wanderlust

Travel

Why everyone should see a Total Solar Eclipse

The Solar Eclipse was an important event this summer, it was hard to escape. Every magazine, newspaper, or local tv show was talking about it and the fanfare leading up to it. I had never seen a total one, only a partial one and that was cool enough for me to want to see more. It was August 1999 and I was in Paris with my family on summer holiday. I remember it was raining that day, as it often does in Paris. We were in the Marais and everyone came out of the shops and bistros and was just standing in the streets, gawking at the sky. Since you can't look at the sun directly, I took a picture of the reflection of the eclipse in one of the rain puddles on the ground. This was back when you took pictures on a camera and waited weeks to develop them, unsure if you would actually get the image you wanted to take, with no second chances.

Partial solar eclipse in the Marais. Paris, August 11, 1999.

Partial solar eclipse in the Marais. Paris, August 11, 1999.

Marlborough girls are exceptional women: Class of '92, '94 and 2021. Photo by Matthew Clark.

Marlborough girls are exceptional women: Class of '92, '94 and 2021. Photo by Matthew Clark.

My husband, who grew up in Paris, set out on a week long bike trip to the countryside of France with his uncle, father and cousins to see the total eclipse, unencumbered by all the lights, noises and pollution of the city. He enjoyed it so much and has talked about it many times over the years, so he began preparations for our trip about nine months prior and was really anxious that we had to be in just the right spot. Over the course of 1 hour and 32 minutes, the Great American Solar Eclipse would move from west to east in a path of totality across 14 states before ending near Charleston, South Carolina. We were originally going to go to Oregon, the longest of the totality and the initial starting off point, but that booked up too quickly and even a motel 6 there was $1000 a night! Next we looked at Nashville, to stay with friends, when that fell through we debated Nebraska. My mom is originally from there and we thought it might be interesting for Dries to experience some real Americana. We decided on Sun Valley, Idaho, a close family friend had moved there a few years back and had just moved into a house with plenty of room for all.

Hiking up the mountain to see the eclipse in Hulen meadows Sun Valley, Idaho.

After much anticipation, the day of the eclipse arrived and we were ready for it! We packed picnic blankets, chairs,  warm sweaters (the temperature dropped about 20 degrees within minutes) and festive drinks and snacks along with our all important eclipse viewing glasses. We hiked up through the meadow and up a nearby mountain to enjoy an impressive view of the total eclipse. If you need to brush up on your astronomy,  a total eclipse is when the moon lines up with the sun and Earth, briefly blocking the sun and creating a momentary impressive darkness. Only the sun's radiant atmosphere (known as the corona) can be seen during this short time. 

Selfie time! Dries is focusing on the partial eclipse phase that lasted over an hour.  Eclipse sun bathing

Approximately 71.45 miles at its widest point, totality lasts longer towards the center of the path, so the closer you are to the center line of the moon's shadow, the more time you'll have to experience. I spoke with some other eclipsers who were closer to the center of the path in nearby Stanley and they saw over 2 minutes of totality. The longest duration of totality was in Carbondale, Illinois with 2 minutes 40 seconds! In Hulen meadows, we were just at the edge of totality, with the partial phase beginning at 10:12:39 AM, and totality beginning at 11:29:38 AM for a duration of 1 minute 4 seconds.

Temperatures dropped fast, Dries and Ashley watching the partial eclipse. Photo by Matthew Clark.

Temperatures dropped fast, Dries and Ashley watching the partial eclipse. Photo by Matthew Clark.

Of course, we have mother nature to thank for this total unobstructed view. After a preliminary meteorological report predicted clouds, we were fortunate enough to have perfect weather.  Not everyone was that lucky. My sister went to Nashville and right at the moment of totality, a big cloud moved in the way and partially blocked the view! Thankfully not the whole time but for at least half. There was another eclipser at our vantage point that told us that this was his 12th total eclipse trip with only 2 actual sightings due to tempermental weather conditions. Now that's dedication.

Total Eclipse photo by Ryan Gates.

Total Eclipse photo by Ryan Gates.

A total eclipse is truly something special to behold. There were around 30 of us, several families, dogs, kids, grandparents up on the mountain all experiencing this cosmic event together. The magic lies in that for a few minutes, everyone stops what they're doing and looks up to the sky to marvel at the beauty of nature, remembering that there is more than just us. Forgetting about the negativity we are bombarded with on a daily basis and instead reveling in this ethereal, transient beauty. Providing the hope for a mental shift or transfer of energy as it passes and our routine lives resume. To possibly be kinder to one another or just a little more patient. To be present in the moment and thankful for the limited time we have here on this planet and with each other. To be with family and friends at this significant moment in time, creating an enduring memory to cherish.

Group photo by Matthew Clark.

According to NASA, since 1503, there have been 15 total solar eclipse paths that have crossed the path of this Great American Solar Eclipse. The next total solar eclipse that will cross the US will be in 2024, crossing south to north. Time to start making travel plans!

Food, Los Angeles CA, Travel

How to do Catalina Island like a native

Avalon  Harbor, Catalina Island. Boats, paddle boarders and swimmers abound!

Avalon Harbor, Catalina Island. Boats, paddle boarders and swimmers abound!

This summer I'm all about weekend trips and short getaways.   My next door neighbor, now friend, grew up on Catalina, and invited me home with her to experience another side to the island. Previously, I had only thought of it as a summer tourist destination or for sleep away camp.  I hadn't visited Catalina Island since ninth grade on a sleep away trip with high school and my husband and son had never been so it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Catalina Express  ferry from Long Beach, CA to Avalon, Catalina

Catalina Express ferry from Long Beach, CA to Avalon, Catalina

To get to Catalina, you take an hour long ferry ride from several ports in LA. The closest one for us was Long Beach so we departed from there on a Friday afternoon. Cars are restricted on Catalina, with a wait list as long as 20 years +!  So the ferry is only for people and dogs (either caged or in muzzles). We took our dachshund Junior with us, he didn't love the ferry but he did pretty well overall. Once there, you can walk around the main city part of Avalon on foot or rent a golf cart or bike.

Lovely bougainvillea, quaint beach cottages, license plate birdhouses, colorful murals, proud Democrat (not too many of those on Catalina), and Casino at night on Avalon, Catalina

I had never driven a golf cart before and was surprised to find it was a blast! My son loved it too and would tell me to "Hit it!" and we would blast down the road. A golf cart's engine is similar to a lawnmower so by blast I mean when we were chugging up the hill, you could probably run alongside us.

Thierry Lasry  Sunglasses, Zara beach cover up,  Zara kids t shirt . Janna Conner  Amina hoop earrings ,  Catori cuff bracelet

Thierry Lasry Sunglasses, Zara beach cover up, Zara kids t shirt. Janna Conner Amina hoop earrings, Catori cuff bracelet

Avalon Casino, Junior the island dog, stairs at Casino Point Dive Park

One of my favorite things we did was swim at Lover's Cove. Dries had fallen asleep and Raf and I snuck out for an hour to tool around in the golf cart, exploring the city and to take a dip in the water. It's been so hot lately, it felt great! The water was a little cold at first but instantly warmed up. Catalina's rocky coastline reminded me of Sardinia where we honeymooned because it too is mostly rocky beaches. Pro tip: Don't forget the water shoes, you will want them! The current was pretty strong the weekend we were there and some of the beaches (Descanso) had sharp rocks but Lover's Cove had really smooth ones which also made them a bit slippery. My friend Katie prefers Pebbly Beach, but there was a construction site nearby to it so we opted for Lover's Cove. You be the judge!

My plastic Eva birkenstocks were no match for the rocks at Lover's Cove!

The next day we did Descanso Beach Club, which is Catalina's version of a family friendly Miami Beach. They have a DJ on the weekends, and a section that has cabanas and beach chairs for day rental and an outdoor café & bar (that will also serve on the beach), a smoothie & ice cream shop, and a shop that sells pool floaties, paddle ball racquets, hats, umbrellas and all with decent prices. The day we were there, the private section was sold out so we just sat on the public beach part, immediately adjacent to it. It was just fine, the restaurant brought us our fish tacos, fries and margies and everything was alright with the world. 

 Descanso Beach Club. Janna Conner Aleeza rock crystal ring, Catori brass cuff, 14k gold initial bracelet.

There are a lot of boats docked in the harbor and you can swim up in one section, another is reserved for kayaks, jet skis and paddle boards. Dries wanted to kayak so we rented a two person one with Dries sitting in the middle for an hour. Once he got over screaming "Oh nooooooooo, we're going to die, this was a terrrrrrrible idea!" he actually enjoyed the last 15 minutes or so. It was lovely out on the water, sunny but not too hot and with no waves.

Catalina kayaking.jpg

The next day we headed into the hills, which requires a car (no golf carts there!). We winded our way up and around, passing the zip line station that goes all the way down to Descanso and then paused for a moment to admire some bison and heron at Haypress reservoir. The bison were brought to the island in the 1920's for a movie, but were never used and then left on the island because they didn't want to deal with taking them back. Not very nice. Now they casually wander the island. We saw one just chilling on the side of the road, minding his own business.

Catalina island bison.jpeg

We stopped at the Airport for lunch at DC-3 café and gift shop. It's very scenic high up with all the little planes flying in and out. Some of the famous pilots that have flown in include Angelina Jolie and Harrison Ford. It's not for the weak of heart, the runway is only 3000 feet! I think I'll stick to driving up for the food, I had a great salad and Raf had a buffalo burger. No meal is complete without one of their killer homemade cookies, the oatmeal peanut butter chocolate chip are delicious. They also sell Rusack wine, wish I had a bought a bottle because it seemed a good price at $30 since Rusack isn't that easy to find, at least in LA. I didn't though because we were on our way to do the Trans Catalina trail and didn't think it was a great idea to keep the wine in the car. Oh well, next time!

Airport in the Sky, Catalina Island

With full bellies, we continued on our way to Little Harbor, the starting point for our afternoon hike along the Trans Catalina Trail. Little Harbor was largely deserted except for a few campers, (there's a nearby campground) it was perfectly peaceful. The Trans Catalina Trail stretches 37.2 miles across the island, seemingly never ending but we did just a portion of it since we had Dries and Junior, our mini dachshund with us and we wanted to get some beach time in. It wasn't difficult, and provided lovely vistas along the soapstone path with striking red flowers.

Trans Catalina Trail from Little Harbor and Whale's Tail Catalina Island.  Unusual red flowers everywhere along with cacti.

Catalina makes for a great weekend trip, or longer. They have great camps for kids and many scenic options for both the casual traveler and camping options for the outdoorsman. Now that I've done part of the TCT, I think I would like to try doing the whole trail!

Place de la Pétanque

My family and I had the pleasure of spending three glorious weeks in France this summer. Half of that time was spent in Provence. We go to France to visit family almost every year (my husband grew up there) but I had never been to Provence before and was eager to see firsthand what I had heard so much about. As you can imagine, we took about a thousand photos from our meanderings from Paris to Arles, to Avignon to Beaume de Venise and I will be sharing my travel journal from these jaunts in upcoming posts.

The amazing house that we stayed in Beaumes de Venise came equipped with a Pétanque court. I am familiar with the Italian game Bocce, it has taken over a lot of hipster bars and restaurants in the past few years and I have friends that are on bocce leagues. However, I wasn't as familiar with Pétanque (pron. "pay-tonk") .  There were 14 of us on our trip so needless to say a lot of time was spent enjoying the court.

Pétanque is more of a tossing game, like horseshoes whereas traditional bocce is more of a bowling game. Bocce players take steps before throwing, pétanque players stand still. Bocce balls are usually rolled palm up, pétanque balls tossed palm down, so they get backspin upon release.

When playing Pétanque, one typically drinks Pastis, an anise flavored liquor popular in the south of France. It's a milky white spirit, similar to absinthe, but in fact, Pastis is a "liqueur", which means it is always bottled with sugar. Pastis is normally diluted with water before drinking, but often neat pastis is served together with a jug of water for the drinker to blend together according to preference. The addition of water changes the liqueur's appearance from dark transparent yellow to milky soft yellow. I personally am not a fan of Pastis, but it's de rigeur if you're playing Pétanque so à votre santé!

Another name for Pétanque is Boules, referencing the hollow steel balls that are used to play. Most people have their own set.  My husband's family all travelled down from Belgium with their personal sets!   Each player gets three balls and the goal is to toss or roll steel balls as close as possible to a small wooden ball called a cochonnet ("piglet"). 

After deciding who goes first, a player throws the cochonnet—the target players aim for—from a designated throwing spot. The rest of the game is spent trying to throw your boules closer to the jack than the other team does.

There are two different throwing techniques :

_"pointer" (pointing) to throw one's boule with the intent of stopping near the cochonet (also known as placing).

_"tirer" (shooting) to throw one's boule at one of the opponent's boules to knock it out of play. This is often done when the opponent has pointed his/her boule very close to the cochonnet.

After all the boules are thrown, the team with the closest boule receives a point for each boule that is closer to the cochonnet than their opponents. A game consists ofseveral mènes (rounds). The first team to earn 13 points wins the game. The team with the closest boule receives one point for each of its boules that is closer to the jack than other team's closest boule.Young and old love this game, even my 4 year old got in on the action with his water filled plastic rainbow colored boules. So cute!

When a player loses 13 to 0, he is said to fanny ("il est fanny", he's fanny, or "il a fait fanny", he made fanny) and must kiss the bottom of a girl named Fanny. Virtually everywhere in Provence where pétanque is played, you will find a picture, woodcarving, or pottery figure of a bare-bottomed lass named Fanny. Often, the team that made "fanny" has to buy a round of drinks for the winning team ("Fanny paie à boire!", "the fanny pays for the drinks!").