January – Planes, Trains, Automobiles…and much more

January – Planes, Trains, Automobiles…and much more

After three years of isolation, we are finally traveling again. But, I am definitely out of practice. Packing is a laborious event, when before it was automatic. Thoughts of airport check-ins, security lines, passport control, and crowded terminals fill me with dread.

In the last 4 months, I have been to Dallas, Texas for a funeral and reunion with cousins in November. And in early December I spent a week in Hawaii with a friend to celebrate her retirement.

Together with my husband and another couple, we explored and hiked the redwood parks just north of here in late October.

The redwood burls look like creatures from “Lord of the Rings”, otherworldly.

And finally, the two of us took a trip to the west coast of Vancouver Island in B.C., Canada to visit the ‘storm hotels’.

All of the above is why you have not heard from me lately.

Following are some details of our trip to Canada. It’s a tale of trains, planes, and automobiles; plus the ferry and a bus. They say life is about the journey, this vacation was certainly to a large extent about the adventure of travel.

Throughout the last few years of drought in California we (my husband and myself) have watched the storms hit the west coast of Vancouver Island in Canada with envy. The low-pressure systems would sit just off their coast bringing a generous amount of rain. At the same time, a high-pressure system just off our northern California coast kept the rain away from us. The town of Tofino (at the end of the road in western Vancouver Island) has an average of 128 inches of rain annually! It’s a popular place for nature lovers and is crowded in the summer with surfers, kayakers, beachgoers, campers, fishers, and whale watchers. In the winter the visitors come for storm watching.

We planned this trip six months ago. We couldn’t have known that, ironically, the storms would hit our little coastal town with 30-foot waves and a deluge of rain while it was mostly rain-free in Canada. Sure, the sky was grey while we visited but very little precipitation fell to spoil our beach walks and hikes. At the same time, Fort Bragg had flooding and power outages.

Below is a picture of the sky as we drove into Oakland to catch our train.

Leaving the Bay Area the clouds looked like a second city floating above the buildings of San Francisco below


Amtrack Coastal Starlight

Both my husband and I love trains, so we started our little holiday with a 23-hour train ride from Oakland to Seattle on the Amtrak Coastal Starlight. The train originates in Los Angeles, traveling up the coast before it reaches its final destination in Seattle. We had a private room with a small bathroom, the seats converted into 2 generous bunks for sleeping. By day we had a comfortable chair, couch, and large picture window for watching the world flow by.


The beginning of the trip was in darkness, we boarded the train at 9:30 pm and the room was set up for sleep. Leaving Oakland the train traveled through the delta. Regarding the water below with weariness, the tracks seemed to be barely above the water. We heard that this same train, scheduled to leave the following day, had been canceled due to anticipated flooding.

The sound of the clicking and clacking of wheels and the gentle rocking of the train lulled us to sleep that night. We woke in the morning to a snowy landscape in Southern Oregon.

While we breakfasted on cheese omelets, our room was converted back into a sitting room. We arrived in Seattle on schedule that evening. Since our next train (to Vancouver B.C.) left early the next morning we booked a hotel near the train station. I was impressed by the Embassy Suites hotel, only a block away, where we visited the bar in the restaurant for a snack of fried artichoke hearts and a glass of wine before retiring for the night.

Early the next morning we boarded another train to Vancouver in B.C. Canada. It was an easy crossing of the border, two passport checks were the only red tape. From Vancouver, we took a taxi to the ferry terminal for the trip to Victoria on Vancouver Island.

We spent one very pleasant afternoon and evening in Victoria at the Victoria Regent Waterfront Hotel, which is centrally located in downtown Victoria.

City view from our hotel room in Victoria

On our ‘to-do’ list was a visit to the Irish Times pub where we had spent a pleasant blustery evening several years ago when we last visited Victoria.

Irish Times Pub in Victoria

Shepherd’s pie and a pint were a must.

Shepherd’s Pie at Irish Times

The next morning we picked up our rental car for the 4-hour drive to Tofino. So far we hadn’t seen any rain although our daughter, who was house and dog sitting back home, reported a power outage due to strong winds associated with the storms hitting the coast of California.

In Tofino, we stayed at the Pacific Sands Hotel where we had a small studio apartment overlooking the beach.

Beach off the Pacific Sands Hotel in Tofino

We did find a few places to watch the waves crashing on the shore. The sky was grey and gloomy but it didn’t stop us from long beach walks.

Tofino Beach

We had one memorable hike through the rainforest on an elevated walkway. About a mile in length, the wooden walkway took us up high on a ridge and then down into a ravine with a stream where salmon spawned. The richness of the moss, ferns, and trees in the forest felt ancient and primordial.

Although Tofino is a small town of just over 2,000 permanent residents, several accomplished chefs have settled there and opened restaurants. A few of them were closed because it was just after the busy holidays but we had no difficulties finding wonderful places to eat.

Although the restaurant Roar is in a hotel that looks to be something straight out of the ’60s, the food was excellent. We sat near the kitchen where we could watch them cooking over an actual roaring fire. It reminded me of the TV show Bear, which I recommend.

We had breakfast one morning at the Savory Island Pie Company. The menu did not limit itself to pies and we had excellent croissants and scones to take away for another morning.

After four amazingly cozy days in Tofino, we drove back to Victoria for 3 more days at the Victoria Regent. This time we had a small apartment with a full kitchen. We were surprised to learn that the hotel had originally been condos and there were some full-time residents. Our room overlooked the harbor, and we could watch seaplanes land and take off from the balcony.

Victoria Harbor

Then it was time to take the ferry back to Vancouver, a bus (no I didn’t forget it) to the airport, and a plane back to Oakland.

After hearing horror stories of travel experiences over the holidays, we felt lucky that everything went smoothly. We arrived home to mostly clear skies as the storms had moved north to Vancouver Island.



April – Scenes from Paris

April – Scenes from Paris

We just spent two weeks in France, what an amazing place! Paris is my favorite city and it felt like returning to an old friend. Renting an apartment makes you feel like a native and early spring is the perfect time to go, the city is less crowded and Parisians friendlier.

I don’t intend to write a guide book on Paris (or Normandy where we spent the second week), you will find an abundance on the market. Here are some snapshots of our week, mostly food oriented although we did a lot of walking to justify the indulgence.

Dinner at EXOFFIER at 18 rue de l’exposition, where the chef has cooked for two of our past presidents.

And is famous for his souffles.

The confectionary shops were full of Easter goodies.

Easter Bunny

And other wonderful temptations!

All manner of macaroons

Another memorable evening at Les Bouquinistes at 53 Quai des Grands Augustins.

We were too busy enjoying the food to get more pictures.

The weather could not have been better, it was perfect for strolling and sitting in cafes. My idea of a perfect Paris vacation has to include plenty both.

Italian was on the menu at Gusto Italia, 11 Rue Amelie which was just around the corner. Even French pizza has a fanciful touch.

Cheese pizza – fish shaped crust

heart shaped pizza

If you get to Paris, I recommend the restaurants listed. And, Uber will deliver the pizza on a scooter if you feel like staying in.

September – I Love Goats

September – I Love Goats

I think goats are just the cutest animals, and I absolutely love their cheese. I cannot imagine many foods that goat cheese would not improve.

Last month (that’s why this post is labeled September) I attended the Mendocino Apple Fair in Boonville, CA. It’s not the county fair and because of that, feels much more intimate. It’s a good sized fair and includes wonderful dog trials, a contest of sheep herding and dog training skills. If are a dog lover and get a chance to see border collies herd sheep, take advantage. I tried to get a video but we were sitting too far back in the stands.

The Mendocino County Master Gardeners always participate by setting up a horticultural display, part of a yearly contest. It’s a wonderful gardening team event and I was happy to help, although my back was not the same for a few days. The theme was salsa and fiesta, and we took 2nd place.

Master Gardener

Master Gardener

And here are the goats, just a few pictures of the wonderful variety of goats at the fair.

My source of local goat’s cheese, Penny Royal Farmstead, had a presence. They make the most amazing cheese, one of my favorites is a fresh one called Laychee. It’s wonderful on pasta or roast vegetables, instead of butter on a baked potato or crisp toast…on anything really.

Happy Pennyroyal goat

Happy Penny Royal goat

June – Travels on the Northern California Coast

June – Travels on the Northern California Coast

Summer is almost here, yeah! I’ve had my warm weather beach experience in Key West, now it’s time for the cooler one on California’s northern coast. Remember Mark Twain said that the coldest winter he ever experienced was a summer in San Francisco? Well, it’s true. The warm central valley on the other side of the hills sucks in the coastal fog, our built in air conditioning. Visitors come from the hot weather center of the state to enjoy the cooler summer near the coast.


I thought you might enjoy a few pictures of the beach nearest our cabin (my second kitchen) in Fort Bragg, CA. “Seaside Beach” should probably be called “Sand Dollar Beach” for all the sand dollars that wash up on the shore.

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Well behaved dogs are allowed off-leash, the perfect place for a romp.

On the way to the beach!

On the way to the beach!

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Whale Rock Seaside Beach

Whale Rock Seaside Beach

At low tide you can see the passageways through Whale Rock. They are now filled in with sand from winter storms, by summer you will be able to walk through.

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Sand dollars gathered over the last couple of years decorate the railing of our cabin.

IMG_3262If you get a chance, visit the northern California coast around Mendocino and Fort Bragg this summer. There are festivals almost every weekend.

May Travels – Key West part 2

May Travels – Key West part 2

Ernest Hemingway wrote many of his novels in Key West. His habit was to write from 6 am (not matter how wild the night before) and wrote 500 words a day. He would walk to his writing studio over a bridge that went from the balcony outside his bedroom. This is a snap shot of his studio, although other sources have said that he preferred writing standing up at a bookcase in a corner of his bedroom. The bookcase was not to be seen.

Hemingway studio

Hemingway writing studio

Touring his home is a wonderful way to make the writer come alive. The tour leaders have some very entertaining stories about the “goings-on” in the house.

Another tour worth taking is of the Audubon House. The house and gardens have been restored as a step back in time to the world of a wealthy maritime pilot and salvager, Captain John Huling. He built the house in the 1840’s as a residence for his family, members of whom lived there for more than a century. It was the first house restored in Key West starting in about 1958 and sparked the Key West restoration movement.

Visit the house and it’s furnishings to see how a wealthy family lived in the era when frequent shipwrecks on the offshore reef created a flourishing ship wrecking industry. It is called the Audubon house because it was originally thought that Audubon himself stayed there while visiting to work on the 22 local birds represented in his book “Birds of North America”. The rumor turned out to be untrue although Audubon’s painting of the white-crowned pigeon features a Geiger tree like the one found in the home’s front yard. The gardens themselves are worth a visit with many rare and unusual tropical plants.

Lobster Claw

Heliconia – Lobster Claw

New fronds of the Flame Thrower Palm are bright red, turning to green in a few days.

Flame Palm

Flame Thrower Palm

The beach on the other side of the island is gloreous, but without much shade on a hot day.

Higgs Beach

Higgs Beach

A sunset cruise should be a requirement.

Sunset Cruise

Sunset Cruise




There is lots more to do including snorkling, visiting old forts and historical sites. Key West was the only southern city to remain in Union hands during the Civil War.

And lastly, no visit to Key West is complete without Key Lime Pie. This one voted the best on the Island, Mile High Key Lime Pie at Blue Heaven.

Mile High Key Lime Pie

Mile High Key Lime Pie

Mile High Key Lime Pie - going

Mile High Key Lime Pie

Mile High Key Lime Pie

Mile High Key Lime Pie

On our way back home to Northern California.

Silver Airways

Silver Airways

Thank you for visiting.