MY WORLD TRAVELING DAYS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I traveled a lot during the 25 years with my first husband, Larry. After we had kids, we frequently took them with us. Larry, who was bipolar, was often manic when it came to traveling. One year, we took twelve trips in twelve months, often with two kids. Many of the trips were just weekend trips, but they all involved planning, packing, and logistics, which I handled. I was exhausted and drained by the end of that year.

Over the years we traveled a lot in the United States, mostly out west. In Europe, we traveled extensively in France and the UK, as well as a bit in Belgium, Holland, Germany, and Israel.

The California coast in the early years of marriage

It took me years and years to figure out how to plan a good trip. It was hard because Larry liked to move around a lot and cover a lot of territory. I liked to stay in a smaller area and cover it more slowly and in more in-depth. So we had to compromise. I learned that you have to be knowledgeable about your travel destinations to be able to tailor a trip. It takes a lot of research, all of which I did, for all of our numerous trips.

Outside of Paris before I had my kids

When we first started traveling in the UK and Europe, we over-scheduled ourselves. In America, you can cover a large geographical area and not find too many places you really want to explore. That’s not the case in Europe and the UK. Towns and sightseeing spots there are more numerous and are crammed more tightly together. The history there covers almost every square inch.

Yosemite, pregnant with my first child

I found that it was hard to cover too much actual territory and feel that you’d seen and done what you wanted to in the area, Plus, whenever we went overseas, we tried to spend a few days in London with our old and dear English friends, the Millers. After 1984, we also had a second set of close friends in London, American ex patriots named the Schiffers. We also saw them regularly on both sides of the Atlantic.

In 1984, for example, we took a long trip with our four-year old son, David. We visited London, of course, as well as several counties in the southwest of England. Then we went north to Yorkshire and Wales and over to Holland to visit the Schiffers, who were living there at the time.

When I travel, I always like to stay in charming B&B’s in the picturesque countryside. Some we stayed in were simple and some were manor homes on beautiful grounds that had been turned into B&B’s so that the families could afford to keep their homes. On this particular trip, we also thought that our son would find it fun to stay on a working farm for a few days. We did that — and got to watch a calf being born. Such an amazing experience!

Mother cow and newborn calf, 1984

On this trip I felt that we were running around too much and were missing many of the local attractions wherever we went. So I planned another trip in 1986 that I hoped would be smaller in scale. This time we were traveling with our six-year-old son and our one and a half-year old daughter. This trip covered only Devon in England, plus London and a few towns in Wales.

Unfortunately I didn’t realize how big Devon was, so we still ended up feeling rushed. But we got to do plenty of my favorite things in England — visiting magnificent National Trust estates with manicured gardens and grand manor houses. My idea of heaven.

We had the same learning curve in France. Though it was harder to rein Larry in here because he wanted to hit as many one, two and three Michelin star restaurants as possible. Need I say that our meals in France were always beyond words.

On one trip, in 1994 for our twentieth anniversary, we covered Paris, Burgundy, the Loire Valley and Provence. I fell in love with Provence. In particular, I fell in love with a B&B we stayed in which was run by an English woman. It was called Jas des Eydins. It was beautiful, peaceful and idyllic, but also warm and friendly. I took so many photos there that I ended up making a very large photo montage of photos just from this B&B.

When Larry and I went to France again two years later, in 1996, we had a considerably pared down itinerary. We traveled through Provence again and to the Dordogne region. I insisted that this time we spend an entire week at Jas des Eydins! We got to explore the incredible Luberon Valley in-depth this time. I was happy. That was one of the favorite places I’ve ever stayed in all my extensive travels.

One of the most memorable tourist spots there is a corkscrew museum at a vineyard in the wine country. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen an exhibit of pornographic corkscrews!

Pornographic corkscrews

We also traveled often in the American West. This is a totally different experience. Bear in mind that the entire UK is approximately the size of Wyoming OR Michigan OR Minnesota. So we could comfortably do a 4000 mile drive throughout the western United States and Canada in the same time we took to travel through a few small counties in England. In the summer of 1989, we took our four-year old and our nine-year old on a large loop that started in Salt Lake City Utah. We drove up through Idaho and Washington into Vancouver and across southwestern Canada to Banff. We reentered the U.S. in Montana, getting to the border crossing just minutes before it closed for the night. We then drove south through Wyoming and back to Salt Lake City.

We mostly saw natural sites, like Glacier National Park in Montana. We spent several days at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. We rode horses through the countryside, walked on a glacier, swam in a natural hot spring, and spent several days with friends at a National Bankruptcy Judge’s Conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

In the U.S, there can be long distances between points of interest. So though the distances were huge and we did a lot of driving, we saw most of what we had set out to see.

After 25 years, I burned out on traveling with Larry. Our last summer together, in 1998, I insisted we stay home and train the new puppy we had adopted. My mother was diagnosed with cancer that summer, so it turned out to have been a good decision to stay home.

I travel the world much less these days with Tom. In part, that’s because we spent six months of the year traveling locally on our boat. I’m happy these days puttering around Long Island Sound or up and down the Atlantic coast in New York and New England. It’s a different type of traveling. It takes less planning and it’s more relaxing. So I’m happy to leave by globe-trotting days behind.

MY TARA – BY ELLIN CURLEY

The highlight of each year for me growing up, was the summer I got to spend at our summer-house in Easton, CT. This was not a charming cottage in the woods. It was a magnificent 40 acre estate.

My father bought the land from a farmer in 1933. 40 acres for $10,000! He had the opportunity to buy an additional 40 acres but decided that he didn’t need all that land. He regretted that decision for the rest of his life. That land appreciated so much it’s obscene.

In 1934, Dad built the main house, on top of a small hill. It sat on several acres of manicured grounds. Those grounds consisted of a large circular driveway with a giant tree in the middle. There was also a stone garage across from the house at the other end of the driveway.

original house without porch

There was a large retaining wall along one side of the house that bordered the lawn and flower gardens. The house, the wall and the garage were made of stone and were constructed by expert stone masons. As it happens, there was a severe depression in Italy in 1934. Many churches and cathedrals had to halt construction. That left many highly skilled Italian stone masons out of work, some of whom migrated to America. These were the men who built Dad’s house, wall and garage. The workmanship was impeccable. These guys had just been building cathedrals in Italy!

While the house was being built, my Dad also had a pond dug, on the flat land at the bottom of the hill, next to a 17 acre field. The view from one side of the house and from the front lawn, through the trees, was this lovely pond.

However, the pond has a tragic back story. A deaf-mute couple down the road had two young daughters. They would come to play on the site where the pond was being dug. Beneath the pond was a treacherous muddy muck that could suck things down like quicksand. One of the girls fell into the pond and started to sin. Her sister went in after her to save her. They both drowned. That story has always haunted me, and my father as well.

My grandfather fell out of his canoe once and also started to sink. But by some miracle, he managed to get out. He was covered in mud from head to toe. My grandmother nearly had a heart attack when she saw him.

When my dad married my mom in 1949, she immediately added a screened in porch to the front of the house and a maid’s room to the back. The stone masonry on these projects was clearly not up to the standards of the original Italian workers.

In 1953, when I was three and a half, my parents added a small house behind the garage. The house was divided into two, one bedroom cottages. The larger one was for my grandparents so they could spend summers next door to their granddaughter. The smaller one was for the caretaker couples my parents hired to take care of the houses and property year round. A swimming pool was also added around this time, next to the pond at the bottom of the hill, away from the house.

It was heaven for me to have my grandparents right there all summer! When I was little, my grandfather and I would fish and canoe and play in the pool and hunt for frogs in the woods with our dog. My grandmother would cook with me and teach me to crochet and talk with me endlessly. I spent all day in and out of their house.

I also had the caretakers to hang out with. I spent a lot of time with them and they became part of the extended CT family. Bill and Marion had a dog named Tidy Paws. I’ll never forget that name!

When I was eleven, Arthur and Marie came on as caretakers and stayed for 18 years. They were truly family to me. It was Arthur who taught me how to drive. I spent a lot of time with both of them, their kids, and eventually their granddaughter, “Little Marie”. I recently reconnected with “Little Marie” through a mutual friend. We reminisced and I gave her one of many needle points her grandmother had made for me. She was thrilled.

I was also allowed to keep pets in CT, but not in the apartment in New York City. The caretakers took care of the pets during the winter. So during the summers, I also got to spend time with my cat, my dog and at one point, a rabbit. Talk about paradise for a child!

Me with my dog and my bunny

I spent as much time as I could at the house through college and law school. My grandfather died in 1972 and my grandmother in 1975. So in 1976, my new husband and I moved into my grandparent’s cottage for weekends and part of the summer. When we had our first child, we turned a closet into a crib area. When my son got older, we moved him into the living room to sleep.

By 1987, we had two kids, aged two and seven. Both were sleeping in the living room in tent beds. It was getting pretty cramped. That’s when we decided to build a house of our own on a piece of my father’s land, deep in the woods, behind the main house. We moved into our new summer-house in 1989 and moved their full time in 1991. I’m still there!

My mom died in 2002, shortly before I married my current husband, Tom. She had refused to do the estate planning that her lawyers had been urging her to do for years. So in order to pay the estate taxes, I had to sell her CT house along with the remaining 27 acres of land. I was heartbroken! That house and property meant so much to me!

Selling the house was particularly sad. Growing up, my father would have annual anxiety attacks, usually around tax time, and insist that we could no longer afford to keep the house in CT. I would get hysterical. I would cry and beg. I would make my parents promise, over and over, year after year, that they would never sell the house and that someday it would be mine.

The irony is that they never did sell the house but I had to! And I have to look at it every time I drive down the road. It’s still a dagger to the heart, after all these years.

At least I still have my house right next to the stream and mini waterfall where I used to play as a child. I’m still on part of my father’s original land so I’ve preserved some of the family estate. And that makes me happy.

When I decided to move to CT full-time, my mother called me a “hick” because I wanted to leave New York City for country life. She wanted to know what she had done wrong with me. After all, she had exposed me to all the culture and excitement of New York City, why hadn’t any of it stuck? I replied that she had also exposed me to idyllic summers in the country surrounded by extended family and pets. THAT was where I was truly happy. And THAT is what stuck!

The beautiful porch from the inside with a view of the glorious front lawn (a friend is on the chaise)

THE LONGEST FLIGHT – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My first husband, Larry, me and our two young children, around ages four and nine, were scheduled to fly to Santa Fé, New Mexico for a vacation. We had a connecting flight from New York City to St. Louis, Missouri.

We got to the airport in the early evening and something was wrong with the incoming plane. So our flight to St. Louis had to be canceled. We were put on the next available flight with a connection possible to St. Louis. It was the following morning at an ungodly hour. We decided to take the kids home to get some sleep before schlepping back to the airport before dawn the next day. We were already off to a rocky start.

We got to the airport on time, but our flight was delayed – just enough to make us miss our connection through St. Louis. We got to St. Louis and tried to find another flight to Santa Fé. Apparently this weekend’s Hot Air Balloon Festival was the biggest event of the year in Santa Fé. Every flight was booked. We finally found a flight on another airline — NINE HOURS LATER — around 6:00 PM.

That left us with had nine hours to kill plus two small children and all of our carry-on bags, which when traveling with kids, was a lot.

We decided to do some sightseeing. We took the kids to the famous arch. Walked around. Shopped. We still ended up spending too many long, boring hours in the airport.

Our flight finally boarded and naturally, it was overbooked. The flight attendant offered a free ticket to anyone who volunteered to take the next flight in two and a half hours. My crazy husband raised his hand and volunteered the whole family! He figured that we’d waited this long, we should at least get something out of the lost day!

This part actually worked out well. We had time for a leisurely dinner before we boarded the next flight. The rest of the trip was fun and included a hot air balloon ride.

However, getting there was not half the fun!

FAMILY ‘SUMMER CAMP’ – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I did a fun thing with my kids in 1993, when they were eight and thirteen. My ex, Larry, and I took them to a three-day Family Summer Camp on Lake George in New York State. It was just like regular sleep away camp except it was designed for families.

My two kids on the dock at the camp

During the day, everyone signed up for different activities, with or without your other family members. The families came together at mealtimes and for the evening’s entertainment. I did several things with my kids. It was fun doing things I had enjoyed when I was in camp, with my own children. Things like archery and riflery, both of which I, strangely, excelled at.

We also kayaked together and went waterskiing. At least the kids went waterskiing, all around the picturesque lake. I had waterskied in grade school and found it easy. I didn’t anticipate a problem. However, neither Larry or I could even get up on our skis for more than a few seconds. We got three chances and struck out 0 for three. It was embarrassing and made me feel old.

The accommodations were sparse. They took “rustic” to new levels. And I’m not a ‘roughing it’ kind of girl. So this was really a stretch for me. Each family had their own cabin in the woods. Ours had two sets of bunk beds, plain wood floors, a dresser and a table and chairs. There were, maybe two light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. No air conditioning goes without saying (a big deal for me). Also lots of bugs and insects.

Sparse cabin like the one we lived in for the weekend

Then there was the bathrooms. There were two communal bathrooms, one for men and one for women, The problem was, they were at least two city blocks from our cabin. We had to walk through dark and thick woods to get there. There were exposed tree roots and fallen branches everywhere to trip over on the way. Making that trip in the middle of the night with a flashlight and an eight year old was not a picnic. It was downright scary.

One interesting camp rule was that every family had to do kitchen duty for one breakfast, one lunch and one dinner. That meant setting and clearing tables before and after the assigned meals. That was one of my favorite memories from the weekend – sharing KP duty with my kids and a few other families.

My daughter on the camp’s dock

On this trip, I was also introduced to the art of Storytelling. We were regaled one night by a professional Storyteller. We were all mesmerized. She was amazing. She told a wonderful old tale with a theatrical delivery that made you feel like you were watching a full cast enact a play. I’ll never forget that experience.

I don’t think I could have handled more than three days of “camp”. But as a family “adventure,” I give it five stars! Except for the fact that Sarah came home with lice! Maybe it should only get three stars.

WACKY WEATHER – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My ex-husband, Larry, and I had a knack for traveling to places where the weather was uncharacteristic and extreme.

Our first big trip together was our honeymoon, which took place three months BEFORE the wedding (don’t ask!). We spent three weeks in England and France at the end of June. Summer. I packed one long-sleeved shirt, one sweater and one light coat, just in case. Most of the photos of me are in these three pieces of clothing. I wore them almost every day. It was like a blustery, chilly fall day for the entire three weeks.

Me freezing in France on my pre-wedding Honeymoon in late June

My first trip to Disney World, in Orlando, Florida, was in March. Not summer but still warm in Florida. Except when we were there. It was so cold, my only souvenir from the trip was a pair of gloves – which I wore every day!

Me in my turtle neck sweater and gloves in Disney World, Fla. (pregnant)

We’ve been in Florida when the orange tree growers were frantically putting blankets on their fruit trees to try to protect them from the deadly frost. We’ve been in Los Angeles, California when the swimming pools were freezing over. Record cold weather was reported in both places.

We went to Yosemite National Park in Northern California in the fall, expecting nippy weather. It was a record-breaking 95 degrees the whole time. We had to buy shorts and tank tops to survive. We also had to cancel many of the hikes and climbs we had planned because I don’t do well in hot weather.

Me in Yosemite Nat’l Park in the heat

The funniest weather story took place in Florida during one of those record-breaking cold streaks. I flew to Larry’s mom’s condo in Pompano Beach, Florida. Larry met me there from a business trip in Colorado, where he had done some skiing. We were enjoying another uncharacteristically cold snap. Larry called the office in New York City to check in. The lawyer back home asked him about the weather. Larry replied that it was 19 degrees out! The New York lawyer said, “Great! You’ll get in some good skiing!” Frustrated, Larry answered, “Schmuck! I’m in Florida now!”

This wacky weather curse must be attached to me, because it carried over to my second husband, Tom.

We took a canal boat trip around the countryside of England in April. It was over 90 degrees for several days in a row. That would have been an anomaly in England in August, let alone April. One day Tom actually got sun stroke and came home with a wicked sunburn. People asked us how our trip went and we told them about the sunstroke. Invariably we would get a confused response like, “Oh, you were in Florida?” or “I thought you were in England!”

Tom and me on our canal boat in the heat

One of our vacations was actually ruined because of crazy weather. We flew all the way to Hawaii, expecting the beautiful scenery and the consistently idyllic weather we’d been told about by our friends. We went there primarily to go on dive trips in the pristine waters. Unfortunately, there had been a hurricane just before we arrived. The water had been churned up so badly that the ocean stayed muddy the entire week we were there. There was no visibility underwater so all of our dive trips were canceled.

To add insult to injury, it rained every single day and was overcast the whole time. The sun came out for the first time to taunt us as we drove to the airport to go home!

Kauai, Hawaii in the rain

We also lost a day on a cruise because of bad weather. We were scheduled to leave on a cruise to Bermuda from a pier in New York City right near Tom’s office. He had always dreamed of walking to the pier and getting on a cruise ship. We were finally doing it!

Instead, a tropical storm delayed the incoming ship and rerouted it to Boston. We not only lost one day of our trip, but we had to drive all the way to Boston to get the ship. So much for Tom’s dream cruise from New York City.

Weather has not always been my friend in my travels, though overall, I’ve lucked out more often than not. However, the crazy weather stories are much more fun to write about. So, let’s hear it for funky weather on vacations!

THE BIZARRE TRIP TO EUROPE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

When I was in high school, my parents didn’t travel. A good friend, nick named ‘Cookie’, was going to Europe for three weeks over the summer with her family. She invited me to join them. I was 15 and thrilled.

The first week we were going to stay on our own in Surrey, England, outside of London, with friends of Cookie’s family. Then we would travel with parents to London, Paris, Geneva, Zurich and Vienna.

Me and the family in Surrey, England

As soon as we arrived in Surrey, Cookie pulled the rug out from under me. She told me she was jealous of me and hated me. She said she planned to make the trip as miserable for me as possible. This was like a kick in the gut to me. Where did this come from? And what was I supposed to do now, alone in a foreign country with a declared ‘enemy’?

Cookie tried to ingratiate herself with the family and exclude me. It didn’t work. The two kids, a son around 18 and a daughter around 21, liked me better and complained to me about Cookie. But I still felt the hostility and the tension. It was very uncomfortable and scary.

When we were traveling alone with her parents, Cookie tried to turn them against me. She tried to sabotage me at every turn. Again, it didn’t work. Her parents just got annoyed with her. She kept on trying though.

Me on the trip in Paris

I couldn’t even write home about my situation because I always shared a room with Cookie and she hovered over me. My letters home are all chatty and upbeat except for a few hurriedly sneaked sentences at the end of each letter. The postscripts were short cries of anguish and pleas for help.

I had never been exposed to this degree of negativity, competitiveness, and outright hostility. It was an unpleasant and weird and particularly difficult for a 15-year old. I must have been more mature than I realized to have survived but even enjoyed some of the trip. We saw beautiful places and did  cool things. I just tried to ignore Cookie as much as possible.

To add insult to injury, we came home on the ocean liner, Queen Mary. There were no activities for kids and it was mind-numbingly boring. On top of that, and having to deal with Cookie 24/7, the food was became inedible. They ruined eggs for breakfast! We lived off candy from the vending machines.

Photo I took in Geneva, Switzerland

I’m grateful this trip didn’t turn me against traveling. In fact, it whetted my appetite. If I enjoyed traveling under these circumstances, imagine what it would be like with a friend as my traveling companion!

MY FAVORITE FAMILY ADVENTURE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Whenever the topic of traveling comes up, I will invariably go on and on about my all time favorite type of vacation – a drive through the canals of England. Not many people know that there is an extensive canal system that winds through the English countryside. The boats used on them are called Narrow Boats. They are large, steel houseboats, about seven feet wide (which is very narrow) and from 45-65 feet long. You drive the boats yourself and they can only go up to five miles per hour. It is a leisurely and relaxing vacation – or it can be.

In 1987, my family of four took a week-long canal trip with our close friends, the Millers, an English family of four. The kids were ages two (my daughter), six (their daughter), seven (my son) and eight (their son).

Our summary page for the trip

Our boat was 65 feet long, slept eight easily and had two dedicated bedrooms, a living area, eating area, kitchen and bathroom. It was surprisingly comfortable, even for eight people. The boat was driven, with a single tiller, from a small outside deck at the back of the very long-boat.

Our trip started inauspiciously. Our seven-year old son fell into the water just trying to get on the boat for the first time! Things improved for a while and we all enjoyed the beautiful scenery for the rest of the first day.

On the third day, our two-year old daughter ran in to where the rest of us were having breakfast and asked, “Why is it raining in the bedroom?” That set off alarms! Sure enough, water was pouring into the back bedroom, right where both families had stored their fabric suitcases. We had to make room wherever we could to dry out all the clothes that were soaked by this major leak.

We called the boat rental company and reported the problem. We had to pull over, in the middle of a field of cows, and wait for the repairman to come, by car, and fix the boat.

It was actually a lovely morning in a picturesque setting. Some of us took the bikes we had brought and rode along the path beside the canal. We also got up close and personal with some of the local cows. The kids were thrilled. The boys also played soccer in the cow’s field.

When we got underway again, we were heading to Birmingham, a city on our route. We were warned that the canal part of the city was not a safe or savory place to spend the night. We had to get through the large city and out the other side before dark.

We realized that we had reached the city when we started to see garbage and dead animals, including cats, floating in the water. It was getting dark. We began freaking out. We had to push on and hope to reach the city limits before we had to pull over (no lights, no night driving). We made it, with maybe a few minutes to spare. We were incredibly lucky and equally relieved.

Our next incident occurred when we stopped at a charming canal side pub for lunch. My ex husband, Larry, a lawyer, decided to call his office in New York City to check in. Big mistake. There had been a major crisis at work and Larry had to return to New York ASAP. We had to figure out how to get Larry from the middle of nowhere, back to London and onto a plane. That turned out to involve a taxi ride to a train, the train to a subway and the subway to Heathrow airport.

The rest of us had a wonderful afternoon exploring the ruins of an ancient Abbey in a beautiful woods.

Soccer in the ruins of the old abbey

One other aspect of this trip deserves mention. The locks. English locks have to be operated manually and take lots of time and effort. Everybody pitched in to master the 119 locks that we had to pass through over the course of the week. We had the kids ‘help’ and made it into a fun exercise. But 119 is a shitload of locks! We also had two ‘flights of locks’, which are numerous locks one right after the other with no space in between. We did as many as 43 locks in one day!

Near the end of the week the remaining Dad took the two boys on another bike ride. The four girls were left on the boat, tied, as usual, to a stake at the edge of the canal. I was washing dishes and looked out the window. I saw that the shore was farther away than it should have been. The rope tying us down had come loose and we were drifting into the canal.

The other mom waded into the water, got to shore and grabbed the rope. She tried to pull us back to shore. Instead, the boat pulled her into the water. The two little girls thought this was hysterical. We all ended up laughing as I also had to wade into the water to help my friend tie the boat down again.

Beautiful canal views

Most canal trips are far less eventful. I’ve spent three weeks on the canals since then, and had next to no problems. But despite our challenges, we all loved the 1987 vacation. We still remember it fondly and talk about it often, thirty years later. It was even brought up in a toast at the Miller daughter’s wedding! It is definitely a fun trip – also interesting, different, exciting, sometimes relaxing and, above all else, memorable!