This was the first time either of us have ever been to Berlin. A simple and pleasant train ride from Hannover got us there around mid-day on October 16th. The train station was about 2 miles from the hotel so we took a taxi rather than drag our bags. It was a very nice Hilton right in the middle of the city, and Leslie got us upgraded to a larger room with access to the Executive Lounge based on my past travels with Hilton.
The first afternoon we walked about a mile in a light but very cold rain to get the tickets for a hop on/hop off bus we wanted to take. We spent the rest of the day driving around the city on this bus, and had dinner that evening in the executive lounge. We actually did that for 2 breakfasts and 2 dinners as the wine was also free.
The next day we also toured the city on the bus, and while we stopped at a few places, my favorite was the 7 story department store “KaDeWe”. It was very high end and each floor was dedicated to a type of product from high end jewelry to ladies accessories to groceries and food specialty items. Leslie also found a great scarf store named “Fraas”. The cashmere scarfs she was interested in were $200 and up! We didn’t get one. Of course we also did the typical tourist stuff around the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, etc.
I actually enjoyed Berlin and the history there, especially around WWII and the cold war aspects. Leslie did not like it as much as me (although she enjoyed it) because it was too haphazard in design and development.
We loved Amsterdam, but the plan was 2 or 3 nights in each city so it was time to move on. We took the train to Hannover (yes this is how they spell it) but ran into a problem when we got to the train station in Amsterdam. I put the train tickets in my pocket and they must have fallen out in route as they were gone when we got to the train station. We tried to get the railroad to honor them electronically, but we had to buy new tickets.
A short 2-3 hour train ride later we pulled into the central station in Hannover. It is right in the middle of a large and busy square. Our hotel was less than 1/2 mile away and a simple walk down the old streets. As we arrived just after lunch time we used the rest of the day to walk around. While the overall city is large (1.2 million in the metro area) the old town is very walk-able. We discovered while there that the city had been basically destroyed by Allied bombing during WWII. We went through a museum that had large models of the city in 4 states: year 1350; 1939 pre-war; 1945 after bombing and 2018 modern. We just loved the feeling of being there and how welcoming the people were to us.
Our second day was a rest work day. Except for some short walks and a wonderful street side restaurant. We left the next morning for Berlin, and although we weren’t there long we left with very fond memories.
Our next stop is a favorite city for both Leslie and I. I had been there only on business and it has been many years. Leslie visited there with our daughter Madison for a few days when I was on a business trip to Stockholm a few years ago.
We started with a short 3 hour train ride from Paris. But I had a funny (in retrospect) adventure on the train. As we were going on this trip for 45 days I put 2 bottles worth of Excedrin in a baggie to avoid the space of the bottles. I opened this baggie on the train just as security police were walking by my seat. They stopped and asked for my passport and an explanation of the pills. I was finally able to use the internet to show pictures and get them to believe they were non-prescription.
We arrived in Amsterdam fine and as our hotel was only 1/2 mile away we decided to walk. Unfortunately there were some twists and turns in the narrow streets around the canals, combined with small bricks and cobblestone streets made pulling our two suitcases difficult. But like the train ride, the problems only made the end result sweeter.
Our hotel was the Sofitel along one of the canals. But we almost passed it as outside was only the name “The Grand”. But Grand it was! One of the nicest hotels we have stayed at and we have stayed at many of the top hotels in the world. First class in every respect including our huge suite courtesy of the American Express points we had built up over the years. We got in early enough to spend a lot of time just walking around the area and had dinner in one of the hotels very nice restaurants.
Our second day was highlighted by a leisurely start to the day, causing us to miss the canal boat and sightseeing bus trips we had paid for in advance. But we did make the walking food tour for that afternoon, and it was just great. We met some wonderful people and had some great food plus learned so much more from our knowledgeable guide. It made up for our poor tour in Paris. We finished the food tour and just wandered around the rest of the evening doing some shopping and people watching. Leslie bought some Gouda cheese from a large cheese store and we bought a couple of other minor items. We both love Amsterdam and the entire live and let live feeling in the city, and we hope to visit again in the future.
Our flight left mid-day from Phoenix on the 8th and we connected in Dallas. We get to fly Business Class and the lie flat seats because of all the miles I built up flying for business over the years. So we both slept some making the time change adjustment much easier. We landed in Paris around noon on Wednesday the 9th, and caught a train into the city with a station only a block from our hotel, the Paris Opera Hilton. The facilities at the hotel were great, and the quality of the room was OK, but the room was very small.
We arrived at the hotel around 1:30 pm and our room wasn’t available yet. So we dropped off our bags and walked the area for a few hours, and it was great fun just seeing the area and the people on the streets. After getting our room we went for a drink at the hotel bar (at least Leslie did) then across the street to a curbside cafe with outdoor seating named the “Hippopotamus”. The food was OK, but the environment was great.
Day two we started slow then got on one of those “Hop-on, Hop-off” buses that drive around the city with narration in English. We had a walking food tour scheduled for late afternoon, so we never got off the bus for any other activities until we had to get going for the food tour. We had to walk about 2 miles to get to the tour, but that was fun as walking is a great way to feel a city, especially one like Paris. Once we got to the food tour we found out it was just me and Leslie. The guide was a young woman and she also had a trainee with her who was very friendly and knowledgeable. But this turned out to be the worst food tour we have ever had, and we’ve done them 10 or 12 times in other cities in the past. The good part was we walked up the hills to the Montemarte area of Paris and the area is very interesting and artsy. It also provides great views of the city. The problem was this was a “food” tour that only had one food stop and that was just for bread and cheese! We were done after 2 1/2 hours even though we talked all the time because there was no more food to stop and check out. After this we walked the 1 mile back to our hotel and grabbed a light meal in the bar there. Later that evening we got antsy and went back out around 10:30 pm to a sidewalk cafe across the street. There we ordered a small pizza and met two mid-twenties ladies there having a drink themselves and just chatted for another hour or two having a great time.
Day 3 we also started slow after out late night the night before. We had tickets for the Eiffel Tower that afternoon and the Moulin Rouge (we thought) late that evening. So when we finally got started we made the two mile walk to the Eiffel Tower area and hung out there before our scheduled tour. There we met a nice couple from Canada who had just gotten engaged a few days before, and talked with them for about an hour. The actual tour of the tower was helped a lot by Leslie getting “skip the line” tickets so we just got on right away. While this is a terrible tourist trap, and there are way too many people and vendors hawking their merchandise, it is still iconic Paris and the views and history make it a must do and frankly well worth the time and effort to do it.
Our show at the Moulin Rouge was scheduled for 11:30 that evening but we got there around 10:30. We splurged on high end tickets with great seating and special service. As we got a special greeting from a staff member, he looked at our tickets and said “excuse me but these tickets were for last night”. Needless to say we were shocked and momentarily devastated. But he went to the manager and they agreed to let us in and while we didn’t get the special seats we originally paid for, our seats were still great. We had a fantastic time, the show was great. Leslie liked it even more than me. The actual dancing was only OK, but the pageantry, costumes, staging, ambiance and beautiful people made it a wonderful and memorable experience.
We finally prepared to leave the next morning, and it was great. We both agreed we loved Paris and should have spent more time there. But on to more cities in Europe!
Background: The whole idea for the basic trip started with Leslie and her friend Ruthie considering a river cruise in Europe back over 2 years ago. It morphed from there to Leslie inviting friends from all over the country, many of whom have never met each other. Then she wanted to expand it to include a pre-river cruise tour of Europe for just the two of us, plus a return across the Atlantic on another ocean cruise instead of flying back, and for this she would also invite friends. To take it even further she originally planned (and fully booked) a start to the trip of an Atlantic crossing cruise from New York to England on the Queen Mary II! This would have made the entire trip about 74 days and although I agreed at first I starting thinking this was too long and we decided to cut it back to 45 days. Still pretty long.
Overview of the actual trip plans: So for the details of the actual trip we flew from Phoenix to Paris (through Dallas) on October 8th, arriving in Paris on Wednesday the 9th. From there: 3 nights in Paris; train to Amsterdam for 2 nights; train to Hanover, Germany for 2 nights; train to Berlin for 2 nights; train to Dresden for 2 nights; train to Vienna for 3 nights; train to Budapest for 2 nights. It is in Budapest that we met about 30 of our friends and board the Viking Tor for a seven night river cruise from Budapest up the Danube finishing in Nuremberg. Some of our group then head back home while about 18 transfer to Prague for 2 nights. Then we and 6 others fly to Barcelona in order to board the Princess Emerald for 15 nights sailing back to the US. In addition to the people who stay with us from the river cruise we are meeting several other people who are just sailing with us on this trip as kind of a reunion cruise from a trip we took several years ago. I will post more details on each aspect of the trip as we go, but this should be a great adventure for us!
After picking up the rig in Palm Desert we went back to Phoenix and stayed again at The Motorcoach Resort in Chandler. We had a wonderful dinner at the coach with Richie, Darryl, Noam, Nick, Mike and Jose. I made my vegetarian version of baked tacos and we just sat around talking and laughing. It is amazing how well the coach supports 8 people for dinner, drinks and conversation.
On Monday the 7th of October I went into the office and got a new iPhone 11. It is a nice step up from my old iPhone 7, but it has enough changes that it takes some getting used to. The hardest part is the double authentication from Apple and Google for all of the apps. Leslie helped a lot to make it all easier.
Leslie did a great job packing for the trip and on Tuesday morning we closed up the rig to put it into storage for the 45 days we would be gone. The huge garage we were parking it in apparently wasn’t huge enough, as I hit the side of the rig against the entrance frame as I was trying to pull in. Got some help to get it all done, but I am very upset at myself for making this mistake, and there is some minor damage to the awning tube above the full wall slide we will have to get repaired once we return.
Finally all done, we parked the Jeep at Mike & Jose’s and off to the airport! Paris, here we come!
While we were travelling in our motorcoach the travel agency Leslie works with started a contest in which whoever sells the most cruises on Carnival Cruise lines during the month of July wins a free Carnival cruise for two! Thanks in part to our friend Butch recommending Leslie to some people, Leslie ran away with the win! We didn’t think we could use it because we were getting ready for our long awaited trip to Europe. But after James got married we still had 10 days before our Europe trip started and had to go back to LA anyway to get some stuff we needed, so we gave our motorcoach to the dealer in Palm Desert we bought it from for some minor warranty items (Holland RV), went to the Kellys for a couple of days. While there we saw Sara Butler-Gold and some of her family (including the marvelous Jessie) plus our daughter Madison and her boyfriend Joey.
We got on the cruise out of the Port of Long Beach on Sunday September 29th. It was a short 4 night cruise going to Ensanada in Mexico and Santa Catalina Island off the coast of LA. We really had fun on the old Carnival Imagination, saw some good shows, some not so good comics, and in general had a blast walking around the ship. We got off the ship the following Thursday, picked up our coach in Palm Desert, and headed right back to Phoenix to get ready for our long trip.
One of the best weekends of my life was 3 years ago around all of the activities of my youngest son Patrick getting married to Mysha in Reno. Well now I have a competitor for that title of fun times as the events and general feeling around the wedding of my oldest son James brought just as much joy.
James and Alma have been a dedicated couple for almost 4 years now and had planned to get married in a large event in October of 2020. But for timing and economic reasons they decided to move forward faster with a small private wedding at a local courthouse. It turned out their “family and close friends” still numbered over 40 people so we moved the actual ceremony plus reception dinner to a local restaurant named “Seasons 52”.
Part of the joy for us was the family we had come in from the LA area: my sister Tess and her husband Tom; my brother Dave; our dear friend Rosemary; Leslie’s sister Kelly plus her husband Pat and their boys Jayden and Devin. We moved out of the coach for a couple of nights to stay at an Embassy Suites next door to “Seasons 52” with all of our family. Everyone arrived the actual day of the wedding, but early enough for us to all gather and hang out at the bar for a while.
Because the wedding was moved to the restaurant they needed an officiant and James helped me get ordained so I could actually perform the ceremony. I was very touched and honored, and even though I speak publicly all the time I was nervous before getting if front of everyone and performing the ceremony. But I thought it all went very well. Alma was radiant and James was as happy as I have eve seen him. The entire party was a blast with Leslie helping by getting shots of Tequila for those remaining near the end!
The Kellys and Rosemary had to leave mid-morning the next day to travel back home. Tess, Tom and Dave stayed another day and we had a wonderful day going to Old Town Scottsdale then later to a really great Italian restaurant we love named “Tutti Santi”. Highly recommend of you’re ever in the area.
Congratulations again to James Baker and his new bride Alma Baker!
Leaving Flying Flags felt like the end of a large part of our trip and this was all planned in advance as a precursor to our large and long (45 day) European trip starting in October. We left Buellton on September 3rd and stopped at the Kellys in Long Beach for a couple of nights to gather some stuff we needed for Europe from storage. Things like sweatshirts and other colder weather clothes. Then on to Phoenix to stay at The Motorcoach Resort, a nice RV resort in Chandler that only allows motor-homes (no trailers or 5th wheels).
The day after we returned was the small private wedding of Butch Leiber and his now husband Hi Lin. Butch is a very close friend and one of the key reasons we have so many friends in the Phoenix area. As long as I’ve known him he has wanted to be in love again and this is it. It was a very nice small private service with 36 guests held at the Gladly Restaurant (Butch’s favorite hang out) with a bunch more people showing up after the main event for cocktails and an open party. Our oldest son, James, is getting married 2 1/2 weeks after Butch so we decided to stay in Phoenix for the next 3 weeks.
In an another post I talk about some of the problems we had there, but otherwise we used the opportunity to connect with some old friends and I was able to play golf a few times with my old golfing buddies. We had JB Barrick and his wife Cindy over for dinner one night in the coach and that was great. We also had Noam and Nick come one night. And we went out to dinner with Richie and Darryl one night. Mostly it was catch up time including my going into the office. And one of my Phoenix highlights was dinner with Deon Arnold one night at Z Tejas. One fantastic woman I must say both as a friend and long time co-worker. As nice as it was to see these people I certainly don’t miss going to an office very day.
Disappointment leaving Pismo was more that overcome by excitement going to the town of Buellton and Flying Flags Resort for Labor Day weekend as we had family and friends coming up from LA to met us. Buellton is about 45 minutes north of Santa Barbara and very close to the Danish themed town of Solvang. Flying Flags is unique in that in addition to the huge number of RV spots it has camping in fixed in place Airstream trailers, glamping tents, small cottages, large town homes, and even a small hotel next door (The Sideways Inn for those wine country movie buffs). It also has a restaurant on site, many games and even concerts on the weekend in a large park in the middle of the resort.
We had a great first day with some new friends, Eileen and Larry Winters, who we met when we were in Paso Robles a few months before, plus another couple they introduced us to. Then on Friday Leslie’s sister Kelly, her husband Pat, and their boys Jayden and Devin plus Jaydens girlfriend Josephine came up. Our daughter Madison, her boyfriend Joey and one of her best friends Nick came as well. The Kellys all stayed in two of the cottages, while Madison and Joey stayed in a tent and slept on cots! Nick only stayed for one night, but slept on the fold out bed in our coach.
We just had a great time and all we really did was hang out at the RV resort. I left to do some grocery shopping but otherwise we all stayed on site. Pat Kelly brought up a huge Pork Butt he bought in LA. He then slow cooked it all day on Saturday, brought it over to the coach and we had a fantastic meal of Pork Belly tacos. I made my specialty cheeseburgers the next night (see recipe on that tab), and it was also great if you don’t include the part where I sliced off the tip of my left index finger trying to cut a corn cob in half. It is fine now, and I had Madison and others pitch in to help so I wouldn’t bleed all over the food.
All in all Flying Flags is a little over priced, but perhaps the best social and party park we have been to.