Happy Trails from Traveling Tales: 2018
“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.
- Texas Times
- UK: Family, Friends & Fun
- Estonia & Russia
- Caribbean & Florida
- Sources & Resources
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Rita & Stephen
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?
First, a 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!
Second, a 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.
UK: Family,Friends & Fun
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.
Special friends Pru and John invited us to their home in the country near Reading, England 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!
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 & Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, A 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
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
Polesden Lacey: Edwardian Country Retreat
Great Bookham, near Dorking, Surrey
Buckland Abbey: House & Museum, Great Barn
Greenway: Agatha Christie’s Home, Gardens & Boathouse
Galmpton, near Brixham, Devon
Quarry Bank: 18thCentury Cotton Mill, House & Gardens
Styal, Wilmslow, Cheshire
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?
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)
ESTONIA & 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
CARIBBEAN & FLORIDA
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
George Town, Grand Cayman Islands
Key West, FL
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!
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!”
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.
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
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!
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