Bonne année 2020!

2019 was our seventh year in France, the last year of the decade, our 30th wedding anniversary, each of our 50th high school reunions, the 50th anniversary of my swearing in at the Naval Academy, the 30th anniversary of my taking command of USS Buffalo (SSN-715), the 50th anniversary of Woodstock and the moon landing, 30th Anniversary of the pyramid at the Louvre, and so many other things. Our 30th Anniversary lunch at Paris Le Cinq served to celebrate this confluence of epochs and events. 

Brenda and Beth head towards the finish line in the 2019 Bloomsday
Brenda and Beth head towards the finish line in the 2019 Bloomsday race.

We spent a lot of time visiting family this year. Brenda visited her mom Beth in Spokane three times (and I went too in May). Beth was the only finisher in the over 90 age group (among 45,000 race entrants) in this year’s Bloomsday 12k Road Race. We’re proud of her ability to continue living independently. Brenda and I finished the race too, though we weren’t near the top of our class. During our visits to Spokane we did lots of yard work and other things to help out. We visited friends in Poulsbo during our May trip and spent a few days graciously hosted by Randi Strong Petersen and Dick Soderstrom. In April we were in Poulsbo for Brenna Berquam’s law school graduation party at Kiana Lodge. That event earns party of the year.

My grand nephew Caedan hoping that I'll be able to hang on.
My grand nephew Caedan hoping that I’ll be able to hang on.

I went back to Peoria, IL, for my 50th reunion, but on the way I resolved to visit my nieces and my nephew, who are spread throughout the midwest. So I started by traveling to Leavenworth, KS, to visit my niece Tanya, husband Dan, and their son Caedan – 5 months old at the time. In addition, I visited the Army Post at Fort Leavenworth, studied the history of how the American West was developed, and had a great time.

Then I traveled to Rossford, OH to see my niece Tiffany with son Wulff (5) and daughter Alexis (almost 2). One day we went walking on a raised trail over a restored portion of the Great Black Swamp, which once extended hundreds of miles from the shores of Lake Erie in Ohio into central Indiana. It was a joy to see how the kids enjoyed playing outside and learning about the world.

John and Cathy von Allmen
John and Cathy von Allmen

On my return I stopped for the night near the Ohio border at cousin John von Allmen’s. He and wife Cathy hosted dinner for my cousins Mark and Nova, Amy and Chip, and also Mark’s daughter Abigail.

Alex on the campus of Epic Systems - Alice in Wonderland.
Alex on the campus of Epic Systems – Alice in Wonderland.

Then I visited my nephew Alex in Madison, Wisconsin. Alex works as a software engineer for Epic Systems, a medical software company somehow not located in Silicone Valley. Chances are your nearest major medical center uses their software. Alex took me on a tour of their campus, which was a fantasy world in itself. For me that was quite a treat.

I traveled to Pekin, IL, to visit my niece Tasha, husband Dustin, their daughter Emma (4), and son Jordan (9 months). Along the way I stopped by the former homes and graves of my grandparents in Davenport, IA, and my parents in Peoria. Tasha and Dustin took me to my first Morton Pumpkin Festival, where I had as much fun as the kids.

At my 50th reunion, contest to see which classmate traveled the farthest: I won by a few miles.

My 50th high school reunion was wonderful. On the one hand, there were many whom I’d hoped to see who didn’t show. On the other hand, it was great no matter. All credit to Debbie Dew for persevering to hold everything together. Peoria is where I grew up with the same group of kids all through school, an experience dear to me. It still feels like home.

We traveled elsewhere this year, starting with our February trip to Egypt with our French friends Cat and Jacques. Also in April we spent a weekend in London with Cat and Jacques. In July we went to Portugal, first some days in Porto with our Australian friends Dean and Alison, whom we were meeting for our fifth vacation together in Europe. Then on to Tavira in the south of Portugal where we met our friends Kelly and Linda, whom we had first met in Poulsbo, but who had retired to Portugal after living for years in New Mexico. Tavira had a small town atmosphere – everybody seemed to know everybody in the neighborhood.

Brenda becomes part of the art at Nice's Museum of Modern Art.
Brenda becomes part of the art at Nice’s Museum of Modern Art.

In August we spent a week in Nice, our 3rd year in a row staying in a friend’s apartment in the heart of the city. It’s our way of joining the many Parisians who leave the city during “le grand départ”.

In October we met our friend Martha in beautiful Vienna for a few days, then took the train with her to Berlin. Martha was on her quest to see all the worldly works of Pieter Bruegel, so we visited numerous museums in both cities. I had studied Carl Schorske’s Fin de Siècle Vienna to learn about the fascinating politics and culture in Vienna at the turn of the 20th Century. In Berlin we saw how most of the redevelopment since Germany’s reunification was in the eastern part. We met friends of Martha who told us about the isolation and sense of community that was in the old West Berlin during the Cold War. They told us of once being trapped in East Germany after breaking their car’s fan belt on their drive home from Denmark. They finally found someone to make a temporary fan belt using a nylon stocking to allow their return to West Berlin. Martha took us to see Rigoletto at the Berlin Opera, which was wonderful. I’ve barely touched on all that we saw in each of these cities.

Notre Dame before the great fire
Notre Dame before the great fire

We saw numerous visitors passing through Paris. We met our friend Niké Panta with her mother and sister visiting from Hungary at Notre Dame in the afternoon of the April day when the cathedral burned, though we only learned of the fire upon our return home. Seattle friend Laurie Grieg stayed with us for a few days in June, and Mary McAlhany visited while I was in the US in September. We also saw Steve and Linda Ingram, Brian Young, Dennis and Peggy Paige, Jennifer and Joe Bencharsky, Ann Randall, and no doubt some others whom I’ve failed to mention.

There’s always lots to do in Paris – to name a few of the events we experienced: the orchid show at Jardin des Plantes, Nuit Blanche (parade with museums open all night – we went to the Picasso Museum), a tour of the French Sénat, Salon d’agriculture, Salon du Chocolate, the impressionist collection of the British entrepreneur and art patron Samuel Courtauld at Fondation Louis Vuitton (which hadn’t been shown in Paris for 60 years), the Van Gogh exhibit at Ateliers des Lumieres, Fête de la Musique (first day of summer), a 4th of July picnic with American friends by the Seine, Bastille Day Fireworks at the Eiffel Tower, Journées du Patrimoine where I toured the Banque de France, the Leonardo De Vinci Exhibit at the Louvre, Maison de Balzac (newly reopened) and several residences designed by Le Courbusier, lighting of the Holiday decorations on the Champs Elysées, and a Christmas chorale and bell concert at the American Church. We’ve tried doing more historical walks both inside Paris and on day trips outside to places like Giverny, Poissy, and Créteil. Brenda has a whole host of other activities she has pursued with friends, including Adrian Leeds, Fran Michalek, Kate Miller, and Anne Daignault.

We celebrated Thanksgiving twice, first with American friends on Thanksgiving, then with French friends a couple weeks later. We’ve gone to the movies and dinner most Sundays throughout the year with our friends Cat and Jacques, who also invited us into their home for Christmas and other occasions with their family. We’ve also enjoyed spending time with other friends in Paris, including Anna Cooper, Eric and Carole Taieb, Pascale Velleine, Betty Brohan, Danielle Robert, and Alex Ultrabright.

Our Poulsbo friend Barb has been visiting over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, and despite the transit strike and protests that have somewhat crippled transportation in France this year, we were able to slip away for an overnight in Strasbourg to see the Christmas markets.

We were supposed to spend New Year’s eve at a party of French friends in Vincennes, east of Paris. The Paris transport strike closed most metro stations, so we set out at about 6:30pm to walk about 2km to the nearest open station, Frankllin Roosevelt. However, it was New Year’s Eve and 100,000 police had been deployed to control the huge crowd expected to celebrate on the Champs Élysées. There was a police barrier and they sent us away, telling us to walk around the Grand Palais to the station Champs-Élysées-Clemenceau, probably another 1km. Before arriving there, we came to another barrier where the police directed us to the next station, Concord, another 2km. Traffic was backed up everywhere. Taking a taxi or Uber was out of the question. We arrived at Concord, and, after venturing to 4 different entry points, we concluded it was closed too. We called our friends and said there was no way we could get to Vincennes. Then we trudged home with our cheesecake, now properly chilled, and our champagne. In all we walked about 10km in 2 hours in uncomfortable shoes. We celebrated at home by having some pasta with some cheesecake and some port, then settled in to watch a classic French film called the Rules of the Game (La règle de jeu), a parody of corrupt French society of the late 1930’s. Suddenly it was midnight.

My New Year’s resolution: to produce more posts to this blog through reduced research, less reflexion, and probably more errors. We’ll see how that goes.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you! Here is something to ring in the new year.


Add Yours
  1. Jane woodward

    Brilliant writing Hugh enjoy every word. Miss you both thanks for sharing your stories. Happy 2020 to Brenda and Hugh

  2. Jim Jannette

    Hugh and Brenda,

    Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful letter/blog/newsletter. Enjoyed each and every experience you shared. What a blessing to be living this incredible experience. Wishing you continued happiness for 2020 and beyond.


    • Hugh Nelson

      Bonne année Jim and thanks for the very kind comments. Brenda and I wish you the very best in 2020. Hope all is going well for you.

    • Hugh Nelson

      Bonne année Don! Brenda and I think of you often and wish you and Kathy the best in the coming year. See you in April or May.

  3. Pat Ryan

    This is a terrific read, Hugh. You must have kept a very full calendar with excellent notes. So good to hear from you (and so current!). We look forward to your next visit to Poulsbo Rotary, Matt joins me In wishing you a happy New Year,.
    All the best,

    • Hugh Nelson

      Merci Pat and bonne année to you and to Matt! Hope you’re both doing well. We’ll be back in Poulsbo in April or May to see you at the Rotary meeting.

  4. Terry and Bev

    As always your life is interesting and a fun read. Our year was pretty quiet as we crossed our 84th birthdays. Bev did go to her high school reunion but hasn’t said which one. For the first time in awhile we had the entire family with us for Christmas and they had a good time roasting their father and grand father..

    Take care — Bev and Terry

    • Hugh Nelson

      Thanks Terry and bonne année to you and to Bev. I still think fondly of the time I spent and UW and still go out of my way to defeat the broadcast blockages that prevent viewing UW football games. Kind of expensive and not sure it was worth it this year, but hope springs eternal for the future. Our best to you and to Bev in 2020!

  5. Ardis

    Great Christmas Letter. I admire the talent you have. You do so many
    things well……… just living, then writing so well about it and seeming to enjoy every unexpected happening , Love you both,
    Happy New Year.

    • Hugh Nelson

      Merci Ardis and bonne année! You yourself continue to amaze – what a successful year! Love to you from Brenda and me.

  6. Deborah Millis

    Hugh you never disappoint. What a marvelous life you two share. It’s always a delight to ‘steal away with you’ for a tour of the world shared with old & new friends.
    Thanks for the special global tour & fabulous photos. Sending blessings for a safe & amazing 2020 from across the pond……Debbie Campbell Millis

    • Hugh Nelson

      Merci Debbie and bon année! I feel guilty for not posting to this blog because I know that many people choose (for obvious reasons) seeing family over plunging off on a European adventure. So it gives me a sort of purpose to be able to share the good and the not so good, the differences in life here from what we know in the US.

  7. Lindy

    Hugh, I sure wish I’d been able to attend our reunion to see you, but maybe in the end it was a good thing because I could have monopolized all your time just talking about all your adventures in and around France! I love reading your posts and look forward to each.

    My son-in-law’s sister and her boyfriend were in Paris shortly before Christmas. They had a great time and were able to get around fairly easily; the transit strike made it frustrating at times but fortunately they didn’t encounter near the hassle you and Brenda did recently!

    Well, here’s to 2020 ; may it be a wonderful year full of positivity! My best to you and Brenda. I’ll be watching for your writings!

    • Hugh Nelson

      Bonne année Lindy! I know that 2019 was a pretty rough year for you so here’s to better times in 2020. If you’re still in the Baltimore DC area in 2023 I’ll come and find you when I’m back for our 50th reunion at USNA. Until then I’ll try to post here more often.

  8. Pamela Krueger

    This is such a wonderful opportunity to see the delight you enjoy in traveling and sharing your time with friends, family and traveling through historic parts of the world. Life in your adopted home suits you. Your energy and insights are amazing and inspiring, Thank you for sharing😇 Happy New Year!. We look forward to more of your adventures. John and Pamela

    • Hugh Nelson

      Bonne année Frances! Yes, the video was from the Strasbourg Christmas market near the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg, the 6th highest church spire in the world.

  9. Ella Dyer

    Bonjour Brenda and Hugh,

    Hello from the US where reading your blog post made me want to travel! Thank you for sharing your adventures; Jody and I hope to see y’all again this years whether it be in Nice or, crossing paths during one of your excursions.

    Have a lovely 2020 and keep up the excellent example of living life to the fullest.

    Ella and Jody

    • Hugh Nelson

      Merci Ella et Jody et bonne année! Should the metro strike ever end, we hope you will come back to Après Midi for a presentation, one of the rare ones where both of us were going to attend. It was such a pleasure to meet you both in Nice, and we hope to see you again this year. Wishing you the best in 2020, Hugh and Brenda

  10. Donna

    Hugh and Brenda what a wonderful life you are living. Thank you for sharing with all of us. I’m so glad Hugh you took the time while traveling to your high school reunion to See your family. Those will be cherished memories and I am sure your family appreciated that you took time to see them. Your travels around the rest of the world are simply amazing. I wish you both the best in 2020


  11. Gayle Heller

    Hugh, I always love reading your blogs. What a year you both had!

    Here’s to a year of good health and interesting travels!

    Best wishes to you and Brenda!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.