Hawaii: 4-Island Adventure

On Sunday, January 27th, my friend Joyce and I departed for a two week vacation on four of the Hawaiian Islands. The first three islands would be part of a tour group while the fourth island was on our own. Cedar Rapids departure was at 7:00 a.m. with arrival in Honolulu on Oahu Island at 3:50 p.m.; their time zone is 4 hours behind central time.

Joyce and I ready for take off
Standing on balcony of hotel room
Entertainment lower level of hotel

Monday, the 28th: I got up at 5:00 a.m. Hawaiian time and read until Joyce woke at 7:30. After getting ready for the day, went down to breakfast in our hotel (which was included with the tour). Good buffet with fresh fruit and made-to-order omelet bar. And then we walked and walked for a total of over 10 miles for the day. Had lunch at LaCucaracha Mexican Bar & Grill where we shared an order of chicken nachos.

Waikiki Beach
Path along the beach
Diamond Head

Met our guide from Perillo Tours later in the afternoon; he is called cousin Bert. He explained the activities of the next few days and asked us to meet him at 8:00 in the morning for the beginning of our adventure. At check in, we were given a fresh lei and he said to wear them because a group picture will be taken. Joyce and I walked some more and came upon King’s Village which was one of the first shopping malls of the area but will be bulldozed down to make way for a hotel; very sad to see something with such history being destroyed instead of preserved. We ended up having dinner at Cheeseburger Paradise where I have an excellent Ahi tuna salad. Went back to our room and settled in for the night.

King’s Village
Sunset Scene
Great meal at Cheesburger in Paradise

 

Tuesday, the 29th: Went to breakfast before meeting our tour group at 8:00 a.m. At the meeting, introductions were made; a very small group of 8. Our guide gave us additional details about this week’s activities. On this day we went to ‘Iolani Palace which is the only palace within the United States. Hawaii used to be ruled by a monastery. The palace was built in 1882 and construction cost $360,000. The tour was self guided with audio tape being the guide; it was very clear and well produced.

‘Iolani Palance

Cousin Bert
Main Staircase
Throne Room
Dining Room

Upon leaving the palace, we went thru downtown Honolulu where Bert and our driver pointed out various points of interest.

State Capitol

Next stop was Pearl Harbor where we saw a 30 minute documentary of the events leading up and including the dropping of the bombs on December 7, 1942. After the viewing, we boarded a Coast Guard vessel which took us out to the memorial honoring those who died on the US Arizona. Upon our return to shore, we released the flowers from the leis we were wearing into the water in memory of those who died. After venturing thru the gift shop, we boarded the bus and headed to Punchbowl, the Pacific National Cemetery.

USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor
Releasing flowers
Pacific National Cemetary

Returned to the hotel, relaxed while Joyce wrote postcards, and then we went to the farmers market being held on the lower level of our resort. Met up with the rest of our group and walked to the Hula Grill where we had dinner reservations. Saw the sun go down while drinking a Mai Tai. Excellent meal of Mahi Mahi baked with macadamia nuts.

The ‘Gang’ at Hula Grill
Beautiful Sunset
Yummy Hula Pie

Returned to the hotel and read until time to turn off the lights.

Wednesday, the 30th: We were on our own until late afternoon so we had a leisurely breakfast and spent the day relaxing with a book on our balcony. In the late afternoon, we all gathered for an adventure at Nutridge Estates. A beautiful drive into the mountains with Joe providing the cocktails.

Heading up the Mountain
View from Midpoint
Joyce and I enjoying the view

Arrived at the estate and were given the traditional welcome when someone asks permission to enter the gate in Hawaiian and a response from the other side granting it with the gate opening.

Traditional Welcoming Ceremony

What a fun afternoon and evening we had filled with hands on experiences such as how to make sweet potatoes over a fire or how to make head bands and waist bands out of palm leaves. There was a wonderful buffet of Hawaiian foods such as salad, vegetable, pork, and chicken. After our feast, we were shown how to do the Hula dance…what a fun time and no one wanted it to end. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped for pictures of Honolulu at night from an overlook above the area.

Looking down on house from above
Rainbow thru the trees
Learning how to cook vegetables
Having FUN!
Honolulu at night

Maui was the next island on our itinerary.

Thursday, the 31st: Had breakfast, checked out of the hotel, and met up with Cousin Bert in the lobby. We departed for the airport, went thru Security, and boarded our flight for Maui. Flight time was only 30 minutes. Upon our arrival and baggage retrieval, we boarded transportation for the ride to the Hyatt Maui which was our home the next three nights. Joyce and I had a surprise of water leaking thru the ceiling into wastes paper baskets when entering the room reserved to us; we were given another room. Once we settled in, we walked the grounds of the resort. It is very beautiful with oceanfront views, flamingos walking the grounds, swans/ducks/fishes swimming the crystal clear waters, and penguins walking in their own enclosure. That evening we had dinner at the Son’z Maui Restaurant; I had their lamb chops along with a couple glasses of wine.

Friday, Feb. 1st: It was a free day for us until later in the afternoon so I, along with another tour member, made appointments at the spa located in the Sheraton for a facial and massage. We were able to take a shuttle from the hotel to the spa; what a relaxing, refreshing experience! Rene and I decided to walk back to our lodging and it was a wonderful walk with view of the ocean the whole way. Joyce and I met up in our room, put on our suits, and went down to the patio for lunch of veggie wrap and chips that we split. We then walked into the ocean and swam in the pool.

Exploring ‘Big Pond’
Penguins Having Fun
Beach Scene

Cousin Bert called and said the whale watch for the afternoon was cancelled…much to everyone’s dismay; due to the perseverance of one of our group, Bert arranged for us to participate on a watch the next morning. That evening we went into town for some shopping and dinner at Kimo’s. We returned to our hotel and settled in for the evening.

Saturday, the 2nd: Got up early this morning in order to have breakfast before our 7:15 departure for the whale watch. We boarded a catamaran and spent the next two hours watching whales jumping out of the ocean. It was raining so everyone got wet but no one cared because it was such a beautiful experience. The naturalist told us we were really spoiled because many trips are lucky to see a couple whales where we saw at least 50 which included females, males, and babies.

Pat and Joyce settling on the catamaran
One of many whales
Whales coming up for rainbow
Joyce gracefully disembarking

Returned to my room, got off wet clothes, warmed up in the shower, and spent the afternoon updating these notes, writing out post cards, and reading in the room; with it raining outside, this was the perfect activity. In the evening, we went to the “Drums of the Pacific” Luau. Food was good and show okay but participated in better ones on a couple Windstar cruises.

Ready for evening of fun
Natives dancing to Polynesian music
Hula Dancers
Flame Dancer



Sunday, the 3rd: Had breakfast, checked out of our hotel, and boarded transportation for the airport where we departed Maui for Kauai which is known as the “Garden Island”. Arrived at the Grand Hyatt approximately 2:00; found our room for the next three nights. We went to a convenience store within the hotel and I purchased a bottle of wine. Returned to the room and watched the Super Bowl on the big screen TV in the room instead of joining the others at the pool bar.

Night view of resort from our balcony

After watching New England beat the Rams, we joined the others at 6:00 for dinner at Tidepools which is a restaurant within the resort. My meal was Ahi Tuna with a garden salad; dessert was chocolate lava cake. Went back to the room and read until lights out around 10:00 pm.

Monday, the 4th: After an early breakfast, we were picked up by a Sunshine Helicopters van for a journey to their office and helipad; we had signed up for an optional tour of a 50 minute helicopter ride over the island. After a safety briefing, we were assigned a helicopter; Joyce and I were on the same one in the front row by the pilot. What a fantastic experience! We saw areas of the island that a person would only be able to see from the air…and a rainbow came out as we were descending over the ocean. Will worth the money!

Our helicopter
Joyce and pilot ready for take off
Portion of island below
View of one of many peaks
One of many waterfalls
Coming out of valley within canyon
Shoreline view
Rainbow over Big Pond

Returned to our hotel around noon; we checked with the tour desk for information about island’s tropical garden. We decided to venture to the gardens so, after gathering our belongings, we grabbed a taxi and took off. We signed up for the 2.5 hour tour of McBryde and Allerton Gardens with the majority of the tour being in the latter one. Our guide walked us through various garden rooms of reflecting pools, fig roots/trees, mermaid room, bamboo room,etc. with each room being described as an uniquely designed area of landscaping, outdoor art, and intriguing stories. Dick Van Dyke, John Wayne, Nicholas Cage, Johnny Depp, and Steven Spielberg all filmed movies on the property. Recent famous one was Jurassic Park.

Heading down to the gardens
One of many plants  on McBride’s Trail
One of many colorful critters
Guide among Moreton Bay Figs
Three Pools of Allerton Gardens
Mermaid Room
Bamboo Tree Roots

After making a purchase at the visitors center, I downloaded the Uber app to my phone so we could get transportation to Pizzetta in Koloa. Upon arrival at the pizza place, we ordered drinks and a vegetable pizza/garden salad to split. After eating, we went into a couple shops where I purchased a t-shirt plus greeting cards. With Judy from Uber responding, we returned to the Hyatt in time to walk the area in search for a good place to watch the sunset.

Backside of Main Lobby of hotel
Sun going down
Slight glow of sunset over the beach

After the sun went down, we went to our room and spent a quiet evening updating notes and reading.

Tuesday, the 5th: Had an early breakfast this morning due to meeting the group for an 8:00 am departure of sightseeing tour of Waimea Canyon, also known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”. The canyon is approximately 10 miles long and up to 3000 ft. deep; this vast canyon is very colorful with reddish hues, some waterfalls, and tall cliffs. After viewing the canyon, we proceeded on to the Sprouting Horn which is narrow openings caused by the waves eroding lava rocks on the coastline. We were able to see the water gushing up thru the hole. There were some stalls of vendors selling their merchandise so we walked up the sidewalk viewing their wares. Once we got back into the van, we drove to the Kauai Coffee’s Koloa Estate. This is the largest coffee farm in the U.S. with 3,000 acres and 4M coffee trees. After tasting their various coffees, I purchased some for gifts to family and friends.

Joyce, myself, Rene at the ‘Grand Canyon’
Waimea Canyon
Sprouting Horn
Koloa Coffee Estate

We arrived back at the hotel and, after taking our packages to the room, we changed into our swimsuits, got towels and selected our beach chairs, and had lunch at the pool bar. And then it started to rain so we retrieved our bags and went back to the room to wait out the rain; after three attempts to sit by the pool but having rain come down, we gave up. Joyce took a nap and I read. Met up with our fellow travelers at 6:00 pm for dinner at Dondero’s Italian Restaurant within the resort. It was a very good meal of salad, Parmesan Chicken (not on the menu but made for me at my request) and dessert accompanied with a couple glasses of wine.

View of the restaurant
The Gang’s Last Supper Together

Because of our leaving for the Big Island the next morning while the rest of the group were flying to their respective homes, we said our farewells to everyone. Once in our room, we packed our suitcases for a 8:30 pick up and retired for a good night’s sleep.

Wednesday, the 6th: Got ready for the day, checked the room for any items we might have left, and went for our final breakfast on Kauai. Checked out of the hotel and met up with cousin Bert at 9:00; he had arranged our transport to the airport. Arrival and check in at the airport was uneventful; there were two legs on our journey with the first flight flying into Maui and the second into Hawaii. Both flights were timely and we arrived on Hawaii around 1:00 pm in the afternoon. After retrieving our luggage, we found the rental car shuttle bus (although I did get on the wrong bus…thank heavens Joyce was aware 😊). We got our rental car and headed to our home for the next three nights, Westin Hapuna Beach resort. I was quite surprised to see the surroundings were black lava rock; totally different than the green of the other islands. Arrived, dropped off luggage, parked the car, checked in, and found our room which had an ocean view from our balcony. Both of us were hungry so we had lunch at the pool restaurant. After lunch, we drove to the nearest town with shops and food stores. We found Island Gourmet, a grocery store recommended by the waitress we had at lunch. Our purchases was food for the next two evening meals along with a bottle of wine for myself. Upon arrival back at the hotel, parked the car and stored our purchases in our room refrigerator. And then we explored the hotel but returned to the room in time to watch the sunset. Returned back to the lobby to watch a celebration of the Chinese New Year which was two dragons weaving through the lobby and bar area to the sound of drums beating. It was a fun sight! Returned to the room and settled in for the evening. We had an island tour scheduled for the next day with pick up at 6:45 a.m. so a quiet evening was welcomed.


Black Lava Rock
View from our balcony
One of the Chinese dragons

Thursday, the 7th: We got up at 5:15 in order to be ready for 6:45 pick up by Wasabi Tours for a “Big Island Grand Island” tour. Our driver and guide was Dan Malloy from Billings, MT who works as a tour guide on Hawaii during the winter and Yellowstone Park during the summer months. He was very knowledgeable of all the natural wonders of the area; it was an excellent way to get an overview of the massive island. On the tour, we walked through an ancient lava tube and got an overview of the historical Kona Coffee Farm. We made a stop at the Black Sand beach where we looked for green sea turtles but, to our disappointment, did not spot any. Onward to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park where we walked by steam vents and viewed the Kīlauea and Halema’uma’u crater outlooks. At the visitor center, we watched a short video of last year’s Kīlauea eruption.

Kona Coffee Plantation
Entrance of Lava Tube
Joyce and I at black sand beach
A sign I thought was interesting
Steam rising in Volcanoes National Park
Kilauea Volcanic Crater in background*
Portion of Volcanic Crater
Lua Manu Crater

After eating a lunch provided by Wasabi, we explored the visitor center of the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Farm. We continued along the Hamakua coast; we made stops at the Waipi’o Valley lookout, the famous Rainbow Falls, and Akaka Falls where we took a walk through the rainforest for an up-close view of the falls. We saw views of the southernmost point of the United States, South Point, and Kealakekua Bay.

Rainbow Falls
Akaka Falls
Stream in the rain forest
Within the rain forest

We continued on our journey making a loop around the whole island and ending back at our lodging 11.5 hours after we were picked up in the morning. An excellent experience! Because we realized we would be tired after the day’s activities, we had picked up salad/sandwich the day before for our dinner which we ate in the room. There was nothing on the agenda for the next day so we could sleep in which was a pleasant thought after such an action packed day.

Friday, the 8th: We had breakfast in the dining room around 9:30; afterwards, we returned to our room, put on our swimsuits, found pool side chairs, swam, sunned ourselves, and walked the beach. Returned to our room where we changed clothes and headed out to explore another nut farm called Hamakua plus the historic town of Hawi. Both Joyce and I felt Hamakua had a better variety of items than the one we visited the previous day.

Enjoying the pool
Walking the beach
Beautiful Sunset

And we enjoyed walking the town of Hawi with both of us making a few purchases but felt it was another “tourist trap”. We drove to the Island Gourmet which was south of our lodging and I found more items to purchase for gifts back home. Returned to our resort and had diner, while watching the sunset, at the ocean front grill of the resort. Very tasty food and beautiful sunset. Upon return to our room, both of us organized our luggage for departure home late Saturday evening. Had a quiet night of reading before turning out the lights.

Saturday, the 9th: Our departure to home was not until 11:00 p.m. in the evening so we were able to get a late check out time of 3:00 p.m. It was a very leisurely morning with late breakfast and beach walking. We decided to check out around 1:00 or so in the afternoon. Our destination was historic Kailua Village which is located about 15 miles south of our departure airport and along Kona coast. There were shops that we explored along with viewing historical sights of Hulihee Palace, built in 1838, along with the oldest Christian church in Hawaii that was built in 1820. A dear friend of Joyce’s had given her some money for the two of us to have a dinner on her so we found a seafood restaurant, selected seafood dishes, and toasted Joan for gift.

Moku’Aikanua Church
Hulihe’s Palace

Decided to go to the airport early; dropped Joyce off at the terminal with luggage, returned rental car, and took their shuttle bus back to the terminal. And then the fun began with our not being able to check luggage for another couple hours; unfortunately, there were no benches or places to sit. But we did luck out with an earlier American flight occurring so was able to check in about an hour earlier than thought. Once we got thru security, we found a place where we got some liquid refreshments. Because of high winds over the Pacific, our incoming plane was delayed arriving so we did not board until 40 minutes after original departure time. Both of us were very disappointed in the first class section on all our flights because the seat did not lower enough to make it comfortable to sleep; certainly different than on our flights at the start of our journey. The good news was the high winds provided us with a tail wind which meant we got into LAX early instead of late; Joyce and I departed company at that point with my taking a connecting flight to Dallas and she to NW Arkansas airport. Once in Dallas, I had another connection to Cedar Rapids with my arriving before the scheduled time.

Touchdown Cedar Rapids

Great vacation, great fun, great traveling companion but it was good to get home!

Italy and Germany Week 3: Milan thru Frankfurt, Germany

The tour ended the morning of the 26th but Ginni and I had decided to extend our trip with two nights in Milan; Allan and Jeannette were meeting us there and I was traveling with them to their home in Freiburg, Germany after touring of Milan. Tauck provided us with a water taxi which took us to the local train station. Their representative got us on a train to Milan where we grabbed a taxi, checked into our hotel called Best Western Hotel Galles Plus, and got another taxi to the Duomo area where we met up with Jeannette and Allan for our 5-hour city walking tour. We saw the inside of the La Scala Opera House, Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper and the Monastery of S. Maria de Grazie, explored the roofs and inside of the Duomo. After the tour, we found a delightful place to drinks and snacks.

Looking at stage of Opera House

The Last Supper

Farrari’s Life of Jesus Wall

Duomo of Milan

Looking down from roof of Duomo

Jeannette and I on the roof

When we went to leave, I discovered my purse had been stolen; after checking the places we had been previously without finding it, we walked to the closest police station to report the theft but they were closed so we ventured to Questura di Milano station which was open. After two hours of waiting, Allan and I talked to a very nice policeman who filed the necessary reports and gave me copies. My purse had a wallet which contained passport, credit card, debit card, drivers license, and some euros; my camera was also in the purse. The major concern was the loss of the passport for identification purposes for traveling thru Switzerland, Germany, and getting home the next Saturday; luckily, I had brought another credit card with me “just in case” which was back at the hotel along with more euros. After reporting the theft, we found a place for dinner. Returned to the hotel and, as Allan and I was contacting the credit and debit card companies via Skype, a woman called our room to inform us her husband had recovered my purse on the metro and she would bring it by in the morning. We were hoping my passport would be in there but, if not, we would change plans and stay another day in Milan in order to apply for a temporary passport at the US Consulate which was closed on Monday due to Memorial Day. The hotel had made a copy of my passport when I checked in so that would help enormously if I did not get the passport back.

On Sunday, Ginni and I took a day tour to Lake Como while the kids stayed in Milan. We departed from Milan onboard an English speaking bus, reaching the charming village of Como; Como. We explored the historical center, with stops at the most important monuments like the ancient Basilica of Sant’Abbondio.  After the tour, we wandered thru some shops and stopped at a seaside restaurant for coffee and pastry. Then we boarded a boat to enjoy a nice cruise on the lake which is the third largest in Italy; Lake Como.  As we cruised, we ate lunch of fresh perch while listening to a negative on the all the villages and homes we passed. The last stop we made was the village of Bellagio where we wandered thru the shops, had gelato, and sat on a bench located on the waterfront promenade.

View from the coach

The boat of our cruise

One of the villages from our boat

George Clooney’s Villa

We returned to Milan; my purse was at the hotel but it did not have my passport; my wallet and memory card within the camera that had the last two weeks of touring were taken but all other items in the purse were intact. For some reason, the card was removed but the batteries and extra memory card were not which seemed strange. We found a place not too far from the hotel for a very pleasant evening meal; after eating, we went back to the hotel where the kids and I made arrangements for next night’s lodging since we had to stay an additional day in Milan.

Ginni was leaving for home on Monday so we were up early in order for her to prepare for her one hour ride to the airport at 7:00 a.m. Went down to the lobby with Ginni where her driver was waiting; we said our good byes and she was on her way to the airport and home in St. Louis.  It was raining but that did not stop Allan from walking over to help me transfer my luggage to another hotel for that evening; because we needed to extend another night, both places where we had been staying wanted to charge an exorbitant rate so we found another Best Western hotel that had availability for all of us at not such an exorbitant rate. The rain stopped and we had a very pleasant day exploring Milan on foot.  Found some beautiful gardens and a contemporary sculpture which is unusual in Milan where everything is quite ancient.

Porta Sempione,  a city gate

Allan and Jeannette

Turtles in pond of the city gardens

Sforgesco Castle

Castle within the courtyard

Contemporary Sculpture

Remaining medieval wall and gate of the city

Po River flowing through channel in Milan

We also located the US Consulate (US Consulate) so we would know where to walk early the next morning.

On the 29th, we had breakfast and walked to the consulate where we arrived at 8:10. The kids could not enter the building with me and, after 1.5 hours, I walked out with a 1-year temporary passport.

Got It!

We then spent over an hour getting out of Milan because of heavy traffic; Jeannette was driving and had the patience of a saint! It was close to lunch time so we stopped at Burmet Bistro at Lomazzo, Italy for a sandwich and beer.

Lunch stop

Drove into Switzerland; what a beautiful country! Allan switched places with me so I could have a front seat view of the awesome, beautiful countryside we were driving through. Around 2:30, we arrived at Lucerne, a compact city in Switzerland known for its preserved medieval architecture, where we spent time exploring and shopping. It sits amid mountains on Lake Lucerne; its Old Town is bordered on the north by Musegg Wall (a 14-century rampart) and the covered Chapel Bridge, built in 1333, links the Aldstadt to the Reuss River’s right bank. Absolutely beautiful!

Scene from the car

The three of us on the waterfront Lucerne

Lake with mountains in background

Lots of places to eat and drink

Chapel Bridge

City scene

Left Lucerne, drove into Germany, and arrived in Freiburg.   I checked into the Mercure Hotel Panorama, we ate at a Thai place called Rose Restaurant for dinner, and returned to the hotel in time to watch the sunset from my balcony.

Sunset from my balcony

Hotel from path below

The hotel is very nice and has trails into the Black Forest right behind it; however, there was a problem with water pressure and lack of hot water in the bathroom.

Wednesday, the 30th, I walked from the hotel to the kids home which is about 1 mile away. Got a tour of their home; very nice and airy with a wonderful balcony for sunset viewing. And then we walked and walked and walked; through Freiburg’s botanical gardens, by Jeannette’s work place at the University, thru the farmers market and shops, and various points of interest. This included Freiburg Minster Cathedral, Martinstor which is a medieval city gate, Merchants Hall, splash pool where the Old Synagoge stood, and the little waterways called Bachle. We also went to the train station and found out what platform/area I would leave from on Friday for Frankfurt. We had lunch at the Hausbrauerei Feierling which is a beer garden with large outdoor seating area within their courtyard.

City gardens

Allan and Jeannette ready to go

Top of Minster Cathedral

Merchant Hall

Inside the cathedral

Martinstor, medieval city gate

Lunch break

Splash pad where Old Synagoge was

Little waterways called Bachle in Old Town

In the evening, we had dinner at Das Vorderhaus, a German restaurant not far from the kids; very good food but the spaetzle was not as good as what Jeannette’s father makes. It started to rain so the kids drove me back to the hotel where I discovered we had walked close to 17,000 steps. No wonder I was tired!

Thursday was my last full day in Freiburg so we journeyed out of town to the Burgruine Staufen Castle which is about 30 minutes away. We parked in a lot and walked up hill to the castle. Allan and I climbed the tower and was treated to a wonderful view of the countryside. Walked into the town of Staufen; because it was a German holiday called Corpus Christi, no shops were open but eating places and live music in the square were. We decided to eat lunch at Kornhaus, one of the restaurants, and take the food we had brought for a picnic back to the kids for our evening meal.

Entering castle ruins

Looking out and over the countryside

View from upper tower

Walls still standing

Countryside view

Main street of Staufen with castle in background

Waiting for lunch

Neumagen River flowing thru part of town

Got back to Freiburg mid-afternoon and, after driving by Allan’s place of employment, we went to the kids home. After spending a few hours talking and reading, I decided to walk back my hotel before the projected rain started. The walk was uphill the whole way but I made it without incident. Spent the evening in my room reading, finalizing packing, and relaxing while rain fell down outside.

The kids came to my hotel for a tasty, leisurely breakfast buffet on Friday. We gathered my luggage, checked out, and returned to their place for conversation and reading before leaving for the train station early afternoon. Got to the station, and waited for my train that would take me to the Frankfurt airport and an overnight at the Sheridan within Terminal 1. Got on the train with Allan’s assistance and finally located my seat once the train was underway. I was in a first class compartment which seated four; I was alone until the second stop when a woman originally from Hungary but living in Germany came on board and we had a very interesting conversation. Arrived at the train station located beside Terminal 1 of the airport, retrieved my luggage, and walked to the Sheridan. Frankfurt Airport is quite huge so anywhere you walk seems like you have gone for miles. After settling into my room, walked into the terminal so I could discover where I needed to check in the next day for my flight home. After a glass of wine in my room, I called room service for my evening meal. My vacation was great but, after being gone for 3 weeks, I was feeling quite strongly about wanting to be home to my own bed and the cats.  Was very tired so lights were out for the night by 9:30. Got up Saturday, took a shower, had some coffee, checked out, and walked to check in for my flight home. Flight left Frankfurt on time so the day was spent traveling. Arrival and processing through Customs in Chicago was completed with minimal disruption; after 2-hour layover, I was on my way to Cedar Rapids where Mary and Joe picked me up.  After a brief stop to pick up some food for my bare refrigerator, we were driving west; heading toward home and my cats.

Italy and Germany Week 2: Orvieto thru Venice, Italy

On Friday, the 18th, we departed Rome about 8:30 heading for Orvieto. At Orvieto, we visited the Duomo of Orvieto, a Romanesque-Gothic cathedral built over a span of 300 years. We explored the town and met for lunch at Trattoria La Grotto. After lunch, we departed for Perugia driving through wine-producing regions of Umbria.

Duomo of Orvieto

Inside of duomo

Pipe organ in Duomo

Beautiful countryside

Arrived at our hotel around 4:30; the hotel is called Alla Posta Dei Donini and is two renovated villas dating back to the 17th century. We attended a private recital in the music room; it was a trio who played piano, violin, and sang. Excellent performance! Dinner was in the hotel dining room with Rich, Susan, Armanda, Scott, Ginni, and myself.

Saturday we toured the well-preserved medieval hillside town of Assisi. It has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its significant art and architecture. We was given a guided tour of the Basilica of St. Francis and the historic center of Assisi.

Country village

Basilica of St. Francis

Gate into walled city of Assisi

Ginni, Linda, and I found a place where we ordered pizza and wine for our lunch. We took a leisurely stroll toward our meeting point, stopping and browsing in various stores. Upon return to our hotel, we got ready for a private wine tasting featuring locally produced Umbrian wine. Dinner was in the dining room with Gary, Cathy, Armanda, Scott, and ourselves.

The day of the 20th started with our checking out of our hotel and traveling through the rolling Tuscan landscapes, stopping in the country village of San Gimignano. We had about 2 hours of free time so we wandered through various shops, stopping to purchase our favorite Italian pastime of gelato. Lunch at at a restaurant that had a beautiful view of the Tuscan countryside. Time get away from us so we only had time to eat part of our lunch, asking for take out for the rest. Drove for a few more hours and arrived in Viareggio and our hotel for the night, Hotel Principe di Piedmonte.   After arriving to our room, we took a walk along the promenade in the seaside resort town with the Mediterranean providing miles of beach front. In the evening, we met up with Nancy, Jeff, Pam, Bob, Lynn, and David for dinner in the hotel dining room at 7:30.

Monday, the 21st, started with our checking out and on the bus by 8:30. We arrived in La Spezia which has a port for our start off point for Cinque Terre. It was a beautiful morning and, fortunately, the weather permitted us to cruise along the Italian Rivera for great views of the coast en route to the village of Vernazza for free time. Cinque Terre was only accessible by sea for hundreds of years; there are five fishing villages nestled between the Mediterranean blue water and rugged coastline. Upon arrival at Vernazza, we wandered some of the side streets with our guide and then broke off for some shopping and lunch at a restaurant where Anna had made us reservations.

Leaning Tower of Pisa in distance

Church on top of cliff within Cinque Terre

One of villages of Cinque Terre

Village of Vernazza

View of Vernazza harbor from upper hillside

Vernazza

We took the train back to La Spezia and boarded our coach for the journey to Florence. Arrived in Florence shortly before 5:00, checked into the Hotel Brunelleschi for a three-night stay. Anna walked us to nearly Ristorante II Caminetto where Nancy, Jeff, Amanda Scott, Gary, Kathy, and ourselves had 7:00 reservations. Walked back to the hotel after dinner and retired for the evening.

We rose around 7:00 on Tuesday morning so we could have coffee and breakfast before attending an art lecture within our hotel; the guest presenter gave an excellent briefing about Florence’s Renaissance period. We were joined by local guides who walked us through central Florence, with rain pouring down, on our way to Accademia where there are collections of works by many great artists of the 14th and 15th century along with Michelangelo’s famous sculpture of David. The sculpture of David is amazing; 17 feet tall and weight of 9 tons because it is all marble. Our guide directed out of the museum and pointed out other points of interest in the area.

David

Facial view of David

Interesting angle of facial expression and eyes

After our guide departed, Anna walked those of us who choose to another square where there are many leather, jewelry, and souvenir shops along with restaurants. Ginni and I choose a restaurant within the square and had an enjoyable lunch. We wandered our way back to the hotel and prepared for a wine-tasting reception hosted by Salvatore Ferragamo at 4:45. The wife of Salvatore Ferragamo, Jr. greeted us at the door of their boutique; she gave us a description of the Ferragamo family success and explained various shoes that were displayed. We walked to a close by hotel owned by the family and had a delightful reception filled with nibbles and wine.

Wednesday, the 23rd, we were greeted in the lobby by a local guide who walked us to the Uffizi Gallery. Originally a suite of offices, it was first used to display the Medici family’s private art treasurers in 1581 which makes it the oldest art gallery in the world. We sawed works of the Italian Renaissance which included Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Michangelo’s The Holy Family, Bellini’s Allegory and Raphael’s Madonna of the Goldfinch.

Birth of Venus

Madonna of Goldfinch

Michangelo’s The Holy Family

Primavera

The afternoon was spent exploring; Ginni and I headed across one of the walking bridges on our way to explore their botanical gardens. After lunch, we continued on our journey but turned back because it started to rain. That evening we had dinner at the Ristorante Paoli.

Bridge we crossed on way to botanical gardens

We were leaving Florence on Thursday heading to Venice. After luggage was picked up and we had breakfast, we went by minivan to the train station for a two hour train ride to Venice. Arrived at Venezia Santa Lucia train station around 12:20. We took water taxis to our hotel for the next two nights called Bauer Hotel. After storing our hand carries, we had lunch on the hotel’s open terrace. A local guide met us for a guided tour of St. Mark’s Square and the Doge’s Palace. Another overwhelming experience with lots of people.

St. Mark’s Square

Ceiling in room of Doge’s Palace

Statues on wall

Where wall and ceiling meet in room of Doge’s Palace

Back at the hotel, we were given a key to our room where we relaxed and changed for the evening’s farewell dinner at Antico Martini. Our dinner companions were Amanda, Scott, and Anna.

Friday, the 25th, was a lazy morning of getting ready for the day. We had breakfast around 8:30 and met up with the rest of the group at 9:45 for a walk with Anna to a glass blowing factory where we were given a demonstration of this amazing art. We browsed through the various showrooms and both of us did purchase an item. We wandered back to the central square but there were so many people that we decided to take the hotel shuttle to another island across from Venice where we found a delightful, quiet place for lunch. Back in Venice, we got ready for the evening gondola ride, farewell reception at the hotel, and visit to Basilica of St. Mark.

On the gondola

Door view of place from the gondola

Outdoor patio and statue as seen from gondola

Ginni and I on gondola

Basilica of St. Mark

Marble entrance to basilica

Small part of ceiling

Part of wall within the basilica

Beautiful sanctuary wall

The tour will end tomorrow morning and we will be departing to Milan.  NOTE: My thanks to Jeff for supplying his pictures of the tour; as you will find out in my week 3 post, my pictures would become unavailable.

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.