Owl’s Well in Moose Jaw

We had a delightful 400 mile drive today in perfect weather. The countryside in Manitoba is like Kansas – mostly flat. There are a few hills, but it’s mostly a pancake. It’s pretty and green, but Yosemite it is not.

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Breaking up the monotony were many roadside ponds. For a long stretch there were also ditches with rushes growing in them and lots of Red-winged Blackbirds.

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But mostly it was like this. When we arrived in Moose Jaw we found the clock had changed again – to Mountain Time, believe it or not.

I had received an email from sister Janet, telling me that there was a Burrowing Owl Interpretive Center so we started there.

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The Admin building is on the left, a gazebo in the middle, and the open-air cages on the right. The Center is well done, and emphasizes healthy prairie habitat partnerships with the farmers and ranchers. Burrowing Owls are good at killing mice and grasshoppers, but not so good with poisoned mice and grasshoppers. I guess this is a story most Auduboners are familiar with. Continued good luck to the Center promoting these partnerships.

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Most of the owls are injured and unable to be wild (this one, for instance), and they are fed remotely so as not to habituate to the keepers. A couple are habituated on purpose to use for Show and Tell trips out to schools.

We then wound our way through Moose Jaw to the Wakamow Heights B&B.

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This house began as the home of Wellington White who made a fortune making the bricks with which to build Moose Jaw. (He also had a home in Long Beach, CA, and his children ended up living there. Stuart? Any relation?) The current owners are the second to make it a B&B and it is a work in some progress. Our room is great – the Penthouse Suite. It’s a moderately warm day and the breeze is keeping us cool.

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After last night’s dinner semi-failure, I perused Tripadvisor with a sharp eye and discovered that most places in Moose Jaw are either ‘family’ or ‘bar’ or all you can eat Chinese buffets. Not promising. After having had lunch at a Dairy Queen we figured our calorie quota was almost full anyway, so we are eating cheese and crackers and apricots tonight.

(Photo credit to Alice for the flat country pictures taken at 120 kph)

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I [heart] NY

I Red heart NY
(would you believe WordPress won’t let met put a Red heart in the title?

We are here in Norwalk CT in the EVEN hotel. It’s funky. If you like glass, chrome, and kale for breakfast, this is the place. It is obviously designed for the young, hip, and fit youth market. For us old, hep and alive people, it is still a nice hotel but the fitness equipment in the room has not been touched. After putting the 6 ounce box of organic chocolate chip cookies for $7.50 out of our minds, the remaining problem is noise. The sliding opaque glass bathroom doors make every event a public event. The hallway doors are perfect transmitters of sound. We had two wedding parties last night and even the youth trying to sleep came out in the hall to object.

Yesterday we went to The Cloisters. This is an arm of the MET Museum, built to house things created from the Romanesque to late Mediaeval periods, from spoons to entire rooms. Sometimes the ‘new’ building is impossible to tell from the old doorway it contains. Very nicely done.

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From a Romanesque chapel near Segovia, Spain, ~1200 AD. This shows how well the museum integrates itself with the artifacts. Also, the mural is from a second chapel, also of the period, near Tredos, Spain.

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Southern France, 12th century. Detail from a cloister column showing an unusual imaginative move from the stone mason – tiny busts instead of the more common leaves and animals.

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One of four cloister gardens, this one for flowers.

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The glory of The Cloisters is the collection of tapestries. This is one of an original set of Nine Examples for Kingly Behavior and it is King Arthur. The 3-crown pattern indicates his (supposed) rule of England, Scotland and Brittany.

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And the pinnacle of the tapestry collection is the series, “The Hunt of the Unicorn.” Dedicated readers may remember our visit to Stirling Castle in Scotland where a copy was being completed. The tale the tapestries tell is still being deciphered. In this panel the unicorn is defending itself; in another it has been killed; in the most famous panel it is captured alive. What really happened? What is the allegory?

Why Stirling Castle chose it to be reproduced for their total renovation of the castle is a bit clearer. Apparently James V owned a copy of the original (I didn’t know there were copies).

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To my birdwatching mind, this tapestry is the most interesting. It is called, “The Falcon’s Bath.” (Low countries, 1400-1415). Giving a falcon a bath is a fascinating concept. Rumor has it that there was an accompanying tapestry entitled, “Giving a Cat a Pill,” but it was in such poor condition (shredded, actually) that it could not be restored.

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Finally, the most exotic item, a chessboard/box made of amber. I mean, wow. The chess pieces are not original, but the originals must have been special too. This was among the items that the MET considered must be encased in bulletproof glass.

Driving from Norwalk to the Cloisters was not so bad, except for the occasional idiot driver. NY drivers are aggressive, and considering the way the traffic and the streets are, one understands. Some of them are insane, like the pickup truck that tried to get ahead of us after the merge lane had disappeared.* Oh well. And the trip home took 1:45 for 36 miles. I’ll be glad when we leave the urban area, but tomorrow we have to go in again for a play. Better be a really good play.

* he failed. We California drivers aren’t made of glass.

Exploring the Queen

We received, in the end, and upgrade of 5 levels, from cheap inside cabin to outside cabin with window. No balcony, but in the weather we are having, nobody is having tea on their balcony.

The ‘style’ of the ship is supposed to be a nod to Art Deco, and there is a lot of that. Our room, however, is more Art Moderne.

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It’s long and narrow, but much more roomy than we expected. It’s twice as large as our hotel room in London!

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Nice big window.

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Too small a desk, but the internet charges mean you don’t use the computer very much.

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This is what I mean by Art Moderne. Curved, blonde, and very sleek. And lots of room for our extensive collection of evening wear.

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When you approach the main lobby the style becomes Early Gaudy.

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Then Art Deco floats above.

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This is the entrance to the theater/planetarium. Now we’re getting close to Rockefeller Center Art Deco.

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Inside the theater. The dome is lowered for planetarium shows and only the central red chairs can be used. I’m afraid that the ‘asteroid’ show we saw was pretty pale, both in color and intellectual depth.

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Here is the Art Deco god of cinema, Sikspak Abs.

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The 3rd level approach to the lobby and elevator ranks is a series of 3-dimensional murals.

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Like this one for Africa.

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We were experiencing high winds to the point that the decks were closed a lot and the deck chairs were tied down to keep them from blowing overboard. When we docked in Halifax they finally brought out the chair pads and those of us who stayed on board had a nice afternoon.

Hamburg by Night

No, we are not going to discuss the Reeperbahn.

Barbara and Robert invited us to their house tonight to lure us out of our hotel room at the airport. We took the S-Bahn in a big circle around the city and then walked a km or so to their house in Blankenese where we had mini-pizzas, crudités and cappuccino. It was a nice change after a weekend of celebratory consumption.

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When it came time to return to the airport they volunteered to take us on a tour of the new Elbphilharmonie concert hall. Although completely different on the outside, the acoustician was the same Mr. Toyota who did Disney Hall. Barbara and Robert told us the sound was as “perfect” as Disney, in that you could hear not only the orchestra but everyone in the building who was unwrapping a candy during the performance.

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One of the world’s longest escalators takes you up. Since it is convex you cannot see the top and exit until you are almost all the way up.

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A new sculpture B&R had not seen before has appeared on the outside promenade deck. It’s a globe with all kinds of model ships on it. Hamburg is a major port on the Elbe river not far from the North Sea.

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This is the Queen Mary 2! I assume it’s on the globe because it does occasionally dock in Hamburg. Not in our time frame, unfortunately.

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There was barely enough light to see the harbor, but it was 10:00 p.m.

We did not get into the auditorium itself (just like a tour of Disney Hall) but the rest of the building is very interesting. The whole new structure is built on top of an old brick refrigerated building (very thick walls). The inside of the old building was gutted and is now parking space and room for the electricals and other support for the concert hall … and the Westin Hotel and all its shops and restaurants. Quite a complex.

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Opening night of the Elbphilharmonie. Without all the lights it’s a modern building perched on an old one, and it looks like a acid-trip Noah’s Ark stranded on a pile of bricks. But it works! Very cool.

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Live! In person! Donald Trump – One Night Only!

But seriously, the G20 are meeting in Hamburg in a month and there is no place for the president* to perch (he wanted to stay in the Four Seasons hotel, but they turned him down), so the current rumor is he will stay in Berlin and have Air Force 1 shuttle him back and forth. I can’t begin to imagine the chaos this will cause.

B&R dropped us at our hotel and promised to come and see Disney Hall someday. Tomorrow we’re off to London where with any luck the president* will NOT show up.

Reykjavik

Roughly translated, Reykjavik means “Bay of Mist”. The city is heated by geothermal wells that generate so much heat that when the citizens need to cool down a bit they leave the radiators full on and open a window. The national dishes center on fish and lamb. Out in the countryside the sheep spend the summer in the highlands eating grass and various herbs; in the words of our guide, they are marinating themselves.

If Bernstein, Comden and Green had written On The Town about Reykjavik, it would have gone:

Reykjavik, it’s a helluva town.
The sheep are up and the harbor is down.
Steam comes out of a hole in the groun’.
Oh Reykjavik, it’s a hell-uv-a town!

And 24 hours should just about do it. The countryside is something else, but that’s for tomorrow. We signed up for a “free” (donations accepted) guided walking tour with a tall, handsome history graduate (the girls in our group got lucky). Reykjavik is not an overwhelmingly beautiful city, as Stockholm might be, and the modern hotels are the largest structures, but the houses are well-kept and functional.

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Two things: trees are uncommon. The saying goes, if you are lost in an Icelandic forest, stand up. This tree won the Tree of the Year contest in 2016. Other thing: the houses can be divided into three groups. The one with the blue dormers is in the most modern group, built  of concrete. Wood is expensive and after a great fire in 1915 the laws forbid any larger buildings to be made of wood.

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The gray house on the left is in the middle-aged group, built until 1915. It has a wooden inner structure but an exterior of corrugated iron. The iron was cheaper than wood. This one has heritage value and cannot be modified without city approval.

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This house, which is just across the street from the other two, is the oldest, dating to 1850. It is built entirely of wood and rumor has it that the original was built from driftwood. Obviously some improvements have been made, but it’s still all wood.

Our guide told us this neighborhood was the richest in the city, with a small home recently sold for $1 million. The economy has recovered from the bank collapse I guess.

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This is the large cathedral, built between 1945 and 1986, but since no organ concerts or mid-day demonstrations are scheduled while we’re here, this is probably as close as we’ll come.

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This rather attractive building is part of the high school out of the photo to the left. School is mandatory from age 6-16 and high school follows. It is optional, but 88% of the population graduates – very impressive. College fees are quite reasonable – I think a week of dining out would cover them for a year.

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There is a large lake about half a mile from the harbor and the homes alongside are to be envied. We had skies like this all day, except for when it hailed. Really!

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As you can see from the background, this statue is by the lake. No connection though. It is the statue of the Unknown Bureaucrat. Whether it is criticism or merely commentary I do not know.

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Alice is standing next to the only full-size sculpture of a woman in the whole city. She is the first woman to be elected to the Parliament. Today 30 of the 63 members are women and Iceland ranks almost at the top in terms of gender equality.

Now we must discuss food. Our lunch was at the old harbor in a restaurant recommended by a friend of my sister Nancy. We have to say, think again, friend. We had what they called lobster soup, but except for some pretty flavorless lobster in it, we would not have known. Plus, it was expensive. Two soups and two soft drinks: $44. The price was not out of line for Reykjavik.

Our guide told us that the most popular restaurant in the city was a hot dog stand we were walking by. He said Bill Clinton had a hot dog there and said it was the best one he ever had. Oh yeah, sure.

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And yet, I found this photo. We are going to have to try one.

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Checking out Tripadvisor we found Old Iceland Restaurant a short walk from our hotel.

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On the left, Cream of Shellfish soup: chunks of fish, white wine, dill oil. The dill oil has given us thoughts about future cooking. The soup was delicious. In the middle: filet of lamb and slow-cooked shoulder, carrots, beetroot, potatoes and demi-glace. Also delicious. On the right: the Fish of the Day, and since it was not on the menu, I forget the description. It was called Redfish, which does not illuminate, but it was very delicate and flaky. The sauce was impressively good.

Alice had a local beer, Viking Lager on tap, $13. Liquor taxes are high too. The whole bill was, as I said, about 1/7 the annual tuition for the public university. We’re only here for two days so we can afford it. I think.

The Greenbrier, Part Deux

After last night’s dinner disaster we decided to give the Greenbrier another chance. Plus, breakfast is the only way to eat in the main dining room and not wear a coat and tie.

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But first, a mini-tour. Alice always wanted to have her photo taken with Princess Grace.

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Main Dining Room, Part 1.

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The buffet breakfast. Very good, even for the price. It’s all there, including peach bread pudding, good sausage, good fresh fruit, and so on.

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Certainly one of the more elaborate chandeliers we have seen. The combination of clear and green and black crystal is very attractive.

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The back yard. This place is immense. The grand ballroom would easily fit a  hockey rink and spectators. It’s easy to imagine that half the town works here.

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The first tee on the Old White course. A more perfect name for a golf course cannot be imagined.

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Last year they had an awful flood and the annual PGA tournament had to be moved. This is the 18th green and fairway, and you can see most of the fairway is dirt. They have a month and a half to sod it (sic) and be ready for the PGA on 4th of July week.

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Phil is a good friend and let us have his parking spot.

Disoriented to the point that a $78 breakfast buffet seemed like a good deal, we still had the presence of mind to leave in time to get to Nancy’s in the afternoon. Curses – the interstate had a rolled-over semi and was closed at Beckley. All traffic was taking the next best road and our GPS said there would be as much as a 90 minute delay, so we took off on country highways and had a very nice drive. The roads went either by rivers or train tracks through the single-wide parts of West Virginia, but up in the hills it was spectacular scenery through cuts in the granite. The holes drilled to set dynamite charges were visible – it took a lot of work to make these roads.

We finally got to Nancy in Versailles, KY, in time to go out for dinner at Napa Prime. If you like burgers, this is the place.

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Basic 8 oz. burger with salad because I treat my body as a temple.

We’re booked into a B&B, Janet is arriving at midnight, Quincy and Sarah tomorrow noon, and we’re ready to party!

Charleston

The A/C didn’t keep us awake (much) so we awoke ready to make an early assault on Charleston. The Inn serves a modest but filling “hunt breakfast” and we were out on the street before 8:00.

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The hotel atrium. Cool breezes and shade.

We instantly saw that compared to Savannah, there were lots of much older buildings. Ante-Revolution was not unusual. And, there were all kinds, from merchant storefronts to modest homes to show-off mansions.

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Above: a row of commercial buildings on Meeting Street. Below: a residence row on a side street.

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One could take and show endless photos of these houses. I picked this one because the verandahs were so sumptuous. Most large homes had these porches, aligned to catch the evening sea breezes, but they were typically rectangular. This one, built in 1810 and altered in 1890, has grand semi-circular balconies supported by Roman revival columns.

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I picked this one because I thought it just looked spiffy. It has wrought iron balconies, well-preserved shutters, and bright paint. In case you had not guessed, restoration work is going on all over. If you are an architect or a contractor, this is your time in Charleston.

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Many homes appear to be built with large stone blocks. Wrong! It is stucco over brick, with the artful addition of mortar lines.

The Nathanael Russell home (1808) is open. The house was restored and then filled with furniture authentic in design and origin to what would have been in the house. It’s really a museum of ante-bellum design.

Mr. Russell was in the shipping business. All cargoes.

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In comparison to other homes of the Rich and Famous, the exterior is modest.

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For glass fanciers, all the exterior windows were replaced after the Late Unpleasantness. They were all blown out in the war, according to our guide. This interior door shows how this old glass deteriorated after 200 years. Notice the pane at 1:00 in the rosette; it has become opalescent (the picture frame behind it is rather fuzzy). Sooner or late it will crumble, as have most of the panes here.

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Even rich men like Nathanael Russell could not afford to use mahogany everywhere. This interior door is pine, painted to look like mahogany, complete with faux-bookmatched panels.

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The elliptical and apparently free-standing staircase is the wonder of the house. This is not the greatest photo ever (camera on the floor and hope) but it does give a hint. It is only attached to the ground floor and the two floors above; it is extremely carefully built like a suspension bridge so that is seems to float between the floors.

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There were large oval rooms on the first and second floors. This is the formal dining room on the first floor. The table is solid mahogany, as are the Chippendale chairs, all made in Charleston around 1800. Today we would say they were in the Federal style as long as we didn’t say it aloud.

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On the second floor in this room the ladies would retire after dinner, and also would have tea with friends in the afternoon.

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Ceiling detail in the ladies’ room. All is molded plaster with gold leaf.

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Ceiling detail from the second-floor oval room, used as a music room. Again, molded plaster with amazing detail and paint.

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A final detail from the Russell home. This is a faux-lapis plinth supporting a column in the wall woodwork. It’s a very good imitation – it even sparkles.

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This is the George Ducat house (1740). Ducat was a shipbuilder. I guess you could call him middle-class – only two stories. Still, it had a balcony for that afternoon breeze.

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So here is Charleston in 1850. We walked down the main street in the center (Meeting St.) and poked around in the neighborhood for about 4 hours and it seems most of those buildings are still there.

Just for kicks, and because the car has A/C, we took a trip over the big bridge to Mount Pleasant where the USS Yorktown is moored. We didn’t have time to visit but wanted at least a look. Then we went to the local Malibu beach on Sullivan’s Island.

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These houses are huge. I paced the one on the left off: 140×40. That’s 5,600 square feet for each of two floors, plus the ground area under the stilts, plus all the porches and for all I know, part of the roof. Makes Malibu look like a set of cheap condos.

After dinner (same place, excellent food) we went to the Black Fedora, a funky theater where about 12 audience members are given scripts to help out. Predictable fun ensues. Actually, it was a lot of fun and for the price ($24) we would recommend it.