A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: randjb

Puerta Vallarta

First stop on the cruise

sunny 80 °F
View New York City via the Panama Canal on randjb's travel map.

We arrived on our cruiseship, the Coral Princess, after two days of sailing from Long Beach, California. Never one to pass up an activity, Debbie booked us onto a boat excursion to Islas Marietas, the National Park islands at the mouth of Bahía de Banderas, the bay leading to Puerta Vallarta. One of only two homes for Blue-footed Boobies, the other being the Galapagos, no one is allowed to land. Instead, we went snorkeling and even though the waves were choppy, we got a close up view of some beautiful fish. We were told by one of the other guests who has done this before that the water is usually calm. The good news was that despite the waves, visibility was reasonable and the water was comfortably warm.
After snorkeling and looking at the birds on the island, we headed across the bay until we found Humpback whales. We watched two different pods, each with multiple males vying for the right to mate with the single female. Apparently, a fair amount of fighting goes on between the males underwater, but what we saw was the slow roll of their backs as they surfaced. None of them breached, but the sight of these wonderful mammals was magnificent nevertheless.
The final treat was the crew performing on the deck of the catamaran as we returned to port. Good fun and a lovely day.
Of course most people go to Puerta Vallarta to sit on the beaches, drink, and shop. We did none of that, but thoroughly enjoyed ourselves surrounded by the beauty of the bay. If you come to enjoy the resort, you may want to put aside a day to visit Bahía de Banderas.
Note on the cruise itself: We are traveling with close friends, Doug and Debbie, and are enjoying being with them and the ship. The food is good - not exceptional, but lots to do including a number of very interesting talks we attended so far. The comedy show, starring Tom Briscoe, was excellent. If you get a chance to see him, we think you will enjoy his comedy.

Posted by randjb 14:07 Archived in Mexico Tagged puerto vallarta Comments (0)

San Diego


sunny 70 °F

We've been in San Diego for just two months and we've made three small trips already, two to LA to see my Mom and one to San Francisco to see friends, so we are closer to being tourists in San Diego than we are to feeling like residents. That will pass, of course, and we are in the process of changing our condo to make it feel more like home, but meanwhile I can talk about San Diego as if I was visiting.
To begin with, downtown San Diego is quite small, about one and a quarter miles square. You can easily walk from any corner to any other, which means that if you are staying anywhere in town, park your car and forget it. And like any city, you'll see a lot more and get more of the flavor of the town if you walk. By the way, I call it a town because that is the feeling downtown has. Only 35,000 people live in the area bordered by Interstate 5 even though the total population of the city is 1.2 million.
When you visit, you will want to walk down 5th street and experience the Gas Lamp District. While interesting during the day, night time is best as that's when the place comes alive. The restaurants are a bit more expensive than the rest of the city and the meals we have had have been pretty ordinary, but the atmosphere is something you'll want to enjoy.
The other night time area is Little Italy, a stretch of about six blocks on India Street not too far from the airport. As the name implies, you will find most things Italian including many restaurants. The food is better here but the selection is limited. Be in the mood for pasta.
During the day, our favorite stretch of downtown is the Marina area from Waterfront Park to Seaport Village. The village has a dozen small restaurants where you can grab lunch and almost always eat outside. San Diego has over 330 days of sunshine a year and even winter days are usually in the 60's. Unfortunately, Seaport Village is going to be torn down and replaced by a "resort". Chances are the charm will vanish with the wrecking ball.
If you enjoy ships, the waterfront has two ship museums: the Midway - a World War II aircraft carrier, and the Maritime Museum of San Diego, which has half a dozen different ships to tour including two submarines, a Spanish Galleon, and the Star of India, a three masted sailing ship. Either museum will take you at least four hours to see, and both are worth the time.
Downtown has an array of museums, shops, some interesting old buildings, and a set of new skyscrapers along the waterfront. The convention center is also located downtown, famous for its Comic-con.
You could easily spend two or three days without leaving the heart of the city, but most people are going to want to visit Balboa Park just a mile to the north. The park is large, famous for the San Diego Zoo, but also filled with museums, gardens, a lovely municipal golf course, and the Old Globe Theater: far too much to see in a day.
And there is more: Old Town San Diego, the birthplace of California; Coronado Island and the Hotel Del Coronado; Point Loma with its beautiful views, lighthouse, and early settlements; and many other places all still withing San Diego. Certainly more than we've been able to see even having been here 50 days.

Posted by randjb 12:49 Archived in USA Tagged san diego downtown Comments (0)

Boston: Off to college

A month in Boston

sunny 77 °F
View 2017 Summer on randjb's travel map.

We arrived in Boston Aug. 19 having taken a Norwegian Airline flight from Venice via Oslo. For those unaware, the reason for Boston is that Chesirae is going to Emerson College, moving into the dorm on Aug. 28. We booked an Airbnb, one bedroom apartment in Back Bay for a month to give us plenty of time to get settled, see Boston, move her in and make the transition. Back Bay is a great place to see Boston from - highly recommend it for its location but even more because it is a great place to live.
To our delight, Mark and Mary visited Boston for four days during the first week we were here, helping to make up for their not being able to join us in Granada. That was a busy and delightful time, though they had weather adventures both getting into Boston and back out again. All worked out fine, we are glad to say, though they did have to spend one night sleeping on the floor of the Kansas City airport.
The following Monday we woke up excited knowing this was the big move day. Chesirae to the "T" from our place to Emerson. We are staying only a mile away but with suitcase in hand, the T is a lot easier. Debbie and I stayed back until she gave us the word that she was ready for the rest of her stuff: four suitcases and two boxes. We managed to fit that all in a single Lift car but only room for one of us to ride. Debbie is always looking for a reason to walk, so I took the ride.
We pulled next to the curb in front of Emerson and a crew of Emerson students helped unload the car, putting everything on a cart which they wheeled into the dorm and up the elevator. Emerson College is on Boylston Street directly across from the Commons, on one of its busiest corners. With roughly 500 students moving in that Monday, most of whom arrived by car, the logistics for handling the traffic should have been daunting, but obviously Emerson has done this before. The Lift car was in and out in less than five minutes.
We helped Chesirae with her initial unpacking and then did some critical shopping for her new digs. Lunch was at Intermission Tavern, half a block from the college, across from the Majestic Theatre on Tremont Street. Highly recommend this tavern for an authentic Boston experience though they do over air condition.
Chesirae sent us off that evening and, though we did drop by the next day, she was pretty clear that parents needed to move on and let their kids go. We have seen her roughly once a week since, particularly when she's in need of a better than average meal, but we have no doubt about her independence. We are now in the "only when needed" stage of parenting, and I get the feeling her needing us will decrease fairly quickly in the next year.
Of course, this is what we have been aiming at ever since we got her in China, and we are proud parents. At the same time, waking up without her in the house has required an adjustment, and I'm still working out just how our new relationship needs to adjust. In the first two weeks of school, we've had one minor crisis that needed hugs but otherwise she has set her own sail. We will watch her course with interest and love.
Meanwhile, Debbie and I are also adjusting to having just the two of us around with no set schedule or "must" things to do. We've had a lot of fun in Boston enjoying a wide variety of experiences including theatre and comedy clubs, two river cruises, the science museum, walking tours, lots of history, house tours, and even a Red Sox game. Now, we have a couple of events remaining but are ready to move onto San Diego and start settling into our new home. (We think Dan and Kim have been there more than we have! :-)
When we leave next Monday, we think that finishes the big changes we've experienced in 2017, but who knows what's in store.
We do know we will be in the Bay Area the last week of October and are taking a 15 day cruise with Doug and Debbie through the Panama Canal in December - so the travels will continue...

Posted by randjb 13:15 Archived in USA Tagged bay back college boston emerson chesirae Comments (0)


Final stop in Europe

sunny 82 °F
View 2017 Summer on randjb's travel map.

I will put more pictures from Firenze onto the site and, of course, many from our time in Venice, but I wanted to add another blog entry before adding additional photos because, as of August 19, we returned from Europe to Boston. So our trip has entered its final phase. Bringing the blog up to date through Venice finishes telling about our time in Europe.
The train station in Firenze was every bit as hot as the rest of the city had been for ten days, which made getting onto the air conditioned train all the more satisfying. To our delight, when we arrived in Venice, the city was 20 degrees cooler than Firenze with a nice breeze blowing across the water. We took the slow water "bus" up the Grand Canal to the Rialto Mercato (Market) stop and moved into our new apartment, a two-bedroom, two-bathroom, newly renovated unit that overlooked the market and Grand Canal. We have stayed in some lovely Airbnbs throughout our trip, but we might have saved the best for last. How do you improve on looking over the canal?
If you are unfamiliar with Venice, the Rialto area is in the center of the two main islands, much more so, for example, than San Marco Piazza, and while we didn't scrimp on taking water transportation, the longer we were in the city, the more we chose to walk. From our location, almost everywhere was reachable in less than a mile.
Venice is the most interesting city I have ever walked, both because the canals were originally the only means of transportation and therefore lace through everywhere you go, and because you are constantly being surprised. With few exceptions, Venice doesn't have streets; it has sidewalks. And many of the sidewalks dead-end at a canal. Learning which sidewalks have a bridge at the end of them becomes essential if you want to reach your destination. When we were in Venice ten years ago, I got us seriously lost, ending up on the opposite of the island. Now we have Google maps. We still got lost but discovered our mistakes much sooner.
Not that getting lost in Venice is a bad thing. We were still discovering shops, interesting churches, and sites to see as we neared the end of our visit. What looks like the smallest alley can lead you to a wonderful campo. You think you are far off the beaten path and come across a restaurant or shop. Each corner you turn has the possibility of bringing you to some place unsuspected. And, as pointed out on one of walking tours and which we found to be true, walking even a block away from the major tourist areas significantly changes your experience of Venice.
The noise disappears, few people remain, you can stroll and take your time to enjoy the architecture, or stop on a bridge just to look at the houses that remain accessible only from a canal. Plus this is where the locals live, which means the restaurants with the best food and not too outrageous prices are there to be found.
Only 50,000 people still live in Venice, it's just too expensive for the average family, but this is where you'll find them and the shops and restaurants they frequent.
To summarize, by all means see the Grand Canal and take the boats out to some of the other islands, but give yourself time to wander around and get lost on the sidewalks of Venice. That's where the real city lives.

Update: Chesirae got better but only slowly. Her stomach never settled enough to allow her to see the city, for which we are all sad. But she has time to come back. I am sure she will.

Posted by randjb 04:11 Archived in Italy Tagged venice italy Comments (0)

Dante, Firenze, and The Inferno

Surely just a coincidence

sunny 106 °F
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We traveled from Cinque Terre to Firenze (Florence) without incident, thankfully, a short, comfortable train ride. We met a very nice mother and daughter from the States who were also traveling Europe for the summer, making the trip even more enjoyable. Then we arrived in Firenze...
We stayed ten days in a lovely Airbnb that looked directly across the Piazza del Duomo at the cathedral's dome - the famous one built by Brunelleschi. Of all the places we've stayed, except the villa in Granada, this apartment was probably the most spacious and best laid out; two large bedrooms, an even larger living room, a good sized dining room, separate kitchen, laundry area, and bathroom. Only the latter was small.
When we arrived, a copy of Dan Brown's "Inferno" was on the coffee table, the fourth adventure of Robert Langdon. If you are unfamiliar with the book, Langdon wakes up in Firenze with no memory of how he got there or what he was doing. He proceeds to visit many of the most interesting and famous places in the city while being chased by almost everyone in authority. As he proceeds, the glue that holds the story together is references to Dante's Divine Comedy, particularly the Inferno.
I had not read his book before, though I did study Dante for a full year back in college, so I read it while during our stay; for two reasons: turned out to be a decent read, and we could visit all the places he mentions in the novel. And we did - all of them, except those he made up. We also, as it turned out, had our own version of the Inferno. Firenze had the hottest days on record in the last 20 years, and not just one. The temperature rose above 100 for the first seven days we were there and was above 95 the last three.
On one of our outings, Debbie and I visited Giardino di Boboli, but not before traversing our way through the south side of the city and climbing the steep paths of Giardino Bardini. Altogether, my fitbit recorded over 16,000 steps and 52 flights of stairs, all in the blazing heat. When we returned to the apartment (climbing those last three flights of stairs almost did me in), I drank three glasses of water and one of Coke in the first five minutes. I collapsed on the couch and didn't move for at least half an hour.
After a few days, Chesirae and I became very careful about when we went out and for how long. Debbie, always the adventurous one, did not slow down until a few days later when, after walking about all one afternoon, she too returned exhausted and close to heatstroke.
As a consequence, we did not walk around Firenze nearly as much as we did other cities nor as much as I would have liked to. Instead of feeling like one of locals living in the middle of the city, I felt like a shut in. This is not to say we didn't see and do things. Take a look at the pictures as they get posted. We climbed the cupola of the Duomo, we went to the gardens, saw a reasonable number of the famous sites, took a Segway tour, and altogether saw much more than the average person who visits for three or four days. Still, our time was not the complete experience we had in Paris or Seville nor like the one we are wrapping up now in Venice.

A couple of observations: whether Dan Brown's book has made it more aware or I just noticed more, Firenze seems to be paying more attention to Dante - as they should. Besides Shakespeare, no author I am aware of had as great an impact on his culture as Dante, and of course he was born and lived in Firenze until he was banished at age 37.
Also, Firenze has been more than discovered. The entire city center is either historically important or is shops and restaurants. High-end stores are everywhere, going on for blocks, and the crowds fill the streets. Highly recommend avoiding Firenze in the summer, even if it were not so hot. And by the way, you cannot trust the information on "average monthly temperatures." I am not sure how many years they are using to determine those averages, but we did some checking and the last five summers have each averaged about ten degrees warmer than what they say. While we were there, Firenze was 20 degrees above the supposed average!
When you do go, book ahead as much as possible, especially if you are only staying a few days. We got tickets to what we wanted to see but in some cases only because we could book eight or nine days out. Had we been staying less than a week, some of what we saw would have been sold out. We talked to more than one family who didn't get to do everything they wanted.
Lastly, more than most cities, to understand what you are looking at and its significance, a little history of Firenze is a must. Whether you come to see Michelangelo, or follow in Dante's footsteps, or walk the streets Galileo and Machiavelli walked, understanding the families that ruled Firenze, the brief but brilliant period of republic, and the role the city played in moving Europe from the Middle Ages to Renaissance will enrich and deepen your experience of this extraordinary place, even if it was hot as hell.

Posted by randjb 13:01 Archived in Italy Tagged italy florence firenze Comments (0)

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