A visit to Charlevoix, Quebec

By Caitlin Kelly

Baie St. Paul, Charlevoix, Quebec.

Only once — decades ago — had I ventured this far into northeast Quebec, writing a feature story when I was a Montreal Gazette reporter.

Jose and I planned a Montreal visit, our visit in 3.5 years, but were also lured to Charlevoix, a mountainous region bordering the St. Lawrence on its north shore.

We decided to try it on the recommendation of a travel writer and came to Le Germain, one of many hotel properties developed across Canada by the Germain family; I’d stayed in one of their first, in Montreal, a long time ago and loved its chic, minimal style.

When I looked at it on the website, it didn’t woo me. The buildings are large blocks of glass, metal and wood and the landscape didn’t seem that compelling.

It’s a four hour drive from Montreal.

But the room rates were excellent — $215 Canadian/night (right now about the Canadian dollar is 72 cents to the U.S. dollar, a serious saving for American visitors like us.) Most hotels have really jacked up their prices to painful levels. We also arrived right after Canadian Thanksgiving, when their rates were about $75 more per night.

Our room was small but the views were amazing and it had a small balcony with two chairs and a lovely wooden rocking chair in the room.

The St. Lawrence River

We loved our five days there: our second floor room offered incredible views across the valley south to the St. Lawrence, cloud-wreathed hills still filled with fall colors, two lunchtime visits to Joe’s Smoke Meat, where they go through 10 to 15 slabs of 26 pounds of meat every day.

We savored the hotel’s spa and heated outdoor bathing pool.

The heated pool — looking west around 4:00 p.m.

We loved waking up to the unlikely sights and sounds of mooing of longhorn cattle below our balcony and the baaaa-ing of stampeding sheep as their morning feed arrived — there’s a small working farm on the property.

And chickens!

Lavender beds directly below our balcony were done for the season.

We arrived at a slow time for the hotel and town, so the hotel was blessedly quiet and we had the large dining room mostly to ourselves at breakfast and dinner, and enjoyed its excellent morning buffet. (A wedding party of 150 arrived the morning we left.)

There wasn’t a lot to do or see, but we enjoyed that, as it gave us both time we needed and appreciated to nap, to enjoy slow mornings, to read, to take photos.

Most people speak English but it’s been great to speak French again every day, several times a day. I miss it!

My favorite French word! It means pastries.

Wash day in Baie St. Paul

We drove further east to Les Eboulements, a series of small villages tucked into the hills, most houses with the distinctively curved metal roofs typical of rural Quebec. We drove to the very edge of the St. Lawrence and visited a gorgeous paper-maker in St. Joseph-de-la-Rive, where we each bought 10 sheets of home-made paper which we’ll likely use to print photos on.

Quebec, of course, is heavily Catholic, with many double-spired churches.

A rainy day Madonna

The hotel staff told us many Germans and Italians like to visit here as well. It’s a timeless landscape with some very steep hills and dramatic views of the river — and we saw several freighters going by.

The hotel also sits right beside the town’s train station and bus station, with service back west to Quebec City and upriver (not very far) to La Malbaie. It was fun to see and hear the small train arrive.

I especially treasured how silent it was, and the delicious smell of woodsmoke.

We will miss this morning view, and look forward to a return visit.

Welcome to Usetaville

Our apartment building in Cuernavaca, Mexico where I lived at 14

By Caitlin Kelly

At a certain point in your life — after a few decades on earth, and especially if you know a specific location really well — you still see, and fondly remember, so many things that “used to” be there, hence usetaville.

In our Hudson Valley town, this includes long-gone antique stores, including the just-closed E-bike shop that used to be an antique store, the art gallery that used to be Alma Snape flowers and the photo studio that was once Mrs. Reali’s dry cleaners.

There’s a growing tree across our street I’ll never like as much as the towering weeping willow that once stood there, also long gone.

Of course, change is inevitable!

Businesses come and go — so many killed by the loss of customers in this pandemic — and in cities where every inch of real estate has commercial value, almost everything is up for grabs…the former three-chair hair salon I loved for many years is now part of the growing empire of two very successful local restaurateurs and the lovely cafe across Grove Street, formerly Cafe Angelique, has been a Scotch & Soda (a Dutch owned clothing chain) for a long time now. Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village of New York City, once a treasure trove of cool indie shops, is legendary for its rapid store turnover.

I enjoy reading the writing of British Airways pilot Mark VanHoenacker, who wrote recently in The New York Times about going back to see the interior of his childhood home in Massachusetts; he now lives in London.

A childhood home — if we lived in one house or apartment long enough and especially if our family has since moved out — may enclose a nearly undimmed set of early memories, as if its walls formed a time capsule we sealed behind us as we left. And if the possibility of retracing my flight from this Pittsfield house has both troubled and fascinated me for many years — if it’s what recently compelled me to write “Imagine a City,” a memoir and travelogue, and if even now I can’t decide whether to climb this darned staircase — well, my favorite stories remind me that I’m not alone as I grapple with the meaning of return.

I recall a scene from Marilynne Robinson’s novel “Home,” a modern rendition of the parable of the prodigal son, in which Jack — like me, the son of a clergyman — writes a letter: “Dear Father, I will be coming to Gilead in a week or two. I will stay for a while if that is not inconvenient.” After Jack walks into the kitchen for the first time in 20 years, his sister tells him, “The cups are where they always were, and the spoons.” I think, too, of Henry James’s Spencer Brydon in “The Jolly Corner,” who after 33 years abroad returns to his childhood home in New York and an encounter with a ghostly self who never left.

I haven’t been back to my earliest childhood home — on Castlefrank Road in Toronto — in many, many years. It was very big house with a long deep backyard and I still remember well my playmates who lived on either side of us. But I left it when my parents split up when I was six or seven and we moved into an apartment downtown. As a teenager I lived with my father for four years in a white house on a corner, easily visible when driving in Toronto, but have never asked to see it again inside.

So many changes!

I suspect these sorts of memories are very powerful if you spent a decade or more in the same home and if you liked living there. When we visit Montreal, our hotel windows overlook Peel and Sherbrooke — my home for a year at 3432 Peel Street in a brownstone — gone! My visits to Ben’s delicatessen a few blocks south — gone! But — hah! — the glorious Ritz Carlton is still there; we used to have Friday night dinners there when my mother hosted a TV talk show.

I lived for all off four months in an apartment in Cuernavaca, Mexico with my mother — and decades later went back to see how much it had changed, including the empty field next to it.

Not at all!

I had some difficult moments living there, but it was very good to revisit the place and see it again.

I’ve been back to my high school and university campus, both in my hometown of Toronto, and even once revisited my former summer camp, the one I attended every year ages 12-16 and loved.

Our town also holds a few 18th century buildings, including a stone church from 1685, the second oldest in New York state.

Do you have specific places that you remember well — now long gone?

Have you ever revisited your childhood home(s)? How was it?

Travel dreams

Big Sur coastline, California

By Caitlin Kelly

My California trip, solo, for the month of June, was a dream come true, something I had longed to do for many years.

Like you, perhaps, I still have some specific travel dreams, so it’s always a question of budget and time. I’m also not wild about any flight longer than six or seven hours — and now the places I haven’t yet seen are almost all long-haul flights, which means I’d likely stop halfway and stay for a day or two then take another four to six hour flight onward.

I’m really fortunate to have already visited most of Canada (except PEI, New Brunswick, Yukon, NT and Nunavut.) I’ve been to 33 of the 50 U.S. states — and not desperate to see the rest (OK, Colorado and Alaska, probably.) Have been to 41 countries, from Fiji to Peru to Turkey to Kenya, but (help!) there’s still so much more to see.

I occasionally read travel magazines, but am also a big fan of a weekly travel Twitterchat, #TRLT, which stands for The Road Less Traveled, and is run by a tour guide in Nairobi, Shane Dallas. It draws people from Dundee, Vancouver, India, and even Uzbekistan and Malawi. I learn a lot from it, and love sharing stories with people whose idea of a vacation is usually pretty adventurous and not just expensive luxury.

He lets us ask the questions, every week on a theme, which makes it more fun and democratic.

As readers here know, I’m pretty independent and not one for group trips or official tours. I would be highly unlikely to take a cruise unless it was a very small ship (and probably then our of my budget!) I hate being around large crowds (especially now with COVID and every emerging disease.)

My happiest vacations, and I tend to plan them carefully, usually combine spending some time in gorgeous landscapes/scenery with a chance to be active there, a hike or out on/in the water with, when possible, some sophisticated city time with shopping and a few great meals and some culture, whether a museum or gallery or concert.

I tend to be a high-low traveler — I’ve camped in a small tent at the Grand Canyon (not in it), have stayed in super elegant hotels like the Gritti Palace in Venice, had tea at the Ritz in London and cocktails at the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz in Paris, but was equally thrilled in Big Sur with a tiny room and shared bathroom and a burger and fries while staring at the San Gabriel Mountains at sunset.

It’s all about the experience!

My best trips, so far, include 21 days in Thailand, five separate visits to Ireland, many visits to various parts of France, (loved Corsica!!) and a great three-week, five-city Mexican adventure way back in 2005.

I speak good French and decent Spanish, so I love being able to use them.

Here are some of my dream trips:

Wadi Rum, Jordan

If you’ve seen the films Lawrence of Arabia and The Martian, you’ve seen the rust red landscape of Wadi Rum. Even the name! I’ve been following a WR tour guide on Twitter and now have a better idea what it could cost and how one even gets there. It’s easier to start planning (or not) once you do some research.

Morocco

My parents went, a cousin lived there and a friend who works nomadically lived there for a while. Not sure I would do it alone, but it has long intrigued me, especially the deserts, mountains and design esthetic.

Japan

I’ve been fascinated by Japan since I was small and my father went there to make a film about it. Many of my friends have visited and loved it. I’ve read a few books about it. I admit I’m intimidated by a 13 hour flight from NY to Tokyo and the reputed high costs of lodging. My only visit to Asia so far was to Thailand in 1994.

Namibia

Again, inspired by friends and their photos. So dramatic! (Have been to Kenya, Tanzania and Tunisia.)

Greece

Have never been — still! Especially interested in Crete and Corfu, but also the smaller islands.

Patagonia

Have you seen images of Torres del Paine? Whew!

Mongolia

I once did film research about it. Such an unusual place.

The Amazon

Fort Smith, Northwest Territories

Amazing aurora borealis and canoeing the Nahanni River.

Gros Morne, Newfoundland

Fjords!

Cornwall, Yorkshire and Northumberland, England

So gorgeous and rugged. I confess that watching the BBC series Poldark did it for Cornwall and All Creatures Great and Small for Yorkshire.

The Inner and Outer Hebrides

A young friend grew up there and returns frequently.

Iceland

I feel like I’m the only person left who hasn’t visited!

What are some of your dream trips and why?

A few post-vacation epiphanies

By Caitlin Kelly

The very best vacations — yes, always a luxury! — return us to normal life with some fresh ideas and insights, some new ways of thinking or behaving.

Maybe we tried a new form of exercise (hiking, biking, surfing, snorkel or scuba, kayaking).

Maybe some new foods.

Maybe we altered our daily rhythms, getting up much earlier to savor sunrise and cooler temperatures or staying up really late to enjoy local nightlife.

My month away, solo, driving coastal California, gave me much-needed solitude but also some fantastic opportunities to get to know my friends better, through long conversations, un-rushed, over a good meal or just sitting in the shade.

The best decision I made — and one I am keeping up now that I’m home: much less exposure to the news, especially the useless national nightly news on. American television which (apart from the PBS Newshour) is a tedious and predictable gorefest of violence and sticky sentimentality.

I didn’t watch TV news or listen to radio news once and my mood and outlook are much improved!

Yes, the world is going to hell. I do know that.

But marinating in it every day isn’t doing me any good either.

If it’s that crucial I will see it (and do) on Twitter.

I didn’t expect to, but I fell hard for California, and was checking real estate prices everywhere, both for purchase (hopeless!) and rentals, and am now looking for a way to rent for a month or more in L.A. and maybe also in Monterey, my two favorites.

I dropped my normal routines of spin class two to three times a week, and that felt good.

I’ve always hoped to retire to France, probably only part-time, so this new love of California is interesting — but French real estate, depending on the area, is so much more affordable, (and the euro is now on par with the U.S. dollar.) So we’ve got pleasant decisions at some point.

My best takeaway was just being out there all alone for a month. I’ve been traveling the world alone since I spent four months, at 22, visiting Portugal, Italy, France and Spain (most of it in Spain and Portugal.) It’s never scared me and I’ve never had a bad experience despite people insisting I’m “brave” to travel alone at length as a woman.

Refreshing my much-valued sense of independence was a great joy — but so was the lovely home and husband awaiting my return!

I hope you’ll all be able to take a restorative break.

California, concluded. Lots of photos!

By Caitlin Kelly

I loved stumbling into a farmer’s market in a suburban mall parking lot.

OK, I cried. It’s hard to drive an L.A. freeway while crying!

But it was painful to leave California and its stunning beauty and weather — I didn’t have even one rainy or cloudy day in 29 days in June, and I faithfully wore sunscreen but came home quite tanned!

Chinatown, San Francisco

I loved seeing 11 friends, in North California and in Southern California, some of whom I had never even met in person (Twitter, online writers’ groups, Facebook) and others I’ve known for decades. I “wasted” two sightseeing days (one in San Francisco and one in Los Angeles) with friends — just sitting for hours catching up and, of course, with lots of discussion about our work and goals in journalism. No “sight” could possibly have pleased me more.

I had 12 days — June 10 to 22 — completely alone, which never for an instant was lonely or boring; I’ve been traveling the world alone since I was 22, so I am not only used to it but really enjoy it.

I found these period Russian icons at Fort Ross so beautiful

Jose and I, like many people (and those with small children and pets) have been working in a one bedroom apartment since March 2020 and COVID — making the normal free options of our local large library impossible.

I needed out! I craved solitude! I wanted adventure and independence!

My late mother’s beloved Mousie, a perfect travel companion — at Julia Pfeiffer State Beach,

Big Sur

I stayed in six different kinds of lodging, none of which was disappointing — two renovated/attractive motels, one with a gorgeous, lush interior garden, free breakfast, laundry and a pool — and savored the luxury of a five-star hotel for my final five nights, The Langham in Pasadena. Its nightly price was less (!!) than my motel in Santa Barbara and worth 100 times the value: valet parking, multiple restaurants, pool, spa, concierge…you name it. My room had a fantastic view over their enormous gardens and the city below.

Looking down from impossibly twisty Route 1, Big Sur

Isn’t he great? The most treasured object in the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco

I loved the foliage!

I was also a terrible tourist — in Los Angeles, arriving with ambitious plans — I didn’t visit a single museum or sight. I did see glorious Union Station, had dinner at Musso & Frank, (open since 1919), and visit multiple neighborhoods: Little Tokyo, Hollywood Boulevard, Santa Monica, Pasadena, the Arts district. I loved seeing how people just live, driving around different neighborhoods; most middle class houses are small and one-level, but many have spectacular gardens and often are painted in delicious colors: deep blue, mustard, pale pink, olive, soft gray.

Couldn’t find(?!) a cake at the grocery store, so I had a birthday pie! Dinner at Canadian friends’

home in Oakland.

I was also a terrible non-hiker. With daily temperatures at 90 degrees or more, it felt like an unhealthy choice and, warned about ticks and rattlesnakes, thought better to return with proper hiking boots! I did a few flat hikes (2 miles) and that was good.

My tiny perfect bedroom at Deetjen’s

Big Sur, looking south

At the astonishing Monterey Aquarium

I can’t wait to go back.

Surprises

By Caitlin Kelly

One of the challenges of travel is choosing to enter and navigate unfamiliar territory — whether cultural, linguistic, meteorological, historical, political or geographic. It can make for some lovely, serendipitous discoveries along the way or that sinking feeling of whyyyyyyy?!

You always arrive with limited time and energy and a budget you hope won’t destroy you financially for months to come — unexpected costs and some splurges.

Some of this trip’s surprises, almost all pleasant:

The incredibly low price of taking Caltrain, the commuter rail of the Bay area — $1.75 one way, versus $15 one way for the same sort of system, Metro-North, in New York.

The relative ease of finding street parking in San Francisco.

Having pals notice my Facebook and Twitter posts saying “I’m in California” and reaching out to meet up for a meal — like my cousin who I hadn’t seen in decades!

That a small hotel room isn’t the issue if it’s quiet, safe and charming. It’s why I’ve avoided all chain hotels on this trip but also because even the usual reliables got such very very mixed reviews as I was making my decisions.

That today’s monstrous-sized vehicles, especially in any parking lot more than a decade old, let alone one from the 1960s or earlier, make parking and maneuvring safely a nightmare, sometimes with mere inches of clearance.

Gas prices in California (taxes) are about $6.69 a gallon, $2 more per gallon than New York.

No rest stops?! This has been the worst shock of all, when faced with 3-5 hour drives between locations. You really have to stay well hydrated with heat and glare….but there is nowhere to use a toilet except stopping, turning off the highway and hoping to find something clean nearby. (A local friend says they do exist, but not on the roads I took.)

That so many people from very very far away swooped into California to make their fortunes…like Russians?! Also, Sir Francis Drake?!!!

The reason the landscape here so resembles that of Mexico’s…it was Mexico before 1846.

There is much less history here in some places — beyond indigenous of course — than on the East Coast, where my town contains New York’s oldest church (1685.) The Santa Barbara Mission dates from 1786. It is making me re-think history.

I do poorly with a lot of heat or hours of direct sunlight, so my good friend Merrill very thoughtfully took us hiking at two coastal sites — very very windy but cool.

I was actually disappointed by the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, having seen, everywhere, much more beautiful and unusual plants in private or commercial gardens. I didn’t explore the whole 78 acres so I may have missed some true treasures.

I had no idea what astonishing plants and flowers grow here. I stop, stunned. almost every day by a cactus or tree or flower.

I had to backtrack two hours’ driving to Morro Bay for whale-watching but found the village (10,000 people) more intriguing than shiny, prosperous Santa Barbara. I enjoyed SB (and got a haircut and pedicure and did laundry there) but Morro Bay is marked by a huge mysterious 23 million year old volcanic rock that dominates the skyline.

I loved humpbacked whale-watching. How amazing to be surrounded by them, smelling their exhaled breath (fishy!) and watching them surface then dive. Their dives leave a telltale flat pool — a flukeprint!

I didn’t expect to like Morro Bay as much as more chi-chi Santa Barbara but I liked it a lot…a working fishing village. I especially loved waking to the barking of harbor seals and the low constant tone of the foghorn.

During my true alone time — June 10 to 22 — I’ve enjoyed some good conversations along the way with strangers: a gay couple from my area of NY; a woman whose job it is to find and chase people distributing illegal hazardous material; a young college graduate in search of life advice and a pastor of a tiny congregation who planted his church 30 years ago. I love hearing people’s stories!

Churches that are enormous windowless industrial looking boxes.

I certainly knew California is known for produce and agriculture — but not for cattle ranches, many of which I’ve seen along this trip, some more than 100 years old. It feels very Old West in so many places.

I’m enjoying this break but I miss my bed and my routines and my husband.

Now down to my final five days, and headed to Pasadena and Los Angeles, where I’ll be meeting up with several friends I know through social media.

Onward!

California, cont.: heading south on Route 1

In the 19th century, Fort Ross was run by Russians…some material remnants of their church

By Caitlin Kelly

My next stop south after Santa Rosa was the small town of Monterey, which I liked a lot…very easy to get around and I soon found the gorgeous main post office with its tiled WPA murals and a very good French patisserie next door! I mailed home some stuff I’m not using or wearing. I loved my pretty, large hotel room and the hotel restaurant (Casa Munras) served excellent tapas.

I really liked Monterey’s legendary Aquarium! Simply stunning, although not cheap — $50 admission and wayyyyyy too many children, infants and strollers. I immediately threw on a mask as the crowds were noisy and intense.

But what wonderful sights! The place is very large, with two floors, and everything from a HUGE octopus to jellyfish to sea turtles to sea otters, puffins and penguins. I loved that we could watch their three sea otters then stand on the balcony and use their powerful telescopes to watch them in the wild, floating nearby in kelp beds.

I also heard some distinctive bellowing — sea lions! It’s such a thrill to see these creatures in the wild…at the harbor.

I spent a few hours in Carmel, an extremely elegant small town with amazing shopping and the prettiest residential streets, many shaded by old-growth trees; a 10 minute drive from Monterey.

I loved this tiny room! So pretty, even though very very small, at Deetjen’s.

The Santa Lucia Mountains of Big Sur, late afternoon.

I then drove south on Route 1 — extremely twisty hairpin roads on very steep hills! — to Big Sur and Deetjen’s, a small hotel/inn created decades ago by a Norwegian man who made everything there out of wood. I absolutely loved it and my minuscule room, maybe 40 square feet?, called Petite Cuisine…as in, yes, it was a former kitchen so half the room was an old sink. But the room had plenty of charm, with three floral paintings, soft curtains, a quiet and efficient fan and the prettiest duvet. I shared 2 tiny bathrooms in that second-floor section with four other rooms.

It was all worth it and was (at midweek prices) the least expensive room ($100/night) of this entire trip. I loved everything about Big Sur and have only seen such astonishing beauty in 3 other places: Corsica, Ireland and Thailand.

The Santa Lucia Mountains slope very steeply there to the turquoise Pacific, crashing against jagged rocks beneath wind-twisted cypress trees. There are dozens of roadside mailboxes…residents living very high above the road or very low below it. Lucky them!

Here are some of the many hikes and beaches locally…I visited two of them and hope to do others on a return visit.

I treated myself to an elegant and delicious lunch just north up the road at the Post Road Inn, where rooms are –yes — $1,000 a night. And another night I had nachos and beer at the Taphouse, and tried to avoid the predations of the Stellers’s jays, who are both very distinctive and quite confident!

It’s hard to explain how deeply seductive and alluring Big Sur is…like the other landscapes that have moved me to tears, it feels utterly timeless and wild. You simply cannot go fast! Road signs warn that if you have five vehicles behind you you must pull off into one of the many “turnouts” and let them pass — like a school bus and the garbage truck! Two local elementary schools are named (!) the Apple Pie School and Captain Cooper’s; older students have a long (gorgeous!) bus ride south to Cambria or north to Carmel.

On the road south I pulled over to see a beach covered with sea elephants. Amazing!

I’m now in Santa Barbara for three days, then back to Morro Bay hoping to see whales, then the final leg — Laguna Beach and Pasadena. Can’t wait for the Santa Monica Airport flea market the morning of June 26! The one I’d hoped to visit near San Francisco was rained out. The two sights here I plan to see are the Botanic Garden and the Santa Barbara Mission — then a visit to nearby Montecito, home to wealthy celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Harry and Meghan.

I was last in Santa Barbara as a university student, visiting my late great-aunt whose lovely house faced the ocean on one side and a lemon grove on the other.

I’ve also been tending to basic maintenance after 17 days on the road: doing all that sweaty laundry at a laundromat, and getting a haircut and a pedicure. Feels so good!

On the road in coastal California

By Caitlin Kelly

Thanks to my late mother’s generosity, to celebrate a landmark birthday, I’m able to afford a trip I’ve dreamed of for decades.

My husband is at home in New York, working, so I’m on my own — my first solo road trip in five years; my last big trip, in 2017, was six weeks alone in Europe, visiting six countries.

Not a great shot — but a typical SF home — ornate and gorgeous colors

The Asian Art Museum is terrific

San Francisco’s Chinatown is legendary and historic

I flew into San Francisco, where I was fortunate to have a friend to stay with for six nights and a fellow Canadian there hosted us for my birthday, June 6. It was lovely — four of us in a tree-shaded backyard eating Indian food and a birthday pie (the grocery store had no cake...?!)

I started north out of San Francisco across the Golden Gate bridge, shrouded in fog, with three pelicans hovering nearby in formation.

I stayed two nights at a gorgeous inn, with only seven rooms, an imitation of an English inn, called The Pelican. From there, it’s an easy 15 minute walk to Muir Beach or an hour’s drive to Pt. Reyes National Seashore. The drive there was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen — but scary! Extremely twisty, with very steep potential plunges into the ocean.

Driving these very narrow roads without shoulders is challenging enough — but you’re also sharing them with slow cyclists and fast motorcyclists and very impatient locals.

The landscape of Marin County is legendary: golden rolling hills, ocean waves breaking across ragged gray rocks. I watched a group of very young kids, all in wetsuits, pile into the water for their surfing lesson.

In Novato, I caught up with another old friend whose home I had never visited, and admired her enormous, beautiful hillside garden.

The beauty here is simply stunning — lush vegetation with Spanish moss hanging from trees, tall eucalyptus, bright wildflowers. I saw two deer, two herons and a coyote.

The views at Inverness were beyond…truly a dream. So I Googled “homes for sale” and all were $1m plus. Of course!

I drove through Dogtown — population 30 — and had a powerful memory of seeing it on my last visit, really just a roadside sign. It’s so isolated that residents are taken to the hospital by helicopter.

Me and Charlie Brown! In Santa Rosa there is a Charles Schulz Museum. So fun!

An astonishing cliffside/oceanside road, Route 1, brings you to Fort Ross, from the early

19th century — a site built by early Russians who made their fortunes here.

My itinerary moved north to Santa Rosa to visit a friend there, then I’m really on my own, heading south to Monterey, Big Sur, Morro Bay, Santa Barbara, Laguna Beach and Pasadena where I’ll start meeting up again with pals in L.A..

I’ve been to San Francisco five times (last visit 2012), Los Angeles maybe twice (last visit 2000.)

Unlikely but true — my last visits to each city were on assignment and fully paid (SF, a story about Google for The New York Times) and in L.A., a profile for the in-flight magazine of Southwest Airlines, Southwest Spirit, of New York designer David Rockwell, who designed the highly theatrical interior of the Dolby Theatre (where the Oscars are awarded); the story never ran.

I visited Santa Barbara when I was still in university in Toronto — and was so impressed by its beauty. I went to stay with and get to know my late great-aunt, whose house faced both the ocean and a lemon grove. I have always wanted to return…It’s home to many celebrities, like Oprah Winfrey and Harry and Meghan.

My goals this time?

No work!


I already have a dinner date at an L.A. classic, Musso & Frank — also featured in my favorite cop show, Bosch. I’m hoping to make a Bosch dive bar tour, but we’ll see. I admit, having binged all seven seasons of Bosch, and the first season of Bosch Legacy, a visit to L.A. started to feel more compelling — the show is filmed there, much of it on location.

A North Ontario cottage visit — bliss!

By Caitlin Kelly

If you grew up in a place you loved, and have since moved (far) away, the landscape is an indelible part of your history.

It is for my husband Jose, who misses the Sangre de Cristo mountains of his native New Mexico.

It is for me, the very specific landscape of what’s known as the Canadian Shield, a northern part of the country with slabs of red granite, wind-bent pine trees and lots of wildlife.

Evidence of beavers!

I was lucky enough to attend Ontario summer camps ages 8-16, so this landscape is full of happy memories for me, and also not easy to return to.

I was invited for the long weekend to a friend’s cottage, reachable only by motorboat — which was filled with 6 adults, a cat (in a cage), a large black dog and everyone’s stuff and food for all of us for three days. What an adventure!

Even navigating through those waters — Georgian Bay — meant somehow avoiding hundreds of rocks and shoals. Impressive!

We stayed in a separate cabin, called a bunkie…but no heat! That meant sleeping in a wool hat, wool scarf, wool socks and buried beneath a massive Hudson Bay wool blanket.

But also — amazing stars at night, with no light pollution.

I sat on the dock one morning at 6:00 a.m. and saw a beaver swimming past, a loon and two minks. That was cool!

It was also so cold I could see my breath and watched mist rising from the warmer waters into the colder air.

The silence was absolute — only the wind in the pines.

There are a few things I miss a lot about Canada…and this weekend ticked all the boxes:

old friends

new friends

wildlife

a spectacular landscape

clear skies

boat rides

delicious dinners

no agenda at all

It was a difficult return to the U.S. the day after the latest massacre, this time in Texas, and of small children.

(I started that day looking, once more, at real estate in France. No, not kidding.)

The re-connection tour

By Caitlin Kelly

This week, I’m back in Toronto — where I lived ages 5 to 30 — and Jose is in Pennsylvania visiting his sister and brother-in-law. He’s having a great time.

I hadn’t been back in 2.5 years, and usually visit once or twice every year, so it’s been too long. COVID obviously made it difficult to impossible. I’m very lucky to be able to stay with a friend as Toronto hotels are now prohibitive as well.

I’m catching up with people from my past — one, even a very good friend from high school, one I met later in life, one I’ve known since my early 20s, one a fellow former journalist against whom I competed (!) covering a Royal Tour in the 80s. One is the former partner of one of my half-brothers, someone I adore.

These are all people with whom I have a lot of shared history and culture and experiences.

I miss them!

I do love my life in New York — but America right now is such a dumpster fire of violence and racism and misogny and people in politics who are so toxic I can’t even bear to look at them.

(Canada also has plenty of issues as well, no question.)

When you leave your country of origin — even one speaking the same language as your new country — you do leave a lot behind. People don’t get your musical or literary or TV references. They don’t know your national anthem. They can’t even name the capital of your country. They’ve never heard of your alma mater, only the only Canadian one they’ve heard of instead.

Americans are deeply incurious!

It’s so comforting to be with people who “knew you when”:

— as a driven/ambitious high school student

— same in university

— same in my 20s!

But who also know your family and/or their complicated history and how it affects you still.

It’s so comforting to just pick up again, even after 2.5 years, without much preamble. I stay in fairly close touch with a few of them through phone calls and emails. This was also a relief as a recent visit in NYC to friends there felt more strained and distant.

Because Canadians probably move around a lot less than Americans, I know people will still be here, not gone to a distant city — Toronto is the center of many industries and if you don’t speak good French, Montreal can be more difficult.

It’s been a glorious time to be in the city — every lilac bush fragrant, every tree in white or purple or pink blossom.

I get around only by bus, a 40-minute ride from midtown to my friend’s quiet street, and their home, literally a block from the edge of Lake Ontario.

I needed this.