Author: RM

Heading West on Route 66… (Part 2)

Heading West on Route 66… (Part 2)

.. or to be more exact, on I40, which parallels much of the old Route 66.

Route 66
Route 66

Leaving Memphis, we continued west, blasting blues on the CD player in homage to Beale St. Having lost a day to snowstorms in Charlotte at the start of our trip, we hoped to make up some time, as we really wanted to detour to Monument Vally (for all those old John Ford Western vistas) and Arches.  So we drove straight thru Arkansas and into Oklahoma.  The Super 8 Motel in Sallisaw, OK? Yes, well this was the low point in our accommodations! Nobody expects luxury in a budget motel, but a clean bathroom would have been nice, and if someone had actually turned up in the morning to make the coffee and lay out the ‘included breakfast’, that would have been great too.

Snow-speckled mesa
Snow-speckled Mesa

From Oklahoma, into New Mexico, and the snow started to fall again – and in fact I40 was closed East of Albuquerque, so we had an unscheduled stop in Tucumcari, NM, where the friendly Indian couple running The Gateway Inn showed how a motel should be run (hey, it’s not THAT hard)! Friendly check-in (hearing that we were heading for California produced wistful stories of student life in Chico), recommendations for dinner, and a breakfast that actually materialized!

Laguna Pueblo, NM
Laguna Pueblo, NM

Once the road was open the next day, we lead-footed it west, through a snow-speckled landscape of contrasts, the most dramatic of which was probably Laguna Pueblo, with its mission church founded in 1699, and a few miles further on a brand new Indian casino, with flanking “McDobe”…

McDobe, NM
McDobe, NM

Hearing that more winter storms were headed our way, we gave up our dreams of finding John Wayne still playing the Ringo Kid amongst Monument Valley’s monoliths, and hightailed it back to the Bay Area – Flagstaff to Oakland in a day was a long drive!

Finally, Blue Skies!
Finally, Blue Skies!

Crossing the country in 5 days was a tease! So many places to go back and explore on later trips… but it was a great reminder of just how large and varied the US is, and also how much fun a road trip can be – even in the dead of winter! And as for Monument Valley and Arches? Hmm, another road trip in April is sounding pretty good about now!

Heading West on Route 66… (part 1)

Heading West on Route 66… (part 1)

.. or to be more exact, on I40, which parallels much of the old Route 66.

Route 66
Route 66

Taking a week off work to travel 2,850 miles from Charlotte NC to Oakland CA in the dead of winter may not sound like a lot of fun, but with the right traveling companion, some good music, and the right attitude, it can be a blast! We were snowed in before we even started out from Charlotte, and once again in eastern New Mexico, but that was all part of the adventure!

Leaving Charlotte a day later than planned, we drove 4 hours to Atlanta to stay with friends, enjoying great food and excellent company. From there we drove another 4 hours to Starkville, MS, where the owner of the Hotel Chester made us feel more like house guests than customers. After an afternoon spent visiting relatives, and a very comfortable night at the Chester, we drove north to Memphis.

Beale St., Memphis
Beale St., Memphis

Beale Street was a little empty on a Tuesday afternoon, but we had a tasty late lunch of ribs, with a side of Blues. It felt like an appetizer, and at some point in the future, we’ll have to return to Beale Street for a more in-depth visit, to truly savor both the food and the music!

Playing the Blues, Beale St., Memphis
Playing the Blues, Beale St., Memphis

A short 6 block walk from Beale Street took us to the Lorraine Motel, now home to the National Civil Rights Museum, and a sombre shrine to Martin Luther King.

Lorraine Motel, Memphis
Lorraine Motel, Memphis

The museum is closed on Tuesdays, and of course, that is when we were there. But on a chill winter’s afternoon, with period piece Cadillacs still parked in front of the Motel, and a wreath hanging from the balcony, it was easy to imagine James Earl Ray’s fatal shot ringing out from the window of the boarding house across the street.

MLK was shot from the open window opposite the Lorraine Motel
MLK was shot from the open window opposite the Lorraine Motel
Posting from 36,000 feet above Kansas…

Posting from 36,000 feet above Kansas…

OK, I’m getting in touch with my inner geek a bit here…

757

I’m flying back home to San Francisco from a business trip to Alabama, and checking out Delta’s new in-flight wireless internet – and it’s pretty cool! Just checking email at 36,000 feet, and seeing if anyone is online to chat with (where is everyone??). The ‘try it free’ offer was being advertised on the in-flight TV screen, even though it officially expired Dec. 31! So I had to twist an arm or 2 at GoGoinflight.com to get them to give me the free trial, but they did right by me, so kudos to them for that!

– And while I’m posting:  watch this space! I’ll be doing a quick cross-country road trip in just a couple of weeks, from East to West, details to follow…

Hostels? Here in the U.S.? Yes indeed!

Hostels? Here in the U.S.? Yes indeed!

For those of us who mainly associate hostels with budget backpack trips in Europe, It’s good to remember we have some great hostels here at home to choose from, as I recently discovered on a weekend trip to Charleston.

Notso Hostel, Charleston
Notso Hostel, Charleston

A little internet research turned up good reviews for the Notso Hostel, about a 10 minute walk from Charleston’s King Street, and just a couple of blocks from world class shrimp and grits at the Hominy Grill. Sure, at $21 for a bunk in a dorm room, the price is definitely right! Especially when that includes breakfast, free parking and wi-fi.

But what really sets a hostel apart is the friendly camaraderie. A hostel is a great place to meet other travelers of varied ages and nationalities, exchange travel tips, and seek advice, and we found that the aptly named Notso Hostel more than lived up to its name. We asked another traveler, who told us he had been in Charleston for 3 weeks already, for a good breakfast spot. Along with his recommendation, he gave us his cell phone number in case we needed more info later in the day – and yes, we did call later with more questions! (Thanks Rod!) That’s the sort of friendliness that sets hostels apart…

Southern charm, in Charleston…

Southern charm, in Charleston…

Charleston, grand old houses and elegant porches.
Charleston: grand old houses and elegant porches.

In October, I took a quick trip to the East coast, and spent a weekend in Charleston. The pace of life definitely seemed slower, and people had more time to chat. Asking for directions to a restaurant produced a spirited discussion as to which restaurant to recommend. But it was in walking the streets of the oldest neighborhoods that the city started to share its secrets.

Charleston? Or Amsterdam?
Charleston? Or Amsterdam?

The architecture varied from old, ante-bellum style mansions, to very European looking townhouses, hinting at the city’s rich and varied history. Periodically attacked by the French and Spanish, and warding off raids by pirates, Charleston thrived from its founding in the mid-1600s, becoming the largest port city in the South, and signs of trade with the islands are still reflected in some of the architectural detail.

Detail of gatepost.
Detail of gatepost.

And did I mention the food? Shrimp and grits at the Hominy Grill, Southern fried Chicken and Green Eggs and Ham (by special request) at Virginia’s on King were all truly delicious, but required a lot of walking to mitigate their effects!

Green Eggs and Ham (really! With pesto...)
Green Eggs and Ham (really! With pesto...)
Chicken and collard greens - yum!!
Chicken and collard greens - yum!!

Egypt by the Bay?

Egypt by the Bay?

The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum & Planetarium in San Jose brings a little bit of ancient Egypt to the San Francisco Bay Area.

photo credit: www.egyptianmuseum.org
photo credit: www.egyptianmuseum.org

This museum “houses the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts, on exhibit in the western United States — including objects from pre dynastic times through Egypt’s early Islamic era”, including several mummies, all located in a building “Architecturally inspired by the Temple of Amon at Karnak”.

Set in a beautiful ‘Peace Garden’ the museum has a great collection of Egyptian artifacts, and even a replica of a rock-cut tomb. Not quite the same as visiting the valley of the Kings and Queens, but next best thing!! Displays are well marked and give a good representation of ancient Egyptian life and religion. Well worth a few hours!

so we all know San Francisco is beautiful…

so we all know San Francisco is beautiful…

… but sometimes those of us who are lucky enough to live here are so busy, we forget just how beautiful our surroundings are! Or maybe we just start to take it for granted? Either way, in the last couple of weeks, I’ve been reminded, both by personal visits and by news stories about the state budget crisis, of the incredible natural beauty, and unique history of the area, and the need to preserve them both!

Golden Gate from Angel Island
Golden Gate Bridge from Angel Island

Alcatraz is the island in San Francisco Bay that everyone has heard of, along with Al Capone, it’s most famous former resident. But not far beyond Alcatraz lies the much larger Angel Island. A slice of wilderness in the middle of the bay, Angel Island was originally a hunting and fishing site for Coastal Miwok Indians, and later the West Coast equivalent of Ellis Island, when hundreds of thousands of mostly Chinese immigrants were held here prior to being allowed to enter the USA. With great hiking trails, a fascinating history, and spectacular views of San Francisco, Mount Tamalpais and the East Bay, it’s a great place for a picnic, a hike, and, for those who want to learn more about the island’s history, a visit to the newly opened Immigration Station.

Alcatraz and San Francisco, from Angel Island
Alcatraz and San Francisco, from Angel Island

However, once the crowds have left on the last ferry of the day, that’s when you can really experience the magic of this little piece of wilderness! The campsites tend to book up months in advance, so some forward planning is required, but in my mind the best sites are the West Ridge sites, with views of the Golden Gate bridge, Alcatraz, and the San Francisco skyline. It’s hard to beat roasting ‘smores to the backdrop of city lights, fog rolling through the Golden Gate, and the surreal soundtrack of the foghorn!

Beach and fog, Angel Island
Beach and fog, Angel Island

But Angel island is a California State Park, and as such still remains under threat of closure due to the state budget crisis. Park fees are being raised effective Monday, but even that will not be enough to prevent many park closures. I had heard that in the event the state does try to close some parks, the feds are ready to intervene. And on a recent visit to another local park, Point Reyes National Seashore, I had the opportunity to ask a National Park ranger about that. He told me he didn’t know all the details, but confirmed that Point Reyes does have some contingency plans to help out the local state parks should the ‘governator’ proceed with closures.

View from Mt. Wittemberg to the Pacific, Point Reyes
View from Mt. Wittemberg to the Pacific, Point Reyes

And after my recent visits to Angel Island and Point Reyes reminded me once again of the natural beauty of the San Francisco bay area, and the need to do everything we can to help keep our State Parks open, I also found a very evocative photo, that for me sums up our multicultural, mysterious, city by the bay. Click on the thumbnail below and see if you agree!

Dragon attacks

Photo credit for ‘Dragon attacks Golden Gate bridge’: Caitlin of www.roamingtales.com, reproduced with permission.

Traveling Solo…

Traveling Solo…

I got a call last week from a friend taking a sabbatical: 2 months in Mexico, then almost 3 months in Europe – I was jealous!! However, while she was excited about her pending trip, she was also nervous. She had never traveled for such a long period, and was also concerned by the idea of traveling alone.

So I told her I had recently met lots of single females traveling in Guatemala. Many were traveling for months at a stretch, and all seemed to be enjoying the benefits of solo travel: from the reality that people find you more approachable as a solo traveler and are more likely to engage you in interesting conversation, to the fact that if you want to stay longer in a beautiful spot, you just do it – no discussions with fellow travelers required!

I also gave her links for some great resources for solo travelers, such as Boldy Go Solo, and a great article from Rick Steves (guidebook author) on women traveling alone. Lots of good, common sense, ‘trust your gut’ advice that is actually applicable for any traveler!

Yellow House, Antigua

Yellow House, Antigua

On our recent trip to Guatemala, we passed thru the incredibly scenic town of Antigua a couple of times: just after we arrived we spent a couple of nights there prior to heading up to Lake Atitlan. Then on our way from Lake Atitlan to Flores, we broke the journey in Antigua, spending another night there.

The colonial city of Antigua, Guatemala
The colonial city of Antigua, Guatemala

Since Antigua was our first stop in Guatemala, we wanted to book somewhere in advance, especially since our plane was arriving into Guatemala City in the evening, and we knew we’d arrive in Antigua well after dark. My daughter liked the description of Yellow House in the Lonely Planet, and we found some pictures and an email address that actually worked at guatemalastory.com. Once we had the right email address, we got a prompt and friendly response confirming our request for a room.

Outside the Arrivals hall at the airport, there were a number of shuttle (minibus) drivers with signs for Antigua, and soon ‘Henry’ had us loaded in his shuttle for the 1 hour trip to Antigua, where he dropped us right in front of Yellow House. We had an upstairs room with a hammock right outside, the shared bathrooms were clean, there were 2 computers in the lobby with free internet access, and more hammocks and comfy seats on the rooftop patio. All for $18 a night for a double room, which also included a huge breakfast – what a deal!

Clean, comfy, affordable Yellow House
Clean, comfy, affordable Yellow House

Yellow House also has dorm rooms, and we met and chatted with other travelers, many traveling solo for months at a time, from all over the world: Australia, the UK, France, Canada. Many of these travelers had just been to some of the places on our itinerary, so it was great to get ‘hot off the press’ feedback and recommendations.

The staff at Yellow House were also very helpful in booking shuttle and bus transportation for us, giving us tips on where to eat, and answering all our questions. So much so that on our 2nd visit there, it almost felt a little like coming ‘home’.

Tobacco Caye – how to really unwind!

Tobacco Caye – how to really unwind!

Kick back on Tobacco Caye, Belize
Kick back on Tobacco Caye, Belize

I’d heard that Ambergris Caye is expensive, and that Caye Caulker is laid back, but if you want to experience the Belize lifestyle at its unrushed best – head south!

Crossing into Belize from Guatemala, we took a local bus south to the small coastal town of Dangriga, arriving on a very sleepy Sunday afternoon, when the stores were closed, and just a few people ventured onto the hot streets. Heavy rain had swollen Stann Creek, and its muddy waters swept out into the ocean, turning the sea a milky coffee brown for several hundred yards offshore. At the Riverside Cafe, we negotiated passage to Tobacco Caye, a small, 5-acre island that sounded like it offered the perfect mix of laid-back R&R, and easy snorkeling access to Belize’s famed barrier reef.

heading out to Tobacco Caye
heading out to Tobacco Caye

A half hour’s boat ride from Dangriga, we reached Tobacco Caye. There are actually 6 different places to stay on the 5-acre island. We had heard that Paradise Lodge was a good place to stay, but in Dangriga we heard good reports of Tobacco Caye Lodge, and specifically that they served the tastiest meals!

Tobacco Caye Lodge bungalows
Tobacco Caye Lodge bungalows

Our bungalow was set just a few yards back from the water, with views out to the reef and beyond. It was clean, comfortable, and had a hammock and a couple of chairs on the front porch – perfect for watching the ocean, or kicking back and reading a good book!

View from our porch, Tobacco Caye
View from our porch, Tobacco Caye

And for dinner the first night? Fresh local lobster served in the tail! That’s when we knew for sure we’d made the right choice! We stayed 3 days, snorkeling right off the beach in the channel out through the reef, eating great food, chatting with other guests and the friendly locals, and hanging on that front porch with a good book! And on our last night, we were treated to some impromptu Garifuna drumming – with rythhyms that harkened right back to Africa!

Garifuna drumming on Tobacco Caye
Garifuna drumming on Tobacco Caye