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Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

Almost 14 years ago, in Independence, Missouri, I was on my way to an appointment to see a Persian kitten.  I had recently lost my beautiful cat, Casper, who had lived a full 18 years.  I missed him and was lonely for the whiskery love of a cat.  For years, I had thought Persian cats were gorgeous and was not thinking beyond that.  I wasn’t sure how to get to the lady’s home and this was pre-GPS days, so I took note of the directions and started out early – I don’t like to be late.  I got to the area a full half-hour early, but saw a PetsMart near her home and wanted to look for a few cat toys.

And that decision to stop at PetsMart changed the course of what was to be and began my love affair with my new cat, Rascal.  When I went into the store, I realized they were running an adoption program for pets from the local animal pound.  I saw an adorable litter of kittens with their tuxedo mom.  Wanting a male cat, I asked if there were any males in the litter and they said, “two”.  I started playing with the male tuxedo kitten and all he was interested in was going back to play with his sisters.

I then asked which other one was male and they pointed out the little mackerel tabby sitting in the corner of the litter box, watching the rough and tumble play of his siblings.  I wasn’t sure he was a cat I was interested in, but I said I’d like to see him.  And that was it.  They placed him on the table in front of me and he ran to me, climbed up my shirt and snuggled at my neck.  I laughed and my heart melted.  I set him back on the table and he did the same thing…purring in my ear and snuggling in for life.  I called the lady with the Persian kitten and apologized that I would not be there.  But I knew I had made the right decision.

Rascal was a one-person cat.  He adored me and hissed and growled at almost everyone else, especially the vet – and anyone who worked there.  He purred like a motor-boat if I looked at him.  When I stroked his lovely chin and forehead, he squinted his gorgeous, green eyes and purred louder.  He loved me and I loved him.

My beautiful boy, Rascal.  His nose was reddish brown, with a dark outline.  It almost looked like a heart shape.

My beautiful boy, Rascal. His nose was reddish brown, with a dark outline. It almost looked like a heart shape.

Rascal spent the next two years with me, keeping me company and we were happy to hang out on the couch, curled up with a book or watching television.  His adventurous spirit was limited to hanging out on the windowsill, watching the birds, other cats and some squirrels playing in the yard.  He didn’t like the outdoors at all and if the door opened, he ran to the bedroom, hiding under the bed.

When he was two, my new love, Beau came to visit my house for the first time.  I expected that Rascal would hide until he was gone, but my shock could not have been bigger.  Rascal walked over to him and the doorway, rubbed against his legs and purred.  And when Beau sat down on a chair in the living room, Rascal hopped up behind his head and curled up, content to hang out with him.  My sweet, one-person cat had just become a two-person cat.  And that would last for the rest of Rascal’s life.

Beau and I were married several months later and Rascal and I flew from the United States to Germany to live with my new hubby while he finished the last bit of his 5 years working for the US Government in Germany.  Rascal thrived in Germany!  He loved the marble windowsills and the radiators that heated them in winter.  His favorite places were on those sills, watching the birds, the comings and goings of the neighbors and the distance he maintained from our landlord’s beagle and sitting in front of the balcony door.  But our time in Germany ended and we hopped on another plane, back to the United States and Texas – our new home.

Rascal

Rascal’s next nine years were years of love, contentment and his happiness being a two-person cat. His favorite window was in the patio door. He pushed the curtain aside and would stare out – and panic if I was outside. I think he couldn’t quite comprehend why anyone, ever, would want to be outdoors. He’d watch every move I made until I came back inside.

And then he seemed to get hair balls all the time, started losing weight, and I knew that something was wrong.  His frequent visits to the vet began last May.  We dealt with treatments for the hairballs, he had a few bad teeth removed and he seemed to stabilize.  And then he began to lose more weight.  At first, we assumed it was because we had changed his diet to accommodate his fewer teeth, the need to keep his food more moist.

But then six weeks later, he was sick again.  And we returned to the vet…again and again.  Finally, I realized there was something much more wrong with him.  I saw him every day, but even I knew he was losing a lot of weight.  My once fat, fluffy cat who had weighed in at one point over 17 lbs was now at 11 lbs.  And that was when he was diagnosed with an intestinal tumor.

Our wonderful vet removed the tumor and sent it in for a biopsy.  We were told that Rascal’s tumor was cancerous, but that of the two types, it was the lesser and the margins were clean and it had not progressed to lymph nodes.  My optimism returned.  I thought we were going to still keep my baby with us for a few more years.  A month later, we discovered more issues and then the diagnosis that there was likely another mass in his intestines.

At that point, we took him home to enjoy his last days.  To the bitter end, my sweet, loveable Rascal looked at me with love, wanted to be held, snuggled and purred whenever I looked at him or stroked his beautiful face.  I adore him still and miss that face and the love he gave me from that first day at PetsMart.  I will never love a cat the way I loved him.  He was there for me during my time alone and accepted my husband into our life unconditionally…and with no hesitation.

“What greater gift than the love of a cat.” ~ Charles Dickens 

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 We arrived in Skagway for our final stop in Alaska and planned to take a bus out to the Yukon.  Then we were taking the train back to Skagway…yes, the famous White Pass Railway.  We were so excited to see the train as we rode on the bus out of town.

White Pass Railway

As we left Skagway, we were shown an old-time style “billboard”.  Advertising used to be painted on the rock side of the hill.

Old-time billboard

 

 

 

 

 

Our first stop on the bus tour was to see an unusual suspension bridge that spanned a massively deep crevise. 

Then we traveled through the Alaska wilderness that was the death of some of the gold rushers.  Desolation Valley fascinated me.  Dark, stark and unforgiving…and lots of snow in early June.  Brr-rrr-rrr-rrrr. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the Inukshuk (the rock-man) showed us that there was safe passage the way we were traveling! 

 

 

Bear food…bears evidently LOVE dandelions.

      

        

We saw a grizzly bear (looking for dandelions).

             and then we saw a black bear!

Another black bear was spotted on our train-ride back, but he was faster hiding behind bushes and I didn’t get to snap his picture.

The train we were riding as the engines crossed a wooden tressle. Very rustic!

               

This was the end of the rapids in the river that runs alongside the Klondike Highway.  I’m glad I was in the nice, warm (and dry) train looking out at this beautiful sight.

We headed back to the ship (late) and began our trip back to the mainland US (with a detour to Victoria, British Columbia as our final excursion stop).  Alaska left me with the realization that there IS wilderness still out there.  After living in a major US city for so long, it was nice to get away and see wildlife and stunning views that just didn’t translate completely to photographs.  During the gold rush, the men and women who trekked through the landscape we saw from a warm bus and warm train must have been made of sterner stuff than I.

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Ketchikan, Alaska…it was a misty day (yes, it was raining) and the clouds seemed to cling to the mountain tops.

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Snow…at the end of May.  Not a common sight for those of us from south Texas!  🙂  Ketchikan is beautiful, even on a chilly, rainy May day.

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A salmon ladder on the river in Ketchikan.

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The city park in Ketchikan located on the grounds of the old salmon hatchery.

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Dolly’s House…this house cost $800 (see the sign over the door…founded in 1919 and was paid for by Dolly in two weeks.  However, it was not because she struck gold.  She provided a service to the men of Ketchikan and was evidently quite popular!

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A bald eagle, sitting on the rocks in the harbor. Ketchikan is a truly amazing place!

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A seaplane…one of only a few ways to arrive in Ketchikan. 

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We enjoyed our visit to Ketchikan and left feeling glad we had the chance to learn it’s history.  And then we were off to see Juneau!

“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

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Everyone I know plans their vacations in different ways.  I know someone who has a basic idea of the destination and no real idea of how to get there…hit the road and stop along the way, enjoying the sights and sounds of places never before seen.  And she’ll eventually get to her destination…or not.  It’s all about the journey and the joy of discovering something new.  I admire that kind of lack of planning.  But I can’t do it.

Another friend lets someone else do all the planning.  She’s along for the ride.  It doesn’t matter where she’s going as long as there is no work involved in the planning process (for her).  I could NEVER do that (I’m a little bit of a control freak, I admit). 

There are people who hit the road with no destination, no plan and not much money.  Whatever needs to be bartered for or traded for is taken care of.  Well, I bet you can guess my feelings on this lack of planning. 

I, on the other hand, am the planner extraordinaire.  My old boss (who now lives in California) got a kick out of the fact that I planned all my vacations on spreadsheets.  Yes, Excel is my friend.  I have one sheet that deals with what I will pack (and if there are multiple suitcases, what is in each).  Another sheet is dedicated to what I will do on my vacation.  It includes any confirmation numbers for reservations, times (exact or expected) when I will be doing each activity and who I will see each day (if visiting friends and/or family).  I don’t want to miss out on anything by forgetting to do something.  Yes, that’s my way.  Excel.  Or should I say Excel-lent???  (insert childish giggle)

My hubby is of the “let someone else plan it and go along for the ride” school.  We get along great when planning vacations!  I get my way and he appreciates not having to work on it.  And just a sidenote:  I am getting antsy, because we have a vacation coming up soon and I haven’t started my spreadsheet yet!  That’s my chore for tomorrow.  Oh, what a relief that will be. 

How do you plan your vacations? 

“He who every morning plans the transaction of the day and follows out that plan, carries a thread that will guide him through the maze of the most busy life. But where no plan is laid, where the disposal of time is surrendered merely to the chance of incidence, chaos will soon reign.” ~ Victor Hugo

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As I’ve made quite clear in the name and description of my blog, I travel.  As much as possible.  And, although I’ve been many places in my life so far, there are far more interesting places yet to visit.  My list seems to be growing, not shrinking.  And as I see the end of my life getting closer each day (not that I expect it will happen for years, but you never know), I find that I am starting to face my mortality.  I am beginning to realize that I may never get to see all the interesting places I’d like to visit.  So, now I find myself starting to prioritize.  And I am getting more insistent that every single vacation must be somewhere significant.  I don’t have time to waste in visiting the same places over and over, just because I happened to like them. 

The more I find myself prioritizing, though, the longer the list becomes.  Because each time I look at where I want to go next, I think of another place that I just MUST see before…well, you know.  I’m extremely excited that in the next few months, I’ll be checking off a major destination from the list.  I’m going to Alaska!  I’m so happy that my dear, sweet hubby has let me talk him into the Alaska cruise.  I know…I won’t be in Alaska long, but I will have had a small taste of the experience.  And, like my father, I will find myself off the coast of Alaska on a ship.  But unlike my father, Alaska is a state when I will be off the coast.  My father was on a ship off the coast about a year before Alaska became a state. 

I have always wondered what that must have been like for him.  It couldn’t have been as exciting as it will be for me.  He was on a military ship.  I, on the other hand, will be enjoying the luxury of a cruise ship, entertainment, good food, and my family (translated: hubby) with me. 

My father was from a small town in southern California and had been in the military a couple of years or so when he was off the coast of Alaska.  It must have been a little different for him.  I grew up moving and traveling.  He didn’t.  But if it hadn’t been for the adventurous spirit of my father, willing to join the military, I would not have been born.  He met my mother in England when he was stationed there.  I’m very thankful he went to church that Sunday morning so many years ago in a strange city.  After getting married, they moved to France and along came me!

My first trip to another country was when I was two months old and my parents took me back to the church where they met and were married to be christened.  And I’ve been traveling ever since.  About 9 years ago, my hubby and I took a trip to England and visited that church, along with other amazing places all over England.  I’ve been fortunate to spend time in Europe, the USSR, the US, Mexico, Latin America, South America, and Canada.  And, someday, I hope to expand my travels to other areas of the world.  Because, although I’ve been so many places in my life and time, I still have so much to see.  And I thank my father for giving me this traveling bug.  If it hadn’t been for him…well, you know.

 

“Traveling is not just seeing the new; it is also leaving behind. Not just opening doors; also closing them behind you, never to return. But the place you have left forever is always there for you to see whenever you shut your eyes.” ~ Jan Myrdal

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I just got back home earlier this week from a quick trip home to Kansas.  I do consider Kansas my home state.  Although my father was in the military for my entire childhood, he was stationed in Kansas longer than anywhere else.  And I graduated from high school there, headed off to college and even my first job as an adult was in Kansas.  In fact, I lived there for over 25 years.  So, I consider it home, even though I left there over 14 years ago. 

It was such a good feeling to cross that state line into Kansas and drive through Wichita, on through the Flint Hills and up the highway all the way to Kansas City.  Yep, Kansas City, Kansas City, here I come…that’s what I was humming as I drove down the highway.  I could feel myself relax as all those familiar places flashed past my car windows.  I stopped off in Matfield Green to see the Knute Rockne memorial, in Emporia to see Soden’s Grove, in Olpe to see the Olpe Chicken House, and in Leavenworth, I saw the federal prison, the front gate to Fort Leavenworth and the Missouri River.  

Kansas may not be that huge tourist destination, but folks don’t know what they’re missing.  People in Kansas are warm and friendly, helpful, open and welcoming.  And it’s kind of like stepping back a bit in time when you stop to see the beautifully old-fashioned town squares in the small towns that line highway 40 or highway 50.  Nothing is as much fun as hanging out with friends at the local high school football or basketball game and then heading over to the mom & pop hamburger place and visiting with everyone some more. 

This trip, I went back to my college homecoming and met up with friends from my college days that I hadn’t seen in about 30 years.  It was so much fun!  How do so many people not age???  They looked like they did in college and I would have recognized most of them anywhere.  And now, I’m looking forward to next year.  They say you can never go home again…well, I don’t know who “they” are, but they are WRONG!  You can go home again.  I did.  And it was wonderful.

 “You can’t appreciate home till you’ve left it, money till it’s spent, your wife till she’s joined a woman’s club, nor Old Glory till you see it hanging on a broomstick on the shanty of a consul in a foreign town.” ~ O. Henry Porter

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Or should I call it Planes, Trains and Automobiles?  You’ll understand soon enough… 

Why is it that I can plan a vacation and have all the timing down…everything goes so smoothly.  And then I get married.  Since then, it seems that vacations have a tendency to have things go wrong.  No matter what, it is a comedy of errors.  But the first vacation my hubby and I took after we got married was the worst best example of what not to do on a vacation.

We were living in Germany and trying to travel as much as possible before moving back to the states.  So, we planned a trip to England.  Or, rather, my hubby made the travel arrangements and I planned the activities.  And he’s a bargain hunter.  And his bargains aren’t always the best options for a good vacation.  He booked us on Ryan Air, which meant we flew out of an airport in Germany that was in the middle of a forest!  Nowhere near a city.  WAY out in the countryside.  Nothing around.  Since we traveled there in the day and left our car, the beginning of the trip wasn’t too bad.  In fact, we got to England and caught the train very easily up to the Lake District.  And our bed & breakfast wasn’t bad!  We had a good time with our tour and also explored on our own until it was time to travel south to see my mother’s family and visit some other areas. 

We caught the train (with our handy-dandy BritRail passes) and got to Chester…only to discover there were races going on and half of Britain was on the train or in Chester for the day.  We opted to head straight to Manchester, so we wouldn’t miss meeting up with my Uncle Ian, who was expecting us in mid-afternoon.  Wow…that was when the first problem hit.  We were lugging a fair amount of luggage and had to hop onto a train that was packed like a sardine can from a platform filled to overflowing with everyone trying to either get on or off the train.  We were finally successful on our third or fourth try. 

Our stay in Manchester was very nice, too.  And then we were off to London, to catch our plane back to Germany.  We were staying for a couple of days of sightseeing and had a wonderful time.  Until I twisted my foot on a cobblestone street — discovered much later that I must have fractured a bone in my foot.  It healed and has been nothing but pain since. 

But on to the bad part of the trip.  Or funny, depending on perspective.  I laugh about it now.  Hubby still can’t.  It was an ordeal for him and an adventure for me that gave me the opportunity to see more of Europe than originally planned.  But I’m skipping ahead.

The evening before we were supposed to leave, my dear hubby decided we should blow most of our remaining pounds Sterling on a great dinner.  We had a wonderful meal (Chinese) and went to bed early, since we needed to depart by 6am to catch the tube to the train to the airport.  Yes, it was complicated just to get to the airport.  And since my hubby didn’t want to spend the cash for the more expensive tickets, we were leaving on Friday morning EARLY to beat the rush of the British leaving for a holiday weekend to the continent.  And he didn’t want any extra pounds leftover, so he used up the rest of what we had to pay the hotel bill.  And we walked down from the hotel, lugging luggage (again) to catch the tube at 6 (when it was supposed to start running).  BUT, that is when it starts running in the inner part of London.  They hadn’t reached the outskirts until 6:30.  We hopped on the first subway train and off we went.  And caught the next one to take us to the train to the airport.  By now, we were pushing our luck!  We RAN like crazy people to the train and the doors slid shut directly in front of our noses and we stood there panting and gazing at the train getting smaller and smaller in the distance.  Fifteeen minutes later, we caught the train.  As we ran to the gate to check in at the airport, we knew it was not looking good, but figured we could catch a later plane if necessary.  NO.  We missed our boarding time by 5 minutes and there were no flights available until Monday.  It was Friday!  And all my dear hubby kept saying was, “I need to get back by 7 tonight”.  I wanted to strangle him.  He turned and looked at me and asked, “what now?”  Okay, I saw the writing on the wall.  I had thought we could just go back to our hotel and stay a couple of extra days and then go back home on Monday, but then his face told me otherwise.  He expected me to get us back.  So, I did the only thing I knew.  Get us to France.  After all, it’s next door to Germany.   

We caught the train back to London from the airport and then I checked the schedules.  I could get us on a train (using our handy-dandy BritRail passes again) and head to Dover.  Then we could catch the ferry to Calais.  After that, we had to figure out what next.  I figured there had to be an ICE train to Germany.  Well, the train from London to Dover must have stopped in every village and town along the way, picking up and dropping off passengers.  All the way, my dear hubby was in a bad mood and kept repeating, “I need to be back by 7pm.”  He had an obligation and didn’t want to contact anyone to sit in for him.  Well, we didn’t get to the ferry until 3pm.  I knew we weren’t going to make it, but we were in DOVER!  The Cliffs of Dover have always been one of my favorite sights in the world.  They are dramatic, imposing and amaze me.  I was over the moon getting to see them again and asked hubby if he wanted to go to the upper deck to see them.  No.  He wasn’t interested.  So I went off to see them. 

We arrived in Calais and immediately found the train station.  We had just missed the last train to Germany for the night.  We were going to have to rent a car or find a hotel for the night.  It was now 5pm and somehow, my hubby still was determined to get back to Germany that night.  We were NOT going to make it.  It was clear!  But he was determined.  So, we rented a car and started driving.  And got to Brussels…the dreaded ring road around Brussels was another nightmare.  We couldn’t find the right exit.  We kept going around and around.  We finally saw a miniature sign pointing off to the right and we were on our way to Germany. 

By now, it was getting darker and darker–night was falling.  And we were in the woods.  Dark woods with very tall trees.  We drove. And drove. And drove.  And drove.  My eyes were drooping and all I wanted to do was go to sleep.  But we continued on, despite having missed the deadline to get back.  Hubby had made the call for a substitute for his obligation and I wanted a hotel.  But we drove.  We were lost a couple of times and then found our way back to the right road. 

And at 3:30am, we found the airport in the woods.  And had to spend the rest of the night in our car, waiting for the airport to open and for daylight.   Each time I fell asleep in that reclined front seat, I’d sleep about 15-20 minutes and wake up cold.  Hubby would start the car and as soon as it was warm, I’d fall asleep again and he’d cut the engine.  No carbon monoxide poisoning for us!  I’d get cold again and wake up, “I’m cold, I’m cold!”  He’d start the engine and we’d warm up and I’d fall asleep.  Finally, it was morning.  We had now been traveling for 24 hours.  Yes, we could have been in London, enjoying the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth.  Or we could be sleeping in a car in an airport parking lot, in the middle of the woods.  And did I mention this was our belated honeymoon??  Yep.    

So, now that it was morning, it was time to return the car and drive home.  But, the car we had rented still needed to be returned and this airport didn’t have a rental office for this car.  We had to drive to a major city to drop it off.  And I had to drive our car.  I had only been in Germany a few months and had just received my driver’s license for Germany.  I had never driven on the autobahn.  I had never driven that fast.  I was scared.  Off we went to Cologne to return the car and then we finally headed home.  I was dozing most of the way, once we were back in our car and hubby was driving.  We got home at noon, 30 hours after leaving our hotel in London. 

Exhausted, grubby and thankful to be out of a car or other mode of transportation!  At last, I turned to hubby and noticed he was still not a happy camper.  I was laughing about some of what we’d been through, but he didn’t find any of it humorous.  I hope, someday, he can laugh about this.  As we approach our 10th anniversary, I am tempted to ask him to repeat our trip to England.  But this time, no cheap flights, no crazy treks back home.  Besides, now we can’t drive back…we live in the states.

So, what disastrous vacations have you had?

“No vacation goes unpunished.” ~ Karl A. Hakkarainen

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