Tennessee Birthday Adventure

My sister and I rented a cabin at Standing Stone State Park in Tennessee for our annual birthday trip.  We left my house on Sunday, October 15th, and drove to O’Fallon, MO where we spent the night with my niece, Vicki, and her husband, Mark.  During the visit, we went shopping and ate out at a Mexican restaurant called El Maguey.  Because we had to drive all the way through St. Louis on I70, we got up and on the road before 6:30 AM to avoid the rush hour traffic.  We drove through without any problem and was in Illinois before 7:00 AM.  The only stops we made along the way was for a late breakfast and gas so we arrived at the park shortly before 3:00 after wandering through small towns on two way roads which was interesting.  After registering, we got keys to our cabin, drove to it, and started to unload.  However, upon inspection of the cabin, we discovered it did not have a fireplace which I thought it was suppose to.  So we went back to the ranger’s office and asked to be moved to a cabin that had one.   And cabin #15 was available, cleaned, and ready for our presence.  It was a perfect cabin for us; three bedrooms, one bath, well equipped kitchen, comfortable furniture, gas fireplace, and balcony looking at the woods below.

Our Cabin

We unloaded our vehicle and settled in for our next three nights stay.  Edith’s granddaughter, Casey from South Carolina, arrived around 5:00; she was going to stay with us until Wednesday along with our niece, Tammy from Tennessee, who would arrive the next afternoon.

Our first evening was spent at the cabin where we fixed a turkey pot pie brought from home and salad for our dinner.   The next morning, after coffee and breakfast, we went for a walk on the trail directly behind our cabin.  The trail took us down to the lake where we made a brief exploration and returned to the cabin.  We then explored the area via car; drove to the dam, found an old house, and went to Celina that is a town about 10 miles to the north of the park.

Casey and Edith walking the trail

Looking down to the lake

At the dam area

Edith and I on swinging bridge

Home of Moses Fisk

After going through the shops of Celina, we stopped at a DQ where I got my blizzard “fix”.  And drove back to the cabin where my niece, Tammy, arrived around 2:30.  After she settled in, we drove to Livingston, TN which is located about 10 miles to the south of the park.  After going into the shops around the city square, we had dinner at Casa Mexican.  After eating and picking up some supplies for our lunch on Wednesday, we hurried back to the park so we could watch the sunset from the Outlook Lodge located close to our cabin.  It was a beautiful sight!

Tammy, Edith, and Casey at the Outlook Lodge

View of the sunset

Another sunset view

Back at the cabin, we sat by the fire and talked until it was time to head to our respective rooms.  Wednesday morning we walked up to the ranger’s office so we could connect to WiFi.  After checking emails, we headed out to Dale Hollow Dam and Resort; we walked across the dam, drove to the resort where we shopped their gift shop along with gathering information about their rentals of cabins and boats.  We returned to our cabin; Casey left to return to her home and we ate lunch on our balcony.  Then we took a ride around Standing Stone; found a hiking trail which we walked and showed Tammy the dam/Moses house.  Returned to the cabin;  Tammy and I took a walk on the lake trail and, upon return, the three of us sat talking on the balcony; Tammy left around 3:00 for her home.  Edith and I read for awhile, took another walk, and spent the evening by the fire opening our birthday presents to each other and talking about our overall adventure.

Edith enjoying the sound of water at the dam

Tammy on the trail

View of the Kelly Lake

Edith opening card and present

Casey, myself, Tammy, and Edith

On Thursday, we checked out at the ranger’s office and headed to East Peoria, IL where we had reservations at a Best Western for the night.  Drove through some pretty countryside before getting onto the interstate.  Arrived in East Peoria, checked in, and went to dinner at Texas Roadhouse.  After eating, we did some shopping because I wanted to get some food supplies for when we got home.  We were up good time on Friday morning and arrived at my home before 10:30; since Edith had to work that evening, it was good to be back late morning for her to have ample time at her home before heading into work.

Another good time of bonding with my sister; it was great to have Casey and Tammy stay with us.  I think it amazes both Edith and I that they want to spend time with us two old folks!

Australia: Cairns Departure, Brisbane, and Home

September 26th was our final morning in Cairns; it was hard to believe that we only had two more evenings in Australia. I had decided to take Mortimer to the beach with me where we buried the radio antenna belonging to Tom and got some sand from the spot. Since Tom wanted to see Australia so badly but never did, I wanted to leave something of his that said “I was here”. After the sunrise, the burial, and a walk along the beach with Knapps we went to the Blue Moon for breakfast.

Mortimer and antenna watching sunrise

It’s a pretty one!

Bill taking morning swim

Mortimer watching antenna being buried

Our apartment building

Walking the beach

Mortimer and I on the rocks

Back at the apartment, we loaded our luggage into the rental car and waited for the rental agent to arrive. He came and took us to the airport where we were too early to check our bags so we killed time at an outside cafe with drinking water. Bags got checked, beer purchased, shops explored, and plane boarded right on time. Arrived in Brisbane shortly before 5:00, retrieved our luggage, and grabbed a taxi for delivery to the Royal Albert Hotel. After settling in, we went to an Irish Pub across the street where we had dinner and discussed the next day’s activity. Back at the hotel, we talked more about the next day but did not come to any conclusions on what we would do. We had wanted to take a morning tour of the city but could not reach the folks operating it. Back in my room, I prepared for and read in bed.

Wednesday, the 27th, was our only day in Brisbane and our final one in Australia so we took advantage of it. First, breakfast at a cafe near the hotel. And then a walk to Eagle Street Pier where we boarded the city catamaran for a journey on the Brisbane River; because of equipment problems, the cat ride was free. It gave us an opportunity to see the city from a different perspectives than walking. We exited at South Bank 1 and walked to the Wheel of Brisbane, which is an enclosed gondola taking people up into the air for a 360 degree view of the city. An audio commentary talked about the old Treasury Building which is now a casino, the Goodwill Bridge which took its name from the Goodwill Games that were held in Brisbane in 2001, the Gabba which is one of the city’s major sporting venues, and other points of interest. After our ride, we walked around the area and came upon the Green Cabs; these were people peddling bikes with a carriage that took visitors around the city. A gal from Germany was my biker and she took me around the harbour and across the bridge to the other side; saw the beach area, botanical gardens, the university, lovely parks, and lots of traffic. It was a warm day and my driver did work up quite a sweat. When we got back to where we started, we walked across Victoria Bridge and found a restaurant for lunch in Queen Street Mall; it was located on the second level and above the mall so we had an open view of folks shopping or bustling along the busy area.

City cat in front of tall buildings

South Bank

Enjoying cat ride

View from the air

Kurilpa Bridge

Old Treasury Building

Our green cabs

View of the wheel

City beach area

Biking through City Gardens

Floral display

The Mansions: terraces of 6 houses built in 1890

Time for lunch

Bill decided, after lunch, to return to the hotel while Barb and I stayed and shopped. Around 4:00 we were tired of shopping and returned to the hotel where we went to our respective rooms and rested up before dinner. We ate at a Mediterranean Restaurant where I had chicken kebabs that were very good. Earlier in the day, we had arranged a night tour of the city so Mark, our guide, picked us at around 7:30 for the couple hour tour. What a great way to see the city with all its lights aglow! We went to Mt. Coot-Tha Lookout which gave us a panoramic view. We had dessert and coffee on the terrace. Next adventure was the city cat ride to the South Bank where Mark walked us to the city beach right in the center of town. We drove by China Town and Fortitude Valley which are two very active areas for nightlife and restaurants.

View of city from Mt. Coot-Tha Lookout

City lights from the river

One of many bridges lit up

Old Treasury at night

City beach at night

Another night view of Brisbane

Back to the hotel where we said good night and went to our respective rooms. After making sure all packing was complete for morning departure, I went to bed.

Our flight was to leave at 10:50 AM on the 28th; we checked out of the hotel, took a taxi to the airport, checked in, and had breakfast at Virgin Australia lounge.  After eating, Barb and I shopped at some of the stores and it was suddenly time to board our plane.  We were skyward for our 12.5 hour flight to LAX ahead of the scheduled departure time.  Arrived in LAX, retrieved my luggage, went through Customs, gave luggage back to airline personnel, said my good byes to the Knapps who were excellent traveling companions, and headed to the Delta lounge for my 6-hour layover.  My plane heading east from LAX departed on time, arrived in Minneapolis at 6:50 PM, departed Minneapolis at 8:35 PM and arrived in Cedar Rapids at 9:20.  The airport shuttle service was available so, after retrieving my luggage, loaded it into the shuttle and was driven home where I received a great greeting from my cats.

Overall:  Australia was a place I had wanted to see for many years and am thankful I was able to satisfy my desire.  It is a fantastic country with varying landscapes, diversity of cultures, friendly people, and beautiful countrysides.  A very interesting aspect of the trip was crossing the international dateline and spending all three weeks in the southern hemisphere where springtime had just arrived, star grazing definitely different in the southern sky as opposed to our northern sky, and being sixteen hours ahead of  back home.  The variety of flowers and plants, birds and animals assisted in making the adventure quite interesting and fun.  But, like every journey, since it must end it is always good to get home!

Australia: Uluru and Cairns

ULURU:  We checked out of our hotel about 7:00 on the 19th and grabbed a taxi to the airport where we had a 9:30 departure to Uluru or, for those who have trouble pronouncing the name, it is called Ayers Rock.  Here’s the link for more information Uluru.  After checking our bags, we found a place for a sit down breakfast. Time passed quickly and, before we knew it, time had arrived for us to get to our gate. Boarding went smoothly which has been the case for every domestic Australian flight we have had; we figure that is because they use both doors so the front of the plane loads at the front and the back of the plane loads in the back. Another interesting contrast is checked bags are not by the number of bags but overall weight so, if you had 2 checked bags, as long as the total combined weight was under 50 lbs. there was no charge. Had a very smooth flight and was greeted by a bus from our resort which shuttled us to our home for the next two nights Desert Gardens Hotel. Our room was not available so we walked to the resort town square and found the Kulata Academy Cafe for a late lunch.

Bill meeting a new friend at town square

After eating we explored a few shops and then visited the Wintjiri Arts and Museum. The art gallery is Indigenous and the museum provided insight into local and resort history, geology, floa, fauna, and Aboriginal culture. Upon our return to the hotel, we were able to get into our rooms. That evening we had reservations for the Field of Lights dinner. A bus picked us up and delivered us to the viewing platform overlooking Uluru and, while the sun sat, we ate canapés and drank sparkling wine. Once it became dark, we made our way to our dining table which we shared with 5 women from Australia. There was a buffet incorporating native ingredients such as crocodile, kangaroo, barramundi, and qua song. After dinner, an astronomer decoded the southern night sky for us. We then proceeded to walk among the field of lights by internationally acclaimed artist Bruce Munro who has come ‘home’ to the place which inspired it…Uluru. The field was filled over 50,000 slender stems crowned with glass-frosted spheres. A magnificent sight! A bus brought us back to the hotel where we retired to our respective rooms around 11:00.

Bill and Barb enjoying the night

Sun going down on Ayers Rock

Sun almost gone

Our dining room

Small part of Field of Lights

Globe of one light

Another picture of the Field of Lights

On Wednesday I got up around 4:30 a.m. in order to get on the bus for the Uluru Sunrise and Kata Tjuta Valley of the Winds tour at 5:10. We traveled to the Kata Tjuta National Park where we walked to the viewing platform that afforded us great views of both Uluru and Kata Tjuta while the sun rose over them. Before leaving the bus, we were given coffee and a cold breakfast box so I drank and munched while enjoying the fascinating landscape/view in front of me. Another ride in the bus took us to Kata Tjuta where we enjoyed two walks by the Valley of the Winds. Because we did not bring any water, we were not permitted to take the more strenuous walk into the valley but did an alternative. Both walks were awesome with the first being to the Karu lookout and the second Walpa (windy) Gorge. Not only did we get a good view of the desert landscape but a close up view of the amazing formation of Kata.

Sun not up yet

Morning glow starting

Beautiful colors on the rock

Sun coming up behind Ayers Rock

Morning sunlight has arrived

Hiking we will go!

Valley of the Winds

Along the trail

Bill and I in the valley

Back at the hotel, we went to the hotel restaurant for lunch in the relaxing atmosphere of the outside patio. After lunch, Barb and I walked to another hotel where we had an appointment for facials plus foot/leg massage at the Red Ochre Spa. Total relaxation for close to 2 hours; it was heavenly! On our way back to our lodging, we went to the post office, bank, and supermarket. Went our separate ways until shortly after 7:00 where we gathered for a drink and dinner. All of us were very tired so went to our respective rooms about 8:30. I rearranged my luggage for the next day’s departure and was in bed by 9:30 with lights out.

This morning we got up for an early plane ride to watch the sunrise; Mortimer came along.  What a spectacular sight! Our female pilot was very knowledgeable and provided all of her 6 passengers with great photo opportunities. Very smooth landing and we took a bus back to our lodging.

Mortimer ready for flight

We are taking off

Sun coming up

Sun glow on Ayers Rock

Sun has risen

Kata Tjuta is lite up

Approaching the airport

We have landed safely!

Decided to take the luggage down to the lobby, check out, and leave it in holding until our bus arrived for the airport. Walked into the town square where we visited the few shops and had coffee/muffin at a cafe. Walked back to the hotel, stopping at the cultural museum on the way. We were…basically…killing time.

CAIRNS:  Arrived back at the hotel and waited for the bus to arrive. Once it did, luggage was loaded and we drove to the airport. Went thru check in and discovered Qantas charged luggage by number of bags and not total weight; after a re-shuffle, we managed to have one check in with two carry on for no extra charge. Our flight provided us with a meal of chicken pie plus drink for no extra charge. Arrived at Cairns, retrieved our luggage, and called the car rental agency where Bill had booked a car.  The representative was waiting for us, drove us out of the airport to a place where Bill got instructions on the car operation, signed off on the rental papers, and became our driver. It was now dark but we were able to find our way the Trinity Beach and the beachfront apartment we had rented. Very nice place! After settling in, we walked to Blue Moon for dinner. Good food and very interesting menu. Returned to our apartment and settled into our respective rooms for the night.

On Friday, we gathered in the kitchen for instant coffee; we decided to get some supplies later in the day.  Here is the link to Cairns for more information Cairns.   Left our lodging, after putting in a load of laundry, for Cairns Botanical Gardens where we parked and found a cafe for breakfast. After eating, we explored the gift shop and walked the gardens. Beautiful, beautiful displays which we thoroughly enjoyed.  Link for the Gardens Botanical Gardens.

Deciding on what to eat for breakfast

A beautiful display

Colorful lily

Blood lily

Panama Flame Tree

Butterfly found a home

Cannonball Tree

Left the gardens and drove into Cairns where we located the pier we were going to depart from the next morning for an overnight in the Great Barrier Reefs. Had lunch at ThaFish which was by the harbour and very good food. Went into a few shops and walked to where our boat the next day was departing; talked to the owner to make sure we had all the details. Drove to a local liquor store where we made some purchases and a popular grocery store throughout Australia called Woolworths. Purchased dinner and breakfast supplies, including coffee. Settled onto the patio for some wine and cheese/crackers. After relaxing for an hour or so and retrieving our laundry from the dryer, made preparations for our 2-day adventure on the Great Barrier Reef. Since we had to be up by 6:00, went to bed early.

Saturday, the 23rd, we prepared for our overnight journey to the Great Barrier Reef. After a light breakfast, we headed for Pier A at Cairns. Since we were early, we found a harbour side cafe for coffee.

Our sail boat

Sun rising

The dock area

At the appointed time, we boarded our sailing vessel called the Coral Sea Dreaming minus our shoes; all shoes are removed before boarding and not given back until final docking so everyone were barefoot for the trip. There were 11 passengers and 3 crewmen on board. It took over 4 hours to reach the reef where the first dive/snorkel took place; all total, we went to 3 different reefs during the two days. I made the decision not to snorkel but to stay on board; the openness of the ocean without land in sight “freaked” me out. After the first dive and lunch, of sandwiches and salad, the ship went to the second dive area where we spent the night. Bill did 2 dives and was going to do the night dive but had problems with the mask he was wearing which caused irritation to his eyes so night dive was out. Watched the sunset and had pasta dinner provided by the crew. Adjoined to my private cabin (it was about the size of my entryway back home but with a lower ceiling), read, and fell asleep. Rose the next morning to watch the sunrise with a cup of coffee in hand. After a light breakfast, another dive was made. We then moved to the third reef where the final couple dives along with snorkeling occurred; after diving, Bill went with Barb for a snorkel.

Heading to the open ocean

Enjoying the ride

Arriving at the first reef area

Bill prepping for first dive

Ready to jump in

Sun is setting

My quarters

Sun is coming up

Sun getting higher in the sky

Bill ready for his last dive

Barb and Bill settling in the water

Knapps off to snorkel the reef

Fish around the boat

Group picture after docking

A late brunch was prepared and after eating, the ship pointed back to Cairns where we arrived about 4:00 p.m. on Sunday. Drove back to our apartment where I took a shower and got into clean clothes. All were tired so decided to eat on the patio and not go out for dinner. In my room with lights out by 10:00.

Monday was our last day in the area and spent it going to Kuranda Village which was established in the late 1880’s; here is the link Kuranda Village. The village had butterfly and bird sanctuaries that we wanted to visit. Took the train up to the village and the sky rail back. Walked to the butterfly sanctuary, stopping at a shop to purchase a gift for a friend. Really enjoyed walking through the butterfly area; we were fortunate for have a knowledgeable guide with us and she explained the whole development process of the butterfly.

On board the train

Surrounding countryside

Climbing toward the rainforest

Barron Falls from the train

Another countryside view

Entrance to butterfly sanctuary

Butterfly likes Bill’s hat

Inside the sanctuary butterflies everywhere

Some of types butterflies we saw

Can you spot any butterflies?

We found a cafe for lunch across the street from the sanctuary; I had a cold beer and sandwich. Next we went to the bird exhibit; an area filled with Australian birds free to fly or perch on trees or bushes to their content. Barb had the unfortunate experience of one crapping on her face and blouse; not a pleasant experience.

Peaceful parrot

Making a new friend

Colorful parrots

Waterfall area with whistling ducks and turtles

Turtles, herons, egrets, and more?

Galahs in their home

Since we were to catch the sky rail around 2:00, we only had a half hour to shop and get gelato. On our way, Barb purchase a t-shirt to replace her soiled top. Did find gelato and ate on our way to the station. The sky rail made two stops; one at Barron Waterfalls and the second at Red Peak. We got off at both places and walked the designated trails plus went into the museum at Red Peak.

Meeting another car

The three of us enjoying the ride

Barron Falls

Railroad bridge in the distance

Kauri Pine

Descending into the valley

Arrived back to the starting point and after exploring the gift shop plus purchasing a picture of the three of us in the sky car, we went back to our apartment where I organized my luggage for our departure the next day to Brisbane. We walked to a waterfront Italian cafe and had dinner of lasagna which was quite rich. Back at the apartment, I read for awhile and turned off the lights around 9:30.

Australia: Melbourne

Met up with the Knapps around 7:45 on September 14th and we had breakfast at the hotel. Went to our rooms and got organized for our pick up to the airport at 10:10. Checked out and waited for our transport which did not come so grabbed at taxi around 10:30. Arrived at the airport and, while checking our bags, found out our flight was delayed because of the weather; earlier in the day, winds were quite strong in Sydney so a couple flights from Melbourne had been cancelled. Plane arrived and boarding occurred in an orderly fashion which was slightly different than in the US. We had purchased lunches at the terminal so ate my lunch and read during the flight. All of us commented on the numbers of restaurants and retail stores available to passengers while waiting in the terminal. Arrived in Melbourne around 3:15; retrieved our luggage and caught a taxi to our hotel, The Raddison on Flagstaff Gardens. Deposited our luggage in our rooms and went down to talk to the concierge about possible tours. Got signed up for the Ocean View Road and Billy Puffin Train/Penguin Parade tours on Sunday and Monday respectively. Also signed up for high tea at Windsor Hotel on Saturday. All of us were tired so went into the bar for Happy Hour and dinner. Back to the room around 8:00; decided to meet up the next morning around 8:00.

After a shower and coffee in the room, met up with the Knapps around 7:45. We walked to a restaurant called Operator 25 for breakfast.

Lines still hanging down in Operator 25 cafe

The place was built in 1884 as a telephone exchange and housed Melbourne’s first switchboard. Good breakfast of granola, fruit, and carrot juice. After breakfast, went to the tram stop to catch the city center tram to the Victoria State Library (built in the 1860’s) where we joined a free walking tour of Melbourne.

Victoria State Library

Chess board on walk outside library

Approximately 3 hour tour covering many of the local sights; Federation Square, Melbourne Laneways, Old Melbourne Gaol, Chinatown, and Carlton Gardens.  Great tour and very knowledgeable tour guide called Tess.  After the tour, we found lunch at RMB Cafe; I had chicken/mushroom ricotta which was very good and filling. It had started to pour down rain while we were seated outside so we moved in. After our late lunch, we caught the tram to Queen Victoria Market which, unfortunately, was closing.

Outside Old Gaol

Trees protected from possums with band of foil around bottom

Carlton Gardens

Melbourne Theatre

Entrance to Chinatown

Hidden laneway

Another hidden laneway

Federation Square

Outside Queen Victoria Market

We walked back to our hotel where we went to our respective rooms to dry out. Met and went down to the concierge where we checked about a night tour of the Old Melbourne Gaol; unfortunately, the tour was booked for every night until next Wednesday when we will be gone. We found out about a couple good Chinese places for dinner which we planned on doing the next evening. After some discussion, we went to the bar for some drinks. Decided not the leave for the evening since all of us were tired so, after a couple of drinks, adjourned to our respective rooms for the night.

On Saturday, the 16th, we found a breakfast place on the edge of Queen Victoria Market called Muleta’s; it was good food. Went into the LARGE market where we spent a few hours walking and purchasing. Left the market, went back to our hotel to change clothes, and caught a tram for a ride to Windsor Hotel where we had high tea; plates of canapés, quiches, sandwiches, buffet bar with all kinds of desserts, sparkling wine, and tea; an elegant experience. We walked to the Old Melbourne Gaol while stopping along the way to browse a few shops. At the Gaol, we saw a play regarding the jailing and execution of Ned Kelly who was an Australian bushranger, outlaw, gang leader and convicted police murderer.

At High Tea

Room were High Tea was held

In the womens holding cell

Instead the gaol

Cell at the gaol

And then we walked to dinner at a place called ShanDong MaMa which is located in Chinatown and recommended by our tour guide the day before.  They are known for their homemade dumplings and did not disappoint us. After eating, we walked back to the hotel, had a drink in the bar, and adjourned for the night to our respective rooms. I rearranged my suitcase for departure on Tuesday since the next days were filled up with tours that lasted well into the evening. Turned out the lights around 10:00 since we had to be in the lobby the next morning by 7:20 for pickup of the Great Ocean Road tour.

The three of us were picked up by Grayline Tours for the Great Ocean Road; because of a bike race, the route was reversed from the normal one. Our driver/guide was James and he was very knowledgeable of the history of the areas and where to stop for pictures as we drove along. We had Aussie style Bush Billy tea mid-morning served with lambing tons, vegemite and crackers. The vegemite was quite salty and I did not eat much of it. Places we saw along the way were Loch Ard Gorge, Twelve Apostles, Gibsons Steps which are all part of the Shipwreck Coast; Apollo Bay, the rainforest of Ottway National Park and Port Campbell National Park.

Mortimer and I on the bus

Shipwreck Point

The Razorback

Twelve Apostles

Mortimer and I in front of Twelve Apostles

Barb and Bill enjoying the day

Some of the countryside

Sunset along the coast

A delightful, beautiful weather day that ended when we were dropped off at our hotel around 9:00; we went into the bar to get a drink to take to our rooms and retired for the evening.

We were picked up at our hotel on Monday for a full day of touring. In the morning, we drove to the Dandenongs Range and stopped for morning tea along the way. We boarded Puffing Billy, a steam locomotive which took us from Belgrade to Menzies Creek, a very scenic journey. Another stop was at the village of Sassafras known for its crafts and antiques. Returned to Federation Square in Melbourne where we boarded another bus for the afternoon/evening. We went to Churchill Island for afternoon tea, browsing the area, and visiting Churchill Island Heritage Farm; Heritage Farm.  Went to Phillip Island Nature Park which is the natural home to koalas, seals, shearwaters, and Little Penguins. At Koala Conservation Park we were able to spot many of the little critters sleeping and eating in the trees.

Morning tea

Barb feeding cuckatoo

Our train

All on board

Canola plants

Heritage Farm

Koala

Wallaby

Kangaroos

And then we viewed the Penguin Parade which is where Little Penguins come home from the sea; they come in on waves, cross the beach to the sand dunes, and then waddle to their burrows. What an exciting sight! It started pouring down rain but we stayed at our seats and along the rail watching the cute little guys. Because of the rain, I did not take any pictures of the parade; here is the link  Penguin Parade.   It was a wonderful afternoon and evening; arrived back to our hotel around 10:00; went to our respective rooms to prepare for our 7:00 a.m. departure the next day.

Australia: Sydney

On this adventure, I am taking Mortimer, a stuffed platypus, that was given to Tom by his science fiction/fantasy writer friends when we had to cancel our trip to Australia in 2010; I figured it appropriate that he serve as Tom’s spirit on the trip. My friends from northern California, Barb and Bill, were also joining me on the trip.

Mortimer ready

Because of the amount of stuff we saw during our 3 weeks in the country, I will be putting writing four different posts for the blog.

Left home on September 8th for 1:15 flight out of Cedar Rapids to Sydney in which arrival there would be 6:25 in the morning on Friday; that would be 3:20 in the afternoon on Thursday at home. Met up with the Knapps at LAX and we were onboard for our 14.5 hour flight to Sydney.

Our “home” for 14.5 hours

Great flight, good food, and sound sleep of 9 hours. Arrived in Sydney shortly after 6:00 a.m. and all of us felt good. Got thru Customs and Immigration, exchanged money, and arranged shuttle to our hotel. Arrived at our hotel and we were able to get into our rooms even though it was only shortly after 9:00. Pier One is the name of the hotel and it would be our home for the next six nights; Pier One. After refreshing ourselves, we talked to the concierge about possible adventures for our stay. Onward to find the Big Bus Sydney Hop On/Hop Off; here is the link Big Bus if you would like to look at all the places we saw on the two different routes; inner city and outer beaches.

On the bus

Sydney Tower

St. Mary’s Cathedral

Approaching beach

Surfers

Really was one of the worst hop on/hop off buses I have experienced; surly drivers, boring tape telling us what we were seeing which was difficult to hear, and lack of signage showing the buses pick up points. One bright spot was lunch at the Woolloomooloo Bay Hotel’s outside area.  And we did enjoy our visit to Bondi Beach.  That evening we ate at an Irish Pub off Georges Street called the Mercantile Hotel; the salmon was good and the atmosphere relaxing with our sitting outside.

Opera House at night

In bed with lights out by 9:30; we were getting up for a backstage tour of the Opera House the next morning at 6:45.

We connected up around 6:15 a.m. and took a taxi to the Opera House. After walking all over the place, we found the correct entrance.

Sun rising

Sun shining on the water

Our tour guide, Alex, appeared; he was a delightful, funny guide! It was an excellent tour that ended with a good breakfast; here is the link if you are interested in hearing about the opera house and tours available Opera House.

Smallest performance hall

Huge pipe organ

Lipstick Wall

Inside performers lounge

Outside on balcony

Bridge reflected in window

Entrance hallway on upper level

Audio Room

After the tour, because travel bag that I was using as a purse had both zippers break, Bill and I took off to find a new bag while Barb went back to the hotel. Finally found a reasonable priced bag at a local department store; by the time we got back to the hotel, it was noon. Headed to The Glenmore and their rooftop pub. A good lunch of Teriyaki Chicken sandwich with chips along with Big Yak beer.  Then we walked the harbour bridge on the lower level and walked up 200 steps to an outside viewing platform – reading about the bridge construction on boards displayed on the walls as we climbed. Beautiful view on a clear day; Harbour Bridge.

Lunch at Glenmore

Outside Glenmore

Town view from viewing platform

Another town view

Our hotel from viewing platform

Climbers going to top of bridge

Three of us enjoying the view

After the bridge, we walked to the ferry terminal where we caught a ferry to Manly; we timed it so we would be on the ferry in order to see the sunset beyond the Harbour Bridge and Opera House; a glorious sight!

People on top of bridge at sunset

Sun going down

Sun completely down

Sydney after dark

Dinner was at Garfish, a restaurant in Manly; I had fish curry which was very good. Caught the ferry back to our original wharf. Got back to hotel shortly after 9:30 and we headed to our respective rooms.

On Sunday, after having coffee and breakfast at The Fine Food Store, we headed to the ferry terminal to purchase tickets for the ferry and Taronga Zoo; Taronga.  The weather was beautiful with sunny, clear skies. We had a very enjoyable day viewing all the animals and having lunch at The View restaurant.

Mortimer and Bill walking to breakfast

Mortimer and I on the ferry

Scene from cable car

Pelican

Ringtail possum taking babies for a ride

Emu

Wallaby

Three of us with friendly koala

Sundial Gardens

Knapps having lunch

Mama and Baby Elephant

Echidna

Wombat

Penguin

Got back to Circular Quay, a harbour in Sydney, about 3:30. Wandered the area and found a place to purchase gelato…yummy! Headed back to our hotel and we gathered in Knapps room where we attempted to get seating assignments for all of our domestic flights scheduled in Australia. Had a very difficult time and, since we were tired, decided to eat at the hotel instead of going out. Went into the bar area and had salad along with a glass of wine. Back to the room where we continued to work on getting our seats and this time we met with success! Returned to my room where I prepared for bed and read for a very short period before turning out the lights.

Another beautiful day as I awake on Monday. After a shower and gathering my stuff, headed over to Knapps for breakfast from room service. We were going on a tour of Blue Mountain. The tour bus picked us up at 8:00 and we headed out of the city. First stop was Featherdale Wildlife Park which has nearly every unique Australian mammal, bird, and even a crocodile; Featherdale. I got to hold Elmo, a baby kangaroo, and hand feed adult kangaroos. It was an excellent stop!

Southern Cassowary

Baby Elmo

Awake koala

Feeding a kangaroo

Goodfellows Tree Kangaroo

Active penguins

Sleeping crocodile

After leaving the wildlife park, we stopped for lunch at Katumba which is the tourist capital of the Blue Mountains; Blue Mountains. Lunch was quite tasty. After eating we drove to Scenic World where we rode Scenic Skyway across Jameson Valley to the opposite side getting a good view of the Three Sisters along the way. Then we rode the world’s steepest incline Railway, which is 415 metres in length and has a vertical drop of 206 metres, to the bottom of the valley where we took a stroll along the boardwalk through world heritage listed wilderness consisting of rainforest, eucalyptus trees, long view of Katoomba Falls which were very difficult to photograph, and many birds. Took the cable car to the top which ended up at the entrance of the gift shop…isn’t that where most tours end?  Got back on the bus and headed to Echo Point; while others walked to a overlook point for viewing the Three Sisters, we had a local brew.

Three of us at viewing point for Blue Mountains

View of Blue Mountains

Cars of railway

Three sisters

Walking path thru rainforest

Far view of the falls

Another mountain scene

We returned toward the city but stopped at Olympic Park where we picked up a boat for a relaxing river cruise on the Parramatta River to Darling Harbor. At Darling Harbor, we strolled along the harbour side and found a seafood place for dinner called Nick’s. And we lucked out with getting a table right along the waterfront. Delicious meal of King Crab salad.

Sun going down

Getting lower

Sun has set

Fountain and crane sculpture Darling Harbour

Found a taxi and returned to the hotel where, after some discussion, we decided we would explore the Australian Museum and Susannah Museum on Tuesday.

Tuesday saw us heading out about 8:00 a.m.; we had breakfast at the Mercantile Hotel and then found a taxi to the Australian Museum. This museum was established in 1827 and was the first Australian museum to explore the country’s natural and cultural history through its huge collection of artifacts; Australian Museum. We spent the day there covering all three floors; had lunch on their outside terrace restaurant. The areas I enjoyed the most was the History section describing Australian development from its conception to today; the section on the Aboriginal people was excellent. And they had a special exhibit displaying photo works of Australian artists.

The Australian Museum

Mounted peacock

Barb and Bill; is the animal about to bite Bill’s head?

Dinosaur exhibit

Found a taxi to take us back to the hotel and relaxed for an hour before walking to the Mercantile Hotel for our historic Pub Tour; Pub Tour. Hotel in Australia means pub. We explored 5 different places with a drink at each place. Our guide, Gary, provided the history of each place in a story format. The hotels we went to were Mercantile; Australian where we also enjoyed a meal of emu, crocodile, and kangaroo pizzas; Fortune of War; The Hero of Waterloo; Lord Nelson Brewery where we actually went into their brewery in the basement. An excellent evening! We found our way back to the hotel and went to our respective rooms.

Pub tour participants

We are in jail!

Eating pizza

Wednesday was our last day in Sydney with our having a flight to Melbourne scheduled the next morning. It was decided Barb and I would go shopping while Bill went to the Powerhouse Museum. Before going our separate ways, we had breakfast at Bar Cycle Sports; delicious omelet that I split with Barb. The temperature had turned quite hot with it getting into the 90’s. We started our shopping adventure at Clocktower Square and worked our way down to George Street. It turned out to be a successful shopping experience with both of us acquiring items we wanted. Met up with Bill at the Clocktower and went to lunch at The Loft where we split a salad and kangaroo burger. Went to Susannah Place Museum for a tour; Susannah Place. It was built in 1844 by Irish immigrants as terrace houses that were occupied until 1990. We were able to explore all four quaint homes while our guide provided us with detail of how life was back in the particular time period she was discussing. The small houses have the city’s oldest original outdoor laundries and brick lavatories. One of the houses has been recreated as a corner shop that sells goods during that era. We found a taxi and ventured back to our hotel where Bill and I printed out our boarding passes for three of our four domestic flights. It is interesting that there is no time period for when a boarding pass can be printed; we are used to in the US where it can only be printed within a 24 hour period. In the evening, we had reservations at the O Bar which is a 360 degree revolving restaurant on the 74th floor of the Australia Center; O Bar. All of us dressed for the occasion and had a wonderful time with delicious food and conversation. One thing to note: in Australia, Entrée on the menu means Appetizer.

Three of us at O Bar

View from above

Vegetable Entree

Took a taxi back to the hotel and went to our respective rooms to pack for our departure the next day around 10:00.

 

Cuba: March 4th – March 17th, 2017

Ginni from St. Louis, whom I’ve traveled with in the past, called me up and asked if I would like to visit Cuba. It is a country I never thought about visiting but said “Why not?” This happened in the fall of 2016. We contacted our travel agent and, after looking at a couple different tour companies, we settled on Tauck because of their itinerary which took us from one end of Cuba to the other and their small group size; dates of our travel were from March 4th thru March 17th.

Cuba

Cuba, officially the Republic of Cuba, is located in the northern Caribbean where the Caribbean Sea,  Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean meet.  Havana is the largest city and its capital.  Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean and has a population of over 11.2 million inhabitants.  It  is a one-party republic where the Communist Party is enshrined in the constitution. Its economy is dominated by the exports of sugar, tobacco, coffee and skilled labor. According to the Human Development Index, Cuba is described as a country with high human development and is ranked the eighth highest in North America. It also ranks highly in some metrics of national performance, including health care and education.

 

Cedar Rapids and Miami

 Left home for the airport at 5:50 AM on March 4; arrived in Miami at 3:00 PM. Retrieved luggage, got a taxi with a very reluctant driver, and headed to my hotel for the next two nights called Hyatt Regency Coral Gables. There was a carnival going on so the streets by the hotel were blocked off which meant the taxi had to maneuver all over the place to get to the hotel. Got checked in and went to the bar for a drink because our room was not ready. Settled into the room; it faced the carnival street and was very noisy but was assured by the front desk that festivities would be over by 10:30.

Carnival from our balcony

I decided to find a place to buy a bottle of wine for Ginni who would be coming in later tonight; I had packed one of the bottles given by Allan and Jeannette to me during the holidays for myself. The concierge gave me directions to the nearest place for wine so I went to it, purchased a bottle, and then went to Millers Ale House for dinner of Mahi/Mahi with vegetable. Good food, good service, and pleasant outdoor atmosphere. I walked through the carnival looking at the booths of artists displaying their wares. Got back to the hotel and settled in the room with a book while waiting for Ginni. Went down to the lobby about 8:45 to wait for her arrival which happened five minutes later. Back to the room where we sat and talked until after 11:00.

Sunday morning was a slow one with our waking after 8:00; we got dressed for the day and went to breakfast around 10:00 in the hotel dining room. It was buffet and had lots of choices. After breakfast, we wandered through the carnival and around downtown Coral Gables.

Coral Gables police performing

Went to our room for a brief break before heading downstairs to meet up with the Tauck representative. Got checked in and met some fellow travelers on the tour. Back to the room for an afternoon nap. Orientation meeting was held late afternoon where we met fellow travelers along with our tour director, Carlos. Dinner that evening with members of the tour; Ginni and I ate with Marsha/Dave from Columbus, OH and Andi/Larry from Cleveland, OH. After dinner we went to the bar for a drink.

Miami Departure and Havana

Breakfast at hotel @ 5:30; arrived at the airport where there was a problem with security on where to park. Carlos got everything straightened out; we got checked in with Delta and went to gate for boarding. Easy flight from Miami to Havana airport.

Leaving Miami

Above the clouds

Starting descent into Havanna

Approaching Havana airport

Upon arrival at Havana we went thru Immigration and Cuban Customs; the whole process was made easily with the guidance of Carlos. Once everyone arrived at the VIP lounge, we departed the lounge and was met outside by our tour guide, Hector, and bus driver, Rudolph.

Havana:  March 6 – 8

After departure from airport  we saw many sights from the bus:  Havana mural of Indian girl, 1946 Polinros Fountain,  Jose Morte sculptures, Revolution Square, original city walls, El Morro, Port of Havana, Statue of wind, fire, and rain; stopped at forts; Cristo de La Habana with statue of Christ. Lunch at Habanero with Andi, Larry, Rosemary, and Yvonne.

Modes of transportation

Jose Marti Memorial in Revolution Square

Ministry of Information and Communication with image of guerrilla fighter Camilo Cienfuego

Ginni and I liking the convertibles

View of Havana from a fort

El Morro

Statue of Christ

Wind, fire, and rain statue

Went to our hotel, Melia Havana, checked and settled in. We had a very nice room with balcony on the 9th floor; it looked over the beautiful pool area and along the coast where you could hear the waves meeting land. Got a taxi with Andi and Larry for a ride to the Hotel Nacional de Cuba which was said to look like Biltmore in the USA. Beautiful hotel with lovely courtyard. Had a drink and returned to our hotel for dinner in the lobby area along with another drink.

Pool area looking down from our room

View of coast from our balcony

Larry, Andi, Ginni, and I having drink at Hotel Nacional

Bar area in Hotel Nacional

Interior wall

Inside corridor at Hotel Nacional

Tuesday saw us depart the hotel @ 8:30. Went to the Colón Cemetary started in 1876. With over 140 acres, it is one of the largest cemeteries in the world and renowned for its elaborate memorial architecture. There are more than 800,000 graves and 1 million interments. We witnessed several Cubans coming to the sacred memorial for “Amelia and her baby”. Amelia died in 1901 of preclampsia and she was buried together with her baby. Local Cubans now come and offer their prayers for safe pregnancies and return with flowers and prayers to thank her for a safe birth.

Cemetery Entrance

Some of the plots

Firefighters Monument

Amelia and her baby

Next stop was a tour of to the Cigar Factory where there was a picture of Fidel on the door. Cuban cigar makers, unlike their counterparts in most of the non-Cuban cigar world, make the entire cigar themselves. It was an interesting tour where we saw how cigars are made from start to finish; we were able to ask questions of the workers and they were very forthcoming in their answers. Once the tour was over, we went to the Cigar Shop where I purchased some cigars.

Carlos at cigar factory entrance

Stained glass in factory lobby

Next stop was the Hemingway House; beautiful home and grounds. Hemingway lived in the house from mid 1939 to 1960, renting it at first, and then buying it in December 1940 after he married his third wife. In the fall of 1960, the Cuban government expropriated the Hemingway house and its grounds of which they have responsibility of its maintenance today. Lunch was at Divino; good food and great atmosphere.

Outside Hemingway’s Home

Living room

Where Hemingway wrote

Dining area

Outside the house

38 ft. wooden boat “Pilar”

Lunch at Divino’s

After eating, we visited the Revolution Museum in Old Havana. The museum is located in what was the Presidental Palace of all Cuban presidents from Mario Menocal in 1920 to Fulgencio Batista. It became the Museum of the Revolution during the years following the Cuban Revolution. The exhibits are largely devoted to the 1950’s Revolutionary War period and post-1959 period. Behind the building lies the Granma Memorial, a large glass enclosure which houses the yacht which took Castro and his revolutionaries from Mexico to Cuba for the revolution. Around the yacht there is a surface-to-air missile of the type that shot down a U.S. spyplane during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the engine of the U-2 airplane is displayed. Dinner that evening at La Moraleja.

Revolution Museum

Tank on display

Inside the museum

Looking down to courtyard

Glass house with yacht; missiles on outside

Renovation going on in the palace

Dinner at La Moraleja

Wednesday morning we went to the performance of the Habana Compas Dance Company, a thriving dance and cultural performance group that combines the essence of Spanish dance with Afro-Cuban rhythms. Drumsticks, castanets, heels, claves, chequeres and percussive chairs characterize the performances of the ensemble which, through dance, preserves a large part of the island’s African and Spanish cultural heritage. After the performance, I purchased a couple items in their gift shop. Next we went to Old Havana where we was given a tour by an expert of architecture. Old Havana which was founded in 1519 by the Spanish crown and is architecturally unlike any other Caribbean city. The predominant architecture in Old Havana is an eclectic mix of Cuban Baroque, Neoclassical and Moorish influences reminiscent of Cuba’s Spanish heritage. Buildings are brightly colored in various hues of pastels adding to the charm and allure of Old Havana. However over two-thirds of Old Havana is in desperate need of renovation and funding is lacking. The tour was interesting but did seem too long. A picture of our tour group was taken in front of the Custom House. There was a model of the old city displayed which, we learned, took a married couple over three years to make. Lunch was at Ambos Mundos Hotel. We ventured to the Main Square where we saw a statue of Carlos Manual de Caspedes who was the first president (father) of the country. Also seen was the main castle, front of Governors House, mural of 67 people who were diverse in culture and opposed the crown, Cathedral Square, and the first American embassy.

Habana Compas

Main square

Group of school children

Busy streets

Model of old city

Caspedes statue

Wall of mural

Cathedral

Lunch companions

That evening we were surprised with a car ride in a 1955 Bel Aire convertible; earlier in the day, Carlos gave each female on the trip a red scarf to wear while riding in the open car. Drove to the Museum of Universal Arts where we were given a special performance by an Acapella singing group called Vocal ELE’. Had dinner at La Foresta; okay food but the funny part of the evening was a fake birthday for one of our fellow passengers.

Ready to ride in our convertible

On our way to the Museum of Universal Arts

Museum of Universal Arts

Acapella singers

Stained glass ceiling in the museum

Sancti Spiritus: March 9

Departed the hotel at 8:00 after having breakfast. We headed for our one night destination of Sancti Spirtus. Drove for an 1.5 hours before stopping at a rest stop. Hector had given us the history of the Cuban Revolution from Columbus to the 1950’s. It was a very nice rest area with a couple gift shops. Next we were on our way to Santa Clara where we stopped at the Che Guevara Mausoleum; he was the military leader who played a key role as Fidel Castro’s second-in-command during the Cuban Revolution. Lunch was at La Aldaba Restaurant.

Exercise equipment in “gym” leaving Havana

Rest stop

Che Mausoleum

Lunch with Ginni, Bryan, and Joyce

Lunchtime entertainment

Riding along the countryside

After lunch, we preceded to Sancti Spiritus where Hector took us on a tour of the town square while Carlos arranged for our baggage to be unloaded and placed in our room at the Hotel Don Florencio. We had dinner outside of the hotel that evening and was entertained while eating with a group who sang and played instruments.

Main square at Sancti Spiritus

Walking a street down the mall

One stall of many at local market

Our dinner entertainment

Camagüey:  March 10 – 12

Departed Sancti Spiritus for Camagüey around 8:00;  Hector provided us with more information regarding Cuba and their residents as we rode along.  Stopped at a rest stop after a few hours of riding; I gave the restroom attendant a couple roses that Ginni and I received the night before at the hotel we had stayed at.  There was shopping and an area for walking around. We continued on to Camagüey where we had lunch at Hotel El Camino de Hierro.  Camagüey is considered a city of baroque and is renowned for its historic center; it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.  It is the nation’s third largest city with more than 321,000 inhabitants. After lunch, we attended a traditional folk dance performance by a group called Companñia Folklorica Camagua; it was followed by a question and answer session with performers.  We checked into Hotel Sevillana where we had time in our room to settle in for our 3-night stay. Dinner was at the hotel with some of us gathering for a drink beforehand; a group of three gentlemen entertained us.  After walking around the area, I settled into a local bar with Andi, Larry, Joyce, Bryan, and Ginni for a final glass of wine.

Houses in the country

Not everyone has a car

Grove of bananas

Rest area

Lunch room

Folk dancers

Folk dancers with instruments in background

Central courtyard of hotel

On Saturday, we did not have to depart the hotel until 9:30 so slept late, got dressed, and updated my notes before breakfast. After breakfast, in groups of two, we boarded bike taxis for our tour of the town. Brief history of Camagüey; it started out being called Santa Maria but changed its name to current. It is the biggest providence of Cuba along with being the flattest. Population is 700K with tourism, sugar cane, and artists being its main area of revenue.  Also known as the City of Churches with 24; 15 of those are Catholic. And it is home to the second oldest theatre in the country called Teatro Principal. After exploring a market, the bikes took us to the Artesano Aristarchus which is the studio of Jose D Gutierrez (Pepe) where he demonstrated his craft. He was trained as a mechanic and makes all his tools. His pieces are unusual and cannot be purchased anywhere else. Next stop was a couple doors down to Projecto Carsuenos; it is a community project founded by Carmen Gonzales and she gave us a talk on her work. There are currently 162 members of the project; these members are either handicapped, have mental illness, alcoholism, and children age 3-16. All of them are trying to improve and bring brightness to their lives. All the children design while the adults sew dolls for hospitals or for sale both nationally and internationally; so far, they have made 270 dolls. The big project they are working on currently is a big doll measuring 24 meters which they are hoping to enter into the Guinness Book of Records. We walked to the art gallery and workshop of Martha Jimenez Perez. Her most important element in her paintings and sculptures are women with her most famous being “Gossippers” which are three women talking at a fountain with halos over their heads (represents) heavenly. Across the courtyard for lunch at El Paso Restaurant; ate a meal of black bean soup, chicken, rice, and vegetables while listening to a duo called Black Coral.

Line up of bike taxis

Ginni and I looking out the back of our taxi

Second oldest theater in Cuba

Vendors selling their crafts

Some of “Pepe” works

The artist showing how he makes his art

Dolls made and being sold

Black Coral

Street vendor

Ginni and I talking with the “Gossippers”

We boarded the bus for a short drive to a home of a family artists who do their work and displays on the premises. The members either paint, do ceramics, or make clay pots. The place is called Alfareria Casanova. A father/son duo demonstrated making the clay pots; after a pot is made, it takes 15 days to dry and then fired in a kiln for 30 hours at 1000 degrees. After the demonstration, we wandered thru their shop and I purchased one of the paintings. Returned to the hotel and walked to the square to look in a couple places for souvenirs but did not find anything. Back to the hotel for some rest before dinner at an Italian restaurant. Restaurant was called Santa Teresa; since it was raining, their staff greeted us with umbrellas.

Beginning to make a pot

Nearing completion

Small pots made by the family

Inside the pizza restaurant

The meal of pizza was not very good because it was undercooked. I believe they were not equipped to handle our size of group so some people were done with their meal before others at their table received their meal. Definitely believe Carlos and Hector will recommend Tauck remove them from future itineraries. Had a round of drinks at the hotel before heading to bed. We set our clocks ahead one hour since Cuba goes on daylight savings time as we do.

Sunday morning, after breakfast, everyone gathered in our hotel lobby around 9:45 for a walk to the home of the Endedans Contemporary Ballet Company. This is the only ballet company in Cuba performing contemporary ballet. It was started about 10 years ago; the performers range in the age of 18-40 years of age. They are currently working on a project of exchange between Cuba and the US. It is a professional ballet company run by the state. The group gave us a private performance that they have not premiered as of yet. These performers and students are encouraged to use their creativity in the development and performance of each act. They are very talented in contemporary, ballet, hip-hop, and other dance styles. Very enjoyable to watch. We walked back to the hotel and got into another convertible for a drive to the restaurant where we were having lunch. Pat, a gal from California, joined Ginni and I into a white exterior/red interior 1950 Bel Aire. What fun waving and shouting greetings to the people we passed. We arrived at the restaurant, Rocola Club, where we were greeted with a Cuban fruit drink called Mamey and introduced to the owner. We ate lunch with Dave/Ann and Larry/Andi.

Warming up

Which gal wins?

Caravan to lunch

Ginni & I in the white convertible

Driving the 1950 BelAire

Lunch companions

View of the eating area at the Rocola Club

Boarded the bus and drove back to our hotel. After asking Carlos for some suggestions on where we could a bottle of wine, we headed out to look for this item. However, all the stores were closed. When we returned to the hotel, we told Hector about our search and he took us down the street to a place where each of us was able to purchase a bottle. Met in the lobby at 6:00 for our walk to the evening’s restaurant which turned out to be a wine cellar right down the street. Before leaving the hotel, we were entertained by a musical song and dance group called Andarte. Fun time; I even danced with the group. Walked to the restaurant and had an enjoyable meal even with the lights going out a quarter of the way through. Candles were lit at all the tables and the meal proceeded along. We found out the power was off all over the city. As we were getting ready to leave the restaurant, the power came on. Got a drink at the hotel bar and went to our room for packing since we were leaving the next day for our last destination in Cuba, Holguín, which is where Hector has his home.

Some of the Andarte group

Dancers added

Let’s join the fun

Dinner at La Moraleja

 

                                Holguín, March 13 – 15

On Monday, the 13th, we left the hotel at 8:00 heading to Holguín.  As we rode along, Hector provided us with information on Cuba and their education system. The education is provided by the government and free to every Cuban. There are three mandatory levels: preschool, elementary for 6 years, and middle school for 3 years. When the mandatory levels are completed, a child can decide to attend a technical college or university, which take 3 to 6 years to complete,  or stay home. All males must go into the Army for two years while females go to work. We made a rest stop in Cucalambé; nice stop with clean restrooms, small gift shop, and counter selling beverages. Onward to Finca Agroecologia La Conchita which is a working farm using organic principals to grow fruits and vegetables. Very interesting tour where we saw the gardens and fruit trees/bushes. They are part of a cooperative which means what they grow is exchanged among the other co-op members.  Some of the items grown are coffee beans, tomatoes, cabbage, bananas, cucumbers, tapioca, mango, coconut, pineapple, custard apple, and much more. After the tour, we had the best meal of the whole trip; pig which had been roasted over an open fire; salad of cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes, and green beans; potatoes; desserts. Everything was fresh and tasted delicious!

Greeted by mom and her babies

Snack table of fresh fruits

Pig being roasted

Farm guide taking us among fruit trees

Part of the garden

Lunch facility

Drove a couple hours, dropped Hector off in Holguín so he could stay with his family (bad week for Hector since his brother-in-law passed away, a first cousin passed away, and another cousin fell and broke his hip at Hector’s home while attending the funeral) and onward to our home the next three nights at Paradisus Rio de Oro Hotel which is a resort by the ocean and 37 miles from Holguín. Wonderful, huge accommodations with the bathroom large enough you could land a small plane in it. The shower was a garden shower outside. And everything was all inclusive which meant everything was included except items purchased at the gift shop or spa treatments. Dining options include 8 restaurants and 7 bars. There’s also an outdoor pool, private beach, a spa and a gym.  Settled into our apartment, took a shower, and went to dinner at the restaurant on our level where we were joined by Andi and Larry. Went back to our lodging around 11:00.

Main street of a town we were passing thru

Lobby area of our resort

Pool area and beyond

Bar area

After breakfast, we boarded the bus for a drive into Holguín. There was seat rotation each day on the bus so Ginni and I got the front row seats; certainly enlarges the area of vision. Our first stop, after picking up Hector, was at the practice facility of the opera company Rodriguo Pratts for a Cuban Zarzuela performance which was excellent!  Zarzuela is a Spanish lyric-dramatic genre that incorporates operatic and popular songs as well as dance.  At the question and answer session we found out that there are 97 members of the company with 45 in middle school for 3 years and the university level for 5 years. There are also some young children being taught. Everyone has to audition in order to get into the company and, once in, have to audition once a year to remain. They perform locally a couple times a month and do perform nationally and internationally. Our next stop was to La Loma de La Cruz or Hill of the Cross. There are 462 steps leading up to the cross and each May there is a celebration in which people carry a huge Cuban flag from the bottom to the top.

Driving into Holguín

Performers of the opera company

Part of the opera company

Cross at top of hill

Steps leading up to the cross

Ginni & I enjoying the view

Driving around town had us pass the park of sculptors, square which is over 100 years old, and wedding palace where Hector got married. The town was named in 1720 after the first Spaniard to arrive. It is in the fourth largest providence and is third largest in population. There are 346,000 people in the city. Most private homes are owned by Cuban people who live overseas. A small one-bedroom home costs $130,000. Next stop the Papyrus Papers Publishing House where we learned their purpose for paper printing. They print up to 100 books per title of a book. Any kind of paper such as cardboard, tissue, newspaper, gets reused. This is a family-operated print shop and their printing museum houses historic printing presses used to produce a wide-range of art books with some of them dating back to 1816. Lunch was at Restaurant Royal near the printing shop. We returned to the resort and had the rest of our afternoon to ourselves. We walked down to the beach and around the grounds.

Square in Holguín

Inside publishing house

Ginni with final paper after processing

Visitor on our walk of the hotel grounds

View from across the road of where we were staying

Road between lodging

Beach area

That evening Ginni and I decided to eat apart from everyone so we ate at the same restaurant as the previous evening.  Lights were out around 10:30.

Our final full day in Cuba, the 15th, was spent visiting the José María Ochoa School of Music where we were given a performance by various students of the school; performers were either in their first, second, or third year at the school. In order to be accepted within the school, they must pass an exam. Once accepted, they will be tested throughout the school year with a final exam where they must score at least 80 or they will be dropped from the program. The school includes children starting at the age of 8 upward.   After leaving the school, we stopped at a square where we were shown a mural on a wall that depicts the history of Cuba starting at the time of Columbus.  And we were able to walk around the square, on our way, going into whatever store we wanted; I was on the look out for coffee but did not find any.  After our exploration, we boarded the bus and drove to the home/gallery of Yuri Urquiza, a young and amazingly talented neoclassical artist. He works quite closely with his wife who also has an art degree. Her father is a well noted Cuban artist who displays his art all over the world. Yuri seems to be a very talented artist but I had a feeling his paintings were not cheap.

Students performing

Mural on wall

Inside a variety store

Phone “booths”

Yuri and his art

Bird in a tree

After the visit, we returned to the resort where we had lunch at the lobby restaurant. Since it had rained and the day was overcast, we did not want to go to the beach so Ginni and I took a golf cart to the lower area where there were a couple gift shops. Neither of us saw anything to purchase so we returned to our lodging where we prepared for our farewell reception and dinner. Carlos gave each of us a copy of the group photo taken outside the Customs House in Havana; it was quite good. And we had a surprise performance by the director of the music school we had visited on Wednesday and a magnificent piano player who could play anywhere in the world; Lola sang and Marcos played the piano.  Both were excellent but Marcos won me over with his magnificent playing. We had dinner with Jackie, Debbie, Andi, and Larry.

Lola and Marcos

Gals wearing red scarves

Photo of the guys

Hector, Carlos, and Rudolph with servers

Tomorrow we leave for the airport at 9:15 with bags out at 8:15.

Departure Cuba; Miami to Home

Nothing of interest today since we flew from Holguín to Miami without any problems.

Getting on the bus after checking out

Countryside view

Our transport back to Miami

Yvette, the trauma surgeon from California, sat next to me and we had a great conversation over the pond. Arrived in Miami and got through Immigration and Customs quite easily. Ginni and I grabbed a taxi to take us to the Hyatt Regency for overnight before departing the next day to our respective homes. Settled in the room which had WiFi so both of us caught up with mail before meeting Andi and Larry for a drink and then dinner at Fratellino Ristorante, an Italian place. Dinner at the restaurant was fantastic and we all enjoyed what we had ordered. Ginni and I walked back to the Hyatt and bed while Andi and Larry went to another establishment for a drink. On the 16th we headed for home so checked out of the room and got a taxi to the airport around 8:45. Ginni was flying American while I was flying United so got dropped at two different points. Both of us connected with each other after check in and we had breakfast at Air Margaritaville; good omelet and Bloody Mary. My flight was leaving at 12:20 so we said our good byes. Got to my gate, boarded the plane, and both flights into Cedar Rapids were uneventful with my getting home around 5:30.

Gathering of Friends: Truckee, CA. Feb. 2017

This past fall, Fosters from Montana along with Carol Patterson and I, from Iowa, came up with the dates of February 20 – 24, 2017 in which we would fly into Reno and be met by our friends the Knapps from northern California.  The Knapps have a second home in Truckee, CA. where we would spend four nights.  Here are the notes I made during the visit which describes our daily activities.

Monday the shuttle arrived at 6:20; the girls had me awake at 4:00 am so I was ready. At the airport, paired up with Carol; we checked in, got thru security, and waited to board. No problem in Cedar Rapids and arrived in Denver about 30 minutes early; during the flight, I was given a congratulatory card from UA for being a mileage plus member for 20 years but it did not work on getting a free Bloody Mary. Arrived at our departure gate in Denver to hear the UA representative tell us the plane was inoperable so moved to another gate where an inbound plane was going to be ours going out. The plane arrived but its crew said there was a problem with wind shear control; Maintenance was called and, after sometime, were able to identify the problem and requested the part from their supply store. The part arrived, installed, and we were in the air approximately two hours after the scheduled departure time. The stewardess gave us a free bottle of wine to celebrate my 20th anniversary; we got into a conversation with the gal in the outer seat of our row. She is Navaho and her father is a great painter using oils and a people as his medium; she had a book of his paintings and they were beautiful. Delightful conversation. Arrived in Reno and were greeted in baggage claim by the Knapps and Fosters who had arrived earlier.  Snow was falling which made it difficult to get to the Knapps home in Truckee. But we did make it; even though there was no electricity because of the storm, we had a wonderful evening of friendship. Barb had made vegetable beef soup so that, along with salad and homemade beer bread, made an excellent meal. We sat by the fire enjoying some wine and conversation but the early morning start caught up with all of us so off the bed we went.

On Tuesday, we had breakfast of fruit salad, toast, yogurt, and coffee. It was still snowing but the power had been restored; Bill, Carol, and Tom went out to shovel lots of snow. Morning was spent talking, checking email, and some putting a puzzle together. In the early afternoon, Bill and Tom went to shovel more snow; Bill was hoping to get the car out of the drive. The guys did get the car out but got it stuck when getting back into the drive. All of us went out and helped dig it out. We had reservations at a place called the Lodge; Barb gave me a beautiful blue top to wear with my jeans for the event. Upon arrival at the place, the power went out. Because of that they could not take any orders. However, Bill and Barb had brought a BIG bottle of wine that they had won at a raffle so our waiter uncorked it for us. And the power came back on; they wanted to wait 30 minutes to make sure the power stayed on. It did not; went out after 10 minutes and the manager decided to close down.

Having coffee with friends

It’s Snowing Outside

More snow

Heading out to clear snow

Working the puzzle

BIG Bottle of Wine

Shoveling out

Let’s Get the Wine Open

Gathering of Friends

So back to the house we went for chili and cornbread muffins. Delicious! After cleaning up, the girls went back to the puzzle they had been working on while the boys and I talked. Off to bed early; I had been fighting a cold so went to bed with my book but fell asleep while reading.

Wednesday was a slow start which was good. By the time we all took showers and had breakfast, it close to 10:30. Again we had to do some shoveling to get out of the drive. The girls were going shopping in Truckee while the boys were going to a local brewery. We met up and went to lunch at Squeeze Inn but, as was our luck, their power went out so they closed for the day. We headed to the Diner after Bill called and found them open. Another meal of good food. By this time it was 3:30 so we decided to head back to the house with a stop at the grocery store on the way. The first time I have shopped in a store without power; they was using the generator to operate the cash registers so lighting in the aisles were minimal. Tom had a light on his phone which came in very handy.

Sun is rising

Blue bird welcoming the morning

Ready to shop

Is there enough snow??

Got back to the house and, after relaxing, headed to the Lodge for our dinner reservation at 6:00. Power was on and the food excellent; I had their special of beet salad and potato leek soup. Returned to the house; after a glass of wine and more conversation, went down to bed for some reading time. Lights out around 10:00.

When everyone was ready on Thursday, we took a drive around the three local ski areas plus Lake Tahoe. It was snowing again but not strong; however, the piles alongside the road made it impossible to see much. Ski areas we saw were Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley, and North Star. Lunch was at Gar Woods; expensive but great service, pleasant atmosphere, and tasty food made it worthwhile.

Dog sledding

One of the ski areas

From the deck at Gar Woods

Lunch with friends

Got back to the house around 3:00 and sat around talking the rest of the day. Another puzzle was being worked on by Sarah, Carol, Barb, and Tom; Bill and I warmed up leftovers for our dinner. Went to bed around 10:00 or so.

Friday morning started with a brunch before leaving for the airport around 10:30. Arrived at the airport, got checked in, and Carol/I went through Security. Flights back to Cedar Rapids were uneventful. Landed in Cedar Rapids, retrieved my bag, and took the shuttle home where I arrived around midnight. And the girls came to greet me at the door. Another fun trip; it was great to see old friends and catch up on all that is happening in everyone’s lives. The amazing thing is how we are still friends after 40+ years and how, when we are together, it seems like our conversations pick up as if time and miles have not separated us.

Florida in January: 2017

What a wonderful way to start off the New Year; two weeks on Ft. Myers Beach condo along the beach.  And it was doubly exciting because my sister, Edi, planned on going with me.

Sisters

Because of a lower cost airfare and my niece, Vicki, living 20 miles from the St. Louis airport had us making our reservation was out of St. Louis instead of Cedar Rapids.  We planned on leaving late Friday morning, the 13th, and meet Youngs for lunch on our way; we were going to spend the night with Vicki and her husband, Mark, with them taking us to the airport for our flight the next morning. However, due the threat of ice in St. Louis, we left early morning from home, drove directly to Vicki’s, and they took us to the Marriott (located .8 mile from the airport with free shuttle service) where I reserved us a room because of the weather. We had lunch in the hotel restaurant while our room was being readied for us. After settling into the room, we spent the rest of the day reading. I did contact my travel agent who suggested we take the shuttle to the airport early in the morning in order to get on the 6:35 flight instead of our scheduled 11:50. That evening, we went to the restaurant for a bowl of soup. Both of us agreed to an early night because of rising at 4:25 the next morning.

We were up and leaving the room before the time we had originally planned. Checked our one bag and, after going thru Security, found an UAL agent who put us on standby for the early flight. And we were able to board the flight! After de-icing the plane, we were in the air and on our way to Chicago; arrived about 5 minutes after the scheduled time. We then found the gate for the next flight to Ft. Myers which would depart at 11:50; we were scheduled on the 1:50. Again, a very nice UAL agent put us on standby for the earlier flight. We then found a place for breakfast. Back to the gate to where we patiently waited until the boarding was on its way. And, again luck happened, we got the last two seats on the plane! Upon arriving in Ft. Myers we retrieved my bag and went to Dollar for our rental car. The car reserved for us was not the size I thought it would be when I made the reservation so we upgraded to mid-size. Choose our car and off we went. As an added note, I will not rent from Dollar again; the agent told us that most people who rent the smaller size return it because it is too small so why even have it as a rental unless your trying to make money by charging $25/day for an upgrade?  Felt like I got “ripped” off and, to add insult to injury,  it took over an hour of standing in line before getting to the rental counter.  Guess Hertz has spoiled me! On our way to the condo, we stopped at a grocery store for breakfast supplies; onward to the condo which was easy to find but I was glad it was still light when we arrived. Got into the condo, unpacked, and decided to have cantaloupe as a snack and cereal/banana for my evening meal.

Inside condo looking at screened in porch

From porch toward Ft. Myers

Both of us were very tired but did not go to bed until 10:00 or so; I finished reading a book before turning out my lights about 11:30.

Rose around 6:30; had coffee and decided to walk the beach. It was a beautiful morning and we enjoyed the walk.

Beach walking

Let’s play

Had breakfast, cleaned up, and then took a shower. We were ready for the day with was our driving up to visit brother Bob and his wife Linda outside of Arcadia. Stopped at an art and craft market where a friend of Bob, big Paul and wife Connie, sold microwave potato bags and items. Found their booth and had an enjoyable visit. Onward to Bob and Linda’s; they had moved the previous year so we were anxious to see their new digs. Found their place without trouble and, after saying our hellos, got a tour; very nice, comfortable place where they have done a lot of work outside! After conversing and having a beer, the three of us girls went to WalMart where Edi and I wanted to pick up some supplies. When we were finished, Linda called Bob; he met us at a local Mexican restaurant called El Pirata. Nothing fancy about the place but great food and wonderful/friendly service. After eating, we parted ways with our heading back to our condo. We stopped at Target on the way for some cold items that we did not want to leave in our car while eating. Arrived back at the condo around 7:30 and found the NFL play off game between Kansas City and Pittsburgh. Earlier, Green Bay had defected Dallas by 3 points so they will move on.

On Monday, we had our coffee and breakfast after I took a walk on the beach. We then left for Port Charlotte where we were meeting Linda for lunch at Whiskey Creek. On our way, we saw a welcome center so stopped for information about the Fort Myers area. As we were leaving, we stopped at a fruit/vegetable stand where a gentleman was selling fresh produce. We decided to go back to the stand the next day. Onward to Whiskey Creek where we arrived just a few minutes before Linda. It was a nice lunch with decent food and easy conversation. After lunch, we went to Beall Outlet but did not find we were looking for. So we proceeded to drive to a regular Bealls’s in the shopping mall. Both of us found some items we purchased. Sunset was watched from the beach with pictures taken.

It’s going down

And down

Down!

Had cheese and crackers plus vegetables for our dinner. We had no plans for the next day.

On Tuesday, we had coffee on our screened porch and took a walk across the bridge.

Sunrise thru screen of porch

Back at the condo, we fixed our respective breakfasts. Decided to drive the fruit stand by the welcome center in Ft. Myers; purchased pepper, oranges, and strawberries. The man running the stand did not appreciate my pointing out some rotten peppers; told me I would never be able to work at a fruit stand. 😺! We went to a marina mall at Ft. Myers Beach where there was a farmers market going on;  nice booths displaying a variety of items including one with fresh fruit and vegetables. Walked to the marina where we got information regarding cruises. Ventured into a half price book store and purchased one book. We ate lunch at Sand Bar Grill; I had fish tacos and they were good. Went back to condo where we looked at pamphlet regarding cruises and decided to book the sunset cruise on Saturday. Fixed an evening meal of sautéed vegetables and garlic bread which was very good. Watched the Iowa State game; they lost.

Wednesday morning saw us heading to the north part of Port Charlotte to visit my friends, Yvonne and Earl. We had a great visit with lunch at First Watch. We dropped them off at their house and drove to Bob’s. Linda took Edi and I into Arcadia where we got pedicures. And then a visit to WalMart for additional supplies plus new thongs for Edi. Met Bob at the Moose where they were serving tacos. Got back to the condo around 9:00; had a glass of wine and then off to the bedroom for reading and sleep.

Thursday was another day of no plans. We walked over the bridge and back. While having breakfast, we decided to drive to the northern part of Ft. Myers Beach which turned out to be really busy; drove across the bridge and came back through some of Ft. Myers where we stopped at a very nice Publix for more groceries. On the way to the condo, had lunch at Seafood Grill which is located by the water. Got back to the condo where both of us read while doing laundry. I went to the pool, swam, and laid around. Fixed lasagna, vegetables, and garlic bread for dinner. Watched the Iowa Hawkeyes get defeated by Maryland. Went to bed early for reading; lights out around 10:45.

After our breakfast on the 20th, we got ready and headed to Bob’s; we were going with him to an RV show at the state fairgrounds in Tampa. An uneventful ride saw us finding a parking space and paying admission to the show. First we walked through the inside exhibits where Bob hooked up with a couple he knew from the park where their home is at. I was impressed with the 2.6 million dollar mobile home; in order to visit the inside, you had to have an appointment and needed to put booties over your shoes. As we were venturing outside, we watched a bag pipe band parade through the grounds. We went into some of the mobile homes, had lunch, went through more homes and left around 2:00.

Pipes playing

$2.5M “home”

Visiting outside vendors

Got back to Bob’s and left for our 1.5 hour drive to our condo. Arrived back and fixed dinner of nachos and vegetables. Both of us read; I finished the book I was reading at 11:30.

Saturday we walked the beach, had breakfast, went to Publix’s, read, updated my notes, went to the pool for swim and laying around, and then got ready for our sunset cruise. It was a great time; friendly passengers, saw birds and Dolphins, and experienced a beautiful sunset from the water.

Captain Jason getting ready to depart

Osprey nest

Condo complex from water

Sun going down

Enjoying the ride and view

Beautiful looking sky

Sun is down

Dolphin spotting

Another dolphin

Returned to the condo and had dinner of sautéed vegetables with garlic bread plus cheese. Went into my bedroom relatively early for reading in bed; finished the book I was reading around 10:30.

On Sunday, after breakfast, we got ready to meet Bob. Since there was some time, I took a short walk. It was windy which was a sign that the area had the potential for storms. Met Bob about 9:45 Bass Pro Shop; we loaded into his vehicle and headed to Cockscrew Sanctuary located outside of Naples. This is a swamp area run by the Audubon Society and has a boardwalk — a 2.5-mile adventure through pine flatwoods, wet prairie, around a marsh, and into the largest old growth Bald Cypress forest in North America.

Edi and Bob ready to walk

White Ibis

Gator on log with turtle below

Blue heron

Gator resting

We finished our walk and went into the gift shop where neither of us purchased anything. On our way back to where we left our car, we stopped for lunch at Famous Dave’s BBQ; had a very good chicken BBQ sandwich with a draft of beer. Next stop was Costco where Bob was going to show Edi the flex seed he uses; however, they were out of it. All of us went into Bass Pro Shop but we said our good byes once inside; Edi and I headed to the shoe department while Bob was going to look at men’s clothing. Did not see the type of sandals I wanted so we headed back to our condo. We were having some very strong winds with possible thunderstorms mixed in. Some areas of Florida, including Bob’s, were under tornado watches. Turned on the NFL conference championship games and listened while fixing/eating our dinner of pizza. NFC was won handily by Atlanta Falcons over the Green Bay Packers. The AFC was won handily by New England Patriots over Pittsburgh Steelers. After the game and some reading in bed, I turned off the lights about 10:30.

We had no plans for Monday, the 23rd, which was good because Edi had an upset stomach. So I went for a walk on my own.

Debris for storm

Looking for food

Once I returned, I had my breakfast while Edi went back to bed. Left to drive to WalMart but stopped short of the destination when I came upon a Dollar Tree. Ran my errands and returned to the condo. Edi was up; I brought her back soup and 7-up for lunch. I had a tuna sandwich, potato chips, and cantaloupe. Updated these notes and read after getting a package ready to send to granddaughter Savanna. Spent the afternoon reading in the condo and at the pool. Edi felt good enough to take a walk later in the day. Warmed up sautéed vegetables and baked garlic bread for our evening meal. Lights out around 10:30.

We were meeting Edi’s friend, Ronda, at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota so got up early, had coffee, and ate breakfast; we were on the road for the 2 hour drive about 8:15. Arrived at the gardens about the same time as Ronda, her husband Ed, and daughter Kendall. The gardens are named after Marie Selby who was a lover of nature. Upon her death, she bequeathed her home and property (7 acres) to the community of Sarasota with the aim of forming a garden “for the enjoyment of the general public”. The grounds were beautiful with a diverse collection of tropical and subtropical plants, rain forest reenactment, and waterfall/pond full of koi. The gardens were smaller than we thought so we were through our exploration by 1:00.

Beautiful flowers

Pitcher plant

Selby residence

Bamboo trees

Garden scene

Hugging the tree

Koi, pond, waterfall

All of us were hungry so Ed lead us to an eating place by the water called Phillippi Creek; food was very good with conversation flowing. After lunch, we decided to head back to our condo stopping on the way for gas. Got back to the condo; read, took a walk, fixed pizza for dinner, and retired for reading in bed shortly after 9:30.

No plans for Wednesday, the 25th, so after walking and having breakfast we decided to look for t-shirts to purchase. Thought we would go to the outlet malls and asked sister-in-law Linda to go with but she declined with making plans to meet her for breakfast this Friday with a stop at Back on the Rack in Punta Gorta afterwards. We decided to venture to the northern part of the island where there are many restaurants and shops instead of going to the outlets. Found a parking space and walked to the shops; both of us found t-shirts. And then we found the ice cream; I went to an ice cream store for one dip of Chocolate Carmel Cashew and one of Toasted Almond….ymmmmm! Edi went to DQ and got a blizzard. We met outside and sat on a bench eating our desserts in fat/sugary delight! Returned to the condo where we read and had dinner of raw vegetables with cheese and crackers. The manager of the condo stopped by later in the evening to check out the beds in Edi’s room (she had been sleeping on an air mattress since the third night we arrived because the beds were not comfortable and I had notified the manager of the situation). After the manager left, we read for awhile; I adjourned to my bedroom around 9:15 leaving Edi in the living room reading.

Thursday, the 26th, came with no real plans. After our coffee, Edi suggested we walk the state park across the bridge called Lovers Key. I put my dirty clothes in the washer and we were off. It was a beautiful morning and we had an enjoyable walk of over 2 miles.

Edi ready to hit the trail

Path went along water

I’m enjoying the morning

Looking across at condo; notice middle of bridge rising?

Returned to the condo where I put my clothes in the dryer, we had breakfast, and started to pack up for our departure on Saturday. I went down to our rental car for the agreement; we were not happy with Dollar and their gimmicks. It turned out they had charged me for toll insurance when I told them I did not want any; called them up and was told I had to go to a Dollar counter in order to have the charge removed so I wrote down the address of the nearest Dollar office. Both of us were ready to leave so we went to mail my package to Savanna, got a fresh green pepper from a vegetable stand, went to the used bookstore where we turned in our read books and purchased others, went to the Dollar agency where I was told they could not give a refund since it had to come from the original counter where rented (airport) but the guy was kind and contacted a person at the airport who said he would give me the refund, and then we had lunch by the bay at Coconut Jack’s. I had shrimp while Edi had grouper; very good and I HAD to get coconut cream pie which was delicious. Very full so dinner will not be for awhile. Got back to the condo, read, laid down and rested my eyes for about 30 minutes, continued to read, and went for a walk about sundown.

Lunch at Coconut Jack’s

Sun ball

Pretty sun behind cloud

Not one of the prettiest sunsets we have seen but okay. Had a later dinner of nachos; updated my notes and into the bedroom around 9:15.

Friday, the 27th, was our last full day and night in Florida so, after having coffee and yogurt, we took off for Port Charlotte where we were meeting Bob and Linda at Cracker Barrel for a late breakfast at 10:00. Arrived early so went to WalMart where Edi picked up items she needed. Killed some time in the gift shop at Cracker Barrel. They arrived and we had breakfast. After breakfast, Linda went with us to Back on the Rack in Punta Gorda and Bealls’ in Port Charlotte. Drove to Bob’s but, because of the late hour, we sat around and talked instead of taking a walk in Arcadia as we originally planned.  Drove around the park where they live to look at trailers that are for sale. Then us three gals drove to Arcadia where we went to Dollar Tree and purchased a wine glass to replace one we had broke. Met Bob at the Mexican restaurant along with his friends, Paul and Connie, for an early dinner. Left the restaurant around 6:00 for the drive back to the condo. When we arrived, we washed/dried a load of towels and ran the dishwasher. Went into the bedroom to read around 9:30 with lights out at 10:45.

Saturday was our departure day and we had made the decision to go to the airport to check about getting on an earlier flight. But first we unloaded the dishwasher, had coffee, took a walk, had some breakfast, discarded any food in the refrigerator or on the counter not needed, called the manager to let her know we were leaving, and headed for the airport. We filled the car full when we arrived at the airport area, turned in the rental car (never will I rent from Dollar due to their hidden costs), paid to get on earlier flights, and went to the departure where we had about 2 hours to wait before boarding.  No problem with any of the flights and arrived in St. Louis around 6:45 with Vicki & Mark picking us up.  Got back to their house and talked until 9:30 or so; off to bed.

On Sunday we went to breakfast at Pancake House; afterwards we departed St. Louis and headed home.  Got to Edi’s around 1:30; got into my car and headed home with one stop at HyVee Drugstore for some breakfast supplies.  Arrived home with Beauty and Cutie right inside the door making it look like they were anticipating my arrival which was very doubtful.  It was a wonderful vacation and, maybe next year, we will go for a month someplace besides Florida.  And, in case you did not notice, I really like watching sunrises and sunsets!!

Christmas in Tucson

Once again, I spent the Christmas holiday at Steev’s in Tucson.  My flight to Tucson was on Wednesday, Dec. 21st, and return was Tuesday, December 27th.

Wednesday, 21: Shuttle pick up was at 5:15 AM. Took AA from CR to Dallas to Tucson without any problem. After retrieving my luggage, I called Steev to pick me up. Dropped him off at his work and proceeded to my lodging for check in. Went over to see Greta and Savanna later in the afternoon. Once Steev arrived from work, we had a drink and talked while Greta fixed dinner. Since it was an early rise morning, I went back to my lodging and lights out by 9:00.

Thursday: Went to breakfast and took a walk down University Ave. to CVS where I picked up ribbon to wrap Steev’s birthday present. Greta called around 10:00 or so and I went over there; her niece, Liliah, was there and spent a few hours with us while her mother went shopping.

Cousins having a treat

Once Greta’s sister and niece left, we ran some errands and sat around talking. When Steev came home, Greta went grocery shopping while we talked and played with Savanna.

Driving Papa

Dinner was made; when it was time for Savanna’s bath, I retired to my lodging.

Friday, the 23rd: Had breakfast and, while on my walk, got a call from Steev; they were going to breakfast for Steev’s birthday and asked if I wanted to go along. They picked me; since I had already eaten, I just ordered coffee. On our way to their house, we stopped for gelato at a place on 4th Avenue. When back at their house Steev opened his present from me…a solar-powered weather station.

Happy Birthday Papa!

Happy father and daughter

Then we went for a hike and picnic at Kings Canyon. It was a fun day! Beautiful weather and Savanna was quite the hiker! Returned back to Steev’s where Greta made ravioli (one of Steev’s favorite food items) for his birthday dinner; it was delicious!

Saturday: Greta and I had planned on taking Savanna to a tumbling gym but it was not open so we drove to the University campus where Savanna rode her new bike while Greta and I tried to keep up with her.

Let’s go riding!

Who got to the top first?

Taking a rest

After lunch, I went to my lodging to take a nap after a restless night. Returned to Steev’s; a good friend of Greta’s, Caroline, was there and they had spent the afternoon making Bailey’s Cream while sampling their creation as they went along. That evening Greta made tamales while I put together a salad. Their friend, Cindy, her son, and boyfriend, stopped with Christmas greetings.

Sunday: Christmas morning found me going to the kids where we opened presents and had a huge breakfast.

Reading instructions of joint present

New helmet and robe; life is good!

We had planned on going to the Desert Museum but they felt it was too cold so Steev and I walked while Savanna rode her bike to a park where she biked and played on the swings. Greta stayed at home in hopes of taking care of some household tasks. After lunch, Greta’s sister and niece stopped over with their presents. It was after 3:30 when I left; Steev, Greta, and Savanna left to have their Christmas with his mother and stepfather. Around 5:30, I went to the bar at the BW where I ordered dinner and had a couple drinks while watching NFL on the television. Returned to my suite; called both brothers and sister to wish them a Merry Christmas while watching another NFL game.

Monday: Steev had to return to work so I was going to watch Savanna while Greta ran with her friend; however, Greta returned home as he was leaving for work. We decided to visit the Desert Museum; it was a beautiful day and Savanna enjoyed looking at all the animals but especially liked the stingray exhibit where you put you hands in the water with food and they would come up/grab the food out of a person’s hand.

Stingray

Sure we should put our hand in the water?

Never get tired of scenery surrounding the museum

We had thought we would eat lunch there but it was too crowded so we went home and warmed up leftovers. I went back to my lodging to organize my packing for my departure the next morning. Returned to the kids; we called for pizza and had a drink while waiting for the delivery. Once it was time for Savanna’s bath, I said my goodbyes to Greta and Savanna; Steev took me back to the BW where I finalized my packing, set multiple alarms for waking at 4:00 a.m., and watched NFL before falling asleep relatively early.

Tuesday, the 27th: My ride arrived and got me to the airport with plenty of time to spare. The two flights had no problems and I arrived in Cedar Rapids early afternoon. Once again, another wonderful Christmas spent with Steev & Family but it was nice to be home with Beauty & Cutie.