Birding outing.

Doray and I visited Warbler Woods and Crescent Bend Nature Park today.  We saw many more species than I was able to capture on camera, but here are my only keepers.  I love the variety of migrant birds we get to see here.

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Common Yellowthroat female
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Painted Bunting male
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White-eyed Vireo
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Bronzed Cowbird

 

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Black & White Warbler
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Louisiana Waterthrush
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Blackburnian Warbler female
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Inca Doves
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Spoiled.

Julie came over today with a gorgeous bouquet of flowers, and whipped up a delicious brunch.

What a sweetie. 🙂

Messing about.

We took a boatload of people out on the lake yesterday. We enjoyed a nice long sail down the lake and back, then anchored for a couple hours. We even had a few floaters, though I’m waiting a couple more weeks for the lake to warm up a tad. The sun was out, wind was up. Another great day on the lake!

To the gulf.

We have been busy crossing off projects from our todo list for Lori’s boat. Today Lori, Joe, Monte, and I took the morning off and took our bikes to the sea wall at Galveston Island and rode up and down it.

This is a sculpture dedicated to the memory of the 6000+ souls lost in the 1900 hurricane. If you want to learn more about it, I recommend reading Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larsen.

One stretch of beach had dozens of hand built piles of rocks.

We made one, too!

We worked hard all afternoon, but had a wonderful day.

Lake fatigue.

We had a great weekend on the lake! We are now back home and I am wiped out. I think it’s the heat, the sun, the fun that takes it out of me. This was the first raft-up of the year. I clearly need to get my party muscles in shape.

There was little to no wind today. We motored over to Cow Creek to give Michael and Amber a glimpse at one of our favorite spots on the lake.

Then we turned back downriver towards our marina. We passed the racers. It was going to be a very long day for them with these light winds.

Back to Turnback.

The annual Turnback Canyon Regatta is this weekend; a two day race up to around mile marker 30 and back. We’re not racing. In fact we motor sailed a couple of the legs yesterday since the wind was on our nose. But it’s a fun way to spend a weekend on the lake.

We got anchored in time to watch the bigger sloops finish day 1.

Amber and Michael brought tasty nibblies.

We grilled dinner on the boat and listened to Asleep at the Wheel play on-shore as we watched the sun set.

A good day.

Apps to pack.

I enjoyed my Italy trip immensely. On this trip I graduated to the realm of the connected-passenger, relying on technology to assist my travels. I thought I’d share some of the apps that I found useful (and a couple I didn’t). Also, note that I have an iPhone, so I can’t comment on the availability of the apps for other phone types.

International data plan: Before setting off, do take the time to research your wireless phone provider’s international plan options. Mine has a day-pass for $10/day which essentially extends the already generous cellular voice/data limits of my existing plan to use while connected in other covered countries. Free wifi is generally widely available in Europe, but I found it could be a bit spotty. I didn’t want to worry about data caps, and Italy and the U.K. are included in my provider’s per-day international plan, so I went with that. You may choose differently, but decide before you leave.

Airline apps: This trip I flew Norwegian Air Shuttle and easyJet. You’ll want your airlines’ apps on your phone, too. Online check-in may help you avoid some lines, and online boarding passes can make connections and terminal transfers a bit easier without having to find a kiosk or person to print out a paper boarding pass for you.

Lodging: I booked my lodging through Airbnb. The Airbnb app makes for easy communication with hosts for directions, check-in times, and handling any questions or problems that come up during your stay. If your hotel has an app, you may want to install it for the same reasons.

Itinerary management: Instead of printing out a dozen or so reservation details, I opted to use GoogleTrips to integrate them all together. Once installed, you can login and have it pull details from emails in your inbox relating to travel reservations, and it will organize them all neatly by trip, date, and destination. And you can have it download the itinerary for offline viewing. This puts times, flight numbers, locations, reservation codes, contact details in one easy to reach place.

Train schedules: Following a tip from Rick Steve’s Europe website, I installed the Deutsche Bahn’s app DB Navigator for online rail timetables. It was awesome. Though it is the German rail’s app, it includes very current schedules for all of Europe for online viewing. The Italian rail information was accurate and I used this app exclusively to plan my train travel. I didn’t use it to purchase tickets, just to figure out which train I wanted to catch. I highly recommend it.

Currency conversion: The Xe currency app works online, or offline if needed, using the last exchange rate it downloaded. Not necessary but nice to have if you don’t know how much that thing is really going to cost you.

Foreign language help: My English and Spanish get me by in most places, but I don’t know much Italian. So, I used the Google Translate app. It will translate individual words or phrases for you. But it can also use the camera on your phone and will translate entire paragraphs of text in an image for you. This was awesome for translating text from tour brochures. Plus it was just kind of fun to use.

I also recommend Duolingo for learning a new language. I always have it on my phone, to sharpen my Spanish, and I used it for a few weeks ahead of my recent trip to learn a bit of Italian. It definitely helped. They also make a flash card-based app called Tinycards that is a nice companion to the original Duolingo app. And they are both free.

What to see: I installed the Trip Advisor app, and downloaded ahead of time the info they have on Florence, Pisa and Cinque Terra. I used it to look for ideas on new things to see and places to visit. Google Trips also has a “things to do” category, but I found Trip Advisor was the one I used more.

Finally, I recommend installing Rick Steve’s Audio Europe app. It has audio walking tour and museum audio tours for several destinations in Europe. You can download ahead of time the ones you want to listen to.

Entertainment: I always tote my kindle e-reader around, but I also downloaded some free audiobooks and videos using Hoopla and Overdrive apps. If your city library participates with them, you can checkout several titles for free each month. I loaded up a few for the plane and train rides.

I never leave home without my Geocaching app. If you want to see more than a few caches you’ll have to sign up for a premium membership, which I find very reasonable. You can download ahead of time collections of caches in different places that you are going to visit. I earned my Italy badge on this trip. Woohoo! I carry a real compass in my backpack, but an electronic version is handy, too.

I left my binoculars and big camera at home this trip. So I didn’t think I’d get much birding in, and that was correct. I could hear many birds, but I was hard-pressed to get a good look at most. Before I left, I paid $15 for a European birding field guide app called Collin’s Bird Guide, as the European bird species are different from those in North America. Turns out I didn’t use that app at all. It has beautiful content, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It didn’t have a function to guide me in identifying a bird by color, size, etc. Good old Google search did the trick; I’d search, for example, on “Italy large black and grey bird” and just scroll through pictures until I found the one I was looking for. A website called world-birds.com turned up often with helpful info.

Navigating: I prefer paper maps, but for electronic aid I just used Google Maps to plot walking directions ahead of time, or if I had a “where the heck am I” moment. I wasn’t worried about my data usage as my data plan has high limits. But if you are, you can look up a route and directions while on wifi and take a series of screen shots ahead of time for viewing later. There are a couple other map/navigation apps I’ve seen recommended, but I didn’t use them: navmii and CityMaps2Go. If you really are trying to limit your data usage while traveling, download these ahead of time to see how helpful they are and practice with them before you leave.

Check out these and other apps to make your trip more enjoyable.

What other apps would you recommend?

Homeward.

I spent last night in a very funky hotel in the South Terminal of Gatwick airport. It’s called bloc hotel and they market their rooms as “yacht-style;” think tiny, as in a cabin on a cruise ship. But it was modern, comfy, cheap and EASY, which makes it worthwhile for me. The airline check-in counter was literally 2 minutes away from my room.

This is the smallest room, they have bigger ones for more $$.

I’m looking forward to getting home. But I sure had a great week!

Pisa tranquilla.

Wow. I said I’d sleep in today and I did. Got over 9 hours of sleep, which is AWESOME.

I still got out of the house by about 9:30AM, and spent 6 more hours or so exploring Pisa. It is beautiful, easy to navigate, and has a much calmer vibe than Florence.

The weather has been perfect the week I’ve been here. Sunny. Highs in 70s and 80s. I’m feeling very lucky.

I visited the tower of Pisa, its cathedral and baptistery, as well as the Camposanto building there; the botanical garden; and walked up and down the river and back and forth through town several times.

The Torre and Catedrale…

The Tower and Cathedral

The adjacent Camposanto Monumentale…

The cityscape along the Arno…

The Botanical Gardens, dating back to 1544, commissioned by the Medici Family.

I packed up and headed to the airport for my flight to London. It’ll be late when I arrive. So no sightseeing planned before my early flight home.

Good night. It’s been fun!

Cinque Terra day-trip.

Irene is headed to Portugal today. We said goodbye at the train station.

I left Firenze S.M.N. train station this morning headed for Cinque Terra today. Monte and I spent several days there on our honeymoon. It was beautiful. I just have to pop over since I’m in the neighborhood.

Wow it is packed there in April/May! And that’s not even high season. So, several thousand of my friends and I huddled together in the local train between the cities, and squished through city streets together. But it was worth it for me. I simply love the views.

I checked my backpack at the station in La Spezia and waited for almost an hour in line to buy a CinqueTerra card – which gives admission to the park and the local trains running both ways between the five towns.

Once I was there I spent five hours or so visiting 4 of the 5 towns. And I hiked a bit of the trails. I enjoyed going down to the water the most.

I took the train back to Pisa, checked into my airbnb there to drop off my pack, and then headed back out to catch some of the sights in Pisa before it got dark.

So much beautiful scenery, everywhere you look. This was some nursery the train passed by.

And my train to Pisa stopped at Carrara; as in Carrara marble. These mountains are essentially the quarries for this coveted stone. That’s not snow on the mountains, it’s stone dust and cut stone.

I’m now Back in Pisa for the night. I found this 1989 Keith Haring mural, Tuttomondo, on the side of a church near the Pisa Centrale train station. Nice surprise.

I’m going to sleep in tomorrow! Goodnight.

A walk about.

Whew! I logged over 10 miles of walking yesterday. In the morning, I walked from our apartment to Piazzale Michelangelo, a lovely hilltop plaza across the river and above Florence providing sweeping views of the city and surrounding hills.

I’ve been to Florence two times before, and always love making it up here to see this view:

After soaking in as much as I could, I walked over to the stadium to meet Irene and watch Jeremy’s second day of competition (and I squeezed in a bit of geocaching along the way).

Later in the afternoon we set out again on our own little gelato & wine walk. La Carraia is supposed to have the best gelato in Florence. I won’t argue.

It also provides a lovely afternoon view of the Ponte Vecchio as you nibble on your gelato outside along the river.

We were back at the apartment garden at the end of another great day in Florence with Irene. Tomorrow we are splitting up to finish each of our journeys home.