Sunday, October 13, 2013

West Cliff

Saturday I was riding my bike on West Cliff Drive and saw thousands of birds in the water close to the cliffs. I had been told there has been a feeding frenzy of birds, dolphins, sea lions and whales and to my pleasure it was still happening. Hanging out for about an hour there were arctic terns, brown pelicans, gulls and cormorants in the water, on the beach in the air and diving for food. It was quite a spectacle. There were dolphins cruising by and out to sea whales were blowing and breaching. Sunday they closed off West Cliff to traffic and the results was a huge seaside fair with bands, booths, drummers, cyclist, walkers and gawkers. I have long been an advocate of closing streets and roads, especially for cyclist. I am hoping this idea spreads to other streets and other communities. It was a fun time to live in Santa Cruz County.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Maui

Here we are in Kihei on Maui. We have a condo next to the beach but on the 5th floor with our friends the McAweeneys. The condo isn't real big but it does have two bedrooms with separate baths. The beach is just down the hall and stairs or elevator and around the corner. Here in Hawaii you can go to the beach any time of the day. I was walking on the beach at 7am and in the water before 8am today. So far we have just been hanging out at the condo and on the beach. Last night we cheered the 9ers to victory at Moose Millicuddy's which is within stumbling distance or the condo. Snorkeling and kayaking are on the agenda for tomorrow or the near future. The weather is in the high 80's, it was very windy the first day but that has died down to light breezes. We just finished lunch on the balcony which is where we had dinner the last two nights. Life is good.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Differences

There are many differences between Europeans and Americans, here are a few observations. All little kids are the same. It doesn't matter what mom or dad look like all the children want to have fun and act a little goofy at times. Many of the kids were definitely enjoying themselves even if they had no clue why mom and dad brought them to this place.
Europe has us beat in property graffiti especially in the big cities and along rail lines. Evidently they don't care about removing it. On the other hand Americans are leading in body graffiti. I saw a few tattoos but nothing like everyday life here in the USA.
They have toll roads all over and it can get expensive. In France they are called the Peage. The results of those tolls are very smooth well kept freeways. We drove many of those roads as it was simply the fastest way to get from A to B but I would have preferred driving more back roads and we could have saved some money. Of course I live in Northern California where toll roads don't exist unlike parts of the mid west and east coast. A downside of freeways just like the U.S. is it is difficult to see anything. Back roads through small towns are much more interesting.
Cars are smaller in Europe especially in France. We saw a few larger cars in Switzerland and more in Germany. We had a small brand new Mercedes diesel with no room to spare. The trunk was completely stuffed with bags but there was enough leg room and the riding was comfortable especially if the sandman started beating on me.
Ireland, France and Germany operate on the Euro which is worth more than the dollar. So when a meal costs 20 Euros it is really $25.70. I had to continually tell myself that an item in Euros is more in dollars but we forget. In Switzerland the currency is Swiss Francs and 20 CFH is $20.74, much easier to keep track of. The glitch is you don't want to leave Switzerland with Francs or Europe with Euros, I have about 15 Euros taking a long out of circulation rest at home.
I may have said it before but here it is again, Europeans walk much more than Americans especially those who use public transportation. Many of the cities are designed for walking and cars are banished in many parts of the cities. I think people are healthier because of the need to walk and they look more fit.
Every where we went with a few exceptions it was pay parking. All the city streets are pay parking even in front of our Ireland condo. The price of gas and the pay parking make public transportation look very reasonable. Someday the U.S. will get there.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Upside, downside

Every adventure has its upsides and downsides here are a few
A major plus was our travel partners Joan and John. John did almost all of the driving and was a great tour guide. As the person with the most travel experience he knew where to go and what to see. Joan did most of the navigating with a map and three GPS that didn't always agree. She always kept a positive spin on situations even when the Tour bus is coming at us on a very narrow walled road/lane in Ireland and it looks like there is absolutely no room for us to pass.
Joan also kept track of expenses so we could split the costs. This was extremely helpful when our major credit card was compromised and cancelled. I suggest to anyone traveling in a foreign country to have at least two credit cards per person. Another tip is to investigate credit card coverage for rental cars which can save a lot of money as we found out in Ireland.
A downside is we rediscovered that Europeans of all ages smoke much more than in the U.S. As a consequence it is difficult to escape second hand smoke. I was continually surprised by people who I would guess as being non smokers and then would light up.
Europeans have improved their bathrooms and showers but they still have a ways to go. It wasn't a cleanliness issue more like a space, water pressure or water control problem. I never did figure out the shower controls even after three nights in Sarlat. On another note all the hotel rooms were bigger than I expected.
My vote for the best food was Ireland outside of Dublin and at the best prices. Most expensive food was in Switzerland including prices in Lucerne. We did find a good restaurant in Lauterbrunnen at a campground close to our condo. I wouldn't think of going to a campground for dinner but this place was good, maybe the best in town. A few of our better and least expensive meals were prepared in the condo by Joan and Gail after a stop at the local, sometimes small, grocery store.
My favorite stop on our tour was Switzerland. We had a nice condo with a beautiful view of a Yosemite like valley and at least four waterfalls, and where we watched the farmer move his sheep every evening. The car was parked when we arrived and we walked or took trains for the entire five days. Which brings up another point we did a lot of walking almost everywhere we went. I would have liked to rented some bikes but the opportunity didn't really present itself.
The travel time back to California we figure at about 24-25 hours. That is from doorstep to doorstep and includes the taxi ride to the airport, waiting time. layover time and the final ride home. Actual flight time was close to fourteen hours. The final two hours felt like ten. We flew from Paris, a very confusing airport, to Charlotte and then to SFO.
All in all a very nice trip but it is always good to be home and in an English speaking country.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

We are in Meaux, France tonight with the thunder, lightning and heavy rain and it is booming. The rental car has been dropped off and a taxi is on call for tomorrow morning. I figure by the time we get in bed at home Thursday night it will be 7am on the body clock. Home will feel good. Last night we stayed in a new hotel in a very small town, had a great dinner of rabbit and very complete breakfast even if I'm not fond of ham, smelly cheese and salami (I could never be French).
Today we drove through some great rural countryside and visited a champagne cellar, well actually just the tasting room. The taste came with a little education on how champagne is made and what the difference is between dry, semi dry and Brut. No matter they are all good.
Northern France in the last seventy years has experienced a long respite from wars. All through this country side there are reminders of the bad times. We have seen French and American cemeteries, signs that Sargent York was here, signs to stay out of these woods forever and historical names such as the Marne and Chateau Thierry. Modern agriculture rules the day to the benefit of local residents.
Tomorrow we catch the big bird home!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Verdun

We left Heidelberg this morning and headed back to France. On the way we stopped at the Verdun battlefield, site of some savage World War I fighting. That was a war of insanity where Generals sent the troops over the top of their trenches into deadly machine gun fire to gain 100 yards only to give it up the next week. Millions of men died young before their time before they had a chance to enjoy life. We went through the museum, walked around Fort Douaumont and visited the Ossuary a tribute to the men who gave their lives. Here are two names out of thousands listed inside the building: Lauren Salabert, Maurice Delval. I have no idea who they were but I know they never saw their 28th birthday and there were so many more just like them. So sad.
We had lunch on the river in Verdun and the city has changed a great deal in 50 years. I was stationed here from 1960-62. Then it was a medieval town without much going for it. Now the downtown is all remodeled, streets are constructed with pavers and the waterfront area is filled with outdoor restaurants. After driving in a few circles we found my old military post which is now a French military post. I can't say I have fond memories of my time here but it is interesting to go back and see it again.
Tomorrow we are off to Meaux for our last night in Europe. It has been a great trip and there will be plenty of good memories which as always get richer as time passes.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Stiil Here

After leaving Lauterbrunnen, we spent a night in Lucerne and then a couple nights in Heidelberg. Before I leave Switzerland here are a few reflections. Views can be very spectacular but not in tunnels. The Alps are like Swiss cheese, we have traveled through many tunnels and some of them are very long. If you were a tunnel digger the last 60 years you were not out of work. There are construction cranes in every city; the building business appears to be very healthy. Lucerne is a city on a lake. The train station comes into town at the outlet river and across the river is the old town. All these cities seem to have old towns and they are very busy. You can get around quite well using public transportation especially in Switzerland and bicycles were very plentiful in Lucerne. I have come to the conclusion that Europeans walk a lot more than Americans. The old towns are car free for the most part and parking is not free so many people use bikes or public transportation. The old town sections of Orleans, Sarlat, Lucerne and Heidelberg have been refurbished into walking malls with many outdoor restaurants and stores.
Food in Switzerland is expensive, so far the best food and best prices have been in Ireland outside of Dublin. Restaurant prices in Lucerne are ridiculous and the quality doesn’t always reflect the cost and be careful about the price of the wine the waiter recommends. Prices and choices are better Heidelberg. In Sarlat the choices were mostly limited to: goose liver (foie gras), ham (jambon) and duck. Many restaurants depending on the city don’t open until 7pm as we found in Orleans.
We have used public transportation. We rode the train into Dublin a couple times. We took a bus from the airport into Paris, one hour standing room only, and then the Metro. We used the metro to go to Versailles and took a train to Orleans. In Lauterbrunnern we bought a 3 days pass and rode the train every day. The trains have all been comfortable and on time.
One curious sight, on the bus ride into Paris I noticed a shanty town with a lots of garbage and what looked like tarpaper houses ....... with satellite dishes on top. Go figure!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Jungfrau

This morning the day started with clear blue skies. A good day to go to Jungfraujoch "The Top of Europe". Inside the square in the picture below is where we ended up.

At the top are a couple restaurants, observation decks, ice displays, tunnels and a train station. We boarded a train in Lauterbrunnen and changed trains in Kleine Scheidegg. The trip up the mountain on this cog railway is mostly through tunnels.

The views begin upon arrival at the top. We were not alone there were plenty of tourists of all nationalities and the trains were full. Of course today was a good weather day, you don't want to be there on a bad weather day. Much of the walking at the top is through tunnels and up elevators, the adventurous can hike up a snow covered hill to another vantage point. We did spy two people on top of one of the nearby peaks. Their only route appeared to be over ice and snow. On the back side is a glacier that flows out of sight. A great day, great experience and plenty of photo opportunities.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Train Day

Today was a training day; well we rode the train over the mountain and back. Beginning in Lauterbrunnen we took the cog railroad up to Wengen a village that provided a great view of Lauterbrunnen and the Yosemite like canyon. After a walk around town we caught another train and continued the trip up the mountain to Kleine Scheidegg. This village sits on a col leading to the Jungfrau with Lauterbrunnen down below on the right and Grindlewald down below on the left. There are great views in all directions, ski runs and still higher mountains. We postponed a trip to Jungfrau because of the cloudy weather at the top; instead we had lunch and then took the train down to Grindlewald. Cameras clicked steadily as we descended steeply down to town. In town we enjoyed some beverage refreshment and parachute hang gliders provided entertainment. Jackets came off as we warmed in the sun. The final train legs were Grindlewald to Zweilutschinen and then back to Lauterbrunnen to complete the loop. Dinner tonight is on the deck of the condo.

They say there are 74 waterfalls in this area. I have seen about 16-17. I have some work to do.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Lauterbrunnen

We are here until Saturday and it is kind rainy overcast but beautiful. Tomorrow the weather is supposed to improve. We bought railway tickets for the next three days which will take us to other villages, some higher on the mountain. We walked around the town, climbed up behind a waterfall and strolled up a valley path. Think of Yosemite with green grass, cows and sheep. This is a popular area for base jumpers, those people who take a train to the top of a hill, hike to the edge of a cliff, strap on wing like contraptions and parachutes and then jump. They are difficult to view as they fall or soar but easy hear and see when the chute opens. Around town they are the young ones with backpacks who all know each other no matter their national heritage. I might add base jumping is not on my "bucket list".

Monday, June 10, 2013

Catching Up

We have covered a lot of ground over the last couple days and are now in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland in a very Yosemite like valley with several waterfalls. The first picture below was taken from our deck with a view up the valley.

Two nights ago we were in Carcassonne a walled city in southern France. In fact it is double walled with a castle and a medieval city inside the walls. Our hotel was inside the walls safe from marauding barbarians and crusaders. All the cobblestone streets are very narrow. We left our car just inside the walls and were transported to the hotel in a tiny vehicle capable of maneuvering the narrow alleys. It was difficult to get good pictures, the fortress is so big and good vantage points are few.

Sunday we visited Nimes and an ancient Roman Coliseum which is still being used today. Go figure we build stadiums and then tear them down fifty years later and the Romans build them to last. Talking about lasting the second stop was at Pont du Gard. This aqueduct is another Roman construction and is very imposing and impressive. With my good camera and tripod I could spend a couple days photographing at this site. I'm disappointed in the photos I got but very much enjoyed the visit.

I an trying to convince Gail make an entry on this blog but so far no luck, maybe she will make an appearance soon.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Market Day

Many of these French towns have market days once a week which are similar to our farmers markets. This morning was market day in Sarlat and it was huge. Several streets were blocked off and parking spaces in town were at a premium. Below are a few pictures. Speaking of pictures I have so many I will be able to bore anyone to death when we return home. My late Aunt who loved to show us pictures would be impressed.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Reflections

Overall all the weather has been good, there were a few rain and hail showers in Ireland and of course the downpour in Paris but some rain is expected. Here in Sarlat we are experiencing the warmest weather to date. According to the locals it has been a very rainy spring in this region. Speaking of showers the Europeans still haven't perfected theirs. All the showers have their quirks and the one in this apartment is a mystery when it comes to regulating water temperatures. I do have room to turn around but that is not always the case.
Sarlat is a real medieval town that has been rejuvenated. There are plenty of narrow streets and alleys to investigate and you never know when you will find a restaurant in a hidden place. The main square is full of open air restaurants and folks like hanging and out enjoying a coffee, beer or wine. Up scale shops and art stores add to the local flavor. This town is like Carmel only with medieval buildings and outdoor restaurants.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

More photos

This is the castle of Chambord where we were Tuesday

This is a street in the old section of Sarlat on the way to our apartment

Turn right down this narrow street to the small square

Our apartment is on the third floor, that is our bedroom window on the upper right

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

I'm throwing a couple of pictures in here. We have been using cell phones and two other cameras and it is getting a little confusing. The camera I want to post pictures from is in the car and I'm not walking out right now.

Eiffel Tower

This is the Chateau at Sully, we just walked around the grounds.

The next two pictures are from Orleans, the older section of town is being all redone. Vehicle traffic is restricted and they have a tram that runs through the middle. The tram in the picture goes right by the train station. When the tram is not present the area looks like a narrow park. Oh and the trams in the morning are jammed with passengers

Bloise and Chambord

Tuesday we took a trip to the city of Blois, walked around town, viewed a huge chateau on a hill and had lunch in a city park. On the way back to Orleans we stopped and toured the royal Ch√Ęteau de Chambord. We were able to walk through much of the building and it is huge. There are 12 enormous rooms off of a central circular double stairway. Why anyone would want to live in such a place is beyond me. The stairway is such that two different groups could be ascending or descending and they wouldn't have to pass each other. The grounds are ringed by a stone wall that is 32 kilometers long. We had two tour guides Cathrine and Renee who are friends of our traveling partners Joan and John. Dinner was prepared by Cathrine and this is the first time I have tasted foie gras. I can't say I am crazy about it but the wine was wonderful. I've learned that here in France different wines are served with different dishes beginning with white wine. Having dinner in the home of a french citizen is somewhat unique and quite enjoyable. I'm sure the evening will be one of the more memorable moments.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Loire

Wow, long day today! We visited a magnificent castle that is really just a chateau as in someone’s home. I’ll post some pictures later. Then on to the canal over the river; the picture is below. Yes, that is a boat in a canal going over a river, all designed by the Eiffel Tower guy. Next was lunch by the Loire and then a walk around the hilltop town of Sancerre. Wine tasting was next and we purchased a couple bottles. We made the day longer by visiting Bourges and walking through the monstrous church on top of the hill. I was blown away by the size of the church. Construction started in 1195 and it wasn’t dedicated until 1279. It took 49 years of actual building, unbelievable. After a long drive we returned to the home of our travel guide Catrina. She was a great host all day and fed us at the end of the day. The purchased wines were tested and found to be of good quality as you can tell by Gail’s smile.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

A few Pictures

At the entrance to the Palace of Versailles

One of the lock bridges over the Seine,

Outdoor cafe in the Latin Quarter, this area was jumping last night.

Musee D'Orsay

Le jardin at the Museum of Natural History real close to our hotel.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Paris

Well we were sort of baptized in front of Notre Dame Thursday or it could be said we took a group shower together. While we were out in the open the skies just dumped. Hiding under a few trees was a failure and after a long walk-run we ended up in a restaurant crammed with other rain dodgers. A bottle of wine didn’t dry us out but it did raise the spirits. For a side show we actually saw rain water shooting out a gargoyle on the side of Notre Dame. We have had some rain and a little hail on the trip but this was the first time it was a problem. We have ridden the Metro, walked along the Seine, been across two lock bridges, eaten at sidewalk cafes and visited Musee D’Orsay. Behind our hotel is a rather small old Roman Coliseum. Tomorrow we are going to visit Palace of Versailles. Right now the feet are resting from too much walking.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Ring of Kerry

We are certainly seeing a large part of the central and southern Ireland. Unfortunately it has involved many driving miles. John has been the designated driver and is doing a fine job. Much of Ireland is very green with scattered farms and pastures separated by hedgerows or in some places rock walls. Many of the narrow country roads are lined with these rock walls and there is plenty of rock to build more. Tuesday we toured an old castle in Cahir and Wednesday after a stay at Foley's in Kenmare we took a tour around the Ring of Kerry where the landscape is rather barren, rocky and with great views of the ocean and bays. There are many homes and some small villages along the route which is popular with tourists. The area also appears to be a vacation spot for citizens of Ireland. The weather was gray and rainy so my pictures don't look real good, the links listed have better pictures. One stop along the route was Staigue Fort built in early A.D. and very well preserved. Throughout the country there are old stone churches, castles or towers some in good repair some obviously neglected. Today we will be visiting Malahide Castle which is close to our condo. Thursday we are off to Paris early in the morning.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Southern Ireland

Tonight we are in Kenmare a small town that is rather touristy but in a good way. In reality this is a town of B & B's and the gateway to the Ring of Kerry which is a 112 mile drive around southern Ireland with some spectacular scenery. We are about 3 hours south of Dublin and made a stop in Cahir for lunch and a tour of castle Cahir after which we made a side trip to Kinsale and a Guinness at the Spaniard a pub established around 1601. Tonight after dinner at our B & B which is actually a small hotel we meandered around and listened to Irish music some of which is still happening right below our room. Our stay here in Kenmare was an impromptu decision, Gail found the B & B online and we booked it right before we left not really knowing what we were getting into. Well it is all good, nuff said I'm going to bed and the Irish music can serenade me.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Comments

I am posting this blog so that family and friend can follow our vacation through Europe. So far it is kind of a one way street, please feel free to comment. Just click on the no comments section at the bottom of each post and you will see a box where you can write your comment and we will see it. I can decide whether to include the comments for public view. Havagooday!

Dublin

We took the train into Dublin Saturday and Sunday, it was a nice ride and a car would have been a problem. There were a bazillion people in the city, okay I exaggerate it was only a gazillion. Saturday a local rugby game added to the festivities of the day. We hopped on a double decker bus and toured the city. A point of interest included a beautiful park with cricket and polo matches in progress. It was a nice day and the locals were out enjoying the sun. To give you an idea of size the park is 2.5 miles long. We also passed by the Guinness brewery, Trinity College, several museums and a noisy demonstration. The town area is really busy with many stores, pubs, shopping malls, bookstores, restaurants. Sunday Gail and I visited the National History Museum and the Natural History Museum also known as the “Dead Animal Zoo”. Below is a picture of Human Statues, these guys are really good they sit there quite still until you drop a coin in their container and then they all move slowly as if to say thank you. When I first saw them I thought they were just statues. Street entertainers are part of the town flavor; a small rock band was there both days. People watching, shopping, enjoying a Guinness this part of Dublin is the place to be.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Cliffs of Moher

Friday was a long day. We drove to the west coast of Ireland and back, roughly driving to the Sierra foothills and returning to S.C. without the narrow country roads. These roads, you could almost call them lanes, are filled with tense moments as tour buses squeeze by sometimes without slowing. We still have mirrors on the car but there might be a few scrapes on one side as we brushed the vegetation. Lunch was in Ennis and as usual the meal was outstanding. The Irish know how to dine. The terrain changed from pasture and farms to a limestone plateau as we moved closer to the ocean. One stop was at Poulnabrone Dolman an ancient above ground tomb only 6000 years old. I engaged a local security person in conversation and boy did he like to talk. To his credit he gave us a lot of good information and was quite personable, the locals can be very friendly. The main attraction was probably the Cliffs of Moher. It is a huge tourist spot and a well photographed site. The sheer cliffs are reminiscent of the Big Sur coastline. There were large numbers of seabirds and we were hoping to see some Puffins but they were not to be found. It was a long trip home with a stop at Paddy Burke’s for dinner in a small town I can't remember.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Powerscourt and Glendalough

After fumbling with the phone GPS and some aberrant map reading we finally found our way to Enniskerry where we stopped for coffee, scones and muffins. After that we found our way to Powerscourt and the “backyard” garden of a 17th century mansion. We strolled about the gardens and hid out for a time under a large fir tree while a brief hail storm moved through. There are plenty of photo ops and I am thankful for digital cameras it would be easy to burn several rolls of old time film in this setting. Lunch was in the “cafeteria” but this wasn’t your average cafeteria food. So far I have been very impressed with the food choices here in Ireland. Today I had a salmon and cheese dish with plenty of fruit and a tomato salad. The last stop was at Glendalough and an early medieval monastic settlement. It was an interesting and very serene setting and obviously on the tourist route. I added some Wikipedia links as they can describe the areas much better than I.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Newgrange

Our first full day in Ireland we chose to go to Newgrange a prehistoric monument just north of where we are staying. It was built in 3200 B.C. which makes it older than the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge. This is a large circular mound with a passage way and chambers inside. The mound has a retaining wall at the front and is ringed by 'kerbstones' engraved with artwork. There is no agreement about what the site was used for, but it has been speculated that it had religious significance – it is aligned with the rising sun and its light floods the chamber on the winter solstice. Actually there are three large mounds two that we visited and several smaller mounds in the surrounding area. The "kerbstones" are huge weighing over a ton and more. I have no idea how a prehistoric culture could have placed them where they did.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ireland

After a long plane flight we landed in Dublin this morning and met our friends Joan and John. We drove to our rental housing, took a walk and had an ample lunch. Early sack time is rapidly approaching. Driving on the left side of the road will take some getting used to along with narrow streets. Fortunately I am not driving however my friend John has already had a accident. We are all back seat drivers trying to prevent another mishap. Meanwhile I make sure the seat belt is securely fastened and just close my eyes from time to time. Our rental is in a small town outside of Dublin. It isn't the best rental but we have off street parking and it seems to be quiet. When we go into Dublin it will be on the train. More on that later.