Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Aloha from Maui

Now it's starting to get really interesting! I've always liked new and different places...well, Maui certainly is both!
In some ways it's almost Caribbean... the sunsets, the beaches, the beach towns are similar; they even have a radio station that plays all reggae, which seems strangely appropriate here. On the other hand, the Caribbean islands don't have many volcanoes, I don't think.
Hey Jim, remember when we were kids, we'd take a bunch of toys and stuff and throw a green blanket over them, making a pretend mountain-y landscape on which to place our little toy soldiers? That's what Maui looks like: the mountains are high, green, and rifted with deep valleys way unlike anything in the smooth, worn-down Appalachians.
I started out on a not-so-great note: I had to stay in a mediocre hotel near the airport without my luggage, due to a delayed flight, a hasty re-connection and a United ticket agent who didn't inform me of my choices. But it was no big deal as I always carry the important stuff in my knapsack that I take on board with me. And by the time I got into Maui (11pm local time, 1 a.m. San Fran) all I wanted to do was sleep anyway. The flight was pretty cool-- a nice couple with a sweet little baby sat in the two seats next to me, and after takeoff the flight attendant told them there was another empty section they could move to, so I got three seats to spread out in! Almost as good as your business-class, Betsy! (But no free beers, alas).
The next morning, after picking up my lost bag back at the airport with the help of a nice United lady, I drove around the island to the pretty town of Lahaina. Almost all the towns here are on the beach, including this one. It consists mainly of a waterfront street with lots of little shops, and a town square with the biggest banyan tree in the U.S.: it covers an entire acre of ground. It's pretty amazing, but I think most of the tourists here are too busy shopping to take much notice of it.
I'm in my favorite waterfront open-air restaurant now, Cheeseburger in Paradise, a two-story tiki-type casual place with great music, good food, and a fantastic view of the sunset. I recommend it to anyone who comes to Hawaii. Last night I had an interesting conversation with Mike, a Californian ski buff with movie-star looks who came to surf and enjoy the sun. Just think, ladies, a tall, tanned surfer with an MBA! He may meet me in Europe, so if any of you are interested, maybe you can meet us there. (He's supposed to come back here tonight, so if he does I'll try to take a picture of him for you girls.)
And the hotel, the Lahaina Inn, is a quaint old place that feels like you're staying in Granma's place, complete with creaky floors, old pictures on the walls, heavy dark wood everywhere except where it's flowery wallpaper, and even a funny "Grandma's house-like" smell. The room also had a ceiling fan worthy of a Humphrey Bogart movie.
Yesterday morning I met some park rangers buying 50-pound sacks of cat food in K-Mart who said they have a colony of cats at their animal preserve. Now, this intrigued me, as cats are natural enemies of the local birds and wildlife. I had to check this out. Unfortunately, thanks to my short-term memory, I immediately forgot the name of the park and the town it was near. And of course no local had any idea what I was talking about, so I drove all over the island checking out state parks and wildlife preserves. I never found the cats, but I did have fun exploring Maui!
And today was even better: I went out on a snorkel boat, but did more, I snuba'd! It's a setup where you have a 20-ft air hose attached to your snorkel, so you can spend all your time underwater. It was just like scuba, only without the cumbersome BCD and tank. The reef we went to wasn't anything to write home about; I suspect either pollution or tourist damage had lessened the beauty of it, but the water was clear and warm, and there were more fish that I saw in Caribbean dives, so I can't complain. And I had the bonus of meeting John, Hank and Sue on the boat, some locals who happened to be along for the ride for whale watching, and who gave me some great tips on future travels. Just about everyone I've met here has been to Pacifica (New Zealand, etc.) and/or Asia. I guess for them it's like us east-coasters going to Orlando.
So tomorrow I go to Oahu and Honolulu for my last night here, which should give me a chance to finally see Pearl Harbor for mylself, instead of just in the movies. More on that soon. Til then, I've gotta go back to my room and get my camera, in case surfer Mike shows up!

San Francisco Treat

Well, I guess the rain had to catch up with me sooner or later-- and it did in San Francisco-- or at least some of the time. I met up with Bruce & Loree, and we walked around and ate in their Walnut Creek, as pretty a community as any normal person could afford to live in-- as opposed to, say, Carmel (more on that later).

The next day the rain started and never really let up, but we didn't let it stop us. We met up with Pam, Susie & Dale, some delightfully maladjusted friends of theirs down in Santa Cruz, a beach town south of San Fran, and joined in the fun at a Clam Chowder festival. The fun continues through the day as Bruce's crazy friends & I goofed around in the town, and stayed the night in a place "almost" by the sea, with a terrific view of the parking lot.

The next day it was still raining, but (minus the friends) we continued down the coast to check out Monterey and Carmel, both pretty towns, with Carmel winning on charm but painfully out of reach in price. A tiny bungalow a block from the shore was going for $3.2 million. Like I said, out of reach. But the town is adorable, with cute little alleyways hiding picture-perfect shops and cafes.

We concluded the day with a drive across the Golden Gate Bridge to get a stunning view of the city, whereupon Bruce & myself commemorated the moment with as much dignity and decorum as we could muster.
Then their dogs Tosca & Cisco, who had joined us for the entire weekend, had a quick run on the waterfront and it was time to go to Chuckie's for my final night on the mainland. I said my goodbyes, and met Chuck in his cute little downtown apartment. We had some dim sum in Chinatown (which is right down the block from his flat), served by an almost unintelligible Asian waitress (I'm still not quite sure exactly what we ate). The next day the weather was beautiful and we went for a long walk down to the waterfront and all around the harbor, and then all too soon it was time to go.

Chuck graciously accompanied me to the airport, which was a good thing, as there was a delay in my flight. It's complicated, but thanks to Chuckie I found a direct flight to Maui which saved me a lot of time. So, thanks again, Chuck, Bruce & Loree, it was a memorable visit, and a good last look at mainland USA.

Next: Maui Wowee.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Come out to the Coast, we'll get together...

This is ridiculous. Does everyone out west have fabulous houses?? First there was Lisa Kelly's western chic place and C.A.'s historic house in Austin, then Char and Charlie's to-die-for flat (along with her daughter's) and Leslie & Bill's great, homey place, all situated in fantastic spots in Seattle. Then Becky & John out-do even them with an incredible, custom-designed showplace in the best suburb of Portland, complete with woods & creek in back. To top them off, Bruce & Loree let me stay in their totally redone adorable bungalow, with custom built cabinetry, granite countertops and large hot tub out back, in (of course) the best area near San Francisco, with stone and natural wood everything, and a garage-turned-studio that I'm in right now as I type.
Everyone's place has tasteful earth-tone colors, stunning woods, textured walls, stone tiles, beautiful fixtures and furniture, and of course great local artists hanging on their walls. And to think I was proud of my dinky little Tuscan kitchen! I'm starting to get over my doubts about selling the place.

Just another note on flying: it can be interesting who you sit with on a plane. Like the guy next to me departing from Dulles who whipped out a huge laptop and proceeded to watch "Predator", the ultimate guy movie (quote from Jesse Ventura: "I ain't got time to bleed") which happened to be close-captioned, so I watched most of it also while, pretending to read. Or the Scotsman who sat in front on the Austin-Denver flight who wore a green tam-o'-shanter tilted at a rakish angle, who when asked about it, said it was a "Royal Scottish Mounted Brigadoon Cannoneers cap with Mackenzie clan plaid backdrop" or something to that effect.
Or the couple who just joined me coming down here from Portland, who bickered with each other, moaned something about "sardines in a can", (referring to the tight quarters, I presume), and then didn't speak a word to each other the entire trip. Perhaps they'd been vacationing together a bit too much-- I'm a firm believer in spending a few hours apart from your travel partner. Heck, on my next honeymoon I'll probably hardly ever see the bride.

Well, that's it for now. Bruce is taking me to Santa Cruz where we'll stay at a beach house, then on to Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea tomorrow. I can't wait.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Feeling Poorly in Portland

Hey, all. Wow, where do I start? I'm in Portland and staying with Becky & John, friends who went on the Rick Steves tour last fall. You should see their house-- it's like the kind you see in Better Homes. John's an architect and designed it. The middle picture above gives some idea of the layout, and Becky even painted cute Pooh quotes on the children's room wall.
The first night John & I ate at a really cool, old-fashioned kind of bar/restaurant that makes their own beers, called the Imbrie Farmhouse. Apparently two brothers, the McMinnemans, have spent the last 20 years buying old places like ranch houses and such and making kick-ass bars out of them. They're all over Oregon. Dan, why didn't we think of that??
Anyway, I had two days to check out Portland. Contrary to all predictions, the weather turned out quite lovely again-- that weather fairy is still with me. In spite of feeling yucky from a cold, I wandered down to the Willamette riverfront, (picture below on right) where they did it right: all along the river is a wide swath of grass and a biking path-- and nothing else. No noisy highways or huge developments, unlike some cities that I could name (that happen to be the Capital of the U.S.!)
I made my way back to the center of town (Pioneer Square) which is a

perfect meeting place (middle picture with statue), and zig-zagged all across the area peeking into shops, stopping for tea, browsing in bookshops and generally just sightseeing. I would have done more but I started really feeling cruddy so I jumped on the wonderful MAX light rail train and limped back to Becky's.
Oh, remember how I couldn't fit my knapsack into the overhead on that first flight, and how it led to problems? This time, flying down from Seattle, I had it all planned out: I took my (rather large) bath kit out of it and put it under the seat, and the rest fit neatly above. Nice solution, huh? Not quite. You see, in all the excitement of flying right past both Mt. Ranier and Mt. St. Helens (this time for once I was able to switch seats to see them) I totally forgot the kit.
It wasn't until I was on the train, just pulling out of the airport that I remembered it. Fuming at my stupidity, I got off at the first stop and waited for another going back. Just as I got back to the United baggage desk a lady had it on the counter and was opening it to see if she could find out who it belonged to! I swear if I come back with my head it'll be a miracle.
Today, the second day, I was feeling even worse and in spite of yet another day of gorgeous weather, decided to stay in and rest. The rest of Portland will have to wait for another time. I did however make a lot of progress on the internet in booking future hotels/hostels.
I also arranged to volunteer at a sanctuary run by Betty Rowe, a 77 year old New Zealand woman who saved lots of wild goats, sheep and other animals on an island off the mainland. She singlehandedly fought stupid government attempts to eradicate the island of these rare Arapawa goats, because they were thought to be pests. Now they're being bred in England & the U.S. but if not for her they might be extinct. It'll be an honor to be able to work with her. I just wonder how I can put all this volunteering to use when I get back!
Next: The San Fran Plan

Monday, February 18, 2008


Well, it's my last night in Seattle, and it's been a great three days. I got to meet dozens and dozens of cousins, only a handful of whom I had met before, and it was a bit overwhelming. My Aunt Betty (Boop) celebrated her 90th birthday with a family reunion that was a brilliant success thanks to the hard work of (mostly) her children, along with a hilarious toast by son Joe, and a great slide-show of her life afterwords.
I stayed with cousins Leslie & Bill, and roomed with Chuckie, who helped me conspire to sneak their sweet but sexually confused fluff-ball of a dog Rascal into our (sort of) forbidden room, where she (yes, she) proceeded to, well-- engage in inappropriate romantic behavior for a female dog. In other words, my leg sure got lucky those nights. I have it on video, if anyone wants to see it.
I also went to a wonderful brunch with some people who were on my Rick Steves Europe tour last fall, hosted by Judy Harris in her house with an incredible view of Puget Sound. I also continued my Tradition of Forgetting Something by leaving my camera in another tour-mate Becky's car.

Today, my last day here, Chuck was supposed to take a slow train home to San Francisco, but (lucky for me) it was cancelled due to a mudslide somewhere on the tracks, and he stayed an extra day and gave me a great tour of downtown Seattle, later joined by Leslie & kids. Pike's Market was my favorite, with its fantastic assortment of fish stalls, fruit vendors, bric-a-brac stores, etc. One store consisted almost entirely of thousands of vintage salt & pepper shakers!
While here I've heard so many stories of my late brother John I feel like I've gotten to know him all over again. He was obviously much loved by all who knew him. I wish he were still here; it's a poorer world without him, and he is still sorely missed. Yet I think his spirit lives on in this beautiful city he loved.
So tomorrow it's on to Portland where I was lucky enough to be invited by Becky & husband John, to stay with them (and retrieve my camera).
I only hope I don't forget anything else.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

View from the window seat

I've loved flying ever since, at the innocent age of 5, my Dad took us to the airport to board a big plane to fly to Greece. I think I remember propellers, which means it must have been a very long flight, (we did a transfer in Rome) but I loved every minute of it--fighting for a view out the window, walking up & down the aisles, revelling in the knowledge that I was "walking" miles above the ground at very much higher speeds than I'd ever gone before. Mostly I remember the thrill of flying through the clouds, which seemed almost solid--or at least as solid as cotton candy.
And landing in Athens, and feeling that hot air blast as soon as we stepped off the plane, made me know--really know-- that I was somewhere way far away from Virginia. It had started some months before when my older brother Jim came upstairs while I was brushing my teeth and said in an excited voice, "Next summer we're painting the house, and then we're going to Greece! Being 5 years old, I had no idea where or exactly what this "Greece" was, but if Jim was excited about it, it must be something pretty good. And painting the house might be fun too.
Needless to say, I never got to help paint the house, but when we finally left for Greece, and I walked up those stairs into the plane (they did a lot of that back then) I knew this was going to be way better.
To this day I'm still fascinated by airplanes. When boarding nowadays, you almost always walk down those sterile mobile halls that connect to the plane, but there's always a little of the outside hull visible; I always feel the sleekness of it, amazed that soon the outer skin will be screaming through the frigid upper atmosphere at close to the speed of sound, while I will be safe and warm in a cozy seat inside.
Planes are incredible pieces of machinery. Everything fits snugly in its place. This is nowhere more apparent than in the bathrooms, where there might be up to a dozen little mysterious hatches that I sometimes explore. Behind them you might find perfectly-fitted cubbies for paper towels, trash, toilet paper, and those even more mysterious feminine products. There is usually also some tubing and wiring that you have no idea what would happen if you cut them, but are pretty sure it would be something bad.
I always try to get a window seat, for two reasons: when sleepy, it's nice to lean on the wall instead of some hydgienically-challenged stranger's shoulder, and mostly because I like to look out the window. Sometimes I think I'm the only one doing this; once when we were cruising just feet below a perfectly flat cloud ceiling that made the view incredibly dramatic, I looked around and everyone else was preoccupied with the video entertainment or in-flight shopping (a whole other subject for another day). That was the exception, though; usually the view consists of some houses at takeoff, quickly dissolving into fog, blank white clould cover the entire flight, then a few more houses right before landing.
There have been rare, exceptional treats now and then, however, like the time I looked down into the entire length of the Grand Canyon, or seeing Seattle's Puget Sound with its beautiful mix of water, woods and houses break through the clouds, with Mount Ranier nearby poking out of the mist. The most memorable was when I once flew into D.C.'s National Airport, where you usually approach from the south and see only generic suburbs, we came in from the north right over the Potomac River, and I was treated to a glorious bird's-eye view of Washington, including the Capitol and the Washington Monument, like I was hovering over it all on a magic carpet.
Which was pretty amazing considering that the first Cosmic Rule of Flying is that Dave Shalt be Seated on the Opposite Side of whatever interesting view is Out There. Every time I've flown into Denver, for example, I'm always on the side away from the Rockies. If you've ever seen Denver from the air, on one side is an incredible view (I presume) of the city nestled in the foothills of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains, and the other side is -- nothing. Not a building, road, barn, mailbox, telephone pole-- not even a mediocre field of soybeans--nothing but flat expanses of what appears to be brown dirt. This is the side that I am intimately familiar with. Flying in yesterday I was almost nostalgic to see my "Denver", or rather my non-Denver, the flat nothingness I have grown accustomed to seeing. And of course the mountains are nowhere in vew from the airport itself; somehow views in all directions revealed only desert. Flying out was sadly the same view, of course. I saw dirt, then clouds all the way to Seattle, and nary a single foothill between.
This is but one example of the Rule: wherever I am, the cool stuff is on the other side. Pilot to cabin: "If everyone will look out the left window, they'll get a fantastic glimpse of the Space Shuttle launching as we speak, along with the Queen Mary exploding from a terrorist bomb, and a naval and air battle between U.S. forces and alien spacecraft going on just beyond those erupting volcanoes. Those on the right side, including Dave, have a rare local fog bank screening the view, sorry about that."
Cosmic Rule of Flying #2: Whenever Dave gets a window seat, it Shalt be in the Exact Center of the Wing. As much as I love the view, someone Up There seems to think I like staring at plane wings. Flying here from Austin, my seat on the first leg to Denver was 15-F, which put me precisely over the wing, so I only caught a glimpse of firmament upon takeoff and landing. The next flight to Seattle promised to be better, as my seat was 19-F, which should have put me reasonably behind the wing. But as fate would have it, this was a larger plane, and 19-F was once again smack-dab in the middle of a vast expanse of featurless white metal. You'd think they could at least paint some interesting designs on the wings for us "wing men" to look at, perhaps even a bit of classical art or maybe even some Dilbert comics or something. (Although I must admit, once I had a window seat that wasn't over the wings: it was in the very last row back, and my "view" was of the gigantic engine six inches outside my window. So not only did I get to see an engine cowling the whole way, I was also treated to the delightfully pleasing whine of gigantic jet turbine blades about as far from my ear as your computer is to you now.)
And finally, Cosmic Rule #3, Whatever Dave drops on the floor during a flight Shalt forever be Out of Reach until Landing. On the last flight here this rule was enforced once again. I had about a foot of space in front of me, but when I dropped my Bag O' Pretzels, there was simply not enough room to bend over to reach them. in fact, I couldn't even get anything out of my own pockets, as it would have required contortions only Houdini in his prime could have accomplished. Next time I'll pay the $49 for an extra five inches-- it'll be worth every penny.
As I said, I just love flying.
Next: the Flat Featureless Shoebox School of Airport Architecture

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Here I Go

Hello! Well, I never did finish writing about the last trip, but it's too late now, because I've started the Big One now-- the round-the-world sojourn that evolved from just a summer in Europe. Yes, I'm getting there, but I'm going the long way-- westward!
I left D.C. a few days ago, first stop: Austin, to see the Kellys and Randal (Ramsay couldn't make it). Departing had a few glitches-- I forgot to take my mini-laptop out of my carry-on bag, so the X-ray guys flagged it and I got a lecture about packing; then the bag wouldn't fit in the overhead compartment. This is a knapsack, but it expands to hold books, maps, cameras, computer, extra clothes (in case my other suitcase goes missing), snacks, water, first aid kit and anything else I might need on a long flight or that I don't want to check. And as I happened to be sitting in the front row with nothing but a bulkhead in front of me, there was no seat to shove it under.
Luckily this was one of the rare instances where we walked outside to the plane, so I could run back down the stairs and check it with the guys loading stuff into the belly of the plane. The flight attendant urged me to "make sure to get a green tag". Well, they had no green tags, and when asked where to get one, pointed back to the airport. This is with the plane fully boarded, and I pictured everyone in it sitting and waiting for me.
So I made a frantic dash through the icy rain to the terminal only to find no one there. I ran back to the baggage guys and plaintively asked "Where?" One of them walked me all the way back inside to the ticket counter and got a green tag, which we attached to my bag. I ran back and got on board just before they closed the doors, and, red-faced and panting, took my seat.
Oh, remember that icy rain I mentioned? It delayed our takeoff for two hours, so all that dashing about was a bit unneccessary after all.
Anyway, C.A. picked me up in Austin and took me to her sister Lisa's, who graciously let me stay with them, as C.A. & husband are selling their house. There I fed their rescued dog Gracie, a pretty lab/greyhound mix (pictured above) who was found running wild, and is still fearful of strangers but is slowly getting better, thanks to Lisa's and her boyfriend Clay's patient kindness. (Apparently she sometimes nips visitors in the bum, just to make her disapproval known-- I guess I passed the test).
The next day C.A took me into town and I got to meet her daughter Ella, who is the cutest, smartest and friendliest 3-year-old on the planet. We met Randal and ate at the great lakeside restaurant, the Hula Hut, where Ella, being the little socialite she is, made new friends and fed the swan & ducks with most of her (and everyone else's) lunch. Even big, tough Randal, who is not easily impressed, was instantly charmed by the little Belle of Austin.
Then the ladies left us, and Randal and I spent the evening catching up on old times. Just when you think you've heard every story he knows and everything he's done, he reveals an even more amazing tale of adventure!
I would relate some here, but that's the subject for another book. But I can tell you that he treated me to a sumptuous tex-mex dinner that filled me to bursting-- I literally could not sip a thimbleful of water more. Meanwhile his dinner got cold while he amazed me with spellbinding stories, myths & legends (ask him about the Tale of the Trip to Austin in the Rental Car with Ramsay, and the Drive Down the Capital Steps), until I had to remind him to eat.
The next day (after yet another abdomen-bloating Texas-sized brunch) we browsed some of Austin's fascinating specialty shops, from costume stores to a place so full of vintage and antique curios, Randal bought about six large bags worth of treasures. And since he has an unerring eye for valuable items , I am sure he made an immediate profit.
All too soon he had to go home to his wife & family (it was, after all, Valentine's Day) and I had dinner with some of the Kellys, and then after a quick visit to C.A.'s house, the Austin leg was over. But I did get to feed Gracie once more (who is still suspicious of me, as any young girl should be), and it slowly dawned on me that I was missing one of my pairs of glasses. So everyone was searching for me as I meekly scooted off to the airport, where, after I had some time to sit and think, I realized I had also left a shirt hung up in one of Lisa's closets! (Note: this had been a good lesson for me in keeping track of my things, lest I leave a trail of items all across the globe on my trek.)
The good news is, the glasses were found, so the kind folks from Austin will forward my things to me, and I am here now in Seattle, where I got another warm welcome, this time by many cousins and other relatives (including my parents), and am now getting reacquainted with some cousins who I haven't seen in years, if at all. I'll be back soon with more, including a bit on flying, airplanes, and the general state of aviation today. See ya then!