Category: Travel

Going on an Architectural Adventure

Going on an Architectural Adventure


Just last week, we took off to Pasadena—a mere twenty-seven miles from home yet worlds apart. We go fairly often to appreciate the architecture whenever we get the chance, but our favorite season is the Heritage Weekend in October, when we tour the craftsman homes built by architects Greene and Greene between 1894 and 1922. Brothers Charles Sumner Greene and Charles Sumner Greene brought their degrees from MIT and apprenticeships from Boston to California to define a new style and a new word. “Bungalows” were not little shacks where Hollywood stars changed into their bathing clothes. No “Bungalows à la Greene and Greene were specific and of various sizes. In fact, the popular and famous Gamble House, completed in 1909 for David and Mary Gamble (of the Proctor and Gamble family), is an 8,000-square-foot home that is defined architecturally as a bungalow.

The Pasadena Showcase House of Design was built in 1902 and remodeled in 1922. At 7,300 square feet, it is slightly smaller than the Gamble house but in a totally different style now. The remodel was redesigned as a Tudor revival-style home, but architect Joseph J. Blick originally thought created it as a craftsman home for Gertrude Potter Daniels, who paid $15,000 to build it. It’s hard to believe!

Oh… that’s the bathtub in one of the redesigned rooms for the Showcase. It was amazing!

The Pasadena Showcase House for the Arts committee that sponsors the event contributes to arts and music nonprofits in Southern California and appreciates the 25,000 or so visitors to the Showcase every year. It’s a treat. You should go. It’s a fundraiser!

Information is here, and after 59 years of doing it, they have it down to a lovely and elegant science.



We piled out of our tour bus at the Medina in Marrakesh, Morocco. Waiting there with huge hats and bigger smiler were several brightly clothed men who offered to have our pictures taken with them. Why, sure! That would be fun to see when we get home. Snap. Snap.

We began to walk away when our tour guide said, “Um, you’re supposed to tip them.” We knew that, I guess, but the question is…how much? And how much do they make in a day smiling and getting pictures taken? Does it feed their family? Are there people all over the city doing the same thing? On the other hand, aren’t there lots of families who would like that “prime” spot where the tour buses unload? Is there a lottery or something? Do they take turns? What about the guys with the snakes? How do they get their spot? By the way, we don’t know what our guide tipped this nice man with the snake. She took care of it, which was perfect. And no, my husband did not get bitten. Nor was the snake poisonous in the first place. At least, we don’t THINK so!

What happens when it rains? What happens in the off-season? How much does the tip buy, and do we need to know if these people are legitimately “poor” or not? What a cynical question, you say. Of course they are. On the other hand, I think I heard that a panhandler in San Francisco could make $60,000 a year. This may not sound like a lot, but if they don’t pay taxes, it’s quite a bit more. And $60,000 for just standing and asking for money?

Let’s be nicer. Let’s assume that people in underdeveloped countries are relying on tips to feed their families. Tourism is an industry. People need income, and maybe standing with a hat is all they can do. I’m done for now. Let’s just say that if we have the money to travel with a tour group, then we have enough to help people who aren’t as lucky as we are in the U.S. I’ll also mention that going with a tour group, we are able to ask the group leader, “How much should we tip these people for this service?” A good guide will know exactly.

That’s why we like going with tour groups at our age. In my 20s, I hitchhiked through Europe. That was then. This is now. Times change. We change. It’s all good.

TIpping and traveling go hand in hand. Going forward, I’m going to pay more attention to the “rules” of tipping. For now, this is a good place to start: with Rick Steves, who knows a lot about traveling…and, in this case, tipping. Traveling helps us be better people because we learn about our world in new ways. Tipping helps the people who live in foreign countries, and that makes us better human beings.


With or Without

With or Without

In the past, we have used travel agents, then gone without them, then added them back, and finally, we went with a tour company for our last two trips—until recently.

Just last month, we surrendered, tail between our legs, and went backward in travel time. The airline gods would not bless us with a passage from point A to point B, no matter how we tried and how many airlines, travel routes, multiple cities, and layover combinations we searched online. After two hours, we gave up.

“Honey, we have to see a travel agent.”

[Photo credit: Tom Barrett, Unsplash]

We sat across from our local travel agent—the flesh and blood kind—with another person from our foursome. They, too, had surrendered and agreed to pay a little extra for peace of mind. The travel agent cracked an indulgent smile, cracked her knuckles, and began the same search we had attempted. Her smile yielded to pursed lips, then a full-out frown. Then, the muttering started. Sweat all but gleamed on her forehead.

Two hours later, we (she) finally had an itinerary that worked. “It may be tight,” our stalwart travel agent announced. “You have a 45-minute connection between flights in the Madrid airport to achieve your final destination.” She hesitated. Then she looked at each of us individually to gauge our reactions as she said the five magic words: “It is a legal connection.”

I was game. I pulled out the airport’s map and airline gates for each of the flights we’d be taking. “It’s the same airline, for goodness sake, and the gates are in the same terminal,” I told my husband, who always fears the worst. (That would be his nickname, and I would, of course, be Tigger.) Besides, what are the best travel stories ever? They’re the ones when something goes wrong, and you have to sleep standing up in a doorway or something.

You’ve been there. You’re at a party. The conversation dims and slows, and the refrigerator hum becomes the loudest noise in the room. Finally, some brilliant soul begins talking about their latest trip. Then, before you know it, each person engages in travel one-upmanship, vying for the prize of the most outrageous (and memorable) story in the room.

What’s yours???

We travel to see the world, but we also want to find ourselves in the world. Traveling tests our resilience and resourcefulness. If we go to the gym and the library on Tuesdays and Thursdays at home every week, we don’t get to learn how fun it is to “nearly miss our train” (we did that in Pisa) or “take the wrong boat” (which we did in Venice more than once). Traveling is a battle. It’s a puzzle. It’s a joy. It’s sickness sometimes. But there are stories in those times, too!

Traveling is a test—a wonderful, expensive (usually but not always), exciting journey. And with or without travel agents, tour guides, travel companions, or itineraries, travel is always an adventure.

Besides, our travel agent was happy she had redeemed herself and protected her profession. But it was a close one. Whew!


Travel Writing — It Wasn’t the Truth

Perhaps I’ve traveled too far. Perhaps not enough.

Perhaps traveling is not about geography but traversing the soul.

What I believed was the truth bore me down the river

With rocks and rapids until

the falsity turned the river into a stream and then

a dry trickle.

I missed the truth because what I thought was important

–the white spiral-bound book I’d written–

still lay on the shelf

as 75,000 words of blood squeezed

dry of white lies.


A Deep Dive into US History in Boston

A Deep Dive into US History in Boston

I often feel like I should be paid for how much I “advertise” for Road Scholar. Like similar travel companies, the company has created the best of both worlds for people of a certain age and income. That is, they set about making traveling easy and educational at reasonable prices for experiences (three for us so far) that will remain in our hearts and minds as we travel this thing called life.

I need to talk about their six-day Boston trip in particular because it was all about the founding of our great country, the United States of America. Every morning, our group would listen to a lecture by Charles Bahne, a noted historian specializing in the American Revolution, that detailed different aspects of the times, the people, and even the buildings in place during our march to independence!

What I got out of the lectures was exactly how much of our country’s founding relied on lots of luck (besides the blood and fighting, of course.) That these particular men lived in this part of our country at exactly that time was a star-crossed, magical intertwining of events that defies imagination. What chances did these scruffy, determined misfits and miscreants have against an established world conqueror like England? The scrappy colonists were, at the same time, highly-regarded members of the 1760s society and sly, under-the-table, blackened-faced tea hurlers who were the Boston Tea Party celebrants. During that Tea Party morning lecture, we were there with the colonists, slinging tea. And we were all but “sitting with them” the next morning, happy as heck with innocent inside smiles hidden beneath quiet smugness. “We got ‘em.”

Stupid England

The English puffed themselves up in their stuffy egotistic Red Coats, blinded to the quest for freedom that gave our United States ruffians the power to overcome mighty England. And King George? Ha. He was a puffball of the highest order. Remember the play Hamilton? The song runs through my head now as it does yours if you’ve seen the musical. Dah da da dah dah, da da da da da da da, dah da dah. All right, then. It’s stuck in your mind now, isn’t it?


I am not sure anything says bricks like Boston. We saw bricks here, there, and everywhere,

Bricks and Barrels

Brick-y patterns define walls, walkways, and courtyards on campuses and around homes, government buildings, and parks.

We like clinker bricks, too!! We loved those rascally, uneven, wavy, and often blackened bricks that give chimneys and walls even more character.

On many tours, the spirits of Paul Revere, George Washington, Sam Adams, and Ben Franklin all but walked among us. We went to the churches, battlefields, and homes where history dripped off the walls or reached out from balconies and balustrades, farmhouses, and bridges. We closed our eyes to “hear” fevered speeches that started our patriotic blood stirring. Don’t you just love the United States? Well, if you don’t, you’re probably not an American. If you love America, you’d love the Boston story. It’s a good one, and I believe traveling in the United States can be just as exciting as other countries across the seas. Maybe more so.


Deep-Dive Traveling

You know, we’ve been on many of the types of tours that say, “If this is Tuesday, it must be Belgium.” Those are fun too, for you get to see a lot of countries and cities in a one- or two-week span. However, six days in one city touches all your senses — the smell of the harbor, the feel of the bricks beneath your feet, the sights of battles and buildings, the taste of real Boston clam chowder, and the sounds of the wind rustling in trees that may well have been tiny saplings at the very spot you’re standing. Isn’t that cool?

If You Go

Don’t forget the cannoli! These sweet, filled pastries have people lined up around the block. It’s a good thing we walked a lot on the trip! And do try to catch a guided tour for part of your stay—even if you don’t go with a tour company. You’ll learn so much!




End of the Track, Start of a Story

How did we end up here?

Promontory Summit marks the spot where the Union Pacific (starting in the east) and the Central Pacific (starting in the west) railroad companies finally connected hundreds of miles of train tracks that eventually became the Transcontinental Railroad. The work began in 1863 and was finalized with the “Golden Spike” Ceremony on May 10, 1869 at this very site.

The huge undertaking was momentous and costly in terms of money, lives, and resources. It was a magnet for greed, graft, and corruption, and an engineering and human accomplishment that rivals the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids in scope.


So, you’d think there would be a huge freeway sign or a wide, six-lane highway leading to what is now the Golden Spike National Historic Park. You might want search lights or a water park or something. But no. Like many National Parks, the entrance seems at once anticlimactic and low tech. But then, that’s what makes this park visit-worthy and thought provoking. Here’s the thing: They didn’t have telephones much less mobile phones back then. They accomplished this feat with the aid of the telegraph, invented in 1838 not long before the Transcontinental Railroad (TCRR), with the Transcontinental Telegraph (1861) being an integral part of the Civil War and later the TCRR. The Pony Express was no longer needed. And as with many historical landmarks, there are acres of historical facts hidden in this off-the-beaten-path locale. This short video offers a quick introduction.

How’d We End Up Here? 

We went to Promontory Summit because we were visiting my brother and his wife in Utah, but it wasn’t on our touring radar at all. Guess what? It ended up being one of my very favorite places to visit because it sparked my interest in how the railroad got started, how it was finished, and how they overcame all the challenges in between.

“Traveling” can be a hard core launch into planning, hotels, meals, touring, and spending. Oh, yes, spending! Or it can be a spontaneous, serendipitous, didn’t-spend-any-money-except-the-gas kind of  trip down the highway that leads you to learning about any country–in this case, the United States.

I took the railroads for granted! And yet building the TCRR was a part of our history–for better or for worse–that I would not have been excited about but for this car ride to the historic site. It’s terrible to hear the stories about slavery, the unimaginably bad weather, hundreds of deaths, and unconscionable hardships that made this one of the most difficult undertakings. But it also demonstrates how humans with big dreams overcome many nightmares in the name of progress.

Soaking It In

Travel in your neighborhood or across the world! Be curious. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn and discover. As the kids say, “It’s dope. It’s sick.” I say, “It’s amazing.” From this end of the track visit, I started and finished a novel. It’s almost as big an undertaking (okay, I said almost) as the Transcontinental Railroad, so inspired was I by the story of it.

How about you? Can you find something in your travels that will inspire you? Maybe you write music. Or you paint. Or you’re writing your memoirs or a blog. Go traveling and start your story. Even if your travels are in your own town. There’s so much to see and do wherever you live.




Travel Advice: Smell Where You Are

Capturing Rural Boston Aromas

“Nothing awakens reminiscence like an aroma.”

                               ~Victor Hugo

If I whiff a sunscreen that remotely smells like the old “Sea and Ski” suntan lotion from back in the day, I think of Lake Tahoe, California, where we spent every summer when I was growing up. One of the most enjoyable parts of travel across this wide world is the aromas that assault or massage our olfactory nerves, depending.

For instance, when I exit a plane (or an airport), I inhale. Deeply. It’s a first hit. Before your eyes and ears adjust, your nose has the leading edge, as it were, to breathe in the essence of a milieu, enhancing and enlarging what your eyes and ears see and hear. As you move toward a city’s beating heart, you’re sure to gather the odors of its humanity… to smell the country’s living conditions, if that’s fair to say.

Equally, as you approach an uninhabited forest, desert, or mountainside, they each exhale their singular natural beauty. The tang of critters’ scat or the musky, mulchy loam in dark forests might invite tears. I often find the welling up of such feelings so sudden and unexpected that I am ashamed. “Really? Get it together!” I say sternly to my maudlin, sappy self. Yet, the wise salty flow ignores me, happy in its reminiscence and glad we were caught unaware.

It’s another reason to travel. By traveling, one finds oneself. It’s not the same as seeing the National Geographic version on YouTube. It’s not the same as looking at travel photos and brochures, magazines, or those thick guidebooks. Are they helpful? Perhaps. “Tantalizing?” Yes! They are stuffed with the food you’d like to smell and the sights you’d like to see. The well-written, feels-like-you’re-there descriptions of the animals, people, buildings, art, culture, music, and landmarks of all kinds beckon you to visit from the shiny pages. But all you can smell is the ink. The pages are flat. The animals don’t make a peep. The gorgeous food photo is, in the end, as tasteless as the paper it’s printed on. Please don’t try to smell it or lick it. Bleyah!

When you take your next trip, don’t forget to smell where you are. You can “see” where you’ve been with the snapshots you take. You can “hear” the noise of downtown and the silence of the desert with your videos. You can almost recreate the food with recipes and ingredients available everywhere these days, thanks to the internet. But, alas, you cannot recreate the tropical aroma of Hawaii, the humid, human inner city squalor smells in parts of Bangladesh, or India, or, say, downtown Los Angeles. And best of all, you have to stop and make yourself present in the moment to experience a smell. You can use a photograph and videos as memory cheats for scenes and sounds. But you can’t cheat your nose. It won’t let you! At least not yet.

“Memories, imagination, old sentiments, and associations are more readily reached through the sense of smell than through any other channel.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes












Gone on an Adventure — In Cambria, California

Gone on an Adventure — In Cambria, California

Sparkling lights danced around the fantasy garden in Cambria, California. They were like teeny fairies, distant relatives of Tinkerbell, perhaps, but these were very real in this verdant oasis plopped in the middle of the downtown off the eastern end of Cambria’s Main Street. Wait… doesn’t almost every city have a Main Street? There’s a calming consistency in that. Parades go down Main Street, and retailers vie for a Main Street storefront, which might be an argument for going off the main drag. You might be missing some treasures!

As for our fairy garden, it is not on the main drag. It’s hidden. Of course, it’s hidden!  This is why travelers want to ask the locals (and fellow tourists) where the good stuff is: unknown killer restaurants, hole-in-the-wall, don’t-miss bars, out-of-the-way private beaches, and the very things that make traveling a richer experience.

We didn’t know the garden existed until we happened to chat with a couple from a town near our home (of course). They said they never miss going to the fairyland behind the little shop named Spellound that will forever more be our gotta-visit spot too. Had we been in a hurry and not met and talked with this sharing couple, we would not have experienced this adventure.

What’s Cambria like, you ask? Besides the little garden, Cambria offers a dramatic coastline, walkable beaches (“Moonstone Beach” is popular), and windswept, tell-me-a-story Cypress trees that remind me of Monterey and Carmel. Cambria is a less expensive option to those two towns and has a ruggedness to it that invites jeans and flip flops, plus ridiculously talented artists of all kinds.

Where to stay? We found a cozy, inexpensive “Bluebird Inn” on, yes, Main Street, making it walking distance to all manner of local haunts. We like the antique shops, restaurants (like Linn’s for their Ollalyberry, blue cheese, arugula, bacon, and red onion hamburger), and the French Corner Bakery for great coffee and sugar-high pastries. We’ve also stayed out near Moonstone Beach, where several hotels offer walking across the street to the ocean and lazy Adirondack chairs to just sit as the ocean’s calm washes away all of life’s troubles.

We like Cambria. The weather’s good most of the year (it’s Southern California!), and the town is laid-back, but it has an old elegance that makes it a great getaway from Los Angeles. Wineries are nearby, and Hearst Castle is down the road a bit. Next time I may have gone on an adventure, you might find me in Cambria–in the Spellbound garden, hanging out with the fairies and Alice.