Monthly Archives: February 2021

Cars, Planes, and Boats

Many celebrities have died while traveling. This was dramatically brought home to us last year when Ruth & I were in Central California. We had left Paso Robles and were heading east on Highway 46 toward Fresno, CA. Near the town of Cholame we saw a sign that reminded us that actor James Dean, who was driving a sports car that he called the “Little Bastard”, crashed and died here after making only 3 successful movies–Giant, East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause. He was destined to become a major star and was already headed in that direction when he died. Until we saw this memorial, Ruth & I knew how and when he died but not where.

Another celebrity who died in a car crash was Grace Kelly. She had made only 12 films all of which had become classics when she married a Prince from Monaco and retired permanently from making movies. Three of the twelve —Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, and To Catch a Thief–were directed by horror master Alfred Hitchcock. Traveling with her daughter Princess Stephanie, Grace Kelly missed a sharp turn and went off the road. The car dropped 120 feet before stopping. She had a hemorrhage and never regained consciousness. Ruth and I went to the Bessie Smith Cultural Center in Chattanooga, TN not too long ago and the fact that this famous blues singer died as the result of wounds she received in an car accident while she was on her way to a show in Memphis was never mentioned. She died in a Mississippi hospital. Her male companion lost control of the car and crashed.

We revisited the very unusual National Museum of Funeral History near Houston, TX and found a major tribute to actor Paul Walker, the star of the Fast & Furious films, who died in a fiery crash in Santa Clarita, CA. He was severely burned in and was traumatized by the accident so did not survive it. I did not know until recently that President Barak Obama’s father, who led a wild life, died in a car crash in Nairobi, Kenya. He ran over a tree stump and died instantly.

As many or more celebrities have died in plane accidents. Ruth and I have morbidly gone to Jean and Goodsprings, NV southwest of Las Vegas where the plane carrying classic actress Carole Lombard crashed on Potosi Mountain. She was 33-years-old and the love of successful actor Clark Gable’s life. He stayed in a hotel near the crash scene until all the details were known. Pilot error was the suspected cause of the crash that killed her and 21 other people. Kobe Bryant is probably the most recent big celebrity who died as the result of an aircraft accident. I did not know that James Horner, the music composer of more than 100 movie scores like Aliens and Titanic, died in an aircraft accident in 2015. A solo pilot, he went down in the Los Padres National Forest in California. Ruth & I were surprised by a tribute to John Denver in the Grammy Museum in LA a few years ago. Winner of 1 Emmy and nominated for 4 others, John Denver, who had 11 #1 hits in a long singing career, was flying an experimental plane when he crashed into Monterey Bay off the coast of California 22 years ago.

Several celebrities have died in boating mishaps including actress Natalie Wood, whose death is still considered suspicious, Glee Star Naya Rivera, and publisher Joseph Pulitzer are among them.


Fountains and Waterfalls

Fountains and waterfalls are commonly seen as we travel. Both get lots of attention. We seek them out as major attractions all over the world in places like Hawaii and The Alps, but we seldom linger. It’s rare to see a waterfall without a lot of other people but reactions to them seldom vary. They are beautiful but temporary.

The photo of Shoshone Falls above is misleading. We saw it the day before the controllers reduced the river’s flow and affected the falls’ water volume, so there were hundreds of curious observers like us on the tourist platforms looking at them. We saw the waterfall below, however, with just one other couple. It’s called Palouse Falls. We saw it on a very hot summer day in a remote state park in southeast Washington State. The closest town to it was tiny Washtucna. Curiously, I was more impressed with it than I was with thunderous Shoshone because of the very nature of these attractions.

Once you look at a waterfall or a series of them, what do you do next? Of course, you look at it again. But then what? Even Niagara has this affect on people. I feel sorry for folks who plan to spend 3 or 4 days looking at the same waterfalls. I recently watched a video of visitors to Niagara, and few of them are actually looking at the impressive waterfalls. They are taking photos of them with their phones, jogging, talking to each other, fixing their hair, thinking about standing under them or taking a boat ride, etc. Of course, you can take a ride and get wet like Ruth and I did at Iguasu Falls in Argentina, but we got lucky. An entire soccer team was in the boat with us, and as soon as we had been inundated we got out from under the major torrent. As we pulled away from it, the entire team shouted as if it was planned, “Again!” and the boat driver took us back under. This was both memorable and fun but shortly thereafter, we were on a nature trail trying to avoid South American coatis. We really like seeing Iguasu Falls but were ready to leave after one day.

Fountains are different but the same. Once you look at a fountain, even a historic one like the classic above in Sydney’s Hyde Park called The Archibald, what do you do besides look at it again and think about getting your feet wet? They are interesting to look at, decorative, and famous like the Forsyth Fountain above in Savannah, GA but a temporary thrill. This fountain has to be one of the most photographed subjects in this southern city. No one, not even me, can resist taking a picture of it. Perhaps the best public fountain I have ever seen, however, was above my head in the courtyard of the inexhaustible Museo Nacional de Antropoligia in Mexico City. Its water cascades down like a sudden rain shower, but after looking at it, Ruth and I had an entire museum to explore.


Soon On The Road

Ruth and I are among the lucky ones who have gotten both COVID-19 shots, so we are planning our 1st celebratory trip in over a year. We have not seen my brother Jim, who now lives in Oakland, CA for more than a year; so the Bay Area will be our 1st major stop. Jim is also a writer whom we have collaborated with in the past, so we are looking forward to catching up about his latest projects. He also is an avid traveler so we have shared many roadworthy experiences with him. We have a lot to talk about!

Because foreign destinations are still not available and being realistic, Ruth & I do not expect to be out of this country in 2021. If that situation changes, we’ll see what we can do. Going to Australia is a mighty tempting possibility. In the meantime we are only considering unvisited domestic destinations, including the 5 following people magnets that we have learned about recently but have not yet experienced.

This 1st post-pandemic excursion is developing into a road trip so far. It will include a drive down Highway One on the fantastic California Coast after some time spent in the Oakland area. We have not done this super scenic road is several years. Ruth and I are both wondering how the past several months of restriction have affected travel. We will be finding out and reporting on this.

We have never been to Mount Diablo State Park east of Oakland. Seeing it is now a definite possibility. Several sources have told me that it is often visible in the Bay Area, but I have not noted it in the past. This California State Park centers on a geologic anomaly that sounds interesting. Although 30 miles from San Francisco, Mount Diablo is said to be isolated. It’s an upthrust peak of 3,849 feet that is not a volcano but is between 2 earthquake faults and is reportedly a double pyramid, whatever that means. There is a road all the way to its summit that is very popular with cyclists. At lower altitudes, this road is said to be a mix of oak tree woodland and grassland. The upper regions have some pine trees. Mount Diablo is an interesting name that I am looking forward to researching since diablo means devil in Spanish. I am aware of 2 movements in the early 21st Century to rename it Mount Reagan for the former governor of this state who became a 2-term national President, but apparently this has not been such a popular idea.

The other road I am looking forward to learning about is called Moki Dugway. This very beautiful mountain area is in southeast Utah. Moki Dugway is a mountain pass. The road to it ends at scenic route 95 and Bear’s Ears National Monument that we have not seen, but I recall that President Obama got into some trouble for bringing it to peoples’ attention during his Presidency. This historical footnote will be examined. Farther up 95 is another National Monument called Natural Bridge that sounds a lot like Arches National Park, which is further north around Moab.

The other 2 scenic drives that we are considering are Highway 46 in California, which begins at the coast but ends in the town of Paso Robles that we visited the last time we were in this area and really liked. We have also been told that Gates Pass Road west of Tucson is quite scenic but seldom seen by travelers. Both are definitely on our list of sights to see.


Five More Travel Highlights

We were in a restaurant in Punta Arenas, Chile, and I ordered a steak. Beef was still a big thing to order in this part of the world back then. It probably still is. The steak came and I thought, “I can eat this” because it seemed tiny atop the plate. I poked it with a fork. It didn’t move. I poked it again and it began to literally unfold. When it stopped cascading, this once tiny steak filled my plate. It had been folded over to appear smaller. I, of course, could not finish it.

Ruth & I both loved the walled city of Dubrovnik in Croatia. The wall had become a total tourist attraction that circled the city, and you could entirely walk around this city’s center. The sights from this high wall were of a very old neighborhood, harbor, sea, distant islands, and red rooftops by the score. We took our time to thoroughly explore it on a beautiful spring day right before Easter. It was an extremely memorable experience that we are unlikely to repeat.

I took Ruth to Athens for her December birthday. Luckily, I found an opened restaurant serving great Greek food across the street from The Acropolis to celebrate. Because the restaurant was on the top floor of a tall building, the floodlit hill with the Acropolis on its summit could be seen from the restaurant’s large window that we were seated near. It was a truly magical night. The next day we explored The Acropolis thoroughly and were surprised by the number of stray dogs lying about, but we were even more amazed by the attention they were being given by the many tourists. The urge to pet them was far more important than the venue for many of the locals, but I was there to learn about Greek culture, not stray dogs. The architect Phidias worked for 15 years to build the structures he designed on top of this urban mountain. His supervisor Pericles was involved in this project for 50 years. After 267 AD, Barbarian invaders rocked Athens, and the only monuments to survive were those on The Acropolis. I was especially impressed with the largely intact Temple of Athena, but the view of all of this was made far more memorable because of the experience in that restaurant the previous night.

My 2nd solo trip after I started travel writing was to Budapest, Hungary. I fell in love with this city immediately and spent a lot of time in Buda on the hill containing The Fisherman’s Bastion and many other historic sights. I was awed by the views of the Danube River and the Hungarian Parliament, the largest in the world, over in Pest. I was so impressed that as soon as I got home Ruth and I began planning another trip to this city so I could show her what I so loved. It was on this 2nd trip that I learned about the Hungarians’ love for lard, which was in most dishes from salad to dessert.

When we were in Buenos Aires, our daughter-in-law Jennifer, who was living there at the time, treated us to a late night tango show. It took some time to get used to the smoky atmosphere in the tango theater, but the show was fairly short. The dancing was a revelation that the participants took very seriously. Their gravity added to the fun of seeing them perform this ritual dance in a city that loves to tango. We went to the San Telmo neighborhood for this show and returned to the area later to learn more about tango. Buenos Aires loves its nightlife. There are about 300 theaters there and many fine restaurants.


Five ‘Best Sight’ Trips

One of the definite advantages to both Ruth & me from travel is unforgettable experiences that we wish to repeat but probably won’t. Of the 5 following memories, we have only been able to repeat the first 2, but they all yielded some of the best sights we have ever seen. They are among our best evers.

Circular Quay is Sydney’s tourism magnet. From it you can see the harbor, perhaps the best one in the world, Luna Park, an Amusement Park across the harbor in Lavender Bay on the other side of the Sydney Bridge lovingly called The Old Coat Hanger, the familiar opera house, and all the boats that scamper about and connect Sydneysiders to their harbor. The best view of all of this is from a restaurant on the top floor of Sydney’s old Customs House. Because this has always been its main harbor, the historic buildings around it have been often updated and now contain tourist favorites. Cafe Sydney on the top level of the Customs House, which is floor #5, is our favorite place to dine in this city mainly because of the view. Tripadvisor gives it 4.5 out of 5. I’d give it at least 5 out of 5. It’s expensive and a tough reservation but well worth it. Ask for a harbor view table outside and you won’t be disappointed. The food is superb too. It has somehow survived total closure during the pandemic. Pause on the 1st floor on your way up to Cafe Sydney via the elevator to see its in-floor diorama of Sydney and the well used library on both sides if it.

Ruth & I love Las Vegas’ art deco entertainment complex called The Smith Center. It offers great outside views of downtown Vegas, and is beginning to reopen after a long closure. How the pandemic and theater seating will be affected by available but scarce vaccines is yet to be known, but we both hope to experience The Smith Center again soon. Everything in it is in the art deco style of long ago and beautifully realized for 21st century tastes. Just seeing the lobby is a considerable thrill.

Kauai is our favorite Hawaiian island to repeat when easy travel becomes possible again. Most of this island’s tourist action is in its northeast quadrant. It’s west coast, the fantastic Na Pali, has no roads. The only way to see its cliffs and grandeur is by boat or plane. The best thing you can do is to drive up to the Waimea Canyon State Park, but its views of this coast are quite limited. One time we popped for a helicopter look and were not disappointed. It remains one of my must memorable trip experiences and one that we surely won’t do a 2nd time. The pilot took us up and over the canyon for spectacular views of it.

One time Ruth & I took a bus from Helsinki to Savonlina, Finland, and we went to see an opera or 2 in a dilapidated ruin of a castle. This is now an irreplaceable memory. This area’s lakes and attractions, its natural pleasures in summer, its proximity to Russia, and its overall uniqueness made it worth doing. #5 of our best travel experiences has to be the snow clad and totally majestic mountains in British Columbia’s Okanagan region and the area to the east of it. I long to return to Mount Revelstoke, the towns of Nelson and Fernie, and the city of Kelona.