Category Archives: Vacation

London

Not normally thought of as a weekend getaway, London is really not that far away. And Ellen loves Chihuly, who has an exhibit at Kew Gardens. And with life events that made a trip good for mental health, we made last-minute plans.

We flew Virgin Atlantic to Heathrow, arriving Saturday morning. With weekend track work on the underground, we took the Heathrow Express into town, a very easy 15 minute trip. We stayed at the Cavendish London, a boutique hotel in Mayfair, a quite posh neighborhood.

We dumped our backpacks (no checked luggage!) and started our 48 hour stay. We walked to the London Eye. The view from the top was impressive, of Big Ben, which is in scaffolding now, and the rest of the city.

After the ride, we visited Winchester Cathedral. The history of England is inside.

My one request for his trip was a chance to get fish & chips. After touring the church, we found the Laughing Halibut, a perfect spot to satisfy my craving.

We had Rick Steves walking tour between the cathedral and Trafalgar Square on our phones, which included 10 Downing Street, where we hear there is a vacancy.

The National Museum is at the top of Trafalgar Square. When Ellen saw there was a DaVinci there, we had to go inside.

Since we were in Europe, Ellen had to visit her good friend Thomas Sabo.

Finally, after a short stop at the hotel, it was dinner time. Ellen picked a seafood restaurant that allowed us to walk through the theatre district. I had pollock crumble at Parsons.

Sunday, we had only one agenda item–Kew Gardens. Ellen loves Chihuly, and we have seen his installations in many places.

We started the day though with a fancy breakfast at the place to see and be seen, the Wolseley. Great service and food.

We took the Underground out to Kew Gardens. There were 12 Chihuly installations on the map, and we set off. Some we had seen before, and some were created for this display.

When we got to the big glass Temperate House, we were expecting one Chihuly. But in addition to the huge piece hanging from the ceiling, the room was full of Chihulys.

My favorite was near the Japanese Landscape.

The biggest surprise was when we got to the Shirley Sherwood Gallery. Inside, there was a display of so many pieces, it rivaled our visit to the Chihuly gallery in Seattle.

Here’s the last piece we saw. Seeing this exhibit was no doubt worth the short trip.

On our way back, we decided to do some more typically London things. We went to Harrods, and I bought some tea. We went to Buckingham Palace to visit the queen.

Our second (and final) diner was at Hide Ground in our neighborhood. It was a fantastic meal with great service. I had lamb that was outstanding, and a dessert that was strawberry with grain, served frozen on a stick.

And on the morning of our departure, took this picture of the view from our hotel room.IMG_9104

We certainly did not have time to do all the things we would have liked to, but that could take a lifetime in a London. For 48 hours, we did quite a lot.

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Medellín Day 7: Trip Home & Final Thoughts

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We didn’t have a choice on the return flight home time, but when your flight is at 6am and you need to be at the airport 2 hours early and the airport is 1 hour away, you get up VERY early. But the hotel had a car waiting for us at 3am and we got to the airport in enough time to take advantage of our Priority Pass lounge access.

Global Entry was kind of scary in Miami, in that the first step was taking a picture of us and then it printed our entry receipt. That meant the other steps, scanning the passport, fingerprints, questions about the trip were all skipped in favor of facial recognition. I guess that is our future.

Our last leg to DC went smoothly. Had to wait awhile for our luggage, but we were home to see Tashi by early evening.

Our visit to Medellín was wonderful. We were able to do everything we had planned without so much as a hitch. We used for Metro transportation, we took advantage of cheap and easy Uber and even figured out cabs when we had to.

The people were the best part. We were treated warmly everywhere we went. Very little English was spoken (it’s our fault we have never mastered Spanish), but people displayed patience and worked with us. The 3 guides we had for our tours were each wonderful. They were honest, open and we had real dialogues with them about culture and politics in our two countries.

We felt safe everywhere we went, being careful and aware of what areas were safe for our planned activities. We definitely want to come back and explore more of Colombia.

Thanks for reading along. You know there will always be new adventures!

 


Medellín Day 6: Comuna 13

Another day, another Medellín Travels tour.  This time we wanted to take the Comuna 13 tour to see an area of Medellín once violent and avoided, now a center of culture and arts. Much of the improvement comes thanks comes from the building of public transportation that connected the area to the rest of the city.

The history of Comuna 13 is dark, gangs, paramilitary groups, a brutal invasion by the government.

We started on the cable cars, taking us over the poorest part of the neighborhood.IMG_8804IMG_8789

I insisted on one picture of us together on the trip.IMG_8798

Next, on the far west side of town, we went up into the hills where a series of escalators replaced 350 steps up the mountainside. (Yes, that’s Ellen in front of me).IMG_8834

All along the way, there was just incredible street art. I’m going to publish a bunch of pictures, but I have many more. (clicking on an individual picture will bring up a larger image).

The view from the top was pretty spectacular.IMG_8841

We purchased a piece of art from one of the street artisans, an addition to our travel collection. On the way down, I noticed a soccer field that was brightly painted.IMG_8851

After returning to the neighborhood, we had lunch at the Sante Fe Mall. We then had a startling revelation. On the day after Earth Day here, private cars are banned during the day. That meant no Uber. Which meant we had to communicate our hotel’s name and address with a taxi driver who spoke no English. I showed him the address on my phone, he consulted with another driver, and off we went. An added experience!

Our last dinner was at Carmen, one of the finest restaurants in the city. We are tired but pleased with the trip. Ellen had the pez negro, the fish of the day,. I had the pato (duck), with potatoes and spinach. Ellen had a glass of cava, I had malbec. And we finished with a five chocolates dessert.IMG_8859.


Medellín Day 1: 6 Hours South

After trips to Argentina, Peru and Chile (and a little begging by my childhood friend Maria), we finally planned a trip to Colombia to add to our South American countries. We will be visiting for 6 nights, staying in Medellín the whole time, with two tours and the rest on our own exploring the city.

Getting to Medellín was pretty simple–a 3 hour flight to Miami and a 3 hour flight from Miami to Medellín. American Airlines was fine, and when we heard the travelers assigned to the exit row for the 2nd flight couldn’t stay there, we volunteered for the hardship of more legroom!

Immigration, getting our luggage and Customs at Medellín’s airport was a breeze. The airport had an ATM, so I got Colombian pesos. Only problem was, the car from the hotel that was supposed to meet us didn’t. After looking around and trying to call, we went to the Information desk and a very nice woman called the hotel and determined there was no car. But she negotiated for the hotel to pay for a cab and got us in a car.

So while the Hotel Sites didn’t wow us from the start, it is a lovely hotel in a great location. We dropped our luggage and headed for the Santefé Mall, as we wanted to get SIM cards before Good Friday, since things may be closed. The mall was truly something to see.IMG_8541

We came upon the Movistar store first, so that was our choice. While the employee spoke no English, I communicated that we wanted data only cards, at least 2GB. And maybe 15 minutes and 70,000 pesos later ($22), we had cards with 2.5GB. One of the easier SIM purchase stories.

The mall had a sporting goods store, so I got my desired souvenir, a national soccer jersey.IMG_8553

It had a Starbucks, so we got a Colombia mug. And it had a grocery store in the basement, which had Ellen giddy as she loves little more (maybe Tashi) than foreign grocery stores. IMG_8542

We were going to walk to dinner, but it was pouring so we got an Uber instead (less than $3). Our reservation was at one of the best restaurants, Oci.MDE. We had a great meal, tuna tartare as an appetizer, beef tenderloin for me, short ribs for Ellen as the main course, and then a delicious ice cream sandwich with salted caramel. Not a bad start!IMG_8552


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.


Spring 2018 Vacation Day 1: Zurich

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For this spring’s vacation, we decided to start visiting Italy, even if it meant going during Passover. Besides, Ellen claims the Clooneys invited us to lunch in Lake Como.

We had an easy, but long journey to Zurich. We flew to JFK and then had a 7 hour layover. After a lunch at Blue Smoke, we splurged for daypasses at the Delta club. Gave us a comfortable place to hang and enough food to count as dinner. The seven hour flight went pretty quick as we tried to sleep the whole way. Upon arrival, our luggage was on the belt by the time we got to baggage claim (Swiss efficiency!). We bought tram tickets and 1/2 an hour later, we were in the city center. A 10 minute walk had us to Hotel Adler (an Andrea recommendation).

We dumped our luggage and headed out. A quick casual lunch because of the hour, not because we were hungry, and we walked over to Grossmünster Church. It sits atop a hill, with great views of Zurich. As it was Good Friday, it was closed to the public. IMG_5143IMG_5140

Ellen’s main priority for the trip was the Kulturama Museum. It’s permanent collection includes some great impressionist, pop art and a number of Chagalls.

Oh, and Rodin’s Gates of Hell.

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My top sight for this trip was the recently opened FIFA museum. To get there, we had to walk past Lake Zurich, where you could see the Alps.IMG_5163

 

The FIFA Museum opened in 2016. It includes jerseys from all the member countries, interactive exhibits and a movie of World Cup highlights. While not a huge soccer fan, I feel linked to it because I collect jerseys as my travel souvenirs. We even got to see the actual 2018 World Cup trophy.

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Ellen had made dinner reservations at Zeughauskeller, especially important tonight as much was closed for Good Friday. The tables are family style, so we shared our table with 3 different couples. The last was delighted as the restaurant had menus in Portuguese! This was my last meal before the start of Passover (I observe based on my home time zone). I brought a bunch of K-P stuff, don’t worry about me starving to death!


Budapest Day 3: 13.1 Miles Of Fast Fun

Today was race day! Ellen came with me to the start. We helped a runner from Uruguay, who was racing around looking for the subway in near panic. We were glad to get her going in the right direction.

The expo looked pretty much the same as a race in the USA, except it was also set-up on race day.

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There was a warm-up that I half-heartedly participated in, mostly because I don’t like to tire myself out before the race!

The race had 6 corals, even with an expected time of 2:10-2:15, I was in corral 5.

About 10:15am, I was off! The race started in Hero’s Square and went right down Andrassy Avenue. Much of our activity yesterday, House of Terror, Opera House, lunch, was on that street, the main boulevard in Budapest. So it was familiar.

We went right past our Airbnb, and then over the chain bridge to Buda. This is the only picture I took during the race, I decided I was racing for time.IMG_2457

So only a few differences between this race and a race in the States. I liked that the course was marked in kilometers. Even though you are running 21 instead of 13, you feel like you get more regular signs of accomplishment as you reach them much quicker. Instead of gels or gummies, the glucose they handed out were pieces of bananas and white sugar mints (that looked like marshmallows to me at first).

From my watch, I was under a 10 minute/mile pace for every mile except one, and that included water breaks every 2-3 miles. I knew I was on a good pace, and I wanted to try to beat 2:10. It was warmer than I like, getting up to 72°F and the sun was out. But I gave myself no excuses, picking up the pace the last several miles. Mile 13 in fact was my fastest at 9:04 and the last part of the race (.22 miles on my watch since you always go longer than the official race distance) was 8:37 pace. I was really happy with my finish, the 2nd fastest of my 13 half-marathons.

For the first time for me, I had raised funds with this race for the charity I have been consulting for. If you’d like to make a donation to SOS Children’s Villages, please click here.

While I was running, Ellen was doing her own exploring. In those 2+ hours, she went to Hero’s Square, City Park, the zoo, and the Miniversum. We met back up near our apartment, going to the Spring Market (like a Christmas market but around Easter). I got a bread for lunch, Ellen got a potato latke-type thing with toppings. We went back to the apartment to eat.

Soon though, we were off again, We decided to treat ourselves to the baths and a massage. We went to Rudas Baths.IMG_2461

Saunas, pools of different temperatures, a beautiful outside pool that had a view of the Daube. And then after all that, the Lavender Dream massage, which was a scrub with lavender salts followed by a massage. Took much of the pain from the run away.

We walked back to the Pest side, pulled out our phones and found a place for dinner. A small cafe, Gerlóczy Cafe was just perfect. Salmon for me, duck breast for Ellen.

One more thing on the way home. Ellen wanted to ride the ferris wheel in a park near our apartment. So we did. The top had an awesome view of the Buda side, the castle and the church. IMG_2473