From Amman we flew as a group to Cairo where UniWorld again met us, handled the passport control, led us thru customs, and on to the bus. The tour started the next day with a total of 36 people on the UniWorld cruise. After a day of visiting the Muhammed Ali Mosque and the Old Egyptian Museum (The NEW one is still under construction and several years late.), we flew to Luxor to start the cruise.
Our description of a Nile cruise is that it’s just like a bus tour – sail to a location, get off the boat, see a temple or two, get back on the boat, and sail to the next location – without having to pack and unpack every day. All the temples except Abu Simbel are very close to the Nile but driving between them is less comfortable than sailing between them.
The cruise was uneventful except for one good Norm story. Norm hit his head getting on the little boat for the bird watching trip AND he lost his wallet someplace that same day. No one found it on the bird watching boat so Norm cancelled his credit cards. A day later or so, one of the cabin boys on the cruise boat found Norm’s wallet in Cabin 1; Norm and wife had switched cabins and the wallet fell somewhere in the old cabin.
Now for the pictures with just a little explanation.
Scenes from the bus
Ramses shows up all over Egypt
All the styles of columns were Susan’s favorites.
No trip to Egypt is complete without visiting the Valley of the Kings where King Tut was buried. We’d already visited his mummified body and the gems buried with him when we saw the OLD Egyptian Museum. Valley of the Kings just has the empty burial site along with a few dozen other tombs. One admission lets you choose 3 tombs to visit (Don’t lose your ticket!) but you need a separate ticket for Tut.
We finally headed back to Cairo via plane. In Egypt, as in India, men and women use separate security lines in the airport. All of the airports also had one security line at the entrance to the terminal for passengers and luggage. After passing this test, we could head to check-in, get our boarding passes, drop our bags, and head to the second security. The gates were not very good at using a microphone to board the bus to the plane. It was a “watch the gate and go when every one else does” kind of boarding.
We finally got to see the pyramids and the Sphinx. We had no idea that the Sphinx is pretty small and is right down the hill from the pyramids.
The Colorado foursome flew home via Frankfurt, spent the night in Frankfurt to avoid a 2 AM departure in Cairo. Mark and Susan headed to DC and Cumberland for the last stop on the trip – see Susan’s Mom.
In 4th grade, Susan studied Egypt. Ever since that, the pyramids have been on the trip list and in January we booked a last minute trip on the Nile. Since we would be in the neighborhood, we added the Uniworld pre-trip to Jordan. How much planning went into this? Not much! Mark had never been on a group tour but he agreed to give it a try.
United made this whole trip easier by adding a direct flight to Amman from DC. After we arrived in Amman, Uniworld took care of the details and we just followed directions. They even met us before passport control and took care of the Visa on Arrival.
After arriving 3 days before the tour officially started, we booked our own day tour of Amman. The city was pretty quiet during the day (relatively) because Ramadan started the day before we flew in. The Arab food at the Iftar buffet (meal eaten after sunset during Ramadan) in the hotel was yummy and the staff pointed out the special iftar desserts we had to try!
John O. and Sue H. , friends from Fort Collins, joined us in Amman the day before the Jordan trip started. To give you some perspective, the tour itinerary went like this (and not the order we would have done it):
Amman – Jerash – Dead Sea – back to Amman
Amman – Petra (THE highlight of Jordan) – Wadi Rum
Wadi Rum – Aqaba
Aqaba – Madaba – Amman
The Jordan tour group only had 12 people in it and we were 4 of them. Another 2 couples were fun and easy to deal with. Another 4 came from Nebraska. Let’s just say we didn’t want to have beers with 2 of them in the evening. Every group trip has “one of those” and our’s was Norm from Nebraska. The day we left Amman for 2 nights, Norm left his passport in the bathroom of his hotel room. WHY do you even have your passport in the bathroom? Who knows! Fortunately, the hotel found it and held it until we returned to the hotel 2 days later. Off to Petra!
We spent 4 hours there and 4 DAYS would be better. The site is huge – the Treasury, a monastery after you climb 800 steps (no time for that), Royal Tombs (only saw them from a distance), an amphitheater, camels, other ruins. This is definitely on our list to come back to.
Our last day was a drive from Aqaba to Madaba to Mt. Nebo to Amman. The highlight was lunch in Madaba where we FINALLY had upside down chicken … chicken and rice and veggies and lots of spices cooked in a big pan (wok size) and flipped upside down to serve it. It was the best food of the whole trip!
We were exhausted by the time we arrived back to the hotel in Amman and checked in again. Norm got his passport back! The four of us headed to the bar for a beer and a sandwich for dinner.
It’s a small craft beer world. The only craft beer made in Jordan is from a brewery started by a Jordanian guy who went to grad school at U of Colorado in Boulder. He learned about craft beer there and decided to start a brewery in Jordan. Pretty good beer.
That finished the Jordan trip. Mark and Susan loved Jordan … nice people, great food, safe country and cities. We walked to find the laundromat one day in Amman and several people pointed us in the correct direction. When one dryer didn’t work after we inserted our coins and we used another one, the owner dropped off the equivalent of $4 for us back at the hotel after he finished work.
We brushed up on geography lessons in Jordan, too. Aqaba, Jordan, is on the Red Sea – about 1km. from Israel, 10 km. from Saudi, shares other borders with Syria and Iraq. They describe themselves as “a nice country in a bad neighborhood.”
When should you be really happy you are not traveling with any children? When you are on an island in a hotel and it rains all day – as in buckets down! This was one day on Bora Bora. It rained so hard we couldn’t see the island across the water.
That was only one day. Other days ranged from hot and humid on Tahiti to drizzly and humid to cloudy and humid. Get the general weather idea??
We wanted to go to the city market in Papeete but it was closed the week between New Year’s and Epiphany so Mark had to settle for finding a lovely lady in men’s shop who took his shorts home over lunch to fix a torn hem. We enjoyed some micro-brewed beer and lunch while it rained hard – good beer!
We had no problem flying to Bora Bora and enjoyed 10 days at Le Bora Bora resort. We flew back to Tahiti a day before we were due to fly to San Francisco and Denver; we spent the night at a Hilton about 10 minutes from the airport with the biggest pool in FP. The pool was great and the hotel was across the street from a huge grocery store. (We get excited about finding grocery stores bigger than 7-11.)
Now was time for the next weather problem. In all the plane flights on this trip (14 so far) with many of them having a chance for bad weather delays on one end or another, we had no problems. When it’s time to fly to Denver, spend one night in FC, drive back to the DEN airport, meet Liz (Iowa friend), spend the night, and fly with her to Maui, a snowstorm pops up with snow predictions from 5 to 12 inches.
Decision time. After consulting with various weather services, texting and talking to Liz because Iowa would be impacted a day AFTER Denver, we decided to see if United would change our flights to fly SFO to Maui and we just wouldn’t go home. We have swim suits with us so all is well, right? United already offered Liz the choice to change her flight by a day. She just needed to get to the airport for a 5 AM flight!
No problem with United. We just needed to cancel one hotel in Denver, get another hotel by the SF airport, get a hotel in Maui for one night before we picked up Liz in Maui, change a car reservation, and reschedule a doctor’s appointment. It all worked out fine in the end!
That’s the tale of getting to Maui where the weather is perfect so far and no snow is rearing its ugly head. Thank heavens we bought a few t-shirts along the way because I’m getting mighty tired of the same clothes!
Our last stop in the Maldives was the Westin, another hotel where we used points. They gave us a room all the way at the end of a boardwalk. 10 villas were between us and the next villa with guests (The hotel was doing renovations.) so we could have had a wild party and no one would have heard us! The staff was great and we learned a few tidbits about the hospitality industry in the Maldives:
60% of resort employees have to be Maldivian citizens
$519 is minimum monthly wage; working over 8 hours per day requires OT pay
The 10% mandatory service charge is pooled together and shared by all employees at the resort except for management.
The Westin has their own desalination and filtration plant for water so we could drink the water if we wanted – we did!
Singapore was the next stop – flew there on Christmas Eve. Singapore goes all out for Christmas with decorations everywhere – streets, shops, hotels. We even got a short visit with Ana who we met in Split during our RTW trip.
We flew to French Polynesia via Frankfurt and NYC and San Francisco. Susan’s bucket list included flying Singapore Air first class one time and this was it. Mark’s research found their “best” first class are suites on the A380 and that routing to the U.S. only goes to NYC. Since we were going to fly through NYC, Susan suggested we stay for New Year’s Eve – why not? We didn’t spend any travel money in 2022!
We spent the second week in the Maldives at the St. Regis Hotel paid with hotel points, not cash! It’s lovely but certainly has a different vibe than the Hard Rock Hotel. We met a lady from Iowa – surprise! They live in Chicago area now and threw in a stop here because they have tickets to the World Cup finals in Doha so will stop there on the way home. Fun!
We now know how the “other half” lives. This hotel is a bit over the top. We have our own “butler” to help with our stay – as if we need any help! He will give us a buggy ride whenever we want – we walk! The worker bees rake the sand path to our villa every day. We think it’s so the housekeepers know if we’ve gone out as they can see our footprints in the sand.
The guests really don’t interact with each other. A player from the Netherlands National Soccer team was here after the Netherlands got eliminated from the World Cup. His girlfriend is a model and you can tell! One really nice waitress in the bar says that lots of the guests here are “posh” – British for entitled.
We flew on a seaplane from Male here which was about an hour long and not bad at all. TransMaldivian Airlines has its own terminal and no security to clear. The St Regis rep met us when we got off the Hard Rock Boat at the International Terminal and walked us everywhere to check in, weigh our bags and backpacks, check our passports, get the St. Regis car to the sea plane terminal (other side of the airport island), and take us to the business lounge to wait for the flight to be called. Then he took us to the boarding location. The pilot checked our names off his printed list when we got to the pier for the plane.
Mark actually fit in the plane seats – not assigned – just pick a seat! The flight had 2 pilots and one of them flew in his bare feet!
A little tidbit about the Maldives … most of the resorts in the atolls that are not near Male go on “island time” – one hour later than the real time of GMT +5. It’s a made up ti e zone. This gives people more beach time later in the day but doesn’t help people with jet lag. Plus this makes the World Cup start later. The semi-finals started at 1 AM here so you can guess who !did not watch! We will watch the finals tonight.
We also learned how the resorts get their alcohol since this is a Muslim country and alcohol can only be served in the resorts. The beer, wine, spirits all come to a big warehouse where it clears customs (We don’t know how much paperwork is involved with that.) Then it is put on a boat to ONE resort. The boat can only go to one resort and it is tracked on its trip to make sure the boat doesn’t stop along the way. This is what one employee told us when we asked.
Now we’re off to The Westin resort again using points.
Our first week is almost over and it’s a grey, windy day with some rain thrown in BUT it is warm! We’ve been at the Hard Rock Hotel all week. It’s the closest resort to the airport, only requiring a speed boat ride. We did half board which included a large breakfast buffet and dinner (appetizer, main, and dessert each) from a number of different restaurants – Mexican, Indian, Thai, Maldivian, International, seafood, Japanese, Hard Rock Café – so we never got bored.
The staff here is very international although most are Maldivian. We’ve met people from Brazil, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nepal, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka, India, Italy. They’ve tried teaching us some Maldivian language not too successfully, but they are very polite when we butcher it! Every evening at sunset there are canapes and drinks with different staff members wandering around to get feedback from guests and this is when we’ve learned the most about the country and the staff.
The guests come from all over the world with a strong contingent from Brazil, Russia, and Europe. Dubai is only a 4 hour flight so lots of expats come here for a break. We met a lovely Scottish family who live in Dubai and shared a few beers by the pool with them. For those of you who don’t travel because “we have children”, the Scots were here with their 6 year old and 7 week old!
We’ve seen/heard a few Americans, but we are definitely in the minority. When we are asked where we are from, we reply “Where do you think?” and the UK is the normal guess!
Next stop is the Maldives on this adventure. If you’re wondering where these islands are that Mark picked for his birthday celebration, find India, go all the way south, and look to the west. You’ll find this tiny country of about 550,000 people made up of about 1000 islands.
We flew Turkish Air from Munich with a 5 hour stopover in Istanbul followed by an 8 hour flight leaving at 00:40 – as in 40 minutes after midnight – and arriving about 10:30 AM in Male, capital city. Flight went well after we survived the totally unGerman-chaos of checking in and boarding. Turkish Air had flights leaving at 1:30 and 2:30 with 3 hour in advance check-in. Lines were everywhere with no one and no signs to direct traffic. It took us about an hour to get checked in but the security line was short although inconsistent. Mark had to take off his Nikes but Susan didn’t.
Then there was boarding lack of organization, mainly caused by being in the old terminal 1 which has some issues with space to wait and line up. Again, some people giving directions would have helped.
Arriving in the Maldives was WAY easier than we expected after reading the country’s tourist website. Every tourist has to have a paid reservation at a hotel, enough money to pay for accommodations and food while we are here, proof of onward passage, and a Travel Declaration “card” (electronically done either 72 hours or 96 hours ahead of time, depending on which website you read). We had proof of all this printed out and on our phones but would we have cell reception? Since Susan never trusts phone reception, she had the paper forms.
Were we asked for any of this??? Just in Munich did we have to show the Travel Declaration and hotel confirmation before we got our boarding passes In Male, the immigration guy just wanted to see a passport and we were good to go.
Our luggage showed up – yeah! – since the trackers in the suitcases showed the bags still in Istanbul and Munich, causing a momentary panic! When we exited customs into the open air terminal, hotel and resort greeters were lined up holding boards with the names of the tourists they were meeting. If your hotel was not there, you get to go to a large greeting area (open air) full of hotel and resort stalls and search for your hotel greeter there. It’s all very organized. We found our Hard Rock Hotel stall with a little help from a nice Maldivian.
We’re staying the first week at the Hard Rock Hotel which is just a 15 minute boat ride across the lagoon from Male. We waited about 45 minutes for some other arriving passengers before we boarded the boat and whisked our way to the Hard Rock Island.
BTW … my hair is growing back after I “shed” some during chemo and it’s coming in a bit curly. The humidity here makes it even more curly or fuzzy.
Our newest adventure started off in Munich for the Christmas markets. Munich is definitely in the Christmas spirit with gluwein, bratwurst, roasted nuts, crib scene figures for sale, and the stores all decorated for the holidays! Did I mention that the weather was cold and wet? No snow in sight in the city but we were told the mountains have enough snow for skiing.
After 25 months of hanging out in the states, several cancelled trips, a few rescheduled trips, in September 2021 we decided things were looking good enough to plan a Christmas trip to Germany for the Christmas markets, a visit with a German friend and meet up with some Iowa friends who had the same idea we did.
We bought the tickets from Lufthansa – direct to Munich so no stops to cause possible problems. We found some great hotel rates since December in Munich is not a big visit time, lined up a schedule with Jutta and Sam and Josh. We were fully vaccinated and even got our boosters in November. We investigated how to get the online Vax Pass for Germany, where to get a COVID test 72 hours before flying home to Denver and uploaded the Luca app for contact tracing in Munich.
Everything was looking pretty good when COVID decided to attack Germany. We watched Bavaria and Saxony cancel their Christmas markets only a few days before the markets were supposed to start during Thanksgiving week. After we watched rules change for restaurants and museums, we gave in! Cancelled everything and rebooked our plane tickets for some made up dates next Fall.
Now where could we go for Christmas? We knew Hawaii was packed already but what about Tahiti? United flies direct from San Francisco, seats were available, and we could find hotels to stay in. Why not?? About 4 days later, we’d booked the flights, reserved hotels, and investigated Tahiti entrance rules – not in that order!
Paperwork and testing!
We needed to fill out a ETIS (electronic permission to board the plane and enter the country), prove we’d been vaccinated and pay $50 each for testing when we landed. At this point, we also needed a COVID PCR test within 72 hours before departing – 2:05 PM 12/7.
Tahiti gave us permission to come, took our $100, and all the documentation still told us we needed a COVID test (PCR) 72 hours or an antigen test 48 hours before departure from San Francisco. This meant we needed COVID tests after 2:05 PM on Saturday 12/4. We went on-line and managed to find one in FC. Actually, we found and scheduled 2 different ones in Fort Collins just to be sure – one for money and one for free.
I’m a big chicken when it comes to scheduling flights out of Denver in the winter with connections so we were flying from DEN – SFO on Monday 12/6 and then SFO – PPT on 12/7 (Tuesday).
Everything is going merrily along when Thursday 12/2 hits. I checked the French Polynesia entry requirement ONE more time (I have them memorized at this point.) and see that Tahiti changed the COVID test to 48 hours before departure, thanks to our Omicron friend. Now we need our test after 2:05 PM on Sunday. Time to cancel the FC 72-hour tests. (BTW – United still said 72 hours on their Travel Ready website and we’re thinking there are going to be LOTS of pissed people at the airport.)
Now what are we going to do? It is really hard to find a test in FC on Sunday that will get you results quickly. There’s always the SFO airport but those tests cost about $250 each and we made some reservations there just in case. Mark did great research and found a place in SF who would do a test on Monday afternoon and was even free. Another set of reservations were made! We just needed to take BART into the city and go from there.
Now it’s Friday and United texts us to inform us that Tahiti changed their entrance requirements to a test 24 hours before departure. I’m pretty sure they were wrong but who am I to argue with United when they control access to their planes? More research! Mark finds a place that will perform rapid antigen tests in San Bruno about 4 miles from our hotel by SFO. We make more reservations for after 2:05 PM on Monday and cancel the ones in the city. We rent a car for the day, too, so we can actually get to the test site.
Saturday and Sunday, I keep checking United and French Polynesia which still don’t agree.
Monday rolls around, we fly to San Francisco, pick up a car, and wait until close to our reservation time for our COVID test. Google maps gets us to the address which has the correct signs and is a repurposed shipping container. We drive up; fill out a bunch of forms on our phones while we sit in the car. The lady does the test and we head off to Target to pick up some socks since Susan forgot to pack any. By the time we bought socks, our results were available. We passed!
Back to the hotel for the next stress point. United makes you upload a picture of your passport and the app has a bit of trouble actually focusing. No, you cannot upload a jpg file. The app has to take the picture. We also had to upload the file with our COVID test results. Mark downloads the file on his tablet and uploads it to the United website. Approved! Susan downloads the file on her laptop and uploads it to United. Fail! Not accepted! Try number 2 – Fail! Mark reads the comments closely and sees that the file can’t be read. SO … Susan sends link to Mark, he downloads the file on his tablet and uploads it to United – Approved!
We are ready to go and had a few beers and wine at dinner to celebrate!
Lessons learned for COVID travel:
Check and double check and triple check the rules and regulations for testing. Everyday is a good benchmark!
Print out EVERYTHING! If you have any form that is electronic, print it out.
Take then entire pile of paper with you on your flight.
Download any files that you couldn’t print to your phone AND to any other device you are traveling with.
Given Susan’s belief in checking in for flights REALLY early, we went to SFO about 3 hours ahead of time to avoid any lines. Flight left on time and was very empty. When we landed in Papeete,Tahiti, we had to show our vaccination cards, passports, Electronic forms, and COVID tests before we were allowed into the country. We had no way to print the COVID tests in SF but did download them to our phones to show Mr. Immigration. He was good to go with this.
We also had to do a COVID test at the airport – covered by the $50 fee. Cough 5 times, blow your nose into a Kleenex, swab each nostril, swab top of mouth, under tongue, each cheek. We only get notified if we test positive. Thank heavens we never heard from the public health people in FP.
Our next COVID test adventure will be getting a test within 24 hours of leaving but the airport has them. Otherwise, I guess we’ll be in Tahiti longer!
Geography lesson – French Polynesia is HUGE, south of the equator, and just about directly south of Hawaii (same time zone). It’s made up of a number of archipelago’s and hundreds of islands. We went to 3 – Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora – but there are lots more to explore. The islands are connected by a few ferries and lots of planes.
First stop was Papeete, Tahiti, the capital and largest city.
Our next stop for a week was Moorea which is the island you can see in the background of the black sand beach picture above. We took a taxi to the ferry terminal, bought a $15 ticket for each of us, waited 15 minutes and took the 25 minute ferry ride to Moorea. Then we took a taxi to our hotel, Hotel Manava. It’s actually near a town (about 10 minute walk to the grocery store), has a food truck next to it and a restaurant grill across the street. This gave us more choices of where to eat instead of eating at the hotel all the time.
The town also has a laundry run by a French lady who moved to French Polynesia with her surfing husband 20 years ago and has been in the laundry business ever since. Drop it off one day and pick it up the next – about $20 for 10 kg., washed, dried, folded and probably ironed!
We took a 4 hour excellent tour with lots of info about the history and myths of the islands plus the plants. Stopped at Cook’s Bay, the Belvedere where we can see both bays, archeology sites, Agricultural school for a bathroom break and ice cream. The vanilla and the coconut ones were yummy! The students were on break. Stopped to get info about many plants – wild pineapple, wild hibiscus, yellow magic flower. The tour guide gave us cold clothes that were soaked in water and plumeria flowers. One of the plants smells like Chanel #5 when crushed. Last stop was at the juice factory for samples of the alcoholic drinks and juices. It’s too expensive to export locally grown fruit so the plant makes it into juice. Pineapple is grown locally along with bananas, avocados, green beans, papaya, mangoes, oranges, grapefruits.
Bora Bora was the next stop for a week. We expected things to get busier since this was now Christmas week and it did.
We were #1 and #2 people to check in for our Air Tahiti flight after the boxes of green mussels got checked in! No security, take water on board. A prop plane picked us up on Moorea on the way from Papeete after dropping off about 6 people.
Left 10 minutes early and took about 50 minutes to fly to Bora Bora. BOB airport is on an island and the only transport from the airport is a boat either from Air Tahiti or from each resort. We stayed at Le Bora Bora Hotel and the guys were at the desk in the arrival area and gave us leis and crowns; took our luggage to the boat for the 10 minute boat ride across the channel to Le Bora Bora Resort, a Relais and Chateaux property.
We splurged and stayed in an overwater bungalow. The A/C worked after we got instructions to not change the temperature! Glass in the coffee table to watch fish along with glass behind the sinks and the bathtub. We had a lovely deck and ladder down into the lagoon.
One hint – Liquor is very expensive in FP but each person can bring 2 liters into the country. Do it! We brought 3 liters of gin and only had to find tonic which was way cheaper! Lots of people did this. French wine was reasonable and beer was OK priced for local beer – about $5-6 each. The resort gave us 2 cans of beer, coke, juice and water each day in our room included in the price.
After 7 days in Bora Bora, it was time to go back to Papeete for Christmas and to get COVID tests in order to fly back to the U.S. Let’s just say, Air Tahiti was not having a good travel day but we made it and were not among the passengers worrying about missing their flights home!
We flew home on the 28th at 10:40 PM but took the shuttle into town to get a COVID test at the local pharmacy on the 27th. Really easy and got the results in about 30 minutes although the pharmacist really wasn’t sure we didn’t need to wait until within 24 hours. The US says the test cannot be dated before 12/27 and mentions NOTHING about how many hours. We both passed, thank heavens!
The end! French Polynesia was excellent; we want to go back and check out Taha Island and a few others. The United flight is only about 10 hours from SF. We learned that Costco has some great packages at the moment with Air Tahiti Nui out of Los Angeles.
I just looked at the last post I put on the website and it was 13 months ago – March 8, 2020. I see that we weren’t too worried about COVID at the time. Little did we know about the illness, deaths, online school, toilet paper shortage, cancelled and changed plans of everything from travel to graduations to weddings that were about to occur.
This website is about our travels and I want to update you on the travels we’ve done in the last year. First is where we left off in Kona, Hawaii in March 2020. We changed our return flight and flew home 10 days early when it seemed as if no one had any idea what was happening with domestic travel. We landed at 6 AM in Denver to a virtually empty airport and drove home to FC with very little traffic.
Our travel work for the next month was undoing all the plans we’d already made when it became apparent that travel had come to a halt worldwide! Seabourne cancelled our sailing from Miami – Morocco – Funchal – Barcelona, leaving us to undo flights. After many a phone call with United we got all our money back. It helped that they changed one of our flights by about 8 hours! Hotels to cancel, “Hamilton” tickets in London to cancel, walking tours to cancel … Then we started on the Berlin and Munich flights and hotels moving on to a flight to Singapore and a cancelled trip with a German friend to Nepal. We could quickly see where this year was heading even if we did have lots of Costco TP in our basement.
May, June – nothing to report. July we drove up to Steamboat where we were lucky enough to stay for a 2 weeks in a friend’s condo on the mountain. Nice place to escape! Not to be forgotten was a one day road trip to Breckenridge to be friend’s “responsible adults” after hand surgery. The traffic was the best we’ve seen on I-70 in years.
August, September – nada! October we escaped for the weekend to Denver!
We spent 4 days at Thanksgiving in a nice cabin in Estes Park. The park didn’t need reservations at that time of year and the scenery is always good. December, January, February, March – more no travel!
Now it’s April 2021 – 13 months after this all started and we’re back in Maul, thanks to vaccinations and negative COVID tests. We followed the state of Hawaii rules – account on Hawaii Safe Travels, negative COVID test at approved sites, Health questionnaire, magic QR code – and here we are. DIA was much more crowded than this time last year. Yeah! It feels great to be someplace different for a while.
That’s the end of the 2021 travels but it IS only April! The EU announced today they are going to be open to fully vaccinated individuals from the U.S. so we are hoping MAYBE to get a trip in to the Christmas Markets in Germany.
As COVID-19 dominates the news, we are in Hawaii hanging out in Maui and Kona in the sun, avoiding any possible snow and not really too concerned about the virus. Once in a while I realize that I’m in the age group of “old” people (older than 60) who are being urged to stay home – not that I’m not going to do that!
Everyone seems to freak out about travel right now and it
made me start thinking about what some of the “worst” travel experiences we’ve
had since our first trip together 30 years ago. We’ve certainly had some
“adventures” but none of them have been too terrible.
Mark and I had the excitement of two Metro strikes in Paris. We camped (in a tent) in a Paris suburb and took the RER into Paris. The two strikes started in the middle of the day as Paris strikes are prone to do. We were in the city and needed to get back to the campground. The Parisians were VERY helpful and pointed us in the correct direction. We learned a few things along the way:
The Metro and RER share some lines in Paris and the Metro controls the RER signage within Paris. No Metro, no RER signage for which train is approaching.
Every train has a sign in the front window with a 3-letter code designating its final destination. The locals all know the codes and helped us get on the correct train.
We haven’t really had that many cancelled flights along the
way. A May hailstorm in Denver made us
miss our connection in DC to Frankfurt on our 25the wedding anniversary. Our
dinner was United Snack boxes! In case
you’ve ever wondered, the Sheraton by Dulles has a bar but it closes at 11 PM
so we didn’t even get a glass of wine on our anniversary! Who would ever think a bar in an East Coast
hotel would close at 11?
Susan had an extra night in Hong Kong compliments of United
after a fan blade shattered on the runway.
We had a REALLY long day in Australia trying to get from
Port Macquarie to Tasmania. What should have been a 4 hour trip ended up taking
14 hours! Hobart is another city with no
restaurants open after 10 PM. Dominos
Pizza was pretty tasty!
Oh, yeah! Don’t fly
from Berlin if there’s a chance of snow.
At Berlin Tegel the de-icers have to come to the plane. Our flight (1 inch of snow caused this) was
so late leaving Berlin for Munich that we arrived in Munich after EVERY flight
to the U.S. had departed. It took a bit
of negotiating to get on a flight to Frankfurt and a rush through the Frankfurt
airport to the gate with only enough time for a toilet break and grab a
sandwich. Ten hours after leaving our
hotel in Berlin, we were still in Germany!
The only good thing about this was that we got home at 1 AM so had no
jet lag the next day.
Then there was the direct flight from Denver to Maui that
wasn’t! We landed in Los Angeles for a
faulty radio and waited for a replacement plane, landing in Maui about 6 hours
late. Lesson learned – Beer sales stop
at 11 PM in Hawaii in grocery stores but there’s no line at the rental car office
in Maui at 10 AM and no traffic driving across the island.
We were in London one day and learned that Londoners who
ride the Tube aren’t really very good at figuring out the Bus. The Tube was shut down for a bomb scare and
no one appeared to know which bus to take!
Another nature-related travel adventure was in Maui. One Spring
Break in Maui began with a night on the floor of the Civic Center after the earthquake
in Japan triggered a tsunami warning for Hawaii. Listening to the Hawaii
Tsunami alerts all night long was educational to say the least. Be sure to take a pillow with you if you ever
have to evacuate your hotel room.
Then there was the bad traffic day in Chattanooga, TN on a road
trip around the U.S.. First, the interstate was backed up for miles with a
truck accident. After we picked a random exit, we drove through the middle of Chattanooga
using only a tiny square AAA city map (This was before cell phones.) and came
across a torrent of water in the street.
10 minutes later the radio reported a water main break exactly where we’d
driven and they shut that road!
In about a month, we’ve booked a cruise from Miami to Barcelona with some time in Barcelona and then in London. The corona virus news is everywhere but we’ve decided that we’re going on the cruise unless they cancel it. After all, we went to England for Thanksgiving in 2001 after 9/11. The English were quite happy to see some tourists. We flew home from Portugal on July 4, 2002 and the news was full of commentary about blowing up planes on 4th of July.
So, follow along and we’ll keep you posted on the cruise adventure during COVID-19 in 2020. We’re sort of wishing we were in Rome right now to see it without too many tourists.
We’re in Kona for a few weeks, arriving yesterday afternoon. We’ve rented a condo and needed to visit Costco and Safeway to stock up for 2 weeks before we return the car later today.
Costco in Kona on a Sunday is always chaos but today was worse. We can safely report that buying toilet paper for the coronavirus is a “real thing”. 90% of all the carts had at least on of the BIG Costco packs of toilet paper; many had cases of bottled water (Why do you need bottled water in Kona where the water is perfectly drinkable?) and quite a few had cases of beer.
Costco is restricting the number of cases of bottled water and TP you can buy but I didn’t venture to that section of the store to look for signs or information.
My new research project if I were a Consumer Science prof would be to find out the average number of rolls of TP a home stores at any one time.
The overnight ferry from Palermo went pretty well. Lots of people use the ferry with their dogs and we met quite a few dogs as we wandered the halls. We headed to Pompeii via train to Naples from the port.
Pompeii is a HUGE site. We highly recommend NOT visiting Pompeii in the summer. Even though the temps were only in the 70’s, the humidity was high and there’s not much shade. According to our B&B owner, at least 2 people die every year from heart attacks. Mark and I are pretty sure more people than that break or sprain an ankle on the site.
After Pompeii, we headed off to Capri right at the end of
the season (ends on 10/31). Many shops and a few hotels were already closed,
not to reopen to around Easter. Restaurants
and bars also close for the winter and workers head off for 3-4 months of holiday. Several waiters and owners told us they work
12-14 hours every day from Easter until the end of October and are more than
ready for a break.
80% of visitors to Capri are day trippers and we can believe
that! Cruise ship tour groups and “regular” tour groups crowded the center of
Capri every day; when evening came, we pretty much had the island to
Rome was our last city. How do you get to Rome from
Capri?? Not easily, if you’re not with a
Walk from your hotel to the funicular in Capri
to get to the port.
Buy a ticket and take the ferry to Sorrento
(about 30 Minutes).
Walk or take the elevator (1 euro) UP from the
port of Sorrento to the main town. Best 1
euro you can spend!
Walk to the train station, dodging tour groups.
Take the local train to Naples – think 24 stops
and 50 minutes, standing the whole way unless you luck out and find a seat.
Take the highspeed train to Rome and figure out
how to get to where you’re staying once you’re in Rome. We opted for a taxi to
We arrived in Rome on November 1, All Saints Day, and a
holiday in many countries. Rome was packed with people for the weekend but
calmed down come Monday.
To get home, we flew from Rome to Frankfurt, spent the
night, and took the direct United flight to Denver with the crazy lady sitting directly
in front of Mark. Other than punching
the call button ALL the time, ignoring her lap baby and 5-year old, and yelling
at the flight attendants, she was your normal passenger. Denver’s finest met her when she got off the plane
and United supervisors were everywhere!
Mark told the flight attendants to call him if they need any backup for
Our month in Sicily ended with 3 nights in Palermo before we took an overnight ferry to Civitavecchia, the port for Rome. We weren’t really expecting much from Palermo, having never read many great stories about the city. It’s the largest in Sicily with about 700,000 people and is supposed to be quite dirty and chaotic. Even the other Sicilians (not from Palermo) we met didn’t speak highly of it and warned us that traffic in Palermo is the worst on the island – mass chaos!
We enjoyed Palermo overall but have to agree that stop signs
and red lights appear to be optional; park wherever – if your flashers are on,
We met some lovely people, ate some good food, and visited
more churches, of course!
Erice is a tiny village perched on a mountain top above Trapani. You can reach it either by road or by cable car. We opted for cable car and spent a nice day wandering around the little town, losing our way in the lanes and streets with no names. Why would you want to know where you are??
I’m so far behind updating our trip. Can I blame it on slow connections? Or maybe just having too much fun??
We spent 8 days in Trapani, just hanging out at a really nice AirBnb with a balcony overlooking the sea. We had the best hosts EVER! They supplied us with some Trapanese food specialties so we’d try them. After we asked for a recommendation for the best cannoli, they stopped by the next day with 2 fresh cannoli for us! “The best place was too far for you to walk.” They even gave us a ride to the bus station when we checked out.
As we’ve traveled around the island, we’ve made some observations.
Low to the floor beds! 5 out 6 beds have been ridiculously low to
the ground. Why?? Only one bed has had box
springs – just fairly good mattresses.
We wonder what someone who grew up here thinks the first time he/she sees
a U.S mattress and box springs on a high bed frame?? Mark says all the pillows are flat, too!
“Transition” coats – We learned this term from a
German friend who says there’s no good English translation for the German word
but it amounts to a light Fall jacket.
We see people in puffy coats all the time; meanwhile, Mark waers his
shorts and Susan wears capris and no jackets.
Sicilians don’t seem to be very fond of A/C or
draughts either. Scarves are everywhere and not for decoration. One of the ladies working in the Poste had a
heavy scarf around her neck. We couldn’t even tell any A/C might be on!
Signage in National Archeological Parks or the
lack thereof – After visiting 3 of these sites, we’ve determined no extra money
is spent on signage to guide visitors around the sites in a logical – or even
illogical order. One site had a pretty
good map; one had a barely useful map; and one had none at all! The ticket guy just shrugged when I asked for
one. Why would I need a map?
A few arrows along the way would help visitors decide if the track leads someplace – like to a temple – or if it’s just a track made by visitors? When they do have a “path”, let’s just say some of the paths would never quite be approved by the U.S. NPS!
just typical European washing machines – The wash and rinse process takes a
minimum of 90 minutes. Why do our clothes need rinsed and spun 3 times??
Toilets – our grades for public toilets are
based on 4 things: toilet paper, soap, water, and a hand dryer/paper towels. We
haven’t found many that score 4/4. We carry TP and a hand towel with us along
with hand sanitizer.
We booked a driver to take us from Agrigento to Trapani because we wanted to stop at Selinunte ruins and it’s impossible to do with public transport. Salvo picked us up about 9:30 and off we went through olive groves and vineyards. Salvo was full of good info about olive oil industry and answered our various questions about schools, olive oil, bridges, etc. in Sicily. Did I mention he looked like George Clooney, too?
Selinunte is on the coast and is packed with visitors in the summer when tourists come to spend a week or 2 or 3 at the beaches here. In October, not so much! We had the grounds pretty much to ourselves except for 2 tour groups who used a bus to move between the 2 majors parts of the park. We walked down the long hill and back up the hill to the Acropolis.
As we’ve traveled around Sicily, we’ve made some observations. Here goes!
Low to the floor beds! 5 out 6 beds have been ridiculously low to the ground. Only one bed has had box springs. We wonder what someone who grew up here thinks the first time he/she sees a U.S mattress and box springs on a high bed frame?? Mark says all the pillows are flat, too!
“Transition” coats – We learned this term from a German friend who says there’s no good English translation for the German word but it amounts to a light Fall jacket. We see people in puffy coats all the time; meanwhile, Mark has his shorts on and Susan is wearing capris and no jackets. Sicilians don’t seem to be very fond of A/C or drafts either. Scarves are everywhere and not for decoration. One of the ladies working in the Poste today had a heavy scarf around her neck. We couldn’t even tell any A/C might be on!
Signage in National Archaeological Parks or the lack thereof – After visiting 3 of these sites, we’ve determined no extra money is spent on signage to guide visitors around the sites in a logical or even illogical order. One site had a pretty good map; one had a barely useful map; and one had none at all! The ticket guy just shrugged when I asked for one. Why would I need a map? A few arrows along the way would help visitors decide if the track leads someplace – like to a temple – or if it’s just a track made by visitors? When they do have a “path”, let’s just say some of the paths would never quite be approved by the U.S. NPS!
just typical European washing machines – The wash and rinse process takes a
minimum of 90 minutes. Why do our clothes need rinsed and spun 3 times??
Toilets – our grades for public toilets are
based on 4 things: toilet paper, soap, water, and a hand dryer/paper towels. We
haven’t found many that score 4/4. We carry TP and a hand towel with us along
with hand sanitizer.
Ragusa is another hill city. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 1692; rebuilt up high but the aristocrats liked the lower part better. They rebuilt there, separated by a valley. Lower Ragusa is the most scenic part as far as tourists go.
We took the bus from Modica to Upper Ragusa (only place the bus goes); found the local bus to Lower Ragusa, guessing where to get off. The streets are narrow, winding, and all UP or DOWN. Lots of houses appear abandoned. You could buy one if you’re in the mood to deal with Italian bureaucracy for the sale and then all the workers to renovate it.
Of course, to return to Modica, we did the whole thing in reverse. Riding buses in Sicily would be MUCH easier if any of the bus stops happened to have a posted schedule on it or even show the bus numbers. In Ragusa, the bus route number was handwritten on white cardboard and placed in the bus window. The schedules must be passed from generation to generation!
Modica is a hill town in Sicily, famous for making chocolate! When the word “hill” is used to describe anything in Sicily, you can count on MANY hills and steps to move around the town. Modica is a lovely town; if you visit, make sure you check the location of your B&B or hotel. You could find yourself lugging suitcases up MANY steps to find the correct street!
Sicily is an island – check. Sicily has LOTS of cactus (prickly pear, cholla) growing – check. So what’s the climate like?? The island would make you think humid and the cactus makes me think dry. You are correct on both counts. The land is pretty dry, supporting the cactus, but lots of citrus orchards dot the island. The air on the other hand is quite humid, at least by Colorado standards.
We’ve had great weather with very little rain, lots of sun, and some major wind thrown in. My hair has been pulled up many days because the air is so humid that when we’re in the sun, my hair is wet from all the sweat! I’ve given up on curling the hair and just use tons of hair spray to keep it out of my face!
We spent 5 nights in Siracusa, staying on the island of Ortygia. At this time of year, abundant tour groups appeared every day in the narrow streets. By night, we had the streets pretty much to ourselves and were on a first name basis with the owner of Gusto, a gelateria!
We wanted to see Mt. Etna and booked a day trip with a driver and guide, John Franco. He was knowledgeable about volcanoes as well as about local food. Mt. Etna has multiple calderas. We went to the South side which is set up for tourists – parking lot with shops and food, a cable car to the top which stopped a few times on the way up; a bus at the top to take us farther up the volcano where the guide walked us inside the caldera. He tried to educate us along the way but the wind was slo strong no one could here the guide.
All the guys working up on the mountain looked like they could be employed in Colorado ski resorts – down jackets, ski hats, scarfs.
Etna is rarely not windy; the day we went the wind was howling! The mountain guide cut the walk short when he decreed the wind was too heavy to walk safely. I’d been thinking the same thing for about 15 minutes!
Stop number 2 in Sicily was Taormina and we took the Interbus from Catania – not a bad ride for about an hour and only cost $7.50 each. Taormina is a very touristy town set on a hill with beaches below. At this time of year, it was crowded during the day with cruise ship gaggles and tour groups. At night, it was a little more calm. We stayed in a VRBO right outside the old town, making for a nice walk every day. Yes, we got at least 10,000 steps every day and many of them were on hills and actual steps to move between levels.
We’re in Sicily using public transport to get around the
island. Sunday, we needed to go from
Taormina to Siracusa and decided to use Interbus again. With no direct bus
except at 8:15 AM, we had to take the bus from Taormina to Catania and then
take another bus to Siracusa. Well, we
learned one thing! Check where the FIRST
stop is for the bus on a busy route and board the bus there, if possible.
We took Bus 1 all the way to the aeroporto in Catania,
knowing that a bus goes to Siracusa from there.
Little did we know that the bus route actually starts in the middle of
Catania. By the time Bus 2 arrived at
the airport, it was very full on a Sunday at 12:40. (We knew this was possible since the bus lady
said the bus was full when I asked about a departure time.) Given that the next bus to Siracusa didn’t
leave until 2:40 PM, we REALLY wanted on this one – didn’t want to hang out at
the aeroporto for 2 more hours.
We did our best European/Italian “what’s a line?” act! Mark took the bags to put them under the bus
in the luggage compartment – it’s all self-service – while Susan stood as close
to the curb as she could when the bus approached. She was the third person on the bus when the
driver muttered to the lady in front of her something in Italian. I could tell by her expression it probably
translated to “The bus is full”. I asked him in English and the driver replied,
“I have only 2 seats”. (The lady needed more than 2.) I quickly said, “We are 2” and motioned to
Mark to push through the crowd at the door and get on the bus!
It worked! We were a
bit squished for the 1 hour ride and Mark had to make some young lady move her
purse out of a seat but we had seats and left everyone else to curse the
Italian bus ticketing system and maybe us, too.
We flew to Catania from Munich on an uneventful flight. The luggage people were as slow as Denver getting our bags! We figured out the Alibus, took it to town and walked to our B&B on narrow little sidewalks along streets with no street signs. Google maps was our friend at 7:15 PM as it was getting dark!
Catania is every stereotype you’ve heard of Sicily – old, lots of graffiti, and garbage in the streets – but it is pretty inexpensive to eat and drink in the neighborhoods and we had some good food during our 2 days here. Aperol spritzers were 4 euro and beer was 1 euro!
One day we went to the WWII Museum to learn about the British, American and Canadian invasion of the island. I would not have wanted to be one of those soldiers dealing with all the hills/mountains, heat and humidity.
THEN it was off to Munich! We decided to take the train, Deutsche Bahn. Trains are, after all, more climate conscience and scenic than flying. We bought the ticket a few months ago and we had a seat reservation from Essen to Munich.
When you think of Germany, what do you think? Efficient, great engineering, cars,
beer. You certainly expect the train
system to work, right? Let’s just say,
DB did not have a good day on Monday!
Our train arrived in Essen, missing half the scheduled cars (about 8
cars total missing), including the one we had a seat reservation on. The DB conductor said, “Sit anywhere”.
“But there are no seats” …
Oh, well”, he shrugged!
We found seats for about 2 hours before two people showed up
with reservations in those seats. We gathered up our backpacks and joined the
gaggle of people standing in the aisles. About this time, the train arrived at
Frankfurt Airport station; announcements told passengers (in German, of course)
to use a different train to Munich and what tracks alternative trains could be
Mark and I decided to get off the train and see what we
could find. I went to visit the ticket
office and managed to find 2 seat reservations on the 2:38 PM train in about an
hour. Nope! The ticket agent discovered
that train was cancelled! Like I said, DB was having a bad train day!
We grabbed the next train to Munich with no reservations and
managed to find 2 unassigned seats to Munich and chatted with two businessmen –
a German and a Belgian. The German said
DB doesn’t do very well in the opinion of Germans. It’s late, equipment
problems, rude employees. If Germany is
serious about climate change like they profess, DB needs to get their act
together in increase train use and reduce flying and cars!
We arrived in Munich only about 1 hour late so all was well.
One note … we stayed in a Sheraton Westpark in Munich using
points. Great hotel in a convenient location.
For the first time ever in 29 years of visiting Germany, the breakfast
breadbasket did not have any German brotchen!
These are yummy crispy rolls and we have NEVER not seen them on the
breakfast table. They’ve been on small
B&B tables, brand name hotels, campground bakeries. What was I supposed to eat my cheese and ham
on for breakfast??
Jutta showed up on Thursday after work in Munich. We spent Friday afternoon at Marstall tent enjoying the food and beer. A table of French guys near us provided the entertainment as we watched them break 2 glasses (one handle and on big chip out of the top of another one); got told to stop after they danced on the table top – not allowed! They also spilled a glass of beer on the shoes of a Lufthansa flight attendant and she was NOT happy! She flies to Denver all the time and had just flown back from DC that morning before coming to Oktoberfest.
We had a lovely weekend in Kettwig, Germany, with Jutta who we met in Tanzania in 2017. She was on our flight from Istanbul to Kilimanjaro, landing at 2 AM, and then in the same hotel before our safaris started. This was an “0”th birthday and Jutta invited us to her party! We had a great time meeting her friends and celebrating her big day.
Our first stop was in Frederick, MD for overnight and a quick stop at Monacacy Battlefield (Civil War) and Francis Scott Key’s burial site. It was a quick 130 miles to Cumberland, MD and a visit with mom for her birthday. Just by dumb luck, Susan’s high school class had a 65th birthday party that weekend so I managed to catch up with a few old friends.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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??