2023 London-Paris-Seine River Cruise

Click on areas not covered with text to enlarge pictures.

April 13th – Miami to London
We left home for our 3 1/2-hour trip to Miami International Airport. This is not my favorite run because of the two-hour stretch of Alligator Alley (I-75) between Naples and Weston is boring… a straight line run where the scenery hardly changes. “The Alley” can lull a driver to sleep with serious consequences. After a couple of episodes of driving this stretch at night and almost going of the road, I won’t drive home if I have a flight arriving in Miami at night.

We arrived at the airport parking lot in the late morning. A shuttle took us to the terminal and we went through the international travel routine. Although we had assigned seats, we didn’t have boarding passes and I thought that would present a problem. All it took to check in were our passports. We had “Global Entry” access, so we went on the shorter line through security. It should have been easy, but it wasn’t. We both wound up going through secondary security procedures. We both were patted down and finally were able to go to our gate. The flight to London left on time.

April 14th – London
We arrived in London this morning. Customs and Immigration process was relatively easy and now the wait for the luggage. Although we were in the Priority category, we still had to wait some time before our flight’s luggage arrived in the carousel. We were met by our drive for the roughly one-hour drive to the Savoy Hotel. Arriving early at the hotel, we could not check-in until mid-afternoon.

At the suggestion of the desk clerk, we headed for the guest only lounge and met Eileen and Frank, who we befriended on our ill-fated Danube River Cruise, and their friends, Marsha and Ed. Our room was finally ready, and we headed to the room to rest a bit before dinner. The tour officially starts tomorrow, so there were no scheduled events.

April 15th – London
Like quite a few of our fellow travelers, we took advantage of Tauck’s “gift of time,” which granted us a free night at the Savoy Hotel. This morning we met Eileen and Frank for breakfast and then went to meet the Tauck tour staff and sign-in.

Susie and I decided to go for a walk around the area. We walked down the Strand to Trafalgar Square. When we got to the square, we saw a loud demonstration. I’m not sure what they were opposing, we think it relates to London’s Congestion Charge Zone fees. We followed Whitehall past the Palace of Westminster and crossed the Thames River on Lambeth Bridge. We followed Albert embankment Path to Westminster Bridge. On the embankment we saw The National Covid Memorial Wall and a great view of the Palace of Westminster. After crossing the Thames on the Westminster Bridge, we followed Horse Guards Road to the Mall and back to the Savoy.

After our return from our walk, we connected with our friend Laura and Bob and attended a reception and dinner in the hotel.

April 16th – London
Today we take our first organized tour, an orientation tour of city landmarks. Among the highlights of the tour was the British Museum and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Taking pictures from a moving bus is not one my favorite things, so I was happy that we took pictures during yesterday’s walk.

Most of our time was in the British Museum. Still, considering the size of the Museum and the various collections, there is no way of doing justice to this great museum in the time allotted. Among the museum’s better-known pieces are the Rosetta Stone and The Elgin Marbles.

At St. Paul’s Cathedral we had a chance to walk around the exterior of this historic building. Adjacent to St. Paul’s is Temple Bar, the ceremonial entrance to the “City,” which was relocated to this spot to allow the widening of the street which ran through it.

Following the city tour, we returned to the hotel. In the evening, we had a private, after-hours visit to Winston Churchill’s World War II War Room. The command center is located under the streets of Westminster.

The Cabinet Room in the Churchill War Room

April 17th – Under the Channel to Paris
Yesterday afternoon we packed our luggage and left them in our room for delivery, by truck, directly to the MS Sapphire in Paris.

We went to Paris by way of the “Chunnel,” the 31.5 mile railway tunnel under the English Channel, via the Eurostar high speed train. The trip took about 2-1/2 hours to cover the 212 miles. On arrival in Paris, we boarded busses to the ship.

This Evening we went to the Louvre Museum for a private after-hours tour. Our time was limited, but led by an excellent guide, we saw some of the best-known works in the Museum. The advantage of having a private tour when the museum was closed to the public was from the pictures… we didn’t have to fight a crowd to get in front of the artwork.

April 18th – Paris
This morning we were driven through different parts of Paris. We were fortunate to get the same guide that led us at the Louvre last night. We drove past most of the best-known landmarks. As in London, I was not keen on taking pictures on the move. We will be back in Paris at the end of the cruise and will have a day to explore on our own.

At the morning briefing, an announcement was made that one of our fellow passengers had afternoon tickets to the Musee d’Orsay that they can’t use. Susie and Laura jumped at the opportunity and visited the museum to see its collection of Impressionist art. I stayed on the ship and did some reading.

Later this afternoon we had a chocolate tasting tasting and discussion presented by a Chocolatier who produces a line high quality chocolates. Since Susie is allergic to chocolate, I got a bonus package to taste.

April 19th – Paris – Chateau of Versailles
This morning we had an option of a walking tour of Montmartre or Chateau de Versailles. We chose to visit the latter. The chateau is a magnificent palatial estate with a garden that is not to be missed. Unfortunately, we were early in the season and most of the gardens have not been planted yet. We saw the King Louis XVIII’s bedroom, Marie Antoinette’s bedroom, the Hall of Mirrors and several other rooms. Fifteen million people visit Versailles each year. It seems as though they were all here while we were there. Trying to take pictures in this environment was my least favorite part of the tour.

The ship sailed for tomorrow’s destination this afternoon. We sailed upriver for a bit to a wide area where it could turn around for the downriver destinations. The Seine has many low bridges in Paris. The cruise ships and barges running on the river, have wheelhouses that are lowered so they can get through. The ship’s helmsman sticks his head out of a hatch in the wheelhouse to see his way. We were on the upper deck and told to stay seated while we were moving under the bridges.

April 20th – Auvers-sur-Oise
This morning we rode from Conflans-Sainte-Honorine for a ride to Auvers-sur-Oise. Vincent Van Gogh spent his last days in this village. Van Gogh was prolific during his last days. The church, Town Hall, wheat field and tree roots, pictured below, were subjects of his paintings. Roots was his last painting before he commited suicide. He is buried in the cemetery on the hill above the town. His brother, Theo, is buried next to him.

Before leaving Aures-sur-Oise, we stopped at the Absinthe Museum. The owner is an expert and has written several books on the subject. She gave us a lecture, through an interpreter. After the lecture, we got a taste of absinthe… not something that I would drink again.

April 21 – Giverny – Monet’s Home and Garden
We were driven a relatively short distance from Vernon to Giverny to visit the home of Impressionist painter, Claude Monet. Giverny is a small town with limited access to large vehicles, like our bus. As result we walked to Monet’s home. The majority of the time here was spent in Monet’s Garden, which was full of spring flowers, dominated by a large variety of tulips. Monet’s pond has been the subject of several of his paintings. After our tour of the home and garden, we walked to the Museum of Impressionism.

We returned to the ship for lunch, after which we had free time to walk around Vernon. As we were leaving, we saw a group of passengers, including our friends, Laura and Bob, getting ready for a bike trip. Most of our walk was limited to the area around Collégiale Notre-Dame.

April 22ndRouen
We arrived in Rouen overnight. In the morning, we took a guided walking tour of the city area relatively close to the Seine. Our guide was certainly familiar with the history of the city. However, he seemed to be fixated on the subject of “poop” that covered these streets in medieval times. Rouen was seriously damaged by Allied bombing during the World War II invasion of Normandy. The tour made stops at some of the major sites of Rouen, including The Cathedral, and Gros Horlog. Our tour ended in the marketplace where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. In the marketplace, a new modern church was built in honor of Saint Joan of Arc. I don’t think it fits with the medieval buildings of the area. Susie and I continued to walk around the town, eventually ending up at the riverfront and our ship.

This evening we were driven to the Chateau du Tillis for a fine dinner and music.

April 23 – Etretat and Honfleur
Today we had a choice of touring Caen and Bayeux or Etretat and Honfleur. We decided to go to the latter.

Our first stop was to Etretat, which is located on the coast, north of Le Havre. The weather was cold with intermittent showers, not a beach day. Etretat’s economy is highly dependent on tourism. The beach is bounded by chalk cliffs rising about 300 feet. This is not a beach that is made up of sand, rather it has large pebbles. Above the beach, to the north, is the Chapelle Notre-Dame de la Garde. The chapel is reached from the town by 200 steps. Laura was the only one of us who took the challenge to walk up to the top. Near the Chapel is a memorial to L’Oiseau Blanc, the White Bird, which disappeared in an attempt to be the first to fly across the Atlantic non-stop. Two weeks it disappeared, Charles Lindbergh completed his Transatlantic flight.

After a few hours in Etretat, we boarded the bus for Honfleur. The trip took us through Le Havre and across the bay on the Pont de Normandie, a beautiful, multi-tower cable stayed bridge. It is the last bridge on the Seine, before it flows into the ocean. Honfleur is a few miles beyond the bridge. The weather turned from intermittent showers to constant rain. Not a good a good day for sightseeing. Laura, Bob, Susie and I decided to go to lunch at a creperie that received good reviews. We spent some time there hoping the rain would let up. When we left the creperie, Laura and Bob opted to walk around the fishing port area while Susie and I headed back to the bus. We were thoroughly soaked.

Susie is Holding Me Back

April 24th – Normandy Beaches
This day is one of the reasons that I wanted to take this river cruise. I am a history buff, particularly military history. The 1944 Normandy Invasion beaches and the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial are places I have been wanting to visit.

The first stop on our tour was at Pointe du Hoc, a high cliff overlooking Omaha Beach. It is lined with bunkers that have a clear line of fire on Omaha and Utah beaches. Walking along the edges of the cliff and seeing the view from the bunkers, I was amazed that the US Army Rangers were able to climb up the cliffs and neutralizing this strong point. They did it at high cost in casualties.

Our next stop was at Omaha Beach at one of the breakout points going inland from the beach. There is a memorial on the beach. Our guides provided roses to place on the beach. Breaking out of the beachhead led to hedgerows enclosed fields that provided cover to the German military. Allied forces had to fight from one hedgerow to another.

From Omaha Beach we went to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. To view the seemingly never-ending lines of grave markers was quite emotional.

This afternoon we started back upriver to Paris.

April 25th – Les Andelys

This morning we stopped in Les Andelys, a town composed of two villages. It is located on one of the bends of the Seine River. From here we broke up into groups heading to three different places, each group on a different schedule.

Our first stop was to a local cider house, Le Ferme des Ruelles, to learn about the various Norman cider and calvados. The cider house owner gave us a lecture about the farm and his plan to take it completely “off the grid” with renewable resources available on the property. We also had an opportunity to sample some of the products made on the premises.

Our next stop was on a hill overlooking the impressive ruins of Chateau Gaillard. The Castle was constructed by Richard the Lionheart. Richard was King of England and Duke of Normandy. The tour bus took us up to a hill overlooking the castle. It also gave us a great view of the town of Les Andelys.

We then returned to the town and stopped at Collégiale Notre-Dame des Andelys, which was built between the 13th to 17th centuries. In the church there are two columns, one is topped by a lion’s head representing Richard the Lionheart, the other is a monkey’s head representing his brother, King John of England, who rebelled against Richard and took his crown.

We also viewed a statue commemorating native son, Jean-Pierre Blanchard, who with American, John Jeffries, made the first balloon crossing of the English Chanel.

We returned to the ship and set sail for Paris.

April 26 – Paris
This morning everyone had to depart the ship early so it could be prepared for the arrival of the next group of passengers this afternoon. The Tauck team coordinated the transportation of the departing passengers to the airport or other destination. We had booked an extra day in Paris and were driven to the historic Intercontinental Paris Le Grand Hotel. Check-in time is after 3pm, so we had some time to kill. We checked our bags and walked around the area, including the famous Galeries Lafayette department store. When we got finally got into our room, we were fortunate to have a good view of the Palais Garnier, the Paris Opera House.

A Partial View of the Gallerie Lafayette Dome
Additional floors are above the base of the dome

April 27th – Paris
Today was a day for walking. We started walking towards the Tuileries Gardens by way of The Place Vendome until we got to the Rue de Rivoli.

Susie suggested that we first go to Angelina Tea Room so that “I should taste their famous hot chocolate.” It is located across the street from the Tuileries Gardens, which was what I planned to be our target for the morning. The tea room is very popular and we expected to have long line before getting. As it turned out, the line was relatively short. Instead of the hot chocolate, I ordered a cappuccino and macaron. The macaron was not what I expected. It was several times bigger than any macaron I ever had before. As it turns out, that was my early lunch. Incidentally, there is an Angelina Tea Room in the Bryant Park area.

Having absorbed some extra calories, it was now time to take that walk in Paris. We crossed the Rue de Rivoli and into the Tuileries Gardens. We walked the gardens to its end at the Place de la Concorde, which is located between the Tuileries Gardens and the Champs Elysees. We spent some time looking around the Place de la Concorde, then walked on Rue Royale to the Boulevard de la Madeleine and arrived back in our hotel in mid-afternoon.

This evening we met up Eileen and Frank and Marsha and Ed. We walked, almost back to the Rue de Rivoli to a restaurant for dinner.

A lot of walking but a great finish to a very good trip.

April 28th – Heading Home
Susie and I agree that this trip was great. It prompted us to book another river cruise in the Spring of 2024. At this point we do not have any major trips planned… but you never know.

2023 Caribbean Cruise

Eight friends on our last night of the cruise

February 10, 2023 – Osprey to Miami Cruise Port

We were scheduled for a 1:30 pm check-in for boarding our cruise ship, Riviera. It is a roughly 3 ½ drive for us. We were accompanied by Warren and Luellen, our friends of 40 years. They had been our guests in Osprey for several days before our departure. We left around 7am so that we could meet my cousin, Don, for brunch on our way to the Miami Cruise Port. After a pleasant meal, we headed to the port, arriving well ahead of the scheduled check-in time. Our other friends from New York checked-in at the same time. After a few security checks and a long line, we were checked-in and boarded the Riviera.

Our rooms were not available until 3pm so we went up to the Terrace Café for buffet lunch. This my first test of my goal of not overeating on the cruise. I had a salad and a dessert and felt that I met my goal. The four couples making up our group were in adjacent cabins, so we all went to Deck 8 to await the arrival of our luggage and settle in.

The Riviera is a small cruise ship (785 ft in length) with a maximum capacity of 1250 passengers and a staff of 800. It departs from Terminal J, which is located among the container ship docks. The ship was oriented west, toward the land. At 6pm, the ship started its departure from Miami. Many of us were out on our balconies watching the ship back up on a narrow channel, with the assistance of a tug. When we reached a wider part of the channel, the ship, using its thrusters and the tug at the stern, made a 180 degree turn and headed east towards the Atlantic.

Small container ship, assisted by a tug making 180 degree turn.
The much larger Riviera made the same, tug assisted, turn in order to get into the channel.
Miami, viewed from our Deck 8 Balcony

It was now 7pm, time for dinner and another test of my goal of not overeating. Our group sat at one of the two tables for eight in the main dining room. The menu came and my resolve failed me… I overate. Overeating, a glass of wine, and a long day got to me, and I decided to go to bed. Susie and the others went to the theater for a show.

February 11-12, 2023 – At Sea
All I can think of is the lyrics from a song I heard a long time ago, “A sailor went to sea to see the world and what did he see, he saw the sea.” That pretty much represents these day. Our first stop is Basseterre, St. Kitts, over 1,000 miles from Miami. We dock there on February 13th.

I got up early and could barely see the coast of Cuba to the south of us. I decided that I would exercise by walking on the top deck. We had strong winds and the deck that I was planning to walk on was closed on both days. I wound up doing core strengthening exercise on the floor of our cabin.

One of the few times we saw other vessels while at sea

February 13, 2023 – Basseterre, St. Kitts

St. Kitts and Nevis Map

I woke up this morning to grey skies and a light mist which eventually turned to a period of rain. While I was eating breakfast, the captain announced that due to strong wind and currents, we would reach the pilot pick-up point at 11:30. Scheduled arrival time in St. Kitts was 11am. The ship was welcomed to the port by rain squalls, a normal part of the Caribbean experience.

Our shore excursion was a scenic train ride around the Island. We boarded a bus that took us to the train station, a 30-minute ride. The train ran on a narrow-gauge track built in the early 20th century to carry sugar to the port.

The sugar industry was ended in 2000 because it could not compete with other producing sources. As a result, tourism became the economic engine of St. Kitts. The train was turned into a tourist attraction. Passenger cars are double-deckers, with upper deck being open and the lower deck having windows and air conditioning. After riding for about 45 minutes on the upper deck, I got a little bored because the scenery didn’t change much and headed down to the enclosed portion of the car.

At the end of the train ride, we boarded the buses back to the ship. The busses dropped us off in an area filled with shops. Susie, as she does on most of our trips, went in search of a refrigerator door magnet. The ship departed St. Kitts at 6:30pm.

Approaching the Dock in Basseterre
The Heart of Basseterre
Narrow Guage Train
Rain Showers in the Hills
We were lucky to miss them

Mount Liamuiga
One of several sugar mill ruins seen from the train
Typical town passed by train
A lesson for the kids😁- Look both ways before crossing the street
Masquerade Dancer traveled from car to car entertaining us to the drumming of another dancer

February 14,2023 – Kingstown, St. Vincent

Map of St. Vincent and the Grenadines

We arrived in Kingstown, the capital of St. Vincent and the Grenadines on time. The port area of Kingstown is, like other tourist destinations, filled with shops selling souvenirs and other items targeted to tourist trade.

Our excursion was “A Panoramic Tour of St. Vincent.” The tour started at 12:15pm and lasted about two hours. This island certainly provides panoramic views of houses clinging to the hills. Crops are growing on steep hillsides. We drove through several villages, some had mansions on the hills and private homes and apartment buildings in the lower portions. Halfway through the tour, we stopped on a lookout that had a grand view of the Mesopotamia Valley. It is thought to be the remains of an extinct volcano and is considered the heart of the agricultural business in St. Vincent.

Mesopotamia Valley Panorama
Crops growing on steep hills
This crop is in the center of the panorama, above.

Tourism is the main economic engine for the island. It followed the decline of the sugar and banana industry because of competition from Central America. St. Vincent has long produced a very strong rum which was based on the molasses derived from the sugar crop. Ironically, the molasses is now imported from elsewhere. A large black tank stands in the port area to remind locals of the past. That tank contains the imported molasses.

Molasses Tank Near the Inter-Island Ferry Terminal

The tour did not cover the northern part of the island which contains the La Soufriere volcano. The volcano erupted on April 9, 2021, sending a plume of ash six miles into the sky spreading all over the island and into neighboring islands. Because the volcano had shown increasing activity for several month, the government issued an evacuation order for the northern part of the St. Vincent. No one was hurt and property damages were limited. Some areas had several feet of ash on the ground. Clean-up was slowed by heavy tropical storms and rain events. Susie and I visited a waterfall and natural pool at the base of the volcano in 2003 while on a Windjammer cruise. I can’t imagine what that beautiful area looks like today.

The waterfall and pool at the base of La Soufriere volcano in 2003
Kingstown Harbor Panorama
Mailbox on the dock in Kingstown with Queen Elizabeth II Marking… a reminder of British occupation
Rough surf on the Atlantic Side of St. Vincent
Riviera Docked in St. Vincent

February 15, 2023 – Roseau, Dominica

Map of Dominica

We arrived in port of Roseau around 7am. Roseau is located on the leeward (Caribbean) side of the island and is Dominica’s capital and major urban center. Over the last 2,000 years, Dominica was populated by Amerindians from the northern coast of South America. The island was sighted by Columbus on a Sunday in 1493 and was named Dominica, the Italian word for Sunday. In the 17th century the French built a small settlement and named it Roseau.

Our tour was scheduled for a departure at 9:45. The normal leisurely breakfast was out of the question. The tour focused on the southwest coast of the island.

As soon as you walk out onto the dock, you get an initial feel of the ruggedness of the Island. Before could get to the “nature” part of the tour, we had to navigate the narrow streets of Roseau. After leaving Roseau, we drove through several contiguous villages before getting to a less populated environment.

The road did not get any wider as we left the Roseau area. It hugged the side of the mountains as it climbed up and ultimately to a coastal section of the road. Our first stop was a lookout that gave us a view of the southwestern tip of the island, the Soufriere Bay Marine Reserve and Scott’s Head. We stopped at the end of the road and walked out on the narrow neck leading to Scott’s Head. The neck separates the Atlantic Ocean (rough surf) from the Caribbean Sea (calm seas). Soufriere Bay is an active sunken caldera. Heading back north, we stopped at Bubble Beach. The water at edges of the beach is heated by the volcanic activity and gas bubbles can be seen.

We continued north back to Roseau and drove through the Botanical Gardens, eventually stopping at a lookout where we viewed the city below.

I would have to say that Dominica was our favorite island. The beauty of the island speaks for itself. Our guide was excellent and didn’t hesitate to discuss the political environment on the island.

This is the sight that greeted us on arrival in Roseau harbor
Roseau Panorama viewed for a lookout above the city
Soufriere Bay Marine Reserve, viewed from the neck of land leading Scott’s Head
Scott’s Head
The neck of land leading to Scott’s Head with the rough Atlantic surf (left) and the calm Caribbean
Church of St. Mark near Bubble Beach
Mural Inside St. Mark Church depicting the farming and fishing aspects of the Dominica
Three teachers at Teachers’ Place

February 16, 2023 – St. Barts

Map of St. Barts

St. Barts is considered to be one of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean. I could not give my opinion since we never left the ship.

Gustavia, the main town of this French Island and its major port. For a ship the size of the Riviera, there are no dock facilities and access to the shore is provided by tenders (the ship’s life boats). Looking around the harbor, I would have to say that, based on the number of large yachts anchored in harbor, it is a favorite of the very rich.

When we arrived in the harbor, the wind was blowing strongly, and high swells made the loading and unloading the tenders dangerous. The original schedule was to start tendering at 8am. Looking from our balcony I could see the difficulty the tenders were having approaching the ship to tie up at the boarding area. One tender made four approaches before successfully tying up to the ship. The captain announced that because of the rough seas and strong winds the tendering was postponed to 9am. As of last night, Susie and I were to go ashore, while our friends were going to stay on board. We didn’t have any excursions, so we also chose to stay on board. At 10am the captain allowed the tendering to proceed. The captain frequently repositioned the ship so that its bulk would provide some shelter for tendering operations.

Gustavia Harbor Panorama – Starboard side view
Gustavia Harbor – Port Side View
Passengers tender for trip to town
Three masted Schooner

February 17, 2023 – San Juan, Puerto Rico

Map of Puerto Rico

Map of Old San Juan

We arrived at the entrance to San Juan Harbor early in the morning. I was up hoping to get a good picture of El Morro Castle guarding the entrance to the harbor. By the time I got on the balcony, I missed the shot and had to wait until we were leaving the harbor. The lighting was better in the afternoon.

After breakfast, Susie and I decided to walk through Old San Juan to El Morro. According to Google Maps it was a thirty-minute walk. That didn’t take into account the streets that were closed to traffic due to construction and security considerations. As we walked, Susie spotted a shop selling locally made crafts. They had beautiful locally handmade magnets. She also saw an art piece that was produced by a local artist. I knew that it would be hanging in our house the minute she started talking to the salesman. It will be framed in the shop and sent to us… easier than carrying it. After completing the transaction, we walked a little bit further before heading back to the ship for lunch.

Our departure from San Juan was earlier that our other departures because of the distance to tomorrow’s destination, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. While Susie and our friends were sitting around the pool deck, I went to the top deck to get some pictures of Old San Juan and its fortifications.

The Tug Brooklyn McAllister assisted the Riviera to enter and exit San Juan Harbor
El Morro
Castillo San Cristobal
Old San Juan Panorama
Pigeon Park
Capilla del Santo Cristo de la Salud, a small chapel adjacent to Pigeon Park

Old San Juan Street Scenes

Sculpture in an Old San Juan Park

February 18, 2023 – Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

Map of Dominican Republic

Map of Puerto Plata

We were up early this morning for breakfast. Our departure time for the excursion was 9am. After breakfast, we were in our cabin when the captain made the announcement that we will not be docking in Puerto Plata and will continue on to Miami. Strong winds are forecast for Puerto Plata for the scheduled time of departure. Because the channel in the port is very narrow there are maximum wind limits for entering or leaving the port. The forecast winds are above those limits.

“I saw the sea”

Bottom line… two days at sea with an on-time arrival in Miami. In order to avoid some of the morning rush hour, we asked for the last departure from the Riviera at 8:45am. We got our luggage and loaded the car fairly quickly and headed home.

Chile’s Atacama Desert & Bolivian Saltpans

The Atacama Desert has been on my bucket list for a long time. We have traveled to Chile numerous times and on my seventh trip finally made it. The following is a summary of our visit the desert and to the Bolivian saltpans.

November 30 to December 2, 2022 – Miami to Santiago
Early this afternoon we left our home in Osprey and drove to Miami International Airport. It was an uneventful trip, except for the Motorcade of law enforcement vehicles (cars, trucks and motorcycles). I have seen motorcades before, but this one was the largest we have ever seen. We drove at least two miles until we got to the entry point of the motorcade… they were still coming onto northbound Interstate 75. We were lucky, as we were heading south.

We arrived at Miami International Airport several hours before flight time. Having experienced the crowds at this airport, we wanted to have a cushion of time. a couple waiting for their flight to Spain was sitting across the aisle from us. We wound up having a long chat with them. They were spending the winter an hour’s drive from us. We exchanged contact information and promised to get together at our home after we got back… We spent a nice evening with them after we got back,

Our flight was scheduled to depart at 9:15pm and was just a few minutes late. We arrived in Santiago on schedule and after going through immigration and agricultural checkpoints we were met by our driver for the ride to our hotel. We have been in Santiago several times, so we didn’t do the tourist stuff. We spent the next day and half with my cousins and their extended family.

December 1st-Dinner at Cousin Avi’s Home
December 2nd-Lunch with Cousins

December 3, 2022 – Santiago to Calama and San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
An early morning. A driver was picking us up and take us to the airport for the two hour flight to Calama in northern Chile. In Calama, we were greeted by a driver who took us to the Altiplanico Atacama Hotel in San Pedro de Atacama, our base for the stay in the Atacama Desert. The trip from Calama to San Pedro de Atacama was sixty miles on a paved road, one of the few we would see during our days in Chile and Bolivia. The road gave us our first taste of the elevations we would encounter during our stay. Calama is located at 7,400 feet. The road climbed at a modest rate to a 11,400 foot pass, and then dropped to 8,000 feet at San Pedro. Arriving at the hotel we had some time to get settled before we were picked up for our first tour. The tour took us Laguna Cejar, Laguna Tebinquinche and Ojos del Salar (Eyes of the Saltpan).

Laguna Cejar is a lake that has a high level of salt which, like the Dead Sea in Israel, enables one to float effortlessly. It is the only one of the three bodies of water that is available for swimming. Unfortunately, we didn’t have our bathing suits with us and moved on to Laguna Tebinquinche, which was another salt lake that was home to Flamingos. We learned that there are three species of flamingos in the Atacama Desert, Bolivia and Peru. These are the Chilean, James and Andean Flamingos. The Microbes that live in the waters of Laguna Tebinquinche are similar to the original life forms that populated the Earth. There is a sign by the lake that calls the area El Origen (the origin).

Cejar Lagoon Panorama
Andean Flamingos
Laguna Tebinquinch
One of the eyes of Ojos del Salar
Susie and Sam at Ojos del Salar
Fabiani Lizard
(It posed for this shot)

December 4, 2022-Toconao, Salt Flats and Chaxa Lagoon
A full day on the road (mostly unpaved). We were advised to wear layers because our trip will take to elevations in excess of 14,000 feet.

Our first stop was the oasis village of Toconao. The site of the village has been occupied for about 12,000 years. Since it was Sunday, the village was quiet, and we only saw a few people on the streets. The main attraction for us was the San Lucas Church (which was locked?) and its Bell tower, which dates back to 1744. The church itself was rebuilt in the late 1800s. The village is known for its woolen handicrafts… I guess they don’t work on Sunday.

Toconao’s San Luca Church

The four-foot-high Bell tower door is made from a local cactus that has a solid core. The only people to enter the tower are the nuns who serve the church.

Our next stop was the Salar de Atacama, the largest salt pan in Chile and the third largest in the world. Within the salt pan is Laguna Chaxa which is divided into several bodies of water and is home the three species of flamingos native to the Altiplano. We also traveled to see Laguna Miscanti and Laguna Miñiques located at 14,700 feet. There was a walking trail around the lagoons, but we only walked on a small section of the trails. It was here that we saw our first Vicuñas, one of the three camelid species native to this area. Vicuñas are wild animals while the Llamas and Alpacas are domesticated.

Susie at Salar Miscanti
Sam at Salar Miscanti
(Note mirror image)
Andean Avocet

On our way back to San Pedro, we drove through Toconao. This time there were plenty of people on the streets. A soccer game had just finished and it seemed as though all of them were in or on the way to the local restaurants. Our guide had planned to have lunch in one of the restaurants, but it was full. We wound up having a late lunch in San Pedro.

This was a long day and tomorrow we the pick up was scheduled between 4:30 and 5:00 am. We decided to skip dinner and sleep.

December 5, 2022 – El Tatio Geyser Field
A pre-dawn pick up at the hotel for the hour and a half trip to the El Tatio Geyser Field. We were told that the best time to visit El Tatio was at sunrise because of the light shining through the steam presents the best view. Unfortunately, we were late in arriving and didn’t get any of pictures of that view.

The Geyser Field is located at an elevation of 14,000 feet. We were told to wear several layers when we going to this elevation… we were wearing three layers. It was quite cold and windy and I wished that I had taken a heavier mid-layer. The weather and the elevation combination took its toll on Susie and she went to the relative warmth of the tour van. I have to admit that I was tempted to join Susie.

When I think of geysers, the picture Old Faithful comes to mind. The geysers in El Tatio stay rise to about 30 inches. Old Faithful erupts to an average height of about 140 feet. Our guide stated that the atmospheric conditions can depress these geysers to even lower heights. The heat that powers the geysers and fumaroles comes from the magma pool below the surrounding volcanos.

The guide talked about the controversy surrounding the tapping into the area surrounding El Tatio and other geysers for geothermal energy uses. She was a strong opponent of this use, suggesting that it would have a detrimental effect on the geysers. Geothermal energy proponents discount this impact. In our travels in the Atacama Desert, we saw a number of geothermal energy plants.

Cone Geyser at the Beginning an Eruption
Colors are from minerals and bacteria.
Erupting Geyser
Geyser Pool
Former Geyser Pool-Swimming not Recommended.
View East From El Tatio Geyser Field
Cerro El Volcan (18,240 feet) in background

On the way back to San Pedro we stopped at a couple of lagoons to view several bird species. The most plentiful were the flamingoes. The lagoons also had vicuña grazing around the shore.

The tour advertised that breakfast was included. It turned out to be a brunch. We stopped at the ruins of a sulfur mine whose floor provided a level place for the driver to cook scrambled eggs. The table had plates full of rolls, avocado, and various meats and cheeses. The walls of the ruins served as shelter from the strong winds. We returned to our hotel around 11:30 am.


Our trip map
(photographed by Susie off the hood of our tour vehicle)
Most of the trip involved the unpaved “roads” (yellow lines)

December 6, 2022 – Bolivia Day 1
The trip to Bolivia is scheduled for three days and two nights. As you can see from the map above, most of the trip is on desert tracks.

A local driver picked us up for the hour-long drive on a paved highway to the Hito Cajon border crossing between Chile and Bolivia (elevation 14,698ft). We had to go through the Chilean immigration post to exit Chile located in a modern structure that we drove into for processing about a mile from the border. After clearing Chilean Immigration our driver proceeded to actual border where he turned us over to the Bolivian guide and her driver. The Bolivian border post is a small building. There were some issues with Bolivian Immigration that were resolved by our guide.

After leaving the border we traveled on dirt roads and desert tracks. Our first two stops were Laguna Blanca (White Lake) and Laguna Verde (Green Lake).

Laguna Blanca Panorama
Laguna Verde Panorama with Lincancabur Volcano in the background

We continued our travels via desert tracks. There were a few more salars on our route. One of the spots we visited was Arbol de Piedra, a formation created by desert winds and airborne sand. There were other similar examples of the work of the combination of wind and sand erosion.

High desert and mountains
Arbol de Piedra
Close-up of erosion on a large Bolder
Boulders ejected by volcanic explosions littered the desert floor

One of the few mammals we saw among the rocks in the desert was the Viscacha, a rodent that looks like a cross between a rabbit and a squirrel. The one pictured below seemed not to be to concerned with our presence. I got quite close to it get the picture below.

Southern Viscacha

Our final destination for the day was the Los Flamenecos Eco Hotel, located on the shore of the Laguna Hedionda. The hotel is remote and only powered by solar panels. Apparently the capacity is limited as power was only available from 6 to 10pm. There is no heat at night or hot water for the morning shower.

The saline lake had a large population of flamingos that I was going to photograph after we settled into our room. Our window overlooked the lake and unfortunately, that was the only view I was going to get. It started pouring soon after we got into the room and didn’t stop until the overnight hours. It was the rainy season, but the heavy rains usually come later in the season. I tried to get pictures prior to breakfast but couldn’t get out as the main entrance seemed to be locked. On the plus side, dinner and breakfast were very good.

December 7, 2022 – Day 2

Today we are going to traverse the Uyuni Salt Pan, the largest salt pan on earth. We woke up this morning to discover that our heavy overnight rain dropped a cover of snow on the mountains.

Snow Covered Volcano

We had a bit of a drive to get to the Uyuni Salt Pan from our overnight stop. The route we took over the desert held some spectacular views.

Eroded Lava Fields

We drove through several communities this morning. Enroute we could see fields planted with Quinoa. The fields have been recently planted and only tiny green leaves are showing. They will eventually reach 3 to 7 feet high.

Quinoa Field early in the growing season

After some travel we reached the salt pan. Once on the salt pan there are no tracks. How the driver and guide navigated to get to specific destination is amazing to me. When you get further on the pan all you can see is nothing but white salt and mountains (some of which are mirages floating in the air).

We stopped for lunch on the salt pan. As in the previous day, it was a white tablecloth banquet. Our guide, Aida, who is part Quecuha, entertained us with a traditional dance.

Lunch On the Salt
Note the horizon shows nothing but salt… no land features.
Aida Dancing

There are several islands on the flat and we stopped at Incahuasi Island. The Island is the top of a volcano that existed millions of years ago below an inland sea. Coral fossils are readily found on the island. It is also covered by large cacti that we also noticed in the Atacama Desert.

Incahuasi Panorama
Incahuasi Fossil Corals

Our final stop for the day is the Hotel Tambo Coquesa Lodge. The property contains a main lodge and some cabins. Our cabins is made out of blocks of salt. The exterior is covered on stucco to waterproof the salt walls. Even some of the furniture is made out of the same salt blocks. The plan for the evening was to watch the sunset out on the salt pan with Champaigne and snacks. As in the previous evening, it started to rain lightly. The clouds hid the sunset, but we had our drinks on the salt anyway.

Communidad de Coquesa at foot of Tunupa volcano
Our hotel living room

December 8, 2022 – Back to San Pedro de Atacama

Sunrise viewed from our Coquesa hotel

After breakfast we started our return to Chile. After roughly three hours of driving on the salt pan, we reached the city of Uyuni. We had snacks while our driver fueled up the car for the driver Hito Cajon border crossing.

On our way we passed a number of salt harvesting and processing locations on the pan. After leaving the Uyuni Salt flat we stopped in the silver mining town of San Cristobal. A mining company wanted to build an open pit mine but the town occupied the site. The company offered jobs to any person in the town, built new homes and relocated the church.

San Cristobal Church

We stopped for lunch at a hostel and watched Llamas and Alpacas grazing below. Alpacas are distinguished from Llamas by their smaller size and facial hair.

Llamas and Alpacas

On the way to the border crossing, we crossed a pass above 15,000 feet. The remnants of the snow were all around us.

The crossing from Bolivia to Chile was uneventful. We transferred from our Bolivian guide and driver to a Chilean driver who took us back to our hotel in San Pedro.

December 9, 2022 – San Pedro de AtacamaValle de Luna
This morning we began at a normal hour. We checked out of the hotel and were met by our guide for a tour of the Valle de Luna (Moon Valley). The valley gets its name because some of its terrain resembles the craters of the moon. The valley terrain was, and continues to be, shaped by the wind.

Our guide was a very knowledgeable and interesting person. He guides only periodically and lucky for us this was one those days. It was a pleasure to spend half a day with him.

Valle de Luna Panorama
Susie and Sam at Valle de Luna
Susie and our Guide
Tres Marias (Three Marys)
The wind keeps shaping this formation until it completely disappears.
Susie learning about the crusty surface of the valley.
Salty crust of the valley surface
View from the “Amphitheater.”
Another view from the Amphitheater

Our journey to the Atacama Desert and Bolivia is now over. Our guide was also our driver to Calama airport for the trip back to Santiago. Susie and our guide exchanged contact information. When we got off the plane in Miami on December 10th, Susie received a text advising us that the Lascar Volcano erupted ten hours after we left the Valle de Luna. The eruption had a plume that rose 3.1 miles high and spread volcanic ash all over the area we had just left.

And now on to our next adventure, a Caribbean cruise with our New York (some now living in Florida) traveling friends.

Budapest to Amsterdam-Almost

After three plus years of limited travel due to Covid-19, we are finally going to start traveling again and invite you along. The “Road” consists of the Danube, Main and Rhine Rivers and takes us from Budapest, Hungary to Amsterdam, Netherlands.

July 8, 2022 – Budapest

Our River Journey was planned last year, and we hoped that it wouldn’t suffer the fate of the other major trips we planned since Covid struck in 2019. It didn’t. However, things didn’t quite go as planned.

Our journey was to begin on July 7th with a flight from Miami to Frankfurt and on to Budapest, with our arrival on the afternoon of the 8th. We decided to go to Miami on the July 6th and stay at an airport near the hotel near the airport that had a “park-stay-fly” offer that involved a night before we fly and a night when we return and parking for the duration of or trip. Since we had not seen my cousin Liz and Don Hess in over three years, we stopped at their home for a visit before heading to the hotel.

With the large number of cancellations by airlines this year, I had a bad feeling about one of the two segments being cancelled. My feeling was reinforced by the experience on our first flight since May 2019. We flew to Washington for Susie’s American Library Association conference last week. On the return, we were booked on the only non-stop flight from DC to Sarasota. It was a fully loaded plane with a pilot and a missing first officer. After an hour of trying to find a replacement for the missing first officer, our flight was cancelled. While at my cousin’s home we got a call from our travel agent advising that both segments of this current itinerary were cancelled. She managed to get us booked on a flight to Budapest with stops in Washington and Munich. However, we were assigned seats that were not together. Fortunately, none of the segments were cancelled and we arrived in Budapest without any problems.

Tomorrow, we are on our own in Budapest. We board the riverboat on July 10th and have a tour of the city on the schedule. Friends and family members that have been here have offered some suggestions. We don’t want to visit places that are on Tauck’s tour. We have some homework to do…

July 9 – Budapest

I should have provided more information about Budapest in yesterday’s post. I was a bit tired and rushed through the post. Rule number 1- Don’t Try to write a Post (or anything important) after more than 24 hours of Travel with minimal sleep.

We were on our own today. The first thing I wanted do this morning was to take a picture of the view from our hotel window.

This the Royal Palace on the Buda side of the Danube and our hotel is almost directly on the opposite side the river. The Danube is flowing downstream from us and will eventually empty in the Black Sea.

After breakfast, we decided to walk along the left bank of the Danube. One of the sights we wanted to see the “Shoes on the Danube Bank.”

Cast Iron Sign. Two others are in Hebrew and Hungarian

Our next stop was the Parliament Building. It is a large building. Even with a wide angle lens, I had difficulty getting it a single shot. Thanks to Photoshop, I was able to stitch three pictures into the single picture, below.

The next stop in the morning walk was the Jewish Quarter. There were two buildings in particular that we wanted to see, The Rumbach Synagogue and the Dohany Street Synagogue. Both synagogues are no longer functioning as a houses of worship, but they were closed because it was the Sabbath. We have some free time tomorrow, prior to boarding the river boat, MV Esprit, so we will walk back to the area and see the interior of the synagogues.

A Memorial Tree of Life at the Dohany Synagogue
Mass Graves at the Dohany Synagogue

After lunch and giving our feet some relief from the morning walk, we headed to the Great Market Hall. By the time we walked there from the hotel, it was nearly closing time and some of the stalls were already shut down. We did a quick walk through the aisles of the first floor and headed back to the hotel, walking along the riverbank where many of the riverboats were tied up. We spotted the MS Esprit getting ready to receive us tomorrow afternoon. By the time we got back to the hotel, we had walked 6.8 miles.

MS Esprit

July 10 – Budapest

Today we have a half day on our own before we board our ship for the beginning of the cruise. Yesterday we visited the Great Synagogue (also known as the Dohany Street Great Synagogue) from the outside because it was closed for the Sabbath. A guided tour is recommended so you could pick a time convenient time and avoid the lines. The synagogue tours are available in multiple languages. Our tour guide was knowledgeable and fluent in English.

Detail of the Bimah (a raised platform in a synagogue from which the Torah is read). The Torahs scrolls are kept in the Ark in front.
The Heroes Temple Dedicated to the Jewish Soldiers Who Served in the Hungarian Army During World War I
Heroes Temple Interior
Tree of Life

Memorial Leaves on the Tree of Life
Hundreds of Jews Were Massacred in the Synagogue in the Closing Days of World War II. These Mass Graves Contain the Remains of Hundreds of Victims, Many Unidentified.

This afternoon we were picked up at the hotel and transported to the MS Esprit. The afternoon was spent unpacking our bags. In the evening we attended a welcome reception and orientation, followed by dinner.

MS Esprit in Budapest

July 11 – Budapest – Sailing on the River

This morning we left the Esprit to tour Budapest. The tour focused primarily on the Buda side of the Danube. Buda is elevated above the Danube, while Pest is fairly level. Our first, essentially the only, stop was the Royal Palace, which, as you have seen in a previous post, dominates the hill on the right bank of the Danube. We didn’t go into the palace itself.

Medieval residential area adjacent to the Royal Palace. Historically, this area was reserved for the nobility.
Cathedral at the Royal Palace, Front view
Rear of the Cathedral viewed from the Overlook
Royal Crypt
Royalty on Horseback. The testicles on the horse are shiny. University students rub them for luck before exams.

After the tour we boarded the Esprit and started our voyage upriver. Enroute to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, we passed small towns and ruins of castles on hills. These scenes repeated themselves all along the journey.

Riverside town
Castle Ruins
This was a humorous scene. The child was enjoying running from the wake created by the Esprit. The sadder side of this picture is that under normal conditions, this “beach” is underwater. The water usually is up to the tree line.

July 12 – Bratislava to Vienna

This morning we had a walking tour of Bratislava. The tour focused on the Old Town, where most of the historic buildings are located.

Overlooking the Old Town is Bratislava Castle
Old Town pedestrian area
Former cardinal’s residence, now part of the three building City Hall
Original City Hall. The black spot to the left of the second story window is an embedded canon ball.
Opera House
Only remnant of the city wall
Holocaust Memorial on the site of the Old Synagogue. The Hebrew word is “Remember.”
St. George slaying the dragon
The steeple of St. Martin’s Church has a replica of the Hungarian royal crown. The Church served as the Hungarian coronation site for three centuries.
The sculpture portrays a sewer worker taking a break. Some say that he is smiling because he is looking up the dresses of passing women.
Susie and King Piggy

We arrived in Vienna this afternoon. This evening’s events involved a private dinner in the Palais Pallavicini. It was a multi-course dinner with music and dance entertainment between courses.

July 13th – Vienna

This morning we toured Schönbrunn Palace. This palace is considered a museum and no photography was allowed within the walls. The Palace contains over 1,400 rooms and only a few are open to the public. We didn’t have enough time to walk around the gardens before returning to the ship.

Schönbrunn Palace

After being dropped off at ship’s dock, we decided to walk into town on our own.

July 14 – Durnstein and Melk

This morning’s stop was at Durnstein, a historic village sitting below the ruins of Durnstein castle. The castle history includes the imprisonment of King Richard the Lionheart of England during the Third Crusade. Susie was not feeling well this morning, so I walked up the hill into the town. The narrow streets contain the usual shops selling souvenirs and local products, wine being one of them. Tourists walking on these streets have to be careful because there are no sidewalks, and you share the street with cars.

Durnstein Castle ruins seen from the river level
The entrance to Durnstein. The town is about 200 feet higher than this point.
The narrow streets of Durnstein
Tough Parking
Durnstein Abbey

We continued up the Danube along the Wachau Valley to Melk for a tour of the Melk Abbey. Lining the Danube in this stretch a number of interesting towns and many vineyards. We didn’t have any time to go the town of Melk. The main attraction is the Abbey. As in some of the other palaces and abbeys, the Melk Abbey is considered to be a museum and therefore does not allow photography. The link to the Abbey, above provides some pictures of the interior.

Spitz, in the Wachau Valley, is typical of many of the towns in this stretch of the Danube
Weissenkirchen (meaning White Church). Only a small part of the church is white.
Melk Abbey, viewed from the Danube on our approach to the dock
Entrance to Melk Abbey
Melk Abbey interior courtyard
Melk Abbey

After we left Melk, we were advised that the cruise was canceled because of low water in the next stretch of the Danube. The ship’s Captain had been monitoring the levels on a regular basis. The draught plaguing western and central Europe has caused the levels to drop quickly. The Esprit is a relatively small river cruise ship. We were not the only ones that have to cancel or modify their trip.

July 15 – Salzburg

Today we docked in a small town down river from Passau, Germany, where we boarded a bus that took us on a whole day trip to Salzburg, Austria. Susie and I were in Salzburg in 1971 and didn’t expect many changes, although we did notice a McDonalds which definitely was not there on that visit. The first part of our visit involved a guided tour of the historic Old City. A lot of people relate the movie, “The Sound of Music,” to Salzburg. The tour guide made minimal references to the movie… the locals don’t want to be associated with it. After that tour, we were on our own and wandered around the town.

The Old City viewed from across the Salzach River
Mirabell Gardens
Pegasus Sculpture in Mirabell Gardens
The Hohensalzburg Fortress, as seen from Mirabell Gardens
A couple heading to the Registry for their wedding. Pictures are taken in the gardens afterward.
Mozart’s birthplace is on the fourth floor
These are bell pulls that ring a bell in the kitchens. You can see the wires in the picture, above.
One of several alleys containing shops
Yes… McDonald’s is here, but the golden arches are tiny and are in the wreath hanging on the sign. See closeup below
It is not hard to identify the product sold in this store.
Old Market Place Plaza
One of the historic buildings in the market plaza. Note the date of construction at the top.
The Salzburg Cathedral
The Rezidence… The Bishop’s Palace

The Fortress Dominates the Rezidence Plaza
We didn’t have enough time to get up to the fortress before we had to be at the bus stop
A sign in the Rezidence plaza commemorating a Nazi book burning
The 1823 quote by Heinrich Heine loosely translated states,
“This is only an appetizer
When Man burns books
In the end Man will also burn People.”

We boarded the bus for the trip to Passau and the official end of the cruise. All of us have to be to be off the ship by Monday, July 18th. Most of the crew will be unemployed and have to return to their homes.

The trip Home

Instead of writing a post about our “Misadventures,” I am posting a chain of texts between me and our children, Carrie and Rick. All times in Eastern Time… Add six hours for the time in Europe.

Wed, Jul 13, 1:51pm

We just got word that the cruise is cancelled due to low water in a stretch of the Danube. We are exploring alternatives.

Carrie: Oh geez

Wed, Jul 13, 3:31pm

Rick: Oh boy

We are trying to work out our options. Probably won’t know anything until tomorrow afternoon. Problems is that every ship going up and down the Danube has the same problem and are trying to get their passenger out.

Rick: Have you spoken to the travel agent?

Thu, Jul 14, 1:23am

We are working on it. The time difference doesn’t help. We are continuing the trip through Passau. They can’t go any further. We are hoping to get a flight out of Munich. Tauck will arrange transportation to Munich.

Sun, Jul 17, 2:47am

We are scheduled to leave the ship for Munich at 10:30 local time. We have a room booked at the Hilton near the airport. As of now we leave Munich on United flt 31 to Newark and then on United 1252 to Miami. If there are any changes, I will let you know.

Sun, Jul 17, 5:33am

We made it to Munich airport. Taking the subway to downtown Munich. Already checked in at the hotel and United Airlines.

Sun, Jul 17, 7:18am

Our misadventures continue… We are a few stops away from our destination in Munich and our train stops, first between stations, and then in a station. Unauthorized persons were on the tracks and someone must have been hit. We got out of the inbound train and are standing on the outbound station heading back to the airport. Been here an hour at this time and don’t know when the trains will start running.

We got the first train heading back to the airport. We had not planned to be in Munich, nothing lost except some time.

Sun, Jul 17, 9:38am

Rick: Oh Jesus. You guys should write a movie

Would it be a tragedy, comedy or horror?

We are back at hotel after a stop at a famous German restaurant, MickyD.

It would be all 3

OK. You are the pro… you write it.

Rick: Deal

I would wait to write it until we are home in Osprey. The way things are going there may be more calamities. I HOPE NOT. If the plane taking us to EWR lands on time tomorrow morning (the same flight we had coming here), we should be OK. Then we only have to worry about EWR to MIA flight.

Mon, Jul 18, 4:13am

Incoming flight delayed in DC.

We are now on board. Scheduled departure is in 20 minutes. The Newark-Miami leg is delayed giving us about an hour to go through customs. We are told we will get on the flight.

Mon, Jul 18, 12:59pm

Just landed in Newark.


Mon, Jul 18, 2:14pm

The comedy continues. It took longer than usual to get the luggage and go through immigration. We had to get through customs, which was nothing. Recheck the bags to Miami. We then had another security check that didn’t take long because of TSA precheck. We ran to the gate which was already starting to load passenger. Here is the kicker… the plane is delayed because the crew was diverted to Philadelphia and they won’t load the plane until they are here. Current estimate for departure is 4pm.

Rick: Oh boy. Glad you’re on the plane. Lmk when in fla

Mon, Jul 18, 5:19pm

We are still in Newark. We have a cabin crew and waiting for the pilots. They were making regular announcements. It has been silent for a while and the gate agents are not at the gate. A lot of flights have been canceled. It is hard to be optimistic right now.

We are finally on the plane. Expect to land after 9pm.

Rick: It’s an adventure
Hopefully this flight takes off

From your mouth to God’s ear.

We have been in the plane for about an hour. Now we are in a Air Traffic Control hold because of severe weather in our flight path. We may here for another 30 minutes.

Rick: Oye
You’ve pulled away from the gate?

We’re sitting on the taxiway with engine in low idle.

It’s all weather related. Can’t blame United completely. Part our delay was due to the need to get seats for two crew members coming off a flight. If they didn’t do that we might have been in the air.

I’m going to have to shut the phone down soon.

I will let you know when we get to the hotel. We will probably miss the last hotel shuttle. This is a long 24-hour day for us.

Carrie: You must be exhausted.

It’s almost 24 hours since we got up. Air Traffic Control just cleared us for takeoff.

Carrie: Oy!

Mon, Jul 18, 11:22pm

Thanks. It is 24 hours since we got up. Time to call it a day.😃

As Seen on the Road

We are always on the lookout for something unusual to place in our posts. We call those items, “As Seen on the Road.” This one is better titled, “As Seen on the Danube.”

Viking’s smallest river cruise ship heading downstream on the Danube.
Low water doesn’t stop them. Going upstream may be a bigger problem.

A Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem

We made this trip between May 9th and May 26th. Once again, circumstances conspired to make this post quite late.

Lior Standing before the Kotel (Western Wall) following his Bar Mitzvah

Lior, the youngest son of our Rego Park neighbors, Anat and Shimon, was going to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel in Jerusalem. We have known Lior since he was born and felt that we had to be there. So we scheduled a trip to Israel. Sounds simple… It wasn’t.

Susie decided that since we were heading to Israel, we should also visit her cousin Shelley in Aix-en-Provence. Shelley and her husband, Michael have repeatedly asked us to visit them and it was time that we do just that. That side trip was not as easy as I thought it would be. When I tried to book it myself, the trip was double th cost of a direct flight to Tel Aviv and back to New York. We turned to our travel agent in Sarasota for help in getting this trip done. Our travel agent found that it was not a simple thing because we wanted to fly on El Al, the Israeli airline.

To get to Aix-en-Provence, we left New York on Thursday afternoon and landed in Barcelona, Spain on Friday morning. In Barcelona, we took a high-speed train (the French TGV) to Aix, arriving there on Friday night. The trip involved 22 hours of travel during which we hardly slept. Shelley and Michael picked us up at the railroad station and took us to their home.

On Saturday morning, Michael drove us into the Aix. It was market day and there were several markets where vendors were selling fresh food, antiques and Flowers. The town was quite crowded. When we got to the main street in Aix, Cours Mirabeau, we learned of the other reason for the crowd… the next day was the running of a 70.3 Mile Ironman Race. Aix is a fascinating city and I wish we had the time to see more of it.

Susie and Shelley in front of the cathedral. I was surprised to see Alphorns playing until i remembered that the French Alps are visible north of the city
The Flower market on the Place de l’Hotel de Ville (City Hall Square)
Sand Sculpture on the Cours Mirabeau
The Finish line for the IronMan race to be run the run on Sunday

On Sunday morning, Shelley, Michael, Susie and I headed to Marseille, about 45 minutes south of Aix. My description of Marseille is a port area surrounded by hills. We parked in the Old Port and spent the morning and a good part of the afternoon walking. The upper part of the city contains a lot of narrow streets and stairways by which the area is navigated. By mid afternoon, we were all worn out and headed back to Aix.

Michael, Susie and Shelley in the Old Port area. On the hill behind them is the basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde.
Marseille Harbor entrance. The smaller island on the left is the Château d’If, a prison used as the model in Dumas’ novel “The Count of Monte Cristo.”
The Marseille Cathedral
Street scene showing stairways and narrow streets on the hilly portion of Marseille.
La Vielle Charite.
Susie walking on one of the narrow streets of Marseille.
Graffiti covered several of the walls on the streets we walked.

On Monday, May 13th, We headed back to Barcelona. As I said earlier, there was no other way for us to economically make the trip to Aix-en-Provence and then to Israel. The trip required two changes of trains. The first leg was on the high-speed train to Marseille, a trip that took about 11 minutes. We then took a regional train (slower than the TGV) to Montpellier where we changed to the high-speed train to Barcelona. Not only did we change trains, but we also had to change stations. This was accomplished by taking a free shuttle bus to a light rail station. The light rail dropped us off near the second station. We arrived in Barcelona in late afternoon and stayed overnight in an airport hotel. The next morning we took our flight to Israel arriving that afternoon, local time. We rented a car and headed to my cousins Noemi and Yair in Ramat HaSharon.

On Wednesday, May 15th, we headed into Yaffo, one of the oldest cities in the world. Yaffo is now part of the city of Tel Aviv-Yaffo. The visit to Yaffo with my cousins Noemi and Yair, is something we have done every time we came to Israel. We walked along the Tel Aviv Promenade where you can a good view of both the Yaffo and Tel Aviv waterfront.

One of the highlights of this visit was eating at an authentic Arab restaurant. A variety of appetizers absolutely filled the table, with just enough room for the plates. After filling up on the appetizers came the main course… we didn’t need a big dinner that night.

Tel Aviv, as seen from the northern part of Yaffo. When I left Israel, in 1952, the tallest building was about four floors high.
Yaffo as seen from the Tel Aviv Promenade. The rocks on the left center are the location of the Greek Mythological tale of Andromeda.
Yaffo Port Breakwater. Andromeda rocks are visible off the end of the breakwater.

Thursday, May 16th, was devoted to Lior’s Bar Mitzvah. We left Ramat Hasharon early in the morning and headed on our first of three trips to Jerusalem. Our destination was a parking lot adjacent to the Pais Arena, where we boarded a bus to the Dung Gate of the Old City. On the way, we stopped at the Jerusalem Windmill for breakfast. The lack of parking anywhere near the Dung Gate necessitated the use of the bus. The Dung Gate is located adjacent to three structures that are significant to two religions. The first and second are Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, holy to Islam. Both of these are located on Temple Mount. The third structure is the Western Wall, known as the Kotel to Jews.

The Montefiore Windmill in Jerusalem.
Three generations of the Weitz Family at the Windmill. The old City wall is behind them.

The area in front of the Kotel is managed in accordance with Orthodox Jewish tradition, the men and women are in separate areas, separated by a fence (see picture below). The picture below was taken during our visit in 2014. It was taken on Wednesday when no Bar Mitzvahs are held at the Kotel because the Torah is normally read on Saturday, Monday, and Thursday.

The Kotel on a Wednesday

The crowd on Thursday is a lot larger with the men in the Bar Mitzvah party pushing closer to the wall. The women are trying to get closer to the fence so they can watch the proceedings over it. My pictures of Lior’s Bar Mitzvah were limited because the professional photographer was in the best position, as he should be, and blocked my shots.

Shimon Assisting Lior with the Tefillin (Phylacteries)
Shimon blessing his sons, Lior and Ron, after the Torah reading.
This picture is symbolic, to me at least, of Israel. An armed soldier praying at the Kotel. This picture also provides a view of all the prayer messages tucked into the wall.

After the Torah reading the group proceeded out of the Old City accompanied by musicians. We boarded the bus and headed to a restaurant for the reception. After the meal, we boarded the bus again and headed to the parking lot to retrieve our car for the trip back to Ramat Hasharon.

The next few days were spent with my cousins. The highlight was a dinner on Friday night with our five cousins and their significant others.

On Saturday, we drove through Jerusalem to the settlement of Kedar, to attend Lior’s Bar Mitzvah in the local synagogue. We had to Leave Ramat Hasharon early to make the 8am start time for the service. I left my camera at my cousins because photography was not permitted in the synagogue.

On Monday, May 20th, accompanied by Noemi and Yair, we headed to Haifa. A week before we left New York, Susie learned that she had a second cousin, on her paternal side of the family, who lived in Haifa. Up until this point she had very little knowledge about her grandmother’s family. It turned out that the newly found cousin’s grandmother was Susie’s grandmother’s sister. While still in New York, Susie contacted her cousin, Sharon and arranged a lunch meeting at a restaurant on Dado Beach near Haifa. Prior to meeting Sharon, we went to Mount Carmel, where we viewed the Bahai Shrine and gardens. Following the lunch, we headed to Caesarea, to visit her cousin, Anne.

Yair, Noemi, Susie on Mount Carmel
Bahai Shrine seen from above, Mount Carmel, Haifa
The Bahai shrine seen from the German Colony.
Susie on Dado Beach, Haifa
Susie and newly found cousin, Sharon

On Tuesday, May 21st, cousin Gadi took us north to Galilee. We had been in the area on previous trips to Israel, but not to the places he took us. We visited Qiryat Shemona, Metula (northernmost city in Israel), Tel Hai, Tel Dan Nature Reserve, and places in the Golan Heights.

Alaska Inn hotel in Metula. Not something I expected to see in northern Israel.
Lebanon, viewed from Metula. The road, at center, is in Lebanon. Snow-capped Mount Hermon is in the backgound. The israeli occupied part of the mountain contains the only ski area in the country
Joseph Trumpeldor Memorial in Tel Hai. Behind it lie the graves of the defenders of Tel Hai in 1920.
Site of a major tank battle in Golan during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Vineyard in the crater of the Avital Volcano, Golan Heights
New Qunaitra, Syria viewed from the Golan Heights. The old city was almost totally destroyed during the 1973 war. Truce line is located just beyond the agricultural land in the foreground.

On May 22nd, we went back to Jerusalem. Susie wanted to revisit Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum. We had visited it previously in 2000. Photography was not permitted in the museum, so.. No Pictures.

Before we left New York, Susie learned that her friend and colleague, Barbara Stripling, was going to be in Jerusalem on this day. So, we decided to meet for a few hours. That turned into a minor comedy. Barbara told Susie the name of the hotel. Unknown to us, there were three hotels in Jerusalem with the same name. Of course, Susie and I went to the wrong one. A helpful front desk clerk helped us locate Barbara.

Barbara Stripling and Susie in Jerusalem

We had one last excursion on May 23rd. That was back to Caesarea. We had already visited Caesarea a few days earlier, but this time we just went to the beach north of the town. The beach sits alongside the ruins of a Roman aqueduct that I assume supplied ancient Caesarea. It appears that there is some stabilization work being performed on the aqueduct as well as some beach replenishment from the sand on the land side of the aqueduct.

Roman Aqueduct at Caesarea Beach. Sand has blown over the aqueduct and is being used for beach replenishment (center, right).
Beach restoration and stabilization of Caesarea Aqueduct
Susie under one of the aqueduct arches. We saw people using the arches as cooking shelters and a place to get out of the sun.

Friday, May 24th was spent relaxing and walking on the shopping streets of Ramat Hasharon. Saturday was a day of rest and an early night. On Sunday, we left Ramat Hasharon at 5 am for an 8 am flight to New York. The flight was long, eleven hours, but uneventful.

This was a great trip. We saw Lior at his Bar Mitzvah and we saw Susie’s and my relatives. We are already talking about another trip in two years, God willing.

Washington DC at Night

On our way to Florida for the winter, we stopped in Washington, DC for a long weekend, to attend the festivities surrounding the wedding of the son of one of my cousins. On Thursday, October 4th, our only evening without any scheduled activities, we took a night tour of Washington, DC. Over the course of 2 1/2 hours, we stopped at the Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Memorial, Pentagon 9/11 Memorial, and Marine Corps Memorial. Susie and I highly recommend that anyone visiting Washington take a night tour.

I have not done much low light photography and this tour was quite a challenge for me. My camera does not have a flash… it would be useless for most of the pictures I took; I left my monopod and tripod in the car, which was in the hotel garage, so I had to take all the pictures free-hand. Fortunately, I took enough pictures changing camera settings until I got a usable shot. Below is a selection of what I felt were the best shots of the night.


Jefferson Memorial viewed from the edge of the Tidal Basin

Cousins at the Jefferson Memorial. From left to right, my Chilean cousins Polo, Patricia (aka Jenny) and Sam with Susie

FDR in a Wheelchair. The sculpture is based on a rare photograph of Roosevelt in a wheelchair.

This sculpture of a depression era breadline is based on a famous photograph

Martin Luther King Memorial

Lincoln Memorial Viewed from the edge of the Reflecting Pool. After walking about five miles this afternoon, I was in no mood to tackle the steps into the Memorial. That is why I stayed below to take this shot.

Washington Monument and Capitol viewed from the Lincoln Memorial

Pentagon 9/11 Monument. This monument consists of 184 benches, one for each victim. The benches have reflecting pools under them

Marine Corps Monument

Note: I didn’t realize that I the copyright date on the pictures was wrong. I thought I had updated it. All these pictures were taken on October 4, 2018, and the copyright is for that date.