BACKPACKING THE GRAND CANYON OF THE TUOLUMNE RIVER (by a 50+ inexperienced backpacker) PART II

tuolumnemapWednesday I got going a little more slowly than others and was feeling the weight of that pack along with struggling to fight off insects swarming my face.  I thought they were mosquitos and so I took time to stop and dig the hat net I’d borrowed out of my pack. But when I put it on I could hardly see.  So, I took it off again.  I later found out that the insects were only “eye flies’ which don’t sting. Putting on this net involved taking the pack off. I normally tried to do this by locating a boulder, tree stump or log at the right height so that I could put it on again without lifting it.  This process was one of the many ordeals which most of the women in our group struggled with.  I guess I should have done more weight lifting in preparation!  Asking each other for help was another strategy that underlined the group/community nature of the trip.  But often we became strung out along the trail so there wasn’t always someone there at the right moment to help.

56a2c66bec5a490849831f5fThe trail at that point went along very close to the river and I enjoyed it after the insects stopped annoying me. Except when I had duck under a tree branch at a tricky narrow part and had my hat knocked off.  I managed to get my hat gear back on but lost my sunglasses!  Patience and determination were greatly needed.  Julie came along at that point and we went back and found my sunglasses. Then we hiked together for a while enjoying edifying conversation. We passed many more waterfalls named Water Wheel Falls (below), Le Conte and California. waterwheel-falls-32

Later we came to a long, steep climb up away from the river, by which time I was hiking alone again.  I listened to my iPod and found my music to be hugely helpful.  Although the going was tough, I enjoyed much of it.  But I was aware at every boot-step or placement of a pole that if I put one wrong I could take a serious tumble and probably break something.  Somehow I managed to pull a muscle in my left leg and had some pain to cope with as I continued on. Even so, the views from the top of the mountain pass were astounding.  When I caught up with one of our group near the top we took a few photos.

Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne in Yosemite Backpacking Trips

Coming down again on my own having passed her, I stopped to take a break on the trail and enjoy the solitude.  This was the wilderness.  No tourists here.  Only serious hikers. The entire week we encountered only a small number of people coming the other way.  It did seem though that most people hike this trail the opposite way than we did.  At one point I was surprised to see a Park Ranger coming along who asked to check out my bear canister which was one of her official duties.  She just knocked on it to verify that it was in my pack.  None of us saw or heard any bears even though their scat was prevalent.  This indicates that the use of bear canisters has become effective in preventing bears from searching for food from humans in their camps or tents.

A long series of switchbacks eventually led down to more shaded forest and an amazingly beautiful ‘grotto’ with a wispy waterfall and a pool providing an oasis – the perfect place to take a break.  Most of the group was already chilling there and refueling water bottles using our shared pumps.  It was exhilarating removing my boots and plunging my cooked feet into the pool.  After all the group caught up and prepared to go on again we were getting into an even hotter part of the afternoon.

The grotto waterfall and creek from it was a tributary of the main river. This tributary soon joined it and when we saw the river gushing again far below us, the view was exciting and welcome.  Our ‘friend’ had been missed. However, the trail continued up and up away into hot baking sun and then down once more near it and a little refreshing shade.  At this point I was so overheated that I found a rock the right size to lean against to remove my pack and then I went over to the river to splash water on my face, soak my bandanas, wrap them around my neck and my head.  This helped me to keep cool for a while, but once the trail led up high again I began to feel that I was being roasted alive and wondered how much longer I could plod on.  Not long after this I looked down to the southeast and noticed the river again. Then I saw a crystalline, jade pool with members of our group already swimming in it and even sliding down the smooth granite formed by the cascade.  Ah, hope! I was going to make it. My pace picked up and I could hardly wait to get down there to wade in.  I had completed one of the hardest hikes of my life thus far.

We swam, played and chilled there for a couple of hours hesitant to leave.  We chatted with a father and daughter resting there too who had come from White Wolf.  They told us of rattle snakes and bears they had encountered.  They also said how horribly hard the switch backs coming down from White Wolf were.  It was reassuring to consider that our plan of going up on Friday really was a better idea than going down.

The last part of the trail that day was much more pleasant as we hiked on a level path through the river meadow with flowers on softer ground.  After an hour or so we arrived at the camp ground chosen by one of our guides and set up camp.  We were then in Pate Valley, which was to be our resting place for the next day.  134_IMG_0641xIt was a wide, flat area with the river to the south of our camp and the trail crew’s housing on the other side.  To the northwest there was a broad expanse of forest and large boulders.  050815-028-pate-campgroundWe pitched our tents on whatever soft ground we could find and formed a ‘kitchen area’ in the center.  I thought it would be great to rest that evening, to look forward to having a day to relax and not need to get up early to pack up.  I needed time to rest my sore leg and to regain some energy.  Some of the others felt the need of a rest as well, but a few wanted to move on and camp farther west so that the big challenge looming before us on Friday could be lessened.  It looked like our day of rest might not be complete after-all.

To be continued…

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WILD-WILDERNESS WANDERING OF THE LITERAL BACKPACKING VARIETY – 30 MILES THROUGH THE GRAND CANYON OF THE TUOLUMNE RIVER – FROM TUOLUMNE MEADOWS TO WHITE WOLF CAMPGROUND

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This trip was not for sissies.  Each day of the 5 day journey I faced new challenges, but always in the back of my mind loomed the greatest of them all: 3500 feet in 5 miles uphill.

13891923_10207429512516855_5959517552069959853_nAfter a quick ‘before’ photo of our group of ten (photographer is no. 10), including three experienced leaders who were organizing our morning and evening meals, we started out from Tuolumne Meadows about 9:00 Monday morning on August 1st.  I was still trying to figure out how my water system would work, how to keep everything on my pack and how to keep my pack on my back!  It was at least 30 pounds and kept slipping as we walked.  These details niggled me for most of the trip.

We couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather and the trail was easy to begin with.  Julie Miller, our main leader and a nature park ranger stopped us at the Soda Springs where she explained that this was a historic spot SodaSpringsReduxespecially significant that this month we are celebrating 100 years of the National Parks.  And, “It was here, over a century ago, in Tuolumne Meadows, John Muir (1839-1914) introduced his friends to this mountain wilderness; it was here where conservationist Muir began the discussion that created Yosemite National Park 1890.”  http://www.aplacecalledroam.com/home/hiking-yosemites-tuolumne-meadow-soda-springs

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G91NOWWD_Bk

Julie also pointed out the flora and fauna living at that high altitude of 8,600 feet.   She brought to our attention that hardly anything was living on the bare granite peaks towering above us not far away.  As we began our gradual descent into the canyon she pointed out trees, shrubs and flowering plants which thrived at the lower elevations.  I enjoyed learning the differences of Jeffery Pines, Lodge Pole Pines, Fir and Cedar Trees.

We enjoyed walking along the river and encountering the first of many 14021552_10207460237324956_8438315802412058223_ncascades.  As we were taking our time on that day we ‘lollygagged’ a bit along the way.  I put together my new camp chair (well worth the price and 1lb. weight to have something comfortable to sit on!) and spent some time gazing in awestruck wonder at hundreds of feet of abundant foamy water cascading over layers of rock which looked like a broad stairway.  The river was our friend and companion throughout this journey.  We drank from it, swam in it and washed in it.  It was our refreshment, delight and entertainment.

We hiked about 6 miles that first day which was challenging for me.  Eventually we arrived white-cascade-400wdown at Glen Aulin camp ground near another beautiful waterfall.

 

And it was also  wonderful to discover a real pit toilet!  I was so sore that all I wanted to do was to set up my tent, take some ibuprofen and lay down.  I cannot remember much about our meal except that it was good to eat, nor our conversation that first evening.  I think it was deep and meaningful, but I was too sleepy to take it in.

The second day we had a combination of steepish downhill, more delightful views of waterfalls and cascades along with some easier level walking.  I was still wondering what I’d got myself into, and did I really want to be there, when we became aware of a helicopter coming into the canyon to transport materials for trail work crews.  I wondered how much it might cost to be air-lifted out!

But I didn’t really mean it because of the beautiful devotion we’d been bathed in from one of our group that Tuesday morning.  First she read this classic poem by Robert Frost:

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 

She also read Psalm 29

Give unto the Lord, O you mighty ones,

Give unto the Lord glory and strength.

Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name;

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;

The God of glory thunders;

The Lord is over many waters.

The voice of the Lord is powerful;

The voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

And then she sang a haunting black gospel melody with her sweet and gentle voice the chorus of which was: ‘Wash Over Me, wash over me, wash over me I pray, wash over me, wash over me, wash over me today.’  Well, that was it for me!   I was awash with the overwhelming cascade of emotions released by this beauty and caused by these physical challenges.  So I moved close to the river to pray and wail.  It felt good to get it all out and to be refreshed spiritually and emotionally.

The rest of that day was blessed by the river as we swam often.  I dove in two times and waded in once.  The first time was the best as we surprisingly came upon our leader, who had encouraged us to do a little more lallygagging, sunbathing by a clear granite pool.  I just had to stop and get in too.  Diving was the easiest way even if the shock was painful at first.  Wondrously invigorating it was.  The second time the whole pack of us went in farther down and it was fun to see each one managing their own way of getting in and out.  I followed the leader one more time and dove in from a higher height than I ever have dived before.  What a rush that was too! The third time was in the evening as the evening meal was being prepared and we still had time and light.  I went down the trail a bit to another swimming hole and enjoyed creeping in slowly and then sunning myself in the evening rays while sitting on a warm boulder.  That was a good day.

To be continued….

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Following on from Ashland/Oregon, my No. 10 Favorite City, here is a review of one of the plays enjoyed during my visit in June

REVIEW OF: 12TH NIGHT, playing at THE OREGON SHAKESPEARE FESTIVAL

4.5 STARS

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One of the most popular plays being staged in Ashland this summer is the 1930s Hollywood version of 12th Night directed by Christopher Liam Moore being performed in the Angus Bowmer Theater.  It was certainly the favorite play of most of the group I was with.

The twists and turns of this comedy are well known to Shakespeare fans so I won’t detail the plot here, but you can follow this link if you’d like help remembering: http://www.bardweb.net/plays/twelfthnight.html

Setting the play in 1930s Hollywood ‘Ilyria Studios’ worked very well and added greatly to the continuity and success of the production with singing, dancing, costuming and set design blending together seamlessly.  Olivia was cast as a secluded and pampered movie star who came across as someone like Josephine Baker.

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Entertainment, Personalities, pic: circa 1930, Josephine Baker, (1906-1975) American born dancer and singer Josephine Baker (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

Stunning sequined hand-made gowns clung to her and in the final scene she was raised up on a dais as a princess of hollywood enthralling the audience.

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The Oregon Shakespeare Festival. 2016. Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare. Directed by Christopher Liam Moore. Scenic Design: Christopher Acebo. Costume Design: Susan Tsu. Lighting Design: Robert Wierzel. Video: Shawn Duan. Composer and Sound Designer: David Reiffel. Choreographer: Jaclyn Miller. Photo: Jenny Graham.

Orsino was cast as a somewhat eccentric and humorously demanding, German film producer.  Viola and Sebastian were played by the same actress who did an amazing job, although this double role proved to be a bit problematic.  Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Malvolio were wonderfully cast in appropriate attire for the times as drunken leeches, and a serious butler type character respectively.

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Maria, Olivia’s maid, did an excellent job connecting Olivia with the layabouts and the trickery they planned against Malvolio.  When Feste came on the stage as a character somewhat like Harold Nichols, he somewhat stole the show.(http://www.biography.com/people/harold-nicholas-21355911)   Although his character was a little inscrutable thanks to the bard’s lines, the persona of Feste (Rodney Gardiner) as the wise fool gave the play gravitas.  https://www.osfashland.org/artist-biographies/acting-company/rodney-gardiner.aspx

For a short preview click on this link https://www.osfashland.org/multimedia.aspx

The design elements – setting, props, costumes and choreography of the dance scenes and the singing were fun and brilliantly done with the action taking place by a pool, so it seemed.  Behind the pool a curved, broad stairway went up to Olivia’s apartments giving the stage depth, levels and the feeling of Olivia being away up there lost in her mourning when she wasn’t on stage.  The fencing scene playfully fought all over the stage, including the stairs, was especially delightful.

The acting, singing, dancing and fighting were all well done with a packed house fully engaged in response.  It was a near perfect production.  The problem alluded to earlier was that Viola and Sebastian were one person.  The young woman acting this out managed to make clear with her version of masculine and (disguised) feminine body language and a slight change of voice which one was which. (They were clothed the same.) The masculine came across, but the feminine was portrayed only by awkwardness and weakness. However, when they both needed to appear on the stage at the same time a screening device was used along with the help of another body so that they could appear to be conversing.  It was rather too complicated and ineffective though.  And at the very end there was only one person strolling arm in arm between Olivia and Orsino.  Viola’s femininity was missed along with the Bard’s original ending. This is why I’m giving the play only 4.5 Stars.  Nevertheless, it is well worth seeing and I would enjoy it again.

 

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Number 10 of 10 Favorite Cities! Ashland, Oregon

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Top Ten Cities No 10: Ashland

Finally I have arrived at my Number 10 city.  There are many others out there which I considered writing about as they have captivated me such as Salzburg, Vienna, Krakow and Bath.  I would like to visit them again one day and perhaps I will write about them eventually.  But Ashland, being more recently delighted in, has been given the Number 10 spot here.  It is not so glamorous or famous, but what a great time we had and I am looking forward to returning again soon.

The criteria for my ‘Top Ten Cities’ includes:

~ Attractive location, lots of green spaces for people to enjoy and a water attraction

~ The central area can be enjoyed on foot

~ Activities include historical sights and outdoor entertainment

~ Lots of coffee shops, pubs and culturally interesting food

Ashland is conveniently located near the Interstate 5 just north of the Oregon border and Mount Ashland.  It is 2,000 feet above sea level in the Rogue River Valley of southwest Oregon.  The lovely Lithia Park is in the midst of the many theater buildings, restaurants, boutique shops and coffee shops.  Mount Ashland Creek runs through the park providing constant refreshening on hot summer days.  fall-2011_0072_a_lo
(http://www.ashland.or.us/Files/lithia_park_2011.pdf)

imagesOne of my precious memories of this first visit to Ashland was getting up early on Saturday morning and discovering trails on both sides of the full creek which were connected by many walking bridges.  location_11The creek, flanked on both sides by mature evergreens, runs north away from the mountain. As I hiked south I was going slightly uphill stopping frequently to enjoy the sound of the cascading creek from the top of many of these bridges.  The cool morning gradually warmed up into a perfect summer’s day as I came to the end of trails and turned around to return to our comfy yet spacious shared cottage for breakfast. (http://www.abbottscottages.com)

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Since Ashland is small, the central area can be reached and explored on foot.  We were happy to leave the car at the cottage most of the weekend and walk into the center for our various events.

The first event of the weekend was a ‘backstage tour’ culminating at the first and oldest of the many theaters there.  Each theater has a unique and intriguing history with varying advantages depending on its modernity. The many people working in the repertory have to consider such a huge number of variables. For my part, as a theater goer, I found the Angus Bowmer to be the most comfortable theater, but the oldest, the outdoor Elizabethan, to be the most interesting.

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Going backstage there was fascinating. The stage hands were busy preparing for Hamlet, the play we were soon to see.  The tour guide showed us where the props were stored and where actors would change costumes.  She explained how costumes were created and the fact that most were uniquely designed for each play.  We were also given inside information about how actors knew when to come on stage using a system of lighting on top of stage panels.  Props and costume changes would be hidden behind these panels.  These changes, along with wigs, might also be hidden under the stage or in other special entrances.  Backstage crew members would assist with changes if needed. One of the most fun aspects of the tour was at the end to walk out from backstage onto the old Elizabethan stage and to imagine what it would be like to be in a play there.

The large theaters aren’t the only entertainment to be had at the OSF.  There are also free, pre-play ‘shows’ on the ‘green’ and free talks given by actors or directors.  We enjoyed both of these events throughout the weekend.  My favorite entertainment on the green was a troop of Morris dancers and especially one cute guy who never stopped grinning from ear to ear as he ‘galumphed about’ with the bells on his legs.

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The talk we attended, including questions and answers, was given by (Rodney Gardiner) who played Feste from 12th Night. (See review which follows.)  This was great and I wish I had a recording. We were surprised when told us that he had learned to tap dance just recently for his role as Feste.  He also provided us with insights as to how he interpreted his character as well as his feeling about being there at OSF.  To paraphrase that aspect, he greatly appreciates OSF because he can focus on his roles while there and not have to think too far ahead about the next gig in another city somewhere.  This is because, as a repertory theatre, actors are given roles in various plays keeping them fully employed.  In fact, one of the amazing things we discussed in our group, was how versatile the actors were and sometimes it was hard to believe that a character was played by the same actor we had seen playing another – so very different character – the night before.

We also enjoyed sharing meals out at two different restaurants.   One was the Greenleaf (http://greenleafrestaurant.com) located in the central area where we dined in their patio alongside of the creek before the evening green show and Hamlet.  Everyone in our large group of about 15 enjoyed their meal. For breakfast place we went to popular The Morning Glory restaurant which was great fun and has excellent food.  It’s located along the main road to the east of the central area. (https://www.yelp.com/biz/morning-glory-ashland)

Additionally there were two outdoor markets when we visited.  One was a local farmer’s market replete with samples of many delectable delights and young musicians busking. The other was of local artisan’s unique wares.  All the stalls were of high quality handmade items.  (https://lithiaartisansmarket.com)

As you can imagine there are many other restaurants, coffee shops, tea houses, pubs and gift shops in the central area.  I did not have time to visit them all and so I must return one day!

Besides the main attractions of the theaters there are many outdoor pursuits nearby including walking, picnicking and playing tennis in Lithia Park.  I played a little tennis on Sunday afternoon until it became unbearably hot.  Then we went up to the Lithia Park Reservoir for a chilling swim and a rest on the lawn.

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As a final recommendation for a weekend visit to Ashland, if you are looking for some spiritual uplifting on Sundays, there are a number of places to worship.  We were glad to have found our way to the Christian Church of Ashland. (https://www.facebook.com/ChristianChurchofAshland/?rc=p)  We enjoyed a warm and lively time of singing and a challenging talk given by a humble guy speaking for one of the first times in his life.  The usual pastor was away.  I’m sure it would be a great place to return to any time.

I certainly am looking forward to returning to Ashland again next year!

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Top Ten Cities: No. 9 – Stratford

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Favorite-City-No-9

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“The plays the thing.”  Well, and the history too, and so much more!

Some years ago I had the privilege of visiting the city of Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-Upon-Avon, which is now the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company.  (https://www.rsc.org.uk/about-us/history) This year I have the privilege of going to Ashland, Oregon which is the home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  It also just happens to be 400 years since Shakespeare’s death.  So, for fans and those simply a little curious I thought I’d share some highlights from my day in Stratford, discuss some fun facts and do a little pre-trip cyber exploration of Ashland.

During our visit to Stratford, my traveling companion and I managed to explore the most popular sites.  We visited his mother’s childhood home – Mary Arden’s farm, Shakespeare’s family home & gardens, his grammar school and later his wife’s home – Anne Hathaway’s Cottage.  In the evening we took in, what is for many, his most famous play.

Location/Population/Origins

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Located in the heart of England, in Warwickshire, northeast of London and not far from Oxford, Birmingham and Coventry, Stratford is a smallish city of about 27,000 people.

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“Stratford upon Avon was founded by the Saxons when they invaded what is now Warwickshire in the 7th century AD. The name Stratford is made up of Celtic and Saxon words. It was the ‘straet’ ford that is the ford by the Roman road. Avon is a Celtic word meaning river or water.” http://www.localhistories.org/stratford.html

As with all of my favorite cities I found myself entranced and transported back in time.  Unlike any of the other cities, however, it was not just the amazement of seeing ancient places-these ancient houses where someone so very famous lived.  It was the discovery of the birthplace of so much of the English language.  As is well known, Shakespeare coined hundreds of words.  But in this place I also discovered the source of some common phrases we often use without question which were already in use before ‘the Bard’ was born.

Mary Arden’s Farm House and a few Idioms

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This farm and farmhouse are well worth a visit. Walking on the 500 year old, tilted, wooden flooring of Mary Arden’s Farmhouse we encountered a few of these fun phrases.  We were guided by diverting docents that day.  One explained, while we were observing the large trestle dinner table, that we get the term boardroom from this – a room with the big board in it – of course!  But also that people would sleep up on that board after the meal had been cleared away – to be up off the drafty floor and away from any rats.  From this we have the phrase-bed and board.  She went on to tell us about the way they ate their soup or stew in those days, which was to use a loaf of bread for a bowl, and when the top crust of the loaf was cut off it would be given to the head of the house, the ‘upper crust’.

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In a bedroom we were shown that there were ropes at the end of the beds that would be tightened at night, to give the straw, wool or moss filled mattresses more firmness, as the ropes tended to stretch.  From this came the common phrase, ‘sleep tight’.  And of course bed bugs must have been common. (You know – Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite!)

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We were also shown a carved armoire with one woman’s profile facing another.  The woman on the right had her hair up and wore a dress with a high collar and the one on the left had her hair down with a dress revealing a fair amount of cleavage.  We were told that the on the left was a ‘loose, single woman’ and the other was married. It was suggested that for a woman to get her man it was expected for her to ‘let her hair down’- and dress to please.

https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/visit/mary-ardens-farm/

http://raggedrobinsnaturenotes.blogspot.com/2015/09/mary-ardens-farm.html

Book Recommendation                                                                                                                      One more word about words (and idioms) in English is my book recommendation for anyone interested in etymology.  An easy and entertaining read about the development of English is Bill Bryson’s The Mother Tongue.

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According to Bryson, Shakespeare invented about 1,700 words.  http://images.pcmac.org/SiSFiles/Schools/GA/BenHillCounty/FitzgeraldHigh/Uploads/DocumentsCategories/Documents/Bill%20Bryson.Ch.5WhereWordsComeFrom.Excerpts.pdf   (It makes me wonder if the actors reading them even then had a clue what many of these words meant!)

Shakespeare’s Home, School and Wife’s Home

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It was a great pleasure to explore Shakespeare’s birthplace including the garden.  It was amazing to be where that great playwright grew up and lived for the first 5 years of his married life.  One of the things that struck me was hearing from a docent that tourists began flocking to visit his birthplace shortly after his death!  Tourism is not such a new phenomenon.

http://www.visitstratforduponavon.co.uk/attractions/shakespeares-birthplace

Shakespeare’s Grammar School must have had a significant influence on his love and innovation of English.  There is not a lot of information available on his experience it seems evident that he had a rich and successful education. As a teacher I was delighted to see the building and to learn a little about schooling in that time.

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http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/Library/SLT/life/school/grammarschool.html

There is so much to take in at Stratford there that it is difficult see it all in one day!  We managed to go by Anne Hathaway’s cottage, but not to go in.  I’d like to return someday.  Here is a short and informative video if you’d like to know a little more about Shakespeare’s wife and his marriage as well as to see something of the cottage.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSuaFgIiWk8

At The Swan

In the evening we visited the famous, (new) Swan theater where we were treated to Romeo and Juliet.  The original Swan was in London. https://www.playshakespeare.com/study/elizabethan-theatres/2191-the-swan-theatre

I was thrilled with the theater and the opportunity to see my first real Shakespearean play.

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When it began I loved the simplified set and the movement of the actors, but I was dismayed that I could hardly understand what they were saying!  I had not read the play in high school as many have done.  As a child I had only seen the famous movie directed by Franco Zeffirelli. That made quite an impression on me at a very impressionable age.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4FHpmn-KYec  It was a good thing that I had learned the well known plot because the language of Shakespeare is quite challenging.

As with all of my favorite cities, I would be delighted to return again and to see it with fresh and wiser eyes.  The Swan has also been thoroughly updated (https://www.rsc.org.uk/the-plays-the-thing) and the other famous sites are now more interactive than ever.  I think a week just might begin to do Stratford justice.

This weekend I have the delightful prospect of traveling north to Ashland, my first time there, with a group from the Journey Center. http://www.journeycenter.org (I’ve been sponsored by a friend because of a ‘fun-draiser’ for the same.) We plan to see two Shakespeare plays along with so much more that is to be explored there.  I will make a further edition about this trip along with my reviews of Hamlet (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQ5378kHWgg) and Twelfth Night (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MiBnIHcz03c) after returning. https://www.osfashland.org/experience-osf/current-season.aspx

http://www.ashlandchamber.com/Splash.asp

Until soon then,  fare thee well! 

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Top Ten Cities No 8 – Oaxaca

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My Criteria:

• Attractive location, lots of green spaces and water attraction/s

• The central historical area can be explored on foot

• Historic sights, outdoor entertainment and museums

• Transportation is convenient and fun

• Lots of coffee shops, pubs and culturally interesting food

• Has a unique and appealing ambiance 

Oaxaca City is a colonial city centrally located in the southern state of Oaxaca in Mexico.  

oaxaca-city-map  

The small central historical area including the ‘Zocalo’ (pubic square/plaza) along with Santa Domingo plaza is the for me the heart and soul of what makes it a fascinating locale.  My first visit there cast such a colorful spell on me that I longed for more. oaxaca-city-5-must-visit-atractions-e1431104361661
It has a certain ambiance which is what drew me back several times. Eventually I came to know the entire area fairly well.  There are many interesting sites to visit in the famous center and others within an hour or so by car. 

Here is a link to another blogger who has already done such a great job writing about both Oaxaca State and City I recommend reading this before continuing with mine! https://thegr8wall.wordpress.com/2013/05/16/oaxaca-the-soul-of-mexico/ 

For the most part Oaxaca City meets my criteria well. It is especially ‘walkable’ since its flat, planned in a grid pattern and there are surprises around every corner.  It is only about 5 blocks from the Zocalo to El Museo de Culturas de Oaxaca (The Museum of Cultures of Oaxaca) and the gardens behind.  (All delightful.)   

http://www.visitmexico.com/en/santo-domingo-cultural-center-in-oaxaca-mexico

There are many museums of all sorts: http://www.planeta.com/ecotravel/mexico/oaxaca/oaxmus.html

It has a warm and dry climate that is pleasant, however there are sometimes water shortages.  So the few parks and private gardens are the only green places and fountains are the only water attractions.  

My special experiences visiting there include language classes, El Zocalo, giant radish carvings at Navidad, Monte Alban, the Galagetza, El Arbol de Tule, tapetas and albrejas, and rock waterfalls.  I will mention a little about each of these and include some links with recent information.

Language Classes

Oaxaca City is also well known as a center for ‘gringos’ and other foreigners coming to the Spanish language schools.  This is how I first heard of it.  12 years ago I was working as an elementary teacher at a private school in Mexico City and at a colleague’s recommendation I took a week-long class during Spring break at the ‘Amigos del Sol’ (Friends of the Sun) Language school.  I stayed in an economical hostel run by locals which included a private room and shared meals where we only spoke in Spanish. It was only a few blocks from the school.  The school was small, simple, relaxed, fun and somehow enchanting.  Here is a link to give you an idea of what it is like, but the school has moved since then. (And I can’t find my old photos! 😦 http://www.oaxacanews.com/amigosdelsol.htm But this link will lead you to some wonderful photos taken by other students. https://www.flickr.com/photos/amigosdelsol/albums/72157621971910166 

El Zocalo

Oaxaca Zocalo at Night 1

Oaxaca Zocalo at Night 1

The classes were only in the morning which left the afternoon and evenings free to explore.  The most wonderfully magical experience I recall was visiting the Zocalo in the evening.  The area was a hive of relaxing activity with a images-1lovely large fountain in the center.  Children were dancing to marimba tunes or pan pipes and chasing balloons skyward.  Larger than life figurines on stilts appeared to be dancing with them.  It was a gentle party.

As that week was ‘Semana Santa’ there were many special celebrations going on which were new to me. Here is a link to another blogger with a video (a bit new age-ish) https://raintreetraveler.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/easter-oaxaca-world/?blogsub=confirmed#blog_subscription-3  Some of the traditions, from Spain, were a little spooky for me (the silent, barefoot, cross-toting parade and the costumes), but still fascinating. The atmosphere was peacefully celebratory.  

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Day and evening in the Zocalo there were many lovely, handcrafted items for sale at good prices including tapetas  and novel folk art ‘alebrijes’ – my favorites. https://www.nps.gov/cham/learn/historyculture/oaxacan-art.htm 

Restaurants, with outdoor seating, surrounded the Zocalo.  The local cuisine included mole as one of the specialities. Very tasty and exciting sauces. http://www.epicurious.com/archive/blogs/editor/2014/09/the-7-definitive-types-oaxacan-mole.html  oaxacacity-cafe-justinhenderson

El Noche de Rabenos – The Night of the Radishes

Enamored with Oaxaca City I visited again to celebrate Navidad (Christmas) with my mother who flew down from California.  One of the unique discoveries we made was the competition of carving giant radishes into amazing structures and artistic shapes.

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   http://www.goseewrite.com/2011/06/oaxaca-mexico-night-of-radishes/#

The Guelaguetza  

We also enjoyed an unforgettable evening’s entertainment watching dances from all of the 16 regions of Oaxaca. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mxAP_AHw2PM  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2k25Th6k0ks 

 

hotel-camino-real-oaxaca-PF38832_8Normally this festival is held in July, but for the tourists who flock there in Navidad they hold special shows at some of the hotels.  We attended one at the lovely convent converted into the now Camino Real Hotel.

 

Monte Alban

There are many tours available which could be booked at the hotels.  Although we had a rental car we decided to take a tour bus to the fascinating ancient city of Monte Alban and thereby also learning more about it with a guide who spoke passable English.  Monte Alban and the colonial historic center of Oaxaca are listed as a two-part UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Monte_Alban_temple_2006_08“Monte Alban is the most important archaeological site of the Valley of Oaxaca. Inhabited over a period of 1,500 years by a succession of peoples – Olmecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs – the terraces, dams, canals, pyramids and artificial mounds of Monte Albán were literally carved out of the mountain and are the symbols of a sacred topography. The grand Zapotec capital flourished for thirteen centuries, from the year 500 B.C to 850 A.D. when, for reasons that have not been established, its eventual abandonment began. The archaeological site is known for its unique dimensions which exhibit the basic chronology and artistic style of the region and for the remains of magnificent temples, ball court, tombs and bas-reliefs with hieroglyphic inscriptions. The main part of the ceremonial centre which forms a 300 m esplanade running north-south with a platform at either end was constructed during the Monte Albán II (c. 300 BC-AD 100) and the Monte Albán III phases. Phase II corresponds to the urbanization of the site and the domination of the environment by the construction of terraces on the sides of the hills, and the development of a system of dams and conduits. The final phases of Monte Albán IV and V were marked by the transformation of the sacred city into a fortified town. Monte Albán represents a civilization of knowledge, traditions and artistic expressions. Excellent planning is evidenced in the position of the line buildings erected north to south, harmonized with both empty spaces and volumes. It showcases the remarkable architectural design of the site in both Mesoamerica and worldwide urbanism.”                     http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/415

We enjoyed exploring the pyramid like stone structures and hearing about the ancient ball games they played; until we heard that the games involved human sacrifice! http://www.ancient.eu/article/604/     Nevertheless, it was a riveting place to visit. http://www.mexonline.com/oaxaca/oxarc101.htm

El Arbol del Tule

“El Arbol del Tule” © 2012 Rafael Bautista http://www.Pixamundo.com

El Arbol de Tule and The Hand Woven Tapetas of Teotitlan del Valle

Another day we drove to see this tree said to be the widest in the world.  It is an easy drive from Oaxaca City about 25 miles east to the small town of Tule.  The 2,000 year old tree is well preserved and well worth the time to walk around it.  The town of Santa Maria de Tule is pleasant too, with gardens and cafes. 

The tapetas can be viewed in the plaza of Teotitlan del Valle, another 15 minutes or so by car.  There you can haggle the prices and even meet the makers.  A1_1611Of course there are also many other hand crafts for sale.  

Later we explored the shops where it is possible to enjoy a demonstration of how the actual dyes are made naturally from thousands of tiny insects called Cochineal.  When these die, dry out and are squashed they make a deep red color from which many dye other colors are created when combined with other substances.  Not all of the dyes used in these marvelous rugs are natural, but some creators specialize in only using natural dyes.  My mother and I were treated to private demonstrations of the natural process. 

http://www.teotitlan.com/naturaldyes.htm    This rug is very special as my mother bought it that day and it is made of all natural dyes. 

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I bought these ones but they are a mixture of natural and man-made dyes. 

Santa Maria de Tule and Teotitlan del Valle can be explored with one or several tours including ‘Hievrves del Aqua’ which I visited the first time I came.  It does require some rough walking but you can go wading in an interesting natural, said to be healthy, pool too.  (I did!) 

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http://www.oaxacatimes.com/nov-dec-jan2012/25-front-section/53-exploring-oaxaca-outside-the-city 

There are wonderful pictures of it here at “Mexico’s Freeze-Frame Falls” http://www.kuriositas.com/2010/12/hierve-el-agua-mexicos-freeze-frame.html 

Folk Art

As you can see, Oaxaca has a tremendous amount to explore and enjoy!  I could go on an on, but I will finish with more images of the folk art I enjoyed there.  IMG_6254

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Of course you may have seen these here where you will be charged a fortune and sadly, in most cases, the creators will only be paid a fraction of what you will pay!  Better to go there, choose from hundreds of hand made items and be generous with the actual artists.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alebrije 

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Top Ten Cities N0. 7 – Dublin

Ireland-Map

My Criteria:

  • Attractive location, lots of parks, green spaces and a water attraction
  • The central historical area can be enjoyed on foot
  • Activities include historic sights, outdoor entertainment and museum
  • Transportation is fun and convenient
  • Lots of coffee shops, pubs and culturally interesting food

Dear Reader,

Before I begin with Dublin reflections and explorations, I’d like to encourage you to please comment not only about anything you like related to what you read here, but also – what are your favorite cities?  Where would you like to visit again or for the first time?  I’d really like to know!

Dublin is a fascinating city, but because I have only been there once (on a coach tour) I don’t know it well.  In fact, the short time I spent there was exciting and a little overwhelming. (Dublin is the largest city in the Republic of Ireland with over 500,000 people in the central area and over 1,800,000 in the greater Dublin area according to a 2011 census. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dublin  That makes it slightly larger than Edinburgh.) I would love to visit there again and I see this blog post as an opportunity to revisit what I saw and to plan where I would like to go if I ever I return.

What I recall to begin with is the convenient airport.  As airports go, (and I have been in so many of them that I’m writing a separate series about them next when I finish this Top Ten Cities series!) Dublin is a favorable one. Yelp gives it good reviews as does the site ‘Sleeping in Airports’. http://www.yelp.com/biz/dublin-airport-dublin-6 http://www.sleepinginairports.net/europe/dublin.htm

After our short flight from Edinburgh, my mother and I met our tour guide there and were quickly taken to our cozy hotel.  After settling into out hotel we toured the city in the coach which partly explains why I was overwhelmed.  They always try to pack so much information into these tours that it sets your head spinning.  (I wouldn’t recommend this! Neither your head spinning or coach tours.)  What stood out from where I sat was that the doors of the older homes were very colorful and I’d love to photograph them.  Google them yourself, as I just did to get these images, and you’ll see that they’re famous.  Colorful and fun-loving as the Irish themselves have a reputation of being.

I do highly recommend one of the places they took us to on the bus tour, Dublin’s 700-year-old Castle.  Dublin-Castle-Green-Park-2012.JPG

It is still used for matters of state and so a portion of it can only be seen with a tour although sometimes that part is closed.

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Richly furnished and highly colorful as you can see, it is one of the most enjoyable castles I ever did! You can explore and read much more with this link: http://www.dublincastle.ie/HistoryEducation/History/IntroductionABriefHistoryofDublinCastle/

[And now for a complete aside: Blarney Castle.

100195_Dublin_Blarney Castle_d503-21You may have heard of it and how you’re supposed to kiss the stone for luck – which involves lying on your back over an edge and is a complete absurdity that you’re welcome to do if you’re of a mind!  As for me, well, I took a picture of it and that was enough! (I mean seriously, the germs from thousands of lips must be on that thing! And I don’t believe in luck anyway.  Shhh! I hope the leprechauns didn’t hear that. 😉

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But what I’d never heard before, and am glad I found out, is that there is the most delightful (perhaps even magical) garden down below the castle. images-8

After you climb up the stone stairs and wander around the well-worth-the-effort-ruin, view the views, lay on your back and kiss the crazy crag (if you must), then climb down again and go get lost in that garden even if its raining!  (It wasn’t when I was there, but I would have gone anyway.)

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Being in that garden was one of best experiences of the trip.  If ever there was a place to encounter the leprechauns it would be there, don’t cha know?

(My mother, who loved gardens, was sadly seduced by the tour guides sell of spending the time in the kitschy tourist shops, which is another reason I do not recommend coach tours.  Nevertheless, she enjoyed herself.)

http://www.blarneycastle.ie/pages/plan-your-visit

So here we are a post about Dublin and I’ve gone to Blarney Castle!  Rather ‘Irish’ of me! (You know the quirky humor, like, when asked how to get somewhere in Ireland an Irishman might say, “To begin with, if I wanted to go there I wouldn’t start from here.”)

But, let’s get back to Dublin Castle now directly because my background is Scottish, not Irish! (Well, Scots-Irish-English-German-Cherokee-(?), if you really want to know!)

Another thing I’d like to mention that I found interesting about my Dublin Castle visit. was that in front there is a statue of ‘Lady Justice’.  statue-of-lady-justice-at-dublin-castle-in-dublin-ireland-brt8yxVery impressive with her sword and scales.  But the strange things which were pointed out to us on the tour include the facts that she is looking the wrong direction – away from the city, has an odd smile on her face, and is not blind-folded indicating that she is not blind to discrimination!  Given Ireland’s stormy history of oppression by the English monarchy and other complicated political messes I suppose this shouldn’t be surprising.  http://comeheretome.com/2010/01/10/and-justice-for-all/

Trinity_college_dublin_parliament_squareAnother highlight that I recall from my brief visit to Dublin was going to Trinity College and seeing, with my own two eyes in the amazing library there… 4+Book+of+Kells+Trinity

The Book of Kells. sv_bok_16_big

As a book and history lover, illustrated manuscripts have always fascinated me. The Book of Kells is the crème de le crème of delightfully illustrated ancient manuscripts. If you would like to read more about it, here you are: https://www.tcd.ie/Library/manuscripts/book-of-kells.php

If I ever have the opportunity to return to Dublin there a number of things I’d like to do such as exploring the city on foot. It is apparent from what I’ve read that this is possible as the city is quite compact. It looks like just the sort of city that would make for a fun adventure to set off in and see where my feet take me. http://www.youramazingplaces.com/explore-ireland-top-15-places-to-visit-in-dublin/

As for my ‘criteria’, it seems that there are water attractions and lots of green areas in the city center.  There are many park-like ‘squares’ and ‘greens’ some with statues and no doubt lots of quirky history.  http://www.visitdublin.com/dublin-nature-spots/

There is also a canal to walk along, as well as the river Liffey. It is possible to explore the city following either, or both of these – at different times of course. http://goireland.about.com/od/dublintours/qt/liffey_walk.htm This link has many great suggestions which I would like to try out!  For example, The National Museum of Ireland is along this walk as well the castle and “O’Connell Street…a street of superlatives…reputed to be Europe’s widest urban street…home to the “Spire“, the world’s tallest piece of sculpture.” Spire1Whatever you do, take an umbrella.

I’d also like to visit the Writer’s Museum, take a tour and see some lunchtime theater. I’d like to learn more about “Swift and Sheridan, Shaw and Wilde, Yeats, Joyce and Beckett who are among those presented through their books, letters, portraits and personal items.” http://www.dublintourist.com/details/dublin-writers-museum.shtml  You can take a virtual tour here: http://www.virtualvisittours.com/dublin-writers-museum/

imagesOf course Dublin is well known for its pubs and the Guinness! If you’re into dry stout tasting then another place to visit is: https://www.guinness-storehouse.com/en/gravity-bar Looks like it might be fun for the view even if you don’t drink that dark stuff which they say is supposed to be “Good For You”!

 

If you prefer tea or coffee there are countless cafes, tea and coffee shops. I’d go for the tea shops first and here are some that sound like lots of fun: http://lovindublin.com/best-of/the-top-10-places-to-enjoy-a-good-cup-of-tea-in-dublin

But if it’s the coffee that you’re after then these cafes look great too: http://www.subscribedublin.com/listing/dublin-top-10-coffee-shops/  And it seems possible to avoid Starbucks for a change!

Of course these places will serve you lots of sweets as well as possibly some savories. No doubt you will find lots of corn beef and cabbage, Irish stew along with potatoes or fish and chips in pubs if you like.  But Dublin is an international city with all sorts of food so you may have what you like if you don’t mind paying the price. http://www.travelmuse.com/articles/dublin/best-dublin-restaurants

Coming near the end of this post, a visit to Dublin wouldn’t be complete without hearing some authentic, traditional (trad) Irish music.  (Listening to this is what makes me want to get on a plane back to Dublin now!)  This place is recommended: http://www.gogartys.ie/music/

And here’s some information about it all and more trad to almost end with: http://www.ireland.com/en-us/events/music-and-theatre/traditional-music-and-dance/articles/trad-music/

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Finally, I must recommend a visit to Christ Church Cathedral where recently my cousin, Travis Rogers, a well-know choir director at Napa High School led a large group of students in making beautiful music.  https://www.facebook.com/roxanne.rogers.52
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