YouTube recently reminded me that it’s been about a year since Lauren and I returned to Champaign-Urbana and took a 172 out over the city. We visited one of my favorite teachers, and also had dinner with the parents of one of my very best friends from childhood. We walked the rows of apple trees at Curtis Orchard and watched the staff at Prairie Gardens begin to unpack Christmas decorations.
After spending Christmas Day with family and overindulging in an all-day marathon of Italian cooking, we were anxious to get out and stretch our legs. The forecast called for an afternoon snowstorm, so early this morning we ventured to Longs Peak Trailhead and set out on an easy hike to Eugenia Mine. This trail is located about nine miles south of Estes Park on Highway 7. The trail was only lightly populated with hikers. The thick snow allowed us to study animal tracks along the route. The trail to the abandoned mine is 1.4 miles and is only a slight elevation gain of about 1,000 feet. Upon reaching the mine we were met by two Gray Jays that we’re especially playful, first allowing us to take pictures at close range and finally landing on my outreached hand. This was a fun and easy hike.
We spent the morning of Christmas Eve on the Gem Lake Trail located outside of Estes Park. The hike to Gem Lake is an intermediate 1.7 miles from the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead. The trail was well populated and the spirit was festive and light. Hikers encouraged each other in a variety of dialects and wished Merry Christmases to each other in passing. A light snow briefly dusted us upon our arrival to Gem Lake, which was frozen solid. Gaggles of hikers played on the ice and posed for photos. We took refuge on a rock, rested and hydrated by eating snow. The uphill segment took a total of 75 minutes while the downhill return took about 60.
It’s cold in Boston. We spent the weekend with my sister and brother-in-law visiting my niece at Cambridge. This year’s Harvard vs. Yale football game was held at Fenway Park. My first time there. I regret not getting a picture of the clam chowder vendors walking the stands. Harvard 45, Yale 27.
I recently visited my hometown of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. I haven’t been back nearly enough. Some things haven’t changed. Other things have changed a lot. I got to spend time with a few people who were deeply influential to me while growing up. I took Lauren to see some of my childhood homes, and we saw a Lyle Lovett show at the Virginia Theater. Incidentally, we ran into Lovett at the Austin Airport while leaving for Champaign. He spoke with us for a few moments and seemed as stunned as we were that we were all on our way to the same show. Everything you’ve ever heard about him is true.
I made a point to rent an airplane and go flying. Urbana’s Frasca Field is where my dad bought me a plane ride when I was nine or ten years old. It was a cosmic experience for me. I got checked out in a Cessna 172 at Central Illinois Aviation, and the next day took Lauren for an aerial tour of the area. We went out over endless miles of corn and soybean, then turned in and did an aerial tour of the campus and cities.
Later, we took in the University of Illinois homecoming game against Purdue. We walked through West Side Park on several evenings, and I caught myself missing this place.
This is our second trip to Italy. We visited last year and couldn’t resist returning. This year we visited Florence and Siena before settling into our rental in Rome’s Trastevere. My sister Holly joined us, and it was nice to share the experience as a family.
Siena is a two-hour train ride from Florence. The countryside is inviting, and we see many small towns and their people. Siena is a nice change from Florence. We’re still among fellow tourists, but I feel less threats from pickpockets. A polizia strolls alongside us on the Piazza del Campo, and her smile is welcoming.
We eat lunch on the piazza, and buy stationary and a soup ladle made of olive wood from the Chianti region. We take the train back to Florence, and stop at a small grocery store to take indinner supplies: bread, prosciutto, anchovies, tomatoes, and bufala mozzarella.
The next morning, a high speed train takes us to Rome’s Termini.
One of my favorite things to do in Rome is walk along the banks of the Tiber River. There’s magnificent stillness and light along the river like I’ve never seen.
Alessio is our favorite restaurant in Rome. On multiple occasions we’ve eaten there on consecutive nights. We take in obvious sites: the Coloseum, the Pantheon, and we stop in a number of basilicas to light candles and rest our feet.
March provided a great opportunity for us to spend time at Chicago Cubs training camp in Arizona. This year we took in games at Surprise, Scottsdale, and of course, Mesa, which houses the Cubs’ new Sloan Park facility. While the Cubs had a rough spring, they’re favored for a World Series run this year.
Spring training is an interactive experience; fans have the opportunity to watch batting practice up close and visit with coaches, trainers and former players. A number of stars make appearances (we met Andre Dawson, Gaylord Perry, and Fergie Jenkins over several days — Check out the pictures below).