Friday, February 17, 2017

Riding the Empire Builder

from Bingen, Washington
to Essex, Montana

I'm starting to question my sanity.  Why would I want to leave a cold snow-covered Oregon for even a colder more snow-covered Montana?

Blue Skies--that's why.

Montana is often called Big Sky Country, but for me it will always be Blue Sky Country.  We have had snow and gray skies for months now in the Columbia River Gorge.  I needed some color!  I didn't care if I was heading into 12 feet snow drifts and avalanches, it was that Big Blue Sky I was craving.

The truth is an avalanche almost derailed us.  Only four days before our departure all railroad traffic was stopped between Whitefish and Cut Bank, Montana, due to an avalanche that caused ten feet of snow to drift on to the tracks.  I got a text on my phone from Amtrak to make alternative travel plans.

Man, was I bummed.

But the track was cleared by the time we were to leave and even though the train was late, we were two happy campers.  We boarded the Empire Builder on Friday evening with a bottle of wine and a massive submarine sandwich.  We ate our dinner by the light of a full moon before stretching out in our bunk beds for a good night's sleep.

In the morning when I opened the curtains, I was in Montana.  And there was sun!

We were actually happy the train had been late the night before because that meant we could see more of Montana in the daylight as the train rolled through Libby, Whitefish and West Glacier National Park.

The Empire Builder is the name of the Amtrak train that goes from Seattle to Chicago.  There is a spur line from Portland which we caught in Bingen, Washington that hooks to the Seattle section in Spokane.  When I discovered this line stops at a ski resort just south of Glacier National Park, I was on board.  
  We had coffee in our sleeper car the next morning and my travel buddy finally understood why I love train travel so much.  Slow travel is relaxing travel.  There is something so magical about sitting back and watching the world go by.  We were glued to our seats all morning.
We arrived in Essex just before noon and a shuttle from the Izaak Walton Inn was waiting for us.  For the next four days we would be living in this beautiful old hotel, tucked between mountains and surrounded by 30 miles of Nordic ski trails.

So, yes, we left snow for even more snow and yes, it sounds crazy.  But this trip turned out to be very enjoyable.  There was definitely a method to our madness.  Several days without cell phone reception, news or t.v. for one thing.  Plus, our skiing improved.

  But best of all, I got my travel buddy hooked on trains!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Seattle Harbor Cruise

On my last day in Seattle, I bought a ticket for the one-hour narrated cruise aboard the Spirit of Seattle.  In other waterfront cities like Hong Kong, San Francisco and Sydney, I took these harbor cruises on the first day, rather than the last, in order to get myself oriented.  I think I'm going to change my tune from now on.  I loved seeing where I have been from the vantage point of the sea.

When touring a new city, everything is so new and exciting that your own adrenaline keeps you going at an accelerated pace.  Sitting on the upper deck of the boat while watching the world float by, forces you to stop, to catch your breath, to dream and to weigh the varied reasons that brought you here in the first place.

I entered a sort of dreamscape.  Although the narration was entertaining, I found myself drifting in and out, more entranced by the green and blue colors of the bay and the mist that was slowly enveloping the city in a veil of tulle.

   While the city faded, other destinations popped into my mind.  For me, this is always a good thing.  I love trips that spur the desire for more.

  As our boat entered the busy port area, I reminisced about our 2013 Panama Canal trip.  After watching freighter after freighter transit the narrow locks, I remember wanting to cross the Pacific on one of them.  I hadn't thought about that for awhile, but once that aspiration resurfaced in Seattle, I have not been able to get it out of my mind. 
I left the Argosy cruise with a sense of happiness and contentment.  I had come here for two reasons.  To explore a new city, but also to escape a debilitating depression.  Seattle helped me to understand that as upsetting as current events are, there is still beauty in the world and hope for the future.  She's not that far away that I can't hop on that train and return again and again and again.  Whenever the need arises.  

Good-Bye Seattle.

Until we meet again.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Folks at Miners Landing

Exploring Seattle

Bathroom anxiety.  This isn't a topic for a blog about magical moments but let's face it, every traveler in a strange land has experienced it.  I've known a few who have stopped traveling altogether because of it.  I once took a bus from Mexico City to San Miguel de Allende with my elderly aunt who screamed at the driver, "If you don't stop at a bathroom within ten minutes you better have a mop on board because there's gonna be a big old puddle on your floor."

He did.
And so I found myself running down halls and up and down stairs at a place called "Miners Landing" in search of a public restroom.  I figured there had to be one somewhere.  This looked like one of those tourist enclaves.  You know the type.  Junk shops.  Fudge.  Cotton Candy.  Fish and chips. Even a carousel.  It was early enough in the morning that the Ladies Room was freshly sanitized.  Ah, relief!

  I swear the old guy above winked at me as I walked past him.  (These old men do that to me, you know.)  He could tell I was a different person now.  More relaxed.  Eager to look around.  Look at him.

Then a chorus of voices sprung up from every corner of the place.

"Hey, lady, what's your hurry?"

"Hey, cutie, wanna take my picture?"

They were everywhere.  In front of every shop.  Unloading merchandise from the rafters.  Singing.  Hawking their wares.  Life size wooden creatures with big grins and happy dispositions.  Begging.  Extolling their charms.  Besieging me to hang out for awhile.

I snapped away, happy as a clam.  I had found my people.
I even started to laugh at myself, realizing I was becoming as crazy as my dearly departed aunt.  But you know what?  She was out there traveling the world in her eighties.  With obstinacy and a raunchy sense of humor.

I want to keep traveling, too, even when I'm white-haired, wrinkled and walking with a cane.  I'm not letting any anxiety stop this old gal.  No way! 

"Oh, for crying out loud," this wise one advised, "Just buy some Depends and be done with it!"

Monday, February 6, 2017

SAM What Not I Am

Exploring Seattle

I love visiting art museums.  From the great ones like the Louvre and the Prado to the smaller more intimate ones like the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.  It is my own reaction to the art within that is the draw.  What is going to move me?  Will it be the Mona Lisa?  The Night Watch?  Or some obscure work in the far recesses of the building.  More often than not, it is the latter.
The Seattle Art Museum (SAM for short) has several stellar exhibits ranging from the art of Ancient Greece to contemporary American.  But it was the masks, this time, that stopped me in my tracks.  Ethnic art has always been a singular interest of mine, but something deeper was going on here--something that I hadn't really explored until I walked through room after room of masks collected from all corners of the world.
Masks have always been a part of the arts.  We wear costumes in theater, dance and opera.  Masks bring alive cultural history, morality tales and folk lore.  They teach and enlighten.  But something else goes on when you put on a mask.  You transmogrify into a different being.  I witnessed this phenomenon as a young dancer.  Put me in a beautiful costume and my confidence soared.  A triple pirouette?  No problem.
But masks aren't just for artists.  Masks are a necessity in a civilized world.  They hide our bigotry.  Our xenophobic tendencies.  They hide those shameful, politically incorrect thoughts that are best hidden if we are all to live together in peace.  Taking off the mask exposes the true nature of our souls.  And that nature, I have come to realize, is not one that inspires.  It is dark.  Ugly.  Self-centered and cruel.

Best to cover our true nature up.
Best to wear a mask.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Olympic Iliad

Art in Public Places

Artist:  Alexander Liberman
Installed:  1984
Location:  Seattle Center