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Retrospective 2021: Travel

After staying at home for most of 2020, Glen and I decided to cautiously venture into the world for some local multi-day trips. In January, we went to Monterey Bay and stayed in a hotel directly over the water. We spent the days taking walks, looking out the window at sea lions, and eating take-out. In February, we went to Carmel Valley and experienced the serenity of Bernardus Lodge and Spa. They stocked the room with snacks and complimentary wine but also had a wonderful restaurant with heated, outdoor, well-distanced seating. Their grounds were beautiful, with many unusual plants. I amused myself taking photos, one of which placed in my local camera club competition.

In March we stayed in St. Helena for a few nights, which also gave us an opportunity to visit Schweiger Winery, where I am a member, and to drive around the Chiles Valley appellation. Although a lot of Chiles Valley was scarred by fire, there was still a lot of greenery and many old buildings. The wineries, however, were still not open at that time.

The vaccine arrived! Two days after my first dose, Glen and I went on a road trip to Roche Harbor in the San Juan Islands of Washington. I planned the trip carefully. We stayed in chain motels where I believed staff would comply with corporate Covid cleaning standards. We ate take out. We rented a condo at the Roche Harbor Resort for 9 nights, where I cooked all our meals. The local grocery store was well stocked and I supplemented that with fresh oysters from Westcott Bay Shellfish Farm and spirits from San Juan Island Distillery, which was a short walk from the condo.

We took walks during the day and worked on various personal projects, including reading books. We discovered the resort's 19-acre outdoor sculpture park. It features works by northwest artists that are scattered throughout the grounds and interconnected by a series of trails. The resort also has other wilderness land with trails that we walked on other days.

Roche Harbor Resort was built on the site of the John McMillan lime kiln. He and his family are interned in a mausoleum named Afterglow Vista, which is just a short hike through the woods. On the way, there are graves of many of the island's early settlers.

In May, when both Glen and I were fully vaccinated, we made another trip to Monterey Bay, but this time to visit the aquarium as it has just opened for members. The tickets were timed entry. Visitors had to walk a set travel path through the exhibits. It was wonderful to see the wildlife again. I understand the penguins were happy to see people.

Early June took us on a car trip loop to Bodie Historic State Park, Death Valley, Lone Pine, and then Moonstone Beach on the Pacific. We took hikes, experienced extreme heat, finally saw Alabama Hills, the Museum of Western Film History, and then enjoyed the cool wind from the ocean. In July we were back on the east side of the Sierra, this time to hike in the John Muir and Ansel Adams wilderness areas, which are always spectacular and much less crowded than the Yosemite Valley side. (Image is a store at Bodie.)

Opera San Jose had a fundraising auction, at which I "won" a wine tasting for three plus the opera's music director, Joseph Marcheso. It was at a fancy, overpriced winery—Quintessa, that I'd never visited and probably will never visit again. The company was fun as was the tour of the vineyards, but I prefer the smaller, family run wineries. Glen and I stayed two nights in Calistoga so that the next day we could visit the Petrified Forest and Volker Eisle in the Chiles Valley AVA. There are only two or three wineries in Chiles Valley, as most land is used by growers. The scenery is fabulous. Volker Eisle is now one of my favorite wineries.

Staying in the USA, and in particular, the West coast, has its advantages. We were finally able to attend the West Edge Opera Festival for three days in August, which was held just outside Berkeley in a forest setting. I booked a hotel not too far from UC Berkeley, which allowed us to walk the campus during the day and drive a short distance to the opera at night. Unfortunately, one of the cast tested positive for Covid, so the third opera was canceled. We were left with a day to kick around Berkeley, but that was okay. Berkeley is just far enough away that we never get there, so staying for three nights was a treat.

In September we had enough courage to take a plane to Portland and hop on a boat with 58 other people to cruise the Columbia and Snake rivers on a Rivers of Wine and Adventure cruise. We hiked, drank wine, and learned a lot of history that I had never learned during the 20 years I had lived in the Pacific Northwest. The next big leap was to take an international flight to Terrace, British Columbia, where we embarked on a sailboat for 8 days with 10 other passengers and 4 crew members. The hassle of Covid testing was well worth the spectacular time I had in the Great Bear Rainforest with Bluewater Adventures.

Schweiger Vineyard in Napa hosted a members-only release party in October which bought us to St. Helena again, for a few nights. That gave us the opportunity to visit Old Faithful Geyser in Calistoga as well as the small Vincent Arroyo Winery.

With the cooler weather setting in, and two years' worth of timeshare points that we hadn't used due to Covid, we headed off to the Big Island of Hawaii for 9 days. The two-bedroom condo we had was on the golf course with a view of the ocean. We mostly stayed on the property, snorkeling in the salt water lagoon and taking walks, but we also spent a night at Volcanoes National Park. Kilauea was erupting and we wanted to see it at night.

We finally got to see our Seattle family and friends after two years! We flew to Seattle and stayed at the Inn at the Market, our favorite hotel. Our room had a view of the market, Puget Sound, the Wheel, and the port. It felt wonderful to catch up with people in person. Seattle restaurants require proof of vaccination, so all the eating and drinking we did felt quite safe.

We ended the year seeing two friends who are close, but not close enough for us to make a day visit. One lives in Carmichael and the other in El Dorado Hills. It is unmasker territory, but I felt the risk was worth it. After a year of travel, I learned many tricks for navigating through society on the safest path possible. We stayed in our favorite chain, Hampton Inn, where the corporate policy supports masks and social distancing. We visited the Jensen Botanical Garden and the Effie Yeaw Nature Center. There was lots of fresh air at both places! Dowtown Folsom, where we ate one evening, was charming as well, decorated for the holidays.

Although 2021 felt as if it was another year constrained by Covid, it certainly didn't hamper traveling. Travel is different, though. I now have to consider the Covid/vaccination policies of the destination to which I am going and the transportation I am taking. Except for travel to Hawaii, domestic flights don't require vaccination, so I booked business class to ensure we didn't have to share a row with a stranger. I flew on my usual airline, which, to my knowledge, hasn't had unruly passenger issues. I stayed in hotels with a clear Covid policy. All this requires extra planning and a willingness to be patient. It's a different world. One day there might be uniform procedures and processes for travel. One day the pandemic might lessen to an endemic, and Covid might end up being more like an annoying cold. I can always hope! Until then, I'll take whatever boosters are offered and continue to explore the world, if only close at home.

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