Category Archives: Bucket List

A Morning in Giverny

As a first timer to Paris, there were many places I wanted to visit and some that I would be willing to wait until my next visit.  One visit that was not going to wait was my visit to Claude Monet’s gardens in Giverny.  His impressionist paintings gave a sense of peace and serenity to me, and I wanted to walk in his gardens and see what he saw.

It was easy getting there – remember, for this entire trip we used public transportation.  We were able to take the metro to Gare Saint-Lazare.  We purchased tickets at the kiosk for the Vernon/Rouen/Le Havre train and getting off the train at the Vernon stop.  You do not know before which train track you will be boarding as it is not announced on the departure board till 20 minutes before.  We attempted to find out this information a little earlier by going to the information desk/ticket desk but they merely said to wait the 20 minutes.  There were plenty of pastry shops at the train station so I passed the time by sampling the chocolate croissants at some of the  counters.  One thing I found interesting is that many of the train stations that we were departing or arriving in had pianos where passengers could sit and play.

It had been suggested that we take the 08:20 AM train so that we would be at Monet’s home around the time that they opened for visitors (9:30) and before all the tour buses got there.  The train trip is about 45 minutes in duration and once you get to Vernon you have a few choices to make as to how to get to Monet’s home.  There is a shuttle bus waiting for the train passengers just outside of the train station.  The cost, in 2016, was 8€ for the roundtrip. The downside is that you wait for everyone to board and pay and that does take awhile.  Other passengers that we spoke with took a cab and a few walked the 5 k to get to the home.  In retrospect, we should have taken a cab and found others to share the expensive.  We found that after we were dropped off in the bus lot we had a walk  to get to the home  Those who had taken the cab had said that they were there before too many people had arrived and had wonderful pictures without the hordes of tourist.  It seemed like almost all of my photos have people in them.p1060826

What was interesting about this morning is that is was misty and a little foggy giving that feeling that you are seeing exactly what Monet saw when he painted his pictures.  We were there during the third week of September and the colors were not as bright as they might have been during the summer, but for me bright colors were not reflected in his paintings.

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The grounds looked just like his paintings including the old green rowboat, the bridge, the water lilies.

p1060860I felt like I was walking through his paintings and walked around the loop through his gardens at least twice.  There was a thicket of bamboo and the weeping willow trees that overhung the pond.  It was very mythical and ethereal.  I didn’t want to let go and leave, I was mesmerized.  It was as if I was walking around silently and absorbing all that was Monet.  p1060839

img_1696The crowds and buses had arrived and it was getting crowded so we headed for the tour of his home.  His study with his paintings and his kitchen were the rooms that stood out to me.  The back of his home had many windows that overlooked the gardens but none had the best views like those from his bedroom and his studio.p1060881 p1060879 p1060878 p1060870 p1060877

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What was interesting is that Monet, unlike other artists, did not come upon a scene and paint it.  Rather, through his hard work, he created a landscape that he painted.  It took almost twenty years for him to create his gardens.p1060838img_1686p1060837

If you want to read more Monet, and his water lily paintings that are, in a sense, his swan song, then please read Monet’s Angels.

We were able to get a train around noon to head back to Paris in time for our tour of the second level of the Eiffel Tower which I’ll talk about later.

I do not receive any compensation for the products that I have described in this post. This are strictly my opinions.

 

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A Cooking Lesson in Paris

I love food and I especially love cookies and pastries.  When I realized that we would be spending a few days in Paris I knew that I would have the opportunity to strike another item off my bucket list.  I’ve always wanted to take a French cooking lesson and here was my chance!. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to take all the  classes that I would have liked to such as making pastries, croissants, macarons, sauces, entrees and so on.

I needed to focus and decide which one class I was going to take.  It actually came down to two – it would be either croissants or French macarons.  I had tried baking macarons several times by myself and was never able to master it.  I think that was the determining factor in deciding to take a technical class in making macarons and three different fillings.

Like I usually do, I went to Trip Advisor to look at reviews for a cooking class.  Some looked really amazing and the price was amazing as well.  I found that La Cuisine Paris had very good reviews and they had the macaron class that I wanted on a day and time when we would be in Paris.  I was able to sign up on line and was happy to find out that there would only be 8 in our class and that we would leave with a box full of these delicious treats.  What could be better?

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p1060713Blogger Hubby came with me to make sure that I found that facility and since it was near Notre Dame, he would go there during my class.  It’s along the river, south of the Louvre. We walked in, signed and and waited for others to arrive.  Once four of us arrived, we went downstairs into the kitchen.  The other two had called and said they were lost and to stay on schedule, we began the class without them.  Our chef was Eric, originally from Southern California but moved to Paris when he was about 8.  He worked with some of the more famous pastry chefs in Paris.  He was a native English speaker which made it easier for me to understand.  He passed out our recipes and asked us to “buddy up” as we would share a Kitchen Aid with our partner.

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We first made a vanilla filling made by scraping a vanilla bean and then cooking the mixture on a hot plate.  We then made a chocolate ganache filling with chocolate and cream and a little European butter which has a higher fat content.  Finally we made a fresh pineapple filling.  It was important to make the fillings first so they could cool and firm up. Next we made the first of two different macarons – one that was hot and the other with stiffly beaten egg whites.  I learned that most of the pastry chefs use powdered food coloring and a little goes a long way.  Once I used it I realized how much easier it was to use than the gels that I had at home.  I would order some from Amazon.

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p1060722We were instructed in the proper piping method as we piped our mixture onto parchment paper.

p1060729For those who have made macarons previously, we did not have them sit for 30 minutes to dry.  Beautiful trays of macarons came out of the oven and we oohed and aaahed our creations amazed that we made these beautiful cookies.

p1060734After they cooled we were allowed to begin filling them with our delicious fillings.  We decided as a group to have our boxes that we would be bringing home with us to be a mixture of colors and not just the two colors that we had made.  The boxes looked like a pastel rainbow. I did learn that they should be refrigerated after making them for 24 hours and they should be consumer within three days after that.

p1060738These macarons looked just as beautiful and delicious as the ones we saw lining shelves in pastry stores.

Both Blogger Hubby and I enjoy taking some type of cooking lesson where ever we travel – cookies in France, a meal in the Czech Republic, a full Italian meal in Florence, and small group cooking lessons while cruising with Holland America.

 

Who Wants to Cruise With Us to South America?

Yes, I admit it…..I’m a planner.  I like to have a goal, or trip in mind so I can have fun researching, planning and of course saving for it.  Blogger Hubby and I have looked at our bucket list again, re-prioritized it and found what we want to be our next trip.  Since we are taking off next year from big travel (putting money into our house) I had to begin looking at 2018.  I know, I know – that’s a L O N G time off but because it is a long time off, I was able to get a really great deal.  The best deals for trips are really far out or last minute.travel world

 

One cruise that we have wanted to do for about 5 years now is the cruise around South America and Antarctica.  Having Antartica as part of the trip  added on about a week and several thousand dollars more to the. Regretfully, I let go of that dream.

My next decision was when to go. Obviously, their summer was the best time or was it?  Summer is considered the rainy season, not like monsoons but more like here where the heat of the summer will cause afternoon thunderstorms.  I’ve also become sensitive to the heat and that needs to be taken into consideration.  Last year’s trip to Europe, where it was in the high 80’s and low 90’s almost every day was a major drain on my energy as well as how much time we spent out of doors and waiting in long lines.  I read that the early fall is a wonderful time to visit – think of New England in the fall.  From what I read, drier air will move up from Antarctica and will give us those azure blue skies that we see in the spring and fall.

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I have been on Celebrity, Princess, Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Holland America as well as two river cruise lines.  I fee like I have a taste of their personalities and know what to expect from the ships.  I chose Holland America (HAL) because of what it offers me.  I really enjoy their Culinary Arts Kitchen where they will give you small group cooking lessons, large group demonstrations, the rocking and rolling Piano Bar, easy access to loungers and tables around the pool, entertainment that we enjoy.  With all this information in hand, we chose to begin our cruise on March 5, 2018 on Holland America’s Zaandam.

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We begin our cruise outside of Santiago, Chile and sail past beautiful, green and lush forests and lakes, through the Strait of Magellan, Beagle Channel, seeing many glaciers.  Did you know that there are more glaciers in Chile than in all of Scandinavia?  We will go to the southernmost town in the world, Ushuaia, Argentina.  We will enter Glacier Alley and stand at the front of the ship with warm beverages in hand as we gaze at the glaciers that may be gone in our grandchildrens time.  Have you ever seen a glacier calving – that’s when a chunk breaks off and falls into the water and hear the noise they make?  We will see penguins in their natural habitat and so much more.  But it’s not all scenery.  We’ll spent a day in Montevideo, Uruguay and overnight in Buenos Aires.  I’m planning on having a custom made leather jacket made for me in Buenos Aires.  We’ll also stop in the Falkland Islands and be able to have a spot of tea, British style.

The beautiful glaciers
The beautiful glaciers
Glaciers galore
Glaciers galore
Ushuaia, Argentina - the southernmost city in the world
Ushuaia, Argentina – the southernmost city in the world

While in are in South America, this would be an opportunity to visit Machu Picchu, Easter Island, the Galapagos, or Iguazu Falls

My fantastic travel agent, Michelle, of McCabe World Travel outside of Washington DC, will be coordinating the group travel.  She has been able to lock in for our group the lowest prices for us.  In addition to the lowest prices, there will be amenities for our group.  I’ll try to arrange some excursions that are more personalized and smaller than what the ship offers though you are free to do what you want.  Remember, we are a group in name only so we can get the best prices.  Of course, we are all a friendly group and it will be run to see each other and share stories.  Don’t you want to be part of this great group?

Am I tempting you a little bit?

 

 

Boredom While River Cruising? Not in the Least! Also Info about Future Cruise

Many people are under the misconception that with river cruising you just sit and watch the scenery as we cruise down the river.  They are so wrong.  We were so active on this cruise that a common comment I heard was “we need a sea day”.

I’ll be addressing what we encountered on our recent AMA river cruise down the Danube in June 2015.  Every day you have at least one, if not two, activities to do off the ship.  A city tour is included at every port we went to.  Generally speaking we had regular walkers, active walkers and gentle walkers.  The gentle walkers was a nice way of saying those who either had mobility problems and couldn’t walk far or those who just needed a little extra help.   However you still need to talk to the Cruise Director about how much walking and what type is ahead of you. The trip to Salzburg for the gentle walkers was especially very good as the van took them all over. The Melk Abbey would not have been good for these walkers as there was much walking to do. Again do your homework and talk with the cruise director.

The regular walkers were most of the passengers on the ship.  Then they had active walkers, who for the most part, were part of the regular walkers group with a few exceptions when there was something specific designed for them.

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Additionally, our ship, like many who ply the rivers all along the world, had multi gear bicycles that they brought along.  Almost every day there was a bicycle excursion that you could take in place of a city tour.  One day there was also an optional 30 k bike ride through the Wachau Valley while the ship cruised along.  No shortage of activities.

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If you didn’t want to be part of any tour group, you could be independent and go off on your own.  You just needed to know when you needed to be back on board the ship.  Several people I know did this and they would eat their dinners on land rather than on the ship.

On our ship we also had a very small exercise room, and a very large hot tub that was more like a small swimming pool that I made use of more than a few times.

Overall, we felt that we were very active and did not just sit around though to be honest, sitting around a little would have felt good.  I did skip an afternoon excursion and stayed on the boat making use of the hot tub and putting my feet up.

We also had some evening entertainment – opera singers, gypsies, classical and not so classical musicians, a visit to a winery for a tasting, a concert in Vienna – so much to do.

For this cruise down the Danube, I invited friends and asked that they invite their friends so that we could qualify for group rates.  Also, by booking with my travel agent who is also a Virtuoso Certified Travel Agent, we were also given a free excursion to the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna AND an on board credit.  We were a group in name only although we did sit together a few times, did a couple of group activities that I organized in Prague and it was always nice to see a familiar face when walking around the ship.

I’m doing another group river cruise and I would like to invite you to come with us.  We will continue to sail with AMA Waterways and will sail this time up the Rhone from Arles, France to Lyon, France.  If you choose to do the pre-cruise, it will be in Barcelona and the post cruise will be in Paris.  The cruise will begin on September 9th, 2016 (yes, next year and space is getting limited) though the pre cruise begins September 6th with your arrival in Barcelona.  If you are interested, leave me a note in the comment section and I will respond back to you.  Good news for those who like to travel solo – the single supplement is waived!  Think about it but not for too long.

 

 

Vilshofen, Germany and the AMA Prima with Pictures of the Ship

We got back on our buses in Regensburg for a couple more hours drive to Vilshofen.  We were all getting a little excited to get onboard our ship and begin our cruise.

The Danube River, or the Donau as it is known in Europe, is Europe’s second longest river flowing almost 1,800 miles from its source in the Black Forest in Germany to its mouth in Romania where it empties out into the Black Sea.  Vilshofen, where we were to embark on our ship is on the southern edge of the southern Bavarian Forest where the Vils and Wolfach flow into the Danube.

The buses pulled up to the dock and we walked across the gangplank to the lounge area of the ship.  There we would have delicious little pastries and treats as well as refreshing fruit drinks as we would wait to be called to the reception desk and given the keys to our room.  While we waited, we met the crew, our cruise director Monika and our Captain.  It didn’t take long for them to call us.

Cruise Director Monika from Budapest
Cruise Director Monika from Budapest

We did not book a full balcony as others in our group did but instead we had the French balcony.  The name is a little misleading because it is not what you think of a balcony.  It is essentially a sliding glass door that will slide all the way open with horizontal bars across so you will not fall out – that’s it.  It does allow fresh air and there are two chairs inside by the French balcony.  Other staterooms had two balconies – the traditional one where you sit outside and a French balcony.  I went into one of those rooms to get pictures for you.  If you have never taken a river cruise, the staterooms are small but functional.  On AMA Waterways, all rooms have computer/television for our use as well as free WiFi.

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Computer on desk with free WiFi
Computer on desk with free WiFi
Stateroom with an open balcony that you could sit on as well as a French balcony
Stateroom with an open balcony that you could sit on as well as a French balcony
Stateroom on the first deck where most of your room is under the water line. They do have ample light with the window - much more light than I thought. This is affectionally called "Aquarium Class"
Stateroom on the first deck where most of your room is under the water line. They do have ample light with the window – much more light than I thought. This is affectionally called “Aquarium Class” and is the least expensive stateroom category.

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We were in a Category C stateroom and if you look at the deck plans and the above photo you’ll see that the shower is triangular in shape.  Only one door slides and you are getting into the shower on the narrow end where two sides of the triangle meet.  Just wanted to “alert” you to this design flaw, in my opinion.

Dining Room where there was Open Seating
Dining Room where there was Open Seating
Not a pool but a large hot tub
Not a pool but a large hot tub

There is a pool/ whirlpool with a bar and stools but no bartender assigned there. The pool is about 98 degrees and it is regulated remotely so it can’t be cooled down. Nevertheless it felt good to me particularly when I got out.

Upper level on ship where you could lounge - other end had large umbrellas for shade
Upper level on ship where you could lounge – other end had large umbrellas for shade
loved this lounging are with rattan furniture and comfy pillows
loved this lounging area with rattan furniture and comfy pillows

I love the rooftop at the front of the ship as it has unique seating arrangements. It is rattan sectional furniture set in a large U shape figure with lots of pillows. Inside each U are 2 square shaped coffee tables. There are also 4 person regular tables with rattan chairs. The lounge is very nicely appointed. There is a small game room to the left of the lounge with a fireplace glowing but no heat thank goodness. The two tables in there are too low to play games on. Also they do not have cards for your use since they sell cards but there is a nice assortment of games and books in the mini library.

Heading to my favorite spot on the couches.
Heading to my favorite spot on the couches.

After we all got settled, we left the ship to go back on the dock for an Ocktoberfest – which was our welcoming reception.  I was having too much fun to take pictures but I did meet a lot of very nice people.  We were given two tickets for beer each which I initially thought was a little stingy but there were so many tickets floating around that there was no need for worry.  We had an Oompa Band, German dancers and they even got us up for dancing.  This was a wonderful way to begin our cruise.

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We spent the night docked in Vilshofen and didn’t leave till mid-morning the next day.  Many people checked out the bicycles that the ship carried for us (about 25 of them), others walked back into town and others just relaxed on the ship.

Excitement was growing in all of us as we introduced ourselves, asked where they were from and began to make fast friends for this one week journey down the not-so-blue Danube.

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A Personal View of OAT – Overseas Adventure Travel – small group travel

I pleased to introduce my guest blogger Roberta – a world traveler who just happens to be related to me by marriage.  Blogger Hubby and I always enjoy seeing her and receiving her Christmas cards to read about where she has been during the year.  It might have been all the cards that began my lust for traveling after hearing about all her adventures.  Hope you enjoy reading what she has to say about OAT.

My name is Roberta and I am Blogger Jane’s cousin-in-law as her Blogger husband is my first cousin. She asked me to share some of my impressions about Overseas Adventure Travel Company better known to all as OAT. I have traveled with them 44 times and my fiancé Joe 45 times.

We both lost our spouses many years ago and luckily found each other, two people with a lust for life and love of travel. Not long after we met Joe informed me that for his vacation next year (1998) he had found a company that specialized in “adventure travel” and he was going to go on an African Safari with them. I was not invited as “we did not know each other well enough to share a tent” and I was also still teaching plus the trip had been booked months before we met. His month in Tanzania and Zanzibar was a life changing event and he couldn’t wait to take me there and every other place on his bucket list.

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We started traveling, slowly at first until we retired and then with a vengeance, having now visited over a hundred countries many more than once.
OAT became our travel company of choice because their trips are an excellent value, their Tour Leaders are top notch, they want to show you a country up close and personal warts and all and the places you stay, foods you eat and things you do are all cultural experiences and adventures.

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The people you meet in this small group travel company (land tours have a maximum of 16 guests) are just an added bonus. You do not simply get on and off the bus, you take rides in rickshaws, in canoes, on camels and horses, you hike in the jungle, you climb sand dunes, your Zodiacs take you to see the penguins in Antarctica and have leopards and lions walk so close to the vehicle you could touch them. Obviously our list of OAT trips is too long to complete but some of our favorites have been SAFARI SERENGETI (6 times for me 7 for Joe and every adventure was different even though we were in the same country), Morocco, China, Thailand, Italy, Bhutan, Vietnam, Namibia, South Africa, Japan, Turkey and Myanmar are just a few.

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Overseas Adventure Travel has changed since we have traveled with them both in good ways and some we haven’t liked. One excellent change this year is to include the tips required for everyone except your Tour Leader in the cost of the trip. This has been one area that the post trip evaluation forms kept emphasizing as something that needed to be done by the company. Another change that we found “troublesome” is the price for the airport transfer if you book your own air. We feel that they are extraordinarily high since the “bus is heading there” anyway and today if you are interested in accumulating air miles the airlines will not give them for third party ticketing or consolidation fares. In order to keep prices down we have seen a decline in the quality of properties OAT uses for their accommodations. They are always clean, often hotels reflecting the culture and/or unusual in some way but they are definitely not what they used to be when we started traveling with OAT.

The company does an excellent job of getting travelers up close and personal with people in the country where you are by school and orphanage visits, home-hosted meals and sometimes an overnight stay and trips thru local markets and villages. These are wonderful ways to really get a feeling for what it would be like to live in this country. The Tour Leader is a citizen of the country he is representing and shares his or her knowledge and love of country with you and/or the problems there as they see it. No topic is off limits to questioning.

We have traveled with many other companies but I would say OAT has a very good product if you prefer small group travel and you are physically able to take a little more adventurous trip. You will not be required to lug your gear or climb Mount Everest but you will have fun!

Thank you Roberta for your perspective of traveling in a small group with a tour guide.  I think what I took away from this is the difference between OAT and other tour companies in that you are welcomed into the lives and culture of the people of the land that you are visiting.  A more intimate visit than just wandering the streets.

What a Trip we Had – Guided Kruger Safari at Camp Shawu, Part 7

Now that we had done our self drive through Kruger, we were going to try another type of safari – a guided safari.  This is the type that you see in the  magazines and movies.  For those who might go on one, your total cost generally involves picking you up and returning you to the airport. Since we were already in the Kruger, we asked that they pick us up at the Lower Sabie Camp.  Because of that change we were able to save a little money.  Also factored into the cost is the conservation fee which I spoke about in an earlier blog – all guests into Kruger must pay the conservation fee.

Blogger Hubby is the one who did the research and made the decision on which safari we were going to go on.  Some of them were really expensive – about $1000 per person per day.  We did not want to pay that kind of money so the budget did come into play in deciding which safari we would choose.

After much research he chose Camp Shawu which is part of the Shishangeni Lodge.  Apparently there are several camps that are associated with this lodge.  This camp has a lease on land within the Kruger – they call it their concession.  They are limited to doing safaris on their land and no others can go on their land.  Their concession is located in the southeast corner of the park near the Crocodile Bridge Gate.

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After we were picked up in  a car at he Lower Sabie Camp we were taken to the Shishangeni Lodge where we checked in and waited for our 30 minute ride to Camp Shawu.  The reception area in the lodge looked really nice so I was very excited about what our camp would look like.

As we drove to our camp, I couldn’t help but notice all the burnt land within their concession.  We had seen this during our self drive but, in our opinion, not to the extent that we saw in this concession.  It was interesting to see the paths that the animals had made.

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When we arrived at our camp and I was surprised at how small it was.  There were 5 cottages for guests – I didn’t expect something this small but others came here for that exact reason.  The reception area was nice but small – again if you have max only ten guests you so not need to have have too much.  On the verandah, there was a small splash pool – about 6 x 8.

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We were walked to our cottage and though it was very nice.  It had the typical bed with the mosquito netting around it; a stand alone claw foot tub in the corner of the large room.  The dark wood floor offset by the white tub and fluffy towels made a nice statement.  In one corner of the large room was a toilet separated by a reed screen from the rest of the room.  The sink was on the other side.  There were also two leather chairs in the middle of the room.  The shower was outdoors and not in sight of anyone else. The front of the room overlooked a large watering hole which is the draw for this camp.  A screen was across the front opening as their are no windows.  The screen is held to the inside of the room with velcro. At night they roll down a heavy vinyl shade and that zips to open but also is velcroed to the inside of the opening to get outside to your verandah.

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We quickly changed and went to the reception room for afternoon tea.  I was a little disappointed in what they consider afternoon tea.  We had tea and coffee with pizza as the snack.  In my mind, afternoon tea was with scones, little sandwiches and little treats – not pizza.  After we finished we went outside and got into our safari jeep – a vehicle that held the ten guests and our ranger.  We had a soft roof to it and there were rolled up sides if it was raining or foul weather.  Luckily the sides never came down.  The was a seat outside the front of the jeep for what I would imagine be a ranger with a gun but it was never occupied.  The ranger/driver we had said he knew the behavior of the animals and had no need of a rifle.

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We didn’t see much on this first safari except near the end there was a report on the radio of a cheetah.  We went racing across the land to meet about 6 other jeeps to look at the cheetah.  When he got up to move, all the trucks followed.  This went on for about 15 -20 minutes and it got to a point where I didn’t care for it.  I really felt like we were stalking the cheetah.  I had seen him, I had taken photos of him – I didn’t need to feel like I was bothering him.  Another thing that our driver/ranger did was to get us between a mama rhino and her baby with the papa rhino.  We also got a little too close for my comfort.  Once again, when they moved, we followed.  I just felt like we were harassing the animals.  Just my personal opinion.

Toward the end of our safari we stopped and got out of the vehicle for “sundowners”.  The driver/ranger brought out wine and beer and a few little treats – dried mangos, nuts and biscuits (Cookies).  The last 20 minutes back to the camp was in the dark.  The driver/ranger had a spot light that he held as he drove looking for some of the nocturnal animals like badger.  We never saw any animals.

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A very hearty dinner was a 7:00 in the reception area.  There were 5 table for two people.  Two choices were given to you and you selected one.  Our first night it was lamb chops or pork chops.  They were fine but what was outstanding was their butternut soup.  I felt a little nickled and dimed at dinner because if I wanted water, I had to pay for bottled water.  Their water is “safe” they say although it is brackish and they do not serve it.  For what we were paying, and it was about $450 per person, per day – they  should have filled our water glasses with bottled water if we requested it.  Beer and wine was extra as well.

This camp is on a generator and that can present some problem.  They turn the generator off at 11:00, which is fine but we were charging our cameras and since we only had one outlet that did present a problem.  The generator was also turned off at different times of the day.

Although our room looked really nice, it was not very functional for us.  We like to read a little before bed.  Although both sides of the bed had lamps, only one had enough light to read by.  The other one was useless.  No light in the corner where the toilet or the tub were.  A small light over the mirror by the sink but no outlet for Blogger Hubby to shave by.  There was a dual outlet between the two leather chairs and one of the outlets had a lamp plugged in; the other outlet didn’t work.  We had to unplug the lamp and have them get an extension cord to plug in our camera, kindle, iPhone, etc to use when we had electricity.  There was no drawers or bureau to unpack your clothes.  In the closet should have been drawers but they were broken and on top of the bureau.  There was also only luggage stand yet we had two pieces of luggage, mine and my husband.  There was no light whatsoever where the luggage was and that made it difficult getting things out of your suitcase or finding what you needed.

No drawers
                 No drawers

 

 

Here is one of the drawers
               Here is one of the drawers

In the closet we had one bathrobe to share 😦    Maybe I am being spoiled but two would have been so much nicer.

More about our safari and the Camp tomorrow and yes, there were some very good parts of this aspect of our trip.

 

 

 

What a Trip We Had – Kruger National Park, Part 5

What A Trip We Had – London, Part 1

What a Trip We Had – Uxolo Guest House, Johannesburg, Part 2

What a Trip we Had – Touring Johannesburg, Part 3

What a Trip we Had – What I Packed, Part 4

This was the part of the trip that I was anxiously waiting for – going to Kruger National Park!  The night before we flew to Kruger we went to our hotel near the Johannesburg Airport to meet our son Chris, his South African born wife Haley and their 7 month old son.  They were flying in from Washington DC and after a long, overnight flight we thought they would like us to take the baby for a little while so they have a little quiet time.  It was a joyous reunion at the Protea OR Tambo Hotel.  We had a  quick dinner at the hotel, we went back to our rooms to go to bed since we would be leaving the hotel at 6:15 AM.

We arrived at the airport in Nelspruitt, one of several airports that service the Kruger. We picked up our rental car, a combi (a three row van with large glass windows around) and headed off to Kruger via Hazy View and the Paul Kruger Gate entrance.  It’s a little less than 2 hours from the airport to the gate we used.

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At Hazy View, there was a small shopping center with a grocery store where we picked up last minute snacks for our time in Kruger.  Haley’s parents were going to be with us in Kruger and they had pre-ordered our meats from a butcher near another entry into the park.  It was all packaged and frozen for us – made our shopping that much easier.

Blogger Hubby and I were going to be having two different types of safaris.  With our family and extended family, we were going to do it the local way – we were going to be staying in a rest camp and then driving around the park by ourselves.  The other experience we would be having would be with a guided safari with Camp Shawu.  They have a private concession within Kruger National Park and that is the land that you travel on to view wildlife.

We entered Kruger National Gate through the Paul Kruger Gate.  There are numerous gates all around Kruger like there are with our national parks.  As we went into the building at the gate to get information, we saw our first animal – a warthog.  There are conservation fees accessed at this park.  If you are a day visitor you’ll pay the fee at the gate otherwise it is accessed with your reservation and you will pay when you check-in.  Make sure you get the paper showing that you paid it – you’ll need it when you leave the park.

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P1000966One thing that we picked up at the gate was a guide to the animals and birds in the Kruger.  We found that it was invaluable for identification as well as checking off the animals that we saw.  It also had maps of the Kruger and showed where all the rest camps were.

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My next posts will detail the self-drive safari, what we saw, what we did and our impressions of staying in a rest camp. After that I’ll write about the guided safari and my impressions of that and what I think was best for us in terms of experience and for our budget.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Romantic Danube Cruise Booked! Will you join us?

I have often written about my desire to sail on the Danube River.  After speaking with some friends, I knew that a few of them did as well.  The idea came to me to get a “group” together for this cruise.  The benefit would be traveling with friends as well as receiving a group discount of 5% off the fare.  To me that’s a win-win situation.

After weeks of research, reading countless reviews, looking at temperature charts (cooler in Prague, warmer in Budapest), when fares went up or down…I have finally made a decision and booked a cruise.

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I have booked with AMAWaterways which received excellent reviews from our travel agent and reviews I read about online. They offer both a land and cruise tour or a cruise only option.  This cruise is called The Romantic Danube.  They also offer The Legendary Danube but I liked The Romantic Danube’s itinerary better as it stops in Bratislava before ending in Budapest.

 

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The land/cruise itinerary would include three nights in Prague and begin on May 29th, 2015. When you arrive in Prague on the 29th you check into your hotel and have the balance of the day to get acclimated to Prague as well as beginning to get over jet lag. Your first  tour will take you to the historic city center which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You will visit the 1,000 year old Prague Castle followed by walking over the Charles Bridge to the Old Town Square. That evening you will have an opportunity to go to an optional Folklore Dinner. The next day you have your choice of two optional excursions. You can visit either Terezin, the infamous Nazi WWII concentration camp that is now a memorial to those who perished or visit Lobkowicz Palace. Your last morning in Prague you will depart to transfer to the ship but on your way you will stop in Regensburg for a guided walking tour of one of Germany’s best preserved medieval cities – another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Lunch will be on your own. You will continue on to Vilshafen, a 1,200 year old Bavarian town.

For those interested in the cruise only portion you begin your trip when you embark onto the ship in Vilshafen. Blogger Hubby and I are planning on doing the Cruise Only portion and doing Prague on our own. We can book through AMA Waterways seats with them to transfer from Prague to Vilshofen with the stop in Regensburg and the tour there.  That will run about $100 per person.  It’s nice to have the option to do Prague on your own as well as having transport to get to the ship.

We overnight in Vilshofen and are able to explore the city before we set sail for Passau. That afternoon we will have a guided tour of this 2,000 year old city noted for its Gothic and Italian Baroque architecture, cobblestone streets and St. Stephen’s Catherdral, home of the world’s largest pipe organ.

Passau Germany

We sail during the night and arrive in Linz, Austria home of the Linzer Torte. I know that I’ll need to find a bakery to taste (um, eat) some(lots) of them. We’ll have a walking tour of Linz which is the second largest city in Austria. Afterwards, we’ll have a choice of three different excursions. The first is to visit the Lake District in the scenic Salzammergu region, another UNESCO World Heritage Site; the second to the Czech town of Cesky Krumlov, a preserved medieval town nestled in the hills from the Austrian/Czech border. The final choice is to Salzburg, Mozart’s birthplace where you will take a walking tour of the historic center made famous from the “Sound of Music” We’ve been to Salzburg so we will probably choose either the Lake District or the Czech town. Free time will follow this tour.

Once again, we’ll travel during the evening, going through the numerous locks on the Danube River. During the morning we’ll cruise through the narrow Strudengau en route to Melk where once again we’ll have a guided tour through to Benedictine Abby, Europe’s largest and most famous monastic site. We’ll return to the ship and cruise through the breathtaking Wachau Valley to Krems. In Krems we will board a motorcoach that will take us to Durnstein. We will see this picturesque old town on our walking tour as well as the blu facade of the local abbey church and the ruins of a castle where Richard the Lionhearted was once imprisoned. After dinner on board the ship we will enjoy a wine tasting from a winery in Krems.

Vienna – what can I say about Vienna. We will spend a full day here where we will see the famed Opera House, the Ringstrasse and St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The afternoon is free to stroll and explore the city, which is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. You have an opportunity to take an optional excursion to Schonbrunn Palace. At night, you will have the opportunity to enjoy an optional Mozart and Strauss concert and then overnight in Vienna.

Next cruise stop is Bratislava, Slovakia and once we arrive we will have a walking tour that includes the Old Town Hall, Mirbach Palace, and St. Martin’s Cathedral. There is an alternative “Communist” tour that will include architectural landmarks as the Radio Building, Liberty Square and Soviet War Memorial.

This will be our last night of cruising as we sail toward Budapest. When we arrive we’ll see the Buda Castle which offers us a view of the river and the twin cities of Buda and Pest. We’ll go to the Fisherman’s Bastion, Royal Palace, St. Stephens Basilica and Heroes Square After dinner we will sail a special “illuminations cruise” past the illiminated river front of Budapest.

Finally, after breakfast, we will disembark. We plan to spend a few days in Budapest before heading home. Are you ready to join Blogger Hubby and me on this adventure?  Although we have group rates, we do not have to do things together but are a “group” in name only. Of course, if you want to have dinner, a drink or sit and chat with us, we would welcome it.

For the bicyclists amongst us, the boat does have 2 or 3 guided bike tours as well as having about 25 bikes on board for our use. WiFi is free as are the beer and wine with dinner. There is on board entertainment during the evenings as well though nothing like the ocean liners.

Please contact Michelle Bemis of McCabe World Travel in McLean, Virginia to become part of our group at 703-762-5049. Please let her know you are with Jane’s Group. You can also email Michelle at Michelle@mccabeworld.com You can discuss where you would like your stateroom to be located (on a riverboat there aren’t any “bad” rooms”). For those who are thinking about cruising solo, there is a single supplement and our travel agent Michelle will go over with you the various costs and options.

Please be aware that staterooms go fast since there are only 164 passengers on this river boat. Already the suites and category A staterooms are sold out and we are more than a year away from the cruise. If you are thinking about it, my suggestion is to not delay in talking about it or thinking it.  There are only about 18 staterooms left.  Finally, please share this cruise with any friends you think might be interested in joining us. I think the more friends we have, the more enjoyable the cruise will be.

Leisurely Cruising on the Danube

 

Setting Sail – Traveling the Danube

If you’re thinking of trying something a little different for your holiday this year, then why not try a river cruise? The number of people cruising has risen dramatically in the last few years, with river cruising in particular seeing a huge rise in popularity – especially within Europe.

With a vast network of rivers, river cruising in Europe enables you to see lots of different countries and types of scenery all in one holiday. For example, a Danube river cruise passes through cities such as Budapest, Vienna and Bratislava, and flows through ten different European countries including Austria, Germany, Romania and Hungary.

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The Danube is  Europe’s second longest river, running southeast from the Black Forest in Germany to the mouth of the Black Sea in Romania and the Ukraine, through lush valleys, patchwork fields, historic castles, tranquil villages and spectacular cities, making a river cruise the perfect holiday for anyone wanting to see as much of Europe’s splendour as possible. Travelling through 2,000 years of history at a gentle pace, you take in the sights of the river that inspired Strauss to write the Blue Danube.

avalon1Starting at the source of the river in the wonderful German Black Forest, the Danube river cruise follows the meandering river up to the medieval towns of Regensburg and Passau before the reaching Austria’s picturesque Wachau Valley, where you have a chance to try some of the region’s best wines in the town of Melk. The next stop is Dürnstein, an enchanting town steeped in history with a ruined castle that was once prison to Richard the Lionheart!

durnstein

One of the highlights of the Danube is Vienna. The capital city of Austria, Vienna is celebrated as the ‘City of Music’ having inspired composers such as Mozart and Beethoven, and it’s treasures include the imperial Ringstrasse, and the ornate Hofsburg Palace and Opera House.

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Leaving Austria, the Danube travels to Slovakia, passing through Bratislava, before arriving in the capital of Hungary, Budapest. The imposing Parliament building and historic Matthias Church make the city a ‘must-see’. Downstream from Budapest is a beautiful Baroque town called Kalocsa, where visitors can purchase some of the towns ‘red gold’ – paprika.

budapest

Serbia is the next stop on this tour of Europe, as the river brings cruise passengers into the atmospheric capital city of Belgrade. The home of Serbia’s film industry, it is a hotbed of cultural events with film festivals, theatre festivals, music festivals, book fairs and a beer festival taking place as annual events. It also boasts many museums such as the National Museum which is home to paintings by artists including Cézanne, Renoir, Monet, Matisse, Picasso and Van Gogh.

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After leaving Belgrade, take some time to relax whilst traveling through some stunning scenery before reaching the Iron Gates, a gorge that forms part of the boundary between Romania and Serbia and separates the northwestern foothills of the Balkans and the southern Carpathian Mountains.

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The cruise then moves on down the river within easy reach of Bucharest, another capital city with a lively and historic air. Visit the colossal Palace of Parliament, home to both chambers of the Romanian Parliament, and the world’s largest civilian building, most expensive administrative building and heaviest building. The Danube, along with the cruise, finishes at the Danube Delta at the Black Sea, one of the least inhabited areas of Europe. The area is made up of wetlands; the habitat of some extraordinary wildlife.

If you’re not quite ready to leave the luxury of the river cruise behind you, there’s the option to extend your stay in Europe with a voyage from the Danube to the Main and Rhine rivers via the Main Danube Canal. The canal, completed in 1992, crosses the European watershed, running from Kelheim to Bamberg via Nuremberg. The breathtaking scenery continues with quaint villages and romantic landscapes as the Main merges with the Rhine, which takes you past Cologne and all the way to Amsterdam – an ideal destination for a few days to spend enjoying the city or the perfect transfer point for journeys back to the UK.

If you are interested in cruising the Danube with Avalon, clickhere and the link will take you to all the cruises that they offer on the Danube.  Of course, you might want to cruise another river so take a moment and look at all the offer.  As I have mentioned before, this was the line that we cruised the Rhine on a few years ago and had a wonderful time

Article contributed by Avalon Waterways, specialist in first class river cruising experiences in Europe and Worldwide.

NOTE:  I am trying arrange a group to travel on the Danube River probably in the Spring of 2015.  I am looking at all river cruise lines to get the best deal.  If you would like more information and might be interested in joining to group to hopefully get group rates, please leave a comment and when I have information, I’ll forward it on to you.

A Tale of Two Christmas Markets – Cologne, Germany and Strasbourg, France

Allison is back  sharing with us her experiences last week visiting a Christmas market in Cologne, Germany as well as her prior visit to a Christmas market in Strasbourg, France.  Going to a Christmas market has always been a dream of mine and I’m excited that she and her hubby were able to go and share their experiences with us.  After reading her experiences, I know which one I would like to visit.

Hello readers! I’m glad to be back as a guest on Jane’s blog to share some more of our travel adventures. Most recently, hubby and I returned from a trip to Cologne, Germany where we visited one of Europe’s most popular Christmas markets. We were set upon this trip after visiting the Christmas market in Strasbourg, France several years ago. But as it turned out, the two experiences couldn’t have been more different.

Cologne, or Koln as it’s known to Germans, is a small, modern city that has been mostly rebuilt after heavy destruction from World War Two. Strasbourg, set in France’s Alsace region near the German border, offers a great mix of the two cultures.

Our trip to Strasbourg in 2010 was our first foray into the “old world” of central Europe. Strasbourg met and exceeded our expectations from the first minute, when we were greeted by the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg, dating back to 1176. The massive, beautiful gothic church sits in the middle of an historic square alongside restaurants in buildings from the fourteenth century. This area was the location of the main Christmas market and lucky for us, our hotel!

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The traditional Strasbourg Christmas market is, in this traveler’s opinion, everything and more that one would want from an old-world holiday experience. Stalls lined the square and sold festive French pastries and German sausages. There were numerous stands offering Glühwein (mulled red wine in the U.S.) and other hot beverages that were new to us, like warm orange juice with honey.

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The vendors sold beautiful handmade ornaments and other traditional holiday crafts. Despite having a ‘tourist feel,’ the market was not crowded at all, possibly because it’s not one of the major markets or possibly because it was so close to Christmas.

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One of the most interesting aspects of the Strasbourg market was the blending of French and German cultures and cuisine. Everywhere we went felt homey and rustic and served generous portions of bratwursts and sauerkraut, alongside escargot and crepes.

cologne food

On Christmas Eve we passed an impromptu choir singing beautiful Christmas hymns, and on Christmas morning we awoke to what felt like the inside of a fantastic a snow globe. As we stepped out of our hotel into the cathedral square, the market was awake and bustling, the cathedral towering breezily over the scene. Snow was falling in fat, soft flakes, and there was a brass band playing Jingle Bells. Spending Christmas away from family is hard for me, but being in Strasbourg was a unique experience that hubby and I both cherish.

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Fast forward to last week when we landed in cloudy Cologne. Hubby and I both agree that we had some misguided expectations of our first trip to Germany, as there were no oversized beer steins or lederhosen to be found. Instead, we found ourselves in a central German city with an interesting mix of modern and old.

The Cologne Cathedral (dating to 1248) sits right next to a modern train station and the central shopping district where you can find all of the H&M-type stores you could ask for. A five minute walk towards the Rhine River will bring you in front of the city’s older and more traditional-looking hotels, restaurants, and brew pubs.

Cologne has not one but at least seven Christmas markets. The largest one is set in front of the cathedral, with others scattered in walking distance throughout the city.

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Hubby and I couldn’t help but compare Cologne against our Strasbourg experience. First, the Cologne markets were much bigger and very crowded. We arrived on a Thursday and visited markets each day and evening (among other activities like visiting the Chocolate Museum and trying out the local beer called Kölsch).

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By Saturday night, the markets were so crowded it was impossible to leisurely stroll from stall to stall. Unlike Strasbourg where you grab your mulled wine and roam the market, the Cologne markets offer several ‘bar’ type areas where you stay and drink.

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One the one hand, this was really cool because it made you feel like you were part of Cologne’s holiday happy hour scene. On the other hand, the set-up somewhat made the crowds worse. At the Cologne markets, I didn’t spy any other Americans, and I didn’t really recognize many languages other than German. It was neat to be in a place and not feel like it was dominated by tourists (despite the crowds).

Hubby and I would agree thought that our best Cologne experience happened not at the Christmas market but in a cellar restaurant across the river from central Cologne. We ate dinner at a great local place where you shared tables with your neighbors and the servers refilled your traditionally small glass with Kolsch until you placed a coaster as a sign to stop. Lucky for us, we sat next to a pair of really friendly locals out celebrating a birthday. Their offer to help read the menu turned into a four-hour conversation, an invitation to stay during our next visit to Cologne, and led to the eating of a pork cutlet which is easily near the top of the best things we’ve ever eaten.

Some tips if you’re going:

In Strasbourg, you will need to make dinner reservations. The best meal we had was at an historic restaurant near the cathedral called ‘Maison Kammerzell’ – highly recommended and worth the price!

In Cologne, there is a Hyatt on the opposite bank of the Rhine from the city center. The hotel is immediately next to a pedestrian bridge that connects to the central historical area. I would consider staying there because you can safely and quickly walk everywhere you want to go but can get a break from the crowds and have a great view of the cathedral.

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Make sure to have plenty of cash on hand as most market vendors won’t accept credit cards and increasingly, European vendors are only accepting what’s called ‘pin and chip’ cards which are not widely offered by U.S. banks.

Finally, It can (and will) be cold! In addition to the usual attire, consider bringing a pair of long (woollen) underwear.

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Happy holiday travels!

Thanks for your report on both Strasbourg and Cologne.  I’ve been to both cities but my heart would be with Strasbourg.  Strasbourg  is known as the Venice of France with canal rides on boats similar to those used in Amsterdam.  The Cathedral is magnificent – words do not do it justice and if you do go there, I would suggest hiring a local guide to escort you through and explain all about the cathedral ………Jane

My TO-DO and See List

Becky from The Girl and Globe recently wrote  a blog about her To-Do list and that got me thinking.  Blogger Hubby and I have actually sat down and each have written where we would like to travel to.  The countries that we had in common seemed like more of a priority than those that the other didn’t have on his list.  I thought I would share my TO-Do and See List with you.  Do you have a list of things you want to do and see in your lifetime?

Here’s my list:

1. Go to Australia and see the Sydney Opera House  visited in 2013   northern lights

2. See the Northern Lights in Iceland

3. Go to a Christmas market in Germany   planning on going this year!

4. Explore the ancient sites in Rome   did this in 2011

5.  See what is left of the Pantheon in Athens   did this in 2011

6. Go to a Greek Isle   did this in 2011

7. Go on a safari in Africa  booked for next year                  africa safari

8.  Visit Antarctica

9. Eat pizza in Naples, Italy

10. Go to Paris

11.  Have a leather jacket made for me in Buenos Aires

12.  Go to the Olympic Games

13. Cruise down the Amazon River

14. See the pyramids,  Sphinx and the Valley of the Gods in Egypt

15.  Go all the way through the Panama Canal

16.Be serenaded in a gondola in Venice, Italy         gondola

17. do a trans Atlantic cruise

18. cruise down the Nile River

19.  see Petra

20.  Swim in the Dead Sea

21. Go to the British Museum and see the Egyptian area

22. go to the major national parks in the west

23.  see the terra cotta warriors in China

24. make each of my grandchildren their own quilt

25  design and have built my home

As you can see, most of the things on my list involve traveling of some type.  For us traveling gives us memories.  We often talk about trips we have taken by ourselves, with our family and trips that we want to plan.  It’s always something to look forward to and the excitement of planning gets us through some of the dreary winter months.

What’s tops on your TO-Do and See List?

Planning the Trip to Hawaii with Points and Miles

As some of you know, we recently had an opportunity drop into our lap – a friend of Blogger Hubby offered us their timeshare in Oahu for a week at the end of September.  I have never been to Hawaii and Blogger Hubby had been there a L  O  N  G time ago.  This offer was made to us a few days before Labor Day so we needed to get our act together and fast.

First, since we were still in Michigan we needed to find flights on our points.  None of the small airports near us had flight the times that we needed for a connection in Detroit.  Our next option was to drive the 4 1/2 hours south to Detroit Metro Airport.  I was saving our UR and UAL points for our trip to South Africa for next summer and therefore needed to use our American Express Membership Reward points.  Looking at many of the airline schedules and using the ITA Matrix, United appeared to be our best bet.

American Express membership points do not transfer to United Airlines though they do transfer to Singapore Airlines which is in the Star Alliance with United.  UAL requires 80,000 points to fly in Business Class to Hawaii; Singapore Air, through their award chart only requires 60,000 points.  To me, a frugal point saver, that is a significant difference.  Miles were transferred to Singapore Air (I did it online, you can do it online or by phone).  A quick phone call, once the points were deposited into the KrisFlyer account that I had previously opened, and my seats were booked.  I had spent some time on the UAL award site choosing my flights that had award availability, and those flight numbers were given to KrisFlyer.  Seats were booked!  A tool to help you find the number of award miles needed from many airlines is Milez.Biz

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Next up….planning what to do and where to go after our week in Oahu.  We knew we only wanted to go to two islands but the three that came to mind was Maui, Kauai and the Big Island.  Before we made that decision, we needed to see where our hotel points would take us to.  We seemed to have more options for Kauai and the big Island so that made our decision process a little easier.  In Kauai, it was a no brainer for us.  We had opened the Chase Hyatt credit card last fall and when you do, you get 2 nights free at ANY Hyatt worldwide.

I had heard so much about the Grand Hyatt Kauai that I wanted to spend two nights there.  We arranged an early morning flight on Hawaiian Air (7:40 AM) so we could maximize our time in Kauai.  We were able to stay here since we had opened a Chase Hyatt credit card last year and you get two free nights at any Hyatt in the world.  Since these would expire in November, we thought this was a good use of those two free nights.

Next up, where to stay on the Big Island.  As I had mentioned in a previous post, Blogger Son #2 had WWOOF’ed in Kona and he suggested that we stay around that area.   I had lots of Hilton points so we booked the Hilton Waikoloa Village for three nights.  We had arranged a late afternoon flight from Kauai to the Big Island so that we would have almost 3 full days in Kauai and since we were flying home from Kona at 9 PM, we would have almost 3 full days on the Big Island as well.  We used our points from the Hilton American Express card – about 50,000 per night.  I had lots of points as I had just purchased a number of Vanilla Reloads at a grocery store and as most of you know, you get 5 times points at a grocery store when you use this card.  Knowing your bonus categories really help.  I had also opened last year a Bank of Hawaii and a Hawaiian Airline credit card where I received 35,000 from each card.  Nothing spectacular but they transferred over to Hilton at a 1:2 ration – for every Hawaiian mile, I received two Hilton points.  Did all this for a total of 140,000 points.

Next up, it becomes a reality and you’ll read about the flight to Oahu.

Yosemite National Park – National Park Series

This is another post in the National Park Series.  If you missed one of them, please click on the title and it will take you to the post

Glacier National Park

Great Smoky Mountains

Yellowstone

Before we went to Yosemite everyone, and I mean everyone, told me that it was outstanding, that it was raw, rugged and something so spectacular that they couldn’t describe it any better.   They couldn’t give me enough adjectives to describe it to me.  I just didn’t think anything could live up to these descriptions – boy, was I wrong.

I flew into Sacramento on United the end of June to meet my husband who was doing some work in the area.  He had picked up a rental car earlier when we flew in.  He picked me up and we were off in the direction of Lake Tahoe.  As we traveled through we spent some time in an old western town called Placerville whose nickname was HangTown.  They were doing some type of reenactment with covered wagons, panning for gold in the street in a horse’s trough. This is near where Sutter’s Mill was located where the California Gold Rush began.  I had visions of gold dust in my eyes.  It was a lot more difficult than I thought it would be as the gold was merely specks in the water and to get the swishing motion was not easy.  Regardless, this was lots of fun for us.

We spent a few days at Lake Tahoe driving around, doing some short hikes, seeing Emerald Bay (yes, it really is green).  A trivia fact – did you know that the old television show “Bonanza” was filmed around Lake Tahoe because after all , it was south of Virginia City and near Carson City.  There were advertisements along the road that went around the Lake for visitors to go up to the location, for a small fee of course.

We were going to travel to Yosemite from Tahoe on the Tioga Road but it was still closed due to snow.  We headed south and went in to the park where the Merced River flows through the park – the Arched Rock Entrance.  We had reservations inside the park at Wawona Hotel, a National Historic Landmark.  This was at the southern end of the park and a little of of the way for me.  We were close to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia Trees.  Being this far south, we always seemed to have a long commute to see the famous sites of El Capitan, hiking Bridalveil Falls, Half Dome (no, we didn’t climb it but watched in amazement as others did) as well as going to Curry Village.

Since there was heavy snowfall the year we went, the waterfalls were flowing quite heavily.  I don’t think that I have seen so many waterfalls in one location.  Every turn we took was just as spectacular as the last one.   I didn’t do any of the rugged hiking that our kids did a few years ago.  They were the ones you could see as ants climbing up Half Dome.  There are steel cables going up and you are pulling yourself up.  What made it difficult for them was the sheer number of people who climbed it.  You could never get any good momentum going because there would be people a few feet from them.  Nevertheless, that is one thing that they were able to check off the list of things to do.

Blogger Sons and Blogger daughter-in-law climbing Half Dome
Blogger Sons and Blogger daughter-in-law climbing Half Dome
At the top of Half Dome
At the top of Half Dome

Whether you are going to view the granite monolith, hike to see waterfalls or wildlife, Yosemite should be on your list of must see national parks.

One of the things that I have really wanted to do (and Blogger Hubby doesn’t) is to go to Germany for their Christmas markets.  I can just envision myself strolling down the streets at night sipping on some hot wassail or hot chocolate nibbling on a pastry as I look at all the handmade wares listening to the sounds of the season.  Anyone else have this idea in their mind?  I just recently had a friend and her husband move to a suburb of Frankfurt for a year while teaching in one of their schools.  She casually mentioned that I could come for the markets but with the Hawaii trip next week and the Chicago Seminar a few days later I need to really think about taking another trip though this would be the opportune time since I could stay with them. (I think).

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Anyway, I began googling about Christmas markets and found this great site that shows where all the markets are and explains some of the items that you’ll see for sale.

pyramid

One of the items is a pyramid which is made out of wood, can have several tiers but at the top are small wooden blades like you would find in a ceiling fan that turn from the heat from candles that are on the lower level of the pyramid.  I was fortunate to receive one 15 years ago when we had a German exchange student and his mother sent it over to us for Christmas.  The pyramid that we have is the nativity scene and it is beautiful.  Later that year when his dad came over he brought another one to me that has 4 tiers and all the movable figurines appear to be from the Black Forest.

Other items that are for sale are the famous Nutcrackers that were all hand carved though I do wonder if they are more mass marketed now.  I’m sure you can still find hand carved nutcrackers and I’m sure they retail for a pretty penny

nutcracker

Smokers are small wooden people that have a pipe coming out of their mouth to release the incense that is lit in the hollow of the figures.  The incense burning is said to remind people of the incense that the Three Wise Men brought to Jesus on the Epiphany which is January 6th.

christmas smoker

I’ll let you know if I decide to go or not.  Have you ever wanted to go to the Christmas markets?

Suggestions Needed For Our Stopover to/from South Africa

Next summer we will be traveling to South Africa with our son, his wife and their baby.  We are planning on using our miles for free flights.  The trip has two purposes behind it.  First and foremost is to visit our daughter’s-in-law family.  She was born and raised in South Africa and then emigrated to the States as a middle-schooler.  Her grandparents, numerous aunts, uncles and cousins still live in South Africa.  We are excited to meet her other family members.  We are also looking forward to seeing the country of her birth and to put a “face” to the different areas that she speaks so fondly of.

sa map and flag

Secondly, another item on our bucket list is to go on safari.  Most Americans tend to sign up with a safari guide and stay in a preserve to be sure to see The Big Five.  That’s not how our son and daughter-in-law have done it the past two times that he has gone.  They always stay in Kruger with reservations made about a year prior to their stay.  They rent a car and do a self guided tour of the Kruger, looking for animals themselves in a more natural and not fenced in manner.  Apparently that is the way most from  South Africa do safari.  We had though of also going to Victoria Falls but apparently there is a huge conference going on during the time we would be there and there are no rooms to be had except in Zambia.  Doing Victoria Falls could also be very expensive as well.

photo: safari.com
photo: safari.com

With such a long trip we thought we would plan a stopover in a location that we might not go to for a primary vacation.  We are having a difficult time coming up with where we want to go.  We thought of the Maldives but Blogger Hubby would not want a week long beach vacation.  We’ve been to Istanbul but admittedly for only 2 days so that is a possibility.  Morocco was another suggestion but I am a wee bit concerned about the heat as I had heat stroke twice in Singapore.  Another possibility is Scotland (where my maternal family is from) and where our exchange student from a decade ago lives.  I had thought of Scandinavia but Blogger Hubby thinks that would be a trip by itself.  Finally, a trip to the Canary Islands.

world with question mark

What are your thought on where we should try to find a stopover for about a week or so?  We desperately need help and suggestions so we can begin planning this trip.