Category Archives: travel

A Dull Routine?

I’ve been slow to write lately. Not exactly sure why that is. I love writing. I’ve been journaling daily, but not blogging. Maybe I need to just sit down and see what happens. Kind of like now. But this seems to be more than a little disappointing. I need a good topic to get me started, and I don’t seem to have one. Why? Because life seems to be going pretty smoothly right now, all things considered.

A life without conflict can either be seen as a life of contentment or a dull routine. Personally, I prefer a dull routine. Last summer was hardly routine and it was awful.

To be honest, this summer has actually been pretty far from routine, with auction school, then a trip to Kentucky and North Carolina and, on Thursday, a trip to Wrigley to see a Chicago Cubs game (a win!).

However, Thursday’s trip had a little too much boring to it, with it taking six hours on a bus to get to downtown Chicago. Six! Not three, which is usual. Not even four, which is what it took us to get to Evanston on a prior trip (on the North side of Chicago, for those keeping score and unfamiliar with Chicagoland geography). But six!

We are still not sure what the bus company was thinking in planning the route, but before we even left Davenport (already 20 minutes late), they took a screwy turn and added at least five miles to the trip. When we asked why we were taking this route, as we missed the last possible turn to the interstate that wouldn’t take us another three miles out of town the wrong way, we were told the driver had to go “where the dispatcher told him to.” Despite the fact that we were from town and the Dispatcher was….where, exactly? I get the whole Dispatcher thing. Really, I do. But this was just absurd. We were supposed to arrive at the ballpark at 4:45 for a 6:05 game. When did we enter the park? It was 6:40 on my watch.

So, an inning and a half into the game, we found our way in. And this was after Ed had to surrender his pocket knife at security on the way in (not sure why he even had it, but I suppose it’s a farmer thing). That was where I lost it, temporarily. But I managed to pull myself together and we found our seats.

After a million people settled and got their hotdogs and beer and whatever else was being hawked through the aisles, we got to see a great game. We got to see a Cubs home run and some great plays. And who led us in the seventh inning stretch version of “Take me out to the ballgame?” Harry Caray, of course (via the magic of video tape). Happily, we also got to see them come from behind to win the game, so we got to sing the Cub’s song (Go, Cubs, Go!)

We had beer and hotdogs and popcorn (me) and nachos (Ed). I got myself a Cubs baseball hat. Made some new friends in some girls from Quincy, Illinois, who were part of the trip and a man from Bettendorf who was originally from Durant and a couple years behind my dad in school. And, all in all, it was a great night (the bus ride up notwithstanding). It was so much fun to get to see the Cubs win at Wrigley. And today, as we listened on the radio to the game, Ed decided we ought to try to go see a game once every summer. I agree! It might become part of our summer routine, which really isn’t dull at all, now that I think about it.

Cheers.

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Welcome back!

Hello, there! After a long hiatus that began with a week (an entire week!) of Influenza B and two looooong weeks of recovery (I heard stories but never really believed it until it happened to me – doesn’t that sound like a subtitle to a tabloid story about seeing aliens?), I’m back to the blog. Even now it’s a struggle to sit here and try to write, so I am hoping that by making myself just sit down, I can break the logjam and get started again. I was doing so well, hitting once or twice a week, there, at the start of the year, and then …. thump. That stupid wall. So, here is the news that’s fit to print.

First of all, the flu makes you really tired! After my first day back (after an initial attempt the previous Friday – it was a two-hour late start, so I figured I could swing that — I was wrong), I went to bed at 6:30 and slept the next ten hours straight. Whew! Made the Shrove Tuesday pancake supper at church, but couldn’t make the Ash Wednesday service. But sleep, sleep, sleep was all I wanted for two weeks. I was so tired for those two weeks that even the time change looked easy in comparison.

Anyhow, it is now Spring Break (said with a fanfare of trumpets). And as Ed was at the Augie men’s basketball tournament on Friday, I started my break with one of my two ritutals: mopping and cleaning (the other ritual is a stop at the library to load up on books). Followed, of course, by early to bed. But that was fine because Day Two was….Canoecopia!

What is Canoecopia?, I hear you ask (yes, I do hear you, so be careful!). It is an amazing canoe and kayak expo in beautiful, wonderful Madison, Wisconsin. My best friend, Brent, went with me (which was fortuitous, as on the way home I got pretty sleepy and it helped to have someone to talk to so I would stay awake, even at 4 in the afternoon). On the way up, had to have a coffee stop in my adopted hometown of Mt. Horeb. I love Sjolind’s Chocolate House! And not just for chocolate. They have wonderful baked good and excellent coffee (and hot chocolate). Brent had a blueberry scone the size of a baby’s head, I swear! I had a melt-in-your-mouth snickerdoodle that was just the right size and oh so fluffy!  When they brought out the quiche, I figured it was good I had a co-pilot, or I would have just stayed there all day.

On to Madison! It really is helpful to have a good co-pilot! Brent is an excellent map reader and direction-giver, so no worries getting there. And once we got there, holy cow! Canoe and kayak sensory overload!

There was so much so look at and play with and people to talk to. We fit a lot into three hours of wandering. I had set a budget (yes, this is me talking) for a new pair of water shoes and a PFD (don’t say “life jacket” – that’s so yesterday). Even with the post-event stop at the liquor store and for cheese (Wisconsin = beer and cheese, duh), I still came in under budget. But that’s because Brent bought lunch. I highly recommend The Great Dane Pub & Brewing at any of it’s four Madison locations.

If you want to kayak Iowa, there were folks there to help you. Wisconsin? Of course. Illinois? Minnesota? Oregon? Yup. But Dubrovnik, Croatia? Well, yes, there, too. That was a bit of a surprise, but it did look like a lovely trip (guide, and I’ll assume interpreter, included in the package price).

I saw some beautiful paddles, colorful and lovely. However, quite out of my budget range. Honestly, I’m not sure I could justify spending over $200 on a kayak paddle, no matter how pretty it is. But I did finally settle on a pretty purple PFD. And it’s designed for women, and for the kayak, with a higher back so I don’t get pushed forward out of my seat. Safety first, girls!

My new water shoes look like real shoes and have support and laces and little suction-y cups on the bottom for grip. I could actually wear them when I leave home, that’s how good they look. And no one would know they are water shoes. Cool.

The most beautiful boats there were actually kits! In 80 hours of your spare time in your garage, you can glue together and poly your own beautiful wooden canoe or kayak. I’m including a link to the company’s website (Chesapeake Light Craft), and you can see some pictures, but it really is more beautiful in person. And hard to believe it’s a kit. If I get really super into kayaking, this is something I’d consider, just because, for how beautiful they are, it’s hard to believe I could afford it (the kit I would need is about $600, at least at the show). But I’m also afraid it would have to be the kind of thing I’d have to live on a lake to own. I’d be afraid of trying to transport it. Unless, of course, I had the new Yakima “Show Down” system!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Yakima makes the most amazing method of getting the kayak onto the car means not having to wrestle it over your head. Really. However, I will have to make sure I spend a lot more time on the water to justify spending the money for that baby, though it wasn’t as expensive as I thought it would be (of course, there are big discounts on things at the show – so I’d have to plan a much bigger budget for next year). But if I continue to kayak, as I get older (Golden Years? Who came up with that phrase?), it would really be a good idea because you load the boat by only having to lift it about chest high onto some cradles and then, once it’s strapped in, you lift up and push it onto a track and, voila! it’s on top of your car. Magic!

On the way home, the final Wisconsin stop: Mineral Point (my first adopted home town). We stopped at the grocery on the east side for cheese, but, alas, no Hook’s. Hook’s is my favorite cheese, and it’s made in Mineral Point. So imagine my surprise when I asked the stock boy at the grocery if they had any and he hadn’t heard of it. Really? What a bizarre turn of events. So we left and hit the “convenience store with character”- and about every kind of booze you might need, along with cheese – that sits right across the street from Hook’s. There we snagged the last two bags of cheese curds and I stocked up on several cheeses, knowing it would be a while before I got to come back.

And then, straight on to home. I think I was in  bed an hour after I got home I was so tired. Tired, but happy. And cheese rich. I drifted off to sleep, thinking of my new PFD and water shoes, and dreamed of beautiful wooden kayaks, paddling the islands off the coast of Croatia.

Cheers!

Somewhere in Ohio

It’s 12:30 in the morning and I am on a bus full of junior high kids speeding home through the night from our nation’s capital. Trying not to watch the driving too closely but feeling the bus rock from side to side constantly, making deals with God about getting us all home alive. Not sure if it’s because the driving is so bad or because I can’t sleep. Probably some of both.


Saw a lot over the past five days: the Liberty Bell, a copy of the Declaration of Independence, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, and the NPR studios. Most of those were history-gasm moments for a junkie like me. But it hurt my heart to see the White House and Capitol Building because of what now resides and does business in those hallowed halls. It’s like they’ve been polluted by hate and need to be aired out.

Despite that, and despite all of 45’s antics and rants and “look-at-me” junior high style behaviors (hey, I call them like I see them), I did get a little choked up. I think of what it meant to stand in the room where the Declaration was read aloud for the first time to those daring men who would later sign it. To look upon the places where Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin once sat, and to walk where they once walked…. For me, there are no words but to say it was akin to a religious experience.

Seeing Washington with 50 junior high kids was also an interesting experience. Sure there were times they were a little rambunctious, but, overall, they were good kids. At the WWII Memorial there were some Honor Flight vets. The kids thanked them for their service and asked if they could take their pictures. I was so proud of those kids. I think many of them appreciated all they saw and learned on this trip. I know I enjoyed it more than I really thought I would, even Busch Gardens which really was a beautiful place.

About the only thing I wasn’t crazy about were the bus rides out and back, where on the way out I got about 1 1/2 hours of sleep. And, as we continue to sail westward through the night somewhere in the middle of Ohio, I suspect I will get about the same amount of sleep on the way home.

It’s now 1:30 and here I am, still not sleeping. Sigh.

London Calling

Yesterday, as I caught up on the latest episode of Sherlock, I found myself distracted by the backgrounds of the show, remembering London, even though the scenes on tv were not most of the places we had been, though I was delighted to see Sherlock and a companion walking through Piccadilly Circus and by the Tube station we used. Sigh. Still, all in all, it was London. And London is wonderful.

buckingham-guardvictoria-statue-with-gold-2big-ben-under-churchills-arm

Despite starting off the first two hours at Passport Control with 800 of our closest friends at Heathrow, this was a most wonderful and needed trip. Due to the horrific outcome of the election and other extremely stressful things going on for Ed and me, the timing of this trip was perfect. And London was perfect.

Some high points and strong images:

*Walking 27 miles in three days (no buses or Tube on Christmas Day, if you are planning a trip).

*Women smoking hookahs in sidewalk cafes on Edgware Road.

*Having an Italian lunch on Christmas Day with our new friend Bobby. During that lunch discussing how Bobby loves country/bluegrass phenom Alison Krauss. I told him she was from Peoria, which was only an hour or two from where we live. Then the man at the table next to us leans over and says, “Did you say ‘Peoria?’ I’m from Peoria!”

*Feeling like a sardine in a can at Harrods. Honestly. How can that many people fit into one store?

harrods

*Getting lost on our first day of walking and seeing a house with the plaque “Home of Benedict Arnold, American Patriot.” The hell, you say. That’s not what we call him.

*”Mind the gap” and “This is a Bakerloo line train to Regent’s Park.”

*Watching Kitten Rescuers as well as The Glenn Miller Story on British tv. Also seeing a celebrity panel show that included Carrie Fisher just two days before she died.

*Lights, lights, and more lights on Oxford, Regent, and Bond Streets. Simply stunning.

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*The store windows of Fortnum & Mason all decked out for Christmas.

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*Thinking I might have seen British author Neil Gaiman in the Christmas Eve crush at Fortnum & Masons (I asked. It wasn’t. Though I do not regret asking.)

*Seeing Stomp in a teeny theatre. Amazing!

stomp-stage

*The tiniest hotel room on record, though centrally located and affordable. I will stay there again.

*Rekorderlig Swedish pear cider. Ahhh.

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*The most amazing food (Bangladeshi, Indian, Italian; and Ed had Portuguese and Brazilian).

*Accents from most everywhere in the world except Britain (or very little British). A lovely man I spoke with at the Victoria pub said most actual Londoners leave the city over the holiday. To make room for us interlopers, I suppose.

*Waterstone’s Books. A little five-story piece of heaven on earth.

*The world’s best chippie (that’s fish and chips in Brit-ese) at the Golden Union on Poland Street, just off Oxford Street. Thanks, Bobby, for that!

*Hearing the pealing bells of St. Martin-in-the-Fields and Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day. Heavenly.

*Beautiful and ginourmous Hyde Park.

*Having Oyster cards for the Tube before we left home so we could quickly (relatively – see paragraph two above) leave Heathrow for London. So happy I did my homework on this one.

*Walking, walking, and more walking and, happily, just getting tired, not sore, feet.

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*And, to cap it off, getting surprisingly upgraded to business class for the flight home, including complementary drinks, the best food, warm towels to wash up, a nice blanket and space, glorious space to relax in. We kept poking each other with goofy grins, repeating, “I can’t believe this!”

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That, my friends, was London. Wonderful, beautiful, courteously well-mannered, polite, cosmopolitan, ancient, direction-confounding, marvelous London. A spot of tea or chippie, anyone?

 

 

 

Packing my Bag!

london-packing

A giant photo of my in-progress packing. Trying to learn to rotate and crop photos, but, as yet, that is eluding me. Stay tuned for better cropping, rotating, photo-bits in the future.

While the mercury dips to “colder than a well digger’s butt in the Yukon,” I fuss and do laundry and make out last-minute instructions for the house/dog sitter, not quite believing that one week from this exact moment, we will be celebrating Christmas in London!

For the past four months, I’ve been reading, researching and surfing to gather more information than I can possibly use on one trip, trying to sift and juggle and prioritize. What new things do I want to see (Victoria and Albert Museum, Harrod’s, Windsor Castle), and what repeats that Ed wants to see (Imperial War Museum) and that I didn’t have time enough to see well on my first trip to London (Westminster Abbey).

And I am hoping. Hoping I am bringing the right shoes to pound the pavement in all day. Hoping I have finally figured out the Tube this time around. Hoping to find a good Indian restaurant for Christmas Day (nothing says “Christmas” like a good curry). Hoping to get some sleep on the flight over so we will have enough energy to make it through Christmas Eve and do some shopping and hop-on-hop-offing of buses to get oriented. Hoping to have a Happy Christmas in the greatest city on earth!

So, as my last weekend at home winds down, I will anxiously flit around the house, setting everything to rights, trying to double and then triple check my packing list so I don’t forget anything. We aren’t checking our bags, so I am using travel space bags. I initially had what I thought was a great idea – use those space bags to save as much room as possible!  Then I learned from the great YouTube channel Love and London that they make travel space bags You just roll them up to squeeze out the air.  Genius! I am also trying to pack just enough and not over-pack. Again, thanks to Love and London!

I also got a great idea from that channel to make an itinerary and to match up outfits to each day’s itinerary so that I will have just the clothes I need and not a whole bunch of stuff I won’t wear but that takes up too much room in the bag. Takes a little time to do, but if you don’t want to check a bag, again, genius! But it also takes some work, which is fine by me. I am just hoping to maybe find a clothing item or two (or maybe some shoes?) to bring back home with me. To that end, I am taking my oldest running shoes (I plan to run each morning through Hyde Park, which is maybe a 10 minute walk away) and, as I did in Ireland, if I need room in my bag for something else, my shoes will get to live in London, even if I don’t.

As for bringing stuff home, we aren’t planning to load up on tchotchkes (and, in case you are wondering, I did have to look up the spelling for that one – meshuga! – look that one up on your own). When we were in Ireland, we met a nice couple from Long Island, and Hank’s advice was simple: don’t buy something you’ll throw in a drawer and then throw out two years later. They never took pictures either because they figured they’d never look at them. I take some, but am not really the scrapbook type. I’ll post some here and on Facebook, I suppose. But I prefer to write about my trips and journeys, so the journal will definitely fit in my new giant “purse” that I bought for the trip.

Speaking of, I finally decided that if most of the women I see getting onto a plane can carry a “purse” the size of an aircraft carrier, then, by God, so will I! It ought to hold my knitting (yes, needles are allowed as are scissors less than 4″ – I’m no fool – I checked TSA), my journal, a book, guidebook,  miscellaneous necessary paperwork, some snacks and an empty water bottle. I could probably fit one of the cats in there and claim it’s a service animal, but I don’t think he’d enjoy the trip so much.

So, if I can make it work, my next Sunday post will be from London! Keeping my fingers crossed for no winter storms on this end for the next two Fridays (the out and back). Stay tuned for “The Adventures of Jen and Ed in London!”