1963 – Homemade Skateboard

Hard on the heels of the surfing craze of the 1960s, skateboards started showing up. I think there may have been commercially made boards, maybe in California. In Iowa you couldn’t get them. If you wanted a skateboard, you had to make it yourself. So I grabbed myself a 1 x 6 a couple of feet long and an old steel sidewalk skate, the kind that used skate keys.

Old steel roller skates

 

I cut the board in the shape of a surfboard, shellacked it, and adorned it with black racing stripes and an Iron Cross. I had to take the skate apart, then I screwed it to the bottom of the board. The skates were steel and didn’t have the best bearings to begin with. The wheels were only about 1/2” thick and the track of the entire skate couldn’t have been more than about 3 inches. Not a very stable platform. The skateboard below looks almost exactly like the one I made, but it doesn’t have the racing stripes, etc.

Vintage 1960s homemade skateboard

Equipped with my new board I skated down the driveway learning the basics of starting, turning, and dismounting. Only problem, our drive was only about 20 feet long before it emptied onto a pea gravel apron, guaranteed to stop a skateboarder on a dime. I even got so I could hang 10, hanging all my toes over the front of the board.

So, once I had my technique down I was intent to try it out on a big hill. Just such a hill was one block away on Shaeffer Drive. It had a steep beginning, then it sort of leveled out for a nice run, then got real steep again for an exciting finish.

Outfitted in my cutoff shorts and bare feet I headed for the hill. Pushing off, I started to pick up speed and was sailing along nicely. Reaching the flatter section I had some fun coasting along, slowing down a little. I got to the really steep part and started to pick up speed again. As I got going faster and faster I noticed the board was becoming less stable. Soon the sloppy tolerances in the wheels made them wobble a little. With greater and greater speed, that little wobble started to become more pronounced and eventually evolved into a nearly uncontrollable fishtail effect.

At this point, I started questioning the wisdom of undertaking this adventure almost naked with only a pair of cutoffs between my skin and the cruelly abrasive pavement that whizzed by at an ever increasing rate. I couldn’t jump off, I didn’t have any shoes on and that would have resulted in the mother of all stubbed toes. To continue meant that I would be going even faster. I began to feverishly search for a grassy stretch and found one a lot or two further down the hill. Just as the board was about to self-destruct I steered it into the curb and jumped just as it struck. I must’ve rolled and escaped unscathed. It’s funny how you retain little or no memory of an actual incident. I know I didn’t try that kind of stuff again without being fully clothed with a good pair of shoes. And not on that hill either.

Me skateboarding in 1977. Quite a few years later.

Posted in Autobiography | Leave a comment

Deer Update – Christmastide 2017

The other day we had 9 deer in the yard. They were actually running around. Normally they just mosey around slowly. As they passed I counted them and when they were done it came to 9. That is an all time high for us.

A deer staring in the window.

But on a sad note, about a week ago we found a doe dead in the front yard. Most of the deer lay around just outside our kitchen window. Sometimes they gather down by my workshop, but they don’t often stay in the front yard. I thought I saw one out our bedroom window. It is hard to tell because they are almost the exact same color as the fallen logs that are out there. A few days later I noticed some “red” on the log and I began to suspect it was a dead deer. I got the binoculars so I could see it clearer and sure enough it was one of our girls.

I called the animal control office and asked if they could pick it up. They said they couldn’t but if I were to call street maintenance they could handle it. They alerted me that it couldn’t be in the yard and that I should drag it out to the curb. When I got back from running an errand I got out of the car and started dragging the carcass. I suppose my lack of physical fitness was my major problem. Anyway, I was not that excited to touch the body because I suspected it had been dead long enough that the body could have begun to deteriorate. Such was not the case however and while there was a little rigor mortis, it held together completely. I could get a good grip with my right hand but I thought I should pull with my left hand too. It kept slipping down the leg and I had to readjust my grasp all the time. The fur was nice and dry and was very soft to the touch which I did not expect. I kept running into sticks and undergrowth that blocked my way. I kept at it but ended up pulling a muscle in my chest. It turned out to be much harder than I imagined.

I got it into the street and came in the house to call the Streets Department. They thanked me for calling and said they would have it out of there in less than an hour. Which they did.

Posted in Daily life | Leave a comment

Carol Lynne Thorpe

Seventy years ago today my big sister Carol Lynne Thorpe died.

Carol Lynne Thorpe

I never knew her. She died before I was even conceived. But I can’t help but wonder how the dynamic of our family would have been different with her running point and me sliding into her slipstream as the next in line.

New born. Carol Lynne and Paddy Thorpe

Like me, she lived with our folks, Ray and Paddy Thorpe, in my grandparents’ apartment at 545½ 2nd Street in Webster City after she was born.

Uriah Blake and Carol Lynne Thorpe

She was baptized at the United Brethren Church. There were no Episcopal churches in Webster City at the time. She is wearing the Thorogood baptismal gown. The first grandchild and the first in her generation to do so.

Baptism

My dad was a WWII veteran and attended Iowa State College on the GI Bill. To start out, the family moved to Johnston, Iowa, where Dad took classes at the Camp Dodge campus.

Grandpa and Grandma Sanders with Carol Lynne

They lived with “Grandma and Grandpa Standers” their landlords.

In the summer of 1947 they visited my Dad’s sister and her family, which included their new son, David, who were living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the time.

David Lynch with Paddy and Carol Lynne Thorpe

Sandia Crest Monument, Albuquerque NM

In the fall my dad returned to classes at Iowa State, but this time he took those classes on the main campus in Ames. They lived in married student housing in Pammel Court.

Baby Boomers at Pammel Court, Carol Lynne and Paddy Thorpe, 3rd group from left

There were lots of little Baby Boomers around and Carol Lynne was one of them. My mom worked at the Student Union.

Carol Lynne Thorpe being risque.

Carol Lynne Thorpe

Lots of drool for Daddie!

Carol Lynne Thorpe. Give me those good old Quaker Oats.

Sometime in the fall, Carol Lynne got sick and died October 27th. We don’t know exactly what she died of. Who knows? SIDs maybe. But 10 years later my youngest sister Lisa had similar symptoms when she was a little older than Lynne. Her problem turned out to be hypoglycemia, kind of reverse diabetes. Hypoglycemia was not very well known in 1947. It only took a glucose drip to bring Lisa out of her coma. What a shame if it could only have been that easy with Carol Lynne.

My folks were dirt poor students when they were in Ames. They didn’t even have enough money to get her a grave stone. In 2001 my brother and sisters chipped in and we bought her a modest stone. We drove over to Ames. The cemetery worker had located the grave for me and cleared out a patch the size of the stone. I laid down a bed of sand and placed the stone.

Today, my wife Karen, my sister Lisa and I drove over to Ames again to honor her on the 70th anniversary of her death.

Robert and Lisa Thorpe at Carol Lynne’s grave

We laid a rose on her grave.

Carol Lynne’s grave stone

Posted in Autobiography, Genealogy | 2 Comments

Grand Canyon Vacation – 2017

Sunday, October 1st – Home to North Platte NE

Packed and on our way by 8:10. Our first destination was North Platte, Nebraska. We had mostly sunshine mixed with threatening clouds and isolated sprinkles. Traveling was uneventful.

We ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant near our hotel then came back to settle in, read email, and rest up for another long drive tomorrow.

Monday, October 2nd – North Platte to Grand Junction

Early start – right away we began to see changes in the land, rocky colorful cliffs and bigger and bigger hills.

Our trip was uneventful until Denver then we hit pea soup fog and drove in it for maybe 100 miles. The weather then turned to rain and then to snow.

By that time the roads were twisty and steep. The steep down grades were the worst. Butch was trying to slow down and yet not brake too much. Very nerve wracking.

The scenery was beautiful with pine and bright yellow aspen trees dusted with snow. Grassy areas collected snow too and at the highest elevations snow was 8-10 inches on the ground. Thankfully the roads were very wet but did not get icy or collect snow.

We started to come down out of the high mountains as we neared Grand Junction. There we started to see more and more of the red cliffs and colored mesas. Also very beautiful.

We arrived in Grand Junction at about 3:30 after a very tiring drive. Karen had not  slept well for two nights and both of us were very tired. We walked to an Italian restaurant next to our Econolodge motel. Had a so-so dinner and came back to turn in early.

Tuesday, October 3rd – Grand Junction to Page

Both of us felt more rested this morning but we had another long drive in store.

The scenery out of Grand Junction was very beautiful with lots of huge mesas, tumbled rocks the size of buses, and red, peach, orange and purple in the rocks.

Soon after we crossed into Utah, we had planned to drive into Arches National Park. As we came close to the gate we saw a long line of cars waiting to get into the park. We were disappointed but decided to pass it by.

As we drove we saw lots of fantastic rock spires and balanced stacks and stopped for photos. Karen had planned for several scenic stops including the Wilson Arch and others.

We got to a sign pointing the way to the Needles Scenic Overlook. When we pulled in we saw that it was a drive of 22 miles.

We decided to go since we had missed out on Arches. It was fabulous and well worth the drive. The overlook site is high on one of the mesas and looks over a huge valley far below. There was a little walk, probably about a block long, from one viewing point to another. I went on the trail first and when I saw the view came back to get Butch so he would be sure to see it too. It was awe inspiring.

As we went along we saw Mexican Hat formation and then drove into Monument Valley.

Monument Valley was used as the location of many old westerns. It has iconic chimneys, mesas and wonderful rock formations. We got lots of great pictures.

As we drove we tried to keep hydrated and found ourselves very thirsty. We drank 5 bottles of water in no time. That also meant lots of pit stops!

Somewhere around the time we thought we should be arriving in Page, AZ, our next stop, we realized that when entering the address of our hotel in our Garmen, we chose a location with the exact same street address in Williams, AZ instead of Page. We ended up having to do a 1 1/2 hour back track to get to Page.

By the time we arrived it was late and we were hungry. To avoid fast food, we chose a Chinese buffet that wasn’t that good.

Wednesday, October 4th – Page to North Rim

When we left the hotel we headed for the Glen Canyon dam. The canyon is narrow and very deep at the point where the dam was built…a perfect place to put a dam! Very dramatic and beautiful with the red and gold walls of the canyon, the bridge and the graceful curve of the dam itself.

We set out for the north rim, planning to stop at Horseshoe Bend just a few miles outside of Page. The parking lot was filled with people and we could see a long line of tourists climbing a long hill and disappearing over the top. There was a huge electronic sign warning people to wear good shoes, carry water, and wear a hat. The kicker was the warning off of people with heart or respiratory ailments. We reluctantly concluded that a climb like that was not for the likes of us. So we traveled on. We could buy a postcard!

The drive after that started with a climb to the top of a high Mesa with lots of switchbacks and curves with no railings. There were signs along the road warning that snow would not be plowed and that it would not be patrolled at night. We were glad we had a beautiful sunny day.

We also stopped at the Navajo Bridge across Marble Canyon. There was a scary pedestrian bridge for photo ops. By building the bridge, they cut off hours of travel to the Grand Canyon from a trip of 500 miles to one that is 123 miles. It is still a very round about trip that took us 2 1/2 hours of driving time. The scenery was beautiful and the many colors of the cliffs kept us oohing and aahing all along the way.

When we got closer to the Canyon, the land changed to pine and aspen forest. The aspen were bright gold and glowed when hit by sunlight. They were particularly striking mixed in with the dark pine.

We came around a curve and there before us was the most vast meadow I have ever seen. A sea of golden grass surrounded by more pine, aspen, and birch. The size and awesomeness of it reminded me of the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone but without the bison…just a sea of beautiful emptiness. It was not what we expected to see leading up to the canyon. It must have been a shock for the first people to see the canyon when it rather suddenly appeared before them.

When we arrived at the North Rim the place we found to park was far from the Visitor Center and the Lodge. We decided to walk to the Visitor Center first then go on to the lodge to find out about our cabin. We left our car with virtually nothing…no water, no hats, etc. I grabbed my jacket at the last minute before we locked up. We walked along the trail at the edge of the parking lot and were completely sucked in as little glimpses of the canyon appeared through the trees. A sign told us it was not the real canyon but a side canyon so we kept going along the trail until we could see clusters of people ahead looking out into empty sky.

As we got closer, the canyon opened up in all of its glory. It is a place that words cannot do justice. What an amazing experience to see the depths, the colors, the fantastic rock formations and the vastness of the vision.

We found that we had walked past the Visitor’s Center and had gone all the way to the lodge. It is different than other lodges we have seen. It is a big log and stone building but has no accommodations. Instead it is surrounded by small duplex cabins in a descending rank of fanciness. At the top level were cabins with a view of the canyon, then they became more modest down to the frontier cabin we stayed in which was farther away but cozy and cute. We were lucky to get even that. Normally you have to book years in advance. We called at the last minute on the off chance that someone had cancelled. They had. Great!

We planned to check at the registration desk just to see which type we had reserved and where it might be but as it turned out, they had one ready and checked us in. We had valet service with a driver and a golf cart that took us to our car for our luggage and then to the door of our cabin.

We completely changed our plans for the day. We decided to lounge on the deck of the lodge overlooking the canyon and just soak in the beauty and wonder. We bought a beer from the saloon and sat on the sunny patio.

We joined a ranger talk about the geology of the canyon, had a meal in the deli, then lounged some more as we waited for the sunset. A couple sitting next to us had hiked from the south rim to the north in just one day – 7 miles down, 7 miles across, and 7 miles back up again. They made me exhausted just thinking about it. Butch took beautiful pictures of the sunset but just being there and experiencing it was enough for me. We ended our evening by returning to our cabin for relaxation and more lounging but this time with our shoes off and in our jammies. A-a-a-h…

It turned out that both of us were really bothered by the altitude which is over 8000 ft. at the north rim. We had trouble breathing even while resting and both of us had a headache. I tried to keep hydrated and drank two liter bottles of water in the night. That meant that I had to get up every half hour to get rid of it. I also had terrible dreams about one or both of us dying in the park! Luckily we didn’t die after all and woke up to another beautiful day.

Thursday, October 5th – North Rim to South Rim

We headed over to the lodge in the morning for breakfast in their fancy dining room.

We arrived too late to get dinner reservations the night before so couldn’t eat dinner in the lodge. When we arrived at 6:30 am, there was already a line but we were seated after a very short wait.

Our table was by a floor to ceiling window facing the canyon. The sun was just coming up and we enjoyed the stunning view all through breakfast. Below is a photo of our view, a photographer capturing the morning light as it hit the canyon walls. He had a 4×5 view camera. God love ya, Ansel.

We headed out for the South Rim but missed the park gas station and had to back track. We saw a big herd of buffalo in the beautiful meadow near the park gate. As we drove up we saw two bulls charging each other with lowered heads. [In the lower left]

There were all kinds of goofy tourists taking pictures and venturing much too close to the herd. We even saw three people sitting on the ground less than 50 feet from them.

It is a very long drive from one rim to the other because the only thing you can do is go around. For half the trip we had to go back the way we drove the day before. The scenery was still very beautiful but there were fewer surprises and both of us were tired from our bad night’s sleep. We were saved by finishing our audio book.

This time the approach to the Grand Canyon was more like we had expected with lots of smaller canyons and red cliffs. We pulled off at the first scenic view inside the park to get our first look at the canyon from this side. It is so hard to take in the scale of the canyon much less describe it in words. It is probably the most mind boggling natural feature I have ever seen. Rich colors, unlimited varieties of formations, and depths that defy belief. The Colorado River is really not visible from the north rim but on the south rim you can follow the snaky path through the rocks and can even see places where the river is quite wide and rushing over rapids.

We entered the south rim through the east gate but did not stop too many places because it had been a long day of driving and we were quite tired. We drove by most of the sites we wanted to spend more time in tomorrow. We decided to head to our hotel in Williams south of the park. We discovered there were two motel 6 hotels practically across the street from each other and of course we went to the wrong one. Hotel is OK but our room is far from the wifi hub so all technology was frustrating.

Friday, October 6 – Grand Canyon South Rim

We did a quick tour of the South Rim near the Visitor Center when we got to the park yesterday. It was really crazy with many cars, many people, and many huge shuttle buses moving people around, not to mention all of the campers and private tours bringing in even more people. We were surprised at how hectic it was and dismayed because it felt more like Disneyland than a national park.

So, we decided to have a calmer day by driving the Desert View Drive up to the Desert View Watchtower.

We went the whole way to the tower without stopping which is very near the east gate of the park . We joined a much smaller number of tourists who visited the impressive stone tower, walked a leisurely half mile trail, and shopped in the gift shop. We then headed back toward the visitor center stopping at each stunning overlook along the way.

Each time, we saw a new view of the Colorado River far below along with the variations in color, the shapes of the cliffs, and the narrow canyons below. In the picture above, you can just see the Watchtower that we visited on the edge of the cliff on the right.

It was a great opportunity for people watching and we saw lots of visitors from abroad, including France, Germany, British Isles, and China among others. Below, you see two crazy visitors who ventured out to a chimney that they could fall from!

We also had brief chats with other people enjoying the views. The weather was perfect: sunny and cloudless with temperatures in the mid to high 60’s.

We also visited the Tusayan Ruins and Museum which was the remnants of a small  pueblo village with about 30 residents. All of the walls had collapsed except for about 2-3 courses of stones at the base. The site also included a small plaza, now overgrown by plants, and two or three kivas.

The museum had artifacts from the time but not from the site. The most interesting thing to me were small split stick figures of elk. They said these figures have only been found in caves or hidden places but there is no way to know for sure why they might have been left there or what significance they held.

Our last stop of the day was the IMAX Theater in Tusayan just outside the park. The movie was called, Grand Canyon, The Hidden Secrets. It gave a short history of the human interaction with the canyon from prehistory through exploration and on to present times. Like all National Geographic movies it was beautifully filmed. It gave us a chance to see a view of the bottom of the canyon and the river that our old creaky bodies otherwise prohibit. It made me wish I was fit enough to look up those soaring cliffs to the sky above. It also showed that it can be a pretty dangerous place and deserves respect.

All in all it was a wonderful, peaceful, slow paced day that we enjoyed very much!

Saturday, October 7 – Williams to Albuquerque

After an impressive breakfast at the Grand Canyon Cafe in Williams, we started out for our first stop, the Meteor Crater. We thought it would be a short stop for a quick picture and some oooohs and aaaahs but instead we found an impressive visitor center and site. The property is privately owned and from several people who were making a return visit we learned it has been greatly expanded in the last 10-15 years.

The crater itself is enormous and is the most perfectly preserved in the world. In the 50’s a scientist named Shoemaker explored the crater and established that it was created by a meteor and advanced the knowledge of meteor science across the world. The huge meteor that crashed into Jupiter was named Shoemaker in honor of his work. We learned a lot and got some great photos.

Here is Butch standing by the biggest chunk of the meteor that they have found. It is solid metal and weighs as much as a Volkswagen.

Next we traveled to the Petrified Forest National Park. Again, this park was much more than we expected. There is a hill filled with huge logs and chunks of petrified wood by the visitor center and a drive that covers the length of the park. We learned a lot at the Visitor’s Center and the drive had lots of natural features and rock formations that we hadn’t seen anywhere else. Again, lots of pictures and memories.

At the very north end of the park was the Painted Desert National Monument. We did not go to the visitor’s center because we spent more time than we planned and did not want to arrive in Albuquerque too late. But alas we did. Albuquerque is on mountain daylight time and it was after 7:00 when we arrived. It just happened to be the first day of their huge hot air balloon festival which accounts for our difficulty in getting a motel room. Also restaurants were very busy.

Sunday, October 8 – Albuquerque to Santa Fe to Taos

We slept in until 8:30 local time, had breakfast and started out.

Our first stop was Santa Fe where we went to the Georgia O’Keefe museum. Because it was Sunday, her home and studio tour was not available. It was interesting to learn about her as a pioneer in abstract art. She painted in the late teens of the 20th century on up in to the early 70’s. Her style of art was very new at the time and of course few women were painting like her. The museum has a big collection of her paintings as well as a large collection of black and white photos by her husband Albert Stieglitz and other famous photographers like Ansel Adams. We enjoyed the photos as much as the paintings.

Down the street from the museum was a local artists’ open air show. We saw many things we liked but did not buy anything.

We drove into Taos in late afternoon and found our hotel, El Pueblo Lodge.

It is a sort of complex of several buildings surrounding a large shady yard with a pool, scattered lawn chairs, and shelters. Our room was very nice but it was on the 2nd floor, which meant dragging all our stuff up the steps. After we checked in we drove back into town to look for a place to park so we could shop a little.

We saw many nice things and Karen ended up buying a pair of earrings and probably paid too much. She bought them directly from the artist so we didn’t mind.

We had dinner along the main tourist road. It was expensive but by far the best meal we have had so far. Butch had a pork loin chop and I had stuffed poblano peppers. Both were delicious.

Monday, October 9th – Taos to Manitou Springs, CO

Woke up this morning to some bad weather. We were worried about snow and sleet in the high country which we did run into. It didn’t stick to the road so much but it was foggy in spots. The drive to Manitou, kind of a suburb of Colorado Springs, was about 3 1/2 hours but with little traffic.

We arrived about 1:00 but our check in time was for 2:00. We stayed at Town and Country Inn which is a collection of very nice stucco cabins. Ours had two bedrooms and a bathroom. Just outside our door was a creek with a small waterfall which was very picturesque. It would be fun to stay here in warm sunny weather to make use of the pretty creek side area.

We had planned to explore the cliff dweller site but the rainy, cold weather put us off. I ended up taking a nap and Butch worked on our pictures. The nap was heavenly since I didn’t sleep well the night before.

Later we drove around the historic area but many stores were already closed. We ate at another Mexican restaurant then came back to our cabin to relax. We think we will check out a southwestern pottery  place before we set off in the morning.

Tuesday, October 10th – Manitou Springs to Laramie, WY

The pottery shop was closed so after a nice breakfast at the Bon Ton Diner we set out for Laramie to visit with Guyla and Ed Nowak, Patty Walker’s sister and brother in law. We had met them several times over the years but felt we know them from hearing about them from Patty and Sue.

We arrived at their house at lunch time. As we ate a delicious lunch, we visited like old friends which was very nice. We then left for a car tour of the area. Ed drove us to some of their favorite spots. The ground was covered with snow but the roads were clear and the sun was shining. We got some great pictures of the snowy landscape.

Butch and I are not used to altitudes and one spot was over 12,000 ft and was a little challenging for us. We were glad to have our winter coats up there. We saw lots of antelope and herds of wild horses on our drive. It was great to see some wildlife.

When we got back to town we went for a beer at the Buckhorn Bar and Parlor.

Butch and Wendy had gone there with Ed and Guyla when they passed through Laramie on the way to Mills College. The walls are covered with mounted hunting trophies of all kinds. From there, they treated us to dinner at a vegetarian restaurant. The food was plentiful and delicious. Guyla and Ed were wonderful hosts and we really appreciated them welcoming us.

Guyla drives to Cheyenne 3 days a week to babysit their grand daughter and leaves the house at 4:30am so we all turned in early.

We left at 8 am for our long drive to Lincoln, NE

Wednesday, October 11th  – Laramie, WY to Lincoln , NE

We knew today would be a long drive so we tried to get an early start. Both of us were tired and since we were on the way home, we were ready to be there.

Western Nebraska is very beautiful and is definitely cowboy country. As we got closer to Lincoln it changed into flat farmland for the most part.

Butch knew that his great-grandfather, Monroe Thorp, had died in Lincoln and was buried in a pauper’s cemetery. He had called a fellow who was in charge of the cemetery and asked him if he could help him find his unmarked grave. Butch called him at noon when it looked like we would not make it to the cemetery before his work day was over. He very kindly went out to the cemetery and marked the grave with a cross before he went home for the day. We drove there when we arrived and easily found the grave.

We found a restaurant near our hotel and ate dinner before we checked in. We were both tired and had no desire to leave the hotel after we got our shoes off!

Thursday, October 12th – Lincoln to Cedar Rapids

We slept late and took off for home. It was great to cross the Missouri River into the green rolling hills of Iowa. We arrived home at about 5:00. We saw beautiful sights and enjoyed our trip very much.

Posted in Autobiography | 2 Comments

Jeff Kragskow, 1948-2017 R.I.P.

When I went to college in 1966 I lived in Beyer House in Friley Hall. My roommate, Stan McAninch was from Indianola and quite a number of the guys in our house were from there too including Parker Swan. They had a friend, Jeff Kragskow, who became a good friend too.

1967 – Defiant Dormies: Jeff Kragskow, Steve Hennessey, Paul Anderson, and John Hawn

In the spring of 1967 one of the guys moved off campus to the brownstones just west of campus. Duane Nielson’s apartment became a hangout for many of us.

1967 – Duane Nielson, Parker Swan, Duane’s little brother, and Stan McAninch

Over the summer of 1967 I got injured playing soccer and could not get back to school in the fall. Jeff had moved off campus to an apartment above Wally’s Pipe Shop with John Teufel as his roommate.  John left school at the end of fall quarter leaving Jeff with no roommate. I made it back winter quarter and moved in with him.

1967 – Jammin’ in the can

I had  an old Kay mandolin and Jeff and I would play together. The best acoustics were in the bathroom, a converted closet. Jeff was a far more accomplished musician than I was.

By the spring of 1968 I too had dropped out of school. I got married the next year and my wife Karen and I remained friends with Jeff and  saw him from time to time. We had a friendship that spanned over 50 years.  Here are some pictures of times we shared over the years.

He and his brother David visited us in 1971.

1971 – Jeff and David Kragskow

In 1972 we attended his wedding.

1972 – Jeff and Kathy’s wedding. Jeff’s mom on the right

1972 – Jeff’s dad

In 1973 Karen and I drove over to Story City and we all paid a visit to the Kate Shelley High Bridge.

1973 – Kate Shelley High Bridge

Over the next several decades we visited back and forth.

1978 – Jeff, John Hawn, Robert Thorpe

2004 – The same cast of characters

2006

2006 – and once again

2010 – At a Beatles tribute band in Ames

2010

From time to time Jeff’s old college roommate, John Teufel, would stop by at our place. Sadly, their visits never coincided.

John Teufel and family

In 2010 I had a couple of sculptures being displayed in Ames. Jeff’s sister-in-law Heather and his nephew, Jon, were in town so it was another great chance for us to get together.

We saw Jeff many more times over the years.

A few weeks ago Jeff and I made plans for us to come over for a visit. With only 15 minutes before we were to leave, Jeff called and said he felt under the weather and would like to have a rain check for a couple of weeks. He died before we could reschedule.

2005 – Jeff and Jake

RIP old friend.

Posted in Daily life | 4 Comments

Great Western Vacation – 2015

Once again, Karen did the hard work of recording our activities on this vacation

9/21 – Monday

– Packed and ready to leave by 12:00. Listened to a Chet and Bernie novel, The Sound and the Furry on the way.
– Arrived Sioux Falls @ about 5:30 pm
– Downtown to look at sculpture displays on Phillips Street

Public sculpture in Sioux Falls

Public sculpture in Sioux Falls

– Dinner at a restaurant called Minerva’s. Interesting Art Nouveau-ish decoration. Delicious food. K – Frenched Chicken with Risotto, B – Tournedos of beef with pepper sauce and crab sauce.

9/22 – Tuesday

– We went to see the falls at Falls Park. Very impressive park setting with lots of walkways and viewing sites for taking pictures.

Falls in Sioux Falls SD

Falls in Sioux Falls SD

Butch at the falls in Sioux Falls SD

Butch at the falls in Sioux Falls SD

– After taking some photos of the sculptures, we left for Rapid City by about 10:30
– Stopped in Mitchell to look at Corn Palace. Meh … Didn’t even get out of the car.
– Interesting folded hills and then the beginnings of the Badlands. We could well imagine thousands of bison grazing across these grasslands. Very big sky. Mostly overcast with a few spits of rain.
– Next stop was Wall Drug. We got out to stretch and browsed a bit. Butch bought a mug. Again, not too impressed.

Wall Drug, SD

Wall Drug, SD

– After a day of driving in wide open spaces we got lots of indications we were approaching the Black Hills. I assume the name might be because of the black rock formations in the hills. I love them.

South Dakota Big Sky

South Dakota Big Sky

– Arrived at Backwoods Cabins at about 4:30. It is a very pretty two bedroom cabin with a small kitchen and living room combined. It is paneled with blond knotty pine and looks new inside. Outside is a patio with a fire ring and a grill with a small table and chairs. We are in dark country with no phone or internet service.

Backroads Inn, Keystone SD

Backroads Inn, Keystone SD

Backroads Inn interior

Backroads Inn interior

– Drove to Hill City to check out where the 1880’s Train Station was so we could find it easily tomorrow.
– Found a restaurant, Bumpin’ Buffalo. We both chose buffalo burgers and tried an appetizer called corn nuggets which was like tiny fried corn fritters.
– We got back to the cabin about 6:30, hauled in our stuff, and got settled in.
– Finished listening to our book and went to bed early. A long day of driving is tiring!

9/23 – Wednesday

– Set an alarm for 6:00 in order to get to the train on time. Had grilled ham and cheese sandwiches for breakfast. No frying pan, cooked in Dutch oven.
– 1880’s train took off from Hill City at 10:00 and went to Keystone then turned back for a return trip to Hill City. The trip was 2 hrs. and went through a beautiful stretch of the Black Hills. We rode in the Edward Gillette car which was one of two that were over 100 years old. Enjoyed the trip a lot. There were lots of photo opportunities and new information about the history and geology of the Black Hills.

1880 Train

1880 Train

Karen on the 1880 Train

Karen on the 1880 Train

– The Black Hills are actually named for the Ponderosa Pine that cover the hills. Each needle has a black streak on one side which make all the trees collectively look black…nothing to do with all the black rocks.
– You can tell the difference between birch trees and aspen trees that look almost identical. Birch starts with “B” and grow in a bunch. Aspen starts with “A” and grow alone.
– We saw lots of train chasers/photographers who followed the train and showed up at every crossing. The train crosses the road our cabin is on something like 20 times and in fact, goes right by where we stayed.

Black Hills Institute Dinosaur Museum

Black Hills Institute Dinosaur Museum

– Next we went to The Black Hills Institute which is a tiny museum with the best collection of original dinosaur and other fossils we had ever seen. Of course some were casts but they had more originals on display than the Field Museum…maybe.
– The scientists a the Institute were the ones who originally dug out “Sue” which is now in Chicago. They was robbed!!
– They also had a terrific mineral collection, both local and rocks from around the world.
– We then traveled to the Crazy Horse monument that is still under construction. Just the face and the long platform of the arm are carved so far. The carving has largely been done by one family…father started it and the the work has been continued by his wife and many of his 10 children.

Crazy Horse Memorial

Crazy Horse Memorial

– On to Mount Rushmore. I didn’t expect to like it but it is awesome in its own way. As we came up behind the monument on the road in, the natural rock formations were very beautiful. We saw a scenic overlook by the side of the road and pulled off. We turned to look when we got out of the car and there was the profile of George Washington framed by the trees. We had no idea we would see it there and it was a great surprise.

Surprise on the road to Mount Rushmore

Surprise on the road to Mount Rushmore

– While we were taking photos a couple in an old red truck pulled in. The guy came up to Butch and told him that they had come all the way from Texas and had spent all their money on gas. They were short $.50 of the $11.00 parking fee and asked Butch if he would give him the change, which Butch did. It was weird but if it was a scam, not a very lucrative one. Later, when we left, we saw a similar truck pulled off the road with two police cars. We couldn’t tell if they were the same people.

Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore

– On our way back to the cabin we decided to change our plan and drive into Custer State park. We got on Iron Mountain Road which was newly paved and very scenic. It had three one-lane tunnels and many sharp turns and switch backs. We climbed very high. We looked at the map and realized it might get dark before we could get back so we decided to turn around. Fortunately we found another route to Keystone that was shorter and less twisty.
– Keystone is small, very touristy, and looks like the Wisconsin Dells without the water parks. Not really appealing.
– Got home and cooked steak (there was a brief and unfortunate fire in the broiler) and baked potatoes for dinner.
–  There is no frying pan in our well-appointed cabin so we asked for another. Evan, the owner, said that he had just replaced a missing frying pan last month but brought us another anyway.

9/24 – Thursday

– Got up in a leisurely time frame and left to see which route would be the best to get to the round-up. We decided that going through the park would be more congested and slower. We decided highway routes are the way to go.
– We went to see the art show that was part of weekend events. Mostly they had Native American and western arts and crafts with a few other things thrown in for variety. I bought a necklace.

Art Show in Custer Park

Art Show in Custer Park

– As we traveled through the park, we saw several pronghorn and wild donkeys.

Wildlife near the Buffalo Corral in Custer Park

Wildlife near the Buffalo Corral in Custer Park

Most of the buffalo had already been herded toward the round-up end of the park and we didn’t see any along the roads. Just as we were coming to the first viewing area, we saw a number of cars along the road and some cowboys herding about 20-30 buffalo toward the corral. We arrived just as they were running down into a ravine and out of sight. Most of the cowboys are volunteers selected by lottery and we wondered if they were practicing…but they seemed to know what they were doing so who knows.
– We turned down the road to the pens and were able to take some pictures of the bison that were there. There were mostly females and young ones but we also saw two big bulls.

At the Buffalo Corral

At the Buffalo Corral

– We left the park and headed to Rapid City. Stopped at a Best Buy so Butch could buy a gizmo for loading pictures from his camera to his tablet. Then we drove to Main Street Square to have lunch and look at some public art. I was able to delete almost 800 junk emails while we had access to free wifi at the restaurant
– We drove back to the cabin and spent the rest of the evening packing up to leave on Friday then reading and taking it easy.

9/25 – Friday

– Round-up Day! We got all loaded up and on the road by about 5:30 in the morning. Our drive was uneventful and we apparently avoided all the crowds because of the route we took. We were all set up with our folding chairs by about 6:30. It was cool but not cold and we settled in to wait.
– We chose a spot in the south viewing area on a hill overlooking the place where the herd would turn. People arrived in a steady stream in their own cars and by the bus load. They expected a crowd of 15,000 people. There was practically no one there when we arrived but it got busier as the day went on.

Buffalo Roundup

Buffalo Roundup

– We were there before dawn and it was fun to see the sunrise.

Dawn at the Buffalo Roundup

Dawn at the Buffalo Roundup

– Across the large meadow where the buffalo would be herded toward the corals was the north viewing area. People had to drive all the way through the park to arrive there. There seemed to be twice as many viewers there.
– Most of the time was a waiting game with a couple of false alarms when everyone stood up to look. When they finally came running by us it was a bit of a surprise. It was very exciting but not thundering like I expected. The great majority of the herd ran past us and down into the meadow near the gates but suddenly a few big cows or bulls turned away and started running back the way they came. The Cowboys had to do some fancy riding to herd them back and in some cases avoid getting run down. This great show went on right in front of us for a half hour with the cowboys cracking whips yelling and doing fancy riding.

Buffalo Roundup

Buffalo Roundup

– Finally they got a big cow and her calf running in the right direction and all the others followed. A big cheer went up from the whole crowd when they started running through the gates.
– We fixed ourselves a sandwich in the car while the crowds and the traffic thinned out then got on the road toward Deadwood.
– We visited Tatanka which is a site developed by Kevin Costner that tells the story of the buffalo in Native American culture. It has a nice museum and a dramatic life sized sculpture of native hunters driving a herd of buffalo over a cliff.

20150925_2000K
– We drove into Deadwood, looked around briefly, then took off for Lead where we were staying overnight at the Town Hall Inn. Each of the bedrooms is made from a room from the original Town Hall. We stayed in the library. The only drawback were the 29 steps up to our room with no elevator – otherwise very charming.

Town Hall Inn, Lead SD

Town Hall Inn, Lead SD

– We were both exhausted by our long day and after an early dinner, we lounged around reading and enjoying wifi connection.

9/26 – Saturday

– We checked out of our hotel and visited the Homestake Mine Pit which was right across the street from our hotel in Lead. It is the most enormous hole in the ground I have ever seen. It is over 1000 feet deep. It is worth looking up on Google Earth.

Homestake Mine, Lead SD

Homestake Mine, Lead SD

– We drove through Spearfish Canyon on the way to Sheridan. It is a scenic drive with stunning views and beautiful mountain streams next to the road. We stopped for a delicious breakfast at The Latchstring Restaurant. I had poached eggs, bacon and potatoes and Butch had their special Jonny Appleseed pancake breakfast with apples inside.

Latchstring Restaurant Spearfish Road SD

Latchstring Restaurant Spearfish Road SD

The cashier told us about a waterfall which was just down a trail from the end of their parking lot. Butch gave up when we were half way along the trail. I went all the way down a treacherous trail, 19 metal steps and through the woods. The falls were beautiful but I did not count on the length of the hike. When I got back to the parking lot Butch was almost ready to send in a rescue team.

Waterfall near the Latchstring Restaurant Spearfish Road SD

Waterfall near the Latchstring Restaurant Spearfish Road SD

– The drive on to Devil’s tower was also beautiful. Our host at the Town Hall Inn recommended a scenic route that was well worth it. The road was good and we loved the change from Black Hills terrain to mountain foothills.

Devil's Tower

Devil’s Tower

 

Getting closer to the Devil's Tower

Getting closer to the Devil’s Tower

– We arrived in Sheridan in late afternoon. We found a laundromat and then had enough clean clothes for the rest of our trip.

9/27 – Sunday

– The plan for today was getting to Yellowstone. We took it easy getting away but Butch had an attack of gout which was very painful in his left foot and his right pinkie finger…yes, that’s right, his pinkie.
– As we left Sheridan, we began to climb into the mountains. I have never seen such wide open expanses of land. Our country is truly awesomely beautiful. As we climbed, the road twisted and turned with many switchbacks. After a while, Butch was in too much pain to drive. We stopped to dig out some medicine and switch drivers. There were stunning rock canyons that towered above us. At one point, we drove along the edge of a deep canyon with red and gold layers of rock. I had to keep my attention firmly on the road but even then saw wonderful sights.
– We arrived at the eastern gate of Yellowstone by about 12:30. We were headed across the park to Old Faithful Inn. We had reserved a spot on a Yellow Bus Tour for Monday and the pick-up point was at the Inn. We wanted to find out the details so we’d be able to get there easily in the morning. Along the way we saw two solitary bison.
– We decided to go to our hotel in Western Yellowstone so Butch could take his medicine and nurse his gout. On the way we saw many elk and a whole herd of bison.
– While chatting with our hotel desk clerk, we found out that there is no Sprint service in all of Montana. No wonder we have been in dark country all this time!
– Went out for dinner and home to rest. Early call for tomorrow.

9/28 – Monday

– Butch’s gout was much improved but he still had some twinges by morning. Boo!
– Left our hotel by 6:15 an on the road to Old Faithful in for our Yellow Bus Tour.

Yellow Bus Yellowstone in a day tour

Yellow Bus Yellowstone in a day tour

– Yellowstone in a Day. We wanted to take the tour to avoid driving and looking at sights at the same time and also to figure out how to plan our next two days. On our way to the park, we ran into thick fog but still managed to see bison and a small group of elk, including a big male.
– The tour took 10 hours. Highlights included:
– The many kinds of thermal features at Lower Geyser Basin

Small geyser, Yellowstone Park

Small geyser, Yellowstone Park

Mud Pots, Yellowstone Park

Mud Pots, Yellowstone Park

– Butch walked his little legs off on the trail.
– Gibbon Falls, very nice and not too far to walk
– Mammoth Hot Springs

Terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone Park

Terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone Park

– We want to come back and explore Mammoth some more.
– Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, a stunningly beautiful spot. We did both the upper and the lower falls.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

– Lake Village on the shores of Yellowstone Lake
– There was also a lot of just plain gorgeous scenery and many chances to see bison at close range.
– We want to go back to Mammoth Hot Springs and to the Lamar Valley tomorrow. We haven’t seen a bear (a wish of mine) nor have we seen Old Faithful go off which is a must!
– On our way out of the park, we had to deal with road paving and bridge construction that resulted in long delays. We had to drive at least half of the way to Gardiner, our next stop, in the dark on scary winding roads. Then we couldn’t we find our hotel right away. I know one thing, we are NOT setting an alarm for tomorrow!

9/29 – Tuesday

– Today we went to Mammoth Hot Springs and then on to the Lamar Valley.
– We took our time this morning because we have had to set an early alarm for the past couple of days. We were tired after a lot of walking yesterday and after all, we ARE on vacation.
– First stop was a photo op for the Roosevelt Arch which is probably 4 stories tall and very massive.

Roosevelt Arch at the north entrance to Yellowstone Park

Roosevelt Arch at the north entrance to Yellowstone Park

– We took a loop road above the hot spring formations we saw yesterday. There was a colored hot spring with blues, greens and bright yellow at the first stop. We also saw two or three pot shaped formations that were steaming and leaving white deposits that were building up a cylindrical steam vent. The road curved around into a very secluded forest area that was very pretty and quite different than the rest of the Mammoth site.

Hot Spring, Yellowstone Park

Hot Spring, Yellowstone Park

Geological feature at Yellowstone Park

Geological feature at Yellowstone Park

– From Mammoth, we drove toward Lamar Valley which is renowned for the abundance of wildlife.

We took a narrow, one-way gravel road turn-off called Blacktail Plateau Drive. The road was in poor shape but we could take it slow. It curved around six miles through back country that made us feel like the only people in the world. Later we saw several other cars but pulled over so that we were at the end of the line and could drive as slowly as we wanted. We saw tiny red squirrels that were only the size of chipmunks.

Blacktail Plateau Road, Yellowstone Park

Blacktail Plateau Road, Yellowstone Park

– Just about a mile after we joined the main road again we followed another turn-off to a petrified tree. It was very strange. It looked like a large standing tree trunk about 3-4 feet in diameter and probably 15-18 feet tall. I would love to know how it was formed.

Petrified tree in Yellowstone Park

Petrified tree in Yellowstone Park

– The Lamar Valley is a vast valley with views that go on for miles. We saw many bison right away on both sides of the road grazing in groups of about 50. At a pull over site near the top of a hill, we got out and saw an enormous herd of more than a thousand bison spread out across the valley in front of us. We feel so lucky to have the opportunity to see such a magnificent sight.

Bison in the Lamar Valley

Bison in the Lamar Valley

– The Lamar River and Soda Butte Creek flow down the center and are very beautiful on their own.
– We travelled on to Cooke City just outside the Northeastern gate. We stopped for dessert in a little cafe. Many of the businesses there were closing for the winter and boarding up their buildings. This road is kept open all year round because it connects Gardiner and Cooke city. It was hard to believe winter is near since the day was a balmy 70 degrees and sunny. Yesterday’s guide says it often snows by the end of September and last year about this time they had a storm that dropped over 3 feet of snow.
– On the way back, a ranger told us there was a carcass reported a day or two before at Slough Creek. Carcasses draw in wolves and Grizzlies. Before we reached that spot we pulled into a viewing area and talked to some folks who had seen young wolves within the last hour. We stayed there for a time searching with our binoculars but no luck. A fellow at the Slough Creek site said the carcass was gone but he had seen wolves that morning, but again no luck.
– We headed back to Gardiner and on our way spotted two elk in Mammoth. When we arrived back in town two young elk were ambling down the main road, stopping every now and then to eat fallen leaves.
– It was a wonderful day but disappointed not to have seen wolves or bears yet.

9/30 – Wednesday

– When we got up this morning I walked out on our deck and found an elk cow grazing on the grass below. She didn’t seem too bothered by me so I took a couple of pictures. As we were packing up to leave, we saw her calf near our car. We were quiet but both continued eating while we loaded up.

Elk outside our motel in Gardiner MT

Elk outside our motel in Gardiner MT

– Today was our last day in Yellowstone. We headed out for our drive down to Old Faithful Inn. We pulled over several times to take pictures and look for wildlife but didn’t visit any new sights.
– We arrived at the Inn at about noon and the next eruption of Old Faithful was an hour away. We spent the time eating lunch in the restaurant in the Inn. It was very beautiful inside and furnished with rustic tables and chairs.

Butch and Karen dine at the Old Faithful Inn

Butch and Karen dine at the Old Faithful Inn

Old Faithful Inn

Old Faithful Inn

Inside of the Old Faithful Inn

Inside of the Old Faithful Inn

Grand fireplace at the Old Faithful Inn

Grand fireplace at the Old Faithful Inn

– We decided to watch the geyser from the outside balcony on the second floor. There were about a dozen people there before us, sitting on the rows of log benches built for the purpose. The estimated eruption time was 12:55 and there were several small spurts and lots of steam before the big eruption at about 1:05. Water and clouds of steam shot taller than a fir tree into the air. It was wonderful and so amazing that the eruptions are so predictable – about 90 minute intervals.

Old Faithful, Yellowstone Park

Old Faithful, Yellowstone Park

– When it was finished we made our way to the car and got on our way to the south gate and Grand Teton National Park.

Grand Teton entrance

Grand Teton entrance

– Lake Jackson is enormous and is shadowed by the Grand Teton Mountains which are very tall and rugged looking. There are many aspen and birch trees near the lake which are all bright gold in the afternoon sun. In spite of seeing so many beautiful vistas over the past days, we were again taken with these new landscapes in this magnificent country.
– We arrived at Heart 6 Ranch at about 4:00 and checked in. Our room was very charming and our front door opened on a view of the Tetons towering above a huge plain with the Buffalo Fork of the Snake River meandering toward us. It is tough work but someone had to do it!

Heart 6 Ranch

Heart 6 Ranch

10/1 – Thursday

– Continental breakfast in the lodge this morning after sleeping in. We have had to get up early several days in a row and we’re tired. Vacations are hard work! To make matters worse I woke up to find that my right knee was very painful and would not properly hold my weight. I ended up limping along holding onto Butch’s arm or staying in the car at some stops. It was annoying and alarming but by stretching the muscles in the back of my leg, I was eventually able to get some relief. I hope it is all better tomorrow.

Trophy heads at the Heart 6 Ranch

Trophy heads at the Heart 6 Ranch

– We spent the day exploring Grand Teton. We traveled back up to the north of the park and visited some of the same places we saw on our way down from Yellowstone. Since it was much earlier in the day, we hoped the light would be better for pictures. Jackson Lake is near the entrance to the park and there is a turnout that really shows off the Teton Mountains and the lake to great effect. The sharp craggy peaks of these mountains are more beautiful than any other mountains I have ever seen. It is hard to explain what makes them so special.

Fall colors in the Tetons

Fall colors in the Tetons

– We traveled south from there toward Lake Jenny, stopping at almost every turnout to take pictures. Jenny is a very small lake compared to Jackson, but is nestled right into the feet of the mountains and reflects their peaks in the surface of the water.

Reflection at Jenny Lake, Grand Tetons

Reflection at Jenny Lake, Grand Tetons

– We also stopped at the park’s lodges, Jackson Lake Lodge, Jenny Lake Lodge and Signal Mountain Lodge. All are nice but it is hard to top Old Faithful Inn.
– On our way back north from the southern gate we tried three small adventures. The first was Deadman’s Bar Road heading down to Snake River access. There was a sign at the turning warning of a 19% downhill grade. Butch took one look at that and decided he did not want that kind of a driving challenge. The second was a trip to Two Ocean Lake which was back quite a ways from the main road but the road was closed about half way along. The third jaunt was finally a success, the road to Cattlemen’s Bridge Site. We wound down a gravel road toward the Snake River through grassy meadows and small woodsy areas. The aspen and birch trees in Grand Teton have all turned bright yellow and orange which looks gorgeous against the dark green pines. The day had started with heavy clouds and sprinkles but had soon turned sunny and warm. The sky was bright blue with big bright white dramatic clouds hanging over the mountains. The road led down to a river access point and we saw trout fishermen and a few others enjoying an area off the beaten path.

Fall colors in the Tetons

Fall colors in the Tetons

– We had a nice lunch late in the afternoon at Dornan’s. We found an Italian Restaurant there and shared two appetizers, an antipasto plate with meats, cheeses, olives and vegetables and Baked Brie with spicy Huckleberry Jam.
– When we got back to the ranch, we checked out our email in the Lodge then read in our room until bedtime.

10/2 – Friday

– There was a loud thunderstorm in the night with light rain. We woke up to sprinkles and overcast skies. My leg was better but still not in great condition.
– We left for Jackson at about 10:30 or so. Jackson is touristy but good looking in a way. The main square has four huge arches, one at each corner, made of elk horns. I read somewhere that local boy scouts collect them to rebuild the arches from time to time. Good photo opportunity for all the tourists.

Butch and Karen at antler arch in Jackson WY

Butch and Karen at antler arch in Jackson WY

– Butch found a rock star parking space right on the square and we browsed through two high-end western art galleries with wonderful bronze sculptures and enormous paintings. We also looked through a couple of souvenir shops.
– We left the square and went to the Museum of Western Art…very nice.

Wildlife Art Museum, Jackson

Wildlife Art Museum, Jackson

Wildlife Art Museum, Jackson

Wildlife Art Museum, Jackson

– It had been sprinkling on and off most of the day but started raining in earnest. We wanted to find a place to eat a late lunch but every place we found was closed until 5:30 or 6:00. After several disappointments we decided to go back to the ranch to eat pizza with a couple of beers.
– We returned to our room and read and relaxed until morning.

10/3 – Saturday

– We got up early for breakfast in order to get on the road for the first leg of our trip back home. It was a wet and cloudy morning but beautiful in a new way with clouds reaching right down to the ground over the mountains and into the valley.
– As we traveled east over the continental divide the ground was covered with snow and there was much more snow above us on the mountain peaks though luckily we were still driving in rain and the road was not affected.

Snow on the drive home

Snow on the drive home

Cloudy return home

Cloudy return home

– We stopped for the night in Valentine, Nebraska, arriving there at about 7:00 pm. We had dinner in the motel bar & grill and turned in early. It had been a twelve hour day of traveling.

10/4 – Sunday

– Another early morning and another long day of driving. We had another dreary and rainy morning as we got on the road. Somehow we made a mistake in following our road and had to make a small 10 mile adjustment to get back on course. We were listening to a Harry Bosch novel, The Black Box, and may have lost our concentration on the route.
– We crossed the border into Iowa at about 12:30 and looked for a place to have lunch. We found a Mexican restaurant that was OK. The weather improved a bit and we drove in partial sun/clouds for the rest of the way.
– We arrived on Bever Circle at about 6:00 pm. What a wonderful vacation but it is always good to be home.

Posted in Autobiography | 5 Comments

2015 Washington DC Vacation – Part 2

July 30
Thursday – We had breakfast in the hotel, gassed up, and were on our way south by 10:30 am. The trip was pretty uneventful except for some minor traffic slow-downs. I drove so that Butch could navigate. We arrived in Newport News and had a quick lunch before heading to the Mariner’s Museum. Our main interest there was Butch’s long time fascination with the Civil War Ironclad ship, the Monitor. The museum has the turret recovered from the ocean along with the canons, the propeller, a lantern and a variety of other small artifacts.
Turret of the USS Monitor

Turret of the USS Monitor

They have also recreated the ship in an outside exhibit. Butch was excited to show us the features he likes and glad to see the efforts to save this treasure. The museum also had other naval exhibits and many models of ships from all eras. There were many wooden models that had the tiniest details included.
We stayed in Hampton which is a few miles closer to Virginia Beach. After we checked in to our hotel, we made a quick trip to Target to buy a few beach items that we forgot. Flip flops for Rachel and Butch, beach towels, and little buckets for any shells we are lucky enough to find.
Too tired (and really not very hungry) for dinner, we stayed in to read and relax.
July 31
Friday- We got up early and had the complimentary breakfast again. Our plan for the day was a visit to the Virginia Aquarium & Science Center in Virginia Beach. I had also found a Dolphin Boat tour on-line that was featured at the museum. We wanted to arrive right at opening time to be sure to get spots on one of the cruises. We had an easy trip down and when we bought our tickets, reserved spots on the 10:30 cruise, the first one of the day.
We explored the museum in the meantime and really enjoyed the sea turtle and the shark exhibits. There were also many other fish and other creatures in huge aquariums for us to see. We were pretty much able to see nearly everything before the boat tour.
Sealife at the Virginia Beach Aquarium

Sealife at the Virginia Beach Aquarium

The cruise took us out to the Atlantic through a salt marshy backwater. It was pretty choppy at first but we had taken Dramamine to be on the safe side and none of us were bothered. We LOVED being on the boat! It was a gorgeous day and the breeze from the moving boat kept us comfortable.
Our Dolphin Cruise Guide, Katie

Our Dolphin Cruise Guide, Katie

Katie was our guide and she pointed out different types of birds, sights on shore, and of course sea life. We didn’t see any Dolphins right away but did see lots of manta rays. Some were as big as tires and others were small juveniles. Rachel and I saw a school of 10-12 little ones about the size of salad plates swimming along together.
20150731-820

On the Dolphin Cruise

Finally Dolphins were sighted and the captain slowed the boat so we could all see. We saw several sets of 2-4 juveniles swimming together and several sets of mothers with juveniles. We didn’t see any really big ones according to Katie. The time passed very fast and we were very excited each time someone sighted new creatures. On our way back we just traveled fast but it was fun to just ride along.
Our Boat

Our Boat

When we got back to the museum, we drove to the second building which was about a mile away. It focused on the rivers and salt marshes of the area. They had a big tank with river otters which were fun to watch. We also liked the sea horses and the crabs.
20150731-990

The Bridge across the Chesapeake Bay

After the museum, we drove across the Chesapeake Bay on a combination of long bridges and tunnels. Our destination was Cape Charles which my guidebook said was a nice out of the way spot without too many people. We wanted to eat some great fresh seafood and maybe find a beach for Rachel to dip her feet into the ocean. We didn’t realize that there was a $15 toll each way! We did find a great restaurant called the Shanty that attracted the locals with good fresh seafood.
The Shanty Restaurant

The Shanty Restaurant

They listed each local fisherman and farmer that they bought from on a large chalkboard inside the restaurant as their claim to freshness. Butch and I got the blue crab cake sandwich and Rachel got a shrimp basket. Both meals were delicious.
We were too full to go the beach after we had eaten so decided to go back to Hampton where we were staying and go to Buckroe Beach in town. Here’s where our troubles started… We discovered there was an accident on the big bridge that led from Virginia Beach to Hampton with no easy way around it. The traffic snarl probably added a whole hour or maybe more onto our trip back. Then we took a couple of wrong turns and had a hard time finding our way to the beach. We ended up stumbling onto the right street and finding it that way. The beach was really nice though and Rachel and I were able to sit in the surf which was nice and warm.
Butch, however, hated his experience and likened it to “gutter day” which in our family is right at the top of the “extremely trying” scale. First, he had to wear flip flops, which he hates. Then, he had to climb up and over a small cement wall between the grass and the sand. Next, he had to walk in sand in flip flops! Finally he had to do the whole process in reverse to get back to the car. He even had to hang onto a wooden fence to get back over the cement wall. Definitely “Gutter day!”
We returned to the hotel glad to take showers and turn in.
August 1
Saturday –  We decided to go to Jamestown Settlement instead of Williamsburg, mostly because of the heat and humidity. None of us could think about a half day in the baking sun. We were glad we did. We were held up by an accident on I64 that delayed us quite a bit.  When we got to Jamestown we found a gorgeous visitor’s center and museum built in the Prairie Style.
Jamestown Settlement

Jamestown Settlement

Soldiers at Jamestown

Soldiers at Jamestown

The displays inside were great and then we headed outside to see a Powhatan Village, replica ships of the time, and a model fort. The recreated areas were great because inside each room or wigwam, you could touch or pick up anything on display. There were lots of helpful guides dressed in costumes to answer questions or tell stuff. We really liked this place.
Next, we left for Monticello. It was a drive of over two hours and again, we ran into accident delays. I wouldn’t want to live in these areas and have to put up with this congestion on a regular basis. We arrived at about 3:30 and walked from the far parking lot uphill to the visitor’s center. Since we couldn’t predict what time we would arrive, we couldn’t reserve timed tickets ahead of time. When we got to the ticket booth there were only 3 tickets left for the last tour beginning at 6:10. We decided not to take them since we would have to wait over two hours. Instead, we saw a video about Jefferson, and visited some exhibits in the center. We were disappointed to not see the house but we just couldn’t face sitting around in the heat to wait so long.
We checked into our hotel to find that our reservation was for August 2nd instead of the 1st. They were able to make the switch to a room with two queen beds. The quirky part was, it was on the second floor and the only way to get to it was to go outside the hotel and climb the stairs with our luggage. The room was nice enough though. We found a restaurant and went out to dinner since we had had nothing but a few snacks since breakfast.
Rachel and Butch at the Restaurant

Rachel and Butch at the Restaurant

We turned in early in hopes of an early start in the morning. Sunday would be our longest day of driving and we would be starting home!
August 2
Sunday – woke up early as planned and were on the road by 8:00 am. The desk clerk in our hotel advised us to make sure we had a full tank of gas before entering Shenendoah National Park so that’s what we did. The park is a long skinny section of the Blue Ridge mountains. Skyline Drive goes in one end of the park and out the other with two access points in between. We decided to drive the middle third only, because the driving speed is 35 mph. We thought we could handle that slow stretch and still make it to Columbus, OH before dark. The scenery started getting very pretty even before we entered but was absolutely beautiful at every turn inside. Rachel was busy taking panoramas and doing a wonderful job if I might say.
Panoramas Taken on Skyline Drive, Shenandoah

Panoramas Taken on Skyline Drive, Shenandoah

When I was in high school, our American Heritage class had taken a trip to Washington and our bus had gone through the park back then. I was so impressed by the beauty of the place that I was excited to have Butch and Rachel see it too. I was a little worried that my memories were rosier than reality but they both liked it as much as I did. We stopped at most of the overlooks and at least drove through the rest of them. The mountains in this area are older and softer than the Rockies. They are, of course, much smaller and are completely covered with trees. The views are incredibly green in the foreground with the mountains farthest away looking blue. There were lots of wild flowers along the roadsides and the temperatures were in the cool 60’s and 70’s which was a welcome break for us. There were also lots of butterflies everywhere we stopped…more than we see in Iowa, by far.
A Scenic Overlook with Rachel, Karen, and Robert Thorpe

A Scenic Overlook with Rachel, Karen, and Robert Thorpe

There was a visitor’s center/gift shop in the park about half way through our drive. They had a nice little exhibit about establishing the area as a National Park in the 30’s along with the roles played by the CCC and the WPA. Rachel bought some really cool postcards that were copies of posters of national parks created by artists during the depression. We all loved the rugged style and the striking colors of the art work.
A Striking View

A Striking View

Just as we were leaving the park, we had the most thrilling surprise when we saw a small black bear right by the side of the road. He was so still that we all thought at first that he wasn’t real, but as we drove up beside him he was startled and turned back into the woods. It all happened too fast for a picture but we felt incredibly lucky to see such a wild creature up close.
Our GPS route to Columbus took us on lots of what I would consider back roads. We saw more mountain and back country scenery as the day went along. We stopped for lunch at a Popeyes Chicken place. Which was…Meh!
As we drove we listened to to more of the audio book which was about a detective named Bernie and his partner (who is a dog) named Chet. We listened to the first book in the series on the way out and started the second book today as we started back. It sounds like a hokey premise but the books are actually done pretty well. Chet is the narrator so the story is told through a slightly quirky perspective. The author obviously knows and loves dogs and uses Chet to inject some humor and humility to the interactions between the people in the story.
The Gravestone of Mathias and Amy Miller, Millersport, Ohio

The Gravestone of Mathias and Amy Miller, Millersport, Ohio

As we got close to Columbus, we stopped in a town called Millersport to visit the grave of another one of Butch’s ancestors, Mathias Miller, a third great grandfather who founded the town.  Butch took a few pictures of his and his wife’s grave. Tomorrow we will do a little more genealogy work before continuing our trip home.
August 3
Monday – We woke up to a rainy day which scotched the plan to take more genealogy pictures in Columbus. None of us could see slogging around in cemeteries in the rain. That meant that we got an earlier start than we had thought. We had a relatively uneventful drive with no problems or traffic delays. More Chet and Bernie to keep us entertained!
When we got to Iowa City at about 5:00, the whole family was glad to have Rachel home again. I think she was glad to be home too. After a short visit, we were on the road again toward Cedar Rapids and the end of our vacation.
Posted in Autobiography | 4 Comments

2015 Washington DC Vacation – Part 1

Our Trip to Washington DC – Summer 2015

Karen was the official keeper of this account of our vacation.
July 24
We dropped Ben off in Iowa City at about 5:30 and picked up Rachel and her bags. She spent the night at our house so we could get an early start in the morning.
July 25
Butch, Rachel, and Karen Thorpe

Butch, Rachel, and Karen Thorpe

We left Cedar Rapids at 8:15am and arrived in Fremont, Ohio at about 6:00 pm. After we checked into our hotel, we drove to John Thorp’s grave at the Deyo Cemetery before it got dark. Butch wanted to show Rachel some of the history of the Thorpe ancestors.
Rachel and John Thorp

Rachel and John Thorp

John Thorp is the oldest ancestor born and buried in the U.S. that we know of. He was born in 1792. Genealogists have figured out his birth date from the death date and age carved on his tombstone. He died in Clyde, Ohio in 1850. Then we went to another cemetery to find some MacInyre and Lemmon ancestors. We ate dinner at the Denny’s next to our hotel when we got back. We all had very bad food.
July 26
A Map of our Journey

A Map of our Journey

Sunday – ate breakfast at the same Denny’s (much better at breakfast) and were on the road to Rockville,MD by 8:30 am.  We went through Clyde, Ohio, on the way to the interstate and passed by an interesting roadside attraction, the Twistee Treat ice cream store.
Twistee Treat in Clyde, Ohio

Twistee Treat in Clyde, Ohio

There were many beautiful views while driving through the Allegheny Mountains. Rachel was impressed by the fancy rest stops all along the route. We saw a grey fox dart across the road along with at least one deer. We also listened to a book on tape about a detective named Bert and his dog Chet.
We arrived in Rockville about 4:30. Our hotel and room were very nice. We had a king sized bed in a bedroom with an extra sitting room. Rachel slept on a hide-a-bed in there.
Rachel Lounging

Rachel Lounging

It had a nice outside pool, a laundry room, and a very good complimentary breakfast each day. (Eggs, bacon, sausage, fresh fruit, waffles etc.) they also provided a shuttle to the Rockville metro station that left on the hour. That was a big feature that made us choose this particular place.
We were all very tired and full from lunch so we just relaxed in our room and watched Poldark before bed.
July 27
Monday- We had the complimentary breakfast and planned to take the hotel shuttle to the Rockville metro station.
Our Shuttle to the Metro

Our Shuttle to the Metro

The 9:00 shuttle was full so we didn’t get on. We went back to our room and came downstairs for the 10:00 shuttle but it left before we got there. We finally caught the 11:00 shuttle and at the station we had to figure out how to pay and enter the train area. A very kind attendant let Butch and I go through without paying since we had to buy our Senior’s Smartrip card at Metro Center. She helped us buy a card for Rachel from a machine.
Rockville Station

Rockville Station

When we got to Metro Central stop we bought our cards and loaded up Rachel’s. Our senior discount made our trips cost half as much as Rachel’s. From the metro, we took a very HOT walk to the American History Museum. Rachel had forgotten her sun glasses and her eyes watered so much she could hardly see. Fortunately she got that under control after a while.
Dorothy's Ruby Slippers and Kermit the Frog

Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers and Kermit the Frog

We saw Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers, Kermit the Frog, Lincoln’s top hat, and all of the First Ladies’ Inaugural gowns. After lunch in the cafeteria, we went to the Natural History Museum. We arrived there fairly late in the afternoon and the crowds were horrible. We were exhausted after a couple of hours and really had a hard time seeing much. We liked the mammals, and the gem and mineral exhibits the best. We walked back to the metro and realized we were riding back to our hotel during rush hour. We stood for the entire ride (about half an hour) in an incredibly crowded car. We called our shuttle and after a wait were glad to be on our way “home.”
Later, after we revived a bit we went out to a really nice Indian restaurant for dinner. The food was very good and we all ate too much.
July 28
Tuesday- We had decided to buy a Hop On, Hop Off tour to see the sights. We rode the Metro to Union Station during rush hour again. Since Rockville is near the end of the Red Line, we were able to get seats but not together. More and more people kept getting on at every stop. Each time, I thought that they would look at our car and decide it was too full to fit on but every time they just squeezed in tighter. I was nervous because there were so many people we could no longer see each other. Thankfully, a whole bunch of people got off at Metro Center and Rachel could come sit with me. When we got to Union Station we boarded a BigBus Tour with Mike as our guide. We rode on the open top which was in the blazing sun but it was early in the day and not too hot yet and it had a bit of a breeze. Luckily we all had our hats so it wasn’t too bad. Mike was very entertaining and had a passion for telling stories so we learned a lot. The drive was about two hours so we got to see a almost every building and monument of note.
Some of the Sights in Washington DC

Some of the Sights in Washington DC

Back at Union Station there were many lunch choices and we all picked what we liked. We then got back on another BigBus and rode to the Jefferson Memorial. By now it was beastly hot and humid and the walk around the memorial to climb the stairs was very uncomfortable. I love that memorial and Jefferson is a favorite of mine so I guess it was worth it. While we were there a beautiful cecropia moth landed on the floor by Butch’s bench. It lay there posing for pictures. Lots of people gathered around to see it and we worried it would be stepped on but everyone was careful and protective of it.
Jefferson Memorial and Moth

Jefferson Memorial and Moth

We waited for the next shuttle to take us to the Lincoln Memorial. We were limp with heat and sweat by the time we got there. The crowds were thick and we took a few pictures and enjoyed the view. We walked on to the Korean War Memorial which is is very emotional. It is 15 or so slightly bigger than life statues of ordinary soldiers walking through a rice paddy in ponchos and full gear. Each one has a unique face. Some look scared but most look weary. I have seen it before but that one really gets to me.
Korean War Memorial

Korean War Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

By the time we finished there, we were so wrung out we were ready to go home. We waited for our tour bus but it stopped a ways from the bus stop and a whole crowd of people rushed to get on. We were first in line but ended up without a place. We were so tired and hot we flagged down a taxi to take us back to Union Station. It really didn’t cost that much and was well worth every single penny. This time we made it onto a train before rush hour and were able to get a seat and had a comfortable ride back to Rockville.
20150729-010

A Tame Subway Ride

As soon as we got home we put on our suits for a refreshing dip in the pool. It was an outside pool and was a pretty good size. It took some time before we finally felt cool again.
Our dinner choice that night was Italian and we found a nice restaurant that was only about a mile away. Butch had Chicken Milanaise with lemon cream sauce and capers. Rachel went with her favorite Fettacine Alfredo and I had Pasta Diavolo which was seafood in a spicy sauce. Everything was very good and the restaurant had a nice atmosphere. We laughed and joked and had a very nice time.
We got home In time to listen to a little of our audio book and then we all turned in early. I think everyone had a good night’s sleep after our hot day of sightseeing. As we were going to bed, Rachel and I decided being on vacation was hard work.
July 29
Wednesday – Today we decided to sleep in a little. We also didn’t want to take the train into DC during rush hour. We had breakfast and came down to catch the 10:00 shuttle. At about 10:10, a desk clerk came outside where we were waiting and told us that the shuttle had some mechanical problems and had been taken to the shop. We asked her to call a taxi for us and had to wait around for another 20 minutes for one to arrive.
We had planned to split up. Rachel and I left the metro station and walked about 5 blocks to get to the Holocaust Museum. We got our timed ticket at the desk and only had to wait about a half hour until it was our turn to go in. The exhibit is very somber and moving. There are also many horrifying images of all that went on. The videos taken by allied troops as the got to Auschwitz and other camps were almost too much to watch. For me, the movie at the end with survivors telling about their experiences was the hardest. I can’t imagine enduring so much. It was especially hard hearing from parents who were separated from their children and were not ableto hold and comfort them through the terrifying things that happened. Rachel and I each bought a mug with a hopeful message and Rachel also bought a book.
Tattoos and Discarded Shoes

Tattoos and Discarded Shoes

While we were at the Holocaust Museum, Butch went to the Air and Space Museum.
Spirit of St Louis and a Wright Flyer

Spirit of St Louis and a Wright Flyer

The two of us took a taxi to the Hirshhorn Museum to meet up with Butch. There is a beautiful sculpture garden on the grounds that we strolled through. Rachel and Butch took lots of pictures.
Sculpture Garden at the Hirshhorn Museum

Sculpture Garden at the Hirschhorn Museum

We decided that we had had our fill of museums and were ready to call it a day. Besides it was hotter than Hades again. Outside the museum we caught a metro bus to Union Station. When we arrived, we picked out a Mediterranean Restaurant and had some delicious food for lunch. Rachel tried couscous for the first time and liked it! A horizon expanded!!! When we finished lunch we hopped on the metro to return to the hotel.
Since we were leaving the next day, I took the opportunity to do some laundry. It was expensive and uncomfortable but good to have some clean clothes. Neither Butch nor Rachel were up for a dip in the pool so I went by myself. Doing laundry was hot work so it felt good to relax there for a while.
We went down to the hotel cafe for a pizza and a couple of beers before turning in. For the record, Rachel stuck to coke.
Posted in Autobiography | 2 Comments

The Belgium-Netherlands Adventure – Part 4

September 13, Saturday

We had breakfast in the hotel again and paid for the stay in cash as requested, €630. We were a little worried about having that much money just laying around, but it turned out to be ok.

Butch took several pictures of Fritz and he in turn took several of us. As it turns out he was a professional, fashion photographer. He said Loes, our hostess, inherited the hotel from her father. It has been in her family for 45 years. He said the bench just down on the corner had been used in the filming of The Fault in Our Stars and was now famous.

Fritz at De Leydsche Hof

Fritz at De Leydsche Hof

We took a taxi to Centraal Station, a behavior now becoming the rule, not the exception and bought tickets on Thalys for Brussels, 10:18 to 12:20. The Thalys is the bullet train but we stopped so many places along the way I don’t think it ever got up to its rated 200 kilometers per hour.

We sat with a couple from Australia on the way, Greg and Jan Bowman, which made the time go very fast. We traded addresses and emails with each other when we parted.

Greg and Jan Bowman from Australia

Greg and Jan Bowman from Australia

We took the now standard taxi ride to the Hotel a la Grande Cloche, €5.80. We checked in right away even though we had arrived early.

Hotel a la Grande Cloche

Hotel a la Grande Cloche

Again I found the oh so welcome fan. We did our email etc. and set off on our first day’s exploration of Brussels.

The first destinations were the Mannikin Pis and Jeanneke Pis by way of the Grote Markt.

Mannikin Pis and Jeanneke Pis

Mannikin Pis and Jeanneke Pis

The Grande Place or Grote Markt, was packed with tourists and there was an orchestra playing Star Wars music.  We had been walking down narrow cobbled streets and suddenly they opened up into this grand square. It may be cheesy but it kind of takes your breath away to see it so suddenly like that. Buildings on one side of the square were being restored. Most of the places we had been to had some restoration work going on and the general practice was to cover the face of the buildings with a large piece of material that protected passersby from falling stonework or whatever. Here, they had printed the image of the buildings on the surface of the material (the 4th picture below). I bet it cost as much to do that as the restoration work itself.

Grote Markt in Brussels

Grote Markt in Brussels

Our plan was to find the Musical Instrument Museum and we arrived there at about 3:30 and they closed at 5:00 so we didn’t have a lot of time. It was a long walk uphill to get to it and a long walk downhill to get back to our hotel. Hard times!

I was in 7th Heaven at the museum. One whole floor was just the kind of instruments I wanted to see; shawms, hautbois, krumhorns, musettes and other very interesting bagpipes, serpents, sackbutts, a medieval treasure trove. Karen was bored stiff. She said that I was going to have to accompany her to the botanical garden to make up for it.

Hurdy Gurdy

Hurdy Gurdy

We were so pooped going back that we stopped at a little bar just around the corner from our hotel for large cold beers. It is amazing how that can help a person happy up. Later we went to a restaurant across the street for mussels, frites, and beer.

Eating mussels in Brussells

Eating mussels in Brussels

I was in bed by 7:30 and Karen by 9:00 because we were so exhausted.

September 14, Sunday

This was our daughter Wendy’s 42nd birthday.

We slept in until 8:30 am which is late for us.

We decided to rest and recover that day instead of taking our boat trip in Dinant. Two weeks of museums and sightseeing had caught up with us. Karen had the sniffles and was feeling under the weather. About noon we left again and walked to the Markt and found a café for lunch. Butch, beef. Karen, chicken stew in cream sauce. Both were overpriced and not very good.

We walked around the square again and found the carriage ride. One half hour for €39 but fun to see so many sights without walking so far. Brussels is pretty, charming, and interesting but seemed shabbier and kind of dirty compared to the other cities we visited. I think the Dutch live up to their extra tidy reputation.

Carriage ride in Brussels

Carriage ride in Brussels

One must eat a waffle in Brussels. Karen had one with powdered sugar and I had one with bananas, chocolate, and whipped cream. We ate them standing up on the square. For a major tourist destination there are no places to sit other than the restaurants. Hey, that’s probably by design.

About 7:45 pm I went to the bar across the street from the hotel for a couple of beers while Karen stayed in to nurse her cold. A waiter named Kevin took an interest in me and we chatted between the times when he was busy. There was an interesting mural on their wall with all the captions in French. I tried to use Google Translate to figure out what was going on. Later on I just took a picture of it. The next day, Google Goggles had found the picture and told me the location and the name of the cafe. Creepy!

Mural at Houtsiplou

Mural at Houtsiplou

In bed by 9:30.

September 15, Monday

We got up early and ate breakfast in the hotel dining room. It didn’t come with the price of the room, but it was reasonable and they just added it to our hotel bill.

We took the Metro to Brussels Midi. We had a lot of trouble using the Metro ticket machine and bank ATM. Karen put the wrong password in three times, but we figured that out. When we got our money and turned around there was a long line of people behind us. Those darned Americans!! We got on the train to Ghent and found seats this time, which we didn’t the day we went to Bruges. We arrived in Ghent about 10:30 am and found the restaurant where we were supposed to meet with my cousins and aunts. We tried a stroll around the block to see if there were any shops but there weren’t any of interest.

Square in Ghent

Square in Ghent

We went back to the circle in front of the station and sat on a bench to people-watch until 12:30. There were lots of young people with backpacks obviously traveling from country to country. It made us a little jealous that we ended up traveling when we are old! We went to the restaurant and ordered a beer, waiting for the family to arrive. It turns out they were having trouble finding a parking place but they arrived right at 1:00 pm. We got situated and my cousin Susan, who had picked this place, went to have a look at the buffet offerings. Both my Auntie Joan and I can’t eat onions and since this was a vegetarian restaurant, just about everything had onions in it. Sue determined the restaurant next door would be a better fit for everyone’s diet.

We had a nice lunch and a good chat. Sue picked up the tab which was very nice of her. It was so nice to have a chance to see everyone again and we really appreciated their great effort to meet us in Ghent.

Sue, Karen, Tricia, Auntie Joan, Butch, and Auntie Edith

Sue, Karen, Tricia, Auntie Joan, Butch, and Auntie Edith

My mom had sent her sister Joan a locket with both their pictures in it. Joan was delighted with it and showed it to us.

Auntie Joan and locket

Auntie Joan and locket

After lunch we returned to Brussels and took the Metro back to the tourist areas. I installed myself in a café and Karen went looking for chocolate. We walked back to the hotel for a rest and went out to dinner at about 8:00 pm. We chose the place across the street from the hotel, the one that I had gone to the night before. Karen and I shared shrimp scampi and fries. The neighborhood was quite ethnically diverse and lively. It reminded us of a neighborhood where Wendy lived in California before she was married.

Houtsiplou Brasserie

Houtsiplou Brasserie

Early to bed.

September 16, Tuesday

Train to Brussels Airport

Train to Brussels Airport

We got up at 6:00 am, finished packing up and checked out by 7:00. We skipped breakfast thinking we would have something at the airport. We took a taxi to the Midi train station. The train to the airport was delayed and we had to switch to a different track to catch the next one. It arrived at the airport about 9:00. We ended up standing in various long lines until boarding, so we had no time to get water, coffee, or a snack. We boarded our flight at 10:10 am and took off at 11:10.

The flight was uneventful but grueling. We were pretty uncomfortable by the end. However, we had never been on a flight that served so much food. They fed us a snack soon after takeoff, a chicken dinner a couple of hours later, another small snack, then a sandwich about an hour before landing. I guess they figure eating keeps people occupied. I read a Jack Reacher novel, Personal, by Lee Child. That made the time pass as quickly as it could.

We checked our bags for this flight, which turned out to be a mistake. Usually we take our small suitcases as carry-on luggage. In this case we thought it would be easier but it turned out not to be.When we landed, we had to go through a passport check of course then there was a machine which took our picture and spat out a “ticket” for the immigration officials. Then we had to pick up our checked bags and go through security again. I don’t understand why we had to do this because we had just gone through international security in Brussels and no one could have passed anything to us between the time we picked up our bags and got to customs. We finally finished up the processing by 4:15.

Our plane was not scheduled to take off until 8:44 pm so we had a tedious 4 1/2 hour wait. But we finally took off and arrived in Cedar Rapids two hours later. Our friend Jenny Wertz was waiting for us. We loaded up the bags and on the way home a semi roared by next to us and scared the daylights out of us. We had forgotten to close the back hatch so the sound was greatly amplified. Luckily, our luggage did not fall out and bounce down the interstate.

It was a long, long day of travel but we were home again and gratefully fell into our own bed at about 11:00 pm Iowa time and 5:00 am in Brussels time where we started.

Posted in Autobiography | 2 Comments

The Belgium-Netherlands Adventure – Part 3

September 8, Monday, continued

When we got to the station in Groningen we bought tickets from a helpful, but overly chatty agent. We thought we might miss our train he rambled on so long. After we got on the train they announced that there was an accident between Assen and Zwolle. A nice young man sitting across from us translated the announcement for us. It turned out that an earlier train had hit a pedestrian, so they closed that section of the route and we had to leave the train at Assen where they promised us a bus to the next major station. We asked the nice kid if he was going on and would be riding the bus. When he said yes, we asked if we could follow him to the bus stop. He stuck with us and helped for the rest of the time that we were going the same way.

We waited in the queue for a long time when we got the second bus they sent. Meantime we were trying to call our hotel to let them know we’d be late. We used our new phone but the call wouldn’t go through. Butch also tried to send several emails from the train but he would lose the Wi-Fi connection before they were sent.

The kid left us in Zwolle where we tried to call our hotel again, but no luck. When we got to Zwolle, the last train on our ticket had departed. We were getting pretty worried. But there were other trains going to that destination, Amersfoort, and we got on one of those, still not knowing if we could get to Amsterdam that evening. We tried our phone once more but it still didn’t work. Luckily, we could get a train to Amsterdam from Amersfoort.

On the way I talked to a lady sitting next to me to ask for advice about what could be wrong about our dialing. Just about the time we had it figured out a man stood up and told me off. He said, “Sir, silence!” and pointed to a sign in the window. Apparently we were in a “silent car” and even though the two of us were speaking softly we had still somehow violated the rules.

When we arrived in Amsterdam we had five distinct sections on our journey. I called the hotel again, leaving out one digit I suspected was the problem all along. It worked. The hotel owners were put out, thinking we had blown them off. We apologized profusely and hoped they would forgive us. They expected us at 1:00, we arrived there close to 9:00. We took a taxi to the hotel. By now, a taxi at the beginning and the end of our travels was quickly establishing itself as the way to do things. When we got in the hotel our wifi worked again, so I suspect they received all the emails to them that had been accumulating all day long.

We were very hot, tired, and mentally exhausted. We fell into bed after a shower by about 10:45, content that this hotel also had a fan.

September 9, Tuesday

On our first day in Amsterdam we had breakfast in the hotel. It was very nice but just like all the other breakfasts we had had so far. Karen woke up with a headache, feeling sick to her stomach. She couldn’t eat much breakfast, but after a while she felt better. We met some other guests, Mike and Sherwood, who shared descriptions of their excursions to date. They were planning to do some bike riding on the outskirts of town.

After breakfast we decided to walk to the Rijksmuseum about five or six blocks away.

Rijksmuseum

Rijksmuseum

We loved the exhibits: Rembrandt, Vermeer, Halls, Van Eck, and Jan Steen, etc.

20140909-0270B

We ate lunch at the museum café: the meat, bread and cheese tray. Beautiful and more to eat then we could finish. Our waitress was very tall and slim, but all around her waist she had a Batman utility belt. I bet she had 5 or 6 bulky electronic devices. I have no idea what she used them all for.

Waitress at the Rijksmuseum

Waitress at the Rijksmuseum

As we were going into the museum, a lady stopped us to ask where the entrance was. We weren’t sure either but found it and went back to let her know. She was American and her husband was in a wheelchair. We met them several more times in the museum and each time chatted a bit. On our walk back to the hotel we saw them again, sitting on a low wall for rest. Butch asked them where they were from, Iowa of course, Grinnell. The guy knew our friend John’s dad, Dale Hawn. Small world.

Sharp and Linda Lannon

Sharp and Linda Lannon

We stopped at a ticket shop and bought a three day tram and bus ticket. We wanted a four day one, but that ticket office didn’t have those. We rode the tram back to our hotel, the Hotel de Leydsche Hof. Since we arrived after dark, we really hadn’t got a good look at it. But now it was daylight and we could see it clearly.

Hotel Leydsche Hof

Hotel Leydsche Hof

We looked up a laundry and grocery store and went out again after a rest. Doing the laundry took us about an hour and a half but it had to be done. Doing laundry is the only wrinkle in Rick Steves’ approach to travel as far as I can see. It’s critical to keeping the weight of your bags down, however. I stepped next door to get change for the machines and in thankfulness for the money changing, went back for a beer while Karen minded the laundry and read her digital book. I chatted up the bartender who was 38 years old and had a 12-year-old daughter.

Karen at the Laundomat

Karen at the Laundomat

On our way home we stopped at a grocery store to buy beer, wine, bread, ham, cheese, butter, and Band-Aids and lugged the whole mess home. Up three flights, 57 steps, and we were done for. We had our little snack and called it a day.

September 10, Wednesday

We had breakfast at the hotel again and in addition to Mike and Sherwood, two German ladies had joined the group and also a foursome of 4 more Americans. At 10:00 we set off for our day, taking tram number 2. Our first stop was the Stedelijk Museum which was mostly modern art. I liked a lot of what I saw there. At one point I needed to sit down and take a load off my feet for a minute. There was a bench in the middle of the room that had quite a bit of overhang beyond the legs at each end. I sat down on the end. The bench was not bolted to the floor so as I sat down the other end came up off the floor. It took a heartbeat for me to realize what was happening, but I was able to stop myself from going down all the way. By this time the other end of the bench was about four feet off the floor. As I stood up again, the other end came crashing down. It hit the terrazzo floor and sounded just like a gunshot. The guards came running into the room, just about having heart attacks.

Next, the van Gogh Museum. It was very crowded and we were very glad to have our Museumcarts. No pictures were allowed.

Our guide books suggested that we might like to see some “brown cafes”. They are mostly old bars that have been around since the 1600’s where the centuries of smoking has turned the walls brown. Seeing them appealed to me and we took the tram in search of the Drie Fleschjes gin place. We walked right past it and then spent another hour looking for it. We finally found it after getting directions from a “walking tour” guide. We got there midafternoon but it didn’t open till 6:30. No joy.

We stopped at the Corner House Café and got a bacon and cheese pancake accompanied by the ever popular glass of beer.

Bacon and cheese pancake at the Corner House

Bacon and cheese pancake at the Corner House

We took tram 5 back to the Centraal Station and switched to tram 9 to the Waterlooplein fleamarket. It was pretty large, but we didn’t think it was all that special.

Just around the corner was the Rembrandt House. This is not an art museum. It is his own house decorated like when he lived there. It has three floors of steep spiral staircases to get to all the rooms. The top floor had a large collection of original etchings (original plates and prints made by his own hand).

After that we headed back to Centraal Station, took tram 9 to hell and gone and walked for two hours aimlessly looking for the Hoppe Café, another brown cafe, which we never found.

Piepers

Piepers

Finally a fellow directed us to Pieper’s Café which our landlord Fritz had recommended. It was just a block and a half from our hotel and as we discoverd later, just as nice as any brown cafe. We had a beer then limped home, up the 57 steps to our room. We’re not moving any more today. 12,731 steps on the Fit Bit!

September 11, Thursday

We left for the Anne Frank House at 8:30. We had to miss breakfast to leave that early. You are supposed to be able to get reservations and if you did you didn’t have to stand in line. But when we checked online to see how to do it they said all the reservations were used up for that week. We could, however, stand in line and still get in. We arrived at 8:50 to find a queue already there. We got in the museum by 9:30. Not bad! It was a very moving exhibit, well planned to move people through respectfully. We had a coffee and tarts in the café since we missed our coffee at breakfast. Karen visited the gift shop to get some of the presents we wanted to take back.

Karen at the Anne Frank House

Karen at the Anne Frank House

Another item on our agenda was a canal cruise. They run all the time and we could get one right by the Anne Frank House. It takes about an hour and there are three different routes.

Canal boatride in Amsterdam

Canal boatride in Amsterdam

We finally made it to the Café Hoppe. The waiter was named Jan. It’s one of the brown cafés and has a big picture on the wall and you can see part of it behind Jan in the picture below.

Jan at the Cafe Hoppe

Jan at the Cafe Hoppe

Salmon sandwich at the Cafe Hoppe

Salmon sandwich at the Cafe Hoppe

We had sandwiches. Butch, ham and cheese. Karen, smoked salmon, wasabi Mayo, and cucumber.

Our feet were killing us after the pounding we gave them yesterday and today too (yes, even Karen) so we sat on a bench in a square to people watch.

We did another grocery store run, then home for a rest.

Snacks from the grocery store

Snacks from the grocery store

Now that we knew where it was, we returned to De Drie Fleschjes. I tried their six-year-old Jenniver, with a tonic for a chaser. I just can’t drink distilled liquor straight. It tasted like single malt scotch which is how the bartender described it. I had another Jenniver that was flavored with cardamom before Karen cut me off.

Johannes Bulthuis at De Drie Fleschjes

Johannes at De Drie Fleschjes

September 12, Friday

This was my birthday. We had breakfast at the hotel and one of the American foursome asked me about the Anne Frank House, whether I thought he might find it too claustrophobic. I assured him he wouldn’t. We took the tram to Centraal Station and then the train to the Hague.

Our destination was the Mauritshuis Museum. It was newly reopened and is the home for The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Vermeer. There are many other paintings there too; Rubens, Van Dyke, Memling. Previous to the movie, they did not consider The Girl with the Pearl Earring to be a very important painting, at least not compared to some of their others. After seeing it, while it was nice enough, I just didn’t think it was in the same league as some of his other paintings. Both of us liked his landscape of the town of Delft much better.

Girl with the Pearl Earring and Delft Landscape by Vermeer

Girl with the Pearl Earring and Delft Landscape by Vermeer

We had lunch at Barlow’s Café. Butch, steak with tarragon mayo, Karen, openface sandwich with hummus, Parma ham, parmasan and lemon pepper garnish with greens and red pepper.

We got the train back to Amsterdam at 3:14 and arrived about 4 o’clock. We tried to take another Canal cruise on the red line to see stuff we didn’t see on the first cruise. We paid €22 each and got cheated because it was the last run and stopped at the Rijksmuseum instead of doing the full circuit. We got on the tram and went back to our hotel about 6:00pm.

We ate a feast from our remaining bread, cheese, ham, olives, grapes, and cherry tarts and packed up for leaving in the morning.

Posted in Autobiography | 1 Comment