Monthly Archives: June 2020

Travel to Surprising Destinations

By this time, late June, Ruth & I usually know where we are going for the rest of the year because one has to make arrangements so as to spend time in a destination seeing the sights instead of wondering where we will sleep.  But this year is definitely different.  We got in 2 brief trips early in 2020 before the pandemic hit but have not traveled since.  Things seemed to be opening up earlier this month, so we began thinking we might hit the road soon.  We began reading articles about how housebound Americans were planning summer trips in record numbers and the recovering hotel industry.  But then the virus and restriction returned, face masks went back on, and I nostalgically began finding notes to myself about destinations we were considering.  Now they all seem, maybe, impossible.  Below are 5 of them.

La Paz, Mexico.  I loved John Steinbeck’s old book called The Pearl.  It was set in La Paz, which he vividly described.  When The New York Times (NYT) picked La Paz as one of its 2020 destinations last January 12, I saw it as an omen and added it to my wish list.  It was #18 of 52 bests for this year.  Freda Moon called it one Mexico’s oldest and most dynamic towns.  She raved about the Sea of Cortez and nearby Cabo San Lucas, which we visited briefly in 2018.   She called this area of the Gulf of California the “Aquarium of the World”.  I was sold.

We went to Grand Isle, LA in 2018.  It’s #19 on the same list as La Paz.  Chris Hall called it “hauntingly beautiful”.  This was not the phrase I would use to describe Grand Isle, which was at the very end of a fantastic highway, State Highway 1, that we had spent the day exploring.  What did I miss?  I put it one the list of places to return to and vowed to find out more about Grand Isle because we had done little more than drive through it.

Richmond, VA.  This was another 2020 selection by The New York Times and a city we have not been to for many, many years.  Ruth had been talking about returning to Williamsburg, VA for Christmas.  Was it time to return to both?  In retrospect, I’m glad we didn’t make it there.  Its author, John Dorman, called it a “…a sleepy capital steeped in Confederate history” and I wonder how many of its memorial statues have been damaged or pulled down.

Salvador, Brazil.  This city was Brazil’s first capital, and a 5-year historical preservation was completed in 2019 when The (NYT) chose Salvador as its #14 destination for the year.  One traveler, Sebastian Modak, spent his entire year trying to go to all 52 of them.  Ruth and I have never been to Salvador, and I try to take her to some exotic destination for her December birthday every year. Was Salvador the best choice?  I wrote “Birthday” above the entry and added it to our wish list.  Sebastian made it there, but we did not.

Another 2019 NYT choice was Dakar, Senegal.  Dionne Searcey called it “an oasis of freedom in a region of unrest.” Africa is 1 of only 2 continents we have not been to, and Dionne raved about Senegal’s positive energy and Malibu-like coastline.  I wrote “Birthday” above this entry too, but we didn’t make it to Africa that year.

Hank

 

 

 


Favorite Places in Argentina

 

IMG_0634.jpegWe really favored 4 locations in Argentina–Ushuaia, Salta, The Peninsula Valdez, and Iguazu Falls.

 

One of Many Short Forest Trails - NPS PhotoUshuaia is a city in a uniquely spectacular location, a place where it can snow in the summer.  It is surprisingly sophisticated with great restaurants and more attractions than are usual for such a remote place.  It has a definite end of the world feel.  There in the Southern Hemisphere in early summer, Ruth & I celebrated Christmas with freshly-picked strawberries and talked to people who were either going to or returning from Antarctica.   On a large bay named Ushuaia, this remote outpost once had a prison that was home to Argentina’s most notorious criminals for a couple of generations until 1947.  An attraction we loved was a national park named Do Iguacu.

IMG_0568Salta is a city of about half a million people in the foothills of the Andes Mountains near Bolivia.  We went there mainly so that I could write an article about the Tren a las Nubes, the Train to the Clouds, for a railroad magazine, but we fell in love with this considered-safe city and its culture.  It is said to be the best preserved colonial city in Argentina.  The train left from Salta when we took it, which presented some problems.  It now leaves from the nearby town of San Antonio and passengers take a provided bus from Salta to the train for an awesome 15 hour ride involving tunnels, bridges, switchbacks, and a parched landscape with oxygen provided at the end of each car for those who need it.

IMG_0474.jpegThe Peninsula Valdez is south of Buenos Aires in Patagonia, too far away to drive there.  It’s unspoiled but barren, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with sea lions, seals, guanacos, Magellanic penguin colonies, and much more.  I felt especially isolated on the actual Peninsula where there are far more animals than people, and visitors feel away from everything.  Many go there between June and December to see southern right whales cavorting, and also travel, like we did, to the Welsh town of Gaiman on the mainland for tea and pastries.

Iguazu Falls where 3 countries–Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil–meet, is a world-class, inspiring, unforgettable destination with lots of rather menacing, raccoon-like coatis begging for food in the forest and other unusual animals.  Expect to get drenched.

Hank

 


Alluring Argentina

Being housebound, I am spending too much time making a list of my best travel experiences.  It’s getting fairly long, so I will have to limit it to the 10 or 20 best if I choose to put them into words.  Argentina, the 8th largest country in the world, is showing up often on this list.

Patagonia comprises 400,000 square miles of Argentina.   It covers roughly the part of this oversized country south of the Rio Negro all the way to its southern tip.  Patagonia is a magnificent part of the world with majestic mountains and large green lakes that Ruth & I have seen little of because I wanted to focus on Tierra del Fuego for some reason.  This gives us reason to go back if travel there becomes possible again.  At the present time COVID-19 makes this forbidden.  There have been 57,731 cases of it and 1,207 deaths with 2,461 new infections as of June 27, 2020.  Like many other places in the world, COVID is on the rise in Argentina, and the US State Department is advising no travel to it for now.  Argentina is said to be one of the safest countries in Latin America to visit when international travel is possible again.  It was not considered especially safe when we were there, but we had no problem.

Being a huge city, Buenos Aires has much poverty and a reputation for petty theft if you don’t pay attention to your surroundings.  We were wary and explored much of the city without incident.  We especially liked touring its oversized opera house, the Teatro Colon, seeing the Pink Palace called the Casa Rosada, visiting the cemetery in Recoleta, strolling Buenos Aires’ imposing avenues like the impossibly wide Av 9 de Julio, seeing a tango show in San Telmo, and going to the port of Tigre.  We did not know it at the time, but many tourists visiting Argentina cross the broad Rio de la Plata from Tigre to visit Uruguay.  We talked to some of them when we went to Colonia, Uruguay, several years later. The crossing of this wide, tide-influenced river is a very good idea.  We did not find the art and history museums in Buenos Aires especially enticing except for the Museo Evita.  Many were strong on Argentinian history, if you are so inclined.  Buenos Aires restaurants are among the best in the world, and if you’re a meat eater, its parillas (steak houses) provide gargantuan portions.

 

Tomorrow I will write about our favorite places to visit in this gigantic country, like Ushuaia, Salta, Patagonia’s Peninsula Valdez, and Iguazu Falls.

Hank


Life Without Coronavirus?

IMG_2652I don’t know how things are where you are, but my county applied today to enter Phase 3 of a statewide coronavirus recovery plan.  I hope our very challenged Governor, who is still dealing with neighborhood takeovers and looting in Seattle, will go along with this but doubt if Jay Inslee will.  There have been only 29 deaths in Clark County from coronavirus since it arrived, but the news says that there has been a big spike in cases in many states especially affecting young adults who have apparently not social distanced enough.  The fear is that they will recover but infect many others in the process.

DSC04583.jpgIf Phase 3 is allowed, we will be strongly encouraged but not required to stay at home.  Outdoor group recreational sports involving 50 or fewer people can occur.  Best of all, non-essential travel can resume.  During Phase One, restaurants were allowed to remain opened as long as they delivered food to patrons at the door.  Many restaurants declared bankruptcy and closed permanently including a nearby pizza place we liked called Twilight.  In Phase 2 restaurants and bars could operate at 50% capacity as long as no table seated more than 5 people.  If Phase 3 is OKed, restaurants will be able to operate at 75% capacity as long as no table has more than 10 people being served.  Theaters will be permitted to reopen at less than 50% capacity.  That sounds fairly vague, but leaving the actual percentage open to interpretation sounds like a good idea.  Who will be checking anyway?  Government services can resume and libraries and museums can reopen.  It seems as though gatherings of 50 people or fewer will remain the norm.

If we make it to Phase 4 before a vaccine becomes available and effective, which seems unlikely just now, normal public interactions can resume as long as social distancing is honored.  This apparently means that shaking hands and hugging are actions of the past that will never be judged comfortable for us to do again.  Recreational activity can resume including large sporting events, so people will be able to sit side by side again at, say, basketball games.  Will we ever be comfortable doing this again?

Hank

 


About Capitols

 

IMG_2112The largest state capitol in size is Texas’.  Texas planned to reopen its capitol building in Austin for its popular tours in June of 2020 but has delayed this action due to the increase in virus cases.  Most other state capitols and the Federal Capitol in Washington, DC are also closed to visitors.  This is not a good summer to visit any capitols.  It’s best to check to see if the one you want to see is opened or not before setting out.   Most states usually offer a human-guided tour but several, like Arkansas, have gone to strictly self-guided tours.

 

IMG_3774The city with the smallest state capitol is Montpelier, VT.  In the #2 spot is Richmond, VA.  The oldest state capitol that has not been redone is Alaska’s completed in 1931.  This capitol in Juneau is not popular with Alaskans.  In 2019 a team of them applied to hold an initiative to move the capital to Anchorage.  The 2002 initiative failed, but this 2nd one did better, so watch for news of this situation.  It may have been delayed as too expensive or impractical to do, especially during a pandemic.

The oldest capitol still in its original building is Maryland’s in Annapolis.  It’s so old that its original wooden dome that contained no nails had to be restored for $800,000.  A lot of the old wood had to be replaced.  The dome was built in 1788, so this was not unexpected.  An annex was added to this building for the legislature very early in the 20th century beginning in 1902, so the Governor’s office remains the oldest part still in use.  This building is the only state house that also served as our national capital from November 1783 until the August of the next year.  Its construction began in 1769 before the Revolutionary War.

In my opinion, the most beautiful state capitol is in Salt Lake City, UT seen in the top photo above.  Utah’s capital city has always been SLC.  It is only 1 of 3 states that have had its capitol in one location.  The other 2 are Colorado and Rhode Island.   All the other states were once part of a larger area with its capitol in, say, St. Louis; or it had a territorial capitol like Iowa that was relocated in another city in a new gold-domed building.  Some of the original capitol buildings have been preserved, like in Nevada.

Only 11 states don’t have domes on their capitol buildings.  Florida, which has preserved its original capitol, North Dakota, which has built a high-rise modern skyscraper, and Louisiana, which has the tallest state capitol seen in the photo below are 3 of the 11.  Many states, like Oklahoma, have been restoring their capitol buildings, and one has recently completed a full redo.  We saw it in Cheyenne, WY this past summer.

 

Hank

PS  Some Native American nations like the Chickasaw have capitol buildings.  Theirs is in Oklahoma.

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