Trips and Travel

Below are some of the trips we’ve taken in the past nearly twenty years:

October 13-21, 2019, Coming: Barcelona → Mallorca → Valencia → Motril/Granada → Gibraltar → Seville → Portimao → Lisbon Cruise

Stay tuned to this site: in October we are sailing on the Ponant line’s Five-Star Le Lyrial. From the Ponant website and brochure:

Le Lyrial is one of four sister ships in the fleet of Ponant, a French luxury cruise line. The ship is small, holding just 264 people, but manages to pack a lot into a small space, including a full-service spa, fitness center and a swimming pool. The ship has a wonderfully calm vibe, with a sedate elegance, a marine-inspired decor, and the atrium sculpture, which mimics whirling columns of fish.

Ponant is a French line and the service, food and entertainment onboard are French. Announcements are made in French first, dinner is served late, the cuisine is French-inspired and entertainment in the theater is cabaret style, while in the lounge the singers channel their inner Edith Piaf. Le Lyrial sails primarily in Europe, South America and around Africa. When in Europe, it offers culturally rich itineraries throughout the Mediterranean. During the rest of the year, it sails expedition journeys to Antarctica, around the coast of South Africa and to the African islands (Seychelles, Madagascar, Mauritius, etc.). The onboard marina is stocked with kayaks and Zodiacs for use on these more exotic sailings.

Le Lyrial is where distintive French sophistication meets innovative nautical design. The ship’s efficient electrical propulsion system and customized stablizers provide an exceptionally smooth, quiet and comfortable voyage. The ship has “Clean Ship” certification.

There are many complimentary onboard amenities - alcholoic and nonalcoholic beverages always available in-suite and throughout the cruise; Wi-Fi access throughout the ship; and 24-hour room service.

The stylish dining room and casual alfresco restaurant feature international and regional cuisine and serve continental and buffet breakfasts, buffet lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner in four courses or buffet. Wine is served at lunch and dinner.

With only 110 suites and staterooms, the elegant ocean-view accommodations range from 200 to 592 square feet, and most have a private balcony. Suites and staterooms feature individual climate control, queen beds, private bathroom with shower and luxurious hotel amenities, including flat-screen television, safe, full-length closet, plush robes and slippers. We can enjoy two lounges, a theater, library, sun deck with open air bar, swimming pool, beauty salon, spa, Turkish bath-style steam room, fitness center, and two elevators.

The highly-trained, English-speaking crew are personable and attentive, and the ship has an infirmary staffed with a doctor and nurse.

We are really looking forward to this cruise and all the stops, to meeting new friends, and learning more about the Spanish and Portuguese cultures. Our cruise is sponsored by Bucknell University, of which Karen is a graduate, and being chartered for Bucknell and several other universities by Gohagen Travel.

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January/February, 2019, Venice, Florida for a Month of Golf and Sun (again)

Once again we went to Venice, Florida, for a month of sunshine and golf in the midst of the winter up North. You can refer to our trip there the prior year by clicking here. In 2019 we again stayed in our friends Bob and Sharon’s home in the fabulous Venice Golf and Country Club community, sharing their membership in the country club.

This trip was, like the trip last year, a time of relaxation, golfing, tennis, exercise, great food, beaches, and visits from friends and family. The weather was perfect for golf, with almost no rain at all and constant sunshine with mild temperatures.One unfortunate and very sad interruption to this trip was the news that my Uncle John had passed. I took a trip from Florida to Austin to attend services held in his honor. Please go here to see a report on that time.

Below: The beautiful and walkable beach; and dinner at Cassariano’s showing cheese shaped as a flower (partly eaten):
The Beach Cassariano

Below: Karen in the hot tub (oh, so good); and a gator behind us on the tee box:
Karen enjoying the tub Gator

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August/September, 2018, Tour of the Baltic Region

A great cruise on a small vessel

In late August through mid September, Karen and I had a delightful cruise of the Baltic Sea region, touring nine stops in seven countries. Our cruise was with a high-end luxury cruise line that specializes in operating small ships with very high crew to guest ratios.

We loved every minute of the trip, including the travel on the glass-smooth Baltic Sea, the exciting low fly-over of the mountainous and glacier-covered Greenland, the education of traveling through Russia and the other Baltic countries, and the warm relationships which were formed with both the people native to each country and other travelers.

Before we left for the trip we exchanged dollars for Euros (for Germany, Finland, and Estonia), Swedish Kronors, and Danish Kronors. We were out of luck for Rubles, but that did not pose a problem. I think they'll take anything Western there, but you probably won’t find anything you would want to buy.

See the following selections for a day by day description of our trip:

          The Ship

  1. Stockholm, Sweden
  2. St. Petersburg, Russia
  3. Tallin, Estonia
  4. Turku, Finland
  5. Västervik, Sweden
  6. Rønne, Bornholm and Svaneke, Denmark
  7. Warnemünde and Kuhlungsborn, Germany
  8. Travemunde and Lübeck, Germany
  9. Copenhagen, Denmark
  10. Iceland and Greenland

The Ship - The Silver Wind

Wow! What else can I say about the fabulous tour of the Baltic Sea region aboard the Silver Wind, a ship of Silver Seas. Silver Seas operates a fleet of ten small ships, offering luxury cruises (“World Cruises”) with incorporated tours and also in-depth adventure cruises (“Grand Voyages”). The Silver Wind accommodated up to 294 guests in total with a crew of 222. It was built in 1995 and underwent a major refurb in 2018. It will undergo another refurb in 2020 to give the hull iceberg strength for more adventuresome cruising. Captain Fabrizio Rota welcomed us aboard. His crew were from 35 different nations worldwide. Our entire cruise (not including on land tours) was to be 1,295 nautical miles stopping at ten docks in six countries. We were staying on Deck 6 in Suite 641. Our Veranda Suite was 246 ft2, plus a 49 ft2 balcony. Our bathroom had a shower/tub and plenty of room, and we had a walk-on closet with a safe. We had always-on WiFi, 110v power, a fridge. and a great queen size bed.

We had a personal butler 24 hours per day, and our butler had an assistant to back him up whenever he was not immediately available. Upon our boarding, he came to the room with our luggage and offered to unpack, and asked what we would like in the room (food, snacks, beverages, ...). We asked that we always have a cold Prosecco in the fridge. Thereafter, for the remained of the cruise, we always had a cold Prosecco. You could wake up at 3:00AM and dial the butler and ask for steak and onion rings, and within a few minutes, it would be served on a white tablecloth in our sitting room. We never did that, but we could have. We did have one meal in our room and it was just as described. The level of service was extraordinary in all aspects of the trip. The butler automatically shined our shoes and if we had laundry, it was taken care of. If we wanted to, there was even a laundry room where we could wash our stuff ourselves. Why? Click here to see what Travel & Leisure magazine had to say about service abord the Silver Wind.

Below: The Silver Wind sailing the Baltic; and the layout of our deck (click photo for a larger size):

Silver Wind Layout

Below: A view of the Silver Wind; and the Veranda Suite on Deck 6:

The Silver Wind The Suite

Flight and boarding

We flew American Airlines Airbus A330-300 Business Class from Philadelphia direct to London Heathrow, where we then boarded a British Airways Airbus 320 to Stockholm. On the first leg, we had a sleeping compartment, which was private and configured to a full-length bed (we flew overnight). We arrived in Stockholm refreshed and ready to tour. See below (1. Stockhom) for our time in Stockholm. The next afternoon, we boarded the Silver Wind to begin the cruise.

More about the ship and the amenities

Every morning when we awoke, we had a daily “Chronicle” ship’s paper waiting in a mailbox by our door. It contained the weather, news and description of the day’s activities and tours, a detailed schedule for the day and special instructions for tours, menues, and info regarding the ship’s facilities. Click here for an example. Note that on page 3 of the Chronicles example is a day full of activities for those who wish to stay on board and not tour on land. The ship had everything one could want: multiple restaurants, including the main restaurant (The Restaurant), an exclusive high-end French restaurant (La Dame), barn-to-table Italian restaurant (La Terraza) which doubled in the mornings as a breakfast buffet, a pool-side grill (The Grill) and a bars here and there; a decent-sized heated pool with two spas, a health club; a theater where every evening there was a music or stage play, with a wide variety of venue; a medical facility; concierge and tour desks; a casino; a card room; a botique; and so on. Each day the Chronicles indicated the mode of dress for that evening in the main restaurant, either Formal, Informal, or Casual. The Grill was always Casual, and La Dame was always Formal, and La Terrazza was really what was being indicated. The first night was formal, most of the rest were Informal. I liked having to wear a suit, blazer, or tux to dinner; it lent an air of dignity and special-ness, in my opinion. If that is not your cup of tea, there is always dining available for those in informal dress. In the room, we had a balcony with deck chairs and a table, where we sat throughout the voyage sailing to enjoy the ride, the view, and the Prosecco.

Note: some (a tiny little bit) of the language describing various aspects of the tour were paraphrased from guide materials as I researched where we visited.

So, below are the places we visited:

1. Stockholm, Sweden - August 28-29

We arrived at Stockholm Arlanda Airport at 2:25PM, went through a very non-rigorous customs, collected our luggage, and taxied to our hotel. Hotel Diplomat Stockholm is a luxury hotel, located on Strandvägen in the city center of Stockholm. We found it to be in a great location, good facility, and great service. From the hotel, we walked across the street to the docks on Lake Mälaren, which at some point connects to the Baltic Sea. Stockholm is sometimes called “The Venice of the North" because of the wonderful waterways upon which it is built. We walked around the city for a while and stopped for dinner at a great cafe, Restaurant Prinsen - on Mäster Samuelsgatan, about five blocks from our hotel. We sat al fresco under their canopy, watching the georgeous people of Sweden saunter by. The were universally tall, blond, well-constructed, and beautiful. Karen even remarked that they were all “10’s”. We ate Kantarell Toast (a pesto of chanterelles over toast), Köttbullar (classic Swedish meatballs), and a Cajun salad with Rakor (salad with shrimp). Of course, we had several classes of Cuvée Madame Chardonnay to accompany. Yumm! A good start to our trip.

Below: Hotel Diplomat; and Restaurant Prinsen:

Hotel Diplomat Restaurant Prinsen

Below: Karen at dock across from the hotel shortly after our arrival; Chuck at the dock:

Karen at dock across from hotel Chuck at dock across from hotel

The following morning, we left the hotel after breakfast to tour Gamla Stan, the original old town center located on the island of Stadsholmen and a couple of other smaller islets. It has a lot of cobblestone streets and little shops and some pretty important landmarks. We stopped to look at the Nobel Museum, named for Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite and for whom the Nobel Prize is named. It is located in the old Stock Exchange building on a cobblestone square. We stopped for a coffee on the square to people watch. One gets to and from Gamla Stan over one of a few bridges. We walked over the Vasabron (Vasa Bridge in Swedish), named for King Gustav Vasa (1496–1560) whose statue is nearby.

Below: Gamla Stan street scene; and a Gamla Stan arched passageway:

Gamla Stan street Arched passage

After our tour of the old city and a bit of downtown Stockholm (a delightful place), we taxi’d to the Silver Wind, and began boarding. It was painless, but we needed to get ID cards for the trip and to off- and on-board during the trip. Then we went to our room, met out butler, got settled, went up to the top deck for departure, and viola, we were sailing away for an overnight trip to St. Petersburn, Russia.

Below: One of innumerable small islands as we went out to the Baltic; and a delighted Karen at our first dinner aboard:

One of the many islands we passed by Karen at dinner, first night aboard

2. St. Petersburg, Russia - August 31 - September 1

Who in America is not curious about life in Russia - its history, its people, its landmarks, it culture, and daily life there? Well, we got to see quite a lot of Russia in two days of touring St. Petersburg. This city was commissioned by Tsar Peter the Great to be a “window looking into Europe’, built on a hundred islands in the Neva Delta (where the Neva River meets the Gulf of Finland). It is the fourth largest city in Europe, and a very interesting one at that. We started by having to enter through Russian security. Since this was a sponsored tour, no visas were required. All other tours, for example private tours, required the complicated and expensive visas to have been acquired long before the cruise began. We boarded the bus for the tour and met our delightful tour guide, a young man named Germain (rhymes with “airman”) who was both knowledgeable and charming. As we drove from the ship to our first stop, we drove through the urban, suburban, and semi-rural landscape. We saw massive numbers of similar big, boxy, unattractive apartment buildings. Germain pointed out that most Russians live in these kind of dull apartments. Typically, an apartment my have an extended family living in just a few rooms, with space at a premium. Karen and I had seen this in other parts of Eastern Europe in places that were formerly a part of the Soviet Union. The Russians seemingly built these big, ugly apartment buildings whereever they went.

We began with a tour of Peterhof Palace, Peter the Great’s rival to Versailles. An hour drive from the ship, it was built in 1714-25 and remodelled in 1745-55. Though the palace was damaged in World War II by the German advance, it has been carefully restored to its prior glory, and it is truly marvelous. Never have I seen so much gold, inside and out, on walls and statues, on dinnerware and decorations, ... everywhere. It is immense and it is a reminder of a lavish time.

Below: The flowing gold fountains at Peterhof Palace; and one of the many gardens surrounding the palace:

Gold fountains Example garden

Below: One of the many fabulous rooms in Peterhof Palace; and the Grand Staircase:

Palace room Grand Staircase

We left Peterhof and went into the heart of St. Petersburg, crossing some of the many bridges and driving by such great landmarks as The State Hermitage Museum. The second-largest art museum in the world, it was founded in 1764 when Empress Catherine the Great acquired an impressive collection of paintings from the Berlin merchant Johann Ernst Gotzkowsky. It holds the largest collection of paintings in the world. We did not tour the museum, though a number of our fellow passengers did so.

Below: A statue of Catherine the Great, as we drove by; and our great Russian tour guide, Germain:

Catherine the Great Our Russian guide

We stopped at St. Isaac’s Cathedral, with its opulent interior spanning 43,000 square feet and filled with hundreds of impressive 19th century works of art. Featured are the icconostasis of white marble with gold gilding, and the Royal Gate flanked by two lapis columns and ten columns of malachite. The dome alone is guilded by ove 220 pounds of pure gold. St. Isaacs is the most opulent, overly and outlandishly ornate place I have seen, even more so than the Vatican.

We stopped and toured the Spilled Blood Cathedral, one of the landmarks of the city. And then we went to the Peter and Paul Fortress, touring it and especially the Peter and Paul Cathedral. The cathedral is the highest building in the city, 404 feet high. It is topped by an angel holding a cross. It is the place where all the tsars were buried after Peter the Great died.

Below: St. Issacs Cathedral exterior; and the opulent altar (that is real gold, folks):

St. Isaacs Cathedral Altar

The next day we did the “Through the Eyes of Russians” tour, which included a Metro ride, a visit to a Farmer‘s market, and a vodka tasting. Few of us understand the significant political, social, and economic changes that have happened in Russia since December, 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed. I wanted to see what Russia was like today, so Karen and I opted for this tour.

Our first stop was for a lunch at what seemed to be a typical Russian restaurant. We were served a lunch that was, I believe, ‘westernized” for the benefit of the tour group, but included Russian touches. The place was a little dingy, most of the staff was not unpleasant, but there was no attempt at good cheer. The went through the motions, I believe. Then on we went to the entrance to the Metro. Then things got interesting!

First off, the Metro is a hundred meters under the surface. A hundred meters! As we entered the station, we were ill-prepared for what lay ahead. The Metro was began in 1941, but then Germany invaded. Work resumed after the war and it opened in 1955, linking all five stations in St. Petersburg. We got onto an escalator and rode down a steep incline for a long, long time. Just as the excalator ride ended on a little platform, we stepped forward to another escalator for another equally long ride down. When we stepped off, the station platform was simply amazing. It was perfectly clean, very ornate, and beautiful. This must be one of the best subways in the world. Our guide showed us several parts of the platform system, complete with statues, paintings, and history lessons. At one point, I nudged Karen and whispered, “See that rough looking guy in the crowd? He has been following us and I know he is either a thug or a ‘watcher’, and has military bearing.” I pointed him out to our guide, who ’fessed up that the guy was “security” the cruise hired to watch over us. I was happy that I can still spot a former Spetsnaz in a crowd.

Below: Descending the Metro escalator; and a view of part of the station platform:

Escalator Station platform

We went from St. Isaacs to a Farmers Market, an aspect of the trip I was anticipating. I wanted to see what and how product was displayed and compare what I learned to my experiences at home. Was I disappointed! We arrived at Kuznechny Food Market, where we were supposed to find friendly people and sample some of the food. Not so friendly and no samples, and the place was not particularly clean, nor did the food (meat, produce, dairy, etc) look appetizing. One the other hand, when we walked outside of the market we could clearly see the famed Soviet era Hammer and Sickle on the front of the building.

We then walked over to the vodka tasting venue a few blocks away. It was a restaurant and we filled it to capacity. There was a small band playing music and singing, all in a effort to engage our tour. We all played along and had some fun doing it. We were served some canapes and several rounds of “vodka”, each flavored with different spices. I would have preferred some plain vodka and didn’t really enjoy the flavored kinds. But it was an attempt to cater to our tastes in their experience, and all in all, it was a fun time. The servers at this venue were cheerful, as well.

Below: The Kusnechny Food Market; and the vodka tasting:

Hammer and Sickle on farmers market Band and singer at the vodka tasting

Finally, back to the bus and the ship for one of the really good on board dinners. While driving to the ship, we passed a docked Russian submarine (see photo). As we did throughout the trip, we relaxed a bit upon return with some Prosecco, either on our balcony looking over the water, or on the upper deck with friends we met on board. Then dinner and a bottle of good wine. Then some evening entertainment - perhaps a theatrical musical in the theater. Those were done by the working crew, who doubled as entertainers, and they were very good. And at evening end, to bed. Sleeping on board was very easy... it was quiet, dark, peaceful, and smooth.

Below: The Russian submarine we saw:

Russian submarine

Departing St. Petersburg we sailed overnight to our next destination.

3. Tallinn, Estonia - September 2

Tallinn, Estonia is located on the Gulf of Finland, directly across from Helsinki, Finland. Since St. Petersburg is on the Gulf of Finland as well, our overnight voyage was on that very placid body of water. Tallinn is the oldest Northern European capital city, with a rich history - much of which being occupied by a foreign dominators. Starting in 1219, the Danes first, then the Germans, Swedes, and Russians, in an uninterrupted span until the end of World War I (1919). Finally, with Russia in wreckage, Estonia declared its independence, which was then usurped by the Soviet Union just prior to World War II, who (except for three years of Nazi occupation) suppressed all forms of Estonian national pride for the next 50 years. Estonia was finally able to regain independence in 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union.

Finally, the Estonian Parliament charted a path to join the European Union, throwing off the years of Soviet dominance and direction. It has been an EU member since 2004 and in 2009 joined the Eurozone. We were excited to see this little gem of a city.

We were driven up the hill from the ship to Old Town, one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe. The charm is evident everywhere. As we walked through Old Town, we passed the gate to the Estonian Parliament - so accessable. We sat on the massive wall surrounding Old Town and viewed the overall city. We toured the 19th century Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox symbol of the centuries of Russification endured by Estonia.

Below: A peek though the gates to the Estonian Parliament building; and a view of Tallinn from Old Town:

Parliament View of Tallinn from Old Town

Below: The public amphitheater, where the city celebrates its culture; and Alksander Nevsky Cathedral:

Public amphitheater Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral

Below: We sat on the wall to overlook the city and into the Gulf of Finland:

Us sitting on the Old Town wall

Again, upon return to the ship, we relaxed with some Prosecco on our balcony:

Karen on our balcony Chuck on balcony with Prosecco

Then off to sail again.

4. Turku, Finland - September 3

We sailed into Turku, Finland on another beautiful day - did I mention the weather we had? We had perfect weather the whole trip: low 60’s to high 70’s, clear skies, calm seas, and sunshine. Great touring weather. I knew something special awaited us as we sailed into this, the 2011 European Capital of Culture, and Finland’s oldest town. It was founded in the 13th century and was Finland’s capital until 1809. At that point it was absorbed into the Russian Federation and the capital moved to Helsinki. It is located on the Aura River, which reaches into the Archipelago Sea. Turku is on the point of Finland where the Baltic Sea, the Archipelago Sea, and the Gulf of Bothnia meet.

Just entering the city and the port was a wondrous experience. Sailing boats and ships everywhere along the Aura, the charm of Turku is immediately evident. There are ten bridges in Turku across the Aura in this city of 175,000. The city seems dominated by its large university presence and is a tech center. In 1827, 75% of the city was destroyed by a great fire, so many of the older areas were burned, which affects it history and caused it to be rebuilt at that time. It is a curious mix of old and new, and is a great place to visit and walk. Our first tour stop was at the Orthodox Cathedral.

Below: Sailing into Turku on the Aura River; and the Michael’s Church, a neolithic structure built in 1905 that overlooks Turku:

The Aura River Michael's Church

We stopped at a Loustarinmäki Handcraft Museum, which is in reality a village remaining and maintained from about 1775. The entire village is an open air museum, with all the characteristics of the original time. The streets are rough cobblestone, the buildings are well-worn wood and most structures ajoin one-another. Each of the buildings seems to house a business and a home for the owner. There is a printer, painter, tobacconist, etc. Extremely interesting.

Below: What Loustarinmäki looks like, and the printer’s shop:

Loustarinmaki Loustarinmaki shop

We toured the fascinating 12th century Turku Castle, the largest surviving medieval building in Finland. The structure includes the Medieval “keep” (päälinna) and Renaissance “bailey” (esilinna). The keep is a square fort with two square gateway towers with 16 foot thick walls. In the Middle Ages the castle was surrounded by a moat conjoining with the River Aura, the castle effectively lying on an island.

Below: Turku Castle from it approach; and an interior area of the castle:

Turku Castle An interior area

We saw many other sights in beautiful and interesting Turku, but we had to leave and return to the ship for another great evening.

Below: A musical being performed in the ship’s theater; and some of the 50,000 small islands on the Archipelago Sea as we leave Turku:

On-board entertainment Archipelago

5. Västervik, Sweden - September 4

We were fortunate to embrace the scenic beauty of the Västervik Archipelago from a unique perspective on a local boat ride to Hasselö Island. A local fisherman was our guide on the boat ride as we rode through the archipelago. We landed on the island of Hasselö, population about 36, though it swells to about 500 in the summer. Once primarily a fishing village, it is now focused on tourism, carpentry, and services.

Below: The local boat we rode; a view of the waterway and the lighthouse:

Local boat Fabulous view of the waterway

Once we landed, we mounted a little wagon pulled by an ATV for our tour of the island. It actually was a great way to see things - we were close, in the open air, and could talk to and hear the local man driving the ATV. He talked to us about the island historically and now, and pointed out great views and local landmarks. He drove us around Hassalö and then over a little bridge to the island of Sladö, population 5.

Below: The ATV ridge and our guide; and Karen in the wagon:

ATV Karen in the wagon

Hassalö has a small cluster of homes, and every house and dock shed on the island is painted barn red with white trim. I guess they all got together and bought the paint. Everything is well kept.

Below: A house in the village; and some of the docks:

House Boats and docks

When we had finished the tour of the island, we stopped at the restaurant near the dock where the boat that had brought us was docked. We were delighted to have coffee and a delicous cake that the proprietor had made, and as we ate a surprising thing happened. A local man came to our table and asked if he could sit with us and chat. He was, like (apparently) all Swedes, was very fit and handsome, with a great-looking and neatly trimmed beard. He wanted to talk about America, but as a local resident, he was perfectly happy talking about life on the island(s). His wife, a professional, recently came to the U.S. to work, and he would soon be following. He had some questions. During our charming conversation, we learned that he planned to take his hunting rifle to New York so that he could later do some hunting. We warned him about immigrating with a weapon. All in all, it was a great way to meet and learn about the local people.

Once we returned to the Silver Wind and it was underway, we were - as usual - sitting on our balcony enjoying a glass of Prosecco, when we saw the red Pilot boat come alongside and the pilot jumped from our ship to the Pilot boat. It was clear that everywhere along the Baltic shores, the archipelagos required the use of local pilots. The 50,000 islands, rocks, and skerries are a navigational hazzard.

Below: The restaurant on Västervik’s Hassalö Island; and the Pilot boat coming alongside:

Restaurant Pilot boat

6. Rønne, Bornholm and Svaneke, Denmark - September 5

Now I have to confess: just prior to the beginning of the trip I came down with a case of pneumonia. Since it was the weekend, I went to a local clinic rather than my excellent personal doctor, and they gave me some kind of anti-biotic. A few days into the trip, I was still sick and I went to the ship’s doctor, who gave me another. I was feeling pretty weak the day we landed in Roenne, so Karen went on the tour without me. I stayed on the ship, got a massage, hot tub, sleep, and generally slummed. So I missed this particular day, and what I have here is from Karen and the guidebooks. Forgive me. I did well the remainder of the trip, I think. At least Karen didn’t leave me lying in a pool of self-pity on some rock.

Back to the trip. Rønne is the largest town on the island of Bornholm in the Baltic Sea, with around 13,000 inhabitants. It is a historic and scenic town, established approximately in the year 1000. It was largely destroyed by Russian bombing of German positions during WW II, but was painstakingly rebuild in its origina tradition. It had early on established itself as a herring fishing village, but over the centuries that declined. The production of ceramics replaced fishing and remains so today.

Karen opted for a tour that included Svaneke village and a tasting at the brewhouse. On the way there they was some beautiful shore and forest views, and Karen climbed a forest lookout tower to get a better view. On the way, there as a stop to see an ancient ship hull. She walked through the village and shops, and then went to the Brewhouse where many different beers were set up for tasting. Sounded deligtful to me.

Below: The firetower Karen climbed; and the remnants of an ancient ship:

Tower Hull

Bewlow: A shop in the village; and the beer tasting:

Shop Tasting

Below: The harbor with the village as a backdrop; and a windmill as they drove back to the ship:

Village Windmill

As the evening approached, I felt better.

7. Warnemünde (Rostock) and Kuhlungsborn, Germany - September 6

Well, speak of disappointments that turn into pleasures, we learned that our tour booked for this day was cancelled due to the German Bundestag (Parliament) meeting in our expected venue for that day. We had planned to take a train to Berlin, and tour the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Wall, Charlotten Palace, Kurfurstendam Avenue and the Victory Column in Tiergarten Park, Gendarmenmarkt Square, an exclusive organ recital at the Berlin Cathedral, and capped off with a three-course lunch at the rooftop restaurant on the Reichstag. But, noooo, the German government had business to conduct, so the Reichstag was closed and out tour was cancelled. So, we chose instead to tour the Mecklenburg countryside and the Narrow Guage Railroad. Who knew how much we’d love that day?

We docked at Warnemünde in what was formerly East Germany, sitting on the estuary of the River Warnow from which it gets its name. It is a suburb of Rostock, and is a place where many tourist ships dock. We opted for a the “Mechlenburg Countryside and Narrow Guage Rail” tour. A great choice, it turns out. There was, of course, a brief bus ride through the countryside, and then we stopped in Bad Doberan to walk around and find the “Molli”, the name of the narrow guage railroad that runs from Bad Doberan to Kuhlungsborn along the Baltic Coast. What fun. We sat on the train with some friends we made on the cruise and we all had a ball. The train was clean, interesting, open, and was almost like a Disney “Small, Small World” ride, but real. It was build in 1886, and runs around 10 kilometers. Within Bad Doberan the line runs through the street, and later along a linden tree-lined avenue. Between Heiligendamm and Kühlungsborn the tracks run parallel to the Baltic Sea beach across fields.

Below: Warnemunde canal street; and a cobblestone street (how can you not love clean, beautiful places like this?):

Warnemunde Street scene

Below: Doberan Abbey; and the red brick walls inside the Abbey:

Doberan Abbey Inside the Abbey

Below: The choo-choo (narrow guage Molli train) is coming; and the train from the side:

Train coming The train

Below: Karen sad face on the train (when the train stopped); Karen happy face on the train (when the train started):

Sad face Happy face

Below: Me on the train; and riding through Doberan:

Me Doberan from the train

One of my favorite stops on this entire trip was Kuhlungsborn. This quaint seaside village with a long white sandy beach on the calm Baltic coast is a very busy resort town whose existence seems to be to make tourists happy. It has a series of great small hotels and wonderful restaurants. We were treated to coffee and cake at a wonderful beachside hotel restaurant. We then walked down to the beach and were entertained by a one-man band, but the real entertainment was the beautiful white sand beaches. It was a wonderful place to be.

After a while kibitzing with our friends and enjoying the ambiance, we ambled up the tree-lined lane and down the cobblestone street to view the many shops and restaurants. Were it not for the ever-expected crowds, this would be a great place to spend a summer.

Below: A Kuhlungsborn street scene; and the Kuhlungsborn beach:

Kuhlungsborn street Beach of Kuhlungsborn

All in all, a great day!

8. Travemunde and Lübeck, Germany - September 7

We sailed into Travemunde in what was once West Germany, close to the westernmost edge of the Baltic Sea, almost directly south across the Baltic from Copenhagen. Travemunde is the part of Lübeck that contains the port, being directly on the Baltic. When referring to Lübeck, my understanding is that one is generally including Travemunde. The Hanseatic City of Lübeck (Hansestadt Lübeck) is the largest German port on the Baltic Sea and the second-largest city in Schleswig-Holstein, and is situated at the mouth of the river Trave, giving it the name of its port Travemünde. In the 12th century, Lübeck, together with nearby Hamburg (which I have visited for business in the distant past), founded what became the powerful Hanseatic League of ports and trading towns. Unlike fellow Hanseatic Cities of Hamburg and Bremen, it lost its "Free State" status and was incorporated into the German federation. History found a sweeter side for Lübeck - it is globally known for the finest marzipan.

The old town (Altstadt) of Lübeck , although considerably damaged during the Second World War, was rebuilt in its medieval times form. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city center's medieval skyline, mainly composed of seven Gothic-style church towers, is still intact. Lübeck is surrounded by parts of the old city walls with two of the original four city gates left. Most notable is the Holsten Gate (Holstentor) which was the motif on the German banknote of 50 Deutsche Mark prior to reunification, when the bills were redesigned.

We had joined the cruise’s tours at every stop so far, so this day we opted to conduct our own tour of Lübeck. We started by walking off the boat along the docks into Travemunde to the bus terminal. There we boarded the bus for the brief ride into the old city of Lübeck. We got off and asked where to pick up the bus for the return trip, and we were told to go to the street by the Holtsen Gate. Okay, we had the schedule and a few Euros. No problem.

Below: Sailing into Travemunde, creating great expectations; and the bus schedule to/from Lübeck:

Sailing in The bus schedule to Lubeck

We walked through parts of the old city and quickly found ourselves in front of the Lübeck Cathedral, and next to it the Niederegger Arcade & Square. Within the square, we saw the old town hall (“rathaus”) and directly behind it a brewery, with the Cathedral in the background.

Below: The Lübeck Cathedral; and the Niederegger Square (old town hall has the white front):

Lubeck Cathedral Old town hall

We sat just outside the Niederegger Arcade across the street from the famous Niederegger Marzipan store and had a cappacino and watched the passersby, just “chillin”. We went into the store, and holy cow, how much marzipan is there? Below: The Niederegger Mazipan shop; and a display within the shop:

Marzipan counter Marzipan display

We wondered through the arcade and through the square, and then deeper into the old town, where we happened upon a sign for “observation deck”. It is located in a remodeled St. Peters Church, and the deck is accessed through a combination of stairs and elevators. It gives a great view of the entire old city and across the river to the east (Lübeck old city is an island in the midst of the river). Below: The Niederegger Square from above; and a view of part of Lübeck:

The square Lübeck

Below: The Hollsten Gate (eastern gate off the wall surrounding the old city); and some of the false fronts of restored buildings to resemble middle ages:

Holsten Gate False fronts

We then began our return to the ship. We walked through some of the charming streets loaded with shops (most for the tourists, I believe), and tried to find the bus stop near the Holsten Gate. We stopped several people to ask, and finally a taxi drive pointed out were we could find it. We were a little worried that we would miss it because of the amount of time and walking we expended to find it. But it turned out fine. All aboard and back to Travemunde and the ship. Below: A street scene; and the gate from the ground:

Lubeck street Holsten Gate

As we walked to the boat from the bus station in Travemunde, the whole view was a marina on our side of the river, and working docs on the other side. Below: A view of the marina; and our view approaching the Silve Wind:

Sailboats everywhere The Silver Wind

Another wonderful day! Then a glass of Prosecco (what else?), shower, get presentable, a fine dinner*, followed by another fun musical in the theater. Then we had to face the final sailing sunset of our cruise. Our last night aboard.

* We joined our friends for a "stone grill" in the Grill, where a very hot stone is placed in front of you and you grill your order. The order can be whatever you like: steak (filet, strip, New York, ...), shrimp, lobster, lamb, and so on, or steak and shrimp or two steaks. When I say whatever, I mean whatever. That and fine wine or other beverage, including specific wines that you'd like. Very upscale all the way.

9. Copenhagen, Denmark - September 8 - 9

The magical ride aboard the Silver Wind was at an end. We had breakfast and our luggage was taken to dockside where we got a taxi and proceeded to the Copenhagen Marriott Hotel for an overnight stay. We were able to tour Copenhagen most of that day and much of the following day. The first stop was while driving to the hotel we asked the taxi driver to stop at the Little Mermaid, an ubiquitous attraction (just below). He then drove us through Amalienborg Slotsplads, the famous square which is home to the Danish royal family (more about this later). It has this statue of the founder of King Frederick V, below:

Little Mermaid Amalienborg

Who knew that for the price of a taxi ride to the hotel, we could get a great little tour and see some sights we may have lost? There were a number of other highlights from that short ride, but our walking tour also included some of them.

We checked in and began our walk through Copenhagen. Copenhagen is located on a strait, the Öresund, that connects the Baltic Sea and the North Sea, and which separates Denmark from Sweden. Malmo, Sweden, is just across a narrow part of the Baltic, 26 miles east by road from Copenhagen. The city, about 1.6 million people, is located on the eastern shore of the island of Zealand, partly on the island of Amager and on a number of natural and artificial islets between the two. Our hotel sat directly on the edge of the Öresund, and gave us a spectacular view of the strait and the part of the city on the other island.

As we walked we came across the spectacular Nyhavn district, a beautiful canal street lined with many shops and restaurants, and all along the canal, bow to stern, small to medium sailing vessels. Absolutely charming. Below: A view of Nyhavn; and Karen and me on the bridge:

Nyhavn Bridge

Walking along Nyhavn, viewing the boats and taking in the ambiance, we sat al fresco at a small cafe for some coffee. Even though there were many open tables, another couple sat right next to us and we began to chat. They were from Austria and were touring, and were fun to talk with. Below: the cafe; and more of Nyhavn:

Nyhavn cafe Nyhavn

We left Nyhavn (reluctantly) and walked a few block further to the Amilie Garden, where I sat and Karen wandered a bit. I was watching the new Opera house across the strait, a beautiful sight - as are the gardens. Directly opposite of the Opera view is a look into the Amilienborg square. Amalienborg. The “Slotsplads” is very impressive, with four nearly identical classical palaces (and we are told rococco interiors) around the square and King Frederick V on horseback in the center. We walked over to Amilienborg and witnessed the Queen’s guard on his march to guard her residence palace. We then walked through the square and came to Marmorkirken, the “Marble Church”, the church of King Frederick V. I sat on the steps for a while, while Karen explored. A couple sat down with me, and we began to chat. They were touring from South Africa, and we compared notes. I have to say that Copenhagen was delightful for meeting new people easily and breaking into great conversation. Karen came back and we continued to chat for a while.

Below: The new Opera house across the strait; and Amilienborg from the garden:

Opera house Amilienborg

Below: Guard at the Queen’s palace; and The Marble Church where I sat on the steps:

Guard Marble Church

On Karen’s little walk, while I rested and chatted, she found some beautiful streets, buildings, and scenes. Below is a very pretty house, representative of the neighborhood; and a neighborhood church:

Neighborhood hoiuse Church

We decided to taxi back to the hotel (a long, long walk), and as part of the drive, we went trough Kongens Nytorv, a very large pedestrian square. Just near where Hotel D'Angleterra is located, there is a very large bicycle docking station. So many bicycles! We arrived at the Marriott and watched from our window as a fascinating water polo match was played directly in front of our window across the strait in the very cold waters. It was 60 or 65 degree weather, and the water had to be much colder, and they were in the water like it was a heated swimming pool.

Below: “Bikes, Yikes!” at Kongens Nytorv; and the water polo match:

Bikes, Yikes! Water polo

We asked the hotel concierge to direct us to a good restaurant within walking distance (which is very different for Europeans than it is for Americans), and they pointed us to Restaurant Karla (get Google to translate the page) on Dante Place (“Dantes Plads 1”). It is directly across from the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, a major art museum that holds the collection of the founder of Carlsberg Breweries. The restaurant is small, intimate, and had a very local client base. We each ordered from the prix fixe menu for a fulll-course meal, centered on herring or plaice. It was delicious. Below: Restaurant Karla outside; and our table at the top of the stairs:

Restaurant Karla Restaurant Karla

We ventured through some of the area near the Glyptotek (art museum) and the famed Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli is a congomeration of gardens, theaters, rides, and other attractions. In the morning, Karen went back to the area to get a better look at things. Below: Rodin’s The Thinker; and a scary sculpture:

The Thinker Scary

Below: Karen’s photos from Tivoli Gardens - the entrance; and inside:

Tivoli Tivoli garden

We taxied to Copenhagen Kastrup International Airport for our mid-afternoon flight, checked our baggage and cleared customs and went to Icelandic Air to fly home.

10. Iceland and Greenland Flyover

We boarded the Icelandic Air flight home and settled into our Business Class seats. After a stop to change planes in Reykjavik, we flew to Philadelphia and home. We flewo over both Iceland and Greenland and flew low and got good views. It is ironic that Iceland is green and Greenland is icy. Below: the icy mounains of Greenland; and the Greenland glaciers are clear to be seen:

Greenland Greenland

It had been a wonderful trip, one that I would recommend to anyone. But, as always, it was good to be home again.

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February, 2018, Venice, Florida for a Month of Golf and Sun

We went south in February of this year (2018). Our objective was to spend a month of the worst part of our northern winter in Florida, playing golf, tennis, swimming, and just enjoying the weather. Our friends, Bob and Sharon, own a home in Venice, which is about 25 miles south of Sarasota on the gulf coast. They offered us the opportunity to rent the place for February, which would include their membership in The Venice Golf Club. We jumped at the chance. So in late January we shipped our golf clubs to the club, packed some shorts and swim suits, and headed south. By the way, we use ShipSticks when we travel for golf, and they pick up our golf bags at our club (RiverCrest Golf Club and Preserve), and drop them off at the club to which we are headed. It is easy and works very well.

We packed Karen’s car (more about this later), and drove through to Glen Allen (Richmond), VA, and checked into a Marriott Springhill Suites. That night we had dinner at Plaza Azteca, a Mexican cuisine chain, and then went to a movie. We saw “Twelve Strong”, about the first Special Forces group sent into Afghanistan after the World Trade attack and when the Taliban had taken over. It was a very good movie and we would not have seen it except that it was near, we were tired, and it was early evening. Hey, we are on vacation!

In the morning we drove through to Savannah, GA. As we drove through the town on the way to our destination, we were struck by the beauty of the tree-lined streets, parks at so many locations, and historic and beautifully kept homes. Savannah is a spectacular place to visit, and it exceeded our expectations. We arrived at Kehoe House, and were greeted by Lisa in Guest Services who gave us a tour of this historic house. It is on the National Registry of Historic Places, has only 13 guest rooms, and is located in the heart of the historic district. Kehoe House as build in the late 1800’s by William Kehoe, who came to America at age 10 from Ireland. He worked in the iron foundry, worked up to foreman, and eventually he bought the foundry. When he build the house, he used iron for many things like the front columns, stairs, and window casings, though they all look like wood or brick. Karen and I loved this place. Our room had a balcony and we could look across the street to Columbia Square. Beautiful area.

We stayed two nights, touring during the day. We could keep our car parked and hop on/off a tour mini-bus. We saw the house featured in “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”, and we toured many historic homes. But what I liked best were walking the streets in the historic area and through the many parks that seemed to exist at every intersection.

Below:Kehoe House from the Park; and our room in Kehoe House:
Kehoe House Our room

Below: Park across from Kehoe House; and a street as we wandered:
Park Street scene

Below: Karen at a cemetary in the historic district; and Chuck at a schooner on the Savannah River:
Karen at cemetary Chuck at schooner

Savannah has a number of very good places to dine. Our first night we had dinner at Chive Sea Bar and Lounge to make sure we sampled some of the local seafood. Good choice. In the morning we had breakfast at the Kehoe House, as worthy part of deal. After a full day of touring, on and off off the shuttle and throughout the historic area and the waterfront, we had dinner at Vic’s on the River. Vic’s is an upscale place overlooking the river and thoroughly enjoyable.

Then we drove to Venice, below Sarasota on the Gulf coast. Bob and Sharon’s home is in the gated Venice Golf and Country Club. It is a community of beautiful homes layed around the golf course. Our house (Bob & Sharon’s) had a two car garage plus a smaller garage for a golf cart. We drove the cart all over the community and to the club whenever we played golf, swam, played tennis, or had dinner. It was enormously helpful. We never unloaded our clubs from the cart during our stay. We ate out mostly, though we cooked in-house a few times. Karen’s brother Bill and his wife Lee visited us during the second week, and we had a blast together. When they first arrived, Bill found a brewpub to explore - he is an afficionado of the world of brewing and brewpubs. Lee put on a feast during their week-long visit.

Lee’s feast on the Lanai:

Most mornings we played golf at the club. We'd get up, have some breakfast, get on the cart, drive to the club, sign in, and play. A few times the golf pro paired us up with another couple, but mostly we played by ourselves. It was a fun course; a lot of water, but otherwise you won‘t lose a ball. The greens are fast - 10.5 or even more in the Stimp rating (a golf system for rating the speed of the green). Golf has terms, rules, and ratings for everything. I thought the course was attractive, and the wildlife interesting. We had gators on a few holes; one hole had two big ones on the tee box, at least one there every day.

Below: A view of the 5th hole from our lanail and the 10th hole in the morning:
A view from our lanai 10th hole in the morning

Below: Bill takes a swing; and Karen follows suit:
Bill swings Karen swings

Below: Gators sunning by the tee box - they were there every day:

Rather than go through an itinerary of all the excellent places we dined, here is a list of a few of the places we visited - with a few comments:

Dining in Venice

Venice Golf & Country Club
Main Dining Room - Good country club style food; large room, very busy for dinner
Veranda - not dinner options - at most, sandwiches; not a great view; use the main room
Ristorante San Marco
On the main drag of Venice, very nice
An outstanding and authentic Italian restaraunt - al fresco dining
Pings Chinese Shushi
Take out Chinese used twice
Casey Key Fish House
Ate there twice; once with Bill &Lee; in fast once, waited half-hour once
Fun bar (separate); and good food in a low-key, fun, active atmosphere
On a pier, with a great sunset, aggressive pelicans, and pleasant service
Pop‘s Sunset Grill
Ate there twice; once just us and once with a friend of Karen
Fun bar, seafood on the beach with a great sunset view
Got darn near blown away with two Rum Punches; careful, kiddo
Abby‘s on Miami
Okay place; not upscale; moderate
Sharkey’s on the Pier
Ate there twice; once just us and once with Bill & Lee
A great place in Venice, with an outstanding view if you seat on the balcony (we did)
Cassariano Italian Eatery
Ate there twice; once just us and once with Bill and Lee
Really great Italian food; authentic charm
Recommend this place for any special dinner
Al fresco on a busy sidewalk, but strangely seems private
Mi Pueblo
Mexican, we did for a change
Very nice and convenient, too
Gecko’s Dockside Waterfront Grill
Nearby but not in downtown Venice (timiami Trail)
Major sunset experience, viewing it through the masts
After a wait, a thoroughly enjoyable dinner with a sunset view to die for
Original Word of Mouth
We ate lunch there twice - very nice lunch place in a strip mall
Valenti‘s Allegro Bistro
Ate there our last night in Venice
Another very good Italian restaurant
Note: There were others, of course, but these I had some memory of.

Below: Chuck, Bill, & Lee at Casey Key Fish House; a pelican on the dock begging at a Casey Key Fish House table:
Chuck, Bill & Lee Pelican

Below: Dinner view at Sharkie’s at the Pier; and Karen, Lee, & me at lunch on the beach:
Sharkey with Bill & Lee Lunch at the beach

Below: A view of the sunset at Gecko’s Dockside Waterfront Grill:

We went down to the beach at Manasota Key, by Englewood. The key is a very long peninsula with a beach on one side and the intercoastal waterway on the inland side. We walked the beach, or should I say they all walked the beach while I sat and read in the sun and walked along the boardwalk. We also went to the Venice beach and we walked out on the very long Venice Fishing Pier, then got some sun on the beach there. A little too crowded near the pier, but better as you moved away from it. The sun, however, was awesome.

Below: Karen and me on the pier; and a better view of Karen enjoying the pier:
Us on the Pier Karen

While we were in Venice, Karen's BMW had a service light come on. I took it to Horst’s Bavarian Autoworks for repair. They ordered an O2 sensor and I came back another day for the installation. Light went out. On the way back to Pennsylvania, the light lit up again. At home we took it to the BMW dealer and they said it was the computer and it needed to be re-flashed. Next day, light lit up again. Back to the dealer, who said there is another O2 sensor and it needed to be replaced. So, after four trips and over $1,000, the light is out... for the moment. Damn light!

On the way home, we stopped in Rocky Mount, NC, at a Courtyard by Marriott. We went out to dinner, then slept after a long drive. The following day we drove all the way home, following navigation instructions that took us into D.C. and along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. This was not the way to go, in my opinion. Lots of traffic, long and tedious. By the end of the day, we were home again. Even after a great vacation trip, it always feels so good to be back home. And especially after long and tiresome travel.

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May/June, 2017, Tour of France Castles, Chateaux, Wineries, Regions, and Nor many Beaches

Karen and I were joined with very good friends Mike and Diane (“Di”) for a trip to France in May to tour the Normandy beaches and WWII memorials, and then to tour a spectrum of the great French wine regions. It was a great trip that we all researched and booked on our own (not a tour or an agency booking). We landed at DeGaulle, which is Northeast of Paris and essentially made a wide circle around France. We rented a car, which Di and I took turns driving, a Peugeot 3008 SUV. The first part of the tour was to visit the Normandy D-Day memorials from WWII, but the rest of the trip was to learn about and celebrate the great wine regions of France. Throughout the trip, the weather was exceptional — warm, sunny, and without precipitation. We couldn't ask for better. We went in late May so the crowds were not as intense as they can get later on.

The France WWII and Wine Tour

Bayeux, Normandy

Upon our arrival at Paris DeGaulle, about 20 miles (32 km) NE of Paris, we rented the car and began our drive to Bayeux. Bayeux is about 10 km from the English Channel and, therefore, the Normandy Beaches, and is the perfect location from which to tour the area of the Normandy D-Day landings of World War II. These landings were of the American forces at Utah and Omaha Beaches, the British forces at Juno and Gold Beaches, and the Canadian forces at Sword Beach. Over 150,000 solders were involved in the landings, which resulted in an Allied beachhead and entry into Nazi held Europe from the Western side, but at a horrendous cost of over 4,400 dead Allied troop in the assault.

We arrived at Grand Hotel du Luxemburg in Bayeux for a two night stay.It is a wonderful, ancient & updated small hotel in the center of town, walking distance to everything. Having landed in the early AM, we arrived with plenty of time to explore. First we had lunch at a charming little cafe al fresco.

Below: Mike & Di and Chuck & Karen at lunch in Bayeux:
Mike & Di Chuck & Karen

That afternoon we took a look at the Notre Dame Cathedral Bayeux, which was consecrated in the presence of William the Conquoror, the Duke of Normandy and the King of England. Then we walked down to the beautiful water wheel on the River Aure, which runs through Bayeux, and toured the Tapisserie de Bayeux, which features a 70 meter tapestrie from the 11th century showing the history of William the Conqueror. We stopped for dinner at Le Moulin de la Galette and had the best crepes.

Below: Notre Dame Bayeux; and a crepe from Le Moulin de la Gatette:
Notre Dame A crepe!

Below: The Bayeux’s Water Wheel on River Aure:
River Aure Water Wheel

And that was just the first day! The second morning in Bayeux we were picked up by a private tour (Viator) by a guide with a small van for our Normandy tour. What a tour it was! We stopped at the American Airborne Museum at my request. It shows the valor of the 101st and 82nd Airborne units ahead of the beach landings. It includes the church where an airborne trooper was caught on the steeple and then shot by the Nazi’s. I had special interest because I spent some of my army time with the 101st, and its lore is legendary.

We then visited Omaha Beach. Omaha was an American Army landing, located between Utah (also American) and Gold (British landing). This landing was where over 45,000 American solders backed by two battleships and a half-dozen other warships, plus about 1,000 small craft to land, sought to secure a beachhead. The Americans from Rangers and V Corps Infantry, under General Omar Bradley, had to try to gain the beach and the 150-foot cliffs under the withering fire of the bunker-based Germans. Once landed, there was nowhere to go but forward to the cliffs, since Omaha Beach was enclosed by rocky cliffs on either end. We toured the German bunkers, which had six to eight feet of concrete surfaces and were dug deep into the cliffs, armed with MG.42 heavy machine guns, firing 7.92 x 57 mm rifle rounds at 1200 rounds per minute. There were hundreds of these, with maybe five firing at any particular infantry location. We went deep into bunkers, which survived the massive pre-attack bombing by the Allies. The bomb crators around the bunkers were massive, surviving to today. Karen stood in one crater and it was the size of a suburban house.

Below: An example of a bunker; and Karen in a bomb crater - over 70 years post-creation:
Bunker Crater

We followed Omaha with tour of Utah Beach, the western-most of all five D-Day beaches. Rangers had to scale the cliffs in the face of the German machine gun bunkers, but got the job done. The major part of the Utah Beach landing was secure the port at Cherbourgh, but the Germans destroyed the port and it wasn't functional for several months. The airborne (101st leading the way along with the 82nd) dropped 14,000 troops, and 2,500 of them did not survive.

Below: The short beach and steep cliffs of Utah; and the Obelisk at Pointe du Hoc:
Cliffs Pointe du Hoc

The big reason to come to Nor many is to pay honor to those who served and payed the ultimate price to protect our way of life. One cannot adequately describe the moving experience of visiting the American Cemetary and Memorial. There are over 9,300 graves of American military personnel participating in the Normandy invasion. The place is somber, respectful, and strangely beautiful. It was on my bucket list of things that must be done, and I am thankful to have the privilege to visit this place to honor the fallen.

Below: Entrance to American Cemetary with “Spirit of American Youth Rising From the Waves”; and a section of the graves:

Below: Wall of names of the fallen; and the plan of attack:
Names Plan of Attack

Below is the grave of the father of my very good and dear friend, John Zaleski. John’s father was killed in the invasion when John was yet to be born:

Tours, Loire Valley

We drove from Bayeux south toward Tours in the beautiful Loire Valley. But along the way we stopped at the spectacular Mont St-Michel, an island monestary and fortress from the 8th century. The island is just 600 meters from the mainland, allowing access during low tide, but offering protection from assailants during high tide. It was, for example, not conquored during the Hundred Years War, successfully repelling an English attack in 1433. We parked on the mainland, as required, and walked on a boardwalk to the island. Upon entry, one climbs and climbs and climbs up a steep cobblestone walkway with stairs intersperced at really steep sections. Along the way, particularly near the bottom, there are many little shops and restaurants. The most famous restaurant is La Mere Poulard, which has many off-shoots with different names and lower prices. We ate lunch at Restaurant Terresses Poulard along climb down and out.

At the top of Mont St-Michel is a monestary and its abbey, then below it are the great halls, then below that are locations for storage and workings, and finally, the entrance level and around it, places for the local fishermen and peasants. The whole of the structure is fortress-like and unbelievably impressive. If ever you are in northern or western France, you must visit this unique place, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Below: Approaching Mont St-Michel; and The Cathedral at the top:
View of Mont St-Michel Cathedral

Below: Mike and Di in front of Mont St-Michel; and Chuck and Karen, same:
Mike & Di Chuck & Karen

Below: Great Room example 1; and Great Room example 2:
Great Room 1 Great Room 2

Below: Did I mention stairs?:

We made it to Tours, and a wonderful experience it was throughout. We rented a VRBO on Rue de Boisdenier, which we loved. It was centrally located across from a lovely park (Jarden des Prèbendes d’Oe). Not much from the outside, but brand new and just right for us inside, and the best location to tour around. We were met there by Caroline, who graciously brought us coffee and croissant when we awoke in the morning.

Below: the apartment building; and our living room:

Dinner in Tours at Restuarant Le Staint Germain; Mike and me very happy at dinner:
St Germain Dinner

In the morning we talked through the park to the market area and bought fixings for lunch: wine, cheese, bread, fruit. It is the kind of ideal lunch you find in France. At the same time Mike and Di spent engrossed in the Tours Cathedral (“Cathédrale Saint-Gatien de Tours), which was built in the twelve century.

Below: Karen in the park across from our apartment in Tours; and the Tours Cathedral:
Karen Cathedral

That afternoon we walked up to the Tourism Office to get picked up by our tour guide in her van for our private tour and tastings. As we drove along the Loire River we were able to see several large chateaux on the hilltops. Our first stop was at a small chateau who name I cannot remember and neglected to write down. It is owned and run by a couple from England, and they operate as a B&B, tasting cellar, small vineyard, and other fun things for them to do, and who delighted us with their tour and tastings. The tastings were every educational.

Below: Chateau along the Loire River; the small chateau for the tastings:
Loire River Chateau The small chateau

Below: Karen and me in the courtyard:
Us in the courtyard

The Loire Valley is home of the Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir wines in the northmost part, and Chenin blanc and Cabernet Franc wines in the mid section. Vouvrays, Chenin Blanc and other fine wines also come from this region. Mostly the Loire Valley wines are white wines; some are rose. We went to for another private tasting at the home of Sebastian, the Count du Petit Thouars, of the wines he grows and bottles. He gave us a tour of his vineyards. He was an exceptional host, providing us with a feast of hors d'Oeurves to cleans our palates between generous tastings. This was another exceptional experience.

Below: The Chateau du Petit Thouars; and its vineyards:
Chateau du Petit Thouars Karen

Below: Karen and me; and Mike and Di at Chateau du Petit Thouar:
Us Mike and Di

The next day we spent touring Chateaux in the Loire Valley. We visited and toured three amazing Chateaux. The first was Chateau de Chenonceau, which spans the River Cher. The Chateau was built in the early 16th century and it is most visited in France second only to the Palace of Versailles. It actually spans the entire river and by walking end to end, one crosses the river. It was damaged by bombing by both the Allies and the Axis during WWII, but was reonstructed to its former glory by Gaston Menier of the famous chocolate family.

Below: The magnificent Chateau de Chenonceau; A garden at the Chateau:
Chateau de Chenonceau Gardens

Below: Karen and me in front of the Chateau; and Mike and Di:
Us Mike and Di

Next up was Chateau de Chambord from the era of Francis I in the first half of the 15th century. It is the largest chateau in the Loire valley, and is surrounded by magnificent gardens created during the reign of Louis XIV and Louis XV in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Below: Chateau de Chambord; an example of the stairs found throughout
Chateau de Chambord Stairs

Below: Karen and me: at Chambord; and one of many tapestries and furnishings (notice the detail):
Us Tapestry

We ended the tour with Amboise Chateau Royal, 15th and 16th century buildings in the style of “Early French Renaissance”. The is where all the Valois and Bourbon kings lived. It is an area populated since the Neolithic, and became the main settlement of the Celtic Turones. The first fortifications were build in the 4th century. The king of the Franks, Clovis, met the king of the Visigoths, Alaric, at this site. It’s control was heavily disputed throughout the medieval period. Then in 1214 the King of France, Phillipe Auguste, captured Touraine (this area) and the Lords of Amboise became his vassals. There is much more history than I can do justice to, but it is full of intrique, rivalry, and dispute. And it is a beautiful place to tour

Below: Amboise Chateau Royal view of the town; and the main chateau from the wall;
Amboise - Town From Above View of the main chateau

All in all, the Loire Valley was a great start to our wine tasting tour, with visits to many spectacular Chateaux. Now off to the next wine region.

Dijon, Burgundy

We drove to Burgundy, and visited many of the wine-making towns in the region. Some of the more well-known towns in the region are:

  • Auxerre
  • Beaune
  • Dijon
  • Mâcon
  • Le Creusot
  • Nevers
  • Vougeot

This is wine heaven and wine-tasting nirvana. Everywhere you go, every village and town, there are the famous wine commune of the area. A wine commune simply means “wine village”. Each label clearly indicates where the grapes were grown and is classified as to quality. I will forego further description of that in favor of talking about our experiences. But I will say that all Burgundy red wines are 100% from Pinot Noir grapes. White Burgundies, however, are from Chardonney grapes. Beaujolais are from mostly Gamay Noir grapes, and are lighter than red Burgundies, and Chablis are mostly Chardonney, but these two types, while formally in the Burgandy region, are usually refered to as being in their own sub-region. Oh, it gets much more complicated - especially when you’ve been tasting wines all day.

We stayed in Dijon in a very nice Hotel du Chapeaux Rouge on Rue Michelet, right in the heart of Dijon, where we walked to dinner and sites within the town. After our arrival, we toured the area, sat in a setting off the lobby and drank some wine (of course) and later we walked down to the L’Emile Brochettes for dinner. Outdoors was packed so we sat inside in what looked like a cave, but the food was good and we enjoyed the experience.

Below: Hotel Rouge; and an the lobby
Hotel Rouge interior

Below: l’Emile Brochettes; and inside:
Brochettes Inside

Dijon is a charming town, but much larger than the surrounding villages. We enjoyed walking around, touring the city. The city streets seem to wander around and driving proved to be pretty confusing - though we always eventually found our way. Not that meandering was a chore; more like a pleasure to see more of Dijon.

Below: Karen at the Place Darcy (Darcy Square) in the center of Dijon; and Di at the Jardin Darcy a reproduction of the Pompon White Bear of the Musée d'Orsay:
Karen at Arch Di with Bear

In the morning we set about touring the Burgandy region once again. We stopped, for example, in Vougeot and saw the Domaine Bertagna vineyard, and in the village, we visited their shop for a tasting. They have 18 different appellations of which five are Grand Crus and seven are Premiers Crus. The vineyard is near the famous Château de Clos de Vougeot.

Below: Domaine Bertagna; the 4 of us at a tasting in the Bertagna shop:
Bertagna Tasting

Below: the Bartagna Vineyard entrance:

We drove through many charming villages in the wine making department of Côte-D’Or in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region in eastern France. That is a mouthful to say, but they are about 15 km south of Dijon on the road between Beaune and Dijon, just off the N74 road.

One place that we stopped and walked around was Gevrey-Chambertin, a wine commune that is known for its Grand cru Burgundy wine, produced from its vineyards. Chambertin is the most famous of these. We stopped for a tasting and a tour of the shop of Philippe Leclerc, and were shown a large cellar, some very interesting surroundings in the museum and the shop. Then our tasting began. We tasted quite a number of truly outstanding Gevrey-Chambertin Cru les Champeaux, and we ordered two dozen of these very fine wines to be shipped home. When they finally arrived (they would not ship them when it was very warm out), we were thrilled.

Below: Philippe Leclerc showroom; and the wine vault (photos from his website):
Philippe Leclerc The vault

Below: Domaine Philippe Leclerc Champeaux, Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru (photo is from the Philippe Leclerc website):
Domaine Philippe Leclerc Champeaux, Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru

On our last evening in Dijon we walked a several blocks to Rue Monge for a very nice dinner at Grill Le Sauvauge. Everything is cooked over a flaming grill and they serve very good Burgundy wines. We sat al fresco in a beautiful street setting. Every table was taken, but we were fortunate to get a great table just as we arrived. Great dinner; great last evening in Dijon.

Below: Image of al fresco area of Restaurant le Sauvage in Dijon:
Le Sauvage

Reims, Champagne

We drove the A5 and A26 to Reims (pronounced like "rance", with the particular nasal tone of the French language - a tough thing for non-French to correctly pronounce) in the Champagne region. Reims is a little over 300 km directly north of Dijon, about 130 km northeast of Paris. It was founded by the Gauls “Remi” tribe in the century B.C. French kings were crowned at its Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims for over a thousand years. The cathedral is known for its stained-glass windows and Gothic carved portals, including the ‘Smiling Angel” (more about this to come).

We stayed at Hôtel de La Paix on rue Buirette. It is a thoroughly modern hotel in a historic city, located very near many things to do and see. The other hotels we have stayed in during this trip were quaint and much a part of their location, but we traded that for location and convenience this time. It was a good experience and a very good modern European hotel. The broad street in front and the relative organization of the town was quite different from Dijon. At intersections there were squares and parks along the way. Many of the buildings were historic, many were more modern, and all were kept up. Reims is a good place to explore. Mostly, besides the history, one remembers the Champagne. Oh, the champagne!

Below: The Hôtel de La Paix in Reims; and the street outside our hotel:
Hotel de La Paix Street outside hotel

Below: Around the corner from the hotel, the opera; and a nearby colorful building:
Opera Colorful Building

Below: A sculpture in the square a few doors from our hotel; and a fountain on the block:
Sculpture Fountain

Below: Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims; and inside the cathedral:
Cathedral Inside

We toured the G. H. Mumm & Cie., better known as Mumm Champagne. This was an unbelievable tour that we were privileged to receive. At every step, our guide educated us extensively on the history, grapes and vineyards, process and storage. Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay grapes are used in the production of almost all Champagne, but a tiny amount of pinot blanc, pinot gris, arbane, and petit meslier are also vinified. Champagne is made through a process requiring a secondary fermentation, to get the cabonization (bubbles) that we all know. Real Champagne is made only in France, only in the Champagne prefecture, and only from grapes grown in specific appelations (specific geographic locations). It is all very tightly defined and controlled by the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée. Other sparkling wines are sometimes mistakenly called Champagne, when they are in reality something else. For example, in Italy, they have Prosecco. Enough of this definition.

We saw highly stacked bottles awaiting maturity. We saw a demonstration of the turning process, called Riddling or Remuage. We saw the immense cave, a mile long and full of champagne. And then we had a tasting, featuring some of their premium Champagnes. Champagnes come in several types, mostly non-vintage. At the top is the cuvée de prestige, the proprietor’s best. There are many others, but some major categories are blanc de noir, blanc de blanc, and rosé. Critical to choosing a champagne is its sweetness: (from driest to sweetest) Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Sec, Demi-Sec, and Doux. It all depends on how much sugar remains in the bottle when sold.

Below: The G.H. Mumm entrane on Rue du Champs de Mer; and the immense cave:
Mumm Entrance Mumm Cave

Below: The various bottle sizes; and the turning room:
Bottle Sizes Mumm Turning Room

Below: The ancient Champagne storage room; and the four of us tasting the Champagne:
Mumm Entrance Mumm Tasting

In Reims, we visited the WWII HQ of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). At end WWII in Europe, here General Eisenhower and the Allies received the unconditional surrender of the German Wehrmacht in Reims, at 2:41 on the morning of 7 May 1945. General Alfred Jodl, German Chief-of-Staff, signed the surrender. The war in Europe was finally over. The SHAEF HQ is in tact and is spine-chilling. You can read the orignal papers and visit the rooms where it all happened. What a moment!

Below: A panorama of the table where the surrender happened and was signed and the actually surrender document:
The Surrendeer Doc

We drove over to Épernay, the real champagne capital, home of the headquarters of many of the great “maisons de champagne”. These include:

  • Moët and Chandon, and its 1919century Hôtel Chandon
  • Perrier-Jouët and its red-brick château
  • Mercier
  • Esterlin
  • Comtesse Lafond
  • Boizel
  • De Venoge

If you are looking for Dom Pérignon, it is a product of Moët and Chandon. Contrary to popular beliefs, Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon did not create the first champagnes. Madam Clicquot created the first champagne in 1805, I am told. Don’t forget that Veuve Clicquot vineyards surround the village of Bouzy, near Reims. We did not visit Bouzy, but Veuve continues to be my very favorite champagne.

Below: Épernay Avenue de Champagne, literaly lined end to end with the headquarters and principal production facilities of key champagne producers:
Epernay Avenue de Champagne

Below: Signposts in Épernay pointing to the Aveneu de Champagne; and Chuck at an appropriate sign:
Signposts Keep Calm

Below: Perrier-Jouët headquarters; and Perrier-Jouët tasting room:
HQ Tasting Room

Below: A glass of champagne at a tasting at Perrier-Jouët; and Karen raises a glass after a lot of touring:
Glass Karen

Our last evening in Reims, we walked around the corner on Place Drouet d'Erlon to Lapostophe, and dined al fresco. With a fine champagne, of course! A great and pleasant evening in a lovely spot.

Below: Chuck & Karen at Lapostrophe; and Mike and Di:
At Lapostrophe Lapostrophe

And so, on to Paris, or rather, a hotel near Charles De Gaulle Airport. Or so we thought.


Our original plan was to drive to Verdun after Reims to see the site of one of the longest battles in military history: The Battle of Verdun in 1916 during World War 1. It was a horrific example of “war by attrition” resulting in massive losses on both sides (French and German). But, we concluded that the drive was too long and opted to go directly to the airport in preparation of our early afternoon flight home. That was the plan, then.

We stayed at the Paris Marriott Charles de Gaulle Airport Hotel on Allee du Verger in Roissy. Unimportant aside: we choose Marriotts when we trave because of our “Lifetime Platinum Elite” status that automatically upgrades us and provides a number of goodies, even when we choose the cheapest room, and Marriotts are generally outstanding hotels. This one is very convenient to the airport, which is about 32 km from Paris.

Below: the Paris Marriott Charles de Gaulle Airport Hotel; and its lobby:
Marriott Lobby

So, we arrive, and we take the shuttle train into Paris and we split up. Mike and Di choose to tour the Paris catacombs, an ossuary where over six million remains (skeletons) were placed in the tunnels leading from Barrière d’Enfer ("Gate of Hell"). While they found this interesting, Karen and I didn’t want our last images of the trip to be so, well, macabre. We opted for a boat tour of the River Seine. What a tour it was! And open boat, sparsley populated, with a charming guide describing all that we passed. It was a beautiful sunny day - could not have been better.

Below: Tour guide explaining the sites; and Chuck pointing at the Eiffel Tower:
Tour guide Eiffel Tower

Below: The tour boat; and Karen enjoying the Seine ride and scenes:
boat Beautiful Karen on Beautiful Seine

After the boat tour we stopped for a drink at Cafe Bords de Seine on Quai de la Megisserie at Place du Châtelet. We sat on a slightly elevated terrace over the sidewalk and had a fantastic view of both the Seine and the street. Then we hired a taxi for the ride back to the airport hotel to meet up once again with Mike and Di.

Below: The beautiful Quai de la Megisserie; and Cafe Bords de Seine:
Street Cafe Bords de Seine

Below: Chuck at cafe enjoying a wine: Karen at cafe:
Chuck at cafe Karen at cafe

We slept, got up, packed, had breakfast, and shuttled to the plane.

Trip Summary

If you conclude that we drank a lot of wine on this tour, you would be correct - but it was still primarily a tour. We landed NE of Paris and made an automobile trip circling the countryside. We went all the way west to the Normandy beaches on the English Channel, all the way south to the Loire Valley white wine country, all the way east to the Burgundy country, and then north to the Champagne region. All along the way we stopped at great and small chateaux, received informative tours, and spent a lot of time and interest in the historical sites - most especially Normandy. Finally, we stopped in at Paris for a final fine day before returning home.

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February/March, 2017, Golf and Wine in California

In late February, Karen and I flew to California to play a lot of golf, visit wineries, and visit my sister and her family. We flew into Santa Barbara, and drove to our first stop, Alisal Golf Ranch and Resort, just outside of Solvang. It is located about 10-15 miles from Santa Barbara and the coast, in the Santa Ynez mountains. The area is beautiful and the (dude) ranch is very interesting. It has loads of animals, including more than 100 horses, and is a working cattle ranch. But it is also a resort and has the requisite pool, spa, library, dining facilities, and two golf courses: the Ranch Course and the River Course.

Just prior to our arrival, California had horrific rain and flooding, and Alisal was not spared. The rain stopped just a day or so before our arrival, and we were lucky to have avoided the weather during our entire trip. The Ranch Course was partly flooded, and we could only play nine holes on that course, and while normally it is a golf cart course, due to the wetness we had to walk it. The River Course was in better shape, but even it was severely damaged, with key bridges on the course completely washed out. It was an adventure. But we enjoyed it greatly.

The ranch is rustic, but very clean, and well kept. We had a little cottage whose porch overlooked a little stream. At least, when there is no flooding it was little. It was a raging stream during our visit. The cottage was very nice. In keeping with the ranch motif, there was no TV, except in the library, where I confess Karen and I took a little TV fix in the evenings.

All of our meals were included at the ranch. We were assigned our own table and the food was every good, as was the included wine. Service was excellent, as well. We started the days playing golf. Our bags were shipped directly to the ranch from our club, RiverCrest Golf Club and Preserve, by ShipSticks. That was a very good experience, and not the first time we used ShipSticks. We ate lunches in town, generally, and spent the afternoons touring wineries and doing tastings. All in all, a very enjoyable few days.

The little town of Solvang:

We went from Alisal to the Ojai Resort and Spa (pronounced "Oh-Hi"). Ojai is a spectacular 5-Diamond resort, one of 100 in the world. Both Condé Nast and Travel & Leisure rank it as one of the best hotels in the world. It deserves its ranking. Our room was excellent, the view was unbeatable, the golf course was terrific, the food, the spa, and the ambiance were all wonderful. If you get the sense than I liked the Ojai Resort, you’ve been paying attention. We played golf with my sister and brother-in-law, and a bit by ourselves. Then ShipSticks picked up our clubs and returned them to our RiverCrest course. No fuss.

We toured some more wineries in the area and tasted. At he Byron tasting room in Los Olivos, we found that they were adding a “Nielson” label to their brand. We joined their tasting club and now have a case of wine shipped to us several times a year. The wines are premium and they come directly to our door. And, yes, this is to my home in Pennsylvania, formerly the home of the most restrictive alcoholic beverage laws in the country. Now they have been relaxed, and direct shipment is a benefit.

Chuck swinging the club at Ojai (notice how relaxed he is - not); and Karen above a very well-protected Ojai hole:
Chuck Swinging Karen on Course

Finally, we spent a few nights with my sister and her family in Carpenteria, about 10 miles south of Santa Barbara. My nephew, Dean, was there to visit with us, and that was delightful. We all played "No Peekie" cards, and laughed all evening. Art and Nina took us to a really excellent sushi place named Sushi Teri, if I recall correctly. We all took a walk along the beach where they live and saw dozens of seals sunning and birthing. Remarkable.

At the beach in Carpenteria

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September/October, 2016, in England, Scotland, and Ireland

We traveled to the British Isles in late September and early October. The trip was in three parts:

  1. London, where we toured ourselves (no professional tour);
  2. Scotland, where we joined a tour by CIE (more later);
  3. Ireland, continuing on the tour, both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Descriptions of each follow.

1. London, on our own

We flew into London via Heathrow and stayed at the glorious The Savoy on the Strand, which is right in the heart of things. We chose that hotel for several reasons:

  • I have stayed there on several prior occasions and really love this hotel and its beauty, service, and amenities;
  • Its location is perfect, right in the middle of everything from history, government, and entertainment; and
  • Karen’s niece, Ali, was spending a semester abroad at Kings College, right down the street.
All in all a very wonderful place.

Below: The entrance to The Savoy; and the entrance to the dining area:
Savoy Entrance Savoy Dining

Of course we visited many of the tourist places that we have all seen and/or heard of, and many of which Karen and/or I have visited previously, but not together. We walked to almost everything from the Savoy (one of its features). We visited the British Museum, saw the Rosetta Stone and many sarcophagus, and a ton of asian tourists seemingly more interesting in taking selfies than their surroundings. We visited the Tower of London, saw the Crown Jewels, many suits of armor and weapons, and a great sense of history. We visited Westmister Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and 10 Downing Street. We saw a changing of the guard, the mounted guards, and more.

The Rosetta Stone at the British Museum and the entrance to Westminster Abbey:
British Museum Westminster Abbey

The Changing of the Guard; and Chuck at Big Ben:

Guard Big Ben

Ali and Matty on the Thames; and Karen and Chuck in a selfie:

Ali and Matty Selfie

We had fabulous meals in London. We had a some meals alone, and were joined by Ali and her school-mate Matty for the rest. They were great company and we thoroughly enjoyed their energy and their surprisingly excellent knowledge of London. Together, we walked to the museums, cathedrals, government houses, historic site, and a tour boat ride on the River Thames. From the boat, we got to view The London Eye, the 443 foot tall Ferris Wheel with air conditioned capsules (coaches) that hold up to 25 people and that take a half hour to rotate once. No, we didn’t ride it.

And the dinners were wonderful. We had Indian cuisine with Ali at a top-end restaurant called Chutney Mary. If in London, you must try Indian, and this would be as good an Indian option as you can find. We also dined at the historic Simpsons on the Strand, next to The Savoy. I've dined at Simpsons previously, and we thought the girls might like the experience of something they were otherwise unlikely to experience. We all loved it. Karen and I found a great pub The Wellington, for an outstanding pub dinner.

Karen and Ali at Chutney Mary for Indian; The girls at The Coal Hole pub:
Karen and Ali Cole Hole
A view of the The Wellington, a pub where Karen and I dined:
The pub

2. Scotland, where we joined a tour

We took the SGL train from London to Glasgow Central, and then walked up a few blocks to our hotel, the Glasgow City Hotel. There was some confusion in finding it, because that week it changed its ownership and the signs were down to be replaced. We walked past it back and forth a couple of times. Our tour was to start in the morning.

A view from the train to Glasgow:
Train to Scotland

The tour was called “A Taste of Scotland & Ireland”, by CIE Tours. We toured in a very nice tour bus with about 25 other people, so there were plenty of seats. They moved us around throughout the 11 days of the tour for some variety. We toured Glasgow, seeing St. George Square and visited Provand’s Lordship, Glasgow’s oldest house. We got to meet our outstanding tour director - for the Scotish part of the trip.

We then traveled to Loch Lomond and Loch Ness, and spent a good part of the afternoon cruising on Loch Ness. The drive along Loch Lomand and through the valley of Glen Coe is beautiful. Glen Coe is notorius for the Campbell massacre of the Clan Macdonald in 1692. Hmm, do you think the clans have reconciled yet? Later, we stopped at the Spean Bridge Woolen Mill to peruse Scotish goods. That night we dined and stayed the night at the Newton Hotel in Nairn.

From Inveruglas on Loch Lomand; and beautiful Loch Ness nearing sunset:
Loch Lomand Loch Ness at Sunset

The Scottish Highlands are stunning, very steep, rocky, and green. Everywhere there is livestock, mostly sheep, and everywhere there is yet another magnificent view.

A view of the Scottish Highlands; and a Scottish Highlands cow:
Highlands Cow

The next morning we stopped at the Blair Athol Distillery in Pitochry and saw whisky being distilled. Of course we sampled some. The distillery guide confirmed, much to my delight, that the way that I drink whisky is correct: no ice, room temp, with a splach of water. And, by the way, the Scots spell it “whisky“ and the Irish spell it “whiskey”. Now you are an expert! We drove on to St. Andrews, home of golf and of Scotland’s oldest university. We got to walk around St. Andrews and explore. Karen walked over the famous Swilcan Bridge leading to the 18th hole of the Old Course. The only problem was that there was a tournament underway and she wasn’t supposed to be there. We made a break for it and had lunch in town on a most charming street.

The Blair Athol Distillery, and Karen on the Swilcan Bridge on the Old Course of St. Andrews:
Blair Athol Swilkan Bridge

That evening we stayed at the Marriott Dulmahoy Hotel in Edinburgh, and we were taken to a delightful Scottish dinner and an evening of entertainment of songs, stories, and Scottish dance. I tried Haggis for the first time and found that I liked it.In the morning we went on a tour of Edinburgh with a local guide. We visited the dominant Edinburgh Castle, which contains the Scottish Crown Jewels and the Stone of Scone. We had the afternoon free to tour the city, which we did. The next morning we drove south through Ayrshire along the coast to Cairnryan. There we took a ferry about thirty miles across the Irish Sea to Belfast, Northern Ireland.

3. Ireland, continuing on the tour, both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland

The tour took a ferry from Scotland to Belfast, Northern Ireland. Interestingly, Northern Ireland, being a part of the United Kingdom, uses the Pound Sterlling as its currency, The Republic of Ireland is not UK, and uses the Euro as its currency. Gotta know where you are, right? We toured Titanic Belfast, which was a spectacular building partly in the shape and size of the Titanic and which holds a vast array of exhibits. It is at the place where the ship was built and launched. After bit of Belfast, we were bussed to Dublin the the Royal Marine Hotel, overlooking Dublin Bay. That evening, a group of us walked to a pub for a traditional pub experience of beer and more beer, followed by a pub dinner and maybe some more beer. Good Irish beer, that is.

After breakfast the next morning, we toured central Dublin’s fashionable shopping areas, charming squares, the Central Post Office where the 1916 Irish uprising began, and then Trinity College. At the college we had a Don guide us through the campus, were we viewed the famous Book of Kells, created in the 8th century by monks. We boarded a former Guinness barge for a canal dinner cruise through Dublin on the Grand Canal, complete with very personable Irish entertainment. We had a Guinness to start, then a starter of smoked salmon tartar with Dublin Bay prawns (or black pudding & bacon salad), with main courses including beef and Guinness stew or Atlantic fish pie, and ending with Irish cheese cake with Baileys Irish Cream and a chocolate brownie. Urp!

Trinity College; and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin:
Trinity College St. Pat

Karen at The Bank, a Dublin pub in what was a bank:
The Bank

We are jusk getting started in Ireland. The following morning we travelled through Ireland to the Rock of Cashal, which was the historic seat of power of many Munster kings prior to the Norman invasion in the last half of the 12th century. We toured the castle, an impressive adventure - especially if you climb the 90 ft. Round Tower. For a break in our journey, we stopped at a farmhouse for tea and scones, and were treated to a demonstration of the sheep-hearding dogs. Then on to the famed Blarney Castle, where some of our adventurers kissed the “Stone of Eloguence”. Karen climbed up to the top of the castle (and didn’t kiss the stone -yech!), while I toured the beautiful gardens. As we did in Scotland, we had to stop at an Irish woolen mill, the Blarney Woolen Mill, to check out the goods. Then we drove to Killarney, and checked into the Killarney Avenue Hotel, one of the O’Donoghue Ring hotels. That evening a group of us walked around town to find the best Irish pub for dinner. We settled in at Murphy’s Bar for, of course, a pint or two of Guinness and a fine dinner of Irish cuisine. Many of the pubs featured the patrons singing Irish ballads.

Murphy’s Bar in Killarney:

We next stopped at Ross Castle on Lough Leane, as we travelled through the Ring of Kerry. That drive is an ever-winding ride through beautiful mountains and views of the coast. We crossed to Valentia Island by bridge to visit the Skellig Experience, which describes the austerity of the early monks lived on the nearby islands. This was followed by a stop on an overlook of Moll’s Gap. During our travels in the Ring of Kerry, we stopped for a carriage ride, manned by a local and his little boy. The horse drawn carriage stopped for some absolutely stunning photo ops (see below).

A scene of the Ring of Kerry; and the Skellig Experience:
Ring of Kerry The Skellig Experience

Karen at the Ring of Kerry:
Karen at Ring of Kerry

Stunning scene of islands in a lake:
Ireland as we saw it Ireland

The following day we took a ferry ride across the River Shannon to reach the Cliffs of Moher, a spectacular 700 ft. sandstone wall above the Atlantic Ocean. We climbed to the viewing tower, O’Briens Tower, on top of the wall, and then Karen ventured beyond the fence to the very peak of the cliffs. One of the views is of an island where monks built a spectacular monestary. How they even began it is impossible for me to comprehend. The ocean rages around the rock of an island that had no beach, and rises straight up. It is a true wonder that they build a monestary, let alone were able to create a self-sustaining life there. Later, we checked into the Bunratty Castle Hotel, close to Bunratty Castle (of course). We visited centuries old Durty Nelly’s Pub for a pre-dinner drink, and then headed to Bunratty Castle for a medieval feast. The hosts and all the personnel were fully outfitted in medieval garb and played their roles without exception. We had a feast and we were serenades by the lords and ladies, all evoking the Middle Ages theme.

The Cliffs of Moher:
Cliffs of Moher

Finally, we drove back to Dublin and checked into the Clayten Hotel Cardiff on Cardiff Lane. The next morning we were taken to the airport for our United flight back home. All in all, a wonderful trip.

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February, 2016, in Naples, Florida

Karen and I travelled to Naples Florida in February of 2016 for our Winter get-away vacation. We spent some time researching where to stay and what to do, and especially where we could play golf. We ended up on the VRBO website and found the Naples Bay Resort, and a condo owned by a very nice person named June Prophet. We rented the condo and June helped us further by letting us play at two private courses of which she is a member. More about golf later.

Naples Bay Resort is beautiful and our condo was exactly what we had hoped for. Our condo had three bedrooms (we only used the master bed room, which had a huge bathroom with a giant shower). We had a living room, dining room, kitchen, and patio. Our exterior was bordered by a thick treeline ensuring total privacy, with our front view into the courtyard. We were on the second floor, and we had quiet and privacy. The condo was equiped with everything one might think of. Everything was clean and top grade. There was large screen HDTV with DVR in the living room and master, and smaller TVs in the other two bedrooms. We had built-in WiFi. Everything was on Comcast, so we were very familiar with the channel lineup and so on.

The Naples Bay Resort - resort rooms, condos, and the marina; and one of the pools (the one we used most):
(Note: click on the small photos below to see a full-size version of the photo.)
A view of the Naples Bay Resort Marina Naples Bay Resort Pool

A beautiful entrance illustrating the degree of care in the resort:

The resort was a short walk to the old city downtown of Naples - where you wanted to be in the evening. On the walk, we passed the wharf area known as "Tin City", which was full of hip on-wharf restaurants and little shops. While we could walk into downtown, the resort provided a limo to take us and pick us up from dinner or whatever/whereever we wanted to go. We utilized the limo, which was really a very nice Mercedes van with drivers who were upbeat, helpful, and fun.

We ate dinners in town mostly, at Yubba Grill on Fifth Avenue, T-Michael’s Steak and Seafood on the water in Naples, proper, Campiello’s on Third Street for an excellent Italian dinner, Felipe’s Taqueria for a surprisingly great informal Mexican meal, Citrus on Fifth Avenue for an elegant dinner with wonderful service, and funky little Greek place for an informal dinner, finally, Ridgway on Third for another sumptuous meal.

Chuck on Naples Pier; and the Naples Beach:
(Note: click on the small photos below to see a full-size version of the photo.)
Chuck on Naples Pier Naples Beach

Karen at Yubba Island Grill (our first night):
Karen on Marco Island

We golfed three days at three different courses:

We liked all three courses, and thought The Rookery with all its water was the best to play of them. On The Hammonck Bay course we played with another couple, delightful folks with whom we had lunch afterwards. The Rookery was a shotgun start because of an upcoming tournament. Lely was played with another couple, who was another delightful pair. All in all, great golf and fun.

The view at Hammock Bay Golf Course; Karen at Hammock Bay:
(Note: click on the small photos below to see a full-size version of the photo.)
Golf at Hammock Bay Karen at Hammock Bay

Chuck at The Rookery:
Chuck at The Rookery

We of course when down to Marco Island to make that tour, as well. Much of Marco Island seems over-developed to me, but it has its beauty. We played with a big old Albatross for a while, and drove around to look at things, walked on the beach and so on.

Karen at Marco Island; Chuck at Marco Island:
(Note: click on the small photos below to see a full-size version of the photo.)
Karen at Marco Island Chuck at Marco Island

All in all, a great trip and a great break from the bleakness of mid-winter in the North.

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September, 2015, in Stone Harbor, NJ

We took our (almost) annual trip to Stone Harbor on the New Jersey coast in early September, starting with Labor Day weekend. We rented a house that we've used several times, along with our close friends, Peter and Dorothy. During the week, other friends joined us for a while. John and Jackie were there early in the week, joined by our friend Rich, who lives in Arizona, but maintains a place near Philadelphia to visit with his family here. His "Bashi" stayed in AZ to care for their horses. All together, it was a very good group and we enjoyed the company.

The house is very near the Stone Harbor "downtown" and is just off the beach. We can see the ocean from the deck, where we enjoyed breakfast and dinner at times. Of course, dining out at the shore is also a treat, and we ate at The Reeds at Shelter Haven in Stone Harbor for lunch overlooking the bay, Spiaggetta in Stone Harbor for a great Italian feast, Axxelson's Blue Claw in Cape May for a great time and great food, and The Diving Horse in Avalon for a spectacular final dinner. Our location there is just about perfect.

Below are some photos of the trip:

Pete and Dorothy at dinner on our deck; and John and Jackie at the same table:
Pete & Dorothy at dinner on the deck John & Jackie at dinner on the deck
Karen’s spectacular photo of the sunrise at Stone Harbor’s beach; and the deck at The Reeds at Shelter Haven:
Sunrise on the Beach The Reeds at Shelter Haven for lunch

I was limited in my mobility and ability to help in any task by the cast I am wearing resulting from my Achilles tendon surgery. The whole group was very accomodating and helpful, for which I am grateful. Especially helpful was and is Karen, who has been a trooper in anticipating my every need and working her tail off to make sure that I am comfortable. Thank you to all, and especially my Sweetie - who took me to the beach each day to enjoy being on the water and sand without being on the sand. I loved it!

Chuck Enjoying the Beach Scene

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February/March, 2015, in Cancun, Mexico

What perfect timing to break the long winter cold we were experiencing at home! Karen and I travelled to Cancun, Mexico, to spend eight glorius days on the Yucitan Peninsula’s gulf coast. Liz, our outstanding travel agent, once again booked us into an all-inclusive resort that exceeded our most optimistic expectations - The Excellence Playa Mujeres. Before I show you some of what we enjoyed, I must first express our appreciation for what is the best staff service levels we have ever experienced. It is difficult to describe the pleasant difference that we experienced because of the resort staff. Every single encounter with anyone was met with a sincere and upbeat effort to make our experience more pleasant. It was extraordinary.

Below: The outstanding entrance lobby provides insight to the resort; and walking within the resort is a treat:
Excellence Paya Majeres Lobby Walkway View
Below: The view from our balcony, overlooking two of the pools to the gulf shore; and the view from the pool of the grill:
View of the grill View from our Balcony
Below: Our two story suite offered an outdoor spa; and the view of the gulf from our private spa:
Rooftop Spa Spa view to Gulf
Below: Our private beach with palapas; and Chuck basking in a palapa (you could find me there a lot!):
Palapa scene Chuck under palapa
Below: Karen finishing her swing a the resort’s Greg Norman course; and a nine foot crocodile on the fairway:
Karen finishing her swing Crocodile

Our suite was special. We had a spectacular view of the gulf from our balcony, which had a round bed and a table and chairs. Our main room had a sitting area with large couch and chairs, big tv, refrigerator, desk, free WiFi, walkin closet, and a huge bathroom which featured a shower with multiple types of showers, bench seat and so on. We could walk up a stair in our room to our private rooftop spa, with a massive spa and high-drop water feed, two circular beds, a shower, and a beautiful view of the gulf.

The food at Excellence Playa Mujeres was the best inclusive resort food we have experienced. There were Mexican, French, Indian, Asian, Lobster, Grill-house, and Barcelona Tapas restaurants to choose from. (I may have forgotten one or two others.) Each meal was a pleasure, from the walk up to the door to the finish. Service levels were unmatched and the food was excellent. For breakfast and lunch, we could go to the sumptuous breakfast or lunch buffets, or get sitdown service at the grill, overlooking the gulf. Evening meals were accompanied by live music, but the music was always enjoyable and never interfered with conversation. Every evening also had an entertainment venue, from dance, music, plays, or other things. Two of the evenings there was a white table cloth dinner in the plaza of the resort (outdoor) featuring some special venue and cuisine. One was a Mexican night. Wow.

We played the resort’s Greg Norman course twice. It is very pretty, with a good bit of water, and some interesting wildlife. On one hole a crocodile came ashore and wandered to the fairway. A caretaker appeared from nowhere to entice the critter away from us. The croc was about nine feet long and up close (I got about ten feet from it), it looks as mean as its reputation. Incidentally, in the mango groves like where we were, there are crocodiles, not alligators. Florida has alligators. What is the difference? Well, about 800 miles is all I can tell you. Either one looks like they can and they want to rip your leg off for lunch. We also had the pleasure of the company of several snakes, including a pretty big boa, and a bunch of iguanas. And many beautiful birds.

The golf was very good. Karen play well; Chuck not so much. That is the story of our golfing lives. But we both enjoyed the experience and the chance to play when our weather at home did not permit it.

My favorite part of the trip? Well, floating down the "river" pool on a raft, with not a care in the world. It was a totally relaxing experience. That and reading under the palapas. And pretty much everything else. A damn-near perfect vacation.

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August, 2014, in Stone Harbor, NJ

We took the better part of a beautiful week weather-wise to get our “shore fix” by going to one of our favorite places, Stone Harbor, NJ. We stayed at a very new place, The Reeds at Shelter Haven, which has 37 rooms and suites and overlooks the bay. Our room had a spectacular view, and we enjoyed every minute of the experience.

Below is a view of the bay from our room, and a view of the waves coming in at the beach:
View from Room Beach Scene

The Reeds provided us with a golf-cart-like limo to the beach, where they set up umbrellas and beach chairs and provided us with water and (if we wished) lunch. When we arranged or called, they picked us up and took us back to the hotel. Great service!

We paddle-boarded in the bay using boards that they provided... well, Karen stood and paddled, while I straddled and paddled. The ocean water was warm and inviting, and we romped in the waves, which due to a storm out at sea were pretty continuous and frisky. We took long walks on the beach, always a most relaxing and exhilarating experience, and each morning Karen took a bike ride while I read the paper and had my morning coffee.

We had some very good meals... Spiagetta, Jay’s on Third (oour least favorite of the week), Yvettes Cafe (for lunch), and of course our annual pilmigridge to Carmen’s in Sea Isle for a seafood dinner on the docks. And we had a lunch on the bay at The Reeds, and had pre-dinner drinks there a couple of times to watch the setting sun.

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September/October, 2013, River Cruise Through the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary

We arranged this trip through a former Bucknell classmate of Karen's, who is now arranges travel and works out of Boston. We indicated to Liz, the agent, that we wanted to do a river cruise through eastern Europe. We had watched Downton Abbey on PBS's Masterpiece Theater, and we saw a spectacular advert for Viking River Cruises. Liz told us to look at Uniworld River Cruises. We did and she found for us a cruise on the cruise boat " River Beatrice", leaving Passau, Germany and cruising down the Danube River to Budapest, Hungary. We discussed things, and decided to do a pre-cruise visit to Prague and spend several nights there. Liz worked with Uniworld and booked everything for us, from the air transport on Lufthansa to the side trip to Prague to the cruise, and everything in between.

Why a river cruise? Let me explain that we do a lot of travel and neither Karen nor I had ever traveled on a package plan. We always made our own arrangements and toured on our own. I had done a cruise once, long ago, but that was in the Caribbean on a cruise ship, and Karen had never done a cruise. We experienced several key advantages by doing a river cruise:

  1. The whole trip required one vendor to deal with for all details, including:
    • Air Travel
    • Accommodations
    • Meals
    • Guided Tours
    • Any needed tickets and reservations
    • Local transportation, including bicycles when appropriate
    • Additional entertainment
  2. Luxury hotel in Prague ( The Hotel Boscolo, a five-star hotel in central Prague) for the pre-cruise stop.
  3. Great stateroom on the River Beatrice, a category 1 room, including:
    • Luxurious riverview suite with a French balcony
    • Suite includes a handcrafted Savoir® of England bed, built-in closet, hair dryer, safe, individual thermostat, flat-screen TV with infotainment center and satellite, and bottled water
    • Marble bathroom with L’Occitane en Provence bath and body products, plush towels, towel warmer, waffle bathrobes, and slippers
    Below is the layout of the stateroom and our stateroom:
    River Beatrice Stateroom Layout Our Stateroom on board the River Beatrice
  4. Your room travels with you from place to place... No checking out/in, moving baggage, re-acquainting with surroundings, etc.
  5. All meals are included and are extraordinary in the quality of food and service, and good wine and beer is included. The wait staff was outstanding, and from day one remembered every name and personal preferences. (Of course,we took some meals in the exquisite settings of the places we visited.)
  6. Guided tours were available everywhere we stopped and the tour guides were excellent - informative, very friendly, accomodating, and helpful. We took many half-day tours and then wondered on our own to adventure through our new surroundings.

The Itinerary

  1. Prague, The Czech Republic
  2. Passau, Germany
  3. Linz and Salzburg, Austria
  4. Melk, Austria,the Wachau Valley, and Dürnstein
  5. Vienna, Austria
  6. Bratislava, Slovakia
  7. Budapest, Hungary
1. Prague, The Czech Republic

In late September we flew from Philadelphia through Frankfurt to Prague, Czech Republic. The Czech name for Prague is “Praha”. When we arrived, we were met at the airport by a Uniworld rep, who assisted with our luggage and got us on board a van to take us to The Hotel Boscolo. We walked the neighborhood and had a meal at the Plzeñskâ Restaurant in The Municipal House on Wenceslas Square in Praha (Prague). This was our introduction to several Czech standards, such as Pilsner Urquell, the ubiquitous pilsner and pale lager (the world's first), and the potato dumplings you find everywhere. We loved the beers in the Czech Republic.

Below: The Praha (Prague) Municipal House on Wenceslas Square, and Plzeñskâ Restaurant in the Municipal House.
Praha Municipal House Plzeñskâ Restaurant
Below: Hotel Boscolo front, and what our room looked like.
Hotel Boscolo Boscolo Room

On our second day, after a hearty buffet breakfast in the hotel, we were taken by our lovely and knowledgeable guide, Janna, to Prague Castle in the Castle District, The world's largest castle. It includes the impressive St. Vitas Cathedral. We wondered during the afternoon, stopping at U Zãvoje restaurant for an alfresco lunch. I had chicken livers and, of course, dumplings, with a great Pilsner Urquell. In the evening, we walked over to Old Town Square (Staromestské námestí), watched entertainers, sat for a beer in an outdoor cafe, then went for another luscious dinner. On the walk back, we stopped to peruse a street market and promised ourselves a sausage for tomorrow. We also had a primo position to watch the famous Old Town Tower and Astronomical Clock perform its magic. On the hour, every hour, a small trap door opens and Christ marches out ahead of his disciples, while the skeleton of death tolls the bell to a defiant statue of a Turk. There are twelve signs of the Zodiac that also perform. All mechanical, and all but the zodiacs dating to the 15th century. The zodiacs were added in 1865. We, of course, learned throughout our trip of the importance to the entire region of the Hapsburg Monarchy, and especially of Empress Maria Theresa. Her influence, and the Hapsburg’s, was everywhere.

Below: The Prague Castle, and the St. Vitas Cathedral:
Prague Castle View St. Vitas Cathedral

We had the moving experience of a side trip to the Terezín Concentration Camp for the afternoon. We took our limo (bus) to Terezín, which is a small Czech town where the Nazi's built the concentration camp. The Hapsburg's built a fortress complex there in the late 1700’s, and it became the basis for the camp. Over the years of Nazi occupation, more than 150,000 Jews, including over 15,000 children were sent to the camp, of which about 33,000 perished at the camp. This tour was a moving reminder of the atrocities that human beings are capable of inflicting upon one another, and in particular, of the Nazi persecution of the Jews. Our photos below will not depict the worst of what we saw; you have to see it for yourself to gain appreciation of the full horror of the time.

Below: The Terezín camp cemetary, and a typical scene from within the camp:
Terezin Cemetary Terezin Camp Scene

On the third day, we walked through Prague’s Old Town, the Jewish sector, down the ritzy Parížská or Paris Street, where all the high-end designer shops are located. Here you can find Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Bottega Veneta, Fendi, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Ermenegildo Zegna, Salvatore Ferragamo, Prada, and Gucci. It is just off beautiful Old Town Square, and connects to Cechuv Bridge. We fulfilled our sausage promise at a street vendor on the square. Back at the Hotel Boscolo, Janna got us into our limo for the three-hour ride to Passau, Germany, where we were to board the River Beatrice. We were full of anticipation, not knowing what to expect of the river boat. We only knew that our trip had a fantastic first leg.

To view a brief video clip (8:53 duration) of the Prague part of the trip (with a few places out of sequence - sorry), please click here. This clip takes quite a while to load (107 mb), and you must have the ability to view an “mpeg-4” video (.m4v). If you don’t have an m4v viewer or plug-in, Apple offers a free QuickTime plug-in for most browsers at Apple QuickTime download site.

2. Passau, Germany

Passau is located at the confluence of the Danube, the Inn, and the Ilz rivers. The limo dropped us off at the boat and we were greeted by the staff and walked onto the boat to the concierge desk to check in. It was the easiest checkin imaginable. And once we checked in, from that point through the whole cruise, the entire staff knew our names and our preferences (more on that later). We went to our cabin, which was top deck (The Rhine Deck), most rear cabin located next to the Captain’s Lounge and Library. Our room, being on a boat, was small by normal standards, but not by boat standards. It was 150 sq ft, and had plenty of storage and a small but nice bathroom, a queen-sized bed, and a French balcony. The room was equipped with everything you could want and was very comfy. We experienced our first dinner, which is a white table cloth affair with magnificent service. The wait staff already knew our names, and we learned that they would know what wines or beers we liked, and so on. You don't want to miss the meals on the cruise.

In the morning, after a spectacular buffet breakfast (which we had every morning thereafter), we took a walking tour through Passau. We toured along the river, which clearly shows the confluence, with each of the three contributing rivers having a clearly defined color. We stopped at the town hall full of paintings and murals and received an interesting history of the town. We toured Dom St. Stephan (St. Stephan's Cathedral), and later were treated to an organ recital there on its magnificent and enormous pipe organ. We can appreciate the work of the imported Italian artists employed after the town burned to the ground in 1662 and again in 1680, working on the mixed Baroque, Rococo, and Neoclassical cathedral. We wandered through the scenic winding alleyways of the town. We returned to the River Beatrice to begin the trip to the next leg of the journey, and, of course, another gourmet dinner.

Below: Karen in front of St. Stephans, and a partial view of the pipe organ:
St. Stephens Cathedral St. Stephans Pipe Organ
Below: A typical Medieval Street scene in Passau, and Chuck standing in front of a hotel apparently named for him:
Medieval Street Scene in Passau Chuck in front of a hotel

To view a brief video clip (7:07 duration) of the Passau part of the trip (with a few places out of sequence - sorry), please click here. This clip takes quite a while to load (86 mb), and you must have the ability to view an “mpeg-4” video (.m4v). If you don’t have an m4v viewer or plug-in, Apple offers a free QuickTime plug-in for most browsers at Apple QuickTime download site.

3. Linz and Salzburg, Austria

We sailed at night and landed in Linz, Austria. After another sumptuous breakfast we were limo’d to Salzburg, the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Salzburg has many features to boast about, including a well-preserved Medieval town center. We toured the town, visiting the Mirabellgarten, which you’ll remember from The Sound of Music (Karen’s favorite movie). We saw, but did not tour, Mirabell Castle and Mozart House. I must admit that this was the only place on the entire trip where our tour guide was not very helpful... she was new, young, inexperienced, and walked us and spoke too quickly. Otherwise, a great place to visit. After the tour, we walked through Alter Market (old market), the Residenz (a large Baroque home of the archbishops), and sat for lunch in a small restaurant.

Below: We passed through quite a number of locks. First, entering a lock, and then, exiting the lock:
Exiting the lock

We met quite a number of people on the trip, both on the boat, associated with the tour, and along the way in the cities and village that we toured. Onboard the River Beatrice, we began to "hang" with a small group of couples with like interests, and to sit with them for dinner, and walk with them during tours. These included two couples from Long Island, Tony & Julia, and Gene & Donna, and a couple from the Northwest, Steve and Mary.

Below: Karen and me on deck with our friends from Long Island, and Steve and Mary with Tony and Julia at dinner:
Our group from Long Island Steve & Mary and Tony and Julia

To view a brief video clip (3:59 duration) of the Linz part of the trip (with a few places out of sequence - sorry), please click here. This clip takes quite a while to load (47 mb), and you must have the ability to view an “mpeg-4” video (.m4v). If you don’t have an m4v viewer or plug-in, Apple offers a free QuickTime plug-in for most browsers at Apple QuickTime download site.

4. Melk, Austria,the Wachau Valley, and Dürnstein

Melk, once a fortified Roman outpost, is “a charming jumble of old towers and cobblestone streets” (description from our boat's Daily Program). It is so true. We walked the town, visited the Benedictine Abbey, and wondered at the history, given to the monks by King Leopold III int he 11th century.

Below, a couple of street scenes in Melk:
Melk Street Melk Street
Below, a walkway to the Abbey, and just the charm of Melk:
Walk to the Abbey Melk

You cannot believe just how beautiful the Wachau Valley is until you’ve sailed the Danube through to Vienna. During the entire trip, we did not pass a single unsightly area, just one beautiful scene after another. There were too many hilltop castles to count, and tiny pastorial villages. A strange effect is that many of the village rooftops sported solar panels. The sail through the valley was one of the most enjoyable and relaxing viewing experiences I’ve had. Simply wonderful.

Below: Posing in front of a Wachau Valley castle, and one more castle:
Chuck and Karen in Wachau Valley Wachau Valley Castle
Below: A Wachau Valley village, and another village with its cathedral:
Wachau Valley Village Wachau Valley Village and Church

We stopped at Dürnstein, in the heart of the Austrian wine country with lush vineyards clinging dramatically to the steep hillsides, all terraced by ancient stone walls. We were invited into the Nikolaihof Wachau Vineyard to tour their winery. As we walked through their Nikolaihof courtyard, we knew we were in for something special. Part of the tour included walking down ancient stairs into the wine cellar where the grapes are crushed, wine made and stored in ancient casks with meticulous carved barrel heads. The rooms were built originally by the Roman occupiers nearly 2,000 years ago, who sealed the riverside facility using clay from nearby mountains. There has never been a leak in its entire history, and the rooms are naturally kept to a perfect temperature and humidity for the wine-making process. Winemaking began here in the year 985 AD, and the Saahs have owned the winery since 1894.

Below: Approaching the village of Dürnstein, and a view of the Dürnstein Castle:
Approaching Dürnstein Dürnstein Castle
Below:The Nikolaihof Winery courtyard, and the ancient wine press (still in use today):
The Nikolaihof courtyard The ancient Nikolaihof wine press

The owners of the winery, Christine Saahs and her son Nikolaus, the winemaker, were our hosts.

Below: The intricate carvings on the casks, and grapes being transported as we walk to the village:
The cask Dürnstein grapes being hauled
Below: A wine tasting scene, and Karen and me at the Nikoliahof wine tasting:

We enjoyed a wine tasting, hosted by Christine Saahs. Karen and I learned to especially enjoy the Grüner Veltliner wines, and brought some back to the boat, which we enjoyed later on the deck with our new friends as we sailed. Since the trip, I have looked for and bought Grüner Veltliner from the limited selection available at the Pennsylvania State Stores, the only venue for the purchase of wine or liquor in the state, except for bars and restaurants. The surprising thing is that while Austria produces predominantly white wines, including Reislings, they make and drink mostly drier wines (which I prefer). They ship the sweeter stuff to the US, I guess.

Nikolaihof wine tasting Nikolaihof wine tasting

After the tasting, we toured Dürnstein, visited a few shops, and sat for a Pilsner Urquell. What a heavenly day.

Below: A wine shop in Dürnstein that we visited (and purchased wine), and a typical village street:
Dürnstein wine shop Dürnstein street

To view a brief video clip (11:28 duration) of the Melk part of the trip (with a few places out of sequence - sorry), please click here. This clip takes quite a while to load (138 mb), and you must have the ability to view an “mpeg-4” video (.m4v). If you don’t have an m4v viewer or plug-in, Apple offers a free QuickTime plug-in for most browsers at Apple QuickTime download site.

5. Vienna, Austria

What do you think of when you hear “Vienna”? It is all that and much more. First, as you approach the city, you can see some modern buildings, but it is very clearly a city of historic beauty. The streets and everything in the city is absolutely clean and pristine... we did not see a single piece of litter the whole time in the city. This is a high-end city, with upscale shopping and restaurants, and it also is approachable, walkable, and tourable. Everything is beautiful and is perfectly kept, and that which is not, is being refurbished. We toured the national library, which is awe-inspiring in its majesty and collection.

Below: A scene from our bus as we drove through Vienna from the pier, and a typical street:
Vienna from the bus Vienna street
Below: I can’t resist showing another typical Vienna street, and a look up within the National Library:
Another street National Library

What is Vienna without the music? Of course, we went to a Vienna Concert at the Hofburg Palace, Director Gert Hofbauer conducted J. Strauss, and W. A. Mozart selections. It would be easy to spend weeks in Vienna, or even longer, and never tire of it. We visited the famed Spanish Riding School, home of the Lipizzaner horses, Mozart House, where he wrote "The Marriage of Figaro" and many others, Belvedere Palace, and the Sacher Hotel, home of the Cafe Sacher. The Cafe is the source of the Sachertorte, and was featured in films like Carol Reed’s “The Third Man” (with Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, & Trevor Howard... a true classic file), and many international TV shows. We went for lunch at the Naschmarkt, the biggest of Vienna’s 22 markets. It offered a fascinating blend of local and international markets, including places to eat, buy meats, seafood, vegetables and spices of all kinds. Of course, Tony & Julia and Karen & I had lunch of local cuisine sitting al fresco at a small cafe. It was a another great time!

Below: The room in the Hofburg Palace complex where we enjoyed the concert, and Andrea Olah, one of the Sopranos, performing a solo:
Hofburg Palace Soprano
Below: Famous Vienna Cafe Sacher, and Tony & Julia (and me in the back) perusing the Vienna Market:
Cafe Sacher Market

To view a brief video clip (6:25 duration) of the Vienna part of the trip (with a few places out of sequence - sorry), please click here. This clip takes quite a while to load (76 mb), and you must have the ability to view an “mpeg-4” video (.m4v). If you don’t have an m4v viewer or plug-in, Apple offers a free QuickTime plug-in for most browsers at Apple QuickTime download site.

6. Bratislava, Slovakia

We stopped on the way from Vienna to Budapest to hop on a bus for a ride to Bratislava, Slovakia, where we spent an afternoon. Our tour gave us a perspective of the town and its history, and an appreciation of its shops and market squares, but we only saw the most beautiful parts of the city when we toured on our own. Bratislava is an interesting mix of old and new. The old city is a delight to explore for an afternoon, and the new is represented by the spectacular Tower Bridge (not pictured here). Throughout the old city, one finds a series of very querky statues, like the one pictured below. It is impossible to not be mesmerized by and and at the same time to laugh at this artwork. It was worth the one-hour drive through Slovakia to see Bratislava, which is a little clean-up away from being a very charming tourist destination.

Below: St. Michaels Gate and Tower as seen from an Old Town street, and a park meandering through the new town:
St. Michaels Bratislava park
Below: Cumil “The Watcher” statue (which has a “Man at Work” sign), and a street scene:
Cumil the Watcher Bratislava Street

To view a brief video clip (3:49 duration) of the Bratislava part of the trip (with a few places out of sequence - sorry), please click here. This clip takes quite a while to load (46 mb), and you must have the ability to view an “mpeg-4” video (.m4v). If you don’t have an m4v viewer or plug-in, Apple offers a free QuickTime plug-in for most browsers at Apple QuickTime download site.

7. Budapest, Hungary

Someday we will return to Budapest. Does that help to describe what we thought of our time there? Though we toured with a guide and then explored on our own and with our friends, we simply did not have time to begin to see all that Budapest offers.

The charm started as we sailed into the heart of Budapest and docked on the Pest side (the flat side of the city, toward the East). The Buda side is on the west, and is the hilly portion of the city, which began as two cities (Buda and Pest, of course!), and which came together in 1873 as the capital of Hungary. Remember that earlier I mentioned Maria Theresa, the Empress of the Austro-Hungarian Empire? Her predacessors in the Hapsburg Empire, 100 years earlier, took what is Hungary from the Turks in 1686, in battles that leveled both towns. Budapest has a long and interesting history.

One of the stunning experiences we had was a tour of the Országház, the Parliament Building. We got to see the Deputy Council Chambers (the legislative chambers), and everything else in a very intimate tour. The Parliament is the largest building in Hungary and the largest parliamentary building in Europe. It was finished in 1904. It is Neo-Gothic, with more than 200 statues on the outer walls.

Below: The Parliament building, and a view of the spectacular entering staircase, which is a preamble to the magnificense of the building:
Parliament Building Parliament staircase
Below: The majestic interior hallways of the Parliament, and an example of the many exterior statues on the building:
Parliament Majestic Interior Parliament exterior statues
Below: The Deputy Council Chambers (legislature), and the desks in the chamber with voting buttons:
Parliament chamber Chamber desks

Our “Budapest Walking Discovery of National Treasures and Delights” was just as advertised. We toured the Nagycsarnok (Central Market Hall), with its unending stalls of fresh veggies and meats, and got free samples along the way. Karen and I stopped at a spice shop and bought both mild and hot paprika to bring home. As an aside, I have made the classic Hungarian dish, Chicken Paprikash, several times using that paprika. Yumm! It brings back the memories of the food in Budapest every time, and it reminds us of Julia, who we met on the River Beatrice and became friends with, and who is of Hungarian descent.

Below: Two street scenes demonstrating the beauty and charm of Budapest:
Charming street shopping scene
Below: Budapest Central Market Hall (where we bought Paprika), and an old Soviet Skoda still driven:
Central Market Hall Soviet Skoda

We walked from the boat to Széchenyi Chain Bridge and crossed it and walked through Adam Clark Square to the Castle Hill Funicular, which is locally called “Budavári Sikló”. At the top of the funicular, we toured Budavári Palota (Buda Castle), an enormous and spectacular castle that was built originally in the thirteenth century, destroyed when the Christians battled the Turks, and then rebuilt by Maria Theresa in about 1760. We then watched the changing of the guards, and toured the Baroque homes and shops found in the Castle District.

Below: Castle Hill from the boat, and the funicular which we took:
Castle Hill from the boat Funicular to Castle Hill
Below: Chuck on Castle Hill, overlooking the Pest side, and Karen from that view:
Chuck on Castle Hill Karen with a view of Pest side
Below: Changing of the guard, and a Castle Hill street:
Changing of the guard Castle Hill street

All in all, Budapest is a wonderful place to visit, and it requires more time to do it right. So, we will come back.

To view a brief video clip (10:31 duration) of the Budapest part of the trip (with a few places out of sequence - sorry), please click here. This clip takes quite a while to load (126 mb), and you must have the ability to view an “mpeg-4” video (.m4v). If you don’t have an m4v viewer or plug-in, Apple offers a free QuickTime plug-in for most browsers at Apple QuickTime download site.

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February, 2013, in Barton Creek, Austin, Texas

We traveled to Austin, Texas, with our good friends Mike and Diane to play some golf and just relax away from the blues of winter. We stayed at the Barton Creek Resort and Spa, just outside of Austin. We played plenty of golf, playing the three courses of Barton Creek: Fazio Foothills, then Fazio Canyon, and finally, Pamer Lakeside. They are, of course, named for the course designers. Foothills is Barton Creek’s signature golf course, a beauty of a course designed by Tom Fazio. The architectural layout features dramatic cliff-lined fairways, natural limestone caves, waterfalls, and Bermuda greens - a course with no lack of challenge.

Below: A view from the Barton Creek Resort and Spa:
Barton Creek
Below: Karen, Mike & Diane at dinner at Verde’s, and the group on the course:
Karen, Mike, & Diane The group

Fazio Canyon is two miles from the resort, and is a 7,153 yard par 72 course with some very challenging holes, in the opinion of this bogey golfer. Palmer Lakeside is perched on a secluded hilltop overlooking Lake Travis, 25 miles west of the Resort. Palmer Lakeside is a hidden retreat that rewards golfers with a striking, panoramic lake view - but because of the severe drought that Texas has been experiencing, the lake is about 1/2 empty. Oh, well.

Below: the Fazio Hillside, the Fazio Canyons, and The Palmer Lakeside courses:
Fazio Foothills
Fazio Foothills
Palmer Lakeside

The highlight of the trip for me was a visit to see my Uncle John and my cousins and their families. As anyone who knows me well understands, Uncle John is my favorite person and has been a role model for me. It was an extraordinary gift to have the opportunity to visit him on this trip. He is doing very well, thank you.

Have I mentioned the meals? Well, Austin is known to be a “foodie” town, and deserves that rap. We ate at Uchiko Japanese Farmhouse for a truly unique experience. The menu is like a Japanese version of Tapas, wherein you order a series of small plates of sushi and composed dishes. They are all delicious and sometimes you just do not know what to anticipate. The chef/owner is Tyson Cole, 2011 James Beard Best Chef Southwest award winner.

We also dined at County Line on the Hill for some legendary Texas BBQ. Located in an old Speakeasy, the BBQ lived up to its reputation. We had to try some TexMex, so we went to Verde’s Mexican Parrilla. The Mexican food was wonderful, and the Margueritas were superb. The place is informal, with a focus on fun, having some outdoor games on the patio. We also dined at PappaDeaux Seafood Kitchen for a change from the heat of TexMex and BBQ.

All in all, a great trip with good friends, a visit with my favorite relatives, fun golf, good food, and a break from our Northeast winter weather. What more can I ask?

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October, 2012, in Indian Wells, California

Karen participated in a panel and gave a talk at a health care convention in Indian Wells, CA, which is next to Palm Springs. I was fortunate enough to travel with her, and we had a great time there, and then went from that desert location to the central coast and visited my sister at her home in Carpenteria, near Santa Barbara.

While Karen “slaved away” at her meeting, I played golf at Mission Hills Country Club in Palm Springs, then twice at the Indian Wells courses. It was about 102º while I played, but the courses were beautiful, as was the scenery of the area (desert and mountains in the distance). After golf, I lounged by or in the massive pool, served with a cool drink and awaited that evening’s fine dinner. Tough life, eh?

A view from the pool, and from our room:
A view from Indian Wells The view from our room

Just me, relaxed, at Indian Wells:
Chuck at Indian Wells

My sister, Nina, and her husband, Art, with me at the yacht club, and with Karen from the scenic Carpenteria Court House tower:
Nina, Art, and me Art, Nina, and Karen

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August/September, 2012, in New England

Karen and I had a great driving tour of New England, stopping at her parents’ place in Connecticut, thent o Newport, Rhode Island, and finally to New Hampshire. It was a great time of the year, not quite the dramatic Fall color explosion, but still beautiful warm weather.

In Newport we stayed at the Marriott and looked over the yacht basin and part of the town, pictured below. We could walk to all the sights, and did (for the most part). We took a trip on the catamaran “Privateer”, pictured below. We also took a tour boat that guided us through many scenic and historic places, with a running description by the boat’s captain.

View of harbor from our room Privateer catamaran

While in Newport, of course we toured the famous mansions, which were outrageous displays of ostentatiousness:

One of Newport's fmous mansions Part of the mansion's garden

In Newport we did the beautiful Cliff Walk, and on the way to New Hampshire, We stopped at a car shop that dealt exclusively with restored British sports cars. The car picutred is a 1959 Austin Healey 100/6, which was the model of the first car I bought (mine was black):

Chuck and Karen on the Cliff Walk I was wowed by a restored Austin Healy, like I had once owned.

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August, 2012, in Uniontown, PA for my High School Reunion

In August of 2012 my 1962 Uniontown High School class held its 50th reunion at Uniontown Country Club. It was a great pleasure to get back together with many of my high school acquaintances, re-live our experiences (and “enhanced” experiences), and also hear about their lives since high school. I am proud to have known and personally benefited from my growing up with these fine people.

Below is a photo of part our golf outing group. L to R: Don, Art, me, Frank, Randy, Don, and Joe. It was a great day of golf - even if it wasn’t great golf, if you know what I mean.
Reunion Golf Group

The class photo, taken before the reunion dinner:
Uniontown High School Class of 1962

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February/March, 2012, in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

We vacationed at the fabulous Paradisus Palma Real Resort on the far eastern shore ("La Altagracia" region) of the Dominican Republic this winter. We made it an "all included" vacation, so that meals, drinks, transportation, activities of all kinds, entertainment, and so on were all included in one price. We stayed in a top-floor room with a view of the ocean, overlooking a garden from our balcony. The room itself was a suite, really, with a great bathroom (jacuzzi, shower, and all), and a canopy bed with netting. We had an HDTV, fridge that was restocked every day, and a bar withall booze included.

We flew on USAirways' A320s both ways, direct and in select seating. We had leather seats with the middle row empty, so we had a very comfortable ride. A brief wait on the transportation and then 20 minutes to the resort. Driving into the property was a revelation, with beautiful tropical gardens all along the entrance road, but we were still stunned by the resort itself.

We were greeted by our personal consierge, Alvarro Castillo, who arranged all of our meals and made whatever plans we needed taken care of. We were quickly accustomed to the place, and set out to explore and enjoy. And we did!

The architecture was a beautiful combination of Romanesque lobbies of travetine and island palapas (thatched roofs). The beach was very wide and featured a fine, white sand and beautiful multi-colored water with only mild waves. Each day we had a private palapa with beach lounges and with beach service delivering any drinks we might want (included in the resort price). Between the beach and the resort hotel was a massive swimming pool and georgeous tropical gardens.

Following are some photos:

The lobby upon entering Palma Real:
Lobby, through to ocean view Lobby view
A view of our suite and a view from the balcony:
Our room View from the balcony
Karen on the balcony, and some flamingos in a garden by the lobby:
Karen on Deck Flam\ingos
The beach, looking north, and a view of the palapas as you approach the beach from the pool:
Beach looking north Palapas
A view from the golf course at Cocotal, and part of Palma Real's swimming pool:
Golf course at Cocotal A view of part of the pool
The view from breakfast, and Chuck at the table:
Breakfast scene Chuck

We played golf two days at Cocotal, a course that is walking distance from The Paradisis Palma Real Resort where we stayed. Getting there was even easier, however, in that a golf cart "limo" picked us up and brought us back. Beautiful day, great time. It did rain when we got to hole 17 the second time we played. It was actually not a problem. Very little rain, came and went fast. Mostly warm, mild, with a bit of wind.

We ate at a different restaurant in the resort almost every evening. The food was good, not great, but enjoyable. The servcie was very good and they always kept your glass full... whatever you drank. We ate at Bana (Asian fusion & Teppenyaki), Gabi Beach (seafood), Vento (Italian), Market Grill, and Hydra Grill (which we liked the best). We ate breakfast and lunch at the Gabi Beach, Market Grill, or Naos... Naos mostly, and it was a great buffet.

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September, 2011, in Provence, France

In September of 2011, we (Karen and I) were joined by our very good friends Pete and Dorothy for a trip to and through Provence, France. The joint travel with people with whom we are so sympatico and of whom we are so fond made the vacation a pleasure from start to end. We spend a good bit of time with them throughout the year, so we were well-acquanted prior to the trip.

Below: Pete and Dorothy, and Chuck and Karen, taken in Provence (do we look happy, or what?):
Pete and Dorothy in Provence Chuck and Karen in Provence

We flew through Frankfurt to Marseilles, France, and then drove about an hour and a half through Provence to Viason La Romaine, a beautiful town. From the town’s website: “Located in the Haut-Vaucluse region, near the main motorway running through the Rhône area and the cities it serves, Vaison-la-Romaine is lucky enough to be situated between the Alps and the Mediterranean. The town lies nestling in lush, fertile countryside and invites you to share in its heritage, celebrations and commercial activities, along with its well-preserved authenticity and lifestyle.” Every word is true. We were charmed by the town and by our hotel, Le Fete en Provence, with 12 rooms and a sumptuous restaurant. We had to climb a steep staircase up a silo shaped stone structure to our room, which was surprisingly large and with a large bathroom. The hotel was in an ancient stone structure on a cobblestone street of other such structures. Looking at each, one could see the century upon centure rework, additions, and maintenance layers of mostly stone. It is both charming and alluring.

Below: The entrance to our hotel, and the street view when looking back from the entrance:
Hotel La Fete en Provence Street view near our hotel

The region is very rural and agricultural, and is full of scenic medieval-era villages. We spent our first days touring the villages of Crestet, Suzette, Gigondas, Sablet, and Seguret.

Below: Town center scene, and lunch al fresco in Gigondas:
Town center scene lunch in Gigondas

We took a little drive to Pont du Gard to view the ancient Roman Aquaducts. The are still amazing - the quality of Roman engineering is not surpassed, in my view. We were permitted to climb and to walk the aquaducts... what an experience!

Below: The Roman Aquaducts at Pont du Gare:
Roman Aquaducts Chuck relaxing and enjoying the scenery

We drove an 50 or 60 kilometers south of Viason La Romaine to St. Remy to stay at the fabulous Chateau de Roussan (no link - now closed). The approach to the chateau was down a beautiful lane lined with walls of tall trees with a view of the front of the chateau. We had a huge room with all the amenities. This was in an ideal location, where we could walk into St. Remy downtown.

Below: The lane to the Chateau; and the Chateau de Roussan:
Lane to the Chateau Chateau

Below: Part of our room at the Chateau; and Pete & Dorothy walking to town:
Room Walking to town

The last full day at St. Remy, we drove into Arles, enjoying the ambiance and the twists of the city. At one point we got lost and drove in circles and ended up at a street with a big post in the center of the street to block it off. This was a common traffic control, and I was at a loss as to what to do. We finally manuvered out of the situation. We settled in for a lunch and, of course, some local wines at a local cafe with tables in an open square. Life is good.

Below: Pete and Dorothy enjoying their wine:
Pete enjoying a glass of wine Dorothy enjoying a glass of wine
Below: Chuck and Karen enjoying their wine:
Chuck enjoying a glass of wine Karen enjoying a glass of wine

That last evening in St. Remy we had dinner at La Table de Roussan at the Chateau.

There was so much more to report on this trip. I hope to complete this report soon.

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February/March, 2010, in Grand Cayman Island

Our Winter vacation this year was to the Cayman Islands, where we stayed at the Marriott Beach Resort on Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman. The hotel was very nice and the location was great. We walked a lot of places, especially on the beach. Karen (and not Chuck) walked w-a-y up Seven Mile Beach, while Chuck hot-tubbed and/or read on a lounge chair looking out over the waves.

One of the unexpected pleasures of our trip was the high quality of the food. Every meal that we had was at least very good, and many were out-and-out excellent. Our first night, after checking in, we walked up the beach to The Reef Grill, where we sat upstairs. We overlooked the beach and watched the sunset, while we had a very good dinner. I might add that during the entire week I had seafood every single day. Yummy! Our next evening was at Luca, a totally wonderful and romantic place. We sat at a table overlooking the Infinity Pool, the view of which ended looking over the beach to the beautiful sunset (again!). Perfect service, perfect food, perfect view, perfect date. The next night we ate at a more local place, Chicken Chicken. {Note that I had fish for lunch after golf at The Britannia course.} The chicken and sides were very good and inexpensive. We followed that with a dinner at The Cracked Conch, and it was spectacular in both view, service, and food. Yes, I had the cracked conch and it was a delicious appetizer. Next we dined at Fidel Murphy’s Irish Pub, where I had a perfect Guinness pour and great fish ’n chips. Finally, we finished our dining week at the spectacular Osetra Bay. This is a beautiful, beautiful restaurant, bar, and lounge located on the West Bay side, in Morgans Harbour. Karen and I both had the Crab Crusted Grouper as our main course, and it was as good a fish course as I've ever had. We started with different salads and a bottle of Champagne. What a wonderful evening to end our week.

But wait, there is more! As I inferred, we played nine holes of golf at The Brittannia and eighteen holes at The North Sound Club. At each club we were amazed to find literally hundreds of iquanas, some very large Green Iquanas, and some more modest in size. Good thing that they are vegetarians. We also encounted chickens roaming everywhere, including the courses. And you should know that the island is the home of the world’s only turtle farm. The courtyard of the Marriott featured turtles and iquanas roaming around, plus birds of all kindes. We also talked with a parrot, who says to tell you “Hello”.

Saving the very best for last in this little travelogue, we took a boat ride to Sting Ray City, and then to snorkle at a coral reef. I cannot exagerate how clear the water was, and the experience of playing with the sting rays (yes, playing!). They were gentle, brushing against you like St. Bernard puppies would. They are very large, and I actually fed them some squid several times. They come up to you, lift the top of their “face” out of the water, and you present the squid and they suck it out of your hand. Their eyes are looking right at you and they are right in your face. I held one up for a while. Like I said, they are very gentle and used to the humans. And they like their calamari. We snorkled for a while and little fish swam all around us. But the water! Clear, aqua, calm, and warm. This is a “do not miss” experience. Photos below:

Sunset from our balcony Big waves at our beach
Karen on our balcony Chuck reading in the courtyard
Karen swinging through Chuck on the golf course
Large Green Iquana Sting Ray Island
Cruise ships at Georgetown From the air

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August/September, 2009, in Quebec City

We decided to take a “mini-vacation” this Fall, and our choice was Quebec City. Quebec is probably the finest city in North America in terms of charm, pleasant European lifestyle, beauty, cleanliness, safety, and historical interests. Quebec is unique (I know it is an over-used word, but appropriate in this case). It feels French in all the positive ways, and yet has its own charm and friendliness. Not too far away, at least for those of us in the NE USA, yet a world apart from what we are used to. We had a truly wonderful vacation.

We stayed in the unbelievably beautiful, 4-star rated Le Chateau Frontenac. Our room included a section in the top of a turret, which had window views looking up/down and directly over the great St. Lawrence River.

Le Chateau Frontenac - Our Room

We ate at Aux Anciens Canadiens, built in 1677, and had caribou and quail in this ultra-charming place. You can find any cuisine that you seek in Quebec, and the restaurants are uniformly excellent. We walked along Upper Town's quaint streets and along the boardwalk by the Frontenac, overlooking the St. Lawrence river. We took a ferry across the river to Lévis for lunch. We walked through Lower Town streets, visiting museums, shops, and the farmer's market. We walked the historic Plains of Abraham, toured the fortifications around the walled city, watched a parade, and visited the falls at Montmorency. All in all - you must visit this place.

Aux Anciens Canadiens Karen on Deck overlooking the St. Lawrence

Quant Street Standing Guard

Parade Montmorency Falls

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September/October, 2008, in Italy

We traveled once again to Italy this Fall, this time with our good friends Peter and Dorothy as travel companions. We started out in Tuscany, staying in Montepulciano in a truly wonderful small hotel, Meublé Il Riccio. The Meublé is run by the Caroti family, headed by Giorgio and Ivana. They have six rooms and with Karen & me and Peter & Dorothy, we had one third of the capacity. The place is many centuries old, extraordinarily charming, and perfectly positioned in the spectacularly beautiful Montepulciano in the Sienna region of central Italy.

We toured the Tuscana and Umbria regions, touring a number of towns... each more beautiful, historic, and absolutely charming than the last. These included Pienza, Bagno Vignola, Chiusi, Montalcino, and a trip in to Firenze (Florence). In Firenze, we toured through the city, viewing such local treasures as Santa Maria del Fiore (the Duomo), the spectacular statues in the Piazza Della Signoria, the famous Ponte Vecchio, and Giardino di Bobali (Bobali Gardens). Throughout, we drank the local wines, luxored in the local cuisine, and did I mention that we drank the local wines. Fantastico!

Below: Tuscany from to rooftop terrace of Meuble Il Riccio, and dinner the last night in Tuscany:
Tuscany from Montepulciano Dinner in Montepulciano

From there we drove south past Roma to the Amalfi coast, staying in mega-beautiful Positano. One cannot imagine how wonderful the place is without having been there. We took a ferry to the Isle of Capri and toured the island. Karen and I took the Funicular (like a ski chairlift) to the top of Capri and like everyone who arrives there, our first words were "omigod". Unbelievable views, of Capri, the Mediterranean, Mount Vesuvius on the mainland, the Amalfi coastline, the tiny islands surrounding Capri... everything. We took a ride in a very small powerboat along the coast to the the town of Amalfi, stopping along the way to tour water caves carved into the coastline. We saw the homes of the "rich and famous", like Sofia Loren, Rudolf Nureyev, Franco Zeffirelli, and so on. And again, we ate the local cuisine and drank the local wines. Life is good. Very good.

Below: We stayed in Hotel Pasetea in Positano, and the view from our room:
Hotel Pasetea in Positano View from our Room

Below: The Italian Coastline from the Top of Capri, and Karen and me on Capri (Mt Vesuvius Seen in Back Right):
Italian Coastline from Capri (Mt Vesuvius on the Right) Karen and me on top of the Isle of Capri

We spent the end of our days in Italy in Roma (Rome), staying near the heart of the city. We bought an open pass for one of the open-top touring buses that constantly provide guided tours. We'd get on and off and see a site and then on/off to another. We saw many of the sights we've seen before (see our 2003 trip to Italy), but they are just a amazing. And we had a final dinner near the Spanish Steps.

All in all, a wonderful adventure with very good friends.

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February/March, 2007, in Hawaii

We completed a spectacular vacation of two weeks in the Hawaii islands, staying on Maui, Kauai, and Oahu. If you can do it, I'd recommend that you go there at least once in your life. The views are, well, spectacular, and the people are absolutely charming, helpful, and friendly. The accommodations are excellent and the food is great, especially if you like seafood and fresh fruits and veggies.

We flew to and from Honolulu on USAir (mostly on their America West planes/routes, recently merged in). We flew First Class all the way, thanks to accumulated Dividend Miles points, and the total airfare cost us a total of $10. From Honolulu, we flew on Aloha Airlines between islands. The whole trip, from home to back home, was a flawless adventure. Our checked baggage was always promptly delivered, onboard meals were good, service was excellent, and everything was on-time, or very close to it. We had no complaints regarding travel. The same thing could be said about accommodations. Every place we stayed was excellent, and I'll talk about each place as we go along.

We flew through Phoenix to Honolulu and then on to Maui, where we stayed at Ho'oilo House, perhaps the finest bed-and-breakfast we have had the pleasure of seeing. Our hosts were Amy and Dan, and our stay there was excellent in every way. You've got to see this place, and it is located just outside of Lahaina in the beautiful hills. Our backdrop were the mountains, and our view was the blue pacific with the island of Molokai in the background. Our first day was spent driving our Mustang convertible north to the Kaanapali coast and beyond. We ate lunch at the gorgeous Kapalua Golf course's Plantation House, and we spent the afternoon sunning and swimming on Fleming Beach in Kaanapali. That night we had dinner at Kimo's in Lahaina, overlooking the sun setting in the Pacific.

Below: Ho'oilo House, with the mountains of Maui as a backdrop, and Ho'oilo House View, with Molikai Island in the background
Ho'oilo House Ho'oilo House View

The next day we played the Bay Course at Kapalua, where we had a great time playing and enjoying the spectacular views of the coastline. After lunch at the Bay Course, we drove down to the Wailea area to Ulua Beach, next to the Renaissance Wailea Beach Resort. We played for a long time in the clear waters with great and continuous surf.

The next morning we drove the famous "Road to Hana", making breathtaking stops along the way. Waterfalls, primeval forest, cliffs, and a winding road that'll keep you on your toes, and especially, views that will knock your socks off. The drive takes most of the day (at least), but is well worth the experience. When we got back, we had dinner on the rooftop Lahaina Oyster Bar and Grill. The next day we did the beach at Kaanapali again, and had lunch at Canoes in Lahaina, overlooking the water. While at the beach, we saw humpback whales, lots of them, as they moved along the island. They'd spray as they breathed, giving away that there was a whale there, and then they'd breach the water. We lounged around much of the PM at Ho'oilo House and then went to the Feast at Lele for a tremendously enjoyable luau. If you haven't experienced a Hawaiian luau, you have missed a very entertaining (and appetite-pleasing) evening.

Below: View from The Road to Hana, and Karen on The Road to Hana
View from the Road to Hana Karen on the Road to Hana

On Sunday, we drove around the North Shore to the airport. Now that doesn't sound too exciting, but if you think that you haven't been on that road. It is largely one lane, unpaved at times, and traverses cliffs overlooking the water. The views are, again, spectacular, and the drive is treacherous at times. We stopped for a herd of donkeys to pass, and once backed up so another car could navigate through. But we wouldn't have missed it. At the end, stopped at Kanaha Kai to watch some kite surfing. Then we flew to Kauai.

In Kauai we stayed at the Poipu Sheraton Beach Resort, with a room overlooking the water. We had an excellent dinner at Shell's in the hotel, and then watched another beautiful Pacific sunset. On Monday, after breakfast at Joe's, overlooking the Kiahuna Golf Course. Then we did it... we took the Blue Hawaii helicopter tour of Kauai! Neither Karen nor I have ever experienced anything nearly as spectacular as this flight. The helicopter takes you where you otherwise cannot go, with views you cannot otherwise see. We saw so many mountain peaks with dense vegitation and thousands of waterfalls. We flew into the Olokele Volcano, which last erupted 400,000 years ago. Olokele has since eroded into two main peaks: Kawaikini (5,243 ft) and Mt. Wai`ale`ale (5,148 ft), and we flew over them, as well. We saw a 4,000 ft waterfall... and a dozen more of 2,000 ft or more. We flew along the Napali Coast. Kauai is over 5.5 million years old and is made up of eroding lava. It is lush and beautiful everywhere, and in its center mountains, it gets between 600 and 700 inches of rain per year (the wettest place on the planet). It has only 55,000 residents, and is relatively undeveloped, except for the resorts and plantations. You see all of this and more from the helicopter. If you would like to see clips from the DVD made during the helicopter tour, there are three from 6 to 12 minutes each you can select any of these:

Below: A view from our room on Poipu Beach, and A blowhole in the lava rocks near our resort at Poipu Beach:
A view from our room on Poipu Beach Blowhole near our resort
Below: The Napali Coast, as seen from the Helicopter:
Napali Coast

After the exhilerating ride, we ate dinner at Duke's in Kalapaki, watching the surfers in the evening glow. The next day we rested at the beach, right at our resort. The beach was pure white sand, clear waters, and continuous surf... pretty big surf. It was a blast! We could lay on the sand, in a lounge on the sand, in a lounge on the grass by the sand, by the pool overlooking the beach, ... you get the picture. That evening we opted for Chinese at Yum Cha at the Poipu Bay Golf Course. That evening, as we sat on our balcony having a drink, we spotted more humpback whales. What a view... the sun setting and whales in the foreground. Breathtaking.

Below: A Kauai Sunset... one every night! And Lighthouse on the North Shore; you can see the whales and the view is spectacular
Kauai Sunset Kauai Lighthouse

On Wednesday we played the Kiahuna Golf Course in the morning. Karen had woken up with a cold, but we still really enjoyed playing. It is an easy course, I must say, and there is currently a lot of home construction going on around the course. It "rained" (a mist) for the first hole, but otherwise it was a great round of golf. Rain is like that in Kauai... many days a mild mist or slight rain comes and then is gone in no time. It doesn't cause any interruption. After golf, we drove to the North Shore, stopping at a great Thai place for lunch: Mema in Kapaa. The North Shore offers such places as Hanalei Bay. There is a fabulous course course and resort called Princeville, where we stopped to tour. Next time we come, we'll play that course.

On Thursday, we beached at the resort in the AM, and then drove to the Waimea Canyon in the PM. Later, we went to dinner at the utterly beautiful Plantation Gardens for dinner. On Friday, we beached again, then flew to Honolulu. In Hololulu we opted for the "Express Shuttle" to the Marriott Beach Resort on Waikiki Beach. The shuttle was the single bad choice on our entire trip, and we got to see every damn hotel on Waikiki before we got to the Marriott. That evening we made up for it by having sushi at Sensei, followed by a walk on Waikiki.

Below: Diamondhead, as seen from our corner room. We also had another balcony overlooking Wiakiki Beach

On Saturday we toured the Pearl Harbor Memorial. We toured the International Market, ate Chinese there, and then lounged at the Marriott's pool for the afternoon. We had a scenic sunset dinner at the Hula Grill at the Outrigger. On Sunday, we lazed all day getting some sun, and then went to the airport for our all-nighter back home. All in all, a fabulous trip.

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May, 2006, in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

We went to Puerto Vallarta to attend my niece Sue Taylor's wedding (she is my sister's daughter) to Chris Pilarski. We stayed in a beautiful hotel (the Presidente Intercontinental), located between Puerto Vallarta and Mismaloya, which is a little south of Puerto Vallarta.

Chuck & Karen at Puerto Vallarta

We had a great time at the wedding and all of the surrounding events. It was a pleasure seeing the family and meeting Chris and Susie's friends. Chris is a pilot for Air West, and Susie is a family practice physician in Malibu and is a professor at UCLA. If you would like to see a ten-minute video of our trip to Puerto Vallarta, including the wedding, click here. (Note that it takes a few seconds to load the video - be patient!) (Note: All of the videos on this page were created using the "Ken Burns" effect, popularized on Discovery Channel in his epic Civil War pieces and his baseball piece.)

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April, 2005, in Paris, Burgandy, & Rhône-Alpes, France

Karen and I went to France in April of 2005 to tour. We celebrated our anniversary in Paris at a dinner at Jacques Cagna's wonderful restaurant on rue des Grands Augustine, near our hotel, L'Hotel on rue des Beaux-Arts. Best dining experience ever. We also dined at some other wonderful establishments, like Guy Savoy's Les Bouquinistes, Jacques Francois on nuits St Georges, Le Bounty Brasserie, and on and on. We had wonderful Champagnes, Burgundies, Pomards, and you-name-it. In Paris, we toured the Louve, saw Mona and Venus of course, and Notre Dame. On several occasions as we looked at our maps, people would come to us and ask if we needed help or directions. We encountered only the best of hospitality from everyone with whom we had contact. At Notre Dame, for example, a mature Parisian stopped us and said she had something interesting to show us... a secret. She took us to a panel sculpture on the side of the building. She told us the story of a man trying to get to Mary Magdalene's body as her casket was being carried to her tomb, and his hands were cut off. Sure enough, on the sculpture we saw two unattached hands on the casket and a man lying at the foot of a procession without his hands. She was very entertaining and she just wanted these two tourists to gain some greater appreciation of the site. Such were the people we met. If you would like to see a twelve-minute video of our trip to France, click here. (Note that it takes a few seconds to load the video - be patient!)

Below: We are at Notre Dame in Paris, and at the Deaux Maggots:
Chuck and Karen at Notre Dame in Paris   Chuck and Karen at Deux Maggots

Our tours included the Eiffel Tower, the Arc D'Triomphe, the gardens of the Teulleries, St. Chapelle, and we crossed the Seine every day from our L'Hotel in St. Germain on the Riv Gauche. We had cafe latte at Deaux Maggots, the cafe widely known for the intellectuals such as Jean Paul Satre who dined there. We stayed in Paris four days, and then took the SNCF from Paris Gare Lyon to Lyon Perrache (just train stations, but they sound so nice, don't they?).

Below: St. Chapelle Interior in Paris, and Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in the Louve:
St.  Chapelle Interior in Paris Mona Lisa in the Louve

In Lyon we stayed at Cour des Loges, a beautiful hotel in a connected cluster of buildings built in the 13th & 14th centuries. Our room had a garden (see photos). We loved Lyon, and had a fine meal at Pierre Orsi. You have to talk with Pascal Nabat, the Maitre d'Hotel there. Both Jacques Cagna and Pascal Nabat spoke with us extensively about Georges Perrier, who of course is famous for Le Bec Fin and other Fine Philadelphia establishments. We also dined at Le Palais Saint Jean near our hotel, and a small restaurant, Proseca. The small restaurants are generally called "Bouchons". The specialties of local gastronomy include Quenelles (almost like an omelet with more substance based on fish), Gratons (a fried pork), Cervelle de Canuts ('cervelle' means brains and Canuts were the old silk workers of Lyon, but is just cheese and spices), and of course, andouilettes (sausages made of tripes - cow intestines). Don't try the Andouilettes unless you are adventuresome; I did and would have preferred something else. Oh, and the wines! I dwell on the dining only because Lyon is the capital of French gastronomy.

Below: Karen in the garden by our room at Cour De Loge in Lyon, and a view of the Lyon Open Air Market:
Karen in the garden by our room at Cour De Loge in Lyon Lyon Open Air Market

We walked through the Traboules (like tunnels through ancient houses), we took the Fanicular (tram) up to the Fourviere (a cathedral with a great view of the city), we toured the ancient Roman ruins in Lyon, wondered at the brilliant combination of the very old, the old, and the new in the buildings and continued use of streets, etc. We wandered around Lyon on both sides of the Saone River. Lyon is built among the Saone and Rhone rivers, like Philadelphia is built between the Schuylkill and the Delaware rivers.

We drove from Lyon to Beaune. Actually, we toured a number of villages along the way, taking small roads instead of highways. We went to Cluny and toured what was once the center of the Catholic empire, where four successive Popes lived. It is a fascinating assembly of 12th and 13th century buildings. We had an enormously pleasant lunch on the square. Driving from Cluny we passed so many beautiful villages, stopping from time to time. In Beaune we stayed at the very best hotel I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing: Le Cep on rue Maufoux. Jean-Claude Bernard is the manager, and he runs a truly magnificent place.

Below: Chuck at Cluny, and a church wall example in Cluny:
Chuck at Cluny Church wall example in Cluny

While in Beaune we toured the wonderful wine region, including a stop in Dijon. There we toured the Palace Ducal, where the Duke of Burgundy lived and is entombed. We stopped for lunch in Fixin, a tiny village in the midst of vineyards, where we dined at Napoleon, an ancient and beautiful little restaurant that I'm sure tourists rarely find. We had a grand meal of Boeuf Bourguignon, a local specialty. Too good. We then toured Clos du Vougeot, a spectacular ancient winery amidst the vineyards. No longer in operation, it has 13th century wine presses that you cannot believe unless you see them. A beautiful chateau or castle, whichever it is. You should try the wines of Clos du Vougeot. Or the Pommards. Or, oh you get the picture. At the bar at Le Cep, Monseur Bernard introduced us to Armagnac Veuve J. Goudoulin, a fine vintage brandy, that he mixed with a champagne. What a treat! Then he served us several trays of hors D'Oeurves that included little breads on which he toasted cheeses.

Below: Auxerre river scene, and the ancient Veougeot wine press:
Auxerre river scene the ancient Veougeot wine press

Finally we drove to Paris, but on smaller roads. We stopped at villages along the way, like Sussy, Avallon, and Auxerre. These were very pleasant (no so much Avallon), and we were overwhelmed by the beauty of the countryside. We stayed our last night in the Airport Hilton to kind of re-insert ourselves into our real world. We flew back through Frankfurt, the reverse of how we arrived. The whole trip was business class, courtesy of USAir Gold Preferred miles. We flew mostly Lufthansa, and the travel was extraordinarily pleasant.

Below: Typical scene driving near Sussy:
Farmland scene in Sussy

So much for France. We shall return. {editor’s note: We did return in the Fall of 2013 - see above}

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Other Travels

Summer, 2004, in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

Karen and I traveled to Barcelona in 2004, where I attended the International Interactive TV Conference. We were lucky enough to have been hosted by TNS personnel, who provided us with unmatched hospitality, touring, dining, and the use of a car, driver, and guide. It was a spectacular visit to a spectacular city. If you would like to see a seven-minute video of our trip to Barcelona, click here. (Note that it takes a few seconds to load the video - be patient!)

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Winter, 2003, in Paradise Island, The Bahamas

In the winter of 2003/04, we went to Atlantis, Paradise Island, The Bahamas. We have visited Cape Cod and Martha's Vinyard, Maine, Bermuda (Honemoon), San Diego & Mexico, San Francisco, Florida (many times... St. Pete/Isla del Sol, Orlando, ...), Baltimore Harbor, Annapolis, St. Michaels, Maryland, and Avalon at the Jersey Shore (several summers). In 2005 we visited Washington, DC, where we went to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, The National Gallaries, Lincoln Memorial, Smithsonian, Capital, South Garden of the White House, and the Smithsonian. That, plus fine dining, makes for a great trip.

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September, 2002, in Rome &Tuscany, Italy

We went to Rome in September, 2002, and we saw many scenes like those below for 12 days in Rome, Venice, Ravenna, and Tuscany. If you would like to see a twelve-minute video of our trip to Italy in 2002, click here. (Note that it takes a few seconds to load the video - be patient!)

Below: Treste Fountain (“3 coins”) in Rome, and Roma Antiqua (400BC-200AD) ruins near Rome:
Treste Fountain in Rome Roma Antiqua Scene
Below: Chuck on D'Ingheterra Balcony in Rome, and Karen in Tuscany Diabolo Vinyard
Chuck in Hotel Balcony in Rome Karen at Abergo Borgo Pretale<
Below: Karen in Tuscany Diabolo Vinyard
Karen In Tuscany Vinyard

We flew into Rome, stayed at Aberge D'Inghiterra near the Spanish Steps, & toured for three days. Then we trained to Venice and stayed just off St. Mark's Square, and toured two days. We drove to Ravenna for one overnight stay, and then drove through the mountains to Tuscany. We stayed close to Siena, in Sovicille, in a centuries-old farmhouse converted to a small resort called Abergo Borgo Pretale.

It and all of Tuscany was beautiful. We toured wineries, castles, and towns. The food and wine were peerless.

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Spring, 2002, in Washington, DC

Karen & I went to Washington, DC, in Spring of 2002 and toured all the sites: capital, Vietnam Vets, ...

Travel Picture

Prior trips are not documented herein. Sorry that you missed them.

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