Hadrian’s Wall

Hadrian’s Wall
Northern England
June 17-24, 2017

We traveled to Scotland and England in June, primarily to see and walk along what remains of Hadrian’s Wall, a World Heritage Site. The emperor Hadrian ordered the wall to be built, to defend the northern border of the Roman Empire in Britain and to regulate trade across it. The legions built it, and Hadrian came to inspect it in 122 A.D. The wall itself was about 73 miles long, stretching from Wallsend in the east to Solway Firth in the west.

The modern Hadrian’s Wall Path National Trail is 84 miles long. We walked approximately 30 miles of it, including the central section between Chollerford and Birdoswald. That is the section where the most visible remains of the original wall and the associated fortifications can still be seen. It is also the section with the steepest hills and most dramatic scenery. The trail is well marked with acorn symbols and other signage.

We stayed in the town of Hexham and traveled by local bus (the “AD122” route) out to stops along the wall trail for each day’s hiking.

At first we walked over gently rolling hills. When we reached the Whin Sill rock formation we hiked up and down steep hills for a couple of days. The views were spectacular and well worth the exertion.

After that the terrain once again became more gently rolling hills. All along the way we walked past and through farms, mainly open meadows with flocks of sheep. We often climbed up and over stiles to get into and out of farm fields, and other times walked through “kissing gates.” We occasionally had to walk through cattle pastures. We had one particularly unnerving encounter, edging slowly around a bull and his cows, trying not to get between any cow and her calf.

We were amused by the sheep grazing over and around an ancient temple of Mithras which was located in the middle of their owner’s land. Meredith insisted on getting a photo of one sheep standing by the Mithraic altar; perhaps symbolic of the victory of the Lamb of God over ancient pagan faiths?

The best remains of the wall are in the most inaccessible areas, for the quite practical reason that it was easiest for builders in subsequent centuries to recycle (plunder) stones from the areas of the wall they could reach more easily.

When intact the wall was about 15 feet high and 8 to 10 feet wide. Each side of it was built with well cut rectangular stones and mortar; the middle of the wall was filled with rubble – roughly shaped stones — and mortar. Along the wall the Romans built several major forts. In between those large forts they built small forts called milecastles, which were staffed by detachments of 10 to 30 soldiers. Like the large forts, milecastles had gates through the wall. In between the milecastles the Romans built turrets, which were staffed by a couple of soldiers. Those were guard posts which did not contain gates through the wall. In addition to the wall, the Romans dug deep ditches on both sides of the wall, and even where the wall can no longer be seen, the remains of one or both of those ditches is often visible. We saw the ruins of a number of milecastles and turrets as we walked, and here is a photo of Bob at one of them:

We toured what remains of the forts at Wallsend, Chesters, Housesteads, and Birdoswald. There are excellent museums associated with each of those, although unfortunately for us the Birdoswald museum was closed for renovations. We also walked over and around the ruins of the fort at Great Chesters, which is mostly buried under a working farm. There we saw an ancient Roman altar, standing out in the middle of the farmer’s field, covered with modern “offerings” in the form of coins from many different countries.

We were blessed with generally good weather. For the first two days of our hiking the weather was sunny and about 78 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. We were amused to hear the locals complain about how terribly hot it was; it seemed like normal San Diego weather to us! After that front moved on, the weather stayed partially sunny for several more days but with highs during the day in the mid 60’s; seemed cool to us, but great for hiking. It was windy most days, especially in the afternoons, and we had to be careful not to lose our hats. We had hard rain just one day, the final hiking day when we walked the area around the Birdoswald fort.

We visited museums along the way and will have to write separately about a few of those highlights.

Where the West Is Fun

San Diego County Fair
Del Mar Fairgrounds
June 4, 2017

We headed to the San Diego County Fair on its opening weekend. We always enjoyed going to fairs when we were children. Meredith remembers going with her father to the Barnstable County Fair in Massachusetts and with her grandparents to county fairs in Maine. Bob visited fairs in western Massachusetts, including the Three County Fair in Northampton, the Cummington Fair, and the Eastern States Exposition. When our children were small we took them to the sprawling Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona, a splendid and overwhelming experience. Meredith’s mother Margaret entered items in the LA fair a couple of times, winning a blue ribbon for her Seminole jacket back in the 1980’s.

This time we started with the Old West theme exhibit near the entrance, then headed to the infield. We watched the Turkey Stampede, a fun and silly set of turkey races. We strolled through the model farm vegetable beds, then toured the “pollinator” area with a sample bee hive (safely under glass) and a butterfly enclosure. We really enjoyed going in and looking at the butterflies close up!

We opted for our usual (high calorie) fair favorites for lunch: Roxy’s garlic batter fried artichokes and Navajo fry bead, washed down with craft beer in the Paddock area. While we ate, we enjoyed listening to several bluegrass groups performing on the Paddock Stage, particularly a quartet called the Virtual Strangers.

The home arts building was our next stop, and we concentrated on the second floor. Meredith loves the handmade quilts, and it is fun to see what people chose to collect and share. In the fondant cake section we were amused to see a cake with a Star Wars theme, and Meredith sent a photo to her sister, who also loves Star Wars. The polymer bead club had a display table set up and was encouraging passers-by to make beads, which Meredith did.

We went on to the Swifty Swine pig races, which are a must-see for both of us. But who doesn’t love watching piglets run around a track to win an Oreo cookie? Absolutely ridiculous! On the way we wandered through the livestock barns and watched a couple of 4H competitions. After that we walked back to the garden exhibits near the main gate, including both the exterior garden landscapes and the cut flowers displayed inside.

We finished our fair visit listening to Tom Griesgraber playing the Chapman stick on the O’Brien Stage. We first discovered Tom at the fair several years ago, and always try to catch his act if we can.

The fair runs through July 4 this year. We used free offsite parking at the Horse Park, just east of the fairgrounds, and took the shuttle bus to the fair gate. Buses run frequently and get to use a back gate, so that is probably not only the thriftiest but possibly the quickest way to get to the fair. Full price admission is $18 for adults, $11 for seniors and children 6 and over; children 5 and under are free. Several discount deals are available, and the fair website has further information. Handicap access is good; most of the fairgrounds are at ground level, and there are elevators within the buildings.


Snohomish, Washington
May 29, 2017

On Memorial Day we drove with our daughters out in the country a short way from where they live, near Seattle, to visit the historic town of Snohomish. It had been recommended to us by the woman working the visitors center in Lynnwood. We had a perfect day for our outing — sunny and warm.

We walked along First Street, window shopping the antique stores and various boutiques. We then explored several adjacent residential streets, admiring some Victorian era homes. The town’s historical society has a museum, but it was closed, so we admired the building from the outside and went on.

We walked downhill back to the business district. We peered into the old Alcazar Theatre building. Built as a theater in 1892, it was converted to a garage around 1915, and now serves as an antique store. We went on down to the river and strolled back behind the business district, through the lovely riverside park. We watched some rafters who were bobbing along the river, heading rapidly downstream, paddling with little skill but great enthusiasm.

After our walk we ducked into the Oxford Saloon (established 1910) for beers and appetizers before heading back to the girls’ home.

Heritage Park

Heritage Park
Lynnwood, Washington
May 27, 2017

We ventured out from San Diego, and flew north to spend Memorial Day weekend with our daughters who live in Washington State, near Seattle. We brought the California weather with us – sunny and in the 80’s.

Our youngest daughter teases us that our super power is finding a museum anywhere. Bob rose to that challenge. On Saturday we bought sandwiches to go at a local Subway then headed to Heritage Park in the Alderwood area of Lynnwood, a town just north of Seattle. We enjoyed a picnic outside, under a pine next to ferns and moss-covered rocks – things you definitely do not see in Southern California!

After the picnic we explored the historic buildings and small museums located in Heritage Park. At each stop we met and chatted with docents who excelled in both enthusiasm and knowledge. All exhibits offered free admission; we left donations in the various donation jars.

First stop was the Wickers Building, known originally as the Alderwood Manor Main Store. This building was built 1919 and used as a general store for much of its existence, then as a plumber’s shop and finally as an appliance parts store. Like the other Heritage Park structures, it was relocated to this spot; it would otherwise have been demolished to make room for the freeway. Inside the building we chatted with the woman running the visitor center, whose knowledge of Washington State was truly encyclopedic. She seemed to want to plan outings for us for every day of our visit.

We then stepped into the newly opened Northwest Veterans Museum, a one room museum with a good, and varied, display of artifacts in display cases, one case for each major war from World War I to the present. This small museum was run by two knowledgeable volunteers, and they had a plate of delicious homemade cookies on offer. Among the artifacts was a uniform that had belonged to Col. Mary V. Fager, an Army nurse who served from World War II to the 1970’s.

After seeing the Veterans Museum, we went upstairs to tour what had been the apartment space for the Wickers family, who ran the store for several decades. It was furnished with the sort of items they might have had around 1934 when their daughter was born.

Our second stop was Interurban Car 55, the last survivor of six trolley cars that served the Alderwood – Seattle – Everett electric car line from 1910-1939. It was used as a roadside diner for a while after its retirement. It has since been beautifully restored. We looked at the trolley car from a distance; it is fenced off most of the time. A docent who saw us admiring it came out to tell us that there will be an open house on June 10 when visitors can go inside the enclosure and into the car itself. We told our daughter she should plan to go back and see it then.

We then went into the Superintendent’s Cottage, which dates from 1917. This building was the home for the superintendent of the Demonstration Farm, a large hatchery. In 1922 Alderwood Manor, Washington was the second largest egg producer in the nation. Who knew? Inside that cottage there are fascinating sets of “then and now” photos of locations in and around Lynnwood, and also maps of the area over the past century of development. We learned the origin and backstory of several local landmark buildings.

Our final inside visit was to the Humble House, and even though we arrived when it was officially closing, the volunteer on duty insisted we come in. That cottage was built in 1919 and is typical of the farmhouses in the area at that time. The local genealogy society keeps its library in the cottage. We chatted with the woman on duty, who like us has roots in Massachusetts. She graduated from the University of Massachusetts. Together we chuckled a little over the local view that things that date back only a century are “old” – not the frame of reference we have in New England, first settled in the 17th Century, or even in California, with Spanish missionaries founding Mission San Diego in 1769.

Next to Humble House is a gigantic rhododendron. We were impressed with its size and profuse blooms, then later noticed many more large rhododendrons as we drove around. Like the ferns, not something we see much of in Southern California. Funny how well plants grow when you give them some water.

Before we left the park we walked around the Water Tower. This structure, like the Superintendent’s Cottage, was part of the Demonstration Farm. It has been relocated but not yet restored. There is no water tank on top of it, and the interior is not open for visitors. The historical society wants to refurbish it but lacks funds to do so currently.

Third Blog-iversary

May 23 marks three years we have been writing this blog. In the first two years most of our entries chronicled outings we took with Meredith’s mother, Margaret. Once she had moved back to Los Angeles, we started a routine of visiting her and taking her out to lunch and then a museum or historic site. Often we finished the visit by meeting up with Meredith’s sister for coffee. After a while we thought, why not write about those trips? It gave us a chance to review the museums and also to write about our interactions with Margaret.

Over the past three years, we have written 85 posts, counting this one. The museum featured most often was the Getty Center in the Sepulveda Pass. Margaret preferred historical and archeological exhibits to art museums, per se; when the Getty featured special exhibitions of that sort we tried to take her to them. Our favorite museum restaurant is Zeidler’s Cafe at the Skirball Museum, also in the Sepulveda Pass.

Margaret passed away in June of last year. Two months ago, on what would have been Margaret’s 80th birthday, Meredith met up with her sister Kathleen and our oldest daughter to scatter Margaret’s ashes. Meredith plans to post a page here, eventually, with photos of Margaret’s life.

What are we doing in Year Four? Going forward, we continue to post as we visit places and things strike our fancy.

  • Meredith plans to be in Tennessee for the total solar eclipse in August and will write an entry about it.
  • We are looking forward to the Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA collaboration running from September 2017 through January 2018 at dozens of museums around Southern California. We went to a number of the exhibitions in the original Pacific Standard Time collaboration, which predated our blog, and we will definitely seek out some of these new exhibitions.
  • Time permitting we want to see the Paul Simon exhibition at the Skirball, which is running currently and will be there until September 3, 2017.

If you have any places you want to see written up, mention them in the comments or contact us directly.

Fowler Revisited

Fowler Museum of Cultural History
UCLA – Westwood
March 16, 2017

Meredith went up to Westwood to attend a lecture, and stopped in at the Fowler Museum for a couple of hours in the afternoon.

The curators have rotated the pieces on display in the permanent collection quite a bit since our last visit, and there is a new video showing at the entrance to that collection. It reminds us that the items on display in the museum are not simply art objects but are also objects used which were used by the people who created them, and they are often of spiritual importance. Several of the museum items are shown in context in the video, which is interesting but a little long.

That gallery has numerous and varied items on display, including: Vietnamese tunics and skirts; decorated gourd bowls from Africa; large display masks from Papua New Guinea (seen in the photo); and Indonesian rod puppets, to name just a few categories. There is a large display of carved wooden posts made by the Yoruba people of Nigeria. They are similar in appearance to totem poles of North American peoples. Meredith was struck by an intricate modern Mexican ceramic piece, a memorial item entitled Tree of Death: Factory Women. The artist used a traditional Mexican tree of life to commemorate the over 400 women killed in Ciudad Juarez since 1993.

There are several special exhibitions running currently. The Fowler in Focus gallery features Joli! A Fancy Masquerade. That gallery displays approximately a dozen masquerade headdresses from Sierra Leone made in the 1970’s and used in street parades at that time. The headdresses incorporate symbols of native divinities, but also more modern symbols, taken from the British monarchy and from Islamic themes. That exhibition runs through July 16, 2017.

Another gallery features the Enduring Splendor exhibition of jewelry, both antique and modern, from the Indian Thar desert region. These pieces were created by jewelers of the Soni caste; some items were commissioned especially for the Fowler. That exhibition runs through June 18, 2017. The display complements the permanent collection of silver pieces from Europe and America, Reflecting Culture, which we like very much. Meredith stopped in it briefly at the end of her visit.

The final special exhibition running now is Pantsula 4 Lyf, a display featuring South African dance videos and photos

Meredith went on to dinner and then a lecture at the law school, given by Gary Saul Morson and sponsored by the Center for Liberal Arts and Free Institutions. Professor Morson spoke on Russian novelists, the intelligentsia, and the revolution of 1917.

Admission to the Fowler is free. Parking is available nearby, in one of the UCLA garages. The museum is all on one level and easily accessible to wheelchair patrons.

Marston House

Marston House
San Diego
February 4, 2017

We visited the Marston House in February, using our Macy’s Museum Month discount pass. Entrance to the house itself is only with a guided tour, and tours run each half hour. We had just missed one tour by about 5 minutes so spent some time walking around the exterior, examining the house from the outside and enjoying the gardens. It was pleasant strolling, though not the season for roses. We also admired the walled laundry area, for hanging out the wash, and peeked into the cellar. Later, the docent told us it is a half cellar rather than a full one, because the house is built into a slope. The cellar housed the utilities and was used by the help.

When our turn to take the next tour came, we were the only ones on it. The docent was very well informed and very enthusiastic. He told us all about the Marston family members who had lived in the house, the architect, the furnishings, the original construction and various modifications of the house, and the recent history of preservation efforts. He also gave us a context for the architectural details, comparing the Marston House to the Gamble House in Pasadena. (We saw the outside of the Gamble House once, back in 2014, and would like to go back sometime and tour the interior; the Marston House experience has piqued our interest.)

The downstairs has beautiful woodwork. The redwood from the forests of northern California give the rooms a warm feel. The docent pointed out a nice detail—butterfly key joints between some of the boards lining the walls. The music room has hidden racks in the walls. Mr. Marston’s study has lovely built-in bookshelves, and he forbade the installation of a call button there to help maintain the contemplative atmosphere; most other rooms in the house are connected to the indicator in the butler’s pantry. Bob thought that the use of pocket doors gave the downstairs a very clean look and nice sense of flow from room to room.

The house is tastefully furnished with period pieces, though little that was owned by the Marstons remains. The Marston family used the house until the 1980s, when it was given to the City of San Diego. At that time, the furnishings were reclaimed by family members. Since then, the museum has worked to find replacements that fit the setting, even getting a period bathtub.

The tour provides access to the first and second floors of the house. The first floor was designed for entertaining and the dining room opens onto a sizeable patio. One famous visitor was Theodore Roosevelt, who came to dinner when the former president attended the Panama-California Exposition in 1915. The attic area was also finished and used as sleeping quarters by the family, but it is not currently open to visitors. A neat detail throughout the house is the raised thresholds and floor levels in the baths and closets. The docent kept reminding us to watch our step. He speculated that the architectural quirk was meant to make it easier to sweep the primary floor levels cleanly and to easily sweep out those smaller spaces, into the adjacent hallways or larger rooms, although no one knows for sure.

The house was completed in 1905. George W. Marston was a self-made man who came to San Diego and made his money in the retail industry, owning a successful local department store. The house was begun with a Tudor style in mind, but once Marston hired Irving Gill to finish the project, Gill altered it as much as possible to fit his vision of the Arts and Crafts Movement. The exterior retains some Tudor characteristics while hinting at the Prairie School. Inside, there are many typical Gill elements including coved floor to wall transitions in the public rooms, casement windows with transoms, and enclosed bathtubs.

Tickets for the tours are sold in the gift shop located in the adjacent carriage house/garage. The house is open Fridays through Mondays, except Christmas Day, from 10 to 5. Tours leave every half hour, last tour at 4 p.m. Regular admission costs $15 for adults, with discounts for seniors, active duty military, students, and children under 12. (The Macy’s discount gave us 50% off.) Being a mansion of a certain age, the museum is not readily accessible to those in wheelchairs.

While there are no dining facilities adjacent to the house, the area has many cafes, restaurants, and pubs. After our visit and a walk in the park, we enjoyed excellent craft beer at The Brew Project on Fifth Avenue, itself located in a 1902 Craftsman House. We enjoyed the brew pub and plan to go back and try it for lunch or dinner.

Brahms and Cowboys

California Center for the Arts
January 29, 2017

Meredith was out of town on the last weekend in January, so Bob decided to check out the California Center for the Arts in Escondido. His attention had been drawn to it by advertising for a performance of Brahms’ German Requiem. Escondido Choral Arts organized the presentation, which featured an introduction to the work and recorded testimonials by members of the choral groups involved as to their often quite moving relationships to the Requiem, as well as what Bob thought was a fine performance.

Since the music did not begin until three in the afternoon, he took advantage of the trip to Escondido to visit another part of the Center, the Museum. The facility is spacious—two large, airy halls that are paralleled by hallways which can also be used for display. The hallways have large windows all along that look out on the adjacent Grape Day Park. The current exhibition is Cowboys and Vaqueros: Legends of the American West. It runs January 14 through February 26, 2017. In the smaller of the two halls were a mix of paintings, photographs, and artifacts that celebrate different peoples who made their mark on the history of the Old West: Native Americans, Hispanic Americans, African Americans, and European Americans. Bob was taken by a photograph of an African-American family outside their sod hut and another of the Robinson Hotel. That hotel was started by an African-American family in Julian, California, in the nearby mountains. When they sold it after a number of decades, it became the Julian Hotel, which still stands today. He also liked the side saddle that belonged to a young lady who was in the first graduating class from Escondido High School—her family lived in the San Pasqual Valley, too far to commute, so she stayed in town during the week and rode her horse home on the weekends!

In the larger hall there was a focus on paintings, drawings, and sculpture. Many of the sculptures were by Mehl Lawson, the curator of the show. His works in the show were in bronze, reminiscent of Frederic Remington, but with a very different surface texture or patina. The works throughout the show were very largely contemporary—from the 1990s into the current decade. Bob very much liked one large scale Impressionist painting, Eastern Sierra Landscape by Alson Skinner Clark and owned by the University Club of Pasadena. Executed in 1919, the picture shows a covered wagon dwarfed by the majestic mountains in the distance and lost in the desert of the foreground.

In the hallways adjacent to the exhibition halls, there was a display of student work from local schools related to the show. Mostly these were drawings or paintings, but one project had been to design cattle brands—one young lady welded her own and with it there was a description of the process she went through to make it.

A smaller room located at the end of the large hall farthest from the entrance was being used to show the work of a local documentarian. Corazon Vaquero (Heart of the Cowboy) is a gripping piece. Usually when one passes by a video that is playing in a museum setting, if it runs more than ten minutes one loses interest and moves on. This film is a very terrific look at the daily life of people who live in the dry, mountainous lands in central Baja California. Bob watched about half an hour and then had to move on to get to the concert. Researching the film later, he found that it was made by Cody McClintock, who grew up in northern San Diego County, and is narrated by his father Garry, a master saddle maker who lived in Descanso and passed away in the fall of 2015.

There is plenty of free parking adjacent to the Center. Handicap access seemed fine in the museum and the concert hall. There is a small gift shop in the museum, which is open Thursday-Saturday from 10:00 to 5:00 and Sunday from 1:00 to 5:00. The current exhibition runs through Sunday, 26 February. The next exhibition, coming in April and May, is called The Second Time Around: The Hubcap as Art. The young woman at the museum entrance told Bob that so far there are no other exhibits planned for the year due to funding constraints.

Macy’s Museum Month 2017

Macy’s is offering its annual “Museum Month” again this year. Customers who pick up a pass at the store can enjoy a 50% discount at dozens of participating museums in San Diego County. According to the museum council: Passes will be available beginning February 1 at all San Diego, Temecula and Imperial Valley Macy’s…. Guests with a pass can bring up to three people to participating museums to receive half-off admission for the entire party. Additional fees may apply for special exhibitions.

See details at the museum council website.

Last year we used our discount to visit the San Diego Museum of Art. This year we will try to use the passport a couple of times, including probably at the Marston House.

Living Coast Discovery

Living Coast
(formerly the Chula Vista Nature Center)
Chula Vista
January 15, 2017

At the suggestion of one of Meredith’s rowing teammates, we drove down to Chula Vista to explore the revamped nature center, now called Living Coast. We took advantage of our Birch Aquarium membership; the two institutions are offering reciprocal admission in January.

Living Coast is part of the national wildlife refuge area in the South Bay. The parking lot is at the foot of E Street, just off Interstate 5. From there a shuttle bus runs to the nature center.

Just outside the main building is turtle exhibit, the Turtle Lagoon, which unfortunately was closed for maintenance the day we visited. Within the main building we saw a number of very interesting displays. There are tanks with local fish and many other marine animals. We were particularly struck by the large octopus. In addition to the marine creatures, there are also terrariums with lizards, snakes, and tortoises.

Just behind the main building is a shark and ray encounter area. There are two tanks in it. The first tank is shallower and open; visitors can touch the rays in it. The deeper tank also contains sharks and rays, and a large turtle. She is a rescue animal, with paralyzed hind legs. She was injured and partially paralyzed by a boat collision in Florida and has found a new home here. A docent was on duty, answering visitors’ questions.

Also in the area behind the main building are a series of small avian enclosures. We walked into the largest of them, housing a couple of rare clapper rails. We then walked on past a number of raptor enclosures, seeing eagles, hawks, owls, a kestrel, and an osprey.

After touring the exhibits, both interior and exterior, we headed across from the main entrance of the building, to trails that thread through the protected lands to the bay. We meandered around the trails, down to the bay and back again. Along the way we saw one of Bob’s former students, who is working at Living Coast as an intern, and stopped to chat with her.

Handicapped access seems generally good. There are ramps where needed, such as to the observation deck and the shark and ray exhibit. The shuttle bus from the parking lot is a kneeling bus which has wheelchair tiedowns. The walking trails are broad and flat and well compacted. Both the parking and the shuttle bus are free. Adult admission to the center is $16, and children are $11. Memberships are a good value: $40 for an individual, $60 for a dual membership, and $96 for a household.