What’s Next: Nova Scotia?

After my previous post, we would have gotten off the ferry at the north end of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. One of the first things we’d see is the “World’s Largest Fiddle” (60 ft. high), along the Sydney, NS harbor where the ferry lands. From there, if we don’t decide to stay locally, we’d make our way toward the Atlantic coast. If we make it past Isle Madame, where there is a provincial park, we’ll wend our way off Cape Breton Island and on to “mainland” Nova Scotia.

The coast is full of inlets, with only one road leading south, so we’d probably take double the travel time calculated by Google maps. We might stop to have a brief quarrel in Bickerton, then agree to spend the night in Spanish Ship Bay, just because I like the name. The next day, we’ll continue toward Halifax, perhaps renting our home for a month somewhere along the coast northeast or southwest of the city. That would give us access to anything we need in the way of services, including my monthly visit to a retina specialist, and still let us explore the Atlantic coast. Nova Scotia has been visited by Europeans since about 1597, when explorer John Cabot landed somewhere between Maine and Labrador, often thought to be Nova Scotia. This means that beach combing along the coast could yield anything from a fisherman’s boot lost in the previous month to a 16th century Venetian coin.

One of my favorite websites to check for places to visit is Atlas Obscura, where contributors report odd sights and experiences, and where I found the world’s largest fiddle. There are a number of these for Nova Scotia, including the Oak Island money pit, a spot that is said to hold a fortune in treasure for the person who can get to it. Many have tried and failed due to quicksand and other hazards, but hope springs eternal in a gambler’s heart, so people occasionally still try to figure out why no one has been able to get to the bottom of the pit. The Curse of Oak Island reality TV show claims to have found the secret of the treasure to be revealed in the final episode of their eighth season, available on Amazon Prime in 2021. I’ll have to tune in.

Nova Scotia has been occupied by native people for thousands of years. The Mikmaq are the most recent group, from late prehistory to the present. Some sites can be visited, though pre-European life was relatively simple, with survival the principal goal. The arrival of Europeans started construction of all kinds, and today

Nova Scotia is a colonial history buff’s delight, with a long record of being caught in the crosshairs of international politics. Toward the end of the 1700s, Acadian settlers were expelled for being allied with France, some of whom ended up in Louisiana as Cajuns. while British loyalists moved in from the former colonies after 1776. In the 1800s an influx of Scots escaping the Highland Clearances shifted the population toward Gaelic speakers. Every war seems to have pulled in this strategically located area. Ruined forts and fortifications intended to protect the coast can still be seen in many places.

Nova Scotia is also a great place for lighthouse aficionados. There is an excellent map that shows the 128 lighthouses and places that once had lighthouses. There are lists that tell you whether you can visit, drive by for a photo, whether the lighthouse is so remote you can’t even get a decent photo, or whether the lighthouse is no longer in existence. The map is very nice-looking as well.

https://www.nslps.com/about-ns-lighthouses/lighthouse-map

Since we are nature lovers no longer capable of long wilderness hikes, and archaeology buffs but not necessary fans of old forts and other stony places, we’ll spend most of our month visiting the coast and admiring the crashing waves. We’d look for some of the birds that live in the northland (puffins!), and visit Halifax for markets and restaurants. We’d like to think that by the time we can get across the border into Canada, Nova Scotia will be ready for us.

What’s next? How about Newfoundland.

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St. John’s, Newfoundland (Internet photo)

I have shared a lot of photos of the California coast this year, where we continue to find trails and beaches that we haven’t visited before. We are gradually getting nearer to our goal of walking as much of the shore as possible between Big Sur and Santa Cruz. As more and more people get vaccinated, the “travel question” is emerging. Where will we go when it is safe to travel again. I don’t know when that will be, but I’m starting a list of possibilities. Most of the suggestions I plan to post are islands, because that’s the kind of place I like to visit.

I’m starting relatively close to home, with Newfoundland, Canada. I’ve seen the colorful buildings in downtown St. John’s in the opening scene of “Republic of Doyle” on TV. If you haven’t seen that clip, and would like an orientation, this map shows you that Newfoundland is an island just off the coast of mainland Canada. It’s a big island, about the 16th largest in the world, slightly larger than Cuba, and just smaller than New Zealand’s North Island. St. John’s is the capital, on the extreme eastern of the island, facing the Atlantic Ocean. It would be interesting to be there through a storm and watch the waves break on the rocky coast. On the other hand, I would probably visit Newfoundland during the summer months when storms are less likely.

When we decide that a place may be worth visiting, one of the first things we do is look at the annual weather. Jonathan and I aim to travel from March or April through the end of October. Here’s how Newfoundland looks in terms of temperature and rainfall:

You can see that the lowest rainfall and warmest temperatures come in July and August, followed by May, June, and September. I include September based on another chart that shows the ocean is warmest during that month. Personally, I don’t plan to go swimming in Newfoundland. May doesn’t have much rain, but is pretty cold. The best time to visit is the best time to visit many places, in the middle of summer. On the bright side, Europe is getting to be so hot during these months that a visit to Canada may be just the thing.is

Newfie meets chihuahua

Beyond the view of St. John’s, and the legendary Newfoundland dogs, I only know of one place to visit in Newfoundland, the only confirmed Norse site in North America, L’Anse aux Meadows. Norsemen sailed from Viking settlements in Greenland, landing on the northern tip of Newfoundland around AD 1000. The weather was harsh, game was scarce, and the indigenous people were hostile, according to Viking accounts of the New World. There’s a difference of opinion over L’Anse aux Meadows. Was it a short-lived settlement, or a boat repair station that was used on and off for a century or more?

Today, L’Anse aux Meadows is a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are reconstructed buildings to see, artifacts from excavations at the site, and a nearby historic park where blacksmiths hammer, weavers spin, and visitors can observe some of the tasks that the occupants of the site carried out in AD 1000. I would like to visit this unusual site, even though getting there takes a bit of work. St. John’s is about 500 km from L’Anse aux Meadows, and according to Google, it would take more than 11 hours to drive there. For us, that means at least one night on the road each way.

Unlike our usual plan to stay in one place for a month and explore from that base, Newfoundland might require a different strategy if we’re really going to the far northern tip of the island to visit an archaeological site. I’d plan to spend two weeks in the St. John’s area in an Airbnb. We’d rent a car and explore the coast, going out from St. John’s as far as we could comfortably visit in one day. During the second two weeks of our stay, we’d take a road trip, stopping overnight in Grand Falls/Windsor, the largest town in the interior (pop: aprox. 15,000). From there we’d drive to the west coast of Newfoundland, possibly stopping another night near Gros Morne National Park. We’d make the final drive up the northern peninsula of Newfoundland to St. Anthony’s, a far northern town, about a half hour’s drive from L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Park. Staying in the area for four to five nights, we’d have time to rest from our long drive, and to see L’Anse aux Meadows at a leisurely pace. We’d also look at the coast and do some beach combing.

With a few days left in our month in Newfoundland, we would head south again. Depending on where we can return a rental car, we’d drive to Stephenville on the west coast of NF, or back to St. John’s on the east. If we could work it out, we’d drive all the way to the southwest corner of Newfoundland to Port aux Basques, drop our car and board the ferry for Sydney, on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Since we’re visiting Canada just now, Nova Scotia will be my next stop.

Keys to Exploring California

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If you’re going to explore, you need maps. The map on your phone is indispensable, but it’s not enough. There are places both inland and along the coast of California where cell phone signals disappear, but there’s a solution for that: Paper resources. Two in particular have helped us out, the DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer for California, and the California Coastal Access Guide.

The DeLorme atlas is a large format book of maps that covers the entire state. When you start down a rural road and then lose your phone signal, you can check and see whether the road eventually connects with something else, or whether you will have to turn around. There’s not quite as much detail as a USGS quad sheet, but it takes up a lot less space. We tend to leave it in the car; it’s there when we need it.

The California Coastal Access Guide is a big help when you’re trying to stop at places all along the coast. It’s great for us because we’d like to walk the entire coast, and figuring out how to get to the beach can become a big headache. California has valuable state laws that protect access to the coast, at least as far as the high water mark. No matter who lives in the adjacent property, landowners cannot prevent people from walking along the shore. Unfortunately, people don’t always behave themselves, and papparazzi can hang out on the high tide mark trying to photograph the rich and famous in their houses nearby. For that reason, some wealthy land owners have tried to close off their beachfront to keep out the public. David Geffen, record producer, is one of the best known. He spent twenty-seven years trying to sue various California agencies so that he could block access to the beach in front of his house in Malibu. He lost.

That doesn’t mean that homeowners with beachfront property have to make access easy. Many “coastal access” points have only minimal markings, and have only one or two parking spaces. The trail to the coast may be narrow and almost invisible if you aren’t looking for it. The Coastal Access Guide lists points of access all along the coast, with some useful directions. A chart is included that tells whether there is a beach, a trail, parking, and whether dogs are allowed. We use it to plan visits when our children bring their dogs.

Even this resource isn’t complete. Developers have to assure coastal access as part of the permit process before housing can be built along the shore. This means there are narrow coastal access paths through some neighborhoods that are not in the Coastal Access book. We do our best to discover them. When we find an area that seems apt for beach combing but doesn’t have an obvious path or parking area, we drive along the road closest to the water looking for the Coastal Access symbol.

In Carmel Highlands, there are two neighborhoods along the water. We wanted to visit Yankee Point, an irregular chunk of land off Spindrift Lane, but found no way to get to the water. We’ve made a couple of passes, but haven’t had any luck getting out to Yankee Point, despite a tempting trail visible in GoogleEarth.

In the next neighborhood to the south, off Yankee Point Drive, there is no access to Yankee Point, despite the name. At the very south end of the street, though, we found a narrow coastal access trail that leads to a tiny beach at the mouth of Malpaso Creek. There are a few places for cars to park on the street, too. We were so pleased at having found a hidden coastal access point that we walked down to have a look. The trail has a beautiful overlook of the inlet, one trail to the beach, and another into the woods upstream for a short distance. Highway One passes overhead on a high concrete bridge, yet under its span is a patch of woodland with good birdwatching, and toward the end of the trail about a quarter mile in, there’s a tiny stand of redwoods.

On the Saturday of MLK holiday weekend, we set out to visit Monastery Beach and arrived to find it packed with cars and people. The crowds were too much for us, and we decided to try Yankee Point Drive. Sure enough, there were three other cars parked, but still room for us. We stopped at the overlook to chat with a young woman sitting in the sun. We said how much we enjoyed this lesser known spot of coast and she told us that this was one place she always came by herself. There were a few other people along the path, and one family on the tiny beach, just the right number.

If you live or visit anywhere north of the Bay Area, there’s the best possible list of access points that includes even the most carefully hidden ones. The Hiker’s Hip Pocket Guides to northern California (Sonoma, Mendocino, Humboldt, and DelNorte counties) include every possible access point. It can be a lot of fun finding your way to these lesser known places. We used the Hiker’s Hip Pocket Guide in Mendocino and saw some lovely tiny beaches with its help. When you move to a new area or plan a longer stay along the coast, these guides are worth having. We find new places to visit almost every time we thumb through their pages.

If you’re gonna make a mistake…

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Go Big or Go Home!

That’s one way to look at it. In our case, the error wasn’t intentional, just a momentary lack of judgement that turned out really, really badly.

It rained for two solid days this past week, and when the sun came out on Friday, we wanted to go somewhere interesting. We settled on the Salinas River National Wildlife Refuge, a place we’d been to before. This time, we packed a picnic and planned to walk a few hundred yards out to the beach, rather than walk the trail among the trees.

We made a few detours on the way to look at storm effects on a different beach, so we got a late start. By noon, we turned off Rte. 1 and headed west along the short road to the park. Less than 1/4 mile along, we could see some big puddles, and some tracks going through them. I didn’t remember whether the road was paved under the water and mud. It didn’t look great, so we sat and debated for a minute. Then we went ahead.

That was a mistake. We should have gotten out and gone for a look, which would have convinced us of the futility of driving through this spot in a Prius. We plunged on, and within less than a minute realized our mistake. It was impossible for Jonathan to turn the car around in the mud, and though he successfully backed up about half way back to the paved road, we stuck fast about 100 yards from safety. And yes, the few vehicles that subsequently passed us as we waited for assistance all had four wheel drive.

We tried to get ourselves out of the mud, but we had no tools and the mud was very thick and sticky. In no time, our boots weighed about five pounds per foot, with huge clods of mud stuck everywhere. After a half hour of effort, we realized that we were slowly slipping toward the field of newly-planted cauliflower that lay beside us, and not getting any further out. I got on the phone with road service through our car insurance, State Farm, and started the process of getting help.

When the tow truck arrived, we ran into our first problem. The driver had a big truck but not four wheel drive. He believed he would get stuck. After trying to help us with boards and a shovel for a half hour or so, Francisco went on to his next job promising to alert the State Farm roadside service. After about 20 minutes, I called State Farm again, and when I explained where we were stuck and what was needed, I was told that once a car is more than 100 feet from pavement, it is considered off-roading. She didn’t say that outright, but told me I wasn’t eligible for towing. When I protested, instead of explaining the options, she cut me off, connecting me to a woman who handled roadside assistance for non-State Farm calls. This woman was helpful until the end when she explained that she had to reconnect with State Farm in order to process my request. She connected me to another person who said they would send someone. We got to the end of the call when my phone rang. I put the first person on hold, went to the second, also from State Farm, who said we needed to start the process again. I explained that I was on the line with a State Farm person who was going to dispatch someone and was told that would take care of it. I returned to the person helping me who said she would text me the details.

Just us, the Prius, and nature

That’s where we lost State Farm. Apparently, I should have hung up on the person helping me and gone with the new voice. After both people were off the phone, we never heard from State Farm again. No text with the name of a tow company, no text asking whether we were still waiting for help, not another peep.

In the meantime, Jonathan googled “tow service near me” and ended up getting a person who was willing to get the job done. He didn’t like the mud, he was afraid his truck would become mired, but after backing in toward us and extending his tow cable to the max, his first pull broke his tow cable. Fortunately, he had a spare, and after changing cables, he spent about 90 minutes winching us toward his truck, then moving the truck forward, and winching again, a slow process of getting jolted toward the road. We sat in the car so that he knew where we were and that we were out of the way if the cable snapped again.

Out of the mud at last, only five hours later

It was approaching sunset when we emerged, covered in thick gooey mud, boots, wheels, spatter everywhere. We paid a fortune to the nice man with the tow truck, thanked him for his persistence, and headed home, speculating what we would have done if the sun set and we were still stuck. Abandoning our car over night sounded like a terrible idea, but so did sitting in the car and starting all over again with State Farm.

As we drove home, we noticed that the car was shuddering a bit at higher speed. We attributed it to the mud chunks gradually coming off the wheels. The next day, we picked off the largest lumps of mud, then scrubbed the car with a broom while hosing it off to get it clean enough to take to the car wash. There was less mud on the interior because we’d put plastic shopping bags under our boots. On his return from the car wash, Jonathan gave me the bad news, the car still shook at speeds over 40 mph. Monday it goes to the shop for alignment and we hope that’s all it needs.

This is a tale of our desire to get to one destination overtaking our common sense. In all my writing about travel, I harp on the fact that it isn’t necessary to go to any particular place in order to have a good visit. I should have paid attention to my own advice!

Ode to Birdwatching

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It’s been a long year, and bird watching has helps us get through the months of isolation. On January 13, 2021, we went to Jacks Peak county park to look around. Walking through the woodland of pine and oak reminded me of birding in Brunswick Heads, NSW, Australia. We found the group through our delightful neighbors, and went on walks with them during our month in the area. It was a high point in a year of high points. The trees and plants at Jacks Peak are completely different from Australia, but the overall environment is a similar mix of forest and open areas.

Monterey Bay from Jacks Peak

The climb to the top of Jacks Peak (a hill, really) isn’t difficult. From many places you can see the Monterey Peninsula and the ocean to the northwest, and from other spots we saw the ocean over Carmel to the southwest. The day was unusually warm for January, in the 70s, and the parking lot only had a few cars. Conditions were perfect. The trails are easy to follow, and I was again reminded of birding walks in Australia where we chatted with other birders as we strolled until someone spotted a bird. We always see more birds when we’re with a group, there are many more eyes, and some are highly skilled spotters. Others recognize birdsong. Still others carry spotting scopes or camera equipment with long lenses. After the day’s outing, we receive an email with photos of many of the birds we saw. Going with a group is the way to go.

On Jacks Peak, we did pandemic birding, just the two of us. There didn’t seem to be many birds at all so we basked in the sun and enjoyed the walk. As often happens, though, our path eventually led through a few trees that suddenly appeared to be full of birds. It was difficult to decide where to look first. All the birds were moving so fast that it took several minutes of trying to follow birds from branch to branch before we could identify any of them. There were ruby-crowned kinglets, chestnut-backed chickadees, and a blue-gray gnatcatcher. These are little bitty birds that rarely stop moving. In the trees nearby, we could hear scrub jays. We spotted a brown creeper climbing up the trunk of a tree.

As fast as it began, the flutter passed, the flock of little birds moved off, and the forest seemed entirely empty again. We congratulated each other on what we’d been able to identify and assumed we’d stroll the rest of the trail back without much more to see. Just as we were deciding which trail returned to the parking lot when we walked into another busy stand of trees. Another mixed flock of small birds was browsing through, and we squinted and twisted and adjusted our binoculars to try and identify them. Though it was a mixed flock just like the others we’d seen, here the birds were a bit different. There was a red-breasted nuthatch, and some other tiny birds including a Pacific wren. There were kinglets, but also yellow-rumped warblers, a bird that time and again we identify as something else until it turns to fly away and flashes it’s yellow backside. Townsend’s warblers have similar colors, yellow with black and white, but there seemed to be something different. After a lot of staring we identified a different warbler, and back at the car with the bird book (Sibley Guide to Birds) we identified a new bird for us, the Hermit Warbler. It’s getting to be a big treat to see a bird we’ve never seen before.

When the flock passed, we continued back to the car. Despite our good fortune, we would have identified more birds if we had been with a group and we would have enjoyed the company. We may not get back to our birding friends in Brunswick Heads, but we look forward to the time when we can go out again with fellow birders. In the meantime, we’re staying in practice and enjoying the outdoors.

Point Lobos, and other points

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We are living in California because we have family here and we like the weather, but we didn’t expect this area to become the National Covid Hotspot. We do our best to resist strolling downtown areas, shopping in stores, and any other activity that involves people. We get outdoors for a few hours almost every day, and walking along the coast or the beaches is our favorite activity.

One of the most beautiful places to visit in this area is the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve. Point Lobos covers a rugged rocky point with many tiny inlets. The offshore waters in the Marine Protected Area are described as some of the richest in the US, and the scuba diving the best on the west coast. We live just a few miles away from this wonderful park and looked forward to getting to know its trails.

A small beach protected by tall cliffs is full of loafing harbor seals.
The rocky coast and mist at Point Lobos

Our first visit to Point Lobos wasn’t until almost two months after we moved into the area. Why did it take us so long to get there? Its popularity.

One million people visit the park every year, and there are 150 parking spaces. Doing the math, that means an average of 2,740 people visit the park every day of the year. If three shifts of visitors took turns each day, every car would still have to carry six passengers to fit a single day’s visitors in the 150 available parking spaces. The park closes at 5 pm, so there’s no sunset viewing or dinner picnics, either. Instead, it is possible to park along the highway. Many visitors do that, but it results in a long walk. By the time we parked along the road and walked in, we’d be out of time and energy to look around. We decided to visit a) during the week, b) in the winter, c) not during any holiday season, d) when the weather was poor.

This January, the weather has been glorious. The four inches of rain that we should be getting has not come, and the number of gloomy days has been a minimum. We ended up going to visit Point Lobos on a Monday afternoon, arriving at the entrance between 2:30 and 3 pm. The entrance was open, the “Full” barrier that is usually in place from 8:30 am most days, set aside. We were able to drive into the park as far as we wished and to park anywhere we wanted. Every parking zone had a space or two available. Once out of the car, we had to keep our masks on while walking on the paths. People passed us so frequently there wasn’t time to remove our masks before we needed them on again. The park may not have been full, but there were still plenty of people enjoying the views. We plan to visit more often once we have our “2021 Limited Use Golden Bear Pass”. (For $20 per couple, people over 65 can access state parks from January to Memorial Day and after Labor Day without paying the $9 Senior day use fee.)

On our first visit, we headed for Gibson Beach at the far south end of the park and were rewarded with a beautiful beach reached by a stroll past those harbor seals, along wide, level trails beside rocky cliffs.

Afternoon sun on a sea arch at Point Lobos.

In a park like Point Lobos, where there are so many visitors every day, there are also a lot of people to answer questions. We chatted with a volunteer docent, and passed staff members and docents along the trail and on the beach. There are also a lot of rules. No dogs, no bikes, no picnics on the beach, only in three designated picnic areas. If this sounds regimented, remember those 2,740 people per day trying to walk on the trails and the beach, see the harbor seals, and have a picnic. It takes a lot of management.

Fortunately, there are other options if you want to watch waves crash on the rocks or walk along the beach without strategizing about parking. Right in Carmel, Pacific Grove, or Monterey, there are beaches that can be reached on foot from any of the hotels or Airbnbs nearby. Street parking is easily available during this winter of Covid, though it may be more difficult to find during the summer months.

Driving south from Carmel on Route 1, there are pullouts that let you see the spectacular rocky coast from many places. There isn’t usually access to the beach, but for scenery, (and keeping your shoes clean), this drive is great. If you go far enough, you get to Big Sur, a composite of parks, reserves, beaches, and campgrounds (campgrounds are not yet open).

Driving the opposite direction, north from the Monterey Peninsula along Route 1, Ft. Ord Beach offers broad beaches and fewer people to share with.

One corner of the Monterey Peninsula

We went to the corner of the Monterey Peninsula nearest our house on a gray Monday. Rain threatened, but never got worse than damp mist. The waves were big, 10 ft. or more, and we sat on a park bench to watch for a while. The water was a beautiful dark blue-green, and the breaking waves created patches of pastel color that were gorgeous and unexpected on such a day. As we sat, Jonathan noticed something in the water, a seal, perhaps. I said it was one of the many clumps of kelp, but had to eat my words when there turned out to be a large group of sea otters riding the waves and fishing. We used our birding binoculars to watch the otters float on their backs under the curl of the huge waves, riding up and over just for fun, or diving underneath as waves broke.

The black spots are sea otters

Following the breaking surf into the distance, we discovered surfers bobbing on their boards, waiting for a really big wave. A couple of them took off on long rides away from us along the shore. Nearby, we watched a few spectacular wipe-outs. When we left, they were all still in the water, waiting for that best ride of the day.

When we are not at the shore or planning a walk along the shore, we are checking the tide tables, either to go beach combing at low tide, or to watch the surfers and the big waves at high tide. We always have a mask with us, but most of the time outdoors we don’t need them. Watching the ocean has become one of our favorite diversions. The waves are constantly changing, breaking and whooshing onto the shore. On a sandy shore, the crash of the waves themselves is the loudest sound, while on a rocky beach, the rattle of rock and pebbles stirred by the waves and the undertow can be louder than the sea itself. The ever-changing, but always the same breaking of the waves is mesmerizing, a kind of meditation that lets me forget about the things that I can’t do, if only for a few minutes.

Into the New Year, 2021

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There is a Christmas carol that will appeal to all travelers:

….bearing gifts, we traverse afar, field and fountain, moor and mountain, following yonder star….

Whether it’s Kazakhstan or the entrance to the mall, we all have our star, somewhere we’d like to go in 2021. Though we still have no sense of when local stay-at-home orders will be lifted, or when we’ll get vaccinated, making plans gives us hope. We need that hope right now to get through this particularly uncomfortable final stretch toward some of the life we left behind last March.

When we are not at the shore, planning a walk along the shore, or checking the tide tables, we’ve begun to talk about our plans for travel when we can once again get on a plane safely. Many people have traveled across the country or further on planes during the past months. We don’t have a pressing reason to travel any more before being vaccinated. Now is a good time to plan. Just like gardeners reading seed catalogues, we can begin to ogle Airbnb listings and think about destinations.

Athens, Greece (A. Savin)

At first, we thought we’d take up our itinerary where we left off, visiting Greece. Now, I’m thinking about that wandering star and where it might lead us. My latest idea is to consider all the islands we haven’t visited, from Malta to Newfoundland to most of the Caribbean. I could go from island to island for many months. We are even contemplating spending a couple of weeks at ….(gasp!)…. a resort. Jonathan has been cooking every night since March with only a few exceptions. We used to make a point of eating out once a week to try local restaurants, and to give him a break from cooking. That hasn’t happened much recently. If we could find a resort that has really good food he might enjoy a break from the kitchen. That’s a topic we can dream about, and also do some internet research. If you have been to an island resort that you enjoyed, please tell me about it in the comments.

No matter what happens next, or how long we have to wait to get vaccinated, we’ll have our plans ready when it’s time to pack up again.

Two Suitcases: A traveling retirement. Our new book is out!

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Today is the launch of our new ebook, Two Suitcases: A Traveling Retirement. I’ve taken the first five years of this blog, distilled the most important travel-related advice and stories from it, and turned it into a book. Jonathan is my co-author, adding in the nuts and bolts of finding our homes via Airbnb or VRBO. He’s also in charge of the kitchen, with how-tos and recipes.

We share the process of planning for travel during retirement, from assembling a wish list of places, to moving into an apartment in Barcelona. The first five years of our travels explore the planning and downsizing process, along with experiences and lessons from life in motion around the world.

We’ve enjoyed every minute of our travels. Maybe not every minute, but most of them. We are waiting for the pandemic to ebb so we can go back on the road. On the other hand, I’m now wondering what will be different when international travel resumes. Regular readers of llywindatravels.com will have seen my post on disaster books. I hope none of the things that happened in them come to pass in the next few years and that we really will be able to visit other countries the way we have in the past.

Two Suitcases is both memoir and how-to. When I started writing, I thought that turning all those blog posts into a book would be a breeze. I did read many advice emphasizing that blogs are not books, and can’t just be sandwiched between covers. I spent about a year and a half laying out our story. I then recruited Jonathan and we spent another year, and then some, rewriting it. My Christmas letter two years ago mentions the book that I hoped to have out “shortly.” I am delighted that we’ve gotten to the finished book, and I’m looking forward to continuing the blog and writing about our second five years of retirement and travel. Whether you are an armchair traveler or someone who keeps a packed suitcase by the door, I hope you will enjoy sharing our travels. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the book, your travels, your future travel plans, your thoughts about travel in the future, or whatever is on your mind.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

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Set aside for a moment your wait for Covid vaccine, anxiety about the future, job security, and world peace, and let’s talk about the holidays.

My vote for the best time of year are the two weeks leading up to Christmas. Especially this year, when we’ll be alone for our holiday feast, the festivities have all taken place in anticipation of Christmas. By the time the big day arrives, we’ll have had most of the fun.

About three weeks before Christmas, I found an artificial tree, wreaths and other holiday decorations stored in a closet, and decided to put together a Zoom nook with everything together in a tiny upstairs space. The tree is actually very narrow, and it makes a cheerful background. I enjoyed arranging it.

Two weeks before Christmas, I started making cookies, using a recipe that looked good on line and claimed to make gingerbread men that hold their shape. It worked well, and my first batches looked good. I needed a few more, once I decided that in addition to the cookie exchange with my daughters (in lieu of gifts), I wanted to send gingerbread to my family members around the country. I tried a different recipe for the next batch, and stirred it up according to the recipe, but then realized that after I added the 5 cups of flour required, I’d have a lot of gingerbread men. For the rest of the week, I had trays of gingerbread men on almost every table.

I took my time with decorating, and finally decided I was finished when there wasn’t much of a blank spot anywhere. Every time I walked by my trays of cookies, I’d stop and have a look, grab my tube of royal icing from the fridge, and draw in a few more fingers, toes, buttons, or other details. I realized that if I didn’t stop, the icing wouldn’t harden and I couldn’t wrap and ship them all.

In the midst of my cookie baking, we took time to watch the gorgeous sunset over Asilomar Beach, and we stayed until the sky darkened enough for us to see Jupiter and Saturn close to each other over the darkening southwest horizon. They are just two dots in our binoculars, but I am humbled to think that this particular combination hasn’t been in our sky since the 1200s. I am looking at a version of the heavens that some medieval ancestor also saw on a winter solstice long ago.

One week before Christmas, I put my finished boxes of cookies in the mail. I had a lot of fun making them, and I think my family will enjoy eating them. Not long after that packages started rolling in, mostly cookies, and even a few gifts (We don’t exchange gifts any more). The doorbell rang the other night (a very rare occurrence, especially after dark), and there was a young man holding a bottle of wine and a note. “There’s no name,” he said. “It just says it’s from Wine Santa. Someone sent you a very nice bottle of wine.” I believe he was one of Santa’s elves and that he was wearing a dark raincoat over his bright green fur-trimmed outfit.

With all this good will landing on the doorstep, every day is happier than the last, as I wonder what will arrive next. Real holiday cards arrive in our little-used mailbox, and we all know that mail we are happy to receive is becoming a rare phenomenon. Holiday cards (paper or digital) are a way to catch up with friends and family, whether we chat frequently or whether Christmas is our annual moment of communication.

By the time Christmas day arrives, I will have eaten lots of cookies and candy, and will be resting on my laurels for having send my packets of gingerbread men out into the world, followed by my electronic holiday greetings. We’ll have a delicious dinner featuring Jonathan’s Christmas ham, and ending with my trifle, but for me, the fun is in the anticipation of surprises, surprise communications from friends, surprise at the wonderful and delicious cookies our exchange has produced, and happiness at the warmth of friendship that doesn’t depend on physical presence. Maybe next year we can catch up on the hugs we are missing this time.