Iceland

Jenny and Charlie traveled to Iceland November 9-15, to see the Northern Lights.  We did not, but this trip was fun anyway.  See our separate post on what we learned about seeing the Northern Lights.

The country

Iceland is small – 338,800 people (the entire country has fewer people than most American cities, half the population of the state of Alaska) and ranks 175th in the world, with an area of just under 40,000 square miles (108th largest).

The official language is Icelandic, but EVERY person we talked to spoke fluent English.  Their TV has many American programs with no subtitles nor dubbing, interspersed with commercials in Icelandic – a shock if you are watching your favorite show, but perhaps that is where they developed their English skills with American accent.

The use of credit cards is quite universal (but be sure they are chip cards, and occasionally you will be asked to enter your PIN).  (Some Nordic countries no longer use checks. There is a rumor that some of the Nordic countries will discontinue cash completely in the next few years, and will use “plastic” for everything.)  We did not carry any Icelandic Kroner (equal to about one cent, similar to the Japanese Yen).  Only two issues arose… when they passed the plate in church, I didn’t drop in my credit card – I figured they could handle American cash.  And one restaurant would not allow the tip to be added to the card (“but we can take cash in any currency”).  Even the pay toilets accepted credit cards (US$1.93 for each of us – yes things are expensive there.)

How much to tip?  Believe it or not, it was a waitress that said “you are not expected to tip in Iceland.”  But there were tip jars near many cashiers, and most restaurants would add a tip to the bill upon request, so if they don’t expect anything, then I figured 10% or more would be good.

The Countryside

Winters are long nights and short days, Summers are long days.  When we were there in  mid-November, sunrise was about 10 am and sunset was 4:20 pm, and still a month away from the shortest day (December 21 this year) when the sun rise is 11:22 and sunset is 3:20 for a day length In Reykjavik of just over 4 hours.  If you visit in the summer, be sure to take a sleep mask, because the night is that short, and not all rooms have blackout drapes.

Sunrise
My camera tells me that this picture was at 953 am. Yes, the days are short

The Keflavik international airport is on a peninsula about 30 miles or 45 minutes from Reykjavik (which has a separate domestic airport) .  That Reykjanes Peninsula  has many features that we enjoyed.

Lighthouse Cafe
The first night we drove out to the northern tip of the peninsula, and found this “Lighthouse Cafe.” We never found the cafe part, but it was in a place that was appropriate for a lighthouse.

The Blue Lagoon is a famous tourist destination.  For about US$50 you can swim in the pool, and for an extra charge can use the swim up bar, cafe, or restaurant that overlooks the pool, or for a major extra charge can get a massage.  We just looked, and later found that it was all man-made, not even based on a natural hot spring.

Blue Lagoon
Yes, that is Jenny, wrapped up standing on the snow covered deck of the 100 degree pool.

Not far from the Blue Lagoon is one of the places that the North American Continent touches the Eurasian continent above ground.  The have built a bridge from one side to the other, so you can run back and forth between Europe and North America in a few seconds.  The continents are drifting apart at the rate of about 2 cm per year, so I figure in my lifetime I am now 5 feet farther from Europe than when I was born.

Bridge between continents
Yes, that is me standing under the bridge, not sure which continent I am in at the moment.

Along the coastline (I would not call them sandy beaches) you can see steam venting from the ground.  Most of the houses in Iceland have hot and cold running water, and heat their homes with the hot water from underground, no hot water tanks or furnaces.

The shoreline is not suitable for swimming, even in the summer, because of rough currents and rocks.

Although there are lots of outdoor activities (in season), casual cross country (off trail) hiking is not one of them.

Southern tip of the peninsula

In this general area are some thermal wells that are used to drive huge electric generators – the water comes out of the ground at 300 degrees Celsius (about 575 degrees F), and at high pressure (still liquid, not yet steam) and is used to drive turbines.  The visitor center was only open in the afternoon, and we were there in the morning.  From the outside they are just large industrial buildings venting steam.

Most of the larger trees have been harvested long ago; the impression we got was that, if you didn’t count trees obviously planted as a windbreak, there were no trees.  The “natural” evergreen trees we saw were so few and stunted that they couldn’t have supported a Christmas tree sale.

Note the “forest” along the ridge line.  Look closely at the left.

Our hotel (formerly on a US military base, probably a BOQ) had what I would have called a decent stucco finish, but while we were there, they were adding insulation on the outside, covered with corrugated metal.  I always considered corrugated metal cheap looking, but in Iceland it is upscale.

We did our usual museum thing, at the National Museum of Iceland.  Or as they would say, the National Museum of Þjóðminjasafn Íslands .  Some joke that if you can properly pronounce the name of the Island (not just Iceland), you may qualify for citizenship.  Hint:  Þ is the capital  letter “Thorn” and ð is the letter “Eth.”

English is so widespread, I wondered why they bothered with Icelandic, until I learned of the depth of the culture … for example, Christianity was adopted about 1000 AD, so they translated and printed the bible in Icelandic before Gutenberg invented movable type.

Church Counters
These wooden counters were used by priests hundreds of years ago to tally how many people made their confession or received communion

Of course we had to visit the Lutheran church – Hallgrimskirkja – the largest church and one of the tallest buildings in Iceland, built 1945-1974.  The design was to suggest the volcanos.  The statue in front of the church is Leifur Eriksson, a gift from the United States before the church was built.  Eriksson discovered North America about 500 years before Columbus.

Lutheran Church
Hallgrimskirkja church. If you ask a local for the Lutheran church they will not know what you are looking for until you say that name.

Reykjavik built a concert hall, “Harpa,” with great views from the inside and colored glass so it glows blue at night.  The reviews made it sound like they were hoping it would become a landmark like the Sydney Opera House.

Harpa concert hall
During the day Harpa is not impressive, so we did not tour it.

Golden Circle

The golden circle is a combination of three natural attractions that practically every tour group offers, typically for US$100 per person or more.  We took our rental car and saw the three attractions, and a lot of the countryside, for far less money and more fun.

The Þingvellir National Park was the center of  culture and government for centuries, where the various tribes met (during the summer) before there was a constitutional government.  It is also another place where the North American and Eurasian geological plates meet above ground.

split
This is a path down the split. It was cold and the ramp was slippery. This is as far as Jenny wanted to venture. But remember that this split is moving apart at 2 cm per year, 5 feet in our lifetime.
Earth Split
We were able to drive around to a parking area at the bottom of the split. This is where we would have come out if Jenny had continued down the ramp.

Gullfoss is an amazing waterfall.  In numbers I don’t know how it competes with Niagara Falls, but it is comparably impressive.

Gulfoss
We met a couple girls from Canada, and took their picture, so they took ours. Even they admitted it was bitterly cold.
Gullfoss
Most of the falls was flowing water but some of the edges were frozen. It was a wonderful sight to see. We drove to the top where the Tour buses parked, but it was a long walk from there to the view.  At the left is a shorter water fall that leads  to an island from which there is a second waterfall (the center of the picture)

Geysir Geothermal Area is named after the largest and oldest, but now largely dormant, Geysir (from which the name Geyser originated and is used worldwide.)

Geysir
Geysir has become a boring bubbly hot tub. One of the signs says the water is really 100 degrees Celsius (boiling). Don’t test it with your finger; you will be burned. The nearest hospital is 50 miles away.
Hot Springs
The area has countless springs, boiling mud pots, and steaming pools, not just the geysirs for the tourists.  It was odd to see boiling pools surrounded by ice.

Strokkur has taken over the duty of entertaining the tourists.  It erupts about 100 feet every few minutes, for a few seconds.  If you don’t like your picture, you will have another chance in a couple minutes.

Strokkur
Strokkur had a crowd watching despite the cold. I can’t imagine how big the crowd would be in the summer
Strokkur
Another Strokkur eruption
Litil Geysir
I think it is meant as a joke, but there is a tiny boiling pot that bubbles occasionally, named Litil Geysir.

Generally we felt that Iceland was flat (in part because of the way the “wind kept whipping over the plains”) but we know it is not.

Hill
Yes there are hills in Iceland, that I bet would be beautiful in season. There are even volcanoes that erupt occasionally, but not in the part of the country were we were.

We saw a large number of horses.  The Icelandic horse has a heavy coat, are small (almost the size of a pony), and have five gaits – the usual walk, trot, and canter/gallop, but also a tölt (described as a four beat single foot gait (which hopefully means something to a horse expert) and a flying pace which allows these small horses to reach 40 mph.

Icelandic horses
In horse areas, there were pasture after pasture with these horses.

Avis provided a map with Iceland driving rules (like headlights on, day and night, year around)  It also showed an area, about half the total area of Iceland, in the center and southern part of the county, where all the roads are closed.

Summary

The people are quite friendly and welcoming.  The language is no problem – everyone also speaks English.  Food and beverages are expensive – expect to pay US$5 for a soda, US$10-15 for a beer, US$20 and up for a pizza.

Driving is routine EXCEPT most roads are two  narrow lanes with no shoulder, have names that you cannot remember (way too many letters), and change names and directions too often.  We thought we could use paper maps and not bother with a SIM card for our phone, but we spent an hour or two looking for our hotel – which was never more than 10 minutes away.  We then bought a prepaid SIM card for one of our phones (US$20), and either Google or Apple maps kept us happy.  If your phone is locked, use an iPad or other wireless device that works with a SIM card.

Iceland was interesting in the winter, but I hear it is beautiful in the summer (and I bet half the roads would not be closed).

Shinkansen Bullet Train

We spent enough time on the Bullet Trains that I started to notice some differences with regular trains, and confirmed them when I returned.  There are so many “gee whiz” facts, that I decided to summarize them here.

There are many different Shinkansen lines operated by the 5 separate companies of the Japan Railways Group.

Shinkansen trains
JR East lineup of the different Shinkansen trains in 2012. They look fast just standing still.

Japan is extremely hilly, so a fast train has to go through mountains, not up and down or around the hills.  It seems like half of each trip is in tunnels. Actually not half, but a lot of time is in tunnels.

The train is so fast that there are few if any grade crossings (flashing lights and dropped barriers).  Most of the track is elevated.

The track is wider gauge – actually the 4 feet 8 1/2 inches that is standard in the United States, rather than the 3 feet 6 inch gauge used elsewhere in Japan.  This creates more stability; the demonstration of the better stability and safety has led to other countries copying the wider gauge.  Why the odd 4′ 8 1/2″ size? Arguments go back to with width of ruts, based on the width of axles of horse drawn wagons, which arguably is the width of two horse’s butts, back to Roman times.

The thing I actually noticed first, was that the insulators on the Shinkansen overhead power lines were far larger than on the regular train lines.  I was right.  The bullet trains use 25,000 volts AC (60 Hz) while the regular trains use 1,500 volts DC.  Each axle is powered rather than having a heavy locomotive pulling the train, thus it can accelerate faster leaving a station.

The station stops that I timed were from 60-90 seconds.  The trains are from 10 to 16 cars, carrying over 1,300 passengers. At peak times there can be as many as 13 trains per hour in each direction.  Despite monsoons and earthquakes, their overall average delay from schedule was 54 seconds, but the best year the delay was only 18 seconds.

The cars are air sealed so the pressure doesn’t change when entering tunnels at high speed.

In 60 years of operation there have been no fatalities caused the the railroad, and only one due to a passenger getting caught in the door. There have been several suicides from people jumping in front of or out of a train.  There is even an earthquake sensor that quickly stops the train when an earthquake is sensed.

Japan 2017

Our Trip 6 of 2017 – August 23-30 – was back to Japan.  We love the country and it has been 4 years since our last visit. We also wanted to see Nagasaki – the target of the second atomic bomb – (we have been to Hiroshima), and Kanazawa, one of the historic craft cities that caught Jenny’s eye. This is Charlie’s 5th trip to Japan, and Jenny’s 4th.

Be sure to follow the links below to Nagasaki, Tokyo, and Kanazawa for the full story and pictures.

Our first destination was Nagasaki at the southern tip of Japan.  We decided to fly, since we would be arriving at Narita Airport in Tokyo, and there are bargain flights from there.  But there is no commercial airport in Nagasaki.  The closest “large” airport is at Fukuoka, a 2 hour train ride away from Nagasaki.  After Tuesday night in Hakata (close to the Fukuoka airport, and near the train station to Nagasaki) we spent Wednesday and Thursday in Nagasaki.

Shinkensen train
Either front of back end of the train we took (they are the same). It is the “pilot compartment” but not the engine, since each axle has it’s own motor.

Friday was largely spent on the Shinkansen “Bullet Train” (up to 200 mph) from Nagasaki back to Tokyo. Saturday and Sunday included a visit to the Edo museum and Tokyo Sky Tree with our friends in the Shinjukuu area of Tokyo.

Then on Monday we took the Shinkansen train a couple hours to spend a day (and night) in Kanazawa on Monday and Tuesday, August 28-29, before returning to Tokyo for a night before returning home to Texas on Wednesday August 30.

The long legs of our trip were in Premium Economy, from Los Angeles to Tokyo on American Airlines, and returning from Tokyo to Dallas-Fort Worth on Japan Airlines. It is an interesting experiment, with space and service between coach and business class, that we will try again.

In summary, it was a great trip to Japan, but we tried too many things, too far apart, including 5 different hotels in 8 nights.

You can also read about our 2013 trip to Tokyo and our 2006 trip to Osaka.

Peru – Lima

2017 Trip to Lima

In May 2013 Jenny and Charlie visited Cusco and Machu Picchu Peru   (Charlie had a similar visit in 1969, in the era before Jenny).  When we got home Jenny said “but we didn’t visit Lima (other than to change planes in the airport).” Lima is supposed to be nice.

April 20-25 Jenny and Charlie found a bargain ticket ($450 round trip) and we returned to Lima “for a long weekend.”

Flight details

Thursday evening fly Austin to Dallas, then non-stop to Lima on American Airlines.  We cheated on the bargain part – for $150 each plus some miles we upgraded from coach to Business/First class.

We arrived at 5:30 in the morning, and tried to take Uber to town.  Congestion outside the airport is overwhelming, so we never connected with our Uber driver, but found another ride for a similar price (50 PEN, about $17).  The Miraflores area of Lima is wonderful and safe, but it was too early to check into our hotel, the Casa Andina Classic Miraflores Centro, ($321.56 for 4 days, large room, breakfast).

Return flight on Tuesday April 25 left Lima at 6:40 am through Miami, with a long layover before our flight direct to Austin.  Uber worked very well getting us to the airport (as well as local transportation during our visit)

Waiting for our room – Friday April 21

 

Church of the Virgin
A couple blocks from our hotel in Lima is JFK park (as in US President). Near the start of the park is this church
Large Pottery in JFK Park
Yes, they make some large pottery in Peru – this piece in the JFK Park in Lima

We continued walking through JFK park until we reached the beach – well below us

Miraflores cliff
Miraflores is 259 feet above sea level. We were told that we would find many people parasailing off the cliff, but saw none. There were stairs to the beach, but we didn’t feel the need for the exercise. We did see a few surfers.
Miraflores cliff
In the other direction you can see the cliff, with lighthouse, and the highway below along the coast
Love Park Miraflores
There are several parks at the top of the bluff. The love park features this huge statue of a couple kissing. The colored mosaic walls have many names of people who were apparently in love, at least at the time the walls were built.  Another park had sophisticated but weather resistant exercise machines.

In the opposite direction – away from the coast – is the Lima Pyramid, properly called Huaca Pucllana.  It was a religious and government site from about 200 to 700 AD, with the very sophisticated Lima culture that predated the Incas and Spaniards.  The site is currently over 12 acres, but that is only about 1/3 of it’s original size – the rest was overrun by the roads and modern city.

Huaca Picliana - Lima Pyramid
Most of the site was made with mud bricks, stacked like books, with spaces between them that enabled the walls to survive earthquakes (but not rain). Lima’s rainfall averages 0.3 inches PER YEAR which is why this ancient mud structure has survived.
Lima Pyramid
The lower levels were for dormitories and commoners, while the elite had space higher up. Every 50 years or so they would destroy all their pottery and build a new layer on top of the old. Wouldn’t you hate to be around when the boss decided it was time to start over again?
Mummies at Lima Pyramid
Near the top was where royalty was buried. They were put in fetal position to be mumified, wrapped in many layers of cloth, sometimes with a symbolic head on the top, surrounded by supplies for the after life. This tomb had two adults and two babies, in small “packages” that I saw in real life, but cannot find in this picture.
Saturday April 22 – downtown Lima
Lima centro with Balconies
The central square was quite pretty. Note the characteristic brown balconies on the front of many buildings.
Lima Cathedral
Rotate slightly left to the cathedral on the square
High altar.
The traditional altar is in front of the very dramatic high altar. But there seem to be scaffolding behind the altar.
Fake High Altar
Now look at the high altar from the side. It is just a picture of the real high altar, which is being renovated (the scaffolding in the previous picture). This is one of the most clever tricks I have seen, anywhere.
cathedral carvings
Some of the original carving could still be seen (very impressive work)
Picture of Cathedral Carvings.
In another area where they had removed the carvings because of the construction, they replaced them with very realistic life size pictures.

Governor Francisco Pizzaro who conquered Peru, wiped out most of the native cultures, and founded the capital City of Lima, was reburied (with the correct head) in the Cathedral in 1985, as part of the celebration of the 450th anniversary of the city.

Pizzaro's tomb in the cathedral
Pizzaro’s tomb in the cathedral
Archbishop's Residence
To the left of the cathedral is the Archbishop’s Residence, now a museum. I hope he has a better facility someplace, because the antique typewriters and office equipment would be tough in these days.
Bishop chapel
The archbishop’s chapel had an interesting altar. Notice that with robe, Mary has a triangular shape, as “Mother Earth” is represented in the Inca religion.
Statue
This is not exactly the kind of statue I expected to find in the Archbishop’s residence. In fact, it is similar to Manneken-pis in Brussels.
Changing of the Guard
Facing the Archbishop’s residence (museum) go one more building left for the home and office of the President of Peru. Daily changing of the guard was mostly a military band concert, not worth the sunburn.
Saturday Afternoon – Museo del Convento de San Francisco de Asis de Lima

A couple blocks from the main square is the San Francisco Museum and Monastery.  Some interesting art (including a last supper painting with a guinea pig (cuy) rather than a bare plate), and a fabulous library.

Library
This library has about 25,000 volumes, most from the 15th to 18th Century, written in many languages. Only scholars get to touch, plus a major preservation effort. No Photos (why?) so I took this picture from their web site.

In addition to the art and library, this was the entrance to the Lima catacombs.  In many (most?) cultures, a few years after a body is buried in a coffin, the remaining skeleton is moved to a smaller container or resting place, called an ossuary.  In some cultures the family disinters the body from the first burial, cleans and arranges the bones in the second much smaller ossuary.  Sometimes in catacombs the bones are arranged by type – skulls in one area, long bones in another, remaining small bones in a “well” like pit (10 meters deep, over 30 feet), – to make more room in the catacombs.

People or families were buried and covered with lime (to speed decomposition, kill bacteria, and reduce odor) and dirt, and to allow another layer of bodies.  The next few pictures show this, so jump ahead if you are queasy. Some areas I had to enter on my hands and knees (remember how tall I am).

Catacomb grave
This is either a real or a very real reproduction of a family
catacomb sign
and the explanation of that was in the previous picture. Note husband and wife AND a baby.
Catacomb burial 2
Another burial. It may be real, since the archeologists have put depth measuring sticks that you can barely see on the left and right of the picture.
Catacomb sign
The sign describes this form of interment from the 17th to the 19th century. Note also on the right side of the sign, how the layers occur, where the two layers shown are 0.3 meters high, or about one foot.

I forgot to take pictures of the rooms full of skulls, long bones, or wells full of small bones.  I will try to remember the next time I visit a catacomb.

Sunday April 23

Our first visit was to the National Museum of Archeology, Anthropology, and History, run by the government.  No photos allowed (ugh), but they have the largest collection in Peru.  This was a nice museum to visit, but if you only have time for one, go to the Larco museum below.

Do people go to both museums?  Well, from the entrance to this museum there is a blue line painted on the sidewalk all the way to the Larco museum.  A pleasant 15 minute stroll through the local neighborhoods.  The only point of concern was where a construction fence hid the line for a block, but it resumed exactly where expected past the construction.

Larco Museum
The Larco museum is in an absolutely beautiful setting, in an 18th century building atop a 7th century pre-columbian pyramid.  Look back to the Lima Piramid (above).  This is a privately owned and run museum, and pictures were allowed.
Larco clothing
Their display of ancient clothing was impressive
Jewelry at Larco
The collection of personal jewelry, mostly gold, was immense
Larco Jewelry
Can you imagine wearing this much heavy jewelry (gold is heavier than lead)
Larco Jewelry
Or jewelry like this?
Larco mummy
They have the required Peruvian mummy, with supplies for the after-life
Larco storage
Their storage areas were open to visitors
Larco storage
endless aisles of storage
Larco Storage
Room after room – enough to fill many museums around the world
Larco restrooms
Their restrooms had unusual signs – men to the left, women to the right, if you hadn’t figured it out

The Larco museum also has a well known gallery of pre-columbian erotic pottery, in a separate building, so fragile visitors can avoid it.  I won’t go farther than the example half way down the Wikipedia page for the museum.

Monday April 24
Parc Amour
We took a bus tour around town… you have seem Parc Amour from another angle
Lima beach
A different view of the beach
Larcomar, Lima
There is a multi-story shopping mall, Larcomar, built into the side of the cliff. We walked but didn’t buy
Larcomall steps
From the mall you can see steps down to the beach level. We were not tempted!
Something unusual

In the four days we were in Lima, walking among the people, I only saw three people smoking and one man “vaping” an electronic cigarette.  Fewer than any other place I have visited in the world.  Could this be what makes them such pleasant, kind people?

New Zealand

Much of what you want to see is the great scenery between cities and visit many of the smaller towns, so a rental car is the way to go – but be aware that they drive on the left, like England, Japan, Australia, South Africa, and many other countries.  Rental car pick-up and drop-off in Auckland is just outside the international terminal – no bus ride required.  Gas in New Zealand is over US$5 per US Gallon, but diesel is MUCH cheaper and widely available, so if you are offered a diesel rental car, I recommend it.

New Zealand gas prices
Beware… these gas prices are New Zealand dollars per liter. Or in more familiar terms, over US$5 per US Gallon

The North Island and South Island of New Zealand are a significant distance apart.  The ferry is about 3 1/2 hours, and a couple hundred dollars for one car and one driver. Our rental car could not be taken between islands… but Avis would arrange for us to turn in one car at Wellington (North Island) and pick up a similar car in Picton (South Island), continuing on a related rental contract.  We didn’t check out those logistics – this first trip was filled with just the North Island.  Wellington was far enough south that we regrettably never got there.  Having seen a portion of NZ in the North island, we want to go again to see the South Island, probably flying into Christchurch.

As usual we picked up 100 New Zealand Dollars from a bank ATM at the airport.  Unlike Europe, but like the USA, there was a $3 ATM fee (total US$ 75.54 to get NZ$ 100).  We only used NZ$ 70 cash in 11 days.  Visa or Master Cards were readily accepted for most charges, even small purchases.  The balance of our cash was used towards the final hotel bill.

Our suburban Auckland hotel was a block from a stop for a frequent express bus to the center of the city, for about the same cost as parking our car in the city.  Over half of our cash was used on the NZ$ 5.50 bus fares for trips to and from for two of us on two days (total NZ$ 44).

Before we left home, we found several natives who had posted that they had never given anyone a tip in New Zealand.  At many restaurants, you took your bill to the counter or bar to pay, and there was no provision for tipping.  On a couple bills there was a blank to add a tip, and the natives were thrilled with 10%.  At one place I had filled in 10% but the cashier said “that money goes into the til – who was your waiter?  Can you give them a couple dollars cash?” I found her and gave her NZ$5, and thought she was going to kiss me – like she had never been tipped before.  It appears the culture is changing to allow us tourists to leave more money.

Admission fees to museums and parks is far higher than I am used to paying in other countries.  At one museum the admission was NZ$ 55 each (over US $40 each).  We can afford it, and it was worth it, but we are certainly spoiled by the Smithsonian in Washington and the V&A in London and others with free admission. One park ranger, giving a talk, joked about how expensive park and museum admissions were in New Zealand.

No tourist visa is required by Americans for brief visits.  New Zealand is very strict about what food may be brought in.  They have the concept of an instant fine (often NZ$ 400, and if you pay it immediately – even by credit card – there are no court costs, and it does not go on your record.) If they find any food items that you did not declare, you get an instant fine, and may lose the food.  We declared even the smallest thing, like a bag of trail mix with dried fruit and nuts, got to keep the food, and were admitted without hassle.

The emergency phone number for fire, police, and ambulance is 111

We found that there is too much to tell – this is just the logistics part of a great trip.  Click here to start the travelogue, but more will be added over time.

Where have we been?

Despite all the hints based on notes on cities and other comments, here are our trips over the last couple years.

2017 –

Trip 1 – New Zealand in February

Maori Performance
After the native Maori performance

Trip 2 – Tubac Arizona in March

Mission church just North of Tubac Arizona

Trip 3 – Lima Peru in April

Huaca Pucllana
A mud pyramid in Lima Peru – Huaca Pucllana

Trip 4 – Paris in May

Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower is lit at night with flashing lights.

Trip 5 – Juneau Alaska in June

Trip 6 – Japan in August

Trip 7 – Morocco in September

Trip 8 – Wisconsin/Montana in October

Trip 9 – November-December still open

2016- total miles flown 112,292

Houston, by car, for a couple days in January, to see relatives from “up North” leaving on a cruise. So close, and by car, but there was a hotel involved, so we called it Trip 0

Trip 1:  New Orleans for a few days in mid January

Trip 2:  New York City for a few days at the end of January

Trip 3:  Hanoi Northern Vietnam for a week in February.  See the travelogue

Statue in central Hanoi
Statue near the center of the old quarter of Hanoi. The base of the statue says “to die for the country, for sacrifice.” Charming.

Trip 4:  Host a friend from England in New York City, Washington, and Central Texas, for a couple weeks in March.  A reverse travelogue (what Andrea saw) is available.

Rockefeller Center, New York
Rockefeller Center, New York

Trip 5:  Porto and Lisbon Portugal for a week in early April.  See the Travelogue

Oporto (Porto) Portugal
Oporto (Porto) Portugal, from the high bridge over the river.

Trip 6:  Host Jenny’s sister in Dallas, Austin and Hill Country Texas, and San Antonio (Fiesta) in April

Trip 7:  Providence Rhode Island area for a week in May

Trip 8:  Helsinki Finland and Tallinn Estonia, for a week in July  See the travelogue

Overview of Tallinn
Overview of Tallinn Estonia, from the Castle Grounds

Trip 9:  Washington DC, with our granddaughter, for several days in mid July

Trip 10:  Iowa for a wedding and to visit Jenny’s families at the end of July

Trip 11:  Trip to Cabin John Maryland (DC) for several days for Charlie’s sister’s birthday

Trip 12:  Seoul South Korea for a week in September  See the Travelogue

Cheonggyecheon
Cheonggyecheon. If you can’t say it or find it, just ask for the river that runs through the city

Trip 13:  Amsterdam, Netherlands, for a week in October.  See the travelogue

Near central station
Main street leading to the Central Train Station in Amsterdam

This list does not include numerous trips to Dallas (4 hour drive) to visit our son and his family.

2015 – total miles flown 100,190

Trip 1:  Panama City and canal – $500 tickets brought this to the top of the list for 5 days in February.  See the travelogue

Panama Canal
Panama Canal locks

 

Trip 2:  Singapore ($1031 ticket) – outbound via Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific final leg, 44 miles shorter than return via Tokyo, first leg on JAL, a week in April.  See the travelogue

Museum Singapore
Distinctive Arts and Science Museum in Singapore

Trip 3: New York City for several days in April because of a $286.20 ticket.  See the travelogue

Eric Bolling
Yes I met Eric Bolling, co-host of the TV News/commentary show, “The Five” with five people at 5 pm 5 days per week. His gimmick is to hold up and point to 5 fingers.

Trip 4: Birmingham, Alabama

Trip 5:  Boston June 30-July 2.  See the travelogue

Boston Museum of Fine Art
Boston Museum of Fine Art

Trip 6:  Santiago Chile for a week in July.  See the travelogue

Plaza de Armas
Plaza de Armas, Santiago Chile

Trip 7: Minneapolis St. Paul, to start a family visit in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin

Trip 8:  Anchorage Alaska (Summers are hot in Texas) in August, triggered by a $583.50 ticket.  See the Travelogue

Lake Hood Anchorage
Lake Hood, the largest, busiest floatplane “airport” in the world.

Trip 9:  Cabin John (DC)

Trip 10:  Barcelona Spain for a week in September.  See travelogue

Sagrada Família
Basílica de la Sagrada Família, (Church of the Holy Family) designed by Gaude

Trip 11:  Decorah Iowa

Trip 12:  Warsaw and Krakow Poland for a week in October.  See travelogue.

Barbican
Krakow Barbican (city gate) from 1498

Trip 13: Manchester, Selby, Saltaire, York, Hadrian’s wall, Lake Country, and Liverpool England, November 12-19, 2015.  See the travelogue.

Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian’s wall – the footings near Chester’s bridge. Jenny can now say she stood on Hadrian’s wall.

Trip 14:  Los Angeles

Where to Next?

If you are just staring to travel internationally, click here for our recommendations.

Overall list of countries we have visited

North America

Mainland United States
Alaska
Hawaii
Canada
Mexico
Panama

South America

Brazil
Uruguay
Argentina
Chile
Peru
Ecuador

Europe

England
Scotland
Wales
France
Germany
Italy
Poland
Hungary
Czech Republic
Spain
Portugal
Netherlands
Belgium
Sweden
Norway
Finland
Latvia
Estonia
Iceland

Asia

Japan
Hong Kong
Vietnam
South Korea
Australia
New Zealand

Africa

South Africa
Morocco

Over 150 countries to go!

France

Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport: The train into the city essentially becomes a subway within the city; if it doesn’t stop near your hotel, you can transfer to any subway line without a new ticket.

We were warned that credit cards were not widely accepted. In 2013 we were able to use credit cards for almost all expenses.

The service (tip) is included in the restaurant prices – not a service charge added to the bill, nor are you expected to tip. The second time we raised the issue, the waiter said “If anyone says that you should add a tip, they are taking advantage of you as a tourist.” Yes, it was a waiter that said “no tip.”

If you have a drink or coffee at a bar, the price is lower than at a table (which includes the service charge for the waiter). Don’t buy something at the bar, then sit down at a table.

Ask the waiter for a “Carafe” if you would like a (free) glass of water with your meal.

Emergency Numbers

In addition to 112, there are other emergency numbers in France such as 15 for medical, 17 for police, 18 for fire, and others.

Netherlands (Holland)

By Dutch law, the service charge in a restaurant must be included in the price of the food, so no tips are necessary. At a cafe, a “different” waitress than had served us brought our check, so I asked if tips were shared. No, management just takes all the tips. At nice restaurants, a tip of 5-10% is accepted with great appreciation.

Credit cards are widely accepted, but there may be an extra service charge for using the card. The surcharge was about 50 cents for the train tickets into town, 35 cents at a cafe, but no extra charge at nice restaurants or museums.

Amsterdam Schiphol (SKIP-pull) airport is about 5 miles from downtown (and incidentally 6 meters – 20 feet – below sea level). The recommended way into town – to the central train station – is via “NS train.” Tickets available from vending machines for €5.20 each (€4.20 plus airport surcharge of €1.00), runs every few minutes and takes about 15 minutes. You can buy several tickets at once, and use a credit card (some vending machines do not accept cash) for a credit card service fee of about 50 cents for each purchase.

In town the transit tickets for tram, metro and GVB buses are purchased from a vending machine or on the tram (cash only); a one hour (one trip) ticket is €2,90 (about US$3.20), unlimited travel for 24 hours is €7.50, for 48 hours is €12.50, etc., up to 7 days for €33. The time on each ticket starts the instant it is first used.

On the airport train and on GVB public transit in town (all but a few buses), the proximity ticket is passed near a validation machine (single beep) at the entry to the tracks (in the airport) or as you enter the tram (in the city), and again as you exit (double beep).

The highly promoted I AMsterdam city card for 1-4 days (€55 to €85) includes a 1-4 day GVB public transit ticket, a “free” canal cruise (worth about €16), and a free ticket to many (not all) museums (you still have to get in line for the museum ticket). The big advantage is access to shorter lines even if the entrance is not free. We found it a convenience, but not a financial savings.

Emergency Numbers

The universal emergency number is 112, answered in Dutch, German, and English, within 3 seconds.

Germany

Berlin Airport: The good way into the city is the TXL bus (TXL is also the Berlin airport code), that leaves from the front of the airport terminal every few minutes. €2,60 each, or about US$3.40. Buy your ticket from a vending machine or from the bus driver. Once you are on the bus, “time stamp” the ticket in the machine on bus aisle. For the return we left our hotel at 5am so sprang for a Taxi (under €30 with tip).Credit cards are widely accepted. I hear that sometimes a chip and PIN card is necessary for tickets and unattended gas stations. Your chip and signature card may also have a PIN that sometimes works for these situations.

In Berlin we were able to get cash, with no ATM service fee (better than in the US), at our choice of ATMs, available every block or so. Credit cards are widely accepted but not universal – for example, at one place there was no apology or regret about “our machine is broken.” We carry enough local cash to cover a meal, and if we don’t want to bring the local currency home, we use what’s left towards our hotel bill.

If you have a car in Germany, you will travel on the Autobahn (at well over 100 mph). The Autobahn is analogous to the Interstate Highway system in the United States, but far superior maintenance, allowing far higher (unlimited) speeds. I made a web page of the experience (and driving hints for the German speed and driving customs/rules).

Emergency Numbers

In addition to the universal European 112 emergency number, 110 is used for police emergencies in Germany

Poland

We flew in and out of Warsaw, and used the train to get into town. Krakow was added to our trip after we had our air tickets, so we took the train from Warsaw to/from Krakow. Looking back, we could have flown into Krakow if we had planned better, but at this instant Krakow is more expensive than Warsaw (150 miles away).We were able to use credit cards for everything, so had to work to use up the balance of the $100 equivalent we withdrew in local currency. There was a modest fee for using the airport ATM, refunded by our bank.

We only go to McDonalds overseas in an emergency, such as early morning in the Warsaw airport when that is all that is open. They have a slick way of placing your order electronically in a choice of languages on a large touch-screen with pictures.  When we were there in October 2015, if your credit card is mag stripe or chip and signature (rather than chip and PIN), your order is canceled and you have to speak to a cashier with very limited language skills. (This problem has been fixed in other countries, so may now be fixed in Poland.)

Tips in a restaurant (up to 10%) are always paid in cash, never added to the bill on the credit card.

Emergency Numbers

In addition to the universal 112 emergency number, In Poland 999 is used for ambulance, 998 for fire, and 997 for police