It's hard to believe that it has been over 4 months since I posted about looking forward to my sabbatical, and even harder to believe that it is now almost over. In just 7 days I must return to the working world. During the past 7 weeks I spent 35 days travelling and 14 days at home. I visited 5 countries, spanned 16 time zones, and traveled over 40,000 miles including more than 4,000 by car. It sounds like Phil's wrap up statement to the winners of The Amazing Race, and although I wasn't racing every minute was truly amazing. Good weather followed me everywhere, planes trains and automobiles all cooperated, and except for a short period of sniffles I stayed healthy the whole time. I enjoyed good food, good times, and spectacular sights. According to the scale, I maybe enjoyed a little too much good food, but I'm confident that resuming my weight management program will return me to my pre-sabbatical weight. It has all been a great and rewarding experience. I wish everyone could do something like this.
Monday, October 14, 2013
Friday, October 11, 2013
Thursday was a travel day. We left Big Cedar at check out time and headed north on our way back home. We stopped for an hour of shoe shopping at the Tanger Outlet Mall in Branson. The ride to St Louis was only a few hours and we got checked in before dinner time. Dinner was at a Houlihan's restaurant walking distance from the hotel. This is the last entry for the Road Trip log. Friday we will arrive home after a 4½ hour drive north on I-55.
Gas Price Survey:
Branson MO, $3.05
Sullivan MO, $3.15
Thursday, October 10, 2013
Most of us took advantage of a chance to sleep in a bit Wednesday, but mom said she was up at 6 am and enjoyed an early coffee on her balcony as the sun came up. After an early lunch we drove about 20 minutes to nearby Dogwood Canyon Nature Park. We booked a 2 hour wildlife tram tour that rode us all over the park where we saw waterfalls, streams full of rainbow trout, a fawn deer, and even got up close to elk and bison. It was a really great way to enjoy the park. Back at Big Cedar we looked for some souvenirs in the gift shop and had an early dinner before returning to our room in time to watch another sunset. We wrapped up our day with another visit to the Buzzard Bar for an evening of musical entertainment.
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Tuesday we left the hotel and visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial which was established to honor those killed or otherwise affected by the 1995 bombing attack on the Murrah Federal Building. The memorial contains a lot of symbolism and is a solemn reminder of the impact of the violent act.
After leaving the memorial we drove about 300 miles to our next stop at Big Cedar Lodge near Branson Missouri. We checked in early enough to enjoy the beautiful view from our room and watch the sunset. Later, we went to the Devil's Pool restaurant for a nice dinner, and finished out the evening being entertained by a talented singer/guitarist in the Buzzard Bar. We're staying here 2 nights so there's no travel on Wednesday.
Gas Price Survey:
Tulsa OK, $2.93
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Not a lot to say about Monday. We checked out of the hotel in Albuquerque about 10 am Mountain Time and drove about 550 miles straight east to Oklahoma City. We arrived around 7:30 pm Central time with only 2 short gas & rest stops. After resolving a little electronic confusion finding the hotel we went to dinner at a nearby Chili's restaurant.
Gas Price Survey:
Tucumcari NM, $3.28
Clinton OK, $3.19
Monday, October 7, 2013
Today (10/6) we got in the car and took mom on a self guided Breaking Bad tour. Mom is a fan of the recently ended TV show that was set and filmed here in Albuquerque. I found a website with a map of filming locations that appeared in the show and we drove around looking for them. Mom definitely recognized a couple of them, particularly the car wash.
Our plan for the rest of the day was to attend the Balloon Fiesta for the evening balloon glow activities. We arrived at the park extra early and got a good parking place close to the balloon field. There was plenty of time to do some shopping, grab a bite to eat from one of the many food vendors, and stake out a good location to sit for the glow and fireworks.
As the sun set the balloons began inflating all around us. We were able to walk among the balloons while they periodically fired their burners, illuminating the balloons against the darkening sky. The best part was when they would coordinate the timing and all fire their burners at the same time. The balloon glow activity was concluded by a spectacular fireworks display that was as good as any I've ever seen.
Our weather charm continues to be working for us. We had good driving conditions getting here, and great weather each of the days we've spent touring.
Gas Price Survey:
Albuquerque NM, $3.05
Sunday, October 6, 2013
Early Saturday morning we made a last minute decision to try and go to the Balloon Fiesta Park in time for the Mass Ascension. We were advised by the hotel staff that although we were fairly close to the Fiesta grounds, we should allow an hour to get there in traffic. The ascension was scheduled to begin at 7 am and we left the hotel about 5:30 am. About two miles from the exit we hit stopped traffic and waited in line to exit and make our way to the parking area. By the time we were parked and got to the fiesta grounds it was 7:30, but early morning winds had delayed the mass ascension and we were there in time to witness it. It is quite wonderful to watch the huge balloons being inflated on the ground and slowly fill to their full height, then lift off to a cheer from the surrounding crowd to join the scores of balloons already aloft. We watched until most of the balloons had launched then walked among the concessions for a little souvenir shopping. The park was beginning to empty as we found our way back to the car and headed back to the hotel. After a short rest we drove into old town Albuquerque for some more souvenir hunting. We wandered in and out of the many shops and were entertained by a Mariachi band in the town square and an Incan pan-pipe band in a nearby plaza.
We were ready to eat when we finished shopping but we all agreed we were ready for something besides southwestern food. A local resident recommended a nearby winery restaurant so we gave it a try. We give it mixed reviews on the food, but the bottle of Gewurztraminer we shared was very good.
Saturday, October 5, 2013
Friday we took some time to tour Old Town Santa Fe. We parked near the center of the Old Town area and did a walking tour of several historical church buildings. Our first stop was the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. Then we went to the Loretto chapel to see the famous staircase which is impressive even if perhaps not miraculous. Thousands of visitors come to see for themselves. After Loretto we went to see the San Miguel Mission chapel which is the oldest still functioning church structure in the U.S. The original mission bell is on display inside the building and visitors are allowed to ring it with a nylon mallet. I rang the bell and was informed that it meant I would return to Santa Fe someday. From San Miguel we walked to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe which houses the large oil painting "Our Lady of Guadalupe" by Jose de Alzibar.
We were hungry after all of our walking so we stopped at the Blue Corn Cafe for an early dinner of southwestern cuisine. Finally we got back on the road for the short drive to Albuquerque and checked into our hotel there. Saturday we may go to the Balloon Fiesta.
Friday, October 4, 2013
Thursday we drove 328 miles down I-25 to Santa Fe New Mexico. If you've been following the GPS tracker you'll notice we forgot to turn it on for the first 160 miles. We took our time about checking out of the hotel since we knew the day's drive would be relatively short. The land mostly flattens out as you leave Colorado Springs although there are a few smaller ranges (compared to the Rockies) of mountains you pass by or over. Of particular note was crossing the Raton Pass. The view as you cross into New Mexico is impressive from the top. We arrived in Santa Fe early and found a nearby restaurant featuring New Mexico cuisine which seems to be essentially Tex-Mex although the inclusion of sopapillas with every dish seems to be a local feature.
Gas price survey:
Las Vegas NM, $3.59
Thursday, October 3, 2013
Wednesday we drove to Colorado with only a couple of quick rest stops. There isn't much to see except corn along I-80 through Nebraska. The views improved as we approached Denver along I-76. We could begin to make out the silhouette of the Rocky Mountains from about 50 miles away. We made pretty good time with the 75 mph speed limit and gained an hour when we changed time zones so we chose to bypass our hotel in Denver and continue on to Colorado Springs instead for a total of 548 miles. We are staying at a nice Marriott that has views of Pike's Peak. Dinner & wine at the hotel restaurant was nice.
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
This was intended to be just a driving day with the objective being to make it to Lincoln Nebraska in time for dinner. We got out of town at 10:30 which is later than I'd have liked but still early enough to make our goal. Around midday we stopped for gas and lunch at the "Iowa 80 World's Largest Truckstop". If like me you've never stopped here on a trip west on I-80, it's worth seeing if for nothing else but the entire semi truck & trailer inside the store.
A ways farther west we came upon signs advertising the Amana Colonies which my mom remembered visiting many years ago. We decided to take the detour and stop for a visit. We didn't tour all of the Amana villages but we stopped at the visitor center and walked to a couple of shops including a bakery and chocolate shop.
With our couple of extra stops it was apparent that we weren't going to make Lincoln in time for dinner so we stopped at a Village Inn restaurant near Council Bluffs. I've never been to a Village Inn before. It's comparable to a Perkins/Denny's/Bakers Square, and the food was pretty good even if the service wasn't. Finally after 560 miles and 11.5 hours (including 3 stops) we made it to the hotel.
Gas price survey:
Iowa 80 Truckstop, $3.19
Council Bluffs IA, $3.19
Saturday, September 28, 2013
Tuesday began with croissants and coffee in the hotel room. The hotel is right next to the central Munich train station and there are all kinds of shops in the train station including a Starbucks and a nice bakery, so I walked over and brought back breakfast. We really like the Sofitel hotel for its location. It is a short walk from there to the Oktoberfest grounds, and only a little farther in the other direction to get to the Munich city center which was our Tuesday destination.
We walked along Bayerstrasse to the Karlsplatz. From there it is a pedestrian only street leading to the Marienplatz. Along this street we passed many vendor carts selling fruit, flowers and crafts. At one, Janet found a potholder she really liked. She would liked to have had two matching, but the vendor lady said it was one of a kind (until tomorrow I suppose). The Marienplatz is full of shops, cafes, tourists, and an occasional street performer. It is the location of the New Town Hall, which contains a famous Glockenspiel. We've been to Munich a couple of times before and never been in the Marienplatz when the Glockenspiel performed. We missed it this time too. :(
We visited several churches in central Munich including St. Michael's, St. Peter's, the Theatinerkirche and the Frauenkirche, which is one of the defining icons of the Munich skyline. We walked through the beautiful Hofgarten which was still in full bloom even this late in September. From there we walked to the English Garden where we paused to watch river surfers on the Eisbach. We continued across the Isar to the Angel of Peace monument which at 4km was as far as we ventured from our hotel. We started back but included a stop at the famed Hofbrauhaus for beer and Bavarian food. We then headed back to our hotel, but not to stay. We continued over to the Theresienwiese to check out Oktoberfest after dark.
The atmosphere in the beer tents after dark is quite different from our daytime visit. The music was louder and more contemporary. The crowds were thicker and rowdier. The tents were all standing room only. You couldn't find a seat without a reservation. We walked through most of the big tents and in some you could barely find room to squeeze between the other patrons. Everyone was standing on their seat, dancing or singing along with the band. It was quite a party. We eventually made our way back to the hotel and ordered room service for dinner.
Wednesday we checked out of our hotel in downtown Munich and took the train to the airport where we checked in to a hotel that was just a few minutes walk from the terminal. It was a nice hotel, but the internet connection there was really bad which is why this post is so delayed. We had a very nice dinner at the hotel restaurant. Thursday we left the hotel and checked in for the flight home. That was the only day it rained on the entire trip. We have been truly fortunate. Now we have a only a few days at home to catch up on things before we head out on our road trip. Watch in the days ahead for the first report on that trip.
Monday, September 23, 2013
Today we attended Oktoberfest. We had a beautiful sunny day with comfortable temperatures. It is wonderful how fortunate we have been with weather. We walked all over the Oktoberfest grounds which is a combination of amusement park, carnival, food fest and beer garden. We settled at the Hofbrau-Festhalle where we were able to find a seat at a table. I ordered some schweinhaxe and Janet got a big pretzel. We both had a stein of beer to go with it.There was oom-pah music playing and every 15 minutes or so the band plays "Ein Prosit" and the entire hall joins in the singing. The hall was quite noisy, especially in the center where there were standup tables only. Occasionally an overindulged patron would stand on a table and try to chug down an entire stein of beer before security arrived to convince him to get down.
I was surprised how many people show up in traditional Bavarian costumes. I expected mainly to see people working the fest to be dressed up, but I would say more than half of the attendees were in lederhosen and dirndls. I almost felt out of place in my jeans and shirt.
After we left the beer tent we bought tickets for the big Ferris wheel and finished up the day with a ride that provides a nice panoramic view of the entire festival. On the way out we bought some of the hot candied nuts that are on sale everywhere and smell so good you can't resist. We stopped at the St Paul Kirche on the way back but declined the opportunity to climb another bell tower.
Tomorrow I think we will do a walking self tour of Munich city center and perhaps return to Oktoberfest in the evening.
Sunday was another travel day. We checked out of our hotel in Grindelwald and drove to Munich. Most of the drive was along the same route we came on with the same beautiful views. At Liechtenstein we headed north into Germany for Munich and left the Alps behind. When we arrived in Munich we first drove to the hotel to check in and deposit our bags. Then we drove to the airport to return the car and take the train back to the hotel unencumbered by luggage. We had a nice dinner with wine at a bistro in the hotel. Monday I think we will visit the Theresienwiese and get a taste of Oktoberfest.
Saturday, September 21, 2013
We had a great day today. We woke up to perfect weather for a trip to the Jungfraujoch. The sky was clear & blue with just a few white clouds to give it definition. After breakfast we walked 15 minutes to the train station in town and rode the train to the Kleine Scheidegg station where we changed to the Jungfraubahn and rode the rest of the way up to the Jungfraujoch station. The view of the valley below as you ascend is astounding. About 10 minutes into the ride the train enters a tunnel and doesn't emerge again. The Jungfraujoch station is completely underground. Along the ascent the train stops for 5 minutes where you can get out and view the lower valley from the Eiger wall.
At the top you follow the blue "Tour" signs that lead you sequentially to all the points of interest, and of course directly through the gift shops. :) The most important point of interest is the view from the Sphinx observatory which is the highest point you can go to. It was spectacular. From there you can see the peaks of the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau; the Aletsch glacier; and all the way down to the valley.
After visiting the Sphinx we went out to the snow fun area where for a small fee you can go sledding on the glacier or zip line over it. We started by trying out the sledding which was great fun and made easy by a conveyor belt you could ride back to the top of the hill. We debated the zip line and finally decided to go for it. I had zipped before in Hawaii, but this was quite a different experience. The line starts up the mountain wall, and descends gradually to the snow below. There is nobody at the end to stop you and no brake on the line. You just start dragging your feet in the snow until you slow to a stop.
After zip lining, we explored some of the indoor activities at the top including an ice palace carved right into the glacier ice, and a giant snow globe. The final stop on the tour is another visit outside to the plateau near the Jungfrau with more breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
We took time to stop at one of the food and drink areas and celebrated our adventure with a glass of champagne and a scotch on the rocks. Then we boarded the train back to Grindelwald. Our hotel hostess had suggested a hike we could do on the way back where you exit the train, hike downhill a ways, then get back on the train at another station. On the way up I was considering this, but on our way down we were exhausted from our advetures and the thin air, so we stayed on the train all the way down.
Our day finished up with another nice dinner and dessert at the hotel. Tomorrow we pack up again and drive back to Munich for Oktoberfest.
Friday, September 20, 2013
Today was a car travel day. We had a nice buffet breakfast at our hotel in Innsbruck. The buffet included an egg cooker so Janet was able to have a hard boiled egg she likes for breakfast. After breakfast we packed up, checked out, and headed for Grindelwald. We drove around Innsbruck a little to see if we missed anything on our walking tour last night and stopped briefly at an interesting church near our hotel. It was a scenic 5 hour drive from Innsbruck to Grindelwald. We passed though beautiful valleys with majestic mountains on both sides and climbed over a few on winding switchbacks. We went through what seems like dozens of tunnels. We passed blue-green mountain lakes, and a huge waterfall. As we turned from Interlaken towards Grindelwald the snowy peaks of the Monch and Jungfrau loomed in front of us.
We arrived and checked in at our hotel and were delighted to find that we had a corner room with a balcony and amazing views of the mountains. The room itself is small but charming and the bed looks comfortable enough. We settled in and then went back outside for a walk in town. The main road through town is lined with shops and cafes and a few restaurant/bars. We window shopped some and then turned around to go back to the hotel. The walk into town is all downhill from the hotel. Thanks to our recent walking efforts both at home and on our travels, the return uphill trip was not too difficult.
We had dinner at the hotel, which consisted of a puff pastry leek tart starter followed by a self serve salad bar. The main course was a mixed grill of pork and beef with macaroni and brussell sprouts. We finished with mango ice cream.
The weather today was perfect. Mostly sunny with a few clouds and temperatures in the high 60's during most of our drive. Tomorrow is looking like a perfect day for going to the Jungfraujoch, so we have already bought our tickets and will definitely make the trip tomorrow.
Thursday, September 19, 2013
We arrived early to the airport and had time to relax before our 6:10 pm departure for Munich. We kept an eye on the departure screens and our flight stayed scheduled on time with boarding starting at 5:20pm. Boarding began promptly and we were seated on the plane by 5:30. We had good economy-plus seats with lots of extra legroom right behind the bulkhead separating business class. Everything was looking good until the lightning started. We were delayed for takeoff, then delayed again, and then again. The whole time we were sitting on the plane at the gate. We didn't push back from the gate until about 8:30, and it was 8:50 before we were in the air. The delay was an annoyance, but didn't really impact our trip. At least we were not one of the many who missed connections in Munich Thursday morning.
We arrived in Munich about noon on Thursday where clearing passport control and customs (what customs?) was a breeze. Stopped at Starbucks for some coffee, tea, and an inferior croissant, then picked up the rental car. After finding our car we struggled with the in-dash information system trying to figure out how to get it switched to English and program the GPS. After a while of struggling on my own I found a Sixt agent in the garage and asked for help. She got the language switched for me, then told me the car did not have a navigation system, even though I had reserved and paid for one that did. She asked if I wanted a portable GPS and I accepted that.
When you get your car keys from the Sixt counter at Munich airport, they give you an exit ticket to get out of the parking garage. When I tried to leave I discovered we had delayed so long with the GPS issues that my exit ticket had expired and the gate would not open. I pressed the call button and was told I had to go back to my rental agent and get a new ticket. They couldn't (or wouldn't) just open the gate. Fortunately I was able to obtain one from the same helpful agent in the garage that assisted me with the GPS and didn't have to go all the way back to the rental counter.
We enjoyed the scenic drive from Munich to Innsbruck. At first we had some doubts that the GPS was working properly as its directions didn't seem to coincide with the road signs I was following to get to Innsbruck, but ultimately it seemed to sync up and work. However, it seems to go into some kind of sleep mode where the screen blanks out. I don't think it's supposed to do that.
After checking in here in Innsbruck we went for a walk through a nice nearby park and then over to the city center where we saw the famed Golden Roof. We window shopped along Herzog-Friedrich Strasse and had some wine and a bite to eat at an outdoor cafe on Maria-Theresien Strasse, where we were entertained by a singer/piano player. It was very pleasant although it got quite
cool cold after sunset.
We went back to the hotel restaurant for dinner and more wine. Janet had some spinach dumplings that she said were very good and I had roast beef & vegetables.
Tomorrow we have a several hours drive to Grindelwald Switzerland.
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Today we are taking off for Munich and Oktoberfest. This is the 3rd of three trips I referred to a while back and ties in with the Isar river reference. We expanded this trip to include a drive through Austria over to Grindelwald Switzerland at the base of the north face of the Eiger. I don't plan to do any mountain climbing while there but weather permitting I'm planning to ascend via the Jungfraubahn to the Jungfraujoch.
After Switzerland we return to Munich to experience Oktoberfest where it originated. Again I'm hoping for good weather. We've been very fortunate to have excellent weather on our previous trips this year. If we have time we'd like to do some Munich sightseeing as well. We've been there before but there are things we haven't seen and things we'd like to do again.
Danny owns a SPOT personal GPS device that tracks your location and displays it on a web page. He brought it with him to Ireland a couple of weeks ago and it was fun to follow his path around the country. He has lent it to me and I plan to carry it with me around Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and hopefully up to the Jungfraujoch. If you're interested in following my progress, the web page is here: http://goo.gl/EkJUcH.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Tuesday was our last day to spend in Sydney. We begin the long trip home on Wednesday. We drove to Manly and parked the car while we walked up the length of the beach and back. There were some surfers on the waves at Manly beach. From Manly we drove to the Sydney Harbor National Park on the North Head. We parked the car at the end of the road and then walked on the trail that follows the edge of the cliffs. We looked for whales but didn't see any.
Next we headed to Doyle's restaurant in Watson's bay for dinner, but discovered that Doyle's doesn't open for dinner until 5:30pm and we were there at 4 pm, so instead we drove back to downtown Sydney where we had dinner at Peter Doyle's (same family) on the Quay. After dinner we returned to the hotel for nightcaps in the Horizon club.
On Monday we made a trip to Hunter Valley to pick up some wine from Ernest Hill winery. We already knew we wanted to buy some of their Luna Spark and Luna Rouge wines, but we tasted a few of their other wines while we were there and decided to also bring home a bottle of their Gewurztraminer and one of their Rose. After buying our wine we went to nearby Lindeman's winery restaurant for lunch. We followed the scenic route back to the hotel and finished the day with drinks and snacks in the Horizon club.
Monday, September 9, 2013
Yesterday we had breakfast at the Horizon club then returned to the room to make plans for the day. We decided to see if we could attend a performance at the Opera House. We were able to get tickets to a production of South Pacific. We drove the car to the Opera House following directions given by the concierge, but missed a critical turn and ended up on the Harbor Bridge heading across the harbor. We exited as soon as possible on the other side, and were able to get ourselves turned around and headed back but by the time we finally got to the Opera House and parked the car we were late for the start of the performance. They seated us shortly after we arrived, but our seats were in the middle of a row and we had to squeeze our way to them in front of all the already seated people. The show was quite good though.
Following the show we had dinner and drinks at a restaurant near the Opera House. The weather was beautiful our first day here. Today was cooler and it rained a bit while we were in the theater. The ground was wet but the sky had cleared by the time we came out. Still, it was a little too cool for al fresco dining and we decided to eat inside.
We returned to the hotel in time for evening drinks and desserts in the Horizon Club.
Sunday, September 8, 2013
It's Sunday morning Sept 8th, and we've been in Sydney one full day now. We haven't been back here in 2½ years and I'd forgotten how long the plane ride feels. We left home and flew to San Francisco where we camped out in the United Club where Janet managed to nap during the 3½ hour wait between planes. At 10 pm we began boarding for the flight to Sydney. Jan & I had exit row seats that at least allowed us to stretch our legs out during the long flight, but trying to sleep was more difficult than I remembered. I had stayed awake on the flight to San Francisco and during the layover in hopes of becoming tired enough to sleep easily on the flight to Sydney, but it didn't help much. Janet's plan to sleep whenever you can seems to be the better one.
We landed in Sydney about 6:30 am and cleared customs and border control. Australia has restrictions on bringing food into the country and we had packed some Isagenix bars and a few other snacks in our bags so we declared that we had food on the customs form. That meant we had to stand in a 2nd line after customs and wait while a dog sniffed our bags. We were cleared without a problem, but we did witness one passenger who was taken from the line for closer inspection of his bags.
At the car rental counter they offered us a free GPS since the car we were getting had a smaller trunk than the one I requested. I usually prefer not to use GPS if I already know the route I need to take, but we turned it on anyway. The GPS took us the long way to the hotel because the previous user had it set to avoid toll roads.
We checked in at the Shangri-la and they already had a room ready for us even though it was still early in the morning. They also had fulfilled our request for a room on the club floor. We love this place.
We had breakfast in the Horizon club. The weather was beautiful so after breakfast we went out for a walk around the Rocks area where a weekend market was going on. We continued around the Quay and over by the Opera House before returning to the hotel for a nap we both needed to help adjust to the time change.
Saturday, August 31, 2013
This will be the last update. Tomorrow we have an early start to go to the airport and begin the journey home. Today we took the train to Chartres to see the cathedral there. We arrived at the train station with only about 15 minutes to buy our tickets and board the train or wait an hour for the next train. We tried using the self serve ticket machines thinking it would be faster but the machine wouldn't read the credit card. After a couple of retries I went to the ticket counter instead. I was able to buy the tickets but we only had a few minutes to board at track 21. We ran to the platform and got on with about a minute to spare. The train was crowded and we couldn't find seats together but Zoe and Janet got a pair of dropdown seats near the door and I found an empty seat just a few feet away. After a few stops a group of 4 seats opened up and we were able to sit together the rest of the trip. We had a light breakfast this morning, just a couple of croissants and coffee, and Zoe was hungry when we arrived at Chartres. But knowing how long it takes to get served and pay at the French cafes, we worried that we would miss the opportunity to climb the bell tower so we did that first. Zoe counted 285 stairs on the way up the tower. My legs are getting stronger than they've ever been. After returning to ground level we went to the cafe across the street for a late lunch. Janet discovered on this trip that she likes the Croque Monsieur sandwich that can be found on almost every cafe menu so she had one here as well. We all had profiteroles for dessert. They were delicious. After lunch we explored the interior of the cathedral where there happened to be a wedding going on. Next we looked through some souvenir shops and the headed back to the station for the train back to Paris.
Friday, August 30, 2013
We started our day at Sacre Coeur Basilica. The Metro let us off in Montmartre and we wandered in search of the artists' square and then the church. We toured inside the church and then Zoe and I climbed the 300 stairs to the dome where we were treated to an amazing panaorama of Paris. Afterward we had lunch at a nearby cafe. Zoe had a sandwich of gruyere cheese on French bread. After lunch we traveled to the Arc d' Triomphe where Zoe and I again climbed a long spiral staircase to the top for views of the Champs Elysees and the nearby Eiffel tower. Next we hopped the Metro for the Eiffel Tower but shortly after getting in the ticket line they closed access to the top only allowing access to the 2nd floor. We left the line and instead got on a Seine river sightseeing cruise. The cruise described the points of interest along the route and returned us to our Eiffel Tower starting point. By that time access to the top had reopened and we were able to ascend just in time to watch the sun set from the top. Janet and I shared a champagne toast and we returned to the ground with lots of pictures. We walked to the other side of the Seine for a good vantage point to photograph the illuminated Tower. There were some street performers there that kept us entertained until the Eiffel started its sparkle show. Afterwards we went to a cafe in Trocadéro plaza with good food and even better macarons. We got back to the hotel after midnight.
We slept in today and made it to breakfast just before it ended. The day began with a Metro ride to Chateau Vincennes. We toured the grounds, chapel, and the Keep. Next we headed by Metro to Ile de La Cité. We arrived and had a late lunch at an outdoor cafe. We were going to tour St. Chapelle but it appeared to be closing when we arrived. So we went to Notre Dame and toured inside and walked around the perimeter outside. We looked into doing the tower climb but it was closed for the day. We walked from Notre Dame to the Louvre and went inside to photograph the inverted pyramid. Then we walked through the Tuileries gardens all the way to the Concorde plaza. From there we rode the Metro back to the hotel. After a brief rest at the hotel we got ready for our dinner reservation at Ciel de Paris. We took the Metro to dinner and when we arrived we were a little disappointed to be assigned a table in a corner without much of a view. Janet told our waiter that we were celebrating with Zoe and asked if we could move to a table by the window. There appeared to be some discussion between the waiter and manager as to whether that could be allowed but ultimately we were moved to a window table with a very nice view. Dinner was very good. Zoe had a vegetable dish called Vegetable Napoleon. We also had some delicious desserts. It was after midnight again by the time we got back to the hotel.
There was no sleeping in this morning. We planned to go to Versailles but first wanted to be at Notre Dame when they opened the Bell Tower climb. When we arrived the line was already very long. We waited in line for an hour before we could begin the tour. It was worth the wait. At the middle level you can get close up views of the chimera and then climb the rest of the way to the very top of the bell tower where the views of Paris are breathtaking. After returning to ground level we took the train to Versailles. We stopped for lunch at McDonalds where we ordered on self serve kiosks and were surprised to find we could get macarons at the McCafe counter. After lunch we toured the Chateau using self paced audio guides. Then we took a long stroll in the gardens before returning to Paris. On the way back we detoured on the Metro so we could return to the Carette cafe to get more macarons. We had dinner at the hotel restaurant again. It was nice to return a little earlier for a change.
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
We got to O'Hare airport early and relaxed in the United Club. The plane boarded and departed a little late. I watched "The Croods" during the early part of the flight and then tried to get some sleep after dinner was served. Janet & Zoe had difficulty sleeping on the flight but I slept ok. Janet had to wake me up when they were serving breakfast just before landing.
We landed at CDG, cleared passport control, and collected our luggage. We were surprised that we did not need to go through any customs station, but were able to exit directly after claiming our bags. We obtained our rental car from SIXT. It is an Opel Astra. 6 speed manual transmission, diesel engine, and plenty of room for our bags. We drove from CDG to Rouen where we stopped and toured on foot. We saw the old St Ouen abbey and cathedral, then walked to the huge Notre Dame cathedral at Rouen, famously painted more than 30 times by Monet. We had lunch in an outdoor cafe next to the cathedral, then toured the inside. After touring the cathedral we walked down Rue du Gros Horloge to see the Great Clock with one hand. From there we walked to the spot where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431.
We left Rouen and drove to Omaha beach and saw the memorial to the US forces that landed there on June 6 1944. From there we drove to La Pointe du Hoc and saw the remains of the bunkers and gun emplacements that were faced by the US Rangers who scaled the cliffs there to attack them. Then we drove to our hotel in Caen for the night. The hotel was small and the room was too, but comfortable enough. We had a good dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant and returned to finally lay our heads down and get some sleep.
We got up before 7am and had breakfast at the hotel. Zoe is an organized traveller and was ready to go quickly. We drove to the American Cemetery near Omaha beach in Normandy, and toured there for a while before starting our drive to Mont Saint-Michel. Our car has a built in navigation unit, and we allowed it to direct us to our destination. I was skeptical because instead of putting us on the major highway that Google Maps directions indicated, it kept taking us down narrow country lanes and through tiny French villages. In the end, we arrived at our destination in the same amount of time that Google had allocated, and our trip was much more entertaining.
Mont Saint Michel was very crowded. The narrow shop lined streets leading to the abbey entrance were packed with people. There was a long line of people standing on the stairs waiting to buy tickets for the abbey tour, but it moved along fairly well, and once inside the crowd thinned out and we were able to tour at our own pace. Mont Saint Michel is very impressive viewed from the ground, and the views looking down from the upper levels are equally impressive. There are a lot of stairs to climb, and just as many to descend, so our legs were pretty tired when we finished.
We left Mont Saint Michel and drove back to CDG to return our rental car. Most of the drive was uneventful but we started running low on gas as we neared Paris. We estimated that we had enough, and didn't want to stop twice for gas before returning the car, so we pressed on. But about 20 miles from the airport the Low Fuel warnings came on, and at the same time we encountered a traffic jam on the freeway, so we exited and started looking for a fuel station which was a small adventure in itself. I was sure we were never critically low on fuel, but I think Zoe got a little nervous. :)
We finally got our car returned, and then took the RER train from the airport into central Paris. From there we had to switch to a Metro line, and there were no elevators or escalators between the track levels which made it challenging getting all our suitcases and backpacks up and down the stairs. At one point, I had carried one suitcase down, and was headed back up the stairs to help Janet who was struggling to carry hers, when some guy started yelling at another guy who apparently had unzipped Janet's backpack and grabbed something out of it as she was struggling with her suitcase. The first guy managed to retrieve Janet's belongings from the other guy who took off running. It turned out the guy had only grabbed a pouch of nail files because Janet is a savvy packer and wouldn't have anything of value in such an accessible location. But it was unsettling to realize that she had just been nearly robbed by a pickpocket.
We made it the rest of the way to our hotel without incident, and had a nice dinner at the hotel restaurant. Tomorrow we begin touring Paris.
Thursday, August 15, 2013
My trip to France is coming up soon. I don't really speak French, but I made an attempt to learn 7 years ago when we attended a wedding in the southern France town of Sanary-Sur-Mer. You can get by without knowing French in Paris and other popular tourist areas, but I thought it would be helpful to understand some French in this small seaside village. I used the Pimsleur method and completed a 30 minute French lesson on CD every day while driving to work. The method worked well, and while I couldn't carry on a conversation with a French native, I felt I could manage essential communication like asking for directions, how much something cost, and of course, hello, goodbye, and thank you.
Now I find that I've forgotten most of what I knew then. So in anticipation of my upcoming trip I've been repeating the lessons. This time they are mp3s on my phone, and I listen to them while I do my regular walks. I've probably caused a few puzzled looks as I pass other walkers with my earbuds in and saying out loud "Mettre du l'essence dans ma voiture."
Friday, August 2, 2013
Walking isn't completely risk free. Once your distance gets beyond a mile or two, you either have to zig-zag all over the neighborhood or cross a busy street or two, risking an incident similar to the one that inspired Ratso Rizzo's famous quote.
Monday, July 29, 2013
My family and Facebook friends have already seen this. However, if you don't fall into one of those categories or perhaps hit this page from a Google search for Aurora Borealis, here is a nice timelapse video of the auroral display we witnessed during our trip to Fairbanks AK this past February. I wish I could take credit for the video, but it was created by a fellow guest at the B&B where we stayed. Unfortunately I can't properly credit him since I only knew him as Yu.
We were only in Fairbanks for 2 nights. The first night was cloudy and no aurora was visible. The 2nd day was also cloudy, but the skies cleared as night fell. We stayed awake waiting (and hoping) for an aurora display to begin. About 2 am AKST (UTC-9) we noticed the beginnings of an aurora that continued for several hours. To the naked eye, the lights are a paler green than that captured by the camera. Also, the movement of the aurora structures is not as obvious as in the time lapse video.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
In my Around the World post, I hinted at some of the upcoming trips I have planned. Savvy readers recognized that the hints were the names of rivers near my destinations. The first of those is the Seine which is the 2nd longest river in France and cuts right through the middle of Paris. I am indeed headed to France on my first trip, and Paris is part of the itinerary.
I've been to France before, but the last time was in 2007, and I'm looking forward to my return. As a graduation gift, we are bringing my granddaughter on this trip. She already has some world travel experience, but this is her first trip to Paris so we will be revisiting many of the major attractions there. In addition we will make a two day side trip to Mont Saint-Michel and the beaches of Normandy which I have not seen before. The trip is coming up soon so I think it's time to brush up my French. Allons-y!
Sunday, July 21, 2013
Sunday, July 14, 2013
This is the street view wrap up picture for "Where's That Landmark"
The Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia were the tallest buildings in the world until 2004 when they were surpassed by Taipai 101.
The twin towers with their connecting skybridge would be an exciting landmark to see along with many other Malaysian wonders such as the Batu caves or the Putra Mosque.
Saturday, July 13, 2013
Most everyone who reads this blog is probably already aware that today Danny sailed off in the 105th Chicago to Mackinac race. This will be his 6th time participating. It has become tradition to go down to the lake and cheer him on as Cyclone passes the end of Navy Pier in the official boat parade. Fourteen of us made it down to the pier today. The start of the Mac race has become quite a public event in recent years, and it has gotten a little difficult to get a good spot on the railing for all of us. But we make enough noise, and we are a big enough presence that the crew of the Cyclone definitely notices the attention. Some of the shore crew will head up to Mackinac Island to cheer their arrival as well. Best wishes to Cyclone and Crew for a safe swift journey.
Here are a few pictures from this morning's send off.
|Coming up on the parade point|
|Cyclone and Crew|
|Danny photographing the Shore Crew|
|Headed out to the start|
|Emily showing support for Cyclone|
|Elliott Jennifer & Christian|
|The Shore Crew|
If you couldn't identify the landmark before, this bird's eye view leaves little doubt. It would have to be a pretty high flying bird though wouldn't it.
Friday, July 12, 2013
Hopefully you figured out the general location and now know what city this is. The landmark is visible in this airplane view if you know where to look. But there's at least one other significant landmark visible as well so make your best guess.
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
This is a satellite view of a distant landmark I'd like to see someday. If you can identify the location you'll probably have a good idea what the landmark is, although there's certainly more than just one possibility. If you need to see more of the surrounding area, you can click on the image for a zoomed out view.
Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Sunday, July 7, 2013
Here is a picture of Rue du Petit Champlain in Quebec City, Canada.
Saturday, July 6, 2013
Friday, July 5, 2013
Here's a closer look at the destination. Since there isn't a well known identifying landmark (that I know of) it will probably take some Google map browsing to identify this view. Zoom in view coming tomorrow.
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Here's a game I haven't played for a long time. The idea is that I'll post a series of pictures starting from a satellite view and getting progressively closer. If you're interested, you can try to guess the landmark I'm zooming in on. The last time I played this, I chose landmarks that I had already visited. This time around I'll be using locations that I haven't visited yet, but would like to see someday.
This first one is more of a location that I'd like to visit rather than a specific landmark. Here's a satellite view. Click on the picture for a wider view if you need it.
Saturday, June 29, 2013
A few posts back I mentioned I was going to be doing some travelling while on sabbatical this fall. I hinted at three destinations. I've since added a fourth. Sometimes there are places you know you've always wanted to see. My wife always wanted to visit Japan. I always thought I'd like to see Tahiti. We've been fortunate enough to accomplish both of those.
Sometimes you don't even know about a place, but when you learn of it, you know you want to go there. This is one of those. It's called the Jungfraujoch and sits over 11,000 feet amidst the peaks of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau in the Swiss Alps.
Matt Lauer went there in 2011:
Contestants of the Amazing Race went there in 2012:
Friday, June 21, 2013
Of course, it's never that simple. First at 22.50/share, a 100 share investment in McDonalds stock would have cost $2250. That doesn't seem like that much today, but in 1965 you could almost pay cash for a new Mustang. The median family income was around $7000. Not many people could afford such an investment. And even if you could, putting that many eggs in one hamburger basket would probably have been ill advised.
So could I have held on to an investment long enough to become a millionaire? I don't know. Ask my bitcoin heirs in 30 years. :)
Monday, June 17, 2013
That's how many I haven't eaten since April of this year. I actually haven't eaten any, but given my previous lunch habits I might have consumed that many, substituted by an occasional Quarter Pounder or maybe a Crispy Chicken Classic. Instead I have resolutely followed the Isagenix program with few exceptions, and seen resulting measurable reductions in my weight and waist.
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
How to get more bitcoin? Mining didn't pan out as I would have liked, and I'm not really willing to risk investing more cash at this point. Still, I was interested in growing my bitcoin holdings so I thought I might give bitcoin day trading a try. Initially, I hoped to trade using my Bitfloor account which had some really favorable trading rules. Unfortunately, the Bitfloor exchange ceased operations before I had a chance to start trading there. Fortunately, the Bitfloor exchange ceased operations before I had any significant funds in an account there. Instead, I opened an account on Mt Gox, the largest bitcoin exchange in the world. Hoping to take advantage of the volatility of bitcoin prices, I transferred 1 BTC into my account.
The golden rule for any kind of trading is "buy low, sell high". This rule applied to my bitcoin trades as well, except that since my goal was to increase my bitcoin, I needed to apply the rule in reverse: Sell high, buy low. By selling bitcoin at a high price and then waiting for the price to come down, I could buy more bitcoin than I sold for the same dollars. There are two things that make this difficult.
The first is the trading fees. Mt Gox charges a 0.6% fee for every buy or sell transaction. That means I needed to make a 1.2% profit on my trades just to break even. I hoped to earn 1-2% on my trades which means I needed a price spread in the neighborhood of 4 dollars to hit my target. Bitcoin often has price swings of this magnitude and more, but catching the top and bottom of them is challenging.
And that brings me to the 2nd, and most important difficulty of profitable bitcoin trading. It turns out that trying to predict the direction of bitcoin prices using technical analysis like dojis and trendlines is just plain silly. Buying low and selling high is more a guessing game of chance than anything else. I'd probably do as well playing red and black at roulette.
My results? I executed 20 trades over about a 1 month period resulting in a net loss of about 0.14 bitcoin. I guess I'll consider that the cost of tuition for my bitcoin day trading education.
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
I'm fortunate to work for a company with a policy that says after 10 years of service you are entitled to a 2 month paid sabbatical in addition to your regular paid vacation that year. I begin my sabbatical in 80 days. I have a number of trips planned during that time, and while I'm not actually going to travel around the world, my total miles travelled will exceed the circumference of the globe.
Actually, travelling the circumference of the earth is not particularly unusual in my case. I have travelled the equivalent of twice around the world each year for several years now. I try to maintain frequent flyer gold status with my airline of choice, and to do so requires flying a minimum of 50,000 miles a year. The trips planned during my sabbatical are in part intended to help me reach that goal this year.
I'll leave discussion of my destinations for some future posts, but here are a few clues: Seine, Isar, Parramatta.
Thursday, May 30, 2013
Following the Isagenix program continues to be effective. I achieved a new milestone when, according to the National Institutes of Health BMI calculator my BMI is no longer in the 'obese' range but only considered overweight. Tinkering with the values on the BMI calculator, I came to the realization that I'm not really overweight. I'm just under tall. I'd have a normal BMI if I was only 6 inches taller. ;)
I actually passed this milestone last week, but my scale has a tendency to fluctuate from day to day, especially over a holiday weekend, so I waited for 6 confirmations before reporting the news.
Friday, May 10, 2013
Bitcoins are typically bought through a bitcoin exchange. A bitcoin exchange is like a stock exchange. People with bitcoin to sell list their asking price, and people with dollars list the price they are willing to pay. When there is a match on both sides, an exchange is made. I created an account on a U.S. based exchange called Bitfloor. To buy bitcoins I needed to fund my account. There are a variety of ways to get funds into your account, but many of them involve multi-day delays. I was hoping to take advantage of the recent bitcoin price drop and pick up some cheap before the price went back up, so I wanted a more immediate funding solution. I opted to use a service called LocalTill that allows you to deposit cash at any Bank of America location and promises the deposit (minus a service fee) will appear in your Bitfloor account in 30 minutes. It was a little unnerving anonymously depositing cash into an unknown bank account, but by the time I returned from the bank my Bitfloor account was indeed credited with my deposit.
Bitcoin prices were still falling when I decided to place a buy order at about $92, thinking they wouldn't stay under $100 long. My order was filled and I nearly doubled my bitcoin holdings. I could have done better however, as bitcoin prices continued to fall to a low of $50. But within a few days the price bounced back and I was happy with my hasty purchase.
Now that I had a bitcoin exchange account, I started thinking about how I might try buying and selling bitcoin for fun and profit! I'll tell that story in a future post.
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
I didn't much care for the taste of the meal replacement drink at first, but grew accustomed to it after a while. The meal replacement bars aren't bad, but the Ionix and Cleanse For Life products can only be described as tolerable. I don't think I've felt as hungry on this program as I have when I've tried restricting calories on my own, but I do still miss late evening snacks.
My results are encouraging. The last time I made a serious weight loss effort, I managed to lose 9 pounds the first month, and 8 pounds the second. After 30 days on the Isagenix program I have released over 18 pounds. I like the term released. I saw it used in another Isagenix success story. Usually if you talk about losing something you are referring to something valuable or useful. "I lost my keys", or "I lost my wallet". You hope to find it and get it back. That's certainly not the case with lost pounds. When you release something you are hoping it will not come back. You release a prisoner or you release a captured animal. It sounds more permanent to release extra pounds.
When I began the Isagenix program I didn't know if I would like it but I said "I can do anything for a month". I don't expect I will stay with the program long term. Eventually I hope to switch over to a more conventional weight management program. But based on my results so far I have decided to give it another month. Look for an update sometime in June.
Saturday, May 4, 2013
The amount of work necessary to add a block is intentionally manipulated by the Bitcoin protocol, such that on average only 6 blocks an hour can be added. If I am the only miner, I will 'solve' 6 blocks an hour and earn all the bitcoin rewards for those blocks. If you decide you'd like some of that booty, you can fire up your own miner. Even though twice as much computer power is now in use, the mining difficulty is automatically adjusted such that only 6 blocks will be found each hour. But the probability is that you will complete 3 and I'll complete 3. That is, until someone else fires up their miner and starts completing some blocks too. It turns out that there are so many miners competing on the bitcoin network that the chances of an individual completing a block are minuscule. Instead, mining pools have been formed where all the pool members contribute some computing power, and share the bitcoin reward proportionately to their contribution.
So I installed a mining program on my computer and joined a mining pool. The pool is a pretty big one so their block finding probability averaged around 1 per hour. However, I was only contributing a small percentage to the pool, so my reward averaged about 0.01 bitcoin per day. The miner runs on the computer's graphics processor which generates quite a bit of heat and consequently causes the cooling fans to run continuously at full speed. The noise was annoying and I had concerns about the continuous heat affecting the life of my graphics card so after about 5 days I decided it wasn't worth it and shut off the miner, earning a little over 52 millys (0.052 BTC). Not exactly increasing my bitcoin holdings at the pace I'd like. Watch for episode 3 to hear about trading cash for bitcoin.
[End of episode 2]
Thursday, May 2, 2013
I first heard of bitcoins sometime last year, but I didn't give it much thought. Then in March of this year I heard that they were trading for about $40 which was nearly four times what they were worth when I first heard of them. Not even a month later, I learned that they were trading at around $90. This information aroused the interest of the
Fortunately my son is a bit of a bitcoin SME. He has been monitoring them for some time, and is the one who first brought them to my attention. After advising me that Bitcoin was indeed experimental and cautioning me against investing any money that I couldn't afford to lose completely, he agreed to acquire some for me and keep it safe until I learned the ins and outs of bitcoin ownership.
So on April 3rd, I became the owner of 7.78528750 bitcoins. I installed a bitcoin wallet on my computer so I could manage and secure my bitcoins. Bitcoin is like cash in a lot of ways, one of which is that if you don't take care to keep it safe, someone might just take it. I installed the Bitcoin Ticker app on my phone so I could check the value of my bitcoins every day. As I watched the trading price of a bitcoin continue to increase, I started wondering how I could get more. I'll tell you about that in episode 2.
[End of episode 1]