2023 Grand South America 1st Half

On a grand voyage of 74 days there is simply too much to cover in one post. This post will share some images and experiences of the first half of our journey from Ft. Lauderdale to Buenos Aires.

Ready to go
Our home for the next 74 days

Ocho Rios Jamaica. We had visited many years prior and so we felt no need for a tour or anything more than a walk around town. The town seems to be struggling now perhaps due to the pandemic. We had jerk chicken in a nice bar and enjoyed people watching.

Puerto Limon Costa Rica. Here again we felt no great need for a high priced Holland America excursion but found a Trip Advisor recommended company on the pier offering a reasonably priced tour which included a boat ride on the Tortuguero Canal. We saw birds, monkeys, sloths, alligators and other lizards. It was fun.

sloth
alligator

Cruising the Panama Canal. The canal always involves an early start, this time 5am! The captain opened up the bow deck so we could all see the sunrise as we entered the first lock at Gatun. It is exciting to traverse the famed canal. There is so much ship traffic and this time we were accompanied by our sister ship Zuiderdam on her cruise around the world. It was extremely hot and humid. So hot our phones stopped working. After the all day transit of the canal we docked at the new cruise terminal at Fuerte Amador Panama. The next day we grabbed a taxi/walking tour of the modern big city of Panama City as well as the old town, Casco Viejo. From here we head south along the west coast of South America crossing the Equator.

Zuiderdam behind us
Sister ship Zuiderdam in next lock
Panamax freighter in New Panama Canal
Bridge of the Americas
Cathedral in Casco Viejo
walking the old city

Manta Ecuador. The tuna capital of the world, Manta is home to many expats due to the pleasant climate and low cost of living. The official currency of Ecuador is the US Dollar. The cruise terminal had nice crafts and folk dancers. We bought a Panama hat (they are made in Ecuador) and a beautiful embroidered ladies top.

Tuna capital of the world
one of many beautiful murals in Manta
Fishing sculpture
Beautiful colonial era museum

Callao (Lima) Peru. At the time of our visit Peru was experiencing political turmoil and there was a possibility we would not be able to dock in Callao, Lima’s port city. We docked without incident for 3 days and 2 nights which allowed some guests to take overnight excursions to the Galapagos Islands and Machu Picchu. A local craft market setup on the pier and we found beautiful Alpaca yarn and sweaters as well as jewelry and other gifts. Our travel agent Cruise Specialists provided a complimentary tour of Lima Then and Now. The first stop in the center of old Lima was Casa Solariega de Aliaga Lima’s oldest house. The original owner was one of the early conquistadors from Spain and the home has been in the same family since. After a walking tour where we saw the Presidential Palace, City Hall and Cathedral we traveled to a 60 year old mansion Casa Luna in the exclusive San Isidro neighborhood. The home while still lived in had museum quality collections of nativity scenes from all over Peru and the world. They served Pisco Punch a local favorite alcoholic beverage. There was heightened security but no disturbances while we were in Lima. Since the port of Callao is an area of poverty and street crime the cruise line offered a free shuttle bus to a good area to tour. Here we visited Miraflores, an upscale suburb with many craft markets and the 2000 year old site of Huaca Pucclana. We had a great tour of this amazing archeological site built 14 civilizations before the Inca. It is a very large pyramid structure built of vertical adobe bricks. One reason the site is so well preserved is that Peru is a very dry place. We learned it had not rained in Lime since 1972! There is plenty of water though due to rivers from the Andes. Afterwards we enjoyed a lunch of Peruvian cuisine at the adjacent restaurant. The craft vendors on the pier had great deals on Alpaca yarn and sweaters. Our cruise continued to General San Martin which is a port city near Paracas and Pisco Peru. We had hoped to visit the Tambo Colorado archeological site but it was closed for restorative work. This is also the area of the mysterious Nazca Lines and we good a good look at the Paracas Candleabra from the ship. This geoglyph was carved 2 feet into the hillside, stands 600 feet tall and has been dated to 200 BC. The meaning and purpose of the site remain a mystery.

Cathedral in central Lima
Beautiful colonial Lima
Casa Solariega
Huaca Pucclana archeological site
Alpaca, not llama
Peruvian Folkloric show on ship

Coquimbo Chile. Coquimbo was a port city adjacent to La Serena, the second oldest city in Chile. Its a popular vacation destination for Chileans and Argentinians. We hired a taxi and toured the Museo Arceologico and enjoyed the colonial architecture of this old place with its churches, civic buildings, street music, empanadas and beautiful lighthouse.

La Serena city hall
Great archeological museum
La Recova craft market
Faro Blanco lighthouse
Massive church
Coquimbo’s Third Millennium Cross considered the tallest monument in South America

San Antonio Chile. San Antonio is the major port for the Chilean capital of Santiago. Santiago is a huge city and with the traffic it is no longer possible to do a day excursion from San Antonio. Instead we took a HAL tour to Valparaiso another busy port. The tour was lackluster other than a funicular ride up the hill to a good restaurant. We could see a Princess ship in the harbor there unable to dock to to the Pacific Ocean swells. Our own ship docked in San Antonio hired 2 tugboats (at a cost of $100,000) to push us against the pier all day because of the swells.

Beautiful alpaca shawl purchased in Valparaiso
Valparaiso Chile

Isla Robinson Crusoe Chile. Located over 400 miles west of Chile in the South Pacific Ocean. From 1704 to 1709, the island was home to the marooned sailor Alexander Selkirk, who at least partially inspired novelist Daniel Defoe‘s fictional Robinson Crusoe in his 1719 novel. It is a rugged island where we hiked to the top of a mountain. We also explored caves formerly inhabited by political prisoners. Our departure was delayed several hours when a passenger had to be medically evacuated from the island to a hospital in Chile.

“town” on Robinson Crusoe Island
Monument to Alexander Selkirk
Volendam from 1000 foot mountain

Puerto Montt Chile. Our first stop in southern Chile was established by German colonists during the 1850s and still has many German restaurants and shops. We took a local bus to the resort town of Puerto Varas in the lake district inland surrounded by active volcanos. This was a very nice area. Puerto Montt had the great Angelmo craft and seafood market and is the second largest producer of farmed salmon in the world. Our ship’s chef picked up salmon for some great dinners on board.

Strong German heritage in this Chilean city
Catholic church based on one in the Black Forest of Germany

Puerto Chacabuco Chile. This place felt like an outpost in the Alaskan panhandle. Rainforest all around, we enjoyed a hike where we learned about local flora and enjoyed a rustic lodge feast of barbeque lamb and local wines.

Patagonian frontier town

Cruising Chilean Fjords. Here the captain took our big ship up close to the many glaciers in the Patagonian district of Chile. We got close to Fjordo Glacier and El Brujo Glacier.

Chilean glacier
Deep blue of old ice
Di on deck
Lichen? on rocks

Punta Arenas Chile. This was one of our favorite stops in Chile. Much of the history of exploring Antarctica started in Punta Arenas. Fortunes were made here in sheep and wool. We had hoped to take a local boat to Isla Magdalena to see a penguin colony but the winds were so high no boats went out that day. Instead we walked to Plaza de Armas, Magallanes Regional Museum, the Sara Braun house, the Borgatello Museum, cemetery and sheep monument.

Sara Braun home
Fantastic murals in this port city

Ushuaia Argentina. After cruising glacier alley and the Beagle Channel we arrived at another outpost known as the southern-most city in the world. It was once a penal colony and we toured the former prison turned museum. The harbor here was teeming with expedition ships making their last port before Antarctica. We enjoyed Submarinos (hot milk with chocolate sticks) at Laguna Negro cafe. The hokey Train Trolley gave us a nice tour around town although we wished we could have been riding the “Train at the End of the World” tourist train. This was a rare South American tourist town where English was widely spoken. The Argentine Peso is a story in itself. The official exchange rate was 185ARP per dollar but on the street we received 350ARP/USD. Credit cards were a little scary but at least our cards gave us a good rate.

The original train at the end of the world hauled political prisoners
Ushuaia sits at the end of the Andes

Cruising Cape Horn and crossing the Drake Passage. Leaving we passed Cape Horn in rough seas. We crossed 60 degrees south latitude. On board entertainment featured Duo Siqueira Lima a classical guitar husband and wife duo who wowed us with their skill and stage presence. Our crossing the Drake Passage was as good as we could expect.

Cape Horn

Antarctica. This was one of the main attractions for taking this cruise and while it wasn’t quite what we expected it was spectacular and memorable. We had 3 scientists and 2 ice pilots on board for all our days there. We had a 6am start for our first day in Antarctica. It was cold and foggy which then turned into cold and snow and wind. Cruising Dallman Bay and Paradise Bay we saw some humpback whales bubble feeding, gentoo penguins and orcas but not as many as we had hoped. The crew had fun building snowmen on the pool deck. By the end of the day ice conditions caused us to abort Lemaire Channel but we did get to see Palmer Station, the US research station. The second day we cruised Neumeyer Channel, Wilhelmina Bay and Errera Channel where we heard singing whales saw lots of cute Adelie penguins. The third day we headed to Hope Bay to see whales but the ice again blocked our way. We had to turn around in winds that had picked up to 100 mph! This caused a great listing of the ship, dishes crashing and anxiety among passengers. No one was seriously hurt because the Captain had sternly warned all to SIT DOWN. It was memorable. The fourth day we visited Deception Island, a volcanic caldera which is home to over 100,000 chinstrap penguins. We saw lots of icebergs and calving glaciers. At this point the weather was deteriorating with one low pressure storm after another. The captain regretfully cancelled our stop in the Falkland Islands, there was no way with 40 knot winds and we had to time our passage back across the Drake Passage to miss the worst of it. We still had the roughest seas of the cruise with waves up to 40 feet top to bottom and regularly hitting deck 3. It was exciting.

D in the Antarctic summer
Us in Antarctic summer
Many expedition ships in summer
Outside decks for best viewing
Icebergs are common
Adelie penguins only in Antarctica
USA Palmer Station
Hundreds of thousands Chinstrap Penguins
sea lions too
Antarctic sunset

Puerto Madryn Argentina. This is where we got up close to the Magellinic penguins. The Tombo Preserve here is home to thousands of penguins rearing their young. These penguins live in ground burrows and stand about 2 feet tall and weigh about 8 to 14 pounds. They are totally unafraid of humans and wander freely around the tourists. Don’t get too close though, they have wicked beaks. We also saw the unique guanaco, a wild llama like mammal. This is also the area where orcas are seen snatching dinner off the beach. Lots of wildlife here.

Marching Magellanic penguins
Fluffy young penguinn
Feeding the young
Very social penguins
Patagonian guanaco

Punta del Este Uruguay. This was a summer resort town for the middle and upper classes. Nice beaches, hotels, restaurants. Many yachts. Very clean, very safe.

“The Hand” is the 1982 work of Chilean artist Mario Irarrazabal

Montevideo Uruguay. Montevideo is the capital of Uruguay and a very nice historic city. We enjoyed the architecture, plazas and just walking around. We felt like we could live in Uruguay.

Montevideo has a beautiful city center

Buenos Aires Argentina. Buenos Aires was the end of the cruise for many and the beginning for some just joining us. It is a huge city of over 15 million. Again since the port area was not the best, HAL offered a shuttle to the center of the city. We saw churches, monuments, the clock tower, a railroad museum and a shopping mall with great frescoes on curved ceilings. A HAL tour showed us Recoleta Cemetery where Eva Peron is buried and the El Ateneo bookstore/cafe built in a former opera house. As we were staying overnight we were able to attend a tango show at one of BAs tango cafes. It was spectacular with 10 dancers 2 singers and a live band. The next day we took a hop on hop off bus tour where we saw different neighborhoods. La Boca neighborhood was especially lively with colorful shops, restaurants, impromptu tango dancers and 3 dimensional street art.

BA is known for its European architecture
Eva Peron’s monument in Recoleta Cemetery
Many monuments in this capital city
El Ateneo Bookstore
Tango show
Buenos Aires La Boca neighborhood features colorful 3D art

At this point of our cruise we began to feel part of a community. We were accustomed to life at sea. Our daily life had settled into comfortable patterns which we enjoyed. New guests arriving gave us some pause as we wondered how they would fit in. We were excited about the next chapters.

Posted in Antarctica, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Cruises, Ecuador, Jamaica, Panama, Peru, Uruguay | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

2023 Grand South America, Antarctica and Amazon Cruise

We recently returned from an epic cruise completely circumnavigating South America beginning and ending in Ft. Lauderdale Florida. The trip was offered by Holland America Line and we cruised on their ship Volendam. This blog will touch on the highlights and summary of the 74 day trip. Subsequent blogs will dive a little deeper into the details and stories.

Logo for our cruise
Our ship Volendam

Our journey began January 3rd with a rental car drive from our home in north central Florida to Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale. We went to Jamaica, Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Antarctica, Brazil (including nearly 1000 miles up the Amazon River), French Guinea, Barbados, Dominica, St. Thomas and San Juan. In total we visited 3 continents, 34 ports in 12 different countries over our 10+ week journey. The captain tells us we sailed 18,649 nautical miles or 22,446 statute miles.

Us in Antarctica
Manta Ecuador is tuna capital of the world
Dianne with alpaca shawl
Nazca Lines Paracas Candelabra 600 feet tall
Isla Robinson Crusoe

Holland America has really found a niche in offering long cruises to experienced travelers. The majority of our fellow passengers were in their 60s and 70s with quite a few 80s and even some 90s. We had one gentleman traveling alone who never ceased remining us that he was 97 and a half! We had many singles including a woman from NYC who was taking her first cruise. Another woman traveling alone was a retired prison guard from a maximum security prison in Canada. Speaking of Canada we had many from that country just enjoying a winter holiday. Some couples had taken this exact cruise 4 and 5 times. There were a good number of Dutch and German cruisers too. For us this was an opportunity to see many countries we had never visited as well as see Antarctica and the Amazon for the first time. Our ship, Volendam, had 1175 passengers out of a possible 1475. By today’s standards this is a smallish mid-size ship. She was built in Italy in 1999. We had to pack for very cold, windy conditions (Antarctica) and extremely hot (Buenos Aires 102) and humid conditions (Brazil).

Glacier in Chilean fjord
Cape Horn
Dianne in Antarctica
Adelie penguins

While we have been regular cruisers since 1992, this was more than twice as long as any previous trip. It was interesting how we got to know so many crew members and fellow travelers. By the end of the trip we really felt like a community. This was our extended family we had developed. We made some friends, others we knew pretty well, some we just recognized and some we kinda avoided like an annoying cousin. We had several medical evacuations and at least one death – a 34 year old guitar player from the entertainment team who the captain could not get to a hospital fast enough. There were rumors of several more deaths but none confirmed. Over a period of almost 3 months things will happen to a community.

Guanaco at Puerto Madryn Argentina
Tango in Buenos Aires

Holland America did a great job of providing lectures and information along the way. Debbie from Shore Excursions was very informative about ports and ship offerings and Jeremy, our cruise director, was excellent in his port talks about history and what to see in each port. He was all around a great presenter and super nice guy. We changed captains mid way thru the trip but each was very informative, friendly and had a sense of humor. Some of our favorite crew members were Eleanor, Esther, Eko, Anna, Ace, A-frame, Tanisi, Mr. T and Wisman. Eko actually remembered us from a cruise 3 years ago! While cruising the west coast of South America we had a university professor lecturing on those countries. During our Antarctic cruising we had 3 scientists on board providing lectures and commentary. In Brazil HAL brought on a team from “Oui Brazil” who performed dance and music and also taught Brazilian samba, capoeira and drumming. The Brazil team also had a great lecturer who gave us so much history and cultural info. During overnight stays Holland offered outstanding on shore performances including tango in Buenos Aires, Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro and a big band show in the world famous Manaus Opera House.

Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro
Carnaval Sambadrome
Giant Amazon water lily
Manaus Opera House

One more footnote about this cruise is about our travel agency, Cruise Specialists. Somehow over the internet we found them (they found us?) and we booked this trip thru them. Little did we know the benefits we would receive by using their agency. First off we got an additional $600 in fully refundable cruise credits to use on shore excursions or whatever. Then at the first of 3 cocktail parties we received very nice embroidered Columbia hats and embroidered tote bags. We also had 2 on board hosts to chat with and get advice and questions answered. They also provided 2 complimentary shore excursions and a premium dinner. If you wish to contact them, our agent was Bridgett Webber.

Devils Island French Guiana

Overall this was the trip of a lifetime. We had so many educational experiences and some exhilarating ones too. To be able to see and do all this without an airport and flying is just incredible. Holland offers more Grand voyages including ‘around the world’. You can be sure we will consider every offering.

Us at the Panama Canal
Posted in Antarctica, Argentina, Barbados, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Cruises, Dominica, French Guiana, Jamaica, Panama, Peru, San Juan Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, travel, Uruguay | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Rhine River Cruise

Following our Swiss rail tour we decided to take a Viking river cruise. It’s a mighty long airplane ride across the Atlantic so we thought we should do more than one thing. When Viking offered free air and they would fly us whenever and wherever we wanted that clinched the deal.

Viking is the largest river cruise operator with over 80 boats. We chose Viking’s Rhine Getaway. It’s an 8 day cruise from Basel Switzerland to Amsterdam Netherlands with stops in France and Germany.

Our ship Viking Eir

Viking cruises include a tour at every port and ours started with a tour of Basel.

Us arriving at the Basel train station
The mighty Rhine
Basel Cathedral
Basel Rathaus or city hall

We cruised at night to our next port and traversed several locks which our boat just barely fit into. It was pretty interesting to look out our window at night and see a the concrete wall of a lock. Breisach Germany is the gateway to the Black Forest. The weather was very rainy and cool so hiking was out but we did see a cuckoo clock making demonstration and taste Black Forest cake. The weather was better in the afternoon and we toured Colmar on the French side of the Rhine. We really like this quiet Alsatien town. The medieval Gothic and Renaissance buildings contribute to the storybook character of the place. Turns out the sculptor who built the Statue of Liberty was from Colmar.

Breisach cuckoo clock attraction
Colmar tram tour
Canal scene
Rennaisance building
Bartholdi – Colmar sculptor who built the Statue of Liberty

Strasbourg France is home of the European Parliament and a city that has flipped from France to Germany and back again several times. This town presents strong influences from both countries in its food and culture. It is built on many islands in the Ill River, a close tributary to the Rhine. We loved the medieval architecture, the food and coffee. We toured the Alsatien Museum. This is a great city to visit.

Towers entering Strassbourg
Beautiful city on the Ill River
Cathedral
Cathedral from Alsace Museum
Many historic half timber buildings
D in a busy cafe
Tarte flambeau and coffee

The next day we visited the small city of Speyer Germany. The Romanesque cathedral here is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was the largest in the world until St Peters was built in Rome. Eight German kings are buried here. Later we also visited Rudesheim a town in the heart of Reisling wine country. It was another lovely place to walk and explore.

Speyer Cathedral
Typical old bridge in Speyer
Us in Rudesheim

For many the next day’s cruise through the Middle Rhine was the highlight of their cruise. This is another UNESCO World Heritage site known for its turreted castles and fortresses overlooking the Rhine from their steep hillsides. Most of the castles here were built in the 10th to 13th century to collect tolls on the heavily trafficked Rhine. On the steep banks of the Rhine grapes are still harvested by hand for their world renowned wines. Our day started out cold and foggy but turned into a spectacularly clear beautiful day.

Rheinstein Castle
The Pfalz toll station
Reichenstein Castle

Mid morning we passed Lorelei Rock a narrow and deep part of the Rhine where legend has it a maiden betrayed by her lover committed suicide and became a siren luring sailors to their death.

Lorelei Rock
Marksburg Castle
Stolzenfels Castle
Rheinfels Castle

Koblenz Germany was our next stop the same afternoon. There we had an excellent tour from a young man who really shared a personal story of his town and country. Koblenz is a beautiful city built at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers where the 1871 unification of Germany is celebrated at the German Corner with a huge statue of Wilhelm I. Later we took a cable car over our ship and the Rhine to the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress towering above the city. The fortress is the largest in Europe where construction began in the year 1100 on the hill where Romans had a fort in 400 AD. There has been a settlement here since the 4th century BC. Another great place to visit.

Ehrenbreitstein Fortress
Kaiser Wilhelm I

Our last stop in Germany was Cologne known for its spectacular 14th century Gothic cathedral. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site the cathedral survived World War Two while 95% of the city was destroyed. Viking had the finest dock location in the heart of the city. Our guided tour showed us many highlights of the city and we were able to see the inside of the cathedral on our own. We enjoyed a virtual reality tour of 1926 Cologne. This was one night we had dinner on our own with street food in a plaza. Later we enjoyed the sun deck of our boat at dusk when thousands of green parakeets came screaming in to roost nearby.

Cologne Cathedral
Back of cathedral
Reliquary said to hold the bones of the three wise men
St Martin church one of 360 churches in Cologne

Kinderdijk Netherlands was our last port of our river cruise. Its another UNESCO World Heritage site celebrating the windmills that keep the Netherlands from flooding. We enjoyed a tour of a traditional operating windmill and toured an electric pumping station. By now we are in the flatlands of the Rhine delta on our way to Amsterdam.

Viking does an excellent job on their river cruises. Our boat held a maximum 190 passengers and the restaurant dinner is the only option. Dinners take 2 hours every day and all tables seat at least 6 so it is a very social cruise. The included tours are very good quality and while we only opted for one optional (extra charge) tour it was excellent as well. We met many interesting people.

New friends on the boat
Friends
Posted in Europe, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, UNESCO World Heritage | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sugar Express

U S Sugar in Clewiston Florida recently restored a historic steam locomotive to full operating condition. When the Florida East Coast Railway Society offered a charter excursion train pulled by No. 148 we jumped at the opportunity.

This is one beautiful locomotive

FEC locomotive 148 is a 4-6-2 Light Pacific built in 1920 by the American Locomotive Works in Richmond Virginia. She pulled passenger and freight trains all the way to Key West on the Overseas railroad bridges. In 1952 the locomotive was acquired by U S Sugar where she hauled sugar cane until the late 1960s. After retirement the locomotive traveled around the country as an operating attraction before languishing inoperable in storage for 40 years.

148 at night
Randy at the night shoot

Our train

In 2016 U S Sugar re-acquired 148 and restoration began in 2017. After thousands of hours of work by sugar employees and restoration experts No. 148 was returned to service in April 2020 just in time for her 100th birthday. Built as an oil burner (FEC founder Henry Flagler was a partner of John D. Rockefeller in Standard Oil) 148 now runs on used vegetable oil. The locomotive operates on the tracks of U S Sugar’s freight railroad, the South Central Florida Express. Sugar’s railroad hauls more than 1000 cars of sugar cane per day during the harvest season from October to April and also interchanges 15,000 cars per year with CSX and Florida East Coast Railway. The passenger cars are beautifully restored and more are on the way. U S Sugar is in the process of restoring a second steam locomotive which had been on static display in front of the Prime Osborn Convention Center is Jacksonville.

148 at track speed
Sugar Express baggage/open car
Inside Sugar Express passenger car
Sugar cane field
St Lucie Canal

Our weekend included a night photo shoot and engine shop tour on Friday. Saturday’s all day excursion included 3 photo run-bys and lunch catered on the train. Then Sunday we had a “Raisin’ Cane” tour of the sugar fields and structures. We thank the Florida East Coast Railway Society for organizing this event. We look forward to more rail events in our home state.

Run-by on Port Mayaca bridge

This is a popular addition to the tourist experience in Clewiston Florida. U S Sugar is using the railroad to reach the public with its message of commitment to returning clean water to the Everglades. The pollution we see today in the Caloosahatchee River comes not from sugar but from cattle ranchers along the Kissimmee River dumping ag waste into Lake Okeechobee. We learned a lot. Good for Big Sugar.

Sugar explaining Best Management Practices

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Best of Switzerland Rail Tour 🇨🇭

Our Vacations by Rail Best of Switzerland Rail Tour begins in Zurich the largest city in the country.  On arrival at the airport we took the local train to the city then walked to our hotel.  Trains are the best way to see the country. Zurich alone has 3000 trains per day. We explored this old city by walking on our own before meeting our tour manager and our group of 32.

Zurich’s Limmat River
Trams, bicycles and walking are best in Zurich

Switzerland is the cleanest most organized country we have visited.  The city of St. Gallon is an easy 1 hour train ride from Zurich.  It’s most famous for its abbey and Baroque cathedral.  After our tour we had time to try some  local foods like biber, a kind of gingerbread and the best hot chocolate ever.

Our first Swiss train
St Gallen cathedral
Typical street in St Gallen

Our next day we took the local train to Lucerne, one of Switzerland’s mot idyllic cities.  On arrival we caught a paddle wheel ferry on Lake Lucerne to Vistnau.  There we rode the Rigi Mountain cog railway to the top of Mt. Rigi. This was the first railway of its kind in Europe. It was originally built in 1871. Now we’re clearly in the Alps with spectacular views in all directions.  On the way back to the lake we took the cable car.  We ferried again back to Lucerne where we stayed in a 500 year old hotel, Wilden Mann.  Lucerne is beautiful and we’d love to visit again.

Us in font of Chapel Bridge
Lucerne waterfront
Our ferry on Lake Lucerne
Mt Rigi cog railway
Mt Rigi view
Dairy cows have distinctive bells to find them in the fog
Cable car view

The Golden Pass Line train from Lucerne took us over the Brunig Pass and Bernese Oberland to Interlaken, a resort town from the 18th century.  The town sits between two lakes and is still popular with the elite. We enjoyed watching hang gliders leap from the adjacent mountains and land in the town green.   Our journey that day ended in Lausanne on Lake Geneva in the French speaking west of Switzerland.

Lake view along Golden Pass Line
Interlaken station
Victoria Jungfrau Hotel
The Eiger, the Jungfraun and the Monch mountains tower over Interlaken

Montreux was our first stop the next day where we toured 1000 year old Chateau Chillon,  one of the most authentic castles in all of Europe.  The castle sits on the shore of Lake Geneva on the same location where Romans built a fort 2000 years ago to guard the trade route from Italy to France. Our train journey this day ended in Zermatt at the foot of the Matterhorn.

Chillon Castle
Interior courtyard
Freddie Mercury recorded in Montreux considered the Swiss Riviera

In Zermatt we had a walking tour and history talk with a local guide. After that we walked to the Gornergrat Railway station where we caught the highest cog railway in Europe to the top at 10135 feet. The ride was spectacular but after a quick look at a glacier the clouds obscured the Matterhorn and everything else. On the way back we were able to hike to get a great shot.

Gornergrat Railway has been taking people to the top of the mountain since 1898
The fog was thick
Glacier from the top of Gornergrat – Matterhorn obscured by fog

Next day we rode the famous narrow gauge Glacier Express to St Moritz. 8 hours on the slowest Express train in Europe. This train crosses 291 bridges and 91 tunnels on its 181 mile journey. Lunch is served on the train before arriving in St Moritz. We stayed at Hotel Simi in this ritzy town.

Glacier Express on Landwasser Viaduct

We rode another famous train the next day. The Bernina Express runs from St Moritz to Tirano Italy. It’s the highest rail line in Switzerland and a UNESCO World Heritage site. We had great views above the treeline and then dropped down into Italy. We enjoyed a great lunch there and picked up some food delicacies. Then we took a local train back to St Moritz.

Alp view near Bernina Pass at 7638 feet
View from Bernina Express
Kreis Viaduct in Italian speaking Switzerland
Railfan friend Paul getting the shot

Our last train day took us on local trains from St Moritz to Chur (coor) then to Zurich. We had a walking tour in Zurich and then a farewell dinner at our Hotel Glockenhof.

Us at Basel train station off to the next adventure

We highly recommend Vacations by Rail and their Best of Switzerland tour. Oliver was a great tour manager. We had excellent hotels every day, fabulous buffet breakfasts and lots of walking. Our first week we each had over 100,000 steps. Switzerland is a beautiful country. They have the best chocolate, bread and cheese. Their trains are among the best in Europe. Always on time, quiet and clean. We’d go back anytime. There is more to see.

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Memphis – Music and Food

Our trip to Memphis included much more than Graceland and the National Civil Rights Museum. We toured Sun Recording Studio in a small storefront building where Sam Philips started the business in 1950. Sam’s partner Marian was the first to hear Elvis perform and a year later got Sam to bring him in. The session didn’t go particularly well so Sam took a break. During the break Elvis tore into Big Boy Crudup’s “That’s Alright” and made rock and roll history. Sam Philips found the sound he was looking for. Sun recorded many early rock and roll pioneers like Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis as well as blues legends like BB King and Howlin Wolf. Johnny Cash got his start at Sun. But Elvis made music history.

Original microphone used by Elvis at Sun
Control room at Sun where Sam Philips was the first to record Elvis
Artists rendering of Sun Recording Studio

While the big attractions in Memphis are Graceland and the National Civil Rights Museum there is so much more largely centered around music.

Memphis also had the first black owned and first woman owned radio stations in the United States. They had the first radio station that played black music and white music on the same station. STAX music was another recording studio that featured great R & B acts like Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding and Bobby Blue Bland.

Memphis Rock and Soul Museum
Beale Street

B B Kings Blues Club on Beale st is just one of many live music venues in Memphis today. It’s a nice compact area with plenty of Bar B Q too

Diving into Rendezvous Restaurant ribs in an alley near Beale Street
The original B B King Blues Club on Beale Street
Live music until a kitchen fire closed the club for the night

Memphis even has a vintage streetcar line. Which of course we had to ride.

Beautiful vintage streetcar in downtown Memphis

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Memphis – Graceland

We’ve never been big Elvis fans but Graceland is such a worldwide attraction that we had to see what it was all about. It’s not an inexpensive place to visit.

After a introductory film we were shuttled to the home which is not huge by today’s standards but very personal to Elvis. The home is preserved as it was when he lived here. He bought it in 1957 and loved entertaining family and friends.

Us in front of Graceland
Living room
Backyard where he and friends rode horses and golf carts
The Jungle Room
70s media room
Home movies are part of the home
Elvis is buried on the grounds along with his still borne twin and other family members

The home is just the beginning at Graceland. There is a large museum displaying many items from Elvis’s career. There is one room just for cars. Another has boats. Another huge room displays his iconic costumes. Then there’s still another room dedicated to his legacy and all the artists influenced by Elvis. Some of those included Elton John, Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon who is quoted as saying “If there had been no Elvis there would be no Beatles”

One of dozens of cars
The first Cadillac
Elvis’s boat
Close up of an outfit
An entire wall of costumes
The legend

We were thoroughly impressed by the quality of Graceland. We arrived only curious about Elvis and left with a deep appreciation of the man and his legacy.

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Memphis- The National Civil Rights Museum

Memphis has a lot to offer. Our first stop was the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated. It’s a very moving history of the movement from the earliest days of slavery through the violent 50s and 60s. Even if you think you know much of the story there is so much more to learn. This is a world class museum.

The motel looks much as it did in 1968 on the outside
The wreath marks the location where King went down
King was in Memphis to support striking sanitation workers
There is a Montgomery bus where Rosa Parks refused to move
Many displays and images of boycotts marches and protests
This actual bus emphasized the deadly bombings frequently happening during the struggle

We spent 4 hours there and only left because they were closing. There’s still more to see.

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Cloudcroft New Mexico

Mexican Canyon trestle

Cloudcroft New Mexico is located in the Sacramento Mountains in the southeastern part of the state. In this hot dry region it is an comfortable oasis due to its elevation. Fodor’s travel recently called it one of the most overlooked places in the country. We visited on our way from Palm Springs to Florida. The railroad history, mild weather, scenic views and hiking made this a place we’ll come back to visit.

Cloudcroft NM at elevation 8676 feet

The Alamogordo and Sacramento Railroad climbed over 4000 feet in 32 miles with grades of up to an unheard of 6.4%! Historically trains slowly climbed trestles and S curves to the timber in the mountains. Vacationers flocked to the mountain air on up to 5 trains per day from El Paso. This was one of the most spectacular western railroads. Today trestles can be reached via hiking trails.

Salado Trestle

We stayed at the Cool Pines RV Park in nearby Mayhill. It’s a lovely quiet park.

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Kilgore Texas

Downtown Kilgore

We really never heard of Kilgore let alone planned to visit but our granddaughter recently moved there so we had to stop by. The town operates the Harris St RV park near downtown. It is very nice with paved sites and beautiful lawns although its a little difficult to reserve thru the city. The rate was $20/night for water and electric site with an onsite dump station. Our granddaughter moved to Kilgore to pursue her passion for horror films and actually landed a leading part in the upcoming prequel to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

What surprised us was the first class museums and lively downtown of Kilgore. The East Texas Oil Museum tells the story of the first east Texas oil strike right under the town in 1930. What happened next was amazing. The small dying town exploded overnite into a boom town. At one point there were more than 1100 producing wells within the city limits. The East Texas Oil Museum is a first class facility telling the story.

East Texas Oil Museum
Smithsonian quality exhibits

Another unexpected attraction was the Texas Broadcast Museum. A couple of locals collected an incredible array of historic TV and radio broadcast equipment. Among the historic items we saw were one of the original 3 ESPN mobile broadcast trucks, the actual TV camera that filmed Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald and a projection TV built in 1948. For fans of history and technology this was a very interesting museum.

Actual camera that filmed Ruby shooting Oswald
One of the first 3 ESPN mobile studio trucks

We very much enjoyed meeting our daughter in Kilgore to visit our granddaughter. The town was upbeat and friendly. Right off I-20 we would recommend it as a pleasurable stop for travelers in Texas.

Restored railroad depot

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