Sun-Less in Nebraska

My friend Leo told me I was crazy to go to the Eclipse because the traffic was going to be EPIC. As you can see, it was pretty bad.

I drove southwest from St Paul to Sioux City, Iowa. My first rest stop in Iowa was an homage to the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery. Sergeant Charles Floyd died of appendicitis three months into the voyage and was buried on a high bluff above the Floyd River. The area is now known as Sergeant Bluff. He was the only member of the expedition to die.

I was on my way to stay with an old friend in Lincoln, Nebraska. Another friend was driving up from Denver. Chris lives out in the country surrounded by cornfields. I met him in Switzerland. He was originally from Beirut and had lived in Iraq and Italy. His father was Lebanese and his mother Italian. I’m still not sure how he ended up in a cornfield in Iowa but he seems to be happy with it. And why not? It is a lovely spot.

Needless to say we ate well.  The first night he made Italian stuffed zucchini. Most stuffed zucchini recipes I have seen treat the vegetable like a boat, cut it in half, dig out the meat and fill the hollow.  Not Chris, he cut off the ends, dug out the inside, and stuffed it with ground meat mixed with breadcrumbs and parmesan so the zucchini still looked like it was whole. Then smothered with a lovely tomato sauce. Of course he had also made hummus and Lebanese green beans sometimes called Lubiyeh or Lubee.  He used French style beans in a sauce with crushed tomatoes, lots of garlic and olive oil. Our appetizer was fresh corn on the cob. Just doesn’t get any better than that.

Sunday was our day to be tourists.  We started out at the Sunken Gardens. The garden was originally built in 1930 as part of a Depression works project. It was then renovated in 2005. It has over 30,000 plants on 1.5 acres and is designed each year on a different theme. The theme for 2017 is Purple Reign. It was a hot day so we didn’t linger but we did see a lot of purple.

Next stop was the Capital building. After a nationwide competition, Beltram Grosvenor Goodhue’s design was selected in 1920. It is said to be the nation’s first vernacular State Capital. It was the third building to be built on the site and was a departure from the more typical capital buildings found around the country. It was completed in 1932 and cost $10 million.

The inside is stunning with several courtyards, marble columns, vaulted ceilings, interesting light fixtures, mosaic floors and colorful murals. We took the elevator to the top of the tower and enjoyed the view. Across the street was the lovely old St Mary’s Catholic Church.

After touring the Capital building, Chris gave us a little tour of the city, showing off nice neighborhoods with big houses and then the downtown area. The Haymarket area was a warehouse district that has been transformed into a trendy place to live and work. It is a place to explore restaurants, bars, shops and the Farmers Market. In 2014 it was listed on the National Register as Lincoln Haymarket Historic District by the National Park Service. Chris kept pushing a great ice cream parlor but parking was scarce.

That night our friend from Denver threw together a salad with leftover corn, black beans, green and red peppers, home grown tomatoes, cilantro and olive oil to go with our pork ribs that had been on the smoker all day.

Monday was eclipse day. We packed up our beer and food and drove south to Firth where we went to a pot luck party. Chris’ friend had a big house on a lake with lots of room for eclipse viewing. There were about 30 people there enjoying a warm but cloudy day.  We missed the corona of the total eclipse but we experienced the atmosphere. Everything got quiet, the wind died completely, the day grew very dark. It was eerie. We ate well, enjoyed the beer and company. At the end of the day we jumped in the golf cart and took a spin around the lake.

On my way home the next day I stopped at the highest point in Iowa. Hawkeye Point, 1670 feet. Who knew?

Total Eclipse of the Sun

When we lived in Moscow we had to renew our visas every year.  This always meant leaving the country.  It was a very good excuse for a vacation.  I renewed my visa in Finland, Italy, and France.  In 1999 there was a total eclipse of the sun so we decided to combine our visa renewal with a visit with old friends and watching the eclipse.

Our son, Noah’s best friend in Moscow moved to Paris with his parents.  They were living in a house in the suburbs.  The house was about a ten minute walk from the train in a quaint little village with a pretty chateau.  The first day was spent getting our new visas organized and trying to do some shopping.  Our friends had a Russian nanny so we could leave Noah at their house and wander around on our own. Nicholas and I explored the left bank and then the four adults went out to dinner at a nouveau French restaurant.  It was my birthday so we had champagne and wine and great food.  The following day was the boat ride on the Seine with the boys and then a walk through the Tulliers garden where there just happened to be some rides and of course Noah had to go on them.

We had decided that Metz would be a good place to view the eclipse.  We rented a car and drove to Metz stopping on our way to see the cathedral in Reims with its stained glass windows designed by Chagall (a Russian – can’t get away from them).  Once in Metz, we scoped out the area and early the next morning we headed out with the telescope, video camera and other cameras.  We set up our camp in the middle of the Esplanade which was a nice park right by the river.  The town had organized a big festival around the eclipse and so there were parades, music, etc. going on all day long.

It was cloudy.  During the first half of the eclipse we were able to see it off and on.  But about 20 minutes before total eclipse it started to rain.  We could tell when the total was, though, because it was completely dark. All the flowers closed up and all the lights came on and it was really night and kind of eerie.  Then during the second half it cleared up a bit and we were able to see more.  Noah kept looking at the “moon” through his glasses.  Nicholas got some good shots through his telescope.  And I got a new umbrella.  When we got back to Paris our friends who had gone 25 minutes north of Paris on the train said they had seen the whole thing perfectly.

From Metz we drove into Lorraine and the Vosges area.  We stopped at the Haut Konningburg castle which is a huge restored castle on top of a mountain in the middle of the forest.  You can see forever from it.  It has a moat and drawbridge and inner yard.  It would be very hard to penetrate.  It was a hike up to it and since it had been raining the path was muddy.  I commented on how “mucky” it was and Noah responded, “monkeys?  Where are the Monkeys??”  He would not let it go and kept asking for the rest of the day.

From there we wound our way around down to La Bresse which is in the heart of a big ski area amid mountains and forest.  Really beautiful.  Our hotel was very nice with a good restaurant.  We drove all around the area and went hiking around a glacial pool where Noah spent the better part of an hour throwing rocks into it and hunting for dragonflies.

On Sunday (the day before Noah’s birthday) we took the boys to the Bois de Bologne to the big amusement park there and I think they went on about 20 rides.  They had a lot of fun.  Afterwards we went home and our friend, Carol had made a chocolate birthday cake and so we had cake and opened presents. Our last day in Paris we had lunch up at Montmartre with all the tourists in town.

After we returned to Moscow, Noah was in bed going to sleep and he asked me if we had been to America.  I said no.  He said, “oh, no, no we were in Caris”.  No, I said, you mean France.  He said, “no, not France, Caris”.  I said “you mean Paris?”.  He said, “yes, Paris.  That’s were Josic lives.  I want to go to Josic’s house!”