Vacation in England, Part 1: Bath

In September, we giddily embarked upon our first international trip since COVID brought us back from Mexico City, the latest destination in our traveling retirement, quite abruptly in March 2020. We took advantage of our oldest child, Aryk, restarting their education to carve out two weeks in England!

Aryk had deferred graduate school for a year due to the pandemic, but with two vaccines in their arm and a trove of masks in their suitcase, they were eager to begin pursuing their master’s degree in Creative Writing/Poetry at Bath Spa University in Bath, England.

So the three of us flew to the UK in mid-September. Lisa and Aryk headed to Bath, Lisa driving white-knuckled on the left side of the road to Aryk’s uni lodging, while Bob settled into a condo in London to explore for a few days on his own.

Beautiful Bath

Bath is a stunning World Heritage City about two hours west of London. It has a lovely old center of town and a lively culture. While we were there, the city was hosting a major Children’s Literature Festival. We movedAryk into Student Castle, and did the shopping and exploring they needed, with little time left for sightseeing.

Aryk’s studio flat, still being unpacked, obviously. But the bed is made!

Bath is named after its Roman-built baths, and is renowned as a well-being destination. It’s located in the valley of the River Avon, a scenic, winding river with a path that I enjoyed during an early morning run.

The River Avon

Bath also hosts a scenic stretch of the 87-mile-long Kennet and Avon Canal, which runs from London to the Bristol Channel on the coast. I ran or walked on its dirt towpath several mornings. One day, Aryk and I happened upon it after shopping at Tesco Express just before sunset. The light on the buildings made from golden Bath stone was truly captivating.

Just as interesting to me was the narrowboats tethered along the canal, in which people lived. (Note the bikes lashed on top.)

These are working canals, albeit an incredibly slow mode of transportation, and I was fortunate to witness a narrowboat navigating an 18-foot-deep lock called the Bath Deep Lock, the second-deepest lock in the country. Watch my video on the Messy Suitcase YouTube channel! (And please subscribe while you’re there.)

This narrowboat, captained by two women you can see up at the loch, had a canoe lashed to the top!

I definitely plan to return to Bath for a tourism visit someday!

On to the Next Phase

We’re finishing up our Vermont maple liqueur in a symbolic transition as we prepare to depart next week for the next stop on the Messy Suitcase tour, the birthplace of piña coladas: Puerto Rico! 

Our September vacation in England (taking our oldest child, Aryk, who is pursuing their master’s at Bath Spa University, to school) was great preparation for re-entry to our traveling lifestyle, post-COVID version. We are double-vaxxed, indoor-masked, and ready to launch our lives again as traveling retirees.

Before we set off, we’re spending a long weekend in Colchester, VT, north of Burlington, with our son, Gavin, who was also with us when we launched the traveling life in 2018.

On Tuesday, Gavin returns to Champlain College after this break, and Bob and I head to Manchester, NH, to park our car at a park/sleep/fly lot and board a plane the next morning for Puerto Rico!

A Few Changes

This time we will be renting a car instead of driving our own. We’ll have just one cat, Kaylee, instead of the three we started with — Equinox passed away in Mexico City last year, and Ellie lives with Gavin at Champlain College. We are heading to Puerto Rico, a US territory, instead of back to Mexico for COVID safety and COVID convenience — less testing hassle.

Kaylee helps pack

But life is too short to spend any more time waiting for the pandemic to end. It’s time to live again. We have to learn to navigate COVID while staying safe and enjoying life. We plan to spend a month in Luquillo in an oceanfront condo, and a month in San Juan.

Wish us luck, and subscribe to our blog!

Hasta la vista!

Lisa

The Birds of Lake Rescue, Vermont

We have been summering at Lake Rescue in Ludlow, Vermont, and the sheer magnitude of the wild birds that make their home on and around this 184-acre body of water in the Green Mountains is breathtaking. The secret to seeing the most avian activity is to rise early and get out on the lake, preferably in a kayak, to observe the birds’ early-morning fishing routines before the human population begins to intrude. Here are a few.

(If you click on the pictures, they will expand to full size.)

Duck Duck Goose

Ducks and geese are by far the most common bird we have found on the lake. They are bold and will swim right up to your boat or climb on your dock.

Loons

Common loons have been living on Lake Rescue for more than a decade.

Herons

I was fortunate to encounter Great Blue Herons and Snowy Egrets fishing early in the morning on Round Pond, at the north end of Lake Rescue. The grasses on the isthmus between the lake and the Black River, and the sand bar created by storms, provide and enticing place for birds to walk and fish.

Ospreys

We discovered ospreys, on the direction of a neighbor, in a cove near the Red Bridge.

Bald Eagle

A bald eagle family maintains a nest in a cove near Discovery Island, and returns year after year to hatch new eggs.

Frozen Pineapple Margarita

If you can’t be adventuring because of COVID-19, then it’s time to go on some journeys of the palate! So last night I created Frozen Pineapple Margaritas. I didn’t have Triple Sec but Simple Syrup did the trick. Here is the recipe:

Ingredients

frozen pineapple margarita
  • 1 cup ice
  • 1/2 cup frozen pineapples
  • 1 1/2 ounces tequila (White is recommended but reposado is also delicious)
  • 1 ounce triple sec (or Simple Syrup)
  • 1 ounce lime juice
  • Garnish: Slice of lime

Instructions:

  • In a blender chop ice and pineapples. You may need to add lime juice at this stage.
  • Add other ingredients.
  • Blend until smooth.
  • Poor into chilled class with lime garnish.
  • Enjoy!

Makes 1 margarita. Obviously multiply the recipe to make more. A blender will have enough room for three. Feel free to add extra ice depending on how thick you like your margaritas and how hot it is outside.

5 minutes

New Orleans, Part 2: The National World War II Museum

On our single full day in New Orleans, we opted for history instead of entertainment and headed to the National World War II Museum. It was, without a doubt, one of the most spectacular, illuminating museums I have ever experienced in my life. This museum, which started out as the D-Day Museum in 2001, and is located in New Orleans because most of the landing craft used on that turning-point day in history was manufactured here. The D-Day Museum was so well received that it was expanded a few years later to become the National WWII Museum.

Lisa’s dog tag

You start by getting a dog tag to represent a soldier you will be tracking all day at check-in stations, and board the same kind of train many soldiers took when they embarked on their journeys. It was a truly immersive experience as, with seats rocking, the train whistle blowing and the grainy black-and-white landscape flying by, the conductor welcomed you aboard.

Beyond Boundaries Film

After getting off the train, we started our explorations by watching the 48-minute film Beyond Boundaries, a 4D experience narrated by Tom Hanks that used film and other sensory effects, including a 1930s wooden-cabinet radio, falling snowflakes, a plane cockpit that lowered from the ceiling to punch out an air battle scene, and more to introduce us to the sheer magnitude of World War II. The mini-documentary stunningly put into perspective the global threat presented by German Furer Adolph Hitler, Italian Benito Mussolini, and Emperor Hirohito of Japan, the Axis leaders who wanted nothing less than global domination. It ended at the climax, the bombing of Pearl Harbor that dragged the United States in the war and engaged every person in the country in the fight for the very survival of democracy.

We learned how the ill-equipped United States, previously hesitant to join in the war as Nazi forces took over country after country, stepped up when it came under attack. Men young and old rushed to join the war effort and defend their country against the invaders. Women, who were home raising children, took factory jobs and churned out an incredible volume of planes, jeeps, weapons, artillery and more.

The European Theater

The WWII Museum is comprised of five buildings, and we only had one day, so we chose to enter the Road to Berlin: European Theater gallery. I don’t even know how to describe the experience after this. We spent five awe-struck hours being assaulted from all sides by grainy black-and-white film, sound and lighting effects, real-life voices telling their stories, radio broadcasts, flashes and explosions, and much more.

This breathtaking exhibit took us through the major steps in the European campaign, starting with North Africa and moving across Italy, southern France, Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge, D-Day, England, and  Germany, that culminated in the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. We experienced the shock that troops felt when they discovered the atrocity of the concentration camps and the slaughter of 6 million Jews, as well as millions of others deemed inferior to Hitler’s Aryan race. We met military leaders and foot soldiers, journalists (including Ernie Pyle’s life and death) and pilots. We saw airplanes and jeeps, nurses’ uniforms and bomber jackets. We shivered in the snowy woods in Germany and leaned away from incoming anti-aircraft fire from a small plane. I thought of my three Troisi uncles who flew many missions in Europe and for the first time had a concept of what their experience was like.

A plane goes down during an air battle

My dog tag soldier, John, was a 17-year-old who went to Canada to pursue becoming a pilot when the United States rejected him because of a previous broken neck. He ended up doing bomb runs for Canada, and then England, before the United States decided to let him join. He won a medal of honor and was a prisoner of war in Germany for more than a year.

Planes, Jeeps and Submarines

We also visited the US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center, where we saw a number of WWII planes and jeeps, as well as the Medal of Honor Exhibit.

Wartime aircraft
Medal of Honor recipients

We still need to go back to see the other Campaign of Courage: The Pacific Theater, especially since that’s where Bob’s dad was stationed on a Destroyer Escort in 1943-45. There’s a whole hall, the Arsenal of Democracy, that we didn’t have time for, and a doomed submarine experience I’m interested in. The outdoor area is under construction to create a Freedom Garden.

New Orleans is about a lot more than Jazz and Jambalaya. If you visit this city, definitely devote a day or two to the National WWII Museum. To get the full experience of the museum, watch Bob’s video on the Messy Suitcase YouTube channel.

By Lisa Hamm-Greenawalt

New Orleans, Part 1: Jazz and Jambalaya

We just spent a couple of nights in New Orleans to break up the road trip from Pennsylvania to Mexico City. We rented a lovely, pet-friendly cottage through AirBnB that had a kitchen, living room and two bedrooms, just a short Uber ride from the action.  It was pristine, affordable and super comfortable.

After working out and showering, we spent our first NOLA night on Bourbon Street, a place we barely got to explore last year when we came through because it was just too loud for Gavin. But this time, with Gavin off at college, we headed down there again. Mardi Gras is still a month away, so it wasn’t high season yet, and we headed out early to avoid crushing crowds and deafening noise.

Bourbon Street is the heart of the touristy French Quarter, and we were planning to go to historic Preservation Hall to see classic New Orleans jazz. For $20 seats on the floor, we would need to stand in line outside to get day-of-show tickets. After a day spent driving, we weren’t in the mood.

Bourbon Street

So we instead opted to get a more local experience recommended by our Uber driver, Joe. First we shared a mouthwatering dinner of blackened redfish and jambalaya at an oyster bar on Bourbon called Le Bayou. Jambalaya is a kind of dirty rice with spicy tomato sauce and andouille sausage. We also enjoyed hurricanes, a classic New Orleans drink with rum and fruity juices. Our waiter kept calling us “y’all,” so we couldn’t forget we were truly in the south. After filling our stomachs, we strolled along Bourbon, taking in the crowd scene, and even saw a school band marching up the road, followed by a small parade of what I assume was a krewe, a social organization that helps put on a parade or ball during the carnival season, which runs January and February.  

Bourbon Street is amazingly loud, even in the off-season, and the road is closed to traffic so people can just wander at their leisure. Musicians with saxophones, guitars or even just spoons and plastic buckets, entertain for tips on street corners. The shops are filled with colorful art, with candy skulls, masks, voodoo paraphernalia, and jazz accouterments.

We walked about a mile to Frenchmen’s Street, a locals’ favorite area. Frenchmen’s is lined on both sides with lively bars and restaurants. As you wander along the sidewalk, you can listen to the music blasting out the open doors and choose your poison. Most have no cover and a local clientele. We chose Marigny Brasserie, and enjoyed an hour of music by a sweet jazz duo. A drunken regular celebrating her 71st birthday alone plopped down next to me at the bar and I was friendly to her. That turned out to be a mistake as she subsequently kept hitting me to get my attention, then ranting in a slurred voice about the injustices of her life and why it was horrible that the bar was showing The Waterboy and Captain Phillips on the big screen when people should be getting to know each other instead. Since she sitting on a stool between me and the band, it was impossible for me to watch the band. I guess if you want to be where the locals are, sometimes you have to put up with a local!

But we ducked out and wandered, encountering an Art Market where local artisans sold jewelry, paintings, even hand-made three-string guitars.

The band at Bamboulia’s

On the second evening, we ate at Bamboulina’s, a cozy bar with exposed brick walls, and enjoyed incredible pulled pork and a wonderful blues band. If I lived in NOLA, I think I would go to Frenchmen’s every weekend and try a different bar each time! Our last Uber driver encouraged us to try Magazine Street in Uptown New Orleans next time, so watch for that blog in the spring when we pass through again on our way back north!

Up next … The National World War II Museum

On the Road Again!

After 7 ½ months back in the States, we are back on the road again – this time, bound for Mexico City!

We left Bob’s mother Jane’s house in Mechanicsburg around 8 this morning, with a considerably lighter load than the last trip to Mexico: no Gavin, no Gavin’s luggage, no Ellie the adventure cat, and no bari sax. They have all migrated to Burlington, VT, where Gavin is in their freshman year studying filmmaking. We were also able to leave a few things at Bob’s mother’s house. She passed away three weeks ago, and we will be returning in the summer to fix up the condo and sell it.

Bob in the truck with the cats, ready to go

But till then, we are getting on with our life! And that means driving south.  First stop, Athens, Tennessee, tonight! We are staying at a clean, cheap Motel 8 that accepts cats with no fee and has a number of dining options within walking distance, plus about eight cheap gas stations.

Tomorrow we will hit the road again by 7:30 or 8 AM and drive to New Orleans, where we’ll spend two nights. Then, after another day driving, we’ll spend two nights in San Antonio to break up the 40-hour trip.

The newest addition to our dashboard menagerie, an African wild dog that Aryk gave Bob for Christmas. (He needs a name)

If all goes according to plan, we’ll cross the Mexican border at Laredo, TX, spend a night at the Midway Inn in Matehuala, México, and arrive in Mexico City on Feb. 2, hopefully in plenty of time to find a bar with the Super Bowl on TV. Hasta luego!

Back in the Saddle Again

It’s hard to believe it has been seven months since we left Mexico. A brief summer interlude in Vermont getting one of our vacation homes ready to sell and settling our youngest child, Gavin, into Champlain College in Burlington turned into a much longer stretch in the USA when Bob’s mother, Jane, called us in August to say she had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Enjoying a boat ride in Montreal during a weekend off working on the Vermont houses

So after spending the summer painting a house, tiling a kitchen, planting two gardens, refinishing a floor, staining two decks, replacing windows, and doing more tasks than I care to remember on both houses – punctuated, thank God, by a couple of long weekends in Montreal and Burlington and many visits to local craft breweries – we moved into Jane’s house in Mechanicsburg, PA, in October to care for her in her last months.

While living here, we kept busy. Lisa signed up for National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) in November and wrote a long-postponed book. Bob threw himself into the editing of his many videos from our time in Mexico for the Messy Suitcase YouTube channel. We both spent countless hours studying Spanish and practicing our instruments (Bob saxophone, Lisa guitar). We spent 9 days in Cancun in November, during a period when Jane was doing better and we needed a break.

The official winner’s certificate for Nanowrimo. Lisa wrote a YA fantasy novel called Elephant Rock.

We also spent time with some of Lisa’s family members around the winter holidays, and got to know Jane’s neighbors in her over-55 community. As her health deteriorated, we became quite attached to her regular visitors from Homeland Hospice, who became our family’s lifeline: her CNA (certified nursing assistant) Sherry, who came every day to bathe and dress her; her hospice nurse Hannah, who visited weekly; and our social worker Pam, who supported us all in too many ways to count.

Jane was able to lift a glass of champagne on New Year’s Eve. She passed away a week later.

Meanwhile, we cared for Jane and tried to keep her comfortable. We watched Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy with her. The kids came home for Christmas break and got to spend time with their grandmother. Bob’s sister Beth came to visit regularly.

And on Jan. 7, 2020, at the age of 89, Jane Greenawalt left us.

Now the funeral is over, the spawn are back at college, and we are officially empty nesters. Although Jane’s stuff still needs to be sorted and dispersed, and her condo needs to be fixed up to sell, we are deferring that till the summer.

It’s time for us to get back to our lives, at least for a while. So we are planning to return to Mexico later this month and spend the rest of winter and half of spring there. We’ll come back in late April, before Gavin’s school lets out for the summer, and spend some time in Vermont before returning to PA for the next round of heavy lifting.

This time we are headed for Mexico City! We are excited at the prospect of living in a big city, after spending the summer in rural Vermont and the fall in this Harrisburg suburb.  We are currently deciding between several condos in a safe neighborhood – Condesa, Roma Norte or Polanco – near a huge park (a requirement for us as runners). We are also looking at language schools, because we plan to study Spanish every day, at least for the first month, the way we did in Tlaquepaque last year. It will only be for two hours a day this time, because Lisa is editing her book and we want time to enjoy the city.

We’ll keep you posted as things develop! Right now the plan is to leave Jan. 28 and drive our trusty Toyota Tacoma (with two cats on board; the third now lives with Gavin at school) slowly south, stopping in Cincinnati, Memphis and Austin on the way so we can see some friends and take some breaks from the road. We should arrive in CDMX (Ciudad de Mexico, Spanish for Mexico City) on Super Bowl Sunday.

Wish us luck! Hasta luego!

Mexico City, here we come!