Coronavirus makes us a no go

Well, needless to say, we did not go on the cruise and are not spending a month in Florence. Sadly, we even had to cancel all of our pet and house sitting assignments in England.

We are in the most dangerous ages for this virus, over 65 and so we are hunkering down here at home. It is best for our safety and others. So we will be reorganizing the house, going through boxes and doing art work.

I am not sure when we will get to travel again , but when we do this blog with fill up again with picture and text about senior adventures.

Quick trip to Sedona and the Grand Canyon

We just returned from a 5 day trip to Sedona and the Grand Canyon. Sedona was stunning as always. Such a beautiful and spiritual place set in the red rock canyon.

While we were in that part of the country we made a side trip to Jerome. It is an old mining town on the side of a mountain. There is an old west vibe in the town and they have a haunted hotel.

An old house in Jerome
The haunted Grand Hotel

The Grand Hotel was the hospital for the mining town and it is said that 9,000 people died there. I guess that is enough souls to leave a few behind to haunt the guests.

We also got to spend a day at the Grand Canyon. No matter how many times I go there I am always overwhelmed by this natural treasure.

It was a wonderful break in the routine. We will be leaving for Florence in 2 weeks. We will be taking a cruise across the Atlantic to Barcelona and flying to Florence. After a month there in an airbnb we will begin pet and house sitting in Europe. Go, go, go…..

Hobbiton, New Zealand

Hobbiton was the film set for The Lord of the Rings in 1999. It is a beautiful sheep and cattle ranch on the North Island of New Zealand. Director Peter Jackson thought it had the perfect green rural valley look for the homes of those delightful hobbits . They put in 37 hobbit holes and decorated them with gardens and hedges. It is an interesting site for any Rings fans.

But it was not built to last and after filming it was partially torn down after filming. In 2010 , it was rebuilt in a more permanent fashion for the filming of the movie The Hobbit. Now, it has been converted into a tourist destination. The tour we took was about 2 hours long. We had a very nice tour guide. who filled us in on stories about filming the movies and other funny tidbits about the set.

Our handsome tour guide
View of the lake and the main buildings at Hobbiton

It was an interesting tour and well worth the time and money. We thought it was the best tour that we took in New Zealand. Here are some photos from the tour.

You can see how each house was dressed to suggest a individual who lived there
At Bilbo ‘s house, his pipe and journal
Hobbit laundry drying is the sun
The water mill on the lake in Hobbiton.

We would highly recommend this for any visitor to New Zealand, it is a must see. The tour ends in the Green Dragon Inn, with an (included) cup of beer, wine, or ginger beer.

Hobbiton is only a couple of hours from Auckland, and Rotorua, our next stop, is only an hour more, so it was convenient to visit on the way.

Auckland ,the Sky Tower, Howick Historical Village

We landed in Auckland. This trip was a sightseeing trip and it did not include any pet sits. The three of us took an uber to our hotel which was in the center of the city right by the Sky Tower. David got us rooms on the 22nd floor and we could see all of downtown Auckland from our room. Here is the the view of the Sky Tower from our bedroom.

We walked over to it the next day. There is an observation deck that is 360 degrees round. You can look down on the city, and the harbor from there.

Under the top deck there is a restaurant and a snack bar. We got a gelato and sat in the Sky Cafe until the sun set.

Linda and Dave in the Sky Cafe
Sandi, David and Linda

It was good that we went up the tower that day because the day after we left they had a fire on the roof of the convention center that was being built right behind the tower. The smoke was so heavy that we would have had to stay in our hotel for the day. It was a sad day for Auckland.

The next day in Auckland we went to Howick Historical Village. I love to visit this type of historical museum that has houses and exhibits that explain country’s historical time. “Howick Historical village  is a re-creation of a New Zealand colonial village using houses and cottages saved from the surrounding Auckland suburb of Howick. ” ( Wikipedia) The English government offered retired soldiers and their families (called Fencible soldiers ) free passage to New Zealand, a house and an acre of land for 7 years of service in 1847. Their main service was to attend military parades every Sunday.

In 1962 the local historical society decided to put this village together with cottages and buildings that were still around the area.

It was a bright and sunny day; perfect to see the village and the reenactors that were bringing this history to life.

Musicians playing historical instruments in front of a house
A local Maori house that some settlers lived in until their cottages could be built
Period oven where a lady was baking bread
A man using an original printing press from the 1850s
Morris dancers
School house where we sat for a school lesson
It was Spring in New Zealand the the chicks were just born
The village court house

We spent an enjoyable afternoon exploring this historical village. The next day we were off to Hobbiton, the set for the Hobbit movies and The Ring trilogy.

Off to New Zealand by way of a cruise from San Francisco

We were so excited to start our cruise to New Zealand from San Francisco. We spent three days touring the city before we got on the Golden Princess to start our 20-day cruise to Auckland. We were travelling with my sister, Sandi for the trip. Our cabin was an aft cabin that had a wonderful balcony on the back of the ship.

Our cabin was on the back of the ship

It was exciting to see our ship go under the Golden Gate Bridge. I took this photo of it.

We were at sea for several days and finally arrived in Hilo on the big island of Hawaii. We got off the ship and rented a car and drove down to the Kilauea volcano. It was almost completely closed because of the volcano’s eruptions last year. So we drove down the coast to see the black sand beach where the sea turtles rest on the sand.

The pond by the black sand beach

Linda and Sandi at the black sand beach
One of the turtles resting in the sand

Next day we called at Honolulu where we visited the summer palace and walked around Waikiki. We had lunch at Duke’s, which we do whenever we find ourselves near one of their locations.

After six more days at sea, we arrived at the island of Bora Bora. The color of the sea was extraordinary. The variations of blues were stunning. We took a boat out to the lagoon to snorkel in the crystal blue waters.

A local man anchoring a snorkel boat in a lagoon

The next day we landed in Tahiti. It is another beautiful island . We took a bus tour around the island to see their historical sites and beautiful beaches.

These local musicians greeted us as we left the ship
One of the local ducks
A view of one of the many beautiful beaches on Tahiti

After a few more days we landed in American Samoa. There was not much to do on this island. We went off and walked around the city. It was very hot and muggy and it rained. We, and about 60 other passengers, visited McDonald’s to try to use their WiFi. It was a little, umm, slow. I did get a good photo of a beach as we left.

We celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary on the ship on Oct. 13. We had a special dinner in one of the specialty restaurants on board.

After a total of twenty days on the Golden Princess (and crossing the international date line), we arrived in the modern city of Auckland, New Zealand. We spend two nights in a hotel on the 22nd floor in downtown Auckland. Here is a photograph from our hotel room of the Auckland skyline. That’s the Sky Tower, which we visited on Sunday evening. You might have read about the big fire that erupted at the adjacent convention center the day after we left.

I will continue the story of the two weeks we spent touring New Zealand before flying home to Los Angeles.

Cat sitting in San Diego

We are cat sitting in Hillcrest in San Diego. We love this city. It is a pleasure to take care of these two kitties in this fun part of San Diego. The sunset view of the downtown from Shelter Island is a beautiful photograph.

We got to spend some time walking around Balboa Park and saw some of the baby ducklings in the pond before the botanical gardens.

corridor in Balboa Park

Old Globe theater in Balboa Park

Today, we drove up to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse. My great, great grandfather, Christopher McAleer was the assistant light house keeper around 1865. The lighthouse is on the end of the Point Loma peninsula. In 1865 when he was working there, it was about a five mile ride over empty land to Old Town, San Diego. It must have been worth the ride because he went to a party in Old Town and met my great , great grandmother. After being the assistant light house keeper for only 8 months he married the pretty ,young senorita and the rest is history, as they say. Thank God for this meeting as I would not been here today.

Old Point Loma Lighthouse
Casa de Estudillo in Old Town , San Diego where they married

Needless to say, San Diego is an important part of my family heritage. So staying here is always a pleasure.

Milan a city of faith and death

We spent several days in Milan.  The city is a mixture of celebration of the Roman Catholic faith and honoring the dead.  The Milan Cathedral is a magnificent example of  Italian Gothic architecture.  In 1386 the church was started and was not finished until 1965. It is the largest church in Italy.Milan cathedral netThe main doors outside the cathedral have wonderful bronze  sculptures that illustrate the bible stories designed by Italian sculptor Ludovico Pogliaghi .

Milan Cathedral door images net

Joseph and Mary marry


So many exquisite works of art inside the cathedral like these marble saints.Milan Cathedral saints net

And the body of St. Carlo Borromeo who was the archbishop of Milan in 1564 to 1684.  It is in a crystal coffin in the crypt of the church.  It is the site of pilgrims who come to pray for the saint’s help.

Milan Saint Carlo Borromeo net

His face is made of silver

The monumental cemetery in Milan is one of europe’s best.  The sculptures and grave stones are artistic and creative.  This is one of my favorites; a woman expressing profound grief.milan monumental cemetery grief netI will say that the majority of the statues are women expressing grief at the passing of their husbands.  Though there were some honoring women and children who have passed.milan monumental cemetery woman netThere is also a sense of deeply felt faith even in sorrow.milan monumental cemetery grief woman net


milan monumental cemetery girl net


And this grave stone which is an abstract.milan monumental cemetery abstract netThe city is a combination of faith and death.

Lake Como a wonderful place to visit

I am two weeks out from losing my dear dog, Mac.  I am still sad but I am doing better.  So I thought I would start to catch up with the adventures in our trip.

We spent two days in Lake Como.  lake como hill netIt was really lovely and because it is the end of the season there were less people to contend with.  We used the all day ferry pass to visit small towns on both sides of the lake.Lake Como ferry netThe second day we took the hydrofoil ( fast boat) to the city of Como because if you do not it takes two and a half hours by regular ferry.  Como is a lovely small town with a cathedral.como cathedral altar netThe late afternoon brings a light fog over the lake.Lake Como hills netThe last sunset over the lake was stunning.Como sun clouds net

I will be putting up more blogs as we are going home on the Celebrity Reflections across the Atlantic.Lake Como dark sunset net

Price shock in Switzerland … and a tale of two ATMs

You may remember our amazement at the prices of nearly everything in Copenhagen … the Burger King lunch for two for $21 stands out in my mind. We knew Switzerland would be expensive, and that’s why a week’s pet-sit was such a good opportunity.

The 3-km cab ride from the station to Sixt car rental was a quick introduction, as it cost $37 — $8 to start, $5/km, $1.33/minute, and $5 extra to bring our 3 suitcases, even though the driver was older than me and I had to load them into his cab myself.

Food in the grocery store is about 2 – 3 times US prices for most things.  Cereal is $7 a box, ground beef is $10 a pound, a croissant that might be €1 in Paris or Rome is 1.70 here. A lemon was $0.70. Frozen vegetables are all about $6.50 for 800g, about 28 ounces. Although a liter of milk is 1.60, if you add chocolate and sugar and air and make a liter of ice cream that weighs 500g, it’s 10.60 (on sale last week for only 7.40!). This is Carte d’Or, who make a dark chocolate that is Linda’s favorite. But still! Gas is 1.70 a liter ($6.43 a gallon), not quite the highest we’ve seen in Europe. The shocking thing was transportation — we’re 19km from Zurich and a 1-way tram ride is 10.60; an all-day ticket twice that at 21.80. Even in London, where we stayed about the same distance from the center, transit was capped at £8.00 — about $10.40 per day, so about half the Zurich rate.

The Swiss Franc is just about on par with the dollar now, costing about $1.01 from an ATM. Everyone seems OK with these prices, so I looked up Swiss salaries and discovered that the median is about $72,000. There’s less range … a lot of professional types (IT, etc) make around $110,000, but even grocery clerks clear $50,000. There isn’t a formal minimum wage, but effectively it’s about $25/hour, and everyone gets healthcare.

All this would make sense to me if a Swiss Franc cost US $0.50, but as it is, it makes Switzerland and Swiss products really expensive, and must make traveling worldwide a great deal for the Swiss! The roads are great, the trains are spotless, and the cows look happy. They actually wear those bells you see in drawings.

Anyway, yesterday we were in Zurich, and as those francs had been flying out of my wallet, I went to get some more.  At the Paradeplatz, the center of shopping Zurich, there’s an immense Credit Suisse bank.  In front, there are two ATMs, and as someone was using the one on the left, I approached the one on the right.  It informed me it only dispensed 100- and 500-franc notes, and if I wanted smaller, I should use the other ATM. Well, harumph! The money is really pretty, though:

Image result for swiss banknotes

and the 5-franc coin is huge, as it should be.

Saturday, we’ll return the Mercedes A180 that Sixt gave us “because we’re out of everything else,”  and take trains back to Milan and then to Civitavecchia, and our rendezvous with Celebrity Reflection on Monday.  We’re feeling a little better.

Time for a break

We’re in the heading-for-home phase of this year’s travels, and we have a lot to tell you about. But sometimes things don’t work as planned. So we have to leave you with this stub, or outline, and we’ll finish later, as Brian Williams says, “on the other side.”

We flew from Birmingham to Milan on October 6, and took the train to Varenna on Lake Como. We had two and a half days of great weather, and explored the lake by boat, before returning to Milan.

There we visited the Monumental Cemetery. You know Linda is such a fan of these, and this was the best one we’ve ever seen. She now has hundreds of pictures to sort through, in spite of the zanzare (mosquitoes) that inhabit the place. The next day it was raining, but we went to visit the Duomo anyway. For some reason, the lines were worse than they had been the (sunny) day before._DSC0003

But that night, we received news that out dog Mac had been killed by a coyote. Linda is seriously depressed.  This has really ruined the mood of the adventure, and it’ll take a little time before we’re up to the work of selecting and cleaning photos, and writing interesting and witty commentary.

On October 13, we took the train up to Zurich where we’re sitting Lilly the labrador for a week. This Saturday, the 20th, we’ll take the train again (it was a beautiful trip) back to Milan for the night, and then Sunday it’s six hours back to Civitavecchia, the port for Rome. Monday we’ll depart on Celebrity Reflection, stopping at Barcelona, Cartagena, Malaga (all of which we’ve visited before) and Tenerife, in the Canary Islands, which is a new port for us, and arriving in Fort Lauderdale on November 5. We fly home the same afternoon.

We’ll update you as soon as we can.

In the meantime, are you registered to vote?