WOODCLEFT CANAL, FREEPORT, LONG ISLAND – Marilyn Armstrong

Freeport, Long Island. It’s in Nassau Country, the closest county on Long Island to New York.

I grew up in the city. In Queens, which is a borough of New York. Each of New York’s boroughs has its own character and in many ways, is a city in its own right. Certainly, people who grow up in Brooklyn identify themselves as Brooklyn-ites and if you come from the Queens, Staten Island, or the Bronx, you will always identify that as your “home ground” rather than just “New York.”

Maybe it’s because New York is so big. Each neighborhood is like a city unto itself. Boston is like that, too. Maybe most big cities are.

Colorized postcard of Woodcleft canal with houses visible on the right side of the photo. Postmark: “” Merrick, N.Y, September 3, 1907″ Addressee and Address: “M.A. Hansen, 791 59th Street, Brooklyn” Message [on the front]: “” Sept. 1, 07. Have a good time. May” – From the Freeport Historical Society Postcard Collection

Between the picture postcard and our visit lay almost exactly a century.

People from Manhattan have a strong sense of superiority because they come from The City. For reasons that are hard to explain, but perfectly obvious to anyone who has lived there or even visited for any length of time, Manhattan is the heart of New York in ways that cannot be simply explained. It’s not just because it’s the center of business. In fact, that really has little to do with it. It just is what it is. Even when I was a kid growing up in Queens, when we said we were going “into the city,” we meant New York. Manhattan.

If we were going anywhere else in the five boroughs, we said we were going to Brooklyn or the Bronx or some specific neighborhood … but the city was Manhattan and no doubt still is.

I moved to Long Island in 1963 when I was 16 and had just started college. I never moved back to the city, though for many years, we went there for shows, museums, etc. And of course, work.

A few years of my childhood, before I was 5 and moved to Holliswood, we lived in an apartment house — really, a tenement — on Rose Street in Freeport, near Woodcleft Canal.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the area near the canal was decrepit. Living “near the docks” was not a good thing, certainly nothing to brag about. My family was going through hard times and it was the best we could afford.

My mother hated it. It was the middle of nowhere and she didn’t drive. For her, born in Manhattan, a lifelong resident of New York, what was Freeport? Long Island? That was farm country where you went to buy vegetables at farm stands. My mother, an urbanite to her core, understood poverty but being poor in the country was her version of Hell.

My memories are limited but I see in my mind a big white stucco building with no architectural features. A large white box that didn’t fit into the neighborhood. Even by the less stringent standards of 60-years ago, it was an eyesore. It hasn’t lost that quality. It is still an ugly building, but I expect the rent is higher.

We drove down Rose Street to look at it. I was curious if I would recognize it, but I did. Instantly. I think early memories are deeply embedded in our psyches. Then, having satisfied curiosity, we found out to the canal.

Reflections in the canal.

I shouldn’t have been surprised to find the canal lined with marinas and yachts. The road along the canal has the usual expensive restaurants featuring faux nautical decor. It was a trifle weird.

There were many huge Victorian houses in Freeport back in the 1970s that you could buy for almost nothing. A great deal if you had a lot of money with which to fix one of them up. Those grand old houses … there are still a few around there and here too, but restoring one is big bucks and maintaining them, even if you can afford the initial restoration, out of the range of most people. I’m glad that some have survived. They are magnificent, though even thinking about the cost of heating one is frightening.

Everything changes.

You can’t go back in time except in your memory. Sometimes, if you treasure the way it was, how you remember it, it’s better not to revisit places. Keep your memories intact because then, the places you remember will always be the way they were.

THE GRAND EST REGION – RICH PASCHALL

Today we are off on our latest adventure to Alsace. On this trip I will be joined by my frequent travel companion Lewis and a friend of his. We are going by way of Paris, as Lewis wishes to see this great city again. After our brief stop over we will be off to Strasbourg and a visit with my best friend there. We will try to bring back great travel news and pictures, but in the meantime here is a look at one of our past adventures.

A Visit to Strasbourg by Rich Paschall


Just across the Rhine River from Germany, in the northeast corner of France, lies the capital of the Grand Est (East) Region.  It is the largest metropolitan area in Alsace and home to the European Parliament, the legislative body of the European Union.  Because of its central location in Europe and proximity to Switzerland and Luxembourg, as well as “Allemand” (Germany), it is a major confluence of architecture, culture and cuisine.

Gare de Strasbourg

Whether you arrive by train from Paris, or other city or town around France, or come via the Lufthansa bus from Frankfurt, Germany, your first stop will be at Gare de Strasbourg (or Strasbourg railway station).  You can get a nonstop train from Paris, but you may find it easier to fly to Frankfurt and take the bus direct from Frankfurt airport.  Having made this trip many times, my preferred route is via Frankfurt.  While the French have made it easier in recent years with a direct train from Paris’ Charles De Gaulle airport, rather than having to go into the city to Gare de L’Est, you are likely to find the air fares from USA TO Frankfurt to be much cheaper than going to Paris.

Like most European cities, there is no need to rent a car.  Public transportation will get you around town and around the region.  Strasbourg is a great walking city and small enough to reach most of the sites on foot.  Tram and foot power will take you where you want to go.  Of course, a local friend with an automobile is a plus, but not necessary in the city proper.

Rue du Vingt-Deux Novembre

From the train station there are many reasonably priced hotels within a short distance, even if you are toting luggage.  Straight ahead from the station is the Rue du Vingt-Deux Novembre. The picturesque street will take you past shops, restaurants, a large and very old church (of course), as well as hotels.  From this area you will enjoy many lovely trips around town.  If you do not have phone service outside the country, download a city map to your phone or tablet and use it as your guide.  If you are lucky, your hotel or other tourist stop will have a map that is actually printed on paper.  Strange, I know.

Place Kléber

Of course, it you forgot your iPhone or whatever electronic device you can not live without, you can always make your way to the large public square known as Place Kléber to visit the Apple Store.  I guess the techies will know by this stop that city is up to date and not just filled with ancient churches and quaint restaurants.  I will just sit by the fountain as you go in and gaze at all things Apple.

Wine Producers exhibition

The large convention center is home to many events.  We were lucky on one trip to make it to the wine producers convention.  Here the wine makers try to interest stores and restaurants in their latest wines.  Of course we could not stop at all of the many hundred booths to sample all of the products.  Fortunately, my friend was familiar with the wine producers of the region and was able to point me in the direction of the best ones.

If you appreciate a good stroll through town, you will find grand architecture and important historic sites.  There are cozy restaurants and side-walk cafes.  You can walk east and see the Rhine and another country across the way, or amble past the rivers and canals.  Going by the sites on a car or tram means you may miss the beauty of the ancient city.  If you can, take a walk with friends.

A tour with friends

Cathedral selfie

Almost any walk around Strasbourg will bring you to the spectacular Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg. The height of its tower makes it visible from almost anywhere in the city.  It is 466 feet and it was the tallest building in the world from 1647 to 1874.  At present it is the 6th tallest church, and the tallest building surviving since the Middle Ages.  Other structures were on the site previously, but this cathedral was begun in 1015 and celebrated its thousand-year anniversary in 2015.  Much of the first structure burned to the ground in 1176 because of the wooden framework.  Construction began again on the current structure and was not finished until 1439.  This remarkable edifice was 424 years in the making.  It is the pride and joy of this region and a must stop for your travel itinerary of Alsace.

The complex west façade, or front of the building, is decorated with thousands of figures.  Do any of them represent actual people of that era?  The Gothic style of the front of the building is considered a masterpiece.  Some see the design as random, perhaps it is not.  The north tower rises to a great height, but the south tower was never built.  The result is a uniquely shaped building.

When I see these old structures, I truly wonder how they built them without modern construction equipment.  On the other hand, only craftsmen of that era could have built this.  Nothing like it is built in modern times.  During World War II the stained glass windows were removed and stored in a salt mine in Germany.  They were recovered and returned after the war by the American Military.  Seeing these windows today, you have to wonder how they got them in originally, as well as removing them to safeguard them.  The church suffered damage during air raids by British and American military.  It was not until the 1990s that the repairs were complete.

From Rue Mercière

I have seen the structure often and been inside a few times.  There can be lines of tourists outside, and they now employ a level of security that was not there the first time we visited.  If you encounter a line, be patient.  The trip inside is worth the wait.

Source: Strasbourg Cathedral, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strasbourg_Cathedral
Related: Destination: Friendship

A VISIT TO COLOMBIA – Rich Paschall

I have seen a few articles that claim Medellin is one of the best international cities for retirement. The US dollar goes far and the climate is pleasant.Forbes rates Colombia the number 6 country in 2019 for International Living. I have made two trips to Colombia. Here are my thoughts after the first visit.

Medellin, RICH PASCHALL

A mile high in the Andes mountains of Colombia, located in the Aburrá Valley, lies the city of Medellin. It is somewhere between the size of Los Angeles and Chicago. Some of its neighborhoods are built up the sides of the mountain, but the city center is mostly flat.

Nevertheless, bring a good pair of walking shoes to make you tour around town.  Traffic in downtown Medellin can be something close to gridlock in midday.  A large number of buses and taxis will not help you get around quickly.

Medellin downtown

Medellin downtown

My trip was somewhat of a lark. A longtime internet friend encouraged me to come visit. Although we talked often on Google Hangout and Skype and chatted on Facebook Messenger, we had never actually met.  After seeing all the Facebook pictures of friends and relatives, it was as if we were old friends.

The weather there was just about perfect, so I decided to use my few remaining vacation days and hop a plane south.

I was not eager to transit another country, I decided to take American Airlines from Chicago to Miami and then fly directly to Medellin. It would have been cheaper to connect in Panama City, but lacking Spanish, it seemed a better choice to connect in an American city. Besides, the Miami connecting times were shorter.

Columbia’s international airport is in Rionegro, 45 minutes from Medellin. It’s at a higher altitude than Medellin and offers amazing views of the tropical region. Although the airport is the second largest in Colombia, it was closer in size to Sarasota, Florida, though much busier. The airport is modern and efficient. Much easier to get through customs than Miami — a story for another time.

My friend was waiting for me as I came out of customs.  From this point on in the trip, it’s a good idea to have someone local with you, even if you speak Spanish, which I don’t.  Most signs are entirely in Spanish … which by itself can be a problem for tourists.

I had exchanged currency at the airport in Miami — never a good thing. Rates of exchanges at airports are the worst. Even ATM rates would have been better, but then you have fees, so I suppose it’s a toss-up.  I did not see currency exchanges in the city, but there were some large banks in downtown Medellin that might have been able to make the exchange at a better rate.

You definitely need cash. Most stores and restaurants take only cash, even when you see a MasterCard sticker on the door. The only place you’ll likely use plastic is at an ATM.

There are plenty of taxis and buses at the airport, so transportation to the city should be no problem. My friend took us to the taxi line. The first one was for a shared cab to a designated spot in the city. He chose this for economy

We shared the ride with a couple and a single person. A three-way split is very economical.  In fact, it was cheaper than from O’Hare airport to downtown Chicago — and O’Hare is actually in Chicago proper.

Road to the airport

Road to the airport

The ride down the mountain in the dark was an adventure. The road into the airport is wide and well-lit, but shortly you are on a winding two-lane highway. In the mountains. At night.

The driver knows the road well, but racing down was quite a thrill.  We would get tossed from side to side like a roller coaster ride.  When we arrived in town and dropped off the others, my friend negotiated a rate to his apartment.

At night we visited a neighborhood filled with outdoor cafes and sports bars. A large central square was crowded. You could buy beverages at nearby stores. The square and two streets along it formed an “L” and were like Bourbon Street in New Orleans — one big open-air party.

The downtown shopping area the next day was crowded.  We went by Metro and returned by taxi. The wide walkways on many streets could accommodate outdoors stands and carts where a variety of goods were available. Tropical fruit drinks (nonalcoholic) were everywhere  — a good thing when you’re doing serious shopping.

Downtown shopping

Downtown shopping

Many stores featured products from the US. We saw one store supposedly selling “USA brand” clothes.  My friend said to me, “all originals,” with a wink and a laugh. I decided after a while that I could figure out which places sold authentic goods and high-end merchandise because they had armed security guards at the door. It did not appear the police walking the streets were armed, although I didn’t study them.

Medellin is known as the “City of Eternal Spring” because of its temperate climate.  The average annual temperature is 72 degrees Fahrenheit.  Most days are in the 80s all year long, but since they are in the mountains, it cools off to low 60s at night.

Upper 50’s would be a cold night.  Few places had air conditioning. Restaurants and bars are open-air and the climate is perfect for living outdoors. Cool enough for comfortable nighttime sleeping, too. For my visit, the days were in the upper 80s, and the cooler nights did not require jackets.

If your knowledge of Medellin comes from news stories from 1993 or earlier, forget it.  They have worked hard to live down the past and transform the city into a welcoming place.

If he comes up in conversation, locals will tell you that Pablo Escobar does not live there anymore (died in 1993), just as Chicagoans sometimes have to say that Al Capone does not live here anymore (he died in 1947).

The people are friendly, food is good, the climate is great, and the scenery is beautiful. The trip was too short and I wouldn’t mind another visit. Especially in the winter.

Visit the Medellin photo gallery at Sunday Night Blog here.

Also see: “The Top 10 Places In The World To Retire: 2 New Lists,” Forbes.com, January 4, 2019.

A PASSAGE OVER WATER – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP TUESDAY: PASSAGE

In the I Ching, a passage is not just a passage. A passage over water means something different than a passage over a mountain or across a meadow. Each movement carries its own specific message for you.

I was never very good at deciphering it.

Passage over water usually means a long journey to another country. It doesn’t have to mean “real water,” either. It merely implies “a long trip.” Someone in Israel taught me to read the I Ching. I don’t remember who it was. I was never very good at it anyway. It usually made more sense after it happened than it did in the original reading.

Still, I remember that passage over water. I was thinking of vacations to distant lands. Maybe a trip home to visit family. That was definitely over water — an entire ocean.

It turned out to be leaving Israel and never coming back to live there. I did return once to work, but that trip was even more unreal because it landed me back in Boston two days before 9/11.

Thus whenever I hear the word “passage,” I remember the journey back to the United States, I recall leaving behind everything I’d accumulated during the 9 years I lived there. Some of it came back, but most didn’t. It made Israel a trip that lost its reality quickly. I had no photographs or items that meant something special. My friends were gone and I only saw just one of them ever again.

In less time than I had spent living there, it became distant, misty, and unreal. And now, with all the changes that have occurred, it is even further away than it was before.

NOT THE BUCKET LIST – Rich Paschall

Things To Do, by Rich Paschall

Perhaps you have a “bucket list.” You know, things you must do before you “kick the bucket.” That is to say before you die. Such lists seem to be popular with middle-aged and older people. Younger people may not give this much thought, as they are more likely to believe there is plenty of time left to do things.

Domed stadium, natural grass, Miller Park

If you have a list, what do you have on it?  Do you want to visit all the MLB stadiums? NFL stadiums? NBA arenas? Do you want to climb mountains? Perhaps Mount Everest holds an allure. Perhaps you want to skydive or water ski.

Maybe you want to swim with the dolphins, or watch the humpbacked whales come out of the ocean? Perhaps you wish to travel. London? Paris? Rome? Far East? The Middle East? Do you want to go to the islands of the Caribbean or the South Pacific?

In London with a friend

It may not be too late to learn a language, take a wine tasing course or learn to paint (pictures, not houses).  Maybe you want to run a marathon. You could try for every state. Maybe you want to run with the bulls. I hope you are fast. Maybe you want to visit famous places close to home. You could travel to the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls or the monuments of Washington, DC.

I guess if we thought about it enough, we could put down hundreds of ideas.  If you made a list, how would you prioritize them? Would you do the easiest to complete first, or start with the hardest? Time, health and financial resources could play into all of your decisions.

Grand Canyon

I don’t have a bucket list, nor do I feel the need to make one. I don’t wish to have a list of things I must accomplish. What if I didn’t finish them all? Was life a failure? What if I did finish them? Do I just wait around after that for the grim reaper?

Of course, there are things I would like to do. They are not bucket list items, just things I would like to accomplish if time and resources allow. I have eliminated the ambitious running around the country or around the world ideas. Anything that is too arduous is out.

Selestat, France

If you have any kind of chronic pain, you immediately cross items off the list as not worth the time and aggravation. If you have a plate and 8 screws in your spine, roller coasters and bungee jumping are not things you will consider if you still have your sanity. There are limitations to what the human body will put up with at certain stages of life.

This year I decided on something I should do that had crossed my mind before. There just was no more putting it off. The opportunity to get away was at hand and all I needed was the go-ahead from my destination hosts. When the arrangements were complete I was off to the destination that had moved to the top of my list of places to go. Uxbridge, MA!

Downtown Uxbridge

If you have been following SERENDIPITY for very long, then you have seen plenty of photos of Uxbridge from Marilyn and Garry Armstrong. Marilyn is our editor, photographer, publisher, sage and idea guru. I dropped in on SERENDIPITY in 2013 with a short story, and Marilyn has let me hang around ever since. I am here on Sundays and I sneak in an extra article from time to time on another day.

The interesting thing about the internet is you can contribute articles from anywhere. While Marilyn and Garry are outside the Boston area, I am in Chicago. You may be surprised to learn that prior to this year, we had never met. So Uxbridge became my destination of choice.

My hosts: Garry, Duke, Marilyn

We were going to tour the area and visit many of the spots I had seen before on the blog. The weather held other ideas for us. We were in the pattern of daily ran and spent much of the time indoors. As it turns out, that was just fine. We never ran out of things to talk about. After five and a half years of articles, comments and emails there were plenty of topics to discuss. It was just a couple of days before my trip in early June that I heard Marilyn’s voice for the first time. We were coordinating our arrangements by phone. In the days ahead, we had a lot of time to talk.

With a very small window of opportunity, we headed out to grab a few pictures. The rain held off for a few moments allowing us our touristy pictures. Then it was back inside to our regular greeters, the three dogs.

Cameras at the ready

Nighttime gave us the opportunity to view Westerns we had discussed back and forth in comments and emails. This included one of the Armstrongs’ favorites, Rustlers’ Rhapsody. It is an homage to the great B-movies of a bygone era. It’s a good cast and wacky entertainment. I will get the opportunity to see this send-up again and again as I was sent home with a copy.

It was the opportune moment to meet friends at the other side of the internet universe. I don’t know if I will ever make it back to Uxbridge, but it was on this year’s To Do List and it got done.

I make a careful distinction between things I want to do and a “bucket list.” I have no crazy ideas or personal challenges, just a desire to visit friends when I can. It does not matter where they are in the world. If I can make the trip, then it becomes the next adventure.

Check out this adventure’s photo gallery at Sunday Night Blog: A Visit To Uxbridge

PORTLAND STREET ART – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I recently spent two days with friends in Portland, Oregon, the Vermont of the West. Pot is legal and the arts are thriving, all over town.

Our friends drove us and walked with us all around town so we got a good overview of the city.

Beautiful design on a billboard in town

This design covered two buildings next to each other

Artwork on the side of a building

The side of another building. I love the whimsy of this one!

Another cool scene on the side of a building

Courtyard entrance to a shop

On our drive through town, I took a picture of an interesting sculpture I saw on the porch of a house. Later that night, our friends drove us to a local tourist attraction – a psychedelic light show that a local resident projects every night. I realized that this was the house with the interesting ‘sculpture’ – much more interesting with the lights!

CAR-MA AND COPS – Marilyn Armstrong

It was a lovely crisp Saturday morning. I was heading north out of New York to visit Garry in Boston. I don’t remember which car I was driving. Probably my turquoise VW Rabbit, my personal pocket rocket.

I am not a slow driver, though I try to be a careful one. If I see a wide open road and I figure I’m not going to get a ticket, I’ve been known to put the pedal to the metal, perhaps a tad faster than the legal limit. Which is why I was surprised, as I drove along in the left lane of the limited access highway, to be passed on the right and cut off — leaving just millimeters to spare — by a vehicle going so fast he nearly sucked the doors off my car.

Icy rocks

I was a bit shaken, especially since he had no reason to cut me off at all. The road was empty. He had plenty of room, so he was just being an asshole. I hadn’t even seen him coming.

“Go tiger,” I murmured, looking at my speedometer. I was going a smidge over 80 MPH, so how fast was he going? He passed me as if I were standing still.

“People like him,” I muttered, “Give all of us a bad name.”

I continued on my way, made merrier by the music on my radio … until I saw flashing lights ahead. I slowed. Then I slowed more until I was crawling along.

Blue lights were flashing everywhere. This was no normal speeding ticket stop. It was not one or two police cars. There must have been a hundred or more squad cars, motorcycles, and a couple of vans.

It was a cop convention!

On the road to Skowhegan

Open road

My speeder had plunged into the heart of a law enforcement convoy!

The fellow, a young man of unimpressive demeanor, was standing on the shoulder of the road, hands in the air looking terrified. Officers stood near him. They had bagged a good one and were clearly having fun as only a convention of cops can.

On the way to Chestnut Hill

I was happy.

Justice, so rarely served, was coming to one who thoroughly deserved it. I doubted he would ever speed again. I couldn’t tell if he had wet his pants, but I could hope.

I gave a thumbs up to the cops standing around writing as many tickets as they could think of.  I still wonder how many he got. In returns, a number of cops gave a thumbs up.

I was laughing the entire rest of the trip to Boston.