Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Rhine River Cruise: Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Switzerland, Germany, France and Netherlands

Following the death of Judy's mother, money was set aside from her estate so that her children, and their spouses, could take a cruise together. Her mother was German, so a trip that included Germany was born: a Viking River Cruise from Basel to Amsterdam. Once that was decided, Judy and I made plans to go early and travel before the cruise and Judy's sister Chris, and her husband, Stan, joined us. 

We left LAX on Friday morning in May 2012 and arrived in Prague, Czech Republic, Saturday morning, after a layover at JFK. After checking in at the Marriott Executive Apartments, we met in Old Town Square at 1:45 p.m. for a Sandemans NewEurope Tour (a free tour), that took us through most of Old Prague, including the Jewish Quarter. It was a great way to get a quick orientation of the city so that we could go back later to sites we wanted to spend more time at. We took another Sandemans Tour on Sunday, to Kutna Hora, a one hour train ride each way, where we saw the fabulous Sedlec Ossuary and St.Barbara's Church. Other than those two specific tours, the rest of our Saturday, Sunday and Monday were spent following our whims, going back to places we wanted to see more in depth. 
     Prague, Part 2: The City  (Judy)
     Prague, Part 3: Castle Hill  (Judy) 

We left Prague at 11:17 p.m. on Monday night on a sleeper train for Vienna. We have decided that we will take no more sleeper trains (see Judy's post for the details). We arrived in Vienna Tuesday morning at 6:30 a.m. We checked in to the Courtyard by Marriott Vienna Schoenbrunn and then visited the Schoenbrunn Palace, the Kunsthistoriches Museum, the Secession Building and Klimt Frieze, St. Charles Church and St. Stephen's Cathedral. 

Wednesday morning we rented a car at Sixt Rent a Car for a drive to Mauthausen Concentration Camp, a little less than a two hour drive (104 miles). Sixt did not have a gps navigation system for us that made getting in and out of Vienna on our bad map a bit more exciting than I wanted it to be. Mauthausen was a sobering and powerful experience. On the way back to Vienna, we decided to stop at the fabulous Melk Abbey and then had a very nice dinner at Restaurant Zur Post in Melk. 
     Melk, Austria  (Judy)
     Melk Abbey  (Bob)

Thursday morning we caught a 7:50 a.m. train for Bratislava, Slovakia. It arrived in Bratislava at 9:01 a.m. We then had to catch a train for Budapest at 11:54 a.m., leaving us less than three hours to see Bratislava. I took some heat for this stop, one of my check-off-the-list countries, but I think at the end of the day the others were glad we'd done it. Aside from St. Martin's Cathedral, we mostly just walked and gawked. We arrived in Budapest at 2:35 p.m. and were met at the train station by Judy's niece, Julie, and her friend, Alex. Julie and Alex were LDS missionaries in Budapest and know it well. So they were our guides. We spent the balance of Thursday, and all of Friday and Saturday in Budapest (we spent Thursday and Friday nights at the Millennium Court Marriott). Rather than try to break down our activities on a day-to-day basis, I just lay them out altogether. 
     Bratislava, Slovakia  (Judy)
     Budapest, Part 3: Castle Hill  (Judy) 
     Hungarian Food  (Bob) 
     Trofea Grill - Budapest  (Bob)

On Saturday night, we left Budapest on a sleeping train at 7:20 p.m. (see the post above about problems with sleeping trains) and arrived in Basel, Switzerland Sunday morning at 8:27 a.m. We were met at the train station by several members of Judy's family and taken to the hotel where they were staying to store our luggage. We had the day to explore Basel, then checked in to our Viking Cruise for the night. Our cruise left that evening for Breisach, Germany. 
     Basel, Switzerland, Part 1  (Judy)
     Red-Crested Pochard  (Bob)
     Basel, Part 2: An Artsy City  (Judy) 

Monday morning we were moored in Breisach. I took an early morning walk along the Rhine and saw some birds. We took a bus into the Black Forest and visited the Abbey of St. Peter and a cuckoo clock making factory. In the afternoon we took a bus into Colmar, France and had a tour of that beautiful town and then free time to wander. Later that afternoon we walked into Breisach. 
     Egyptian Goose  (Bob)
     Mute Swan  (Bob)
     Colmar, France: Part 1  (Judy)
     White Stork  (Bob)
     Colmar, France: Part 2  (Judy)

Tuesday morning we arrived in Kehl, Germany. First thing we took a guided bus tour of Strasbourg, France, driving past the Palais de L'Europe which is where the European Parliament meets.  Then we got time on the ground and visited the Church of St. Thomas and Strasbourg Cathedral, including a walk up to the top which was spectacular. In the afternoon we switched to the German side of the Rhine and walked through Kehl, Germany, including the Kehler Kirchen (Kehl Church) and St. John Nepomuk Church.
     Strasbourg, France: Part 1  (Judy)
     White Stork  (Bob)
     Strasbourg Cathedral  (Judy)
     Strasbourg Cathedral  (Bob)
     Kehl, Germany  (Judy)
     Eurasian Coot  (Bob)

Wednesday morning early the Viking ship arrived in Mannheim, Germany. I went out on an early morning walk and saw much of downtown Mannheim. We took a bus to Heidelberg and got a tour of the castle. We were then given time on our own and went through the Church of the Holy Spirit and the Church of the Jesuits. We took a bus back to the ship, had lunch, and started up the Rhine again. Later in the afternoon we arrived in Rudesheim and docked. There were no tours that were of interest to us, so we just walked through the small town and into the hills above covered with rows and rows of grapes and views below of the Rhine.
     Heidelberg Castle  (Judy)
     Heidelberg, Part 2  (Judy)
     Rudesheim, Germany  (Judy)
     Mallard  (Bob)
     Greylag Goose  (Bob)
     Atlantic Canada Goose  (Bob)
     European Wood Pigeon  (Bob)
     Egyptian Goose  (Bob)

Thursday morning, early, I went out for a walk on the hill above Rudesheim. I walked by St. Hildegard Monastery and wished I could get inside. It was beautiful. We set off for the early part of the day on the ship driving through and viewing the castles on the Rhine. We stopped for a tour of Marksburg Castle, then continued on to Koblenz at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers. We took a tram across the Rhine and up to the mountain Ehrenbreitstein Fortress with tremendous views of the Rhine and Koblenz. One of the most spectacular views of the trip. After touring the fortress, we took the tram back down and walked through Koblenz, including the Church of the Beloved Lady.
     Castles on the Rhine  (Judy)
     Poetry and Art: Loreley  (Judy)
     Braubach, Germany: Marksburg Castle  (Judy)
     Koblenz, Germany  (Judy)

We arrived in Cologne Friday morning and had a guided walking tour through the Old Town, including Cologne's Cathedral. We walked to the top and got a great view. Afterwards we toured the Romano-Germanic Museum, then, on our own, ate lunch at Herings im Martinswinkel, explored St. Martin's Church and visited the Lindt Chocolate Museum.
     Cologne, Germany, Part 1: The Cathedral  (Judy)
     Cologne Cathedral  (Bob)
     Cologne, Germany, Part 2: A Walk Around the City and the Antiquities Museum  (Judy)
     Herings im Martinswinkel: Cologne  (Bob)
     Cologne, Germany, Part 3: Judy and the Chocolate Factory/Museum  (Judy)
     Cologne, Germany, Part 4: Addendum  (Judy)

Saturday morning we cruised through the Netherlands. Early in the afternoon we arrived at Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has the largest concentration of old windmills in the Netherlands and gave us an opportunity to go inside one and to walk and bicycle along a canal, looking at birds. Afterwards, it was back on the boat for Amsterdam.
     Kinderdijk, Netherlands: Walking into a Post Card  (Judy)
     Great Crested Grebe  (Bob)
     European Herring Gull (Bob)
     Hybrid Greylag or Domestic Goose  (Bob)
     Greylag Goose  (Bob)

Sunday morning we arrived in Amsterdam, the end of our river cruise, on a cold, rainy day. We walked around unsuccessfully looking for a church service, visiting the outside of Oude Kirk and the Red Light District in the process. We checked into our weird, funky citizenM Hotel (which Judy loved and I hated), then met at the Reypenaer Cheesing Tasting Room for cheese tasting at noon. After a short break, we met back at Reypenaer for a three hour tour we arranged with a private guide, Al Walet. Afterwards we visited the Amsterdam Museum and the Anne Frank House.
     Amsterdam, Part 1  (Judy)
     Reypenaer Cheese Tasting  (Bob)
     Amsterdam, Part 3: Two Places to Stay and Two Churches  (Judy)    

Monday was a quick succession of churches and museums: The Rijks Museum, the Van Gogh Museum, the New Church (De Nieuwe Kerk), the Old Church (Oude Kerk), the Rembrandt House Museum, and the Jewish Historical Museum.
     Amsterdam, Part 2: Art  (Judy)
     Oude Kerk - Amsterdam  (Bob)
     Amsterdam, Part 4: The End  (Judy)

Tuesday we met Al Walet again for a four hour tour of Leiden. He met us in our hotel lobby at 9:00 a.m. and we took the train from the Zuid Station. Afterwards we spent more time in Amsterdam, visiting the Biblical Museum, the Dutch Resistance Museum, the Hermitage, the National Maritime Museum and the Museum of Our Lord in the Attic.
     Leiden, Holland: Part 1  (Judy)
     Leiden, Holland: Part 2  (Judy)
     Mute Swan  (Bob)
     St. Pancras or Highland Church - Leiden  (Bob)

Wednesday morning we had a direct flight from Amsterdam to LAX, leaving at 9:50 a.m. and arriving at 11:50 a.m. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Quick Trip: North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia

On my quest to get to all 50 states, we planned a four day whirlwind tour to hit three southeastern states. In actuality, it was a trip to South Carolina, with border nudges into North Carolina and Georgia, but border nudges still count. 

In March 2013, a Thursday, we had a 9:00 p.m. flight out of LAX for Charlotte, NC, with a quick layover in St. Paul, MN. The layover was my first time in Minnesota which Judy says does not count (it counts on my list), but we did a full-fledged trip to Minnesota in 2015 so that issue is now irrelevant as to Minnesota. We arrived in Charlotte about 10:50 a.m. Friday morning and got an off-airport rental car at Advantage Rent-A-Car, not one of our better car rental experiences (we waited in a very long line to get a car and had a similar experience on our return).  We love late night flights out of LAX to eastern destinations: the later drive to LAX allows a full day of work and a drive after peak traffic hours, then an early arrival that allows most of the next day at the destination. 

Our first stop was Cypress Gardens, outside Charleston in Moncks Corner, South Carolina, a 201 mile drive (3 hours and 25 minutes). A highlight was a boat we self-paddled into a swamp with up-close views of alligators and turtles - a real blast. We checked in to a SpringHill Suites on the outskirts of Charleston, then went into Charleston for a nice meal at Hominy Grill followed by a Charleston Ghost Tour. 
     Yellow-Bellied Slider  (Bob)
     Hominy Grill - Charleston  (Bob) 

Saturday morning we had a one hour carriage ride with Classic Carriage Works scheduled at 9:30 a.m. We had fun exploring the back-streets of Charleston behind the clip-clop of a horse. Then off to visit the Aiken-Rhett House Museum, home of the governor of South Carolina in 1844 and the headquarters of General Beauregard during the Civil War. Then a Spirit Line Cruise to Fort Sumter way out in Charleston Harbor (30 minutes out and 30 minutes back, with an hour at the Fort). The rest of the afternoon we visited churches for the most part, the Circular Congregational Church, the French Huguenot Church, St. Michael's Episcopal Church and the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Finally we visited the Old Slave Mart Museum. Dinner was the best of the trip, FIG, owned by the 2009 James Beard Foundation best southeast chef, Mike Lata. We stayed at SpringHill Suites a second night.

Sunday morning we drove 108 miles to Savannah, Georgia (about 2 hours, 12 minutes). On the way we had a fun stop at Carolina Cider Company in Yemassee, SC, and tried samples of various kinds of cider, including blackberry, blueberry, cherry, muscadine, peach and apple, as well as a pecan pie. First thing in Savannah, we went by the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist and found a service was about ready to start. It was St. Patrick's Day with many people dressed in green. We stayed and enjoyed the service. We walked by the Mickve Synagogue and found it closed, then visited the Flannery O'Connor Childhood Home, very near the cathedral, and took a tour. We drove outside town to Fort Pulaski National Monument, the site of a Civil War battle won by the Union, then we drove into downtown and found many people celebrating St. Patrick's Day. We took a quick visit to the Jepson Center for the Arts and ended the day with a dinner at The Olde Pink House Restaurant in a beautiful old home downtown. We stayed the night at a Fairfield Inn in Savannah. 
     Savannah, Georgia  (Judy)
Fort Pulaski
The outer wall carries the scars of the Civil War battle. 
Monday morning we left Savannah for Charlotte, a four hour (252 mile) drive. We took a little detour up through Columbia, SC to eat at Lamb's Bread Vegan Cafe, not too far from the South Carolina State Capitol building. We continued on to the outskirts of Charlotte where we visited the Billy Graham Library and home. Late that afternoon we caught a flight from Charlotte to LAX via Memphis and arrived late Monday night.
     Lamb's Bread Vegan Cafe - Columbia, South Carolina  (Bob)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Lamb's Bread Vegan Cafe - Columbia, South Carolina

In March 2013, while we were driving from Savannah to Charleston, we did a search on Yelp for vegan food and drove about 15 minutes out of our way (each direction) to go to Lamb's Bread Vegan Cafe in Columbia, quite near the State Capitol Building. It was described in Trip Advisor as Caribbean, but it appeared more African from the decor. Lots of space, both inside and outside, was devoted to the Caribbean/African theme, and it was fun to walk around and enjoy it while we waited for our food. There are various weavings, like baskets and wall ornaments, carved animals, like giraffes, and walls full of masks. 

Judy got a nice kale salad and I got a combination plate with various types of vegetables: red cabbage, collared greens, macaroni salad, squash and sweet potatoes with raisins and lima beans (the beans were a little hard). It was good and good for you. We ordered a couple of vegan cupcakes for the road: cookies and cream and chocolate with walnut. Both were good. 

It was not until a trip a short time later, when we visited the capitols in Atlanta, Montgomery and Tallahassee, that we started to add state capitol buildings to our trip agendas. If we'd started earlier, the capitol in Columbia was right within our grasp. We may have to go back. Lamb's Bread is currently the no. 9 rated restaurant in Columbia on Trip Advisor (out of 878).   

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Trip Wrapped Around a Seminar: Florida

In January 2013 I went to a seminar in Orlando, Florida. I'd not been to Florida before, so I decided to take in some sites both before and after the seminar to take advantage of the weekends. My wife Judy joined me after the seminar. I give a brief description of what I/we did and then link to posts we did related to our Florida activities. 

On Friday evening, I took a non-stop night flight from Los Angeles to Orlando. It arrived in Orlando at 5:35 a.m. I picked up a rental car at the airport and immediately started driving northwest to Crystal River on the Gulf Coast of Florida. It was 99 miles and just under a two hour drive. I had to be at Crystal Lodge Dive Center at 8:00 a.m. to take a boat out looking for manatees. I got off late, because of waiting for luggage and getting the car, so I drove fast and managed to make the boat, even though I was about 20 minutes late. I saw several manatees, one when I was in the water snorkeling and one from the boat. Afterwards I stopped for an early lunch at Pecks Old Port Cove where I had blackened grouper stuffed with crab cakes and a shrimp based cream sauce. Then I set off for St. Augustine, 123 miles east (2 hours, 50 minutes) on the Atlantic Coast. On the way out of Crystal River I spotted a sign for "piss clams."  I'd never heard of them before, so I stopped, ordered a pound to go, and ended up eating them there after the waitress showed me how I needed to eat them. They were the best clams I've ever eaten. I got to St. Augustine and loved it. I knew from grade school that Ponce de Leon discovered what he thought was the fountain of youth there, and I'd learned it was the oldest settlement in the U.S., but it has much to recommend. I visited Castillo de San Marcos and Mission Nombre de Dios and Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche where the Spanish first landed. I spent the night at the Regency Inn near the ocean. 
     Florida Manatee  (Bob)

Sunday morning the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park caught my eye and I made an unplanned visit. They had crocodiles and alligators from all over the world, and most impressively, a massive enclosure with hundreds of alligators. There I heard massive alligators raise their heads and push air out of their mouths making a sound like an African lion growling. I had a marvelous lunch at the Floridian, a place I stopped because it was there and I was hungry. Great choice. I visited several beautiful churches, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine and Memorial Presbyterian Church. I walked through downtown St. Augustine and enjoyed the fun little shops and beautiful January sunshine. I'd thought of driving to Orlando to eat, but I'd enjoyed the Floridian so much for lunch that I went back there for dinner. After dinner I drove about an hour and 45 minutes (107 miles) to Orlando where I checked into a Quality Suites hotel. 
     American Alligator - Florida  (Bob)     

My seminar started Monday and went until Friday at noon. It was in a massive hotel that was expensive and full of people, so I ventured out for lunch and dinner to different places to eat. King O Falafel in Kissimmee was my lunch destination three of the days. It served great Middle Eastern food and was not crowded. I also tried Jerusalem Restaurant in Kissimmee and did not like it as well. For dinners I ate at Ethos Vegan Kitchen in Winter Park, the fabulous Cafe 118 Degrees in Winter Park (twice because I liked it so much) and the funky Dandelion Communitea Cafe in Orlando. 

I skipped Friday morning of my seminar and met Judy at the airport in Orlando at 5:35 a.m. Once she got her luggage we set out by car for Miami in southern Florida and ultimately to Florida City, outside the Everglades where we had a reservation for the night. The drive to Florida City was about 268 miles (just under four hours). On the drive down we looked on-line at Trip Advisor and decided to visit Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami. As we were leaving I asked someone in the gift shop about a restaurant I'd read about that served stone crab. She called and found out an address and when it opened and we drove to South Beach to Joe's Stone Crab where we had some good seafood served by waiters in tuxedos - a very fun experience. Then it was off to Florida City, kind of a rundown area that seems to exist solely as a place for people visiting Everglades National Park to stay at night and to get something to eat. We drove into Everglades late afternoon and visited the Visitors Center, the wonderful Anhinga Trail, and the Gumbo Limbo Trail. We had a good grilled alligator sandwich just outside the park at Gator Grill. We spent that night and the next at a Travelodge that was highly rated on Trip Advisor but pretty mediocre. 
     Florida: Miami  (Judy)
     Green Heron  (Bob)

Saturday morning we got up early determined to spend the entire day in the Everglades. We went back to the fabulous Anhinga Trail where we saw lots of alligators and other wildlife. It is the best spot in the Everglades for wildlife. Then we continued down the road deeper into the Everglades and did the Pinelands Walking Trail, the Pa-hay-okee Overlook, the Mahogany Hammock Trail, a walk into West Lake, did a 3.2 mile walk on the Snake Bight Trail and drove to the end of the road at Flamingo. On the way out we stopped again at the Anhinga Trail. 
     Florida: The Everglades  (Judy) 
     Florida Chicken Turtle  (Bob) 
     Florida Redbelly Turtle  (Bob)
     Double-Crested Cormorant  (Bob)
     Great White Egret  (Bob)
     Snowy Egret  (Bob) 
     Great Blue Heron  (Bob)
     Little Blue Heron  (Bob)
     Tricolored Heron  (Bob) 
     American White Ibis  (Bob) 
     Wood Stork  (Bob)
     Black Vulture  (Bob)

Sunday morning early we went back out to the Everglades and Anhinga Trail and had the best experience there of the multiple times we visited. We saw alligators basking everywhere. The Anhinga Trail is a treasure. Then we set off for the Florida Keys, a two and a half hour drive (126 miles). The drive through the Keys is spectacular, up and over long bridges, small islands, water on each side of the road. We drove all the way to Key West, on the last island, and first visited the Ernest Hemingway home, then the Little White House where President Harry Truman used to vacation. Afterwards we had dinner at The Cafe. We spent the night at the Fairfield Inn in Key West.
     The Cafe - Key West  (Bob)      

Monday morning we drove back to Miami and had lunch at Green Gables in Coral Gables. Then we dropped off our car at Miami International Airport where we had a 3:55 p.m. flight. Unfortunately, our American Airlines flight had problems and we spent the night sleeping on the floor in the airport. We did end up getting back to Los Angeles the next day. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Trip Wrapped Around a Seminar: Georgia, Alabama and Florida

I had a week long seminar in Florida in January 2014 and decided to make a trip out of it. We picked up a car in Atlanta then drove down through Alabama to Mobile, east through the Florida Panhandle through Tallahassee, then to Gainesville, then put Judy on a flight back home from Orlando where I stayed the week for my seminar. After the seminar, I spent the next weekend on Sanibel Island and in Everglades National Park before returning to Orlando for the flight back home. This post gives a brief day-by-day itinerary with links to posts by Judy and by me. 

On Tuesday morning we flew from Ontario, CA to Atlanta, GA, arriving about 3:00 p.m. We rented a car, tried to visit the Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and found it closed, so visited the Georgia State Capitol building instead which was about a block away. We ate a New Mexican style dinner at Agave and spent the night at a Holiday Inn. 
     Agave - Atlanta, Georgia  (Bob)

Wednesday morning we visited the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, which included a visit to King's birth home and the Ebenezer Baptist Church. This was the beginning of an eye opening and memorable journey into civil rights country. Late morning we drove to the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum, our sixth presidential library, and came away with a greater appreciation of Carter as a good person. We'd asked several locals at the King Historic Site for a recommendation to a restaurant that served good southern food. They recommended Gladys Knight's Chicken & Waffles and that is where we went for some southern fried chicken, grits and collared greens after the library. After lunch we drove 100 miles (nearly two hours) to Cheaha Resort State Park in Alabama where we mostly drove, and walked just a little, to the high point of the State of Alabama. From there, it was another 100 miles and two hours to Montgomery where we spent the night. 

Thursday was another memorable civil rights day and packed with activities. We started with a visit to the Alabama Capitol building. Then, right across the street, we visited the First White House of the Confederacy, the home of Jefferson Davis until the capitol was moved to Richmond. Then, just a block down from the capitol was the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King Jr. was pastor during the Montgomery bus boycott. Then to the Dexter Parsonage Museum where Dr. King lived while he was pastor and where a bomb went off one evening, galvanizing King's commitment to the civil rights cause. For a change of pace, we stopped at the F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum in a house that they lived in for a short period of time. This was a must-stop for my literary wife. The head of the museum suggested that the "best hamburger in the world" could be purchased at Hamburger King, so we stopped by, purchased one and shared it. Good, but not best by any measure. St. John's Episcopal Church, the church of Jefferson Davis and his family, was next. Lots of beautiful stained glass. Finally, we did a quick visit to the Civil Rights Memorial Center sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center and then had the best meal of the trip, at True, a real culinary gem. We ended the day with a 106 mile drive to Monroeville, AL where we spent the night at a Best Western. 
     True - Montgomery, Alabama  (Bob) 

We started Friday morning with a drive into rural Monroe County, including a stop at the Burnt Corn Methodist Church. We were back in Monroeville for the opening of the Monroe County Museum which is the old courthouse and the model for the movie courthouse in To Kill a Mockingbird. We stopped for lunch at Mel's Dairy Dream, right about where Harper Lee and Truman Capote used to live, and we enjoyed breaded and fried chicken gizzards and livers. An 88 mile (one and a half hour) drive to Mobile brought us to beautiful Dauphin Street and the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception. We got sandwiches to go at the Mediterranean Sandwich Co., the highest rated restaurant in Mobile, and drove 110 miles (one and three quarter hours) to De Funiak Springs, FL where we spent the night. 
     About Town in Mobile, Alabama  (Judy) 

We woke up Saturday morning to a deluge. Britton Hill, our first destination, was 25 miles away, the lowest state high point in the U.S. It was so flat we had a hard time finding it, but we did find it and got a few minutes for pictures without rain. The next two and a half hours (146 miles) were spent driving with heavy and never-ending rain. Once we reached Tallahasee, we spent a little time on the Florida State University campus (their football team had just won the national collegiate football championship at the Rose Bowl) and then toured the old Florida Capitol building, now a museum, which is right next to the new and current capitol building. We finished the day with a two and a half hour (150 mile) drive to Gainesville. We had an un-memorable dinner at Ker's Winghouse and spent the night at Sleep Inn & Suites. 

Sunday morning we had better weather and drove 23 miles (30 minutes) to Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park. Marjorie wrote The Yearling, for which she got the 1939 Pulitzer Prize, and Cross Creek. The park includes her home and grounds which we toured. From there it was a nearly two hour drive (112 miles) to Orlando where I put Judy on a plane back to Ontario, CA. I checked into the Wyndham Cypress Palms for a Monday to Friday seminar. 

One of the days during my seminar there were no classes that I felt particularly drawn to. So I drove out to Cape Canaveral and visited the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (I took the Black Point Wildlife Drive and Biolab Road), the Canaveral National Seashore and the Kennedy Space Center (where I saw the Vehicle Assembly Building, Atlantis Shuttle and Launch Pad 39). I did not blog on any of these destinations, all of which were fantastic, but did blog on some specific animals I saw. 
     Raccoon  (Bob)
     Hooded Merganser  (Bob)
     Northern Pintail  (Bob)
     Bald Eagle  (Bob)
     Great White Egret  (Bob)
     Snowy Egret  (Bob)
     Pied-Billed Grebe  (Bob)
     Laughing Gull  (Bob)
     Ring-Billed Gull  (Bob)
     Tricolored Heron  (Bob)
     Loggerhead Shrike  (Bob)
     Osprey  (Bob)
     Ruddy Turnstone  (Bob)
     Sanderling  (Bob)
     Willet  (Bob)
     American Alligator - Florida  (Bob)
Canaveral National Seashore
Kennedy Space Center
Launch Pad 39 - where the moon launches took place.
An alligator near the launchpad.
Shuttle Atlantis

Friday, after my seminar which ended at noon, I drove from Kissimmee, a suburb of Orlando, to Sanibel Island, near Fort Myers, 168 miles (3 hours, 15 minutes). I had a nice lunch along the way in Fort Meade at Just Ribs. I had enough time to walk the four mile round trip Indigo Trail in the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge and saw some beautiful roseate spoonbills. I spent the night at a Travelodge. 
     Just Ribs - Fort Meade, Florida  (Bob)
     Roseate Spoonbill  (Bob)
Bridge to Sanibel Island

Sunset on Sanibel Island

Saturday morning I was out early to the Darling NWR and drove the four mile one-way road twice. Then I decided I really wanted to see Everglades National Park again (I'd been the year before), so I drove to Shark Valley, 125 miles and a little over two hours. Along the way I stopped for lunch at Lagoona Grille Restaurant and Bar in Naples and arrived at Shark Valley just in time for the tram which I'd reserved ahead of time. Lots of alligators and birds, but on the tram you have no control over how much time you stay at any particular spot or what kind of vantage point you have for the wildlife. After the tram I walked out for a distance on the road, then skeedaddled back to the car for the long (five hour plus) drive back to Orlando. I stayed at a Best Western relatively near the airport.
     Lagoona Grille Restaurant and Bar - Naples, Florida  (Bob)
     Purple Gallinule  (Bob)
     Red Shouldered Hawk  (Bob)
     Great Blue Heron  (Bob)
     Little Blue Heron  (Bob)
     Reddish Egret  (Bob)
     American White Ibis  (Bob)
     Eastern Brown Pelican  (Bob)
     American White Pelican  (Bob)
     Wood Stork  (Bob)

Sunday morning early I caught a flight back to Ontario, CA. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Quick Trip: Arkansas, Oklahoma and Northern Texas

I'd never been to Oklahoma, had just grazed Arkansas, and my only time in northern Texas was several layovers at the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. So in December 2014 we planned a trip to cover that area as part of my goal to see all 50 states. Below, I give a brief description of our activities each day, followed by links to blog posts by Judy and me. 

We flew from LAX to Dallas/Fort Worth on Wednesday morning and arrived just after noon. We got a rental car and immediately started for Little Rock, Arkansas, where we would spend the night, a 242 mile drive that would take us about five hours. On the way, we stopped for a late lunch in Texarkana, TX at Naaman's Championship BBQ, a food truck connected to a building, and one of about five barbecue places we would sample on our trip. Later that evening, in Hot Springs, we looked for the barbecue joint Bill Clinton loved while growing up, found it closed, so stopped instead at Smokin' In Style BBQ, then drove on to Little Rock where we slept at the Wyndham Riverfront, downtown near the Arkansas River.

Thursday morning we visited the Arkansas State Capitol building and the Clinton Presidential Library followed by lunch at the Whole Hog Cafe, our third barbecue stop. That afternoon we visited the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, then drove about two hours (120 miles) to Mount Magazine State Park in northwestern Arkansas. There we hiked 1.2 miles roundtrip to the summit of Signal Hill, the tallest mountain in Arkansas, then checked into the beautiful Mount Magazine Lodge where we stayed the night. We had a light dinner at the Skycrest Restaurant in the lodge. 

Friday morning we drove over four hours (256 miles) to Oklahoma City, OK and visited St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, the amazing Oklahoma City National Memorial and then had dinner at Cattlemen's Steakhouse where we feasted on t-bone steaks, a favorite of President George H.W. Bush, and lamb fries. We spent the night at a so-so Best Western. 
     Oklahoma City Museum of Art  (Judy) 

Saturday morning we visited the Oklahoma State Capitol building, then drove an hour and a half to Norman to visit the University of Oklahoma campus, particularly enjoying the Heisman park with five bronze statues outside the football stadium. We ate lunch at the Earth Cafe & Deli in Norman, then drove about three hours (188 miles) to Dallas where we went to the Dallas Art Museum. Across the street from the museum, we had a burrito and ice cream at food trucks, visited the nearby Guadalupe Cathedral and then drove to Arlington for the Texas Christkindl Market outside the Texas Rangers baseball stadium where we ate crepes and bratwurst to finish off a third and fourth course for dinner. We stayed that night and our remaining nights at Hawthorne Suites in Dallas. 
     Texas: Dallas Museum of Art  (Judy) 

Sunday we visited the Lakewood LDS Ward in Dallas for an hour, then were at the fabulous Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza (the Texas School Book Depository) where John F. Kennedy was shot, then drove to the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, stopping at the on-site Cafe 42 for lunch, before going inside. We completed the day with a visit to the Museum of Biblical Art and dinner at the fabulous Meddlesome Moth restaurant. 
     Cafe 43 - Dallas  (Bob) 
     Meddlesome Moth - Dallas  (Bob) 

Monday morning we drove one and a half hours (90 miles) to Glen Rose where we visited the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center and got to drive our car through this animal sanctuary with all kinds of African, Asian and European mammals. We followed that with a visit to the ho-hum Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, then a one hour drive to Fort Worth where we walked through the Fort Worth Stockyards. For dinner we drove to Y.O. Ranch Steakhouse in downtown Dallas where we enjoyed buffalo fillets, quail medallions and venison. 
     Glen Rose, Texas: Fossil Rim Wildlife Center  (Judy)
     Addax  (Bob)
     Barbary Sheep or Audad  (Bob)
     Blackbuck  (Bob)
     Emu  (Bob)
     Fallow Deer  (Bob)
     Gemsbok  (Bob)
     Hartmann's Mountain Zebra  (Bob)
     Red Deer  (Bob)
     Rio Grande Wild Turkey  (Bob)
     Roan Antelope  (Bob)
     Sable Antelope  (Bob)
     Scimitar-Horned Oryx  (Bob)

Finally, Tuesday we visited the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, the IMAX Theater where we saw the movie "Jerusalem," and ate a barbecue lunch at Railhead Smokehouse in Fort Worth, before driving to the airport for our flight home. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Quick Trip: South Dakota

One of my goals is to visit all 50 states. Toward that end, when we have a long weekend or two-for-one Delta pass, we'll sometimes take a quick trip to a state or states. This trip to South Dakota in September 2014 was one of those. We visited southwestern South Dakota and fell in love with the area. There are an amazing number of wonderful places to visit and a surprising variety of wildlife. Following is a list of posts from Judy and me relating to that trip. Note, some of Judy's posts put activities out of order and combine activities over multiples days into one post. 

On a Friday, we had a direct flight from Ontario, CA to Rapid City, SD and rented a car at the airport. After a quick sandwich at Jimmy John's in Rapid City, we visited Reptile Gardens and Mt. Rushmore, then drove the Iron Mountain Road into Custer State Park where we drove the Wildlife Loop Road and saw bison, elk and pronghorn antelope. We ate dinner at the Blue Bell Lodge (bison stew and bison tips) inside the park and then drove to Custer where we stayed in the Bavarian Inn. 

On Saturday, we took a drive in the morning into Custer State Park, saw more bison, some turkeys, a beautiful white-tailed deer buck, and some bighorn sheep. Then we drove the Needles Highway to Sylvan Lake where we hiked seven miles round trip to the summit of Harney Peak, the tallest spot in South Dakota. On the way back to Custer, we stopped at the Crazy Horse Memorial, then we checked in to the Holiday Inn in Custer (we could only get the Bavarian Inn for one night). After a shower and brief rest, we drove back up to Sylvan Lake where we had a wonderful dinner of bison chislic, bison tenderloin and an elk chop at the Sylvan Lake Lodge. 
     Dakota White-Tailed Deer  (Bob)
     Merriam's Wild Turkey  (Bob)
     Wild Burro - South Dakota  (Bob)
     Harney Peak  (Bob) 

On Sunday morning, I got up early, leaving Judy to sleep in, and drove once again into Custer State Park to see the early morning wildlife. I was rewarded by seeing hundreds of bison, as well as more turkeys. I went back to the hotel, picked up Judy and drove through Custer, admiring the decorated bison in front of various stores downtown, then drove to Rapid City where we attended the Rapid City LDS Ward for an hour. Then we drove to Wall, SD, visited the famous Wall Drug Store, then drove in to Badlands National Park where we saw 25 bighorn sheep. Finally, we drove back out to Wall where we spent the night.

Monday morning, we drove back in to Badlands National Park and took the Sage Creek Rim Road where we saw lots of prairie dogs and some bison. Then we drove back to Rapid City where we walked through part of downtown, ate lunch at Everest Cuisine, a Nepalese restaurant, and finally went to the airport for a flight back to Ontario where we arrived late that evening.
     Black-Tailed Prairie Dog  (Bob)
     South Dakota: Rapid City  (Judy)
     Everest Cuisine - Rapid City  (Bob)