On the last day of February, 2023, the blast of cold air as we roll our bags down the jetway reminds us that we are leaving a cold Boston winter behind. The TAP Air Portugal pre-flight announcements in Portuguese are music to our ears.
After almost exactly 3 years, we are headed back to Europe for a bit of adventure. We will be starting and ending this 17-day trip in the country we were "pushed out of" by the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020 -- PORTUGAL. We land in Porto on March 1, rent a car, and follow the Atlantic coastline through northern Spain and western France. Along the way we'll sample Port in the Duoro Valley, visit the Celtic Nation of Galicia (Spain). travel through Basque Country, and sample the wines of Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. After dropping our car off at Orly Airport and spending a night in Paris, we plan to hop a train to Amsterdam for a few days, before flying to Lisbon -- where we escaped from in 2020. Then it's back home on March 17.
If anyone has suggestions or ideas along our route, please comment on this post. See you on the other side!
A long and winding road through the Joshua Tree National Park on Monday, January 18, took us back to US 10, heading west to Palm Springs CA - just about an hour away. Palm Springs' main street, S. Palm Canyon Drive, has lovely shops, lots of sweet-smelling vines and flowers, and a picturesque mountain backdrop. But this MLK Day, the downtown was eerily quiet due to COVID restrictions and all of the restaurants were strictly take-out. We ordered a pizza to-go from Brickworks Bistro and found a park bench to sit at. Not our idea of fine dining. We stayed at probably the nicest Extended Stay America in the chain (we've sadly seen some awful ones and have sworn off them for good). It was one of the few hotels that didn't tack on a California Resort Fee of over $20. We settled down early, with plans to visit Painted Canyon in the morning - thanks to the recommendation of our good friend Laura.
Another early morning departure from Tucson on January 17 for a 6-hour drive to Twentynine Palms California - so-named because there were 29 Washingtonia Palm trees growing in an oasis when the place was first surveyed in 1855. The town is home to the north entrance of the Joshua Tree National Park. We arrived just in time to head into the park for a peek at the rugged desert landscape at sunset before settling in for the night.
Friday, January 15, was the final day of our three-month stay in Austin TX. It was a day filled with packing the car and unloading what wouldn't fit at Goodwill. On our last evening with the Watsons we celebrated by introducing the boys to "Sundees" - ice-cream sundaes adapted with plant-based ice "cream", chocolate sauce, fresh berries, whipped "cream" made from coconut, and "magic sprinkles". "More whipped cream please?" kept the sundaes going for quite a while. After long tearful hugs, we walked back to our AirBnB and were in bed early enough that we were on the road by 4:00 AM. The downtown Austin lights slipped away and we were well past the Texas hill country as the sun rose behind us, Soon, dry brown scrub brush and cactus dotted the landscape and mesas rose up in the distance. Four hours in, we spotted small oil rigs bobbing in the fields and beyond them acres of mesa-top wind turbines spinning in the breeze. After more than nine hours on the road we finally reached Las Cruces, New Mexico, in the late afternoon.
Before leaving Massachusetts for our "America Is Beautiful" tour, we reached out to our good friend Scott Ferson, who is a Democratic party strategist, for advice on how we might best exercise some political activism in Austin Texas in the few weeks before the November election. He was ecstatic over the news, because a friend of his was running for Congress in the 17th Congressional district and with a little luck and hard work had a shot at flipping a seat from Red to Blue. So one of our first calls when we reached Austin was to Rick Kennedy - no relation but originally from Burlington MA - to get our assignments to help him win a seat in Congress.
During our three-month stay in Austin Texas we broke bread very often with Caroline, T, Wyatt, and Ellis. At least once a week we prepared an all-vegan dinner and brought it over piping hot to share with them, giving the two work-from-home parents a break they appreciated. Richard became a master of vegan cuisine, concocting new ways to use non-meat, non-dairy ingredients to make a vegetarian paella, black bean enchiladas, cactus paddle tostadas, and everyone's favorite, roasted eggplant and portobello mushroom farfalle pasta bake. Every so often Richard baked up a batch of toasted oatmeal coconut currant cookies that T and Caroline prized for their afternoon coffee breaks.
On October 5, 2020, we left New Mexico and drove across the vast and desolate west Texas landscape, dotted with bobbing oil wells. We stopped to spend the night in Sonora because there's just too much Texas to drive in one day. The second day's drive was in stark contrast - stone walls and small trees lined the road with rolling hills in the distance, and lush verdant fields, an ostrich farm, and vineyards and peach orchards in the foreground. We'd entered the Texas "Hill Country" - the geographic border between the American Southwest and Southeast. About an hour and a half before we would reach our target destination of Austin we passed through a charming oasis of a town - Fredericksburg. We just had to stop and check this place out.
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Nancy McCabe &