Monday, October 22, 2018

Our Dream Vacation - Barcelona, Spain (Day One)

We have always enjoyed cruising so when we started to think about seeing Europe, for the first time for either of us, we thought this would be the way to do it.  Now that we are back, I can say cruising our way through the Mediterranean worked perfectly for us.  And we can also say that our 40th Anniversary Dream Vacation was even more wonderful that we imagined it would be.  It is now at the top of our list of Best Vacations of our Lives!

So our ship was departing and returning to Barcelona.  We wanted to make sure that we didn't miss it, due to plane delays mostly, so we arrived in Spain two days before the start of our cruise.  We are so happy that we made the decision to spend two days here.  There was so much to see and we got to see  almost everything we wanted to.  We had a little trouble figuring out how to use Google Maps on our first day here so we missed a couple of sights because we couldn't find them.  But overall we did pretty well which surprised the heck out of us!

Before we left for our trip, I found out that we could hop on an Aerobus at the airport in Barcelona  that would get us within walking distance of our hotel.  We bought these tickets online, for $7.00 each, in advance of our vacation.  The ride took about 30 minutes and we made it to the hotel in time to enjoy their buffet breakfast.  We ate things we had never eaten before and enjoyed it all.  We loved the atmosphere of the hotel's rooftop dining area.  It was a perfect way to start our vacation.  And, yes, that is beer (It was available at the buffet all day!) that Soko is having along with his orange juice and coffee!

After breakfast it was time to explore Barcelona.  We decided we were going to do the Barri Gotic 
self-guided walking tour that we found in Rick Steves' travel guide.  I made a copy of the blog post I wrote that had a description of the sights of this walk.  I also made a copy of the map, that we found in Steves' book, of his walking tour.  We bought a sim card for my phone so that we could have wifi and be able to use Google maps to get around.  We were confident that we had everything we needed to find the sights we wanted to see.  Using Google maps that first day was not easy for two people who have never used it to get around in a foreign country or anywhere else for that matter!  It took a good amount of time, but we did find the first stop on the walking tour eventually, Avinguda del Portal de l'Angel.  This is a boulevard where you will find the most expensive shops in Barcelona.  We did not buy anything here!

Getting to the next stop was a little easier.  The Church of Santa Anna was not be very far from the shops and we stumbled upon it quickly.  It gave us hope that doing this walk would not be as difficult as it first seemed.

The stop after the church was a restaurant, Els Quartre Gats.   Picasso frequented this restaurant often and designed their menu cover.  We knew we missed it when we saw the fourth stop on our list, the Fountain decorated in blue and yellow tile work.  We tried back tracking and tried using Google maps but we never did find the restaurant.  We decided, then, that we would not worry too much about finding every sight.  

This walk was starting to become a scavenger hunt which was really fun but the riddles were not always easy to figure out.  Our next stop was Placa Nova.  From what we read in Rick Steves' book, this was an entrance gate at one time and we would see two huge towers that were part of it.  Once we got here we would see Picasso's artwork on the Catalan College of Architects on the opposite side of these towers.  I can't tell you how long it took us to find the towers, or figure out that what we were looking at were towers, and then the artwork.  When we finally found the towers we couldn't figure out where the opposite side would be.  The college turned out to be across the plaza from the towers but I guess it could be described as being on the opposite side also.

The beautiful Cathedral of Barcelona, next on our list, was impossible to miss.  It was the largest church we had ever seen before.  We couldn't get over how many statues were tucked into the walls of this building. 

Luckily, our next stop was a few steps away from the Cathedral and we could see it immediately as we walked away from the church.  Casa de l'Ardiaco is a mansion that once was the residence of archdeacons.   There wasn't any access to the inside of the mansion but we were able to walk around it's courtyard and imagine how the archdeacons might have enjoyed this area.

I remembered that we passed by a monument, when we were lost trying to find Placa Nova, that I thought might be the next stop on our walk so we just had to walk back to it so I could take a picture.  The Monument to the Martyrs of Independence was erected to honor five patriots who were strangled for resisting Napoleon in 1809.   

We read that Placa Sant Felip Neri was a plaza that Catalan children use as their playground so when we walked into a plaza filled with children, we knew we were in the right place.  Here was where we would also find a plaque that listed 42 victims of an aerial bombing in 1938.  The sad thing is that most of the victims were children.  I guess this plaza has always been a favorite place for children to play.

As soon as we passed through the plaza, we found the narrow streets of the Jewish Quarter, our next stop.  These tiny streets were where 4,000 Jews were forced to live .  There was a synagogue we wanted to check out here but it was closed.   

Soko found the next stop, Carrer del Bisbe Bridge which is a bridge that connects what used to be the president of Catalan's President's residence with government buildings.  I was not looking high enough to see this bridge.

Our next stop was Placa de Sant Jaume, the central square of the Barri Gotic area.  This is where we were on the lookout for Catalunya's patron saint, St. George (Jordi), slaying a dragon.  It would be above the doorway of one of the government buildings.  The dragon is an important Catalan symbol that I read we would see here and there but we only saw one other one.

We were beginning to get really tired and hungry at this point but had three more sights to see.   The Roman Temple of Augustus had huge columns that dated back to the first century BC and were as old as Barcelona itself.  We were very curious to see something that old so we decided to see this temple and skip the last two sights on our walking tour.   One sight was Place del Rei where the Royal Palace was. This palace was where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel welcomed Christopher Columbus after he came back from discovering the New World.   We also skipped the Barcelona History Museum.  

Jet lag was starting to get the better of us so we were ready to call it a day, but first we had to find something to eat.  We had heard from everyone who had ever been to Spain that we should have tapas and/or paella.  We found a restaurant, near our hotel that had a tapas sampler.  It seemed easy enough to point to the picture and get a few different tapas rather than trying to read or speak Spanish to order for ourselves.  We were both wishing we had paid more attention in Spanish class years ago.  Our dinner was delicious and the variety was perfect.  Soko doesn't eat much fish so I had to eat all the calamari which I was happy to do.  The dinner came with a dessert that was so good I wished Soko was passing on that also but he ate his!

The first day of our vacation was incredible!  We had to pinch ourselves all day to make sure we were not dreaming and we were really here in this beautiful place.  Now it was time to get back to the hotel because we were more than exhausted.  We fell asleep as soon as our heads hit our pillows at 9:15 that night!

Monday, October 15, 2018

Pros And Cons Of A Mediterranean Cruise Vacation

We just got back from our Mediterranean cruise.  I can't believe that it is actually behind us.  It was a vacation that we dreamed about for years and now it is a wonderful memory that will last us a lifetime.  We had never been to Europe and thought that cruising would be the best way for us to see it.  Now that we are back, I can say that most of our trip met our expectations but some things we didn't expect.

The Pros:

The number one positive for us of traveling Europe via cruise ship was that we didn't have to move ourselves from one hotel to the next.
We saved ourselves hours of wasted time packing and unpacking our luggage.  One pet peeve I have about traveling is when we have to "live out of our suitcases".  We spent the first two nights of our vacation in Barcelona.  The room was very tiny and didn't have any drawers at all and only a small closet that we could fit five outfits in.  I took out the dress I brought for formal nights on the ship but the rest of my clothes were all over the place and starting to wrinkle up after the two nights.  It was so nice to be able to unpack when we got on the ship.

We enjoyed delicious dinners, great entertainment and relaxing in lounge chairs while we were whisked away to our next stop.
Instead of sitting on a train or bus to get to our next destination, we were enjoying the cruising part of our vacation.  Half of the fun of a cruise vacation for us is the cruising part.  Our Mediterranean cruise meant getting up early and spending all day on the go for 12 days.  Having the chance to relax while the ship brought us to our next destination kept us from getting overtired.

Being able to book excursions through the cruise line.
It made getting to the sights we wanted to see at each port stop so much easier than having to figure  out how to get transportation ourselves.
We booked an excursion for Rome which provided a shuttle to an express train to Vatican City.  We had a guide who gave us information on the shuttle bus and then led us to the train.  He also let us know when and where to meet for our return ride back to the ship.  He then led those of us who were interested to the Hop On, Hop Off bus we used to see the major sites in Rome.

Meeting many interesting fellow cruisers from different parts of the world and US.
We had lots of fun chatting with people from Australia, Ireland, England, Canada, Cuba and the states.  We took advantage of the time we spent with these nice people to find out more about their countries and states.  The people we met from Ireland were so excited to hear that we would be visiting their country next year and were happy to let us know what we need to do and see there.  They asked when we will be making our trip and we said February.  They had looks of horror on their faces (I'm exaggerating!) when we told them when we were going. "Why would you want to go to Ireland in February.  The weather is terrible!"  Oops!

The Cons:

The number one negative on our list would be that we had a very limited amount of time at each port. 
We definitely needed to spend at least two days at each stop to be able to enjoy each city more.
We knew that the time constraints was something we wouldn't be able to avoid but we really didn't expect to have only one hour to enjoy Murano and more than half of that time would be taken up by a glass blowing demonstration.  We enjoyed the demonstration but slipped away from the group when they were being led to the demonstrator's glass shop afterwards.  We really would have liked a little more than the 30 minutes we had to see the city.

Stressing about getting back to the ship on time.
At times we rushed to a sight and only stayed long enough to snap a few pictures before we ran to the next sight because we wanted to see everything but we needed to make sure we had plenty of time to get back to the ship before it left the port.  Three passengers were left at the Amalfi Coast even though the ship left about an hour later than scheduled.

Some cities were very far from the port.
We knew that Rome was almost 1 1/2 hours away from our port stop in Civitavecchia but 1 1/2 hours away compared to being on the other side of the world from it made Rome seem too close to not see it.  If  we were doing a trip in Italy another way, rather than cruising, we would definitely have penciled in at least 2 to 3 days to see Rome.

Having to go through security checks upon returning to the ship after disembarking at each port.
I know that security checks keep us safe and is a way for the cruise line to keep a head count of their passengers, but after a long day, the last thing we wanted to do was wait on line, take off our belts and watches and hold our breath (that's just me!) as we and our bags go through the security scanners!

We really had a wonderful time on our Mediterranean cruise vacation.  We immensely enjoyed exploring the countries and cities we visited.  Cruising enabled us to see a lot more than we could have if we had to get from place to place on our own.  We would never have been able to see 5 countries in 12 days that easily.

We would love to go back and do this trip again and we would do it the same way, by cruise ship, but we will know what to expect next time and be able to plan better.  The pros definitely outweighed the cons for us.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Souvenirs To Buy In Europe

We are counting down the days until we leave for the cruise we booked over a year ago.  Half of the fun of going on vacation is the planning and anticipation.  We had a year to plan and spent hours researching every port and every city we will be in during our 12 day Mediterranean cruise.  We want to make sure we don't miss seeing something while we are in Europe because we might not ever get back there and to these countries again.  Besides for what we have to see and eat (like gelato!) I started thinking about what souvenirs we should look for in each of the countries we will be visiting.  We don't want to come back with a suitcase full of magnets and tee shirts!

One thing for sure that we will be bringing back is beautiful Murano glass.  My sister brought me back a beautiful Murano glass necklace when she visited Italy and I would love to bring her, and the other girls on my list, something as beautiful.  We have an excursion booked to take a boat ride to the island of Murano in Venice just so I can go shopping there!

Besides for the Murano glass we will want to bring back other memories of our vacation.  This is our list of things to look for in the 5 amazing countries we will visit.

In Spain (Barcelona) we will look for:

Turron - is a nutty confection or nougat that can be soft or brittle.  I'm sure I will sample each of them then bring both types home because they sound sweet and delicious.

Espadrilles -  These are traditional cloth shoes made of tough Mediterranean grass.  I read that Tyra Banks buys hers in Barcelona.

Vermouth - I will be looking for the bodegas that sell their own blended Vermouth (vermut casero) mixed with a variety of spices.

Spanish cava - is a wine with no added sugars.  I heard that Brut Extra was a popular choice.

Caganer figurines - This is a small figurine of a man pooping (sorry!).  It represents the equality of all men.  You will find these figures in nativity scenes at Christmas.  I'm not sure if I will bring one home, but I definitely want to see one!

Barca Football Club items - We call it soccer in the US.  I think a couple of the guys on our list might like a jersey so we will keep a look out for them.

In France (Nice) we will look for:

Santons - They are small earthenware figurines that, like the Caganer figurines are used to decorate nativity scenes.

Herbes de Provence - When we are back home, miles away from the French Riveria we can still enjoy the flavors of Provencal cuisine.  I have a few people in mind that would love a package of this mixture of dried herbs.

Terre e Provence -  Beautiful, colorful handmade ceramic pottery.  I know I'm going to want to bring back at least one piece!

Soap - I have been seeing so many posts raving about the soap.  I definitely will not be happy with myself if I didn't bring back at least one bar.

Lavendar bags - This is a typical souvenir of this region.  My luggage will smell heavenly if I buy a few of these!

Local household linen - This is another item that seems to be a typical souvenir.  I will have to at least find a shop that sells them to have a look.  I think they may be a bit too expensive for our budget though.

Olive dish This sounds really unique.  It is a special serving dish that is separated into 3 parts.  One for the olive, one for the toothpicks and one for the pits.

Le Petit Prince - I would like to find a copy of one of France's most loved fairy tales.  It would make a great addition to the library we have in our home for our grandson.

In Italy (Florence, Rome, Almalfi Coast, Venice) we will look for:

Pottery - Italian pottery is handmade, hand-painted ceramic works of art.  They are beautiful and colorful kitchenware.   I think they would make a very appreciated gift to bring back.  I know that I will not be able to come home without a plate or cup for myself.

Murano glass - We are going to the direct source of this beautiful glass when we visit Murano, but I know we can find this all over Italy.  Besides for the glass jewelry, which I know we will be buying, we also will be looking at the other unique, hand-made items made with this glass.  We will be keeping an eye out for the letters PRC on any of the glass items as this will tell us it is not authentic.  All of the glass should actually come with certificates of authenticity if they are Murano.

Chocolate - Perugina, Caffarel and Venchi chocolates are a must for me to bring back...for myself!  I heard you can get these chocolates wrapped in beautiful packages so it will definitely be a nice souvenir for that person who cannot fit one more knick-knack into their homes!

Salt - I heard there are salts in Italy that you can't find in the US like truffle-speckled.  This would make a unique gift.

Pinocchio - dolls and other toys with his image.  I have a couple of kids on my list.  Our bags will probably be filled with Pinocchios!

Carnival masks - are beautiful, I heard, and we can find them all over Venice.  I will probably look for pins or something a little smaller than an actual mask to bring home though.

Torrone - is a nougat made with honey and nuts.  I will be looking for cream colored candies and not white ones that are sweetened with sugar instead of honey.

In Montenegro (Kotor) we will look for:

Wine - Native home-made wine to buy here, and the most famous, are Vranac which is a red wine and for white wine lovers Krstac would be the choice.  The best brand sounds like it would be Plantaze.

Brandy - A very popular drink is rakija.  People of Montenegro often have a shot of this drink in the morning, but more often they have it when they are eating a snack of prosciutto and cheese.

Brojanica - This is a bracelet that doubles as a prayer rope, similar to rosary beads.  It is woven from sheep's wool to remind people that "they are only the lambs of the Lord."

Kapa - This is an authentic Montenegrin cap.  The black on it hints of a beautiful past and the red represents the bloodshed in removing the Ottoman hold on the country.

In Croatia (Split) we will look for:

Ties - I just found out from doing this research that Croatia is where the tie was invented.  There is a well known tie shop in Split, called Croata, where we can buy ties.  I saw a picture of one that had the Glagolitic alphabet* in the design.  This would make a very unique and very nice gift.
*The Glagolitic alphabet is an ancient slavic alphabet that was created in 9th century and used for over 1,000 years.  These letters can be seen on many different souvenirs you can buy in Croatia.

Licitar heart - These are heart shaped honey cookies you give to show your love to someone.  They are beautifully decorated and people use them to decorate their Christmas trees.

(Couldn't find the cookie but I am sure this ceramic replica will bring back wonderful memories!)

Croatian wattle - It is a special design found on many churches.  We can buy crosses with this design on them in Christian souvenir shops.

Sibeviks button - This is rarely used as a button but can be found on jewelry.  The button is hollow on the inside and beautifully ornamented on the outside.

Kras candy - Their specialty is Bajadera which is a nougat candy.  They also make delicious pralines (Griotte) and milk chocolate (Dorina).

Morcic - This is a Croatian good luck charm.  It is a black head wearing a turban or plume.  It is usually found on earrings, rings, pins and brooches.

Linolada - I took note of this snack because I know my daughter will love it as it supposedly is "even better than Nutella"!

I like to buy ornaments when we are on vacation to display on our Christmas tree.  I love seeing them once a year and reminiscing about the trip.  I will try to find one in each of the five countries.   I know the ornament I will buy in Croatia will be the Licitar heart.  Another memory jolter for me is music.  I will try my best to buy some kind of CD that will bring back memories of our vacation.

I am thinking that I might also be looking for a bigger suitcase.  Either that or we'll just plan another trip so I can finish my shopping.

Note:  We are back so I am updating this post with pictures.  We actually found, and bought, lots of these souvenirs!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Packing For Our 12 Day Mediterranean Cruise

We only have two weeks to go until we are in Barcelona, Spain starting our 40th Anniversary Dream Vacation.  (I made a title for our trip because it's that special to us!!)  We have never been on a 12 day cruise before, or in the Mediterranean, but we have been cruising.  If you have never been on a cruise but would like to one day, this post will definitely be helpful to you.  If you have been on a cruise, I might have some things on my list that is not on yours.  Please, please if you have something on your list that is not on mine, please share that info with us!

The first thing I think about when I'm packing for a cruise is bringing a carry on bag onto the ship.  The first time me and Soko went cruising we had no idea of how getting into our room or getting our  luggage worked.  So we wound up wandering around the boat in dress clothes for a couple of hours until our clothes arrived and we could get into our bathing suits.  Now, I just wear my bathing suit  under my dress, and pack Soko's in our carry on, so that we can relax by the pool until our rooms are ready and our suitcases are at our door.

Carry On/Cruise Bag - Folder containing our  travel documents and itinerary. 
Travel Documents - are our SetSail passes and a document regarding the cruise ticket contract and onboard expense account that needs to be signed in two places.  (We received the passes and document when we checked into our cruise a couple of weeks ago online.  We printed them up along with luggage tags that are available to you after you do the online check in.)
Itinerary - includes our own notes, pre-purchased admission tickets (Vatican Museum, Sagrada Familia, etc.) and information about the excursions we purchased from the cruise line.   And
passports (important to have with you on any cruise just in case you have to fly back unexpectedly from a cruise port.  Note:  It's a good idea to make a copy of your passport and keep it in a safe spot in your suitcase), Soko's bathing trunkswallet, phone, sunscreen, sunglasses, head covering, reading material (Kindle), iPodcamera.  
Note:  Pack whatever meds you need in this bag, also, as you never know how long it will be before
           you see your luggage.  And make sure you don't forget your motion sickness pills, sea bands,
           ginger, patches or whatever it was you decided to use to prevent getting ill if the boat is
           rocking a bit too much.  I use the sea bands and haven't gotten sick on a cruise.  I did feel a
           little queasy looking out of the porthole when we got an oceanview room once so now we just
           stick to reserving an inside stateroom when booking a cruise.

Anti-theft crossbody bag (for me) and anti-theft backpack (for Soko) - It is better to be safe than sorry.  Our bags have locking zippers and are slash proof.

Foreign Currency - We will be using our Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card whenever we can as there is no transaction fee to use it.  But we would not feel comfortable if we didn't have some Euros in our wallets.  The most expensive place to exchange money is at the airport so we went to AAA (we are members) and exchanged a few dollars there.

Sim Card - I looked into getting international service with my carrier, Verizon.  It would cost me $10.00 a day.  My sister did this and called to cancel a couple of days into her Switzerland vacation because she was having a hard time using it somehow.  When we went to Japan 3 years ago, my brother got me a portable wifi device that I paid over $100.00 for but it worked great.  For this trip we are trying the sim card option. We found a card that works in most European countries and costs $30.00.   I will put the chip into my iphone when we get to Europe and we should be good to go.  We will be able to make calls and text to any phone with a UK number and we will have 12 GB of data.  We're buying this to make sure we have always have wifi with us to access Google maps.  (I will get back to you on how this option worked out for us.)
Note:  I will definitely be getting the sim card again when we travel to Ireland next year.  It didn't work when we were cruising at sea or in Montenegro but worked perfectly everywhere else and the 12 GB was more than enough data for our 2 week vacation.

Chargers - phone, Kindle, iPod and fitbit.
Note:  Also, portable phone charger.

Umbrella -and/or ponchos.

Clothes - Every cruise line has their own description for each of these categories of dress.  We have cruised on Royal Caribbean and Carnival.  Carnival has a more relaxed description of what kind of dress is allowed in the dining rooms compared to Royal Caribbean.   This is what works for us on either cruise line.
When the dress code for dinner is either casual wear or smart casual, I will wear white or black jeans or capris and a nice top and dress shoes.  Soko will wear khakis and a polo or button down short sleeve shirt and loafers.  When the dress code is formal, Soko will wear a suit and tie and dress shoes.  I will wear a cocktail dress and heals.  There are opportunities, on formal nights, to take lots of formal photos.  We would like to get a nice picture of  the two of us to remember this special vacation and our 40th anniversary.  On this cruise there will be more than one formal night and we decided that we would just wear the same formal wear again.  During the day, anything goes around the ship except for bare feet.  Also, ladies need to cover up their bathing suit.
Don't forget your sandals, sneakers, walking shoes, etcSome excursions suggest wearing water shoes.  Read the fine print of the excursion you purchased for helpful hints.
Note:  I find it to be very cold on the ship.  I always make sure to pack a dressy sweater and a casual sweater or jacket.

Wrinkle Release Spray.  You won't find an iron in your stateroom.  I am bringing some spray just in case we need to release some wrinkles from our clothes.
Note:   I don't have one yet but I am adding a portable steamer to this list as a reader suggested.  I think it's a great idea and will probably have one by our next cruise.

Toiletries.  We all have our lists of what we need to have in our toiletry bags.  I know I have mine.  I will say, though, that if you are not fussy about the shampoo, conditioner or body wash you use, you won't have to bring your own as there will be dispensers in the tiny shower in your cabin.  Also, you can leave your hairdryer at home.
Note:  The smaller ship and Barcelona hotel didn't have conditioner so I have added it to my cruise packing list.

Hangers.  There are usually 3 or 4 tiny drawers in the small cabins of the cruise ship but a decent size closet.  After we have used every hanger in the closet there is room left to hang more clothes but no more hangers.   I am bringing hangers on this cruise so I won't have to try to stuff my clothes into the small drawers and will throw the hangers out after I am finished using them.  The room the hangers take up in my suitcase is the extra room I can use for souvenirs!
Note:  We were on the smallest cruise ship we have ever been on, but our room had a few more drawers and a good amount of hangers.  We did use a couple of our own hanger though.

Foldable Travel Bag.   I have a bag that folds into a pouch when I'm not using it.  I use this as my carry on bag when I need to when I'm flying and it's a good size.  I'll pack this bag, folded, in my suitcase on our flight to Europe, then carry it on the plane, filled with goodies, on our flight back home. 

Travel guide.  I am using Rick Steves' guide to Mediterranean cruise ports.  There are maps in this book along with everything we need to know about most of the ports we be sailing into.  It also has information about the major cities you can get to from each port.  We have used this book to create most of our itinerary.  I am bringing it for the maps and to look over the chapter, in the evening, of the port we will be arriving into in the morning.

Vacation Journal.  I will bring a journal with me and try to jot down all the little details, every evening, about the trip while they are fresh in my mind.   It's fun to read these notes later and can be a helpful guide for a friend who is planning a similar trip.  To take notes during the day, I will use the Notes App on my iPhone.  The voice feature makes this way of taking notes much easier than carrying around the journal all day.

No matter how many lists I have made and how many times I have checked that I have everything, I know I will still leave the house feeling like I forgot something!

Monday, September 3, 2018

Grandma and Grandpa's Library

This post is sponsored by Precious Moments.  All opinions are my own.

We will have to get a crib and a highchair and a few other things for our home because when our grandchildren come to visit it won't be for a few hours, it will be for a few days.   Besides for the necessities, we want our grandchildren to have fond memories of the fun things that were in  Grandma's and Grandpa's house just for them.   Our kids have those memories of my parent's snowbird home in Florida.

My mom was an amazingly crafty person and displayed her beautiful creations on the low shelves in her dining room.   She put them there for her grand kids to enjoy and she loved when they would ask questions about them.

My older son, Joe, loved the umbrellas she made out of lotto tickets and cigarette packages.  He remembers how he was so impressed with how no two umbrellas were alike.  He has fun memories of  spending hours trying to figure out how the many different patterns were made.

My dad built a small table for the kids in their screen room.  Under the table was a box of toys.  Lisa would be so excited to get to the crayons she knew would be in the cigar box in that toy chest.   After quick hugs for Grandma and Grandpa, this was the first place she would head when we arrived at their home.

We all loved playing cards with Grandma and Grandpa every night after dinner.  They also had other games around their house.  Mike knew where to find all of grandma's hand held games and it never took him long to make his way to the cabinet in the living room.  His favorite was Yahtzee and Grandma knew that.  Most of the time, the game would be out and waiting for him before we arrived.

We're hoping our grandchildren will remember all the fun they had when they visited us in our snowbird home.  One memory we want them to have is one of Grandma and Grandpa's library.  We hope they will remember that some of their favorite books were on those shelves.  We hope they remember listening as we read to them just like we read to our own children.  I can still remember how Lisa would need to turn the book upside down every time we got to the page where Grover from Sesame Street was standing on his head.

Our first grandchild is only 4 months old but we read to him, already, when we are in NY visiting.  Baby Boy hasn't visited us yet but will be in a couple of months.   Most of the books we have in our little library are older and have been waiting quite a while to be read.   We hope to add a few new books before he makes his first visit.

Our collection includes a couple of stories that were told to me when I was a child.  My mom was Japanese so I grew up hearing all the Japanese fairy tales and loved all of them.  I bought my favorites when I spotted them in the stores on our trips to Japan.  I can't wait to sit with Baby Boy and read the story of Momotaro the Peach Boy to him.

We had a very large collection of books for our kids.  We weren't going to have the room in our smaller home to keep all of these books so we could only pick a handful to bring along with us.  We hope that our grandchildren will enjoy these books as much as their parent did.

Before I retired three years ago, I was a TA for twenty years in a wonderful nursery school.  My favorite activity to do with our 4 year olds was to read to them.  I don't know who enjoyed story time more, me or the preschoolers.  Sometimes, while I was reading, I pictured myself reading the same books to my grand kids.  One of my favorite books to read, and one of the favorites of our students was Magpie Magic.  I heard shouts of "Again!  Again!" every time I read it.  This book has no words so the story is up to the interpretation of the reader.  I wasn't able to offer the opportunity for one of the kids to "read" this book to the class but I imagined asking my grandchild to read it to me.

A new book, that we just added to our library, is one I am so looking forward to reading to our grandchildren.  Precious Moments Little Book of Bible Stories has some of my favorite bible stories in it.  The nativity story and David and Goliath is what I was sure would be included and they were.  I was hoping to see the "miracle of the five loaves and two fish" as I flipped through the book and it was!  It's a little boy that helps to save the day by offering his lunch to feed thousands of people.  What child wouldn't be impressed with that!

The stories are short and sweet with colorful illustrations.   It's also a chunky book so no worries for grandma or grandchild.   Chunky books are great for standing up to being handled by even the youngest child.  I have easily wiped off plenty of sticky fingerprints from these types of books.   It will look brand new for a very long time.  This book would make a great Grandparent's Day (September 9) gift for any grandparent to start or to add to their library.

We are having so much fun finding and buying the perfect books to add to our library.  At the rate we are going, our small snowbird home will be needing an addition very soon!

Do you have favorites that you and your children/grandchildren enjoy reading together?  We would love to hear about them!

Monday, August 20, 2018

Visiting Asheville, North Carolina

On a recent road trip with our daughter, Lisa, and son-in-law Pete, we spent a few hours in Asheville, North Carolina.  We had heard so many great things about this city and we finally decided we had to check it out ourselves.  We were actually going to Cherokee, NC but it was easy enough to stop by Asheville on our way there.  Lisa and Pete came along on this trip because Pete has been wanting to visit the Sierra Nevada Brewery for a long time and heard we would be stopping in Asheville.  We actually found out that the brewery is in Mills River which is so close to Asheville that people just say it's in Asheville.  So this is where we headed first.

We have a ton of breweries in our neighborhood in Wilmington, NC so I was expecting pretty much the same thing here, but, wow, Sierra Nevada's brewery is probably at least 10 times bigger (or more) than anything we have in Wilmington!

The first thing we did was sign in to do the free 45 minute tour.  If you wanted to tour the brewery on your own you could.  If you wanted a tour guide to show you around, you needed to have a reservation.  We could have, and should have, reserved our spots online ahead of time, but we didn't know that before this trip.

We were very lucky that there was room for us on a tour that day.  Besides for the free tour, there are other tours available that will cost you a few dollars but if you are a Beer Geek you may want to pay the $45.00 to go on the 3 hour Beer Geek tour.  (You can check out all the different tours here.)
So off we went.  We followed our tour guide down many halls, up stairs and into different rooms.

We peeked into a laboratory window we passed as we headed toward the first room on the tour.

The first room was so cold but it needed to be for the whole corn hops that was stored in it.  We were able to take a piece and rub it in our hands and smell it.  We were happy that we could wash our hands before we left the room.

The brew house was the most impressive room on this tour.  Here we saw the whole beer making process taking place.  The copper vessels were huge and they all had their jobs to do.  I liked how each vessel's job was labeled on the floor in front of them.  The whirling mash tun was pretty cool.

The packaging room was quiet when we passed by so we went to our final stop, the tasting!  The beer was good but I am not a big fan of really hoppy beer and there were a couple of them.  I had to pass them to Soko.  Lisa doesn't drink beer so she passed all of hers to Pete.  After our tasting we gave our tour guide a round of applause and parted ways with the group.

The Sierra Nevada's Taproom was highly recommended as having delicious bar food and it was lunchtime by the time our tour ended, so why not.  We were not disappointed.  Bar food is not what it was when me and Soko frequented them on dates long ago.  The peanuts and pretzels are rarely seen anymore and in their place are gourmet burgers and more.  We shared a farmhouse burger, the house and fungi pizzas and the duck fat fries with pale ale raspberry mustard.  Everything was delicious and the atmosphere was fun and comfortable.  Me and Pete needed to taste test a few more of Sierra Nevada's beer so we ordered a flight to share!

We had a fantastic tour, meal and time here at the brewery.  We had a such a great time that we decided we would head out of Cherokee early and stop in Asheville on our way home which is what we did.  There was another brewery Pete wanted to see so Wicked Weed Brewing was where we started our second visit.  It was lunchtime so why not compare bar food.  

We found a nice spot to eat outside and, once again, enjoyed a fantastic lunch with our beer.  I had a black bean burger with avocado crema and pickled jalapeno.  I didn't notice the jalapeno on the description of my burger.  I found out a couple of bites in and just slid them off my sandwich.  After that, my lunch was really delicious.  One of the best bean burgers I've ever eaten actually.  Pete really liked his falafel on naan.   Soko chose to have a hamburger which he has oftentimes when we are eating out because we don't eat them at home.  And I caught Lisa taking a picture of her Firewalker pimento cheese and pickled green tomato on Texas toast.  She said her sandwich was amazing!

I had one of the most refreshing beers I have ever tasted.  While looking at the menu, I spotted a cucumber beer.  Well, I do like cucumber water, so I had to try it.  It was the perfect beer to have on a beautiful summer day.

After lunch, it was time to walk off the calories and explore downtown Asheville.  

It is a really cute little town with lots of artsy shops, fun places to eat like this dessert bus and other interesting things to see like this row of houses.  They were just propped up against the wall of the building with no signage or clue to what they were all about.  

I will say that if you are into craft beers this is the place for you.  In addition to Wicked Weed Brewing and Sierra Nevada Brewery, we went to one more, One World Brewing and spotted a few more on our walk.  We played the best game at One World.  It's a Dutch table shuffleboard game called Sjoelbak.  You slide your puck down the board and try to get it in an opening that is only slightly larger than the puck itself.  It's challenging, but when you succeed, it's a cause for celebration which means another round of beers!

Pete had a couple more breweries he wanted to visit but me and Lisa were ready to find some ice cream so we decided on a time to meet back at the car.  We poked our heads into a chocolate shop and a couple of ice cream places and then found Sunshine Sammies.  You could have a cup or cone with your favorite scoop or scoops of ice cream or you could create your own Ice Cream Sammie which is exactly what me and Lisa did!  What you do is choose your cookie and your ice cream and you end up with an ice cream sandwich like you never had before!  I chose a chocolate cookie with salted caramel ice cream and Lisa had a sugar cookie with strawberry ice cream.  They were delicious!

So now Asheville, North Carolina is on our list of places that we want to visit again.  It's a good thing that we are retired and have the time to travel.  But if we keep going back to all these great places we have been finding lately, we will never get to the end of our travel bucket list!