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Untamed and Un-wired!

My blogging account of this trip was cut short due to the wild and UN-WIRED nature of the areas where we stayed. I skipped one night in northern Oregon (too tired to put thoughts together) and the next day we were in Olympic National Park. ‘Wi-Fi’ is almost non-existent within the park, only in front of the fireplaces in the lodges, it seems!

With all good intentions, I failed to take my friends along this time. We have a few days at home now to ‘digest’ all we saw and to look through the hundreds (not kidding!) of pictures we took between the two of us. I will share some highlights and pics this week, but for now there are a few days of vacation left!

Oh, Oregon

North from Cali into Oregon, we ducked in and out of the coastal fog all morning.  We hopped between the shore and Redwood National Park, so the fog, the sun, and the Spanish moss in the trees set the mood to start to the day. In the Lady Bird Johnson redwood grove, we got a look at the huge shamrock-like sorrel I’d heard of. From there, we struck out north, to hit the Wedderbern Salmon Derby and watch a herd of elk grazing right on the coast. Every stop gave us a shot of ripe blackberries, which seemed to be everywhere. The central coast of Oregon is alive right now: lumbermills with acres of cedar and pine logs stacked like matches, and the rivers with boatsful of fishermen. Campgrounds were full and boat launches buzzing as the salmon start into the mouths of the rivers.

In Port Orford we drove out onto the fishing dock for lunch at Griff’s On the Dock. I had to add a trio of fried oysters to my plate, paired with the local brew. The seafood there is probably still plotting its escape from the nets and back to sea when it lands on your plate. It does not come any fresher. Carl’s always looking toward dessert, and had to struggle through a long pie list to get to the coconut cream we took for the road. The Jitter Bean supplied a great coffee to pair with that, after we put a few miles behind us.

We are working through a brochure listing scenic Oregon Lighthouses, and saw three today. Cape Blanco is a traditional stucco version, where we could see the second-level Fresnel lens rotating from outside the building. Next, the Coquille River Lighthouse, standing in the mouth of the Coquille River at poor little Bandon, Oregon. Bandon’s lumber mills burned in the early 1900’s, and without them shipping stalled. Hiway 101 brought business back when they rebuilt, but another fire burned most of the town again and they never recovered. Our last stop, Heceta Head lighthouse was perched over a beautiful crescent beach sheltered by a rock shelf. As we watched the surf, we saw a bridal couple being married under the arching bridge below us on the river bank.

In Newport for the night, Georgie’s Beachside Grill was recommended. The salmon was probably as good as it gets, and I enjoyed the local Pinot. Our hotel upgraded us to a junior suite with a fireplace – in stark contrast to the more rural place we stayed last night. When we headed for dinner, we were met at the car by a baby skunk, who waved his tail at us but waddled off without delivering.

Tomorrow we can slow down, and will be able to start at Ecola State Park. You’ll probably recognize its Haystack Rock, about as iconic an image for this area as there could be. Also at Ecola, Indian Beach was recently named a world’s top ten beach, so we’re hoping for a little less fog and a little more sunshine. For now, I’ll share a few photos from today’s travels.

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Of Hairpins and Giants

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When I stepped into the car this morning, I found a hairpin. It was an indicator of things to come, since Carl found quite a bunch of “hairpins” himself as the day went on, and his were asphalt!When we crossed the Golden Gate bridge we couldn’t see to the top, under the fog bank, And as the day went on, it seemed we dove in and out of the fog on our way north. The terrain and the air changed several times on our route, from pungent bays along a rugged coast to the towering giants of the forest.The feeling of driving through ancient redwood groves was one that’s hard to describe – but we agreed that after seeing them we could better visualize dinosaurs roaming the earth!

We skirted vineyards in Sonoma County and near the mouth of the Russian River, and wondered about the lives of innkeepers in sleepy, picturesque Olema and Bodega Bay. Chatted up a shopkeeper in Gualala, and stopped to watch surfers around Mendocino. That’s a quirky little town I wish we’d had more time to roam through, with ‘painted lady’ architechture right next to stark modern homes that were built to make the most of the ocean views.

Finally, the drive through Avenue of the Giants was like dodging the ankles of an army of sentries, since they crowd the road at every turn. We drove through the Chandelier Tree and stepped off the trunk of a fallen giant that dwarfed most of those we saw standing. Each of the five segments rose over eight feet from the ground and were about 12 – 15 feet long. The dimensions just boggle the mind!

This was a packed day, and we don’t really slow our pace tomorrow, beginning with Redwood National Park. I have a full list to pack into the daylight hours before we land in Newport, Oregon. There we hear the salmon are about to run, so the catch will be fresh and we’ve got the name of a highly recommended place to try it, and it’s said to have great coast views from your table.

Enjoy a few of today’s sights, and I’ll share more tomorrow!

ImageEarly September is our favorite time to vacation. Crowds have dwindled and the mornings and evenings are a little cooler. The sunsets are a little more brilliant as we feel the seasons start to pull toward autumn.

Our new adventure is one that had its origins in my high school years, when I bought a surplus library book that gave me my first glimpse of Olympic National Park. This part of the world is home to one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, from ancient old growth forests to dense rain forests. From mountain waterfalls to rugged and roaring beaches.

From this long held idea, a vacation is born. And as often happens, it has grown and evolved into much more. We will start this vacation in San Francisco, picking up on Hiway 101 where we left off, and tracing it north to its limit, up the California and Oregon coasts, then circling Washington’s Olympic Peninsula around Olympic NP and back to Seattle.

My vacation notebook has been pulled out and a plan is developing. A route has been plotted, overnight stops are being pinned down, sandwiched between dozens of mind bogglingly beautiful sights and attractions. It’s at this point in the planning process that I ‘lock on’ and become that glassy-eyed vacant former self that is already living in those two precious weeks! Don’t even try to engage me in anything too important or taxing, because I’m on pre-vacation.

9/11 in NYC

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Despite all the typical NYC visitor posting I could do, I think it’s appropriate to devote this one just to this somber day. There is a different attitude when commemorative events are happening, and the city stops to remember.

Early yesterday we began seeing dress blue uniforms of FDNY in larger numbers. Then we realized their numbers were more varied than that. First we met Lt. Cabrera from the LAFD, who pointed out the beginnings of the parade and service outside St. Patrick’s cathedral. He and his brothers from all over the world were gathering in huge numbers to pay their respects. From LA, Pittsburgh, Austin, Dallas, Minneapolis, Detroit. From Isle of Man, Quebec, Brussels. The bonds among these men is strong enough to pull them around the globe.

We have seen flags and memorials all week, but the weekend brought crowds gathering and musical tributes. Fifth Avenue was closed for the huge crowds, and FDNY Truck 343 proudly led the group. Children, parents and spouses spoke of their losses and of moving on.

For me, the most moving moments came at the end of the observance, as the FDNY Emerald Society Pipes & Drums gathered, circling their some 90 members to play again after the service. This was just for themselves, and it brought me to tears. My Irish roots make me a sucker for the pipes, and it is rare to see more than a handful assembled in the heartland. There was hardly a dry eye or a non goosebumped patch of skin in sight.

We met Tom, a member for decades, who graciously brought us into the moments as the group played. He offered stories that brought us back into his memories, telling of the more than 400 memorial services the group participated in during those weeks after the attacks. With 343 of their brothers lost, they gave each a proper FDNY send off. Then, as remains were identified and family services were held, they did it all again. The dignity and honor among those men was thick in the air.

At dinner last night, even our server was moved to talk about this ten year anniversary. A man of middle-eastern descent, he soberly said, ‘That’s New York. They should remember. They must.’

From Here to Sardi’s

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Big, full day yesterday. So full that I fell into bed last night without sharing! And when my feet hit the floor this morning, they let me know what they thought about all the ground we’ve covered so far.

We set out with a rough plan, and sat for a moment in Bryant Park. It was all set for a 9/11 memorial service this weekend, with chairs arranged in tidy rows. It’s a lovely place full of flowers, and as we walked out we could see the top of the Chrysler Building peeking between the others. Next stop was the NY Public Library, where we reminisced about Ghost Busters action. There cannot be a more impressive library in the world than this one, it’s just incredible.

Moving on, we ogled  Grand Central Terminal, trying not to disrupt the streaming crowds or look ridiculous with our heads tilted all the way back to see the ceilings. Sights, sounds, smells – just what you would imagine. Exiting there, one more block into the art deco lobby of Chrysler. I had not seen this before, and although it is small, it was completely original marble and brass straight out of the past. It looked to have been planned right down to each marble wall slab, so that the grain pointed just so into the pattern.

Next we circled back up Fifth Avenue, stopping at several iconic shopping venues. I have shopped in some super places, and must say the Bloomingdales off Fifth Avenue was too much for my tired brain. We walked through most floors, browsed a little – especially the shoe plaza – but it was mind boggling to see the volume of goods as well as the huge range of prices. It reminded me of Harrod’s, where it was fun to look but intimidating in its size and it seemed impossible to wade in.

We had a very nice late lunch at Napoli, wood fired pizza and home made pasta in Carl’s (as expected) lasagne. Little upstairs cafe with its red checked tablecloths, window table just above the heads of the folks outside. This late lunch let us head for MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) for Free Fridays at 4:00. We passed Central Park’s Soldier Gate, VanCleef & Arpels, Trump Tower (with Donald’s signature embroidered on all the shirt collars in the window), and so many familiar names in the shop windows.

At MOMA, we started at the top with the impressionists, my top vote-getter. And I’m probably the only one voting in the museum department. We saw several Picassos I did not know, saw the Monet Water Lilies panels that were on display in KC over the summer. Several Van Goghs, Cezannes, Gauguins. One floor down, Andy Warhol and so many others. As much as I enjoyed the top floor, I was a little disappointed in general. Not sure why, but it did not impress as I had hoped. Wrong museum choice? Maybe. If time allows, maybe we’ll try another.

Back to the hotel via a backtrack to walk through just a corner of the massive Central Park. A little break and wash up, then we headed out for someplace memorable to have cocktails and a light snack. Turning corners in the theater district, there it was – Sardi’s! From our window seat in the lounge, we could gaze out at nearly a dozen theaters just on that street. Carl noticed that the two billboards across the way advertised the two big hits that we’ve seen. But the highlight was the walls covered with caricatures of famous visitors over the past decades. Think back over the old movies about Broadway, you may recall seeing opening night – the curtain falls and the stars head to Sardi’s to wait for the reviews to come out. Not instantly via Twitter, but in an actual newspaper.

We strolled back through the Times Square area, shoulder to shoulder with thousands of others as the lights and video screens flashed everywhere we looked. It is close to sensory overload, to be sure! Another pub window seat with the glass folded back, we felt like part of the crowd but safely behind those brass railings. We participated on the fringes of a birthday party, clearly a pub regular, since he scored a nice BD cake and the live entertainment focused on his day and his requests. We got just a little fuzzy headed, then wandered the few blocks back to the hotel for the night. We are ticking the big items off the bucket lists, as planned.

Today we’re headed for the Empire State Building, then noplace in partcular until we head for the ferry to Water’s Edge. Our 8:00 pm reservation at this restaurant across the East River will give us those spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline as the lights come on. It’s been on the ‘list’ from the beginning, so we are excited to have gotten a prime reservation on a Saturday night and hopeful for a table with a good view.

I have to say a bit about the heightened security in NYC this weekend. There is a huge police presence, funneling traffic down to a single lane to take a close look as they flow through. It does not seem to be an imposition, as they conduct their business very professionally. Can’t wait to share pics of tonight’s dinner!

Liberty and Justice?

Today has been filled. Completely. After breakfast, we got our subway act together and took the #1 to Battery Park. We were ready for rain, but the clouds were gone by noon, when our ferry left for Liberty Island. I have seen images of the statue of ‘Liberty Enlightening the World’ but it was truly remarkable to see approach it by water. Some things are just guaranteed to be on the bucket list, and this is one of them.

The second stop, Ellis Island, was a powerful thing to see, as well. You can almost imagine the huge hall filled with people, speaking dozens of languages, carrying all they owned, waiting while the immigration officials decided whether or not they were approved to enter the United States. The records and photographs were fascinating.

Back at Battery Park, we walked through their tribute to the fallen of 9/11 for the tenth anniversary this weekend. That was a difficult set of experiences. I somehow feel embarassed that people appear to treat this as a tourist attraction. I suppose it’s my own thinking that needs adjusting, maybe the visitors feel the need to acknowledge what happened there. But there was press everywhere, filming interviews and commentary. It seems a little inappropriate in what, to me, is too somber a place for chatter.

I have to say, I was a little uncomfortable being there, and the new buildings seem intended to remind us of the attacks. The design for the second tower appears that perhaps a top corner has been shirred off and lays on the ground near the reflecting pools. The two small buildings at their feet are asymetrical, with the lines being jagged and off-kilter. It’s like it’s reminding us that this place is broken. I was very much moved by it.

We returned to the Times Square area, changed and had dinner at Langan’s. Again, it was recommended by a local, and was a great choice. Comforting Irish food, it seemed like the kind of place to finish the day with. Like putting on your favorite old sweatshirt. So today’s rain never materialized, giving us a beautiful set of photo op’s.

Tomorrow it’s on to a string of attractions and landmarks. I’m not sure we have enough days to skim the surface on our ‘To Do’ list!

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