Wednesday, October 24, 2012

More Drama Than We Need

It was Saturday, our last day in Yakima.  Rather, our last half day - we planned to hit the road before noon.  Weather reports had predicted dropping temperatures and snow in the pass, so we wanted to get started before traffic got heavy - but not so early that the roads would be icy or slushy.

The plan was to drop a few more items at the storage unit, drop the key in my brother's office mail slot, then head out.  But the best laid plans of mice and men (and women) gang aft agley.  (Don't blame me, blame my English teachers who had us read Bobby Burns in the original Gaelic.)

So, ganging agley this time - we checked out of our hotel and managed to wind our way to the storage center.  I hopped out of the car.  I took out the box holding our portable hard drives (to save and preserve our backups) and other various stuff.  I reached in my back pocket, and lo and behold, no key!!!  ACK!!!  No key!  My brother has the other key, but we're miles from his house and he's taking a well-deserved day off.  We discussed various options - go get the key from him.  Leave the box with him.  Leave the box with friends in Seattle.  Leave the box with my dad in Bellingham.  We decide on option 5 - go back to the hotel, get the key, check the chair where I tossed my jeans overnight. 

I run into the hotel and explain to the nice woman at the desk that we've lost a key - she gives me the room key again - I run up and look all over the armchair, no key - I reach my hand down the side of the cushion, in case the key slipped down - no key - I pull the cushion off the chair, and there, ready to slide into the inner recesses of the chair, there is a shiny silvery key, winking up at me, as if to say, "Ha, I fooled you, didn't I?"  Some jokester, that key.  He immediately goes back into my pocket, where he should have been all along.

Back we go to the storage center.  In goes the box.  Slam goes the door.  Click goes the lock.  And we are set.  Key goes into a notecard and into an envelope, and we slip that into my brother's law office mail slot.  And we reward ourselves with brunch at the Waffle Caffe - best waffles I've had in a long time, super thick cut bacon, definitely eat there if you ever get to Yakima.  (

Okay, so now we hit the road.  Finally.  An hour late, but we're secure in the knowledge that all of our worldly possessions are either in the storage unit or in our rolling luggage.  And off we go.

There are a few passes through the Cascade Mountains, which divide Washington State into the Western and Eastern halves.  Never mind that the mountains aren't in the middle, and the halves are of unequal size.  The mountains are the dividing line in the state, both geographically and politically, and we need to cross the mountains.  These are serious mountains - not bare, like the Rockies, but mile high mountains of rock and evergreens, soaring into the sky, bold and rugged.

We're driving on Interstate 90 (which runs from Seattle, across the floating bridge on Lake Washington, then through the US, arriving on the east coast in Boston - the longest interstate in the US, at 3,101.3 miles.  We only drive about 150 miles or so on it, but we go through Snoqualmie Pass.  Snow-QUALM-me.  NOT Snow-CALM-me.  No.  There is nothing calm about driving through Snoqualmie Pass.  The roads wind through those bold rugged rocky peaks, somehow always wet with either rain, runoff, or snow/sleet/slush/ice.  The views are amazing.  The wind is cold and fierce at that elevation - the pass itself is some 3000 feet above sea level.  People ski here, hike, mountain climb, and snow camp.  People even train their sled dogs here.  We're talking COLD.

So there we are, driving through the pass, snow like frosting on the peaks and trees, road as wet and winding as ever.  We stopped at the rest stop before the peak, and were instantly frozen by the frigid wind - despite layers of clothes.  This is our first (hopefully only) freezing temperature, and we shiver and gasp our way around the rest area, lungs frozen, breath steaming in the air, taking advantage of the services and stretching our legs before the long drive through - because there is NO WAY we plan to stop along the pass.  (There are also no rest areas, only exits to small towns where crazy people who love to freeze live and work.)

And we drive.  And we drive.  It's beautiful, it's tense driving, the travel advisory lights are flashing so we tune into the radio station broadcasting updates.  There are delays due to road construction, even on Saturday.  No accidents, no snow on the road, we're okay.  But the snow line is almost to the road, and we know that in a day or two that snow line will be at or below the road.

Despite being in the mountains, we see no wildlife - I'm always hoping to catch a glimpse of elk, bighorn sheep, maybe a bear before they go hibernate, even a wolf or coyote (though the coyotes prefer warmer and less mountainous terraine) - or, my lifetime goal, a puma, cougar, mountain lion.  They live there, in the mountains, and occasionally make their way into Seattle and the suburbs.  I'd love to see one - but we don't on this trek through Snoqualmie Pass, near Stampede Pass, and then we're back in western Washington where we slide on down into the Interstate 5 corridor and on up to Bellingham, for a quick hello and goodbye and more food.

And warmer - slightly warmer - weather.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Fun (and Funny) Side of Yakima

Okay, I know the previous post was a little depressing.  But I found Yakima to be a little depressing.  Not totally, just kind of over all depressing.

But there were funny things, things that had the two of us falling-over laughing.  Things that are just so funny.

The Yakima Valley Arboretum was advertising a Wild Mushroom Show and Exhibition.  Really.  Wild mushrooms.  Try to imagine WILD mushrooms.  Does anyone else envision chantrelles and puffballs running rampant?  yelling and screaming?  shooting guns or stabbing each other?  Wild West style mushrooms?  Or maybe they just harrass the orchids.

Next - there's the town of Granger nearby, in the valley, known as the Dinosaur Town.  Complete with a dinosaur park.  (No, we did NOT visit Granger - this is info we read in our local tourist magazine.)  Yes, life size models of dinosaurs (rendered in cement) are set up around town.  Directions in the town read, "pass the spinosaurus, then turn right onto Main St. and drive through the flanking dinosaurs. The toilets will be on the left; more dinos will be on the right, and if you continue driving you'll see even more dinosaurs in town."  Oh, the toilets that are mentioned?  Those are volcano toilets.  No, that doesn't mean you flush and the effluviant spews out at you.  It just means that the toilet building looks like a small volcano. 

As if a volcano toilet and cement dinosaurs weren't funny enough, here's the punchline - NO dinosaur fossils or bones or remains were found in Granger.  Or in the county.  Or in the entire state of Washington.  No, MASTODON bones were found in Granger.  Not dinosaurs, mastodons.  As in woolly mammoths.  Giant hairy elephant-like mammals.  Not giant reptiles like dinosaurs.  Ummm, do you think they might have just had cement mastodons and maybe an ice age glacier toilet instead?

On the other hand, the photos I've seen of the Granger dinosaurs really are pretty amazing sculptures, so I shouldn't laugh at them - but it truly is very funny to hear of a town where people tell you to turn right at the stegosaurus and then left at the tricerotops.

So did we go see the dinos?  Or the wanton mushrooms?

No, we went for adult entertainment.

Now that I have your attention - we went wine tasting.  Yes, Yakima Valley is an up and coming wine country.  The long growing season, plenty of sunshine, rivers and irrigation canals make this a wonderful place to grow grapes.  The rolling hills are reminiscent of Tuscany and Umbria, Italy - some of the great places for wine.  (Try an Orvieto white, or a Brunello from Montalcino, and you'll know I speak the truth.)

So we headed south through the gap in the hills, named Union Gap.  (Yes, Gary Puckett is from the area.)  We drove into the southern valley, along roads named by the original French settlers, past orchards with the end of the apple harvest, late season pears, grapes waiting for the first frost, and meandered around following signs, sampling wine.

We purchased two "passports" that allowed us free tasting at all the rattlesnake wineries.  (I'm not sure which wineries are rattlesnakes, or why they are named that, or if they choose to be rattlesnakes or not.  But this is one situation where it's good to find a rattlesnake.)

We started with whites.  Then moved on to full-bodied reds.  Then moved on to sweet reds, rosés, and ended with ultra-sweet reislings.  Or a tawny red muscat.  We did this at each of six or seven wineries.  We sipped and sampled and shared and giggled as the reds and whites blended into a lovely lavender fog that enveloped our brains.  Well, at least for three of us - my brother was the designated driver.  Despite only taking one or two sips of most wines, after six, seven, eight? wineries (one loses track) and four to six wines at each winery, all those sips added up to enough to make three of us quite tipsy.

Those many sips also made it easy to rrrrrrrrolllllll the names of wines off the tongue.  My little bit of Italian made it easy to request the Sangiovese - "San-joe-VEH-szeh" - with a lilt in the "joe" and a loving linger on the VEH - a heavy red that belongs to pasta con marinara.  Then the Nebbiolo - "Neh-bee-OH-low" - with a long caress on the OH!  A rich red tasting of nebulus clouds and adding to the lavender fog in my brain.  A wine that balances tagliatelle with black truffle sauce.  Nebbiolo, after a few sips, became NebbbiiOOOOOOOOlowwwwwww.  Followed by floating hands and fuzzy shoulders and a few sighs between giggles.

It was lovely.

We saw vintners pressing grape must to get out the last of the wine, and tasted what will be this years Merlot.  We admired views, and watched ducks and dogs who demanded attention.  We bought a few bottles of various wines, and carefully carried them home, where we celebrated my nephew's new job - his first job in his field of study post-college.  Not a job related to wineries, but still worth celebrating.

Then back to the house for slow-rotisseried leg of lamb (all my brothers all grill very well), wonderful side dishes (my sister-in-law is a great cook), and the meal ended with homemade brownies and glasses of that tawny muscat.

 And yes, THAT side of Yakima is fun, and not at all depressing.

Especially when one is enveloped in a lavender fog.

Five Days in Yakima is Long Enough

We spent Monday through Saturday (morning) in Yakima.  Five days, essentially.  It was long enough to take care of the business we need to do:  Rent a storage unit.  Move all of our boxes, which we had shipped to my brother, and stack them in the storage unit.  Get our files and papers organized to turn over to my brother the attorney.  Do paperwork with him.  You know, all that paperwork.  The "sign your life away just in case" paperwork.  Deal with the fact that the insurance plan's pharmacy messed up both of our medication orders.  All that stuff.

Sidebar here:  There is something unspeakably sad about signing an advance medical directive.  No, I don't want food pumped into my body if I am deemed brain dead.  Yes, please pull the plug.  Well, and give me happy medication, preferably opiates.  Just very sad to consider the fact that signing such papers might be necessary, that for some people it is necessary, and that given our world as it is, it makes such paperwork necessary.

There is also something very sad about locking all one's worldly possessions into a 5 ft square, 12 ft high storage locker.  Really, that is all we own.  A bunch of boxes with my code (K for kitchen, H for house, B for books, R for Richard, P for papers, C for clothing that I might want along our trek around the world), stacked with what we might need in front, and what might break on the top.

On the other hand, there's something very freeing about having only one rolling luggage piece and a small backpack, and nothing else.  And I keep thinking that that one piece of luggage has too much stuff - that somehow I should be able to downsize it even smaller.  I'm working on that.

At any rate - Yakima.  Five days to take care of business.  Five days to spend with my brother, whom I haven't seen in years.  Five days to hang with the sister-in-law and adult nephew I rarely see.

Five days in a strange strange town.  I don't even know where to begin.  Yakima is in the center of Washington state, well, a bit south of dead center vertically but definitely dead center horizontally (as the map flies).  But it isn't even in the center politically, it's far to the right.  Just as an example - there are two referendums (referenda?  referendae?  referendi?  Pure Latin would make it refendi.) that Washingtonians are voting on this year (legalization of marijuana, and same sex marriage) that are generally applauded on the west side of the state, and opposed on the eastern side of the state.  Yet Yakima seems to be the center of the opposition for both issues.  Not the center politically - no, the center of the opposition.  Despite the current gangs and rampant illegal drugs and prostitution and all that.  Well, maybe those societal problems are exactly WHY the town is the center of the opposition.

Yakima is kind of western in feel, almost a cowboy style.  And yet it has always been mostly an agricultural center.  Lewis and Clark found the various Native American cultures here, who lived off the land in a beautiful flat and fertile valley, surrounded by tall hills, almost like parenthesis around this verdant valley fed by mountain rivers.  The native tribes became the Yakama Federation, lost the war with the pioneers, and were moved to reservations.  (The native beadwork is amazing, some of the most gorgeous work I've ever seen, tiny beads forming intricate designs so tightly sewn they look like petit point!)  So the Native Americans were the first disenfranchised people in the area.

Next came the migrant workers - the railroad builders, road builders, fruit workers.  Asians, Mexicans, other Central American workers came to work the field and orchards, pick and process the produce, and build the infrastructure that led to the development of towns and cities.  (Side note:  75% of the hops grown in the USA are grown in the Yakima Valley.  So beer is a big business.)  And of course, some of the migrant workers stayed and created enclaves of their own cultures.

Then we add in the current economic problems in the US today, and we suddenly have a town that is something like 60% Hispanic, who knows what percent European-descent American, and the last (and smallest) percent of citizens Native American - and we get a hotbed of economically on-the-edge people.  We get inner-city-type issues like drug trafficking and gangs, because that's where the quick money is.  We get prostitution because that's where more money is.  And we get criminal activity because the reality is that drugs and prostitution are currently illegal, nothing is regulated, and everything is controlled by warring gangs.  Not a good situation.

And I'm not trying to slam Yakima, truly I'm not.  I know I only spent five days there.  But that's long enough to get a sense of a place.   Just shopping for a few items was a microcosm of the town:  Target is where upscale people shop.  WalMart has a whole different clientele.  We shopped at both, and there was a visible difference.  WalMart had more people of color, more people who were visibly depressed both economically and emotionally.  And the two stores are across a large street and half a block away from each other!!!

So that's Yakima.  Friendly people on the surface, seething social issues below.  A place named the "Waffle Caffe" with fabulous waffles that misspells "cafe," on the same block where the hookers troll for work.  Kids in overalls looking like junior farmers, and kids with gang symbols tattooed on their arms. 

Five days in Yakima was long enough.  More than enough.  I love my brother and his family, and it was wonderful spending time with them.  But Yakima?  No, I don't think I want to be hemmed in by dry brown hills, where the coyotes howl at night.  I don't want the only green to be along the rivers and irrigation canals.  I don't want to feel sad at one store because the people look one step away from needing me to buy their groceries.

Yakima is a strange kind of a town. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Bellingham, Washington - a town that can laugh at itself

Really, what would you call a person from Bellingham? A Bellinghamite?  Bellinghamian?  Bellinghammer?  Bellinghamese?

Nope, we call ourselves Bellinghamsters.

This town of some 80,000 people (plus Richard and myself, so now 80,002) also calls itself the "city of subdued excitement."

I'm not sure what that means.  There isn't enough excitement to go around, so our excitement is shared and thus subdued?  We get quietly excited?  We get very excited about subdued things?  (My brothers think the excitement is subdued by various, ummmm, local products shall we say.  This is, after all, Washington.  The GREEN state.)

Our family moved here when I was 14, an age traumatic in itself.  While I didn't lose many of my East Coast ways, I did adopt many West Coast thoughts - environmentalism, recycling, living green, all that.  I became bi-coastal.

So for me, it made sense that Richard and I would spend time in Bellingham before we headed to Seattle where we'll fly off to New Zealand.  We need US driver's licenses to open US bank accounts - the USVI isn't good enough.  We need those same driver's licenses to obtain international driving permits.  We need to take care of some medical issues, deal with finances, re-pack our luggage, store extra items, and basically set up life so that we can spend an extended period of time overseas, just travelling.

And Bellingham, being a small town, is an easier place to do all these things, rather than in a larger town or in a city.  Richard, cynical and jaded New Yorker and anti-bureaucrat that he is, was amazed by the friendliness and cheerfulness of the staff at the Department of Motor Vehicles - we were greeted by smiles and helpful people who were interested in why we moved from the Virgin Islands, and how different our licenses looked, and did we qualify for an easy transfer or what.

Thus we are here, in my old part-time hometown.  It really is a town with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor.  Where unisex bathrooms in a restaurant become a play on words.  I just had to take photos of these bathroom doors!)  Where you can go to a burger restaurant and have the option of a burger in a bowl or lettuce wrap, or even an elk burger.  Where flowers bloom in October and the leaves turn bright red and orange and yellow against a backdrop of dark green - where it stays green all winter, even without the leaves of the deciduous trees.  We are the EVERGREEN state, you know. 

This is a university
town, full of college students, who have the usual political conversations and "what are you doing over the weekend" conversations - but there are also snippets of conversation such as "well you can match them up if you change the tempo" and "I'll call later, I'm welding a sculpture today."  A college campus with a regionally famous outdoor sculpture collection (including sculpture by Serra, Noguchi, Goldsworthy, to name a few) - and my personal favorite, the "Man Who Used to Trap Mountain Lions," the hunter sitting with the cougar on his lap, both of them drunk and singing to the moon.

My father's house - the home I lived in during high school, and visited while in college and grad school and then all the years I've lived elsewhere - is just below the college campus, on a hill sloping down to the bay.  There are lovely views of the bay (part of Puget Sound), the Canadian Cascades to the north, beautiful sunsets all summer.  We even see the docks and all the freighters that import and export goods, summer sailing races and regattas, and once a lost orca swimming around.

This is a lovely town, full of iconoclasts who grow artichokes and don't eat them.  Houses are painted neutral grey and environmentally friendly green and cheerful-in-the-winter red or turquoise.  Gardens overflow with flowers and produce.  People get grumpy if the sun shines for too many days in a row.  Streets run at oblique angles to each other where the original four (or five?) small towns merged - and no one thinks anything of switching from one grid to another, or streets that disappear and then reappear on the other side of a hill or park.

The big news in the paper is that a local cupcake bakery won first prize on the TV show "Cupcake Wars" season opener.  Richard and I actually had cupcakes there, but didn't know this was becoming a nationally famous cupcakery.  (He had the all-dark chocolate, which looked wonderful.  I had the miniature dark chocolate with bourbon glazed walnuts and bourbon cream cheese frosting, and the miniature red velvet with cream cheese frosting.  And yes, they were all incredibly delicious.  Just one more reason Bellingham should be on your map of places to visit - TV show winning phenomenal cupcakes.

Plus the Alaskan ferry leaves from Bellingham.  And there's a private "ferry" to Victoria, Canada - which takes detours if orca whales have been sighted.  Being Bellinghamsters, we'd rather watch orcas play than arrive on time in Victoria.  Deer wander down off the hill behind the university and stroll among students, cross roads nonchalantly, nibble flowers, and drink from birdbaths.  Racoons peer into windows, squirrels steal nuts and flower bulbs, and the occasional opossum ends up in someone's basement (ours).

And for me there's that element of sentimentalism and nostalgia, when I walk familiar roads and see houses of neighbors, friends, schoolmates, or run into people I recognize from high school - despite the forty years that have worn and reshaped our faces and bodies.  There are so many memories embedded in this town, memories that Richard doesn't see, because to him this is just a place that he visits when he's with me.  He doesn't have an off-and-on forty-plus year history here - that's in New York, where he can walk around and share stories and experiences from every block or park or restaurant or cafe or building.  But for me, I see myself as a teen walking with friends, cutting school, getting rides home with a teacher, saving lilacs and rhododendron from bulldozers, swimming in the college fountain, researching synthetic dyes for advanced chemistry - four important years of my life are here in this neighborhood, in these houses, on these streets.

Even though I grew up in New York, I came of age here in Bellingham.  Where I learned that quirky sense of humor that is displayed in this town of Bellinghamsters.  Where I wrote a term paper on the feasibility of recycling pick up (which the head of sanitation scoffed at when I interviewed him), and now it has been a reality for ten or fifteen years.   Where there's a coffee shop (or coffee drive-thru) at every block, and the sky is blue, and leaves are still green and flowers still blooming in October, when the afternoon light shines golden and we don't think about the rainy months to follow.

But the rain has arrived, today, with a vengeance, and reminded me why I no longer live in western Washington.  And why we're heading south to New Zealand for the winter (or more accurately, their summer).  This can be a dark and grey and wet and dreary place in the late autumn, winter, and through much of the spring.  Until summer, when the flowers bloom and people smile and that subdued excitement peaks.

We are officially Bellinghamsters.  And maybe just a little proud of it.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Saga of the Silverware

My family has a set of silverware that has been handed down from generation to generation - l'dor v'dor in Hebrew.  My great grandfather apparently took all the coins he could gather together, and had a set of silverware made from it - beautiful, gorgeous, heavy silverware, with the initials AW for his wife, our great grandmother, Anna Wyrobek.  Possibly spelled a different way.

At any rate, this beautiful silverware was used by our great grandparents, who emigrated from Germany (they lived in Frankfurt-on-Rhine) with their two daughters, arriving in the US some time in the early 1900s.  The daughters grew up, married, had children (my father being one), and each received half the set of silver.

Fast-forward 20-something years, my father married my mother and they eventually were given half the silverware.  We used our set of six pieces for special occasions, and I remember my sister and I playing with the salt cellar, being intrigued by the teeny tiny doll-sized spoon and what looked like a mini-soup-tureen.

Then zoom to about twelve years later, my family moved from New York to Washington state, my great aunt and great uncle came to visit, and lo and behold, my wonderful great aunt gave my parents her half of the silver, because she felt the entire set belonged together.  Her generous act re-joined what was essentially her parents' entire fortune when they left Germany, not only a financial legacy but also a family history and memoir encased in cast- and etched-silver.

I inherited this fabulous set of silver.  I hand-carried it from Washington to St. Thomas, and used it for many Thanksgiving and Passover dinners.  This is the silver that is stored in tarnish-proof fabric, lovingly re-rolled so that no piece of silver touches anything but fabric.  This is the silver that is always kept in a safe deposit box at a bank, and brought out to adorn the table for special occasions.  This is the silver that is hand-washed, hand-dried, counted, and then missing pieces are searched for in the garbage, because even one accidentally tossed teaspoon is that important.

So - why am I telling you the story of our silverware?

Because Richard and I have downsized.  We no longer have a key on a keyring.  We don't own cars.  We don't own dishes.  We don't rent a house or apartment.  We are rolling luggagers, with only the items in the luggage and the clothes on our backs.

Which meant the silver had to come with us on the trek from St. Thomas.  We hand-carried that heavy heavy box of silver, rolls of fabric with stacked forks, spoons, knives, serving pieces, from St. Thomas to Washington DC to Philly to Jersey to New York to New Orleans to Minneapolis to Las Vegas to Seattle to Bellingham.  We broke two handles on a bag, carrying this silverware, and had to buy a nylon bag to carry the silver on the plane.  Of course, the carving fork and knife were in checked luggage - but there was no way I was going to risk this silverware in my checked luggage, or in the mail, or even in a FedEx box - no, this was carried across the country.

Image a small box full of silverware.  Send that box through the x-ray machine at any airport.  The TSA agents can't really see anything beyond a huge pile of metal being x-rayed.  So of course, an agent is dispatched to search the box.  And unroll each group of silverware - the knives (which are so blunt they barely cut turkey); the forks; the soup spoons that look like serving pieces; the teaspoons; the dessert forks (my favorite, they look like Apollo's lyre); and all the varied and sundry serving pieces which include a cake server, pie server, meat fork, two-sided gravy ladle, vegetable spoon complete with draining holes (unless that's really for making tea), and a soup ladle that could be used as a weapon of mass destruction.

So yes, at each and every airport, I stood and watched as a TSA agent unrolled the silverware, piece by piece.  I explained that this was a family heirloom, and I was bringing it home.  I patiently re-rolled the silver so no two pieces were touching, so that nothing could scratch another piece.  We learned to budget extra time for the silver inspection ritual, because this added a good twenty minutes to our time through the lines.

And now my brother is the Keeper of the Silver.  And he is responsible for finding someone in the next generation who will eventually become Keeper of the Silver, who will watch over it, hand-wash and hand-dry it, count and go through garbage to find a missing spoon, and who will tell the story of our great grandparents, who wanted to save their wealth and turned it into a set of silverware, which will be handed down from generation to generation.  And who will, if need be, hand carry that silver from city to city, plane to plane, just as our great grandparents carried it from town to town and boat to boat as they came across the Atlantic.

It is a heavy responsibility, being Keeper of the Silver. 

Viva Las Vegas

Where does one go after four days in Minneapolis?  Somewhere to warm up, right?  So, we figured Las Vegas would be a good place to visit.

Vegas is crazy!  Yes, it's warm.  Yes, there are beautiful and opulent hotels and casinos and resorts.  But it is SO over the top, and each place tries to draw in the crowds and keep them there - they funnel you into the casino and provide drinks and food and entertainment and shopping - the place is like capitalism to the nth degree!

Every hotel has a theme - and then the architecture both outside and inside is designed to evoke another world, another place - Paris, as in the photos above.  The Venetian, with a copy of the Ponte Rialto, their own canal full of gondolas and gondoliers, the façade of the building looking like Venetian palazzi.  The Bellagio, with a blown-glass ceiling by Chihuly (an amazing glass artist from Washington state) and a huge fountain that dances to music an shoots jets of water so high into the sky it sounds like an explosion.  Each hotel/casino tries to out-do the other, to draw in more guests, more pedestrians, and basically make more money.
We had fun wandering around, people watching, eating at the Carnegie Deli (NOT as good as in New York, but really close!), looking at each little mini-world created by each hotel/casino, and just having a good time.  There were hordes of tourists from all over the world, women wandering around in bikinis, men in everything from three-piece suits to overalls, street corner Elvis impersonators, you name it, you can find it in Vegas!

Plus I had a very nice win on a slot machine - that always puts everyone in a good mood, right?

We had a free ride on a double-decker bus - because the meter was broken and they couldn't take any money!  It was like a Carnival ride, sitting in the front seats of the upper level and towering over the street.

And to top off the excitement of Vegas, we went to Cirque du Soleil's "Love" (courtesy of my brother) which is INCREDIBLE!  Cirque definitely has re-defined trapeze and acrobatics - now they've interpreted the music of the Beatles into dance, costume, props, stage set, lights, and of course their acrobatic/trampoline/trapeze/rope/hanging/twirling/swirling/swinging style.  There is absolutely NO WAY to sit still or be anything other than HAPPY and ENERGIZED during this show!  Well, and I was totally entranced!!!!!  It was just amazing!!!

Last note - we stayed at Circus Circus, because we found a great deal and because Richard had never seen a circus.  Not that they had elephants in the hotel, or anything - but our drapes and even the shower curtain looked like a big striped circus tent, they had their own big top show (which we never made), and there was a decided atmosphere of fun (including a store that only served popcorn and ice cream).  Again, the Vegas practice of creating an atmosphere and milieu through architecture, interior decorating and design, events - I think this would be a great job for art students!  It sounds like so much fun to create and decorate an entire hotel and casino to create a mini-world!!!!

We missed photo ops with Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Dora the Explorer, Tickle Me Elmo, Homer Simpson, a couple of Vegas chorus girls complete in hot pink glittery bikinis and ostrich feather head pieces, and posing with a silver Porsche.  Ah well, maybe next time!

The Other End of the Mississippi

Many people don't realize that the Mississippi River actually begins in Minnesota.  Really, this giant river runs almost the length of the US.  So after New Orleans, the southern end (almost) of the Mississippi, it made sense for us to go to Minneapolis.

The mighty Mississippi, beginning in the land of 10,000 lakes, starts off as a small river and splits the city of Minneapolis - providing wonderful parks and walks along its banks.  And this time of year, the parks were full of trees in all kinds of glorious colors, flaming autumn.

Actually, we went to Mpls (or MSP, as the airport is called, for Minneapolis-St. Paul) to see my sister and her husband, and two of their daughters, two of my darling nieces, plus great-nephews (or grand-nephews) and a nephew-in-law.

Our visit included time wandering through the city, time with one niece and then the other, as they each took one day out of their busy schedules to just spend time with us - which included more wandering through the city, talking and talking and catching up on life, and of course eating because what family doesn't love to eat?  Plus afternoon walks along the river, up and down trails, under bright red and orange and yellow trees.  Then a day with my sister and brother-in-law, including a walk around one of those lakes, amongst more fiery trees. Throw in a final evening with everyone, plus an old and dear friend, and you have our quick trip through Minneapolis.

I have to add that Minneapolis has some of the most amazing manhole covers I've ever seen!  Most people don't really look at manhole covers, but they can be quite the works of art!  I find that in Europe they usually include the name of the town or city, and an emblem of the region - a fleur-de-lys for Firenze, a mountain capped by a hawk for Montefalco.  In Minneapolis, the manhole covers portrayed all the products and resources grown in Minnesota - various fish, flowers, corn, wheat, apples, even pine cones!  So of course I took a series of photos to capture these off-beat bits of art.

Remember that you can click on a photo to enlarge it - you really need to check out the detail on these Minnesotan manhole covers!  They are amazing!