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Updated: 2018-03-05T08:13:21.828-08:00


Final Days - Europe 2016


Final DaysOrvieto - A Special Small Italian Hill TownWe’ve seen the city lights for over three weeks, so we are ready for a great small hill town and the Italian countryside.  Orvieto is only a two hour train ride from Florence, and it’s got three things we really like: unique history, great food, and photo ops out the kazoo.Prior to the Romans, the Etruscans founded the first Orvieto because it is  easy to defend.  So much of human history is about survival as well as culture.  Orvieto is perched on a very steep hill which commanded a great view in all directions and also made access very difficult from below during hostilities.Even when you’re within the city walls, it’s hilly and picturesque.Years ago when we were here, we took a tour of the caves of Orvieto.  This trip, we explored the city well.  Being on a fortified hilltop doesn’t reprieve you of needing water.  Hundreds and hundreds of years ago (1527), the Pope of that time commissioned the well’s construction.  Back in the day, the Pope occasionally had to flee Rome to save his skin, and Orvieto was a safe haven.  The well is quite wide (40 feet) and is almost 200 feet deep.  It has two independent staircases, each with stairs long enough and wide enough to accommodate donkeys once used to haul the water.  Windows cut into the wall of the well provide light to the stairs.  The well still has water but is only used for tourism.  The green in the following picture shows where water condenses and then supports life.Orvieto seems to remain in the beautiful past.  This is one town that walking the streets is rewarded.The streets are narrow so it’s best enjoyed by walking.  Notice how even without a front yard, some Italians show imagination in presenting a beautiful home.I wondered what street address this fine looking dwelling would have.When past Popes visited Orvieto, they had a significant cathedral for their use.  The paintings on this cathedral almost look brand new.Our hotel was little more than a stones throw from the Duomo.  We got a lovely suite this trip for 140 euros, and it included breakfast.  We ran across the hotel owner at the sitting area in front of the Duomo at twilight.  He almost always has a smile on his face.Shari could be smiling about the dinner we just had.  Even though Orvieto is small, there are several very good eateries here.  One of our favorite dishes is pici, and the one pictured was the best we’ve had on our month long trip.We learned how to make this pasta during our Italian cooking school, but we can’t really duplicate either the irregularly shaped noodles or the sauce.But we did learn about, and continue to appreciate, really good Italian food.  Like this roast duck breast with ground fennel flower.Orvieto offers a lot in a very small area and at a much better price than the big cities.  It’s one of our favorite places to visit!That's it for the European 2016 trip.  Most of the rest of our time will be spent in getting home.  We've enjoyed it and for those who read the posts, we hope you enjoyed it as well![...]

Florence, Italy - Days 23-25


Days 23-25John the Baptist DayFlorence, ItalyThe reason we left on vacation when we did was due to John the Baptist, the patron saint of Florence.  This mid-size city is one of the places you should visit if you travel to Italy.  We stumbled into the big celebration years ago after a bike tour of the Tuscan hillside near Florence.  On June 24 each year, they pay homage to their saint in a number of ways, including a parade in which many locals dress up in medieval garb.  Coupled with the architecture and the landscape of Florence, it’s a different kind of parade that has a storybook look to it.I guess medieval parades don’t involve many smiles.  Maybe it was the hot weather and ancient garb these gentlemen had to endure.The crowds loved them and others, including the old armaments like the crossbows.The most action was from the flag throwers.  No accidents were noted while we watched.We’ve been enjoying rainless weather.  Starting a little later this year may be the reason.  We only had rain once during our month of vacation and it was back in May in Berlin, a long time ago.  Our hotel is about 2 blocks from the Duomo of Florence, so we check it out off and on throughout the day.We are very happy with our Tuscan food here in Florence.  It would be fun to be a food critique on assignment in Italy and have someone pay for our meals.  Thanks to recommendations and some knowledge from previous trips, we’ve had a good gourmet experience here in Florence.  My favorite is the Cappellanni con Tartufalo.  It’s a very thin pasta filled with ricotta and spinach with a butter and truffle sauce.  I’ve had truffle salt and truffle oil, but until this dish, I’ve never had thinly sliced truffles.  Deliousioso!We also had fried zucchini blossoms from this restaurant - Buca Mario.Partly due to our leaving Italy soon, we asked about a great pizza and were directed to Ciro and Sons where they make a great neapolitan (Naples) pizza.  I know we claimed one of our favorite Sorrento restaurants made the best.  We are not sure anymore.Florence has so many renaissance landmarks that you don’t walk far until you come across one.  So much of what we like about Italy is here![...]

Lucca, Italy - Days 21-22


Days 21-22LuccaThis is the one place in Italy which we’ve returned to every trip, with one exception.  It’s our small walled city which provides both relaxation and excitation, and it even has a pasta dish named after it - Luchese.When on a month long vacation, a little slower pace occasionally can be a plus, and Lucca is the place that can provide it.  There is the 3 mile wall/trail around the ‘Inner City’.  We mostly rent bikes and ride.Shari is in the orange hat and shirt weaving through pedestrian and bike traffic.Lucca also provides the opportunity to go to live classical music events.  For 13 years, 365 days each year, professional Italian performers give a one hour performance that involves small pieces of the works of Puccini, Verdi, and Mozart.  That’s about the right length for us.  The performances are brilliant.  This was the first time there was a tenor, and he had an incredible voice that filled the entire church (churches are big in Italy) without any kind of microphone.Puccini is in the background of the picture and seems to be listening to the music.We climbed to the top of our favorite Italian tower, the one with the oak trees on top that we call the Tree Tower.  The trees are there because back in the day people fought small and big wars on a regular basis. The guards in this tower were lucky enough to have shade.  What a kind master they had.The climb is 230 steps, and the views are worth it.Because we live life a little slower here, we even go to public watering holes to get our un-chlorinated water.We do find the food in Lucca much to our taste.  Our latest favorite place to eat is da Nona Clara.  Nona means grandmother in Italian, and I grew up with an Italian grandmother, and she was a great cook as was my other grandmother.   We tend to show food pictures, and this restaurant had great risotto, roasted meats, even fried zucchini blossoms. They make all their pasta from scratch every morning. What was even better were the people who ran it.  The Italians are friendly, but if they don’t speak much English, and you don’t speak a lot of Italian, they basically take your order.  At Nona’s, they do great business, and they are running to and from.  Yet, they really like to talk and get you to talk.  We ate at Nona’s several times for the food and Cristina and the owner, Ernanio. I love Ernanio’s glassesI think he looks a little like Harpo Marx (for those old enough to know who that is).  Speaking of people we met, there were the 4 Brits from the northern part of England at the Tree Tower who needed their picture taken.  They live fairly close to Scotland, and they talk with a very strong accent.  They come from Washington, England.  George Washington’s kin came from Washington, England, and they celebrate the 4th of July every year along with us.  After a week in a centrally located apartment within the walls in Lucca, we leave tomorrow on a train for Florence.  We will still be in Tuscany, but it won’t be as laid back.Here are a few more photos of what we see around the lovely little city of Lucca.  [...]

Tuscany and 46th Anniversary


Days 17-20Tuscany and 46th AnniversaryWith our days along the Amalfi over, we have been many places in the last 4 days.  During our long drive north, we diverted along the way and stopped in Pienza.  This is a town that is picturesque from a distance and also looking out to the countryside.We didn’t know it, but way back in Medieval time, this town was rebuilt as an ideal model for renaissance towns across Italy.  That was in 1462, before Columbus discovered America.  Here is a picture of Shari modeling the beautiful town of Pienza.I can’t tell you much more other than one of the streets is named Via Amore (Street of Love) and that they have a great spaghetti called Pici that we discovered on one of our first trips to Italy.We spent most of the day driving from Sorrento to Lucca and did make it to the lovely city by early evening.  We had to park our car outside the old city walls as the streets inside the walls are almost exclusively for walking and biking.While we still had the car, we used Lucca as a home base and took day trips.  The first such trip was to Volterra, a town Shari had seen with Grace on their trip two years ago. Every town we visit provides new chances to try new foods or the specialty of the region.  What caught our eye was the following:What you are seeing is polenta (Italian corn meal I ate growing up), porcini mushrooms, gorgonzola cheese, and lardo.  As a chubby 10 year old, I was occasionally called Lardo.  In the picture it’s the six white-looking things in the upper part of the plate.  It’s cured fat from the backside of a pig, sometimes known as fatback.  It was a first for both of us, and we both found it very tasty.  Shari thought it was tough, however.  In any event, when you take a little of each of the four ingredients and eat them in unison, you have one delicious bite of food.  The first three ingredients are sufficient for a great taste.  I don’t think I can find lardo at Harmon’s! We turned our car in at the end of the day.The next day, we were off again….this time by train… to a new place for both of us - Portofino.  We knew that many people like it, but we were not sure why. Portofino is north of Cinque Terra, an unforgettable place along the western coast of Italy.  We learned that Portofino is really a small suburb of Santa Margherita (S.M.) which has a train station that you claim is your destination when buying tickets.I hope you don’t think I made this photo up - it’s real.  Among other things, the photo shows an unusual blend of symmetry.  The other thing I originally looked for was the super organization at the beach.  People think their destination is Portofino, but Santa Margherita is a beautiful town, and for us, it is the more attractive.  We came by land, but many come by sea.  I told Shari I would not recommend learning to operate a boat here.95% of the action is in Santa Margherita.  But, we had to see the notorious Portofino, so we heard you could walk to it. It was supposed to be a 5K walk, but there were distractions.  Near the western edge of Santa Margherita were these building with this unique appearance.  Even with all the motorcycles in front of it, it stood out.Then there was the rock that arose from the sea, and it has this tree.  A seagull landed on the rock while I took the photo to give you a sense of scale. We eventually did make it to Portofino, and it, too, is picturesque.For us, this was no ordinary day.  We traveled by train with multiple stops to get to a place we’d never been before.  Then we walked what we thought was a long way just to find out what Portofino had to offer.  It was part of our way of celebrating our anniversary.  This was us at the pier in the very small port of Portofino.  We had a lot of fun getting there even though there were a few challenges. It was all wort[...]

Day 16 - La Dolce Vista - Amalfi Coast


Day 16La Dolce Vista - Amalfi CoastEveryone we talked to said don’t drive a car along the Amalfi Coast.  It’s too scary and dangerous.  So we drove the Amalfi Coast from Sorrento to the small town of Amalfi.  If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger!The Amalfi is where coastal mountains plunge into the sea in a vertical scene of precipitous crags, picturesque towns, and lush forests. Almost everywhere you look there is a picture to be taken.  During tourist season, the buses that take you to and from the small coastal towns are very crowded and don’t stop for viewing.  The roads are often 1 1/2 lanes wide, and even with a small car, there are tight spots when there is on-coming traffic.  You drive with your window down so you can hear the horns of buses near the tight and sharp corners of which there are many.Residents park on the narrow road we drove (we didn’t see any garages), so their parked cars add to the road claustrophobia drivers experience.There is approximately 50 kilometers (22 miles) one way from Sorrento to the town of Amalfi.  A one-way trip takes about an hour and a half.  The reward for driving are the incredible views.   REMINDER - If you want to see  any of the pictures in a more robust size, click on the picture and it will enlarge.  To return to the story from the picture, click on the 'x' in the upper right near the picture.At first you see mostly ocean; then islands; then boats, then the towns where the houses and shops somehow fit on extremely steep hillsides.  Pictured above is the town of Positano which some of you may have heard of.  It’s almost dreamlike in appearance.The coastal road contours the land and sometimes into the side canyons.  Occasionally there is wide spot in the road and even a place to park.  The parking spots are few and far between, so we took advantage of most that we saw when we were quick enough. The biggest city we saw on the Amalfi coast was Sorrento with a population of about 16,000, far less than St. George.  Even though small, all the smaller ones we saw were picturesque!Even with the steep terrain, most have beaches, and they, too, make you happy your camera doesn’t require real film.  Shari wants you to see the car that can handle the narrow Amalfi roads, traffic, and parking.  Here is car with the 1/2 Italian driver.This driving trip took place on our last day in Sorrento.  There are probably too many scenery pictures already, but I’m going to end with one from our patio at La Tonnarella.  We loved it here![...]

Days 14-15 Pompeii and Italian Food


Days 14-15Pompeii and Italian FoodWe had fond memories of the place we stayed in 2008, so we thought we’d try it again.  The hotel is called La Tonnarella, and it not only has great rooms and spectacular sea views, but it has probably the best hotel breakfast.  All their fresh fruits are in season and locally grown, they have fresh Italian bread, eggs to order, great coffee, fresh juice, and a great view of the coastline from each table.This is a month long vacation, and being in Sorrento has a special place in my heart for my first and only Italian haircut.  During our last visit in 2008, we visited Figaro’s barbershop where I was treated with great enthusiasm since I was an American.  I find it amazing they can cut as little hair that I have with scissors.  Their hands are so quick that I think they would make really good pickleball players.  Antonio is pictured, and he gave me my 2016 Italian haircut.  His father, Giuseppe, cut my hair in 2008.  The haircut was an early fathers day gift from Shari.Sorrento is only 30 minutes by train from Pompeii, and it is an amazing place to see as it has an incredible story.  Almost 2000 years ago, Mt. Vesuvius did like Mt. St. Helens did in the state of Washington in 1980.  Behind Shari is Vesuvius with a cloud covering most of one of it’s two peaks.When Vesuvius erupted, the inhabitants died from the ash and gases. The city was partially destroyed and then buried under many feet of ash and pumice.  The lack of air preserved what was left as it was in 79 A.D. when Vesuvius wiped it off the map.  So what we see is an amazing view of the remnants of an ancient Roman city.  Some examples are this patio with a painted tile picture concerning a conquest . . . The men’s public bath . . .And even some of the victims . . .It you look at this temple, you’ll even see the head of Jupiter nearest the second tallest pillar.The only negative about the visit was we got a guide service that misrepresented its service.  You get to monuments like this and know that you want to get started before the big crowds arrive.  We typically get to attractions early to beat the larger crowds.   Pompeii has lots of interesting stories to tell, so a really good guide can help immensely.Do you remember ancient history and how the ancient Romans helped civilize their empire by engineering incredible water systems and roads?  Check out this two lane road (for chariots) and the elevated crosswalk.One thing we learned was that the roads were also the sewer system, so the slope of the roads had purpose.   I bet they hoped for rains for more reasons than watering the crops. It’s no secret we love Italian food, and it is one of our reasons to visit Italy.  We weren’t in Sorrento all that long in 2008, so we are discovering something we probably missed when our focus before was on boat rides to the Amalfi Coast and the Isle of Capri.This simple Caprese is made with Bufalo cheese, the best mozzarella cheese, and tomatoes that taste like they used to 40 years ago.  I’d pack my suitcase for the way home with these two great ingredients if I’d pass customs.  Not all restaurants are equal, and we were lucky enough to get a tip from people we met on the Amalfi coast bus.  Besides the caprese, the Italian bread at the Bufalito restaurant is the best I’ve ever had, and I grew up on it.  I attribute my Mediterranean skin shade to eating lots of it.  This became a recurrent lunch placeWe also got a good tip on an agriturismo farm/restaurant that was a short drive from our hotel.  I think expectations were a farm house and very simple foods.  Instead, the place was a unique multi-level exotic greenhouse. A driver picked us up at our hotel and drove us home when we were ready. The German Shepard was part of the welcoming we got when w[...]

Days 11-13, Au Revoir Paris, Buon Giorno Italia


Days 13-15Au Revoir Paris, Buon Giorno ItaliaAll our days in Paris were good, but the sights were especially good this last day.  It started with an early tour of the Notre Dame (French for Our Lady).  Most tourists sleep in, so an early start means short lines or no lines.  We have been in many churches (every time we come to Europe) and don’t personally see anything spectacular about the inside of Notre Dame.  The outside is another story, and there can be a long line for climbing to the top of the tower, but you have to be willing to climb 422 steps. The views were incredible!One thing Notre Dame has is gargoyles.  They’d been around long before Notre Dame, but they weren’t always as grotesque. Some are considered unique.  There purpose is to move the rain water from the roof away from the building so that it isn’t eroding the mortar in the masonry.  In other words, it helps preserve the building for a long time.  While the church was completed in 1345 A.D., construction started almost 200 years earlier.  It was hard to find fast builders at that time.For those having read The Hunchback of Notre Dame, he’s the guy in the second picture, not the first.It took a long time to find him - bottom half and climbing the joint of the walls.  Click on the photo for a close-up, then click on 'X' at upper right of the photo to return to the story.We had gotten so good at moving around by subway, we headed miles away to the NE section of Paris.  We’re guessing the big draw is this unique church, Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart), with it’s unique exterior. What was more interesting was the narrow street lined with artists painting and displaying there works.Our last act as tourists in Paris was to visit Napoleon’s Tomb.  His body is beneath the golden dome.  More interesting was the War Museum that is located on several floors behind the door.  I could have spent several hours in the museum seeing the old movie clips, photo displays, and artifacts of WWI and WWII.  It’s amazing what the world went through in the first half of the 20th Century.Friday was a travel day.  We took a one hour cab ride to get to the airport, then waited as our plane was late.  When we did arrive in Rome, we rented a car to drive to Sorrento, Italy, which is located very close to the Amalfi Coast.  The drive that was to take 3 hours took almost 6, and we arrived in Sorrento as the sun was setting.  We got very few directions, but did study signs very carefully.  Our little Fiat Panda was the right car to drive the narrow roads as well as to park.  My biggest concern is parking, not driving.  I’m half Italian, so driving in Italy (or Europe) comes naturally to me :o)We were in Sorrento 8 years ago with Jan and Dan Studer, our friends from Bonners Ferry, Idaho.  On this trip, we planned to have a little more time as the Amalfi Coast is so beautiful.  We even booked into our Hotel from years ago.  Just about everything about this place is memorable including the entry way.The weather was good on our first full day in Italy, so we decided to visit the small town of Ravello, which we also visited 8 years ago.  From Sorrento, we took a bus about 15 miles.  The roads are the curviest, narrowest, steepest, ‘baddest’ roads we have ever been on, and 15 miles takes about an hour and a half to drive.  But the views can make it worth it. I don’t know what possessed us eight years ago to get on a bus and ride up to Ravello, but it is a more relaxed town than some of the other Amalfi towns.We like the little town squares . . . and we like the ambiance created from the ancient ruins to make restaurants.In the next post, I’ll talk about the food.  We have been treated to great food so far.  Just to remind you that we are at the [...]

Days 9-10 Ooh La La


Days 9-10Ooh-La-LaI don’t think I’ve mentioned the old church that we look out at from our hotel room window.  The church is St. Severin, and it has a big pipe organ we’ve heard.Also, for you new readers, if you click on the photo one time, it expands and fills your screen - but do so only if you want to see a full screen version.  After viewing, just click on the 'x' to close the full screen version.We are getting good weather in Paris! It hasn’t rained once since we’ve been here, and the past few days have been warm and sunny!  I haven’t used ‘ooh la la’ since taking French in my sophomore year in high school, but it kind of fits now.  Things that were closed due to flooding will be opening soon but not today.  Hundreds of thousands of pieces of art work are headed back to museums adjacent to the Seine.With the museums closed, we took the subway and a suburban train to Versailles, the palace of the Kings Louis XIV - XVI (14th - 16th), a period of about 100 years, most of it before our American Revolutionary War and about a dozen years after it.The Palace is so enormous - almost a million square feet of floor space.  The line to get into the Palace was too long for our taste, so we headed to the ‘garden’ which has a separate entrance and is one of the largest and finest gardens we have ever seen.  The only disappointment was the lack of edible vegetables.The garden has a whole host of things to entertain and relax a visitor including lakes, ponds, fountains, statues, a variety of sculpted plants, trails, etc.Everything in the picture, and much more, is part of the estate.  This was the party palace for all the nobility of France.Back when it was being built, the estimated cost was half of the yearly generated wealth of France.  Fed up with being poor, and most of its citizens starving, those on the downside of the income gap rose up and revolted.  Louis the 16th and his wife Marie Antoinette both literally lost their heads at the guillotine.  The wonderful palace was then abandoned for decades.We did try later in the afternoon, around 4:00, to get into the Palace, but the line was still at least an hour wait, so we returned to Paris without seeing it. Our hotel concierge offered ideas for dinner places, and we tried another place.  I’ll show only one of the items: steak, roasted potatoes, and mushrooms which was very tasty and was presented like something out of Cook’s Illustrated.On Day 10, we finally had a chance to visit the artwork inside the Louvre and Orsay.  I think you all know that the Mona Lisa is kept in Paris at the Louvre.  It sure drew the attention of a lot of people, some of whom pushed to get to the front of the viewing area.  They say when you move around in a room, the eyes of the painted subject look like they are moving.  While I’m sure it is a fine painting, it made me think of Maxwell Smart, Agent 86, on the Get Smart TV show in the 1960’s.  In classic Mel Brooks fashion, the eye movement was obvious and complete.  I wish I had a gif file showing the eyes move.Forty feet away from the Mona Lisa, and facing the opposite direction, is a painting 50 times bigger, and Shari could costar in the photo/painting with no pushy crowd.The Louvre is the largest Art Museum in the World and probably the most visited.  But our taste in paintings leans towards impressionist art. All of this art was moved years ago from the Louvre to the Orsay Museum.  For those of you who know this art, we saw Monet, van Gogh, Manet, Cezanne, Gauguin, and Renoir to name a few.  The Orsay was salvaged from an old train station that was to be torn down, and the French fused a museum with a train station quite nicely.In case you are unfamiliar with Impressionist art, I’ve turned one of the photos (Days 7-8)[...]

Days 7-8 GRAY Par-EE


Days 7-8GRAY Par-EEYou get the sense that this place, Paris, must be special as there are so many people here to see it.  Everywhere you go after 10 am seems crowded, and by noon it is definitely crowded.  That said, some places are immediately exciting.  Notre Dame, even with gray skies and high water, is amazing.  The Eiffel Tower, even in the fog, is so much bigger than any picture (but that is all I have to show you).it was amazing hearing the story of Gustav Eiffel and his tower.  There was to be a World Fair in Paris on the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution (1889).  The French government had a competition to determine who would get the right to build a commemorative monument, and he won.  His plans had the French building being the tallest building in the world at that time (300 feet), and being a reliable bridge builder, they figured he could build a tower of steel.  The only problem was the cost.  The monument commission informed him they could provide 18% of the cost, but he would have to bear the rest.  Being a shrewd business person, as well as a great engineer, he required 20 years of charging the public for entry.  As you might guess, he made all his expenses back plus millions more. Our only regret is that we didn’t visit on a better day.  At the top, we only saw the inner view of the clouds.  It was still amazing getting to know some of the history of the tower from over the years.The amazing thing about our gray days in Paris is that we have not deployed our umbrellas so far.  We were headed to parts of Paris not closed by the flooding when we noticed the grounds to the Louvre were open.  This is the largest art museum in the world, and we were glad to know the grounds were open.While checking things out, we noticed a long line of photographers waiting their turn for a picture.  I decided to be clever and go to a spot 6 feet to the left of the front of the line and take the same picture.  You need to know that the front of the ‘glass’ pyramid at the Louvre, looks like the front face matches part of the building immediately behind it.My picture from 6 feet away is almost as good as any of theirs, don’t you think?We did find our way to the Champs Elysee for our first visit.  We know little of Paris so most everything is a discovery.   First, a good part of it is not paved and it’s not motorized.  It’s a very wide walkway with lots of statues, benches and portable chairs, small gardens, occasional ponds, and lots of people strolling.Then we came to the 8 lane paved part, and being the first Sunday in the month, it was closed to all traffic except walkers and bikers.  This too we did not know about.  This picture makes it look like there might be the makings of at least a small riot of people, but in reality, there’s lots of space to move about.While we probably walk at least 5 miles a day, we do use the subways extensively.  We are becoming experts at knowing how to get around.  That is no small task considering the flooding has closed some of the most convenient subway lines.  Oh . . . did I say subways?!  They are Metros as not all parts of the lines are underground.  We might create a special class called the ‘Art of Subway Travel’.While here, we have not been starving.  Our challenge here is picking the right restaurant.  On the recommendation of our hotel staff person, we went nearby and selected a beef fondue.  We think of fondue as a melted cheese-dipping meal.  With meat, you dip the meat in hot boiling oil.   What a surprise!We did have something that was not a surprise - a good French onion soup.These two days were fun and an adventure even with the gray skies.  Finally, toward the end of these [...]

Days 5-6, Berlin and Paris


Days 5-6Berlin and ParisOur last day in Berlin started by traveling from Hamburg to Berlin by train in the morning.  It was an easy ride to the train station with no international incidents.  Once back in Berlin, Janna picked us up and took us to the Reichstag, the capital building where the German government meets.  Her brother-in-law works there as a representative from the northwest of Germany.  We got a special private tour of this historical and modern home of their government.The Reichstag now has a special glass dome that sits atop the Reichstag which provides views of much of the city.  It was great having this special tour, a first for all three of us.We were taken out for a farewell dinner in one of the old East German neighborhoods.  It is one of Philipp’s favorite restaurants, and we now understand why.  The place is called Frau Mittenmang, and the chef creates a new menu each day.  Most of the words on the daily menu were in German, and the few that weren’t were either Italian or French.  It was a little like a crossword puzzle sorting it out.  We started with three great appetizers:  roasted jalapeño peppers called pimentos in Germany, raw salmon on asparagus, and seared venison.  All three were excellent tasting, and two showed the chef’s artistic side.Notice the asparagus the Germans love so much in the salmon appetizer.Our main courses were fabulous, but the lighting diminished to the point the photos are blurred.  What a sad finding!  I’ll add one to show my favorite main dish, one centered around a ‘flap steak’ (beef), a miso-hollandaise sauce, a 60 minute egg, yes, asparagus, and truffle dark potatoes. I did capture the dessert that we hope to make in our own kitchen.  It’s called a Pavlova which is made up of egg whites, sugar, and fruit.  Neither of us had ever seen it or heard of it.  I asked the restaurant owner for a recipe, but no luck for any of the dishes.  This was one of the best restaurant meals we have ever had, and just one recipe would have been nice.  So we invited the chef to St. George.  There was one unusual specialty of the house:  A piano in the men's room.  Next in line had to play while waiting for their turn.  I was lucky enough to enjoy some live music.Earlier in the day, this is what Lara would claim is a great desert.  I can’t argue with her.  Nothing like a good butter and sugar crepe.  I grew up on them.What a nice send off by our friends!  Day 6 was all about getting to Paris.  We weren’t watching the news for 5 days nor checking the weather at our next destination.  Were we surprised when we got here.Some friends knew there were issues with too much water, something that has haunted us in past visits to Europe.  We did get some emails foretelling problems, but it became impossible to ignore when we learned some special sites were closed indefinitely.  Check out the river in the next picture, and notice that there is no dock at the bottom of the stairs.  Oh well, we have our umbrellas and we will deal with it.We’ll have more Paris Photos tomorrow.[...]



Days 3 and 4Berlin and HamburgThe tallest building in Europe is located in Berlin, and it used to be a symbol of East Berlin and the communist GDR, or German Democratic Republic.  It is referred to as the TV Tower, and the view from the observation deck (over 2000’ above ground level) is remarkable.  This is one tower we did not climb as it is accessible only by elevator (not 2-3,000 stairs).One of the things you see from 2000 feet up are the rivers and canals that criss cross Berlin.  From ground level you see them one at a time.  One of the ways to tour Berlin is by water, and they call Berlin the Venice of Germany.  BTW, there are more bridges over water in Berlin than in Venice.  We didn’t see any gondolas, however.  As we mentioned before, there used to be an East Berlin and East Germany.  During those years, the East Germans decided the state needed to make automobiles for its people and designed the Trabi.  All you had to do is order one . . . and wait 9 or 10 years to be built!   The only thing special about the Trabi was the amount of time you waited to get it.  Shortly after the collapse of the East German state in 1989, production of Trabi ceased.  There are a few left, including these with a fresh coat of paint.  Wow, Shari likes the orange one, of course.On our third day in Germany, we traveled to the train station to take a short trip to Hamburg to visit Janna’s parents, Ingrid and Detlef.  They, too, came to the U.S. over 20 years ago, and we had become good friends.  They also took in our son, Lee, when he did a college semester in Hamburg.  Hamburg is a port city even though miles and miles from the ocean.  It’s on the river Elba, probably not a name that you use in conversations very often.  But it looks more like a port city than Seattle, which we think of as one of the bigger ones on the west coast.  In the Hamburg harbor the evening we were there were both the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary 2.  BTW, the structure in the left background is not a ship.  It’s the City’s Philharmonic Hall that looks like a large futuristic ship.  Part of the Queen Mary 2 shows in the right side of the picture.We’ve been to Hamburg years ago to see our friends.  They were such great host parents they even donated for a church roof in the name of Lee, and we decided to find the plaque with his name.  There are LOTS of plaque as this was no small roof.We all worked end to end of these many metal plates with scores of names on each plate.  It’s good eye exercise!  No Luck until Shari suggested a registry! Being a port city, Hamburg has plenty of fresh seafood, so when in Hamburg we eat as the Hamburgers do - great fish!  This dish that Shari and Ingrid had was crab and fish, the crab being the smaller of the two.  The presentation confirms you are getting seafood, a fish eating a lemon. Reluctantly, we have to mention the special adventure we had to get to Hamburg.  Janna drove us to the train station to catch the Berlin to Hamburg high speed train for which we had tickets at a scheduled time.  Unfortunately, as we got to within a mile of the train station, there were blockades on the streets to get us to the station.  It caught her by surprise and ultimately we saw in the distance a large protest in the streets leading to the station.  Janna had to let us make our way on our own as there was nowhere to park and lead us and time was running out.  So the two of us set off on a jog to make the scheduled time through the protestors.  We think the 10’s of thousands of protestors were marching against eliminating the tax breaks for renewable energy, something they ha[...]

First Days in Europe 2016


First Days Europe 2016Days 1 and 2Our journey to Europe was routed through Denver, which is not unusual, but there was much fanfare about the long security lines.  Due to overnighting in Denver, we had to navigate a big city airport.  Those passengers having Pre TSA, which we joined a few years ago, are supposed to have a quick time navigating security.  I timed us, and it took all of 5 minutes to get through security.  Notice the smile on this happy customer.  With extra time to check out the airport, we noticed the modern design and caught it on ‘film’ during a thunderstorm.  It was a little unsettling seeing signs for tornado shelters, but we only saw rain clouds.Our first destination on this month-long vacation is Berlin, where dear friends Janna and Philipp live.  We met Janna as a high school exchange student over twenty years ago in Bonners Ferry, Idaho.  We met Philipp when they traveled to the U.S. in 2009 and visited us in St. George.  They have a darling daughter named Lara, who, like her parents, is very friendly.  The picture also shows our first German meal.  The most prominent item is the white asparagus.  Germans love asparagus, and we do too!While our main reason to visit Germany is to see friends, we also came to see Berlin.  Most of you know there once was an ‘iron curtain’ during the cold war that ended in 1989 (during our lifetimes).  Janna and family live in a part of Berlin that is within 100 yards of the ‘curtain’ or Berlin Wall as it was called.  Berlin, like Germany, was divided into 4 parts after WWII, and the Russians, or Soviets as they were previously known, built a wall in 1961.  They called it the ‘Anti-Imperialist Protection Wall’ to protect East Berliners from Western Europeans and the U.S. and our imperialist ways.  They supposedly built the wall to keep others out.  In parts of Berlin there are metal posts showing the wall location coupled with the history of what happened to some of the people who decided they preferred an ‘imperialist’ lifestyle.One of the ways people escaped East Germany was to tunnel under it.  The location of many of the tunnels is delineated by stone markers like the ones for Tunnel 57.  The number of people using each tunnel was fairly limited because the police closed any tunnel that they discovered.Thousands of East Germans found ways to get to the West in spite of the wall.  Lots of time and money was spent on creating and patrolling the wall.   It makes you wonder whether walls solve as many problems as they create.  In 1989 during the Reagan presidency, the wall was torn down, and East and West Berlin, as well as East and West Germany, were united.  There are actual remnants of the wall that are left.  Here is one small section.  The wall is now protected from those wanting a souvenir of it.Near this small piece of the wall is Checkpoint Charlie, a rare controlled exit/entrance in the wall.   It was the site of a famous clash between U.S. troops and Soviet troops in the cold war. Sergeant Shari in her ‘civies’ was on guard during the picture.[...]



Morocco We left Europe from Tarifa, Spain, to get to Morocco.  Tarifa is the southern most city in Europe and is located where the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean meet.  We went to Tarifa solely for a ferry ride across the Straits of Gibraltar, but we are happy to have visited this southernmost city.Once we departed the ferry in Tangiers, we knew we were in a different world and not one we were well prepared for.  Morocco has their own currency and we didn’t have any of theirs.  Booking train tickets at the train station with a credit card didn’t work, so we improvised a walking discovery tour to find a bank to use an ATM.  Spanish is not even a third language of the people of Morocco, but French is (remember the movie Casablanca?).  Our linguist Jan fortunately lived for a few months in France 40 years ago and knew enough French to get us by.We got our tickets and waited for our train to Fez, the place in Morocco we’d singled out as the best destination.  Being surrounded by Muslims in a relatively poor country is a little disconcerting.  We seemed to be the only foreigners in a large train station, and we stood out due to our clothing and western luggage and probably a few other things.It was a four and a half (4 1/2) hour train ride through some barren countryside and cities that reminded me of the Korea we lived in and knew 40 years ago - not too enticing!  We read of some of the things to beware of in this strange country, so we were not at ease.  There are several do’s and don’ts regarding food, getting help, and how to behave, and the first hours had our imaginations primed for problems.Fortunately, Jan had booked a very good Ryad (hotel), and when we finally got there, the atmosphere was very welcoming.  The hotel, like most, is not all that inviting from the outside, as most of the buildings are windowless on the ground floor.  But they have large and beautiful courtyards that are part sanctuary.  Add to the courtyard the very friendly and helpful owners and all of their staff, and suddenly things got much better.  We have our dinners and breakfasts at the Ryad, partly because the hygiene is trustworthy.  The food is excellent and also authentic Moroccan.With comfort addressed by the people running the fine Ryad Mabrouka, we could focus on exploring Morocco.  Our first day was spent with a guide who showed us the old city, or Medina.  The first thing he informed us of was that Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States as a country after our forefathers won the Revolutionary War.  It was a little hard to believe, but I looked it up, and it’s true.  The always prevalent thing you notice here are the minarets and mosques.  99% of the population is Muslim, and religion is part of their education as well as their day-to-day life.  We hear the calls to prayer five times each day, especially in the evenings - a call announced from every minaret.  While most mosques only allow Muslims, our guide took us to one that admits infidels, like the four of us.Normally one takes shoes off when in a mosque and washes their hands and feet.  They are quite interesting and beautiful places.Fez is a city of 2 million people and was once the capital of Morocco.  The Medina where we are living has no car transportation, in part because the streets are usually no more than 12 feet wide, and frequently 4-5 feet wide.  There are 9,400 such streets in the Medina, so a guide is essential if you don’t wish to get lost!We somehow managed to arrive during the festival of the sheep, an annual holiday when a sheep is sacrificed to God, just as it was done by [...]



Days 16-17  Ronda, SpainNot far from the Spanish Riviera in the southwest corner of the country are the white hill towns, including Ronda.  We traveled by bus instead of by car due to rumors of narrow and windy roads.  It is nice for me not to have to focus on the road, but the countryside is so pretty, I would have preferred to have a car and stop at scenic viewpoints, which were numerous.Ronda is one of the white hill towns and is located between two of Spain’s national parks.  Among the many things it is noted for are the bridges connecting the ‘new’ part of town with the old.  The ‘new’  bridge over the magnificent gorge is about 220 years old and took almost 40 years to construct.There is an old bridge as well.  It was rebuilt in 1616, and it still handles single lane car and truck traffic.  It is very apparent that lots of buildings and the Spanish infrastructure were built to last. We were fortunate to stay in a 4-star hotel (San Gabriel) in the old section of town.  One of the things Shari booked for us was a complimentary tapas experience at Casa Maria, which is a small bar where the local residents eat (versus where the tourists eat).We didn’t really understand completely how we got this experience, but we had the best Spanish food in all the days we’ve been in Spain!  I have fallen down on my pictures of food, but here is one of the artichoke tapa that had olive oil and chopped Iberian ham plus some secret ingredients.It was Shari’s birthday meal and one she and all of us will remember.  We treated her like a queen all day!Ronda is the birthplace of modern bullfighting.  Their bullring was built about 300 years ago, and it is still in use.We took a tour of the ring and discovered that bulls, and cattle in general, were wild once upon a time in Spain.  Over time, the sport evolved from indiscriminate killing of bulls by the general public to the theatre of a bullfight.  It’s an old world sport that is more respectable than we originally thought.  By the way, the color of the cape is scarlet, not red.Ronda was definitely worth a visit.  We’d never heard of it before the trip, but we will surely remember it![...]



Days 14-15  Nerja, SpainWe had been to the South of France and liked it, and we heard the South of Spain is also popular.  ‘A Day at the Beach’ was seen as a change in our routine of exploring old world Spain.  Finding our new temporary home to be something pleasing is always a good start.  I don’t think all of us understood what the Balcon de Europa meant until we arrived here from the bus station.We thought it was a fancy name for a hotel on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea.  There is a hotel with that name, but this is the balcony of Europe where the Moors entered Spain back in the 8th century.  There now is a restaurant at the balcony, and the sea is now the attraction.The days here were primarily for relaxation at the beach.  The views were great and the weather perfect.There was only one really unique very old feature we pursued.  There are very unique caves near the town that we’d heard about and was well worth visiting.  The Nerja Caves have the world’s largest stalactite column, and the underground tour is large and amazing.  You’ll have to trust that the picture is oriented correctly.The remains of an ancient people dating to 25,000 BC were found in the 1980’s along with their wall art.The two days here were worth it, and we could easily stay longer.  It’s a very beautiful area!  However, there is still a little more of Spain to see and enjoy.  [...]



Days 11-13  GranadaWe spent a few days in the mountain city of Granada, and here is the street where we lived in the small palace of Santa Ines.The city sits at the base of the original Sierra Nevada mountains which are nearly as tall as the California version.  Sierra Nevada translates into ‘mountains covered with snow”.  September is not a good month to see snow in the mountains, but we did see signs to ski resorts.The big draw to Granada is the Alhambra.There is wall a mile long around the fort and palaces you see in the picture, and people visit it by day and enjoy it from viewpoints in the evening.  To tour it, you are advised to get your ticket months in advance due to its popularity.  From it’s location, this site was built and successfully defended by the Moors (Muslims) for 800 years!  The Alhambra was part fortress and at one end, the army was garrisoned. Our tour took us through the many parts of the fort.Back in the day when this was a working fort, jail cells were holes in the ground with a trap door, and the prisoners accessed the cell by rope.The highlight was the Moorish Royal Palace.  Several of the rooms had courtyards, and two of our favorites are these two:There are some large gardens within the walls that were aromatic as well as beautiful.Jan Studer encouraged us to try what we might call the Turkish Bathes (and what they call the Arab bathes).  Three of us have colds and coughs, so it was a chance to test whether they were therapeutic.  There were hot bathes of various hotness and steam, a cold bath, and the part I liked the most, a massage.  After two hours, you feel 20 years younger.  No pictures were allowed of the bath - sorry!On one of our days, we took a tour of olive groves and learned about the processing of it!  Spain is the top producer in the world with 45% of the total.  Neighboring Italy is a distant second producer with 25% of the worlds olive oil.  The town we visited has the oldest known press and we got a special tour.  The stone below was pulled by a donkey, and the stone smashed the raw olives into a pulp.Then, we did the taste test of 5 different oils, something I can’t recommend.  I love olive oil and know it is a healthy oil, but drinking it and swishing it around in your mouth before swallowing is not as fun as when I do it with wine!  Here are some of the other tasters sitting in front of their five cups of oil.One of our days in Granada was a Saturday.  Every night a few evening hours are used for walking the common areas and enjoying the evening air with friends and family.  Saturday evenings are more lively with music in many of the plazas.  It was interesting to run across the following in late afternoon in one large plaza.  There are lots of young people in Granada and the attention is usually on them.  In this plaza, it’s the older people dancing and the young people watching.On more than one evening, we went to neighboring Arab Quarters for the view of the Alhambra at sunset.  Finding a good viewpoint is part of the challenge as well as navigating throughout the small and erratically laid out streets.  For over 1000 years, the Jews and Muslims have gotten along very well here in Granada.  This picture reminds me of the Jewish word ‘Shalom’ meaning peace.  [...]



Days 8-10 SevilleWe found this striking couple in Seville and took a liking to them.  It’s not easy finding people wearing the traditional garb of Spain years ago.  The clothes probably make these people look four times as good as they would if they were wearing shorts and short-sleeved shirts!Looks like there maybe a pick-pocket trying to find the wallet of the caballero.There are Churches and Palaces (Cathedrals and Alcazars) in most every Spanish city we visit so it might seem a little repetitive.  So far, every one has been been more grand than that of the previous city. In Seville, there is the largest gothic cathedral in the whole world.  More impressive is the interior.  There are dozens and dozens of side altars.  The main alters are enormous and often decorated with gold, silver, huge paintings, and sculptures, and even tombs!  There are even rooms where some of the gold and silver treasure is stored.  There is so much, one could think it decadent.  One very interesting thing found in the cathedral is the tomb of Christopher Columbus.His tomb is carried by large sculpted kings who represent the four regions of Spain.  It is interesting to note that Columbus traveled a lot both before and after he died.  You probably know he sailed several times to the Americas.  His remains also traveled and were first placed in a northern Spain, then moved to Seville, then moved to the Dominican Republic in the West Indies, then Cuba, and then around 1900, back to Sevilla.Another interesting note about Columbus is that we sailed for the new world from Seville.  This city is on a river, not an ocean.  It used to be a major port city and place for the Spanish Armadas to dock even though some distance from the sea.Even more impressive for me is the alcazar (palace).  Seville is much closer to Moorish (Muslim) countries of North Africa, and the influence in this old city is more noticeable than Madrid and other cities in the center of Spain.The outer walls occupy four city blocks. It is what’s inside that is most impressive.  One of the first things you see is this courtyard.We used the audio guide to help understand the many many rooms and decorations.  Each of the rooms had a purpose many of which we would not consider needed today such as the Admirals’ apartments where debriefing of the explorers such as Columbus would occur or plans made for Magellan.All room walls have artistic elements, and many of the doorways include marble pillars.This sizable piece of land also had outdoor pools such as this oneand a huge garden that even had an observation walkway built into the boundary wall of the garden.One of our nights in Seville, we took in our first live flamenco dance in a small theatre.  Flamenco has an interesting history, but we leave that for you to discover.  It was an amazing show by all three artists:  the guitar player, the dancer, and the singer.  This is a picture I took from our front row seat.One last thing is the old world streets.  This is Shari just outside the front door of our hotel.  Cabs can’t take you to many of the hotels in the old quarter of the city, and that suited us just fine.[...]



Days 6 and 7  Holy Toledo!What a place!  The walled part of Toledo is all one national monument  The only sense of the modern world is the few cars and buses that operate in the city and all the modern-looking people.  The small walled city sits atop a sizable hill with a river on three sides, and with these elements, the city was very defendable.  Over many centuries entry to the city has been through gates (or portals) such as this one:It looks medieval and it almost feels medieval.  Shops sell daggers and swords hoping you are in the mood for ancient combat.  Most of the city walls are still very much intact, unusual for a European city after all the centuries of wars.This city has a very interesting history.  When Europe plunged into the Dark Ages 1500 years ago after the fall of the Roman Empire, the Moors (Muslims) conquered much of Spain.  They ruled for several centuries and contributed their architectural design.  They lived peacefully with both Jews and Christians, especially in Toledo.  There was much respect among the religions, and the churches, mosques, and synagogues all thrived here.  My dad used to use the expression ‘HolyToledo’, and I always thought it had something to do with that other Toledo in Ohio. Not so . . . it was this one in Spain, a very holy city.  We were in Toledo on a Sunday, so I got to use the phrase a few times when I saw the long lines for some of the historic places like the cathedral.  The entry way is on the side, BTW.The ancient walls and buildings are accompanied by ancient streets.  The cobble-stoned streets are a little hard on your feet if you walk for hours.It seemed like the cathedral was visible from every narrow little street.We realize that many of the larger towns and cities have an alcazar.  The one in Segovia has Disney-like features, while the one in Toledo is more Pentagon-like (Shari and Jan are across the street from it).This city is so historic that you start to differentiate the old and the very old.  On one of our walks, we ran across this building.  There was no sign of life here, but I would have liked to have seen a plaque telling me how many dozens of centuries it had lived through.  Like Segovia, Toledo gets two thumbs up from Shari and me as a place to see![...]



Day 5 SegoviaOnce upon a time, Spain was one of many parts of the Roman Empire.  Roman engineers were geniuses at moving water around Europe in aqueducts, and the picture shows a still solid structure now over 2000 years old!We traveled by bus 50 miles north to the town of Segovia, far from the maddening crowd of Madrid, to see the aqueduct and more.  As we do in most places in Europe, we book hotels in the oldest part of the towns and cities.  Our hotel is center right in the picture.Segovia is not very big, but it has so much to see for its size.  The Alcazar, or fortified palace, sits at one end of the town.If you think you have seen this before, you probably are thinking of Cinderella’s castle at Disneyland as Disney borrowed some of the architecture from this medieval castle.  Once upon a time, the aqueduct delivered water to the castle and the water was stored in what looks like a wishing well.The views from Alcazar were great as it sat at a very defensible point in the City.One view is of the Cathedral and the center of town.As mentioned, the Cathedral is the center of town and a stones through from our hotel.One last thing about this town to note is that suckling pig is the dish of the region.  I can only imagine what you think of eating this dish, but I can tell you we were very happy to eat it.  You might say we ‘pigged out’.[...]



Days 3 and 4 Spain and Morocco 2015We continue to explore Madrid, but for the last two days, we have done so exclusively by foot.  Here is a picture taken from our balcony at midnight. There is a party every evening!  We’ve been enjoying all the historic buildings, fountains, and parks that the Spanish Kings have built over centuries.  One good thing about royalty seems to be the emphasis on beauty and art.  I don’t think you’d call Shari and I great art lovers, but we loved the Prado Musuem with such artists on display as Goya, Rubens, Raphael, Rembrandt, Da Vinci and a host of other artists we’ve never heard of.  These artists are comparable to Michelangelo.  We thought we could handle a couple of hours of art, but we liked it so much, we went back the second time in the same day.  So incredible!  No photographs allowed, but they have individual audio guides that help you appreciate great art.The highlight of the trip so far was the Walks of Spain Wine and Tapas tour last night.  Our private Spanish language interpreter, Jan Studer, found the tour on Trip Advisor, and it is given great reviews.  There were only 10 people on the tour including our tour leader, Andres Jarabo.  He walked us through the oldest and most interesting part of Madrid.  We stopped and sampled more than wines and tapas (a Spanish appetizer).  We had some very unique foods including butterfish and roasted Iberian pork on heated ceramic slabs that you’d first think was beef tenderloin.  Those of us on the tour loved the food so much, my camera could not get a picture fast enough (because it got eaten immediately).  Wine is hard to capture in a picture, but it was even more spectacular than the food!One of the places where we stopped is the oldest restaurant in the world (founded 1725) according to the Guinness World Record.  If you know anything about the restaurant business, being around for 300 years is a very long time.We’ve had a memorable 4 days in Madrid.  Tomorrow we go to the old town of Segovia, north of Madrid, traveling via Spain’s train and bus services.  We hope we will be smiling when we get to our destination.[...]

Spain and Morocco 2015


Days 1 and 2 ¡HolaBeing in the big city of Madrid has meant being on the go all day and part of the night.  We are literally in the center of this big city and also in the middle of country.  Here are 3 of the 4 of the travel companions with one foot on the plaque marking the center of the Spain.  BTW - Click on pictures if you wish to enlarge them!!The weather is a little warm and we are adjusting to the 8 hour time change, so during the beginning of the journey, we travel by double-decker open top bus where they provide tours.  It’s a great vehicle for seeing a lot . . . and also a good place for a quick siesta. Our hotel location is also near much of the historic parts of Madrid such as the Palacio Real (Royal Palace).  I’ve been thinking some of the new houses are big in St. George.  The Royal Palace has 2800 rooms.   The decor in each of the 24 rooms would be the subject of a coffee table book.  The view from some of the 2800 rooms would be of the Almudena Cathedral, conveniently located next-door for the King and Queen.We discovered that we could view an entire Egyptian Temple relocated to Madrid.  It seemed weird, but 50 years ago, the Egyptians dammed up the Nile River and moved the ancient ruins that were to be inundated.  The Temple of Demod probably does not ring any bells for you, but they have the whole temple, and the historical interpretation was very good.  There are many art museums in Spain thanks to having so many famous painters over many centuries.  I’m not a Picasso fan but always find something that catches my eye.  Usually the museums don’t allow photography, but this sculpture worked for me.  Look closely and you'll see this from a butcher's perspective.Our first days have been hectic but fun.   They are memorable already and we’ve just started the journey![...]



Days 27 and 28Budapest FinaleThis will be a long entry because we did a lot in a short amount of time.  There are many pictures!  IF any picture looks interesting, you can click on the picture to enlarge it!The river (the Danube) continues to rise!  They are trying to limit the flooded area and we are amazed at the amount of work they continue to do.Our last days in Budapest were excellent - good friends, good fun, and good food!  This is a biking city with lots of bike paths.  Unfortunately, many paths are under water, and once we left the area near our bike shop, the crowds of people looking at the flooding clogged the dry sidewalks along the river.Not everyone rides solo.  There is the beer drinking option where you have a designated ‘steerer’ and the rest of the riders pedal and drink beer.We didn’t see TV monitors for ESPN, but if nothing else, you get to claim the whole designated bike lane.Once upon time, there was an empire in Central Europe called the Austrian-Hungarian or Hapsburg.  The church above is one of several examples of the Austrian-Hungarian empire that existed until the end of WWI. They, along with Germany, lost that war, and the empire collapsed.The spectacular structure (above) and other beautiful medieval architectures (below) can be seen within what they call the Castle District.  From the Castle District, you get great views of the Hungarian Parliament Building on the other side of the Danube.  If you don’t make it to London to see their parliament, this one is almost as big.  We learned hey were happy to have become a democracy after years of Soviet rule as well as being under Nazi control (World War II).We found that getting around to see all the sights is best accomplished from an open-topped tour bus.  The head-set for each seat lets you choose your language, and the sombreros keep the sun out of your face and tell people it’s finally sunny weather.The beauty of the city is in lots of places.  If you like to take pictures, this is a great place to be with a camera.  It’s probably one of the prettiest cities in the world.   Opera House - like many buildings, this one is decorated with beautiful statues and/or gargoylesThe facade of the upper four floors has etched ‘grafitti’One of many buildings with domed roof(s)Devilish ornamental light fixtures Gellert Bathes just beyond treesThere are over 50 mineral bathes in Budapest. We went to the largest and most famous one on our last afternoon in this city. It was quite an experience!  And the food was excellent, too.  While there were lots of outdoor eateries along the Danube, our favorite place was TomGeorge Italiano.  One night, Dan and Jan wanted something other than goulash.  Italian food sounded good, so even though we were in Hungary, we tried the italian restaurant with the non-italian name.  The food and wine here are five-star but the price is reasonable.  Over a few nights, we tried many things including the ‘Strangled Priest’ pasta dish.  There is only one thing you need to be wary of food-wise in Budapest.  Hungarian paprika tends to be very spicy - hot!!We head home today and Jan and Dan head to Prague so they get some more vacation.  Even with the rain and swollen rivers, our journey and our company was great!We will come back for a river cruise some other year.  It was a great idea, but it was an unfortunate time this[...]



Days 24-26Days 24 and 25 were travel days.  Our journey on Day 24 was from Rovinj to Zagreb, Croatia, by bus.  In past visits, we had rented a car as we were going to the airport.  This time, we were headed to the center of the largest city in Croatia to be ready to take a train to Hungary.  It turned out to be a good (or lucky) choice as it poured rain and a professional driver who knew the route took care of getting us to Zagreb.  While in Zagreb, we got word that the river cruise, which was to start in 36 hours, was going to be converted to a bus tour due to flooding on all the rivers we were to cruise!  This is the Danube in Budapest We had been watching the news in Europe for several days and wondering if and how the cruise could take place.  Other river cruise operators had canceled their cruises.  Ours, unfortunately, waited until the last minute, and several people traveled to Europe with no idea that the cruise was about to change to a bus tour.  Included in that unfortunate group were our traveling companions, Jan and Dan Studer.   We tried to forewarn them, but they were already on their way and didn’t have a phone or computer.When we got to Budapest on Day 25, we got a first hand look at the worst flooding in Central Europe in 400 years!  We would have much preferred not being part of this history.  The cruise ship boat launching docks were inaccessible due to the flood water. This picture shows where we were to have boarded our Viking river boat.It was great to tie into Jan and Dan.  We were walking to the hotel from the subway station and they were headed to dinner in a city of almost 2 million people.  We were very lucky to find them a few blocks from our hotel and quickly headed to a dinner reunion.Someone claims that the French stole the recipes they call theirs from the Hungarians.  All we can say is the food was mostly excellent as evidenced by this fillet mignon wrapped in bacon and served with miniature dumplings and mushrooms with a cheesy-meat gravy.  None of us was pleased with the late cancelation of the cruise.  We recognize and understand natural disasters, but we don’t appreciate the late cancelation that Viking made when the rivers had been flooded for several days at least.  For Dan and Jan, they had just flown to Budapest to start a vacation, and the news was worse for them than for us as we’ve been on vacation for almost four weeks!Jan and Shari looking for the cruise boat to board.As we have done in the past, we adapted.   Budapest is a very interesting and BEAUTIFUL city - more in the next post!  We were to stay in our hotel, the Starlight Suites, a four star hotel only one block from the Danube, for only one night, but now we are staying for a few days.  Those of you into pickleball have probably heard us discuss sandbaggers a time or two.  Rarely have we captured a sandbagging moment in one photo, but here it is:We will do our best to make lemonade (or limoncello) out of lemons.  We always do![...]



Days 20-23CroatiaRovinj, or Rovigno as the Italians would call it, is sometimes thought of as the Little Venice of Croatia. It’s a beautiful place located due east of Venice on the other side of the Adriatic Sea. Unlike Venice, there are no canals, but there is beautiful scenery and the water is clear, warm, and photographic.It’s here that we learned a few years ago that Klarich (spelled Klaricj here) is a popular Croation last name.  We even heard it’s the ‘Smith’ or ‘Jones’ of last names in this country! Several of you know we have been here before.  It’s a great place to relax and enjoy the sea.  We got the same apartment with this great view of the small and quaint harbor.  Every time we come here it seems better, which is not always the case with repeat visits to other places. Riding bikes every day on a path along the sea is an activity we both enjoy.It’s not Spain, but the tapas we discovered this time were a new delicious dish from a great little restaurant called Segutra.It’s still one of the prettier cities we have visited.  Simple things they do with flowers make a simple walk in the old town an occasion.Three years ago we got lucky and found this great pizza place in Rovinj.  This part of Croatia had been Italian for centuries.The bigger discovery was Predrag Carlo Lazic.  He was a friendly waiter with a big smile and a love for conversation.  We saw him again in 2011 when we visited our second time.  This time, he generously offered to take us for a ride on his boat to Vrsar, a coastal town about 10-12 miles north of Rovinj as the crow, or seagull. flies.Boats are parked four or five deep, so first Predrag hopped from boat to boat to get to his, which was in the very last row.Leaving Rovinj, we were treated to some views of the town we can’t get from the shore.  As Predrag would point out as this picture does, most of Croatia is rock.The sea was fairly calm, and that made the hour-long trip to Vsrar very enjoyable.  It was calm enough that one us got to enjoy the trip from the crow’s nest.Once in Vsrar, Predrag took us on a walking tour.  One of the highlights was looking down on the town from it’s highest point, the bell tower.We walked through both sides of the small seaside town and also enjoyed some local wine and discussion about Croatia and life in general.  The sun had already disappeared as we left Vsrar and headed back to Rovinj.  On our darkened ride home, we were accompanied by a pod of bottlenose (blue) dolphins!  That made the special trip complete.It was an evening to remember!  Thank you Predrag![...]



Days 18 and 19Day 18 was mostly a traveling day - all on Italian public transportation.  We took the bus from Lucca to Florence, a high speed train from Florence to Venice, then a water taxi to our hotel on the island.  The bus and train both left exactly on time and it was all very clear where to go.  When you arrive at the Venice train station on the water, boat travel appears to be chaotic.  There are dozens of boats moving in both directions on a small canal  and a variety of boats to choose from.  There also seemed to be at least twice as many people here than there were on our last visit 9 years ago.Yes it was a wet and grey day, if you can’t tell. The water boat was a challenge to use, especially with suitcases with what seemed like the mass of humanity getting on and off at every stop.When we finally arrived at our hotel, we learned why not to book a 2 star hotel.  While the view from the entrance onto the local canal was pleasant (see below), the room was tiny and we had to improvise storage for the 2 suitcases and 2 small back packs. It was our second worst hotel room ever, but it still had a high price tag.We won’t relive our worst hotel until Jan and Dan Studer join us later on our journey - in about a week.Venice is still very beautiful and is definitely worth visiting (once), but there were so many people walking down the narrow sidewalks that at times it seemed like walking down the strip in Las Vegas on a popular evening.    The smaller canals can be just as colorful and interesting as the Grand Canal.It’s such a unique city with all it’s canals, bridges, narrow streets, and beautiful buildings.We left Italy on a high speed ferry (with airline seats) to cross the Adriatic to Croatia.  We are very ready for summer to begin.[...]