The Lady of the Lake, and Tea at the Colonel’s Homestead

The TSS Earnslaw, known as the “Lady of the Lake,” is believed to be the oldest working coal-fired steamship in the Southern Hemisphere. Anything Is Possible Travel - Lady of the Lake, and Tea at the Colonel's Homestead Named after Mount Earnslaw (the highest peak in the region), she is 168 feet in length, 24 feet across the beam and weighs 330 tons. Continue reading

Get Ready, Get Packed, Go!

Carry-on luggage: Nylon bag, soft-sided suitcase

Carry-on luggage

It’s the end of November: One week after Thanksgiving; three and a half weeks before Christmas.

The “Holiday Season.” A time when people frequently choose to visit family and friends. Or they decide to do just the opposite: Take a vacation and “get away from it / them all!” Continue reading

The Kindness of Strangers

Paris, France 2009

Over the years I have heard that Parisians are rude.

I have never found that to be true — well, with the possible exception of *that one* taxi driver in 2002.

In fact, while visiting Paris in 2009, Carrieanna and I found the exact opposite to be true.

As noted in a previous blog post, we were in Paris to celebrate Carrieanna’s birthday. Continue reading

A Day in Paris!

I believe I first became infatuated with Paris as a seventh grader, when I chose to take French as my foreign language class instead of Spanish, which would have been far more useful, but not nearly as romantic!

However, it wasn’t until 2002 that I actually visited the City of Light, and that’s when I fell in love with Paris. And realized that a 12-day visit was not enough. I wanted to go back someday.

That “someday” occurred in late fall of 2008.

Rich, my sweetheart, wanted to take his daughter (and me, of course) to Paris in April of 2009 to celebrate her 27th birthday.

Because Carrieanna uses a wheelchair, Rich wanted to make sure that she would be able to get around well enough to enjoy the city.

So he and I planned an 8-day trip to Amsterdam – a favorite destination – in November of 2008, during which I was to take the train to Paris for a day to check accessibility.

Prior to our trip we studied the Paris chapter of Rick Steves’ “Easy Access Europe – A Guide for Travelers with Limited Mobility.” (A very useful book; I highly recommend it.)

We also made a fairly detailed itinerary for me to follow, so that I could get as much information as possible in the few hours I would be in Paris.

And finally the day arrived. Rich and I had been in Amsterdam for three days, and on Friday, Nov. 14, 2008, I spent A Day in Paris!

As I wrote in my journal:

“The Adventure begins!

“I rise with the 5 a.m. wake-up call (although I’ve been awake off-and-on since 2 a.m.), and dress carefully for cold weather, and an all-day excursion to Paris.

“Our taxi gets us to Central Station in plenty of time. We go to the Thayles information desk (at Central Station), and get information* about taking a wheelchair to Den Haag and Paris next year. …

“Finally the train arrives, and I’m off to Paris! By 8 a.m. it’s light, though overcast and gray. …

“I found a taxi across the street [from Gard du Nord – the train station], and went to the Hotel Brighton.”

We had already made reservations for a three-night stay in April of 2009. We chose  Hotel Brighton, a four-star hotel, because it had handicap-accessible rooms.  We were also delighted with the location!

Advertised as being “in the heart of Paris,” Hotel Brighton is located on rue de Rivoli, directly across from the Tuileries Garden. During our stay in April we had a view of the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, the Eiffle Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe from our upstairs suite.

(Here’s a sneak peak of our view in April)

“The gentleman at the Brighton’s front desk was fairly flustered by all my questions,** but was helpful – and grateful for the €10 tip.”

(The elevator at Hotel Brighton. Large enough for the wheelchair – barely!)

“Upon leaving the hotel, I cross rue de Rivoli …

… and head toward the Louvre (parallel to Tuileries Gardens).

“I wandered a little in the area between the Louvre and Arc de Carousel, enjoying being there! I gleaned the information and pictures about accessibility to the Louvre and to the Gardens. …”

[“Easy Access Europe” gives accurate and detailed tips on how to find the accessible entrance, which I visually confirmed.]

“A walk over a bridge across the Seine …

… to the Musee d’Orsay entrance …

(Note the slanted curb cuts.

Wheelchair users will need to be careful to maintain their balance.)

” … where I bought some roasted chestnuts (nothing special) and then crossed the footbridge over the very busy street (Quai Des Tuileres).”

(View of Musee d’Orsay from across the Seine.)

“Back into the garden area …

(Tuileries Garden, with Hotel Brighton in background)

” … where I walk towards the Place de la Concorde and, more importantly, the Musee l’Orangerie.”

(Because this museum was closed for renovation at the time Rick Steves published “Easy Access Europe,” he does not rate its accessibility. I was delighted to find that it was fully wheelchair accessible!)

Here I enjoyed two large oval-shaped rooms, each with four large murals of  ‘water lilies’ painted by Monet.

“Two full rooms, wrapped by the water lilies murals. Incredible!”

“Other notables include Matisse, Renoir, Picasso, Cezanne, and other impressionists.”

(Renoir)

“And the garden area contained some Rodin statues. Well worth the visit.”

(Rodin’s “The Kiss”)

“I walked extensively in the rue de Rivoli area, in search of a market, without success. So I caught a taxi which took me to Montmartre and the tourist shops I wanted.”

(Sacre-Coeur)

(While the grounds of Sacre-Coeur are lovely and offer a panoramic view of Paris, the interior is not wheelchair accessible. )

“I found gifts, and a market for bread and wine and chocolate. … and  after buying a baguette with tomatoes and cheese for a late lunch, I walked and walked and walked and walked, in search of a taxi.

“I found myself in Quartier Pigalle — not a great area — and finally located a taxi to take me back to the train station.”

(Gard du Nord)

“Right on time, and a full train, we left Paris at 6:25. I napped and reflected on the journey back, grateful for the fun opportunity – Paris for a day! – and aware of the challenges.”

[Future posts will describe our April 2009 adventures in Paris — including our miracle story of getting to the top of the Eiffle Tower!]

 

*Additional questions we asked at the Thayles information desk:

  • How early should wheelchair users arrive at the train station (both in Amsterdam and in Paris), in order to board Thayles? Is there an access ramp available at each station?
  • How soon can we make the train reservation? (We eventually chose to have the staff at the Ambassade Hotel in Amsterdam get our train tickets for us.)
  • Where is Comfort 1 (First Class; the accessible section of the train), and how does it compare to general seating?

**Questions asked of the desk clerk at Hotel Brighton (with some responses):

  • Location of taxi stands nearby (Just around the corner)
  • Can the hotel get museum passes for us? What is surcharge?
  • Best way to cross rue de Rivoli to get to Tuileries Garden (There are crosswalks at both ends of the block.)
  • Are there curb cuts? (Yes)
  • Can Carrieanna access our room? How? Are there any steps into either room? (She could easily wheel from her room to ours; there were no steps.)
  • Approximate cost for taxi to Eiffle Tower.
  • Location of the Statue of Joan D’Arc (a favorite historical figure for Rich; we found this about two blocks away from the hotel entrance)
  • Do they have maps of any of the museums? (The hotel did not.)
  • Any information about access to boat tours? (Pamphlet available in hotel lobby)
  • Where are the grocery markets in the area? (Three blocks or four blocks away; somewhat hard to find unless you have directions — which the hotel was happy to provide)
  • Who do they recommend for wheelchair rental in Paris? Can the Brighton arrange for that rental? (We rented a wheelchair in Amsterdam and brought it with us to Paris.)
  • Do they have any other suggestions for wheelchair users?

Monterey Bay Coastal Trail

I live in Sacramento, known for politicians, tomatoes, and hot weather.

And while I love living here, I am always glad when I have an opportunity to drive to Monterey and visit my stepdaughter, Carrieanna.

Not only is Monterey cooler than Sacramento (which is very important to Carrieanna, as heat exacerbates her MS), but it is also abundant with flora, fauna and beautiful scenery!

Naked ladies, lilies …

Pelicans, loons and seagulls …

stunning sunrises, boat reflections … for an amateur photographer like me, the list goes on and on!

And because I enjoy walking, I often spend my mornings – camera in hand – walking along the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail, which is very wheelchair friendly, and a wonderful way to enjoy the Monterey waterfront.

Although the 18-mile trail runs from Castroville to Pacific Grove, I generally spend my time walking between Lovers Point (Pacific Grove)

and the commercial wharf (just a little north of Fisherman’s Wharf).

Many favorite tourist attractions are easily accessed from the trail. Cannery Row, with its abundance of shops, restaurants and hotels, is one block toward the bay, running parallel to the trail.

At the end of Cannery Row is the Monterey Bay Aquarium — a favorite destination for children of all ages!

On a weekday morning, the coastal trail is fairly quiet: Joggers and cyclists, people walking their dogs, and, very occasionally, a group of people pedaling a surrey (a canopied quadricycle – possibly more work than they bargained for!)

I enjoy listening to the sounds of the bay as I walk: The waves breaking on the rocks, the squawk of seagulls, the occasional barking of seals.

Shortly after walking past the Aquarium, I enter Pacific Grove.

A familiar pungent scent tells me that I am near the little cove where Harbor Seals hang out and sun themselves. And have babies.

Springtime is pupping season, and visitors are encouraged to enjoy the bay view without disturbing the new babies and their mamas.

During my recent visit a portion of Ocean View Boulevard, adjacent to the pupping area, was being repaired. To minimize the disturbance to the new seal families, the fence was covered with tarp-like material – with a small section left open so visitors could see the seals.

The fence and viewing area is a little way off the Coastal Trail, but with a little assistance from a companion (or using her motorized wheelchair), I’m sure Carrieanna could get close enough to see the seals.

Walking toward Lovers Point, I am reminded of the first time I walked this trail. It was April of 2006, and I was part of Team Carrieannamals, joining Carrieanna and many of her friends as we supported the annual MS Walk.

The trail is wide enough to accommodate the crowd which, naturally, includes people using wheelchairs, walkers, canes and other types of assistive devices.

The trail has also been used by the local MS Quality of Life Project for their annual Walk and Roll fundraiser.

Although the Coastal Trail continues on to Asilomar State Beach and, further, to the famous 17-Mile Drive, I generally only go as far as Lovers Point.

I sometimes walk the Coastal Trail  in the opposite direction, heading toward Fisherman’s Wharf, another favorite tourist attraction.

Not only is the trail user-friendly for people on foot, on bicycles, or in a wheelchair, but benches can also be found along the way for those who want to sit and enjoy the view.

Although Fisherman’s Wharf has many shops and restaurants,

I generally bypass it and walk past the Marina,

on my way to the commercial wharf .

I especially enjoy visiting this wharf in the morning, when the fish companies are doing business – and the pelicans stand in line to get their fair share!

The sea lions also hope for a handout!

While there are not many restaurants on this wharf, a little diner called  LouLou’s Griddle in the Middle always seems to be busy during breakfast time!

While my walk generally ends at this wharf, the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail does continue northeast, going through Seaside, Fort Ord, Marina and on to Castroville.

Perhaps on a future visit to Monterey, I’ll head that direction …..

Lands End, and the Labyrinth thereon …

On a warm and sunny day in late April, Sherry and I took a short road trip. Our destination was Lands End Coastal Trail on the northwestern edge of Golden Gate Park, and a hike to the labyrinth at Lands End Point.

We began planning this trip nearly three years ago, when the Sacramento Bee newspaper printed an article by Chad Jones on Sunday, August 30, 2009. I was excited about seeing the Golden Gate Bridge from the south side, and walking along this part of the headlands.

But life events – and bridge repair – caused us to postpone … indefinitely.

So when my dear friend, Sherry, told me that she and her family had visited it recently, and what an awe-inspiring walk it had been, I knew it was time for me to go. We found a Friday that, miraculously, was clear on both of our calendars, and with lunch and cameras packed, we headed west.

Traffic was as reasonable as possible for Westbound 80 at 9:00 a.m. However, we crossed the Bay Bridge at 9:45, and shortly after 10:00 a.m. we pulled into one of the many open parking spaces. [Note to weekday travelers: Bridge toll is $6 between 7 and 10 a.m.; $4 thereafter.]

The paved trail was wheelchair-accessible for the first portion of our walk. Not to the labyrinth, though; sadly.

The afore-mentioned Sacramento Bee article provided some historical information about the area. I’ve included it below because, for me, it helped set the tone and encouraged me to be mindful during our walk.

  “Originally the home of the Yelamu people, part of the Ohlone tribe, this windswept and desolate area was later held by the Spanish (mid-1700’s), followed by the Gold Rush of the mid-1800’s.

 “In the 1880’s visitors boarded Adolph Sutro’s steam train to ride – for 5¢ apiece – from downtown San Francisco to his elaborate Cliff House restaurant and Sutro Baths. “Opened in 1896, the baths could house 10,000 people, some enjoying the water, others exploring Sutro’s collection of tropical plants” … or the amphitheater shows, galleries and museum exhibits (including an Egyptian mummy).

 “The restaurant, of course, remains. The baths are mostly gone; a four-alarm fire in 1966 destroyed the structure; the ocean has helped reduce the Sutro Baths to ruins.”

Sherry and I started our walk from the Lands End Parking area.

I wanted to check accessibility of the trail, and found that the path was paved until we got to Mile Rock Overlook. The pavement ended, and at first the dirt path seemed to be level and smooth enough for wheelchair access. However, we soon came to steps that would not accommodate a chair, nor would much of the path thereafter.

Edge of the Path – Overlook

Sherry is a kindred spirit. Especially when it comes to photography!

We chose not to ascend these steep steps, which would have taken us to a eucalyptus grove and another view.

Instead, we backtracked a little and went down the many, many steps to the “Y” in the path.

Had we gone left, we would have reached Mile Rock Beach.

We veered to the right instead, and walked out to Lands End Point, where we picnicked and enjoyed the view and the beautiful weather.

Top of Lands End Point

And then … the labyrinth.

Sherry walking the labyrinth

  Situated – literally – on the point of Lands End, the labyrinth was created in 2004 by Eduardo Aguilera. Made of small stones, Aguilera described the walkable maze as a “shrine to peace, love and enlightenment.”

I was moved.

By the view – Pacific Ocean, Golden Gate Bridge – and by this sacred space. Walking a labyrinth is, for me, a spiritual experience.

 We took our time, and mindfully walked our path.

 

Finished with our labyrinth walk, we headed back up the umpteen stairs

  [I’ll count them, the next time I’m there!]

Retracing our steps, we headed to Point Lobos and the Sutro Baths. They, too, were inaccessible.

As was mentioned above, the baths were destroyed by a fire in 1966.

There’s a newly-opened Visitor’s Center – fully accessible – at the end of Point Lobos Avenue, with clean bathrooms, a small gift shop, and helpful staff.

We had a lovely day, and because we wanted to maintain our happy mood by avoiding the Friday afternoon westbound traffic, Sherry and I left at 2:30 p.m. However, there are more trails for me to explore, and I plan to return to Lands End in the very near future!

Birthday lunch at Nepenthe Restaurant, Big Sur, CA

Nepenthe Restaurant, in Big Sur, was opened by Lolly and Bill Fassett in 1949. The restaurant, with its magnificent view, was built using native materials – redwood and adobe — honoring the owners’ vision that it “become one with the landscape and the earth it stands on.”

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Nepenthe has long been a favorite place for Hess family celebrations. So it was no surprise that Carrieanna Hess chose to celebrate her 30th birthday at Nepenthe’s, accompanied by her sweetheart, Greg, her good friend, Tammy, and me, her stepmom and friend.

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(Because Carrieanna gets around via wheelchair – due to her diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis – I have attempted to pay particular attention to accessibility. Tammy also has MS, and uses a cane to steady herself when walking.)

“Nepenthe” refers to a medicine that “chases away sorrow,” and the restaurant symbol is the phoenix (“reborn / rising from the ashes”). Both name and symbol are well-chosen.; as usual our experience was both delightful and refreshing!

The restaurant is located on Highway One in Big Sur, approximately an hour’s drive south from Monterey. We entered the parking area and veered to the right, following the “handicap parking” sign which directed us up a slight hill and behind the restaurant. Two handicap parking spots are located adjacent to the easily-navigated ramp that led to the courtyard.

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It was a warm and clear day, and we chose to sit at the bar on the patio (under brightly-colored umbrellas) where we enjoyed the ocean view — and bird-watching!

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The patio bar is easily accessible via wheelchair, by going around the phoenix statue …

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… although Tammy took the shortcut, stepping down one step from courtyard to the patio deck.)

We started with an order of fries and a bottle of 2008 Adelaida Syrah.

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We toasted Carrieanna, and after placing our order we snacked on fries – occasionally leaving a few on the edge of the bar to feed the birds.

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A visit to the restroom – found by rolling around the curve and to the right of the inside bar – taught us that while there is a “handicap” stall, it’s not large enough to accommodate a wheelchair. Fortunately, that wasn’t an issue for us – although it would certainly be a problem for any handicapped woman unable to walk even a few steps.

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Lunch was delicious, and portions were abundant. Carrieanna and Greg had The Famous Ambrosiaburger, Tammy enjoyed her French Dip sandwich (although her soup was tepid and she had to send it back to be heated); I had the yummy Vegetarian Burger.

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Ha ha! This sample menu reflects long-ago prices!

The local birds (blue jay, scrub jay and black bird, to name a few) are brave and brazen, and will snatch food from an unwatched plate. Naturally, we were initially protective of our lunches. However, we eventually laid out bits of bread and pieces of French fries to entice the birds – and they entertained us in appreciation of our generosity.

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Our waiter was aware that we were celebrating Carrieanna’s birthday, and at the end of our meal he presented her with a gift – a “Happy Birthday” mug with Nepenthe’s logo.

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After lunch we strolled and rolled down the path to the edge of the deck, and enjoyed another wonderful vista. Patio dining, and the view therefrom, is four steps up from the deck (or one step down, if you’re coming from the inside bar area).

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There is also a brunch café and small wedding venue (Café Kevah) as well as a gift shop (The Phoenix) next to the lower level of parking. Although Greg slipped away to do a little shopping at the Phoenix — and came back with a pretty-little-something for Carrieanna – we ladies chose not to venture down.

One deterrent to shopping: The entrance to The Phoenix Shop has four steps (and a handrail) but we did not see a ramp for wheelchair access. Carrieanna determined she did not have the energy to walk down the steps that day.

So we headed north, back to Monterey.

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Happy Birthday, Carrieanna!