Skedaddling to Aloha-Land

Skedaddling to Aloha-Land

It was the 5th of December as the plane lifted off into a rainy predawn sky en route to a sunny and balmy Hawaiian landscape of mesmerizing blues. I Pulled into the Kaimana Beach Hotel (New Otani Group) in time for a sunset dinner at their renown Hau Tree Lanai.

I won’t tell you how many years we have been staying at this boutique hotel, into the decades, and we remain steadfast fans. It is a smaller property than most and its location cannot be beat: at the base of Diamond Head, on Sans Souci Beach, facing Waikiki, on Kapiolani Park and near the Aquarium and Zoo. The water views (below) are taken from room 617’s wrap around lanai: facing makai (ocean) and Waikiki and looking to the right Mauka (mountains). The fountain is merely steps away along Kalakaua Avenue which wends up Diamond Head Road. Special shout out to our many friends at the Hau Tree Lanai (you know who you are Jay, Hedy, Donna, Andy etc.) where the dining experience is enhanced by spectacular beach views and sunsets. Not to be missed, Miyako restaurant serves authentic Japanese fare and Gerry makes perfect a Mai Tai at the Sunset Lanai Lounge. Also on location is a small spa, Juju’be, located on the second floor: acupuncture and adjustments with Dr Kamei were phenomenal, Cleopatra wrap, Suina foot treatment and massages with Yuko were exactly what I needed … a must if you have time

Daily exercise: a minimum 6mile/10k walk but my favorite was early on the 75th Anniversary of the day that has “lived in infamy”: December 7, 1941 the attack on Pearl Harbor. Digressing for a minute, one of the passengers on my inbound flight was one of the last surviving men from the USS Arizona: he received a sustained ovation of clapping and cheers! Anyway, the walk up Diamond Head Road and around to the “tunnel” into the crater and hike to the rim summit was (over 9 miles round trip) totally awesome and exhilarating!!! BTW, you can drive to and park in the crater or take the trolley from town.

Imagine the anxiety of the servicemen who were assigned to the bunker: not knowing the fate of their Pear Harbor brothers and scanning the horizon expecting a full scale attack.

This day, however, was punctuated by an entire high school band from Morgantown West Virginia trekking up the crater. They were in Hawaii to perform during one of the commemorative events and their red tee shirts formed a ribbon along the paths leading up the summit.

 

Generally, today’s visitors are carefree, joyful and spellbound by the views …

I often finished my daily walk with a quick swim followed by a leisurely plate lunch at The Barefoot Cafe: there’s nothing like fresh mahi, 2 scoops of rice and salad i.e. plate lunch while enjoying the views …

Throughout the week the city was full of excitement. Prep was in full swing in anticipation of the holidays and the Honolulu Marathon.

Many folks have club memberships and it is worth checking whether yours may have reciprocal agreements with those in Hawaii. Ours did and we enjoyed another facet of travel. Shout out to the Outrigger Canoe Club and their exceptional hospitality!

 

One of my walks was into town to the Runners Expo held at the Neal S. Blaisdell Convention Center to pick up my bib for the 10k & Honolulu Marathon, December 11th. What a riot – great energy!

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Neal S. Blaisdell Convention Center as viewed from Ala Wai Canal

A few details: start time 5AM with convenience shuttles running continuously from 2-4AM. The race, 30,000 strong, is launched with full fireworks! Average finish time for a marathon is 6 ish hours and in Honolulu they do not have a time limit: 40% were first time marathoners. I swear there were folks limping across at 9 PM a full 17 hours after the 5AM start! They do not hold the half marathon (Hapalua) concurrently (that one takes place April 9, 2017). Next year’s full marathon is December 10, 2017

The course is one of the most beautiful: from Ala Moana heading Eva (west) past Aloha Tower, up through Chinatown, eastward along King past Iolani Palace, King Kamehameha statue, city Christmas lights displays,

down Kalakaua through Waikiki to zoo at Kapiolani Regional Park (where the 10k ends), then up Diamond Head Road to Kalanianole Highway out to Hawaii Kai at the base of Koko Head crater then back along the same route to the finish at Kapiolani Park where the  Runners Village tents were overflowing with food, drink and services read medical and massage, for finishers.

Mr Lawrence Cherono of Kenya set a new course record of a blistering 2:09:39!

Anyway, that is how we ended our Hawaiian adventure this year … and so I leave you with Hawaiian holiday wishes of Aloha …

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MERRY CHRISTMAS

May all your travels be adventures and may you welcome 2017 Happy, Healthy, and with excitement at the prospect of a brand spanking new year!

… It is also wonderful to be home for the holidays with family, good friends and familiar places …

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Fishing Creek Farm & Thomas Point Road to Thomas Point nestled in the Chesapeake Bay

The New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel http://www.kaimana.com

The Barefoot Beach Cafe   barefootbeachcafe.com/

The Honolulu Marathon www.honolulumarathon.org/

The Hapalua Marathon thehapalua.com/

The Outrigger Canoe Club https://www.outriggercanoeclub.com/

 

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An Organic Skedaddle

An Organic Skedaddle

Looking out on this beautiful crisp fall afternoon, I’ve turned my frown upside down and finally acknowledge that summer is definitely in my rear view mirror and reflect on what a wonderful summer it was. Early spring, however, was tough and since I can be impatient, (qui moi?) early plantings suffered frost and cold damage. Not one for giving up and after having to replace the dead and dying seedlings, I was eventually rewarded with a bumper crop of pretty much anything I planted: 4 varieties of cucumber, zucchini, yellow and spaghetti squashes, green and purple string beans, onions, 9 varieties of tomatoes, 8 varieties of hot peppers, rhubarb, sunflowers, melon, verbena, lemon grass for Thai recipes, herbs like dill, basil, oregano, parsley, 6 varieties of thyme, French tarragon, bay leaf, 2 types of sage, rosemary, lavender, 6 varieties of mint (love those Mojitos!) …

You might ask how I accomplished this feat? By way of background, we live in an animal paradise: deer, rabbits, foxes, raccoons, ground hogs, squirrels, birds, turtles and the occasional snake. I have “adorable” nicknames for them, none of which I can print, ahem. Anyway, these happy critters love our gardens and dine very well and often on pretty much anything we plant.

That said, my veggie “patch” is dually fenced in: high fence for deer and additional low finer meshed rabbit fencing which extends below ground. Yup, without serious freaking fencing I would not bother attempting a plot of heavenly produce! Well, this year, in addition to the usual turning over the soil and adding of amendments, I also added Dr Earth, an organic fertilizer, that would continue to provide nutrients throughout the summer. How did that go? For a couple of weeks the plants seemed to grow roots but not much more and then bang it happened and continued to happen throughout the rest of summer:

My rhubarb is of the green variety and once they got going I had ginormous stalks for the entire summer and rhubarb cobbler became a quick and easy summer dessert.

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My real winners were: Indigo Ruby and Celebrity cherry tomatoes, Jet Star, mortgage Lifter, Mr Stripey, Beefsteak and Big Beef tomatoes and Viva Italia and San Marzano Heirloom plum tomatoes. My best cucumbers: Marketmore and Kirby. Hot peppers: Conchos, Cayennetta, Capsico, Jalafuego. I planted triple rows of Blue Lake green beans mixed with a purple bean varietal and the crop yielded a great deal of beans for 7 weeks versus a more typical 4-5 weeks. Zucchini types were the vining variety as well as bush variety and one striped lighter green one. Yellow and spaghetti squash failed fairly early on but we had several nonetheless. I had never tried onions before and while they did not become large they did grow and provide me with enough onions that I have in storage. This is the first year I had melons and while they were small they were sweet.

So, you might be wondering what I did with all the produce. Making homemade tomato sauce is a labor of love – and pain in the back – and well worthwhile. I wound up with the equivalent of 8 gallons of sauce most of which is canned and a few containers were popped in the freezer. In fact the tomatoes were so weighty that during processing I wound up with extra juice that I turned into a fabulous gazpacho; cold tomato soup!

The Jalapenos, green peppers and hot red peppers were processed into half gallon jars of white vinegar, salt, garlic and fresh oregano sprigs. After a month or so, maceration in a blender and put them pressed through a chinois and bottled for Christmas gifties. Other containers are left with layered peppers and will be gifts as well.

Cucumbers were pickled and I made white and red sauerkraut with locally grown cabbages – did you know sauerkraut can sit in the fridge for up to 6 months and is full of healthy “tummy stuff”. We love using the spiralizer to make zucchini spaghetti. It is delicious heated up and tossed with homemade, you guessed it, tomato sauce topped with grated Romano cheese. Verbena tea is such a fragrant and calming beverage enjoyed hot or cold. Tarragon was harvested and infused in white vinegar and is now ready to use in dressings!

One evening after a few Mojitos, it occurred to me that canning, pickling, freezing and bottling the veggies of my garden wasn’t enough. So, I bought a dehydrator oven and supplemented my diminishing yield with local produce from our local Bru-Mar gardens. In the interest of experimentation and out of curiosity I went to town – literally. I bought up tomato and peach “seconds”; slightly bruised or “ugly” and therefore cheap. Then I prepped them for dehydrating. I think Bru-Mar (Bruce & Marty) nicknamed me “seconds”. As summer drew to a close, white corn and apples were available and I processed those as well. Not satisfied to stop with the seasonal offerings I wound up drying: Basil, Tarragon, Oregano, Thymes, chives, scallions, diced vidalia onions, diced green peppers, hot peppers, canned kidney beans, canned baby peas, tofu, diced beets, yams, and zucchini rounds. I even tried dehydrating some of my pickles – very weird and weirdly tasty. A counter full of produce was reduced to several jars which will then be combined into recipes and vacuum sealed.

It’s gotten to the point that my family is afraid to bring anything home from the market because voluminous quantities go into the dehydrator and out come small, wrinkled and light weight – duh! – “food” with most of their nutrients intact and ready for re-hydration on the trail. Oh, but that is another story … I hope you enjoyed this odd, for me, skedaddle and stay tuned to the next adventure … hmmmm I have my eye on a pumpkin and butternut squash …

Hope you “like”, “share”, “comment” and say hello to Bruce & Marty @ Bru-Mar Gardens

Oh, btw … I have an INSTAGRAM you might enjoy: Just_Skedaddle

www.KateStillwellPhotography.com

www.brumargardens.com

Day~Dreaming Prague

Day~Dreaming Prague

Praha: In the 1920s, my Russian refugee grandparents met and married “there”, my uncle was born “there”, and almost a century later, our daughter spent Spring Semester “there” at Charles University. Prague, “there”fore, presents peripherally in my life but poignantly so. It was with great excitement and anticipation that my husband and I made Prague part our Spring Baltic cities circuit (See earlier Vilnius and St Petersburg posts) and it was to be the culmination of initiating family research, as well as meeting up with one of our sons and picking up our daughter. I imagine you have had similar responses upon bringing up “Prague” in conversation. Virtually everyone has either been there, displaying genuine excitement to share their experiences, or has it on their bucket list. We were of the latter, and now join the ranks of “Oh my gosh, what a great place!”. I confess, I enjoyed it so much that I delayed and delayed this blog because by procrastinating I could relive, my experiences. I poured over the images and held fast to the belief that I just couldn’t pick “a few” pics so I continued day-dreaming Prague.

What is Prague to me? It’s a beautiful cradle of hills having at its head the stunning Hradčany “castle”, enveloping the historic city and at its heart a gem, Tÿn Church. It is with great appreciation that we give thanks that it was spared destruction in WWII and that preservation efforts continue today … It is a city that has forever and seamlessly captured the Czech essence, spanning centuries from medieval times to the present. It holds as its children great composers, artists, thinkers and architects and puts on proud display their magnificent contributions to the world. This then is a compilation of our week meandering, touring, “tramming”, dining and people watching.

First, the “Standard Stuff”: Staré Mésto (Old Town), Jan Hus Memorial, 14th century Old Town Hall with its Astrological Clock, Our Lady Before Tÿn Church, Towers on Charles Bridge, statue of King Charles IV and the renown Karlüv Most/Charles Bridge … the architecture is so diverse including Gothic, Neo-Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Art Nouveau. We were blown away and to think our daughter walked these places, daily, for a semester!

…  the church of St. Nicholas on the Old Town Square showcases what I think is the most exquisite chandelier …

DSC_4220… later, while meandering, we encountered … “the not so usual suspects” …

… we sidetracked by tram to Veletrźní Palace to experience the 20 ginormous paintings that comprise The Slav Epic by Alfons Mucha (1860-1939) … one can’t really comprehend the magnitude of this decades long effort or the sheer scale (25′ x 20′) of each work until you have seen them in person and spent time with them in reflective solitude …

… we walked all over the city … across the Charles Bridge to Mála Strana (Little Quarter) to Zlatá Ulička (Golden Lane), then up, up, up the hills to Petrín Hill and Tower and down, down, down into intersecting paths that exit, presenting entirely different vistas …

… we hired on a tour guide, Jarmila, for the castle and stunning St. Vitrus Cathedral segments and she was an absolute fount of knowledge, upbeat and energized …

… Sitting above the castle … Strahov Monastery and renown Baroque Library. What I wouldn’t give to spend time perusing the volumes …

…  from lofty heights, we descended to low-lying Kampa Island and brunched at this canal~side, indoor~outdoor café, Velkoprevorsky Mlyn, replete with red blankets, shearling chair covers, a water wheel and its vodník (water spirit)… delicious!

 

… leaving the energy of Old Town, we strolled down the side of the Vltava River and hiked up to the National Cemetery, Vyšheradské Sady. I love cemeteries and one of my favorites is Père Lachaise in Paris because of its meandering quality, age and sheer size. By contrast, this Sady (Garden) sits within a fortress rampart atop a considerable hill, and in addition to traditional graves, showcases loggias enshrouding elaborate rodina (family) plots … except for those “national treasures” such as Dvorak who have individual niches …

… later, as I was quietly strolling along, my eye caught a “seated” woman and an androgynous person on walls … hmmm … no comment …

… soon joined by these suspended “spirited sprites” …

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… but, this guy took the cake … at first I thought “What the? Holy cow! Ew … they have a guy hanging!” But then, as I circled below, I noticed he was holding on and then my final view has him just, well, hanging as though waiting for the tram to pass below … curiouser and curiouser … reality is just a matter of “perspective” …

… all this wandering made us hungry, hungry, hungry …

… and thirsty, thirsty, thirsty … we gravitated to this inconspicuously sited basement pivovar microbrewer, U Dobrenskÿch … and (often) enjoyed washing down their delicious potato pancakes with herb ale, or stout, or in my case lemongrass IPA all the while accompanied by iconic Beatles tunes …

… every day something new was afoot … dancers, parachutists, bubble makers, silly people in bubbles, and religious processions … yup, never a dull moment …

… and you know how Paris has Jim Morrison and Vilnius has Frank Zappa? Well, Prague has John Lennon’s wall … a posthumous spontaneous tribute that has drawn the faithful for decades … “All You Need Is Love” …

… a few interesting things that caught my “eye” …

… additional favorite views include …

Speaking of which … I guess this is one way to express a point of view … Don’t you think the impending storm and black drawn carriage places a fitting exclamation mark on the slogan? …

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Our Lady Before Tÿn

Where we stayed: Pachtuv Palace, located on the river within a block of the Charles Bridge. We had a river-facing suite, high ceilings and large rooms, thus enabling the addition of a roll away bed. Great people, great location, great service (shout out to fantastic Manager: Pavla Klímová) and an excellent time! www.pachtuvpalace.com/

Contemplating a personal tour guide? Please consider: Jarmila Prochazkova Flanagan. https://twitter.com/XJarmilaX

Don’t miss eating at: La Bottega Di Finestra (Platnérská 13, Prague 1) – an outstanding deli with charming dining areas, friendly staff, excellent desserts and an extensive wine selection: www.lafinestra.cz/en

Canal water wheel café: Velkoprevorsky Mlyn (Hroznován489/3, 118 00 Praha

Loved the microbrewer, Pivovar U Dobrenskÿch  – 2 blocks from hotel  http://pivovarudobrenskych.cz/#_=_

Dining in pretty much any of the cafés in Staré Mésto not so much for the quality of the food but just to be out there, enjoying the weather and multitudes.

Buy a blood red garnet and a watercolor painting of the Old Town Clock Tower or castle skyline!

Na zdravi! Cheers! Hope you enjoyed Skedaddling through Prague!!!

I have exciting plans for the next 18 months of Just Skedaddling so Please “Like” and “Share” on FB and sign up to “Follow” … you will only be emailed to announce a new posting!

http://www.KateStillwellPhotography.com/

 

Old Town Vilnius: Skedaddling Back in Time

Old Town Vilnius: Skedaddling Back in Time

St. Petersburg was an interesting juxtaposition to Vilnius: flat and vast, imposing scale of colorful grand palaces and parks with bridges crisscrossing the Neva and canals wending through neighborhoods versus quaint, medieval city of hilly narrow cobblestone streets, outside cafés and a sense of intimacy.  I don’t know what it is about Vilnius that affects me. Perhaps it’s Gediminas’ Castle Tower looming as a silent sentinel of war visible from every part of the the city accompanied by more symbols of faith than I have ever seen concentrated in one place.

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In simplistic summary, today’s Vilnius heralds back to the latter medieval period when Lithuania’s rising fortunes helped it prevail when a centuries old historic partnership of reigning kings (Polish) and dukes (Lithuanian) and strategic marriages between the ruling families in Europe, gave rise to one of the most powerful and long lasting dual-nations in the world, (imagine a swath from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south encompassing Prussia, Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Crimea) inexorably followed by unrelenting challenges from all sides i.e. the teutonic knights, Vikings, Austrians, Prussians from the north and Germans from the west and Russian incursions from the east with the eventual and repeated partitioning from the early 1700s through 1918, by these nations thus contributing to Lithuania’s waning. In their wake, as well as following two world wars and five decades behind the Soviet iron curtain, Lithuanians nevertheless retained a sense of their identity: the language is uncorrupted and lovely, the people courteous and open, tolerance and faith coexist within a strong national identity and one of palpable independence.

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Speaking of faith, given that one of the original main gates, The Gates of Dawn, passes through a busy section of the remaining walled city and under a stunning chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it should come as no surprise that Old Vilnius has approximately 50 churches: hard to be an unrepentant sinner!

Even in a religious context, however, Vilnius’ religious history is one of conflict tempered by creative resolution: Poland was a nation of Catholics whereas Lithuania was one of the last holdouts maintaining paganism. Ultimately Catholicism prevailed until Russian Orthodox was adopted in the southeastern territories as Lithuania expanded into Russian speaking lands. Eventually, the creative solution was to fold the subordinate Orthodox subjects into the dominating ruler’s Catholic faith by creating the hybrid Uniate faith whereby the faithful could practice Eastern rites including marriage of clergy but follow Catholic doctrine while giving allegiance to the Holy See. In this stealth manner, the Catholics converted many Orthodox believers. Makes you wonder why the church can’t be as creatively open today! In the end, during the partition of 1830s, ruling Russia ended tolerance of the Uniate faith and forced a mass conversion to Orthodox. It wasn’t until a century later that the Uniates were given back their churches and permitted to worship openly. That said, with Catholic, Uniate, Russian Orthodox faiths dominating the scene, the streets are dotted with churches, several of which changed their denomination depending on who was in power …

Why so many words about “faith”? Well, part of my journey to Vilnius was to find the history of my great great grandfather, a Russian Lithuanian Uniate Priest who was forced to convert to Russian Orthodox and who in turned converted others and then having died in 1850 left a 9 year old boy, great grandfather Alexander, for the Orthodox church to take in and educate at the Vilnius Theological Seminary … there’s irony in having to find the needle church in a haystack of 50 possible church(es) … but that’s another story … Oh, but to digress further for just a moment … during this journey into the past, a meeting was arranged by the fabulous hotel staff with a National Lithuanian Archives archivist, Naringa, who is: fluent in English and 5 other languages, thank you very much, full of positive energy and, I decided, my new best friend. Alas, I may not hear from her for a few years since that is the current backlog before she is likely to see my file rise to the top of her heap! But, I do have a file number assigned and with luck our combined efforts may eventually fill in many gaps … anyway … thank you, Naringa!

We were very lucky that the weather was glorious and Vilnius was dressed in freshly potted flowers, lilacs in full perfumed bloom, chestnut trees adorned in their white candelabra flowers and the hillsides carpeted in spring green grass awash with bright yellow dandelions. Everyone was out and about, enjoying the cafes, parks, and shops: great fun enjoying a meal and local beer on tap while taking in typical and a few “oddly interesting” passers by:

European cities seem to have a thing for Rock n Rock: Paris has Jim Morrison’s grave, Lake Geneva has Freddie Mercury ashes, Prague has Lenon’s Wall and Vilnius has a monument to Frank Zappa … bet you didn’t know that … okay then …

I unreservedly and highly recommend our hotel, The Narutis. It’s combined mansions date to the 15-16th centuries, is charming and immaculate with a dynamite breakfast in the “brick cellar” and is centrally located on Pilies St. and its sidewalk café is directly across from Vilnius University. Once upon a time, it housed University faculty and students. Our room faced St John’s campanile (45 meter high) which is part of the perimeter of the University …

… Vilnius University, founded in 1569 and home to 23,000 students, is stunning with gothic, baroque and classical styles of architecture. It has unusual passages throughout the “campus” …

… and their bookstore is renown for the “frescos”  on the ceilings …

During our stay, we skedaddled up the Gediminas’ Tower of the Upper Castle, the St. John campanile and Vilnius Cathedral Basilica tower each providing differing 360 degree fabulous views of the city! St. John’s campanile surprised us with a Foucault pendulum demonstrating by its movement the effect of the earth’s rotation. Vilnius Cathedral tower affords unparalleled views of the ducal palace and the Gediminas’ castle complex.

I leave you with parting shots of a very photogenic, medieval as well as modern and  vibrant city …

If you enjoyed this post, please take a second: “Like”, “Comment” and “Share” the heck out of it and sign up to “Follow” so that you can be notified of my next Skedaddle …

PRAGUE!

The St Petersburg Skedaddle

The St Petersburg Skedaddle

Best time EVER to Skedaddle to St. Petersburg: May 5 – 10th incorporating Victory Day which is always celebrated on May 9th and Russians often take a weeklong Spring holiday ending on May 9th. Plus the entire city is festooned with national flags, and banners of all sorts displaying the holiday’s orange and brown stripes

… AND we had amazing weather: crystal blue skies, bright sunshine and high 60 degrees with lovely breezes. Vanished from my mind were expectations of grey, dreary, drizzly skies with people only out and about when necessary. In fact, many families and older folk leave town for their dachas and beaches and the city is flooded with an abundance of lovely young people who relaxed outdoors enjoying the tremendous public parks with couples everywhere; walking, sitting, cuddling, kissing, and laughing. This is also apparently a choice week for weddings.

 

Also during the week, military divisions practice marching for the May 9th main event – so many photo ops.

 

Golly … President Putin certainly likes colorful uniforms – and the triple medals make soft shish-ling sounds as they pass – very pageant oriented!

Once revelers return for the May 9th main event, Victory Day 1941-1945, the entire city turns out in full as they celebrate and memorialize those many millions who perished during the siege of Leningrad and WWII. Victory Day feels like our Memorial Day and Veterans Day rolled into one and it is a dawn to night series of events: VIP grandstands are erected in Palace Square where a show of military force parades by …

… and every street leading to the square is jam packed with spectators.

 

 

Several hours later a second parade of remembrance takes place where children, grandchildren and great grandkiddos march while hoisting placards of photos of their loved ones who perished. The enormity of the tragedy transcends time and remains palpable today … wars bind us all and should remind us of the sanctity of life, but alas …

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… the sea of dead march on as a tidal wave of loss …

Later at dusk, the torches on the Rostral columns, lit earlier, become beacons …

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… the spectators pack the bridges and embankments as well as boats on the Neva in anticipation of the popular finale: fireworks as the Russians shout “OOOOO-RAHS” to every burst of color

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En route back to the Renaissance St Petersburg Baltic Hotel, a Marriott Hotel on Pochtamtskaya Ulitsa next to St Isaac’s Cathedral, I snapped this magnificient landmark

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What a heady day. Next year, 2017, should be interesting as Russia “celebrates” the centennial of the Russian Revolutions, the first of which occurred in February 1917. It should be a banner year for spectacular events and perhaps worth being a part of …

Several notes to those who either have not been to St Petersburg or who traveled there during the “cold war”. The Pulkova airport is small and efficient and not very busy so we were processed very quickly. The roads in May are fabulous as they are resurfaced annually after winter due to frost heave damage. There are very few foreign tourists during this time. The city is SPOTLESS and drivers are polite and defer to pedestrians in crosswalk who reciprocate by NOT jaywalking, EVER! The city is HUGE with many parks, rivers, bridges and canals intersected by very wide avenues. If you are a walker, this is your city: in one day we covered 12 miles and had hardly made a dent! In my mind, the few elements lacking: sidewalk cafes and places to dine casually al fresco. There were NO LINES to the Hermitage – seriously! The flat sightseeing boats plying the waters of the Neva and city canals were ubiquitous – most narration is in Russian. Speaking of which, all signs are in Cyrillic which can be a significant source of confusion easily mitigated by a good map.

We love Russian food so for us, St Petersburg was a delight. Want a vodka experience? Dine at “Russian Vodkaroom No. 1/Russkaya Ryumochnaya No. 1” on Konnogvardeyskiy and try their horseradish vodka!

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Yes, I too thought they were “messing” with me with this glass!

How about a dining experience with a killer view of St Isaac where the cocktails and food are great too? Take the lift to the 6th floor “Mahcapga” (pronounced Mansarda) which just so happened to be across the street from our hotel (lucky us!) on Pochtamtskaya

And if you want to have a high end, intimate dinner that felt very European along the Moyka Embankment on the canal …

… try “Dom”, no more than a quick sprint around a couple of corners from the hotel, also recommended by our concierge, Natalya.

A word about concierge services: Natalya was fabulous! In addition to dining recommendations, she directed us to a side entrance to the Hermitage for use by hotel guests which would have saved us a great deal of time if there had been lines. She went way beyond the call of duty trying to assist me in obtaining a contact at the former Imperial Medical Academy without which access is impossible. She, and all staff at this boutique hotel, was friendly and very helpful. Consider staying there as the location is wonderful and buffet breakfast is plentiful and fresh: we had a view of St Isaac’s from our room located in the front of the hotel where the rooms were larger with high ceilings.

http://www.marriott.com/hotels/fact-sheet/travel/ledbr-renaissance-st-petersburg-baltic-hotel/

There is so much more I wanted to say about St Petersburg because in part, for me at least, it was genealogically a going home event. Instead of words, I’m tossing in a few extra Travel Log type images … I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed taking them!

We found Russians delightful, friendly, happy, helpful … very chill

Finishing with Church on the Spilled Blood, marking the site of Tsar Alexander II’s assassination in 1881 which is actually a memorial building and not a “church” per se

 

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… and St Peter and St Paul Cathedral on the island fortress built by Peter the Great where most of the tsars are entombed – the bell tower is the world’s tallest Orthodox bell tower. Tsar Nicholas II and most of his family and a few servants were belatedly laid to rest on July 17, 1998 (the date marking 80 years after their murder) in the Chapel of St Catherine the Martyr …

Hope this was fun for you … join me on Next Skedaddle … to Vilnius, Lithuania!

Standing by our Belgian Friends

It was such a lovely morning in Annapolis but my heart was heavy and my thoughts preoccupied by the senselessness that has become commonplace: the massacre of innocent people at soft target locations. It is gratifying to see examples in Annapolis, capitol of the state of Maryland, of our solidarity with the Belgian people who were the latest in the crosshairs of terrorists: their national flag flown at half mast along with so many of our own. Driving through downtown, I found inspiration in the abundant displays of Spring – both natural and man made, as well as the promise of renewal.

So while not a lighthearted Skedaddle, I nevertheless wanted to celebrate the human spirit as well as the gifts of nature that surround us.

 … Stop, smell the flowers and take a bundle home …

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… celebrate Spring’s arrival …

… the business of life goes on …

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… I close with joyful images brought to you from Hillsmere Shores where you can find this annual Easter extravaganza … I wonder how many Easter eggs are on the tree? Enter the contest and find out!

Happy Easter … Happy Spring … Peace

The 8 Tuff Miles Skedaddle

Picture this … daybreak on a glorious tropical island (St John, USVI), an 8.3 mile course that begins at one bay (Cruz Bay), goes from sea level to an elevation of 999 feet before descending to sea level at another bay (Coral Bay), and your prize for “finishing” … the uniquely designed medal that doubles as a bottle opener and then a party with Award presentations later in the day back at Cruz Bay at “Ninth Mile” … Yup that’s it: 8 Tuff Miles!

So, you might ask, how did I happen upon this fun, grueling and at times hilarious event? Well, I met up in St John with my two best high school friends, where one of them luckily resides, to participate in this race. Since “her” entire family participates, and this was the 20th Annual event, this opportunity just couldn’t be passed up. Two of us, traveling from wintery weather, did not have the benefit of training on that island’s extremely hilly roads in 80+ degree heat while having to inhale water with humidity at 70% that seemed to pool around my ankles … But that’s just nitpicking! Who cares, we were in paradise and What a hoot!

You can probably imagine the logistical complications of visitor and local runners/participants (1,155 hardy souls) arriving pre-dawn en masse at Cruz Bay for a 7:15am start. In our “group’s” case alone our members descended while still dark out from East End, Coral Bay, Freemans and Eden estates all of whom either had to be dropped off and vehicles driven back over to the finish line at Coral Bay before the only road across the island was shut down for the event. Controlled pandemonium best describes the process. I take my “shoes” off to those fabulous local people and organizations who coordinated and supported this annual event: 12 amply manned water stations offering water , Gatorade, and encouragement with surprise stations toward the end – more on that later.

7:15am and the race was off and running! For me, the first 2 miles are the worst, but once warmed up I thought it would become a matter of pace. Water stations were plentiful and often as entertaining as they were vital with my favorite being the Elvis decked out volunteers!

I thought I had found a good pace as we passed the half way mark but Lizard Hill kicked butt … I rarely look up during the steep inclines but on this “hill” I did and I saw a rising serpentine road ahead with 3 bends and I thought “Whoa … Okay … I can do this … ” and I focused my gaze back on the road and pushed only to peek up after the 3 bends to see another steeper version ahead. Well now, all swearing aside I was not going to let this beat me so, head down, I pushed forward only to have the same view greet me at the next glance up. By now not a person was chatting, laughing … gasping breaths was all I heard until someone exhaled out an expletive causing others to laugh or offer encouragement … and this continued. But the worst was after about six miles when suddenly we were going down quite steeply before the road rose again precipitously to the final peak … at 999 feet!

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In fact a young woman greeted us and cheered announcing it was all down hill from there: if she only knew … ! Mile 7 featured a beer chugging/champagne station (with funnel and tube) which we passed by laughing. Not a quarter mile later we encountered the “fireball” station … well, however tempting, I didn’t want to be “that house guest” that had to be carried off the field so we pressed on! Finally, we hit mile 8 only to recall the race is 8.3 miles and after a final push we “ran” the gauntlet to the finish line, got “medaled”, sucked down delicious coconut water infused with diced coconut and embraced friends and strangers all happy to have shared in this unique experience.

A few facts: Winner of the race was a 23 year old young man from New York, Edward Mulder, who blasted through this course at a blistering 5:47 pace finishing at 48:22 minutes and after hearing that he has a spot on the Olympic trials, there was a collective “Oh Wow, well I don’t feel so bad!”

The funds raised through the $60 entry fees are given out in Awards and scholarships: the 1,155 participants who crossed the finish line ranged in age from 7 to 77 … At the afternoon “Ninth Mile” Awards  celebration, which takes over the parking lot in Mongoose Junction, beer, food and good cheer were plentiful and a bronzed team gave out the awards by category and groups: Females in age group 20-24 etc … I have to say the most coveted award (other than finishing first or in the Top Three of your Category) is the Under Hour Club award: once you are “IN” you are a lifetime member! This year, the oldest guy to achieve Club level was a 47 year old man from Houston, TX with a time of 59:08 (7:04 pace) with the fastest female being from Lincoln, NE with a time of 57:15 (6:50pace). I too had a blistering pace … the one on my foot!

Next day was total R&R: Swimming, Snorkeling, SUP, Sunning along a beautiful beach setting. Next time you are in St John, drive out to the East End and visit Vie’s Snack Shack: small fee gains you a parking spot to this privately accessed beach and try her local food offerings (closed Sundays and Mondays)! Plus, there’s the ever popular “Yellow Bar” barge that occasionally motors over and services beachgoers as well as the often spectacular yachts that anchor on the eastern side of Coral Bay!

PS I turned my medal into a key fob

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See you in 341 days at next year’s  8 Tuff Miles run on Saturday February 25, 2017

www.8TuffMiles.com