Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the tag “transportation”

Freeway Free in Wales: From the Castle to the Pits and Back

20180717_145638docAmong the hazards of a pre-organized group tour is that one day may be PACKED with events and places to see, while the next may find you bus-bound as your itinerary hustles you off to the next attraction.  (Above is a view from the bus of the beautiful Welsh countryside near Snowdon. Time to explore on your own, and time to digest your experiences may both be limited.

Today we explored the depths of a slate mine (damp, dark, dusty),

rode on a narrow-gauge railway (clattering, quaint, cramped),

explored Portemeirion, a fantasy village created as “an homage to Portofino” by a self taught architect (eclectic, imaginative, erratic),

ate dinner at a World heritage site castle (lavish, lamb, local lore),

and watched border collies herding sheep into their home pens (energetic, efficient, effective).  20180717_145701

Lots of diversity, but almost too much to take in.  By the end of the day, I am most clearly remembering those border collies herding the sheep as we sat on the wall of our guest house, quietly and remotely and restfully watching.

 

Next Week: Freeway – Free in Wales: Life in the Village, Life in the Castle

 

 

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Freeway Free in Wales: Hanging out at Bodysgallen Hall

20180716_211431docWe are still traveling first class:  we were picked up at the Manchester Airport by Jason, a deferential fellow with a strong accent.  He loaded our gear into a Mercedez limo/van, and off we go through misty rain (the first rain in six weeks, Jason says) to Wales, home of unpronounceable names.   We are staying outside of Llandudno in a 17th century carriage house named Bodysgallen Hall.  The castle for which this ample residence formerly served as gatehouse is visible from our windows, at least a couple of miles away across the valley.  Talk about an impressive entrance!20180716_185011web

Our  room has  mullioned windows and a lot of toile and chintz and Turkish rugs. The welcome reception for our group included a harpist as well as a wide sampling of local whiskeys and not-so-local wines.

Now the sun is setting through my mullioned windows, my spouse is in PJ’s reading about tomorrow’s itinerary, and I am contemplating one more tour around the garden outside before turning in.

Next week: From the Castle to the Pits and Back

Freeway Free: Flying First Class!

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My father used to say “It only costs a little more to go First Class.” But that was back when a first-class upgrade set you back only about $20, and sometimes you could get one just by flirting with the ticket agent.

When I had a day job, I did quite a bit of international traveling in Business class and amassed enough Frequent Flyer points to gain access to United’s Red Carpet Club and other elite airport venues. More recently, I have had to join the hoi polloi in Coach class and in the ordinary waiting areas of airport terminals, so it was a real treat when we were upgraded to Business class on our flight to Great Britain.

The first surprise was our access to the Polaris Club Business Class lounge, which United now shares with Lufthansa and Continental. Wow! The old Red Carpet Club gave you coffee, tea, and pre-packaged cheese slices and crackers to tide you over while you waited for your flight. If you were lucky, they might not be out of apples or bananas. The Polaris Club is several levels of comfort and cuisine apart.

Not only are there espresso machines, but also several open bars with serve-yourself beer and wine as well as available mixed drinks. Food stations include German-style cold cuts and sausages for make-your-own sandwiches; a breakfast station with bagels, French pastries, hot and cold cereals, fruit, and yogurt; and a steam table offering hot miso soup, steamed rice, potstickers, ramen, and sushi.

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Tucked away next to the restrooms and private laptop cubicles were showers! United has apparently picked up some classy tips from its European and Asian partners.

Once we were on board, we found seats that could be stretched out to lie flat, with pillows, blankets, big screens for on-screen movies, lots of storage for carryon luggage,  plugs for our laptops and Nicholas, an assiduous purser to answer any question. In Frankfurt the Polaris Lounge was equally well equipped as at SFO, and even on the small plane to Manchester we were served quite a creditable Salad Nicoise with wine. It’s been quite a while since I felt so pampered by an airline. A great start to our British adventure!20180715_151353doc

Next week: From Top of the Castle to Down in the Pits in Wales

Freeway Free down the Mississippi: the Shadow of Slavery

 

Floating down the Mississippi on a multi-tiered cruise ship, I was inevitably sucked into the “Gone With the Wind” myth.  We docked up at a number of pillared plantation homes.  We saw a home where James Audubon was employed as a tutor to the children, and drew his marvelous bird protraits from taxidermy models he had made.  We walked down a oak-lined alley with a lovely double-decker veranda’d mansion at the end of it.  We saw portraits of blonde children in lace-trimmed dresses, and dainty embroideries done by the ladies of the house.  And always the dark shadow of the enslaved people who made it all possible lurked behind, only barely acknowledged.

I believe it started with climate.  In this hot, humid region, African laborers were prized over Europeans because they had better tolerance for the climate.  Once that advantage was established, economics took over.  If there is a demand, someone will supply it. 

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The restored mansions include lovely murals, swooping staircases, and even the apparent remains of a poker party – one can imagine Scarlett O’Hara lifting her skirts as she goes up the stairs, or Rhett Butler sweeping up the chips with a rakish grin.

But the musty flavor of slavery still permeates.  In the dining room where crystal cut-glass sparkles, a huge fan hangs over the table – it would have been pulled back and forth by a silent slave in the corner.

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Freeway Free in Alaska: Up the Inland Passage into the Wild

StanfordAlaska22_MoreHumpbacksdocI confess:  I did not come to Alaska to learn more about Tlingit culture or early Norwegian settlesments.  I wanted to experience wilderness and wildness, before they disappear from the earth.  When we sail up into Tracy Arm north of Hobart Bay, I feel like we were really there.

I wake up and open the curtain to see a big blue berg floating by – we are approaching Sawyer Glacier, shining  in every tone of teal between near- navy and shadowy ice blue.  As we watch, a large section of the glacier calves off, with a huge splash  followed seconds later by the deep roar.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Later we make our way up toward Glacier Bay.  One of our group sights a group of orca between our boat and a smaller tour boat a bit further into the Bay.  Suddenly an orca breaches, throwing itself clear out of the water.  It is half the size of the small tour boat, and no more than 20 feet away from it.  Shamu at SeaWorld could not have shown off to better effect.

We sail into Glacier Bay, feeling smug because our smallish boat can go much further in that the multi-thousand passenger cruise ships we pass. The first peninsula jutting into the bay is Gloomy Gloomy Knob, the home of mountain goats.  We saw several Rams and one foursome of ewes and kids – then the foursome began running – they had been spooked by a drone zooming by for a close-up.  Flying drones close enough to disturb wildlife is illegal in National parks. Our on-board Park Ranger Nicole bolts for the captain’s bridge and its radio, gets the offending boat on the wire..  The droners deny the drone was anywhere other than near the beach! But we have photos!  Geez Louise!

Further in we spot a moose mama with twin calves (she looking quite skinny – the effect of nursing two?) As we circle around the bay we see three bears on the rocky moraine which constitutes a beach.  The mother bear is badly scarred either from skin disease or perhaps a burn and sparks from a fire, but not crippled. The two cubs are happily turning over rocks looking for shrimp or small fish sheltering underneath.   P1030607web

We get off the boat at Lumpaugh Glacier and walk on a glacial moraine- lumpy, shifting, insecure footing.  The bears looked more comfortable and secure – perhaps claws and flexible pads give them better traction?  It’s odd to imagine these rocks ranging from tiny pebbles to boulders being carried and then dropped by the slow river of ice moving back and forth across this empty land.  Maybe it wasn’t so empty then.  Maybe the Tlingit shamans tried to find some explanation for climate change.  Did they blame the actions of Man for having angered the Gods?  Does nothing change?StanfordAlaska62_GlacierReflectionweb

 

 

Freeway Free in San Francisco: A Touch of Class

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My father used to say, in justifying a splurge, “It only costs a little more to go first class.”  This is no longer true when flying across the country, perhaps, when an upgrade to first class was a two-digit expense, but it can still apply to other aspects of travel. When my childhood friend came for a visit, we decided to spend a weekend in San Francisco together, and we went in style.

Instead of paging through TripAdvisor, we simply made a list of what we wanted to do.  We wanted to have easy access to a BART station, since traveling up to the city by BART is much easier than driving and parking (not to say cheaper), and we also wanted access to public transportation.  We wanted to be able to walk to the San Francisco Modern Art Museum, as the Magritte  exhibit was on my friend’s bucket list. We wanted to be close to some good restaurants, and we wanted to be able to get to Golden Gate Park.

20180706_181641webWe ended up staying two nights at the Palace – the grand dame of San Francisco hotels, with its glass-domed atrium, high-ceilinged rooms, and courtly servitors.  Our room had two queen-sized beds, a marble bath, and cozy bathrobes to wear afterward. 

One morning we had breakfast at the Palace buffet in the sunlint atrium.  We were early, so we had first pick of a continental buffet which included yogurt, cottage cheese, excellent fruits, cold cuts, cheese, pastries, toast, jam, bagels, cream cheese, lox, juices, cereals, hard-boiled eggs, coffee, tea… we did not miss the scrambled eggs and sausage from the steam table.

We walked to SFMOMA, as planned, and spent a luxurious four hours exploring all seven floors, broken by an excellent lunch at the Café 5 on the 5th floor.  (OK, “first class” might have been down on ground level at the highly regarded but often crowded In Situ – but we decided “first class” also means “no waiting.” 20180707_124430web

That evening we walked to The Grove, a trendy restaurant half-way between the Palace and MOMA.  We people watched, ate wonderfully, and ambled back to our hotel for a swim and soak in the pool and hot tub located three floors up from our room.

The Grove is also known for its Sunday brunch, so we opted for their poached eggs on asparagus toast rather than another go-round at the Palace buffet.  Afterward we checked our baggage at the Palace and hopped the N-Judah street car to Golden Gate Park, where we took a Segway tour of the park.  (Yes, true luxury might have opted for a limo, but the N-Judah, again, involved no waiting. Actually, the N-Judah is just about everything you need to know about public transportation in San Francisco.  It starts at the King Street train station near the SF Giants’ ball park, circles the Embarcadero, dives underground past the Civic Center, and surfaces in the lower Haight on its way to Ocean Beach.  Give it a try!)

We  lunched at Nopalito’s, a top-line Mexican restaurant on 9th Avenue.  Here there was a wait, but it was made painless by the availability of a branch of the Green Apple Bookstore right across the street.

That evening  reclaimed our bags and BARTed back down the Peninsula, completely satisfied with our taste of luxurious living. And since my friend and I split the bills, it really did only cost a little more to go first class.

Freeway-Free in Colorado: Boulder Beyond the Rocks

The Flat Irons above Boulder

If you’ve heard of Boulder, CO at all, you probably know that it is one of the hippest college towns in the country, surrounded by beautiful mountain scenery, and with a tech-savvy population. (89% of households have broadband access, the highest rate in the country.)

But you might not know that Boulder  also boasts an I.M.Pei-designed National Center for Atmospheric Research, that it is home to one of the original Chatauqua Institutes (established, oddly enough, by a group of Texans who felt that the weather in their home state was just too oppressive to host conferences), and that its Leanin’ Tree Museum of Western Art had one of the largest private collections of Western-themed art in the country [Note: Unfortunately, this Hidden Gem closed in August 2017, soon after my visit. And it is also the headquarters of the Celestial Seasonings tea company.

Boulder is a wonderfully walkable town, once you get there, and happily, you can get there without having to drive.  If you fly into the Denver Airport, you can get to Boulder by bus for less than it would cost to pay the tolls on the E-470 tollway just outside the airport. 

When you land, grab your baggage and head for the whale’s-tail shaped Westin Hotel  at the east end of the lobby.  Instead of going up the escalator to the Westin lobby, hang a U-turn at the ATMs and you will find yourself in the  RTD Transportation Center. The SkyRide bus for Boulder costs $9 for a 70 minute ride to downtown Boulder, and leaves from Gate 8 at least once an hour beginning at 4:25 AM and ending at 12:55 AM.  The bus will be full of UC – Boulder students no matter what time of day or night you get on, so be sure to purchase your ticket right away and stand in line for the next bus.

Once you are in Boulder, you can take advantage of the many whimsically-painted and whimsically – named  (HOP, SKIP, JUMP, DASH, STAMPEDE…) Community Transportation buses to get just about anywhere in and around town.

Next: What to see when you get to Boulder

Freeway-Free in California – Santa Barbara by Pedal, Foot, and Trolley

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With another day of 90+-degree heat threatening Ojai, we decide to head for the coast and the Queen City of Santa Barbara just thirty miles west. .  We slide off Highway 101 on xxxx, the beach-front road which stretches the length of Santa Barbara beach from the tony Fess Parker Inn down to the harbor. We are a bit daunted by the slow flow of traffic, the hundreds of beach parasols, and the cars seeming to circle the pay parking lots, but Griselda – the-GSP-lady steers us to the far end of the harbor, where we score Free Parking  at the community college stadium, buzzing with hardy athletic types running steps. No more car for the day!

Griselda also points us to a Visitors Center at the Coast Guard Museum adjacent to the harbor. It is 10:40 AM ad the center does not open until 11.  The very pleasant gray haired man behind the kiosk at the museum gives us three copies of a Santa Barbara beach/downtown map, tells us about the shuttle downtown, and directs us to bike shops near Shear Wharf at the end of State Street.  We walk along the promenade.  It is already hot, but we find a breeze to cool us, and get to the Wheel Fun Rentals bike shop before 11.  Three bikes and a dragged -out search for helmets that fit later, and we are on our way, teetering on old-fashioned cruiser bikes with coaster brakes and high handle bars.

We biked all the way to the end of the promenade past the Fess Parker Lodge, where I had stayed a decade ago with my husband and mother-in-law and admired the authentic Davy Crockett coonskin cap under glass.  Then we turned and went all the way to the other end near where we had parked the car, then back to Start, in just under an hour.  Along the way we admired surfers, micro-bikini-wearers, and a bus load of choristers serenading the beach-goers as the end of  State Street.  A perfect way to begin, though I was already wishing I had worn my long pants as protection against the sun.20170708_114546web

20170708_120656webWe proposed at first to walk uptown, but W noticed signs for a shuttle going up and down State street every 1o minutes.  The trolley was open air, crowded with tanned beachgoers and families, and at 25 cents for Seniors , 50 cents for youth, it was a bargain.  Looking for historic Santa Barbara, we set down at the Paseo, but we were disappointed to find that it was merely a modern shopping center dressed up in red tile roofs and Adobe.

We did pick up a Santa Barbara walking and business map from the tourist table set up at the entrance to the Paseo, and as we walked up toward what looked like a likely cluster of restaurants, we happened past the Tamira Restaurant, offering an Indian buffet which promised a nice change from tacos or deli sandwiches.  Delicious chicken marsala and butter chicken,  I didn’t try the tandoori) and vegetables and salad with spicy cucumber dressing and marinated vegetables.  No dal.


Lunch having been taken care of, we moved on to the Santa Barbara Art Museum, which had conveniently located all its most interesting pieces on two rooms while the back wing was undergoing renovation.  My ROAM card from membership in the San Francisco Asian Art Museum  got all three of us in for free.  We spent an hour looking at beautiful things in elegant air-conditioned surroundings – W even spent time in the gift shop!

 

Then to the lovely Santa Barbara Courthouse, with its beautiful sunken garden inner quad, and of course there was a bride, and an adorable little blond ring-bearer, and a self-conscious flower girl, and a bunch of groomsmen gleefully showing off their argyle socks under their tuxedos.

By that time we were dragging, too over-dosed with Adobe and red tile even to peek into the beautiful library or walk a couple of blocks down to the official Old Town.  We caught the Shuttle all the way back to the harbor and then spent time  in the Maritime Museum, fascinated by exhibits of storms and wrecks and deep-sea expeditions – definitely a Hidden Treasure!
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Freeway Bound in California – Bay Area to Ojai

20170705_132728docI am  off to visit my cousin and friends who are rendezvousing in Ojai, 500 miles south.  Google Maps sends me down the old main artery of California, US Highway 101, known as the Bayshore on the San Francisco Peninsula, the Monterey Highway in San Jose, and a dozen other names as it passes, (or nowadays bypasses)  every mission town – the brown Historical Marker signs for  San Juan Baptista,  San Carlos Borroméo del  Carmelo, San Miguel, La Purissima, and a number of crumbling Adobe dwellings are more abundant than the Golden Arches on this particular road.  But today I am on the freeway, dodging big rigs and RV’s, not looking for picturesque byways.  

What I am looking for is rest stops.  And Highway 101 is short of these.  I pull off in Salinas, assuming that the large and new shopping center visible before the exit will have a couple of fast-food places with accommodating rest rooms. Amazingly, not.  Where there should be a McDonald’s and a Jack-in-the -box are a dentist’s office and a bank.  The lone Subway has locked restrooms for customers only.  Fortunately, there is Dick’s, a huge outdoor recreation store which I would never normally enter.  Way back near the guns and the archery room, sign tucked at an angle for minimum visibility, are some very nice restrooms. Whew!

My next stop is north of San Miguel, at the sole rest stop along my way. Fortunately it is large, and well-equipped with both rest rooms and vending machines, as well as a working water fountain, large shady trees sheltering picnic tables,  and numerous informational posters and plaques about the local ecology, points of historical interest, and nearby state parks and recreation areas,.  I guess the entire rest stop budget for Highway 101 went into this one spot.  

Then on to the Cuesta Grade, the only three lane stretch of 101 between San Jose and my exit point.  And much needed, as the 7% grade is a challenge for trucks going up, and the REALLY SLOW lane is needed.  I had been apprehensive about the downgrade, but simply pushing the “Overdrive OFF” button on my shift lever put me in a safe range for descent. A nifty trick.

20170705_124831webFor lunch, I treat myself to a stop at the Madonna Inn.  When I was in my teens going back and forth on this road, I always wanted to stop at the Pink Palace on the hill below San Luis Obispo, but never could persuade my destination-fixated Dad to make the stop.  In a concession to 21st century norms, the Madonna is no longer bright pink on the outside, but never fear, there is plenty of rosiness left inside and out:  pink hydrangeas and roses outside, pink marble in the ladies room, and even the lady in the gift shop sported a streak of pink hair. (See above in the mirror.) 

Lunch was perfectly satisfactory. A flavorful cup of split pea soup and a hefty half-sandwich crammed with avocado, lettuce, and tomato  were served by a smiling young woman in a pinafore embroidered with flowers along the ruffled hem and straps.  She was the only brunette among a passel of other young smiling servers with their hair in long blonde braids – not sure where the Scandinavian thread entered the Madonna decor theme, but it is a fun motif, and better than pink pinafores.

Then further south, Pismo Beach, and the first glimpse of ocean since Monterey. 

 At Carpenteria I escape the freeway on CA-154, the Chumash Highway.  This is a two lane road with two stop signs and one traffic circle in 40 miles, snaking through beautiful high country along the Chumash Reservoir, which was looking still a bit under filled despite one year of hefty rain after California’s five years of drought.  Of course, most of the rain fell in NoCal, and we are very possessive about it these days.  This road is a playground for sports cars, and I had to pull over several times in my sedate 6-cylinder Camry to let a Mustang or Camaro roar by.   

 More 6% and 7% grades descending into Santa Barbara.  My first bout with traffic in Carpenteria, and then off the Freeway for good on the road to Ojai, with a sigh of relief.  

California Under Fire (Los Altos Town Crier July 8, 2017

Whittier Fire

Ventura County STAR photo

A few weeks ago I drove down to Ojai to visit a cousin and some friends.  East of Los Alamos I took the Cachuma Highwy (CA-154) to avoid the dogleg south on 101 through Buellton, Solvang, Goleta, and along the coast.

My notes describe the cutoff  as “a two lane road with two stop signs and one traffic circle in 40 miles, snaking through beautiful high country along the Chumash Reservoir, which was looking still a bit under filled despite one year of hefty rain after California’s five years of drought. This road is a playground for sports cars, and I had to pull over several times in my sedate 4-cylinder Camry to let a Mustang or Camaro roar by.” I was looking forward to a return trip on the same road, planning to check out the Vista Points overlooking the reservoir and maybe take a rest stop at the little Nature Center near the Boy Scout Camp. CachumaLakeweb

 

The evening before my departure my cousin warned me “Better check your route tomorrow.  The news says a wildfire broke out and Hwy 154 is closed.” 

Google Maps confirmed the closure the next morning, and I took the dog-leg through Goleta.  Beyond the hills behind Santa Barbara I could see the smoke roiling up like a dirty brown thunderhead.  From Santa Barbara to Pismo Beach the valley winds carried the soot from the fire thick enough to make the sky brown from the Coast Range to the ocean.  I aborted my plan of eating lunch on a balcony overlooking the Pacific, and settled for a grab-and-go shopping center sandwich.

All along 101 the fire scars from old and recent burns seemed to jump out of the landscape – blackened hills and leafless trees from summer after summer of drought and burns.  We had had a record-setting wet winter, but I had been warned by a park ranger earlier that the spring growth, now crisped by summer heat in the 100’s, would make any fire even more dangerous.

A day later the headlines in the SJ Merc shouted “Blazes rage across West;  Thousands Evacuated in State.” The fire that still closed CA-154, now dubbed “the Whittier fire” had consumed seventeen thousand acres and was only 5% contained.  The Boy Scout camp had been evacuated in a bull-dozer-led convoy, but the Nature Center was a total loss;  all of the resident animals had died in their cages.  

Two weeks later the Whittier fire had disappeared from the headlines.  I did a quick Google search;  it was still burning, but 85% contained, with a number of structures destroyed but no loss of life. 

I thought of the miles of sun-crisped golden hillsides that line our local freeways, and the thousands of discarded cigarette butts and back-firing cars that threaten to send a spark in the wrong place.  I remember the Oakland firestorm of 1991 which raged up the canyons of the East Bay hills killing twenty-three people, and I cross my fingers.  We still have a long fire season left. 

 

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