Halloween in Elmsford

We made one more trip this year – to Elmsford NY for Halloween. Craig and Annie’s neighborhood really does Halloween big: the majority of the houses are decorated, from a few pumpkins to full-yard displays of ghosts, skeletons, ghouls, laser light shows and so forth. The night starts with a neighborhood party and then everyone goes out for goodies. This year the number of kids was down because it was colder and wetter than it has been, but Craig and Annie had somewhere near 200 kids come to their door. Way, way fun!

Now, this is going to be a long post so I want to first put in some pictures of Clara and Henry at Halloween. I apologize that the picture quality is not so great; I was taking videos and the quality of a still from the video is not the best.

Henry waving to the crowd as he starts the school parade. He’s one of the Paw Patrol characters.

Clara and her best friend Daisy, going as a peanut and butter sandwich – Daisy is peanut butter and Clara jelly.

 

The Tooth Fairy, as played by the principal of Clara and Henry’s school. Gotta admire a guy who will do this!

Rambles around Elmsford

For a couple reasons we saw more interesting places around Elmsford on this trip than on all our previous trips combined: with Henry in all-day Pre-K, Craig had more time to do stuff with us; and with two cars (see: A second car) we were able to get out on our own much more.

Storm King Art Center

We learned about Storm King Art Center when we saw a PBS Newshour segment on the artist Andy Goldsworthy and a wall he was building at a museum in Kansas City. The wall –  a low slate wall hand-built of local materials – fascinated us and in reading more about him, we learned that he’s built a number of these walls as art installations and that one is at the Storm King Art Center, about 45 minutes from Craig and Annie.

Now it turned out that on Saturday, Annie needed some quiet time to work on a proposal so Craig loaded us and Clara and Henry into the car and off we went. Storm King is a 500-acre park dedicated to outdoor modern sculpture. Now I can tell you that Laurie and I have not been great aficionados of modern art, but I can also tell you that after seeing Storm King, we’re getting there, especially as it relates to sculpture. I think the setting for large abstract art makes a huge difference, and Storm King has so much space people can see the pieces from afar, from close up, from all around them.

First we took a tram around the park, which was definitely Clara and Henry’s high point of the day. From it we saw all the installations, many of which interested us greatly. Then we went back to see Andy Goldsworthy’s wall. That was definitely the high point of the day for us.

Andy Goldsworthy’s wall winding down a hillside among trees in their beautiful autumn colors.

When the wall reaches a pond it goes into it and comes out the other side. I heard someone say that it actually goes underwater across the bottom of the pond but I didn’t dive in to verify that.

On the other side of the pond, the wall climbs a hillside.

Why we love Andy Goldsworthy’s wall we can’t explain. I guess that’s art: you like it or you don’t and sometimes (often?) you can’t explain why you like it or don’t. We hope to see more of Mr. Goldsworthy’s work.

Storm King has about 150 pieces of art spread throughout its 500 acres. This means that these sculptures – often big and sometimes huge – can be seen as they should be seen: in the open, with plenty of space around them.

By Alexander Calder. I really liked this one, but then, I’ve always liked Calder. You can see the space for these sculptures in the Art Center.

This is titled “Storm King Wavefield” and honestly, it look just like ocean waves. We liked this one a lot, too.

 

No sculpture here, just Mother Nature saying, “You think those sculptures are so great? Look at this!”

We loved Storm King, and thank Craig and Clara and Henry for taking us there. We’ll be back, that’s for certain.

The Great Jack o’Lantern Blaze

At the other end of the art spectrum is the Great Jack o’Lantern Blaze: more carved pumpkins than you thought could be gathered in one place. Held on the historic Van Cortland estate about 30 minutes north of Elmsford, it comprises over 10,000 (!) carved pumpkins. Now, maybe 2/3rds of them are not really pumpkins, but something that looks just like a carved pumpkin and assembled into: a forty-foot tall Statue of Liberty, dinosaurs, a unicorn, Washington Irving’s Headless Horseman bridge, a sea serpent and many other installations. All the walkways and many of the installations had real carved pumpkins. Since this event goes for six weeks, those carved pumpkins have to be replaced as they spoil and so the organization has 1,000 volunteers who carve pumpkins – usually in amazing shapes.

Laurie, Craig and Clara checking out the Statue of Liberty, made of carved pumpkins.

Clara standing in front of a carved-pumpkin train.

Lest you think this is a small gathering of folks, I’d guess there were 5,000 people there on a cold Thursday night.  You can’t see it in the pictures, but there were crowds everywhere. Some in-the-head calculating makes me think they brought in about $100,000 that night alone, and the Blaze runs for almost six weeks. Makes me want to start carving pumpkins for a Renton Blaze next year…

Union Church, Pocantico Hills

Pocantico Hills is an area dominated by the Rockefeller estate. In fact, at the end of the 19th century, the Rockefellers owned some 4,000 acres here, including the village of Pocantico Hills.

In 1921 John D. Rockefeller, Jr. commissioned the building of the Union Church of Pocantico Hills. By itself, it is a beautiful church.

The Union Church of Pocantico Hills shows an architectural feature we love and see often here: beautiful stone construction.

In 1948, John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s wife, Abby Aldridge, died, and her son Nelson Rockefeller (an avid collector and enthusiast of modern art) tried to get Henri Matisse to do a rose window in the church in her memory. Matisse was not enthusiastic about the idea and was in poor health, but as Abby had supported him for years, he acceded and started designing the window. He completed the design two days before he died. His daughter carried out the design in stained glass and supervised the installation. The rose window is not big – maybe 8 ft across – but it is just lovely.

After the death of his father, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., in 1960, Nelson asked Marc Chagall to create a window in his memory. Chagall was delighted to do so, partly because he revered Henri Matisse and was honored to have a window in the same location as a Matisse work, but also because the Rockefellers had supported him too. He created this window, on the Good Samaritan theme, because he looked upon John D. Rockefeller, Jr. as a good samaritan for all his philanthropic work.

This Marc Chagall window is about 20 ft high and shows the vibrant blue color that Chagall loved.

In 1961 Michael, a son of Nelson Rockefeller, disappeared while on an anthropological expedition in New Guinea. Nelson asked Marc Chagall to create a stain-glass window in his memory, which Chagall did. Then over the years Chagall did seven more side windows memorializing other members of the Rockefeller family. In this small and simple church (it holds about 120 people), these windows steal the scene. Unfortunately, before I could take pictures of these side windows, the guide pointed out that photography is not allowed, so I had to make due with my two “stolen” pictures. I guess if you want to see the other eight Marc Chagall windows here, you’ll just have to make a trip to Pocantico Hills. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Kykuit

I mentioned above that Pocantico Hills is the location of the Rockefeller family estate; Kykuit (pronounced “cake-oot”) is the name of the actual estate. Once over 4,000 acres, it is now around 350, the rest having been given to cities and the county for use by residents as parks and forests open to the public for hiking, walking and biking (one day we took a walk with Craig through a section of the estate that has been donated).

The Historic Hudson Valley organization offers tours through Kykuit, ranging from an hour to three hours long. We decided that would be pretty interesting and signed up for the three-hour tour.

The main house was started in 1902 by John D. Rockefeller, Sr. After six years (and a fire), it was occupied, but John D. did not like its layout and had it rebuilt, finally being completed in 1913. It has forty rooms and twenty bathrooms, many formal and informal gathering areas, although looking at the “informal” areas, I suspect a suit and tie was required for men to enter them; informal, indeed. The building is, um, rather nice. About the mansion it’s said, “It’s what God would have built, if only He had the money.”

The tour included the interior (no pictures) and gardens (pictures allowed). Nelson Rockefeller lived here and used the interiors and gardens to display his enormous collection of modern art.

Some pix of Kykuit…

The Tea House. It had a full ice cream soda-bar for the kids.

Our guide told us that one day Nelson Rockefeller found some Rockefeller kids shooting at this art work with pellet guns. He was not amused.

A Henry Moore sculpture because, you know, why not?

View over the estate, toward the Hudson River. The gardens at Kykuit confirmed what we discovered at Storm King Art Center: outdoor sculpture needs lots of space.

The Hudson River in the distance. Not too bad a view.

The tour ended in the carriage house, which had a collection of the horse-drawn carriages used by the Rockefellers, and a number of their cars, including Nelson’s Chrysler used when he was governor. I particularly liked this one:

I might point out that the tour did not include a visit to the “Playhouse.” The Playhouse has a full gymnasium, indoor swimming pool, game rooms and goodness knows what else and is approximately 48,000 square feet. “Playhouse” indeed.

Rockefellers – now the fourth generation – still live in houses on the remaining land. David Rockefeller, the last of the third generation, died in 2017 and his land and house recently sold. For $32 million. We were too late to enter a bid, unfortunately. Then objects from his estate were sold, mostly art. That auction raised—wait for it —$835 million, all of which went to charitable organizations David had supported while he was alive. Notable items: a Picasso at $115 million, a Monet at $85 million and a Matisse at $81 million.

Kykuit was pretty amazing; well worth the time and price of the tour. We’d like to go on a sunny day, but even in the mist and clouds, it impresses.

Wrapping It Up…

Great trip. We’re learning more and more about the Hudson River Valley and its many attractions. The area is beautiful, that’s for sure.

As always Craig and Annie were the best of hosts. We love visiting them in Elmsford and are already looking forward to our next trip there.

Posted in Ambles, New York | Leave a comment

Summer 2019 Rambles – Northern California

We stayed home this year and decided to make a couple local trips, here in the good ol’ U.S of A. We had a great time! After our cross-country drive, we took two short trips to places about as different as could be, and loved both of them. Both were breathtakingly beautiful in completely different ways.

Our first trip was in late-August. We spent a couple days in the Redwoods of northern California and at Ft. Bragg, farther south but still in northern California. The second ramble was to northeastern Oregon, where we visited the 37,000 acre Zumwalt Prairie, one of a few remaining areas of Northwest Prairie Grass. First, the Redwoods.

Northern California Redwoods

Me and the Redwoods go way back. When I was growing up just south of San Francisco, my family camped in the Redwoods many times. I remember enjoying the camping, but I can’t say that I enjoyed it because I was in the Redwoods; more that I was camping, getting dirty, falling in creeks and rivers and having some fun. Then Laurie and I spent a few days in the Redwoods on our honeymoon, some mumble-mumble-mumble years ago. When Derek and Craig were young and we were still camping, we came here for a few days. It was then that I began to really appreciate how beautiful these groves were.

In 2014, we met our friends Mary and Gilles in Napa and drove up to the Redwoods. On that trip these trees just bowled me over. I said then that walking into groves of Redwoods is like stepping inside a Gothic cathedral in France: columns stretching upward almost out of sight, near-silence, even when there are people in the grove, beautiful sights no matter where you look. When we left the redwoods that trip, we vowed to return soon. Only took us five years…

We stayed in Crescent City, which is the northernmost city on the California coast, just 15-20 miles from the Oregon border. Crescent City is not going to be our favorite town in the world, but we found a nice seafood restaurant – more like a seafood hut -, an excellent brewpub and a fine walk along the ocean, so we were fine.

The tallest of the Redwoods is named Hyperion, a couple inches short of 380 feet tall. Many of the Redwoods reach more than 300 ft into the sky. Can’t see Hyperion, though, nor half a dozen trees over 350 feet discovered in the last 25 years; to keep tourists from mobbing them and trampling the forest, their locations are secret.

But you can see many of these giants, gathered together in groves that will take your breath away (and put a crick in your neck from looking up). Many trees we did see are around 300 ft tall.

Stout Grove. This grove is unusual in that because it is near a river that floods every few years and carries away all the brush on the forest floor, trees here are visible from the very bottom way up until they disappear in the forest ceiling. Other groves have lots of underbrush that hides the tree bottoms.

This is a big tree, but far from the biggest we saw. It has a diameter of maybe 15 ft; we saw trees with diameters approaching 25 ft.


I can write about these trees, and I can talk about them, but really, you have to go see them if you want to know how beautiful they are. We’re looking forward to returning and spending more time among them.

Ft. Bragg

After the Redwoods we drove down the coast to Ft. Bragg. Ft. Bragg is an interesting old place, and we had found what looked like a good place to stay. In fact, it was a great place to stay. Almost every room has a view of the ocean, with nothing but sand and grass between the hotel and the surf. We ponied up a little extra for a room on the top (of two) floors for a little better view. It had a balcony and a big door opening out onto it; we never closed that door while were there, so we could listen to the surf all night long. Nice place, for sure.

View from our room’s balcony. Pretty nice, eh?


We arrived in Ft. Bragg on a beautiful day in late August. When we commented on the day to the fellow who checked us in, he agreed and added, “Hottest day of the year today: 73°.” Whoo, a scorcher!

Posted in Rambles | Leave a comment

2019 Rambles – Northeastern Oregon

Northeastern Oregon – Joseph and the Zumwalt Prairie

For our next ramble we could hardly have chosen a place more different than the forests and coastline of Northern California. Joseph, population about 800, sits in northeastern Oregon, 10 minutes from the thriving town of Enterprise (population: 2,000; also the home of Terminal Gravity Brewing, an excellent brewer of craft beers). Although Joseph has gained a reputation as an artists’ colony and has several art fairs through the year, there isn’t much here really.

Both Joseph and Enterprise, though, sit in a beautiful corner of Oregon. The Wallowa Mountains border the south and west, the east has Hell’s Canyon, and to the north, the Zumwalt Prairie. In a March visit to nearby Baker City, a resident there had told us we have to see Zumwalt Prairie and, after seeing it, we understand why he told us that.

Zumwalt Prairie – named after the now-long-gone town of Zumwalt, which was named after the also-now-long-gone resident Henry Zumwalt – consists of 37,000 acres of prairie land owned by the Nature Conservancy. Some of that land was donated to the Conservancy, some purchased by the organization. It is one of just a few areas that has Northwest Prairie grass in its original state. Although the prairie has fences and a few cows, and at least one barn, it is largely pristine. And it is beautiful.

In fact, there isn’t much to see at Zumwalt Prairie, in the usual tourist sense of “see,” that is, looking at interesting things. There are a few buildings, some fences, some cattle wandering around and not much else. There are also miles and miles of beautiful land covered by that prairie grass, and we found the prairie as beautiful as the Redwoods, in a completely different way.

Our Accommodations

Now, given that there are only 800 people living in Joseph, one cannot expect a wide range of places to stay. There are a couple of motels that looked just fine, but we settled on a place with character and lots of it. This was one of those times where you hold your breath when you open the room door for the first time, but this time it worked out fine. It was, indeed, full of character – “rustic” might be the word. But it was fun and funky and the owner, Scott, was a character himself.

The Mountain View RV Park and Motel. What could be better?

Our luxurious room (on the right side). Marv and Becky were right next door and we shared a deck, so that was the site for morning coffee and evening cocktails. From here we had a view of the Wallowa Mountains to the south.

The Duckett Barn

This is one of just a few structures on the Zumwalt Prairie. At the Duckett Barn is a small display set up by the Nature Conservancy, with information about the preserve. We also had a personal interest in seeing the barn: we were with our Portland friends Marv and Becky and Becky’s family is friends with the descendants of the Ducketts who built this barn. 

Marv and Becky looking out the door of the Duckett barn. We suspect the corrals and cattle loading ramps are still used, as there are a few cattle grazing in the area.

Prairie Pictures

These were taken from near the Duckett barn. You can see that, except for the fences, there are no signs that people have ever been here. It was, as you can imagine, as quiet as can be – only the sound of the wind stirring the grass.

After spending time around Duckett barn, we drove down a rather rough road to reach Hell’s Canyon. Here’s the road, with Hell’s Canyon in the distance.

Not exactly a great road! In the distance are the mountains that form the east side of Hell’s Canyon. At this point, Hell’s canyon is almost 8,500 feet deep – deeper than the Grand Canyon by a fair amount.

The second day in Joseph we decided that what we wanted to do most that day was go back to Zumwalt Prairie. This time Laurie and I walked up a trail to get a panoramic view. It was amazing.

The trail…

The view. From halfway up the hill, Laurie and I could see the Duckett barn off a ways.

Honestly, I don’t know how to describe or account for how we feel about this area. It is a completely different beauty than we saw in the Redwoods, but we love it every bit as much. There is something special about the isolation and lack of human intervention in this land, about the miles and miles of prairie grass pretty much undisturbed by us people. We are looking forward to returning to northeastern Oregon and I suspect we’ll do a lot of what we did this trip: sit and absorb the beauty and quiet of Zumwalt Prairie.

Posted in Rambles | Leave a comment

Mission Accomplished

The objective of this trip was to bring a car back to Craig and Annie; they could use a second car and we had an extra. Yesterday, Craig got all the legal stuff done and, with a little help from Clara and Henry, our 2005 Rav4 became an official New York resident:

Kingston

We wanted to get out of Craig and Annie’s hair the day after they returned, to give them some Grandma- and Granddad-free time to re-connect with Clara and Henry. Craig suggested we drive to Kingston, about 90 minutes north, with a stop at a “rails-to-trails” bridge across the Hudson. Since they now have two cars (see above), off we went.

The bridge across the Hudson was surprising. We figured there might be a dozen people there, but no; the place was crowded with folks. The bridge, formerly a railroad bridge, is the longest and tallest walking trail bridge in the world. It provided a beautiful view of the Hudson River.

The view from the walking bridge. The bridge you see down-river is a freeway.

Laurie taking a gander at the view.

After walking across the bridge and back – along with hundreds of folks walking, running, strolling, sauntering, riding bicycles/scooters/a unicyle (yes!) – we headed to Kingston, about twenty minutes north. We found the restaurant Craig recommended and had an excellent lunch. Then we walked around town and were gob-smacked at what we saw. This town (about 22,000 folks) has many beautiful buildings: commercial, residential, governmental and churches. We just loved it.

First, four historic buildings; the last picture explains their connection to history.

Yep, these four buildings are the four corners of an intersection and all of them were built before the American Revolution.

Now, a random collection of buildings we saw on a short walk around one area of Kingston:

I could get into politics if I could find a group with the right idea about where to meet:

And one last eye-opener: the cemetery at the Dutch Reformed Church of Kingston. The flags, placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution for Memorial Day, mark the graves of men who served in the Revolutionary Army. There are seventy in this cemetery alone.

We loved Kingston and plan to return for a few days sometime.

Although we’ve come to Elmsford many times over the last five years, this was the first time we’ve had a chance to get out and see how beautiful this area is, and how history pokes its head up all the time. We’re already planning some trips to see and absorb this country.

Posted in New York | Comments Off on Mission Accomplished

Grandkids!

Okay, I know you’ve all been anxiously awaiting pictures of the grandkids, so here they are (plus one of Craig and Annie):

You’d be smiling like this if you were waiting for the car to take you to the airport for a kid-free week in Paris.

Clara enjoying a beautiful day.

Henry checking out the chairs at Stop and Shop.

Henry ready for police action.

Clara

Clara and Foxy

Clara

Pumpkin

Henry in the garden.

Off the Hook!

Phew! Craig and Annie returned a couple nights ago and we’re now officially guests and not grandkid-sitters. We actually can sleep past 6 a.m.! A few words about our stint as grandkid sitters: “Holy cow, it’s hard!” Both kids would wake  up about 6 a.m. and need some breakfast. Clara then would get ready for the school bus, which arrives about 7:45. We’d then take Henry to three hours of daycare about an hour later. Pick him up at noon, then have a “quiet time” (also known as a nap; Henry refuses to take a nap but seemed fine with having quiet time with us and then sleeping for an hour. Semantics are important!) Clara returned about 3:15. If the weather was good, they’d play outside with friends. If the weather was bad – and it was bad much of the week – we’d all stay inside.

I think what strikes us most is the almost constant requests for our time, “Grandma/Granddad, can you play with me?” “Grandma/Granddad, can I <insert something that Craig and Annie would never allow>?”, “Grandma… Granddad… Grandma… Granddad… Grandma… Granddad…” Laurie said at one point she thought the cats were meowing “Grandma…”

Henry is quite vocal (that might be the understatement of the year) and has bunch of funny sayings. “Oh, I did not know that,” “I almost forgot,” “Not right now,” (whenever he doesn’t want to do something that we want him to do). So we definitely had some laughs.

Clara has been taking gymnastics classes and it shows: she can hardly walk ten feet without doing a cartwheel or somersault or flip. She has a balance beam (that sits on the ground) and a horizontal bar outside and she can do all sorts of amazing things on them. It’s really fun to watch her do her thing.

Overall, it was fine, excepting that Grandma and Granddad are not used to being “on-call” 24/7.  Clara was just great helping us, particularly when we didn’t understand what Henry was asking for (which frustrated him and us). The kids were over-the-top happy to see Craig and Annie when they returned, and we were pretty happy too. But, you know what? We’d do it again in a minute. Although mentally draining, we had a ton of good times and fun with Clara and Henry.

Posted in Clara, Clara and Henry, New York | Comments Off on Grandkids!

Across the U. S. of A.

I didn’t think I’d post anything about our 2019 sojourn, but since we like using the blog as a way to remember our trips, I’ve decided to do one for this year’s travels, and maybe both readers of this blog will enjoy it a bit.

This trip germinated last Christmas when we were here in Elmsford. We had already decided that we would drive our old Toyota RAV4 to Elmsford so Craig and Annie could have a second car. Then one night we were sitting around testing Craig’s Tiki-drink-mixing skills (he passed summa cum laude) when Annie mentioned that she could attend a conference in Paris in late May. Immediately, Laurie and I said, “We’ll take care of the kids so you and Craig can both go and have a vacation in Paris.” It took Craig and Annie about 3 seconds to accept that offer. So here we are.

We took seven and a half days to drive here; we didn’t exactly do any sight-seeing on the way. It was fun, really, with the exception of one day that was less than enjoyable. Rather than doing a day-by-day post I’ll smush the driving days into one post. I promise it won’t be too long; boring, yes, but not too long.

Day 1: Seattle to Superior Montana. 422 miles, about 7-½ hours of driving

This was a pretty easy drive, though tied for the longest of the whole trip. Why Superior, Montana? Well, it was a good place, distance- and time-wise, to stop. And, oddly enough, it has a motel that gets great reviews: the Big Sky Lodge. The Big Sky is right out of the 60s, except that it has been updated, had comfortable beds and was immaculately clean and well-kept up.

Superior (population 800) is not exactly a center of the culinary art; there are only two restaurants. One is in the kitchen/cafeteria of an unused school and that’s what we chose. “Food like your mother used to make” is their motto and while not exactly true (neither my mother nor Laurie’s made food like this), it was, well, copious might be the operative word. Gotta love that gravy!

After a walk along the river, we decided to have a nightcap at the lounge of the other restaurant. We ordered up a couple martinis which were just fine and asked for the bill. $6. Not for each, for both of them. Now that is a personal best for low-cost martinis: $3 each. We still don’t know why we didn’t order another couple rounds…

Superior is the county seat and has a beautiful county government building.

Anyway, Superior was a great place for our first night on the road.

Day 2: Superior to Billings, Montana. 403 miles, about 7 hours of driving.

Yes, we drove the whole day and never got out of Montana; this is a BIG state. In Billings we stayed at an independent hotel, the Riversage, which was quite nice and turned out to be our favorite hotel of the trip. It is well-appointed, has a nice comfortable feel to it and because it is near the hospital and away from downtown or the freeway, was quiet as can be.

But our favorite part of Billings was dinner at Uberbrew, a brew pub, and our favorite part of that was our server, a woman with more energy that any three people we know combined. She was just a kick. When we left she hugged us both and said to Laurie, “I want your skin, I want your figure. Keep it up, sister. Keep it up!”

Day 3: Billings to Rapid City, South Dakota, with a side trip to Mt. Rushmore. 373 miles, about seven hours of driving, including a long Mt. Rushmore side trip.

The highlight of this day was, of course, Mt. Rushmore. It is well worth the side trip and we recommend it to everyone.

Rapid City impressed us. It has a downtown full of beautiful old stone and brick buildings. We later found a walking tour of downtown and said, “We should come back to Rapid City to explore.” But you know what? I doubt that will happen. It’s a long ways from any place we’ll be in the future, and a long drive to get there. But we did enjoy a stroll after dinner to look at those beautiful buildings.

Day 4: Rapid City, South Dakota to Sioux City, Iowa. 422 miles, about eight hours of driving.

Not much to see in this part of the country. This was a long day because it was just not very interesting.

Day 5: Sioux City, Iowa to Davenport, Iowa. 367 miles, 6-1/2 hours.

Another day of being in one state all day long. It ended in Davenport, Iowa, and the day did have some interesting aspects. First, large parts of Iowa were really pretty, which we did not expect; rolling hills, trees and grass. Second, you should know that Davenport is part of the “Quad Cities,” which is, oddly enough, made up of five cities. Go figure.

The highlight of the day was dinner at the “Machine Shed” in Davenport. Really. “Dedicated to the American Farmer,” the Machine Shed is decorated with every farm poster and implement you can think of and the servers wear farmers’ overalls. Now, since we were definitely in beef country, it was rib-eye steaks for both of us. But first, martinis, which were really good ones. When we ordered our steaks, the server said that we got our choice of two appetizers to share, so we got coleslaw and baked apples; a basket of great bread came with the meal, too. The steaks arrived with a big bowl of corn. And of course we had to top it off with an apple dumpling with ice cream, which turned out to be some farmer’s entire crop of apples and a gallon of ice cream. We were able to waddle back to the hotel without assistance, so we figured it was a successful evening. Honestly, though, the Machine Shed was a hit with us; a great meal and I think the whole thing – drinks, steaks, sides, dessert, tip and all – was $72.

Day 6: Davenport, Iowa to Maumee, Ohio (just outside Toledo). 396 miles, about nine hours of driving with a big delay.

Okay, ya gotta have one bad day on a trip this long and day six was it. Chronologically:

  • The drive on I-80 toward Chicago was awful: rough road, more huge trucks than cars, all going either slower or faster than we wanted to go. It was three hours of dodging crazy car drivers and crazier truck drivers.
  • As we approached the Indiana line we saw a signboard that said there had been an “incident” just past the border and we could expect delays. Yes, indeed: it took us 2 hours, 40 minutes to go 11 miles. There were so many trucks that at times, we could not see another car. When we got to a toll booth, I asked the toll-taker what was going on and she told us: a tanker truck carrying thousands of gallons of honey had overturned and spilled everything.
  • After getting through that mess, the rest of the day was in and out of work zones that reduced the two or three lanes of the interstate to one; slow going.
  • Laurie got something in her eye. By the end of the day she could hardly open it.
  • We got to our destination and saw a huge Krogers store near-by. “Ah,” we said, “we can get some eye-wash for Laurie and sandwiches from their deli.” However, no eye wash was to be found there, and we had unknowingly crossed into the Easter time zone, which meant it wasn’t a little after 6 p.m., it was a little after 7 p.m. and Krogers’ deli closed at – you guessed it – 7 p.m.
  • I found some salads on the shelf at Krogers and that was dinner. We opened a bottle of wine, drank it to the dregs, crawled into bed and called it a day. Not a good day, but a day.

Day 7: Maumee, Ohio to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. 360 miles, about six hours of driving.

A big event: we drove by Lorain, Ohio, the hometown of our wonderful friend in France, Jamie Rufin. Next time, we’ll even stop there. Maybe.

The biggest surprise for us was how beautiful Pennsylvania is. Forested hills and valleys, rivers and streams; we loved it. In Lewisburg we found the best of the chain hotels we stayed in, but there was nothing else special about our night here. Still, we want to return to this area to explore, and as it’s half a day from our Elmsford Zumsteg base, I suspect we’ll be able to do that someday.

Day 8: Lewisburg, Pennsylvania to Elmsford, New York, our home away from home! A measly 244 miles and 4 hours of driving.

Half a day of driving, and pretty easy navigation. But the New Jersey drivers – holy cow. The high point was driving on a four-lane interstate with most drivers (including those huge trucks) going 80 mph, changing lanes every three or four seconds and thinking nothing of pulling up to two feet behind us. At that point we saw a sign, “Report Aggressive Drivers #77.” Are you kidding me? We would have needed an intercom to do that. We would have just read them the license plate number of every car on the road. I am sure there were people that went home that night and raged about that stupid car with Washington plates that drove at the speed limit and stayed in the right-hand lane the whole time.

But we made it to Elmsford and were glad to be there. Geeze, were we happy to see Craig and Annie and Clara and Henry! Total mileage: 2,987 plus a few for getting to and from restaurants. Honestly, we enjoyed the whole trip except for that one day. This is, indeed, quite a country we live in. We hope we can see more of it, and spend more time in some places we whizzed through.

Posted in New York, Rambles | Comments Off on Across the U. S. of A.

One More Travel Post – From New York

We spent six days in Elmsford as we returned from France. I gotta say that having Elmsford to break up the Seattle – Paris journey is fabulous. Instead of a 11-hour Paris – Seattle flight, we have a one 7-1/2 hour flight (Paris – JFK), a six hour time change and six days to recover from it, then a six hour flight back to Seattle. And, best of all, of course, we get to spend time with Craig and Annie and Clara and Henry. Pretty hard to beat that, I gotta say.

And to add to the benefits, Craig has become an aficionado and expert of tiki drinks, so we were able to try out his Mai-Tais, Twelve-Mile-Limits (Laurie’s favorite), Fogcutters, Dr. Funks, and something else which we’ve forgotten. Good thing we had to go up only one flight of stairs to our beds…

But I know all you want to see is pictures of the New York Z’s, so here they are:

The New York Zumstegs. Craig often has that look, especially at the end of Henry’s non-preschool days, except there’s no smile.

Henry as Marshall of the Paw Patrol. Don’t ask us; we’d never heard of the Paw Patrol either

Henry on Paw Patrol

Henry – age 3.

Clara getting a head start on her 8th birthday, which was the day after we left. Bad planning on our part, methinks.

Clara’s American Girl dolls ready to go for their hair appointment. Yes, really.

Clara and friend Daisy ready to head into Manhattan for Clara’s birthday. They went to the Statue of Liberty and had an appointment at the American Girl store.

Clara sporting her braided hair. Her hair still is pretty darn red.

  

The new additions to the Elmsford household: Foxy and Pumpkin.

A moment (fleeting) of sibling peace and togetherness.

And another.

Craig and Annie have to be the best hosts in the world. They let us stay as long as we want (we haven’t pushed to see just how long that would remain the case), they serve us great food and tiki drinks, and put up with us doing not much. Well, okay, me not doing much; they have a flower circle in the front yard that Laurie has adopted and spends hours working on.

Thanks to them giving us the best possible way to end a great vacation. A GREAT vacation!

Posted in Clara and Henry, New York | 2 Comments

Esgrafiado

Esgrafiado, applied to architecture, describes the technique of creating 3-d patterns on walls. We loved seeing buildings with this decoration. Segovia must have hundreds of them; we saw maybe half. Once we’d noticed them, we searched them out.

Although I don’t know – yet – exactly how these esgrafiado – walls are created, essentially what happens is that a smooth surface of some kind of plaster or cement is laid on the wall and the design then cut out of it. The result is a smooth design on a rough surface where the material has been removed. Every design we saw was unique; no duplicates as near as we could tell.

Esgrafiado buildings also exist in Barcelona, but Segovia must be the prime place to see them in Spain. Here are pictures of some Segovia esgafiado buildings.

A old esgrafiado wall.

Probably the oldest design we saw.

This shows a wall with part of it repaired. The lighter area has been renovated, while the darker area has, over many years, has eroded.


Tired of esgrafiado? Because if you’re not, I’ve got about 50 more pictures to show you.

Posted in Ambles, Architecture | Leave a comment

Segovia

The last stop on our “Greatest Hits of Spain” tour is also the place I’ve known longest in Spain, not counting Madrid: Segovia. It is also a place with which I have some emotional ties.

In the late 1970s/early 1980s I came to Madrid half a dozen times in my work at Boeing. The people I worked with at Iberia Airlines knew I brought an expense account with me, and they loved to go to Segovia for lunch. So the Boeing salesman, Pat Finnigan, three Iberia folks and I would pile into Pat’s tiny SEAT 124 and drive 90 minutes to Segovia for lunch at a famous restaurant there, Duque. Pat Finnigan was by no small measure the best person I ever worked for or with, and we became good friends. He died four years ago, and I can tell you that I felt his presence the whole time we were in Segovia, especially when Laurie and I had lunch at Duque.

The other connection I have with Segovia is Queen Isabel – she of Isabel and Ferdinand, Christopher Columbus and all that. After I went to Madrid I started to read about Spain and quickly became interested in Isabel, reading everything I could about her. She conducted her monarchy in an almost revolutionary way. The Segovia connection comes because she lived here for quite a while, and was here when her father died. To cement her claim to the throne, she got the local church and government officals to crown her in a church in Segovia’s Plaza Mayor. It’s possible to walk the same streets she walked, and stand in that Plaza Mayor. History; gotta love it.

The Big Three

Segovia is known for three monuments: the amazing Roman aqueduct, the castle (actually, the Alcázar), and the Cathedral.

Segovia Sights – the Aqueduct

Pretty impressive. The aqueduct was built around 100 AD, when Spain was part of the Roman Empire. It stands 98 ft high at its highest point, and consists of 167 arches. Built of granite blocks, it uses no mortar to hold it together. It has been reconstructed a couple times, but is essentially as it was when finished.

I first saw the aqueduct in 1980, give or take a year. It still carried water into the old part of Segovia then. That stopped about ten years later, but think about that: this thing carried water into Segovia for somewhere around 1800 years. Amazing.

Segovia Sights – the Alcazar

This building has historic significance: in 1474, the king of Castille and León (then the biggest and most powerful part of Spain) died, and his daughter Isabel claimed the throne. She was living in the Alcázar at the time and she knew that her half-brother would also claim the throne, so it was important that she be crowned first. She gathered the local aristocrats and government officials, left the Alcázar and they all walked to Iglesia St. Miguel, in the Plaza Mayor, where she was crowned Queen of Castille and León – effectively, Queen of Spain. (Her half-brother did, indeed, also claim the throne; it took a couple battles between the armies of Isabel and Juan for her to fully claim her title.)


Inside the Alcázar is a museum and rooms furnished in period furniture. It’s interesting, but as we had visited it on a previous visit, we skipped it this trip.

Segovia Sights – the Cathedral

The Segovia Cathedral is the last major church in Europe built in Gothic style. It’s huge, but honestly, not all that interesting.

The Segovia Cathedral, from our hotel room window.

Same view, at night.

Other Segovia sights – the paseo

My friend Pat Finnigan said he believed  that Segovia keeps the tradition of the paseo, the evening walk, better than any other Spanish town. Starting about 7 p.m. folks start the walk, between the Plaza Mayor and the Aquaduct. It starts to peter out about 10 p.m.

Segovia’s famous Roman aqueduct, with the paseo in full swing.

It’s not all walking – sometimes you just have to sit and rest and watch the world go by.

Other Segovia Pictures

Iglesia de la Vera Cruz (“true cross”), outside Segovia. We walked out to visit it. Built in the 1100s, it is said to have once contained a piece of the “true cross.” If every place that says it had a piece of the “true cross” really did have a piece, that cross must have been 800 ft tall.

At the weekly market in the Plaza Mayor: that’s what I call a licorice stick. It was about three feet long and an inch thick. Oh, my aching molars.

A typical street in the old city of Segovia.

The capitol on a column in a residential house.

A wall with escrafiado on it. This wall decoration is everywhere in Segovia and we loved finding buildings decorated this way. I’ll do a separate post on this beautiful art.

The Route into Segovia

Laurie believes that I try to take the narrowest route possible into any town we visit. That is, of course, completely wrong. In Segovia, it wasn’t my fault. I knew exactly how to get to our hotel on the Plaza Mayor, having done it a few times. Besides, the GPS agreed with me on the route. So we arrived at the main entrance to the city and, whoops:

Ok, so we can’t drive to our hotel by the normal, easiest, GPS-mapped route. I know another way.

I found the other route in, and it starts by going through this gate. Easy! Yes, it is two-way, but still, no problem.

This is practically a freeway. No problem!

Ok, a little narrower…

Hmmmm. I’m still okay with this, but Laurie is starting to simper.

Getting a little narrower ahead…

Watch out! I’m coming through!

Ok, seriously narrow. I’m thinking about retracting my side mirrors, but the guy ahead of me didn’t so it must be okay. Laurie has her head between her knees by now.

Plaza Mayor straight ahead…almost there.

Ignore the “do not enter” signs and we’re in the Plaza Mayor, 50 yards from our hotel. Piece of cake!

See? Nothing to it! I’ve done this enough to not get puckered up over driving down streets like this. I’ve come to understand that I’m not the first driver to go through these streets and if the others could do it, I can do it. Laurie politely disagrees.

I’ve rambled on enough about this wonderful city. We stayed three nights and headed back to France. I’ll do one more post about the escrafiado walls of Segovia, and maybe one Spain wrap-up post. Honestly, if you could visit only one small town in Spain, Segovia would be my recommendation. Of course, you should also visit Toledo, Trujillo, Úbeda, Zamora, Santiago de Compostela, Arcos de la Frontera and any other place that looks interesting.

 

Posted in Ambles | Leave a comment

Úbeda

Úbeda has an unusual claim to fame: in the middle of Moorish Spain, Úbeda has what many claim to be the most beautiful Renaissance square in all Europe, and has many other Renaissance buildings scattered throughout the city. We’ve been here a couple times before and knew that Úbeda belonged on our “Greatest Hits of Spain” tour.

I might mention that Úbeda also serves great tapas everywhere; that might have played into our decision to return.

How did it come about that these beautiful Renaissance buildings were built here? In the first half of the 16th century, Francisco de los Cobos, born in Úbeda, became secretary to the Spanish king. But as that king was out of the country almost all of his reign (he was also Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, which took all his time), Cobos was effectively head of the Spanish government from 1533 to 1547. For some odd reason, during that time Cobos found a ton of money to build beautiful buildings in Úbeda. He decided to have those buildings designed by architects who built Renaissance buildings. Once he’d started, several other noble Úbeda families followed suit, trying to keep up with the neighbor; Cobos, that is.

Úbeda is a great place to just walk around, because on almost every street is a surprise building.

This is our third visit to Úbeda and we enjoyed it more than ever. For one thing, we did our homework: we had some excerpts from guidebooks, we visited the Oficina de Tourism, which gave us a terrific map and a guide to walks, with information about many of the buildings we’d see. Úbeda has something like 45 buildings classified as historical monuments and I think we saw at least three-quarters of them.

We stayed at a Parador here, too; our fourth of the trip. We opted for an upgraded room because we knew we could have a room with a small patio in a garden. This is where we relaxed:

Laurie and her best Úbeda friend: a geranium in the patio.

The Renaissance Buildings of Úbeda

I could probably write a bit about each building we saw, but that would bore you and me, so I’ll just throw in some pictures.

Our hotel. It was once the residence of the Bishop. Kind of makes you wonder about those vows of poverty…

The “chapel” that went with the Bishop’s house. The main church burned down centuries ago, but surely was much larger and more ornate than this.

The courtyard of the Úbeda City Hall.

The portal of Iglesia San Pablo.

A chapel in San Pablo. San Pablo had Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance aspects, from things being added to it from the 12th century to the 18th.

The town hall. The geometric design and plain facade are indicators of Renaissance architecture.

Úbeda wasn’t all Renaissance: this is a gate to the city. The horseshoe arch reveals its origin in the 10th or 11th century, when the Islamic Moors controlled this part of Spain.

Miscellanous Pictures of Úbeda

Sitting and talking is a Spanish tradition, particularly in hot weather when no one wants to be in their non-air-conditioned apartment.

Other Úbeda sights:

We loved this store. Look at the name of the store, and what it sells.

Most apartment and house entries have beautiful tiles on the walls.

The roof of Iglesia la Trinidad.

Úbeda was hot! The day we arrived was 100° and the next two days in the mid-90s. The whole Spain sojourn has been hot: the day we left Úbeda the forecast was for a high of 89°, which is the coolest day of the trip. We hoped for cooler weather in Segovia, our last stop!

As with the first three stops on our quick tour of Spain, we loved Úbeda. It’s not at all a tourist destination, just a beautiful place.

Posted in Ambles, Architecture | Leave a comment