You’ve heard it said before: our pets are loving quarantine. The only thing Stevie Nicks likes better than us staying home with her, is her going on vacation with us.
For the fourth of July weekend, we travelled up north to one of our fave places, Madeline Island, WI.
It was a different trip than usual: no dining inside restaurants, no bar hopping, no hanging by the pool. So it was take the dogs to beaches, day after day.
They loved it.
This was Stevie’s second trip to the island, but it was the first for her friend Lyle, and the umpteenth for old man Monte. At first Stevie was swimming laps around Lye-Lyle corocdile, butt after a day or so Lyle was kicking her doodle butt at stick fetching!
Lyle, the black doodle above, has a neat trick: he likes to dive for rocks. We didn’t understand at first, but as you’ll see in the following slideshow, he likes to sort through the rocks underwater with his paws, and pull one where he can get it, then sticks his head underwater!
Monte is the handsomest boy, but he has never been a big stick chaser. He’d rather catch water in the air, or the occasional rock. He’s 14 now, and fighting cancer, so we were happy to see him enjoy himself!
Lyle and Monte are brothers, and they tried to play together a bit, but Lyle is a puppy and his crazy speed revs a bit higher than Monte’s.
Oh yes: there were humans on the trip as well!
Goof balls. They managed it, but man they looked silly!
We head back up in a month or so. I think the dogs are already in the car, waiting to go!
Hey now! I didn’t say sleeping around IN Seattle. Get your mind out of the gutter!
No, this is about our last trip before the world melted. It was a mini vaca of sorts to Seattle and a few surrounding areas, taken to witness and celebrate Sailor Boy’s re-enlistment in the US Navy.
He could pick any time, really, to do this, as long as it was done a certain amount of time before his contract was up. We chose the last weekend in February, because it was the beginning of Singer Girl’s spring break, and she was able to escape and meet us cross country. She’d never been to Washington, so we decided to add some touristing to the schedule.
Sailor Boy picked us up at SEA-TAC, and we took the long, meandering way around Puget Sound to get to Bremerton, where his aircraft barrier is docked. We had a lot planned for the next three days, and, as we were eager to get to sleep — but we were hungry. Thought a drive-through would be a good quick option, but evidently, Taco Bell is the place to be after 9pm in a Navy town. An hour later, our border run complete, we stuffed tacos u our faces and fell asleep.
The next day we had to meet Sailor Boy and his fellow sailors for the swearing-in. It’s always interesting being a civilian at these things, as you really don’t get all the procedures and, frankly, they speak another language.
First, he was honorably discharged from the Navy, which took me by surprise. I didn’t expect that step, and for a moment I thought “he is free — maybe he should walk away?” Evidently, I wasn’t the only one thinking that because a sailor piped up “Run!” But everyone laughed, and his lieutenant shifted gears to swear him back in. Last time I saw him sworn in he was freshly out of high school, and we were all a little terrified about what was coming next. It was easier this time, even if it meant not having him home for an even longer period.
But we had him now — for the next 48 hours!
All were invited to a celebratory lunch at his favorite restaurant in town, The Curry. It was fun breaking bread with the sailors who were able to join us! Next, it was off to the ship. Singer Girl had never been on the aircraft carrier before, so a tour was a must-see.
The next stop on our agenda was checking into a new hotel, in a different town. My brother and sister in law live in Olympia, so we were meeting them for dinner. As always, we were fashionably late on our drive to the new digs. But we cleaned up quicky then feasted at one of their favorite places, Basilico Ristorante.
After dinner we hung at their house, celebrating and going through my brother’s record collection. He let Singer Girl pick 10 of them as a birthday gift, and it was so fun listening to them — especially since so many of them had been our parents’. It was bittersweet in retrospect, as my parents had been huge Kenny Rogers fans back in the day, and he passed away so shortly after this. Gotta love The Gambler!
The next morning we checked out and hustled back to Bremerton to have brunch at Sailor Boy’s fave diner, the Big Apple Diner. I love this place, too! Super kitschy and great food (the potato pancakes are to die for!). After eating it was time to get on the ferry to Seattle.
I loved that someone had left a puzzle on one of the tables. Singer Girl and I tucked in and got to work. Who knew that would be the first in a series of puzzles in the coming months?
Once in Seattle, we checked into our VRBO. I picked a place right downtown, minutes from the ferry and walking distance to everything. If you are looking for a place, check it out.
Before we left, I borrowed a date night trick and booked a scavenger hunt via Groupon. I love these as a way to get to know a city and to give you an idea of what you want to come back to. We started up by the Space Needle, wandered around by the museums and gardens there, then headed back down towards Pike’s Market and other downtown sites. Halfway through we met up with our niece/cousin Alyssa who lives and works in Seattle.
As always, whenever I get near a market, I am camera happy. The colors are always too tempting for me!
Scavenger hunt completed, we went back to the condo to chill and get ready to go out to dinner. Dinner was at an awesome place — in all ways. The ambiance was terrific, the food was delicious, service outstanding! If you happen to be in Seattle, check out Toulouse Petit!
HWSNBN had to fly back on Sunday, so it was just the three of us left to pal around. At Sailor By’s suggestions, we breakfasted at a Seattle landmark, Biscuit Bitch.
I had an orange latte, and the Cheesy Pork n’ Bitch,(middle picture), which was biscuits and gravy with bacon and cheddar cheese. Sailor Boy had the Smokin’ Hot Bitch — biscuits, gravy, andouille sausage, and jalapenos. Singer Girl had some sort of breakfast sandwich which looked awesome — until a hunk fell on the ground. Sadness.
We had some calories to burn so we headed north to where we started our scavenger hunt the day before. Our intended destination was MoPOP, the Museum of Popular Culture. This place is a must-see! It highlights everything from music to TV, Movies, books, art and more.
Some of my fave exhibits:
Next, it was off to the Chihuly Museum, another fantastic place. Yeah, it sounds kind of boring: a bunch of glass sculptures. But seriously amazing.
Singer Girl is not a fan of museums, so she had grumbled at our itinerary when I revealed it that morning. But she loved both!
We did a bit more wandering (and a lot more photography for Singer Girl’s Insta page). The next day it was back home for us and back to the ship for the Boy. During the two days there we heard rumblings about the Coronavirus outbreak in Seattle and joked that we probably all had it. Thankfully, almost a month later, I can say we most likely did not. But unbeknownst to all of us, this was the last trip for a while.
I am glad we had the time together!
On our last full day, I left the schedule wide open. We slept in ( as much as we could. I seem to be waking up around 630am anymore, no matter where I am or how late I stayed up the night before), ate a leisurely breakfast, and hung at the beach and pool.
We also got to hang with our favorite new critter friends: lots of lizards and Freddy, the neighbor dog we thought was a stray, but wasn’t.
Captured a few moments of Drummer Boy and Singer Girl:
HWSNBN took it upon himself to go snorkeling — way too far out for my liking. The bay we were on was sandy smooth and clear, which was great for wading and splashing, but not good for marine life sightings. So he swam out — and disappeared. After 45 minutes of having no idea where he was, I asked folks at the neighboring villa if they had seen him when they were out swimming and canoeing. Nope. So one of teh guys took a boat back out and found him; I could see them talking from teh beach, and can only imagine the conversation:
“Dude, your wife is stressing.”
“She can’t see you. I think you better get back. You might be in trouble, man.”
So he came back. I gave him the stink eye, explained calmly that if the kids or I had done that he would have lost his ever-loving mind. He agreed, kind of sheepishly. I gave him another look, then left to get ready for dinner.
That night we went out to an amazing restaurant — Scotchies in Falmouth (http://scotchies.restaurantsnapshot.com/). As we all wondered what to have, the waitress just took away the menus and said. “I’ll take care of you, mon.” And she did. Jerk chicken and pork, sausage, ribs, steak, and sides. Our fave new food in Jamaica had to be festival, a kind of semi-sweet dense doughy breadstick. Incredible! And the margaritas at Scotchies were amazing as well! We sat outside and it was very pretty — thanks to Andrew for suggesting it!
After dinner, it was time for our last adventure: swimming at Glistening Waters, one of only 4 bioluminescent bays in the world (http://www.glisteningwaters.com/luminous-lagoon-tour/). Once again, Andrew hooked us up: we were the last ones there for the night, so went out in a boat solo and got to swim. The waters glow when they are disturbed, so we treaded (trod?) water with wild abandon to make the magic happen!
The bay was bath water warm, and if you ever go heed the call for water shoes because that is some squishy stuff on the bottom (don’t ask, don’t tell). But what a fun last adventure!
well, not quite the last one!
When we got back to the house, we resumed a marathon activity that Sailor Boy had been planning for us: a game of Dungeons and Dragons. For weeks leading up to the trip, he helped the D and D virgins (me, HWSNBN and Singer Girl) create characters, and gave us YouTube videos to watch. It didn’t help. I spent my teen years avoiding this game, sure that it would ruin my social standing if I played the “game of nerds.” Well, having happily raised a proud nerd, it was inevitable that I would have to come to the dark side eventually. We played the game over a span of three days and nights — and ultimately had to speed through the end or we would still be there at the table, me baffled at what I was supposed to do. My son was in his element, and we were all bonding with wild abandon.
It was awful.
It was awesome.
I’d do it all again tomorrow!
On day three we donned water shoes and hiked through the Jamaican jungle to climb up — and jump off of — waterfalls.
I had originally planned to visit the famous Dunn’s River Falls, but Andrew reassured me that the Blue Hole area was actually more enjoyable, according to the other folks he had driven around. Again, Andrew did not steer us wrong!
There were little falls and big ones. Tiny shallow pools and great big deep ones. Lots of blue water and green foliage. It was beautiful, and it was so fun! We actually got some great pictures, too! I don’t usually buy the CDs that the professional photographers hawk, but these were worth it!
After all our time in teh ocean, the fresh water was incredibly refreshing and rejuvenating. As tourist attractions go, it was about as far from American as you could get: pot brownies sold at stands as you climbed, Rastafarians selling Red Stripe beer out of coolers, and very few safety rules.
always be wary of what’s happening behind you…
The last jump was the biggie: about a 40 foot drop!
After that (and after we had to reinsert Drummer Boy’s arm shoulder back into its socket), we did a short zip line into a pond!
All in all, a stellar experience!
That evening, back at the villa, Chappie, the house caretaker, made a bonfire on the beach!
HWSNBN couldn’t resist helping:
A great ending to a great day!
I have never made a formal bucket list (note to self: good blog topic), but I already know some of the things on it, and am working my way through it. Last year, I danced on teh Champs Elysees for my birthday. This summer I will go skydiving. And last week, I rode a horse on a beach!
When I broached the subject with the Jamaica-bound crew only Singer Girl was an immediate and emphatic yes vote. The others came and to the idea (except for one. He chose to sleep in and hang out poolside at the villa. Not a bad choice!).
The rest of us hopped in the car with driver Andrew and headed to Braco Stables (http://bracostables.com.jm/).
After donning the requisite headgear, we saddled up!
Soon we wandering fields and beaches, passing abandoned drug airstrips and banana trees, enjoying the flowers and the wildlife. Occasionally our horses had minds of their own — especially mine, who wanted to keep nibbling the tall grass as we passed. We all secretly hoped we’d get a chance to pick up speed, but the guides really frowned on that. Every now and then I’d hear Drummer Boy call out “Yah!” to his horse. I think he may have had the most fun of all of us!
Then it was time to get in the water (after a beer break, of course!)
Then we hopped back on the horses and rode back.
What a glorious day! So many laughs, and such huge smiles on everyone’s faces! And the scenery! Whatever could we do the next day to top it?
As we were planning the trip, I gave the crew a list of adventure options. Some were universal yeses, some were met with a “no thanks” and some were in the middle. We started the trip strong, with a unanimous choice: scuba diving.
HWSNBN and I have been certified for decades (took our classes in a YMCA swimming pool in Fargo in the dead of winter), and Sailor Boy and Singer Girl have gone twice before, in Hawaii and Puerto Rico. But since they aren’t certified, they were required to do a “how to” crash course along with scuba virgins Drummer Boy and Mojo Jojo. Andrew brought us to Garfield Diving in Ocho Rios (http://garfielddiving.com/) and we all suited up. HWSNBN and I went out for a dive while they took classes, meeting up with three other divers from Germany.
Every time we dive, I know I am going to get a wee bit panicky at first. The human body is not supposed to breathe underwater, and, as an overthinker, I always have to work through that first time. But once I start to swim a bit, I get distracted by the beauty and wonder of the underwater world.
When the kids were done and ready, our boat met up with theirs. We dove in and waited at the bottom for the rest of the group. A couple came right down, but two took a while, as one was experiencing the same panic I get. The dive master from Garfield was patient and understanding and helped him through his nerves, and soon we were all swimming with the fishes!
As always, I am humbled when I am under water. The vastness, the sense of peace and beauty and wonder — all combine to make me slow down, relax, and enjoy the moment. I did see a lot of dying coral, which was heart-wrenching. It is hard to see the environment failing because we have failed it. Before we went down, our dive master told us to be on teh lookout for lionfish, an invasive species dangerous to fish and humans. They prey on baby fish and are contributing to the destruction of the reef. During our dives, we found (and he killed — that was hard to watch but necessary) four of them.
Once killed, he trimmed them of their dangerous spikes and fed them to sea anemones, so the circle of life was fulfilled!
Here is a slide show of some of the amazing sea life we experienced:
As always, we came away knowing we HAD to do this again — and my kids are determined to be certified! After diving, it was time for some grubbing, so Andrew drove us to Olympic runner and Jamaican legend Usain Bolt’s restaurant (https://tracksandrecords.com/) where we replenished our stores, then headed back to the villa, reminiscing about today, and looking forward to the next adventure!
The last time our family took a vacation — all four of us — was in 2015, when Sailor Boy was a senior in high school. We spent spring break in Puerto Rico that time, knowing that in a few obtsh he would belong to the US Navy and we didn’t know when we’d get him again. Here are a few pics from taht trip:
Flash forward 4 years and here we are. Last week the four of us, plus Singer Girl’s BF Drummer Boy, and Sailor Boy’s bestie, Mojo Jojo, went to Jamaica. We all needed this trip, for various reasons. As a family, we needed to reconnect. HWSNBN had just lost his wonderful father the week before. I had spent much of the last 4 months recovering from my ice fall and helping my mom through an epic battle with the kidney stone to end all kidney stones (3 inches long it was, and after 6 procedures we think it’s gone). The four young ‘uns were knee deep in school, either starting a new semester or heading into finals. And 7 of us had just survived a Minnesota winter for teh ages. So we were DUE.
I booked a house in a community called Bengal Beach, in Trelawny Parish, Jamaica. We were about an hour east of Montego Bay, and 40 minutes west of Ocho Rios. I thought about staying in a big hotel in a big city — but I didn’t want to lose my kids to swim up bars and nightclubs. Plus, I know from traveling experience that communal space is key to good family time. So the house was perfect –especially since it had a staff of 3 to keep the party humming (ie: I didn’t have to cook or clean. Halle-freaking-lujiah.). I also booked a driver named Andrew at the suggestion of the VRBO owner. We all agreed he MADE the trip! He was making great suggestions for us from teh minute we got in the van on the way to the villa!
Here are a few pics from the house!
If you’d like to learn more about the Seahorse Villa, go to https://www.vrbo.com/824324?arrival=2019-08-26&departure=2019-08-30&adultsCount=6.
As you’ll see in the upcoming blog posts (and probably have discerned from previous ones), I don’t find sitting still day in and day out very fun. I realized this time that while some folks like coming back from vacation refreshed. Personally, I want to feel invigorated. Don’t get me wrong: sitting in teh sun with a good book is way up there for me on the happy scale (and my book on this vacation was The Velveteen Daughter, by Laurel Davis Huber. So good!). But I can sit on the couch anywhere. When I travel, I want to do it all! In this trip, we did a lot, as you will see!
I don’t know why this place captivated me so, but it surely did. The only thing that would’ve made it better were folks in immaculate white suits handing me a cocktail as we arrived. But maybe if we had come in on zee plane…
We had heard of Lokrum, just a 20 minute boat ride from Dubrovnik. We had seen it from afar. It didn’t look spectacular, but everyone said if you have the time, it’s a must. It’s also cursed.
The island was home to a Benedictine monastery, which founded in 1038. According to legend, Richard the Lion Hearted shipwrecked there, and vowed to build a church — which he did. Centuries later, the French decided they wanted it, so told the monks they had to leave. They fought it, but lost. So the night before they were evicted, they all lined up with candles, and walked the whole island three times, chanting and pouring wax. Thus came the curse: “Whosoever claims Lokrum for his own personal pleasure shall be damned!”
Three Dubrovnik aristocrats forced the move. One jumped out of a window, one drowned, and the third was killed by a servant.
Another shipwreck brought Archduke Maximilian to its stunning shores. Captivated, and more greedy than grateful, he decided to buy it. Max moved in, built a mansion, and thought all was great. Then he went to Mexico, to be Emperor. He was soon executed there. His wife Charlotte moved back to Lokrum. She went insane.
Over the successive centuries, people died, were financially and socially ruined, and on and on until finally, after the last owners were assassinated in an act that actually kicked off World War I, it became a park. And that is what we visited.
Our original goal was to find the salt lake, which was supposed to have healing properties due to the higher-than-the-ocean concentration of salt in the water. That took us awhile, so we made a detour to the botanical gardens. We met some English guy in a huff — he was unhappy with the state of the gardens. Not quite up to British snuff, evidently. Yeah, they weren’t manicured or lush (hello, desert environment…). But: they had wild peacocks and bunnies galore. That were tame. And ATE FROM your HAND!!!
I wonder if random peacock sightings aren’t unusual in this part of the world, like they are in the US. Some people just glanced and walked on. But us? We were like Australians on tour in the midwest, freaking out over every squirrel (hi Kim).
We were also fascinated by the cactus displays. Again: yeah, I knew it was more arid than tropical here (although palm trees were everywhere in Split and Dubrovnik), but I didn’t expect such a Wild West display of fauna. If the peacocks were the Croatian Road Runner, did that make the bunnies Wile E Coyote? I am so confused.
We wandered some more, and just couldn’t find the salt lake. I was getting tired, as the paths were very uneven. We were getting frustrated, and started backtracking. Eventually we figured out the not-so-helpful map system, and got pointed in the correct direction. On the way we passed a place to get massages (Fantasy Island! I’m tellin’ ya!) and fish pedicures, which we discussed, 2/3rds of us excitedly, one not so much (if I were still an English major, my highlighter would’ve marked this last sentence and written “foreshadoing”in teh margins…)
Before we reached the lake, we stumbled upon a big soccer field, flocked with our furry and feathered friends. So, naturally, we needed to detour yet again.
The following three pictures are indicative of the types of relationships the three of us had with the critters:
Finally we found the salt lake, and the girl was IN THE WATER. So was my foot, and, briefly, HWSNBN. I mostly took pictures, though!
After our respite, it was time to wander back to the boat launch. Of course, critter ADD set in when we saw a mama peahen and her babies. We assumed she would shuffle her babies away from us, but no. She basically pushed them aside to eat our proffered snacks.
Ok, ok. You get it. The critters were cool. Yawn.
Fine: the scenery, sans fauna, was amazing everywhere we went
We hopped back on the boat, and pointed towards our walled home town, Dubrovnik, eager to enjoy our last night there.
Let me just remind you I was in a boot.
We arrived in Dubrovnik late — like after midnight. It was rough on some folks, and another airport nap was in order.
Again, I had arranged transportation, so again we had someone waiting there to whisk us away. Again: we were immensely grateful. We each had carry-ons and checked bags, and Dubrovnik, like Split, is an ancient area with no cars allowed. We were dropped off at the Pile gate (pronounced pee-lah: the city is walled, which we will get to later), and basically walked across a drawbridge to enter the amazing city. If we hadn’t had our guide we would NEVER have found our way. Dubrovnik is a warren of alleys and stairwells. How many stairs? According to a study, there are 5,423 steps in Dubrovnik. On a daily basis we essentially SLAYED the Fitbit.
The city reminded me a bit of San Francisco, with steep staircases instead of streets. And the little shops and residences tucked into every square inch reminded me of that as well. Upon arrival, we wandered down the Stradun, an awe-inspiring marble main street, with centuries old buildings rising on either side (featured on lists worldwide as a street you have to walk before you die). It was about 1am, and people were celebrating life. In a weird way, it reminded me of Vegas — but like under the Venetian on the Strip, where it’s so cool but it’s fake. This was real. It was like everything Disneyland, Epcot and Vegas wish they could be.
Our VRBO host had a porter with him, who skillfully took all three of our checked pieces of luggage and disappeared into the night. Somehow he made it to the apartment before us — and our luggage was waiting. The apartment had two beds and one bath, like our last place, but oh my the terrace! And the windows and the steps we climbed hinted at what the view would be like in the morning. And oh. Oh wow. Take a peek at the VRBO listing here and see what I mean: https://www.vrbo.com/868272ha?unitId=1211599
When we woke, here were the views we saw out the windows:
Sunday, our first full day in Dubrovnik. We wandered a little bit, finding some pastries on which to nosh, and getting a general lay of the land.
Then Singer Girl wanted to hit the beach — of course. Again: no sandy beaches nearby, but this walled city is right on the Adriatic, and there are two famous “beaches” cut into the wall: Buza 1 and Buza 2. We wandered a few minutes from our apartment (which itself is built into the ancient wall) and climbed down precarious stairs to find a flat section of rock. I relaxed (and watched lizards cavort) while my travelling companions took to the water.
After a nap and a shower, it was off to the famed cable car of Dubrovnik. We sailed to the top, and the view was spectacular. How did we not know more aout this incredible place? The Adriatic was dotted with islands, and the orange roofed houses of the walled city below us just radiated charm.
We had another fun activity planned, but first it was time to absorb some more “recent” history.
Some background: the Soviet block dissoved in the late 80s, which was in the long run a good thing. But in the short term, it meant countries had to find ther way again. The communist country of Yugoslavia fell apart in 1990 when Croatia declared its independence. A new war broke out. In 1991, the Yugoslav army attacked Dubrovnik, which had been thought safe due to its coastal location. But it was an important seaport, and the city ended up being under attack and isolated for seven months until international peace talks settled things.
Beside the incredible view at the top of the mountain, there is a great museum about the war and the siege. It is hard to separate the breathtaking landscape from the bullet hole riddled fort at the top. During our time in Dubrovnik, we met many people wo lived through the siege, being evacuated to refugee camps as children. It was sobering.
After we were through with the museum, we made a radical shift: we were going to drive dune buggies. Actually, HWSNBN and Singer Girl drove: I was a passenger. It was so fun — and we were nice and mud splattered by the end. But along the way we got to see an amazing sunset!
Afterwards we went to dinner, then climbed up and down the many stairs to our apartment, ready to rest up for a full day of guided tours in the morning!