Five States In Three Days – Chapter Two

Our travel map for the day

Our car trips (and, sadly, our entire lives) are fueled by Starbucks. Knowing we needed a latte for our two hour drive to Mystic, we decided this morning to tempt map fate by driving to Connecticut directed solely by the map on our Starbucks app. So, we picked a store near Walpole, Massachusetts, as our first stop and then continued following the map of Starbucks stores ever further south, inching our way toward Mystic. Chasing Starbucks stores…that’s how you live life on the edge.

While we drove the entire length of Rhode Island, we were on a mission to meet our friends and didn’t stop to visit the state properly. Still, we spent two full hours on its interstates, so we’re calling it an official visit…with the caveat that we will return and visit Providence and Newport one day.

Lighthouse view

We arrived in Mystic and met Edie and Tom at, you guessed it, Starbucks. From there we headed to the lighthouse museum in nearby Stonington. We don’t have many lighthouses in Colorado, so the maritime information was quite interesting. The museum is housed in what once was a functioning lighthouse. We climbed the stairs (and a small ladder) to the lighthouse tower to take in the scenery. I got to use the panorama feature on my iPhone 5 to capture 180 degrees of the view. The museum also had whale bones. Colorado doesn’t have many whale bones either.

Preparing the apple mixture for the press

Our next stop was the B. F. Clyde’s Cider Mill in Mystic. We made it there just in time for the 3 p.m. cider pressing demonstration. The mill contains the last steam-powered cider press in the United States. We watched as they spread the chopped apple mixture onto the pressing plate and then ran the plates through the machine. Once the cider had been collected, they moved the remaining apple pulp out to a collection bin behind the mill. The mill, aside from producing incredibly tasty cider, also makes apple wine and hard apple cider. We purchased some apple cider donuts, which we devoured, and some 28-proof hard apple/cranberry cider for later.

Mystic, CT

It was raining when we left, so we headed into the shopping and restaurant part of Mystic along the Mystic River for some dinner. Edie had picked a cute little restaurant called The Ancient Mariner. Steve had lobster macaroni and cheese and we both tried “stuffies,” which are stuffed clams. We’d never eaten clams before (don’t have many good clam restaurants in Colorado), so we had to give it a shot. Afterward, we took a short drive to get a scenic view of Mystic. The town, which is as darling as you would expect, was even more charming today in the rain.

It was another great day of travel. Tomorrow we spend some time in Massachusetts. Planning to visit Salem before heading back to Denver, exhausted, well-traveled, well-fed, well-educated, and ready to see our boys!

Five States in Three Days – Chapter One

My shadow self-portrait

When we found out we would be attending our friend Jeff’s wedding to Megan in Massachusetts, my brain went into furious planning mode. Neither Steve nor I had ever been to been to New England. We had a lot to see. I planned a full on assault. I wanted to attack the northeast the way greedy Americans tour Europe, voraciously soaking up a micro dose of culture before moving on to the next target. Here, then, begins my travel journal…five states in three days.

We left our hotel in Peabody, Massachusetts and headed north on I-95 bound for New Hampshire. First stop was Starbucks for our morning caffeine. We blew through the state in 46 minutes and landed in Maine in search of the Nubble Lighthouse in York. As soon as we arrived in York, a quaint seaside vacation spot, we stopped for a brief walk on the beach, where we watched a tiny Yorkshire Terrier fetch what might as well have been a moon-sized tennis ball. I took off my shoes, let the Atlantic wash over my feet, and took a self-portrait to mark the event.

Next stop was the Nubble Lighthouse. The lighthouse sits on an island just offshore. It was a perfect 65 degrees and sunny. A wedding party arrived for someone else’s big day. I took a photo of Steve taking a photo. I have a lot of those.

We jumped back in the car and headed down towards New Hampshire, bound for Portsmouth. I had a goal of visiting at least one historic place during our east coast trip. Colorado is a young state, comparatively, so we are short on awesome historical sights. I found one that was a must-see in Portsmouth. Strawberry Banke is a historical museum comprised of an entire neighborhood of clapboard homes dating from the late 17th century. Many of the homes have been completely restored and furnished with period furnishings. There are period costumes, toys, and stories to offer a complete experience of what this area was like for the centuries proceeding this one.
Strawberry Banke

Our final stop was in downtown Portsmouth. Steve, on a friend’s recommendation, was set on a lobster roll for lunch. Walking on the brick sidewalks through Portsmouth’s quaint shopping district, we happened upon The Dolphin Striker, which just happened to serve lobster (lobstah) rolls. While Steve devoured what had to be a pound of lobster, I dined on a delicately balanced dish of butternut squash ravioli with fresh spinach, dried cherries, and apple slices in a light cream sauce. The window view was of the river and sailboats floating by.

After our perfect lunch, we hopped back in the car headed to Peabody…two states under our belt. We stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts for Steve’s requisite afternoon coffee. (Note: I think this state needs a few more photos of New England Patriot tight end Rob Gronkowski. Get working on that.) We’ve got a beautiful wedding to attend in Beverly tonight. Tomorrow, we’re hitting Rhode Island and Connecticut…still on our mission.

Window Seat Wars

On the rare occasion that my husband and I are able to jet off somewhere alone, we’re are generally quite amicable and cooperative travel companions. We share suitcases equitably, although he usually gets a bit more bag space because his “clothes are bigger.” We jockey phone chargers and reading material like seasoned pros. He drives. I navigate. We get an Almond Joy to snack on so we each get a fair and measurable half. He tries to tolerate it as I coach him to the best parking spot or security line (because I am highly insightful). I try to tolerate it when he tells me he needs to stop for a second or third latte (because he is highly caffeine dependent). As a rule, things are smooth and seamless.

It’s all quite pleasant…except for one issue. The window seat. There is only one. We both want it. Love? Honor? Cherish? Absolutely. Window seat? I think not.

Savvy girl I am, I am chief travel agent in our family. I book all our travel. I print itineraries. I check us in online. I keep the scannable boarding passes on my phone. He’s at my mercy.

“What are our seat assignments?” Steve asked as we boarded the plane to Boston today.

“22E and 22F,” I informed him.

“Window and center,” he said, appraising the situation.

“Yep,”I replied.

“I’ll be taking the window,” he reported.

“Oh no you won’t,” I enlightened him. “I am 22F. Window seat is mine.”

“We’ll see about that,” he retorted as he sped up to jump ahead of me boarding the aircraft.

I tried to elbow him out but he slipped by me and was the first one in the narrow aisle. I stayed doggedly on his heels, bantering with him on the way.

“You’d better not even think about it,” I warned.

“It’s done,” he said. “You’re too late. Accept it.”

“Never,” I replied, still plotting a hip check that would get him out of my way.

But, alas, it was not to be. The rows in front of ours were occupied so I couldn’t check him. It wouldn’t be right to hurt a fellow passenger in our private war. He slipped into row 22 and plopped himself into my window seat.

“Get out of my seat,” I said under my breath through my smiling, clenched teeth.

“No,” he said defiantly.

I’d had enough. I hit the flight attendant call button.

“What are you doing?” he snapped.

“Get out of my seat and there doesn’t have to be a scene,” I told him.

“Possession is 9/10ths,” he said trying to call my bluff.

The flight attendant approached. I flashed her my sweetest smile.

“I think this gentleman is in my seat,” I said, showing her my boarding pass with 22F clearly displayed.

“Oh…is this your seat?” Steve said innocently. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and looked at it. “Oh…you’re right. I’m 22E on this flight and 22F on the next one,” he lied. He them stood up, shifted his things, and moved out into the aisle. The flight attendant, happy to have avoided conflict, gave us a curt smile and left. I walked past hubby to claim my rightful seat. He followed me in and took the center seat.

“Ha,” I gloated. Triumph!

I lifted the shade on the window and prepared for a peaceful flight. You don’t mess with my window seat. You just don’t. I’m a generous woman. I’ll negotiate on most things. I’ll give you the last bite of my candy bar or my very last fry. I’ll tolerate the three snoozes it takes you on a weekend to decide you’ll just exercise later. I’ll even interrupt my day to let you back into the still-idling car you accidentally locked yourself out of. But, the window seat is sacred. Even if it was overcast all the way to Boston and I didn’t get to see a flipping thing, it’s a matter of principle. The window seat is one of life’s little pleasures. It’s worth doing battle for it. Marriage is full of compromises, and this one is his.

Oh, fine. He can have it on the way home.

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What’s The Exact Opposite Of Cats In The Cradle?

The loves of my life

I love travel. Although I love my home, if I can fly somewhere every 3 months I am over the moon. Most of the time, we take our boys with us when wanderlust strikes. Tomorrow, though, hubby and I are skipping town for a few days. Literally. A few days. A couple hours before bed tonight, our oldest comes into our room crying because he doesn’t want us to leave. His face is wet. His eyes are red. He’s been suffering in his room quietly until he could stand it no longer. This breaks my heart. It also tells me something. Hubby and I do not leave our sons often enough.

I know that he’s eleven and that in just a few short years he’ll be smiling as he slams the door behind us when we leave, so I should treasure his hysterical tears now. But, I can’t. They make me feel like we’re not doing enough to prepare him. I love my sons, but I do not want them living in my basement and delivering pizzas for a living. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I just don’t want them doing it from my basement. They’re more than welcome to pursue that life path for themselves from a crummy, garden level apartment that they finance themselves. No judgments from me. Make no mistake about it, though, as much as I love my sons to infinity and beyond, I want them to leave me someday the way they are meant to. I want them to grow up and have their own adventures. They can miss me, but they’ll have to leave me to make that happen.

We gave Joe tons of hugs and told him that we trust him. We told him that we’ll miss him oodles and will FaceTime with him every day. We told him that he’s brave and strong and that he’s got this. We told him that parents need time together alone as a couple so they can stay married. We told him that his little brother would protect and care for him. I don’t think it made much of a difference, but he did finally fall asleep. I know that someday he will walk out our front door, his car all packed for college, and when he drives away I will cry just like he did tonight. I’m sure it will be my ugliest cry ever. But, there’s a part of me that will be so glad to take that burden of sadness away from him. I can handle it. I think.

 

Genovesa Island, Galapagos

Boobies always make boys smile

On the last full day of our excursion aboard the National Geographic Endeavor, we were fortunate enough to visit Genovesa Island. This island was closed to visitors for years because of its fragile environment. Over a million birds call Genovesa their home. There are colonies of swallow-tailed gulls, red-footed boobies, petrels, and frigatebirds. Short-eared owls hunt smaller bird prey over cracks of dried lava millions and millions of years old. The entire island is an extinct volcano slowly sinking into the sea. The center of the cone is now filled with sea and one side has been entirely eroded away so that our ship was able to sail directly into the c-shaped center. The only word I could come up with to describe its landscape is “otherworldly.”

My father-in-law asked me what my impressions were of this trip compared with other trips we have taken as a family. We’ve been treated to trips to England, Alaska’s Inside Passage, Norway, and now the Galapagos Islands. Hands down, this has been my favorite trip. When I told other people I was going to the Galapagos, their responses were always the same. I was told repeatedly, “That’s the trip of a lifetime.” The truth is, though, that it’s not the trip of a lifetime because that implies we will only ever visit these islands once. I want to come back to this place again someday, maybe in another season, maybe to visit a few different islands, but I definitely want to return. I completely understand how the naturalists here never tire of their job. This place is enchanting. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m having a hard time with the reality of leaving these islands. Tears have been shed. But, that just proves that these islands are beyond the trip of a lifetime. They are the love of a lifetime, and I will have to return to them again someday.

Bartolomé Island, Galapagos

The family photo to prove we were here

When we found out we had been booked on an excursion to the Galapagos, I was intrigued. It hadn’t been a place I had ever thought I would travel to, so I hadn’t allowed myself to become too excited about the location. Now, though, after nearly a week here, I can’t believe I had ever left this magical place off my list. Yesterday we visited Bartolomé Island to view Pinnacle Rock. Pinnacle Rock is an icon. It is to the Galapagos what the Statue of Liberty is to New York City or the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. To take in the grand view, we climbed over 300 stairs before 7 a.m. It was well worth it.

Afterwards, we were fortunate enough to snorkel from the beach just below the rock, around the point, and to another sandy beach. This time we were accompanied by both boys. (Earlier this week Luke had decided he was too afraid to deep sea snorkel and after an hour with his grandparents where he was given boundaries he decided that snorkeling with his parents was a better option.) Although seeing the schools of yellow-tailed surgeonfish and king angelfish was incredibly cool, what meant more to me was being out in the ocean with my boys, having them swim along with us, and sharing the experience of pointing to new and different fish. At one point, Joe decided to return to shore with his aunt. On their swim back, they came face to face with a white tipped reef shark. Joe, whose nickname is Shark Boy in our house because of his vast knowledge of all things shark, was thoroughly freaked out. Personally, I was thrilled that he had that encounter. He told us he wanted to see a shark on this trip and he did.

Our boys are growing fast and these are the experiences I want to share with them. I want us to try new things as a family, to see new sights together, and to learn new things about the world. It doesn’t really matter what brand of shoes we wear or how nice our dining room table is. What matters is that we are together growing as a family. I think this trip has changed our priorities a bit. Well…I will still buy clothes for myself from Boden; I’m simply going to buy fewer of them so we can increase our travel savings account.

Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos

Yesterday we had the opportunity to visit the city of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. This is where the Charles Darwin Research Station is located and where we would have been able to meet Lonesome George had he survived just 40 days longer. Alas, no George. Still, the station was well worth the trip as we were able to learn about the breeding program designed to increase the population of giant tortoises around the islands.

After our visit to the station, we were able to spend some time wandering around the town. Approximately 20,000 people live here, so it’s less of a town and more of a city, I suppose. Still, compared to Denver, it’s small. The best part of the day (well, aside from standing in the Santa Cruz highlands just feet from giant tortoises) was a small fish market we encountered in town. There was a crowd of tourists gathered with cameras when we got there. There were the usual fish market thieves (pelicans) and this time there were a couple other added guests…sea lions. They stood at the foot of the fish counter where the fish were being cut and begged like dogs at a table for scraps. Cutest thing ever. A fellow passenger on the cruise told me yesterday that he read that sea lions here are like dogs in wet suits. No wonder I like them so much.

Floreana Island, Galapagos

Our day yesterday was spent on Floreana Island. Our Galapagos expedition leader, Paula, told us that Floreana is called the Mystery Island. I’m not surprised. Our excursions there yesterday had me thinking about the now defunct ABC television series, LOST.

We started our day with a very early morning hike to try to see some flamingos. Yes. Flamingos. These are Greater American Flamingos that came here from the Caribbean. There is a small population of about 500 of these birds living in the Galapagos. So, we hiked a bit inland from the ocean to a brackish lake on Floreana, hopeful we would see some pink birds but also doubtful because their population is so small. We were in luck. There were about 15 of them at the lake. How crazy to see an American flamingo out here in the isolated Pacific.

Later in the afternoon, we were doing Zodiac cruises around Post Office Bay (here there is a barrel that was set up in 1793 and you can deposit letters without postage and hopefully someone will stop by, take your letter, and hand deliver it to the recipient at a future date). As we skirted our way around the bay, we saw an eagle ray jump from the water just ahead of us, spied several sea turtles coming up for air, and even saw a penguin. The Galapagos Islands, in addition to flamingos, are also home to a small population of penguins. These are the only penguins that live north of the equator and they can do this because of the Humboldt and Cromwell currents that cool both the ocean and the air here.

I sat in our room last night thinking about seeing a flamingo and a penguin on the same day on the same island in the Pacific near the equator. The Galapagos Islands truly are a magical, mysterious place. On LOST, people who were marooned on an isolated tropical island were stuck pondering how polar bears came to be there. Today I saw a flamingo and a penguin on the same island. Apparently LOST wasn’t that far fetched after all.

Yep. That’s a penguin all right.

San Cristobal Island, Galapagos

Me and my new best friends

I have always loved sea lions. Their little ear flaps, long whiskers, and deeply inquisitive eyes make them my favorites. On San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos I had the opportunity to sit within feet of them and observe them. It’s true what they say of the animals here. They are not the least bit fearful of humans. Birds land at your feet. Fish swim right up to you. Sea lions jump and splash in the water where you are swimming. I had one sea lion today stop on the beach, its flippers resting on my feet. Amazing. I am in awe of this place. You hear that it’s magical, but you have no idea until you’re here. I am blessed.

First Rule Of Travel

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When we traveled to Norway a few years ago, I had a phrase I uttered repeatedly to my children: The first rule of travel is “Hurry up and wait.” It seems whenever you travel, the trip is filled with an inevitable ebb and flow. You rush to get to the airport to check in, then you wait in line. You hurry to get through security screening just to sit idly at the gate. When it’s finally boarding time, you rush to get on the plane only to sit in line waiting for take off. It is the way it works.

So far today our experience is proving my first rule of travel to be absolute. We woke up at 5:15 to get our luggage out for the tour company by 6. We were exhausted after only four hours of sleep, but we soldiered on, had breakfast, and waited for our 7:20 departure to the airport for our flight from mainland Ecuador to the Galapagos Islands. At 7:20, though, we were informed that the plane we are taking is still in Quito because it is damaged. So, now we must wait on another plane. Sigh.

It amazes me how different my boys are. With the flight delayed, my more laid back Luke promptly fell asleep in a couch in the lobby. Joe, however, began to stress out, afraid our ship would leave the islands without us, annoyed that we were stuck at the hotel. I just keep repeating the travel mantra to him and reassuring him that we will get there eventually. And we will…even if it doesn’t feel that way right now.

I used to hate the tides of travel, but now I don’t mind “hurry up and wait” as much because it forces me to live in the moment. There’s something incredibly freeing in having no choice but to sit and be, to exist in the present and wait for the day to unfold rather than bullying your way through it. Still, I admit that, like Joe, I think I’d like “be” a lot happier if I was sitting on some white sand near some playful sea lions. What can I say? Old habits die hard.