After a home stay in Kansas City of 3 months we have our Casita, “Rigel” again in tow. This has been the longest uninterrupted period at home since our retirements in May of 2015. Even Christine was itching to get back to traveling. In 2018 we were gone over 23 weeks, including a 13 week stretch overseas. 2017 included a 12 week journey to Alaska and the Yukon. It is likely that future trips will not be quite so long as we have found them to be taxing on us and the “little people” who desperately miss their grandma.
Our morning departure was not without incident. When I pressed the start button on our SUV instead of the throaty roar of a powerful V6, all I got was a series of anemic clicks. Dead battery. In the 45 minutes that followed I bought a replacement battery at Costco, installed it and all was again right with the world. The incident annoyed me but Christine saw it differently. “Boy was that a piece of good luck! It could have died while we were traveling!” Of course, she was right.
Our time spent at home was used well. Time with the kids, time at the gym… yard work, reading, Thanksgiving, the annual family birthday dinner (a private room at Pierpont’s in Kansas City’s Union Station). I dedicated many days to assembling and editing my posts from our 13 weeks abroad into a coffee table book. 202 glossy pages that are about 40% photographs and 60% narrative. The hard bound book was printed by a firm in the Netherlands, and the final product exceeding every possible expectation that I held. Copies were given as gifts to each of our children, Christine’s father, and my mother who never fails to read and comment upon my “Thoughts”.
Christmas morning was spent with our children (and grands) after which our daughters and their 7 little ones flew to Europe for 12 days in England and France (part of which they each spent with their French host families with whom they lived for a year as high school exchange students). The daughters and their children (with the exception of 1 year old Lennon) speak fluent French. Of course there was New Year’s Eve (see previous post!).
Oh yes, there was one more “event”. We drove to Breckenridge Colorado and shared time with our dear friend Kris Ashton who we first met walking across Spain in 2013. On October 5th, Christine’s 64th birthday, we bought 3 acres near Alma Colorado, 25 minutes south of Breckenridge. We have since been working on designing the vacation home which we hope to build in 2020.
It’s cold here where we are overnighting in Oklahoma at Grand Lake of the Cherokees. We are heading southwest through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California and then back to Kansas City. A “wintery mix” is predicted for this region on Friday and we would like to not experience it. Our original plan had been to frequent the wonderful National Parks, Monuments, National Forests, COE and BLM sites we encounter along the way. Unfortunately, Washington has other ideas. I will leave it at that in keeping with my efforts to not politicize these posts.
2.1 miles, precisely. 2.1 miles is the measure of my near daily morning drive to the gym. It is a pleasant drive through an upscale neighborhood, past parks, 2 country clubs, and along the road that separates Missouri from Kansas. Many of the homes along the way are imposing structures of the early 20th Century, planted upon estate like grounds. Any one of them would cause a traveler to stop and take notice, but since they are many, their commanding presence is diluted by the sheer number that give them the illusion of commonplace. I have long ago ceased to take notice, the habit of the drive becoming a time for my thoughts to wander without direction.
Some time ago I was briefly shaken from my lassitude by an awareness of the unfamiliar. At the intersection of Shawnee Mission Parkway and State Line road is an office building that dates to the 1960’s. In the last few years it has undergone a renovation that preserved aspects of its mid-20th Century modernism, yet presented the fresh face of glass and metal that are favored today. The casual observer would presume the building at 1900 Shawnee Mission Parkway to house professional offices and in this one would be correct. However, it is also the unlikely location for an event venue and “The Restaurant at 1900”. My curiosity was briefly piqued but at the end of 2.1 miles my thoughts had traveled elsewhere.
3 weeks ago my eye again caught the understated marque sign that announced “The Restaurant at 1900”. I was reminded that mention of the restaurant had occurred in casual conversations with friends and that it was developing a favorable word of mouth reputation. Arriving at home I searched online for the establishment. The website announced a special New Years Eve fixed price dinner. 5 courses with wine pairings. There was no information on the course selections but the reservation link indicated that only a few seatings remained open. In spite of the princely sum quoted and that payment was required in full upon making the reservation, I selected an 8:15 p.m. table for two.
It had been years since we planned an evening out for New Year’s Eve. That and a Christmas that did not include any big ticket items provided me with ample justification. Christine was thrilled.
We dressed for the occasion, a rarity for me in post-retirement. No jeans. I still draw the line at wearing a tie. Black slacks, a grey Irish merino wool turtleneck, plaid Irish wool sport coat with full length green Austrian “loden” overcoat worked well. Christine found me handsomely dignified with my ensemble accentuated by my silver white hair. For Christine, dressing well is effortless. Her pewter hair cascades elegantly across her shoulders ending like a waterfall’s crash at her waist. It is thick to the point that strangers often find themselves compelled to reach out and touch it. At times this can be a bit unnerving for her and them.
The doors to the restaurant were manned by tuxedoed staff, and a few more tuxedos were to be seen among the restaurant patrons. Ladies in their evening gowns were everywhere yet the atmosphere remained relaxed. I was silently giving thanks that I had resisted the urge to wear blue jeans.
We adjourned to the bar while waiting for our table. I had the restaurant’s signature Manhattan which alone will cause me to return in the near future. Christine enjoyed an excellent vodka Martini, served “dirty” (a splash of olive juice) as she prefers.
The readiness of our table timed well with the conclusion of our drinks. We were seated and made introductions with our server, Rachel. The mark of an experienced professional server is the intuition to quickly know the “temperature” of the guests… warm and willing to banter, or cool and more reserved. We are definitely of the warmer variety and it took Rachel less than 30 seconds to figure that out. Fun, personable, yet never shirking in her primary duty to present dinner as an event to be savored. The first order of business was to make our selections for a dinner that would extend for 2 1/2 hours:
1st Course: We each optioned for the excellent Pheasant Minestrone, though I was sorely tempted to select the Wild Mushroom, Apple, and Scotch Whisky Consommé.
2nd Course: Christine savored the Russian Salad while I lingered lovingly upon the Sea Scallop, Blood Orange, and Watercress Salad.
3rd Course: Sunchoke Rissoto with Alba White Truffles… It just kept getting better and better!
4th Course: We were both called to the Pan Seared Tenderloin of Beef and Foie Gras. Perfectly prepared, perfectly presented, but I was beneficiary some of Christine’s Foie Gras… my good fortune that she does not usually eat liver in any form.
5th Course: Without hesitation we both chose the Chocolate Ganache Layer Cake, and there were no regrets!!
With each course was a paired wine as selected by Master Sommelier Doug Frost. Typically, I reject the conventions of “this wine with this dish…”, preferring to drink a wine that I like be it red or white regardless of the meal. Mr. Frost may have changed my thinking on this. I found his wine selections marshaled with my food choices to be such that the whole was greater than the sum of the parts.
We found that the straightforward elegance of The Restaurant at 1900 was conducive to reflective and relaxed conversation. Mercifully we were able to speak across the table and be understood without raising our voices… a rarity while dining these days. I enjoyed one slight distraction. I was seated at an angle that permitted me a glimpse inside the kitchen during the moments that staff entered and exited. I was reminded of the experience of being aboard a luxury cruise ship. There is a stark contrast between the artistic decor of the passenger areas and the spotlessly clean yet sterile working areas within the ship. I was amused to watch the organized chaos of the staff within the kitchen area magically transform into slow ballet like precision as each crossed the threshold into the dining room.
It goes without saying that we will return to The Restaurant at 1900. Our thanks to Chef Linda Duerr, the faceless staff working tirelessly in the kitchen, to our server Rachel, hostess Angela, the other servers and bartenders and to Keith Goldman who manages this wonderful venue. You all provided us with an evening to remember and an intense desire to return for dinner and another exceptional Manhattan!
Of course for us the evening was about much more than dining. We watched as 2018 passed into the promise of 2019. With each course we indulged in one more reflection upon how we might be better parents, grandparents, spouses, friends… No regrets. Life is a process and not a destination. May your Journey through the New Year be full of Fun while you Do Good and Care For Yourself for the sake of those who love you.
Peace Everyone. Pete
PS: Among the “mysteries” Christine and I contemplated were the dynamics of family; hers, mine, and ours. There is much source material in those thoughts that we exchanged, but not to be shared here or now.
We are fresh off from spending 2 wonderful nights “camped” at the home of dear friends Liz and Frank near Squam Lake in New Hampshire. Our friendship has its roots in the Camino and we count friendships such as theirs as another unexpected gift of that pilgrimage. We look forward to extending hospitality to them at our home in the near future.
We never seemed to lack for conversation. The topics mirrored the stage of life we share, children, grandchildren, retirement… But most of all we embraced the joys of our good marriages, wonder at the seemingly insignificant moments in our lives that became life defining, and gratitude. Our time spent with good people like Liz and Frank, Tom and Nanci (earlier in this trip), and past times with many of you who are reading these words is spiritual to me. Friendship is a celebration of the best that people have to offer one another.
Barring the unforeseen, we will be heading into Pennsylvania for two nights shared with a dear friend from high school, Maxine and her husband Chip… then on to a couple of nights with my Mother in Illinois as the last stop on one of the best trips of the last 3 years.
It is 5 a.m. the morning of the 19th. For much of this trip this has been the default time for writing my “Thoughts”. Christine remains asleep a few feet from me while I am treated to the sight of night slowly yielding to day. I often go to sleep with no intention of writing, but I awake, sometimes long before 5, and find that my “Thoughts” have been composed somewhere in the recesses of my subconscious. I get up, pull out my iPad and begin to type. It works, but how?… it’s a mystery.
Yesterday, as we left Trois-Pistoles Quebec my eye was drawn to the steeple that commanded a view above the village. There is not much to see in Trois-Pistoles but Trip Adviser mentioned a Basque cultural center, a Basque cheese “Fromagerie”, a small micro-brewery, and the church. The micro-brewery was closed when we arrived late on the 17th as was the cultural center. We are watching our weight so no cheese. The church held the number one spot for recommended things to see and do in Trois-Pistoles.
As an aside, there is a lingering Basque influence in this area that predates the 16th Century arrival of Jacques Cartier. Basque whalers traveled seasonally to these waters in hunt for the leviathans.
As a second aside, “Trois-Pistoles” is the name of a remarkably strong and complex beer crafted by the Canadian brewer, Unibroue… but not in Trois-Pistoles. For you aficionados it is worth seeking out on the shelves of discerning liquor stores and taverns in the States.
Now, about that church. Église Notre-Dame-des-Neiges was completed in 1887. It is truly monumental, far out of scale for the small town in which it is situated. It appeared to be closed, but we checked the doors and found that one side-door was unlocked. In my youth churches were always unlocked as the needs of those seeking a place for prayer were not constrained to banking hours. Perhaps Trois-Pistoles lacks the usual small population of miscreants who, if given the opportunity, deface and steal from houses of worship. Perhaps we were the coincidental beneficiaries of someone’s inadvertent omission… but as a good man in Puerto Rico told us earlier this year, “In life there are no coincidences”.
Upon entering the church we were treated to the most spectacular old world interior of any church that we have seen in North America. The long rows of pews appeared each individually carved. They gleamed mirror-like with flawless varnished surfaces. The towering pillars were hand painted with a faux marble finish and supported the lofty ceiling vault and dome. Remarkable!
While the overall impression was breathtaking, I found my eye drawn to the details of the church… the statue of Christ crucified,
The ornate confessional booths,
The Baptismal Font that had no doubt greeted thousands into the “fold”, and the galleries and pipe organ,
The Alter and Canopy,
The spiral stairs to the lectern used in former days to deliver the Gospel and homily to the congregants,
And then there was the very curious small pew standing alone in the back of the church. My first impression was that it was reserved for sinners ostracized but not excommunicated for some spiritual failing. There was a sign written in French on the pew. With the aid of Google Translate we learned the truth:
This was the bench of the Vire-chien, or “dog-guard”. It was occupied by the Church Constable whose tasks consisted in maintaining order in the church, opening or closing the doors during events such as weddings and funerals, regulating the heat as needed, and preventing dogs from entering the church. Tradition held that dogs entering a church were the harbinger of misfortune in the village. The Vire-chien wore a tricorned hat with a gilded silver-colored ribbon. The hat matched his long frock coat, which was of black wool. The costume was abandoned in the twentieth century, but perhaps the position of Vire-chien remains to this day.
Finally, there were the ubiquitous votive candles, a standard feature in most Catholic churches. These were particularly beautiful and well executed under the sympathetic gaze of the Virgin Mary.
I like churches for what they say about the people of a community. My thoughts about organized religion have become “complicated” over the years and don’t warrant airing here. Nevertheless I was gifted as a child with traditions of contemplation that still resonate with me. One of those is the lighting of a candle. The solitary flame brings a somber focus to my thoughts. In the course of the last few months a number of friends have exited from this life. A few days ago I paid homage to a remarkable woman who died 25 years ago. I recall the memories of those dear to me, now long passed. My wife and I have the blessing of being together in good health, being companions in travel, friends and lovers in life. So much to put upon the shoulders of that single flame…
After overnight camping near Baie Comeau we returned to Godbout for our 11 a.m. ferry crossing to Matane on the south shore of the St. Lawrence.
This is at least the 12th time that we have transported our car and trailer aboard a ferry. Every time feels like a bit of an adventure as we slowly drive across noisy metal ramps, occasionally scraping the hitch, and descend steeply into the bowels of the vessel.
On this occasion the ferry was one of the huge ocean capable varieties. We were the first cargo on and the first cargo off. As we waited to load we watched a seemingly endless parade of vehicles that had originated on the south shore depart the ship. There were motorcycles, transports, RV’’s, and even a huge 40+ wheel semi bearing a construction crane.
The crossing took a little over 2 hours but the ship featured unexpected comforts that were more akin to those found on some cruise ships. There were luxurious recliners, a first rate cafeteria, and a topside promenade that was abandoned to the cold damp weather.
I spotted a couple of Minke Whales, and there was even a report of a huge Blue Whale sited about 2 miles ahead of the ship.
Once on shore we began making our way to our overnight destination, the municipal campground at Trois-Pistoles. Along the way we beheld a large lighthouse situated on the Pointe-au-Pere promontory and detoured to have a look. The unusual lighthouse was built in 1909 and at 108 feet tall it is the second tallest in Canada. It features a large 3rd order Fresnel beacon that is visible for 22 nautical miles. I would have taken the tour to the top but the lack of time and the dense approaching fog bank dissuaded me.
However, there was a submarine to tour!
The Oberon class submarine, Onondaga (S73) was launched in 1965, commissioned in 1967, and served in the Canadian Navy for 33 year. It was retired from service in 2000. It is the only sub open for tour in Canada.
The vessel is 295 feet long, displaces 2, 400 tons, and its 2 x 3,000 horsepower electric motors could propel her at a speed of 12 knots (14mph) on the surface and 17 knots (20mph) submerged. Her batteries allowed her to cruise submerged for 3 days at a time and only required 3 hours to be fully recharged by the two huge diesel generators. She was capable of safely diving to 1000 feet. In the course of her lengthy career she traveled over half a million miles.
With the crossing of the St. Lawrence the focus of our travel has shifted to a homeward journey.
Good fortune and fine weather allowed us a visit to the spectacular Monoliths on the Mingan Archipelago islands.
The fog of the previous day gave way to partly sunny skies and attracted additions to the 8 of us who had signed up for the 4 hour tour the previous day.
The Mingan Archipelago began forming millions of years ago where the 1 billion year old rock of the Canadian Shield met the 500 million year old limestone sediment of an ancient sea. Waters cascading off of the Shield created fissures and cracks in the limestone. 20,000 years ago marked the beginning of the last Ice Age. A crust of ice nearly 2 miles thick formed over this region, the weight of the ice pressed the land downward many hundreds of feet. 10,000 years ago as the ice melted away the land rapidly rebounded and was subjected to additional erosion from the glacial runoff. The land continues to rebound even today at the rate of 3 millimeters (about 1/10th of an inch) per year. Thus wind and water erosion continue the slow process of carving these unique Monoliths which once were under 250 feet of water.
The Archipelago consists of a group of 40 islands that are now a protected environment within the Mingan Archipelago National Park Reserve of Canada. The National Park Reserve itself extends over 125 miles along the north coast of the St. Lawrence and includes over 2,000 islands.
Our tour of two of the Mingan islands featured a National Park docent, unfortunately we soon learned that she “docent” speak English!! Christine and I were the only passengers who were not either Francophones or bilingual. We satisfied ourselves with proceeding solo along the well marked paths and boardwalks of the islands.
Rustic camping is allowed along with other recreational activities, but access is only by water and carefully regulated to protect the environment.
We were rewarded with the wonderful experience of viewing and examining these stunning natural wonders unencumbered by the presence of other milling spectators. We were soon joined by a Camille and Janice, a very nice couple from near Ottawa who could understand the (very lengthy) explanations of the naturalist, but preferred the solace we were enjoying.
Our return to Havre-Saint-Pierre included a sighting of a Minke Whale. Unfortunately I was not quick enough with the camera.
Tomorrow we drive 350 miles back to Godbout where we will overnight in the ferry parking lot to await our 11 am Monday departure for the south shore of the St. Lawrence Seaway. The passage will take about 2 1/2 hours and often features views of migrating whales.
We have arrived at Havre-Saint-Pierre which is the end of our road, but Canada 138 continues east for at least another 150 kilometers. The 250km (about 150 miles) we traveled yesterday was both beautiful and remote. With the exception of a few small seashore villages there were no signs of habitation. A sign warned us early on that there were no gas stations for 110km.
We enjoyed an opportunity for a brief hike to take in views of one of the many rivers cascading from down from the north on to the St. Lawrence.
The Municipality of Rivière-au-Tonnerre is comprised of the town itself and 3 small neighboring villages. The total population for the 244 square miles of this political subdivision is 307 people, down 21% from 10 years ago. There are no gas stations, no restaurants, no cell service, and we saw only one small convenience store. Folks are almost exclusively employed in fishing to supply crabs to a local processing factory. However, there is a remarkable church. Built in 1903, L’Eglise Saint-Hippolite is surprisingly large and constructed entirely of wood. It is like no church that we have ever seen before. We had the good fortune to be given a tour by its caretaker who only spoke French. Christine hung on linguistically for all she was worth as he gestured here and there about the church, speaking with obvious pride in rapid-fire French.
We have also entered a region where First Nation people predominated. Signs are now printed in both French and the local indigenous language. Political authority in many places is here vested with the local First Nation Tribe.
Ordinarily Havre-Saint-Pierre would be an oasis for tourism, however the season has ended. We arrived at the relatively large seaside municipal campground (86 sites) only to find that the electricity is off, the bathrooms are locked up, and all of the seasonal tenants are long gone. The gate has been left open for the few hearty souls like us who still wander this area. The camping is now free and fortunately the water is still on and the trailer sewage dump appears to still operate. We are the only camper visible in either direction.
The fog along the coast has been relentless. The inland air is clear as crystal, but on the shore it is as if the crystal has been frosted opaque. Moreover, the dampness really drives the cold inside of you. The temperature dropped to 40 degrees in the night and as we are now “boondocking” (only using our self contained propane and battery power) we embrace a heightened sense of adventure.
We came here in hopes of visiting the Mingo Archipelago National Reserve. It is renowned for its flora, fauna, and the remarkable stone monoliths that abound along its shores. Unfortunately, it can only be reached by water. Fortunately, the daily boat is still operating. Ordinarily the vessel would carry dozens of people to the reserve, but we will be joined tomorrow by only 6 other passengers. We are keeping our fingers crossed for clear skies and most of all, no fog.
The following appeared in my archive from two years ago today as we traveled New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. It is worth sharing once again.
September 14, 2016:
Most of the time my postings focus on the things that we see and the things that we do. Last night I received a heartfelt and personal email from a staff person at 5 Islands Provincial Park. I will only say that it was most touching for both Christine and me. It reminded me that there is the third dimension to our travels, the people whose lives we touch and who touch ours. These encounters do not often meaningfully lend themselves to pictures or description. However, in replying to her I offer a window into this third dimension of our experiences. I share my reply with you.
Dear ——. Our visit to your park has presented us with a series of memorably, and in some cases extraordinary experiences.
In the morning I took in the Red Head Trail, enjoying a brief interlude with a couple from Germany, taking advantage of a tart green apple that was just within my reach, and being overwhelmed by the scarlet expanse of the cliffs extending before my eyes.
Christine and I visited the Dutchman Cheese Farm where we stopped to watch 3 calves play like children in a schoolyard. After sampling an array of cheeses and chatting with the proprietor (who had just gotten off the phone with her mother in Holland), we left with a box of cheeses that may not make it back to Kansas City.
We lunched on fish and chips at Diane’s down the road, making the acquaintance of a most pleasant waitress.
In the afternoon we walked along the base of the towering red cliffs, leaving footprints on the sea floor that in a few short hours would be erased by 40 feet of incoming tide. There we met a couple from Quebec and their Great Dane who did not seem so taken with the magnificence we all appreciated.
From the elevation of our campsite we watched the return of the tide and the departure of the sun. With no campfire, we found our focus on the stars and a bright near-full moon. I casually remarked to Chris that it had been quite some time since we had seen a shooting star. Not two seconds later the sky was slashed before our eyes by the bright trail of a streaking meteor! First we laughed and then we marveled at the joke that Nature had played upon us.
Like I said, this was an extraordinary day… but little did I know that the best was yet to come. It arrived in the form of a kind and thoughtful message from you. Thank you so very much for sharing the joy of a moment when life paths briefly intersected, merged, and then proceeded over the horizon of each other’s experience.
In life may you always have fun, do good, and be safe for the sake of those who love you. Oh, and also Live Long and Prosper!
Late last February I launched my new website and began publishing my “Thoughts”. Most of the posts have been written while we have been on the road, taking the form of a travelogue with photographs and occasional personal reflections. I knew there were some dedicated followers and I held some hope that the audience might grow. However, what has occurred has exceeded any expectation.
My website provides me with a continuously updated tally of the number of visitors, and a record of the the countries that they are logging in from. I can’t see who is visiting, but I can see where they are visiting from.
As of today 20,000 visitors from 61 countries have read my “Thoughts”. I know that professional bloggers would scoff at these numbers, but I am grateful for the time that each of you give to us.
We revel not only in the exploration of places, but in the forging of friendships and the discovery of new dimensions to our own relationship. For me this is a labor of love. Thank you for being a part of it.
Today we traveled from Baie Comeau to Sept-Iles on the north shore of the St. Lawrence. En route we stopped at the ferry terminal at Godbout and made a reservation for a Monday crossing to Matane on the south shore.
This is the farthest east ferry crossing available to us. The passage will take about 2 hours and the cost to transport us, vehicle and trailer is about $200.00. Matane is about 175 miles northeast of Edmundston, New Brunswick. It is at Edmundston that we will cross back into the United States at the northernmost tip of Maine. From there we will begin our slow return south and west to Kansas City.
Between today and Monday we will spend Thursday night camping in Sept-Iles and then travel on to Havre-Saint-Pierre where we will camp for two nights before returning to the ferry dock at Godbout.
The last few days along the north shore of the Saint Lawrence have been a spectacular mix of dense north woods, rolling hills, stark rock promontories and seaside vistas. We are given to understand that the best is yet to come. We look forward to sharing it with all of you.
Peace Everyone. Pete
PS: This area is a mecca for the generation of hydroelectric power. We stopped to view the dam at the Sainte-Marguerite River. Before the 1980’s traffic crossed the river on a narrow roadway atop the dam. A major bridge was constructed to span the river canyon. On October 30, 1984 tragedy struck. As a crew was laying the final pavement on the bridge deck the substructure failed and the bridge collapsed into the rushing waters 200 feet below. 6 workers lost their lives.
PS. We have been uncommonly fortunate to have had cell service and WiFi to publish these posts. The areas that we are traveling are becoming increasingly remote. With that in mind gaps may be coming in my narratives.