Be Back Whenever

Mark and Susan wander the world

Summer 2023 – Iowa and Las Vegas

A good friend retired as an airline pilot this summer and invited us along on his last flight. It was Las Vegas – Seattle – Las Vegas. Great time was had by all on the flight and in LV for the weekend. The only downside was the flight left LV at 6:00 AM. First time I’ve been in an airport before the Starbucks opened! We were back in Vegas before noon.

The 2 Marks at 5 AM
Mt. Ranier showed its head.
A water cannon greeted the plane when we arrived back in Las Vegas.

A few weeks later we headed to Iowa for the 4th of July and a visit with Mark’s family. Lila was celebrating her birthday, too. We did a little sightseeing in the area while we were there, checking out covered bridges, cornfields, and small towns.

This is the famous bridge in “Bridges of Madison County” in – you guessed it – Madison County, Iowa.
Another bridge. We drove all over the county hunting down four covered bridges.
Yes, this is John Wayne’s birthplace in Winterset, Iowa
Cumberland, Iowa – not Cumberland, MD.
Best bar name in Cumberland, IA
Sunday lunch was in Masena, IA for the 5th best pork tenderloin sandwich in Iowa last year. It’s an Iowa thing.
Lila’s Birthday cake for the party

4/2023 Egypt – Cairo and the Nile

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.

Doesn’t he look like he’s sitting on a toilet? He’s in the Egyptian Museum.
All public toilets in Egypt had an attendant handing out toilet paper in return for some change. However, the airport paid their toilet attendants so this sign was in those toilets. Our translation was “Don’t pay to pee.”

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

Abu Simbel

Susan in the 100F temps at Abu Simbel
Abu Simbel. This was moved inland in pieces when the Aswan High dam was built in the 1960’s. This was the most incredible temple we saw on the trip.
Ramses inside of Abu Simbel

Ramses shows up all over Egypt

Ramses at Karnak Temple
He’s at the Temple of Luxor. BTW … we gave up trying to keep all the dynasties and kings and pharoahs straight. I need a cheat sheet for that.
Temple of Hatshupset Temple.

All the styles of columns were Susan’s favorites.

Hathor temple
Inside Hathor Temple. Trajan and the Romans were involved with this one.
Temple of Esna on Easter morning

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.

Valley of the Kings is very desolate and dry.

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 pryamids are right outside of Cairo with a KFC and McDonald’s close by.
One side has orchards and a Marriott hotel at the entrance.
In front of the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx
Pyramids! They’re actually on a small hill so the big crowds are on the other side down the hill.
Riding a camel was a popular activity. We passed and just took pictures.

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.

3/2023 – Jordan

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!

Olives for sale in one of the Amman markets
Citadel. We had a retired Jordanian military officer as a guide. He asked if we are British before telling us how the Brits screwed up the Middle East after WWI.
View of Amman and the Roman Theater from the Citadel
Mark and Susan at the Roman Theater in Amman

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

Hadrian’s Gate at Jerash. Every time Hadrian visited a town, it seems they built him a gate.
The Dead Sea is at the bottom of these steps. If you look really hard, you can see Mark and John on the sand before they got in it and floated around. Sue and Susan retreated from the sun!

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.

After a 1.3 km walk to the bottom of the Siq, the Treasury appears at Petra.
Mark, along with the camels, vendors, and other tourists, in front of the Treasury. Yes, you saw the Treasury in an Indiana Jones movie.
Camels are everywhere! These 2 were along one of the roads we took to Wadi Rum.
Glamping in the desert. The tents came with flush toilets and showers.
View from our bed in the tent
Starry, starry night! The stars would be better with a smaller moon. It was too bright to see many stars.

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!

Upside down chicken!
Mosaic floor at the Franciscan Church on Mt. Nebo. And before anyone asks, we had NO idea what Mt. Nebo is famous for. We had to Google it to discover that this is where Moses stood to see the Promised Land before he died. If this is wrong, talk to Google.

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.

Jordanian Craft beer with a Colorado connction

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.”

French Polynesia in the rain – 2/4/2023

I’m a bit tardy in posting this so here goes!

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??

Raining in the pool.

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!

Raining while we ate breakfast. The hotel had umbrellas everywhere to use!
With no light pollution, the stars and planets were gorgeous on the clear nights.

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.)

View of Bora Bora from the plane

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!

On Maui enjoying sunset after 5 days of rain showers and clouds.
When you go to Maui, Costco is a necessary stop. I guess they were trying to make us eat healthier by putting the Maui Chips in no-man’s-land. Fortunately, Mark has long arms. Another lady was happy too!

Singapore and NYC  – December 2022-2023

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!

We were the last villa way out there in the line.
Biolumenescent plankton on the beach on our last night.
Mark’s birthday!

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.

The highlight of Christmas Day was doing the laundry!
Singapore skyline from our window.
Hotel Christmas tree
Robot to seat people at Din Tai Fung, a favorite restaurant. We were at a table away from the main walkway so we had a person seat us.
Singapore skyline

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!

Susan in the Singapore Air suite on the flights from Singapore to Frankfurt (14 hours) and then 8 more hours to NYC.
A few of the suites connect and 2 single beds make into a double. They were not the most comfortable but Mark managed to get some sleep.
We spent one night at the TWA Hotel at JFK. It’s the old TWA terminal from 1966 made into a hotel but with all the old furnishings – dial phones in the room, pay phones in the lobby, photo booths, old style departure boards. It’s good for one night when you’re pretty tired.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The city was packed but we managed to walk 18000 steps one day. I was thankful and amazed that I felt well enough to all the walking.
New Year’s Eve Time Square crowd
It’s finally 2023!
Happy 2023!
We could even see the Statue of Liberty in the distance in the haze.

Then it was on to Tahiti via San Francisco.

Maldives 12/18/2022

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!

This is the main pool which was NEVER crowded – just a few guests used it every day.
We had one day of bad weather – hard rain and wind. Some shingles blew off our villa at night! This is the pool for our villa getting pounded with rain. That night the rain started right as we finished dinner and even with a buggy (golf cart) back to the villa, we were pretty wet!

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.

Mark’s birthday was celebrated early with a yummy chocolate fondant dessert of some sort and a YouTube video playing “Happy Birthday”.
Our butler decorated the bathtub, too. The bubbles lasted until the next morning before the decorations all drownd!
The housekeeper liked to decorate the bed each evening. It was a shame we had to destroy it to sleep!
And he left us a towel creature each night.

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.

A few nights the sunsets were marvelous!
It was bit windy that day at sunset and I had to grip the gin glass pretty hard to keep it from blowing over.

Now we’re off to The Westin resort again using points.

Maldives 12/9/2022 – end of week 1

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!

Our overwater villa
Full moon at the Hard Rock. There was a Full Moon party but we were in bed before the party really got going about midnight.
This is the beach at the Hard Rock with the villas in the background. The pic is a bit crooked but we’re taking all the pics on the phones since my neuropathy won’t let me use the “real” camera!

Off to the Maldives – 12/2022

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.

Can’t complain about the view from our bed.
The first day was a bit cloudy with drizzles but it was still warm and we got a bit sunburnt through the clouds. Need to remember the sun screen being this close to the equator.

Christmas Markets in Munich – 11/2022

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.

Lederhosen and dirndls for the children
Christmas market at Marienplatz in Munich
Food stand at the market at the Residenz, Munich

11/2021 – Where to spend Christmas in a world gone crazy from COVID?

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!

SFO was ready for Christmas!

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.

12/2021 – 3 Weeks in French Polynesia

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.

Tahiti is a volcanic island with black sand beaches
Tahitian Christmas tree

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!

Cook’s Bay. We took a tour one day to see more of Moorea and to learn history and plants. Cook never actually sailed in this bay.
View from the side of one of the volcanoes.

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. 

A yellow flame tree. Red ones are way more common.
Poisson Cru – raw fish marinated in coconut and lime juice. Yummy!
On the hunt for more flavors of potato chips around the world- smoked ham

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.

Bora Bora airport sign

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.

Our room from the lagoon
View through the coffee table
View of the resort island from our room
Mark and Susan at sunset.

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.

We did a 4 hour snorkel trip around the island with sting rays and sharks. I’m in love with sting rays now!
Fresh fruit on our snorkel trip!
Another sting ray hanging around our room

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!

Exercise class at our hotel on Christmas Day!
Microbrewery in Papeete. The beer was good!
Notice the BIG container of beer for your table. We did not order one!

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! 

I passed!

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.

One Year Later – 4/2021

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.

One of the resort cats who loved to sit on the chairs with us to sleep in the sun and help with SUDUKO.
Empty airport at 6 AM in Denver

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.

Sum total of April 2020 travel. The most distant points are Costco and a friend’s house for drinks on their patio.

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.

Clark, CO valley near Steamboat.
“Masks required” coming off Rabbit Ears Pass into Steamboat

August, September – nada! October we escaped for the weekend to Denver!

Social Distancing at Jackson’s Bar and Grill in 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.

First flight in a year!
Morning rainbow
Pineapple Wheat to go with poke ….Yummmm

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.

3/2020 Our worst days in 28 years of travel

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!

Tasmania was lovely after we finally arrived!

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.

3/2020 Observations about shopping at Costco in Kona on a Sunday during the coronavirus

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.

11/14 The rest of the trip!

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.

All of the devastation was caused by Mount Vesuvius exploding. Only about 2000 people died from the heat and ash that buried the city. Excavations keep lots of archaeologists busy!
The forum where everyone gathered. This is the most visited part of Pompeii and walking around here is pretty easy. Mt. Vesuvius is in the background
A city street. You can see why walking is quite interesting!
The frescos are amazing. You find them in a variety of houses just wandering around.
Grand fountain
Mount Vesuvius in the background framed by one city gate.

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.

Closed for the season. Capri is full of high end shops which we did not patronize!

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 ourselves. 

View of Capri Bay from the main square
On Halloween, the local kids went trick or treating to the local businesses. This King Charles spaniel helped greet the children.
The streets are VERY narrow in Capri. Special trucks pick up garbage, deliver goods. This one is a medical ambulance.
St. Michele Church in Anacapri with a tile floor painted with the story of Adam and Eve. It’s now a museum and not a church. You can see the walkway around the floor to walk around the floor.
We think the apple tree in Adam and Eve became a lemon tree in this floor. Lemons are all over Capri!

Rome was our last city. How do you get to Rome from Capri??  Not easily, if you’re not with a tour group.

  • 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 our AirBnB.

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.

A carved foot from 200 AD
Sunday, we went to St. Peter’s to visit the church and ended up seeing Pope Francis giving his blessing – in Italian!
One of the many churches we saw. We met an Italian TV personality in Palermo (She does shows about important houses in Italy.) and she told us to stop in any church when we see it open. You never know when it will open again! So many churches are plain and boring on the outside but when you walk in – WOW!

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 her behavior!

11/14 Palermo

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, you’re legal!

We met some lovely people, ate some good food, and visited more churches, of course!

Best granite we had in a month. Granite is like a slushy but made with fresh fruit and some sugar. This one just used fresh lemons and ice. It was very tart and yummy!
Palermo twist on aperol spritz – limoncello, prosecco, tonic water, and a scoop of granite on the top. This was the best one!
It’s hard to see but the sign on the left side is a Water Closet sign. First time we saw it, we thought it had been moved. Second time, we figured out the sign points to a WC BEHIND the altar! We saw a few people coming out from there.
The Royal Chapel covered in mosaics on all walls and floors. It’s spectacular but small when we compared it to Monreale the next day.
Translation – horse meat. We didn’t go check out the various cuts you can buy.
We needed a beef burger after all the pasta and pizza that dominate most Italian menus. This restaurant let us choose between donkey, buffalo, pork, horse, chicken , veggie. Yes, beef is on the menu but didn’t make the picture.
Mark found this ingenious cat perch one day.

11/4 – A day in Erice

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??

We visited the obligatory church. This one had an amazing carved ceiling.
The truck fit, but barely. The streets were all paved in stones of various patterns. This was an easy one to walk on. Some of the others – not so much!
The view from Erice looking down!
Police station working hours. I guess you can’t report a crime any other time of day.

11/4 Sicilian questions

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.   

View from our balcony while we had a little Happy Hour.
This is the bay by Trapani. Lots of sailing, fishing, snorkeling goes on here. Our apt. was across the street from the bay
This is businate pasta, a regional specialty. The pasta is twisted and is a bit chewy but is yummy with sauce and garlic and seafood.
Salt is a product of the area. These salt pans are flooded with sea water and after the water evaporates, the salt is harvested. Harvesting season was over for the year.
Harvested salt!
Yes … that is harvested salt sitting at the dock waiting for shipment but we don’t no to where!

As we’ve traveled around the island, we’ve made some observations. Here goes!

  • 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!
  • 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.

10/22 – More ruins in Selinunte

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.

Our walk started here at the only rebuilt temple on the complex.
Every archaeological park seems to have piles of extra “parts” just in case you need to build another temple.
Just a few more extra parts
The temple at the Acropolis was destination #2. It wasn’t as far as it looks to walk.
View from the Acropolis toward the Mediterranean Sea
Use of a spell checker would go far. Another place I could spell my proofreading services.

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