2018 happened.

The year was full of the usual fun times spent with Monte, our friends, as much family visits we could squeeze in, and my girl posse.  I stopped coloring my hair.  I gained too much weight.  I missed my mom often.  I was continually enchanted by Keeto.  People often ask me what I do with my oodles of free time.  On the spot, I usually can’t think of what the heck I’ve done to fill the days and weeks of this year of retirement.  So, I spent some time today scanning the photos I took this year, to jog my memory for some highlights.

January brought many birding day trips and a number of lifers.  More special were visits with 2 of my high school friends.  Pilar was in Austin for business and looked me up.  We hadn’t seen each other for … decades, not counting one brief wedding visit that happened many moons ago.  We’d reconnected on social media several years back, but it was really wonderful to get a face to face visit in.   Another friend from high school, Irene, texted me to see if I could join her in Lubbock, of all places, while she was there for her son’s sports event.  And so I took a road trip and saw some interesting things along the way.

February brought a huge leap of faith, a drive to Florida with Lori, Monte & Joe, and then a journey across the Gulf of Mexico by sailboat to bring Lori’s new-to-her sailboat home to the Texas coast.  It was an awesome and challenging trip.

March brought a really memorable road trip across Arizona and New Mexico.  We celebrated Monte, Gene and Susanne’s birthdays together.  I saw a couple dozen lifer bird species.  Tucson, with its Catalina Mountains and the Sonoran Desert, is a truly amazing birding destination.  And on the way home, we saw some glorious works of nature and man.  We spent 2 days on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, staying overnight in a cabin sitting about 50 feet away from the rim.   We marveled at a ginormous meteor crater off of I-40 on the drive to Santa Fe.   Then we spent 2 days in Santa Fe, staying at the luxurious Spa at Loretto.   We saw more new birds there, but the highlight was a visit to the Loretto Chapel, with its spiral staircase that legend says might have been constructed with divine intervention.

April brought a number of trips to the coast; one special one to visit High Island during a Spring fallout, and another girl’s trip to Kemah to officially rename Lori’s boat, S/V Trident.  But if that wasn’t enough, I joined Irene again, this time for a week in Italy.  I thoroughly enjoyed Florence, Pisa and Cinque Terra and points in between.

May brought more trips to the coast to help Lori with Trident repairs and projects.  It also marked the return of warm weather and lots of fun boat outings on Lake Travis with friends and family on Nirvana.

June and July were full of projects at the house, in the shop, and in the yard.  We popped down to the coast again, a time or two, and really enjoyed our almost full lake during the peak of the heat of summer.  We delivered a beautiful table that Monte made for Doray and Tom in their new home in Wimberly.

August brought another trip to the Texas coast – to crew for Lori and Mike on their first shake-down cruise on Trident since she arrived in Texas.  We sailed out to the Gulf of Mexico and down to Port Aransas.  We stayed for a couple nights in the municipal marina there, and enjoyed one of our favorite towns on the Texas Gulf Coast, before our return sail to Kemah.  Then we popped up to Seattle for a very overdue trip.   We stayed two weeks, encased in smoke from the nearby fires, but did enjoy immensely seeing our family, and a bonus of 2 clear days on the Pacific coast of Washington.

September brought a month of non-stop rain to Austin.  So we busied ourselves with more projects in the house.   I began to dabble with sewing canvas projects for the boat.  Monte made sawdust and honed his web site and various GPS apps.

October brought another trip to Kemah.  I became a novice diesel engine mechanic.  We also experienced historic flooding amongst the Highland Lakes.   Monte worked on shop projects for a client or two.  Autumn arrived in Texas, which I love only second to Spring in Texas.

And then it was suddenly November!  Monte made another trip down to Kemah to help with last-minute projects.  Thanksgiving happened.   Then we made one final trip to Kemah together at the end of the month to bid bon voyage to Lori and Mike, and their crew, Janet and Will, taking Trident back east to Florida.

December brought the usual whirlwind of decorating, baking, parties, Christmas shopping, visiting with friends, and eating too much.  And now, POOF, it’s the last day of the year.

Tomorrow, I will gear up to do it all again – starting a new year with an as-yet-unknown set of trips, projects, visits, fun and (hopefully only occasional) troubles that lay ahead.    I am truly blessed.

 

 

 

 

 

I ♥ d’Orsay.

TripAdvisor just announced their list of top museums in the world, ranked by their travelers.  At #1 is my favorite, the Musee d’Orsay in Paris.  I’ve visited Paris on four different trips, and hope to make it a few more before I’m through.  And when I do, I will walk through the entire d’Orsay again.  It’s beautiful – a restored train station, the Gare d’Orsay, that was built for the 1900 World’s Fair.  It opened as the Musee d’Orsay in 1986.  Its exhibits are diverse and gorgeous.

Here is a pic from my last visit, it looks just like any other taken of its expansive great hall, around and through which its galleries are placed.

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And another pic of the old clock, with a bit of my own artistic treatment (using the Brushstroke app).

You simply must visit on your next trip to Paris.

Wrapping it up.

We took the scenic way home from Rachel’s, dropped Rebecca and Aaron off, and then came home and whipped up a delicious risotto for dinner.

The next day we stopped by my nephew Jared’s new house, and then had a fun family get together at Noreen and David’s.

Then, FINALLY, we had one glorious, clear summer day on Hood Canal. Jake went for a hike with us and then we met up with James for dinner.

These are two pictures from the same place, taken at about the same time of day. The first is from one of the smoke-filled days, the second one was taken 5 days later.

I MUCH prefer this one….

Blue sky days.

We headed west with a mission to see where the Pacific Ocean meets the state of Washington.

Along the way, we stopped in Aberdeen, home of Kurt Cobain, former frontman of Nirvana. We stopped at a modest but touching memorial to him.

We thought this sign at the neighbor’s house was especially funny.

And we did finally make it to the coast. It was our first smoke-free day, and it was lovely. We spent a day at Ocean Shores…

And another clear sky day at the coast, this time at Westport…

We spent the night at our niece, Rachel’s, new home, joined by Fran, Aaron, Rebecca, Noreen and David. We had fun exploring the area and enjoying our time together.

Island hop.

The next day, we drove to Colleen’s house. She cooked pulled pork, from scratch, and it made for delicious sandwiches. We visited with her, Lee and Jake all night. The next morning we headed to Whidbey Island for a day trip.

The smoke and haze was very bad. But it’s a beautiful destination.

Whidbey Island Distillery makes a nice whiskey, and delicious berry liqueurs. They use a continuous still, homemade – see the copper pipes and tubes in the second picture below.

I walked down to the beach to get a view of the Deception Pass bridge…We popped into the Admiralty Point lighthouse…Then we hopped the ferry to Port Townsend…VERY smoky. This is a shot from the deck of the ferry of the sun setting over the beautiful Olympic Mountains. 🙂

Boats, et cetera.

We toured the Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain tall ships with Francine, Rebecca & Aaron. It was fun to learn they would be here during our visit.

The next day we ambled through some antique shops, and then took the ferry to Seattle to visit Pat, Nga and the boys.

A photo of the Southworth ferry (manipulated with the Prisma app)…

They have a beautiful new home in seattle with a view of the Sound. Another pic, manipulated with the Prisma app that I so enjoy playing with.

Will helped Monte hang their dartboard. And the throwing ensued.

We walked around the neighborhood garage sales, and all the beautiful yards.

Then blackberry picking…

Then we made a wonderful seafood dinner. I sautéed some Manila clams. They were eaten so fast I only got an after photo…

Pat grilled salmon and it was perfect!

Nick and I put together Lego dinosaurs after dinner – well, I helped. 🙂

Hazy dayz.

We made an overdue visit to the Pacific Northwest to visit family and friends.

Fires are burning all across the area, and in Canada as well, so smoke was thick everywhere.

A drive up into the Olympic mountains made for a lovely day trip, but you could not really see the mountains, even standing amongst them at 5700′.

Port Townsend is one of my favorite places. I just can’t visit there too many times. We walked through the Maritime Center and watched shipwrights work, and walked the docks where the Wooden Boat Show will be in a few weeks.

The next day we took the ferry to Seattle and spent the day exploring the waterfront, Pike Place Market, and Seattle Center.

The Seattle skyline was barely visible due to the smoke
The regular stop at Pike Place Market for fresh seafood
A couple of pints at Pike Brewery
The Museum of Pop Culture
The stunning Chihuly Museum
The tall ship Lady Washington in Sinclair Inlet on a sunset cruise

A dose of salt.

I’ve just returned from a week of sailing down the Texas Gulf coast from Galveston to Port Aransas and back.   Monte and I joined Mike to crew for Lori on a shakedown cruise on Trident as she prepares for her cruising life later this year.  The week flew by, with the drive to the coast, 2 days of boat projects in Kemah, then anchoring overnight off Galveston Island’s Moody Gardens before sailing in the Gulf of Mexico for 450-ish nautical miles roundtrip, including an overnight watch while sailing each way, and a two night stay at Port Aransas Municipal Marina, and back again.  It was a fun trip – lots of laughs, sun and wind.  The weather was very different from February when we sailed across the Gulf – much calmer seas and weather this time, and MUCH hotter.

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S/V Trident – our ride
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Our route from Kemah to Galveston to Port Aransas and back
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Miles and miles of oil rigs
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Shrimpers & fishermen everwhere
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The Colonel paddleboat off Galveston Island
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Sunrise from the marina in Port Aransas
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Sunset out in the Gulf, tankers and fishing boats in the distance

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.