Be Back Whenever

Mark and Susan wander the world

10/19 – Agrigento

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!
  • Laundry  … 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.
Agrigento is known for the Valley of the Temples, a large complex of important Greek/Roman/Byzantine sites. We walked all over the complex for about 3.5 hours and 4 miles in the sun!
Temple of Juno at Valley of the Temples
Walking up the hill to Temple of Juno. Toilets and a snack bar were at the bottom of this hill.
Must need a snack back in town after the Temple day. The cannoli shells are baked but empty when you order. The baker fills the shell when you order to insure freshness.
Later in the day, we visited the Cathedrale which was magnificent. The path we chose involved walking UP about 200 steps to wind our way through town to the top of the hill because where else would a cathedrale be built?
Mark walked up the inside of the church to get the view from near the painted ceiling. He didn’t go higher when he heard thunder and saw black clouds.
Sure enough! It poured while we had a drink on an outdoor patio. Thank heavens the umbrella over the table kept us dry.
Some steps with a few local cats hanging out!

10/19 – Ragusa

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!

Lower Ragusa from the bus as we drove to upper Ragusa
Duomo dome above the buildings in the narrow street
Narrow street to walk up to the Duomo.
For some reason, the duomo doesn’t sit flush with the piazza. It’s at an angle to the piazza which is on a hill! Notice the steps UP to the entrance to the church.
Table with legs on a block to level the table
When the tables sit on a sloped piazza, the only solution is to use blocks to make the tables level. Quite clever!

10/19 – Modica

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!

Panorama shot from the overlook at the top of Modica. We took a little train around the city to get up high.
Upper and lower Modica with the cathedral. All the buildings are approximately the same color.
Church of San Pietro – 23 steps to get to the door. These steps are a popular place for local teenagers to hang out in the evening.
“Steps to nowhere” or up to the next street through the arch.
Modica chocolate tour factory. They make it without any added milk products. It’s pretty yummy! The tour had plenty of samples including a small sample of Italian hot chocolate. It tasted like melted chocolate to me – quite thick.
We saw some amazing bridges! This is the view from the balcony of our AirBnb in Modica. The train station is below the bridge and only entailed a short uphill walk pulling our carry-on sized suitcases.
The other great part about our balcony was watching the parking adventures below. Lines are optional and turning on the blinkers seems to make parking OK wherever you put the car.

10/14 Siracusa

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!

View from our apartment in the Jewish Quarter of Ortygia.
Greek walls in Duomo walls
The duomo was built on the site of a Greek/Roman temple and incorporates the columns into the church walls.
A column or two are visible on the outside of the Duomo.
In contrast to the Duomo, this Basilica was built to our Lady of Lacrime in the 1990’s, I think. This pointy roof is visible from all over the city.
The archaeological park is the big attraction in Siracusa with a Roman theatre and a Greek theatre (this one). We wandered all over, up and down, waiting for the rain to come. The sky looks blue here but it quickly turned to black!
The day at the Greek theater Garmin told me I walked 37 flights of steps!
This board is the Funeral announcement board for Funeral masses and memorial commemorations.
As far we can tell, Michelin is a sponsor of this church – maybe some renovations??
Susan holding a wine galss.
I needed some prosecco after we got caught in a rain storm!

10/10 Blowing away on Mt. Etna

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!

The mountain was in the clouds when we got to the top. This rock is indeed helping to hold the little building in place!
Lava fields
Lava fields inside the caldera. The lava was warm in a few places and we could smell the sulfur when the wind blew in the “correct” direction.
Large boulder holding building down.
The wind was still howling at this point but John Franco snapped a picture. Thank heavens I had a hood to keep my ears relatively warm. Mark passed on the shorts for this excursion but lots of guys had them on and did not look very happy!

10/10 On to Taormina

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.

This was the view from our patio. They guess it was a bath but no one can find the source of the water. Watching traffic go by on a hill, stop on a hill, double park, blow horns was good entertainment.
The Ionian Sea.
Aperol spritzer and an arancini (rice ball with various fillings mixed in)
Seafood is huge here, given that Sicily is an island. We ate seafood risotto and seafood pasta one night. Yes, it was yummy!
Italian breakfast – granite (crushed ice, lemon and a bit of sugar) and a brioche. The pink one is a strawberry granite
Panorama of the Greek theater, a mere 2000 years old, with Mount Etna looming in the background
We were at the top of the Greek theater where you can see Mount Etna really well on a clear day. It’s not very far away!

10/9 – Bus riding lessons in Sicily

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.

Mount Etna spewing smoke
We could see Mount Etna spewing smoke while we waited for a bus at the Catania airport.

10/9 – Catania, Sicily

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.

Duomo square in Catania
The Duomo in Catania. We gave up counting how many churches we passed walking around the city.
Fish head with lie in fish market
Catania has a large fish market near where we stayed. This guy still had the fishing line attached to him while they cut him up.
Plates of oyster and half lemons
We’re not oyster fans but, if you are, you can buy plates fresh at the market. These are large oysters and there were also plates of smaller ones.
Pasta and seafood in a paper wrapper
This was dinner one night – seafood and pasta cooked in a paper wrap. It was yummy – and we assume fresh!
If you don’t want fish, you can always buy a chicken to cook.
Greek theater in middle of Catania
Greek theatre in the middle of Catania. Houses are built into the walls and the Church of San Francis of Assisi is just behind it. The numbers and directions to follow on the walking tour left a bit to be desired. This time of year is pretty slow for tourists. We had it almost to ourselves.
Just a few extra columns laying around.
Screen on a window attached with concrete
This is one way to have screens on your window! The top one is a “real” screen fitted in the window. The bottom screen is attached with concrete to the screen and wall.

10/2 – On to Munich and Oktoberfest

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 found on. 

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?? 

We’ve had 2 enjoyable days here with friends from University of Iowa, Sam and Josh. Good weather for Oktoberfest, English Gardens, a bit of sightseeing, and visits to 3 tents to compare the differences – Marstall, Spaten, and Hofbrau.
Marstall serves Spaten beer in their test as well as champagne and wine! We opted for beer and pretzels at 11 AM.
We both did some shopping and bought some Bavarian clothes to wear. The dirndl was pretty comfortable but needs a little work done to it when we get home. We are not carrying these around for the rest of the trip. We mailed them home with DHL.
Oxen cooking in the tent
This is one of the oxen being cooked in the Marstall tent. They go through about 97 of them during Oktoberfest, according to last year’s stats.

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.

Mark, Susan and Jutta at the entrance to Oktoberfest. Susan has bright orange shoes on because her other ones fell apart after 20 some years of serving their purpose. Guess I’ll have to do some show shopping in November!
platter of cheese, ham, radishes, pickles on a wooden platter
This was a yummy food platter to go with the beer. No chickens for us this year!

10/2 – First stop – Kettwig, Germany

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.

Kettwig is on the Ruhr River but was largely undamaged during WWII. Now, it’s a quiet place about 15 km. from Essen where lots of people commute to work.
Window boxes of flowers hanging on slate walls.
First time I’ve ever seen slate used for wall tiles but it’s all over the old town of Kettwig.

9/9/2019 – Birthday visit

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.

Birthday cake time!
We took Mom for a drive and visit to the 1812 Brewery in Cumberland, MD. Mainly open on the weekends. Of course, Mom knew 3 people there!
1812 beer in glasses

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