Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sedona, Arizona

Happy Birthday Charlotte.  Happy Birthday Katie.

It all happened today and I had better slow down to tell you, otherwise I will blurt it out and not make sense, I will start at the beginning.  Our body clocks have adjusted and we woke early and started our day, how early?  More later.

Saguaro National Park
Our first stop was the Saguaro National Park so Bev could see the Saguaro cactus in its natural environment.  It is amazingly beautiful in this Sonoran Desert vegetation.  Bev was thrilled to see her first chipmunk and then driving around the Park we saw a few more.
When going to a Saguaro cactus for close-up photographs I reminded Bev about snakes as she was wearing sandals, not boots which give some protection.
Well .... coming down a hill, thankfully in the car, I saw a rattler stretched across the road and at the slow NP speed I was able to stop a safe distance from it.  A cyclist was coming down the hill and I waved frantically for him to stop as his bike would have gone over the snake if he did not stop.  He was ignoring my wave but did not ignore the word snake and he came to a stop in time.  This disturbed the rattler who turned around and headed for the scrub.  The cyclist pointed out that the rattler had both its head and tail lifted, it was ready to strike.  In the first photograph the rattler has turned to go back into the rocky area.  The second photograph shows that the snake is well hidden when in the natural environment.  The snake went back towards the rocks but kept its head turned looking at us.  I don't need to see another rattler.
When something has finished its time the Aussies say, "It's cactus" or "she's cactus", well today we may have discovered the meaning of the expression.  This photo shows a dying and as Bev said, "a dissolving cactus", it was really sad to see as cactus take 35 years to grow six feet tall. This cactus must be over 150 years old.

Casa Grande National Park
Next we visited Casa Grande Ruins National Park which was home to the Hohokam people from 300 B.C. when they started agriculture and irrigation in the Tuscon area.  Casa Grande (the big house) is about 700 years old and has been protected by this roof since the 1930's.

Heard Museum, Phoenix, Arizona

These beautiful native sculptures stand in the grounds of the Heard Museum (hm) in Phoenix.  We arrived here at 3:00pm and since we wanted to drive to Sedona tonight I elected to have a sleep in the car.  Bev joined the 2:00pm tour .... yes folks we did not know that Arizona is on Pacific Time but does not go on Daylight Savings Time.  So when we crossed into Arizona our clocks should have been adjusted yet again.  So we were having breakfast at 07:30am, not 08:30am this morning.  Oh well.

As I wrote earlier so much happened today.  I received an email from Benny, they were spared damage from the tornadoes but two lives and nine buildings were destroyed in their town.  The news reports here were all Tuscaloosa and Alabama.  I would only hear little snippets about Atlanta or Georgia so I emailed my friends and now know that thankfully they are safe.  THEN .... driving to Sedona this afternoon along the highway our car was hit by a small Dust Devil (Aussie: whirly whirly) that pushed me into the other lane in one quick blast of dust.  It woke both of us up, OK I was awake, I was driving, but from that point on it was two hands on the wheel.

Sedona, Arizona
So now we are in the beautiful red rock country of Sedona where tonight we ate at an Organic Vegetarian Cafe listening to teenagers reciting poetry.  I thought of Robert (Solitary Walker) and wondered if he would have enjoyed the readings.  This is Sedona .....

Friday, April 29, 2011

Benson, Arizona

Today was our second day of marathon driving.  Three tanks of gas at the USA's latest high prices.  The highest price was $4.16/gallon - $70.00/full tank.  Dawn warned us and twice we almost ran out of gas, with the car showing LOW FUEL and us looking for a gas station.

We traveled 651 miles (1,048 kms) leaving Texas, crossing New Mexico, and entering Arizona by days end.  The topography is often harsh, mainly rocky, sometimes sandy, usually with scrub or mesquite bushes, and it is very dry in need of rain.  We did pass Pecan and Walnut groves making for some cool green and no dust while in that area.

Two things created haze today.  Texas has been ablaze for a couple of months and we came through a few brush fire areas with one fire being at the side of I-10 (the highway we are traveling on).  The other reason for haze is Blowing Dust.  We saw many whirly whirly's (as Australians call them for the whirling action) both forming and full blown.  Bev had asked me where to expect tumbleweeds and today we saw them.  In the photograph above, the haze was from fire (we could smell it) but in the distant center a dust whirly is blowing.  In Las Cruces when I put my debit card in the slot for gas I could feel the sand and grit .... sure enough my card could not be read at that pump.  The sandy dust was horrible, I would hate to have to clean house after these storms.

Smells ... dead skunk!  We have not seen many road kill, a deer, an armadillo, a snake and a few unidentified critters but our noses have been offended by those pesty dead skunks.  Phew!!

We also had a reminder that rattlesnakes could be near .... I hope we do not meet one.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sonora, Texas

Bev and I are on our way.  It has been a long day of driving and after a quick lunch early in Houston we headed for San Antonio.  Our first stop was the Alamo .... Remember the Alamo!  We then had a glance at the San Antonio River Walk which is quite beautiful but was not something we had the desire to 'do'.  My friends kept telling me that I should take Bev along the River Walk but neither of us were up for shopping. 

Dawn thought we might make Fort Stockton today, and we might have, but there were two accidents along I-10 and one was major.  These accidents delayed us quite a long time so we have stopped tonight in Sonora (364 miles/585 kms).

In 2008 Kees and I drove through Texas in one day.  It is 745 miles (1,200 kms) from Houston to El Paso which is on the border with New Mexico.  So far Bev has not seen the real dry west Texas, that will come tomorrow.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A morning in Genova

This morning Andrée and I walked up, and up, and up the hills of Genoa until we reached the old Castello D'Albertis, Museo delle Culture del Mondo where we stopped touring for the day.  I had a plane to catch, we hailed a taxi back down to sea level and had lunch before I departed for the airport.  Here are a few shots I took as we walked around Genoa.
Porta dei Vacca, Genova, dates from 1155 .... there is not much of the old walls left in Genova.
At the top of the hill is Castello D'Albertis, Museo delle Culture del Mondo which was our turnaround point.

There is much old scaffolding (rusty looking) on the buildings which reminded me of New York in the 1990's.  In NY the property owners put up scaffolding but did not do any work.  Why?  The scaffolding protected those walking below but more importantly it helped in preventing being sued.  New Mayor, new times, and the scaffolding had to come down if renovations were not being done.   When walking around NY in the 1990's it was a nusiance dodging scaffolding, it was horrible.

My journey with Andrée through Italy was like being on the camino.  We moved on regularly, we carried our luggage ourselves, we walked as often as we could around towns, we experienced new foods and we saw new places and people every day.  There is so much to digest of what we saw and learned along the way.

Home again ....
I am tired after over twenty-four hours traveling home.  There was a major storm in New York and the East Coast area, my flight was delayed for over two hours.  I had a long connection time as it was.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011
I was inconvenienced by the storm with the flight delay but I now know those storms were major, killing 45 people throughout the East Coast.  So my flight delay problem was not a problem at all, it is all relative!  The storms still continue and today the Southern Plains and North Carolina are going to have tornadoes.  North of us in Texas there are bush fires.  Texas is in a state of drought having not had significant rain in months.  

Bev's visit
I have been in contact with my cousin, Bev, who will be arriving here on Sunday, April 24, for her month visit.  Bev and I will be touring Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah visiting the National and Native American Parks, Monument Valley and Navajoland.  

On our return from out west we will be visiting Louisiana to attend a Southern wedding on May 14.  I did not think of the wedding as a Southern Wedding until Bev mentioned it, then I thought of the movie Steel Magnolias.  Steel Magnolias are Louisiana women who have the beauty of the magnolia but are made of steel inside.  Did I get it correct Dawn?  Dawn is my long time Steel Magnolia friend. Will Bev, Lisa, and I create the fun for Dawn that she will need for the wedding as those ladies did for the bride in the movie.  

I will continue to Blog and hope you enjoy.  

Please Andrée add what you think will enhance the Blog story in Italy.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


We traveled all day by train to arrive in Genoa at 15:40.  After a short taxi ride to the hotel and check-in we were out walking around this beautiful old city.  My camera battery was exhausted so I used my BlackBerry for photos of Genoa today.

Our hotel, Best Western Porto Antico, was about a block from here, down by the port with a major elevated highway between us and the sea.  On our first day we did not go toward the sea.   It was a drizzling, soft, gentle European rain that did not spoil the walk.  Genoa is of course on the Mediterranean Sea but I have not caught a glimpse of the sea yet.  The city is hilly and old reminding me of Lisbon or Porto in Portugal.  Today my view of the sea/port was from the piazza above.

The sea photos below are from the next day placed here because they fit with the sea theme .....
The port at Genova with an old sailing ship and its iconic ancient old lighthouse.

Still on our rainy walk .....
 Piazza de Ferrari - separates the old town from the new town.
The rain was truly light and we had rain jackets so we continued walking around town.
Some of the beautiful old palaces had huge garden terraces that I would have loved to visit.
Genoa is in the coastal mountain region of Liguria and it is the original home of Focaccia which is so popular now.  There are many Focacceria's (focaccia shop and/or bakery) in Genoa.  Unfortunately I forgot to try some while there, time was limited (22 hours).  Oh well, I will just have to return to Genoa.

We enjoyed a wonderful final meal together at a small restaurant near the hotel suggestion by receptionist.  Tomorrow I leave for Rome and Andree starts another journey, the one that brought her here to Italy but I will let her tell you about it.  I will possibly Blog from Rome tomorrow.

Andrée:  She's a bit tired, I think -- the sea is just across the road, where the boats are.  True, we didn't actually cross the road in the rain, preferring to find find a cafe for a restorative and then explore the old streets near our hotel.  Tomorrow we will have a look at the old port before Luiza leaves.  Dinner was a special pleasure, at a simple restaurant that has obviously been there forever.  It seems very popular for its tasty, unpretentious food.  Our meal was enlivened by an exchange of funny text messages with our friend Kees in Madrid, and a pleasant chat with a Swiss woman who captains a sailing yacht in the harbour.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Where else but Venice would you see Venetian Glass in the outdoor light fittings?  We noticed them everywhere but I cannot add them all to the Blog as the page would end up too long.
Another lovely day in Venice where we went around Venice via the Grand Canal.   Here are a few scenes from our Grand Canal journey this morning.
We disembarked at Lido for a stroll around the area.  Lido is obviously a rich area with many old mansions some now apartments or hotels.  We walked the boulevard from one end to the other and then stopped for lunch before returning to the San Marco area.  We enjoyed the best vegetable soup at lunch in Lido, it was delicious and was followed by roasted chicken and baked potato and, as always, we washed it down with good Italian wine.
We returned to our hotel before heading out again as it had cooled down and I needed a jacket and Andrée wanted her fleece.  We walked to the Rialto Bridge from our hotel looking in the shops as we went.  There are some good shops and then there are the regular ugly tourist shops.

From Rialto we went on our Gondola ride and is was a great thing to do.  It is so calm on the gondola and the gondoliers are so skilled. Apparently gondolas are made with a curve in them so they don't go round and round in circles.
We went past where Marco Polo's house was and many older buildings, some of which people can no longer live on the first floor due to the houses sinking.  However, Andrée pointed out that some of the buildings look like the first floor has never been lived in.
The light was superb for photographing and we were both so happy that we took a ride on a Gondola in Venice, as opposed to Las Vegas (joking).  We had dinner in the Rialto area (at the restaurant above) before heading back to the hotel.

Tomorrow we move on to Genova.  It is a five hour fast-train journey with a switch of trains in Milano Centrale (Milano C.Le).  The high speed trains are comfortable but do take First Class, I would always suggest it to anybody who asks.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Burano and Murano

Can it get any better?  We are having a wonderful vacation and enjoying ourselves.  Every day has been delightful.  Today we decided to visit Burano, a pretty group of islands known for colorful houses.  Burano is about a one hour ferry ride from San Marco where we are staying.  We wandered the little streets crossing the canals on quaint bridges and stopping for lunch at the far end of town.
It was on the menu so I had to have it, camino memories ...... Coquilles Saint Jaques (and a green salad) while Andree enjoyed her Spaghetti with Clams which looked equally delicious.  Naturally you can't have an Italian meal without washing it down with wine, so needless to say we had a nice leisurely lunch before catching a vaporetto back to San Marcos.  The conchas actually look like mine that Barbara and Ken gave me before my first camino walk in 2002.  Barbara and Ken served my Coquilles Saint Jaques on the shell that day for lunch, it was so thoughtful of them.  Barbara had lived in Spain so she was aware where I was headed and what I was about to do more than I was.
 What do you think this is?  Sure now, you know.
Venetian blinds in Venice .... thanks Andrée for pointing this out to me :)

The ferry returns to San Marco via the Murano Islands so we decided on a stop to tour the glass galleries.  There are many furnaces and glass blowing factories on the island supplying the galleries and gift shops.  We had been warned by our hotel receptionist in Florence that some shops sell Chinese glass products so we watched for it and know that what we bought is pure Murano.  Many shops have signs announcing "No Chinese Glass here".   Some of the art works were spectacular and others not so, some are a little over the top.
Then I spotted this sign .... at least the Murano shop sellers want you to know they have the real deal.
The islands of Murano is not as pretty as the Burano Islands but is worth a visit.  The glass making industry was moved to Murano in 1291 because of the fire hazard from the furnaces.  In 1291 the houses of Venice were mainly made from wood so fire was a concern.
Cometa Di Vetro - Comet Glass Star. 

Later in the afternoon, and although it was a little rich, I had to have it .... chocolate hedgehog!  Australian style hedgehog, not quite what my mother used to make but still producing fond memories.  Perhaps this is the original recipe and came to Australia from the Italians as Genoa was one of the first places to use cacao-cocoa.  As I finished the last bite I realized that I should have photographed it for Stephen who loved hedgehog when he was a kid (I don't know if he still does).  We did not know that the order was two slices each or we would have only ordered one serving, true!  Gave us both memories of the Lemon Meringue pie at the Grand Canyon with Kees and we spent some time laughing about that.  It was a long beautiful day at both stops.

After Burano and Murano we returned to our hotel to catch up on email and Blog.  We needed to  make and confirm the hotel reservations for our next stops.  We have another day in Venice and then the five hour train journey to Genova on Thursday.  On Friday I fly to Roma and onto Houston on Saturday.

Fantastic .... I can hear the thunder .... we are going to have a big storm tonight.  It is nearly eleven and time for sleeping, oh how lovely it is to lay in bed and listen to thunder outside.