Sunday, September 30, 2007

Not in Any Particular Order

When one is on the road for months on end, it’s hard to keep track of what one has and hasn’t written about. At least, when I’m on the road for months on end, it’s hard for me to keep track. I know there’s tons of stuff I left off, tons of stuff we really enjoyed, or found beautiful, or eye-opening, or whatever. So I’m going to wrack my brains, and try to give Europe more of its due (in doing so, I may repeat things. Ah well.). And so, following are things I loved.

Riga, Latvia: Double Coffee. No, it’s true, I wasn’t drinking coffee by the time we got to Latvia, but Double Coffee is oh, so much more than a coffeehouse chain. It also has an extensive, full-color menu of snacks with photos so you know what you’re getting even if you haven’t managed to learn more than one word of Latvian and it’s not a food word. Pancakes of various sorts (like crepes, or hashbrowns) are popular snacks in Riga and Double Coffee serves them up right (i.e. either sweet or savory has lots of sour cream). They also do smoothies and shakes, and lots of kinds of coffee. Ian had Turkish, made the traditional way in a brazier full of hot sand, with the little brass coffee maker sitting right in the sand.

Arctic Circle: Reindeer are really, really cute with their huge fuzzy feet (good as snowshoes) and their velvety antlers. And they’re charmingly daft about cars sharing the highways with them.

Lisbon: Visiting our friends A&F who, we just found out, have a third family member on the way! The timing of our visit to them seems to have been auspicious . . .

London: Our friends J&C who got engaged between visits to them. The timing of our visits to them seem to have been auspicious as well. Way to go J! Best wishes, C.

Scotland: Tumbling, tea-colored becks washing down steep, barren hillsides. Tie-dyed sheep. Porridge.

Sweden: White-trimmed red fishing villages. I’d love to see all the red against the snow in the winter. For those three hours of daylight. Staying with dear friends, again (read more about Sweden, from the inside, here.)

Kihnu, Estonia: Wireless internet in our inn, on the island where women—young women—still wear their traditional woolen skirts for everyday use.

Šiauliai, Lithuania: several girls’ football teams staying in our Soviet hotel with us, in town for some tournament. Using Skype in the hotel lobby to call their boyfriends back in Liverpool.

Ravello, Italy: The lemon tree outside our room, where I hung my dress to dry in the warm breeze. Chocolate gelato. Chocolate gelato.

Amorgos, Greece: Dmitri, our landlord, running outside onto his verandah with an ancient shotgun and pretending to shoot the Greek military planes doing maneuvers overhead.

Pärnu, Estonia: The beautiful people in the notary’s office.

Porto, Portugal: Indian food, then ice cream at an outside bar in the new part of Gaia, as the sun set and the stars came out over the Douro. Playing on the new playground with 7-year-old C. Marveling anew, neck craned and mouth agape, at the crumbling tiled grandeur of the Ribeiro district, then eating a succulent choriço assado.

Arlanda Airport, Sweden, the second time: Seeing my brother and sister-in-law waiting for us outside customs. First family members to hug in almost four months.

Trás-os-Montes, Portugal: Finding extra pork in our doggie bag, so we’d be sure to have enough for sandwiches the next day.

Hampstead, London: Attending my first Quaker Meeting with a relative of a family friend.

Folegandros, Greece: The perfect place to stay for a week. Flying views of the sea. Heart-tugging pastoral beauty. Donkeys.

Heathrow Airport: Business Class Lounge. Oh yeah.

Porto Côvo, Portugal: The beach through the tunnel, particularly the time we went at night, with a full moon and no flashlights. WiFi in the main square.

Westray, Orkney, Scotland: The Pierowall Hotel, with its “snug”, for adults only. Puffins.

Mainland, Orkney, Scotland: Viking graffiti near the ceiling at Mae’s Howe, the Neolithic burial site: “Thor writes this very high up.”

Europe, in general: Sharing four months with Ian.

A Good Day

Had an awesome ride on Sikem today, where I got to use a narrow trail I’d found a few years ago that’s clearly meant to be a secondary choice, but had to be the primary choice today because the usual primary choice had a big spiky tree across it. Sikem was pretty convinced that he’d rather just go home than across a baby Doug fir (which would undoubtedly tickle his sensitive belly) and into the narrow, dark, wooded passageway that was patently not pointing toward home. He tried backing up, and turning, and backing and turning, and simply not going, for several long minutes. I eventually stopped playing around, though, and he went. We wandered off into a wilderness I hadn’t visited in the last several years, Sadie the inexhaustible puppy bounding along behind us, until we finally came to a big crossroads and Sikem very decidedly turned left when I thought we should go straight. I was ready to head for home, and I asked him if he was sure; yes, he was. No question. It turns out he was right, and a good thing, too. I think we were out about three hours. Added to my two hours on Shadow yesterday, that’s a lot of hard labor for my ass. And it shows. Or rather, it would, but it doesn’t.

I hadn’t seen the cows for a couple days, and even though they hadn’t gotten out all summer, I had started to worry, so the dogs and I went for a walk to find them this morning. Evidently, they’d forgotten about people, because once we did find them, somewhere in the back part of their 60 acre grazing ground, they came back to civilization. About 30 minutes after we got back, they were down eating their two days’ worth of grain. Right, PEOPLE! They feed us tasty things! A’s right—they’re very beautiful, with their kohl-rimmed eyes and silvery-white coats, and they look like they're muscling up nicely.

My thumbs are healed (well, the garlic-prick never really amounted to much. Nor, to be honest, did the ax-cident, considering the potential), the repaired tire hasn’t gone flat again, and I’ve had a couple days of communing with horses in chilly gold, dark green, and crimson nature.

My friend E loaned me his SLR camera, so I'll post some pics after I get back to Seattle and high speed internet. Although my Potlatch dial-up has been working swimmingly.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Sometimes It’s Good to Have a Fifth Wheel

I’m in Jerome Creek right now, and it’s a bit weird. It rained today, and so I didn’t go riding. What? Hello? If it’s raining tomorrow I’ll suck it up and ride anyway, but it was really raining pretty hard today. I can’t be that sad about it, though, because it’s been a dry summer and rain is definitely welcome. At least by the people who live here all the time.

I’m driving a rented Chevy Trailblazer right now (they discontinued the shorter name Blazer, which maybe implied “inferno” a bit too much, a couple years back. But that’s what this is.) It’s fine, you know. It’s not the 4-Runner, but it can’t be expected to be. It’s brand new, so I was hopeful that the stereo would have an iPod jack in it, but it doesn’t. It also doesn’t have a cassette player, of course—it’s one of those inconvenient middle designs—so I can’t use my old cassette adaptor. Ian picked me out some CDs from L&S’s collection before I hit the road, though, so I wasn’t bereft of entertainment.

I started with a recording of Godspell, then went on to Paul Simon, and then had a go at some Black Eyed Peas. And then I went with silence for the rest of the journey.

Right now I’m listening to my iPod’s “Alternative and Punk” genre, which is perfect for solitary introspection and cooking. I don’t know why I never listened to them before, since Ian’s owned the CDs for who knows how long, but I’ve really come to love the Decemberists in the last month or so. They’re just really awesome.

K was here last night but left this morning to join A in Seattle visiting relatives. We were strolling around this morning, me gathering the current information on feeding and whatnot for the animals, and we stopped by the Trailblazer.

“That looks like a pretty flat tire,” observed King.

“Wow. It sure does,” I replied.

“Did you notice anything on the way here?”

“Nope, I really didn’t.”

The right rear tire was completely flat. We discussed how to get it fixed and decided on just throwing it in the back of the farm pick-up (King was going to be driving the lighter weight, long-distance pick-up west) and I would take it in to Moscow to get it repaired. I would then bring it back and put it on and, before heading back to Seattle, drive the Trailblazer to Moscow to make sure I’d got the tire on well (assuming I’d gotten it on well enough to make it the 40 or so miles without being flung into a ditch). Then I remembered that the thing was rented, and that perhaps Enterprise would rather just deal with it themselves, in their own way, a way that didn’t involve farm trucks and city slickers replacing tires. I have changed tires before—Dad was a mechanic, and he felt that, if we were going to drive, we needed to be able to change our tires and our oil ourselves. But the last time I did that was probably almost 20 years ago.

Anyway, a charming elderly man came out and put on the spare (his wife came along and was also charming); I drove into Moscow with an exclamation point blinking at me from the control panel (it didn’t seem to be listed under “warning lights” in the owner’s manual but I assumed it had something to do with the spare—either being gone from its home, or a weird size compared to the other tires) and dropped off the car at the tire place. It was repaired and put back together within 15 minutes—culprit was a Philips head screwdriver. I hadn’t driven far enough on it to ruin the tire, which was good. The exclamation point also disappeared.

The only other time I’ve ever had a flat tire, it was coming out to visit K&A. This was about 15 years ago, and I was driving an old Ford Bronco (one of the big ones) back to Garfield that someone had borrowed from some friends of K&A’s. At the rest area at the intersection between Highway 26 and Highway 395, 60 miles from Ritzville (the nearest town), someone pointed out to me that one of my tires was low. He offered to put on the spare for me, but when we found the spare, it was flat too. So I called AAA and they sent out a tow truck from Ritzville. The guy brought an air compressor and pumped up the spare, which then showed a weird knot in the sidewall. He said “Well, I’m not sure it’ll get you all the way to Pullman. You’d better come up to Ritzville and get it checked out at the garage.” So I did.

I kid you not—when I pulled into Ritzville an hour later, there was no one around, and a tumbleweed tumbled slowly across the street in front of me. I laughed a trifle hysterically, then found the garage. They told me it’d probably last me another three hours, but probably not much beyond that. With that comforting thought, I continued on my way. I made it, and it only took me five hours longer than usual.

With the rain came the cold today, as I found when I woke up from my nap on the couch, stiff and a little groggy. I thought “split wood and warm yourself twice,” so out I went to the woodpile to make some kindling, so that I could then make a fire. Hard physical labor is perhaps not the first thing one should attempt upon first waking, particularly if one is cold and stiff, and I had some trouble getting the ax to work right. I just wasn’t getting any force into my swings, and the wood wasn’t splitting. I finally got one piece to crack, and then, knowing I shouldn’t, I held it in place with my left hand and raised the ax in my right hand.

When the ax came down, it didn’t, in fact, cut off my thumb. But it did cut it. Just a little. And it woke me up, so that after I had put on a bandaid and headed back outside, I was able to split the rest of the kindling just fine, thank you. And now the fire is lovely and warm. When I was cleaning garlic for dinner the pointy end of the skin of one clove punched a teeny hole in the pad of my right thumb. I thought “By the pricking of my thumbs; Something wicked this way comes,” as I watched the bead of blood well up. But I don’t think anything wicked is really coming. My accidents have rendered me for the time being the opposite of “all thumbs”, which is, I’ve discovered, for all practical purposes the same thing.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Our Summer by the Numbers

30 April: Date we left
around 50kg: weight of our baggage leaving the US
11: Countries visited
22: New stamps in my passport
6: Number of those stamps acquired in London (“Leave to enter for six months. Employment and recourse to public funds prohibited.”)
2: Countries which didn’t stamp me at all (Spain and Finland)
36° 35’: Southernmost latitude reached (Folegandros, Greece)
66° 39’: Northernmost latitude reached (Sinettä, Finland)
66° 32’: Arctic Circle
3: Number of reindeer we passed wandering down the middle of the road
3: Time zones visited
12: Modes of transport utilized
15: Ferries taken
4: Cars rented
2: Cars enjoyed, of those rented (the Ford Focus in Scotland, and the Saab in Sweden)
12: Flights taken
5: Flights in business class (i.e. not quite enough of them)
7: Flights using airline miles (including all of those in business class)
8: Hours flights were delayed
12: Pizzas eaten
0: Pizzas eaten in Naples
11: Pizzas eaten north of Latitude 51° 30’ (Naples is at 40° 51’)
around 70: Total number of pork-centered dinners eaten
15: Friends visited
37: Nights spent with friends, or in friends’ houses (i.e. FREE)
2: Relatives who visited us
11: Most nights slept in one place (Porto Côvo, Portugal)
5: Total number of days spent apart (I went to Phoenix)
118: Total days spent together
2800: Total hours spent together (taking into account my horseback rides)
0: Total number of serious fights
around 100kg: Weight of our baggage returning to the US
31 August: Date we returned

Friday, September 07, 2007


For the last four months, every time I heard any voice speaking American English, it was a friend of mine. This is not entirely without exception, but pretty darn close. And so, I’ve evidently developed the association American accent=someone I know. Which means that any time I’m in public—restaurants, stores, whatever—and I hear someone talking with an American accent (which, face it, is virtually everyone here), I think I must know them. I keep being distracted from the people I’m with to glance around the place and see who else I know. It was all the weirder the other day when I was out to lunch with my grandma, and the person sitting at the table behind her had just come back—like, maybe the day after us—from Sweden and England. She was talking about accidentally speaking Swedish to little kids when she got back to England, and then about seeing Harry and Wills at the memorial service they organized for their mom, which took place the day we left. But no, I really didn’t know her.

Monday, September 03, 2007


It always takes some time to get photos uploaded into Blogger, so I decided to use a different Google product instead--Picasa Web Albums. So please click here to see the rest of our trip.