Ginni from St. Louis, whom I’ve traveled with in the past, called me up and asked if I would like to visit Cuba. It is a country I never thought about visiting but said “Why not?” This happened in the fall of 2016. We contacted our travel agent and, after looking at a couple different tour companies, we settled on Tauck because of their itinerary which took us from one end of Cuba to the other and their small group size; dates of our travel were from March 4th thru March 17th.
Cuba, officially the Republic of Cuba, is located in the northern Caribbean where the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean meet. Havana is the largest city and its capital. Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean and has a population of over 11.2 million inhabitants. It is a one-party republic where the Communist Party is enshrined in the constitution. Its economy is dominated by the exports of sugar, tobacco, coffee and skilled labor. According to the Human Development Index, Cuba is described as a country with high human development and is ranked the eighth highest in North America. It also ranks highly in some metrics of national performance, including health care and education.
Cedar Rapids and Miami
Left home for the airport at 5:50 AM on March 4; arrived in Miami at 3:00 PM. Retrieved luggage, got a taxi with a very reluctant driver, and headed to my hotel for the next two nights called Hyatt Regency Coral Gables. There was a carnival going on so the streets by the hotel were blocked off which meant the taxi had to maneuver all over the place to get to the hotel. Got checked in and went to the bar for a drink because our room was not ready. Settled into the room; it faced the carnival street and was very noisy but was assured by the front desk that festivities would be over by 10:30.
I decided to find a place to buy a bottle of wine for Ginni who would be coming in later tonight; I had packed one of the bottles given by Allan and Jeannette to me during the holidays for myself. The concierge gave me directions to the nearest place for wine so I went to it, purchased a bottle, and then went to Millers Ale House for dinner of Mahi/Mahi with vegetable. Good food, good service, and pleasant outdoor atmosphere. I walked through the carnival looking at the booths of artists displaying their wares. Got back to the hotel and settled in the room with a book while waiting for Ginni. Went down to the lobby about 8:45 to wait for her arrival which happened five minutes later. Back to the room where we sat and talked until after 11:00.
Sunday morning was a slow one with our waking after 8:00; we got dressed for the day and went to breakfast around 10:00 in the hotel dining room. It was buffet and had lots of choices. After breakfast, we wandered through the carnival and around downtown Coral Gables.
Went to our room for a brief break before heading downstairs to meet up with the Tauck representative. Got checked in and met some fellow travelers on the tour. Back to the room for an afternoon nap. Orientation meeting was held late afternoon where we met fellow travelers along with our tour director, Carlos. Dinner that evening with members of the tour; Ginni and I ate with Marsha/Dave from Columbus, OH and Andi/Larry from Cleveland, OH. After dinner we went to the bar for a drink.
Miami Departure and Havana
Breakfast at hotel @ 5:30; arrived at the airport where there was a problem with security on where to park. Carlos got everything straightened out; we got checked in with Delta and went to gate for boarding. Easy flight from Miami to Havana airport.
Upon arrival at Havana we went thru Immigration and Cuban Customs; the whole process was made easily with the guidance of Carlos. Once everyone arrived at the VIP lounge, we departed the lounge and was met outside by our tour guide, Hector, and bus driver, Rudolph.
Havana: March 6 – 8
After departure from airport we saw many sights from the bus: Havana mural of Indian girl, 1946 Polinros Fountain, Jose Morte sculptures, Revolution Square, original city walls, El Morro, Port of Havana, Statue of wind, fire, and rain; stopped at forts; Cristo de La Habana with statue of Christ. Lunch at Habanero with Andi, Larry, Rosemary, and Yvonne.
Went to our hotel, Melia Havana, checked and settled in. We had a very nice room with balcony on the 9th floor; it looked over the beautiful pool area and along the coast where you could hear the waves meeting land. Got a taxi with Andi and Larry for a ride to the Hotel Nacional de Cuba which was said to look like Biltmore in the USA. Beautiful hotel with lovely courtyard. Had a drink and returned to our hotel for dinner in the lobby area along with another drink.
Tuesday saw us depart the hotel @ 8:30. Went to the Colón Cemetary started in 1876. With over 140 acres, it is one of the largest cemeteries in the world and renowned for its elaborate memorial architecture. There are more than 800,000 graves and 1 million interments. We witnessed several Cubans coming to the sacred memorial for “Amelia and her baby”. Amelia died in 1901 of preclampsia and she was buried together with her baby. Local Cubans now come and offer their prayers for safe pregnancies and return with flowers and prayers to thank her for a safe birth.
Next stop was a tour of to the Cigar Factory where there was a picture of Fidel on the door. Cuban cigar makers, unlike their counterparts in most of the non-Cuban cigar world, make the entire cigar themselves. It was an interesting tour where we saw how cigars are made from start to finish; we were able to ask questions of the workers and they were very forthcoming in their answers. Once the tour was over, we went to the Cigar Shop where I purchased some cigars.
Next stop was the Hemingway House; beautiful home and grounds. Hemingway lived in the house from mid 1939 to 1960, renting it at first, and then buying it in December 1940 after he married his third wife. In the fall of 1960, the Cuban government expropriated the Hemingway house and its grounds of which they have responsibility of its maintenance today. Lunch was at Divino; good food and great atmosphere.
After eating, we visited the Revolution Museum in Old Havana. The museum is located in what was the Presidental Palace of all Cuban presidents from Mario Menocal in 1920 to Fulgencio Batista. It became the Museum of the Revolution during the years following the Cuban Revolution. The exhibits are largely devoted to the 1950’s Revolutionary War period and post-1959 period. Behind the building lies the Granma Memorial, a large glass enclosure which houses the yacht which took Castro and his revolutionaries from Mexico to Cuba for the revolution. Around the yacht there is a surface-to-air missile of the type that shot down a U.S. spyplane during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the engine of the U-2 airplane is displayed. Dinner that evening at La Moraleja.
Wednesday morning we went to the performance of the Habana Compas Dance Company, a thriving dance and cultural performance group that combines the essence of Spanish dance with Afro-Cuban rhythms. Drumsticks, castanets, heels, claves, chequeres and percussive chairs characterize the performances of the ensemble which, through dance, preserves a large part of the island’s African and Spanish cultural heritage. After the performance, I purchased a couple items in their gift shop. Next we went to Old Havana where we was given a tour by an expert of architecture. Old Havana which was founded in 1519 by the Spanish crown and is architecturally unlike any other Caribbean city. The predominant architecture in Old Havana is an eclectic mix of Cuban Baroque, Neoclassical and Moorish influences reminiscent of Cuba’s Spanish heritage. Buildings are brightly colored in various hues of pastels adding to the charm and allure of Old Havana. However over two-thirds of Old Havana is in desperate need of renovation and funding is lacking. The tour was interesting but did seem too long. A picture of our tour group was taken in front of the Custom House. There was a model of the old city displayed which, we learned, took a married couple over three years to make. Lunch was at Ambos Mundos Hotel. We ventured to the Main Square where we saw a statue of Carlos Manual de Caspedes who was the first president (father) of the country. Also seen was the main castle, front of Governors House, mural of 67 people who were diverse in culture and opposed the crown, Cathedral Square, and the first American embassy.
That evening we were surprised with a car ride in a 1955 Bel Aire convertible; earlier in the day, Carlos gave each female on the trip a red scarf to wear while riding in the open car. Drove to the Museum of Universal Arts where we were given a special performance by an Acapella singing group called Vocal ELE’. Had dinner at La Foresta; okay food but the funny part of the evening was a fake birthday for one of our fellow passengers.
Sancti Spiritus: March 9
Departed the hotel at 8:00 after having breakfast. We headed for our one night destination of Sancti Spirtus. Drove for an 1.5 hours before stopping at a rest stop. Hector had given us the history of the Cuban Revolution from Columbus to the 1950’s. It was a very nice rest area with a couple gift shops. Next we were on our way to Santa Clara where we stopped at the Che Guevara Mausoleum; he was the military leader who played a key role as Fidel Castro’s second-in-command during the Cuban Revolution. Lunch was at La Aldaba Restaurant.
After lunch, we preceded to Sancti Spiritus where Hector took us on a tour of the town square while Carlos arranged for our baggage to be unloaded and placed in our room at the Hotel Don Florencio. We had dinner outside of the hotel that evening and was entertained while eating with a group who sang and played instruments.
Camagüey: March 10 – 12
Departed Sancti Spiritus for Camagüey around 8:00; Hector provided us with more information regarding Cuba and their residents as we rode along. Stopped at a rest stop after a few hours of riding; I gave the restroom attendant a couple roses that Ginni and I received the night before at the hotel we had stayed at. There was shopping and an area for walking around. We continued on to Camagüey where we had lunch at Hotel El Camino de Hierro. Camagüey is considered a city of baroque and is renowned for its historic center; it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. It is the nation’s third largest city with more than 321,000 inhabitants. After lunch, we attended a traditional folk dance performance by a group called Companñia Folklorica Camagua; it was followed by a question and answer session with performers. We checked into Hotel Sevillana where we had time in our room to settle in for our 3-night stay. Dinner was at the hotel with some of us gathering for a drink beforehand; a group of three gentlemen entertained us. After walking around the area, I settled into a local bar with Andi, Larry, Joyce, Bryan, and Ginni for a final glass of wine.
On Saturday, we did not have to depart the hotel until 9:30 so slept late, got dressed, and updated my notes before breakfast. After breakfast, in groups of two, we boarded bike taxis for our tour of the town. Brief history of Camagüey; it started out being called Santa Maria but changed its name to current. It is the biggest providence of Cuba along with being the flattest. Population is 700K with tourism, sugar cane, and artists being its main area of revenue. Also known as the City of Churches with 24; 15 of those are Catholic. And it is home to the second oldest theatre in the country called Teatro Principal. After exploring a market, the bikes took us to the Artesano Aristarchus which is the studio of Jose D Gutierrez (Pepe) where he demonstrated his craft. He was trained as a mechanic and makes all his tools. His pieces are unusual and cannot be purchased anywhere else. Next stop was a couple doors down to Projecto Carsuenos; it is a community project founded by Carmen Gonzales and she gave us a talk on her work. There are currently 162 members of the project; these members are either handicapped, have mental illness, alcoholism, and children age 3-16. All of them are trying to improve and bring brightness to their lives. All the children design while the adults sew dolls for hospitals or for sale both nationally and internationally; so far, they have made 270 dolls. The big project they are working on currently is a big doll measuring 24 meters which they are hoping to enter into the Guinness Book of Records. We walked to the art gallery and workshop of Martha Jimenez Perez. Her most important element in her paintings and sculptures are women with her most famous being “Gossippers” which are three women talking at a fountain with halos over their heads (represents) heavenly. Across the courtyard for lunch at El Paso Restaurant; ate a meal of black bean soup, chicken, rice, and vegetables while listening to a duo called Black Coral.
We boarded the bus for a short drive to a home of a family artists who do their work and displays on the premises. The members either paint, do ceramics, or make clay pots. The place is called Alfareria Casanova. A father/son duo demonstrated making the clay pots; after a pot is made, it takes 15 days to dry and then fired in a kiln for 30 hours at 1000 degrees. After the demonstration, we wandered thru their shop and I purchased one of the paintings. Returned to the hotel and walked to the square to look in a couple places for souvenirs but did not find anything. Back to the hotel for some rest before dinner at an Italian restaurant. Restaurant was called Santa Teresa; since it was raining, their staff greeted us with umbrellas.
The meal of pizza was not very good because it was undercooked. I believe they were not equipped to handle our size of group so some people were done with their meal before others at their table received their meal. Definitely believe Carlos and Hector will recommend Tauck remove them from future itineraries. Had a round of drinks at the hotel before heading to bed. We set our clocks ahead one hour since Cuba goes on daylight savings time as we do.
Sunday morning, after breakfast, everyone gathered in our hotel lobby around 9:45 for a walk to the home of the Endedans Contemporary Ballet Company. This is the only ballet company in Cuba performing contemporary ballet. It was started about 10 years ago; the performers range in the age of 18-40 years of age. They are currently working on a project of exchange between Cuba and the US. It is a professional ballet company run by the state. The group gave us a private performance that they have not premiered as of yet. These performers and students are encouraged to use their creativity in the development and performance of each act. They are very talented in contemporary, ballet, hip-hop, and other dance styles. Very enjoyable to watch. We walked back to the hotel and got into another convertible for a drive to the restaurant where we were having lunch. Pat, a gal from California, joined Ginni and I into a white exterior/red interior 1950 Bel Aire. What fun waving and shouting greetings to the people we passed. We arrived at the restaurant, Rocola Club, where we were greeted with a Cuban fruit drink called Mamey and introduced to the owner. We ate lunch with Dave/Ann and Larry/Andi.
Boarded the bus and drove back to our hotel. After asking Carlos for some suggestions on where we could a bottle of wine, we headed out to look for this item. However, all the stores were closed. When we returned to the hotel, we told Hector about our search and he took us down the street to a place where each of us was able to purchase a bottle. Met in the lobby at 6:00 for our walk to the evening’s restaurant which turned out to be a wine cellar right down the street. Before leaving the hotel, we were entertained by a musical song and dance group called Andarte. Fun time; I even danced with the group. Walked to the restaurant and had an enjoyable meal even with the lights going out a quarter of the way through. Candles were lit at all the tables and the meal proceeded along. We found out the power was off all over the city. As we were getting ready to leave the restaurant, the power came on. Got a drink at the hotel bar and went to our room for packing since we were leaving the next day for our last destination in Cuba, Holguín, which is where Hector has his home.
Holguín, March 13 – 15
On Monday, the 13th, we left the hotel at 8:00 heading to Holguín. As we rode along, Hector provided us with information on Cuba and their education system. The education is provided by the government and free to every Cuban. There are three mandatory levels: preschool, elementary for 6 years, and middle school for 3 years. When the mandatory levels are completed, a child can decide to attend a technical college or university, which take 3 to 6 years to complete, or stay home. All males must go into the Army for two years while females go to work. We made a rest stop in Cucalambé; nice stop with clean restrooms, small gift shop, and counter selling beverages. Onward to Finca Agroecologia La Conchita which is a working farm using organic principals to grow fruits and vegetables. Very interesting tour where we saw the gardens and fruit trees/bushes. They are part of a cooperative which means what they grow is exchanged among the other co-op members. Some of the items grown are coffee beans, tomatoes, cabbage, bananas, cucumbers, tapioca, mango, coconut, pineapple, custard apple, and much more. After the tour, we had the best meal of the whole trip; pig which had been roasted over an open fire; salad of cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes, and green beans; potatoes; desserts. Everything was fresh and tasted delicious!
Drove a couple hours, dropped Hector off in Holguín so he could stay with his family (bad week for Hector since his brother-in-law passed away, a first cousin passed away, and another cousin fell and broke his hip at Hector’s home while attending the funeral) and onward to our home the next three nights at Paradisus Rio de Oro Hotel which is a resort by the ocean and 37 miles from Holguín. Wonderful, huge accommodations with the bathroom large enough you could land a small plane in it. The shower was a garden shower outside. And everything was all inclusive which meant everything was included except items purchased at the gift shop or spa treatments. Dining options include 8 restaurants and 7 bars. There’s also an outdoor pool, private beach, a spa and a gym. Settled into our apartment, took a shower, and went to dinner at the restaurant on our level where we were joined by Andi and Larry. Went back to our lodging around 11:00.
After breakfast, we boarded the bus for a drive into Holguín. There was seat rotation each day on the bus so Ginni and I got the front row seats; certainly enlarges the area of vision. Our first stop, after picking up Hector, was at the practice facility of the opera company Rodriguo Pratts for a Cuban Zarzuela performance which was excellent! Zarzuela is a Spanish lyric-dramatic genre that incorporates operatic and popular songs as well as dance. At the question and answer session we found out that there are 97 members of the company with 45 in middle school for 3 years and the university level for 5 years. There are also some young children being taught. Everyone has to audition in order to get into the company and, once in, have to audition once a year to remain. They perform locally a couple times a month and do perform nationally and internationally. Our next stop was to La Loma de La Cruz or Hill of the Cross. There are 462 steps leading up to the cross and each May there is a celebration in which people carry a huge Cuban flag from the bottom to the top.
Driving around town had us pass the park of sculptors, square which is over 100 years old, and wedding palace where Hector got married. The town was named in 1720 after the first Spaniard to arrive. It is in the fourth largest providence and is third largest in population. There are 346,000 people in the city. Most private homes are owned by Cuban people who live overseas. A small one-bedroom home costs $130,000. Next stop the Papyrus Papers Publishing House where we learned their purpose for paper printing. They print up to 100 books per title of a book. Any kind of paper such as cardboard, tissue, newspaper, gets reused. This is a family-operated print shop and their printing museum houses historic printing presses used to produce a wide-range of art books with some of them dating back to 1816. Lunch was at Restaurant Royal near the printing shop. We returned to the resort and had the rest of our afternoon to ourselves. We walked down to the beach and around the grounds.
That evening Ginni and I decided to eat apart from everyone so we ate at the same restaurant as the previous evening. Lights were out around 10:30.
Our final full day in Cuba, the 15th, was spent visiting the José María Ochoa School of Music where we were given a performance by various students of the school; performers were either in their first, second, or third year at the school. In order to be accepted within the school, they must pass an exam. Once accepted, they will be tested throughout the school year with a final exam where they must score at least 80 or they will be dropped from the program. The school includes children starting at the age of 8 upward. After leaving the school, we stopped at a square where we were shown a mural on a wall that depicts the history of Cuba starting at the time of Columbus. And we were able to walk around the square, on our way, going into whatever store we wanted; I was on the look out for coffee but did not find any. After our exploration, we boarded the bus and drove to the home/gallery of Yuri Urquiza, a young and amazingly talented neoclassical artist. He works quite closely with his wife who also has an art degree. Her father is a well noted Cuban artist who displays his art all over the world. Yuri seems to be a very talented artist but I had a feeling his paintings were not cheap.
After the visit, we returned to the resort where we had lunch at the lobby restaurant. Since it had rained and the day was overcast, we did not want to go to the beach so Ginni and I took a golf cart to the lower area where there were a couple gift shops. Neither of us saw anything to purchase so we returned to our lodging where we prepared for our farewell reception and dinner. Carlos gave each of us a copy of the group photo taken outside the Customs House in Havana; it was quite good. And we had a surprise performance by the director of the music school we had visited on Wednesday and a magnificent piano player who could play anywhere in the world; Lola sang and Marcos played the piano. Both were excellent but Marcos won me over with his magnificent playing. We had dinner with Jackie, Debbie, Andi, and Larry.
Tomorrow we leave for the airport at 9:15 with bags out at 8:15.
Departure Cuba; Miami to Home
Nothing of interest today since we flew from Holguín to Miami without any problems.
Yvette, the trauma surgeon from California, sat next to me and we had a great conversation over the pond. Arrived in Miami and got through Immigration and Customs quite easily. Ginni and I grabbed a taxi to take us to the Hyatt Regency for overnight before departing the next day to our respective homes. Settled in the room which had WiFi so both of us caught up with mail before meeting Andi and Larry for a drink and then dinner at Fratellino Ristorante, an Italian place. Dinner at the restaurant was fantastic and we all enjoyed what we had ordered. Ginni and I walked back to the Hyatt and bed while Andi and Larry went to another establishment for a drink. On the 16th we headed for home so checked out of the room and got a taxi to the airport around 8:45. Ginni was flying American while I was flying United so got dropped at two different points. Both of us connected with each other after check in and we had breakfast at Air Margaritaville; good omelet and Bloody Mary. My flight was leaving at 12:20 so we said our good byes. Got to my gate, boarded the plane, and both flights into Cedar Rapids were uneventful with my getting home around 5:30.
This past fall, Fosters from Montana along with Carol Patterson and I, from Iowa, came up with the dates of February 20 – 24, 2017 in which we would fly into Reno and be met by our friends the Knapps from northern California. The Knapps have a second home in Truckee, CA. where we would spend four nights. Here are the notes I made during the visit which describes our daily activities.
Monday the shuttle arrived at 6:20; the girls had me awake at 4:00 am so I was ready. At the airport, paired up with Carol; we checked in, got thru security, and waited to board. No problem in Cedar Rapids and arrived in Denver about 30 minutes early; during the flight, I was given a congratulatory card from UA for being a mileage plus member for 20 years but it did not work on getting a free Bloody Mary. Arrived at our departure gate in Denver to hear the UA representative tell us the plane was inoperable so moved to another gate where an inbound plane was going to be ours going out. The plane arrived but its crew said there was a problem with wind shear control; Maintenance was called and, after sometime, were able to identify the problem and requested the part from their supply store. The part arrived, installed, and we were in the air approximately two hours after the scheduled departure time. The stewardess gave us a free bottle of wine to celebrate my 20th anniversary; we got into a conversation with the gal in the outer seat of our row. She is Navaho and her father is a great painter using oils and a people as his medium; she had a book of his paintings and they were beautiful. Delightful conversation. Arrived in Reno and were greeted in baggage claim by the Knapps and Fosters who had arrived earlier. Snow was falling which made it difficult to get to the Knapps home in Truckee. But we did make it; even though there was no electricity because of the storm, we had a wonderful evening of friendship. Barb had made vegetable beef soup so that, along with salad and homemade beer bread, made an excellent meal. We sat by the fire enjoying some wine and conversation but the early morning start caught up with all of us so off the bed we went.
On Tuesday, we had breakfast of fruit salad, toast, yogurt, and coffee. It was still snowing but the power had been restored; Bill, Carol, and Tom went out to shovel lots of snow. Morning was spent talking, checking email, and some putting a puzzle together. In the early afternoon, Bill and Tom went to shovel more snow; Bill was hoping to get the car out of the drive. The guys did get the car out but got it stuck when getting back into the drive. All of us went out and helped dig it out. We had reservations at a place called the Lodge; Barb gave me a beautiful blue top to wear with my jeans for the event. Upon arrival at the place, the power went out. Because of that they could not take any orders. However, Bill and Barb had brought a BIG bottle of wine that they had won at a raffle so our waiter uncorked it for us. And the power came back on; they wanted to wait 30 minutes to make sure the power stayed on. It did not; went out after 10 minutes and the manager decided to close down.
So back to the house we went for chili and cornbread muffins. Delicious! After cleaning up, the girls went back to the puzzle they had been working on while the boys and I talked. Off to bed early; I had been fighting a cold so went to bed with my book but fell asleep while reading.
Wednesday was a slow start which was good. By the time we all took showers and had breakfast, it close to 10:30. Again we had to do some shoveling to get out of the drive. The girls were going shopping in Truckee while the boys were going to a local brewery. We met up and went to lunch at Squeeze Inn but, as was our luck, their power went out so they closed for the day. We headed to the Diner after Bill called and found them open. Another meal of good food. By this time it was 3:30 so we decided to head back to the house with a stop at the grocery store on the way. The first time I have shopped in a store without power; they was using the generator to operate the cash registers so lighting in the aisles were minimal. Tom had a light on his phone which came in very handy.
Got back to the house and, after relaxing, headed to the Lodge for our dinner reservation at 6:00. Power was on and the food excellent; I had their special of beet salad and potato leek soup. Returned to the house; after a glass of wine and more conversation, went down to bed for some reading time. Lights out around 10:00.
When everyone was ready on Thursday, we took a drive around the three local ski areas plus Lake Tahoe. It was snowing again but not strong; however, the piles alongside the road made it impossible to see much. Ski areas we saw were Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley, and North Star. Lunch was at Gar Woods; expensive but great service, pleasant atmosphere, and tasty food made it worthwhile.
Got back to the house around 3:00 and sat around talking the rest of the day. Another puzzle was being worked on by Sarah, Carol, Barb, and Tom; Bill and I warmed up leftovers for our dinner. Went to bed around 10:00 or so.
Friday morning started with a brunch before leaving for the airport around 10:30. Arrived at the airport, got checked in, and Carol/I went through Security. Flights back to Cedar Rapids were uneventful. Landed in Cedar Rapids, retrieved my bag, and took the shuttle home where I arrived around midnight. And the girls came to greet me at the door. Another fun trip; it was great to see old friends and catch up on all that is happening in everyone’s lives. The amazing thing is how we are still friends after 40+ years and how, when we are together, it seems like our conversations pick up as if time and miles have not separated us.
What a wonderful way to start off the New Year; two weeks on Ft. Myers Beach condo along the beach. And it was doubly exciting because my sister, Edi, planned on going with me.
Because of a lower cost airfare and my niece, Vicki, living 20 miles from the St. Louis airport had us making our reservation was out of St. Louis instead of Cedar Rapids. We planned on leaving late Friday morning, the 13th, and meet Youngs for lunch on our way; we were going to spend the night with Vicki and her husband, Mark, with them taking us to the airport for our flight the next morning. However, due the threat of ice in St. Louis, we left early morning from home, drove directly to Vicki’s, and they took us to the Marriott (located .8 mile from the airport with free shuttle service) where I reserved us a room because of the weather. We had lunch in the hotel restaurant while our room was being readied for us. After settling into the room, we spent the rest of the day reading. I did contact my travel agent who suggested we take the shuttle to the airport early in the morning in order to get on the 6:35 flight instead of our scheduled 11:50. That evening, we went to the restaurant for a bowl of soup. Both of us agreed to an early night because of rising at 4:25 the next morning.
We were up and leaving the room before the time we had originally planned. Checked our one bag and, after going thru Security, found an UAL agent who put us on standby for the early flight. And we were able to board the flight! After de-icing the plane, we were in the air and on our way to Chicago; arrived about 5 minutes after the scheduled time. We then found the gate for the next flight to Ft. Myers which would depart at 11:50; we were scheduled on the 1:50. Again, a very nice UAL agent put us on standby for the earlier flight. We then found a place for breakfast. Back to the gate to where we patiently waited until the boarding was on its way. And, again luck happened, we got the last two seats on the plane! Upon arriving in Ft. Myers we retrieved my bag and went to Dollar for our rental car. The car reserved for us was not the size I thought it would be when I made the reservation so we upgraded to mid-size. Choose our car and off we went. As an added note, I will not rent from Dollar again; the agent told us that most people who rent the smaller size return it because it is too small so why even have it as a rental unless your trying to make money by charging $25/day for an upgrade? Felt like I got “ripped” off and, to add insult to injury, it took over an hour of standing in line before getting to the rental counter. Guess Hertz has spoiled me! On our way to the condo, we stopped at a grocery store for breakfast supplies; onward to the condo which was easy to find but I was glad it was still light when we arrived. Got into the condo, unpacked, and decided to have cantaloupe as a snack and cereal/banana for my evening meal.
Both of us were very tired but did not go to bed until 10:00 or so; I finished reading a book before turning out my lights about 11:30.
Rose around 6:30; had coffee and decided to walk the beach. It was a beautiful morning and we enjoyed the walk.
Had breakfast, cleaned up, and then took a shower. We were ready for the day with was our driving up to visit brother Bob and his wife Linda outside of Arcadia. Stopped at an art and craft market where a friend of Bob, big Paul and wife Connie, sold microwave potato bags and items. Found their booth and had an enjoyable visit. Onward to Bob and Linda’s; they had moved the previous year so we were anxious to see their new digs. Found their place without trouble and, after saying our hellos, got a tour; very nice, comfortable place where they have done a lot of work outside! After conversing and having a beer, the three of us girls went to WalMart where Edi and I wanted to pick up some supplies. When we were finished, Linda called Bob; he met us at a local Mexican restaurant called El Pirata. Nothing fancy about the place but great food and wonderful/friendly service. After eating, we parted ways with our heading back to our condo. We stopped at Target on the way for some cold items that we did not want to leave in our car while eating. Arrived back at the condo around 7:30 and found the NFL play off game between Kansas City and Pittsburgh. Earlier, Green Bay had defected Dallas by 3 points so they will move on.
On Monday, we had our coffee and breakfast after I took a walk on the beach. We then left for Port Charlotte where we were meeting Linda for lunch at Whiskey Creek. On our way, we saw a welcome center so stopped for information about the Fort Myers area. As we were leaving, we stopped at a fruit/vegetable stand where a gentleman was selling fresh produce. We decided to go back to the stand the next day. Onward to Whiskey Creek where we arrived just a few minutes before Linda. It was a nice lunch with decent food and easy conversation. After lunch, we went to Beall Outlet but did not find we were looking for. So we proceeded to drive to a regular Bealls’s in the shopping mall. Both of us found some items we purchased. Sunset was watched from the beach with pictures taken.
Had cheese and crackers plus vegetables for our dinner. We had no plans for the next day.
On Tuesday, we had coffee on our screened porch and took a walk across the bridge.
Back at the condo, we fixed our respective breakfasts. Decided to drive the fruit stand by the welcome center in Ft. Myers; purchased pepper, oranges, and strawberries. The man running the stand did not appreciate my pointing out some rotten peppers; told me I would never be able to work at a fruit stand. 😺! We went to a marina mall at Ft. Myers Beach where there was a farmers market going on; nice booths displaying a variety of items including one with fresh fruit and vegetables. Walked to the marina where we got information regarding cruises. Ventured into a half price book store and purchased one book. We ate lunch at Sand Bar Grill; I had fish tacos and they were good. Went back to condo where we looked at pamphlet regarding cruises and decided to book the sunset cruise on Saturday. Fixed an evening meal of sautéed vegetables and garlic bread which was very good. Watched the Iowa State game; they lost.
Wednesday morning saw us heading to the north part of Port Charlotte to visit my friends, Yvonne and Earl. We had a great visit with lunch at First Watch. We dropped them off at their house and drove to Bob’s. Linda took Edi and I into Arcadia where we got pedicures. And then a visit to WalMart for additional supplies plus new thongs for Edi. Met Bob at the Moose where they were serving tacos. Got back to the condo around 9:00; had a glass of wine and then off to the bedroom for reading and sleep.
Thursday was another day of no plans. We walked over the bridge and back. While having breakfast, we decided to drive to the northern part of Ft. Myers Beach which turned out to be really busy; drove across the bridge and came back through some of Ft. Myers where we stopped at a very nice Publix for more groceries. On the way to the condo, had lunch at Seafood Grill which is located by the water. Got back to the condo where both of us read while doing laundry. I went to the pool, swam, and laid around. Fixed lasagna, vegetables, and garlic bread for dinner. Watched the Iowa Hawkeyes get defeated by Maryland. Went to bed early for reading; lights out around 10:45.
After our breakfast on the 20th, we got ready and headed to Bob’s; we were going with him to an RV show at the state fairgrounds in Tampa. An uneventful ride saw us finding a parking space and paying admission to the show. First we walked through the inside exhibits where Bob hooked up with a couple he knew from the park where their home is at. I was impressed with the 2.6 million dollar mobile home; in order to visit the inside, you had to have an appointment and needed to put booties over your shoes. As we were venturing outside, we watched a bag pipe band parade through the grounds. We went into some of the mobile homes, had lunch, went through more homes and left around 2:00.
Got back to Bob’s and left for our 1.5 hour drive to our condo. Arrived back and fixed dinner of nachos and vegetables. Both of us read; I finished the book I was reading at 11:30.
Saturday we walked the beach, had breakfast, went to Publix’s, read, updated my notes, went to the pool for swim and laying around, and then got ready for our sunset cruise. It was a great time; friendly passengers, saw birds and Dolphins, and experienced a beautiful sunset from the water.
Returned to the condo and had dinner of sautéed vegetables with garlic bread plus cheese. Went into my bedroom relatively early for reading in bed; finished the book I was reading around 10:30.
On Sunday, after breakfast, we got ready to meet Bob. Since there was some time, I took a short walk. It was windy which was a sign that the area had the potential for storms. Met Bob about 9:45 Bass Pro Shop; we loaded into his vehicle and headed to Cockscrew Sanctuary located outside of Naples. This is a swamp area run by the Audubon Society and has a boardwalk — a 2.5-mile adventure through pine flatwoods, wet prairie, around a marsh, and into the largest old growth Bald Cypress forest in North America.
We finished our walk and went into the gift shop where neither of us purchased anything. On our way back to where we left our car, we stopped for lunch at Famous Dave’s BBQ; had a very good chicken BBQ sandwich with a draft of beer. Next stop was Costco where Bob was going to show Edi the flex seed he uses; however, they were out of it. All of us went into Bass Pro Shop but we said our good byes once inside; Edi and I headed to the shoe department while Bob was going to look at men’s clothing. Did not see the type of sandals I wanted so we headed back to our condo. We were having some very strong winds with possible thunderstorms mixed in. Some areas of Florida, including Bob’s, were under tornado watches. Turned on the NFL conference championship games and listened while fixing/eating our dinner of pizza. NFC was won handily by Atlanta Falcons over the Green Bay Packers. The AFC was won handily by New England Patriots over Pittsburgh Steelers. After the game and some reading in bed, I turned off the lights about 10:30.
We had no plans for Monday, the 23rd, which was good because Edi had an upset stomach. So I went for a walk on my own.
Once I returned, I had my breakfast while Edi went back to bed. Left to drive to WalMart but stopped short of the destination when I came upon a Dollar Tree. Ran my errands and returned to the condo. Edi was up; I brought her back soup and 7-up for lunch. I had a tuna sandwich, potato chips, and cantaloupe. Updated these notes and read after getting a package ready to send to granddaughter Savanna. Spent the afternoon reading in the condo and at the pool. Edi felt good enough to take a walk later in the day. Warmed up sautéed vegetables and baked garlic bread for our evening meal. Lights out around 10:30.
We were meeting Edi’s friend, Ronda, at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota so got up early, had coffee, and ate breakfast; we were on the road for the 2 hour drive about 8:15. Arrived at the gardens about the same time as Ronda, her husband Ed, and daughter Kendall. The gardens are named after Marie Selby who was a lover of nature. Upon her death, she bequeathed her home and property (7 acres) to the community of Sarasota with the aim of forming a garden “for the enjoyment of the general public”. The grounds were beautiful with a diverse collection of tropical and subtropical plants, rain forest reenactment, and waterfall/pond full of koi. The gardens were smaller than we thought so we were through our exploration by 1:00.
All of us were hungry so Ed lead us to an eating place by the water called Phillippi Creek; food was very good with conversation flowing. After lunch, we decided to head back to our condo stopping on the way for gas. Got back to the condo; read, took a walk, fixed pizza for dinner, and retired for reading in bed shortly after 9:30.
No plans for Wednesday, the 25th, so after walking and having breakfast we decided to look for t-shirts to purchase. Thought we would go to the outlet malls and asked sister-in-law Linda to go with but she declined with making plans to meet her for breakfast this Friday with a stop at Back on the Rack in Punta Gorta afterwards. We decided to venture to the northern part of the island where there are many restaurants and shops instead of going to the outlets. Found a parking space and walked to the shops; both of us found t-shirts. And then we found the ice cream; I went to an ice cream store for one dip of Chocolate Carmel Cashew and one of Toasted Almond….ymmmmm! Edi went to DQ and got a blizzard. We met outside and sat on a bench eating our desserts in fat/sugary delight! Returned to the condo where we read and had dinner of raw vegetables with cheese and crackers. The manager of the condo stopped by later in the evening to check out the beds in Edi’s room (she had been sleeping on an air mattress since the third night we arrived because the beds were not comfortable and I had notified the manager of the situation). After the manager left, we read for awhile; I adjourned to my bedroom around 9:15 leaving Edi in the living room reading.
Thursday, the 26th, came with no real plans. After our coffee, Edi suggested we walk the state park across the bridge called Lovers Key. I put my dirty clothes in the washer and we were off. It was a beautiful morning and we had an enjoyable walk of over 2 miles.
Returned to the condo where I put my clothes in the dryer, we had breakfast, and started to pack up for our departure on Saturday. I went down to our rental car for the agreement; we were not happy with Dollar and their gimmicks. It turned out they had charged me for toll insurance when I told them I did not want any; called them up and was told I had to go to a Dollar counter in order to have the charge removed so I wrote down the address of the nearest Dollar office. Both of us were ready to leave so we went to mail my package to Savanna, got a fresh green pepper from a vegetable stand, went to the used bookstore where we turned in our read books and purchased others, went to the Dollar agency where I was told they could not give a refund since it had to come from the original counter where rented (airport) but the guy was kind and contacted a person at the airport who said he would give me the refund, and then we had lunch by the bay at Coconut Jack’s. I had shrimp while Edi had grouper; very good and I HAD to get coconut cream pie which was delicious. Very full so dinner will not be for awhile. Got back to the condo, read, laid down and rested my eyes for about 30 minutes, continued to read, and went for a walk about sundown.
Not one of the prettiest sunsets we have seen but okay. Had a later dinner of nachos; updated my notes and into the bedroom around 9:15.
Friday, the 27th, was our last full day and night in Florida so, after having coffee and yogurt, we took off for Port Charlotte where we were meeting Bob and Linda at Cracker Barrel for a late breakfast at 10:00. Arrived early so went to WalMart where Edi picked up items she needed. Killed some time in the gift shop at Cracker Barrel. They arrived and we had breakfast. After breakfast, Linda went with us to Back on the Rack in Punta Gorda and Bealls’ in Port Charlotte. Drove to Bob’s but, because of the late hour, we sat around and talked instead of taking a walk in Arcadia as we originally planned. Drove around the park where they live to look at trailers that are for sale. Then us three gals drove to Arcadia where we went to Dollar Tree and purchased a wine glass to replace one we had broke. Met Bob at the Mexican restaurant along with his friends, Paul and Connie, for an early dinner. Left the restaurant around 6:00 for the drive back to the condo. When we arrived, we washed/dried a load of towels and ran the dishwasher. Went into the bedroom to read around 9:30 with lights out at 10:45.
Saturday was our departure day and we had made the decision to go to the airport to check about getting on an earlier flight. But first we unloaded the dishwasher, had coffee, took a walk, had some breakfast, discarded any food in the refrigerator or on the counter not needed, called the manager to let her know we were leaving, and headed for the airport. We filled the car full when we arrived at the airport area, turned in the rental car (never will I rent from Dollar due to their hidden costs), paid to get on earlier flights, and went to the departure where we had about 2 hours to wait before boarding. No problem with any of the flights and arrived in St. Louis around 6:45 with Vicki & Mark picking us up. Got back to their house and talked until 9:30 or so; off to bed.
On Sunday we went to breakfast at Pancake House; afterwards we departed St. Louis and headed home. Got to Edi’s around 1:30; got into my car and headed home with one stop at HyVee Drugstore for some breakfast supplies. Arrived home with Beauty and Cutie right inside the door making it look like they were anticipating my arrival which was very doubtful. It was a wonderful vacation and, maybe next year, we will go for a month someplace besides Florida. And, in case you did not notice, I really like watching sunrises and sunsets!!
Once again, I spent the Christmas holiday at Steev’s in Tucson. My flight to Tucson was on Wednesday, Dec. 21st, and return was Tuesday, December 27th.
Wednesday, 21: Shuttle pick up was at 5:15 AM. Took AA from CR to Dallas to Tucson without any problem. After retrieving my luggage, I called Steev to pick me up. Dropped him off at his work and proceeded to my lodging for check in. Went over to see Greta and Savanna later in the afternoon. Once Steev arrived from work, we had a drink and talked while Greta fixed dinner. Since it was an early rise morning, I went back to my lodging and lights out by 9:00.
Thursday: Went to breakfast and took a walk down University Ave. to CVS where I picked up ribbon to wrap Steev’s birthday present. Greta called around 10:00 or so and I went over there; her niece, Liliah, was there and spent a few hours with us while her mother went shopping.
Once Greta’s sister and niece left, we ran some errands and sat around talking. When Steev came home, Greta went grocery shopping while we talked and played with Savanna.
Dinner was made; when it was time for Savanna’s bath, I retired to my lodging.
Friday, the 23rd: Had breakfast and, while on my walk, got a call from Steev; they were going to breakfast for Steev’s birthday and asked if I wanted to go along. They picked me; since I had already eaten, I just ordered coffee. On our way to their house, we stopped for gelato at a place on 4th Avenue. When back at their house Steev opened his present from me…a solar-powered weather station.
Then we went for a hike and picnic at Kings Canyon. It was a fun day! Beautiful weather and Savanna was quite the hiker! Returned back to Steev’s where Greta made ravioli (one of Steev’s favorite food items) for his birthday dinner; it was delicious!
Saturday: Greta and I had planned on taking Savanna to a tumbling gym but it was not open so we drove to the University campus where Savanna rode her new bike while Greta and I tried to keep up with her.
After lunch, I went to my lodging to take a nap after a restless night. Returned to Steev’s; a good friend of Greta’s, Caroline, was there and they had spent the afternoon making Bailey’s Cream while sampling their creation as they went along. That evening Greta made tamales while I put together a salad. Their friend, Cindy, her son, and boyfriend, stopped with Christmas greetings.
Sunday: Christmas morning found me going to the kids where we opened presents and had a huge breakfast.
We had planned on going to the Desert Museum but they felt it was too cold so Steev and I walked while Savanna rode her bike to a park where she biked and played on the swings. Greta stayed at home in hopes of taking care of some household tasks. After lunch, Greta’s sister and niece stopped over with their presents. It was after 3:30 when I left; Steev, Greta, and Savanna left to have their Christmas with his mother and stepfather. Around 5:30, I went to the bar at the BW where I ordered dinner and had a couple drinks while watching NFL on the television. Returned to my suite; called both brothers and sister to wish them a Merry Christmas while watching another NFL game.
Monday: Steev had to return to work so I was going to watch Savanna while Greta ran with her friend; however, Greta returned home as he was leaving for work. We decided to visit the Desert Museum; it was a beautiful day and Savanna enjoyed looking at all the animals but especially liked the stingray exhibit where you put you hands in the water with food and they would come up/grab the food out of a person’s hand.
We had thought we would eat lunch there but it was too crowded so we went home and warmed up leftovers. I went back to my lodging to organize my packing for my departure the next morning. Returned to the kids; we called for pizza and had a drink while waiting for the delivery. Once it was time for Savanna’s bath, I said my goodbyes to Greta and Savanna; Steev took me back to the BW where I finalized my packing, set multiple alarms for waking at 4:00 a.m., and watched NFL before falling asleep relatively early.
Tuesday, the 27th: My ride arrived and got me to the airport with plenty of time to spare. The two flights had no problems and I arrived in Cedar Rapids early afternoon. Once again, another wonderful Christmas spent with Steev & Family but it was nice to be home with Beauty & Cutie.
Got up on August 31st ready to depart for Derry in Northern Ireland. After breakfast, the five of us adjoined to the sitting room where we looked at bed & breakfasts at Derry and we decided to stay at Phoenix B&B for the next two nights. Jeannette and Allan left before us and we were to meet up in Derry. Fosters and I, driving along, saw Fort Dunree at Buncrana so we turned in. And enjoyed exploring the fort and its grounds. This fort, smaller in size than at its prime, was erected to guard against possible invasion of a French fleet. In the late 19th century, the fort was enlarged with the building of the “top” fort on Dunree Hill. After looking at various military memorabilia, array of guns, and underground bunkers we went into the coffee shop for coffee and looking at items in the gift shop; I purchased a photograph of wild flowers taken by a local artist.
As we were leaving, the kids drove in and we decided to gather for lunch. We took the “scenic” byway with a very narrow road that had grass growing in the middle while the kids went the faster route. Our lunch was at the Linx Restaurant in Ballyliffin; good service and food. While the kids went on to Derry, we continued to drive to Malin Head, the northern furthest point of Ireland. It was very windy but we enjoyed walking the various parts; it was great scenery! We then went to Farren’s Bar which holds the claim of being Ireland”s most northerly pub on the mainland; it was established in the late 1800’s. The woman working behind the bar enlisted another bartender to write our first names on the head of each pint.
After drinking our pint, we proceeded on to Derry. Derry is the second-largest city in Northern Ireland and the fourth-largest city on the island of Ireland. While the city is more usually known as Derry, Londonderry is also commonly used and remains the legal name. There is an old walled city on the west bank of the River Foyle which slices Derry into the eastern and western chunks. We found the Phoenix B&B; Allan and Jeannette had already arrived. Once we settled in, we decided to take a 20 minute walk to Walled City Brewery where we had a beer and dinner; good beer and excellent food. In order to get there, we crossed the Peace Bridge which links the Catholic Nationals on the West Bank to the Protestant Unionists on the east. Returned back to our lodging and turned in for the night.
September 1: Woke up, took a shower, and looked at lodging for the next two nights; everything looked filled at Portbrush so, after breakfast, the kids went their own way while the Fosters and I called on various B&B’s. Finally found a place available Friday night but not Saturday which meant our possibly changing future plans we make of had. But we did not worry about it and set out for a 10:00 walking tour of the wall and Derry history. John, the tour guide, did an excellent job of explaining the battle of the British and Irish that lasted 150 years plus the Bloody Sunday uprising in the early 70’s.
We had coffee and went on to explore Guild Hall, a ceremonial seat of city government and entertainment which have many, many stained- glass windows showing scenes from Derry history. We went through the exhibit hall, saw the Council Chamber, party offices, and assembly hall.
Meet up with the kids for lunch at Quay Place where I had a chicken pita and pint of beer. My battery had died in my camera and I did not have the replacement so we, minus Jeannette & Allan, walked back to the B&B where I had left the replacement in the charger. With the camera now operational, we went to explore Bogside Murals. The Catholic Bogside area was the tinderbox of the modern Troubles in Northern Ireland. Bloody Sunday, a terrible confrontation during a march that occurred more than 40 years ago, sparked a sectarian inferno with the ashes still not having completely cooled. The 12 panels of murals gave us a glimpse of the community’s perception of those events so many years ago.
Off shopping with Tom being the only one of us finding anything to purchase. We had refreshments at Masons and sent a message to the kids about meeting us for dinner. It was decided on The Diamond; it was curry night so three folks had curry while Sarah had chicken skewers and I had chicken avocado salad. Back to our lodging where we called it an evening. The next day will be Ballycastle with three or more stops in between.
September 2: Got up, dressed, and packed for our next stop at Ballycastle. Had breakfast, adjoined to the sitting room where we started to look at lodging for Saturday thru Monday. Meanwhile, Allan and Jeannette were leaving to return to Dublin; they had a return flight home early the next morning. We said our good byes to them; it was great that they were able to join us as long as they did. Finally we found lodging for Saturday & Sunday nights; not sure about Trim because, where we wanted to stay had only one room available so we hoped there would be a cancellation and will find out later on. Meanwhile, we paid for our lodging; the host was great, the food good, but the room was quite small with very bad pressure in the toilet, lumpy mattress, and much outside noise. After loading our car, we headed for our evening stop at Ballycastle. Our first stop was at Portstewart where we went to the toilets and shopped the gift area at a local coffee shop.
The next stop was Dunluce Castle; it is one of the largest in Ireland and beautifully situated but there is little left to see. During the Middle Ages the castle resisted many sieges but, on a stormy night in 1639, dinner was interrupted as half the kitchen fell into the sea taking servants with it. This was the last straw for the lady of the castle who packed up and moved inland, and the castle began its slow submission to nature.
Bushmills Distillery, which is the world’s oldest, was our next stop. We went on a 40 minute tour learning the process and ended in the bar area where I got a free sample of their 12-year old whiskey; it did not taste bad but certainly not my drink of choice. Since we had not had lunch and a restaurant right there, we ate at the distillery. Onward to Giant’s Causeway which is a World Heritage Site; a long stretch of coastline famous for its bizarre basalt columns. The shore is covered with large hexagonal pillars that stick up at various heights. After returning to the visitor center, we shopped in their gift shop where I made some purchases for people back home.
It was getting toward 4:30 so we decided to head to Ballycastle and our B&B for the evening called Hillsea.
It was very nice both on the outside and the inside. After settling in we walked to the town center where we had drinks and dinner at The Central; the evening was made more pleasant with two gentlemen playing musical instruments and singing. We walked back to our lodging and said goodnight; it was nice to have an early evening.
September 3: Had a really good night sleep; woke up around 6:40 and did not want to get up but made myself. Met Fosters for breakfast; we checked out of our lodging and were on our way. There was nothing on the agenda for the day so drove slow and enjoyed the coastal drive to our destination town of Carrickfergus. We stopped at Carnlough for a walk and toilet stop. At Glenarm there were walled gardens so we stopped, walked the area, and had coffee plus coconut macaroon at their coffee shop.
Drove to Carrickfergus where we checked into The Keep House B&B; settled in and then walked to the rail station where we looked at schedules of trains going to Belfast the next day. And then onward to Carrick Castle; a delightful 1.5 hours of walking around.
We went to the local super market where I picked up a bottle of wine; the Fosters went to the restaurant, Windrose, where our hostess had made us reservations while I walked back the our lodging to put the wine in the refrigerator and give our hostess updated train schedules. Walked to the restaurant and joined up with the Fosters. After a couple drinks and dinner of prawn cocktail plus salad, I paid my bill and left the Fosters to walk the waterfront on their own. This was the earliest night of the whole trip to be in my room; drank a glass of wine and read. The next day we were going via train to Belfast.
September 4: Had another good night’s sleep; showered, dressed, and read until Fosters knocked on the door. Went to breakfast and then walked to the train station for our trip to Belfast. Arrived at central station and decided to walk to town center where we wanted to pick up the hop on/hop off bus. On our way, we discovered the St. George’s Market which is similar to Cedar Rapids downtown market. Stayed long enough for Sarah to make a purchase and then on to the bus area; stopped a bus along the way and he gave us a ride to the hop on/off bus and tickets.
The first off stop for us was Titanic Museum Belfast where the ship was built. We spent 2 hours going through 8 different galleries depicting the following: Boomtown Belfast showed how thriving industries and innovations led to the Titanic’s creation, The Shipyard Ride tour took us through the shipyard experience, The Launch had an audio display of the Titanic’s launch on the 31st of May 1911, The Fit Out illustrated the ship’s interior, The Maiden Voyage covered the 10 decks of the ship of which 8 were for passenger use, The Sinking displayed the collision with the iceberg, The Aftermath told of the British and American inquiries into the disaster, and Myths/Reality told of the stories, films, books and legends that still exist today. All of it was interesting but, after time, I was ready to leave. We went to the coffee shop where we purchased coffee to go. While outside, we wandered over to the SS Nomad which was a steamship built in 1911 by the same company that produced the Titanic; it has been restored to her original glory and is docked near Titanic Museum. We could of gone on board but our bus had arrived so did not have time.
We got on the bus and listened to the tour guide describing the history of the various stops on the tour. We saw sights such as St. George’s Anglican Church, Cavehill Park, Antrim Road, Full Belfast Peace Wall, Queens University, Belfast Castle, and Peace Statue. When we got to the place the tour started earlier in the day, we got off and went shopping at Carrolls which is a gift/souvenior type of place. After making some purchases, we headed toward the St. George Market where we looked at the merchandise displayed in the various booths. We had not eaten since breakfast so Sarah and I shared a spinach/goat cheese pie.
Onward to the rail station where we had about 50 minutes to wait for the next train. While waiting, we each had a pint of Guinness. The train arrived and we were on our way back to Carrickergus and our lodging.
After a rest in each our respective rooms, we headed to Ownies for dinner. This is a local bar/bistro which served a delicious grilled chicken salad with strawberries and grapes. Finished our meals and headed back to the lodging; we stopped at an ATM along the way for more money. For some reason, Fosters card would not work in the machines within Northern Ireland but mine would so I lent them money throughout our journey in this part of the country. Back at the lodging, we said our good nights. It was early enough that I finished the book I had been reading. Lights out around 10:00.
The morning of September 5 we had a late breakfast (8:30) and got ready to depart. Left Carrickfergus heading south toward Trim. Only two more days in my adventure but I will be ready to go home. We stopped at Newry for coffee at a place called Bojangles and then shopped in order for Sarah could get rid of some pounds; since we will be crossing back to Ireland which uses euro currency. We went into Edinburgh Woolen Mill where I purchased a blue lambs wool sweater for myself. Our next stop was Battle of Boyne site; this battleground is huge in Irish and British history. The riverside pasture was the site of the battle in which Protestant British decisively broke Catholic resistance, establishing Protestant rule over all of Ireland and Britain.
Back in the car to head to the visitor center for Newgrange, a grassy mound atop a hill dating 3200 B.C. which makes it 500 years older than the pyramids at Giza. At the visitor center we purchased a ticket for the 3:45 tour of Newgrange (one of two burial sites we could visit) which gave us time to kill. First we had lunch in the restaurant where Sarah and I split lasagna. Next shopping in their gift shop; I purchased a couple gift items. And then we toured the museum which explained the Boyne River Valley and the 40 some burial mounds found in the surrounding hills. Exhibits recreated what the pre-Celtic people were like. A bus took us to the burial site where the guide explained the tomb is aligned precisely east-west so, as the sun rises on the shortest day of the year, a ray of light enters through to roof box and makes its way down the passageway. The entrance is a mosaic of white Quartz and dark granite. Very interesting visit.
Onward to Trim where we arrived at The White House Lodge around 5:45. After settling in, we walked to Regan’s for a drink. This is a tiny, low-ceiling pub residing next to an old Norman bridge. And then we walked to the town center where we had dinner at the Castle Arch Hotel. I ordered beef salad, grazed with chili sauce and sesame seeds; it was delicious! Walked back to our lodging and bed.
On September 6 we were returning to Dublin for an overnight at the Clayton Hotel. Our plans for the day were to visit Hills of Tara, do some shopping, check into the hotel, take the car to Hertz, and bring the hotel shuttle back to the hotel. But first we had breakfast and checked out of the B&B. And on to the Hills of Tara, located near the River Boyne, is an archaeological complex that contains a number of ancient monuments and, according to tradition, was the seat of the High King of Ireland. Tara is one of the largest complexes of Celtic monuments in all of Europe. After checking in with visitor center, we watched an audio video about the history and importance of the hills. We walked around the area taking in the beauty and history of the place.
And then we shopped where I found a few more gifts for Christmas. To the north of Dublin, we stopped at Dungsangon for gas and lunch. Tom navigated us to the hotel which was much easier than last year where it took 3 passes before taking the correct exit. Checked into the hotel, settled in our rooms, took the car back to Hertz, took their shuttle to the area of the hotel shuttle, got on the hotel shuttle, and returned to the hotel. We had a couple drinks in their restaurant and ordered an early dinner of pizza.
After eating and paying the bill, we returned to our rooms where I re-packed my large case. Then read and watched a movie on Netflix. Lights out at 9:00.
September 7: Up at 6:30; it was not a good night sleep. This hotel is quite expensive and certainly not worth the money with noise of garbage trucks, parking lot, and airplanes throughout the night. Never will book there again! We got the shuttle before 8:00, arrived at the airport and checked in/went thru airport security without any problem. Breakfast was ordered which we ate and then did some shopping. Again, more items purchased for Christmas gifts. One advantage of flying out of Dublin is going through US Customs there instead of when we land on US soil; it seems so much easier. So thru US Customs we went without any problem. Another difference between last year and this is Delta now has a lounge for priority passengers so we went there and relaxed before our flight was called. Onto the plane and winging home; I was ready! No problem until boarded for last leg of the journey in Detroit; because of storms, weight had to be redistributed so a couple non-paying folks were booted off, bags in the overhead put under the seats in front of us, and bags from underneath in the cargo hold were brought up and placed in the overheads. Finally, after unloading approximately 200 lbs. of fuel, we were underway. Arrived in Cedar Rapids about 45 minutes late. Retrieved my checked bag and got the shuttle for home. Arrived around 10:15 and was greeted by Beauty and Cutie. It felt good be home!
Tuesday, August 23: Mary, Joe, and I went to the airport about 8:45; my flight was to leave at 10:15. First connection was made in Detroit; I had some time to kill so went to Delta lounge where I had some lunch of soup and vegetables along with a glass of wine. Second connection was in Atlanta where I met up with the Fosters; we went to the Delta lounge where we had some wine until our last flight to Dublin boarded at 6:20. We boarded and settled into our “rooms” for the night. After champagne, wine, and dinner it was time to put down the seat and go to bed. Woke up about two hours out of Dublin and had coffee plus breakfast.
Arrived in Dublin shortly after 8:00 a.m. on Wednesday, August 24. After retrieving our luggage and Tom getting euros, we went to Hertz to fill out paperwork and pick up the rental car. Due to Tom having good directions with Sarah assisting, I was able to drive out of Dublin with minimal problem and on our way to Trim where we had reserved rooms at Highfield House B&B.
Trim is in the heart of the Boyne River valley and is renowned as one of Ireland’s most beautiful small towns with its monuments, parks, trails, and floral displays . Our rooms were not ready when we arrived around 10:00 so we walked to the phone store where Sarah and Tom picked up prepaid cards for their phones. We walked to city center area and Trim Castle which is an Anglo- Norman castle started by Hugh de Lacy in 1173; we did not take the tour of the castle but walked the grounds. Our exploring took us to Yellow Steeple and Sheep Gate; the steeple was originally the belfry tower of the Augustinian Abbey of St. Mary and has gotten its name because of its color in the evening sunlight. The Sheep Gate is the only surviving gateway to the Medieval town of Trim. At this point, we went back to our B&B where our rooms were ready. Before heading out again, we took a few hours to rest. Oh, it felt so good to brush my teeth and rest my eyes for a few minutes. Our afternoon walk took us by the Old Mellifont Abbey which was Ireland’s first Cistercian monastery, the Maudlin Cemetery which was the site of the Leper Hospital of Mary Magdalene, Millennium Bridge, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and a pub we wanted to go into but it was not open.
We walked to the town center and ate at Judge and Jury. Because of the long flight the night before, we decided on an early night. I was in bed on my way to dreamland before it was dark outside.
Thursday, August 25, arrived with sunshine. Met the Fosters for breakfast at 8:00; the owners certainly knew how to provide a great breakfast with full menu selection that included fresh scones. After having a final cup of coffee in the patio area where we discussed our day, we checked out and headed to Westport. We stopped at Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre which interprets an Iron Age bog road, the largest of its kind to be uncovered in Europe dating from 148 BC. It was interesting to hear the history from the volunteer person; however, she was VERY enthusiastic about the subject and became quite lengthy with detail.
Lunch was at Swan Tavern in Lanesboro; I ordered the lamburger thinking I was going to get a sandwich but it turned out to be a full meal with potatoes and gravy plus vegetables which was too much food for me! Arrived in Westport about 4:00 and after settling into our B&B called Killeny House we walked to the town centre where we explored the shops, pubs, and restaurants. I made a purchase at a kitchen store called Market 57, a store full of great kitchen gadgets and gourmet food, candy, and jams. We had dinner at Clock Tower which had a varied menu and the food was good. After dinner, we went to three places where music was being played; the best was at Matt Mallory but it was very crowded.
Decided to head back and call it an evening. Into bed about 11:30.
On Friday, the 26th, we had breakfast and headed to Achill Island which is Ireland’s largest island. It rained on the way but cleared up and we had a glorious day. At Mulranny, we turned onto the loop that took us to Achill Sound; from there, we took the northern route where we stopped for coffee at Dugort at a neat coffee house which displayed a lunch menu and desserts that looked fabulous. There were many blackface sheep spotted during our drive; thousands of these sheep were imported from Scotland during the 1850’s and, today, roam on mountainsides, valleys, and on the road. From Dugort, we drove to Slievemore Mountain (second highest peak on Achill Island) and the Deserted Village plus cemetery. The Deserted Village consists of some 80 – 100 stone cottages located along a mile long stretch of road on the southern slopes of Slievemore mountain; it is believed this settlement dates back to at least early Medieval times.
After leaving the settlement, we continued on our goal of driving all the way to the end of the island and winding up at Keem Bay, an area of sheltered beach surrounded by high cliffs. We thought we would have lunch there but there was only a vendor truck selling hot dogs. Sarah and I waded in the Atlantic Ocean while Tom took pictures. Back into the car where we went to Keel and had lunch at Gielly’s; Sarah and I had tuna panini while Tom had seafood chowder…everything was great! On our way back to Westport, we stopped at a couple pottery places where, at one, I purchased a vase.
Back at Westport, we made a brief stop at our B&B and then walked to the Town Centre where live Irish music was found at JJ O’Mallory so we ordered some drinks and appetizers (since lunch was late, we did not want a full meal).
Really enjoyed the music and hated to leave but it was time…back to the B&B with lights out around 11:00. But it was a very noisy evening with partying going on from 12:30 to 3:00 in the morning; not a good night for sleeping.
Saturday, the 27th, I awoke before the 6:30 alarm, took a shower, and worked on my notes until Tom Foster knocked on my door at 8:00. Went to breakfast which did not vary from the day before. After talking it over the night before, we wanted to thoroughly check out the next B&B we select on the internet before making reservations for our Sligo stop. This B&B was selected by us because we thought it was an old distillery turned into a bed and breakfast which turned out not. The innkeeper was very friendly and nice but the bed hard, very plain decor, and not what we preferred. After breakfast, we looked at various options, settled on one we thought would be good and Tom called/made us reservations. Fortunately, Jeannette and Allan who are joining us in Sligo were able to reserve at the same place! We headed toward Sligo with a couple detours…prehistoric fields and cliffs. We first stopped at Ballycroy National Park which has 11,000 hectares, or approximately 4455 acres) of Atlantic blanket bog and mountainous terrain dominated by the Neptin Bog range. After a cup of coffee, we took a walk along the pathway and shot some pictures.
Our next stop was Céide Fields which is the most extensive Stone-Age monument in the world; field systems, dwelling areas and megalithic tombs of 5,000 years ago. After viewing a video talking about the times, we walked around the enclosure.
And then on the road again. We stopped at the Downpatrick Head for cliff viewing; these are taking the credit of being second to the Cliffs of Mohr in their beauty and dramatic shapes.
After taking pictures and walking around, we headed for Killala and lunch at the Village Inn. We arrived in Sligo shortly after 5:00, settled into the Pearse Lodge B&B. Allan and Jeannette were ahead of us so we met them at a pub, which serves food, called Hargadon Bros.; I was not very hungry so ordered dessert with my glass of wine. Back to B&B for bed.
Sunday, the 28th, we met for a great breakfast and then split up with Jeannette, Allan, and Tom hiking onto a mountain top while Sarah and I walked to the Sligo Abbey where we took the self-guided walking tour. The abbey is 13th century and contains the only surviving 15th century sculptured high altar in any Irish monastic church.
After exploring the abbey, we walked back to the B&B, got the car, and drove to the local farmer’s market by the airport. It was small but fun; Tom, Jeannette, and Allan joined us there. After making a couple purchases, we left and found lunch at The Venue Bar. And then onto Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery where we saw the largest cemetery of megalithic tombs, ranging from 5500 to 6500 hundred years of age, in Ireland and among their oldest with over 60 tombs being located.
That evening we walked downtown to The Snug for some liquid refreshments; Tom was given a free beer by some guy which caused the rest of us to wonder if the guy was trying “hustle” Tom. We listened briefly to a couple performing live music which was so-so listening.
On to dinner at Fiddler’s Tavern and Restaurant; I had the chicken fillet which was quite delicious. One thing about the Irish…they do not skimp on food and provide large quantities of it. We walked back to the B&B with an early night to bed.
On August 29th I woke up early enough to watch the sunrise and get a picture of our bed and breakfast which has been fantastic with wonderful accommodations, friendly host and hostess, and good food.
The five of us met for breakfast at 8:00 and, after paying our bill and loading up the car, we headed north to Belleek Pottery; home to the Belleek Fine Parian china, a pearly coloured china. The company was established in 1857 and is best known for its fine lattice work ornamental pieces that are decorated with pastel-coloured flowers. We took an excellent 30-minute tour of process and then ended up in the gift shop filled with many, many items for sale.
We went to Ballyshannon for a visit to Donegal Brewery but they were not open so had lunch at Kate’s Kitchen where I had a very tasty Tuna Melt. Onward to Donegal Castle which was built by the O’Connell chieftain in the 15th century, beside the River Eske, with extensive 17th century additions made by Sir Basil Brooke.
As we made our way further north, we stopped at a coastal beach where Jeannette and Allan waded in the Atlantic while the rest walked the beach.
With that break, we drove to Dungloe where we hoped to get lodging at place called Iggy’s, advertised as a bar and B&B. However, Iggy’s is in Kincasslagh which Jeannette and Allan reached before us. They had enough time to find out Iggy’s does not take in lodgers but Logue’s, a B&B not far from the bar, does so Allan flagged us down as we drove up. Nice accommodations with a beautiful view. Settled in and then walked to Iggy’s for a drink. After our drink, we walked to the Viking House Hotel for dinner where I had chicken skewers and salad; very good. Back to our lodging in time for me to update my notes before getting ready for bed.
Beautiful morning on Tuesday, August 30th and, after a hearty breakfast, we headed toward Glenveagh National Park where we wanted to visit the Glenveagh castle and walled gardens. On the way, we stopped at a local beach and explored. At this point, Jeannette and Allan went their separate way with the thought of meeting up with us at the park. It was a beautiful drive to the park and we stopped to explore a Catholic Church on the way.
Arrived at the visitor center and decided to walk to the castle instead of taking the shuttle bus. It was a good 40-minute walk but, because of the heat, I was glad to arrive at the castle.
We signed up for the tour and waited about 5 minutes before it began. Good tour but felt it did not encompass a lot of the detail. After the tour, we walked the walled gardens which had both flowers and vegetables. While there, we encountered Allan and Jeannette. We explored the grounds and decided to ride back to the visitor center while Jeannette and Allan walked.
Had lunch at the center and, even though the kids had not shown up, left for Letterkenny where we planned to find lodging for the night. Upon arrival at Letterkenny, it took us awhile to find the Tourist Information Center who, we hoped, would have a listing of B&B’s in the area. The first one they recommended was filled while second one contacted, Ardlee B&B, had available space. We drove there and checked in; the kids were doing laundry so we got a room for them.
Because of the distance from the B&B to the town centre, we decided to drive part of the way; left car at Aldi’s and walked to the nearby shopping center where we got drinks at Oasis Bar; the kids joined us after our first drink. Decided to go the Sister Sara’s for another drink and food but they do not serve food so went to Brewery Bar and Restaurant. Food was good but service slow. Back to car with Jeannette driving back to our lodging. The next day we were headed into Northern Ireland so my blog will describe that portion of our trip in another posting.
My sister, Edi, decided to take a traveling nurse assignment at Asheville, NC and at the last minute I decided to travel with her. We connected at the Eastern Iowa Airport the morning of June 2rd; I left my car in the airport parking lot. Lunch destination was O’Fallon, MO where we met Vicki, my niece and Edi’s daughter, and her husband Mark. After lunch, we departed and drove to the eastern side of Nashville, TN where we stopped for the night at Hampton Inn located in Mount Juliet, TN. After settling into the room, we had dinner at Red Lobster. Dinner was very good. And our next stop was Target, where we purchased some needed supplies. We planned on getting back on the road fairly decent time in the morning.
Got up, dressed, had breakfast, checked out, and was on the road by 6:30. We arrived in Asheville around 1:30 or so in the afternoon. The apartment complex was located, and Edi was able to get her keys. However, they did not work so we had to have the manager come over and let us in. She was going to have the maintenance person come and change the lock. Furniture and washer/dryer were to be delivered but neither company had shown up. After unloading all of Edi’s packed items from the car, we went out for a late lunch plus shopping for some supplies. When we returned to the apartment, neither items had been delivered. We started to unpack and put items away. And then we heard a truck; my sister went out on porch and flagged the truck down. It was the delivery for the furniture; they had been given the incorrect apartment number so Edi was fortunate she was able to “catch” them. After the furniture was put into place and the delivery truck left, we had dinner. And then we sat on the balcony talking while enjoying the beautiful scenery.
Tomorrow we are going to do some sightseeing.
Saturday morning, June 4th, I went for a walk around the complex; there is a very nice swimming pool, exercise room and picnic/BBQ areas along with individual garden plots. We went to a couple stores looking at outdoor furniture and plants. I purchased a couple plants for Edi to place on her balcony. After bringing back purchases, we drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway about 50 miles. It is quite beautiful along with many twists and turns in the road!
We got back to Asheville around 2:30 in the afternoon and drove to Biltmore Estate, a 8,000 acre grand estate built by George Vanderbilt. My main objective was to get a picture of the mansion which we could not see from the road. It cost $60/person entrance fee and, because of lateness in the afternoon, we did not feel it would be worth the cost. Maybe another time!
On Sunday, did a “dry run” of where Edi will be working so she would not have to worry about finding the hospital early the next morning. And we stopped at Kinko’s where I printed out my boarding pass for the next day’s flight leaving Asheville at 7:00 a.m. Onward to Chimney Rock State Park and Lake Lure (an area we had been told would be a great place to stay in the fall for colorful leaves). The park is known for its 315 foot spire overlooking Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure; there is also a waterfall. Sadly, the elevator to get to the top of the rock was out of commission and we did not want to walk up 400+ steps one way. We drove through Chimney Rock and drove around Lake Lure. We had lunch at La Strada on their large covered patio with good views of the lake.
After lunch and more exploring, we headed back to Asheville. It was a very nice, relaxing day. That evening we fixed salads for our evening meal.
Monday morning saw us up quite early…before 5:00 AM. While I got all my things gathered together, Edi fixed me a cup of coffee. And then we drove to the airport. It only took about 20 minutes so we arrived by 5:30. After saying good bye to Edi, I checked my luggage and got through security without any problem. And it was an uneventful flight home with my pulling out of the airport parking lot by 10:45 that morning. Good trip, beautiful scenery, and the apartment complex where Edi is living seems quite peaceful.
My great nephew and Edi’s grandson, Chris, was getting married in Virginia Beach and we attended the event; great nephew, Tim, rode with us. We left Edi’s around 7:00 on Wednesday, May 11th, and headed out. It was an uneventful day of driving with our stopping at Best Western Plus Columbus located in Pickerington, OH. The remainder of the drive was completed the next day, May 12th. We checked into the Virginia Beach Resort Hotel, settled into our room, and met Edi’s granddaughter, Casey, for dinner around 7:00 in the hotel restaurant.
Casey came back to our room and we sat on our balcony facing the waterfront; it was relaxing and peaceful…even with a volleyball game being played on the beach.
Once we got ready and downstairs on Friday, the 13th, it was time to head toward the waterfront downtown for the Victory Rover Naval Base Cruise; this was something Brian, my nephew, had made reservations for all of us. There was quite a group of us: Edi, Casey, great nephew Sam, great nephew Tim, great niece Lauren and her husband Randy with their 3 children, Brian, his friend Heather, Brian’s father Larry and his wife Cindy. While we cruised the waters of the Elizabeth River we were given a history of Virginia Beach which is one of the world’s busiest sea ports including the world’s largest naval base, home of the Atlantic Fleet. After the cruise, Edi took in the naval museum while Casey, Tim, Sam, and I did a self guided tour of the USS Wisconsin.
It was a very enjoyable experience. The five of us headed back toward the hotel and decided to have lunch at a place directly across the street. However, they were not open so we ventured next door to a Chinese place; the food was okay. Back to the hotel to get ready for the wedding rehearsal and beer/pizza party at Dana’s and Chris place that evening. Brian had a problem with his one leg so Edi and I went to his room to see if we could discover what might have been wrong. We went across the street to the pharmacy where Edi purchased a cold/hot pack along with an elastic bandage which she wrapped around his leg; he said it did feel better with the wrap. Edi had to be at the rehearsal so Casey and I went with her and watched the proceedings.
The three of us ventured to the beer/pizza party where we spent a few hours in conversations while drinking wine. Went back to the hotel and crashed for the night.
There was nothing planned for Saturday, the 14th, until the wedding at 6:30. We went to a nails place across the street called Nails Only where all of us got a manicure and Edi also got a pedicure. After making ourselves beautiful, we drove to the boardwalk along the ocean to find a place for lunch. And we did! We ate at Ocean Eddie’s Seafood; they were quite busy so it took awhile for our food to come but, once it did arrive, it was very tasty.
However, all our time was “eaten up” waiting for the food so we proceeded back to the hotel in order to relax before going to the wedding. Lauren, Randy, and the kids came up to the room for a visit. Around 4:00, they left so we could get ready. Edi had to be at the location by 5:30 so I drove her over, dropped her off, and returned to the hotel. Casey and I drove to the wedding. It was a fantastic night; the wedding was beautiful! The reception was inside the hall; there was a buffet dinner with very good food, great toasts made, and dancing.
Around 10:00, we left to take Lauren, Randy, and the kids back to where they were staying. Since we were using Brian’s van, we got back to the venue as the reception dance was breaking up; around 11:30. We dropped Casey off at the bar across from the hotel; she was going to connect with the rest of the wedding party. What a wonderful evening!
Sunday Brian met us at the hotel restaurant for breakfast around 9:00. Casey and Tim (who was going to spend the next week at Casey’s) had checked out and left before we went to the dining room. After breakfast, we gathered our things and checked out. We were headed to Sumter, SC where Casey and her husband, Dan, live. We checked into the Comfort Suites and drove over to Casey’s. I had never met Dan before so got introduced to him. Casey gave us a tour of their home. Casey and Dan fixed us a dinner of steak and baked potato; everything was delicious. It was getting late so we headed back to our hotel.
We checked out of our hotel; Casey and Tim met us at IHOP for breakfast. And then we journeyed to Swan Lake Iris Gardens, home to all eight known species of swan and some of the most intensive plantings of Japanese Iris in the US. The beautiful gardens are located in Sumter and has free admission. We walked thru the gardens and admired all the beautiful plants, sculptures, and swans residing or playing in the water.
After we completed our walk, we said good bye to Casey and Tim; our next destination was Crossville, TN for a visit with our niece, Tammy, and her husband. There was roadwork on the way so we were delayed because of having to wait/crawl along; it did not help that there was an accident which caused us to wait 20 minutes or more without moving while the road was cleared. Arrived in Crossville around 4:00; checked in to the Holiday Inn & Express and headed to Tammy’s home. After greeting us, Tammy provided us with a tour of their house and surrounding yard. Curt came home from golfing; we visited at the kitchen counter while Tammy fixed our evening meal.
Both of us were tired so it was not a late night; we planned the next day with Tammy/Curt and went back to our hotel.
In the morning, we rose and went to Tammy’s for a breakfast of fresh pumpkin scones plus coffee. Tammy and Curt gave us a tour of the area which is filled with many golf courses. Really enjoyed visiting Ozone Falls Natural Area where we took a path to a wonderful water fall. Because we wanted to be on the road by mid-afternoon so we could get 4 or 5 hours of driving completed on our journey home, we did not drive to any other scenic park. We did stop at Landscape Solutions which had lots of plants plus garden gifts. It was fun to look at everything.
Lunch was at Cancun Restaurant where we received very good Mexican food. And then on the road again with both of us hoping we did not encounter any more road work. We stopped for the night at Mount Vernon, IL where we got a room at the Comfort Suites. Edi was not feeling well so we ventured to Bob Evans where we ordered bowls of soup. Back to the hotel where she laid down for a “nap” at 7:30; she got up around 8:30, got ready for and went to bed. My evening was spent reading and looking at messages on my iPad.
The morning of the 18th, after having breakfast and checking out of the hotel, we headed toward St. Louis and home. Edi called her daughter, who lives in O’Fallon on the opposite side of St. Louis from where we were currently driving, and it was decided we would stop at her place for a very short visit. The morning traffic was heavy in St. Louis which meant very slow driving. Arrived at Vicki’s, got a cup of coffee, and looked at her new living room floor that her husband had laid down…it looks quite nice. Only stayed about 30 minutes and onward to Marion, IA where Edi lives. We stopped at a nursery outside of St. Louis and WalMart where I looked for annuals to be planted in my pots. Dropped Edi at her home and took off for Shellsburg, stopping at HyVee DrugTown on the way, for more plants. Arrived home and was greeted by my two girls, Beauty and Cutie. Another great trip!
From April 22 thru May 6, I went on an adventure which consisted of three different destinations located in the Western part of the United States. For the first five nights, I was in Tucson to celebrate Savanna’s 3rd birthday. Next, I flew to Idaho for a Hise sibling reunion taking place at Worley, ID. The last destination was Bozeman, MT. for two nights with Tom and Sarah Foster; they drove over to Idaho and I rode back with them. And now I will attempt to provide a daily record of everything I did and saw.
Friday, April 22: Mary and Joe picked me up around 7:30; they dropped me off to the airport and I experienced no problems with check in, security, or flight departure. Flew on United thru Denver on my way to Tucson. Retrieved my luggage and Steev picked me up. We went to lunch at Roma’s which have good food. Dropped Steev off at his work and drove to the motel for check in. Greta called; she and Savanna were waiting for my arrival so over I went.
We talked and played until Steev came home from work. Greta made us dinner and then we went outside where Savanna played on the swing while Steev pushed her; Greta watered their plants and pulled some weeds. Came back to the room shortly after 7:00 and am very tired. Plan on reading for awhile and then to bed early. Tomorrow morning I will go with Steev and Savanna to her music lesson at 9:00.
Saturday, April 23: Got up around 6:00 this morning and went for a walk. It was a beautiful morning with flowers on trees and in pots. Got coffee at Epic Cafe; came back to the motel where I had breakfast. All the servers know me because of all the previous visits so there was a very warm greeting from all. Arrived back at the room and got ready for the day. Called Steev around 8:00 and it was decided they would pick me up around 8:40 on the way to Savanna’s music class. Everyone participated in the class and a fun time was had by all!
Went back to Steev’s where Savanna’s grandparents, Melanie and Fred, came with an early birthday present. Greta was not feeling well so she was out of commission the whole day; her sister arrived with pans for cupcakes that was being made for Savanna’s party but it was decided she would take all the ingredients and make them. Greta rested while we made lunch. After lunch, Steev took me back to the motel; he was going to drive Savanna around in hopes she would fall asleep. I swam, read, and watched the NBA play offs. Later in the day, Steev called so I went over. Savanna had taken a long nap and was ready for some action. We called Magpies for pizza to be delivered which we ate outside on the patio. After dinner and clean up, I went back to the motel for the evening.
Sunday, April 24: Once again, I got up around 6:00 and went for a walk stopping at the Epic for my morning coffee. Once I was back at the motel, I went for breakfast. After eating and a shower, I read while waiting to hear from the kids. It was decided Steev, Savanna, and I would go shopping for some party items while Greta would rest since she still was not feeling well.
After shopping, we fixed lunch. Greta and Savanna decided to come back to the motel for a swim; this was in hopes Savanna would tire herself out so she would take a nap before her party.
Greta took Savanna home and I read in my room. Around 2:30, I went to the party; Savanna was sleeping and did not get up until after 3:00…just when party guests were arriving. And what a great party it was! Mr. Nature came at 4:00 and entertained everyone with songs, dance, and music for an hour; he ended the entertainment with everyone marching around the yard while playing their “instruments”; what fun! Then it was time for the piñata breaking; all the kids took turns but it would not break. Finally, Robert (Savanna’s brother) broke it!
When the party was over, Steev prepared us a meal of pasta that was very good. Went back to the motel and watched some NBA while reading.
Monday, April 25: Did the usual morning activity of walking, coffee, and breakfast at the motel restaurant. Shopped at various stores and got a sandwich at the Market which I took back to the motel and ate with a glass of wine. Went for a facial and pedicure at Greentoes; very relaxing! After they were home from work and school, I went to the kids where we played with Savanna and had dinner. After dinner and clean up, went back to the motel for reading and NBA.
Tuesday, April 26: This was Savanna’s birthday so, after my walk and breakfast, went over to the kids; we drove to Savanna’s school where Steev and Greta handed treats of watermelon and strawberries for all the children. After everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to Savanna and the treats were eaten, Greta and Steev read everyone a story.
We said our good byes to everyone at school, went back the kids house, and parted company for the day. I walked downtown and then returned in time to drive to Blue Willow where I was meeting Jim Davis, a old friend from the mid 1970’s, for lunch. It was a delightful lunch; great food and wonderful conversation. Went back to the motel and packed for my departure the next day. Around 4:30, I went over to the kids for birthday present opening. Savanna had many presents to open because of gifts brought on Sunday so it took her quite awhile. But she got some great things; books, pictures, barn and animals, dining/kitchen set, sand utensils, etc.
We went to a Mexican place for carry out. After eating, Steev took me back to the motel where I got ready for bed and read until time to put the lights out.
Wednesday, April 27: Got up at 5:00, gathered my luggage, checked out, and Steev arrived to take me to the airport. After saying our good byes, I checked my bags and got to my assigned gate. All went well and arrived in Spokane early but so did Lynda and Sarah; Ron arrived as luggage was coming around the carousels which we retrieved and headed to his truck. Drove to Coeur d’Alene where we went to the Moon Time for lunch and liquid refreshments. Connected with Jack and he joined us. After everyone ate, we headed for Ron’s; I rode with Jack. Arrived at the house and, after determining which room everyone was going to sleep in, we put our luggage into the applicable room.
Sat around and talked; Kathryn arrived about 5:30. After a delicious dinner of lasagna, broccoli and salad, we cleaned up and talked until around 10:00 or so. Everyone went off to bed anticipating the next day’s activity of exploring the parks Ron manages.
Thursday, April 28: After eating breakfast and taking showers, we took a walk with Hunter, Ron’s dog. Ron arrived from his work mid-morning and we went into Heyburn State Park which he manages; Ron is an Idaho Park Ranger. At the visitor center he introduced his staff and showed us his office. Sarah, Lynda, and I purchased items from the gift shop area. We viewed the cabins including the lake view one I will be staying in with the Fosters Monday and Tuesday nights. Then we drove to St. Mary’s for lunch at The Grub Box. After a filling lunch, we took off for another park Ron manages called McCroskey State Park. We really traveled through beautiful countryside on some rough, traveled roads; it was a fun adventure with the Hise family. After stopping at the store for additional wine and supplies for dinner, we ventured back to Ron’s.
Lynda prepared, with Sarah’s assistance, Spanish Rice which included ground elk supplied from Ron’s freezer. Kathryn got home from work around 6:30 and we sat down for dinner of the rice, salad, and French bread. Everything was delicious! The rest of the evening was spent talking until everyone decided to retire around 10:00.
Friday, April 29: Our adventure for the day was going to Coeur d’Alene for town exploration, shopping, and having a pizza party at Jack’s in the evening. After Kathryn left for work and we dressed for the day, we were off with Lynda riding with Jack and Sarah/myself with Ron. We met at Jack’s where he left his car and headed to downtown. After parking the truck, we headed to Hudson’s…a hamburger joint established in 1907 with the building being over 100 years old. It is owned and run by the 4th generation of the original owner. You were given three choices of condiments with the hamburger…onion, cheese, and pickles. And the result was delicious! I decided to purchase one of their t-shirts.
Off to other stores we went and I found a couple presents in the Lucky Monkey. We walked to McEuen Park where Tubbs Hill was seen…Sarah and Tom Foster might like to hike this with me when they come next week. After purchasing everyone ice cream cones, we returned to the truck and drove along the park by the lake shore until the road stopped. Then up the hill and across the bridge for another fantastic view of the scenery.
Ron graciously took me to the visitor center so I could get a trail map of Tubbs Hill and a map of the town. On the way to Jack’s we stopped at a grocery store where I purchased wine and beer for the cabin; Papa Murphy’s was another stop where Jack and I bought two pizzas. Jack took us on a tour of his apartment complex which has a swimming pool, hot tub, sauna, and exercise room along with BBQ area plus shuffleboard area…very nice. And then we put the pizza in the oven; while baking, I got caught up on my email which fallen behind because Ron does not have internet. After eating, we said our good byes and headed back to Ron’s where Kathryn was doing some work for her job which was having their annual fund raiser on Saturday that Kathryn had to work at. While watching some NHL teams play in the Stanley Cup playoffs, we had another lively discussion among us.
At 10:30 all of us headed to bed where I read until around 11:30.
Saturday, April 30: We decided not to go anywhere today which turned out an excellent decision. After rising and taking my shower, I put on coffee for all coffee drinkers. We took over a 3-mile walk once everyone had their coffee or preferred morning drink and breakfast. Kathryn stayed behind to do more organizing for the fund raising event later in the day and Jack had not arrived after his morning fly fishing meeting. It was a great walk which Hunter, Ron’s dog, really enjoyed. Upon our return, Jack arrived and Kathryn got ready to depart for her office in Spokane. We helped her to load things in her car and then walked down to The Steamboat Cafe at the marina for lunch and a beer. The day was nice and comfortable so we sat outside and watched the boats on the lake while waiting for our order.
The food arrived and it was quite good. After paying the bill, walked back to Ron’s where people did whatever they wanted to…whether was reading, watching TV, updating notes, reading the paper, taking a nap…very comfortable and relaxing afternoon. That evening we warmed up leftovers from the previous two evening meals.
Sunday, May 1: After breakfast, we loaded into Ron’s truck for a day of exploring. First stop was the Snake Pit for lunch. It is a real cool place established in 1880; lots of old decor and delicious food. Even though I had purchased two t-shirts at previous stops, I decided I needed one from the Snake Pit.
Onward toward I90; once on the interstate, we stopped at Cataldo Mission which is the oldest building in Idaho. Everything interesting with old wallpaper made from newspapers, original wooden flooring, old organ, beautiful interior; there were no pews because Indians did sat on the floor. We stopped in Wallace, ID; it is the principal town of the Coeur d’Alene silver-mining district, which produced more silver than any other mining district in the United States.
Once on the road, we headed to Wallace, Idaho; an historic town known for its mining and center of the universe. It was a beautiful day so we walked the town while taking pictures. And, of course, we stopped for liquid refreshment at the Wallace Brewing Company. And ice cream at Red Light Garage Restaurant; very good!
We loaded into the truck and headed back to Ron’s. Got there around 7:30; Jack decided to head back to his place so, after saying our good byes, we settled in for the night with everyone fixing whatever they wanted for a snack/meal. I tried to connect with the Fosters but no answer so left a message. Tomorrow they will arrive for our 2-night stay in the Lakeview Cabin at Hepburn State Park.
Monday, May 2: After breakfast, everyone started to gather their belongings; we went to the cabin I will be staying in and unloaded my luggage along with the food and booze I had purchased. On to the Visitor Center where boarding passes for Sarah and Lynda were printed. When we returned to Ron’s, Jack arrived and we went to St. Marie’s for lunch while Kathryn stayed home to do some work for her job. While at lunch, I connected with the Fosters; they had talked to Kathryn and she gave them directions to the house. Fosters arrived around 2:30; after saying good bye to everyone, we went to the cabin while the rest of the family headed to Spokane to deposit the sisters at a motel near the airport in preparation for their early flight back home the next day. Fosters brought their luggage into the cabin and we decided to find a place to eat in St. Marie’s; we ended at a place called Gem State which had a decent chef salad (lots of tomatoes and cucumbers). Returned to the cabin and spent the rest of the evening relaxing on the screened in porch; drinking wine and talking.
Tuesday, May 3: Relaxed this morning while drinking coffee and visiting. Tom fixed us breakfast of eggs, turkey bacon, and toast.
After cleaning up and getting dressed for the day, we went to the Visitor Center where Fosters purchased an annual pass while I talked to Ron about where to eat and the time that evening. We then went to the trail head of Indian Cliffs which we hiked. It was perfect weather and all of us enjoyed the scenery and views tremendously.
After the hike, we headed to Coeur d’Alene where I wanted to go to Bed, Bath, & Beyond for an item for Kathryn; however, they no longer carried what I was looking for. I called Jack as to where we were going to eat lunch and he agreed to meet us. The place was called Daft Badger Brewing; great atmosphere, excellent food, and perfect weather for eating on the patio.
Jack did not want to shop with us downtown so I said my farewell to him. Downtown to the Labrador Store for a gift for Hunter, and MixItUp for a “thank you” item for Kathryn/Ron.
It was time to visit a couple more craft beer places; Trickster and Paragon Brewing. At the Paragon, I purchased an item for Kathryn and Ron along with enjoying a good beer. Of the three places, I liked Daft Badger the best and the beer at Trickster the least. It was time to head back toward our cabin; we picked up Ron and Kathryn for an evening meal at the Coeur d’Alene Casino outside Worley. Dropped the family at their place after saying our good byes and went on to the cabin where we headed toward our individual bedrooms for reading and sleeping.
Wednesday, May 4: Got dressed, loaded stuff in the car, and took off for Bozeman. We had breakfast at the Red Lantern Garage in Wallace; there were 3 guys sitting across from us, locals that come into the restaurant every morning for coffee. One of the men showed us a letter he had just received from a student and teacher located in Walnut, IA. It sure is a small world! After walking around the town, we headed toward the Fosters home. We had lunch at Cracker Barrel in Missoula. When we got to Butte, Tom and Sarah showed me an open pit mine called Berkely Pit; it was interesting to see. We went to a local brewery called Quarry Brewing; good beer, great atmosphere, fun time. On the road again, we stopped at the Sacajawea Hotel in Three Forks for dinner; this hotel was built in the 1800’s and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Arrival at the Fosters around 8:00 where we settled in for the night.
Thursday, May 5: After getting dressed, I took off for a walk around the Foster neighborhood. After the walk, had coffee with the Fosters at their neighbor, Marcia, house. It was a beautiful day so we had the coffee on the outside deck. After coffee, we had a late breakfast at Mountain Arts Coffee Pot; while there, I browsed their gift area and purchased a ceramic spoon rest. We returned to the Fosters; Tom mowed the yard while Sarah and I looked at all her flower beds.
Since my flight home was early the next morning, I repacked my bags for the trip. Later in the day, we went to Madison River Brewing for some liquid refreshment.
And dinner was at MacKenzie River Pizza Co.; good beer and, once served, great pizza. Back to the Fosters for conversation and early to bed.
Friday, May 6: Since my flight left Bozeman at 7:00, we were up and on the road to the airport by 5:00; NPR’s Morning Edition was being broadcast live in Bozeman so Tom and Sarah planned on going there after dropping me off. Check in, going through security, and boarding were uneventful. Connection in Denver was quick and, before I knew it, I was arriving back in Cedar Rapids with my friends, the Robinsons, picking me.
It was a great trip filled with lots of adventures. I am so happy that I could spend Savanna’s 3rd birthday with her and be able to join in on all the celebrations; Greta and Steev are such fantastic parents…and wonderful son/daughter to the steply-ugh-mother. Having time with the Hise siblings was great fun and so relaxing; I’m glad to be able to keep contact with everyone even though Tom has passed away. And the Fosters…what can I say…they are great friends who I always enjoy spending time with so they coming over to Idaho was a very positive for me. Lastly, I need to thank Mary and Joe for the ride both to/from the airport; they are always willing to lend a helping hand.