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Author Archive: Susan

6/2019 – Road Trip time!

It’s been a while since Mark and Susan have planned a “real” road trip so when a wedding invitation appeared in the mail, we decided it was time!  We headed off to Des Moines – about 630 miles. We’ve done the drive in one day but, being retired has its advantages and one of those advantages is spending the night in the middle of the drive! We stopped in Lincoln, Nebraska, for the night and squeezed in a visit to Boiler Brewery.

If you’ve never driven across eastern Colorado and Nebraska from west to east, you haven’t missed anything except about 500 miles of rolling plains covered in corn while your car passes and is passed by LOTS of trucks.

After a walking tour of the University of Nebraska in the morning, we drove on to Des Moines where we spent the weekend with our niece and her husband while we went to a wedding.  Iowa is much hillier than Nebraska and the scenery changes, adding soybean fields and windmills to the corn fields.  For those of you who have thought about riding RAGBRAI, be ready for hills.

Next, we headed south to Creston, Iowa, for 3 days with Mark’s mom.  We admit it … we’re spoiled!  The humidity was too high for us (95% on the day we left). 

Time to head back to Fort Collins taking a less-than-direct route.  We zigzagged our way northwest across the back roads of Iowa to get to Sioux Falls, SD. 

Maid-rite sandwiches

Susan FINALLY ate a Maid-Rite sandwich, invented in Iowa. I’ve heard about them forever but never ate one.  They are nothing more than a “loose meat” sandwich (another Midwest term).  This translates to ground beef cooked and put on a hamburger bun but not made into a patty. Ketchup, mustard, onions and the rest of the usual condiment suspects are added to the bun.  The best way I can describe a Maid-rite is a sloppy Joe without any spices or tomato sauce added.

We visited a friend in Sioux Falls, SD, spent the night and then headed to Mitchell, South Dakota, home of the famous Corn Palace.

Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD. The building is covered in colored corn cobs. The theme on the building changes every year. Inside the Palace are clean restrooms, popcorn, displays about the history of the Corn Palace and a gift shop housed in the basketball arena when no games are played.
Closeup of the corn cobs on the walls.

From Mitchell, it’s a pretty much straight ride north on US Highway 181 across the South Dakota plains to the North Dakota border and on up to I-94.  I-94 is also straight with the only difference being that it heads east/west instead of north/south!

We were both missing North Dakota in our quest to visit all 50 states. We had to stop for a selfie to prove we made it to North Dakota!
A flat cornfield in South Dakota. This one was dry enough to be planted.

South Dakota and North Dakota were inundated with rain and snow this year causing river floods and flooded farm fields.  We passed lots of fields with standing water and no hope of planting a crop this year.  To add misery to the farmers a strong rainstorm battered us for about 30 minutes, limiting visibility and adding to the wet fields.

Mark loves the South and North Dakota interstates with an 80 mph speed limit.  Even the backroads have 65 mph speed limits.

Salem Sue lives at the top of a hill in Salem, ND. It’s only about a 5 minute drive off the interstate.

North Dakota loves BIG things including Salem Sue and Sandy the Sandhill Crane.

Sandy, the large sand hill crane, is off I94 at the Steele, ND exit. Susan stood by the leg for a quick picture before the rain started!

Theodore Roosevelt National Park makes a good one day park if you’re not into hiking when the wind is gusting at 40 mph constantly.  This is the North Dakota region of the badlands and is the only National Park we’ve seen with an interstate running through the middle of it.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park Badlands in the South Unit. The wind was howling so no one was in the mood for a hike.
Yes, that’s I-94 winding its way across North Dakota and the middle of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. My Senior Pass came in handy!
A few buffalo grazed along the side of the road creating a traffic jam.
If you’ve never driven across the western part of the U.S., this gives you a pretty good idea of how open and HUGE this part of the country is. North Dakota is 340 miles from east to west, not as big as Texas but big enough.

We spent a few hours at Devil’s Tower National Monument in northeast Wyoming and it was packed with visitors, including a large group of boy scouts.  Went for a nice 1.3 mile hike/walk around the Tower before we headed to Gillette, Wyoming to spend the night and have some tasty Mexican food.

Devil’s Tower National Monument, Wyoming

The last day took us from Gillette to Fort Collins. Since this was Wyoming, the wind must be blowing! Signs were posted all over the interstate warning of 40 mph wind gusts. By the way, I-25 across Wyoming is not very exciting either … miles of not much scenery but as least the traffic was light and the speed limit is 80 mph.

A few bluffs decorate the Wyoming landscape.
Straight road in North Dakota.
The roads can be pretty straight in this part of the country. The bugs plastered the windshield and Mark cleaned the windows at least once a day after he determined that Susan doesn’t use the proper technique.

12 days and 2300 miles later, we drove back into Fort Collins and Mark drove all 2300 miles! This road trip was so much fun, we’re thinking about where the next one should go.  New Mexico and Arizona, maybe??

3/31 – Ireland, part 2

After Julia flew back to Iowa, Mark and I headed north to Belfast, Northern Ireland. It’s certainly not as big as Dublin and not as prosperous but the visit gave us an opportunity to try to understand more about The Troubles over the years. 

A high cross at Monasterboice. We stopped along the way to Belfast.

We took an interesting and educational Black Taxi tour of The Troubles area in Belfast. The “wall” – really a 70-foot high fence that’s been made taller since the Good Friday agreement was signed – still exists as well as gates between the Roman Catholic and Protestant areas in the Falls Road area. The gates are closed and locked every night at 11 PM.

This memorial is on the Catholic side of the fence. These houses have fencing over their backyards to keep rocks from damaging windows. The fence is now about 70 feet tall to prevent more damaging items from making it over the fence.

We’ve been listening carefully to all the Brexit coverage here where the BBC has pretty much non-stop coverage. It’s a new surprise every day! The border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is a huge sticking point. Personally, I can’t see any solution to the open border of Good Friday agreement and the closed border of the EU/non-EU country.  At the moment, there’s no border – just a sign saying “Welcome to Northern Ireland” on the M1 that’s been covered with red paint!  When we left NI, we saw no signs at all.

These signs are everywhere in Northern Ireland – at least in Nationalist areas.

After Belfast, our next stop was Bushmills and Giant’s Causeway way up in the north.  We lucked out with the first truly nice day of the trip – blue sky, sunshine, relatively warm.  The scenery was spectacular for Giant’s Causeway visit and a drive along the coast.  Bushmills is a tiny village with Bushmills Irish Whiskey distillery and not much else. 

Since the sun was out, we walked 2.5 miles to the Giants Causeway and back. The path followed the tram line and wound through a golf course. Later we drove on the Causeway Scenic Drive. This is a view along that.
You’d better be good golfer to avoid the roughs.
Walking along Giants Causeway
A geologist can explain the details of the rocks that make them wear away into pillars.
Mark and Susan in front of the pillars at Giants Causeway.
We’re getting better with the selfies. We didn’t scramble all over the rocks like the group of French high school students did.
Sunbathing, Irish Style, when the sun decides to come out!

On the drive back down to Dublin, we drove through one town that’s clearly a Unionist town. The curbs and bridges were painted red, white, and blue and the British flag was flying high.

If you look carefully, you can see Scotland as a shadow in the very back of the picture. It was clear enough to see the mainland of Scotland!

Our last stop before we head off to London is south of Dublin to visit friends David and Celia Drane, their 3 children, 2 dogs, one cat, sheep, horses, cows, and chickens for the weekend.

One note about Google maps … I had a paper map with me that we used in conjunction with Google maps. Google maps is great in the cities and towns but needs some human intervention in countries like Ireland where there aren’t many motorways (interstates). When you ask for directions from A to B, it seems to choose the shortest route, without any knowledge of whether those roads are big roads or little roads. In Ireland, a little road can end up being a 1.5 lane road where the speed limit might turn out to be 20 mph due to sheer width of the road! After the first day of this, I started planning out a route on the paper map (making sure I used major roads) and then using Google to take me on that route.

Google maps also has a small problem with roundabouts in Northern Ireland. Many of their roundabouts require you to get in the correct lane ahead of time if you don’t want to be forced off at the wrong exit. Google maps can’t tell you to be in the 2nd lane from the left. Their database doesn’t contain the lane markings painted on the road!

Google is good at winding you through back streets if you take a wrong turn. It never told us to turn around in town! And it does know the tiny lanes to use to find ruins and churches out in the country.

3/31- Update from green Ireland

We’ve been in Ireland for about 19 days now checking out some sights alone and with Mark’s sister, Julia for 10 of those days.  Mark and Susan got a few extra days because a lovely winter storm decided to show its head in Colorado on our scheduled departure date (the bomb cyclone of snow and high winds).  We proactively called United and convinced them to let us change the tickets with the same exact routing to 2 days early.  I must have been super nice because they agreed – we packed, left the next day and spent 2 extra days in Dublin, arriving just in time for a winter wind and rain storm.

Julia arrived on March 15 and the adventure began with overnights at Navan, Liscannor, Killarney, Kilkenny, and Dublin. High winds and rain continue!

Hill of Tara
You can tell how windy it was at the Hill of Tara. This was the end of the winter storm in Ireland.
Burial passages at Newgrange. The rain poured down here while we listened to the tour guide. We were glad to be the first group in the passage because the rain had mostly stopped by the time we came out.
Newgrange burial passages
Wind was blowing straight into my face. It was bit chilly!
Newgrange stone building
Part of Newgrange. You can see why Ireland is called the Emerald Isle – caused by copious quantities of rain including the rain drop on the camera lens.

Mark drove while Susan navigated, and Julia enjoyed the scenery from the backseat.  We visited Newgrange in a downpour and the Cliffs of Moher in 40 mph winds. The rest of the days were typical spring weather – grey, cloudy, off and on rains.

On the drive from Navan to Liscannor (north of Dublin across the country to County Clare in the west), we stopped in Tullamore to tour the Tullamore Whiskey distillery. Google maps had a problem with this one. It got us close but put us on the opposite side of the canal from the factory on a one way street (we think) with no parking. Old fashioned direction guessing led us to a city parking lot by the distillery.
What distillery tour would be complete with a tasting?

Liscannor is a TINY village on the west close to Cliffs of Moher. Every village has a parade on St. Patrick’s Day, including this one – 10 minutes long. It’s also close to the Cliffs of Moher and makes a great location for exploring the area.

View of the Cliffs of Moher
View of the Cliffs of Moher. The wind blew about 40 mph while we were there, making the walking less than ideal. When the weather is better, a path goes along the cliffs for miles.
Everyone bundled up for this excursion. The wind was howling!
Ring of Kerry drive. This drive took most of the day even in low season. We can’t imagine doing this one in the summer with all the tour buses fighting for parking space along the way.
The fog rolled in and out all day long along the Ring of Kerry.
The Skellig Ring is a peninsula off the Ring of Kerry. We made a stop at the Visitor Centre for a toilet and this picture of the harbor.
Sheep everywhere! It is lambing season and the babies are pretty cute!
This sheep was very interested in us.
A man blowing glass in the Waterford factory
Julia wanted to visit the Waterford factory. When we visited before, the plant was on the outside of town. Now it’s in the middle of Waterford! We honestly thought we were in the wrong place. The tour is good; like all good tours it ends in the gift shop. They will be happy to ship your purchases home for you!

3/2019 A few pics of Ireland

One of many ruins we found along the way. This one is from the 8th century – a collection of churches and a round tower where the monks took refuge when they were attacked.
We spent St. Patrick’s Day in Liscannor along the west coast in County Clare. They had a parade like the rest of the country. When your population is about 100, the parade only lasts about 10 minutes.
After the parade, we drove to Cliffs of Moher where the wind was whipping at about 40 mph. Julia and Susan (and everyone else) bundled up before venturing out to see the scenery. Mark took the pictures!
Cliffs of Moher.
More of the Cliffs of Moher.
We drove from Liscannor to Killarney today on mainly good roads. It was a bank holiday so not much traffic. Surprise! The Killarney Brewing Company was 4 buildings from our hotel so we HAD to try their beer! Great beer and we ran into a couple who had lived in FC when he worked for Anheuser-Busch.
Hawkeyes are everywhere! This one was shopping in Killarney with his wife. Mark chatted with him while Julia shopped.

2/14 A Valentine’s Day in Hawaii

Happy Valentine’s Day! Since it’s raining, we have some time to work on pictures (deleting many) and post some on the blog. Maui is always good in February – no snow to shovel – but it’s been a wild weather two weeks, so far. If one of these weeks was your only week in Hawaii, you would not be happy! We’ve noticed, though, that rain does not keep children from the pool.

The rainbow greeted us this morning for Valentine’s Day. You can see the wet boardwalk at the bottom of the picture. It’s been raining for the past few hours which is why there’s a new blog post!

A huge winter storm ran over Hawaii this week bringing heavy winds, big surf and rain. The west shore of Maui, where we are, didn’t get huge waves like the North Shore of Oahu but we had a prime view of 5 and 6 waves lined up at a time waiting to break on shore. This wave pattern was caused by two wave patterns colliding or so the weather people reported. The wave report said these colliding patterns also kept the waves on Maui pretty small. Normally, waves are pretty mild around here and come only one at a time.

This is what the water normally looks like around here.
A few waves lined up in the storm
A few more waves in the wind

The storm caused a tree at the Honolulu Zoo to fall over and take out a fence which released 2 African Ground Hornbill birds. One has been recaptured but the other is still on the lose.

My birthday was the day of the storm. I had some champagne while trying to capture the waves in pictures but the wind was blowing too hard to venture out to the beach, some of which was washed away by the storm.

The wind blew popcorn out of a bowl I had on the porch so I held onto the champagne tightly! The birds enjoyed the lose popcorn.
My birthday cake at Hula Grill, an outdoor restaurant on the beach. They had to put down the canvas sides and even that didn’t block all the wind. We highly recommend it for dinner.

The hibiscus are in full bloom so I have to take pictures of them!

These plumeria (my favorite) were on a tree by our balcony. The storm blew them all away!
Plumeria up close!
Yellow hibiscus in full bloom.
When the rain falls, you have time to play around with photo editing software.
More playtime!

There can never be too many sunset pictures!

The sun setting behind Lanai.

Feb. 2019 – An ice maker in paradise

We’re off on our next adventure!  It’s actually a pretty mild adventure – a month on Maui to escape cold weather and snow in Colorado although Winter had actually been pretty easy in Fort Collins when we left. This week the temps hit -5F for a few mornings in FC.  It’s days like this I really enjoy retirement – no 8 AM classes to get to!

 The flight over was very uneventful – left on time, arrived 45 minutes early to not have a gate available until the American flight finally left the gate! We picked up the car, made a Costco stop for groceries, and headed off to Kaanapali.  For a Friday evening, the drive was easy with no traffic jams and a gorgeous sunset.

Sunset was gorgeous driving from the Kahalui airport over to Kaanapali. And the traffic was light!

Saturday was rainy off and on, but we picked up the rest of the groceries and returned the car to Avis. We only rent a car for a day and then just use the shuttle or walk for the rest of the trip.

Here’s where the icemaker story starts. We thought we’d dropped an ice cube on the floor, resulting in a small puddle as it melted. We dried the floor and headed to bed.  When I woke up in the middle of the night and walked to the toilet, I realized we had a bigger problem when my feet got wet!

We called maintenance on Super Bowl Sunday and Richard magically appeared to fix the leaky icemaker.  That fix lasted for 26 hours when the leak reappeared on Monday afternoon, bigger and wetter!  Visit number 2 from maintenance and another fix.

Now it’s Tuesday afternoon when water once again made its way under the fridge and across the floor.  Visit number 3 from Maintenance involved Richard from visit number 1 along with his supervisor. Take the entire ice maker apart, install new parts, add a part … OK … it should all work now! 

We walked to the beach to watch sunset just to find MORE water on the floor when we returned to the room, resulting in call number 4 to maintenance!  This time, no fix to the ice maker!  They brought an entirely new fridge to the room!  We hoped try number 4 would be the magic one so we can make ice for our gin and tonics and not find water on the floor!

Plumeria in its natural environment – my favorite!
The island of Lanai across the water. It has a nice State Park for snorkeling. This is whale migration season but none of them chose to make an appearance in my picture.

Update to the icemaker… the new fridge works great and we have plenty of ice.

The wind is blowing today. The North Shore of Oahu is expecting 40-60 foot waves and road flooding! No big waves here since we face the wrong way.

We’re starting week 2. Here are a few sunsets we captured last week. Sunsets are a beautiful part of Maui since where we stay faces west looking at Lanai and Molokai islands.

Sunset over Lanai
A purple sunset with the help of the camera!
The new moon shining in a clear sky.

12/10/18 Beer Along the Way

We’ve been back in Fort Collins for about a month now and are getting ready for Christmas.   Since we’ve been back, we’ve heard that some people missed the link to our stories about breweries and beer.  I’m writing this post with a link to the beer page.  Check it out! It might inspire you to visit a new brewery or just enjoy a Christmas beer for the season.  

Visits to breweries along the way … Read all about them.

11/2 Just forget the dryers and give us a drying rack!

If you’ve read my blogs, you know that one of my pet peeves is European dryers! I KNOW electricity is expensive in Europe but that’s no excuse for the totally inefficient dryers that are used around here. We have used everything from industrial dryers at laundromats (hot air + no vents = hot wet clothes) to the washer/dryer combination machines (Just hot wet clothes after 3 hours!) to stand alone home dryers.  Forget it!  It’s way more efficient to just get out the drying racks and hang the clothes on them!  I guess wanting soft, fluffy towels is a first world problem.

The latest dryer fiasco was in Munich at the Aloft Hotel.  We like this chain; this one is super convenient and it has free washing and drying of clothes for guests – 2 washing machines and 2 dryers.  The washing machine works fine although this one again has a 2-hour wash cycle on it for who knows why?? We opted for the 15 minutes cycle.

The two dryers, though, are another issue!  These are two Siemens machines with about 13 different cycle selections (nicely translated on a sign into English).  The problem??? NONE of the cycles get HOT and the machine is not vented in any way. I tried about 6 different cycles, including “towels” and “cotton” and “warm”.  “Warm” did get warmer than cold but not by much.  “Towels” had a running time of 1 hour and 34 minutes but was always COLD.  After 45 minutes of drying, I gave up and have clothes hanging all over the room.

Germany is very ecologically minded. My suggestion for their dryers – manufacture them to produce HOT air, vent the machines and everything will dry in 20 minutes and, actually, be dry!  I need to compare the energy use of my dryer at home that I use for 20 minutes and have dry clothes with the energy use of the dryer I just used for 45 minutes and still have wet clothes! It’s my new research project.

11/2/2018 Les Chats de Geneve

You can meet the most interesting people while traveling! We met Ben and Belinda, the cat parents, last year in Rwanda when we spent a day trekking with the Golden Monkeys. They (B and B, not the monkeys) are Australians, living and working in Geneva. They have been to some amazing places! When they travel, they need someone to take care of their cats. Since we were already in Europe, we volunteered.  (All of you with pets understand the problem.) That’s the story of how we came to spend 2 weeks in Geneva, Switzerland with Dunning and Kruger, two sister cats.  You can do some Googling and figure out who the cats are named for.

Cat jumping on the wall

Kruger was enamored with chasing and jumping for light reflections on the walls. She’s pretty good at jumping!

Cat in coat tree.

Kruger can jump into the coat tree, too, and hang out above.

Cat in a basket

Dunning’s favorite place in the house is the basket by the couches.

Cats staring

We watched American college football on Saturday and tried to teach the cats the rules. The games were projected onto the wall from a projector connected to the laptop.

Geneva is a beautiful city although without much to do for tourists.  We had a nice time just being “locals”, visiting the markets in Carouge and at PlainPalais.  With the UN and numerous other NGO’s, it’s a very international city.  I’m pretty sure we heard dozens of languages other than French and we noticed that if a group needed a common language, it was always English spoken with lots of different accents.

Fall leaves and the river

The Fall colors were out. This was along the river path we took one day over in Carouge.

cheeses on the table

Cheese from the Carouge Saturday market. We can never get too many cheeses to try.

The apartment was in the center of the city, close to grocery stores, bakeries, an easy walk to the Old City and to the lake.  We used an “old-fashioned” elevator every day to get the 7th floor. It’s a wooden elevators with a cage that goes up through the middle of the building. Think of old spy movies you might have seen.

Mark joined a local gym and worked out every day, stopping at the local bakery to pick up bread or pain de chocolate (croissant with a strip of chocolate in the the middle) on the way home.  He was friends with the bakery ladies by the time we left.  Susan worked on genealogy and went walking around the area.

One day we had an excursion to Annecy, France, with Jean-Marc. Mark worked for Jean-Marc at HP.  He was kind enough to pick us up and take us over the mountains to see Annecy, a beautiful little city.

Lake Annecy

Lake Annecy and the mountains around. The lake was VERY low from a hot, dry summer.

Castle in river in Annecy

Castle in the middle of the river in Annecy

Another day we had a tour of CERN with Bruce who we met at Ben and Belinda’s. He’s British, a Ph.D. physicist with a specialty in particle physics and lasers.  He gave a fun tour of his laser lab where researchers wait for 2-3 YEARS for some “beam time”.  Bruce and Ben are climbers. We promised we’d find them a climber among our friends if they come to Colorado!

Web developement sign

This plaque is in a CERN hall commemorating where Tim Berners-Lee developed the idea for the WWW.  A copy of the paper is in the Museum at CERN with the comment “Vague, but exciting” on the top. This blog wouldn’t be possible without him.

The weather was great for 2 weeks until the last day when  the temperature dropped, and rain came pouring down!  Mark finally had to put the shorts back in the suitcase and drag out his jeans. Oh, no!

Halloween decorations

Halloween has a small representation in Geneva. This candy display was next to the Christmas candy already for sale before the end on October. Some shop windows displayed Halloween decorations.

Christmas tree decorated in store window

End of October Christmas decorations in the shopping street. This one was in a big department store.

10/16 Malta – land of hills and churches

After spending 4 days in Gozo, it was time to take the ferry and head back to Malta for 8 days. (The ferry is free FROM Malta to Gozo but they collect 4.75 Euro from everyone on the way TO Malta.) This turned out to be the worst weather day in a year of traveling.  The rain started while we waited for the bus to get to the ferry, bucketed down on the way to the ferry and while we waited for the ferry, letting up only when we actually rode the ferry.  By the time we landed at the terminal in Cirkewwa on Malta, the downpour returned!

What happens to taxis when it rains?  They disappear!  With no taxis in sight, we huddled under the bus stop with everyone else, complete with suitcase of all sizes and shapes. Since we arranged to meet our AirBnb host at the apartment, I texted to tell him we were waiting for buses to appear.  James was stuck in traffic, too, and said he’d just pick us up so “hang out”!  What a great guy!

We spent 8 days in Melleiha on the west end of Malta. It’s a “real” town – only 3 things listed in Lonely Planet to see and very quiet at night.  We met 2 Americans who live there when we were in Scotland last year at the Whiskey Experience in Edinburgh and enjoyed two dinners with them in Malta. Sorry – no pictures!  They’ve lived in Malta for 3 years so gave us the scoop on what it’s like – inexpensive services and health insurance, inexpensive food, lots of hills to walk, traffic if you choose the wrong time of day to drive ….

Air raid shelter in Melleiha

Malta was heavily bombed during WWII by both the Italians and Germans. They dug air raid shelters all through the islands. This one can be visited in Melleiha. It was damp and chilly and very small.

This is the Grotto of the Madonna. It was at the BOTTOM of 80+ steps.

parish church

The parish church in Melleiha. One day we had a beer at the restaurant next to the church with all the old men waiting for their wives to finish up with Mass. We learned that the 2 parties in Malta each own a “club” on this street where you can buy a beer or wine. Tourists are welcome.

cat street art

If you stand in exactly the right place, you see this piece of art. If you walk down the steps from the top, the art piece is a random collection of paintings on the steps and walls that look like graffiti, but from the bottom it’s lovely.

The hills surprised us in Malta – they are everywhere!  Melleiha has hills and steps connecting different streets on the hills.  One day we walked up 43 flights and down 47 flights, according to our Garmins.  After a little arithmetic and geometry, we figured out one block we walked has about a 13% grade.  If Malta residents don’t have great legs, I’m not sure why!

Malta steps

If you look carefully, you can see the steps down (with plants on them), the cars crossing on the street, more steps down, cars parked for one block in front of the balconies and then another set of steps going UP the other side

80 steps up from the grotto

These are the 80 steps down and, hence, back up from the Grotto . Yes, we counted them!

Mediterranean View

This is the view of the Mediterranean from our Airbnb. You can see how many buildings are clearly DOWN from our apartment.

Malta is fairly cheap as far as Europe goes, including the wine they produce and import. We tried some Malta wine – 4 Euro for a bottle and it was perfectly drinkable.

The bus system covers the island pretty well and we used the bus to get from Melleiha to the capital city of Valletta one day and visit .  Valletta is a port city with lots of cruise ships stopping. The day we went, three cruise ships were in port, crowding everywhere!  One recommendation (We clearly didn’t do it.) is check what cruise ships are around if you’re going to a port!

Inside of St. Paul’s Church of the Shipwreck. This was just one of 3 or 4 churches we checked out in Valletta – all Catholic.

pile of old mattresses

We ended up walking along the port where the cruise ships dock. That’s where we discovered where old cruise ship mattresses go to die.

Another day we took the bus to Mdina, a walled city next to Rabat.  This bus ride took an hour with stops, narrow roads and streets, hills, and traffic to go 11 km.  It’s a beautiful city, though, after we finally arrived.

St. Peter and Paul Church

St. Peter’s and Paul’s Church in Mdina. We passed on paying 5 euro each to visit this one.

panoramic view of Malta

View from the city wall of Mdina

An example of the architecture in Mdina with a few colorful flowers thrown in .

Mosta Round Church

On the way back from Mdina to Melleiha on the bus, we made a 20 minute stop to see the Rotunda Church in Mosta since we’d ridden past it on the bus at least 4 times. It’s round and is copied from the Pantheon in Rome.

WWII bomb

This WWII bomb landed in the Mosta Church as people waited for Mass to start. By some miracle, it didn’t go off and they have it on display in the church.

Sunday, we went to the Melleiha Beach along with the locals and had lunch on the beach.

guy on the beach with a Coke bottle for a pillow

This guy uses a coke bottle to prop his head up so he can see his cell phone.

Ghadira Bay at the bottom of the hill from Melleiha. It’s reportedly the favorite beach for families.  Lots of Brits come to Malta or live on Malta.  The sun was shining this day and lots of the Brits forgot to put on the sunscreen.

10/9 Potato chips!

You might remember that Susan started buying, tasting and recording different potato chip flavors when she was in Bhutan. Who can resist “weird” flavors??  Here are 3 we found in the grocery store up the street in Malta.

Smoky Bacon potato ships

Another contest winner .. Smoky bacon! One winner was Marmite. We didn’t get to try this since they weren’t in the store – too popular or not popular at all??

Ham and cranberry potato chips

This one tastes like ham – not so much like cranberry

Worcester sauce flavored potato chips

Worcester Sauce potato chips. These weren’t too bad! Walker’s is owned by PepsiCo, is British brand, and has the same crowd-sourcing contest every year that Lay’s has.

10/8 Where is Gozo?

Before you even ask, Gozo is an island in the country of Malta. Malta is in the Mediterranean Sea near Sicily (roughly 100 miles) and only 241 miles from Tunis, Tunisia. Malta is a member of the EU and uses the Euro.  It’s been on our list to visit for a bit and when we met two Americans who live here (You meet the most interesting people tasting Scotch last December in Edinburgh), we decided to come see the country.

First we had to get here the day after we went to Oktoberfest!  Thank heavens for Star Alliance Gold!  The Munich Airport was a disaster at 10 AM with LONG lines snaking through the terminal to check in/drop bags (the longest lines we’ve ever seen in Munich by far) and then go through security.  Since Lufthansa checks in Air Malta (the airline we flew), Mark said “Let’s use our United Gold card and go to Star Alliance First Class/Gold line”.  I KNEW those mileage runs would come in handy!

That line had about 6 people in it. The Lufthansa check-in lady said Oktoberfest always makes the airport busy and next week (Wednesday) is a Public Holiday – Reunification Day – so lots of people took Monday and Tuesday off to go with Wednesday.

We touched down in Malta almost on time but getting to Gozo involves a drive to the ferry port, ride the ferry for 20 minutes to Gozo, and another drive to Victoria where our hotel was.  The taxi drive from the Malta airport to the ferry took about an hour – tons of Friday afternoon traffic on not very big roads.

Gozo ferry

This ferry runs between Gozo and Malta with cars, trucks and people on it. The whole ride takes about 20 minutes.

The ferry ride from Malta to Gozo is free – you pay on the way back!  We took a cab from there to the Duke Hotel in Victoria.  Gozo traffic was pretty bad but it was Friday and there’s only one road from the ferry port to Victoria.

Gozo is pretty small (about 9 miles by 4 miles) with a collection of 2 lane roads, narrow city streets, and parking on 2 sides of the main city streets. Don’t forget .. Malta was British for so long that they drive on the left side of the road.

narrow street with red car

That car really did belong on the street. We watched some interesting driving and parking!

Maltese wooden balconies

Maltese balconies. These are all over the place painted in different colors.

Another view of the Citadella from Victoria. You can see how big the Main road is …or is not!

One day we walked up to the Citadella, built in the 15th century and reinforced and added to over the years.  There’s also a Cathedral in the middle of it.  It was hard to get any good pictures of the castle up close.


The Citadella in Victoria looms over the entire island. That’s a hedge of prickly pear cactus.

spare pillar pieces in the Citadella

Looks like they left a few spare architectural pieces laying around.

Malta cat peeking around corner

We found this Malta cat staring at us in the Citadella.

Fake dome in the cathedral

This ceiling is really flat. There was not enough money to pay for the dome so the builders used a technique to make it look as if there’s a dome.

Cathedral of the Assumption altar

Altar in the Cathedral of the Assumption

Church of the Assumption

Cathedral of the Assumption inside the Citadella

Another day was Hop On Hop Off bus day!  Little did we know a Holland America cruise was in port and lots of those passengers opted to take the sightseeing bus. The bus was packed when we got on and most of the people, we think, just stayed on and rode around the island without ever getting off.

The bus went through Victoria on the way to Dwerja where we got off to wander around the rocks and see the sights for 45 minutes, use the toilet and buy 2 postcards.  Back on the bus to drive past Ta Pinu (large cathedral), Fontina, Xlendi (beach town near Victoria), Marsalforn (beach town).

Cliffs of Dwerja

More cliffs of Dwerja.

Dwerja cliffs

Dwerja Cliffs and rocks. Lots of people were diving or snorkeling off this coast.

We started looking for megaliths when we lived in Portugal.  The Ggantija megaliths in Gozo are well-organized and easy to find with a good visitor’s center in the sleepy town of Xaghro.  I didn’t have to drag Mark on any dirt country roads in this trip!

Ggantija megaliths dating from 2500 BC

Ggantija megaliths

These megaliths are literally on the main road and quite easy to get to.

stone windmill

Ta Kola Windmill built in 1725

When the bus finally showed up again, we rode it past Ramla and Nadur to Mgarr, the ferry port, where we lost most of the other people on the bus. When we arrived at the Rotunda Church, the driver told us we could have 5 minutes to go in the church since the next stop is closed on Sunday and he has to wait at the church, anyway, to stay on schedule. We checked out Rotunda of John the Baptist, 4th largest rotunda in Europe, depending who’s doing the calculations!

St. John the Baptist Church looming above the plains

Church of St. John the Baptist standing above Xewtija.  I had to take the picture from a moving bus!

Best sight of the day … worker at the port trying to get a group organized for a speedboat ferry.  He finally said, “OMG” and then blessed himself!

10/5 A fun time in Munich

We had so much fun last year in Munich at Oktoberfest that we wanted to go back this year and Bettina from Heidelberg agreed to get the table reservation.  We couldn’t convince anyone else from Fort Collins to come along but Jutta from Essen, Germany, met us there.  (We met Jutta in Tanzania at dinner one night before our safari and kept in touch.)

To reserve a table, you have to reserve the full table of 10. The reservations are free but you have to buy coupons for 2 beers and a chicken for each of 10 people. We were at the Pshorr Braurosl.  Besides us and Jutta, Bettina and Michelle came down from Heidelberg, making 5 at the table.  Four “students” joined us from Cal State – Fullerton.  The “students” are not students any more.  They’ve all graduated and pay their own bills. One has a Mom who works at Fullerton with exchange programs which is where the connection comes in.  I think they had fun!  They danced on the benches, anyway, and enjoyed the chicken and drank the beer.

We’ve already made a reservation at Hotel Uhland for next year for 3 nights.  (It’s cancellable.)  We love this hotel! Susan stayed there in 1982 on a trip to Munich. It’s about 2 blocks to the Oktoberfest entrance, nice people, good breakfast, and a dog to pet. This year we met Eddie, a big fluffy dog who leans to get more pets.

2 girls from Fullerton

The ladies from Fullerton rented dirndls for the event and the guys with them rented liederhosen. None of us knew you could rent the clothes.

One Brit/Irish and two German friends at Oktoberfest

Mark drinking a stein of beer.

Mark drinking a mas of beer backwards. It’s an Oktoberfest thing to do

Hofbrau horses

Each tent has a team of horses pulling wagons full of kegs and they parade around a few times a week – or maybe every day. These are the Hofbrau horses

One night we ended up at the Hofbrau tables outside and it was cold! We sat near the heaters but I wasn’t taking off my coat.

This is the Augustiner wagon near the grounds.

Inside of Marstall tent

Marstall tent at Oktoberfest

If you’re interested in going to Oktoberfest, think about going the first week before it gets crazy; avoid weekends, and book a table for an afternoon session which is 11:30 – 4:30. Afternoons are way calmer and much quieter.  Of course, it helps to have a German speaking person to try to get a table.  If there aren’t many people in your group, you can usually find some seats by just walking in.  We (2 of us) had no trouble finding seats at Marstall tent one afternoon.

Susan with a beer at Marstall

Susan enjoying a wheat beer.

Mark at Marstall tent

Mark at Marstall tent. It’s the newest tent on the grounds and has a horse theme.

After the tent and beer, it was game and ride time! Oktoberfest is like a REALLY big fair with lots of rides, including upside down, spinning rides.  Why anyone wants to ride the upside-down ones after a beer or two is beyond me.  Mark rode two rides with Bettina and Jutta, Mark and Susan rode a small roller coaster.

upside down ride

We did NOT ride this one. This car spins upside down while the whole ride goes around in circles like a ferris wheel.

Ferris wheel

The ferris wheel is one of the tame rides.

Mark and Bettina on a ride after the beer. It’s an old German ride with the goal to be the last person sliding off by resisting centrifugal force.

Mark and I did some sightseeing in Munich before Oktoberfest. The weather was perfect with clear blue skies!

Sandcastle man

This guy was in Marienplatz as a street performer.

On the way back to the Hotel Uhland, Mark asked two guys if they needed directions since the guys stopped at a corner to discuss the map on their phone.  One guy said “This is good. We have an American guy telling two German guys how to find Oktoberfest!”  Yes, they needed directions at the messy intersection.

Oktoberfest sidewalk signs

These signs were stuck on the sidewalks leading from the train station pointing people in the correct direction.  At the end of the day, it’s easy to find the way back to the train station – follow the crowds!

Lowenbrau Lion

The Lowenbrau lion rotates around on top of the tent. You can see how perfect the weather was during the day.

9/26 A few days in Krakow

Our next stop was Krakow, Poland. Susan was in Krakow about 5 years ago with her Mom on a tour, loved the city, and thought Mark needs to see it. Off we go from Riga to Krakow.

No problem taking the tram to the bus station and taking Bus 22 to the Airport for about $1.25 each for a ticket. The bus wandered through the city and country and dropped us off right in front of the terminal. We were first in line to check in at LOT airlines. The one hour flight from Riga to Warsaw was OK.

Come boarding time for the Warsaw to Krakow flight, we went to the gate (Shared door for Gates 36 and 37) and stood by the group 1 sign (Group 1 was on our boarding pass.). At our boarding time, a plane came into Gate 37 – we are at Gate 36.  The gate agent put a Disney line strap up to separate the gates but Gate 36 didn’t/couldn’t board until all of the Gate 37 people got off or at least that was our explanation.  THEN there were no boarding groups called – everyone just used 2 machines to have the boarding passes checked.  I got behind some old lady who had to quiz the gate agent about, I’m guessing, her bags and where she would get them.  Even in Polish I could understand “baggage” and “Krakow” repeated several times.

We FINALLY got through the gate and ended up boarding a bus to be taken to the plane.  No matter how many times I have to use this bus boarding system, it rarely gets more efficient and this was one of the MOST inefficient boarding we’ve done. Once the bus arrived at the plane on the runway, they only had steps up to the front entrance on the 737 (Using front and back entrances with good directions for which rows should use which door works pretty well – SAS in Stockholm for example).  Polish LOT passengers carry as much, if not more, luggage on board than Americans – hard to believe, right??

The first bus of people boards the plane only to find out there’s ANOTHER bus of people we’re waiting for. It shows up in about 15 minutes and the inefficient boarding starts again but now there’s even less overhead space than before.  The flight attendants actually went through the bins and made anyone who put items that fit under the seat do just that – put the items under the seat in front!  We finally got out of Warsaw and landed in Krakow about 40 minutes late after the pilot landed the plane at a pretty fast speed and bounced it on the runway.  Mark sat next to a LOT pilot who said nothing during the flight or landing.

Luggage took a while to show up so we opted for a taxi to the AirBnb. The taxi driver could rival Paris taxi drivers.

We’re in Krakow!

Mark went to Auschwitz and Birkenau on Thursday morning. Susan passed because I saw it with Mom and visiting this concentration camp more than once is more than I can handle. We’ve been to Dachau in Germany and Terezin in Czech Republic and three concentration camps is overwhelming. Visits to them are mandatory for school children in their respective countries.

Auschwitz Concentration Camp Entrance

Entrance to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland. Over 1.1 million men and women lost their lives here.

The remaining buildings of Birkenau Concentration Camp.

The next day we took a tour to the Wieliszcka Salt Mine. The tour took us down to 136 meters underground, using 800 steps to get there. Yes, we took an elevator back up!  The tour took about 2 hours underground and we walked 4 km.  It’s a fun place to see!

Our deepest point in the mine – 135 Meters. It took 800 steps to get down here and a mine elevator to get out.

Chapel in the Salt Mine

This chamber of the Salt Mine was made into a Chapel after the salt was gone. Mass is said here every Sunday about 7:30 AM.

Carving of the Last Supper

This sculpture of The Last Supper is only a few inches deep and took 7 years to complete. It’s in the chapel in the mine

Pope John Paul II sculpture

Pope John Paul II is quite popular and the chapel in the Salt Mine had this salt sculpture of him.

Saturday was our day to wander around Krakow hitting all the hot spots and who knows how many churches.  Poland is VERY Catholic with more churches per capita than any city outside of Rome.  In the countryside 90% attend Mass on Sunday; only about 40% within the cities.  At one point we could see 5 churches from where we stood! We walked up to the Wawel Hill to see the Cathedral and Castle Grounds overlooking the Vistula River.  Had to check out a few markets, too, and do a little jewelry buying.

Cloth Hall at nigh

Cloth Hall and Square sitting under an almost full moon.

Saint Maria Church

St. Maria’s Church. The day we tried to visit the church was closed for renovation work.

Wawel Cathedral. You can tell from all the different spires that it was added to over the years. The kings of Poland are buried here but we skipped that part of the church!

The old Cloth Hall now filled with stalls selling all sorts of Polish merchandise and souvenirs.

wheat beer

The weather was perfect for sitting outside and enjoying a wheat beer from a local brewery.

Today, we walked to Kazimierz, the Jewish Quarter, where only about 3,000 – only 5,000 out of 60,000 people survived from the German Occupation.

Hot dog menu

Kazimierz is also an up and coming area of the city. We ran into a field of food trucks and had a hot dog for lunch. It was really a sausage and tasted nothing like a U.S. hotdog.

One thing we’ve noticed in Krakow is a lack of traffic signals and walk signals to control people crossing the street in front of cars, trucks, buses, trams.  People pretty much walk where and when they want creating traffic havoc.  We can’t figure it out!

Next stop is Munich for Oktoberfest.

9/22 Five days in Riga, Latvia

We are wandering our way across the Baltic states and central Europe on our way to Munich for Oktoberfest, moving from expensive Scandinavia to less expensive Estonia and Latvia to MUCH less expensive Poland before reaching reasonable Germany.

We heard good things about Riga so it was on the list to visit.  This time we decided to take the bus from Tallinn to Riga and chose Lux Express after doing a bit of research.  The ride was 4.5 hours long, cost 28 E each, express from Tallinn, with comfy seats, wi-fi, power in the seats, and videos to watch. We opted for the slightly higher priced tickets only so Mark could have more leg room. The bus left on time and arrived on time; the scenery was good – lots of birch forests and wooden house; nothing we would call a city between Tallinn and Riga. Note also… the Tallinn bus station is very nice with clean toilets and a few shops to buy sandwiches.

Luxe Express bus seats

Inside of the Luxe Express Bus, complete with video monitors to watch movies in a variety of languages and wifi.

Tallinn is charming –  a medieval Old Town still in good shape. Riga, on the other hand, is much more cosmopolitan even though it, too, has a small, charming Old Town.  Parks abound in the city filled with beautiful gardens and interesting sculptures. A canal winds through the city as does the Daugava River. The leaves are falling and seem to be raked up daily.

paddle boarders

This group was paddle boarding on the canal on Sunday afternoon and then started doing yoga on their boards.

One of the many gardens in the parks.

Riga has over 600  Art Nouveau buildings which are beautiful, hiding in plain sight all over the city. Looking up became a pastime to find all the magical and mysterious touches to buildings. The pictures below were all from one block full of buildings near where we stayed. I’m sure the people who live on this street get tired of everyone staring at their homes and offices.

He/she has a matching partner on the other side of the door.

Riga has embraced the shopping culture since shedding the Russian influence. We passed numerous shopping malls in our bus rides around the city.  They still make use of the old Central Market with fish, meat, and veggies. It was packed on a Sunday afternoon.

We have no idea what these fish are even when we went for a translation. At the price, though, they must be plentiful – about $1 per pound.

The Central Market is housed in 5 German Zeppelin Hangars for indoor space. There’s space outside where the veggies seemed to be. Watermelon was a big seller this time of year.

Smiling is not big in this ex-Russian dominated city. After what they went through with the Russians, Germans, and Russians again, a serious demeanor could be expected.  The younger people are a bit more genial although we’re still waiting for the mid-20’s lady in the Costa Coffee shop to crack a smile.  She didn’t even ask us what we wanted to order but we noticed she didn’t ask the locals either!

One day we took the bus out of town to the Latvian Ethnographic Open Air Museum to see buildings from all over the 4 distinct areas of Latvia. This building collection began in the mid-30’s, quite a forward-thinking idea at the time. This preserved old buildings from destruction and allows everyone (school groups included!) to understand a bit of life in earlier times.

We visited in the middle of the week during the off season and had the place pretty much to ourselves.  That being said, we missed any demonstrations of  life in the villages that may be done during the peak season, according to friends and the website. One fact we took away was bath houses and saunas have been popular for a LONG time!

The Open Air Museum is set in the woods next to a lake. Walking around was calm and peaceful in the middle of the week.

Wooden building with thatched roof

Just a sample of the buildings you find at the Open Air Museum

Laundry … our AirBnb had a lovely washing machine and a lovely 4 hours wash cycle if you’re so inclined!  We opted for a shorter one – about 1 hour this time. Did  I mention the elevator?  The building in the Embassy part of town had an elevator, too!  I love those when it comes to carrying the suitcases in!  We were around the corner from the Greece embassy and about 2 blocks from the Russian embassy – noticeable by the fence, guard box, and cameras all around!

Here are a few other highlights from our visit to Riga.

champagne cocktail

Black balsam is a spirit made in Latvia – very traditional. We think it’s like moonshine with a bunch of different herbs and roots added. At 47% alcohol, it’s strong! I tried mine in a cocktail mixed with prosecco. (It’s the back stuff floating on top of the prosecco before I stirred it all together.)
Mark had his in coffee.

High seat in a city bus

This seat was in a city bus. We have no idea who it’s designed for but it was used by a variety of people from old to young and short to tall.

Ore new favorite snack – dark rye bread grilled in butter and covered in smashed up garlic. It’s a common snack to go with beer.

St. Gertrude's Church

Susan’s grandmother’s middle name was Gertrude so I dragged Mark around Riga to find St. Gertrude’s Church. She is also a patron saint of travelers. How appropriate!

Nativity of Christ Orthodox Church

The Nativity of Christ Orthodox Church in Riga is the biggest Orthodox church in Riga and has been completely restored since the Russians left. They used it a a restaurant and a planetarium at various times.

9/17 On to Tallinn, Estonia

Rather than fly, we took the Viking ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn, about a 2.5-hour ride across the Baltic Sea. The ride was good and the ferry provides lots of entertainment in bars, night club – not so much on Monday morning with a ship full of old people!  One ferry worker told us the ship is rocking on weekends when it’s full of younger people heading to Tallinn for a cheap weekend. The drinking starts BEFORE they even board the ship.  On our sailing, coffee was the drink of choice for most people.

The highlight of the ship for many was obviously the duty-free shop full of wine and alcohol.  Given the prices in Helsinki, we understood the attraction.  All we bought was a bag of licorice and pepper candy that Juhis and Noora turned us on to in Finland.

Finish people seem to love black licorice and sell it in all sorts of forms. We saw at least 25 different types in the hypermarket. This one is licorice and pepper mixed.

The Old Town part of Tallinn is beautiful, full of stone walls, old buildings, churches, cobblestones everywhere on the street and the sidewalks. We needed to kill some time before we could get into our AirBnb so we opted for lunch and picked the Texas Honky Tonk for some Mexican food. Surprise!  The Mexican food was the best we’ve had outside of the U.S. by far and better than a lot we’ve had IN the U.S.  Turns out the Estonian owner visited Austin, loved Mexican food and opened this restaurant. We ate there twice!  We also ate at Vaike with great service and better food.  It’s a partner restaurant to Rataskaevu 16   that  was recommended by several friends and TripAdvisor! We didn’t plan ahead so couldn’t get a last minute reservation at Rataskaevu 16 but could get into Vaike – around the corner and serving the same menu.


Yes …Mexican food!

Window into Broccoli pizza

Who would ever name a restaurant “Broccoli”??

One thing we’ve noticed in both Estonia and Latvia – smiling must not come naturally to almost anyone, including people in the service industry.  Being grumpy or dour is the modus operandi in coffee shops, bars, restaurants, shops. The service people who smile definitely stand out!

One note – For those who wonder how we can travel at “such a pace”, we are NOT traveling at the Tour group pace! We spent at least 4 nights in Bergen, Stockholm, Tallinn, Riga, and, soon, Warsaw.  Our typical day is:

  • Sleep until we wake up unless we have a train, bus or plane to catch and have to set the alarm
  • Eat breakfast and drink coffee
  • Sightsee – try to walk at least 10,000 steps and that’s not hard!
  • Around 4 PM, come back to the apartment and rest, nap, read, work on blog, pictures, etc.
  • Find dinner about 7 PM or eat in the apartment if we ate lunch out
  • Go to bed whenever

Tallinn Town Hall in city center

The sun came out one day! This is the town hall in the city center.

City Hall at night in the rain

The city hall looked good at night, too, even in the rain.

Orthodox church in Tallinn

Russian Orthodox church in Tallinn

Most of Estonia is either Lutheran or Orthodox. There’s one Roman Catholic Church in Tallinn (population of about 500,000) and it’s the Cathedral, about the size of a small parish church in the U.S. There’s also one Ukrainian Orthodox Church and we visited that, too. Pope Francis is visiting the Baltic countries at the end of the month, including Tallinn on Sept. 25. Posters hang everywhere and the Ukrainians are hoping he will make a visit to their church when he’s in town. The schedule seems to be in flux.

Saint Catherine's walk in Tallinn

St. Catherine’s walk with lots of shops along the way.

City Gate

The biggest city gate still standing in Tallinn. We had to walk through it to get from the ferry port to our AirBnb.

Tallinn city gate at night with lights

Tallinn city gate at night

The flower stands were open until late at night.

City view over the roofs

View of the city from one of the overlooks. Rain started falling shortly after this to drive us to a coffee shop to escape!

City street

Old town city street in Tallinn along the walls

So far, we’ve with stayed in AirBnbs or with friends.  When we pick an Airbnb, we always find an entire apartment so we can eat breakfast and one other meal in AND make coffee AND do our laundry.  Prices vary, of course, from about $90 U.S. dollars per night in Stockholm to about $35 U.S. per night in Riga.  We’ve had great places so far and have seen all sorts of little showers built into renovated bathrooms, washing machines in all languages (This trip has had all English language machines.), walked up flights of steps to apartments, used elevators to get up to the 3rd floor, etc. We’ve picked up keys in lock boxes, met the owners to get keys, used key pads to get in the buildings and apartments, etc.  The one in Tallinn had the most interesting entrance. The 4 floors of apartments shared a building entrance with a strip club – Gentleman’s Club.

We had a great AirBnb in Old Town of Tallinn. The only quirky thing was we shared an entrance to a “Gentleman’s Club” .

9/12 Two weeks in Scandinavia

After we visited Mom, we headed off to Scandinavia to visit some friends and see a few new cities.  Miraculously, the flight from DC to Munich to Copenhagen to Bergen went flawlessly and our luggage even showed up at the end in Bergen, Norway, second largest city in the country. Bergen is a nice city right on the water and on every Scandinavian Cruise itinerary, we think.

Panorama of Bergen from the castle at the top of the hill.

We made Bergen the starting point for an all-day excursion “Norway in a Nutshell” – gorgeous scenery on a rail, bus, boat, and the steepest railway in the world trip.  Yes, Dave, we rode the Flam Railroad and found a Norwegian brewery along the way.

This was the view from the bus on the road from Voss to Gudvangen.

I took the picture from the bus. Yes, the road was really 18%  grade  Needless to say, the scenery was spectacular.

The next few pictures are taken when we rode a boat for 2 hours on the Nærøyfjord and Aurlandsfjord between Gudvangen and Flamm. No pictures can do the scenery justice. Spectacular doesn’t come close to doing it justice.

This was some scenery from the train between Myrdal and Bergen after we rode the Flam RR.

After 4 days in Bergen, we headed via train to Tonsberg, Norway (Oldest city in Norway) for a weekend with Per and Lise. We met them on the Pacific cruise earlier in the year and they were kind enough to show us Tonsberg , feed us EXTREMELY well, and take us on a daylong boat ride along the Norwegian coast. Yes, the sun was out for the entire weekend.  If you’ve heard rumors about Norway being expensive, you heard right! Just bring your CC and vow not to drink much (or any) beer or wine.

Per and Lise swear they’ll come to FC next Fall so we’re taking suggestions for uniquely Colorado things to do – Bruce’s Bar???

Strawberry Cheesecake

Lise made this cheesecake from scratch. It was beautiful and tasted even better.

Stockholm was our next destination, this time via plane.  Another 4 days of sunshine and a visit to the Vasa Museum was the highlight of the week.  We enjoyed finding out about life in the 1600’s aboard a boat but the story of how the ship was raised and preserved was even more fascinating.  Stockholm looked affordable after Norway.  We stayed in an AirBnb and bought food at the little Thai food cart down the street.  It was yummy and only cost about $8.50 per meal.

Cans of Fat Tire beer

Made in Ft. Collins! Found in Stockholm at the liquor store in the middle of the city.

Boat from 1628 in Vasa Museum

This boat sank in 1628 on its maiden voyage of 1500 meters. It was recovered in about 1970 and preserved. Great museum!

In Stockholm, besides the Hard Rock, we also went to a cash free coffee shop.  Payment is only done with a card. We saw more cards used in Scandinavia that we saw cash exchanged.

When we visited the Seychelles last November, we met Noora and Juhis from Helsinki, Finland, on a trek from hell across an island.  They invited us to come for the weekend in Helsinki. As one friend said, “Never invite Susan and Mark unless you mean it because they WILL show up!”  We did show up and had a marvelous weekend with them and Lilly, the poodle.

In Helsinki yoghurt is sold in what looks like American milk cartons. This makes it easy to store in the fridge.

shelf full of wine in a box

Box wine is very popular in both Helsinki and Stockholm. This was the selection in one Helsinki wine store.

We had dinner in Helsinki at a Lapland restaurant and ate Rudolph. We told one niece that Christmas is cancelled this year since we ate Santa’s deer.

Gin and grapefruit juice long drink in a can

Gin and grapefruit Long drink was created in Helsinki for the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. We want to make one with ice and fresh grapefruit juice next summer.

We saw lots of houses in Helsinki with these useful boot brushes in front of them.

Observations about Scandinavia …

  • Norway is expensive!
  • Norway, Sweden and Finland have a monopoly of wine, spirits and strong beer. You can only buy them at state monopoly shops. The name of the shops has what looks like “monopoly” in it.
  • Finland is WAY less expensive than Norway.
  • Many (most?) people in Norway, Sweden, and Finland speak English as well as, if not better than, our fellow Americans. We had a lovely discussion with a 14-year-old Norwegian girl in English and she wasn’t at all shy about speaking to us.
  • I cannot pronounce Norwegian, Swedish, nor Finnish language correctly… but I make people laugh when I try!

8/26 Alaska Cruise Summary

Day 1 – boarding in Vancouver.  Not a problem!  We had to clear US Immigration again after spending about 13 hours in Canada!  Because Mom and Susan were signed up for one room and Mark for a different one (Susan and Mark sailed on Princess in the past and got discounts on rooms their names are one.), when JB cancelled, Susan and Mark each have a room to ourselves!  We got keys to each room and our cabin attendant unlocked the balcony door between the cabins. We can go back and forth.

Gloriously sunny day with blue sky for departure from Vancouver.

Vancouver skyline

Blue sky and the Vancouver, BC skyline as the cruise departs

Day 2 – awoke to fog that continues pretty much all day long!  At sea all day heading north with no land in site since it’s hidden in the fog.

Day 3 – Juneau – the sun came out in time for a walk around Juneau and a visit to Devil’s Run Brewery.

Fog in Juneau

Juneau was covered in fog when the ship arrived about 7 AM

The fog cleared for our walk around town to the Greek Orthodox church in Juneau – all uphill!

Day 4, 5, 6, 7 – fog and heavy clouds were the operative words for 4 days.  Glaciers look more blue when it’s cloudy – or so we were told!

College Fjord glaciers

Margerie Glacier in Glacier National Park

Tidal Glacier

Tidal glacier in Glacier National Park

Glacier up close!

Glacier Up close!

Day 10 – the sun comes out just in time for our 8 hour trip to Denali National Park. Yes! We saw Denali!

A few caribou munched along the raod

We took the 8 hour Tundra Tour in the NP and it went as far as Mile Marker 61. This was the view on the first clear day in about 16 days!

Denali mountain at sunset

As we left the Denali National Park about 9 PM, we could see Denali at sunset.

One of the moose along the road


8/26 Getting to the Alaska Cruise

Live in Colorado? How hard can it be to get to Vancouver for an Alaska cruise? Not hard at all – right?? Wrong! Susan’s Mom, JB, has wanted to go to Alaska to see Denali for years. We finally convinced her that a cruise and then land tour would be the way to go (That’s a whole other story.) We signed up all three of us and Mark and Susan booked plane tickets.
The story needs a small detour here. JB lives in extreme Western Maryland and can’t drive to Dulles Airport 150 miles away. This means Mark and Susan fly to DC, rent a car, drive about 150 miles to Cumberland, pick up JB after spending a few days there, and then we all fly to Vancouver to start the Princess Cruise. At the end of the cruise in Fairbanks we undo this process to take JB home.
Well, we discovered that there’s no direct flight from Dulles to Vancouver on Star Alliance meaning the routing took us from Washington Dulles to Denver (Just like being home) to Vancouver. Either that routing or fly through Chicago (never our favorite) or have very short connections in Toronto or Newark. OK … tickets are purchased and we’re ready to go.
Not quite … JB contracts an ailment that made her decide not to go on the cruise and changing our tickets was too expensive. Plus, JB paid for the trip! Off we went to DC and spent a few days in Cumberland for a visit and managed to do a few errands for Mom before we started on our little journey to get to Vancouver. Here’s the summary of that excursion!

• Boarded the plane in DC on time, left the gate on time.
• Sent to the “holding area” when the airport had a ground stop for all west bound planes. Did I mention it’s been raining on the east coast for a month?? We hung out there for an hour waiting for the weather to clear and to get new routing to Denver, taking us way south and adding a bit of time to the flight.
• Arrived in Denver one hour late and deplaned.
• Determined our flight to Vancouver was 20 minutes late, 30 minutes late, 45 minutes late, 80 minutes late while we waited for the arrival of the plane coming from Philadelphia – east coast – not a good place to come from! Scheduled departure 8:43 PM and no change for at least 2 hours.
• We hung out in the United Club and had a grand view of the hail storm hitting the airport. The hail storm was short at the terminal and just small hail – pea size – no worries! After all the hail storms this summer, this was nothing.
• Go to the gate at 8:15 (We saw the flight from Philadelphia had arrived and we could see the plane from the United Club windows.) thinking we’d board. No gate agent in site.
• Gate agent arrives at 8:45, gets on the plane, comes back and says, “I have no idea what’s going on here.” In the meantime, the gate info shows the next flight leaving from our gate was the one to Phoenix.
• Flight crew is missing one flight attendant. Finally found one and she gets applause when she shows up. The gate agent was good at keeping us updated on her search for a flight attendant.
• Boarding begins at 9:00 and we actually manage to depart about 9:30.
• Arrive in Vancouver at 11:30, clear immigration quickly and wait for our luggage for 20 minutes. They took lessons from Denver.
• Get a taxi to the hotel, arriving about midnight and were in bed by 12:20 AM. (This is 3:20 AM DC time.)

Summary – we could have flown to Europe faster from Denver than it took to get from DC to Vancouver. Oh well … we managed to get there!

Hawaii update

After 17 days on the Noordam with 1900 new friends, the ship docked in Honolulu and we disembarked.  (Note: the ship went on to Lahaina but Honolulu was the only port you could disembark with luggage.)

The ship arrived on time in Honolulu about 7 AM and our flight from Honolulu to Maui was booked for 12:15 PM. Everyone on the ship had to clear US immigration before they could go ashore in Honolulu and clearance was to be held in the theatre. What would you think when you hear “immigration, customs, and 1900 passengers” all in the same sentence?? Given how long it can take to clear immigration at an airport, we were prepared for the worst!
We climbed out of bed at 6:30 AM, showered, and hustled off to the theatre where the line for US passengers’ immigration was half the length of the ship! We started timing the line because we bet it would take at least an hour to clear U.S. Immigration, but the line moved in a slow walk to the front of the ship where the ship officer scanned our cruise card and a U.S. Immigration official looked at our passport for about 3 seconds and waved us on. We thought there must be another check point so Mark asked if Global Entry is available. The Immigration guy said, “I am Global Entry.”
They made no differentiation between passengers disembarking for good and passengers just going ashore for the day. Total time – 8 minutes from the start of the line to the end! Note: International visitors took longer – about 45 minutes.

Hey! We had time for a quick breakfast before we picked up our hand luggage in the room, left the ship, walked through a warehouse, turned right and found our suitcases sitting in the Pink group! Holland America gave the disembarking passengers (us) the standard Customs cards the night before. What would you think? Somewhere we’ll have to go through Customs, right? Wrong! We picked up the bags and walked out the door, across the street and took a taxi to the airport.
Mark’s comment about Customs – “This would have been the time to bring back a $20,000 watch”.

Next stop was Maui.  The flight landed on time, we made a Costco and Safeway stop, and checked into the Condo for 2 weeks. Maui was incredibly green thanks to all the rain they had this winter.

White and pink hibiscus

Pink and white hibiscus was one of the beautiful flowers we saw on Maui. Maui had lots of rain this year and flowers were bigger than we’ve seen on past visits.

Mark met Seattle Bob at the grills one night. Seattle Bob asked if we like ahi and snapper because a friend with a fleet of fishing boats sent over several BIG packages of fresh frozen fish and it was too much for them to eat. We love fish, thank heavens, since we ate fish for 5 straight days before we took a pizza break.

Big piece of ahi

A BIG chunk of ahi to be grilled!

It was Iowa week in Maui. Iowans are everywhere and Maui is no exception. Two guys Mark has known since freshman year were in Maui!

Another U. of Iowa connection. Dale and Sue just happened to be in Maui for a week at the same place we stayed.

Chris lives on Maui. He and Mark have known each other since freshman year at Iowa.

A little champagne in a wine glass during sunset

Lunch at Kimo's

Lunch in Lahaina with 2 Norwegian friends we met on the cruise. We disembarked in Honolulu and flew to Maui but the ship went on to Maui in 2 days.

At the end of 3 weeks we flew back to Denver! Home again after 263 days!

“A few of our favorite things …”

Now that the trip is coming to an end, we reflected over a gin and tonic about the good and the bad of the last 8 months. For what it’s worth …

  • Favorite “normal” places we visited – Seychelles (Mark);  Split (Susan)
  • Favorite adventure – Rwanda trekking with gorillas
  • Least favorite “adventure” – hike across Le Curieuse Island in the Seychelles
  • Least favorite town – Bundi, India
  • Least favorite “things” during the trip – Food poisoning (Susan); Bad tour guide in Bundi and Kota

Best place for a drink

  • Beer in Serengeti
  • India Pacific train
  • Catamaran to MONA in Hobart
  • Beer while watching the total lunar eclipse from the rooftop in Bundi
  • Wine on the twilight sailing yacht in Fremantle

Best place we stayed (Other than with friends)

  • Meridien in the Seychelles with an oceanfront room
  • Sheraton in Koh Samui – best A/C of all!
  • Meridien in Koh Samui with a plunge pool

Worst Hotel – Bundi Vilas Halewi

Best Hotel Lounge – Bangkok Westin

Best flight – Munich to Bangkok in First Class on Thai Air

Worst travel day – Port Macquarie to Hobart – 4 hours of flying time turned into a 14 hour trip

Best restaurant

  • Steak at the Jail House Inn, Launceston
  • Mexican food at Terminal 21, Bangkok after 5 months of no Mexican food

Best restaurant view – Indique in Jodphur

Worst food – Colonel’s Retreat, Delhi – Susan’s food poisoning location!

Worst roads – India, hands down!

Rudest person on the trip – UK couple on the train in India

Weirdest person we ran into on the trip – the Indian guy who stared at us for 4 hours on the Indian train

“Glad it wasn’t me” event – Aileen not getting her luggage for 5 days on the safari

Great coincidence –  Aileen didn’t have her phone charger and she used her phone to take pictures. Mark had his camera since he used his phone for pictures.  He loaned Aileen the camera but didn’t have the charger for it.  Annie from Tennessee had a charger that fit the camera! All was well in the photography world.

Unexpected experiences

  • Twilight sailing in Fremantle on a yacht and dinner at the Fresh Water Yacht Club
  • Seeing 2 kills in Serengeti by 3 lionesses. They killed 2 wildebeests
  • Landing in Mwanza, Tanzania, to clear immigration leaving Tanzania
  • Food Walks in Delhi and Jaipur

Little too close for comfort – the airline we flew in Tanzania crashed a plane into Ngorongoro Crater National Park just a few days after we used them

Illnesses – 4 colds (2 each) and 1 case of food poisoning and 1 sprained wrist

New friends and acquaintances

  • Avijet – Indian in Ranthambore NP from CA – works for EAS
  • Ana – met in Split – anesthesiologist from Singapore/Malaysia/Cambridge
  • Nora and Juhis – Finland met in Seychelles
  • Rob and Justin; Sonya and Graham – Australians met in Split
  • Peter from Melbourne via Rob and Justin
  • Gayle and Mark – Sydney
  • Margarida – Sydney Sheraton clerk from Portugal
  • Ben and Belinda – from Geneva – met in Golden Monkey trek
  • Uta – from Germany met in Tanzania
  • Ryan from Malta – met in Edinburgh
  • Clifford – from Madagascar – doing laundry in Bangkok
  • Suchin Shah – from South Carolina – sells RV’s
  • Per and Lise – from Norway
  • Debbie and Tim – from London

South Pacific Cruise with the “older” clientele

After spending about 2 months in Australia, we had to figure out some way to get back to the U.S. or wherever we went next.  We see “repositioning cruises” advertised all the time, mainly between the U.S. and Europe but we figured the cruise lines have to get their ships back to the west coast in time for the Alaska sailing season after spending the Southern Hemisphere summer sailing in Australia/New Zealand and the South Pacific.

Off the Chief Travel Planner went to Google and quickly found a website, It turns out there weren’t many to choose from, but Holland America was moving the MS Noordam from Sydney to Vancouver starting on April 13 and we could disembark in Honolulu on April 28.  Yes, that makes this a 16-day cruise. We crossed the International Date line so repeated April 21, just like “Groundhog Day”.

Rommel, the bartender

Our favorite bartender, Rommel, in the Pinnacle Bar.

Fortunately, most of the days at sea had flat water and sunshine. Humidity increased as we approached the equator, reaching 98% in Pago Pago.

International Date Line Certificate

Official recognition of crossing the International Date Line.

agendas for April 21

A daily schedule was in our cabin every night for the next day. Two of them had the same date … different agendas for the 2 days it was April 21. Per, our Norwegian friend, celebrated his birthday twice!

Boarding the ship in Sydney – no problem!  Mark had to go on a hunt for his luggage but discovered it was in Ship Security waiting for him to remove the knife they saw when x-raying the bag before it was loaded on the ship.  We traveled with a sharp cooking knife after being in a number of apartments with less than sharp knives! They missed/ignored the corkscrew, a knife on a cutting board from Tasmania, and a Swiss Army knife he had.  The knife was returned on the last night of our cruise.

Our cabin was compact but had enough room for our few clothes.  Let’s just say that Gala Nights didn’t see any tuxes or ties or jackets on Mark.  Susan used the cruise as an excuse to buy a few clothes in Sydney and Melbourne.

Cabin 1

This was home for 16 days.

Average age of 1900 passengers – guessing 75-80 or so!  We’re sure we were in the youngest 10% of the passengers – about 190 people.  We saw one baby, about 5 children under 15 and the associated parents of said children, and a family of 4 from Alabama.  We met one lady who just retired and 2 women with their 85-year-old mom.  The other 170 people in the “10% Club” we can only guess at.  The ones we put in the club are either truly younger or have really good genes.

The passengers were a majority Americans but LOTS of Canadians and Australians with a handful of other nationalities represented – German, New Zealand, UK, Norway.

We met some fun people – Per and Lise from Norway, Tim and Debbie from London who traveled for 5 months before the cruise, Jan and Chris (UVA grad) from Texas.  We quickly found our favorite bars and bartenders and got into a routine – wakeup, coffee, breakfast, workout or walk, read, watch movies, sit in sun, before dinner drinks with the group, dinner at 8 PM, after dinner drinks, bed … repeat!

Mark and Per with sculpture

This is what two passengers do when they’re the last out of the dining room and have had a few glasses of wine in the evening plus a Hendricks and Tonic and pepper and cucumber.

Per and Lise

Per and Lise live in Norway. He’s a ship’s master/captain and they have some interesting stories about taking oil ships around the world.

Tim and Debbie

Tim and Debbie live in London and are semi-retired, traveling while they’re young! Tim loves Bingo and Debbie knows all about Elvis.

Two nights Tim and Mark stayed out late (1:30 AM) and they’re sure they were the last 2 passengers awake on the ship.  We often were the last table to finish dinner and the last bunch to close the bar – about 11:15 PM.  With a passenger list as old as on this cruise, the dining room was packed at 5:15 when it opened for dinner and fairly empty at 8 PM when we went to dinner.

We made stops in New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji and Pago Pago, American Samoa.  You can check out the map on the Trip Statistics page to find the locations of the various islands.  We also had 5 straight days at sea before we arrived in Honolulu.

Dravuni Beach

Dravuni Beach wasn’t as soft as Kuto but had warm, clear water.

Dravuni Fiji

Dravuni Island, Fiji

Fiji sunset

Sunset in Fiji

Kuto beach

Kuto, New Caledonia. This was the best beach of the entire trip with soft sand and warm water.

We rented a car in Lautoka, Fiji, to drive to Nadi for some shopping. Driving was a piece of cake and the roads were great after 2 weeks on Indian roads.

The local bar at the the port on Easo on Lifou, New Caledonia.

I have no idea what this plant is. It resembles a poinsettia with leaves/petals that are partly red and partly green.

Lifou view from the church

We trekked up this hill on Lifou in New Caledonia to see a church with a great view.

Pago Pago port

This is the Pago Pago port in American Samoa. Susan didn’t see much of the port after she slipped in mud on a sidewalk and sprained her wrist.  She was the third or fourth person to slip in the same place that day!

Pago Pago sunset

We had a lovely sunset as we left Pago Pago.


4/30 Figtree Adventures

No … that’s not Figtree as in a plant but “Figtree” as in the town in New South Wales near Wollongong.  Susan met Gale and Trevor 2 years ago on a trip with Mom to Eastern Europe and they committed the ultimate folly … they said, “Come visit”. Mark and I did!  We spent 5 days with them and had a marvelous time seeing some sights and watching the Commonwealth Games on TV while sipping wine.

Mark, Susan, Trevor and Gale after a walk on the beach

Mark, Susan, Trevor and Gale after a walk on the beach

One day we took a drive up in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales where we checked out Fitzroy Falls on a short walk and paid homage to Sir Donald Bradman of cricket fame in Bowral.  His house has a plaque on the fence; it’s easy to see where people tread on the grass to take pictures!

Sir Donald Bradman statue

Sir Donald Bradman at the International Cricket Hall of Fame in Bowral, New South Wales, Australia

Fitzroy Falls

Fitzroy Falls in New South Wales

Two local cricket teams were playing a Sunday afternoon match. I don’t know much about cricket, but it was evident, even to me, that one of the bowlers was really bad and was going to be buying the beer after the match.

Cricket field

We watched a bit of cricket – think baseball but with only 2 bases to run back and forth between with a 360 degree playing field.

The coast around Wollongong is beautiful and it’s easy to see why so many people want to live there and will even deal with the terrible commute to Sydney every day either by car or train AND why the house prices have shot up!

Sea Cliff Bridge and coastline near Wollongong

beach view

This beach is near Wollongong. The water was a bit chilly for us when we got to a beach where we put our feet in.

This escarpment runs from Sydney down the coast.

Australia seems to be enamored with “big” things.  In a previous trip we saw the Big Merino, and a Big Avocado.  Gale and Trevor made sure we had our picture taken in front of the Big Potato in Robertson.  The meat pies for lunch in Robertson were way better tasting than the Big Potato. We’ll leave it to your imagination as to what other names that spud gets!

Big Potato

There’s no choice but to pose in front of the Big Potato!

magpie on porch

This magpie visits Gale and Trevor every day.

King parrot in tree

One of the king parrots we spotted in a tree

Pink and Grey Gallas

Australia has some beautiful birds. These are Pink and Grey Gallas just hanging out in a park.


Sulfur-crested cockatoos are everywhere. They are incredibly loud and destructive, ripping leaves off of trees at will. We still think they’re beautiful.

Three weeks in Victoria, Australia

We lived for 9 months in Melbourne back in 1994-95, visited again about 8 years ago, and wanted to come back to visit friends and see all the changes.

First stop was in Woodend north of Melbourne to visit Justin and Rob who we met in Split, Croatia, while checking out a menu and then sharing some wine.  Justin rescued us from the busy Melbourne Airport on Friday evening and we spent a fun 4 days with them seeing some of the area around Mount Macedon.

Rob and Justin at Mooroba Winery

Rob and Justin took us to the Mount Towrong winery up the road from their new house and helped us spend a superb Sunday afternoon.

How better to spend a Sunday afternoon than drinking wine and eating food with friends at the Mount Towrong Winery?

We babysat with the girls – Ruby and Molly, the cocker spaniels – while the guys were at a party.

Terry and Ian were our second set of friends to visit. We met them 24 years ago before they even had any children (now in college and high school).  It was like we saw them just last week.

Ian and Terry – it seemed like just yesterday we saw them.

Essenden Bomber mascot

Mark had front row seats for the Essenden – Adelaide Footy match thanks to Ian. It was even the first match of the season. Ian was thrilled when Essenden came form behind to win!

Ian and Terry took us for an afternoon road trip to the Mornington Peninsula for a brewery visit, 2 wineries, and Arthur’s Seat.  This is a view of the Mornington Peninsula from Arthur’s Seat – a drive, not a hike.

We rented an AirBnB for 10 days right in the middle of the city, conveniently located by the Coles Market and Liquorland.  Melbourne has a free tram zone now to attempt to reduce traffic in the CBD.  Our place was in the free zone making it convenient when we wanted to go around town.

Tall building with Airnb.

The tall building with the red arrow is where our AirBnb was.

View of Etihad Stadium in Melbourne from our AirBnB

Electrical Outlets

See the extra button in the middle? For the cook top to work, this has to be turned on!

We visited the Shrine of Remembrance that now has an informative museum about the role of Australia in various wars and military actions.

Shrine of Remembrance

Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne, dedicated to WWI


The Melbourne Cricket Ground, the mecca of cricket in Australia and site of the Grand Finals in Aussie Rules football.

Flinders Station

Flinders Station in Melbourne

What else did we do in Melbourne?  Haircuts, a little clothes shopping and toothpaste shopping – all the important tasks!

No devils spotted in Tasmania

Tasmanian Devil warning sign

A slightly marked up warning sign for Tasmanian Devils. The creatures are nocturnal. These go along with the koala, kangaroo, and wombat warning signs.

After the travel day from hell, we started 7 days of exploring part of Tasmania – Hobart, Port Arthur, and Launceston.  Hobart is a lovely little town right on the water with a big port. Every Saturday, the Salamanca Market with local products and arts is held on the waterfront and it was packed!  We figured the entire population of Hobart (about 220,000) was there but then we found out that the Royal Caribbean Cruise ship, Innovation of the Seas, with 5000 passengers was in port.

At the Hobart marina, we found a police boat named for Mark. Wickham, Australia is way up in the northwest near Broome.

sculpture of women prisoners in Hobart

This sculpture was on the waterfront where the convicts from England arrived. Some were women and children.

After our shopping excursion, we went on a search for a few microbreweries. Mind you … this was a beautiful Saturday afternoon about noon when our walk started.  We found T-Bone Microbrewery about 1:15 it doesn’t open until 2 PM.  Why would you waste a perfectly good beer day by not opening?

Lots of stores close in Hobart about 2 PM on Saturday and are not open at all on Sunday.  It was a holiday weekend and pretty quiet except for the cruise people!  This didn’t give us much hope of finding an open micro-brewery but we ambled down the street to Shambles (They were open!) and had some pretty good beer.

The taps in Shambles Brewery

Shambles Brewery taproom in Hobart, Tasmania

Taproom in Hobart Brewery

The bar in Hobart Brewery

The next day, Sunday, off we walked to Hobart Brewery, another brewery with a great location by the cruise port in a big red barn on a large lot.  They don’t take advantage of any of this – only open on Sunday afternoon for a few hours, no music, not even any snacks.  The co-founder and head brewer is from Colorado and you would think he’d have a few business ideas for the brewery – as in having more than beer there!

Then there’s the whole issue of brewery paraphernalia – as in not much if any at all!  Mark loves t-shirts but try as he might, craft brewery t-shirts were hard to find.  Most of the breweries we visited in Australia could take a few marketing lessons from U.S. craft brewers – t-shirts, glasses, bottle openers.

Many restaurants in Hobart had a line on their menu “10% Surcharge on Saturday and 15% surcharge on Sunday and holidays”.  We learned that restaurant servers get paid more if they work on Saturday, Sunday, or holidays and the restaurants want to cover their costs.

MONA ferry with champagne

MONA is the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart. We took the ferry to get there. You can pay more for the Posh Pit seating and enjoy champagne and coffee on the 25 minute trip each way. The coffee was in the morning. On the way back, we only drank champagne. The museum has lots of interesting art to accompany the architecture.

Our Tuesday excursion was to MONA – Museum of Old and New Art – in Hobart.  We took the 25-minute ride and then tackled the 99 steps UP from the dock to the museum.

MONA is an interesting art museum to say the least! One piece of art was a guy with tattoos as a piece of art.

Tuesday morning we left Hoabrt, after we picked up a car at the Avis office. We headed out of town after a few times around the block and around the round-about (The Google map lady is less than useful with 3 lanes of traffic heading into a roundabout.) on the way to Port Arthur Historic Site.  This is the site of a British prison for convicts in the 1800’s. It’s a large site and it’s easy to spend an entire day there with various talks and tours.

Port Arthur prison

Port Arthur Historical Site – one of the main prison buildings. The scenery looks a lot like West Virginia/Western Maryland minus the water. The roads are equally winding and hilly in places.

Until we arrived at the Historic Site, we thought the Port Arthur Shootings happened in the town of Port Arthur. The shootings that led to complete revamp of Australia’s gun laws happened at the little café on the Historic Site   Harry who’d we met at the Twilight Sail in Perth was at the Port Arthur Historic Site on the day of the shooting. He wanted wine with lunch and didn’t stay at the Café when they didn’t sell wine. This was the only reason he missed being at the shooting.  To celebrate and remember, he drinks a glass of wine very day for lunch.

After Port Arthur we retraced some of our path and then headed north to Launceston with a stop at Ross – 42 degree latitude marker, Wool Centre, Bridge built by convicts.  This part of Tasmania has very little traffic – more sheep than cars or people.

The bridge was built by convicts in Ross, a small country village. Ross sits on the 42nd parallel SOUTH of the equator.

Chocolate Factory sign

How could we not stop at the Chocolate Factory? Yes, we bought some.

Day 1 in Launceston had us driving to Low Head along the east side of the Tamar River to visit the Low Head lighthouse and Pilot Station.

Low Sound Lighthouse

Low Sound Lighthouse overlooking the Bass Strait. Penguins live near here but we didn’t see any during the day.

Mark and Susan

Another one of spectacular selfies – proof we made it to the Bass Strait.

We crossed the Tamar River and drove down to Green’s Beach to say we’ve been to the Bass Strait. The tide was out; the beach is deep and wide.

Wines for Joanie

On the way back to Launceston, we drove through some of the Tasmanian wine region and made a stop at Wines for Joanie since Susan’s Mom is Joan.

After 3 days in Launceston, I directed Mark on a different route to get back to Hobart to fly on to Melbourne.

Tasmanian Devil scuplture with suitcases

This sculpture is in the Hobart airport near luggage claim.

At the Hobart airport, Susan’s bags were swabbed for gun powder along with 2 other peoples’ bags – all using the same swab. What was the security lady going to do when it came back positive?  She’d used the swab on at least 8 different bags!

Fooling your Garmin Exercise tracker – method #2

We took a cruise ship from Sydney to Honolulu for 16 days, including doing April 21 twice.  We had plenty of time to make a few observations.  One of these life altering observations is you can fool your Garmin Fitness tracker on a ship just as well as you can on a rough road in India. Doing laps around the Promenade Deck of a cruise ship that’s moving will also make your Fitness tracker think you’ve walked up 10 flights of steps!

The scenery was a bit monotonous but the ship was much smoother than the safari vehicle.

Holland America MS Noordam

This is the MS Noordam, a Holland America cruise ship, sitting off shore in the South Pacific.


For the love of maps!

Parents … teach your children how to read a map, would you??  I love maps and am always the map reader on our trips. I’ve used AAA maps to navigate around the U.S.  We used a map in Japan to find our ryokan by counting the streets we passed since we couldn’t read Japanese.

I’ve used Michelin maps all over Europe to get us to small villages in France for the Tour de France.  We even have a shorthand of explaining how big a road is based on the colors used on Michelin maps – white road (really narrow, maybe one lane), yellow roads (has some minor route designation) and red roads (major route designation).  Paper maps have served us well.

Along came Google maps and my students all said “Why do I need to know how to read a map?  Google will tell me where to go.”   I use Google maps.  They saved our lives in Austin one evening when we could see the hotel but couldn’t figure out how to navigate the silly side roads all over the Texas interstates.

Yes, we used Google maps on this trip to help get around Tasmania and Western Australia.  I even let “The Voice” give directions.  However, being able to read a map helped me make a decision to NOT accept Google’s directions to drive through the middle of Perth at rush hour.  Google directions don’t do any good when you lose cell reception!  And the lady’s voice is less than useful when she says, “Head northeast from the parking lot” and you have no clue where north is.  Reading the map and making the left, right, or straight decision is a good skill to have!

Another reason to know how to read a map … in the middle of cities with lots of high rise buildings, GPS doesn’t work really well.  You need to be able to figure out which direction you’re walking.  You can turn around before you walk too far as soon as you find a cross street.

Reason #2 – You need to figure out which tram/bus goes where and which stop to get off.  All you have is the tram map to solve the problem because you have no cell reception.

Reason #3 – You’re on the “Amazing Race” and need to find the challenge.  If you watch the show, you’ll know how many teams have lost because neither of them could read a map!

Even if GPS is working, a few map problem-solving skills can be useful.  Ever come out of a subway stop that had 6 exits in the middle of the city and try to figure out even which side of the street you’re on?  Do I turn left, or do I turn right?  Being able to follow the Google blue dot as it moves comes in handy!

Mark and I must look like we know where we’re going on this trip.  Two ladies from Hong Kong asked for directions back to their hotel in Launceston, Tasmania.  Thanks heavens they knew the name of their hotel.  Google showed us the location of the hotel and we gave them simple directions.

Some college-age guy was standing at the cross walk in Melbourne looking confused and staring at his phone. He asked if we could tell him where Swanston Street is.  We told him to walk straight for 7 blocks and he’d be there.  His reply – “Best directions I’ve had all day!”

A week in Tasmania

We hadn’t made it to Tasmania on previous visits and we weren’t sure we’d make it this time!  Our flight was scheduled for Port Macquarie to Sydney to Hobart.  We got to the Port Macquarie Airport – very tiny airport – at 8:30 AM, dropped off our car, and discovered that the 10:10 flight was delayed to 11:00, to 12:00, to 12:25.  We finally boarded at 12:57. Needless to say, we missed our connection in Sydney.  I will say Virgin Atlantic was waiting at the gate to hand out new tickets to all the “missed flight” people. Now, we had a 3 hour wait for our new flight and that one was delayed by an hour.  We finally landed in Hobart about 10:15 PM. By the time we got the shuttle and were dropped off at the hotel, it was 11:05 PM.  No food open except the Domino’s Pizza down the street!  The pizza was pretty good .. or were we just really hungry?

Our Australian friends said we could have driven faster to Hobart if the Bass Strait wasn’t in the way.  This flight day was the worst of the whole trip so far. I guess we can’t complain!

sculpture of women prisoners in Hobart

This sculpture was on the waterfront where the convicts from England arrived. Some were women and children.

We found a police boat named for Mark. Wickham, Australia is way up in the northwest near Broome.

MONA ferry with champagne

MONA is the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart. We took the ferry to get there. You can pay more for the Posh Pit seating and enjoy champagne and coffee on the 25 minute trip each way. The coffee was in the morning. On the way back, we only drank champagne. The museum has lots of interesting art to accompany the architecture.

After Hobart, we picked up a rental car and drove to Port Arthur Historical Site where many of the British convicts were imprisoned. The site is large and very interesting. There’s also a memorial for the people killed in the Port Arthur Shootings in 1996 that started the Australian gun reform laws.  We always thought the shootings were in the town but they happened in a cafe at the Historical Site.

One of the guys we met in Fremantle on the sailing evening always has a glass of wine with lunch.  It turns out he was at the Historical Site the day of the massacre. He stopped at the cafe but they didn’t serve wine and he wanted a glass of wine with lunch.  They went somewhere else that day, just missing the shootings.  A glass of wine saved his life so now he has one every day in thanks.

Port Arthur prison

Port Arthur Historical Site – one of the main prison buildings. The scenery looks a lot like West Virginia/Western Maryland minus the water. The roads are equally winding and hilly in places.

Tasmania water scenes

Views from the water of Tasmania around Port Arthur.

Launceston was the next stop on the road trip. It’s not far up to the north coast with lovely scenery along the way as well as a plethora of road construction.

Chocolate Factory sign

How could we not stop at the Chocolate Factory? Yes, we bought some.

Low Sound Lighthouse

Low Sound Lighthouse overlooking the Bass Strait. Penguins live near here but we didn’t see any during the day.

The bridge was built by convicts in Ross., a small country village. Ross sits on the 42nd parallel SOUTH of the equator.  Fort Collins is on the 40th parallel NORTH of the equator.

Mom’s name is Joan. When we saw a winery “Wines for Joanie”, we knew we had to stop and taste. Pretty good wine and the tasting room lady was an American/Australian lady raised in Tennessee.

These are the only Tasmanian Devils we saw along the way.

Tasmanian Devil warning sign

The creatures are nocturnal; hence, the warning signs along the roads. These go along with the koala, kangaroo, and wombat warning signs.

Tasmanian Devil scuplture with suitcases

This sculpture is in the Hobart airport near luggage claim.

Koalas and friends

Port Macquarie was one stop we made after a few days in Sydney.  Where is Port Macquarie, you ask?  It’s about a 4-hour drive north of Sydney or a one hour flight on a prop plane.  We opted for the prop plane and were met at the airport for the whole reason we added the city to our itinerary – Amy!

Amy was matched up with us through CSU’s International Friends program way back in 2001 when she spent a semester at CSU as an exchange student.  We showed her Rocky Mountain National Park and took her to packed sports bar for the first round of March Madness!  Now it was her turn to show us koalas and the beach and introduce us to her partner, Jacques, and her son, Levi.

Levi and Amy

Amy and Levi took good care of us!

Even though we hadn’t seen her since 2001, it seemed as if it were just yesterday and we caught up with all her adventures and life.  We had a great time!  I should mention that Amy introduced us a bit of Australian trash TV – “Married at First Sight” or MAFS.  They record the show (They can skip the commercials.  and after watching 5 episodes, we were hooked and watched it until the end to see what happened! It was good to learn that Americans aren’t the only people who will do anything to be on TV.

Port Macquarie beach

One of the city beaches in Port Macquarie. Amy took us for coffee along the beach.

A good time to visit is in the afternoon when the volunteers hand feed the patients.

Koala visiting a tree near the hospital.

This koala likes to visit a tree near the hospital. He’s not a patient!

Koala Sleeping leaning on a branch.

This guy was having a nice nap.

Koala sleeping in a tree

This little guy was at the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie. Injured or sick koalas are treated here until they can be released. Some stay forever due to their injuries – blind, amputated limbs

North Haven Beach

North Haven Beach – a short little drive south of Port Macquarie. The beach was empty the afternoon we checked it out.

Snake warning sign

Snake signs seem to be everywhere we turned in Australia.

After our visit with Amy, we headed across town for a 2 day visit with Sonya and Graham and Hollie, the cocker spaniel.  We met Graham and Sonya in Split, Croatia, and when they found out we actually had Port Mac on the agenda, we got a lovely invite to spend a few days with them.  Sonya and Graham took us to do some wine tasting and beer tasting and introduced us to a delicious Australian sparkling wine.  Hollie, the cocker spaniel, was a good hostess, too.  She was more than willing to let us pet her as long as we wanted!

We wanted to fix everyone Mexican dinner while we visited.  Our first plan was chicken enchilada casserole with green enchilada sauce.  We moved to Plan B when we couldn’t find any green enchilada (or red!) sauce.  The Plan B fajitas were a success!

Burge Sparkling wine

Burge Sparkling wine – yummy! Thanks, Sonya, for introducing us.

hollie Graham Mark Sonya

Hollie, Graham, Hollie and Sonya – friends in Port Macquarie