Arkansas in November

From November 13th until the 16th, I decided to visit my friends, Joyce and George, in Bella Vista, Arkansas for three nights.  Since they have an apartment in a retirement community, I reserved a room at The Inn which is located within an mile of their place.  The Inn had a beautiful, relaxing atmosphere; 14 acres surrounded by trees and the Ozarks.  After checking in, I drove to my friends for an evening of BBQ Pork sandwiches and friendship.  Before retiring for the evening, it was decided the next day would be for Joyce and I with George staying home.  

The next morning, before having breakfast, I made a cup of coffee and ventured out for a walk about the woods and grounds. It was a crisp feeling morning so the coffee was welcomed. After taking a shower, I ventured down to the kitchen for a breakfast prepared by my host. The food tasted wonderful and conversation was lively. Around 10:00, I drove to the Sheldons. Joyce was ready so we drove to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art where we walked the trails. There are more than 3.5 miles of trails winding through the museum’s 120-acre site so we had access to some beautiful landscape. After our walk, we went into the reception area of the museum where we signed up for the tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright’s structure known as Bachman-Wilson House. This house was originally built in 1956 along the Millstone River in New Jersey; it was purchased by an architect/designer team in 1988. However, the house was threatened by repeated flooding so the owners determined that, in order to preserve it, they should sell it to an institution willing to relocate it. Crystal Bridges was selected and it acquired the house in 2013. The entire structure was taken apart and each component was labeled, packed, and moved to the Museum where it was reconstructed in 2015. Next available tour was at 1:15 so we ate lunch in the museum cafe; very good food. And then we walked to the house where we went on a self guided tour which lasted about 15 minutes. Very, very interesting! Back to the museum where we went into the gift shop; I was looking for potential Christmas gifts for Savanna. Did not find anything so next stop was the Amazeum; this is a hands-on museum for children and families and Joyce thought I might find something in their gift shop. However, I did not so onward to downtown Bentonville where we explored the 21c Museum Hotel. This hotel is relatively new to the neighborhood and Joyce had heard so much about the contemporary art museum, which is part of the hotel, that she wanted to see for herself. And the art displayed certainly could be classified as “unusual”. The day was drawing to a close so we drove back to the Sheldons.

George had mentioned that he would like to find either a birthday or Christmas present for Joyce; since he is blind, it makes it difficult for him to get to where he wants to go. So I drove him to the local Lowe’s store where he made the purchase he wanted. When we returned to the retirement complex, we stopped at the office where the administrator took the package and promised to wrap it for him. For dinner we went to El Pueblito Mexican Restaurant in Bella Vista; very good food and wonderful conversation. Once we returned to their apartment, we talked about what to do the next day and then I headed to the B&B where I checked my email and read.

On Tuesday, I got up but did not take a walk since Joyce and I planned on walking later in the morning. Had a couple cups of coffee in my room and then ventured downstairs for breakfast which was prepared by my hostess. Her helper joined me for a breakfast of french toast stuffed with blueberries and fresh fruit; very delicious. Since I wanted to leave early the next morning, I settled up my bill. And then I drove to the Sheldons where it was decided Joyce & I would take our walk, come back to the apartment for George and lunch at the cafeteria, and then take a drive to War Eagle Mill. Joyce and I drove to Tanyard Creek Nature Trail which has beautiful landscape with the trail leading to a waterfall. It was perfect weather for walking which we really enjoyed. Then back to their apartment where we walked to the cafeteria for lunch. After lunch, we got into the car and drove to War Eagle Mill which is approximately 10 miles east of the city of Rogers; it took us over an hour to get there. It is a working gristmill and has been located on the site since 1832 but was destroyed three times with the last rebuilt occurring in 1973. It currently operates as an undershot gristmill, and houses a store and restaurant. We did walk the grounds and shopped the store where I purchased Hillbilly Bean Soup mix. We went back to Bella Vista where I dropped Joyce & George off at their place; I drove to WalMart where I filled the car up with gas and purchased a cheese pizza. Joyce “doctored” the pizza with all kinds of vegetables, baked it, and that was our evening meal; again, it was very good. We sat around and talked for awhile but it was finally time to say good night. The next morning I was leaving so I said my “good byes” because I did not want the Sheldons to have to get up as early as I was hoping to leave.

Back at the B&B, I organized my suitcase and prepared for an early departure. Got up in the morning, went downstairs for coffee, took a shower, did my final packing, loaded the car, and went into the kitchen for a cup of coffee to go along with having my water container filled with ice. Grabbed a banana and said good bye to my host. I was on the road shortly after 7:00; made three stops on the way home, including lunch at the Amish travel center by Lamoni, IA. Not the best food but it was a good break. Arrived home around 3:30 still glowing from my visit with my friends and the wonderful hospitality put out by the owners of the B&B; I am hoping to return this coming spring when the flowers are starting to bloom and everything is turning to green.

An Overnight in Hannibal, Missouri

On October 26th, Mary and I left for an overnight in Hannibal, MO; we were celebrating my birthday on the 27th. We made one stop on the way down at a HyVee where we went to the restroom and purchased some wine. Upon arrival at Hannibal, we checked into the Best Western on the River hotel. Both of us were ready for lunch so we ate at Mark Twain Dinette and Family Restaurant; the food was not very good…oh well, it was only one meal! After lunch, we walked down to the main street and shopped. From our last trip to Hannibal two years previous, we remembered one place that had excellent gelato; however, they were out of the flavors each of us wanted but said salesperson said the flavors would be available the next morning. Upon returning to the hotel, we decided to walk to a used bookstore on Mark Twain Avenue; the store was a little further than we remembered but, after sitting all morning in the car, the walk did us good. And it was worthwhile with both of us purchasing some books.

With a recommendation of the hotel staff, we ventured to LaBinnah Bistro for dinner. What a wonderful place! Very small with about 15 tables and they do not take reservations. We had no problem getting a table and thoroughly enjoyed the whole dining experience. Menu leans toward French and Mediterranean dishes; both of us were quite pleased with our respective entrees of chicken and fish. It was back to the hotel after dinner with each of us going to our respective rooms after agreeing to meet the next morning at 7:30 for breakfast.

After breakfast, we decided to take a walk to the river. It was a cool morning but the walk was enjoyable. We stopped for coffee at Java Jive, a really neat place; we wished we would have had yesterday’s lunch at this place. Chocolaterie Stam, the place where gelato is made, opened at 10:00 and we ventured there for gelato; they had made the favors promised the day before for us. Mary wanted to go to an antique mall which was close to downtown; it was a very delightful experience for Mary and she wished we would have had more time there. But we were meeting our friend, Doris and her daughter, at Fiddlestiks Food & Spirits Co. for lunch so we had to cut our shopping at the mall short. Doris’s daughter, Renee, lives outside of St. Louis; they met us for lunch so Doris could ride back home with us. We had a wonderful lunch; good food, great conversation, many laughs. And, of course, the staff had to sing “Happy Birthday” while presenting me with a cupcake with a light candle.  All of us said good bye to Renee; we headed back to Iowa with my getting home around 3:30 in the afternoon.

What a fun, delightful way to spend my birthday; good friends, great shopping, fantastic adventure…life is indeed good!

Ireland 2016: Northern Ireland

Got up on August 31st ready to depart for Derry in Northern Ireland. After breakfast, the five of us adjoined to the sitting room where we looked at bed & breakfasts at Derry and we decided to stay at Phoenix B&B for the next two nights. Jeannette and Allan left before us and we were to meet up in Derry. Fosters and I, driving along, saw Fort Dunree at Buncrana so we turned in. And enjoyed exploring the fort and its grounds. This fort, smaller in size than at its prime, was erected to guard against possible invasion of a French fleet. In the late 19th century, the fort was enlarged with the building of the “top” fort on Dunree Hill. After looking at various military memorabilia, array of guns, and underground bunkers we went into the coffee shop for coffee and looking at items in the gift shop; I purchased a photograph of wild flowers taken by a local artist.

Lower portion of Fort Dunree

Lower portion of Fort Dunree

Walkway to some bunkers

Walkway to some bunkers

Lower buildings at the fort

Lower buildings at the fort

Upper level view

Upper level view

Fosters exploring

Fosters exploring

Countryside from upper level of the fort

Countryside from upper level of the fort

As we were leaving, the kids drove in and we decided to gather for lunch. We took the “scenic” byway with a very narrow road that had grass growing in the middle while the kids went the faster route. Our lunch was at the Linx Restaurant in Ballyliffin; good service and food. While the kids went on to Derry, we continued to drive to Malin Head, the northern furthest point of Ireland. It was very windy but we enjoyed walking the various parts; it was great scenery! We then went to Farren’s Bar which holds the claim of being Ireland”s most northerly pub on the mainland; it was established in the late 1800’s. The woman working behind the bar enlisted another bartender to write our first names on the head of each pint.

North Atlantic waves pushing into rocks at Malin Head

North Atlantic waves pushing into rocks at Malin Head

View from Malin Head

View from Malin Head

Old tower at Malin Head

Old tower at Malin Head

Fosters by Farren's sign

Fosters by Farren’s sign

Inside Farren's Bar

Inside Farren’s Bar

After drinking our pint, we proceeded on to Derry. Derry is the second-largest city in Northern Ireland and the fourth-largest city on the island of Ireland. While the city is more usually known as Derry, Londonderry is also commonly used and remains the legal name. There is an old walled city on the west bank of the River Foyle which slices Derry into the eastern and western chunks. We found the Phoenix B&B; Allan and Jeannette had already arrived. Once we settled in, we decided to take a 20 minute walk to Walled City Brewery where we had a beer and dinner; good beer and excellent food. In order to get there, we crossed the Peace Bridge which links the Catholic Nationals on the West Bank to the Protestant Unionists on the east. Returned back to our lodging and turned in for the night.

Peace Bridge

Peace Bridge

East side of river looking across at main city center

East side of river looking across at main city center

Beer bottles part of light fixture

Beer bottles part of light fixture

Relaxing and waiting for a good meal

Relaxing and waiting for a good meal

September 1: Woke up, took a shower, and looked at lodging for the next two nights; everything looked filled at Portbrush so, after breakfast, the kids went their own way while the Fosters and I called on various B&B’s. Finally found a place available Friday night but not Saturday which meant our possibly changing future plans we make of had. But we did not worry about it and set out for a 10:00 walking tour of the wall and Derry history.  John, the tour guide, did an excellent job of explaining the battle of the British and Irish that lasted 150 years plus the Bloody Sunday uprising in the early 70’s.

Our guide, Sarah, and Tom on top of the wall

Our guide, Sarah, and Tom on top of the wall

Signs of discontent still appear

Signs of discontent still appear

St. Columb's Cathedral

St. Columb’s Cathedral

Small portion of Derry from the wall

Small portion of Derry from the wall

Mural bogside area

Mural bogside area

Looking onward on the wall; notice artillery

Looking onward on the wall; notice artillery

We had coffee and went on to explore Guild Hall, a ceremonial seat of city government and entertainment which have many, many stained- glass windows showing scenes from Derry history. We went through the exhibit hall, saw the Council Chamber, party offices, and assembly hall.

Glass windows by entrance stairway

Glass windows by entrance stairway

Pipe Organ in Main Hall

Pipe Organ in Main Hall

More stained glass windows

More stained glass windows

Main Hall

Main Hall

Meet up with the kids for lunch at Quay Place where I had a chicken pita and pint of beer. My battery had died in my camera and I did not have the replacement so we, minus Jeannette & Allan, walked back to the B&B where I had left the replacement in the charger. With the camera now operational, we went to explore Bogside Murals. The Catholic Bogside area was the tinderbox of the modern Troubles in Northern Ireland. Bloody Sunday, a terrible confrontation during a march that occurred more than 40 years ago, sparked a sectarian inferno with the ashes still not having completely cooled. The 12 panels of murals gave us a glimpse of the community’s perception of those events so many years ago.

The Petrol Bomber; young boy in a gas mask holding petrol bomb

The Petrol Bomber; young boy in a gas mask holding petrol bomb

Murals depicting the violence 40 years ago

Murals depicting the violence 40 years ago

Mural shows a typical march of the period

Mural shows a typical march of the period

Peace mural

Peace mural

Information on the Peace Mural

Information on the Peace Mural

Off shopping with Tom being the only one of us finding anything to purchase. We had refreshments at Masons and sent a message to the kids about meeting us for dinner. It was decided on The Diamond; it was curry night so three folks had curry while Sarah had chicken skewers and I had chicken avocado salad. Back to our lodging where we called it an evening. The next day will be Ballycastle with three or more stops in between.

September 2: Got up, dressed, and packed for our next stop at Ballycastle. Had breakfast, adjoined to the sitting room where we started to look at lodging for Saturday thru Monday. Meanwhile, Allan and Jeannette were leaving to return to Dublin; they had a return flight home early the next morning. We said our good byes to them; it was great that they were able to join us as long as they did. Finally we found lodging for Saturday & Sunday nights; not sure about Trim because, where we wanted to stay had only one room available so we hoped there would be a cancellation and will find out later on. Meanwhile, we paid for our lodging; the host was great, the food good, but the room was quite small with very bad pressure in the toilet, lumpy mattress, and much outside noise. After loading our car, we headed for our evening stop at Ballycastle. Our first stop was at Portstewart where we went to the toilets and shopped the gift area at a local coffee shop.

Dockside view at Portstewart

Dockside view at Portstewart

Fosters at the Fishing Boat sculpture

Fosters at the Fishing Boat sculpture

The next stop was Dunluce Castle; it is one of the largest in Ireland and beautifully situated but there is little left to see. During the Middle Ages the castle resisted many sieges but, on a stormy night in 1639, dinner was interrupted as half the kitchen fell into the sea taking servants with it. This was the last straw for the lady of the castle who packed up and moved inland, and the castle began its slow submission to nature.

Walking down to Dunlace Castle

Walking down to Dunlace Castle

Castle on edge of basalt outcropping

Castle was built on edge of basalt outcropping accessible by bridge

Looking through wall opening

Looking through wall opening

Coastline looking from Dunluce Castle

Coastline looking from Dunluce Castle

Bushmills Distillery, which is the world’s oldest, was our next stop. We went on a 40 minute tour learning the process and ended in the bar area where I got a free sample of their 12-year old whiskey; it did not taste bad but certainly not my drink of choice. Since we had not had lunch and a restaurant right there, we ate at the distillery. Onward to Giant’s Causeway which is a World Heritage Site; a long stretch of coastline famous for its bizarre basalt columns. The shore is covered with large hexagonal pillars that stick up at various heights. After returning to the visitor center, we shopped in their gift shop where I made some purchases for people back home.

Bushmills Distillery

Bushmills Distillery

Walking down to Giant's Causeway

Walking down to Giant’s Causeway

One small portion of Giant's Causeway

One small portion of Giant’s Causeway

Sarah relaxing among pillars

Sarah relaxing among pillars

It was getting toward 4:30 so we decided to head to Ballycastle and our B&B for the evening called Hillsea.

Hillsea B&B

Hillsea B&B

It was very nice both on the outside and the inside. After settling in we walked to the town center where we had drinks and dinner at The Central; the evening was made more pleasant with two gentlemen playing musical instruments and singing. We walked back to our lodging and said goodnight; it was nice to have an early evening.

September 3: Had a really good night sleep; woke up around 6:40 and did not want to get up but made myself. Met Fosters for breakfast; we checked out of our lodging and were on our way. There was nothing on the agenda for the day so drove slow and enjoyed the coastal drive to our destination town of Carrickfergus. We stopped at Carnlough for a walk and toilet stop. At Glenarm there were walled gardens so we stopped, walked the area, and had coffee plus coconut macaroon at their coffee shop.

Driving thru the countryside

Driving thru the countryside

Beach area and resort by Carnlough

Beach area and resort by Carnlough

Dock area at Carnlough

Dock area at Carnlough

Downtown Carnlough

Downtown Carnlough

Some of walled garden at Glenarm

Some of walled garden at Glenarm

Pond and fountain at the gardens

Pond and fountain at the gardens

More of the gardens

More of the gardens

Drove to Carrickfergus where we checked into The Keep House B&B; settled in and then walked to the rail station where we looked at schedules of trains going to Belfast the next day. And then onward to Carrick Castle; a delightful 1.5 hours of walking around.

Approaching Carrick Castle

Approaching Carrick Castle

Room inside castle

Room inside castle

Looking down at courtyard

Looking down at courtyard

View from castle looking to the ocean

View from castle looking to the ocean

We went to the local super market where I picked up a bottle of wine; the Fosters went to the restaurant, Windrose, where our hostess had made us reservations while I walked back the our lodging to put the wine in the refrigerator and give our hostess updated train schedules. Walked to the restaurant and joined up with the Fosters. After a couple drinks and dinner of prawn cocktail plus salad, I paid my bill and left the Fosters to walk the waterfront on their own. This was the earliest night of the whole trip to be in my room; drank a glass of wine and read. The next day we were going via train to Belfast.

September 4: Had another good night’s sleep; showered, dressed, and read until Fosters knocked on the door. Went to breakfast and then walked to the train station for our trip to Belfast. Arrived at central station and decided to walk to town center where we wanted to pick up the hop on/hop off bus. On our way, we discovered the St. George’s Market which is similar to Cedar Rapids downtown market. Stayed long enough for Sarah to make a purchase and then on to the bus area; stopped a bus along the way and he gave us a ride to the hop on/off bus and tickets.

Train station

Train station

Our train

Our train

Hop on/off bus

Hop on/off bus

The first off stop for us was Titanic Museum Belfast where the ship was built. We spent 2 hours going through 8 different galleries depicting the following: Boomtown Belfast showed how thriving industries and innovations led to the Titanic’s creation, The Shipyard Ride tour took us through the shipyard experience, The Launch had an audio display of the Titanic’s launch on the 31st of May 1911, The Fit Out illustrated the ship’s interior, The Maiden Voyage covered the 10 decks of the ship of which 8 were for passenger use, The Sinking displayed the collision with the iceberg, The Aftermath told of the British and American inquiries into the disaster, and Myths/Reality told of the stories, films, books and legends that still exist today. All of it was interesting but, after time, I was ready to leave. We went to the coffee shop where we purchased coffee to go.  While outside, we wandered over to the SS Nomad which was a steamship built in 1911 by the same company that produced the Titanic; it has been restored to her original glory and is docked near Titanic Museum.  We could of gone on board but our bus had arrived so did not have time.

Street view of Belfast with clock tower in background

Street view of Belfast with clock tower in background

Titanic Museum

Titanic Museum

Lower class bunks

Lower class bunks

Upper class suite

Upper class suite

SS Nomad

SS Nomad

We  got on the bus and listened to the tour guide describing the history of the various stops on the tour.  We saw sights such as St. George’s Anglican Church, Cavehill Park, Antrim Road, Full Belfast Peace Wall, Queens University, Belfast Castle, and Peace Statue. When we got to the place the tour started earlier in the day, we got off and went shopping at Carrolls which is a gift/souvenior type of place. After making some purchases, we headed toward the St. George Market where we looked at the merchandise displayed in the various booths. We had not eaten since breakfast so Sarah and I shared a spinach/goat cheese pie.

Peace Statue

Peace Statue

Tom enjoying the ride

Tom enjoying the ride

St. George's Anglican Church

St. George’s Anglican Church

Belfast Castle

Belfast Castle

Courtyard at Belfast Castle

Courtyard at Belfast Castle

Portion of peace wall

Portion of peace wall

More of peace wall

More of peace wall

Queens University entrance

Queens University entrance

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Red-brick and ‘flat iron’ shape Bittles Bar built in 1868

Onward to the rail station where we had about 50 minutes to wait for the next train. While waiting, we each had a pint of Guinness. The train arrived and we were on our way back to Carrickergus and our lodging.

The Keep House

The Keep House

Resident outside my bedroom window

Resident outside my bedroom window

After a rest in each our respective rooms, we headed to Ownies for dinner. This is a local bar/bistro which served a delicious grilled chicken salad with strawberries and grapes. Finished our meals and headed back to the lodging; we stopped at an ATM along the way for more money. For some reason, Fosters card would not work in the machines within Northern Ireland but mine would so I lent them money throughout our journey in this part of the country. Back at the lodging, we said our good nights. It was early enough that I finished the book I had been reading. Lights out around 10:00.

The morning of September 5 we had a late breakfast (8:30) and got ready to depart. Left Carrickfergus heading south toward Trim. Only two more days in my adventure but I will be ready to go home. We stopped at Newry for coffee at a place called Bojangles and then shopped in order for Sarah could get rid of some pounds; since we will be crossing back to Ireland which uses euro currency. We went into Edinburgh Woolen Mill where I purchased a blue lambs wool sweater for myself. Our next stop was Battle of Boyne site; this battleground is huge in Irish and British history. The riverside pasture was the site of the battle in which Protestant British decisively broke Catholic resistance, establishing Protestant rule over all of Ireland and Britain.

Visitor center for Battle of Boyne

Visitor center for Battle of Boyne

Artillery used in the battle

Artillery used in the battle

Tom getting ready to load

Tom getting ready to load

Tom and Sarah in the garden

Tom and Sarah in the garden

Back in the car to head to the visitor center for Newgrange, a grassy mound atop a hill dating 3200 B.C. which makes it 500 years older than the pyramids at Giza. At the visitor center we purchased a ticket for the 3:45 tour of Newgrange (one of two burial sites we could visit) which gave us time to kill. First we had lunch in the restaurant where Sarah and I split lasagna. Next shopping in their gift shop; I purchased a couple gift items. And then we toured the museum which explained the Boyne River Valley and the 40 some burial mounds found in the surrounding hills. Exhibits recreated what the pre-Celtic people were like. A bus took us to the burial site where the guide explained the tomb is aligned precisely east-west so, as the sun rises on the shortest day of the year, a ray of light enters through to roof box and makes its way down the passageway. The entrance is a mosaic of white Quartz and dark granite. Very interesting visit.

Scenery on the walk to the tour bus

Scenery on the walk to the tour bus

Newgrange burial site

Newgrange burial site

Entrance into the site

Entrance into the site

Site from the distance

Site from the distance

Onward to Trim where we arrived at The White House Lodge around 5:45. After settling in, we walked to Regan’s for a drink. This is a tiny, low-ceiling pub residing next to an old Norman bridge. And then we walked to the town center where we had dinner at the Castle Arch Hotel. I ordered beef salad, grazed with chili sauce and sesame seeds; it was delicious! Walked back to our lodging and bed.

Inside Regan's

Inside Regan’s

Notice the low beams

Notice the low beams

Regan's from the outside

Regan’s from the outside

On September 6 we were returning to Dublin for an overnight at the Clayton Hotel. Our plans for the day were to visit Hills of Tara, do some shopping, check into the hotel, take the car to Hertz, and bring the hotel shuttle back to the hotel. But first we had breakfast and checked out of the B&B. And on to the Hills of Tara, located near the River Boyne, is an archaeological complex that contains a number of ancient monuments and, according to tradition, was the seat of the High King of Ireland. Tara is one of the largest complexes of Celtic monuments in all of Europe. After checking in with visitor center, we watched an audio video about the history and importance of the hills. We walked around the area taking in the beauty and history of the place.

Hill of Tara Church; now visitor center

Hill of Tara Church; now visitor center

Inside the church

Inside the church

One of the mounds

One of the mounds

High Cross

High Cross

The Stone of Destiny

The Stone of Destiny

Mound of hostages grate

Mound of hostages grate

Looking into hostage mound

Looking into hostage mound

And then we shopped where I found a few more gifts for Christmas. To the north of Dublin, we stopped at Dungsangon for gas and lunch. Tom navigated us to the hotel which was much easier than last year where it took 3 passes before taking the correct exit. Checked into the hotel, settled in our rooms, took the car back to Hertz, took their shuttle to the area of the hotel shuttle, got on the hotel shuttle, and returned to the hotel. We had a couple drinks in their restaurant and ordered an early dinner of pizza.

Relaxing at the hotel restaurant

Relaxing at the hotel restaurant

After eating and paying the bill, we returned to our rooms where I re-packed my large case. Then read and watched a movie on Netflix. Lights out at 9:00.

September 7: Up at 6:30; it was not a good night sleep. This hotel is quite expensive and certainly not worth the money with noise of garbage trucks, parking lot, and airplanes throughout the night. Never will book there again! We got the shuttle before 8:00, arrived at the airport and checked in/went thru airport security without any problem. Breakfast was ordered which we ate and then did some shopping. Again, more items purchased for Christmas gifts. One advantage of flying out of Dublin is going through US Customs there instead of when we land on US soil; it seems so much easier. So thru US Customs we went without any problem. Another difference between last year and this is Delta now has a lounge for priority passengers so we went there and relaxed before our flight was called. Onto the plane and winging home; I was ready! No problem until boarded for last leg of the journey in Detroit; because of storms, weight had to be redistributed so a couple non-paying folks were booted off, bags in the overhead put under the seats in front of us, and bags from underneath in the cargo hold were brought up and placed in the overheads. Finally, after unloading approximately 200 lbs. of fuel, we were underway. Arrived in Cedar Rapids about 45 minutes late. Retrieved my checked bag and got the shuttle for home. Arrived around 10:15 and was greeted by Beauty and Cutie. It felt good be home!

Ireland 2016: Trim, Connemara, County Mayo and County Donegal

Tuesday, August 23: Mary, Joe, and I went to the airport about 8:45; my flight was to leave at 10:15. First connection was made in Detroit; I had some time to kill so went to Delta lounge where I had some lunch of soup and vegetables along with a glass of wine. Second connection was in Atlanta where I met up with the Fosters; we went to the Delta lounge where we had some wine until our last flight to Dublin boarded at 6:20. We boarded and settled into our “rooms” for the night. After champagne, wine, and dinner it was time to put down the seat and go to bed. Woke up about two hours out of Dublin and had coffee plus breakfast.

Arrived in Dublin shortly after 8:00 a.m. on Wednesday, August 24.  After retrieving our luggage and Tom getting euros, we went to Hertz to fill out paperwork and pick up the rental car. Due to Tom having good directions with Sarah assisting, I was able to drive out of Dublin with minimal problem and on our way to Trim where we had reserved rooms at Highfield House B&B.

Highfield House B&B

Highfield House B&B

Trim is in the heart of the Boyne River valley and is renowned as one of Ireland’s most beautiful small towns with its monuments, parks, trails, and floral displays . Our rooms were not ready when we arrived around 10:00 so we walked to the phone store where Sarah and Tom picked up prepaid cards for their phones. We walked to city center area and Trim Castle which is an Anglo- Norman castle started by Hugh de Lacy in 1173; we did not take the tour of the castle but walked the grounds. Our exploring took us to Yellow Steeple and Sheep Gate; the steeple was originally the belfry tower of the Augustinian Abbey of St. Mary and has gotten its name because of its color in the evening sunlight. The Sheep Gate is the only surviving gateway to the Medieval town of Trim. At this point, we went back to our B&B where our rooms were ready. Before heading out again, we took a few hours to rest. Oh, it felt so good to brush my teeth and rest my eyes for a few minutes. Our afternoon walk took us by the Old Mellifont Abbey which was Ireland’s first Cistercian monastery, the Maudlin Cemetery which was the site of the Leper Hospital of Mary Magdalene, Millennium Bridge, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and a pub we wanted to go into but it was not open.

Walking the river trail

Walking the river trail

Fosters at Sheep Gate

Fosters at Sheep Gate

Yellow Steeple

Yellow Steeple

Backside of Trim Castle

Backside of Trim Castle

Mellifont Abbey and cemetary

Mellifont Abbey and cemetary

We walked to the town center and ate at Judge and Jury. Because of the long flight the night before, we decided on an early night. I was in bed on my way to dreamland before it was dark outside.

Three of us at Judge and Jury

Three of us at Judge and Jury

Thursday, August 25, arrived with sunshine. Met the Fosters for breakfast at 8:00;  the owners certainly knew how to provide a great breakfast with full menu selection that included fresh scones. After having a final cup of coffee in the patio area where we discussed our day, we checked out and headed to Westport. We stopped at Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre which interprets an Iron Age bog road, the largest of its kind to be uncovered in Europe dating from 148 BC.  It was interesting to hear the history from the volunteer person; however, she was VERY enthusiastic about the subject and became quite lengthy with detail.

Bog road

Bog road

Fosters on bog road replica

Fosters on bog road replica

Wildflower bushes

Wildflower bushes

Lunch was at Swan Tavern in Lanesboro; I ordered the lamburger thinking I was going to get a sandwich but it turned out to be a full meal with potatoes and gravy plus vegetables which was too much food for me! Arrived in Westport about 4:00 and after settling into our B&B called Killeny House we walked to the town centre where we explored the shops, pubs, and restaurants. I made a purchase at a kitchen store called Market 57, a store full of great kitchen gadgets and gourmet food, candy, and jams. We had dinner at Clock Tower which had a varied menu and the food was good. After dinner, we went to three places where music was being played; the best was at Matt Mallory but it was very crowded.

Channel by B&B

Channel by B&B

Entertainers

Entertainers

Banjo player

Banjo player

Decided to head back and call it an evening. Into bed about 11:30.

On Friday, the 26th, we had breakfast and headed to Achill Island which is Ireland’s largest island. It rained on the way but cleared up and we had a glorious day. At Mulranny, we turned onto the loop that took us to Achill Sound; from there, we took the northern route where we stopped for coffee at Dugort at a neat coffee house which displayed a lunch menu and desserts that looked fabulous.  There were many blackface sheep spotted during our drive; thousands of these sheep were imported from Scotland during the 1850’s and, today, roam on mountainsides, valleys, and on the road.  From Dugort, we drove to Slievemore Mountain (second highest peak on Achill Island) and the Deserted Village plus cemetery.  The Deserted Village consists of some 80 – 100 stone cottages located along a mile long stretch of road on the southern slopes of Slievemore mountain; it is believed this settlement dates back to at least early Medieval times.

Beautiful countryside

Beautiful countryside

Fixture of the road

Fixture of the road

By the Atlantic

By the Atlantic

Remnants of the Deserted Village settlement

Remnants of the Deserted Village settlement

More Deserted Village

More Deserted Village

Tom liking the exploration of the village

Tom liking the exploration of the village

Cemetery at Slievemore

Cemetery at Slievemore

After leaving the settlement, we continued on our goal of driving all the way to the end of the island and winding up at Keem Bay, an area of sheltered beach surrounded by high cliffs.   We thought we would have lunch there but there was only a vendor truck selling hot dogs.  Sarah and I waded in the Atlantic Ocean while Tom took pictures. Back into the car where we went to Keel and had lunch at Gielly’s; Sarah and I had tuna panini while Tom had seafood chowder…everything was great! On our way back to Westport, we stopped at a couple pottery places where, at one, I purchased a vase.

Getting close to Keem

Getting close to Keem

Does the road "drop" into the Atlantic?

Does the road “drop” into the Atlantic?

Water flowing down the mountain

Water flowing down the mountain

Keel Bay

Keel Bay

Ocean wading

Ocean wading

Another view of scenery

Another view of scenery

Old tower

Old tower

Back at Westport, we made a brief stop at our B&B and then walked to the Town Centre where live Irish music was found at JJ O’Mallory so we ordered some drinks and appetizers (since lunch was late, we did not want a full meal).

The entertainers

The entertainers

Really enjoyed the music and hated to leave but it was time…back to the B&B with lights out around 11:00. But it was a very noisy evening with partying going on from 12:30 to 3:00 in the morning; not a good night for sleeping.

Saturday, the 27th, I awoke before the 6:30 alarm, took a shower, and worked on my notes until Tom Foster knocked on my door at 8:00. Went to breakfast which did not vary from the day before. After talking it over the night before, we wanted to thoroughly check out the next B&B we select on the internet before making reservations for our Sligo stop. This B&B was selected by us because we thought it was an old distillery turned into a bed and breakfast which turned out not. The innkeeper was very friendly and nice but the bed hard, very plain decor, and not what we preferred. After breakfast, we looked at various options, settled on one we thought would be good and Tom called/made us reservations. Fortunately, Jeannette and Allan who are joining us in Sligo were able to reserve at the same place! We headed toward Sligo with a couple detours…prehistoric fields and cliffs. We first stopped at Ballycroy National Park which has 11,000 hectares, or approximately 4455 acres) of Atlantic blanket bog and mountainous terrain dominated by the Neptin Bog range. After a cup of coffee, we took a walk along the pathway and shot some pictures.

Walkway by bog fields

Walkway by bog fields

Surrounding area of bog fields

Surrounding area of bog fields

More of bog fields

More of bog fields

Our next stop was Céide Fields which is the most extensive Stone-Age monument in the world; field systems, dwelling areas and megalithic tombs of 5,000 years ago. After viewing a video talking about the times, we walked around the enclosure.

View of area surrounding the visitor center

View of area surrounding the visitor center

Tomb site

Tomb site

Top of visitor center

Top of visitor center

Fosters looking at some of the sites

Fosters looking at some of the sites

And then on the road again. We stopped at the Downpatrick Head for cliff viewing; these are taking the credit of being second to the Cliffs of Mohr in their beauty and dramatic shapes.

Downpatrick Head

Blow hole

Lookout post on top of cliffs

Watch house on top of cliffs

View from cliffs

View from cliffs

Cliff "dwellers"

Cliff “dwellers”

Another cliff view

View of sea stack from cliffs

After taking pictures and walking around, we headed for Killala and lunch at the Village Inn. We arrived in Sligo shortly after 5:00, settled into the Pearse Lodge B&B. Allan and Jeannette were ahead of us so we met them at a pub, which serves food, called Hargadon Bros.; I was not very hungry so ordered dessert with my glass of wine. Back to B&B for bed.

Sunday, the 28th, we met for a great breakfast and then split up with Jeannette, Allan, and Tom hiking onto a mountain top while Sarah and I walked to the Sligo Abbey where we took the self-guided walking tour. The abbey is 13th century and contains the only surviving 15th century sculptured high altar in any Irish monastic church.

Dragon bench downtown Sligo

Dragon bench downtown Sligo

The Garavogue River thru Sligo

The Garavogue River thru Sligo

Inside abbey

Inside abbey

Alcove in abbey

Alcove in abbey

Abbey from the outside

Abbey from the outside

After exploring the abbey, we walked back to the B&B, got the car, and drove to the local farmer’s market by the airport. It was small but fun; Tom, Jeannette, and Allan joined us there. After making a couple purchases, we left and found lunch at The Venue Bar. And then onto Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery where we saw the largest cemetery of megalithic tombs, ranging from 5500 to 6500 hundred years of age, in Ireland and among their oldest with over 60 tombs being located.

One of the tombs

One of the tombs

Opening into a tomb

Opening into a tomb

The tomb

The tomb

Myself with Allan and Jeannette

Myself with Allan and Jeannette

That evening we walked downtown to The Snug for some liquid refreshments; Tom was given a free beer by some guy which caused the rest of us to wonder if the guy was trying “hustle” Tom. We listened briefly to a couple performing live music which was so-so listening.

Inside The Snug

Inside The Snug

Enjoying beer

Enjoying beer

Couple performing

Couple performing

On to dinner at Fiddler’s Tavern and Restaurant; I had the chicken fillet which was quite delicious. One thing about the Irish…they do not skimp on food and provide large quantities of it. We walked back to the B&B with an early night to bed.

On August 29th I woke up early enough to watch the sunrise and get a picture of our bed and breakfast which has been fantastic with wonderful accommodations, friendly host and hostess, and good food.

Sunrise

Sunrise

Pearse Lodge B&B

Pearse Lodge B&B

The five of us met for breakfast at 8:00 and, after paying our bill and loading up the car, we headed north to Belleek Pottery; home to the Belleek Fine Parian china, a pearly coloured china. The company was established in 1857 and is best known for its fine lattice work ornamental pieces that are decorated with pastel-coloured flowers.   We took an excellent 30-minute tour of process and then ended up in the gift shop filled with many, many items for sale.

Pottery moulds

Pottery moulds

Pottery of flowers, stems & leaves

Pottery of flowers, stems & leaves

Hand painting the pottery

Hand painting the pottery

Finished product

Finished product

  We went to Ballyshannon for a visit to Donegal Brewery but they were not open so had lunch at Kate’s Kitchen where I had a very tasty Tuna Melt. Onward to Donegal Castle which was built by the O’Connell chieftain in the 15th century, beside the River Eske, with extensive 17th century additions made by Sir Basil Brooke.

Donegal Castle

Donegal Castle

History of castle

History of castle

Castle's toilet

Castle’s toilet

Dining area with huge fireplace

Dining area with huge fireplace

As we made our way further north, we stopped at a coastal beach where Jeannette and Allan waded in the Atlantic while the rest walked the beach.

The beach

The beach

Wading in the Atlantic

Wading in the Atlantic

Area around the beach

Area around the beach

With that break, we drove to Dungloe where we hoped to get lodging at place called Iggy’s, advertised as a bar and B&B. However, Iggy’s is in Kincasslagh which Jeannette and Allan reached before us. They had enough time to find out Iggy’s does not take in lodgers but Logue’s, a B&B not far from the bar, does so Allan flagged us down as we drove up. Nice accommodations with a beautiful view. Settled in and then walked to Iggy’s for a drink. After our drink, we walked to the Viking House Hotel for dinner where I had chicken skewers and salad; very good. Back to our lodging in time for me to update my notes before getting ready for bed.

Logue B&B

Logue B&B

View from B&B

View from B&B

Iggy's Bar

Iggy’s Bar

Owner of Iggy's

Owner of Iggy’s

Group shot at Viking House Hotel

Group shot at Viking House Hotel

Beautiful morning on Tuesday, August 30th and, after a hearty breakfast, we headed toward Glenveagh National Park where we wanted to visit the Glenveagh castle and walled gardens. On the way, we stopped at a local beach and explored. At this point, Jeannette and Allan went their separate way with the thought of meeting up with us at the park. It was a beautiful drive to the park and we stopped to explore a Catholic Church on the way.

The local beach

The local beach

Allan, the photographer

Allan, the photographer

Another view of the beach

Another view of the beach

Church and cemetery

Church and cemetery

View of beautiful countryside

View of beautiful countryside

Arrived at the visitor center and decided to walk to the castle instead of taking the shuttle bus. It was a good 40-minute walk but, because of the heat, I was glad to arrive at the castle.

View from the walking trail

View from the walking trail

Different view from walking trail

Different view from walking trail

Tom at castle entrance

Tom at castle entrance

We signed up for the tour and waited about 5 minutes before it began. Good tour but felt it did not encompass a lot of the detail. After the tour, we walked the walled gardens which had both flowers and vegetables. While there, we encountered Allan and Jeannette. We explored the grounds and decided to ride back to the visitor center while Jeannette and Allan walked.

Part of walled garden

Part of walled garden

Gardens with castle in background

Gardens with castle in background

Three of us exploring

Three of us exploring

Robin on castle fence

Robin on castle fence

Had lunch at the center and, even though the kids had not shown up, left for Letterkenny where we planned to find lodging for the night. Upon arrival at Letterkenny, it took us awhile to find the Tourist Information Center who, we hoped, would have a listing of B&B’s in the area. The first one they recommended was filled while second one contacted, Ardlee B&B, had available space. We drove there and checked in; the kids were doing laundry so we got a room for them.

Ardlee B&B

Ardlee B&B

Because of the distance from the B&B to the town centre, we decided to drive part of the way; left car at Aldi’s and walked to the nearby shopping center where we got drinks at Oasis Bar; the kids joined us after our first drink. Decided to go the Sister Sara’s for another drink and food but they do not serve food so went to Brewery Bar and Restaurant. Food was good but service slow. Back to car with Jeannette driving back to our lodging. The next day we were headed into Northern Ireland so my blog will describe that portion of our trip in another posting.

 

Visiting Asheville, North Carolina

My sister, Edi, decided to take a traveling nurse assignment at Asheville, NC and at the last minute I decided to travel with her. We connected at the Eastern Iowa Airport the morning of June 2rd; I left my car in the airport parking lot. Lunch destination was O’Fallon, MO where we met Vicki, my niece and Edi’s daughter, and her husband Mark. After lunch, we departed and drove to the eastern side of Nashville, TN where we stopped for the night at Hampton Inn located in Mount Juliet, TN. After settling into the room, we had dinner at Red Lobster. Dinner was very good. And our next stop was Target, where we purchased some needed supplies. We planned on getting back on the road fairly decent time in the morning.

Got up, dressed, had breakfast, checked out, and was on the road by 6:30. We arrived in Asheville around 1:30 or so in the afternoon. The apartment complex was located, and Edi was able to get her keys. However, they did not work so we had to have the manager come over and let us in. She was going to have the maintenance person come and change the lock. Furniture and washer/dryer were to be delivered but neither company had shown up. After unloading all of Edi’s packed items from the car, we went out for a late lunch plus shopping for some supplies. When we returned to the apartment, neither items had been delivered. We started to unpack and put items away. And then we heard a truck; my sister went out on porch and flagged the truck down. It was the delivery for the furniture; they had been given the incorrect apartment number so Edi was fortunate she was able to “catch” them. After the furniture was put into place and the delivery truck left, we had dinner. And then we sat on the balcony talking while enjoying the beautiful scenery.

Edi's apartment building

Edi’s apartment building

Tomorrow we are going to do some sightseeing.

Saturday morning, June 4th, I went for a walk around the complex; there is a very nice swimming pool, exercise room and picnic/BBQ areas along with individual garden plots. We went to a couple stores looking at outdoor furniture and plants. I purchased a couple plants for Edi to place on her balcony. After bringing back purchases, we drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway about 50 miles. It is quite beautiful along with many twists and turns in the road!

Azalea bushes along parkway

Azalea bushes along parkway

Wild flowers along Blue Ridge Parkway

Wild flowers along Blue Ridge Parkway

One of many tunnels

One of many tunnels

View of lake from high up

View of lake from high up

Scenic view

Scenic view

We got back to Asheville around 2:30 in the afternoon and drove to Biltmore Estate, a 8,000 acre grand estate built by George Vanderbilt. My main objective was to get a picture of the mansion which we could not see from the road. It cost $60/person entrance fee and, because of lateness in the afternoon, we did not feel it would be worth the cost. Maybe another time!

On Sunday, did a “dry run” of where Edi will be working so she would not have to worry about finding the hospital early the next morning. And we stopped at Kinko’s where I printed out my boarding pass for the next day’s flight leaving Asheville at 7:00 a.m. Onward to Chimney Rock State Park and Lake Lure (an area we had been told would be a great place to stay in the fall for colorful leaves). The park is known for its 315 foot spire overlooking Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure; there is also a waterfall. Sadly, the elevator to get to the top of the rock was out of commission and we did not want to walk up 400+ steps one way. We drove through Chimney Rock and drove around Lake Lure. We had lunch at La Strada on their large covered patio with good views of the lake.

Rushing stream on way to Chimney Rock Park

Rushing stream on way to Chimney Rock Park

Long distance view of spire of Chimney Rock

Long distance view of spire of Chimney Rock

Ready for lunch

Ready for lunch

Stream rushing down Hickory Nut Gorge

Stream rushing down Hickory Nut Gorge

After lunch and more exploring, we headed back to Asheville. It was a very nice, relaxing day. That evening we fixed salads for our evening meal.

Monday morning saw us up quite early…before 5:00 AM. While I got all my things gathered together, Edi fixed me a cup of coffee. And then we drove to the airport. It only took about 20 minutes so we arrived by 5:30. After saying good bye to Edi, I checked my luggage and got through security without any problem. And it was an uneventful flight home with my pulling out of the airport parking lot by 10:45 that morning. Good trip, beautiful scenery, and the apartment complex where Edi is living seems quite peaceful.

Wedding at Virginia Beach

My great nephew and Edi’s grandson, Chris, was getting married in Virginia Beach and we attended the event; great nephew, Tim, rode with us. We left Edi’s around 7:00 on Wednesday, May 11th, and headed out. It was an uneventful day of driving with our stopping at Best Western Plus Columbus located in Pickerington, OH. The remainder of the drive was completed the next day, May 12th. We checked into the Virginia Beach Resort Hotel, settled into our room, and met Edi’s granddaughter, Casey, for dinner around 7:00 in the hotel restaurant.

Having dinner

Having dinner

Casey came back to our room and we sat on our balcony facing the waterfront; it was relaxing and peaceful…even with a volleyball game being played on the beach.

Once we got ready and downstairs on Friday, the 13th, it was time to head toward the waterfront downtown for the Victory Rover Naval Base Cruise; this was something Brian, my nephew, had made reservations for all of us. There was quite a group of us: Edi, Casey, great nephew Sam, great nephew Tim, great niece Lauren and her husband Randy with their 3 children, Brian, his friend Heather, Brian’s father Larry and his wife Cindy. While we cruised the waters of the Elizabeth River we were given a history of Virginia Beach which is one of the world’s busiest sea ports including the world’s largest naval base, home of the Atlantic Fleet. After the cruise, Edi took in the naval museum while Casey, Tim, Sam, and I did a self guided tour of the USS Wisconsin.

Part of our group

Part of our group

Naval ships

Naval ships

Edi with grandchildren, Casey and Sam

Edi with grandchildren, Casey and Sam

Naval hospital ship

Naval hospital ship

USS Wisconsin

USS Wisconsin

Main deck of Wisconsin

Main deck of Wisconsin

Dining area of Wisconsin

Dining area of Wisconsin

It was a very enjoyable experience. The five of us headed back toward the hotel and decided to have lunch at a place directly across the street. However, they were not open so we ventured next door to a Chinese place; the food was okay. Back to the hotel to get ready for the wedding rehearsal and beer/pizza party at Dana’s and Chris place that evening. Brian had a problem with his one leg so Edi and I went to his room to see if we could discover what might have been wrong. We went across the street to the pharmacy where Edi purchased a cold/hot pack along with an elastic bandage which she wrapped around his leg; he said it did feel better with the wrap. Edi had to be at the rehearsal so Casey and I went with her and watched the proceedings.

Listening to minister at rehearsal

Listening to minister at rehearsal

Kaylyn "hiding" at rehearsal

Kaylyn “hiding” at rehearsal

The three of us ventured to the beer/pizza party where we spent a few hours in conversations while drinking wine. Went back to the hotel and crashed for the night.

There was nothing planned for Saturday, the 14th, until the wedding at 6:30. We went to a nails place across the street called Nails Only where all of us got a manicure and Edi also got a pedicure. After making ourselves beautiful, we drove to the boardwalk along the ocean to find a place for lunch. And we did! We ate at Ocean Eddie’s Seafood; they were quite busy so it took awhile for our food to come but, once it did arrive, it was very tasty.

At the beach

At the beach

Fog rolling in

Fog rolling in

Waiting for lunch

Waiting for lunch

However, all our time was “eaten up” waiting for the food so we proceeded back to the hotel in order to relax before going to the wedding. Lauren, Randy, and the kids came up to the room for a visit. Around 4:00, they left so we could get ready. Edi had to be at the location by 5:30 so I drove her over, dropped her off, and returned to the hotel. Casey and I drove to the wedding. It was a fantastic night; the wedding was beautiful! The reception was inside the hall; there was a buffet dinner with very good food, great toasts made, and dancing.

Father and Grandma of the groom

Father and Grandma of the groom

Cousins and brother of the groom

Cousins and brother of the groom

Dana and Chris saying their vows

Dana and Chris saying their vows

Carson and Kaylyn ready to walk down the aisle

Carson and Kaylyn ready to walk down the aisle

First dance as Mr. and Mrs.

First dance as Mr. and Mrs.

Head table

Head table

Toasting the bride and groom

Toasting the bride and groom

Around 10:00, we left to take Lauren, Randy, and the kids back to where they were staying. Since we were using Brian’s van, we got back to the venue as the reception dance was breaking up; around 11:30. We dropped Casey off at the bar across from the hotel; she was going to connect with the rest of the wedding party. What a wonderful evening!

Sunday Brian met us at the hotel restaurant for breakfast around 9:00. Casey and Tim (who was going to spend the next week at Casey’s) had checked out and left before we went to the dining room. After breakfast, we gathered our things and checked out. We were headed to Sumter, SC where Casey and her husband, Dan, live. We checked into the Comfort Suites and drove over to Casey’s. I had never met Dan before so got introduced to him. Casey gave us a tour of their home. Casey and Dan fixed us a dinner of steak and baked potato; everything was delicious. It was getting late so we headed back to our hotel.

We checked out of our hotel; Casey and Tim met us at IHOP for breakfast. And then we journeyed to Swan Lake Iris Gardens, home to all eight known species of swan and some of the most intensive plantings of Japanese Iris in the US. The beautiful gardens are located in Sumter and has free admission. We walked thru the gardens and admired all the beautiful plants, sculptures, and swans residing or playing in the water.

Garden scene

Garden scene

And there were turtles

And there were turtles

Quite the beauty

Quite the beauty

Butterfly garden

Butterfly garden

One of many iris beds

One of many iris beds

In the cypress area

In the cypress area

Black Swan

Black Swan

After we completed our walk, we said good bye to Casey and Tim; our next destination was Crossville, TN for a visit with our niece, Tammy, and her husband. There was roadwork on the way so we were delayed because of having to wait/crawl along; it did not help that there was an accident which caused us to wait 20 minutes or more without moving while the road was cleared. Arrived in Crossville around 4:00; checked in to the Holiday Inn & Express and headed to Tammy’s home. After greeting us, Tammy provided us with a tour of their house and surrounding yard. Curt came home from golfing; we visited at the kitchen counter while Tammy fixed our evening meal.

Tammy and Curt

Tammy and Curt

Both of us were tired so it was not a late night; we planned the next day with Tammy/Curt and went back to our hotel.

In the morning, we rose and went to Tammy’s for a breakfast of fresh pumpkin scones plus coffee.  Tammy and Curt gave us a tour of the area which is filled with many golf courses. Really enjoyed visiting Ozone Falls Natural Area where we took a path to a wonderful water fall. Because we wanted to be on the road by mid-afternoon so we could get 4 or 5 hours of driving completed on our journey home, we did not drive to any other scenic park. We did stop at Landscape Solutions which had lots of plants plus garden gifts. It was fun to look at everything.

Dock area in Crossville

Dock area in Crossville

Great view of surrounding "hills"

Great view of surrounding “hills”

One of the golf courses

One of the golf courses

Ozone Falls

Ozone Falls

It's a ways down!

It’s a ways down!

Tammy and myself

Tammy and myself

Lunch was at Cancun Restaurant where we received very good Mexican food. And then on the road again with both of us hoping we did not encounter any more road work. We stopped for the night at Mount Vernon, IL where we got a room at the Comfort Suites. Edi was not feeling well so we ventured to Bob Evans where we ordered bowls of soup. Back to the hotel where she laid down for a “nap” at 7:30; she got up around 8:30, got ready for and went to bed. My evening was spent reading and looking at messages on my iPad.

The morning of the 18th, after having breakfast and checking out of the hotel, we headed toward St. Louis and home. Edi called her daughter, who lives in O’Fallon on the opposite side of St. Louis from where we were currently driving, and it was decided we would stop at her place for a very short visit. The morning traffic was heavy in St. Louis which meant very slow driving. Arrived at Vicki’s, got a cup of coffee, and looked at her new living room floor that her husband had laid down…it looks quite nice. Only stayed about 30 minutes and onward to Marion, IA where Edi lives. We stopped at a nursery outside of St. Louis and WalMart where I looked for annuals to be planted in my pots. Dropped Edi at her home and took off for Shellsburg, stopping at HyVee DrugTown on the way, for more plants. Arrived home and was greeted by my two girls, Beauty and Cutie. Another great trip!

 

Western Fun

From April 22 thru May 6, I went on an adventure which consisted of three different destinations located in the Western part of the United States.  For the first five nights, I was in Tucson to celebrate Savanna’s 3rd birthday.  Next, I flew to Idaho for a Hise sibling reunion taking place at Worley, ID.  The last destination was Bozeman, MT. for two nights with Tom and Sarah Foster; they drove over to Idaho and I rode back with them.  And now I will attempt to provide a daily record of everything I did and saw.

Friday, April 22: Mary and Joe picked me up around 7:30; they dropped me off to the airport and I experienced no problems with check in, security, or flight departure. Flew on United thru Denver on my way to Tucson. Retrieved my luggage and Steev picked me up. We went to lunch at Roma’s which have good food. Dropped Steev off at his work and drove to the motel for check in. Greta called; she and Savanna were waiting for my arrival so over I went.

Let's visit

Let’s visit

We talked and played until Steev came home from work. Greta made us dinner and then we went outside where Savanna played on the swing while Steev pushed her; Greta watered their plants and pulled some weeds. Came back to the room shortly after 7:00 and am very tired. Plan on reading for awhile and then to bed early. Tomorrow morning I will go with Steev and Savanna to her music lesson at 9:00.

Saturday, April 23: Got up around 6:00 this morning and went for a walk. It was a beautiful morning with flowers on trees and in pots. Got coffee at Epic Cafe; came back to the motel where I had breakfast. All the servers know me because of all the previous visits so there was a very warm greeting from all. Arrived back at the room and got ready for the day. Called Steev around 8:00 and it was decided they would pick me up around 8:40 on the way to Savanna’s music class. Everyone participated in the class and a fun time was had by all!

Some of the class

Some of the class

Likes the horse

Likes the horse

Went back to Steev’s where Savanna’s grandparents, Melanie and Fred, came with an early birthday present. Greta was not feeling well so she was out of commission the whole day; her sister arrived with pans for cupcakes that was being made for Savanna’s party but it was decided she would take all the ingredients and make them. Greta rested while we made lunch. After lunch, Steev took me back to the motel; he was going to drive Savanna around in hopes she would fall asleep. I swam, read, and watched the NBA play offs. Later in the day, Steev called so I went over. Savanna had taken a long nap and was ready for some action. We called Magpies for pizza to be delivered which we ate outside on the patio. After dinner and clean up, I went back to the motel for the evening.

Sunday, April 24: Once again, I got up around 6:00 and went for a walk stopping at the Epic for my morning coffee. Once I was back at the motel, I went for breakfast. After eating and a shower, I read while waiting to hear from the kids. It was decided Steev, Savanna, and I would go shopping for some party items while Greta would rest since she still was not feeling well.

Time to shop

Time to shop

After shopping, we fixed lunch. Greta and Savanna decided to come back to the motel for a swim; this was in hopes Savanna would tire herself out so she would take a nap before her party.

Swimming fun

Swimming fun

Greta took Savanna home and I read in my room. Around 2:30, I went to the party; Savanna was sleeping and did not get up until after 3:00…just when party guests were arriving. And what a great party it was! Mr. Nature came at 4:00 and entertained everyone with songs, dance, and music for an hour; he ended the entertainment with everyone marching around the yard while playing their “instruments”; what fun! Then it was time for the piñata breaking; all the kids took turns but it would not break. Finally, Robert (Savanna’s brother) broke it!

Driving new car

Driving new car

Good birthday cupcake

Good birthday cupcake

Mr. Nature performing

Mr. Nature performing

The marching band

The marching band

Hitting but not breaking the piñata

Hitting but not breaking the piñata

Enjoying contents of the piñata

Enjoying contents of the piñata

When the party was over, Steev prepared us a meal of pasta that was very good. Went back to the motel and watched some NBA while reading.

Monday, April 25: Did the usual morning activity of walking, coffee, and breakfast at the motel restaurant. Shopped at various stores and got a sandwich at the Market which I took back to the motel and ate with a glass of wine. Went for a facial and pedicure at Greentoes; very relaxing! After they were home from work and school, I went to the kids where we played with Savanna and had dinner. After dinner and clean up, went back to the motel for reading and NBA.

Tuesday, April 26: This was Savanna’s birthday so, after my walk and breakfast, went over to the kids; we drove to Savanna’s school where Steev and Greta handed treats of watermelon and strawberries for all the children. After everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to Savanna and the treats were eaten, Greta and Steev read everyone a story.

Getting ready to sing "Happy Birthday"

Getting ready to sing “Happy Birthday”

Reading time

Reading time

We said our good byes to everyone at school, went back the kids house, and parted company for the day. I walked downtown and then returned in time to drive to Blue Willow where I was meeting Jim Davis, a old friend from the mid 1970’s, for lunch. It was a delightful lunch; great food and wonderful conversation. Went back to the motel and packed for my departure the next day. Around 4:30, I went over to the kids for birthday present opening. Savanna had many presents to open because of gifts brought on Sunday so it took her quite awhile. But she got some great things; books, pictures, barn and animals, dining/kitchen set, sand utensils, etc.

Present opening

Present opening

Wow...a barn with animals

Wow…a barn with animals

We went to a Mexican place for carry out. After eating, Steev took me back to the motel where I got ready for bed and read until time to put the lights out.

Wednesday, April 27: Got up at 5:00, gathered my luggage, checked out, and Steev arrived to take me to the airport. After saying our good byes, I checked my bags and got to my assigned gate. All went well and arrived in Spokane early but so did Lynda and Sarah; Ron arrived as luggage was coming around the carousels which we retrieved and headed to his truck. Drove to Coeur d’Alene where we went to the Moon Time for lunch and liquid refreshments. Connected with Jack and he  joined us. After everyone ate, we headed for Ron’s; I rode with Jack. Arrived at the house and, after determining which room everyone was going to sleep in, we put our luggage into the applicable room.

Liked the looks of the outside sign

Liked the looks of the outside sign

Gathering in backyard for food

Gathering in backyard for food

Sat around and talked; Kathryn arrived about 5:30. After a delicious dinner of lasagna, broccoli and salad, we cleaned up and talked until around 10:00 or so. Everyone went off to bed anticipating the next day’s activity of exploring the parks Ron manages.

Thursday, April 28: After eating breakfast and taking showers, we took a walk with Hunter, Ron’s dog. Ron arrived from his work mid-morning and we went into Heyburn State Park which he manages; Ron is an Idaho Park Ranger. At the visitor center he introduced his staff and showed us his office. Sarah, Lynda, and I purchased items from the gift shop area. We viewed the cabins including the lake view one I will be staying in with the Fosters Monday and Tuesday nights. Then we drove to St. Mary’s for lunch at The Grub Box. After a filling lunch, we took off for another park Ron manages called McCroskey State Park. We really traveled through beautiful countryside on some rough, traveled roads; it was a fun adventure with the Hise family. After stopping at the store for additional wine and supplies for dinner, we ventured back to Ron’s.

Dock area below Ron's

Dock area below Ron’s

Ready to walk

Ready to walk

Meeting a friend

Meeting a friend

View of lake from the road

View of lake from the road

Siblings on walking/bike trail Heyburn Park

Siblings on walking/bike trail Heyburn Park

Enjoying the crooked tree

Enjoying the crooked tree

Scenic view Heyburn Park

Field of arrow leaf balsam root McCroskey Park

Field of arrow leaf balsam root McCroskey Park

Long range view McCroskey Park

Long range view McCroskey Park

Lynda prepared, with Sarah’s assistance, Spanish Rice which included ground elk supplied from Ron’s freezer. Kathryn got home from work around 6:30 and we sat down for dinner of the rice, salad, and French bread. Everything was delicious! The rest of the evening was spent talking until everyone decided to retire around 10:00.

Friday, April 29: Our adventure for the day was going to Coeur d’Alene for town exploration, shopping, and having a pizza party at Jack’s in the evening. After Kathryn left for work and we dressed for the day, we were off  with Lynda riding with Jack and Sarah/myself with Ron. We met at Jack’s where he left his car and headed to downtown. After parking the truck, we headed to Hudson’s…a hamburger joint established in 1907 with the building being over 100 years old. It is owned and run by the 4th generation of the original owner. You were given three choices of condiments with the hamburger…onion, cheese, and pickles. And the result was delicious! I decided to purchase one of their t-shirts.

Inside Hudson's; one long counter is all

Inside Hudson’s; one long counter

Off to other stores we went and I found a couple presents in the Lucky Monkey. We walked to McEuen Park where Tubbs Hill was seen…Sarah and Tom Foster might like to hike this with me when they come next week. After purchasing everyone ice cream cones, we returned to the truck and drove along the park by the lake shore until the road stopped. Then up the hill and across the bridge for another fantastic view of the scenery.

One of many sculptures in the town

One of many sculptures in the town

One view of McEuen Park

One view of McEuen Park

Shopping "excitement"

Shopping “excitement”

Lake view

Lake view

Ron graciously took me to the visitor center so I could get a trail map of Tubbs Hill and a map of the town. On the way to Jack’s we stopped at a grocery store where I purchased wine and beer for the cabin; Papa Murphy’s was another stop where Jack and I bought two pizzas. Jack took us on a tour of his apartment complex which has a swimming pool, hot tub, sauna, and exercise room along with BBQ area plus shuffleboard area…very nice. And then we put the pizza in the oven; while baking, I got caught up on my email which fallen behind because Ron does not have internet. After eating, we said our good byes and headed back to Ron’s where Kathryn was doing some work for her job which was having their annual fund raiser on Saturday that Kathryn had to work at. While watching some NHL teams play in the Stanley Cup playoffs, we had another lively discussion among us.

Dog, toy, NHL...life does not get any better than this!

Dog, toy, NHL…life does not get any better than this!

At 10:30 all of us headed to bed where I read until around 11:30.

Saturday, April 30: We decided not to go anywhere today which turned out an excellent decision. After rising and taking my shower, I put on coffee for all coffee drinkers. We took over a 3-mile walk once everyone had their coffee or preferred morning drink and breakfast. Kathryn stayed behind to do more organizing for the fund raising event later in the day and Jack had not arrived after his morning fly fishing meeting. It was a great walk which Hunter, Ron’s dog, really enjoyed. Upon our return, Jack arrived and Kathryn got ready to depart for her office in Spokane. We helped her to load things in her car and then walked down to The Steamboat Cafe at the marina for lunch and a beer. The day was nice and comfortable so we sat outside and watched the boats on the lake while waiting for our order.

A walkin' we will go

A walkin’ we will go

Beautiful scene

Beautiful scene

Hunter likes the walk

Hunter likes the walk

Greeter at the cafe

Greeter at the cafe

Waiting for lunch

Waiting for lunch

The food arrived and it was quite good. After paying the bill, walked back to Ron’s where people did whatever they wanted to…whether was reading, watching TV, updating notes, reading the paper, taking a nap…very comfortable and relaxing afternoon. That evening we warmed up leftovers from the previous two evening meals.

Sunday, May 1: After breakfast, we loaded into Ron’s truck for a day of exploring. First stop was the Snake Pit for lunch. It is a real cool place established in 1880; lots of old decor and delicious food. Even though I had purchased two t-shirts at previous stops, I decided I needed one from the Snake Pit.

Inside the Snake Pit

Inside the Snake Pit

Idaho scene

Idaho scene

Bird nest HIGH up

Bird nest HIGH up

All of us having fun

All of us having fun

Onward toward I90; once on the interstate, we stopped at Cataldo Mission which is the oldest building in Idaho. Everything interesting with old wallpaper made from newspapers, original wooden flooring, old organ, beautiful interior; there were no pews because Indians did sat on the floor.  We stopped in Wallace, ID; it is the principal town of the Coeur d’Alene silver-mining district, which produced more silver than any other mining district in the United States.

Outside the mission

Outside the mission

Inside the mission

Inside the mission

The wallpaper

The wallpaper

Murray Post Office

Murray Post Office

Totem pole @ Murray

Totem pole @ Murray

  Once on the road, we headed to Wallace, Idaho; an historic town known for its mining and center of the universe.   It was a beautiful day so we walked the town while taking pictures. And, of course, we stopped for liquid refreshment at the Wallace Brewing Company. And ice cream at Red Light Garage Restaurant; very good!

Center of the Universe

Center of the Universe

Group picture @ Wallace Brewing Co.

Group picture @ Wallace Brewing Co.

Space capsule @ Red Lantern Garage

Space capsule @ Red Lantern Garage

We loaded into the truck and headed back to Ron’s. Got there around 7:30; Jack decided to head back to his place so, after saying our good byes, we settled in for the night with everyone fixing whatever they wanted for a snack/meal. I tried to connect with the Fosters but no answer so left a message. Tomorrow they will arrive for our 2-night stay in the Lakeview Cabin at Hepburn State Park.

Monday, May 2: After breakfast, everyone started to gather their belongings; we went to the cabin I will be staying in and unloaded my luggage along with the food and booze I had purchased. On to the Visitor Center where boarding passes for Sarah and Lynda were printed. When we returned to Ron’s, Jack arrived and we went to St. Marie’s for lunch while Kathryn stayed home to do some work for her job. While at lunch, I connected with the Fosters; they had talked to Kathryn and she gave them directions to the house. Fosters arrived around 2:30; after saying good bye to everyone, we went to the cabin while the rest of the family headed to Spokane to deposit the sisters at a motel near the airport in preparation for their early flight back home the next day. Fosters brought their luggage into the cabin and we decided to find a place to eat in St. Marie’s; we ended at a place called Gem State which had a decent chef salad (lots of tomatoes and cucumbers). Returned to the cabin and spent the rest of the evening relaxing on the screened in porch; drinking wine and talking.

Tuesday, May 3: Relaxed this morning while drinking coffee and visiting. Tom fixed us breakfast of eggs, turkey bacon, and toast.

Sun is coming up

Sun is coming up

Preparing breakfast

Preparing breakfast

After cleaning up and getting dressed for the day, we went to the Visitor Center where Fosters purchased an annual pass while I talked to Ron about where to eat and the time that evening. We then went to the trail head of Indian Cliffs which we hiked. It was  perfect weather and all of us enjoyed the scenery and views tremendously.

Tom pushing, Sarah trying not to get squashed!

Tom pushing, Sarah trying not to get squashed!

Life couldn't get any better

Life couldn’t get any better

View at the top

View at the top

After the hike, we headed to Coeur d’Alene where I wanted to go to Bed, Bath, & Beyond for an item for Kathryn; however, they no longer carried what I was looking for. I called Jack as to where we were going to eat lunch and he agreed to meet us. The place was called Daft Badger Brewing; great atmosphere, excellent food, and perfect weather for eating on the patio.

Enjoying patio at Daft Badger

Enjoying patio at Daft Badger

Jack did not want to shop with us downtown so I said my farewell to him. Downtown to the Labrador Store for a gift for Hunter, and MixItUp for a “thank you” item for Kathryn/Ron.

Making a new friend

Making a new friend

It was time to visit a couple more craft beer places; Trickster and Paragon Brewing. At the Paragon, I purchased an item for Kathryn and Ron along with enjoying a good beer. Of the three places, I liked Daft Badger the best and the beer at Trickster the least. It was time to head back toward our cabin; we picked up Ron and Kathryn for an evening meal at the Coeur d’Alene Casino outside Worley. Dropped the family at their place after saying our good byes and went on to the cabin where we headed toward our individual bedrooms for reading and sleeping.

Wednesday, May 4: Got dressed, loaded stuff in the car, and took off for Bozeman. We had breakfast at the Red Lantern Garage in Wallace; there were 3 guys sitting across from us, locals that come into the restaurant every morning for coffee. One of the men showed us a letter he had just received from a student and teacher located in Walnut, IA. It sure is a small world! After walking around the town, we headed toward the Fosters home. We had lunch at Cracker Barrel in Missoula. When we got to Butte, Tom and Sarah showed me an open pit mine called Berkely Pit; it was interesting to see. We went to a local brewery called Quarry Brewing; good beer, great atmosphere, fun time. On the road again, we stopped at the Sacajawea Hotel in Three Forks for dinner; this hotel was built in the 1800’s and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Arrival at the Fosters around 8:00 where we settled in for the night.

Heading to observation deck of Berkeley Pit

Heading to observation deck of Berkeley Pit

Portion of open pit mine

Portion of open pit mine

Inside Quarry Brewing

Inside Quarry Brewing

Sacajawea Hotel

Sacajawea Hotel

One room in the hotel

One room in the hotel

Thursday, May 5: After getting dressed, I took off for a walk around the Foster neighborhood. After the walk, had coffee with the Fosters at their neighbor, Marcia, house. It was a beautiful day so we had the coffee on the outside deck. After coffee, we had a late breakfast at Mountain Arts Coffee Pot; while there, I browsed their gift area and purchased a ceramic spoon rest. We returned to the Fosters; Tom mowed the yard while Sarah and I looked at all her flower beds.

Dusty, Fosters youngest cat

Dusty, Fosters youngest cat

Mia, Fosters oldest cat

Mia, Fosters oldest cat

There were new chicks at the Foster residence

There were new chicks at the Foster residence

Since my flight home was early the next morning, I repacked my bags for the trip. Later in the day, we went to Madison River Brewing for some liquid refreshment.

Posing for a picture

Posing for a picture

And dinner was at MacKenzie River Pizza Co.; good beer and, once served, great pizza. Back to the Fosters for conversation and early to bed.

Friday, May 6: Since my flight left Bozeman at 7:00, we were up and on the road to the airport by 5:00; NPR’s Morning Edition was being broadcast live in Bozeman so Tom and Sarah planned on going there after dropping me off. Check in, going through security, and boarding were uneventful. Connection in Denver was quick and, before I knew it, I was arriving back in Cedar Rapids with my friends, the Robinsons, picking me.

It was a great trip filled with lots of adventures.  I am so happy that I could spend Savanna’s 3rd birthday with her and be able to join in on all the celebrations; Greta and Steev are such fantastic parents…and wonderful son/daughter to the steply-ugh-mother.  Having time with the Hise siblings was great fun and so relaxing; I’m glad to be able to keep contact with everyone even though Tom has passed away.  And the Fosters…what can I say…they are great friends who I always enjoy spending time with so they coming over to Idaho was a very positive for me.  Lastly, I need to thank Mary and Joe for the ride both to/from the airport; they are always willing to lend a helping hand.

Sister Coming Home

On March 2nd, I flew into Boston and took the Dartsmouth Coach to Lebanon, NH where my sister has been a traveling nurse for the past 13 weeks.  Her contract had expired so she was ready to move back to her home in Marion, IA; I traveled out in order to keep her company during the long drive.  Edith picked me up at the coach depot and we went to her apartment for a delicious meal of chicken and vegetables with dumplings.  Her cats, Junior and Midnight, were closely watching us during the whole process.  After the meal, we did some packing but Edi had much of it already completed.

Supervising the packing

Supervising the packing

Getting packed

Getting packed

The next morning we decided to explore for the day so we traveled to Portsmouth, NH; the town sits near the mouth of the Piscataqua River, a short, wide river that divides New Hampshire and Maine.  Settled in 1623, Portsmouth claims to be the nation’s third-oldest city. It served as a focal point on the Eastern seaboard until the late 1800s when rail travel did in the shipping industry. John Paul Jones’ ship The Ranger was built in Portsmouth, and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (which lies across the river in Maine) was established in 1800 as the country’s first Naval shipyard.

Water front at Portsmouth

Water front at Portsmouth

We parked and explored a few stores; one, the Tugboat Alley, was especially fun with some great t-shirts and a friendly owner.  After walking around, we headed toward the ocean where we was hoping to find a place along the waterfront.  However, due to the time of year, many restaurants were closed so we settled for Tio Juan’s Margaritas in Exeter, NH.  Since it was mid-afternoon, we decided to head back to Lebanon.  Upon arrival, Edi did some last minute packing while I took a walk.  That evening we put a quiche in the oven for our evening meal.  We decided to leave for Iowa the next morning so settled down for the evening around 10:00.  Upon awaking, I took another walk while Edi did some cleaning.  When I returned, I took items to the dumpster and then packed up the car with Edi’s help.  We got the cats in the vehicle and took off around 9:15 in the morning.   The overnight stop was at the Clarion Hotel in DuBois, PA.  Both the cats were happy to get out of the car.  Pizza was delivered to our room; while eating, I used my iPad to see how much far we had to go.  Turned out to be another 12 hours of driving so we decided to get up at 5:00 a.m. in order to get home by early evening Saturday.  However, Junior and Midnight decided getting up at 2:30 was the way to go and, after trying to sleep for over an hour, we decided to get up and leave; loaded up the cats, checked out, and was on the road by 4:00 a.m. eastern time.  Stopped along I80 somewhere in Pennsylvania for breakfast and lunch in Illinois was at a Subway.  We arrived at the airport parking lot, where I had left my car at departure on Wednesday, around 3:15 central time.  Even though I had been up for many hours, I did not feel tired at all until around 9:15 that night when I was watching a movie and it hit me suddenly that I was.  Went up to bed where I immediately fell asleep and did not wake up until 7:30 the next morning.  Another good trip; I always enjoy spending time with my lovely sister and I am glad to be retired so I can make trips like this.

French Polynesia – Society Islands

Since it has been two years since I have taken a Windstar cruise, Ginni and I decided to take the cruise of the French Polynesia Society Islands on the Wind Spirit.

January 26: I was up super early this morning in order to be ready for the shuttle pick up at 4:45 a.m. Snowed had come down the night before on top of ice so it was very slow going to the airport. With having to de-ice and the airport of Cedar Rapids only having one truck for that purpose, I arrived in Minneapolis with just enough time to get to gate and board the plane heading to LAX. Because of de-icing and a medical emergency which required our going back to the departure gate, we arrived at LAX about 35 minutes late. My friend from college, Ann, lives in Los Angeles and she picked me, along with my luggage, up. It was a great afternoon with lunch at a Mexican restaurant, driving by Ann’s place of employment, viewing her residence and having coffee, going to the beach and walking.

Ann at the beach

Ann at the beach

Ann had a doctor’s appointment and I killed time at the mall across the street. We then picked Ginni, who had arrived an hour earlier, up at the airport and went to dinner at Second City Bistro. Ann dropped us back at the airport, we checked our bags, and went to the Air Tahiti first class lounge for a few glasses of wine. Boarding the plane went quite smooth; the plane was Airbus 340-300 and seemed huge! Once in the air, we had a nightcap and settled down to sleep; leaving at 11:30 p.m. LAX time guaranteed we were both quite tired.

January 27: Woke up to the airline personnel preparing our breakfast. After eating, we only had an hour before landing at around 5:30 a.m. local time. The landing was smooth; we retrieved our luggage, passed through Customs, and grabbed a taxi for our hotel, Le Meridien. Our room was not ready so explored the grounds and was able to get into our room around 9:30 local time. By the time, both of us were wilting so we took a nap. After showering and getting into clean clothes, we had lunch at one of the hotel’s restaurants. The afternoon was spent relaxing with our walking to a local supermarket for some wine later in the day. We went to happy hour in the bar and ate at the other hotel restaurant; both of us had lamb kabobs and the food was delicious. Back to our room for a nightcap and bed.

Front of LeMeridien

Front of LeMeridien

Swimming pool and ocean beyond

Swimming pool and ocean beyond

Beautiful sunset

Beautiful sunset

January 28: A tour of Tahiti was scheduled so we ate breakfast and waited for the tour operator to arrive. It turns out that operator who was scheduled for our tour did not show up so another operator stepped; since she was excellent, it turned out lucky for us. We drove all the way around the island and was given much history; among all the 118 society islands, there are 300K people with 185K residing on Tahiti alone. Highlights of the tour included viewing black sand beaches, Point Venus, looking at Arahōhō Blowhoe, and walking to three grottos.  During one walk, we came across a family building their own house; it is made out of the palm tree with branches used for the roof, takes approximately 3 full days to build, and lasts about 5 years.

Ginni and I at scenic overlook

Ginni and I at scenic overlook

Scenic overlook

Scenic overlook

Black sand at Point Venus

Black sand at Point Venus

Arahōhō Blowhoe

Arahōhō Blowhoe

One of many waterfalls

One of many waterfalls

Constructing house

Constructing house

Grotto

Grotto

After the tour, we had lunch at the pool restaurant and then walked to a nearby supermarket to purchase wine to take on our cruise. That evening we listened to a couple performing at the pool bar while watching the sunset. After dinner, back to our room for a glass of wine before going to bed.

January 29: This was the boarding day for the Wind Spirit, a 148 passenger sailing vessel; here is the link  Wind Spirit.  Both of us were looking forward to leaving Tahiti and getting the cruise underway. After breakfast, we finalized our packing and left our bags outside our room for pick up by the bell crew. Checked out of the hotel and waited in the lobby for Windstar folks to appear.

Waiting for transportation

Waiting for transportation

Boarded the transport to the pier at 1:00 and was in our cabin by 2:00. Our luggage had not arrived so we went to lunch where we were joined by two other gals from Georgia and South Carolina. After eating, we explored the ship; even though we both had sailed on this ship before, it had been many years and re-design had occurred. That evening we joined two other couples for dinner; John and Mary from St. Louis and Gregg and Chris from Australia. A delightful evening; every Windstar cruise that I have been on, I’ve always experienced the other passengers being congenial and interesting to talk to! After dinner, everyone went their separate ways; Ginni and I went to the pool lounge for a nightcap while listening to a couple play the piano and sing. Their names were Tony and Dana with him from Australia and she Malaysia; they were fair, at best. Retired to bed around 10:30.

January 30: Since we had a tour scheduled at 8:00, we were up by 6:30. Both of us had a great night sleep; the ship had left Tahiti and arrived outside Moorea during the night. Moorea is known as one of the most beautiful of the Polynesian islands. The island is only 11 miles to the northwest of Tahiti and is about 83 square miles with the widest point being 10 miles wide. After having breakfast, we went to the main lounge to meet up with our fellow tourists for the island tour. Our tour guide was called Tom and very informative; great communicator with many detailed facts regarding the island, the environment, and nature.

Our guide, Tom

Our guide, Tom

The first recorded sighting of the island by a foreigner was in 1606 but it was not until the 1760s that the Europeans came. Among those was James Cook in 1769 who first settled the area now known as Cook’s Bay. Copra, the dried white meat of the coconut, and vanilla were once very important crops for Moorea but it is now the pineapple growing center of French Polynesia. We visited Belvedere Point which provided a beautiful view of Cook’s and Opunohu Bays; two symmetrical bays that give the island a very distinctive coastline on the map. We also saw sacred sites known as maras. As an added bonus, our guide stopped at the UC Berkeley’s Gump Research Station which is one of two on the island. This station makes the island as one of the most studied in the world.

Approaching Moorea

Approaching Moorea

Temple built 1887

Temple built 1887

Banana tree

Banana tree

Belvedere Point

Belvedere Point

One of many residents of the island

One of many residents of the island

Sacred sites called mara

Sacred sites called mara

Part of Gump Research Station

Part of Gump Research Station

Once the tour concluded, we went back to the ship for lunch. Spent the afternoon by the pool updating my notes and reading. Because of the late hour of leaving port the night before, there was no “sail away” gathering so, with a 6:00 p.m. departure time, we had one this evening. Everyone gathered by the pool and watched the sails being hoisted while listening to music; even though I have been on many Windstar cruises, this sight and sound is one that never fails to move me.

Sails opening up

Sails opening up

Leaving Moorea behind

Leaving Moorea behind

We had dinner with four other passengers; Chuck, Eloise, Ed, and Linda. I the fresh tuna caught that day; excellent! After dinner, we went back to our cabin where we got ready for bed and retired around 10:00.

January 31: Today we docked at Taha’a which is known as “The Vanilla Island” because it produces 70% to 80% of all French Polynesia’s vanilla and is of high quality. Current production of vanilla for all of French Polynesia is about 25 tons annually. There are around 6K people living on the island. We went on the “Scenic Exploration of Taha’s” which involved an off-road vehicle for a drive around the island. Our guide talked about the traditional use of local plants and trees. We were given a tour of how vanilla is produced while visiting a family plantation. Another stop was a black pearl farm where we learned how these treasures are cultivated and harvested.

Ready to board our "Le Truck" bus

Ready to board our “Le Truck” bus

Island scene

Island scene

Guide serving fresh fruit

Guide serving fresh fruit

Vanilla plantation

Vanilla plantation

Coconuts being stored; common in many homes

Coconuts being stored; common in many homes

Black pearl farm

Black pearl farm

Making plate out of leaves

Making plate out of leaves

We were to have a BBQ on a motu but, because it rained most of the morning, it was moved to the ship. After a delicious lunch, we went to the pool area for reading and checking emails. At 3:30 we headed to the area where a wine tasting was being held; there were 4 of us participating and we tasted 5 different wines; a rose, sauvignon blanc, burgundy, cabernet/merlot combination, and zinfandel with the zinfandel being the favorite at $70/bottle. Our tasting buddies were Gerald and Mary Sean.

Wine tasters

Wine tasters

Waiter joining the tasting

Waiter joining the tasting

We got ready for dinner and went to the lounge for the talk about tomorrow’s activities by the tour director. Dinner was ate in the main dining room with the company of Eloise, Chuck, Ginni, and Linda. After dinner, we went to the lounge for a nightcap and played music trivia; our group got the lowest score but it was still fun. Then off to bed around 10:30 or so.

February 1: Woke up docked at Uturoa, a town on the island Raiatea; the island is considered the administrative center for the Leeward Islands of the Society Islands. It is 65 square miles making it the second largest of the Society Islands and is considered the second most important economic center of the islands. After breakfast, we met in the lounge to meet other passengers who were going on the tour “Raiatea, the Sacred Island”. Our 78-year old tour guide entertained us with tales of life on Raiatea along with stories that told the listener what his life is like; no job or money because land inherited from his ancestors provide all the food and needs necessary to live. He fathered his first child at age 14 and has 20 children with 4 different wives who live under the same roof. We went through the town, around the Bay of Faaroa, by the Fetuna Crater, and visited the Marae Taputapuatea which is Raiatea most famous landmark. The Marae is an open-air temple comprised of seven sacred sites built of stone and coral, and dedicated to Oro, the bloodthirsty God of war who demanded human sacrifices. Returned to the ship and had lunch.

Greeting by the locals and tour guide

Greeting by the locals and tour guide

Shells

Shells

Scenic view

Scenic view

Fetuna Crater

Fetuna Crater

Guide at marae

Guide at marae

In the afternoon, sat under the shade at the pool and read current news along with updating my notes. Around 4:00, a local group came on board and played music while dancing to the local traditions. The women showed how to make leis plus how to wrap the local Pareto for various styles of cover.

Local band

Local band

Dancing to local music

Dancing to local music

Showing how to make leis

Showing how to make leis

Waist lei

Waist lei

Learning a local dance

Learning a local dance

After the demonstration, Ginni and I went to our cabin to change for the evening. We listened in the lounge as to what the activities for the next day were going to be. We adjoined to the pool deck where the crew had sit up a BBQ; what a feast! Dinner was eaten with Réal, Diane, Ed, And Linda. After dinner, we were entertained by the crew who sang and danced; what a great time.

Tables of food at feast

Tables of food at feast

Pork anyone?

Pork anyone?

Crew entertaining us

Crew entertaining us

Around 10:00, we started to sail away and the parting music played while the sails unfurled.

Sails coming out

Sails coming out

Linda, Ginni, and I went to the main lounge where we had a nightcap before adjourning to our cabin for the evening.

February 2: Overnight we had sailed to Bora Bora so, upon waking, discovered we were anchored outside of the island. After getting dressed, we went to the Veranda for breakfast and then to the lounge where people were gathering for the “Island Discovery” tour. Bora Bora is 142 miles northwest of Tahiti. It is dominated by two peaks at the center of the island, Mount Pahia and Mount Otemanu, which are remnants of an extinct volcano. In 1999, Tom and I came to this island (we stayed at the Le Meridian in an over-the-water bungalow on a motu outside Bora Bora) for our 25th wedding anniversary so this is a very special place for me. For the tour, we boarded an open-air truck with individual cushioned bucket seats. Our guide gave us some history of the Bora Borans, we saw how the Pareto is made, fed tupa crabs fresh flowers, tasted some local fruit, and saw relics left behind by the US military after World War II. Stopped at various scenic areas where we captured the changing colors of their famous lagoon, experienced the prettiest beach of the island at Matira Point, and got close up pictures of Mount Otemanu. Last stop was at the famous Bloody Mary’s restaurant where we were given a drink while we looked around and took pictures.

Local church

Local church

Left by US Military

Left by US Military

Coloring the pareto fabric

Local, using me as model, demonstrates how to tie pareto

Local, using me as model, demonstrates how to tie pareto

Tupa crabs and flowers

Tupa crabs and flowers

View of beautiful bay

View of beautiful bay

Beach and beautiful lagoon

Beach and beautiful lagoon

Inside Bloody Mary's

Inside Bloody Mary’s

Enjoying Bloody Mary

Enjoying Bloody Mary

Tender arrived at the pier and, once on board, we went to our cabin to unload things and then to the veranda for lunch. Updated notes, read latest news, and took a few spins around the deck before going to a lecture on black opals in the main lounge late afternoon. What a lengthy lecture; close to a couple hours! We quickly got ready for the evening and attended the “repeats” reception; a cocktail party honoring those who have been on earlier Windstar cruises. After the reception, we went to the lounge to listen about the next day’s activities. Ginni and I were invited to join the Hotel Manager at his table for dinner which we accepted; it was a very delightful meal with three other fellow passengers plus Henri, the manager. We adjoined to the lounge and were joined by John, Patricia, Linda, and Ed; another evening of music trivia in which we did get a decent score but we did not win. After the game was over, we went to our cabin and bed.

February 3: We had no plans this morning so slept in and had a late breakfast. And then into the town for shopping; Ginni found a beautiful black pearl necklace while I found nothing. After lunch, we spent the afternoon under the shade by the pool reading and relaxing. A private event called Bora Bora: Celbration Festival was in the evening. We took a catamaran to a private island owned by Hilton where the dining room and bar staff had sit up tables of food plus a bar. We were greeted by Amanda, reception manager, and Henri, hotel manager, with fresh leis.

Our transport to motu

Our transport to motu

Greetings from Amanda and Henri

Greetings from Amanda and Henri

Getting into the spirit of the celebration

Getting into the spirit of the celebration

After taking some pictures, we got some wine and settled at our table with Linda, Patricia, and John. Food was gotten based on table number so the lines flowed quite smoothly. After dinner, we were entertained by a local group of dancers and flame throwers; added to the mix was a beautiful sunset. What a delightful evening! We were taken back to the ship and sailed away at 9:00.

Tables of food

Tables of food

Fresh tuna

Fresh tuna

Dining staff

Dining staff

Lovely sunset

Lovely sunset

Local dancers

Local dancers

Flame throwers

Flame throwers

Another sail away

Another sail away

We had a nightcap and retired to our cabin to prepare for an early rise up in the morning.

February 4: During the night we sailed to Huahine where I took the Safari Expedition tour. This island is 29 square miles and only 8 miles at its widest point. It is made up of Huahine Nui and Huahine Iti which are joined at low tide by a sandbar. Our guide drove us around the island stopping at vanilla house, took an outrigger to a pearl and pottery farm, drove a sand path to the beach that had large waves due to the reef along, viewed open-air stone temples, got close to the island’s only waterfall which flows only 6 months out of the year, and crossed the bridge which links the Nui and Iti. I was really impressed with this island’s pristine appearance; they value their environment and there are severe penalties for those not abiding to the environmental laws.

Maraes

Maraes

Along the beach

Along the beach

Roaring waves

Roaring waves

Above ground maraes

Above ground maraes

Huahine Pearl Farm and Pottery

Huahine Pearl Farm and Pottery

Blue-eyed eel

Blue-eyed eel

View of colorful bay

View of colorful bay

The only waterfall

The only waterfall

We returned to the town center and walked to a shop where local items are made and sold. After searching at every cruise stop, I finally found a cute outfit for my granddaughter. The afternoon was spent reading and packing our luggage in preparation to disembark in the morning. We were heading back to Papeete that evening so we attended the sail away party by the pool bar at 5:30; Réal, Diane, Linda, Ed, Patricia, and John sat with us. After the sails were unfurled, we adjourned to the lounge people and a farewell speech from the captain and the rest of the crew who sang a farewell song to us. We walked to the dining room for dinner with everyone in our group except Patricia and John who were going to another restaurant on the ship. Back to the cabin after eating; we packed last minute items and set our luggage, except for carry on, outside the door for pick up during the night.

February 5: We were part of the group going to the Le Meridien so our departure was scheduled at 8:30 which gave us time for breakfast and one last farewell to the dining crew. There was a bus at the dock were luggage and people were loaded for the trip to the hotel. Arrived at the hotel and quite a check in experience; first room had been assigned to another person in which we were given keys, second Ron had a king bed where we needed two separate beds, and the third one was an upgrade to the 6th floor…it was fine except the air conditioning was not working properly but got fixed later in the evening. After settling into the room, we got a taxi to take us to the city center and the famous Papeete market. What a mass of people and “cheap” items; if a person wanted fresh fruit, vegetables, or flowers the market would be the perfect place for shopping but that was not what I was looking. We did find a couple shops that had items created by local people so I make some purchases. And then we grabbed a taxi back to the hotel; both of us were relieved to get out of the crowded, noisy downtown area. Lunch was along the ocean at the hotel restaurant. After lunch, we retired to our room where I read and Ginni took a nap. Then I took a shower and changed evening attire. Dinner was at the same restaurant as lunch but with very slow, stuck up staff; it took over two hours to bring us our entrée of mahi mahi. Needless to say, I did not leave a tip which is quite unusual for me but I could reward rude, slow staff. Back to the room and preparation for bed.

Papeete market

Papeete market

View of landscape and pool from room

View of landscape and pool from room

Another great sunset

Another great sunset

February 6: Upon waking, I dressed and updated my notes. Ginni woke up and, after she took a shower, we went downstairs for breakfast. On the way, we stopped at the front desk to check with Aimata (wonderful reception clerk) who ordered us a taxi for our departure to the airport that evening and agreed to put us in for a late check out of 8:00 P.M. It was a beautiful day so both of us decided to go swimming; we started in the ocean and then moved the hotel pool which had a sand bottom. Since it was sunny and warm, the water felt very refreshing.

To the beach

To the beach

Can't believe I am in a swimsuit!

Can’t believe I am in a swimsuit!

Lunch was at the pool bar; the afternoon was spent reading, typing up notes, and relaxing. We checked out of the hotel around 7:30; our taxi arrived and took us to the airport where we checked in without any problems and adjourned to the first class lounge. Our flight was announced about 11:00 P.M.; we boarded, settled into our seats, and had little an hour before we departed. Since it was so late, I turned my seat into a bed and settled down for a good night’s rest. We were awoken at 6:30 to the sound of breakfast being prepared. Flight arrived in LAX at around 9:30 a.m.; I got through Customs and was on my way to the Delta ticket counter by 10:00 in hopes of being able to catch an earlier flight. But it did not work out so I killed about 2 hours before boarding the plane to Minneapolis. Arrived in Minneapolis and had close to 4 hours to kill before my flight departed to Cedar Rapids. Went to the gate area and watched the Super Bowl on my iPad. Got into Cedar Rapids around 10:30, retrieved my luggage, and got the shuttle for home.

Home again

Home again

2015 Holidays in Tucson

This Christmas holiday was spent with Steev, Greta, and Savanna so the shuttle picked me up at home around 5:00 a.m. on December 23.   The day was Steev’s birthday so I always like being there on his “special” day.   There was no problem checking and getting through TSA in Cedar Rapids so arrived in Dallas with over 2.5 hours before the next leg left for Tucson.  But, as usual with American, there were mechanical difficulties and the flight left about 1.5 hours later than scheduled.  Got to Tucson, retrieved my luggage and rental car, called Steev to let them know I had arrived, checked into the motel, wrapped a couple presents, and went to their place where Savanna eagerly greeted me.

Eager Savanna

Eager Savanna

  While waiting for pizza from Magpie’s to be delivered, Steev opened his presents. 

Birthday boy

Birthday boy

Watching gift opening

Watching gift opening

We had pizza and, after a drink, I headed back to the motel.  With getting up so early, I fought going to bed but gave up around 9:30.

Got up early on the 24th thinking I would take a walk but ended up wrapping all my Christmas presents for the kids instead.  Had breakfast at the motel restaurant and then I went to Steev’s for coffee before my massage and facial at Greentoes that the kids has scheduled for me at 10:00 that morning.

Liking Mama's hat

Liking Mama’s hat

What a wonderful experience!  My face felt smooth and the massage relaxed me!  Went to the kids and had leftover pizza for lunch.  We took a walk to the park where Savanna played some but was ready to go home shortly after arriving.  Once we got back to their place, I told them to call when they were ready for me to come back over and I left to run a couple errands.  Got a call shortly after 4:00 from Steev that their were ready for my presence; Greta was making enchiladas while Savanna napped.  Savanna got up and we had a delicious dinner of enchiladas, beans, and salad…yum!  Then we took off for Winterhaven; a residential area where all residences to put up Christmas lights, a tradition started in 1949 (here’s the link Winterhaven).

Entering Winterhaven

Entering Winterhaven

Oh Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree

Oh Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree

Lots of activity with lights and water

Lots of activity with lights and water

It was a wonderful time watching Savanna and her reaction to all the lights.  Once we returned to the kids, I headed back to the motel and some reading…lights out at 11:00.

I hope everyone had a very “Merry Christmas”!  Got up around 7:00,  had coffee, and sent messages to family via email.  Went over to Steev’s at 8:30; scones had been made and coffee ready.  And then we opened presents…what wonderful items I received…the photo book of Savanna 2015 and Greta’s homemade peanut caramel clusters were especially appreciated.  Steev fed us his breakfast of scrambled eggs, broccoli, potatoes, and Greta’s homemade Bailey’s Cream in coffee…an excellent favor.  After eating and cleaning up, we were off to the Desert Museum; here’s the link Desert Museum.  Beautiful day with my beautiful family…life is good!

Landscape from one of the trails

Landscape from one of the trails

Protecting cactus from frost

Protecting cactus from frost

Having fun with turtle

Having fun with turtle

Left the museum; had a sandwich once we got to the kids and I left so the could visit Steev’s mom and stepfather.  Went back to the motel…Skyped with Allan and Jeannette, took a walk, and talked to my sister.  Steev called and, since Savanna was really tired, we decided I would stay put for the evening.  Had dinner in the motel restaurant which was quite busy…good food and people visiting among all the tables.  Came back and updated my notes.  Watched “And So It Goes” starring Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton on Netflix.  Read for awhile and lights out around 10:00.

Went to breakfast and, after retrieving my jacket because it was quite cold for Tucson, went for a walk.  While on my adventure, Greta called and asked me over for scones and coffee.  Went back to the motel, grabbed a sweatshirt that had a stain which I wanted to see if the kids had stain remover, and drove over to their house.  Savanna was up and ready to greet me.  Had coffee, scone,and played some with Savanna before returning to motel for a shower and change of clothes.  Went back to the kids and Steev/I took Savanna to Get Air, a trampoline place where she could jump and wear off excessive energy.  It was a fun time watching Savanna jump, bounce, and watch other kids.

Trampoline fun!

Trampoline fun!

Big girl climbing the rope

Big girl climbing the rope

"Papa...help me!"

“Papa…help me!”

Headed back to Steev’s and had enough time for us to grab a sandwich before heading to Star Wars: Return of the Force.  I really enjoyed the movie but was sad to see Harrison Ford killed off.  Not sure Steev was as impressed with it as I was.  Got back to the kids; they got ready to go out to dinner and followed me back to the motel so I could leave my car and ride with them.   Ate at La Quinta’s…one of my favorite Mexican places in Tucson.  And Savanna was very well behaved…with a 2 1/2 year old, one never knows.  The kids dropped me off at the motel with plans to meet at their place tomorrow morning at 8:30 so we can go to the farmers market.  There is a freeze warning out tonight so it will be cold tomorrow.  Had a glass of wine and read before turning off the lights.

Got up and had breakfast at the motel restaurant.  Drove over to the kids at 8:30;  the air light came on in the rental car so checked and, sure enough, one tire was low.  The kids told me of a station that had air so will take care of later.  We then took off to the Farmer’s Market where the kids purchased some vegetables and I got a soup mix.  We stopped at Trader’s Joe where Savanna and I stayed in the car while Greta and Steev picked up a few more food items.  And then on to a park where Savanna was pushed on the swing by Steev and I.

We are ready for fresh vegetables

We are ready for fresh vegetables

Looking down the market

Looking down the market

Fun at the swing

Fun at the swing

A new toy to play with

A new toy to play with

Went back to the kids for lunch of chili and pumpkin corn bread….very good!  The kids were going to Steev’s mom and stepdad for a delayed Christmas so I got air in the tire, watched a football game while trying to connect with American regarding tomorrow’s bad weather day; stayed on hold for over a hour and then was to be connected but it never happened…just dead air.  So called them back and requested a call back.  Left for a nice walk; it was a great walking weather and many people were out.  Got back to the room, turned on another football game, and started to organize my stuff for packing.  Still did not hear from American and could not reach my travel agent.  Green Bay is being massacred by Arizona Cardinals….sad, sad game watching a team that had been playing so well looking so crappy!  Steev called and I went over there for a glass of wine and dinner.  Said good night to the kids and Savanna.  Once I got back to the room, my travel agent called and then American while we were on the line together.  Earlier I had tried to print my boarding pass but could not so the American representative helped me with that.  All continued to look okay for tomorrow’s flights.

Had breakfast in the motel restaurant and gathered my things.  Because I was not confident about making it home, I packed my pajamas, deodorant, toothbrush and paste, clean underwear, and socks in my carry on.  Took off for the kids and a final cup of coffee with them before heading to the airport.  Stopped for gas and more air for the tire.  Got to the airport and checked in with no problem.  Flight from Tucson to DFW was no problem but, discovered upon landing, that the flight to Cedar Rapids was delayed about 1.5 hours.  The end result was it being cancelled.  Got onto a flight the next night at 10:00 PM, took a courtesy van to the Holiday Inn Express South, and had dinner at the Red Lobster.  The van driver stopped on the way to the hotel for a bottle of wine.  Watched Monday Night Football and hoped my travel agent would be able to get me out earlier tomorrow….but I did not have to vacate the room until 2:00 PM if a flight was not available.

Woke up around 6:30 on the 29th and went to the lobby to check in and print out my boarding pass.  However, American website could not locate my reservation so I returned to the room and called American.  To make a long story short, it turned out that there was a seat on the 10:25 AM plane to Cedar Rapids which I was able to reserve.  Had breakfast at my lodging, checked out, and took the 8:00 AM shuttle to the airport.  Got checked in and boarding pass printed…and then went through a long line at security.  But had plenty of time to kill once I got to the boarding gate.  And, before the flight boarded, I was called to the desk where they upgraded me into first class.  Flight was uneventful, bags where in American’s locked storage which I retrieved, and the shuttle driver was ready to take me to Shellsburg.   Arrived home around 1:00 in the afternoon.  Beauty and Cutie greeted me and, once again, a wonderful holiday with lots of happiness and love but there is nothing better than coming home.