Posts Tagged ‘travel’

When I was in high school I discovered the real difference that warmth and sunshine could make in my life.  Growing up in the city, I lived in a huge, drafty house built a hundred years before we moved in.  Nights between October and May were spent under so many layers of blankets that I couldn’t roll over under the weight.  To this day I can go to sleep and wake up eight hours later in the exact same position.

Then I went to boarding school my freshman year of high school.  And there was warmth.  I spent a lot of time after that thinking of ways to stay warm once I graduated.  The short story is, I went to live in San Diego for three years before moving back north of the Mason-Dixon Line.  The long story is for another time.  But since moving back I have closed my eyes more than once in the dead of winter, to imagine myself lying in the sand, half naked, with the sun toasting the surface of my skin, as a balmy breeze drifts over me.

In the summertime I feel energized and strong.  Even though when we reach August I start to feel a little anxiety over the eminently approaching winter season, I am able to convince myself that it’s no big deal.  This is false, of course.  This is the talk of “summer muscles.”

In November I will start to think about flying south in January or February, but the holidays provide just enough distraction so that I start to rationalize with myself that I could buck up and survive without falter, save my money, and maybe even embrace the weather.  And when February makes me shiver, I begin to regret my fear of flying, metaphorically speaking, and start to look for opportunities to GET ME OUT OF HERE.  Seriously, people, you must try to understand that cold weather HURTS me.  I am obviously too weak to fight the chronic pain of it.  After all these years of being told to “put another sweater on” to no avail, for the love of God, if you love me you will understand my burden.  Enough said.  (Until I address poor circulation, low blood pressure, and what the acupuncturist did.)

Enter 2008.  It was February.  I was heartbroken.  (See “On Time and Love“)  This is when it is good to have great girlfriends who will hang out with you while you pick up the pieces.  And, as promised, a cure for the winter doldrums. . .

One of my favorite pastimes is beach camping.

From the beaches of Assateague to Puerto Rico, I have enjoyed the merging of outdoor living with my favorite outdoor location.  For adventurists who love the ocean and are more impressed with nature than a mint on their pressed pillowcase, beach camping is an ultimate vacation.  In 2008 my friend Alison told me she wanted to return to the Florida Keys for a camping trip.  In my wretched state it was music to my ears.  We made plans to fly out in April.

Although I often travel without a plan because I get excited about feeling as free as possible, Alison assured me that it’s best to make reservations in the Keys.  Even when camping.  Especially when camping.  The Florida Keys are a hot spot for RV’ing fishermen who are devoted to spending their vacation time fishing the blue waters.  And don’t forget that each key is narrow and small, limiting accommodations.  There are only about 100 miles from Key Largo to Key West.

So, Alison and I flew into Miami and rented a car.  We had packed our luggage wisely, I with the tent and lantern, she with the headlamps and lavender mist for inside our shared sleeping quarters.  Incidentally, there are approximately 65 miles between Miami and Key Largo which can be enjoyed driving with the windows wide open and Luther Vandross belting “Never Too Much” as you sing along.

Alison made reservations at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo and Curry Hammock State Park in Marathon.  We spent a day at Bahia Honda, touted as the “Best Beach in the Continental U.S.”, and although we did not bivouac there, we did mooch on their facilities.

There is a lot of snorkeling to do in the Florida Keys and Alison is an ocean lover of the aquatic variety.  There are two types of people who love the ocean.  The type that loves it from within, i.e. Alison, Yim, etc., and the type that loves it from without, i.e. me.  All I wanted to do was lie in the hot sand and warm my bones, but Alison is such a good friend and when she begged me to go snorkeling with her I acquiesced, on the condition that she sing karaoke with me later at the Caribbean Club.

From Pennekamp we made arrangements to board a boat going 7 miles out to snorkel the Banana Reef.  There were about 25 people going out that day.

I should mention here that I am not a fan of horror movies because they are generally unbelievable and therefore do not frighten me.  I don’t mind a good scare, though.  When I saw the preview for Open Water, I made a point of seeing it because my worst fear ever is to be in water that I cannot see below the surface of.  And that hosts other living creatures.  And that is too deep for me to touch my feet to the bottom.  And that movie scared the crap out of me.

So many things happened in my life when I was three, but one of them was that I stepped off a sand ledge in the Atlantic while camping on Ocracoke Island and when I realized I was under the water with the fishes, fishes that I could see!, I had to quickly learn how to swim towards the light to save my skin.  This is why when I was 15 and wiped out while water-skiing (hey, alliteration) I panicked while waiting for the boat to swing back around for me because I saw an enormous dead tree log floating waaay over by the bank of the lake and was able to convince myself that it could possibly be a Loch Ness Monster.

When snorkeling 7 miles off the coast, the guides advise you to stay with your partner.  Seven miles off the coast the waters were colder and there was a damn cloud, the only cloud in the sky, right above us, blocking the sunshine.  My bikini and a life jacket were not enough to keep me from shivering with goose bumps.  When someone said, “Hey, there’s a shark,” I did not care that it was a 6-7 foot lemon shark swimming deep below us in the reef.  My eyes confirmed what my ears heard and I turned and high-tailed it back aboard our boat, leaving Alison alone and up to her neck in sharky waters.  I was the first one back to the boat and I had to wait another half hour, at least, before the guide signaled everyone else back.  I am a land creature.  I do not require breathing apparatus on terra firma.

Alison did sing karaoke with me at the Caribbean Club.  We sang Madonna’s “Cherish” and Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”  Alison did not run off the stage.  Later in the week we would return to the Caribbean Club to witness a rehabilitated manatee being released back into it’s natural habitat.

My favorite place in the Keys was Curry Hammock in Marathon.  The camp facilities were pristine and the beach was peaceful.  Beaches in the Keys are narrow and sometimes a bit rough to walk on, but the sand is nearly white, the water is shallow and warm a long way out, and the wildlife is amazing.  At Curry Hammock we got kayaks from the park office and paddled out around the key.

If you are quiet and patient the wildlife will reveal itself to you.  Manatees and sharks, jumping fish, cranes and other birds of Florida can be seen.  Alison and I took the kayak into the cave created by the low growing tangle of the mangroves that grow so thick, only slivers of sunlight shine directly through.  I felt like an explorer in the rain forest.

Lastly, we drove down to Key West and toured Ernest Hemingway’s house.

We ate fantastic food and drank salted margaritas while listening to live music outdoors.

We stumbled upon a street party celebrating freedom of expression . . .

And athletic abilities . . .

We stood in a crowd and watched the sunset, just like Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines (R.I.P.) did in Running Scared (cue Michael McDonald!).


And then we enjoyed the buskers performing on the waterfront.  I bought 2 great pieces of silver jewelry in Key West, a ring and a cuff bracelet, as souvenirs.

So there they are.  The Florida Keys: cure for the wintertime blues.  And for heart-ache.

So we went in April, which is technically spring.  And Hemingway killed himself anyway, but he was a severe case.

Oh, what the heck:


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The Art of Suffering

Last year I wanted to go to NYC and see the exhibit “Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night” at MoMa.  Unfortunately, we missed it and since then I have been periodically checking art museums within a reasonable radius for exhibits I might like to see.  Recently, Yim and I were able to plan a day trip to the Cleveland Museum of Art for the exhibit “Paul Gauguin: Paris, 1889”.   We brought along Yim’s son Nicholas who is an aspiring artist.  We primed ourselves and Nicholas on Gauguin’s biography and artwork before going.  The exhibit was worth seeing and I was interested to learn details of Gauguin’s life that I had not known before.  Paul Gauguin was desperately troubled.  His health waned at the hand of alcoholism and the contraction of syphilis.  He suffered financial losses and depression.  He tried to kill himself.  But failed.  It’s almost as if he were the embodiment of  Cleveland, Ohio!
Since I had originally wanted to see the Van Gogh exhibit I was glad to learn that Paul and Vincent knew one another.  Some of their works look as if the two were holding hands while painting.  One of my favorite Gauguin paintings is At the Cafe.


Obviously the same place as Van Gogh’s The Night Cafe, which I love equally.


One of my favorite phenomenons of the world is how groups of artistic people find each other, feed one another’s creative geniuses, develop a name for themselves, i.e. “impressionists”,  and then go down in history together.

Gauguin tried to escape his Cleveland and eventually laid to rest in French Polynesia, but before he died he spent time in Martinique, which is now on my life list of places to go.

I do not, however, recognize a need to return to Cleveland ever again.

But is is worth it to watch another video about Cleveland:

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Postcard from the Edge

My GREAT friend Christine made this for us. She’s a graphic designer now residing in Pensacola, Florida. We met in 1997 when we used to raise hell waiting tables at Mario’s in the South Side. You can’t begin to imagine. Someday I’ll tell you about it. You’re too young to handle it. Anyway, she’s been in FLA since April and I miss her lots. My next road trip will have to be to visit her.

You can visit her blog at http://www.steechez.blogspot.com. Thanks, Christine!

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After leaving Jenny’s we headed for the Redwood National Park. Once we got past the vineyards and slaughterhouses, northern California reminded me a lot of Oregon. A very natural coastal region. With LOTS of hippies and drifters. This is around the time the word about our trip must have really gotten out, because more and more frequently we passed people on the side of the road giving us the thumbs up. News travels fast, I’m really impressed!
By this time I’ve cut back on how much water I drink and have replaced it with coffee. I need loads of it to keep the road straight in front of me. Luckily, the trend that really took hold in Seattle has oozed it’s way across the nation. But this is something I never see back east and hadn’t seen anywhere else across the country until we got here. It’s like a post-Seattle drip. The roadside drive-through espresso stand.

And Mycol is still asking me why I can’t hold my water any longer than I do, which is about as long as half an hour on a seriously caffeinated morning. I pulled over in a very small town to use the restroom. The only one’s available were at the dock. They pull oysters from these waters. I spoke to a local woman while I admired the beauty and serenity of the Pacific on an early morning. She said we could get the freshest oysters on the half shell just about anywhere in that area. I don’t like oysters on the half shell. Oh, well. But I love this shot.

And this one.

Before this trip I’d been to a lot of places on the west coast. I’d been from San Diego to the Napa Valley, along the northwestern coast of Oregon and along the Columbia River, camped in Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington, as well as Seattle and through central Washington as far east as Moses Lake, in the center of the state. I’d always said that Oregon and Washington were some of the most beautiful places I’d been. After this trip I’ll have a stronger opinion about what geographical locations of the United States I’m most attracted to, but for now I will tell you that the final word on Oregon and Washington is that I like Oregon much better, but more on that next time. The other thing is, there is a definite feeling I get about being in California. There is an energy there that I pick up on and it exhilerates me. It definitely has to do with all the John Steinbeck I’ve read and Hollywood’s glorification of California, but nevertheless it is there. I even love the sound of the name “California”. So, as we traveled north into areas I’d not seen before I started to love it even more. Only I realized that it reminded me so much of Oregon at this point, which, I supposed helped Oregon to edge out Washington in my state ranking. It’s big nature out here. It’s the diversity of the blue ocean along the rocky shore that disappears into piney forests and mountains all in one view.

As we got closer to the Redwoods we passed a lot of roadside attractions with americana themes. They did not detract from the natural beauty of the area.

We made it to the Redwood National Park in good time that day. The impression on the way in was that it was remote and that we should stop at the last place possible to get gas, which was a single old-fashioned gas pump on the side of the road between a small convenience store and a place that sold wood-carved bears, lighthouses, windmills, etc. We did stop for gas there and then drove in on a road that was suddenly out of the bright wide open and into the depths of the forest, with sky-high trees on either side, everything shady green and brown with little dapples of sunlight dropping down from above. We entered the park, got our map, and chose a short hike on the Lady Bird Johnson trail, the “jewel” of the park where you could find examples of everything the Redwoods has to offer. Here is the first tree that everyone gets to see up close. It stands in the parking lot at the trailhead and greets them.

I know I haven’t posted basically since I’ve been home. I promise to continue with a little more dedication from now on. Before hitting the road I was a little scared. I was worried about how much it would cost, about what we would do if the car broke down, about whether or not all my “stuff” at home would be alright, and most of all about the safety of my family and how I felt most responsible because it was my idea and I was the driver and obviously Mycol’s safety is my responsibility anyhow. Now that I’m back I feel like I should have been more scared to return! Life seems rather ho-hum here, and it should scare the shit out of me! I wanted to come home and share my experiences with everyone, but like any big adventure you can’t really share it, not like you can with the people you went with. And besides, while you are still on some kind of high from it all, at home no one has moved an inch, they are all still exactly as you left them, like chess pieces on the board waiting for someone to start a game. And this static atmosphere will suck you right back in, until you feel almost like you never went anywhere and you’re back to worrying about all the same old things. So, maybe I haven’t posted because I’ve been trying to figure out how not to get dragged back down by the ever-churning cycle of school days, work days, and chores. Ah, well, I wish I was in Montana. See you back here next post, where I’ll take you on a tour of the Redwoods where we camped the night before heading up to Oregon.

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Ahh, I see you are wondering what has happened to the three Santucci’s. Well, I won’t tell you just yet. For now, let’s get back to business.
We left Coronado and San Diego on August 10th. Some stress had begun to build up since Las Vegas. Did I mention how civilization slapped us in the face like a rude SOB? The traffic, the pollution, the crowds. The natural world is EASY to get used to. A week away from all the chaos of city life had me hooked. Even though I’ve always considered myself a city girl. Which makes me wonder, how long would I actually last if I changed things up and became a woodswoman? The point is, driving into Vegas there was a lot of construction, it was late, it was dark, I was tired. We were all tired. And from there we went to San Diego. Paradise, sure, but not exactly relaxing enough. Now, from San Diego our trek was to take us up the coast to Oakland, where we’d stay with Mummy’s friend Jenny. We had to pass by Los Angeles and Mummy thought she’d like to stop in for a short visit with some of her friends from the firm she used to work for. They have a showroom in Santa Monica, I think. Well, it was Friday and I don’t think it even matters what time we left because it seems that rush hour lasts just about all day between San Diego and L.A., especially on a Friday! So what SHOULD take 3 hours ended up taking 7!!!! I had definitely noticed the increased number of tourists in Coronado when I was there, and I certainly don’t remember this kind of traffic 13 years ago. But that said, we did not make it in time for Mummy to visit her friends at the showroom. And she was audibly upset about it. By that I mean I got the silent treatment from her and I could hear the serated edge of the knife cutting through the tension in the air. And once again we found ourselves driving late into the night, tired, no room at the inns we first sought out, necessary to go another 30 mintues north and keep our fingers crossed. We stayed just north of Magic Mountain and headed to Jenny’s the next day. And this is what I first noticed in Jenny’s guest room, where I went directly for a nap after the delicious luncheon she prepared for our arrival:

Okay, I think George Clooney is absolutely gorgeous. But that’s not why I picked up the magazine and took it to show Mummy. The reason is because George Clooney has an uncanny resemblance to my grandmother. Hey, don’t get the wrong idea! My grandmother was a beautiful woman. Seriously, THE MOST BEAUTIFUL woman in her hometown in Italy. And everybody knew it. Just imagine George in a feminine way. Cross him with Salma Hayek and you’ll get the picture. So, I show my mom that a sign from Nonna was waiting in the guest room at Jenny’s and she reminds me that the day before, August 10th, was the 2 year anniversary of Nonna’s death. AND I HAD FORGOTTEN! And THAT was what was REALLY bothering Mummy all day. I felt soo bad. But she said she didn’t want to mention it because it was better not to get sad. We think of her all the time, everyday, when we aren’t on vacation. She knows we love her and miss her. See, I’m getting sad anyway. So…..
Jenny’s granddaughters were performing that night in an obon festival. It was serendipitous.

The 13th through 16th of August is called obon in Japan. Obon is a Buddhist event and is one of the most important traditions for Japanese people. It is the period of praying for the repose of the souls of one’s ancestors. People believe that their ancestors’ spirits come back to their homes to be reunited with their family during obon.
People clean their houses and offer a variety of food such as vegetables and fruits to the spirits of ancestors in front of butsudan (Buddhist families altar). Butsudan is decorated with flower and chouchin (paper lanterns). On the 13th, chouchin are lit inside houses, and people go to their family’s graves to call their ancestors’ spirits back home. It’s called mukaebon. In some regions, fires called mukaebi are lit at the entrances to homes to guide the ancestor’s spirits.
Hey, is that the Karate Kid or Matt Lu?

Here are Jenny’s beautiful granddaughters:

The festival was so neat, I couldn’t stop taking pictures. The traditional dresses were so colorful and the dancers ranged in age probably from 2 to 85.

Afterwards, we went out to dinner with Jenny, her son, and his girlfriend.
One thing we really hadn’t had a lot of on the road was good food. Between Pittsburgh and San Diego the best thing we ate was bought from the grocery store in Colorado at a Safeway. We bought hard rolls, turkey and the BEST EVER salami from the deli and had picnic sandwiches with mayonnaise. I’m tellin’ you, the BEST EVER salami! In San Diego, Mycol and I had a great breakfast downtown around the corner from the hotel. He had a sausage omelet and I had one with mushrooms and squash blossoms. Both were served with a side of refried black beans in a corn tortilla shell. Mummy missed out on that one, but we brought her some leftovers. So Jenny’s luncheon was the first excellent home-cooked meal we had. She served soup with fish and shrimp, and a lentil salad. And a nice red wine from Trader Joe’s that I should remember the name of, oh wait, she called it something like “ol’ Chuck” as a joke. So eating out after the festival at a chinese restaurant was our second good meal in 48 hours after searching the expanse of the country for something good to eat in a restaurant. (Oh, shit, I’m lying! The lunch I had at the Highway Restaurant in Albia, Illinois was pretty good. Standard BLT and a cup of excellent soup of the day, something with beef and cabbage in it. And of course, we avoided fine dining across the country to save money). When Jenny took us into Berkeley the next day to have my oil changed, shop at REI, and eat lunch at ANOTHER good place to eat, it almost overwhelmed us. We started to remember the good things about city life all over again. We had lunch at an Indian restaurant and filled up on curry, nan, saag, etc.

That’s Jenny with Mycol and me. The name of the restaurant reminded me of my friend Raj. His little girl’s name is Priya.

At REI I bought a sleeping pad and a sleeping bag for Mycol. I wanted our next night in the elements to be WARMER. Jenny knows all about that, she camps a lot! We had a great time at her place, very comfortable. It was fantastic to stay with a friend for the first time in a week. Life on the road can be tough. But we had to move on. Stay tuned for our next stop. Northern California, here we come!

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The following post comes to you from in front of my tepee on the Continental Divide! We are in Glen, Montana tonight and ABSOLUTELY LOVING IT!!!!
(Pictures to follow)

For those of you who don’t know or remember, once upon a time I lived in Coronado, which is an island across the bay from downtown San Diego. I was stationed at North Island, a Naval station on Coronado. That’s where I fixed the electrical components of helicopters and aircraft attached to the base. Mycol was born in Balboa Naval Hospital and our first home was on Coronado. Coronado is an upscale community and we lived in a duplex behind one of the bigger houses on H Street. Mycol hasn’t been back to see his origins since he was 2 years old, so it was great to show him around.
Here’s Mummy’s new car:

This is the surf shop we used to go to. I bought Mycol some new gear in there, plus a shirt for me.

Here’s the front entrance to our old place. I knocked on the door because it seemed like someone was home, but nobody answered. I really wanted to go in and show Mycol the apartment.

Here’s our upstairs neighbor, Connie! I was so glad to see that she’s still there. Her and her daughter, Kirsten, who was 12 at the time, used to babysit Mycol for me sometimes. Kirsten made a cross-stitch for Mycol with his name on it that he still has in his bedroom!

We had to walk up between the houses to the street side to get our mail. Our address was 829 1/2 H Street.

This is across the street from us. Our neighborhood, where I used to walk Mycol up and down in the stroller.

Here’s the liquor store my ex-husband financed.

The Hotel Del Coronado was right down the street from our apartment. We used to walk to the beach.

And here is where you can STILL get a GREAT carne asado!! We loved it!

Stay tuned……next stop, Oakland, CA.

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The West Coast

The west coast occupied the majority of our travels. It’s the only part of the trip where we stopped to stay and visit with friends, which is how it took up 17 days (I think). Both my brain and the internet are working slow this morning, so I’ll see what I can do. We are in Wallace, Idaho, which is an historical silver mining town. We stopped here last night by chance. The original plan was to camp last night, but the weather was inclement, to say the least. The rain was real bad, but more importantly, it’s been as cold as October or November since Seattle. I’m going to start calling this first leg of the return trip “In Search of Summer”. I saw a girl in Moses Lake wearing a WINTER coat. And she looked SMART! It’s AUGUST, PEOPLE!!!!! What the?!?! When Mummy and I went to Roslyn, we thought we’d just freeze to death. And I kept remembering how the thought had crossed my mind back in Pittsburgh to pack my down vest because it wouldn’t take up too much space. But then I thought, “Who needs a down vest in AUGUST?” So, here goes, let’s get to some very cool (but warm!) stuff in California!
Hey Fish Market Westin people……..here’s the Westin Horton Plaza in downtown San Diego. That’s where we stayed!

It was luxurious. A welcome break from camping and motel-ing. Another thing my mom does everywhere she goes is recognize fabrics from her company. They had some of the best accounts in the corporate interior design business. She planned on visiting her friends at the showroom in L.A., but Friday rush hour traffic prevented us from getting there in time. The point is, she knew the wallpapers used in our room at the Westin. I loved the bathroom and would like one just like it at home!
I’m still trying to gather photographs of things everywhere that remind me of people. Of course, there are some that were missed because I was driving and no one was able to grab the camera quickly enough. Like for the sign that said “Standish Hickey”. That would have been for my sister-in-law. She used to be a Hickey. Right, Love?
So, I know I already got Aaron twice, but things just kept popping up. Mycol and I were strolling in downtown San Diego looking for a place to get some breakfast. I saw this place and asked him if he’d like to have his fortune told. Then I saw the address.

Here’s a shot of downtown that I like:

It was taken on our second day. The night before, when we were coming back to the hotel from Coronado, this street was bustling with nightlife. There were lots of pretty, pretty girls. Mycol said, “Man, I wish I was 25 right now.” He says that San Diego has more “hot” women than Pittsburgh has average AND above-average women. He said he’s seen at least 6 or 7 boob jobs, he THINKS. Clearly, Mycol has girls on the brain.

Note that those are the only mountains we were able to find in the area.
Time on the road must be well organized. I was too tired last night to blog anything. After we ate at the 1313 Club in Wallace we returned to our room at the Stardust Motel. (Photo to follow). It’s a real ’50’s joint. Anyhow, I was content to trim and file my nails, which had been growing since we left the ‘Burgh, while watching “History Detectives” on, you guessed it, PBS! So this morning I got up early and was able to put this short intro to our trek up the west coast for you. Hope you enjoyed it. Stay tuned for more…….

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