ON THE TRACK OF “THE QUIET MAN” – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Track

In 1990 in Ireland, Garry and I decided to find where they had filmed John Ford’s “The Quiet Man.” We were in the right location and it turned out that we were not the only seekers of that location.

There were little maps that showed you where to go, where to walk. You couldn’t get there by car alone. You had to park, then trek through a field where sheep roamed — which is not good for your shoes.

Garry in Cong

Maureen O’Hara had to do one scene in a field like that barefoot and she said it was absolutely disgusting. I’d probably have to wash my feet at least 100 times before I thought they might be clean enough to go to bed with me.

Cong, September 1990

Anyway, we got maps and we got moving and then, we saw it. We didn’t see the cottage because except for a bit of rubble, the cottage was completely gone. It wasn’t even the remnants of the cottage. A few rocks and that was it. But the setting was the same. The stream across which they drove the carriage and the long field.

Ireland

We followed the track, explored, and then went back to town. Many scenes for the film were actually shot in and around the village of Cong, County Mayo, on the grounds of Cong’s Ashford Castle. Cong is now a wealthy small town and the castle a 5-star luxury hotel, but when we were there, it was another small, struggling town who were trying to keep the remnants of the movie’s fame because that was the only notable thing which had ever happened there.

Now that we live in an equally small town, we get it. If anyone made a major motion picture here, you can bet it would be the feature of everything.

Somewhere in Ireland

That was our “track following.” It was a lot of fun. I have followed a few other tracks. I followed a mountain path up Mount Gilboa to see the wild irises in bloom and climbed down Land’s End. So there have been a few tracks, here and there.

But no fast tracks. I seem to have missed them.

THE CURLEYS OUT WEST – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Tom and I took a ten-day trip out West to visit our daughter, Sarah, in LA and to see some of our old friends.

In LA, we got to experience some elements of city life that we miss out on in the woods where we live in Connecticut. We used grub Hub to order dinner from a local restaurant that we were too lazy to go to in person. The food arrived promptly and still warm! What an invention!

Sarah in her blanket poncho to ward off the cold in LA (it was in the ’50s and ’60s)

I spent an afternoon out with Sarah but she had an evening class so I had to take an Uber back to her house by myself. I’d never used Uber before and I’d heard horror stories about Uber drivers kidnapping women and selling them into sex slavery.

At my age, that’s not in the cards for me, so I bravely got into the Uber car. The very nice driver drove me through the scenic hills of LA for over an hour. I got to see some of the most beautiful and expensive houses up in the hills – some literally on stilts! It was a lovely drive.

We also experienced something totally ordinary to us but mind-blowing to LA residents – rain! Out there they get a rain shower every once in a while but never downpours or all day affairs like we get all the time in New England. They are more familiar with droughts and wildfires than days of non-stop rain. It had rained all week when we got there. The LA river is usually dried up and is used by skateboarders (it has a concrete bottom and curved walls) and film crews to film chase scenes. When we were there, there was an actual river flowing through the city!

Rain in LA (with an add for cannabis cookies in the background).

Dog owners were freaking out too. Apparently, LA dogs don’t like rain any more than their masters and when it rained all day, they had to go out and get their feet wet. This created a major crisis because dogs all over LA were balking and refusing to go out. So dog owners tried to adapt and I saw dogs dressed in rain coats and doggie galoshes walking around town. My dogs wouldn’t wear booties – they’d sit down and chew them off rather than take a step with them on. The LA dogs are either well-trained or total wusses.

Rain gear for dogs

While in LA, we went to the local weed store, where I was not allowed to take pictures. It was awesome! Counters and counters of products in fancy packaging. It looked like the make-up counters at a department store. There were all kinds of edibles, from mints to cookies, candies to brownies, even brand named candies and cereals made with cannabis. They had oils and plants and all kinds of smokeables, including the new craze, vape pens.

Weed shop

The personnel at the shop were very friendly and acted like the ladies at make-up counters, asking you what you wanted, telling you about the different samples so you could find the perfect product for your needs.

Tom was thrilled to be surrounded by all kinds of legal weed. He loved seeing all the weed shops dotting the streets of LA and I loved the huge signs for cannabis cookies all over town. I was also impressed by the fancy liquor stores that you could find in the aisles of the local supermarkets. Nothing like that in Connecticut. Here you have to go to a separate liquor store to buy booze, not the one-stop shopping you get in LA.

This was just the Whiskey section in the supermarket!

One of the perks of going to LA was that we would get to see some old friends. One couple, Gary and Beth, moved from Westchester as soon as they retired, about two years ago, to be near their daughter and five-year-old granddaughter. They spent the entire two years looking for a house to buy, but in LA houses go quickly and there is often a bidding war that raises the price above the asking price.

If you don’t make an offer within the first day the house is on the market, you’re screwed. Gary and Beth lost two houses this way but eventually found the ideal place, on their daughter’s street, literally six houses down from her!

They couldn’t be happier though their house is small and a big change from their spacious Westchester home.

Typical house in a nice LA neighborhood

It was great to spend time with these old friends and I got to see an even older friend. Tom has known Gary since college, but I have a high school friend, Susan, who lives outside of San Diego. We met at a restaurant in Newport Beach, halfway between Susan and Sarah.

Susan and I graduated high school together in 1967 and we kept up into the late 1970s when we were both young marrieds in New York City. But then Susan and I lost touch until two years ago on Facebook. We started emailing and we were thrilled to get to see each other in person again after 40 plus years.

Susan and me

Susan brought her husband of 45 years, Jeff, and I brought Tom and Sarah. We all hit it off amazingly well and if we lived near one another, we would be the best of friends and would see each other all the time. Instead, we are going to schedule monthly phone conversations so we can stay in touch in between our annual visits to LA.

The next leg of our trip also involved old friends. Another college friend of Tom’s, Marc, and his wife, Rachel, moved from Long Island after retirement four years ago to Portland, Oregon. One of their daughters lived there and now the other daughter moved there and is having a baby, so they couldn’t be happier. They lived in a suburban area in New York, a long drive from the city where all the action is.

So they are over the moon to be right in the middle of Portland’s lively cultural life – lots of art, music, and theater going on 24/7.

Marc and Rachel can now go to concerts, openings, and shows all the time and they are having the time of their lives. They can easily walk and bike to many parts of town so they are not dependent on driving like they were most of their lives.

Portland townhouses like the ones our friends live in

They did drive us all over town though, so we have a good feel for this lovely city. Portland has a social conscience and a love for the environment. It is artsy and very progressive socially, politically and culturally and is often referred to as a hippie town. Weed is legal in Oregon and recycling is God – even the airports have multiple recycling bins. They are aggressively trying to deal with a large homeless problem, which has been a thorn in their side for several years.

The food in Portland, like in LA, is much healthier and they have local produce available all year, unlike the east. I ordered two quinoa salads that were the best I’d ever had. There were vegetarian options wherever we went and the salads and fresh vegetables were amazing. I could eat healthy and delicious everywhere, even at diner style places – I didn’t have to ferret out special restaurants that catered to ‘healthy’ options.

So we had a very western experience in LA and Portland and a great time with family and friends. It’s good to be back home with our dogs, who missed us so much, one of them dug up our carpet in the closet.

Welcome home, Mom and Dad!

AUTRY MUSEUM, PART 2 – BY ELLIN CURLEY

When I was in LA, I went to the Autry Museum of the West. I was so impressed with it, I took tons of photos and am writing three blogs about it.

Tom outside next to the statue of Gene Autry with his guitar and his horse, Champion

One of my favorite parts of the museum was the section devoted to movie and television cowboys. I forgot how much the cowboy dominated our media consumption for so many years. Like the lawyer or cop or FBI/CIA agent of today.

Here are some wonderful old movie posters, some with costumes and props from the movie.

Prop guns used in the more recent, very modern themed cowboy movie, Brokeback Mountain.

My relationship with onscreen cowboys was mostly through television. I was a huge Dale Evans and Annie Oakley fan.

The TV cowboys of the ’50s and ’60s spawned a whole industry of cowboy merchandise that we kids ate up.

I had either this gun or the Dale Evans gun – and holster of course!
My favorite TV cowboy and cowgirl, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Wonderful singers too!

DESIGN AT DISNEY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

On my recent trip out West, we went to Disneyland in Anaheim, CA for a day. I was struck by the beautiful design elements and artistic touches I saw all over the California Park. There were also many California Craftsman style pieces as well as Art Deco, often in the most mundane places.

Walt Disney with a map of the original Disneyland
The park is dotted with artistic plant arrangements and mini gardens
California Craftsman style fountain. Similar to Art Deco style.
Pseudo Frank Lloyd Wright style building, with his iconic stonework patterns
My favorite – a total art deco pretzel stand! Gorgeous!
Closeup of a colorful mosaic over a bench
A larger section of the mosaic over a bench

A WORLD IN PASSPORTS – Marilyn Armstrong

Weekly Word Prompt – Passport

The first time I needed a passport was when I was going to live in Israel. It was such a busy period, I don’t actually remember it. I remember having the passport, but I don’t remember the process or getting it or getting pictures taken, or anything else. I must have done all of it or I could not have gone to Israel, but it’s a complete blank.

I do remember the next passport, though because by then I was living in Israel and I had to get a passport at the American Consulate in Jerusalem.

I was also, by then, an Israeli citizen, so around the same time — I had to get an Israeli passport. Remarkably, the only thing I remember about getting my passport at the American consulate was that the guard was a Marine in full dress uniform. I was very impressed. He was like one of the guards at Kensington Palace — as still as a statue.

As for getting my Israeli passport, I remember that I knew my “number” by heart. Everyone knew their number. These days, I can barely remember my own phone number.

That was the same passport I used when Garry and I honeymooned in Ireland and the same one I used when I went abroad to work in Israel. I had to use my Israeli passport and it had the wrong name on it, so I had to use my American passport too, to prove I was me and will still be me.

The next time I had to get a new passport was when we were living here. I hadn’t even realized my passport had gone past due, but that was when suddenly, you needed a passport to go to Canada and we were going up to Jackman, Maine which is right on the Canadian border and thought we might want to wander into Canada.

Jackman, Maine

That used to be no big deal. You didn’t even need a passport. Just a driver’s license, a wave and off you’d go. Now you needed a passport and there was a line of cars. And prices were really high and there wasn’t any sense of “hospitality” for which Canadians are supposedly famous. Maybe it’s because we were obviously tourists.

Or maybe it’s because our friends were obviously Natives to whom not all Canadians are friendly.

HEIDELBERG, GERMANY

Our Visit to the Valley, Rich Paschall

For most of my visits to Strasbourg, France I returned home by going directly to Frankfurt airport for my flight.  It is about two and one half hours away by Lufthansa bus, slightly longer by Flixbus as they usually make one brief stop.  My friend from Alsace has driven me there as well. This year we had to change the plan.

Our return flight left early in the day so our options were to stay overnight near Frankfurt, or get to some place were we could make the journey in a short period of time.  We decide to go to Heidelberg for two nights.

Heidelberg

Heidelberg is a university town nestled among surrounding mountains in the Rhine Rift Valley.  The Nekar River flows through the valley with the town being largely on one side and the Heidelberg mountain rising on the other.  At just 48 miles from Frankfurt, it was a good place to be within early striking distance of our morning flight.

The population of the city is approximately 160,000 with a fourth of that said to be students at the renowned university.  Founded it 1386, it is Germany’s oldest and one of the world’s most respected universities.  It’s buildings are spread out over a large section of the old town.

Main street

The oldest streets are narrow, and making your way down them by on foot or by vehicle can be a challenge. Nevertheless, we found the city a great place to explore on foot.  Narrow streets may surprise you by opening up onto plazas or university sites that provide open spaces.

In our travels about town, we often noticed many flower shops.  For late October we found the abundance of flowers to be amazing.  The moderate temperature and somewhat longer growing season may be partly responsible.  The cultural interest certainly comes into play as tourists are not likely buying any.

Flower shop, Heidelberg

In all of the European cities we explore, we stop by churches of many denominations.  We often find structures of architectural and historical significance.  Many still operate as churches.  A few are no more than museums now.  Some are both actually.

Almost in the shadow of the largest Heidelberg church, seen at the end of the main street above, is the Parish Church of the Holy Spirit and St. Ignatius, or more commonly known as the Church of the Jesuits. Built between 1712 and 1759, the church steeple was added over a century later.

Church of the Jesuits

Throughout the oldest section of town are buildings of the Universitat Heidelberg.  One of the more impressive is the main library building, constructed between 1901 and 1905. It holds a collection of printed books counting in the millions, as well as paintings, maps and photographs, films and video.  Of course, they are up to modern methods, with e-journals and other electronic services.

While the “modern” library is early 20th century, the university library dates back to 1388.  It has enjoyed several locations around town.  The Bibliothek, or central library, you see here is one of many libraries in the university system.

Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg

While the tram system is a good way to get around, students as well as many locals know that the best way to travel about is by bicycle.  You will find that many of the university building are surrounded by bicycles throughout the day.  With automobile traffic being difficult, if not impossible, around many of the school buildings, the only ways to navigate the distances between buildings are on foot and by bike.

Bicycles

For the Heidelberg stop over we rented an apartment near a tram station. We found it on Booking.com as we searched sites for our stay. It was a bit more than a hotel perhaps, but the large space had a kitchen, large living room and large bedroom. It had a washing machine which was essential at this late part of our trip. One of the things that amazes me around Europe are the washer and dryers, as they are actually the same machine. I just don’t know why we continue to buy two machines, but I digress. The apartment had everything you would need to set up shop, although we did no cooking. We used the refrigerator, however, to chill the wine we brought from Strasbourg and there were wine glasses in the cabinet.

From our apartment location

Our brief visit to Heidelberg was just a day and a half, two nights. It did not give us enough time to see all of the historic sites. The autumn weather was mild and we were able to take many meals “in the streets” as my friend likes to say. Out living quarters were at the end of a quiet street in a beautiful old apartment building. Autumn would seem a lovely time to visit and we will hope we can add Heidelberg to our itinerary again.

ALSACE ADVENTURE – Rich Paschall

Strasbourg and Beyond, by Rich Paschall

For many years now Strasbourg has been a favorite vacation stop.  It is not just because of the wonderful historic sites and amazing food and wine, but also because of the friends who live in the region.  I am sure you will agree that any chance to visit one of your best friends is a good enough reason to head out on a new adventure.

In the northeast corner of France, right across the Rhine River from Germany, lies Strasbourg.  It is the largest city in the Grand Est (East). The metropolitan region is home to almost a half million residents.  It is an important city in the European Union as the location of several EU institutions, including the European Parliament.

Strasbourg, France

Despite the many visits to Strasbourg, I never really walked through the area known as “Petite France,” where they maintain the architecture of the Middle Ages .  Known for the many white and black timber buildings, it is a lovely throwback to an era long past.  Of course we have seen many buildings like this throughout the city and the region.

In 1988 the city centre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.  This includes the famous cathedral, sitting on a foundation over a thousand years old.

Street of “Petite France”

Every visit to Strasbourg must include a stop at the grand Cathedral.  Built on the foundation of a previous structure, the current church was built between 1176 and 1439.  If you see the size and intricate detail of the building, and then consider there was no modern building equipment, you will understand why it took centuries to complete.

The street leading up to the cathedral might be a bit “touristy” for some, but I must confess that we stopped in the shops and purchased some souvenirs along the way.  I can never return home without the required refrigerator magnet, and my friend picked up several items to remember the occasion.  We also stopped near the end of the street near the cathedral for lunch at an outdoor cafe.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg

Literally in the shadow of the Cathedral is the Palais Rohan.  Built in the 1730s as the resident of the princes of the House of Rohan, French royalty who served as bishop and cardinal of the cathedral, it has been a museum in modern times.  It was seized during the French Revolution and sold to the municipality where it served for a while as the town hall.  Some of the original furniture and artwork were sold off or destroyed.

The site had been a bishop’s resident since 1262.  The courtyard and the area between the palace and the cathedral have been the scene of archeological digs throughout modern times, including some of our visits.  There they have found artifacts from ancient Roman times.

Palais Rohan

One of the joys of centering your trip in Strasbourg is being able to head off to regional sites of interest.  Whether you are going to other towns or villages by train from Gare de Strasbourg-Ville, by tour bus or have a friend to drive, you will find much to see.

Mosbach winery

With my friend as driver, we always head to a wine producer for a taste of the local vintage.  It might seem a bit odd on a Sunday morning, but we found Mosbach willing to open the shop and hand out samples.  Alsace is famous for their white wines and my French guide selected a bottle for each of us.

There are many places to stop along the famous “wine road.”  The region is filled with vineyards that climb up the side of the hills, and wine producers ready to welcome you.

From here we went to the popular Mont Ste. Odile, or Hohenburg Abbey, where Saint Odile (c. 660 to 720) served as abbess.  Legend has it she was cured of blindness as a child.  This is why she is known as the patron saint of the blind.  She is also considered the patron of Alsace.

From atop this hill, Odile is said to look out over Alsace as protector of the region.  When one enters the abbey, its church and its chapels, one wonders how they built this many century ago.  The modern-day road is narrow and winding and the hill has dense forest.  One is left to wonder how they were able to get all the materials used in the building to the top of the hill.  The view is worth the trip.

Alsace region from Mont Sainte Odile Abbey

Someday in the future, I hope I can make this trip again.  There is a great value to the discoveries that travel will bring into your life.  When you have a chance, hit the road for new adventures.They are not only educational, but rejuvenating in ways that are hard to explain.  As Rick Steves (PBS travel shows) will tell you, “Keep on travelling.”

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