More Feral Camels than People

I flew the 2000 miles from Sydney to Darwin over the vast, mostly uninhabited, semiarid desert and just saw landscape that was clearly rust or red in color, aptly called the Australian Outback. There are more camels, yes camels, than people. I knew about the kangaroos but was surprised to hear about some million dromedaries. Apparently years ago when they were settling new areas they imported this animal because they could carry more weight and more easily navigate the terrain. The story I heard was that when they were done with the last encampment the handlers were asked to take the camels out back and shoot them, but instead, the men let them free. That year was particularly wet and the camels reproduced, and now double their population every 8 to 10 years. There are only about 250,000 people in the whole of the Northern Territory (3rd largest territory in Australia).

While here I did not see either a kangaroo or a camel but I met some amazing people. Upon leaving the plane in Darwin I asked a young woman about taxis into the city as it was too late for the last shuttle. She kindly invited me to share her cab and made sure the driver dropped me off first and she wouldn’t take any money from me. Fortuitous, huh? Every one I met was incredibly kind, nice and interesting. I walked the city harbor and to the Market in the park where they had the best food trucks! In between these jaunts I took the on/off bus and saw the rest of the town.

After two days I flew to Alice Springs, or Alice as the locals say, in order to take a bus tour out to Uluru. The trip included pick-up at the hotel, a 5 and 1/2 hour drive with a breakfast stop, two walks with a park ranger and a sunset barbeque overlooking the monument. We also had time to see the museum and gift shop before the dark ride home. People are warned not to drive at night due to animals on the road but to my somewhat disappointment we only had to stop for cattle. This was a quick trip that probably amounted to as much time in the air as I was on land, but it was well worth it.

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On Becoming that Little Old Lady

I am old and female but I still have more travelling to do. When a woman said that my smile was bigger than I was…perhaps she knew I was shrinking? My goal is to see all the countries of the World before I die but Covid-19 put me behind schedule. Usually I try and amass 5 new ones each year. Right now travel is difficult and challenging for everyone and while I consider myself somewhat of an expert I recently found myself making some “rookie” mistakes.

I forgot to pack a converter plug for Australia. I paid extra for the Qantas lounge but didn’t check the operating hours. I reserved a shuttle to the hotel but neglected to ask the name of the shuttle company, assuming it would have the name of the hotel on the bus. The worst was when I decided to wash up after the first 15 hours of flight and opened my suitcase on the sink as there was no other option. I didn’t consider the automatic faucets until my clothes started floating. Oops. Am I out of practice or am I just old?

While these blunders didn’t ruin my trip they did scare me a little. Inconveniences for sure. My next trip is longer and I’m taking my dog. While it’s almost a month off I’m thinking I should start making a list?

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It was so great to see the old people cleaning up the beach!

The Captain spoke these words over the Public Address System of the ship. At first I laughed as most of us were older than 60, well maybe 70; at least 3 in their 80’s. Even though English is not his first language I still found it a bit odd that he would phrase it so. However, I realized that, yes, it was fantastic that old people who would not be around in 20 or so years were still concerned enough about our planet to help protect it for the future travelers. It only took one to start this effort.

Sandy is one of those women who cares about everyone and everything. The first day on land she just stuffed her pockets with debris and encouraged others to do the same. The next time she came prepared with huge burlap bags and left them in a pile. Within minutes every one of us were picking up the garbage that had washed to shore from fishing boats….and with the currents in the Arctic Circle they may have floated from a great distance. We were all pretty pleased with ourselves and are hoping this will become a thing. There are cloth laundry bags in each cabin which can be washed and reused multiple times. It is a small thing that can have huge consequences.

This is Sandy!
This is Sandy! Thank you from all of us!
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Sunlight, Polar Bears and lots of Birds

The night before the early morning flight from Paris to Longyearbyen ( the northern most airport in the world) I kept my curtains open to appreciate the darkness as I would not see it for more than a week. Upon landing we did a quick tour of the coal-mining town on Spitsbergen Island, part of Norway’s archipelago of Svalbard. While known mostly for a great place to see the Northern Lights, that does not happen in June! We visited a few museums, ate a great lunch and then boarded our ship, the Le Boreal, one of Le Ponant’s small but modern boats….and incidentally the same one I traveled on to Antarctica in 2019.

Luckily for me, they waived the single supplement so I was able to travel on my own and enjoy a luxurious cabin all to myself! And this particular cruise was in alliance with the Smithsonian Institute. It was certainly worthy of a college credit due to the expertise of the visiting professors and the naturalists/guides that accompanied us.

I wanted to see Polar Bears, but just like one of my trips to India where I wanted to see tigers, I knew it wasn’t assured. I also wanted to see narwhals, walruses and the arctic terns. It reminded me of African safaris where you had a check list!

I don’t have a fancy camera, in fact, I have only a Google phone but I did bring my binoculars. The first day I saw reindeer and many different birds. And the second and third day the polar bears kept me in awe.

Never did see the whale or seal that others saw, nor did I see a narwhal. However I did see walruses from afar and saw the arctic terns up close! The birders on board were thrilled with the plethora of species especially the little auks!

A special thank you to some of my new friends who shared their photos with me.

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There’s No More Room!

There was a time when I would have packed the heels and left the down jacket behind. However, I’ve learned a few things over the years and have wised up just a bit. For example, I am going on a trip close to the North Pole and while the ship has a few formal nights I’m no longer of the age where I could impress anyone. Comfort now wins every time.

aRC

I pack everything in carry-on luggage only. There are too many opportunities to have my luggage lost if I check it. I fly one airline to France and then another to Longyearbyen . There is a slim chance that my suitcase would catch up with me before I embarked. Wearing the same track suit for 7 nights might indeed “leave a mark”.

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A Quick Visit to Central Oregon

First of all, I stayed in two incredible hotels. The first night was in Redmond at a place called SPC, or Soul, Community, Planet. It is marketed as Holistic Hospitality. And they offer “next-level wellness amenities, close proximity to natural landmarks, and an emphasis on locally sourced goods”. And every stay does good whether it’s planting a tree, providing mental health tools or donating to some other very worthy cause. This is a new chain with locations in Hawaii, California and other cities in Oregon!

After settling in our suite we were advised to eat next door at Terra Kitchen, which proved to be both delicious and innovative.  We all dined on vegetarian options and were not disappointed in the shared plates.

A show of artwork by a local artist was on display in the lobby of the hotel and the artist was most engaging.  In fact she planned our next day’s outing:  A hike in Smith’s Rock State Park!  Her favorite was the Misery Ridge Trail.  This park is known as the birthplace of American sport climbing…and is one of their best destinations in the U.S.!   Technical climbing is above my “pay-grade”.

After visiting Crater Lake (see last post) we ventured into Bend, OR.  We walked the town, ate at another great vegetarian place and stayed at a great “eco-chic boutique hotel” called the Oxford. Our weekend was coming to an end so the only adventure this day was the gym!

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Crater Lake, Oregon in the Spring Time

Snow, snow and more snow. While visiting in the last week of May, I was surprised to hear that I probably would not get access to the lake shore before July. It was still a beautiful site to behold. The trails were all closed but the closed plowed roads allowed us to do some hiking to scenic perches above the lake and see the beautiful colors emanating from the deep.

We stayed in the old lodge in the park with amazing views, okay food and rooms and an interesting pictorial history of the park and its buildings.

One of the other hikers noted that one could actually see more from the carless road because one was not looking underfoot for possible obstacles. We saw pikas, birds and thankfully no bears. We had to sign a statement saying we had not left any food in our car!

While there were no TV’s or other entertainment offered we were left on our own to create our fun. And that we did!

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Anticipating the Arctic Circle

I”ve never been this far North and realize that I may be one of the last generations to experience this land.The Smithsonian Institute is joining forces with the French shipping line, Le Ponant, to provide the comfort and education for those of us aboard.

The thought that the ship may be adding to the climate troubles is alone concerning. And yet, I would love to witness the floe edge, the narwhals, the polar bears, the midnight sun….

I took the same ship to Antarctica a few years ago and had an amazing time in spite of all the scientists telling me the horrors of plastic, the warming of the planet and my obligations to our incredible planet.

I enjoy reading books and watching movies about the area before embarking to get into the spirit of adventure. Migration: A Novel ( Charlotte McConagly) was a mystery story based on the Arctic Terns. Another novel called Girl in Ice (Erica Ferencik) was chilling! And Arctic Void was a scary movie. Now I’m starting a non-fiction book called Icebound, Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World by Andrea Pitzer which promises to fill me with both the” splendors and the terrors” that await me.

I am also concerned that two considerable challenges could cause the trip to be cancelled. First, Covid has not gone away and a new surge might prohibit me from both the flight to Paris, the flight to Longyear and boarding the boat. If Covid strikes while sailing I am somewhat protected as I have a single cabin with a balcony. I will have an adequate supply of masks and hand sanitizer.

Just today my second fear was brought to the forefront by Thomas Friedman who suggested that a direct war with Russia may strike sooner than one might think. Both the USA and all NATO countries are possibly in Putin’s warring mindset.

It’s all going to happen within a month….or not!

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Travelling Just to Travel

Many years passed since I’ve visited New York City, at least 15. Walking through favorite neighborhoods along with the new icons were beckoning. And a note to anyone who plans on going soon: every place I went I had to show proof of vaccination except for all transportation.

I started with the TWA hotel at JFK airport. Since I was reminiscing, I thought I’d experience the glamour of days gone by. While I thought I was paying for first class I found myself downgraded to coach. Overlooking the airport doesn’t necessarily mean the runways, but the roof-top pool did offer such views. I felt as if I were in the Super Jumbo Airbus. I’m not sure if the service reflected Covid parameters or if it was just lacking in some areas. Drinks were served in plastic glasses and some of the venues like the actual plane converted into a bar were closed due to photo shoots. However, they do have the largest hotel gym I’ve ever seen.

My weekend happened to coincide with the New York Marathon so it was fun stopping by the finish line to share in all the jubilation.

I also decided to “move on up” at the Summit One Vanderbilt adjacent to Grand Central Station. There were tons of people there and the line to get in felt like New York in the old days. While very interesting it didn’t quite measure up to all the hype. At each level there was a camera ready to take your photo for an expensive memento!

A much more somber experience was my visit to the 911 Museum. Again there was a long line but there were curators who stood among us and shared insights that kept us riveted. I was told about the morgue behind the Blue Wall where remains of victims were still being identified. This site is an incredible memorial and a must see for all.

While in the city I stayed at the Beekman, an old and very elegant hotel close by the Brooklyn Bridge and the World Trade Center. And lucky for me it was right across from a deli with great food and even better prices!

The topper to my mini vacation was my ride back to JFK! When I first arrived I bought a metro card and had been using it for all my excursions that were not walkable. But for my return I booked Blade’s helicopter flight from the West side for 5 to 7 minutes of unapparelled views of the city (vaccine is required). I will be back!

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Deluxe Nights in French Chateaux

Backroads Adventure Travel offers premiere inns on some of their trips. The upgrade is worth it. My dream vocation would be to scout out these places around the world. I’ve done six trips with them so far and I’ve yet to be disappointed. My latest trip earlier this month was bicycling through the Loire Valley in France.

An uphill long windy road led to the Chateau de Rochecotte, set on 20 very green acres of forest and landscaped gardens. We spent the first two nights in this idyllic villa. After a welcome toast of champagne in one of the courtyards we dined in the private dining room.

Day 3 and 4 were spent at my favorite of the week: Domaine des Hauts de Loire, a former hunting estate on the outskirts of Onzain with it’s manicured estate featuring a 2 star Michelin restaurant. Unfortunately due to Covid it was not open on the nights we were there. Instead one night we ate at their tasty bistro and another night traveled in the rain to the gastronomique restaurant Le Fleuray!

The final night of our escapade we were planted just opposite the impressive Chateau de Chambord at the modern hotel, Le Relais de Chambord. Our farewell dinner was held outside on one of the terraces.

My dreams still revisit these incredible rooms with their comforting amenities featuring French toiletries and high end sheets and pillows. Backroads premiere inns are definitely delightful.

Final Farewell Backroads Sept 2021 Loire Valley Bicycle Trip
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