We made this trip between May 9th and May 26th. Once again, circumstances conspired to make this post quite late.
Lior, the youngest son of our Rego Park neighbors, Anat and Shimon, was going to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel in Jerusalem. We have known Lior since he was born and felt that we had to be there. So we scheduled a trip to Israel. Sounds simple… It wasn’t.
Susie decided that since we were heading to Israel, we should also visit her cousin Shelley in Aix-en-Provence. Shelley and her husband, Michael have repeatedly asked us to visit them and it was time that we do just that. That side trip was not as easy as I thought it would be. When I tried to book it myself, the trip was double th cost of a direct flight to Tel Aviv and back to New York. We turned to our travel agent in Sarasota for help in getting this trip done. Our travel agent found that it was not a simple thing because we wanted to fly on El Al, the Israeli airline.
To get to Aix-en-Provence, we left New York on Thursday afternoon and landed in Barcelona, Spain on Friday morning. In Barcelona, we took a high-speed train (the French TGV) to Aix, arriving there on Friday night. The trip involved 22 hours of travel during which we hardly slept. Shelley and Michael picked us up at the railroad station and took us to their home.
On Saturday morning, Michael drove us into the Aix. It was market day and there were several markets where vendors were selling fresh food, antiques and Flowers. The town was quite crowded. When we got to the main street in Aix, Cours Mirabeau, we learned of the other reason for the crowd… the next day was the running of a 70.3 Mile Ironman Race. Aix is a fascinating city and I wish we had the time to see more of it.
On Sunday morning, Shelley, Michael, Susie and I headed to Marseille, about 45 minutes south of Aix. My description of Marseille is a port area surrounded by hills. We parked in the Old Port and spent the morning and a good part of the afternoon walking. The upper part of the city contains a lot of narrow streets and stairways by which the area is navigated. By mid afternoon, we were all worn out and headed back to Aix.
On Monday, May 13th, We headed back to Barcelona. As I said earlier, there was no other way for us to economically make the trip to Aix-en-Provence and then to Israel. The trip required two changes of trains. The first leg was on the high-speed train to Marseille, a trip that took about 11 minutes. We then took a regional train (slower than the TGV) to Montpellier where we changed to the high-speed train to Barcelona. Not only did we change trains, but we also had to change stations. This was accomplished by taking a free shuttle bus to a light rail station. The light rail dropped us off near the second station. We arrived in Barcelona in late afternoon and stayed overnight in an airport hotel. The next morning we took our flight to Israel arriving that afternoon, local time. We rented a car and headed to my cousins Noemi and Yair in Ramat HaSharon.
On Wednesday, May 15th, we headed into Yaffo, one of the oldest cities in the world. Yaffo is now part of the city of Tel Aviv-Yaffo. The visit to Yaffo with my cousins Noemi and Yair, is something we have done every time we came to Israel. We walked along the Tel Aviv Promenade where you can a good view of both the Yaffo and Tel Aviv waterfront.
One of the highlights of this visit was eating at an authentic Arab restaurant. A variety of appetizers absolutely filled the table, with just enough room for the plates. After filling up on the appetizers came the main course… we didn’t need a big dinner that night.
Thursday, May 16th, was devoted to Lior’s Bar Mitzvah. We left Ramat Hasharon early in the morning and headed on our first of three trips to Jerusalem. Our destination was a parking lot adjacent to the Pais Arena, where we boarded a bus to the Dung Gate of the Old City. On the way, we stopped at the Jerusalem Windmill for breakfast. The lack of parking anywhere near the Dung Gate necessitated the use of the bus. The Dung Gate is located adjacent to three structures that are significant to two religions. The first and secondare Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, holy to Islam. Both of these are located on Temple Mount. The third structure is the Western Wall, known as the Kotel to Jews.
The area in front of the Kotel is managed in accordance with Orthodox Jewish tradition, the men and women are in separate areas, separated by a fence (see picture below). The picture below was taken during our visit in 2014. It was taken on Wednesday when no Bar Mitzvahs are held at the Kotel because the Torah is normally read on Saturday, Monday, and Thursday.
The crowd on Thursday is a lot larger with the men in the Bar Mitzvah party pushing closer to the wall. The women are trying to get closer to the fence so they can watch the proceedings over it. My pictures of Lior’s Bar Mitzvah were limited because the professional photographer was in the best position, as he should be, and blocked my shots.
After the Torah reading the group proceeded out of the Old City accompanied by musicians. We boarded the bus and headed to a restaurant for the reception. After the meal, we boarded the bus again and headed to the parking lot to retrieve our car for the trip back to Ramat Hasharon.
The next few days were spent with my cousins. The highlight was a dinner on Friday night with our five cousins and their significant others.
On Saturday, we drove through Jerusalem to the settlement of Kedar, to attend Lior’s Bar Mitzvah in the local synagogue. We had to Leave Ramat Hasharon early to make the 8am start time for the service. I left my camera at my cousins because photography was not permitted in the synagogue.
On Monday, May 20th, accompanied by Noemi and Yair, we headed to Haifa. A week before we left New York, Susie learned that she had a second cousin, on her paternal side of the family, who lived in Haifa. Up until this point she had very little knowledge about her grandmother’s family. It turned out that the newly found cousin’s grandmother was Susie’s grandmother’s sister. While still in New York, Susie contacted her cousin, Sharon and arranged a lunch meeting at a restaurant on Dado Beach near Haifa. Prior to meeting Sharon, we went to Mount Carmel, where we viewed the Bahai Shrine and gardens. Following the lunch, we headed to Caesarea, to visit her cousin, Anne.
On May 22nd, we went back to Jerusalem. Susie wanted to revisit Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum. We had visited it previously in 2000. Photography was not permitted in the museum, so.. No Pictures.
Before we left New York, Susie learned that her friend and colleague, Barbara Stripling, was going to be in Jerusalem on this day. So, we decided to meet for a few hours. That turned into a minor comedy. Barbara told Susie the name of the hotel. Unknown to us, there were three hotels in Jerusalem with the same name. Of course, Susie and I went to the wrong one. A helpful front desk clerk helped us locate Barbara.
We had one last excursion on May 23rd. That was back to Caesarea. We had already visited Caesarea a few days earlier, but this time we just went to the beach north of the town. The beach sits alongside the ruins of a Roman aqueduct that I assume supplied ancient Caesarea. It appears that there is some stabilization work being performed on the aqueduct as well as some beach replenishment from the sand on the land side of the aqueduct.
Friday, May 24th was spent relaxing and walking on the shopping streets of Ramat Hasharon. Saturday was a day of rest and an early night. On Sunday, we left Ramat Hasharon at 5 am for an 8 am flight to New York. The flight was long, eleven hours, but uneventful.
This was a great trip. We saw Lior at his Bar Mitzvah and we saw Susie’s and my relatives. We are already talking about another trip in two years, God willing.
I started writing this post three weeks after we returned to the United States from Tanzania and Kenya. I had originally planned to maintain the blog on a daily basis and soon gave that up because of the tour schedule and the volume of pictures we shot every day. This post will not be a description of our daily activities which were essentially the same… daily game drives originating from different locations. Instead, the post will focus on the pictures we took during those drives. Don’t worry, I won’t post the 3,000 plus pictures.
We left Sarasota on January 3rd and headed to Miami International Airport for the first leg of our trip to Tanzania, a 9-hour flight to Amsterdam. After a three-hour layover, we took off for Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania, a half hour ride from our first stop in Arusha. We met Eric, our Tour Director, and fellow travelers at the hotel and began our Tauck Tour. Rather than describe the tour, I suggest following this link for a description of the itinerary. Most of the roads we traveled on were bumpy dirt tracks. It also included four flights on small chartered aircraft. Two of the flights were on a Twin Otter, that was 45 years old… not an unusual feat for that plane.
Our journey back to Sarasota was, in a word, epic. We left the Maasai Mara Reserve for a one-hour flight to Nairobi at 8 am local time (eight-hour difference from Eastern Time). The flight landed in a small commercial airport south of the city. The original plan was to stay in a hotel in downtown Nairobi before heading to the International Airport. Due to the terrorist attack on the previous day, Tauck decided that we would not go downtown and placed us in a hotel at the International Airport. Our eight-hour flight to Paris left Nairobi around midnight. After a four hour layover, we took off for the ten-hour flight to Miami. Due to the Federal Government shutdown, the immigration and customs process took a lot longer than our previous experience at Miami International airport. After retrieving our car, we drove to Sarasota. Total time… nearly twenty-four hours.
Four days after we got back to Sarasota, we headed to Seattle for The American Library Association Winter Meeting. While Susie was in meetings, I stayed in the hotel and worked on selecting the pictures, a process that took longer than I anticipated. After returning from Seattle, we spent four days traveling in Florida, meeting family and friends.
The pictures that follow are sorted by category rather than following a time line.
On our way to Florida for the winter, we stopped in Washington, DC for a long weekend, to attend the festivities surrounding the wedding of the son of one of my cousins. On Thursday, October 4th, our only evening without any scheduled activities, we took a night tour of Washington, DC. Over the course of 2 1/2 hours, we stopped at the Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Memorial, Pentagon 9/11 Memorial, and Marine Corps Memorial. Susie and I highly recommend that anyone visiting Washington take a night tour.
I have not done much low light photography and this tour was quite a challenge for me. My camera does not have a flash… it would be useless for most of the pictures I took; I left my monopod and tripod in the car, which was in the hotel garage, so I had to take all the pictures free-hand. Fortunately, I took enough pictures changing camera settings until I got a usable shot. Below is a selection of what I felt were the best shots of the night.
Note: I didn’t realize that I the copyright date on the pictures was wrong. I thought I had updated it. All these pictures were taken on October 4, 2018, and the copyright is for that date.
As you know, I always tried to maintain a daily blog when we were on the road. I decided not to have a daily blog since most of the days will be spent on long drives from point A to B with little to talk about except for one day when we had some excitement. Complicating our ability to maintain a daily blog was the poor quality of Internet service in some of the hotels and the high cost of Internet service onboard the cruise ship.
Susie and I spent six weeks in Sarasota, ending on August 3rd when we started out to Seattle to meet our family. As you will see, we are not taking the easy or most direct route.
Why another cruise to Alaska?
We celebrated our 50th anniversary on April 28th and wanted to go on a trip with our children and grandchildren to commemorate the event. Ben, our oldest grandson, asked that we take a trip to Alaska, “because Grammy and Poppa always go there.” That request led to our booking a cruise to Alaska starting August 18th. When we were in Chile last November, we mentioned our plan to our cousins. Ilani (actually, Doctor Ilani), the daughter of one of my cousins, asked to come along and we said, “sure.” Before we knew it, Ilani’s parents, aunt and uncle decided to join us.
North to Alaska.
Our route took us from Sarasota to Daphne, AL, located on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, on the first day. The next day, after a long drive, we stopped in Dallas to visit our friend Bobbie Athey. We had dinner with her before heading to the hotel for the night.
The third day was a long ride to Albuquerque, NM, where we had an exciting finish to the day. We were driving west on I-40, about four miles from our hotel when we saw what looked like a square metal tube on the road. Traffic conditions would not allow me to take evasive action and we hit the object. Fearing the worst, I immediately pulled over to the side of the highway to inspect the damage. The object hit the underside of the car just below the engine and ripped a protective shield that was now scrapping the ground. Not seeing any leaking fluid, we headed to the hotel for the night… nothing was going to get repaired on a Sunday.
The next morning, we took the car to a nearby Subaru dealer for repairs. Their inspection confirmed that the was no damage other than the shield. Unfortunately, the part had to be ordered so they cut off the hanging portion of the shield and we were ready to continue our trip. We will have the repairs made in New York. Leaving the dealership, we headed out to Monument Valley, UT. The route took us west on I-40 to Gallup, NM where picked up local roads through the Navajo Nation to our destination. As we got closer to Monument Valley, we could see and smell evidence of the many fires that are plaguing the western states.
We had been to Monument Valley five years ago and took a self-guided tour. This tour is within the Monument Valley Tribal Park and is limited to a loop that took about three hours to complete. To see more of the valley, you must hire a Navajo guide. We wanted to see the backcountry, so we decided to stay at Goulding’s Lodge and take an eight-hour guided tour with one of their Navajo guides. As it turned out, we wound up on a private tour because we were the only people who signed up for that day’s tour.
Leland, our guide, was great. He is an exercise physiologist and acts as a guide on a part-time basis. After a quick introduction, we were off to Mystery Valley, south of Monument Valley. As you turn off the highway, you see a sign warning that this is private property and not open to the public. Goulding’s Lodge must pay for every tour that goes outside of the tribal park. We spent about four hours in Mystery Valley exploring Ancestral Puebloan dwellings tucked under rock overheads and up in the cliffs. All around the backcountry, we could see petroglyphs that date back to the earlier inhabitants.
There are also a lot of interesting rock formations and arches. Leland guided me up two of these formations showing me step by step where to place my feet. The trip down retraced the path up, except that I did a little sliding down on my backside. One of these climbs brought us up to the top of an arch which I estimate to be 70 to 100 feet above the ground below. Looking down I could see Susie who looked very small. After climbing the arch, Leland brought us into a cool (a relative term considering the temperature was above 100˚F) grove of trees that contained a grill and picnic table where he made hamburgers for the three of us. After lunch, Leland drove us into the Navajo Tribal Park section of Monument Valley. We stayed on the route that is used by visitors who are not traveling with a Navajo guide for a short distance and entered an area requiring escorts. Here we encountered more rock formations, dwellings, and petroglyphs.
It was a long hot day, but we enjoyed every minute of it. The only down part of the whole trip was the smoke from forest fires that covered the valley and obscured some of the most spectacular scenery in the United States. If you are planning a trip to this area, I recommend using a Navajo guide rather than a self-guided trip.
On to Olympic National Park
The next few days were spent driving to Washington’s Olympic National Park. The first day out of Monument Valley was a short run to Green River, UT. On the way to Green River, we stopped in Dead Horse Point State Park. Dead horse Point overlooks the Colorado River and Shafer Canyon, a portion of Canyonlands National Park. In 2006 we traveled through the Southwestern United States. One of the stops was in Moab, UT, from which we explored Canyonlands and Arches National Park. On exiting Canyonlands, I asked a park ranger if there was a four-wheel drive road/trail that would take us back to Moab. The ranger recommended using the Shafer Canyon Trail (check out the YouTube Video on this website). This trail had a lot of switchbacks and some significant drops that would have totally ruined our day. We made it, but Susie warned me not to think about doing another trail like this one. Now I wanted to see Shafer Canyon from a different perspective, thus our side trip to Dead Horse Point.
Our next stop was Boise, ID. To get there we traveled off the Interstate System from Green River to Provo. On this route, we saw at least one active fire being worked in extremely steep terrain. The firefighters working in the Western United States are doing a difficult job in extreme circumstances with minimal rest. Once on the Interstate Highway system travel was a little better but the smoke conditions and reduced visibility continued. We stopped in Boise for two nights because we wanted to visit with one of Susie’s colleagues who moved to Boise after retiring. We also wanted to spend some time with one of Susie’s cousins who is working on her master’s degree at Boise State.
From Boise, we headed to Port Angeles, WA, and the Olympic National Park. It was scheduled to be one of the longest drives we had on this trip. The closing of the Northbound section of I-5 in Seattle caused a traffic nightmare that resulted in our spending an additional hour and a half on the road.
Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park was one of the places on my “bucket list.” Twice before we had plans to visit Washington’s Olympic Peninsula and had to change our plans because of serious issues encountered with our trailer. When we hit the pipe on the Interstate in Albuquerque, I thought that the “Olympic Curse” hit us again… it didn’t!
The Olympic Peninsula is in the southern part of a temperate rainforest that reaches through British Columbia to Southeastern Alaska. We spent three days visiting different parts of the Olympic National Park. On our first day, we visited Hurricane Ridge, which rises to over 5,200 feet in elevation. When we woke up that morning, we saw fog in addition to the persistent smoke and thought that we were not able to see anything from the ridge. The road from the Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center is 17 miles long with many curves. At times, as we had to slow down to a crawl because visibility was extremely limited. Shortly before we reached the top of the road, the fog cleared up and we found ourselves with a view of the Olympic Mountains above the clouds. The clouds limited our view of the terrain below. Port Angeles and the surrounding area would be visible on a clear day and so would Victoria, British Columbia, across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. On the way down off the ridge, we again encountered some more thick fog. At least we got a good view of the mountain tops.
On our second day, we drove to Cape Flattery, the northwesternmost point in the contiguous United States. It was a long ride that basically followed the northern coast of the Olympic Peninsula. The smoky haze that we have lived with since New Mexico now obscured the southern coast of Vancouver Island. Once we arrived at the parking area we had to walk about half a mile to the tip of Cape Flattery. The trail is moderately steep at first with “stairs” built in (I found it easier at times to walk off the stairs… less impact on my knees). It then flattens out somewhat on boardwalks and stairs on soggy ground. The last part of the trail is a combination of boardwalks and steps leading to several different lookouts. Susie opted not to go all the way to the tip of the cape and stopped at the first lookout which offered a good view of the action of the waves on the land. I continued to the end of the trail where I stood and had a good view of several “holes in the wall” and one arch. From the last lookout, I could see the Cape Flattery lighthouse which is located on a small rocky island. The walk back was partially uphill, and we were both happy to see the car at the head of the trail.
On the third day, we headed to the Hoh Rainforest, another trip down the winding US 101. There has been less than normal (whatever counts as normal these days) rainfall so the forest was not as wet as I expected. Nonetheless, it is a lush environment with moss-draped trees, clear spring-fed streams and silty glacial rivers running through it. There are several trails in the forest and, at the recommendation of a park ranger we chose a 0.8-mile loop that would give us a good view of the rainforest. There are a variety of trees in the forest ranging from huge Douglass Firs to Sitka Spruce and maples. The elevation changes on the trail were moderate. After leaving the rainforest, we headed for several beaches that line the western shore of the Olympic Peninsula. We visited two beaches, Rialto Beach and First Beach located on either side of the mouth of the Quileute River near the Quileute Indian Reservation and the town of La Push. The beaches are not very wide and don’t go far above the high tide mark. Above the beaches piles of driftwood ranging from large sections of trees complete with roots to smaller pieces with very interesting shapes. Offshore are sea stacks, rocky outcroppings of various sizes. We have seen these sea stacks along the Pacific coast from Northern California to Washington.
With the Olympic Peninsula now off our bucket list, we went to Seattle to meet our family in advance of our Alaska cruise. Because this is a relatively short trip, we left our Port Angeles lodgings later than normal for us. Rather than drive around Puget Sound, we headed for Bainbridge Island to get on the ferry to Seattle. While this doesn’t significantly affect travel time, it does save miles. We arrived at the terminal approximately two hours after we left Port Angeles and were on the line for the ferry with a half hour wait. The crossing is about half an hour and we were on the streets of Seattle within a few minutes of docking. The trip to the hotel should have taken 15 minutes but took more than 20… for some reason the car’s GPS did not have a lock on its location and led me astray. The same thing happened with Google Maps on the iPhone on the next day. Carrie, Josh and the grandkids arrived on Thursday and Rick arrived on Friday. Saturday afternoon, we were on the Ruby Princess ready for our Alaska cruise.
This is our fifth time in these waters. Susie and I cruised to Alaska from Vancouver in 1999 and in 2001 (following a Hess family reunion). We also traveled on the Alaska Ferry System in 2015 from Bellingham, WA and 2016 from Prince Rupert, BC. That trip took us some places that the big cruise ships cannot enter. Click for the route map.
Day 1 and 2 – At Sea
The Ruby Princess pulled out of Elliott Bay and turned North on Puget Sound. It then to the Strait of Juan de Fuca west before turning north along the west coast of Vancouver Island. The ship continued on the open sea west of Haida Gwaii (formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands) before entering the Inside Passage. This was new to us since our previous cruises from Vancouver followed the channel between Vancouver Island and the British Columbia mainland and up the inside passage.
Day 3 – Juneau, AK
We arrived in Juneau around 11:00 am. My Chilean cousins, Susie and I had not paid for any shore excursions, so we were freewheeling it. Josh, Ben, Henry and cousin Ilani took an excursion to a dog sledding demonstration. The rest of us had lunch and then decided to go on the Mount Roberts Tramway to get a view of Juneau from above. While on one of the trails on the mountain we encountered Josh and company who had decided to go on the tram after their excursion.
After we came down from Mount Roberts, the Chilean cousins, Susie and I took a shuttle (which also gave us a city tour) to the Mendenhall Glacier. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a lot of time at the glacier before we had to return to the ship. I suggested that they go to an observation area where they could get a good look at the glacier. If I had to do it all over again, I would have suggested doing the glacier trip first and then, if there was enough time, go on the tram. Alas, I can’t do it all over again.
Day 4 – Skagway, AK
The Ruby Princess docked in Skagway at 7:00 am. The Chilean cousins, Susie and I were scheduled on an eight-hour bus and rail system that left not long after we docked. Rick, Josh, Carrie, and the grandkids had an excursion that included gold panning and seeing sled dogs being trained followed by a bus ride to Fraser, BC and the train back down to Skagway.
The “adults” took a tour bus far north as Carcross, Yukon Territory on the South Klondike Highway. Skagway is one of two towns on the Inside passage that has a road that connects to the highway system and the outside world… Haines, a few miles South is the other. The bus stopped periodically so that we could stretch our legs and view the scenery. We spent a few hours in Caribou Crossings, an attraction that had a museum, barbecue (lunch included in the excursion), sled dogs, and, of course, a general store.
After an hour in Caribou Crossings, we headed back south to Fraser, British Columbia, and White Pass and Yukon Railroad for the return to Skagway. We thought we were done with smoke from forest fires, but we were wrong. Between Fraser and Carcross we saw plumes of smoke from forest fires that were started the previous week by lightning strikes. I didn’t see any attempts to fight the fires. I understand that if the fire does not threaten population centers or infrastructure, they will let it burn out.
Susie and I took a similar version of today’s train trip in 1999 and it still amazes me that the track was completed in a short time considering the landscape to which it clings. Interestingly, the train is not just a tourist ride up a mountainside. It is also a flag stop railway. There are two flag stops on the journey where the train drops off or picks up hikers. Once back in Skagway, Susie and I headed back to the ship while our cousins walked around the town.
Day 5 – Glacier Bay, AK
This is a day at sea with and cruise in Glacier Bay (click link for the route). This is a first for Susie and me… the previous cruises in 1999 and 2001 did not go into the bay. The ship entered Glacier Bay and cruised up to the face of Margerie Glacier and the adjacent Grand Pacific Glacier at the head of the bay. Margerie Glacier is what most people a glacier to imagine and we spent most of the time viewing it. We saw and heard Margerie Glacier calve several times. None of the calving episodes were particularly spectacular. The Grand Pacific Glacier is covered with rocks and other debris ground from the surrounding mountains and is most definitely not white. After leaving the head of Glacier Bay, we traveled partially up Johns Hopkins Inlet before turning and passing Lamplugh Glacier. We passed several other glaciers on the route in and out of the bay, but these three glaciers were the highlight of the cruise. Click for a Glacier Bay fact sheet.
Day 6 – Ketchikan, AK
Leaving Glacier Bay, the ship returned to the Inside Passage for an overnight trip to Ketchikan, arriving at 7:00 am. We only had six hours in port which is enough time to spend a fortune in the many stores that are within a few blocks of the docks. I jokingly tell people that Ketchikan is the Tlingit word for shopping.
Susie and I had spent time in Ketchikan before so we (Susie) were not interested in the stores. While Carrie and Josh took the boys on a kayaking excursion, we took Eve to Totem Bight and a logger’s competition. Our Chilean cousins joined us on our excursion. We also took a walk on Creek Street, the old red-light district that has been converted to another shopping area.
Day 7 – Victoria, BC
Leaving Ketchikan, the ship traveled between Haida Gwaii and the British Columbia mainland and out at sea to the west of Vancouver Island. While at sea, Carrie, Josh, the grandkids, Susie and I received an invitation from the Captain to a tour of the bridge. This was a surprise to us and was arranged by Josh’s sister’s brother in law. He also arranged a complimentary Anniversary Package that included a dinner at one of the ship’s specialty restaurant this evening. The ship arrived in Victoria at 7 pm and we only had five hours on shore. Our whole group took the excursion to Butchart Gardens. By the time we got to the park, daylight was fading. The gardens are illuminated with artificial lighting which makes for a beautiful view but not so beautiful photography. At midnight the ship departed Victoria and arrived in Seattle at 7 am.
East to New York
Since we were taking our own luggage, we were on the first group to depart the ship. We left the ship at 7:15 am and within 30 minutes we were in our car ready to head east. It was Saturday and we were through Seattle and on I-90 heading east in no time. Our first day’s destination was Missoula, MT and entailed crossing the Cascade Mountains again and entering the Rocky Mountains. It was a long trip on a day that started at 5 am Pacific time and ended around 5 pm Mountain time.
We left Missoula early in the morning heading for Glendive, MT, 8+ hours of driving. Once we got east of the Rockies we encountered strong wind and some rain, but they didn’t present any serious problems.
The next day took us across the flat prairie lands of North Dakota. The prairie wind was hitting us broadside which meant holding the steering wheel a little harder than usual. We crossed the Missouri River at Bismarck and the Red River which forms the border between North Dakota and Minnesota. East of the Red River the terrain becomes a little bit hillier and we encountered rain showers. As we arrived in St Cloud, the rain let up and I thought we were done with it. I parked the car under the portico of our hotel and went in to check in while Susie sat in the car. There were several guests ahead of me on line and when I went back to the car the rain had started again, driven horizontally by the strong winds. I got soaking wet unloading the car and had to change clothes. Complicating our situation was the fact that the automatic door stopped working and we had to force the door open. In the evening we met our friends, Joy and Doug, for dinner. They drove quite a distance from north of Minneapolis to meet us. Joy and Doug were our neighbors in an RV Park when our trailer broke down in 2010. We have since had them as guests in New York and met them for dinner in St Paul two years ago.
Our next stop was in Chicago. Getting to the suburbs was a good ride. Once inside the city, traffic nightmares cause me to want to bypass the city, but we kept on. To make our life more interesting we arrived at the Hyatt Regency Chicago to learn that they were overbooked and had no room for us. The hotel blamed Expedia for the problem, but I was not accepting that. I asked for a manager and she arranged for us to have complimentary rooms in another Hyatt property a few blocks away.
Susie had wanted us to stop in Chicago for a couple of nights for two reasons. First to visit her cousin, Sasha, whom we have not seen for some time, and her husband and two kids that we have never met. The second reason was to walk along the Chicago River and take a tour on the river, two things she was unable to do when we were here in 2017 because of her broken patella. Having only one full day to this, the weather stepped in and eliminated the tour option. Susie had also arranged a lunch with two of her friends from the American Library Association which occupied a couple of pleasant hours. In the evening we went to Sasha’s home and had a great visit and dinner with her family. Despite the morning rain, it was a great day in Chicago.
We left Chicago early so that we could avoid traffic, which, fortunately, is what happened. Our destination was Charm, OH, a regular stop for us when we are traveling through the area on I-90/I-80. We met our friends, Mary and Emanuel, for dinner on both nights we were there. We also got to meet the family of their son, Alan, who we got to know in Sarasota. Alan was working, and we were sorry we missed him.
Our only full day was busy. Spent the part of the morning with Rebecca, one of Susie’s graduate school students, who was visiting the area with her daughter. We acquainted them Keim Lumber, where we spent some money on exotic woods for future projects. Rebecca managed to buy a few small items for herself. After saying our farewells, we headed north of Charm to see Lehman’s Hardware in Kidron, OH. This is not an ordinary hardware store and sells hardware (including things you won’t find in the big box stores), non-electric appliances geared to the Amish community, toys and many other things (see link). We then went to visit our young Amish friend, Emma. We met Emma in Berlin, OH a few years ago and Susie has a continuous letter writing relationship with her since then. On arriving at Emma’s family farm, we were told that she had a job packing produce on a farm a few miles away. We spent some time with the family, Susie with the women and me with her father and two brothers and then headed out to find Emma. I don’t know how the GPS got us there… the roads kept getting narrower as we went along. The last one was clearly not designed for automobile traffic. We finally got to the farm and spent some time with Emma before heading back to Charm.
Our last obligatory stop was in Lancaster County, PA. We stop here to stock up on jams, jellies and other goodies at Kitchen Kettle Village in Intercourse, PA. It was a pleasant drive over lightly traveled highways… I guess that everyone was already at their Labor Day weekend destination.
Our final day was also the easiest one. We had breakfast at our hotel and headed out about 6:30 am on nearly empty roads. I expected to have a lot of traffic as we approached New York City, but we had only one traffic jam, at the junction of The Gowanus and Brooklyn-Queens Expressways. This is a normal bottleneck that was surprisingly easy to transition. We were at our house by 9:45 am.
As I stated earlier, our 50th anniversary was the reason we took this cruise. It turned out to be a great celebration for us to be with our children, grandchildren and our Chilean cousins. More importantly, it was a way to introduce our grandkids to Alaska, which as everyone knows is one of our favorite destinations. Ben, Henry and Eve got to see glaciers and wildlife that they had not seen before. I think they may want to come back and see more of this great state.
So, what is next for us? In January 2019 we are traveling to Tanzania and Kenya for a photo safari. In May we plan to be in Israel for the Bar-Mitzvah of Lior, our Rego Park neighbor. I hope we have better Internet access on those trips, so we can maintain this blog daily.
I wanted to post this entry two days ago, but when we got to our home is Sarasota we had a “hot”surprise. The temperature inside was over 90 degrees, ten degrees above the thermostat setting. I set the thermostat to 75 degrees and after a hour nothing changed… it was as hot and humid inside as it was outside. The air conditioner compressor was running but the fan was not. By the time we had an air-conditioner service company repair the unit and shopped for some food, I was not in a mood to sit down and write. Saturday came and went so this is being sent on Sunday morning.
This is our last day on the road for at least a month. We will be staying in our “Park Model Home” at Sun n’ Fun RV Resort. A park model is similar to a single wide mobile home. Our Casita del Sol, as we call it, has two bedrooms, two baths, full kitchen, small dining area and a living area all in 496 square feet. As you can imagine, none of the rooms are large. The home also has an attached, enclosed lanai that runs the length of the home (roughly 40 ft). The back end of the lanai has a “shed” that has storage shelves and a washer and dryer.
Our departure from Sarasota is tentative, but will probably be after August 16th. Susie will needs to have some physical therapy for her knee and we won’t know until next week how many sessions she will require.
I won’t be posting any daily entries which might be quite boring… we went to the pool, we went to the beach etc. However we will be doing some trips to local state parks and Celery Fields for wildlife viewing and photography and that may result in some posts.
We left the hotel in Pensacola under partly cloudy skies. The forecast is the same as always in this area in the summer… 40% possibility of scattered storms. We continues to stay off the Interstate until we neared Tallahassee, FL.
We headed south to Pensacola Beach which is on Santa Rosa Island, a narrow barrier island. Pensacola Beach occupies the western portion of the island. Most of the island between Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Once you leave Pensacola Beach and its high rise buildings behind, you enter a narrow stretch with beaches on both the Gulf and Bay side. While Pensacola Beach is crowded, the beaches to the east had few people scattered here and there. I was under the impression, courtesy of Google Maps, that the road continued much further then Navarre Beach and continued on past the intersection past the causeway leading to the mainland. I quickly learned that the road only went a few hundred yards further east into a beach parking lot… U-turn time.
Once back on the mainland, we picked up US-98, which took us through Fort Walton Beach, Destin and a few other smaller beach towns. Because of the hotels and condos on the beach side of the island, you only get a glimpse of the beaches. The whole strip looks like any beach town in the U.S. with its hotels, condos and beach shops.
When we reached Panama City Beach we opted to discontinue following the Gulf coast and headed inland via US-231, FL-20 and FL-12. The terrain was completely different than the beaches. Miles and miles of stands of Southern Pine lined the road. Most of the woods were tree farms in various stages of growth. We picked I-10 about 25 miles west of Tallahassee and were in our hotel 25 minutes later. By the way we didn’t encounter rain on this trip.
Looking back at the beaches that we passed in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida the last two days, I think I would opt for the stretch east of Pensacola Beach in the Gulf Islands National Seashore. You can stay on the mainland in hotels that are cheaper than on Santa Rosa Island, drive east to the National Seashore and have a piece of beach all to yourself. If you don’t mind the crowds, Pensacola Beach has the same powdery white sand.
We decided to continue avoiding Interstate Highways for at least another day. The plan also included a ferry ride from Dauphine Island, AL, across the entrance to Mobile Bay to Fort Morgan, AL.
We left New Orleans early because we figured that we might miss a ferry and have to wait up to 45 minutes for the next one. When we left, the sky was mostly sunny and we thought we would have a great day. We got onto US-90 in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans and headed east. From the highway we could see a lot of Hurricane Katrina damage and some new housing. Ozzie, our tour guide yesterday, a Katrina survivor, theorized that many of the residents didn’t want to come back to their old homes. Many of those that were willing to come back couldn’t because they either had no proof of title or didn’t have clear title to their homes so they could not take advantage of government support to rebuild or repair.
Not long after we passed the Lower Ninth Ward, we crossed over a number of bayous. After crossing the Pearl River, which forms the boundary between Louisiana and Mississippi, the terrain started changing and we drove through thickly wooded country.
Entering Bay St. Louis, MS we started seeing our first casinos which continued until the Alabama border. In Pass Christian, MS, US-90 runs along the beaches. Around this point, the weather started changing as the clouds built up and soon brought us intermittent rain. We followed the beaches until a little east of Biloxi, with its large casinos. After US-90 crossed Biloxi Bay, we left the beaches, but could still catch a glimpse of the Gulf of Mexico.
In Grand Bay, AL we left US-90 and headed on AL-188 towards Dauphine Island. The rain became more frequent and we decided that it may not be such a pleasure to ride an open ferry across Mobile Bay. Instead of heading south on AL-193, we headed north towards I-10. Of course, the fates had some fun with us and the weather improved significantly. I-10 took us through Mobile into Florida.
We stopped at the Florida Welcome Center for a break and picked up some brochures about Pensacola. One of the brochures was about the National Naval Aviation Museum at Naval Air Station (NAS), Pensacola. We decided to visit the museum. Once again fate had a different idea! When we got to within 1/2 mile from the entrance to the Air Station, traffic came to a halt. It took us about 40 minutes to get to a point where we could see the entrance to NAS Pensacola and the traffic backed up from all directions. We made another decision and rerouted ourselves to our Pensacola hotel for the night.
This morning we did something we have never done in New Orleans in all the times we were here… we took a city tour. The tour was operated by Celebration Tours. Specifically, we took the New Orleans City Tour. Why take a tour? We have been in New Orleans many times and focused on a very small part of the city, downtown, warehouse district, and the French Quarter. This tour gave us a taste of other parts of the city so that in the future we could spend more time exploring other sections.
We had limited opportunity to take pictures because we only made one stop in City Park. The park is considerably bigger than New York’s Central Park. It contains gulf courses, The New Orleans Museum of Art, a sculpture garden with original art, and the Morning Call Café.
Ozzie Laporte Jr, our tour guide, gave me access to his collection of New Orleans pictures. The pictures are the property of Mr. Laporte and are used with his permission.
Ozzie, our tour operator dropped us off at the hotel and after a quick bite we were on the move again. We walked to the French Market and back (see dotted line on map). This is a milestone for Susie… the round trip is 2.2 miles. This is the furthest she walked since she broke her kneecap. The walk to the World War II Museum and back was the previous record at a mile. We stopped periodically to give Susie a break.
At mid-morning we headed to the World War II Museum. This is our third trip, the most recent being in the winter of 2015. Our local friend Tony told us there have been some new exhibits added since our last visit so we had to go. Tony got us complementary tickets to the museum though a friend who works there. We didn’t need that incentive to go see the new exhibits. The museum is comprised of the main building which houses the Arsenal of Democracy exhibit, the Solomon Victory Theater, the Campaigns of Courage Pavilion, The Boeing Pavilion (houses World War II aircraft), the John E. Kushner Restoration Pavilion and the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion.
The first thing we did is to go see the movie, Beyond all Boundries. This movie evokes an emotional response from most people who watch it. Susie is in tears and I’m angry that we humans can’t seem to solve problems without resorting to war.
Our next stop was to see the new exhibit, The Road to Tokyo, which covers the war in the Pacific. We had seen The Road to Berlin twice before so we didn’t do it this time. Both exhibits are now housed in the new Campaigns of Courage Pavilion, which was still under construction on our last visit.
The other new exhibit, The Arsenal of Democracy, which covers the Home Front. This exhibit shows how the people at home helped with war effort.
I highly recommend that anyone visiting New Orleans makes a point to see this Museum. It takes more than the roughly four hours that we spent here today to adequately view the exhibits. I’m sure that we will visit this museum again.
We left the museum around 2:30pm and walked back to our hotel. We got to the Hotel just before a series of thunderstorms hit the area. Some of the lightning strikes were very close to where we are. I would rather be watching the light show from the inside of the hotel than be driving or walking through it.
This evening we met with our friends Phyllis and Tony for dinner at Antoine’s Restaurant on St. Louis Street in the French Quarter. The restaurant opened 1840 and is still operated by descendants of the founder. Click on the link above for more information about the restaurant. After the dinner Paul, our waiter, took us on a tour of the restaurant and showed us some of the 14 dining rooms and the 165 foot long wine cellar. We really want to thank Phyllis and Tony for introducing us to the pleasures of Antoine’s.
When we got up this morning, I looked out of the window and could barely see the Marriott Hotel on Canal Street, a few blocks away. We were in the midst of a fairly strong storm and the rain was coming down hard. Thirty minutes later, the sun was shining. These kinds of storms are common this time of year.
We had been to New Orleans many times over the past 25 years and we are sure to be back again… the 2018 American Library Association Annual meeting will be held here. In all those visits we made here, we traveled to a lot of places in and out of the city. There are several places and things we talked about doing and wound up saying, “we will do it next time.” This trip represents the “next time” for some of the things on our list.
After breakfast we drove to one of the items on our “to do list,” Mardi Gras World. Mardi Gras World is located in Blaine Kern Studios facility on the New Orleans riverfront. The studio has been making floats for Mardi Gras parades since 1932. Our tour guide took us through the studio and described the work that goes into making the floats. After the formal tour is completed, you are free to walk through the building and take photographs of the floats and the components. Blaine Kern also makes 3D Advertising objects… if you drive down the highway and see a cow hanging on a Chic-fil-A billboard, it was made in this facility.
In 2009, we were in New Orleans for our nephew’s wedding and took a trip south to the river delta. Plaquemines Parish includes the last 70 miles of the Mississippi before it enters the Gulf of Mexico and we drove south until the road ended at the Venice Marina. Four years earlier, Hurricane Katrina caused major damage to the parish communities. Once we crossed the Mississippi to the right bank, we saw a lot damaged property along side the road. We decided to drive down today to see how much has changed. We only got down as far as Port Sulphur before we turned back because a thunderstorm was heading our way. We did note that little of the damage remained. New housing, a lot of it elevated well off the ground, was seen in the 40 miles we traveled.
This evening we had dinner with Susie’s cousin Kathy, husband Hal and their children David and Rachel. Since this was our first ever meeting with Kathy, Susie feels that she closed the Fabricant family circle that had been broken for about 62 years. We spoke about our respective families and started getting to know each other. We promised to get together again, certainly when we attend the American Library Association meeting here next June.
On this trip we followed the Mississippi River from Hannibal, MO using local roads only. While we deviated to smaller local roads, our primary route was US 61. Driving from Baton Rouge to New Orleans using I-10 would normally take a little more than an hour to complete. Staying with our plan to run on local roads took us around three hours, not counting stops. Fittingly, the second half of the trip was on US 61.
The weather forecast for this morning was for scattered storms along our route. As we left the hotel we could see ominous dark clouds on the horizon and hear the rumble of thunder. We hit rain about 15 minutes into the trip and ran through a series of showers for the next 20-30 minutes. It stayed partly cloudy and dry for the rest of the trip to New Orleans.
Our first stop was the Houmas House Plantation (see The Sugar Palace, a YouTube Video). This plantation house is called the “The Crown Jewel of Louisiana’s River Road.” As was our luck at the Rosedown Plantation, we just missed the house tour so, a bit disappointed, we opted for the self guided garden tour. The Houmas house property, which included the site of the house and thousands of acres of land, was purchased from the Houmas tribe and named after them. The house has gone through several owners and design changes. Interestingly, we know that the plantation had many slaves, but saw no slave housing.
Sugar made a lot of the plantation owners rich and they built a number of ornate plantation houses for themselves and their family. Some of the mansions still exist along the river south of Baton Rouge and several are open to the public. We had wanted to see Oak Alley Plantation. However when we got to the parking lot we could see that it was fairly full and several tour busses were parked. We figured that it would take quite a while before we could get on a tour and left. Before we left I managed to get pictures of the slave quarters from the vicinity of the ticket booth. As you travel along the river you can travel for miles and have the levee on one side of the road and sugarcane fields on the other. Agriculture is not the main economic force along the river… oil production and processing plants are a frequent sight.
After we left Oak Alley, we headed across the river and picked up US 61 for the run to New Orleans, one of our favorite cities. One of the reasons we are stopping in New Orleans is to meet Susie’s cousin Kathy, who, like her sister Susan in St Louis, is a cousin we have never met.
An easy travel day… only 170 miles separate Baton Rouge from Vicksburg and we only had two scheduled stops on today’s itinerary. In light of that we took it easy and didn’t leave Vicksburg until about 8:30am, an unusually late start for us.
Our first stop was historic Natchez, MS. Natchez has been a population center since at least the time when the Mississippian Culture built their community on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. They were followed by the Natchez tribe, French, Spanish, English and American traders and settlers. In the mid-19th Century, cotton was the economic engine of Natchez. Rich planters built mansions on the bluffs above the River. Many of these antebellum mansions still exist and this was one of the reasons we wanted to stop here and photograph these mansions. We learned that you can’t just stop and take pictures of the exterior of most mansions… you have to pay for the whole tour. The mansion Susie had wanted to see the most is Longwood. When we got to the gate, we were told we would have to pay $18 each for the privilege of driving around the property… we made a U-turn and left. Other mansions also sit behind walls and gates and charge a price just to get some photographs.
Our next stop was St. Francisville, LA, which is the location of Rosedown Plantation, now a State Park. We arrived just in time to miss the 1pm tour of the grounds and house. We would have to wait until 2pm to do the next tour. This left us with the option taking an unescorted tour of the grounds which came at a much lower rate than the complete tour. On the Garden tour, we didn’t see any slave quarters… slaves worked in the house and gardens. It appears that the property needs some restoration. The Rockery is falling apart and other features need maintenance.
Our final stop is Baton Rouge. This an overnight stop and we don’t plan any sightseeing in town. While camping in Williamsburg, VA, we met a family from Baton Rouge and the adults and kids became friends. We made several trips to Baton Rouge and met them in other places. We have two plantations we want to visit tomorrow on our way to New Orleans, a little over an hour via I-10 but several hours by way of local roads.
The Battle of Vicksburg was one of the most significant battles of the Civil War because it led to the Union’s control of the Mississippi River and effectively cut the Confederacy in half. The Confederate forces had the advantage of holding fortified high ground but the Union had twice the manpower. General Grant twice attacked the Confederate lines with little gain and high casualties. Grant decided to besiege the city, ultimately resulting in the surrender of the Confederate forces.
After the Civil War Union and Confederates soldiers worked to identify and mark battle lines and unit positions. The Battle of Vicksburg is one of the best marked battlefields.
The Vicksburg Military Park has over 1,000 monuments. These monuments honor units from the states involved in the battle, as well as individuals.
The USS Cairo Museum is within the Park and has the partially reconstructed ironclad gunboat.
After touring the Park for about two hours, we headed for downtown Vicksburg and the levee that is supposed to protect the city from flooding. Just like Paducah, the levee wall has become a place for murals. Leaving the levee, we followed the Vicksburg Scenic Tour for part of its route. The temperature had reached 97 degrees and we figured it was time to get into the air-conditioned hotel room.
Our first stop this morning was the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, a short distance from our hotel. The museum is located at the site of and incorporates part of the Lorraine Motel. Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated in from of Room 306, on April 4, 1968. Because the museum opens at 9am and we had a number of places to visit on our route to Vicksburg, we didn’t spend as much time as we should have to go through all the exhibits. If you are in or near Memphis, make a point of visiting the museum and allow at least two hours to see the exhibits. Photography in the museum is permitted without flash. Low light in most exhibits made photography difficult.
After leaving the museum, we picked up US Highway 61, the Great River Road. It is also known as part of the Mississippi Blues Trail. We only covered a small portion of the trail. The area we traveled through is known as the Mississippi Delta, not to be confused with the Delta of the Mississippi River. The terrain of the Delta is flat agricultural land where the highway goes straight as an arrow for miles.
There are many Blues related places to visit on and off US-61, but time constraints limited us. The main place we wanted to visit was The B. B. King Museum in Indianola, MS. B. B. King, one of the most famous Blues musicians, was born in Indianola and is buried on the grounds of the Museum. Lighting conditions in the museum were similar to those in the Civil Rights Museum.
We continued on from Indianola to Greenville and followed MS Highway 1 back to US-61 which took us to Vicksburg, MS.
We thought that there would be a lot of action in Memphis on the 4th of July, but it was not so in the downtown area to which we limited ourselves. Most of the action that we know of was centered on Mud Island River Park (zoom out on map).
The first activity for us was going across the street to the Peabody Hotel to view the ducks parading to the fountain in the center of the main floor. The parade starts at 11am as the ducks descend from their rooftop home and parade out of the elevator into the fountain (watch YouTube Video). At 5pm the process is reversed. I tried to shoot a video of the parade from the mezzanine but the lighting conditions were not good. My video editing software is old and could not handle the process of enhancing the video.
Next we walked to Beale Street. Most of the action is between South 2nd and South 4th streets. When we arrived, many of the businesses were just opening and the crowds were thin.
We walked over the Rock and Soul Museum, located just off the intersection of B.B. King Boulevard and Beale Street. The museum is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Museum. It is definitely a place to visit if you have an interest in rock music. We took about an hour to walk through the museum and could have spent more time there. We returned to Beale Street and visited A. Schwab, which was once a general store and bills itself as one today.