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Spring 2018 Vacation Day 3: Outside of the Duomo, Tomorrow to Como

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I had not seen pictures of the Duomo before walking up on it. DSC_0969

It is amazing in its size and intricacy. The only church that it reminds me of is Sagrada Familia. We are taking a tour inside on Tuesday, so today we just walked around it and listened to a Rick Steves walking tour of the area around the church. DSC_0979DSC_0981

You can’t think about Milan without thinking about Leonardo di Vinci. We see the Last Supper on Tuesday.DSC_0993

The shopping in Milan is truly something. Even the shopping arcades are works of art.

We lunched and then went to the Pinacoteca di Brera museum. Appropriate place to visit on Easter Sunday as there were literally hundreds of Jesus and Mary paintings from the Renaissance.

We stopped for coffee/tea and Belgian fries on the way back to a short stay at our apartment. Then we were off to dinner at a fancy restaurant, Terrazza Gallia, just across from the sketchy train station!

The meal was amazing, with lots of amuse bouche along the way. I had venison for dinner, most tender meat perhaps I’ve ever had. IMG_5211

We had a chocolate mousse for dessert. It was topped with real gold. Really!IMG_5212

It was over a two hour meal, and as much about the experience as the food. We were glad to walk home and relive a great dinner.

Tomorrow, Ellen believes the Clooneys will welcome us in Como. We’ll see.

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Spring 2018 Vacation Day 2: Finishing Zurich, Off To Milan

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Doesn’t the above photo look exactly what a European square should look like?

After not the greatest night sleep for either of us, we were ready to get going again anyway. Breakfast at the hotel, and then off for Ellen’s most important destination, Thomas Sabo. They have 2 shops here, and we had to hit them both!

Next was the Fraumünster Church, famous for the Chagall stained glass windows (and not allowing photography inside). Outside of church looked like this:IMG_5185

And from their website, the Chagall windows: chagall

Back across the bridge, we went into the Grossmünster Church. Plain inside, but we could check it off. Here’s a view of both churches: IMG_5188

We then returned to our hotel to check out, and then walked to the train station. We stopped at a grocery store in the train station underground and picked up some cheese and crackers for Ellen and some fruit (yes, Passover is underway) for me.

It was a 3.5 hour train ride from Zurich to Milan. Comfortable and nice views of snow and Alps along the way. At the Milan train station, we found a 3 cellular store. For €25 each, we got SIM cards with 15GB each. SO. MUCH. DATA. Milan train station:IMG_5192

We’re staying at an AirBNB. The hostess provided good instructions to get there via tram or subway. The 3 employee suggested the tram, but we had trouble figuring out where to buy tickets. The train station was slightly sketchy, so once I verified that my phone had data and that Uber was available, I decided that’s how we were going. €10 to transport us and our luggage about a mile, money well spent!!

We met our hostess and love our apartment! We made a quick trip to the grocery store to buy stuff I can eat. We then walked about 1/2 an hour to dinner at Paper Moon. I will now use this as the standard for a caprese salad: IMG_5195

The mozzarella had taste! Ellen had pasta, I had a plateful (literally) of lamb chops.IMG_5196

Tomorrow, we will take in Easter in Milan and do a bunch of walking tours. The Italy portion is off to a good start!


Chile/Argentina Day 4: Day Was A Bus

This won’t be too long a post. 10 hours on a bus will do that. 

We got up early and Uber’d to the bus station in Valparaíso. Our CATA bus left right at 8am. 

The bus went through the Andes, where we saw snow and skiers. 

It was when we got to the border with Argentina that we came to a grinding halt. We were there for around 3 hours. We got our passsports stamped but then got back on the bus and waited some more. They did a hand search of our carry-ones and x-rayed a random sample of the luggage. Finally we were off.  There was a random stop where the driver went into a local police station, we don’t know what that was about. 

We arrived in Mendoza around 7pm local time (they are an hour ahead of ET). While I waited for the luggage, Ellen found an ATM to get Argetinan pesos. We got into a cab and we’re at our B&B a few minutes later. We are at the Casa Lila, a small and delightful place I will post pictures of once it is light. 

Got into our room, got a brief introduction from the hostess and we were off to dinner. 

We had 8pm reservations at Anna Bistro, which was just 4 blocks away. Since we were in Argentina, we went for meat. 


Budapest Day 6: Home & Endnotes

We had a smooth trip home. A taxi, arranged by our Airbnb hostess, got us out to the airport in plenty of time. We had leftover Hungarian currency, so we went duty free shopping. Candy, Hungarian liqueur and some more Havana Club rum soaked up the remaining funds.

I slept from Budapest to Frankfurt. We had only a little over an hour between flights, so we only had time to hustle to our new gate. We had to undergo additional security to fly to the USA, but that was just a series of questions about where we went, what we did and our occupations.

On the longer flight from Frankfurt home, I watched Misery Loves Comedy, The Edge of Seventeen, rewatched LaLa Land and a couple of Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes. Global Entry again made Customs and Immigration a breeze, we HIGHLY recommend it if you travel abroad even occasionally.

Budapest really impressed us as being a world-class city. It had culture, great restaurants, museums and historical sites. The people were welcoming and friendly, speaking English often enough in Budapest, less so when we were outside the city. It was EXTREMELY affordable. Our dinners, with appetizers, main courses, drinks and desserts never exceeded $70 for the two of us.

Our style of travel, doing everything ourselves, booking things in advance where possible and using public transportation everywhere we could worked perfectly in Budapest. We bought the Budapest Card , which included unlimited public transportation and discounts at a lot of places. We didn’t even worry so much if it paid for itself. It was just around $38 for a 72 hour card. Because we had unlimited public transit, we would jump on the subway or trams without a thought to cost (which was only around $1.25 per ride anyway). We like walking and did a lot of it, but because this was a condensed time period and we had so much to do, time was precious and there was almost always a way to use transit to save time. And it allowed us to use the bus and subway upon arrival without worrying about changing currency and figuring out the costs when groggy upon arrival.

We picked Budapest specifically because they had a half-marathon that worked with Ellen’s spring break. After I began consulting with SOS Children’s Villages, I inquired about the village visit. So those pieces worked so well together.

Thanks for reading along for another trip. If you’ve lurked and not liked a post up until now, please like this one so I’ll know. Lots of people I didn’t even know read this will tell me they like the blog.

Finally, research what SOS does around the world for vulnerable children. If you are able, please consider a donation.


Iceland Thanksgiving: Day 1

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When visiting a country you have been to 3 times previously, it’s pretty easy to hit the ground running. We got on the plane and slept. We landed and knew just where to get our SIM cards (Arrivals Duty Free store, ask the cashier, Nova cards). We knew where to catch the FlyBus to the Blue Lagoon.

What was different this time was it was dark. We landed at 6:30am, were on a 7:30 bus to the lagoon, arrived there at 8, and got out of the water just around 10:30am…when it was just starting to get light. It was cold and windy and rainy, but with 100ºF water, it was still really comfortable and relaxing. But you miss seeing the moonscape-like lava fields on the way in from the airport.

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We then bussed into the city, found our AirBnB (our first time using it), met up with our friend Robyn who had arrived one day early, and headed into town. It’s never a mystery what my first desired stop is. img_1737

Got to visit the new flagship store. But since I own 3 jackets, a shell, a hat and a t-shirt, there really wasn’t anything compelling to buy. So I bought a pair of socks.

We walked more through town, which just feels like home at this point. Like seeing City Hall. img_1733

The Christmas decorations are up, and since there are only 5.5 hours of light now, they get to be lit up a great deal. img_1738

Ellen had picked a tapas place that Ben had recommended to us, Tapas Barinn. Fairly traditional tapas, a good amount of fish offered.

We were supposed to do a Northern lights tour tonight, but it was canceled due to the weather. Although the lights were a big part of coming in November instead of our traditional summer visits, we had read that the weather can be uncooperative, so you shouldn’t have your heart set on seeing them. So we don’t. We have two more shots the next two nights, but we’ll see what happens.

We have museums scheduled for tomorrow and the Golden Circle tour for Saturday. On the way home from dinner, we had to walk by the hot dog stand made famous by Bill Clinton. img_1739

Hope everyone back home is having a happy Thanksgiving!

 


Loire Valley Trip: Endnotes

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Monet’s garden in Giverny

Just getting around to summarizing our trip to the Loire Valley, here are some thoughts I am left with:

  • Short trip, but: We hear a lot “you went to France for 5 days?” But you’d go to San Francisco or New Orleans or San Antonio or Seattle for a long weekend. The flight to Paris is ~8 hours, but overnight going and part of a required travel day coming back. We’ve done these long weekend trips before, to Madrid and Barcelona. You can concentrate on a smaller geographic region and not feel rushed to do everything. In fact, this was one of our most relaxed trips, because we kept the distances short and took in what we could.
  • Off-line technology: It might come as a surprise to some, but I like being unplugged sometimes. Hey, the trip to Cuba proved I could be off the internet for 8 days and survive. So I chose to use nothing but hotel Internet (and occasional free hotspot). But being unplugged doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of technology. I used 2 apps for the first time that work with no data connection, and can no highly recommend them. I already mentioned Navmii, which is a GPS app. You can download it for individual countries, which then includes all the maps and points of interest. We used it for driving and walking, and it worked wonderfully. The second app I loved was Microsoft Translator. You can take a picture of text (e.g. a sign or a menu) and it will translate it for you. It didn’t work perfectly, but often gave me the gist of something I couldn’t translate myself. Both apps are free and work without data, that’s great for a traveler.
  • Pack light: We both traveled with nothing but carry-on luggage. I used my new Tortuga backpack. 5 shirts, 2 pair of pants, socks/underwear, t-shirt to sleep in. Only thing I skimped on was only one pair of shoes. But being that light helped since we stayed in 3 hotels in 4 nights. And it meant no time waiting at the airport for the luggage to come out.
  • Get Global Entry: Global Entry really paid for itself this time. Now, at least at Dulles, you don’t even half to talk to an immigration agent. And while the line for Customs looked to be around 100-150 people, there was literally no one in the special Global Entry line. So we whizzed through, saving time and aggravation.
  • Keep traveling: Travel is easiest when you are young and healthy. We are no longer so young, but we want to travel our way (independent of tours) for as long as we can. Which is why we are going to keep doing trips like this as long as our health and money hold out.

Thanks for traveling along with us. Next trip is to Peru in early July.


Loire Valley Day 4: Three Châteaus

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For a day, we visited some picture perfect chateaus. And yes, the picture above is real, the frame is set-up to take this postcard-like picture.

Château de Blois was our first stop. We were somewhat surprised that it was an urban chateau. But we really liked it.DSC_0568

Château de Chambord was just too much. A 420 room “hunting lodge”?  It did have a circular staircase designed by Leonardi di Vinci. Not every hunting lodge has that.DSC_0589

I got the same feeling at Chambord that I got at Versailles. Too much. Just too much. The royals sure lived well, but where did the money come from and how did their subjects live? Europe’s history is full of excess

Leaving Chambord, we headed through the town of Bracieux. We were hungry and found a small place for an excellent lunch. We were the only English-speakers there, which we love. We had passed a chocolate factory just before that, Max Vauché. I’m not sure it was a formal rule before, but when you pass a chocolate factory, you stop. So we went back and bought a little bit. I mean, what the heck, we’re on vacation!

Château de Cheverny was of reasonable size. Nice gardens. And hound dogs!DSC_0596

 

Back in town, we had dinner at L’Epicerie. We had a half bottle of local Loire Valley red wine, salmon for Ellen in a creme sauce, steak for me. Ellen had cheese for dessert.

Sadly, we head home tomorrow. We had a full, but not too full, 4 days. We did the things we set out to do, and had some great non-planned experiences along the way.