Saturday, January 14, 2023

Buenos Aires

 Buenos Aires has been given the reputation of the Paris of S.America.  It has enormous areas devoted to green-space.  Beautiful buildings.  A vibrant nightlife and restaurant scene.  We did not go tango as we had two different shows on the boat. We took the hop on hop off bus on a tour of the city which occupied several hours and ends up in LaBoca which is home to a street fair known as Caminito. We did however eat the specialty of Argentina, steak.  I mean it's really something different.  First of all, the meat is raised differently.  All natural feed on the range.  No antibiotics, cereal or other additives that you can’t get away from in the US.  Then its cooked over a wood embers flame and severed without salt or seasoning.  Just  chimichurri sauce on the side.  “Filete  de Lomo”; what a fantastic piece of meat.  


Buenos  Aires has the look and feel of Madrid.  More parks and monuments.  Too much to see in 2 1/2 days.  This calls for a return trip in their winter.  Just a nice hotel and tour service next trip.

So I board my overnight flight back to Houston somewhat disappointed at the cruise line for many reasons.  I possibly had too high of expectations of this cruise and it basically was a typical cruise with lots of noise.  Heavy on the cruise and short on the history ,terrain and culture of the area. A real disappointment, but definitely a new continent partially explored.


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Friday, January 13, 2023

MONTEVIDEO

is the capital of Uruguay.It sits on the northern bank of the channel from the Atlantic to Buenos Aires and beyond.  The history seems to be that it was settled by the Spanish from Buenos Aires in a blocking effort to keep the Portuguese from traveling from Brazil down the river.  There is a rather large Jewish community there as it was one of the earliest settlements of the Jews leaving the middle east and Europe.  I took a tour with a lady who is of the local Jewish community and learned some interesting facts.  We visited a Holocaust memorial that the city erected on the beach and two different synagogues.


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Wednesday, January 11, 2023

S.ATLANTIC and PUERTO MADRYN




We sailed northward from the Cape of Good Hope for the next 48 hours.  The seas were not bad.  I 've experience worse on a southern atlantic crossing but I guess the weather is really the determining factor and we had good weather.  We pulled into Puerto Madryn which is a small fishing port halfway up the Argentinian Coast. Not much going on here. I am now realizing that S. America is really the third world.  It just hasn't made it to the rest of European and N American standards.
 We walked around and found a local restaurant where we order Steak!

Boy do they butcher meat differently down here.  We each were served what looked like 3-4 pound slab of cooked meat.  There was no bone, just a huge chunk of fat.  After slicing off the meat.  It was really delicious and fresh tasting. There was really nothing else to see, so it was back to the ship after lunch.  This time we took a leisure walk down the pier.   No Tenders. 

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Monday, January 9, 2023

Beagle Channel and Ushuaia

There is a 150 km long totally navigational channel on the southern tip of S.America which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean.  Named after the HMS Beagle which carried Charles Darwin to this are in the 1830’s.  Midway along this is the Argentinean port ofUshuaia, a port town of a couple hundred thousand.  This is the launch point for all Antartica explorations.  Tied up in port are numerous seagoing exploratory vessels from Linblad, Huntigren and National Geographic.  Also seen was the ill fated Viking Polaris.

 boarded a enclosed cabin catamaran with a 150 fellow Celebrity pasenges for a 4 hour tour of the Beagle channel.  We saw seals sunning on a big rock.  Multiple flocks of birds and the highlight of the morning, one of 3 different colonies of Penguins.  Theses are the middle size.  We ended back in town and I walked for a couple hours, had a quick lunch and went through the ordeal of lining up for a  tender back to the ship. I felt a cold coming on, so I had a small dinner and went to bed. 


As advertised. We sailed out the Beagle passage to the Atlantic, turned south and arrived at the Cape of Good Horn  @ 6am the next morning.  This is the southern most piece of any continent on earth, Antarctica excluded but thats all ice.  Beyond this is the Drake Passage which before the Panama Canal opened, was the only way to sail from the Atlantic to The Pacific.  The Drake Passage reportedly is the home to more shipwrecks than any other location on earth.  If you have studied the California gold rush and the development of San Francisco, you will recall that the trip from the East Coast to California in the 1840’s took 3 weeks. I was expecting the worse but it was actually quite calm and temperate. A really inspiring site.  There is a metal monument on top of the rock to celbrate "the end of the earth".  Look carefully in the photos and you can barely see it.


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Saturday, January 7, 2023

Strait of Magellan and Punta Arenas Chile.


We entered the Strait of Magellan from the S.Pacific open waters about 4 PM and the weather immediately cleared.  The wind died and the sun shined through.  John and I made it to the top deck, open a bottle of wine and enjoyed a good cigar while the mountains of the strait went by.  Dinner was marred again with bad service on the part of our restaurant crew and we vowed to take the remainder of our meals in the Oceanview Cafe; the buffet.  Will see how long that last.

The next morning we pulled into the harbor of Punta Arenas about 7 am.  I was on a tender to the port at 7:45.  Expecting a circus, I had no problems getting to and exiting the terminal onto the streets of Punta Arenas.  The problem was that this little port town was completely closed.  I mean not even a coffee shop.  So I walked a mile or so to the city square where sat looking at a  statue honoring the founding of the town in the 1850’s.  With nothing else to see or do, I walked back to the terminal, boarded  a tender and was back on the ship by 9:45.  What I have realize by now after 4 different cities in Chile is this country is not ready for US tourist.  The cities just completely shut down on Sat and Sun. Of course I am referring to downtown areas but this is where tourist stay and congregate. 


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Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Puerto Montt

Our first port was this seaside town of 250,000. It was settled in the late 19th century by German immigrants.  It is now a fishing center with no real passenger terminal which meant we “tendered” to shore and our excursions.  We had between 1000-2000 passengers to take the 20 minute ride to shore in 4 different tenders which meant it took about 3 hours from start to finish to get everyone ashore.  Not good planning.  So our excursion was a 90 minute bus ride to Lake Todos 

Los Santos and the Petrohue waterfalls it created.  Beautiful scenery but not sure it was worth the 3 hour ride on a bus, 3 hour wait and round trip on the tender.  The captain and cruise director got an earful all right.  His comment was “this is S America. They don’t build nice passenger terminals here. If you demand nice terminals, stay in the Caribbean”.

With that we opened a bottle of wine and forgot about it.

We then had 2 days of sailing thru the fiords' of Chile.  Very interesting scenery.



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Saturday, December 31, 2022

South America


I've been on many cruises in my life. 30+ so I've sort of been conditioned to consider each cruise to be a continuation of the last experience and program myself for 7-10 days of “more of the same”.  This trip was way beyond the “norm” and I don’t mean wonderful.  Everyday brought something new and bit of a hassle to deal with. My first trip South of the Equator began with a flight from Houston via DFW to Santiago Chile.  I traveled with my friends Sandra and John Lopez who I have shared many adventures in the past.  
We arrived earlier in the morning of New Years Eve.  The New Years Celebration is taken very seriously in the Latin culture, so to no surprise.  Everything was closed.  I mean banks, restaurants,
stores. So I was unable to withdraw any local currency. It didn’t matter because there was no place to spend it. The weather was nice so we spent 2 days walking around looking at closed, shuttered storefronts. We did manage to find the most important square in town and there were a few street food vendors open, but the stuff didn’t look appetizing. We walked to a wine store and bought some very nice Chilean Reds for our cruise and we spent a couple hours at the Zoo which is situated along and up the side of one of the mini mountains in town. Fortunately the hotel was nice comfortable and had food, a bar and good wifi.

The third morning we were picked up at our arraigned hour and driven directly to the port which is an hour and a half away.  We traveled through miles after miles of vineyards and wineries.
We had plans to spend the day in the port town of Valparaiso after dropping our bags.  Didn’t happen that way.  The port and the Terminal were hard to navigate and dysfunctional, we gave in and just spent time in lines waiting to board which we eventually did after several hours.  This was just the beginning of series of events which led me the opinion that this cruise line wasn’t ready for prime time. 


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Monday, August 22, 2022

Northern Spain w/Insight Travel



Day 1 We joined up at a Hotel near the American embassy.  Dinner the first night was at a solarium type restaurant near the botanical gardens.  

Day 2The next morning an excursion to Segovia a UNESCO world heritage city home of an amazing Roman Aqueduct that supplied a palace from ancient times.  

Day 3 Traveling  to  Santiago de Compostela which is reportedly the third most import city in the Christian religion ; Know as the “Way of St.James.

We stoped for a wine tasting and learned about the regions production.

Day 4. A escorted walk through the gardens and old city with emphasis on the “camino” traveled by those completing the pilgrimage. It was raining all morning and I was soaked.

Day 5. Left the hotel for Oviedo. Stoped for a coffee and then proceeded to a “point” overlooking the Atlantic for photos at Oviñana.  We had a lunch at a private residence consisting of classic fare of the Asturias region; fava bean stew and Beef.  Onward to Oviedo and a walking tour of the city before checking into out hotel.  It was raining there so a quick walk to a Patisserie afforded a small bite and then bed.

Day 6. The highways throughout this trip are beautiful.  The autovias are control access multilane  and we’ll manicured.  There are bridges that are hundreds of meters above the valleys.  And everything is well maintained and paved. The drive thru these mountain valleys is spectacular.  

Covadonga is our first stop.  It is a stop for the “pilgrims” making their “way” across northern Spain.  There is a chapel inside a cave. These is an old stone bridge in a local town. Hotel at the Real in Santander.  Its on a hill overlooking the bay and port.  It was a beautiful accommodation.  I had drinks on The patio.  I never  left the hotel.

Day 7. First stop was the Guggenheim in Bilbao.  The structure was more interesting than the exhibit.  The museum is world famous because of the architect Frank Gehry.  This modern titanium building was built on an industrial site on the middle of this unknown town.  The museum opened in 1997 and has completely change the economy of Bilbao. We stopped for lunch in a small port city of Getaria  where they grill freshly caught seafood.  I had Octopus(pulpo a la gallega) which is grilled and sautéed in olive oil and paprika.  Its a real Iberian delicacy.

Finally we arrive in San Sebastián where we will spend the next two nights.  After a really short check in and “confort” stop we load on the bus again with a local expert to see the town which is beautiful.  It is as developed and manicured as any place i have seen in Southern California.  There is a long horseshoe shaped beach  “La Concha” which we overlooked from a vantage point high above the city.  We went to the old city and walked for  an hour and half and then presented ourselves to pre arranged restaurant for a gourmet dinner.  This city is know as the culinary capital of Spain as more Michelin chefs got their training here.  This restaurant was ranked 5 stars and it was something. This city is also home to the wealthy Spaniards.  It was the most expensive place of my summer

Day 6 The official tour loaded and went to France to some resort for the day.  I slept in and walked to Playa La Concha.

Day 7. To Pamplona.  We walked the narrow street which hosts the run of the bulls and then a coffee at the Cafe Iruna, which may ring a bell for Hemingway fans.

 On to Barcelona. Hotel check-in and then a short walk to one of my favorite pintxos bar.

Day 8 Local guide took us through La Sagrada Familia .  

Day 9 Early call and off to the airport for my flight home. 


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Friday, August 12, 2022

BARCELONA AND MADRID

 This is my fifth visit to Barcelona since I started traveling to Europe seven years ago and it really hasn’t changed much although you wouldn’t expected a city that is 2000 years old to change but there are some notable differences that are worth mentioning; more on that in a minute.First the city was bustling, full of people of all ages. Many families with children and toddlers in strollers. Most of these I believe are European tourist. I say that because they’re all wearing American sports memorabilia but none of them look authentic; for instance the most common item seen is a New York Yankees ball cap but it was never in the correct colors.  It is amazing that people all over the world in particular Europe are fascinated with American sports and not European football. The other observation I see is the love of American Hamburgers.  It appears that the younger generation is tired of Ham and upscale hamburger restaurants are everywhere. Not only are  Micky D and Burger King prevalent but now 5 Guys are common. Now here is the not so rosey  observation.  Most storefronts and restaurants are closed. Apparently closed since Covid and haven't reopened. This does not bode well for the European or world economy.

The train from BCN to MAD was packed. Not a seat free in first class.  Tourist are on the move.

Madrid was similar to BCN in storefront closers although the August effect would be more obvious in MAD.




I visited the Royal Palace on my own and did a nice wine tasting.  



Good Photos Here

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Cruising the Mediterranean

 




Cruising the Mediterranean.  A few words about my cruise.  I’ve been  ~35 cruises in my last 15 years.  This cruise is amongst the top 3.  The ship was the RCL Vision of the Sea.  Not a new mega ship but a craft that was christened in 1998, rather old by today's standards.  However it just spent 3-4 month being updated and returned to service in February.  It was beautiful and spacious and the staff were fantastic.  Usually I can think of one crew member that deserves special mention as I respond to the post-departure survey.  Today I have made a list of 5 various crew members  who will receive my accolades.

We left Barcelona and have called on the following ports:  Villefranche(Nice-Cannes), Toulon(Aix-Provence ), Ajaccio Corsica, Portofino Italy, Civitavecchia (Rome), Palermo Sicily and finally departing in Barcelona 8 days later.  I was off the ship at every stop.  Taking formal excursions to Cannes and Aix-Provence as they were new to me.   I like Nice , Cannes was hot and crowed and basically a shopping center.  Same thoughts of Aix-Provence.  I would probably not return to any of these areas.   Nice could have some possibilities, but not in the summer.  Actually the season for the coast of France is the winter, not the summer.  Corsica is an interesting island in the Med off the coast of France.  It might have further possibilities.  My favorite was Portofino.  A beautiful inlet on the upper coast of Italy.  A small harbor where we had to anchor about a mile offshore and tender.  We walked along the mountain road which hugged the mountain for 5 km to Santa Margarita, a neighbor and larger port.  The walk along the mountain cliffs with the ocean below was breathtaking.  It was quite hot in the middle of the day but we made it in an hour and a half.   Had a snack in Santa Margarita and took the ferry back to Portofino.

Got off the ship in Civitavecchia and had lunch.  Did not go to Rome as it is a hour’s train ride in each direction and quite frankly after 3-4 visits there over my lifetime I don't find Rome appealing.  Its basically a large, unkept chaotic city.  Some interesting ruins to see once in you lifetime.  Essentially been there, done that!  Finally the last port of call is Palermo Italy.  I was looking forward to visiting the sites where the Godfather III was filmed and possibly the gravesite of Lucky Luciano who was deported there after the second world war, but learned that Luciano was buried in the Bronx.

Cruising the Med is much different than the Caribbean.  The water has a bluer hue and is calm.  The land is usually mountainous and seems to come right out of the water.  Most areas are not as lush as the Caribbean but that adds to the visual spectacle.  If you like the life on a cruise ship, you must invest the time and fly to the Mediterranean for a week or two on one of the many boats that make their summer there.

I've spent the last 3 weeks with my good friends and long time travel companions Sandra and John Lopez.  They are departing Europe and flying home upon embarkation as they have been away for 2 months.  I have another 3 weeks in country and will keep you updated later

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Monday, July 25, 2022

Andalusia Northward toward Barcelona

 





Leaving Mojac and keeping along the coast, we entered Murcia Provence.  The scenery changed from agriculture to tourista.  The tarp covered fields gave way to progressively well developed residential buildings. We overnighted in Cartagena which is a major cruise line stop but I found it disappointing. Next stop was Alicante.  We had a great dinner of paella at a cafe next to a park. Cartagena and Alicante both were historically old cities with Moorish influence.  They eventually became part of the Spanish culture. Up the coast through Benidorm, and Benissa.  This area looks as if the area was developed in the last 40-50 years to support the tourist trade from the north; England, Sweden, and Norway apparently are the main points of origins for these new inhabitants.  We talked to many cafe owners who were English speaking and had moved to the area years ago.  The architecture was very modern and stylish.

As we progress toward Barcelona we stopped in Valencia where I visited in July 2017.  I don't remember it being this hot!!  Onward to Pensicola and and Calafell.  These are all small beach communities with a beach road and an inland super highway connecting. One could compare this area to the SE coast of Florida or the area south of LA county.  The area has changed from agriculture in the original part to turista.  We drove in the morning stopping for a lunch around 1 and arriving at our next stop about 4 PM.  A quick trip to the beach and then clean up for dinner.  It was very repetitive for  7-10 days.  I loved it.



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Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Andulusian Coast

 We left Granada and starting driving back to and along the coast northward.   Barcelona, our destination is  a total of  850 km.  That means at 100 km/hr; it's only a 8 1/2 hour drive.  Doable in 1 day or 2 if leisurely.  We are doing in 11 days.  We like to stop and "smell the roses".  There really are roses in this area but we are most interested in the roadside views.  Spain has a well maintained highway system.  The controlled access roads similar to our Interstate System are somewhat removed from the coast.  Speed limit is 120 km/hr.  We like the coastal roads.  They wind around the mountains and follow the coast.  Wonderful turnouts with view and several small coastal villages.  We stopped at them all.  For a Fanta or small snack and or just a quick dip in the Mediterranean.  Very reminiscent of the summer I spend with 3 of my friends in 1970 touring thru Europe in a rented Renault.  We also have a Renault.  How about that for a coincidence 52 yrs later. 

As far as one can see in this area are tarped covered greenhouses.  Agriculture is the main commerce in this area.  Apparently the technology is advanced and they are able to grow and export multiple crops with a minimal amount of fresh water.  This area is very arid and hot, so I imagine the only fresh water is the runoff of the coastal mountains.

About mid afternoon we stopped for lunch in a coastal development called Roquetas de Mar.  A 26 km stretch of beach which was developed in the 1960's...  Many Miami Beach looking hotels and beach promenade.  After a great afternoon and early evening we got up the next moring and drove until we happened upon another coastal overlook called Mojacar.  Its not well known in the States but very popular with the Brits.  We found a neat hotel across from the beach with a great deck and pool and ended up staying 2 nights



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Saturday, July 16, 2022

GRANADA


Our second stop was inland; Granada is a city in southern Spain’s Andalusia region, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It's known for grand examples of medieval architecture dating to the Moorish occupation, especially the Alhambra.  The Alhambra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which was the palace of the Islamic Rulers of Spain from 711 until they were expelled by the Christian monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella of Christopher Columbus fame.  Following the expulsion of Jews; the Inquisition of 1492,  the people of Spain decided that the Moors as they were known also had to go.

During the 800 years of Moorish occupation, the Palace of Alhambra was built at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and enlarged through multiple generations of the Nasrid family.  The Alhambra occupies 26 acres and is the #3 most visited site in Spain.  We took a 3 hours guided tour.  The tour guide spoke for the whole 3 hours.  The gardens and finishes inside were like nothing I have ever seen.  There were people who traveled from far away to Spain just for this visit.

When were were finished, we returned to our hotel and did laundry.




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Friday, July 15, 2022

SPAIN

 I'LL NEVER FLY COACH AGAIN.... Ok you ask what's with Orkin and his testimonials about personal expenses.  Well after not traveling for a couple of years I had accumulated miles in most of my airline programs which I watching as they are being depreciated... So I wanted to use them up.  Now it was easy to get a coach ticket to Spain.  I assumed I could then upgrade with cash to a better position on the plane.  It has always worked for me in past years.  NOT any more.  I tried online and at the check in counter but could not secure a better seat on the flight to Malaga.  So I was on a aisle in a 747 with 3-4-3 and probably had the most fidgety person on the plane to my left.  I was actually drugged and comfortable but couldn't fall asleep because of the arm movements and kicking of my new neighbor.  Add a multi hour delay in Frankfurt and I arrived in Malaga 20 hours after I left home with probably only a hour or two of rest.  I was met at the airport by my good friends and traveling buddies, Sandra and John Lopez.  I asked them to make a vow that if I ever stated that I was flying internationally in Coach again, to just slap me to my senses

Malaga is a major metropolitan area on the Coastal del Sol. It's a major tourist destination in the summer.  An area just above the Strait of Gibraltar.  Lots of Brits, Canadians and others enjoying beaches and the night life.  We had a great 2 days indoctrinating back into the Spanish way of life; walking, sangria and red wine and lots of tapas. After a recharging ME, we piled into our rented Renault and set out for Granada.


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Summer 2022-ASHEVILLE

 Well it was supposed to be the trip to see one of the wonders of America--Yellowstone.  As luck would have it for this Noah and his crew....It rained and rained and washed out the roads in Yellowstone Park.  So our tour was cancelled 9 days before we were to leave and that started a scramble to find a place to go for 5 energetic people.   After 3 way conference calls between Houston and Baltimore, we settled on the Biltmore and Asheville, NC.

A brief history is in order at this point; the area south of Ashville, NC was settled by George Vanderbilt(grandson of Cornelius) in the late 19th century.  He bought a large estate which was to become the Biltmore Estate as a single man in his mid 20's and built this magnificent home.  He actually was married here and together built  a family and a major gathering spot for the wealthy of the era.  His descendants live. manage and work the property.

The city of Asheville has become somewhat of a mecca for the arts and foodies.  The most recent James Beard awards choose a Ashville Indian restaurant as its number 1 for the year.   I would describe Asheville as the Santa Fe of the east coast for my Texas friends.  



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Monday, August 9, 2021

Summer 2021 Covid Free- Not really

 After spending the last 15 months isolated, well actually I did travel a little bit; I made the decision to get away from Houston for the summer.  The choices were the mountains of the Western US or the Northeast Coast.  Since I don't know anyone in the northeast, the decision was easy.  I have spent many summers in the beautiful valleys of Vail and Aspen.  I was a guest of my good friends Sandra and John Lopez at their summer hacienda in Park City last summer, so I started planning in March for a trip to the Vail valley.  My friend Alan "guitar" Zieben was on the way for a little spring skiing in Vail, so I tasked him with finding me a summer rental.  He found a great unit in the Kiva Condominiums in Beaver Creek.  It was so enticing that he decided to split the rental w/me.  We set it for July15.  Then I was invited by Sandra and John for a weeks visit to their place in the Canyons of Park City.  

On the fourth of July I pulled out of Park Square in my 60,000 mile Jaguar and the next evening I was the guest of my cousin Bruce and his lovely mate Gina in Parker Co. The next day after a quick flight from DEN to SLC, I was again at the Silverado in the Canyons of Park City with my friend the Lopez's.  We had a great week, walking, some fishing, several outdoor performances and lots of eating. It was over too soon,  Then a quick flight back to DEN, picked up my car and meet up with  Zieben.

The days have been filled with golf, swimming, hiking and of course eating at some of the best restaurants in the country.  As my friend Mike Stein likes to say-"the restaurants up here have to be good, or they won't last a season."

Take a look as I capture the summer.

PHOTOS HERE

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Monday, August 5, 2019

Alaska the last great Frontier


I recently made an excursion to our 49th state, Alaska.  It’s a vast area of pristine lakes, streams and wildlife.  The population of the entire state is about ¾ Million people, with half the population living in Anchorage.  Anchorage is also the main hub for air transportation which is the only way to get to Alaska unless you take a cruise ship from Seattle or Vancouver. Cruise ships actually dock in Seward which is about  90 miles S of Vancouver on the Northern Pacific Ocean.
   Anchorage is a waterfront town but is situated on the Cook Inlet which because of its location, is not ideal for cruise ships.
The weather in Anchorage is mild from late May till late August.   The temperatures drops and the moisture level rises as one leaves Anchorage and makes their way inland and uphill to Denali National Park, home of Mt. Denali.
There are two main methods to explore Alaska.  All of the cruise lines that call on Alaska via Seward or Whittier in the case of Princess; have an optional add on which consists of 4-7 days of what I am about to describe to you. The length varies according to the cruise line.  However you essentially see everything that I am about to describe.  Also the level of accommodations are somewhat different although there is no real luxury in Alaska as most of the hotels, restaurants are “in hibernation” from October till May and only are open and staffed from mid May till the end of August.
As I had done an Alaska cruise in 2011, I didn’t care to repeat the open water and I chose and international Tour Organization called Insight Vacations for my land only package. 
It began with an airport pickup on the afternoon of my arrival and ended with a drop at the airport exactly 6 days later.  It’s really my first time of climbing aboard a bus and hitting the road.  I prefer to travel a la carte so to speak but you really can’t do this in Alaska.  This was a fantastic experience as the bus was one of these big luxury tour buses with seating for ~45.  We had 30 people and a guide who was knowledgeable and really added those special touches along the way.  Most of the time the bus trip was no more than 4 hours at a time with frequent stops.
Day 1.  After checking into the hotel in downtown Anchorage we had a gourmet dinner at a museum.
Day2.  We boarded the bus, got a tour of Anchorage, the sea plane area, and visited the Alaska Heritage Center prior to heading North toward Talkeetna, a small village on the S edge of Denali National Park.  After a tour of a bush plane service and a lecture on climbing Mt. Denali, we checked into the Talkeetna Lodge.
Day 3 We had the morning to walk the grounds of the lodge before heading the train depot and boarding the Alaska Railroad.  We took over an observation car for the 4 ½ hour journey north to Denali National Park.  We lunched on the train and were met at the Denali train depot by our trusted driver who had already delivered our bags to our room at the Denali Lodge.  Did I mention from the time I picked my luggage off the conveyor belt at ANC, till the moment I left 6 days later, I never moved my bag?  It was done for me at each stop.
Once we got to Denali Lodge we had a wine reception and a talk from a young man who successfully climbed Mt. Denali; the tallest peak in N. America @ 20,310 ft.
Day 4 was a free day and I chose to board a National Park Service Bus which actually drove the 128 miles in and out of Denali National Park.  The idea was to see the terrain and wildlife.  We saw both...elk caribou, moose and grizzlies were seen and photographed from a distance.
Day 5 was back on the bus and heading south for the longest ride of the excursion.  We stopped half way at the home of an Iditarod racing team and were treated to close ups with the dogs as well as a presentation on the race and the equipment.  That evening and the next were spent at the luxurious Mt Alyeska Lodge.  A 4-5 star hotel/lodge at the base of a ski resort on Mt. Alyeska.
Day 6 we drove along the inlet and through a tunnel to Whiting Alaska and boarded a 500 passenger high speed ferry which is used to cruise Prince William Sound and visit the approximately 27 glacier s that can be seen.  Lots of harbor seals, otters and bald eagles were visible.
Finally on Day 7, we all departed the Alyeska Lodge and drove to Seward where we visited the Alaska Sea Life Rehabilitation Center prior to dropping half our group on the Holland Westerdam for their 7 day trip to Seattle.  The rest of us were driven to the Anchorage Airport where we arrived about 4:30 PM for our departure flights.
GREAT PHOTOS HERE



Friday, May 10, 2019

Club Med Punta Cana

As I complete my responsibilities to Wells Fargo Advisors over the next year, I will be moving my expertise into the travel industry. I’m fortunate that my friend Eddie Gertner is allowing me to join his team of experienced travel advisors at Mill Travel. Mill Travel amongst other accomplishments is the #1 retailer for Club Med in US and every year their agents are invited to one of their clubs for an update from the President of the worldwide travel and resort company. This year the event was held at their Punta Cana DR facilities. It’s their largest by area. I was asked to come along for the 5 day event.

I was somewhat skeptical as I was a repeat visitor to their clubs in the late 70’s and early 80’s and am not really interested in that nonstop drinking and partying that I remember. Well we have grown up and so has the Club. It’s now frequented by couples of all ages and families. There are the usual outdoor and water based activities for all ages. They now have a “Mini-Club” for kids as young as 4 months where the kids can go and be supervised during the day.

We were treated to one of the “Tiara” suites which is two bedrooms adjoining a limited common use infinity pool next to the coastline. There is also a private bar just for the 10 Tiara Suites.

We had group events each evening as well as a guided tour of the facility one morning. There was a small wine tasting for a few of us where they poured “the good stuff”.

All in all I’m glad I made the trip and I can already envision some of my clients at the clubs...

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Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Cruising

Short on time and connectivity.  More next week from St. Marteen.

Photos Here

Saturday, November 3, 2018

BARCELONA


I have just recently finished an extensive review of BCN, so I´ll limit my comments.  Since my previous visits have all been in July, I was expecting a smaller crowd.  Wrong!  There were probably more people than my previous visits. ¨Barcelona is a victim of its own success¨ according to my tour guide Dominique Tomasov Blinder, who leads a walking tour and history of the Jewish settlement and dispersion from Spain.  You will find her @ www.urbancultours.com.
This trip I explored the coastline N & S away from BCN. I missed the futbol team again.  One of these days.


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Friday, November 2, 2018

FLORENCE

Firenze

Sunday after the huge breakfast offered at the Rome hotels, it was off to the train station for the high speed (250km/hr) train to Firenze.  I tried walking from the train station to my hotel at the Pointe Vecchio because it looked like a 10 minute walk on the map.  What the map didn’t show was the quality of the streets.  Cobblestones.  Interesting to walk on, not for pulling luggage on wheels.  Sunday afternoon was spent walking around the town center.  My god, I didn’t realize so many people could fit in-such a small area.  And its late fall, not exactly the height of the tourist season.  I would hate to be there in the summer when the kids are there.  Lots of “silver hairs” from all over the world.
The lines were pretty long.   1 1/2- 2 hr wait for the Duomo and “The David”.  Didn’t do it. Still,remember it from my previous trip in-1970.  Probably has changed   Did manage to just walk in to the museum di  Vecchio.  The frescos on the ceiling were amazing.  A short walk back to the Hotel Delgi Orafi, my home for the next 2 nights and a glass of Chianti at their rooftop bar.  It began raining again so it was a quick walk to a small osteria and a dish of ravioli.
Monday morning I explored the numerous small shops of leather and visited many cafes for espresso.
That afternoon was the highlight of my trip; an excursion with a guide to the Tuscany wine region and two different family run Wineries.  I had a level I sommeliers course on chianti and super Tuscans. 5 hours later I was back at the hotel and in bed.  If you are a wine aficionado, you must do the wine country excursion.  Multiple tastings as well as olive oil and balsamic tastings. More memorable than another church in Florence.
Tuesday morning I joined a walking tour from Artviva, a really super excursion company in many location of Italy.  There were 5 of us on this 3 1/2 tour; all Americans.  The first couple were from Houston and remembered me from the The Houston Club.
Of course it was raining the entire morning. Fortunately I had my weather proof clothing.  Lots of history.  This particular tour had no atraction visits, but Artviva does offer tours with”skip the line”
I had my last Italian meal of linguine with fresh seafood in a oil and tomato broth.

Later that afternoon it was a quick drive to the Florence airport for my hour flight to Barcelona




Thursday, October 25, 2018

ROME

October 25,2018

Rome is a cornucopia of Italians on the go and the gentile ways of the hospitality industry. I arrived after an overnight flight via Frankfurt. A 40 min bus ride in from Fiumicino and a quick taxi to the Piazza  Barberini and my hotel.  After being shown to my exquisitely decorated closet, I threw my stuff in the room and set off walking.  For the next 3 days I never needed hired transportation except for 2 metro rides.  Rome is a walking city.  I was 10 minutes from the Piazza di Spagna(Spanish Steps) where I enjoyed my first sunset.  After a fantastic meal of pappardelle truffle and mushroom, it was to bed for an overdue rest.  Friday I explored Piazza del Popolo , went to the Illy store for some coffee to-bring home.  Dinner was a filet w/black truffles; truffles are big in the italian kitchen.   Saturday, it was off to explore the most famous park in Rome, the Villa de Borghese.  I was disappointed.  It is not maintained.  What a disgrace.  A walk down the via Veneto and then buying some trousers which I accomplished, lunch at the  Piazza del Reppublica on the best pepperoni pizza I have ever eaten. Saturday evening during dinner it started raining and didn’t stop for 3 days. italian hotels are big on breakfast and Sunday was no exception.  Then it was a quick metro the the train station and on to my high speed train to Florence. 
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Monday, August 27, 2018

Vancouver



August 21,2018

I like call Vancouver the San Francisco of Canada. They are both cities that have their origins in the Gold Rush of the 19th Century. They were both settled by their countries respective railroads expanding westward and they are both beautiful cities landscaped as mountains merged into the Pacific Ocean. Their housing cost have exploded and its now one of he most expensive housing markets in North America.
Now there are differences. The people in Vancouver are some of the nicest and most courtesies I ever encountered. If there is a downside to Vancouver, it would have to be their food. Oh there are plenty of walk up restaurants the problem is they are expensive and coming from a foodie city like Houston, I found the food very blasé. Its all Beer Pubs and bar food. Seafood you say? I probably ate at 10 different restaurants in the week and only found seafood on 2 menus, the sushi bar excluded. I did sample some Canadian oysters and I really liked them. They were not as brined as East Coast varieties.
I choose the Pan Pacific hotel for my stay. I have been here 2times before and really appreciate its location on the water, a few steps from the major transportation hub, the skytrain and the major bus routes. As you may recall, I purchase a pass to the public transportation system and ride all over town. Vancouver ‘s system is as good as any in the world. One can catch an A/C train at the airport and get off a 2 block walk to the Pan Pacific. The cost is 2.8CAD which is $2.20. Thats helpful because the BC government has not let Lfyt and Uber operate.
The trip started with Air traffic delays of an hour due to the visibility issues resulting from the fires on the West Coast. The haze on arrival was what I remembered from living in Los Angeles in the 70’s. It persisted for several days until a rainy system washed out the particulate matter. My last day was gorgeous.
There are great bicycle paths.If cycling is not your thing, one can take a seaplane from the harbour steps from the hotel and take a 20 “ site seeing flight or do what I did and fly to Victoria. On that island there is a beautiful private garden operated by the 3rd generation Butchart family.


On my last day, I took the ferry (aka “Sea Bus”) across the harbor and then a public bus up a 1000 feet to the base of a ski resort know as Grouse Mountain. There I headed into the woods for a very steep hike.


Thursday, July 19, 2018

Santa Fe


Santa Fe was originally settled by our nation’s first people hundreds of years ago.  The Rio Grande River has its headwaters in what is now Colorado and runs southward through the middle of New Mexico.  The Pueblo people settled along its banks in the area of what is now Santa Fe.
The Spanish settled the area and named the town in 1610.  Santa Fe means “holy faith” in Spanish. It is the oldest state capital in the US.  It sits on plane at the base of Sangre de Cristo Mountains
which now hosts several winter ski runs.   The altitude of Santa Fe is 7200 feet and you better believe you are going to know it.
I’ve been to the mountains most of my adolescent and adult life in both winter and summer, but this trip took me the longest to adjust to the altitude.  I haven’t been to the mountains in probably 5 years and it was extremely hot and dry.
I managed to stay for my 5 night excursion at the picturesque Casita Bonita which is on the grounds of the home of Bruce and Heather Galpert.  This lovely rental is available on all the vacation rental sites as Santa Fe Casita Bonita.  It was equipped with everything you could possibly need for a short or extended vacation.
Now there is plenty to see and do in Santa Fe and the surrounding area.  Before I get into the food; and I did get into it, let talk about the activities:
Santa Fe is home the 3rd largest art market in the country. Behind NYC and Los Angeles, there are abundant galleries along Canyon Road which is about a mile long winding from the beginning of the Santa Fe Trail up into the mountains.  There are about 40 galleries along this mile.  Also interspersed are two great eating establishments; Geronimo and El Farol.   I walked the first night from the “Plaza” after attending a free concert of my old New Orleans jazz queen, Marcia Ball.  At the top of Canyon Road sits El Farol.  This bar/restaurant features one of the oldest functioning bars in North America.  It also specializes in Flamingo dancers on Saturday evening and Live Jazz on Thursday.
A good way to hear the history of Santa Fe and it surrounding area is the daily 10 am walk that is sponsored and leaves from the New Mexico History Museum, which is just off the Plaza. The walk is about 2 hours and covers most of downtown Santa Fe as well as its Capital complex.  It‘s led by volunteers from the History Museum who are quite knowledgeable.
On Saturday mornings there is a farmers market at the old rail yard which is well attended.  One can find fresh produce from the area.  There are also nice treats such as local honey and baked goods.  Have you ever had a blue corn donut with lavender frosting…You should..
IF you feel like leaving the area for a day, drive north on the state highway and make your way to Bandelier National Monument.  It’s about an hour’s drive to the visitor center in White Rock, NM.  From the parking lot you will board a city bus which will take you into the National Park.  Once in the Park, there is a 1 ½ hour walk along the canyon walls inspecting cavern’s where the Pueblo’s made their home. Take you National Park Pass, or buy one there.
Once finished in Bandelier, you are very close to Los Alamos.  IF you have any interest in the Manhattan Project and the end of WW II, you must visit the museum at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and/or the Bradbury Science Museum.  IF you are looking for a great breakfast or lunch, along the way, pull off the main highway into Tesuque Village Market which is combo grocery store and restaurant.  I had an order of Blue Corn Pancakes……
Also for another day, drive South and then Eastward from town and visit Tent Rocks National Monument.  Also a good hour’s drive from town.
So food worth mentioning:
Tomasita’s   traditional NM fare known for their Red Chili.  Located near the old rail yard.
El Farol  Spanish fare with Tapas and music in the bar.  Located at the top of Canyon Rd.
El Meson  similar to El Farol but with better music.
Café Fina is an old service station on the Old Las Vegas Hwy about 10-15 min out of town past Casita Bonita.  Specialty cooking and bake goods.  Open till 3 PM…This is where the locals meet and greet.
The Shed  downtown on Palace Street about a block from the Plaza.  Always a wait, service lacking, but food very good.  Especially the Red Chili which you must try prior to leaving Santa Fe.
Santa Fe Bite is the 50’s themed restaurant co located with the  Garrett’s Desert Inn Motel. Don’t be waved off by the looks of the motor court.  The restaurant was very clean and great service.  I had the best Green Chile cheeseburger ever.
Take  a look at  some photos….
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