Posted by: okierus1 | September 6, 2014

Dubrovnik, the Pearl of the Adriatic

We decided there was time for one last beach holiday as a family, so we decided to go to Dubrovnik, Croatia. I wish we had gone sooner, what a beautiful place and there is so much more to explore.

nice rooftops

We stayed in a two bedroom flat, part of a lovely stone house – the Villa Mirna. It was perfect for a trip with a teenager. Nice neighborhood, 10 minute walk to the beach, 10 minute bus ride to the Old Town.


The beach was pebbly, not sandy. Most beaches were just rocks, there lots of people with bandages and scrapes wandering around.
Lapad Beach

At our first dinner, looks like Jesse is still swimming!


This is just a weird outcome of a night photo, those are kiwis growing above her. Also had oranges, grapes and pomegranets in the garden.


Russel and Jesse, they always have to check the menu.

See anything we can eat?

See anything we can eat?

One great thing to do is the Wall Walk.  The old city has the old city walls, remarkably preserved. This city goes back 1000 years or more, but really came into its own in the 1300s, as Ragusa.  They rivaled Venice for the shipping title and traded all over the Adriatic and further.  There is a Maritime Museum, full of ship models, old logs, paintings, even had an old apothecary trunk.



great old map

great old map

We also went to the Aquarium, these were the coolest things in there.


The walls encircle the entire city, which only holds around 600 year round families, according to our boat captain, Martin.
It took a couple of hours to walk all the way around, it was hotter than blazes that day too.  The views were tremendous, plus we were walking through King’s Landing!


red tile roofs

red tile roofs


the Croatian flag

the Croatian flag

I believe Littlefinger and the  Spider were conspiring in this very spot.





Then, below us, we see this tantalizing bar, but how to get to it?


On we go,







We finally came down off the wall and had lunch in a wonderful, shady restaurant – the Revelin Club.  A little expensive, but the view was great and the service sublime. The mussels were delicious.


All the food was great, so fresh. And the olive oil, we had just that on everything and it was unbelievable. Food was spicy, but not hot. The wine was also great, both red and white.  Young vintners are trying to bring back the heirloom grapes, Croatian wine is worth looking for.  The downtown is quite small.  The main street is called the Stradun and it is paved in marble.

the Stradun

the Stradun


Dubrovnik also has, like Prague, an astronomical clock.  This one is very pretty, but nowhere near as complex as Prague’s.


We were on our way to Lokrum Island,  One tourist tip, buy the Dubrovnik card.  We were there a week so bought a 7 day; it covered some attractions but not others.  It did cover the boat to Lokrum.  Anyway, it’s worth it for the bus pass alone.  Some sights along the dock as we made our way to the boat.


even Santa enjoys a sunny holiday

even Santa enjoys a sunny holiday

cats in nets

cats in nets

King’s Landing!


And we are on our way to Lokrum.  Where they film the scenes from Quarth.  It’s beautiful, hot and the cicadas are really loud.  Peacocks are all over, babies too.  There is a botanical garden here.


We left Jesse on the beach and went for a hike to the fort at the top of the hill.



the view from Quarth

the view from Quarth

We had a great lunch on the island, just good beer and fresh cheese and tomato sandwiches, among the peacocks.  Very nice.  Once we got back, we were determined to inch our way around the wall to that bar.

there has got to be an easier way to get there!

there has got to be an easier way to get there!

So, back inside the walls and we found the civilized way, through the door!  It was an adventure to find, so it felt like a triumph to be there – and the view!


P1090415 P1090419

we highly recommend Buza I and II!

we highly recommend Buza I and II!

We hired a boat out of the harbor one afternoon, which turned out to be a fantastic day.  We went with Martin, on his little 6 seater.  He had spent many years at sea in cargo ships, and decided one day to come home and run his own business.  We cruised around to a couple of little islands and snorkeled.  Absolutely wonderful.

Martin's boat

Martin’s boat

There are a lot of stands around with people hawking boat trips, I don’t know how they would compare but at a minimum, we had a private party.



We went to a place called Blue Cave and dropped anchor for a bit.  The current was quite strong, but great fun to snorkel around.  Saw several of the fish we had seen in the aquarium.

the Blue Cave

the Blue Cave

We left there for another snorkeling spot, this one with 3 caves.

I like the trident

I like the trident


what a great day!

what a great day!

We ended the day at a wonderful restaurant that you had to get to by boat.  Afterwards, Martin dropped us at our beach.  Look him up at dubrovnikbyboat dot com, he is worth it.  Russel and I took the cable car to the top of the hill just outside of the Old Town, nice views of many islands from up there. as well as of the entire walled city.

Old City and Lokrum

Old City and Lokrum

Here you can see the part of town we stayed in below the cable car, just to the right of the hill, in the narrow part between the harbor on the bottom and beach on the top.

view towards Lapad

view towards Lapad

a World Heritage site, with good reason

a World Heritage site, with good reason

Finally, just some random shots of the city.  I wish we had discovered Croatia sooner, it was a beautiful place with great food and people, and the water was so clear you could see meters down to the bottom.  This city was shelled for months in the early 1990s, which is shocking in itself. More than 2/3 of the buildings here were damaged.  The Croatians have repaired the city, and the main thing to see now are just the shinier red roof tiles that replaced the old.

stairway off the Stradun

stairway off the Stradun



Dinner choices!

Dinner choices!


Dubrovnik is worth the trip – go and re-live history, pretend you are Cersei, eat mussels, drink good wine, and oh! the olive oil!

Posted by: okierus1 | May 11, 2013

Polish Pottery

Our friends the Gilley’s are returning home this summer and Debbie has decided she needs to shop as much of Europe as possible before then.  I love the polish pottery you see here in Vienna, at the Christmas and Easter markets, but it is quite expensive.  So, a 6 hour ride to Boleslawiec, Poland was decided on and off we went for a girl’s shopping weekend.  I’ve heard great things about the Blue Beetroot B&B, so that is where we stayed.

the Blue Beetroot

the Blue Beetroot


The rooms were really nice, bathrooms fantastic. The place had more americans than I have seen since our last home leave, most all from the bases in Germany. It was fun running into people in the shops all over town.


The scenery in Poland was really pretty, old buildings, lots of deer and pheasant, we even saw a fox one day. Here are a couple of the old barns.



The first place we went was Andy’s. Our eyes were dazzled. And these stacks are not necessarily the same thing, you can find all sorts of designs in one pile.


Ok,this is a different shop, but still...

Ok,this is a different shop, but still…

Here is the unpainted, un-fired version.


Brief history of polish pottery: They probably have been making this all the way back to the 7th century. Historically, the farmers would make pottery in the winter, when it was too cold for them to work outside, for their own kitchen use. There are definite records since 1380. The clay from the Bobr and Kwisa Rivers has a high kaolin content, it is a pretty white color and very durable when fired at a high temperature. Johann Gottleib Altman, in the 1830’s, started what are now considered the traditional designs. They use stamps and rollers, and hand paint in between the patterns. The farmers used to carve potatoes to use for stamps, but now they mainly use sea sponges. Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, was a patron in the 1700’s. This area used to be East Silesia, Germany, but now is in Poland, so both Germans and Poles have a soft spot for this pottery. This is the original, traditional design from Herr Altman, known as peacock.


We went to a glass factory, Borowski, they had awesome yard art.


We also took a quick side trip to the town of Lwowek, home of the world’s oldest private brewery, brewing since the 12th century. Their beer has been winning the title of Best Beer in Poland since 1995, and it was quite tasty.

Browar Slaski

Browar Slaski

It was a medieval town, that had been heavily destroyed during WWII, and lots was still in need of repair.


Nonetheless, a lot of the old buildings around the town square were lovely and in good repair.



In the sidewalk

In the sidewalk


We could tell we weren’t in Vienna. We walked all over looking for a place to eat lunch and finally found one. One. Luckily though, we were able to get the Best Beer in Poland, since 1995!


Back to Boleslawiec and more shops. This sign was in one of the parking lots – these girls are into it!

traditional peacock girls

traditional peacock girls

Besides Andys, we also managed to go to Manufaktura, Wiza, Henry’s and Zaklady. There were easily another 20 shops in town, but 5 or 6 took us all day.

A successful day!

A successful day!

That’s Debbie Dale, Debbie Gilley and JoDee Martinez, all world class shoppers. Debbie D and JoDee are fellow NM’ers, and Debbie G is headed back to the beach soon.

Here are a couple of photos from the drive. We went north of Vienna through Czech to Poland, it was really pretty and the roads were surprisingly mostly 4 lane highway, better than we had anticipated.

Rapeseed fields

Rapeseed fields

They grow lots of rapeseed in this region, it was smelling quite good. They make canola oil from this.

Russel's favorite Czech beer

Russel’s favorite Czech beer

And we can get this for 55 cents a can in the commy!

Finally, the loot.






We had a great trip, and even with the car packed full and all 4 of us exhausted after a day of shopping, I’m pretty sure we should have gotten more. Anyone up for a road trip?

Posted by: okierus1 | July 29, 2012

To the Top End of Down Under

We recently realized that we now have three sets of friends that all live in Darwin, Northern Territories, Australia.  Realizing that and taking advantage of an Emirates special price, off we went to the Land Down Under.  Brief word on Emirates, even though we flew coach and even though the trip was brutal – 6 + 11 hours there, 17 + 7 hours on the way back, it wasn’t completely unbearable.  I think there is a tiny bit more room in the seats and the food wasn’t bad.  Finally got to Sydney and what a beautiful city it is.

We were staying on Darling Harbor, in the Cockle Bay Section.  This was the view from our hotel room.  We stayed in a place called the Oaks Goldbrough Apts.   We got in really late at night, and the first impression of the hotel and staff wasn’t the best.  Actually, it was pretty bad.  It turned out great though, plenty of room (2 bedroom, 2 story apt) and easy access to the harbor for food, shopping and later whale watching.  It is currently winter in Australia.  Sydney weather was cool in the day, 70’s or so, but plenty of sunshine.  Very nice after the humid heat we left in Vienna. Cockle Bay was pretty, this fountain was a hit with everyone.

Dancing crane fountain in Cockle Bay

We sat here for a while, watching the people go by and trying to reset our internal clocks.  Jesse has a friend from the VIS here in Vienna, that had gone back home to Sydney.  James was on school holiday, it was good to see him again and really kind of him to take so much time showing Jesse around.

Iconic Sydney

Night view from hotel

Another day finished by the crane fountain,

they’re enjoying it too

Night on Darling Harbor

Russel and I spent a lot of time in the Royal Botanical Gardens.  Apparently this was the site of a large community garden of the original people coming from England, not all voluntarily.  The flora and fauna here are just so different from what we in the western and northern hemisperes are used to looking at.

In the Botanic Gardens

View from the bottom of the Gardens

Chess, anyone?

Then Russel spotted him, the Laughing Kookaburra!

Laugh Kookaburra!

Another ornitholigical note, the noisy flocks here aren’t pigeons so much, they are cockatoos.

Our friends Sue and Ric Powers, from Sydney, had told us to be sure and take a cruise of Sydney Harbor.  We found out the whales were migrating, so decided to see the harbor on the way out, to hopefully find some great sea life.  We weren’t disappointed.

Going whale watching

Great great views of the Bridge and Opera House from Circular Quay.

top of the bridge

the Sydney Opera House

detail, the texture of the roof

Then we saw it, the whale blow.

Well. that’s more a whale belly flop, but we’ll take it!  When I saw the whale, I realized the naturalist hadn’t, as he was chatting up a pretty girl.  When I told him, he was obviously pretty skeptical, until the whale spouted again.  That put the Captain on his trail which was good, because our whale was the only one we saw that day, and we followed him for hours.  We could see the white parts of him blue under the water, and the barnacles that had attached for the journey.  Also saw 2 species of albatross and a skua, what a great great day.

It was so nice just to be out on a boat, here is Sydney Harbor, coming in from the other side.

At the urging of the Powers, we signed up for the Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb.  I might add they were not then in Sydney, having left just before we arrived and yes, I am deathly afraid of heights.  Yet, we  started up and up and up, to the top.  Did you know the bridge has 6 million rivets holding it together?  They are currently painting it, and the painting will take longer than it took to build the bridge.  The bridge was built from 1925-1932, which is when they first opened it for traffic.  That’s a total of 7 years.  They are now repainting the iron works, and that will take 30 years.  To paint.  Really?  It is the largest steel span arch bridge in the world.

Australia and New South Wales flags flying on the bridge.

Sydney Harbor Bridge

So, away we went.  And we made it, although I had to hold on with both hands at all times.

At the top!

Sydney was a lovely city, even taking care of those directionally challenged, like everyone not from the UK and affiliates.

they also had ‘Look Left”

This fountain had kids running through it, fire eaters setting up near it, it was very cool.

Then we were off for a less than happy Jetstar ride to the NT.  Not our favorite airline, or anyone’s apparently.  Peter picked us up at the airport and whisked us off for a mystery meeting and a great sunset, at the Darwin Yacht Club.  Winter in the NT doesn’t mean cold, it means dry.  It is the dry season there and also pretty nice.  Temps were in the 90’s in the day and cool at night, with a wonderful lack of humidity.

at the Yacht Club

Sorry for the too much sun. That is Jesse and Russel with Paul and Naomi Degnan. They are spending 7 months driving around Australia in an RV, on leave from the IAEA.   Too funny to meet up with them watching the sunset in Darwin!

Russel visiting the 26th floor. In Darwin.

And then the sunset.  Sundowners, what a magnificent invention.

Darwin Harbor, at sunset.

And the colors just kept getting wilder and more intense, this is just before all the light was gone.

Night, Darwin Harbor

Peter has spent several nights with us, at various houses we have lived in in the US over the years.  We finally got to sit on his patio, and it was good.

thanks Peter

One of the highlights of the Top End was the local newspaper, the NT News.  Strange stories in the headlines daily, not really sure how any of it related to any national interest.  ‘Boy, 9, slapped by stranger’ was one.  ‘Austistic boy drowns, deemed not croc related’ another.  The best one, though, was ‘To Perve and Protect’, subtitle ‘local cops mistaken for strippers’.  Apparently a large crowd of drunk, feral women at the Humpty Doo Bar were waiting for their entertainment when the police were called because of the ruckus. When they got there, they were mobbed by women waving styrofoam male private parts on a stick, and barely got away intact.  We also got to follow the saga of the man who killed his neighbor, disappeared with his (the neighbor’s) head, and went on the lam meters from the police, hid in croc infested rivers (although they all are, to be fair) and found time to get a part as an extra in a movie being filmed in Queensland, all before he got caught.  I never did hear what he did with the head.

Peter had arranged for us to spend a night, with the Fawcetts, on a house boat on the Mary River.  We didn’t realize until later how special this trip was, we saw way more wildlife than other places we went, and it was so quiet.  We even saw a water buffalo.

El Capitane

We had a bat go along for the ride too.  After we anchored, I found out why.

on the Mary River

We were just crusing along, people were fishing, reading, tanning, so relaxing.  Then,

What’s everyone looking at?

Our first gator!  I mean croc!

Salt water crocodile

We were thrilled.  How many more could we possibly see?  How high can you count?  There are two types of crocs here.  Freshwater crocodiles (‘freshies’) don’t get so big (about 3 meters) and have skinny snouts.  They may bite but tend not to eat you.  Saltwater/Estuarine Crocodiles are the other type (no nickname, too scary).  They can grow to enormous sizes and will eat anything they catch, including you (and freshies).  They have been measured at more than 7 meters and weighing more than a ton. No matter where you go in the NT, it is no swimming.  In case you might even think about it, we have the following:

ok, a little overgrown

so we’ll add this:

and just in case you still want to walk past the guantlet and dive in (and is it often germans?):

So, we didn’t go swimming, on Mary River or anywhere else, really.

The first croc wasn’t the last, it was the single most numerous animal we saw in our time in the NT.

Yawning? Hungry? Just hot?

Zen Jabiru

This was a big one.

Big and relaxed

Russel, Chris and Nick spent most of the time trolling behind the house boat.  Not too much luck, but some.

fish on the line!

Sadly, not a barramundi, but it was a pretty big catfish.

Oh look, another croc.  Glad I’m not swimming.

We pulled up and dropped anchor just before sunset.  There were grills and cooking facilities on board, it was really quite well equipped.  Peter cooked his special fillets, and they were awesome. Sunset continued in the outsized tradition we were already becoming used to.

I don’t know if you can see all those black smudges in the photos above.  Those were tens of thousands of swallows, devouring untold millions of bugs.  They were all around us, until the sun went down.  Then the untold millions of bugs descended on us.  We had screens on the boat but the onslaught was unbelievable.  We needed way more than our one bat.

We woke early to the buzzing of the mozzies (aussies have an abbreviation for everything, we found out.  That means mosquitoes.)  After a night of some of the most epic snoring ever heard, the mozzie sound wasn’t too bad.  Once on deck, it was beautiful.

Early morning

Then finally the sunrise.  Darwin being where it is, the sun rises and sets pretty much at the same time everyday, close around 6 am and 6 pm.  It was pretty amazing, this photo was taken with no filters or anything, it really did look like this!

Sunrise on the billabong

A quick explanation, while we were on the Mary River, where we spent most of the time putting around in the boat was called Corroboree Billabong.  A billabong, we learned, is basically a pond or lake, with no outlet to the sea or another river.  Most of the NT floods during the rainy season, you see high water measures along all the roads, many of which are impassable in the wet.  The billabongs stay wet during the dry season, providing sustenance to a huge ecosystem, enabling them to continue onto the next wet season.  They made me think of playa lakes, but on a huge scale.  We spent the next day just ambling back to the dock, exploring every finger along the way.  It was so nice out, breezing along to get rid of as many mozzies as possible.  Then the paper boy arrived!  He was the houseboat proprietor, I’m sure just checking on everyone after the overnight, but it was nice to get the latest NT headlines!

the paper delivery

water lilies

highly recommended!

After we docked, we headed back to Darwin.  Since it was the dry season, there were a lot of fires burning.  Between that and the dust, I think that may be why the sunsets were so spectacular.  It has been an aboriginal practice forever, to burn parts of the countryside in a controlled manner.  The forests didn’t have the brushy undergrowth that we have in the western US, that’s for sure.

After our return, we moved to our friend’s house in ‘Outer Darwin’, Chris and Mike Fawcett, and their kids Anna and Nick.  They were incredibly generous, as well as awesome cooks.  It was so nice to see the paddock, after hearing about it for a couple of years.  We spent the hot part of the afternoon poolside, in the shade.

Chris, Zoe, Mike and me

Then, luckily, it was time to reposition for sundowners, in the paddock.

Chris, Russel, Mike & Nick, in the paddock.

If this is your peacock, call the Fawcett’s. They are ready for him to go home.

Mike and Chris started out with a mango grove.  Disease and low prices didn’t help much, so they have started re-planting their acreage with local, native species.  When it is grown, it is going to be an unbelievable botanic gardens.  It is already drawing in huge numbers of birds.

Galah, a small kind of cockatoo

Cool fruits

Here are some of the native trees they have growing in the paddock.

the bark looks like snakeskin

We had heard about this frog and his cohorts, all living in and hanging around the raincoat on the open porch.  Here he is, much larger than our N. American tree frogs.

their tree frog

OK, no reason for this next picture except I like the photo.  It’s Anna’s budgie. (Another slang note, aussies call speedos ‘budgie smugglers’!)

Tartan Budgie

Next on the agenda was a trip to Kakadu National Park, which is a World Heritage Site, both for the aboriginal cultural aspects as well as the ecosystem itself.  We headed to the park in luxury, driving the Fawcett’s 4 wheel drive Mercedes. Mercedes and ‘other’ side of the road don’t make for a comfortable driving situation.  We did get used to it pretty quickly, except for turning on the window wipers every time I wanted to use the turn signal.

Uno in Australia

We stayed in the Gagadju Dreaming Lodge in Cooinda, south of Jabiru in the park.  The room was nice, really liked having the porch, and we used it as a base to explore the park.  Chris and the kids, and Michelle Bush both came down while we were there, and used the camping sites.  There was a restaurant, bar, pool, all good but you are a bit of a captive audience there.  Prices were high. The next morning we let Jesse sleep in (travels with teenager, vol. 1), and went to Nourlangie Rock.  It was so great that when we described it to Jesse, she went with us to Ubirr the following day.  First, Nourlangie Rock.   A lot of the art is in ‘x-ray’ style, where they have drawn in the bones and internal organs of the animal they are drawing.

This is lightning man.  He has stone axes at his elbows and knees, to make lots of scary noise.

Lightning Man

The forest, looking out to the Arnhem Escarpment.

He’s carrying a lot of baskets

And lots of fish paintings.  We went to the Ubirr rock art site the next day.  That is where I would have lived if I was around back then.  It was beautiful.

And then the Mimi’s.  The Mimi’s are very tall spirit beings, who, among other things,  have painted on rock ceilings way above people’s heads.

Look up!

Long necked turtle

We climbed up to the top of the hill of rocks the art was in, the vista was wonderful.  There was a flock of pelicans flying above the water in the distance, at our altitude, just gorgeous.

Ubirr vista

Jesse at Ubirr

more vista grande

warning sign

They would paint pictures like this near their ‘sacred sites’.  Some of the sites really were dangerous, having turned out to be uranium and mercury deposits, that have since been discovered and mapped. Swollen joints are a sign of mercury poisoning.

Local food anyone?  We had the NT Plate.

Barramundi puff pastry, kangaroo brochettes, buffalo meatballs, croc tail chunks.

The tree below was outside our room.  One morning it had 2 blue winged kookaburras in it.

Gum tree with shadow

Russel eating an ant

Yeah, it’s true.  Mr. Squeamish ate a green ant, on the hoof.  Our friend Chris said they taste like lime.  They both ate one.  I’ll eat one fried, nice and crispy, but not kicking.  Couldn’t believe Russel did it!  Next day we got up early to do the 6:30 Yellow Water Billabong cruise.  It was a bit tourist-y, but the patter was entertaining and we did get great photo ops.

Moon over Yellow Water, early morning

Then finally, the sunrise.

Sunrise Yellow River

Here’s a big one.

the water is warmer than the air right now

The water lilies came in several colors, a pale lilac, white, and this really great fuschia.

And this is a very photogenic darter.

just enormous

We went out to Maguk the next day, also known as Barramundi Gorge.  Chris said don’t worry about the little bit of dirt road, so we went down a road that was so washboard-y it made the road to my grandmother’s house, in the Ozarks, feel like velvet.  I couldn’t hold my foot on the accelerator, and we were going 1 km an hour.  It shook my earring out of my ear. We had to laugh, it was too much.  Anyway, the place we arrived to was such a lovely oasis.  And better yet, they trap out and monitor croc intrusions, so you can swim, at your own risk.  The forest on the way in  is so different from home.  It is full of gums, eucalypts and pandanus.  I fell against a eucalyptus at one point, it was so soft that it felt like I was hanging onto a huge roll of paper towels.

Maguk forest

Falls, Maguk

Oklahoma Dundee

And there they go, swimming at their own risk!

Anna and Jesse

What a peaceful, lovely spot.

Barramundi Gorge

termite mounds

We left Kakadu the next day, to head back to Darwin.  Then it was Michelle’s turn to have us over for dinner!  During the day Russel went fishing with Dan Roberts, Michelle’s partner.  We had a rendez-vous set afterwards,  at the Night Cliff neighborhood, for a cook-out in the park.  What a great setting.  Naturally, a beautiful beach.  The rocks were very cool.

Night Cliff rocks

Meanwhile, Russel had finally had some barra luck.  When we were on the Yellow Water, he thought he’d go fishing there.  Alas, several traditional owners had recently passed away, so large parts of the river were closed to fishing.  On to Plan B, Darwin and Dan.  Got one!

Russel’s barra

and Dan’s

Meanwhile, we grabbed a picnic table above the beach, to cook dinner and watch the sunset.

Pandanus sunset

Sunset, on the Timor Sea

Michelle and Jesse, cooking on the barbie

Not the usual deer crossing sign.  And does everything here have spines on it?

Kapok tree

One of the spineless species has managed to almost wipe out the predator section of the ecosystem.  Some years ago when the cane beetles were wreaking havoc on the cane crop, someone had the bright idea to import cane toads from S. American, to eat the beetles.  Unfortunately, the beetles live at the top of the cane, the toads on the ground and never the twain shall meet.  At least they seemed to be easy pickings for the local predators, including snakes, lizards, small mammals.  Sadly, the cane toads skin is incredibly poisonous – even if you don’t eat the toad, just touch it, you die.  There has been a noticible decline in the lizard and snake population, even while the toads continue happily on.  I don’t know why the lesson of imported species is never learned.

Our last day in Darwin we broke down and went to Crocosaurus Cove.  Basically, large aquariums full of very large crocs.  They had babies and teenagers, some of the old ones were close to 80 years old.  The tanks made for some fun photos though.


crocs are like iceburgs

Only a tiny piece of them is seen at the top of the water.  We left Darwin the next day, for a last overnight in Sydney before heading home to Vienna.  We stayed in the Potts Point neighborhood that night.  It was a interesting older neighborhood, in walking distance of the Botanic Garden and Rocks neighborhood.  Potts Point was full of elegant older ladies, flambouyant gay men, restaurants, bars and funky shops.  Pretty fun overall.

Two last shots of Sydney at night.

Australia was a wonderful place to visit.  People were so friendly and outgoing, if you asked for directions they dropped what they were doing and took you there.  Food was good and seeing the native flora and fauna was a treat.  Be warned though, it is really expensive.  (Now we understand why our friends think Vienna is such a bargain!) The economy is booming there, unlike many other places right now.  There were many places we didn’t get to go see, that we would have loved to visit.  It would have been fun to spend 7 months, then maybe we would have been able to see it all, although I doubt it.  If you ever get the chance, take it and go.

Posted by: okierus1 | July 22, 2012

Back to the Blog

I’d like to apologize for the year long delay in updating folks.  Our photos had become too large for uploading.  Our computer genius friend John Kinker has now told me how to shrink them down.  We will have a lot to share soon and are clearing the back-log.  Thanks for your patience!

Posted by: okierus1 | September 3, 2011

Old and New Vienna

Walked past this this one afternoon, going from the Volkstheatre towards the Rathaus.

Posted by: okierus1 | August 30, 2011

Springtime in Amsterdam

We were able to visit to the Netherlands in the springtime, when the Keukenhof Gardens ( in Lisse) are blooming.  They have one of the most spectacular bulb blooms in the world, and was it ever worth it!  Amsterdam is a beautiful city, with a couple of world class museums and several other fun things to do.  First, to the gardens.  You know how in the middle of the US you drive through lots and lots of fields, usually of corn?  It’s like that here, but different.

farm field

there are still a few windmills

Into the gardens! Keukenhof Gardens opened in 1949, started by Jacoba van Beieren, the Countess of Holland, Zeeland and Hainaut.  These were originally her hunting grounds and kitchen gardens, until one year when she invited leading bulb growers and exporters to have an exhibition there.  As you all know, Holland was the home of tulip mania, in the 1600’s.  People made tens of thousands of euros (whatever the equivalent was then) until the market completely collapsed in 1637.  The Keukenhof has a lot of the heirloom species still here, tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, it is acres of amazing color and beauty.

flower bed

“Black Parrot”

Real Parrot

No really!  There is a breeding colony of rose-ringed parakeets in Vondelpark, the equivalent of Vienna’s Stadtpark.  Back to the gardens.

Russel and Kyrgyzstan lily

tulip close up

It really is one of the best places there is to spend a warm spring afternoon.  We stayed in a small old hotel, the Hotel de Filosoof.  Very cool, funky rooms all different, and the staff were all great.  Here is the stairway –

and we’re on the third floor!

The hotel was in a great location.  Go out and turn right, go to Vondelpark.  Lots of people hanging out in the sun, lots of little restaurants and canals, lots of flowers. Here is a lady doing tai chi one morning.

the stork and the heron

Go across the park, past this house

the Pansy House

and you come to the Museum Quartier.  The Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum are both down here.  Van Gogh has always been one of my favorites and to see his paintings all together, in their almost 3-Dness was truly great.  Russel has always liked the Dutch masters, although I was less interested.  The Rijksmuseum changed my mind.  These paintings are incredible in their details and light.  The Milkmaid pouring milk, in a kitchen where you can see an old nail hole in the wall, was just like a snapshot.  I think the 16th century Dutch painters thought like the first photographers, although they were working in paint.  Both well worth the effort, but buy your tickets on-line ahead of time, the lines could be kilometers long.  You leave the old Masters, and head to some other old masters, masters of gin, beer and diamonds.

House of Bols

The House of Bols has been around since 1575.  They call it gin, but they refused to make a gin and tonic at the end, not cocktail-y enough (free samples at the end of the tour).  You first wander through and do a “sniff test”.  They have bottles of smells, so you can pick the gin you want at the end. It looked quite futuristic,

sniff test room

for being there since 1575.

Fun and cocktails, what more could you ask for?  Beer?  Beer you say?

inside the Heineken factory

And more free samples, this is great! (Jesse called us here at about 11:00 am.  That was a bit awkward.)

yup, it tastes better here

and finally the De Beer’s Museum.  This is the same De Beers of the commercials, and the South African diamond mines.  There is a small working museum, but most of the diamond cutting and crafting has moved out of Amsterdam.  There were a few things still left, like this –

diamond encrusted gorilla skull

This is what you buy when you have way too much money.  They also had a diamond encrusted Van Gogh’s Starry Night, but it was so sparkly the picture wouldn’t take.

When you came out of our hotel and took a left, you got onto the fantastic city public tram, which took us right to the downtown.

canal scene

house gables

You can see that the roof lines are all different.  They all also have hooks, to lift heavy things into the windows; you saw those stairs at the Filosoof, nothing goes up the stairs.  In the olden days, houses in Amsterdam had no house numbers.  You said what street you lived on and what the gable looked like at the top of the house, so they are all distinct. I really like the way Amsterdam looks, with the tall, narrow, somber houses (mostly black, brown, white), and they are all crooked.

crooked houses

I think living in crooked houses makes people more laid back.  The Dutch were all young, tall, fit and beautiful.  The old ones were old, tall, fit and beautiful.  Apparently, a few years back, the president said we should all ride bikes, we’ll be healthier and we won’t drive polluting cars.  They did.  Everyone is on a bike.  They have bike parking lots.

those aren’t cars in the parking lot

I have always thought living on an island or a house boat would be the best.  The canals here are lined with house boats –

houses and houseboat

People love their boats here, so do the dogs.

ahoy there!

We went to the de Hortus Botanical Garden.  It has the world’s oldest potted plant, a cycad from Brazil or Madagascar, someplace far away, and it’ been potted since about the 1500’s.

world’s oldest potted plant

We also went to the Anne Frank house, but I didn’t take any pictures.  I read that book so many times when I was growing up, and the shocking thing about going there is how tiny it is.  For 2 families plus other people, it was really really tiny.  And the 1000-year-reich certainty of the filed piece of yellow paper, that yanked her out of her hiding place was very hard to look at.  They were very sure of themselves, weren’t they.

Amsterdam is a great city, beautiful and full of history and boats.  People are friendly and food is good, although maybe not so local.  I kept trying to eat herring, but the booths were closed.  We did eat at a nice sidewalk place.

brochettes in peanut sauce

There were lots of Indonesian places, and lots of South American steak places.  Ate some good food, but I’m not sure exactly what the regional cuisine really is.  Finally, just some random shots around town.

house detail

in the hedge maze

fancy tulips

showing off in the gardens

flower market

Want to know how to make a great snack?  Take a stroopwaffle, top it with aged gouda and wash it down with 30 year old tawny port. Best. Snack. Ever.

Posted by: okierus1 | March 20, 2011

A Taste of Russia

One really good aspect of  Russel’s job is that he gets to travel to some interesting places. At the end of May 2010 he was in Russia for the first time. After a quick 3 days in Moscow, he flew to Lermontov, which is located between the Black and Caspian seas.   

A Few Facts:   

At 17,075,400 square kilometres (6,592,800 sq mi), Russia is the largest country in the world covering more than a ninth of the  Earth’s land area. Russia ranks 9th in population  with 142 million people.  It extends across the whole of northern Asia and 40% of Europe, spanning 9 time zones and incorporating a wide range of environments and landforms. Russia has the world’s largest reserves of mineral and energy resources.  It has the largest forest reserves and its lakes contain approximately one-quarter of the world’s fresh water.   

The nation’s history began with that of the East Slavs, who emerged in Europe between the 3rd and 8th centuries AD.  Founded and ruled by a noble Viking warrior class and their descendants, the first East Slavic state, Kievan Rus’, arose in the 9th century and adopted Orthodox Christianity  from the Byzantine Empire in 988, which began the combination of Byzantine and  Slavic cultures that defined Russian culture for the next thousand years.  Kievan Rus’ eventually disintegrated and the lands were divided into many small feudal states.   

The most powerful successor state to Kievan Rus’ was Moscow, which served as the main force in the Russian reunification process.  Moscow gradually reunified the surrounding Russian principalities and came to dominate the cultural and political legacy of Kievan Rus’. By the 18th century, the nation had greatly expanded through conquest, annexation, and exploration to become the Russian Empire, the  third largest empire in history, stretching from Poland in Europe to Alaska in North America.   

Russia established their worldwide power and influence from the time of the Russian Empire to being the largest and leading country in the Soviet Union, the world’s first official socialist state. It  played a decisive role in the allied victory in WW II.  The Soviet era saw some of the greatest technological achievements of the nation, such as the world’s first human spaceflight.   

The Russian Federation was founded following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.   


The first Russian reference to Moscow dates from 1147.  The population of Moscow (as of 1 January 2010) is 10,562,099. Historically, it has been the capital of the former Soviet Union, the Russian Empire, the Tsardom of Russia  and the Grand Duchy. It is the site of the Kremlin, which serves as the residence of the President of Russia. Moscow is also home to the Russian parliament (the  Duma and the Federation Council) and the Government of Russia .   

Moscow is a major economic center. It is home to many scientific and educational institutions, as well as numerous sport facilities. Its complex transport system includes four international airports, nine railroad terminals, and the world’s second busiest (after Tokyo) metro system which is famous for its architecture and artwork. Its metro is the busiest single-operator subway in the world.   

Red Square   

The Cathedral of Intercession of Theotokos on the Moat,  popularly known as the Cathedral of Basil the Blessed , is a Russian Orthodox cathedral built on the Red Square  in Moscow in 1555–1561. Built by Ivan IV (the Terrible) to commemorate the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan, it marks the geometric center of the city and has been the hub of its growth since the 14th century.   

My first visit to Red Square

St. Basil's on Red Square at night

St Basil's in the day

 The next few photos are views inside St. Basil’s.   








Red Square

 Red Square  is a city square in Moscow. The square separates the Kremlin, the former royal citadel and currently the official residence of the presidents residence, from a historic merchant quarter known as Kitai-gorod. As major streets of Moscow radiate from here in all directions, turning into major highways outside the city, Red Square is often considered the central square of Moscow and all of Russia. The square was meant to serve as Moscow’s main marketplace. It was also used for various public ceremonies and proclamations, and occasionally as the site of coronation for Russia’s czars. The square has been gradually built up since that point and has been used for official ceremonies by all Russian governments since it was established.   

Moscow State Historical Museum

Another View of State Historical Museum

Spasskaya Tower

The Spasskaya Tower was built in 1491. It was named the Frolovskaya Tower after the Church of Frol and Lavr in the Kremlin (it is no longer there). The tower’s modern name comes from the icon of Spas Nerukotvorny (Divine Savior), which was placed above the gates in 1658 (no longer there). The Spasskaya Tower was the first one to be crowned with the hipped roof in 1624-1625. According to a number of historical accounts, the clock on the Spasskaya Tower appeared between 1491 and 1585. It is usually referred to as the kremlin clock. 


With the façade extending for 242 m (794 ft) along the eastern side of Red Square,  the GUM (pronounced the goom)was built between 1890 and 1893 . The trapezoidal building features an interesting combination of elements of Russian medieval architecture and a steel framework and glass roof, a similar style to some Victorian train stations in London. It’s a state department store. 

A View of the Kremlin

One Entrance into the Kremlin

The Kremlin, is a historic fortified complex at the heart of  Moscow, overlooking the Moskva River (to the south), St. Basil’s Cathederal and Red Square (to the east) and the Alexander Garden (to the west). It  includes four palaces, four cathedrals and the enclosing kremlin wall with Kremlin towers. 

Lenin's Tomb

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov Lenin was a Communist andMarxist theorist and is considered the founder of the Soviet Union. He founded his own group in 1903, the Socialist Workers Party of Russia (called Bolsheviks), which later became the Communist Party of Russia.  In 1917 the  Russian monarchy was overthrown in a revolution.  Under Lenin’s leadership in the October revolution, the Bolsheviks replaced the existing government . The Bolsheviks were successful in the subsequent civil war in bringing most of the territories of the former Russian empire back under its control after the defeat of the White army. In  1922, the Bolsheviks formed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Lenin was  seriously ill at this point in time. After his death in 1924 his body was embalmed and placed in a mausoleum next to the Kremlin wall. 

Other Sites in Moscow   

Russia has had a long and rich history filled with many famous leaders. Peter the Great was born in 1672 and he died in 1725. Peter was tsar of Russia from 1682 to 1725. His self-given title was Peter the Great though he was officially Peter I. Peter the Great is credited with dragging Russia out of the medieval times to such an extent that by his death in 1725, Russia was considered a leading eastern European state. He centralised government, modernised the army, created a navy and increased the subjugation of the peasants.   

Monument to Peter the Great

The Bolshoi Theater was founded in 1776.  The first performances were  held in a private house,  in 1780 the theater was built at its current location. The theater is also home to the Bolshoi Ballet. In 1805 the theater building burned down and was rebuilt  20 years later. Again in 1853 a fire destroyed the interior of the theater. After a visit by the Italian architect Alberto Cavos (1800-1863), the interior of the building was reconstructed.  To this day, except for some minor changes, the original institution has been preserved. Due to its extraordinary architecture,  the  Bolshoi Theatre is considered one of the most beautiful theaters in the world.   

Bolshoi Theater

Cathederal of Christ the Saviour

 Christianity is the predominant religion in the city, of which the Russian Orthodox Church is the most popular, being   the country’s traditional religion, and was deemed a part of Russia’s “historical heritage” in a law passed in 1997.   

Another View


Pyatigorsk , about 20 kilometers (12 mi) from Mineralnye Vody. Since January 19, 2010 it has been the administrative center of Northern Caucasian Federal District of Russia.   


The name Pyatigorsk means “five mountains” in Russian and is so called because of the five peaks of the Beshtau (which also means “five mountains” in Turkic) of the Caucasian mountain range overlooking the city. It was founded in 1780, and has been a health spa with mineral springs since 1803.

Typical Spa

There is a central spa area where radon-laden water is piped and distributed. Originally established during the Tsarist times, the Communist elite utilized the facilities as well. There are many old buildings, most in need of restoration, from this time period. The city plans to re-develop the area into a modern sports/health spa center.

Old Spa


In the spa district there are a number of fountains supplied with the mineral water.



Another Fountain

Middle School Graduates

View of Spa District

 The Russian poet  Mikhail Lermontov was shot in a duel near Pyatigorsk on July 27, 1841, and he has a museum devoted to him here. 

Lermontov Monument

 Mount Elbrus  is an inactive volcano located in the western Caucasus mountain range, near the border of Georgia. Mt. Elbrus’s highest peak is the highest mountain in the Caucasus. While there are differing views on exactly how the Caucasus are distributed between Europe and Asia, most agree that Elbrus is also the highest mountain in Europe. Mt. Elbrus ‘s west summit stands at 5,642 metres (18,510 ft); the east summit is slightly lower at 5,621 metres (18,442 ft).

Mount Elbrus

Caucasus Range

Russian Cuisine

Russian cuisine has a rich and varied character, which comes from the vast, multicultural expanse of Russia. Its foundation is based on the peasant food of the rural population, who had to live, and eat,  in what was often a harsh climate.  Combinations of fish, poultry, game, mushrooms, berries, and honey are common. 

Russian Dining

 One favorite, which was served often to us by our host, was herring soaked in vodka with chopped raw onions. Crops of rye, wheat, barley, and millet provided the ingredients for a plethora of breads, cereals, beer, and vodka….and vodka is used rather liberally!  

Alex, Peter and I

Soups and stews full of flavor are centered on seasonal or storable produce, fish, and meats. I have had some of the most wonderful soups from the traditional Russian kitchen.

Of course there is the traditional borscht made of beets, meat, potatoes and sometimes served with sour cream.


Then there is my personal favorite, solyanka, which can be diced meat or fish with carrots, onions, olives, pepper, capers,tomato sauce, cucumbers…yum!


Some people prefer the cold cucumber soup called Okroshka.


Then there is pelmeni. It is like a dumpling, which is stuffed with spiced meats.


All of the above are served with copious amounts of…..


If you ever have a chance to visit this vast beautiful exotic country I strongly recommend it. I have only seen a tiny glimpse and it has whet my appetite for more!

Posted by: okierus1 | March 19, 2011

Christmas on Gran Canaria

Happy Holidays and Best Wishes in the New Year to our families, friends and those occasional readers of our blog! Winters sure are long, cold and dark here in Europe (especially winter 2010! and 2009, and 2008, how long have we been here??). So the Edge family , along with our good friends and frequent travelling companions, the McAlpins, decided to load up and fly off to the Canary Islands for some holiday fun in the sun. We left this:


We arrived to this:

Playa Amadores

The thought of sea and sun made Jesse do this:

Happy Tourist !

Tannenbaum de Amadores Playa

Merry Christmas!

 It turns out this is a popular European tourist  destination and Americans are not frequently seen here.  Just about everybody that was a tourist on the playa was Swedish, Finnish or Norwegian.

Location of Canary Islands

The Canaries are a part of Spain and are located northwest of the African continent adjacent to Morocco. These islands are volcanic in orgin and formed during Miocene times approximately 23 million years ago.

The name Islas Canarias (Canary Islands) is probably derived from the Latin for “Island of Dogs” (Insular Canaria), referring to the numerous wild dogs which were endemic on the islands when the Romans first landed there. The dogs were large and fierce and obviously made quite an impression on these new visitors.  So the birds are named for the islands, which were named for the dogs, hmmm.

The Romans, however, were not the first to arrive on the islands and the history of the Canaries is shrouded in myth and legend, some believing that there were actually part of the lost land of Atlantis. The first inhabitants probably arrived in around 3,000 BC and came from Africa. The first to establish real settlements were known as the Guanches, who came to the islands during the 2nd century BC. The Guanches (‘guan’ = man, ‘che’ = white mountain) were a tall, blond blue-eyed race of humans, whose origins are still unknown, their society consisted of a tribal structure with a king at its head, they used weapons and tools, lived in caves and later in primitive, low, stone dwellings.  Although the history of the settlement of the Canary Islands is still unclear, linguistic and genetic analyses seem to indicate that at least some of these inhabitants shared a common origin with the Berbers of northern Africa

It was the Guanches who the Romans first encountered in around 40 BC, as an expedition by Juba II arrived in what were then known as The Fortunate Islands. (And we were fortunate to be able  to go!) In AD 150, geographer Ptolemy created a reasonably accurate map of the islands and represented them as the Edge of the World. As the Roman Empire fell into decline, the Canary Islands were forgotten for over 1,000 years and there is almost no written record of them before the 14th century.

It was at the start of the 14th century that a Genoese captain named Lanzarotto encountered what is now called Lanzarote; word spread and various Italian and Portuguese expeditions explored and mapped the islands, bringing them to the attention of European nations.

The conquest of the Canary Islands began in 1402 as a Norman Knight, Jean de Bethencourt, landed on Lanzarote with a small, ill-equipped force.  Even so, Bethencourt went on to establish a fort on the island of Fuerteventura.

In 1448 the lordship of Lanzarote was sold to Portugal’s Prince Henry the Navigator (see the Porto post!).  This was not accepted by the natives nor by the Castilians living there.  A crisis swelled to a revolt which lasted until 1459 with the final expulsion of the Portuguese. In 1479, Portugal and Castile signed the Teaty of Alcacovas.  The treaty settled disputes between Castile and Portugal over the control of the Atlantic, in which Castilian control of the Canary islands was recognized but which also confirmed Portuguese possession of the Azores, Madeira, the Cape Verde islands and gave them rights to lands discovered and to be discovered. The Castilians continued to dominate the islands, but due to the resistance of the native Guanches, complete conquest was not achieved until 1495, when Tenerife and La Palma were finally subdued  (as per usual by the Spanish..they were hard on native populations!). Christopher Columbus had a home in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

The islands include (from largest to smallest): Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, and El Hierro.

The Canaries

We chose to stay in the village of Puerto Rico on the southwest side of Gran Canaria at a place called Playa Amadores. It was peaceful and beautiful. Our hotel was called the Palmera Mar. It was a nice medium priced hotel with great access to the beach, via a long walk down a steep hill, and other attractions in the area. The staff were wonderful…muchas gracias Antonio! The temperatures ranged from the 60’s at night to the low 80’s during the day…not a snowball in sight…until we saw  the towering volcanic peak Mt. Teide (12,195 ft.) on Tenerife in the distance.  Due to the change in elevation and the orographic effects, the island of Gran Canaria has several distinct ecological zones based on varied amounts of moisture.  



hard to see, in photo and reality, the volcano of Tenerife


View of Shoreline


Arid Canyon View

We rented a car and drove a loop from Maspalomas  through the villages of Soria, Tejeda, Artenara, Aldea de San Nicolas, Molino, Mogan, then returning to Puerto Rico.  This was about a six hour drive as the roads were steep, narrow and in some places heavily damaged from rock fall. It was a spectacular trip and yields a very different perspective of the island, but not for the faint of heart!

Volcanic Outcrop

Roque Nublo

Roque Nublo is  1732 meters in elevation and means “rock in the clouds”.

Lunch in Tejeda

We stopped here for lunch. The food was excellent and the owner a very gracious gentleman, who offered valuable advice on our return route! We had traditional vegetable soup, local cheeses , homemade bread and the famous canaria potatoes with mojo sauce (new potatoes boiled in salty water smothered in a spicy green chile sauce)!

Delicioso !




Canary Island Pine

Russel in his Christmas shirt, thanks Jesse!


Village Rooftops

 Our route led us past several reservoirs. We were impressed with the amount of water harvesting in the valleys and ravines of the canyons. We returned to Playa de los Amadores at sunset.

Next day, we decided to try a little fishing. We went out on the boat, the Dorado, departing from Porto Escarla in Puerto Rico.

The Dorado

Capitano Roberto

and his first mate mate (6 yr.old son) Jorge.

Future captain and fishing guide


Wonderful vista from the Dorado

(And doesn’t that almost look like an optical illusion?) So we fished in about 150 feet of water on a reef approximately 4 miles from the harbour. We fished off the bottom using a double hook rig and large weights to counteract the tidal influence. We trolled on the trip out and back but to no avail.

The Catch

Jerry and I didnt actually catch any of these..we were too busy catching everyone else’s lines! They are called combers. There is a moray eel in the bucket too..first catch of the day. Everyone except me, Jerry and the crew were Scandinavian. For more information on species of fish in the Grand Canaries follow this link:

This fishing trip was fun and I highly recommend it!

The landscaping was great and a interesting mix of arid and tropical plants.

Cardon Cactus

Various Cacti

 The islands are a unique mix of flora and fauna. It was an odd juxtaposition of volcanic desert and coastal environment. There were times  I was reminded of New Mexico, particularly the Taos volcanics and the arid mountains of the south near Las Cruces.  It’s been a while since we had a vacation where there was not a whole lot to do, no museum lines to stand in, no tours to take… So, we took the chance to putt putt golf, pretty much every day.  Leave the beach, eat, go putt putt.  It was way relaxing…

Par 16?

The landscaping was wonderful, very lush but at the same time plants that are used to arid conditions – the jade hedge was beyond anything I have ever seen.

A hedge of jade

Here are some more botanical photos, the landscaping was really amazing:

cool strangler fig

Yes, putt putt is best when done in what amounts to a botanical garden!

We took a taxi ride to a small fishing village called Mogan.  It was an older village than where we were staying, and had a great flea market that went all over the place.

One booth had some Wiener Kuchen books for sale, with old prints of the Schonbrunn Palace!  I love flea markets.  We took the so-called glass bottom ferry back to Puerto Rico.  Fish-watching, not so hot (it’s the Atlantic, not the clear Caribbean!).  The ride back was nice though.

view from the water taxi

Another good day was when we went to Maspalomas, to see the dune complex there.  It was immense, a lot larger than we had anticipated.  We passed a lot of banana plantations on the way, for some reason they grow them under cover.

white banana field covers

Walking into what turned out to be a national park, we passed a lagoon full of water birds, lizards and fish.

We set off through the dunes, it was pretty fantastic.  We saw camel tracks at one point!

looks like an oasis over there

We walked to the far end of the dune complex, then started to realize we were among the very few that were wearing clothes.  We had made it to the Zona Nudista!  Then we were in the all boy Zona Nudista, not a good place to try to use the port-o-let.  Then we stumbled across the zona volleyball tournament, yoikes.  Our eyes and brains needed a brisk sea-breeze cleanse after that vision, so we went back along the beach.

Faro de Maspalomas

This was a great trip to do not much of anything.  You could take a hike over a rocky landscape,

hiking trail, bring water!

or just stare out to sea,

or make the kid pose for photos,

or check out the tropical Christmas decorations on the beach,

or see who could take the best sunset photo.

   Gran Canaria is a great place to kick back and relax, just enjoy the  sun, the surf, the food, the people, listen to spanish and get a dose of vitamin D before heading back to winter in central Europe.

Posted by: okierus1 | July 25, 2010

Jordanian Delight

In early April 2010, we travelled to Jordan for a little fun and relaxation. Quite honestly we would have never really thought of visiting  Jordan until we met our friend Abdullah, who is a native son of Petra and a wonderful person.  He puts together a tour once or twice a year from Vienna. We arrived in Amman and started working our way south towards Aqaba over the course of 11 days, taking in a lot of of the sights along the way.

We arrived on a Friday, and it was dark by the time we got our luggage and transferred into our bus, with the bus driver and tour guide we would have the entire time.

We are here!

On the drive into Amman from the airport, we saw a lot of families out, on the side of the road, having a campfire and picnic.  They just like to be outside, and take advantage of whatever space they find.  It was nice.

The next day was a tour of Amman sites.  We went first to the Roman Theatre, which is enormous, it can seat about 6000 people.  This was built from 169-177 AD.  We walked down an old avenue to get there, which still had columns alongside.

Part of column, with greek letters inscribed

Our friend and trip organizer, Abdullah, at the Theatre

This is a part of the sound system.  All of the roman theatres were quite ingenious, the sound system was very advanced, for having no wiring.  You could hear a person on the stage, speaking in a normal voice, very clearly at the top.  They built a series of spaces, like pipes, into the seating that carried the sound.  Made them look nice too.

part of the sound system

View of Amman, from the top of the theatre

Jesse going down, it is as steep as it looks!

At the theatre, there was also the Jordanian Museum of Popular Tradition.  These are a couple of the mosaics that were housed there, which came from Madaba and Jerash, both of which we will visit later.


There was a guy selling money at the entrance, look closely and you can see Saddam.

Money for sale

We left the theatre and went up the hill to the Citadel.  This place has been inhabited since the Paleolithic Age, about 18,000 years.  There were a series of signs inside, that named and dated the successive cities here.  Rabbath-Ammon was here from 1800 BC-63 BC, and included the Pottery Neolithic, Chalcolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Persion and Hellenistic civilizations.  Overlapping that it was called Philadelphia, from 312 BC-635 AD.  This included the Nabatean, Roman and Byzantines.  Then it was Amman, from 661 AD to 1917, the Umayyad, Abbasid, Fatimid, Ayyubid, Mamaluk period and the Ottomon period.  Finally it is the Citadel, starting in 1919 with the British Mandate,through the Emirate of Transjordan, until 1946 when Jordan became, and still is, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

View of Amman and the Roman Theatre, from Citadel Hill

 The Citadel is full of ruins, and has a wonderful museum on site. 

Temple of Hercules

Temple with Melanie, for scale

Column tops in a pile

The following photos are from inside the on-site museum.

Hard to believe these survived all this time

Pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Umayyad Palace

This is the largest complex in the Citadel, this palace was built over a Byzantine building.  Here is a view of the inside of the (reconstructed) dome.

Next day we went north of Amman.  We passed an immense Palestinean refugee camp along the way.  Jordan has had to absorb much of the populace that has fled the on-going problems between Palestine and Israel.  Meaning that they have to feed, clothe, educate children, let adults work, etc.  The camp looked more like a town, it has been here that long. 

We went to the castle Ajloun, built in 1184, probably on the former site of a christian monastary.  This was built during the Crusades, however was Muslim built and only Muslim occupied.  It looked over the three main routes into Amman, and was built to guard over the nearby iron mines, and partly to show tribal feuding parties who was in charge.  They used carrier pigeons to send messages out and in. 

On the road to Ajloun, minaret and white van

Castle view

Courtyard of the castle Ajloun

It was really really crowded, there were a bunch of school trips there too.  As the buses would pass ours, the kids, girls especially, would wave and yell, they sang songs all the way up the hill.  Jesse stood out of the crowd pretty well, a lot of girls wanted their photos with her.

Olive groves, in the valley below Ajloun

I have spent my life picking olives out of everything they came in.  I had no idea.  Real olives, freshly grown, are one of the best things there are to eat.  The food was fantastic here.  I’ve always liked humus, but had no idea it was this good.  Fresh humus, fresh pita bread, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers and olives was breakfast every morning, and part of lunch and dinner too.  All of it was fantastic.  Also, there were several really good Jordanian wines, although the only label I can recall was Mt. Nebo.  Look for it. Back to the castle.

Cannon balls, circa 1100s. Better than cows?

Rock work in the ceiling

Off to another fabulous lunch, starring fresh humus.

Cynthia, Anne, me, Melanie, Sue, the ladies who lunch

And for afterwards:


Next was the both ancient and modern city of Jerash.  This city was founded in about 170 BC, in the hills of Gilead.  There is evidence of settlement here going back to the Bronze Age, about 1600 BC.  This is a huge complex of ruins.  Roman Emperer Hadrian stayed here one winter, in 129-130 and in celebration they built a new gate into the southern end of the city.

Hadrian's Gate

The outside wall of the chariot ring, the Hippodrome.

Chariot course, inside

The Oval Plaza, or the Forum, was probably the main market plaza.  It is still beautiful.  There is ancient graffiti, people carved their names into the columns along side.

the Oval Plaza

We walked along the main street, the Cardo Maximus, for a long time.  Many of the sights were off of this main street.

Lizard and Column, a still life

the Cardo

You can still see the wheel ruts in the stones paving the street, from the chariots and wagon wheels. 

We went into what was probably the butcher shop part of the market. 

Mahdi, Melanie, Rob and Jesse in the butcher shop

Here is a shout out to our guide, Mahdi.  He was the best.  A Petra native, school chum of Abdullah, he talked us through 11 days of ancient and less ancient history of Jordan.  He knew a ton, was very entertaining as well as interesting, and a lot of fun to be around.  Plus, he liked to pick up cool rocks and things as much as I did.  He is working on an eco-friendly camp in the Wadi Rum, and I would love to go back and stay there when he is finished with it.  On to the Nymphaeum.

Detail of the Nymphaeum walls

The Nymphaeum was dedicated to the water nymphs.  It had a lot of water cascading here, the pink granite basin was added by the Byzantines.  Many shells were carved into the walls.

the hollyhocks remind me of home

Next is the Temple of Artemis.  There was a cataclysmic earthquake here in 749.  Much of the city was destroyed, but some did survive.  The columns were balanced to try to keep them up, even in the event the earth was shaking.  When we arrived, a youngster had a fork stuck in the crack of one of the towers.  The handle was vibrating.  Mahdi said to stick our fingers into the same crack, so I did.  It was the strangest feeling, this enormous pile of rock on my finger, and it was vibrating like the fork handle – it felt almost electric.  I have no idea if it was really related to the 749 earthquake or not, but it was pretty wild.

columns of the Temple of Artermis

Singing Columns

And then, at the South Theatre, Bagpipers!  I love bagpipers!

And a final view of old and new Jerash.


Next day we headed south.  Onward to the Dead Sea!

Cross Section of Jordan

On the road, with teenager

Next stop was the Jordan River.  We went to the spot that is thought to be the place that John the Baptist baptised Jesus.  The river used to be bigger (Israel is siphoning off about 70% before it gets here), plus it (the river) has changed paths, so it probably isn’t the exact spot.  However, many religious pilgrims do come here to be baptised, on both sides of the river.

Jesse and Russel at the Jordan River

Both sides of the Jordan River, Jordan left, Israel right.

Russel and Peter

Then, the Dead Sea!  Russel and I had a bet.  He floats like a rock but I bet he would float here.  And he did.  I am quite buoyant anyway and I couldn’t force myself below the water here.  It was amazing and strange at the same time.  You couldn’t stay in for long, because the minerals in the water started to bother your nose and eyes.  It was really wonderful, the lowest spot on the surface of the planet, and I feel very lucky that we were able to see it for ourselves.

the Dead Sea

I’m sure they are trying to dive, it’s impossible.


There was a guy on the beach, who had a bucket of black mud, that you could coat yourself with for 3 dinar.  I coated.  In the sun, it got really hot, and when it dried I went in the water to wash off.  Unfortunately, it was really hard to get under the water to wash off, but eventually I did and my skin felt great for a week.  Smelled a bit like hot topping a street, like asphalt, but after I washed the smell off, it was wonderful.  There are Dead Sea products for acne, anti-aging, excema, it really is a special place.

I am beautifying, really

The next spot we visited was Mt. Nebo.  This is the place they say where Moses died and was buried (here he is called Musa).  He never did make it to the Promised Land, even though you could see it from here.


Mt. Nebo (and Madaba, among others) are celebrated for their mosaics.  Unfortunately, through the years, many were destroyed or vandalised.  Some were destroyed when excavation was going on, others when certain movements gained  power and decided images of faces, including animal faces, could not be shown.

We left Mt. Nebo and drove to Madaba, starting down the King’s Highway, which we would take to Petra eventually.

Mahdi at work

Mahdi  reminded me of my ecology professor, Dr. James.  They could both talk for a week, from one end of the country to the other, never repeat themselves and make it interesting.  It’s a skill.

Madaba is also famous for it’s mosaics, some of which date back to the 500’s.  The most famous here is in the 19th century St. George’s Church, the St. George that slew the dragon.  An ancient mosaic map was uncovered here, that was of the entire Holy Land,  all the way around the Mediterranean. The map was partially destroyed when they were excavating the old church, for the new, not knowing it was there. 

Here are a few shots of the streets in Madaba.

coffee pots and rugs

old wagon wheel, no wonder we still the ruts in the roman roads!

minarets and a golden dome

We stopped at a shop between Mt. Nebo and Madaba, where they are making mosaics.  By hand, they cut stones into tiny pieces and glue them into place.  The work was beautiful, from small coasters to huge table tops.  We bought a mosaic of the Tree of Life.

mosaic craftpeople

 We left again via the King’s Highway, heading south towards Petra.  We drove though the green Jordan Valley until we hit the desert.  The Jordan Valley has a lot of farms and is quite fertile.  We passed truck after truck of produce, heading for Amman.

the green Jordan Valley

Some of the produce

eggplants for sale

We finally left the green part of the country and headed into the desert.  It felt a little like Utah, steep barren mountain sides, heading down towards water and then back up and out again, I think we went through three or four of the big basin and range systems.

the King's Highway

cliffs and prayer blankets

Mahdi, Fathi, Nayim and Abdullah

These are our guides and tour leader, and Fathi drove the big bus.  Our bus driver, Abdulkhaleq, hid from this photo but we got him later.  I think Jordanian bus drivers have to be some of the best drivers in the world.  Traffic was, basically, constant chaos with no apparent rules, and our drivers got us through everytime.

We came through the desert and headed for the city of Karak, which was the capital city for the Moabites and home to a huge crusader castle built in the 1100s.  On the way there, Mahdi spotted some black iris in a field along the road.

Black Iris, the Jordanian national flower

We passed lots and lots of goat herds, too.

goat for sale

Jordanian fast food

The castle at Karak is enormous.  Started in 1115, it lasted through several sieges through about 1183, when the Muslim armies started winning and running the Christian crusaders out of TransJordan.  It was built hastily, so to protect themselves, and you can see that they used whatever they could get their hands on for building materials – there are pieces of old roman columns and Nabatean blocks in the walls.

entrance to Karak castle and fortress

This place was huge and a lot of it was underground.  Dark kitchens, dark and dismal barracks, really dark and dank dungeons.  I’m glad I wasn’t posted or captured here.  We left Karak for a dash to beat the sunset, which we spent at the Dana Nature Preserve.  It was beautiful.  There is a restored village there, which you can now stay at.  It looked almost Anasazi.

Dana Village, below the lookout

Sunset at Dana

We drove that night to our hotel in Petra.  The next day was pretty unbelievable.  I took a shot of the sign in the parking lot for the Petra site, which was seen all over the country.  It is a double photo of King Hussein of Jordan, who ruled for 46 years and was well loved, and the son that he appointed to take his place, King Abdullah II who was crowned in July 1999.   His wife is Queen Rania, who is beautiful and stylish and comes from a notable Palestinian background.  He seems to also be very respected by the population, and seems to be doing his best to continue his father’s progressive agendas.

King Hussein and his successor, King Abdullah II

Then, we hopped on arabian horses to ride our way to the entrance to the slot canyon, that takes you to the ancient Nabatean city of Petra.

Jesse on the best dressed horse

Tombs on the road to the city

This guy offered me 17 camels for her, maybe I should have taken his offer…..

smooth operator, and nice eye liner too

Then, into the slot canyon.

Into the canyon

This is again like Utah, you walk through the slot canyon for a mile or two before you come to the city itself.  Dams have been built inside, but they do have flash floods.

Most is gone here, but you can still see the feet if you look closely.

camel feet, human feet

Jesse and Russel, almost out of the canyon

and then we were there.  Petra is truely one of the wonders of the world.  It was spectacular.

the Treasury

Welcome! Welcome!

Close up of the top of the Treasury

Petra was in force as it’s own city in the first centuries BC and AD.  One thing they did was incorporate other cultures into their city.  There are Roman, Greek, Byzantine, and other cultures’ symbols that you can see built in here.  They did not build this city, they carved it into the cliffs.  It was lost at some point, but re-“discovered” by Mr. Burckhardt, a Swiss adventurer, in 1812.  Seeing how hard it is to get to and to see from the outside, it is not surprising it was “lost”.

it's hard to believe we are here

Around the Treasury, and down the main street.

view from one of the tombs

The current thinking is that these are all burial sites.  Even though Petra was an actual city when it was built, it ended up as a kind of a graveyard.  Families with more money, more ornate and large caverns; less money, still buried here but not so ornate.

Main Street Petra, camels, cliffs, sand art

We passed the Coliseum here.  The Romans didn’t really like it that the Nabeteans were so good at what they did, so they decided the Coliseum wasn’t big enough for them and that they would add on.  You can tell their part at the top, the part that looks like it was melting.  The Romans were good builders, but maybe not such good cliff carvers.

camels and coliseum

They had kind of the same problem with the Palace Tomb.  It was going to be bigger and better than anything else, but they ran out of cliff before it was done.  The Romans didn’t win this challenge.

the Palace Tomb


On this steet we came to the Petra Church, a Byzantine church built in the 400s.  It ha the most fantastic Tree of Life and Noah’s Ark mosaics. 

Hunters, fishers, life

Noah's Ark, two by two

keyhole arch, on the main road

 We were lucky enough to send Jesse back with Sue and Cynthia, (thanks!) because Russel and I and others wanted to hike up to the Monastary.  Plus Jesse was lucky enough to take her first camel ride back out, so everyone was happy!  Up the 400 million or so carved steps we go…The colors are amazing.  Petra is called the “Rose Red City”, it is much much more than that.

Petra sandstone colors

 So Russel, Fabien, Jerry and I started hiking up. And up. And up.  And up.  We were headed for the Monastery.

a very patient burro

Walking up the trail to the Monastery

Russel and Fabien, why do they always have to look over the edge?

Staircase up

Then we came around a corner, we had made it.

the Monastery

I think it is even bigger than the Treasury. 

top of the Monastery

Russel, Jerry and Fabien continued up the path, to the closest highest point.  I was content to sit in the shade, sip a lemonade and watch the scenery.

Coffee pots and Monastery

View from further up the trail

Then, it was time to head back to the bus. 

archaeologic pieces stacked along the road

the Marketplace

We were running late and many people had already left the city.  The Marketplace was empty, and really showed all the rooms.  It was like the Jemez ruins, but bigger.

Another view of the Marketplace, with the remarkable stripes in the rock

No Coke, Pepsi!

Jesse on the way out via Camel Express

Two last views of the Treasury.  We were pretty late at this point, and the sun was starting to go down.  The colors were completely changed from earlier in the day.  What a remarkable place Petra is.

one last glimpse

Petra mountain and slot canyon

On to the Wadi Rum!  As Lawrence of Arabia said, it is “vast, echoing and god-like”.  It too was a very special place.   We passed a lot of bedouin tents in this part of the country, traditionally they are black and large enough for the entire family to live in.

traditional Bedouin tent

When we got to Wadi Rum, we loaded up into 4 wheel drive pickups, for some dune 4 wheeling.

desert driving

The stone formations scattered around were huge, with sand dunes in between.  It was very red sand, very large and quiet, and very beautiful.

in the Wadi Rum

Russel and Karen in the Wadi Rum

It was pretty windy at the top!

plant, sand, mountains

4 wheeling!

red cliffs

We stopped at the base of an enormous sand dune, and a bunch of us set off.  Russel set the pace and was the first to the top.

Jesse is about 1/2 way there

Come on Jerry!

We made it!

And Ulli did the climb in cowboy boots, she’s my new hero.  We drove next to a place that actually had petroglyphs.  Same style as home, very different subject material.

like Newspaper Rock, but with camels

and ostriches

ships of the desert

Bedouin tents in a narrow canyon

We made our way to the camp we would stay in for the night.  The hosts were kind, the food was, as usual, great, the scenery was too.  Later in the evening we were treated to traditional music, beneath the stars.  We hiked up more dunes, to an overlook point to wait for the sunset.

Yalla! Russel's at the top already!

this rock looks like a beached tugboat

sunset in the Wadi Rum

This is the night we were treated to traditional music.  Here is Abdulkhaleq (our bus driver) playing the drum that night.

Abdulkhaleq drumming

Our host, making sure we had enough tea and shisha

The next morning was the mass exodus, we all got camels and rode off into the Wadi Rum.  It was the best!

the camel parking lot

ready to brave the burning sands

Russel and Jesse, heading into the desert of Wadi Rum

the Edge's and Amy, in the Wadi Rum

Abbey Road, with camels

the Wadi Rum

Jerry of Arabia

a pack of camels

leaving Wadi Rum

We (sadly) left the Wadi Rum, but did stop to get fresh dates for the ride out.  Onward, to the Red Sea resort of Aqaba.  We took a party barge boat one day, supposedly for fishing, but not really.  We were able to snorkel off the boat, but the best snorkeling was off our beach, more later.  We did hit total relaxation mode, no buses to catch, no more early mornings.  It was a great way to finish off a fantastic trip.

getting ready to go in

even Russel went in!

one of my favorite things!

Jesse just likes the breeze

 We spent two days at this Red Sea resort.  It was wonderful.  They had a reef along-side their beach, but you had to access it from the outside.  The pier took you outside the reef boundary, and they did a magnificent job of protecting it.  We have snorkeled many beautiful places in the world, but had never seen giant clams.   GIANT CLAMS.  Enormous sea slugs.  Sea anemones, with foot long spikes.  Coral and fish in unbelievable colors.  It was incredible.  I should have gotten an underwater camera, but you’ll have to take my word for it, it was the best ever.

the dock that took you outside of the reef, to protect it

Cynthia's new dress

we only asked for an extra towel!

the Red Sea, and Israel and Egypt

Standing in Aqaba, we could see Israel, Egypt and the mountains of Saudi Arabia.  It is small here, and there has to be a way for everyone to get along.  This was one of the best trips we have ever been on, it is a beautiful, historic and wonderfully hospitable country.  The Jordanians, the food, the guides, the bus drivers, the sights, the entire trip itself, is something that will stay with all of us.

Posted by: okierus1 | March 9, 2010

Oh, Porto!

Russel and I went with our friends Jerry and Cynthia McAlpin to Porto, Portugal the last week of February.  Porto is sometimes called Oporto, which is incorrect, or alternatively, Mecca for Port Enthusiasts, which works fine.  We have wanted to come here since we first tried a port wine in Grand Junction, in our backyard with Barbara Sutton.  After living in Vienna, it was nice to be around 1) really friendly people, and 2) signs and menus we could at least figure out.  Portugese looks similar to spanish, and some words are the same.  However, listening to people speak, Russel and I decided it sounds like a mixture of spanish and russian.  Very different but quite easy on the ear. 


Getting there was not easy – cancelled flights (pilot strike in Germany), delayed flights (air traffic controller strike in France) but we refused to give up.  We finally made it and stayed in a nice hotel, the Hotel da Bolsa, in the Ribeira district. 

View from hotel room towards the Douro River

This was a great, old neighborhood.  Porto is a bit shabby, but still very colorful.  We decided to get right to the sight-seeing, even though it was raining.  And rained almost the whole time we were there, along with some almost gale force winds at times.  We started down the hill towards the river and here are some of the sights on the Porto side of the river, in Ribeira. 

Henry the Navigator

Henry was actually a Portugese prince, born in the late 1300’s.  He is credited with really beginning portugese sea-faring and expansion.  He was one of the first to chart the coast of Mauritania.  Across the street from the statue is the Stock Exchange Palace.  It is neither a stock exchange (anymore, it was closed and all stock business is now in Lisbon) nor a palace, but the local, still functioning Chamber of Commerce.  We took a tour of the magnificent interior, but no photos were allowed so here a link with some of the sights inside. The site is in Portugese, but the photos are pretty good. 

Porto, still standing behind Henry

At the bottom of the street was a beautiful little church, called the Sao Francisco Church.  Most of Porto’s buildings are covered in tile, all the color you see is not paint but individual tiles covering the walls.  Sao Francisco was no exception. 

Sao Francisco Church

Attached to the Stock Exchange Palace is what is left of the nunnery, which was originally the whole building.  But, the Queen told the nuns to turn it into the Stock Exchange, and what could they say?  This is the old nunnery, from the street. 


There is a city tram there too. 

City Tram

We were still heading for the Douro River, and found a narrow street to take us there. 

still looking for the river

We found some great sights along the way, including this fantastic, small boat builders shop.  They were very nice, and invited us in to see their museum of what they had done.  We bought one of his little Rabelo boats, which are the old boats that carried the port down from the quintas in the Douro Valley, to the port houses here, in Vila Nova de Gaia (much much more on that soon). 

Boat Builders Shop

Here is one of their models, of a tall ship that sailed from Portugal to Brazil.  Their work was beautiful. 

from Portugal to Brazil

This was a great restaurant, the Ora Viva on the Rua Fonte Taurina, we came back for dinner one night. 

Ora Viva interior

And then, we found it, the Cais da Ribeira! 

Douro River and Ponte Luis I

Sea Gulls

Jerry and Karen, happy to be here!

Houses around the Praca da Ribeira (the Square). 

Around the Praca

You may have noticed how tall and narrow these buildings are.  That is due to them being taxed on their river-frontage, so the fronts are literally feet wide, and the buildings are deep and tall, rather like shot gun houses, but covered in tile. 

House tiles, up close

There must be a full time industry keeping all the millions of these (billions?) in the city glued to the buildings.  The following photos are just shots from along the river. 

Porto Cruz boat

We meant to take this tour of the city, via boat, but thought we’d wait until the next day when the weather, maybe, was better.  Little did we know this was the last day of tours, the police closed the river the next day to traffic until after we left.  So, now we must go back. 

Porto, with Ponte in back

The Ponte Luis I is a double-decker bridge, cars and pedestrians go across the bottom layer, and the metro and pedestrians go across the top.  The top is a long way up! 

Along the Cais

Porto roof view

Here are more of the rabelos, the old transportation up and down the river. 

Rabelos, lined up on the Vila Nova de Gaia side of the Douro


Two rabelos with a precious cargo


Yes, you can buy some port here

Or here

Or practically anywhere, for that matter. 

Porto, from Vila Nova de Gaia


Then, finally, we saw it.  I spy, with my little eye…. 

Dow's, Sandeman, Burmeister

and Croft, Offley's, and Ramos Pinto

and Ferreira's

and look, they have signs on how to get there!

At the other end of the bridge

Tempting, I know.  However, before we enter all the various port houses, we’ll see more of Porto.  The next day, it was raining.  Suprise!  So, we thought we’d take the funicular up to the top of the hill, where the old city walls are.  However, the funicular was not running, so we hoofed it.  Up this stairway.
And this looks nowhere near as long and steep as it was.

And this looks nowhere near as long and steep as it was!  This did lead us up to the old city walls, which parts of are still here.  

Old city walls

Vasco de's lesser known brother Arnaldo, although I guess it could be his cousin

Yes, it does rain a lot here. 

mossy steps

Old and new, ramparts and metro

I don’t know the name of this church, but it was attached to the old city walls and filled with extravagent carvings.  None of this is painted, it’s carved.