VRBO Decor

Kish and I like staying in VRBOs as an alternative to hotel rooms. If you’re going to be in a place for a few days, it’s usually more affordable, gives you a better feel for the city, and is interesting, besides.

One of the interesting aspects of VRBO rentals is how they are decorated. If you were going to decorate a spot that will be used primarily by complete strangers, would you go for something generic — or something distinctive?

I personally think a well-framed painting of a chimp wearing an Elizabethan gown and crown makes a real statement, don’t you?

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Down Into The Levels of Travel Hell

Dante’s Inferno envisioned nine levels of Hell, with the hopeless condemned being subjected to various kinds of torment depending on the nature of sins they had committed.

Any traveler knows that there are similar levels of Travel Hell.  Yesterday, Kish and I got down to about Level 5.

angerWe first crossed the river Styx when an early morning snowstorm and de-icing needs delayed our flight out of Columbus.  We abandoned all hope when our flight was late arriving in St. Louis and the airline inexplicably did not  hold the plane for only the few minutes needed for us to make our connection — leaving us winded and desolate as we stood at the gate, watching our plane move slowly away — and instead booked us for a flight to occur 11 hours later.  We then wandered like lost souls through the St. Louis airport, moving from terminal to terminal in the bitter cold, enduring the initial levels of Travel Hell and hoping in vain to find an earlier flight option.  We moved even lower when we decided to take an earlier flight, through Houston, with the thought that we could then drive to our ultimate destination of San Antonio, and learned that the flight was populated entirely by screaming, thrashing children and inattentive parents.

We reached our final depth when we arrived in Houston, found the rental car counters in the terminal were closed, checked to make sure that their signs indicated they had cars available, then went to a rental car area only to learn that notwithstanding the freaking sign, they had no cars, and we therefore had to return to the terminal and board another bus to get to another rental car outlet.  The final indignity came when, after waiting patiently in the line at the rental car counter and finally securing a vehicle, we were directed to a car, got in, drove to the exit, and were told that we were in the wrong kind of car and needed to return it and get another one.  After that piece de resistance, the three-hour drive through the rain from Houston to San Antonio, with oversized pick-ups with their brights on powering up right behind us, seemed like a walk in the park.

Fortunately, we didn’t reach the lowest levels of Travel Hell — which involve things like being physically ill, getting food poisoning at an airport terminal food court, and then having to spend the night in an airport in the company of fellow travelers who won’t shut up — but Level 5 was bad enough.  After 14 hours, we emerged from the pits into the friendly environs of San Antonio, and the air never smelled so sweet.

Greek Yogurt — Under There Somewhere

I’m down in Cincinnati today, meeting friends for breakfast at the Maplewood. You order at the counter, sit down, and wait for the food to be delivered. I got the Greek yogurt, figuring it would be a nice, light, nourishing choice. This enormous bowl is what I got.

I’m guessing there’s some Greek yogurt somewhere under the blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, seeds, honey, granola, and kiwi fruit. Kiwi fruit? It’s a new take on an old favorite.

Toasting Regionality

One of the great things about traveling to different parts of the United States is the chance to experience the differences that exist from one region to another.  Whether it’s mountains versus seacoast versus rolling prairie, odd local food favorites, or curious accents found only in one part of the country, the intrepid traveler strives to check out, and appreciate, the unique aspects of different sections of our large and diverse country.

Regionality was once in danger of being lost, back in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, with the rush toward sprawling national brands, like McDonalds and KFC and WalMart, that used the power of economies of scale and familiarity to put a lot of local concerns out of business.  But the tide seems to have turned, and craft beers are leading the way.

Wherever you go — whether it’s Asheville, North Carolina, or San Antonio, Texas, or the Pacific Northwest, or Columbus, Ohio — small local breweries are creating their own unique brews, with labels and brands that typically celebrate some element of local culture.  Even better, these entrepreneurs of the suds have been able to convince local pubs and grocery stores and gas stations to carry their offerings.  Boosters are touting their successful local breweries as examples of the special qualities of their communities and how small concerns can thrive in their business-friendly towns.  And virtually every sizable city and town lays claim to being one of the premier craft beer settings in the country.

Our recent trip to Maine was no different.  New England generally, and Maine specifically, offer a lot of local beers that you simply can’t find here in the Midwest.  I felt honor-bound to sample some of the distinctive offerings we found in restaurants and at the grocery store — it’s one of the duties of the intrepid traveler, in my view — and all of them were good.  A particular favorite was Allagash White, a light, fizzy, crisp beer that went especially well with a steaming bowl of haddock chowder and oyster crackers on a rainy day.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to try the Smiling Irish Bastard, but I did get a kick out of the name and the label.

It’s interesting that breweries have become a source of distinctive local pride, and it’s a trend that is good to see.

Companion Of The Airwaves

We drove back to Columbus from Maine yesterday.  It’s about a 15-hour drive, down through Maine — which, like Florida, seems to go on forever after you cross the border and get all excited about finally being there — New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and finally into Ohio.  We hit some bad Thanksgiving weekend traffic in Massachusetts, and a little rain in western New York and northern Pennsylvania, but other than that it was clear sailing and a long day.

hermosa_3a1f3cda-8075-4d6b-b6be-9e716983c7eeOn the way, we listened to the radio on Sirius XM.  We listened to the Ohio State-Michigan game, as announced by the Michigan radio network announcers, who are pretty funny (and cliche-prone) if you’re an Ohio State fan, and when the Buckeyes pulled out a victory and the deflated announcers whispered the final few plays it helped to energize us for the rest of the drive.  We listened to some classical music.  We listened to the Beatles channel, which featured celebrities explaining and playing their “Fab Four” favorite Beatles tunes and got us talking about what would might pick as our “Fab Four” — a pretty impossible task, if you think about it.  We listened to some sports talk radio, and the Auburn-Alabama game, and some big band music on the Siriusly Sinatra channel.

I like long-distance driving and always have.  Part of the reason for that is I just like listening to the radio.  Imagine what long drives would be like if you were just driving in silence for hours!  But the radio is a good companion, a conversation-starter, and a reason to unlimber those vocal chords and sing “Here Comes The Sun” when some unfamiliar celebrity selects it as one of their Beatles favorites.

Radio is old technology by modern standards — popular radio is approaching its 100th birthday — and consequently we take radio for granted, but what would highway travel be without it?

Low Tide

Along the coastline, there is high tide and there is low tide. Everyone plans and configures their buildings and docks and decks for high tide, when the ocean majestically sweeps in, leaving everything awash and bobbing on the water. (That obviously makes sense, of course, because if you designed everything for low tide you would find your careful designs underwater or afloat at high tide.)

But I prefer low tide, because it lets you see the soft underbelly of the coastline communities. The buildings built on stilts. The bottom of the bay. The algae lines on the piers. And the floating docks, sadly left high and dry.

Low tide gives you a peek at reality.

At Settlement Quarry

You’d expect an island with a town called Stonington to have an old, abandoned quarry somewhere. But, since most quarries are low-lying places — the whole point of quarries being to dig down into the ground, of course — you wouldn’t expect to find an old quarry atop a hillside, with a commanding view of more than a dozen islands. But that’s what you get when you venture up the trail to the Settlement Quarry on Deer Isle.

Settlement Quarry is one of a number of sites that the Deer Isle preservationists have turned into cool hiking jaunts. It’s an easy stroll up the old Quarry road, and once you reach the top you can admire the view, then take another trail through the surrounding pine woods. We chose the path that wound in and around the impressive piles of castoff granite, which are slowly returning to their forest state, with pine trees sprouting from the crevices.

With the breeze off the water, and pine trees everywhere, you’ll just have to look at the photos and imagine how fresh and crisp the air smelled.