We found sunshine in Homer….

Ever the optimists with hopes of improved weather we braced ourselves, donned our rain gear and joined the Kenai Fjords boat excursion into the Kenai Fjords National Park. My friend and travel mate, is a collector of National Parks, having visited many of the parks in the lower 48 she was pleased to learn that she could add three more to her list from our Alaskan Adventure.

Aialik Glacier

Besides rain, very large waves and a few green fellow travelers we saw wildlife, sea otters, sea lions, cormorants, bald eagles and even a gray whale.  But the real prize was sailing very close to the face of the Aialik Glacier.  This is one of many glaciers in the park not to mention the many more sprinkled liberally throughout Alaska.  The sheer size and scale of this glacier was amazing but the sound of it calving into the water was even more so.  We could hear the sound a bit before we saw the ice crashes.

The sun does shine in Alaska, just not very often.  As we traveled from Seward to Homer the sun broke through with promise of a couple clear days ahead.

What to do when the sun shines in Alaska?…..have another Alaskan adventure to see what is around the next corner.  It was a sign that said “See Bears Today”.

Bears on the Beach

An hour flight across Cook Inlet on a six seat airplane and a pilot who looked all of 16 had us landing on the beach in Lake Clark NP inhabited mostly by bears.  From the air we saw bears in the water fishing prior to our beach landing. Another sandy take off and landing put us in clear sight of a bear lumbering down the beach toward us….. we waited…..after walking quite close to us, he must have thought better and skirted inland for several yards before joining the beach just beyond us.  We were told that these bears have plenty to eat on the island, are not hunted here and therefore do not feel threatened by humans.  We did take precautions to stay in groups of three or more because a group of three looks bigger than a bear.

 

In Homer a wonderful sunny warm day trip on the Danny J to Halibut Cove topped off our trip and my birthday.

Sunshine

End-Of-The-Road Adventures

A long day on the road from Denali to Seward yesterday, luckily the rain let up a bit and we were able to enjoy the beautiful Alaskan countryside.  We were treated by a black bear scooting across the street in front of our car. Where is my camera when I need it most?

The Seward hotel has the most interesting lobby where we are greeted by a menagerie of stuffed Alaska animals.  One of my favorites….

Bums Rush

Ten foot waves and the warning of seasickness scared us away from our Kenaii Fiords trip today.  We will try again tomorrow.

Alternatively we explored a bit more of Alaska.

The Sea Life Center of Seward was quite a find and proved to be a respite from the bad weather.  (up close and personal with a local puffin)

Up Close and Personal with a Puffin

 

 

 

Miller Landing is at the end of the road just outside Seward.  This multi-purpose business includes boat launch, fishing excursions, campground, boat repair, kayak rental and restaurant, all with a fish cleaning tables for locals to prepare their catch.  (Kayak rentals at the end-of-the-road)

Kayak rentals at the end-of-the-road.

 

A hike to Exit Glacier which comes off of the Harding Icefield was the highlight of our day.  As we hiked we noticed sign markers 1817-2010.  These indicated the year and location of the glacier and provided an idea of glacier movement as it has receded over time.

 

End-of-the-road next stop Harding Icefield

It was a treat to peek around every corner for a closer and better view of the vast blue and white ice.  The sun even tried to come out.

 

 

Backcountry Alaska

Georgeanne and I have spent the last two days exploring a very small portion of Alaska backcountry. Wow this state is vast!
We drove from Anchorage to Denali with a stop at Talkeetna, a small Alaska town. Not surprising, it was raining so we explored the town museum and had lunch at West Rib Cafe & Pub. We learned that Talkeetna is the place from which climbers embark who are trying to ascend Denali. They fly from the local grass air strip in town to basecamp in order to get aclaimaited for an average of 21 day trek to the top without oxygen. Not for the faint hearted and more than 40% of the attempts end in failure.

A long day touring Denali park and preserve was informative and delightful. We learned about the history of the six million acre park, the influence of mining and some lore about local pioneers. It was full of surprises the first one being that we didn’t see the tallest mountain in the US. The adventure of visiting Denali park was well worth the trip. On our soggy day tour, we traveled 92 miles to the end-of-the-road on a 12 hour bus excursion.
We traveled on the only road with park access with a local sponsored bus tour not private vehicle (which aren’t allowed past mile 15). Complimentary bus transportation is available from the visitor center. The take away was that this park is vast and remote. Every effort has been made to protect a complete ecosystem.  We saw, bear, caribou, mountain goat and moose. And we leave with a new sense of understanding of what a treasure our national parks are.

Thelma and Louise are on the road again

Wow, this has been a year for travel.  A trip to France, England, Knoxville, Tennessee and Cuba all in one year. David and I are taking the advice of our financial adviser to travel while we are still healthy.   And …as a friend says “tell the kids, the last check is going to bounce”

So having never been to Alaska, I am embarking on an Alaska adventure with my longest and dearest friend Georgeanne Brown.  Georgeanne has been celebrating

Georgeanne in the Grand Canyon

her 80thbirthday for two years and as the January date actually comes closer, we decided that one more road trip was in our future. This is my “on the road” friend who loves to drive and with whom I have taken many trips.  We met in 1978 when we had both moved to the northwest and ended up teaching at the same school in Everett.  Through her divorce, our swinging single years and my having a child at 38 we have been each other’s rock.  Oh the stories I could tell…..

With many road trips in our past we move through the next 10 days with a sense of adventure in our hearts and knowing that the creaky joints and aches and pains of aging will visit us along the way.

We will begin in Anchorage for one night, pick up a rental car and head to Denali for two days. Following that, we have plans to drive down to Seward and the Kenaii peninsula where we will take an excursion into the Kenaii fiords.  We have hopes of getting close to some glaciers, if they haven’t all melted.  Then on to Homer for a couple more days to soak up the local Alaskan culture.  Back to Anchorage for a short tour before heading home.

Georgeanne is a birder so I presume I will be learning the names of certain terns, gulls etc.  We will take our walking sticks for some light hiking.

Yellowstone

But most of all we know we will enjoy; nature rain or shine, each other’s company, and the opportunity to be able to take this one more trip.

 

 

 

Taking the family to France: Pat’s top five tips

Collioure and its harbor from the hills above the city.

Pat and I have wanted for quite a while to take our adult kids and granddaughter on a trip somewhere exotic.

For many years, Pat and her brother and sister and our families got together for a week each summer, and our kids – who are more or less only children — have very good memories of being with their cousins. This practice has fallen off a little now that the cousins are all grown and several have families of their own. It is difficult now to find a town with zoning laws liberal enough to accommodate our entire group.

Market day in Collioure: Sunday and Wednesday

And, of course, most people of our generation have memories – good and bad – of road trips with our parents when we were growing up.

So, in this milieu, we had been talking about getting our small family group together. (Two adult children, their partners and our granddaughter) The planning took more than a year.

We started out narrowing the choice of locations. France emerged in part because we wanted a place that was interesting enough that the kids would want to go. It was a draw because Kara’s boyfriend, Georges, is fluent in French, and Charlie likes to practice his.

Another priority was to find a place near the water. Charlie’s girlfriend, Genevieve, is highly motivated by Mediterranean beaches, and Amelia also is a beach fan.

I like places with a little history and culture, and Pat enjoys small towns and local markets.

Our group at dinner

So the product of this search was a house in Collioure, in the French region of Languedoc-Roussillon, just north of the Spanish border and the city of Barcelona.

Collioure is beautiful and meets all the criteria: It is on the beach, has a history that dates to the Greeks, Romans and Visigoths, with an interesting 14thCentury castle, a couple of art galleries, a great farmers’ market, and lots of seafood restaurants. But it is a little out of the way, and the logistics were complicated.

Georges, Kara and Amelia came via Geneva and a few days’ drive while stopping off in the chateau area of France. They are flying out of Barcelona.

Charlie and Genevieve flew non-stop to Barcelona from New York. Easy.

Pat and I were in London for a couple of days to visit family and then flew to Carcassonne, which is about two hours away. (Ryanair is cheap, but we paid a little extra for a ticket that allows you to pick your seat and carry a bag.)

Getting ready for dinner. The view is from our deck.

The result has been a really great week. There were several trips to the beach and local farmer’s markets, significant time by the pool, extra trips to the wine store, a couple of hikes, great group meals. All of this has produced Patty Moriarty’s top five rules for traveling with your family:

1) Consider individual interests and choose a place that has a little something for everyone: beaches, hikes, restaurants, galleries, etc.

2) Together time isn’t always the answer.  Don’t plan to spend every minute together or plan too many activities for the whole group. Encourage the kids to get away by themselves without you — even if they talk about you when you aren’t there.

3) Plan transportation options ahead of time. Is there easy access to nearby shopping and town? If cars are necessary, have enough cars to allow for independent excursions.

Pat, Georges and Kara at the beach.

4) Consider the size of the house and the layout.   People may have a variety of sleep schedules especially if they are jet-lagged.  Enough bedrooms so everyone can be alone if they need to.  Don’t make anyone sleep on the couch in the living room. It is always nice to have a game room or swimming pool.

5) Come together at the end of the day for a group meal.   Make use of culinary talents of the group by sharing the cooking and shopping duties.

I don’t guarantee that following these rules will ensure a successful family trip. Maybe you have family members who are incompatible after a few days. But we offer them in case they can be of help.

For us, there are preliminary discussions of another family trip. And, by coincidence, we are scheduled to share a house together in Tennessee next month to celebrate Pat’s brother’s 70thbirthday. So far, no one has backed out.

Genevieve and Charlie at dinner.

Amelia with the harbor in the background.

 

Walking the South Downs Way, when we could find it.

Walking near Alfriston in Sussex, Southeast England

There is a great walking tradition in England that dates to the Romantic period but which really got its start when people moved en masse to big, crowded cities like Liverpool and Manchester during the industrial period. In the 20thCentury, before and after World War II, Parliament passed laws protecting public rights of way across private lands to ensure access to the countryside.

This House, on the Main street in Alfriston, dates to the 14th Century.

A few years years ago, Pat went on a series of walks through the English Cotswolds with women from her book group. She has been wanting to do that again, so as part of a more extensive trip this summer, we included a few days in Sussex, in southeast England to walk in the South Downs National Park.

Our home base in Sussex was a beautiful old town, Alfriston, which dates to the 14thCentury. There is an old priory, church and several houses and pubs, all with some part of their buildings that began in the 14thCentury.  Alfriston is a classic English village. It is one-street deep, and there has been a local conflict about whether to allow a stop light in town.   The traffic police are losing the battle, and traffic seems to back up daily at one pinch point where the road is only one-and-a-half cars wide.

Walking through wheat fields to Berwick.

We only had two days for long walks, and the first day took us to the nearby town of Berwick, which has its own 12thCentury church. The Berwick church – St. Michael’s and All Angels — was kind of adopted by the Virginia Woolf-Bloomsbury group, which maintained a home nearby, and the church is richly illustrated inside with post-impressionist-like murals by Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, Woolf’s sister.

We walked from Alfriston to Berwick, trying to walk along the South Downs Way, which is marked (occasionally) on 4-by-4 posts with little arrows. The English may be devoted to protecting the public rights of way and all that, but the signage could use some improvement. We were able to find our way to Berwick, along to so-called “Vanguard

Decorations on the walls of the church in Berwick.

Way,” and then ended up bumming a ride part-way home.

On the second day, we walked again along the South Downs Way – when we found it – along the southeast coast, with its massive and abrupt chalk cliffs. (The natives say they are whiter than the white cliffs of Dover.) After a good few hours of walking, from Eastborne, via Beachy Head to Birling Gap, we had been advised to end our walk at the Tiger Inn. Pretty tired by then, we headed up a path in hopes of a refreshing pint, we walked and up, and up and up for at least a

On the South Downs Way near Beachy Head.

mile before finally reaching the Tiger in the little town of East Dean. All told, this was probably only seven miles or so, or 15,000 steps on Pat’s Fitbit, but it certainly was sufficient. This place is hilly.

We go on from here to meet the family in Southern France, in the little town of Collioure, just north of the Spanish border on the Mediterranean.

Whiter than Dover?

After Castro, what’s next?

Our casa particular in Havana formerly was the home of one of Castro’s generals. General Ordaz, who was with Castro “in the mountains,” as they say in Cuba, and who later became head of a psychiatric hospital in Havana.

It is a beautiful home with four or five guest bedrooms on the ground floor, and accommodations for the family and staff upstairs. There is a lovely pool, air-conditioning, 24 hr. staff. The entry hallway is filled with photos of Dr. Ordaz with Fidel, Che and others. The staff brought out the family albums for us to see, and they were filled with great pictures of Dr. Ordaz and his family with the Revolutionary generation, as well as one with the Pope. The home now is operated as a guest house by Dr. Ordaz’ daughter.

Edifice complex: The Russian embassy, and the monument to the Revolution

Located in the Havana neighborhood of Siboney, Casa Ordaz is on graceful, tree-lined streets with well-kept (mostly) homes that look like they were built in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. Many embassies are located here.

It prompted a question, which came up over and over and which never was adequately resolved, is why some people seemed to be doing so well and some were living in poverty. Sure, everyone gets free health care and education, and there is an allotment of food every month (quite a modest allotment.)

The official story is that it is a classless society, which equal access to education and health care, etc. And I think that is basically true, but why did some people seem to be living so well? Why was Dr. Ordaz’ daughter still living in this lovely home and renting it out as a guest house on the private market?

Plenty of pictures of Che on the sides of buildings. Followed by Fidel, and then Hugo Chavez.

One answer was that the Cubans who had renovated their houses and seemed to be living well probably were being sent money from relatives in the U.S. Now I don’t speak much Spanish, and so I had few conversations with real Havanese, but clearly in their view, the reason for the poverty and economic stagnation is the U.S. embargo and not the socialist economic system dictated under Castro.

Any conversation about politics was about the U.S. and its impact.

We went to the great Museum of the Revolution in Old Havana – formerly the dictator Batista’s palace. There still are holes in the hallway from rifle shots when students attempted (unsuccessfully) to storm the palace and depose Batista. The theme of the museum, told repeatedly, was about the Cubans’ ability to survive attacks and assaults by the U.S. and particularly the CIA.

Cuban billboard tells what they think of the blockade.

The narrative of modern Cuba is indistinguishable from Cuba v. the U.S. And while one might argue that a little capitalism might have helped their economy, it is difficult to argue that our embargo hasn’t helped impoverish two generations of Cuba, and we are working on the third.

Of course one gift of the embargo is the wonderful collection of 1950’s cars and colonial buildings in old Havana. They would not exist if Hilton and Sheraton had been allowed to come in and erect 20-story hotels in their place. There is a significant amount of restoration going on, despite Cuba’s economic issues, and revenue generated from tourism now is being funneled into further renovations. Our traveling partners Terry and Jane, who were here two years ago, remarked at the amount of work that had been done in just that time. The work we saw in Old Havana was true to the period and design of the original buildings.

Lineup of classic cars for hire.

I walked around old Havana with a retired professor of cultural anthropology from the University of Havana, and it was clear from our discussion that the Cubans treasure the history and want to preserve it. The 50’s-era Chevrolets compete for customers with modern, Chinese-built taxis, but they, too, wouldn’t be there were it not for the embargo. So in a perverse way, we have helped preserve a great heritage — at significant cost to the natives.

Beautiful square in Old Havana.

It was clear when talking to and observing the Cubans, that they are proud of their country and their local culture and wary of what capitalism brings.  Even though we saw poverty, the Cuban people are full of life enjoying music, dancing and . . . rum.

We indulged in mojitos at the grand Hotel National and the floor show at the Tropicana, which began in the 30’s and looks a little like 1950’s Las Vegas. Cuba was mobbed up in the 50’s, and one guidebook said that putting Castro in charge of Havana would be like giving the Amish control of Las Vegas. Despite any puritanism on the part of Fidel, there is enough music and dancing and rum to keep tourism going.

Glad we came when we did.

Just this week, the Cubans are choosing a new President, although Raul Castro, at least for the time being, is retaining the roles as head of the army and of the communist party. Cubans are quite uncertain about what will happen next.  With the possibilities of big changes coming, we were glad we visited when we did