A Journal, with Pictures

Happenings

New Zealand 2020

by on Mar.10, 2020, under Happenings

On  Saturday, February 15 we left Savannah for a two-hour forty-minute flight to Houston, then the fifteen-hour flight to New Zealand on Air New Zeland. The Air New Zealand flight was very good or at least as good as a fifteen-hour flight can be. We arrived in Auckland early in the morning where we were met by the Seasonz representative who had us in the car in short order being driven to the Auckland Hilton. We had booked the room the night before so we were taken directly to our room. We showered had lunch and met our guide for a tour of the city . The tour included a visit to the Auckland Memorial Museum which includes an extensive Mauri (Indigenous people) exhibit as well as the memorial to the World War I New Zealanders who were lost. We then drove around the city as well as the quaint suburb of Parnell. In the evening we dined at a waterfront restaurant called Soul and I had two of my New Zealand favorites, local oysters and White Bait then finished with a Pavlova for dessert.

The City of Auckland has grown and changed dramatically since I had last visited. Our stay was just one night and we left the next day which was Feb 17 since we lost a day traveling across the international dateline. The rest of our trip would take us to three Lodges on the North Island and One on the South Island over the next two weeks. Our next stop would be The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs which is on the East Coast (Pacific Ocean) at the north end of the North Island.

 

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The lodge at Kauri Cliffs, North Island NZ

by on Mar.10, 2020, under Happenings

We flew to the Bay of Islands airport from Auckland the afternoon of February 18th arriving at the lodge late in the afternoon. Kauri Cliffs is a Robertson Property developed by an American who purchased 6500 acres and in addition to the luxurious lodge, cottages and a championship-level golf course operates a sheep and cattle ranch on the property.  There are three Robertson resorts in New Zealand and we will visit two. The Lodge and cottages have a spectacular 180-degree view of the Pacific Ocean and overlook the golf course. During the tour of the beautiful facility, we learn that there will be a beach barbeque that evening, so it’s time to unpack and then we are transported over the grazing land and hills down to a stunning beach that reminds us of the Monterey, California Coast. Cocktails and great dining at sunset on the beach, plus a chance to interact with the other guests from around the world is a great way to start our New Zealand Lodge experience.

The next day we have a private charter to cruise the nearby Bay of Islands. After a great breakfast, we scurry around getting all the things we were told we should take, towels, swimsuit, sunscreen, etc. etc. and show up at the lodge with half of the list. The staff hands us a bag with everything needed when we get to our car and we realize we need to stop thinking and let these great people take care of us. We arrive at the dock and are met by our Captain (owner) Alan and his first mate Jennifer and welcomed aboard “Bucket List”. We are getting over jet lag and our instructions are we look forward to a relaxing day exploring the Bay of Islands. This is exactly what we experience, cruising through islands, seeing the spot where Captain Cook the first European landed, anchoring in a cove and having Alan and Jennifer prepare fresh snapper fillets, barbequed rack of lamb served with fine New Zealand wine, topped off by a Pavlova for dessert. More cruising and finally back at the dock ends a perfect day. Again, the New Zealand theme continues, Alan and Jennifer make us feel like family, not charter customers.

The evening after the cruise on the Bay of Islands during cocktails we were treated to a performance by a local Mauri tribal group.

The final day at Kauri Cliffs included a round of golf. The course was stressed by recent droughts, but still beautiful with great holes along the coast. We enjoyed our golf and had another great dining experience then it was time to pack.

We rose to see a beautiful sunrise then enjoyed another great breakfast overlooking the golf course, and ocean. Then we were off to the airport bound for the Huka Lodge.

 

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Huka Lodge North Island NZ

by on Mar.08, 2020, under Happenings

On Friday, February 21 we transferred to the Bay of Islands Airport from Kauri Cliffs Lodge. Oops the flight to Auckland was fine, but the ongoing connection Taupo airport was canceled, so instead, we flew to Rotarua and were driven the one hour trip to Taupo where the car from Huka lodge was waiting. On our drive, we saw extensive forests that were being harvested and replanted and a lot of geothermal activity. This part of the island was formed by volcanic activity. The lodge is situated on the Waikato River that flows out of Lake Taupo New Zealand’s largest lake. Our suite had a great view of the river gently flowing by. Just below the lodge is the Huka Falls, which gave the lodge its name. It originally was a fishing lodge. Fishing is still a reason to visit but of all the great dining experiences we had in New Zealand, Huka Lodge had by far the best. We started our first night with a gourmet tasting menu served to us at our private table in the wine cellar, paired with a different New Zealand wine with each course. We followed this regimen every dinner while at Huka Lodge.

It was drizzling a little on the second day at Huka Lodge but that didn’t stop us from going fly fishing for trout on the Waikato river, with super guide Chris Brennan. Joyce had never fly fished and it had been years since I cast a fly, but we literally got tired of catching nice large Rainbow and Brown trout. We had a great time, catch and releasing well over 20 fish and enjoyed a picnic lunch on the river for a great day.

On Sunday we drove back to Rotarua to visit a Mauri Tribal meeting house (Marae) and learn about the Mauri people. We were treated to the welcoming ceremony which made us honorary tribal members, we watched traditional dances and saw how a feast (Hangi Meal) was prepared then cooked under the ground on heated stones. While the meal was cooking we took a short excursion to nearby falls hiked through the forest then watched white water rafting. Again, the New Zealand hospitality provided by the two Mauri families made us feel right at home welcoming us and treated us like family.

One last incredible dining experience, then time to pack and in the morning after another great breakfast we were off to Cape Kidnappers by car.

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Cape Kidnappers North Island NZ

by on Mar.08, 2020, under Happenings

On Monday, February 24 we were driven the two-hour drive to the Hawks Bay Region stopping for lunch at the Clear View Winery. This is one of the wine regions of New Zealand with the largest city in the area Napier. Napier is interesting in that it was destroyed by an earthquake in the 1920s and rebuilt in the art deco style. After lunch, we continued the short distance to the Farm at Cape Kidnappers, which is a 6000-acre working ranch with approximately 2000 sheep and 500 cattle. Overlooking the bay is the world rated top 100 Cape Kidnapper golf course and lodge where we stayed. Our suite had a great view of the property and Hawks Bay and was only a short walk from the beautiful lodge. This is another Robertson resort so we knew the evening routine, cocktails, and canapes served in the lounge area followed by a gourmet dinner with fine NZ wine and outstanding service.

Our first day of exploration started with a Kiwi discovery walk. Laura our naturalist guide took a group of guests into the woods to find a Kiwi, which is the national bird of NZ and an endangered species. To help preserve the Kiwi population a number of Kiwi sanctuaries have been established to increase the survival rate of young birds. Cape Kidnappers Farm is one of the sanctuaries and Laura used a radio direction finder to locate one of the chicks that had a radio tag. We got a briefing on the Kiwi and saw the humongous egg of this species. The full-grown Kiwi is about the size of a chicken and does not fly. Kiwi’s are nocturnal feeders so the Kiwi was awakened from his sleep so we could observe it. Laura weighed the bird, checked its health then placed it back in a burrow with some food. It was an interesting and educational experience and helped us work up an appetite for lunch.

After lunch, it was time for a Can-Am (All-Terrain Vehicle) tour of the property. This included a visit to the furthermost reaches of the farm through old creek beds, across expansive farmland and down to the ocean.  We also visited the rookery of the Gannet, the chicks first flight is eight-day non-stop to Australia. This is the largest rookery and it is estimated that these birds consume eleven tons of fish per day. We observed the parents feeding the chicks.

On Wednesday we played the Cape Kidnapper golf course. This is a stunning setting and the designer Tom Doak took advantage of the seaside cliffs and rugged terrain to produce a visually spectacular and difficult test of golf. We enjoyed our round and had a “small world” experience on the 16th. hole. A single caught up with us so we let him play through and low and behold it was Will Mayhall a fellow member at Chechessee Creek Club.

Another nice evening enjoying the great dining experience and service, then pack. Tomorrow after breakfast we leave for the South Island.

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Blanket Bay Lodge South Island NZ

by on Mar.07, 2020, under Happenings

On Thursday, February 27 we flew from Hawks Bay on the North Island to Auckland and then to Queenstown on the south end of the South Island. We traveled by car an hour to the south end of Lake Lake Wakatipu to the Blanket Bay Lodge. The lodge is a very impressive stone and wood structure overlooking the lake and the Livingston Mountains. Our suite was at the south end of the hotel and had a patio and windows that gave us spectacular great views.

The weather changed our plans for Friday so we moved the day’s activities to Sunday and enjoyed a day of relaxing at the lodge and a visit to the little town of Glenorchy for some shopping and sightseeing in the drizzle. Saturday the weather cooperated so we embarked on our Dart River Jet Boat Wilderness excursion. This included a mini-bus ride through the countryside leading to the rivers entering the south end of the lake, then a hike through the forest and finally a Jet Boat ride up then back down the Dart River. The Jet Boats are fast and bouncy able to travel with only 8 inches draft over the rocky river rapids. We had ponchos but we still got a little wet but the incredible scenery and exciting ride made it worth it.

Sunday was our last day of touring and it was also Joyce’s Birthday. We were picked up in front of the lodge after breakfast by our helicopter for the morning. We lifted off headed across the lake and climbed over the Livingston Mountains, through valleys, over glaciers, traversed the valley to the next range, the Franklin Mountains, and descended into Milford Sound to the beach on the Tasmanian sea. A recent “rain event” washed a large amount of driftwood and a number of boulders onto the beach which made for an interesting walk. We landed on a glacier and the beach for a hike as well as on the side of the mountain overlooking Lake Wakatipu and had a champagne birthday toast. The sites were spectacular, our pilot Rene was great and when we were done we landed back on the east side of the lake at Moonlight lodge the headquarters of a 33000 acre “Sheep Station” (Ranch). One interesting observation was that the glaciers had a red hue, which was caused by ash from the recent fires in Australia. The three-hour helicopter exploration of the South Island mountains was one of the highlights of our trip.

We were met by Paddy our driver/guide at Moonlight lodge and were introduced to John Foster the owner of the sheep station. We then took a tour via a Can-Am ATV (All-Terrain Vehicle). We drove up and down over lots of rugged terrains which is where John raises his sheep. The area is grazing land, native beech forest, lakes, rivers, mining huts, and tracks from the gold mining era. Before lunch, we explored primarily sheep grazing land with panoramic views of the mountains. We then enjoyed a picnic lunch with John and Ginny Foster and his son and grandson as well as Paddy in front of Moonlight lodge which is also John and Ginnys home. In keeping with our entire New Zealand experience, we were welcomed and treated like family in the typical open comfortable sincere style of the people of this beautiful country. We learned a lot about the business of producing fine merino wool, mainly that it includes a lot of hard work and the market for wool is uncertain. After lunch, we reluctantly said our goodbyes to continue our tour. Paddy then took us down the canyon which was a major gold-producing area, with remanents of past mining activity and beautiful clear streams to ford. We swapped vehicles and then toured what was the gold rush town of Arrowtown that is now mostly shops and restaurants for tourist. We then headed back to the Blanket Bay lodge for our last dinner in New Zealand.

In honor of the birthday, the lodge poured champagne for cocktails and since it was a beautiful evening we dined outdoors on the deck with the incredible view we have enjoyed so much. It was another exquisite dinner with another excellent New Zealand wine finished with a birthday cake to cap off a wonderful stay.

 

We had a leisurely morning Monday packing and one last great breakfast served by the outstanding Blanket Bay staff. Our driver picked us up and we were driven back to Queenstown for our flight back to the U.S. through Auckland. This was the fifth trip organized by Tony Huffman for us and again it was another incredible experience. Tony and his associates as well as his partners, in this case, Seasonz in New Zealand, made the trip effortless, absolutely first class with every detail attended to. Our New Zealand experience was one of the best ever, Thanks, Tony.

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Jordan Revealed

by on Jan.26, 2019, under Happenings


January 13, 2019


We flew from Cairo to the Jordanian capital of Amman which was an extension of the Wendy Pangburn’s (PI) YPO Egypt trip. Twenty-eight of the original group plus a couple who joined us made our group thirty in total experiencing the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. We were met by our two excellent Jordanian guides, Zak Salameh and Majdi Saleem. Amman is a clean, more modern city with more orderly traffic than Cairo with one-sixth the population. Our first stop was the Citadel which is at the center of the city on one of the hills upon which Amman was built. The Citadel is important because it has a history of being occupied by many great civilizations. There is evidence from pottery excavated of use during the Neolithic period (12000 years ago). Monuments show the historical names of Amman including Philidelphia. The prominent structures include the Temple of Hercules, a Byzantine church and the Domed Umayyad Palace.





January 13, 2019


We then traveled by bus to our hotel the Kempinski Ishtar Resort on the shore of the Dead Sea. The hotel complex is amazing and we enjoyed a little downtime although the windy cool conditions precluded a float on the famed Dead Sea. We worked out in the hotel gym which shocked our bodies back to reality before of course more cocktails and dinner.



January 14, 2019


After breakfast, we boarded our bus with the first stop being the site on the Jordan river where according to the bible Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. The Al-Maghats ruins are located on the Jordanian side of the Jordan River that includes ruins of churches, baptism ponds, as well as pilgrim and hermit dwellings. Thirty yards across the river is Israel and a baptism location which was in use at the time of our visit. There is also a new church on the site for worshipers on the Jordan side of the river.



We then traveled to Mount Nebo the highest point in this part of the ancient kingdom of Moab. In the Bible, Mount Nebo is the mountain where Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land. This is also the place where Moses died and was buried. The Franciscans have excavated the site and in 1993 completed the Memorial Church of Moses. They have incorporated mosaics from the ancient basilica that occupied the site. There is a cave stone used to close cave dwellings from biblical times on display on the approach to the church.



From Mount Nebo we continued the short distance to the City of Madaba, known as the “mosaice city”. The city is on the site of a very ancient settlement. In 1881 settlers discovered mosaics buried beneath the rubble. The most famous is the unique partial map of the Holy Land in the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George. We visited the church prior to having a fun lunch at a Jordanian restaurant.



After lunch, we traveled to the ancient city of Petra and checked into our unique hotel which was originally built by the Bedouins. The next morning we got an unauthorized 5:00 AM wake up call with the call to prayer from the nearby mosque.


 



January 15, 2019


After breakfast, we visited one of the new Seven Wonders of the world. Petra is a vast, unique city, carved into the sheer rock faces by the Nabataeans, who settled there more than 2000 years ago. The Nabataeans, prospered taking advantage of the location at an important junction for the silk, spice and key commodities trade routes that linked China, India, and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece, and Rome. The entrance to the city is through the “Siq” a narrow gorge, which is flanked on either side by soaring cliffs. The Siq has tombs and temples carved on the cliff sides as well as an amphitheater and advanced water control and distribution system. With sea trade supplanting overland transport Petra faded, but it was rediscovered in 1812 and has become Jordan’s number one tourist attraction. The film “The Last Crusade” with Indiana Jones that was filmed in Petra didn’t hurt tourism, but the place exceeds its hype. Petra is truly a wonderful wonder.



Faces of Petra



 


January 16, 2019


After breakfast, we left Petra and headed south towards Aqaba, a city on the Jordan/Saudi Arabia border location of the world-famous Wadi Rum. It is an amazing desert landscape made up of monolithic rock formations that rise up from the desert floor to heights of 5740 feet. It was made famous by being the place where Prince Faisal Bin Hussein and T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia ) headquartered during the Arab Revolt against the Ottomans. This where the movie Lawrence of Arabia was filmed as well as the recent film “The Martian”. We explored by four-wheel vehicle and saw the narrow gauge train like the one that Lawrence targeted and viewed the unique landscape. We had tea in a Bedouin tent and lunch cooked in the traditional Bedouin style under the sand.



After lunch, which got a little gritty when a sand storm started, we began our drive back to Amman. The sand storm intensified, then turns into a thunderstorm, then a hail storm and finally as we entered Amman a snow storm. We checked into the Four Seasons and showered the sand out of our hair, had dinner and then after a little weather based uncertainty took four-wheel vehicles to the airport to catch our one AM flight back to the United States through Paris. What an incredible adventure!


 

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Egypt Revealed

by on Jan.22, 2019, under Happenings


We traveled to Eygpt as part of a trip sponsored by the YPO group and organized by Wendy Pangburn principle of Pangburn International (PI). The people on the trip and the PI team were absolutely great, with outstanding guides (Egyptologist), lecturers and information resources. This was not just a fabulous sightseeing experience it was an in-depth educational opportunity. We arrived a day early, and checked into the famous Mena House Hotel. The next day (normal arrival day) we had a bonus excursion to the village of Saqqara. There we saw the oldest stone structures in Egypt, the Step Pyramids 2700 BC, the tomb of Pharaoh Zoser, the Saqqara temple complex and a local rug weaving school. That evening at the opening reception and dinner the keynote speaker was Dr. Zahi Hawass, former Egyptian minister of Antiquities and world-renowned archaeologist.


January 6, 2019



January 7, 2019


The next day we visited the Pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx and got a preview tour of the new Grand Egyptian Museum. We started at the largest pyramid the tomb of Pharaoh Khufu built between 2560 and 2580 BC. It is 481 feet high and the base is 756 feet square. It is constructed of 2.3 million blocks of limestone and granite. There are three other smaller pyramids in the complex, tombs of son and grandson of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure as well as pharaoh’s wives.



We then visited the Khufu ship which is an intact full-size vessel (143 feet long 19.6 feet wide) from ancient Egypt that was sealed into a pit in the Giza pyramid complex at the foot of the Great Pyramid. The ship now is preserved in the Giza Solar boat museum.



Next Stop the Sphinx



The new Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) under construction will be 5,000,2000 square feet, housing 125,000 artifacts. We did a preview tour of the construction and some of the exhibits under development.



Finally we toured the current Egyptian Museum



The first day ended with dinner Nile riverside with Professor Salima Ikram and students from American University in Cairo. Quite a first day.


January 8, 2019


We checked out of our hotel and go by bus through the chaotic Cairo traffic to the airport. On our way, we pass by miles of blighted buildings, evidence of a weak economy and/or failed government programs. We boarded our chartered Jet for the short flight to Luxor (Thebes in ancient times) on the Nile. We boarded our home for the next few days, the Sanctuary Nile Adventurer. After lunch, we explored the Temple complex of Karnak. The complex covers over 200 acres and was in constant expansion and use for over 2000 years. It is considered one of the most sacred sites in Egypt. We visited the main restored area, that is connected by the avenue of the Sphinx. Other parts of the avenue are being excavated that connects to a secondary complex that we visited as the sun sets. The complex is across the Nile from the Tombs of the Valleys of the Kings and Queens.



January 9, 2019


We crossed the Nile in local boats for our visit to the Valleys of the Kings and Queens. Specifically, we will visit King Tuts and Rameses VI Tomb as well as Queen Nefertari’s Tomb. We passed by Queen Nefertari’s Temple and the Colossi of Memnon. Whereas the Pharaohs in the north built pyramids to house their tombs in the south, they dug the burial chambers into the sandstone mountains. There are 62 tombs identified in the Valley of the Kings, numbered in the sequence of discovery. For more information about the Tombs go to http://www.thebanmappingproject.com/ The most famous is number 62 King Tuts, which contained a trove of artifacts, primarily because it was overlooked by tomb robbers. King Tut was historically a minor king since he lived only to age 19. In the afternoon we cruised south on the Nile to the next stop which is the city of Esna.



January 10, 2019


On our cruise to Esna, we got a good view of the Nile river valley, two things that strike you is how narrow the fertile area is adjacent the river and that every village has a mosque with a minaret usually broadcasting. In Esna, we focused on the Greco-Roman Temple of Khnum. The Temple was completed around 250 AD and features 24 beautifully decorated pillars and the walls covered with reliefs. On the western exterior façade, we saw reliefs showing the god Horus (god of Victory) as well as Khnum (god of creation). The surrounding site is being dug out and there are markets catering to tourists around the excavated temple site.






In the evening its dress like an Egyptian night, and after cocktails and dinner our boat crew introduces us to Egyptian dancing. FUN!!



January 11, 2019


Overnight we cruised to the city of Kom Ombo and in the morning visited the Temple with the same name. This Temple is for the worship of two gods, Sobek: the crocodile god, and Horus the falcon god. This is a classic temple design of the Greco Roman period but made up of two parallel temples. The design starts with huge entrance structures, opening into pillared courtyards, leading to the ceremonial chamber at the back of the complex.




We then had lunch as we sail to Aswan our last stop. After lunch, we go by bus to the Philae Temple, which was rescued from underwater. After a cofferdam was built it was dismantled (40,000 pieces) and moved then reassembled on nearby Agilkia island. We then experienced a sail on the traditional Egyptian sailing boat called a felucca. After the sail we had tea at the famous Cataract Hotel at sunset before returning to the Nile Adventurer. That evening we heard from Ambassador Karim Haggag regarding Egypt’s perspective of the U.S.






January 12, 2019


We left our floating hotel and boarded our chartered Jet to Abu Simbel, the site of the Abu Simbel Temples. The Temples were built by Ramses II one of the longest reining Pharaohs in 13 century BC. The walls depict the pharaoh in his various exploits and next door is the temple dedicated to his favorite wife, Nefertari. The temples were originally carved out of the mountainside. The complex was relocated in its entirety in 1968, to an artificial mountain high above the Aswan High Dam reservoir to save it from submersion in Lake Nasser, once the dam was complete.




We re-boarded our jet and flew to Cairo for our last night in Egypt. On the way in from the airport we had a special treat, a private tour of Abdeen Palace. The palace was built in 1863 by order of King Ismail. It was the scene of the bloodless Coup staged by the military that ousted the last Egyptian king Farouq I in 1952. The refurbished 500 room palace has been visited by heads of state and is not open to the public. Our group was the first, non-government group to receive a tour.



After the tour, we had our last dinner in Egypt at the U.S. Embassy. The next day some returned home or continued elsewhere on their own and we join the part of the group that continues on to Jordan.

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Florence/Tuscany 2018

by on Jun.13, 2018, under Happenings

Since we decided to got to the Cirrus Owners and Pilots Associations European Migration in Rome we added a week in Tuscany. We arrived in Florance on Friday after a long flight with two stops, so the rest of the day was relaxing and do a little sightseeing then dinner at the hotel.  We stayed at a fantastic small boutique hotel right on the Piazza S. Maria Novella, and a short walk to the incredible Piazza Duomo (Religious Center). We had visited Florence before so we didn’t have to see the must-see tourist sights, so the plan was to soak in more of the culture and of course, partake of the great Tuscan food and wine. On Saturday we started the process with a “Culinary Tour of Florence”. Our delightful guide Barbra introduced us to everything from local truffle sandwiches, to finally Gelato, with lots of interesting things in between including tripe and local wines, olive oil, pastry, cheese, and on and on. We passed a steak restaurant where the minimum thickness is four fingers (three and a half inches) and rare is the only choice.  We continued our tour through the Medici seat of government and viewed the famous statues in the Piazza Signoria then over the famous Ponte Vecchio, once a meat market known for its smell and finally on to our gelato.  One interesting site is the Medici Justice statue, no blindfold, and a sword. The plaque essentially says “I’m Cosmos Medici and justice is in my eyes and I have the sword to carry it out”. We spent the afternoon walking off the morning calories doing more sightseeing including the Medici chapel/museum. The evening we dined at Il Cibreo a very special Florentine restaurant.

Our next day adventure started with a “Florentine Cooking Class” with our chef/teacher Laura of www.cookinginflorence.com. This turned out to be great fun and we learned and prepared brochette, Pici pasta, chicken breast stuffed with mozzarella, and Terra Ma Sue. Then we added a little Tuscan wine, music by Boclli and we ate the whole thing for lunch. Delicious, educational and great fun.

A little more walking off the calories, then a tour “off the beaten path” by golf cart. Our guide, who was a delightful character, entertained us with little-known historical facts and hidden treasures of Florence.  One piece of Medici gossip was the fact that one married a Hapsburg daughter and they made sure everyone knew by decorating the city hall with Viennese scenes. We finished the golf cart tour high above Florence with a breathtaking view of the city, from S. Miniato al Monte. We then boarded a boat on the Arno for a sunset cruise. We finished the day with dinner at the 100-year-old family run restaurant, Bucas Mario, featuring traditional Florentine recipes.

The next day our driver guide Simon picked us up at the hotel and drove us into Tuscany. We first toured the lovely medieval hill-town of San Gimignano. We explored this walled town with perfectly preserved towers and building with a wonderful view of the countryside. We then drive to a winery for a relaxed lunch and wine tasting, (and buying) experience. After lunch, we meet our local guide in the beautiful city of Siena who takes us on a walking tour of this fabled medieval city, including the remarkable shell-shaped Piazza del Campo-home of the famous Palio horse race and Unique Gothic-Romanesque Duomo. Finally, we drive out into the countryside to our hotel/castle, Castello di Casole, where we will stay while in Tuscany. Our hotel turns out to be a real gem on a hill overlooking the beautiful countryside of Tuscany.

On Tuesday Simon picked us up at the hotel for a day of learning about Chianti wine. We Began with an excursion to Panzano, then a visit to a historic abbey cellar. We then had another light Tuscan lunch accompanied by Italian wines.

Wednesday our great driver/guide picked us up again and we were off to the town of Montalcino. Montalcino is important in that it is the capital of the legendary Brunello wine region. We explore the winding streets and medieval walls and fortress with a great view of the Tuscan hills. Brunello is made from Chianti grapes, but they produce a very different wine in this region. We then visit a local winery for a tour, tasting, and lunch. We add some Brunello to our cellar to accompany the Chianti we purchased earlier. After lunch we decide to visit one last village in Tuscany, Pienza, finishing our Tuscany exploration with a celebratory Gelato before heading back to our hotel for our last night dinner of real pizza and Tuscan wine.

Tuscany was wonderful, Culture, Food and Wine and wonderful places and people. Tomorrow we drive to Rome to meet flying friends and visit a great city. It will be hard to beat the unique ambiance and character of Tuscany. If it’s not obvious by now, we love Italy, Italian food, and Italian wine.

 

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Rome

by on Jun.13, 2018, under Happenings

On Thursday, we were driven from Castello di Casole to Rome. It’s a beautiful drive and we arrived in time for lunch. Our hotel was the Marriott Park near the International Airport since the majority of those attending the European Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association “Migration” planned to fly in. I said planned because only five of the planes ended up having parking spots in Rome and the rest of the planes were spread all over Italy. Turns out we could have stayed downtown which would have been much more convenient. It was a fun three days, starting with a group dinner at the hotel, then the next day was a bus tour of Rome, lunch, then an afternoon to explore the city on foot. We took this opportunity to visit one of our favorite places the Piazza Navona, for a cool beverage and watching the daily spectacle. Friday evening was the Gala Dinner, then Saturday there were excellent seminars in the morning and after lunch an optional walking tour of the city and dinner. It was great to see old friends and make new ones while visiting one of the great cities of the world.

Sunday we flew back to the United States in what turned out to be a very long day due to flight delays. We finally got home and started the mandatory diet after a great ten days of food, wine, and culture, plus spending time with flying friends. It was a great experience.

 

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Beijing

by on Jun.30, 2017, under Happenings

We embarked to China on May 5th, 2017 for a three week tour of China. The trip was organized by our friend Tony Huffman who employed Imperial Tours of China that turned out to be a great experience. We had a China host, Lotus Qi, who accompanied us for the entire three weeks and in each city a guide and in some cases special guides for a particular area. We stayed at great hotels, and had a private car and driver  in each location. I do not comment in each city about the food, but we ate at the best restaurants, mostly Chinese, but also international cuisine. We laughed at “another light Chinese lunch”, because every meal was a feast, orchestrated by our Chinese Foodie, Lotus. We had the best Pizza we ever had in China (Truffle Pizza) and the best French Toast. We ate our way through China. We also witnessed what has been called the “Chinese Economic Miracle”, which has produced an infrastructure now world class and the largest middle class in the world. I will save my comments of what I have learned about the Chinese system of Governing and the “Economic Miracle” for a separate blog that I will post later and just focus on the sights of China for now.

We arrived in Beijing and were met by Lotus and taken to the Peninsula Hotel. As we were descending into the area the first thing that struck us was the huge  number of high rise apartment buildings and how modern the Airport and other infrastructure was. Beijing is a city of twenty two million covering about one hundred square miles. We had a good flight, but having done this many many times, I concluded I’m getting old, won’t go work out right way. Our first day was spent touring Tian’anmen Square, the Forbidden City and doing a tour of the Hutong district of Beijing.

Across the street from Tian’anmen Square is the Forbidden City the Imperial Palace of the Emperors of China. This complex served as the home and seat of power for 24 emperors, their courts and harems from 1420 to 1924.

 

Of course we had a lunch of Peking Duck, which was great, but I said I would not obsess about the food but it was special having Peking Duck in Peking. We then did a tour of the Hutong, means alley ways, which was an exclusive neighborhood before the revolution.

On our second day in China, which was a Sunday, we visited The Temple of Heaven. This structure was build in 1420, using no nails, and was where the Emperor would visit twice a year for three days to meditate on the affairs of God and man. On the way to the Temple we visited an exercise park paid for by the Welfare Lottery, that’s right, no entitlements in China. We also witnessed mothers in the park soliciting wives for their sons, since the one child policy has produced a thirty million man surplus. Another example of unintended consequences when governments meddle in the peoples business.

 

After the Temple of Heaven we visited Beijing’s Art District that was created from a Cold War arms factory. This area was very lively and an impressive use of Factory 798.

On our last day in Beijing we visited the Summer Palace and then traveled out to the Great Wall. The Summer Palace was rebuilt in 1888 by the Empress Dowager Cixi and consists of 3000 buildings, gardens and ponds, around the man made Kunning Lake.

The Great Wall was built to protect China from predatory nomads, and is an impressive structure with questionable effectiveness. This again demonstrates that a government project is hard to stop once started. We saw the wall and were surprised to learn that a private luncheon was catered for us, on top of the wall.

 

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