Home is Where we Hook-up

October 24, 2008

Cross Country Road Trip, Fall 08

Filed under: Travel in the U.S. — Heligypsy @ 3:11 pm

I love driving across the country. It’s not for everybody, the long hours in the car, but I really enjoy it. North Dakota seems to have really cornered the market on “The World’s Largest” sights to see. By sheer proximity to the highway, and size of the statue itself we did see The World’s Largest Holstein Cow in New Salem, ND. We did not bother to take the detour to see The World’s Largest Sandhill Crane in Steele, ND or The World’s Largest Buffalo in Jamestown, ND. Would have liked to have driven the Enchanted Highway in Regent, ND to see all the World’s Largest Metal Sculptures – deer, fish, pheasant, and more but were unable to determine how much of a sidetrip it would be. Fortunately the Canada Goose sculpture was roadside, good enough.

We caught a small portion of the Badlands while in North Dakota, and drove along miles of dried up sunflowers that in the summer must have been a spectacular display. Would those seeds be harvested for human consumption? Bird seed? We speculate, looking at the brown drying stalks as far as we can see. Corn also remains in the fields, drying naturally to be later ground into cattle feed. Fall harvest time is here.

I have relinquished most of the trips navigation to the new GPS system installed in the new truck. We have yet to name our sultry speaking panel in the dashboard, we have another 1100 miles to go on this trip, I’m sure we’ll think of something. Keith is in love, grins each time he hears well in advance that he has to make a turn. He thanks me for having it all set-up, and I verify with my trusty Rand McNally that we are in fact on the best route – things have been simplified big time. Now I can keep my eyes out for more of America’s Roadside Attractions.

August 26, 2008

Experiencing Travel

Filed under: Travel in the U.S. — Heligypsy @ 9:26 am

I have always liked to travel, to explore and have adventures. As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what I was doing the day Keith and I met on the boardwalk in Santa Barbara eight years ago. I was out exploring and it has become the adventure of a lifetime.

We all travel differently, and for different reasons, with different expectations. I love to sit quietly in public places for long periods of time and people watch, get the “feel” for an area. Sometimes it takes me a few days to get my bearings and sort out what “attractions” I want to see. Major touristy areas are not really my bag, but I also hate to miss worthwhile sights simply because there are too many other people looking at the same thing.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on this six week trip. Mostly the books have been travel related, and seemingly (though unknowingly when I collected them) have had very common themes. Travel and spirituality. I have enjoyed three very different authors with stories on yoga, meditation and india.

The other day, finishing Michael Cricton’s Travels a book of sometimes extremely short travel/life stories, I found the best little piece, it made me smile so much to read, that I thought I would share it here with you. Here is the except from his book:

A few years earlier, during a trek in Nepal, my Sherpa guide took me to the top of a hill at a place called Ghorapani, pointed to the view and said,

“The Kali-Gandaki Gorge.”

“Uh-huh,” I said. I was sweating and tired. It was cold. My feet hurt. I could hardly pay attention to this view.

“The Kali-Gandaki Gorge,” he repeated, significantly.

“Uh-huh,” I said.

What I was seeing wasn’t even a gorge, it was just a big valley with snowy mountain peaks on both sides. Spectacular, but all the mountain views in Nepal are spectacular, and I was tired at the end of the day.

“The Kali-Gandaki Gorge,” he said a third time. Like I still wasn’t getting the point.

“Great,” I said. “When’s dinner?”

It wasn’t until I returned home that I found out what the Kali-Gandaki Gorge is.

The Kali-Gandaki river cuts between the peaks of Dhaulagiri to the west and Annapurna 1 to the east – respectively the sixth and tenth highest mountains in the world. Both peaks rise more than four miles above the river below, making a canyon so enormous that the eye can hardly see it for what it is. It is four times as deep as the Grand Canyon, and far wider: between two peaks, you could roughly fit twenty Grand Canyons.

The Kali-Gandaki Gorge is the deepest canyon in the world.

That’s what it is.

I’d like to go back and see it sometime.

August 22, 2008

Thank-you gestures exchanged

Filed under: Travel in the U.S. — Heligypsy @ 5:02 am

My good Italian Dr. and a I spent a few minutes getting to know each other prior to proceeding with my molar extraction. He told me all about his seven year old son who is beyond fascinated with helicopters, especially the big one, like what Keith flies. They had an airshow last year and the little boy just went nuts about that helicopter. “Strange though,” he started “that Americans are here to fight fires?” I added that Keith is Canadian, but, yeah, many countries contract with U.S. companies to hire their firefighting assets. Not many people know that. Last year in Greece they thought we’d all just shown up to help with the catastrophic fires, they didn’t realize the crews are there year after year, standing by on contract. Even with my explanation, he remained perplexed. I said nothing more.

As a gesture of my gratitude to him for his wonderful help during what could have escalated to a crisis, but never did, I invited the Dr. and his son to visit the crew and see the crane at the nearby airport base. Felt good to have something to offer, even if it was Keith that ended up doing the giving. He doesn’t mind, and the Dr. and the boys that went with him for the tour made it into Keith’s blog about Family Man.

I returned the next week for suture removal, and the Dr. delightedly reported the wound had healed so perfectly. I knew it had all gone well, even without anti-biotic and only a mild anti-inflamatory, I was now in good shape. He clapped his hands when he saw me, excited to report how well their tour had gone, thanking me over and over. It was my pleasure, was glad to be able to make it happen. Then he said,

“I have a gift for you, for you and for Keith.”

I laughed, “shouldn’t you be the one getting the gifts?”

Have you ever gotten a gift from your dentist? What a country. When he handed me a CD, I figured it would be pictures of Keith with the Gypsy Lady, the Air-Crane he flies on this tour. Great, he’s been wanting pictures with this ship, it’s too classically named to our lifestyle – fun. They were pictures, but not of Keith and the crane. Professional photos and a note “Something to remember our beautiful Alassio…” Oh, and the x-ray of the damaged molar is also on the disk, after I’d remembered to ask Suzanna for a copy, thought it might come in handy to have in my permanent records. That you don’t get to see, (who’d want to) but here are a couple images of where we have been spending our summer –

I have Erickson Air-Crane stickers and a Thank-You card to send him. Who knew something like this would end up being such a pleasant experience. You just never know.

August 20, 2008

My advice? Floss

Filed under: Travel,Travel in Europe — Heligypsy @ 12:18 pm

I have never bought into the whole travel insurance thing.  So far, (and do I tempt fate here?) I have not suffered the sorts of emergencies that travel insurance issuers claim to help out with. Never lost any baggage from a flight, or been bumped and forced to overnight. Haven’t had an expensive “non-refundable” trip canceled. No accidents resulting in bodily harm, though I’ve had my share of close calls as a pedestrian in the chaotic traffic of Greece and Italy. My overall health is good. I quit smoking many years ago. I’m ignoring the weight factor, I’m alright. Regrettably, I never took care of my teeth, ever. I mean I brush, of course, but that’s more a hygiene thing than a health habit. Guilt flossing is the only kind I have ever practiced, and it ends about a week after a cleaning. I try to get my appointments scheduled for cleaning whenever I am in Bishop, at least twice a year, that’s where my records from childhood are. I learned years ago that with a little work I could save my teeth from the brutal periodontal disease that I was beginning to suffer from. I flossed for two weeks after that visit.

Not a week prior to departing Canada for our six week trip to the Italian Riviera I acknowledged a teeny, tiny, itty, bitty bit of discomfort under my left molar. Allowed myself to note that there was the slightest irregularity, and then promptly put the information somewhere else, knowing you can’t have major dental work and then fly in a jet, back to back. This was nothing, anyway.

Less than a week after we arrived in this wealthy, pristine, mostly non-English speaking, seaside resort town, I was in trouble. One minute I’m tossing peanuts, “Snack Friends” (I always love the choice of when to use English, and how, in a foreign country) into my mouth, the next “Ow-WoW-OWWWW.” This is not going to be good. Putting my thumb on one side of the molar, and my index finger on the other I gently pushed, and to my surprise the entire tooth swayed effortlessly, if not painlessly, side to side. Adult teeth in motion are a bad, bad thing. Crap. This is going to get bad.

First thing Monday morning, which is 9 a.m. around here, I sought out help to find a dentist, an English speaking dentist. I HAD to be able to discuss the facts that I already knew, I was going to loose my tooth. Wanting to avoid further pain (though I was not in a lot) but mostly thinking about the costs, I had built myself up to accept the loss and did not want to be talked into any sorts of major tactics to save it. Like my mother, I am pragmatic when it comes to these things. And as she so classically said later to me “You don’t need all 32 anyway”.

By noon I was tilted head down in a blue leather dentists chair, distracted by the shimmery reflection of the sea dancing through the sliding glass doors of the examination room. Ocean front dentistry. Classy. My new Italian Dr. took a look, shook his head.

“How old are you?” I answered. Another shake. “It’s too bad for such a young woman, well, or man either, but someone so young to loose a tooth.” These were his first words about my situation, and I was instantly at ease. Ahh, ok, so he knows it too, it’s a goner. I didn’t have to talk him out of some gigantic procedure, I quickly agreed with him, it sure is a shame. I understood the words when he explained to his assistant that I’d had a periodontal rupture, I nodded in agreement. I didn’t really understand, but it sounded about right for what I knew of my poor ignored chompers. He took an x-ray, pausing at the door to quickly check “Are you pregnant, no?” No, I grunted through the mouthful of film jabbing my soft mouth flesh. Too late to say anything about protective cover, click-zap and the telling image had been taken.

By 1:00 p.m. I had been completely over-anesthetized, the Dr. mistaking one mumble full of hands for another and giving me an extra shot just in case. I never have understood dentists asking questions that can’t be intended to be answered. In this case, I learned they probably just guess. The sick, short rooted, cavity filled molar had been ripped and twisted free from causing any further damage. I felt nothing. As the Dr. worked to suture the already healing wound, I started having trouble with my right eye, it began blinking uncontrollably, I couldn’t stop it. Irritating, like twitching but without that pulsating sensation, blink, blink, blink, blink. Uugh! But wait. No, it wasn’t a problem with my right eye blinking, it was that my left eye was completely unable to blink. I wish I had a picture of my dimple smiling face, one half able to produce the dimple, smile wrinkles gathering at the edges of my eyes. The other 100% wide-eyed and frozen solid, bonus – no wrinkles. I physically had to hold my eyelid down to protect against the breeze, when I left the office later. Weird.

Making my follow-up appointment had the assistant a little flustered. “I’m sorry” she waved to me “I don’t even know your name!” I slurred the best I could, clenching on gauze and wishing I could just go now, trying to assure her that it was fine, we didn’t have to go through the paperwork. Her offers to sit with me and translate them were nice, and maybe not entirely sincere, but I assured her it was unneccesary. She must have read my mind earlier as I began to recount the entire event, from emergency walk-in to extraction took about 1.5 hours and they never even took my name. I was thrilled by the expediency of the whole thing. I don’t think a foreigner would receive the same treatment in my own country. As I paid the $150 bill, x-ray & consultation included, I couldn’t help but think that I wouldn’t receive the same treatment in my own country, Insurance or not!

August 15, 2008

An afternoon in Monte Carlo, Monaco

Filed under: Travel in the U.S. — Heligypsy @ 5:34 am

The idea of exploring a country in a day exhilarates me. Not an “Amazing Race” kind of frantic running through streets, but departing a train platform and heading to a marina cafe for espresso and croissant as a start. Consuming $9 worth of coffee & pastry, drooling over glimmering yacht’s, we get our bearings in the richest part of the world that I have ever been in. At this pace how will I see much of the country? In this case quite a bit, since we are talking about the 480 acre Principality of Monaco, the world’s smallest French speaking country. A country surrounded entirely by France, just like San Marino near Tuscany, surrounded entirely by Italy. I do love these tiny enveloped countries within countries.

Wandering begins in the marina. Yacht’s with helicopters lead to jokes about Keith approaching to see if they need a helicopter pilot, the catch being that we would have to secure some contract for me as well – social director, perhaps? I have no idea the money I am looking at. None. It’s like trying to grasp the concept of time leading back 12,000 years to the Neanderthal man – I can’t put a context on it, but I am impressed in an overwhelmed sort of way.

Winding our way along Princess Grace Avenue we stop to read interpretive signs that show black and white photos of Grace planting cherry trees in the Japanese Garden near the Grimaldi forum, or cutting a ribbon at the base of the Casino, or waving with adorable little Prince Albert from a train car returning from Paris. All along the avenue young men, teens really, race around in cherry-red Ferrari’s. Later we realize they are renting these show boaty rides, but still…

Up towards the Monte Carlo Casino, and I am trying to remember what the Monte Carlo in Las Vegas looks like –  isn’t that ridiculous? Vegas casino’s usually do such amazing justice to the originals they copy. Once we returned from Venice, Italy and went to the Venetian Casino in Vegas, later we realized we’d gotten a couple photo’s in the albums mixed up. I mean that’s flattery to the Venetian! Anyway, there is no resemblance that I could recollect here. The entrance to the casino was strung with velvet red ropes preventing admittance, it wouldn’t open until 2 pm that day, three hours away. We had to question whether they would allow us in anyway, we were both dressed nicely, and yet there is no denying we are in the “lookey-loo” category, not whale gamblers.

We moved along and I became hyptnotized by a mirrored sphere balanced atop a low fountain, reflecting the casino and the gardens surrounding it. Quite possibly one of my favorite things to have stared at all day

Seeking shelter from the heat we headed to the Mall, always an air conditioned refuge and all around great way to kill some time. Imagine the laugh we had by finding ourselves window shopping original Renoir paintings. One was sold, too bad, but we still had the choice of 3 others. Who wants to carry something like that around all day, huh?

By the end of afternoon we had walked nearly the entire route of the Grand Prix of Monaco, whose website says “To win in Monaco is hard because even a small error in the streets of the principality is fatal.” And that we believe, shaking our heads regularly as we crossed the narrow street, no more than a path really, in less than 5 steps. Once a driver (pilot, I guess they call them) has the lead, I’d say he keeps it.

For the most part we visited bits of each of the regions, viewed the Prince’s Palace from afar, to hot and humid to climb up when we’d had great views of it all day.  Back on the train we begin our 1.5 hour pleasant train ride back to Alassio. We each make the little air check-mark that we so often do, laughing, cross another one of the “list”.

July 29, 2008

The Umbrellas of Alassio

Filed under: Travel in the U.S. — Heligypsy @ 1:19 am
Click to play The Umbrellas of Alassio
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July 27, 2008

Dogs rule!

Filed under: Travel in the U.S. — Heligypsy @ 7:33 am

What would one of our trips be without a blog post about the dogs? Thankfully, here in the ritzy glitzy Riviera we are a far cry from the angst of watching starving stay dogs compete for scraps. No beagles confined to small concrete patio’s with no attention or water during the hot summer like last year in Greece. Keith and I remarked on our morning walk that neither one of us has even seen a stray dog around here. If a dog is off-leash it’s got a harness and is extremely attentive to it’s owner. Admittedly, I get a pang of jealousy that my Zoe never learned to behave so obediently. I console myself that she just has NO idea how good she’s got it (though, boarded for 6 weeks…she might argue) These dogs around here might have some idea of what it is to have a home and regular food? Whatever it is, they are fantastico!

Yesterday a little poodle ran ahead of it’s owner while crossing the street, seemed anxious to get to the sidewalk, and if I were that small little dog amongst all these zipping scooters I would too! The dog and I stepped foot on the curb just about the same time, neither one of us slowed, we just kept walking. One glance towards who it thought was it’s owner resulted in a state of confusion and a double-take, as if I could read the little dogs panicky mind

“What? You’re not my ow,ow,owner…” Flopping ears to the side, looking back to see his owner was directly behind me, and all was right in the world again, just that quick.

Mostly smaller dogs are what I see, of every breed, though I have seen a few of the big breeds. At a piazza I watched a woman crouched beside her golden Afghan Hound adoring it with full life-size hugs, the only way you could with a dog that size. I wanted to hug it too! They are total social creatures, nose to nose like wet magnets, tails wag furiously and patient owners just stand, holding the other end of the leash making small talk. I’ve yet to see or hear a dog fight. There are dogs in the stores, dogs in shopping baskets inside the supermarket, dogs sitting in-between their masters feet on scooters. There are no dogs allowed on the miles of beach where we are, but I did walk to the very end last week and discover the dog beach. I coulda spent all day there, what a hoot. Dozens of dogs off-leash cavorting along the shoreline, or sleeping with their masters.

As I type this post, I hear a dog barking in the halls of the hotel, that’s a first. I said to Keith just this morning “I’ll be we easily coulda brought Zoe here, they’d have let us keep her in the hotel.” And he agreed, it’s all the rest of the details that prevent us from pursuing that. No matter, she’s in good hands and I am having a ball watching all these Italian dogs prance around.

July 25, 2008

Two years have gone by

Filed under: Travel in the U.S. — Heligypsy @ 8:13 am

A high-school friend of mine wrote on her Facebook site today that she is “coping with the loss of her mother”. Oh, boy, does that ever ring so familiar. I wrote to her my sympathies, but hated the way everything started. Sorry for your loss, condolences, deepest sympathies, it all sounds o.k. from the sender, but to the person grieving it can kinda sound, well, like it misses the mark.

I had come back to the hotel to have lunch, and possibly write a blog when I saw her note. I am in a very reflective mood today, since this is the day my dad passed away, two years ago. I spent the morning wandering the city streets, thinking about my dad. Thinking about his life, and our lives together, and eventually, thinking about the end of his life.

I regret that I didn’t sit with him in those last months and make a list of all the places he thought of that had “the best…” fill in the blank, cinnamon roll, prime rib, tacos. When I was younger I used to joke with him that I was going to make a map across the country with stickers marking all these places to eat “the best ________” , his own little navigational tool. Food GPS. No matter what trip he and my mom took, he told stories of the random greasy spoon diners, with a waitress with a name like Marge that hollered across the room for them to “Sit wherever ya like, hon!” and served the biggest prime rib you ever saw for lunch. Yes, biggest usually equaled best.

I’ll always remember the time my parents came to visit us in Vegas, and we went to Freemont St. to go to the buffet at the Horseshoe. The first buffet Keith had ever been to with us, and when my dad walked across the floor towards our table, skillfully handling a four-story mess of salads and meat I wanted to melt.

“Uhhh, dad, you know, you can go back as many times as you like….”

“What? What fun would that be?” This was his architectural masterpiece, engineering at it’s finest. Sometimes I used to think that he would have been a good truck-driver, he loved driving on the open road and eating in dive cafes. But he had the mind of an engineer, he needed to build and fix things – and so he did.

When he was dying the nurses would whisper to us and ask “is he still eating? Because when he stops eating that will pretty much be it.” but that just made me laugh. No one was really sure what was happening to the food, but he sure as heck was eating. Didn’t mean he was going to win the battle. We cooked all his favorites that summer. I shipped Swiss sausage in from San Luis Obispo to celebrate his birthday, he was hardly able to talk anymore, but he would hold up a bite of sausage and griiin, happily celebrating that moment.

The weekend after he died, we held a Celebration of Life in his honor, at his request. The local BBQ restaurant catered, in gigantic amounts, pulled bbq beef, bbq chicken, beans, salad, oh, I don’t even know what else, kegs of beer, there must’ve been desert. More than several times I could hear “Phil would have loved this party.” It was what he wanted.

I hope my friend finds the peace with her loss of her mom. I hope anyone who’s suffered a loss finds their strength.

July 22, 2008

Something that’s been going around

Filed under: Travel in the U.S. — Heligypsy @ 1:34 am

I’ve joined the youtube scene…finally. I am getting ready to create and present my own videos of our travels, that is to say I am going to start vlogging. I thought it was podcasting, but no, that’s another thing altogether. What a learning curve.

Anyway, in the meantime to finishing my first creation, please enjoy this clever bit of footage that makes me smile every time I see it. Sorry to say the images here are not high quality. If you like what you see, you should go here http://www.wherethehellismatt.com/?fbid=BstP_I and choose the “watch it in high quality”, it’s worth it, trust me 🙂

July 20, 2008

Fitting In

Filed under: Travel in the U.S. — Heligypsy @ 6:46 am

So far on this trip, all five days of it, I have yet to be identified correctly as an American. At least, not to my face. Some of the looks I get indicate that I am definitely not fooling anyone. And I’m not trying to, either. I’m proud to be an American, proud and extremely grateful to have come from that lucky sperm club. I do like to blend in, better chance of seeing the local side of things. There is something very satisfying to me when I am mistakenly addressed with “Bonjour”, like on the train the day of my arrival. Or as a first guess, identified as German by the man at the small produce shop down the alleyway. The information center girl asked me “Are you English?” and repeated my reply with questioning surpise “Ohhh, your American?” I walk out the door feeling good about myself, like I have broken a stereotype or two of the “ugly American”, without compromising my own identity. This boils down to respect, at least I think it does.

Eight years of good fortune traveling alongside Keith to Australia, Italy, Greece, Belize, and scattered countries along the way. Eight years of sometimes sticking out like a sore thumb, being lost and unable to ask for assistance, chased away for peeking in a workshop, yelled at for walking IN the OUT door, and even threatened by pickpockets. My friend Erika saved us and chastised them in Italian with “Please, boys, don’t make me break your balls”, ran them off, but she was shaking afterward. She was on her way to audition in Bologna for a role on Donna Ventura, an Italian reality show. I told her to use that story as an example of why she should be picked for “Adventure Woman” (loosely translated). Didn’t get the part, but we had a great trip.

Anyway, through the years I’ve begun to dress more conscientious of the locale I am visiting. Heck, ya know skirts are way more comfy anyway – most times. I always attempt to speak the language, even if it is just to say that I don’t speak the language. Just give me 25 more years and I will be fluent in Greek! I am quiet when walking the deserted streets between 1-3 p.m. when most people are having lunch and napping. I know the camera in my hand screams tourista! and there is nothing to be done about that, I will not put it away, these images are far to precious not to capture in some form. I do not take intentional pictures of a person without asking their permission, boy have we learned that one the hard way. This rule excludes the masses at the beach, on city streets, etc., fair game there.

None of these things feel to me as if I am pretending to be anything I’m not, it always feels like a good healthy dose of respect for myself and my surroundings. We all expect other nationalities immigrating to the U.S. to know our customs and language, that in itself makes it the right thing to do in other countries.

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