Category Archives: Travel

The Trailer Court

Lead photo:   Ariel view of the Trailer Court 

Today’s guest post comes from Barbara in Robbinsdale.

In 1958, my dad figured out how he could get his Masters Degree and become a guidance counselor (and leave behind teaching high school woodshop and mechanical drawing). There was a program at Colorado State (then) College in Greeley where you could complete a Masters over three summers. Since many of the students had families, dorms were not practical; CSC provided a “trailer court” if you could come up with a trailer.

So here’s where I spent a chunk of my childhood – in a 16-foot vintage Kit Carson Travel Trailer the folks bought used for under $1,000. It had two fold down beds – one from a couch (folks just kept it down and put their home mattress on it) and one converted from the dinette for my sister and me (ages 6 and 10 the first summer) – a kitchenette, closet and other cubbies (no bathroom – that’s what the community wash-house was for). The ice box wasn’t so hot – tiny and drippy and inefficient – so a few weeks into the first summer, Dad scored the vintage refrigerator you see on the pallet in the photo. We didn’t bring much but necessities, but the folks were smart enough to fit in our bikes.

Turned out the original trailer court was full, and the “overflow court” where we landed was a gravel parking lot between CSC’s football and baseball fields. This was Kid Heaven, as the football grandstand was our castle, the baseball dugouts were low enough on one side to be climbed on, and the ticket booths were unlocked – available for a play house, hide-out, and selling stuff. We kids created our own newspaper, played hearts at Doug M.’s converted school bus in the evening, got books from the bi-weekly bookmobile that stopped at the end of the Court. By the third summer I was 12, and had my first jobs: babysitting (heck, my mom was right across the lot), and some ironing in the washhouse.

The second year we knew more, and did as everyone else did – laid a length of linoleum down on our “yard”, placed a long table right outside the door for the summer kitchen (the electric fry pan, toaster, and coffee maker), and basically lived outside. Called it “Okee Hollow.” The only time we were in the trailer was for sleep, except Dad who would study in there if it wasn’t too hot.

And a little cloud passed over every afternoon, showered us and settled the dust, and then moved on.

My sis and I spent time on campus practicing in the piano rooms of the music building, while Mom sang in the Summer Chorus. Yes, she left us on our own for a whole hour!) Wednesday nights on campus was Family Fun Night, with an outdoor movie (i.e. The Seven Voyages of Sinbad), concessions, and games. Some weekends we took day trips to Denver to Elitch’s Amusement Park or the Natural History Museum, or Estes Park in the Rockies. We have home movies of Mom typing one of Dad’s papers on a picnic table next to the Big Thompson River, as Sue and I dangled our feet from a boulder in the icy stream.

These three summers were golden – we called them the best summers of our lives.

What has been your best summer?

Adrift in the Driftless

Today’s guest post comes from Clyde in Mankato.

When Sandy and I moved from the North Shore, we were glad to have a new area to explore. We had run out of places to go, sights to see, roads to drive in the Arrowhead.

We quickly latched onto the southeast corner of the state, the Driftless Country. The drive along the Mississippi is wonderful, but the back roads provide more adventure: drives across the ridges or through the valleys or from ridge to valley to ridge to valley. Winding roads, abandoned churches, thriving churches, abandoned farms, thriving farms, hole-in-the-wall villages, along the Root River by bike or car, Lanesboro, and and the other villages.  Lanesboro



Along the Mississippi two favorites are the village of Old Frontenac and a delightful little cafe, sometimes tea room, in Lake City called the Chickadee Cafe.Bunnell House

I will share with you two quiet gems which you can tour.

The historic Bunnell House, operated by the Winona County Historic Society, which I see now has performances. It sits in Homer, near Winona along the highway 61, The Great River Road.

Pickwick Mill

The Pickwick Mill, which sits in a small village on a winding drive up a valley from highway 61. It is near Winona but is operated by a private non-profit. When we were last there, it was still a low-priced, do-it-yourself tour, which made it peaceful to wander through the several dusty floors of the building and along its bubbling river and still mill pond. The tiny elderly volunteer on duty that day was pure charm. It was near closing time, but she told us to take our time. Her husband kept calling and asking when she would be home. She kept telling him to be patient. We felt pressured to leave. She told us with a smile, “He’s a useless old lump who needs to learn to take care of himself.”

The mill takes its name from The Pickwick Papers, just as a whim.

Are you a wanderer through space and time or are you driven by an itinerary?

Eating Eiffel

Today’s guest post comes from Verily Sherrilee.

We talk about food a lot here on the Trail.  We even have a list of our favorite recipes.  And when we get together, food is usually an important part of the experience.  The spread at Blevins Book Club is always amazing and even when we sat on the sidewalk waiting for the Tom Keith memorial, we had a terrific array of goodies (popcorn, chocolates, cookies, fruit).   But one of my most memorable restaurant experiences was not of the informal kind.


On a trip to Paris with a client, we visited the Eiffel Tower.  As we walked around the first level, our guide mentioned the Jules Verne Restaurant, which is even higher up, on the second level.  Although we already had plans for dinner, the client was entranced by the thought of eating at the Eiffel Tower.  Our guide made a few calls, pulled a few strings and voila! – we had reservations for the evening.

I am not all that good with heights.  I’m usually OK when I’m enclosed so places like the Gateway Arch or the Washington Monument are do-able.  However when I’m NOT enclosed, I don’t like it at all.  So while I wasn’t crazy about eating dinner 125 meters (410 feet) above the earth, I figured I would probably be fine.  Unfortunately what I didn’t know until we arrived is that the Jules Verne is windows from floor to ceiling.  And our guide had managed to not only get us in that night but had swung a table right by those windows.  My stomach took off for parts unknown almost immediately and I chose the chair farthest from the window as possible.


As the waiter came around to pour the red wine, I leaned a little bit back to let him reach the glass in front of me.  That was when I learned that the chairs had a little “give”.  As I pushed back, the chair pushed back as well, giving me the sensation that I was falling backwards.  Since I was already so worried about the windows and the height, I screeched and jerked forward, knocking the arm of the waiter.  Red wine went everywhere – the tablecloth, the napkins, the plates – it even extinguished the little candle in front of me.  I managed to stay wine- free but my shriek had gotten everyone’s attention in the entire restaurant.   It was one of those classic moments when you truly understand what it means to want the earth to open up and swallow you.

Luckily the Jules Verne is quite small, so I didn’t embarrass myself in front of too many people.  The dinner was out of this world and I managed to get through the rest of the evening without incident.  But I’ll always remember my dinner at the Jules Verne as the “night of the red wine disaster”.

Have you had a dining disaster?


Today’s guest post comes from Barbara in Robbinsdale.

I have loved secret passageways and other hidden places since I was a very little girl. The first house I remember had a bedroom closet that my mom fixed up as a play house. I remember a hanging light bulb and unfinished attic-y floorboards covered by an old rug; I could touch the rafters of the sloping ceiling… my first hidden place. The other upstairs closet was long and narrow, and I liked how it connected to my folks’ bedroom right next door… my first secret passage.

As I grew older there were more hidden places: the house my grandpa built with its “secret staircase” to the attic, cleverly tucked into a bedroom closet; a friend’s house where the bookcase in the main room <i>was the door to the up-stairway</i>! Heaven. Closets under stairways, pull-down attic staircases, “forts” under pine trees, pedestrian tunnels under busy streets… I’ve always been drawn to these.

So imagine my delight when, on a walking tour in Lyon, France in early May, we came upon the Traboules (originally from the Latin ‘transambulare’ , meaning to cross, pass through).

In the 15th and 16th centuries during the height of Vieux (Old) Lyon’s silk trading with Italy, city planning was not at its best. Most streets ran parallel to the river, making it pretty difficult to get from one street to the next without taking a long detour. Merchants and Italian architects created, between the courtyards of the buildings, a network of passages – usually hidden by doors that were used as the outer entrance to the apartment buildings. They were then used by both the hard-working and the indolent.

Mailboxes in traboule
Mailboxes in traboule

Many of these passages still exist, and some of the available entrances are now marked with a plaque (as between the two doors in the photo); others look very ordinary. Often there is a set of mailboxes in the courtyard behind these doors.   These were used by the French Resistance during WWII – perfect locations in which to exchange messages.

What is (or was) your favorite hiding place?

À la manger, en Francais (To eat, in French)

Today’s guest post comes from Barbara in Robbinsdale.

The four of us (my sister and her son, Husband and moi) were on our own for five days in Paris. We learned a lot about food and about eating as the French do one evening at Le Petit Baigneur just a short walk from “our flat”.

We discovered that we should not first have a snack at home. We didn’t realize that ordering from the menu would consist of a (fixed price) a three course meal: a starter (which they call the Entrée); a main course with vegetable; a cheese and/or dessert course(s); and café – a small cup of espresso. And wine, of course. And bread – I learned that the French bread brought to the table is so good it does not require, or come with, butter.

 A glass of wine, and chocolate

That was a lot of food. There is, to my knowledge, no such thing as taking food home with you in a “to go” container. The idea is to order something marvelous (no problem), and then take two or three hours to eat, drink, talk, and ENJOY it. You have to shift gears, especially if you’re an American usually in a rush.

No wonder breakfast is usually a light “continental” affair – i.e. croissants and jam, a beverage, and that’s about it. We could walk around the corner from our flat and find pastries from a patisserie (dessert bakery), baguettes from a boulangerie (bread bakery), or crepes and quiches from a crèperie.

Luckily, our Paris eateries often had someone who spoke some English, so we pretty much knew what we were getting. Our waiter at Petit Baigneur brought us an English version of the menu, and my tiny bit of French helped at times. But there are other differences to negotiate – there are more manners in France – “merci” and “s’il vous plait” are expected. We heard about a brasserie (bistro) where the following was part of the price list, aimed no doubt at unthinking tourists:

  • Une bière ou vin – €2
    (One beer or wine – 2 Euros)
  •  Une bière ou vin avec “s’il vous plait”  – €1.5
    (One beer or wine with “if you please” – 1.5 Euros)

When have you mis-communicated with your server in a restaurant?

Feelin’ Groovy in Portland, OR (littlejailbird’s trip, part 2)

Today’s post is from littlejailbird.

Feelin’ Groovy in Portland, Oregon (littlejailbird’s trip, part 20

Dear Steve and Molly,

Thank you both for the wonderful day in Portland (March 26). It was a golden day from start to finish. Near the end of our time together, when the ice cream server asked how my day was going, I realized with a shock that there wasn’t a single thing I would have changed from the time I woke up until that moment in the ice cream shop (and it held true until I went to bed that night).

After three days and three nights on the train, it was blissful to be outdoors and to be able to walk around. I started my day with a walk to a breakfast place, then another walk to Mt. Tabor Park. Then it was time to be chauffeured around by you.

Steve had told me earlier that the day was going to be all about me and what I wanted to do. I am still in shock from someone telling me that – and then actually doing it. From visiting the world’s largest bookstore (Powell’s) to a buffet lunch at an Indian restaurant to visiting a park and walking around the waterfront to going out for ice cream, there is nothing I would have changed. I know that you thought the food at the restaurant wasn’t as good at it usually is, but you hadn’t been eating train food and snack food like almonds and protein bars for 3 days. It tasted good to me!

Of course, the weather cooperated in giving us such an amazing, sunshiny day, cool at the beginning and end and warm in between; and wherever I looked I saw green, growing things – a far cry from the dead browns I had left in Minnesota. It would have been difficult for me to feel grumpy with a day like that, but I suspect that I would have had a fine time even if it had been cold and drizzly, because you two were very satisfactory companions. I hope you had half as good time as I did. I told the ice cream server, “I’m having a good day!” but I fear that I communicated it better to her than I did to you. So, I’m telling you now: I had a good day – a magical day, a golden day, a day full of simple pleasures from start to finish. Thank you.

Your friend,

What are your simple pleasures?

Zero to Sixty

Back when I was 12 years old I spent an unusual amount of time reading about cars that I was too young to drive.    At the end of every article in Motor Trend, there was a list of specifications that gave the raw statistics regarding the wheelbase, the overall length, the width, the curb weight and the acceleration.

How long did it take the 1967 Mercury Cougar to go from 0 to 60?  I don’t remember, because I didn’t care.

Speed was the least important detail to me – a kid who loved cars as design objects more than conveyances.  I was much more interested in the roofline, what the grill looked like and the style of the door handles  than with anything that had to do with engines.

Drag racing made no sense to me – how could you properly admire the shape of an automobile when you couldn’t see it through a cloud of burning rubber?

I think it’s fair to say I’ve never had much appreciation for the whiplash takeoff no matter how it happens.  Which is why I can’t explain  my admiration for this video from SpaceX – a crewman’s-point-of-view look at the latest test of a mission abort system that jettisons the capsule (astronauts included) at well over three hundred miles per hour, going from zero to 100 in a few short seconds.

This is exactly how I’d like to experience liftoff – by not being there. Odd that the very risk of sitting on top of a rocket is mitigated by sitting on top of even more rockets that are designed to rush you away from the first set of rockets if necessary.

And while the powerful liftoff happens predictably at zero, the neck-snapping launch abort comes out of sequence – when you’re, by definition, not quite ready.

At, say, two.

15, 14, 13, 12
into the mystery we’ll delve
14, 13, 12, 11
rockets blasting into heaven
13, 12, 11, 10
computers count and tell us when
12, 11, 10, 9
every nuance must align
11, 10, 9, 8
could abort, it’s not too late
10, 9, 8, 7
way back when, it was eleven
9, 8, 7,6
if one valve misfires or sticks
8, 7, 6, 5
we may not get out alive
7, 6, 5, 4
waiting for the engine’s roar
6, 5, 4, 3
gonna pull some extra g
5, 4, 3, 2
4, 3, 2, 1
tower cleared and launch undone.
3, 2, 1, 0.
welcome back, already, hero.

When have you changed plans at the last minute?