We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Wednesday, March 5. 2014
While the Holland-America Line is the official Maggie's Farm line, we'll go out on a limb to recommend Seabourn - "the best small-ship cruise line." They are, with no more than 200 suites/ship. They have some special deals right now.
Seabourn is more for grown-ups, while Holland-America can accommodate well-behaved kids who do not mind dressing for dinner.
Every couple of years, we'll do a Med cruise or a Euroland river cruise for a change of pace instead of grabbing a rental car and driving all over. Good fun, never have to move your stuff, 24 hr/day service, and enjoy being at sea between cool destinations. I love being at sea.
Sunday, February 16. 2014
Pic is JFK in a snowstorm last week. Managed to get out after an extensive de-icing of the airplane. Got lucky - the plane had arrived the night before.
I always forget something, so I have a travel checklist to run through.
Obviously one does not need everything for every trip - it depends on what your plans are - but I print it out, circle what I'll need for a given trip, then check them off when they're thrown in the bag. Perhaps it seems obsessive, but it is annoying to arrive somewhere and to find that you forgot to pack any socks. On my last trip, forgot to pack a t-shirt for snorkeling, had to buy one for $25. Mrs. BD does her packing her own way, and always brings too much stuff. That's what females do.
I travel too light, she travels too heavy.
My travel checklist below the fold. Let me know what I have left out, and I will add items.
Continue reading "Bird Dog's recreational travel checklist of items - feel free to steal it if you want to"
Saturday, February 15. 2014
The weather is here. Wish you were nice.
More pics, etc, below the fold - including a pic our our suite's cool bathroom!
Continue reading "My St. Lucia photo dump, #2"
Thursday, February 13. 2014
Photo: This German lass was with us on a hike to the hot springs waterfall. She's a zoo manager from outside Hamburg, was visiting with her grandparents.
Many of our readers travel far more than we do, for business, recreation, adventure, or relaxation.
The BD family tries to strike a good balance of around 3 weeks of vacation per year plus some number of long weekends and as much work time at the Farm as we can do. Brit acquaintances think that is insane workaholism, but I just laugh. Work is good for the soul, I tell them. Man's Fall, and all that. We Maggie's Farmers tend to be self-employed, so there is no such thing as "paid vacation time." (No "sick days" either, which remarkably means that one is never too sick to work.)
Mrs. BD and I will admit that we are a sort of travel snobs. We like boutique places, tenudos, etc., with local flavor and no commercial feeling - eg no Sandals or chain hotels like Four Seasons - and have only stayed in a high-rise hotel once (the Southampton Princess, on our honeymoon).
Here's today's travel tip: Always pack a few plastic trash bags. They're good for stashing dirty clothes and wet clothes, and I always stick one in my pocket when hiking to protect the camera if it rains.
St. Lucia gets direct flights - not necessarily daily - from NYC, Miami, Atlanta, Toronto, London, Manchester, and Hamburg. Our little resort, (Anse Chastenet), far from the mass market area around Castries is in southern St. Lucia, has only 35 suites/cabins, and there were Americans, Canucks, Germans, and lots of Brits. One Swedish family. There were a few obvious honeymooners (Anse Chastenet is on many lists of most romantic destinations), and a few families with kids.
Continue reading "St. Lucia Travelogue, Part 1, with a small photo dump "
A photo for a snowy day. Daytime temps 79-82 F all year, nighttimes cooler, a gentle trade wind most of the time. Water temp last week was a pleasant but not bathtub-hot 79 degrees F: comfortable but refreshing, and perfect for swimming laps of the beach which is what I tend to do. If you plan to snorkel or dive for a few hours, a shortie wetsuit is not a bad idea but I do not like wetsuits.
You can leave your stuff on this beach for hours all day while swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, etc - camera, watch, wallet, pocketbook. Nobody will touch your stuff. We left our stuff there every day.
Quite pleasant, but I do love our snowy winters. Today's snow is a beaut. Wish I were at a ski place instead of letting this good powder go to waste. If I find time, will take the pup on a snowstorm walk. Few cars out today in the blizzardy conditions - just Mexicans with their plow trucks.
Wednesday, February 12. 2014
Morning fishermen on our beach in St. Lucia. The locals speak Creole at home and with each other, but good English otherwise. On St. Lucia, the educational, legal, and governmental systems are on the British model.
These guys visually search for a school of small fish, then throw the net in, and then dive into the water and splash to drive the fish into the net.
Monday, February 10. 2014
We barely made it out of Yankeeland in a blizzard last week (thanks to our fine drive service with 4 WD Lexi limos), and barely made it home last night in another snowstorm (thanks, fine driver).
I will post some of my travelogue pics and fun info from the only Caribbean island and the only elite boutique hotel (35 rooms) there that Mrs. BD likes (no computers, no WiFi, no TV, no cell service, no pool, no lifeguards, no clocks, no A/C, no windows - all open to the tropical breeze - no phones, no salespeople, no elevators because all the totally-private and jungle-surrounded little villas are one-floor, the best diving and snorkeling in the New World - and you can leave all of your valuables on the beach - wallet, watch, cameras, etc all day without any concern, for hours) when I get organized.
In fact, this pic is a mid-1700s French sugar cane plantation manager's house, now embedded in jungle a 45-minute jungle hike from one of the resort's two little private beaches. Thanks to the mountainous volcanic terrain (unlike most of the flat coral-based Lesser Antilles), St. Lucia has a rain forest habitat but it happily has mostly sunny days with occasional spitting light showers which you ignore.
Sunday, February 2. 2014
It's the time of year when people fuss over nailing down their schedule for the year. Choosing and planning takes a lot of time and thought.
We have a few good ones lined up this year - one a lazy grand luxe, one an exploration of Sicily (pick up Costco rental auto at the Palermo airport, and head on out, meander all around, hike up Mount Etna, take a ferry to Malta, probably get lost a few times despite the GPS, then eventually fly out from Catania), and the annual family reunion in Cape Cod with all the sibs, kids etc. Plus I hope the list will include a hunt trip for me and pals in the fall. Maine or Manitoba. Carpe Diem.
Here's one of the tenutas we chose - Tenuta Cammarana - (near Ragusa and Lampedusa, and not far from the ferry to Malta). In Italy, we always stay in tenutas (agriturismos) and I highly recommend doing that. Usually you'll be the only Americans there, which is not a bad thing when traveling. Karen Brown has researched them all for you.
I will take pics of Roger de Hauteville's ancestral Norman castles. Those crazy Vikings went everywhere, didn't they? Adventurers and warriors by nature, those Danskers.
I am already ahead of myself, because for 2015 (the good Lord willing) it will be a multi-bedroom villa in Tuscany, or maybe the Midi, with pool, cook, rental vehicles, etc., for ten days with room for friends and all the Bird Dog crew and any significant others. Not expensive, but something I want to do for all before I reach deep middle age.
What adventures and trips have y'all planned for 2014?
Wednesday, December 18. 2013
Long ago, Paul Shaffer and The World's Most Dangerous Band performed a brief songlet which caught my ear.I was just out of college, and my sense of humor, as well as the tune, was off-kilter enough to generate a chuckle, as well as stick in my head for...oh, about 23 years.
Yes, that's about it. So when I was trying to think of places to take a four-day respite with the (much) better half, I thought why not someplace nutty? Bermuda was booked, my parents agreed to watch the dog and the house-bound son, and we went winging our way southeasterly. It's only a 2 hour flight from NYC, and just like that the cold weather was a temporary memory.
Continue reading "Bermuda, It's a Nutty Place"
Monday, October 28. 2013
I've always felt it was a place I needed to see. I was correct. It lived up to every expectation. Pictures don't do it justice(but I'll share some anyway). The story enhances the visuals to a degree I had not prepared myself. You could visit this several times a year and get a substantially different feel each time.
Wright had something very particular in mind when he built this, and he clearly achieved what he set out to accomplish. It wasn't easy. He exceeded budget, there were disputes, and Wright was not easy to work with all the time. But the owners of the home, the Kaufmans, had bought into his vision, and the results are spectacular.
While their original budget was only $35,000, total costs eventually topped $155,000 (roughly $3mm today). While it would be nearly impossible to build this structure today due to environmental impact issues (this structure has been assessed regularly has having a negligible impact on the environment, which says something about environmental regulations, as well as Wright's ability to deliver on a vision), the costs would clearly be far higher than the inflation-adjusted figure of $3mm. In addition, you'd have to account for the costs of ego, which were significant in this project.
Continue reading "Frank Lloyd Wright"
Yesterday a friend emailed me his photo of sunset from a Dominican Republic resort. He called it Paradise, I don't know why. Cheap but excellent ceegars? Paradise for me is a cold, wet duck boat on a northern marsh, but there are times, I must confess, when the sub-tropics and tropics are appealing. For example, I do love Bermuda and the Everglades.
Mrs. BD is planning a winter trip to Islamorada, but I have sort-of lost my enthusiasm for fishing - I just like to know that the fish are there - and I will not sit on a beach for more than five minutes although I am happy to swim in salt water. Might be good bird-watching, though.
Sunday, September 22. 2013
Street scene, early morning, Verona a week or two ago. Everybody loves Verona. What Verona lacks is a 24-hr Dunkin Donuts.
- GPS is very handy in Europe, but 10% of the time she will direct you to the most direct route instead of the most sensible route. I got some grey hairs from her direct route up in the Alps. No guardrails, cliffs, etc. Then a narrow tunnel. Exciting. Wakes you up. The locals zoom their beemers and Harleys along the edge of the cliffs.
- In addition to la bella figura, you can tell Italians from tourists because in town they ride bikes, Vespas, or motorcycles, have dogs, and are constantly smoking and drinking. Their dogs are always arguing in the street. And they kiss each other when they meet friends on the passagiatta.
- For Alpine hiking, you need Medium Weight hiking boots and a backpack with water.
- Nobody takes an AmEx card in Europe anymore
- Your cash evaporates while traveling. Bring more than you think you'll need, and inform your credit cards about your trip or they might freeze them when you use an ATM. Generally speaking, they want cash. Especially the restaurants. Many of the good ones, for locals, will not take any credit cards.
- In northern Italy, they only provide balsamic vinegar. Fine with me.
- In the Milan airport, we saw at least three women with burkhas and all that. One had a Ferragamo bag, the other two had Prada. Mrs. BD was impressed that they had found a way to show off. Their husbands looked like terrorists, and their kids acted bratty and out of control. They rushed off when the Emirates Air flight was announced.
- A reader asked why we "always" go to Italy. We don't only go there (our trips this year have included Georgia and Cape Cod), but there is no one Italy. There are a bunch of provinces and old city states with their own traditions and cultures that have only been politically united for 100 years, and are still far from socially united. As you saw in my travelogue, we spent 4 days in a purely German-speaking part of Italy (well, German and Ladin) where they make German food. Think Scotland vs. England, or Vermont vs. Texas.
- Food: In northern Italy (ie north of Siena and Emilia-Romagna) they cook mostly with butter, not olive oil. Their pastas are tagliatelle egg noodles (real good) and tortellini (which I hate). For carbs, they are big on risotto, polenta, and gnocchi (all good). Their very fine Lasagnas are soft, and have nutmeg. They like to cook with truffle and truffle oil, and they love their Porcinis. They like meat (steak, roast beef, rabbit, and horse) and seafood. Most menus have octopus in some form. I like any seafood. Italian foods are designed to be consumed with wine and I can attest that they are not as tasty without it.
- Weather: Generally, I'd try to avoid southern Europe in July and August. Too hot, and too many tourists.
Thursday, September 19. 2013
We drove down from the Dolomites to Verona, which is immediately south of the foothills. Straight shot on the Austostrada (#22). Nice little Renaissance town. We mostly stayed in the Old City (an old Roman city on the bend of the Aldige River) instead of venturing out into the modern city (pop. 275,000). Tourists hang around the old city, but plenty of Italians come into the old city for fun and shopping.
Verona is a charming old town, walkably-manageable in size although we did get a little lost walking out to see St. Zeno. Getting lost is not a bad thing because you see things.
The Passagiata in Verona is wonderful, between 5 and 8 pm. It's a town of lovely women of all ages, and the Italian men look great with their fitted shirts and tailoring. We tourist men, not so great. All the kids in strollers and backpacks look good, and the women look feminine.
In my view, all women and all men ought to try to look their best, in public at least. Being over 40 or 50 doesn't mean that you are dead. I just have no talent for style. I shoulda brought my red trousers.
Dinner is around 8-8:30, and afterwards the young and/or single people, looking good, fill the narrow streets and piazzas - I call them pizzas - and bars with laughter and flirtation. A jolly scene.
Lots more pics below the fold - Mrs. BD thought our lady readers might enjoy the clothing shops -
Continue reading "Northern Italy 2013, #5: Mostly random street photos in Verona"
Tuesday, September 17. 2013
The real destination of our trip was the Dolomites. We just threw in Lake Garda and Verona for fun.
Hiking (plus rock-climbing and mountain-climbing) in the Dolomites is the local summer sport. People don't walk - they hike and cover a lot of ground. Most people use hiking poles or hiking staffs, for good reason. You are always going up or going down. There is some mountain biking too. In winter, it's all skiing.
We drove from Lake Garda up on the scenic route and watched the agriculture change from olives, palms, and lemons to vast apple orchards and vinegards, and finally to Alpine hay fields. ...caught the autostrade in Trent (Trentino) and drove up it to Bolzano (where the Ice Man resides) to exit before the Brenner Pass to drive up windy roads to our classic Alpine Hotel in the tiny hamlet of Bulla on a hillside up above Ortesei.
Here's one of the high Alpine meadows above Ortesei - the highest Alpine meadow that exists. Alpe di Siusi.
As I have said, there is no one Italy - it is many places. Observations, suggestions, and lotsa scenic pics below the fold.
Continue reading "Northern Italy 2013, #4: Hiking in the Dolomites"
Sunday, September 15. 2013
Dear Readers: It takes me a bit of time and effort to size and post travelogue pics. Please given them a glance. No need to comment, but I would not post them if I did not think they might be interesting...
We have spent time on the Italian lakes (both Maggiore and Como) in the past but Lake Garda was sort-of on our route up into the Italian Alps and the Dolomites, so we stopped by to stay for a couple of days at a superb B&B about halfway up the western side of the lake in Gardone Riviera at (Thanks again, Karen Brown and Trip Advisor) - Dimora Balsone.
Our gracious host Rafael, a semi-retired lawyer, rebuilt a dilapidated 500 year-old farmhouse and is gradually rebuilding the farm - mostly olive groves with some fig trees and Peach trees. You can tell he loves the place and is investing a lot into it.
View from our tiny rooftop balcony:
More pics of food, the Lake, and side trips to Sola and Sirmione below the fold -
Continue reading "Northern Italy 2013, #3: Gardone Riviera on Lake Garda"
Saturday, September 14. 2013
View from our balcony in the hamlet of Bulla, outside Ortesei (down there in the valley) in the Val Gardena. Before I get to talking about the Alps, though, I need to complete my Lake Garda post (maybe tomorrow). Add to this pic the tinkling of sheep bells and the bongs of the tiny local Roman Catholic Church with its burial ground in front.
Up here, German is the dominant language. Road signs are in German, Italian, and Ladin. Food a mix of German and Italian. Best veal I've ever eaten in my life, but spaetzl is something I can live without.
Serious German hikers and mountain bikers all over the mountains. A few died climbing while we were there, but risk is what adds the zest to rock climbing. We called these vigorous Germans the Hitler Youth, and the Aryan gals the Rhine Maidens. It's only a few hours south of Munich, through the Brenner Pass. Europe is small.
Up in these mountains, one can barely imagine the rigorous WW 1 winter Alpine fighting that occurred here. Mark Helprin's masterpiece (I think) included a lot of that. Read it, if you haven't. The outcome, of course, was that this part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire ended up as part of Italy.
Thursday, September 12. 2013
Set up for breakfast at our B&B overlooking Lake Garda last week.
What's for breakfast? (At 9 am, when most Americans have been working for a couple of hours)
See below, and note the cheese on the far left end of the table. It's 12-month Parmesan, still soft enough to eat with a knife and fork. Never had 12-month Parmesan before. Great stuff, maybe my favorite cheese right now. (Parmesan for grating is aged 18-36 months.)
Continue reading "Northern Italy, 2013, #2: Breakfast time on Lake Garda"
Tuesday, September 10. 2013
Here's a virtual tourist guide.
The medieval citta alta overlooks a clearly prosperous modern town. We parked the car and took the funicular up to the old hilltop town. We strolled around the town and had a great lunch. Most of my pics are food, classic Lombardy cooking.
They are famous for a polenta-based dessert.
More Bergamo pics below the fold -
Continue reading "Northern Italy 2013, #1: Bergamo, with food"
Monday, September 9. 2013
I'll post a few Show 'n Tells of pics when and if I get them organized, with my usual snappy commentary, keen observations, and handy travel tips.
In short, our itinerary was flying non-stop to Milan (Malpensa airport, Italy's largest and busiest), arriving at 7 am local time and picking up our rental car (thanks, Costco international rentals) which they unaccountably and without charge upgraded from an Audi A3 sedan to a Mercedes diesel standard shift wagon which was a comfortable car to drive. The standard was handy for the mountain driving and endless uphill hairpin turns.
We promptly escaped Milano and headed east on A-4 (which is Italy's I-95 - busiest highway in the country) to our excellent B&B about a third of the way up the western shore of Lake Garda, but we had to spend a few hours on the way checking out Bergamo (parked in the town center and took the funicular up to the old city, and had an elegant lunch and a good stroll). Then we proceeded up to our 15th C. B&B farmhouse (Thanks, Karen Brown) in Gardone Riviera for a couple of days on the lake before driving up (the long, scenic route with tunnels, curvy roads, and the large Alpine foothills via Riva del Garda for a brief look-see - lots of quick stops for a caffe or Coke) before getting on the A-22 through Trent and Bolzano to our B&B high on an alpine hill outside Ortesei in the Val Gardena in Italy's Alto Aldige on the Austrian border for a few days of energetic hiking in the Sud Tyrol where nobody speaks Italian but mainly German or Ladin. (Yes, I can write run-on sentences if I need to.) The Val Gardena in the Dolomites is an UNESCO World Heritage site.
After that, we cruised down from the Alps on A-22 to Verona in the Veneto, and spent a few days exploring the old part of the charming city from our elegant old hotel (which was about twelve steps from the Piazza del Erbe) before departing early yesterday morning to drive the A-4 again from Verona to the airport in Milan. Verona has the most beautiful women in the world, in abundance. Juliets, most of them, and they know how to dress - and walk - for maximum impact. Make a note of it, you single fellows. La Bella Figura.
Highest points of our trip:
- Rigoletto in the Arena di Verona, 4th row center. This year was the centennial of Verona's opera season in the huge Roman arena, built to seat 20,000 blood-thirsty citizens of Roman Verona. They request that you dress nicely for the good seats, so we did.
- Hiking above the top of the Seceda funicular in Ortesei, up to 3200 m. where you have to take a breath between each spoken phrase while hiking until you get down a few hundred meters where there is a bit more oxygen.
- Seeing the sort-of Persian, sort-of Klimt, stunning Madonna of the Rose Garden at the Castelvecchio Museum in Verona:
Thanks to Mrs. BD for yet another splendidly-planned joint-birthday adventure.
Here's your Editor, high in the Dolomiti at the tree line. Yes, we hiked our butts off. As usual on our trips, we lose weight from our levels of activity despite very fine dining.
Sunday, September 8. 2013
Gwynnie is up in Eastport, Maine and learning about the Old Sow whirlpool. According to Wikipedia, Old Sow is the largest tidal whirlpool in the Western Hemisphere, located off the southwestern shore of Deer Island, New Brunswick, Canada, and Moose Island, the principal island of Eastport, Maine.
According to popular etymology the name "Old Sow" is derived from "pig-like" noises the whirlpool makes when churning; however, a more likely origin is the word "sough" (pronounced "suff"), defined as a "drain," or a "sucking sound." Early settlers to the area may easily have mispronounced "sough," as "sow," due to its similar spelling to other words with "sow-sound" endings, such as "plough."
The whirlpool is caused by local bathymetry and extreme tidal range where waters exchange between Passamaquoddy Bay and the Bay of Fundy, combined with the unusual topography of the location's sea floor at the confluence of the numerous local currents.
Old Sow is one of five significant whirlpools worldwide (Corryvreckan, Scotland; Saltstraumen, Norway; Moskstraumen, Norway; and Naruto, Japan are the others). Although the tidal currents within Western Passage surrounding Old Sow compare with faster whirlpools elsewhere, the speed of Old Sow's vortex is considerably slower than Moskstraumen, the world's most powerful whirlpool.
Tremendous water turbulence occurs locally in the greater Old Sow area, but it does not usually constitute a navigation hazard for motorized vessels with experienced operators at the helm; however, small craft — especially vessels with keels (sailboats) and human-powered vessels — are warned to avoid these waters when the tide is running.
Besides Old Sow and its numerous "piglets" (small and medium whirlpools surrounding Old Sow), other area phenomena include standing waves, upwellings (that on rare occasion may even spout several feet into the air), and 10- to 17-foot-deep or more, non-vortexing depressions in the water.
Robert Godfrey writes in Smithsonian Magazine: “The reasons for the Old Sow are several. To begin with, some 40 billion cubic feet of water floods into Passamaquoddy Bay with each incoming tide and mixes with the countercurrents from the St. Croix River to the north of the bay. There's a 400-foot-deep trench to the southwest of New Brunswick's Deer Island Point that continues as a 327-foot trench to the northwest. Bisecting the trench is a 281-foot undersea mountain. All that water flooding into the bay has to negotiate a right-angle turn to get around Deer Island Point, and then it slams into that undersea mountain. When heavy winds coincide with especially high tides, it becomes liquid chaos and disaster for the unwitting seafarer.”
Continue reading "The Old Sow whirlpool"
Friday, August 9. 2013
Be there or be square. Evening ice cream at Mac's on the town dock. One of the very few places on earth I know where standing in a line is sorta fun. Fleece or sweater required.
A couple more pics below the fold -
Continue reading "More Wellfleet pics"
Thursday, August 8. 2013
To cheer me up and to distract me from all of the family death and all of the memory tape loops that keep running through my mind with no "pause" button that I can find, Mrs. BD is treating me to a little trip later this summer. Carpe diem in the face of death.
We took the pup for a long off-leash walk two Saturday mornings ago. We ran into a 92 year-old Norwegian neighbor and friend on his daily morning hike. He has climbed the Matterhorn, Mount Blanc, some of the Himalayas. We asked him about the Dolomites. He knew every town, every mountain. Had climbed the Five Fingers. "It's soft stone, Dolomite. Easy to climb." Well, I'll hike all day but I don't climb mountains. Heights have a bad effect on me.
Then, as we head back to the HQ, a car pulls over. A relatively new neighbor and new friend just stopping to say hi. Our dogs are friends too. He's on the way to the airport. We ask where they are going. "Dolomites. Hiking, some rock climbing. Then a couple of days on Lake Garda. We'll have supper and fill you in when we get back."
Life is good, despite it all.
Wednesday, August 7. 2013
Why anybody would go anywhere else for a summer water vacation is a mystery to me. No bugs, sea breeze, 57 degrees F at night, biking, boating, kayaking, hiking trails, running, day-fresh seafood, ocean beach, harbor beach, bay beach, and big ponds. Lots of fun family restaurants. The protection of the vast National Seashore. And no mega-rich jerks. They go to the Hamptons or Nantucket. Or if they come here, it doesn't show. Mostly very pleasant and polite people. More Subarus than Beemers.
If you squint, you can see Portugal on the horizon.
A few more Wellfleet pics below the fold
Continue reading "Sunrise, Cahoon's Hollow, Wellfleet"
Wednesday, July 17. 2013
"Savvy travelers have come to depend on Karen Brown's recommendations."
Yes, indeed. Over the years, Karen Brown has never recommended a dud to us. For the past few years, Mrs. BD has relied entirely on her travel and inn recommendations. She's not about Hiltons, The Four Seasons, Sheratons. She's not about discount places either, or mass market. She's about boutique charm and local flavor.
Her books are absurdly expensive as listed there (no idea why). Just Google her, and you can find them for $4.99. Most libraries have them too.