Alaska Days – A Hike

On this trip’s best Alaska day we took a hike – with lucky fine weather and great companions – two boys, nine and four, and their mom. We walked the little gravel track through Powerline Pass in Chugach State Park above Anchorage – a broad valley with a creek and many possible hikes – one of my favorite places in the world.

Lady Baby toddled a good way (considering the length of her stride), then, shaded by a blue umbrella, rode in a pack on her dad’s shoulders, carrying her pink “bey bey,” and keeping her eyes fixed on the antics of the two boys and Lady Cora. They ranged ahead of us, came back. And tore off again. (Four-year olds are not good at conserving energy and it dissipates early on, sometimes meaning a heavy armful for mom!)

Sitting on a heathery flank of the mountain, fragrant and warm in the sun, we ate a lunch of apples and egg salad sandwiches. No bugs – Alaska bliss. Her steps unsteady but determined on the springy ground cover, Lady Baby offered around a bag of chips. The boys repeatedly climbed above us, ran or rolled down, and tossed balls to Lady Cora.

Exactly 20 years ago, on most Wednesdays from late May to September, I walked in Powerline Pass. I wanted to make a record of the passing season and noted the retreat of snow, bloom dates, bearberry’s turn to red, and the first snowfall – and I filled pages with drawings of wildflowers. Those were great days.

But this day was even better.

monkshood, coastal fleabane


Alaska Days – A House

Alaska was beautiful this July – sunny, warm days with rain often in the night – green and clean and not plagued with forest fires, the mosquito torment from earlier in the spring subsided.

Every day Lady Baby and I set out for one playground or another. Sometimes I pulled her in an updated Radio Flyer wagon (plastic with seatbacks and seatbelts – but still trademark red). Fearless on slides and climbing structures, she runs along ramps and wants to try and walk the balance beams – so far from her first steps in February!

She’s 18 months old now, and calls her important people by name, mama and da (when she says these, she savors the sound). To my delight, I’m Kay-tee.

We name objects and critters – woof, meow, cat – switching back and forth from animal sound to animal name. Most anything we say she echoes in some form, the exciting bulldozers and yellow machines in the next-door neighbor’s back yard are “sheens.”

And companionable “yeahs” – drawn out into two expressive syllables – “eyeah.” Pushing her in the stroller one day, I told her about something that had happened, ending with “…but he gave it a good shot,” and she said “yeah” with so much compassion. Walking home near dinner time, Mrs. Hughes asked her if she knew who would be home when we got there, and the answer: “Yeah, Da!”

One evening I saw playhouse possibilities in the cardboard shipping box from a newly arrived chair. I cut little windows, used the box’s side fold to make a swinging door (easy to close), and with poster paint sticks (perfect for decorating cardboard, thick and colorful) drew on window frames and a window box with flowers. Mr. Carson suggested an “upstairs,” and we cut a hole in the roof making a dormer (with an opening window), so the homeowner could stand and look out. As a finishing touch Mrs. Hughes folded a piece of cardboard to mimic a peaked roof – like Downtown Abbey’s.

We went to bed, proud of ourselves but secretly thinking our construction might be one of those things that amuse adults, without pleasing the target audience so much. But next morning Lady Baby quickly accepted the house as a place for her to retreat with stuffed woofs, sit on a cozy blanket, and close the door.

Or peek out and greet passers by with her enthusiastic “hi” or “bye!”


The Grand Bazaar

We visited the Grand Bazaar twice. One late afternoon we made a “scoping,” toe-wetting, exploratory, exciting foray to “get a feel.” It’s bigger and more fascinating than I even imagined – more than 4000 shops offering everything from tourist trinkets to antiques – textiles, silver and gold jewelry, ceramics, silken ware, light fixtures, prints, books, and much, much more – all along street-like arteries and byways, under a high curved ceiling of tile or patterned paint.

Persistent shopkeepers assail would-be customers with jokes in English (and probably jokes on us in Turkish), “Do you feel like seeing some of my rugs. I could feel like showing you some of my rugs!”

At one point the trail boss said yes (his spirit of adventure to bargain strengthened by the sweet bride who has been bartering all her life at home in Thailand), and we climbed tiny stairs inside a shop to a low-ceilinged space. Of course the salesman was charming, calling my good-natured husband “uncle,” offering us tea and chairs, and explaining the quality of his carpets by showing the double knotting and describing the natural dyes.

So, so beautiful. I am no good at bargaining anyway – and speechless in front of these glorious rugs. (I love the worn and bedraggled rugs we have, many tufts gone from the one in my studio – the pattern fragmented – but still a constant, daily pleasure.) So I tried to stay quiet and drink my apple tea, only reminding the trail boss quietly that he had a birthday to celebrate coming up.

The salesman quickly figured out the styles and colors most tempting to the young people (who kept saying “so beautiful, but more than we can afford”), and instructed his assistant to bring carpet after carpet to unroll and spread out, till we were surrounded by carpets on the walls and in layers on the floor.

Then one after another he’d ask, “This one you like?” An irresistible question, our minds want to make that decision. Soon just a few remained spread out on the hardwood floor – not large rugs, but alive with peachy warm tones and blue and red in geometric designs, both mysterious and utterly satisfying.

But no agreement on price. “Thank you for tea, the rugs are beautiful, but more than we can afford.” Much regret all around.

On our second, more deliberate day, the trail boss having figured out how to decode the maze of shop addresses, we returned with a list of shops in hand (I wanted linens for a wedding shower present for the daughter of my clever friend and found large Turkish towels in muted stripes with tasseled ends, and also rose kilim pillow covers for the young writer’s reading couch). And, we went back to the carpet store.

The trail boss is by trade a good negotiator, but admitting defeat in the face of desire, he named a price, heard the counter offer, the sweet bride suggested a third number – and suddenly, deal done, the rug was wrapped tightly in a whir of strapping tape and paper into a carry-on duffle for the airplane.

A grand day at the Grand Bazaar and a rug for a lifetime and beyond.

The Grand Bazaar

On the Bosphorus

Touts repetitively beseech you with “Bosphorus, Bosphorus, boat boat boat ride!” when you walk down Istanbul’s broad sidewalk waterfront. They are right. The boat’s the best.

We live on the Strait of Juan de Fuca across from Canada, and it is wider and has much less vessel traffic than the Bosphorus strait. There we watched all kinds of ferries, fishing boats, cruise ships, and tankers perpetually jostling for clearance. Mosques, hotels, summer homes, palaces, bridge access, and recreational beaches line the shores of the Bosphorus, both the European and Asian sides are completely developed.

We caught the 10:30 a.m. excursion ferry, and sat by the window for the hour and a half it takes to arrive at Eminönü on the Asian side, a fishing village become tourist destination. From the water we could see our goal – Adadolu Kavagi Kalesi – a ruin with a strategic position and a breathtaking view.

People piled off the ferry and dispersed. Like us, many began the steep hike up a street to the medieval castle. Rain caught us half way up, forcing a lunch stop with a view back toward the skyscrapers of Istanbul.

At the top a guard let us through the castle gate, and we leaned against a sturdy wall (only fragments remain from the original eight towers), thrilled to view the Black Sea and two continents!

Back in Eminönü, we caught a local bus full of shoppers juggling their baskets on wheels and rode past military installations, farmer’s markets, and small villages. In Kanlica, another steep climb led us to an elaborate residence, Hidiv Kasri, its impressive gardens now open to the public (and popular for wedding photos).

Back down the hill to the ferry stop, and across the strait to our beginning dock – just at sunset.

Bosphorus, Bosphorus! Yes!

Bosphorus Day

Istanbul – The Dark Side (Not)

A faithful reader asked when the travel stories would appear and again expressed dismay (he’s complained about this before) at the limitations of “Her Spirits Rose…,” pointing out that my posts are always upbeat – is there no dark side he asks?

As I began to write about the trip, I thought about that and how little tension from travel travails really impacts a trip’s overall flavor. This one had discomforts for sure: the cold and rain in Tuscany, getting sick, and concern about the Turkish protests. (I had a moment of real iPhone love as I sat in my bed in Rome, found the Istanbul hotel on the Internet, pushed the phone number, and spoke to a reassuring desk clerk who explained how far the hotel was from Taksim Square). But modern travel is a miracle – waking up knowing I get to take a boat on the Bosphorus to the Black Sea, see beautiful things and historic places. No darkness there.

The sheer pleasure of being with my family in such settings overwhelms my memories. The trail boss has an infectious embrace of life. He searches for gardens now that he’s a gardener, loves to sit on the piazza and watch the scene, is pretty much indefatigable, and the best route finder and guide book reader imaginable. To try and keep up with him and his always game sweet bride makes me really happy. And laugh. At each other, at ourselves.

Because of feeling not so great some of the time, I was doubly appreciative of my good-natured companions, and I can’t help wanting to celebrate that here.

It’s a good adventure to follow along wooded lanes or through Istanbul’s ancient spice bazaar (with an unusual detour through the dog and cat food market, stall after stall of animal chow), around the New Mosque, the Galata Bridge, and the Istanbul Post Office! (Actually a swell place with wooden benches where we stopped to get out of the sun and the crowds, watched regular people mailing parcels and buying stamps, and admired tile and woodwork.)

There is darkness in the protesters hurt in Taksim Square, and in the reality of being in a country where local television didn’t cover the demonstrations at all. But we walked by an Iranian embassy in Istanbul, making you think about Turkey as a link between two worlds, that badly need connection, in the same way Istanbul physically bridges two continents.

It is such a privilege to have actually been in Istanbul, and I’ll finish out the record with a few album pages of our four days – no time at all in a city so rich. I imagine thinking back as time goes on – remembering food and sights not covered here.

On the Internet are beautiful photos, a Google away, of the amazing places we visited – digital albums of stained glass and tile and carpets, imagery as rich as Istanbul’s history. (Hagia Sophia, in particular, has a virtual presence with videos of the dome and gorgeous photos.)

I owe my sister-in-law, long-time Turkey traveler, for the pleasure of reading “Strolling Through Istanbul” by Hilary Sumner-Boyd and John Freely before we left – a way to really learn about the city, stroll markets and monuments – from a summer armchair!

Tiles - Topkapi Palace Harem

Florence, Rome, Footwear and Tea

Piazza Santa Maria - Florence

30 May 2013 Florence

     This weather is so strange. Yesterday a fierce and very unpleasant wind.

     Arrived Florence about 11 a.m. – Hotel Santa Maria Novella, easy to find and beautiful, walked here from Santa Maria Novella train station.

     We are tired. Walked forever but not so productively as usually. Walked a route through Piazza della Signoria (Michealeangelo’s David and zillions of tourists), past the Uffizi, over Ponte Vecchio to Pitti Palace, and the Boboli Gardens.

     & back. Battling wind around the Duomo. Overwhelming.


The overwhelm came from getting sick, admitting to being sick. A bug – Tuscan or Alaskan or who knows what nationality – took residence in my upper chest. I don’t think I’ve ever had a virus quite like that one. Nothing more boring than telling cold symptoms, but it hurt.

Yet what’s one to do? Florence is the best of the best. I knew this would be just a quick visit – a return for us, a taster for the young people who will be back – and I kept going, because of tea (and Italian pharmaceuticals).

Most often tea came in a white china teapot full of really hot water from an espresso machine. Tea bags, yes, but generous amounts of hot water, making such a difference to a tight chest!

It was also cold – really cold – making the tea even more welcome.

Tea at Palazzo Strozzi

31 May/1 June 2013 Trastevere, Rome

A very different feel on this side of the Tibur, more a neighborhood, the routes and ways the trail boss finds are less touristed. In a hotel that used to be monastery, rooms were monk’s cells.

To the Borghese Gallery yesterday which we loved completely – a thrill. Bernini sculptures stop your heart.

So cold. The outdoor tables here are optimistically set with yellow cloths and flowers each morning and then dismantled when rain threatens.

Trying to ignore the throat and chest and soldier on. Still really fun. Don’t want to infect the others.

Grateful for this weekend without obligations, be late for breakfast.

Doing a bad job of writing about this.



Only one’s passport matters as much as footgear on a long trip with much walking. Sandals and hiking boots, of course, and at the last moment leaving home, I traded running shoes for little shoes made by Jambu. They have unnecessarily beautiful soles – an incised pattern one never sees.

My sandals spent the trip in the suitcase, but those Jambus pounded miles and miles of cobblestones without a complaint from my feet!

The trail boss and his sweet bride did a little shoe shopping in Rome – blue suede for the trail boss – and the latest fashion in Europe (maybe here also, I am not up-to-date) short, cute, leather boots for the sweet bride.

The best shoe purchase provides a transition to Istanbul next week – shoes from there for Lady Baby!

Turkish Shoes for Lady Baby

On to Siena

Towered Towns – San Gimignano to Siena

On this trip we traced our way from towered hilltown to towered hilltown. Twelve-mile days left little time for exploring our destination, but at day’s end once inside city walls, it seemed necessary (to the trail boss) to climb at least one tower and retrace our route through the patchwork of field and vineyard covering Tuscan hills.

San Gimignano’s towers were fortresses connected by wooden walkways in medieval times; now just 14 of the original 72 remain. From a distance tower silhouettes unmistakably identify San Gimignano.

The old, the high part of Colle Val d’Elsa at the top of a hill is narrow and walled, the lower and newer part is at the base of the hill. (On a freezing, rainy night we had a terrific dinner in Colle Alta and descended to Colle Basso for dessert  in a swift elevator that operates all night.)

Monteriggioni, a 13th Century castle caught often in battles between Siena and Florence then, is now a walled village with 85 inhabitants. It’s the stuff of a castle lover’s imagination – and Dante’s. He wrote of “horrible giants” on the edge of hell resembling Monteriggioni, “crowned with towers.”

And Siena – the perfectly preserved walled city – pictured here on a panforte package.



At a tiny grocery store during morning provisioning we were offered panforte as “typico” of Siena and “good for walking.” The paper package contained a tinfoil-wrapped cake made of almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts and dried figs in a little paper cake pan. Also included was a packet of powdered sugar, which, at an afternoon break, the sweet bride carefully sprinkled on top of the cake before dividing it in four.

Like so many things in Italy – soap wrappers, paper placemats, museum and bus tickets, paper packaging on sandwiches – it’s not necessary that the enclosure be beautiful, but it is.

Fava Beans and Beer

Once long ago my husband and I tried to follow the directions in a book suggesting walks around a medium-sized town in Italy. But getting out of the suburbs tested good natures with confusing roundabouts and astoundingly fast Italian cars whizzing this way and that.

Because it is larger and a real city, I couldn’t imagine that the approach to Siena could be anything other than difficult. But the ATG route led us through farms and small houses on a ridge that looked across at Siena. While stopped for a break by the side of a small lane, we watched a woman working in her abundant garden. Finished, she closed her garden gate, smiled as she called buon giorno and offered us handfuls of fava beans, indicating with gesture that we needn’t to cook them – just peel and eat.

So we did, and walked down the ridge on a track to a road, crossed it at a crosswalk, walked a few hundred meters along a busy road on a sidewalk, and found ourselves at a gate to Siena. We also found a little bar with tables outside and, with beer and chips, toasted the end of the walk and Siena above us.

And a sign for escalators! We rode with great modern pleasure up into the ancient city, walking the narrow streets to the center to emerge on the tilted, clamshell-shaped Piazza del Campo (where the famous horserace, the Palio, is run) – filled with tourists, scattered at tables in cafes, and sitting cross-legged on the piazza bricks.

28/29 May 2013 Siena

     The trail boss led us on a Siena walk after a big hotel breakfast, through neighborhoods to the Museo Civico at the foot of the campo and a stop for coffee and tea and pizza.

     It’s crazy to just spend a little more than a day in this place – but wonderful. In the museum, Lorenzetti’s amazing frescoes (14th Century), the “Allegory of Good and Bad Government and Their Effects on the Town and Countryside.” Things haven’t changed much – while the scenery in “good government” is Tuscan countryside full of prosperity and bounty and a bearded old man surrounded by virtues (including a comfortably reclining Peace), the “bad government” panels (much decayed) show sad scenes – citizens robbed and fields without produce.

     While the others climbed the 503 steps up the Torre del Mangia, I walked up fewer steps to an open-air loggia with views out and over the walls.

     After another break for tea and food we visited the black and white Duomo, Siena’s cathedral, at a late afternoon, very mellow time. Enjoying puzzling out the mosaic flooring of inlaid marble panels, finding Bernini’s sculptures in a small chapel dedicated to Mary. In the crypt below saw newly uncovered frescoes in vivid colors.

     We made good use of time. My favorite moment an unexpected climb to the top of a part of the Duomo that didn’t get finished, a long skinny parapet with incredible views in all directions – of Siena and countryside.

     The trail boss been so much fun – as always – led us to Siena’s orto botanico – a teaching institution – and told me how much he loves plants – looking surprised.

     Wonderful time at dinner in a little place recommended by hotel – talking and laughing in conversation ranging from Jesus to Facebook.     




Via Francigena

Colle Val d'Elsa

No Naps

Cold wind dogged us in parts of this trip, that familiar-from-Washington feel of a damp, barely 50° day, and frequent rain squalls (a sideways downpour just as we left San Gimignano). Scarves brought along to cover our heads in mosques became everyday wear in Italy, and I was grateful for my down vest and wool socks.

Looking at photos from our other trip to Italy, I realize how very different this walk was. Several photos show three of us, all in a row, sound asleep on a riverbank, hats over faces – the routine nap after lunch!

Not this time. The first rain day we ate standing up under a tree, sharing a straw-wrapped bottle of Chianti (not a great idea but really fun at the time) while it hailed. Even on sunny days, the grass was wet by the sides of the trail. But those days were perfect for walking – cool, with the afternoon sun at our backs – through forests, stepping on stones at creek crossings, past castles and churches, and fields red with clover.

26/27 May 2013 Colle Val d’Elsa, Monteriggioni

     All day fair skies, big clouds, claps of thunder, but no downpours or even drops. We got, for us, an early start, felt good to walk in crisp air with sunshine. Farm tracks still have mud but strada bianca perfect. We spent a lot of the day following signs for Via Francigena – for hundreds of years the ancient pilgrim road from Canterbury to Rome – past Roman baths with still intact stones and clear water (must be really appealing to walkers on a hot day).

     Oak trees of all sizes, many olive groves and vineyards. Red poppies, tall scabiosa, Queen Anne’s lace. Lost my pen or I might have made some notes yesterday. Beautiful pastoral vistas of fields and forest, much walking through shaded forest, then next to plowed fields. Plenty of water taps along the route. We have a little rhythm now, not so desperate feeling as the rain day.

     Sweet little grocery store in Val Colle d’Elsa, bought apples, bread, chocolate, blue cheese, and nectarines. We ate Lara bars (thanks to Mrs. Hughes’s gift before the trip) at first morning breaks. Sandwich of Nutella and bread for me.

Dante (and Mud)

While reading Joan Acocella’s recent review of Dan Brown’s new book “Inferno,” I had a sudden vision of mud on the bottom of my boots so thick that it curled up and over the toes and broke off in big wads.

Because we were heading toward Siena and walking through the landscape of Dante, and because we asked, my good-natured husband told us stories from “The Divine Comedy.” During several straight and level patches of our route, he described Dante’s circles of hell, tales of betrayals and bad choices, actions and consequences – still so entertaining and instructive after 600 years. Clay-larded mud might make a good early hellish circle.

The rain and cold weather reduced the Tuscan farmers we met to lamenting, as tractors sat idle and fields stayed wet from days of rain. Small farm tracks, usually hard-packed and pleasant, became puddle-laced mud holes. We grew obsessed with the mud, trying to peel it off with poles, tired by walking on boots layered with heavy, spongy mud.

Acocella’s review is funny – she, like my husband, knows Dante – and in spite of herself makes the heavily plotted Brown “Inferno” sound a good junker read.

Fellow Travelers

The image of a little pilgrim – with staff and bundle – marks the route along the Via Francigena. Sometimes the image appeared on paper decals or proper signposts, but most often it was stenciled on fence posts or rock walls, black on a white splash of paint with blazes of red to either side. I always smiled at the sight, and we’d call out VF! Or Via Fran-chi-gena! to each other. I walked the pilgrims’ path thinking how it would be fun to carve a stamp with the little pellegrino.

Via Francigena pellegrino


Hotel Campo d'Fiori

22 May 2013 Rome

     Great room just off the Campo De’ Fiori in a hotel with terrace on top that we are not likely to use because so much rain! The guys who usually sell purses and gewgaws like flashlights with shattered laser beams now tout arms full of umbrellas and do a brisk business. Umbrellas and awnings that normally provide sun protection now shed rain. Tourists cover their heads with maps and look startled by this version of Rome as they splash along the cobbles. Nobody eats gelato.

     The front desk here has keys on tassels in little boxes, but the charming Roman who brought us up in a tiny elevator handed us a key card. All is gilt – chandelier and mirror frame – high wood-beamed ceilings.

24 May 2013 San Gimignano

     Train to here from Rome. A miracle we caught it. Rome buses and subway on strike so traffic a snarl, and cabs hard to get. We managed because of heroic driving by cab driver.

     So cold! We met our ATG person who will transport our bags to the next town, and she warned of muddy trails. Walked around San Gimignano’s walls, including a tower climb with 360° view and freezing wind.

     All my drawing notions going to pot as they often do on trips – becomes a matter of staying warm and hydrated and not footsore.

     Such fun at dinner fueled by a liter of house red. We are good travelers together – I am glad to turn over the on-the-ground navigation to the young people!

San Gimignano


En Route

AlItalia JFK to Rome 2

Sunset from plane 2Notebook or journal notes:

22 May 2013 Daylight brings a glimpse of the Alps as the plane skirts the east coast of Italy. Early Mediterranean blue in the north is turning to slate gray as we near Rome’s Fiumicino Airport.

I’ve been reading a Niccolo book all night, the 14th Century adventurer, thinking how different his Mediterranean from mine. Even from the air the sea looks vast – not limitless like crossing the Pacific or Atlantic – but big for a ship powered by wind or men.