Weather Forecasts | Weather Maps | Weather Radar

I Tend to Wander

This blog chronicles oddly-themed travel and food adventure in the Americas and Europe

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

And We're Off!

We're off to Liverpool to get sleet down our necks and Guinness down our gullets.

All year, Liverpool is celebrating her 800th birthday. It's a surprise party in a lot of ways.

Packed as this battered city is with creativity, it's going to be quite a party. Dancers, artists, and musicians are already performing, frequently in public spaces, pirouetting through bus stops and train stations, suddenly and charmingly bringing zest to an already pretty springy city.

The shopping streets are full of attractive bescarved and booted people going to plays and to see the Liverpool Philharmonic, talking on tiny telephones in cafes and art venues. They're also whooping it up in magnificent pubs with great histories, where the ales are made in the basement, and at high tide, the casks are floating.

She's lived through a lot. A clammy bog founded by King John (in 1207 as a good place to launch boats with which to harry the Irish, later a good place from which England launched its trade empire on which, as you know, the sun never set, and the merchants and industrialists went out and hauled back enormous wealth and stuffed Liverpool with grand manses and turrety summer homes and vast train stations and parks and museums and univerisities and enormous Dickensian warehouses.

And that went on for at least for a hundred years and then, blimey, set that sun did. Like the turning of the tide, by 1907, fortunes turned, in World War 2, Liverpool was bombed harder than London, there are still air raid shelters like gnome holes in the wood at Otter's Pool park. The world changed, colonies were rethinking the whole benevolent master thing, the river was silting up, and pretty quick the huge and magnificent warehouses slammed closed, the tobacco warehouses (with "Tobacco Warehouse" written in beautiful sooty brick work) where 6,000 or 10,000 people had worked shut nearly overnight.

By the 60's there was a little glimmering reminder that Liverpool is a real bubbling pot of creativity when the Beatles rocketed out of here and Alan Ginsberg said dryly, "Yes. Liverpool. It's like San Francisco with greyer weather", but really, everybody's dad was out of work and by the 80's, the police busted one head too many and there were riots in the streets of Toxteth in which a thousand police officers were injured and when the mob burned the Odeon, its ten ton ornate copper dome glowed all night before collapsing in a big wrecked horrible mess. The slightly charred Georgians in Toxteth are today being snapped up by investors. The now-excruciatingly posh neighborhood around the gargantuan Roman Catholic cathedral - really it's like the Hoover dam in red sandstone - where, only ten years ago, so derelict and rife with prostitution was the street, the church, and its wilderness of a cemetery, that little sofas were set out in the driveway where customers could wait their turn on the mattresses under the bushes. Oh. My. God.

Like Roman's in 477 sort of just wandering around, snapping chunks off the statuary to grind up for fertilizer, and living 10 to a turret in the once-grand and gracious manses, stringing the wash from ornately carved lintle to pretty balcony, and lighting fires on the parquet and parking their muddy bikes in the conservatory. Peeing everywhere.

Then the sun came out in the form of gouts of European Union largesse and real estate investment from Irish property developers. Everyone I've talked to says, "Ye, 'twas 'about tin yees agoo, Ah'd see", which I took to mean "Yes, it was about ten years ago, I'd say", that money and services began trickling back in, and now, Liverpool's birthday year is just h'ors d'oevre, the pint before the curry, the foreplay before the real kick-out-the-jambs getting jiggy run-up to 2008 when the city will serve as the world's 2008 European Capital of Culture. And we'll be in the city centre, frequently off-cenre, and launching our boats from the once-scuffed, now-buffed shores of the shining River Mersey at

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Map Sap

Dear Washington Post Travel:

Fer cryin' out loud! Not once but twice have I set off pink cheeked and bright-eyed in search of amazing, mysterious, and "how could I not have known about that?" sort of spots printed on officially distributed tourist maps, only to find that the reason I didn't know about them, is because they don't exist, leaving me knee-deep and and fuming in icy bogs or barbed wire-gouged and explaining fast to the State Trooper why I hadn't seen those No Trespassing signs.

The first time was a swampy slog to "Ancient Indian Caves" in Caroline County. Doesn't that sound neat!? Well, it would, unless you think about it for thirty seconds, or if you call the Virginia Office of Archaeology, they'll tell you that, because Caroline County is on sandy coastal plain soils, there aren't any caves, ancient, Indian or otherwise. The second was a (and, really, the weird preoccupation with Indians should have tipped me off) "Ancient Indian Burial Mounds" outside of Mt. Jackson, Virginia. Had I spoken to the nice people at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources first, I would have discovered that native Americans in the Shenandoah valley didn't bury their dead in mounds. So there.

OK. So, be brutal. Am I the only person on terra more or less cognita who once believed that the glossy maps printed and handed out by big, grinning county economic development directors were meticulously researched and approved by state historical societies and archaeology committees who made sure they weren't just churning out Candyland game boards and advertising copy?

Thanks very much,
Liz Kirchner, Annandale, Virginia, which is just beyond the Gum Drop Mountains, you can't miss it.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Alexandria, Virginia: Nautical and Natural

It's 66 degrees on December 18th! Let's Bike!

Well-groomed parks, art studios, historic houses, and a pretty impressive swamp line the Mt. Vernon Trail along Old Town Alexandria’s Potomac River waterfront.

Fifteen-minutes from downtown Washington, D.C. a languid stroll or bike from Old Town north to the Washington Sailing Marina and back is a fine way to unwind for the day or just the afternoon.

If you stroll, start from The Torpedo Factory in the heart of Old Town at the bottom of King Street. This cavernous World War II weapons factory now houses the studios and shops of painters, weavers, sculptors, potters, and photographers. Set off north from the wharf behind the studios.

If you’d rather, you can rent bikes just one block south of The Torpedo Factory at Big Wheel Bikes at (2 Prince Street). While they’re not giving them away ($5.00/hour with 3-hour minimum or $25.00 for the whole day for a basic adult or kid’s bikes), they do have a large stock and wide variety including tandems, bikes with baby seats, and Trailalongs. The comfort and agility of an aluminum hybrid with a front shock, at $7.00/hour or $35.00 for all day, might be worth the price, but the gently rolling, paved trail and mellow street riding don’t call for the expensive top-end, full suspension mountain bikes or aero-shifter road bikes.

Inexplicably, the official Mt. Vernon Bike Trail map insists that riders maneuver down car-clogged Union Street, across a working railroad track, before allowing them to escape to the river. Our advice: ignore the official decree and hug the river from the very beginning by carrying your bike up the stairs of the Torpedo Factory and out the back to the wharf, and set off past the Chart House restaurant (famous for crab cakes) and onto the gently winding riverside path.

Whether you walk or bike, the path winds through Alexandria’s history as an early American canal and river port (Orinoco Bay Park), past the Alexandria Seaport Foundation, and over recently unearthed chunks of 19th century canal (Tide Lock Park). In only a few miles, the length of this ride bristles with historical markers at each of the parks and vistas.

Remember that this is a city trail, and, like a highway, becomes crammed after work and on the weekends with other bikers, walkers, joggers, roller-bladers, kids, and dogs. Wear a helmet.

The kudzu-covered bridge beneath the wheezing and rusted hulk of the Alexandria Power Plant is narrow and full of blind curves, but carries the path right out over the mud flats for broad Potomac views of egrets and sailboats.
The path rises up out of the mudflats to a boardwalk snaking through the marshy edge of Daingerfield Island, not an island at all, really, only a soggy curve in the river forming uncommon tidal marsh and swamp forest habitat full of cattails, frogs, and blue herons, round the bend to the Washington Sailing Marina and its Potomack Landing restaurant whose umbrella’d deck offers post card views of sailboats in the offing and the Washington skyline beyond. Tool back to Old Town to lunch or dine at the casually sophisticated Chadwick’s between Big Bikes and The Torpedo Factory on Prince or merely reward your efforts at Ben and Jerry’s on Union Street.

The entire Mount Vernon Trail runs 18 miles from Roosevelt Island at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial to George Washington’s Mount Vernon home. Easy biking south of Old Town is barely impeded  by the bikeable windy Woodrow Wilson Bridge and its handsome, canted Art Deco tower.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Southwestern Missouri: An Eden in So Many Ways

It could very well be that you are all well aware of snake migration and are, even as you read this, watching your step. Reaffirming in a quivery, slithery way, the weirdness of Nature, here is an explanation of Snake Migration, which as if once weren't enough, is a biennial event and has been for a long time. The description is from a Missouri herpetologist named Wayne, who, under his GardenWeb "Bio" does not flog the same old "School, Family, Secret Abiding Love for Decoupage" screed that we all spout when "Bio" is required, but instead he lists his 2006 "Snake Total to Date" Look at this: "579 snakes, 70 venomous, among them 68 Eastern Yellowbelly Racers and an Osage Copperhead" that he describes as a 'lifer'. This of course, tells us all a lot more about Wayne than anything anybody could say about secret trysts with varnish in the basement, and we say, "Now, that's an interesting guy."

This is what he writes about autumn migration:

"The fall is when the snakes begin traveling back to their winter dens from parts far away (and in the spring, of course, it is when the snakes leave their dens and begin traveling to parts far away).
He continues, "Snakes overwinter in the same den year after year and some of them will travel several miles in the fall to return to their dens. Migrations mostly happen in central states like Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, and Kentucky and places farther north where snakes spend their winters in large communal dens in bluffs.
Farther south snakes can den almost anywhere (a stump, a rodent hole, etc.) and thus they don't den in large concentrations.
In some places if you are between a denning bluff on one side and good habitat on the other you can walk along and actually see the snakes migrating. The snakes will all be coming from the flats and heading to the bluffs and all will be on the move in the same direction.
On a good day during peak migration you might see as many as 50 to 60 different snakes in a three hour walk. On a more typical day during the peak migration you might see from 12 to 25 snakes in three hours. At the early and late ends of the migration (which lasts for about 2 months) you might see just 4 or 5 snakes. It's really a neat thing to observe!"

And who can deny it?! Certainly, there are Worlds within Worlds. Here is a person striding along between our world and the one that evidently exists between flatland and bluff. What luck it is that he reports back to us as he scuffs through Yellowbelly Racers and Osage Copperheads in their single-mindedly commute as the nights turn chilly, anxious to return home to writhe down and knot up with the gang -some won't have made it, though, and there will be new, uh, faces, too - in the craggy pits and cave shelves, where they'll all hunker down, to snooze until snow-melt.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Maybe I'll Just Order The Chicken

Things to do Today:
Go to Post Office
Buy new mascara
Be more civicly vocal
Go to dinner

"Exactly how shrill was I?"

"Pretty shrill. I think he didn't know whether to laugh or get mad. Then when you picked up the fork, he looked kind of scared. Here, run cold water on your wrists and fix your face. We have to get back out there."

"And then! Good ol' Lindsey didn't exactly diffuse the situation: "No No, Liz. It's good for you. Full of omega-3s. It lubes your brain." Good God, I could have sunk those tines right into her white, flaky belly. Am I the only goddam one paying attention? They're gone. We've eaten them all. They were good, delicious even, but now they're dead. That's it. We ate them all. Lindsey's brain, soon to be parched and lubeless, will begin to fray like the husk of an old coconut."

"Ha. Good ol' coconut-noggin Lindsay. Here is lipstick, it's Coral Bisque. Put it on.....I'm sure you're not the only one paying attention."

"Who else?! You? You're like an otter for God's sake. You'd lie on your back wrapped in sea weed, and whack oysters on your belly all day."

"Who wouldn't honey? People pay attention, you're just the one getting her knickers in a twist."

"Oh yes, you'd lie on your back and gobble grouper gobbets in your gnashing little cat teeth and slurp up little baby sea turtles, their little flippers flapping between your smiling lips. May I use your blush? Sorry. Ooo Lancome. Thanks."

"Here. Yes, Lancome. It's called Mundo Perdido. That sounds rather lovely actually: bobbing about wrapped in seaweed smashing oysters on my belly and slurping up baby turtles. Gnash, gnash, gnash. But grouper gobbets, really, I draw the line. Honestly, Liz, knicker-wise, you still sound a little het up. You had better take one enormous breath and remember who you are. Now, swab your mascara off, you look like the Green Hornet. And put on this lipgloss."

"OK Jeez. You're right. Sorry. Oh wait. I can't. It's bronze. It'll make my teeth look, you know, all camelly carmelly...No, you're like not an otter, you're all like a pod of those whales spewing out nets of bubbles to round up thousands of little silver smelty fishlets and then shoot up through them with your cavernous maws agape. And you'll gobble them all and look around for more..but, oh that's right! Ha! We ate them all! They're gone. All gone. Doesn't that bother you?"

"Now I'm a pod? Jeez! Be nice to me. That's my Shiseido, you know. More gobbling. Yum. Little smelty fish. Put on that lip gloss. You won't be carmelly. You will seem festive. No one will be looking at your camel teeth anyway. They probably won't look at you at all, unless, of course, they all stand up and cheer. Let me see you. OK. You're ready. And, actually, you know, I think it will be OK. While you were waving the fork and screaming about responsibility for the planet, and voting with your wallet, your hair looked really good."

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Route 11: Artfully Artless

No one believes me when I tell them that little, meandering, unassuming, Route 11 runs from the bellowing aligator-and-nutria stew of Bayou Sauvage National Wilderness Area in Louisiana 1640 miles to the breezy porches and turreted Victorians of Rouses Point, New York on Lake Champlain and the Canadian border. And in between, what a road!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Ah Cumberland! Gateway to the West!

This summer, at the absolute pinnacle of the real estate tsunami that blocked out all light and sense, we thought we'd buy a house. We drove in the little Prius and dreamed, up and down the Shennandoah Valley from painfully lovely and oddly-named Rockfish Gap outside of Charlottesville to the coffee shops and alpaca farms of Strasburg.

In May, I went to the wooded wilds of western Maryland to interview people about wild ginseng, its history, mystery, and immenent demise for the magazine Maryland Life. On the way, I scooped up Maryland Life's delightful photographer Dave Romero of Vibrant Image from his once-pigeon-filled-and-abandonded whiskey distillery and warehouse now light-filled-spectacular Cumberland artist loft overlooking the coffee shops and bookstores of Cumberland's downtown.

On the way to ginseng, Dave regaled me with the wonders of this pretty town."It's the Gateway to the West," he said. "One hundred and thirty miles from Washington DC and BaltimoreandPittsburgh. It's on the upper Potomac River. It's where the Chesapeake to Ohio canal ends and the Western Maryland railroad line heaves over the Alleghenies, and the National Road begins."

Ripe for the plucking, Brian and I bought a lovely, sooty little 100-year old Georgian townhouse on Fulton Street just across the railroad tracks from Value City with a view of a town bristling with church steeples and Alleghenies looming like shoulders over everything.

We bought it because it has a second story porch where we plan to sit on summer evenings with our
long, booted legs on the rail smoking thin, black cigars.
We plan to do this after ripping its filthy innards out (we pulled down the drop
ceiling in the kitchen and the mouse droppings fell like rice) and
seeing whether it has secretly lovely bones - we hope so, but think,
not. It has sturdy, broad-hipped washer-woman bones.

Mysteries abound. There are paw prints in the mud of the basement that we
can't identify.

Cumberland is indeed the Gateway to the West and is an old, once grand, now
pretty battered town on the Potomac. It is full of railroads and old
distilleries with huge windows and old banks full of pigeons that are
being bought up by artists looking for light and air and space and
and tax incentives to come pioneer, and lots of churches, coal trains, fetal alcohol syndrome, bingo, corbels, column, marble, brick, steel, silk and coal. Driving west, the highway passes over the whole town lifting you up among the
steeples and into the Appalachians.

Well, Max, Where haven't I been!?

Cumberland, Maryland:Mountain Hikes, Fine Art, and Cut-Rate Liquors

My friend Max Hartshorne, editor of the action-packed travel Web site Go Nomad just wrote me a note to say, "No post since May!? Where have you been, and what are you doing?!

Well, Max, you excitable, italics-waving boy, since May, a whirlwind of Americana has swept me through ginseng-hunting in West Virginia, tracking wild goats in southwestern Missouri, the procurement and resuscitation of a lovely sooty little 100-year old Georgian townhouse in the equally sooty and magnificently mountainous Western Maryland town of Cumberland, and so much more, the question becomes,"Well, Max, where haven'tI been?"

Window Ornamentation in Western Maryland