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?

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?

R&R WITH OLD FRIENDS – Garry Armstrong

It was our time for a bit of R & R in the lush Connecticut woods, far from the madding crowd. It’s another world where we can recharge our life force and mental batteries.

Home

Our hosts are the kindly friends for whom we are grateful. We’ve known Tom for more than 50 years dating back to our days in college when we and our world was young. We’ve known Ellin – it seems forever – or since she married Tommy and immediately improved the quality of life for all of us.

Our mini-vacation included time at the marina where everyone seems utterly relaxed — except when they are rehabbing their boats for another summer on the water. The much-maligned weather put on a good face for us.

Ellin

Tom

Sunshine and summer-like temperatures were abundant. It was warm but not uncomfortable. The breeze from the water made it almost perfect as we relaxed for an afternoon of doing absolutely nothing.

Marilyn and the camera

Garry at pier’s end

Tom apologized for not taking the boat out because the water was a bit too choppy for his taste. No worries, we repeatedly told him as we soaked up the afternoon sun, chatting about stuff that brought giggles and contentment. Really. NO worries!

I enjoyed looking at the names of the boats in the marina and wondering about the folks who owned them. I’ve never wanted to own a boat but have fantasies, thanks to Bogie in “Key Largo” and other movies which romanticize the boating life.

Ellin socializing on the pier

I’ve always thought I’d name my boat “The Busted Flush” after fictional detective Travis McGee who chased bad guys in his trusty little houseboat which also provided room for romantic interludes with his miscellaneous yet somehow dubious love interests. Hey, just a passing fancy.

Tom has schooled me in the difficulties of keeping “Serenity” in running condition. I’m good being a guest.

There’s so much to see just relaxing with Tommy and Ellin in the Marina. The setting is soothing. You can drift off mentally without a worry. No obsessing about what’s happening in our politically-challenged world. That stuff is blocked out for a few precious hours. I could actually feel my heartbeat slowing. Just what the doctor ordered.

Tom and Ellin on the boat

Back at “La Casa Bonita” of Tom and Ellin, it’s more of the easy life — at least for us, the guests. The conversation ramps up during the evening “News Hour.” Imagine sitting between two guys who’ve logged 80 years in network and top market TV News.  The old, war stories fill the air spiced with profanities that befit we who ducked idiot management suits from the “Tricky Dick Era” to today’s “Follies of Donzo.”

We can name drop with the best of them. Hell,  Tom and I have probably sent myriad suits seeking psychiatric care because we refused to tolerate their idiocy.

Tom is the master of his impressive entertainment room. He’s introduced Marilyn and me to shows and movies we never knew existed.

Tom, the telly, and Remy

One thing that impressed me — I looked and looked around the walls and notices no awards reflecting Tommy’s long and accomplished career at the highest level of TV News. I know he’s been in the cross-hairs of some of the biggest news stories over half a century. No collection of hardware — unlike me.  Tom doesn’t need any stinkin’ bodges.

Lexi

Marilyn and I were very reluctant to leave Tommy and Ellin and the comfy good feeling they bestowed on us, but our dogs were calling us homeward.

We have an invite to return with Tommy taking us for a trip aboard “Serenity” when the seas are smoother. I’m already dreaming about 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!

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.

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!

LACK OF SUBSTANCE – MARTHA’S VINEYARD – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Substance

When we used to spend a month or more on the Vineyard and became “summer people,” our vacations were completely lacking in substance and that’s the way we liked them.

You lost your watch on the third day. You forgot to wear underwear by the end of the first week. By the middle of the second week, you had no idea what day of the week it was and were probably at least a little tipsy.

Vineyard house – Originally part of the New York Yacht Club, it was a boathouse that became a house and is now an air BNB. This was where we stayed before it was restored. This looks “pre-restoration,” so the odds are that I or one of the many other photographers with whom we shared the house took the picture

If you made it to week three, by then you forgot what you used to do back on the mainland.

The Vineyard was where you went and nothing happened. There were no events. No parties. No concerts except usually one around the end of August to raise money for the food bank — generally the Taylor and Simon families propped up the event.


Since 1884, islanders have enjoyed the beauty of this magnificent carousel. Built by Charles W.F. Dare, it is the nation’s oldest platform carousel still in operation. Acquired by the Preservation Trust in 1986, the carousel is a National Historic Landmark. Children (and others) may enjoy a ride from Easter Sunday through Columbus Day. Rides cost just $1 and if you catch the brass ring, you ride for free. Video games and refreshments are also available.


Unless a president came to visit, or a plane crashed somewhere, nothing happened. Oh, right, one year, there were fireworks in the channel behind the house. There were two Clinton parties, one hosted by the Simons (that was when Clinton played the saxophone) and the next held by the Taylors, which is when I met Kate (I had no idea who she was until later). She was the only woman I met who dressed like me in long Indian dresses and beads.

One year it was really hot.

One summer it was surprisingly cold.

One summer, a novelist I liked did a book signing at “Bunch of Grapes.”

One of our friends made an amazingly good daiquiri. I made frozen strawberry daiquiris using real strawberries and brown sugar that tasted so good, even people who never drank got wiped out.

Garry commented considering the alcoholic stupor many of us were in, our real question should have been “Do I know who I am?”

Back deck Vineyard house. Did a lot of drinking back there. Eating. And reading. There was a big rope hammock at the end of the deck. This picture had to be pre-restoration while we were still the summer residents — along with a bunch of other people.

So what made it so special? Probably the same thing that makes boating special. Nothing. You slept, you hung out on the dock. Read a book. Roamed through Oak Bluffs looking for bargains. Wandered around Edgartown. Had a burger. Had a drink. Bought something useless but pretty.

No substance. Doing nothing and loving it.

The Island Theatre. When we were there, it wasn’t air-conditioned. I suppose it is now.

Strolled over to the Flying Horses carousel. If you got lucky, you might catch a gold ring and get a free ride while the calliope played.

Watched pink sunsets over Nantucket Sound.

If it rained, maybe we’d go to a movie.

1891 – Circuit Avenue, Oak Bluffs. It changed very little in a century.

There was no schedule until you had to leave. Then, you had to find your watch, make sure you could find your ferry tickets. Hope the bridge was not open so you wouldn’t miss your boat. Missing the boat could mean a very long day in the parking lot of the Steamship Company.

Nothing was special or substantial about the Vineyard. That’s what made it special.

SUNSHINE, SPRING TRAINING AND SURVIVAL

The missing Harold mystery, Rich Paschall

George and his ever talkative wife Martha had just about enough of the Midwest winter. They were tired of snow,  tired of cold. At close-to-retirement age, they were just plain tired. When another cold night forced them to stay at home rather than visit a favorite neighborhood stop, they realized there was only one thing that could pull them through to warmer weather. Baseball! Right then and there, they began to talk about a trip to sunny Florida for a round of spring training games.

A year before, they had traveled to Florida on a rare road trip to see the Chicago Cubs play. The Cubs lost but they deemed the trip a success. They had visited a ball park other than Wrigley Field, spent a day at the beach, and wandered through town to do some typical tourist shopping. They had some very hot days, but did not suffer the kind of stifling humidity Lake Michigan can serve up in July. Now, in March, they were ready to go south again.

Always sunny Florida?

Always sunny Florida?

George sat down with spring schedules to see what teams would be playing. He wanted to find the best matches for the days they could go to Florida. Martha researched the ball parks themselves and the surrounding night spots on the internet. When they had chosen a few games they might like to see, they looked at hotels, air fares and rental cars. After a full night of debate and delay, they made their choices.

They would return to the familiar spots of St. Petersburg. From there they could go to Tampa to see the Yankees, then down to Bradenton to catch the Pirates and from there to Sarasota to see the Orioles.

Unlike the famous George and Martha of Broadway play and movie fame, this couple rarely had arguments. In fact, they were in agreement on just about anything that meant parties and good times. When almost all of their arrangements were in place, and they were congratulating themselves on another “road trip extraordinaire”, Martha had one more good idea. Of course, the good idea may have been fueled by the German beer she had been drinking all night, but it was an interesting idea, nonetheless.

“Why don’t we call old Harold for the game in Bradenton or Sarasota?” Martha blurted out as if her head had been hit by a rock and she was stunned silly.

“Harold!” George shouted with glee. “That’s a wonderful idea. The old boy probably needs a road trip anyway. Let’s give lucky old Harold a call.”

While Martha dutifully looked for Harold’s phone number, George wondered why the little tapper of Dortmunder beer had run dry. “I am headed to the basement, ” George called out. “I have to find another one of these big cans of beer. You killed the last one.”

“I did no such thing, George,” Martha lied.

When the twosome finally met back at the kitchen table, each was carrying the object of their search. “Well dial the phone and hand it over, old woman,” George said with a laugh.

“I am not as old as you, wise guy,” Martha said as she handed over the phone. Both began to giggle and laugh like school kids up to no good. The phone rang away as the couple talked on until George finally realized there must have been at least 20 rings. He hung up.

“I can not imagine that Harold is not home at this hour. He was never out late.” It was true, of course. In all his life Harold was rarely out at night, and since he retired and moved to Florida, he was always home by dark.

“He’s probably sleeping, you nit wit,” Martha declared. “Let’s give him another try tomorrow.” And so they did. In fact, they called for several days in a row and at different times of day, but Harold never answered. When the day of the trip arrived, Harold was not part of the plan.

Undeterred by their lack of success at lining up Harold for a game, they resolved to try him again once they landed at the Florida airport. They departed from Chicago’s Midway airport. Unbelievably, it was once the busiest airport in the country, but that was before the jet age. Now the crowded airport just seemed like the busiest airport. St. Petersburg airport, on the other hand, was in stark contrast, even for spring training. The crowd was small and the rental car line was short. The couple got their car, got to their hotel, and got on the phone. Still, there was no Harold.

“I hope the old guy is OK,” Martha said, finally voicing more than a bit of concern.

“Sure, Harold is just fine,” George insisted. “He is probably at some nice restaurant right now being fussed over by some cute waitresses. Don’t worry.”

At that very moment Harold was being fussed over by some weary nurses at the Intensive Care Unit of the county hospital. This trip, the retired planner from the Midwest was going to miss the endlessly talkative George and Martha.

Note:  The next Harold story appears next week.
What happened to Harold? The previous story: “Missing Monday

THE LOVE OF THE WATER – BY ELLIN CURLEY

What is it about water that so many people find endlessly fascinating and soul soothing? People pay top dollar to live in homes that have a view of water – any water – ocean, lake, pond, marsh, stream. Prime vacation spots are often on, in or near the water.

I love the sound of our backyard mini waterfall. I can also sit and look at it for hours. The sound of waves lapping onto the shore have been recorded innumerable times for relaxation tapes, sleep aids and comfort for newborns.

 

People also love the feel of water; pushing through the fingers, falling onto the hand, resisting a closed palm, like in swimming. People walk with their feet in the water at beaches and swim anywhere they can, both under the water and on top. There are a plethora of gadgets to help you play in the water, from inner tubes to noodles, paddle-boards, beach balls, etc. There are also too many water sports to even try to list.

96-SunriseWalkNIK-CR-1

There is a theory that our obsession with water is rooted in our time in our mother’s womb. As fetuses, we float in the uterus in a protective amniotic fluid, gently rocked as our mothers move. We may even hear the sounds of swooshing water. Which could explain the universality of humans’ love affair with water.

But it doesn’t explain why only some people seek the water in many different aspects of their lives.

Personally, we choose to live in the woods — but we own a boat. Listening to water slapping against our hull is our version of Nirvana. Our boat is big enough so we’re not close to the waterline when on-board.

72-garry-Marina_005

So we have an inflatable dinghy that we drive around. In that, we are as close to the water level as you can get, like in a canoe or a rowboat. I can’t resist putting my hands in the water and opening my fingers as we ride through the water. I love the sound of the little boat pushing through the water, punctuated by the percussion bursts of waves breaking against its sides.

72-ct-Marina_17

I don’t have any earth-shattering conclusions to make. I’m sure there are research studies out there on the subject. It’s just that I’m on my boat enjoying being on the water and wondering why it is so satisfying for me. I had a swimming pool and a pond during summers growing up but no one in my family went to beaches or liked boats. We were city folks who ‘roughed it’ in the countryside of Fairfield County, CT during our summer vacations.

72-garry-Marina_084

So I have no family history or childhood memories to fall back on, except the pool and the pond. Maybe that, combined with my primal connection with amniotic fluid, is enough.

QUESTION FOR THE SHARING WORLD – Marilyn Armstrong

Share Your World – May 7, 2018

If you were given $22 million tax-free dollars (any currency), what is the first thing you would do? 

Same as last time. Pay off the house. Possibly knock it down and build one more suitable to our needs.

Home, now

Help out my friends and family who need it. Take a really lovely vacation for which someone other than me makes ALL the arrangements.

Hire a cook and people to clean the house. Get my hair cut by someone who won’t scalp me. Get more Bomba socks!

In what do you find the simplest of joys?

Pretty much all my joys are simple. I’m not sure what a complicated joy would be.

I’m just happy when all the bills are paid and nothing is broken or breaking down.

What would be your ideal birthday present, and why?

I want that vacation, but I want someone else to take care of it. ALL of it. Reservations. Tickets.

Literally everything from leaving home to returning. I don’t want to worry about money or travel connections or whether or not they will let me have a bottle of shampoo on my flight.

Spring dog with window

Spring window, with dog

Usually, when all is said and done, this means staying home.

What did you appreciate or what made you smile this past week? 

This was not a very smiley week. I was grateful to finally have normal weather and some sunshine.

A flower or two would have been grand, but the leaves are coming out, so if we aren’t bright with color, at least we are green. Each time I look out the window, I see the leaves have gotten bigger. Spring is happening in a huge hurry, trying I think to make up for all that lost time!

Happy birthday, Owen!

FUN AND EASY WEEKEND TRIPS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I just heard about a fun and easy new way to take a 3-day weekend trip. I don’t travel very often for one simple reason – I hate the planning process. Too many choices! So much research! Too many logistics and details!

A company called “Pack Up & Go”  (https://www.phillymagicgardens.org) has solved this problem for everyone. Not only do they do all the planning for you, but they add an exciting element of surprise to the enterprise.

My son, David, and his fiancé, Katie, recently used this service and had a wonderful experience. Here’s how this service works. You give the basic parameters for the trip, like budget and how far you are willing to travel. Also where you have been recently so they don’t send you there again. Then you decide if you primarily want action, relaxation or culture on your weekend.

The main part of the Pack Up & Go questionnaire narrows down your interests and preferences, for food, entertainment and activities. For example, do you prefer fine dining or hole in the wall restaurants? Vineyards or breweries, or neither? Do you like to go to museums and galleries, historical sites, parks and nature, all of the above? Do you like to shop? Flea market or thrift shop?

You also have to list your favorite forms of entertainment, like live music, dancing and clubs, theater, movies, comedy clubs, etc.

David and Katie decided to embrace the surprise element of the service, so they didn’t open their package of trip information until the day of the trip. In case you choose to be surprised on the day of your trip, the service gives you packing tips in advance to prepare you for the weather where you’re going and for any activities that need clothing or equipment, like swimming, hiking or tennis.

David and Katie live in northern Connecticut. When they finally opened their travel package they discovered that they were being sent on a four-hour drive to Philadelphia. The hotel they were sent to was fabulous and they loved the surrounding area. They were also pleased to find that their package didn’t just include suggestions about things to do or places to eat, which was what they expected. It turns out that all the decisions are made for you so you just have to relax and follow your itinerary. The package contained dinner reservations and tickets for one show each night!

The first night they were sent to a theater production of “Noises Off”, a slapstick comedy which they loved. David said it was laugh out loud funny. The next night they went to a comedy club with top-notch performers. And David is an aficionado of Comedy Central, so he knows good comedy. These were too excellent choices for David and Katie.

The restaurant choices were just as spot on. One of the restaurants they were sent to is owned by an Iron Chef from the Food Network, Jose Garce. Iron Chef is one of David and Katie’s favorite shows, so they knew about Garce and were thrilled to be going to his restaurant. It was a fantastic meal and they might never have found the restaurant on their own.

For the afternoons, the package included suggestions for lunches and for activities in the area. David and Katie ended up going to an amazing, unusual and unique ‘museum’. It is an indoor and outdoor space encompassing several rooms and courtyards. They are all covered, from ceiling to floor, in mosaic art, sculptures and other design elements, like bicycle wheels and colored bottles. As you walk through the spaces, you are literally surrounded by the art.

This magical place is called “Philadelphia’s Magic Garden”.  https://www.phillymagicgardens.org.  It took the artist fourteen years to complete it! I wish I had seen it in person, but David’s photos are phenomenal (so are the ones on the website). The You Tube videos on the website are also worth watching. They allow you to immerse yourself in the rooms and get the experience of what it feels like to be there in person.

We were all amazed at how appropriate and high quality the Pack Up & Go picks were. The package was really tailored to David and Katie and to their interests. I was very impressed.

I’ve never written a blog singing the praises of a particular product or company. But this seems like something that many readers could use and enjoy. So check out the website and treat yourself to a work free, stress free weekend away from home! Go for it!