Category Archives: USA

Travel stories/tips from USA destinations

Road Trippin’ With Señora Part 3– Mendocino to Redwoods National Park

Winding up Highway 1 out of Little River/Mendocino and then hitting Highway 101 in Leggett, we made our way through more beautiful landscapes, but nothing prepares a person for their first time entering Avenue of the Giants.  IMG_0648This drive up 101 is one of the most awe-inspiring stretches on the planet.  Stop often, take photos, IMG_0647and just simply walk and stare upward, taking it all in.  IMG_0636Once we had reached stimulus overload, we continued on past Trinidad to the Lost Whale Inn https://lostwhaleinn.com/ near Patrick’s Point State Park.  The Lost Whale takes hospitality to a new level.  We were welcomed with a spread of food in the dining room that was substantial enough to be our dinner: cheeses, crudités, clam chowder, cookies, fruit, and shrimp.  This type of evening appetizer buffet is put out every night from 4-6 pm.  Did I mention the wine?  IMG_0658That also flows freely starting at 4:00 and is kept out the rest of the night.  Beer, soda, juices, and water are also complimentary to guests.

The rooms of the inn are top notch with all of the comforts you’d expect at a place of this caliber.  Our room, the Agate Room, IMG_0657was on the main floor off of a small living room that is closed off in the evening and becomes a nice extension of the guest room.  Wandering the gorgeous grounds of the property was a highlight of the stay here.  There are so many cozy spots to stare out at the Pacific—the deck, the patio, the hot tub, the sauna, and the fire pit, where a basket with s’mores supplies is put out every night.  IMG_0665The sunset watching here, accompanied by the never-ending sound of sea lions barking, makes for an unforgettable farewell to the day. We were lucky enough to stay two nights at this magical place.

After a great night’s sleep, we rose early to walk the beach at Patrick’s Point.  IMG_0681Unfortunately the entire inn got an early wake-up call as well when we accidentally hit the panic button on our rental car.  Sorry, neighbors!  In the park, a walk along Agate Beach is a must-do.  Absolutely stunning!  I am not great at agate spotting, but I picked what I believe were some– free souvenirs of a special setting.

Back at the inn breakfast was about to be served, starting with the ringing of a bell and a description of items and ingredients by chef/owner Brian.  Guests with dietary restrictions were also well accommodated with additional gluten and dairy-free options.  That morning’s menu consisted of a Caprese frittata, crepes with strawberry rhubarb filling, apple strudel, a peach almond cobbler, sausage and bacon, and fresh fruit.  The breakfasts here were a total extravaganza!  I’ve never seen anything like it before.  In fact, I was so overwhelmed both mornings that I failed to take any food photos.  Did I mention the ongoing stimulus overload?

So what does one do after a breakfast of that magnitude?  Hike, of course!  And so we headed off to Redwoods National Park.  There are so many great trails to choose from so your schedule will dictate where you should go.  We started at Lady Bird Johnson Grove, a very popular spot.  From the main trail, we branched off on my favorite trail of the trip—Berry Glen Trail—where we saw not one other person!  This breathtaking stretch of woods had quite a drop in elevation so we had to be wise about how far down we went, knowing we’d have to go uphill to get back out.  IMG_0701Later that afternoon we also hiked the underwhelming Redwoods Creek Trail, a nice enough spot to have our picnic of gourmet deli sandwiches from Murphy’s in Trinidad.

After that we braved the extremely rough road back into Fern Canyon.  It takes an effort to get there, but is well worth it.  Fern Canyon was a setting for Jurassic Park and the otherworldly feeling of the place shows why. IMG_0707 Sheer canyon walls covered with ferns and trickling water and a rocky creek cutting through the center create a magical place, especially for children with all the trees and rocks for them to climb on.  Bring extra socks.

Once stimulus overload once again reared its head, we were dreading the drive back on the awful road, but were rewarded with another great evening appetizer spread back at the Lost Whale.  While the inn is high on a cliff, they do have a VERY rustic and steep path IMG_0722down to a rocky beach and I ventured down there with my wine.  Maybe not my best decision after a day of hiking, but I did it!  When I returned a family we met was talking about getting some burgers to go from The Lighthouse Grill and asked if we wanted some as well.  As we had already eaten 10,000 calories that day, the answer was of course…yes.  In addition to the burgers we ordered, they brought us an added surprise treat: the restaurant’s signature item of a waffle cone filled with mashed potatoes, bacon, beef and gravy, topped with cheese.  Do the calorie math on that one!  I should have gone right to bed and let my body begin to prepare for the onset of Type 2 Diabetes, but instead we joined some other guests for wine and excellent fireside conversation until 10:00.  What an amazing, full (pun intended) day!

The following morning, our last at the inn before heading up the coast to Oregon, began with another walk down the steep path to the rocky beach below.  IMG_0721Returning to the inn just in time for breakfast, you can imagine how much we were starving!  Thankfully they had prepared a light breakfast of puffy pancakes, apple-filled pastries, a triple berry pie, Southwest frittata, sausage and bacon, fried potatoes, and fresh fruit.  I decided to be responsible and just have the fresh fruit.  Just kidding.  Fruit was actually the only thing I didn’t have (unless it was inside of a baked good).

After that we rolled out of the Lost Whale Inn, or should I say Beached Whalin’?

Next stop—the Oregon Coast!

 

 

 

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Road Trippin’ with Señora Part 2– San Francisco to Mendocino

IMG_0624Within minutes of crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, heading north on Highway 1, you feel the stress of the city dissolve.  This highway makes you …slow….down.  Mentally and literally.  Part of our slowdown was due to the annual Dip Sea race through Muir Woods area, ending at Stinson Beach.  This detoured and delayed us for a couple hours and to be honest, I don’t exactly know where the detour took us, but the forests and curves IMG_0560were breathtaking and a great introduction to Northern California.

Once we finally cleared the race area we made our lunch stop at The Marshall Store on Tomales Bay.  At this tiny roadside shack IMG_0567that was packed midday, we ordered a dozen Oysters Rockefeller and a half bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.  IMG_0569Unfortunately the wind coming across the bay was fierce and any purchased wine had to be consumed outside on the picnic tables.  IMG_0568And so I donned my down jacket and hat and enjoyed the fabulous lunch and wine, wishing for the ceasing of the gusts.

Following lunch we continued northward through rural areas for several hours before arriving in Little River, just south of Mendocino, at The Glendeven Inn.  The sign boasts “A Luxury Farmstead”—someone has an English degree!  IMG_0610It was a spot on description though.  From the moment we pulled into our personally marked parking space to the time we entered our room, East Farmington, perfection continued until we pulled back onto Highway 1 the next morning.  Special touches, besides the beautifully appointed room overlooking the Pacific, IMG_0580the gardens, and the llama pasture, IMG_0591included a personalized note with homemade welcome brownies, IMG_0616the wood burning fireplace—prepped and ready to light, the wine and gourmet appetizer reception at the Wine Bar(n), and the piece de resistance, the over the top breakfast IMG_0620IMG_0619delivered in a picnic basket to our door at 9:00 am.  We were able to squeeze in one more crackling fire while enjoying the best breakfast accompanied by a carafe of hot chocolate that must’ve had two candy bars melted into it, it was that rich!

We spent a lot of time during our stay wandering the grounds and having tea and cookies in the main house, a place that boasted former guests Bill and Hilary Clinton.  We also found the beach pathIMG_0608across the road that led down to a quiet beach IMG_0604where we strolled in the afternoon and early morning.  Sadly after our lovely breakfast we had to pack up and continue northward.  We could’ve spent weeks at The Glendeven.

Next stop—Trinidad and the Redwoods!

Road Trippin’ with Señora Part 1–San Francisco

For over a decade, the “West Coast Roadtrip” has been on our list so to further celebrate our 20th anniversary we made our plans for June 2017 with the route of San Francisco to Vancouver.  The game plan was as follows:

1.Fly to San Francisco and stay two nights

2. Rent a car for six days upon leaving the city, drive up Highway 1 to Mendocino for the night

3. On to Trinidad/Redwoods for two nights

4.Drive the Oregon Coast, stop for one night in Yachats and one night in Astoria

5. Continue the drive to Portland (end of car rental) and stay two nights

6. Fly to Victoria, British Colombia and stay one night

7. Take the ferry from Victoria to Vancouver and stay two nights there

8. Original plan was Amtrak train back to Seattle (**more about this snafu later)

9. Two nights in Seattle and fly home

The idea was to cover highlights of the Pacific Northwest in a two week period and overall it was a success.  Exhausting, but a success!

This trip will be broken into five blog entries: San Francisco, Northern California, Oregon, British Colombia, and Seattle.

And so begins Part One—San Francisco

The arrival to San Francisco went off without a hitch.  They really know how to do public transportation in SF. The BART is a great way to get from the airport to the Union Square area.  Our hotel, the Taj Campton Place https://taj.tajhotels.com/en-in/taj-campton-place-san-francisco/ was about one block from Union Square.  IMG_0440Every hotel on this trip, with the exception of the inns/B&B’s, was booked on the Hotwire site so they were basically blind picks that turned out great and we saved hundreds of dollars.

After settling in, we embarked on a walk through Chinatown, IMG_0508IMG_1151just two blocks from the hotel, and after meandering through the area stopped for lunch at Great Eastern Restaurant http://www.greateasternsf.com/. Dim sum is the hot ticket here and the place was packed, but we ended up going with a dinner for two of hot & sour soup, short ribs, shrimp balls (insert middle school sense of humor here), Cantonese beef, and shrimp with scallops. Yum.

To burn off those calories, we walked to the Cable Car Museum and then jumped a cable car for the requisite, short, pricey ride back to Union Square.  IMG_0532After a change of shoes we caught a public bus to Fisherman’s Wharf. I must add here that even though it was June, it was very windy when we were there and we were glad to have packed our down jackets!  The wharf is a touristy area but on a Friday was enjoyable and not too crowded.  We drove past on Saturday and it was a Disney-esque hell. As we love boats, we took our time strolling along the wharf until ending at the famous Pier 39. IMG_0473Here we checked out the sea lions barking away IMG_0469and grabbed bowls of clam chowder at Boudin.  Sorry, no trip out to Alcatraz Island—we aren’t interested in going to prison.  Even voluntarily…IMG_0463

And so we called it a day and returned to the hotel via a vintage streetcar. IMG_0461

The following day we were blessed with perfect weather and did a hop on, hop off City Tour bus with our first stop being the Golden Gate Bridge.  IMG_0486The views from this spot will leave you breathless: the bridge, the cityscape, Alcatraz Island, sailboats—perfection!  As you can imagine this is one of the most popular stops of the bus tour so when we got back on the bus, there was only one other couple continuing on in the loop so we all had a “private tour” upstairs in the front row for the next hour.  It was great!

Stomachs began growling so we hopped off at the North Beach stop and dined in the Italian neighborhood at Caffe Sport, http://www.caffesportsf.com/ an adorable Sicilian restaurant.  IMG_0509Because we ate lunch so early (no breakfast!) we were the only ones in the place and we received excellent service and were able to soak up every bit of the old country ambiance inside.  We had one of the best lunches of the trip here—Caprese salad, IMG_0522followed by cioppino bianco (I’ve never met a cioppino I didn’t like!) IMG_0527and rustico penne with shrimp and scallops, IMG_0529washed down with a lovely bottle of Montepulciano wine.

Walking out of the restaurant the City Tour bus was pulling up so we had a nice food nap while we rode to Golden Gate Park. This huge, beautiful urban green space was an excellent place to walk around, complete with a statue dedicated to Cervantes, Don Quixote, and Sancho Panza.  IMG_0544(Hmm..I teach about this. Suppose this trip is now a write off as a business trip? Maybe not.) Moving on from Spanish literature, we were able to sit by the band shell for a bit to listen to a classical music competition and we checked out the DeYoung Museum and their Summer of Love 1967-2017 exhibit. It was fascinating to see their comparison of social issues in 1967 and social issues in 2017.  Sadly, not much has changed.  A big change, however, was when Russell and I went to use the bathroom facilities in the museum.  It was our first encounter with gender neutral bathrooms.  The signs were up, but in reality the men were in one and the women in another although they were not marked as such. I headed into the one with women by the entry and turned and told Russell to follow me and he froze until another woman at the sink said, “Come in! They’re all genders.” And so he did. Reluctantly.  It was great! As many couples know, there is always that post-bathroom confusion when couples separate for their respective bathrooms. (Did he already come out?  Am I waiting in the wrong place?) So, bravo, San Francisco!  This hetero cis female found it very convenient.

Leaving the park we headed to the bus stop in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, the center of the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. IMG_0497 IMG_0533IMG_0495Our bus returned us to the Union Square area after passing through the rest of the city and all of its architectural gems.  IMG_0498From there we checked out a huge Indian festival going on in the square and then tucked into the Last Drop Tavern http://www.lastdrophappyhour.com/ for their excellent happy hour specials.  With the jaw-dropping price of drinks (and food) on the West Coast, we began to make happy hour our new friend on this trip.

Afterward, we walked all over downtown for one last soaking-in of San Francisco.  The following morning we picked up our rental car and made our way out of the city, hitting Highway 1, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, and heading north toward Mendocino.  Stay tuned for Part Two—Northern California!

Feeling the Heat in Miami Beach

ocean drive 2As a teacher, there is nothing better to get you through the end of the school year and final exams like my favorite carrot on a stick—a June trip!  The destination this year was the international hot spot of South Beach in Miami, Florida.  The trip goals were to eat Cuban food, practice my Spanish, and hit the beach P1060515for some people watching.  Mission accomplished.  As this was just a long weekend in “the 305”, my friend Pat and I decided to forego any typical tourist itineraries or jaunts into Little Havana and just stick around South Beach, only going as far as our feet would take us.  It is often said that being in Miami is like being in Latin America and even though we covered only about a 10 block radius, it felt like we had traveled through the entire Latino world!

For our stay we settled on the newly remodeled and reopened Washington Park Hotel http://www.wphsouthbeach.com/.  Although there are a few issues here and there, this hotel is on its way to being “the place”.  Request a room in the main building for the best rooms and to be closest to the breakfast spread, and most importantly, the nightly complimentary 2 hour wine, beer, and cheese reception!  Another highlight of this place is the great pool area P1060531that makes you think the Brat Pack may saunter by at any moment.  A wonderful amenity of this hotel is its beach chairs offered to its guests three blocks away at 9th Street Beach, the perfect spot for people watching as I will discuss later.

Not only is the Wolfsonian Museum http://www.wolfsonian.org/ just down the street (where we saw an incredible exhibit on Cuba), but it is walking distance from so many outstanding restaurants.  A great spot for breakfast or lunch was the hopping Eleventh Street Diner http://www.eleventhstreetdiner.com/ right across the street from the hotel.  We had dynamite crab cakes and Cobb salad P1060504here with some excellent lunch cocktails—my kind of “diner”!  Apparently this place was featured on a certain spiky-haired Food Network host’s show.  While these menu items are quite American, of course I had anticipated eating authentic Cuban fare, but the restaurant choices were so much more international than that!  We never had a bad meal, whether it was Cuban, Spanish, Italian, South American, or Japanese.

Here’s some of the more noteworthy places, beginning with my favorite evening spot—Española Way.  P1060493 - CopyThis little stretch not only had an excellent lineup of restaurants with European style outdoor seating, but the ambiance could not be beat!  An unexpected surprise was the Spanish restaurant at the end of the street.  Tapas y Tintos http://tapasytintos.com/  was so great we ended up there twice in one day!  I highly recommend the lunch deal for two which included sangria, two tapas, and terrific seafood paella for a ridiculously low price.  Having an excellent waiter from Spain who I could practice my Spanish with was a real plus and his suggestion to return for the evening flamenco show was a popular one as the place was packed that night, and for good reason!

Another great stop if you are having sushi cravings is Moshi Moshi http://www.moshimoshi.us/, just around the corner on Española Way.  The dragon rollP1060533 is enough for the whole table!  We also got our Italian fix at Pane & Vino http://www.paneevinomia.com/  and Café Nuvo, http://mercatodellapescheria.com/miami/mobi/, also in that area.  It is hard to imagine any Española Way restaurant not having great food!

Since walking to Little Havana was not an option, we chose Lario’s on the Beach http://bongoscubancafe.com/larios.html, owned by Emilio and Gloria Estefan, for our Cuban food experience, and it did not disappoint.  The ambiance was very upscale and we made a great meal out of appetizers P1060508and, of course, mojitos!P1060505

All these places were great, but the culinary highlight was our lunch at Bolivar http://www.bolivarmiamibeach.com/, a South American fusion restaurant with Colombian, Venezuelan, and Peruvian specialties.  Our spread of empanadas, patacones (twice fried plantains), and six different types of ceviche was heavenly.  Not having had one of my favorite drinks, a Pisco Sour, since my trip to Peru, I was quick to order one, but after trying my friend’s “Bolivartini”, well, let’s just say the liquid part of bill was larger than the food part…P1060522

Enough about food and onto the people watching, which is really the highlight of a trip to SoBe.  Depending on your preferences of what type of folks you like to observe, I would say that the Española Way area is home to a quite a classy bunch of well dressed types.  Collins Avenue is still classy, but with more of a beach vibe, and Ocean Drive ocean driveis an all out mess of clubbing attire and swimwear, thumping music, and “the scene”.

And then there is the beach!  This stretch of sand and sea with a backdrop of high rises P1060516is home base for many of “the beautiful people”.  I was preparing for a European atmosphere here, considering its international reputation, but after the first two days and seeing mostly mainstream swimwear, P1060513I had lost hope of any great stories.  That was until the last day.

Arriving at our beach chairs, we noticed two ladies wearing tiny thongs and nothing else.  At that moment they were innocently lying on towels sunbathing and not drawing any attention to themselves.  I didn’t think much of it, but commented how odd we had not seen more topless women.  A few minutes later, one of the ladies, who I shall call Orange Arrow or OA, stood up.  I call her Orange Arrow, because that is what her thong looked like.  An orange arrow.  Pointing to…the ground?  This arrow must have been like a safety sign or something because soon many men began to take note, several walking past multiple times.  OA had a great figure, some of it possibly surgically enhanced, but most importantly she was very much into skin care.  I know this because at that moment, and about every 10 minutes thereafter, she proceeded to apply sunscreen.  She was really, REALLY into the application, which possibly consumed 8 minutes of the 10 minute intervals.  She worked the lotion into every inch of exposed skin.  Several minutes were spent rubbing lotion onto her buttocks. WHILE BENT AT THE WAIST!  This view made the entire population of the beach stop and stare, including all of the cabana boys working at our chair stand.  I don’t know what was better, watching her or watching everyone’s response to her. Needless to say, I did not get a lot of beach reading in that day, but it was a good reminder that the sun is not the only hot thing when you head to Miami Beach!

 

Just Looking for Trouble in Chicago

What could be more fun than a girls shopping trip to Chicago?  Turns out, almost anything else! Chicago 2

We had been so excited about the trip, not just for the shopping, but hanging out on Michigan Avenue, going to swanky bars, and getting our city-look on.  Being from a town of 2,000 doesn’t make my friends and me immune to fashion but we decided to really step it up and even went shopping before the shopping trip for our “Chicago outfits”.  Oh, we were something else, all put together when we walked out of the Omni Hotel where we were staying.  Maybe you are thinking it was all in our minds, but I’ll have you know that the homeless man near the door agreed as he said to us, in his deepest Louis Armstrong voice, “You girls are finer than Charlie’s Angels!”  And so began our trip…..Chicago 3

The glam continued as we wandered through the shops of the Magnificent Mile leaving credit card debt in our wake.  After we had exhausted our shopping the first day, we ended with cocktails at the lounge of the Peninsula Hotel.  A girl has no choice but to act classy sipping her $14 drink.  Oh yes, Chicago, here we are.  I was so classy I put the coaster in my purse for a souvenir. Chicago 4

The next day one of my friends had her heart set on going to Pottery Barn Kids, which was not on Michigan Ave so we took a short cab ride to North Avenue.  After PBK, we perused the surrounding stores of Crate & Barrel and then Banana Republic.  I just love Banana Republic and their clothes and as wrapped up in the Chicago feeling as I was, became smitten with a pair of $89 jeans.  At the time, they were the most expensive pair of jeans I had bought and I hemmed and hawed over them until I was finally talked into it by my friends.  I mean, really—wouldn’t those jeans be great with the rest of my “Chicago outfits”?  And so I strutted out of that store proudly toting my BR bag with trophy jeans in one hand and a Crate & Barrel bag with placemats in the other.  Look at me now!

And then things got ugly.

I don’t know whose idea it was, but someone said while we were on North Avenue, “Hey look, there is the John Hancock Building.  We aren’t far from Michigan Avenue.  Let’s just start walking that way and get a cab in awhile.”  And so we strolled ahead, shopping bags in hand, down Clybourn Avenue.  As we walked further down the street, we noticed fewer and fewer cars going by and began to comment that getting a cab was harder than we thought.  With dusk now beginning to settle in, we were starting to regret not taking a cab back on North Ave.  And then my friend Tricia said, “I think those buildings are the projects.”  WHAT???  I looked to my right and had to agree with her.  At the door of one of the buildings was a sea of young men in puffy coats.

I gulped, thinking what we must look like, three women in their “Chicago outfits” toting shopping bags strolling through the projects.  I noticed one of the puffy jackets coming toward us.   I began to panic, comforting myself with the idea that I only had to outrun my two friends and I’d be safe.  About a block ahead was an intersection where I saw the first sign of traffic so we all broke into a jog toward the corner when we saw a taxi coming.  The jog became a run and with arms waving and bags ripping we hailed a cab.  “Hurry up, get in”, the driver shouted as we piled in and he took off.  While we were freaking out in the backseat, he asked, “Why were you girls walking in this neighborhood?”  I told him we didn’t even know where we were and shocked, he looked at me in the rearview mirror and said, “You just walked through Cabrini Green.”

I remembered hearing of this neighborhood years earlier and knowing it was associated with crime, murder, and other awful things, never thinking it would affect my sweet, little life.  I thought wrong.  We were so relieved to be back on Michigan Avenue and after dropping our bags at the hotel, we went to Sak’s Fifth Avenue and just stood in the middle of the store, giving thanks for making it back to the “Fabulous (Tourists’) Chicago”.  Chicago 1

We made a vow to not tell our husbands what happened, but within eight hours, we all broke and confessed to them.  Let’s just say I have been back to Chicago since, but not without Russell.

Feeling American in DC

100_0124 After being in several other world capitals, I decided I should probably visit my own so we set our sights on Washington, DC.  In April, right in time for the Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival, we arrived.  As this was almost a decade ago, my stepkids100_0131 were on the trip with Russell and me—a perfect trip for kids (and parents) to better learn some American history.

We surprised the kids with a limo pickup from the airport and made our way to our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown DC.  Some tips on going to DC—staying downtown, especially near a Metro stop, is the way to go.  All major attractions are within walking distance or a subway ride away.  The great thing about DC is that almost all of the attractions are free—from the museums of the Smithsonian Institute to the National Zoo.  So maybe you’re thinking—cheapest family vacation ever!  Not so fast.  Just wait till you walk into a restaurant downtown.  Adiós, dinero.

Not sure why the restaurants are so pricey—it could be they know the attractions are free and are trying to cash in on all those unused tourist dollars.  Or they can overcharge because of all the people in DC on expense accounts, or because of the lobbyists working round the clock to wine and dine our congressmen in the name of democracy.  Whatever it is, you have to just accept it or you will have a miserable time in an otherwise amazing city.

We usually ate our breakfast at Old Ebbitt Grill www.ebbitt.com near the White House, a great spot where we willingly dropped $60 a day on breakfast for four.  You may be thinking, “the heck with that, I’ll just take my family to McDonald’s.”  Good luck with that!  Normal Mickey D’s prices don’t apply here.  We paid $40 for our “value” lunch for four at the McDonald’s in the Smithsonian.  (remember, these prices are from nine years ago)

Enough on the food prices and onto the highlights!

Of course the Smithsonian Museums of Air and Space, Natural History, and American History are must-see destinations.  Prior to our trip I had contacted our senator, Russ Feingold, and his office set up a White House tour and a fabulous tour of the Capitol for us.  The emotional walk around the World War II Monument 100_0123and Vietnam Wall and the sobering visit to Arlington National Cemetery are sights probably better appreciated by adults.  One of the favorite days of the trip for our kids was the day we spent at the National Zoo.  The big hype at the time was the new baby panda, Tai Shan.  100_0169Adorable!

I was very impressed with the museums and monuments of our capital, but the highlight of the trip for me happened on our way out of one of the Smithsonian museums.  Here on The Mall was the beginning of a huge immigration rally/protest and thousands of Latinos were gathering by a stage near the Capitol building.  100_0138I had never been part of a protest and as a Spanish teacher, these were my people!  I enthusiastically turned to Russell and said, “Let’s join them!”  He simply looked at me with that face and told me he would meet me when I “was done” by the base of the Washington Monument.  I looked to my stepkids hoping they would join me in this historical experience.  My stepson Earl was already fleeing with his dad, but my middle school aged stepdaughter Charli was ready to chant!

She and I moseyed over to the rally and were given signs and American flags by some volunteers.  100_0140100_0142We weaved into the crowd near the stage, passed a newspaper photographer who took our picture, and joined in with the protesters and the many chants.  I gave Charli a mini-lesson in Spanish language protest phrases, most important of which:  Sí, se puede.  As we stood there among the Latino people, joined in solidarity for their cause, I realized that we were the only non-Latino people I could see around us.  100_0139No big deal, we were blending in with our chants, our signs, and our flags.  That is until someone on the stage began the chant (in English): “What do we want?”, which of course is normally followed by “More rights!”, then “When do we want them?”—“Right now!”  Well, I had failed to teach Charli this one, so when the question “What do we want?” came over the speakers, Charli screamed “Food!”  Um….awkward.  A bunch of people turned and looked at us and I figured we were probably done at the rally.

Ten minutes later we met up with Russell and Earl by the Washington Monument, still riding high from our big protest march.  Later that night we had dinner at Oyamel http://www.oyamel.com, an upscale Mexican restaurant downtown (need I say what the bill was?) and a few tables away from us were the organizers of the rally.  No, they did not recognize us, but like Charli said, “We all got what we wanted.  Food!”

Alaska: The Goods are Odd

Russell, bless his heart, is always traipsing along with me to foreign destinations so for an anniversary trip we headed to the destination of his dreams: Alaska.  100_1510We decided that the best way to get a sampling of Alaska and Yukon Territory of Canada was to do a Holland America cruise tour.  Neither of us are “cruise people” but the trip only had four nights on the ship—a must to see the Inside Passage—and the rest of the trip on land.  We are also not “organized tour people” so I was leery of spending 10 days traveling with a group.  I had been on my share of tours in Spain and knew there was that “someone” on every tour that was annoying or constantly late or both. But by some stroke of good luck we ended up as part of a group that was mostly an alumni group from Kansas State University—K State.  Also of note, we were the only members of the group that were under age 50, leading to our trip nickname “The Kids”.  At 48, Russell LOVED that!

And so we departed from Anchorage on the McKinley Explorer, a panoramic view train, and headed north to Denali National Park.  We stayed at the McKinley Chalet Resort, situated alongside the Nenana River.  The bar and grill had excellent river and mountain views, made better by their selection of microbrews…  We went to a dinner theater on the property the first night where we had one of many delicious dinners of Alaskan salmon.  The next morning we needed to be on a bus and ready for our tour of Denali National Park at 5 am.  Unlike other national parks, you cannot drive into Denali; you MUST enter the park aboard one of the park service’s buses.  If you were wondering where old school buses go, look no further.  The entire day was spent on this bus with the exception of a few bathroom and lookout stops.  The road is gravel and very rough so that combined with school bus seats made for an uncomfortable day.  The park service provides a packed lunch, prohibiting you from bringing in anything else, and they make sure you leave none of your lunch garbage behind—accounting for everything from every passenger.  I suppose this is the only way to really keep this park pristine.  Russell, who prides himself on being a serious hunter, was an excellent spotter of wildlife.  He might as well have been our guide.  The K State group grew to love him even more as he made sure they got a lot of photo ops of grizzlies, caribou, wolves, bighorn sheep, moose, and mountain goats.  100_1485We even lucked out to see Mt. McKinley on a clear day, free of cloud and fog—so majestic!

The following day we had arranged for a fly fishing lesson on a beautiful, small lake in the mountains.  Although neither of us were successful with the fish, we did develop some great figure eight casts.  100_1513Later that afternoon, we rented a jeep for a few hours and just explored the wilderness, ending with a stop at the bar of the Grande Denail Hotel which is perched on a cliff with amazing views.  Not sure if I would stay here as it feels like the place is a landslide away from falling off the hill. 100_1504

After leaving Denali, we boarded our motor coach and headed to Fairbanks before entering Canada’s Yukon Territory.  During the trip, anytime we had a local guide with our group they would tell the same anecdote over and over.  The gist of the joke is this: there are something like eight men to every one woman in this area of Alaska.  But the guide always ended with the phrase: “the odds are good, but the goods are odd”.  After spending a few days in Fairbanks, which I nicknamed “the ghetto of the north”, I found this to be true.  Russell and I strolled through a park in downtown Fairbanks one night around 11 pm (remember—still light out in the Alaskan summer) and were shocked by the number of passed out individuals on the grass, a brown-bagged bottle next to them.  Nice!

The pinnacle of the “goods are odd” was the home we saw during a riverboat cruise of the Nenana River. 100_1555 I’m not sure if this was a white trash high rise or the inspiration for the country song, “Redneck Yacht Club”, but the owner must have been the king of the odd goods.  He probably is now in talks for a reality show.

After weaving through Yukon Territory and spending a few days in Whitehorse, another headquarters of odd goods, we hopped on the White Pass train100_1628 and headed through the mountains to the town of Skagway, Alaska, located at the foot of the mountains on the coast.  Make sure you sit on the right side of the train for the most dramatic views!  We loved the town of Skagway, but were only able to spend a few hours there as that is where we boarded the ship.  It was kind of depressing to leave the group from K State.  Even though they were getting on the ship too, there were thousands of others on the ship and except for cocktails together the first night on the ship, we hardly saw them again.

The ship had it own experiences, though.  Getting close to calving glaciers during our day in Glacier Bay National Park,100_1671 watching for whales from the bar high above the front of the ship, and watching salmon swim upstream in Ketchikan were some of magical moments that could only be had on an Inside Passage cruise.  We also partook in some wonderful cruise activities like massages, exercise classes, and fine dining.  Heck, I even attended an art auction one afternoon because I heard there was free wine there.  I became a real aficionado after a couple hours of Cabernet and Monet.

A two week trip was a great way to get a feel for Alaska.  Many people just do the Inside Passage cruise, and while I agree it is a beautiful experience, going inland gives a person a better idea of the diversity of this state and you can’t beat the memories.  Odds are, they’ll be good ones.

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