Lake Havasu City vacation rental

Lake Havasu City, Arizona is a town built on tourism. As such, it has its share of the basic hotel chains, along with a handful of resorts and boutique hotels. When I visited, we stayed at a vacation rental we found through VRBO.com. The price was right, the high speed internet was fast and reliable, and pets were allowed. Plus, the owner of the home was easy to work with and on top of every detail. For example, while we were there, the air conditioner failed and she had a workman out to the house as soon as we let her know about it. It was fixed before we got back from our morning walk.

The place itself was clean and perfectly acceptable for our needs. It has three bedrooms and two bathrooms. We had five adults staying there, so there was plenty of room for everyone to stretch out. We all fit well around the dining table and in the sitting areas, and there were plenty of little nooks to go hide out in if somebody needed the space.

Working on vacation

Hubby was able to set up shop in the front room and work while we were there.

Pets allowed at vacation rental in Lake Havasu City

Pets are allowed! Our guy got comfortable right away in his little bed next to Hubby’s work station.

Vacation rental kitchen in Lake Havasu City

The kitchen needs a good overhaul–the interior of the cabinets is a little scary–but it served our purposes just fine.

Vacation rental pool in Lake Havasu

There is a huge diving pool in the backyard. None of us used it while we were there, but it would be great for families and larger groups.

Vacation rental back patio grill and shade.

The back patio was a favorite spot throughout the day for those who wanted to relax with a book. It also is fully equipped with a massive grill and chiminea.

Vacation rental Lake Havasu City back patio

The back patio was such a hit with us that it deserves two photos.

Lake Havasu City vacation rental perfectly located

Finally, the house is perfectly located–just minutes from the lake and anything you’d want to do in town. If there were more sidewalks around for safe walking, we would be there all the time!

Overall, I give the place three stars out of five. I would give it more, but even though the owner seems to have updated it with new windows and laminated wood flooring in a couple of the bedrooms, it really needs more updating in the kitchen and bathrooms. There was also a musty smell, but it was mostly hidden by the surprisingly loud automatic fragrance sprays. While I’m glad something was there to cover up the mustiness, the sprayers “sneezed” loudly whenever anyone walked in front of them. I never got used to it and jumped nearly every time it sprayed.

If that’s my biggest complaint, then there’s not much to complain about. Cleanliness is number one in my book and this place was clean. I would recommend it to anyone going to Lake Havasu City, especially people with kids who want to use a pool and/or grill out.

Have you visited Lake Havasu City? If so, where did you stay? Post your favorites in the Comments Section below.

Traveling dog

We have returned from our first road trip with King Lukas and I am happy to report he did great! In fact, since we’ve been home, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard him humming this Johnny Cash tune.

Perhaps he hasn’t been everywhere, but the first trip out was such a success that we see no reason why he can’t join us on other adventures.

The drive from Phoenix to San Diego was six hours. Lukas slept about five of those, if not more. I was thankful we thought to put his doggie bed in the car with us before latching him into the seat with his seatbelt extender. He stayed there for most of the ride.

Mr. Lukas slept a good part of the way to San Diego.

Minutes after we got to our vacation rental, Lukas felt right at home. He was a little uncertain at first–very excited to race down the street to take care of business and to walk out some of the kinks in his elbows and knees from sitting for so long–but soon we were inside, relaxing together on the couch.

We made it!

Once we got settled in, we started a tradition that would carry us through the rest of the week–a walk down to the park that sits along the shore. We did this first thing in the morning and right after dinner every night. Not a bad way to start and end each day! Lukas, of course, loved it!

A walk by the beach at sunset after dinner.

A gorgeous sunset in La Jolla.

Lukas could care less about the sunset. He was excited by all the new smells!

I, on the other hand, kept falling behind in our walk because I kept taking pictures.

We did the same route in the mornings. And, yes, I got behind then too. It’s just too beautiful not to stop and enjoy!

One more for the road.

Although Lukas enjoyed our road trip together, he does seem a little more content to be at home. We’d like to think, though, that he enjoys being wherever we are. It’s sure hard to see that face and think otherwise.

Love bug.

Walking Stratford

While at first glance Stratford, Ontario may seem like any small, historic town in North America, it has a lot to offer the traveling walker. For those used to city life, Stratford moves at a slower pace, but it won’t disappoint in the way of world-class entertainment and restaurants. For the tourist who likes to walk and see the places they visit, Stratford is perfect as well, offering many walking tours, excellent paths to stroll along the river, a long street for shopping, and several gardens to explore.

Stratford, Ontario is about a two-hour drive from Toronto or a three-hour drive from Detroit. Although Detroit is an hour longer, crossing the border by car seems to be quicker than going through customs at the airport in Toronto. From Phoenix, prices for flights are cheaper to Detroit than they are to Toronto as well. Still, Toronto is a fabulous city with all its own reasons for visiting, so make sure to choose to visit Toronto, either on its own, or as a path to Stratford sometime.

To enter Canada by flying into Toronto, US citizens need to have their passports. To drive up from Detroit, you must have either a passport or the US Passport Card.

The U.S. Passport Card can be used to enter the United States from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda at land border crossings or sea ports-of-entry and is more convenient and less expensive than a passport book. The passport card cannot be used for international travel by air.

~ From the US Bureau of Consular Affairs website

Where we stayed and why

If you read my previous article, you know we stayed at one of my favorite places in the world, The Verandah, a vacation rental owned by Debbie and Denis Harrison who rent out one side of their duplex home and live in the other side. The Verandah is perfectly situated for anyone wanting to visit Stratford mostly on foot. We were able to walk to all the theaters and restaurants from our home away from home. In fact, the only place we didn’t walk to was the grocery store, which was just a tad too far for carrying loads of groceries.

The Verandah has two bedrooms, both with queen-sized beds, and one-and-a-half baths. It has a full-size kitchen filled with glasses, dishes, pots, pans, and utensils–pretty much anything one might need to cook at home. There is an office with a large desk for those who must work while in Stratford, and they have high-speed wireless internet. For those times when you need to wash a load of clothes, there is a washer and dryer on site. For more images of The Verandah, go to my previous article.

All distances and step calculations mentioned below are measured from the front door of The Verandah, which is located at 29 Church Street.

The Verandah.

Groceries and other necessities

If you’re staying in Stratford for any length of time and you have a kitchen available, you may wish to visit one of the many farmers markets or local food marts to take advantage of the fresh produce available in the summertime in Ontario. Thanks to groups like Slow Food Perth County, and others equally interested in eating locally and seasonally, there are several options available.

Sunday Slow Food Farmers Market: This market is open on Sundays from 10am to 2pm during the summer months. Be sure to check with them online for their schedule, as they close when temperatures start to cool down. While they are in operation during the summer, they sponsor special events, including a Food Truck Event and a Pork Party, celebrating Stratford’s history with all things pork.

The Slow Food Farmers Market is in the Market Square, just behind City Hall, between Downie and Wellington Streets. It is just over a quarter of a mile from The Verandah, making it about 600 steps one way.

The Slow Food Farmers Market is located behind City Hall. (Look closely and you can see a food truck.) Take the road left, and you’ll come upon the Co-op. Take the road right and you’ll find the LCBO.

Your Local Market Cooperative: This little grocery shop is owned and operated by the employees. Almost everything they sell is produced and/or processed in Ontario, the only exception being that their soymilk is from Quebec because they haven’t yet found a local producer. Breads are made onsite daily.

Regular hours are Monday through Saturday from 8am to 8pm, Sunday 9am to 5pm.

Located at 129 Downie Street, this store is .3 miles, or 600 steps, from The Verandah.

The Gentle Rain Natural Health Food Store: This store has been serving Stratford for 30 years. They provide all manner of organic groceries, natural household products, supplements, and other items you may need to eat and live healthily. Their selection and variety is a little bigger than the co-op downtown, but both stores have the same desire of providing local, seasonal, healthy choices.

Their hours are Monday through Friday from 9am to 7pm, Saturday from 9am to 5:30pm, and Sunday from 11am to 5pm.

The Gentle Rain is located at 30 Rebecca Street, which is approximately .5 miles from The Verandah, or 1000 steps.

Zehr’s: If you can’t find what you need at the farmers market, the co-op, or The Gentle Rain, Zehr’s will have it. This is your typical grocery store with a produce department, a frozen foods section, and a meat department. They have a variety of fish available, much of it local to Ontario, and they have a lot of familiar brands, such as Pepsi, Kashi, and Kellogg’s.

They are open Sundays from 8am to 11pm, Mondays from 10am-4pm, and Tuesday through Saturday from 7am to 11pm.

Zehr’s is located at 865 Ontario Street, which is not quite 2 miles from The Verandah. We did not walk there, but if you did, it would give you not quite 4000 steps one way.

LCBO: Need a bottle of wine for a dinner party? How about some unique beer choices? The Liquor Control Board of Ontario, known as LCBO, is a store located just off of downtown Stratford. It has a very good selection of wines, beers, and other spirits. If you’re looking for something specific, go to their website before visiting the store. Select “Products” and do a search for the item, along with the store location, and they’ll provide an inventory of what is available.

LCBO is located at 91 Wellington Street and is closed on Mondays, but open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 9pm, and on Sundays from 12pm to 5pm.

To walk there from The Verandah will earn you about 400 steps one way. The store is .2 miles from your home away from home.

Shoppers Drug Mart: For all those odds and ends that come up in a trip, there’s Shoppers Drug Mart. Similar to a Walgreen’s or CVS in the States, this chain store carries headache medicine, a variety of snack foods (including some fresh fruit!), umbrellas, sunblock, and much more.

They are open from 8am to midnight everyday. The one in Stratford is located at 211 Ontario Street, which is about .4 miles from The Verandah, or 800 steps one way.

Coffee

It could be that Stratford is one of my favorite places in the world because it is host to some of the best coffee I have ever had. Starbucks does not exist in Stratford, at least not downtown or within walking distance. At first this may seem as a disappointment, but once you get a taste of Balzac’s or Revels, you’ll be glad you didn’t have access to Starbucks.

Balzac’s: This coffee house, which got its start in Stratford, has gone on to become a successful small chain throughout Ontario. Be sure and buy a pound or two of beans to stash in your suitcase so you can have a little taste of Stratford wherever you call home. I particularly enjoy the Atwood Blend.

“Alas, poor Yorick! We brew him well.”

Balzac’s is a place to go lounge with friends. There is plenty of seating indoors and a few tables outside as well. If you are walking with a puppy, there is often water available for them just outside the door and they are allowed to sit on the patio with you.

Sidle up to the counter for coffee drinks, beans, tea, and more.

Hours are not listed on their website, but you may call them at 519-273-7909 for more information. In Stratford, they are located at 149 Ontario Street, which is .3 miles from The Verandah, or approximately 600 steps one way.

Revel Caffe: Restaurants around Stratford agree, the coffee brewed at this coffee house devoted to fair trade is one worth experiencing. The rich roasts will make such an imprint in your culinary mind that, weeks later, you will think wistfully of the warm smell of the brew and the bold flavors.

The owner, Anne Campion, will surely be part of that memory as well because she is passionate about her coffee and will happily talk with you to answer any questions you may have. While in Stratford, do as Steve McElroy from the New York Times did, and visit Revel Caffe often. Then, if your love affair has not been satiated, buy some beans to take home. You’ll be glad you did.

Revel Caffe is open on Mondays from 8am to 5pm, Tuesday through Thursday from 8am to 6pm, Friday and Saturday from 8am to 7pm, and Sunday from 9:30am to 4pm.

You can start your love affair by going to 50 Wellington Street, which is a mere .3 miles from The Verandah, or about 600 steps.

Sputnik: This little coffee bar tucked inside the skinniest building in Stratford is also tucked beneath what is rumored to have been the apartment Thomas Edison lived in when he worked in Stratford for a short time. The coffee here is good, although Balzac’s and Revel are just a little bit better. Sputnik is just one of those places that immediately makes a person feel at home, like you’ve been going there for years, even if it’s your first time in. The baristas make Sputnik special, that and the mid-century atomic atmosphere.

This coffee house is so small they don’t even have a website. They also don’t take credit cards, so be sure to take cash. For hours and more information, call them at 519-273-6767. Sputnik is just a hop from The Verandah at 46 Ontario Street, which is .1 miles away, or about 200 steps.

Sputnik Espresso Bar

Saw this cartoon last year at Sputnik. It is applicable to me any day of the year. Thankfully, there are places like Sputnik all over Stratford to help make things better.

For more information about these and other coffee shops in Stratford, visit the food blog, Kitchen Dilettante.

Restaurants

It is important to note that many restaurants and shops are closed on Mondays in Stratford since the theaters are dark on that day. If they are open during the day on Monday, chances are good they will be closed on Monday evening. Be sure to check with the restaurant or shop for current hours.

The (OLD) Prune: Long ago, this restaurant was called The Old Prune, hence the parenthesis and the word “OLD” in the middle. Some still call it that. I did for a while because it was The Old Prune the first time I went there. Whether it is old or new, this has to be the best restaurant in Stratford. And that’s saying a lot because you can almost throw a stone from anywhere in town and hit a great restaurant. The Prune, though, is extra special. If there is one place in the world where I am bound to not only eat every crumb off my plate for every single course, but also to threaten to lick the plate itself, it is The Prune. Having left you with that pleasant image, if you only go to one high-end restaurant in Stratford, make it The Prune.

Calling all vegetarians: I know what you’re thinking. “If it’s that good, they probably make everything with duck fat and bacon.” Take heart, however. At The Prune, they offer an all vegetarian prix fixe menu. It’s true! And it’s all amazingly spectacular. Maybe that’s why this is my favorite restaurant.

Reservations are recommended, especially if you have a show to go to. They can be made by calling 519-271-5052, emailing reservations@theprune.com, or online at OpenTable.com.

The Prune is located at 151 Albert Street, which is a lovely half-mile walk from The Verandah. Walking there will give you approximately 1000 steps one way. Walking back will help you feel better after having embarrassed yourself by slurping up that last bit of malted chocolate ice cream. (Don’t worry. I did it too.)

Bijou:  The experience at Bijou is tres unique, at least in this part of North America. It is not unlike a comfy bistro in Paris and the food is just as good (if not–dare I say it–better). A new menu is born out of the changing seasons and availability of local produce. Because it changes so often, the only menu available can be seen on a chalkboard right outside the kitchen window. The menu is prix fixe. Choose two courses for $48 or three courses for $55.

Remember the vegetarian thing I mentioned earlier? Well, although Bijou does not always have vegetarian options on their menu, if you mention to the hostess while making reservations that someone in your party is vegetarian, they will go out of their way to prepare something wonderful for you. And it will knock your socks off.

Reservations are recommended, especially for dinner. They are not open on Mondays but for the rest of the week they have two seating times for dinner. The first seating is from 5pm to 6pm. The second seating is from 8pm to 9pm. Call 519-273-5000 to make reservations and to ask about lunch hours.

Bijou is located at 105 Erie Street, which is only .2 miles from The Verandah, or 400 steps one way.

Pazzo Ristorante, Pizzeria & Bar: This two-in-one restaurant/pizzeria can be a little confusing, but it’s worth checking out both options during a trip to Stratford. The restaurant, which is located at street level when you first walk in the door, is for those times you’re dressed up for the theater and want something a little more upscale than pizza. The pizzeria, downstairs, is where to go when you’re a little more casual and just want to satisfy that pizza craving we all get now and then. You can dress up at the pizzeria too. Lots of people go there before a show, but whether you go to the restaurant or the pizza place, make reservations by calling 519-273-6666 or 1-877-440-9666.

Pazzo is located in the heart of it all at 70 Ontario Street. This will earn you 400 steps, being that it is just .2 miles from The Verandah, so be sure and go to the restaurant one night and the pizza place another to get double the steps.

Chocolate Barr’s: This chocolate boutique may not be a restaurant, but it is definitely gourmet and deserves to be highlighted. It is a perfect place to buy handmade (and delicious) gifts, along with the best dark chocolate I have ever had. For those on Weight Watchers, this is good news because dark chocolate is not only good for you but, when broken in to bite-sized pieces, only costs a Point or two.

But there’s more good news! If you walk there from The Verandah, you can get around 600 steps one way! It’s located at 136 Ontario Street, which is about .3 miles away. Stop by for some chocolate, then walk across the street to Balzac’s for coffee. What more do you need?

Things to do

Stratford Shakespeare Festival 

With 14 shows playing at various times in four theaters, many of which are populated by names you are familiar with if you watch any movies at all, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival will steal your heart and create a longing to return year after year. It is high-quality theater, but not highfalutin and pretentious. Tickets can be had for a reasonable price, some starting around $30 per person. Even if you can only do it once, the experiences had, the stories told, the emotions felt are unforgettable and will last you a lifetime.

The Festival Theatre with its tent-like peaks.

There are four theaters and a theater annex which house the different plays in Stratford. The Festival Theatre, is the largest theater in town. It is is located at 55 Queen Street. It is what gave Stratford’s theater festival its start. What started as a tent in 1953 is now a lovely building with tent-like peaks around its roof. The start of each show and the end of each intermission at The Festival is punctuated with the sounding of horns urging you in. It makes the event feel like an event from the very beginning.

The trumpeters and drum call guests to the show from the balcony of the theatre.

To walk to the Festival Theatre from The Verandah will earn you not quite 2000 steps since it is almost a mile away. Imagine what that will be like when you return to your home away from home with a total of 4000 steps, and the breath of fresh air you can breathe not having to fight for parking!

The Avon Theatre is a bit closer to The Verandah. It is located at 99 Downie Street and, so, is right around .3 miles (or 600 steps) one way. The Avon used to be a vaudeville theatre and then a movie theater, but in 1963 was bought by the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and made officially a part of the festivities.

The Avon Theatre lit up at night. This was the night we saw Christopher Plummer in “A Word or Two”.

The Studio Theatre and its Annex are not far from the Avon Theatre and, therefore, only add a few extra steps from The Verandah. It is located at 34 George Street East and is .4 miles, or about 800 steps from home. Both the Studio Theatre and the Studio Theatre Annex are more intimate spaces and are generally used for experimental plays and cabaret style shows.

Finally, the Thomas Patterson Theatre, which is named for the founder of the Stratford Festival, is another intimate theater which showcases both contemporary and classic shows. In the last two years, I have seen a vivid telling of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and an emotional Elektra by Sophocles, both of which could be argued as classic stories portrayed by the Stratford Creatives in very contemporary lights.

This theater is located a half a mile from The Verandah at 111 Lakeside Drive. You can earn 1000 steps walking along the lovely river to get there.

Walk along the river to the Thomas Patterson Theatre and you may catch site of beloved swans with their cygnets.

Stratford Summer Music Festival

If there is one thing I wish I had participated in more during my two-week stay in Stratford this year, it is the Stratford Summer Music Festival. All the locals I spoke to had been to at least one show and they all raved, especially about Jan Lisiecki, a young pianist who apparently put on an almost spiritual performance at St. Andrews Church.

Truly, music seemed to pour out of every crevice in town, but unless it was right there, I seemed to miss much of it. It was a pleasure to walk along the river and catch one of the shows happening at the barge, and soon after I left, the Play Me, I’m Yours street pianos arrived for anyone to enjoy.

Should you be a bit wiser than I am, go to Stratford during the the Summer Music Festival and soak it up, as well as the theater. Many shows and activities are free for the listening. You just have to be at the right place at the right time. I’m already planning for next year.

Walking Tours

One of the things that makes Stratford a walker’s paradise is the sheer number of walking tours offered through the Visitor Center. They have historical tours and architectural tours, garden tours and culinary tours. They even have a tour map for those interested in hitting all the favorited spots of local “It” boy, Justin Bieber, many of which are walkable around town.

The Visit Stratford website is a bit difficult to navigate. There’s just so much to do in Stratford that it seems they’re having a hard time knowing how to organize the information. My advice is to go to the Stratford Tourism Alliance when you get into town and ask them for information about walking tours. Some are free, others are between $6 and $8, depending on who is hosting them. The Tourism Alliance, though, will have all the information you need. Their main office is located at 47 Downie Street, or you can call them at 1-800-561-7926. There is also a small Visitor Centre located along the river, just beyond the Veterans Memorial plaza.

You can also do a small amount of searching with the free Visit Stratford app for your iPhone or Android phone. Although I couldn’t locate the free walking tours on the app, I did see information for all the places mentioned in this article, including The Verandah, restaurants, and other points of interest. It’s a good place to start.

The Avon River

The Avon River has some sort of magical, hypnotic powers. When walking along the meandering paths, a person can’t help but forget that time exists. All other pressures are massaged out of the shoulders and brain, thanks to the gentle roll of the water, the golden light of the sunset, or the fluttering leaves of the lazy trees. Add to that the bagpipes wafting from the Veterans Memorial plaza or the dixie music playing off the barge, and time definitely stands still.

The Avon River, the stone-arch bridge, and the courthouse are three icons of Stratford.

The Avon River

Cross under the stone-arch bridge to get from one side of it to the other and you’ll experience a picturesque view you only thought possible in England or France.

This is the oldest stone arch bridge still in use in Canada.

Walk under the bridge for a different way to The Shakespeare Gardens.

Once on the other side of the bridge, take in the Shakespeare Gardens. Be sure to walk all the way past Anne Hathaway’s house and the little gazebo. The trees grow tall and provide comforting shade on a hot summer’s day.

The Shakespeare Gardens sit right next to the Avon River.

Keep walking the path past the gazebo, into the trees and back around again.

This article only scratches the surface when it comes to what to see, do, and eat in Stratford. That’s why it’s a good idea to visit as often as possible, so you can see and do that much more the next time.

Have you been to Stratford? If so, where did you stay? What advice would you give someone going there? Do you have any questions about Stratford, The Verandah, or walking around town? Leave your questions and ideas in the comments section below. I look forward to hearing from you on one of my favorite subjects!

Stratford, Ontario: A love story

I have been putting off telling this story for weeks. The idea of uncovering for the world my love for Stratford, Ontario feels wrong in a way. Like a girl finally telling the boy she loves that she loves him, but doing it through a megaphone at a football game. It’s not that she worries the love will not be reciprocated, although maybe that’s part of it. It’s that by telling it, she reveals too much of herself and risks cheapening the love, bringing in too many outsiders into something that should be tenderly intimate. But I’ve got to take that risk, so here goes.

I love Stratford.

There, I said it. I love everything about it: the old shops along Ontario street, the Avon River, the trees surrounding the river, the Shakespeare Gardens, the tour guides who take you around the same routes telling you the same stories with the innocence of volunteers who love their town.

I love The Verandah, our home away from home when we visit Stratford.

I love the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. How could you not love the theater in this town? When I am there, I absorb the plays as if they are one layer deeper than my own skin, and I wear their memory for the whole year after, in some cases, even years to come.

The town of Stratford, alive with life.

This past year was my third time visiting Stratford. It was the longest visit–two weeks. We stayed, for the second time, in The Verandah, the place I dream about during the year when I have a hard day and need something soft and beautiful to remind me of joy and happiness.

Here it is just a storybook card, but I fell in love with the real Verandah.

Stratford is a town of 32,000 or so other people who love their town, at least that’s how it comes across. While I was there this year, we spoke with locals from different aspects of life and they all had the same thing to say: it is a great place to live. It is hopeful and lively. It is small-town life with the kind of world-class entertainment and cuisine that big cities dream of. It is thoughtful with things like recycling and seasonal food and supporting local businesses.

Of course, we cannot ever forget the theater. That’s part of the world-class entertainment and is what brings thousands of people to Stratford every year for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Still, with all the other things going on–music festivals, food festivals, daily visits to boutiques and antique shops, wiling a day away at a coffee house, luxuriating in the pleasures of a meal at The Prune or Bijou–whole days could potentially pass where no theater is experienced.

But it must be experienced.

The majesty of the Festival Theatre is celebrated with lush gardens and public art.

William Shakespeare in stainless steel (or aluminum?) in the gardens outside the Festival Theatre.

I saw a play there this year called Hirsch. Out of the five I saw, all of which were moving and powerful, Hirsch was the most powerful. It was about the Canadian director, John Hirsch, who was originally from Hungary and had been orphaned in World War II. He watched his mother carted off and never saw her again. He watched his uncle shot in front of him. They were Jews and treated the way Jews were treated by the Third Reich in World War II.

Terrifying things happened to this man before he was a teenager. Yet, as the story unfolded–and as I wept from the depths of my humanity that connects with such things–it demonstrated the courage it takes to live a real life. It showed how life grows on, in some ways because of what one has witnessed, and in other ways, in spite of it.

The actor, Alon Nashman, was also the creator of the play. He was brilliant. Brilliant. You know how I know? Because even now as I am writing this paragraph, I can call to mind the delightful laughter and the excruciating tears he pulled out of me with his story and his acting. He connected with me, a white, non-Jewish, 40-something American woman who has never experienced such discrimination, torture, and terror, and who has never been forced to find beauty and strength in that kind of loneliness.

His play and his acting are what stays with me today. The story inspires me to do the work that I do in the world, and it reminds me that nothing can be as scary as what that man experienced in his life. What fears I may have for any venture I take on cannot be half as terrifying as facing the world completely alone and ostracized as an orphaned Jewish boy after World War II. Yet, he found the strength and courage to not only keep going, but to become one of the greatest creative forces in Canada.

This is why I go to Stratford. It inspires me, it pushes me, it nourishes me in ways no other place can. I will carry the messages of the play and the story of John Hirsch for the rest of my life.

Then there’s Elektra. I read a comment someone made on the Stratford Festival Facebook page that it was not true to Sophocles. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t know, and I don’t really care. It was a story well told with a depth of emotion, and the emotions fleshed out in the characters (especially Elektra). What happened in that theater to actors and patrons alike far outweighs how it stands up to what Sophocles intended. The physicality of the play, the rhythm of it, the costuming, all the things those actors did, which seemed to me to be flawless and effortless, pulled together to become an enveloping tale about sorrow, loss, fear, and justice that rocked me to my very bones and left me feeling very much alive.

Christopher Plummer in A Word or Two was magnificent. It was an honor to see him perform live, especially given how intimate it was and how the one-man show was about his life. I can’t say it was the most powerful play–the two mentioned above get that nomination. But it was the one that takes my breath away when I think about it because it’s as if I got to see one of the Great Wonders of the World before it disappears. (And please, Mr. Plummer, if you ever read this, which I doubt you will, forgive me for comparing you to a large, ancient monument of some sort, but you must know I mean it with the greatest of humility and respect.)

The Avon Theatre, where we saw Christopher Plummer in “A Word or Two”.

The other plays, Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing were the two Shakespearean plays we saw out of the five. Of course, it is hard to go wrong with Shakespeare, but these two were not the ones that will stay with me all year. The acting was superb, of course. The costumes, amazing. The staging, incredible, especially the use of that massive door for Henry V, which they utilized in a million different ways to portray different scenes. Both plays were worth seeing. If I was in Stratford all season, I would go see them several times–but Hirsch and Elektra would be my picks if I had only time and budget for two.

When there are no plays to see–the theaters are dark on Mondays in Stratford–there is a wealth of things worth seeing and doing. It is important to point out, however, that part of the charm of Stratford is slowing down and not rushing from one thing to another. I do that all year in my regular life. I don’t need to do it in Stratford.

Summer there is lush with flowers and brimming with life. It is in Stratford that we might pause and enjoy this beauty. Starting at the Avon River, we watch as it lolls slowly under the stone-arch bridge.

What is left of an old wool mill and is now part of The Shakespeare Gardens which sits along the Avon River.

The stone-arch bridge is the oldest of its kind in Canada. It is still in use and is part of a major thoroughfare through the town. The steeple seen in the distance is the courthouse.

The beloved swans parade their regency of the waters and surrounding lands with their little cygnets. The trees dip their knobby elbows and fingers into the river, and their leaves provide a golden curtain to shield land lovers who sit on benches along the shore.

A male swan rests with the female (not shown) and their brood of cygnets by the river.

Chess anyone?

On one of the first days we were there I discovered the magic of sunsets in Stratford. I heard bagpipes coming up to the town from near the river and was drawn to see what sort of group was serenading the sun as it went down.

Two boys, one playing the bagpipes and one playing the snare drum, were in the plaza standing next to a war memorial. Beyond them was the Avon River, peaceful and permissive to their music. People gathered in the plaza, surrounded the boys, listening. Two little girls–about six and four–danced and hopped to the beat of the drum.

The pipes and drums serenade the sun as it sets.

When I arrived, there was a feeling of reverence toward the boys and their music. It seemed the perfect way to end a day. I scooted up on one of the half-walls that lines the plaza and listened. No one wanted to move while they were playing. If we did move, we were slow and respectful, as if we were in church and had just taken communion.

While the boys played, two little girls with bright orange hair came with their mother and sat across from me on the foot of the memorial. Were they put there to make the scene more authentic? Of course they weren’t, but the picture of Scottish music playing over a plaza with two wee girls of that heritage could not have been more complete. How adorably Scottish they were with their rolly cheeks and their shining braids. They sat sweetly in their little dresses, licking delicately at their ice cream cones, and they listened. While I was there, I imagined their souls being drawn to this music of their ancestors. I wondered if it was at all familiar to them. They surely were not out of place. Come to think of it, I have Scottish heritage. Perhaps that is what drew me as well, while my Polish-bred husband went on to the house, unmoved by the sounds.

Finally, I walked to the river. The music followed me there, to a leafy cocoon on the shore. The branches of the massive tree before me bent over and into the river. I imagined I was beneath the arm of a giant boy sticking his fingers out of a boat to feel the water on his fingertips. The stillness, the joy in my heart, the poetry of music and sunset, it all formed this love I carry with me.

A sanctuary built by nature.

When it was time to return home from the pipes and drum, I made my way across the familiar path I had come to know the year before–up the hill to town, across the busy street of Ontario, through a parking lot and down the graveled path of the pastoral Verandah.

Our half of The Verandah.

A warm welcome of hospitality awaits every visit.

Why it’s called The Verandah.

Debbie and Denis Harrison, the owners of The Verandah, clearly love their town and the home they open to others. The house is divided into two. On one side is where they live. On the other side is where we stayed for the second year in a row.

Debbie has decorated it with things she found all over Ontario, many of which had to be given new life with scrubbings, washings, sandings, new coats of paint–whatever it took to make it live again. She has breathed life into The Verandah, both in the structure of the 100-plus year-old home, and the things furnishing it.

Home Sweet Home.

Treasures and trinkets adorn every space.

There are nooks for every fancy. This one is in the master bedroom. That window is a door that opens onto a balcony.

The kitchen is well-furnished with pots, pans, dishes, and welcoming flowers.

The gardens surrounding it are cared for by her and her husband Denis. Even without the plays or the river, I would go to Stratford to stay in The Verandah. It is a retreat and a blessing to be there. If you knew how many pictures I took of their house so that I could look at them over the year when I cannot be there, you would think I was quite crazy. And I am–in the same way that someone is crazy when they fall in love.

Even the back door is a delightful sign of home.

More nooks–even for the birds.

A spot for dinner al fresco, complete with a large umbrella to shade the sun.

Beauty is everywhere at The Verandah.

I told myself I wouldn’t cry while writing this love letter, but it’s too late. And now I realize why it truly took me so long to compose it. I didn’t want the pain of missing it to scrape at my heart like it is doing now.

Times like these call for remembering what I have rather than what I don’t have and being grateful for it, so allow me a moment to be thankful.

Angels shall trumpet my love and gratitude.

I am thankful to my husband for making it possible for us to visit Stratford every year. I am thankful for such a place as Stratford, Ontario. I am grateful to Debbie and Denis for opening one side of their home so we may enjoy their hospitality and friendship. I am thankful for having such memories, for experiencing such joy. I am thankful for being in love and having something so worthy of my devotion that I can make a pilgrimage there every year to renew the wonder and joy it brings me.

That spark of joy you see in my husband’s eyes as he is being silly with one of my hats is another reason I love Stratford. It brings that out in both of us.

I am thankful for having the opportunity to be surrounded by beauty upon beauty.

And I thank you, dear reader, for sticking with me during this love letter. It makes me feel silly to gush, but I can’t help it. I hope you can see why. This is the only thing I will write in this way. Tomorrow we get back to business as I demonstrate how easy it is to walk Stratford from The Verandah, so stay tuned for “Walking Stratford”.

Thank you for allowing me to share my favorite place in the world with you.

Walking Toronto

I find rain to be exhilarating. I associate it with splashing in puddles wearing brightly colored rain boots and the whimsy of spring flowers. It can be a trickster, catching you unawares without an umbrella, so that you arrive drenched like a dog just getting out of the lake. In these moments, it levels the playing field, making even the best coiffed among us into just another human being with wet hair. To my knowledge, although plenty have been reduced to humiliation by rain, no one has ever actually melted from it.

During our short time in Toronto in September 2011, we got to test this theory three times: once on the day we arrived, once when we were out running errands, and once when we were trying to get to a restaurant three miles away. Each time, Hubby seemed convinced we were either going to drown in the drops, or that the water was molton lava, because he worried and fretted the entire time we were splashing through the downpours. It was quite adorable, really, to see him so concerned about me. He looked for overhangs that we could walk under and asked me a thousand times, “Are you okay?”

I was. The streets were shiny, the lights above were softened, the colors of the flowers popped through the grayness of the day. The rain made a beautiful city even more beautiful.

Blurry lights in the night rain of Toronto.

Of course, Toronto isn’t all about rain. It is a city that luxuriates in diversity. Even the weather is diverse. What is it they say? If you don’t like the weather in Toronto, just wait 10 minutes. Its motto is “Diversity Our Strength” and everywhere you go there is evidence of all the cultures, peoples, and possibilities that make up Toronto. No wonder I love it there.

Where we stayed and why:

Two identical condos are for short-term rent by the same trustworthy owners, Troy and Maria Sedgwick, at a high rise building located at 30 Grand Trunk Crescent in Toronto. The condos are fully furnished. They both have two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and great views of Toronto Island and Lake Ontario. I loved listening to the ferry boats coming in and out of the harbor nearby. You can also see Rogers Centre, the CN Tower, and Roundhouse Park from the windows and balconies.

View of Lake Ontario and Toronto Island. (Photo from the VRBO.com listing.)

Three key features which helped us decide on this rental were:

  • a desk area with high-speed internet;
  • a washer and dryer in the unit;
  • and, of course, walkability to practically everything we wanted to do in the city.

A view of the living area from the kitchen right after we got there. The whole place is less than 1000 square feet, but it feels bigger.

Hubby’s workstation set up and ready for business.

The kitchen seemed well-equipped. I say “seemed” only because we really did not use it for much other than storing the food we bought. We never actually cooked there. It even comes with a Keurig coffee maker and supplies, but we ended up going out for coffee a couple of times a day.

This is a view of the kitchen for the unit on the 35th floor. The kitchen on the 26th floor is identical, but has darker cabinets. (Photo from the VRBO listing.)

One surprise bonus was that, just leaving the condo and walking to the elevator gave us about 100 steps each time. It adds up if you do it enough!

All step and mileage calculations listed below are based from the front door of the building to a particular location.

Groceries and other necessities:

Longo’s: This higher-end grocery store had everything we needed for our stay in Toronto, including a Starbucks for a quick morning coffee run.

Longo’s = 200 steps one way (.1 miles)

A view of Longo’s grocery store located about a block from the condo building. (Photo provided by VRBO listing.)

Convenience Store: At the street level of the building was a small convenience store where I bought an umbrella and we picked up soft drinks and juice. Because it is in the same building, it is hard to give the mileage, but I believe it was about 100 steps one way.

Coffee:

Starbucks: If we had had more time, we would have explored the quirky coffee places I have read about in Toronto. As it was, we got a little lazy and stuck with the Starbucks that was in Longo’s, which was the closest coffee we could find in the zombie-like state that is early morning.

Starbucks = 200 steps one way (.1 miles)

Here are two places I’ll go for coffee the next time I’m in Toronto:

Balzac’s: First of all, how can you see the name of the place and not at least secretly smile like an adolescent boy? I fell in love with it in Stratford, Ontario, which I have written about in another blog and will be writing about again very soon! I did not make it to the Toronto version in the Distillery District at 55 Mill Street in Building 60. It is definitely high up on the list of “must-dos” for next time.

Balzac’s = 3000 steps (1.5 miles)

Tequila Bookworm Cafe and Books: Located at 512 Queen Street West, this little cafe came to my attention after returning from Toronto.

Tequila Bookworm = 2820 steps (1.41 miles)

Other:

Enterprise Rental Car: We rented a car to drive out to Stratford, Ontario for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. It was easy to return from the condo building because it was less than a quarter of a mile away at 200 Front Street West in Simcoe Place.

Enterprise Rental Car = 600 steps one way (.3 miles)

Restaurants:

Scaramouche: In our nearly three weeks in Ontario, Scaramouche was a stand-out above all others. Located at 1 Benvenuto Place, it was our very favorite place to eat. The food was delicious and the service was some of the best we’ve ever had.

We learned about Scaramouche through one of those serendipitous moments travelers rely on. We happened to have been seated next to Morden Yolles, one of the partners of Scaramouche, when we were at a different restaurant in Stratford. We were also lucky to see him again when we visited his restaurant in Toronto.

On the evening we were to trek to Scaramouche, we encountered another downpour. A quarter of a mile into our walk, Hubby decided we needed a cab, so, after much strategizing during the rush hour rain, we managed to get a taxi to take us to the restaurant. Happily, by the time we finished eating and were full as Australian sheep ticks, as my dad would say, we were able to walk the 3 miles back to the condo, enjoying the different neighborhoods and parks as we went. As a result, this was my favorite evening in Toronto.

Scaramouche = 6200 steps one way (3.1 miles)

Volos: This Greek restaurant, located at 133 Richmond Street West, was also a favorite. Not only were we warmly welcomed, we were treated to the bright, bold flavors of a talented chef and staff. We savored the rich earthiness of grilled vegetable orzo and spanakorizo. I had the freshest Horiatiki (Greek) salad I have ever had outside of Greece. It had olives that practically burst with juiciness and feta that melted on my tongue. To top it all off, they had an espresso that had a pleasingly smooth aroma and flavor. For more about our experience at this restaurant, please visit another article I wrote about Volos.

Volos = 1400 steps one way (.7 miles)

Things to do:

Hippo Tours: I took the 90-minute city tour with this company, but I have learned they are not operating in Toronto anymore. If you’re in Vancouver, though, you might want to check them out!

How can you see a bus with a purple hippo painted on the side and not want to ride it?

Me on the Hippo Bus, tooling around Lake Ontario. See the waves out the window?

A beautiful view of the city from the Hippo Bus/Boat in Lake Ontario. See? The rain cleared up! It was a gorgeous day!

With the purple hippos ambling toward Vancouver, allow me to recommend the other tour company I was considering if I hadn’t chosen the Hippo:

Toronto Tours: The Hop On Hop Off City Tour appealed to me because I could customize the tour to what I wanted to see and do, or, I could sit on the bus for 2 hours and catch it all at once. Rates for adults start right at $40US. Children are $20US. This tour picks up from a variety of locations. I chose the pick-up location closest to where we were staying.

Toronto Tours = 600 steps one way (.3 miles)

Toronto Eaton Centre: I am not a mall or shopping kind of person, but I know others make a sport out of it. So, if you’re jonesin’ for some shoppin’, Toronto Eaton Centre will set your cravings at ease. While we were in Toronto, we made the trek to Eaton Centre because it was where the Apple store was and Hubby needed something from there. They have arranged the mall such that, the higher floor you go, the higher the price tags. I thought that was pretty clever.

Toronto Eaton Centre = 2200 steps one way (1.1 miles)

Roundhouse Park, Rogers Centre, CN Tower: All three of these landmarks are just across the street from the condo building. The whole area was sort of magical to walk around at night with the way it was lit. Next time Hubby and I are going to stop into the Steamwhistle brewery located in Roundhouse Park for a tour.

Roundhouse Park, Rogers Centre, CN Tower = 1000 steps one way (.5 miles)

The CN Tower and Rogers Centre.

Nathan Phillips Square houses the modernist Toronto City Hall on one of its corners. We watched a moving memorial in this square, dedicated to those whose lives were lost and those who gave themselves in service during 9-11 in New York. It seemed always bustling with activity and is a great people-watching destination. Bonus: According to the National Geographic Traveler, if you visit Toronto in the winter, you can ice skate on the frozen reflecting pool in the square. How fun is that?

Nathan Phillips Square = 2000 steps (1 mile)

A gorgeous night shot of Nathan Phillips Square and the impressive Toronto City Hall. (Photo by Benson Kua from Wikipedia.org.)

Queen’s Park: This is a lovely, lush park that I found to be delightfully quiet in the heart of such a grand city. It borders parts of the University of Toronto and is home to the Ontario Legislative Building. Free guided tours are available through the Legislative Building, if that is of interest. Call 416-325-7500 for more information.

Queen’s Park = 2800 steps (1.4 miles)

The Legislative Building at Queen’s Park lit up at night. (Photo by Paul (dex) on Wikipedia.com.)

When I go back:

Royal Ontario Museum: If I could spend just one day in Toronto and do only one thing, this is where I would go. The mission of the ROM speaks to a passion of mine. It is “to build bridges of understanding and appreciation for the world’s diverse cultures and precious natural environments”. Its exhibits showcase a mixture of natural history and world cultures.

Adult tickets are $15CN. For more information on ticket prices, or to buy them online, visit their website. If you go on a Friday between 3pm and 5:30pm, the ticket prices drop significantly.

If I was there on a Friday night between April and late-June, I would go to the Friday Night Live events where special guests provide sneak peeks into exhibits and activities. You have to be 19 years or older to get in for those events. The cover charge is $8 for students with ID and $9 for everyone else. Members get in free.

ROM = 4200 steps one way (2.1 miles)

Distillery District: The culture of Toronto seems to have been distilled (pun intended) into one place, the Distillery District. There are not just historic breweries housed on these brick-lined streets, there are art galleries, cafes, theaters, restaurants, boutiques, and other facets of culture unique to Toronto. This is where lots of music and art festivals are held. Check the calendar for events happening during your visit to Toronto.

One of my favorite things to do is ride a Segway and you can do that here with a Segway Distillery Tour. Prices start at $69 per person and last 60 minutes. There are also shorter tours and walking tours available in the Distillery District.

Distillery District = 3000 steps one way (1.5 miles)

St. Lawrence Market: Go to their website and try not to drool. It’s almost impossible. This market, located at 92-95 Front Street East, was named the Number 1 Food Market in the World by the National Geographic. It seems practically brimming with local vendors selling local wares to locals.

St. Lawrence Market = 2000 steps one way (1 mile)

Canadian Opera Company: When we visited, the 2011/2012 season had not yet started, but we passed the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts quite often during our walks. It was dripping with gorgeous images of operas to come. The National Ballet of Canada performs in the Four Seasons Centre as well. I’d love to be in town for one of their shows. The Four Seasons Centre is located at 145 Queen Street West.

Four Seasons Centre = 1600 steps (.8 miles)

Walking St. Paul: Planning a footloose and car-free vacation to Minnesota’s seductive capital

We eloped at the Chapel of Love in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota!

More than 15 years ago, Hubby and I lived in a high-rise condo in downtown Minneapolis. It never occurred to me until recently that, back then, we walked everywhere because of the Skyway system which connects most of the downtown buildings. Those little “high rise habitrails” keep the cold out in winter and the humidity out in summer, and I knew them like the back of my hand. At the time, though, we didn’t have pedometers or a weight problem. We were fit and fabulous in our mid-20s, just settling into married life.

Having just celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary, we are, of course, 16 years older. And, if you’ve been keeping up with this blog, you know that we’ve made lots of changes in the last year which have taken us back in time somewhat, to bodies that are fit and free from the rituals of “middle aged medicines”. In fact, we both weigh less today than we did when we first met!

As a result of these positive changes, we’ve been drawn to traveling to places where we can get 10,000 steps a day (or 5 miles) simply by walking to places we need to go, such as restaurants, grocery stores, and cultural sites. Over the next several weeks, this blog will be devoted to sharing everything we learned on those trips, city by city.

The series is called “Walking America” and it takes us across the United States and into Canada. Each adventure will demonstrate the car-free travels we took with resources for planning a similar trip. Just imagine the cash you’ll save not having to rent a car!

Let’s get started.

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Walking St. Paul

In early July of last year, we hitched a flight from steamy Phoenix, Arizona to the cooler but more humid Twin Cities in Minnesota. It was the first of several trips we took that summer, but we were not headed to our old stomping grounds in Minneapolis. Our destination was St. Paul, the other sister of the Twin Cities.

St. Paul Power Plant at sunrise. (Photo by JT Miller Photography.)

St. Paul rarely registered on our list of places to go when we lived in Minneapolis. My impression back then was that it was the boring sister of the two twins. Minneapolis seemed vibrant, sexier. Take, for example, Nicollet Avenue, a long pedestrian-only road in the heart of Minneapolis which, during the summer, boasts a thriving farmers market. Year round, there are shopping and dining options open for shoppers and diners of all financial means. It is protected from hard summer sun by the mirrored skyscrapers. And, on all sides are options for entertainment of all shades and varieties.

Nicollet Mall: The corner where Mary Tyler Moore threw her hat up in the air in the opening credits of the vintage television show with the same name. (Photo by jpellgen.)

St. Paul, on the other hand, was always a jumbled mystery for me. It seemed fragmented and confusing. What I didn’t understand in my youth, however, is that, while Minneapolis is attractive with its youthful glitter and nouveau sophistication, St. Paul is all slow-simmering seduction. It unravels itself to you in quiet, sultry come-ons, keeping hidden under the lushness of her old-growth trees all of her delicious secrets.

St. Paul is the capital of Minnesota. It has inspired famous states men and women, radio essayists, cartoonists, musicians, artists, and novelists. To name a few you may have heard of, there’s Garrison Keillor, known for his tales from “Lake Wobegon”, who still owns a home and a charming bookstore in St. Paul. Charles Schulz, creator of the long-standing Peanuts cartoon, grew up there. F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of such Jazz Age books as The Great Gatsby and This Side of Paradise, was born and raised there. In fact, you can find a couple of the places he lived still standing and commemorated with a plaque. It seems like everywhere you look you come across another familiar voice inspired by St. Paul.

This city is perhaps best known by its seedy gangster history from the 20s and 30s, when tough guys like John Dillinger and Babyface Nelson hid out there. There are even tours in St. Paul based solely on the exploits of such criminals and, when visiting certain watering holes and coffee shops, if you tap the right shoulder, you’ll get an earful of myths and mysteries associated with this past.

In the two weeks we spent there Hubby and I were seduced by St. Paul’s cool limestone mansions, its smoothed cobblestone alleyways, the stories  and myths of its juicy past, and innumerable  buildings brimming with character. We were drawn by the delicious aromas wafting down Selby and Grand, and smitten by the intellectual murmurings carried on over meals and cocktails. It is a place with its own rhythm, one which is punctuated by a slow, sultry Jazz saxophone, and it is easy to get lost in the flow of it. Before long, you find yourself tapping your finger and swaying to that rhythm. Then, when the spell is cast, you find you simply can’t get this daring twin out of your head.

Where we stayed and why:

Front of The Berg House in St. Paul. (Photo provided by Svein and Olga Berg.)

The Berg House is a vacation rental located at 128 Saint Albans St. N in St. Paul. We stayed there because it is within about a half a mile to almost everything we wanted to do. It has three bedrooms and two bathrooms, with extra futons and pull-out sofas for  larger families and groups. It has a kitchen equipped with enough essential tools that I made Breakfast Cookies for Hubby when the need arose. All I had to do was buy the ingredients.

Kitchen equipped with lots of great tools for cooking and baking. (Photo by Svein and Olga Berg.)

Also important to our stay was access to high speed internet and a desk or table on which Hubby could do his work. The Berg House actually has high speed and wireless, along with two office areas with large desks to spread out computer equipment and papers.

Third bedroom upstairs with perfect desk for getting work done. (Photo provided by Svein and Olga Berg.)

Having a choice of desks meant we were able to work while we played in St. Paul. (Photo by Svein and Olga Berg.)

My favorite space was the upstairs bathroom. It was recently redone with a claw foot tub and separate shower. The vanity was charming. It appeared to have been a dresser at some point, but was repurposed for the sink and its fixtures.  The morning light filtered through white shutters onto the sage colored walls and white tiles and, when listening to Carmen Cuesta’s Mi Bossa Nova album on my iPhone, the outside world melted away.

Upstairs bathroom--very spa-like. (Photo provided by Svein and Olga Berg.)

During our two weeks there the sun shone brightly almost every day. Temperatures flirted with 90-degrees Fahrenheit. We kept cool with plenty of window air conditioning units located throughout the home, and in the late afternoons, we chatted under the trees on the patio.

Sunny days were lovely in the shaded backyard. (Photo provided by Svein and Olga Berg.)

Groceries:

Mississippi Market on Selby. (Photo provided by Mississippi Market website.)

Just a couple of blocks from The Berg House at 622 Selby Avenue was the Mississippi Market, a natural foods co-op that provided us with fruit, veggies, milk, and all the other necessities we needed to eat breakfast and lunch at home. The Bergs gave us their member number so we were able to get membership rates at that store.

Mississippi Market = 200 steps one way (.1 miles)

Drug store:

Because this was early on in our walking experiment, Hubby was still taking cholesterol medication. We ended up extending our stay but one of his prescriptions ran out while we were there. I was able to fill it about half a mile away at the Walgreen’s at 734 Grand Avenue.

Walgreen’s = 800 steps one way (.4 miles)

Coffee:

On my return walk from Walgreen’s, I stopped in to Caribou Coffee for two Americanos and took them back to The Berg House for both of us to enjoy.

Caribou Coffee is a Minnesota-born chain, which I believe has expanded its territory beyond the confines of the Land of 10,000 Lakes. This one is located at 757 Grand Avenue.

Caribou Coffee = 800 steps one way (.4 miles).

Other coffee places nearby:

Nina’s Coffee Cafe: This is my favorite coffee shop to visit while in St. Paul. It is located in an historic building and named for Nina Clifford, a woman famous for the brothel she ran in the late 1800s. It is also known for being a great place to write and, while sitting back and watching the ebb and flow of its visitors, I can vouch for it being an inspirational place. It is located at 165 Western Avenue N.

Nina’s Coffee Cafe = 1200 steps one way (.6 miles)

Nina's Coffee Cafe. (Photo by Jordon Whitney.)

Caffe Latte: This cafe has a coffee shop further into the building, on the back side of the cafeteria style restaurant. I have eaten in the cafeteria twice for lunch and had coffee there after dinner elsewhere on Grand. It is a sunny place to enjoy coffee, dessert, and/or breakfast, lunch, or dinner. One thing I appreciate is the variety of options on their menus. There are sandwiches, soups, salads, and pizzas available to people with all eating habits: vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, and meat eaters! It is located at 850 Grand Ave.

Caffe Latte: 1,000 steps one way (.5 miles)

There is often a long line at the cafeteria because the food is so good! (Photo from the Caffee Latte site.)

Dunn Bros.: Dunn Bros coffee is another favorite place to stop for some java, but it is, unfortunately almost two miles away from The Berg House. We didn’t take any integrated walks there, but it is worthwhile stopping in for a growler of iced coffee should your adventures take you past one. The closest one to the Berg House is located at 242 W 7th St.

Growler of iced coffee from Dunn Bros.

Other:

Had we wanted to cook more while we were there, my friend Rhonda showed me where the Coastal Seafoods market was with all things fresh fish. It is located at the corner of Grand Avenue and Snelling at 74 S. Snelling.

Coastal Seafoods = 4,000 steps one way (1.9 miles)

Restaurants:

Visiting St. Paul is always a culinary delight. We are lucky enough to have friends in the area who know St. Paul’s restaurants very well. My friend Rhonda is an expert in great food. During an earlier visit, she introduced me to Salut and La Grolla, which I, in turn, introduced to Hubby. Fortunately, both of these restaurants are within walking distance to The Berg House. See below for descriptions and distances for these and other restaurants we enjoyed during our stay.

W.A. Frost's patio at night. (Photo by Sharyn Morrow.)

W.A. Frost: Located at 374 Selby Avenue, across the street from Nina’s Coffee Cafe, is a restaurant which describes itself best on its website: “casual upscale American cuisine”. The reason to go there is not only the amazing soups, but the patio. (The other food is good too, but the soup was a stand-out.) Oh! The patio! It is wonderfully shaded all around and a great place to unwind after a long day. The service was so-so. One time we went there, the service was impeccable. The next time it was carelessly slow. Still, we go back because the food is good and the patio is divine.

W.A. Frost = 1,200 steps one way (.6 miles)

Pazzaluna: This yummy Italian restaurant, located at  360 St. Peter Street, is just on the outskirts for the distance Hubby and I will walk for a restaurant. My friend Rhonda took me there during a separate visit a year or two ago. I discovered that, not only could I find many delicious vegetarian choices, I might run into a celebrity! My friend’s husband stood side-by-side in the restroom with Prince once.

Pazzaluna = 3,800 steps one way ( 1.9 miles)

Salut Bar Americain: Located at 917 Grand Avenue, this little brasserie will make you feel like an American in Paris. It offers hearty French-style food and lots of it. For those of us watching our waistlines, it can be a little tricky, but all of their fish items have the option of being cooked “simply grilled”, which is what Hubby opted for. At the time, there was a delicious watermelon-mint salad on the menu that I thoroughly enjoyed. Maintaining weight loss tip: order items you can split with one another so you don’t eat the whole thing by yourself.

Salut = 1,200 steps one way (.6 miles)

La Grolla: This restaurant is located at 452 Selby Avenue. It is, as you can guess from the name of it, Italian cuisine. I usually had one of their vegetarian pasta options (staying away from cream-sauced choices) and a side salad. They offer some great fish options as well.

La Grolla = 1,000 steps one way (.5 miles away)

Punch PizzaThis is good, quick thin-crust pizza on 769 Grand Avenue.

Punch Pizza = 800 steps one way (.4 miles away)

Chipotle: This build-a-burrito-style Mexican chain is a staple for Hubby and me. It’s fresh and, because you choose what you want every step of the way, it is easy to make the meal Weight Watcher’s friendly. The one closest to the Berg House is at 867 Grand Avenue.

Chipotle = 1,000 steps one way (.5 miles)

Broadway Pizza: There is really only one restaurant in the area for which I would break down and use a car. It is Broadway Pizza. I have loved their pizza since we lived there so long ago. The location at 2025 West River Road in Minneapolis is the original (and my favorite). It has the whole kitschy railroad theme still intact after all these years. Left to my own devices, I would eat a whole cheese pizza on my own. Thankfully, I’ve always gone with others so I could keep my discipline in check.

Broadway Pizza = In case you do eat the whole pizza and need lots of steps, it is worth 16,400 steps one way from The Berg House (8.2 miles).

Things to Do:

Tours

Human on a Stick Magical History Segway Tour: If you have never taken a Segway tour, I highly recommend it. I’ve taken two tours with this company–the St. Paul tour and the Minneapolis tour. The next time I’m in town, I’m going to do the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden tour too. For the St. Paul tour, the meeting location was at the parking lot behind St. Paul’s United Church of Christ. We got our helmets and our Segways and were off! Had this been our first tour, we would have also gotten the safety instructions and about half an hour to try it out before heading onto the streets and sidewalks. For $80 per person, plus tip, we got the gear we needed and more than six miles worth of up-close-and-personal history.

Segway Tour meeting location = 1,400 steps one way (.7 miles)

Look closely to see me on my Segway under the War Memorial for those who served in Korea.

Twin Cities Tours: Doug Rosenquist customized a tour of St. Paul for me a year and a half ago when I was doing research for a book I’m writing. I can’t say enough good about his personalized, private tours. If you’re uncertain about what to see in St. Paul, check out the themes he proposes on his website, or talk to him about what is important to you. He will help you customize something that will leave you with lots of great memories of your time in St. Paul.

Doug’s tours are set mostly in his comfortable tour van. To get your steps in, see if he would be amenable to a walking tour. Or, he will pick you up wherever you ask, so have him meet you at a location that you walk to. One suggestion? Ask him to meet you at the Minnesota History Center located at 345 Kellogg Boulevard West. Then, when your tour is over, you can eat lunch at the cafe there and go explore the exhibits at the center.

Minnesota History Center = 2,800 steps (1.4 miles)

"Vision of Peace" by Carl Milles was seen on my tour with Twin Cities Tours in the St. Paul City Hall and Ramsey County Courthouse. It is three stories tall!

If you do any of the tours mentioned above, you will either come across and/or go into all of the below, so I will not spend a great deal of time detailing what they are and why you should go there. In fact, you could use the list below to take your own walking tour since it is the “basic” list of what to see in St. Paul. But if you’re like me, you want to know more about a place before visiting there, so check out the links to each one for more information. Step counts from The Berg House to all of these locations are provided.

Brain Candy

Ax-Man Surplus: Once you’ve skimmed the intellectual side of St. Paul with great historical and architectural tours, give your brain a party by taking it to Ax-Man Surplus. This is something you might want to do on a day when you have time to walk there and spend the rest of the afternoon looking at all the cool stuff they have. It is located at 1639 University Avenue West.

Ax-Man Surplus: 5,400 steps one way (2.7 miles)

Shops on Grand AveFor retail therapy, a good place to eat, or just in the mood for strolling and people watching, Grand Avenue is about half a mile (1,000 steps) from the Berg House. If you walk it, starting at Dale Street South and walking all the way to Lexington Parkway, you will walk a mile, or 2,000 steps one way.

This list, of course, is in no way exhaustive for what there is to do in St. Paul. Each season brings its own set of ideas too. For July 4th, go to the 7th Street Bridge and watch the fireworks going off at Harriet Island. In the winter, you cannot miss the St. Paul Winter Carnival, which celebrates the cold out in the cold.

No matter when you go, St. Paul is sure to lead you in a dance of seduction you will never forget–especially if you remember that this dance requires walking shoes.

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Coming up: Walking Toronto

Walking North America: How Weight Watchers and a pedometer changed our health and our travel

Nearly two years ago, my husband decided to lose weight. He was bordering 300 pounds at the time and his doctor was warning him of the oncoming signs of diabetes. He was already taking medication for high cholesterol and high blood pressure. So, when the conversation turned to preventative medication for diabetes, Hubby set his mind to make some major changes. And when my husband decides to do something, he jumps in with both feet and doesn’t look back. So, in October of 2010, we both went on Weight Watchers and started tracking how many steps we were taking each day with a FitBit pedometer.

Hubby and me in 2009.

Hubby lost nearly 120 pounds from October of 2010 to June of 2011. I lost 20 pounds total. Since then, he has been freed from all the medication he had been taking before for high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and he never had to take the diabetes preventative. There are no signs of diabetes anywhere.

Hubby wearing a pair of his old jeans in January of 2012.

As you can imagine, a great part of the change is owed to his weight loss and his food choices, but it also can’t be denied that walking has made a huge difference as well. It helps keep the weight off, it gives the heart a good workout, and it makes it so he can enjoy extras like beer and chocolate on a daily basis.

These days we walk at least 5 miles a day. Hubby usually walks more than that. He’s far more disciplined than I am. I peter out once I hit my step goal of 10,000 steps and some days I don’t even make it to that. Still, for both of us, walking has changed our lives and the way we travel.

Hubby and me in March of 2012.

Travel is now planned with walking in mind. We choose hotels and vacation rentals that are located in the heart of a walkable city or, as is the case with our home in suburban Phoenix, we figure out ways to incorporate walks into our lives without living life on a treadmill or circular track. Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing where these walks have taken us, and how they’ve changed our lives, as we explore North America on foot.

Coming up: “Walking in suburban America”.

Robot invasion sweeps Ann Arbor, Michigan

Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and robots of all sizes and shapes. Today’s coffee hour is inspired by the Liberty Street Robot & Supply Repair in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

A favorite mug from Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair in Ann Arbor.

Sometimes I think I should have been a social roboticist. Alright, I admit that I only heard that term about three months ago when I came across an article about Heather Knight on CNN.com. Since then, I have been mad with jealousy that I never pursued that route.

Below is a video of Heather presenting “Data” at a Ted Talk. Data is one of the social robots she programs and learns from. In the video below, Data tells silly jokes and gauges the audience’s response.

I do have my own robot, though. Her name is Rosie, or at least that’s what I call her. You may recall that “The Jetsons” had a robot named Rosie.

Rosie the Robot, a toy version. (Photo by t()by.)

My Rosie is not quite as multi-functional as the robot on “The Jetsons” but I love her no less for it. She is a Roomba, the kind of robot whose purpose in life is to suck up life’s dirt while I go about doing other things, like writing this article.

You might think I am odd to name my robot and give her social characteristics, but when you cohabitate with a robot, you tend to pick up on their little idiosyncrasies. For example, Rosie loves going underneath furniture. She’s very good at it too, sliding beneath wardrobes and armoires–and getting stuck because her little nose (sensor) is too tall to get her out.

She also loves climbing things. Rosie has two wheels that remind me of the all-terrain wheels on the Mars Rover. Whenever she comes to something, such as the base of a floor lamp or the air tube under my bed which pumps air into my Sleep Number bed, she sees it as a challenge to climb it, and puts her full-purpose into it until she gets both wheels up off the ground, dangling. Moments later, when she has realized she can go no further, she calls out “Error! Move Roomba to a new location then press CLEAN to restart.”

Rosie and I have come to understand one another, though. Because of her penchant for climbing on things, I now set up a “virtual wall” at the end of the bed so she can’t climb up onto the Sleep Number air tube. When I prepare a room for her to work in, I scoop up wires (she loves to munch on the small ones) or block off certain entry points under armoires where she has gotten stuck before. Now that we understand one another, I can go about my business without checking on her so often. Kind of reminds me of when I was first training my puppy.

But why is a travel writer blogging about robots, you ask? It has everything to do with setting the stage for the place I discovered last summer in Ann Arbor, Michigan. As someone who finds robots utterly fascinating, imagine my delight when I came across the Liberty Street Robot Repair & Supply Shop in downtown Ann Arbor.

Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair shop.

When I first encountered it, I squealed and giggled like a little girl. Adult restraint kept me from clapping my hands and jumping up and down. I did, however, press my nose to the glass to see what was inside. It was like something out of a future envisioned in the 1950s. Robots, robot parts, and “robot swag”, as they called it, lined the shelves. I longed to go inside and explore! Sadly, though, the store was closed. I had to wait until the next day to go inside.

Robot stuff everywhere!

They were closed, but I loved their door sign.

When I did, I found a delightful shop celebrating all things robot. There were robot brains and robot souls. You could buy robot tears and anamorphic equalizers to make your bot more human. They had ultra-flex suspension coils, joint lubricants, and, of course, tons of loose screws.

Better Bot's Positronic Brain.

Hand-Crank Robot Souls. The fine print reads, "Studies show that robots with souls are 54% less likely to rise up against humanity than their soulless counterparts."

Robot tears.

Sound-Activated Anamorphic Equalizers. "Now with test button!"

Ultra-Flex Suspension Coils.

Joint Lubricant.

Loose Screws.

If building a full robot is out of the question, have no fear! They have robot ducks! And erasers in the shape of a robot! Maybe you would like some robot art made out of old scrap metal and Raytheon vacuum tubes? They’ve got it all!

Robot Duck.

"Robo-Swag" advertised among robots from days gone by.

Raytheon tube robot art.

The best part about the whole thing, though, is that the store is just a front for 826Michigan, a nonprofit dedicated to “supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write.” As a writer and robot lover, I had returned to the mother ship.

So, the next time you’re in Ann Arbor, go down to Liberty Street and check out the robot store. Not only will you feed the part of you that wishes you had a robot butler, but if you buy something from them or donate to them, you’ll be supporting a great organization that inspires and empowers kids to write. After all, if the kids aren’t getting inspired to create, who’s gonna design our robot butlers?

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Need a place to stay in Ann Arbor?

Bellanina, a day spa in A2, has at least two vacation rentals which both offer fantastic locations within walking distance to everything. We have stayed in the vacation rental just across the street from Kerrytown Market and Shops and loved walking over to Sweetwaters every morning for coffee. Because we had a kitchenette, we also took advantage of having a fridge to store perishables found at Sparrows Meat & Produce, also located within the Kerrytown building. We’re looking forward to our next visit to Ann Arbor when we will stay at the other one.

Our favorite eats

We walked all over downtown Ann Arbor and enjoyed quite a few restaurants during our two weeks there. Our favorites, though, were Logan, “New American” cuisine, and Grange Kitchen & Bar, locally sourced, farm-to-table meals.

Sipping coffee and talking Seattle

Welcome to Jet Planes and Coffee, my internet friends. I am coming to you live from my desk in Arizona, bubbling over with stories about my recent visits to Seattle. Just before sitting down to write you, though, I did what I always do when I want to share life with good friends–I grabbed a favorite mug and poured myself a good cup of joe.

Coffee's ready. Desk is a little cluttered. Let's talk Seattle.

It’s not Starbuck’s coffee, in case you were wondering. I can see how you might think that since I just returned from Seattle (and since you can get Starbuck’s coffee pretty much anywhere). There is a bag of Starbuck’s Tribute Blend™ sitting in the bottom of my unpacked suitcase. For now, though, I am drinking from another Washington State roaster, Grounds for Change. It’s their Bolivian Taipiplaya Limited Edition roast and, although it is a little lighter than I usually like, it’s good. Grounds for Change always has good stuff. I’ve been buying my beans from them since about 2005, when I still lived in the Seattle area.

This is the next bag of coffee, not yet opened, from Grounds for Change. I always like trying different flavors from Grounds for Change. Señor Owl, the cookie jar, looks on approvingly.

I could go on and on about coffee but that’s not why you’re here. You’re here, I presume, to check out what Seattle has to offer; maybe to get some tips on where to stay and what to do.

Well, you’re in luck. I just came from there yesterday. Hubby and I were there from Thursday of last week to Sunday morning–about 72 hours. It was our second trip in the last seven months. I have much to share, so grab your own cup of happiness, and let’s get started.

First things first: Where to stay.

Both of our recent visits took us to the fabulous Hotel 1000. I cannot say enough good about this place. It has a relaxed, “old friend” feel to it that meets the warm welcome one might receive at the Four Seasons just up the road. It is not right on the sightline of the water and, therefore, is a little cheaper than the Four Seasons. We felt it to be just as service-oriented, though, and it is located within walking distance to everything downtown. It also offers a lot of great perks, such as free wifi throughout the hotel, a cozy spa, virtual golf, full-service concierge, and electronic “Do Not Disturb” and Housekeeping notifications built into every room.

The front of Hotel 1000, conveniently located on the corner of 1st Avenue and Madison, near to where all the action happens, when it's not happening at Hotel 1000, of course. (Photo by EMS Shane in Portland.)

Our room--a Deluxe King Water view.

Nice desk space for the business traveler. Hubby got set up right away and very easily.

Cool bathtub, which is filled from the ceiling, is visible through a glass wall that separates the bathroom from the bedroom. For more modest individuals, there is a screen that moves up and down the wall with a flick of a switch.

Price per night for a Deluxe Waterfront King room, according to the Hotel 1000 website: $272

Price per night at the Four Seasons for a Deluxe Bay-view room, according to their website: $435. (You can get a city-view room for $285, though.)

Another Hotel 1000 perk? They drove us to Crush Restaurant, located about two miles east of the hotel, in the Courtesy Car. If our friends hadn’t been able to drop us back at the hotel, the friendly valets from the hotel would have picked us up.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the Four Seasons. I love the lobby with its rough-hewn, stacked stone lining the walls, and the sleek fireplace. We met some friends for dinner there at Art Restaurant. It is a great place and very popular. I highly recommend going, even if you only stop in to the lounge for some nibblies and a drink.

Four Seasons/Art Restaurant Lobby.

Where to eat

That brings us to, where to eat.

If you go to Art Restaurant during the summer, make sure to get a table by the window so you can watch the sun set, and the ferries go to and fro. This last time we went, it was dark by the time we got seated, so we just focused on the lovely company of our friends and the delicious food. The photo below is from our visit in August.

Sunset as seen from the window at Art Restaurant in August.

The thing about Art, besides the beautiful surroundings and the excellent service, is that they give you these homemade potato chips with a mouth-watering sour cream style dip. Oh, it is so good. And, I was hungry when I sat down so I ate a lot of those things. I couldn’t get enough of them, really. So…by the time the second course arrived–a gnocchi of some sort–I was full. The flavors were just too much for my satisfied tummy. I shouldn’t have eaten so many chips, but I did and, frankly, I’m not really sorry for it. They were really good. Sorry I can’t tell you more about what’s good there from my point of view. I can tell you that Hubby loved his fish–an Indian-spiced salmon–and our friends enjoyed their beef tenderloin.

When we lived near Seattle, we had heard great things about another restaurant, Crush, but we never actually made it there until this last visit. Now we have a huge crush on Crush Restaurant, located just a couple of miles east of Hotel 1000 on Madison. Chef Wilson and the team there manage to create the kind of eating experience that leaves you feeling like a regular, even though it might be the first time visiting (which it was for us). The food was thoughtful and delicious. I loved every minute of my baby beet salad, minus the crispy pancetta, and the mushroom risotto. I’m vegetarian. They were very gracious to provide wonderful options throughout the meal. My favorite part of the meal, however, was dessert: salted chocolate-covered caramels. Yrrrmmmmm. If I close my eyes I can still taste the marriage of salt, chocolate, and caramel.

Hubby had the same salad with the pancetta for his first course and then he had a duo of salmon and pork cheek. My description of it does not do it justice. Let me put it this way: I thought he was going to squeal with delight as he polished off his main dish.

The cleverest dish, however, was our friend’s first course called “Bacon and Eggs”. It was parsnip flan with smoked Ikura roe, bourbon maple syrup & bacon crème fraiche served up in the tiniest little dish. Our friend loved every bite and grinned from ear to ear because he knew he had the most fun of all the first courses.

Bacon & Eggs, Chef Wilson style. (Photo from Crush website.)

The service was top-notch and very friendly. The surroundings were an eclectic blend of at-home charm with contemporary design. We will be back.

The front of Crush restaurant. (Photo from the Crush Restaurant website.)

Serious Pie is the pizza place we found to be seriously delicious, another restaurant by Seattle’s genius restauranteur, Tom Douglas. Reservations might not be available, but we had no trouble getting in on Thursday night. Things were different when we went there on a weekend back in August and had to wait. They took one of our cell numbers and called us when it was time for dinner–about 30 minutes after we arrived–so we could have walked around and shopped a little if we had wanted to.

Inside the small Serious Pie restaurant. It reminds me of a pub-style pizzeria. When the restaurant is full, it can feel claustrophobic with foodies squished into the tables elbow-to-elbow. (Photo by mightykenny.)

Serious Pie is the best pizza we have found in Seattle. We lived in the area for about seven years and never found “the” pizza place. Now we have. Serious Pie is where we will go whenever we want pizza in Seattle, even if we have to share a communal table with six other people we just met. (Knock on wood, we’ve gotten a two-seater table each time we’ve been there. I’m not big on spaces cramped with strangers, even if I do end up adoring them by the end of the meal.)

Our favorite pie is the very simple Buffalo Mozzarella, Red Sauce, and Basil. Yum, yum, and triple-yum. It has a thin crust that is charred just right–not too much to choke on smoke, but not too little to leave the dough chewy. I could eat a whole pizza by myself–and I never usually have more than two slices of pizza anywhere.

Serious Pie mozzarella, red sauce, basil pizza. (Photo by greenplasticamy.)

Things to do

Our most recent visits to Seattle took us there for business and pleasure. Having lived there for several years, the touristy places don’t really speak to us. Touristy things never really speak to me anyway (see comment above about cramped spaces). We’ve done the Space Needle a thousand times with out of town guests. It’s worth doing at least once just to cross it off your list. The Seattle Aquarium is nice, especially if you have kids. I used to love going to the Ballard Locks to see the salmon swim upstream. I also hear good things about the Experience Music Project which is located near the Space Needle, but I haven’t yet been there myself. Being a major fan of the Fine Arts, I’m always eager to go to the art galleries and the Seattle Art Museum. The Seattle Symphony and Pacific Northwest Ballet are both tops in my book as well.

This last couple of visits one goal we had was to get a sense for what it’s like to live downtown, so our journeys took us where our feet could go with a focus on art and nature.

Last summer we were there during an “Out to Lunch” music series that seemed to take place regularly on the Harbor Steps. If I am not mistaken, a band strikes up around lunchtime and the steps themselves become a little amphitheater where people sit and listen to the music. The combination of music, sunshine, and sea air was intoxicating and I loved how it brought out the authenticity of the city. This man, in particular, delighted me beyond measure. He was out of this world wacky and completely true to himself. How could you not love him? I call him the Scarf Dancer.

The Scarf Dancer.

The Scarf Dancer, floating, twirling, and beaming with joy in rhythm to the music.

I don't know how many scarves he had, but he twirled them, held them up to the wind, or tied them around his waist. He was having a blast, and so was I.

We also roamed over to the harbor itself, up to the Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park. Long, long ago, we contributed some moo-lah to their campaign to get that park going and, lo and behold, they put our name on a railing along the waterfront with all the other people who donated.

Our donation turned into a railing at the Olympic Sculpture Park.

It was great to see how beautiful the park had turned out and how many people use it for their nightly strolls and jogs. (We had moved a few months before the park opened, so we never got to see it before then.) It is a very peaceful part of Seattle, with the water licking the shoreline off to one side and the city sparkling quietly on the other.

Of course, no visit is complete without a trek to Pike Place Market. It’s not just for tourists, you know, although much of it is taken up with people who traveled for miles to see the men throw fish in the air. We were there for lunch and then again, later, for coffee. It quiets down at night when the homeless guys curl up to sleep in the darkened thresholds of stores no longer open. Seattle is kind to their homeless, treating them like the human beings they are, so they tend to be harmless even if they do ask for some change or have the desire to tell you something important. (Always use Street Smarts, though, whenever dealing with strangers, homeless or otherwise.)

Pike Place Market is a little quieter at night, but most of the shops are closed then too.

Along First Avenue are a handful of art galleries. We stopped into Vetri, a gallery specializing in exhibits of glass glass artwork. We loved the Mods by Jamie Harris.

Mods by Jamie Harris at the Vetri gallery in Seattle. (Photo by M Dryja.)

We also learned that Dale Chihuly, perhaps the most famous glass artisan of them all, creates paintings that are splattered and circled with vibrant colors. These paintings are the blueprints for what goes on to become his famous glass pieces. He has taken what he uses as a guideline for blowing glass and turned it into another work of art worth sharing.

One of Dale Chihuly's Limited Edition Prints

Finally, our steps took us over to the shopping district where I bought some new sunglasses. Yes. I needed sunglasses in a city known for its rain. Little known fact: sunshine happens in Seattle. It’s most known to happen in August, but it can cut through the clouds in March as well. Since I had gotten new contacts from my all-time favorite eye doctor, Dr. Mark Hamilton, who is also located in the Seattle area at Highland Vision Clinic, I needed some sunglasses that weren’t prescription or clip-ons. Nordstrom helped me out with some new Kate Spade shades. And ten minutes later it started raining again.

So, there ya go. My coffee mug is empty now. How about yours?

Talking about Seattle makes me miss it again and I’ve only just been home for a little over 24 hours. Fortunately, Hubby is making arrangements for us to stay for a little longer this fall in a vacation rental in a neighborhood of Seattle called Belltown. I can’t wait.

La Casita Palm Springs: a home away from home

If you have been following this blog over the last week, you know Hubby and I were in Palm Springs for Modernism Week. While we were there, we stayed at a great little Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO) called “La Casita“. It truly is a “little house”, and an adorable one at that.

Below are photos with more information about a great place to stay in Palm Springs.

We rarely needed our car. La Casita is within walking distance to all the restaurants and shops we visited.

La Casita is well situated, just two blocks from Palm Canyon Drive, the main road where all the restaurants and shops are. Palm Springs Art Museum is just a quarter of a mile from this house. It is a mile to the Convention Center. Trio restaurant, along with the art galleries and vintage shops in that area are about a mile away. We are big walkers, walking about 5 miles a day, so when we had Modernism Week activities that took us a mile or mile and a half from the downtown corridor, we walked that too. This could not have been a better location for us.

Shaded front porch.

The owner did a great job with the curb appeal.

Great landscaping. Love the winding sidewalk leading to the front door.

There are lots of special little touches in La Casita that make it unique, homey and inviting.

The front door has a sweet speakeasy door for the rumrunners in your group.

Saltillo tile runs through the entire home with cute, hand-painted Mexican tiles dotting the diamond pattern.

I loved this fireplace and wondered if the tile was original to the home or if they had added it during a renovation. It is a gas fireplace, so on chilly nights, it is easy to find to a warm spot in the living room.

The living room at La Casita. (Photo from the VRBO website.)

It is a small but perfectly outfitted kitchen. It's clean too! (Photo from the VRBO website.)

The first little bathroom off the hall has a window that looks like stained glass. Upon closer inspection, I saw that the "stain" was an adhesive film, but it's still unique.

One of my favorite things in La Casita was this little copper sink in the bathroom.

It was set into this antique washstand!

First bathroom off the hallway. (Photo from the VRBO website.)

This is the main bedroom and it leads out to the pool. All the bedrooms have doors leading to the backyard. (Photo from VRBO website.)

This is the second bedroom. It shares a bathroom with the third bedroom. (Photo from the VRBO website.)

This is the second of two bathrooms. It is in between two bedrooms.

This is the third bedroom with twin beds. All bedrooms have a door leading to the backyard and all have TVs. (Photo from VRBO website.)

The backyard was quiet but for the occasional hummingbird that buzzed through or the wafting sounds of a jazz band playing somewhere off in the distance at night. It was a relaxing and somewhat spiritual experience to be surrounded by such peace and beauty, backed up by a serene mountain. The lighting in Palm Springs is particularly friendly because the sun softens as it goes behind those mountains and disperses a light that makes the world seem simpler, friendlier.

The serene mountains and the delightful pool. Photo by M Dryja.

One of two hammocks. This one is closer to the mountain.

The other hammock, closer to the house.

A pretty fountain and a solitary bench.

St. Francis watches over it all.

The hot tub.

Flowers line the orange brick wall.

By the way, if you read my post about the Frey House II, you can see that house from La Casita’s backyard, if you know where to look. Kind of fun.

Benches line the pool on one side. Chaise lounges line the other side.

As you can see, it was easy to stay in La Casita, with all sorts of little nooks and crannies in which to relax and unwind. It was also easy to get work done since the house had a large desk on which to work and came with high-speed internet and wifi.

Work was made easier, thanks to the desk and high-speed internet provided. (Photo by M Dryja.)

Of course, our time there wasn't all work. You know that already. This little green pig was part of the fun. We found him at one of the shops on Palm Canyon Drive. Hubby named him "Frey". (Photo by M Dryja.)

Our time at La Casita ended far too soon. Even now, several days after returning to our “headquarters” in Arizona, we miss the friendly light of Palm Springs and our little paradise at La Casita.