Rick Steves guides us to lunch

Been severely tardy getting a post out lately but blame my daughter. For now I only have a finite amount of time for writing and for my birthday in December, my daughter gave me a one year subscription to StoryWorth. It is a very cool website that sends me a question to write about every week for one year. These are questions about me. For instance, since the first of the year I have written about what vacations were like when I was a kid, what my grandparents were like, something in my life that really surprised me, etc. At the end of the year they will print a book of everything I have written for my grandkids to know more about their grandpa. Kind of a history of me and my family. So each week I have been writing about my favorite topic, me 😜 and neglecting this blog.

Which brings us to another episode of Jim & Kathleen’s favorite food experiences. This time it comes with a big endorsement of the Seattle Area’s greatest travel expert, Rick Steves. If you love travel like we do, you have undoubtedly heard of Rick. When we decide to go someplace in Europe, we read Rick’s book about the city or country first. When we first started going to Europe we carried the books with us. Now we get them on Kindle so we have them on our phones. You can even download guided tours to use on your phones as well.

Lunch in Versailles

Don’t get me wrong. We don’t just follow Rick’s advice 100% of the time. For instance, we don’t always agree with Rick on lodging. Rick will stay in hotels with shared bathrooms—we won’t. We are just too old for that 😜. But when it comes to sightseeing, Rick gets it. If you ever decide to tour the great art museums of Europe, you would be crazy to do it without a copy of Rick’s book, “Mona Winks.” We have used it in the Sistine Chapel, the Louvre, the Ufzizi and others. He even puts a note in the book that you should tear out the chapter and carry it with you into a particular museum because the book is too big and heavy to lug around. And then when you get home, you send him the chapters you tore out and he sends you a new book. Pretty cool!

Rick also “gets” food. At least the kind of food we like. Food that is all about the region we are visiting. In that respect Rick is responsible for two of our very memorable food experiences, both at lunchtime, one in France and one in Italy.

Let’s start with France because that food experience happened first. We were on our second trip to Europe, on a two week ground trip that started with six nights in London, three nights in Scotland and five nights in Paris. While we were in Paris we did all the touristy things, the Louvre, Montmartre, Notre Dame and other Parisian must-see spots. One thing we wanted to do was take the train to Versailles to tour the palace and the grounds.

 

The palace is amazing. (That’s Kathleen at right, inside the Hall of Mirrors.) But when we went to see the grounds, it was FREEZING! It was a really cold day in November and we saw a little of the gardens before we decided we had to find some place warm to get lunch. We went into the village of Versailles and looked around and we were about to succumb to one of the touristy spots selling the touristy kind of  “French food” you would expect to find in a tourist village. But these places looked cheesy and they had people standing at their doors trying to get people to come in and eat. Not an optimum experience.

We suddenly realized that the Rick Steve’s guide we had with us not only had a section about the palace and gardens (that we had used to tour those places) but recommendations for where to eat. We knew that Rick would never steer us wrong on food so we looked up the downtown village of Versailles and he gave a strong recommendation to a tiny place (whose name I can’t remember—this was in 2003) on the main square of the town. The biggest endorsement was…this is where the locals eat. So off we went and had a culinary and cultural adventure.

When we walked in the door, the smells were amazing but the place was JAMMED! In fact there were only two chairs left open—right in the middle of a long communal table. Each side of the table must have seated 20 people and the two chairs were across from one another just about in the middle of the table. We looked at each other and thought, “What the heck!.” We were cold and starving and this place was warm and the food smelled amazing. I don’t remember exactly what we had but I do remember it was awesome. And the people on either side of us were very friendly. It was a wonderful lunch.

Lunch in Sienna

Six years later we were on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean and we had docked in Livorno which is the port for Florence. Since we had been to Florence before we decided to hire a guide and head to the hill town of Sienna. We consulted our buddy Mike, the god of shore excursions and he hooked us up with a driver and guide named Marco that he had used before and really liked. So we were really looking forward to an awesome day. We had prevailed upon some of our Cruise Critic roll call friends to join us as well.

We should have known that there would be a problem when Marco did not meet us but instead we were met by Francisco. Marco was supposed to be taking us himself as we had been told he spoke excellent English and lived in Sienna. Francisco, although a very nice man, barely spoke English and with me sitting with him in the front seat trying to translate, we headed off to Sienna.

We still had hopes that we would be met by Marco once we reached Sienna but that was not to be. After the two hour drive (during which Francisco got lost twice), upon entering Sienna, Francisco drove up a one way street in the wrong direction and when a car came down the other way, he had to back up almost all the way out of the city. He then hollered out the window, “Excuse me, how do I get to the Duomo?” But the real kicker came when we arrived in Sienna and Francisco told us he would meet us to take us back to the ship at 3:30, handed me a copy of Rick Steve’s Tuscany and said Ciao!

We were astounded. We had contracted for a guided tour of Sienna and we got a car and driver who barely spoke English and who got lost both coming and going. But we made the most of it. We grabbed the Rick Steve’s book and walked the city.

No one else in the group wanted Rick’s book so Kathleen and I took it and headed out to see Sienna.

All in all it was great day as the rain stopped and the city and its Duomo were a truly amazing sight. The Duomo has incredible etched and painted floors that are kept covered for most of the year. But at the end of August each year, they are uncovered for only two months. We arrived six days before they were to be recovered so we got to see what many never do in Sienna.

We had a great time following all Rick’s advice about what to see…but then lunch rolled around and we knew we would be OK because we had Rick along. Sure enough, we opened the guide and found a wonderful little restaurant below ground level that we never would have seen just walking around. Not only was it gorgeously decorated but the food was amazing. I think the best way to describe the experience is that it was unexpected on a lousy day. Again, I can’t remember what I had but I know one of the best things that happened on that entire trip was that lunch.

Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch. —Orson Welles

Puzzling Travel

This will be an unusual post for me, in that there won’t be as much writing as pictures. Pictures of our travel since the pandemic started…through jigsaw puzzles. Yup, like many of you, jigsaw puzzles became a big part of our lives. For most of the months since last March we have had a great big (500 or 1,000 pieces) under construction on our dining room table. We figured, why not use the table, it’s not like anyone was coming for dinner. We also have a big puzzle tray/box thingy that we could easily pack up the puzzle on the few and far between times the kids came to see us.

When we started we wanted to have a theme and I would say that other than one puzzle, I can at least remotely connect all of them to travel. And since the other one features the people we most like to travel to see, it kind of qualifies. So here, in order of our making them, are our puzzles. Hopefully in looking at them and reading my captions you will get the feeling of travel in your life.

Our first puzzle was this 1000 piece puzzle all about the Galapagos Islands. Santa had brought it to us on Christmas 2019 because our plans were to take a trip to the islands last August. We (of course) got cancelled out of that one and rebooked for this summer, thinking this would be all over. Now we are not so sure. But whenever we really get to go, we are going to do this puzzle again, just before we do.

Our second poster was full of vintage travel posters from around the world. I love it graphically and because it was a set of small blocks, it’s kind of a cheat. One thing we discovered with this puzzle was that different puzzle companies make better puzzles. Not so much the subject matter but how they hold together. Some fall apart if you breath on one piece. This one is from a company called Galison and it holds together so well, when we were done I could almost just pick it up. By far the BEST puzzle maker out there as far as quality of pieces and their cuts.

Another Galison puzzle. This one with scenes from New York City, a place we have visited quite a few times in our traveling years.

So we really have never traveled to get to a car show. But we do plan on attending the United States Grand Prix in Austin, TX one day. And when we do, we should see the greatest driver in the history of Formula One racing, Lewis Hamilton. That’s him in the white suit on the left (I know, it’s a stretch).

Now this is a place we have been—Key West, Florida. Both by land (driving the Overseas Highway to get there is way cool) and by ship (which the local populace is trying to ban) and we loved it both times. A very cool place. This puzzle is by a company called Dowdle. Their puzzles are on sale on Amazon a bunch but because they are paintings, I am not that big a fan. I prefer graphics. Easier to do 😀.

Ah beautiful Copenhagen, Denmark. Our only day in this very nice city was during a Baltic cruise we did with our friends Paul, Gail, Mike and Carol. Visited here and a BUNCH of other very interesting ports in Germany, Estonia, Sweden, Finland, Belgium and Russia.

One of the roads we drove on when we went to Albuquerque, New Mexico (had few meals at restaurants on it as well) was the famous Route 66. This road which stretches from Los Angeles to Chicago is widely known as “America’s Road.” This puzzle from Galison is of road signs, motels and more on the Route.

Keeping with that theme, our next puzzle was a diner that could have been on Route 66. It was a fun puzzle to do and this one was from a company called Ravensburger. Their puzzles are pretty good. Not as good as Galison (can you tell I liked those?) but not bad either. I would take them over a Dowdle.

Traveling a little closer to home, our ninth puzzle was another Dowdle, this time it was our home state of Washington. Kind of fun.

For our 10th puzzle we stayed in Washington State and did this Dowdle of Leavenworth, Washington’s Bavarian Village. This one was actually kind of special because when we first met I lived in Leavenworth and it’s where we got married as well.

Alright not really traveling but we have to drive at least 25 minutes to get to what used to be Safeco Field (it’s now T-Mobile Park), the home of the Seattle Mariners. This Dowdle (they have a LOT of puzzles) was fun to put together having been in this stadium so many times.

So this is the one I mentioned that isn’t really a travel puzzle but one with the people we most like to travel to see…our grandkids! My daughter gave me this puzzle for Father’s Day and she had it made by Shutterfly. I won’t even link it here because this was the WORST puzzle we did in terms of quality of pieces. If you sneezed, it fell apart. But we persevered and got it done because we loved the subject matter so much.

Back to Europe for number 13 as we explored one of our favorite cities, Barcelona. This one (a Dowdle) was fun to do because we had been to so many places that were pictured in it.

Another Galison (YEAH!) number 14 celebrates fifties style motel signs. Again, I love the graphics on this one—so retro.

Another place we have visited and loved, Sydney, Australia. I consider Sydney the most photogenic city we have been to. Everyplace you look there is something to shoot. We loved our stay.

Number 16 was awesome New Orleans. And it was very fresh in our minds since we had returned to Mardi Gras just a week before the pandemic really hit. We count ourselves VERY lucky to not have been part of their super-spreader event.

The Bay Area is where Kathleen grew up so this one of the Golden Gate Bridge is kind of like a trip home for her. We have been there together too many times to count and pretty much loved all our visits. It’s been a while since we have gone and we were supposed to meet our Brit friends Paul and Gail there last fall. Maybe someday.

It took us until puzzle 18 to find this puzzle manufacturer—Eurographics. We really like their graphics, especially on their travel puzzles. This one of lighthouses from around the USA featured many we have been to and one that we visited in December of last year when we went to the San Juan Islands for a short quarantine getaway. We really like the quality of these puzzles but especially love the edges which are always black with a red line. We liked these so much we bought a bunch more as you will see.

Number 19, also from Eurographics, is vintage travel posters from around the world. We find these much easier to work for a number of reasons. First, all the type makes them easier and the fact that they are individual posters also means we can separate pieces a lot faster.

Finally, this is number 20 (also from Eurographics) that we finished on Friday. It is very much like number 19 as it is vintage U.S. travel posters. Our next puzzle is much like this one but it is Canadian vintage travel posters. This one is still put together on the dining room table.

I hope you have liked my tour of the world through puzzles. They have been a constant companion during this pandemic and once one is put together and then taken apart, it heads to Olympia for the kids to do it (my daughter and her husband are MUCH faster than we are) and we used to just let her get rid of them on FB Marketplace but now we get them back and pass them on to our friends Elbert and Barry in Bellevue. I guess you could say that these puzzles really do some traveling themselves.

Every day is sort of a jigsaw puzzle. You have to make sure that you’re putting the most important things first. —Julia Hartz

2020–well that sucked. But hope is around the corner.

Consider this my end of the year/start of the year post. This blog (I still hate that word) is two years old now and this will be my 160th post. I truly believe if this had been a normal year for us, I would easily have written more than 200 posts by now. But without being able to travel there just wasn’t that much to write about. I mean how many lists can you make?

What did we get to do? A quick look back at our year does include our February/March trip to Florida, our cruise from there to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and then on to Mexico so I guess I can’t say it was all bad.

What did we lose? We had to cancel our spring cruise from San Diego to Vancouver on HAL’s Konigsdam, our summer trip to the Galapagos and our European Christmas Market river cruise in December. By now we should have added at least another eight countries to the list of those we have visited and I would have had pictures to prove it.

What have we been doing since then? The same as so many of you. Ten months of mask wearing, ten months of social distancing, ten months of being at home. Too many friends gone. The last week of the year I actually had to buy three sympathy cards. I have probably bought at least 8 this year and that doesn’t even count the GoFundMes I have contributed to when friends have become ill or passed away.

But we did have a little fun. We did two short get-aways to AirBnBs in Washington. We did four days at the coast with the grandkids. We FaceTimed with them at least twice a week. We Zoomed, HousePartied and Teamed with friends. We changed travel agencies we represent (one of the smartest things we have ever done). We are working on our 19th jigsaw puzzle, we ate a ton of takeout, we drank some serious wine and cocktails (we are doing a dry January 😔) and we watched five years worth of streaming movies and TV (always looking for suggestions).

For me, one bright spot this year has been my photography. The quantity of travel photos may have been lacking but the quality was much improved (at least from my standpoint). I took the best photo I have ever taken, I started posting a daily photo on Instagram (and have done that every day for more than a year–follow me @jimbellomo13) and later started doing that on Facebook (JimBellomo) as well. I started selling my photos (had a little luck but hopefully the more I post, the better it will get) on SmugMug (JimBellomoPhotography). Check me out on those platforms. You can even see my Instagram feed at right.

It is both funny and sad that so many people were glad to see 2020 end thinking that there would be some great change…but let’s be honest folks. Here we are on the fourth of January and it still feels the same to me 😜. Maybe once the vaccine is in my arm and I am getting on an airplane to go someplace it will feel a lot better.

What’s coming in 2021? It is so important to us to have something to look forward to, so we are still booked for our Galapagos trip (June 30–fingers crossed), a week with our kids at the beach in August and almost a month in Europe in December including that Christmas Market river cruise we missed (we are hoping for stops pre-cruise in Lisbon and Amsterdam). And that’s just what we have planned as of today. We are sure that as soon as they open the border we will be off to Chilliwack or Point Roberts. Maybe a long weekend in Vancouver, one of our favorite cities. I am sure even more will come up once we have those two shots in our arms. We actually have travel friends who are getting their first shots this week—lucky bums.

Which brings me to…we hope you are safe, healthy, wearing a mask in public, social distancing, dreaming of travel, awaiting your injection and all the other good things that can happen to you this year. The first date we are particularly looking forward to is January 20…for obvious reasons.

And now we welcome the new year. Full of things that have never been. —Rainer Maria Rilke

Random Stuff

Hi there! Not having posted since September, and then only to complain (about software upgrades), I thought I should come back around and say hello. This post may not be all about travel but just some random stuff. I will put a subhead on each subject so feel free to skip the ones you might not be interested in or that are too controversial for you.

Upcoming Travel

We actually have some travel coming up! YEAH! It won’t be far but we are going to Washington’s gorgeous San Juan Islands the last week of October to celebrate Kathleen’s birthday. We have rented a really cool condo right in downtown Friday Harbor on San Juan Island itself. We are staying at The Web Suites. The owners had commented on one of my photos on Instagram and I went to look at what the heck The Web Suites was and discovered they were in Friday Harbor. We haven’t been there in something like 10 years so we are really looking forward to it.

We are also thrilled that my brother and sister-in-law are going to join us. We were telling them about it and, as they have become our travel buddies on many of our cruises and they have as bad a case of cabin fever as we do they said, “Can we come too?” We were thrilled and would have asked them first but we never thought they would join us this far from home as they live in Southern Cal and not sure they wanted to fly. We were right about one thing; they don’t want to fly. They are driving all the way from beautiful San Juan Capistrano to our place here in Redmond. Then after the weekend of hanging out here we will head to the San Juans via a Washington State ferry leaving from Anacortes.

If you have never gone to the San Juans, you first drive (from our place about an hour and a half) to the city of Anacortes and board a ferry (so in a way, we are going on a cruise). The ferries stop at four of the islands. There are more than 400 San Juan Islands but many are just large rocks jutting out of Puget Sound but 128 of them are named and you can actually walk on them. If you want to go to any of them other than those four that have ferry stops you have to do it on a private boat. Lots of people do that to camp and a few of the smaller islands have vacation homes as well. One thing different for us (since the last time we were in the islands) is that it is advised to make reservations for the ferry sailing you want. I made sure to get up and be online on the day we could reserve for our dates. Snagged us exactly the times we wanted both coming and going. Our ferry trip is just about an hour and 15 minutes but it could have been much longer. We did our best to get the one ferry (both going and coming) that doesn’t stop at any of the other islands. So we get a straight shot from Anacortes to Friday Harbor.

Social Media

I have now been off all social media for more than a month other than Instagram where I post travel photos. It has really made me a lot less tense to not have to read all the election vitriol and the sniping. I will probably go back on Facebook after November 3rd and maybe a little more on Twitter but for now I need to stay off.

The Election

I know. I should stay away from politics on this blog but just a couple of quick things. First, everyone needs to vote. I can’t believe how low a percentage of people exercise their right to vote. But in some places it can be just too difficult. Right now I am reading a biography (not something I normally read) of Ulysses S. Grant, our 18th president, and it is really interesting the parallels between then and now. Grant followed an impeached president, there was a lot of voter suppression (much more violently) as the southerners tried to disenfranchise the freed slaves. From my viewpoint many states are still doing that.

The second thing I have not been able to do is to sit down with a true Trump supporter and have a discussion to find out how they can continue to support him after everything he has done and is. I don’t want to talk to someone who just blindly follows him and actually rejects science and believes the fake news stuff. I want to know what issue is so big that it outweighs (I guess I could have said trumps) all the bad. Someone intelligent so I can understand.

And I am scared to death what is going to happen if he loses and it’s close. After the kidnapping plot in Michigan, I can honestly see a huge rise in domestic terrorism. People who would never have considered it before are buying guns and ammo. This is sad.

Television

During this pandemic, so much of our time is spent either watching TV or planning on what to watch. We have been very lucky so far but our luck is starting to run out. Since this started we have been lucky enough to find some multi-year, multi-episode programs that somehow we hadn’t seen. Since March our favorite long term shows have included Younger, Damages and lately Friday Night Lights on Hulu, Parks and Rec on Netflix. There have been other things mixed in but these occupied us for quite a while. We are out of these now but some other shows are coming back. The new season of Fargo is outstanding, we have some favorites that have come back on PBS (Last Tango in Halifax, Endeavor) and some new ones on PBS (COBRA, Van Der Valk) and even a couple of network shows including a really good hospital drama out of Canada—Transplant.

This month promises to be much better in the coming weeks. Must-sees for us are the West Wing “reunion” on HBO Max, The Mandelorian on Disney+ and the only reality show we watch starts soon—Amazing Race…cause it’s all about travel.

By the way, best show of the whole summer? Hands down it was Yellowstone, Kevin Costner’s modern-day western. Those 10 shows were the best thing we saw and we can’t wait for the start of the 4th season next year. Sadly, it is on the Paramount network which our cable company does not carry so that means I have to purchase the season every year from Apple. But that’s OK because we get a bunch of outstanding and often hilarious extra films as background. If you haven’t seen Yellowstone, hopefully it will find its way to a streaming service you subscribe to. If not, you can always buy it from the iTunes Store. If you find a way to get it, watch it from the very beginning. There are three seasons of 10 shows each and they get better and better each year.

Walking

The one thing that has been my constant during our pandemic lockdown is walking. (I detailed one of my walks here.) Except for the 9 days of horrid smoke, I have been able to average just over 30 miles per week while walking six days a week. Now my problem isn’t smoke but rain, although I will usually grab an umbrella or put on my Gore-tex and go out anyway. My routes are getting a little boring and I do have a couple of alternatives but they take me through some fairly dense forested areas where all summer there have been wildcat, cougar and bear sightings—staying away from those. Since I am still working out an hour for six mornings as well, Kathleen’s daughter Michelle said, “You are exercising 18 hours a week? That’s a part-time job!”

One final (HORRIBLE) thought

The most amazing (and very sad) factoid I have heard in months is this: The number of people who have died from Covid-related illness in the USA since the day of the first death from Covid back in February is equivalent of 8 (yes EIGHT) Boeing 737s with 168 people on board each one, crashing every single day since then. Can you even imagine? I can’t. Please stay safe.

 

Another Direction—Photography

Screen Shot 2020-09-01 at 7.56.25 AMSome of you may not realize it but about a year ago I started posting what I considered my best photos on Instagram. I had just taken a fantastic photography workshop taught by the amazing Scott Kelby.

Scott told us that if you want your photos to be noticed you need to post the best of them on Instagram. So I started an Instagram feed (you can click any of the photos on the right and the link will take you to my Instagram feed) where I posted one travel photo per day. I feel like it has done pretty well as far as garnering attention. Scott also said that it would help me choose which pictures were the most popular and he was right.

All of this is leading to my next direction. A lot of my Instagram followers have been telling me that I should consider selling my photos and I totally appreciated that feedback. I also felt so gratified that they would think I was a good enough photographer that people might want to hang my work in their homes or businesses. So this morning I put my photo store on line. This is something I have wanted to do for a very long time.

If this interests you at all, you can find them by clicking here. The photos can purchased in a variety of sizes and those photos are printed by professional photo finishers associated with SmugMug, where the site is hosted. I hope you will check it out and maybe even tell your friends who might be looking for something to hang in their homes or offices.

Just a note for the photographers out there. One thing that really saddened me in doing this was having to eliminate so many of my favorite photos. You see I can’t sell photos of recognizable people without their permission. Since so many of my photos were taken on the streets of so many cities that means that most of the people in them are strangers. Which means I have no way of getting their permission. I have an entire folder of more than 100 photos of street photography in places like Hanoi, Leeds, London, Auckland and so many more others that I can put on Instagram but not sell. Makes me sad because I love them a bunch.

And to my number one reader (you know who you are), I cannot sell the pic you think is my best because it is too wide to be printed by any of the suppliers on SmugMug. Sorry. Here it is again so you can see it one more time. Best Pano Ever

Thanks for reading my little commercial for my new venture. Hope you check it out and come back here soon for a post on travel. I do have other things to write about even though we can’t go anywhere.

BTW: The quote below says everything I believe in about photography.

Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography. —George Eastman

How we fell in love…with travel

Venice in the sunshine

Tomorrow I am going to post the photo above on Instagram. I have been posting one of my best travel photos there each day for 249 days and I have been saving this one. Knowing that it is coming tomorrow as my 250th photo it made me want to write a little about it. Because it has a lot to do with the moment I truly fell in love with travel.

Some background first. My father did NOT like to travel. As a kid, the furthest we ever “traveled” was to visit our grandparents in the LA area (about 100 miles from our home in Palm Springs). I honestly can’t remember staying in a hotel before I was in my teens and I went away for school speech tournaments. My first international travel was driving six miles into Mexico to see an orphanage that our church supported. Other than that, I never left California (except to attend a speech tournament in Phoenix) until I was well into my late twenties.

In my previous life (before Kathleen) I didn’t travel either. Not necessarily because my first wife or my kids didn’t like to travel, but because we really couldn’t afford to go anywhere. We were living in the Northwest by the time we had kids and of course we drove them back to California to see their grandparents and maybe even took them to Disneyland. Once, when they were in their early teens, we actually took them  to Disney World…on an airplane…for four days.

Speaking of airplanes, when I turned 30, I had still never been on a commercial airplane. I had taken a short and scary ride in a Cessna piloted by my at-the-time brother-in-law but that really doesn’t qualify as traveling. We started and ended at the same airport.

When I was 30 we were living in Rogue River, OR and I was teaching school. I got a call from the best manager in my lifetime, Gil Duncan, asking me if I could come to San Francisco so he could interview me for a job with Jostens. He said he would send me an airline ticket. To be honest, that totally freaked me out. The idea of flying someplace was totally not something I did. I was not the guy who flies.

Once I started with Jostens in 1982 I flew all kinds of places in the USA to attend company meetings and teach yearbook workshops but these weren’t really travel. They were just business trips. I never saw anything except the airport and the insides of conference rooms and college classrooms. My first wife really didn’t have that much interest in joining me and in the 23 years we were married, I think she came with me to one of these meetings/workshops (wives were usually welcomed) once. We had no one to take care of the kids.

So when I met Kathleen one of the first things we did was go someplace. It was one of those yearbook workshops. This one was in Montana. We decided to rent a convertible and drive there, I would teach the workshop and then we would continue on our road trip visiting Jackson Hole, Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone and Glacier National Park on the way home. Except for the fact that she HATED being left alone at the motel while I taught yearbook, it was an awesome trip. (Note from Kathleen, we were in a teeny tiny town with nothing to do!) But we didn’t fall in love with travel then. That was just a nice road trip.

Over the next few years we continued to travel sporadically. Went to Canada (me for the first time—now we go there all the time), NYC, took a short Alaskan cruise but that was about  it. Until 2002 when we both turned 50. To celebrate, we decided that what we needed was a “great adventure,” and that the adventure should be in Europe. I had always wanted to explore the country of my ancestors, Italy. She had always wanted to do the same in Scotland. So we compromised, decided to do both and I went first.

We booked our first overseas flight to Italy. We did a ton of prep. This was going to be BIG! It was going to test us to see if we could actually travel to a country where they didn’t speak English, where we would have to try different foods, different customs. We knew we could do it. We signed up for an adult-ed class called, “Italian for Travelers” that not only taught us some basic language but also about what it would be like to be in Italy. We went to Edmonds and listened to lectures by Rick Steves and read all his books on Italy and museums.

In November 2002 we headed to SeaTac to board our flight to Italy. We were on Delta and flew first to Atlanta, changed planes and then took our flight to Milan. By the time we got to Milan we had been awake in airports and on the plane for more than 20 hours. Not being a good flyer and not having the money for anything but the cheapest coach seat, we had not slept a wink on the plane.

When we arrived in Milan it was 7:00 am there. We were exhausted but we had a long way to go. We took a bus to the train station (dragging our bags) and got on the train to Venice. I am sure I could have gone to sleep on the train but by this time I was way to excited. I wanted to see everything out the windows of that train that I possibly could. And to be honest, I was kind of disappointed. I thought Italy would look different. Instead it was kind of gray (the weather) and foggy. The train travelled through some pretty dirty and gross industrial areas. I was not sure exactly what I had expected Italy would be like, but this was NOT it. In the four hours on that train we were just not that impressed.

About an hour before we were scheduled to arrive in Venice, I think we both finally succumbed to our exhaustion and fell asleep. The last thing I remember was going through Padua and it was still rainy, gloomy and commercial-looking—disappointing.

We woke up as the train began to slow coming into Santa Lucia station in Venice. In fact I am pretty sure that we were already under the cover of the station itself when I became fully aware that we had arrived. I couldn’t see what the weather looked like, so I assumed it was gray and gloomy just like the rest of the trip. We disembarked with our luggage and made our way to the outside of the station where it happened. We fell in love with travel. The first thing we saw when we came out into the glorious sunshine is the photo at the top of this post. I can still remember that moment like it was yesterday and I am pretty sure I shed a tear because it was so beautiful. I actually still do whenever I think of this story. The rest of that trip was magical. We saw Venice, Florence, Sicily and Rome before we headed home and loved it all.

So that’s how we fell in love with travel. We loved that trip so much we went to England, Scotland and France the next year, took a Panama Canal cruise the year after that and the rest as they say, is history. Since then we have traveled to forty-one countries, thirty-one states and six Canadian provinces. We have done land trips and cruises that put us on five continents and we have loved each and every (well almost but you forget the bad stuff) moment of it. We have met the most amazing people. We have friends in so many places and we can’t wait to go to more places and meet more wonderful people.

BTW: Hemingway said it right below. I can’t imagine having done all this alone without the person I love most.

Never go on trips with anyone you do not love. —Ernest Hemingway

 

We really are traveling this time

Yes, it’s true! Kathleen and I are currently sitting in the living room of an AirBnB just outside Langley, Washington on Whidbey Island. We decided to do a four day weekday getaway (Monday—Thursday) while the roof is being replaced on our townhouse. The place we are staying (click here to see it) is incredibly secluded and the silence is almost deafening in itself. Nature is everywhere. A deer and her fawn were just off our deck this morning. Rabbits run amok…and there are so many different colors of bunnies. Never seen so many in one place and they are truly not afraid of humans. Here’s a quick montage of all the bunny pics I took yesterday (there were actually a lot more but I spared you).

Enough about bunnies. It was so wonderful to do some things on this trip. For instance, this place is less than 90 minutes from our house…if we take a ferry. But we were in no hurry coming up and will be in no hurry going back, so we drove around. That means going north for about 90 minutes and then going onto Whidbey Island at the north end by crossing the Deception Pass bridge. We opted to do that since we couldn’t get into the AirBnB until around 3:00 pm anyway and they started on our roof at 8:30 am. And not only did we drive north first, but we also did not take a freeway to get there. Instead of the usual drive on Interstate 5, we took Washington Highway 9 pretty much all the way up. It is a beautiful drive but almost an hour longer.

Then another wonderful thing we did…ate at a restaurant. Yes, we have been doing a lot of takeout since this started but we realized (while having lunch) that we had not been IN a restaurant since we had lunch with our friends Bob and Judy, on March 2 in Florida. And even worse (for us restaurant snobs 😜), we went to Cracker Barrel for that lunch 😲. Monday we went out of our way (by about 10 miles) to visit Anacortes which is the gateway (ferry departure point) for Washington’s amazing San Juan Islands. We haven’t been to Anacortes for quite a while but the last time we were there, we had lunch at an outstanding deli that just happened to be open last Monday so in we went. Everyone was wearing a mask (made us feel much safer) and they had a bunch of outdoor seating that was completely social-distanced. We wore our masks to place our order inside (where everyone stayed six feet apart) and then took them off at our outdoor table. But they went right back on whenever the server brought our drinks or food. Even with masking up, it was quite liberating to be able to eat out again.

We even did it again last night for dinner, here in Langley. Found a place where you again; ordered at a counter, sat outside, every table was six feet or more apart and they brought you your food—fully masked. Again, a liberating experience. Of course now we will head home tomorrow and not eat out again for a few weeks I am sure. Maybe on our next planned trip to the Washington coast with the grandkids (and their parents) in August.

As I love to do when we travel, I took an early morning photo walk around Langley. They are doing their best to survive this pandemic as they are a town mostly supported by tourism and as we all know, that’s not happening this year. They are doing it right with the entire downtown posted as a “Mask Zone.” No one is allowed anywhere downtown without one…except me at 5:30 am when no one else was around. I did this walk yesterday (Tuesday) and I am so glad I did. I got some beautiful sunrise light then while today it is overcast and gray. A true lesson in how your light totally effects your photography. Since most of you can’t travel, I will share my walk with you below. There are captions on most of the pics. And FYI: I took four times as many photos as I will post. These are just my favorites.Make sure to run them as a slide show (Click the first one, then use your arrows keys or swipe to advance) for maximum effect.

Pretty sure that’s about it for this trip unless something else amazing happens (like we see a bear or an elk). Promise to be back soon with more fun stuff on your favorite travel blog (when you can’t travel ☹️).

The journey is part of the experience — an expression of the seriousness of one’s intent. One doesn’t take the A train to Mecca. —Anthony Bourdain

My latest travels

You probably read that headline and said, “WHAT TRAVELS? I want to travel!” It is so long since I posted that I thought I would show you my daily travels. I have been sharing them with my best friend who shares his bike ride shots with me. And another friend (funny they are both Canadians) takes a walk every morning and posts those photos to Instagram and Facebook where I get to comment on them. She has no idea that I am doing that I am walking every day as well because I don’t share my pics on either platform.

But today I decided I should share my travels. Six days a week (missed a few due to weather) I have taken a walk around Redmond. Monday, Wednesday and Friday I walk 6.5 miles and Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday 3.5 miles. That comes out to about 30 miles a week. I figure that by the end of this week, we will have been in lockdown since we got back from New Orleans in March I will have been walking for 20 weeks…which means I have walked almost 600 miles. Too bad I kept coming home. If I had just walked and kept on walking, I could have been in Redding, California, Butte, Montana, fifty miles beyond Prince George, BC or about one fifth of the way to Hawaii…but I would have to swim.

As I said, I have been sending my buddy Bob pics when I walk. One of the things Bob tells me when I send him pics is how beautiful Redmond is and believe me, I know. We are so lucky to live in a place where everything is walkable. And where nature is less than three blocks away. So here’s where I went today. Today is one of my short days. Just a less-than-an-hour 3.5 miles but I think it is a rather beautiful walk. Can’t wait to see what you think. Here’s the route. The numbers on it correspond to some of the places I will describe below. Map copy

 

 

As you can see, I start and end where the red and green dots are together. That’s our house. If you are wondering where I got the map, it comes from a wonderful app called Map My Run (but you can specify a walk—more about this app later). It keeps track of my walk via GPS and then lets me save it, upload it and keep track of all my walks online. It’s a free app so if you walk or run try it out. Here’s my first set of photos up through number 2 on the map.

So if you read the captions on the photos, you know that I love living within walking distance of all of this. I can get to any of the places above in less than five minutes. In fact when I go to the supermarket across the street, it takes me longer to drive there than it does to walk. And excuse my caption rant about losing my health club to apartments. Since late 2014 more than three thousand new apartments have been built in the downtown Redmond core. Believe me, these apartments don’t rent for cheap. A one bedroom/1bath, 800 square foot apartment in the pictured building rents for a little over $2600 a month. It sits at the number 2 on the map.

This part of the walk cuts through out municipal campus (again, about three blocks from our house). The big grassy area above is used all year for all kinds of festivals and celebrations. This is all between 2 and 3 on the map.

The scenes pictured above are just before I get to the number three on the map. I get to see the river on all of my walks and it is beyond photogenic in almost every season. I used to walk on the paved side of the river but had to stop once the pandemic hit because it is just too crowded. I should add that the paved path is part of the Burke-Gilman trail that you can take all the way from Sammamish (about five miles up river) to the Puget Sound on the other side of Seattle. That’s a total of more than 20 miles.

The scenes (above) are all between numbers 3 and 4 on the map. It’s all forested but close to business on the left. Check the captions for more info.

As you can see from the pics, this part of the walk is open and I can see the river for most of this section. It is also out in the sun with very little shade which means on a hot day, I want to get through it pretty quickly. This is the section between numbers 4 and 5 on the map.

This is the section between numbers 5 and 7. I took the bunny pic at #6. The church lot is great because it is seldom used. Also, it is not well know because everyone sticks to the river trail. It’s the perfect Covid walking trail. I should mention that I do NOT wear a mask when walking. I rely on social distancing and as you can see, I hardly ever pass anyone. I do carry a mask in my pocket and if I have someone coming towards me that I cannot avoid, I put it on and ask that they mask up as well. There are very few places on this walk that I can’t avoid others by at least eight feet.

All of the above show up between numbers 7 and 8 on the map. A really nice trail on the Burlington-Northern railway line called the Redmond Connector. Again, since most cyclists, runners and walkers would rather take the River trail, this one is usually empty. It suits me just fine. It is also part of one of my longer walks as well.

This section is between 8 and 9 on the map. At number 9, I am on the bridge looking down at the Sammamish River. Almost home at this point.

And finally, 9 to 10 and back home. It was a really nice walk except for being a little warm at the end. But I shouldn’t complain. I am finishing this on Friday (took this walk on Thursday) and it is drizzling and somewhat cold. I wore a jacket for the first half and I have been back for two hours and so far—no sun in sight. Next week should be interesting as we are supposed to reach ninety degrees on Wednesday. I will have to walk at 4:00 am to beat the heat. I don’t know how my friend Susan does it with all the humidity she has in Ontario.

I want to give a quick endorsement to the app I mentioned above. It’s called Map My Run and it is from the clothing company Under Armor. It is available for iOS or Android. Not only does it use GPS to show me where I have been, it gives me mile-by-mile updates of distance, time and pace (spoken out loud) and it has an Apple Watch app as well so I can always just glance at my watch to see all the info. It has a place in the app for you to take a photo to add to your daily walk. It also lets you save your walks/runs to the Map My Run website where you can see your entire walking history along with the maps and photos. You get a weekly update of how you did for the week with a lot of other great data. If you walk a lot like I do, download and let me know if you like it. BTW: You can also use this on a bike since it measures by GPS and not by steps.

That’s about it for my “travels.” Thanks for following along. Next week we are having a new roof put on our condo so we may just head out on Monday and not come back until it is done on Thursday so look for some possible travel tales next week. But wherever we go, I will be walking.

If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress. — Barack Obama

Off-season travel

Hello again! Sorry about no posts but it is kind of hard to write about travel when NO ONE is traveling. And it looks like it will be awhile until any of us do. Personally, our August Celebrity Flora cruise in the Galapagos was cancelled. We immediately rebooked for next year when we sail on the 4th of July. Our next chance for travel is our European Christmas Market river cruise in December. We shall see what happens but we are now thinking we may be taking that one in 2021 as well.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo let’s talk about off-season travel. I was posting on Instagram this morning and I added the photo at right and explained where it was and how I took it. Here’s what I said:

“Many people who have been in this hallway will recognize it but everyone I have ever shown it to is blown away—that it is empty. This is the hallway that leads from the Vatican Museums to the Sistine Chapel. People who see this shot are amazed that it is not PACKED with people. And it was completely packed about three minutes later. This is photographic testament to the idea of going off-season (it was mid-November) and getting up early (we were the first one in line when the museum opened). This also meant that for a few brief moments, we were ALONE in the Sistine Chapel (where they do not allow photos). It was an amazing experience. We had the same experience the next November in the Louvre while in Paris where we stood, all by ourselves, in front of the Mona Lisa for about three minutes when we were the only ones in the room.”

We love to travel off-season. We have had some of our best vacations when we go in the shoulder seasons in the spring and fall. The weather is usually OK for touring—we have been able to dodge bad weather. We were also lucky enough that Kathleen could take vacation-time when she wanted and owning my own business, I could schedule around times we wanted to go. And now that Kathleen is retired and I am headed that way, we try to never go when everyone else would be there.

One thing we would never do is go to Europe in the middle of summer. We will admit we have done European cruises in August but that was because that is the ONLY time you can see the Edinburgh Military Tattoo (which was totally worth it) but never on a land trip.  Not only is the weather a bit hot for our taste (it gets hot walking around) but there are so many people touring that you spend too much time standing in line. If you want to see the real Alaska on a cruise, go early in the season or late.

While we have enjoyed our June and July Alaska cruises we have truly loved our late August, early September Alaskan cruises when there are less people. And our BEST Alaska cruise ever was when we cruised there in late April. The weather was OK (especially the last day when we sailed through the Canadian Inside Passage) and we could walk everywhere in Skagway, Ketchikan and Juneau without feeling crammed. It was awesome. We were the only ship in port in some places while in July, there would have been three or four ships in port which means almost 12,000 people in a town of 1,500 (in the case of Skagway) which is crazy crowded.

Another thing we suggest is getting up early. Go out early, be first in lines. Then go back to your room, stateroom or wherever you are staying and take an afternoon nap and then you can go back out in the evening. You will see so much more. We did exactly the same thing when we went to Disneyland with our grandkids a few years ago. We got up early, hit the major rides, then went back to our rooms and took a nap (especially the kids) before going back for parades and fireworks.

So some advice for your future traveling…when you can, go off-season and get up early.

I am a family man, and I have to find my priorities. During the season, it is to race. During the off-season, it is to spend time with my family.  —Jens Voight

Now is the time…

close up of calendar and alarm clock on the green background, plThe other day while going down the rabbit hole that is YouTube,  I saw a video about cruising that had the title, “Seven reasons you should delay booking a 2021 cruise now.” Since I am kind of in the cruising industry and a total cruise lover, I decided I should watch it to see what those seven reasons were. So I did, and I was right, I disagreed with just about every one of them. The guy who does these videos is supposed to be a “cruise expert.” And granted, he is British, so he may have a slightly different set of circumstances but I had to respond in my own small way. So here are his seven reasons and my thoughts on each of them. If you are a cruiser (or even just a traveler), this might be of interest.

Reason 1: Who knows what cruise lines will survive into 2021

He thinks that some cruise lines may go under between now and next year. Possibly that is true. Hertz (I know, not a cruise line but a big travel company) declared bankruptcy yesterday and who knows what travel company will be next, but there is a cure for this particular situation—travel insurance. And not the cruise line’s travel insurance, but a policy from an independent travel insurance company like the one we do insurance with (TravelEx). If you purchase good travel insurance you will be insured if your travel provider experiences what is called “Financial Default.” That basically means, they go out of business or severely cut back service.

Reason 2: Itineraries will change

His point here is if you book for next year now, you may find that the cruise you booked for 2020, that got cancelled, may not have the same itinerary as it did when you originally booked it. I get this one but there is an easy solution. Before you make your final payment, look at the ports and if they don’t make you happy in 2021, move to 2022 or another cruise. Not a single cruise line that I know of is currently charging to move a cruise from one cruise to another. Yes, you may have a different set of perks or a higher or lower price but that’s just the way it goes. I rebooked a couple yesterday who had a 14-night New England cruise booked for next year on Celebrity. They were getting three free perks and $200 on board credit on their original 2020 cruise. We moved them to 2021 in the same stateroom on the same cruise and they lost one of their three free perks…but the price of the cruise was $1,000 per person less. So they lost an additional $300 OBC perk and picked up a very nice $2,000 off their cruise. I think that’s a great trade.

And let’s be honest, some cruises just will not change their itinerary. Alaska cruises for example. There are only so many ports in Alaska. If your cruise this year was supposed to go to Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan, there is about a 90% chance they will go there again next year. Many others will be like that. Maybe more will change in Europe than here. Our next cruise should be taking us to the Galapagos this August but we feel we have about a 95% chance of being cancelled. If that happens, we can just about say with 100% certainty, that if we rebook for next year, we will have exactly the same itinerary.

Reason 3: Prices will fall

His assertion is that prices may fall between now and when you might sail in 2021. And maybe they will (but there are some GREAT bargains out there right now) but you can always rebook at the lower price. And to be honest, because so many cruisers can’t cruise right now but want to get back to cruising as soon as they can, ships are filling up as people rebook 2020 to 2021. So if you want to go next summer and not have to put off your next cruise to 2022, book now, hold your stateroom, rebook if you need to or if  better pricing comes along.

Reason 4: Onboard costs may rise

His reasoning here is that cruising may include a lot of social distancing onboard. And that means less people on a cruise, which means that gratuities will have to up. Great, want to make sure yours don’t—prepay your gratuities or get them as a booking perk. The same with beverage packages and specialty dining. If you like to do the things that cost money on a ship, plan now. All of the things you purchase in advance for a cruise are movable to another cruise. Just plan ahead if you think this may be something you will encounter. The same is true with shore excursions and private tours. Book them now with vendors that will refund them if you can’t go. Or book the cruise line shore excursions which are usually refundable up to 24 hours before the cruise.

He also points out that airfare to get you to the cruise might be much more expensive. While I have no clue if this will happen, there is an easy solution. Buy your air from the cruise line now. This week I booked three couples on a European Viking river cruise in September 21. They purchased their air to and from the cruise from Viking. The cost was $0.00. That’s right, on many of their 2021 cruises in Europe, Viking (and possibly others) are doing Free Air for a limited time. Given, that’s economy class air but it does get you a significant discount if you want to upgrade to business or first.

Reason 5: Cruising rules may change

Your temperature may be taken before you board, the buffet may be closed, if you are of a certain age, you may need a medical release or vaccination certificate from your doctor. All of these and more may happen but if you want to travel, you will do them. I have no problem bringing a medical release from my doctor or vaccination certificate. Probably won’t die if I have to have my temperature taken, not eat in a buffet (or be able to pick my own food up). Will you? Heck, if they develop a quick test for the virus before I get on, I am OK with taking test that as well. If it turns out I have a fever or test positive and they turn me away, that’s what travel insurance is for.

Reason 6: You run the risk of getting quarantined

This is true. His supposition is correct. But then, you could get quarantined or locked down at home…wait, I am locked down at home. But seriously, if ships are being locked down at the time you are scheduled to sail, don’t go. Rebook the cruise. Make that decision 90 days before you cruise when you have to make final payment, not now.

He also feels that you you should not book for 2021 because you might have to get the aforementioned pre-cruise certification from your personal doctor. So get one! If my doctor told me not to go, I wouldn’t go. Spending a few dollars and 20 minutes with my doctor is not that big a deal. I know that some people will say they don’t want to spend the extra money to see their doctor when they aren’t sick, but it always amazes me that people who will spend $10,000 on a cruise have a problem spending less than $100 for anything let alone a physician visit.

Reason 7: Your access to facilities and shows onboard might change

Of course they will. But why should that stop you from booking a cruise for next year. Again, book now, hold your spot. If you hear that you may not be able to do the things you want to do in 2021, then hold off and do them in 2022. But why stop yourself from booking in 2021 when you can make a change later on.

The bottom line as far as I am concerned, some final thoughts

Real cruisers, (people who cruise a lot and had or have cruises planned for 2020) are not going to stop cruising completely. In fact many of them (like us, our family and our friends) really can’t wait to go. Those people are cancelling their cruises and immediately rebooking them. Especially if they took the 125% Future Cruise Credit (FCC). This week the couples I rebooked on Viking for 2021 had their cruise and airfare completely paid for with their FCC and they have more than $1800 each left to spend. WOW! Prices were down that much, their airfare was free for next summer but wasn’t when they booked for this year and they have that extra twenty-five percent.

Another thing I am seeing is ships are filling up. We had clients who had a British Isles cruise cancelled in June and rebooked on a Panama Canal cruise with their FCC in 2021. They really wanted a particular stateroom category (aft spa stateroom) but they were already sold out. Many had been sold pre-Covid but still more were sold when 2020 was cancelled. They are hoping one of the others with that type of stateroom will cancel and they can get what they really want.

I guess the biggest take-away from this is: book your 2021 cruise now. Buy travel insurance. Have your travel agent (or do this yourself) monitor the pricing and rebook your cruise if it goes down. Prebook onboard expense items like gratuities, shore excursions, specialty dining, etc. Be prepared that things will be different. But above all, keep traveling, keep cruising. We already have a monster Mediterranean cruise booked for fall 2021 and we think we will have to move our Galapagos adventure to spring 2021. Who knows what will happen with our Christmas Market cruise in December…but if we miss that, we might move it to 2022…because we may be really busy in 2021…already.

Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning. —Winston Churchill