driving

Mineral

Today was a big driving day. We’re halfway back to Sacramento, staying off CA route 36 in the middle of nowhere just outside of Lassen Volcanic Park. Tomorrow we hike and otherwise explore the park before heading 3 hours south to Sacramento to catch our 11 pm flight home.

I drove the whole way here today. Brendan woke up last night “violently ill,” as he put it. We figure he must have gotten some kind of food poisoning. Although, I just noticed he has some pretty bad sunburn on the back of his neck — it’s blistering and a little swollen — that might have been a contributing factor. He seems better now, he’s just really really tired since he didn’t hardly sleep at all last night. It’s a good thing that it happened in Eureka and not here. Our room here is spare. We have a bed (king sized, though), a chair, a few small tables, and a very tiny bathroom. At least I was able to sleep last night. If we were here, I don’t think that it would have been possible.

We had planned to take it rather slow today and get here on the later side. We came through the mountains along the Trinity River. I don’t really drive too much these days, so it took some getting used to. the car doesn’t quite get up and go like my Jetta, so sometimes we were a bit slow coming up the mountains. People were going past me left and right. Plus, the road was super windy, and I was constantly pulling over into the turnoffs so people could fly by me. How anyone could stomach going much over 50 on that road, I don’t know.

We were going to stop at some ghost towns along the way, but Bren was finally getting some sleep past a few and when we got to Shasta, the one he really wanted to stop in, he just wasn’t up for it. So, we just kept on going pretty much nonstop until we got here.

When we first turned off the highway onto 36, the landscape was as close to a desert as I have seen. It was fairly barren, with some low hearty trees, and brown short grasses. The land was fairly flat, but with some hills here and there. Then we went up a mountain or two and the landscape changed and was full of pine trees. There’s some sort of canyon to the west of where we are. The lodge is just past the park. Mineral is pretty darn small. According to the sign its population is a whopping 90. It seems like it’s a ski destination more than a summer one.

Eureka Day 2

Today we drove up even farther north to Redwood National Park. A friend of Brendan’s brother’s has recommended that we check out Fern Canyon. I’m glad we took his advice. The park is about 50 minutes north of here. Instead of hiking 8 miles from the park offices, we decide to drive to a point that’s less than a mile from the canyon. It’s this little gravel road that winds around and down to the shore and down to the canyon. Did I mention we’ve rented a Seabring? It takes a minute for me to get my eyes used to the woods once we enter them. I’m startled because it looks like a black and white photo. It takes a moment to realize that the road kicks up so much grey dust that it has covered the ferns and the trees on the edge of the road. They are so thickly coated that everything is in shades of grey.

We make it to the end of the road and set off to first explore the beach. It’s much flatter here and more like the beaches that I am used to on the Atlantic. We walk down to the water and take a few photos of the birds there. I am leading us on the way back and out of the corner of my right eye I see them: three elk, just hanging out. They weren’t there when we started. I take a few photos, and as the shutter clicks as I’m taking one of the male, he turns, looks at me and takes a few steps. We were far enough apart that I wanted to switch to the zoom lens, but I thought twice about it as he moved towards us slightly again. I was satisfied with our Nature moment.

Then we hiked into the canyon. It is so beautiful. I know the photos won’t do it the proper justice. As we rounded each bend it got more and more beautiful. We headed up a trail up a ridge and walked for a while. Once we got to the fork we had to make a decision: hike for 5 more miles and get back to town at about five or six, or go back the short way, maybe a mile and get back around two. Since we hadn’t seen any of Eureka, we opted for the short route and made our way back to the car. The elk were still hanging out where we left them, and so I switched lenses and took a few more shots. The male was still posing for me (and the others who were even closer). A man getting into a car near me muttered something to his wife like, “People are more interested in the elk than they are in Fern Canyon!” I turned and said, “Oh, we’ve already done that.” Plus, there aren’t elk in our part of Virginia!

Back in Eureka, we decided to have a big lunch at a brewpub and skip dinner for the most part. Afterwards, we headed into Old Town Eureka. It’s not really what we were expecting. There were a few blocks with a few shops, but not really much going on. There were a few coffee shops, a bookstore or two, a Restoration Hardware that seemed out of place, and a whole lot of scraggly, homeless looking people. The boardwalk was even more depressing. Evidently there are grand plans for shops and whatnot along it, but right now there isn’t anything, just some buskers playing bad, loud guitar. It kind of reminds us of Sharon: once a big milling town and now sort of struggling. Admittedly, we’ve only seen a small part of the town.

Tomorrow we’ve got a long drive ahead of us. There probably won’t be any more posting until we get home. Right now, we’re borrowing access from someplace else (we thought we were going to have wireless here, but apparently there’s not). We’ll be in the middle of nowhere tomorrow on our way to Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Eureka Day 1

Right after breakfast we packed up the car and headed even farther north.

We stopped at a couple of beaches just north of Fort Bragg. At the first, there were plenty of rocky outcroppings for photos, but the dead sea lion on the shore kind of ruined it for me. At the second beach we were able to see a few sea lions playing in the surf and explore some tide pools.

After more and more spectacular coastal views, we headed into redwood country. Instead of simply riding on the freeway, we opted to take the Avenue of the Giants. I am so glad that we did. According to one of our brochures/books, the area is home to 60% of the world’s largest trees. We could have stopped for more hokiness, but we filled our quota yesterday. I knew the trees were going to be big, but I never could have imagined how large they really are.

Then we arrived in Eureka. We will be here two nights. Today is all about pampering. Brendan ordered us the “Romance in the Redwoods” package at the hotel. That means we had champagne and roses waiting for us in our room, plus an hour massage at 4:30 and dinner at the 4 star hotel restaurant at 6:45. On top of all that, the hotel has upgraded us to their suite on the third floor. It’s enormous. We have a double shower in the bathroom, a sitting area with a gas fireplace, and a separate bedroom area with a Jacuzzi. The windows at the tub look out overtop a few blocks of buildings to the harbor (although you have to sit just so in order to see the boats and I can’t anyway when I don’t have my glasses on).

The massage is the best. It’s our first. We were both just completely relaxed. Then it was down to dinner. The restaurant here is “Eureka’s only 4 star restaurant.” They are supposed to have a ridiculously good wine selection here, too. We’ve pre-paid for a five-course “discovery” menu. Along with that we decided to have what they call here a “wine flight” In other words, they’ve chosen the wine that best compliments each course. The meal is really great. What’s a little weird though is that there are an awful lot of scraggly looking people who keep walking by and I start to feel a little bit bad for enjoying my pampering so much.

Mendocino

It was pretty warm in Sonoma, about 90 degrees, when we left. We took a little side trip to the Petrified Forest and the Old Faithful of California. Talk about old-fashioned hokiness! The Petrified Forest is pretty much in someone’s backyard. The geyser is a little more formal attraction. The woman who sold us our tickets said that it went off about every 40 minutes and was going up 60 feet or so and at it’s longest, lasting for 6 minutes. After we’re there for a couple of minutes, the rock in the middle of the pool starts to steam and we can hear the water bubbling. However, the water that shot up was a weak little stream. It did that a few times (just enough for Brendan to get annoyed and want to leave). We decided to stay for just a little while longer, and I’m glad that we did. It went off like a rocket for about 5 minutes. Put on quite a little show for us.

Then we were off up the coast.

As soon as we reached the coastal highway, the temperature dropped 20 degrees almost instantly. Took me by surprise a little. I had expected it to be cooler, but it happened so fast. The first chance we got we pulled over to get a look at the Pacific. It was quite a sight. There were sheer cliffs, rocks off the shore and sea lions playing in the water and basking on the beach. The scenery kept getting more spectacular as we rolled north.

Our hotel in Mendocino, the Sea Rock, had wonderful views of the coast as well. We had enough time to go into town and have dinner at the Mendocino Hotel where I had ahi cooked very rare for the first time (it was good, actually) and we had a dessert made of special Mendocino county berries which are a cross between blackberries and raspberries. The town itself is also very cute. We made it back to the hotel in time for a spectacular sunset.

The weather was very cooperative. Apparently, it had been foggy for months until today.

Italy, June 2003, Day 8 Part 1

I’m splitting day 8 into two posts since there’s two separate stories to tell. What happened before we left Praiano, and then our afternoon in Rome.

It’s just about time to leave Praiano. Take one last look of those views…

While Keith and Brendan pack the car, Geoff, Gail and I go to the market for one last time to get some water and snacks for the ride to Rome. The old man at the market makes sure to say goodbye. In retrospect, he is very thurough in his check that we are really leaving town for good.

Then once I get back to the car, I realize that I forgot the lemoncello. We cannot leave without that. So I go back to the store (alone) to pick up a few bottles. “Bella,” the old man says. “You’re back!”

“Lemoncello,” I say.

“Come,” he says looking at me waving his arms, like he wants to give me a hug. No big deal I think, we was a helpful guy this week. He was nice to all of us. So I go over, bottles in hand to give him a little hug. Next thing I know I’m getting kissed on the mouth, he’s got one hand on my ass and the other on my right boob. Blech. I still get grossed out and can still feel it, in all it’s whiskery hideousness every single time I tell the story. He was such a sweet old man, and now, forever in my memory he’s a stereotypical Italian perv.

As I pushed him off of me I realize, the whole town is in the store seeing all of this happen. And then, I’ve got to wait in line to pay for the lemoncello, because I’ll be damned if this stops me from taking some home. So I stand in line for what seems like and eternity to pay old man’s wife. She gives me this mean look like I was the one who did something wrong. I just wanted to yell at her and say, “Listen, it was your husband who did that, not me!”

So when I got back to the car I said, “Don’t ever make me go back there. Ever.” Then I proceeded to tell everyone what just happened and they laughed and laughed. I just kept drinking water and occasionally getting disgusted…

Blech.

Italy, June 2003, Day 1 (ish)

Last year at this time we were driving to our apartment/villa in Praiano.

It seems so long ago — of course, I’m not the one who got married. I’m sure Vince and Kate feel like it was just yesterday and so long ago all at the same time.

I’m just trying to recall day one…

We spent a lot of time in the airport waiting to get our car. We didn’t spend nearly as much time as Vince and Kate and their families, though. Things started off planned and then as the week went on, those plans just slipped apart. We were smart and got ourselves two European cell phones so that we could be in touch. When Bren and I were getting off the plane we had a message from Keith that Kate’s dad’s luggage was misplaced and they were trying to find it so they were still in the airport. Now, Bren and I were a good three hours behind them, but you guessed it, everyone was still in the airport. This was actually good news for us. Originally Bren and I were going to go pick up Keith and his mother Gail at Kate and Vince and Kate’s family’s hotel in Rome. What we didn’t know is that it was in a historic district so we wouldn’t have been able to drive in anyway.

As fate would have it, they were at a luggage belt just a few down from us so we met up with Keith and Gail and went to get the car. But before we got there, while we were on the phone with Keith, Vince and Kate left and Vince apparently said (this is a fact of great dispute to this day) “See you in Pompeii at the train station.” (Part two of our Grand Master Plan was to meet Vince in Pompeii on the two days before his wedding so that he could hang out with us his last nights as a bachelor. Didn’t exactly happen that way.)

Also, even though it was insanely hot, there wasn’t any air conditioning in the airport.

There were going to be six of us on a few days and five on most so we took a chance and reserved a midsize hatchback. They didn’t have any left so they gave us a Passat wagon. Nice, right? So we go from the rental car counter to the parking garage to get the keys and the car. Except that they gave the Passat to the woman in front of us. Both reservations happened at nearly identical times or something. So, we sent Brendan back to the counter. Meanwhile, there’s another couple, not American, maybe German, in the garage waiting for a car. They throw a huge fit and so the guy says to them well, you can have this tiny little Peugeot hatchback right now. They take it and drive off in a huff. Then, Brendan comes back with this huge grin on his face and walks us right to a navy blue BMW 5 series with tan leather interior. That’s what happens when you are nice, kids, you get to drive this:

on some of Europe’s most scenic roads.

Finally finding the guy, Pepino, who was to give us the keys and take us to the apartment was also a small adventure. He didn’t speak much English and kept hanging up on me when I’d call him. “I’m at the Del Sol” is what he actually said, but it sounded much more mangled. Then he’d say “You understand?” and I’d say no and he’d hang up! Fortunately town was very small.

He unloaded our car on the side of the road and then showed Bren where to park. They came down the massive hill on his scooter and Brendan was clinging on for dear life! Then we took off down the ramp past a restaurant and then to a square where there was a church.

And then back around the side (past the obligatory statue of Padre Pio) down at least 90 more stairs until we finally reached our apartment.

The walk was well worth it. This was our view:

I don’t think I could ever get tired of that view. Ever.

We had just enough time to run to the market before it closed and buy some bread, pasta, sauce and water. We were fortunate to be in the store at the same time as an American family who seemed to live there. Bren and Keith were busy talking with the parents trying to figure out what we should get. I wasted no time and asked their 10 year old son what he liked to eat — Barilla pasta! So we had a meal that we could have made at home.

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all the photos are in the gallery.

Switzerland, Pontresina Day 5

September 14, 2001

It is a foggy drive in the Focus through the Alps. It rains a little. It’s really hard to see out the window, which is frustrating, because what I do see is spectacular. Pines and crystal lakes, sheer cliffs, waterfalls. We take switchback after switchback through tiny town after tiny town.

Until we get to our destination: the cable car up the Diavolezza. It’s this massive glacier that it just amazing. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.

alps

That was just one of many spectacular views we got on the way up and the way back down again. The entire place was ours since it was the off-season. The cable-car operator only speaks Italian. I forgot how close we were to Italy. It was our plan to drive into Italy the next day before heading out again.

After that, we checked in at the Palue. Exhaustion is starting to creep in. But we fight it off — there are still two days left, and dammit if we aren’t going to go out. While we are settling into the room, Bren notices that he doesn’t have enough clean underwear to finish the trip. Now, to truly appreciate the humor of this situation, you must understand that he always, always packs two extra pair — even if we are just staying overnight somewhere. Maybe it’s the altitude, maybe it’s my tiredness, but I think this is the funniest thing ever.

When we finally head out to St. Moritz, it starts to snow.

St. Moritz would normally be crowded, but it’s too early for skiing, so there aren’t that many people around. It’s freezing, and neither of us brought a jacket. We are in cashmere country, so I fenegle myself a scarf (only 2-ply). We also buy this terribly cute music box/teapot for Brendan’s mother. She collects teapots, and a music box seems fitting since we’re in Switzerland. It’s the cutest thing, the little mice family that lives inside the teapot do their chores — they sweep, they peek out the window. When we get it back to the room, we take a look at it and discover it’s made in Nebraska. Oops.

Switzerland, Amden Day 4

September 13, 2001

On the way to our next stop, Amden, we see a brown sign along the highway for some ancient ruins, and decide to stop to take a look. The thing that amazes me the most about this entire complex, which was once a really huge Roman city, is that there are houses right next to it. I can just imagine the directions: take the road past the Roman ruins and we live in the first house on the right with the broken column in the front yard.

The majority of the time, we are just guessing at what we are seeing because the signs are all in German. It must have been a decently large place because there is an amphitheatre (in the middle of restorations), a temple, an aqueduct, baths, and intricate mosaics.

The drive to Amden takes us for the first time into the mountains. We take several narrow roads straight up. The village is on the side of a mountain overlooking a circular valley with a lake in the middle. The weather so far hasn’t been terribly spectacular. It’s been mostly overcast, but today it’s sunny and perfect.

It is so pretty, so picturesque; it’s straight out of a movie.

amden

We get the best room in the hotel. The proprietor paid attention to our reservation form and the tick in the Honeymoon box. Our room has two floors and a balcony that is to die for. The picture above was taken from it. I don’t think it is possible to get tired of that view.

Since we are on a mission to see all the surrounding countries, we take a drive to see Liechtenstein and Austria. Technically, our US drivers licences don’t afford us the right to drive in Austria, but no one seems to care when we cross the border. On the way, we pass some spectacular waterfalls and yet more castles. In Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein, we drive by one that says “NO VISIT!” I guess they got tired of tourists like us asking. So I snapped a photo hanging out the window of the car as we passed.

Each time we crossed the border no one seemed to care. We’d just get our passports out and again the guards would see that they were American and would just wave us on through. No stamps, no nothing.

When we get back to the hotel, we ask what’s for dinner. “It’s whatever my wife is cooking,” the owner told us. Turned out to be Swiss steak. At dinner we met a couple about our age from Boston who were biking across the Alps. We talked about home a little and about the craziness. Because the owner was so attentive, he brought us an extra large dessert, vanilla ice cream with fresh blackberries. Oh yes, I forgot, the berries in Switzerland are amazing. They were in season and everywhere we ate. So good. Then he brought us an after dinner drink of this pear liqour. Good stuff.

Since we (the other American couple were exhausted and retired early) were the only guests around, the owner and his cousin (or maybe his sister, I can’t remember) joined us for a long discussion of America and politics and what must be going on at home. He offered us a place to stay if we couldn’t get back. I seriously think we would have come back here, it was that beautiful and peaceful. The picture just doesn’t do it justice.

Switzerland, Basel Day 3

September 12, 2001

On the way to Basel we try and find castles. They are marked on our map with a little tower. Ruins and churches are also marked. It doesn’t take us long to figure out two important things:

1.Kastell doesn’t mean castle, but fort. Schloss means castle.
2.Brown signs along the highway will take you to historically significant places, just like at home.

We can see all kinds of castles off in the distance, but can never actually find one. We drive in their general direction, me looking at the map and reading signs, Brendan turning in what he figures is the right direction. He’s got a great sense of direction. But it still doesn’t work. So we give up for the time being.

Basel is a weird city; it is old and brand new at the same time.

basel

We stumble across this church (one of many) that is open to the public and take a walk up to the top of the spire. The above picture was taken there. You can stand where the bell would be and look straight up to the tip.

There’s this canal that runs through town, and one can take a boat across. The current is so strong that they have tether lines up so the boats down drift too far. It was sort of cloudy and windy so we didn’t do any crossing.

We did stop in at a museum, the Kunstmuseum to see more Picasso (he lived in Basel for a while), Paul Klee and others.

Basel is right on the border of Germany and France. It was part of our master plan to visit as many countries as we could, just so we could say that we had; I was hoping for passport stamps (we didn’t get any). We drove across the border to France first. The guard didn’t even really stop us, he saw the “CH” (for Switzerland, Schweiz in German) sticker on the back bumper of the car as we slowed down, we started to get out our passports, but as soon as he saw we were American he just waved us through. No big deal. Getting into Canada is harder!

Again, we tried to find castles. All we found were churches, graveyards and ruins. We did see many cute villages with cream colored buildings, tiled rooves, colorful shutters and window boxes. Straight out of a movie.

village2

Then we drove to Germany. (Of course, I could totally have it backwards. We could have done Germany first and then France.) At any rate, we crossed the German/French border with no problem. There was a nice little sign that told us that the back road we were on was not for persons who were carrying goods from one country to another. Those people had to turn around and go back to the national road to cross the border so they could be inspected. Thank you very much Mr. Sign!

hayman

We saw this guy in either France or Germany. Who knows. The Herbsmarkt sounds German, but the Ranspach-Le-Haut seems more French.

This sort of thing is typical. The Swiss have four recognized languages, German (the national language), French, Italian and Romanian. We’d walk into a store and the shop keeper would say “Bonjour” then proceed to talk in German. When we would leave they’d say goodbye in French again.

Switzerland, Zurich Day 1

We booked the trip through go-today.com. It was all inclusive: round-trip airfare, car rental and Minotel hotel vouchers. We’d set up our trip ahead of time to be a little loop in the eastern portion of the country: Zurich -> Lucerne -> Basel -> Amden -> Pontressina -> Zurich

This is our honeymoon. We wanted to go someplace where neither of us had been. Not such a difficult task, really. I can count the states that I have been to on one hand and Bren has only been to Canada and Ireland. Deciding on a place proved to be a little more difficult. We knew we wanted Europe, but not sure how adventurous we wanted to be in terms of language. We knew we wanted fairly comfortable and somewhat affordable. This was before the dollar weakened mind you…

September 10, 2001

Our first night was to be at the Atlantis in Zurich. It took us ages to find. Being fresh off the plane, faced with signs in German and with different symbols than we’re used to was a bit of a shock. We didn’t even come prepared with a map, just mapquest map and directions from place to place. Fortunately, the girl at the rental car counter spoke English and we got ourselves a nice map of the country.

Our directions told us to take the highway out of the airport. Unfortunately for us, all the highways in Switzerland end once they hit a major city and then once you navigate the city center you can pick it back up again. Being a rather large and major city, Zurich had several highways to choose from.

We didn’t take the right one.

Somehow though, we managed to just drive around for ages and happen upon the road that we needed to be on. We picked this particular place for our first night because it was a guest house of a four star hotel, and consequently the most expensive (voucher + local adjustment) of the entire trip.

Checking in, we were excited, the hotel lobby was nice. Then we had to walk up a hill and to another building that was not so nice to our room. It was the smallest room I’ve ever been in. The bed took up most of the space, and if one of us wasn’t sitting on it, there was no place for the other to go except maybe the bathroom. A disappointment to say the least.

For dinner we wandered down the hill into the edge of the city and found a nice-looking Italian restaurant. We had a German/Italian/French phrase book, but neither of us were quite ready, or awake enough really, to speak much in German. We picked Italian because we figured we couldn’t go too wrong. The waitress spoke no English, but the chef did a little. We pointed to things that looked vaguely familiar on the menu and ordered a bottle of red wine. The best and cheapest wine I’ve ever had. The waitress tried to help us with our German. And dinner was really good.

Disclaimer.

Brendan joined the party on January 2, 2004. He's cool now.

Jessica has never been cool. She is OK with that.

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