Viking River Cruise: Grand European Tour

If you’ve watched Downton Abbey or any other Masterpiece! presentation, you’ve seen the commercials showing Viking’s longships cruising the world’s rivers.

My husband F. and I are setting out on the Viking River Cruises Grand European Tour. We had a 10-hour direct Delta flight from Sea-Tac (Seattle-Tacoma) International Airport to Amsterdam. After a layover of just under two hours in Amsterdam, we caught a one hour and 40 minute flight to Budapest, where we were met by representatives from Viking and taken to our ship, Vidar. We left Sea-Tac in the early afternoon of May 31 and arrived in Europe in the early afternoon of June 1.

Map of Viking River Cruises: Grand European Tour
Viking River Cruises: Grand European Tour

Neither F. nor I was able to sleep at all on the plane, so we were pretty exhausted by the time we arrived on board. Fortunately, our stateroom was ready as soon as we arrived. The ship’s personnel urged us to use our free time until dinner to walk around Budapest on our own, but we opted to take a nap instead. At dinner we discovered that just about everyone we talked to had done the same. We had no trouble falling right back to sleep after dinner.

This morning we had a tour of Budapest. We had a local Hungarian guide, who told us that the Hungarian pronunciation is Budapesht. The city comprises two formerly separate cities, Buda and Pest, separated by the Danube River. Buda is the older city, high on a hill, while the newer Pest is on lower ground across the river.

Fisherman's Bastion, Budapest
Fisherman’s Bastion, Budapest
Ceramic tile roof on Matthias Church, Budapest
Ceramic tile roof on Matthias Church, Budapest
Portion of Heroes' Square, Budapest
Portion of Heroes’ Square, Budapest

Hungary is famous for its paprika. The capsicum pepper plant used to make this popular seasoning was introduced to Hungary by the Turks in the 16th century. The spice’s pungency ranges from sweet to very hot. The brighter red the paprika, the hotter the spice. We made sure that the tins we bought to bring home were labeled “mild.”

Peppers used to make paprika
Peppers used to make paprika

Three Things Thursday

I’m particularly excited about this week’s Three Things Thursday, the purpose of which is to “share three things from the previous week that made you smile or laugh or appreciate the awesome of your life.”


A Walk on the Beach

This week I had the opportunity to spend a few days at Ocean Shores, a city on Washington State’s northern Pacific Coast. I love going to a place where I can watch the waves roll in. It comforts me to know that, no matter what happens anywhere else, the waves will continue to roll in, always.

1. Water on My Toes

We don’t swim in the ocean up here. The water is much too cold. But it’s not a true trip to the beach unless I get to feel the surf wash over my toes:

wave rolling in
wave rolling in

The brochure in the hotel warns that, if we do wade into the ocean, we should not let the water get above our knees. The word riptide appears in the same paragraph. But enough cold water to just wash over my toes is sublime.

2. Razor Clams

Ocean Shores calls itself the razor clam capital of the Northwest:

razor clar
razor clam

In fact, the city hosts an annual Razor Clam Festival. Razor clams are much different than the more oval clams you’re probably used to. They are longer, and fry up well. They are much chewier than the smaller clams. But, like smaller varieties of clams, they cook up into a delicious chowder. Be sure to look for New England, or Boston, clam chowder, which is white and made with cream. Don’t be fooled by Manhattan clam chowder, which is made with a tomato base and is therefore red. It’s nowhere near as good as the white kind.

3. Nature’s Cycle of Life

There’s nowhere like a beach to get in touch with the natural cycle of life. Shells—crabs, clams, sand dollars—that wash up on shore remind us that organisms live out their lives in their native habitat and then disintegrate to nourish the land. This week, for the first time, I saw a dead sea otter on the beach:

dead sea otter on beach
dead sea otter on beach

He had apparently washed up at high tide, because he was way above the water line when I saw him.

I saw him again the next day, and he was covered with a thin coating of mud, as if high tide had washed over him and then retreated. There were only a few flies on him, probably because he was so well coated, but eventually he, too, will dissolve back into nature.

Synchronicity: Road Trip and a List

Definition of SYNCHRONICITY:

2: the coincidental occurrence of events and especially psychic events (as similar thoughts in widely separated persons or a mental image of an unexpected event before it happens) that seem related but are not explained by conventional mechanisms of causality —used especially in the psychology of C. G. Jung

Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary

If this definition is too “woo-woo” for you, just think of synchronicity as a meaningful coincidence that allows us to think of two seemingly unrelated objects, concepts, or events in conjunction with each other. Any writer will tell you that putting two things together in this way is a valuable source of creative insight.

Which leads me to today’s post. Recently this article, According To Science, This Is The Perfect And Best Road Trip You Can Possibly Take, came up on Facebook. I didn’t think much of it until, shortly thereafter, this WordPress Daily Prompt, The Satisfaction of a List, landed in my inbox.

Here’s the map from the road trip article:

road trip map

Discovery News worked with Randy Olson, a doctoral student at Michigan State University, to plan a trip that visits landmarks on all of the 48 contiguous states in the U.S. A computer algorithm plotted a route that allows participants to jump on anywhere and continue to follow the loop until they arrive back at their starting point.

This road trip map appealed to me because traveling is one of the things my husband and I hope to do a lot of now, in the early years of our retirement.

My first reaction to this map is that it omits the entire western side of Washington State, which happens to be where I live. And while the Hanford nuclear dump site in eastern Washington might be interesting, it is hardly the best landmark in the state. It looks as if the computer algorithm chose Hanford simply because it needed something from Washington to include that wouldn’t go too far off the path it wanted to beat.

If you undertake this trip, I suggest you go a bit further west in Washington to see these sites, which I think greatly outrank Hanford in terms of sight-seeing status:

Those are my additions to the list. As for the map’s list, I use underlining to indicate sites I’ve already visited and red text to indicate places that are on my bucket list of sites in the U.S. that I hope to visit before my traveling days are over.

Here is the list of the landmarks you’d stop at in each state on this road trip:

  1. Grand Canyon, AZ
  2. Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
  3. Craters of the Moon National Monument, ID
  4. Yellowstone National Park, WY
  5. Pikes Peak, CO
  6. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
  7. The Alamo, TX
  8. The Platt Historic District, OK
  9. Toltec Mounds, AR
  10. Elvis Presley’s Graceland, TN
  11. Vicksburg National Military Park, MS
  12. French Quarter, New Orleans, LA
  13. USS Alabama, AL
  14. Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL
  15. Okefenokee Swamp Park, GA
  16. Fort Sumter National Monument, SC
  17. Lost World Caverns, WV
  18. Wright Brothers National Memorial Visitor Center, NC
  19. Mount Vernon, VA
  20. White House, Washington, DC
  21. Colonial Annapolis Historic District, MD
  22. New Castle Historic District, Delaware
  23. Cape May Historic District, NJ
  24. Liberty Bell, PA
  25. Statue of Liberty, NY
  26. The Mark Twain House & Museum, CT
  27. The Breakers, RI
  28. USS Constitution, MA
  29. Acadia National Park, ME
  30. Mount Washington Hotel, NH
  31. Shelburne Farms, VT
  32. Fox Theater, Detroit, MI
  33. Spring Grove Cemetery, OH
  34. Mammoth Cave National Park, KY
  35. West Baden Springs Hotel, IN
  36. Abraham Lincoln’s Home, IL
  37. Gateway Arch, MO
  38. C. W. Parker Carousel Museum, KS
  39. Terrace Hill Governor’s Mansion, IA
  40. Taliesin, WI
  41. Fort Snelling, MN
  42. Ashfall Fossil Bed, NE
  43. Mount Rushmore, SD
  44. Fort Union Trading Post, ND
  45. Glacier National Park, MT
  46. Hanford Site, WA
  47. Columbia River Highway, OR
  48. San Francisco Cable Cars, CA
  49. San Andreas Fault, CA
  50. Hoover Dam, NV

How about you? How many of these places have you already been to? What suggestions do you have for additional stops in specific states? Give us the benefit of your home-state experience in the comments.

At Home: My Two-Year Anniversary in Tacoma

Today I celebrate two years of living in Tacoma. I actually arrived in Tacoma on April 9, 2013, then stayed in a motel overnight before moving into my new home on April 10.

We had been visiting Tacoma for a week each year for several years before deciding to move here. I therefore knew a little about getting around, but not very much. I knew only one route to my new home from the motel where I stayed. (We’d been staying there regularly for many years.) I have since discovered a few alternate routes to my house, including one that cuts about 15 minutes off that route I drove on my first day as a resident here.

After two years, I finally feel that I’m beginning to know my general way around. I still use Google Maps a lot, but now when people say, “That store is on Hosmer Street” or “We’re on Steele Street,” I have a general idea of where to head. I also no longer fear getting lost and can approach finding somewhere I’ve never gone before as an opportunity to explore new places.

I arrived at my house at 10:00 AM on April 10, 2013, in a torrential downpour. Of course I knew about the frequent rain here—our daughter had been reminding us that we’d have to get used to it—so I wasn’t surprised. After getting my keys, I pulled my car into the attached garage and unloaded the boxes of necessities that I had brought with me from St. Louis. My car could not have held even one more dish or pan.

By the time I had unloaded the boxes—not unpacked them yet, but at least removed them from my car and put them in the appropriate rooms—it was 11:00 AM. I was ready to head out to Target, Costco, and Safeway to purchase necessities I hadn’t been able to bring with me (coffee maker, vacuum cleaner, cleaning supplies, and yes, food). Was I surprised to find that the sky was clear and the sun was shining brightly.

That was the first time I realized that the old adage “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute and it will change” applies here more than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. In the two years I’ve been here I’ve learned a lot about dealing with the weather:

  • Even if it’s raining now, it might not still be raining an hour from now.
  • Even if it’s not raining now, that doesn’t mean it won’t be raining an hour from now (so bring along that umbrella or raincoat).
  • A morning of fog and drizzle (quite common) doesn’t mean that the afternoon won’t be beautifully sunny.
  • The hottest part of the day here isn’t around high noon, as it was in St. Louis, but usually at 3:00 or 4:00 PM.
  • If you expect to live around here, you can’t be skittish about occasionally getting a bit wet. Also, my mother was right when she told me, “You’re not sugar. You won’t melt.”

I do not miss the unbearable heat and humidity of St. Louis summers at all.

But after 40+ years in St. Louis, I do kind of miss the St. Louis Cardinals and still follow them in the standings. Nonetheless, I have adopted the Seattle Mariners as my home MLB team and faithfully follow their ups and downs (so far, unfortunately, mostly downs) and tune in to the games. I’m grateful that the Mariners AAA minor league team, the Rainiers, is headquartered right here in Tacoma. Attending their games is much easier—and much cheaper—than making the trip up to Seattle’s Safeco Field. And I’ve become an enthusiastic football fan here in Seattle Seahawks territory, where everybody is expected to be The Twelfth Man. Like a lot of other people around here, I still wish the Supersonics, the local NBA team, had not moved away and remade itself as the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Our recent five-day trip to Tampa, FL, for the Women’s Final Four college basketball championship tournament made me realize how much I’ve come to think of Tacoma as my home. Two features here that I love the most are the water, with its high and low tides, and Mount Rainier. There’s water aplenty in Tampa, too, but the sun just doesn’t glint off Tampa water the same way it does off the water of our Commencement Bay. And Tampa is just so FLAT. After about four days, I was craving a glimpse of my mountain.

Because our flight back from Tampa didn’t get in until after dark, we couldn’t see the mountains from the plane as we usually can. But I could feel their presence. For air travelers, the local airport represents home, and when we stepped off the plane at Sea-Tac Airport, I felt that’s where I was. I’ve flown into Sea-Tac lots of times over the years, and I was always excited to see my daughter and to be on vacation. But this time, walking through Sea-Tac made me feel grounded, made me feel that I was back where I truly belonged.

It’s great to be back in the Pacific Northwest, where there’s still a chill in the air that requires a light jacket. Goodbye to the 88 degrees F. of Tampa. It was a great place to visit, but I’m glad to be home. In Tacoma, WA.

Championship Game

Related Post:


Notre Dame and UConn faced off in the 2014 championship, so this year was the rematch. Last year UConn won by 19 points.

Spirit was high before the game, with each team’s fans cheering loudly when their band played and when the players came on court to warm up.

Once the game started, Notre Dame jumped out to an early lead:

Notre Dame took an early lead.

But UConn fought back and was up at half time:

UConn was ahead at half time.

The second half was filled with drama. UConn would pull ahead by 10, then Notre Dame would go on a run and cut the lead to 5, but the Huskies players stepped up and built the lead back up to 10.

Finally, though, the game produced the same result as last year, although by a smaller margin. UConn won its third consecutive championship.

A Long Trip Home

As this post goes live, we will be at the airport preparing for the long flight home. From the maps in the airline magazine on the plane, my husband figured that the trip between Seattle and Tampa is probably the second longest flight one can take from one major city in the United States to another. (Seattle-Miami would be a little longer.)

It was an enjoyable quick trip, but we’ll be glad to get back to the Pacific Northwest. A temperature of 88 degrees F. is one reason we left St. Louis. And although there’s a lot of water around Tampa, there are no mountains. And I miss my mountain:

Mount Rainier

Women’s Final Four: Tampa

We are in Tampa, FL, for the Women’s Final Four College Basketball Championship. For the past 15 years or so we have made the Women’s Final Four a vacation trip. We go almost every year, regardless of what teams get through the earlier rounds of the tournament.

UConn Husky
UConn Husky

We are not completely disinterested fans, however. My husband and I both grew up in Connecticut, and although neither of us attended the University of Connecticut, we still root for its teams, particularly the women’s basketball team. Most years we get to see the UConn women at the Final Four. This year they are going for a threepeat: a third consecutive national championship.

But even if the UConn women weren’t here again this year, we’d still have a good time. I love college sports. I love the bands and the mascots and the partisan fans with their signs, costumes, and painted faces.

2014 was a particularly special year because, as we were in Nashville for the Women’s Final Four, the UConn men were winning the men’s championship. The day after the men won it all, the women did the same. The University of Connecticut is the only school that has ever had its men’s and women’s basketball teams win their national championships in the same year, and UConn has done it twice (2004 and 2014).

Notre Dame "Fighting Irish" Leprechaun
Notre Dame “Fighting Irish” Leprechaun

That won’t happen this year, but the women are still in the running for another trophy. Last night’s semifinal games were a mixed bag. The first game featured Notre Dame against South Carolina. The South Carolina women began the season ranked #1. They started out slowly in their game against ND but did manage to catch up. The second half, especially the last 10 minutes of that 20-minute period, was exciting. SC managed to pull ahead by one point near the end and had a good chance to win, but they failed to score with the final seconds ticking away, allowing ND to score a bucket and win by one point.

South Carolina Gamecock
South Carolina Gamecock
Maryland Terrapin
Maryland Terrapin

The second game between UConn and the University of Maryland was quite different. Maryland stayed close for a while, but UConn was up by 11 at halftime. Eventually UConn pulled away. The final score was Maryland 58, UConn 81.

The championship showdown comes tomorrow night. (Those of you who can’t be here can watch on ESPN.)


security guy
Subtle security guy circulating among crowd.

As always, immersing ourselves in the crowd outside the stadium before the gates opened offered lots of interest. A not-very-subtle security guy walked slowly past us, with his earwig and walkie-talkie. Don’t they know that, in 88 degree weather, in a crowd wearing shorts and tank tops, a guy in a suit, even a light-colored one, would stick out? Maybe that’s the point. Maybe his presence was an announcement: “Don’t try anything. We’re watching.”

And in addition to a couple of pairs of ordinary police circulating, I also saw a group of six more intimidating officers march by, 3 x 2. They were more heavily dressed, including their gadget-laden belts and heavy lace-up boots. These were not your ordinary Officer Friendly cops. They weren’t wearing helmets and didn’t have SWAT emblazoned across their backs, but they might as well have. I thought it prudent not to try to photograph them.

It’s not terribly surprising to see such sights at a time when a young man is on trial for bombing the 2013 Boston Marathon.

On a cheerier note, I marvel at the creativity and patience of the creator of this sand sculpture outside the arena:

sand image
Of course there must be sand in Tampa.

Departing from Sea-Tac Airport

During the 40+ years we lived in St. Louis, we became spoiled air travelers. St. Louis was the hub for TWA, which meant that we could get a direct flight from our home airport to just about any other major city in the United States. And back in the truly good old days, we often had our choice of several direct flights and could pick the most convenient time for us.

But when TWA went belly up, American Airlines absorbed it and soon phased out St. Louis as a hub in favor of Chicago and Dallas/Fort Worth. No longer could we get a direct flight to anywhere and instead had to travel to either Chicago or DFW to get a connecting flight to wherever we wanted to go. The number of available flights also dwindled. We usually ended up with no choices, forced to take the one available flight to the new hub and then the one flight to our destination city.

Now that we’ve retired to Tacoma, WA, Sea-Tac Airport has become our new hometown airport. Alaska Airlines has for some time been the major airline headquartered at Sea-Tac and has been increasing its service area. In fact, Alaska initiated a nonstop flight between Sea-Tac and St. Louis just before we left St. Louis.

Recently, Delta Air Lines has begun to compete with Alaska Airlines as the major carrier out of Sea-Tac. This healthy competition is good for consumers in terms of number of destination cities and number of available flights.

But the addition of flights is a drawback in that Sea-Tac does not have the infrastructure to support both the increased number of flights and the increased number of passengers. Where passengers already see this problem is in the horrendously long lines that form at the entrances to the security checkpoints.

And the problems will only get worse. On January 27, 2015, The Seattle Times reported on plans to expand Sea-Tac to accommodate an expected boom of passengers over the next 20 years: Traffic at the airport is expected to grow from last year’s [2014] 37 million passengers to 66 million 20 years from now:

A new International Arrivals Facility planned for 2019 is only the beginning. Also on the drawing board are plans for 35 more airplane gates added to the north and south of the airport’s 81 current gates, and potentially an additional new passenger terminal.

This article reports that Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines are involved in a dispute over “how, or even whether,” the new International Arrivals Facility (IAF) should be funded. The cost of the proposed new facility was recently increased to $608 million.

More recently KING 5, Seattle’s NBC affiliate station, reported on March 5, 2015, about a public meeting at which Sea-Tac International Airport and Port of Seattle officials presented expansion plans:

Sea-Tac projects up to 66 million passengers by 2034 and indicates it needs to add gates, a new international terminal and reconfigure other infrastructure around the property.

There will be several more public meetings in upcoming months to gather public input on the expansion plans.

In the meantime, anyone flying out of Sea-Tac Airport should plan to allow plenty of time for getting through the screening process. When we arrived at about 6:45 for a recent early-morning flight, the line was not too long, but later in the day the line can snake out of sight down the concourse. Plan to arrive at least two hours before your scheduled departure time, or even earlier if you’re flying out during the peak mid-day hours.