It has been a year since I officially retired from the workforce. After 48 years it came as a welcome relief. Yet, there were several challenges ahead that included selling off furniture and appliances we did not need for our relocation to France, and prepping the house for sale. We had lived in St. John’s for 22 years in our lovingly renovated 1923 Craftsman Bungalow. Anyone who has gone through this transition can understand the emotional ups and downs associated with relinquishing the nostalgia of time spent in a place you have dedicated so much of your life to.
We then set out for what would be a 27,000 mile long journey through the US and Canada, all of which is chronicled on my blog.
I have compiled a slideshow highlighting our travels: We are often asked “what was your favorite place?” It’s not something that can be answered easily – the national parks, monuments and sites we visited were all incomparable; they are unique unto themselves and I urge everyone to travel to as much of North America as they can. You will realize the conundrum of that question when you see where we have been!
One of our more significant stays was on Oahu where I was able to trace my father’s WWII legacy from the Royal Hawaiian on Waikiki Beach to Pearl Harbor: I dedicated a special write up on my blog for those interested!
Part of the challenge also included selling our house – we managed to close while we were on the road in Canada, signing the final papers in Fairbanks, AK right before the market started to cool down; we counted our blessings on the timing!
At the end of September, after months of being on the road we were able to take a breather upon our return to Portland. We had a bit of a fretful wait while waiting for our French long-stay Visas. Fortunately, we had given ourselves enough time for the French to do their processing which allowed us enough elbow room to wind down our life in the U.S.; visiting friends, family and familiar haunts…and bidding our final farewells.
We landed in France mid-November and got ourselves settled in a gite, traversed the Dordogne until we landed on a lovely Colombage house in Lot et Garonne (about two hours from Bordeaux). We then set out to spend the holidays with family in the UK where we celebrated and English-style Christmas with family and spent time hiking through Malvern with its beautiful priory and countryside.
We also visited famous sites such as Stratford on Avon, the home of William Shakespeare and its amazing holiday lights.
Finally, on New Year’s Eve, we motored around the English countryside in Kathryn’s Mini. We ended 2022 with a traditional cream tea followed by fish and chips – wrapping up the year in an authentically British manner!
Wishing everyone a Happy New Year and wonderful 2023!!
We arrived in Santa Rosa, mooch-docking off our friend Peter who has been a west coast mainstay throughout this journey. It was a busy time as we had deep cleaning to do on the rig, readying it for prospective buyers back in Portland. The weather was hot but mellowed out after a few days.
On a foggy Sunday morning we woke up before dawn (we haven’t done that since we retired 😜), and headed for Old World Vineyards Winery to partake in the annual harvest and crush. It was cold! After being briefed on how to harvest grapes we headed out to the heart of the Russian River Valley to their vineyard next to the famous Gallo Estates. We parked up in a lovely grove of Redwoods with another fifteen or so folks along with the extremely industrious LatinX workers, got our gloves and clippers and walked through an apple orchard into the vines.
The size of the clusters were amazing. Unfortunately, due to the recent storms that had pummeled us on Highway 1, some of the larger clusters inside the vines had molded. I spent time surgically removing these offenders, and the smell of the rot was certainly pervasive – in a wine grape sort of way. After a couple of hours the sun began to break, and the hills and forests began to open up. Being Sunday, and that we were out in the vineyards, it was pretty peaceful.
The LatinX were like machines, plowing through the vines with precision. They ranged from young to middle-aged. I can’t fathom them doing this all day; we witnessed them picking the crops, mostly strawberries as we motored up from Santa Cruz.
Being at ground zero at these agricultural centers is seriously eye-opening. It’s not something you witness on a regular tour and you gain such an appreciation for the horrendous amount of thought and work that brings food to our tables.
At Old World Wines the process is organic and they age the wine in neutral barrels. After finishing up and peeling off layers of clothing, we journeyed back to the winery for a great Mexican lunch; we had huge burritos!! The weather had warmed into the high 60’s with a pleasant breeze and inviting sun. We tasted a few vintages processed from the same vines we had just picked; we opted for the Rose’ and Merlot – so tasty and Bob can drink both!
After getting slightly buzzed from the tastings, they set up the containers so we could do some good old fashioned crushing! Well, it was an interesting experience that was purely performative; the grapes were cold as we had picked the grapes after they had been sitting in fifty-degree weather most of the night. But we crushed all the same so we can honestly say we did the heavy lifting of what goes into wine making🍷🍇
After working since the crack of dawn for several hours; stooping, bending and twisting, we wound up flaking out for the rest of the afternoon. I was fine with that as Monday was a big day and we need to prep emotionally for the upcoming French Visa Interview.
On Monday we toodled down to San Francisco, passing over the Golden Gate Bridge that was emerging from the fog. The bridge was symbolic in a way, as we passed from this stage of our life to another. We arrived in plenty of time for our appointments with HSBC (for opening up a US and French Bank Account) and then off to the Visa Processing Center.
After finishing a smooth transaction with the bank, we grabbed a quick snack and then headed for the Visa Center – it’s actually VFS Global; they act as a broker for the French Consulate. We were crammed into a small room with other applicants, some ranging from Portugal to the Netherlands and awaited our turn. The desks that the processing agents sat at were tiny with only room for one chair and Bob had no choice but to stand behind me. We gave them more documentation than what was required partly because we had been given advice for the helpline and other blogs on what to expect. I was glad for it as other folks hadn’t made photo copies of their passport pages or thought their travel insurance would cover the requirements (it doesn’t – you have to pay for the more expensive coverage such as Cigna for actual full health insurance) resulting in denial of their application at the get-go. We breathed a sigh of relief as the agent took our fingerprints and photos and we were on our way.
We had one last dinner with Peter that evening, packed up the RV and bid a fond farewell; he had been a much-needed stop for us as we approached the end of our trip.
We set out for McKinleyville the next morning, past the now dry rolling hills that were a lush green the last time we passed through here.
We decided to stop at, you guessed it, our favorite spot, the Founders Grove in the Redwoods National Forest, for tea.
This was Grogu’s third time in the Redwoods; for Shoeless and Bob Jr. it was the first. Grogu has been with us on this entire journey, having lost Dave at the Grand Canyon😥
We were lucky to find an RV leaving as we arrived and gladly slid into their slot. We stepped outside with our tea and soaked in the atmosphere; I fantasized of having a log cabin with a large porch nestled in this grove, where I would sit for hours, in a tranquil respite, listening to their stories.
We had been there in late winter and early spring when it was cold and damp; it was now early fall, with sentimental shafts of light breaking through an emperious embrace. The dry, temperate air filled my lungs; the forest perfume swelled around me that I longed to capture in a forever memory. The drying needles softened our footfalls as we got lost in our revelry. And we literally got turned around! But you didn’t find us complaining as we meandered through the grove, swiveling our heads to and fro as we finally made our way back to the rig.
Memories don’t define the Redwoods very well; I still find myself in awe as they emerge from the forest proper, an astonishing contrast to human frailty. They are not defined simply by a singular grove, but by an ancient ecosystem that lies deep in the heart of us all. Here we become true-to-nature, if even for a fleeting moment in time. I am glad they have been preserved for all to explore, and that they inspire the human race of their importance; that they will continue to endure for centuries to come.
We can only hope.
The next day, we left the Widow White RV Park and headed for the coast. I wouldn’t recommend this park, it is a bit rundown and you only pay in cash, but it sufficed for a quick overnight, and heck, it seems like we’ve run the gamut on this journey!
We journeyed through the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, it was rainy and misty which only added to the atmosphere. The weather finally broke, revealing stellar blue skies along Northern California and Southern Oregon Coast. The wind wasn’t as fierce as it was in the spring and the temperature was certainly manageable.
We hooked up at the Turtle Bay RV Resort at Gold Beach in the same spot we had in the spring. We took a leisurely walk along the beach with its thundering surf, a stark contrast to what was hitting Florida. We felt so fortunate that the weather cooperated during our trip; we were concerned about hurricanes as we headed south, but August was void of any activity which was pretty unprecedented.
We watched in horror as Ian decimated south western Florida where some of my relatives live (who are now safe), but I can’t imagine what people will have to deal with in the aftermath as they pick up the pieces. If we saw that sucker coming across our path, we would have aborted and avoided the Gulf Coast altogether on our way back to New Mexico.
While we ogle at the treasures Mother Nature has blessed us with, she will equally remind us of her wrath – striking a balance we humans continue to disrupt.
I slept hard, I suppose from the beach walk and ocean air.
We took a morning stroll on the beach, it was calm and devoid of any people; only our tracks were apparent in the sand.
When I looked back, I thought about our adventures, even with so much planning, we didn’t know what to expect, grateful that it turned out so well.
We packed up and headed for Waldport; our last night in the rig🥲😘. Yeah, it’s an inanimate object, but she has taken us through such an incomparable epic adventure it will be hard saying goodbye.
We then headed up the coast via the 101 – one of my favorite haunts; the mist was thick and the coastal pines emerged like crooked wizards, bent and twisted, savaged by the merciless coastal winds. The oceanic fog created a cataract over the mind’s eye, causing one to take the winding curves with caution.
Then we approached Cape Perpetua – even the name evokes a sense of romanticism. The immensity of this place isn’t truly captured with names such as “Devil’s Churn,” or “Cook’s Chasm.” These conventions are an attempt to classify something that needs to be experienced first-hand; and one must get soaked to truly experience its wrath. If Poseidon could spit fire he would have done so, content to have unburdened himself in the process of creation, then soaking his masterpiece with a thundering tidal wave.
When not smothered by the approaching tide, Thors Well sits in obscurity until such a time as the tide breaches its edges before sliding into oblivion. Get too close and you could become one with Davy Jones’ Locker. The Well is an anomaly that requires a fair amount of patience and photographic skill to capture. I have, back when I was a more serious photographer, spent time wrestling this beast through my lens; I did not come away particularly dry, but was victorious all the same.
We passed through Florence where I spent many summers with my extended family at nearby Mercer Lake. I wanted one last A&W fix at the classic drive-in on the main drag and I was not disappointed. After gorging ourselves one last time, we landed in Waldport at the KOA with a nice view of the bridge.
The fog came and went, but at least the rain dissipated and allowed us to get out for a walk. Then we settled in for our final night in BigB.
We woke to an elixir of coastal perfume mixed with dense forest; you breathe it in but you can’t get enough – if it was a drug I would be an addict! This sensory combination I have not yet experienced anywhere else and will be missed.
We had traveled 27,318 miles since February 20th, through snow, heat, frost heaves and flooding to witness some of the most stunning landscapes in North America.
We finished our stint in Arizona with an overnight in Lake Havasu overlooking the London Bridge. We stayed at a hotel once again due to the heat. Lake Havasu really does look like an oasis in the desert, populated mostly by retirees as we soon discovered. The water levels were quite good considering it was fed by the Colorado River which seems to be under constant threat due to drought. The London Bridge is quite something when you think that it was reconstructed brick by brick at this location.
We woke up to a toasty 82 degrees and decided to get out for a walk early. We strolled along the esplanade as the sun rose, passing a touching tribute to the queen and other gift shops and restaurants.
The next morning we headed out to Barstow; there isn’t much in this area and the Mojave National Reserve had been flooded out by monsoons (much like Death Valley) so we couldn’t swing by there for a look-see. I did find a feature near Barstow called the Rainbow Basin with colorful rock formations that reminded me of the Artist Palette in Death Valley. We decided that would be a fun geological adventure to hike, but we soon discovered that that road had been flooded out as well🌊
We decided to pack it in and went to the hotel. We had plenty to do with prepping BigB for sale, and other logistics related to our impending move to France.
The next morning we embarked to Bakersfield where we would spend the night at the Orange Grove RV Park. We stopped by a rest stop to clown around the Joshua Trees, and then drove through Tehachapi which was now brown, quite the contrast of the rolling green hills of our spring jaunt through this region.
Our stop over in Bakersfield this time was a bit different from our stay in the spring when we were surrounded by the heady scent of orange blossoms; there were now oranges on the trees, mostly green, and the temperature was a manageable 83 degrees.
I sat amongst the orange trees until the sun faded, enveloped by the cooling breeze – there were no ponds here to reflect upon, only what I had brought with me as I pondered the last legs of our trip; the thunderstorms I was so fond of that came in multiples while in Sedona, were now behind me.
The last strokes of the summer sun was now slipping past the fading fields, no longer in sway as we cross over from the solstice to the equinox of charitable memories. In the aftermath of a desert glow, my pupils, thankfully, no longer felt fazed by the sun. I watched the breeze as it ran its fingers through the trees, teasing the leaves as they turned to gold. The idea of autumn was upon us.
The next day we arrived at the California coast, specifically Morro Bay. I hadn’t seen my leggings and sweatshirts since we boondocked across the Columbia Icefields in mid-June. Thinking back on the early stage of this adventure it seems so long ago! We were staying at a small RV Park, it was more like a space attached to an Airbnb that had a cabin and across from that full hookups for our rig.
It was rather cold and windy as we went for an evening walk on the beach; I can never inhale enough of the effervescent Pacific breeze. We built a fire and roasted marshmallows then slumbered in the dark and quiet, only interrupted by the occasional calls of the nearby seals and then an owl.
The next morning we strolled along the beach and then stopped in the cove next to Morrow Rock where the sea otters 🦦 hung out. We watched them for about an hour, ensconced in their rituals. The rangers had set up scopes so we could see them closer. One of them had a baby on her belly – they are the most charming sea creatures!!!
We then turned our attention to the birders who were watching the Peregrine Falcons on the nearby Morro Rock – a beautifully stunning site.
We headed down the Embarcadero that had restaurants and shops dotted along the waterfront. It was a perfectly sunny day, hovering in the low to mid-sixties that made for such a treat after months of intense heat and humidity. We picked up a few souvenirs and then did some food shopping. We wound up walking several miles!
After relaxing back at the rig, one of Bob’s ex-coworkers picked us and gave us a tour then we have a great seafood pub dinner on the bay. It was a great end to a perfect day.
The next morning we headed out to Highway 1 to Big Sur and Carmel-By-The-Sea.
What we didn’t realize was the storm system that had hit California a few days ago had spun around and we were getting hammered as we drove the curvaceous wonders of the coastal highway. When we stopped at a viewpoint for tea, the rig was literally swaying due to the gusts.
When we hit the road again we watched as a Class C in front of us was spraying water every which way as it hit the vehicle, the driver struggling to stay on the road; we could empathize with his plight.
We made it to Carmel just in time for a respite from the storm. We encountered some gusts and a few passing showers, but otherwise we were able to browse this charming city for a few hours. The architecture was a cross between English Tudor with spanish influences.
It was busy, and there were some boutique shops hugging the big box stores that looked rather meek; I guessed that Carmel has a city code on the type of facades that were allowed. Thankfully this helped with a more authentic ambience.
In the afternoon, when we reached the KOA the rain had let up enough for us to get BigB set up, and we huddled for the evening as more storms were forecast. As the night drew to a close, we slumbered under the passing showers churning up from the coast. We woke to low clouds and then the blue sky opened up in all its glory. It was in the sixties and very comfortable, and the air smelled of eucalyptus and pine, courtesy of Mother Nature.
That afternoon we went to the beach, reading and watching surfers skate upon the waves. I observed the Pelicans diving for fish and the Curlews swirling in unison up, between and over the imperious waves. It made for a relaxing afternoon, the arresting clouds with occasional sun breaks. We were fortunate the storms were gone and we were able to laze in comfortable tempatures on a virtually empty beach.
When we returned, our side of the RV Park had emptied out and we sat in serenity by the fire with little wind, no bugs and other encumbrances we had so often encountered, especially in Canada and the east coast. We didn’t know when we would experience another classic American campfire since the Oregon Coast was beginning to recede into fall, beckoning the rain and cooler temperatures.
I roasted what would probably be my last marshmallows. One became a casualty of the fire, but I was not be dissuaded as I still had half a bag. S’mores are one of my fond childhood memories that I recapture from time to time. It can become quite the religion; weaponized with custom forged tongs for the very purpose of roasting the perfect marshmallow. Part of the experience is to find the right convection in an open fire, and as is the case with all wild things, one must be patient.
For those of us who revel in solitude, it was quite the treat to be on the California Coast lazing in the receding sun of the evening with only our low playing music, the surf and the organic sounds of wildlife.
We only have a few more nights in the rig, just overnight stops as we journey up the Oregon Coast. It’s a nostalgic thing to think we have traveled over 26k since May 9. So many of our experiences seem like an eternity ago. And the thought we will be leaving America on our migration to France is now upon us, literally week’s away. After years of dreaming and planning the stresses of this new and exciting reality are now taking hold.
While we were heading for Zion, Bob received news that the queen had died. Being British it was an emotional moment and we, like so many others, processed the information for days to come. I posted a separate tribute on my blog to commemorate this legendary monarch.
We decided to travel through the back roads of Navajo land in northern Arizona, with the Vermillion Cliffs to the left, passing by Lake Powell, etched into the orange and peach sandstone, though you could tell the water levels were quite low. The terrain into Zion was a prelude of what was to come; we passed through the Paria wilderness, home of the famous “Wave” where we sadly were not able to pick up a permit during the lottery. As we reached the Grand Escalante Staircase a fierce thunderstorm was rolling in that gave us a good drench but not flooding.
When we arrived at the east side of Zion, the landscape turned into pink and apricot ridges, complimented by haystacks sculpted by the elements; you could still see what looked like ancient lava flow.
When we reached the entrance to the park, we were issued the tunnel pass as we were within the limits to pass through (check the Zion NPS site for requirements and instructions) – we waited while the kind and humorous Park Ranger arranged our passage. We were the only vehicle going through at that time, I suppose it was later in the day.
If we thought what we had seen so far was astounding, we were certainly in for a treat when we passed through the tunnel.
The effect is the same as witnessing places like the Grand Canyon and Yosemite for the first time; it’s sometimes hard to believe such marvels exist for real.
We got settled into the Holiday Inn Express in Springdale for the evening. Later we watched the full moon rise over the peaks outside our window; everywhere we looked there were lovely views of Zion.
The next day we took the shuttle from Springdale to the Visitor Center where we picked up the Zion Shuttle to different spots around the park where you can hike. We decided to do the Narrows, which is world renowned and we were accompanied by a fair stream of foreign tourists. We walked via a well-groomed path to the riverbed and started wading through the knee deep water. I took my hiking poles as you can’t see the rocks and it’s easy to lose your balance. We zigzagged from one “shore” to the other. We were wearing hiking boots that we weren’t worried about getting soaked – I was thankful for that! We saw people in sliders and other types of shoes that would not give you the support needed; the current could be quite strong in spots and the rocks were precarious. We meandered, albeit slowly, through this wetland of a enthralling slot canyon. Since it is cooler due to the canyon being mostly in the shade and being in the water I certainly didn’t feel dehydrated. In the end we did eight miles🥾
When we finished we took the shuttle back to the village, jumping off to marvel at the scenery and hopefully spot a condor or two. We decided to have a nice pub lunch at the visitor center – we had earned it! When we got back to the hotel, we put our feet up until we could muster the energy to check out the downtown area and grab a gelato. Zion isn’t really big and we didn’t take too much time, checking out the usual shops and a few galleries. The shuttle system is great and it’s really easy to get around.
We left the next day, delighted that we were going back through the tunnel and we could do more touring as we left the park, backtracking through the Grand Escalante Stair Case and Lake Powell.
Like those other stupendous places we have visited so far on our journey, Zion must be experienced; it is truly in a class all by itself.
We made our way to Sedona, a bit worried about the flash flood warnings and we saw some dandies on our weather app radar; lo and behold we wound up behind a long line heading into Flagstaff, and after about a half hour we managed to get through the flooded part of Highway 89, slick with mud but fortunately we are a high profile vehicle. It was a different story on the other side as the road was completely flooded out and would take hours to get cleared out- we saw the long line of folks stuck coming the other way. These storms are not to be trifled with!
It was pouring heavily as we came into Sedona and we got to our site to wait out the storm before heading to the market to pick up supplies.
As we learned, the weather app can say it’s a clear day then boom…in an hour you hear the thunder and then the rain starts. One just crept up on us as I am writing this – it’s getting closer and the thunder is starting to crack and I can hear the rain on the awning. Oddly these storms in Sedona haven’t kicked up a lot of wind.
The next day proved to be warm and dry and we decided to promenade downtown Sedona. Many of the shopkeepers were commenting that it is now the slow season and were slashing prices. There were a fair amount of tourists but not as packed as when we were there in the spring. It was nice to have elbow room to explore where we liked, in no rush and dining al fresco watching the world go by.
The following day we picked up a rental car so we could hike Devil’s Bridge. It was warm and I was struggling a bit to get up the ridge as the sun was extremely intense and it probably would have been a good idea to have started earlier. After drinking electrolytes and downing a protein bar, I sat in the shade on the ridge overlooking the canyon, glad I had made the effort.
We stopped by Exposures Gallery on the way back so I could ogle the artwork that was way out of my budget range when I spotted a Worrell; they are one of the main galleries representing his work and usually have an entire room filled with his creations – all found was a single wall; he died recently and there had been a run on his work… I found one of his smaller wall sculptures relinquished by his daughter that was available for sale at a reasonable price!
The sculpture is a bronze called “Greet the Sun”. The etching on the back affected me deeply in the same way the sculpture did. Knowing how fleeting life is, and having endured so much, I told myself “I can do this, I can afford this.” This piece spoke to me so strongly it was as if Worrell’s spirit itself said “this is meant for you.” I never had a piece of art give me such a high; it literally brought tears to my eyes.
James, one of the Gallery employees, passionately explained to me every detail of the piece and how a remote cave painting provided the inspiration for his work: The shield depicting protection, the staff for defense, the patina animal skin symbol of a shaman, and the symbols of journey etched into his tunic.
This piece, though small, will remind me of the expanse of the spiritual journey I am currently on.
We spent the rest of the afternoon doing laundry which was fine; an aggressive storm cell came through; thunder, lightning-wrath-of-god type stuff that drove us indoors. After it dissipated we motored through the drenched streets, the sweet smell of the after-storm and cooling temperatures was downright intoxicating. We dined at the El Rincon Restaurante in the lovely Tlaquepaque Village. I had a Navajo Pizza which is like having a green chili enchilada spread over some seriously deep fried Fry Bread. That and a flavorful margarita closed out our epic experience in Sedona. We spent a somewhat restless night being battered by more storms, thundering overhead as we huddled in the wake of the unrelenting tempests.
As many who have visited know, Sedona is a New Age center due to the theory of vortexes that promote well-being. I cannot speak to that, but the atmosphere in this rarified space is like no other; the scenery, the intensity of alpine skies – you feel like you are floating on the very thunderheads that form in the distance, highlighting the rustic red buttes, encircled by the blue-green vegas that are embedded into the fabric of Sedona itself. Even the seemingly apocalyptic storms that pass through enhance the experience, insisting that balance must be maintained. The contrasting landscapes of Sedona tell the tales that while we populate this land, we cannot fully claim it; Mother Nature reminds us of her presence when she mercilessly washes all who stand in her way down the unforgiving arroyos and onto oblivion.
We left Georgia and headed south to Florida. I had discovered what they call tree canopies and we decided to take a drive off of Old Centerville Road that leads into Tallahassee – upon arrival we discovered it was unpaved so decided not to do the whole road. Regardless, it was quite beautiful with huge oaks sporting the long bearded moss that we discovered while traveling through Georgia.
We also passed more blackwater swamps on the side of the road, some of them had huge denuded cypress stumps that looked like the Baobab Trees in South Africa.
As we had time we scheduled a desperately needed pedicure – thankfully the stars aligned and our feet now look glorious!
We stopped by one of our friend’s house (an Adidas employee) to pick up some sportswear we had ordered. We had to cut the visit short as Bob had tested positive for Covid as a result of our exposure in Charleston – he is fortunately asymptomatic, but we want to be prudent on where we are hanging out though in this region of the country they seem pretty cavalier about masking.
We overnighted at a hotel that had a kitchen so all in all it turned out pretty well and we were able to keep to ourselves. The next day we set out for the Gulf Shores KOA; it rained most of the day as we were getting the remnants of the tropical storm that had pounded Texas and New Mexico. We were getting flood alerts but the rain wasn’t any worse than what he had experienced in Oregon and we got to our destination safely.
We woke up to the thunder of the Blue Angels practicing nearby: This is where they are stationed and there is a subculture that caters to their notoriety including street names and eateries.
We spent the day exploring Pensacola; I was on the prowl for some pink flamingo kitsch and we discovered that this area was a bit of a Hawaiian spin-off with Tiki bars and paraphernalia – I found it quite amusing! We lunched at the Shrimp Basket and I had my first Shrimp and Grits. It was like polenta with a creole spin and it was quite good🍤
Having satisfied our cravings we poked around a bit more – it’s off-season and I can imagine this place buzzing when the weather is a bit cooler. The humidity makes me feel like I’m drunk, and I have been getting my exercise at the hotel gyms or resort swimming pools. Otherwise any minor exertion outdoors leaves me drenched in sweat.
Per the local weather people this has been the least active August for weather events since 1982 – this has bode well for us as I was worried we would be driven north by storms but we are lucky, bearing only the occasional thunderstorms and humidity.
We headed out the next day to New Orleans (NOLA)! I was excited to visit the Angela King Gallery as I was looking into getting an original Anne Bachelier. We left the Gulf Shores early to catch the gallery while it was still open as they closed at 5:00 on Saturday. We parked on the outskirts of the French Quarter and walked into town. When we arrived, and much to my disappointment, they had a sign on the door that they were closed until August 30th. There was nothing listed on the website. I emailed the owner about my discontent, though as it stood I would not be seeing the real paintings anytime soon. We then walked down Bourbon Street and did not find much in the way of traditional jazz, but there were plenty of loud bands playing rock and roll and punk. It was still quite busy considering this is the slowest month for New Orleans tourism, and there was a perpetual haze of pot smoke on this strip that was even worse than downtown Portland! This is definitely a spot for the marginally clothed party crowd.
We were still hoping to catch an authentic jazz bar and after talking to a proprietor of one of the local shops she said we need to go down to Frenchman Street. Upon further research we found that these were the clubs we were looking for and decided to save those for the next day, catching the bands as the city grew dark.
We went into the shops around Jackson Square and perused the artists displaying their street crafts much like you see in Paris. We promenaded for a while, marveling at some of the architecture and amusing ourselves at a voodoo shop though I couldn’t find much that actually inspired me. We stopped by a small cafe to get some lunch; the poke with a Cajun twist was surprisingly good and Bob decided to try a beignet and became immediately addicted.
Unfortunately the famous Cafe Du Monde had a huge line outside so we decided to try and catch it another time but we at least had a beignet fix😍
We finished meandering through the streets and as it had been a long day, we set out to the New Orleans KOA and relaxed for the rest of the evening.
Bob decided to book a swamp tour on an air boat for the following afternoon and grab some lunch prior to the trip. We stopped at the recommended restaurant next to the bayou and I had crawfish crepes that were fantastic. What I love about Creole cuisine is that it’s spicy, but not obscenely so, and has a very definite taste; having had my fair share of West African food the spices were familiar. Here we really got the Louisiana vibe, especially as the thunder rumbled nearby.
We boarded the airboat piloted by Danny, a Louisiana native with a thick drawl. It was one of the smaller vehicles that could go fast which beat the other overcrowded boats. We skimmed past houses built over the bayou on stilts that were for rent then headed into the swamp with its lovely water lillies, egrets and herons.
Danny hit the accelerator and we torpedoed at warp speed through the wetlands. When we slowed down, I noticed something coming through the water, skimming just above the surface; it was an alligator heading straight for the boat. In fact, everywhere we went they would come toward us, some would submerge as we got closure but otherwise they were pretty nonchalant. They ranged from 5 – 8 feet long and though not as big as the Cayman in Guyana, they could still do plenty of damage to a human.
We stopped by one of the houses that was set on the bayou that had been devastated by Katrina then partially resurrected – the structure was now sound but there was still a fair amount of debris. Here Danny showed us a massive “garden spider” that was black and yellow that freaked out the gals sitting behind us. He then presented a baby alligator that if you hold it by the neck, it won’t bite you.
We went further down the bayou and Danny stopped looking for his “buddy.” A large alligator appeared and he started feeding him marshmallows. This beast had apparently been through a lot: He had been injured by a boat and had a chunk taken out of his side by another alligator, yet he healed and was happily swirling around the boat while Danny continued to entice him with more marshmallows.
I almost prefer to call these ecosystems wetlands, rather than swamps, as the latter gives you a sense of something sinister and they are quite beautiful despite the idea there is wildlife in the water that can eat you.
We headed back at warp speed until we got to the stilt homes and motored slowly back to the dock. We then headed back to the French Quarter, parking on the outskirts hoping that no one would notice our RV; we had heard stories about break ins, though there were expensive cars in the vicinity so figured we would be fine.
We walked through the neighborhoods and eventually stopped by Cafe Du Monde for the chicory roasted coffee and more beignets and more site seeing. We then had a dinner at Muriel’s which is a stately restaurant built in the 1700’s by the French and eventually passed onto many different owners until it became the establishment it is today. I had my first taste of Turtle Soup and then Drum Fish and it was all so very good. It was starting to get dark so we headed out Frenchmen Street as the quarter started to ignite the gas lights. It was Sunday night and the cruise ship crowds had apparently left. It wasn’t crowded at all and some of the streets we strolled along were empty with the houses beautifully lit up with enticing court yards tucked behind wrought iron gates.
The French-influenced iron work on the balconies and facades is what makes New Orleans architecture so distinctive and many have taken pride in keeping their homes restored. It was humid, but not to the level of obscene, so I wasn’t on the verge of passing out. We could hear the jazz drifting down the streets, riding along the vapors of Louisiana cuisine as we approached Frenchmen Street.
The street itself is surprisingly cozy – meaning it isn’t a sprawl of clubs and eateries. Tucked into these smaller venues are the Spotted Cat which was pretty much standing room only, but is renowned for its hip NOLA jazz, and just down the street is Marigny’s that was belting out some fabulous more traditional jazz. Marigny’s is also a cafe, and wasn’t crowded at all, which I found delightful but somewhat perplexing; perhaps due to it being Sunday and at the end of August. Here we fulfilled our fantasy of live New Orleans jazz, sipping on whiskey at a table with plenty of elbow room.
After getting our jazz fix, we strolled through more quiet neighborhoods and onto Bourbon Street where the insanity spilled out in all its neon splendor (if that’s what you want to call it, though it didn’t quite fit the vision I had when I think of Bourbon Street).
Sadly New Orleans was a major hub of slave trading or in reality, human trafficking, even after slavery was abolished. The Creole cuisine comes from the blending of French and West African cultures that becomes apparent as you immerse yourself in its delights. Add to that the Venetian influence on Mardi Gras and you have yourself an intoxicating elixir that permeates throughout the cafes, clubs, celebrations and architecture.
But what brings the community together is the love of music, specifically jazz that evolved over the decades, creating a legendary hub for the Black community that has transcended into world-wide fame. It was such a delight to partake in this indelible slice of Americana.
We took a “rest day” at the Lake Gaston which comprised of no schedule, no crowds, no obligations with a view of the lake in a wooded campground. We were again fortunate with the weather as it was mild, with cool evenings and the humidity wasn’t noticeable. We did housekeeping such as cleaning the rig and doing the laundry, otherwise we worked on our French Visa, language lessons and read. It was a perfect area to unwind. When I say this it may come as a surprise, but we have been on the move for months with a few pit stops with friends…but that also seems to include touring. Rarely do we sit and read like we used to do on our camping trips back when we were still employed. No news is good news!
We had a long drive to Charleston, SC so bugged out early. We were staying at the Riverview Holiday Inn, another opportunity to “hotel” it for a few days; we might as well use up those points! The weather was fine when we arrived late afternoon, and then a thunderstorm rolled in. We watched it while sitting at the bar on the top floor, from there we also had a wonderful view of the bay while catching up with our friend, Sohayla, who we put up for a few months in Portland while she was interning at Adidas.
Post libation, we returned to the RV to finish packing up items for our stay. We could hear the thunder getting closer, and then, before we knew it, it was right on top of us. The sky lit up and the atmosphere around us went seismic. The thunder was the most deafening I had experienced. We hustled back to the hotel just before mother heaven unleashed her fury. The rain fell so hard we couldn’t see the parking lot from our room! This drama went on for a few hours.
After the storm dissipated we got a decent night’s sleep. We picked up our rental car and headed out to the Saturday Farmer’s Market and toured local historic sites.
I visited the Aiken-Rhett House – a historical house that was built in 1820 and later occupied Governor William Aiken, Jr who owned vast property and housed slaves to serve the household. He owned 878 slaves who maintained his vast cotton and rice plantations. The house itself is “preserved,” not “restored.” The paint and wallpaper have deteriorated into 200 years-old peeling remnants including damage from Hurricane Hugo; this reveals an authentic record untouched by modernization. The house itself is as grand as any plantation house you can imagine, yet in the outbuildings lie the kitchen, laundry and stables where the slaves were housed. While it’s possible some slaves were treated humanely, African American history bears out the starvation of many slaves while their masters lived in opulence. Some who defend slavery saying the “North was equally oppressive,” ignore the true plight of these slaves. Even those who managed to survive were not free to exercise the inalienable rights as a human being.
The tour focuses on the slave aspect with commentary from local African Americans highlighting their plight; many tours show the homes for “historical reference,” overlooking the legacies of those who made the everyday running of the household possible. On this day the heat and humidity was oppressive and the large rooms and verandas were designed to allow for a cross breeze that somewhat mitigated the warmth. In the kitchen, despite the heat, the fire in the large fireplace was kept burning to ensure any hot water for tea or cooking was immediately available to the Aiken family. The kitchen, laundry and accompanying rooms were small and must have been horribly stifling. The death of one 7 year-old-girl from starvation is pointed out as an example.
Here I witness the decaying remains of a forgotten existence while wiping the sweat from the back of my neck, even though I was barely exerting myself. I imagine the servants preparing elaborate meals; wondering how many tried to extricate – or in this case no doubt – steal leftovers to keep from starving to death; and wondering if they were punished if caught.
While the South argued that abolishing slavery would ruin their economy, they treated their animals better than their slaves. The mansion is now peeling away the truth, revealing the rot of a bygone era; the lathe and plaster unable to stand up to the elements of change.
We decided to hop over to Sullivan’s Island to browse around and grab a casual lunch while watching the vast array of scantily clad beach goers promenade the main drag, or hauling their chairs to the beach. This rounded out a pretty casual day and we headed back hoping to dodge any storms looming on the horizon.
The next day we magically dodged the thunderstorms that were pretty vocal through the night and arrived at the Cypress Gardens in Moncks Corner, just north of Charleston. These gardens house a swamp complete with alligators. While that sounds a bit creepy, it is really quite stunning. We started our tour by dropping into the butterfly farm; it’s like being tickled when they fly around your head. They had a swallowtail that had emerged from its cocoon and Monarch caterpillars feeding on Milkweed; we used to plant Milkweed in Portland to attract Monarchs. It was quite the whimsical experience being surrounded by these flirtatious aeronauts.
We moved onto the boat dock and set sail through the deadcalm of the swamp, surrounded by partially submerged trees, buzzed by dragon flies and the cicadas with their perpetual serenade. After about ten minutes Bob noticed a small alligator eyeing us near the lily pads; he eventually went under. We dodged the trees and followed the markers though it would have been difficult to get lost. We would stop and float for a while to see if anything else would emerge from the depths, but mostly enjoyed the magical calm.
The gardens are actually a cypress black water swamp that had been wiped out by hurricanes and floods but lovingly resurrected, and we were enchanted by the whole experience. And it was only modestly crowded, which made for a lovely afternoon.
We went back to Charleston and went shopping at the Historic Charleston Market where I picked up a Sweetgrass Basket; a basket weaving craft that was passed down from the African heritage of former slaves and are now collectible works of art. It’s great to browse around this sector, while they have the big box stores they are peppered with boutique shops and galleries. I thoroughly enjoyed the aesthetic of Charleston; not New England and not quite Florida – though you see an attempt at Flamingo kitsch.
We passed bold Greek revival mansions with their huge verandas; verandas are definitely part of the culture – we’re not talking just porches, but expansive, inviting terraces where you can catch a cooling breeze in style.
We ended the day with a final dinner and farewell with Sohayla, who was just as lovely as ever, not knowing if or when we would be seeing her again. But that is the case with so many folks we have visited on this trip – we hope that some do make the effort to visit us in France.
We headed out to Georgia the next morning, specifically Commerce, overnighting with Keri and Sean, more of Bob’s friends from Adidas. It was a long drive and we arrived late afternoon and spent the evening catching up. We had to leave abruptly the next morning as Sean had tested positive for Covid😥
We headed out to Athens, touring the architecture; more massive mansions built in the early 1800’s housing the elite of Georgia.
We then took the back roads through Macon County and its tree-lined highways. We sadly came across a new type of road kill: Armadillos. These I had not seen before.
We overnighted at Southern Dreams Ranch – a Harvest Host in Americus. We parked up near the stables with a backdrop of peaceful green fields. We visited one frisky stallion who would run up and down his corral and whinny to the heavens. Since we were essentially dry camping we were thankful for the cloud cover and soon the temperature dropped, and we found ourselves surrounded by a cooling breeze. We feel fortunate on the weather front so far, and this is one of our last boondocking venues which is fine, since we are heading further south and will be glad for the air conditioning along the Gulf and once we pass back through New Mexico we will be dealing with the late summer heat of Arizona and California.
It had rained off and on through the night, otherwise it had been dark and quiet into the morning and we got a restful night’s sleep. We woke to an idyllic view of the fields and the whinnies coming from the nearby corral. We were not in a rush as we didn’t have far to go to get to Tallahassee. We caught up on our reading and journaling, glad to be drifting if only for a morning.
Taking the backroads through Georgia and the Carolinas gave us yet another slice of Americana: It is a misty world, with impassable jungles skirting the highways, the trees suffocated by voracious vines, then fields appear, pushing against the unrelenting forests of southern pine, the air thick with perpetual dew. Some of the houses and estates are quite impressive; less Greek revival but still sprawling all the same.
We continued our lazy morning then headed out to Tallahassee through through the peach orchards of Macon County.
After leaving the bustle of Jersey City, we spent the afternoon with one of Bob’s school chums, Julian and his wife Mary Ellen in Lancaster. The heat had broken, and we were experiencing more tolerable temps, with a cooling breeze coming from the woods and river surrounding their property. They even have a well with a bunker – you have to wonder if this wasn’t built in the fifties due to the threat of nuclear war back then. Again, retired friends with the same idea as us – to transition to the “quiet life.” I’ll take the well, but am intrigued by the bunker.
After bidding farewell, we journeyed through the lush, green landscapes of Amish Country, kept verdant by passing thunderstorms. We meandered through Gettysburg, thinking about the age of some of the buildings and then pushed our way through the more heavily touristed parts of town; it’s all very nice now, but what was it like back in the day?
We were staying at the Gettysburg KOA set in the deep woods, with lovely, level sites. We could have stayed here for a few days if time had allowed, and if we had been better informed of its tranquil and wooded nature. Here families play and enjoy all the amenities that upscale camping has to offer. I pause to think about the horrors that no doubt prevailed during the Civil War in these very woods. We are not far from the major battle sites, and as we all know too well, wars don’t always favor boundaries.
It was in the high 50’s early in the morning, a temperature we haven’t seen in quite a while and there was a slight hint of fall in the air. It was promising to be a beautiful day.
We decided to take the auto tour of the battlefields; it’s a $10.00 app you can download and is quite useful. We drove past fields of August corn, cannons serving as totems, showing us the way through what looked like, on the surface, simply Pennsylvania farmland.
Underneath this innocuous landscape, on a beautiful summer day, lie the relics of liberation, soaked in blood of thousands, their names forgotten, their memories buried in unmarked graves. The north wanted to liberate the black slaves and the south wouldn’t have it; so noble men took up the cause and made the ultimate sacrifice.
So many dedicated souls maintain the sites so we can ponder our history and hopefully take in the significance of the sacrifices that were made here. Gettysburg…a sobering segue to the memorials that awaited us in D.C.
The cicadas bid us farewell, humbling us as we left Gettysburg; the voices of the visitors in the fields remained low out of respect, and eventually faded as we made our way down the road.
We headed to D.C., excited about our stay at the Holiday Inn in Ballston. After months in the RV with unpredictable sites and technology, we will be able to spread our wings a bit and had plenty of parking for the rig. As funny as it may seem to some, we have come to appreciate these little luxuries that we used to take for granted. As a Hilton member we have wracked up enough points from all that expensive diesel we’ve consumed that we are now getting free hotel stays😍
The Washington subway was close to the hotel with our first stop at Arlington National Cemetery. It’s sobering going from one memorial to another. As we wandered through endless grave sites, we saw a Navy burial going on in the background: The area was blocked off from the public, but saw the casket being pulled by a carriage, accompanied by the full regalia of Navy personnel. Then followed taps and the firing of the guns. The experience was as overwhelming as the cemetery itself.
Bob was feeling a bit under the weather so I went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and stumbled upon the changing of the guard. I don’t know how they manage to endure the heat or cold: But they do.
We walked across the mighty Potomac. Fortunately there had been rain and it was cloudy, though the humidity was a bit high but at least it wasn’t hot. We dropped off at a cafe for a respite.
We visited the inspiring Lincoln and WWII Memorials – the latter showing reliefs of the places my father had been during the war in the Pacific. The scale of Washington D.C. is mind boggling.
By this time we had done 15,000 steps and decided to head back to the comfy confines of our hotel room. Thankfully the metro is super easy to navigate.
The following day we went back to the Mall and visited the Botanical Gardens as our first stop. I loved the misty and warm tropical garden; it was such a soothing experience.
We then took a tour of the Capital that gave us a great perspective of the seat of our nation. The capital and the surrounding structures are just so impressive – it reminds me of Rome, which would make sense since that architecture inspired most of the Mall.
I then visited the U.S. Navy Memorial that is set across from the National Archives; I came here to pay homage and in a sense it gave me final closure now that all of my father’s letters, photos, artifacts and now his trombone are in the US Navy Fleet Band archives❤️🎼 While not at the same scale as the other sites, it is just as lovingly sculpted as the more popular memorials. Thank you dad, and all the other Navy personnel for your service and sacrifice 🙏⚓️
We then met Julian and Mary Ellen who decided to come to D.C. for the afternoon and headed out to the Natural History Museum. While the dinosaur action was cool, the mineral and gemstone displays were off the charts; seriously impressive and mesmerizing. It doesn’t help that I can’t resist bling in general. It took us a few hours to get through that exhibit, and we stopped for coffee before they took off back to Lancaster with mutual commitments to meet up in France.
Bob and I realized it was getting late so we headed to the National Museum of the American Indian and were blown away by the Preston Singletary – Raven and the Box of Daylight exhibit. This artist is Tlingit (First Nations) and from the Teslin area of the Yukon. We had visited the Tlingit Cultural Center while in the area – it was an eye-opening cultural connection. We had timed our visit just right; when we were just wrapping up our tour the museum announced it was closing! It was a superb ending to another busy day.
My experience over the last few days has given me pause:
Freedom is not free – seeing this engraved in bold lettering at the Korean Memorial should be echoed from Gettysburg throughout the stately sentinels that line the Mall. Freedom is not free… should be the signature text on every monument and museum as a reminder of centuries of sacrifice that has been made to maintain our liberty. We live in a great nation that has overcome monumental obstacles to maintain our liberties that we all to easily take for granted.
We arrived in the lovely port city of Camden, ME. I had been here years ago and spent only a few hours and it wasn’t enough. I vowed to spent more time in this enchanting town and my wish came true! We dry-camped at the State Park and the weather was surprisingly nice; we were bracing ourselves for a heatwave, but it turned out to be perfect, barely hitting 80 degrees and the humidity was keeping in check. A thunderstorm rolled through that evening, pushing out the inversion that had been invading the coastline.
The next day took the rig downtown and discovered that the parking spaces were not very accomodating for RVs – anywhere! We wound up parking next to a church on Free St and Elm; there was a opportune curve on the street that accommodated us perfectly and we were within a respectable walking distance from town.
We decided to breakfast at a spot that overlooked the harbor, marveling at the Clipper ships as they embarked on their morning excursions. We wandered through the shops and happened upon a few galleries. The Small Wonder Gallery on the waterfront had some lovely nautical watercolors and prints that we added to our collection. The Once at Tree shop had some fantastic woodworking, and other expertly curated pieces of art, and I was able to pick up a piece for one of my relatives. These we had shipped to a friend since BigB can only take on so much. I had visited this shop years ago and wondered if it was still there, and much to my delight it was.
Camden is the essence of a New England setting complete with a fishing village and harbor. There were no vacancies anywhere and it’s understandable as to why. There aren’t so many shops that you feel completely depleted by the afternoon. In fact we found we had time on our hands so went back to the campsite and took a hike along the shoreline trail. It doesn’t take you to a beach, but you can hike down to the rocks and boulders. We sat down in the temperate afternoon breeze, gazing out to the Clipper ships in the distance, their sails shimmering in the sun. A mist started to roll in, and I sat and meditated, listening to the incoming tide breaching the rocks, the salt air expanded my lungs and mind.
We hiked back to the camp and had a nice fire and I broke out the s’mores once again; a guilty pleasure warranted under such circumstances. The park grew dark and quiet and we slept like babies, bathed by the woods. I love our occasional stops in campsite vs. RV parks – the latter being more like glorified parking lots in most cases.
Camden turned out to be everything I had hoped it would be and more; we couldn’t have asked for a more consummate visit – all the elements came together in perfect harmony.
We headed to Boston, bracing ourselves for the impending heat wave – we watched the thermometer rise to 100 degrees as the area was being blistered by record-breaking heat. Thank god for air conditioning! We were staying at the KOA in Middleboro, just outside of Boston, and were lucky to get a site in partial-shade.
We opted to get a rental car to make it easier to get around Boston. We landed on the waterfront and decided to do the Boston Tea Party Tour that turned out to be quite impressive including a replica of the actual ship used during the rebellion. I even threw tea overboard! It’s fabulous to be able to experience our country’s history as we travel around the U.S.
We drove through Boston, checking out Fenway Park and later met up with some former co-workers of Bob’s for a nice meal. It turned out to be a pretty productive day despite the heat🥵
We headed out the next morning to visit with a friend, Janice Swanson, whom I hadn’t seen in 28 years and was vacationing on Sagamore Beach. On the way we stopped by Plymouth as Bob is from…Plymouth, England and it was great checking out the Mayflower II and Plymouth Rock. It was brutally hot and humidity pushing the temperature above 100 degree mark and I was glad to move on. It really makes you feel like a slug – a really shriveled slug.
We arrived at Janice’s charming beach retreat in Sagamore near Cape Cod. It was such a joy to see her and I was also greeted by another long time colleague, Mary Beth. I worked with these gals back in the 80’s, when we were twenty-something’s during the software boom in Southern California. It was a special time back in the day when Ashton-Tate was the fastest growing personal computer database company in the world; Boomers remember those days! We were the top dogs along with Lotus and WordPerfect; later put out of their misery by – yep you got it – Microsoft. We had front seats to a revolutionary time alongside the likes of Apple.
We had parted ways but in the early 90’s I caught up with Janice in London on my way to Nepal; we hadn’t seen each other since; now 28 years later.
We ate lunch and walked along a quintessential New England beachfront – it was hot but manageable with a cooling sea breeze and the surf bathing our feet. It was too bad we couldn’t have spent more time together but our schedules didn’t sync as much as we would have liked. Still, it made for a great memory and we will always have a special bond.
We don’t think about aging really until it catches up with you, and to see one another so many years on, it cultivates a certain level of gratefulness and respect that we have all struggled along through the years, making our transitions with as much grace as possible. We joked about the shoulder pads from the 80’s and kicking our smoking habit. Seeing some of her kids now grown added to the marvel.
We bid a fond farewell, along with a Cape Cod bag and some napkins that I will cherish, and headed to Barnstable to the Cape Cod Brewery Harvest Host where we parked up for the night in their parking area. They had a beer garden and we sat for a while, talking with a nice couple as the predicted thunderstorms rolled in, breaking the feverish heat that had been plaguing New England for days.
We headed down through Rhode Island and Connecticut, pulling up to a lovely rest stop built from stone. The weather was perfect and we had tea in the shade. We headed out for New York, bracing ourselves for the traffic. Our stop is the Liberty Harbor RV Park in Jersey City right across the bay.
I had been to New York a few years back as a contributor to a Rolling Stone Magazine article on the Children of Scientology (refer back to my about section on my website for further info), but hadn’t had a chance to check out all the sites.
The next morning we took the Liberty Harbor ferry that dropped us off walking distance from the World Trade Center. The WTC had created its own weather with cloud formations swooning around the top. We had decided to take the Big Bus Tour to get around and headed for the Empire State Building.
We got off at Times Square amidst all the calamity and found a bite to eat. We were now in the epicenter of the New York City vibe. The New York crowds are a good precursor to those wanting to travel to Japan or China; there the crowds are so thick you don’t bother apologizing and just worm your way through the fray. The tour of the Empire State Building is wonderfully impressive, displaying a full history of its construction along with the movies and a digital display of King Kong peeking through the windows which was really cool. They really ham it up as part of the tour.
We arrived at the observation tower and while crowded, it wasn’t that bad. We got a fabo 360 view of the city, albeit from a terrifying height. Art Deco permeates every aspect of the building and it’s too bad that this style has been left to the likes of history and nostalgia; a relic of a time and place where class and style were paramount. I actually pine for those days – much like a character from “Midnight in Paris.” Bob and I marveled at the detailing that culminates into this enduring icon.
We left by way of the requisite gift shop and headed for the Chrysler Building. Even though the heat wave had broken it was still warm and muggy. When we got to the entrance we were told it was closed due to Covid🤬 We were certainly dismayed as this was a bucket list item. We could only marvel at the structure from afar. We decided to take a break at Grand Central Station where we sat in awe at the ceiling depicting celestials and gods. We had gelato and sorbet with iced lattes at the Italian cafe; there is a reason why you can’t find a Starbucks in Italy – like pizza, the Italians know when their craft is superior.
We headed back to the Wall Street District to check out the bull, only to discover there was a long line of tourists wanting to take pictures. We did sneak in a selfie from the side and then called it a day. We took the ferry back to Liberty Harbor, fascinated by this form of commute that so many coming from New Jersey endure every day. The river is teaming with yachts, ferries and jet skies; it’s a form of commerce I have not been that close to and immerses you into another aspect of the New York culture. And the view is unbeatable as you pull away from the dock. The landscape of New York is truly in a class all by itself, setting itself apart from the rest of the world, a maddening melting pot, teaming with diversity.
I am now at an all time record on steps!
We spent the evening winding down and washing off the mugginess of the day. We headed out the next morning to take the ferry back over and the find out way to Battery Park where we take another ferry to the Statue of Liberty. It was a perfect morning in the 70’s and the humidity had dropped dramatically. We were really in for a treat. When we docked we walked along the beautiful waterfront esplanade on and equally beautiful morning. When we arrived at the Battery Park terminal we were greeted with the hordes of tourists such as ourselves waiting to board the ferry. I had gotten the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty tickets packaged into our Big Bus Tour which came in handy and proved to be less of a hassle.
We squirmed our way to the top deck for the best view and of course most everyone else had the same idea. But we managed so the lovely lady as we cruised into the port of Liberty Island. What an impressive site she is!!!! We wandered around the base and then went to the museum where we were blown away by the digital displays of her initial conception and construction. What an unbelievable feat and why the French are such great allies; it only reinforces my affinity for the French culture.
By the time we got something to eat, and when you factor in the long lines and general logistics it was already early afternoon. We decided to not disembark on Ellis Island and go straight back to lower Manhattan to catch the Big Bus to Central Park.
We got off near 5th Avenue and walked by Radio City Music Hall and the famous Rockefeller Center where instead of a skating rink, it is now a roller skating rink for the summer. We then walked with the masses of shoppers along 5th Avenue where all the major players, Gucci, Ferragamo, Henry Winston, Dior etc. were all staking their claim; it reminded us a bit of Honolulu; while all the stores are along the main drag near Waikiki, in New York they are bigger and bolder as if saying “here I am,” and then the next one is saying “uh, uh, sister, Here I AM.”
We walked through Central Park East, but didn’t get as immersed as we would have liked. It would be nice to come back in the fall when the leaves are turning and spend some serious time in the park. We got some soft scoop ice cream and decided for the sake of time to take the subway as the afternoon had pretty much slipped through our fingers; it’s cheap, and a visit to New York isn’t complete without a stint on the legendary New York Subway.
We got off near the WTC; I get really choked up at the memorial. I have pictures from my last visit so no need for any further representation here – it’s a must do, and when I look at the waterfalls cascading down the abyss I can only think of the tears that have been shed for all of those who have been lost from not only the horrific events of September 11, but for those who continue to defend our liberties.
This day was a day about the importance of liberty and freedom. New York represents so many things; art, theater, architecture, hope – but the most enduring aspect of New York, at its very essence, is liberty. The city displays this proudly, in an unsurpassing manner I have not felt anywhere else. I forgive your maddening pace that I can only take in doses, because at your core, you are the apple that I desire a bigger bite of🗽
We arrived in New Brunswick, thus making our final transition into Canada. We stayed at the Sussex, KOA which was part of a complex that included a drive-in theater that was showing Thor – Love and Thunder later that evening. The pool wasn’t crowded which was unusual, so we decided to go for a swim and I got in a half hour of intense swimming!
After the sun set, we sat on the picnic table for a clear view of the screen, turned on the radio to the specified channel to get audio, and watched the movie from the convenience of our RV spot – how fun was that!
We set out the next day to Fundy National Park along the bay of the same namesake, and onto Hopewell Rocks. We wound up doing a coastal hike thinking it would take us right up to the shoreline but it didn’t – otherwise, we got a long hike through the woods which wasn’t so bad. We ended up in Herring Cove just as a thunderstorm blew up the bay. Fortunately, we didn’t get the full brunt of it, but the winds were blowing up pretty hard and we worry about the rig when they threaten fifty-mile-an-hour winds. Fortunately we escaped its wrath.
We headed out to the famous Hopewell Rocks thinking it would be a bit like Bandon, Oregon, where you just park up and walk along the beach to really cool rock formations. As it turned out we had to pay to get in and it’s like a production line; we hiked for about fifteen minutes down a well-trod trail, followed by several flights of stairs that lead us down to sea level.
The formations are mesmerizing and at low tide tourists pile in to walk around the beautifully sculpted “flower pots.” We wandered around the rocks, trying to dodge the other tourists, both greedy and patient to get shots that weren’t diluted with the selfie-obsessed. The formations are quite captivating with swirling carpets of seaweed covering their base, sheathed in a deep teal green that I had not seen before.
Much like Bandon, I felt like I was in a surrealistic painting where landscapes are exaggerated into impossible shapes, but they somehow make sense. The Bay of Fundy is home to the highest tides in the world; when the tide comes in at an astounding fifty feet, you can only gain access by boat – when the tide is out it becomes a wonderland with tidepools, cool formations and several caves for the curious to explore. Many of the rocks looked as though they could have been an inspiration for the faces at Easter Island.
We ended the day in Alma at a nice restaurant that only had seating outside. It was blowing pretty hard and then the horizontal rain came – we thankfully got moved under the porch when other diners finished, though it was getting rather chilly. Then as fast as the storm came, it ceased, and the clouds started to break up. We ended the day with the best sunset on our trip so far.
I had done nearly 20,000 steps and almost 8 miles, so was pretty exhausted, but we got a real feel for New Brunswick and its magic.
I slept hard that night and we managed to rest up the next day as we headed to Prince Edward Island, passing over the Confederation Bridge that spans an impressive eight miles. It is a heck of a thing. We have now entered the breadbasket of the region; fields of corn, wheat and potatoes spread across the afternoon horizon, kissed by the sea and sun. The region is known for its potatoes that are rich in minerals due to the iron content of the soil. Here the weather remained in the 70’s which is considered hot by the local residents 🥵 Nothing looked dried out as it would be in Portland by now. The well-manicured lawns and flowers hugged the highway looking as though we were in a springtime paradise vs. mid-summer.
We explored P.E.I the next day, visiting the famous Anne of Green Gables farm. Her legacy permeates the island with stores, chocolates and inn’s named after her that seems like a contradiction to her ideology. The farm is well-kept with working gardens and a path through the woods takes you into a childhood playground filled with ferns and streams. Being as touristed as it is, you don’t get too much privacy and I wondered how many modern-day children actually get the chance to roam the woods freely as I did; to sit in contemplation of a babbling brook, feeling free, yet interconnected in those secret places where a child’s imagination weaves a web of delight, embracing the creatures of the forest. In our overcrowded society it seems more like an exception where soon, we will need to pay a premium to enjoy. I bought her book at the giftshop, suspecting I will find it wonderfully relatable.
As we drove along the coast, we stumbled upon a stately and curvaceous hotel known as Dalvay by the Sea. It is prestigious enough to have warranted a visit by William and Kate during one of their tours. The wrap-around porch with a view of the sea makes you want to sit, chat and read for the afternoon. We decided to have lunch in their dining room; I had a lobster roll for a substantially lower cost than the one I had at Bar Harbor! The warm breeze and being surrounded by quietude in a white linen setting made for a memorable lunch. It was a far cry from the bustling restaurants and RV dinners we’ve been having for quite a while now.
We eventually detached ourselves from our revelry and finished exploring the coastline, stopping at the picture-perfect Covehead Harbour Lighthouse that sits upon the dunes.
On our back to our campsite, we parked up in Charlottetown that has a Victorian quarter complete with a towering basilica. The town has lovely restored buildings, and though the street with the shops and eateries isn’t very long, the local coffee bistro does a mean latte. This topped off another lovely day in the Maritimes.
We headed out the next morning to Nova Scotia passing over the Confederation Bridge once more – this time they charged us a toll that was a hefty $50.00 Canadian which is $40.00 U.S. I suppose they need to justify the building and maintenance of this monumental piece of infrastructure.
We skirted the coastline of New Brunswick, passing through yet more picture-perfect coastal settings on our way to Caribou, Nova Scotia. We stumbled upon a lavender farm that I didn’t want to leave; I expressed this desire to the owners who acknowledged their place in Nirvana. In addition to the lavender fields, they had a farm house surrounded by vegetable berms, flower beds and planter boxes. The scene was then topped off with a pond and large gazebo. My mind was bursting with imaginings of what we could do to replicate these ideas in France. We completed our tour at the gift shop, immediately greeted by a long sigh of lavender that echoed its scent back to the RV, where we stuffed sachets behind our pillows and spritzed the room spray to enlighten our space.
Driving through the Maritimes we have passed a beautiful array of bird life including bald eagles, ospreys and the elegant Blue Heron. They are in abundance here and reminds me of our home in Portland, Oregon where we lived not far from the Sauvie Island Nature Reserve.
We overnighted at Harbour Light Campground that had its own private beach. We took a stroll and watched the fishing boats come in. We dined on salmon and enjoyed the ocean breeze that kept the rig at a perfect sleeping temperature.
We headed out to Cape Breton, driving along its dramatic shoreline. Our next destination was the Waves End RV park that boasted spacious spots that came right up to the shoreline. We had an ocean view interrupted by one class A but I could still see the surf, feel the breeze, smell the rarified air. Unfortunately, we arrived just as a storm system came in and pummeled us off and on for a couple of hours. This warranted spaghetti in the Instapot. I really don’t mind the occasional storms, just so long as no one gets injured. Since the winds were blowing a bit of a gale, we cozied up for the evening with a short break to walk along the seaside. We watched the sun go down though we were confused as to the direction of the sun since we didn’t think we were facing west. We actually were but we are used to seeing the sun set from the west coast😂
We ventured out the next day to hike the Skyline Trail along the famous Cabot Trail System of Cape Breton. The Canadians are so well organized: They always have ample parking and special spaces for RVs. The trail was well-groomed and while busy, I found some solitude amongst the boreal forest boasting fragrant balsam fir while Bob took a separate loop. They reserved part of the park for the balsam seedlings to grow, it was fenced in to keep out the deer and moose who view these delicate shoots as a delicacy.
I kept pace with the cooling breeze, strolling along my private preserve set amongst the balsam and wild things where I always feel at peace; the trees are my temples, the sky is my heaven, the flowers and ferns my altar – dancing in the wind as wild things do. Overhead, the gulls transform into winged angels, having made peace with the tempests, gliding amongst the towering cathedrals of cumulus that become one with the sun.
Eventually arriving at the boardwalk you have a view over the vast seascape. The planked walk cascades below for a distance with lookouts and benches where you can contemplate the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the surrounding cape. You do quite a few steps on the way back up😅
We drove along the rugged coastline on our way to Cheticamp; Bob was excited to visit The Doryman pub and grill where they played live Irish music. When we arrived the place was packed; what we didn’t realize was this happened to be Joe Macmaster’s debut gig for his new CD; all we knew was there was a fiddler playing on Saturday afternoon, not realizing we chanced upon a world renown musician! Some of the crowd, comprised mostly of retirees, would get up from their chairs and do Irish dancing. It was quite fun.
After having too much fun, and logging yet another 19,000 steps, we came back to spend the late afternoon catching a shower, reading and journaling. But the Cape wasn’t through with us yet. As a glow began to permeate BigB, we wandered down to the bluff for yet another Maritime sunset, rivaling those of our beloved Pacific Coast.
We headed out to Halifax the next morning to visit Bob’s Aunty Brenda and Cousin Steven. At 87, Brenda was now in a retirement home and we stopped in for dinner and then spent the evening chatting. It had been twenty years since we’d seen her! She was doing well, made us tea and gave us a tour of her lovely facility. We can only hope we can spend our twilight years in such a place.
We were staying at the KOA in Upper Sackville just outside of Halifax. It was a decent KOA though it was more geared for families with plenty of activities for the kids. We soon discovered it was a holiday weekend and not everyone observed the quiet time. We were also sandwiched between two highways so there was a fair amount of road noise. I would only recommend this place if you have kids; it’s not a place you go to get “away from it all.”
Steven came by and picked us up the next morning and we drove into Halifax. We had coffee and chatted for a while. He dropped us off at the waterfront which was pretty crowded.
We explored the shops and harbor and then Steven came to pick us again. We were thankful for being chauffeured around! He took us to his house and then back to the KOA. Thankfully it was a bit quieter that evening. The weather was cool and we decided to have a campfire and I broke out the S’mores. All in all it ended pretty well.
Halifax has changed dramatically from the last time we’d been there, with more big box stores squeezed into the tourist area. The weather during our entire time in the Maritimes had been perfect; yes we’ve had some rain but, we haven’t been plagued with the heat and humidity like we had in Maine.
We headed to Annapolis by way of Peggy’s Cove that sports a lighthouse set amongst some serious rock. Again, it was crowded as it is understandably a popular place, though we didn’t stay too long as we had a long drive.
It rained most of the time we were on the road and luckily it was a travel day. We arrived at the Lake Breeze Campground in some pretty thick fog. We had a view of the lake and it was so quiet that we thought something had happened to humanity – perhaps a zombie invasion and no one thought to let us know. They advertised “quiet,” and they weren’t kidding. After the sparse traffic died down, the only noise we heard were the loons who haunted the lake, much like Nessie. Yes, Nessie – Canadians have such a lovely sense of humor.
We spent the day in Annapolis Royal, once a fort and major shipping hub. We then went to the “tidal city” of Bear River, exploring the art communities; there are some very talented folks in this neck of the woods. It has a “retreat” atmosphere, where one can contemplate and create amongst the verdant landscape. This part of Nova Scotia can only be described as moderately busy; the highways and towns simply aren’t hectic like they are in the mainland U.S. – partly due to the low population density in Canada.
We spent our last night by the fire, next to the lake, no bugs and yes….quiet. What road noise there is dies down quickly, leaving us in the stillness, and we can drift without any further human incursions for the evening.
The next day we boarded the Fundy Rose, and ferried our way cross the Bay of Fundy to St. John’s, New Brunswick and our final overnight in Canada. We sat in a lovely lounge entertained by a fiddler, watching the world go by. The fog set in but we enjoyed our jaunt all the same. The name Fundy Rose came from an African-Canadian woman from the 1800’s by the name of Rose Fortune, who trail blazed her way through history as a shrewd business woman and entrepreneur. We did notice a large black community in and around Halifax, even in the camp sites which in the U.S. is pretty rare. It’s lovely to see Canada embrace and celebrate their diversity.
Mon Dieu!!! We realized we had gone from one extreme of the U.S. to the other! Google maps gave us perspective on how far we had come on this leg of our journey. So far we have logged over 20,000 miles since the 20th of February!
Au revoir Canada🇨🇦 🦌🦬🦫🦅🦞🌲🏔🌅you will be missed; your incomparable landscapes and your hospitality will always be in my thoughts, hopefully I’ll be back to visit again one day❤️
Meet Shoeless (the White Sox Mascot)! Gifted to us by Bob’s friend Christina while we were in Chicago. The dashboard is getting a bit crowded with our growing family👨👩👦👦
We left Chicago, driving through Indiana and Michigan into Ontario. It turned out to be a long day with over 400 miles. We stopped off at a Starbucks in the early evening and I saw a salon next door and luckily they were open with only one hairdresser in attendance and totally void of customers. I just needed a quick trim and we struck up a conversation; I was curious as to where she was originally from due to her coloring and accent; she challenged me to guess and I said “Ethiopia.” Her jaw dropped and she said I was the first person in twenty-five years that had guessed correctly. She is actually from Eritrea which is in the same region. We had a great conversation about Africa and I got a much needed trim. She loved my hair and I’ve heard this before; other hairdressers say the younger generation likes to die their hair my platinum gray color. It’s nice to have low maintenance hair that is admired 😃.
We finally crossed the border into Ontario. I had downloaded the ArriveCanada app so I could easily update the border crossing info and present the electronic pass.
This part of Canada reminded me of the Midwest with the rolling fields of corn, wheat and crops. We passed through the border at Sarnia to Sun Retreats at Ipperwash. This unfortunately turned out poorly as they advertised the standard, lovely RV sites with full hooks up with a concrete slab that you paid full price for and we found ourselves in the “rustic” campground with 15 amp electric with a filthy pit toilet surrounded by tractors, boats and abandoned equipment. Even the other facilities such as the showers hadn’t been cleaned in weeks and there was no hot water. It was really a mobile home park with semi-permanent residents – there were no real RV sites for the transient crowd; they passed off the electrical in the camp as a full site which it is not. It was a bait and switch and we let the owners and the corporation know. Do not stay at Sun Retreats as they will scam you! We were glad to pack up early and head out.
As we crossed over the Rainbow Bridge on the Canada side, we could see Niagara Falls on the right side.
When we arrived at the falls, we weren’t prepared for the Disneyland-like-carnival atmosphere complete with a dinosaur park that had a spewing volcano, and every circus ride imaginable. Avoiding the mayhem, we decided to take the boat cruise that takes you right up to the falls:
They hand you a rain poncho as you board – once you arrive at Horseshoe Falls, you can scream as loud as you want as you don’t just get misted, you are pressure-washed and any commentary or sounds of protest are drowned out by the sound of thousands of gallons of water gushing all around you. It’s a great adrenaline rush with limited peril and to a certain extent the poncho is simply a suggestion; it did keep my camera dry at least. It was a sunny day so we grabbed a bite to eat and air dried our Niagara-saturated bodies at the cafe conveniently located at the exit of the boat launch. It was so much fun!!!
We spent the evening at the Branches of the Niagara Campground which was at the opposite end of our experience at Sun Retreats; it was pristine and well-kept. We spent the evening getting dried out and cleaned up and then headed out the next morning back to see the falls from the U.S. side; it was structured more like a standard state park with overlooks and gift shops – otherwise it was the opposite of the Canadian circus which in a way is pretty surprising. The views from the Canadian side are certainly much better.
We lucked out on a rainbow that stretched across the river as we watched the boats go into the falls, it was a lovely morning and good for getting our steps in while catching the thunder of this iconic spectacle. It’s a lovely walk through the woods and park and is relatively quiet as most of the crowds don’t seem to linger at the wooded park benches.
We bid farewell to the thunder and mist and passed back into Canada at the other side of the Rainbow Bridge and on to Silent Lake where we were meeting up with Bob’s cousin Les and his wife Dominique: They are both muscians – Les plays the flute and Dominique the violin; she is also French-Canadian.
It rained most of the day and we arrived in pretty muddy conditions at the Provincial Park with a 15 amp plug we finally found after scouring the campsite; it was several yards away which was unusual – luckily our cord was long enough to reach it. Les was kind enough to pick us up and we headed to their cabin in the woods. The rain actually added to the porous, wooded atmosphere as they lit a fire in their cozy living room as we chatted over a super delicious Thai meal. Dominique spent part of her childhood in Thailand and certainly nailed the quisine!
Les took us back to the park and we woke up the next morning to a cloudless sky with the sun dappling the forest accompanied by the music of woodland birds and creatures. We set out to canoe with Les and Dominique on Silent Lake and lucky for us the weather was perfect. The lake does not allow any motorized vehicles and wasn’t crowded at all, hence the name. We paddled across the main body and into an inlet that led to another part of the lake.
We soon spotted a loon with chicks and then suddenly a large male appeared not far from our canoe, jolting us to attention with his loud, legendary call. Then he disappeared under the water; I did not know that loons could hold their breath for about fifteen minutes! We kept searching and saw him surface several yards away.
We passed lilly pads that hugged the marshes and partially submerged islands that invited exploration. We docked on an esplanade of boulders, spread out a picnic, breathing in the beauty and around us; the modern world was at a standstill for a time. The lake wasn’t too cold so we all went for a swim; I can’t remember the last time I went swimming in a lake, I usually stick to oceans and pools. There is something primal in this remote setting as if you are floating back in time in an undisturbed, restorative and soothing wilderness. We need more of this in our over-mechanized lives and to have this area preserved and left to its natural cycles feels miraculous. I felt like a kid again, dipped in the cooling waters of nostalgia, stretching my tendons past the dancing waterskippers and iridescent dragonflies.
We paddled a while longer through more marshes, water lillies watching our progress, and then headed back to the launch area. We stopped at one of the islands on the way and were able to dock the canoes in the island shallows and go for another swim.
We ended the day back at their cabin; Bob made a curry and we polished off the strawberry rhubarb crisp Dominique had made. One of their friends had invited us for a sunset cruise on his boat at the neighboring Paudas Lake. It’s a huge lake and most of the shoreline is populated by homes. We saw several loons and it was lovely hearing the haunting echo of their calls across the lake. The sun slid behind some clouds but still backlit the sky with a lovely fuscia pink, complemented by an unexpected rainbow across the far horizon. It was the end of a perfect summer day.
The next morning, we joined Dominique and Les for breakfast and bid farewell, grateful for their hospitality and encouraging them to come and visit us in France. Dominique’s sister lives in Paris so we are optimistic we will catch up in the future. On our way out, we stopped at the National Petroglyphs Park dating back to 900 A.D. and lovingly preserved by a structure that keeps the carvings from deteriorating further. The First Nations mythology is so similar to the American Indians and even the impressions carved into the granite have the same structure. It has been a blessing to be able to study the history of so many different North American indigenous tribes.
After several days of having too much fun, as dumb as it sounds, Bob and I found ourselves rather tired and committed to spend the afternoon relaxing, reading and journaling the rest of the day.
We have been so busy touring and visiting in the last few weeks, that sometimes we haven’t take enough time to simply sit still, giving ourselves time for reflection, enjoying the warmth of summer that goes by too fast. Life feels less compressed here in Canada, it’s not simply because we are retired, it just feels more mellow.
We overnighted at a basic RV park next to a pond that had a resident toad who liked to croak repeatedly through the night – that being said I did manage to get some sleep and we spent the morning reading and working out, then gathered ourselves and pushed our tiny home towards Perth, where thankfully, we had pedicures scheduled as my toenails were taking on a patina of wildness that wasn’t particularly appealing.
We arrived at Paul and Vanessa’s, who, like the last two places we had mooch-docked, were in a rural setting that Bob and I dreamed of, with a resident deer known as Doris. After a nice dinner on the lake, and then catching up, we retired to the RV; later in the night I could hear the distant call of a loon drifting through the silence.
The next day we went to Merrickville which is one of Paul and Vanessa’s BNB’s that housed an entire collection of Beatlemania and has a Bohemian vibe to it. Bob and Paul spent time reminiscing about their time as DJ’s including vintage recordings that Paul had lovingly preserved. We then went to a vintage car show and found one that matched Paul’s shirt!
It was a hot 90 degree day that ended with beer-butt chicken that felt off the bone; if you haven’t had beer-butt chicken google it – you can’t go wrong. We sat on the porch and enjoyed the cooling temperatures, then headed off for a good night’s sleep. We woke up to showers and then it started to pour so we took advantage of our temporary incarceration; journaling, editing, reading, backing up photos and watching bad TV. We had closed our vents but as we were parked under a pine tree Bob had to do roof duty to free the needles that got trapped when securing the rig. I imagined us pulling away and taking some branches with us.
Every time we enter Canada our Verizon service gets throttled. My US apps such as Peacock, Starz etc. don’t work over wifi as they recognize the IP address, but luckily we were able to do some minor streaming on Peacock(NBC) through our 4G LTE and catch the last half-hour of the Tour de France before the Verizon police text me and tank my speed into low data mode oblivion. I’m not sure why the app works this way but I’ll take it!
The sun burst through the morning morning as we prepared to leave for Vermont. We had a great time with Vanessa and Paul and always appreciate the great Canadian hospitality – we hope we will see them again soon!