Carolina on My Mind

In my mind I’m gone to Carolina
Can’t you see the sunshine?
Can’t you just feel the moonshine?
Ain’t it just like a friend of mine
To hit me from behind?
Yes, I’m gone to Carolina in my mind.

James Taylor forgot to mention the trees. North Carolina is a state full of trees.

I’m used to the hills of my Bay Area home, but those are spread with golden grasses that turn gray in the dry of the late summer, where these are waves of rounded green mounds that undulate out to the horizon. We were bombing down the Blue Ridge Parkway all last week, traveling between Raleigh, Charlotte, Boone and Asheville, a trip full of conversation and scenery, heavy on the friendship and light on the tourism.

Isoprene-happy oak trees
The blue of the Western Appalachians is a little unique, according to www.ourstate.com, and can be traced to the isoprene-happy oak trees that make up most of the forests. The hydrocarbon isoprene is produced by these trees in part to protect themselves from excess heat. The hydrocarbon mixes with other molecules and acts like a kind of smog to create the haze of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Continue reading “Carolina on My Mind”

Road Trips: America in Miniature

“Kathy”, I said,
As we boarded a Greyhound in Pittsburgh,
Michigan seems like a dream to me now.
It took me four days
To hitch-hike from Saginaw.
“I’ve come to look for America.”
–Simon & Garfunkel, America

Everybody journeys. Everyone takes trips on roads, travels to see new worlds, journeys of self-discovery and trips to the store, commutes to work and visits to see family. But there is a particularly American invention – the Road Trip.

20160824 I80 responsecraftingcom
via responsecrafting.com

The United States is a large country with substantial variation in climate and terrain, crisscrossed with interstates that allow travel through and to nearly all of it, though it takes hour or sometimes days.  In early civilized history up until the 20th century, towns were near waterways whether in Europe, Africa, or North America.  Now they are all aligned along interstate hubs or around airports and the arterial traffic system is perfectly designed for long car journeys.

Continue reading “Road Trips: America in Miniature”

The Idea of Waterloo

I don’t know why I find Waterloo so fascinating; the Belgians don’t really seem to. It was the last of the planned highlights of our trip for me, and I had read about it and thought about it for months.  Yet compared with other tourist sites we visited, it had minimal infrastructure and sparse attendance. It left a lot to the imagination.

Typically Belgian
T4Lions Mound
Granted, they have a nifty little museum underneath the site, as well as a “4D” movie experience that really makes you feel the smoke of the soldiers’ campfires and the charge of the horses over the ridge. But apparently this museum was built only last year for the bicentennial, and prior to that there was only this high, oddly designed “Lion’s Mound” that had a small observation deck, with an old map and a couple pay telescopes. You have to climb up and down 225 steps to get there, which would be difficult for a lot of people and downright awful in any weather that had the slightest wind, rain or worse.  When we were there, there were a handful of Germans and maybe a few locals at the top, even though it was a beautiful day and a holiday to boot. The signs on where to enter the museum and observation deck itself were confusing, causing you to walk around a long fence, only to be redirected back and down these other steps that turned out to be right off the parking lot. (Why not have a sign when you come out of the lot, “MUSEUM THIS WAY”?)  Margot, a friend who agreed to guide us, told us that was typically Belgian. She said that often while she was driving.

Lest you think I am just throwing shade on Belgium, I will say Margot took us to one of the best lunch places (Stoemp and Sausage) of the trip, and we spent several hours enjoying the sunny Grand Place at a cafe. But, to be fair, the day before we also had one of the worst dinners I’ve ever eaten, found the museums and gardens we wanted to visit were closed, and couldn’t find a single market to buy a soda after 8 pm. This was all after Karin lost her phone right between the metro station and the two blocks to the hotel. And there are no T Mobile stores in Brussels.  I’m not throwing shade, this is just what happened. We got off to a rocky start.

Still, we were in a good mood embarking out to the Waterloo site the following day. I was particularly happy that Margot had agreed to take us because frankly the directions to get there were fairly obscure. The website for tourism for Waterloo and the little town, Braine l’Alleud is not particularly robust. There are buses that go out there, but they stop at various places that are miles apart, and most of the logistical explanations were in French. There are no guided tours other than private ones you could plan in advance for several hundred dollars. This was in marked contrast to the other sites, like Keukenhof, which had dedicated buses packed full of sightseers, or the museum with multiple exhibits at the Nobel Peace Center, or even the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen, which was mobbed by cameras. In contrast, Waterloo didn’t seem to have the same draw. Continue reading “The Idea of Waterloo”

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