Planes, trains, but no automobiles

Last spring I traveled to Holland with my friend Jan and her sisters. We had a wonderful time bicycling from Amsterdam to Bruges. No, we didn’t bicycle the entire distance. At the end of each day of biking we were met by Jantien and Henk, owners of the beautiful barge Merlijn. We were wined, dined and taken care of by Jantien and Henk. It was an amazing trip.

In early spring Jantien ran a contest on Facebook to identify the location of an image. I spent hours on the computer, finally found the answer, and won a week biking from Bremen to Magdeburg on the Merlijn. So, here I am off again with Jan for a biking adventure. Thank you Jantien and Henk!!

After three flights, a subway ride and a train excursion we finally arrived in Bremen 31 hours after leaving home. The longest flight from Atlanta to Paris offered no sleep as we were sitting next to some very poorly behaved children (and parents.) So when we finally checked into our Airbnb at 6PM German time, we had just enough energy to go out to eat. We walked about two blocks to a beautiful town square and chose the Bremen Ratskeller, located in the Bremen Rathaus (town hall.) The  building of the Rathaus began in 1410 and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. We had a wonderful dinner of lamb stew for me and corned beef, mashed potatoes and eggs for Jan. And of course, a German beer.

   

With full stomachs we headed home and fell into bed.

The next day, fully refreshed we headed out to explore Bremen. What a beautiful town. It lies on both sides of the Weser River and was part of the Hanseatic League. Of course the most famous thing about Bremen is the story of the Bremen Town Musicians. There are statues all over town representing this folk story. There are other little works of art  all over town.

             

Roland was the protector of trade. This fine statue of him was erected in 1404.


We investigated the old town area of Schnoor and walked along the promenade. All along the waterfront area of Schlachte there are biergartens. It was Saturday and a band played and food vendors sold local goodies. 

After a day  of exploring we headed for the Merlijn.

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Key West: sun, food, and animals

Oh, the fruit. Fresh squeezed orange juice. Mangoes. Papayas. Key limes (well, pie made from key limes). I tried fruit I have never heard of before: cherimoya and sapote. So delicious. Fish is on the menu everywhere. We had snapper for brunch, shrimp and hogfish for dinner. Mahi mahi tacos were on the menu at The Cafe, a wonderful vegetarian restaurant where our kids found lots of choices. I’m not a rum drinker, but Tim enjoyed the offerings at the Key West Rum Distillery.

The chickens and roosters are everywhere. I read that they were brought with Cubans moving to Key West. When cock fighting was outlawed the chickens were left to roam free creating the “gypsy roosters.” I can’t vouch for the authenticity of this story.

We woke up to pouring rain one morning. A perfect day to visit the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservancy.

About an hour north of Key West is the Turtle Hospital. On the site of the old Hidden Harbor Motel, the non-profit hospital rehabiltates injured sea turtles. Some are released and some who cannot return to the wild become permanent residents.

Turtles that have been injured by boats can suffer from bubble-butt syndrome. Air gets trapped under their shells and they cannot dive. Weights are attached to the shell to help the turtle dive, but they cannot be released to the wild and will spend their lives at the hospital. Considering green sea turtles can live 80-100 years, that is a big responsibility!

Why are the Dry Tortugas Dry?

The Dry Tortugas National Park is about 70 miles west of Key West. The park is 100 square miles, but it is mostly water. Seven small islands make up the park. The islands are only accessible by boat or seaplane. Garden Key is probably the best known as it is the home of Fort Jefferson.

Spanish explorer Ponce de León was the first European to discover the islands in 1513.  He gave the islands their name, Las Tortugas (The Turtles) because of all the sea turtles. The lack of springs are responsible for adding ” dry” to the name.

After the war of 1812 the fort was built to help protect the southern coastline of the US.  During the Civil War the fort remained under Union control. Fort Jefferson was never completed by the US. It was used as a prison until 1874. The most famous prisoner was Dr. Samuel Mudd, the doctor who treated John Wilkes Booth after he asasinated Lincoln.

As part of the ferry package, snorkeling gear is included. What a wonderful experience.img_7558jpg

 

A Time in the Sun

As a native Michigander I am very well acquainted with the term “snowbird.” Many of our retired friends take off for warmer climates during the frigid winter months. Going south in the winter has never been at the top of my list. But this year our son had a school break at the end of February. His wife had not yet begun her new job and we decided to take a quick trip together to Florida. Truthfully, Jessica and I wanted to go to Iceland, but neither of the guys were very excited about Iceland in the winter. We agreed on Key West.

Flights, condo and rental car secured we left from Michigan and Massachusetts crossing our fingers that the travel gods were watching over us. A few lessons learned about car rentals in Miami and we were all settled in a Miami hotel for the night. Bright and early we headed for the Everglades.

So many birds!

Anhingas

Wood Storks ?


Egrets

We spotted a few turtles and a couple of ominous looking snakes.

And, of course, a plethora of gators….

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Tim, a craft beer enthusiast, requested stops at a couple breweries. Great beer at Islamorada Beer Company. At the Florida Keys Brewing Company we enjoyed a mini music fest, beer and guacamole from a humongous avocado!


Fish or Frond??

The Next Four Years

I usually follow the rules. Some of you who know me might scoff at that statement. But I believe in rules. I went to Catholic school where we had lots of rules. And I was always afraid to break the rules. I guess I was afraid of hell. I’m not afraid anymore, but I still believe in rules.

I am a retired teacher. I taught children about rules. We have rules in our society. We treat our citizens respectfully. We don’t mock people with disabilities. We learn about different cultures and understand that we are a nation of immigrants. Those cultures enhance us as a society. That is what I taught my students.

But then we had a candidate for president that didn’t follow the rules. He mocked a reporter with disabilities. He said he will build a wall to keep out immigrants. He talked about women like they were property, not equal human beings.

I wouldn’t say I broke the rules, but I decided to stand up to the person who had violated them. And why is this on a travel blog? This trip was 1400 miles in 50 hours. Not my normal vacation itinerary. Destination: Washington, D.C., the day after the inauguration of Donald Trump. The Women’s March on Washington.

The organizers of the Women’s March on Washington expected 200,000 people. They were not prepared for the 500,000+ marchers. So many marchers! Not just in Washington, but all over the world. Over three million marchers on seven continents!

And what were we marching for?  Worker’s rights. Reproductive rights. LGBTQIA rights. Civil rights. Disability rights. Immigrant rights. Environmental rights. And…protesting a president that doesn’t seem to care about those rights.

It was a long trip. Our bus overheated and stopped many times.The first breakdown was in Ohio. We were still upbeat and optimistic. By the time we arrived in Breezewood, Pennsylvania in an overheating bus that smelled like it was on fire we were nervous about our chances of getting to Washington. What should have been a ten hour trip to Gettysburg turned into sixteen uncertain hours. But the bus was repaired during the night and we departed at 6AM with two hours to go.

When we arrived  in Washington, our bus parked parked in the assigned lot at RFK stadium. We walked 2.5 miles to the gathering spot, passing up the huge lines at the metro station. We were to meet at Indepence and Third streets, but the crowds were so immense that we couldn’t get close enough to hear the amazing lineup of speakers. We were human sardines! We started the march on the mall and were directed to the walkways on the sides. Hitting a wall of marchers we were directed back to the mall. I didn’t make it to the White House. But that was ok. We were there with a united purpose.  After so many arguments about the candidates, it was wonderful to be with like-minded humans.

I don’t know what the next four years will bring, but the fear has awakened me. I have stayed on the sidelines too long. I can’t be a spectator any longer. I don’t know if Donald Trump will give any thought to the millions that marched on Saturday. I believe his ego allows him to ignore what he doesn’t like or is not in his best interest. But I believe we shocked Congress. And the members of this institution know we are serious and have put them on notice. I am calling my representatives. I am going to be more vigilant and involved.

Why did I march?? I have a grandaughter. I want her to earn the same wages for the same work as her brother. I want her to have a planet that is clean, healthy and livable. I want her to have choices about her body. I want her to live in a country where who you love is your choice as well as your gender. I want her to live in a country that recognizes that our country is made of immigrants and is what has made us special. And I want her to live in a country that disrespects misogynistic behavior. And by wishing and working for those values for her, I will also be working for the same values for her brother and all the other girls and boys, and men and women in the country and across the world.

A Nation of Contrasts (Final Thoughts)

I didn’t really know what to expect before I took off for China. Having been raised during the Cold War, communism has always held a horrible place in my thoughts. But this is not the China of old.

One thing is the same, no matter where you go. People. Just like all the other places we have visited, people have been a joy. The guides, the residents, the workers. Friendly, inviting and genuine. But there are differences. Many of the Chinese people we met have a very pragmatic approach to life. When they have change thrust upon them, they just deal with it. When we would object or refuse, they just do it. I suppose years of knowing their protests won’t make a difference causes people to just accept rather than fight.

Industrious. I would describe the Chinese people that way. They work hard. Everyone works. The students study hard and long, with great pressure to do well. And the population, over a billion! It makes me wonder if they are not going to walk right over us in a few years.

And building! Everywhere we went there were new high rises and roads and bridges and infrastructure going up. Even in Tibet the building was incredible.

But for all the new and fancy, so many people still live in what we would consider third world conditions. No one can drink the tap water. Community bathrooms are not uncommon. Sanitary conditions are lacking. The air quality, especially in areas like Beijing is horrible.

And Communism. Well, it’s not the days of Mao. In true communism everyone is supposed to be equal. Everyone should collectively own everything and the wealth should be distributed among all. It is a classless society.  Well, that is not China. There is a lot of private industry in China. Private schools, too. And very wealthy people.

The government is run by the Central Party and the average person in China has little to say about governing.  (But sometimes I feel like that too.) But the government still rules. Take the one-child policy. This policy enacted in the 70s brought great hardship to families. Fines for second children and second children who were unrecognized by the government which means they do not qualify for education or health care. This policy has recently changed and the government is encouraging the birth of second children. Probably a good thing when you look at the number of old people each young person is going to have to support.

I could not access my email in China because it is gmail. The Chinese government blocks Google of all types. Web searching is very limited. But I think many people find ways around that. It will be interesting to see what will happen when young people who have been influenced by western culture grow in numbers. But one thing is for sure, China is a force to be reckoned with. But will the young people want a different form of government? Time will tell.

 

 

 

 

Shanghai goodies

The Shanghai Acrobatic Show was one of the highlights of our visit to the city. Incredible feats of balance and gymnastics.

The Metro is a gem of transportation. Clean, efficient and inexpensive. We rode it once during rush hour on a day it was raining. Never have I ever been as squished. Other times, it was quite a pleasant ride.

We also really enjoyed our dumpling and spring roll class in the old French Concession area. Now, to try them at home!

Fengjing, Venice of the East

The ancient town of Fengjing is about 35 miles outside of Shanghai. It is a water town, kind of like Venice but with pagodas. The day we visited was a little dreary. Maybe that was why there were few visitors. I also think it is not one of the well-known water towns. This made for a pleasant stroll through the town with our guide, Lily.

This town was also a former site of the People’s Commune and there are old offices and memorabilia from the days of Mao Tse-tung.

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Local specialties: frogs and sticky rice with pork wrapped in bamboo leaves.

The town is known for its paintings. Many paintings can be seen on the walls of buildings.

Jinshan Peasants’ Painting originated and flourished in this town. We visited the nearby Jinshan Peasant Painting Academy. Not all the artists workshops were open, but we enjoyed walking through the area and visiting some of the local artists.