The year in review

This has been an epic year for my husband Greg and I.  I retired from a teaching job that I loved, learned to live with my husband full time, started blogging, traveled extensively and rekindled my passion for photography.

My husband and I have learned the dance of being retired together.  He has his hobbies and interests and I am learning to take time to do the things that I love.  First I had to figure out what those things were (writing, photography, crafts)  but now we give each other space, so that later we want to spend time together.  This year our European travels have included Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Amsterdam, England, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland.  My husband and I are very different people, he is quiet organized and cerebral and I am spontaneous, outgoing, and attention seeking.  But the one thing that we agree upon is that we both passionately love to travel and meet new people from around the globe.

For this blog  I decided to include some of my favorite photographs from the year.  I hope you enjoy them.

 

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View of the Vatican at night from our balcony

This was a special gift we enjoyed nightly in Rome, our Airbnb was located in a fabulous area with shops, restaurants and so many sights to enjoy.

 

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A wonderful dinner at Alfredo e Ada with a young California couple in Rome

Sometimes you find you stumble upon a real gem of a restaurant, a family run place with homemade pasta and delicious specialities offered each night.

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Greg, enjoying a sweet gelato at the end of the day

 

The location of our Airbnb in Florence was just steps from the Ponte Vecchio.

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Pointe Vecchio in the evening inFlorence

The sheer size and beauty of David was worth the trip to Florence.

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Michaelangelo’s David

We spent five days in the beautiful area known as Cinque Terre, where we enjoyed the spectacular scenery, hiking and seeing the beautiful cities clinging to the cliffs..

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Manarola on the Cinque Terre coast
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My attempt at an “artsy” photograph from Nessun Dorma
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Trattoria Dal Billy a fabulous restaurant with even better views
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I love this photograph of a lovely Italian lady checking out the neighborhood

Following Cinque Terre we rented a car and explored Siena and Tuscany.

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Appetizers and wine with views of Siena from our backyard.
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Sienna at sunset
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Tuscany landscape

It was a great pleasure to turn in our car in Rome and board the Celebrity Equinox.  No unpacking for a week and we were able to visit some great new places on the way to Barcelona.

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Grass growing on the top of the Celebrity cruise ship
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View from the hilltop town of Eze, France
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We loved the sangria, beer and olives in Mallorca
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Street view near our flat in Barcelona
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La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s masterpiece

After a week in Barcelona we took a flight to Geneva, Switzerland to visit friends and see much of the pristine beauty of Switzerland.

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“The Void” on Mont Blanc, France
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Fabulous times with friends
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Sunflower fields in Switzerland

We left Switzerland and headed for a few days in Amsterdam, a city we loved because of its beauty, accessibility, friendliness and rich history.

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Greg standing by the canals in Amsterdam
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A different point of view
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Zaanse Schans windmills

Next, we flew to London for a few days before we boarded a cruise to the British Isles.

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The band playing Queens’ “Fat Bottom Gor;s”
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Belfast’s famous murals
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Falling for Giant’s Causeway with my friend Brooks
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Looking up from Giant’s Causeway
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Nearing the end of our journey, taking time to snuggle together.
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One last stop before we fly home, a lucky detour to Stonehenge 

 

 

I hope you enjoy seeing some highlights of Europe 2016.  I promise there is more travel to come in 2017.  I wish you all a wonderful, happy and healthy new year.

Beyond Tacos and Tequila How to Make the Most of Mexico

People respond to bad news.  The news media has known this for years.  “If it  bleeds, it leads.”  We want to hear terrible things, things that happen to other people.  Customers write horrible reviews because they are often embolden to write a review when they feel ripped off, slighted, or are generally pissed off.  I know this from personal experience.  Last year we visited Puerto Penasco (Rocky Point) with a large group of friends.  Our trip was spoiled by a very unresponsive resort and some unpleasant experiences. We left with a bitter sense of dissatisfaction.  We complained to management but were not satisfied.  I’m never reluctant to point out to a business when something is wrong, but since we were not listened to  I went home and wrote a scathing review of this very “upscale” resort.  I included a litany of issues we encountered and warned everyone to stay away.  That review has over six thousand readers!  My blogs, which I attempt to carefully craft to be relevant, honest and engaging have a grand total of twenty five subscribers!  What the hell am I doing wrong?

Now I will tell you all how to avoid disaster in Mexico.  I have experienced some disasters in Mexico so I can share what I’ve learned.

 

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Low tide on Sandy Beach
Rules to not ruin your trip to Rocky Point Mexico

  1.  Travel with people you enjoy spending time with.  It is amazing how many people go on trips with relative strangers and end up ruining a budding friendship.  On our most recent trip we traveled with one other couple we have traveled with before.
  2. Have a shared goal for your vacation.  Relaxation? Sure.  Beach  time?  Absolutely.  Sampling local cuisine? Yes.  End up in a Mexican jail?  No thank you.
  3. Remember you are a guest in the country DON’T BREAK THE LAW!
  4. Set realistic expectations.  In Rocky Point you are likely to have great fresh fish, tacos and other local specialities but not likely to find many fine dining places. Accept it and move on.
  5. The most important rule is to go with the flow.
  6. Do your research on your accommodations.

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Sierra Bonita Resort Swim up Bar
Rocky Point Mexico is a four and a half hour drive from Phoenix Arizona.  Locals in Arizona refer to the boarder town as our own beachside community.  Not too many years ago Rocky Point was a place to camp on the beach and enjoy a quiet, fishing community with spectacular beaches and cheap food.

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Enjoying a walk on the beach
Today it is dotted with many condo communities and hotels filled with Americans enjoying the natural beauty of the town.  The town has grown and although there is little camping on the beach there is still a wide variety of accommodations to suit every taste and budget.

We spent three days in a condo community known as Sierra Bonita “Pretty Mountain”.  We rented through VRBO a beautifully appointed two bedroom condo with beach and pool views.  The community included, palapas, sandy beaches, swim up bars and an onsite restaurant.  To put it simply, we loved the place!  Decorator touches, a large patio, entertainment, and good proximity to many restaurants and bars.  Don’t forget to try the street food and drinks too!

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Pina Coladas in town
The town of Rocky Point is filled with bars, taco stands and many shops selling cheap tours items like t-shirts, cowboy hats and blankets.  Haggling for prices is encouraged in the shops.  The shrimp is inexpensive and plentiful.  Be sure to pack the cooler with some to bring home and marvel at the price you get the giant shrimps for.

There are so many activities to take part in Rocky Point Mexico.  Rent a horse or an ATV.  Swim on the beach and walk for miles in the sand.  Get up at sunrise or enjoy the sunset.  Eat like a local.  Go to the chicken taco stand and get chicken, go to the carne asada stand and get steak.  But most of all enjoy what Mexico has to offer and appreciate the beauty of our neighbor to the south.

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The Adventure of the Traveling Clock

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Sarasota Beach

We have embarked on a new adventure, a road trip across America. The last time my husband and I traveled on a cross country road trip was thirty two years ago when we were relocating to Arizona from New Jersey. For that trip I drove a total of two hours, he is hoping that I will share a bit more of the driving this time.
We are calling this adventure “The adventure of the traveling clock.” About forty years ago my husband made a grandfather clock in his high school shop class. His aunt and uncle wanted a grandfather clock and paid for the black walnut and the clock mechanism and in a year he had completed the project and gave the clock to his aunt and uncle. I saw the clock once when we were dating and thought it was beautiful. When the opportunity presented itself and the clock was generously offered to us we jumped at the opportunity to pick it up in Florida. Today we fly to Florida. We are hoping that both the clock and the marriage survive.
We were home from Europe for a little over a week when the clock trip seemed to be a possibility. Greg did the planning and set up the rental car and hotels and I found and Airbnb for us to stay at in New Orleans.
We flew into Miami and were able to get our rental van easily. We grabbed a bite to eat in La Rosa Cuban restaurant in Miami before we headed to Port St. Lucie. Once in town we went to Greg’s aunt’s home and picked up the grandfather clock. It looks amazing after over forty years. The moving of the clock was pretty uneventful and we set out for Siesta Key. On the road for a couple of minutes, we started hear chimes banging from the clock. A quick stop at Walmart for bubble wrap silenced the chiming.

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Greg and his clock

 

 

In Siesta Key, known as America’s most beautiful beach we had some beach time and explored the town a bit. It was so quaint and beautiful, with white sand beaches, warm but refreshing water and some great sand sculptures on the beach. This little town has a “free” cab service for the surrounding area. The cabbies are locals who rely on tips. Fantastic idea to allow everybody to enjoy the night life safely.

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Sand sculpture at Siesta Key

We (Greg) drove to Sarasota to our hotel and found the most amazing place for dinner called Owen’s Fish Camp. It’s a charming little house with great vegetation and a sweet screened in front porch. We sat at a mismatched table and ordered scallops, jambalaya. Every bite was delicious. Mine came with succotash. I have hated succotash since I was a kid so when I asked the waitress to leave those off she told me the succotash was made with corn, edamame and dried cranberries. It was so good! After dinner we moved to the back yard to check out the band. Old iron patio chairs, giant trees, an oyster bar and a tire swing fill out the back yard. It was a perfect night!

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Owen’s Fish Camp Restaurant

The next day we headed for Orlando. We arrived early and decided to take an airboat tour in the Everglades. We saw alligators, hawks, egrets and more. The driver was informative and truly loved his job. For almost the entire trip it rained. Even though there was a cover over the boat it made no difference we were SOAKED.

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Not so friendly alligator smile

Finally we were in Disney World.  I have never been to Disney World, nor to Florida before so this is really special for me. Greg is the easy going guy willing to visit Disney World again. His last visit was thirty five years ago. Things have changed a bit. I was worried that we would look out of place at Disney without kids. But we weren’t alone. We arrived early and were on the first ride by 9am. We loved everything! We even got to see Mickey Mouse. While in line, I met a little boy who was so excited to see Mickey. He told his mom he was going to “hug and squeeze Mickey”. His mom told him to remember that Mickey is a boy so maybe you should  just shake his hand. He replied, “No I’m going to hug him because he’s so soft and cuddly ”.  I hugged him too.

 

Lessons Learned Part 2

I have been back from our European vacation for a little over a week and have had time to think about part two of the lessons I have learned.

1. FLY FIRST CLASS.  This became crystal clear to me when we were flying home from London.  Greg had scored some first class tickets from our frequent flyer miles.  Apparently, it is about $8,000 if you paid the cash price.  But as far as I’m concerned it  is absolutely, without a doubt in my mind worth the expense.  To begin with, you get to spend your time at the airport in the Sky Lounge.  When you enter the doors the  hostess offers you champagne,  cooks you breakfast and they offer the most prized commodity in an airport.  Peace and quiet.

Next, you board the plane and enter Nirvana. Your own private pod, with a massaging chair that turns into a bed, television, blanket, pillow, Bose headphones, pjs, slippers and a  Cole Haan convience kit, complete with eye shades, socks, toothbrush, lotions etc. They offer you a drink (in crystal) warm nuts, appetizers, entrees, snacks, and an ice cream sundae for desert.  They had me at the warm nuts.

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My palatial pod in first class

 

 

2.  MAKE SURE YOU ALWAYS HAVE CHANGE with you because it may cost you to use the toilet

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In many places it’s going to cost you to pee

3.  “GOD LOVES A TRIER” you should always ask, the worst anyone can say is no.  The ticket agent in London told me this when I asked, hopefully if we could get theatre tickets for that night.  I love that expression, we ended up with great seats to Kinky Boots.

 

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At the theatre for Kinky boots

 

4.  IN MOST EUROPEAN HOTELS YOU MUST PLACE YOUR HOTEL KEY IN A SLOT  for the ac and lights to work.

5.  EXPLORE NEW PLACES on your own don’t always need a tour

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The road less traveled may be the best one of all

6.  IT IS MUCH HARDER TO EVESDROP when you don’t know the language.

7.  EAT LIKE A LOCAL, it’s always fresh and delicious.

 

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Local homemade pasta, seafood and squid ink

8.  Please “MIND THE GAP WHEN DEPARTING FROM THE TRAIN” in Great Britain this is your reminder to not fall between the train and the platform.

9.  MEET NEW PEOPLE, they have different life experiences than you.

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A sweet couple from Seattle that we met in Cinque Terre

10.  IN EUROPE MOST PUBLIC BUILDINGS DO NOT HAVE AIR CONDITIONING, so dress accordingly.

11.  BYOB bring your own bag to the grocery store.  If you don’t you will be charged for one.

12.  EXPERIENCES, NOT THINGS, or at just small things that you have room for in your bag.

 

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A sign on our hike in Cinque Terre, where we were rewarded with phenomenal views

13.  IN MOST RESTAURANTS AND BARS  the toilet will likely be located down  a dark set of stairs.  don’t worry if the light goes off, just jump out of the stall and wave your arms like a crazy person, the lights will likely go back on.  This actually happened to me in Corsica when I was trying to change out of my bathing suit.

 

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Walk down this way to the bathroom……

 

14.  BEWARE OF WONKY WIFI,  just because they say they have wifi does not mean you can connect.

 

15.  LOOK TO THE LEFT AND THE RIGHT   (they may drive on a different side of the road than us)

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16.  GO WITH THE FLOW, not everything will go as you planned, enjoy the journey.

 

17.  FOLLOW THE LINE LEADER, he will always get you home.

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My Line Leader

 

18.  LIFE GOES ON WHEN YOU ARE AWAY, so get over it.  But have someone check on your house while you are away.  Things may break, like our air conditioner in 115  degree temperature.

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My candles were evidence that the ac was not working

 

19.  IN EUROPE THEY SERVE FRENCH FRIES with every meal, they may call them chips but they’re French fries.

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They even have French fries on some pizza!

 

20.  IF YOU ORDER A CAPPUCCINO  it will cost you less if you stand and drink it at the counter

21.   ENJOY ALL THE DELICIOUS FOOD AND WINE, but don’t fool yourself, you will have to work that stuff off.

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No amount of stairs and steps will cover all of this stuff

22.  IN THIS LIFE WE MAY NEVER BE HERE AGAIN, SO ENJOY EVERY MOMENT.

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23.  TRAVEL WITH SOMEONE YOU LOVE, if they get on your nerves the love thing may keep you from killing them.

24.  DON’T BE AFRAID TO TRAVEL, IF YOU ARE THE TERRORISTS WIN.

 

Amazing Amsterdam

We spent four days in Amsterdam and I wish we had more time.  Visiting Amsterdam is like tasting a bite of a wonderful desert, you leave wanting more.

We stayed in the Museumplein section of the city, not far from most of the museums that Amsterdam has to offer.  I think the first thing that you notice when you arrive in Amsterdam is how friendly everyone is.  When we left the airport several different people offered to help us find the transfer bus to our destination.  Once off the bus we walked with our incresingly heavy baggage for a “ten minute” trek to the house which, in reality was about twenty minutes. The neighborhood was beautiful but when we saw the eighty-two narrow stairs winding up and around, we were less enthused.  We were huffing and puffing when we finally reached the top floor.

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Jut a few of the eighty two steps in our flat

The flat is well designed with a new kitchen, dining and living room, and a  large balcony.  I had forgotten when I looked at the Airbnb listing to notice where the bedroom was.  It was up a twelve step ladder in a loft with a low, peaked ceiling.  How exciting to climb up and down a ladder every night and several times during the night!  It was like sleeping in a tent, but with a hard mattress. Low ceilings and the fear every night that one of us would slip down the ladder and kill ourselves made for very little sleep.  This is definitely a flat for someone under fifty.

 

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Our apartment in Amsterdam, yes that is a very steep ladder to the bed

In Amsterdam there are 800,000 bikes, more than one for every man, woman and child in the city and most of them are basic three speed bikes.  Mothers, fathers, kiddies, old and young all riding in the city.  Amsterdam is flat and has designated bike lanes that we mistook for sidewalks and narrowly avoided being plowed down by a bicyclist drinking coffee and attending to the child behind him.

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A spoke side view of the canal

While in the city we enjoyed all that Amsterdam had to offer.  The tram stop was just up the street from our flat and was so easy to hop on and off to get around all parts of the city.  We also took a cruise  on the canals to get a different view of the city.  The captain, like everyone we met in Amsterdam spoke English.  He said that the Dutch watch American television and movies with only Dutch subtitles and therefor easily learn to speak English as they grow up.

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A view of the bridges from the canal

Amsterdam is so much more than just the Red Light District and the Coffee shops offering pot everywhere.  It is such a beautiful city with delicious food, friendly people  and we experienced beautiful weather when we were there. We visited the Ann Frank House and had an informative session prior to going into the house.  The session was very moving and I learned a lot about young Ann’s life.  However, the visit to the house was extremely crowded and even claustrophobic.  I was concerned about how to escape a fire in the crowded space and worried about terrorists,  I needed to leave the house as soon as possible.

The Red Light District is really a tourist area with lots of cafes and pubs to watch all that is going on in the red lit Windows.  The Coffee Shops serve pot brownies, Space Cake and various other forms of pot, but they do not serve alcohol.

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A Coffee Shop serves Space Cake not cappuccino

 

Following our canal cruise we were fortunate enough to meet up with Greg’s cousin and husband who were leaving Amsterdam to begin their river cruise.  We went inside Grand Central and met them on their cruise boat for a drink.  So often it is nice to leave time in your schedule for kismet events such as this one.

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The really beautiful Grand Central Station in Amsterdam
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Our impromptu visit with cousins in Amsterdam

We Decided to take a short train ride to Zaanse Schans to see the windmills and rent bikes.  It is a lovely little town and we thought it was so picturesque.  For only about seven euros we got on the train to the town with windmills.

 

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Biking in the town of Zaanse Schans

On our final day in Amsterdam I visited the Van Gogh museum, while Greg drank up the local culture watching The British Open in a pub.  The museum was the best I have experienced.  I bought a “skip the line pass” for 9am when it opened.  The museum was uncrowned inside and I had ample opportunity to see the artworks of Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec up close and at my leisure.  The best part was that the museum was absolutely quiet and no one was taking photos.

We had some amazing meals in Amsterdam including mussels and salmon.  The sweetest place we went to had no menu, nor prices.  The waitress simple came to your table, stooped down and recited what the offerings were for the evening.  We jumped right in and ordered.  The food was so delicious and realitively inexpensive for wine, beer, appetizers, main dishes and desert the tab was about 60 euros.

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Mussels in broth

On our two last evenings we found our way to the Maxim Piano Bar.  An American from Detroit was at the keys singing all familiar tunes.  Both Dutch and Americans were singing and dancing along.  The bartender was funny, friendly and remembered our names when we walked in again on the second night.  We stayed well past midnight and although the trams were no longer running we didn’t mind walking the couple of miles back to the apartment, enjoying the evening all the while.

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Fabulous Four

We have been traveling together for over a month.  Typically my husband and I get along well with one another.  We don’t argue very often and because he is very agreeable and easygoing we are a good match.  We can finish each other’s sentences and we often do. But even two people who love each other lots need other people in their lives.  We were very anxious to visit our friends from Arizona who are expats in Switzerland. They are a fun and active couple, but never did we imagine all of the experiences we would pack into a four day visit to their home in Gland Switzerland.

In only four days we did wine tasting, rode several gondola lifts to the top of Mont Blanc, stood on “The Void” at 12,500 feet, traveled by train up to a glacier cave, rode a luge ride, took a chocolate making class, visited a chocolate factory and sampled everything, toured a Gruyere cheese factory, ate cheese fondue, visited the Gruyere Chateau, heard the traditional Swiss horns, drank in a “Alien Bar”, took a boat ride to France, enjoyed a number of delicious wines and local dishes at restaurants in both Switzerland and France, crossed the border multiple times,  went shopping, hiked in the woods and saw firsthand a Swiss WWII bunker and toblerones, drove through some local farms and picked a turnip, used up all of my memory card on the camera, and lastly enjoyed a fantastic home cooked barbecue with our friends.

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Standing in “The Void” on Mont Blanc
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Half way up Mont Blanc
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The very interesting “ALIEN BAR”
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Inside the glacier cave and yes it is melting
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The chocolate cooking class was a blast!
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A view of the garden at Chateau de Gruyere

 

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Not the boat we took to France
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A local cow-bike parade
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Fields of sunflowers
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Views of the Swiss countryside
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WWII Swiss bunker
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Dinner in the lovely garden with friends

Rambling Las Ramblas

 

We arrived in Barcelona ready to walk Las Ramblas, (the  pedestrian center for shopping, sightseeing and people watching)  Barcelona is packed with visitors, shopping opportunities, restaurants and really interesting neighborhoods. On our first morning we took part in a walking tour of the old city.  We saw Roman ruins of the old wall that surrounded Barcelona, ancient churches and learned much of the history of Barcelona.  We have been warned by many about pickpockets and it is apparent that you must be aware and vigilant with your purse, wallet and cellphone.  But this is a spectacular city with so much to do and see.

This week we have had some wonderful experiences.  The weather has been fantastic.  We have loved walking and dining outside in the cafes along the plazas. Often  buskers (street musicians who rely on tips) surround the area with the lovely sound of their music. Barcelona is an extremely walkable city and we have walked nearly everywhere.  We visited the beach which turned out to be a crowded, urban beach. A young  guy was passed out  the sand in front of me for quite a while.  I thought he might be a bum, but later his friend came and gave his something to eat and drink.   He went into the ocean and didn’t even have a towel.  Apparently he and his buddy went to the beach from the last party. They were foreign exchange students from Australia.  When we left the beach I gave him my unused towel.  The guy was so sweet and grateful.

We also visited La Sagrada Familia, the famous unfinished basilica designed by architect Antoni Gaudi.  The inside was spectacular with changing colors as the sun moved in the sky.  We were relieved that the visitors were limited, which afforded us time in the church so we could appreciate it’s beauty and simplicity.  It is definitely a good idea to purchase tickets online to reserve a specific time so you don’t have to wait in line.

We went to Tibadado mountain up a funicular to see the view of Barcelona from the mountain to the sea.  At the top of the mountain is a beautiful church, Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  We climbed around a bit and had an early dinner at Mirablau, with a view of all of Barcelona.

It’s fun to visit several local markets.  I loved seeing all of the unique local fresh produce, fish and meats available. We both enjoy cooking and we love paella so we jumped at the chance to book Marta’s Private Paella Cooking Class which we found on TripAdvisor.  After a bit of a difficult time finding her building (we will blame Mapquest and not my husband) Marta warmly greeted us to her home.  We met six other people from around the globe who shared our interest in cooking. Marta, a former teacher explained the fundamentals of paella with patience and charm.  We learned about the importance of quality ingredients and the order in which they must be cooked.  Everyone took part in the preparation of the meats, fish and vegetables.  Marta has a large propane powered paella pan on her patio that easily held enough food for a dozen people. Within a few hours we learned all of the elements of paella typical of  Catalonia.  It was great fun to be part of this diverse group of people who worked together and produced a truly delicious meal! We sat down at the table toasted one another and enjoyed the best paella ever.  If you are interested in joining Marta’s class you can contact her at:ambtucuinem@gmail.com