So Much for Our Plans…

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Wish we were here

Wouldn’t you know it? Just when we thought we were all set with our travel plans, the world goes and gets a virus. Too flippant? Sorry. It has been a rough couple of weeks.  We last wrote about our trip to New York and Boston that ended on March 8. We were home just about a week and our governor, quite rightly, closed down businesses, schools etc. and we were sequestered to our home.

Thankfully, neither Sue nor I show signs of the Covid-19 virus, but we are both going a bit stir crazy from being inside (yesterday we walked 5 miles, just to be out in the fresh air). Our sense of humor is critical to our mental well being and in response to both working from home, we have developed an imaginary co-worker (Ragnar) who is a total pain in the ass. Every glass left on the countertop, every light left on, every door left open is Ragnar’s fault. I know, it isn’t much, but it keeps us laughing and not complaining about each other.

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or here

We should have been in Houston this week. If you do not recall, we were heading to Houston as the last of our one-week trips to someplace warm (or at least out of Chicago) over the ). Sue’s brother lives there and the grand plan was to show up for her niece’s birthday and catch an early season Mets game (so before they were officially eliminated from the postseason (damn Yankees fan)). The quarantine put an end to that trip.

Sue has a trip scheduled with another niece to Italy to celebrate her high school graduation. That trip is planned for the end of May, but, alas, we both expect that they will need to postpone that until who knows when.

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Or even here…

Finally, our trip to Alaska in July is also looking uncertain. Even if we are granted parole from this quarantine, it seems unwise to board a ship with thousands of other people many of whom may or may not have been quarantined. Who knows if they could still be carriers, which makes it seem especially unwise as we were planning to travel with my mother, who is over 80.

So there we go, or there we don’t go. Whatever. We are shifting our thoughts from our travel plans to our attempts to recover the amounts we have already committed to these trips and sighing heavily for the trips not taken and the fun not had.

I hope this doesn’t come off as complaining. It is a bit, but we are grateful that we are all well and looking forward to the simple joys of seeing our friends, eating out, and being able to find toilet paper at the grocery store.

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or watching this sunset.

Can I Spit on Fenway Park?

I took Friday off (so I only worked in the morning) and we set off for a wander around Beantown.  My brother was kind enough to lend us his car, which at the time he did not realize he was doing. Short version of the story: I asked for the keys—he thought I wanted the house keys—we took the car. Luckily for us, he did not need the car and so no harm, no foul.

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Us, not inside the globe because you can’t take pictures of it.

Our first destination was the Mapparium, which is a three-story glass globe (that is approximately 7 Jason’s tall—sorry everyone who doesn’t get that—it is a family joke) that you can walk through. It is in the Mary Baker Eddy Library. For those of you who have not heard of her, she started the Christian Scientist sect of Christianity. The globe is just incredible and I would really encourage you to follow the hyperlink as you are not allowed to take photos inside the globe. The photo on the right is in front of a print of it that they have set up outside the actual globe room. I don’t know why you can’t take photos, I think they told us, but as usual, I was mentally drifting at that point. (The image is copyright protected.) Because the room is perfectly spherical (OK, Jake, not perfectly, but pretty close) and since glass does not absorb sound, the room has two really interesting sonic features.  First, when people stand at opposite ends of the walkway, they can hear each other perfectly even at very, very low whispers.  If you whisper very softly, the people at the ends can hear each other, but people in the middle of the walkway cannot hear them. This happens because the sound that travels around the edge of the glass globe does not fade while the sound traveling straight ahead through the air does.  The person at the opposite end of the walkway hears the sound that has traveled along the edges.  Very cool.

The second feature is when you stand directly in the middle of the walkway, under (and over) the poles (and along the equator), the sound bounces in such a way that when you speak you hear it in both ears as if you are listening to headphones. You can move your head slightly and cause minor delays in one or the other ear. It is hard to describe but still is very cool. The total time in the Mapparium was about 20 minutes, which is only about 5 minutes more than it took me to write about it. Suffice to say that it is very much worth a visit.

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9th largest organ in the world…Please make your own double entendre

As we left the Mapparium, the tour guide mentioned that next door in the church, there was the ninth largest pipe organ in the world. Of course, we were not going to miss that! So off we wandered in the Christian Scientist church. The very nice docent sent us upstairs into the auditorium where another very nice docent gave us a quick briefing on the organ. (13,000 pipes, made in Boston, played at services every week, monthly concerts on second or third Tuesday of the month, five organists on staff.)  Once again, very cool.  He also gave us a history of the building (based on a Turkish church, one full-dome, four half domes, built in 1904, inside was designed by a different architect because the one who designed the outside died, it originally seated 5,000 people and has no pillars).  All in it is an interesting building.  But it gets more interesting…It is called the Extension because it is an extension to the original Romanesque church that was built in 1894.

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Do you need six hands to play this?

The extension dwarfs the original building. Together they are called the mother church as they were the first church built for the religion/sect. We spent about an hour touring the buildings, the tour guide spent most of his time talking about the buildings, but, not unexpectedly gave us a full primer on the religion.  All in it was very worth the time.

We decided to wander over to Boston College (He is so annoying. He does that every time!) University where Sue went to college in the late 1850s (again, so funny). It was a fairly chilly and windy day, but as we do, we just set off (in the wrong direction) and made our way over to Commonwealth Ave. As we passed by all the buildings Sue kept saying either “that wasn’t here when I was here” or “that is so much nicer than when I was here” until we came to the College of Communications (COC?) from which she graduated and she said, “Nope. that looks just as shitty as when I was here.” Having spent so much time inside a church we both felt like we needed some balance to our lives and so we went to a bar called The Dugout, (not just any bar, but a college hangout of mine) which when googled, came up with the following review: “Great dive bar, true Boston legendary hangout!” Apparently one of her professors held class in there. (The floor is no longer sticky and the bathrooms are way nicer than when I went there.) We spent the next couple of hours trying out some Boston beers (mostly Harpoon) and talking to the very nice young bartender who is studying to become an elementary school teacher (so I guess he wants to lose his mind in his 20s).

Once we had our fill and felt rebalanced, we started the 30-minute hike back to the car, through gale-force winds no matter which way we were facing. Then a quick hop up the Mass Pike and we were back at my brother’s house.

Needless to say, Sue didn’t let me get close enough to Fenway to spit on it. ;-(

 

New York—My Kind of Town

It is Monday late afternoon—and if you are from the company I work for—it is after 5 p.m. I am sure. We arrived in New York on Saturday morning after another early morning flight. Every time we book a flight at 7 a.m., I think it will be fine. Just get up early one day and then we will have the whole day to spend in the city. But then the day of the flight comes and we have to get up at the crack ass of dawn and I curse Sue for letting me book an early morning flight. So what did we learn here? That is right—it is all Sue’s fault.

Anyway, we got to the Park South Hotel at about 10:30 a.m. and asked to drop our luggage. Much to our surprise, our room was ready so we checked right in. After a quick unpack and a deep breath, we set out on our way with no particular destination in mind. We wandered down 5th and around and about and stopped in for our first NYC food break—pizza! Afterward, we found our way to Madison Square Park and the National Museum of Mathematics. We were very disappointed to realize that it was a museum for kids. Bummer. We quickly checked the google and re-routed ourselves to the Whitney Museum. It was a bit of a hike, but 1.5 miles and a pretty chilly 45 minutes later we were in line. Steven forgot to mention my favorite thing: We got in free! A man with a corporate account had two extra tickets. Bonus for us.

The Whitney was great. In addition to their usual collection, they had an exhibition of Diego Rivera and others who were influenced by his murals. It was wonderful. We spent a couple of hours wandering through and then headed out. We walked north on the High Line all the way to 30th street and then straight across Manhattan.

We had dinner at an Indian place around the corner (don’t eat Indian food in NYC unless you like it bland. Every time I do it, I am disappointed. The food was good, but not at all spicy.) and ended the evening with a 9:30 show by George Coleman at the Jazz Standard club which is right behind the hotel. Mr. Coleman is a not-so-spry 84 years old. In fact, he needed to be walked onto stage by a helper and there were times that I thought he might fall off his chair. He has clearly lost some of his skills, but his band did their best to make up for his shortcomings. Decent show, but barely an hour and I was really hoping for more. Oh well.

Sunday was another chilly day, but us being us, we didn’t let it get in our way. Once again we laced up our boots and started our journey by grabbing a bagel and schmear at Bagel and Schmear which is next door to our hotel. Yum! Great bagels. We headed downtown to the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street. Very interesting. It is less of a museum and more of a guided tour of a tenement building that includes the history of the residents/businesses in the building. We enjoyed it, but it isn’t something I think I would do again.

20200301_141740We headed west on Delancy on one of our pie in the sky/it seems like good fun searches. I read on Atlas Obscura about a small piece of Manhattan called Hess’s Triangle that the city tried to buy and the owner fought tooth and nail for years not to give up. It is now a small triangle in the middle of the sidewalk on Christopher Street and is still privately owned. Bear in mind it was about 1.5 miles to get from the tenement museum to Christopher Street, solely to take a photo.

We headed back north towards the hotel and realized that we were a bit hungry and in need of a small sit down. We found a bakery just off Washington Square Park that had hamantashen. These were not your usual hamantashen, no poppy seeds and raspberry jelly to be found anywhere. We had six between us. Three halva, two apple and one chocolate. A perfect break. Once we finished, we headed back to the hotel and were back in time for Happy Hour.

For dinner, we headed to midtown to see my Uncle David & Aunt Marcella. We hopped the 6 train up to 59th and walked a couple of blocks to their apartment. We had dinner a very nice French restaurant called Match 65 a few blocks away. It was a great evening full of interesting conversation and great food.

Great start to our trip.  Tomorrow is a work day. ;-(

 

 

The Weekend Begins

20200207_171542Sue and I made the decision yesterday evening that we would like to spend the weekend on our own. Karl and Guiselle are fabulous hosts, and they cheerfully put up with us for an entire week. But we decided that since we were in Costa Rica, it would be nice to spend a couple of nights not imposing on friends.

mapAfter a quick discussion, we decided that we would head to Tamarindo, about 30 minutes from Playa Flamingo. There is a national park just outside of town that is known as a leatherback turtle sanctuary, so it seemed like a reasonable place to head. Sue took up the mantle of travel agent and quickly found the Hotel Casa Blanca which is inside the national park and literally right on the beach.

I worked in the morning and then we packed up our stuff, said our good-byes to Karl and Guiselle and headed off. As I said it was only about 30 minutes, but absolutely a world away. Tamarindo is tourist central. Apparently, there is great surfing and the streets are filled with tourists, ranging from surfer refugees to weathly retirees to 20 somethings on week/weekends away with their buddies. (I decided it is the English speaking capital of Costa Rica.)

We checked into the hotel, dropped our luggage and went for a walk down the main drag

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Sunset from our balcony 

to find something for lunch. Our hotel host recommended a little soda place–soda is the term used for a small lunch stand like resturant–think of a food truck type place, but not mobile. However, all four tables were taken and we were not inclined to wait. We continued down the street and found a local brewery and settled onto a table on the patio that overlooked the beach. About 2 minutes after we arrived two ladies asked if they could share our table. We agreed and after ordering we got to talking. They are from the Netherlands and were spending two weeks touring the country. They are neighbors, both with partners and small kids, but were traveling by themselves. After lunch, we walked back to our hotel via the beach.

The restaurant next door to the hotel was closed for a special event, that we quickly figured out was a wedding as we could watch the entire proceedings from our balcony.  The party started at about 5 p.m. and as I am typing this at 10, it is still going strong. At some point, we will write our thoughts on the music that they chose, but that humorous soliloquy is for another time.

We chose an Italian place for dinner called Antichi Sapori Sicilian Cuisine. It is about 0.7 miles away and right in the middle of town. We walked over, but alas, it was totally full–all six tables. The owner looked heartbroken that he could not seat us and apologized profusely.  We took it in stride, made a reservation there for tomorrow, and I guess Sue will write about it then. We decided to go to another place called The Dragonfly.  We confidently walked about half a mile in the wrong direction, doubled back and found it down a dirt road just past a mini-golf place.  Once again, it was full with an hour wait. We had thought through this possibility when were walking up to it as we passed a taco place called the Green Papaya taco bar. We walked back over to it, were seated right away and had great burritos. The staff there were straight out of central casting for surfer refugees, our waiter was British, most of the others seemed American.

We walked back to the hotel and settled in to listen to the end(?) of the wedding.

Not So Bad for a Work Day

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Just another beautiful beach

Today was a relatively quiet day as we spent most of the day working. It is pretty amazing to think about the fact that I can do my job from anywhere. All I need is internet and mobile phone connectivity. I was on a call this morning that seamlessly connected Costa Rica, New York and Chicago. I am old enough to remember when the cost of international calls was measured in the tens of dollars per minute. Now, I pay $10 a day to make unlimited calls, send unlimited texts and use virtually unlimited data on my phone. Amazing.

20200205_133304We did take a bit of time out to go for a long walk on another beautiful beach–I have no idea the name of it. But, suffice to say that it is wonderful. The birds on the beach did not seem the least bit bothered that we were walking by.  I believe the white ones are cranes, and the others are pelicans.

 

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Either a pelican or a great photo of my mother.

After our walk, we hopped back in the car, returned to Playa Flamingo and had lunch at Coco Loco. We sat outside literally on the beach and had lunch.  (I had a watermelon slushy. I love watermelon slushies! Can it get better than sitting on the beach with a watermelon slushy? Not really.)

After lunch, it was back to “the old salt mine” called work.  Although it is really hard to complain when my “office” is the patio and the background to my video conferencing is palm trees.  Yes, I must admit, I did take time to gloat about the weather to my–no doubt former–friends in our Chicago office.  Sorry, I don’t feel bad for reminding them that is was 90 degrees and sunny here, while it was 32 and snowing in the frigid tundra.

For dinner, we wandered over to a local beach restaurant called The Beach House.

All in all, a nice, quiet, working day.

PS. In case you were wondering a group of pelicans is called a pod. I believe these are the New Orleans basketball team on some sort of hiatus.

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Pacific Ocean 1–Steven 0

20200202_111722 (1)We (Karl, Guiselle, Sue, and I) decided to go the beach Sunday morning(ish). We packed all the necessities into a cooler. Beer, ice, beer, water, beer, snacks, towels, sunscreen, etc. and headed off to a beach called Playa Prieta (the dark beach). We all piled into Karl’s car and drove through town and up a road that began to climb up a large hill. It had a steep drop on the beachside of the road.  We came to a space in the guardrail and what looked like a very wide gully wash. Guiselle said, “Turn here” and we trundled down a steep rutted dirt path.  At the bottom, we found a gorgeous beach.

We hopped out of the car, found a nice shady spot and settled in. After a while, Sue and I decided to go in for a swim. We waded out until the water was about chest high and started body surfing the waves. The waves were in the 1-3 foot swell category and we were having a grand old time. We saw a perfect wave approaching and got ready to body surf it. There is some disagreement between Sue and I over the height of the wave. I think it was approximately 80 feet tall, Sue says 3. (Sue is correct.)  I assume you understand that I was correct. Either way, we rode the wave –Sue successfully, me not so much. I mistimed my swim and was ahead of the crashing wave.  It landed right on top of me and used my body like a basketball against the bottom. I stood up right away and thought, wow, that one hurt a bit, but no big deal. Until I tried to breathe. Guys: I had the same feeling we get when that girl knees us in the balls after we say that thing to them that they don’t like. Only it wouldn’t stop. I was hunched over in knee-deep water and told Sue that I needed a bit of help. We walked back to the blanket and I lay down wheezing like an even older man than I am.

I figured it would ease up if I just relaxed and allowed my breathing to calm down. After about 10 minutes it was clear to me that wasn’t going to happen. We piled back into the car and went to the local hospital. Which is, of course, closed on Sunday–I guess because no one ever gets hurt in church. Karl and Guiselle quickly figured out where that the nearest 24/7 hospital was (about 3 km away), and we headed there. By now I was really very uncomfortable; I could breathe and didn’t feel dizzy or faint, but I could not seem to get enough breath to catch up.

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I was much more excited when I thought it was Nitrous Oxide, but alas only Oxygen.

The hospital staff was great. They got me on a gurney, hooked up the oxygen, gave me an IV and then started to ask about what had happened, my details and my medical history. All in perfect English. They explained everything to me first, then to Sue and then to Karl and Guiselle (in Spanish) so that nothing was lost. Once my oxygen level was stabilized, they took x-rays of my back and neck. (Yes, Phil, they did find a spine despite what you have been saying all these years). They quickly ruled out any broken bones and diagnosed that my muscles were just very inflamed and were locked in spasms. The spasms were causing me to be unable to expand my lungs.

They gave me a muscle relaxant, some Valium and told me to rest. After about 45 minutes, Dr. Oscar came and explained that he spoke to the clinical director and they were a little concerned that there could be bruising on my lungs. While they thought it was unlikely, they recommended that we have a CT scan, however, their hospital did not have one and the nearest one was in Liberia about an hour away.  We (Sue and I) discussed the low probability of the bruise and the potential problems that would occur if the bruise started to cause problems when we did not have access to a CT scan locally. (Also, Karl had called 911 when the hospital was closed and was told, “I don’t know that area,” so that did not inspire confidence in case of breathing emergency.) I thought to myself, the reason I have experts in my life is to rely on their opinion, and while it would mean a two–hour roundtrip in an ambulance and missing the Super Bowl, we decided it was the wisest course.

The hospital provided the ambulance and a very kind nurse practitioner (Sofia) for the trip. The clinical director was already at the hospital in Liberia.  When we arrived, she met us at the ambulance, dealt directly with the medical staff in the Liberia hospital (who, by the way, all spoke perfect English).  Because it was Sunday night, the usual wait time for a CT report is 2-4 hours, but she arranged with the pulmonologist that she would video the CT scan and he would read it immediately so that if there was nothing wrong, we could get back on the road without wasting too much time.

There was much good news. First, the CT scan was fine, second, and just as importantly, I was able to stream the Super Bowl on my phone during the return trip ;-).

All in, a busy first day of the trip.

A few very well deserved Thank yous.

First, of course, to my wonderful, brilliant, calm under pressure and clearheaded wife. (You’re welcome, husband.) She took control, knew when to ask me if I needed anything, dealt with all the paperwork–apparently my birthday is May 30, 2020, (OK, so I was a little worried) just so you know  😉

Second to our fabulous hosts Karl and Guiselle, who got us to the hospital, made sure all the translations came through and even made us dinner when we got home at 9 p.m.

Third, Dr. Oscar and all the medical staff at the BeachSide Clinic.  They were just fabulous.  They patiently explained everything at least 3 times (to me and Sue in English and to Karl and Guiselle in Spanish). They were attentive and kind. When I was uncomfortable, they had three guys come and move me about 3 inches, but only after explaining exactly who was doing what and with Dr. Oscar watching just in case. They were so kind in fact, that when we were leaving the Liberia hospital, the clinical director asked Sue if we wanted to stop for dinner as we had not eaten that day.

Fourth, the hospital staff in Liberia, all of whom were patient and explained everything to me in English and made sure I knew what was happening and when it was going to happen.

Getting hurt in a foreign country is scary –especially one where you do not speak the language, but the care I received was just amazing, both medically and personally.

Uncle David–Sorry if I got any of the medical stuff wrong.

Tomorrow: Sky diving! Only kidding mom.

 

Planning for Alaska

We continue to plan and book our Alaska travel.  A quick recap for those of you who have forgotten.

boatMy mother, brother, sister and myself, along with our respective wives/husband, are going to Alaska this summer. We are cruising from Vancouver to Whittier and then heading to Denali National Park. My sister, her husband and my mother are taking the cruise line’s three-day Denali tour.

My brother, sister-in-law, Sue and I were talking about doing a three-day remote camping wolftrip, but we were dissuaded from that by my cousin who has been to Alaska many times. She advised that we might have three days of bad weather so flying in and out may not be available and, even if it is, we might be spend three days soaking wet and cold.  I tapped out and we looked for alternatives. She let us know that there were a couple of lodges about 100 miles into the actual park that might be good places to stay.

We opted for the Kantishna Roadhouse for three nights. It looks amazing and we are very exciting. Once we had our Denali destination, we began to look at the logistics. We have two options to get to Kantishna. We could fly or take the train. Flying has the benefit of being much faster, but often the weather grounds the plane. Even the charter company said it is risky to assume that they will get out on any given day. Not a big deal if you are camping, but given that we have a three-night reservation, it doesn’t seem like a good idea to risk it.

busGetting to the Roadhouse via train is more complicated, but more reliable. The Roadhouse runs a bus from the Denali train station to the Roadhouse that takes six hours.  It leaves from the Denali train station at 1:30 p.m.; however, the train from Anchorage arrives in Denali 3:40 p.m. so in order to get the bus, we need to stay one night in the town of Denali.  Making it even more complicated, the train leaves from Anchorage at about 8:20 a.m., but we disembark the cruise ship in Whittier at 8 a.m. This leaves us figuring out how to get from Whittier to Anchorage (estimated travel time 90  minutes) in under 20 minutes. I guess that won’t work. We checked on a couple of other options (get off earlier and taking the cruise line’s chartered train), neither of which are going to work. That means we are also spending a night in Anchorage. (Any suggestions on things to do/see would be much appreciated).

arctic circleAfter our three day jaunt in the park, we are going to Fairbanks. The Roadhouse bus takes us back to Denali, where we can grab the Alaska Railway’s train (which leaves late enough that we do not have stay overnight in Denali again). Sue and I are planning to take a trip from Fairbanks to the Arctic Circle.  It is a 15-17 hour bus trip that appears to make a few stops along the way, then reaches the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) Arctic Circle sign. We will get off the bus, take a photo and then turn back. I am not sure there is even a gift shop! I know 15 hours on a bus in order to take photo and get a certificate that we have walked north of the Arctic Circle, on the edge of foolishness.  Sue and I are absolutely in; my brother and his wife may apply reason and logic and drop out.

Lots still to plan, be we are making progress.