Archive of ‘Travel’ category

Traveling During a Pandemic

In late June I went to North Dakota to visit family. Ordinarily a trip like this would be just another plane ride, a few meals out, some social functions, some events, then a plane ride back home. However, this trip was during a pandemic, so things were a bit different. I am originally from Eastern Montana and have quite a lot of family in Western North Dakota as well as in Montana, but I live in Texas. At the beginning of 2020 the plan was to take Simon to Montana for a fun week of fox hunting culminating in attending the World Famous Bucking Horse Sale. Coronapocolypse changed those plans (as well as myriad others) causing the fox hunting and the BHS to be canceled. I still wanted to see family this year and it’s a milestone birthday year for me and my Mom, so we settled on 4th of July weekend when more of my family would be in town. To prepare for my trip I only went to work, the feed store and did curbside pickup for groceries for two weeks leading up to the trip. Since I was coming from a known hotspot of cases I absolutely did not want to risk exposure.

It seemed weird to take pictures in airports and on airplanes, so you’ll have to just take my word for the experience and enjoy some lovely photos of North Dakota. Texas has been experiencing a significant spike in COVID-19 cases, but when I left there still were not masks required except in certain cities or counties. Nearly everyone I saw at DFW airport was wearing a mask and wearing their masks correctly. I saw a couple people doing that weird thing where they have their mask over their mouth, but not their nose. I avoided those people. The airline required all passengers to wear masks and from what I could see all passengers abided by the rules. People always say the air on airplanes is bad, but with the HEPA filters and rotating air out and into the plane I’ve always believed them to actually be safer than say a classroom or small nail salon. At least the air moves and is filtered!

The airport in North Dakota was a very different story. Only a few people wore masks outside of the secure area for boarding. North Dakota was not seeing anywhere near the spike in cases that other states were seeing. The area to where I traveled has had very few cases, so the locals were noticeably lax about masks and social distance. It felt very odd to me.

I don’t recall seeing these before, but we drove by lots of fields of canola. They were SO pretty!

 

I spent most of my time in small rural areas with my family and the only place I regularly saw people wearing masks was at the grocery stores. Some retail stores had signs and were limiting the number of shoppers, but things really looked like business as usual. I did notice that most store employees were wearing masks, especially at stores that were large, national chains.

We hiked up to this pond on a lovely North Dakota summer day. I’d go back there in a heartbeat to get away from these triple digit temps in Texas!

One very interesting horsey tidbit was a rodeo we attended. It was a PRCA rodeo and it was during the 4th of July weekend, which is referred to as Cowboy Christmas. The weekend is called Cowboy Christmas, not the actual rodeo. In a normal year cowboys and cowgirls will travel all over the United States going to 4th of July rodeos on the weekend of the 4th in hopes of winning money towards their qualification for the National Finals Rodeo in December. This year was a VERY odd year for 4th of July rodeos and there were only 6 or 7 rodeos to attend in the entire United States when there are usually dozens to pick from. That meant that the rodeo we attended in a generally sleepy rural town was the biggest rodeo of its 97 year history! It ran almost non-stop for 3 days so that everyone who entered could compete. I grew up going to 4th of July rodeos, so it was pretty fun to attend one with all the current rodeo greats in attendance from all over the U.S. As for corona prevention, it was a pretty safe venue in that there were not many spectators and it was outdoors. Attendees brought their own picnic blankets or chairs to watch the action.

This picture is in one of the grocery stores we visited. Ray Schnell was my great grandfather!

By the time I headed back to Texas the Governor had issued a requirement for people in counties with more than 20 cases to wear masks. My flight back to Texas was very full, I don’t think any seats were empty. Everyone was wearing a mask on the flight and when I got to DFW hardly anyone was there (thankfully) and everyone was wearing a mask. The lack of people made it easy to keep social distance, which I was grateful for because I checked a bag and had to wait a bit for it to get to baggage claim. I also parked my car at the gate rather than in the Express or Remote parking areas to limit the amount of time I had to be in close quarters with other people. The parking garage was more full than I thought it would be, so perhaps travel has picked up a bit.

Another pond where we went hiking. No one thinks of this when they think of North Dakota, but it really is a beautiful state with very diverse terrain.

All in all I’m glad I went, it was really lovely to see so many of my family members. If my travel plans had been later in the summer I might have changed them due to the continuing spike in cases in Texas. Many of the family members I was visiting are over 60 and while they are generally a very healthy bunch, I’d feel awful if I was an asymptomatic carrier and got them sick. I felt like the airlines and airport did a good job of upholding CDC and state/local guidelines. I’m sticking to my pre-travel self-quarantine for a bit and only going to work, the feed store and doing curbside groceries. Just to be safe. And I’m really glad I went to a place that is MUCH cooler than Texas in the summer and had a very local COVID diagnosis rate.

No trip to North Dakota in the summertime is complete without a trip to the Medora Musical. They were selling seats with built in social distance and running two shows each evening to allow more people to attend with the limited number of seats. And those are real horses and riders on that hill!!! 

Longchamp (not the handbag)

To continue our horse-centric French rendezvous we made a day of going to the horse races at the Hippodrome de Longchamp.

Longchamp 4

I have a love/hate relationship with horse racing. I love the stories of horses like Seabiscuit and see them at the track in person, but I’ve been close enough to the sport to know that racehorses are to most of their owners and handlers (I know there are exceptions) not much different from cattle. Once they are done, for whatever reason, they are gotten rid of in the quickest and most lucrative fashion. I’ve seen my fair share of legs broken on the racetrack and my dad ran a stockyards when it was legal to sell horses to the killers in the US. Quite a lot of the horses on those trailers were from the track. However, there is a spirit in many thoroughbreds that nothing can fulfil other than racing. It is powerful to watch such majestic creatures run their hearts out because it is what they were bred to do. It was with that spirit that I found myself at Longchamp.

It was easy to tell the moment we laid eyes on the horses in the paddock that they were extremely well kept. Their coats glistened, their hooves were shiny and, to our surprise, most all of their manes were braided. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a racehorse (in person) in the US with it’s mane braided. Their tails were also thick and banged (cut bluntly). I definitely have not seen many American racehorses with a nice tail! The paddock itself was lovely. Lots of green grass and beautiful flower beds.

The paddock at Longchamp

The paddock at Longchamp

One of the differences between French and American horse racing that first struck me was the lack of pony horses. At all tracks in the U.S. racehorses are led onto the track, while on the track and often when leaving the track on pony horses. Meaning that someone riding another horse leads the racehorse. Pony horses are usually calm and put up with a lot of racehorse shenanigans. There was not a pony horse in sight at the French racecourse. The first race we watched were three-year-olds and they walked, pretty calmly I might add, from the paddock to the racetrack all by themselves. Most had a human handler or groom walking alongside, but they were pretty much on their own.

Headed to the track

Headed to the track

The other difference was that the track at Longchamp is turf (grass). All of the Triple Crown races in the U.S. are run on dirt tracks. Most American tracks have a turf track, but more often run on the dirt. I thought it was a curious difference. The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe race is run at Longchamp and is the second richest race in the world. The turf does make for a much lovelier view than does dirt. At first it made me a bit nervous because grass can be very slippery. In none of the races we watched did any of the horses have issues with the footing, thankfully.

Running on the turf around the bend to the homestretch

Running on the turf around the bend to the homestretch

We stayed for six of the eight or nine races being run the day we attended. We were there on a Monday afternoon so the stands were rather empty. We noticed a few other tourists, but most of the spectators were men and were betting. We had hoped to have a lovely picnic on the grass in the infield, but we couldn’t figure how to get to the infield so we settled in stands and enjoyed getting to watch the horses and general racetrack activity.

A small crowd made for great views, up close and personal.

A small crowd made for great views, up close and personal.

My favourite part of each race was how calmly and orderly the horses left the track. The jockeys would ride them about 1/8 further down the track than the finish line, then turn their horses around and canter back to the same gate from which they rode onto the field. None of the horses jigged or pranced as they left the track in a single file line back to the paddock. I’m not sure that my 7-year-old thoroughbred (whom has never run a race in his life) would have done it so calmly.

Calmly leaving the track after running a good race.

Calmly leaving the track after running a good race.

All in all it was an enlightening and enjoyable experience. The horses were gorgeous, the racing was good and the weather was absolutely perfect. The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe was to be run a few weeks after our trip. It would be fun to see one of the fancy races in Europe, but I’ll hold out for Ascot one of these trips.

American Tourists in Paris

Paris in less than four days; do it! We did! WAY before our trip we had a few “planning” dinners at Saint-Emilion in Fort Worth. We felt the authentic French atmosphere really helped us get into the groove to plan our trip in France. The amazing food and wine was just an extra added bonus. We agreed that we weren’t going to focus on doing the most Parisy of Paris things while we were there. No Eiffel Tower. No Louvre. No love lock bridge. Our focus was on horses and fashion and eating. However, we did happen to fit a few touristy items into the agenda. My partner in travel had been to Paris within the last year and had some destinations undiscovered that she wanted to experience so we focused on a couple highlights and let the rest fall into place.

In keeping with our hunting theme we first headed to the Musee de la Chasse et de la Nature (Museum of Hunting and Nature). Other than the arbitrary contemporary art exhibit that was there on a temporary basis, this is my favourite museum ever. Small enough to get through, but interesting enough to spend hours. I feel like I could go there 5 times and immerse myself in a completely different part of the museum every time. It had incredible hunting art, guns and knives, taxidermy and fantastic explanations of the focus of hunting through French history. Our most favourite was Reynard sleeping in a chair.

Reynard is an often used name for the fox being hunted by hounds.

Reynard is an often used name for the fox being hunted by hounds.

After our few hours at the Musee de la Chasse et de la Nature we decided to do the touristy of touristing and visit the Notre Dame. We were visiting on a Sunday and, to my delight, were able to go during mass. I felt tacky touring through the Notre Dame during an actual religious mass, but it was well worth the visit. You can’t help but feel some kind of spiritual presence in such a magnificent building. The mass was in French, but the emotion of the priest was palpable without fully understanding the words he was saying. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to hit the tourists being disrespectful and talking as they walked around the building.

Inside the Notre Dame during a Sunday Mass

Inside the Notre Dame during a Sunday Mass

Destination number three for the day was the Luxemburg Gardens. Have I mentioned how perfect the weather was during our entire trip? Lots of overcast skies, but nary a drop of rain and the delightful temperature almost every day of around 72F. PERFECT weather to visit parks and gardens. We knew before going that Luxemburg Gardens are home to one of, if not THE, oldest carousels in the whole wide world. My Mom LOVES carousels so I really wanted to see it during our visit. We wandered around the entire garden and watched at the adorable pond where kids were sailing little sailboats around and people were camped around in the grass with picnics. There were a lot of picnickers in Luxemburg Gardens. We came across this breathtaking bronze of some stags. With the green grass and sharp colours we had to get a photo.

Stag family in Luxemburg Garden

Stag family in Luxemburg Garden

We followed the sounds of a plethora of energetic kids to find the carousel. It was much smaller than I imagined it would be and there was no one around it. There were signs that said 1.5Euro, but the gates were closed, not locked, and no one seemed to be attending the ride. While the gates were closed, they were not locked, so we took it upon ourselves to open the gates and head in to get a closer view and photos. Just in time for a small Asian man to come hustling out of a little room and chastise us for going through the gate. It was hilarious! I thought he was telling us no photos, but turns out he was telling us no rides (or something like that). There was no way I was going to try to ride one of those tiny carousel horses, but it makes for a funny story. Right?! Interestingly, all the tails from the carousel animals have been removed. Perhaps from age the have fallen out over the years, or were taken off for reasons of durability.

Very old carousel at the Luxemburg Gardens in Paris

Very old carousel at the Luxemburg Gardens in Paris

We headed back towards our hotel and opted to wander down the Champs Elysees. Let me tell you, it is highly overrated. Full of American chain stores and overrated “high” fashion. My favourite part of the Champs Elysees was the car removal we watched. They evidently don’t tow cars like we do in USA, which I can understand considering the narrowness of most streets. However, I can’t say I’d be all that confident in this guy moving my car from it’s parking space. He bumped the sides and bumpers of this poor chap’s car a few times before he finally got it out and situated on the trailer. Nevermind the large crowd that gathered to watch. It was pretty hilarious.

This is how your car gets towed in Paris

This is how your car gets towed in Paris