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Travel in the time of COVID-19: An Oregon Coast Adventure

13 Jul

13 July 2020.

Like everything else in the Time of COVID-19, our spring and early summer travel plans were completely upended. The original plan was Bandon in May to see the Shore Acres gardens in gaudy display, then an early July hiking and wine tasting adventure with Rick & Jane. Poof! Blown to pieces!

What could we do knowing Europe was building walls to keep out COVID-laden Americans while visiting friends and relatives domestically is unwise? Airports seem a little scary right now so flying is out.

Escaping to a different part of the Oregon Coast seemed a reasonable choice: just the two of us, with plans to minimize the risks by managing our approach to the situations we might encounter. From Lincoln City, we traveled to Coos Bay and Bandon-by-the-Sea. Outdoor activities, keeping to ourselves, and eating something we did not have to cook ourselves were on the agenda.

A reminder that masks are required!

The Southern Oregon Coast has not been hit hard by the virus. While that is really good news, we worried that the Governor’s orders and CDC guidelines might be poo-pooed. Happily, we found most businesses and travelers following guidelines. Several businesses tried to put some fun into the restrictions through creative displays. Some accosted customers at the door with a stern admonition to wear a mask. That made us feel good about how committed they were to protecting their employees as well as guests

High praise is due to Bandon Coffee Company and Edgewaters Restaurant in Bandon, The Pancake Mill in Coos Bay, Bridgewaters and the Coffee Roastery in Florence, and the Red Fish in Port Orford for showing they cared about both staff and customers by enforcing the guidelines. We made reservations where feasible and given limited seating we were happy we did! We ate a number of outdoor lunches and most places had doors or windows open so fresh air could break up those COVID-carrying droplets.

I don’t think I ever heard anyone cough or sneeze in our vicinity. (Except for me and my allergy-caused sneezes could raise the dead! I sneezed only when we were alone in our room or on a trail.)

I could watch sandpipers on the beach for hours.

A few places made us uncomfortable and we had to “walk” a couple of times. In a mom-owned diner with a high rating for breakfast, I was told by the owner/waitress that she could not wear a mask for medical reasons. That is outside of our comfort zone, so we moved on to our number two choice. At a busy brewpub/pizzeria there was strong signage for customers to mask up but three employees (cashier, pizza cook, and a kitchen worker) were maskless. Again, not to our standards so we moved on and this night we had a little trouble finding a place to eat as the town is small with limited options. Lesson learned: do not go out to dine without a second choice.

One restaurant added, “sorry for the inconvenience” to the sign on the door requiring masks, to me an indication they were not in compliance willingly. However, at the same place, which is in Brookings, Oregon, the hostess admonished people entering without masks that they were not able to enter unless they donned said protection. Some were aghast they had to wear a mask to cross the dining room. Good for her for being insistent!

Some servers we saw had mask-slippage problems leaving their noses hanging out. I wish I had traveled with a few of my homemade, secure-fitting masks to give out. I think I’ll pack some along on future outings.

Lodging services are, of course, minimal. I normally enjoy a few nights reprieve from bed-making but not so this trip. We made our own bed every morning and exchanged trash and towels at the door a couple of times.

Ric and friend on the riverfront in Florence.

There is beautiful scenery on the Southern Oregon Coast. South of Florence, we found far less traffic and far fewer tourists than we get on the Central Coast. There were longer hikes and shorter walks but we encountered almost no one. When we did encounter others, everyone was polite, stepped off the trail, and tried to be as far away as possible in passing. One little boy of about six had been well-schooled by his parents. As their party of four and the two of us each squeezed right on a boardwalk to give what distance we could, he loudly exclaimed “I don’t have to wear a mask because I’m a kid.” (For the record, we did not wear masks when hiking!)

All-in-all it was terrific to be somewhere different. After months of relative seclusion and hiding from our fellow human beings, different was good! We still avoided people, enjoyed the outdoors in very good weather, indulged in many good meals, and remembered why we don’t like long driving trips. Give me a train any day!

Here are a few photo highlights of the area. There is amazing food to be had, too: fresh as can be seasonal seafood from Oregon waters. Click on any image for a slideshow.

Week Two draws to a close

27 Mar

27 March 2020.

Pity the journalists reporting today. By the time they write something the situation has changed. I feel the same way. I was going to blog about our Maui trip, but it seemed misplaced as we returned to the hockey-stick upswing in COVID-19. Now that trip seems like a distant memory and we just returned to Lincoln City two weeks ago today.

Green sea turtle on “our” beach.

We are lucky we were not forced to shelter-in-place in Hawaii. It may seem heavenly, but we all longed for our beds and at $299 plus taxes, fees per night for a condo, high food costs, and car rental, mannaggia! (Italian expletive you can decipher yourself) we could not afford to stay there longer!

Quarantine, self-isolation, social-distancing, whatever you call it (yes, I know there are differences but permit me), even those of us whose religion is Practicing Introvert are finding this challenging and I know it is not going to get easier. Following news from my friends in Europe tells me we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Lincoln City is rather removed from the mainstream. We don’t have a rush hour, except when tourists flock here for spring break. Then we get traffic jams in the afternoon. Spring Break had a non-commital start and canceled lodging reservations were a top story on March 16. That changed when the housebound Valley People decided to take advantage of the good weather and escape to the beach and other rural areas. March 21st saw our county overwhelmed with claustrophobic city people thinking they could social-distance themselves here at the beach. Not good for the elderly population of our town that only has two industries: tourism and retirement. Our 24-bed hospital is not going to handle an onslaught. Weekends, where our <9,000 population surges to 40,000 people, are bad enough, and that usually brings cases of sunburn, sprains, and broken bones. Now the governor, our mayor, and the county commission have decreed no short-term rentals. All beach parking is closed as are the parks and open spaces. No hiking in State Parks.

Empty Outlet Mall, spring break under quarantine.

Speaking of the elderly, I do not identify with my age group. I am energetic, technologically savvy (mostly), in decent shape, and deplore talk about aches and pains and insurance plans. Yet here I am avoiding the gym, going to the grocery store at odd hours, standing 10 feet away from neighbors to chat. Thank God the weather has been (mostly) good so Ric and I can walk in the woods (mostly) alone.

Even the Chinook Winds Casino closed. Never before.

Some days I ask myself,” Coronavirus or Allergies?” I started with weepy eyes and stuffy head in February and after a few days reluctantly started self-medicating with Zyrtec and Flonase. In Hawaii even that combo could not overcome everything that assaulted my senses. Of course while we were there the COVID-19 was ramping up outside of China, Italy went on lockdown, and I started to wonder if I was Connie Corona. Happy to report that it is allergies and I will live this way until December, if 2019 is any indication.

While far from bored, I find myself reacting much as I would during a snow siege. Oregon doesn’t do snow well and we have been cooped up for as long as a week by weather. (Portlanders, remember Christmas 2008? My car was frozen to the driveway for 8 days.) On those occasions I obsessed about weather news, looked for any opportunity to safely leave the house, and focused entirely too much on what we were going to eat next.

This siege is not that different except my focus is on the overwhelmingly depressing news and I realize it is not going away as fast as snow and ice.

Homemade PPE available in Patriotic, Sterile White, and Rainbow Dots.

Like anywhere else, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is in short supply in Lincoln County. The call went out for homemade masks to augment the various medical masks in use. I think these will be used in hospice, nursing homes, and so on to free up masks for hazardous use. My sewing machine at the ready, I sought out supplies so I could help. There is no suitable elastic available but scads of fabric. I scrounged up yards of trim to make ties for the masks and managed to turn out 18. This took waaayyyyy longer than I expected. A seamstress in a factory could probably turn one out in 60 seconds. Me? About an hour-per-mask what with measuring, cutting, pinning, sewing, turning, pleating, and top-stitching. With the cost of what I used for ties, even a government contract couldn’t pay the per unit price. Luckily, it’s a donation.

I will make more if they are needed. Maybe sew my own bias ties, which is an ugly chore.

We are trying not to stress eat. In the words of Private Benjamin: “I want to go out to lunch!” How remote that simple pleasure now seems!

I am overly watchful of our food supplies. I stuffed the freezer with homemade soups before we traveled but suddenly it was gone. We are not “stockpiling” but we had some challenges getting that two-week supply in the house instead of going to the store daily as was our habit.

The big gastronomic treats recently: homemade black bean breakfast burritos, a shared raspberry scone last week from our favorite coffee shop that has now closed, Alexa Sweet Potato Fries alongside our turkey meatloaf, and Papa Murphy’s Pizza with beer for Ric’s birthday. We have not started day-drinking (yet).

Yesterday we loaded up on some produce to freeze. My God, what a chore that is! Chopping, blanching, chilling, drying, freezing in pieces before you can finally put it in a storage bag. We have time but that is not how I expected to while away an afternoon.

My two post-Maui projects were to be ancestry research and actually studying Italian as my grammar is getting pretty lax. I dabbled in each until the mask project took me away this week.

My paternal genealogy is a bit of a mystery due to adoptions and divorces. Of course it is too late to ask anyone who might have been keeping a secret so I am starting down the path of researching public records. My father was adopted by his mother’s second husband when he was about 14. This is family knowledge. But I cannot get his actual birth certificate until 100 years after the date of the adoption which is still about 15 years in the future. I am using Ancestry.com to try and determine some details. No doubt I will have stories of this journey to tell one day. Now that the masks are made, I might make some progress.

We are not binge-watching any more than usual. We usually have a series going and recently landed on the dark-but-funny “Fargo” TV series. How I love that Minnesota accent! We are always behind the curve on TV as so much was released while we were living in Italy and we had no idea about series streaming here. Catching up has left us with an endless list so as long as Internet service continues to be robust we won’t run out of entertainment.

Maybe my favorite meme so far. Working from the office vs. work-at-home. Have you seen the movie “The Two Popes?”

Studying Italian at the dining room table will take a lot more discipline than I seem to have at the moment. If the Internet fails, there’s always studying or more sewing.

How are things going for you? What activities are keeping you going?

Maui super moon from our lanai.

These clothes won’t see the light of day again for a few months.

Walking off the pizza

19 Sep

19 September 2019.

It is so wonderful to have fine Italian pizza again! Nothing in the U.S. compares, for us. Here, we each eat an entire pizza and while full, we never feel bloated or grotesque. And my jeans still zip the next morning.

Pizza

The culprit: Pizza Golosa, which means ‘delicious’ or ‘gluttonous.’ Fresh mushrooms and cherry tomatoes with spicy salami and gorgonzola. Ric had a Siciliana with anchovies, capers, and olives.

Italian pizza crust is made from a type of flour that is more digestible. (Ask any Italian about digestibility and you’ll be entertained for hours.) The toppings are fresh and pure and distributed with a light hand. Each ingredient shines on its own and together, well,  Mamma mia what a product!

Pizzeria & Steakhouse La Tambra in Santa Cristina is our favorite in the Val Gardena. Usually, we make the trek to La Tambra in the evening catching the infrequent and elusive night bus back to Ortisei. The other day, while tromping around on Monte Pana and Mont de Sëura, we realized that it was almost lunchtime and Santa Cristina was only a chairlift away. Does La Tambra serve pizza at lunch? Turns out they do, and as it was a sunny day, we could dine on the terrace. But what to do after lunch? It was only 14:30 and we certainly could use some steps to retard the growth of fat cells after eating THE WHOLE THING.

Ric’s idea? Walk back to Ortisei on the Sentiero del Trenino. This mostly level path takes one between the towns of Santa Cristina and Ortisei where the WWI supply train ran from 1916-1918. Eventually, it became a tourist train which operated until 1960. This area was part of Austria when the railway was built and was annexed by the Kingdom of Italy after WWI. Some 6000 Russian and Serbian POWs were conscripted to build the line, which they accomplished in only 5 months of brutal day-and-night labor.

WWI picture

Photo from one of the informative panels along the route. 6000 Russian prisoners and 3500 locals were employed in building the WWI rail line to resupply the front. This was Austria at the time.

We started our walk a bit before the official start of the path, launching our pizza-stuffed selves off the terrace of La Tambra and making our way up to the picturesque church in Santa Cristina. The cemetery is stunning and beautifully maintained by the families. Seasonal flowers are planted on each gravesite.

More-or-less beneath the church, a tunnel used by the narrow-gauge train was reopened in 2017 with informative displays about the line. It is well worth a 15-minute detour to walk the 203-meter tunnel and study the displays. The tiny renovated station house (from tourist train days) has short films of the trains in action.

Click any photo for more detail and a slide show.

Continuing on after the church, one heads steeply downhill. We encountered cyclists going both directions but felt exceedingly sorry for one guy who was pushing a pram uphill while his wife struggled along behind. We’ve done this hill in both directions and would vote to go down every time. Ugh!

S. Cristina pat

This path is steeper than it looks. After this descent the rest of the path is mostly level.

Then the path levels out and it is a delightful stroll to Ortisei, past farms, playgrounds, and beautiful hotels. Sunny vistas are interspersed with forested sections. The 3 miles passed quickly, taking about 90 minutes including the train tunnel detour.

At least we made a dent in those pizza calories since we are back on the weekly pizza plan during out trip!

Click any photo for more detail and a slide show.

 

Retreat on the Alpe di Siusi

15 Sep

15 September 2019.

Sometimes you just need to escape even while you are away. Rick Steves calls this a “vacation from your vacation.” While we aren’t really in need of further relaxation, we do like the atmosphere of the Alpe di Siusi and it has become a tradition for us to pass a couple of nights there and be able to hike in the mornings without worrying about an early bus from Ortisei or racing to beat the last gondola down at 17:30. It’s a looonnggg walk if you miss the last ride.

Cabinovia

The gondola up to — and down from — the Alpe di Siusi. It only runs until 17:30 so don’t miss the last ride!

We are based for 2 1/2 weeks at the incredible Residence Astoria, our home in the Val Gardena the past four years. (See Training cats from 2016.) Taking only our backpacks with a change of clothing, we headed to Hotel Saltria for two nights, partaking of their half-pension plan and enjoying the convenience of being right there in the Alpe di Siusi for an early morning hike as recommended in our book, Walking in Italy’s Val Gardena. It’s good to travel light as this journey takes 3 buses and a gondola over the course of 90 minutes. Not fun with heavy luggage.

Hotel Saltria

The Hotel Saltria is a larger property, yet retains an intimacy

Arriving at the hotel, we had time for an hour’s walk in the afternoon sun through mountain meadows, then a shower before dinner. No extended Italian eating hours here! Dinner is from 19:00-20:30 and almost all of the guests arrived in the first 15 minutes. (We did see one couple, clearly new to the concept and not Italian nor German, waltz in at 20:28 and they were seated and served. I think they got the dregs of what was left, though.)

Rifugio

A rifugio on the Panorama hike. The pond is used for fire-fighting (rare) and snow-making in ski season.

The next morning we were on the trail before 10:00 and took what may be our new favorite hike in the Alpe di Siusi, Panorama to Zallinger. (I’ll be writing that in detail for another post.) This was a long-ish one. Leaving the hotel a few minutes before 9:00, we did not return until 15:30 what with transportation, a coffee stop, a lunch break, and a 10 km walk. If we had tried to do this from Ortisei, we would have been gone from 8:00-18:00.

It was so nice to be catered to for breakfast and dinner. No shopping (which we do daily when we are in a self-catered situation), no cooking or food prep of any type. We just showed up and let the hotel staff take care of everything.

Dining room Saltria

The dining room at Saltria. There were people of all ages: young couples with new babies, young couples alone, multi-generational groups, and people like us.

Breakfast was spread across a room bigger than our home living, dining, and kitchen areas combined! Set in a huge “E” shape, were baskets of various rolls and pastries, 8 types of preserves, 4 kinds of honey including one that was still in the comb, fruits, fruit salad, yoghurt, soft boiled eggs, a vegetable juicer, salad ingredients, 4 kinds of sliced meats, and at least 4 types of cheese. Beverages were on a separate buffet and the waitress made cappuccino, espresso, or “German” coffee to order.

This part of Italy is so Austrian that the first words out of anyone’s mouth are generally in German. In fact, this past week one of the German-language newspapers of the Südtirol expressed sadness on the 100th anniversary of the annexation by the Kingdom of Italy in 1919. Memories are long. So we were offered “German” coffee whereas in most of Italy we would have been asked if we wanted “American” coffee.

German is more prevalent in the Alpe di Siusi than it is even in the valley. A couple of our servers had trouble with Italian. One stumbled over the number 6 (sei in Italian) until I used the German word sechs. Some transactions became amusing mixtures: I told them I wanted my coffee senza milch. That high-school German comes back on occasion.

Vegetables

A sampling of the many vegetables available every night.

At the hotel, none of the food on the menus was described in English. Our evening meals — five courses if you wanted to eat that much — were described in Italian and German and the cuisine was decidedly fusion. Pasta or prosciutto and melon for a first course followed by roasted veal and a beetroot/potato puree. Or a cheese strudel as a starter with mountain lake fish on a bed of leeks with lardo. (Lardo is what it sounds like, though quite refined, a Tuscan specialty.) Like I said, fusion, or as our Italian friend would say, contaminated (contaminazione in Italian is a little pejorative, but serves as a false cognate in this case).

After our long day hike, we could have refreshed in the indoor-outdoor pool or worked on our skin cancer, but we retreated to a pre-dinner shower and coffee on the terrace overlooking the magnificent peaks. Just as the sun was setting, we headed to dinner, now greeted by a huge salad and vegetable buffet spread over the enormous “E” that once held breakfast. Perfectly sauteed artichokes, two types of asparagus, grilled peppers and eggplant, marinated mushrooms, more salad ingredients than the farmers’ market, and a cheeseboard.

Pasta

My primo one night, pasta with smoked salmon. Sensibly small portion as there was more to come.

That was the first course. After that, there were soup, a primo, a secondo, and dessert, plus (more) cheese and fruit. We confined ourselves to three courses (no soup nor dessert) but indulged in a fine and reasonably-priced wine list.

My middle-of-the-night trip to the bagno was blessed with the lovely sight of the great mountain peaks bathed in moonlight. That alone was worth getting up for at midnight.

Travelers often complain about “touristy” areas and that so many places are over-crowded, or that they encounter too many Americans carrying Rick Steves’ guidebooks. If one wants to have an experience unlike any you are likely to have in North America, this is a fine place to add to an itinerary.

Laurel and the Sciliar

Just starting out on the Panorama hike. Perfect day!

Here we go again!

31 Aug

31 August 2019

We weren’t a week into our spring trip to France and the U.K. when Ric opined that he would miss our fall trip to Italy and hated to think of waiting 18 months before we saw il bell paese again. We were one glass into a bottle of fine pinot noir from the Alsace at this point in the conversation. By the time the bottle was gone, we were researching tickets for September. Tomorrow we fly to Milano.

Much like last autumn, we will visit Italy (the Val Gardena) and Switzerland’s Lauterbrunnen Valley, This year we will spend two weeks in Lauterbrunnen and 2.5 in Ortisei with a brief stop in new-to-us Bettmeralp. Needless to say, we have packed our trekking sticks.

The housesitter has arrived and we will no doubt have little sleep tonight. Maybe that will allow us to sleep on the plane. 

I’ll be writing blog posts that I call postcards from our trip, as I have in the past. Enjoy your holiday weekend!

 

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