Italy and Germany Week 1: Naples thru Rome

Ginni, my friend from St. Louis, and I were so impressed with the tour provided by Tauck to Cuba that we decided to sign up for a tour of Italy.

Map of places going to on tour

The tour did not start until the evening of May 13th but we like to have an additional day calculated into the itinerary due to potential transportation problems so we left on Friday, May 11th, and arrived in Naples, Italy around 11:30 a.m. on the 12th. After retrieving our luggage and going through Customs, which did not have any personnel checking, we were met by a Tauck representative. She called our driver and took us to the pick up point; we were headed to Sorrento where we had reservations at Grand Hotel La Favorita. Sorrento is approximately an hour’s drive from Naples.

Our hotel was quite nice with beautiful furnishings and lovely gardens. After checking in, we settled into our room and went to the Bellavista Terrace within the hotel for lunch. It is a restaurant located on the top floor on a panoramic terrace. After lunch, we got directions to the nearest wine store where we each purchased a bottle of wine. Went back to the hotel and took a couple hour nap. After having a glass of wine on our balcony, we headed to Trattonia Del Moni for our 8:00 dinner reservation made by a hotel representative who highly recommended the establishment. Very small and clean, we had a delicious meal outside in a very relaxing atmosphere. Had a nightcap on our balcony before retiring for the night.

Sunday we sleep late; got ready for the day and arrived at the breakfast buffet right before their closure time of 10:00 a.m. After eating, we ventured out of the hotel to explore. Surprising, many shops opened in the main center of town. Shops and restaurants opened along the narrow streets which was filled with people and seemed to stretch for miles. Returned to our hotel shortly after 1:00; read over literature given to us by our tour guide and corrected any errors on the required paperwork. Went to a liquor store to purchase a local liquor made of lemons which is a delicacy of the region. That evening, met our fellow tour members and guide at a reception put on by Tauck in the hotel’s lobby area. We walked to the L’Antica Trattoria restaurant for our welcome dinner. Wonderful food in a beautiful setting; all four courses were delicious.

Monday was an early start day; after getting a quick cup of coffee, we left the hotel lobby at 7:45 a.m. for a day drive along the Amalfi Coast. Our first stop was around 9:30 where a couple members of our tour recommended we purchase a piece of lemon cake at one of Tahoe establishments which we did and it was delicious. The region is known for their production of lemons so there is lots of lemon food made including the pasta we were served in a lemon shell the evening before. Also, we found a shop where I purchased something for Savanna that was made by the merchant. We had lunch at Cumpa Cosimo in Ravello. After lunch we went to Villa Rufolo where we explored architecture, gardens, and tower of this ancient villa.

Along the coast

Gardens at villa

View from terrace of villa

The group gathered at the meeting place at the correct time and we returned to Sorrento. Ginni and I went back to a store to purchase an item to give folks back home. We then packed as much as we could to have our luggage ready for pick up at 6:30 a.m.   We were on our own for dinner so went to a place called Parrucchiano where we split a lasagna and salad.

Tuesday, the 15th, we rose early to have luggage out for pick up at 6:30. After breakfast, we departed for Rome. On the way, we stopped at Pompei for a tour of the architectural ruins. Pompei   Great tour, even with rain coming down, and a fantastic guide. Lunch was in Pompei at Ristorante II Principe. Boarded the bus and rode for 3.5 hours to Rome, stopping in between for a restroom break. Got to our hotel, Grand Hotel de la Minerva, checked in and settled into our room. Met the group in the lobby for a walk to our dinner at Enoteca & Tavena Capranica; excellent food among wonderful eating companions, Jeff and Nancy/Amanda and Scott.

Wednesday was leisure time so we slept late, had breakfast, and joined our tour director, Anna, for an optional walk to the Trevi fountain and Spanish Steps.

Trevi Fountain

Beautiful morning and I walked up all the steps for a fantastic view of Rome.  Spanish Steps   Ginni and I grabbed a sandwich at a local shop that we shared in our room for lunch. Met up with the group in the lobby for a walk to the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. We then board our coach for the ride to the Colosseum; we got in a private entrance so avoided the long lines of people wanting to purchase tickets for admittance.  Colosseum   Spent a couple hours touring the ruins and then we returned to the hotel. Met in the lobby for a walk to the Piazza Navona and dinner at Tre Scalini. Dinner companions were Bob and Pam, David and Lynn, Amanda and Scott, and Ginni.

We rose at 7:00 this morning; after dressing, I went up to the restaurant for breakfast. Ginni joined me later. We met in the lobby at 8:30 for our journey to St. Peter’s Basilica. What a beautiful place! There has been an addition added to the original Michelangelo church which is difficult to notice unless you are told. We spent the morning at the Basilica and returned to our hotel around noon.

Jeff and Nancy outside St. Peter’s Basilica

Entering the basilica

One of many statues within the basilica

Altar of basilica

Upon the recommendation of Anna, Ginni and I had lunch at a quaint restaurant called Ginger’s. The rest of the afternoon was spent in our room relaxing and packing for an early departure tomorrow. At 6:20 our group departed the lobby for a walk to our coach and transfer to the Vatican Museums. Because it was after hours, we journeyed through the Candelabra Gallery, Map Gallery, and the Tapestries at a leisurely pace. The Sistine Chapel was overwhelming; the amazement of Michelangelo’s masterpiece ceiling was overwhelming from the standpoint of it being painted in the early 1500’s with no electricity and he not having painted before; it took him 4 years to finish.

Robes on display in museum

Statue

Statue in museum

Tapestry

Ceiling within chapel

Wall within chapel

Wall and ceiling joining

We gathered in the courtyard for appetizers and drink. Back to the hotel around 9:30; we were leaving Rome the next morning.

Alaska and the Northern Lights

After some discussion with my travel agent, I booked a flight to Fairbanks, Alaska from February 18th thru the 23rd in hopes of seeing the Aurora Borealis or commonly known as the Northern Lights.  My sister-in-law from Michigan, Sarah, joined me on this adventure.  Due to the time of year, we figured temperatures would be well below zero but it turned out to be a week of 20’s degree temperatures with snow falling.  Our lodging was at the Hampton Inn & Suites; for future reference, it would of been better if we were booked downtown where there was more happening.  Both of us were tired after a long day of travel so we called Pizza Hut for delivery that evening; that was a bad mistake because it took close to 2 hours before the pizza got delivered.   On Monday afternoon, we were picked up from our lodging for a tour of Fairbanks.   First stop was Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitor Center where the history and culture of Fairbanks was on display; next stop was the Museum of the North where fascinating stories about Alaska’s people, places, and wildlife was exhibited in their galleries; we viewed a portion of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline which is one of the world’s largest pipeline systems; next stop was the Great Alaskan Bowl Company where many, many bowls and utensils were on display for purchase but were quite pricey; last stop was processing store selling salmon, elk, and other Alaskan meats.  All in all, a very good tour.

Cutie helping pack

Earlier life on display

Sarah got to see a moose

Sarah and I at the pipeline

That evening we called C&J Drive In for delivery of hamburgers; the response was quick and the hamburgers were delicious!  On Tuesday, we ventured downtown for some shopping; both of us bought items to take back to friends and family.  We had lunch at Bahn Thai Express which was located across the street from our hotel; very good food.  Because we were going on tour which started at 4:45 PM and ended at 3:30 AM, we spent the afternoon in our room resting and relaxing.  Our tour that evening was Northern Lights and Chena Hot Springs so our guide took us 55 miles north of Fairbanks to the Chena Springs Resort; because of the road conditions, it took us around 2 hours to arrive.   Upon the arrival, we toured the Aurora Ice Museum which had many eye-popping sculptures; next we had dinner at Chena Hot Springs Restaurant which was good; Sarah and I then went in the resort’s legendary hot springs which was comfortable but not as good as my hot tub back home.  There were nine of us on the tour; everyone was back at the van around 11:40 and our guide was spotting the Aurora but there was too much lighting at the resort so he drove about 10 miles down the road where we parked in a campground.  The Northern Lights were appearing!!  Everyone had the feeling of excitement since the previous three nights were not good for viewing.  After spending time at the campground, the guide drove us closer to Fairbanks but on a back road where we were able to pull off to the side of the road and see the Aurora was again; this time the Big Dipper appeared as part of the lights.

We are off on our adventure

Sarah and I at the hot springs

Bar area in the Ice Museum

An ice bed

Knights battling

Looking over the museum

Work area of the museum

Sarah and I in the hot springs

The Northern Lights; notice the Big Dipper

Wednesday was spent “lazing around” the hotel; it was snowing outside and both of us were tired from the previous evening activity.  We did have another tour scheduled for the evening so we called for Mexican delivery for our evening meal which we ate in the lobby of the hotel.   Our guide picked us up in the lobby at 10 PM; there was only one other person on the tour.  Since it had been snowing all day and still was, we did not have much hope for seeing the lights.  This tour took us to a yurt which was about 25 miles out of Fairbanks; easier and quicker to get to than the evening before.  We settled inside for hopes of the seeing the lights; there was a campfire outside and we did some time in front of it.  The yurt was occupied by another group comprised of Chinese; they were very loud and we were quite happy when they left before midnight.  By 1:30, we decided to give up and return to Fairbanks where we arrived at our hotel around 2:00 AM.

The Yurt

Future sled dog

Outside fire

Thursday was our last day in Fairbanks so we went back downtown and did more shopping.  Upon the recommendation of one of the clerks in a store, we had lunch at Soapy Smiths which turned out to be fun; owner of the place gave us an update as to the history of the place and our waiter really enjoyed his work as displayed by his sense of humor.

Sarah and I at Soapy Smiths

We returned to the hotel mid-afternoon; Sarah took a nap while I read.   Packing and early check out was completed by evening; since we had such a late lunch, neither of us were very hungry so we ate some snacks Sarah had brought with her from home.  Due to needing to rise at 3:50 the next morning for a 6:03 flight, we were in bed early.  All went well with our hotel and airport departures; it was a long day for me with getting up at 3:50 Fairbanks time and arriving home at 11:30 our time but the girls greeted me at the door so my tiredness was forgotten.  Sarah made a great traveling companion and both of us were pleased…and excited…that we did get to see the Northern Lights.

 

 

Arkansas and New Year’s December 29 thru January 3

I decided to spend New Year’s Eve with my friend, Joyce, in Bella Vista, AR; my original plans was to leave home on the 30th but, due to the weather, I left on the 29th and drove to Nevada, MO where I spent the night before completing the rest of my journey the next morning.  It was a very good visit!  We ate some of our meals at the restaurant located within the retirement complex where Joyce lives, went on a shopping excursion, celebrated New Year’s Eve at the Concordia party held from 6:00 to 8:00, took a few walks around the complex, had great conversations resulting in laughter and tears, Joyce’s cat Spot who did not want to become my friend and would hide every time I came into the room, fixed pizza at home, and went to the movie The Last Jedi that both of us quite enjoyed.

Spot enjoying sunshine

Exhausted after New Year’s Eve party

Joyce and I at Mexican restaurant

Home…and a fantastic sunset

On the 2rd, I left Bella Vista after taking Joyce out for breakfast and headed north.  Ended up spending the night at an AmerInn in Osceola, IA.  and the next morning drove to West Des Moines where I connected with Carrie, the daughter of my friends from Montana.  After a delightful two hours of “catching up” while eating breakfast, I continued on my journey to home.   Even though it was very cold at every location of my adventure, it was a great trip!

Montana November 29 thru December 3

On the 29th, I flew to Bozeman, MT to visit my friends, Sarah and Tom; Fosters picked me up and we headed to their place for an afternoon of conversation. Had a great four days which included pint night at Mackenzie River, full day of shopping downtown and mall with lunch at Ted’s Steakhouse with Sarah, dinner and breakfast meals at Foster B&B, day trip to Big Sky ski area filled with reminiscing, shopping at Murdock’s Farm store, watching Santa wave his magic wand to turn on the Christmas lights during Bozeman’s annual downtown Christmas Stroll, skyping with friends in California, and relaxing in the sun room or living room while reading, updating, or conversing.

Visitors in the back yard

Big Sky; blue “tube” is an escalator up bunny hill

Enjoying some local craft beer

Sunset on the mountains

Sarah and Tom ready for the Christmas stroll

Santa arriving

Due to high winds at the airport, I had to stay an additional night because my original outbound flight was cancelled.   Fosters got up quite early to take me to the airport because of 6:00 AM departure time.  All went well until we pulled onto the tarmac where we waited for over 1.5 hours because Denver had closed the airport due to high winds.  But was we were granted permission to take off, everything went well on my flight home.  It was a wonderful trip filled with “going down memory lane”and bonding with my fantastic friends!

Arkansas November 21 – 25th, 2017

I decided I would visit my friend Joyce at Bella Vista, Arkansas during the Thanksgiving holiday; unfortunately, her husband, George, passed away a few weeks before the holiday and, due to their kids work responsibilities, the memorial service was planned for the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Because all of them arrived on Wednesday afternoon and evening, I traveled to Bella Vista on Tuesday which gave Joyce and I some time alone before everyone descended upon her apartment. The time spent in Arkansas was very nice the first two days where we had wonderful conversations filled with laughter, smiles, hugs, and some tears. On Thanksgiving, everyone gathered at Joyce’s home where we were to have turkey later in the day. After taking a walk around Lake Bella Vista, I decided to return to the B&B because of not feeling well. On Friday, I went into the emergency room at Bella Vista; after tests, it was determined I had to have emergency surgery to remove my appendix. Joyce, her daughter Christine, and granddaughter Nicole stayed at the hospital until Sarah and Tom Foster (they had come for George’s memorial) took over watch duty. Release from the hospital came around 9:00 and we went back to the B&B for the night. In a painless state, I went to George’s memorial service…something I told the hospital staff I would not miss! Joyce did a wonderful job of putting together a service that was light and joyful instead of sad and depressing which showed clearly her love for George and his memory. After eating ice cream, Foster’s and I headed to Iowa. Because I could not drive until Monday, Sarah drove my car and Tom followed. Got home around 11:00 on Sunday; Foster’s immediately took off for their journey back to Montana. The time in Arkansas was not spent as I had planned and I really felt bad about adding another element on Joyce but the experience did show how precious and caring friendships can be; I’m very thankful to have such good friends! Note: due to my health issue, I did not take any pictures on this visit.

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.