Palm Springs, “Oh why?

stock-footage-welcome-to-palm-springs-sign-along-highway-leading-to-palm-springsOh why?” Could it be that Earth, Wind, and Fire were thinking of Palm Springs when they sang, “After the Love is Gone.” Oh why? describes my impression of Palm Springs. 

The once fabled playground of movie stars, the “Rat Pack”, and wealthy retired folks seems to be a tired, out of style celebrity, struggling to remain desirable and virile. It is a crumbling monument to those glory days of Frank Sinatra and Dinah Shore; after the love is gone.

The streets have the names of stars and celebrities from the 40’s and 50’s, reminders of the greats of the Golden Era of movies and big band music, but names that are strange, if they are even recognized at all, to those under 50.

Architects in the 60’s and 70’s did well in Palm Springs, but their edifices far out number more recent structures; the designers  have either moved on, or more likely faded away with age like their creations. Even the hotels look tired, with names that must have once evoked visions of Palm Trees and a glamours desert life: Desert Inn, Ace Hotel, Club Trinidad, Hotel California (why they would keep that name after the Eagles song is a mystery to me.)

Consignment and used clothing shops are frequent, often two or three at a given intersection. The maturing well-to-dos seem to desire an outlet for their raiment that is fading from their taste or fashion; trading in the old for the new.

Palm Springs does have a reputation as a haven for the “mature”, thus the ubiquitous plastic surgeons and urologists that compete with the consignment shop in numbers. The memories of times past may fade, clothes sold on consignments, but there is a burgeoning business in removing wrinkles and healthy prostates. We may age, but age well!

I am sure there are those who will take issue with my slanted observations, that is fine. Yet I was disappointed, I wanted Palm Springs to be something it apparently once was. Like gravity moving our sagging body parts down, the classy area seems to have moved South to Palm Desert.

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I bought a walking stick in Avignon

Down a narrow lane near the Palais de Papes, on the rue de la Monnaie, you will find a small wine shop, the Cave du Bouffart. Through a narrow door, down a few steps, into a space the size of a compact bedroom is a wonderful selection of local wines and wine paraphernalia, where you will be greeted by the most pleasant, “bonjour!”

There next to the counter stood a bin of dark, glistening walking sticks, more attractive at the moment than the wine. I picked one out, aware that getting a five foot stick with a semi-pointed end through all the security checks between Avignon and Seattle would be a challenge. The proprietor explained that it was made of chestnut, the stain is like a deep cherry, engraved with “Cave du Bouffart, Avignon.”

There is something about a walking stick that says slow down. Whether it is a ramble up a mountain trail, or strolling elegantly down Oxford Street in London, a stick in one’s hand defies hurry. I walked down the rue de la Monnaie, stick in hand, it’s metal tip taping on the old stone pavement, each metallic tap reinforcing my commitment to slow down, to remember the pace of Provence in the hype of Seattle.

My stick tapped along the streets of Gordes, through vineyards, up the path leading to the chapel in Moustiers Sainte Marie. I carried it on the train from Lyon to Paris, and then Paris to London, and all the way home to Seattle.

If Sting can carry a walking stick in “An Englishman in New York” then I just might start carrying mine down the streets of Seattle.

Room 14 and a chapel on the hill

IMG_0146Route de Moustiers (Route D952) goes through Roumoules and winds 7.5 miles toward

Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. Moustiers is a small village that sits in the rugged mountains of Alpes de Haute Provence in France, existing since at least the mid 1700’s it is listed as one of the most beautiful cities in France, which is well deserved.

We stayed in Room 14 at the Hotel le Relais, an inn at the center of town. Remodeled in recent years they have managed to keep the old world charm with such modern fixtures as electronic keys. If the front doors are locked, as they may be, there is a passageway to the left that takes you to a small courtyard, next to a church. There is a door there for guests into the hotel.

Room 14 is worth the extra, the best place we stayed in on our entire 3-week journey. It is the largest room in the hotel, but it is the two floor to ceiling French doors that open to a breathtaking view of the valley and the mountains in the distance that makes you just want to grab a bottle of Cote de Rhone red wine, a baguette from the bakery next door, some cheese from a shop down the way, and sit. So that is exactly what we did.

We watched the sun set behind the mountains across the valley while we reminisced about the almost 3 weeks we had already spent in Europe. That afternoon was certainly one of the highlights of the entire trip. From our deck we watched cars drive the D952 toward Moustiers or destinations beyond. Below us travelers and locals walked by on the stone walks, cars delicately navigated the narrow streets.

IMG_0161 As darkness fell, lights came on around the city. Standing on the small deck I looked to the left, away from the valley and toward the hill that the city sits on. A bright light shined on a small chapel, Chapelle of Saint Anne, the yellow light making the rose colored stucco stand out against the blue-black sky, the roof and cross just visible above the tops of the city and houses; poised as if watching over the city below.

At 7.00am the next morning I climbed the winding narrow streets in the dark, occasionally illuminated by a random light, my passing recognized only by a startled dog behind a fence and a hedge. The light was still on at the chapel, illuminating the gate and stairs leading through an ancient gate to the cemetery, weather worn stones testifying to the age and lives spent on these hills.

I sat on the low stone wall at the entrance to the chapel and read the Morning Office. Colors gradually appeared on the distant hills as darkness gave way to the dawn. By the time I finished the Gospel reading it was light enough to call it day. To the right of the chapel, an olive orchard reveled itself in the dawn, I had a sense that I had been praying in Getthsemine

Kestrel is back home – wisdom from a well travelled bird

IMG_0642After flying over 12,000 miles, 3 train journeys, 7 cities in 3 countries Kestrel is back home in Washington. Kestrels are one of the smallest falcons; so flying at 35,000 feet from Seattle to Europe was quite an adventure, but Kestrel did it with confidence and class.

His adventure began at Sea-Tac airport in Seattle, from there to London, with a brief layover in Chicago; by the end of his first day he had certainly traveled further than any other Kestrel had ever traveled and this was only the beginning.

Early the next morning he boarded a train for the city of Bath Spa in Western England.  He visited Paddington Bear at the train station on his way out of town. Bath is famous for the Roman Baths, still standing 2000 years after they were built. The Romans who visited the baths would not have been surprised to see a falcon; they used them for sport and hunting. Kestrel was sighted at the Royal Circle in Bath, even today it is where those with culture and class live, he fit right in. Kestrel Port is comfortable and adds to the class of any setting.

Barcelona, Spain was his next stop.  Kestrel was sighted at Place Catyluna, one of the busy hubs in the heart of the city; however he found the Gaudi architecture a bit gaudy. Next stop – Madrid.

Madrid is statelier, there he visited the Royal Palace, patterned after Versailles in Paris, but not near as elaborate. He was sighted again at the train station, fascinated by the huge tropical garden right in the center of the station.

With two countries added to his passport Kestrel headed for Lyon, France. A two-hour car ride stretched to 3 hours thanks to the frustration of trying to navigate the confusing knotted streets of Avignon. Kestrel spent the next week in the South of France and was sighted again in Moustiers Saint Marie, a wonderful little town built around an ancient monastery and church built high in the rocky mountains of Eastern Provence.

It was a wonderful adventure for such a little bird, now he waits patiently for the culmination of it all when he will again be the center of attention at a post-trip party. What better way to reminisce than with a glass of Kestrel Port and a bite or two of dark chocolate?

What advice would Kestrel pass along? That life is full of wonderful adventures, some close to home, some far away. There is good food, friends, and beauty. That in a world that moves too fast, gets stressed, and has its share of negativity, it is important to take time to slow down. So call up a friend, slice some cheese, open a bottle of wine and recharge.

When the conversation moves to your next adventure, Kestrel is waiting for your call.

The Royal Palace at Madrid

Enamored by Versailles, King Phillip V started construction in 1738. Though the Royal Palace in Madrid does not match Versailles in Paris, of course what could, it is ornate and beautiful. Cameras are not allowed, as I learned after taking only one picture inside the armory of an armored horse, so here are a few of the outside, along with the horse.IMG_0590IMG_0597IMG_0592

 

 

So what is Barcelona? Spanish, Mexican, Catalonian

It is my last morning in Barcelona, this morning we head to Madrid. Google maps says I am in Spain, so Spanish is the language right? Don’t they speak Spanish in Mexico? Yet the signs and names here are mostly in Catalonian??? And thankfully most all speak English.

Catalonian, at least to my ear sounds a bit like Spanish, with a hint of French thrown in. That fits, since the old Principality of Catalonia spread into the south of France. The Principality is now, after a complicated history (check Wikipedia) an autonomous community of Spain. And there are a large number of folks who would like to see it become an autonomous nation once again, evidenced by the return of the language and the flying of the Catalonian flag.

The Spanish in Spain does not sound like the Spanish in Mexico. It seems to be a bit softer, and I think I hear some different phrases, but since my Spanish is muy pequeño it is hard for me to catch it all.

Barcelona is a big city, second largest in Spain, and like most large cities it is active. People stay up late, and the proliferation of cafés is testament to their love of talking with friends, I like that. And that is what I will remember about this city.

The architecture does live up to its reputation, though I must admit Gaudi is a bit too gaudy for me. Yet there are amazing buildings every time you turn around. The fútbol team is my favorite and it would have been amazing to see them play. The food is so wonderful, hams, sausages, tapas, cava….  But the placas (plazas in Spanish) are what I will remember most.

So my passport stamp says Spain, but I think I will remember Catalonia: independent, life-loving, beautiful people living in a wonderful place. I hope to return again, to dodge bicycles, motorbikes, and cars on narrow streets. Taste cava and anchovies in a small placa, sketch a cathedral, and watch the parade of interesting personalities that call themselves Catalonians.

Bath, UK – done traveling for a few days

Spent the night near Heathrow, then took a train, a crowded morning commuter train in to London’s Paddington Station. Not easy wrestling with luggage and crowding with people, but we saved so much. Traveled out of Paddington many time in the past so if felt good to have a bit of comfortable surroundings.

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We checked into the Brooks Guest house, Tricia stayed here when she came to Bath in June.

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Then went for a walk, a pint, and Marks & Spencer for some take away for back in the room, staying up till at least 8.00 to beat jet-lag.  Love the flowers and produce stands.

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Kestrel has joined our ensemble!

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A kestrel is a member of the falcon family; they can hover in one place in the lightest of breezes and tend to be smaller than other falcons.

kestralHowever the Kestrel that has joined us is a bottle of Port from the Kestrel Winery tasting room in Woodinville, Washington. We welcome such a wonderful traveling partner, and hope you will follow his adventures over the next three weeks.