Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Two Weeks in Italy

Tuesday, April 28th, 2020

Como and Tuscany, October 2019

I’ve been to Italy more than a half dozen times with family and friends, and it’s always been great.  It’s just a happy place.  How can it not be with the vast trove of art, excellent food, amazing views, great people and astounding architecture.  The last time I was in Tuscany was 2014.  There is a write up about that trip buried about 10 postings back, so I won’t repeat myself with any of the background information.  I will include highlights of the trip chronologically with some favorite photos in between.  I got an iPhone 11 Pro just before I left for the trip and I took thousands of amazing photos.  I cut them down to about a hundred of the ones I felt were either unusual, culturally interesting or just plain beautiful.

I will try to include names of the places we visited in case anyone wants to put a similar trip together.  We did the whole trip by car.  Yes, it takes a bit of getting used to . . . the tolls, narrow roads, and those crazy drivers that pass you going over 150 km/hr.  But it gave us the ability to change our plans on a daily basis if we wanted to spend more or less time in a specific town.  Thank you Google maps and GPS.

This time, including my wife and family members and friends, there were 6 of us on the excursion.  We flew into Milan and drove to the Lake Como area.   After flying all night, it was a bit of a white-knuckle drive into the mountains on VERY narrow streets, many with stone walls on both sides.   We stayed in Bellagio at the hotel Fioroni.  It was a good location just about a mile away from the town center, where the ferries stopped.  About all we could handle the first evening was a stroll and a great meal at an open-air, waterside restaurant.  Now that I think of it more than 75% of our meals were Al Fresco.  We went the second half of October so the crowds were gone, the weather was pleasantly cool and we lucked out with very little rain.

The Como area is at the foothills of the alps which provide an amazing backdrop for the views.  The area has been a favorite vacation spot and retreat since Roman times.   Lake Como is glacial and shaped like an inverted “V”.  It is about 30 miles long, very deep >1300 feet and quite clear with the bottom of the lake >600 feet below sea level.  The deep valley and lake make the climate more temperate than the surrounding area.  Ferries zig-zag across the lake between a number of interesting towns.  We got hop-on hop-off all-day ferry passes, a very convenient way to visit all the towns.  Day two we were able to visit all the towns on the upper half of the lake:  Varenna, Menaggio, Lenno, and Tremezzo where there is a nice museum and gardens at the Villa Carolotta.   Yes, that is a lot of towns for one day, but our day didn’t seem rushed, the ferries are frequent, and the towns are small.

The next day was a travel day with rain all day so we didn’t waste any good weather.   We stayed the next five days in Tuscany at The Villa de Fabbiolle, 34, in Impurneta.  It is on about 50 acres back a one lane road, quiet and restful. Restoration was performed from about 2000 to 2015 by the family who has owned it for a number of generations.  There is a full kitchen, inside/outside sitting rooms, five bedrooms, washer/drier, etc.  The three-foot-wide foundations go back to the 1200’s and the old section of the building dates to the 14th century.  The fireplace, roof, timbers and patio were added in the 1600’s.  The first evening the owners treated us to a great five course dinner.

Of course, Tuscany is known for the tall, cypress trees that come in two types, skinny and not so skinny.  Another symbol of Tuscany is the wild boar.  You can see boar’s heads as decorations in many of the small souvenir and food stores.  We were told that there are more than a million boars in Tuscany.  They hunt them in the winter trying to keep them under control as they are a scourge for the wineries since they like to eat the grapes.

Impurneta is central to some very important hill towns in Tuscany.  That’s why we used it as our base for 5-6 days.  On one side of the central square is the Basilica de Santa Maria, the Sanctuary of Santa Maria. The Basilica dates from 1060.  It was bombed out by the Allies in 1944 during WWII but is nicely restored and worth a visit.

The next morning, we were off early to Siena.  I had visited Siena on my previous trip but it’s a city one doesn’t tire of.  We parked near the sports stadium and took an endless set of escalators up to the old town where there are a number of very nice museums and churches.  I enjoyed eating again at the huge Piazza del Campo Pubblico.  I even spent some time people watching from a second story bistro.   The most impressive Duomo is the Romanesque-Gothic Siena Cathedral di Santa Maria, something not to miss.

We hired a driver for our next day of wine tastings.  Our first stop was the nicely restored hill town of San Gimignano.  The impressive Cathedral, Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Assunta, has the Santa Fina Chapel to the right side with frescoes entirely lining the walls.  They depict stories of the old and new testaments and were painted by illustrious artists of the Sienese School of the 14th century, notably Domenico Ghirlandaio.  The chapel also houses a number of relics of Saint (Sera) Fina.  I was amazed all week by the meticulous detailed restorations everywhere you look in every town. 

Our next stop was the family owned and operated Castello Monterinaldi winery.  We had a very nice lunch and tasting followed by a very interesting tour.  The grape harvest was only a week or two before so they were in the fermentation step.  This winery first just de-stems the grapes and puts them into cement fermentation tanks.  The grapes are gently crushed as the must is pumped out and back into the tanks every few days.  They were also experimenting with ceramic fermentation tanks, they called it old school.  Aging is of course in Oak.  

We then stopped at another family owned winery, the Casa Emma Vineyard.  The vineyard was bought in the 70’ss by Fiorella Lepri and named in honor of the previous owner, Emma Bizzarri.  Their methods were similar to what I have seen in California with large stainless-steel equipment for crushing and fermentation.  They were in the process of replanting some of their grape vines.  They remove the vines after about 50 years when the yields fall and then it takes about 5-6 years for the new vines to produce.  They were replanting some fields with Merlot and Cabernet.  As with most wineries they have olive trees and make olive oil as well as wine.

Sangiovese grapes can, of course, be grown anywhere but only Sangiovese grown in Tuscany can be called Chianti.  Chianti or Super Tuscany carries no specific rules. However Chianti Classico Appellation DOCG is covered by rules set up in 1714 and must be 80% Sangiovese grown in Tuscany.  The Classico always has a black rooster on the bottle neck which is the symbol of the whole Chianti area.

We noticed there were as many olive orchards as grape vineyards.  It turns out olives combines well with wine making.  Harvests and processing alternate and we saw them starting to pick olives while the wine was fermenting and aging.  Olives can be pressed immediately for oil but for eating the olives have to be soaked in water for 30-60 days, changing water weekly.  Then soaked in salt water for 30-60 days, changing salt water weekly.  I’m sure there is much more to it than that. 

The next day we drove to the tram that took us to the Frienze train station, within walking distance of the old town.  What can you (not) say about Frienze?….Cathedral de Santa Maria del Fiore, The David, Uffizi Gallery, Piazza della Repubblica….the cradle of the Renaissance, and of course, Ponte Vecchio, the medieval bridge over the Arno river, now home to jewelers, and art dealers.  There are so many churches and museums that a week couldn’t do it justice.  The Uffizi was overwhelming to me.  I took so many photos of amazing renaissance paintings and statues that it was numbing.  I started going through the galleries faster and faster just to make it out!!!!  The statues in the Plazzo Vecchio are a treat.   When we got back to the Duomo the sun was setting and the photos of the sunlight on the upper part of the structure were amazing.  The inside was equally remarkable.  We had dinner al fresco facing the front of the Cathedral.

We took a break from our hectic pace by next visiting a small hill town, Fiesole, several miles North of Frienze.  We had a beautiful view of the whole valley and the Domo in the distance.  There is a very nice restored church in the town but the real attraction for me was the Convento San Francesco, the San Francisco Monastery, founded in 1399.  The monastery is a long walk to the top of the hill.  For me the tiny semi-restored rooms that the monks lived and prayed in were most interesting.  The rooms had a small wooden plank bed on the one side and a desk or alter on the other side, and that’s it!  You could just imagine what it was like for them 600 years ago.

Next on our agenda was the town of Assisi, home to Saint Francis and Saint Clare.  It lies in the Umbria region of the province of Perugia.  My best overall description of Assisi is a hill town on steroids.  It’s huge and has seemingly countless Churches and Basilicas.  We drove right into the heart of the old part of the city and since it was off season at the last minute we were able to get rooms at the beautiful Hotel Giotto Assisi, Via Fontebella, built in 1899.  On our first day there we visited about 6 churches; mind boggling.  The most memorable was the 13th century Saint Clare, Basilica de Santa Chiara, with a beautiful pink and white façade.  The Basilica also contains the remains of Saint Clare.

The next day was simply amazing.  First was the Saint Francis Cathedral and Monastery consecrated in 1253.  Its 13th-century frescoes portray the life of St. Francis and are attributed to Giotto and Cimabue.  It’s actually two massive churches one built orthogonally on top of the other.  You don’t realize there is another church above you when you are in the bottom one, The public is not permitted in the massive Monastery.  Monks are everywhere.

We next drove to the nearby town of Santa Maria to see the Church of Devine Marie of the Angels, built in the 16th century.  It is famous for the “church within a church” or the Porziuncola which dates to the 9th century and is the church where St Francis founded the Franciscan movement.  It is actually a tiny church inside the huge Basilica and many priests were inside praying.

My final remembrance of Assisi was the massive Rocca Maggiore which is built at the very highest point of the town.  It is a partially restored, 14th century castle built atop the ruins of a Roman fort.  I can’t imagine building such a structure so long ago at such an inaccessible location.  Somehow, we found a one lane, harrowing road to the top.  You can look down at the many sights of Assisi through the actual narrow “windows” that were used to shoot arrows at anyone foolish enough to attack.

One of the most remarkable happenings was saved for the next to the last day.  My wife wanted to get the birth and marriage certificates of her great grandparents who immigrated to the USA around 1900.  They came from a small mountain town called Berceto which is in the Apennine Mountains in the Emilia-Romagna region.  I have to say I was skeptical of a positive outcome since little preparation had been made.  We arrived on the afternoon of October 31, in heavy, heavy fog earlier than planned.

We found out from the innkeeper where we were staying that the town records building would be closed the next day for All Saints Day.  We hurried over to the municipal building to find a small room surrounded by closets and shelves filled with very old hand-written journals and a man who really knew his job.  After pouring through these hundred-year-old records for about an hour he miraculously produced the birth and marriage records for her great grandparents!   He efficiently typed the information into his computer and produced official records, along with copies from the old records, with the town stamp for all three documents.  The next stop was the church and the actual alter where they were married.  Amazing!!!

On our last day we stopped in Parma and visited the Duomo with its amazing illusionistic fresco of the assumption by Antonio da Correggio.  It is believed to be built on the site of a Basilica from around 600.  The church construction started in 1059, but the structure received heavy damage caused by a powerful earthquake in 1117 and had to be rebuilt.

Back from our trip, we enjoyed the famous dried ham sausages, cheeses, wine and olive oil. It was a wonderful trip that we will always remember.

Well those are the highlights of our trip.  As I mentioned I could only include a small fraction of  the marvelous photos I took during the trip.  I have provided very short captions with the location or name.  It was very hard for me to pick out the most special part of the trip.  Perhaps the Roman ruin at the top of Assisi?  Or the Monk’s tiny living quarters of the Convento San Francesco in Fiesole?  Or obtaining the >100-year-old birth and marriage records?  Or one of the other amazing finds?   That is the mark of a special trip, many favorites. This was about my 8th trip to Italy and all have been great.  Italy is filled with amazing art and architecture, great food and as I always say, happy people.

Ralph Obenauf 4/2020

Galapagos Archipelago Excursion 12/15-22/18

Tuesday, April 16th, 2019

I have been enchanted by the Galapagos Islands all my life.  It was high on my bucket list but as you can imagine not an easy check off.  The opportunity came this past December when a group of relatives, friends and extended family, 17 of us in all, signed up for a Celebrity cruise on the Experience.  It was a very small cruise boat, about 38 passengers and 34 crew, and an older boat that is going to be retired later this year and replaced by one that holds about 200 passengers.  

There are no large cruise boats permitted in the islands.  I’m sure this is due to maneuverability and to protect the environment.  I was very glad that we were able to go on this small boat as the experience was more informal and we were able to quickly get to know every one of the crew and passengers, a larger boat would not have the same feel.  Naturalists were with us all the time to answer any questions and make sure no rules were broken.  The experience was so broad and mind boggling that I’m having trouble organizing my thoughts so please forgive my ramblings. 

The Galapagos archipelago is a cluster of about twenty volcanic islands and more than a hundred islets totaling 3000 square miles.  They are just less than 600 miles West of the coast of Ecuador and right on the equator.  They are formed by volcanoes from the Galapagos hotspot, a volcanic plume from the jointure of three tectonic plates.  The oldest islands are more than 4 million years old and are disappearing back into the sea as they “drift” to the East.  The youngest islands, Isabela and Fernandina, are still being formed.  The archipelago was discovered by the Spanish in 1535 when a ship on its way from Panama to Peru was dragged there by converging ocean currents. 

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries pirates visited the Galapagos followed by whalers who stopped in the Galapagos through the 1800’s and captured over 100,000 of the giant tortoises for food.  In a few areas you can still see the names of the sailors and their ships that they painted on the cliffs many years ago.   

Ecuador declared the Galapagos a protected national park in 1959 and they have been working to restore much of the archipelago to their original condition.  It is a World Heritage Site, a Biological Marine Reserve and a Whale Sanctuary.  Today there are only about 20,000 – 30,000 inhabitants, half of which live on the Island of Santa Cruz.  Most of the islands/islets are uninhabited.  The park is very carefully controlled.  The government is doing a remarkable job of this difficult task protecting the environment of this special place and trying to restore it to its original state where possible.  You cannot visit without a permit and you cannot go on land unless accompanied by a government “naturalist”.  The only (small) docks I saw were on the island of Santa Cruz, so tourists are taken to shore in rigid inflatable boats, Zodiacs.  Imagine walking down stairs on the side of the cruise boat and getting into the Zodiac while it’s rocking in the waves, then repeating it to scramble onto the volcanic rocks. It’s difficult for me to put my experience into words.  Simply, it was far beyond my expectations: very educational, physically demanding, and rewarding…stunning.  Of course, the big draw is the animals.  And not only are they remarkable by their diversity but they have no fear of humans.  You could just touch most of them any time you wanted to, but the rule is that you cannot touch any living thing, any time.  Imagine sitting on a bench or rock within inches of a 500-pound sea lion, or walking right up to a frigate bird, or snorkeling with a penguin.  They have no fear of humans because for eons they have (mostly) not been harmed or touched.  Of course, to discuss all the different animals I saw is well beyond the scope of this posting but I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

Different islands seemed to have more of a particular animal.  The tortoises were limited to those islands with enough vegetation for them to eat, but certain tortoise species evolved on specific islands with traits adapted to the plants there.  Other islands had lots of iguanas, others had sea lions, penguins, boobys, Nazca boobys, great frigates, cormorants, Darwin’s finches, storm petrels, etc. and lizards everywhere.   

Another thing that struck me was how tough it must be to live there.  There are four ocean currents that converge in the area: The Cromwell, Equatorial, Humboldt, and Panama creating different temperatures and unpredictable tides.  While there are plenty of fish for the sea birds and sea lions, the land is mostly barren volcanic rock except for the larger, older islands.  The islands are a small land mass and therefore mostly arid and are isolated 600 miles out in the Pacific Ocean.  It is easy to see why many of the animals have evolved to fit their environment and many are only native to this strange place.  Some of the most notable of these are the algae eating marine iguanas and the flightless cormorants and let’s not forget the fifteen species of giant tortoises.  The plants and insects seemed to be unique as well: the few flowers are mostly yellow and a few white; of the few insects I saw were an unusual black bumblebee and a colorful striped grasshopper.  

The exploration got off to a fast start the first evening in Black Turtle Cove where we must have seen over a hundred Pacific sea turtles, many of them mating.  The next morning was a snorkel off the beach.  I was in the water for about 5 minutes when an adult sea lion came out of nowhere right up to my face to say hello.  I have to say it was unnerving.  A hike on another island went along a path that was well worn by the tortoises.  We were thrilled to see one of the magnificent animals.  But after seeing 50 more on the trail it seemed common place.  And it was their trail, you had to get out of their way.  On another hike it was through bird country: boobys, frigates, owls everywhere right along the trail and in the trees along the sides, sitting on eggs and chicks right on the ground, astounding.  Other hikes were on barren volcanic islands inhabited with countless sea lions, iguanas crabs and lizards.  All living together with no fear of humans. 

I’ll relate one last experience that was for me the most astounding thing I saw. On December 18 off the coast of Isabella Island near Urvina Bay we were cruising in the Zodiac when an orca larger than a bus surfaced about 30 feet in front of the boat.  It had a 300-pound sea turtle in its mouth which it flipped in the air before chomping down.  The birds finished off the bits and pieces.  We got out of the orca’s way and were along a sheer rock wall when steam and smoke shot out near the water line reminding us that this was an active volcanic island.  It was time to go back to the boat.

The boat stopped at about two locations every day.  Following is a brief synopsis of the itinerary:

  • Saturday, 12/15
    • Fly to Baltra, Galapagos from Quito
    • Zodiac ride through Black Turtle Cove, many pacific sea turtles
  • Sunday, 12/16
    • Rabida and Egas Port, Galapagos: snorkel and hike
  • Monday, 12/17
    • Tagus Cove, Isabella and Espinoza Point,
    • Fernandina: Zodiac and Darwin Lake, snorkel, lava field hike, hawks, whale bones
  • Tuesday, 12/18
    • Urvina Bay, Isabella and Vincente Roca Point: zodiac, snorkel, hike, tortoise, orcas
  • Wednesday, 12/19
    • Bartolome Island and Las Bachas, Santa Cruz, Daphne Island circumnavigation
  • Thursday 12/20
    • El Barranco, Genovesa
    • Darwin Bay: boobies, frigates, owls, mockingbirds, Prince Phillips Steps
  • Friday 12/21
    • Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, Darwin research center, Tortoises
  • Saturday 12/22
    • Arrive back in Baltra, Galapagos
    • Fly back to Quito

Below are photos with a short caption on each for identification.  I apologize if they are not National Geographic quality…..but they are MINE!

Ralph Obenauf February 8, 2019

Alaska Cruise June 3-11, 2017

Monday, July 17th, 2017

In the words of Johnny Horton:

“North to Alaska, go North the rush is on.”

Mountains of Glacier Bay

Mountains of Glacier Bay

Mountains of the Misty Fjords

Mountains of the Misty Fjords

A trip to Alaska has been on my bucket list for many years.  I finally got to do it and the trip exceeded expectations.  Once again, I have my daughter-in-law Megan to thank for finding great excursions that enhanced the experience.  The seven-day cruise went from Seattle to Juneau to Glacier Bay to Sitka and Ketchikan returning back to Seattle along the Southeast Alaskan Panhandle.  I was surprised by many things and I will try to capture the highlights here.  It is hard to appreciate the vastness of Alaska without seeing it live.  The scale of everything is huge and you just can’t grasp it unless you view the towering mountains in the distance.

Street Entrance to Pike's Market

Street Entrance to Pike’s Market

Fish Mongers at Pike's Market

Fish Mongers at Pike’s Market

Flowers at Pike's market

Flowers at Pike’s market

A stop in Seattle wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Pike’s Market.  It’s perhaps best known for the fishmongers who make a game out of their job, throwing fish when a customer makes a purchase, chasing people with ugly fish and generally clowning around.  The flowers and produce are striking and the street performers are great.  There are lots of high quality hand crafts, foods and souvenirs available.  It’s a happy, festive crowd of all ages.

Street Performers at Pike's Market

Street Performers at Pike’s Market

Pike's Fish Market

Pike’s Fish Market

Veggies at Pike's Market

Veggies at Pike’s Market

Holland America Eurodam

Holland America Eurodam

The ship sailed in late afternoon.  We took the Holland America line on the MS Eurodam.  It holds about 2100 guests and is about 1000 feet long, not huge by today’s standards. We sailed for almost 48 hours to reach Juneau, the state capital, it was about 900 miles.  The distances between towns are hard to imagine unless you experience it.  The three towns we visited can only be reached by boat or plane. For an East Coaster, I can’t imagine living there, but the people who live there love it.  It’s common to get around in small float planes which have short take offs and landings.

Arrival at Juneau Wharf

Arrival at Juneau Wharf

de Havaland Beavers at in Juneau

de Havaland Beavers at in Juneau

Alaska State Capital Building in Juneau

Alaska State Capital Building in Juneau

I Imagined Alaska as a very cold lifeless area, but the lower half of the panhandle gets a lot of rain and it’s quite temperate along the water.  When we were there in early June the flowers were blooming and we only needed to wear a fleece.  We had scheduled a helicopter ride up on top of the glacier near Juneau, but it was so foggy that all the flights that day had to be cancelled.  So, we just enjoyed the town and the locals.

Totem Pole in Juneau

Totem Pole in Juneau

Downtown Juneau

Downtown Juneau

From Juneau, we sailed to Glacier Bay National Park which was much more interesting than I ever expected.  It’s only about 60 miles in a straight line to the mouth of the bay, but it took 9 hours to zig zag between the islands.

The bay is about 50 miles long and has a history of being covered then uncovered by glaciers.  In the late 1600’s the area was actually land but in about 75 years a huge glacier gouged out the bay.  Up until 1750 it was covered by this single glacier extending out beyond what is now the mouth of the bay.  Then in less than 100 years the glacier retreated 50 miles to where it is today, leaving Glacier Bay and about 20 separate smaller glaciers around it.  I always thought that glaciers moved very slowly, but I believe the park ranger said the Margerie Glacier currently moves about 6 feet per day.  The oral tradition of the Native Americans who lived there when it was land says the glacier moved so quickly that they had to just abandon their villages as it advanced to the sea.

Sailing Into Glacier Bay

Sailing Into Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay Margerie Tidewater Glacier

Glacier Bay Margerie Tidewater Glacier

Glacier Bay Margerie Glacier, Close up

Glacier Bay Margerie Glacier, Close up

Glacier Bay Margerie Glacier, Closer up

Glacier Bay Margerie Glacier, Closer up

Glacier Bay Margerie Glacier, Even Closer up

Glacier Bay Margerie Glacier, Even Closer up

The boat went up the bay close to the Margerie Glacier, much closer than I expected the ship to be able to approach.  This is a tidewater type glacier which means the ice goes right to the water.  It was very impressive and its size is hard to grasp.  We thought we were about 200 yards from the front of the glacier and that it was about 100 feet high.  In reality we were about a quarter mile away and it was 250 feet above the water and extended more than 100 feet below the water.

Glacial ice is royal blue in color due to the ice being subjected to great pressure and the high-density ice reflects and scatters blue light.  When the glacier cracks, it sounds like a plane flying over or a clap of thunder.  Every so often huge pieces of ice would “calve” off the front of the glacier sending water high in the air.   From there we sailed to another tidewater type glacier called the Johns Hopkins Glacier, then started making our way south out of Glacier Bay.

Mountains of Glacier Bay

Mountains of Glacier Bay

John Hopkins Glacier, Glacier Bay

John Hopkins Glacier, Glacier Bay

The next stop was Sitka, a small town of only about 1000 people.  We never went into town.  Instead we spent about 7 hours on the water with a great guide, Captain Davey Lubin.  I would describe him as a naturalist guide.  He picked us up right at the wharf.  You can tell Davey loves his job, loves the area and really knows where to go to see some wonderful things.  Every once in a while, he would look at something and comment something like “boy is that ever beautiful”.  He not only knew the name of every plant we saw, he knew their Latin scientific names.

The Esther G

The Esther G

Bald Eagle in Sitka Bay

Bald Eagle in Sitka Bay

Bald Eagle in Sitka Bay, Here's Looking at You Kid!

Bald Eagle in Sitka Bay, Here’s Looking at You Kid!

Whale Tail in Sitka Bay

Whale Tail in Sitka Bay

Whale Spout in Sitka Bay

Whale Spout in Sitka Bay

Sea Otters in Sitka Bay, "The Boy's Club"

Sea Otters in Sitka Bay, “The Boy’s Club”

His boat is the Esther G and while it is not unusual for Alaska, it is unusual to someone from the lower 48.  It was of very utilitarian construction and made from ca. ¼ Inch aluminum plate welded together; very tough for a very tough environment.  He extended the length of his boat last Fall by having it cut in half and had a four-foot extension welded in the middle.  We cruised around Sitka sound and saw whales, sea otters, bald eagles, puffins, etc.

Captain Davey Lubin Ashore

Captain Davey Lubin Ashore

Banana Slug on Kruzof Island

Banana Slug on Kruzof Island

Bald Eagle Remains on Kruzof Island

Bald Eagle Remains on Kruzof Island

Trail in Kruzof Island Rain Forest

Trail in Kruzof Island Rain Forest

Kruzof Island Trees in Rain Forest

Kruzof Island Trees in Rain Forest

After cruising around for several hours Captain Lubin took the boat into a protected area, gave us each tall rubber boots, and craned the inflatable off the top of the boat so we could paddle ashore onto Kruzof Island.  It appeared he had done this many times before.  Davey took his rifle just in case and gave Megan a can of bear spray.  Piles of logs had washed up all along the shore line and it was a difficult climb over them to get into the forest.  But once inside we were in a temperate rain forest, first time experience for me and unexpected.  Everything was covered with thick moss and even the trail had a six-inch cushion of mass to walk on.  We talked loudly as we walked the trails to make sure the bears knew we were there.  It worked, we didn’t see any bears, but there was bear scat and signs of bear everywhere.

Lava Tubes in Sitka Bay

Lava Tubes in Sitka Bay

Kelp in Sitka Bay

Kelp in Sitka Bay

Sea Star in Sitka Bay

Sea Star in Sitka Bay

Lunch on the Esther G

Lunch on the Esther G

Sitka Bay Island

Sitka Bay Island

We had lunch in another protected small bay with several hundred sea birds and raptors.  And what a lunch for being out on the water: charcuterie, salad, poached halibut, wild rice with asparagus…  Then it was back to the ship and reality.  A unique experience for sure.

Taquan Air Beaver Float Plane in Ketchikan

Taquan Air Beaver Float Plane in Ketchikan

Old Logging Roads in the Misty Fjords

Old Logging Roads in the Misty Fjords

Waterfall in the Misty Fjords

Waterfall in the Misty Fjords

Island in the Misty Fjords

Island in the Misty Fjords

Our final stop in Alaska was Ketchikan, a slightly larger town of over 8,000 inhabitants.  We took a great bush plane tour on a de Havilland Canada, Beaver float plane through the Misty Fjords on Taquan Air.  We were very lucky to be there on a day that wasn’t misty.  The sights of the mountains, waterfalls and lakes were spectacular.  Flying in a bush plane made for a spectacular experience flying over the mountains and low through the valleys.  We landed on one of the many lakes and got out of the plane to stand on the floats and grasp the spectacle.  The town of Ketchikan was very nice with interesting shops and things to do, but nothing to compare to the flight.

Mountains of the Misty Fjords

Mountains of the Misty Fjords

Fog Over the Misty Fjords

Fog Over the Misty Fjords

Looking Out Over the Plane Float in the Misty Fjords

Looking Out Over the Plane Float in the Misty Fjords

A Lake in the Misty Fjords

A Lake in the Misty Fjords

We had a quick stop the next day in Victoria, BC before our return to Seattle.  We found Victoria to be a very impressive, friendly, picturesque city.  The weather is temperate and they get very little snow.   Along the waterfront there are many interesting “float houses” which are houses built on a sort of barge, built to be in one place semi-permanently, not like a house boat.  It must be a very interesting environment to live in.  You could never do it in the lower states because of the storms.

There are a number of choices of cruise lines but their itineraries are similar.  You can also spend two weeks and go all the way to/from Anchorage.  I’m very glad I was able to check Alaska off my bucket list and experience the enormity and the very different way of life.  I guess you can feel the enthusiasm from my ramblings here…

The Dopy Moose in Ketchikan, Alaska

The Dopy Moose in Ketchikan, Alaska


RO 6/30/17

Cuba, Habana: People to People trip, Oct. 2016

Monday, October 31st, 2016

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I’ve wanted to visit Cuba for a long time.  I love the music and the food, and the old repaired/modified cars fascinate me.  I find Cuban people to be smart and industrious.  In short, I wanted to learn more about Cuba’s culture and the country which has been unavailable to people of the US since 1960.  Having lived through the Cuban/US missile crisis, Bay-of-Pigs, etc. I’ve always been intrigued by this island only 90-miles from the US.   With the trade and travel restrictions being relaxed I knew I had to go soon before it changed forever.

Our daughter-in-law, Megan, is entirely responsible for making this happen. She did an amazing job that made the trip exceed all of our expectations.  Megan has been taking Spanish lessons for several years and through her Cuban and travel agency contacts she learned how to navigate the system to get us People-to-People visas. She also secured the lodging and events necessary to uphold the particulars of our visa.  While you can hire translators, Megan was our designated interpreter.  She did a fabulous job of translating and engaging many Cubans to give us an authentic, amazing experience.  It was a stress free experience considering I don’t know any Spanish.  We got to see and do everything we wanted to within the confines of a 1-week visit.

I have to admit that as the date approached I was somewhat apprehensive about the trip.  This was surprising to me as I’m a seasoned traveler having visited many countries.  People told me that they heard about unsavory experiences . . . robberies, panhandlers, prostitutes, bad water, shortages, trouble getting around and trouble communicating.  As it turned out while there are shortages, our entire experience was positive.  People knew we were from the US, but they were friendly and helpful. We were comfortable wherever we went, but we didn’t go anywhere that a smart traveler would avoid.  We mingled with the people of Cuba, visited their landmarks, etc.  For me it was taking a step back to my youth. It was like the 1950’s in Pittsburgh. . .soot spewing from the steel mills, kids enjoying a pick-up ballgame in alleyways, people gathering on their front steps and street corners to converse with their neighbors.  Perhaps because of the nostalgia the trip was beyond my expectations, one of the most interesting experiences of my life.  And incidentally the restrictions on bringing tobacco and rum back to the USA were lifted two days before we left.

We never felt threatened, including by the police and military, who stood around in pairs here and there but were low key.   Images, statues and references to the three main revolutionaries: Fidel Castro, Ernesto ‘Che’ Guavero, and Camilo Cienfuegos were everywhere but we didn’t see any demonstrations or speeches.  When we asked our driver when the revolution ended he simply replied “It’s still going on”.

building-crumbling-1_img_0283_1024The population of Cuba is about 11 million, and 25% of them live in Habana.  The city is like a faded rose.  You can imagine how beautiful the colonial architecture (in Havana Vieja/Old Town) was back in the early 1900’s.  But many of the facades are broken and falling down.  If you look through a broken window you might see the beautiful building is completely collapsed inside.  I would say that half the buildings are beyond restoration…what a shame!  While once majestic, beautiful architecture like you would find in major cities, the buildings are now dirty and in disrepair. Many structures have been converted for multiple family use.  Clearly they have no means to restore them. See the photos below. None-the-less, we loved walking and driving around and taking it all in.

The Miramar area is where many of the Embassies are. Again, the buildings in this area, while mansion-like, are dirty and in need of repair.  We visited Marina Hemingway, and our driver pointed out the difference between Cuban boats (small and old) and American/Foreigner boats (er, yachts!). We were only able to find a food market to visit at the Marina.  Food markets from our perspective are scarce. The market we visited, while sizable had very little food to sell. Entire rows were populated with the same item, over and over again.

hotel-national-_img_1042_1024The first three days we stayed in a bnb in Centro Havana, on the sixth floor overlooking Malecón (infamous sidewalk in Havana) and directly on the Ocean.  It was operated by two retired sisters.  They were delightful, providing us an amazing breakfast and being most accommodating in every way.  Their home again reminded me of my home in the 1950’s, not fancy but very neat and clean.  The Hotel Nacional de Cuba, where we stayed the last three nights, is iconic.  It’s considered a monument of Habana;  it’s classy, well kept. . . just what you would imagine a top 1950’s hotel to be.  There were a few upgrades since it was built around 1930, but all in keeping with the original building.  Imagine many coats of paint on the woodwork, old style but good quality bathroom fixtures, old but well-kept furnishings, period elevators with brass mailboxes, etc.  It was built to resemble The Breakers in Palm Beach Florida.  There is a beautiful outdoor garden to the rear overlooking the water.  We were told the best hotels in Habana are: Hotel Nacional de Cuba, Hotel Saratoga, Iberostar Parque Central Hotel and Iberostar Miramar.

I didn’t know what to expect concerning the economy.  I’d never been in a communist country before.  Cuba operates on a dual currency basis.  The Cuban Peso (CUP) is for internal use only and is also called Moneda Nacional ($MN).  It cannot be exchanged.  The other currency is a Cuban Convertible Peso, CUC, which is exchangeable.  One CUC is around 26 CUP (MN).  Fun fact, CUPs have portraits and CUCs show buildings which is how you can easily differentiate the currencies.

We were advised to take Euros for exchange because Pounds and Dollars are not wanted…..boy was that good advice……and take enough for your whole trip.  We exchanged for a LOT of CUCs before we left and took a LOT of Euros as well.

The surprise to me was that it is a completely cash-based economy.  Imagine no credit or debit cards, no ATM’s, no checking accounts, no US based cell phone availability.  There were lines more than a block long to get into Western Union or a bank, or the telephone company.  Everybody was hustling.  We were told a cigar roller’s wages were about 22 $MN a month, a teacher 26 $MN and a doctor gets about 36 $MN per month, which is equivalent to $1 to $1.5 USD per month! Of course, the citizens of Cuba enjoy free healthcare, food and housing provided by the government.  People go to special government locations to pick-up their monthly allotment of food.  They supplement this with purchases from farmer’s markets, etc.    In addition to their salary, many Cubans hustle to earn extra money.  People sell water, etc. from the front steps of their homes to tourists, etc.

While most Cubans now have cell phones, the internet remains hard to come by.  In 2008, Raul first permitted Cuban locals to have access to cell phones.  It was only in 2015 that he opened the first public wi-fi spots in 35 locations.  To be granted access, you must buy an internet card that allows for just one hour of connection time.  Most hotels sell access cards where they have hot spots. But you would be walking the streets and come to an intersection with a hundred (younger) people standing and sitting around in the street with their phones…. all on the internet.  They knew where the hot spots were.

thumb_img_1055_1024OMG THE CARS!!!  If you know me, you know I’m an old car fan and I’ve restored several of them.  I was in awe of the way Cubans have kept the old 50’s US cars on the road with little or no access to US parts.  Just look at the photos below. I had seen photos of the Habana cars but before we went I thought there were only a few.  To an old car lover it’s mind boggling.  I would estimate that in the Habana area 30% to 35% of the cars are old US cars mainly from the 50’s.

A lot of them are taxis that the drivers use for their livelihood.  Many are held together with miscellaneous parts and bondo.  But while they wouldn’t be of the same quality as collector cars in the US, some look pretty good from 25 at least feet away.  I would guess that 50% still have the original engine but the others do not.  For example, we drove around all week in a 1956 Chevy Special completely rolled and pleated inside, but with a 5 cylinder 2006 Mercedes diesel engine and a 4 shifter on the column.  How did he do that?  And our driver’s other car was a 1953 Chevy Belair with a Mercedes diesel engine.

OMG THE MUSIC!!!  I’ve always liked Cuban music.  It ranges from salsa to Afro-Cuban jazz.  It seemed like half of the people either sang, played an instrument or both.  See the photos below.  I would spend half the day wandering the streets in Old Town going from bar to bar having a cerveza in each (wine is somewhat limited as it all has to be imported) and listening to the band until they went on intermission.  It reminded me of Nashville.

music-omg-2_img_0737_1024I was surprised to discover a type of guitar I had never seen before.  The Tres is a guitar-like three course chordophone of Cuban origin.  Its sound is a defining characteristic of the Cuban sound.  It has six strings: two strings each tuned (in “C” major) to “E”, “C” and “G” with the two “G” strings tuned an octave apart.  More recently some musicians are tuning the Tres a step higher (in “D” major) to “F”, “D” and “A”.

grocery-national-store_img_0265_1024The food was also special; we ate at some excellent restaurants that a tourist would never find.  While Fidel was in power restaurant signage was prohibited.  Most Cubans never ate out, as their monthly stipends covered their food need.  Today there are some signs, but it’s still not usual.  Instead, we relied on our driver and the sisters to give us good recommendations that weren’t in the US tour books.  We were never disappointed.

cigars-_img_0565_1024CIGARS!!!  While I’m not a smoker, I might now know more about cigars than most cigar smokers.  We toured both a tobacco farm and a cigar factory.  See the photos below.  The rolling factory had 550 workers wrapping for 9 hours a day.  That is a lot of cigars!  They plant the (tiny, tiny seeds) tobacco early in the year when it is drier and it takes about four months for the plants to mature.  Thus there were no plants drying in the barn when we were there.

They strip the middle vein out of each leaf before rolling.  This vein contains 90% of the nicotine and would make the cigar way too strong.  The position of the leaf on the stalk makes the taste stronger or weaker therefore they can make different types of cigars by using different blends of leaves.  It takes about five leaves to make a ½” blunt.  After rolling and putting on an inner wrapper, they press the cigar in a mold for several hours, then put on the outer wrapper, “fermented”, so it is smoother and flexible.  All by hand.  I couldn’t believe how smooth and exact in size they all were since they are all hand made.  When ready to smoke the end is cut off then dipped in honey before lighting.  Some of the commercial cigars are flavored with rum, cinnamon, etc.

donky-cart-img_0912_1024As I mentioned we were on a “People to People” Visa so we could get to know Cubans and they know us.  We took along a lot of candy, NFL caps, baseball cards, pennants, little league shirts with team logos, etc. and handed it all out, mainly to the children playing in the streets and parks.  We got to know three Cubans quite well: the two sisters who ran the bnb and our driver.  Perhaps the most important thing I returned from Cuba with is that several Cubans who we grew to know well told us to “kiss the ground” when we got back to the USA…. I did.

La Yuma, The American,




Places to See:

  • Havana Vieja -  Old Town, great for walking around and listening to bands
  • Viñales- The “Grand Canyon” of Cuba
  • A tobacco farm in Viñales- Where most cigar tobacco plant leaves come from.
  • La Fortaleza- Canon firing ceremony every night at 9p
  • Revolution Square- Where Fidel addressed the people of Cuba
  • The “Forest of Habana”
  • Beach Tropicoco
  • Fusterlandia- a neighborhood modeled after Antonio Gaudi of Barcelona.


Things to do:

  • Buena Vista Social Club- a Cuban show that has been playing for 70 years!
  • Tropicana- Famous Cuban Cabaret
  • Revolution Museum (not terribly impressive)
  • Museum of Fine Arts (Cuban)
  • La Finca Vigía – Hemingway’s home in Cuba
  • Partagas cigar Factory


Where to eat:

  • El Gijones – located on Paseo del Prado.
  • Los Dos Hermanos – Named after Fidel and Hemingway.  Only open for lunch.  We had Cuban sandwiches.
  • La Fontana –  We ate the most amazing seafood carpaccio here!  Great food!
  • Paladar Vistamar- A wonderful restaurant in Miramar, in the second story of a Cuban house, directly on the Ocean.  Great food and views!
  • Many tapas restaurants/bars in Plaza Vieja, Plaza de Armas and on the pedestrian street Obispo, all in Old Town.


My favorite thing to do by far:

Havana Vieja -  Old Town, walk around, listen to bands, and check out the old cars.


See my previous post for even more photos.

Habana, Cuba

Thursday, October 27th, 2016

Below are photos selected from the many I took during my visit to Habana, Cuba October 17-23, 2016. I plan on posting my observations and experiences from the trip, but I wanted to get some photos up quickly.

Yes, the photos are very heavy on old cars and music, which is what one would expect for memories of Habana. And yes, these also just happen to be two of my top interests. I’ve included some photos on cigars, the revolution, and the Gaudi-like mosaics in the Fusterlandia area. At the end are miscellaneous shots from all around the area.

I hope that you will enjoy browsing through them as much as I enjoyed taking them. And I’m sure Habana will not look like this for long.

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Architecture / Sights

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RHO 10/16

Mount Massive Climb Nov 3, 1988

Monday, August 1st, 2016


The headline in the November 4, 1988 edition of the Rocky Mountain News read “Was it big medicine or just another snow job?” That year it was the beginning of November and there hadn’t been any significant snow fall yet. So understandably the ski resorts were getting concerned. One resort, Copper Mountain, had employed a medicine man to pray for good (concert) weather in the past so they called on him this time for snow. Marcellus Bear Heart Williams, a Muskogee Indian medicine man from Rio Rancho NM, arrived at the ski resort on the morning of November 3. He chanted, drummed, prayed and smoked his pipe and lo and behold within minutes the snow started falling!!!!! He commented “Perhaps the spirit of an Ute hunter did come by and hit the width of my mouth with a feather.”


Now you might ask:  Why did this matter to me?  Well that morning two of my friends, Richard and Pete (first names only to protect the innocent) and I started hiking Mount Massive (Sawatch Range) which at 14,429 feet is the second highest summit of the Rocky Mountains.  We decided to go because there was no snow and started off with a beautiful blue sky morning.  But when we were well above the tree line the snow started and it just got heavier and heavier until we had to stay within 2-3 feet of each other just to maintain visual contact.



Finally, within 500-1000 feet of the summit (according to Pete’s altimeter) I made an executive decision “Let’s get the $%*! off this mountain!” to turn back.  Thank goodness.  At that point there was no chance of seeing the trail, all we could do was just head downhill and then parallel the tree line until we found a trail.  I remember trudging along for the last stretch, by then at dusk, for over an hour.  None of us said a word and all you could hear were the crunching of our steps in the snow.  It was tense and scary.  But fortunately we did find the right trail head and our car just as it was getting too dark to see anything.  We could have easily gotten lost and been found in the Spring.  Back then there were no GPS devices or cell phones of course.  It was perhaps the closest I’ve ever come to dying and is a reminder to me just how quickly one can go from really good to really bad.

Richard and Obie shortly before we decided to turn back.

London Downtown… interesting places (Updated!)

Monday, April 27th, 2015

Restaurants and Wine Bars

Gordon’s wine bar… A MUST, basement down Villiers St. next to Charring Cross Station. Very old, buy a bottle and drink it in the arched candle lit rooms or outside in the courtyard.

Bedford & Strand Wine Bar… 1A Bedford Street just off the Strand near Charing Cross, nice selections and atmosphere.  Not as crowded.

Bibimpap Korean restaurant in SOHO at 11 Greek Street London, W1D 4DJ  (020 7287 3434) 2 streets away from Ronnie Scott’s.  Very casual. Cheap and cheerful, queue in the evening.  Try Kimchi Pancake, Pork & Vegetable Mandoo and raw beef and egg Bibimpap.  Bibimpap cooks itself in a very hot stone bowl as served.

Bierschenke, German Bier Kellar at the corner of The Strand and Essex Street across from the Royal Courts of Justice, lots of Barristers, 020 7936 2536

Café Des Amis… upscale wine bar near royal Opera House and Covent Garden, Bow St to Horal to 11 Hanover Place (alley) 020 7379 3444

Café Pacifico Mexican bar and restaurant… 5 Langley St, Covent Garden WC2H 9JA, near Covent Garden tube station,  020 7379 7728,

CnR Malaysian restaurant in the heart of China town near the W hotel, Leicester Square.

4 Rupert Court W1D 6DY very small side street off Rupert Street near the W and pizza express).   Try the Roti Canai and Singapore Laksa if you don’t know what to order

Cork and Bottle Wine Bar… almost as neat as Gordon’s….wider wine and food selections.  In the basement with interesting little carved-out rooms.  44-46 Cranbourn St. Just off Leicester’s Square near the tube stop.

Cicchetti, fine Italian food and dining, 215 Piccadilli, London W1J 9HL, 020 7494 9435,

Covent Garden, nice wine bar/restaurant in bottom of stall area, great restaurants and pubs.

Daly’s Wine Bar, at the corner of The Strand and Essex Street across from the Royal Courts of Justice, better wines.  Owner Gerry Hanratty, 020 7583 4476  Lots of lawyers.

Dirty Dick’s Pub, near the Liverpool Street Station, financial district,  (One of) The oldest Pubs in London, est 1745.

Fortnum & Mason, Piccadilli (downstairs) wine bar;  red and white flights, live music.

Great Queen Street, Queen Street… Traditional English food

La Perla Mexican Bar… 28 Maiden Lane WC2, near Covent Garden.  Mexican food and drinks.  Also Café Pacifico…  5 Langley Street WC2  Locations in Paris also.

Little Italy Ristorante/Bar across the street from Ronnie Scott’s, 21 Firth St.,  London W1D 4RN  0207 734 4737

Madeira Portuguese Restaurant, open until 2am, live music.  Vuxhall station Embankment.

Wahaca Mexican Market Eating… Neuvo Mexican, Maiden Lane Covent Garden

Rules Resturant, 35 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden,  020 7836 5314, Horse themed, claims to be the oldest running restaurant in London, also great cocktail bar upstairs

The Ritz Hotel, THE RITZ near Piccadilly Circus.  Marvelous décor, great high tea but have a cocktail right at the cocktail bar so you can watch the cocktail preparers preform their art.

The Savoy Hotel on The Strand is a famous old hotel and really neat to just go, have a glass of wine in the New York Bar and take in the atmosphere.  Be sure to check out the “historical display” on the way to the bar with artifacts from all the stars of yester year that stayed there, Monroe, Astaire, Gable to name a few.

The Wolseley restaurant, 160 Piccadilly, 020 7499 6996, great atmosphere located in the old Woseley motor car showroom.


Interesting Places & Music

Camden Town, lots of “crazy” young people too much “flea market” to imagine, ethnic food, old London Locks/Boats, very crowded on weekends…

Covent Garden, good shops, stalls, good street performers

There is a series of markets near Liverpool tube stop that are similar to Camden Town:  Old Spitalfields Market, the Brickline Market, Petticoat Lane Market, and the High Sunday Market.  New and old things and lots of ethnic food from everywhere in a very crowded and diverse neighborhood. Mostly only open on Sunday.

Near Spitalfields is the “Market Coffee House” with jazz every Monday starting at 7:30, 50 Brushfield St.  020 7247 4110

Great Indian restaurant district near the Sunday markets on Brick Street.  Go to the Aldgate East tube stop, down Whitechaple to Osborn which becomes Brick Street. Try Aladin among all the other eateries that try to talk you in as you walk down the street.

SOHO, “Bohemian” area, very, very interesting people watching, china town… be careful

Ronnie Scott’s, premier jazz club of London. Frith street in SOHO, go to listen not great food, some great acts open late book in advance at

Jazz After Dark, in SOHO, 9 Greek St W1D 4DQ, small venue with live music open late Tuesday through Saturday, book in advance.  020 7734 0545, 077 7480 3328

Carnaby Street, Oxford Circus, good shopping, trendy shops, Liberty dept store, great Soccer/Rugby store, interesting pubs

“Ain’t ‘nuthin But” Blues club on Kingly St., near Oxford Circus and Carnaby Street, young crowd, somewhat seedy,  may not like it, local blues bands, open mike Sunday starts 4pm.

“Spice of life” Blues, Cambridge Circus, Tuesdays

“Adelaide Road Pub, blues, Clark Farm tube station, Tuesdays

“Heathcote Public House” blues jam Leytonestone tube station, E11 bus, Wednesday

“Globe Public House”, blues, Morning Lane E8, Monday

“Town Hall”, blues, Mare St., Bethnal Green tube station, Bu 254

Tourist musts…Greenwich observatory museum, take the Thames river boat shuttle, great views, stand on the prime meridian, read about the longitudinal clocks before you go, I love mechanical antiques.  Tower military museum, really great dark ages armament neat tour by the beefeaters, royal jewels.  Westminster Chapel, very historic.  War rooms.

A Week in Tuscany… Put It on Your Bucket List

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

Cinque Terra

Cinque Terra, Manarola from the Water

Our group, actually 22 people, recently spent a week in Tuscany. It was well beyond, and very different from, my expectations and I would recommend it to anyone. What you will find is lush rolling hills, a temperate climate, interesting hill towns, culture and fine art… and of course great food and wine.

Tuscany is a product or it’s history and civilizations. The Apennine culture dominated the late second millennium BC, followed by the Villanovan culture (1100–700 BC). Tuscany, and the rest of Etruria, was then dominated by City-states before the Etruscan civilization rose in the 7th and 6th centuries BC. Then came the Romans in the first century AD followed by the medieval period. Tuscany (Florence) is often referred to as the birthplace of the Renaissance. I didn’t realize how many people died in the “black death” which started in 1348, 50% of the population overall and up to 75% in some cities.

We spent about two weeks in Italy but “the group” all stayed at Villa Ponte in Bettolle for 7 days (previously called Il Casale Del Marchese or La Bandita). The villa dates back to the 18th century but has been beautifully restored and the manager/chef, Gian Luca, is a hoot. While at the villa we did day trips on our own, mostly by car.

Below is the list of towns and places visited:

Cinque Terra:
Actually 5 towns on the Italian Riviera, Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. It’s a fairy tale land with multicolored houses built on the steep hills and terraced gardens. Take the (underground) train and the ferry. Be prepared for lots of walking up and down the steps.


1929 Mercedes

1929 Mercedes SSK in the Mille Miglia

A very quaint walled city. We just happened to be there on the day that the 1000 Miglia, passed through town. The Mille Miglia started in 1927 as an open road endurance race and is now limited to cars made before 1957. I lost count at 100 vintage racing cars.

Castello Banfi and Banfi Wines:
A very large vineyard and winery producing 12 million bottles per year… olive oil. We had a tour then a great lunch in the restored castle.

Yet another quaint hill town/commune famous for the Brunello di Montalcino wine made from the sangiovese grosso grapes grown within the commune.


Siena Cathedral

The Romanesque-Gothic Siena Cathedral

Spend some time people watching in the Palazzo Pubblico where the Palio horse race is held twice a year. The Romanesque-Gothic Siena Cathedral is a must see as well as the home of Saint Catherine of Siena, one of the two patron saints of Italy.


Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio on the Arno River; Get out Your Wallet

What can you say about Florenza?….Santa Maria del Fiore, The David, Uffizi Gallery, Piazza della Repubblica….the cradle of the Renaissance. And of course Ponte Vecchio, the Medieval bridge over the Arno river, now home to jewelers, art dealers and souvenir shops.

Bagni San Filippo:
Hot springs, a great surprise and change of pace. We “sort of” stumbled on hot springs that were a bit of a hike back into the woods and with few other people there. There was a series of rustic pools people had damned up going down the hill with the top pool at the source about 96 degrees F.

A hill town/commune with beautiful panoramic views. The town was originally called Corsignano, the birthplace of Aeneas Silvius Picolomini who later became Pope Pius II and entirely rebuilt it as an ideal renaissance town.


Bridge To Civita

Don’t take the bridge to Civita if you are afraid of Heights

A very interesting hill town, less restored then the others because it was isolated for years after the original land bridge collapsed. You can still see Etruscan caves in the area. I got vertigo for the first time in my life while walking up the bridge.

Another interesting hill town perched on vertical cliff faces with a subterranean city of caves and tunnels one can tour. The Duomo, the Orvieto Cathedral, is striped in travertine and basalt.

Other cities people in our group visited included Rome, Venice, Pisa, Cortona, Bologna and Milan.

RO 6-14

Obie’s Things to Do: Aruba

Thursday, December 16th, 2010


Pellican Pier – Informal bar/grill, my favorite place for a grouper sandwich at lunch time, 5 times a week. Fantastic view and I love the atmosphere. At the Holiday Inn out into the water.

Marandi – Large tiki covered “hut on the water”.  Try the capriccio appetizer and Grouper.  Hard to find, on the water near the airport, 297-582-0157

Chef’s Tables – Top notch food, ask for the capriccio appetizer. Turn at Adventure Golf, Bubali Street.  297-587-8140

Madame Janette’s – Top notch food, again try the the capriccio appetizer.  Turn at Adventure Golf.

Simply Fish – Watch the sunset.  On beach at the Marriott Hotel.   297-586-9000

Papiamento, 297-586-4544

Flying Fishbone
– East of Airport about 5 miles toward St Nicholas on the water, Savaneta 344.  297-584-2506.

Screaming Eagle – Sister to Flying Fishbone.  On Eagle Beach,   297-587-8021

Cuba’s Cooking – Downtown, Cuban food is fair but live music most nights. Wilhelminastraat #27, Ornjestad. 297-588-0627

Le Petite Caf̩ РCook/serve on hot stones. Several locations.

Charlie’s – Seedy, lots of atmosphere, great BBQ shrimp.  In St. Nicholas, 297-584-5086

Pincho’s – 297-583-2666

Que Pasa – 297-583-4888

Activities / Clubs

Sunset Sail and Snorkling: The Mi Dushi, 100 year old wooden sailing ship. Also the Jolly Pirates has two sailing ships.

Snorkeling trips: Many variations, one to three stops plus lunch, dinner

Mi Dushi (my favorite), De Palm, Pelican, etc.

ATV excursions: My favorite is Rancho Desperado, fewer rules.  Swim in the natural pool, also Watanabe tours

Horseback riding: Again Rancho Desperado

Mambo Jambo – Late, Salsa club, live bands weekends. 297-583-3632

Garufa Lounge – Live Salsa, downtown.  297-582-3677

Xsizzle – Supper club with live music. Hot weekends near Marriott @ Paseo Herencia. 297-586-3800

Take a ride into the desert side for a picnic; need four wheel drive


Obie’s Things to do in St. Petersburg – Tampa, Florida

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

Saint Petersburg

–Maazzaro’s Coffee & Italian Market – amazing selection of great gourmet Italian food, eat in or take out, catering. 2909 22nd Ave N, St Pete, Beyond Lowes/Home Depot, 727-321-2400

–Melting Pot – 4th Street and 23rd Ave North, St Pete, FL

–Moon Under Water – Beach St. between 3rd and 4th Ave N. St Pete, British Bar with Indian flare.

Old North East Tavern – Fun bar with good food for the locals. 201 7th Ave North, St Pete

Parkshore Grill – 300 Beach Dr NE # 104, St Pete, FL‎ – (727) 896-9463‎ Expensive but good downtown St Pete, water view dining.

–Red Mesa Mexican Restaurant – on 4th Street and about 50th Ave North, St Pete, GREAT authentic Mexican food.

–Taste for Wine – 241 Central Ave, St Pete, (727) 895-1623. – Second floor of building overlooks central Ave. Wine by the glass, nice place to unwind.

–Ted Peter’s Famous Smoked Fish – 1350 Pasadena Ave S. Pasadens, St Pete Beach 727-381-7931, 100,000 pounds of smoked fish per year, try the mullet


Aquaknox, The Weston Tampa Bay Airport, 7627 Courtney Canpbell Causeway, Tampa. 813-675-8700 Glitzy waterfront, water encased walk-in wine tower, open kitchen

–Big John’s Alabama BBQ, 5707 N. 40th St., Tampa. 813-620-0603 area has a half dozen good spots

–Bern’s Steak House, Tampa. One of the largest wine cellars in the world, tour the kitchen and wine cellar. Have desert and a port in the barrel rooms upstairs.

SideBerns, 2208 W. Morrison Ave, Tampa. 813-258-2233 Next door companion to Burns,

–Channelside – Chain restaurants and bars. Howl at the Moon Piano bar. Nice place by the water with a movie theater (In Downtown Tampa).

–Dubliner, The Outdoor Irish bar in Hyde Park, corner of Azeele St and Howard Ave

Las Palmas Café: 19651 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., Tampa. 813-907-1333. Traditional Cuban food

–Ybor City, Tampa: Many places restaurants, bars clubs. Great Sushi at Samari Blue – Neat “warehouse” type restaurant atmosphere. Don’t stay out past 11PM because it can get rough here.

Surrounding Cities

Caddy’s – Beach bar -  9000 W Gulf Blvd, Sunset Beach, FL 33706

Frenchy’s – Causal Fish Dining – Clearwater FL,  various locations

–Gator’s – St John’s pass, St Pete Beach, boasts the largest “Water front Dock bar” anywhere… pull up in the boat and eat there…Also a “boardwalk” with a number of restaurants on the other side of the pass from Gators.

Hula Bay Club, 5210 W. Tyson Ave, 813-837-4852, Waterfront Bar and Grill at Marina

–Informal fish rest/bar on the bay side in Pass the Grill, St. Pete Beach ???

Salt Rock Grill – water front Dining- 19325 Gulf Blvd Indian Shores, St Pete Beach, FL