© carol fletcher

Uncle Willie

We lost one today.  A 90-year-old link to the past.  My Uncle Willie.  He remembered the stories, the old stories…of his grandparents moving across Tennessee when TVA flooded their valley, of the hungry Indians coming to their door asking for food when no one had any.  He was married twice, seven kids.  And alone at the end.

His house sits on brick-o-blocks.  On a back road, off a back road, in a forgotten part of Tennessee.  Not even a house number.   It’s the same house he’s lived in for 60 years or more.

Every winter morning, he went to his front porch and got wood for the cast iron stove that heated the house.  Everyday he wore overalls, sipped his coffee, scraped his plate and looked out the window into the back field, the field where his cows used to graze.  His voice grew quiet, raspy, from lack of talking.

Every Saturday he drove 40 miles to go dancing.  He had several pairs of cowboy boots for “the dancing”, each pair still kept in the original plastic wrap and box.

Uncle Willie was a dreamer, sentimental.  He kept the family photos, the old Bible.  He talked about the photos, the old times.  His blue eyes twinkled and he grinned, a mischievous smile.  Maybe in his mind he was still 21.

He wanted a woman’s touch, her attention.  Someone at the dances.  He kept her photo on a shelf by the door.  No one had met her.  He built an addition on his house.  Something to do, maybe.  It was for her, maybe.  It was nicer, lighter, with white carpet and a fancy bathroom.  She never came.  He cried when he spoke of her.

I hadn’t seen Uncle Willie for maybe 20 years.  Then in the fall of 2013, I visited with my father.  We laughed, we talked.  I found something familiar in him.  I photographed him.  I went again on Easter 2015.  I filmed him, his voice a bare whisper.  His attention seemed parsed, distracted by the thought of the woman.  I asked him about the past, about his mother, his father, his childhood.  My dad sat beside him and inserted little details along the way.   Uncle Willie’s cloudy blue eyes watered as he told the tales.

I last saw him at the end of September 2015, when we celebrated with an early birthday party.  In December he would turn 90, my Dad would turn 80.  He was in good form.  Laughing.  Joking.  Enjoying the attention.  His blue eyes glimmered with that old light.  He had new boots.  He had a gadget for helping him to take off his boots without touching them, and he demonstrated it for me.

We made plans to get together in the spring.  For another party, for dancing.  He told me that it would keep him alive, to think of that.

Uncle Willie passed away at 3:30 a.m. today, February 27, 2016.

Uncle Willie lights the old stove in his home in Tennessee.
Uncle Willie treasured this old photo of his grandparents.
Uncle Willie is proud of his boots. He has 9 pairs of cowboy boots, pristine, ready for a night at the dance hall.
Uncle Willie is proud of his boots. He has 9 pairs of cowboy boots, pristine, ready for a night at the dance hall.
Uncle Willie
Uncle Willie in his living room.
kitchen calendars farm
In the kitchen.
Uncle Willie
In the kitchen.
The back field.
Uncle Willie’s house.
The addition
The addition
The addition, living room
The addition, living room
Family Bible
Family Bible
Three Fletchers
Three Fletchers
Willie at his early 90th party
Willie at his early 90th party
Uncle Willie demonstrates his boot-remover contraption.
Uncle Willie demonstrates his boot-remover contraption.
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Dog Rescuers

Almost 8 million dogs and cats enter U.S. shelters each year, and almost 50% of them will not come out alive. The cycle is horrific.  Dogs come in abused, neglected, heartbroken, sick, old, pure-bred–with one thing in common…they are unwanted and unloved.  It is hard on the animal-lovers who work for the shelter. It is hard on anyone who loves animals.

What many people don’t realize is that about 35% of abandoned animals are pulled out of shelters by rescue groups. Rescuers go deep into the shelters looking for adoptable dogs. They find foster homes, they provide food and vaccinations and spay/neuters. Their own homes are usually brimming with wagging tails. They sell t-shirts for medical care fundraisers. They network to find just the right family for each dog. They organize transport to move dogs all over the country, to get them to homes where they will be loved and taken care of. Their phones buzz with incoming texts, emails, messages…about the dogs they’ve saved, or about dogs that are urgently in need of a place to stay before time runs out.

Rescue groups operate all around us.  Rescuers seem to lead double lives…working full time jobs, raising families and giving the rest of their time, hearts and homes to the dogs they save. It takes a great human to traverse through this bittersweet cycle. Rescuers experience extreme joy when opening a shelter cage to save a dog, only to turn around and have their hearts broken when they look into the eyes of the desperate dogs still in their kennels. And there is pain–anger–when they walk to the front of the shelter, only to see a line of people dropping off unwanted pets. It takes a hearty soul to care so deeply, to do so much, to function so effectively around “humanity” and to give so much of their lives.

This is the story of Kelly and Judy: special souls who are dog rescuers in this never-ending stream of unwanted and abused animals.  View the photos in slideshow to see captions for each.  Start slideshow by clicking on the first photo, and then using the arrows to navigate through.

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Details…They don’t make them like they used to!

At this year’s Open House Chicago, sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Foundation, I went to see the interiors of buildings not normally open to the public.  And what struck me most were the rich details…the ornate little extras, little treats for the eyes built in to the old spaces.

Whatever happened to those days of craftsmanship?  When those little flourishes mattered?   Now it seems that buildings are mundane.  Character has disappeared in favor of efficiency, productivity, mass production and bottom lines.

Nope.  They don’t make ’em like they used to!

Staircase spiral steps chicago motor club
In the Chicago Motor Club building (now a Hampton Inn), there is the muraled map of the old U.S. highways and parks, some exquisite– picture grandma’s-silver –detail around the elevators, and a wavy curve to the staircase in that same smooth silver.
Union Carbide hard rock virgin old dearborn bank building
A view of the Union Carbide Building (built in 1929, now the Hard Rock Hotel), supposedly built to resemble a champagne bottle with gold foil at the top…as seen from the Old Dearborn Bank Building (built in 1928, now the Virgin Hotel).
oriental palace theater chicago
Built in 1926, this place is lusciously FULL of ornaments…Isis, seahorses, cats, jesters, plush red seats and elaborate lanterns and chandeliers.
Chicago model miniature
An accurately scaled model of Chicago made in plastic…right down to the Bean.
Elevator floor indicator santa fe building chicago
Elevator floor indicator in the building that houses the Chicago Architecture Foundation.
Fine arts building elevator chicago
The Fine Arts Building elevator…still manually operated, with a grated door and up/down bulbs, these elevators make the smoothest sound.
stairwell fine arts building chicago
Practicing violins, pianos and voices echo through the stairwell of this old building, still an artists community, just as the Chicago’s Fine Arts Building was meant to be.
lyre banister knob stairwell fine arts building chicago
Well worn and appropriately detailed banister knobs in the stairwell of the Fine Arts Building in Chicago.
File Gumbo fiddle violin maker
At the William Harris Lee & Company stringed instrument shop in the Fine Arts Building Chicago. Seeing these workstations where violins, violas, cellos, and stand-up basses are lovingly carved and brought to life was a highlight of the day! And who knew that a little File Gumbo spice is built-in?
violins cellos whlee stringed instrument makers
At W.H. Lee & Company, Violins, Violas and Cellos wait. Fine Arts Building in Chicago.
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Heart and Soul Animal Sanctuary / Rescue in New Mexico

In March, I spent some time at the Heart and Soul Animal Sanctuary, a rescue located on 100+ acres outside Santa Fe, New Mexico.   Founder and Director, Natalie Owings cares for, and lives among, over 200 animals–dogs, cats, rabbits, wedding doves, horses, chickens, guinea pigs, ducks, llamas, alpacas, goats….  If any animal in the area needs a home, a meal, and some compassion, this is the place.

For the abused, neglected, sick or starving animals who have found safe haven here, this can only seem like heaven.  Many of the animals are rescued from shelters in the area.  And will stay here until adopted or transported to another state for adoption.  Some may live out their days here.

About 30 dogs have the run of the Giant Doghouse and surrounding grounds.  While they are fenced out of spaces for some of the other animals in order to keep the peace, they have ample selection of beds (inside, outside, in the sun, in the shade) and can help themselves to kibble anytime they are hungry.  There are no cages, no leashes… and no fights.   Every creature here is loved, respected, and safe …and they know it.

Please take a minute to visit the website:   http://www.animal-sanctuary.org/

Dog beds on the Porch
Heart and Soul Animal Sanctuary’s Giant Doghouse porch has beds for everyone.
Feeding the dogs
Food and water dishes are always full for the 30+ dogs.  They can eat whenever they get hungry.
New Mexico dog walk
Every afternoon, Natalie takes the dogs on a hike.  It begins with a chaotic cacophony of dog voices as Natalie leads the way to the trail…surrounded by little feet and wagging tails.  Once on the trail, some dogs run ahead, some stay close and others wander out to the sides…dashing back along the way.
dog tired puppy gets a lift
 On this hike, the puppies got so tired from keeping up with the big dogs and all the exciting activity, that they started falling asleep in the sun because we lingered too long…and a couple needed to be carried back.
memorial urns dog cremation
There is a quiet chapel with a shelf of urns–each with a photo.  Gone, but never forgotten.
chicken with Natalie Owings
Natalie brings a chicken into the barn.
Rabbits, heat lamp and space heater
On a cold day, rescued rabbits huddle under a heat lamp.
white doves peace birds
Some people release doves at weddings or funerals, not realizing that the domesticated birds cannot survive without their communities.  Doves will often be killed by other animals or starve after the release.  Natalie has built an aviary to give homes to rescued wedding doves.
Heart and Soul Animal Rescue gate
The dogs wait to see where Natalie is going. She almost always stays with them, not going beyond the double-gates.
Horse Chihuahuas puppies
The white horse, Jasmine, was abandoned at the Sanctuary a few years ago. Today, she wanders freely around the place, often with little dogs following her.
Thorn in dog paw
Natalie removes a thorn from a puppy’s foot during one of the afternoon walks.
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Rescued dogs – their quirks & foibles

Atticus is simply not in the mood to play with the girls.  All 3 are rescued dogs & adjusting to normal lives.
Atticus is simply not in the mood to play with the girls. All 3 are rescued dogs & are adjusting to normal lives.

I spent a perfect July day with three dog rescuers and twelve happy rescued dogs.  Yes, 12.  It can be a little tricky at first when three packs come together…there’s a lot of hustle and bustle, tails and toenails moving in all directions, sniffing and more sniffing, and sometimes some curling lips and a little flash of teeth.  But with the exception of Fancy Pants–an alpha female who could just not handle having another little lady in her house–the 12 came together for a grand Sunday afternoon.

It’s remarkable, really.  These rescued dogs have been through untold trauma.  Stuff that we can never know or fully grasp.  They’ve been abandoned, neglected, abused, starved…the list of horrors is unending.  Their trust in humans has been breeched, and their hearts–and sometimes bones–broken.  Their experiences sometimes leave them with extra quirks–foibles, peccadillos.  It takes a special person to reach through all that and to give these broken dogs the unconditional love, care and dignity that brings them back.  They need restoration, some normalcy in their lives so that they can be considered for adoption.

The rescue people watch the dogs carefully, learn quickly…and accommodate these newly lucky dogs better than any restaurant or hotel I’ve ever seen.  They know who needs a little extra space, who needs to eat alone, who is afraid of slick floors or won’t go down stairs, who wants the pool filled, who appreciates a rug in the sun, who likes to chase and who likes to be chased, who needs which pill when, who likes ice cubes, who’s not feeling well, and who may need just a little extra cuddle today.

I think the dogs know how lucky they are to have been pulled out of hell and into the orbit of these compassionate people.  The dogs grow healthy, confident and hopefully forget all the bad things that happened before their rescue, before their foster, before their forever homes.  And while they may never lose those little quirks, they do learn to love again.

Bribery still won't get Rook down the stairs
Bribery still won’t get Rook down the stairs
Edward plays soccer with his beloved green ball.
Despite a billiard-ball-sized cancerous tumor hanging from his stomach, Edward plays soccer with his beloved green ball. Moments later he fell to the ground in a seizure. After 5 minutes, he recovered and went looking for the ball.
Pet shop boy Otis--and Ruby, the slightly askew rescue
Pet shop boy Otis– and Ruby, the slightly askew rescue


Solstice is frightened by the remains of a bird
Solstice is frightened by the remains of a bird
Hiccup on the couch
Hiccup was feeling a little anti-social after her surgery and stayed on the back of the couch most of the day
Shakira's purple stitches
Shakira needed eye surgery and got purple stitches
Anders the misunderstood
Anders the misunderstood. Sometimes he needs to be ignored until he calms down


Solstice & Atticus
Solstice (who is deaf & is learning sign language) looks up to Atticus (who has a bad eye)
Introducing the new foster
Fancy Pants is introduced to Avery, the new foster healing from 17 broken bones. More about Avery in my next post this week.

The quirks and foibles of rescued dogs.  From July 28, 2013 visit.

Want more information about fostering or adopting a rescued dog?  http://www.twentypawsrescue.com

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This is about our trip to Antarctica. We live blogged this on TravelPod November 6 – 20, 2007 as we crossed the Equator, stopped in Santiago, flew to Ushuaia, and boarded the National Geographic Endeavor for a trip to Antarctica. Our families wanted to make sure we were alive way down there. So, this was written and published live. I am moving it from TravelPod in 2017, because TravelPod is closing. I want to preserve it, just as I wrote it, in the moment. There are so many memories, so many photos. It was–and remains–the trip of my lifetime (so far!).  And now, from the original TravelPod blog:

Distance. Solitude. Albatrosses. Whales. Penguins. Icebergs. Blues. Whites. The Midnight Sun. The Drake Passage.  “You wait. Everyone has an Antarctic.” Thomas Pynchon, V.

Monday, November 5, 2007 – Packing – Chicago, IL

It’s the day before we leave. Stuff is everywhere…waterproof pants, ziploc bags, camera cords, e:mail addresses, and a litany of notes about caring for the dogs. We’re afraid we’re forgetting something. Passports? Underwear?

We saw Venus in the eastern morning sky today…bright and shining so close to the crescent moon. It’s cold, windy today. But the leaves are still green on the maple out front. There may be flurries tomorrow in Chicago. But it’ll be spring in Antarctica, probably in the 20s. And in the 70s-80s in Santiago/Easter Island. How do you pack for this???

Pile #1
Pile #1

Well, we have 2 jumbo duffles on wheels. And a very long list of stuff that by the end of the day, needs to be tucked in and ready to go. Here are just a few of the things we’ve been told to bring:

  • 2 bright red parkas–Bryan compressed them in a giant ziploc baggie. Together, they are now the size of one muck boot.
  • 2 sets of Muck Boots–waterproof, insulated…and awkwardly big.
  • Sea-sickness pills/wristbands–just in case we’re paying the “Drake Tax”
  • Sunblock and lip balm–despite it being Antarctica, we will apparently burn! Sun reflects off of water and ice/snow. Plus, the Antarctic is missing an ozone layer.
  • Swim suits and old tennis shoes–for an Antarctic dip in Deception Islands’ hot springs.
  • 100% UV protected sunglasses–our eyes will burn too, so the advice is to bring 2 sets…just in case.
  • Multiple sets of hats, scarves, gloves and socks–so we stay dry. “you will probably get your feet wet.
  • Bring several pairs of tall, wool socks.” Damp appendages can cause bad things to happen. Great.
  • Ziploc bags to waterproof your stuff–hmmm…
  • Cameras to preserve memories–10 rolls of slide film, 13 GB of memory, 3 jump drives to back it all up, 3 cameras, laptop, video camera, batteries, battery chargers, adapters, and 2 miles of cords to connect it all.
  • Clothing layers made of stuff like wool, fleece, silk, and polyropylene
  • Shorts, walking shoes, guidebooks…
2 parkas + a muck boot
2 parkas + a muck boot
Charlie and Belle
Charlie and Belle

So, I need to wrap this up and commence to putting it all in the bags.
Stay tuned!
Carol and Bryan

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Iceland’s Ring Road to Seydisfjordur

Ring Road to Seydisfjordur, Iceland

So, it’s time for a bit about the roads in Iceland. The Ring Road, circles the island. It was completed in 1974. Thing is, the road has a tough time surviving the volcanic pressures, glacial bursts, gravel landslides, ocean waves, and freezing temperatures. The roads really keep you guessing. There are one lane bridges, “Blind Heads”, sandstorm and volcanic eruption warnings…and some signs simply say “!” There are RED and YELLOW roads on the map. Red roads are generally paved or metal. Yellow roads are like a surprise…you don’t really know what you’ll get…unpaved, m**************s, gravel, washed-out, AND/OR intense fog.

Roads in Iceland - One lane warning
Roads in Iceland – One lane warning
Roads in Iceland - One lane bridge
Roads in Iceland – One lane bridge

Many times we would wait on the road as a truck “repaired” the road ahead of us by flattening the rock and dirt that had tumbled there. When given the ok to pass, we passed slowly, often scraping the bottom of the car. By the end of our journey around this Ring Road, our rear view mirror had cracked and there were numerous dings around the car from flying gravel.

The other thing about the road is that Iceland has some beliefs about elves and fairies who live in the rocks and fields. Road projects have been canceled so as “not to disturb the fairy-folk”. This from a country who elected the first woman president of any nation.

Roads in Iceland - !
Roads in Iceland – !
Roads in Iceland - Red road stopped by fairy-folk land
Roads in Iceland – Red road stopped by fairy-folk land

So, we experienced these just about every kind of road Iceland has to offer as we headed into Seydisfjordur. The day was to be a full one of driving. We stopped at several stacked cairns of rocks…placing 3 in the pile meant good luck for the traveler. After the luck we’ve had, of course we stopped to add rocks!

Roads in Iceland - Yellow Road
Roads in Iceland – Yellow Road
Roads in Iceland - Yellow Road Repaired
Roads in Iceland – Yellow Road Repaired
Roads in Iceland - ! - uh-oh
Roads in Iceland – ! – uh-oh

We saw white picket-fenced graveyards, fish-drying racks, shy sheep, churches seemingly in the middle of nowhere, empty roads, scenic look-out areas, and some amazing scenery along the fjords as we headed up the East coast of Iceland. We stopped outside a cute little town called Faskrydsfjordur to finish our lunch of pepperoni and shredded cheese on Ritz crackers. We sat alongside a fjord or lake, skimming stones and enjoying the sunshine.

Carol & Bryan on the road in Iceland
Carol & Bryan on the road in Iceland,  photo credit:  the car.
Along the East coast of Iceland
Along the East coast of Iceland

As we headed up into the fjords, we started seeing more trees…birch forests. The trees are bent, twisted and short. They have to try really hard to grow in such harsh conditions. We also got into some THICK, dense fog as we twisted and turned up the narrow cliff-side roads…YELLOW roads I should add. Bumpy, graveled, washed out, fog so thick you can’t see beyond 5 feet in front of you and the cliff edge just to the right of the road. Harrowing. Yeah…it was an intense few hours of driving.

Iceland Farm along a fjord
Iceland Farm along a fjord

We arrived in Seydisfjordur around 5 p.m…hands tight from gripping the steering wheel. We checked into the Hotel Snaefell (room #15) and had a few drinks. Tapered candles stuck in a small bowl, fresh flowers, lace curtains, soft music, Icelandic fishermen everywhere, whale bones, ship bells, whistles and a wheel. As it got dark, a lighted sign came on on the side of the mountain…1999 Isolfur (the mountain’s name).

Tin houses reflect in Seydisfjordur
Tin houses reflect in Seydisfjordur

I had started reading Independent People by Halldor Laxness. I wondered if I’d lived this life in the past…knitting sweaters and watching the fog come and go in one of the tin-covered houses around the fjord. Again, it was overcast at 2 a.m. I saw eerily lit fog over the water. The mountain sign was turned off. At breakfast, we had salmon, cheese, ham pepperoni, toast and poached eggs. We were also offered pickled herring. Nice gesture, but it nearly put us over the top. :)

Seydisfjordur - Loved this house's transom windows
Seydisfjordur – Loved this house’s transom windows, and that’s our car there!
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Driving to Vik

Driving to Vik

We turned the radio up loud and headed out. Past blue mountains, a rainbow and all those green chunky fields. I’d read Summer at Little Lava by Charles Fergus–and remembered his description of thufur–the frozen bits of ground that jut up here and there. Farmers who’ve grown accustomed to negotiating these thufurs, find it difficult to walk normally on level ground.  We were on our way around the Ring Road of Iceland.

Around the Ring Road of Iceland
Around the Ring Road of Iceland

Off in the distance, we saw a waterfall and as we got closer, decided to stop. It was Seljalandfoss. The sun came out, we shed our coats and set off to walk around the waterfall. A path nestled into the wall, ran behind the waterfall…we walked behind it, taking loads of pictures, getting a little misted, and enjoying the exhilarating thrill of nature. Small yellow flowers bloomed in the short green grass.

The Seljalandfoss waterfall
The Seljalandfoss waterfall
Seljalandfoss waterfall
Seljalandfoss waterfall
Carol & Bryan at the Seljalandfoss waterfall
Carol & Bryan at the Seljalandfoss waterfall
Seljalandfoss waterfall from behind
Seljalandfoss waterfall from behind

We also stopped for pictures of sheep standing on a barn roof, mountain rocks encroaching on the buildings beneath them, black sand beaches, signs that warned of erupting volcanoes, amazing light on distant buildings and a little village called Skogar.

Skogar Church, Iceland
We stood there in this empty land, listening to an organ and a few voices singing in this church.
Mountain on a barn roof, Iceland
Mountain on a barn roof, Iceland

Skogar is a folk museum of old Icelandic housing. There were tiny, sod-roofed houses filled with an amazing amount of furniture. Beds were built into the walls and covered with delicate quilts–despite the sod walls, ceilings and floors. A tiny white church was the village centerpiece. As we walked quietly around the open air museum by ourselves, peering into the little homes…we heard organ music and several voices singing a hymn. The only other people there were in the church. The wind carried their song. It was so quiet out there…and their voices and the organ music was the only sound except for the wind in our ears. Magic. So peaceful.

Sheep on a barn roof
Sheep on a barn roof

Of course, you get back on the road and begin seeing signs warning of imminent danger if Katla erupts. Katla volcano is one of Iceland’s most destructive volcanoes. When it boils over, it melts some of the glacier over it, sending a wall of water, sand, and silt to wash away everything in its path. The last eruption was 1918. Another is expected soon. The sign reads: “Please Note:  Due to possible eruption in the Katla volcano, people are adviced not to leave the road.”

Katla warning sign
Katla eruption warning sign

We arrived safely at Hotel Hofdabrekka, checked into room #25 facing the Atlantic and visited the large dining hall for a filling supper.

Beautiful light, south coast of Iceland
Beautiful light, south coast of Iceland
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Around Reykjavik

Around Reykjavik 

On the way back to Reykjavik that first morning, we stopped to pay our respect to Geysir Strokkur–“the Churn”–that shoots water 65 feet into the air every 5 minutes. Visitors are warned to stay on paths to avoid being scalded in the geothermically-heated area.

Driving back to Reykjavik
Driving back to Reykjavik

Still in awe of the waterfall, but getting very hungry and very tired, we found the Hotel Geysir around Gullfoss and Geysir Strokkur. Our first sticker-shock…~$30 for 2 soups, 2 sandwiches and 2 coffees. Colorful money even if it didn’t hang around very long…$7 U.S. = Icelandic Kronur 500…or kr75 to a $1.

I picked up a few postcards of Gullfoss, one of it frozen solid. It looks like dripping white icing, curling at the plate. In the photo, people boldly walk across the lip of the fall…on ice. It is a stunning photograph and tempts me to return to Iceland in the winter

On the quiet ride back to Reykjavik, “All I Want is You” came on the radio…we passed green green fields, stony mountains and saw large boulders resting in odd places as if flung there. Boulders everywhere…spotted with green and yellow moss/lichen and surrounded by short tuffs of golden red grasses. Every now and then, a red gravel driveway led to a distant building.A slinking, curly-headed girl with a tattoo on her chest answered the door to Gisthaus Svala (Gistiheimilid Svala). She wore jeans beneath a black apron skirt and sashayed it like a ballroom gown all the way to Room #7. We tucked in for a 3 hour nap. I dreamed of waterfalls so big I couldn’t see the other side.

We spent 2 days in Reykjavik. Spending time at the Dubliner pub and a little tea/coffee house called Tiu Dropar. Tiu Dropar was at garden level–teapots and sugar cubes, beaded lamps and plenty of time/space to spend writing postcards and warming up after long walks. I was amused by the tin covered houses painted bright colors. They often had window boxes of colorful heath and heathers. We ate well, walked a lot, saw the sites and bought “woolies.”

On 9/18, we left for our drive south to Vik.

Reykjavik windows
Reykjavik windows
Kaffihus Cafe, Reykjavik
Kaffihus Cafe, Reykjavik
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Autumn days in Budapest

Autumn Days in Budapest, Hungary

Our friend Barb was doing a work stint in Budapest–and she said “come see me”. That’s all it took of course.  This trip would take us from Budapest, to Prague, to Munich and Garmish-Partenkirchen, to Vienna, and back to Budapest during two weeks in October 1998.

Mapping Our Route - Budapest, Prague, Munich, G-P, Vienna
Mapping Our Route – Budapest, Prague, Munich, G-P, Vienna

Budapest has an aura. I read somewhere that “if one is traveling from the east into western Europe, it is in Budapest that one experiences the breath of Western civilization. However, if one is traveling in the opposite direction, it is here that one first gets a taste of the east…” It is a hearty yet wistful place–a practical Prague. We would go in the fall–and that felt right considering this Budapest quote from Gyula Krudy: “This city smells of violets in the spring, as do the ladies along the promenade above the river on the Pest side. In the fall, it is Buda that suggests the tone: the odd thud of chestnuts dropping on the castle walk…autumn and Buda were born of the same mother.

Carol & Bryan in Budapest
Carol & Bryan in Budapest

We arrived into Budapest on October 8, a rainy afternoon–ironically, we disembarked behind a midget who we would later run into a few nights later in the Irish bar Becketts. $1 U.S. was about 200 Hungarian Forint and a ride to the city via Airport mini-bus was 1,200 Ft each. Barb rented an apartment up the hill on the Buda side from Margit Bridge. A giant yellow house, her apartment was full of shiny white marble. It is rumored that the former home owners, pre-Communist takeover of Hungary, now rent the apartment upstairs. Sometimes we would see a kerchiefed older lady walking up the stairs by the kitchen window. I wondered if the story was true–and if so, what she must feel about her home.

Old Budapest door
Old Budapest door

On the first night, jet-lagged but with a second/third wind, we went to Artichoka for dinner. I don’t know if it was the lack of sleep, the place, the food, the drink or the magic of travel–but that night was like a dream. The restaurant was in a dark narrow street. Five foot high wrought-iron candle sticks marked the entrance. The candles looked like they had been burning for ages…mounds of white candle wax had dripped and dripped and dripped until the drips made a white mass that looked like a mop turned upside down. A few drips had blown in the wind and solidified that way–wayward strands. There was a band, dressed as I would imagine gypsies dress, playing accordions and guitars. A dog cleaned up bits beneath the tables…roaming about your legs and scratching his back on a hanging plant. Candles floated in terra-cotta pots filled with water. We had 2 bottles of Hungarian Pinot Noir, Bryan had beer too. We ate and ate…tasty pastas. We lingered over the meal–seeping up the atmosphere. To this day, this is one of my favorite travel evenings.

Dozing by the Danube
Dozing by the Danube

We spent our days walking alongside the Danube. Up in Buda, I heard the chestnuts dropping. Falling yellow leaves rustled quietly. We took frequent and long breaks for coffee at outdoor cafes with views over the city and river. Over the next couple of days, we ate and drank and wandered. We spent a morning at Cafe Gerbeaud–soaking in the sun. I wandered through the art market and went back for a stunning blue/periwinkle/pink drawing of early evening Budapest. Saturday, we had an afternoon at Varosliget Park and the outdoor restaurant on the lake there–watching the dogs run, the kids play and the ducks on the water. On Sunday morning, we took in the buffet brunch at the Marriott–I remember tasty fruit, champagne and pastries. And all the people soaking in the sun along the Danube.

We walked to the crown of St. Stephens (Szent Istvan Bazilika–I love the frequent use of Zs, Vs and Ks in Hungarian!) for views over the city. The base of the building is blackened by many years of city soot…but the spires have been cleaned to their creamy white.

St. Stephen's Budapest
St. Stephen’s
From the crown of St. Stephen's Budapest
From the crown of St. Stephen’s Budapest


Someone wrote to “look up” when you walk in Budapest. Good advice…the balconies, the brightly-painted (yet faded to pastel) colors, the figures carved into building sides/tops/alcoves of buildings, mosaics, spires…it’s lovely. We rounded out Sunday at a riverside outdoor cafe–juice glasses of wine, sunshine on our faces, and watching the dozing old couples sitting on the benches enjoying the day’s sunshine, and so many dogs on the promenade too. It was perfect people watching. And I joined in, taking a seat on a bench and nodding off, the sun warming my face. As the sun went down, we began making our way back to Barb’s place. Just as we entered the Chain Bridge, the lights came on…beautiful moment. LOVED this day. It would end with Barb dropping us at the old, tired Keleti Station for our night train to Prague.

Széchenyi Chain Bridge - Budapest
Széchenyi Chain Bridge – Budapest
Hungary Flag
Hungary Flag

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