Ron Irwin Travel & Entertainment

51-50  The Play

Enjoy Our World


 

Bye! Bye! London

Today was our last full day in London, England but before our touring could begin I absolutely had to resolve the issue of us staying one more night at the Brent Cross Holiday Inn.  Fortunately the front desk manager this morning was a gentleman by the name of Roman and he had a very bright and extremely helpful attitude.  In a matter of only a few minutes we were confirmed for one more night at a very decent price and no need to change rooms.  Thanks to Roman all was good with the world once again and off we went to the nearby underground station - first stop Piccadilly.

Piccadilly also known as Piccadilly Circus is very much like a scaled down version of New York’s Times Square.  The four ladies had visited Piccadilly early in this journey but today we were all there together. Piccadilly is a lot of fun but today it was just a starting point.  After visiting several shops daughter Kari steered us to a Nando’s restaurant, a rapidly growing global chain of chicken restaurants known mostly for their wide range of delicious sauces ranging from fire in a bottle to slightly more than water to be enjoyed with a diverse range of cooked chicken.  It was as much a party as a meal but then that is our Kari; she knows all of the hot spots all around the world. 

Next we headed off in the general direction of Buckingham Palace.  No underground trains, no buses and surely no taxis – we needed to walk off some of that delicious chicken while absorbing many of the unique sights and sounds of the wonderful City of London.  Eventually we arrived at the palace just in time to enjoy the changing of the guard ceremony.  It is very much a fascinating ritual but I did notice that they have moved the guards well behind the fence.  When I first saw Buckingham Palace many years ago there were at least two guards, one on each side outside of the main gate.  But it was not uncommon for some tourist to antagonize the guards in an effort to get them to flinch or otherwise lose their composer.  That potential problem is now removed I am certain with the great approval of the guards. 

Ceremony over we began to gradually withdraw and as we did we found a very pleasant bobby, a British Police officer who cheerful agreed to be photographed with our ten year old granddaughter giving her a very nice lifelong treasure.  Mission accomplished we made our way over to the nearby St. James park there to stroll amidst abundant birds and rich beautiful foliage.  We even noticed a section dedicated to the late Princess Diana.  The experience was deeply serene

There were other places we had intended to visit: the Tower of London, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament but they would be left unvisited by us on this trip.  The day was rapidly drawing to an end and we opted for a return to our hotel and from there a visit to a very nice shopping mall directly across from the hotel.  By this time in our trip my wife and I had visited London, Brussels, Cologne, Paris and Reims.  Our daughters Kari and Kimberly and our granddaughter Somaya had also done all of that plus Venice, Italy.  And Kari and Kimberly even tossed in a one day excursion to Amsterdam.  So bluntly we were getting a little exhausted and so we basically wrapped it up that night. 

The next morning was devoted mainly to preparing for our return home to California U.S.A.  A casual buffet breakfast, some packing and one more quick trip to the shopping mall before we all climbed aboard our van taxi and headed off for London Heathrow Airport where we had just one final challenge before we could fly away.  It seems that somehow we all had assigned seats, all that is except my wife Nenita.  Exactly how and why that happened no one could really say but it was very quickly resolved and now all that was left was to clear security and head off for boarding.  But I was able to do just one more thing on my personal bucket list before departure.  I found a restaurant at the airport that served steak and kidney pie.  That was important to me because on my very first visit to London in 1966 the very first English meal I ate was steak and kidney pie and I loved it.  So today on what will in all likelihood be my final visit to London it seemed fitting that I should end it with some steak and kidney pie.  It was every bit as delicious as my first experience.  Mission accomplished we all entered the Virgin Atlantic Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner, took our seats, sat back and relaxed and a mere 11 hours later touched down on runway 24 right Los Angeles International Airport very tired but filled with great memories that will be with each of us for the rest of our lives. Thanks for coming along with us but for now adieu, abschied and farewell. 
 

 

 


Reims, France – Train Strike, Bus Tour, Beer and more. 

As my wife Nenita was getting ready for the day I took a short walk back to the SNCF office in the Reims train station to get the real facts on what we could expect in view of the strike.  The first thing I learned was that the tickets I had from Reims to Paris and also from Paris to London were now worthless as both trains were no longer operating.  That was the bad news.  The good news was that I was given new tickets and even upgraded for free for the last train out of Reims on our intended departure day.  It would arrive in Paris about one hour before the last train out of Paris for London departed.  It was a tight connect and involved walking from the Paris East train station to the Paris North train station about six blocks away.  Making matters even worse the train from Paris to London was a Eurail train and so SNCF could not issue me any tickets for that ride.  Nevertheless we were assured a ride to Paris where we might have to spend another day or two or find some optional means of getting over to London like swimming maybe or at least taking a boat of some kind.  Well that would have to wait because it was another great day in Reims. 

<<< The Gold Angel

This time we did something I almost never do, we took a ride on a tour bus.  Well actually it started with a ride on a very cute trolley in front of the train station for just a few blocks until we reached the Cathedral of Reims.  There were machines at the trolley station at which you needed to purchase your tickets but neither of us read or spoke French so we were clueless.  Fortunately a young French man could see our confusion and came to our rescue.  Merci!  A few minutes later we arrived at the Cathedral.  It was a centuries old magnificent sight.  As it happened we circumnavigated the Cathedral because on one side was a Tourism office where we needed to purchase our tickets for the one hour twenty minute bus tour through Reims.  However with tickets in hand we were sent to another location on the opposite side of the Cathedral where we boarded the bus. 

It was interesting and entertaining and there was plenty of mention of the severe damage wrought upon Reims during both World War One and World War Two.  We also cruised by a building occupied by General Dwight Eisenhower during the final days of World War Two an event that happened long before most of the people living today even existed.    On a much happier note we also saw several of the many Champagne cellars located throughout Reims including the one we had already visited, G.H. Mumm.  But soon we returned to our departure point and Nenita and I began our own mini-tour on foot.  Once again we circumnavigated the Sube Fountain with its stunning Golden Angel perched above and keeping an eye on the City of Reims. 

Hunger soon brought us to one of the dozens of eateries that fill the City Center of Reims, France.  This time it was Les 3 Brasseurs that offered outstanding food and fantastic micro-brewed beer made on their premises.  I am not a regular beer drinker but I ordered La brune the darkest of their several offerings.  It was so utterly delicious I actually ordered a second glass.  Yes, in Reims, France a place known worldwide for Champagne also has outstanding beer at least at Les 3 Brasseurs.  73 Place Drouet Erlon, Reims, France. 

<<< The Cathedral  

The rest of the day was a very casual walking tour as we awaited the arrival of our daughters Kimberly and Kari and our granddaughter Somaya from their side excursion to Venice, Italy.  They too were subject to the stresses of the train strike as their flight from Venice took them to Paris from which their intent was to take a train to Reims but would that train actually be operating?  Luck was with us and they did arrive right on time.  I met them on the platform and walked them to our hotel, the Novotel Suites for they would be spending the night there and I would take the room on the other side of the train station in the Hotel Bristol.  That decision was pure practical as our room at the Novotel was very spacious and had plenty of bed space for the ladies.  The Hotel Bristol accommodations were far more modest but comfortable enough for one guy so it made perfect sense for this one night. 

The next morning we all gathered in the Novotel Hotel for a buffet breakfast and a little family chat about our options for the day.  The only thing we knew for sure was that we would be departing Reims by train at 6:45 p.m. that night.  What we didn’t know was if we would have enough time to board the 8:30 train to London and would we even be able to get tickets for that train?  The tickets we had had become useless as the train we were to take would go nowhere that day.  Eurail would exchange those tickets for the 8:30 p.m. train but only if there were seats available and that we wouldn’t know until we got to Paris.  So we mentally accepted the very real possibility of at least one more night in Paris.  Then we decided to let the day take of the day and headed off for the carnival across from the train station. 

Immediately there was a haunted house that Kimberly, Kari and I simply could not refuse.  One by one a small car we sat in entered the house for a series of some very scary stuff but all in good fun.  That done we moved on and soon Somaya found a place where she could gather up little plastic ducks in a bucket and then exchange the bucket full of ducks for a stuffed animal.  She was a very happy girl and we moved on.  The weather was unusually pleasant that day, mostly sunny and right around 65 degrees making the overall experience just that much more pleasant.  It was a warm and wonderful family bonding experience and everyone was happy.  Kimmy took a wild ride and we all cheered her on.  Then we came upon a device that tested our strength in both our arms and legs.  None of us had impressive arm strength but Kari who had been a dancer for many years could still kick impressively.  We all pledged a wee more gym time when we got home. 

But by now we were all getting hungry again so we wandered off towards a sushi restaurant which wasn’t yet open when we got to it.  But nearby was a very charming little bakery with a warm friendly lady, great baked goods and an amazingly beautiful ambiance.  Satisfied our totally unguided walking tour continued on.  Once again we passed Sube Fountain and then a short while later we entered a wine store I had seen a few times and remembered for its beautiful and wild window display of anything and everything wine.  The name of the store proclaimed boldly on its window is “La Vinocave” and inside we were greeted by two men who were the epitome of pleasant.  Instantly my wife Nenita, who never drinks wine, engaged them in a conversation about Champagne and she actually bought a bottle of Hubert Paulet Champagne Cuvee Tradition Premier Cru Extra Brut N.V. for 21 Euros or about $26.00 which as it turned out was less than half of the retail price in America and it ranks in the top 2% of wines worldwide.  I was concurrently stunned and thrilled.  My totally wine innocent lady just scored a terrific deal in something she knew nothing about and yet it made her happy. So I asked her – Why? Her response was perfect.  “It was fun!”   Like I said it was the perfect family day. 

We slowly worked our way back to the Novotel Suites Hotel there to gather up our bags and prepare to bid farewell to magnificent Reims, France.  Soon we each grabbed a bag and began our trek to the nearby train station there to board the last train of the day to depart Reims for Paris.  But the burning question remained, would we be departing Paris tonight?

SNCF Train

Our SNCF train pulled into the Paris East train station right on time and as fast as the abundant pedestrian traffic would allow we worked our way out of the Paris East station and in the direction of the Paris North station.  I soon spotted the office for Eurail one level above the main entrance.  As I made my way to the office the ladies headed for the line to board the 8:30 p.m. train to London.  Standing in line in the Eurail office seemed like an eternity but sooner than it felt like I was invited forward to speak with a Eurail clerk.  I presented my paper work and she slowly shook her head.  It wasn’t looking good but she kept on clicking away on her computer.  Finally with a look of exhausted joy she handed me five premium class tickets for a very recently created 9:00 p.m. train from Paris to London.  We didn’t make the supposedly last train of the day at 8:30 p.m. as it was overbooked and closed out but we did get great tickets and only 30 minutes later than the train we were supposed to be on.  

It was a typical Eurail ride in total comfort and complete with a nice meal and excellent wine.  Upon our arrival at the Pancras International Train Station in London we could have taken the underground train to Brent Cross but while the underground train system in London is easy to use and very efficient the time was getting late and we had a lot of luggage so we took a van taxi instead arriving at our home for the night the Brent Cross Holiday Inn right around 11 p.m. There I had one more adventure to deal with before turning in. 

With all of the many details we needed to work through to make this trip not only possible but fun I actually made one little error.  We needed two nights at the Brent Cross Holiday Inn and I knew that yet somehow I had booked only one night.  The clerk was neither dismissive nor particularly helpful so I decided that whatever needed to be done could be best done the next morning.  Clearly the elephant in this travel day had been the severe uncertainty of even getting to London and we had gotten that done, so less important matters could and would wait.  Good night. 

 

 


A GREAT TRAVEL ADVENTURE

Join Ron and his then 11 year old daughter Kari 

on a 10 day journey across America's great

Southwest in their Cessna airplane.  Visit the Navajo

Nation, Grand Canyon, Durango and so much 

more.  Just click on the book cover.  Get it!

Read it!  LOVE IT!  


Champagne Oui! Oui!

That delightful bubbly beverage known as Champagne has be tickling taste buds and pleasing palates since the 17th century when Benedictine monk Dom Perignon created it somewhat accidentally.  To preserve its authenticity laws and traditions have evolved that impose upon all who wish to create “Champagne” that what they create is truly Champagne and not merely wine with bubbles.  So universally enjoyed is Champagne that today more than 300 million bottles are sold annually around the globe.  But while Champagne is enjoyed around the world it can only be made in one place and that one place is the Champagne region of France.  The collective epicenter of the Champagne region is Reims, France and so with purpose our next stop on our European adventure would be Reims, France a mere 90 miles north of Paris and a very comfortable 45 minute train ride away. 

Our two daughters, Kimberly and Kari along with our granddaughter Somaya left us in Paris and rather than Reims took off for Venice, Italy.  So from our arrival it was pure serendipity that guided us.  The girl’s decision to go to Venice was made after I booked a hotel for them that was non-cancelable and non-refundable so I had a spare hotel room whether I wanted it or not.  So after my wife Nenita and I checked into our hotel, the Novotel Suites Hotel we headed out to the Reims town center area on the opposite side of the train station.  There we found Hotel Bristol a very modest establishment above one of the many restaurants that lined the streets of Reims Center.  It was our room so I formally checked in, took the key and continued on our adventure. 

The weather was still cool and moist yet the streets were overflowing with tables and chairs filled with happy people dining and chatting and yes consuming Champagne along with a wide variety of other beverages.  It was a scene of joy and warmth the cancelled the somewhat less than perfect weather.  But we would see and learn more the next day.  We strolled back to our Novotel Suites Hotel and soon took full advantage of their extremely comfortable bed. 

There are easily 20 top wineries in Reims, France including such top brands as Veuve Cliquot, Taittinger, Krug and Mumm each offering visitor’s an in depth look into the amazingly complex process of making Champagne topped off with at least one sample.  There are also tours of nearby vineyards but for our needs we chose the nearby Maison Mumm, a full wine cellar a fairly short and pleasant walk from our hotel so we could and did easily arrive in time for their 11:00 a.m. tour. 

After a fairly routine buffet breakfast at the hotel we headed out first passing through the train station and then walking along the Basses Promonades in a northerly direction passing a not yet open carnival which we would visit once our granddaughter and our two daughters retuned from their little side trip to Venice, Italy. Today, however, was a Champagne day. 

In less than ten minutes we found and entered the Mumm winery and signed up for 11:00 a.m. tour.  They offered a selection of options but in all the tour was the same.  The difference came at the end of the tour when you were offered a glass of Mumm Champagne the quality level of which was determined by the price you paid.  My wife does not drink Champagne nor any other alcoholic beverage and I am cheap so she got the no drink ticket and I bought the Cordon Rouge experience.  The tour was in every other way identical.

Our tour guide was a pleasant tall lady who spoke French accented English and cheerfully led us through the facility explaining the history and complexities of Champagne in general and G. H. Mumm in particular.  As we descended deep down into the cellars the legend unfolded as we literally saw Champagne in various stages of preparation including one fascinating room that held many pieces of historic equipment used in the manufacture of Champagne.  Another room held a collection of historic bottles of Mumm Champagne going back 200 years or so.  I wondered what they might taste like but not I nor likely anyone else will ever know.  As my lovely wife Nenita will attest even if you are not a consumer of Champagne the story was fascinating and well worth the time and modest expense, plus the ending was extremely pleasant as I received and thoroughly enjoyed my glass of Cordon Rouge Champagne.

After the Champagne tour we were hungry so we walked back to the city center near the Sube Fountain and its magnificent golden angel keeping watch overf the little city.  The only hard part about finding food in Reims or pretty much anywhere in France is in deciding which of the many excellent eateries to choose.  But we found one and enjoyed our meal before continuing our walking tour.

We happened upon a very nice super market, Monoprix, located in La Cave d’Erlon.  One thing that became very apparent in French grocery stores in general but in Reins in particular was the abundance of wine throughout the store.  I mean there was the meat section with wine at both ends, the wonderful pastry section surrounded by wines. The fresh vegetable section laced with wine and, of course, there was also a full wine, beer and liquor section as well.  So yeah I bought a bottle along with some snack food including the obligatory baguette and we slowly strolled through the bustling city center on our way back to our hotel.  Nenita was done for the day but I felt a need to revisit the city at night and so I did. 

The energy was compelling with hundreds of people sitting outside enjoying a wide variety of food and beverage and pleasant conversation in many languages.  It was the very same place I had visited earlier that day but the cacophony of lights and sound presented a much more compelling atmosphere.  But two things were emerging that moved me back to my hotel and my wife.  One was the never ending joy of being with her, but the other was less pleasant.  Even presented in the French language the local news made it abundantly clear that there was a strike in progress that severely effected train travel in and around Europe.  There was a real threat that we may not be leaving Reims anytime soon and even if we did get to Paris the chance of continuing on to London for our return flight was at extreme risk.  So I needed to delve further into that situation first thing the next day.  The best way to prepare for that was a good night’s sleep and so with just a little help from the wine we had purchased at Monoprix that is exactly what came next.


Paris – Partie Un (Day 4)

It took just a wee more than four hours to travel by train from Cologne, Germany to Paris, France. It was smooth and easy and included not just one, but two very pleasant meals along the way. Each meal also came with a choice of wine, very good wine. Now that is traveling in style, French style.

Upon our arrival our family split up with daughters Kimberly and Kari and granddaughter Somaya heading off to an airbnb very near the Eiffel Tower while my wife Nenita and I headed more to the south and the Kyriad Hotel in the trendy Bercy Village. But the plan was set and the next morning not only would our family reunite but we would also be joined by Nenita’s niece Liza Padua and Liza’s daughter Nika Padua visiting from Singapore. Now this was a true extended family and wildly international holiday.   So that was the plan. I, the only man in the group, would soon tour many of the highlights of Paris, the City of Love, with five beautiful women and one super sweet granddaughter. Oh the things I will endure just to bring you a great travel adventure.

<<< Eiffel Tower

Our meeting was set for the late morning at the Eiffel Tower located on the Champs de Mars where it has been reaching 984 feet into the Parisian sky since 1889. It is a magnificent tower indelibly linked to the grand city of Paris. To visit inside the tower requires payment and a long wait in line and it is NOT covered by the Paris Pass. But thanks to modern digital technology we organized our meeting at a location across from the Eiffel tower and just above the River Seine. First, we were joined by daughters Kari and Kimberly and granddaughter Somaya. Not long after a joyous shriek from my lovely lady Nenita signaled the arrival of Liza and Nika Padua

Our now very happy group strolled across the River Seine on the Pont d’ Lena. We then chose one of several high end restaurants to take lunch. The service was excellent as was the food and the price reflected all of that. Well fed, we began our journey on Avenue d’ Lena to the Arc de Triomphe, yet another classic Paris landmark built between 1806 and 1836 and located on the western end of the Champs-Elysees.

<<< Abercrombie & Fitch, Paris 

Next came the spell binding 2,7 mile hike down the Champs-Elysees from the Arc de Triumphe to the Lourve. Much of the journey was marked by a plethora of the highest of high end high fashion stores. One such store was Louis Vuitton where Liza had on back order a purse that cost 30 TIMES what I paid for my first automobile, Given that, I suggested to the manager that at least we should have some champagne while we waited. I was joking, but two minutes later he arrived with a tray filled with glasses of Moet. Viva la France!

A little further down the road we came upon a facility highlighting Renault automobiles in general, and their racing cars in particular. Then there was something truly bizarre. There was a very beautiful and ornate entrance to an establishment well known in America but never to my experience in the manner expressed in Paris. The store was and is Abercrombie and Fitch but look at the doorway accompanying this article. I remember seeing nothing like that in America, how about you? Paris has that effect on people and businesses as well.

As our walk continued on the Champs=Elysees the store fronts were replaced by a beautiful park and several classic buildings many of them museums of one kind or another and then we arrived at a spectacular giant Ferris wheel that marked the transition from Champs=Elysees to the entry way to the Lourve, Statues, awe inspiring statues, were everywhere woven into the fabric of abundant natural beauty

<<< Arc de Triomphe

Our immersion into the Lourve left us hungry, so once again we crossed the river Seine. By this time we had walked at least 5 miles yet no one, not even our beloved but not particularly athletic granddaughter Somaya complained,   Could it be perhaps that being saturated with great beauty eliminates pain? Yes I believe that’s it.

As we walked by dozens of attractive but rather high priced restaurants it occurred to me that location controlled the food prices much more than the food quality, I suggested that if we turned inland we might find a restaurant with equal food at lesser cost so we turned left and three streets down we came upon a very charming cafe, bar and brasserie located at 17 rue du Bac, Paris 75007. The service was top notch, the duck was the best I’ve ever had and the rest of food satisfied every lady present and the price was very reasonable. So lesson learned, not only in Paris but in every major city worldwide, just step off of the main tourist track just a little and you will spend less and possibly enjoy even more, Not only that but if part of your reason to travel is to meet other people of a culture different from your own this is a great way to accomplish that mission. We were clearly the only non-French present at Cafe de L’Empire making it just that much more interesting

It had been a truly beautiful day in every imaginable way but now the time had come to say “au revoir”. We each went our separate ways but not before agreeing on a time and place to reconnect the next day for a family visit to the Palace of Versailles and more. But for now – Bon Jour!

<<< Nika Padua at Giant Ferris Wheel
 


Plan on visiting Cologne, Germany any time soon?  Check out this fantastic hotel.  Just click on picture above to see more.  


 

Brussels – Cologne - Paris

Far too early the next morning I awoke at about 4:00 a.m. in Brussels and there was no way I was getting back to sleep. Damn jet lag. Plus, I was hungry so I merely got dressed and as quietly as possible snuck out of our apartment at about 4:30 a.m.

Grand Place Brussels >>>

I was very surprised to see that the street in front of our apartment, the Rue des Palais, was bristling with activity at such an early hour. Apparently Brussels is a bit of a party town but I was in search of food and a few blocks down the road I found a kabob house perfect for my needs, Well fed it was time to return to the family.

Kimberly and Kari would leave us that day for a quick side trip to Amsterdam. Nenita and Somaya and I would more fully explore the great city of Brussels. We strolled through the nearby streets mostly parallel to Rue des Palais and we eventually came upon The Grand Place. Wow! What a vision and essentially the epicenter of commercial Brussels. The predominant architecture is 18th century, maybe even older and totally beautiful. Then there are endless shops including an abundance of chocolate stores offering some of this world’s finest and and a plethora of fine waffle shops as well. Of course there are souvenir shops, watch shops, clothing stores and so much more — all very appealing. There are even horse and buggy rides available.

But turn around and walk the opposite direction and you will pass the Brussels Opera House and eventually arrive at a very modern department store. Brussels has just about everything and all with style and class. But the time was rapidly approaching when we would have to depart marvelous Brussels. Sad to be leaving but thrilled to have had the experience it was indeed time to move on. After more than seven decades of ignoring my German heritage it was time to visit the origin of half of my human existence — Germany, so soon we would set off for Cologne, Germany.

Nenita going French >>>

Due primarily to our horrible train boarding experience in London we arrived at the Brussels train station three hours ahead of the scheduled departure time only to whisk through the rather cursory security screening process and then to move onto the platform there to sit in cold and wet discomfort for nearly three hours, Another passenger said that we also needed to purchase assigned seating before departure or we ran the risk of being made even more miserable, by being forced to stand during our trip to Cologne.

Happily I was able to secure assigned seating only moments before boarding. There are actually several different train operators in Europe and to our experience this one, ICE, was the only one that did not provide assigned seating with the initial ticket purchase. It is also the only train ever to provide this genuinely disgusting experience. After visiting the toilet and completing my urination I reached into the space where the toilet paper was to get some paper to blow my nose, What I got were two clumps of used toilet paper. Yes, truly disgusting. Do I really need to say it? Okay I shall. ICE does NOT receive a rave review from me.

However they did get us from Brussels to Cologne, Germany on time. We rolled into the main Cologne train station at exactly 8:15 p.m., and just ten minutes later we arrived at the amazing art’otel one of the most uniquely beautiful hotels on earth and superbly located directly on the banks of the Rhine river.

The art’otel is dominated by the magnificent work of artist SEO. Seo Soo-Kyoung born 1977 and known by the artist name SEO (??), is a South Korean female contemporary artist who lives and works in Berlin, Germany. Her artist name comes from her family name Seo written in capital letters. Every wall displays her work, even the shower walls in each room. Step into the art’otel and you literally are stepping into an unending display of truly great art hence the name: art’otel.

But the art is not limited to the hotel walls, in its own way it also extends to the dining experience.?From the art’otel’s unique menu we selected Erde und Ozean a/k/a Earth and Ocean giant prawns edamame Nage as well as an order of Spanferkel or suckling pig if you will, roasted pig belly and potato dumpling. The food was spectacular and the experience made even better by one man, Samet our server.

After a good night’s sleep in our richly comfortable beds we arose the next morning and began our day with a wonderful buffet breakfast that had pretty much anything you could imagine with every morsel delicious. After main menu items such as eggs and sausage [come on now we were in Germany so we just had to have sausage] along with fresh fruit and other culinary delights I capped it off with just one croissant and a double espresso. Now we were ready to get out and discover beautiful Cologne, Germany.

No set tours for this group we simply began walking along the banks of the Rhine River in the general direction of the main cathedral of Cologne. To our right was the Rhine with its steady stream of barges and tour boats. Across the river was a carnival with a massive Ferris wheel and other rides and attractions. To our left was a steady stream of charming hotels and eateries of various kinds, styles and sizes. But it was chilly and wet so eventually my beautiful bride Nenita and our most granddaughter Somaya elected to return to the art’otel as I forged ahead.

art'otel Cologne, Germany >>>

Soon I arrived at the eye popping edifice known as the Cathedral. Frankly the weather discouraged me from completely encircling the Cathedral but what I did see was totally captivating and the next day I would see even more. But for now it was time to begin my walk back to the art’otel.

The route back was a block or two inland from the shoreline and it too offered a steady stream of charming buildings most offering abundant options for food and drink. But I didn’t stop this day in part due to the weather but also because sadly we had to depart the art’otel after but one night.

Check out done we went next across the Rhine to the Leonardo Hotel about three miles from the Rhine on Waldecker Street in the Buchforst area of Cologne. The Leonardo Hotel is a rather stereotypical hotel with a pleasant lobby and comfortable rooms. They even had a heated indoor swimming pool and a gym, It was also just a wee off of the main tourist area, but that problem was easily and very inexpensively resolved with a nearby trolley that could and did quickly return us to the heart of Cologne.

The cost of the Leonardo was very reasonable, the staff was uniformly pleasant and the location if not exactly ideal was nonetheless acceptable so yes I would recommend the Leonardo Hotel should your travels ever take you to Cologne. It just isn’t the art’otel.

Then before you could say auf wiedersehen it was time to leave Cologne, Germany for Paris, France. This time we travelled Premier Class, something I highly recommend, Not only were the seats much more comfortable with abundant table space which allowed me to do things like write this article for example, we were also offered two meals and really good wine FREE, The ticket price difference is actually not huge but the comfort was vastly better so I highly recommend Premier Class train travel in Europe.

Our next train trip will be coming soon when we depart Paris and head for Reims and that trip will be First Class so I will then evaluate the value of that upgrade, But first I must immerse myself in everything Paris and I will be doing most of it accompanied by not the usual four but six beautiful ladies, Yeah I know it is a tough job but hey someone has to do it so I will find a way to struggle on. Just exactly how will this one old guy manage to contend with his stay in Paris, France, the city of lights and love and romance surrounded by five gorgeous women and one beautiful younger girl? Just make sure to come back for the next installment. I promise it will be pure joy.

 

 

 


Moving On – London to Brussels. 

 The second day of our whirlwind family holiday in and around Europe began where it had left off — in London, The first order of business, after the usual hygiene matters, was breakfast, Accomplishing that was extremely easy requiring only a short stroll down Craven Road, the street that connected Mina House Hotel, our modest but comfortable hotel, to the nearby Paddington Station. Along the way we happened upon a small and cozy eatery occupied by six London police officers. What better endorsement could there be than its obvious appeal to six of London’s finest who were abundantly familiar with the local dining options. So in we went and we were not disappointed, Our faire was classic British, heavy and delightful. We enjoyed two eggs cooked to order and accompanied by baked beans, real bacon and toast all washed down with some combination of water, coffee and juice. All delicious and all very reasonably priced. Satiated and in every way satisfied it was time to explore at least some of London.

<<< Craven Road, Paddington, London

Our children were still asleep so my wife and I decided to take a leisurely stroll to and around the nearby Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. A giant expanse of green beauty on very gently rolling hills with Kensington Palace at one end and Buckingham Palace just off of the opposite end. The trails were alive with strollers and joggers and people on bicycles. There was even a few horseback riders to complete the scene. It was a calm and beautiful stroll but alas a text message kept us from reaching our intended destination of Kensington Palace.

As we walked along my wife Nenita and I discussed our first visit to Kensington Palace many years back. We saw two young boys playing and learned that their names were William and Harry, better known to the world as Prince William and Prince Harry. Today the boys are men, one of whom is preparing to marry. Ah but that text message forced us to turn back because our children, while not actual royalty, felt a need to be taken to lunch.

When we were walking we noticed a very intriguing restaurant with appeal so we gathered up the kids and went first to that restaurant. It was 11:30 a.m. but we were told that the chef had stepped out for a while and no we were not allowed to take a seat and await his return while perhaps sipping some tea; we would have to come back later. So never mind that place, Kari had already located a nearby Indian restaurant so we walked on to that restaurant and were again informed that the establishment was not yet open and would not be open for at least another 20 minutes.

As we were contemplating our dilemma a pleasant young man stepped out of a small establishment with the nondescript name of Salt and Honey and announced that his establishment was indeed open and he invited us in. We cheerfully accepted ultimately to our great delight. Between us we had duck, chicken pate, roast beef and salmon, each dish uniquely delicious. I mean the roast beef for example didn’t taste so much like roast beef as much as culinary heaven, gentle to the touch and utterly pleasing to the tongue.

Similar expressions of total delight were expressed all around as we each shared our pleasures with each other. Should you ever find yourself in London I recommend without reservation the Salt and Honey restaurant 28 Sussex Place, London W2, 2TH, UK.

<<< Salt & Honey Restaurant. London

Now it was time to go shopping in the joyfully eclectic Piccadilly Circus built in 1819 and still delighting all who visit today. There were also many more places we simply had to visit, places such as Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and more but those would have to wait until the final two days of this journey when we would once again return to London before returning home to Los Angeles, California USA. This day we had another pressing matter to deal with and that was getting from London, England to Brussels, Belgium via train under the English Channel.

I left train tickets for the ladies along with their bags at The Mina House hotel and then headed off to Paddington Station and took the tube [subway] from Paddington Station to St Pancras International train station there to connect with our train for Brussels. I had no idea of exactly what to expect but I soon learned that giving myself three hours was just barely enough time.

First the initial queue just to get into and ultimately through the security check point was extremely long and took over an hour and a half to negotiate. After that hassle came the passport check which took at least another 45 minutes and by then I was becoming alarmed that my family might not make it in time. Despite giving myself three hours I boarded the train only a few minutes before it left and I was shocked and thrilled to see the ladies safely in their seats. Some very kind person at the train station had assisted them in cutting in front of the queue allowing them to actually beat me to their seats. That was truly great news and we were in our way. But it also left an impression that had some negative consequences on our next train ride.

It was about 9:30 p.m. by the time our train pulled into the Brussels Midi train station. We quickly found a taxi and gave our driver the address of the apartment where we would spend the night. As it turned out the road was blocked a ways from our destination so he simply let us out and wished us well. But both Kari and Kimberly are extremely net savvy and quickly found directions to our intended location of Rue Du Finistere 1, Brussels City Centre, Brussels, Belgium.

When we got to that address what we found was a tavern, a very pleasant and warm tavern to be sure, but a tavern and not a place to sleep. We were smitten with confusion but I figured there would be no harm in asking to I went in and asked the man at the bar if he knew anything about accommodations and he instantly and cheerfully replied in the affirmative. It seems the tavern runs a few apartment style rentals nearby and he immediately knew which one was for us.

<<< Eurail

We headed out the door and across the street where he brought us into a non-descript building and took us to the second floor where he opened the door to our apartment. It was fantastic, super huge with plenty of comfortable sleeping facilities for all five of us in two separate rooms. It had nice amenities such as a coffeemaker, a stove — even a washing machine. There was also a small balcony overlooking the street below, Rue des Palais, It was great and at a price that was almost unbelievably modest for the comfort and convenience provided.

Should you ever find yourself heading off to Brussels I enthusiastically recommend Chambre Studio Apartments, which we booked via agoda.com.

It was getting a wee late and tomorrow would be a very busy day as our two daughters would be heading off on a side trip to Amsterdam as Nenita, my granddaughter Somaya and I would be heading off to Koln, Germany but not until we had explored the best of Brussels. So for now though, good night.

 


European Adventure – Day One

I woke up at the usual time this one fine day when my family and I would head off on what promised to be a spectacular 12 day wing through Europe. We would start this grand family holiday by first meeting at the Los Angeles International Airport. My wife Nenita, my daughter Kari and my 10 year old granddaughter Somaya and I would be driven from our Burbank, California home to Los Angeles International Airport there to connect with my daughter Kimberly who would fly in early that morning from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Kimberly is Somaya’s mom but had been working in Albuquerque.

We had been planning this trip for a long time and everyone was excited. What a great group we were, ranging in age from 10 to 72 and a total of five, four female and one old geezer me, and we had grand plans indeed. First, we would spend one night in London just to catch up and have a wee bit of fun before heading off to Brussels and then Cologne and then Paris and Reims and then back to London before flying home. Twelve truly action packed days and as I began putting the final pieces together on this day one I reflected back and asked myself “How did all of this get started in the first place?”

Oh yeah! I recalled it was all my beautiful brides fault because about three months earlier when she learned that one of her family members from the Philippines currently living and working in Singapore was planning a trip to Paris Nenita announced that she wanted to go meet with her cousin. It took maybe a day for the rest of us to suggest all the places in Europe we wanted to visit and soon began the basic plan of this adventure but no longer just for Nenita but for everyone.  And now here we were, packed and ready to get on the road again.

Getting from Burbank to LAX was made extremely simple thanks to Go Sedan limousine service and driver Robert Narzaryan. He wasn’t just on time but early and he instantly became helpful by assisting in getting all of our luggage – three woman equals plenty of luggage, I had Just one carry on – out of the house and into the car.  He also proved to be an extremely capable driver getting us quickly and safely from our home to Terminal 2 at Los Angeles International Airport there to be met by Kimberly and the check in process soon began.

We were there at least three hours prior to the scheduled departure time which for international flights these days proved to be a smart and in my opinion necessary move. No waiting at the ticket counter and the VIrgin Atlantic representative was extremely helpful getting us preferred seating assignments albeit in coach but still excellent seating and helping us to smooth our next step, a swim in the TSA shark tank. That done we now had about two hours before actual flight departure time or a little over one hour before boarding which is not an excessive amount of time,

We all grabbed lunch in some form and enjoyed visiting the Duty Free shops. But here is a hint. You may not have to pay any “duty” on merchandise purchased at a Duty Free shop but plan on paying full retail price. Simply while it may be “duty free” it fails as a true bargain, but hey looking can be fun. And then it was time to board our flight, VIrgin Atlantic flight 08 LAX to London Heathrow on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner a very impressive airplane.

The Prince of Paddington  >>>

The boarding process was somewhat lengthy but very well organized, making getting more than 200 passengers on board a fairly smooth process. First to board were those booked in “Upper” Class Virgin’s way of saying First Class. Next they boarded the “Premium” Class known in the rest of aviation as Business Class and finally came us folks in coach. There is a clear and obvious distinction in the three different cabins with the “Upper” Class clearly with the more plush and comfortable seating and from previous flights I can safely say with far better food and beverage. But on Virgin Atlantic even their coach service is generally comfortable, the food is good but somewhat sparse and the service was at worst, good. The only thing that was abundantly obvious was that neither the coach seats nor even the Premium class seats were all that good for sleeping in-flight. They reclined very little for doing so, would impose on those behind you. On a ten hour flight that condition does become annoying. But one must weigh that less than perfect condition against paying many times more for the Upper Class lux. Were it only me flying maybe I would, but with five it was not an option so off we went in coach.

Settled in, and soon the aircraft pushed back from the gate and ambled out for takeoff. I was particularly concerned about my 10 year old Somaya because she was stressing about the experience. Her eyes wide open she sat firmly in her seat but not long after lift off I saw a little twinkle emerge from her tense face and soon she was at peace with the process.

Virgin Atlantic does offer fairly extensive inflight entertainment options. Not everything appealed to me but so what, that is why they offer many options. I did get to watch a powerful movie, “Dunkirk” not exactly light fair but I thought particularly important given our destination. All in all there was enough to make sitting still, more or less, for ten hours tolerable. But then the descent into London’s Heathrow began and our first ever transatlantic flight together came to a pleasant conclusion,

Then came the arrival process. Maybe it was less but our walk from the gate to the immigration portal seemed like about two miles winding eternally through London’s Heathrow Airport and then it came to a near standstill as the line of 200 to 300 arriving passengers weaved slowly before eventually spinning out to an immigration officer’s desk. Passport viewed and stamped it was then off to the baggage claim area. Keep in mind this was all happening about 10:30 a.m. London time or 2:30 a.m. back home and after a very long flight, so it was a beautiful thing when we found our luggage waiting for us and the customs process essentially non-existent.

Villa Rosa  >>>

Next came a very quick and comfortable 16 minute train ride from Heathrow Airport to Paddington Station in Westminster London followed by a pleasant three block walk to our hotel the Mina House Hotel, 21-23 Craven Road, Paddington, London, Great Britain. The Mina House Hotel is in a very pleasant area surrounded four and five star hotels but its rooms are very small and basic. However, the beds were clean and comfortable, the bathrooms were efficient and really what else do you need? Plus the cost of a night at the Mina House Hotel was pleasantly modest right around half of what a room at three star hotel in the same area would cost. So it was a great place for our first night and one heck of a good deal. But we weren’t ready for sleep, we were excited and hungry.  So our two daughters and our granddaughter took off to explore London and grab a bite to eat and my wife and I headed out to immerse ourselves in the British experience at a nearby pub, the Pride of Paddington where we enjoyed classic food and beverage. Nenita had fish and chips that were absolutely amazing and I enjoy bangers and mashed with a pint of genuine British ale. Cheerio!

Filled and chilled we casually strolled around the Paddington area for awhile looking for but not finding a cute bear. Well actually we did find several stuffed ones but that was about it. Meanwhile, KImberly, Kari and Somaya explored a farmers market not too far away before working their way back to the Mina House Hotel. We enjoyed two separate but adjoining rooms but we weren’t yet ready to turn in and enough time had passed that we wanted just a wee bit more to eat before getting some very much needed sleep. Not far away I found the Villa Rosa Ristorante Italiano where I bought a cheese and ham pizza that was truly authentic Italian, modestly priced and utterly delicious.

It had been an extremely long day, actually covering much of two adventurous and fun days and as many continents. Our next day would allow even more fun in London before heading off by train to Brussels Belgium and beyond, But for now – out.

 


The Big Trip – getting ready to launch

Early in the New Year my oldest daughter, not all that old, suggested that we as a family visit Europe.  That sparked instant interest all around.  You see for many years I especially and not infrequently our family together would go places, often exotic places such as Morocco and Peru and even simply gorgeous Tahiti to name but a few.  But over time things change of course and a little over five years ago now I literally dropped dead briefly.   I obviously survived but I was left physically and fiscally devastated.  Fortunately time heals and the conversation rapidly advanced into a real plan.

Our family group is five in number ranging in age from 10 to 72, all but the oldest female.  It didn’t take long to stitch together our basic plan.  We would depart Los Angeles on March 28th and take a Virgin Atlantic flight from LAX to LHR a/k/a London’s Heathrow Airport.  We would arrive on March 29th  and spend one night in London for a wee bit of sightseeing but mainly to recover from the jetlag we knew would be with us.  The next day March 30th we would take a train from London to Brussels, Belgium.  We knew that Belgium was a culturally diverse nation and home to the European Union not to mention amazing waffles.  So we wanted a taste of Belgium but it would be for only one day on this visit. 

The next day March 31st our two daughters Kimberly and Kari would leave for Amsterdam while my wife Nenita, my granddaughter Somaya and I would all move on to Cologne, Germany.  I suggested Cologne, Germany primarily because we all have some German blood in us and none of us had before visited anywhere within The Republic of Germany.  Plus Cologne is fairly close to Brussels.  Our two daughters are at an age where they very much wanted to visit the renowned party city of Amsterdam.  But they will rejoin us in Cologne on April 1st.  Will they actually show up, or will the party hardy atmosphere of Amsterdam get in the way of a smooth plan?  We shall see.

I remain reasonably confident all five of us will depart Cologne by train heading to Paris, France on April 2nd.  We shall explore Paris together visiting all of the usual, the Eiffel Tower, the Lourve, the Catacombs, the Arc de Triomphe and even a brief visit to the Moulin Rouge.  Of course food is high on of our list of experiences to indulge while in Paris.  But on April 5th we are off again and once again splitting with our two daughters and our granddaughter who will be flying off to Venice, Italy for one day as Nenita and I head out to Reims France in the heart of Champagne country. 

I am not quite sure what the daughters have in mind for their short Italian side trip beyond perhaps being stalked by some guy named Mario riding a Vespa.  Ok that is an attempt at humor because surely Venice is one of the most beautiful cities on earth.  I know exactly what attracts me to Reims and it is two things.  One is the extreme natural beauty of the area and the other is absolutely their beverage of the Gods Champagne. 

On April 7th Kari, Kimberly and Somaya will rejoin us in Reims and the next day April 8th we shall all depart Reims by train and eventually get to London there to spend two days in full tourist mode before returning to yet another tourist rich environment Los Angeles, California on April 10th.  Our wallets will be drained, we will be thoroughly exhausted and we will all be filled with great joy and rich lifetime memories.

Making this all happen Is however a huge task especially when traveling as a family.  I mean business trips and relatively short one destination vacations are pretty simple.  You know where you are going and why so you make flight and hotel reservations, you pack your bag(s), get up and go and then return.  But with four females ranging in age from 10 to 60 and a geezer dude age 72 heading off on a multiple destination journey with a couple splits and returns along the way and spanning many diverse cultures and languages the task becomes huge.  Plenty of pre-departure planning is absolutely required.  The first big obstacle was getting a passport for Somaya.  Sadly she was abandoned by her natural father at birth and her mom never saw a need to officially through the court system secure full legal custody.  So when we applied for her passport it opened a can of worms.  Happily we found a solution and her passport was issued.  But the lesson here is that if you are planning a trip with a minor child and both parents are not available start planning months ahead of your trip to get a passport or you might find that you just can’t take the child.  This is legal stuff we all prefer to ignore but when it comes to something like getting a legal document that allows you to remove a child from our country it is clearly a matter you cannot ignore. 

With the passport matter out of the way the flights from Los Angeles to London and our return were quickly secured.  But then came the huge task of hotels, Air B & B’s and ground transportation and more that took many days to secure.  Fortunately in this day and age of the internet it is doable but still requires effort.  Factors to consider are location, location and location because when you have a relatively short amount of time to see as many attractions as possible location is of huge importance.  Yet another critical factor for most of us is money.  Sure a grand hotel across the street from Buckingham Palace may well be an optimal location, but is $1200 a night really within your budget?  For most of us the answer is no, so what to do? 

Get a map of each destination – all easily available via the internet these days – and find the main places you want to visit.  Then especially in Europe find a nice, affordable hotel that may be a few miles away but right next to a subway station.  That way you can pay $100 a night for the hotel and only a few dollars a day in train fares.  It takes planning but it makes your trip more enjoyable and affordable.

One extremely useful and free tool to aid in planning a trip like this is google.  How do you get from London to Brussels for example?  Simply enter “London to Brussels via train” in your search bar and hit enter.  There will instantly appear virtually every imaginable option.  Not sure of what to see while in Venice?  Just type in “Best things to see in Venice” hit enter and viola’ you will have an abundance of good ideas to consider. 

Also do note however that to get the very best prices for both transportation and for accommodations you will need to prepay and unless you are willing to pay a little more than the absolute lowest price your prepayment will be non-refundable and that is no joke.  So in one situation in our family vacation I misunderstood the plans of my two daughters with their side trip to Venice resulting in me having a bought and paid for a hotel room in Reims that will not be occupied the first two days we are in town.  Know anybody going to Reims?  Give me a call.  These things happen and that is why the more time and effort you put into your trip planning the greater chance you have of experiencing abundant joy and beauty and creating magnificent life time memories but without having to sell the farm. 

Absolutely a family vacation is one of the most demanding in terms getting fully and properly prepared and paying close attention to every detail well in advance of departure.  But the pay back is in experiencing great things, learning much more of our beautiful world and sharing all of the beauty and love with those people you love the most – your family.  So yes it is very much worth it.  Bon Voyage! 

 

 


On The Road Again

My love of travel has been with me my entire life.  As a youngster I traveled by car and train with one or both parents to America’s west, Canada and New York City.  In my teens I discovered America’s south, Pittsburgh, Maine and more.  But I wanted more, much more so at 17 when I learned that U.S. Marines served in Asia I jumped at the opportunity and got to visit, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Philippines and Singapore.  Later I discovered travel writing and added Tahiti, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, South Korea, China, Morocco, Spain, France, England, Ireland, Monaco, Italy, Mexico, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Peru and more to my list of great joy.   It is my firm belief based on abundant experience that world travel is one of the best things anyone can do.  It is far more instructive than any college degree and exposure to a wide spectrum of differing cultures, languages, typographies and food brings far more genuine joy and understanding of our world than any other human activity.  But on December 18th 2012 my ability to travel abruptly crashed down around me. 

On that date I literally dropped dead.  Local EMT’s got me restarted and transported to a nearby hospital where I spent 26 days most in a coma.  The problem was Congestive Heart Failure along with a little Type 2 Diabetes thrown in just for fun.  Then shortly after my release I was diagnosed with advanced stage prostate cancer.  That required 42 radiation treatments and when it was all over I was physically and fiscally exhausted.  All of that is now ancient history and it is finally time to get back on the road again and this time I am inviting you to join me by following this adventure right here in this publication.

I, along with my beautiful bride of 34 years, my two daughters Kimberly and Kari and my most granddaughter Somaya will depart Los Angeles International Airport on March 28th and arrive on March 29th in London England there to stay but one night before taking a train under the English Channel to Brussels, Belgium headquarters for NATO and the European Union not to mention world renown waffles.  Next will be our first ever visit to Cologne, Germany a 2000 year old city along the banks of the Rhine River.  From there we train on to magnificent Paris, France a first time visit for all but me.  The Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Lourve and so much more including some awesome food.  But for the best in beverage we will travel next to Reims, France home of Champagne.  Finally we shall return to London for two more days before flying home. 

At each stop along this trail I promise to write about every significant experience and send it here with abundant photos so that you too may enjoy this experience with us almost as it happens.  And now I also invite you to share with us any thoughts or suggestions you may have about the places we shall visit.  To do that simply send you ideas, thoughts, recommendations or questions to:  helloronirwin@gmail.com.  I may not be able to respond directly but rest assured your thoughts and helpful suggestions will be deeply appreciated. 

Bon voyage!  

 

 


A Great Gem in America’s South West

Virtually everyone on earth has at least heard of the Grand Canyon and it absolutely is spell binding.  The Grand Canyon sincerely belongs on everyone’s bucket list but so does a much less known gem a mere 150 miles east of the Grand Canyon’s south rim.  That place is in the Navajo Nation and is called Monument Valley.  The undeniable beauty of Monument Valley is more than enough to get your full attention, but even more exciting is its relatively modern history.

Harry Goulding and his wife Leone more commonly known by her nickname Mike, moved to Monument Valley in the early 1920’s.  They purchased a large plot of land and quickly set up a trading post.  At first they worked and lived out of tents but eventually they were able to build a permanent structure which today houses the Goulding Trading Post Museum, yet another must see attraction.  But then came the Great Depression which struck the Navajo even harder than most. 

Desperate to find a solution to their financial crisis Harry and Mike Goulding gathered up their last $60.00 and headed off to Hollywood to sell film production companies on the idea of using Monument Valley as a location site for their western movies.  It was an all in huge risk but it paid off grandly.  Through a combination of perseverance and good luck they met the famous director of the day John Ford.  When Ford saw the photos of Monument Valley provided him by the Goulding’s he agreed to film his next major film, “Stagecoach” in Monument Valley. 

It was only a matter of days before the film crew and cast including super star John Wayne showed up in Monument Valley to begin shooting the movie.  Recognizing the deeply distressed situation of the local Navajo, John Ford soon hired many of the local Navajo to play roles very easy for them to quickly master; that of American Indians.  For their work they were paid union scale wages a deed which greatly enhanced the living conditions of the Navajo tribe in Monument Valley.

From that break out moment Monument Valley steadily grew both as a great location for dozens of films and as a compelling attraction for photographers, artists and tourists from around the world.  The Goulding’s eventually built their beautiful lodge with a pleasant dining facility that serves a variety of foods including the spectacular Navajo Taco.  Don’t ask, just get real real hungry and then try it. 

Yes The Goulding Lodge is fantastic, the dining is grand the museum is fascinating but above it all it is the eye popping spectacular natural beauty of Monument Valley that will grab you and hold you like few other places on earth.  I have included with this article a few photographs of just some of that abundant natural beauty in Monument Valley.  There is much more and no photograph can adequately present the power of the images of Monument Valley seen through your own eyes. 

Should you want to visit Monument Valley and perhaps spend a day or two at The Goulding Lodge you may do so by simply clicking here:  http://www.gouldings.com/the-lodge/.  They offer both lodge and camp ground accommodations.  But you may also consider another option just about 20 miles south in the Navajo town of Kayenta, Arizona, Navajo Nation.  There are several hotel and restaurant options in Kayenta and there is also one other very unique and powerful attraction at the local Burger King and it isn’t the Whopper; It is the Navajo Code Talkers Display.  Somewhat hidden within the restaurant is this powerful display that portrays the enormous value of the courageous Navajo men who helped America win the war in the Pacific.  In just one famous battle, The Battle of Iwo Jima six Navajo code talkers worked around the clock sending and receiving over 800 messages.  According to Major Howard Connor, 5th Marine Division: “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.” 

So you may spend only one day or even several days taking in some of the most majestic naturel beauty on earth and also learn about a group of American Indians from the Navajo tribe who made a huge and valiant contribution to America’s victory in the Pacific during World War Two.  If you love to travel then this is one destination you will absolutely want to assign to your short list of future destinations. 

 


‘Cruisin…’ Short But Oh So Sweet

I can’t even tell you why this happened but it surely did.  One day I just blurted out to my beautiful bride:  “Hey!  Let’s take a cruise.”  To my utter shock she instantly replied “YES!”  Well now that is all fine but we had both limited time and resources but we were in the gap between Thanksgiving and Christmas and we have the great fortune of residing in Southern California where great weather is the norm even in late November so I began my search.

It wasn’t long before I found the perfect package just right for us.  It would be a short four day excursion offered by Carnival Cruise lines, one of the biggest in the industry.  We would visit Catalina Island and Ensenada, Mexico and spend a lot of time at sea which was perfect for our needs which were centered on relaxation.  And best of all the cost was extremely reasonable.  So we booked the cruise and off we went. 

We arrived at the dock in Long Beach, California a wee bit before boarding would begin.  Just looking at the ship The Imagination was a thrill unto itself.  She was absolutely gorgeous, far far better than my first cruise out of Long Beach many many years before aboard a U.S. Military troop transport ship.  The Imagination was long and tall and glistening bright white a true gem of the sea. 

Soon we boarded and sorry but I just couldn’t help but to salute the ensign [flag] and request permission to board which earned me a quizzical smile.  We were briefly diverted to the main topside dining area to enjoy a free snack if we wished while the bags were being taken to our cabin.  Soon we were invited to go to our cabin which was absolutely fantastic.  It was on the port side amid ship and well above the water line.  We even had our very own balcony where we could and did sit and enjoy the sea and setting sun. 

We walked about the ship and we were literally mesmerized by its nonstop almost overpowering beauty inside and out.  The pool was basically top center and surrounded by scores of comfortable lounge chairs.  The inside center was truly spectacular a virtual sea of bright colors and intriguing forms.  But we eventually found ourselves in the main dining room where we sat down for our very first and always free meal of the day. 

The sun was rapidly setting and as the meal service began we could see the ship was moving.  There was no feeling just obvious movement visually observed but not felt.  How utterly graceful.  By the time our meal was done we headed back to our cabin and enjoyed our balcony.  Now it is only 26 miles from Long Beach to Avalon but the good ship Imagination was in no hurry.  We would arrive in Catalina early the next morning.  No rush, just pure joy and total relaxation.

After our simply delicious breakfast we disembarked and walked about Catalina.  Several shore tours were offered but we opted to just enjoy Catalina on foot.  So many beautiful yachts, the magnificent Casino and the very pleasant town of Avalon all made for a great day but then it was time to get back on board and wait for the Captain to hoist anchor and sail off to the south for Ensenada, Mexico. 

Upon arriving in Ensenada we once again opted to simply go into the town and enjoy our own private walking tour.  Other passengers took advantage of a wide variety of shore tours.  That is yet another piece of cruising joy, everyone can simply do their very own thing.  At one point we even got briefly off of the main tourist track and wandered into a local grocery store.  That experience for my wife was especially enjoyable because she hails from the Philippines and found the Mexican grocery store very familiar.  Like I said, one of the beauties of cruising is the ability for everyone to do their very own thing. 

That evening we hoisted anchor again for a full night and day at sea.  If you have never cruised you really should do so for only when you are far from shore can you sea millions of stars igniting the night sky far far more than anything you can see on shore.  It is simply pure magic. 

Eventually we did find our way back to Long Beach Harbor.  We were thoroughly and completely relaxed and ready to return to that dull boring work a day world.  But now we knew how we could escape that world even if only for a few days and enjoy pure relaxation and pleasure and at a cost that darn near anyone can easily afford making it just that much more pleasant.  Should you want to look into a Carnival Cruise just click here:  https://www.carnival.com. 

All photo credits Ron Irwin

 


Visit Denmark in California

So you have long wanted to visit the home of famous writer Hans Christian Andersen and you have long yearned for some delicious Danish food including their well-known pastries.  But you just don’t like those long airplane rides and your passport expired a year ago.  No problem, just fly into Los Angeles International Airport, rent a car and head north on the 101 Freeway for about 138 miles right up the California coast to and through beautiful Santa Barbara and then just a wee beyond take the Route 246 exit and you will soon arrive in Solvang in the heart of the stunning Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County.

Founded in 1911 “Solvang” is the Danish word for “Sunny Field” and it certainly lives up to its name.  But it is also home to many examples of traditional Danish architecture, housing, a plethora of bakeries, wine merchants, restaurants, gift shops, clothing stores and just about every imaginable type of business focused on fun and pleasure. 

Most visitors spend a few hours walking the bustling streets of Solvang enjoying the sights, sounds and fragrances.  But you do have options such as a horse drawn carriage and tricycles which you may peddle through the streets. 

One of the many sights is a bronze statue of renowned Danish author Hans Christian Andersen who in his 70 years wrote well over 3000 plays, travelogues, novels and poems. However he is best known for such classic children’s tales as “The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina, The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Ugly Duckling.”    

Whether you live in California or you are visiting the Golden State, Solvang richly deserves to be on your “do not miss” list.  It is a great way to immerse yourself in the unique culture and history of Denmark without the added expense or jet lag.  A one day immersion into the exciting Danish experience will leave you with a lifelong fond memory. But beyond all of that there is one more attraction deserving of your time. 

Between the town of Buellton which is very near the Highway 101 and 246 interchange and Solvang you will find the amazing “Ostrich Land USA” where you can walk about the park with hundreds of the stunning birds eager to accept your offer of food.  These African natives are irresistible with their long spindly legs and neck connected by a more or less egg shaped body covered with wildly large feathers. The gift shop offers nothing Danish but plenty of other exotic options such as Emu oil products, feathered masks, stuffed animals and more.  There is a modest admission charge and food to feed the Ostriches is only $1.00 a bowl.   

 

 

 

 


A Great Way to Experience New York City.

There is always a temptation when visiting a big city on holiday to take a tour bus to see the sights.  If you are even a little more upscale you may opt for a personal tour by limousine.  But for me I tend to prefer walking for many reasons.  You don’t have to pay to walk, walking is great exercise and perhaps most of all when you walk through a large city you get a far more intimate sense of the fine folks who live there, so it is more personal and yields richer memories. 

Of course not every city provides the best walking opportunities.  Los Angeles, for example, basically demands that visitors ride while up the road about 300 miles San Francisco is a great walking city if you don’t mind a few rather steep hills.  But New York City is possibly the best walking city in America with its ever changing environment of almost endless sights, sounds and experiences.  On a visit not long ago my daughter and I enjoyed several self-directed walking tours, but our little hike from the site of the World Trade Center to our hotel near 47th Street and Broadway was a mere 4.4 miles yet it immersed us in the diverse and bustling culture of Manhattan in a unforgettable way.  More to the point it was a genuinely awesome experience but even with its relatively short distance it took us well over 3 hours because there just so much to see and experience along the way. 

Not long after we stepped off from One World Trade Center we entered to very upscale area known as Tribeca.  Tribeca is home to some of the biggest stars in contemporary entertainment.  We were not star gazing but it became clear to us way people of substantial means would choose Tribeca for their residence.  I have included a photograph of the area which I think fairly well makes the case for Tribeca and walking through its streets is vastly more enthralling than looking at it through a glass window.

As we continued along intriguing sights and sounds played with us with each step.  Eventually we crossed through a portion of Chinatown before arriving in Little Italy.  There we serendipitously happened upon Puglia a classic Italian restaurant serving New Yorkers and visitors alike great Italian food for nearly 100 years.  Yes, their food I simply delicious and the cost reasonable.  After our lunch we walked a bit further through Little Italy indulging ourselves with a cannoli before hiking on.

We strolled along Mulberry to Blecker Street and then connected to Broadway.  Soon we connected with 14th Street and right by Union Square.  Not long after we passed the iconic Empire State Building which on the day we were there did not have a giant ape hanging from it.  Gradually a diverse group of street vendors emerged along our path.  Shortly after we entered what is arguably the epicenter of Manhattan in the minds of most of the world; we arrived in Times Square.  Very shortly after we hit 47th Street and our hotel for this visit The Edison. 

I will say that the Edison Hotel is very nice and certainly by New York City standards quite reasonably priced and couldn’t be in a better location if your visit includes one or more Broadway shows.  Our room was cozy but well above adequate and the staff was fantastic in their special New York style.  They even had a very nice little gym free for hotel guests. 

Other hikes we have taken in New York City brought us to and through Central Park, to and around the United Nations and of course 30 Rockefeller Plaza home of the East Coast headquarters of NBC and the Tonight Show.    Also across the street to the very iconic Radio City Music Hall. 

I am a firm believer in the many benefits of personally guided walking tours but you must always take full control over the “guided” aspect of your personal tour not only to assure that you get where you want to be with the greatest degree of positive experiences along your path but your preparation must also assure that you do not place yourself in an area where you could be at significant risk of harm.  Sadly such areas do exist in every major city worldwide including New York City.  But with just a little bit of solid preparation which might include your hotel concierge or maybe even a local police officer your safety can be virtually assured. 

So Bon Voyage! 


‘San Diego’ One of the Best of California

Sure, some folks have left their hearts in San Francisco and why not, it is one beautiful City by the Bay.  A bit further north there is the awesome heart of wine country in Napa and Sonoma where splendid grapes become the true wine of love.  Go south along the coast and experience an unending array of some of this world’s most spectacular beauty arriving eventually in the lovely town of Santa Barbara with an abundance of attractions including its filled with fun and great food pier.  Keep moving to the south and you will arrive in the fabled Malibu home to many movie stars and other folks who just enjoy the very best in natural beauty.  As your southward journey continues you will reach Santa Monica which from the ocean is the gateway to the big daddy, Los Angeles City of Angels and home to Hollywood.  But only about 128 more miles south through many charming towns and beach cities and you will finally arrive in what may well be the most magnificent jewel in California’s undeniably spectacular crown, San Diego. 

San Diego is smaller than either San Francisco or Los Angeles and therefore has a warmer less crowded feel.  Yet San Diego while less in population is every bit equal in natural beauty and filled with its own captivating history.  Some of best known highlights of San Diego include its world renowned zoo, the utterly charming Gaslamp Quarter and extremely inviting Little Italy with an abundant array of superb restaurants each with its own delicious meals in authentic Italian style.  One of my personal snack stores for some tongue tantalizing tasty gelato is Gelaterie Bucci at 1602 State Street, San Diego, California.  The number of truly five star restaurants in San Diego is almost overwhelming but oddly one of my favorite is a true rarity because it is in a hotel where truly top end food is often more imagination than reality.  At the Sheraton Marina, 1380 Harbor Island Drive, San Diego you will find the five star Harbor’s Edge restaurant where I recently enjoyed a nothing less than incredible crab cake and steak plate that was nothing less than perfection to my taste buds.  And not only is their food delicious but you enjoy it while looking out into the marina with its vast collection of beautiful sail boats and motor yachts.  Great food, great food, great times. 

One of my favorite activities in San Diego is a walk along the shore line from about Harbor Island Drive and Laurel Street to the USS Midway ship and museum.  It is a never ending visual treat as you pass the Coast Guard facility and continue on while watching dozens of sail boats traversing the harbor.  You will eventually pass a square rigger and a docking facility for Hornblower cruises offering yet another great option for your visit, an unforgettable diner cruise. 

Keep going and you will eventually arrive at the USS Midway an aircraft carrier that was a key player in World War Two and also the ship which helped evacuate hundreds of Vietnamese refugees during the fall of Saigon in April of 1975.   It is a huge slice of both American history in general and naval history in particular. 

But before reaching the Midway you can also turn eastbound and visit the Gaslamp Quarters and or Little Italy, the options are many and none disappoint.  There are plenty of guides and even paid tour options available, but my personal favorite is just a nice casual walk because it does the best job of truly connecting you with the amazing beauty that abounds in San Diego while at the same time making a positive contribution to your health.  Sure all of those other places have a great of sights to see, experience and enjoy, but San Diego is not to be missed.