Monday, December 19, 2016

Nature beyond the neon: Reno, Nev.

The weather is brisk and beautiful during our annual visit to visit family and friends in Reno, Nevada. The sunshine entices us to spend time outdoors where we find several oases of autumn color in this otherwise casino-lit city.

Galena Creek Park

Just up Mount Rose Highway from our former home in south suburban Reno, this park is one of our favorites. We stop by to see how the trees planted eight years ago for our younger son's Boy Scout Eagle project are doing. He's relieved to see that most are still alive. The ranger tells us that he's removed the temporary irrigation that the scouts installed and he's quite pleased with the trees.

We check out the hill where our son led a tree-planting project
at Galena Creek Park, Reno, Nev.

Flags fly at Galena Creek Park in Reno, Nev.

Lazy 5 Regional Park

On the other end of town, north of Sparks, we visit Lazy 5, the scene of our older's son Eagle Scout project about a dozen years ago. He organized about a hundred volunteers to plant trees here when this park was brand new. It looks like the trees are thriving. Despite the sunny day, there aren't many visitors on this weekday afternoon, although we provide a band aid to a little girl who got a boo boo on the playground. That scout motto — Be Prepared — comes in handy.

We're pretty sure this is one of the trees planted as part of
our older son's Eagle Scout project at Lazy 5 Regional Park
in Sparks, Nev.

Lazy 5 Regional Park in Sparks, Nev.

Teglia's Paradise Park

Just down the road from our Sparks condo, Teglia is home to several species of geese and ducks. We enjoy a walk around the lake and a view of of the local drive-in theater.

El Rancho Drive-In Theater can be seen across the pond in Taglia's Paradise
Park in Reno, Nev.

One of many geese gaggles in Taglia's Paradise Park in Sparks, Nev.

Sparks Marina

One of my first assignments for the Reno Gazette-Journal was to write about this venue, so it holds a special place in my heart. We take a couple of two-mile laps around the lake, during which we spy a bald eagle.

In order to maintain a desirable water level at Sparks Marina, 2.3 million gallons
of water are pumped out of the lake and into the Truckee River each day.

A bald eagle (one of a pair) is a resident at Sparks Marina in Sparks, Nev.

A cute duck dips its toes in the water at Sparks Marina in Sparks, Nev.

Rancho San Rafael Regional Park

I love visiting the arboretum here. Although no flowers are in bloom this time of year, the park is still pretty. Each September, the park hosts the Great Reno Balloon Race.

Wilbur D. May Arboretum in Rancho San Rafael Regional Park in Reno, Nev.,
is a pleasant place for a walk, even in the late autumn.

Wilbur D. May Arboretum at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park in Reno, Nev.

A picnic pavilion at Rancho San Rafael Regional Park in Reno, Nev.

Reno Riverwalk

A walk along the Truckee River is just the antidote for our post-election blues. The city of Reno has put in a lot of effort to create a beautiful area here, in the heart of downtown.

The Truckee River flows through downtown Reno, Nev.

These ducks seem to be enjoying the kayak park on the Truckee River
in downtown Reno, Nev.

Detail shot of a fountain along the Riverwalk in Reno, Nev.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Boston in a day

My return flight to France isn't til 7:30 this evening so I take advantage of being in Boston for a few drizzly hours. The weather may not be the best, but I'm with two of my oldest, bestest buddies: my sister and my dear friend who has taken the bus down from Maine just to see me.

Boston Public Garden

I've flown in and out of Logan Int'l. a few times, and I have fond memories of exploring the Boston area when I was a little girl with my great uncle Walter serving as my personal tour guide. However, this is the first time I've actually spent time in downtown Boston. Seven hours in a city by no means makes me an expert, but I eagerly share some of the highlights of my day here.

Green Dragon Tavern was the secret meeting place of the Sons of Liberty
and, according to Webster, was the headquarters of the American Revolution.
The original tavern was located near here.

Boston is the cradle of the American Revolution, and, after picking up bagels at Bruegger's to bring home to my patient husband in France, we easily find ourselves on the Freedom Trail, a meandering stroll through the city that takes visitors past 16 historical sites.

Old Statehouse Museum and site of the Boston Massacre. Patriots
including John Adams, John Hancock and Samuel Adams worked here.

Weary as we all our from this bitter presidential campaign, walking in the footsteps of our Founding Fathers is just the tonic I need to remind me what America stands for.

Paul Revere statue in Boston
The Old North Church in Boston
Bell in Hand in Boston is America's oldest tavern
George Washington statue in Boston Public Garden
Boston's history is not only about the American Revolution. The city has a rich culture based on the many immigrants who settled here. 

Boston's Irish Famine Memorial commemorates An
Gorta Mór
(the great famine 1845-1852)
Boston's Irish Famine Memorial also celebrates the triumph
of the city's Irisn immigrants.

New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston

Contemplating frog at Frog Pond in Boston Common

Base of a Dawn Redwood tree in Boston Public Garden

'Make Way for Ducklings' sculpture by Nancy Schön in Boston
Public Garden features the characters created by Robert McCloskey.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

An all-too-brief stop in Saratoga Springs

Saratoga Springs, New York, is known for its health and horses, but my one evening here leaves time only for a walk up and down Broadway and a delicious dinner.

Saratoga Springs's heritage is rich with history and horses.

My sister and I decide to spend the night in Saratoga Springs after visiting our aunt at our grandparents' farm nearby. As a child growing up in Upstate New York, we spent countless weekends and summers at the farm, but we rarely visited the charming town of Saratoga Springs.

My grandparents' pre-Revolution farm house near Saratoga, NY  

The city's crown jewel of the arts, Saratoga Performing Arts Center, was new when I was a kid, and I remember seeing Peter, Paul & Mary, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass and the New York City Ballet here. (SPAC is the ballet company's summer home and that of the Philadelphia Orchestra too). We'd sit on the lawn and listen to the music, and we'd drink from the water fountains, which offer up real Saratoga Springs mineral water.

Sculpture entitled 'Believe in Yourself' by Jenny McShan
reminds visitors that Saratoga is the site of
the National Museum of Dance & Hall of Fame and
the summer home of the New York City Ballet.

SPAC's first headliner was Harry Belafonte (June 27, 1967); the Grateful Dead drew SPAC's largest crowd (40,231 on June 27, 1985); the most sold-out performances were garnered by the Dave Matthews Band (10); and James Taylor has appeared here the most times (19).

Racehorse sculpture in Saratoga Springs

Racehorse sculpture in Saratoga Springs

Entrance to the historical Saratoga Race Course

The first horse race in Saratoga took place in 1863, starting a tradition that makes the race course America's oldest sports facility.

Saint Peter's Church in Saratoga Springs, founded in 1839

Saratoga is steeped in the history of America. A major battle of the Revolutionary War was fought here; I remember visiting the battlefield when I was a child. "Twelve Years a Slave" author Solomon Northup was kidnapped in Saratoga and sold into slavery. During the second half of the 19th century, Saratoga Springs was the playground of the wealthy who flocked here for its spas, ponies and gambling. The streets here are lined with large Victorian homes from this era.

Fountain in Congress Park in Saratoga Springs

Congress Park in Saratoga Springs

In recent years, Saratoga has renewed its focus on on tourism, and its main street, Broadway, is overflowing with inns, shops and restaurants.

Sign in front of The Wine Bar in Saratoga Springs

We are enticed to dine at The Wine Bar because of its endless Monday happy hour. I order magret de canard, even though I can eat duck back whenever I want at home. Steeling myself to be let down, I am instead delighted by my dinner. There aren't many places in the U.S. where I could envision living, but the wine warms me to imagine calling Saratoga Springs home. But then I remember what winters are like in this part of the world. Snow, lots of snow, has its charms, but I think I'll stick to France.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The 'mystic' side of Connecticut

It's been many years since I've been to New England in the fall. Although I grew up in Upstate New York and Pennsylvania, my recent trip to visit family ("The Great Beck Trek") took me to a state I don't recall ever before visiting: Connecticut.

Mystic, CT

The Charles W. Morgan in its home port at Mystic Seaport, Mystic CT

I'm staying in the seaside area in the state's southeastern corner known as Mystic Country. The village of Mystic, perhaps best known in pop culture for the 1988 film "Mystic Pizza," is located between Groton and Stonington. Mystic is bisected by the Mystic River, which flows into the Long Island Sound.

The Mystic River Drawbridge opens up to river traffic at 40 minutes past the
hour during the low season, more often in the summer.

With a rich colonial history, the Mystic Seaport showcases the village's richest legacy: shipbuilding. On my walk through town on this post-tourist-season weekday afternoon, I enjoy a lack of crowds (it's an ongoing traffic jam in the summertime), and two hours here allows me time to window-shop, watch the Mystic River Drawbridge in action, and of course, eat a scrumptious slice of cheese at from Mystic Pizza.

Of course I ate here: Mystic Pizza in Mystic, CT

First United Methodist Church in Mystic, CT

On another day, my sister and I tour Mystic Seaport, inspired by an oyster festival happening this day. The seaport is a living and working museum. The world's last wooden whaleship, the Charles W. Morgan, is docked here, and an entire museum is dedicated to her.

Shipyard workshop at Mystic Seaport, Mystic, CT

Mystic Seaport also contains a recreated 19th-century seafaring village with houses, gardens, a schoolhouse, doctor's office and various nautical crafts workshops. In the summer, this is a lively area with demonstrations, chanteymen and interpretors all making the village come alive for visitors. Those wishing to take to the sea can rent rowboats or sailboats, or take a ride on the Breck Marshall.

Admission to Mystic Seaport seems pricey to me ($26 adults/$17 ages 6-17 for a two-day pass) but locals can take advantage of annual membership rates, and it's clear that this is a National Historical landmark is worthy of preservation.

Wheel of the Charles W. Morgan at Mystic Seaport, Mystic, CT 

Loom in one of the homes of the 19th-century village at Mystic
Seaport, Mystic, CT

Mystic River Scale Model at Mystic Seaport, Mystic, CT

Catboats on display at Mystic Seaport, Mystic, CT

On deck of one of the historical vessels at Mystic Seaport, Mystic, CT

Mystic trivia: Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall honeymooned at the Inn at Mystic.

Noank, CT

Looking across the river in Noank, CT

Just a couple miles up the road is the lovely village of Noank. I attend a pleasant wine tasting at the local Package Store (where liquor is sold in Connecticut) and enjoy some nice walks along the water.

A flag flies on the harbor in Noank, CT. Morgan Point lighthouse
can be seen in the distance.

This area was the summer camping ground of the Pequots. Its name comes from the word Nauyang, meaning "point of land." Many of the houses here have historical markers. I come face to face with my own little historical milestone in Noank: my first lobster roll, from Ford's Lobsters. Yumerific!

Buoys hang on the shack at Ford's Lobsters in Noank, CT

Lobster roll and chips at Ford's Lobsters in Noank, CT

Noank trivia: Amelia Earhart and George Palmer Putnam got married in Noank on Feb. 7, 1931.

Stonington, CT

Little Narragansett Bay on Stonington Harbor, Stonington, CT

The riches of the bucolic village of Stonington were amassed in the sealing trade. The port withstood two naval attacks by the British — one during the American Revolution and another during the War of 1812. Today, visitors can tour the Old Lighthouse Museum or walk along the harbor. Fresh seafood, a dip at DuBois Beach and a vibrant sunset might round out a typical summer day in Stonington.

Old Lighthouse Museum in Stonington, CT

Pretty house in Stonington, CT

Reproduction of an original American flag
on a home in Stonington, CT

Stonington trivia: Author Peter Benchley wrote part of the novel "Jaws" in a converted chicken coop in Stonington.

New London, CT

Nathan Hale Schoolhouse in New London, CT

My sister's business in New London gives me an hour to explore the city on my own. It's a little early in the day, so some of the shops aren't open yet, but I do find a bakery where I buy a peanut butter-chocolate muffin (I'm enjoying peanut butter at every opportunity while I'm here). Ocean Beach Park is deserted, but I sit for awhile, look at the water and savor my pb treat. 

Brightly painted submarine art at Ocean Beach Park in New London, CT

Located on the mouth of the Thames River (which is pronounced differently from the Old London Thames) New London's wealth came from whaling. Its harbor was considered to be the best deep water harbor on Long Island Sound, thus making it a base of naval operations during the Revolutionary War. The United States Coast Guard Academy is located here, and New London harbor is the home port for the U.S. Coast Guard tall ship Eagle.

One of Connecticut's most famous heros was Nathan Hale, known for his last words as he was being hung by the British for spying during the American Revolution: "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country." The schoolhouse where he taught in 1774 and 1775 is located here.

Sculpture honoring playwright Eugene O'Neill who lived in New London, CT

New London was the childhood summer home of Eugene O'Neill. The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright is honored with a bronze sculpture in downtown New London, and the family home, Monte Cristo Cottage, setting for "Long Day's Journey Into Night" and "Ah, Wilderness," is a museum.

Mural in New London, CT, touts the city's vibrant art and music scene.

New London trivia (courtesy of Connecticut College's newspaper, The College Voice): There is a secret button located somewhere in New London that can blow up the bridge over the Thames River in the event of attack.