Red Dirt Girl Goes to Antwerp

Red Dirt Girl Goes to Antwerp

On holiday recently, while based in Amsterdam, we took a day trip by high-speed train, via the Thalys route, to Antwerp, Belgium.  It’s a little over a 100 miles distance between the two cities.  We purchased 8 tickets in advance of leaving the states to be sure we had seats on the train during the busy Christmas season.  We were a group of 8 which required we have advanced reservations to nearly all of our activities including dining out. Yes, you must plan ahead.

The best cities in the world are founded with a myth, and Antwerp is no exception. The legend has it that, to cross the river Scheldt, you first had to pay a toll to a fearsome giant Statue of Brabo — Antigoon by name – or risk invoking his wrath and losing your hand. Of course a hero was needed, and he arrived in the form of a Roman soldier named Silvius Brabo. Brabo slayed the giant, cut off its hand, and tossed it into the River Scheldt. And given that the Dutch for ‘hand thrown’ is ‘hand werpen’, a city’s name was born. The story has led to a white hand becoming a symbol to be found on many a crest in the city.

The day trip worked out well as we departed on time from Amsterdam Centraal a couple of days past Christmas, around 8:30 a.m., and arrived in a little over an hour at the venerable Antwerp Station. We had the whole day ahead of us to explore the city.  But first, we took time to admire the architectural wonder of the Antwerp train station itself. The Antwerp Central Station, also known as Middenstatie (Middle station), was first used in 1905. The structure is made from a steel platform covering and a stone station building in an eclectic style. In 2009, the American magazine Newsweek chose the Antwerp Central Station as the fourth most beautiful train station in the world.

Our Lady’s Cathedral

After arriving and getting our bearings, we walked toward the central plaza of the city but first stopped off for a visit to the artist’s Ruben’s home who painted around the same time as Rembrandt.  The house contains many of his masterpieces along with artwork from artists that he trained in his studio also located here.  Ruben favored religious figures, some landscapes, a few self portraits, as well as hunting scenes and animals.  Lots of grays, blues and greens — too dark for my taste.  You could still smell the oil paint in the house or at least I imagined I smelled it — the paint was so thick on the paintings and so many oil paintings in such a small space.  Many famous artists passed within these old walls over the years.  If walls could talk, eh?

Ruben’s Home

Afterwards, we devoured Belgium waffles from a local street vendor (if you could only smell the warm waffles, sweet chocolate and winter air) and then, partially sated, we traveled on toward the popular plaza area where the Christmas market is located at the base of Our Lady’s Cathedral of Antwerp.  The north church spire towers into the blue sky above us and we put on our sunglasses for the first time since arriving in the Netherlands.  We welcomed the sun.  Inside the cathedral, the spiritual space is impressive with its grizzly crypt, artwork by Rubin and other baroque masterpieces and architecture.


Outside the cathedral there are ample chocolate, diamonds and lace shops surrounding us on all sides just enough to satisfy the tourist shopper in all of us.  Needing a break, we found an old tavern, squeezed up a narrow, spiraling staircase to a small second floor overhang to sample some of the famous Belgium beers with the locals.  Our favorite was De Koninck bolleke.  We even found the local brewery later in the afternoon, took an interactive, quirky tour and sampled even more of their beer offerings.  The tour ended with purchases from their gift shop for friends back home.

Let’s go home, Brr

The day was so full of festivities for locals as well as tourists.  The trains and sidewalks were packed with families enjoying a day off, eating and drinking samples from the Christmas market stalls and enjoying carnival rides.  Many in our gang, bravely went up on an old Ferris wheel to get a better view of Antwerp even in the cold and windy, late afternoon winter weather.  I tried the famous Belgium fries with curry catsup and mayo dipping sauce and found them top-notch especially eating them from the classic paper cone.

old bar
Antwerp Tavern

After walking miles on cobblestones exploring the city, we headed back to the station for the last train back to Amsterdam.  Sore feet and tired legs but a great day exploring a little bit of Flanders with my sweet family.

De Koninck Blond Beer




Red Dirt Girl Goes to Amsterdam

Red Dirt Girl Goes to Amsterdam

We arrived at the Schiphol Airport at two on a cold afternoon, Christmas Eve Day,  after traveling for at least twelve hours before arriving at our final destination –  a modern, light and festively appointed international hub for both air and train travel in the Netherlands. We were officially on holiday with our family including our three daughters, our new son-in-law, our daughter’s partner, and a long-standing family friend making us a party of eight.  We were a mixed bag but all comfortably over the age of twenty-one and ready for some debauchery in the Venice of the North.

all together

Having never been to Venice, I don’t know how Amsterdam compares but I found this city more akin to New Orleans than any other metropolis in the states.  Although, Amsterdam built its city on the water, New Orleans strives, unsuccessfully to keep the water out. Both cities embrace all comers and offer up the arts in all forms.

canal rides

First, the canal houses with gabled facades line the waterways providing you, through unshuttered windows, an intimate peek into the daily lives of the Dutch.  Amsterdamers evidently like living a curtain-less existence, thereby showing the world they have nothing to hide. Take a leisurely stroll down any street and you are sure to notice one startling similarity: a persistent lack of curtains, and hence personal privacy.


Second observation is that bike riders rule in Amsterdam.  Pedestrians are measly targets for sadistic riders either on scooter, bicycle or tram.  Watch the f— out for them, all the time. Seriously or better yet, rent a bike and join them at their own game.  They ride in the wind, the rain, the dark and the snow. We saw them do it with our own eyes as we dashed out of their way. There are nearly 900,000 bikes in the city, four times the number of cars.  This city even has a huge bike parking area in the center of the city.  I have no idea how the owners even find their solitary bike in the vast sea of spokes and fenders.


Check out the city art scene.  Our pick was the Van Gogh Museum.  We felt like we knew Vincent and his family after spending several hours learning about his life, his short but prolific painting period of only ten years, and how the demands he made of his self, his  mental illness all become too much. Vincent felt he had failed as both an artist and a human being. It didn’t help that he sipped on turpentine and was known to eat paint.  Vincent shot himself in the chest, which I found an odd attempt, and he died of his wounds in 1890 at the age of only 37.  Sadly, his art work got better, the more he struggled with mental illness as you could see from the progression of his first great piece, “The Potato Eaters”, to the “Bedroom” and “Sunflowers”.

with jessica

We did take a peek at the infamous red light district one evening after dining at a nearby Indian restaurant, Ashoka. Highly recommend the restaurant for the friendly service, accommodating chef, and fine cuisine but based on my stance on feminism, should I applaud or be appalled by the legalization of prostitution? The women are running their own businesses, so they are entrepreneurs, of a sort. I think they have union. But, on the other hand, they are promoting a trade that is degrading to women and perpetuating a culture in which women are treated as objects.

We drank a fair amount of beer along with other types of spirits during our stay.  The local beer is found at Brouwerig’ Tij a brewery under a windmill to boot.  So crowded but the beer soothed sore feet and we loved their logo. Yes, we bought the souvenir shirt.


We also bought Delft dishes (how can you resist the blue and white patterns?), some cool prints from Gallery Varekamp, featuring scenes from around Amsterdam to remind us of our journey, along with packages of stroopwaffles, two thin waffles stuck together with caramel, and salty Dutch liquorice.

Beyond what I have already shared, it was the simple moments that I will remember best.

  • Tram rides and getting lost and found again
  • The issue of no ice, at all, in our Air BnB — why?
  • Watching Dutch cooking shows on television – they seem to love to cook outside in the snow on an open fire
  • Skip-Bo, lots of Skip-Bo
  • Daily postings to social media
  • Sunrise at 8:30 a.m., sunset at 4:30 p.m.
  • Learning about Banksy, the street artist
  • Listening to the sing-song sounds of the Dutch language
  • Family meals together. Ok, just being together.
  • Our daily uniform of parka, hat, gloves and boots
  • Opening simple stocking stuffers on Christmas morning
  • Walking, lots of walking
  • Having Melina join us from Germany for a couple of days – miss you!
  • Christmas Markets — as many as we could find in a week!
  • Ferris Wheel rides
  • Grocery shopping
  • That time all of us in the our group went right, but one went straight…






Over several months, RM planned our five hundred mile road trip to northeast Kansas to view the recent solar eclipse in the so-called totality zone. He plotted and printed maps, researched websites, purchased the necessary protective eye glasses and not-so-necessary commemorative t-shirts, and timed our journey to coincide with the solar eclipse on Monday, August 21st. We stayed with some dear friends on their picturesque farm near Holton, Kansas.


We were one of many visitors to the zone last Monday — stretching across a width of 70 miles from Oregon to South Carolina  — who made it a point to travel to a place where the moon’s shadow will touch the earth.  We were not disappointed in the experience even after dodging traffic, rain clouds and showers to get to our destination.  For us, we ended up on an isolated, dirt road that straddled the Nebraska/Kansas border not too far from Du Bois, NE., surrounded by miles of ripening corn and soybean fields.

While RM was the champion of this excursion, the rest of us in our small party were willing but uninformed, highly supportive accompaniments.  We agreed to stock up the SUV with a picnic lunch and celebratory spirits, keep the phones and iPad charged for tracking and other necessary communication updates from NASA, and drive Ruby (yes, the SUV has a name), over and across this nation’s bread basket back roads to get us in line for the perfect viewing of the total eclipse, weather conditions be damned. While we didn’t fully understand RM’s fixation with getting the perfect spot, we knew it was important to him so we followed our leader’s direction to head up Highway 75 from Holton, over to Sabetha and then north and west to his predetermined, viewing point.

eclipse tracy

Through our safety glasses, we saw early glimpses of the partial eclipse but the clouds were thickening and the viewing was sporadic so under RM’s worried brow, we packed up and moved about 10 miles to an area on the radar that looked clear.  We were not disappointed with the audible as we pulled off the road into a pasture, the sky cleared and we could see the eclipse as it moved from partial to total at 1:04 p.m. central Kansas time. At full eclipse, the sky darkened and a 360 degree sunset magically appeared all around us as we admired Bailey’s beads — pearls of sunlight shining through the valleys and mountains of the moon. We saw the beads around the edges of the moon as it passed over the sun.  We took many pictures but mostly we stood and stared up at the eclipse in awe.


I  first noticed the immense quiet and the surrealism of the space with light reflecting oddly over the fields around us, no sounds of animals or man except for us hooting and comparing comments of what each of us saw and felt.  It was truly an  ‘awe’ moment — one that reached, for me, the upper levels of pleasure but also on the boundary of fear or perhaps better described as the feeling of the unknown.  After the experience, I felt rich in time, somehow better connected to nature with a renewed boost of hope for our future.  We are already plotting for the next eclipse in 2024.  Come join us in Texas, in the the totality zone, and experience the awe.





Urban Walks in NYC

Urban Walks in NYC

When RM and I visit a city, we like to walk the streets, feel the pavement under our feet, and begin to understand what makes this unique urban space tick.  When we walk, there is time to appreciate the architecture, to observe the river, to revel in the nooks and crannies and hidden sight lines. A peek-a-boo into the city soul.

hello chelsea
Our tour guide, C1

The traffic stops and starts, sidewalk cafes beckon us over as we look for the past in the shuttered windows and trellised ledges.  The smell of spices and exhaust fumes mix along with the potent piles of rubbish oozing the remains of the day. We wince and turn away but continue our journey across Midtown streets in the light rain.  51st to 49th to catch a risqué Broadway musical or down to lower Manhattan to pose with the Fearless Girl facing down the Wall Street Bull, stepping carefully around and over obstacles, avoiding the flagpole banner-bearing pied pipers.

City trash, everywhere

A good wander unveils many truths and unexpected gems of discovery some painful to observe like the crack zombies stumbling beside us on our way to Red Rooster brunch or the morning after remnants from a night too hard on Times Square. Getting lost is part and parcel to the urban walking experience.  Getting found again with someone you love is like renewing your vows all over again.

Nowhere is walking more surreally varied and trance-inducing than in New York City. We boomerang from Harlem to Greenpoint to Lower Manhattan to the Upper East Side and back down again to the Brooklyn Bridge. We cross the East River by ferry to Smorgasburg, an open-air food mecca held every Saturday in an empty lot on the Williamsburg waterfront.  It is like a summer rock festival for foodies both alluring and sweaty.  We balance small plates on a rock ledge abandoned from a Domino sugar refinery while sipping fresh coconut water directly out of it’s cracked, greenish hull.  The whole place smells like Marrakesh, I imagine. We trek on through the heat to the cool insides of the Artists and Fleas to find a treasure or two.

RM & I on the Brooklyn Bridge

We shuffle slowly through the Guggenheim, spiraling down beside masterpieces by Klee and Pollack inspired to try a sketch or two.  We look up at the Freedom Tower and down into the reflecting pools and worry when will it happen again, and where, and how many. We rest in Central Park until the algal bloom drives us up and out for gasps of fresher air and back to our pod for the night.

Reinvigorated in the morning after a good night’s sleep, clean socks, and a NY bagel, we complete one of the most popular walks in NYC.  We cross over the Brooklyn Bridge on foot, feed our pizza pie-hole at the popular Juliana’s, located next to the more famous Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, and then journey back over in the moonlight with a throng of tourists snapping selfies from every angle while strolling the crowded boardwalk straddling this proud American architectural feat. Back to the pod by Metro this time, too tired for another trek uptown by foot.

C1 joins us on our walking itinerary as she is living in the Big Apple this summer and is excited to see all that NYC offers in two short months.  We took the Metro when prudent but enjoyed strolls along High Line Park one late afternoon before the summer heat wave necessitated a call for Uber. Too hot to walk even to the nearest Metro station.

Whether seeing the city on foot, by subway, taxi or ferry, the important part is to experience travel with the ones you love, even if it is only you. So, find yourself a path to follow and learn to walk again. You’ve waited too long. Happy Independence Day, sweet travelers.

red rooster
My niece joins us for bruch at the Red Rooster
Thousand Steps Beach

Thousand Steps Beach

Thousand Steps Beach is a rocky beach below homes high on the bluff  near Shoreline Park in Santa Barbara, California.  To reach the beach at low tide, requires a long hike down a stairway.  The concrete stairs, originally constructed in 1923, have what seems like 1000 steps, but is actually closer to 150. On our recent holiday to California, we enjoyed watching the sunset from Shoreline Park and searched out Thousand Steps Beach one evening but returned the next morning to discover that the tides, at high tide, cover the entire beach and come up several feet on the concrete stairs which explains the erosion of the steps on the lower half.  So pretty that I had to take a posed picture of C2 and her fiance on the steps.


Another fun find on our journey was the largest Moreton Bay Fig Tree in the United States.  It is hidden behind a very active Amtrak Train Station near State Street and the Stearns Wharf and was planted in 1876 and is estimated to be 80 feet tall.  There are signs all over it to keep folks off but when we stopped by two young kids were climbing all over her grand branches.  Hard to resist.


It was a beautiful day to explore all of Santa Barbara and beside finding the majestic fig, we explored the more common tourists stops of the Courthouse and Mission Santa Barbara as well as walked State Street (all shopping and restaurants) and the wharf area.  While we were visiting some foolish tourist from Chicago, drove his car off the side of the wharf. Thankfully, he had just dropped of his wife and daughter at the ice cream store before he drove his rental off the side of the dock.  Something about mistaking the brake for the gas pedal?  How do you explain that one around the water cooler?

We had lunch on the one rainy day at the Cold Spring Tavern, outside of SB, warmed by a two-sided rock fireplace and great service. This place was originally a stagecoach stop back in 1865 and has been serving good grub ever since. We sampled buffalo burgers, venison and Tri-tip sandwiches.  Tri-tip is everywhere in this part of CA as I learned it originated just up the 101 at Santa Maria as a great cut to prepare like we do brisket or pot roast in Texas.


As an alternative to wine, which is everywhere in these parts, we enjoyed an afternoon of watching bowl games and drinking Davy Brown Ale at the Fig Brewing Company  located near our motel.  We did the wine tasting thing, driving up into the scenic Santa Ynez Valley, but I have to say after a couple of stops, all four in our party were done with commenting about how “oaky” or “spicy” we found the small sips. How many souvenir wine glasses and bottles of wine can a girl pack in her suitcase?  Three to be exact.


New Years Eve we dined at The Lark in the Funk Zone of Santa Barbara.  We sat outside between a heater and a fireplace on a very cool night, after a day of rain. The highlights for me were the oysters on the half shell sprinkled with chilled wine granita and salmon roe along with the scallops swimming in a lobster bisque.  Our dessert and New Year toast was with a great bourbon just to warm up.  Why is it that some of the warmest places to visit often seem the chilliest when you are not expecting it?

Did you know that Santa Barbara is very proud of their tacos?  Taco Trail is how it is billed. We tried a couple different varieties at La-Super Rica.  We were hyped up for fish tacos but on the night we visited we were limited to only beef and pork.  My favorite was the hand-made tortillas made fresh for each plate, grilled just right, as well as the general vibe of the place. The prices can’t be beat at $2.50/taco for most options.


As always, travel experiences often bring surprises, plans not quite to perfection, but always we learn something new and unexpected about ourselves, the world we live in, as we take a thousand steps and more together in 2017.  Try not to fall off the dock.

Aspen Leaves in the High Country

Aspen Leaves in the High Country

As the temperatures begin to get colder, aspen, cottonwood and willow in the eastern Sierra Mountains suspend production of chlorophyll, which is essential for photosynthesis, and attempt to save energy in anticipation of the coming winter. As the chlorophyll left in leaves breaks down (and with it the green coloring), other colors begin to shine through.  And boy do they.

RM and I had the opportunity to drive over 1,000 miles this last week exploring over a 1100 square miles of Yosemite National Park along 214 miles of paved roads as well as the surrounding areas near Milo Basin and Mammoth Falls to the east of Yosemite.  We also drove through the Fresno Valley area and found it to be traumatized by the infamous California drought.  Very sad to see first hand.

But the leaves.  Oh, my.

We timed our trip in hopes of experiencing cooler temps and a bit of a nip in the air in mid October in the mountains and we were not disappointed.  We had sunshine nearly all week with just a dusting of snow on the highest elevation the night before we departed.  Nearly a perfect week of viewing the changing season up close and personal.

Happy Fall y’all!