The 2019 Ingulli-McCord Christmas Experience

You had one job…

So, while we were celebrating Festivus last year, we both came to the realization that its probably time to start thinking about that bucket list. We’ve got our Medicare cards. Retirement is no longer something way out in the future. Heck, we live in a retirement community. So the question was, what’s first on the travel bucket list. It took about 30 seconds for both of us to scream Iceland!

But first, Diane had to schedule some oral surgery she’d been putting off for years. We went through the logistics and decided that we would wait until after our trip to schedule it. In retrospect, it was a great decision…

Everyone we talked to warned us that the weather in summertime Iceland was going to be horrible; rainy and cold. Not to mention tourist overload. Sounded perfect to us. So, after gathering our cold-weather and rain gear, off we went on a 10-day excursion to explore the “ring road” that circles the island. By ourselves, of course!

We arrived bright and early in the morning at Keflavik airport and immediately found ourselves waiting a half hour in 30 degree, blustery weather to grab a shuttle bus to the rental car office. Of course, after we got on the bus, we found out that the rental cars were  a 5 minute walk from the arrival terminal. Naturally.

Did you know that there is special car insurance for things like volcanic ash, rock slides and earthquakes? Neither did we until the rental office tried to sell us $500 worth of it. Yeesh. Anyway, after an hour of waiting, saying no, and then trying to find our car, we were on the road to the number-one tourist destination for new arrivals: the Blue Lagoon hot springs spa. After 15 hours in airports and cramped planes, we were looking forward to it.  Now, how to find it…

One thing we learned quickly was the challenge of entering destinations in a car GPS.  If we had to enter the names of things, we would have spent hours trying to translate 30-character place names that look a lot like each other. The solution? Latitude and Longitude coordinates! Remember those? Fortunately, the Icelanders understand this and were kind enough to place this info in all of the guides we used. Entering them, however, can be a bit challenging. To wit, we did not get to the Blue Lagoon on the first (or second) try. This is what they call a “teachable moment”.Anyway, we made it, it was wonderful, and we did not want to leave. The perfect post-flight activity! But leave we must, and after entering our hotel coordinates (properly this time) we arrived in Reykjavik for our first night. Made it!

When we woke up the next day, we were a bit surprised to find out that the weather was sunny and clear with relatively warm temperatures. Hmmm. Unexpected. In any event we hit the road for the first part of the trip, which was what is known as the “Golden Circle” . Lots of natural sights to see. Waterfalls, geysers, and fumaroles to name a few.

But we also had a white whale to find: the grave of Bobby Fischer. Remember him? Cold War chess ring a bell? Yep, that guy. Turns out he became a major crank in his later years, and no one wanted him, including the US. Icelanders, being the nice folks they are, took him in. Naturally, being the jerk he was, he promptly got sick, refused western medical treatment and promptly died. All we knew was he was buried “near Reykjavik”.

Game on!

Turns out everyone’s favorite travel guide, Rick Steves, actually includes the grave site in one of his guidebooks. We tried for the better part of a day looking for the site, but ran out of steam and had to eat.  After some local seafood, we headed out for one last try and after several close calls we drove through someone’s farm to a tiny hidden church with a small graveyard in front. After avoiding the various tractors and other farm implements and spending a fair amount of time wandering in the graveyard, pay dirt!  Honestly, his name kind of stood out from the other names that were typically 20 letter names ending in “-sson” or “-dottir”. But still, we achieved victory!

Onward to coastal Iceland. Found a black beach with “diamonds”, which were chunks of ice from the icebergs in a small cove. While we were there, we also ran across a wedding party with the bride in full regalia.  We naturally photo-bombed them. Boy are they in for a surprise.

But wait.  That wasn’t the last time we saw the bride. For the next three days, every time we stopped at a major site, there was the bridal party. Have to say, that gown was getting pretty darn ratty the last time we saw her! Volcanic ash will do that, I guess.

As we made our way around the island, it became more and more sparsely populated. While the roads were mostly paved (ask Diane about the dirt-road mountain pass in the fog if you want to test her blood pressure!) there were a lot of single-lane bridges. We got used to those pretty quickly, but you haven’t lived until you’ve gone through a 2-way, single lane tunnel! Yes, there were several. Basically, you go like hell until you see headlights in front of you and then you start looking for a small turnout cut into the rock. The game, of course, was to guess who would chicken out into a turnout first. Awesome!

Oh, and did I mention the sheep? Turns out that for most of the year, Icelandic sheep just wander wherever they want, which is totally fine unless they decide to dart out onto a road your cruising on at 60mph. Diane issued forth more than one “OMG!” as we came close to murdering multiple sheep. And if you kill one of them, you’re on the hook to reimburse the shepherd. In Texas, you get free BBQ!

The trip became one overwhelming sight after another. Waterfalls out the kazoo. Mountains, glaciers, puffins, whales, people jumping off raised ferry ramps into the water for fun (in survival suits, of course), and all sorts of small villages. And it never rained on us or got really cold. Go figure.

As we neared the end, we realized we were booked into a hotel a good hour from the airport and decided to find something closer so we wouldn’t miss our flight. We found a hostel that was a converted Icelandic Air Force barracks. Cheapest beer on the whole trip!

After the usual awful flight home (delayed 2 hours because someone didn’t have their passport validated, missed our connection & got home about 12 hours later than planned), we finally made it home for the second most exciting event of the summer, Diane’s oral surgery.

About that Oral Surgery…

Now, I’ve had a lot of that type of work done over the years, and its always just been novacain followed by post-op opioids. In Diane’s case, the doctor decided she needed to be totally blitzed instead. I have no idea what they gave her, but when I took her home, she was “awake” but little else. The nurse said “Just let her sleep and make sure she doesn’t try to get up and walk without you being there.”

“OK, no problem.”

It was a team effort to get her into the car. Step 1 complete!  I then managed to get her from the car to the bed so she could sleep it off by carefully maneuvering her into a wheeled office chair.

After that, I went to check on her about every half hour and she was generally still unconscious. And then it happened. A loud “thump”.  I went to check, and there she was, sitting on the side of the bed holding her right arm. “It’s OK” she said. After noticing the 6 inch gash in said right arm, I tried to tell her “nope, not OK”. “No, Its OK.” was her repeated response.

I had one job, and I failed.

Back into the chair, back into the car, and off to the ER we went. When the nurse saw the wound, let me just say that her first response was not to tell me what a great job I had done getting her there. It was more of a “you disgusting wife-beater” vibe. 14 stitches later, she was back in the chair wheeling to bed again.

When she finally woke up, she looked at her arm and said “Gray, what is this?” To this day, she has no recollection of any of it.  Just a scar and a hospital bill.  I had one job…

Anyway, besides that little event, we’re all just dandy here in Texas. Aleia, Matt, Charlie and Maeve are doing great in Wisconsin. Ashleigh has moved back to Massachusetts for a great job working for NOAA. (No, she does not edit maps with Sharpies).

Have a great Holiday season and a wonderful 2020!

Gray & Diane

 

 

 

The 2018 Ingulli-McCord Christmas Experience

Squirrels, Giants and Hoodoos!

Well, another year and another house. Honestly, the place we lived in last year had some bad juju going. Let me explain.

Right after last year’s holidays, we decided to take in a movie at the local cineplex. So, we jumped into the car, hit the go button and started backing out of the driveway. Something was wrong. The steering was not working . Darn. Since it was a cold day, we figured that a car that had been pampered for 7 years in a nice warm garage was giving us a message, so we moved some boxes and squeezed it in the garage. Surely it would work fine after it warmed up a bit.

You can guess the rest. Homeopathic vehicle repair wasn’t working for us. After a quick stint at the gym to bulk up the old arm muscles, we man-handled the car to the local Toyota dealer for a second opinion the next morning.

A few hours later, the call came in. “Are you sitting down?”, asked the repair tech, “because you have squirrels.” Now, after living in a place where F-150 pickups are “small”, and driving various generations of Prii over the years, we were used to the jokes about “how many squirrels were under the hood”, so we thought it was some kind of joke.

But no, this was a literal squirrel infestation in the engine compartment. Seems they had gone to the back yard, stolen a cushion from one of Diane’s patio chairs and build a nest under the hood. If that wasn’t bad enough, they apparently were hungry for something besides acorns and decided that the power steering wiring harness would hit the spot. So they ate it.

The net of this was a $750 repair bill for a new wiring harness. From this point forward, the Prius never stayed outside. Let those beasts eat Diane’s car!

After this episode, we did what any reasonable adults would do and told ourselves “We need to get the heck out of this house. And fast!” But not so fast that we couldn’t go on a couple of trips first.

Our first excursion was to Arizona to visit with Bob & Kathy Ingulli. Of course, our super-low-fare flight was about 8 hours late, so we arrived in Phoenix around 3AM. Typical trip so far.

After a great visit with our hosts, we headed to Scottsdale to experience baseball spring training with the SF Giants. We had a hotel room about 2 blocks from their ballpark. This would be awesome. Except…

You guessed it, all the time we were there, the Giants had no home games, so we had to board various buses for longish road trips every day to the far reaches of the greater Phoenix metroplex. Usually during rush hour. Of course.

Still, it was several days of games each night and lectures and field trips during the day. The highlight was the organist for the Diamondbacks followed by a tour of the inner workings of their ballpark. Baseball makes up for everything!Back to Texas, where we looked at about 2,000 homes before we agreed on one we liked, bought it, closed on it, and went on another vacation! Move in? Later.

The nominal purpose of this trip was to visit 3 national parks;  Zion, Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon. But first.

All roads to the west must go through Las Vegas, and this national park trip was no different. Before we picked up our group, we “needed” to spend a couple of days in Sin City. We know everyone has their own opinions on the relative merits of Vegas, and Gray’s is decidedly less than positive based on personal experience at various trade shows over the years. Diane, on the other hand had never been there and has been trying to find an excuse to visit for years. Let’s just say that after a couple of days inhaling second-hand smoke in the casinos, Diane got over her obsession. Time to move on to the great outdoors!

So, this trip was hosted by a geologist from a local college. In the week or so we spent in the 3 parks, she explained the entire geologic history of the western USA. It was way more fascinating than it sounds. While all 3 parks were awesome, the clear highlight was the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon. What’s a hoodoo, you ask? They are rock formations best described in a picture, so here they are:

Anyway, the trip was wonderful, and we can’t recommend enough visiting the wonders of the western national parks. If you ever have the opportunity, just go. If someone sucks you in to a Vegas trip, say “OK”,  and let them pay. Once you get there, lose them quickly, rent a car and head to Bryce. Just do it!

We’re all doing well. This year everyone is living in Madison Wisconsin (except us). Frankly, we remain totally confused about how this happened. Oh well. Ashleigh, Aleia, Matt, Charlie and Maeve are doing great in the Mad-City.

We did finally move to our new home after the park trip. Of course, it took about 3 months and a bunch of refurb work to pull that off, but we expect to stay in this one for a while. But no promises!

We wish everyone a fantastic holiday season and a great 2019!

Diane & Gray

PS- Hey, if you actually read this thing, please leave a comment on the site!

The 2017 Ingulli-McCord Christmas Experience

Northernmost Edition


Alaska. For longer than we can remember, when vacation-planning season came around, one of us would say “How about Alaska?” And we would then spend the next month  creating excuses to avoid it. Too cold. Cruise ships are disease factories. Can’t agree on which part to visit. Sarah Palin lives there.

Well, this year, we finally ran out of excuses. Ashleigh moved to Washington, so we had an excuse / mandate to visit the Northwest. We found a non-cruise solution that let us visit a variety of areas. Global warming.  Sarah Palin is still there, but 3 out of 4 ain’t bad. North to Alaska it was!

As usual, a pair of zombies left the house at 3:30AM to start the trip. One of these days we’re going to leave for vacation at a reasonable hour, like 5:30. Some day. Sigh.

On the beach

Anyway, we arrived at the first leg of the expedition, Olympia Washington, in our usual semi-conscious state. We promptly loaded up Ashleigh in the car and headed out to the Olympic Peninsula for a couple of days on the “beach”. As you might guess, “beach” out there has a totally different meeting than the bathtub-temperature water on the Texas coast. But hey, this would let us get a little bit acclimated to a colder environment before we headed to the far north! That mission certainly succeeded.

Do you think the water’s cold?

Cold ocean water, cool temperatures and sunshine were welcome after the Texas summer heat. Anyway, after a few relaxing days at the Kalaloch lodge and a 4th of July Mariners game, we once again awoke at zero-dark-thirty and bundled-up for our trip to the first stop on the Alaska odyssey: Fairbanks!

 

Mere hours later, we deplaned and prepared to face the frigid arctic. Of course it was 85 degrees. Seriously.  Uh-oh. And the plan was that we would spend more time in Fairbanks than anywhere else on the trip.

Welcome to Alaska!

The plan was to visit Fairbanks for a couple of days, then head to Barrow for an overnight trip, back to Fairbanks for a day, then on to Denali and finally to Seward before heading home. This would expose us to the interior, north and maritime areas. This was all a part of an arranged tour, so we had more than the usual number of traveling companions.

Fairbanks.  Geez. We took a riverboat cruise on the Chena river. Saw dog teams pulling ATV’s. Found the Alaska pipeline. Met with tribal elders. And the food.  Let me tell you about the food. Other than a Middle Eastern place run by a pair of Bulgarians across from our hotel, most of the “local” places consisted of food preceded by the words “Farthest North”. Yes. Farthest north McDonald’s. Farthest North Pizza Hut.  You get the idea.

We generally try to find local fare wherever we can. In this case, were looking forward to salmon, halibut, moose and other local delicacies. What we got, mostly, was farthest-north rubber chicken in the hotel, farthest north Chinese Buffet, and farthest north BBQ. (Sorry, but I could not eat the BBQ. Nope. I have standards, low as they might be.) The low-light was one place where the server was so flustered by our group that she managed to get every single order wrong. Every one. We all just sucked it up and ate whatever showed up on our plates or we would probably still be there. At least we managed to get our first taste of local food: reindeer sausage! Although, being sausage, who knows what it really was. Bye Fairbanks.

On to Barrow. Naturally, to get there, we had to fly first to Anchorage (way south of Fairbanks), then to Prudhoe Bay to drop off oil workers and then finally to Barrow. It has a local Inupiat name now, Utqiaġvik, and was one of the most interesting places we’ve ever visited.

In the lobby of the hotel in Barrow

The place actually looks pretty grim in the summer. Since its frozen most of the year, the roads are just gravel, and when it’s cloudy and foggy (like when we visited, of course), everything has a dismal, gray patina. The only sea ice we saw were a few small chunks washed up on the beach like driftwood. Climate change, anyone? Since everything comes in via barge or air, non-local products are exorbitantly expensive. Milk is more expensive than gas, and gas is $10/gallon. The people live mostly on what they catch and hunt, and buy as little as possible.

 

Diane looks for the way home

After a quick flight back to Fairbanks, (direct this time!) we headed to Denali via train. After wandering around the park entrance looking for moose (never saw one, although the people who stayed next to the train station and never went anywhere else saw an entire family of them.  Go figure.) and only managed to spot a beaver that followed us around a small lake as we walked. Those suckers are big!

 

Future Buc-ees mascot? (It’s a Texas thing)

Next day, we took a 7 hour school-bus ride  on a one lane dirt road into the park itself. Lots of wildlife, but no moose. Of course. We exited at the Kantishna Roadhouse some 90 miles later and spend the next two days on moose and Mt. Denali hunting patrol. We had high hopes for both, but…

 

Even though the temperature was mild and there was plenty of sunshine, there was no Denali. Turns out there was a big forest fire going on in the Yukon Territory in Canada that was creating haze. Hence, no Denali. I guess we would have to satisfy ourselves with the view of the very top that was sticking out of the clouds when we flew to Barrow!

The only moose we found…

As far as the moose hunt went, the best we could do was spot some certified moose scat, so we know they were there somewhat recently! Bummer.

After a couple of days of hiking and outdoor bliss, including more dog teams pulling ATV’s, we headed out for our trip to Seward to see whales and glaciers! Of course, “heading out” meant another 7-hour trip to the park entrance, followed by yet another 6 hours in a different bus to get to Anchorage. The highlight was going through the home of the Palins, Wasilla. Turns out Wasilla is kind of a dump / over-crowded (by Alaska standards, at least) suburban sprawl. I can see how they would fit right in. Fortunately, we didn’t have to stop.

Welcome to Wasilla

After an overnight stay in Anchorage, we grabbed the train south to Seward. This trip was downright spectacular. Waterfalls, wildlife, mountains, gorges, tunnels.  Green and lush. Heck, we think there was even a moose, but too far away to be 100% certain. We’ll count it anyway. As far as our transportation went, this was in a class by itself.

 

At Seward, we were finally able to get “real” Alaskan seafood. It was awesome. We then took a 6 hour boat trip the Kenai Fjord to see the local marine life and glacier. Whales all over. Nesting seabirds. Puffins gorging themselves (fun fact: if they are full of food, they can’t fly, and watching them try is endlessly entertaining). Sea Lions sunning. Even though it was a bit overcast, it was still spectacular.

Hey guys! Wake up! It’s photo time!

But the highlight was the glacier. We came within a quarter mile and drifted in front of it. One thing we did not expect was how active and noisy it was, constantly making loud cracking noises and dropping off pieces of ice into the sea. Eventually, the boat went into the brash ice and scooped up chunks of glacier for some tasty on-board adult beverages. Yum!

 

Kenai Fjord Glacier

After one last seafood dinner, the best of the trip, we walked the seawall (actually the original starting point for the Iditarod) and onto the docks for our final wildlife surprise, a sea otter happily chowing down on a salmon. Much larger than their river-bred brethren!

 

Just eating dinner…

And so another summer adventure ended with the usual crappy airline flights (this time a delayed red-eye, yuck) and return surprise: a bird chewed up one of our patio cushions and made a nest with it inside our dryer vent. That was fun to clean out!

 

Anyway, we’re all doing well. The big change for us is that we were finally able to sell our house so we can begin the process of moving into something more suitable for just the two of us. Don’t be surprised if you see yet another address change from us next year! We still haven’t found that perfect spot. Ashleigh is out in Olympia working for the state of Washington and enjoying the great outdoors. Aleia, Matt, Charlie and Maeve are doing great in the Mad-City, Wisconsin.

We wish everyone a fantastic holiday season and a great 2018!

Diane & Gray

Gray, Diane, Aleia, Charlie, Matt, Maeve, and Ashleigh

PS- Hey, this is the first time we’ve put this online.  The idea is to save some trees and not burden the uninterested with our travelogues. If you actually read this thing, please leave a comment on the site!

 

 

 

 

Coming Soon!

The 2017 Ingulli-McCord Christmas Experience will soon  be posted here. No more dead trees from us! Now you don’t have to feel obligated to read it unless you want to!