August 8, 2017 – O, Canada

This morning we are off to Canada! It’s not quite like going to a foreign country but it is still exciting. The ride up to the Canadian border is pretty boring. It is mostly endless miles of recently shorn wheat on a terrain-less landscape. Finally we come to the border crossing,.

Border crossing

Crossing the border always makes you feel a little nervous. But the guard asks a couple of questions after looking at our passports and we are on our way. First, though we have to get a picture of the welcome to Alberta sign as we have never been in this province before.

We are anticipating all the wild roses

On the way to Lethbridge where we’ll be spending the next two nights there are no wild roses. In fact, Alberta looks exactly like Montana. Sigh. Once in Lethbridge we go in search of lunch and decide on a Mediterrean place called Pita Pit. We have to get some Canadian money to pay the parking meter but John reports that all the Canadians at the bank were very nice and friendly (as you expect them to be.)

After lunch we check into our hotel and then go out for some sightseeing. First up is the Nikki Yuko Japanese Garden.

Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden

This garden is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. It is a lovely place full of gentle breezes, shade, the sound of running streams, and just, serenity.

Pond at Nikka Yuko garden

Pagoda in the garden

Leaving this garden we head to the Rose Garden commemorating those killed in the 9/11 attacks.

Yellow rose, my favorite

A delicate pink rose

Then, after stopping at the information office, we take the scenic drive along and into the Oldlman river valley. We plan on doing some of the sites here tomorrow. We take a short walk and see the High Bridge and a hay ride.

High bridge over the Oldman River canyon

Hayride in the valley

Now it is time for a little rest and then dinner. Across from our hotel is a brew pub so we try it and decide that we’ll go somewhere else tomorrow night.

August 7, 2017 – Rooting for the home team

Busy day today that ended up with a trip to the local ballpark. Everything in Great Falls revolves around the Falls and the Lewis and Clark Expedition so today we went for a look at the greatest of the five Falls which were almost the stumbling block of the expedition. Unfortunately the dams on the Missouri have really changed their appearance. Good for many reasons but sad nonetheless.

The Falls prior to 1915

The Great Falls today

Some work is being done at the top of the Ryan dam at Great Falls and the entire flow is coming out of one pipe.

Getting to this point to see the Ryan dam is an adventure. It is about nine miles from Great Falls down a little road through fields of shorn wheat. We wind down the canyon of the river and park. We are the only people here. The best sight for the dam is across a foot bridge to an island.  I am game until part way across the bridge starts to sway. John assures me that all is well and we continue across- not my favorite thing to do.

Footbridge

Another view of footbridge

Next stop, the Giant Springs State Park where we will see the fish hatchery, the world’s shortest river and the giant springs.

The fish hatchery is breeding trout. We see an exhibition all about breeding and transporting the fish and some 6 week old rainbow trout.

Baby rainbow trout

Outside there is a viewing pond with adult trout. You can feed them for a nickel which the fish really like. They hang around wherever there are people looking for a free lunch.

Trout in the viewing pond. The gold ones are actually albinos.

John looks like he is blessing the children but he is actually feeding the fish

Finally we look at the smallest river. It is about 800 yards long and has all the attributes of a river, a source, a current, a mouth etc. The source of the river are the springs which begin in the Belt Mountains about 50 miles away  and travel underground until it finds some cracks in the limestone and burbles up next to the Missouri River at the rate of 150,000,000 gallons a day and then flows into the Missouri.

The Roe River with the Giant Springs

Finally we return to the Clark and Lewis Interpretive Center and work our way through the exhibits of their entire journey. Really interesting!

Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center

After a lunch which involved a lot of standing in line for a salad in an aluminum foil container at Cafe Rio, we spend the rest of the afternoon doing laundry before heading out to the baseball game between the Great Falls Voyagers and the Ogden Raptors.

Meh lunch at Cafe Rio

The baseball game is between two teams in the Rookie, short season category. The Voyagers are a White Sox farm team and the Raptors, the Dodgers. At first it seems sparsely attended.

Lonely section

The game has lots of errors, especially wild pitches. We leave after the 6th inning with the Voyagers ahead 15 to 7. Eventually they won 15 to 10. It was not a pitcher’s duel but quite fun and good beer!

Third pitcher for the Ogden Raptors

August 6, 2017 – Traveling to an important Lewis and Clark site

I put my foot down last night and said that I would not eat the horrible hotel breakfast on Sunday. Rather we should head up the road and stop somewhere to get breakfast. Mistake, big mistake. As you head out of Idaho Falls there is nothing, no food, no gas, no lodging, nothing. We travel on and on without even a convenience store. I was like Dorothy saying to Toto, ” We’re not in California anymore.”

Finally in Dubois, ID right before the Montana border we find a sign that indicates that there is a gas/convenience store. We and most of our fellow travelers get off the road. We choose pre-made English muffins with sausage, egg and cheese. As I eat around the cold edges of the sausage I wonder if I am going to pay for this later?

A cute aside –  we have been traveling along with some older Harley bikers since we were in Idaho Falls. They have stopped at Dubois as well. As soon as they get some food their party of five crowd around someone’s phone and do a video chat with one of their wives. “Yes, we are all fine. We had a good time last night but needed to get to bed early. We are heading up to Canada today. We’ll be careful. Do you have all the other spouses to forward our news to?” Tough guys!

We cross the Continental Divide at the border between Idaho and Montana. John is driving now. We put on a podcast of the History of the English Language. I will be asleep soon. Before nodding off though, I catch an interesting exit sign.

I sent this picture to Jon who asked “Is Conquer, MT next”

I snooze through the podcast. We stop for gas in Butte, MT and change drivers. Now that I am revived I drive the rest of the way to Great Falls. We get in around 1 PM and stop at Jimmy John’s for a sandwich. Then we head to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.

Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center

We go in and watch a movie called the Confluence of Time and Courage about the plight of the expedition as it hit all the falls of the Missouri River and what they had to do to get around them. There was a model of the men taking the boats out of the water to portage them to the next navigable spot. Apparently this was a make it or break it moment along their trail to the Pacific Ocean.

Model of the portage

Uh oh, I am not feeling at all well. The spicy Thai food and the awful egg/sausage muffin have caught up to me. We must go check into the hotel! We make it to the hotel on time and I will need some lying down time. We will not be able to do all the things I had planned for the afternoon.

Luckily I am better for dinner (of course) and we go to a place called Artisan Fire Pizza and it is really good. Most of the reviews on Yelp have bemoaned the awful dining scene in Great Falls but have said that this place is an exception. We share a pizza and a salad and even a dessert. Guess I am okay.

Excellent Mediterranean salad

Pizza Margherita

Salted bittersweet chocolate chip cookie with vanilla ice cream

August 5, 2017 – Flags and Falls, Idaho Falls

If there are two things that Idaho Falls has it is giant U.S. flags and waterfalls. I think there must be a contest among the car, truck, and RV dealerships to find the biggest flag. The hotels are no slouches either. I cannot even estimate what the dimensions are.

One of many giant flags

Our day is supposed to begin with a spirited game of tennis but when we get up we find that the temperature is 47F. We are not prepared for playing tennis in temperatures that cold. By this afternoon it will be almost 90F and too hot to play. We go back to sleep instead.

After the not very good hotel breakfast we head down town to the park by the Snake River. It is a lovely green area right in the center of town and there are lots of people viewing the falls, cycling, walking, etc. We join in.

Part of the falls

John in the Japanese Friendship Garden by the riverwalk

Looking up the river at more falls

The people of Idaho Falls voted to create a diversion route for the Snake River in 1982. On it they built three turbines to generate electricity and funded the riverwalk. All along the river is a paved path with beautiful flowers, whimsical topiary and artistic benches.

Mary and the grizzly bear

John spies a topiary moose

We do a pretty good job walking along the river and check out the power plant and some new construction on the other side of the river. They have commissioned a massive wildlife sculpture at one of the roundabouts.

Wildlife sculpture of an eagle landing at a nest

It’s lunch time and we stop to have a burger at 5 Guys. Pretty good.

Then it is off to the Art Museum where we view a Western themed special exhibition. There are finely tooled saddles, silver bits, and furry chaps. Cowboying is a serious business.

Art Museum

Saddle and chaps

Really fancy saddle

There’s also an exhibition by a local artist, Shushana Rucker. Her oils of the gritty side of urban industrialism are really good but I have no idea where you would hang one.

At this point we decide to have a little respite before we finish our afternoon sightseeing. It gives me time to catch up on the blog writing and nod off. We are off again at three to tour the Museum of Idaho which has a special lunar landing exhibit and quite a few artifacts from the beginning of Idaho Falls, once known as Eagle Rock.

John proudly standing by a picture of the lunar landing module for which he wrote code when he was only 18 at MIT

Picture of Idaho Falls as it was in the late 19th century

One of the Main St. exhibits has all kinds of groceries and notions you might have needed at the turn of the century

There is also a short film and exhibit on the Idaho National Lab which was established in the early 1950’s to build prototypes of nuclear reactors. It was a great success and continues with scientific projects to this day. It had its risks though and incorrect disposal of nuclear waste has created a SuperFund site where contamination has seeped into the aquifer.

Around 5PM we stop at the Idaho Brewing Company to try out their beers. Of course we have to take the obligatory John and beer picture.

John with his sampler

Tonight we are having Thai food and have gotten a recommendation from the bar guy last night. Our dinner at Krung Thep is outstanding. We start out with fresh spring rolls and then move on to spicy eggplant, peppers, and onions with tofu. So good!

John getting ready for dinner with a Singha

Fresh spring rolls

Spicy eggplant, onions, and peppers with tofu and white rice

Off to Montana tomorrow!!

August 4, 2017 – the Museum of Clean and more!

We hit the road around 8 AM and our plan is to get to Idaho Falls around lunchtime, have lunch, visit one of our must-sees and check into the hotel. Of course it doesn’t work out quite like that. As we are nearing the Idaho border we spy a billboard advertising the Museum of Clean in Pocatello. What do you know? On the way to Idaho Falls we are passing right through Pocatello. The Clean Museum is too much to pass up!

Here is John being welcomed into Idaho

Luckily John thought to bring along our Roadside Geology of Idaho and as I am driving he regales me with information about Lake Bonneville and the strangely missing Mesozoic rock in the area. All this is super interesting except I got very little sleep last night and know  that I cannot keep driving. We switch drivers and, I never do this, I fall asleep until we reach Pocatello.

Roadside Geology of Idaho

As we pull off the highway I wake up and we make our way to the Museum of Clean, the brainchild of Don Aslett. Don Aslett made his fortune by starting a cleaning company when he was attending the nearby Idaho State University. It expanded across the United States.

Mary and the Museum of Clean

He has housed his museum in a refurbished 1915 architectural gem. Only the front facade is new.

Museum of Clean

We are greeted at the door by two robots made out of various cleaning paraphernalia and a lovely older lady who is really into the whole concept of the museum. She explains about various tours but we beg off. First, though she must show us the inside of an overly-stuffed garage. If we can name five things that we have in our garage we will pass the test and receive our choice of a book about cleaning. We win!

Dusty

Musty and John

We walk around the museum seeing early vacuum cleaners and carpet sweepers. There are old toilets and old toilet paper. Washing machines and early irons and manglers are all on display. We take a short break.

Mary resting for a sec in an old washing machine

John cools his heels in a bathtub

An hour is about enough and we head into Pocatello for some lunch. We find a place, Efresh, that sounds promising but is meh.

Did not like my tuna sandwich

John fared better with a cheesesteak

We have one more stop before getting into Idaho Falls. It is called Hell’s Half-Acre and is appended to a rest stop. It explains about a lava flow that seeped out of the earth about 2000 years ago. This was just an ooze not an explosive volcano. It spread out over the surrounding countryside often to a depth of hundreds of feet. The site we are looking out is 17 miles away from the main source. We take a short trail which is dotted with informational placards. It is very hot.

Area of solidified lava

The lava here is much like the oozing lava in Hawaii called pa-hoe-hoe

Finally we make the rest of the trip to Idaho Falls. After another short nap (Oh, I am so exhausted today) we make our scouting, shopping, and dinner plans. First we find tennis courts so we can play tomorrow morning. Next we find the Idaho Brewing Company where John would like to try their beers, third we buy a bottle of wine for our dinner at Chef Shane’s Perspective. Then we have a glass of wine at the Blackrock Fine Wines and Craft Beers in downtown Idaho Falls. We have misjudged our timing and need to kill about a half an hour until our reservation.

On tap at the Blackrock Fine Wines and Craft Beers is Alameda Brewing Company’s P-town Pilsner

Finally we arrive at Chef Shane’s where we have a scallop appetizer and some pork entrees. Mine is super salty and kind of dry. John likes his although I think the pork belly could have been seared and caramelized like we had in China.

Scallop appetizer

My too salty and dry flat iron pork (the vegetables and potatoes were super, though)

John’s porkbelly

 

August 3, 2017 – The adventure begins

Having dealt with Adam, the bugman, and Chad, our contractor, we hit the road about 12:45 PM. Before long we are zooming up I-15 at the legal speed limit of 80 mph. The ride is quite lovely. This part of Utah is big on scenery and small on population.

View out the front windshield around Toquerville, UT

Somewhere north of the first picture

Part of the reason for this trip is to have a break from the extreme temperatures at home and the even more extreme temperatures in St. George. We watch as the thermometer does not budge out of the nineties. In fact it is 100F by the time we get to Lehi, UT.

But what is this?!

Rain!

It rains briefly a couple of times. These are intrepid raindrops. Most of their fellow drops have evaporated by the time they hit the ground.

We change drivers at Cove Fort which is not a town. Brigham Young instructed his people to build a fort to defend against Indians and apparently it is made out of lava rock and white rock and the walls are four feet thick. But there was not enough water to sustain a community. I wish we had stopped and had a look. I think I need to be clearer and actually verbalized what I would like to do instead of hoping John will read my mind.

We get to Lehi around 5PM. The ride is longer than I thought. We are quite pleased with our accommodation at Hyatt Place.

Our room at Hyatt Place, Lehi, UT

Our original plan was to go to Carraba’s for dinner but it turns out to be 18 miles away so we just have dinner at a nearby Olive Garden (sad but true.) John orders eggplant Parmesan and I order something off the “light” menu, shrimp scampi. It looks like more than 600 calories to me so I don’t eat much of the pasta. It is not much of a sacrifice since it is overcooked

John’s eggplant parmesan

My under 600 calories shrimp scampi

Tomorrow we head to Idaho Falls and have a full agenda!

August 2, 2017 – small change in plans

1) It is really hot in St. George. 2) Our first day’s drive on Friday will take eight hours. 3) These two facts equal we are leaving on our trip on Thursday instead of Friday. We plan to leave after lunch and drive to Lehi, UT which is about three hours away. This will make Friday’s drive to Idaho Falls much more manageable.

While we will not have much time in Lehi, I am interested in seeing an old building that I wrote about ten years ago when we were starting out on Cross Country #1. Here is what I said about the building at the time. “The bank building was very elaborate with an embellished pediment, finials and beautiful windows. Later it was whitewashed and turned into the hospital. You can still see the “Hospital” sign on the side. After a new hospital was built, it fell into disrepair. But there seems to be hope. Workmen and dumpsters are at the site this afternoon.”

Derelict building in Lehi, UT

Well, forget that. John just looked it up on Google Maps and said the lot had been leveled. I do so enjoy living my life virtually. I guess dinner will be our only activity in Lehi. Maybe I will try to dig something else up.

Going back to today, we spent some time running errands but being out in the heat is draining. If it is 105F in the outside air, it must be 125F walking from the car to the store on the hot black asphalt. It is not worth another stop to look for a mechanical pencil.

In the afternoon John tackles the goose poop. He gets it cleaned off but the patio is stained. However that is a problem for another visit. I cut back some riotous foliage and pull some weeds. The columbine out front looks dead. I hope it is just hiding from the heat.

Dinner tonight is at the club. We sit at the bar and have a glass of wine while watching the tennis tournament going on in Washington DC. My dinner choice is a piece of sea bass. It is not overcooked! That is always a pleasant surprise.

Sea bass with asparagus and horseradish mashed potatoes

The day ends with a pleasant chat with my sister, Peggy. It sounds like things are going well with them. We wish each other happy adventures.

 

 

Tonopah, NV to St. George, UT – 8/1/17

Happy August! It is really warm this morning in Tonopah, probably around 80 early this morning. We bid farewell to the too small, no counter space, scratchy sheeted Mizpah Hotel. I do not think we will be staying here again. Someone thought it would be a good idea to bring back an old time hotel and forgot that people are used to modern conveniences.

Mizpah Hotel on the right

We head off down U.S. 6 which is pretty much deserted and turn on to NV375, the Extra Terrestrial highway, which is also pretty much deserted except for one thing, cows! The cows are open range which means they can meander wherever they like because there are no fences. We have got keep a watchful eye because this morning there are more cows walking hither and yon than we have ever seen. You do not want to hit a cow!

It will take us about five hours to get to St. George. I am on second shift from Warm Springs, NV to Rachel, NV. At Rachel we stop at the Little Al’le’inn to take a picture. The Little A’le’inn is a convenience store/eatery with an ET kind of vibe and a very right wing point of view. We stop out front so that John can get his picture with the resident alien.

John and friend

The drive goes by quickly mostly because you can achieve warp speed on these deserted roads. Before too long we are at Caliente where it is very caliente (about mid 90s mid morning) and fix ourselves up with a half cappuccino half coffee to keep me from nodding off during the last leg. Caliente has a really cool looking railroad station which is no longer in use.

Caliente, NV train station

An hour and a half later and we are traveling down UT18 just south of Veyo when we are met with a sight that always astounds. It is a fabulous view of Snow Canyon State Park. Now we know that we are close to Utah home.

View of Snow Canyon from UT18

Another view

Arriving at the house it seems that nothing is amiss except for a new lot of goose poop and a chirping carbon monoxide detector. We spend the rest of the day doing some food shopping and relaxing.

Road trip, 2017 – Ptown to Tonopah

We leave around 8 AM for the start of our road trip and a leisurely journey half way to St. George, UT today. After a quick stop for breakfast in Manteca we run into a little traffic in Oakdale. Due to our long history of finding interesting things we notice this I.O.O.F. Art Deco building with its fabulous turret clock.

Odd Fellows building facade with turret clock

Our next stop is at Chinese Camp, CA to change drivers. We stop at California Historical Marker No. 423 which is about the founding of Chinese Camp, the still-standing post office built in 1854, and the Tong Wars. We wander around the town which is mostly comprised of derelict old buildings.

Historical marker about Chinese Camp

Then it’s on to Yosemite NP. The trouble with going through the park is all the slow drivers. We just want to cross through the park and others would prefer to gawk at every leaf and rock. Nonetheless we manage pretty good time. Here are some pictures from our transversing the park by way of Tioga Road.

A view of Lake Tenaya

Looking across the lake

There are still patches of snow on the mountains

A granite dome that looks like an ape to John and a Stormtrooper to me

We have lunch at the Whoa Nellie Deli where we have a bowl of indifferent vegetarian chili which is greatly helped by the addition of cornbread.

Vegetarian chili with cornbread

Now we have just over two hours left to Tonopah so it’s past Mono Lake, over roller coaster road, a left turn at Benton where there are children in the playground for the first time in 14 years of passing this tiny town, then a right at the burntout shell of a bordello in Coaldale, and we are in the nowhere town of Tonopah.

We are staying at the refurbished but still dingy historic Mizpah Hotel. Our room is very small and there is no place to put anything but we will survive. It is only one night.

some pictures from our evening in Tonopah –

The town has been trying to spruce up  itself with civic art but a lot of the storefronts are abandoned and it is all rather depressing looking.

Big Bill who saved many miners in a mining accident

Salute to the troops

Mural of the many planes tested at the nearby range

Tonopah takes pride in being the home of the stealth bombrt

The County Courthouse looks like there is a space ship bursting out of it.

Lastly we have dinner at the new-ish Tonopah Brewing Company. John has burnt ends and I have  BBQ chicken sandwich. It is merely okay. John likes the porter a lot.

Friendly interior of a Tonopah Brewing Co.

Actually even the nuclear test site was not very spicy

John and beer

John’s burnt ends – not enough bark and spongy in the center

My chicken sandwich. Pretty meh.

On to St. George tomorrow!

July 17, 2017 – Anniversary in Sonoma

Happy Anniversary to us!

Well, here it is our 45th anniversary. Wow. We are fortunate to have such a long and happy marriage but I think we are well suited to each other and have worked hard over the years to keep our marriage a happy one. Now as oldsters we get as much pleasure in each other’s company as we ever did, maybe more so. We are both so interested in the world around us and now that we have the internet at our fingertips, our conversation never lags.

For instance, today we pass a truck loaded with sacks full of rice hulls. What are those used for I ask. John always has an answer and tells me that they are used for cleaning industrial parts. I google it up and tell him the myriad uses that rice hulls have. Now we are ready the next time rice hulls come up in conversation! This is the kind of fun with have.

Today we are in Sonoma Valley for a little wine tasting, a dinner at a favorite place, and an overnight.  Our first stop is at Jacuzzi Winery. They are quite busy for a Monday. We taste and buy a few bottles. We also stop in at their olive oil outlet and taste some olive oils and have our bottles refilled.

Jacuzzi Winery

John at the bar at Jacuzzi

Then it is on to Ledson Winery where I am looking for an old-style peppery Zinfandel. We enter their Addams family building and are met by a concierge. She leads us to a tasting area. I wonder if they do that to separate the wheat from the chaff. Having made the grade we sample some wine and buy a case. Annoyingly they do not give us the member discount that they promised as a lifetime perk of joining the club.

Ledson Winery

There are not many places to have lunch around here. We used to go to The Kenwood but as we pass it we notice that it is no longer in business. We settle for Cafe Citti and are pleasantly surprised with a tasty sandwich and a delicious chickpea side. We should have only ordered one since the portions are enormous and neither of us finish.

Smoked turkey and mozzarella on focaccia with chickpea salad

Lastly we go to Imagery Winery but I am not so much into it. I am tired and a bit sleepy from the big late lunch and the wine tasting. But John soldiers on and we buy a few bottles from them.

We are staying the night at the Best Western Sonoma Inn which is not great but has a wonderful location right off Sonoma Square. After a nap (for me) and showers we head over to Tasca Tasca for dinner. It is so nice that it is within walking distance. Here we have their tapas menu. It is great to be able to pick out a bunch of small plates and have a little dessert afterwards.

John’s five dishes are  bocerones, lupini beans, tripe, goat stew, and squid salad

My five are ceviche, gazpacho, foie gras terrine, squid salad, and blue cheese with apple

Dessert includes the super spicy piri piri chocolate ice cream, olive oil ice cream and some date cake and chocolate

We have had a lovely anniversary and I am looking forward to many more.

July 9, 2017 – Homeward bound

We take a boat ride and then a bus ride to Heathrow for our afternoon flight home. Since we are flying Virgin Atlantic we get to try their London lounge. It is very nice with even a menu and table service. It is a good thing that we decide to have lunch at the lounge in the airport because their food on the flight is inedible. We each have a vegetable korma.

Vegetable korma with rice and pappadam

Our flight is somewhat delayed taking off but makes most of the delay up during the flight. The seats are somewhat lacking in shoulder space.

John in his narrow cube

After an interminable 10+ hours we land at SFO. We get through Customs and Immigration in the fastest time ever, quickly receive our luggage, and Sarah is ready to pick us up. We arrive home before 7 PM, try to stay up for a while and crash around 9 PM.

We have had a good time on our trip but realize once again that touring with a bunch of people is not our favorite way of traveling.

 

July 8, 2017 – London

We pull into London early Saturday morning after a day at sea where our major activities were going to a lecture about the architecture of London and getting John’s cold better. It is a very noisy docking and if I had known how noisy our third deck suite was going to be I might have considered postponing the trip until a suite on a different deck was available. The anchor and lines mechanisms were right below us.

The itinerary for the day is different from what was scheduled due to a large Pride parade which is causing street closures. The new itinerary is the Viking will get us into London by boat and then the rest is up to us. We are fine with that and decide to visit the National Gallery which is right on Trafalgar Square and within walking distance of the Thames Clipper stop at Westminster Pier.

On our trip from the Viking Sea down the Thames we see many of the iconic buildings mentioned in yesterday’s lecture. Londoners have fanciful names for them.

The Armadillo and the Shard

The London Eye

Houses of Parliament and Big Ben

There are a lot of people in London this morning and the numbers only increase as the day wears on. We take a less populated route to Trafalgar Square and pass by other iconic London spots.

New Scotland Yard

Her Majesty’s Horse Guards

Lord Nelson watching over the festivities in Trafalgar Square

We make our way past the throngs who are looking forward to a concert later and into the calm of the National Gallery. Knowing our museum stamina we decide to concentrate on an exhibition by Giovanni da Rimini and their collection of 13th to16th century art.

Giovanni da Rimini has mostly been overlooked (no pictures allowed)

Bacchus and Ariadne by Titian

After looking at the Exhibition and a century or two of other art, we stop for lunch.The service is very slow but our table overlooks Trafalgar Square and we watch the goings-on below. The lunch is worth the wait and is quite tasty.

John has roasted quail

My first choice was vegetable terrine but it met with a mysterious kitchen accident so I had potato dumplings (gnocchi) with chanterelles and artichoke purée

After some more browsing we head back to the Clipper through the crowds which have now become quite bevved up and are leaving their glass bottles everywhere. We are jostled quite a bit in our attempt to get through the parade attendees and I am happy to return to our ride back to the ship.

On the way back we see buildings on the other bank of the Thames.

St. Paul’s Cathedral

From left to right The Cheese Grater, the top of The Gherkin, and The Walkie-Talkie

The Tower of London

The Tower Bridge

Later we have dinner for the last time at the Chef’s Table. The menu (which we tried last night as well) is inspired by China’s Cantonese and Hualwang cuisines. It is really not very authentic but the chef has promised us a spicy dipping sauce tonight. (In addition to the pictures below there was also a coconut granita and a chilled mango cream.)

(Not very) hot and sour soup

Fried prawns with crispy garlic and chile – the chef makes a super spicy but delicious dipping sauce

Wok-fried beef with black pepper sauce and rice in a lotus leaf

The staff at the restaurant has been wonderful to us and the dishes have been mostly delicious. Everyone has been so welcoming that they would have been happy to see us every night. As is we had dinner there probably nine times. Vikesh, the manager, always had a table waiting for us next to a window.

Vikesh and John

 

 

July 6, 2017 – Edinburgh, Scotland

‘Tis a wee bit misty as the Viking Sea plies its way toward our berth in Rosyth near Edinburgh. We are treated to passage under three bridges spanning the river, Forth. The first called the Forth Bridge was built in 1882-1890. Interestingly the steel Forth Bridge is contemporaneous with the Eiffel Tower which was built of iron. The Forth Bridge is still in use carrying rail traffic across the river.

The Forth Bridge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The next bridge which is for car traffic was built in the 1950’s and opened in 1960. The final bridge is just finishing construction and its cables look like sails. It is due to open in September. It will be the new bridge for car traffic since it has baffles to cut down on the wind’s influence and the 1950’s bridge will be for trucks.

Two more bridges

Since this is Scotland, we are piped off the boat and onto the bus.

Piper

As we head into Edinburgh we get a little history about the place. Edinburgh is the capital and has around 500,000 people while Glasgow is the bigger city and has 600,000. The difference is due to the fact that Glasgow is on the Atlantic Ocean and Edinburgh is on the North Sea. Back in the day when they were deciding where the capital should be Edinburgh was more populated and prosperous because trading could be done all over the North Sea area while Glasgow fronted the unknown and more treacherous ocean.

On our drive we see a number of small, one-story houses called bungalows. It seems that people really liked the style of homes that they lived in India back when the sun was never setting on the British Empire. So they named the houses after the place where they lived. “Bangala” in Hindi merely means “of Bengal.”

 

Bungalows

We enter the section of Edinburgh called New Town because it was built outside the city walls. The houses are mostly stone of a yellow-ish hue. It has been found that cleaning the stone in the city makes it deteriorate even more quickly so much of Edinburgh is kind of dingy looking.

Typical houses in New Town

The Scottish Prime Minister lives in this block of houses

We pass by Holyrood Palace on our way up to an overlook. I cannot get a good picture though because Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip are visiting and security is blocking all the nearby streets.

At the overlook Edinburgh sprawls out in front of us and behind us are the remnants of an ancient volcano.

Overlook

We enter the Old Town which is somewhat more crowded together with a mishmash of architectural styles. They still have parks here that are for residents only and the key to the park can cost up to 15,000 Pounds!

Typical square in Edinburgh Old Town

The unattractive Parliament building where Scots are now allowed to legislate some of their laws

As we near our drop off point, Edinburgh Castle looms overhead

We now get dropped off for an hour and a half. We are not dropped anywhere historic but at the top of the Royal Mile which appears mostly to be a mile of schlock. I believe that once again the major function is to buy stuff. The place is overrun with tourists of every type.

Our major objective is to find a place to buy cold medicine for John, acquire more money from an ATM, and hopefully have a pint in a pub. I report success on all three objectives.

We find out that if  you want actual cold medicine going into the local chemist or Boots is not going to do it. We know from previous experiences that we want Day and Night Nurse. That is only available from a pharmacy. These shops tend to be smaller and have a green cross outside.

On the way to finding our cold medicine we pass the memorial to David Hume. John touches his toe and now we are promised . . .what? That our knowledge will only be founded  in experience and that our knowledge is either directly traceable to objects perceived in experience or resulting from abstract reasoning about relations between ideas which are already derived from experience? Well, duh, we already hold those views. Maybe we can pass the toe rubbing on to less empirical folk.

David Hume remarks to John, “Don’t waste my magic powers” (irony)

Next we see a memorial statue to Sir Walter Scott.

Sir Walter Scott

Sir Walter Scott was a Scottish playwright, poet, and historical novelist.

The edifice behind Sir Walter Scott is the Cathedral of St. Giles. St. Giles was a hermit and his only friend was a deer. St. Giles protected the deer from an arrow shot by some royal hunters. It wounded the deer but mostly St.Giles protected the deer by taking the brunt of the arrow in his hand. He has become the patron saint of disabled people. He is one of the  Fourteen Holy Helpers.

Exterior of St. Giles

Interior of St. Giles

After the detour to the cathedral we continue the hunt for cold medicine. While John is looking in Boots (fruitlessly), I find some interesting foods to look at in the self-service case.

Has this chicken sandwich been sitting here since 1952?

We finally find the pharmacy, get directions to the ATM, and now the only thing to do is to toast ourselves at a pub in the Scottish capital. We finally find one with twenty minutes left and guzzle down a quick half-pint before heading to the bus and back to the boat.

The Castle Arms pub

John having a Bell Haven’s Best

The remainder of the afternoon is just rest time and we decide on room service for dinner. Our electronic connection explodes and we are without a lot of power in the room. We have a lot of workmen in the room for the next hour but it is finally corrected. We finish watching Roger’s match at Wimbledon, order dinner, and go to sleep.

 

July 5, 2017 – Orkney Islands

The first thing we notice is that the topography of the Orkney Islands looks different from the Shetlands. It is green with rolling hills and there is a lot of farming going on and cows grazing in the fields. We are told that these cows only live outside for half the year due to the harsh winters. They are housed in the big barns we see.

Prosperous farm and pasture land of the Mainland Island in the Orkneys

We are really fortunate to have this great weather again today. It is only in the mid-50’s but the sun is shining brightly. Our first stop is at the Stand Stones of Stenness. There is a lot of interesting archeology going on in the Orkney Islands which is covered with stone rings and grass covered burial mounds from pre-historic times.

We hop off the bus to take a look at the Stones being careful to watch where we step since the field is also used for sheep grazing. The stones are from the Neolithic period dating to around 3000 B.C. The circle of stones and its encircling ditch or “henge” are incomplete partly due to the fact that the landowner in the 19th century started smashing and toppling them in order to keep sightseers away. The site is now under protection by the Scottish government and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Stones

Another stone

John next to a stone

Odd shaped stone

Mary by a Stone of Stenness

Next we drive by the Ring of Brodgar. This site is still being actively excavated. It has been dated as being from around 2600-2000 B.C. and originally had 60 stones of which 27 still exist. It was also encircled by a henge or ditch. The stones are smaller than the ones at Stenness averaging in height from 7 to 15 feet.

View of Ring of Brodgar

Another view

After seeing these sites we are dropped off in the picturesque town of Stromness. I think we are supposed to wander around buying things but it doesn’t seem like many on the bus are cooperating with the whole buying stuff scheme. We walk down several streets and take pictures. The architecture is similar to Lerwick with stone houses and businesses.

View of Stromness

Stone buildings of Stromness

Between two stone houses towards the sea – Stromness

Hotel and buildings fronting the harbor in Stromness

John is getting a cold so we spend the rest of the afternoon quietly in hopes that he will get better fast. Later we go to dinner at the Italian restaurant, Manfredi’s. Our meal is very good and we are tucked away in a corner where it is a little less noisy which is nice.

The basket of bread at Manfredi’s is assorted and plentiful (Note that John is busily taking notes, an endeavor that he is known for around the boat.)

Like last time, we both start with the octopus carpaccio

My first course is capellini with prawns

John has a snail risotto

We order a main course of grilled swordfish with extra vegetables. Even though we are splitting it, there is still 1/3 left over.

July 4, 2017 – Fourth of July in the Shetland Isles

Happy Fourth of July! Strangely, here in the U.K. they are not celebrating. Maybe because they were the losers?! We don’t mention it deciding to take the higher road. And speaking of who takes the high road and who takes the low and who gets to Scotland before whom, it is we who have arrived in Scotland. The Shetland Isles are part of Scotland but they have not always been. In 1468 the Danish king wanted his daughter, Margaret, to marry King James III of Scotland. But she needed a dowry and the king did not have enough money. He gave the Shetland Isles and Orkney Isles as a dowry to James III. Lots of place names in the islands are still Norse and the people there identify more with Norway (which was a part of Denmark at the time) than with Scotland.

As we approach the main city of Lerwick a little pilot boat draws along side to drop off a pilot for our trip into the harbor.

Pilot boat to direct us into Lerwick harbor

We are lucky it is a beautiful day. So often Shetland is rainy. It is not a very populated place  with a total population of about 70,000 people and almost half of these live in Lerwick. Our first look of the Shetlands is of a treeless landscape. The climate is so harsh, windy, rainy, cold, and full of salt spray, that trees and most plants have a hard time growing.

Our first stop on our panoramic bus tour of the Mainland Island is overlooking Scalloway Bay and the ruins of Scalloway Castle.

Scalloway Bay and the ruins of Scalloway Castle

Next are Shetland ponies! This is what everyone has been waiting for. The Shetland ponies come in mini, medium, and large but none can be over 42 inches at the shoulder. They were bred mainly for working in the coal mines of Scotland and Wales. Their short stature and stocky build made them perfect for hauling coal out of the mine shafts. The owner tells us that now a days it is hard to sell them and they can go for as little as 10 or 20 pounds. Everyone enjoys seeing them.

The little pony is six weeks old

This is a mini size Shetland pony

The black and white ones are all medium sized

This large black one just made it in as a Shetland pony since he is 41.5 inches

After oohing and aching over the ponies we get back on the bus to learn more things about the Shetlands. We pass a rock pillar called the murder stone. It has been dated to around 2 BC. According to a Scottish tourism site, “it is said that at the time that it was made, the Murder Stone was used to issue justice to murderers. If the offender could run from Law Ting Holm to the Murder Stone unscathed despite the efforts of the victim’s family and friends to stop him, he was pardoned of his crimes.”

The Murder Stone

Other photos from our bus tour –

Old Parliament building

The Shetland Isles have way more sheep than people (around 200,000)

A loch

Our bus!

We have been up for a long time since we had to go through Customs and Immigration at 6:30 this morning and our tour left early as well. When we finish with the morning’s activities it only 10:30 and not even time for lunch. We have a little rest and then decide that we will take the shuttle into Lerwick to find a fish and chips shop and lift a pint somewhere.

Grubby fish and chips place

Fried halibut and chips

No beer but we each got a nice mug of tea

Now it is time to find that pint of beer. We come across a hotel, The Queens, that has a bar entrance and settle in at the bar for a pint of Tennant’s and McEwan’s beer. There is even a TV screen and we ask the barman to put on Wimbledon – pretty perfect.

Queens Hotel (and bar)

John in his traditional beer pose

We wander around Lerwick for a bit and look at the distinctive stone buildings.

Lerwick’s distinctive stone architecture

When we get back to the harbor, John tells me all about the oil drilling ocean platforms and their escape pods. These enormous structures are getting ready to be towed out to sea.

Oil drilling platform

We are eating dinner at the Chef’s Table again tonight. It is the same menu as last night but worth eating twice. Before we head down to dinner we watch the pilot boat come along side of us and pick up the pilot before we pick up speed and head for the Orkney Islands.

Pilot boat coming along side of our ship to pick up the pilot

July 3, 2017 – A second day at sea

I do not mind these days at sea. It is nice to have a little extra time to do all the boatside stuff. John and I went to two lectures/demonstrations today. One was on the possibility of another Scottish independence vote and the other a cooking demonstration with the head chef making a salmon dish and risotto. Both informational sessions were interesting. We can also get all the port talks and lectures on our TV so if we don’t feel like getting dressed we can watch from our room.

Here are some pictures from around the boat –

Our cabin is on the third level and this is the view out of our front window. We cannot access this area and we never see anyone out here except for a guy who raises and lowers flags.

This is the atrium which spans several floors. There is a big digital display where they put up themed pictures. On the bottom floor there is usually a piano player or a string trio performing.

This is the Star Theater where they have shows and lectures. It is also the holding bin for people waiting to depart the boat. We are tortured with music almost exclusively from 1958 while we wait.

Here is a closer-up in the Star Theater where we heard the lecture on the odds of a second Scottish independence vote.

This is the display outside of our favorite restaurant. We had that dish displayed the first night we were here. They change the menu every three or four days. So far we have had most of the menus twice. Paul, the sommelier changes up the wine for us and the chef often does something a little different on our dinner the second time we have it. Vikesh, the manager, always saves a table for us.

Tonight at the Chef’s Table there is a new menu with a sweet and salty theme. It is really delicious.

Our amuse bouche is a tomato and watermelon gazpacho. At the bottom there are small pieces of watermelon and cucumber. The surprise is small pieces of feta that contrast nicely with the sweetness.

First course was grilled scallops with beets and passion fruit sauce. Delicious. We did not like the Albariño it was paired with so we had it with some French Chablis instead.

The palate cleanser was a prosciutto and melon granita.

The main course was veal tenderloin with pumpkin and red onion marmalade. Also very good. Vikesh came over to talk to me during this course and so it got a little cold.

The finale was strawberry and basil delight with phyllo shreds which we had with a late harvest chenin blanc.

So this is a really tasty dinner and we are having it again tomorrow night. The chef is going to do a little something different with the spices on the veal and Paul promises some interesting new pairings. It should be fun and delicious.

 

July 2, 2017 – Leknes, Norway (Lofoten Islands)

Today we put into the tiny port of Leknes in the Lofoten Islands of Norway. This area is pretty isolated and is home to fishermen and artist communities. It has a stunning landscape and white sand beaches. Here in the midst of summer the temperature is hovering around the 50F mark with rain spitting. It hardly seems like a beach day.

We head to the busses. Our stops for 10 minute photo ops will include two beaches and a fishing community. We head through a long tunnel to the other side of the mountain. The tunnel is only one lane. On the way back we will find out how vehicles going in opposite directions negotiate passage.

The beach that we stop at has beautiful white sand is mainly populated by sheep and tourists taking their 10 minute photo op. It is called Klipfisk or cliff fish beach. Our guide tells us not to go on the sand because it will be too big a mess on the bus due to its stickiness on our shoes. It is picturesque and beautiful and is really not what we would consider for typical beach activities.

White sand beach with rocks and mountains

Sheep enjoying the picnic tables

Heart-shaped rock art

We return back through the tunnel where we meet oncoming traffic. What to do. There are various pullouts and the cars respectfully move over for the bus. Our tour guide, Stephanie, remarks, “We are big. We win.” After the tunnel we stop at another beach. This one has been voted “the most beautiful beach in Norway.” It looks like a beach. It is raining. We stay on the bus.

Most beautiful beach through the bus window

Sometimes the camera wants to take pictures of the raindrops on the window instead

Finally we stop at Ballstad, a typical fishing community except a famous artist, Scott Thoe, has painted a mural on one of the buildings. Unfortunately we are not close enough to get a good picture of it. The little harbor is picturesque so I take a picture. Also a nice picture of John.

Ballstad fishing village. Part of the mural is visible on side of the large white building

Handsome husband shot

We return to the ship. They are running busses into Leknes center during the afternoon but we are told there is nothing open because it is Sunday plus it is raining. We have a leisurely lunch. We watch as the ship leaves Leknes, write the blog, and then get ready for dinner.

Tonight we are eating at the Chef’s Table and having the same menu as two nights ago. (See pictures there) It is still the best piece of cod I have ever eaten. It is so beautifully cooked that it is soft and gelatinous but still flakes apart. The women behind us are saying that it is undercooked which is totally not so. The only things that they have eaten are the salad on top of the carpaccio and dessert. I feel sorry for them.

We head back to the room where we watch an episode of Downtown Abbey, turn our clocks back an hour as we move into Greenwich time, and look at the midnight sun.

The midnight sun off the coast of Norway

July 1, 2017 – North Cape, Norway

Today we are docking at the northernmost stop in our journey, North Cape or Nordkapp in Norwegian. It is also the northernmost point in Europe and I am looking forward to it. We went to the southernmost point at the tip of the heel of Italy a few years ago.

The town is pretty weather-beaten. It looks like the people up here make a living throug extraction industries and fishing plus tourism.

The view of North Cape from our cabin’s porch

Fish hanging to dry

All aboard!

The landscape is pretty stark. There are still patches of snow and there are no trees. The hills are covered with grasses and bryophytes which make for good reindeer munching.

The arctic landscape. We are going to that plateau sticking out into the sea

Reindeer grazing

We make a sad stop where a Sammi, from the aboriginals of northern Norway, stands forlornly holding on to a reindeer and garbed in traditional gear. Bus loads of tourists take a moment to snap a picture and drop a few coins. I imagine it is worth it to him for the money.

Sammi and reindeer

We reach the North Cape and luckily the sky is clear here at more than 70 degrees latitude. There is a large informational building with a short movie, gift shop, restaurant, and other displays relating to the North Cape.

John at Nordkapp

Mary at Nordkapp

John inside the informational building with puffins

Mary with trolls

After looking around the building we take a walk outside where the wind is howling and it is quite cold. We view the northernmost monument and walk over to the edge of Europe. Then we hurry back inside and out of the cold.

John at the North Cape monument

Standing on the northern edge of Europe

The trip back to the ship is much like the way out except that the view is from the other side. I take some pictures out of the window.

Snowy landscape

More reindeer

Beautiful vista

Later in the afternoon we listen to a talk about power struggles in the Arctic Zone. It is interesting to hear how maritime law has evolved. Russia is now making a play to gain economic interest over half of the Arctic. The U.S. has no standing in this because we have bull-headedly refused to join the other nations with a coastal presence in the Arctic and sign a treaty which governs its use.

Dinner is supposed to be at the Italian restaurant, Manfredi’s. I am in my comfy clothes and really have no desire to get dressed and go out and interact. So we have room service which is more than adequate.

 

June 30, 2017 – Tromso, Norway

We dock this morning at Tromso. We disembark and go to our bus. The whole bus routine is getting old. When we were on the river cruise at least they let us walk around with a guide. Here we get on the bus and are told things by the guide and have a couple of photo ops. Tromso is not terribly scenic. It is, however, home to some 70000 inhabitants. It has a university which is the main employer of the town. Our guide is recently graduated from high school and tells us about various high school hijinks. She explains about the midnight sun and the northern lights and also about the blue time when the sun is just peeking over the horizon. Tromso has a lot of festivals in both summer and winter. It seems to be quite the party town.

Approaching Tromso with its picturesque snow capped mountains behind

View in one direction from our scenic stop

John gesturing toward the tarn in the other direction from our first photo op

Re-boarding the bus after our first stop we ride through Tromso and pass the memorial to Roald Amundsen, the great Norwegian explorer of the North and South Poles.

Quick shot from the bus of the Amundsen memorial

Our second stop is behind the maritime school on a hill overlooking Tromso harbor. They have two bridges. One is painted black and is called the black coffin.

Tromso harbor with bridge on the left

Memorial to WWII soldiers

After returning back to the ship we hang around for a while waiting for the lunch hordes to dissipate. We are not fans of the lunchtime stampede. We look out the windows some after lunch, I work on my blog, and then take a nap until cocktail time. Room service thoughtfully provides us with chips and wine. From our vantage point at the front of the ship we watch as the boat moves away from the dock and steams north to the top of the world.

Tonight there is a new menu at the Chef’s Table called Venice Carnival. It is mostly pretty tasty and as usual the staff are super nice. Our amuse bouche is a roasted pepper and tomato jelly with goat cheese latte foam. It is served with a Monserrat’s Chiaretto, San Silvestro Piemonte Italy. John says that it is a rose of the Barbera grape. The whole thing is quite delicious.

Roasted pepper and tomato jelly

Next we have a beef carpaccio with a fig and mustard vinaigrette. We decide there is a reason why beef carpaccio is served with shaved parmesan and lemon. It is because it tastes much better that way! This course is served with Villa Bagnolo, Sassetto Sangiovese de Romagna, Emilia Romagna, Italy.

Beef carpaccio with fig and mustard vinaigrette

For our palate cleanser we have a Bellini granita that is tasty.

Bellini granita

The main course is a cod fillets that is cooked to perfection. It sits on top of a Jerusalem artichoke risotto. There is some foam, a fried fish skin, and a totally superfluous Parmesan tuile. This is served with a Vlacanzjria, Cantina Gulfi Edna, I.G.T. Scilia, Bianco.

Cod fillet with Jerusalem artichoke

Lastly the dessert is what they call Mascarpone Passion. It has a thick jellied outer skin with the mascarpone inside, plus a layer of chocolate over a cake. I can admit that the mascarpone was good.

Tonight we sail north to finish the northward section of our trip with a visit to North Cape, the most northerly point in Europe.

June 29, 2017 – A day at sea

Today is a lazy day and we don’t even have room service deliver our breakfast until 8 AM! Nonetheless I wake up at 5 AM to get ready for the day. Our big plans are to look out the windows, sort our dirty clothes and give them to Von to have laundered, eat lunch, lie around, go to a wine tasting, have snacks, and eat dinner. It’s a tough life.

The cruise activity director is all abristle with myriad things we can do today. One thing is to put on a bathing suit, jump into a cold pool, kiss a fish, and get your nose painted blue. This is a ritual one does when crossing the Arctic Circle. We decline since the activity involves wearing a bathing suit, being with people, kissing a fish, and having our noses painted blue. Otherwise we would be all in!

We also have other exciting things to look forward to. There are some lumpy mountains called the Seven Sister Mountains (like the Seven Sister Waterfalls only mountains) and a mountain with a hole in it.

Here are some pictures of our “at sea” day.

First up is the famous mountain with a hole in it called Torghatten. We are looking out the window at this and there are a bunch of people sitting next to us who are asking all these questions about it to each other. I very helpfully Google it up and explain all about how it  was formed during the ice age and that there is a path up to it and you can walk through. I even throw in the folk lore fable about it. These people are totally unappreciative of my effort.

Here’s the fable – According to legend, the hole was made by the troll Hestmannen while he was chasing the beautiful girl Lekamøya. As the troll realized he would not get the girl, he released an arrow to kill her, but the troll-king of Sømna threw his hat into the arrow’s path to save her. The hat turned into the mountain with a hole in the middle. (Wikipedia)

Famous Norwegian mountain with a hole in it

Other exciting mountains include –

Seven Sisters Mountains

Sleeping soldier mountain (imagine that the left lump is a head in profile)

Then I took some pictures of interesting-looking mountains.

I call this one pug-nose mountain

Here is shark fin mountain

Vikesh and his crew have talked us into going to the wine tasting that is being held in the Chef’s Table restaurant at 4 PM. All the nuances of wine tasting are explained. We have heard all this several times before but the head sommelier, Jude, does introduce a few new ideas. Mostly it is too much talk, not enough drink.

Wine glasses waiting to be filled

We have our pre-dinner snack and discover that they have Downtown Abbey on the TV. We haven’t seen that in a few years so we start from episode 1.  Poor Lady Mary doesn’t realize her life is going to be pretty disastrous at the beginning, but we do.

Then we go down to have our second spice road dinner. Mmmm, even better than the first because my beef tenderloin no longer has weird spices on it. After dinner Vikesh shows us pictures of his cousin’s restaurant in Bangalore. The food and decor look pretty impressive. It is nice to spend a few moments where it is not just about us.