Next Stop is Vietnam….

Well, we didn’t drive the Old Home to Southeast Asia, and I only post about our road trips, but my companions asked me to write something on our blog about our incredible trip to Cambodia and Vietnam so…..

BTW, the better posts can be found on Emily’s travel blog “tedious and brief”.  Check it out:  tediousandbrief.com

While planning our itinerary for Vietnam, Emily suggested a Ho Chi Minh City street food tour on motorbikes.  I know she thought we would balk at the idea, but I have to admit that after doing a little research, my take was……..Hey, why not hire a few very pretty Vietnamese women to take us on a Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) foodie tour by driving us around the seemingly anarchic streets on the back of their motorbikes!  OK, good idea Em!
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The highlight of our time in Saigon, by far, was the XO food tour. Our girls, dressed in their traditional áo dài clothes, picked us up at our hotel, gave us a few tips on how to get on…and how to stay on…their motorbikes, and off we went to visit several restaurants, each specializing in a certain type of Vietnamese food.

The experience, however, was much more about traveling on the streets of Saigon by motorcycle than the food, because to the typical Westerner, Saigon traffic is absolutely crazy nuts frenetic…..nearly impossible for us to describe. You really have to experience it in person to truly appreciate the choreography of chaos that takes place on the streets of this bustling city.  As an example, here is a quick video of the traffic outside our hotel:

Motorbikes outnumber cars, buses, vans and trucks by a margin of 25 to 1. And since you can count the number of traffic lights in the entire city on one hand, the vehicular flow is more “controlled cooperation” than rule based. The way they drive is almost instinctual. If they see the slightest opening in the masses, they hit the gas. If there are a couple of inches to spare between buses, they squeeze through. Busy intersection? No problem, just slow down a bit so you can weave and dart through the cross traffic. If the traffic slows too much for their liking, no problem, use the sidewalk! We quickly learned that “one-way” streets really mean that most….not all…commuters go in the same direction. If it’s more convenient to go against traffic, then by all means, go for it. Everyone drives very aggressively, constantly cutting off other bikers, driving the wrong way on one-way streets, driving on sidewalks……and yet we never saw an accident or one incident of  road rage. The only people freaking out were us tourists holding on for dear life!

Pedestrians (Vietnamese pedestrians) cross these frenzied streets as if there was no traffic at all. Westerners, who typically wait for a group of locals to cross and then try to follow, usually only get about a quarter of the way across, then flee back to the relative safety of the sidewalk. We learned that to walk across a street you wait for a brief lull in the traffic that is closest to your sidewalk, then bravely step in and start walking. The trick is to walk at a constant pace and with a purpose. The bikers will adjust their speed and trajectory to miss you. But if you panic, slow down or stutter step, they get confused by your unpredictability and are more likely to run you down. It’s all very exciting and wonderful entertainment!  Who thought crossing a street could be so exhilarating!

I must say that by the end of our trip we had become very adept at crossing even the busiest streets. We only got stuck once, but were saved by an old man who was doing some landscaping on our side of the street. He saw our predicament, picked up his long  shoulder carrying pole with full buckets of weeds on each end and literally stopped traffic for us by walking out in front of the oncoming traffic and blocking them with his buckets. He was our savior!

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Emily is demonstrating how we were helped across the street!

So, getting back to our XO biker tour, it was absolutely thrilling to join the hoard of motorcycles and experience street traffic in the belly of the beast! Our girls were pros! They took us through miles and miles of the city’s craziness, all while chatting away as if we were at a cafe having coffee. They were as comfortable as can be, and why not? These kids were raised on motorbikes and in crazy traffic. They were once the 2-year-old little girls we were seeing standing on customized platforms on the front of the bikes, cradled inside the drivers handlebars…no safety belts, no helmet, no seats, just a front row bench with a view of it all. I asked my 20-year-old driver, Yu, about growing up and the whole biker culture and she shared her fond memories of being a little girl standing on the front seat, holding onto the handle bars, feeling the vibration in her arms and legs and the heat of the motor. The family has never even owned a car. Like I said, you have to see it in person to truly appreciate Vietnamese traffic culture!

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Hey….what you lookin at?

Can you find the child being held on the back of bike in this video?

Of course the food part was also fun and interesting as we sampled everything from Bún bò Huế and barbecued whole shrimp, to frog legs (aka jumping chicken) and Hot Vit Lon….or duck embryo, right out of the shell!  Well, Emily and I tried it…Robin turned a bit green and politely passed on the opportunity.  

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While in Ho Chi Minh City we also toured the War Remnants Museum, Independence Palace (aka Reunification Palace, essentially the South Vietnamese version of our White House during the war), and took day trips to see the Cu Chi Tunnels and Mekong Delta.  With the exception of the Mekong, these sites are devoted to the events of “The American War”, so we endured a lot of disturbing displays and propaganda about the “evil and barbarous” American and South Vietnamese troops.  Whole sections of the museum detail the use and lasting effects of napalm and agent orange, war atrocities (My Lai massacre), and the carpet bombing of Hanoi.  There is also an excellent display dedicated to war photography and the photojournalists who died in the conflict.  It was fascinating to read the stories behind many of the famous pictures our generation first witnessed in various 1970’s editions of Time and Life Magazines.  BTW, the little girl we remember as “napalm girl” who was severely burned by napalm delivered from a misguided South Vietnamese fighter pilot (see below) is alive and well and living in Canada!

Group of children and soldiers moving on foot away from a distant cloud of smoke rising from the ground. Several children are crying and one in the center is also naked as she runs toward the camera.

Many of us will remember this photo first published in the NY Times

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selfie outside the palace

Mekong Delta and River tour….

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Robin wasn’t thrilled with our Mekong Delta lunch…

The Cu Chi Tunnels were part of the extensive tunnel system the Viet Cong used to hide and ambush American and South Vietnamese troops outside Saigon.  Believe it or not they have widened the tunnels for tourists!

After four days in the hustle, bustle and heat of HCMC, we were happy to arrive in the small central coastal city of Hoi An.  Once one of the busiest trading ports in SE Asia, Hoi An is now known for its well-preserved (and UNESCO site) “Ancient Town”, art galleries, custom tailoring services, and street lanterns.  We spent several days walking the narrow streets, sampling various coffee drinks from the endless supply of cafes, and enjoying the vibrant and beautifully lighted riverside district.

We also managed to squeeze in a very entertaining cooking class, hosted by our boisterous cook, Vee na, from the Gioan Cookery School.  Vee na took us on a tour through the local market, then instructed us on how to make spring rolls, Lemon Grass Chicken, Pho Beef, and Aubergine in Clay Pot.

And a tour of the nearby Marble Mountain, Hai Van pass, and Lang Co fishing village.

The highlight of our time in Hoi An was spending an evening with a local Hoi An family, relatives of the woman who has been Robin’s manicurist, Vy,  for the past 15 years!  Vy insisted we contact her family in Hoi An, even though none of them speak a word of English, so we could have dinner with them.  When Robin asked what we should do at dinner with her non-English speaking relatives, Vy matter of factly said….”eat”.  So we met them….and we ate!

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The family owns an art gallery in the Ancient Town district, so we tracked them down, showed them a picture of Vy, and before we knew it, we were on the phone with Vy’s nephew’s wife, who works at a local hotel and speaks wonderful English (whew).  Arrangements were made to have them pick us up at our hotel, and for them to show around Hoi An.  So that evening, much to our surprise (although in retrospect I’m not sure why), the family showed up on their motorbikes, we hoped on (being experts at this by now) and off we went….

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My brave wife decided to wear a dress for the occasion so she had to travel side saddle!

We had such a nice time visiting with several generations of Vy’s family in her childhood home, and enjoying dinner and coffee at a few of their favorite spots in town.  Their hospitality was genuine and gracious, and we sincerely enjoyed our time with them.

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Continuing our trek North, our next stop was the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi.  I wasn’t sure what to expect coming to Hanoi.  Again, being from a generation that was around for the war, Hanoi represented the enemy.  This was the heart and home of the Northern Vietnamese army and government; so unlike Saigon and Hoi An, whose older citizens mostly fought with and supported US troops, we were now in a city that endured more American firepower than Europe did in WWII.  These people fought against us, and although relations have vastly improved over the last couple of decades, I couldn’t help but wonder if the reception would be somewhat different from the amazing hospitality we experienced in the Southern part of the country.  It wasn’t.  We loved Hanoi!

Hanoi was the administrative center of French Indochina for over seventy years, and as such, has a very distinctive European feel.  Throughout the city we were referred to as monsieur or madam, and our hotel, the Sofitel Legend Metropole, built by the French in 1901, felt more Parisian than Asian (well, except for the look of the staff).

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The city center is highlighted by the picturesque Hoan Kiem Lake, which attracts countless street artists, musicians, and young couples.  On weekends the city center streets around and near the lake close to traffic so the residents can gather and enjoy street food, visit night markets, play games, listen to  music, dance and enjoy various crafts.  A popular activity for the small children is to rent motorized toy vehicles (most controlled electronically by the parents) so they can zoom in and out of the unsuspecting pedestrians…..no doubt training for when they get their first  motorbikes!

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Found it odd all the toy tanks had American flags!

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Ballroom and Salsa dance were the most popular activities

We loved walking around the crowded streets, visiting sites such as the Hoa Lo Prison (aka Hanoi Hilton….once home to POW John McCain),

the Vietnamese Women’s museum, and the Temple of Literature (at over 900 years old, Vietnam’s first university).
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Great museum with exhibits on everything from fashion to marriage customs to women who served in the American War

But I think our most memorable Hanoi experience was visiting the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.  I mean, how can you pass up the chance to see Ho Chi Minh’s well preserved body encased in glass?  Camera’s are not allowed in the mausoleum so I don’t have a picture to share, but after waiting 4 hours in line (surrounded by countless pushy Chinese tour groups), we finally got into the mausoleum and got a good look at Uncle Ho (as he is affectionately called by the Vietnamese).  He looks good…. just like he does on all the Vietnamese Dong.
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We are in here somewhere….

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The Mausoleum

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Ho Chi Minh on the 50,000 Dong note……about $2.20

During our Hanoi stay we also saw the famous water puppet show, were taught how to properly eat Bún chả (a Hanoi specialty grilled pork noodle soup), visited many local cafes for incredibly tasty and addictive Vietnamese coffee, and wandered the fascinating  old quarter city streets.
To end our tour of Vietnam we booked a couple of nights on Indochina’s Dragon Pearl Junk for a cruise on Bai Tu Long Bay.
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Dragon’s Pearl Junk

Bai Tu Long Bay is truly spectacular.  The water is a beautiful emerald-green color and incredibly calm; but it is the vast array of limestone islets and monoliths that make the region so uniquely alluring.  Cruising among the formations, often shrouded in mist, was absolutely hypnotic.  We felt like we were in a King Kong movie………and it turns out the last Kong movie was indeed filmed in Bai Tu Long Bay.

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IMG_3492The tour included exploring caves (by land and by sea), a visit to an oyster farm and fishing village, and a long kayak trip that ended with a barbecue on a small beach. We had a great time, met some nice people from Melbourne, London, and San Francisco (of all places), and  ate really well (they served nine course meals on the cruise. Really, nine). IMG_3540IMG_3542IMG_3522IMG_3505IMG_3551IMG_3556

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And finally our trip ended with one additional night in Hanoi before (reluctantly) departing the following day.  The Sheraton Hanoi, almost as if they knew it was our last night, upgraded us to the 1,900 sq ft Imperial Suite….cool!  And so our journey ended!
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If you are considering a trip to SE Asia, I would highly recommend putting Vietnam (and Siem Reap) on your itinerary.  The place is just so fascinating on so many levels (especially as an American), that you can’t help but be completely captivated.  The people are happy, considerate, grateful for tourists, will talk about anything, and love practicing their English.  We felt very comfortable traveling throughout the country, although I have to give full credit for that to our tour guide Emily.

Emily, thank you so much for sharing a small part of your journey with us.  When we promised to meet you “somewhere” on this globe, we never envisioned it would be in Cambodia and Vietnam, but you encouraged us to come and we couldn’t have been happier with our trip.  You made getting us out of our comfort zone thoroughly enjoyable, not an easy task!  You got us riding on the back of motorbikes, crawling through Viet Cong tunnels, eating duck embryos and frog legs, and posing for photos with giant pigs.  You navigated, interpreted, researched, and planned everything from our tours and day trips to our meals.  Your confidence and experience as an international traveler made our trip so easy and special.  But the best part for us was just being there with you, witnessing your growth, and seeing you healthy and happy.  You are loved so very much, and we are so very proud.  We can’t wait to see what comes next!
Posted in Uncategorized, Vietnam | 1 Comment

San Diego, Sunsets, Sunnies, and the Stone.

After eight weeks in hotels and spare bedrooms, with no stay longer than five days, we decided to end our trip with a few relaxing weeks in a San Diego Ocean Beach cottage for the last leg of our trip.

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View from our street

We spent six weeks in this gorgeous oceanside city in 2014/15, and so enjoyed the room temperature climate, great food, seaside beach walks, and distinctive neighborhoods, that we couldn’t wait to return.  Also, our good friends (and still newlyweds) Ina Miller and Marty Stebben, recently relocated to San Diego…..so…

Ina and Marty live in a beautiful home in the Liberty Station neighborhood, just a few minutes drive from our place in Ocean Beach, so we’ve been spending a lot of time at their place….eating their food…..drinking their wine…..watching Warrior games…. and just hanging out.  Wilma likes it so much there that she starts whimpering in the car when we pull up in front of their home.  Guess she gets a lot of lovin’ at Ina and Marty’s.

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So besides our dinners (and breakfasts) with Ina, Marty and their friends, we’ve spent a good deal of time exploring our neighborhood.  Ocean Beach is located on a bluff between the airport and the ocean.  Our cottage is just a couple blocks from the ocean and an area called Sunset Cliffs….where the favorite pastime is to walk to the cliffs and view the sunset!

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Of course we’ve also found some really good restaurants walking distance from our place.  Sunnies is a local Mexican restaurant (one of about fifty) that also makes great lattes, so we’re there quite often!

Friday we found a dog beach on Fiesta Island, so we planned a day around Wilma’s need for exercise and for a nice long bath.

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Then met Ina, Marty, and their friend Bill at Bill’s boat and ski club for a “barbecue it yourself” steak dinner.

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Yesterday morning we met Ina for a really nice scenic walk on Shelter Island, followed by breakfast at the Point Break Cafe, followed by a nap, followed by (another) dinner at Ina and Marty’s.

AND finally….I’m so happy to announce that after 7 weeks of anticipation and discomfort, the much anticipated kidney/bladder stone arrived on November 5th at 7:30 am, at the predicted length of 4 mm.  We’re hoping the little stinker has no lurking twin!

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Sunset Cliffs  (Didn’t feel right ending the post with the picture of a kidney stone!)

 

 

 

 

Posted in California, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Driving the Southwest

While there are numerous breathtaking beautiful National Parks and Monuments scattered throughout the Southwestern part of our country, we’ve found that quite often the drives between them can be pretty spectacular in their own right.  So if you enjoy scenic drives, the Southwest is definitely the place for you and your car.

We added Pueblo, Colorado to our itinerary as a starting point for a drive on highway 50 across the Southern part of the state.  While in Pueblo we enjoyed a nice walk through a nearby park, as well as a stroll on their Riverwalk.  The Pueblo Riverwalk was patterned after the more famous one in San Antonio, and is nicely set up with concert areas, restaurants, hotels, boat rides and museums.

Pueblo is yet another city we have visited that is located on the banks of the Arkansas River. Sadly, in 1921, this section of the river flooded so badly that it virtually destroyed the entire city.  As a result of the historic flood, levees were built, a reservoir was constructed, and the river was diverted so it no longer flowed near downtown.  The citizens, however, missed their downtown river, so in the 1990’s a very small part of the Arkansas was re-diverted to its original channel, and the area was nicely developed.

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Monday we made the Westward highway 50 drive to Montrose, Colorado.

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It is worth noting that there are two must see stops along this highway that we did not make because of time constraints, no dogs allowed, and the fact that we’ve made the stops on previous trips:  Royal Gorge (we came here with Emily in April), and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (2014 trip) are well worth the time!

We were pleasantly surprised to find the town of Montrose was experiencing peak fall foliage.

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Tuesday we drove South on highway 550 through the San Juan Mountains to Durango, Colorado.  A section of Highway 550, between the towns of Ouray and Silverton, is also known as the Million Dollar Highway.  We learned about this stretch of highway from our friend Sue Anderson, who had come across it just a few months before we did in 2014.  We enjoyed it so much then, that we decided to do it again this trip (something old).  Just incredible….and just as scary as we remembered!

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View of San Juans from Montrose

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That’s Hwy 550 in the middle

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If any followers ever make this drive, we strongly recommend a stop in Ouray for lunch or dinner.  This historic town has a great main street that is virtually the same as it was in the 1880’s.  The entire street is marked with plaques showing the existing buildings and their businesses as they are today, and were, over 130 years ago.  Very interesting.

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Ouray

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Finished our drive with a nice picnic lunch on Electra Lake

We planned a couple of days in Durango to give ourselves a break from driving (and gawking).  Durango is yet another gorgeous Colorado mountain town that has been able to maintain its historic buildings.  They also have a nice recreational walkway along the banks of the Anamis River, perfect for our needs!

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Thursday was an exciting “something new” day. We got up early and made our way to Four Corners Monument, the quadripoint where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah meet.  Being the only place in the US where you can be in four states at the same time, we had to go and do what you do:

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A picture of Robin standing in New Mexico and Arizona, while I’m standing in Utah and Colorado

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Our next stop was Monument Valley.  This has been a bucket list destination of mine for as long as I can remember.  The park, and the drive along hwy 163 toward Monument Valley, is seen in many movies including Forrest Gump (the spot where Forrest ends his 3 year run), Stagecoach, Easy Rider, How The West Was Won, and dozens of other Westerns.  Every time I see it in a movie, the desire to visit in person is renewed. The problem is that the location of the park is extremely remote, so we were never able to work it into our prior trips.  Until now!

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Once in the park (part of the Navajo Nation, as is Four Corners), you can opt to do a scenic 13 mile drive along a very poorly maintained red sand and dirt road (I think this is to encourage you to pay for a guided tour in an open-air truck).  So, being in a Range Rover, we decided to give the Old Home a good work-out and set out on our own to see the amazing monolithic sandstone buttes, mesas, and spires. We had a blast and the Old Home easily lived up to its reputation.

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Having survived the day, we made our way to Kayenta, AZ for the only stay on our schedule that was nowhere near a full service hospital.  Way back in Minneapolis, when I was first diagnosed with a stranded kidney stone, I literally had to review our upcoming itinerary with the ER doctor to make sure I was always going to be near a hospital capable of treating a kidney stone induced infection.  He wasn’t thrilled with a couple of our stops (Maumee, Punxsutawney) and felt Chicago or Durham would be the best place to get the specialized attention I may need.  Of course we never discussed Kayenta…….it was just too far in the future….surely my situation would be resolved by then.  So here we were, stone still snugly in place, on the reservation, with only a small medical clinic that relies on visiting surgeons for any real emergencies.  We both knew the stone was coming that night………but thankfully it did not, so…..whew!

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Navajo Tacos for dinner in Kayenta

And so, on we drove on yet another scenic highway (hwy 17) to Surprise, AZ for a quick stay (across the street from a huge hospital) before our extended visit to San Diego.

BTW, I had to ask the hotel clerk why the city was named Surprise (there has to be a story, right?), and he said “because it is a surprise to everyone that it is still here”.  Very funny clerk!

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Posted in Arizona, Colorado, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Old Friends

The week started with a two-day stop in Natchez, Mississippi.  Our research notes described a town with an abundance of antebellum mansions, self-guided walking tours, and a nice location on a high bluff above the Mississippi River.

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Natchez also marked the last two days of the heat wave we’ve endured, so our walking was limited to a short stroll along the river trail, and to Fat Mama’s Tamales for dinner.

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FMT  “Fat Mama’s Tamales”

Sadly this once booming town (prior capital of Mississippi and an important port for trade along the river) has clearly seen better days, but we enjoyed our drive tour of the mansions and the tamales were great!

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Monday we drove to Texarkana, Texas.  There is not much to say about Texarkana except  that they have the strangest, most confusing highway system we’ve encountered in our travels.  They’ve employed a system of seemingly parallel highways so the main central highway has exits to the frontage road highways that have even more exits and turnarounds (that lead you in the opposite direction without having to go through traffic lights).  Sections of the frontage road highways have simple cross traffic entrances and exits to shopping malls, which can be a bit tricky when the highway traffic is going 60 mph!  Needless to say we drove a few extra miles and made a record number of wrong turns during our one day in Texarkana.

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Texarkana Sunset Over the Highways

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On the positive side, we did have a nice walk through a nearby park

I think almost all of us have a friend or two from childhood that we lost track of but would love to find, so here is Robin’s story of reconnecting with a friend she hadn’t seen in over 40 years:

Robin grew up with a friend named Molly Tully.  They went to high school together, traveled to Israel together, and hung out with many of the same friends.  After high school Molly went to KU, met Sheldon Berger, got married, lived in Chicago (while Sheldon was in medical school), and the family eventually settled in Tulsa.  Molly recently attended their 40th high school reunion where she reconnected with mutual friend Marcy Ruback, who in turn mentioned the meeting to Robin.  So, with the help of social media, Robin and Molly found each other, and therefore we added Tulsa to our itinerary.

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We really had a wonderful time visiting with Molly, Sheldon, and their dog Lexie.  The Berger’s had us to their beautiful home a couple of nights for dinner and they were gracious enough to allow Wilma to swim (to her heart’s content) in their backyard pool.

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Wilma and Lexie at Lexie’s house

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Wilma showing Lexie the Old Home

It turns that we have a lot in common with the Bergers. Molly and Sheldon were married just two weeks before us, in Omaha, in the same synagogue, and by the same Rabbi. They lived in Chicago two years with Molly working while Sheldon was in school (just like us), they have two children (older boy, younger girl….just like us), and they even honeymooned in San Francisco (not like us… but you see the connection).

Thanks so much Molly and Sheldon for showing us a great time in Tulsa, recommending a great hair stylist, taking Robin for a mani/pedi, and letting Wilma swim in your pool!  Hopefully we’ll get to hang out again soon!

Another reason for going to Tulsa (well, not actually a “reason” ….more of a “oh, look what’s near Tulsa…..I want to go” coincidence) was to visit Ree Drummond’s Mercantile in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.  Robin is a big fan of The Pioneer Woman TV cooking show, which stars Ree Drummond.  The show has done so well that Ree bought an old abandoned warehouse near her ranch and built a mercantile.  Apparently the Mercantile is a pretty popular place to shop, so we planned a day trip to Pawhuska to see what all the fuss was about.

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We were amazed that after driving 60 solitary miles through Oklahoma prairie, and into the small town of Pawhuska, that almost every living being in sight was in line at the Mercantile.  Where did all these people come from?  It turns out that the line was for the restaurant in the Mercantile (2 hour wait), so we were able to just go inside and look around.  The place was jam-packed with busy shoppers picking up all kinds of souvenirs for their kitchens.  We were hoping to have lunch there, but had alternative plans just in case the rumored long lines were real, so off we went to Skiatook for award-winning barbecue at Mac’s.  Of course Mac’s was “on vacation”, so we settled for sandwiches at an Einstein’s Bagels.  Ugh.

So after a mostly successful trip to Tulsa, we got back in the Old Home and made our way to Amarillo…..for the second time this year.  This time around, Amarillo was just a stop over for the night, so we found a good burger place and called it a night.

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I’ll save the next post for our complete tour of Southern Colorado….so I’ll end this post with a picture of what the drive looks like from Amarillo to Pueblo.

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Posted in Mississippi, Oklahoma, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Sizzling in the South

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The most common question we get about our travels is, “Which city was your favorite?”.  And the answer to that question is that there are several cities we consider to be our favorites, and all for different reasons.  Savannah made favorite status for its amazing old southern charm, majestic live oaks dressed in Spanish moss, beautifully manicured historic squares, and of course its easygoing, laid-back lifestyle.  In Savannah “Open Carry” refers to being able to legally carry your alcoholic beverage with you (except Sunday mornings) anywhere you want in the Historic District.  Gotta love Savannah…

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In March, 2014, we spent 2 wonderful weeks living in a flat just off Chippewa square in the middle of Savannah’s Historic District.  Our typical day was spent working out in Forsyth Park then getting a latte at Sentient Bean in the morning, having a picnic lunch and reading a good book on a bench in one of the squares in the afternoon, and dining out at one of Savannah’s lively local restaurants in the evening.  Nice, right?  So, given the chance, we decided to return for a few days.

One of the tricks to visiting Savannah is picking the right season, as the summers are notorious for their brutally hot and humid days. We had wonderful spring weather in 2014, and we were counting on wonderful autumn weather in mid-October. Sadly we  arrived at the same time that a nasty fall heat wave hit the Southeast!  So with temps in the low 90’s and humidity in the high 90’s, we did our best to get in a few activities in the early morning and late evening.

Tuesday we got up, rushed to Forsyth Park, and took a nice walk around the grounds.  However poor Wilma was so overwhelmed by the amount of squirrels running around the huge Oak trees that she wore herself out in no time.  After a couple of water breaks, we eventually made it around the park, got our lattes from Sentient Bean, and got back in the comfort of the Old Home so we could at least drive around town and visit some of our favorite spots.

After sunset, we ventured back out and had a very nice dinner under the canopy fans at Belford’s in the City Market, followed by a nice walk around the city squares.

Breakfast Wednesday was a return to B. Mathew’s Eatery so I could have the shrimp and grits (with two eggs over-easy).  We came here in 2014 for Robin’s birthday and she actually ordered the dish, but after sampling it myself, I was pretty hooked.  Hmmm….maybe food was the main reason we really came back to Savannah….

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It was unfortunate that the weather did not allow us to spend more time walking around town, but we’re glad we came back and it certainly remains one of our favorite cities.

Thursday we officially started our drive West, destination Tallahassee.  On the way to Florida’s capital, Robin found a couple of interesting places to stop and explore, starting with Brunswick, Georgia.  The town has a very interesting history dating back to the early 18th century, a nicely preserved historic downtown, several world class golf resorts, a very cool bridge, and an enormous port that specializes in Auto imports and exports.  In fact, the port is the central import facility for Land Rover, so it’s probable that the Old Home came to the states through Brunswick, Georgia.  Guess the Old Home has finally come full circle….

We did find a Synagogue that opened in 1890, and a really cool town hall.

After a nice lunch at Chomp Chomp in Jacksonville, we made it to Tallahassee (95 degrees), checked into the Aloft, and settled into our nice air-conditioned room!

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Being in Florida’s capital city, we made our way to see the Capitol building, which turned out to be just down the street from our hotel.  Sadly, it appears the original Old Capitol building was restored and then surrounded by a few very “governmental looking” modern buildings, including a high rise that kind of dwarfs the Old Capitol.  Not our favorite look for state capitols!

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No gardens, no lawn, no statues…..pretty boring.

The Florida State University campus, on the other hand, is quite impressive.  We didn’t get to walk around much (due to the heat), but we did drive around and really liked what we saw…..especially the football stadium.

After a very gluttonous breakfast at the Uptown Cafe,

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we drove to Biloxi, Mississippi, where hurricane Nate made landfall last weekend.  We were very happy to see very little evidence of damage, just a lot of on-going cleanup.  In fact, the locals we spoke to about the hurricane seemed totally unfazed by “a little category 1 storm”.  I guess the six feet of storm surge from Nate pales in comparison to the twenty-one feet of surge from Katrina!

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We did notice the pier was closed from obvious storm damage

Biloxi and neighboring Gulfport are known for their large waterfront casinos and wide white sand beaches. We had a great view of the gulf from our hotel window and enjoyed a beautiful sunset before a delicious sushi dinner.

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Hawaii Roll, New Orleans Roll, and Maui Roll

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Next stop…Natchez!

 

Posted in Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Friends and Family Plan…Durham Version.

Most of our trips have been structured around events with specific dates such as Mardi Gras, the Kentucky Derby, a family reunion, or an out-of-town wedding.  The events give us a place to be and a time to be there, so we just fill in the rest and voilà, we have our itinerary.  This particular trip was built around the Ali Rittenberg and Alex Gilmore Wedding, October 7th in Durham, North Carolina.

We arrived in Durham a few days ahead of the wedding so we could visit with my cousin Amy (an actual first cousin), her husband Andy, and another second cousin once removed, Katherine Lee (whose wedding we attended in Chapel Hill this past April, sister to Jenna who we visited in Minneapolis, sister to Amanda who we visited on trip #1 this year in Lexington, daughter to second cousin Debbie Lee who we just visited in Chicago, and a fourth year med student at UNC). This has really been a great trip for seeing family and friends!

After checking into the Residence Inn, we met Amy and Andy for dinner at Goorsha, an Ethiopian restaurant, where I had the best Zilzil Tibs ever!

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Thursday morning we met Katherine for a really nice morning 5k walk through Duke Forest and then had lunch at Foster’s Market.  It was so nice having Katherine all to ourselves for a couple of hours and getting to know her better.  She’s going to make such a great family practice doctor!

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Friday was bath day for Wilma at “You Dirty Dog” (something old….we bathed her at the same place in April),

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and get your very wrinkled suit pressed at Men’s Wearhouse day for me.

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Wilma recovering from her bath while I wait for my suit

Friday afternoon we walked the Duke East Campus with Amy (in a vain attempt to find a coffee house with a patio in the shade), and then met Andy for dinner at Gonza Tacos Y Tequila, which has a wonderful outdoor patio and great food!

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This is the only picture we have from dinner…..thanks Amy! I love it!

Saturday was wedding day…..so with much trepidation (after our last dog sitter debacle in Denver), we drove about 30 miles outside of Durham to drop Wilma off with a dog sitter we had found and carefully vetted.  Fortunately Alison turned out to be the perfect fit for us and we happily returned to Durham knowing that Wilma would be well taken care of.

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I have mentioned the Rittenbergs many times in prior posts but here is a quick review:  Buzz (Gerard) and Sue Rittenberg and their twin daughters Ali and Lexie lived in San Ramon many, many years ago.  Emily played soccer with the girls and Robin and Sue became close friends.  Even though the family moved to Marietta, Georgia about 20 years ago, Robin and Sue have managed to stay in touch.  Since Robin and I started our road trips, we have met all the Rittenbergs…in various places…several times. In 2014 we stayed with Buzz and Sue a few days at their home in Marietta, had dinner with Ali in Asheville (she was doing a rotation as a third year med student….also at UNC) and met Lexie and her husband Nick at the Kentucky Derby.  In 2015 we met Buzz and Sue in Atlanta for dinner, and on our trip to Chapel Hill last April, we met Ali and her then fiance Alex for breakfast.  So coming to Durham for the wedding was an easy decision for us.

The wedding was held in the American Tobacco Historic District, once the home of the American Tobacco Company (started by James Buchanan Duke……the university was named after his father).  We had a great time, met some really nice people, and enjoyed our time with the Rittenbergs.

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Buzz and Ali

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American Tobacco Campus

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Sunday morning Robin and I took advantage of our time without Wilma and actually had a meal inside a restaurant!

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Breakfast at First Awake……inside!  Forgive the missing pieces of pumpkin spice pancake…

After picking up our happy dog, we went to visit (one last time) with Amy and Andy, where we had a nice time reminiscing, looking at old family photos, and venting about current world events.

Thanks again guys for feeding and entertaining us!  It was so nice to see you and hopefully we can do it again soon!

Oh…….still waiting on that kidney stone. Guess it’s a shy one!

Posted in North Carolina, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Waiting For The Stone To Drop

It has been about 3 weeks since our last post (from Billings, MT), and we have covered a lot of ground (literally), so I’ll try to keep to the highlights of our stops and share a few of our new experiences.

I am starting this post from the comfort of our room at the Annapolis Waterfront Hotel in beautiful Annapolis, Maryland.  I will no doubt finish it a couple stops down the road. Our trip to Annapolis from Billings included stops in Dickenson and Jamestown, North Dakota; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Beloit, Wisconsin; Hawthorn Woods and Wilmette, Illinois; Maumee, Ohio; Punxsutawney and East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania; Jersey City, New Jersey; and finally Annapolis, Maryland.

North Dakota: Although we had miserable weather (40’s and rain) on our drive from Billings to Dickenson, the sky cleared just long enough for us to justify a visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Painted Canyon.  Our plan was to just drive the 28 mile scenic loop through the park as dogs are not allowed out of their vehicles (wise policy).  The loop was indeed beautiful and we even got our first real taste of fall foliage.

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Painted Canyon

About 2/3’s of the way through the park we noticed a sudden burst of traffic coming from the other direction, which seemed odd as it was late in the day and we had not seen any on-coming traffic for almost 20 miles.  Then, about 2 miles later, we saw the reason everyone was reversing course….

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Upon reading reviews of the park I noticed several complaints from visitors about not seeing any buffalo.  Not a problem that day!  We stopped short of the herd to give them some distance, but decided to wait and see if they would clear the road.  After all, we had only 10 miles to go and didn’t want to turn around and see the same 20 miles we had just driven.  Well, the herd did move….and before we knew it, we were completely surrounded by buffalo.  There was nowhere for us to go.  Of course Wilma was absolutely freaking out, barking up a storm, in full protection mode.  Fortunately the Buffalo completely ignored the hysterical canine behind the windows, and eventually mosied off into the prairie (thank God). It was a pretty intense 10 minutes, but we made it through unscathed with a good story and very tired dog!

The next day we drove through more cold and rain to Jamestown, a really small town about half way between Bismark and Fargo.  We stopped in Bismark for three very distinct reasons:  1) Visit the State Capitol Building, 2) Buy lunch and walk Wilma, and 3) take a picture in front of good friend Ruthie Pearlman’s childhood home.

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Come on North Dakota….you can do better than this!

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Ruthie’s home in Bismark

We noticed that North Dakota has an impressive display of large animal statues on highway 94.

Minnesota:  After a quick stop-over at a “My Place” hotel in Jamestown, we made our way to Minneapolis for a much needed five-day stay.  We checked into the Town Place Suites downtown just in time to pick-up some sandwiches and watch (and enjoy) the Raiders/Titans game, followed by a nice walk along the Mississippi River and dinner from Whole Foods.

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Stone Arch Bridge across the Mississippi

Minneapolis is well known for its beautiful urban lakes and trails so we were anxious to get out there and hike with Wilma. During our stay we managed to get around Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun (well, half way around lake Calhoun so Robin could get her hair colored).  The lakes are really pretty and some of the homes around them are quite spectacular.

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We also found our way to Minnehaha Park to see Minnehaha Falls and get lunch, and the town of Stillwater, once voted the most picturesque small town in America.  We enjoyed Stillwater so much that we decided to get our flu shots there.

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Minnehaha Falls

Of course we couldn’t pass up a visit to the State Capitol Building in St. Paul.

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Now that’s a State Capitol Building!

Highlight of our time in Minneapolis:  Lunch with Jenna, Brian, and Julian Apel.  Jenna is the oldest daughter of my second cousin Debbie Lee.  It was Jenna’s sister Katherine who got married in Chapel Hill last April (the primary destination of our first cross-country trip earlier this year).  Brian and Jenna recently moved to Minneapolis from Chicago and 4 month old Julian is the newest addition to the family.  We had a really nice lunch at Red Cow, catching up on everyone’s lives and taking turns holding Julian!

Lowlight of our time in Minneapolis:  A visit to the emergency room at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.  I guess this would be considered “something new” for our travels.  I started showing signs of a kidney stone while exploring Minnehaha Park, and given my recent history with kidney cancer, I thought it prudent to get checked out. So six hours later a CT scan showed a decent sized stone stuck about 1/3 of the way down to the bladder.  The physician, after explaining the stone could take up to six weeks to pass, loaded me up with pain meds, antibiotics, and a muscle relaxer, all while telling me to stay near major cities in case I need “advanced care” to help pass the stone (guess we’ll plan to drive quickly through Maumee and Punxsutawney).  Oh the joy of having something to look forward to!

So with a kidney stone securely stuck in my right ureter, we packed up all the meds and headed off to our next stop, the Ironworks Hotel in Beloit, Wisconsin……just a few miles away from Beloit Memorial Hospital (just in case).

Wisconsin:  We stopped in Beloit to visit with Gabe Pearlman, a lacrosse player for Beloit College and son of friends Al and Ruthie Pearlman (yes, Ruthie from Bismark).  Al and Ruthie were also in Beloit, so we had a nice campus tour and a fun dinner at Lucy’s #7 Burger Bar.

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Illinois:  The next four days were spent visiting family and friends in the Chicago area, starting with a couple of nights at Al and Ruthie’s home in Hawthorn Woods.  I guess I should say Al, Ruthie and Theo’s home.  Theo being the Pearlman’s 105 pound yellow lab. Wilma and Theo had a great time running around the Pearlman’s expansive back yard and constantly pretending that someone was at the door.

Saturday night Al and Ruthie invited our friends Chuck and Cantor Rachel Rosenberg, and Dr. Barry and Claudia Altshuler for a quick visit and Lou Malnati’s pizza.  It’s always nice visiting with childhood friends over pizza and beer!  In fact it was so much fun that we neglected to take any pictures….ugh!

Sunday we hung out at the Pearlman’s and watched the Bears remarkable win over the Steelers, then went to visit the Levays (Robin’s sister Debbie, husband Brian and daughter Jordyn) where we watched the Raiders embarrass themselves on Sunday night tv!  Well, at least the visit with family was nice.

Thanks Al and Ruthie (and Theo) for hosting us.  It was so nice to hang out in a real home for a couple of days, and so much fun to get our dogs together for some playtime.  Hopefully we’ll do it again some time!

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Al Taking Dog Sitting Literally!

The next couple days were spent in the North Shore area visiting with my sister Linda  and lots of extended family. (BTW Linda, Wilma just absolutely loves her Starbarks cup chew toy!).

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We started with a nice dinner with my cousins Paul and Marge Feldman (I guess technically Paul is a first cousin once removed as he was my father’s first cousin) and their daughter Debbie Lee (my second cousin and Jenna Apel’s mother….and Julian’s grandmother) at House 406.

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Followed by lunch with my remarkable 90 y/o Aunt Corie who is one of the most intelligent people we know (how many 90 year olds pick up quantum physics as a hobby?).  Thanks Aunt Corie for your list of Annotations.  We will do our best to pick out at least a few books so we can discuss on our next visit!

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Our time in Chicago ended with dinner and a nice walk with our sisters Debbie and Linda at Old Orchard, and a visit to Lake Forest Northwestern Hospital for a follow-up scan (that thankfully showed nothing to be worried about).

Quick note on our drive trip vacation themes:  We considered 2014 to  be our “Civil War battlefield / National Park trip”, 2015 was our “Presidential Library trip”, our first trip this year was our “visit to the Veterinarian trip”, our middle of the year trip was our “heat wave trip” and so far our current sojourn is becoming the “kidney stone / go to hospital trip”.  We’re hoping for a new theme to emerge before this journey ends!

Ohio & Pennsylvania:  Our stop in Maumee, Ohio (outside of Toledo) was one of our strategic stops.  In other words Maumee was about as far we could drive in one day from the Northern suburbs of Chicago.  We did have time to stop in South Bend and drive around the Notre Dame campus and their iconic football stadium. Notre Dame is truly  a beautiful and incredibly well manicured campus.  Wish we had more time to explore.

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Love the separate gates for the various student body classes

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Touchdown Jesus

All I remember about Maumee was the really good Thai food we brought in for dinner from Bangkok Kitchen. We highly recommend it if you’re ever in Maumee!

OK, at this point I have to mention that I just absolutely love the movie “Groundhog Day”.  Every time I happen to come across the show while channel surfing, my poor wife makes a face and offers this sarcastic comment, “Oh great Bobby, your favorite movie!”.  So stopping in Punxsutawney to visit Gobbler’s Knob and to see Punxsutawney Phil (Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators and Weather Prophet Extraordinaire) and wife Phyllis was absolutely going to happen!

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We found our way to Gobbler’s Knob and were immediately greeted by Bob Young, a local volunteer whose sole job is to spend all day on location, greet visitors, and recite the history of Groundhog day.  Bob was great fun and we learned many interesting facts (those interested can google Groundhog day), heard some good stories, and received a couple of cool mementos.  We knew that the movie was not filmed in Punxsutawney (Woodstock, Illinois), but did learn that the ceremony and community events were pretty genuine.  We were surprised to hear that up to 30,000 people descend upon Gobbler’s knob to attend the festivities (Punxsutawney has a population of about 5,000).  Avid revelers arrive at 3 AM (remember this happens February 2 in Pennsylvania) and the show starts with fireworks. Afterwards the party moves to the town square.

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Wilma taking a break from Bob Young’s oratory

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Phil and Phyllis happen to live in the Punxsutawney Public Library, so we stopped by to see them but they were sound asleep in their den.  Cute little guy!

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Although not exactly a bucket list item, we did enjoy our stop to visit Phil, and we (I) look forward to watching the real thing (on TV) next February 2nd, with a whole new appreciation for the event.

Our next stop, East Stroudsburg, PA, was chosen because it had the only pet friendly hotel relatively close to Bushkill Falls park.  We don’t remember how we found out about Bushkill Falls (the Niagara of Pennsylvania) but we are very glad we did.  The park, located in the Pocono Mountains, is a privately owned series of eight waterfalls, all connected by a series of well maintained trails and man-made wooden stairways.

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New Jersey:  Saturday started in the splendor of the Poconos and ended in the hustle and bustle of Jersey City, where we had the good fortune to visit with our wonderful family friend Courtney Jeffries, her husband Bernie (who has managed to avoid meeting us on all our previous visits to NYC), and their puppy Alby.

 

We had the best time exploring their neighborhood, hanging out in their amazing apartment (with incredible views), drinking their alcohol, eating a delicious Bernie created chicken risotto, and watching the UDub beatdown of OSU.  Thanks Courtney, Bernie, and Alby for entertaining and housing us!  You guys are awesome!

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Maryland:  We recently found out that our friend Shiera Henderson was going to be in Annapolis at the same time we were to be passing through, so we made a couple changes to our itinerary so we could stay in Annapolis and have dinner with her and her partner Allen.  Shiera and Allen are living on Allen’s boat and sailing the open seas (puts our trips to shame!).  Their boat “Gemeaux” is in the Annapolis harbor for some repairs, so the three of us were lucky enough to be invited to have a home cooked “surf and turf” dinner on the boat!

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Dinner on the Gemeaux

Shiera and Robin met many years ago when Robin was walking our Golden Retriever Penny on the Iron Horse Trail.  Shiera was interested in getting a Golden and Robin helped her by contacting our breeder.  Friends ever since, Shiera has watched Wilma a couple of times for us, so needless to say, Wilma was over the top excited to see Shiera.

 

Thanks Shiera and Allen!  We’re so grateful for your hospitality and oh so jealous!  Good luck and Bon Voyage!!

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Monday was a very rare “3 date day”.  It started with Robin, Shiera, and Wilma taking a nice morning walk around the Navy campus while I tried to make some progress on this post.  Then, after checking out of the  very comfortable Waterfront Hotel

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View of Downtown Annapolis and the State Capitol Building from our room

we drove to Silver Springs to have lunch with our friend Janie Murow and her grand-daughter Ella.  Janie (childhood friend from Omaha) also just happens to be in town visiting, so we arranged a lunch date.  It’s always great seeing Janie and we just loved meeting Ella……who serenaded us with several rounds of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”.

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Finally, our friends Pam and Chuck Ex (Robin and Pam were roommates at U of I) currently live in Silver Springs, so we were invited to dinner (our third straight home cooked dinner).  Unfortunately we didn’t get to see Chuck (the Dept of Justice keeps its lawyers busy these days) but we had a really nice evening with Pam and Seppi, their wonderfully behaved 15 year old Portuguese Water Dog.

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So thanks Janie and Ella for taking the train to meet us, and thanks Pam and Seppi for a great barbecue dinner and dessert!

Virginia:  After spending the night in Chantilly, VA, today (I’m finally caught up!) we repeated something old, a drive along Skyline Drive in  Shenandoah National Park.  We visited this park in April, 2014 expecting to see a park flush with springtime Blue Ridge Mountain growth. Instead, due to the unusually long cold winter, spring was late and the trees were bare.  We did, however,  see the potential and vowed some day to return (in summer or fall). Although we missed peak fall foliage (by 1 week according to the park ranger), we did  finally see Shenandoah in all its splendor.

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Arrived in Charlottesville, checked into “The Graduate Hotel” which is directly across the street from the UVA campus (and has the worst carpet of any hotel we’ve ever stayed in), took a nice stroll around campus, and settled in for the night…..still waiting for the stone to drop!

 

 

 

 

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