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, 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.