Tuesday, July 4, 2017

North to SE Alaska for Our 40th

It seems like it was just a few years ago we celebrated our 40th birthdays. They were a big deal then with black balloons, gag gifts, and cards about being over the hill. All we had to do was just show up, laugh, and wonder where the time went.  In retrospect, that milestone was nothing compared to our recent 40th wedding anniversary.  We arrived at it with a lot more luck and effort than just showing up every day, although that certainly helped.

We needed more than black balloons to mark this occasion, so we decided to go BIG and host a celebration in Glacier Bay, Alaska (48 miles by air from Juneau) with our daughters, their boyfriends, and Kathy's brother Steve. Getting them together in one place at the same time from London, Boston, New York, and Oregon City took months of planning, and we're so glad they could get time off to join us.
Bear Track Inn,10 miles on dirt roads
from "downtown" Gustavus

Unlike our honeymoon when we backpacked without porters to the 16,000' elevation near the basecamp of Mt. Everest, we're getting soft in our old age. We stayed at the wonderful Bear Track Inn, on the edge of Glacier Bay National Park. True to Kelemen-Ellis family style we crammed each day full with outdoor activities and the evenings with food, drink, and card games.  It was a trip and family event of a lifetime, and hopefully we can do something like it again in 10 and 20 years.

Alaska, with its scenery and wildlife, is truly amazing.  See it while you still can (and while its unique wildlife and glaciers are still there)!

Day 1:  Arrival

Day 2:  A wet and scenic day of sea kayaking

Day 3:  (Our anniversary) Glacier Bay
We saw sea lions, eagles, mountain goats, a wolf,
humpback whales, puffins, and much more.

Our boat, complete with Park
Ranger Patrick, who narrated the
geology, history, and wildlife
the whole day

The much more

Margerie Glacier, 1 mile wide, 21 miles long,
250 ft. high, 50-100 ft. below water.
(Note cruise ship for scale)

Grand Pacific glacier, 2 miles wide, 34 miles long,
60-80 feet above sea, 0-60 feet below

On our way back to Bartlett Bay
An anniversary toast
Special cake
Day 5:  Flying from Gustavus to  historic
Skagway and back
The train from Skagway to White Pass, along the route
of the Yukon Gold Rush
Day 6:  Homeward bound.
(The 10:30 pm sunset view from our room)

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Big Apple, Part IV

We love the "Fearless Girl" sculpture.  She drew
more crowds than the Wall Street bull.
Some people say we're impulsive; others say we're spontaneous.  They're all correct.  On a whim, after reading a New York Times article about Renee Fleming planning to go out on top as an opera star in Der Rosenkavalier, we bought tickets and booked a flight to the Big Apple.  We weren't disappointed.  They do opera BIG in the Big Apple!

Big Night at Lincoln Center

Chandeliers at the Met

We stayed with Feruza, our "Third Daughter" ever since she was an Uzbek exchange student with us 2002-03.  She's now a proud US citizen and a nurse at Cornell NY Presbyterian, enjoying the city life in the Upper East Side, close to Central Park.  Hanging out with her was the highlight of the trip.

We've been to New York together about four times, and each time we try to do something different. What's new this time?  The Ground Zero Memorial, the top of the WTC on a beautiful day, the Fearless Girl sculpture on Wall Street, exploring Brooklyn Heights after walking the Brooklyn Bridge, a self-guided  walking tour of Harlem, Columbia University, and an audio tour of the magnificent Grand Central Station. 
Manhattan skyline from Brooklyn Heights

The famous Apollo
in Harlem

Residential street in Brooklyn
We also took in some favorites:  Central Park in full spring bloom, a favorite South Indian restaurant, Sotheby's, and the gastronomic sensory overload of Eataly.     Why Sotheby's, you ask?  Its free and a great place to see a lot of mostly modern art and jewels up for auction, including some well-know pieces.  This time we saw some Picasso, Chagall, and Andy Warhol prints.  We also got to observe an auction in progress, and saw diamond earrings go for over $1 million. Unlike the booze-fueled, festive and high-energy  atmosphere of the charity auctions we attend, this was pretty mellow.

Inside Grand Central
Grand Central deserves some mention. Over 750,000 people pass through it each day.   Completed in 1913 and restored in 1998, it's a beautiful engineering marvel rich with history. It's the world's largest train terminal, with 45 track platforms and 63 tracks.  It has two times more steel than the Eiffel Tower.  It has one of the deepest basements in NY, more than 10 stories deep, 90 feet below sea level.  The dirt and rock was used for fill at Ellis Island.  In terms of income per square footage, the terminal is the most successful shopping center in the US, grossing over $150 million per year.  For some beautiful photos and fascinating info, check out this link.

New York is going bonkers with new construction.  Cranes, jackhammers, scaffolding, and pedestrian detours are everywhere.  This was especially evident in Harlem, which like parts of Portland, is undergoing a lot of gentrification.  It's a city of high energy, noise, and diversity.  That's exciting.  But it also takes a lot of money to live there.  We're glad to be back home to the verdant and quiet Willamette Valley!

In other news...
Ron turned the corner about five weeks ago and has fully recovered from his stomach surgery last October, except for a few minor pangs in weird places now and then.  His strength and endurance are above where he was before the event.  Unfortunately, he's developing a major rotator cuff problem. And Kathy has her aches and pains, too.  That's part of mid-life adventures, for better or worse.  

In early February Ron celebrated younger brother Mark's  60th birthday in Las Vegas with "The Bro's."  They had a good time, but not the energy as they did for Neal's 50th in 2009.  
The Bro's Mark, Ron, Joe, & Neal with
Cousin Vicki & her husband Bob (center)

Ron's New Toy

As part of his 66th birthday present he bought an electronic drum set and has started taking weekly lessons.  "It's challenging, but fun," he reports with ringing ears and a sore shoulder.

Kathy joined the board of the Elizabeth Bowers Zambia Education Fund--a nonprofit established after a Salem Peace Corps Volunteer died from a bicycle accident in Zambia in 2000.  Her parents created the nonprofit, which has built schools and funded women's college scholarships in the village of Lumwana, Zambia.  Kathy has also been more involved in dealing with her 92-year old mother in nearby Dallas, OR, and serves as head of Technology, Webmaster, and Investment Committee chair at Assistance League of Salem-Keizer.  

Spring is here in all its Oregon glory, and we're looking forward to taking our Airstream on the road to the Ashland Shakespeare Festival next week.  Then Ron flies to Denver for his nephew's college graduation.  Then Shanti's boyfriend's parents from Australia arrive.  Speaking of Shanti, she just received her British citizenship!
Shanti, our dual citizen

We're very happy for her.  Originally it was so that she could secure her employment options anywhere in the UK and the EU, but now with Brexit, the EU options are fading.  We raised our daughters to be like the Fearless Girl sculpture on Wall Street and to be global citizens, so we're proud of Shanti for following her own path.  But deep down, we feel a pang that she may never come back to the States, let alone Oregon.  She and Alan are shopping for a flat in London.

Skyler turned 30 and joined an 'adult' gymnastics league in Boston as one of the older members, competing in everything but the vault.  So far, she's mostly injury free and just competed in a national meet in Cincinnati. She's loving it!

Lots of good things are in the works for this year and beyond, but we'll talk about them as they happen in future blogs.  And those are just the things we have planned.  Most likely some spontaneous and impulsive things will crop up.  The always do.  Stay tuned.  

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Nice to Visit, But....

There is nothing like travel to learn about geography.  This time we how learned much we had totally underestimated the size of Florida and its driving distances.  Since New Orleans, we have logged over 1800 miles. It was a full day from New Orleans to Mobile, then three more full driving days to Key Largo, 100 miles north of Key West.  Most of those miles were pretty flat, boring (except for the heavy traffic), lined by trees and punctuated now and then by strip malls and casinos.  But at least the weather was a very welcome change!

We can highly recommend Hotel Hollander in St. Petersburg

Salvador Dali Museum, 2nd largest
Dali collection in the world

Tallahassee was forgettable, but St. Petersburg and Tampa were nice, as were a few parts of the Keys and Coral Gables in the Miami area.  Lodging in Tampa was very expensive, so we opted to spend three nights in St. Petersbug, at a nice historic hotel, popular with long-dead movie stars.  It was close to everything downtown, including the Salvador Dali museum and the Sunken Gardens.

Fun day of biking and frequently getting lost in Tampa
A mini cigar factory in Ibor

Cuban lunch

We drove the crazy causeway traffic to Tampa and enjoyed a nice day of bicycling to Ybor (Little Cuba), having a memorable lunch at the historic Columbia Restaurant.

The lavish Henry Plant Resort
opened in 1891

Bar at Columbia, the oldest surviving restaurant in FL
We later toured the historic Henry Plant Resort, now mostly part of the University of Tampa campus. We concluded that we would rather be low income  today than super rich at the turn of the century, with its rigid class structures, formalities, diseases, and high child mortality rates.

Wine & cheese on the dock.
Ahh, now this is what we were expecting!
Ten days after landing in New Orleans, we made it to Key Largo, the northern end of the long Florida Keys, where we finally felt like we had arrived into a warm tropical climate.  It was good to just do nothing for a whole day and evening.

Idyllic view from
our room
Not-so idyllic view 36 hours later

But 36 hours later a big storm blew in with 50 mph winds that toppled trees and made our idyllic evening dinner of wine and cheese on the dock the night before seem inconceivable.  Our Air B&B room had no table or chairs, except for those outside, but they kept getting blown over.

When in doubt take a road trip!  We drove 100 miles southwest to Key West. The Florida Keys are long.  Sometimes on the two-lane highway we are surrounded only by the Gulf of Mexico on one side, and the Atlantic Ocean on the other.  But traffic made it difficult to enjoy the view. The bridges are impressive, as is the abandoned railroad infrastructure from long ago.  Not impressive are the strip malls in the towns along the way.
The Florida Keys (some of them)

Key West is quite the tourist town, but walkable and bicycle friendly.  We toured the Hemingway home, saw Harry Truman's winter white house (used by every president from Taft to Clinton).  We rented bikes for two hours, and it was delightful when the wind was at our back.  Coming back, we nearly got blown over.

One of 53 six-toed cats on the 
Hemingway estate, sleeping on his bed

The highlight of our visit to the Keys was a private boat tour to a very small part of the salt water portion of Everglades National Park. The mangroves were a calm and beautiful oasis from the windy open water.  Many of the trees are as old or older than the redwoods and sequoias.  They protect the coastline and are protected everywhere in the world except for Indonesia, which is destroying them to make room for shrimp farms.  (Don't buy shrimp from Indonesia!).

Drifting through the Everglades

The old and slow-growing mangrove trees

We wrapped up our 17-day trip in the Miami area, staying in a delightful R B&B close to the Coral Gables country club.  It was a refuge from the insane traffic and bustle of Miami.

Our Air B&B suite was a former single car garage
We rented CitiBikes and cruised the lengthy bike/walkways along Miami beach--quite the scene of young-old, resident-tourist, gay- straight, fit-fat, tanned-pale people and art deco-modern architecture.

Most of this is a parking garage!

We ate lunch at a hole-in-the wall Cuban restaurant frequented by construction workers, then toured the over-the-top Vizcaya estate, completed in 1922.  James Deering, the founder of International Harvester, imported entire rooms and ceilings from Europe and built the home around them.
The Vizcaya estate

We spent our final full day in Shark Valley, a grassland portion of Everglades National Park.  We rented bikes and rode 15 miles along canals and grasslands and saw countless alligators and spectacular birds.  A nice ending to a mostly urbanized trip.

Photo bombed by a gator!
One of many herons we spotted

The only gator we saw moving
the whole day
Most of the Everglades are vast grasslands.
It was soooo nice to be in an official US wilderness area!
We visited with a lot of interesting people, saw nice (flat) scenery, learned a lot of history, and enjoyed warm weather in January. We ate everything from cochon to gaitor to conch fritters, all with plenty of oil and breading. We're glad we had an opportunity see this part of our country--everybody should experience it at least once--but we're Oregonians at heart.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Big Easy And the Mobile Surprise

You didn't hear it first from us, but New Orleans is a fun place to visit. We logged a lot of miles bicycling and walking nearly everywhere, plus just a little bit by trolley and our rental car on the last day.  We drank well, and ate even better--too much better!
Our Air B&B on Esplanade
We stayed in a 150-year old mansion halfway between the French Quarter and City Park.  The place was cluttered beyond belief, but at least it was interesting clutter.

Clutter view from the dining room
Our hosts, Bob and Jean were delightful, and we hit it off right away when we discovered our mutual Peace Corps connection.  He is a retired art professor and she is active in the NOLA arts and Maris Gras scene.  They connected us to their favorite restaurants and waiters and even got us plugged into a gala reception for The Creative Arts  of New Orleans foundation.  The event was black tie or toga, and since we didn't pack formal wear, we took our sheets and went toga.

Does this make us look fat?

We went on a fascinating two-hour walking tour, spent a whole day at the impressive WWII museum, rode our bikes through City Park, walked and rode through depressing flooded out neighborhoods, toured the sculpture garden, listened to jazz in the French Quarter by day and on Frenchman Street at night, rode the trolley, walked through neighborhoods of 150-200-year old homes, walked through above ground cemeteries, and visited one of the oldest plantations in the US.  Oh yes, we ate Creole, Cajun, French, and more.
At the Spotted Cat Music Club,Frenchman Street

One of countless sculptures in the garden

Above ground cemeteries because of low water table

Homes in our neighborhood

Just a small part of the WWII Museum

Two more (now broke) celebreties for John's collection
over the past 40 years at Galetorie's
For both of us, our full day at the WWII museum will stick with us the most.
The slave auction site, circa early 1700's.  Look closely and you
 can see the  word 'Exchange" above the closed arch doorways.
 It's now a hotel.  Lincoln visited this twice  as a deck hand in his youth.
It was so eucational and well done, and we left with a strange mix of pride, gratitude, and sadness.

The plantation was second.  They didn't gloss over slavery and the huge mortality rates that people of all races faced 300 years ago from disease and hardship.

The Destrehan Plantation, completed in 1790. 
Site of the 1810 slave rebellion and subsequent executions

Slave quarters for two families.  White board is a list
of all slaves from that plantation

After three full days drove through miles and miles of casinos, strip malls, and rather boring beaches to the city of Mobile, with a brief stopover at an alligator preserve, including an air boat ride.

We knew the New Orleans would be good and it was.  But we were totally unprepared for Mobile. We loved that place!  It had a very vibrant downtown, even for a Sunday night.  Once again we ate well, too well.
1860 DAR Home
in Mobile

On Monday we took a one-hour private tour of a mansion built in 1860, but the tour conducted by two aging southern ladies of the DAR morphed into a two-hour experience, which was a mix of antiques roadshow, southern culture, and  sorority organizational politics.  We could touch or sit on anything, but we cringed when they touched some priceless French paintings.

Afterwards, we spent three hours touring the HUGE USS Alabama and the submarine USS Drum, which was a good way to put some of the WWII Museum into even more perspective of what it was really like.  We don't know how those sailors did it, but they did, and we are grateful.  Both vessels saw a lot of combat in the South Pacific.  Makes my casualty of a cut head going through the bulkhead of the submarine seem pretty small.

The big guns!
The USS Alabama

Tomorrow,we depart Tallahase, on to Tampa for two or three days.

PS:  Update from our July "Racine Car Wash Blues" post:  My wallet was finally found as they cleaned out the carwash.  Only the plastic survived.  The cash and everything else turned to mush.  The stench took several hand washings to get it off my hands.