Traveling

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Missouri to Nebraska, that is, and day two of our glorious drive west. That’s the Mississippi River, running swift and high, high, high. And the view of it? One and the same Samuel Clemens A.K.A. Mark Twain had when he was a boy in Hannibal. How cool is that? Hannibal is a charmer of a town, with many of the buildings from Mark Twain’s day in fine repair and available for touring, though not on New Year’s Day at ten in the morning, for your information. We did enjoy fine hospitality and good coffee at the Java Jive, however.

Whoa Nelly! The shadow of the Mini looks rocket powered with our roof rack, zooming through the golden plains to Lincoln. The capitol building is the second tallest among America’s fine fifty. Isn’t she a beauty?

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Me and my best love, our drive west and the Mini packed tight. We had seven suitcases, three tote bags, one duffel bag, one milk crate, one Vitamix (nestled between us in the arm rest!), one computer monitor, one fire extinguisher, and one gallon of laundry detergent! The heavy burden made our car 10 miles per gallon less efficient and injured my right arm so terribly that I could not move it AT ALL for three days. Oof. But boy howdy, was it worth it! We are home. And what a marvelous drive we had, missing every bit of bad weather. We saw not one snowflake nor rain drop fall, and were treated to some of the most gorgeous landscapes America has on offer. My love for this great country has been galvanized further still, yes ma’am.

And the little white house, off of Sangamon Avenue in Springfield, Illinois, is where my Grandma Tess was born and my Great Aunt Mary lived until she was well into her seventies. Two adults, eight children, and who knows how many pets made their home in this wee two bedroom one bath. By some great stroke of luck, the current owner was sweeping the porch when we pulled up, and I asked him if we could go inside. He kindly obliged, and we spent the better part of the next hour sharing stories. Sadly for me, but great for the house, it is under renovation, with plastic and tarps obscuring the majority of the space. Thankfully, there was enough exposed to get a feel for it and my Grandma’s spirit in it, to see relatives I’ve only known in pictures puttering about, gazing out the window while washing a dish. Part of me is there now, too.

And Lincoln! It’s turned out to be quite a year for Colleen, Greg, and good ole Abraham. Gettysburg and Springfield – the train station from which he made many journeys and his final return, his law office, the old state capitol building where he worked, just one of many bronze monuments. And his crypt, which, wow, and hmmm, what to say? Evocative. If you have never been, go. Just go.

It was a sleepy New Year’s Eve, with us full up on sentimentality and hypnotized by a murmuration swirling about the capitol dome (that bit that looks like a smudge). The beat of wings the only sound we heard.

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In Montreal now, with the cousins and their new kitty, Moon Pie. I love how little R reached out for the hubster’s hand in the family photo, her heart full of love (and mischief), her brother’s, too. They are good and smart and fun and funny, testament to the goodness of their Papa, too. We had our Montreal poutine (the best of this trip) together at Lester’s, an old school deli that smokes its own meat. We walked, ran, jumped, walked some more, spun, and ate and drank enough to fill hollow legs, yet never saw the kiddos tire nor lose their sense of curiosity and wonder. It was great to be together.

We stayed in the same place as our last trip to Montreal, and though the neighborhood has changed, with construction and new restaurants and shops to explore, we were delighted that we remembered our way around. We made a near daily pilgrimage to the Atwater Market and enjoyed a feast for our eyes and bellies, breakfast pastries and decadent treats from Premiere Moisson, every bite as good as our memory, before walking along the Canal Lachine and circling back home.

We were stunned to find a segment of the Berlin Wall (a gift in celebration of Montreal’s 350th birthday), all nonchalant in a shopping gallery.

Wanderings downtown and in the Old City. The Canadoan Coat of Arms – From Sea to Sea. The Giant dome and enormous cast iron pillars of Marche Bonsecours, full of shops featuring local goods. I doubt you’llĀ  be surprised to learn that I bought soap.

More good food! There is no shortage of it in Montreal. Tacos Victor is a postage stamp of a place, mostly standing room, but their tacos are well worth it. In a rather surprising Pittsburgh twist, they are topped with really good French fries. And finally, the Montreal Bagel! I’m not much of a bagel person. I’ll take a pumpernickel or a peppercorn potato, with a heavy schmear of cream cheese, maybe a sprinkle of salt and pepper, a couple times a year. Then I met the Montreal on our last trip and started to dream about them. Baked in a wood-fired oven, with a dense crumb, the bagel is chewy and made a tad sweet by the addition of honey, covered in either poppy seeds (black) or sesame seeds (white). I am a bigot bagel eater because I only like mine white.

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Trans-Canada Highway 20 between Quebec City and Montreal, three hours of sweeping plains dressed nature’s autumnal quilt, signs for moose and deer (but no sign of them), fog and pouring rain, a soup stop at Tim Horton’s, granite monoliths dotted in neon. A great day to be on the road.

 

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Quebec City is a lovely place for wandering, narrow and meandering streets aglow in stately autumn robes, shop after shop, whimsical decorations around quiet corners, pleasant surprises, every last one. As is our usual and marvelous good luck, the skies were clear and bright, and though the wind laced its icy fingers around the city, the rain only came when we tucked in for the evening. We walked ourselves silly, along ramparts and the river, up and down steep city staircases, and in leafy parks. We did not suffer, however, fortified with great food (crepes, raclette, confit of duck!), many a stop for a stunning view, locally made moccasins, steaming coffees, cocoas topped with towers of whipped cream, a pile of gifts, and most decadent of all, hot ciders spiked with brandy.

I most definitely think we’ll be back, but in winter next time, when everything is aglitter with snow.

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