Hand Me Down My Walkin’ Shoes – Walking in Paris

Among my favorite offerings in Rick Steves’ city guidebooks are his recommended self-guided walking tours. I love to walk, so right off the bat I’m a fan. But his walks also point out unusual and unadvertised highlights that I would never know about otherwise. I’ll read his tidbits aloud to anyone in my party that is willing to listen, and even to those that aren’t (such as my youngest daughter when she was a teenager). Here’s an example.

On our trip to Paris last winter, Bob and I took several of Steves’ Paris walks. One favorite was the Montmartre Walk. On this stroll, Steves’ offered specific directions on how to find often unmarked historic sites, which included the La Maison Rose Restaurant, made famous by a painting from artist Maurice Utrillo.  We saw Pablo Picasso’s studio, the home of Vincent van Gogh, the Moulin Rouge nightclub, and nearby Pig Alley. All accompanied by interesting facts and histories.

Steves’ Left Bank walk led us through the delightful Luxembourg Gardens, a 60-acre park complete with a palace, beehives dating to 1872, 600 varieties of fruit trees – each with identifying signage, chess tables, ponds and more. The walk included a stroll across the Pont des Arts pedestrian bridge, apparently a popular meeting point for lovers, so thanks to Rick I was able to sneak a kiss from my main squeeze (really he’s my only squeeze, unless you count a good book and a soft blanket). And it was fun to stop in the oldest toy store in Paris, Tikibou Jouets, where in addition to unique items for sale, you can browse the collections of antique die cast toys, such as Tintin, Babar, the Little Prince, the Michelin man, and so many more.

And I can’t write about walking tours from Rick Steves’ Paris book without mentioning his Pére Lachaise Cemetery tour. 70,000 people are interred in the cemetery, and Steves’ tour gives specific directions on how to find the tombs of famous artists including Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Édith Piaf, Jim Morrison, and Frédéric Chopin, to name a few. The cemetery is stunning in its own right, with beautiful art deco signage, cobbled streets, and narrow walkways.

Steves’ self-guided walking tours tell you exactly how long you should expect to walk, when the best time of day is for each particular tour, and the hours of museums and other spots along the way. He also guides you to nearby places for a snack, coffee or beer, many with their own intriguing histories. The included tour maps are spot on, and Rick’s witty jokes and puns aren’t so bad either. If time permits, Bob and I try and take as many Rick Steves’ self-guided walking tours as we can, for every city that he publishes books. The tours are free (but for the price of the guidebook), you can take them at your own pace, and if you’re lucky, you might just get a kiss from your partner.

Renewing TSA PreCheck and Global Entry

Nancy and I recently renewed our five-year memberships in the TSA PreCheck and Global Entry programs, because I think we can all agree that navigating airports is a challenge to just about anyone’s serenity. It all adds up to a stressful experience: arranging transportation, arriving early enough (but not too early!), making sure your liquids are properly sized and stored, and having your ID and boarding pass at the ready. Then you immediately begin the scramble of removing said liquids, laptops, phones, belts, shoes, and everything else in your pockets for a precious few moments, only to gather them all up, get them all back where they belong, and move along so the next poor soul can do the same. Even as a frequent traveler, who feels organized and prepared for the security skirmish, I always end up more than just a bit disheveled and disoriented. Truth is, I often start that way, but you get my drift.

So I’m interested in anything that eases that process. Unfortunately the world of private jets, and their nearly non-existent security processes, are far beyond our means. As a fairly frequent flyer, I really like the Global Entry program. For $100 and little bit of your time, Global Entry helps you speed through immigration and customs when re-entering the USA, and includes TSA PreCheck, which helps you speed through TSA security lines at participating US airports.

Initially I found it a bit confusing, but they are in fact two separate but related programs. TSA PreCheck is $85 for five years. But for $100 (an extra $15), you can also get Global Entry. Therefore the only reason to limit yourself to PreCheck is if you are 100% certain you will not leave the country for the five-year duration of your membership. Seems to me that the extra $15 is worth it just in case.

Five years ago, Nancy and I signed up for both programs to see how they worked. With TSA PreCheck, we go to a separate and always much shorter line, and are not required to remove shoes, laptops, liquids, belts or jackets. And for us that makes a big difference. More than 200 US airports and 73 airlines offer PreCheck and only once that I can remember was PreCheck unavailable. And with Global Entry, many, many times we have sped past long customs lines full of tired and understandably irritated fellow travelers to the automated Global Entry kiosks. Turns out we liked both programs a lot. It was an easy decision to renew for another five years.

Like the original application process, renewal was straightforward. Fill out an online questionnaire and schedule an in-person interview. Both times it was the interview scheduling that posed the greatest logistical hurdle, mostly because our little airport in Medford, Oregon does not do the interviews.

Although there are nearly 400 enrollment centers where TSA interviews take place, sometimes booking a time slot can be a little tough. For me, there were no available times on the west coast that met my travel schedule. Eventually, I was able to arrange a time several months out during a long layover we had coming up at New York’s JFK airport. A customer recently told us that she had to schedule her interview in Portland one year ahead of time. She also noted that she has received a few emails from the TSA encouraging her to “drop in” to a participating airport’s enrollment center for an interview. Nancy and I tried to do just that at SFO five years ago on our first go ‘round, and we were practically laughed out of the office. But perhaps things have changed in the interim.

The renewal process did pose a curious question, as I was required to interview again but Nancy was not. She was issued her Trusted Traveler Global Entry ID renewal straight away after applying online, while I was required to interview to complete the process. Who knows why? Other than my 2015 trip to India, we’d visited all the same countries during our five years in the program. However, upon review, Nancy believes it is possible she omitted Jordan from the “countries visited” on her renewal form. Nevertheless, after all that, my interview occurred almost exactly at the scheduled hour and lasted less than five minutes. A few weeks later, I received my renewed Trusted Traveler Global Entry ID in the mail and I was good to go for another five years.

For us, the $100 Global Entry/TSA PreCheck fee is worth it. We average about five round trip flights a year. Over five years that’s 25 trips, and because you go through security both ways, that’s 50 times through security. That’s $2 per TSA encounter. It’s pretty much an official bribe – kind of like slipping someone a couple of bucks to skip to the front of the line. And that’s before factoring in time saved at immigration and customs. I’ll take it.

Big Wheel Keep on Turnin’ – Relaxing on the River

Sometimes you just need a quick getaway. A respite from your work, your home and yard work, and even from your city. Bob and I took a long weekend break this summer to the McKenzie River, where I’m embarrassed to say, in 26 years of Oregon living, we’ve never explored. Boy were we impressed.

There are lots of amazing outdoor adventures and beautiful camping opportunities in Oregon, but I’ve decided that at 52, my days of sleeping on the ground and walking to a toilet in the cold, dark night are over. And I’m not ashamed to admit it. So to keep me happy, we instead booked a last minute cabin at the Cedarwood Lodge, a delightful spot in McKenzie Bridge, right on the McKenzie River. With seven cabins to choose from, the Cedarwood is the perfect blend of comfort and rustic all rolled into one, with the emphasis on the comfort. Mike Giorgio has owned the Lodge for 30 years, and he is incredibly welcoming and friendly. The grounds are superbly well kept, as are the cabins. Our one bedroom cabin, which was $145 a night, had a deck that looked directly at the river. We sat on it every morning and drank our coffee, and every evening with our cocktails, watching rafts and boats float by. With a fully equipped kitchen, it was easy to prepare delicious meals and concoct yummy drinks too.

There’s great hiking all along the McKenzie River, and we took full advantage of the fact that we could drive a short way to many different trail heads. A few of our favorites were the Waterfall Loop Trail, about 3 miles, the Tamolitch Blue Pool (4 miles), and the McKenzie River Trail itself, which we hiked on for about 5 miles. The River is extraordinary, and the trails that run right along it are beautiful. The Blue Pool trail, which is quite popular, was the busiest, but it was never too crowded. Other trails however, were almost completely free of other hikers. It was just us and nature much of the time.

We also golfed, yes, we golfed, at the Tokatee Golf Club in McKenzie Bridge. The golf club is just as beautiful as the rest of the McKenzie River area, with stunning views and vistas. I played nine holes, and didn’t keep my score. I’m certain this goes without saying, but I could give Phil Mickelson a serious run for his money.

We took a drive one afternoon up to the McKenzie Pass and the Dee Wright Observatory. The structure, built with lava stone, is right in the middle of a large lava flow, and it provides excellent viewing of many of Oregon’s biggest mountains. There’s a Lava River National Recreational Trail there, with excellent information about the lava flow and the growth that has somehow managed to sneak its way in to the lava. The difference in landscape between this area and the McKenzie River is unreal, they are like polar opposites, and yet they are just 26 miles apart.

Within walking distance of the Cedarwood Lodge is the McKenzie River General Store and Grill, where on weekend nights, local bands perform in the courtyard. It appears that many locals hang out here, although it’s hard to figure out where all these folks live, as the surrounding area seems rather unpopulated.

We had a great break from our usual life, and now that we know how lovely the McKenzie River area is, I think we’ll be taking a break a little more often.

One Way to Avoid Tight Connections

Bob and I are just back from a trip to Botswana and South Africa, with quick visits to Egypt and Zimbabwe (more on our visit to these countries in our print newsletter, coming out next month!). Our flights to the African continent were long, and we had many stops. But as you’ll find out next month, it was well worth it. It’s not easy though to get many places from our little airport in Medford, Oregon. And when you’re headed all the way to Africa it gets even tougher. There are direct flights to cities like San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, and Denver, but if you want to travel further afield, you know you’ll have to stop at least one other place before your final destination.

We had booked our tickets for this trip on United miles, and the best option for us was to book two separate mileage tickets for each of us, the first going from Medford to New York (via Denver), and the second from New York to Johannesburg. Now, booking two separate tickets always gives me pause, because if your entire trip is booked on one ticket, and your first flight is delayed long enough that you miss your second flight, the airline is obligated to rebook you on another flight. However, if you have two separate tickets and the same thing happens, sorry Charlie, you’re on your own to purchase another flight. Thus, for this trip, we chose to fly the day before on one ticket to New York, then stay overnight in a hotel, and fly on our second ticket the next day to Johannesburg. We figured it would keep us safe from any delays that might cause us to miss our long flight to South Africa, and indeed that was the case. We did the same thing on the way home, and although it took us a day longer in travels each way, we were also able to sleep fairly soundly for six hours in a hotel bed in New York, and not have to sit for hours and hours in an airport waiting for a long connection either.

The older I get (I feel like I’m saying this a lot lately, but I digress), the more I want to de-stress my life and my travels, and tight connections are a big stress bomb, at least for me. A good night of sleep, in a real bed, is worth a lot to me too.

Visiting the Point Reyes National Seashore – Another National Treasure

When Bob and I want to get away for the weekend, my first inclination is to head to water. I love being near Portland’s Willamette River, or San Francisco Bay, or Seattle’s Elliott Bay. And it doesn’t hurt that I’ve got loved ones in all those places either! So last weekend, when we were visiting friends in Petaluma, California, I was delighted to squeeze in an outing to Point Reyes Station, and the Point Reyes National Seashore.

We started our day at Point Reyes Station, a small, unincorporated town located in Marin County that manages to be both boujee and rustic at the same time. On the one hand, you’ve got shops featuring local artists and locally sourced artisanal and organic foods. On the other hand, you’ve got stores selling saddles, bridles, feed and other products for horses. I loved it. We ate amazing grilled cheese sandwiches at the Cowgirl Creamery, followed up by Buffalo Milk Soft Serve ice cream made by Double 8 Dairy in Petaluma. Then we browsed the art, book and gift stores in the two-block burg.

From Point Reyes Station, we drove just a few minutes to the Point Reyes National Seashore Visitor Center. I must get on my soapbox for a moment and talk up our National Park visitor centers. When in the town of Point Reyes Station, we looked at buying a map of the seashore for $9.95. At the visitor center, we picked up a free map, but what I really loved was the free advice we received at the same time. We asked for suggestions on the best places to hike with the time we had allotted, and our friendly and knowledgeable park ranger offered several options. She asked if we wanted beach, trees or animals, then gave us her recommendations. Every time I visit a national park visitor center, I’m reminded of what a great resource these places are for travelers, and why some folks say our National Park system is America’s best idea.

Stepping off my soapbox and back to my story, we chose to hike the Tomales Point trail, starting from historic Pierce Point Ranch. A 14-mile drive from the visitor center, Pierce Point Ranch was a butter producing ranch founded in the late 1800s and in operation until 1973. Today, the restored ranch showcases a variety of buildings along with their history and functions. These include a schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop, dairy houses, and more. From Pierce Point Ranch, one can hike four-and-a-half miles along the Tomales Point Trail, beside the Pacific Ocean, to Tomales Bluff. The trail passes through the Tule Elk Reserve, and although we didn’t see any elk rutting, as our National Park ranger suggested we might, we did see many elk off in the distance, relaxing in the grass, enjoying the cool breeze and salty air, and participating in scintillating conversation with each other.

It was a beautifully clear day at the National Seashore, although it was quite windy on the bluff. But, of course, our astute National Park ranger had prepared us for that too.

Travel Vaccinations – Just a Shot Away

Bob and I are off to several countries on the African continent next month, including Botswana and South Africa. It was recommended for our Botswana travels that we consider several vaccinations, including typhoid and malaria. We were happy to learn that we could receive all our vaccinations, as well as a consultation, at the Jackson County Public Health Immunization Clinic. Jackson County Public Health offers a terrific service for travelers, as a visit includes a consultation with a registered nurse who specializes in travel medicine and who will make vaccination recommendations for your destination. The consultation fee was $46 for both of us together, and the vaccination prices differ depending on what you choose to get.

No appointment is necessary, and when Bob and I arrived at the Public Health Clinic just after they opened at 8am on a Friday morning, there was no line. After completing a short medical screening form that included questions on our vaccination histories, our upcoming travels, and our general health, we were taken right in. We were given the shots we needed right then and there, and the registered nurse also provided us with the oral typhoid vaccination right there at the clinic, and for a reasonable cost. He also wrote us prescriptions for our malaria vaccine and provided us with a coupon for it!

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website offers vaccination requirements by country, if you’d like to plan ahead and know which vaccines you’ll need. They also offer excellent information on health precautions that you should take when traveling in foreign countries.

The Jackson County Public Health office provides many excellent services for Jackson County residents, including family planning, mental health, and more, and their travel health services both prepared us and gave us peace of mind for our upcoming adventure. Sure, our total vaccination cost was just over $200, but the cost of getting malaria or typhoid would certainly be more expensive, not to mention not so fun.

Guanajuato’s Museum of Mummies—Or Are They Just Dead Bodies?

by Nancy Bestor

The beautiful city of Guanajuato, Mexico boasts many outstanding sites. This includes the Teatro Juarez—a beautiful 100+ year old performing arts theater – several stunning churches, and a great market (Mercado Hidalgo, pictured below) in an old train depot, to name just a few. But one of Guanajuato’s most popular tourist stops leaves me with mixed feelings. The Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato—Museum of the Mummies—is exactly what its name describes, a museum filled with more than 100 mummies. The mummies were residents of Guanajuato who lived from the 1850s to the 1950s. Apparently, if a family member couldn’t afford an annual fee for their beloved’s remains to stay in the cemetery, the body was dug up to make room for someone whose family could afford it. It’s these exhumed folks that were eventually put on display.

I’m not a squeamish person. But there was something a little disturbing about being in a museum filled with nothing but dead bodies. The mummies ranged from babies to the elderly, some with clothing still preserved, and others wearing very little. Most faces seemed permanently etched with a look of distress. I’ve seen mummies in other museums and crypts, but seeing so many together in a museum whose sole purpose is to display mummies was an unusual experience, and one I’m not sure I would recommend to everyone. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart, so proceed with caution.The cost is about $5 per person, and the museum is at the top of a hill, a fairly easy walk from the town center.