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RV Shakedown Trip: December 7 – 12, 2016

RV road trip – December 7 – 13, 2016

We picked up a class C motorhome from Cruise America in Riverside on Wednesday, December 7 to be returned on Tuesday, December 13.

The trip was actually from Thursday, returning Monday (8 – 12).

We left Running Springs about 12:45 pm., a little later than desired. We were headed east to Laughlin, NV, staying the first night at the Riverside Resort RV Park. We picked up the motorhome with 5/8 gas to be returned that way.

Itinerary (on the fly, except for first night)

Heater is extremely noisy but very efficient propane-wise. We plugged in every night and we burned just 2 of the 12 gallons of propane on board. The propane runs the heater and the refrigerator when not on 110v power.

Trying to mitigate the noise of the heater, we tried the following sleeping arrangements. The “Queen” bed in the back measures 80” long by 54.5” wide.

  • Night 1 together in the queen bed
  • Night 2 Dave in the overhead bunk at front, Sandy on the dining table. Way too much noise for her too close to the heater.
  • Night 3 Dave in the queen bed and Sandy in the overhead.
  • Night 4 Dave in the overhead and Sandy in the queen.

The overhead isn’t quite so bad, it is far enough from the heater and heat rises, so it was pretty comfortable.

Mileage stuff: Reset Odo A and B to 0. A is the total trip, B is each gas fill-up leg.

  • Leg 1, December 7 and 8 (Wednesday and Thursday)
    Cruise America, Riverside to Valley Oak, overnight. Valley Oak to Riverside Resort.
    289.5 miles, odo A.
    Filled up 31.773 gallons at Flying J, Barstow for $2.329 = $74.00
    Reset Odo B to 0.0 in Barstow
    170 miles from Barstow to Laughlin.
    We picked up the RV with 5/8 tank and will return it as such.
  • Leg 2, December 9 (Friday)
    Gas in Kingman at odo B, 208.3 miles
    Filled up 25.645 gallons at Flying J, Kingman for $1.969 = $50.50
    Reset odo B
    208.3 miles from Barstow to Kingman
    MPG = 208.3/25.645 = 8.1 mpg
    Arrived Temple Bar about 3pm
  • Leg 3, December 10 (Saturday)
    Temple Bar to Lake Mead RV Village
    No gas fillup required
  • Leg 4, December 11 (Sunday)
    Lake Mead RV Village to Las Vegas, Oasis Las Vegas RV Resort
    Filled up 19.015 gallons at Shell in Henderson for $2.419 = $46.00
    Reset odo B
    169.5 miles from Kingman to Temple Bar to Hoover Dam to Lake Mead RV Village to Oasis Las Vegas RV Resort
    MPG = 169.5/19.015 = 8.91
    Arrived LV about 12:15 pm
  • Leg 5, December 12 (Monday)
    Oasis RV Resort to Barstow, 185.9 miles
    Odo b = 185.9 with 20.609 gallons
    MPG = 185.9/20.609 = 9.02
    Added 2 gallons to propane for about $7.50.
  • Leg 5, December 12 (Monday)
    Barstow to Running Springs
  • Leg 6, December 13 (Tuesday)
    Running Springs to Riverside
    No fill-up required, returned vehicle with about 3/4 tank

Comments:

  • We might try the campground at Boulder Bay in Lake Mead. We didn’t try dry camping and that would have been a good place to try it.

Summer 2016 Viking “City of Lights” Cruise

Day 1 – June 20, Monday
AF065 LAX to CDG.
The Air France Airbus A380-800 was a nice way to fly. The flight left at 3:30 p.m., right on time. Spent some time in the Skyteam Korean Air/Delta/Air France lounge prior to departure. We were in seats 63A and 63B and we boarded on the upper turtle deck air-stair. Very nice business class seats.

Day 2 – June 21, Tuesday
Paris
We arrived in Paris about 11:30 a.m., collected our luggage and looked for our AirFrance Le-Bus Direct bus transfer to the hotel. We booked the bus fare online prior to leaving. We were on Line 2, the Green Line, from CDG to Tour Eiffel. Porte Mailott was the first stop and it took about 45 minutes from the airport. The fee per person was 17.00€.

We stayed at the Le Meridian Etoile on Boulevard Gouvion. A Viking representative, Francois, was there for our check-in and she gave us a vicinity map and had our room check-in already covered. We just had to wait for a couple of hours for the keys.

For a late lunch, we wandered down the road from the hotel to La Trattoria di Bellagio (101 Avenue des Ternes, 75017 Paris), the food was OK, not great. Across the hotel was the Hyatt Regency and the mall. I dragged Sandy to the Orange Boutique store to pick up a sim card for the iPhone 5. For 40€, we picked up a 2 week phone/data plan (2 hours, 2000 text and 2GB data) that was plenty. The Orange store was just past the Arc de Triomphe. It was a Euro Cup special promotion. I could not find a data plan for the iPad Mini 4. I found out later that I should have purchased another Apple Sim Card and I could have gotten an iPad plan online. The Apple sim card in the iPad IS universal BUT IT IS LOCKED TO ATT in the U.S.

Dinner was wine and cheese from the mall across the street, in-room dining! We were tired.

Day 3 – June 22, Wednesday
Paris
Breakfast at the hotel was included each day. It was very nice and expansive, but very crowded due to the ongoing Euro Soccer Cup. Lots of fans throughout the hotel, restaurants and Paris!

This was our day to explore Paris via L’Open Tour. We met the bus at the Arc de Triomphe stop late morning. We ended the tour at the same place, it was fast, hot and a whirlwind tour. We had lunch at Bistro Romain Champs Elysees, they are on Yelp and Travelocity. It was a great place to people watch, the food and beer, Kronenbourgh 1664, was fair.

Dinner was at the steak place, Brasserie Le Sud, attached to the hotel. Sandy’s salmon was wonderful and my skirt steak (from Argentina) was pretty chewy!

Day 4 – June 23, Thursday
Paris
We were on our own, bought an all-day metro pass and took it to the Notre Dame stop. There is no cost to tour the cathedral, it was amazing.

Lunch was at Cafe Notre Dame across from the cathedral. We had ham and cheese baguettes with french fries and were able to use the bathrooms with FREE tokens.

Sandy set us up for a 6:00 p.m. champagne cruise. We had to get to the dock at the base of the Eiffel Tower and had planned on taking the metro again. But, we met a nice rick-shaw driver, Kevin, and he gave us a bicycle tour of the Notre Dame to Eiffel Tower path. He was a great tour guide!

We arrived in plenty of time for the River Seine evening champagne tasting tour. We used Vedettes de Paris as the booking agent. The tour lasted 1 hour and we took a tour up and down the Seine sipping and learning about champagne.

We took another rickshaw back to the Arc, this one was battery operated by a quiet lady with no conversation. She tried to upcharge us with “fee per person”.

Dinner was at La Maison on Rue Saint-Ferdinand, recommended by Francois and shown on our map. We met Paul and Darlene, future cruise friends, sitting next to us at dinner. Paul’s NY steak looked great. I had Sea Breem, a dinner special. It was perch with lots of bones, awful! Sandy had a sausage special, presented in a spiral fashion, which also was pretty weird! We should have stayed with safe choices!

Day 5 – June 24, Friday
Paris
Paris City Tour with Viking busses, we were on the Orange Bus. This was one of the 2 extra paid excursions. We toured the city and went to Notre Dame (again), a pre-arranged lunch at a restaurant near Notre Dame, and then the Louvre. We had very little time in both places but it was fun. Dinner was a glass of wine and a sprite at the bar. I was feeling a little out of sorts and not too hungry.

Day 6 – June 25, Saturday
Paris to Trier and the Viking Odin, Germany via bus.

Luggage out the door at 6:30 a.m., and 7:45 a.m. departure on the bus with breakfast in-between. We were on a schedule.

We made a stop at the Autogrill (near the Aire de Riems Champagne) on the way to Luxembourg for lunch. On our own for lunch and to explore. Lunch was at Brasserie du Cercle, good Italian pasta.

We had a tour of the American Cemetery after boarding. From there, we motored for another 2 hours or so to Trier and boarded the Viking Odin with the crew welcoming us aboard. We arrived about 5:00 p.m. A VERY LONG DAY. It drizzled/rain most of the day.

We had a bottle of champagne in Room 312, a Veranda Suite (code AA). Room 312 had a bedroom, bath and small living room. The windows in the bedroom were full sliders and there was a little patio off the living room where we could sit outside. We met our steward attendant, Dorina. Dinner was Chateaubriand. It was probably one of the better meals on the boat. Dinner is free seating and we were able to mingle throughout the dinners meeting different people. The wine was very fluid.

The Odin was docked for the night, I thought we would be cruising but we didn’t leave until the next morning.

Day 7 – June 26, Sunday
Trier to Schweich to Bernkastel
A 9:00 a.m. shore excursion was available to explore Trier. We just decided to pass and explore the boat and relax a little. At about 10:00 a.m., the boat cast off, the tourists would catch up with us as the boat sailed down the Moselle River. The Moselle flows through the Lorraine region.

The Odin traveled backward for about 1/2 hour, at a fork in the river, the boat turned around and resumed floating down the Moselle river. Somewhere in the discussions, it was mentioned that we would travel through 42 locks. With its bow and stern thrusters, the boat could slip sideways pretty much anywhere it needed to be.

The travel plan was to travel down the Moselle river, then upstream on the Rhine and upstream on the Main to Bamburg, our final river destination. A bus trip to Prague would complete the vacation.

This is the way it would work most times, we get dropped off and the boat sails away to our next port, where we catch up with it after our shore excursion.

We were headed for Schweich and by the time we arrived, the tours were back and re-boarded. We then had our 12:30 afternoon safety briefing, everyone donning their life vests in their assigned evacuation area. We were in the lounge, right side group.

At 3:30 p.m., there was a live cooking demonstration by the head chef in making Ofenschlupfer, or german bread pudding. A volunteer was requested and Sandy volunteered to be the chef’s assistant. We have some cute pics of her in her chef’s hat and apron! (see IMG_4341.jpg)

We floated to our next location, Bernkastel, we arrived about 5:30 p.m. We had signed up for an optional Bernkastel Walking and Wine Tasting tour. (We signed up for 2 optional tours on this cruise, this was the 2nd.) The excursions are timed so lunch and dinner meals sometimes shift slightly. Dinner tonight was at 7:30. The wine tasting was at Dr. Pauly’s Wein Probier-Keller winery. The tasting took place in their cellar area and we tasted 4 rieslings. They ranged in price from 12.50 to 24.50€. Interesting, the area of the Rhine is noted for white wines, 92% and 8% red wines. Our favorite was #2, the 2014 “Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Riesling Feinherb”. They are all a little sweet. (see IMG_4367.jpg)

Day 8 – June 27, Monday
Cochem
We arrived at 8:00 a.m. in Cochem and took the shore excursion, the Cochem Walking Tour and Visit to Reichburg Castle. (see IMG_4400.jpg). The castle was built in the 1100’s. It was razed to the ground in 1689 by troops of Louis XIV. In 1866, it was restored with a mixture of styles. We were back on board for lunch. We went searching for the purple peach jam mentioned during the castle tour, we found it with help from the tourist information center. The peach is a Mosel Vineyard Peach.

By 7:00 p.m., we had sailed down to Winningen to prepare for tomorrow.

The evenings entertainment was the Fischer Family, a group of “traveling troubadours”. We swore that one of the women had to be a cross-dresser (from afar), but she was just of hearty German stock! We missed the show, too crowded.

Day 9 – June 28, Tuesday
Winningen/Koblenz to Lahnstein to Aschaffenburg
Our morning excursion was the included Marksburg Castle tour (see IMG_4455 to IMG-4503.jpg). Once we were off, the ship cast off headed for Lahnstein where we would catch up to it before lunch.

Somewhere in the journey, we transitioned to the Rhine River, there is a peninsula and statue. (see Ehrenbreitstein fortress (23).JPG, this is a Viking USB stick picture).

See the picture of the Lorelei Rock, the mermaid. We were floating in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The “Lorelei maiden used to sit and sing sweet songs. Woe to the sailor who passed the rock at nightfall and was lured to his doom …”

Day 10 – June 29, Wednesday
Aschaffenburg to Miltenberg to Karlstadt
Wednesday morning we woke up to Aschaffenburg with our shore excursion to the Heidelberg Castle. The ship headed off to Miltenberg. This tour was from 9:00-5:45 p.m., a long day! Heidelberg has its university, “Germany’s answer to Oxford”.

The Heidelberg Castle tour was amazing (see IMG_4659 to IMG-4713.jpg). This was a long day. Mark Twain visited here, the largest wine barrel in the world (250 years old, shaped from 130 oak trees with a capacity of 50,000 gallons) is here.

This was the place to shop with shopping stretching for 1 mile in the center of town. We crossed the Alte Brucke (Old Bridge) to rub the monkey for good fortune!

We opted out of the university student lunch and did our own thing looking for schnitzel. Sandy found the Kathe’s Christmas Store and used her coupons passed out on the boat. Lunch was at Zum Guldenen Schaf, a place recommended by Boyen, our tour director, but it wasn’t the place he recommended. It was still pretty good!

The ship arrived in Miltenberg about 4:00 p.m. and cast off for Karlstadt about 5:30 p.m. The shore tour folks, us, boarded the busses and met the ship in Miltenberg. There was a delay in the ship in the lock or something, so we cooled our heels with free ice cream in a little park awaiting the Odin.

Day 11 – June 30, Thursday
Karlstadt to Wurzburg Alter Hafen to Zeil am Main.
Today was the Bishop’s Residenz and Walking Tour (see IMG_4729.img). We returned by 1:00 p.m. No photographs were allowed inside the residence, but the grounds and the surrounding area were allowed. Asian groups ignored the “no photo” signs and clicked away. The Bishops Residenz is “one of Germany’s finest baroque palace ensembles, built between 1720 and 1744.

We had free time and lunch at a little Italian cafe in one of the town squares. It was nice to people-watch and drink some Martinsbrau Marktheidenfeld (I think!).

The afternoon was shuttle service from where we docked into the city for the afternoon. I think we just relaxed on the boat.

This was the “Farewell Toast and Dinner” celebration, a day before the last day of the cruise.

Day 12 – July 1, Friday
Zeil am Main to Bamberg
The excursions didn’t start until 1:30 so the morning 10:00 a.m. disembarkation meeting was mandatory for at least one person in each party. It was a pretty simple process, orange tags on the suitcases by 6:30 a.m. and off the boat by 8:00 a.m. (tomorrow’s plan).

We had a leisurely lunch before the afternoon excursions.

The 1:30 p.m. Bamberg excursion was a walking tour of the town. We made a trek to the Schlenkerla brewery/beer garden to try the Rauchbier, or smoky beer. It was interesting, probably not one of my favorites. Bamberg is a beautiful town with a river running through it.

Day 13 – July 2, Saturday
Bamberg to Nuremberg to Prague.
We went to see the Zeppelin Field, walked around and then toured the city via bus. We got to see where the Nuremberg trials took place. Nuremberg is a walled city.

Lunch was on our own, we were dropped off in the center of town at the Hauptmarkt and given some free time. There was the Frauenkirche Clock (Männleinlaufen) that at noon, had a cuckoo clock display as the bells rang, it was pretty cool. We tried the finger-size brats at Bratwursthausle, they were pretty good, but the waiter had a bad attitude. Pretzels were charged by the item, not like here in the US.

On our way to Prague, we stopped in the Pilsner area, at a roadside Autogrill for a potty break. The big thing here was the Rozvadov McDonalds at the rest stop. The place was packed. Pilsner Urquell was all over the place, in that we were in the Pilsner area.

We stayed at the Prague Hilton, a nice big place, arriving about 5:00 p.m.

Dinner was at the hotel bar/restaurant, it was fair. Everyone was on their own for whatever.

Day 14 – July 3, Sunday
Prague
Breakfasts were included and again, there was plenty of choices.

There was a City of Prague tour included that we decided to skip and do our own thing. We walked around to the Charles Bridge, the Astronomical Clock and the Palladium Mall. Lunch was at La Corte (Na Porici 1053/44, Prague 1), an Italian place with authentic old family recipes. It was just OK, not spectacular.

Sandy had her shopping map laid out and we were headed to “Garnet” central. She was able to find them at Granat store near the 4 Celetna avenue.

Dinner was to be at Kolkovna Celnice (V Celnici 1031/4, Prague 1), a traditional Czech cuisine place, but the service was non-existent. We wanted to try this place because Paul and Darlene tried it the night before and the goulash was fantastic they said! We wandered across the square to Kings Court Brasserie for our last dinner and people watching. The schnitzel and creme brulee were delicious!

Prague was extremely crowded.

Day 15 – July 4, Monday
Prague to Paris
AF1383, an Airbus A321 left at 9:25 a.m. and arrived at 11:45 a.m. We were in seats 02A and 02B in business class. Viking was nice enough to get us on the 7:00 a.m. bus airport shuttle, even though we had NOT booked this airport transfer.

We stayed at the Hilton Paris CDG to lay over a day so that we could take the Airbus A380 back to LAX. The Hilton shuttle van picked us up and dropped us at the hotel, it was very convenient. The Hilton was OK, food was expensive and we streamed the TV show “Limitless” on the iPad with the Hilton Honors free WiFi.

Day 16 – July 5, Tuesday
Paris to LAX
AF066, an Airbus A380-800 left about 11:00 a.m. (scheduled at 10:30), we were in seats 61A and 61B. A nice flight.

Our Global Access card worked great (Sandy’s fingerprint scanner had a glitch and she had to process with the agent manually) and we cleared customs quickly with their scanning passport and fingerprint scanner system.

We took a $20 taxi to the Century Ave. Radisson hotel and had Douglas pick us up there, easy peasy!

January 6, 2016 – Discovery Harbour Return!

Arrived safely in Discovery Harbour. HA1 from LAX to HON was a killer flight, 6.5 hour travel time due to 120-185mph headwinds. These were from the 4 El Niño storms that were tracking across the Pacific headed to California.

When all was said and done, during the first week of January, about 16″ of snow fell in Running Springs! We missed it!!

September-October 2014 in Discovery Harbour!

Friday, September 19 No problem on Hawaiian 001 from LAX to HON. We were in Economy Plus, seats 14A and B. On an Airbus 330, these are right behind first class in the cabin in front of the airstair. Between our seats and first class was nothing and plenty of room to stretch out. Nice pleasant flight! Tommy and Cherub picked us up at KOA, had lunch/dinner at Bongo Ben’s in Kona. Ahi fish sandwich was pretty good. Arrived home, tired but excited. Everything looks intact and in great shape except for the garden. We’re not sure what Dennis did.

Saturday, September 20 Kona errands and BBQ for dinner.

Sunday, September 21 Work day in the garden and hooking up the Bose and Yamaha sound system. A good rain in the afternoon and evening. It sure does rain a lot here.

Tuesday, September 30 We found 3 coffee plants at the Hilo Home Depot store when we visited with Doug and Francine Soper last Friday. Their house is framing along nicely and they shared some tips with us about Hiki Ku. Today, Sandy planted the coffee in the 2nd garden, we’ll see how they do. We spotted a neighbor on our walk with a row of coffee plants, picking the red berries. They do grow here and time will tell our success.

Thursday, October 2

Doug arrived today, fights on time and all is good!

Sunday, October 5

Sunrise this morning shared the smoke coming off the Kilauea caldera. Very cool to see!

2014 August 1-15 60th Birthday UK Celebrity Cruise

August 1 – Friday We packed up and headed out about 3:00 pm, just on time headed for LAX and Virgin Atlantic VS 24 direct LAX to LHR. We diverted for dinner in Long Beach and invited Emily Lees over for a quick bite. She lives in LB and it was an easy trip after work for her. We arrived at LAX just about 8:00 pm, but luckily our check in a security were a breeze. During check-in we were given the option to upgrade our economy seats for “more” legroom to the tune of $70 each. It was worth it, but we noticed that not all of these seats on the flight were taken. VA keeps some of these seats on hold to offer to passengers when checking in. The flight was long, about 10.25 hours but flying overnight is a little uncomfortable but tolerable. VA provides free drinks (wine, beer, hard alcohol/mixed drinks), somewhat edible evening snack/dinner and a quick breakfast. I would fly VA again.

August 2 – Saturday We arrived in Heathrow right on time with no shuttle to be found. Clearing immigration was about an hour long, customs was a snap and by then the driver was released. Sandy called the shuttle service who released our driver after an hour wait. We missed him by 10 minutes, supposedly. The service directed us to take up the prepaid cost with our travel agency. A cab fair to the Millennium Gloucester was fun and quick. This should be interesting. Sandy already sent an email to Christine at AAA, we’ll see. Dinner was across the street at the local pub, the Stanhope Arms, the fish and chips were OK and the beer was so-so. I’ve had better in England.

August 3 – Sunday A day for exploring London before boarding the boat tomorrow. After an American buffet breakfast, which was pretty inclusive, we headed for the Prime Meridian in Greenwich. A Tube run to an above ground train ride (to the Cutty Sark stop) and 1 hour later, we arrived at the Royal Observatory. After wandering lost a bit, we found the observatory on the top of the hill on the grounds. A fee lets you into the observatory and the actual Prime Meridian monument. It was well organized and you can stand on the Meridian! The folks behind you are nice enough to take your family picture. There were very many creative poses. After the Meridian, we had a quick lunch refresher before heading to the northwest side of London to the Warner Bros Harry Potter studio. After just about 1.5 hours, we arrived. One leg of the tube was closed until 11:00 a.m., which caused us to have to divert, but the system is very flexible and easy to navigate. Our appointed tour time was 5:00 pm and we arrived with a few minutes to spare! Dinner after a 1.25 hour ride back to the Millennium Gloucester was across the street at another local eatery, the Patisserie. Not good, not recommended. Everyone was tired and cranky and early to bed for the cruise crew!

August 4 – Monday Left the hotel at about 9:30, picked up some additional folks at the JW Marriott and then arrived at Harwich about 1:00 p.m, a very uninteresting drive through town and rural areas. I wasn’t sure if the driver was taking the fastest route or the route that took the most time. We were not on the first bus to board. Check in for the Celebrity Infinity was very quick for those of us on the Concierge class and we ended up boarded and in the rooms by about 1:30 pm. If you are on the Captain’s Class, check-in is even faster. Sandy and I were in Room 8094, Rosie and Tommy in 8122, Douglas in 8124, all on the starboard side. We were in front of the mid elevator and they were aft of it. Dinner was our first meal at the dining room. The meal is just like other cruises, you can mix and match whatever you like from the daily menu and the special meal of the day. On the first dinner, dress is casual, you CAN come in wearing short pants. Other nights, men must wear pants of some kind, the boys were OK with jeans. Everything is sized smaller so that you can have many options and not be overly stuffed.

August 5 – Tuesday Normandy and Paris trips, kids to Paris and us to Normandy. The trips were both amazing, kids had fun and we had a sobering experience. Figure on 2 hours to Normandy and 2 hours to return to the ship, 10 hours total, a LONG day. The Normandy excursion is not to be missed, the sacrifices these guys made for future generations was truly amazing. This is an early start trip, tough on the first day with an 8 hour time difference. The Caen Memorial Museum luncheon included wine and a salad bar and leg of “duck” for each person. While not the greatest meal, it was nice to relax with new acquaintances and some delicious bordeux. Our trip made it back in time for dinner, the kids did not, but their trip was a lot longer. Paris was fantastic, BUT lots of “old” people” on the bus!

August 6 – Wednesday St. Peter’s Port. Disembarkation was via tender and the wait wasn’t too bad, about 15 minutes. We just decided to have a relaxing day and spend the day in town. The town was cute, small, but not worth spending the whole day. We had lunch back on the ship and everyone took a nap in preparation of the formal dinner drew-up extravaganza at the Qsine Restaurant. The Qsine dinner meal was quite the gimmick, menu on an iPad and really meant to be experienced as a group. Each item selected is meant to be shared in a “family style” depending on the number of people in the group. Our menu had sushi lollipops, tacos, lobster escargot poppers, baby back ribs and spring rolls, donkey tacos (make your own guacamole) indian something, painter’s filet, disco shrimp, chinese…  For dessert, we had creme brulet, make-your-own cupcakes, apple streusel. We arrived for our 6:00 pm reservation and left about 9:45 pm. This meal was the highlight of our trip so far. Not to be missed.

August 7 – Thursday Today we arrived at Cobh (Cove) in Ireland. It is the seaport dock to the city of Cork. Disembarkation wasn’t until 10:30, just a walk off the gangplank, nice and simple. The train trip to Cork was only 25 minutes and we did the hop-on, hop-off bus around Cork. Lunch at the Nosta was just OK, pretty greasy pizza if you ask me. Before re-embarking, we had a “pint” at the Mauretania bar/pub in Cobh. Our highlights were the locals drinking Murphy and Beamish Irish Stout. You don’t drink Guinness in the Republic of Ireland, you wait until you reach Northern Ireland! We just couldn’t do the formal meal in the Trellis Restaurant, but we all ended up at the Ocean View Terrace for buffet style dinner. It’s nice to have options.

August 8 – Friday Liverpool was a walking day, off the ship and exploring the city. We managed to find the Anglican and Roman Catholic Cathedrals, both are amazing, but the Anglican is just amazing. The church was designed by a 21 year old architect in the 1880. We were lucky to meet a retired Anglican minister who gave us a mini-tour. He capped it off with a wedding blessing for Tommy and Rosie. On our way to the Catholic Cathedral, we stopped at the Philharmonic Dining Rooms, quite a well-known watering hole for a pint!

August 9 – Saturday Dublin was taxi to central town and then a Hop On, Hop-Off bus tour  of the city. Our highlights were the Guinness Brewery  and the Jameson Whiskey Distillery. Guinness includes a free pint and a Gravity Bar on the 7th floor for a fantastic 360 view. The order-ahead skip the line Guinness price was $20 US. The Jameson tour includes a taste test at the end (for 8 lucky select people) of their whisky against a 2 distilled Scotch and 1 distilled American whisky. Well worth the price of admission of 17 euros for adults. Irish whiskey vs. English/Scotish whisky.

August 10 – Sunday Belfast was the arranged Celebrity tour of the Giant’s Causeway. It was about a 2 hour bus ride to the geological viewing area. The hexagonal basalt towers are much like those in Devil’s Postpile in the Sierra Nevada range behind Mammoth. Our tour guide was really chock full of information and she managed to talk the entire way, except for a few silent stops of just a matter of minutes. On the way back, she serenaded us with song, she was really quite informative. Just a tad wordy though. A “wee dram” is just 1/8 ounce, I came to learn.

August 11 – Monday Today we had a private tour arranged by Fran Marquez of Celebrity special tours to the Sterling Castle and Glasgow for shopping. Fran will be leaving next year to continue his own tour business in Spain, he was most personable and we should look him up when we travel to Spain. The castle was amazing, we spent easily 2 hours just self-exploring. Lunch was at the Corn Exchange restaurant. Shopping was in downtown Glasgow, the girls shopped and the guys headed to the Counting House for a top-off. It is much nicer going by private coach, the schedule is yours and you can feel much more relaxed. Our coach driver, Ian, was chock-full of stuff and kept us entertained. Our Private Excursion organizer, Francisco (from Celebrity), did a great job in the organization. Francisco and his wife (in future cruise sales) have been on the ship for 7 years and in 2015 will be ending their cruise contracts to start a family and continue their own cruise tour company in Spain. We do need to get their business card so when our travels take us to Europe. Dinner was at the Trellis View restaurant. Tommy has gotten into the groove and now orders 2 of the main course, mixing it up to explore.

August 12 – Tuesday Day at Sea. Nice and lazy day, nowhere to go except on the ship. Lunch marathon Farkle game! Dinner was at Qsine for the 2nd time. This approach was to try everything we didn’t have the first time. I think the first dinner, where we were not sure of the dining approach was better. The seas were roll-y and the swells were noticeable. Sick sacks were about everywhere. We were traveling outside on the high seas for the first portion of 405nm journey. Heading west at 285 degrees had all passengers and crew walking in interesting ways. Once we had turned to a northerly direction, we were sheltered with the Hebrides Islands on the left and the mainland of Scotland on the right. The ride became noticeably smoother.

August 13 – Wednesday Kirkwall hike to Mull Head . It was cold and wet and rainy when we left the ship at 8:00 am. We arrived at the starting point with the sun starting to peak out. The hike was about 3 miles in length, the drill-sargent-guide was brutal, the trail dripping with water and full of puddles and mud, but, it was fun and memorable. The views of the coastline here on the islands around Kirkwall were amazing. Tonight is the last formal dinner. The food is getting old.

August 14 – Thursday Another day at sea. A lazy return down the North Sea to Harwich. I attended the Ships Navigation talks by the 2nd in command and Sandy and I went to the Galapagos tour Celebrity presentation.The kids had fun at the Constellation Lounge, it seems the other like aged kids came out as well and a good time was had by all. Somehow in returning his Scotch Jameson bottle to Douglas, the staff managed to ruin the outside box label. Even with our complaining, nothing could be done. Because we were 3 cabins, we could not purchase all 3 cabins picture CD without a cost of $250 per cabin. That finally was negotiated down to $250 for our cabin and $125 for the other 2 for a total of $375. We all agreed that this was extortion and bought not a single picture.

August 15 – Friday We woke up in Harwich, arriving early in the morning. The system is well organized and each cabin has their bags out the night before, 11:00 pm in our case. Our morning’s departure included a tour of Windsor Castle on the way to the airport. The tour call time was 6:45 a.m. with a 7:30 departure and a 1:30 arrival to Heathrow. The cruise line puts like time-flying people together on the buses. Douglas was headed to Sweden so was not on our bus 3, but on bus 4. It worked out, we all ended up at the castle about 10:30 am. We will have to come back and spend some more time in this area. The shops and restaurants are nicely laid out around the castle area. We saw a Travel Lodge and Holiday Express around the country-side. Lunch was the the Horse and Groom around the outside of the castle walls. The Seafarers Ale was delicious as were the fish and chips, huge pieces, big enough for 2 people.

We arrived at Heathrow right at 1:30 and had a quick checkin for our Virgin Atlantic VS023 flight back to LAX. Flight time was 10.5 hours and dinner was the In-n-Out by LAX on Sepulveda. This was a great trip with many awesome memories.

FUTURE TIPS:

  • Bring ham radio HT, you can listen to the International Coast Guard stations from boat to boat or to port.
  • Bring a small serving tray for coffee to go when you need something to eat/drink in the stateroom.

iPhones and Internet Access Doug and Rosie’s Verizon iPhone 4S were unlocked in the US before we left. The 2nd step was to add the SIM card outside of the US to complete the unlock. Rosie left her phone in the US, so we couldn’t complete that unlock. With the unlocked Verizon iPhone 4S for Doug, we purchased a Vodaphone SIM card with unlimited text and calling and 3GB of data for 30 pounds (I think). We bought this at a Vodaphone store in Greenwich.

iPads We purchased a SIM/data plan for the always unlocked iPad Mini (Rosie) and iPad Mini Retina (Sandy) from Lebara, a front for EE service. We had to go across the street to the Lebara/EE store as the Vodaphone store had a large tour come through that morning and they purchased all the SIM cards that the store had. This gave 10Gb of data for each device in the UK (England and Northern Ireland and Scotland, whereever the pound is used). It did NOT work in the Irish Republic because it is NOT the UK (they use the euro). The data plans were about 15 pounds each. It took about 24 hours to transfer each devices IMEI number to the EE plan. Lebara/EE gives you 50Mb of data as a starter plan while the system configures the devices for the 10Gb data plan. The EE cell system did NOT do 4G, but the 3G was mostly adequate and the prices were hard to beat. The iPads worked well within shoreline access, out at the Atlantic Ocean and North Sea, they were out of service.

ATT iPhone Our ATT iPhone 5/5S are not unlocked so they could not be used in Europe. Keep one of the ATT iPhone 5 phones so that we can unlock it, and then it can be the backup phone for Europe on our next travels.

Ship Internet The Internet package I purchased was 250 minutes for $109. I ended up with about 45 minutes surplus. Most of the time was spent keeping track of Hurricane Iselle as she headed to the Big Island. It is, as to be expected, painfully slow. You create an account with username and password. You can use your account on any device, but just one device at a time. I was able to use it on Sandy’s Macbook Air and my iPhone and iPad. It is easier to access email on the iPhone or iPad, because I have to use Gmail in a browser on the Macbook Air.

Ship Prices On Ship Prices Prices are very expensive and EVERYTHING is additional on the ship, for example:

  • Soda can $4.50
  • Bottle water, $4.50 and $6.00
  • Beer, bottle from $6.50 (Amstel Lite, Heineken) to $9.50 (Guinness, Sierra Nevada)
  • Wine, 1/2 carafe $11.00
  • Tea and coffee are free
  • The 3 and 5 bottle wine (for dinner) selections are also extreme, 5 “premium” bottles for $250, you can corkage them for other evenings.
  • Happy Hour martinis are $7.00, normally $14.00!

Per cabin, Celebrity automatically assesses a $12.50 gratuity per person. For our 15 day cruise (August 1-15), the fee was about $375. This kept it hard for us to really tip anyone for exemplary service. Celebrity Cruise Concierge class was a disappointment. The Concierge desk on Deck 8 was not very exciting. Aqua class may be a future choices if cruising Celebrity. Aqua class has a separate dining restaurant and their own private lounge.

Electricity England hotel electric plugs are the big 3 prong plugs. On board the cruise boat, the plugs are 110 US standard and 240 Europe (Italy for us) standard plugs. The Europe plugs are the NARROW round 2 plugs, not the thicker Asian plugs. All computer/phone adapters are dual voltage. Recommendation for future: bring some of the Europe and England plugs to cover all the bases.

Winter in Hawaii

March 22 – Friday

Rosie returns to Chico, sad.

March 21 – Thursday

Beach day at Spencer State Beach in Kawaihea. A nice area to just sit and relax. Dinner was at Lava Lava beach club. It is a great location, but the food is average and over-priced for dinner.

March 19 – Tuesday

Relaxed day, homemade tortillas with beans and pork carnitas. Yummy!

March 18 – Monday

Shopping day at the Hilo Hatties and Ala Moana Mall in Waikiki. There are way too many people in that city. We returned to Waikoloa on the 4:30 pm flight with Rosie.

March 17 – Sunday

St. Patty’s Day tour of North Shore and lunch at Cholo’s in Halaweia. Food and drinks are over-rated for sure. Green margaritas!

March 15 – Friday

Rosie arrives from Sacramento, direct to Honolulu. She was able to get away for another spring break week (Friday to Friday). She will head home from Kona to Kahului, Maui to Sacramento. We head to North Shore to stay at Ko’olani Kai ”Tranquil Sea”. This was a gorgeous location on La’ie on the northeast side of the island, right on the water. But … as with most places, location and price and amenities don’t always match up. We had noisy upstairs neighbors and the parking situation with our Chevy midsize was a nightmare.

March 14 – Thursday

Trip to Oahu, staying at Outrigger Waikiki, right in the center of Waikiki and across from the International Market Place. Dinner was in the hotel at Chuck’s Steak House, eh.

March 11 – Monday

Douglas returns to Oakland. Movie theater in Kona to see …

March 10 – Sunday

We attempt at paddle boarding at A-Bay, too much wind

March 9 – Saturday

Kona brewfest

March 8 – Friday

Paddleboarding

March 7 – Thursday

Morning surf too at 505

March 6 – Wednesday

Pacific Whale Foundation whale watch. Surfing 505 spot in Lahaina

March 5 – Tuesday

Alii Nui (http://www.aliinuimaui.com) to Molokini

March 4 – 7 Monday – Thursday

Maui staying at the Outrigger Royal Kahana (http://www.outriggerroyalkahanacondo.com)

March 3 – Sunday

Fishing on the Vixen with Bomboy Llanes (https://www.facebook.com/BomboyBigGameFishingLures), not a single hit, most disappointing.

March 2 – Saturday

Lazy day, whale watching from shore north of Kawaihea, mile post 5-6 or so.

March 1 – Friday

Douglas arrives from Oakland to OGG to KOA.February 23 whale counting, pizza from Pu’a pizza in Waimea

February 17 – Sunday

Stroll down Alii Drive

February 15/16 – Friday-Saturday

Hilo overnight trip.

February 14 – Thursday

Valentine’s Day! First sub day, Waikoloa Middle School social studies 7 and 8th grade classes. Lesson plans were adequate and it was a fun day. We tried the Valentine’s special dinner at Don the Beachcomber in Kona, nothing to write home about. It has nice atmosphere but that’s about it.

February 10 – Sunday

Hilton Hawaiian Community College culinary arts fundraiser. Community culinary arts college students prepared champagne brunch. Local vendors/restaurants provided dessert snacks. The desserts were much better than the brunch. Disappointing.

February 7 – Thursday

Nana leaves.

February 1 – Friday

Whale watching with Nana and trip to Hawi. We saw lots of whales, no close-in breeches though. Travelled north and ate at Bamboo Restaurant. Always good food!

January 29  – Tuesday

Ocean Sports whale watching trip out of Kawaihea cancelled due to weather.

January 23  – Wednesday

Nana arrives from LAX to Oahu to Kona.

January 16 – Wednesday

Work day

January 15 – Tuesday
Good rainy night and a work day for Sandy. Rain woke me up about 2:00 a.m. Shake-n-Bake, mashed potatoes and corn for dinner, yummy comfort food.

January 14 – Monday
Rosie travels back home and we did some errands in Kona. Late lunch at Taco Bell and dinner was Costco chicken and munchies. No hiccups on their travels, everything was on time and they landed about 8:25 p.m. in Oakland.

January 13 – Sunday
We went north shore sightseeing to Waimea, the Waipio Valley overlook and Laupahoehoe county park. The surf was high and fun to watch, different than in the summer for sure. Final dinner for the kids was at Kamuela Provision Company (KPC) at the Hilton. We mentioned several times that our steaks in the past have been over cooked. This time, we celebrated Rosie’s upcoming 23 birthday and the steaks were perfect. I had the New York cooked medium!

January 12 – Saturday
Paddleboarding at Kawaihae. The water was calm and everyone got to stand up on the boards! Date night for Rosie and Tommy at Hawaii Calls (at the Marriott) and ahi tuna BBQ for Sandy and I. We went to the Chicago concert at the Queens Bowl.The lawn seating was great as were the views of the band. Not quite the old Chicago, but pretty darn close!

January 11 – Friday
Whale watching on the Alala out of Kawaihea harbor. Saw, according to the naturalist on board, 13 whales! Drove down to Kona to pick up the truck and had dinner at Kona Brewing Company!

January 10 – Thursday
Golf day, managed 9 holes and 4 players, late lunch at Banjy’s and a nice refreshing salad for dinner.

January 9 – Wednesday
Fishing with Reel Action and spa day for the ladies. Caught 2 mackerel was our total catch. Dropped off the truck at Trans-Tech for clutch and bearing replacements. Went to the Hollywood movie theater and saw “The Guilt Trip”. Don’s Mai Tai Beach bar for pupus, sunset and Mai Tai’s!

January 8 – Tuesday
Drove around to Hawi looking for whales and things to buy. Tri-tip from Costco for dinner. A total of 20 minutes cooking on a pre-heated grill, 5 minutes per side, rotated.

January 7 – Monday
Rosie and Tommy flew in from Oakland to Maui and then to Kona. They were on time and everything went smoothly. Lava Lava for late lunch Cashew Chicken for dinner!

January 6 – Sunday
Spent the day retrieving the truck and unpacking all of our stuff. We took a trip down to Kona to Safeway and Costco to stock up on supplies. Lunch was at KBC, a good pizza and salad combo! Crashed early after dinner.

January 5 – Saturday
Hawaiian 003 (10:30 am) and 188 (3:30 pm) from LAX to Honolulu and Honolulu to Kona were both on time. We arrived in Kona about 4:30 p.m. and grabbed the rental car. The truck has the pilot bearing going out on it with a repair scheduled for this Thursday and Friday.

January 4 – Friday
Spent the day packing and getting everything in order to move. We shut off the water down below before we left for dinner down the hill. After dinner at El Torito and driving down to LAX, I realized that we did NOT have the condo keys … so we had to make a trip back from Pomona to home to grab the keys.

We didn’t arrive at the Marriott/LAX until about 10:00 p.m.!

Italy 2012

History, Wine and Pasta!

We did a lot of stuff. The kids were with us for the first week. We traveled on Friday, September 14, the kids returned on Sunday, September 22 and we returned on October 6. The first two weeks were in Tavarnelle val di Pesa (Poggio al Frontoio, Strada Commenda 2, 50028 Tavarnelle Val di Pesa) and the last week was at Portovenere (La Casetta, Via Olivo, 124, Portovenere, SP). Poggio al Frontoio is also known as Casale Lucia 1. La Casetta is also known as Lunetta. Both places were clean and functional. We used rentvillas.com to book these places.

Two weeks may have been too much in the farmhouse. We ended up doing side trips from Tavernelle to Asissi and from Portovenere to Verona/Pescantina. Using TripAdvisor, we were able to make hotel reservations easily in the off season. Something to think about, maybe 3 days in an area and then moving on.

We traveled on Alitalia, Sandy and I in Premium Economy. It was worth the upgrade, separated check-in and security avenues and larger seats. There are 24 Premium Economy seats on the Boeing 777. The flight is 12 hours long direct from LAX to Rome. Flight 621 LAX-Rome, Flight 620 Rome-LAX.

We rented a car with Hertz, a Lancia Dart 6-speed manual 4 door. With our reduced luggage (one large suitcase, 3 medium suitcases and 1 carry on suitcase and purses and backpacks), we made it all work.

We decided to stay in Rome one night, driving from Portovenere (4.5 hours), then one night at the Rome Airport Hilton because the flight home left at 9:15 am and we weren’t sure of the traffic from Rome to the airport. It worked out well, but maybe next time, we stay at the Hilton and just take to shuttle from there to the city center. It runs every hour or so, maybe a little more convenient.

Wineries visited:

 

Restaurants:

 

Hotels:

 

Visits to:

  • Florence, 9/17
  • San Gimignano, 9/18
  • Pisa, 9/21
  • Siena, 9/26
  • Assisi, 9/27-28
  • Verona, 10/3
  • Pescantina, 10/4
  • Rome, 10/5-6

Groceries

The co-ops in Italy are the grocery stores. They have everything you need, but its all in Italian. Kleenix was hard to find, peanut butter was non-existent and bacon remained elusive to us. There are lots of prosciuttos to choose from though. We never did find pepperoni, like here in the U.S, same for hotdogs (German versions a little strange). The coops are open every day, slow time during the afternoon and Sundays are limited hours to 1:30 pm or so. Eggs are not refrigerated and the milk (latte) comes in:

  • Whole or homogenised (Latte intero), 3.5% fat
  • Partially skimmed (Latte parzialmente scremato)1.8% fat
  • Skimmed (Latte scremato), 0.5% fat.

The Coop in Tavernelle is in the center of town and the one in Portovenere is really small, we just went to the one in La Spezia, integrated into the mall, La Terrazze (see below, Cinque Terrre writeup).

Electronics:
Italy uses the 2 small prong European plugs. The rest of Europe users the larger plugs. There is an adapter for the larger to smaller plugs.

Cell phones/iPads: I used TIM for the iPad on the 3rd week. Bought a 10 GB, 42.2k data plan (3 x the 14.4k plan offered) for €29/ month and €10 for microsSIM card. I think WIND could have worked just as well, Vodaphone too, but not as prevalent. The package was called TIM TOP, I think. Make sure it is rechargeable (ricaricabile) so that as the data is used, you can recharge it. To recharge, just go to a tobacco shop or a MediaWorld or a TIM store to refill. There is NO credit card required to maintain the plan.

I bought 2 120MB data plans from ATT for both iPads for $30/month. These use reciprocal service providers in Europe for ATT. This was too much work to monitor, just moving to a local plan was easier.

I bought International ATT $6/month dialing phone plan and $5/50 text message and $30/month for 120 MB data Phone 4 plans too. Again, a waste.

TomTom GPS is invaluable. I bought the Italy map and downloaded it to the 4 GB flash memory card. Kate, our onboard-voice guided assistant was amazing. Best $60 spent for the trip!

Possible Future Stays:

Antica Pieve B&B, Tavarnelle – the restaurant Borgo Antico is attached.

Hotel Borgo di Cortefreda, Tavarnelle – the restaurant Cortefreda is attached.

Tipping:

Tipping is included in meals already. Exceptional service can be rewarded of course. When using a credit card, you can’t add a tip to it, the tip must be in cash.

Cinque Terre

The website for Cinque Terre is here, it is in Italian and English. We had hoped to hike from some villages to others, but there had been an accident with Australian tourists on the EASIEST trail, so they (the blue trails, number 2) were closed. The other, more difficult trails remained open however. Here is the link, it is just a 30 minute walk from Riomaggiore to Manaroloa, 1km in length and is called the Via dell’Amore. This is the stroll with the locks that you put on the gate professing your love for your significant other. We’ll do it NEXT TIME.

We took the boat and also drove from Portovenere to Riomaggiore. The drive was about 30 minutes from La Spezia and the views are amazing. The parking is non-existent, so don’t even try.

You can also take the train from La Spezia. The train station is pretty close to the Co-Op and shopping mall (La Terrazze) in town. Next time, maybe the train. The boat website is here and you pay for a ticket (€24) and it lets you get on/off at the 5 towns per the boat schedule. We took the boat from Portovenere to Riomaggiore, explored a bit, got back on and for some reason, our boat went directly to Monterosso. We had a beautiful lunch at Ristorante Il Casello and explored the area.

We are ready to go back to Italy!

Ciao!