Walking with Vultures

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very good vulture

When I was teaching, I would often ask students to classify nouns, adjectives and verbs. Thumbs up for a word that had a positive feel, thumbs down for the negative. Infrequently, there might pop up a word that was neutral, but – think about it – many words we use have a good/bad reputation. Vulture? Definitely negative.

But I keep encountering them in nature. They glide by me, sometimes far up in the sky, sometimes quite close, and I have decided that I can form my own opinion on their goodness. To me, they seem totally thumbs-up.

I look forward to walks with my vulture friends. Perhaps because I live where many creatures live (and die,) vultures entertain me each day on my afternoon walks. They have become my most reliable walking companions. I love to see the long spread of their wings as they hover over the sage. I had never known the effortless grace of their flight before my walks on the beach. They make me notice them with a persistent presence and a command of the salt-sprayed fog.

img_4968As I walk, they seem to play in the sky. And frolic on the land. Maybe they don’t see things that way, but as I have come to know these friends with feathers, I see their antics. Dipping and swaying with air currents I will never explore, they share with me their freedom. One came so close, I heard the push of a wing as the vulture coasted inches over a dune, just one more trick to make me wish I could be as playful in the air.

Beach weather can change fast, and even when the winds come up and blow the sand, I walk and the vultures glide. The spraying sand doesn’t seem to change their daily romp along the coastline. Nor mine.

They scavenge, but so do I. Maybe they pursue habits that many think of as grizzly, but can’t we just as easily thank them for keeping our trails and walkways clean? There’s a good side to picking at the bones of life, a sort of nature’s way to keep house.

Walking with nature can be surprising, but my walks with vultures have taught me lessons about what we must see and accept. I am grateful for their company, even when vultures are doing what comes naturally. My beachside walks have treated me with a new respect for the word Vulture. Thumbs all the way up.

 

 

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Walking Botanical Gardens

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I’m taking a break from the Nordic cruise, which we took in the early spring. Here’s what the Central Coast of California is looking like lately.

I’d passed by the San Luis Obispo County Botanical Garden in El Chorro Regional Park several times a week for the past 4 and 1/2 years. The hillsides this time of year are dry and golden, the oak trees giving plenty of shade. It was past time to take a walk in the garden, to try to identify those pesky volunteer plants that survive my gardener’s neglect. It was a quick 6 mile drive inland from the coast. Off came the sweatshirt, on went the sun hat.

Entering through a cheerful purple bridge over a dry creek bed, the buzz of the bees and the stone steps pulled me into the garden. Even in this late season, after the driest year I remember, there were flowers that lingered.

Plants were labeled, so I began my study, searching out species I’d seen but couldn’t name and verifying names I thought I knew. These botanical gardens are so helpful – I love their handy identification tags and descriptions. I walked around clucking with surprise at names I would never have guessed (propeller plant?) and humming with agreement at the more familiar (so many types of aloe!)

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California Fuchsia
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PomPom
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Strawberry Bush

All the species are adapted to the dry California climate. Like these:IMG_6276

And some blossoming plants served a higher purpose, helping a special little creature steal the show…

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almost camouflaged

…and keep stealing the show…

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again and again.

One of my favorites, an aloe plant, surprised me. This one was huge and stood up from the ground, showing me a new variation on my old favorite.

 

On the way out from the garden, I came across the peskiest plant in my yard, one that keeps finding new places to sprout. Now, instead of inventing bad names, I know what to call it.IMG_6319

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Next up: more of the Nordic cruise

Walking Oslo, Norway

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Some of you may remember that I, a girl born and raised in California, spent a year in Ukraine. It is a lovely country with wonderful people, but it is cold in winter, and winter is very long. It’s the kind of cold that Californians like me simply do not understand and seldom can tolerate. I certainly had my fill of cold after one year and was quite happy to go home.  And now, I visit Oslo.

It is often cold in Oslo, and was during our visit. One thing that surprised me about this city was the abundance of nude statues. I’d heard of the very famous ones in The Vigeland Park.

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Circle of friends
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The Monolith

But others were in evidence all around the city. Every time I saw a nude statue, I thought, “Burrr. Someone put a coat on them. A scarf. Mittens. A cap with ear flaps.”

There is something about cold climates that make me very one-minded. I was glad to see the many sights of Oslo. The downtown square is beautiful and the walk to the park is invigorating. There are nice places to shop. I bought fleece-lined slippers.

There are many lovely neighborhoods,

and walking streets to enjoy, as long as you have the proper outer wear.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that as happy as I was to be in Oslo, I was just a bit happier when we left.

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This is me in Oslo. Do you see the ear muffs? I wore triple layers everywhere. The hood went right back over my head after the photo. Next up, St. Petersburg.

The passage to Oslo, Norway

img_3414So, all I did on this part of the journey was walk around the ship.

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But what a beautiful walk it was.

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Many ships were tagging along, as ours was following others ahead. A popular route into Oslo, no doubt.

I spent hours on the deck, as the ship slowly passed the sheltered bays and the isolated towns.

Buildings along the seaway varied from quite old to colorful to ultra-modern.

Some towns were accessible only by water craft. Others were linked to Oslo by a long winding highway. On a busy trip with a packed itinerary, it was pleasant to just sit and watch the peacefulness pass by.

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Next up, Oslo Norway. Put your coat on now.

 

Walking Copenhagen, Denmark

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Not Copenhagen

You’ll simply have to take my word for it. I visited, twice. I walked and enjoyed. But what memories I have will stay in my head, for the phone that captured the memories crashed and shattered.

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Also Not Copenhagen

What happens when the things you plan for don’t happen? If you are lucky enough to have only a broken phone with lost photos, you rejoice and travel on. For now, I would like to refer you to Anita’s wonderful post on Copenhagen. If you haven’t yet read it, you should!

A Hop-On, Hop-Off Boat: Cruising the Canals of Copenhagen

Walking Berlin, Germany

I don’t even recall the name of the port where we docked. It was near enough to Berlin to take a bus to a train to a bus to the center of the city. Berlin was a place I couldn’t miss, regardless how much time it took to get there from the cruise ship. So much of the world history that happened in my life -or just before- happened in Berlin.

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I remember my aunt, stationed in Germany with the US army before reunification, talking about the divide between east and west Berlin. Today, we are welcomed to the city as a whole. Here, Berliner Fernsehturm, the television tower in what was the eastern section of the city.

The fraternal twin cities of Berlin East and West walked right out of my history book and challenged me to come and take a look. I wasn’t prepared for the view. I don’t know quite what I expected. But what I found was remarkable: a city with a vibrant atmosphere, unafraid of taking on its past, marking its history with informative sites.

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I remember seeing this speech, by President Reagan, on the television news, never thinking I would stand next to the plaque that commemorates it on a street in Berlin.

Berlin seemed to allow history to speak its own story; enormous passion and complete misery shown in the words of the people who experienced it. We spent a large portion of our visit walking the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and the Berlin Wall Memorial reading the experiences from letters, newspaper accounts and business and personal documents retrieved and photocopied. First-person detail can be the most moving and the most frightening. Both were presented.

The city also seemed to be briskly taking on the future. I left with a respect for the people of Berlin, and a wish that we would all acknowledge our past, have hope for the future, then get on with things, the way they seem to be doing.

There is something about standing on a spot of history. My words are weak in describing that feeling, a blessed benefit of being able to travel. Thank you, Berlin.

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Checkpoint Charlie and McDonald’s – certainly not what I expected 🙂     Next up – Copenhagen.

Stop by Restless Jo’s Monday Walks for more…

Walking Brugge, Belgium Without Regrets

Brugge is the perfect Medieval European town says the travel literature. The streets are not to be missed. The buildings are remarkable. The shops are a buyers paradise. I suppose all that is true. Unfortunately, we passed through Blankenberge first, and saw a glimpse of something I really did want to see that day. Blankenberge seemed to me to be where Europeans go for fun, Brugge where all the rest of us congregate. Neither was a disappointment, but Blankenberge called to me as I passed through.

 

IMG_3332The port where our cruise ship anchored was not an easy walk-off location, so we took a bus to the town center of Blankenberge. Through the rain, we ran to the train station, bought our tickets to Brugge and waited. It was during the waiting that I noticed some of what Blankenberge had to offer. The rain passed quickly and I noticed modern shopping streets, clean walkways, sea-side fun, a pretty town center. But we had already bought our tickets, so when the train to Brugge came along, we got on.

A short ride later, we stopped at the wonderful train station of Brugge. I wanted to take my time here, but the medieval Brugge with its travel brochure appeal lay ahead. We followed the crowds. Once inside the tangle of cobbled pavement, a waffle aroma wound around the entire street and convinced me to try this delicacy: a Belgium waffle in Belgium. It was the best part of my visit to Brugge. Sweet, crisp and – oh-that fragrant whiff.

Fabric shops, trinket stores, all the things tourists expect were there. It was all delightful, and a bit fairy-landish, like a caricature of the medieval town it really is.

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delightful

It was delightful, and we even got a bit lost – something that always makes a place more memorable. Most importantly, we walked. Soon enough, we walked back to the train station, where I had just enough time to explore a bit before the return trip to Blankenberge. For many Californians, transit stations are a bit of a curiosity, and ones that are built underground are even more so. There is so much life in these beautiful underbellies – out of sight, almost secret. I found excellent coffee underground at the back entrance. I window-shopped regular neighborhood storefronts and wondered at the rates of all those currencies at the exchange. I heard a sudden rain storm from above, and felt the good fortune of being dry. Then we stepped on to the train back to Blankenberge.

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We walked up the broad shopping avenue, passing the many fine clothing stores and stopping in at the neighborhood market. I looked at all the manner of coffee there was to purchase, at the pastries, the cleaning supplies, the style of the shopping baskets. We walked the entire distance to the seaside and then walked along a magnificent shoreline. Nearly deserted in early May, it was the perfect setting for simply viewing a lovely coastline and appreciating the elegant design of a boardwalk. Sometimes it’s not what you planned to do that becomes memorable, but what you do without the planning. I walked back to the train station glad that Brugge, a perfectly fine stop along the way, wasn’t all there was to my visit there.

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From Brugge (and Blankenberge) to Rotterdam, The Netherlands next stop

Walking Cherbourg, France

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Cherbourg, France

Old town, new town, harbour, shopping mall. Everything in Cherbourg, France had one thing in common: charm. We walked right off the ship and found it everywhere.

Sometimes visits just work out. There are so many things that can work against a short stop along the way: weather can be unpredictable, moods can swing, travel ills can cause discomfort. But this day in Cherbourg, all the magic worked.

True to my travel style, I had done little research. I was asked by my history-buff friends: would we be visiting the sites of the Battle of Normandy? set foot on Omaha Beach? tour the medieval compounds? But, in a short morning and afternoon visit, I would have to spend 3 hours on a bus to get to those historical places. These are the compromises of travel, right? In this port, I had the opportunity to just step off the ship and walk. I took it.

We wound right around the harbour area, heading toward the darkened roofline of the medieval section of town.  Buildings defined the different areas: sparkling white stone and clean windows lined the harbour. Sharp-angled rooflines, so greyed that I was certain the soot from last century still lay upon the tiles, called to us to walk farther into the town and further back into this area’s past. History lay all around me. I listened for and heard the beautiful whirr of the French language.

 

The charm of the old town, with its twisting streets – narrow and lined with tall buildings – pulled us into the maze and immediately lost us. The only thing to do was to pick a direction and continue, relishing in the adventure of being lost in a safe place. Along the way, we strolled through a beautiful garden, the product of centuries of careful planning and tending. We strayed up a dead-end alleyway, then retraced our steps to find ourselves suddenly un-lost and at the door of the ancient sea-side church Basilique Sainte-Trinite. From this vantage, I looked back to the harbour, and once again found my bearings. We headed back into the old town, searching for the fountain, wandering along and enjoying the flow of other tourists and many residents.

The charm of the alleyways called my attention. Such a variety of narrow spits of passageways. Alleys were everywhere, laid out to connect walkers to different areas of town. Even in the residential sections, the narrow but open-topped tunnels cut a route from here to there. I couldn’t follow them all, but wanted to.

Through the neighborhoods we walked, and there we found residential charm. Attached to the apartment complexes were small plots of garden land, with pint-sized potting sheds sitting on each section. What would these city farmers plant in their gardens? As I walked, I saw rowcrops of vegetables, and many, many flowers. But mostly, I saw green. Green everything: grass, budding trees, leafing flowers and bushes.  We walked up the hills to the larger houses and back down into town, wanting to stretch our legs and our time.

Our return trip took us again through the old town.  A cafe owner was attending to patrons sitting at his sidewalk tables. He answered a remark by one of the customers. I didn’t hear the question, but the answer charmed me as much as the town itself had. “Stay as long as you want, we love your company.”

And that’s how I left our short visit to Cherbourg: relishing the welcome and feeling like I wanted to come back, explore the small inviting pathways, listen longer to the language, and enjoy the hospitality.

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Next stop, Brugge, Belgium

Stop by Restless Jo’s Monday Walks for more…

Walking and Walking and Walking in Ponta Delgada, Portugal

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Land!

When you’ve been on a ship for 6 days, even a nice ship, it’s no surprise that stepping on to firm land is a pretty big deal. Our first stop of the transatlantic journey was in Ponta Delgada, Portugal. Maybe it sounds like it’s close to Europe, being a part of Portugal, but it’s really not as close as one might think. Facing another couple days on board after the brief stop in Ponta Delagada, I was determined to set my feet on ground as early as possible and stay there as long as I could.

Ponta Delgada is an island way, way off the coast of Portugal. I figured that there were adventures to be had there, and lovely places to see. But our time was limited, so what interested me most was a nice, long walk. Why not? My plan was to walk enough so that I would be content on board the ship for another two days. Would the town be big enough? Was the port area close enough to walk to town? Would there be guidebooks or maps? I had many confounding questions, all pointing to the fact that I really should have done more research ahead of time. As it turned out, my research – which consisted of looking at the location of the island on Google maps – was sufficient.

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Sunday morning Harley Club

We got off the ship, set our feet to the ground and strolled. The weather began cool and got steadily warmer and warmer, the streets appeared wondrously cobbled and tiled, and the people, what few were out on this early Sunday morning, were mostly a group of motorcycle enthusiasts. Why would this surprise me? I have no idea. But their presence sold me on Ponta Delgada, a place where you can walk along the harbour, watch waves crash against an ancient stone wall, admire the beautiful tile work on the sidewalks, and march right up to a group of shiny Harleys.

Then we walked and walked and walked. We visited the glorious gardens at Jardim Antonio Borges. This free city park is like no other I’ve ever seen, filled with glorious plants, enormous trees and grottos with sunken gardens.

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Antonio’s Garden

 

At the Governor’s Residence, we paid a small entrance fee, and were delighted by the gardens surrounding the house. Colorful and nicely planned, we even got to see the potting shed and seedlings on display. What a lot of work these gardens are. So, it was nice to find a lovely spot to sit.

Afterward, we walked the pedestrian-only streets with their elaborately-designed stonework. We climbed up the aged stairway of the old harbour walls. We walked neighborhoods of tightly-spaced homes trailing wrought-iron balconies from their upstairs rooms.IMG_3095

The weather was temperate and pleasant on this island, and locals said that was common. But after a while, the sun took its toll. When I needed a break, there appeared before us a modern shopping mall. An air-conditioned store? Yes, please. There was even a fabulous public restroom, with the most amusing wash basin I have ever seen.

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Real or not real?

Before the visit, I felt confident that knowing Spanish, I would be able to handle Portuguese. No doubt others have made this mistake. Even the written words tempted me into believing more of my language skills than I should have. It was not the writing that tripped me up, it was the spoken word. Sign posts and street signs presented no problem. But I could not understand one single spoken word, no matter how slowly spoken or oft-repeated.

Luckily, the people of Ponta Delgada understood me. They provided a marvelous day-long walking path with wonderful weather. Obrigado – it means thank you, I think 😉

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Next up, Cherbourg, France

Stop by Restless Jo’s Monday Walks for more…

Walking the Cruise Ship

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No place to walk?

It was an enormous cruise ship. There should have been plenty of walking places built into the design. There weren’t. The Promenade, that ever-present feature of cruise ship fame had been cut down to a single-lane path that wove in, out and around small launches and electrical fittings. It didn’t circumnavigate the ship.

Who’s complaining? Me. I know that being able to travel to many of the world’s note-worthy places is a wild piece of luck, and I shouldn’t complain about any part of it. We plan our travel carefully, weighing cost versus comfort. And when we search for good deals, taking a cruise keeps popping its head up as the most economical way to get from point A to many many other points around the world. I am a reluctant cruiser, but as long as I can tolerate the short visits to interesting places, we will probably continue to book our interior rooms occasionally on these enormous floating hotels. It’s just not a perfect situation. What is?

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Lots of fun

We had signed up for a trans-Atlantic cruise that included a route into the Baltic region. It allowed for 11 different stops in 26 days. It’s a bit of ‘if it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium’, but when the price is right, I can adjust to almost any travel style. And when we get to those points along the way, I can walk my heart out for a good morning and afternoon in each port, which is really what I like to do when I travel, so that’s all good. But what about those ‘at-sea’ days? On this ship, a big, beautiful new one, there was the down-sized promenade and a small running track on one of the top decks. So, looking for a better stroll, I took to the stairs.

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The running track was nice, just short and often crowded.

From our pleasant small cabin on deck 11, I could climb the stairs to deck 15, loop around from the retreat pool to outside the always-crowded fitness room, up one deck to the surprisingly small running track, down again to the deck 15 loop, descend the stairs to the tiny little promenade on deck 7, up again to deck 14 where I could grab a cup of tea and find a solitary spot on one of the exterior lounge areas. It turned out to be an invigorating walk, and there were always plenty of places on the ship where I could find privacy afterwards for some reading or relaxing.

It was interesting to me that as I walked, and as I lounged, I noticed that many other passengers were finding their own ways to get in their exercise. As I looked for books in the library, I noticed a couple walked by four times. They had devised an indoor walking route around the many interior lounges. Then, in my ‘secret’ spot at the very back of the ship where there was a lovely dead end and few people, one man walked rapidly past me, where there was no more ship, turned around and walked just as rapidly away. He came back about 15 minutes later, with the same routine and again 15 minutes after that. On another day, it was a woman doing the same walk. On the days when I sat away from the crowd in my corner at the retreat pool, I noticed an intermittent stream of walkers, one or two or three at a time, looping through the area, returning about every 20 minutes.

I was stuck on the ship for 26 days. Six of those days were traveling across the Atlantic Ocean from Florida to the Azore Islands of Portugal. I knew I had to figure some outdoor routine for exercise and escape. Even though the routine did not include the usual promenade walk, as things turned out, it did include great exertion and lots of pleasant relaxation. I even found empty hot tubs for a satisfying rest after my walk if I went early enough (so I did.)

Taking a cruise has an odd reputation that I find doesn’t have much to do with the way we experience it. We have been able to bend the cruise experience to our own idea of travel – economical and comfortable sojourns to interesting locations. A nice walk and a hot tub waiting when I’m done is nothing to complain about.

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Next stop: Ponta Delgada, Portugal

 

 

Stop by Restless Jo’s Monday Walks for more…