I’m very excited that my piece “Hiking with Stonewall” has been published in the Sonderers Magazine. Check it out here: https://sonderers.com/spring-nature/hiking-with-stonewall
It was our last day of the trip and last day of 2016!
We started the day with a trip to Portobello road to check out the Saturday market! What a blast we had. It’s fun to wander through and find all sorts of amazing artifacts of the past, from old maps of English counties, beautifully designed metal stamps to Alice in Wonderland illustrated cigarette cards. One stall sold old school boxing gloves and china, while others sold beautiful purses. We even saw some original Banksys that had been covered in plexi-glass, presumably to prevent people from chiseling them off the wall and selling it for millions at auction houses. Around the market, we saw at least two “Unofficial Banksy shops,” which were selling t-shirts and photos of his work. For all we know they could be the real deal or not. We wandered the full length of the market, watching the goods range from antiques to clothing.We stopped for lunch and had a tasty platter of cheese and tea, a nice break from our wanderings.
Then it was off for a Spy and Spycatchers walking tour with London Walks. I’ve talked about them previously. They are a walking tour company that has 40+ walks covering lots of topics in London, from Jack the Ripper, Harry Potter, to Ghost stories, etc. Each tour is immensely satisfying and reasonably priced. But prepare to walk! We try to do one tour with them each time we are in London. This time, we were interested in spy history and literature. The walk centered around the West End where real life spy history and spy fiction intertwined at times. We learned that one of the pivotal scenes were filmed for John LeCarre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, with Alec Guinness, was also the place of a pipe shop that Russian agents went to to buy one of the English traitors his pipes and tobaccos after he defected.
We learned the locations of various MI5 and MI6 buildings in the area. Every time they moved, the building was razed completely, presumably, to check for any bugs or any files that may have been mislaid. These buildings would be forgotten on maps but everyone knew where they were any way. We did learn about how an actor named M.E. Clifton James was asked to impersonate Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery as part of British intelligence deception plan. That’s simply marvelous. David Niven left Hollywood to enlist and worked in British intelligence as well!
A delightful tour as always.
That evening we spent at our usual New Year’s Haunt of Sarastro, a Turkish restaurant that is an aesthetic combination of harem and opera house. We wore masks, played with poppers, and drank champagne as we rang out the old year and our trip!
That’s all for now! Next week, I’ll talk about our short trip to Brinsom, Minnesota to go dogsledding!
On our final day in Southern Illinois, we opted to go ziplining in the Shawnee Forest in the morning. We saw a fridge magnet at our B&B and decided to try it out. I had tried ziplining once or twice. At my old job, they’d have a block party for the students, faculty and staff twice a year. A few times, they hired a company that would set up a zipline in the middle of the street in downtown Chicago. Of course, I had to do it. It was always terrifying stepping off the platform to zipline down the street but it was fun.
The ziplining place was not very far away from where we were staying. It was a bit further in the forest; the roads turned from pavement to gravel very quickly. It was astonishingly beautiful at the site. It was a perfect hot day.
We loved it. We had tour fantastic guides who led us through the course. Safety was always their number one priority; we always had two clasps to wires to keep us from falling even when we were just standing on the platform. The guides were funny and knowledgeable too. There were 7 courses where the largest was over 1000 feet! I’ll admit that I was super nervous on the first two lines (the shorter ones). But then when I did the third one, which was over 300 feet, I had enough time to actually relax and enjoy the ride. Needless to say, I was hooked. That feeling of rushing through the air was astonishing. The last line was the longest and it had a radar gun to determine your speed. My husband and I tied at 42 mph. What a rush! I can’t wait to do it again!
Then we had a long drive back home to Chicago. We stopped at a Steak & Shake on the way, which was nice. I’ve only been three or four times. I try to avoid fast food places as a rule but that’s a bit hard on road trips. We ordered a birthday cake shake which wasn’t bad but the Oreo Cheesecake place from Sonic was better. On the way home, we briefly stopped at Lincoln Log Cabin Historic State Park. It’s not exactly well marked from the highway. Google was yet again on “Adventure Mode” so we were on some gravel roads frequented by golf carts.
The park was pretty neat. Unfortunately, we got there after it closed but so the visitor center was not open. Alas. We could wander the grounds and see this cabin and the farm. There were real animals housed in the farm including sheep and a cow. At one point when I was focused on the disgruntled cow, my husband called out to me. I turned around and on the path was a black snake making his way to the cabin behind me. With a healthy distance between us, I was fascinated by the snake. We watched as the snake crossed the sidewalk, got to the cabin wall and found a little hole inside. (The cabin looks closed off so I think it’s a good place for the snake).
Near the park was a cemetery where Lincoln’s father and stepmother, Thomas and Susan Lincoln, were buried. We made our respects, leaving a penny each.
The rest of the trip home was most uneventful despite watching a thunderstorm erupt around us at one point.
What a wonderful trip!
That’s all for now!
It was the day to drive to Mammoth Caves. A glorious day. I had been keen to go to Mammoth Caves for several years. We had done a road trip to Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama. We opted to go to the lesser known Cathedral Caverns State Park in Alabama, which was super cool. But Mammoth was the big time. So when my husband originally suggested this trip to Southern Illinois, I was excited about the prospect of visiting Mammoth Cave as a side trip.
It was about a three hour drive, mostly through Kentucky since we were staying about thirty miles from the border. On the way, we were astonished to see the seeming lack of billboards all over Kentucky. There must be a law. Or maybe they just don’t put up many billboards in the part of the state we were in. We had lunch at a Sonic on the way. I had never been to one, only knowing about it from the strange commercials back when I lived in Madison, WI. (There were no Sonics in Wisconsin at the time). It was a little unusual for us; we didn’t realize you needed to stay in the car. The cheeseburger I ordered was okay (I prefer Culver’s better). But the milkshake of Oreo Cheesecake was awesome. And so emblematic of our country’s problem with food. Mmm.
After a few hours, we got to Cave City. We had about an hour before our ticketed tour (I highly recommend getting tickets ahead of time). My coworker had mentioned a most magical place near the Caves: Dinosaur World. So that was our first stop. It is the best tourist trap ever. You pay about $16 and then hang out with these supposedly lifesize dinosaurs. It was so fun to wander a forest with dinosaurs all over (and giant spiders). There’s even a Mammoth grove. On the way, you see this giant T-Rex advertising for it. In the park, you can walk out to it and take photos. It has to be 3-4 floors up. There’s a little museum with a mix of artifacts and plaster casts of artifacts. Nothing like the Field or anything but neat. It was totally worth a side trip.
We then hopped in the car to get to Mammoth Caves in time for our tour. On the way, we were impressed with the amazing amount of tourist traps: Old West Towns, ziplining, horseback riding. This was tourist trap central. We got to Mammoth Cave, picked up our tickets, and made it to our tour just in time. (Seriously don’t be late). I had opted for the “Domes and Dripstones” tour. We boarded buses to get driven to the “New” entrance in the forest. We entered through a door into the dark. Once inside the cave, the temperature dropped to about 50 or so degrees, a relief from the 90 plus outside. It was impressive. We had to travel down about 100 stairs to a giant room.
Our the tour, we learned about George Morrison who concluded that there must have been other entrances to Mammoth Cave. He bought land and used explosives to expand some sinkholes. His team quickly discovered a giant cavern and then a section of the cave that was dubbed “Frozen Niagara.” He started leading tours down there, trying to take business away from the old Mammoth Cave entrance. He apparently hired people to dress up like troopers and create roadblocks to encourage folks to go his entrance over the other one. They would claim that the old entrance was closed because of cave-ins and other awful things. Apparently, there were the Kentucky Cave Wars where competing caves would sabotage each other (even destroying one another’s caves). There were allegedly some altercations. Eventually, people banded together to end the madness and bought the lands to consolidate it all, the root of the caves becoming a National Park. Pretty sweet. I look forward to reading more about the Cave Wars.
It was an impressive cavern. It was all smoothed naturally; there had been a river flowing through. With the exception of the lights and the benches and the ground, they hadn’t done much to the area. Along the way we saw gigantic boulders that just laid on the floor or at the bottom of chasms, clearly they had fallen from above. Crazy times. The guides turned off the lights at one point so we could experience pure darkness. I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. They tried to get us to not make any noise too but that failed for the most part. They said you could hear your heartbeating. Freaky!
We wandered through the cave to Frozen Niagara. It was an area with many stalagmites and stalactites with some columns. It looked a bit out of a horror film. The stalactites had this weird webbing look to them, made it look organic. Very cool and creepy. The guides told us that part of the reason that Mammoth Cave could be so large was that it was dry. Caves with stalagmites and stalactites eventually will collapse from the weight on the ceiling.
Frozen Niagara at Mammoth Caves
After Mammoth Cave, we decided to spend a bit more time in Cave City. We had a lot of tourist traps to choose from. We decided to check out Kentucky Down Under, which advertised petting a kangaroo. We got there around 4:50 and were told that they had sold their last ticket at 4pm. They closed at 6. Boo urns.
Instead, we ended up in a magical amusement park. We took a turn in Go-Karts, which was not my speed. Then we signed up for an hour horseback riding. I’ve been horseback riding twice before; the last time was a ten minute ride two years ago in Argentina. My horseriding skills are basically non-existent. But it’s fun and worth trying again.
So I’m terrible at leading horses around. My horse was tired and really didn’t want to take the longer path around. (It was the last ride of the day) Despite my best attempts, the horse ended up getting turned around. It was awkward. After some frustrating yet funny shenanigans with the horses in, we eventually got them on the right path. And then we galloped. It was amazing and terrifying at the same time. I don’t have much of a seat so I bobbed up and down, terrified that I would fly off the horse. It was only for a short time but it was amazing. After about thirty seconds, we went back to walking and I got to appreciate the scenery. Kentucky is gorgeous.
After the horseback riding, we decided to fit in some fun on a chair lift and Alpine Sled. There’s something about trips to Kentucky and chairlifts. When we went to Natural Bridge State Resort Park, there was a chair lift you could take to get to the top of the park. It’s a great way to relax, check out the sites, and feel the wind in your hair. The Alpine slide was fun but somehow my sled started to lose speed. For once, I wasn’t touching the brake much. Eek!
What a day in Cave City!
THe ride home turned out to be much more of an adventure than either of us wanted to be. We missed our exit to the next major highway so we let Google recalculate. Well, Google really decided to change the setting to adventure for us. We ended up on seventy-five miles of backroads before we got back to a major highway. At one point, we were on this little road between farms and houses when we saw debris on th way. We avoided hitting it with the tires but it got caught underneath the car. We ended up having to pull over where it was safe. It was stuck. It was a cardboard box with a plastic diesel tank. Thankfully, some nice local folks pulled over and helped us getting it out. After they left, we realized there was a little trail of liquid coming from the car. We had no idea what it was. It didn’t smell like fuel. Since it was a Sunday night of Memorial Day weekend in rural Kentucky, our only real option was to get to the major highway and find a gas station where we could find a mechanic. So we had this sixty mile ride of dread. The car seemed fine. Nothing indicated loss of fuel. But there is nothing like the fear of being broken down in a cell-phone dead zone in rural Kentucky at 9pm at night. Any time the car made any noises (ie. the radio) or we smelled anything funny, we both got very anxious. We did see some Amish buggys at one point with battery powered caution signs on the back of their buggys.
Eventually, we got to the highway and found a gas station. I asked if there was a mechanic available in the area. The people said that they could call one in for sixty bucks. They asked what the problem was, so we explained what happened. They offered to look at the car. So the gas station attendant and his friend checked the car, even tasted the liquid (still dripping, ever dripping). He was about 90% sure it was just air conditioning condensation. He said it could be antifreeze so he said get a gallon of water just in case it was. It was a relief.
We ended up at a Huddle Grill, a seeming knock off of Waffle House. It was strange. There was someone occasionally shrieking behind us. The waffle I ordered was okay. Alas.
We drove the additional 100 miles home and were fine. We were really happy to make it back to our B&B that night!
That’s all for now!
For Memorial Day weekend, we tried a different kind of trip. We booked a B&B in Buscombe, IL, about 30 miles north of the IL border for a weekend of hiking in downstate IL and parts of KY. We wanted to check out Shawnee National Forest. I’ve mentioned before how I grew very fond of hiking at a late age. Hiking wasn’t something I did as a kid, save a trip to Saguaro National Park in Tucson and maybe an occasional school trip. But I learned that despite being a city girl, I do enjoy wandering in the wilderness for short periods of time (I have yet to try camping – that might be trickier for me).
We began our drive in the afternoon. Once we left the city, the highway was lined with farm after farm. We had dinner in Amish Country in the town of Arcola, IL. We drove to the historic Main Street, which looked like what you imagine. Cute painted buildings. They had these murals talking about the history of the city. Apparently, the creator of Raggedy Ann & Andy, John Barton Gruelle, was born there. However, the town was empty. All the stores, save one restaurant, were closed for the day. The restaurant, the Dutch Oven, was open and hopping. We had some nice hearty food there; I had a wonderful brisket with amazing stuffing. My husband got fish and chips. It was a nice pit stop on our drive. The place mats had a map of the area showing all the Amish businesses, which was cool. We still had a long drive ahead of us so we didn’t explore further.
Nearby, we passed this place of business. Best name for a place I never want to go to.
And then we had some unexpected adventure. About 45 minutes from our B&B, we were sideswiped by a semi. We were in the right lane and he tried to merge into our lane. The lug nuts on his tire hit the car, taking out the driver’s side mirror. Thankfully, the driver realized the impact and pulled out. We got into the shoulder to assess ourselves. Neither of us were hurt at all. The windows were fine and the airbags were not deployed.. However, the driver’s door wouldn’t open. The truck driver stopped and ascertained we were okay. Waiting in the car in the shoulder was really terrifying actually. We decided to head to the next exit so we could exchange insurance, etc. But all in all, we were fine. We got the door open. The car was driveable. So we got our police report and drove on to our B&B. That was an experience. But at the end of the day, we were fine. Thank goodness.
By the time we got to the B&B, it was well after dark. The B&B was situated amongst farms so there was little electric light. Once we pulled up to the house, we were greeted by a firework display of lightening bugs. I hadn’t seen so many in years. They were all hanging out in the woods behind the house and lighting up the night. So beautiful. We had all this amazing animal sounds, crickets, a bull frog, and so much more. What incredible beauty.
The following morning, we woke up and greeted our hosts at the B&B. We had a nice hearty breakfast of biscuits and eggs. Our first stop was Ferne Clyffe State Park. It was about a 7 minute drive from where we were staying. In the daylight, the area was so beautiful. The farms of Illinois had given way to forests. At Ferne Clyffe, we took two hikes. The first was an easy hike to the waterfall. It was a flat path with a few little creeks that had overflowed their banks but nothing too bad. The path was in a canyon with a waterfall at the end.
However, we wanted to get closer. Some fellow hikers told us that we could hike up to the waterfall using a side path. That proved a bit more adventurous than anticipated. We had to climb up the side on muddy paths, climb over logs and rocks, and balance on rocks in pools from secondary waterfalls. And I saw some of the largest spiders I’ve ever seen. (All were Daddy Long Legs, so I knew I would be okay). We got to the waterfall area but the rocks looked slick. I stuck back while my husband explored a little bit more. It was a neat view.
We climbed back down and headed back to the parking area to go our second hike. This was a bit more challenging since the path wound its way up. It was a bit steeper. We had some decent views of the area around. It eventually finished at the bottom of the hill near the lake near the entrance of the park. We opted to just walk to the car from the road. On the way we saw these beautiful black, orange, and blue butterflies. It was perfect for hiking.
Next post, I’ll talk about our adventures at Garden of the Gods and Cave in the Rock. That’s all for now!
On our second day in San Francisco, we ventured back to Chinatown for dim sum. I’ll talk about dim sum at a later time. When we were there, they were setting up for the Autumn Moon Festival. Up and down the main drag in Chinatown, there were booths selling various goods including moon cakes, kites, and other items. My favorite was the booth that sold goldfish in bags hanging from the ceiling of the tent. Later, there was dancing and a dragon dance. However, we were off to Oakland for hiking.
We met up with friends to seek out the Redwoods in Redwood Park. It’s not the really famous one, the John Muir Forest. That one is about an hour from the city. This one was about 20-30 minutes from Oakland. The Redwood Regional Park was fantastic. We started on the more arduous hike uphill. We could catch glimpses of the forest valley around us. There were occasionally lizard sightings, from lizards the length of my palm to ones the length of my thumb. Very cool.
After several miles, we took a route down to the Stream path, which follows the river…if there was one. But we really got our fill of Redwoods. These are younger Redwoods, I think my friend said they were second generation. But they were gorgeous. They grew straight up to the sky with branches that sort of stick straight out. Apparently, small animals, like squirrels, have difficulty climbing them because of their particular structure. Only flying animals, namely birds, can make home of these amazing trees. We meandered down to one patch of Redwoods, which were clustered together a bit ominously. It almost seemed like some otherworldly evil should emerge from there. It was amazing to see how tiny we were in relation to the trees. At one point, we saw a giant tree that had actually been three trees that had grown into one another. So cool!
Later that same evening, we went to Fisherman’s Wharf for dinner. Instead of calling a cab or taking a bus, we took an old fashioned trolley. It was amazing. Scott and I got to stand on the outside, hanging on the side. You get to feel the wind rushing through your hair, and the thrill as other cars and trolleys pass by a mere inches from you. Plus turns are more fun! It’s the best thing ever. I know it’s incredibly touristy but I don’t care. It was also interesting to see the process behind it. The trolley system requires a lot of manual labor; men had to physically change lanes or turn the trolley around. You would think it would be more electric and whatnot, but it’s not. I’m sure that was a choice. Also, it was curious passing by various neighborhoods. It seemed that many houses looked vacant. The blinds were all shut and there were no signs of people. Very weird.
Fisherman’s Wharf is a bit like Navy Pier times ten. There are lots of chain stores and even a 7D experience. But there is a nice assortment of street performers including some Reggae musicians, Michael Jackson impersonator/dancer, and more. And there is the magnificent view of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. But the best thing is the sea lion area. Off Pier 39, there are wooden platforms where sea lions can hang out. They were all piled on each other all over these platforms. It was amazing. We went twice in the evening: once when the sun was up and another when the sun was down. Worth the trip both times. During the day, we could see more of them and their interactions. At night, it was harder to see but they were more vocal.
Tomorrow, I’ll talk about food!
That’s all for now!