“There’s no place like home,” said Dorothy as she clicked those fancy red heels together and headed for Kansas. On every trip, it seems I must remind myself that having these moments doesn’t mean I no longer want to travel…it simply means that ‘home’ is where things are arranged to suit my idiosyncrasies and in these random apartments and hotel rooms it’s all slightly off kilter⁠!

About these little ‘homes’ on the road. All the overnights from the Ritz (that one time) to an Indian train on the way to Delhi…and oh so many abodes between. This morning in Montreal, Canada up early to the noise of god knows what mechanical units in the neighborhood and my own anxieties which have nothing to do with place and everything to do with time. Damn time. How many trips left in my life? Due to physical realities of age or mental relinquishing of curiosity and adventure? Stop it. Can’t.

My friend Pat posted that she bet I was glad to have a young person along. I had a momentarily negative response…like why would I need a young person along…am I not strong and brave and experienced? Three seconds later I said to myself…’self, admit you are most happy to be traveling with Patricia, not only because you love Patricia and she’s an interesting companion but ALSO because she can iphone her way to the next corner, figure out how to handle the multiple TV controls AND, best of all, she can make choices about where, when, why, so I don’t have to…because damn it…I’m less fond of choice making than in my bossy past.

Oh yeah…travel…this is a travel blog. Left our lovely QC hotel yesterday about noon, uneventful three hour train to Montreal through pleasant-enough lushly summer-green country landscape. Then wrestled with checking into our apartment. And herein lies the story of the day…the advice column…whatever: UNLESS you go substantially high-end or stick to Super 8’s along the Nebraska interstate, booking resting places for your travel nights is a … well … crap shoot … might be the best description. Sites like booking.com and Expedia were the easiest ways to go for hotels; airbnbs for the more intimate and often cheaper experience of in-home rooms or people’s briefly vacated apartments. No more. Now all travel-stay sites are booking everything, the competition is fierce and the standards are slipping⁠—always the case when the next buck is all that matters.

We are staying in three places this trip. All initially arranged through booking.com⁠—who should have stuck to hotels; our two apartment experiences have not gone well. Lack of check-in communication (unlike hotels, in the case of apartments you always have to arrange for key exchange etc.), readiness of space (in hotels, your room is either clean and you check-in or not and you wait and complain, but at least you’re sitting in the lobby complaining and not on the curb outside!), and the miscellaneous sock behind the couch (oh sure, that can happen in hotels too but stray articles of clothing seem like more of an affront in an apartment). In comparison our modestly upscale hotel was perfect! And these apartments in the $200 a night range⁠—not urban-expensive I know but couldn’t they have found that sock?

There…I feel better. Covered old age and minor travel gripes in one fell swoop or is that swell foop? I always like to say that.

Patricia and I are adjusting to traveling as two adults, not grandma and grandchild. Teresa and I covered this transition a couple of years ago. It’s not so different…well it is but maybe that’s another post.

Meanwhile this funkily charming apartment is on the waterfront (St. Lawrence river or a tributary? We’ll find out.) and there’s an amusement part out there and seemingly hundreds of restaurants and souvenir shops⁠…playground for the hoi polloi⁠…whatever are classy people like us doing here?

BACK TO YESTERDAY.

 

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Booking a walking tour on Quebec’s hottest day so far this year might not be perfect travel planning. Whether we erred in judgement or the problems stem from the anger of the weather gods is uncertain. A nice day nevertheless…well except for my near heat stroke. I suppose given all of the pollutants I emitted in my years of cigarette smoking I am fair game for punishment.

Quebec City has led a fascinating life of cultural invasion, frontier rowdiness and weather extremes. It’s a beautiful city, historic in the Santa Fe, Bergen, etc. way of significant architecture, excessively cute (but often excellent) restaurants that make me quite sad to be a failed foodie, and way way too many people.

The first order of the day was a rather lengthy history tour with an articulate and knowledgeable guide; unfortunately by the end it was 90° and 51% humidity. We stopped for a way-above-average lunch, Patricia with eggs benedict and me with crispy toasts of baguette and beet hummus (who knew!). I had something called a milkshake IPA but it was too hot to drink most of it…unfortunate since it is the best IPA I’ve ever tasted…(Scott, if you’re reading this I, YOUR MOTHER, has discovered the best IPA when you always thought that was your forte…ha!)

Our next gig was a tour of the famous Fairmont Le Château Frontenac (better you google it than I try to reword the brochure for you) which Patricia was anxious to visit based on a friend’s recommendation. Here’s where things went slightly awry. As in after the morning’s walk and a steep climb up thousands of steps (maybe a few less…) I was feeling definitely unwell. I did make it up the many miles or so of stairs (so slight exaggerations are acceptable when one is promoting tourism, haven’t you noticed that?) but then collapsed under a tree in the small park nearby…along with a whole lot of others. Turned out fine. Patricia had a great time on her tour and I spent an hour pleasantly dozing on the grass. Honestly, it was quite a lovely way to spend part of a hot lazy day.

For our next act we walked back to our hotel, stopping along the way for a cafe au lait and what our guide had described earlier as ‘poor man’s pudding.’ The latter a decadent maple syrup, cake/bread and whipped cream concoction. Quick trip into a deli for provisions for the evening and now we’ve been home for awhile vegging nicely with yogurt (me) and wine (Patricia).

Back to Montreal tomorrow.

 

 

Truthfully, a bit of a blur. After so many years of rambles around the world, how can I not have the infrastructure of every trip down pat? In fact I seem to get the details a little more wrong each time…consider winding down you say…Oh.Shut.Up. Fortunately Patricia planned all of the good stuff, where to go, main attractions, and even a list of gluten-free eating in the neighborhood. I, on the other hand, planned the bad flight times and missed all the crucial checking in details for our rather strange hotel/airbnb/highrise overnight adventure in Montreal. All of this is just to say I feel tired and a little discouraged. Anyway here we are in our historic hotel in history-laden Quebec City in the historical center of the province of history-rich Quebec, Canada. It’s morning, we’ve finally had a long night’s sleep and soon we’re off for more crepes…gluten be damned…and a history walk.

The journey so far. Albuquerque to QC. Best I can do since life keeps feeling ever so slightly OFF.

Train Montreal to Quebec City.

Checking in at the Hotel Manoir d’Auteuil. History, expensive, friendly, so comfortable with an extra bed put in for us. Except Patricia like it colder and I prefer that warm and muggy summer environment.

A touch of history.

Patricia and I are ‘getting the heck out of Dodge’ for a week. Montreal and Quebec City. We’re recreating Patricia’s 16th birthday trip to Paris ten years ago. Well not quite, Montreal doesn’t exactly have the same vibes as ‘the city of lights’ but it’s way closer than Albuquerque. I’m posting this lame little entry for tonight primarily to get back in the habit of blogging while traveling… So unfortunately no pretty pictures or clever insights or even major complaints, just me trying to stay awake until 9pm. ‘So sad’ our faux-leader would say.  I wrote on the plane for awhile…it was early and I was anxious and tired and attributed my despondency to the sleazy one. Writing it down helped… so last mention of this for the entire trip I promise. Here on in it’s all about Canada and granddaughter and grandmother hanging out in the world.

I am always amazed at what excellent travel buddies all of my grandchildren are…well except for Sara on trains. Patricia for example is a great organizer/manager…exudes the kind of confidence I badly need when I’m tired and confused which happens more often than I will ever admit out loud.

Anyway today went like this. Airport at 4am gross scrambled eggs and potatoes at the Denver airport (Denver Central Market-avoid) sleepy so P. got fat new neck pillows for us booking.com messed up our hotel reservations because it turned out to be an airbnb kind of apartment that had intricate check-in instructions but now we’re in and we’ve been to the deli. Yeah, P. says, that’s about it. I had gluten-free crackers and cheddar cheese for dinner, P. has a salad in the frig. Dear Diary, on my summer vacation…

Train to QC tomorrow and an historic luxury hotel for two days. Pictures…many pictures.

TOURISTING

  MACROSTIE ART CENTER, GRAND RAPIDS MN

I think it’s a faux-birch bark dress. Whatever…it looked right for a winter party with mead and a roasted leg of animal.

 

BOB DYLAN HOUSE AND SCHOOL, HIBBING MN (where he grew up…although he almost never admits it)

 

GREYHOUND BUS MUSEUM, HIBBING MN

Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together
I’ve got some real estate here in my bag
So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner’s pies
And we walked off to look for America
Cathy, I said as we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh
Michigan seems like a dream to me now
It took me four days to hitchhike from Saginaw
I’ve gone to look for America …
Laughing on the bus, playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
I said, be careful, his bowtie is really a camera
Toss me a cigarette, I think there’s one in my raincoat
We smoked the last one an hour ago
So I looked at the scenery
She read her magazine
And the moon rose over an open field…
Cathy, I’m lost, I said though I knew she was sleeping
And I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They’ve all come to look for America
All come to look for America
All come to look for America
(Paul Simon)
I’ve made a small fortune and you squandered it all 
You shamed me till I feel about one inch tall 
But I thought I loved you and I hoped you would change 
So I gritted my teeth and didn’t complain …
Now you come to me with a simple goodbye 
You tell me you’re leaving but you won’t tell me why 
Now we’re here at the station and you’re getting on 
And all I can think of is thank God and Greyhound you’re gone …
Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone 
I didn’t know how much longer I could go on 
Watching you take the respect out of me 
Watching you make a total wreck out of me 
That big diesel motor is a-playing my song 
Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone
Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone …
That load on my mind got lighter when you got on 
That shiny old bus is a beautiful sight 
With the black smoke a-rolling up around the taillight 
It may sound kind-a cruel but I’ve been silent too long 
Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone 
Thank God and Greyhound you’re gone
(Songwriters: Ed Nix / Larry Kingston)

HULL-RUST-MAHONING OPEN PIT MINE, HIBBING MN

This was, surprisingly to me, a remarkable site and sight. I’ve never seen an open pit mine of this size before, and for some reason I find heavy duty mining, drilling, industrial equipment oddly beautiful. (Thinking of the Petroleum Museum in Stavanger, Norway). It also prompts one to think of what the business of extracting the earth’s riches means in positive terms: work, (dirty dangerous, hard work it’s true), for millions all over the planet for centuries; and industrialization bringing us most of the comforts and ills of today. It is complicated indeed.

VISITING

 

Here are some of the kids who ran wild in the woods and fields until the cake was out of the oven.

When I was a kid we went visiting. Over to the neighbors, over to the friends, maybe further away to visit the cousins. Visiting consisted firstly of serious amounts of coffee and ‘lunch.’ Usually the latter included sandwiches (white bread, luncheon meat, cheese, butter, jam), sauce (home canned fruits of many kinds), cookies, and cake (the cake having been quickly put together and into the oven after the company arrived) and pots of the blackest of coffee. The other visiting component was talk, as much of that as there was coffee. Talk talk talk, the men in the front room, the women in the kitchen, the kids all over outside. No tea, beer, or wine (maybe Kool-aid in the summer). No TV, no smart phones, no music. Just talk talk talk laugh laugh laugh.

Yes, I am as old as I sound in that paragraph. And I am sentimentalizing my rural childhood! Now, introverted urban dweller me, I would not want to return to those days of unannounced ‘company’ with the women relegated to kitchen while the table’s set and the cake bakes, but every year when I’m home we partially recreate that old art of visiting for at least one drive out to the Week’s.

Helen, the matriarch of the Weeks’ clan…and me, not really so very much younger but much less wise.

Helen Week, mom and dad’s only living friend turned 97 while I was in Minnesota. She was the youngest grown-up of the two Weeks’ families that were my folks’ best friends. So of course, Robert, Marsha and I went visiting and, it so happens, Helen had just baked a ginger molasses cake earlier in the day. Three of Helen’s kids were home so old stories got told and we laughed and consumed coffee in respectable Minnesota proportions. Helen’s not quite her boisterous and jokey younger self…but she’s not so far off either.

It is harder to leave each visit with our Week’s family-friends. Helen’s age makes us fearful of not seeing her again while our ages (Robert, Marsha and me) make us only too aware that our freedom to visit scattered family and friends will soon be compromised.  We can’t quite foresee all of the ways but the signs (called birthdays!) are impossible to ignore—whether for reasons of strength, health, economics, or worse, desire. I am almost more frightened of not wanting to ‘go’ as I please than of being unable to do so. But that’s not yet…when we drove away I vowed to see Helen and Barb and Kathy and Norm again next year.

 

Vaca is nearly over. This has been an authentic vacation—as in doing as little as possible and then only the most pleasant of activities. I’ve started sleeping again which was a touch-and-go proposition for awhile before leaving Albuquerque. I’ve read and read and read. Visited—as in sitting around talking to people you haven’t seen for awhile—and if in Minnesota, drinking coffee and eating cake. In other words, slothing (an act of just lazying around, an act of indolence , moving around clumsily or lazily.-says Urban Dictionary) So here’s a small slothing album.

The Food Section: Part of ‘vacationing’ is eating food other people have cooked and/or eating things you ordinarily wouldn’t. I’ve been totally meat free (working toward vegetarianism, seafood- free as well…but not yet) all year. Made my only 2019 exception by taking Dried Beef sandwiches up to the Old Place for our day of reminiscences. Mom always made them for excursions because they tasted the same on Day #3 as on the first day! Maybe not a recommendation but never mind that…I will always love them.

 

The house I grew up in and I are disintegrating at about the same rate. Actually the old house may be even more wrecked than me but its dilapidation is far more interesting to behold.

 

 

To me it is beautiful here, where I grew up, just as it is: overgrown, collapsing, old timber and stucco buildings reverting to woods. The welcome wagon meets us on the road and then we just walk around and listen to our young voices echoing through the treetops.

 

TOE STORY

Marsha’s toe became calcified—or something like that. Doctor said ‘it must go.’ So it was chopped off. It’s a bit more complicated than that but there’s apparently nothing life- or even gait-threatening so we all feel free to poke fun at Marsha’s Toe Story. I thought it should enter cyberspace for the sake of posterity.

Here then….