Roamin’ Holiday

As I’ve posted in the past (more than once, such was my disappointment), I was supposed to go to Italy on my most recent vacation. But no. Of course not. COVID-19 has made victims of us all, in one way or another. I’m just grateful that me and mine are all alive to date.

But I couldn’t stand the idea of rotting away on my couch, watching the socially distant parade pass me by, as it were. And the truth is, I have only lived in the state of Washington for less than 6 years, so there’s a lot of this area that I’ve yet to see. So we planned 3 day trips and one overnight jaunt.

Traveling during a pandemic is an entirely different animal. We didn’t go inside any shops. Souvenirs were all but nonexistent. We didn’t make any new friends. We survived on homemade sandwiches and drinks, and occasional takeout food, mostly pizza. We masked up for any public bathrooms or anytime anyone looked like they’d be getting within rock throwing distance of us. Our hands were washed within an inch of their lives. We stayed in the car the majority of the time, and took pictures out the windows. But frankly, most of the places we went looked like ghost towns. I half expected to see tumbleweeds rolling down main street. We did see deer every single day of our travels. (I suspect that deer are loving this pandemic.)

I’m really enjoying living in a state that is so varied. We saw canals and sounds and islands and valleys and mountains and deserts and forests primeval. We saw a volcano and the unbelievable destruction it left in its wake. We saw farms and orchards and industry galore, all quiet, all empty. We saw one charming, deserted town after another. We put about 1500 miles on the car.

So I guess you might say that instead of a Roman Holiday, we had a Roamin’ Holiday. It wasn’t what we’d planned, but it was good. These days, it’s just good to be healthy and see new things. That’s more than enough. That’s everything.

Watch this space for more detailed descriptions of our wanderings in coming days!

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During the trip, we saw this rainbow. It was so vivid that it looked like hard candy. I’ve never seen anything like it. We snapped a picture, but the picture didn’t do it justice. I had to tweak it in editing to make the colors as intense as they actually were. So yes, sorry, the photo is altered, but this is an excellent representation of what we really saw.

Staycation

I’ve already moaned about the fact that I’m supposed to be in Italy right now. There’s no sense in dwelling on something over which I have absolutely no control. So now it’s time to salvage this train wreck of a vacation.

Originally, I had planned to take 11 days off of work. So combining that with weekends, I was expecting 17 days of Italian bliss. In light of current circumstances, and due to the fact that we’re down several bridgetenders due to their medical vulnerability, I plan to work 6 of the 11 days I was going to take off. That leaves me with 5 days off, with a weekend on either end, so a total of 9 days to fill up with… what?

Back before the pandemic was even called that, we thought of maybe going to Iceland instead of Italy. More isolated, we thought. Surely Iceland would be safe. And then they started reporting cases. So then we thought, okay, we’ll stay in the US. How about Hawaii? Uh, not so much. It will be a long time before I’m comfortable flying again.

Then we thought, well, maybe we can rent a motor home and go camping. But none of the state or national parks are open yet, for anything other than day use. So that’s out.

So now we’ve decided on a few mini trips. One to the Olympic Peninsula, to wave at a friend from across her yard. Another to Whidbey Island to drive around. We are, however, very aware that we should not be exposing vulnerable communities to our cooties. So we’ll gas up here at home. We’ll pack our own food. We won’t be shopping or dining in these communities. Mostly we’ll stay in our car and maybe hop out for views and the like if no one else is around. And if human encounters can’t be avoided, we’ll wear masks. That should limit our impact.

We’re also considering two overnight trips. One to enjoy the scenic North Cascades Highway (and wave at yet another friend from across the yard), and another to stay in an uninhabited cabin that a relative of ours has generously offered to let us use. Again, we’ll be bringing our own food and not going into shops of any kind.

In between all these comings and goings, there will be quite a few at-home days and evenings, so I’ve come up with a list of things I might do to pass the time. I have to be careful, though, to not turn these into “must do” lists. A vacation is supposed to relieve stress, not add to it. This is more of an “if the spirit moves me” list.

This list has two basic categoires:

Fun stuff:

  • Read.

  • Visit a friend across her yard.

  • Do a puzzle.

  • Paint some terracotta pots and put plants in them.

  • Make moss paste. (Take moss, put it in a blender with a bit of water, then smear the thick paste on a rock that you actually WANT to be mossy. Keep it wet until it establishes itself.)

  • Do some adult coloring.

  • Do some other crafts.

  • Figure out how to edit a video I made about blowing my bridge horn to thank frontline workers.

  • Take naps.

  • Learn more Pokemon Go skills so that I can compete with the 8 year olds.

  • Be my usual social media, Netflix watching, couch potato self.

Stuff that will give me a sense of accomplishment:

  • Work on my second book.

  • Remove the ugly wallpaper in the bathroom.

  • Organize my Little Free Library books so they’re ready to go when I’m able to reopen.

  • Organize my digital photos and documents, deleting some and consolidating others.

  • Get rid of stuff that has been sitting in the attic for years.

So yeah. That’s my staycation. It sure isn’t Italy, but I’m trying to make the best of it, and I really am looking forward to getting more artsy. So we’ll see how it goes. I suspect this will generate several blog posts, so watch this space!

staycation

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I Should Have Been in Italy Today

I have reached the nadir (I hope) of my quarantine depression today. Because today, after thirty long years of trying, my plane should have been touching down at the Venice Marco Polo Airport. We had made the airline reservations. We had booked all our hotels and Airbnb’s and train tickets for a two week, Italian extravaganza.

We had planned to spend three glorious days in Venice, then cross the top of the country by train to visit the Cinque Terra, then go on down to Assisi, the hometown of St. Francis. From there, we’d have settled in to Sorrento, to use it as a hub to visit Naples, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Capri, and the Amalfi Coast, and then spend a few days in Rome before returning home.

And then, COVID-19. So close. So freakin’ close.

It’s not the first time that my Italy plans have been scuttled. Economic downturns, relationship breakups, and a relocation to the west coast that took all the Italy savings I had been putting away faithfully every month, for 10 ½ years, are some of the many disappointments I’ve experienced. But this time I had actually held the freakin’ tickets in my hands. I had written out the itinerary. I had read the guidebooks and watched everything Rick Steves had to say on the subject. We had even paid for a consultation with one of his staff. What could possibly go wrong?

Now I’m wondering if international travel of any kind will actually be viable ever again. I suspect this isn’t going to be the last pandemic. It certainly wasn’t the first.

I realize that I look like a privileged, bourgeois brat to be whining about this when people are dying and losing their jobs. I know that I have it so much better than so many people. I’m extremely lucky.

But it’s really hard not to be sad when I was supposed to be in Italy today. It feels like I’m in a state of mourning that no one will understand. It feels like I really have no legitimate right to be upset, and that makes it so much worse.

This trip would have generated a lot of blog posts, too. Maybe I’ll make some spaghetti for dinner and try not to cry into it. I suppose I could blog about that. Or maybe not.

Venice

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A Mini-Break to Ocean Shores

Every once in a while it’s nice to have a change of scenery. It’s like a palate cleanser for the soul. I could definitely use one of those every now and again. And since I had yet to experience the Washington coast, we decided to take a little overnight trip to Ocean Shores, which is only about 2 1/2 hours from Seattle.

I have only seen the Pacific three times in my life, and never toward the end of December, so I was braced for drama, and it didn’t disappoint. Stormy, rough, ice cold, it isn’t a place for sunbathing or swimming. And yet it was beautiful. I always manage to breathe more deeply when embraced by the salty sea air.

What I wasn’t expecting was the town of Ocean Shores itself. It may be clinging to the coast of the Pacific Northwest, but if you subtract the cold rain, it could have just as easily been a Florida beach town. The kitschy little souvenir shops (one of which you entered through the mouth of a shark), and the delightful little restaurants (one of which was in a mini lighthouse), could have easily been overlooking the Atlantic Southeast.

Given the time of year, we pretty much had the place to ourselves, but I could easily close my eyes and imagine it in the height of summer, chock full of guys in board shorts and children wearing water wings and making sand castles. It almost made me homesick for Florida. Almost.

Another weird connection is that Pat Boone lived in Ocean Shores for many years, and he was born in Jacksonville, Florida, where I lived for decades. So there’s that, too.

If ever I feel the need to reconnect with Florida, now I know it’s only a few hours away. That’s kind of comforting. I suspect I’ll be back.

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Foreign Travel 101

I absolutely live to travel. It’s my reason for being. I’ve been to 22 countries, and I suspect that I have many more miles to go before I take that final sleep.

It has never been very far from my mind that I’m really a lot luckier than most people in terms of travel. According to this article, 40% of Americans never leave the country, 10% have never left their home state, and 76% wish they could travel more than they do currently. That’s a crying shame.

Based on those statistics, it’s safe to assume that for many people who are traveling abroad, it’s a trip of a lifetime for which they feel ill-prepared. But never fear. All of the advice I’m about to give you has come from years of trial and error.

First, read my blog post entitled Foreign Travel Advice for Americans. Even if you aren’t American, you’ll find it helpful. This is a very detailed post that discusses all the homework one must do prior to any trip. The more you do ahead of time, the less stressful and more fruitful your travel experience will be. I can’t emphasize this enough. For every hour of legwork you do in advance, you’ll save yourself days of hassle on the voyage.

Next, take a peek at my blog post entitled Packing for Your Trip. This is a master packing list I’ve made over time. Take that list, eliminate those things that don’t apply to you, your trip, or the season in which you are traveling, and what you have left should be a very thorough packing list for any holiday. But do yourself a favor and pack light. You have no idea how much time you’ll spend schlepping your luggage from pillar to post. So if you don’t absolutely need something, leave it home.

But it occurs to me that neither of those two posts actually gets into the nuts and bolts of building your trip. Package deals complete with tour guides are very easy and convenient, but frankly, I find those experiences to be soul-sucking. I’d much rather have a do it yourself trip, so that’s what I’ll describe below. Some of this is pretty basic, but it will come in handy if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

  1. Determine how much vacation time you have.

  2. Get a good, up to date guidebook of the country you’d like to visit, and read it cover to cover, highlighting the things you feel you absolutely must see, and, in a different color, the things you’d simply like to see.

  3. Also, talk to friends who have already taken this trip. They will be your best sources to determine what can or should be skipped, and what absolutely should not be missed.

  4. A good guidebook should be able to tell you how many days you need for each location. List your must see destinations, and how many days they should take. As hard as it may be to do, you might have to eliminate some of your must sees based on the time you have available. On the other hand, if you find you have a surplus of days (you lucky devil), you can start adding in your “like to see” destinations as well.

  5. Print out a line drawing of the country in question, and then pencil in the must-see destinations to determine which places are close together, so you can decide what route you should take through the country.

  6. Don’t forget that you’ll likely lose a half a day each time you move from one city to the next, so try to cluster your locations into hubs, and stay in central locations. Believe me when I say that it’s an absolute horror to stay in a different place every single night.

  7. Now that you have a sense of where you’d like to go, and in what order, it’s time to determine when to travel. Most guidebooks will tell you the high, shoulder, and low travel seasons for the country in question. Choose carefully.

    1. In low season, things will be cheaper and there will be fewer crowds, but certain destinations will be closed. Check before you go. It would be very unfortunate to arrive and discover that the one thing you wanted to see the most is shuttered for the next few months.

    2. On the other hand, high season is usually high season for a reason. The weather is optimal and there are a lot of exciting things going on. But the massive wall of humanity, along with their screaming children, can be a misery.

    3. I try to do shoulder season. It’s slightly less expensive and slightly less crowded than high season, and slightly more is open than in low season. If you can’t do that, at least do the very beginning or the very end of high season, especially if it means school is in session and the kiddies are less likely to be chewing on your ankles.

  8. Okay, great. Now you have a basic idea of where you want to go and when, and what you want to see. Let’s find out if it’s even possible. First of all, check into flights to and from home, and see if they’re available on the days in question. I highly recommend that you try to do your international flights on Monday through Thursday, rather than going on the weekends, as those weekday flights are usually much less expensive. But shop around. Visit Kayak.com, for example, and then check the website of the airline in question to see if an even better deal is available. Don’t forget to take advantage of any mileage points you’ve accumulated through credit cards. Don’t put this off until the last minute. The more lead time you have, the more options and price ranges will be available. You’ll find that once you’ve reserved those flights, the trip will seem even more exciting and real.

  9. Once that is done, it’s time to figure out how you’ll get from place to place within the country. Should you travel by train, bus, rental car, or domestic flights? Again, your guidebook will give you great advice along those lines.

  10. Once you have a sense of how you want to get around, and a basic skeleton of your itinerary, now check to be sure that your transportation mode is available on the desired day. No sense in planning to take a ferry to the Isle of Capri on a Sunday if the ferries don’t run on that day. Adjust your itinerary accordingly. (If you’re a museum buff, it’s also important to make sure the museum in question will be open on the day you plan to visit.)

  11. Once you’ve got your itinerary and your transportation nailed down, it’s time to reserve your hotels. Think about your budget. Decide whether you want to stay at 5 star hotels or Airbnbs or hostels or, if you’re really brave and don’t require luxury or privacy, check out couchsurfing.com. Read up on all the possibilities. Visit their websites. Check availability. Then make your reservations.

  12. Now the trip is really shaping up! It’s time to figure out what you’d like to do from day to day. What sites will you visit? How much time will it take? Take your guidebook seriously if it recommends advance reservations for various venues, and plan accordingly.

Don’t overpack your itinerary. Allow for things to go awry. Contrary to popular belief, the trains don’t always run on time. You may wish to linger longer than you anticipated. Who knows? A local might befriend you and invite you to attend a wedding. Experiences like that are priceless. Give yourself a little padding and be flexible.

Above all, remember, this is supposed to be fun! Do the work in advance and then relax and enjoy the trip! Bon voyage!

This spring, we plan to spend a few weeks in Italy! I’m so excited! I’ve wanted to explore Italy in depth for decades. But except for a brief, 12 hour taste of Venice (which was at best a cruel, frustrating tease), life just kept getting in the way. Rest assured I’ll be blogging about the experience in future posts.

Travel

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News Blackout

The entire two weeks of my Alaskan vacation, I did not access the news. Not once. No newspapers, no radio, no streaming media. Nothing. Aliens could have invaded the planet and I wouldn’t have known. Cheeto-head had to fend for himself. The human moral compass no doubt continued to spin erratically in search of true North. I was not subjected to the vertigo that that can cause.

It was pure bliss.

Oh, I was already aware of the stress that news causes me. I knew that not a day goes by without my feeling frustrated, helpless, and outraged because of the things going on in the world. I knew I needed a break.

But as they say, a fish doesn’t know the quality of the water it is in until it jumps out of it. I knew it was bad, but I didn’t expect to feel my blood pressure drop. I felt physically better. More rested. My attitude improved. People didn’t seem to suck nearly as much as they normally do. (Well, most of them, anyway.) It was cleansing.

I’m not saying that we should bury our heads in the sand as a general rule. Our leaders must be held accountable. We must bear witness. We have to strive for change or else society will sink to its lowest common denominator.

But every now and then, it’s nice to be reminded that the earth is going to continue to revolve around the sun with or without my help. It’s good to take time to reassess and revitalize. It’s important to live to fight another day.

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Signs Along the Way

I just got home from an amazing trip to coastal and central Oregon, and brace yourself, it has inspired no fewer than 15 ideas for blog posts. But don’t worry, if you’re not a travel enthusiast, I’ll be spreading them out over the next month or so, so as not to drive you off. (I’d miss you guys!)

One of my favorite things about traveling is seeing the strange signs and t-shirts I encounter along the way. They can really give you the feel for a place better than anything else. (If you use your imagination, that is.)

The best sign I saw was across the road on a busy highway. There was no convenient place to pull over or turn around for a picture without risking life and limb, so, this blog never being far from my mind, I had to content myself with a note. The sign stretched the length of a long, rustic wood building, and it said, simply, “A large variety of wood!”

I couldn’t tell if the place was open or closed. There were no cars in the parking lot. The windows were small and dusty. Was the owner selling firewood? Driftwood art? Elaborate sculptures carved from logs? Furniture? Or something rated x? I have no idea. I’ve got to say that for some reason it makes me really happy that this place exists. But I’d suggest that the proprietor might want to expand upon his signage or his displays just a tiny bit so that passersby would know if they are a part of his target market, because I’d be afraid to stop without knowing. Just sayin’.

In no particular order, here are some of the signs that I found pic-worthy along the way.

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This place will merit a blog post all its own. We saw a lot of evidence of how hard it was to travel around here back before there were paved roads and Starbucks every 500 yards, but this one pretty much says it all.

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This one was taken at Crooked River Bridge. I will attest to the fact that 300 feet is a really long way down. I know, because I got a wicked sense of vertigo while checking for dog carcasses. I’m happy to report that I didn’t see any. A few thoughts on this sign: It seems like there’s more concern for the dogs than the children. And there was a high wall blocking you from the precipice. It would take some effort to get your dog to launch itself into that abyss. Hysterical sign maker? Or is there a dark side to Oregon that they aren’t telling us? Hmmm…

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This one made me laugh. It was at the High Desert Museum in Bend, Oregon. That amazing place also merits its own post. But after the last sign, I thought I should show you that Oregonians have a sense of humor, too.

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This one made us do a u-turn. So, you go to the state park, and then you recycle yourself, big time. Glad to hear that Oregon takes the environment so seriously!

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Now this, at the Tillamook Creamery, (which will also get its own post) is my kind of sign.

And I’m leaving you with two t-shirts that I would have bought, because I have a twisted sense of humor. But I already have way too many t-shirts. Carrion, dear reader. Carrion.

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Don’t You Have Jobs?

I ask that question quite a bit. As a bridgetender I get to look down upon the leisure class, literally and figuratively. Up in my tower, watching the yachts and the sailboats floating past, often with relatively young people on them, at 2 p.m. on a Wednesday, for example, it’s hard not to be envious. How does one pull that off? I guess I never got the memo.

I also am shocked at how much traffic whooshes down the interstate at 3 a.m. on a Monday morning. Isn’t it a school night? Don’t you have to be at work in, like, 4 hours? Come on, people.

Yes, I get it. Some people have even stranger work hours than I do. Others actually have managed to retire, although I can’t imagine how in this economy. Others are on vacation, although they can’t possibly all be, all the freakin’ time, can they? And then there are the unemployed, and the disabled, and those who actually work from their cars.

Even so, I’m constantly astounded by all the to-ing and fro-ing that goes on in this country. But when all is said and done, the fact that this is the first question I ask probably says a lot more about me than it does about the world and how it functions.

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Well, *I* was working, at least.

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The Curse of Summer Vacations

Holy moly, it got up to 88 degrees here the other day. If I were back in Florida, I’d be thanking my lucky stars for that nice, cool respite. Here in Seattle, the land of no air conditioners, 88 degrees is pure, unadulterated hell. It’s really hard to sleep when it’s that hot. People start getting cranky and acting crazy. Welcome to summer.

When I was a kid, I used to long for summer. I’d daydream about summer vacation while sitting at my school desk. (I daydreamed quite a bit. I was usually about a dozen lessons ahead of my classmates.) School was tedious for me. I could have moved much faster along my academic path if I didn’t have to drag all that dead weight behind me.

So summer vacation, for me, meant freedom. It was a time of lightening my load. It was my idea of Shangri-la.

I have absolutely no idea why I felt that way. The reality of summer never fit with my fantasies. I came from a hard working, very poor family. It’s not like we summered in the Hamptons or something. My mother had to work. If we went anywhere, we rarely went far, and we didn’t stay for long.

The reality of summer for me was lots and lots and lots of horrible daytime television, interspersed with the escape of library books, and naps. Blessed naps to break up the suffocating boredom. Often by the end of summer I was sleeping all day and watching TV all night.

It’s a wonder I didn’t lose my mind. Maybe I did. Because as soon as school started back up again, I would revert back to counting the days until the next summer vacation. It took me years to stop looking forward with miserable longing. Now is where it’s at, baby.

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My Very Last Vacation

I live for travel. I used to go to a different foreign country every two years. I miss that. I hope to get back to that financial place again at some point. I also hope to have someone to travel with again one of these days. Traveling alone isn’t nearly as fun. Who knows what the future will bring.

One thing I do know, and that’s that I will take my very last vacation someday. I fervently hope that I don’t know it’s my last one at the time that I’m taking it. That’s a little too bittersweet for my liking.

No, I’d much rather take a lovely tour of Italy and then come home and be hit by a crosstown bus as I’m crossing the street to the bookstore to buy the guidebook for my next trip. If I have to shuffle off this mortal coil, I’d like to do it while planning for an exciting future. I don’t want to slowly circle the drain while gazing fixedly down that dark and moldy hole.

Half the fun of travel, for me, is the anticipation. The planning. I like to read everything I can about my destination, because nothing pisses me off more than coming back home to discover that there was something really spectacular within walking distance that I didn’t see. That leaves me feeling like I didn’t do my homework, that I’ve shirked my responsibilities, that I’ve failed myself.

I don’t have the luxury of returning to places I’ve visited again and again. The world is too big. There’s way too much to see. So the end of each vacation is kind of like a little death. I mourn the amazing place I’ve just been, because I know that the odds are high that I’ll never see it again. If I had to couple that mourning with the concept that I’d also never get to see anyplace else again, ever, it would be entirely too much to bear.

travel

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