31 March 2018

2018 ICELAND 1 - Preparation and Research

A couple of years ago friends Mike and Jan took a trip to Iceland. They rented a car and just drove. Didn't do any of the "touristy" things, but did see Gullfoss (Golden Falls) and highly recommended that.

More recently, neighbors Tom and Lisa (not our California Tom and Lisa friends) took a cruise ship around this island-country, stopping at various towns and enjoying inland tours.

All of their stories and descriptions totally intrigued us. So it has been on my radar for a while to visit this island-country. Well, I turned 70 the first of this year and wanted to do something special for my birthday trip. Iceland popped up as something special, something different, something most people haven't experienced.

I approached other family members, but my sister Lauren and her hubby Tom were the only ones available. So the sisters started planning. We researched numerous possibilities and browsed the travel book loaned to us by Tom and Lisa.

Was the Ring Road open year round? What were the temps compared to Michigan? What were the major attractions? When were we most likely to see the aurora borealis (or northern lights)...my biggest must see? How would we get to the island? Etc, etc.

The Ring Road circuit was another big to do. See the yellow line around the map. If you drove non-stop at the speed limit (ranging 50-90 kph or 31-55 mph), it would take 12-13 hours to cover the 828 miles under ideal conditions. That meant two to three days of just driving.

After watching a cold weather surf documentary ("Under an Arctic Sky" on Netflix streaming) filmed in the dead of winter in Iceland, we saw the perils of taking that route. The surfer van was stuck and delayed by fierce snowstorms. We also discovered the Ring Road does not follow the seaside most of the time. So we ditched that original plan.

Recently I met artist Hildur Ásgeirsdóttir Jónsson at a Western Michigan University-Richmond Center exhibit opening of her work. She currently lives in Cleveland, but is a native Icelander. One example of the work I saw was a rendering of a rock and surrounding flora, which she converted into a painting maybe 10x12 foot in size. It was unrecognizable from its original form, but truly beautiful. She works in varied media and has exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art-Cleveland. Ah, but I digress.

Anyway, we had time to chat about the trip. She answered many questions and even recommended Glacier View Guesthouse owned by a friend. Unfortunately, due to previously booked arrangements, it did not work out for us to stay there. She made other suggestions which we did incorporate. Thank, Hildur.

Oh, I also asked her how to properly pronounce Reykjavik. It is somewhere between Rake-havik and Reek-havik, but definitely not Rike-havik.

We also learned the closer you travel to one of the equinoxes, the better chance of seeing an aurora borealis. So we delayed our trip to early March, a little closer to Mar 20, the vernal or spring equinox.

This was our final itinerary plan:
Day 0-1: Fly to and overnight in Reykjavik
Day 2: Via Vik drive to Skaftafell in the Vatnajokull National Park area
Day 3: Visit the glacial lagoon and ice caves in Jokulsarlon before backtracking (again via Vik) to overnight in Skogar
Day 4: Return to Reykjavik via the Skogar Folk Museum, Lava Center, and the geothermal plant
Day 5: Side trip to the Golden Circle (Geysir, Golden Falls, Thingvellir / Pingvellir)
Day 6: Side trip to the tomato greenhouse, the Perlan Center, and then shopping in Reykjavik
Day 7: Happy ending at the Blue Lagoon
Day 8: Return home

This map of southwest and south Iceland, shows a fair description of our route. Disregard the numbers and the lines; just look at the cities. The greenhouse (not indicated on the map) was a little south of the line between Thingvellir National Park and Gullfoss.

If we had ten days, I would have definitely rode the Ring Road. As it was, we covered 914 miles, but some was backtracking and no bad weather at all. There was pure sunshine until the Day 7 when we left Reykjavik for the Blue Lagoon. I was kind of glad of that. The cloudy skies and light rain made our last stop a little more mystical.

Most of the major sights in Iceland are in the area we traveled. I wished we'd had time to see the peninsula to the northwest. They say that is were the best puffin watching is. We saw lots of puffins though, but they were art pieces or incorporated into clothing or a few taxidermied for sale (yuck). This big guy was at the entrance to our first waterfall sighting.

28 March 2018

March 24, 2018 - #MarchForOurLIves

I attended the Kalamazoo contingent of the walk on March 24, 2018. It was inspiring, invigorating, and hopeful. We gathered at Western Michigan University's flag pole meeting spot.

There were people of all ages and a few dogs.
We heard a variety of young speakers, all eloquent. Then we walked the mile and a half from there to our city center.

There was also a peaceful contingent of the opposition. Mostly their signs said, "Let's talk!"

The newspapers reported over a 1,000 participants walking.

Here are some of the signs displayed by marchers. Mine is first.

I loved this green one. Makes sense to me.

But the one that got me most (although no photo), said, "Will I be next?" This held by a sad faced mid-teen. That drew a tear on my part.

The march ended in Bronson Park in downtown and a few more insightful speeches by youth.

I remember when my friends and I rallied to end the Viet Nam war. It was a move in the right direction in spite of government cover-ups, huge war time spending, and massive loss or ruin of human life...for the sake of saying "we won!"

My hope is that these young people, their parents, friends, community, and governmental dignitaries make the difference and stop this gun-killing insanity.

Don't gloat; get out the vote. That is the way to make yourself heard and make constructive changes in bringing archaic gun laws up-to-date. You go, young folks!

22 March 2018

2016 ITALY Naples 61 - Last Day in Paradise

We departed the hotel at 07:37. Giuseppe (smiling as ever) had gathered and loaded our bags. We signed a thank you card that Chef John provided and passed the collection plate for G's "tip."

The streets were quiet at that hour.

As we left Positano, we saw the end of a lovely sunrise over the bay.

It was about a two-hour drive to the Napoli airport. We were mostly quiet, contemplating the end of an excellent excursion.

Our route was Naploli (12:15) to Munich (13:55 and depart 15:40) to Chicago (18:25). Lufthansa (LH) all the way. It was fun looking out the window and seeing other folks doing jobs we had done in our old airport days.
We had never flown LH before and it was pure pleasure. Plenty of leg room in coach for Mike's long legs, a great choice of movies, and the food was fabulous. We had real silverware instead of the plastic stuff, even in coach!

We flew over some beautiful territory--snowy Alps, green forests, towns snugged in valleys. 

Once in Chicago, customs and baggage were handled fairly efficiently. The return van was waiting for us. Thank goodness our driver was not the same guy that brought us here. Chicago is not the easiest to maneuver, but that had been a scary drive even on the Michigan highway. This one was a bit better, but I still wasn't feeling totally safe.

The main thing is we arrived at the Kalamazoo Radisson Hotel with no mishaps. The others had to drive home from there, but we just walked out the back door and a block to our loft.
Once home we collapsed. Bella was soooo happy to see us and vice versa.
I know this trip series has taken a long time to complete. But honestly the facts and sights and thoughts about it were overwhelming each time I sat down to write. As you can see each day took five or six long entries to complete and a lot of research for accuracy. Honestly I write this blog for myself mostly. When our traveling days are over, I'm sure we will be living vicariously through these notes. If others enjoy it...wonderful. 

As a wrap up, I think no matter where you go in Europe, you will enjoy your stay. As a die hard Italian-o-phile, Italy is very special to me. The entire country is an historical and architectural museum with delectable and delightful cuisine. We learned so much. You can never see it all or know it all.

Thank you to Chef John for leading us on a second fantastic trip. And to wife Stacey for keeping an eye on me when Mike was not around. A sweet (in many ways) couple.
John is now cheffing at Mino's Italian Restaurant in Winnetka, Illinois. We plan a trip there in June to savor a great Italian meal in his new digs.    http://www.minositalian.com

Chef John's 2017 excursion to Italy was a trip around the island of Sicily. We hated to miss this one, but timing just wasn't right.

He continues leading Italy trips each year through JK Travels. These are small groups, so it is hard to get in. See info on FB:   https://www.facebook.com/CHEF-JK-Travels-353135194866954/

Stay turned. We just got back from a week in Iceland.
I promise not to take so long to write this one up.

2016 ITALY Positano 60 - Good Day and Good Bye

So now we had to traipse UP the hill. It was free time for the rest of the day, so everyone went their own way. Again, there was a choice of mostly steps or street. I chose the mostly street. This way you could also snoop the shops while catching your breath. Paul and Pat tagged along with me, so I was not alone. Thanks, P&P.

A little ways up the hill was the main church of Santa Maria, traditionally ornate and beautiful. A violin was playing somewhere in the church and it sounded ethereal.

Mike had opted out of this second yacht trip. The seas were looking a bit more rough today and he did not want to push his luck with seasickness. So I was happy to get back to the hotel to see what he had been up to. No surprise, he mostly relaxed and read. Silvana had sneaked him a snack.

We talked over our respective days. I showered. We organized and packed for an early morning get away to the airport. We settled in with a nightcap from the limoncello I had purchased in Amalfi and watched the bustling night life below our balcony.

2016 ITALY Amalfi Coast 59 - Last Leg on the High Seas

Alas, back to Positano for the last time. On our way to the pier we saw this cute bride and groom. Sandy wished them congrats as they boarded their boat and headed to their honeymoon spot. How romantic!

We boarded, too. I will certainly miss that comfy "windshield" seat. Wind in our hair, ocean spray in our face, fantastic views. The boat looks way small here, but I'm telling you this was the biggest luxury yacht we have been on (or probably will ever be on). I was 41 feet long, including diving platform. With 16 people aboard, there was still plenty of room to wander and relax.
Although we were stuffed, Luciano offered one last fruit and prosecco treat. Even stuffed, I could never turn down prosecco.

We enjoyed the scenery on the high seas. Lots of private and public sun bathing places.

And lots of fabulous structures--old and new. This first one had a 10-story elevator down to the beach. Pretty decadent.

Among the vineyards.

We'd even take one of theses.
So you remember a few blog entries ago, I said a goal we had was to watch for Giada deLaurentiis house. This was our last chance. So we studied the yellow houses all along the way. And there were many.
We almost missed it, but at the last possible moment we spotted it...on the southern fringes of Positano. Yahoooooie! Here's our photo (minus the watch tower) and then the shot from TV.

We discovered later that this is not Giada's personal home, but Torre Sponda (tower by the shore), a fabulous rental apartment complex. No problem, another travel goal met.

This was our last view from the high seas. Giada's place was to the right. Our hotel was up the hill about half way and around the corner from the sunny cliffso unseen. The reddish area at bottom is all the beach umbrellas. The domed steeple to the right is the Church of Santa Maria Assunta.
Bye-bye and much thanks to Luciano.