Tuesday, October 26, 2010

day 9

We drove through the central valley from Reddings to Napa in 103 degree temps most of the way. By now we were getting tired of traveling and just wanted to get to Oakland and our daughter.

We’ve been to Napa before so we didn’t feel the need to stop at any of the hoity-toity wineries and get our snob level enhanced. We are avowed wine drinkers, never without a corkscrew. But the ostentation of some of the wineries in the Napa Valley is very off-putting to us.. Some of them give you the feeling that you are entering a sacred cathedral or a holy cloister. It’s just wine people. Crushed and fermented grapes. Fruit juice. Drink it and enjoy and get over yourselves.

Anyway, we stopped briefly for lunch in Napa and then hit the road again for the short drive to Oakland, arriving in mid-afternoon to lots of hugs. Our driving vacation adventure came to an end, but we still had three days to spend with Carrie and Jeremy. Carrie is pregnant with our first grandchild so it was special to see her developing pregnancy and to share such an exciting time. But after three days it was definitely time to get home. I was traveled out and ready to sleep in my own bed again. I needed a workshop fix, I needed a lawn cutting fix, I needed to hold a newspaper and actually read it, and I needed to sit in my recliner and watch some football and baseball.

After another very crowded but otherwise routine flight we arrived back in Milwaukee. Home never looked so good. Mary is already planning our next excursion to somewhere. I’m ignoring her as best I can.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

day 8

Our seventh day was spent at the beachfront hotel in Brookings. We wanted a lazy no travel day and this was the perfect place for that. We wandered along the beach, napped, drank wine, and watched another sunset while listening to the constant hum of waves on the shore. It was just the day we needed before the final couple of driving days ahead.

We left Brookings and after a few miles found the California border. Apparently California has some really paranoid ideas about foreign flora and fauna invading its territory, since we were stopped at an inspection site and asked if we had any produce hidden away in our car that we were trying to smuggle into the state for some nefarious purpose. Honest guy that I am, I told the inspector that, yes, I had two apples in the backseat, but wasn’t sure if they were planning any kind of mayhem. They must have appeared innocuous enough to him because he told us to continue on and enjoy our visit to his pristine state.

Our drive took us through the redwood forest, but we didn’t stop along the way since it was very hazy and damp along the ocean drive. Our intention was to head east inland to Reddings through the mountains leaving the ocean views behind. We took CA 299 east. The mountain drive was challenging to say the least. The twists and turns and rise and fall through the landscape required constant attention. I don’t think we ever topped 45 mph the whole way and mostly kept it at half that. The first hour or so was awe inspiring with each turn bringing another spectacular view of the mountain landscape.
But that got old after awhile. We tired of the difficult driving and found ourselves wishing for the flatlands of Kansas and Nebraska. It didn’t help much that the locals seem to be impatient with the tourists on their road. We just don’t move fast enough for them. I suppose if I spent the next year driving that same road, I too would start to careen around those corners at 60+ without worrying too much about it. Apparently they, the locals, are used to driving that fast to get away from law enforcement. We found out later that the road we traveled ran through some of the most productive marijuana farms and meth labs in the state. And they were worried about my two apples.

We made it to Reddings by late afternoon ready to get out of the car and relax for the evening. The fact that it was 104 degrees meant that that relaxation would be indoors. That was fine with me since all I wanted was a TV to watch Monday Night Football, Packers/Bears. It just so happened that the hotel manager was a Green Bay native, so we spent a few extra minutes discussing the upcoming game. I told you, Packer fans are everywhere. Unfortunately, the Pack lost so it was not a particularly restful evening after all.

Friday, October 15, 2010

day 6

We continued our journey south along the Oregon coast stopping frequently along the way at the many scenic overlooks. Frankly, we kind of lost track of where we were and what we were seeing. The Pacific Ocean is very big and looks pretty much the same from all the different vantage points. Seen one rock formation you’ve seen them all. Seen one wave crashing on the shore you’ve seen them all. Still every time we stopped to look again that same feeling of insignificance showed up like the morning mist.

We got away from the coastline for a short while and passed a sign for Bandon Dunes. Any serious golfer (and I count myself among that group) knows the name and reputation of Bandon Dunes. I didn’t realize we would be passing it and after seeing the sign I kept on driving down the road without thinking. After a couple miles it suddenly dawned on me that I might never get this way again and I was missing the chance to see one of the great golf courses in the country. So I turned around (Mary didn’t object. She actually encourages my golf addiction) and headed back. We drove the long entry road seeing bits and pieces of the several courses that make up the Bandon Dunes resort until we arrived at the clubhouse. The place was bustling with a couple of busloads of arriving golfers. Of course, the facilities were first rate. We stopped in the pro shop and browsed around until I decided to buy a couple of caps, one for me and one for my son who shares my golf jones. Obviously I wished I could actually play a round of golf there but that will remain the stuff of dreams. I do have a Bandon Dunes hat to prove I was there though.

By mid afternoon we arrived a Brookings, a town just north of the California border. We didn’t have reservations anywhere so just on a whim we stopped at a hotel that bragged about being right on the beach. We were very glad we stopped. We got a room that looked out on the beach so that we could watch the sunset. Being only about a hundred yards from the surf meant we were serenaded by the waves as they punished the beach. It is a mesmerizing sound, one that will lull you to sleep. We slept well with that lullaby caressing our ears.
Here’s the view from our room and the sunset we were treated to.

We uncorked a bottle of wine and toasted Mother Nature’s beauty.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

day 5

We finally set off for the coast eagerly anticipating the promised spectacular scenery. The day was spent with short drives between stops at scenic overlooks along the way. I don’t think we spent more than 20 minutes driving between stops all day. And every stop provided another memorable view of the ocean and its waves crashing against the rocky shore.
This is an area called Pistol River. The sand dunes are atypical of the usual rocky shoreline which we found particularly beautiful.

Here we are resting on the sand at Pistol River.

We stopped for lunch at a small park where we could enjoy the view while we enjoyed our lunch.

Here are some of the scenery we experienced along the way. The pictures don’t really do the natural wonders justice.

The Oregon coast is the most undeveloped and unspoiled coast in the country. Not a billboard in sight. The only ugly spot we found along the way was when we stopped in Coos Bay for the night. Coos Bay is ugly. But it had the hotel we needed for the night so we kept our eyes closed until dark and then remembered all the beautiful sights we found along the way.

Monday, October 11, 2010

day 4

This day dawned cloudy and with a strong chance of rain. We decided to take our chances with the weather and head a bit east of Portland to drive through the Columbia River Gourge and see some waterfalls and Mt. Hood. The sun actually poked through the clouds as we began our drive, but by the time we reached Multnomah Falls there was a steady misting drizzle dampening our enthusiasm. Being the intrepid tourists we are, we stopped at the Falls and joined a lot of other touring folks who didn’t know enough to get in out of the rain any more than we did. Of course, since Multnomah Falls is billed as the second largest waterfall in the country we couldn’t justify not stopping to see it. So we got a bit wet and we got a few pictures.

That walkway bridge visible in the picture at the bottom middle is a popular viewpoint, but even in the best of conditions reaching it would have been beyond my physical capabilities so we contented ourselves with the long view.

Leaving Multnomah Falls we took the scenic drive past several more smaller waterfalls until we saw a sign for the Bonneville Dam. Curious, we decided to take a look. At the entry to the dam site we were stopped by a polite but earnest young man in uniform who inquired if we had any weapons with us. We did have a corkscrew that we used each evening to open our wine bottles, but I held my tongue lest even a small joke about weapons or their use might have me rotting in federal prison for the rest of my life. It’s just a damn dam. Lighten up.

The dam was interesting for the sole reason that it provided a fish ladder for the spawning salmon who instinctively head up the Columbia River to their birthplace. We were able to see some of those determined fish in the viewing windows. Some of the other people there had their favorite fish they were cheering for in their struggle to swim against the flow. It was fascinating to watch and somewhat mesmerizing.

We could have stood there watching all the rest of the day, but the road called and Mt Hood was looming somewhere down that road.

We found the road to the Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood even though the clouds and rain made it impossible to see the actual mountain. As we climbed higher the weather got worse. The rain was falling heavily now and the wind was blowing. We had the sensation of being in the middle of a storm cloud. We reached the Lodge finally and braved the blowing wind and rain to get inside. Timberline Lodge was first built in the 30’s as a WPA project and is currently being refurbished with some of the stimulus money the government is throwing around. It is a wonderfully crafted edifice of post and beam construction, a tribute to the men who worked so hard to build it. It is a working hotel that was filled with visitors, most of whom looked like the hardy outdoorsy type that thrives on mountainsides. They all looked bummed by the weather which was keeping them inside instead of huffing and puffing up and down the mountain. I was just happy to get back in the car and drive down out of the storm cloud.

The rain stopped as we got back down the mountain (at least I think we were on Mt. Hood—we never did actually see the thing) and continued on the loop around and back to Portland. Even with the lousy weather it was an enjoyable day.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

day 3

The nice part about traveling without a specific place you have to be at a given time is that you can get a leisurely start to your day. Sleep late, have breakfast, pack up and get in the car and drive. The Comfort Inn where we stayed provided a complementary breakfast that was better than anything I could prepare myself, so it was worth taking our time and enjoying the nourishing breakfast without rushing to get somewhere. Our more or less goal for the day was to reach Portland by mid-afternoon.
Our first destination along the way was Tacoma. That was only a short distance, but that was ok because we wanted to stop and see some of the Dale Chihully art that is displayed outside around Union Station. Chihully is an artist of worldwide reputation who creates some rather amazing glass sculptures. Tacoma is his hometown so naturally there is lot of his work on public display. We first became aware of him when our Milwaukee Art Museum had a featured exhibit of his work a few years back. Mary is especially fond of his work so we had to stop to check it out.
Union Station in Tacoma was at one time a train station. It has been wonderfully restored and turned into a Federal Courthouse. We had to pass through two security checkpoints and metal detectors and I had to remove my shoes before being allowed to enter the courthouse. Homeland security and all that. I felt sorry for the 4 federal agents who had to sit around the place waiting for someone to enter. Boring. At least they got to see some of the Chihully pieces that were hung in the atrium of the courthouse. This one of the window pieces.

This hangs in the center of the atrium.

We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the courthouse so I can’t show how beautiful the restoration was. As an artist and woodworker I could fully appreciate the design and craftsmanship that went into the project. A good use of our tax dollars.

Outside the courthouse there is a walkway that passes over the freeway that connects Union Station to the glass museum on the other side. That walkway is adorned with a number of Chihully works that define the ceiling and walls of the walkway. These two pictures are part of the ceiling.

And this is part of the wall.

And halfway across there are two vertical columns of glass that are stunning against the blue sky.

We were pleased with our stop in Tacoma. Now if we could just find a way to use those 4 security agents more productively.

We made it to Portland by about 3:30 so we drove around a bit to get a sense for the city. The downtown area is quite congested and parking was nonexistent so we were unable to stop there. Portland isn’t a tourist city—that is, there aren’t a lot of attractions that would draw the attention of travelers. But it has the reputation of being a very livable city. Who needs tourists anyway?

Portland does have one attraction you don’t want to miss if you ever find yourself there. The Japanese Garden is well worth seeing and experiencing. It is an oasis of calm in the middle of the bustling city. Just beautiful. For someone like me with PD it can be a challenge to navigate the hills and somewhat rough terrain, but going slow is a definite advantage here.

After three days on the go, we are falling into somewhat of a routine. Once on the road we try to stop frequently so that I can stretch and relieve the numbness and ache of sciatica (driving and sitting in one position for an extended time aggravates it).
And also since we are in no hurry, we aren't reluctant to stop if something grabs our attention. We also try to reach a destination point by late afternoon so that we can check in to a hotel and I can grab a quick nap before we go foraging for dinner. Speaking of food, other than breakfast, it is particularly difficult to eat properly when traveling. America runs on fast food so finding something nutritious to eat is a challenge. We have learned to split a single entree between us because the portions are so ridiculously large. Each day so far we have liberated a couple of apples from the Comfort Inn breakfast layout so at least we have that in our favor. Lousy diet and lack of regular meaningful exercise (I need to stretch a lot to prevent getting to rigid. PD again) means I will probably return home in terrible shape. We will undoubtedly need a vacation from vacation.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

day 2

Today we spent the morning through the lunch hour at the Pike Market which is one huge bazaar of artisans and florists and farmers and fishmongers and merchants selling anything you could possibly need and a lot of stuff you don't. It's an exciting place to wander watching people and marveling at all the stuff. Decent prices too. We did buy a couple baby gifts for our first grandchild (due in March) and Mary found a silver bracelet she just had to have. I didn't buy anything because I'm too cheap.

Here are a few pictures to prove we were there.

This is us with Rachel the pig who is apparently the hostess/mascot of the market.

This fish looks somewhat surprised to find itself on ice.

Some very tasty looking peppers.

We had lunch at a restaurant in the market at a table overlooking the harbor which we shared with a couple of local women who were enjoying a day out. They were full of interesting information about their city and acted as our tour guides, telling us where to go and what to see. When we left them we headed for the arboretum to see if it measured up to others we have seen. We weren't disappointed. The arboretum is near to the University of Washington campus so we took the opportunity to drive through the campus. It looks pretty much like every other college campus you have ever seen. It was getting on to late afternoon by that time and we still wanted to visit Alki Beach which our lunch companions insisted we see. But first we took a little detour to find the local troll. Why? Who can explain such things.

Alki Beach is an area directly across the Sound from downtown Seattle. It is a popular place for walkers and runners and skaters and families playing in the sand. We walked for a way along the beach and admired the views of the water and mountains and cityscape. Even though it was quite windy and cool, we enjoyed the chance to just sit and relax for awhile before heading back to the city for dinner. Here is one of the views back at the city.

Your intrepid travelers at Alki Beach.

We finished our day with dinner at Ivars, a restaurant well known for its seafood. We had a wonderful relaxing dinner with a bottle of wine (which we finished off with no problem), which was served by a young lady from Green Bay. So of course we had to talk Packers for awhile. The Seattle Seahawks place a distant second in her affections. It just goes to show that no matter where you are, there will be a Packer fan standing next to you.

As we left the restaurant, Mary bought a take out order of fish and chips to give to a homeless woman we had seen on our way to dinner. She does stuff like that. No wonder I love her.

Tomorrow we hit the road. And, no, we did not go up in the Space Needle. Too kitchy for me.

Monday, October 04, 2010

day 1

Air Tran sure knows how to pack em in. Our flight was full, every seat taken. The seating was tight and then some. I’m only 5’9” and I felt the squeeze. Anyone with longer legs would be in deep trouble. The flight itself was smooth and uneventful (thankfully), but the physical comfort level was nearly excruciating. Four hours in the air in a cramped seat with a bad sciatic nerve and some PD tremors and stiffness made for a very long four hours. But we made it here to Seattle right on time ready to explore.

After getting the rental car from Fox (a Chrysler 300) and the GPS on the road, we found our hotel, checked in, and then set out to see what we could see. Our hotel is the Comfort Suites that is only 4 blocks from the city center. Very convenient location and the hotel itself is quite nice. It even has secure underground parking at no extra cost. I can highly recommend it.
From what we saw so far today, Seattle is a vibrant, busy city with lots of big hills. We drove around just to get acquainted (the GPS was invaluable in moving around the city), stopped in several parks (Kerry, Gas Works, Sculpture) to check out the view of Puget Sound and the surrounding mountains. We made note of those places we want to see more of so tomorrow we have a more definite itinerary. Tomorrow looks like full day here before we start heading south.

This is me looking out over Puget Sound at the Seattle skyline from Kerry Park. It was quite cold and windy.

This one of the sculptures (a Calder) in the waterfront sculpture park. This park is a great way to use the waterfront land that would otherwise be wasted.

Here's Mary at the Gasworks Park. This is a former gas utility that is no longer functional so the city turned it into a rather unique park. It has an otherworldly feel about it.

Tomorrow we will spend some time at Pike Market and check out some of the neighborhoods in Seattle.