CANAL BOATING HOLIDAYS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I’m planning an exciting trip with another couple for next fall. It’s a boating holiday unique to England and parts of Europe, called canal boating. Everything about the English branch of this subculture is different from what most Americans think of when they think about boating.

The boat used is called a narrowboat. It’s like a long, thin steel barge designed for use as a houseboat. It can be 45, 55 or 65 feet long but it is always only 7- feet wide. It has a small diesel engine that can go up to 5 miles an hour. You steer with a single rudder in the back of the boat. This would not work well on the ocean or a lake, but you are floating on a totally calm, 20-foot wide canal that gently winds its way through the countryside of England.

Tom and me on our first canal boat

The boats are usually painted with colors and designs specific to the canals. They are surprisingly spacious, with a living area and kitchen, full bathroom and sleeping areas. The boats sleep from 2-10 people. Some have a separate eating area, like a banquette but the smaller boats just have a table in the living room.

Interior of our canal boat

Tom and I have spent three weeks on the canals of England for two excursions. Both trips were just us, which is easily doable and enjoyable. Many retired couples in England buy a canal boat and choose to live on the canals during the open season from April through October.

However, this kind of traveling lends itself to traveling with other couples or groups because there are plenty of tasks for everyone. My first canal boat experience was in 1987 with four adults and four children ages two, seven, eight and nine.

We brought bikes so anyone could cycle to a nearby town or through the countryside. The advantage of having at least 3 adults is that there are many locks throughout the canal system, which take physical work to get through.

Tom on our second canal boat

One person has to drive the boat into the narrow lock and it goes a lot faster when you have two adults manning the lock-machinery. It can be done with one person on the ground but it’s slow and tiring for the lock operator.

The experience of just puttering down the canal is peaceful and relaxing. You can go through all kinds of scenery. There are suburban stretches with beautiful, manicured homes along the canal; there are areas of farmland with fields and cows, sheep and horses. There are woods and marshes as well as more urban areas. Each route is different. This is a vast canal system that wends its way through much of England and Wales.

Once you are on the water, you’re fully independent on the canal. You can do what you want when you want. You can pull over and stake the boat down whenever you choose to eat, relax, sleep, walk along the picturesque canal or enjoy the local sights. There are numerous pubs to stop at for a drink or a meal (the food is really good).

There are nearby towns to walk around or shop for food. There are also museums and other local curiosities that are worth a stop. We toured the Wedgewood china factory, which was fascinating. We also saw one of the rare underground ‘bomb shelters’ from the 1950s which was designed to house the local government in case of a nuclear war.

When you pull over to stop, you’ll usually find other boats and end up chatting with other boaters. There are also lots of dogs and cats on canal boats and they are also very friendly. We had a cat come into our boat and sleep with us one night.

Driving the boat and manning the locks are a form of constant activity for people who like to be doing something all the time. But there’s also plenty of downtime for those who prefer to put their feet up and relax with a good book or listen to the fabulous BBC4 radio station. It has all kinds of programming, much like our TV stations. News, talk shows, game shows, dramas, sitcoms, continuing series, all high quality.

For the nature lover, you’re usually in the middle of nowhere but for the homebody, you’re always ‘home’ in your boat.

Canal locks

If you are traveling with other folks, make sure you can spend 7-days together most of the time. You have to make lots of decisions as a group. You need to decide where to stop, for how long, where to eat or what to cook. Someone has to be the driver and the others need to manage the locks, and so on. On my first, family trip, the 2 dads were both alpha males and spent most of the time arguing over everything! One of the kids asked why the dads were acting so childishly.

This can be an amazing vacation, with something for everyone. I’m planning my fourth canal holiday because I just can’t get enough of this immersive, unique vacation.

OUR END OF SUMMER – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Summer has a different meaning to Tom and me than it does to most people. We are boaters, so to us, summer simply means ‘boating season’ and it lasts for six months. We start getting our boat ready to go into the water in late March or early April. It’s still chilly and there are no leaves on the trees, but for us, ‘summer’ is starting and our mindset shifts from land to sea.

Similarly, our boat isn’t taken out of the water till November 15. So despite the falling of the leaves as well as the thermometer, and even after daylight savings makes it dark before 5 PM, we still cling to the concept of summer because our boat is still afloat. We often spend time on it when it is mild in October and November, which has been often the past few years.

Our boat, Serenity.

On November 5 this year, we emptied all the food off the boat and in a few days it will be ready for its shrink-wrapped hibernation in the parking lot of the marina. So our summer has finally ended and we’re prepared for our landlocked existence for the next half a year.

Our life is quite different when the boat is the focus of our life and when it’s not. Once the boat is in the water and ready for its close-up, all our social life takes place on the boat – rain or shine. We recently built a lovely patio outside our kitchen but no one ever gets to see it except Tom, because the grill is out there. We never have dinners or parties on our patio when the weather is conducive because we’re always on the boat during these warmer months.

The living room on our boat

We love taking guests on our boat for a ride but often the weather doesn’t cooperate and our friends just hang out with us at the dock (which is quite lovely). We have entertained on board through thunderstorms, pouring rain, gusting winds, and extreme heat and cold. We almost never move the party to the house because of the weather.

During boating season we only travel on the boat. We take short trips (under two hours) to other marinas nearby and stay one or two nights. We also take longer trips to the Connecticut River, Montauk, Block Island, and even Martha’s Vineyard, and live on the boat for a week or more with the dogs. We usually get on a plane only when there’s no boat to travel on. And then we go visit our daughter in LA, friends in Portland, Oregon, and Disneyworld in Florida. Next April we’ll be going to London for ten days. The exception is when we plan a big trip to Europe which only makes sense for us in spring or fall when the weather is great but it’s not prime tourist season so it’s not too crowded.

Dining area on the boat

Another difference in our lives when the boat is in or out of the water is how much ‘together’ time Tom and I spend. Whenever he can, Tom will spend the afternoon on the boat rather than at home. He has the same TV and video games set up in both places and the same Wifi service. So he’d rather be looking out at the water than the woods.

I usually choose to stay home during the week except when the weather is ideal, so Tom and I spend a lot of time apart for six months of the year. The rest of the year we’re in the same house most of the time. I think this bifurcated system works well for us since it dilutes the time we share in the same living space and makes us appreciate being together when we are.

Boat kitchen

So now we are finally transitioning into ‘winter’ mode. We’ll start lighting fires and having friends over to the house. Tom will immediately start pining for the next boating season. On the other hand, I’m a homebody and I don’t mind the cold (I have lots of sweaters) so I’m just as happy with my ‘winter’ existence as I am with my water-based life. Variety is the spice of life!

So welcome to winter and toasted marshmallows!

BISHKEK ANYONE? – RICH PASCHALL

 Where in the world is … ?  by Rich Paschall

One of many things that surprises me about “modern” education is the absence of geography as part of the school curriculums. When I’ve asked any young person during the last two decades if they’ve taken geography in school, the answer is usually the same.  “Geography?  What’s that?”

When I was in school, we studied geography.  We had geography books.  The classroom had maps so we could understand where in the world we were and where the rest of the world was.  These were huge maps that rolled up like a window shade.  There were pictures pinned to a bulletin board of various places we could study.

Geography courses were our window to the rest of the world, our introduction to other people and cultures. I always found it interesting, although I did not know at the time just how useful it would become.

Earth

There were many things about geography that I did not find so interesting.  The topography was lost on someone who lived in an area that is completely flat.  Information about crops and commerce held no delight at the grade school level.  The local currency meant nothing to a boy with a tiny allowance.

Climate was interesting, however, to someone who had experienced the severity of all four seasons.  I could not imagine living somewhere that had a colder climate then we have in winter.  I did imagine that places with warmer weather throughout the year would be great to visit, especially in winter.  Pictures of green mountains or long, sandy beaches fueled my imagination.  I did not think I would ever get to travel much, but the views of great scenery and different types of structures were the joys of my young fantasy vacations.

Lost Dutchman now found

With the news of the world more available than ever, you would think that geography would be an important field of study to more than the CIA.  Perhaps those in charge of various school boards around the country do not think so.  Can you match these cities recently in the news with their countries?


Match the city with the country to which it belongs:

City                              Country
Mogadishu                United States
Castañer                    Israel
Bishkek                      Turkey
Ankara                       Kyrgyzstan
Tiberias                     Somalia


When I was first working in freight forwarding, a young person was trying to pronounce the name written on one of the folders. She may have been filing items by destination. To just look at it, you would not think it a mystery, but this uneducated person was lost.

“Tell a, Tayla, tellavi…”

At that, a very annoyed supervisor in another group yelled over to our area, “Tel Aviv! Tel Aviv! It’s in the news sometimes.”

It was the capital of Israel at the time, and it is the only international airport in the country. I guess we are always stunned by people who do not know the capital cities or the largest airports of any country.

Do they know their own state’s capital?

By the way, the supervisor shouting the name of the city across the office remains one of our favorite air freight stories. It also points to the deficiency in our education on geography.

Another part of Earth

When I got a job in air freight, I think I already had a good idea of the capitals and major cities of most countries, and now I have come to learn their airport codes as well. The locations of major hubs of commerce and the airlines that fly there are key to our success.

You could put Asian freight on Lufthansa, who makes its first stop in Frankfurt, but it may make more sense to put it on a carrier going west to Asia.  It really depends where you are. If you are on the east coast, for example, it might be better to send it east.  Lufthansa does go to most places in the world.  If you are in Chicago, west is usually better.

Oh, come on … take a wild guess!

We can send your Shanghai freight from Chicago on a European carrier, but the distance will be greater to fly east, the cost will likely be more and the time of travel will be greater. No plane would have the range to go nonstop.  However, there are Chinese carriers, as well as American Airlines, who fly nonstop from ORD (Chicago, O’Hare) to PVG (Shanghai, China).

Because of competition, you are likely to get a good rate for the faster transit.  In freight forwarding, it is important to have an idea where everything is located in order to make the best routing decisions.

This is true for your vacation trip as well.  When I tell people I have gone to Alsace, France, they usually conclude I must have flown to Paris.  The truth is, I usually fly to Frankfurt, Germany which is about the same distance from Strasbourg and is usually cheaper.  I have also considered the Euro-Airport at Mulhouse, France which is closer, and the airport at Zürich, Switzerland.

Strasbourg, France

Grab a map and discover the world.

Here are the answers, although I am tempted to tell you to grab a Geography book or just Google it.

1 – Mogadishu is the capital of war-torn Somalia.
2 – Bishkek is the capital of Kyrgyzstan.
3 – Ankara is the capital of the Republic of Turkey.  You probably thought it was Istanbul.
4 – You can swim in the Sea of Galilee from Tiberias, a favorite city of the Roman Emporer who originally built the city.
5 – Castaner is a mountain community in Puerto Rico that was devastated by the hurricane.  Yes, it is part of the US.  But there is a city (town) of the same name in the United Kingdom.
6 – Can you find Ouagadougou on a map?
7 – Do you own a map?

UNWINDING AND DISENGAGING – Marilyn Armstrong

Weekly Word Prompt: Unwinding

I was intending to unwind when we went down to see Tom and Ellin, but it turned out to be a more about technical recording information than relaxation. I like computers more than most people, but I really wanted to get away from them … just for a day or two.

Ironwood in the desert

Truthfully, I’m beat. I think I have never needed a vacation more than I do now. It’s not going to happen, but I can yearn.

The sun is a big flaunter. Never embarrassed to show off its colors, early morning or light by night.

The Superstitions

The last time we had a real vacation was January 2016 for almost two weeks in Arizona. Otherwise, it has been a day or two with friends and that’s good too, but I need time to unwind. When we used to go down to the Vineyard on vacation it took me a whole week to relax and another two to almost forget what I used to do for a living.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Giving the lack of money not floating around here, I’m not counting on ever getting another vacation. I think maybe that part of our lives is done. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.

Physically, getting around has become pretty difficult, so unless we had a lot more than “just enough to get around,” there’s not much for me to do. We’d need a driver and someone to help us haul luggage.

Although a week along the seashore or in the mountains might be really lovely. Even near the sea or almost in the mountains.

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.

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!

INGENUITY: PLANNING A TRIP WITH THREE DOGS – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Thursday – INGENUITY

We have been blessed with the opportunity to take a real vacation — relatively locally but in a rich and wonderful part of the country.

I have always loved Pennsylvania, especially this area — the foothills of the Poconos.  It would be a real joy to get to know these people personally, too. Online is lovely … but person-to-person can’t is the best.

Garry and I really need a time out. It has been more than three years since the last time we were away for more than a day or two.

The problem is dogs.

We have three. That we have three makes little difference because really, the problem is our two Scottish Terriers, both of whom are now 13 and beginning to show their years. They are small, so they don’t age as fast as bigger dogs, but Bonnie’s eyesight is diminishing and Gibbs is getting a bit deaf. He used to come running for treats as soon as he heard the lid lifted from the treat box. Now, he falls into a sleep so deep it takes several loud calls for him to first wake up and then to realize he’s being called and why.

Photo: Garry Armstrong – Duke and Gibbs

Gibbs isn’t the problem. Neither is wacko Duke. Yelling a little louder is not a big deal and Duke has calmed down to a point where while he’s a bit too crazy to take visiting, he’s good around the house. And he’s clean. He has never made a mess in the house from the day we got him.

Bonnie and Gibbs are a different story. Because both of them were trained to go out whenever they wanted to via the doggy door, they don’t tell you when they need to go out. They simply go. They don’t give us any indication of what they want. They are self-trained — which is fine in this house but not so fine in other people’s houses.

Gibbs

We have been trying to find some ingenious way to get Bonnie’s eyes properly taken care of while we are away. Owen will always make sure they are fed, spend at least an hour or so with them to keep them for getting too lonesome … and manage to squeeze two visits a day into their lives (and do Bonnie’s eyes while he is there). This is quite a trick considering he works a lot of hours.

We had been thinking about just taking Bonnie with us. That way, we’d know her eyes were getting the care they need. But if we take her with us, she will have me or Garry up by dawn. She requires an early morning cookie and a trip outside. Then she’ll have me up a couple of hours later again.

She is nearly blind, we would have to keep her on a lead — which she does NOT like because unlike home, she can’t feel her way around the house. In her mind, she has never lived anywhere else. From 9 weeks to thirteen years is a complete life for a dog. She knows every inch of the house, where all the furniture is, even where the step stool she uses to get up on the sofa stands.

In another house, she would need to find everything for the first time. Since she has always felt that leashes were something for Other Dogs, she is unlikely to take kindly to being led around.

First I figured we would take her with us. Now I’m rethinking it. If we are going to get any rest and relaxation, taking her will make that impossible.

Not taking her is also worrisome.

I’ve been trying to figure out some ingenious way of making this work for her and us. I’m coming up empty.

Taking her with us will guarantee her eyes are tended to properly and frequently, but it will enormously limit our freedom. Talk about a rock and a hard place. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t

The only place we could board her — assuming we could afford to do that at all — would be the veterinarian because her eyes need care. Owen will do the best he can, but he does work a full week and there’s only so much we can expect from him.

So here’s where I ask for ideas. No “dog walking” service in Uxbridge and Kaity is finally attending college — a commuter school — so she already has her hands full.

If Bonnie’s eyes were only cleaned and lubricated twice a day instead of three times a day for a week, would that be catastrophic? I know none of the dogs like when we are away, but much as I love them. sometimes we need to be elsewhere and this is one of those times.

Thoughts? Suggestions? I’m not sure there is a right answer, but if anyone has a creative thought, I’m listening!

NO REFEREE? A NEW CONCEPT – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Referee

So, it looks like we are going to take a vacation. Nothing we planned and I guess you could describe this as a delightful and completely unexpected gift. We’re going to visit newly made friends in Pennsylvania. Ponds, mountains, lakes … and people to meet and talk to and get to know and hopefully, laugh and enjoy.

The issue has been as it has been most recently, the dogs. Boarding three of them is out of the question, especially since one of them — Bonnie — has lots of special care required. We do it automatically, multiple times a day because she’s our girl and we care for her.

Groomed Bonnie

The two wacko boys — aside from a daily Prozac that goes to the Duke to try and keep him from bouncing off the walls — are easier. They also have rough patches and we are forever the referees between them as Duke is determined to be the Head Dog and Duke, overall, would prefer a nap. Neither of them messes much with Bonnie who is by dint of something in her personality, chief pooch.

Gibbs, Duke, and a window

It occurred to me that by leaving the two boys alone for a week, we might very well come back to find they’d finally made friends. Without a referee, they might just discover they have a lot in common. Mainly, that they are the two boys of the household. Without us here, there’s nothing to fight about because the disputes are always who gets to be the “dog on the sofa that sits between us.” There’s room for both physically, but not mentally or spiritually.

The more I think about it, the more it seems like a really good idea. If we have Bonnie with us, I will worry less and hopefully, relax more. And although she doesn’t see well anymore, maybe a change of scenery will do her good as well as us.

So we are thinking, thinking, thinking.

Portrait of the Duke

Our decision is not final yet, but … I’m thinking that I might say yes. Especially if I can find a lump of money to get her groomed. She is a smelly little heap of grungy dog fur, not necessarily fit for other human contacts.

And maybe, if we aren’t there to try and mediate the two boys, they’ll discover they can enjoy each other. Either that or … well … let’s not think about that.

This will also take me away from blogging for a bit. A week off might be exactly what the doctor ordered. it is what several doctors, a husband, and a lot of friends have suggested.

An intriguing idea, isn’t it?

DABBLING IN CONNECTICUT – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Dabble

We are still in Connecticut and I still have remarkably little energy for writing — or even looking at pictures right now. I REALLY needed that break. I was going to dabble a bit this morning — maybe actually looking at my email or answering comments, but I needed this time off badly. So … I’m still on vacation, a much needed albeit short vacation.

We didn’t get out to sea yesterday. Sea was running at two feet which is not comfortable for just sailing around. So we hung around the marina and talked.

For Garry, who has had a really hard time over the years having conversations can now actually sit around and talk. He can’t hear ME at home but I notice Tom can’t hear Ellin either, so this much be a married person issue.

All the quibbling over “I don’t WANT to cook and did you take out the trash” is what keeps life going. Also, watching all six episodes (it’s on Prime Video) of “Good Omens” is definitely worth it, especially if you read the book. A lot of the episodes basically take the dialogue straight out of the book onto the screen. Scriptwriter was the co-writer of the original book Neil Gaiman. Pity Terry Pratchett is gone, but you could feel his presence, especially in the character of Death.

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!

EVEN TERRORISTS NEED TECH SUPPORT AND OTHER THINGS – BY TOM CURLEY

Whenever I get a goofy idea for a post, I try to write it down as quick as I can because if I don’t, I forget it. After about, oh, 10 or 15 seconds. As usual most of my ideas fall under roughly three categories.

1 – What was I thinking?
2 – Good God, what was I thinking?
 3  – Wow, I was really stoned.

With that in mind, I took a look at some of my recent “Notes.”

Here’s one.

“The ISIS IT tech support hotline.”

My first thought was “What the hell is that about?” Then Ellin reminded me we saw a news report about how ISIS has a very extensive and modern computer network. I realized if that’s true, they must have an IT department. If they have an IT department, they must have a tech support hotline.


What must an average day be like for the guy who manages
t
he ISIS tech support hotline?

ISIS TECH SUPPORT: Hello, you have reached the ISIS tech support line. How can I help you?

ISIS GUY: Hello, I’m having trouble with my suicide vest. It won’t explode.

ISIS TECH SUPPORT: OK, I am opening up a ticket. Have you tried taking it off and putting it back on?

ISIS GUY: No, let me try that. Hang on. (pause)


BOOM!!!


ISIS TECH SUPPORT: Hello? Hello? OK, I am closing this ticket. This is the ISIS Tech support line. How can I help you?

ANOTHER ISIS GUY: My suicide vest isn’t working.

ISIS TECH SUPPORT: Hold on, I am opening a ticket. Have you tried taking it off and putting it back on?

ANOTHER ISIS GUY: Yes. It still doesn’t work.

ISIS TECH SUPPORT: Hmmm, that usually works. Have you tried jiggling it?

ANOTHER ISIS GUY: No, hang on, let me take it off. OK, I’m jiggling it.


BOOM!!!!!


I think that’s pretty much how his average day goes.

Here’s another note. This one was an interesting question.

“How do you go on vacation when you’re retired?”

Good question. It reminded me of an old joke by George Carlin. He asked, “What does a dog do on his day off? He can’t just lay around on the couch. That’s his job.”

That got me thinking.

Do I get days off? Well, yes. All my days are off. Not doing anything is my job. I’m always on vacation. So, being on vacation is my full-time job. That sort of depressed me because I’m always working!

I can never take time off!

So, to take my mind off this existential Catch-22, I spent a week doing nothing but play a video game. Red Dead Redemption 2.

The video quality of the game is breathtaking. It’s the most realistic game on the market. In it, you are a cowboy. Sort of a bad guy who is running with a gang. You get various missions. Most entail going somewhere and shooting somebody. Or shooting a lot of some-bodies.

But along with that, you have to do other things. Like, find food, cook food. Eat food.

Feed your horse. Brush your horse. Go fishing. Clean the fish. Go hunting. Bring what you catch back home and skin it. (Sorry, I drew the line on that one). (Note to self: Does that mean I’d starve?)

And to get anywhere you have to ride your horse. And all the towns are a long way from each other. After a week of this, it hit me.

This isn’t a game. This is work!

A lot of work. I didn’t do this much work when I was working! So, I’m giving up on this game. Well, after I collect the money the O’Driscoll gang owes me, and I finish cooking the stew.

After that, I need some time off.

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 its 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 centuries ago.  The modern-day road is narrow and winding and the hill has a 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 traveling.”

Visit the photo gallery here.

PLACES WE’VE VISITED – Marilyn Armstrong

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Places People Visit


We honeymooned in Ireland. That was definitely special!

Gotta love the bullet holes in the signs, all of which are in Irish … and all the maps were in English. I didn’t put the holes there, but I could see the point.

Then, we went to California. Remarkably, I don’t have any pictures. I think that was one of the times I was between cameras. When I first got back from Israel, I didn’t get a decent camera for a bunch of years. The one I took to Ireland was a cheapie and I really wish I’d spent money on something better.

Three mountains in Arizona

We went to Arizona — twice and Vermont, also twice.

Mountainous

We also went to Florida a couple of times and Disney World twice.

Attean View – Sunset – Jackman, Maine

And Maine — maybe half a dozen times? And the Cape, of course. And Ogunquit.

Sunrise in Rockport and Ogunquit …

Golden sky in Rockport

And most of the time, we’ve just stayed home and enjoyed the scenery!

CODDIWOMPLE IN IRELAND – Marilyn Armstrong

Monday Prompt: Coddiwomple


The definition made me laugh. This is the perfect description of our trip to Ireland. After the plane landed in Shannon and we managed to negotiate our way to the B&B where we were staying, it was coddiwomple for the next three weeks.

We never knew where we were, where we were heading and mostly, we didn’t really care. We found places we loved, avoided any place that had more traffic than we cared to drive it, and had a wonderful time. We missed most of the “favorite” tourist stops — too much traffic. We don’t go on vacation to sit in traffic jams, so if we bumped into one, we took the next uncrowded turn in the road. But we found stone circles and old graveyards and ancient round towers and at least one nearly unknown author who signed his book and let us play with his pet chickens.

Somewhere in Ireland

We stayed in some wonderful B&Bs and a fantastic one in Dublin that was really a small hotel where they also had a great dining room. We shopped in stores no one had heard of, got great prices on clothing that I still believe will never wear out. Garry’s tweed jackets don’t look any older than they did when we bought them almost 30 years ago.

Maybe it’s because neither of us have any sense of direction, but maybe this is really the way to vacation. Just go. Find a place. Look it up in one of the dozens of books describing every piece of land in the country. You mean … you don’t travel with a working library of the country you are in?

That was always the first thing I did when we were going someplace new. I bought every book I could find that had the historical details of the place. No book has everything, of course, so I bought all of them. A small traveling library was always with us.

Ireland

Along the way, we stayed in B&B’s that were known for having private libraries so we could read up on everything as we went. We took a million pictures, ate lamb and salmon and drank a substantial amount of Irish coffee (it’s never too early …) and Jameson. We sang in pubs and told stories.

If we should ever travel again to another continent, I would do it again, just like that. No fixed destination, no formal reservation except for the plane or to meet others.

Coddiwomple, all the way!