From Talkeetna to Anchorage

I’m going to remember these moments for the rest of my life, I thought as I finished my last walk in McKinley National Park.  Around midmorning we left on the bus and headed for a little town called Talkeetna where we were scheduled to catch a train to Anchorage. The station was tiny, but it had a beautiful red, white, and blue flag hanging from the front of it. Colorful against the gray sky, it begged for attention, and I obliged by taking a picture of the stars and stripes.

The train ride was long, but nice…exciting too. Mile after mile after mile, the train sped through the wild, and we soaked in as much beauty as our human eyes would allow. Many travelers ate lunch, but most settled for snacks. According to fellow passengers, the food choices were fairly extensive, and the service was good.

The scenery was breathtaking. Trees, especially the tall, straight pines and yellow willows flew by on every side. There were rivers and gravel bars and hills—everything but people. Occasionally, we glimpsed some small structures, probably work-related buildings, but no houses. How do people travel about in this wild country? I wondered.

After a couple of hours, probably closer to three, the conductor announced that soon we’d go through Wasilla, the childhood home of Sarah Palin, and arrive in Anchorage shortly afterwards. Soon we slowed down to ease through an overcast and chilly Wasilla, and he pointed out Palin’s home on our left. The house was nice but unpretentious, and I wondered about her childhood and how the geography and landscape had affected her psyche.

Palin lives in Arizona now, a totally different environment. Now she sees desert sagebrush instead of taiga forest, sun instead of misty fog. She never has to worry about permafrost or grizzlies these days, and she can probably leave her coat and gloves behind even on the coldest of winter days. Without ever having met her, I know that as beautiful as Arizona is, there are days when SP misses her native state.

There were stores, restaurants, and homes along the way, and I realized that in Wasilla, the citizens had everything we have in Camden—everything necessary for survival, that is. I didn’t spy any oaks, dogwoods, or  palmettos, but there were schools, churches, and grocery stores evident all along the ride. When the Princess train pulled into the station, everything around us looked gray: the sky, the concrete, the busses—everything. Like good soldiers, we disembarked from the train and climbed aboard a bus that would transport us into our hotel in Anchorage, the Captain Cook.

After freshening up a tad, many travelers, including us, ate dinner in one of the hotel restaurants, Fletcher’s. The food was delicious, and our conversation was not only about our afternoon train experiences but also about the next day’s agenda. Tonight would be the last night we’d spend on land, and by that same hour the next day, we’d be on the ship waiting to set sail.

Our time in Anchorage was brief, and if my husband hadn’t been willing to walk to a small diner for breakfast the next morning, our only real contact with the largest of Alaska’s cities would have been too negligible to even count—kind of like having a short layover in Reno and announcing to friends that you had once visited that gambling mecca.

As it was, we sauntered down 5th Avenue for a view of the coastline and a short stroll along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. After walking back up the steep hill, we walked a few blocks until we found the perfect diner, one that served both locals and tourists alike. The service was good, the food was tasty, and the view of downtown Anchorage through the huge front windows was great.

Scuttling back up the street, we made it back to the Captain Cook just minutes before the bus arrived, the one that would take us out of Anchorage and towards the sea and our ship.

Huddled Masses

After about an hour on Liberty Island, we boarded the ferry for the trip to Ellis Island. Love that place! There’s so much history there that I could go on and on about it, but I won’t, mainly because there’s no way I could do it justice. It’s a haunting site, one you need to visit for yourself to truly perceive. According to what I learned there, over 16 million people came into the United States through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954.

I was a little surprised to read of so much hatred and prejudice that existed towards anyone who was “different.” The realization/reminder seems ironic when I think of the millions of people here in America who are enraged about the immigration policies of the nation. From what I learned at the immigration center, many of those angry folks have ancestors who were unwanted and undesirable at some point, especially if they were from Southern and Eastern Europe.

The exhibits at the immigration center are spectacular, not in a flashy way but in a heart-touching way.  Standing in the Great Hall and imagining the thousands of people who came through that spot each day was a mind-boggling experience for this American gal who’s never heard, “Get out! You don’t belong here.” According to what I read, a team of officials stood at the top of the steps watching those “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” and had about only a few seconds to make a decision. Would the immigrant be processed right away, detained, or sent back to their country of origin?

Here’s a quote I photographed from an exhibit. “Disturbed only by the sound of a pigeon’s wings, I heard the voices of the millions of people who came through here, building a temple with their highest joys and deepest sorrows-men, women and children who made it through to a new life, or who died straining to look through a dusty mirror at what they knew they could not possess.” Eleni Mylonas

After a couple of hours, we reluctantly got back on the ferry and headed for Battery Park. On the way to the subway, we bought chicken kabobs and devoured them on the way to the subway. They were so good!! Even now, I can taste the hot, savory, almost-charcoaled flavor of the meat, onions, and peppers. We had watched the man press the small bite-sized pieces of chicken while they sizzled, and  eating the kabob while walking was heightened by that experience.

As we approached our stop, we wondered aloud how we’d know when to get off. Fortunately for us, a young Asian angel appeared seemingly out of nowhere and came to our rescue. A lawyer who had recently passed the bar, she too was headed to midtown. “Home of the brave and land of the free,” I thought with pleasure and relief.

We rendezvoused with Elizabeth and Allyson who had spent the day visiting Rockefeller Center and other downtown sights before taking the subway to Canal Street. They dined in Little Italy and then made some purchases a street or two over. Love my knock-off UGGs!

Purchases and overnight bags in tow, we climbed into a van for our trip to LaGuardia. Although we each had our individual thoughts, perceptions, and memories, we all agreed on this: The hustle and bustle, the diversity, the energy, the lights, the culture, the museums, the kiosks, and the bridges will continue to beckon us back for another visit.

Next time………

Look for the Red Circle

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Brrrr. Sunday morning was cold. I woke up first and quickly showered and went down for breakfast before anyone else was stirring about. Say what you will about the Comfort Inn. Their waffles, especially the chocolate ones, are yummy. In this particular establishment, there was a gentleman standing ready to pour, cook, and put them on a plate for you. Nice. I got my waffle and perched on a stool overlooking the other diners and providing a nice view of  44th Street.

Before long, the other members of our little troupe were up and ready to hit the streets and avenues. We took a few pictures and then parted company for a few hours. The younger set went to Rockefeller Center and Little Italy, and the rest of us went to Liberty Island and Ellis Islands. While part of me would have liked to see THE TREE and then look for bargains in Little Italy and China Town, I wanted to immerse myself in the spirit that surrounds that Lady in the Harbor more.

The four of us got directions to the nearest subway stop two blocks away and rode the subway all the way to the Rector Street stop. Regardless of what you’ve heard, New Yorkers are helpful. I’m not saying they’re as warm and open as some people in the South. I’m just saying “Ditch that stereotype.” Ask questions and they will help you. Manhattan is in the tourist business.

Along the way to the subway stop, we saw Mickey Mouse and some other interesting things you don’t see in Camden, Elgin, Conway, or Pawleys Island, the places where we’re from. We got on the right subway but began walking in the wrong direction. Observing our perplexed and anxious looks, a woman came up and asked if she could help, and after hearing us, she said to get on the #1 train, the one with the red circle. At least that’s what I heard, and every time I saw a red circle, I said, “Let’s go this way,” and it worked.

I can still feel the excitement as we took a left turn with an incline and got caught up in the midst of hundreds of people. Seriously, if we hadn’t made note of each other’s clothing and hats so that we could keep up with each other, our day might have turned into a disaster instead of a success. Sure, we had our phones, but for some reason, our batteries kept losing their charge.

One of the things I love about the city is its diversity. Rich, poor, old, young, black, yellow, white, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, beautiful, and homely—all are there, and no one looks askance at those who are “different.” That said, we sat near an Asian couple with one of the sweetest, most adorable babies I have ever seen. Dressed for warmth and lying in his stroller, he stared at his pretty mother and made a lot of “ba” sounds. Clearly smitten with her chubby cheeked little cherub, she communicated joy at his efforts.

We made it to the Rector Street exit and got a little turned around once we climbed up the stairs to the street. It was cold and overcast, and although we could see the water, we weren’t sure how to get there. Finally, with the help of our iPhone maps we made it the whole two blocks to Battery Park. Told you we were small town girls.

Although it might sound clichéd, the four of us fell in love with the setting, including the huge squirrels, the barren trees, and the Urban Garden. We joined the rush of people streaming towards Castle Clinton to buy their tickets, and after going through security, we boarded the ferry headed for Liberty Island.

Despite the cold, I stood on the upper deck so that I could get a good view of the statue as we approached. No matter how many times I see her, the Lady always gives me a little thrill and a sense of wonder. How many immigrants to this great country have seen her? Did they feel awe, relief, fear, dread, excitement, or what?

I recall a story in which a son asked his quiet, somewhat morose immigrant father to tell him about the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Thinking his dad would tell him about some gorgeous but unattainable “real life” woman, the man was taken aback somewhat when his father stopped fishing, looked at him with moist eyes, and said, “The lady in the harbor.” A pivotal moment, that’s when the son, a teenager at the time, began feeling awe and a deeper love for his parents instead of embarrassment for their “old world” ways, language, and clothing.

Back to December 14, 2014, we got off the ferry at Liberty Island and walked on the grounds oohing and ahing with the appearance and “feel” of the place. We asked someone to take this picture, probably my favorite of the weekend. With the New York skyline behind us and Lady Liberty in front of us, we were a happy foursome. We took some other pics and then went into the gift shop/restaurant area for some hot chocolate.

After about an hour on Liberty Island, we boarded the ferry for the trip to Ellis Island. Next time………

Light at the End of the Tunnel

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There was a brown journal in the small cabin where we stayed in Bryson City, NC  a couple of weeks ago that was fillled with advice, suggestions, and memories from the people who had stayed there. If we hadn’t read the journal, I doubt that we would have heard of The Road to Nowhere and the spooky tunnel at its end. Since several people wrote about it, we decided to take a look for ourselves.

Amazingly, Everett Street, one of the main thoroughfares in Bryson City, just ends a few miles outside of town. It doesn’t fork off to the left or right. No, it’s a dead-end. Once we had traveled as far as the road would take us, we parked the car, walked a few steps, and there was this amazing structure, a tunnel about 1/10 of a mile long.

Sometimes tunnels are creepy and scary, especially the underground ones. No wait. I think the underwater ones are pretty intimidating too. I recall riding in one to Fort Monroe, VA with my brother and his wife a few years ago and being so relieved when we saw that little speck of light at the end of that tunnel. The Bryson City tunnel was “average creepy.” Dark and dank with graffiti covered walls, it had an eerie ambience, and we walked briskly through it.

I’ve written about the light at the end of the tunnel concept often. Sometimes a person can be in the midst of some trial or heartache and start believing it will never end. It could be the demands of taking care of young children, the stressors of attending college while juggling home and family responsibilities, or dealing with the challenges of illness. Just like the person in the middle of a tunnel, you feel boxed in. Everything is dark, and you can see no relief in sight. And then one day, there’s a little pinpoint of light. It gets larger and larger until finally you can actually see the other side. THE LIGHT!

There’s truly light at the end of the tunnel as you realize that things are getting better. Some issues people deal with are long term. Raising children is a lifelong commitment, but there are moments even in the throes of the diaper changing days that are blissful. In college, there are moments of clarity, insight, or peace when you know you can make it. And as for the illness aspect, one day you realize that you can eat again without feeling nauseated or stand up without feeling wobbly.

A tunnel mentality can be applied to so many areas of  life. Just yesterday, a friend who’s planning a trip abroad said that at one time in her life she couldn’t have afforded an overnight trip to Myrtle Beach. In her words, the family “lived lean,” and she was always stressed out about whether the bills would be paid. She doesn’t know what the future holds, but for now there’s illumination rather than darkness on her finances.

I realize that all of the above scenarios are simplistic. Perhaps you’d like to add your own experiences with light at the end of the tunnel. Please do. There’s surely someone in Blogland who can benefit from reading it/them.

Is It Already Monday??

Sad to be leaving and yet happy to be touring the Capitol before heading home, my sister travelers and I got up a little earlier on our last day in the capital. Knowing that it would probably take between eight and nine hours before pulling into my driveway that night, we needed to get an early start with our sightseeing.

After another yummy breakfast (this time with crispy, tasty waffles), we piled in my car, and Tilara drove to a perfect parking spot within a block of both the Capitol and the Library of Congress. Walking towards the Capitol, we again remarked on the statue that sits atop its shiny dome. It had to be a famous Native American chief, we figured. Wrong. That morning we learned that the statue is called “Freedom” and that it’s a female.

We excitedly waited in line with some other upbeat folks for our tour time of 9:50. As we walked through security, the alarm went off, and I was the culprit. Not too worried, I figured it was my bracelet. But no, it was my tiny pink Swiss Army knife. I was sternly told to take it outside and throw it away. I must have looked dumbfounded because the guard again demanded, “Go outside and throw it away or leave the tour.” I hated that! That little knife and I have been inseparable for years, and it’s come to my rescue on many occasions. It even had a nail file and a tiny pair of scissors. Nevertheless, I chunked it and decided to share this little episode so that others would know to leave their weapons outside.

The tour was magnificent. The young tour guide was knowledgeable and upbeat, two positive attributes for a good guide. As she pointed out many of the statues in “The Crypt,” the area beneath the Rotunda, she mentioned that John C. Calhoun from South Carolina had, hands down, the best hair of them all. I was fascinated by the star in the center of the floor that illustrates the point from which the streets of Washington are laid out. We also visited the beautiful Rotunda with its statues of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, Martin Luther King, and Ronald Reagan.  There was also a representation of three well-known suffragettes, including Elizabheth Cady Stanton. The fresco painted in the Rotunda’s dome is breathtakingly beautiful and beyond my ability to describe.

Capitol tour completed, we made quick stop in the gift shop for souvenirs before entering the tunnel leading to the Library of Congress. Even the tunnel itself was awe-inspiring with its posters of book covers. We learned that the Library is the largest one in the world by shelf space and in the number of books. Although the Library is open to the public, only people with a reader identification card can actually enter the reading rooms. The four of us quietly and almost reverently walked through the facility, taking pictures and absorbing the ambience. After a quick walk through Thomas Jefferson’s Library, we reluctantly left the building and headed towards my trusty Highlander.

With Tilara at the wheel, we cruised out of the city, wondering when we’d get back again. As we were riding along the Potomac, Tilara turned to look at people strolling in Potomac Park and inadvertently missed our exit. Upset for about half a second, she soon got over it as we all relished our last look at this historic river.

Within seconds we were on the interstate heading south. We chatted about our favorite sights and memories off and on for much of the trip back to South Carolina, and we realized that although we had done and seen a lot, there was so much more that we wanted to see. You know what that means, right? Another trip!

Road Trip, Road Trip!

I thought I’d have much more time to write when I retired, but that hasn’t happened yet. Maybe it’s because I’m only semi-retired. And maybe it’s because I’m so busy doing other things that I couldn’t do while I was working all the time. Then again, I actually have been writing quite a bit, just not blog posts.

Excuses aside, I’m taking a few minutes to write about my recent trip to Washington, D.C. that I took with some friends. Not only will it help me to remember all of the cool sights and sounds, but it might also encourage some other people to make the trip. Before I get into the nitty gritty details, let me just say that’s it’s an awesome city and one that every American needs to visit.

When Tilara called to invite me about a month ago, I thought, “Sounds great, but I can’t really afford it right now.” Coming on the heels of Christmas, the opportunity was tempting, but I needed to curtail my spending for a while. Then she told me about her time share. Hmmm. Maybe it would be doable after all if I had no lodging expense.

We agreed to look into transportation possibilities including planes, trains, and automobiles and talk in a day or two. By this time, I had begun to think, “Why not?” instead of “No can do.” When Jeanita and Connie said they could go, I knew it was a perfect foursome, and all of my reservations went out the window. We decided that driving was the best way to go and that my car would be the most practical choice. It would hold us and our luggage comfortably, it gets good gas mileage, and it had just had a check up.

We headed out on Friday the 13th the around 7:00 a.m., and before we even made it to the interstate, we had made some ground rules, the main one being that if we were hungry or thirsty or in need of a potty break, we’d stop. We four believe that the journey is just as important as the destination and that there are a lot of interesting experiences to be savored off the beaten path. We didn’t go crazy with this, but we did enjoy lunch at a Cracker Barrel in NC and snacks at a Wawa in Virginia. At Cracker Barrel, we leisurely browsed through the store without someone hurrying us along by saying, “You about through looking?”

Around 4:00 p.m., we arrived in the city and rode around looking for the hotel. Tilara, the Washington expert, was driving, and she was getting concerned that we couldn’t find it right away. The rest of us were loving every minute of riding around the streets and avenues. We were like schoolkids saying, “Oh, look at that!” and “Hey, there’s the Washington monument!!”

Connie spotted the Renaissance, and as soon as we walked into the lobby we fell in love with the ambience. The music and the décor were marvelous, and the feng shui was perfect. We especially liked the library room and took pictures so that we could redo our bookshelves when we got home. On Monday morning Tilara and I met an accounting professor who was studying for classes in the “library.” He and I talked a little about the background work of preparing for class. You can’t just walk into class and go into a programmed spiel unless you’ve read and studied and practiced and tweaked and read and studied some more. But I digress.

That evening when we finally got settled, we made a foray onto the streets for a bite to eat. First we visited Barnes and Noble, and although I didn’t buy anything there, I enjoyed browsing through the books and reading a couple of magazines. Afterwards we walked around a little, and I spied an Anthropologie that I wanted to return to the next morning. It didn’t happen, but it’s not on my list of regrets because there were so many other fantastic things that we did. Plus, there’s always next time.

Hungry and tired from all those hours on the road, we ate at Hard Rock Café. The food was delicious, especially the appetizer, but I wish we could have had a different side than fries. I’m wondering if the chain hasn’t gotten the word that America has a growing obesity epidemic.  Although I liked the music and memorabilia, I’ve been in these establishments in different parts of the country for over 20 years, and they’re starting to run together. My favorite is in Myrtle Beach, SC, maybe because of the staircase descending down, down, down into the restaurant. The sky ceiling is unique too. Oops, I’m digressing again.

We bid Mama, our male server with a unique accent, farewell and walked back to the hotel. Although it was cold and dark, we were caught up in the magic of the capital city, and we took our time walking home, remarking on places we wanted to visit the next morning. The only thing that cast a shadow over the evening was the number of homeless people we saw wrapped in gray blankets. Feeling greedy, selfish, guilty, and compassionate, we left our Hard Rock leftovers on a bench for one of them.

Exhausted, we fell asleep easily, each of us remembering the day of traveling and the memories we’d already made. Stay tuned for Day One in Washington. It stands as proof that one never knows what good things lie in store, even when (maybe especially when) you aren’t looking for them.

Last Day in the Big Apple

Tired but happy, the six of us wrapped up our last day of holiday fun in New York City with a little shopping and museum browsing. A good time was had by all!

On the last day of our whirlwind trip to Manhattan,  we repeated our breakfast routine while making plans for the day. With only so many hours left, we decided to split up so that we could all spend the remaining time doing the things we really wanted to do. Tilara and Mary headed up to the north side for some shopping while the rest of us went to the Museum of Modern Art, better known as the MoMA.

Interestingly, the taxi driver misunderstood us and thought we wanted to go to the Metropolitan Museum. Thus, we kept going farther and farther north, and about the time I was really relishing the sights of Central Park, I realized we had overshot our location. When we mentioned it to the driver, he apologized and said he thought we’d said the Met and not the MoMA. Here’s the neat thing. Although we got in some extra sightseeing, he took it off the meter and didn’t charge us. That’s a little thing, and yet it’s a big thing too.

I LOVE that museum, and that day it was especially awesome. Cloudy, overcast, and cold on the outside, it was toasty and warm on the inside. From the huge windows, I enjoyed the outside views while savoring the wood floors, the hushed sounds, and of course the magnificent exhibits and paintings. Everything took on a different (special) aura that day, perhaps because I was sharing the experience with good friends. Too, I think the holiday spirit was abundant, thus further buoying my mood.

From the moment we walked in and saw the display of words, I knew it was going to be a great morning. Jeanita and I heard piano playing, and when we saw the cluster of people gathering around it, we moved closer and saw a man standing INSIDE of the piano playing backwards. I loved seeing the work of Andy Warhol, Van Gogh, Klimt (especially the painting of the pregnant woman), and Wyeth. One of the things I learned that day was that the young woman in Wyeth’s painting Christina’s World had polio. I had always assumed she was just lying in the grass looking at a farmhouse and was stunned when I realized that she was actually inching her way towards it, a sight that Wyeth saw from a window. I also learned the term”magic realism,” something I experience quite often.

We couldn’t leave the museum without a visit to the gift shop for a few goodies. My personal favorite is a black t-shirt with the letters MoMA across the front. When we walked outside, I saw something else delightful, something I’d never see in Camden if I lived to be 100, a skilled dancer across the street who was performing for passers-by. Boom box blaring, she was energetically dancing with skill and talent. Where is the crew from Dancing with the Stars when you need them???

Fortunately, we were able to snag a taxi right away and headed back to the Staybridge where a car was picking us up to take us to the airport. We’re such a positive bunch that we even enjoyed our ride to LaGuardia, especially the Queens scenes. I felt like I was on the set of the old Archie Bunker sitcom of the 70’s. Upon arrival at La Guardia, we went straight to our gate after passing through security (not bad) and sat and waited for a couple of  hours. While none of us really enjoyed waiting so long, we figured it was better than taking a chance on missing our flight. Plus, there were many interesting sights to see, and the snacks were yummy. Love those Dunkin’ Donuts flatbread sandwiches!

The flight back to Myrtle Beach was smooth, fast, and uneventful. Seeing the stuffed bears reclining in beach chairs in the airport all lit up for Christmas was the icing on the cake. Tired but happy, we stopped at the Piggly Wiggly at Market Commons for some pizza and then went to the condo to eat and share memories. Truly, a good time was had by all.