Time to head home

Well, it’s been a great trip, but it is time to head home. We have a night in Lisbon and then an 11AM flight to Philadelphia tomorrow morning.

This post is a bit of a mishmash of the last day, and some summary thoughts about random stuff. Maybe more about our Polestar EV than is really necessary LOL.

After driving toward Lisbon for a while we stopped about 45km from the airport to have lunch, which looked like it was in the middle of a field. Well, not a field but a vineyard. We had a really nice Tapas lunch. Calamari, Squid, steak a couple of different ways, and some nice wine in a very nice setting. One of the dishes was called Pica-Pau which I have the recipe for and will definitely try to make this summer!

Drop off at the airport was chaotic, but the metro to our apartment was fine. Although we learned on the ride that we didn’t have hot water in one of the bathrooms or the kitchen. After being ghosted by our first AirBnB host here in Lisbon this was a bit much, but this host did offer us the use of BOTH of her apartments. We don’t need hot water in the kitchen and we can do showers in one bathroom, so we’ll be fine.

We did get out and do a bit of walking around Lisbon, although we are all mostly tired of being tourists so our hearts were not entirely in it. We found a nice rooftop bar that had a view of the city and then a more non-touristy Italian place where the risotto was very good, and the tortellini with bolognese was ok.

Back to our apartment by way of a gelateria, a pastry shop, and a supermarket for a beer to watch the UCL final! On our way home tomorrow! Not happy that Real Madrid won. Boo.

As a postscript to this post, I’ll just recall a few of the highlights. I’m writing this from 40,000 feet as we approach the Atlantic coast of the United States.

  1. The hiking in Madeira, especially along the Levada at the beginning of the 25 Fontes hike. Also the lunch we had by the sea after that hike was amazing.
  2. Loved our meal in Porto at Taberna dos Mercadores. Delicious and fun.
  3. The wine tasting stop on the Douro was a beautiful spot to enjoy some good wine. The hike down the hill was not everyone’s favorite, but it will be a lasting memory!
  4. Chilling out in the Algarve, and the morning light on the cliffs along the seven hanging valleys hike.
  5. The unexpected lunch stop in the middle of a vineyard on the drive to Lisbon. The steak sandwich and the Pica-Pau were worth the stop!

Renting the electric car turned out to be a fun experience. It was a bit nerve wracking a couple of times, but I think that was more to do with being in a foreign country and not having a backup way to pay for the power if the app wasn’t communicating with the pump. It was really nice to have the nav system show you the expected battery level at your next stop. For a long trip, like a drive to California, it would definitely make the drive longer, and require planning! Having a vehicle that was connected to the internet and had charging station locations integrated into the nav system would be great. Our rented Polestar had that feature, but the rental company didn’t have the car set up for internet access. So we ended up using the phone for finding charging, and the car for navigating. A bit frustrating.

I would certainly recommend time in Portugal if you are looking for a vacation option! We did a lot in a relatively short time. You could easily spend a week in Madeira all by itself. We didn’t get to see much of Lisbon, but that was OK for us as I’d rather be away from the city enjoying the green spaces.

Posting this from Minneapolis. Up way too early this morning. Going east to west always disrupts my sleep a lot more than west to east. But at 4am my body was saying that it was 10am in Portugal and that I was being very lazy for sleeping in!

The Seven Hanging Valleys

This morning we were up early and out the door to do the seven hanging valleys hike. It is about 4.5 miles along the coast in Algarve. Each of the “hanging valleys” is really a cove so we have to navigate around or down and up each of them. Along the way are many chimneys where the limestone has eroded all the way down to a sea cave. We would have seen many of these caves if we had been able to do the sea kayaking the other day. Instead we will see them from above.

Jane drove us to the beginning and did the first mile with us before turning back and driving the car back to the hotel. Brian and I carried on.

Here are a few highlight photos.

Driving to Obidos and Ericeira

After our busy day in the Douro Valley it was time to head south! Our first stop of the day was the Europcar desk to pick up our electric ID3. But wait… we were upgraded to a Polestar 2! We had looked at all of the charging stations and decided this would be a great chance to try an electric vehicle! All was well until we arrived in Nazare - If you haven’t watched 100 foot wave you really need to watch a couple episodes! In Nazare it was time to recharge. Using the MIIO app, it was no problem finding a station, but getting the car to charge was like a clown show! Rookies! Two young American college students were trying to do the same thing, and it was pretty funny that we could not quite get it. We had all foolishly assumed that we could swipe our credit card and charge away! (Pun intended.) Instead we had to create an account on the app and preload it with some $.

With the car finally charging, we headed out for lunch and some sightseeing! We found a great burger stand, which was just what we needed after a week of enjoying mostly native Portuguese food. From there we walked to the lighthouse and enjoyed the views of the beach. There are no 100 foot waves this time of year, but it was fun to see the sights from the show in person.

From Nazare we went to Obidos, this is a cool old walled town, supposedly the birthplace of Ginja. For me it also brings back memories of the early days of the internet and working with Amazon where the URL always contained obidos. Obidos was their original page rendering engine, named after a town in Brazil which is the swiftest part of the Amazon river. The town in Brazil was named after Obidos in Portugal. We walked the walls and enjoyed the sights from this little hill town.

After Obidos we headed to Ericeira for a two night stay on the ocean. We had a two bedroom apartment booked, which was upgraded to a four bedroom. Even better was that the parking ramp for the hotel had parking with free charging for electric vehicles! The hotel was lovely and we were too tired to do much more for dinner than eat at the restaurant in the hotel. The food was good.

The plan for the next day was a day trip to the hilltop castle in Sintra, the Peña Palace. As we get older we get smarter, so rather than hike up the hill we used the Bolt app (Uber competitor) to get a ride to the top! Eight euros later and we were there! We walked down, but more about that later. The Peña palace is a huge sprawling complex with miles of hiking paths, castle walls, and a tour of the inside of the castle (which we skipped). There are other palaces and castles very close by including the Moorish castle. We enjoyed the hiking and sites of the castles.

Then it was time to see what we missed on the hike up! Boy are we glad we took the bolt instead of walking! As we were headed down a particularly steep section we met a couple coming up, breathing heavy and sweating. He asked “how much further?” I responded, “where are you going?” Expecting either Peña Palace or Moorish castle, the reply instead was, “to the nearest Uber!!” I laugh every time I think about that!

Holly had several options picked out for lunch and we ended up with a really nice one. Then back to Ericeira and some restful time by the pool.

Tomorrow we head off to Algarve for the relaxing part of the vacation!

Levada das 25 Fontes (alt)

This is our first full day on Madeira after flying Minneapolis to Toronto to Lisbon to Funchal, overnight, etc. etc. We powered through a half day of walking around town eating pizza and trying some local drinks. We had to go see the statue of Cristiano Ronaldo to see if it was as bad as it was in the pictures!

It was… Next ask yourself the question, why is his crotch extra shiny?? There is so much to do in Funchal, that I can already see we could have spent a week here easily. We did try the Madeira wine as we were walking around. Just eating our way through all the local places could take more than a week.

We all made it past 9pm! Today we woke up around 7am local time. 1AM CDT. We had an extremely aggressive hiking plan for today and immediately realized we had to tone it down. So we opted for the Levada das 25 Fontes. A levada is an irrigation channel or aqueduct specific to the Portuguese Atlantic region of Madeira. Basically they are small channels designed to bring the rain water from the upper elevations to the region around Funchal and other areas that need the water. We saw the water flowing through channels along the roads as we climbed our way toward the start of the hike.

The first part of the hike was great, it was right along the Levada with great scenery lovely trees and greenery. Quite an engineering project if you ask me!

After about 4 miles of hiking we found ourselves at the actual 25 Fontes part of the hike! The usual way to the start of the hike was just a boring walk downhill on a very narrow road. So this way was much better and more interesting. But by then we were pretty tired from the long rough descent, so we only did a small part of the original hike.

By the time we finished it was 2:00 in the afternoon and we hadn’t really eaten anything other than a few snacks. So we picked a lovely restaurant down by the sea to stop for a delicious lunch!

The view was amazing and the food was great also! Brian had Scabbard fish, Jane had baked Octopus, I had Portuguese black pork and Holly had Tuna steak. All deliciously prepared over an open fire. We all shared and all the dishes were really good.

By the time we got back to our AirBNB we were ready for showers and then happy hour. At happy hour we tried the Poncha and some Portuguese green wine, and a cheese plate. We played a game of Qwirkle at another local establishment and called it a night at 10pm! Tomorrow is another HUGE day of hiking.

Andvord Bay

Our last zodiac adventure! 😭 But our first chance to put foot on the continent proper. Not an island off the content but the actual Antarctic continent!! 🐧The beautiful sunny weather of the morning had turned misty and cloudy by mid afternoon.

Lots of views of Gentoo penguins, and one lost Chinstrap!

The Gentoos were coming down to the water to take a swim/much needed bath, and then got spooked by our zodiac. As we were sitting offshore we saw four of them swimming toward us. They were underwater but we could see them very clearly. Suddenly they swooped right under us and flew out of the water onto the shore. Nobody had a camera or video going or it would have been the most spectacular shot of the trip.

As we drifted away, I did get a couple great sequences of them diving off the rocks into the water.

Damoy Point

This expedition is just so amazing. Every time you think you have seen “the best” then another day comes along with another bay, or a change in the weather to a beautiful blue sky and you are just standing there once again wondering how can it get any better than this?

We started the day with a landing on Damoy point, home to thousands of Gentoo penguins as well as British and Argentine emergency huts. The British hut was open so we were able to walk inside and have a look.

The penguins were cute as usual, although a bit more pungent than usual if you ask me. The bay was just incredible with mountains on either side soaring skyward. At one point we were hiking and Jane and I both stopped because we heard “thunder” it was an avalanche in the distance somewhere. We didn’t see it, and according to Ignacio by the time we hear it the slide is already over anyway.

World Navigator at Damoy Point

The really incredible part of the morning came after we were back on board and sailing through a big s-shaped area, the sun was out, the sea was dead calm and the reflections were beautiful.

So many reflection pictures, and it was just incredible to stand there in awe of it all. Then along came some penguins swimming and diving in the water. It was amazing we could see them under the water as well as when they came flying out of it. Look closely at this picture there are three penguins!

Close up:

Argentine Islands

Antarctica is a continent. It is not “owned” by any nation, but is governed by an international treaty. Countries may maintain research bases in Antarctica but no country can claim a part of the continent as their own territory.

Today we got to cruise by a Ukrainian station. Under other circumstances we would have been allowed to visit the station, but unfortunately they were in the middle of a resupply process and could not accommodate visitors.

Vernadsky Research Institute

Resupply ship Noosfera

So, we cruised around and saw a little colony of Gentoo penguins. Visited an “iceberg graveyard” and saw some seals!

But the new animal for today was the Weddell Seal. Just lounging around on the ice pack.

The highlight of the afternoon will be cruising across the Antarctic circle. We were just commenting at lunch today that it was amazing how much we have seen but we have only seen a tiny tiny fraction of the continent. Everything we have seen and will see is part of the Antarctic peninsula that extends farther North.

Right now I’m watching a lecture on the Cetacians of the Antarctic. We have seen a lot of humpback whales, but there are also Minke whales, Fin whales, Right whales, and even Sperm Whales. Note that Sperm Whales are toothed whales not Baleen. Orcas are also quite common, including the ice pack Orca. This is a group of Orcas that engage in pack hunting. They will actually find a seal on the ice and attack the pack ice from below breaking up the ice and leaving the poor seal floating on a tiny bit of ice. From there they will push the seal off the ice and enjoy their lunch.

Yolaour Island

An easy afternoon to see some Adélie Penguins. So this is the third species of penguin that we have seen: starting with Chinstrap, then Gentoo (yes like the Linux distro) and now the Adélie. The Adélie is the only true Antarctic penguin.

The hike was easy and flat, and we were the first group this season to visit this large colony. We know that because our guides looked for a staircase from a previous ship and could not find one, so they had to dig one for us.

Our first bit of penguin drama came when the Skuas arrived. These are birds that are predators on the penguin eggs. They are very brazen predators as well, landing right next to the penguins laying on the nest! You can see it here with the one penguin looking quite alarmed, and the other just meekly pointing at the Skua as if to say “help?”

This guy however was definitely putting up a braver front! I got more of a “None shall pass” vibe.

But, the Skuas can’t be everywhere so there were plenty of additional Adélie to observe and enjoy their expressions. These three really got me.

Of course all is not just work in penguin land. I can’t imagine two penguins having more fun than these two little guys!

Finally, just a purely lucky shot. Our guide Ignacio has been talking about different techniques for composing shots and has talked about “frame in a frame.” I saw this from the zodiac heading back and thought it was a nice frame in a frame. It wasn’t until I got the photo onto my iPad and did a little cropping that I saw the Adélie in the middle of the frame!

Flanders Bay

What started as an ordinary excursion turned extraordinary when we found ourselves surrounded by humpback whales!

We were just cruising through some brash ice and looking at some birds when we heard the radio call from Jonathan. “I am nine o’clock from the ship and have four humpbacks.” We quickly made our way toward his position, gliding in very quietly the last 100 meters.

Then we heard and saw them a short distance away. Breath going out the blowhole, whoosh. Sometimes they would just glide along the surface like a giant surfboard, sometimes they would arch their backs and slowly sink back under the water, sometimes they would dive and show their tails as they disappeared under the water.

At one point two of them headed straight at our zodiac. One went directly under the bow, the other surfaced on the starboard side so close we could have reached out and touched its barnacle covered skin. We have been whale watching several times, but we have never had an experience like this! So close, and the whales just seemed to be curious about “the intruders” into their beautiful calm bay. At some point I just told myself to put down the camera, put my hands in my pockets, and just enjoy this rare experience. Some memories will just have to live in my mind.

After returning to the ship and sorting through the photos from this morning I favorited more than 50! Gotta be a little more choosy for this post, so here you go.

Tail, ship, mountain, sky

Coming at you!

Enterprise Island

This morning the waves were larger than yesterday and the skies were much grayer. So we had another zodiac experience, but much bumpier and wetter than the previous day. While not as lucky as the day before, the highlight of this trip was to visit a Norwegian shipwreck.

Although called Enterprise island, this island was originally named Nansen island, after the Norwegian explorer and Nobel winner Fridtjof Nansen. (Yes, Luther friends, that one). But the British decided it would be better called Enterprise. The ship itself was here from Norway to help the whalers in the area stick it to the Brit’s. It had a processing system on board that would turn the whale blubber into oil, thus avoiding a particular British tax on whale blubber.

The pictures from this morning are all from Jane. I didn’t take our larger camera because we were warned that we and everything we took was likely to get rather wet. And it was fine, sometimes it is good to just take in the experience and not worry about getting photos every few minutes.

Useful Island

One of the guides is sponsoring a Haiku contest:

Cute little penguin

Penguin Personality

Penguins are stinky

We could smell the colony of Gentoo penguins long before we could see them. And then we were there amongst them all. The wind was blowing hard and it was snowing. It was kind of miserable to be honest. But we had come to see the penguins and we were treated to a show. We saw them sliding down the hill, or just “swimming” through the snow. Some were laying on eggs. If they are on the rocks and laying they are on their egg. Some were swimming in the water. Several of them jumped up out of the water onto the rocks right where we were getting off the Zodiac! Curious little buggers.

Darn kids! Get off my rock.

Did you hear?

Thank you, Thank you, I’ll be here until April…

Guarding the egg.

Just trying to stay warm!

Ready… Set….

Just keep swimming

For an afternoon where the weather was not so good I have even more fun photos of these penguins.

Recess Cove

This afternoon’s excursion was a zodiac cruise, rather than a hike. Everything we saw we saw from the side of the boat. We were lucky enough to have our Excursion Leader Jonathan as our zodiac driver, so we had a super knowledgeable guide for the trip.

The main highlight was a couple of crab seals. One was sleeping and molting, but another was awake and a bit more active and we saw him dive into the water. He resurfaced again and we were hopeful he would climb back on to his little iceberg but he decided to keep swimming. We learned that these seals have teeth that they can use to hunt seals, but they are all kind of trident shaped and when the seal closes its mouth it acts like a mesh. So a seal can gulp up a huge mouthful of water containing krill and then close its mouth, expel all of the water through the teeth, and it is left with a yummy mouthful of fresh krill. This is exactly what Baleen whales do on a much larger scale!

We also learned a little about how to read the history of an iceberg. Since the ice on an iceberg melts faster than the ice out of the water bergs will often rotate many times. You can see on this one how that is the case. They call the left of the on pictured below the keel. And you can see the rings on the right as well.

On this one you can see how the center of gravity has shifted more to the right, lifting the thinner part up out of the water on the left.

Today was really quite a day. The guides all told us at recap that we had been extremely lucky and we had seen about 75% of the things we were likely to see in an entire trip in a single day! Which was funny because I had just commented that if for some reason we suddenly had to leave today, I would still have counted the trip a great success. I’m glad that we will have more days to see and re-see so many interesting things.

Palaver Point

Achievement Unlocked - seventh continent visited.

This morning was very exciting! We awoke to a sunny day, and very calm seas knowing that in just a short time we would be taking our very first hike on Antarctica. A colony of Chinstrap penguins and a little climb to a beautiful overlook. There were humpback whales, just chilling, off the bow of the ship. What a day!

We went through the drill of putting on our wellingtons and parka, hat, gloves, life jacket, backpack… I felt like the Michelin Man. We had our first experience with the automatic boot scrubber (to keep contaminants off the continent) and got onto the zodiac. It was a short ride, but the excitement began to build early when a bunch of penguins started jumping out of the water just ahead of us. Once we got on land there was a path to follow to allow us to see many views of the colony without getting too close. I’m definitely glad we invested in the new lens. We were well back from the penguins but the lens makes it look like we were much closer. So, walking in the snow, enjoying the views… There is not much more to write so I’ll just share some of my favorite photos from the morning.

Zodiac Arrival

Penguin Choir

Penguin Conductor

The climb and the ship

Leopard Seal - molting

Crossing the Drake

How many oceans are there on earth? Most of us learned about four - Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, and Arctic. But there is a fifth called the southern ocean that surrounds Antarctica. We need to get across it. This is also often referred to as the Drake passage. The winds have free rein to go all the way around the earth unimpeded by any content in this region. So, yeah, swells, big ones. And, uhhhhh seasickness for many many passengers.

I’m getting a little ahead of the story, but the early morning trip to the airport and the charter flight to Ushuaia were uneventful and pretty uninteresting. After arriving we took a motor coach tour of Tierra del Fuego, which was interesting since we had been there before with much more time to hike, so we kept trying to remember exactly where we had hiked. We pulled up to our yacht at 3:00 and were among the first passengers welcomed aboard. No lines, no reception checkin. Here’s a glass of champagne! Sit on the couch here and let me scan your passport and take your picture on my phone. OK, here’s your key, you are now checked in! We were scheduled to leave at 6pm but we were told that due to the holiday things were running behind. By the time we headed to bed right after dinner we were still in port. We were too tired to care, and we slept until 8AM the next morning. Between the time change and the lack of sleep it felt great.

At our first briefing of the day we learned that not only had we left late, but we had also picked up 20 passengers from our sister ship that was having engine trouble after passing through a storm on the Drake passage days ago. We learned more about our excursions off the ship and that the first three rules are “be flexible” The captain and the expedition leader work together to find the best, safest, most interesting landing spots for the day. With changing conditions that is often not known until hours before we are told and ready to go. We were so impressed with the expedition crew! Lots of specialties and advanced degrees in all kinds of fields will be leading us.

By the time of this first briefing we were well into the Drake and there were a LOT of seasick passengers. I know I am not immune to it, but I am lucky that I don’t get seasick easily, so far so good. Jerry and Jane have not felt the best but thankfully they haven’t got sick either.

Later in the day we got fit for our parkas, life jackets and boots that we will wear whenever we leave the ship. We also had a fascinating lecture about the Albatross in the drake passage. This is the best place in the world to see them, and we have enjoyed watching them soar and dive amongst the swells. They can literally fly for up to 9000 miles without stopping. With their 12 foot wingspan they are some of the largest birds in the world. Unfortunately they are endangered. As creatures of the sea (they are only on land to breed and hatch and care for their young) they have been really affected by plastics in the ocean, and by bad fishing practices. Eat your seafood responsibly people! And, do what you can to reduce your use of plastics.

My first photo of an Albatross

By dinner time we were all feeling pretty good. We had a very nice meal and enjoyed some after dinner entertainment by our cruise director before turning in for another good nights sleep. The winds and the swells were predicted to increase during the night, and that proved to be the case. We were definitely rocked and rolled to sleep. Waking up a few times as the bottles in the mini-bar all clanged together. During the recap briefing we were asked to predict when we would see the first iceberg. Not “bergy bits” or pieces of floating ice, but a real true titanic size iceberg!

Our first iceberg

I didn’t expect to see one on day two, but there it was just after lunch! I was looking out the window of our room and for a moment thought it was another ship in the distance, but once I got the binoculars it was clear that it was a berg.

Of course the other side of the ship had an even bigger one to see!

Iceberg 2.

We still have a good long distance to go before reaching Antarctica, but things are going to get more and more interesting.

Buenos Aires

We decided to splurge and book our overnight flight to Buenos Aires as Delta One tickets. There are some nice perks with that. Easy drop off of checked luggage and access to the Delta lounge while you wait. The seats lie totally flat for the overnight flight. Maybe we will be able to sleep, we thought. Not so much as it turns out. But we made it, having left Minneapolis at 3:00pm on Tuesday we arrived at 9 something the next morning in BA. An hour to get through customs and an hour to get downtown in a cab, It was pouring rain, the hotel lobby was packed with people waiting to leave on their Viking cruise. And our room was not ready, to be fair checkin was not until 3, and we were not the only tired travelers arriving on an overnight flight.

We had booked a bike tour to keep us going in the afternoon, but that was cancelled due to the rain. So we hung out in the lobby, watched some soccer, and had a light lunch waiting for our room or for our friends Ann and Jerry to arrive.

The highlight of that first day was the dinner experience we booked at Fogon. Everything is cooked with the highly elaborate Argentine grill called a perilla. There are 9 courses on the menu, but the 2 surprise courses brought the number to 11.

The Parilla

The chefs were all very friendly and very entertaining. The food was absolutely delicious and a celebration of being a wine loving carnivore.

Smoked “eyebrow” with a pinecone

Our dinner didn’t start until 7:30 which is very early for the Argentines, and it ended sometime after 10 when most of them are just getting started. We were glad to get back to the hotel and put our overstuffed bodies to bed for the night. We had an all day tour of the city booked for the morning beginning at 9:30. Note that Buenos Aires is 3 hours ahead of Minneapolis so we were not too jet lagged, but still quite sleep deprived.

The tour of BA was fabulous, our tour guide’s name was Fabio and he was both knowledgeable and an excellent story teller. We had lots of questions and he seemed to really thrive on our back and forth. Our first stop of the day was at the government center. It was a big day/weekend as they were inaugurating a new mayor as well as a new president. Our impression was that this new president was going to be a trump-like disaster for Argentina, but it seems most people remain hopeful, that he will be an influence for change but moderated by the legislature that he must work with. Democracy in Argentina over the years has not been easy with many coups and rebellions. I won’t try to recap it all in this post, but I feel compelled to re-watch Evita with a new perspective. We did see the balcony that Eva Peron and Madonna both used.

Speaking of Evita our second stop was at the cemetery where she is interred. Her mausoleum is one of the most visited places in the city. This cemetery is just amazing as everyone is in some kind of crypt or mausoleum. When a family buys a place there they own it forever, but if they stop maintaining the site then it begins to decay. So we saw many amazing graves and many that had been grand years ago that were now full of spider webs and weeds. It was like a small town all to itself with streets and avenues going all over.

Having had our fill of beef the night before we politely asked Fabio for a different option for lunch. He pulled through and brought us to a small family run place that made killer empanadas. By this time it was well after 1 and we didn’t finish lunch until 3. We still had one more stop on our tour!

The highlight of the final stop was a drive by of the stadium where the Boca Juniors play. The club of Maradonna! The blue and yellow colors of the teem seemed oddly familiar to me, and I’ll tell you why. It seems that there were two teams in the city with the same colors, and they had a match to see who could keep the current colors, the loser would have to choose new colors. The Bocas lost, and the owners declared that they would adopt the colors of the next ship to dock in the harbor. That ship turned out to be flying the Swedish flag!

It was 5pm by the time we arrived back at the hotel. We were going to have dinner, and then take in a Tango show which didn’t start until 10! On top of that our bus to the airport for our charter flight to Ushuaia was going to be leaving between 4:30 and 5:00 AM the next morning!! Sound a little crazy? Well, we made it through, and are enjoying a couple of down days on the journey to Antarctica to catch up on sleep. More on that in the next post.

The dinner was pretty forgettable, and 3 out of 4 of us enjoyed the Tango show. OK, the music was good, I just have never learned to appreciate dance. For me the show could have ended after an hour but it kept going for another 40 minutes with various flourishes and bows and a dramatic rendition of “Don’t cry for me Argentina” to wrap up the show. It was after midnight by the time we walked back to our hotel, and yes, the alarm needed to be set for 4:15AM. There will be time to sleep later.

Mesa Verde

Today started out with another harrowing drive. We received about 3 inches of snow overnight, so my first duty was to clear the snow off the car. The snow was melting off the streets and it was warm enough that I really wasn’t worried about the drive. Until we started up the million dollar highway, on snowy, icy, roads, with no guard rails! We were doing 5-10 miles per hour on some parts. Luckily once we reached the summit things improved dramatically, but it was a very long first hour of driving.

The highway was built in the 1880s to connect Silverton with Ouray. It is supposed to be stunningly beautiful. Hopefully we can return in the warmer months to find out.

Our Journey for the day

From Silverton we continued on to Durango and then Mesa Verde National Park. It was a great time of the year to visit as the crowds were pretty small. The downside is that the ranger led tours of the cliff dwellings had ended a few weeks ago. Still, we were able to see a lot of the detail of the construction extremely well.

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Mesa Verde, Machu Picchu, and other ancient constructions always astonish me. How could they have done all of that building? So much progress in engineering that seems to have been lost. What happened?

Westward Migration

Today began just North of Denver, dry roads and a cloudy sky. We had coffee and got our day started, we were on the road by 8:00. Our path today would take us to Ouray with a stop at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Not our usual route out of Denver, up I70, but rather down US285 and over Monarch pass. Not more than 20 minutes down the road the conditions changed drastically. Cars in the ditch and ice on the roads. We slowed our progress considerably and soon the ice changed to water, but the skies got cloudier and the snow started. The conditions were not too bad until we climbed up toward Monarch pass. A pickup (pulling a camper!) had slid off the road, we slowed way down and joined a line of other like-minded travelers.

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Once we were over the pass, the temperatures warmed above freezing and the roads thawed and the sun came out. We paused for lunch at the Alpine Brewing company in Gunnison. We continued west toward Montrose but took a detour slightly North to take in Black Canyon NP. It was cloudy and we could hear thunder in the distance. Its odd to look down on the clouds in the Valley.

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I kind of felt like maybe I could hear the dwarves from the Lord of the Rings.

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The thunder got louder and closer, and before we knew it it was sleeting like crazy. In less than five minutes the roads were completely covered in slushy ice. But once again as we descended slowly the roads cleared.

We continued on our way toward Ouray and were treated to a beautiful sight as the clouds briefly cleared.

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Our evening in Ouray was pretty uneventful. We walked around downtown, but it was pretty quiet as it was cold and rainy. We had dinner at Brickhouse 737 in Ouray and it was a great meal. Quite a nice change from breweries and other on the road meals.

Happy Thanksgiving?

Happy Thanksgiving! or Columbus Day or Indigenous People’s day! We are in Canada and Thanksgiving and Columbus day are on the same Holiday. It seems really weird for us to hear people wishing other people a Happy Thanksgiving on a Monday, much less in early October! But it was a day to be thankful for after all!

We started our day by visiting Niagara Falls! Our first stop was the behind the falls experience. It was a little unnerving to walk through a tunnel realizing how much water was flowing just feet over your head! But the sights were quiet nice.

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We thought the view from above was even better. This is one of my favorites!

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The Canadians clearly were lucky in that you can see Horseshoe falls as well as the American falls so much better from the Canadian side.


The afternoon was a fun afternoon of wine tasting in the Niagara region. Starting with the Wayne Gretzgy distillery and ending with a very nice pork chop on our grill back at the camp ground. At this point vacation is basically over and we have two days of driving to get back to Decorah. I’m almost sure the adventure is not over yet. So stay tuned for further updates.

Rainy drive to Green Lakes State Park

After a fitful night of sleep due to the on again off again rain, and in between the rain the wind blowing the rain out of the trees along with many leaves. We finally got up and decided to head down the road. It was just lightly raining when we broke camp, but as we drove west toward Syracuse NY we drove in and out of fairly heavy rain. Nothing nearly as bad as the moment we arrived at our campground!

It wouldn’t be a good trip if you didn’t get to use your raincoat. So we put them on and used the dump station and added some fresh water. Do I look happy or what?


When we found our site, it was basically a shallow river. Despite our excellent rain coats we were pretty wet by the time we got backed in and leveled up. I was wearing my crocs for some dumb reason so my feet ended up soaked too. I decided to do some work, which was a mistake, as something broke, so I couldn’t run my Saturday updates.

We thought about heading out to a brewery for dinner and the hope of watching MNUFC take on LA Galaxy. In the end our internet was good enough that we decided to make chili and stay in. The Loons miraculously won, so that is something. Their playoff hopes, however dim, are still alive.

The morning was cool and partly sunny but very windy. I spent the morning working on my problem and finally found the solution I needed. Jane took a walk around the campground. We had hoped to bike along the Erie Canal, but it was way too windy and cool.

Green Lakes state park

Then I got the board book for the Luther board meeting and saw the schedule for Thursday, so we called another audible and decided to head out to Niagara Falls today, which will allow us to arrive in Decorah on Wednesday instead of Thursday. You gotta stay flexible when you are on the road.

Franconia Notch Stat Park

Onward to New Hampshire! We have turned the corner and started heading back west. We got to Acadia a day early to try to maximize the nice weather, and are doing the same to try to enjoy some New Hampshire “leaf peeping.” Personally I’ve now done enough leaf peeping to last me a while, but everywhere you turn there are hillsides full of vibrant colors. Jane has a higher level of enthusiasm and can’t get enough of the leaves.

Here is a beautiful view from “Height of the Land,” one of our first stops in New Hampshire.

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We arrived at our campground at Franconia Notch State Park. It is a very compact campground and took a lot of fancy driving for Jane to get our camper backed into our spot. Its one of the most unlevel spots we have had and took some stacking skill on my part to get us level left to right. But it was a beautiful site, with a nice fire pit.

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After a long day of driving it felt good to go for a short hike at Artists Bluff. It was a good workout of climbing over rocks to get to the top where we could see hill sides in every direction, a small pond and even some of the ski slopes. It had turned quite windy so we didn’t stay on the bluff as long as we might.

Instead we headed back to camp, got a couple of bundles of wood, and made a nice campfire with happy hour and some burgers on the horizon. This will be our last campsite with no electric hookup. Also no place to dump, so we’ll have to haul our gray and black water with us to New York.

We have reservations for three nights, but we are anticipating leaving a day earlier as it is supposed to rain and we can drive to Syracuse and break up the drive to Niagara.

The highlight of day 2 at Franconia Notch was the hike to the Flume Gorge. This was a fun hike through a granite and basalt gorge. covered bridges and walkways. Fall colors were everywhere despite the overcast day.

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When the hike was over we still had a drive on the “Kanck”. A well known highway with lots of turnouts. This weekend is a long weekend with Columbus day and Canadian Thanksgiving, which seems to be widely celebrated in the Northeast. So it is one of the busiest weekends of the year for leaf peepers. But despite the crowds there was plenty of beauty to go around.

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We stopped for lunch in North Conway at a restaurant that was featured on Diners Drive-ins and Dives called Barley and Salt. We had the Thai chicken tacos which were really delicious and which I am determined to recreate when I have more than a camper kitchen to work with.

By the time we got back to the camper, which was round 6pm it was starting to rain so we packed up the chairs and had everything stowed and ready to take off in the morning. The rainy night was a perfect night to use some of the left over ragu in the freezer. We both feel like we we are in the home stretch now. We will be in Decorah in six days. The time has flown by, but looking back at our initial stops in New York feels like a long time ago!

Acadia Day One

Lets get going by 9 Jane said. No problem, time for coffee and morning puzzles etc. My watch and phone said it was only about 8:15 and Jane was pacing, “ready??” Her iPad said it was 9:15. Some of our devices had not made the switch from Atlantic to Eastern timezone. Not surprising given the lack of internet connectivity around Acadia.

The result was that we got an early start on our hike up the Beehive Trail, which was good because we definitely beat the rush. Here are some pics to highlight our hike/climb.

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Yep, this hike features vertical climbs up metal rungs. A couple were even past vertical. I must admit that the pictures definitely look more dangerous than it felt at the time.

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The climb was definitely worth it as you could see forever, and it was beautiful.

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With the hike finished we headed back to the camper. The sun and solar panels had already done their job of recharging the batteries for the camper. We had worked up an appetite so I cooked some hash browns, bacon and scrambled eggs on the griddle.

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Acadia has highways, park roads, and carriage roads. The last are thanks to the Rockefeller’s from way back. The carriage roads are for bikers and hikers and horses only. So it is a great way to see the park free from traffic. Getting to the carriage roads from our campground, however, is a bit of a challenge. We had to start on one of the park roads for a few miles and then walk our bikes up the bank to the carriage road once we got there.

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We really enjoyed Jordan’s pond and Eagle Lake and the Bubble Pond… The fall colors were really brilliant

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The last bit of our ride was back to hiking. To get from the carriage road to the highway that brings us back to our campground required some fancy maneuvering!

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With plenty of exercise for the day, we rested for a few minutes and then went in to Bar Harbor where we had a dinner reservation. Bar Harbor was busy I can’t imagine what it is like there during the summer months. But we found a brewery with good WiFi to catch up on a few things and then walked around the shops before heading to Geddy’s for some calamari and pizza.

It was not a late night, as we need to get up at 4:45AM to drive up to Cadillac mountain to watch the sunrise…

Halifax for Jane's big six oh

Halifax has a nice food scene and a pretty boardwalk along the bay. We saw several cruise ships leave and arrive, and got to try a local specialty. A Donair.

A Halifax Donair shares some history with a Gyro, except that they are made from beef and have a special Halifax sauce. Crispy thin sliced beef with a creamy, sweet, garlic sauce with plenty of tomatoes and onions. We split one from a shop on the boardwalk so as not to spoil our appetites for Jane’s birthday dinner.

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The boardwalk was fine, but I wouldn’t say spectacular. We found a nice Irish pub for some drinks, and they had a live band. So it was fun to sit and listen. Not as cool as the ceilidh back on Cape Breton, but still good.

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Birthday dinner was at The Bicycle Thief restaurant. It was a very nice meal, Jane had Seared Atlantic Halibut with brown butter & parmigiano fregola, charred asparagus, vino bianco, roasted sweet tomatoes, lemon & caper beurre blanc. I had Old-School Lobster Thermidor, Whole NS Lobster, wild mushrooms, shallots, Brandy crema, gratinéed with breadcrumbs, gruyère & parmigiano, truffle spaghettini & fresh asparagus. Both were delicious. We had a nice bottle of Chardonnay from Long Meadow Range in Anderson Valley. For desert we split the Creme brulee… slightly warm, with a really crispy crust, in short perfect. Top that off with a little sip of Port or Courvoisier and you have completed a near perfect meal.

Riding the Adventure Trail in Nova Scotia

The plan was to bike about 14 miles to Lunenburg, have some lunch at a brewery, and then bike back to where we parked. Drive back to the camper and make some Peruvian chicken for dinner. That was the plan. It was a beautiful day, It was a beautiful ride, although the trail was a bit soft in a number of places, and in a few it was completely washed out.

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However, 15 miles into the 14 mile ride we called a halt to consult the map. Somewhere along the way we had missed a turn that we didn’t even know to look for. Now we were almost to Bridgewater, quite a distance from Lunenburg.

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What to do now? Trying to make a triangle out of the situation was not a good solution. No trails from here to there, and the distance would have made the ride too long. So, we decide to turn back, maybe stop at a brewery along the way back, and see where to go. Riding along and discussing the options further, we decide to just head back to the truck and then drive from there to Lunenburg. Jane really wanted to see Lunenburg as it is a UNESCO site.

To get there we had to drive through Mahone Bay. What a zoo! We drove into their annual Scarecrow Festival! People everywhere. Cars everywhere. Astronaut scarecrows, firefighter scarecrows, They were everywhere. Kind of funny and clever. One of the few things we didn’t take a picture of, sadly.

Eventually we made it to Lunenburg where we found a good viewpoint to take a photo of the town, with its colorful buildings and tall ships in the harbor.

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Around four O’clock we parked and walked to the Shipwreck Brewery tap room. The smell of pizza was a little overwhelming as we walked in! We hadn’t much to eat, and had just ridden 30 miles. After looking at the menu we decided the chicken could wait! One small pizza and one lobster roll to go with our beers please.

The Cabot Trail

I have to admit I was a little whiney. Not yet 7am and Jane was ready to go. It was barely even light outside. But we had to get going. We are driving the Cabot Trail today, around Cape Breton island including many many short stops in Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Spoiler alert… even though I was a bit grumpy starting out this was one of my favorite days. This drive is just so beautiful. In Jane’s notes it was described by some other blogger as follows:

The Cabot Trail is a road that hugs the Gulf of St. Lawrence on the rugged northwestern edge of Nova Scotia, where around every bend you want to pull over, spew expletives of joy at the stupendous vista, and take another snapshot.

Our first fun stop was to take the worlds shortest ferry ride on the Englishtown ferry. We had a lovely chat with the ferryman during our three minute crossing which covered everything from the state of education to English Premier League football, to the relative strength of various hurricanes, to whether the Packers (he saw our Wisconsin license plate) would win their Thursday night football game. We covered a lot of ground!

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Our next stop was Middle head. A really nice hike which we cut short because we were still worried about time. Jane had read that it was really difficult to get the whole loop done in a day



After that it was just turnout after turnout of stopping to take in the scenery. Our next real goal was to do the Skyline hike.



The skyline hike was four miles out and back. With a set of boardwalk steps at the end that give you a pretty spectacular view of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.


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More scenery followed the Skyline hike…until we arrived in Cheticamp, where we decided to stop for lunch at the Doryman’s pub, rather than eat another day’s worth of turkey and salami sandwiches. We had a great view of the bay and I had fish and chips and Jane had chowder. The chowder was great. My irish red ale was also very good. We think that our waitress secretly could not believe that Jane would like the IPA she ordered and so brought her a bud light instead.

At the end of the trail, Jane made a “wrong turn” that led us to the Big Spruce brewery instead of our camp ground. We enjoyed a couple of pints before heading back to relax for the evening. We made a campfire, thanks to our neighbor who gave us some nice dry kindling and paper to get it going! We were still very full from our mid afternoon meal that we warmed up some leftover pizza on the Traeger for an evening snack.

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The Table

Last night we had a fabulous dinner experience! On Prince Edward Island there is an old church, that once was a barn, but is now a restaurant. It is open every night for dinner for one seating of around 20 people. Their menu says they are “a love letter to Canadian food and wine.” The menu changes every week, and they don’t repeat, ever, at least not in 8 years.

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All the foods are local, that is they use ingredients from PEI that mostly come from just a few km away. They don’t use any ingredients that are not grown in Canada. So, no lemon, or lime, or black pepper. Instead they make pepper from the flower cluster of the Green Alder, They are super creative and the food was just awesome. One of the highlights of the night was the Halibut. One of their friends/suppliers, a fisherman, showed up on their door a couple of days ago to let them know he had a 50 pound Halibut he had just caught, he thought they might want it. We are glad they did!

The kitchen area is open for everyone to see the small staff working to prepare the next course. And before you eat the course the chef explains what you are getting. Then as you are eating he walks around to answer questions or just chat with every table. They pair each course with a Canadian wine. The result is a 7 course meal that goes from 5:30 - 9pm, a beautiful night of food and drink.

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  1. roasted carrots, marinated carrots, cows’s blue cheese fritters, basil aioli. The blue cheese fritters (Choux batter with blue cheese mixed in) were better than any fried cheese curds I’ve had in my life!

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  1. celery root soup, roasted celery root, pickled mustard seeds, celery.

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  1. french river halibut, clam cream, dill oil potato, chives. SOOOO GOOD. We were imagining the staff milking the clams, but it turns out it is more like homemade clam sauce mixed with cream and then reduced.

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  1. belle river rock crab mezzalunes, charred tomato aioli, cured egg yolk. What? Cured egg yolk salted and dried and then they grate it over the pasta! I’m gonna try it.

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  1. cold water shrimp, our bread, herbs, crispy shallots. The chef described it as a mid meal snack! Yummy.

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  1. braised island short rib, potato puree, market vegetables, ox tail jus. I’ve hated beets for 50 of my 59 years. But I have to admit that these were not bad!

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  1. geoff’s apples, maple granola, mint oil, whipped sweet clover cheesecake. The apples were warm, but still crunchy, and the whipped cheesecake was like a thick whipped cream. A delicious ending.

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Jane’s favorites: The carrots and the Halibut

Brad’s favorites: The Halibut, the carrots were a big surprise and the fritters were just so good. Learning about cured egg yolks.