Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Yet another year has passed.  Simple vacation this year - Indianapolis for Navy reunion, Chicago for a couple of museums and a great Segway tour through Grant Park, then to Dearborn for the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village and finally the Toledo Museum of Art before heading home.  Ih, forgot our trip to Scandinavia in the spring - Norway, Sweden and Denmark - lotsa fun.  Will try to get more gong in the coming year.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Way behind the times

Been several years since I created this blog - and much has happened since then.  Mary and I are still hanging in there.  We are on our second sailboat and continue to try to get someplace special for vacation in the non-sailing season here in upstate NY (which means seven months of the year).  Check us out as we go along.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Dallas and San Antonio

At the end of September, Mary and I flew down to Dallas, Texas for the 25th Navy Nuclear Weapons Association reunion. It was great seeing again all those old shipmates and making new friends. It seems as if military based reunions are always a rewarding time for those who spent time in the military. The Navy Nuclear Weapons Association (www.navynucweps.com) is no exception.

We passed on the tour in Dallas and chose to go into Dallas using the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART). Since it was Mary's birthday, we checked with the local Convention and Visitors Bureau and they suggest RJ's - a good choice. We then went to the Heritage Park and saw some older Texas dwelling that had been moved to the park. Then it was off to Fair Park (unfortunately it was State Fair week) but we were able to get in Free (maybe because I am a senior) and saw some really great buildings, but weren't able to spend that much time there - and we almost got hit by a great rain storm - but it passed by.

We did go on the Ft. Worth tour where we saw the typical touristy things? The longhorn cattle drive down street, a short stop in Billy Bob's, the world's largest Honkey Tonk, dinner at the stockyards in Ft. Worth and the indoor rodeo.

After the reunion, we rented a car and drove down to San Antonio, one of our favorite cities.

Interstate 35 from Dallas to San Antonio is one of the longest parking lots I have ever navigated. Traffic was slow and it seems as if drivers in Texas are some of the worst lookie-loos. Any minor accident or roadside breakdown would have folks slowing down to see what was happening - of course everything would then slow down.

In San Antonio, we stayed at the Riverwalk Plaza (not actually on the Riverwalk but on the river just one block from the current Riverwalk). Decent price, decent room overlooking the river and close enough to everything so that we could walk (actually right next to the Bexar County administrative building.

We walked the Riverwalk, and did take one of the tour boats. Then we found out about the water taxi so we bought the all day tickets and got to ride the new 1.3 miles section that recently opened. Apparently they are expanding both upstream and downstream to expand the Riverwalk to almost 8 miles when it is all done.

Eating is a big thing in San Antonia (as is drinking margaritas).

Margaritas:

We had margaritas only at the Original and RioRio and La Marghareta (in the Mercado) and Chili’s. Surprisingly, one of the best was at Chili’s located at the Rivercenter Mall (still on the Riverwalk).

Meals

Mi Tierra in the Mercado for both a late lunch and a breakfast - good food!
Roasrio's (located south of the city center) - great food but with a big crowd the acoustics are really bad - and that was on a Wednesday night.

On Tuesday, we met with Marty and Gail Phelan (hometown folks) and drove up to Gruene, Texas (Gently Ignoring Change since 1872)) and had a good lunch at the Gristmill River Restaurant. We also saw Gruene Hall that has been featured in several movies, among which is Michael starring John Travolta as an angel with earthly appetities.

After we left Marty and Gail we drove by Canyon Lake, drover down to a marina and had a good long chat with one of the boatowners. We envy those folks who can sail all year long.

The drive back to the Dallas Forth Worth airport (with an overnight in Las Colinas) was much more pleasant since we chose to go up Route 281 out of San Antonio.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

London and Paris



















On St. Patrick's Day we left Elmira for 8 days in London and 1 in Paris. As always, we had a great time, saw some great stuff, drank some good beer and made it back safely.

Review of this trip will be a bit different - will try to categorize this time.

Airline - USAIR - flight from Binghamton NY, via Philadelphia to Gatwick - and return. Cost for the two of us was about $1,000 - good deal. Flights were on time in all cases and we had no real complaints. Luckily, we were in seats 7B and 7C on the 757 so I was the first off the plane when we got there, both times. Emergency exit row seats are, usually, the better choice if you can't get First Class. The interesting this is that we had to drive about 60 miles, each way, to Binghamton airport and save over several hundred dollars over flying out of Elmira, NY. Same airline, just a different pricing scheme. USAIR fares don't always make sense. Last year we were comparing flight prices to London. From Elmira and Ithaca the price was about $938 per person. From Rochester, Syracuse and Binghamton it was about $638 per person. Three hundred dollars difference - and in the case of Syracuse and Rochester, the flight was a longer distance.

Hotel - Copthorne Tara, Kensington, London, UK. Located next to the Kensington Close, where we have stayed about three times, the Copthorne Tara beats the Kensington Close in every arena except the swimming pool (Copthorne Tara doesn't have one) and the Full English Breakfast (although the Copthorne Tara location for breakfast is classier). We may have paid upwards of 25-30 British pounds a day for hotel accomodations. The hotel is about a five minute walk from the High Street Kensington tube station with connections on the Circle and District Lines but is far enough out of Central London to be more relaxed.

Our room was on the 6th (7th by American reckoning) floor but there wasn't that much to see - but we could see the dome on the Royal Albert Hall. We also overlooked the tube lines where they left the tube station but we didn't hear the trains unless we really strained to hear them and they definitely did not disturb our sleep.

Pubs - From our way of thinking, the English pubs are one of the cultural high points of England. This is where you meet "real folks" and can relax comfortably. There are the pubs we visited:













  • Captain's Table in central London a half block off Regent Street at 4-7 Norris Street, SW1Y 4RJ and about 70m from the Piccadilly Circus tube station. We hit this one twice! Just about a half block off Piccadilly Circus but not in a straight line so it seems to be frequented by folks who know it is there rather than folks who stumble across it. Convenient and traditional appearing interior and woodwork but I presume it is not that old - could be wrong though. On our second trip we had supper - and it was good solid pub grub.




  • George Inn - The George is London's only surviving galleried coaching inn. It stands on the south side of the River Thames near London Bridge on Borough High Street, for centuries this was the only bridge across the river. The George was rebuilt in 1676, after a devastating fire swept Southwark. The George is currently a National Trust property and is therefore pretty much protected. Although we went across half of London to try to get a meal at the George, it was Sunday and they stopped serving early. Still, the ambiance of a pub that is so very old makes this a special experience






  • Churchill Arms (Kensington) - one of the pubs we always hit, but we have mixed feelings. This pub, which serves good Thai food at a reasonable price, has just gotten to be too popular. One night we rode past and there appeared to be a couple of dozen folks (many in suits) standing on the street - and not for the smoking. There were just so many folks there that they were overflowing! Still, the decor is interesting (a bunch of chamber pots hanging from the ceiling) and many pictures of American presidents.






  • Windsor Castle Pub (Kensington) - another of our regular stops. This pub, about two blocks from the Churchill Arms, is totally different. Although there were enough folks there to keep in business, it wasn't overcrowded. The pub dates back to the 1800s and was originally partitioned to separate different classes of folks. There are now doors (although one has to really duck to get through) separating the sections. In the back is a surprisingly large beer garden. Food was OK and beer selection was good.






  • The Goat (Kensington) - this is the first pub we went to on our own several years ago. It is unremarkable and the food is OK, but it is convenient and there is little competition on High Street Kensington so, by default, not a bad choice.






  • Carpenters Arms (Windsor) - an old pub just a half a block from Windsor Castle. The food was good and they had a good selection of ales - very convenient if you are in Windsor and want a quick stop after touring the castle.






  • Tiger's Head (Chistlehurst) - After touring the Chistlehurt caves, take a left out of the caves entrance and a 15 minute walk will bring you to the Tigers Head pub. It's situated on the green in Chistlehurst.. It is a traditional English family pub, serving decent beer, and reasonable food. It has a nice, friendly atmosphere, and has an olde worlde ambience, with timber beams etc.






  • Anchor Inn (Bankside London) - Perhaps the most disappointing of all the pubs we visited in the London area. The food was just passable and service was only so-so. It is just down the river from the Globe Theatre recreating and does have great views of the Thames and London. This historic pub was rebuilt in 1676 after fire devastated the area. The pubs original structure has been added-to over the centuries, creating a maze of odd little beamed rooms.






  • Trafalgar Tavern(Grennwich) Build in 1837, the Trafalgar Tavern sits in the Greenwich Maritime World Heritage Site. We didn't eat there, but grabbed a pint after visiting the National Maritime Museum. The atmosphere was pleasant and the rooms warm and comfortable offering great views of the Thames and the Docklands area on the other side of the river.




  • Un-named across River Thames from Kew Gardens (a Fuller house) - leave Kew Gardens by the Main gate, pass through Kew Green, take a left across the bridge over the River Thames into Brentford and an immediate left will bring you to a charming pub. The afternoon we were there was very quiet and we had great beer and Brian, the barkeep, was quite friendly. This is a Fuller pub so the selections were predictable, but yummy. Wish we could remember the name of this pub.






  • Kings Arms Hotel - Outside Hampton Court. Just outside the Lion Gate is a small inn with good ales. Convenient and comfortable and homey - good recommendation for a break from the hectic pace of touring Hampton Court. The distinctive brick and stone frontage can be dated back to 1658!






London Sights - On this trip, we visited the following touristy places:

  • Windsor Castle - did the normal tour through the public parts of Windsor Castle. Taking a train into Windsor brings you right to downtown and as easy couple of minute walk to the Castle. The tour is self guiding with an audio device as your guide. Open at this time of year were the semi-state apartments which apparently aren't open all year so we had a good experience.

  • Hampton Court - Hampton Court can take you all day to do justice and we didn't have all day so we missed the kitchens. This is a truly impressive residence with some great gardens to boot.

  • Chistlehurt Caves - Chislehurst Caves are a labyrinth of dark mysterious passageways which have been hewn by hand from the chalk, deep beneath Chislehurst. There are over 20 miles of caverns and passageways, dug over a period of 8000 years. The vast complex of caves are a maze of ancient mines originally carved out in the search for flint and chalk. A guided tour takes you through just a small fraction of the caves with an emphasis on the caves as a bomb shelter during WWII with as many as 15,000 souls living the life of Troglodytes. Druids continue to use the caves for their services and as we finished our tour there was a group of Druids ready to enter. This is an interest alternative to the normal touristy things in the London area - and our guide was from Ohio!

  • National Gallery - located adjacent to Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery houses one of the greatest collections of Western European painting in the world. Because of time constraints and since we have been to the National Gallery before, went to view just one painting, Jan Van Eyck's Arnoifini Portrait, an oil on oak painting dated 1434.






  • St. Martin-in-the-Fields - most notably knows as a musical venue for the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Field, we simply entered the church and then went to the shop where we each did a brass rubbing from their collection of brasses.






  • National Maritime Museum - The National Maritime Museum, located in Greenwich (from whence comes Greenwich Mean Time) comprises three sites: the Maritime Galleries, the Royal Observatory and the Queen's House. Together these constitute one museum working to illustrate for everyone the importance of the sea, ships, time and the stars and their relationship with people. We did the Maritime Galleries - and even saw the jacket that Nelson was wearing when he was mortally wounded.






  • Shakespeare's Globe Theatre - located at Bankside, on the southern side of the River Thames across from London, the recreated Shakespeare's Globe Theatre was completed in 1997 and is an active theatre not associated with any of the other Shakespearian theatre groups. A nice tour is available and there is a small museum. Educational and time well spent.






  • Tate Britain gallery - The Tate Britain gallery is the home of British art from 1500 through the present. Mary was especially impressed by the Gainsboroughs. The gallery is located a bit out of the way but still on the banks of the Thames in west greater London. When we were there, there was a Van Dyck exhibition.






  • Kew Gardens - located in southwest London, the Royal Botanic Gardens is responsible for the world’s largest collection of living plants. The living collections include more than 30,000 different kinds of plants, while the herbarium, which is the largest in the world, has over 7 million preserved plant specimens.






Paris Sights - We took the Aerostar train (through the Chunnel) to Paris for a one day whirlwind tour. We visited the following:













  • Louvre - there is no way you can do justice to the Louvre in one day, let along an hour or so that we had. We did make sure that we saw La Gioconda, better known as Mona Lisa (full title is - Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo). We also saw the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Venus de Milo statues. There weren't many folks in the Louvre, but it was still crowded in some areas. If you go, leave plenty of time!!






  • Eiffel Tower - The weather was very cool and very windy and we were told that there weren't may people there to ride the elevator up to the 2nd level of the tower - but there was a heck of a line. This is sure one big chunk of cast iron! Standing under and looking up does amaze one. The view of Paris from the second level is surely worth the trip.






  • Notre Dame Cathedral - Although this was definitely not in the depths of tourist season, Notre Dame was fairly crowded. The stonework on the front exterior was really outstanding. Since our time was limited, we didn't get to see the flying buttresses, but fortunately we had a short cruise on the River Seine so we were able to see the exterior construction. The interior was dark, but dramatic. Although similar to many other cathedrals, there was something special about the feel of Notre Dame.






  • River cruise - About 20-30 minutes were spent on a cruise up and down the Seine and around the island where sits Notre Dame Cathedral. There are many bridges over the Seine, but the one that I will remember is Pont Neuf (translated into New Bridge). Pont Neuf is the oldest bridge currently spanning the Seine in Paris. I don't remember any new construction along the Seine - everything is historic.






Friday, November 21, 2008

Niagara Falls

It was time to get our MINI Cooper serviced, and with MINI Coopers you MUST go to an authorized MINI to get the service (even BMW dealers aren't supposed to service MINIs unless they are also a franchized MINI dealer! For us that means a couple of hour drive to Williamsville, NY which is near Buffalo. So, we decided to make a mini-vacation of it.

On the first day, we drove the loaner MINI to East Aurora, New York (which is about 150 miles west of Aurora - go figure) to check out the Roycrofters museum and complex. If you are into the craftsman style, this is a worthwhile trip. East Aurora is a nice little town - and that's all I have to say about that.

We spent the night in the Quality Inn and Suites in Niagara Falls, NY. We have stayed there several times before and don't find any problems with the hotel. It is conveniently located within an easy walk to the New York side of the Niagara Falls park area and is very close to the Rainbow Bridge to Canada.

We did the obligatory walk down to the US falls. If you have never been there, it is a US vacation destination you have to try. Unfortunately, the best views of both the US and Canadian falls is from the Canadian side, still, both sides are impressive.

On Saturday, we drove over to Canada and drove north along the Niagara Parkway stopping by two Canadian Wineries in the Niagara-on-the-Lake area. Their wineries are different than the Finger Lakes New York wineries. Their tastings are more tightly controlled by the Provincial government - limited to just 4 tastings not to exceed 1 ounce each. Makes it hard to get a tasting of the full range of wines. Pellar Estates is my favorite of the wineries in the area, but it is an upscale tasting experience.

We walked around Niagara-on-the-Lake checking out the numerous shops and stopped at the oldest golf course in North America for a beer on their patio. Later, it was lunch in the Angel Inn - our favorite dining location in that area.

Back to Niagara Falls, NY for a final night and then back home along the southern edge of Lake Ontario and then south to Elmira.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Olympic National Park

After an extra night in the Hampton Inn in Bremerton, we struck out on Route 3 north from Bremerton until we got to Route 101 and followed it for the next two days.

Along the way, we spied a lavender farm and stopped for a visit. Apparently, the valley in that area makes for some of the best lavender growing in the country - but we didn't buy any plants.

We stopped for lunch in Port Angeles, right on the Strait of Juan De Fuca. We had intended to go into the National Park here, but turns out the it was a Monday and the road into the park is being worked on during the week so that was out.

Continuing on Route 101 heading west, we came to a small park with a trail to Mary Falls, needless to say, with a name like that we had to make the trek. Into the woods we went, and the feeling was primordial forest! Large trees, very large trees, moss growing on almost everything since this is close to a temperate rain forest. The falls weren't that spectacular, but it was a nice little respite.

We kept driving and saw on the map a place called Rialto Beach. That was one of the most spectacular beaches I have ever seen - and I have seen a lot of beaches from Australia to the Mediterranean, South America and the Caribbean to England - and this was the greatest! Many huge logs have drifted onto the beach, many 5 to 6 feet in diameter and all of a driftwood texture. Off shore there are many sea mounts adding to the effect. That night we stayed at a cheap motel in Forks, WA.

The next day we continued south and stopped at a couple more beaches, but none as impressive as Rialto beach.

A side trip into the temperate rainforest of Olympic national park and some more "primordial" forest that we will remember all lives.

Then the long trip back to the Seatac airport area for our last night in Washington.

This day was also Mary's birthday so we went out to dinner at a local restaurant to celebrate.

In the morning, up and at it, shuttle to the airport and on to a USAIR flight home. USAIR sure knows how to do domestic first class a lot better than NWA.

Navy Nuclear Weapons Association 22nd Annual Reunion

Hosted by John Gray, the Navy Nuclear Weapons Association held its 22nd annual reunion in Bremerton, WA. Our host hotel was the Hampton Inn located right on the waterfront of Bremerton. The hotel is part of a complex which includes the ferry landing, the USS Turner Joy destoyer floating museum and the Kitsap County's convention center. All in all a pretty good venue for the reunion.

With about 120 attendees, many old friendships were renewed and new friendships forged.
The Navy Nuclear Weapons Association (NNWA) is a nationwide organization of military and civilian participants in the US Navy Department nuclear weapons program during the years 1946 to present. Many of its members meet annually in September or October at various locations across the US to reminisce with long-lost friends, provide support with veterans affairs and medical information, visit historical sites, enjoy quality entertainment in hospitable environs, and salute our departed. The NNWA website is http://www.navynucweps.com/.

The reunion began on Wednesday, September 24th with registration and gatherings in the hospitality suite. On Thursday, the scheduled event was a Group Bus trip to Clearwater Casino for dinner and entertainment.

Several of us decided to go on a Gray Lines tour of the Boeing factory north of Seattle. After taking the ferry back to Seattle (again), we were met by the bus at the waterfront and taken on our tour. Unfortunately, Boeing's mechanics union has chosen this time to go on strike!!! We didn't get to see the factory where the Boeing Dreamline is being built. We did get to see a private collection of military aircraft, but it wasn't the same.

After the tour, several of us went out to dinner at the Thirsty Owl, an Irish pub close to the Seattle waterfront - good beer (as always) and good food and good friendship

Friday found us on the scheduled DUKW tour of Seattle (woth the time and effort) a great lunch at, of all places, a brew pub.

As an aside, the best beer we found in Seattle was Mac & Jack's ale!

Friday night, many of us went to dinner at Anthony's at the waterfront in Bremerton.

Saturday - morning taken up with the Association's business meeting, afternoon free and Saturday night's dinner dance at the Kitsap Convention center.

Sunday morning, folks packing up the historical items and saying their final goodbyes.

Mary and I got a ride to the Seatac Airport area with John and Nancy O'Malia where we rented a car for our final days in the great Pacific northwest.

Before returning to Bremerton, we drove to the Museum of Glass in Tacoma. As members of the Corning Museum of Glass, we have reciprocal admission rights so it cost us nothing. The museum is nice enough and their hot glass demonstration was most interesting, but the museum is small and their galleries don't hold a candle to the Corning Museum of Glass.

Looking forward to the next NNWA reunion to be held in the Dallas area in 2009.