The decision was made earlier in the year that we would have a friends reunion at Tom and Sarah Foster home outside Bozeman, MT. Those making the trip were Joyce Sheldon from Arkansas, Barb and Bill Knapp from northern California, Phil Sheldon from Wyoming, and Carol Patterson along with myself from Iowa. Joyce came to my house the night of Friday, July 5th. We spent Saturday having lunch with friends in Cedar Rapids, Mary and Larry Nelson; while at lunch, perspective buyers of my 1991 Mazda Miata were taking a test run. We ate at a new restaurant called Rodina’s in Czech Village and it was very good.
Since we were leaving early the next day for Phil’s in Gillette, WY. Carol spent the night at my place. There was nothing to note regarding our first day except lots of construction happening on I90; we arrived in Gillette about 6:00 p.m., checked into our rooms at the Best Western where we had reservations, Phil came to our hotel, and we had dinner at Wyoming’s Rib and Chop House a short distance from the hotel. Good food, good wine, and good conversation. It was a short evening with lights being out early; we planned on being on the road by 7:00 the next day.
On the road again; since he had to leave Fosters late Wednesday afternoon, Phil drove his own car and Joyce rode with him. While on the road, I got a message from the folks who test drove my Miata; they made an offer, I gave a counter offer, and the car was sold…what a relief! Because we were going to arrive around 12:30 or so in Bozeman, we contacted the Fosters to see if they wanted to meet for lunch which they thought was a great idea. We met up at Biankini’s right off of I90 in Bozeman. After lunch, we settled in at Fosters with Joyce and I taking the beds in the basement. The Knapps arrived around 5:00 p.m. Tom had fixed his famous BBQ ribs; after appetizers and a few drinks, we had dinner which included the sweet corn we had brought with us. It was so great to be together again!!
On Tuesday, the 9th, we went to the Museum of the Rockies located on the campus of Montana State University which resides not too far from the Fosters. It was an excellent day exploring the museum plus seeing a showing the first man to step on the Moon in the theater. We had lunch from a food truck outside the entrance. And I could not pass up visiting the museum gift shop although I did not make any purchase. That evening we had steaks that we had brought from Iowa. After dinner, we went to the Community Band concert in a local park; Carol’s brother, who lives in Bozeman, played the tuba in the band so it gave her an opportunity to visit briefly with him.
We ate breakfast out on Wednesday with Barb and Bill treating us at The Coffee Pot Cafe; as we waited for our orders, I journeyed thru the pottery shop that is part of the cafe and, of course, made a purchase of tiny bowls that go well with my dinnerware. After breakfast, the ladies shopped downtown while the men went to beer tastings at a couple local breweries. Good time was had by all! Phil took off about 3:30 or so to return to Gillette and, after our good byes, we sat outside on the patio visiting. That evening we had pizza at MacKenzie River Pizza Co; while there, I got a text from my brother who was in Bozeman picking up a new camping trailer. Bob and Linda were going to stay at the WalMart parking lot for the evening so, after we ate pizza, we went there to view their new trailer. Very nice and very big! Back at the Fosters, we visited for awhile and then departed for our respective rooms.
After a leisurely morning, we loaded into Carol’s van and headed to the Spanish Creek Trailhead which is part of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness; we were having a picnic lunch and taking a hike. It was a hot but beautiful day. The picnic was delicious and everyone, except Barb who was having some leg problems, went hiking. About mid-afternoon, we decided to head back to Bozeman but we stopped at Stacey’s Bar in Gallatin Gateway on the way for some liquid refreshment. That evening, after eating leftovers, the boys were busy in Tom’s workshop with the laser while the rest of us relaxed. However, for some reason, my stomach became quite upset and I rushed to Fosters bathroom but did not quite make it in time. After getting sick, I went to bed because of feeling very tired and weak; went to sleep quite early which was good because the next morning we were leaving quite early for home.
Got up at 5:00 a.m., got dressed, packed our luggage in our vehicle, gave everyone a good bye hug, and we were on our way back to Iowa by 5:30 a.m. That evening we checked into Baymont Inn and Suites at Oacoma, SD. After settling into our room, we walked to Al’s Oasis Restaurant which was located right next to our lodging. My stomach was feeling slightly off so had ordered a shrimp cocktail for my meal. After we ate, we ventured to the gift shop and grocery stores attached to the restaurant. At the grocery store, I purchased some food items for home the next day; this avoided my having to go food shopping once I got there. The drive on Saturday was uneventful with the major excitement was purchasing a blizzard at a Dairy Queen. Got home around 3:00 in the afternoon; after unloading our luggage, Carol took off for her home in Marion. Joyce was attending a conference in St. Louis but it did not start until Wednesday so she did not leave my place until after lunch on Tuesday. Good time was had by all and it was animous decision that we would meet again next year in Arkansas.
My sister-in-law, Sarah, arranged for me to join them for a
performance of the musical, Hamilton, in Chicago during May so I
decided to visit both sisters at their respective homes before
heading to Chicago. On Friday, May 17th, I left home
early in the morning to drive to sister-in-law, Lynda, and her
husband’s place outside Stryker, OH. Arrived at their place around
4:00 in the afternoon; the drive was uneventful and traffic not very
bad. That evening, Lynda fixed hamburgers on the grill; we spent the
evening catching up with each other’s lives. The next day we went
shopping in Defiance, OH. Because the weather was much colder than
the forecast had shown, I needed to purchase some warm clothing so
ended up finding a sweatshirt and pair of dressy knit pants. Lynda
had pulled a pair of jeans she was giving to Goodwill out of her box
and gave them to me. That evening, we ate at “Mom’s”
Restaurant in Archbold.
On Sunday, the 19th, we drove to Sarah and Mike’s place
in Adrian, MI. Once there, we loaded into their vehicle for a drive
to Chelsea, MI where we were having a family dinner at nephew, Jason,
home. What a beautiful home, nestled among the trees, with design
similar to Frank Lloyd Wright. It was an afternoon of delicious
food, and great conversations. We arrived back in Adrian around
5:15; Lynda and Jim left for their home while we drove to niece,
Jana’s, and her family home. Spent a couple hours talking to Jana,
Mark, and the kids. Went back to Sarah and Mike’s where we settled
in for the night.
The next day Sarah and I drove to a new garden nursery she had been
wanting to explore. After that, we drove into Tecumseh where we
visited a few shops, including one winery where I purchased a bottle
of local wine, and had lunch at a real cool place called British Tea
Garden. Once we arrived back in Adrian, Sarah and I walked the
downtown area where I saw many changes. We also stopped in the
Croswell Opera House, an historic theater, that Sarah and Mike
support; it is a beautiful place. Mike was playing on a golf league
so Sarah and I had pizza at the Pizza Bucket. Since we were leaving
early the next morning to catch a train in Jackson for downtown
Chicago, we got our bags organized and ready to go.
Early, early, early is the best way to describe the over hour drive to Jackson the next morning. Got on the train for downtown Chicago; because of some delay on the tracks, it took about 5 hours to get to Chicago’s downtown station. Upon arrival, we grabbed a taxi for a ride to the hotel, Hilton Garden Inn, that we had reserved. After checking in and taking luggage to our rooms, we met downstairs and walked to Grand Lux Cafe, a place Sarah and Mike had experienced before and really liked, for lunch. More walking familiarized us with the area. Back at the hotel, we got ready for the evening performance of the musical Hamilton. Before the performance, we met up with the gal who was raised in Adrian and worked at the supervisor of the Costume Department for the theater company; she was able to get us very good seats close to the stage. We met at the bar/restaurant, the Grillroom, across from the theater. After she left to get the cast ready for the performance, we stayed for a bite to eat. When it was time, we walked across the street to the theater where we experienced a fantastic performance; it was very, very enjoyable! After the performance, we were able to go on stage and meet one of the major actors. And then a walk back to the hotel where we settled in for the night.
Wednesday found us, after breakfast at the hotel, heading to
Millennium Park which is an award-winning center for art, music,
architecture and landscape design. The last time I was in downtown
Chicago, I did not have a chance to visit the park so really wanted
to see it this visit. And it was very enjoyable to walk around and
see all the sculptures. We grabbed a taxi for Northerly Island where
Hamilton The Exhibition was located. A very detailed, informative
exhibit in which we spent close to three hours exploring. And, like
many visitors, I had a buy a souvenir at their gift shop. We
returned to downtown Chicago where we had lunch at the Weber Grill
Restaurant. We then walked down the Miracle Mile; stopped and
purchased popcorn at Garrett’s which is well known in Chicago for
their caramel popcorn. Back at the hotel, we went to our respective
rooms for a few hours of relaxation. That evening we had dinner at
an Italian place called Pizzeria Due. After dinner, we stumbled upon
a place that had restaurants, gourmet food, deli, and merchandise all
rolled into one. It was a great place to explore…even though I
cannot remember the name of it. Back to the hotel for the rest of
Thursday was our
last day in Chicago before our catching the train back to Jackson at
5:45 that evening. We were checked out of the hotel but left our
luggage in storage and took off to explore some shops. There was a
Canadian store called Roots that was having a grand opening of a new
store in Chicago; Sarah was familiar with the store from their many
visits to Canada so she wanted to see what the new store had to
offer. And I wanted to find Patagonia for another shopping
experience. First, we found Roots but it was not opening for another
hour; however, the manager let us into the store and gave us free
leather passport handlers that we could have engraved when the store
officially opened later in the morning. We proceeded to the address
of Patagonia; I found a pair of lightweight sweatpants that I
purchased. By the time I completed browsing and made a purchase,
Roots was open so we went back to the store. All of us had our
leather passport holders engraved with name and design. Purchases
were made and we walked back to the hotel. It was mid-afternoon, so
we decided to find a lunch/early dinner spot; we went to Rock Bottom
Brewery down the street from the hotel. After having a drink and
appetizer, we spent time in the lobby of the hotel. Around 4:00, we
retrieved our luggage and found a taxi to take us to the train
station. Because of the traffic, it took about an hour to arrive at
the station. Our train arrived and we were on our way to Jackson.
Dinner was a glass of wine from the dining car and the bag of cheesy
popcorn I had purchased the day before. We got there around 10:30;
found the car and drove back to Adrian where we arrived around 11:45;
all of us off to bed.
On Friday, the 24th,
I got up at 5:00 in order to be on the road by 5:30. Filled my
traveling mugs with coffee and water. Because it was the start of a
holiday week end, I wanted to be around Chicago by 11:00 in order to
avoid traffic. Made very good time; got around Chicago with no
problems and arrived home around 3:30 pm Iowa time. Another
successful adventure; it was good to spend time with Tom’s family
and being able to see Hamilton at the same time.
On Sunday, January 27th, my friend Joyce and I departed for a two week vacation on four of the Hawaiian Islands. The first three islands would be part of a tour group while the fourth island was on our own. Cedar Rapids departure was at 7:00 a.m. with arrival in Honolulu on Oahu Island at 3:50 p.m.; their time zone is 4 hours behind central time.
Monday, the 28th: I got up at 5:00 a.m. Hawaiian time and read until Joyce woke at 7:30. After getting ready for the day, went down to breakfast in our hotel (which was included with the tour). Good buffet with fresh fruit and made-to-order omelet bar. And then we walked and walked for a total of over 10 miles for the day. Had lunch at LaCucaracha Mexican Bar & Grill where we shared an order of chicken nachos.
Met our guide from Perillo Tours later in the afternoon; he is called cousin Bert. He explained the activities of the next few days and asked us to meet him at 8:00 in the morning for the beginning of our adventure. At check in, we were given a fresh lei and he said to wear them because a group picture will be taken. Joyce and I walked some more and came upon King’s Village which was one of the first shopping malls of the area but will be bulldozed down to make way for a hotel; very sad to see something with such history being destroyed instead of preserved. We ended up having dinner at Cheeseburger Paradise where I have an excellent Ahi tuna salad. Went back to our room and settled in for the night.
Tuesday, the 29th: Went to breakfast before meeting our tour group at 8:00 a.m. At the meeting, introductions were made; a very small group of 8. Our guide gave us additional details about this week’s activities. On this day we went to ‘Iolani Palace which is the only palace within the United States. Hawaii used to be ruled by a monastery. The palace was built in 1882 and construction cost $360,000. The tour was self guided with audio tape being the guide; it was very clear and well produced.
Upon leaving the palace, we went thru downtown Honolulu where Bert and our driver pointed out various points of interest.
Next stop was Pearl Harbor where we saw a 30 minute documentary of the events leading up and including the dropping of the bombs on December 7, 1942. After the viewing, we boarded a Coast Guard vessel which took us out to the memorial honoring those who died on the US Arizona. Upon our return to shore, we released the flowers from the leis we were wearing into the water in memory of those who died. After venturing thru the gift shop, we boarded the bus and headed to Punchbowl, the Pacific National Cemetery.
Returned to the hotel, relaxed while Joyce wrote postcards, and then we went to the farmers market being held on the lower level of our resort. Met up with the rest of our group and walked to the Hula Grill where we had dinner reservations. Saw the sun go down while drinking a Mai Tai. Excellent meal of Mahi Mahi baked with macadamia nuts.
Returned to the hotel and read until time to turn off the lights.
Wednesday, the 30th: We were on our own until late afternoon so we had a leisurely breakfast and spent the day relaxing with a book on our balcony. In the late afternoon, we all gathered for an adventure at Nutridge Estates. A beautiful drive into the mountains with Joe providing the cocktails.
Arrived at the estate and were given the traditional welcome when someone asks permission to enter the gate in Hawaiian and a response from the other side granting it with the gate opening.
What a fun afternoon and evening we had filled with hands on experiences such as how to make sweet potatoes over a fire or how to make head bands and waist bands out of palm leaves. There was a wonderful buffet of Hawaiian foods such as salad, vegetable, pork, and chicken. After our feast, we were shown how to do the Hula dance…what a fun time and no one wanted it to end. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped for pictures of Honolulu at night from an overlook above the area.
Maui was the next island on our itinerary.
Thursday, the 31st: Had breakfast, checked out of the hotel, and met up with Cousin Bert in the lobby. We departed for the airport, went thru Security, and boarded our flight for Maui. Flight time was only 30 minutes. Upon our arrival and baggage retrieval, we boarded transportation for the ride to the Hyatt Maui which was our home the next three nights. Joyce and I had a surprise of water leaking thru the ceiling into wastes paper baskets when entering the room reserved to us; we were given another room. Once we settled in, we walked the grounds of the resort. It is very beautiful with oceanfront views, flamingos walking the grounds, swans/ducks/fishes swimming the crystal clear waters, and penguins walking in their own enclosure. That evening we had dinner at the Son’z Maui Restaurant; I had their lamb chops along with a couple glasses of wine.
Friday, Feb. 1st: It was a free day for us until later in the afternoon so I, along with another tour member, made appointments at the spa located in the Sheraton for a facial and massage. We were able to take a shuttle from the hotel to the spa; what a relaxing, refreshing experience! Rene and I decided to walk back to our lodging and it was a wonderful walk with view of the ocean the whole way. Joyce and I met up in our room, put on our suits, and went down to the patio for lunch of veggie wrap and chips that we split. We then walked into the ocean and swam in the pool.
Cousin Bert called and said the whale watch for the afternoon was cancelled…much to everyone’s dismay; due to the perseverance of one of our group, Bert arranged for us to participate on a watch the next morning. That evening we went into town for some shopping and dinner at Kimo’s. We returned to our hotel and settled in for the evening.
Saturday, the 2nd: Got up early this morning in order to have breakfast before our 7:15 departure for the whale watch. We boarded a catamaran and spent the next two hours watching whales jumping out of the ocean. It was raining so everyone got wet but no one cared because it was such a beautiful experience. The naturalist told us we were really spoiled because many trips are lucky to see a couple whales where we saw at least 50 which included females, males, and babies.
Returned to my room, got off wet clothes, warmed up in the shower, and spent the afternoon updating these notes, writing out post cards, and reading in the room; with it raining outside, this was the perfect activity. In the evening, we went to the “Drums of the Pacific” Luau. Food was good and show okay but participated in better ones on a couple Windstar cruises.
Sunday, the 3rd: Had breakfast, checked out of our hotel, and boarded transportation for the airport where we departed Maui for Kauai which is known as the “Garden Island”. Arrived at the Grand Hyatt approximately 2:00; found our room for the next three nights. We went to a convenience store within the hotel and I purchased a bottle of wine. Returned to the room and watched the Super Bowl on the big screen TV in the room instead of joining the others at the pool bar.
After watching New England beat the Rams, we joined the others at 6:00 for dinner at Tidepools which is a restaurant within the resort. My meal was Ahi Tuna with a garden salad; dessert was chocolate lava cake. Went back to the room and read until lights out around 10:00 pm.
Monday, the 4th: After an early breakfast, we were picked up by a Sunshine Helicopters van for a journey to their office and helipad; we had signed up for an optional tour of a 50 minute helicopter ride over the island. After a safety briefing, we were assigned a helicopter; Joyce and I were on the same one in the front row by the pilot. What a fantastic experience! We saw areas of the island that a person would only be able to see from the air…and a rainbow came out as we were descending over the ocean. Will worth the money!
Returned to our hotel around noon; we checked with the tour desk for information about island’s tropical garden. We decided to venture to the gardens so, after gathering our belongings, we grabbed a taxi and took off. We signed up for the 2.5 hour tour of McBryde and Allerton Gardens with the majority of the tour being in the latter one. Our guide walked us through various garden rooms of reflecting pools, fig roots/trees, mermaid room, bamboo room,etc. with each room being described as an uniquely designed area of landscaping, outdoor art, and intriguing stories. Dick Van Dyke, John Wayne, Nicholas Cage, Johnny Depp, and Steven Spielberg all filmed movies on the property. Recent famous one was Jurassic Park.
After making a purchase at the visitors center, I downloaded the Uber app to my phone so we could get transportation to Pizzetta in Koloa. Upon arrival at the pizza place, we ordered drinks and a vegetable pizza/garden salad to split. After eating, we went into a couple shops where I purchased a t-shirt plus greeting cards. With Judy from Uber responding, wereturned to the Hyatt in time to walk the area in search for a good place to watch the sunset.
After the sun went down, we went to our room and spent a quiet evening updating notes and reading.
Tuesday, the 5th: Had an early breakfast this morning due to meeting the group for an 8:00 am departure of sightseeing tour of Waimea Canyon, also known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”. The canyon is approximately 10 miles long and up to 3000 ft. deep; this vast canyon is very colorful with reddish hues, some waterfalls, and tall cliffs. After viewing the canyon, we proceeded on to the Sprouting Horn which is narrow openings caused by the waves eroding lava rocks on the coastline. We were able to see the water gushing up thru the hole. There were some stalls of vendors selling their merchandise so we walked up the sidewalk viewing their wares. Once we got back into the van, we drove to the Kauai Coffee’s Koloa Estate. This is the largest coffee farm in the U.S. with 3,000 acres and 4M coffee trees. After tasting their various coffees, I purchased some for gifts to family and friends.
We arrived back at the hotel and, after taking our packages to the room, we changed into our swimsuits, got towels and selected our beach chairs, and had lunch at the pool bar. And then it started to rain so we retrieved our bags and went back to the room to wait out the rain; after three attempts to sit by the pool but having rain come down, we gave up. Joyce took a nap and I read. Met up with our fellow travelers at 6:00 pm for dinner at Dondero’s Italian Restaurant within the resort. It was a very good meal of salad, Parmesan Chicken (not on the menu but made for me atmy request) and dessert accompanied with a couple glasses of wine.
Because of our leaving for the Big Island the next morning while the rest of the group were flying to their respective homes, we said our farewells to everyone. Once in our room, we packed our suitcases for a 8:30 pick up and retired for a good night’s sleep.
Wednesday, the 6th: Got ready for the day, checked the room for any items we might have left, and went for our final breakfast on Kauai. Checked out of the hotel and met up with cousin Bert at 9:00; he had arranged our transport to the airport. Arrival and check in at the airport was uneventful; there were two legs on our journey with the first flight flying into Maui and the second into Hawaii. Both flights were timely and we arrived on Hawaii around 1:00 pm in the afternoon. After retrieving our luggage, we found the rental car shuttle bus (although I did get on the wrong bus…thank heavens Joyce was aware 😊). We got our rental car and headed to our home for the next three nights, Westin Hapuna Beach resort. I was quite surprised to see the surroundings were black lava rock; totally different than the green of the other islands. Arrived, dropped off luggage, parked the car, checked in, and found our room which had an ocean view from our balcony. Both of us were hungry so we had lunch at the pool restaurant. After lunch, we drove to the nearest town with shops and food stores. We found Island Gourmet, a grocery store recommended by the waitress we had at lunch. Our purchases was food for the next two evening meals along with a bottle of wine for myself. Upon arrival back at the hotel, parked the car and stored our purchases in our room refrigerator. And then we explored the hotel but returned to the room in time to watch the sunset. Returned back to the lobby to watch a celebration of the Chinese New Year which was two dragons weaving through the lobby and bar area to the sound of drums beating. It was a fun sight! Returned to the room and settled in for the evening. We had an island tour scheduled for the next day with pick up at 6:45 a.m. so a quiet evening was welcomed.
Thursday, the 7th: We got up at 5:15 in order to be ready for 6:45 pick up by Wasabi Tours for a “Big Island Grand Island” tour. Our driver and guide was Dan Malloy from Billings, MT who works as a tour guide on Hawaii during the winter and Yellowstone Park during the summer months. He was very knowledgeable of all the natural wonders of the area; it was an excellent way to get an overview of the massive island. On the tour, we walked through an ancient lava tube and got an overview of the historical Kona Coffee Farm. We made a stop at the Black Sand beach where we looked for green sea turtles but, to our disappointment, did not spot any. Onward to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park where we walked by steam vents and viewed the Kīlauea and Halema’uma’u crater outlooks. At the visitor center, we watched a short video of last year’s Kīlauea eruption.
After eating a lunch provided by Wasabi, we explored the visitor center of the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Farm. We continued along the Hamakua coast; we made stops at the Waipi’o Valley lookout, the famous Rainbow Falls, and Akaka Falls where we took a walk through the rainforest for an up-close view of the falls. We saw views of the southernmost point of the United States, South Point, and Kealakekua Bay.
We continued on our journey making a loop around the whole island and ending back at our lodging 11.5 hours after we were picked up in the morning. An excellent experience! Because we realized we would be tired after the day’s activities, we had picked up salad/sandwich the day before for our dinner which we ate in the room. There was nothing on the agenda for the next day so we could sleep in which was a pleasant thought after such an action packed day.
Friday, the 8th: We had breakfast in the dining room around 9:30; afterwards, we returned to our room, put on our swimsuits, found pool side chairs, swam, sunned ourselves, and walked the beach. Returned to our room where we changed clothes and headed out to explore another nut farm called Hamakua plus the historic town of Hawi. Both Joyce and I felt Hamakua had a better variety of items than the one we visited the previous day.
And we enjoyed walking the town of Hawi with both of us making a few purchases but felt it was another “tourist trap”. We drove to the Island Gourmet which was south of our lodging and I found more items to purchase for gifts back home. Returned to our resort and had diner, while watching the sunset, at the ocean front grill of the resort. Very tasty food and beautiful sunset. Upon return to our room, both of us organized our luggage for departure home late Saturday evening. Had a quiet night of reading before turning out the lights.
Saturday, the 9th: Our departure to home was not until 11:00 p.m. in the evening so we were able to get a late check out time of 3:00 p.m. It was a very leisurely morning with late breakfast and beach walking. We decided to check out around 1:00 or so in the afternoon. Our destination was historic Kailua Village which is located about 15 miles south of our departure airport and along Kona coast. There were shops that we explored along with viewing historical sights of Hulihee Palace, built in 1838, along with the oldest Christian church in Hawaii that was built in 1820. A dear friend of Joyce’s had given her some money for the two of us to have a dinner on her so we found a seafood restaurant, selected seafood dishes, and toasted Joan for gift.
Decided to go to the airport early; dropped Joyce off at the terminal with luggage, returned rental car, and took their shuttle bus back to the terminal. And then the fun began with our not being able to check luggage for another couple hours; unfortunately, there were no benches or places to sit. But we did luck out with an earlier American flight occurring so was able to check in about an hour earlier than thought. Once we got thru security, we found a place where we got some liquid refreshments. Because of high winds over the Pacific, our incoming plane was delayed arriving so we did not board until 40 minutes after original departure time. Both of us were very disappointed in the first class section on all our flights because the seat did not lower enough to make it comfortable to sleep; certainly different than on our flights at the start of our journey. The good news was the high winds provided us with a tail wind which meant we got into LAX early instead of late; Joyce and I departed company at that point with my taking a connecting flight to Dallas and she to NW Arkansas airport. Once in Dallas, I had another connection to Cedar Rapids with my arriving before the scheduled time.
Great vacation, great fun, great traveling companion but it was good to get home!
Meet my sister-in-laws, Sarah and Lynda, in New Orleans on November 11, 2018. Upon arrival, we caught a taxi and went to the Embassy Suites which was our home for the next five nights. After settling in, we attended the evening reception at the hotel which was not near as good as previous ones at other Embassy Suites; definitely will not depend upon it for our evening meals.
On Monday, we had an early pick up scheduled for a New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina tour but we did time for the breakfast buffet offered to all guests of the hotel. The tour company picked us up and we were off on an adventure. Our guide described the various districts of New Orleans as we drove along; we went through the French Quarter, the historic park of Jackson Square, and by the Cabildo where the Louisiana Purchase was signed. We arrived at St. Louis Cemetery with is one of the oldest in the city; we walked among some of the tombstones with the guide providing an overview along the way. Next we headed for the City Park and the Besthoff Sculpture Gardens with a stop at the Morning Call restaurant for a brief rest stop and our purchase of beignets. The last area we visited was the Lower 9th Ward where Hurricane Katrina broke the levees and swept away people/homes; there is still areas in which rebuilding is still occurring.
We were deposited at our hotel at the conclusion of the tour; after stopping in our room, we decided to walk to Riverside Mall where we picked our late lunch from the various vendors in the food court. After eating, we walked around the river front and then back to the hotel where we attended the evening reception; the food offerings did not improve from the evening before.
On Tuesday, the 13th, we did not have any activities prearranged so, after breakfast, we took off in the rain for Rouse’s Market which is the leading grocer in the New Orleans area. It was fun to explore the market and compare to back home; we did purchase gifts for people back home. After depositing our purchases at the hotel, we took a walk through the Riverside Mall, walked into the French Quarter where we passed Jackson Square, explored Bourbon Street on our way to Pat O’Brien’s bar for a Hurricane, a well known strong drink of New Orleans. After our drink, we proceeded to Market Street where we came upon a store called Papier Plume. What an excellent discovery! I found an ideal birthday gift for Steev. By this time, we decided on a late lunch at the Royal House Oyster Bar where we hoped to get some fresh seafood; however, we were disappointed in what was served. We continued to walk back to our hotel.
Wednesday we had arranged for an all day plantation tour with an airboat ride into the swamp. It was a very cold, rainy day but that did not stop the airboat ride from happening. Even with the bad weather, it was good trip through the swamps; however, there was no way we were going to see any alligators in the rainy, cold weather.
After the boat ride, we proceeded to Oak Alley Plantation where we were served a very tasty Cajun buffet lunch. After lunch, the three of us took a tour of the plantation house and surrounding grounds. This plantation is quite well known for its oak trees that lined the road from the house to the edge of the property.
Next we went to Laura Plantation where we were given a tour inside and outside. Even though it was smaller than Oak Alley, it was an enjoyable tour. Both of the plantations were very well maintained.
We headed to New Orleans and our lodging. It was early evening by the time we returned so we ordered pizza to be delivered from Magazine Pizza; it was good.
Thursday, the 15th, was our last day in New Orleans; we decided to return to the Garden District so we rode the oldest trolley in New Orleans and were deposited on the edge of the district. Our first stop was a book store where we made a few purchases including a book for a self-guided tour. Then, following the book, we explored the neighborhood which was lined with beautiful homes, schools, and churches. Next we walked to Magazine Street, known for its shops and restaurants, within the district. After asking some local shop owners where to eat lunch, we went to Red Dog Diner which has a farmhouse decor with indoor and outdoor areas; good food and great atmosphere. After lunch, we decided to return to Market Street in the French Quarter so Sarah called for Uber to take us instead of our walking. The driver dropped us off at Market Street where we continued shopping at the point we had stopped on Tuesday. All of us made some purchases; we stopped at a coffee shop because I needed some caffeine in my system. Onward toward the hotel with a detour through the Riverside Mall for a wine shop where I hoped to purchase local wine; however, it tasted awful and what did taste good was made in California so there was no point in making any purchase. When we got back to our hotel, we proceeded to pack for our departure the next day. Sarah called Uber and ordered through them for a pizza to be delivered to our hotel; it worked quite well.
Friday, the 16th, we departed for our respective homes. It was a great week of catching up with my sister-in-laws lives and making more wonderful memories with them but, like all trips, it was good to get home.
The tour ended the morning of the 26th but Ginni and I had decided to extend our trip with two nights in Milan; Allan and Jeannette were meeting us there and I was traveling with them to their home in Freiburg, Germany after touring of Milan. Tauck provided us with a water taxi which took us to the local train station. Their representative got us on a train to Milan where we grabbed a taxi, checked into our hotel called Best Western Hotel Galles Plus, and got another taxi to the Duomo area where we met up with Jeannette and Allan for our 5-hour city walking tour. We saw the inside of the La Scala Opera House, Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper and the Monastery of S. Maria de Grazie, explored the roofs and inside of the Duomo. After the tour, we found a delightful place to drinks and snacks.
Looking at stage of Opera House
The Last Supper
Farrari’s Life of Jesus Wall
Duomo of Milan
Looking down from roof of Duomo
Jeannette and I on the roof
When we went to leave, I discovered my purse had been stolen; after checking the places we had been previously without finding it, we walked to the closest police station to report the theft but they were closed so we ventured to Questura di Milano station which was open. After two hours of waiting, Allan and I talked to a very nice policeman who filed the necessary reports and gave me copies. My purse had a wallet which contained passport, credit card, debit card, drivers license, and some euros; my camera was also in the purse. The major concern was the loss of the passport for identification purposes for traveling thru Switzerland, Germany, and getting home the next Saturday; luckily, I had brought another credit card with me “just in case” which was back at the hotel along with more euros. After reporting the theft, we found a place for dinner. Returned to the hotel and, as Allan and I was contacting the credit and debit card companies via Skype, a woman called our room to inform us her husband had recovered my purse on the metro and she would bring it by in the morning. We were hoping my passport would be in there but, if not, we would change plans and stay another day in Milan in order to apply for a temporary passport at the US Consulate which was closed on Monday due to Memorial Day. The hotel had made a copy of my passport when I checked in so that would help enormously if I did not get the passport back.
On Sunday, Ginni and I took a day tour to Lake Como while the kids stayed in Milan. We departed from Milan onboard an English speaking bus, reaching the charming village of Como; Como. We explored the historical center, with stops at the most important monuments like the ancient Basilica of Sant’Abbondio. After the tour, we wandered thru some shops and stopped at a seaside restaurant for coffee and pastry. Then we boarded a boat to enjoy a nice cruise on the lake which is the third largest in Italy; Lake Como. As we cruised, we ate lunch of fresh perch while listening to a negative on the all the villages and homes we passed. The last stop we made was the village of Bellagio where we wandered thru the shops, had gelato, and sat on a bench located on the waterfront promenade.
View from the coach
The boat of our cruise
One of the villages from our boat
George Clooney’s Villa
We returned to Milan; my purse was at the hotel but it did not have my passport; my wallet and memory card within the camera that had the last two weeks of touring were taken but all other items in the purse were intact. For some reason, the card was removed but the batteries and extra memory card were not which seemed strange. We found a place not too far from the hotel for a very pleasant evening meal; after eating, we went back to the hotel where the kids and I made arrangements for next night’s lodging since we had to stay an additional day in Milan.
Ginni was leaving for home on Monday so we were up early in order for her to prepare for her one hour ride to the airport at 7:00 a.m. Went down to the lobby with Ginni where her driver was waiting; we said our good byes and she was on her way to the airport and home in St. Louis. It was raining but that did not stop Allan from walking over to help me transfer my luggage to another hotel for that evening; because we needed to extend another night, both places where we had been staying wanted to charge an exorbitant rate so we found another Best Western hotel that had availability for all of us at not such an exorbitant rate. The rain stopped and we had a very pleasant day exploring Milan on foot. Found some beautiful gardens and a contemporary sculpture which is unusual in Milan where everything is quite ancient.
Porta Sempione, a city gate
Allan and Jeannette
Turtles in pond of the city gardens
Castle within the courtyard
Remaining medieval wall and gate of the city
Po River flowing through channel in Milan
We also located the US Consulate (US Consulate) so we would know where to walk early the next morning.
On the 29th, we had breakfast and walked to the consulate where we arrived at 8:10. The kids could not enter the building with me and, after 1.5 hours, I walked out with a 1-year temporary passport.
We then spent over an hour getting out of Milan because of heavy traffic; Jeannette was driving and had the patience of a saint! It was close to lunch time so we stopped at Burmet Bistro at Lomazzo, Italy for a sandwich and beer.
Drove into Switzerland; what a beautiful country! Allan switched places with me so I could have a front seat view of the awesome, beautiful countryside we were driving through. Around 2:30, we arrived at Lucerne, a compact city in Switzerland known for its preserved medieval architecture, where we spent time exploring and shopping. It sits amid mountains on Lake Lucerne; its Old Town is bordered on the north by Musegg Wall (a 14-century rampart) and the covered Chapel Bridge, built in 1333, links the Aldstadt to the Reuss River’s right bank. Absolutely beautiful!
Scene from the car
The three of us on the waterfront Lucerne
Lake with mountains in background
Lots of places to eat and drink
Left Lucerne, drove into Germany, and arrived in Freiburg. I checked into the Mercure Hotel Panorama, we ate at a Thai place called Rose Restaurant for dinner, and returned to the hotel in time to watch the sunset from my balcony.
Sunset from my balcony
Hotel from path below
The hotel is very nice and has trails into the Black Forest right behind it; however, there was a problem with water pressure and lack of hot water in the bathroom.
Wednesday, the 30th, I walked from the hotel to the kids home which is about 1 mile away. Got a tour of their home; very nice and airy with a wonderful balcony for sunset viewing. And then we walked and walked and walked; through Freiburg’s botanical gardens, by Jeannette’s work place at the University, thru the farmers market and shops, and various points of interest. This included Freiburg Minster Cathedral, Martinstor which is a medieval city gate, Merchants Hall, splash pool where the Old Synagoge stood, and the little waterways called Bachle. We also went to the train station and found out what platform/area I would leave from on Friday for Frankfurt. We had lunch at the Hausbrauerei Feierling which is a beer garden with large outdoor seating area within their courtyard.
Allan and Jeannette ready to go
Top of Minster Cathedral
Inside the cathedral
Martinstor, medieval city gate
Splash pad where Old Synagoge was
Little waterways called Bachle in Old Town
In the evening, we had dinner at Das Vorderhaus, a German restaurant not far from the kids; very good food but the spaetzle was not as good as what Jeannette’s father makes. It started to rain so the kids drove me back to the hotel where I discovered we had walked close to 17,000 steps. No wonder I was tired!
Thursday was my last full day in Freiburg so we journeyed out of town to the Burgruine Staufen Castle which is about 30 minutes away. We parked in a lot and walked up hill to the castle. Allan and I climbed the tower and was treated to a wonderful view of the countryside. Walked into the town of Staufen; because it was a German holiday called Corpus Christi, no shops were open but eating places and live music in the square were. We decided to eat lunch at Kornhaus, one of the restaurants, and take the food we had brought for a picnic back to the kids for our evening meal.
Entering castle ruins
Looking out and over the countryside
View from upper tower
Walls still standing
Main street of Staufen with castle in background
Waiting for lunch
Neumagen River flowing thru part of town
Got back to Freiburg mid-afternoon and, after driving by Allan’s place of employment, we went to the kids home. After spending a few hours talking and reading, I decided to walk back my hotel before the projected rain started. The walk was uphill the whole way but I made it without incident. Spent the evening in my room reading, finalizing packing, and relaxing while rain fell down outside.
The kids came to my hotel for a tasty, leisurely breakfast buffet on Friday. We gathered my luggage, checked out, and returned to their place for conversation and reading before leaving for the train station early afternoon. Got to the station, and waited for my train that would take me to the Frankfurt airport and an overnight at the Sheridan within Terminal 1. Got on the train with Allan’s assistance and finally located my seat once the train was underway. I was in a first class compartment which seated four; I was alone until the second stop when a woman originally from Hungary but living in Germany came on board and we had a very interesting conversation. Arrived at the train station located beside Terminal 1 of the airport, retrieved my luggage, and walked to the Sheridan. Frankfurt Airport is quite huge so anywhere you walk seems like you have gone for miles. After settling into my room, walked into the terminal so I could discover where I needed to check in the next day for my flight home. After a glass of wine in my room, I called room service for my evening meal. My vacation was great but, after being gone for 3 weeks, I was feeling quite strongly about wanting to be home to my own bed and the cats. Was very tired so lights were out for the night by 9:30. Got up Saturday, took a shower, had some coffee, checked out, and walked to check in for my flight home. Flight left Frankfurt on time so the day was spent traveling. Arrival and processing through Customs in Chicago was completed with minimal disruption; after 2-hour layover, I was on my way to Cedar Rapids where Mary and Joe picked me up. After a brief stop to pick up some food for my bare refrigerator, we were driving west; heading toward home and my cats.
On Friday, the 18th, we departed Rome about 8:30 heading for Orvieto. At Orvieto, we visited the Duomo of Orvieto, a Romanesque-Gothic cathedral built over a span of 300 years. We explored the town and met for lunch at Trattoria La Grotto. After lunch, we departed for Perugia driving through wine-producing regions of Umbria.
Duomo of Orvieto
Inside of duomo
Pipe organ in Duomo
Arrived at our hotel around 4:30; the hotel is called Alla Posta Dei Donini and is two renovated villas dating back to the 17th century. We attended a private recital in the music room; it was a trio who played piano, violin, and sang. Excellent performance! Dinner was in the hotel dining room with Rich, Susan, Armanda, Scott, Ginni, and myself.
Saturday we toured the well-preserved medieval hillside town of Assisi. It has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its significant art and architecture. We was given a guided tour of the Basilica of St. Francis and the historic center of Assisi.
Basilica of St. Francis
Gate into walled city of Assisi
Ginni, Linda, and I found a place where we ordered pizza and wine for our lunch. We took a leisurely stroll toward our meeting point, stopping and browsing in various stores. Upon return to our hotel, we got ready for a private wine tasting featuring locally produced Umbrian wine. Dinner was in the dining room with Gary, Cathy, Armanda, Scott, and ourselves.
The day of the 20th started with our checking out of our hotel and traveling through the rolling Tuscan landscapes, stopping in the country village of San Gimignano. We had about 2 hours of free time so we wandered through various shops, stopping to purchase our favorite Italian pastime of gelato. Lunch at at a restaurant that had a beautiful view of the Tuscan countryside. Time get away from us so we only had time to eat part of our lunch, asking for take out for the rest. Drove for a few more hours and arrived in Viareggio and our hotel for the night, Hotel Principe di Piedmonte. After arriving to our room, we took a walk along the promenade in the seaside resort town with the Mediterranean providing miles of beach front. In the evening, we met up with Nancy, Jeff, Pam, Bob, Lynn, and David for dinner in the hotel dining room at 7:30.
Monday, the 21st, started with our checking out and on the bus by 8:30. We arrived in La Spezia which has a port for our start off point for Cinque Terre. It was a beautiful morning and, fortunately, the weather permitted us to cruise along the Italian Rivera for great views of the coast en route to the village of Vernazza for free time. Cinque Terre was only accessible by sea for hundreds of years; there are five fishing villages nestled between the Mediterranean blue water and rugged coastline. Upon arrival at Vernazza, we wandered some of the side streets with our guide and then broke off for some shopping and lunch at a restaurant where Anna had made us reservations.
Leaning Tower of Pisa in distance
Church on top of cliff within Cinque Terre
One of villages of Cinque Terre
Village of Vernazza
View of Vernazza harbor from upper hillside
We took the train back to La Spezia and boarded our coach for the journey to Florence. Arrived in Florence shortly before 5:00, checked into the Hotel Brunelleschi for a three-night stay. Anna walked us to nearly Ristorante II Caminetto where Nancy, Jeff, Amanda Scott, Gary, Kathy, and ourselves had 7:00 reservations. Walked back to the hotel after dinner and retired for the evening.
We rose around 7:00 on Tuesday morning so we could have coffee and breakfast before attending an art lecture within our hotel; the guest presenter gave an excellent briefing about Florence’s Renaissance period. We were joined by local guides who walked us through central Florence, with rain pouring down, on our way to Accademia where there are collections of works by many great artists of the 14th and 15th century along with Michelangelo’s famous sculpture of David. The sculpture of David is amazing; 17 feet tall and weight of 9 tons because it is all marble. Our guide directed out of the museum and pointed out other points of interest in the area.
Facial view of David
Interesting angle of facial expression and eyes
After our guide departed, Anna walked those of us who choose to another square where there are many leather, jewelry, and souvenir shops along with restaurants. Ginni and I choose a restaurant within the square and had an enjoyable lunch. We wandered our way back to the hotel and prepared for a wine-tasting reception hosted by Salvatore Ferragamo at 4:45. The wife of Salvatore Ferragamo, Jr. greeted us at the door of their boutique; she gave us a description of the Ferragamo family success and explained various shoes that were displayed. We walked to a close by hotel owned by the family and had a delightful reception filled with nibbles and wine.
Wednesday, the 23rd, we were greeted in the lobby by a local guide who walked us to the Uffizi Gallery. Originally a suite of offices, it was first used to display the Medici family’s private art treasurers in 1581 which makes it the oldest art gallery in the world. We sawed works of the Italian Renaissance which included Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Michangelo’s The Holy Family, Bellini’s Allegory and Raphael’s Madonna of the Goldfinch.
Birth of Venus
Madonna of Goldfinch
Michangelo’s The Holy Family
The afternoon was spent exploring; Ginni and I headed across one of the walking bridges on our way to explore their botanical gardens. After lunch, we continued on our journey but turned back because it started to rain. That evening we had dinner at the Ristorante Paoli.
Bridge we crossed on way to botanical gardens
We were leaving Florence on Thursday heading to Venice. After luggage was picked up and we had breakfast, we went by minivan to the train station for a two hour train ride to Venice. Arrived at Venezia Santa Lucia train station around 12:20. We took water taxis to our hotel for the next two nights called Bauer Hotel. After storing our hand carries, we had lunch on the hotel’s open terrace. A local guide met us for a guided tour of St. Mark’s Square and the Doge’s Palace. Another overwhelming experience with lots of people.
St. Mark’s Square
Ceiling in room of Doge’s Palace
Statues on wall
Where wall and ceiling meet in room of Doge’s Palace
Back at the hotel, we were given a key to our room where we relaxed and changed for the evening’s farewell dinner at Antico Martini. Our dinner companions were Amanda, Scott, and Anna.
Friday, the 25th, was a lazy morning of getting ready for the day. We had breakfast around 8:30 and met up with the rest of the group at 9:45 for a walk with Anna to a glass blowing factory where we were given a demonstration of this amazing art. We browsed through the various showrooms and both of us did purchase an item. We wandered back to the central square but there were so many people that we decided to take the hotel shuttle to another island across from Venice where we found a delightful, quiet place for lunch. Back in Venice, we got ready for the evening gondola ride, farewell reception at the hotel, and visit to Basilica of St. Mark.
On the gondola
Door view of place from the gondola
Outdoor patio and statue as seen from gondola
Ginni and I on gondola
Basilica of St. Mark
Marble entrance to basilica
Small part of ceiling
Part of wall within the basilica
Beautiful sanctuary wall
The tour will end tomorrow morning and we will be departing to Milan. NOTE: My thanks to Jeff for supplying his pictures of the tour; as you will find out in my week 3 post, my pictures would become unavailable.
Ginni, my friend from St. Louis, and I were so impressed with the tour provided by Tauck to Cuba that we decided to sign up for a tour of Italy.
Map of places going to on tour
The tour did not start until the evening of May 13th but we like to have an additional day calculated into the itinerary due to potential transportation problems so we left on Friday, May 11th, and arrived in Naples, Italy around 11:30 a.m. on the 12th. After retrieving our luggage and going through Customs, which did not have any personnel checking, we were met by a Tauck representative. She called our driver and took us to the pick up point; we were headed to Sorrento where we had reservations at Grand Hotel La Favorita. Sorrento is approximately an hour’s drive from Naples.
Our hotel was quite nice with beautiful furnishings and lovely gardens. After checking in, we settled into our room and went to the Bellavista Terrace within the hotel for lunch. It is a restaurant located on the top floor on a panoramic terrace. After lunch, we got directions to the nearest wine store where we each purchased a bottle of wine. Went back to the hotel and took a couple hour nap. After having a glass of wine on our balcony, we headed to Trattonia Del Moni for our 8:00 dinner reservation made by a hotel representative who highly recommended the establishment. Very small and clean, we had a delicious meal outside in a very relaxing atmosphere. Had a nightcap on our balcony before retiring for the night.
Sunday we sleep late; got ready for the day and arrived at the breakfast buffet right before their closure time of 10:00 a.m. After eating, we ventured out of the hotel to explore. Surprising, many shops opened in the main center of town. Shops and restaurants opened along the narrow streets which was filled with people and seemed to stretch for miles. Returned to our hotel shortly after 1:00; read over literature given to us by our tour guide and corrected any errors on the required paperwork. Went to a liquor store to purchase a local liquor made of lemons which is a delicacy of the region. That evening, met our fellow tour members and guide at a reception put on by Tauck in the hotel’s lobby area. We walked to the L’Antica Trattoria restaurant for our welcome dinner. Wonderful food in a beautiful setting; all four courses were delicious.
Monday was an early start day; after getting a quick cup of coffee, we left the hotel lobby at 7:45 a.m. for a day drive along the Amalfi Coast. Our first stop was around 9:30 where a couple members of our tour recommended we purchase a piece of lemon cake at one of Tahoe establishments which we did and it was delicious. The region is known for their production of lemons so there is lots of lemon food made including the pasta we were served in a lemon shell the evening before. Also, we found a shop where I purchased something for Savanna that was made by the merchant. We had lunch at Cumpa Cosimo in Ravello. After lunch we went to Villa Rufolo where we explored architecture, gardens, and tower of this ancient villa.
Along the coast
Gardens at villa
View from terrace of villa
The group gathered at the meeting place at the correct time and we returned to Sorrento. Ginni and I went back to a store to purchase an item to give folks back home. We then packed as much as we could to have our luggage ready for pick up at 6:30 a.m. We were on our own for dinner so went to a place called Parrucchiano where we split a lasagna and salad.
Tuesday, the 15th, we rose early to have luggage out for pick up at 6:30. After breakfast, we departed for Rome. On the way, we stopped at Pompei for a tour of the architectural ruins. Pompei Great tour, even with rain coming down, and a fantastic guide. Lunch was in Pompei at Ristorante II Principe. Boarded the bus and rode for 3.5 hours to Rome, stopping in between for a restroom break. Got to our hotel, Grand Hotel de la Minerva, checked in and settled into our room. Met the group in the lobby for a walk to our dinner at Enoteca & Tavena Capranica; excellent food among wonderful eating companions, Jeff and Nancy/Amanda and Scott.
Wednesday was leisure time so we slept late, had breakfast, and joined our tour director, Anna, for an optional walk to the Trevi fountain and Spanish Steps.
Beautiful morning and I walked up all the steps for a fantastic view of Rome. Spanish Steps Ginni and I grabbed a sandwich at a local shop that we shared in our room for lunch. Met up with the group in the lobby for a walk to the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. We then board our coach for the ride to the Colosseum; we got in a private entrance so avoided the long lines of people wanting to purchase tickets for admittance. Colosseum Spent a couple hours touring the ruins and then we returned to the hotel. Met in the lobby for a walk to the Piazza Navona and dinner at Tre Scalini. Dinner companions were Bob and Pam, David and Lynn, Amanda and Scott, and Ginni.
We rose at 7:00 this morning; after dressing, I went up to the restaurant for breakfast. Ginni joined me later. We met in the lobby at 8:30 for our journey to St. Peter’s Basilica. What a beautiful place! There has been an addition added to the original Michelangelo church which is difficult to notice unless you are told. We spent the morning at the Basilica and returned to our hotel around noon.
Jeff and Nancy outside St. Peter’s Basilica
Entering the basilica
One of many statues within the basilica
Altar of basilica
Upon the recommendation of Anna, Ginni and I had lunch at a quaint restaurant called Ginger’s. The rest of the afternoon was spent in our room relaxing and packing for an early departure tomorrow. At 6:20 our group departed the lobby for a walk to our coach and transfer to the Vatican Museums. Because it was after hours, we journeyed through the Candelabra Gallery, Map Gallery, and the Tapestries at a leisurely pace. The Sistine Chapel was overwhelming; the amazement of Michelangelo’s masterpiece ceiling was overwhelming from the standpoint of it being painted in the early 1500’s with no electricity and he not having painted before; it took him 4 years to finish.
Robes on display in museum
Statue in museum
Ceiling within chapel
Wall within chapel
Wall and ceiling joining
We gathered in the courtyard for appetizers and drink. Back to the hotel around 9:30; we were leaving Rome the next morning.
After some discussion with my travel agent, I booked a flight to Fairbanks, Alaska from February 18th thru the 23rd in hopes of seeing the Aurora Borealis or commonly known as the Northern Lights. My sister-in-law from Michigan, Sarah, joined me on this adventure. Due to the time of year, we figured temperatures would be well below zero but it turned out to be a week of 20’s degree temperatures with snow falling. Our lodging was at the Hampton Inn & Suites; for future reference, it would of been better if we were booked downtown where there was more happening. Both of us were tired after a long day of travel so we called Pizza Hut for delivery that evening; that was a bad mistake because it took close to 2 hours before the pizza got delivered. On Monday afternoon, we were picked up from our lodging for a tour of Fairbanks. First stop was Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitor Center where the history and culture of Fairbanks was on display; next stop was the Museum of the North where fascinating stories about Alaska’s people, places, and wildlife was exhibited in their galleries; we viewed a portion of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline which is one of the world’s largest pipeline systems; next stop was the Great Alaskan Bowl Company where many, many bowls and utensils were on display for purchase but were quite pricey; last stop was processing store selling salmon, elk, and other Alaskan meats. All in all, a very good tour.
Cutie helping pack
Earlier life on display
Sarah got to see a moose
Sarah and I at the pipeline
That evening we called C&J Drive In for delivery of hamburgers; the response was quick and the hamburgers were delicious! On Tuesday, we ventured downtown for some shopping; both of us bought items to take back to friends and family. We had lunch at Bahn Thai Express which was located across the street from our hotel; very good food. Because we were going on tour which started at 4:45 PM and ended at 3:30 AM, we spent the afternoon in our room resting and relaxing. Our tour that evening was Northern Lights and Chena Hot Springs so our guide took us 55 miles north of Fairbanks to the Chena Springs Resort; because of the road conditions, it took us around 2 hours to arrive. Upon the arrival, we toured the Aurora Ice Museum which had many eye-popping sculptures; next we had dinner at Chena Hot Springs Restaurant which was good; Sarah and I then went in the resort’s legendary hot springs which was comfortable but not as good as my hot tub back home. There were nine of us on the tour; everyone was back at the van around 11:40 and our guide was spotting the Aurora but there was too much lighting at the resort so he drove about 10 miles down the road where we parked in a campground. The Northern Lights were appearing!! Everyone had the feeling of excitement since the previous three nights were not good for viewing. After spending time at the campground, the guide drove us closer to Fairbanks but on a back road where we were able to pull off to the side of the road and see the Aurora was again; this time the Big Dipper appeared as part of the lights.
We are off on our adventure
Sarah and I at the hot springs
Bar area in the Ice Museum
An ice bed
Looking over the museum
Work area of the museum
Sarah and I in the hot springs
The Northern Lights; notice the Big Dipper
Wednesday was spent “lazing around” the hotel; it was snowing outside and both of us were tired from the previous evening activity. We did have another tour scheduled for the evening so we called for Mexican delivery for our evening meal which we ate in the lobby of the hotel. Our guide picked us up in the lobby at 10 PM; there was only one other person on the tour. Since it had been snowing all day and still was, we did not have much hope for seeing the lights. This tour took us to a yurt which was about 25 miles out of Fairbanks; easier and quicker to get to than the evening before. We settled inside for hopes of the seeing the lights; there was a campfire outside and we did some time in front of it. The yurt was occupied by another group comprised of Chinese; they were very loud and we were quite happy when they left before midnight. By 1:30, we decided to give up and return to Fairbanks where we arrived at our hotel around 2:00 AM.
Future sled dog
Thursday was our last day in Fairbanks so we went back downtown and did more shopping. Upon the recommendation of one of the clerks in a store, we had lunch at Soapy Smiths which turned out to be fun; owner of the place gave us an update as to the history of the place and our waiter really enjoyed his work as displayed by his sense of humor.
Sarah and I at Soapy Smiths
We returned to the hotel mid-afternoon; Sarah took a nap while I read. Packing and early check out was completed by evening; since we had such a late lunch, neither of us were very hungry so we ate some snacks Sarah had brought with her from home. Due to needing to rise at 3:50 the next morning for a 6:03 flight, we were in bed early. All went well with our hotel and airport departures; it was a long day for me with getting up at 3:50 Fairbanks time and arriving home at 11:30 our time but the girls greeted me at the door so my tiredness was forgotten. Sarah made a great traveling companion and both of us were pleased…and excited…that we did get to see the Northern Lights.