Archive for November, 2008

Cool Fall Day

| November 29, 2008 4:19 pm
Cool Fall Day

Fall days in California can be absolutely wonderful.  Where much of the nation can start to see their first snowfall in November, we can enjoy crisp air in the morning and warm days in the afternoon.  Such was the weather this day in late November when we took the tandem out for a trip around the resivour and a stop in Morgan Hill for lunch.

After lunch we made our way back home.  There had been just enough moisture for the fields to start to turn green.


| November 16, 2008 11:52 am

Our flight from Barcelona arrived in Amsterdam at 5 pm.  Amsterdam has a beautiful airport, an indicaiton of the beautiful city we would be visiting.   We found our way to the train, which we took into the town.  From the Amsterdam South station, we took a 10 minute taxi ride to the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel.  We had booked the hotel using Hotwire and got a great rate for a wonderful hotel in a nice residental neighboorhood.

Baerwalts were also visiting Amsterdam but their flight was later than ours.  Their hotel, which they also go on Hotwire, was right across the street.  After they arrived it was already around 8 pm, so we found out where we could walk for dinner.  It was a nice pasta diner, I guess because we had spent so much time in Italy we were still into pasta.

The next morning we woke up to a beautiful view right outside our hotel window.

It was a cool and cloudy day, a good day to visit the museums and take a ride on the canal.   We bought a 24 hour pass to the canal bus so we could use it both days.

It was a great way to see the city while staying warm.

That evening we went for a walk from our hotel.

We enjoyed the place we ate dinner last night so much that we went back there again for dinner.

The next day was cool but the sun was shining.  A good day to see the city.  We walked over to catch the tram and then caught the canal bus.

First stop was the flower market.

While they were all looking at the flowers, Franz walked a short distance get this photograph.

It was then back on the canal bus for some breathtaking views of the city.

We stopped at the Small Talk restaurant to get lunch.

Then a walk through the park back to the hotel since Baerwalts were departing that evevning.

That evening we went out on our own to catch the train up to a place called ?????. From there we walked up to the central train station.

The streets were filled with people.  We bought a big paper cone filled with french fries.  Later we had a nice dinner and then back to the hotel to get packed for tomorrow’s return home.  It was a great vacation, one we will always remember.

[More Pictures of Amsterdam]

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Rough Sailing

| November 14, 2008 10:21 am
Rough Sailing

During the visit from port to port, we would stay closer to shore and the waters were calm.  We had commented how this was much smoother sailing than the previous cruise we had been on.  After visiting the last port, the ship made a beeline straight back to Barcelona that would take more than a full day.  The waters were much more rough than when we were sailing closer to the shoreline going from port to port.

During the first evening things were calm enough.  When we got up we had a whole day on the ship so it seemed a good time to go to the exercise room.  Franz tried to use the treadmill but the rocking ship made him feel a bit dizzy so he switched to the exercise bike where he could hold on.  Ann didn’t seem to have any problem using the treadmill.

After we returned to the cabin Franz decided to put on a motion sickness patch. Later everyone stopped by our cabin to see our nice big balcony.

We decided to have lunch at a Jonny Rocket restaurnt they had on the ship.  To access it you had to go on the outside deck. It was cold and windy out there, unlike the shelter of our balcony.  There was also a long line to wait for a table, but we decided to go ahead and wait.

While waiting some were starting to feel motion sickness and decided to go back to their cabin. Franz was glad he had put the patch on.

It was funny eating a hamburger with the endless supply of french fries.  But we could really feel the motion of the ship so after eating we headed back to the cabin.  Even Ann, who rarely is affected by motion sickness, was felling some affects.

Only four of us made it to dinner that night.  After returnning again to the cabin so we could pack our suitcases since we were leaving in the morning.  Anne felt a bit too ill to do that right away but in a reverse of how it is normally, Franz was doing okay.  We were kind of anxious to just go to bed, thinking once we were asleep we woudl not feel the rocking of the boat.

In the morning it was calm and we could see that we were approaching  the port at Barcelona.  We decided to do the expediated departure and just carry our own bags off the ship.  So as soon as they allowed people to go ashore, we did so and were able to get a taxi to the airport.  Originally we thought about taking a bus and then the train, but after about 30 hours of rough saling a taxi seemed the right approach.

Our flight was not until the afteroon so we had a long wait at the airport.  They would not let us check out bags for another 2 hours so we found a place to sit down.  Harrisions were there also but found out their connecting flight from Paris was cancelled so that meant they would spend the night in Paris (real tough duty).  We were flying to Amsterdam for a few days.  Waiting at the airport for our flight was not problem at all.  It was on dry land!

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Last Port – Palermo, Sicily

| November 13, 2008 10:13 am
Last Port - Palermo, Sicily

The last port for our Cruise was at Palermo. It seemed that as we moved from port to port each stop was a bit less interesting than the previous. We are not sure if that was because we were getting a bit worn out from all the cathedrals or just the nature of the cities.

Mark was again our tour guide as we walked through the streets of Palermo.

And visited another cathedral.

And getting a little rest.

We then walked to the city government building that had a very beautiful chapel.

Then we had to wait to see another part of the government building.

Then off to find a place for lunch.

We then headed to visit the Catacombs but they were not open until 3 pm so we had to wait for over an hour and it was sunny and warm.

We are not sure if it was worth the visit, unless you like to look at a lot old decomposed  dead people wired to the walls.  The literature on the catacombs says the Capuccini Monks started the first cemetery in 1534 when they dried the bodies over an 8 month period and placed them in 4 corridors of the catacombs.   We could not take pictures, which was good, because trust us, it was a little spooky…..

Then it was back to the ship after taking one final shot of the city.

[More Pictures of Polermo]

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Pompeii and Naples

| November 12, 2008 9:24 am
Pompeii and Naples

We awoke at the port of Naples, Italy.  We did not have a great deal of interest in visiting that city but we did want to go to Pompeii, which is located about 14 miles east of Naples.  Pompeii was destroyed, and completely buried, during a long catastrophic eruption of the Volcano ,Mount Vesuvius, spanning two days in AD 79.  Because of how it was destroyed, much of it’s identity was preserved.

When we existed the ship, we were approached by several taxi drivers and walked by most of them, but one charming young man started out telling us how to get to the train station and then offered to drive us all to Pompeii and back after 2 hours for a reasonable fair, so all six of us loaded into his taxi.

We had planned to rent those headsets with a narrative, but then decided to use one of the guides who offered us a good price for a private 2 hour tour with the six of us.

He was a very good tour guide and gave us a lot of background on the history of Pompeii as we wandered through a small portion of this huge uncovered city.

Here is the interior of what was once a house.

We then visited the Pompeii version of today’s gym.  This tub had engravings of some of the politicians who were running for office at the time.

You can see the streets that were wide enough for the chariots.  Because they would sometimes be flooded, there were large stones placed in the middle to walk across.  I guess the chariot wheels went on each side of that bridge.

We could even see where the chariot wheels had worn down the stone street to form a groove.

Before we left Pompeii, we asked someone to take a group picture for us.

Back in Naples we found our way to a world famous Pizza shop that Mark had read about.  We all had pizza for lunch, of course.  The crust was amazing, the mozzarella was fantastic  but the sauce was a little on the runny side for our taste.  However, the place was charming and the pizza’s were cooked in the old fashioned brick ovens.

Naples was kind of an interesting city, but not as interesting as cities we had visited like Florence and Rome.

So some of us decided to walk up to the National Archaeological Museum , where many of the artifacts uncovered at Pompeii were housed.  It was a very interesting museum and as they said one of the most important musuems of its kind in the world today because it contains so many artifacts.  These statues were of Olympic runners.  No need for clothes in those days to compete in the Olympics.

Lots of other statues.

And some wonderful artwork that was actually a giant mosaic.

They had a scale model of the entire city of Pompeii.

Then it was back to the ship where we took some pictures from the deck across the bay.

And one final shot of Naples before we went to dinner.

[More Pictures of Pompeii]

[More Pictures of Naples]

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When in Rome

| November 11, 2008 8:52 am
When in Rome

Our second port in Italy was at Civitavecchia, a port where we were able to get a train into Rome. We always wanted to visit Rome and this was a great opportunity to do it. We had previously booked a tour of the Vatican so that was our first stop. We took some pictures while waiting for the the start of the tour in the Piazza San Pietro, the most popular of the many squares in Rome.  Notice how empty the square is and also notice the chairs in front of St. Peter’s that were being set up for the Pope’s address to the people the next day.   We arrived early enough to look around outside before all the crowds gathered. It is said the square can hold 400,000 people and the area is surrounded by 284 columns designed by Bernini.

Our tour met outside of the Vatican.  The tour guide finally showed up, a delightful fellow from Ireland.  We had about 12 people total in our group and headed around the Vatican to the entrance.  We could see inside to where the famous Swiss Guards, the Pope’s personal security, are stationed.  The Vatican is it’s own sovereign state and contains the residence of the Pope.  It has its own post office and postage stamps, gas station etc.  and is governed by the Pope.  Gas is actually cheaper inside the Vatican because there is no tax.

Then it was into the inner courtyard.

There we had a briefing from our tour guide since he would not be able to talk once inside the Sistine Chapel, where Michelangelo’s famous ceiling depicts the story of the creation to the flood. No pictures of the chapel can be taken, since Fuji Film now holds the copyright on those famous images.

After the chapel we visited the Vatican Museum where we saw the original of the statue that inspired “The Thinker”.

The Orignal Thinker

The Original Thinker

And Nero’s huge bathtub and many more beautiful ceilings and tapestries.

Then into St. Peter’s Basilica, in the Vatican,  to view Michelangelo’s Pieta, the beautiful marble sculpture of Mary holding Christ after his death.  It was difficult to get a picture of the Pieta because there is protective glass around it because several years back it was vandalized by a deranged person.

After we completed our Vatican tour, we caught the train over to the Colosseum and the Forum.

We returned by train to Civitavecchia for a nice stroll back to the ship.  We stopped along the way for ice cream, and arrived at the ship by 6 pm.  It was getting dark as we arrived in our room, and the view from our balcony was breathtaking.

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Florence and Pisa Our Own Way

| November 10, 2008 12:30 pm
Florence and Pisa Our Own Way

This was our first port in Italy.  Some of us had been to Florence before so the thought was to visit only Pisa.  Others wanted to go to Florence instead.  It was a train ride to each location from the port.  We heard the night before that there might be a rail strike so we were not sure about taking the train.  Even if we were able to get there, there might be a risk of getting back in time before the ship sailed.

We saw that Hertz was renting cars on the dock so we collectively decided to rent a car instead of risk the train.  That would allow us to go our own way and visit both Florence and Pisa rather than splitting up and each couple going to one or the other.

The women must have thought it was funny we were going to try to drive in Italy.

We were all glad that Darrell volunteered to do the driving. Mark was a great navigator and we found our way to Florence without too much difficulty.  First stop was to buy something from the open air market.

Then a lot of walking to see many of the buildings.

We then walked over to the beautiful canal that flows through Florence.

Then gelato before we returned to the car.

The drive over to Pisa was not too far about 1 hr and the highway seemed to be without any major issue. But once we reached the town we could not find the famous leaning tower.  We circled around for awhile, and kept trying to follow some signs that we thought were pointed in the right direction.  We finally stopped at a gas station to ask for directions and we were only 1 mile away.  It was getting late in the afternoon when we finally parked the car and walked a few blocks.  The sun was basking on the buildings. It took our breath away to see the tower and adjacent buildings.

We didn’t want to be too late getting back to the ship so we headed back to the dock.  It was more traffic than we had anticipated and the time was slipping away.  We stopped to get gas and find directions when these two Japanese gals from the cruise were doing likewise and asked us to follow them to return their rental car and then give them a lift.  We did that but then they had a lot packages they wanted to move over to our car and it was getting complicated.  Hertz was there and said they would drive them, so we headed back, finding our way to the dock.  It was 6:15 pm when we arrived, only 15 minutes to spare.  Good thing we didn’t miss the boat.  We had a whole 15 minutes before dinner.  Plenty of time.

[More Pictures of Florence]

[More Pictures of Pisa]

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One Day in France

| November 9, 2008 9:47 am
One Day in France

Our Mediterranean Cruise offered only a single port of call in France but it was a spectacular one, maybe the most beautiful of all the places we would visit.  As we we getting up in the morning we saw that the ship was  approaching Villefranche and the view was breathtaking. It was a small coastal town located in the heart of the French Riviera.

This was the one port where the ship could not actually dock but had to anchor off a ways from the shore.  We were then transported to the shore in ferry boats.

As the ferry boat approached the shore we were able to get a better view of this beautiful place.

We wanted to take the train to Monte Carlo so we had over an hour to wait.  We walked through the back streets of Villefranche and enjoyed it’s charm.

After the 6 mile train ride we were in Monte Carlo, which belongs to the Principality of Monaco.  It is known as the play-ground of the rich and famous.  Our first place to visit was the Prince’s Palace, situated on top of Monaco Rock, home of Prince Rainier III.

The changing of the guard takes place every morning at 11:55am

The Cathedral below, was built in the 19th century.  This is where the fairy-tale wedding of Prince Rainer and Grace Kelly took place and where Princess Grace is now buried.

The famous Monte Carlo casino was across the bay so we decided to take a water taxi over.

That provided a wonder view as we approached Monte Carlo.

After a bit of a hike, we finally made it up to the Monte Carlo Casino.  This Casino was once the main source of income for Monaco. The building was built in 1878 and the domes on the building are all made of copper and can be seen from across the bay.

We saved our money and didn’t go inside, except for a peak.  I doubt they would have let us gamble there anyway. You had to be dressed in business attire to even enter the Casino. The cars parked outside were as expensive as our house.

It was then a train ride back to Villefranche.

We boarded the ferry to go back to the ship.  It was just starting to get dark and looking back we saw a picture postcard view.

[More Pictures of Villefranche and Monte Carlo]

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Barcelona in a Day

| November 7, 2008 5:04 pm
Barcelona in a Day

We did not have a full day in Barcelona since we needed to be on the cruise ship before 6 pm.   After checking out of the hotel, we waited to meet everyone for a whirl wind tour of the second largest city in Spain.

Before we left the US we had purchased tickets on the hop-on hop-off bus so we could take it around the city, getting off where we wanted to.  The bus stop was right near the train station, which was also right by our hotel.

We made one stop to take a tram to Teleferic de Montjuic, an old fort and a high point over looking the city.

Ann climbed up to shoot one of the cannons.

So we decided to do the same.

Ann, Karen, Fawn in Barcelona

It was then back down on the tram to the bus stop.

We made a stop by the famous Christopher Columbus statue.

From there we were able to walk through a large open air market, The Rambia, which filled the center section of the street.

Invisible Man

It was a good place to buy some postcards.  The Rambia showcases lots of vendors and street entertainers

Then Mark found his store.

Are we lost yet?

We were tempted to hop on those free rental bikes.  Franz was going through biking withdrawal.

We visited some of the Gaudi buildings.

Then back on the bus to Sagrada Familia, an enormous church that has been under construction for more than a hundred years.

Back on the bus again and headed to Guadi’s dream.

From there we walked nearly 1 km to the train station.  That was good start for all the walking we would be doing on this vacation.  It was then a subway back to the Stant station where we retrieved our bags we had left with the hotel and then a taxi ride over to the cruise ship.

Soon after boarding we had the traditional drill to put on our life jackets and go to our staging area.

That finished just in time for the 6:30 pm dinner. The six of us had our own table for the entire cruise.  After dinner we all went to the see the welcome show.  It had a very funny magic show but Franz was falling asleep due to the effects of the motion sickness patch he had put on so this is the end of the story.

[More picture of Barcelona Trip]

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Leaving on a Jet Plane

| November 6, 2008 9:20 am
Leaving on a Jet Plane

The time has finally arrived for us to leave for our Mediterranean cruise. Last night I went to the camera store in San Jose and bought a new super wide angle lens to take, hoping it will come in handy in Europe. We had a lousy route to get to Barcelona Spain, the port where we will board the cruise ship. We got up early and left the house by 7 am, to catch our 11 am flight. This photo is at the SFO airport where we flew Alaskan Airlines to Portland Oregon.

At the Portland airport we had to wait over 4 hours for our international flight.  It is a great airport with free WiFi.  We had only brought one computer but we put it to good use during the long wait parking ourselves outside a Wendy Hamburger place.  I checked the flight on the computer and noticed that there were some empty seats in the middle that had a computer power outlet.  So I went to the gate and had them change our seat assignments.

After 3 pm, we boarded a Northwest flight to Amsterdam.   We were lucky that I had changed the seats because we had the four center seats to ourselves.  That was great because we could take turns taking a nap.

We had a short connection in Amsterdam, just enough time to go through customs and get to our gate where we boarded a KLM flight to Barcelona.  We arrived after 2.5 hours, on schedule.  It was now 22 hours since our flight left SFO and even longer since we had left our home.

We had searched out how to take the train to town so we made our way to the tracks.  I had used an ATM at the Amsterdam airport to get some Euros but they had ony given me 50 Euro bills.  The ticket machine would not take that large of a bill so we had to find some place to buy something to get change.  We then bought two tickets to the Stant Station in Barcelona.

The hotel was near the train station so we could walk there.  We were waiting to check in when we met Fawn and Darrell, who had come the prior day.  We gave a call to Mark and Karen, who had arrived earlier that day and decided to meet in 15 minutes to head out.  The six of us then went exploring Barcelona.

It was now getting dark and a lot of hours had passed since we had had a full night sleep so we were glad when we found a place to enjoy a nice meal.  I am not sure what we ate, but it tasted good.

That bed sure felt good when we finally went to sleep.  It all seemed like a dream since we left California.

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