Happy Trails from Traveling Tales: 2018

Cozumel, Mex­i­co: On the Seas of Change

Where have you been? Where are you going?” 

Con­sid­ered on a cos­mic lev­el, these sim­ple and famil­iar words posed by fel­low trav­el­ers strike ter­ror in our hearts. 

Back home, round-the-clock news of unprece­dent­ed envi­ron­men­tal cri­sis, polit­i­cal tur­moil, and per­son­al tragedy can tip the scale —knock­ing us off cen­ter. Find­ing a bal­ance between action/compassion and indi­vid­ual well being pos­es unique oppor­tu­ni­ties as well as risks. Can respon­si­ble cit­i­zens take a break with­out guilt?

Talk­ing with locals and vis­i­tors in dif­fer­ent coun­tries with dis­tinct val­ues and beliefs, lan­guages, reli­gions, gov­ern­ments, social/family struc­tures, work, and lifestyles chal­lenges us to find com­mon ground for under­stand­ing. What qual­i­ties might all trav­el­ers on life’s jour­ney share? 

Fun­da­men­tal dri­ves include a desire to con­nect with oth­er human beings in mean­ing­ful ways, keep our loved ones (peo­ple and pets) safe, and pro­vide for pri­ma­ry needs. Beyond the basics, trav­el has shown us peo­ple uni­ver­sal­ly love gen­uine laugh­ter, a kind word, and a chance to help oth­ers. 

We invite you to take a few qui­et moments and join us for a review of some won­der­ful places to vis­it — in per­son or through these many images and a few words. Join us now for some adven­ture. Click on a top­ic below or sim­ply scroll through the text.

Please post com­ments at bot­tom under “Leave a Reply”. Check a box if you’d like noti­fi­ca­tion by email of any fol­low-up mes­sages. 

Hap­py Trav­els!

Rita & Stephen

TEXAS TIMES

Around Sugar Land

Lucky to cel­e­brate New Year’s Eve with Chris and Michelle, along with Grand­cats Mol­ly and Pop­py, who loves to shel­ter out­side under her favorite gar­de­nia bush. Rita’s broth­er Lar­ry from Cal­i­for­nia vis­it­ed on the return leg of his annu­al cross-coun­try dri­ve. And final­ly, five years after arriv­ing in the South­west, Bear got his wish: a size-appro­pri­ate, gen­uine Texas cow­boy hat. Hard to believe the Swiss nation­al Herr Bear turns 30 this year!

We enjoyed days out at near­by Galve­ston Island State Park, jump­ing into the crisp Gulf waters, count­ing brown pel­i­cans, and relax­ing with a cup of hot tea in the sun.

Back home in the kitchen, Stephen exper­i­ment­ed by chance with putting waf­fle bat­ter into the sand­wich mak­er. Cake-like and neat­ly pack­aged, the “toasties” worked! Per­fect with maple syrup and fresh rasp­ber­ries. Next up: toast­ed cheese “sarnies” in the waf­fle mak­er?

Animal Action

Firsta brief look at crea­tures serv­ing a pur­pose out­side in nature  – from the beau­ti­ful to the bes­tial — around Sug­ar Land’s local Brooks Lake.

1. Job duties: Guard com­mu­ni­ty pool in the cold­est of winds; keep non-mem­bers out. Like­ly can­di­date: Hun­kered-down, fear­less Blue Heron 

2. Job duties: Work well in team; enter­tain pedes­tri­ans; quack – a lot. Like­ly can­di­dates: Mus­covy ducks; Loons

3. Job duties: Intim­i­date curi­ous onlook­ers; imper­son­ate pre-his­toric Pterosaurs. Like­ly can­di­date: Dou­ble-crest­ed Cor­morant

4. Job duties: Ter­ror­ize unex­pect­ing fish­er­men and kayak­ers. Like­ly can­di­date: Alli­ga­tor Gar – the largest, longest-lived fresh­wa­ter fish in Texas with recent catch­es 8’ long, aged 60 with rel­a­tives over 250 mil­lion years old!

Sec­onda short sto­ry about non-domes­tic ani­mal species inside the home. Prepar­ing for the hol­i­days, Stephen lift­ed a long pole above his head to release the trap door to the attic. As he looked away for a moment, he felt a soft, slight­ly rub­bery nudge to his extend­ed hand. A quick gaze up revealed the source: a Green Anole (aka chameleon) or com­mon lizard.  OK, no big deal, but what if she escapes into the rest of the house and pro­duces young? But worse yet, what if she gets into the choco­late stash?

After hear­ing shouts, Rita rushed to the res­cue with a large yel­low bowl and lid. After sev­er­al not-calm attempts by Stephen to coax the crit­ter into the con­tain­er, suc­cess was ours. Rita slid on the lid, raced down the stairs, and gen­tly placed the bowl on its side out­doors on the ground. Whew. But the lit­tle one froze. Was she dead from shock? Ooh, Kar­ma. But thank­ful­ly, when we returned lat­er, she was gone and (hope­ful­ly) out of harm’s way.

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UK: Family,Friends & Fun

Family

Grand­dog Bet­ty always steals the show, whether nap­ping among her favorite pink uni­corn and ted­dy bear toys or gaz­ing up ador­ing­ly at Stephen. Joanne showed us around Bur­ford, Eng­land, a medieval mar­ket town and Aston Pot­tery, a fes­tive feast of gifts, toys, and good­ies. We cel­e­brat­ed a hol­i­day meal at The Five Alls, local Cotswold pub steeped in his­to­ry and atmos­phere, serv­ing great veg­gie food.

Friends

Spe­cial friends Pru and John invit­ed us to their home in the coun­try near Read­ingEng­land to share a few fun­ny mem­o­ries from the past. We migrat­ed to a near­by local pub for a typ­i­cal­ly tasty meal before bid­ing adieu. A long evening over, we were anx­ious to get back to our hotel as heavy rain and fog threat­ened a near black out. Once on the road: crrrr-unch, a loud sound and our rental car’s tyre (note British spelling) had blown out. Uh-oh. 

For­tu­nate­ly, we were able to nav­i­gate to a side street — des­o­late with a sin­gle dim street­light. As water and wind hailed down on us, Stephen brave­ly jacked up the wheel, changed the tyre, and bolt­ed it tight with tee­ny, tiny tools. Rita played the famil­iar role of coach while direct­ing her iPhone flash­light and read­ing out loud instruc­tions from the car user’s man­u­al. Pret­ty tense…and then silence. Done, ready to go. 

Except for one final note: Rita looked down at the curb and noticed a large rusty stain. Yup, you guessed it. Unknow­ing­ly, Stephen had ripped his knuck­les roy­al­ly on the cement. Luck­i­ly, one of us had alco­hol wipes and Band-Aids at the ready. Close call, but got back safe­ly!

Stratford-upon-Avon

A small town some 90 miles NW of Lon­don, Strat­ford prides itself as the birth­place of William Shake­speare (1564–1616). The famous poet, play­wright, and actor wrote 38 plays, numer­ous son­nets, and poems. Best-known plays include Romeo & Juli­etMuch Ado About Noth­ingA Mid­sum­mer Night’s Dream, and Ham­let.

Appar­ent­ly, at the ten­der age of 18, William hasti­ly mar­ried Anne Hath­away, age 26. And, accord­ing to his­tor­i­cal record, she was preg­nant at the time.  (See Resources.)

National Trust Properties

The over 300 prop­er­ties of the UK Nation­al Trust for Eng­land, Wales, and North­ern Ire­land include cas­tles, his­toric sites, gar­dens, manor homes, and rur­al land­scapes. What’s spe­cial about these places? From the grandiose to the hum­ble, these trea­sures demon­strate in minute detail the his­to­ry of a great land and its peo­ple.

On a per­son­al lev­el, we love the home­made veg­gie soups, whole­grain breads & scones –- and occa­sion­al­ly (ha,ha) the desserts! Many prop­er­ties have their own gar­dens where veg­eta­bles, fruits, and herbs for the kitchen are grown (and then served in the tea room), often with the help of local vol­un­teers. 

The next sec­tion includes names of loca­tions vis­it­ed (in Eng­land) and a few typ­i­cal scenes to spike your inter­est. See the Trust web­site at end for more detailed infor­ma­tion on indi­vid­ual sites. 

Lydford Gorge, Dartmoor National Park 

Lyd­ford, near Tavi­s­tock, Devon

Check out Stephen’s brief (50 sec­ond) video of our Lyd­ford Gorge adven­ture below.

The Vyne Estate: Former Tudor Palace

Bas­ingstoke, Hamp­shire

Cotehele: Tudor House & Gardens

St. Dominick, near Saltash, Corn­wall

Castle Drogo, Dartmoor National Park

Drew­steign­ton, near Exeter, Devon (under­go­ing con­ser­va­tion)

Coleton Fishacre: Country Retreat & Garden

Kingswear, Devon

Polesden Lacey: Edwardian Country Retreat

Great Bookham, near Dork­ing, Sur­rey

Buckland Abbey: House & Museum, Great Barn

Yelver­ton, Devon

Greenway: Agatha Christie’s Home, Gardens & Boathouse 

Galmp­ton, near Brix­ham, Devon

Quarry Bank: 18thCentury Cotton Mill, House & Gardens

Styal, Wilm­slow, Cheshire 

Wales

Long live Wales! What a won­der­ful place to enjoy nature’s won­ders. One of our favorite whim­si­cal spots, Port­meiri­on in Gwynedd, North Wales, fea­tures the Castell Deu­draeth Hotel, cas­tle-like Vic­to­ri­an man­sion on a near­by hill­side. The wee town was designed and built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis over a 50-year peri­od (1925–1975). Who has that kind of patience today?

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NORDICS

Rosen­borg Cas­tle, a Roy­al Her­mitage in Copen­hagen, Den­mark

Something’s dif­fer­ent about this part of the world. You can almost taste it in the salty sea air. Peo­ple bike on des­ig­nat­ed paths – every­where. Chil­dren walk out­side dur­ing the school day. A friend­ly grand­moth­er sells her hand­made, felt bears at the local mar­ket in the town square. A young serv­er at the local café chats open­ly about her upcom­ing trav­els to the US. Crowds gath­er freely at the State House to watch arriv­ing dig­ni­taries wel­comed by mil­i­tary guards. No overt signs of ten­sion or anger.

We enjoyed an ani­mat­ed con­ver­sa­tion with an inter­na­tion­al fam­i­ly dur­ing a morn­ing tea break. (OK, full dis­clo­sure: a very petite Dan­ish pas­try joined us, too. Just the one; we always split these munchies…) The gra­cious woman grew up in the local town; her enthu­si­as­tic hus­band holds Aus­tri­an cit­i­zen­ship. They cur­rent­ly live in Aus­tralia where their col­lege-age son was born. Fas­ci­nat­ing per­spec­tives on the mean­ing of home!

So what’s dis­tinct about the Nordic cul­tures? The World Hap­pi­ness Report 2018, annu­al pub­li­ca­tion of the Unit­ed Nations ranks 156 coun­tries. The top nations tend to hold val­ues that sup­port over­all health and well being in terms of “income, healthy life expectan­cy, social sup­port, free­dom, trust and gen­eros­i­ty.” The results: #1 Fin­land, #2 Nor­way, and #3 Den­mark. (See Resources)

Fin­land

Nor­way

Den­mark

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ESTONIA & RUSSIA

Church of the Sav­ior on Spilled Blood, St. Peters­burg, Rus­sia

For­mer­ly part of the Sovi­et Union, Esto­nia declared inde­pen­dence in 1991 and joined the Euro­pean Union in 2004. Old Town Tallinn pro­vides insight into the past as it places the coun­try of 1.3 mil­lion square­ly in the present with high-fash­ion shops, veg­an restau­rants, and bustling out­door cafés with Eng­lish-speak­ing staff. Along with our cap­puc­ci­no, we savored an unex­pect­ed chat with a local woman in her twen­ties who told us about upcom­ing plans to trav­el Route 66 with friends next sum­mer. 

Vis­it­ing Rus­sia pro­voked a myr­i­ad of reac­tions. Trav­el­ing with a group, we gin­ger­ly approached the stern-look­ing cus­toms offi­cials in turn. Some wore over­sized hats with gold braid across the bill. They spoke a word or two in Russ­ian and then point­ed to doc­u­ments they need­ed. Quite a seri­ous atmos­phere; we tried to behave our­selves. While vis­it­ing the coun­try, our move­ments and loca­tions were con­trolled; no real oppor­tu­ni­ty exist­ed to talk with ordi­nary peo­ple out­side the for­mal gov­ern­ment tourist staff or des­ig­nat­ed ven­dors.

A bus with a local young woman guide car­ried us to the tour stops in St. Peters­burg, includ­ing the mag­nif­i­cent Church of the Sav­ior on Spilled Blood, con­struct­ed on the site of Emper­or Alexan­der II’s mur­der in 1881. 

A sec­ond day in the city’s sur­round­ings, we vis­it­ed the exten­sive grounds and build­ings of the Peter­hof Palace, pop­u­lar sum­mer res­i­dence of Russ­ian roy­als, ordered built by Peter the Great after a vis­it to Ver­sailles in 1717. The dis­tant mem­o­ry of the epic film Doc­tor Zhiva­go (1965) came alive, although the movie was filmed in Moscow, not St. Peters­burg. One of us can’t wait to see it again (only 3+ hours long)!

Old Town Tallinn, Esto­nia

St. Peters­burg, Rus­sia

Peter­hof Palace

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CARIBBEAN & FLORIDA

Cos­ta Maya, Mex­i­co

Dic­tio­nar­ies define the Caribbean as the region con­sist­ing of the Caribbean Sea, its islands, and the sur­round­ing coasts; area includes 13 sov­er­eign states and 17 depen­dent ter­ri­to­ries. On the coast of Flori­da, Mia­mi graces the shores of both the Atlantic and Bis­cayne Bay. Key West resides SW of the city in the Flori­da Straits, between the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mex­i­co. Rita had fun join­ing Nobel Prize win­ner (1954) Ernest Hem­ing­way and friends (stat­ues!) in the heart of Key West, his for­mer res­i­dence.

Pop­u­lar tourist des­ti­na­tions can resem­ble Dis­ney World. We love watch­ing ani­mals, but aren’t sure about dol­phins that per­form for the pub­lic — no mat­ter how kind their train­ers. Com­mon delights through­out the region include bright pas­tel col­ors, gor­geous crisp light, and crys­tal-clear sea. Kayak­ing ranked high­est among our favorite expe­ri­ences, fol­lowed by snor­kel­ing and explor­ing under­wa­ter plants, rock for­ma­tions, and sea life. 

Cos­ta Maya, Mex­i­co

Cozumel, Mex­i­co

George Town, Grand Cay­man Islands

Key West, FL

Mia­mi, FL

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COLORADO

Huge Moose Stat­ue in Vil­lage of Vail

Rocky Moun­tain High (1972) sung by John Den­ver. To cel­e­brate our anniver­sary, we vis­it­ed the source of the song. First thing we noticed once we got on the road from the air­port: no bill­boards! When we stopped at ser­vice cen­ters, peo­ple were real and friend­ly, asked us where we were from and where we were headed…two of life’s biggest ques­tions, of course. Once in Vail, we embraced hik­ing in cool weath­er, lying on the fresh-mowed grass, and cel­e­brat­ing with Swiss choco­late fon­due!

Vail, CO

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PORTUGAL

King José I Stat­ue, Lis­bon

The cap­i­tal city of Lis­bon glowed at night and buzzed in the day: street artists sell­ing unique hol­i­day gifts; singers strum­ming elec­tric gui­tars; polite police teams keep­ing close watch; col­or­ful San­tas dri­ving a dec­o­rat­ed tram; and cre­ative locals turn­ing sand into wild ani­mals.

We fre­quent­ed a small, hid­den-away café with a hip­py atmos­phere. A tall, dark-haired young woman from Argenti­na took our order. Trav­el­ing inde­pen­dent­ly, her next stop: Chi­na. By the time our meals arrived on the counter, the place was packed with peo­ple. Starved, we jumped up and claimed our food. Lat­er our serv­er came by the table with an unex­pect­ed, huge piece of home­made berry pie. “Here, for you…from me. Thanks for doing my job in the rush!”

Lis­bon 

Cas­tle of São Jorge

The ancient Cas­tle of São Jorge (parts date from 6thcen­tu­ry) afford­ed a peace­ful retreat from the inten­si­ty of the cap­i­tal city dur­ing Christ­mas hol­i­days. Until, that is, a cer­tain wild pea­cock tried to grab Stephen’s spe­cial Por­tuguese “Pasteis de Nata” (cus­tard tart). He had expe­ri­ence (the bird, that is), but was no match for a hun­gry Scots­man. Despite the impres­sive dis­play of dom­i­nance (the bird’s, that is), Mr. Rus­sell walked off with the prize.

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AZORES

São Miguel Island

Arriv­ing in dense fog, we real­ized we might not see much in São Miguel– one of nine vol­canic islands in the North Atlantic Ocean, offi­cial­ly con­sid­ered one of two autonomous regions of Por­tu­gal, along with Madeira. Grow­ing tourism is the major ser­vice indus­try, while gov­ern­ment employs large num­bers of the pop­u­la­tion of around 250,000 peo­ple.

We always look for a com­fy spot to relax and have a cup of tea and “a bis­cuit” as they say. Natur Frozen Yoghurt in town pro­vid­ed a safe haven; too bad it was too cold for any­thing frosty! The warm wood floors and tables, along with fun con­ver­sa­tion with the young woman man­ag­er, made our vis­it mem­o­rable.

Pon­ta Del­ga­da, São Miguel Island

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BERMUDA

Build­ing Mosa­ic, Hamil­ton

A British Over­seas Ter­ri­to­ry in the North Atlantic Ocean, Bermu­da is self-gov­ern­ing with a pop­u­la­tion of around 70,000. Eco­nom­ic sur­vival depends on insur­ance and tourism. Dur­ing our vis­it, cap­i­tal city Hamil­ton radi­ates col­or — from the stun­ning array of fruits in Wait­rose (British super­mar­ket chain) to bloom­ing flow­ers in gar­dens and parks.

About food: ready for a snack, we land­ed in a sweet spot — loaded down with a whole-grain Cia­bat­ta roll stuffed with avo­ca­do, cheese, and veg­gies. A res­i­dent ex-pat from Britain served us as we talked about island life. PS: One of us loved the guys in Bermu­da shorts, knee-length socks, and busi­ness shirts! 

Hamil­ton 

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RESOURCES

Strat­ford-upon-Avon Gar­den

Shake­speare Biog­ra­phy

UK Nation­al Trust

World Hap­pi­ness Report 2018

Doc­tor Zhiva­go (1965) Syn­op­sis: Turn­er Clas­sic Movies

Ency­clo­pe­dia Bri­tan­ni­ca  See home­page for fur­ther info on countries/people/sites.

Video Music: Broth­ers in Arms, Vien­na Sym­pho­ny Orches­tra: Album: Vien­na Sym­pho­ny Orches­tra Project Love, 2008

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