tires. It set us back another hour, even longer probably, and some money of course, but we had some food and did a little school shopping so everyone was happy. Then we got back in the car and kept heading to our friends’ home. We arrived late but unscathed and settled in to a 3-night sleepover.

I know Chapel Hill is a great place and everyone tells me about the parks and the shops and the university and all, but to tell the truth, I didn’t see much more than the inside of the Fabulous house. It was hot, we stayed in the a/c, we watched movies and did a lot of cooking and eating and playing games, the kids had each other and the trampoline in the backyard, plus two friendly dogs, 3 cats, and plenty more kids up and down the street. Mr. Fabulous took the kids to a lake, possibly called Jordan Lake, they had a good time. Mostly we just enjoyed each other’s company and relaxed. I didn’t take any photos.

An event of note occurred as we were getting ready to leave. I locked my keys in the car while the other set happened to be in the car as well. We tried all kinds of maneuvering of coat hangers and other slender instruments into the closed windows without success. We were loathe to pay a locksmith. We tried unlocking the doors through the open rear windows, but it’s a minivan and the rear windows only open as narrow slits, so this method also proved futile. We were running out of ideas and we could see the keys tantalizingly close as we pressed out noses against the windows. What to do? Mr Marvelous had a plan. The idea was to use a fishing rod strategically poked through one of the open rear windows and oh so carefully maneuvered to the small well between the two front seats where we could see the keys. There was a keyring that was theoretically able to be reached by the fish hook that dangled from the pole. Mr Marvelous very patiently went fishing from the rear window, guided by the crowd to the keyring he could not see. So close came the shivering, slender pole with its hook and its potential to save the day, the kids oohed and ahhhed and shouted “almost!”. That he persevered is a true testament to the man I love and his expansive patience, in such opposition to my own (once compared to the patience of a gnat in heat!). That he succeeded, well, that is simply beautiful. And we finished packing up and we again headed back home after a memorable experience- quiet rural South Carolina to wacky Orlando to farm animals to friends in the tar heels state.

I’ve been waiting to post this until I could get a photo of the Amazing Fishing Pole Key Rescue, but it’s just not happening. Please enjoy this photo of the Fantastic and Fabulous kids from Thanksgiving, when we went back to NC again!

Family Road Trip, Florida and the Carolinas, Aug 2019, part 3 

We said goodbye to theme park madness and headed for rural northern Florida. We drove a couple of hours to a farm stay in Butler Lake, Fl. It is located near Gainesville and we were to stay 2 nights. We arrived before dusk so we could look around a little. It was a very flat landscape with some standing water due to a very wet summer. There were beautiful live oak trees festooned with moss.

There were donkeys, goats, horses, and chickens. They were all quite mellow and we were allowed to climb over the fence to pet them, so we did. We made dinner and settled into a cement block building that had been used at various times as storage space, a barn, and a tofu making facility. We didn’t spend much time there because we decided to explore Gainesville, but we definitely enjoyed quality time with the animals. I braved the mud for a short hike across the pastures and also explored the little camper parked on the property, adorably bright yellow and with a guest book that mentioned its adventures. Apparently the camper is rented out at times.

Gainesville proved to have many thrift stores, a college campus, and great pho. Worth mentioning is Flashbacks, a funky shop with all kinds of unique items and a great vibe. It’s everything I want in a thrift store; I kind of wanted to move in there. It was around the corner from Faith Vietnamese Restaurant where we had lunch during a massive downpour. We had a very cozy meal as the only diners, our party of six, watching the rain pound against the large front windows. The conversation with the owner and his wife was wonderful and the pho was delicious. After the rain subsided, we made our way through the puddles and streams in the street back to the car. We drove past the college, but our resident college applicant was not interested in finding out more, since she doesn’t want to live in Florida, and I can’t blame her.

More appealing was a bunch of graffiti- the 34th Street Wall, where we headed next. This is a low wall, over 1100 feet long, next to a fairly busy four lane road. It has been painted and painted over again by people of varying motivations- school spirit, peace, anger, self-expression. We drove by slowly and admired the wall. It went on for quite some time. Even the trashcans were painted.

A second night at the farm brought more hanging out with animal friends, another dinner and watching a cooking show we liked. The next day we said goodbye to the animals and did a little detour before driving up to Chapel Hill, NC. I had made the executive decision, a very unpopular one I might add, to go see the Devil’s Millhopper. When else would we get to see such a large, geologically important sinkhole?! It called to me. We headed out of Gainesville towards the site. We paid the modest entry fee, were jostled about not at all by crowds because no one else was there. We watched the somewhat dated but still informative educational video, and walked over to the sinkhole itself. It was magnificent, but we would have to admire it from afar because the famed staircase was closed for repairs. This would go down in the books as another miss in adventure travel, alongside the unseen pink dolphins of Thailand, the fog-obscured five sisters waterfalls of northeast India, the absent manatees of last February (come to think of it, that was in Florida, too), and probably others past and future. Anyway, it was a nice hike and maybe I’ll go back sometime. It’s supposed to be awesome! On this day, we hiked around the perimeter and called it a day as we headed for the last stop of the trip, the Fabulous family of Chapel Hill.

Family Road Trip, Florida and the Carolinas, Aug 2019, part 2

All of us in front of the Hogwart’s Express, inside the train, Really at the Leaky Cauldron

It was the next day and we were headed for Harry Potter World! First, we went to some ticket place to get discounted tickets, and we hit a grocery store to bring lunch. We ended up getting 4-day passes for the cost of a little over 2 days. They were paper tickets and we had to bring them to the park, and show them multiple times each day. We were going to both parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, because each has part of Harry Potter World, connected by the Hogwarts Express Train (well played, Universal Studios). We did a good job of keeping track of the tickets, though I did worry a little. Parking also was not fun, there was a fee of course, and a fairly long walk from our parking spot to the entrance, and then to HPW. Overall, though, we were in good spirits and ready to be entertained.

Suessland and Gringott’s

I have to say, I do not like crowds, I do not like heat, and we really did well on both counts. The week we chose was one of the less busy times for the park. It is hurricane season and the beginning of the school year, so many people do not plan their theme park vacation during the last week of August. We waited not at all for many rides, actually letting people in front of us in some cases, as we looked at the elaborate scenes in line for the HPW rides, and later for the Mummy ride. It did rain every day, and was a little intense one afternoon, but this didn’t affect our experience. We weathered the worse storm in the indoors Mummy rollercoaster, which we rode as many times as we wanted with no waiting. The movie is a little dated, but it’s an awesome roller coaster! I also personally loved Spiderman, also indoors, more rollercoaster and 3-D effects, and no line. There are lots of indoor options during rain.

We were there from open to close that first day, and I’m a little embarrassed to say how much I enjoyed myself. I really prefer actual life experiences to artificial amusement park ones but the rides were just so entertaining. It turns out I really like the simulated projections, especially the 3-D ones. I preferred them to the roller coasters, which I also went on because why not. The Simpsons ride was especially awesome because it was a cool simulation ride and incorporated a cynical take on amusement parks that matches my own cynicism, yet here we were at an amusement park! So meta and breaking the 4th wall, etc. The kids really liked the Hulk roller coaster, I think that was their favorite. We all liked the Harry Potter rides and shops, we also caught a couple of live shows in HPW which were excellent. We ate at the Leaky Cauldron and also at the Three Broomsticks, something I would normally never do because of budget worries, but this was a bit of a splurge vacation, the food was good and we really enjoyed ourselves. The scenery is great throughout.

Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, Stan Shunpike and the night bus, Diagon Alley

We pretty much repeated this on day 2 and 3, going back to our favorite rides, trying to go to the best Universal rides outside of HPW though they hadn’t been on our radar before arriving, enjoying the short lines and lack of crowds in general. At night we saw the light show on the HPW castle and also watched part of the Universal Studios fireworks and light display over the lake. We had one late morning and went thrifting while the kids swam in the pool and otherwise lounged at the rental apartment, but the thrift shop was mostly a disappointment.

The third day we packed ourselves out of the apartment and after our last day at the park (we never used our 4th day passes, 3 days seemed enough) headed for a farmstay I had arranged. It was time for part 3 of the trip.

Final thoughts and tips:

1) Don’t be afraid to go during “hurricane season”. Orlando is not near the ocean, so it might rain every day but likely won’t have serious flooding. The low crowd volume/short lines are worth it!

2) Universal has many awesome rides outside of HPW that should not be missed, easy to find lists of these. A surprise favorite for us was the Poseidon Adventure. Shrek we thought was overrated. E.T. was excellent for younger kids, esp if they saw the movie.

3) It’s ok not to buy the $100 HPW wands. Watch other people use them to see the cool effects that happen in the shop windows and displays. Spend instead on butterbeer, English pub food and excellent desserts in the restaurants.

4) Go at night to see the light shows. Spend a morning at your accommodations to enjoy the pool or just to relax in between time at the parks.

5) See the live shows, especially the short but excellent HPW shows. We also saw Sinbad (ok), the Hollywood make up/special effects show (pretty good), the Blues Brothers (I’m a fan), a Stomp type street show (great), and a random Marilyn Monroe street performance (cute).

6) Make sure you see the Gringott’s dragon breathe fire!

Family road trip, Florida and the Carolinas, August 2018, part 1

Coming back from going around the world a little under two years ago, we were done with traveling for a while and had to settle into life, work, kids routines, and all of that. We parents were faced with finding income, health insurance, a car, education for the kids, furniture, groceries…it was a lot. All we really had was the house, a somewhat neglected Victorian built around 1896, and plenty of bills. So we got to work, and little by little became sedentary and financially stable again. If I sound a little wistful, it is because I am, but even I have to admit that we are extremely lucky to have good health, marketable skills, and a functional house in a great neighborhood in a pretty awesome city. There were bumps, but looking back, things went remarkably well.

As we set up our lives again, we sometimes talked about our next family trip. We aimed for summer 2018 and we chose* to go to Harry Potter World. Time went by, as it tends to do, and soon we were looking at the 2018 summer schedule for each of the six of us and looking at dates and other logistics. We narrowed our focus to August, and finally to the last week of August into Labor Day. It looked like HPW was contained in two parks at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. The cost for six people to do this was rather astronomical, but we decided to go for 2-3 days and do other things as we drove down to Orlando and back. The week we chose coincided with Cleverly’s first week of school – of high school– but we prioritized family togetherness**after a summer of diverse schedules and not seeing each other much. I was heading back to-gulp- Orlando.

I don’t have much pride in this, but if there are two things my country of birth does right, they are highways and theme parks. We were about to take advantage of these on this trip, starting with the former. We left before sunrise on a Saturday morning and headed down mighty I-95. We were aiming for a small town about an hour from Charleston, South Carolina called Holly Hill. The photos of the rental house looked so lovely and inviting, we were going a little out of our way to get there. But first, Fayetteville, North Carolina for lunch.

It was about to get flooded about 2 weeks later, but that day it was nice to walk around the main street and eat at the cute Blue Moon Cafe. People were brunching outdoors, we met an adorable puppy and we enjoyed being out of the car for a spell. See how I got a bit Southern there? We were now in the South. We had gone through Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia to get there.

After about 9 hours of driving, mostly on the interstate, we arrived in Holly Hill. We were so delighted with this rental, it is hard to describe it properly. We only had one night, but happily we arrived in the afternoon so we could have some time to enjoy the place. What a house! Large, gracious porch, modern, well-stocked kitchen, historic yet air-conditioned, it is probably the nicest place we have ever stayed. There were chickens, a hammock, and a hot tub in the big back yard. Really got right to work making popcorn.

There was a Harry Potter themed “cupboard under the staircase”, a piano, board games, a screened porch, and bookshelves full of interesting books. We had four large bedrooms with the most comfortable pillows, three bathrooms, and so many cozy spots to lounge and read.

The house had been a doctor’s office when built back in the early 1900’s and there were memorabilia and historic touches throughout. What a beautiful beginning to this trip. We walked a couple of blocks to the Piggly Wiggly and made a nice dinner. We slept wonderfully, listening to crickets in the otherwise quiet night. We relaxed and had a leisurely breakfast the next morning and left, reluctantly, as late as we could.

We decided to stop in Charleston for a couple of hours because it wasn’t far out of our way. We drove to the waterfront and went to the Ft. Sumpter National Monument. There was a small museum, and one can go on boat tours out to the fort. It was hot, the views from the museum were nice, and it was interesting to read about the history. We walked around the plaza, which includes an aquarium and a dock area.

Then we drove around the city’s historic neighborhood a little south and west of the waterfront. It began to rain, so we looked out the windows at the gorgeous homes, colorful with ornate ironwork, gardens, and balconies. We took one picture in front of the gate to a beautiful garden as a warm rain fell.

And then we got out of there! Universal Studios awaited us, also I didn’t like being near the coast during hurricane season as the rain and wind intensified. Next stop, Orlando! We continued South and stopped in Savannah, Georgia on the way, again in the historic main street. It is a beautiful town with many parks. We ate at the Kayak Kafe and walked around a little.

I have to mention here that as we continued south on I-95, this stretch had many, many felled trees along the highway. We had been appreciating the shade and scenery provided by the tall trees on other parts of this highway, why cut them here? Was it some type of infestation? Road widening? No, friends, I am sad to report, this part of I-95 has been having its trees mowed down due to what I can only call idiotic drivers. It is known as the “coffin corridor” due to many accidents that have happened here in which drivers leave the highway and hit the trees. As one article put it “While the first goal is to keep drivers on the roadway, “but when they do get off the road, we want to give them space to recover” before striking any trees, Wickenhoefer said. The state plans to clear all trees in any median less than 160 feet wide.” So the answer is to cut down trees??? I think if people are swerving off the road, trees may not be the biggest issue here. Especially after taking a train trip recently and pondering how much better the US train system could be, I remain stunned by the fact that this is where transportation money is being spent. Cutting trees down, because drivers swerve off the road and hit them. Unbelievable.

After a few hours, we were in the outskirts of the theme park city and headed to our rental apartment. We made it there, settled in for the night, and rested for the theme park excursion the next day.

* Not my first choice, but I had to admit I knew we could drive there, and I was pretty sure we would all like it there, as opposed to, say, South America where I have been setting my sights.

**also, 1) the school district was starting a week earlier than usual – did they consult us? No! 2) TBH we don’t take school that seriously, we are homeschoolers at heart and at 9th grade, it’s only her 2nd year of school. The other 3 kids school activities were not affected. 3) She didn’t miss much- it ended up being a heat wave and they had half days that week citywide because so many schools do not have a/c!

New Orleans by train October 2019, part 4

Just a few hours of sleep then it was back to the train. Leaving in the early morning sun, we saw things we hadn’t seen on the way in. Lake Pontchartrain was amazing- apparently we were next to the longest bridge in the world! It’s for cars so we weren’t on it, we were on a shorter, parallel train bridge. The car bridge we saw is about 24 miles long and crosses the lake at the widest point, doesn’t make much sense to me but there it was. Not too much later, I saw what had to be prehistoric mounds and I was delighted to read about the 2nd largest moundbuilders site in the US, outside Tuscaloosa AL. Apparently there is a larger one outside of St. Louis, MO, but this one was right outside my window! I had just finished reading 1491 by Charles Mann,so when I spotted the unnatural looking grassy lumps out the window, I was able to recognize and appreciate them. A woman we met while dining on the train said that Amtrak used to publish guides to such things one sees out the window on various routes.

I wish I would have had one of those guides! I’m sure we passed many notable sights during the 1200+ miles each way of the trip. I found a way to download the Amtrak Crescent Route Guide from the Green Education Foundation, I couldn’t figure it out from their website but when I googled the guide, there was a link from that group to download it. I couldn’t link it here but anyone who wants to should be able to find that link. I wish I had done it before the trip, but anyway, you can! I couldn’t find anything about the moundbuilders, a glaring oversight of you ask me, but the guide is a great idea.

I found something else on the internet. About a year ago, a New York Times hipster wrote about the same train, the Crescent, and his trip on the whole route from NYC to NOLA. He was unimpressed by some things and enjoyed others, it was an interesting read.

We again enjoyed eating with strangers, talking about our lives and travel and whatever was out the window. I can’t think of another setting where this would be the case- sitting at a table for four with people you don’t know. A little like a wedding dinner, but you likely don’t know anyone in common as you would at a wedding. Our dining companions were, without exception, older than us, married heterosexual middle/upper middle class and very pleasant. Many, as one might expect, had complaints and/or fears regarding airplanes. All but one couple were white. We avoided politics and any controversial topics, feeling many were more conservative than we are. We felt lucky to be a little late as we neared Philadelphia. It allowed us to have a fifth meal on the trip and we met a nice couple from Prescott, Arizona as we watched Wilmington, Delaware glide by. When we saw Septa vehicles, Philly’s local public transportation, we knew we had to pack up quickly, which we did, and went back to life off the train. One last photo- this is the switching of engines in D.C. South of there they use a diesel engine, north of there an electric engine is used. Strangely, it looked like the nose of the engine faced the rest of the train at the front, so it appeared to go in reverse, pulling the train cars the whole trip!

New Orleans by train October 2019, part 3

After biking, we walked around the French Quarter. We went to a big, old book store called Beckham’s bookshop for some reading material for the trip home. It was two floors of books with a third floor that has records. It has large windows (below) looking out onto Decatur Street. There were two older men who had been running the place for 50 years. There was a cat of course. I just wanted to curl up and wait for some bad weather so I could read for a while in that book store coziness!

We got some pralines at a candy store and then gumbo, hushpuppies, and shrimp and grits for lunch. We went back to Jackson Square, now full of artists and buskers and tourists, and to the waterfront, where we saw the giant steamboat the Nachez.

We returned to the hostel to leave our bags and rest a moment, then went to find a falafel place with pinball machines we had heard about. We went back on the 47 streetcar, transferred to a different streetcar, then we were back in one of the areas we had biked through that morning. We found the falafel/pinball place- it’s all that plus a bar! On the way, we passed a burlesque place and a slavic soul food bar with a mobile taco truck/performance space parked outside. This was along St. Claude street around the 2200 block. It was tough to choose where to spend our limited time, but the original plan was pinball so that’s where we went. Then we walked a few blocks to Frenchmen Street which was recommended to us as a more desirable alternative to Burboun Street by several people we met. It was great! There was an open-air art and craft fair, then we scoped the scene for a few blocks and decided to sit at a bar called Vaso, have a drink and watch a band. They had a great singer with a Janet Joplin voice. Next, we took a chance on stand up comedy at the Dragon’s Den, kind of expecting the worst but still curious. We were charmed by the narrow brick tunnel we entered as we followed arrows with the word “comedy” written in chalk on the ground. We went upstairs to a dark bar with a small stage and watched five comics do short routines and they were so good! Two were women, some were from NYC and some local, one was on comedy central, we were impressed. And we laughed and drank cocktails. Then we went back to the bars on Frenchmen. I really wanted to hear jazz and/or blues with horns. We went back to Vaso, then another bar I forget, and stayed for a few songs at each, each band had horns which I loved, trumpet and trombone. The sidewalks were getting more crowded and as we walked outside, we heard a band playing on the corner. It was all horns and drums, so lively! A guy on the balcony joined in on his trombone, wow!

I wasn’t at all hungry but realizing that it was our last chance, I convinced Mr. Marvelous to split a delicious last NOLA meal- jambalaya with greens and corn bread and peach cobbler with ice cream for dessert. Thank you Praline Connection! It was a down-to-earth place with great homemade soul food and it was open until midnight. We had a perfect window seat so we could see the scene outside with revelers drinking from open containers, cars trying to get through the crowd, a strange bike-on-a-bike contraption that pulled a giant glowing cube that suspended 4 swings from which people were swinging, party buses rolling by, and a guy setting up a colorful wooden kiosk where he was selling handmade books. We ate, enjoyed the view out the window, then joined the crowd as we walked through it to the streetcar stop. Sitting on the shiny wooden seats looking out at downtown with its theater marquees and streetlights and shops was nice as we rolled back to the hostel. It has been a long day and we did everything we hoped for, with the exception of finding a thrift store. They all closed at 7 which was about the time we remembered we had wanted to do that. Oh well, next time!

New Orleans by train October 2019 part 2

Our experience in the Big Easy got off to a rocky start. Amtrak has budget challenges due to limited federal support and often runs late, so we shouldn’t have been surprised that out arrival time was closer to 10:30 than the expected 7:30pm. I grumbled a bit because we had less than 36 hours in NOLA and I was raring to check things out.

Our lodgings were awesome, no problem there, we took a cab to mid- city and the funky India House hostel. We loved the colorful, backpacker- friendly, sprawling place with a quirky Victorian mansion as its entrance. Past an extraordinarily fluffy cat, communal living and dining rooms and a kitchen, out the back door was a yard with a pool, bar area, and paths to clapboard buildings typical of local architecture. We stayed in a simple yellow room in one of these, with its own shower and bathroom and two bunk beds. We had it to ourselves. We kind of wished the kids were with us and we had more time, it was the sort of place we would have loved while traveling. As it was, we wouldn’t spend much waking time there at all.

Because we had just been in a train for over 30 hours, I really just wanted to walk. We were steps from the adorable trolley, but it was after 11 pm and I feared getting stranded downtown during infrequent service at a late hour. Besides, we were in New Orleans! We should be able to walk to any number of bars and restaurants, right? Unfortunately for us, the neighborhood did not have much to offer aside from a large hospital complex and several persistent pan handlers. We found two bars that looked good, however both had just closed. We followed an online map to two other bars, both of which seemed to involve serious drinking and struck me as a little scary. One, I learned from a Spanish conversation with a patron outside, had Mexican karaoke that night. Looking back, it probably was the best choice for the evening, but it was our first stop and I wasn’t feeling it. I was looking for Jazz and jambalaya, not so much a Latino bar similar to those mear my neighborhood in Philly. The other involved a bouncer who patted us down and, when we decided against entering further, directed us away from the potential domestic violence scene outside and advised us to be careful. It was our last stop. We decided to be happy with getting home safely and called it a night.

The next morning dawned sunny and cool, beautiful weather we appreciated all the more since we were there during hurricane season. We didn’t have any plans, just some things we wanted to do. For me it was biking, architecture, and eating, my usual favorites when traveling. Or, you know, all the time. Anyway, we looked into the city bike share but the app wouldn’t accept the credit card, blah blah blah. I’ve never figured out bike shares, despite their ubiquity and my being a big fan. Also, with such limited time, we could not employ our usual inefficient wandering. I was interested in having a guide to show us around and explain things. We signed up for a 3.5 hour “beyond the french quarter” tour.

But first a word about the historic NOLA trolleys- ok, “streetcars”: awesome! Ok, many more words! They run on grassy divides lined with attractive lampposts and separate from cars. Inside are wooden seats, the backs of which slide so passengers face forward after the streetcars change direction at the end of the line. The streetcars don’t turn around, rather they reverse direction. There is a driver seat at each end. We each bought a 24 hour pass for only $3!! A trip is just $1.25 one way- half the price of Septa in Philly. The Canal Street #47 line we rode took us to the French Quarter from the hostel. It had been replaced by buses in the 1960’s but reestablished as streetcars on 2004. This also happened on 2 other lines! A fourth line, the St. Charles, started in 1835 and is the longest running streetcar line in the world. They are planning to expand, too. Way to go, NOLA! I often see trolley tracks in Philadelphia of long-abandoned trolley lines and I wish Philly could reinstate them. So I was happy to see New Orleans doing just that.

The bike tour. We rode about 12 miles at a leisurely pace on cruiser bikes with larger tires than I am used to. It was so comfortable! We had about a dozen people on our tour, including guides. We saw a bunch of things, starting with the waterfront, then Jackson Square park (below) heading roughly north and west from there.

We biked through the Treme and Faubourg Marigny neighborhoods and along the Esplanade lined with shady trees. The shotgun homes and mansions were a joy to see, some were colorful with gorgeous wooden details and gardens. We also saw congo square at Louis Armstrong park, St. Louis cemetery #3, and the large and lovely City Park.

I surprised myself by taking zero photos of the houses, I was just so pleased to take it all in from the squishy bike seat while letting the guides worry about traffic and the route. I’m used to biking alone in Philly and trying to get somewhere, so relaxing and enjoying the ride full of new sights was wonderful. That was the first part of our day.