Table delivery.

Tom and Doray hired Monte to build a dining room table for their new home.   We delivered it yesterday, and since it’s about an hour away, we stayed overnight to play a bit, too.

The table is beautiful, a live-edge walnut table.

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After setting it up, we made stops at Real Ale Brewery and Cypress Creek Reserve Rum Distillery for some celebratory libations.

So many good brews to choose from.

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Pretty good rum at Cypress Creek Reserve Rum.  Doray and I enjoyed their White Texan, while Monte sipped on a pour of their aged rum.

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Happy Birthday…

… to our Laura!

We celebrated Laura’s birthday by a visit to the Blanton Museum, played ping-pong at SPiN, and then shared delicious nibblies and drinks downtown.

A really fun night!

Our local.

We were treated to a visit yesterday from our long-time pinochle buddies and newly moved-to-the-hills friends, Tom & Doray. We took the opportunity to pop over to our nearby bar hangout for dinner and cards.

The guys kicked the ladies’ butts. Next time…. 🙂

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.

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.

Tuscan day.

I arrived in Pisa on Wednesday evening after a long layover in London. I met up with Irene at the train station and we walked across the river to my airbnb. We were pretty tired after our travel days so a long walk and dinner was the perfect tourist activity.

In the morning we got up for an early train. We are headed to Florence and will make a side trip to Lucca. This was just a quick overnight for me in Pisa, but I’ll have more time to sightsee on my return trip on Sunday / Monday.

Lucca is a lovely town surrounded by an ancient Renaissance wall that has a beautiful tree-lined walk/bike path on top. The composer of the Turandot opera (a favorite of mine), Puccini, was born there. We checked our bags at the rail station, rented bikes for the day, and rode all over that beautiful town.

The top of the wall…

The outside of the massive wall…

Pizza for lunch!

A beautiful garden at Palazzo Pfanner…

After a fun day we hopped a train to Florence and checked into our Airbnb place there. We walked all over that town, took way too many selfies, and finally settled in with a bottle of wine and leftover pizza on the cute garden of our apartment.

Tomorrow the track meet starts. Good luck Jeremy!

Sláinte!

I made Monte a chocolate Guinness cake for his birthday (recipe here).  I put a little chocolate powder in the icing (link for that is also in the recipe for the cake) so it would be tan colored instead of white.  You know, so I could put a little beer foam on top along with the signature shamrock  🙂

Happy Birthday!

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Simply a wonderful trip.

Monte and I took another road trip at the end of February.   Some stats:  10 nights & 11 days on the road, nearly 3,000 miles driven, over 1000 photos taken, 2 states visited, 18 holes of golf played, 3 birthdays celebrated, 5 relatives thoroughly enjoyed, my 1st ringer in a game of horseshoes, and 25 new lifer bird species seen!

It was a fantastic trip.  The only downside is that Monte picked up a cold somewhere along the way, so he’s laying low for a few days.

Susanne flew to Austin to drive with us to Tucson.  Though I have been to Tucson many times for work, I guess I never took the time to enjoy the place.  It is really beautiful.  And late-winter was a terrific time to visit.

Here are a few of places we explored in Tucson, and I would recommend all of them if you, too, get a chance to visit:

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum:  an outdoor museum showcasing the diverse ecosystem of the surrounding desert, and its teeming flora and fauna species.  Simply an amazing destination, with so much to see.  I will do this again next time I’m in Tucson.

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The beauty of the desert – cholla, ocotillo, prickly pear, saguaro cacti, and more!
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An Allen’s hummingbird, a rare visitor to the area, seen in the Desert Museum gardens

Saguaro National Park (the western Tucson Mountain district location):  saguaro cacti for miles.  MILLIONS of them.  An informative visitor center.  Also some very nice petroglyphs at Signal Hill, only a short hike off of the Bajada Scenic Loop.

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LOTS of saguaro cacti
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One of the petroglyphs at Signal Hill

Catalina State Park:  a lovely park at the base of the Catalina Mountains.  Lots of nice hiking trails and many of my lifer birds were seen here.

Mission de San Xavier del Bac:  a national historic momunent, it is the oldest in-tact Spanish colonial structure in the Americas, built in the late 1700s.  It is still a working parish church, serving the Native American Tohono O’odham nation, on whose reservation it resides.  An informative free tour gave us an overview of the history of the Spanish, the native Indians, the Mexicans, from the 1700s through today.   We wanted to see one historic mission, and decided to do this one instead of the Presidio downtown.  I’m glad we did.

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Exterior of Mission de San Xavier Del Bac, the interior is full of colorful murals.

– Catalina Mountains at sunset:  simply stunning to view

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The Catalina Mountains glow red in the light from the setting sun

Susanne flew home after we all had a nice visit with her.  And after a week, we bid adieu to Gene & Jo (and Dan & Patrick, who were also visiting) and took off on a loosely-planned trip home, on a northern route instead of the southern one we took on the way west.  Taking an I-40 eastern route home also gave us several opportunities to drive along portions of the Historic Route 66 (and, yes, we played the song when we did).

There were 3 things we wanted to see, and we left Tucson with no plans on where or how long to stay at each one:

1) Grand Canyon National Park:  neither of us had been there before.  The park needs no introduction, so let me just say it is all that it is cracked up to be.  And again, late winter was a wonderful time to see it with a minimum of crowds.   The park has a really well thought out visitor center, shuttle bus system, and easy to hike trails that run along the rim of the canyon with stunning views.  The Yavapai Geology Museum is another must-see inside the park, along the rim trail.   We had originally planned to make the park a quick stop, spending 2-3 hours there tops, and then head back down to Flagstaff to continue our trip east.   But as we were driving there, I decided to check out lodging options in the park.  I figured it was a long shot, but since we had to stay somewhere overnight, the park would be a much cooler place to stay than somewhere off the interstate.  I am SO glad I checked it out, because we were able to book a cabin at Bright Angel Lodge for that night RIGHT ON THE RIM of the freaking Grand Canyon!  What a treat.   And so we did spend much more than 2-3 hours exploring the park.  I’m so glad we did.

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The view from our cabin… less than 50′ from the edge of the Grand Canyon!
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And a view from another vantage point along the Rim Trail.  Simply beautiful.

2) Meteor Crater Natural Monument:  a hole in the ground about a mile across.  Formed by a meteor that fell to the earth 50,000 years ago.   It’s only 5 miles off of I-40.  The admission was (relatively) steep, compared to other tourist sites ($18 per person), but we knew that going in, and still just really wanted to see the crater.  It’s been on Monte’s bucket list for a while.

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The raised rim of Meteor Crater, viewed from about 2 miles away.
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And, a look inside the crater, 3/4 mile wide over 500′ deep.

3) Staircase of Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe:  a spiral staircase in a 1880s-built Gothic chapel, with a mysterious legend regarding how it was constructed, and by whom.  Another last minute hotel search turned up a simply lovely location right next door to the chapel, the Inn & Spa at Loretto.  Yes, a staircase is an odd reason to visit Santa Fe, as there is so much to see and do there, but that was what took us there.   Our drive brought us into Santa Fe after dark.   The original plan was to stay one night, see the staircase at 9AM, and then proceed immediately east for the 11-hour drive to Austin.   Once we got to our luxurious room, and saw the private patio (which alone was bigger than my first apartment!), and thought of all the things we could do to fill a day in Santa Fe, we extended our stay another night.  Again… awesome!

After another long day of travel, we enjoyed a really delicious dinner and bottle of wine at the hotel’s restaurant, Luminaria.   The next day we ate breakfast at the Palacio Cafe, walked through the Cathedral of Saint Francis of Assisi, finally saw the staircase in the Loretto Chapel :), walked through the historic district, then made a bee-line for the Gruet Winery tasting room in the lobby of the St Francis Hotel.   Then we visited a lovely park, the Randall Davey Audubon Center & Sanctuary, just 2 miles east of downtown and took in another hour or so of birding.  More lifers!

On the way back into town, we picked up a baguette and some nibbles to go with the bottle of champagne we’d picked up at the winery, and enjoyed a late lunch al fresco on our ginormous private patio.  It was a tad chilly, but it was lovely.

After a big lunch, we chose to skip dinner and tried out a good place for margaritas and chips.   We chose Tomasita’s, in a restored railway station building, and enjoyed walking there and back.

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The Staircase!  Two 360-degree turns.  Miracle or not, it’s beautiful.
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Exterior of Loretto Chapel.  The orange building to the right is the Inn and Spa at Loretto.
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Flight of Bubbly?  Yes please!
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A perfect lunch on the patio.

 

That’s it. 🙂 We drove non-stop to Austin the next morning, and are enjoying being home again.

 

 

 

Hot air.

I’m still going through photos from our recent road trip.   In the mean time, I’ll share a moment from today…..

A month or two ago, I bought tickets in advance for the 2018 Best of Texas Hot Air Balloon Festival (and wine & food festival, AND polo match).   I really just wanted to get some pictures of the hot air balloons.   The festival is today, so this morning, before the sun came up, I headed to the polo grounds for the photo opp.   It was a tad underwhelming, as the balloons didn’t actually launch.  They simply inflated six of them, left them up for about an hour, and then deflated them again.  Nevertheless, it was a beautiful sight, even if a fleeting one.

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Oysters!

We attended the annual Austin Oyster Festival today. This was our third time to enjoy it. It was held on the grounds of the old Seaholm power plant on the north shore of Austin’s Ladybird Lake. And we had a great time.

The venue:

Gulf oysters: