See unparalleled views of the Linville Gorge from Wiseman’s View, near Marion. NC. Looking down across the deepest gorge in the eastern U.S., you can clearly see the Linville River snaking through the forest 1500’ below. The trail itself is an easy, paved, 0.4-mile, handicap accessible path that even has a permanent port-o-potty-style bathroom at the trailhead. But, oh boy, the ride there is an adventure. It’s only four miles on a gravel road, but with the washouts and potholes around most turns, it seems much longer. You will need a 4×4, high off the ground, with good wheels. A Jeep, Range Rover, or F-150 will do the trick.
A trip to Catalina Island is a true escape. Just a short hour-long ferry ride transports you from one of several ports along the southern California coast to a haven with few cars and beautiful vistas.
Plan your departure from Dana Point, Long Beach or San Pedro on the Catalina Express. You can upgrade to the Commodore Lounge and have a free drink and/or snack, but the trip is short so it’s not really necessary. Some of the ferries have private cabins available. Check out the website for details, they do not run every day, but when they are running have many trips. Average adult fates are $74 round trip, $67 for those over 55, bikes and surfboards $7 extra. Reservations are a good idea.
Well, maybe some change in the parking meter.
A visit along Laguna Beach’s portion of the California Coastal Trail is a must-see for any visitor to SoCal. It is Laguna so it is picture-perfect. Heisler Park is a protected Tidepool Habitat with a beautiful beach. This Pacific coastal park has plenty of handicap and stroller-friendly paved walkways with rails. There are ample public restrooms and areas for kids to run around and play. Art lovers will enjoy the sculptures throughout the grounds and everyone will enjoy the spectacular views.
Adults and kids can agree spotting Sea Lions is always a thrill – even if you can usually smell them before you see them. Near the center of picturesque La Jolla, head over to the park along Coast Drive and you can people watch as well. Weekend parking can be tough, but you can grab a Bird (electric scooter) and get anywhere in minutes.
There is a pleasant Coast Walk along the Pacific with viewing points and as a bonus, you can visit the Sunny Jim Sea Cave. For $5 an adult and $3 for kids, it’s a chance to visit La Jolla’s longest-running business and the site of a historic tunnel to the cave. Open since 1903 there have been a few improvements over the rope that originally guided adventurers’ descent into the dark tunnel. Today there are a few lights and 145 wooden steps with handrails to ease your way.
Wherever you find yourself it’s always interesting to tap into the events going on in the local community. Some of the most rewarding experiences are because you find out what is going on when you are in an area. Case in point – I recently attended my first Horse Pull, in the mountains of North Carolina.
We watched six beautifully groomed and well-cared for two-horse teams pull a cart filled with cement building blocks. Pull weight started at 3,000 pounds and blocks were added in increments of 1,000 or 500 until only one team was able to pull the cart the required 27.5’. The larger heavyweight teams didn’t have to start until the cart held 5,000 lbs. Some of these draft horses are working farm animals and watching them you could see why having a good team would have been essential for early settlers.
It typically rains in the Netherlands during the month of April and we were blessed on this trip to escape any weather issues until our afternoon in Gouda. It did rain and it was pretty steady and hard. In spite of the weather, we did have another very special experience. I don’t have many pictures, but am glad we went.
The old town was typically medieval and charming with the incredibly long St John’s church, famous for its extremely tall 16th-century stained-glass windows. But the pièce de résistance was learning how they made the tasty Stroopwafels and getting to make one ourselves. We pressed the pre-formed dough in the waffle press for exactly 35 seconds and then came the tricky part – slicing the thin pastry in half through the center. The knife was VERY sharp and after realizing how difficult it was going to be, I asked for help as did most everyone. After adding a ladle full of cinnamon-infused caramel, you press the two halves together and spin – voila, its ready to eat. It smelled so good and was so nice and toasty, I forgot to take a picture and instead, just gobbled it up.
I know I’ve had it during trivia games: “What is the largest port in Europe?”
During my recent river cruise during tulip season, we docked on the Meuse River in Rotterdam, a thoroughly modern city, rebuilt after devastating bombing during World War II. There were so many things I wanted to see in the area, I skipped over most of Rotterdam, only seeing enough to appreciate a tiny bit of the ultra-modern and innovative architecture the city has become known for.
Of note are the Cube House residences by architect Piet Blom pictured here. They literally hang over the street and once you are inside containing no walls at 90-degree angles, making it quite a challenge to place furniture. I only know this because I looked up a story about the interior. Apparently, residents of the 1985 complex were so harassed for a peek inside, one owner opened a museum and another offers hotel-type leasing options. I think a quick look inside would suffice.
Much smaller than I expected, Antwerp was pretty much destroyed by the Nazis during World War II. After walking into the city from the River Scheldt, you can see what remains of the castle/fort now being restored to become part of the cruise port entry hall along with remnants of the original medieval city walls. Long an important port city, Antwerp was occupied by Germany during the war, briefly liberated, and then virtually destroyed as the Nazis tried to keep the valuable port away from Allied armies. For six months, more than 2,000 V-bombs fell on the city and the surrounding area, until the American anti-aircraft gunners were finally victorious.
My daughter and son-in-law convinced me to watch the 2008 Colin Farrell movie In Bruges before coming here. I can’t say I would ever recommend anyone watch that dark crime/dramedy, but I did find myself looking around for landmarks. Of course, the majestic town belfry tower does play a significant role in the movie. I was planning to climb to the top of the tower – but when I found out it was 366 steps, well, eating mussels and frites sounded like a much better plan.
Bruges is lovely. One of the prettiest European cities I’ve visited. With scenic canals draped with weeping willows, this beautifully restored medieval town has a thriving Grote Markt (main square) and many smaller squares lined with cafés, waffle shops and every type of store imaginable, including one of my favorites, Desigual. There were lots of trees and colorful flowers. Belgium is famous for handmade lace and Bruges is considered the place to buy it. Handmade lace is literally a dying art and it was interesting to see detail about how lace is tatted. Only women between 50 and 90 are left making the famous (Bobbin) lace; they must have amazing eyesight for this level of detail work.
We are not in *Holland.
I traveled to Amsterdam to take a river cruise during the tulip season with several of my friends. The trip was a tribute to a very special friend who is sadly no longer with us.
We were sailing with AMAWaterways on the AMAPrima for a 7-day trip that began and ended in the beautiful city of Amsterdam. Arriving ahead of the cruise gave us time to recover from the overnight flight, adjust to the time change, and see more of this great city.