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Monday, June 20, 2022

Things To Do Near Vigo, Spain Cruise Port

The second port stop on the Transatlantic cruise we took from Miami, FL last month was Vigo, Spain. We arrived here in the wee hours of the morning and saw this amazing view from our balcony stateroom.

Our blog is all about living the good life on a retirement budget. A balcony room on a cruise ship is definitely living the good life but not on a retirement budget. A balcony room usually costs at least double what an interior stateroom costs so we never consider booking one. But twice we have gotten an email from Royal Caribbean inviting us to put in a bid to upgrade to a room with a balcony. The minimum bid both times was $150. The first time we tried bidding on the upgrade and we never heard back from RC. This time we made the same $150 bid on their offer and crossed our fingers because we would be on the ship for 14 days and having a balcony room to enjoy, especially for the nine days straight that we would be at sea, would be awesome. I think you guessed by now that our bid was accepted which we found out by Royal Caribbean sending us an email to congratulating us on winning the upgrade!

By the time we were ready to leave the ship the sun had risen and we were off to the first destination on our to do list, the Jules Verne monument. I saw pictures of it as I was researching the area for things to do and it looked very cool and I wanted to see it for ourselves. I also wondered why there would be a monument honoring Jules Verne here in Vigo and found out that he devoted a chapter to Vigo titled "The Bay of Vigo" in his book 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Next on our list was going to see an interesting sculpture in a plaza not too far from the monument. I printed out directions to the plaza and had them in hand and we were also using the gps on my phone but was never able to find Praza de Compostela. So we just continued onto our next stop but before we got there, we found Fortaleza de San Sebastian which was not on our itinerary. There was not much of the fort to see beside a couple of walls but the nice view we got after climbing up the small hill was an unexpected treat.

After spending a bit time at this fort, we were on our way to find the fort that was the highlight of our day in Vigo. Castelo do Castro is a fortress that was built in 1665 to protect Vigo from raids by the British Royal Navy during the Portuguese Restoration War. 

It was built on a high hilltop and it took us about 30 minutes of climbing stairs and steep walkways to reach it.

We stopped along the way when we saw something interesting to look at like this statue. Stopping to take pictures gave me a chance to catch my breath!

I was very happy to see the entrance to the fort after our climb up the hill.

As soon as we entered Castelo do Castro we were rewarded for the hard work of climbing up the hill by the sights we saw which included the other side of this magnificent cross that we saw as we entered the "foyer" of the fort. 

I couldn't believe how nice this fort was with all the sculptures, a little pond and pretty flowers all throughout. It was not the usual old cannons and empty rooms that we expect to find in forts we visit.

But the views were the highlight here and they were incredible. From the top of this hill you could see, among other things, the harbor, mountainscapes and the Cies Islands. It was so gorgeous. Every picture I took looked like something I might see on a postcard.

After our visit to the fort, which we agreed was the best fort we have ever seen, we were on our way to Casco Vello, Vigo's Old Town. Here, I read, that we would see a town full of slopes and stairs. Yes, more stairs. I found out that you can't avoid steps in Vigo. (But sometimes there is an escalator near the steps or walkway that you can take if you are tired of walking and, yes, we jumped right on it!)

It was so quiet in this town with only a handful of locals walking the streets. We loved strolling around the peaceful neighborhood that we had all to ourselves. The "stately houses built of granite" we read would be here were as grand, old and beautiful as we were hoping they would be.

As we were walking through the streets, we were keeping an eye out for the remains of an ancient city wall that I had heard would be here. We did come across what looked like an old wall that was mostly hidden behind a protective wall or barrier. I'm still wondering if this is what we were supposed to find.

After our time in Vigo's ancient city, we were off to our last tour of the day, a stop into the Basilica de Santa Maria de Vigo. It is Vigo's oldest church and is located in the Plaza de Pedra. To our surprise, when we entered the church a mass was going on. It was Tuesday and late afternoon so it was unexpected. There were other tourists doing the same thing as us. Walking in and quietly sitting in the back for a few minutes because when you walked in you were in the church. This church didn't have an entryway or narthex that you could just turn around in and exit out.

As we waited for the right moment to leave, we looked around and noticed that it was a small church, slightly smaller than the one in Portugal. It had small alcoves in the walls that held statues and paintings on the ceilings and walls that were magnificent. We would have taken many pictures if mass was not in session.

Now it was time to head back to the ship. On the way back we found this map of Vigo. We wondered if we saw this map when we first came out, would we have found the sculpture I wanted to see? Upon closer inspection of it, there would be no way we could have used it to find anything but it was a very nice and interesting map nevertheless and answered our question of why are there so many steps in this city.

We had a great time in Vigo walking around and enjoying everything this city had to offer. We walked 22,000 steps this day and lots of those steps were actual steps. 

Getting exercise outdoors is never a bad thing and it a place this beautiful, it made it so much fun. We would definitely love to come back and do it again!

Monday, June 6, 2022

Things To Do Near Funchal, Portugal Cruise Port

Cruising is a very easy way to see a lot of countries in a short amount of time. That being said, it also means that you have a less time than you need to fully enjoy the country you are in. But with planning and doing plenty of research before your trip, you can experience many of the highlights of the area.

The first stop on our recent Transatlantic Cruise was Funchal, Portugal. We were so excited to tell everyone that we were going to Portugal. Well, Funchal is a city on Madeira island which is on the African Plate and is very far from Portugal. We were closer to Portugal when we were in Vigo, Spain, our second stop.

One of the fun things about cruising is that you sometimes meet the nicest people on them. This cruise we met Evy and Gary from Lincoln, Nebraska. Although we only got to enjoy one lunch with them, we bumped into them at least once almost every day and it was always fun to stop and chat for awhile. 

On our day in Funchal, they took the shuttle up the steep rode from the cruise ship into the town while me and Soko walked. ("We should have taken the shuttle!" we thought as we made our way up the hill.) We wound up at the same place at the same time and Evy took this great picture of us. 

We are standing outside Santa Catarina Park. We were on our way to church as it was Sunday, so we couldn't stop in but we were hoping to get a chance on our way back to the ship that day but ran out of time. I'm sad about that but it gives us a reason to go back!

Before we travel anywhere, I do a lot of research about the area. I use the internet, maps and word of mouth and then make up an itinerary which usually includes where we will eat. I find that we waste a lot of time looking for somewhere and something to eat if we don't plan ahead.

If we are going to be somewhere on a Sunday, finding a mass to attend is usually what I research first then we make the rest of our plans based on what time our selected mass will start. 

I found out that there was a Catholic church within walking distance from our cruise ship. Funchal Cathedral was designated a National Monument in 1910. It turned out to be a gorgeous, small church with very hard kneelers and a very young priest. Of course, we couldn't understand a word of  Portuguese but we could follow along because we knew exactly what prayers were being said. Every Catholic mass around the entire world follows the same order of mass.

After church, we walked down to Praca do Povo, Funchal's waterfront. We strolled along the narrow paths and enjoyed the view of the Atlantic Ocean in front of us and the picturesque hills behind us.

We got a kick out of these adorable, mini food trucks parked in the square at the waterfront. We are not sure if they are are always here or if they were here because of the Flower Festival celebration happening in Funchal. Unfortunately, or fortunately for saving a few calories, it was early when we passed the trucks and they weren't open.

The next stop on our itinerary for the day was the Funchal Cable Car. We took the round trip ride (18.00 euros each) to get a different view of Funchal's landscape. If we had more time we might have considered going to the Madeira Tropical Garden that was a few steps away from where the cable car left us off at the top of the hill. There was an entrance fee ( 6 euros each) to the gardens so besides for not having enough time anyway, we decided that we would save a couple of euro and hopefully get to the garden that we passed earlier that didn't cost anything to get in.

Our next stop was Rua de Santa Maria to see the painted doors. The works of art on the doors were colorful, most were cheerful and some were very interesting to say the least. We had lots of fun looking for the doors and admiring the artwork on them.

We didn't have success finding the market in Zona Velha, Funchal's historical district which was the next "to do" on our list. We thought maybe it was closed on Sunday when we couldn't find the market after walking up and down a few streets trying to find it. I have since learned that this was the case. 

We weren't totally disappointed about not finding the market because if we never looked for it we would not have bumped into this women selling her beautiful flowers in her uniform of traditional Portuguese clothing.

One thing we were really looking forward to doing in Portugal was eating a "must try" sandwich called prego no bolo do caco. The restaurant where we were to find this sandwich must have closed or moved because it wasn't where it was supposed to be. Now began our search to find the sandwich. We looked on outdoor menus of several eateries and then found a very small store with a take out window. Under the window was a big ad for prego no bolo and the picture of it looked delicious! I was so excited to finally have found it. But no, when I showed the waitress our intinerary with prego no bolo do caco hand written on it, she told me, by shaking her head and pointing somewhere up the street, that their sandwich did not come with the do caco and that I needed to go somewhere else. At this point, we were running out of time and getting very hungry so thought we would just start heading back to the ship and hopefully find something to eat as we passed through the Flower Festival but before we got to the festival, we found it! 

The steak, ham and cheese sandwich topped with a delicious garlicky spread and stuffed into an incredible bread that had a crispy, thin outer layer surrounding a light and airy inside was well worth the trouble to find it.

It's always fun and interesting to be visiting a place and happen to be visiting when the residents are celebrating a special holiday. We were lucky to be in Funchal during their annual Flower Festival to enjoy the colorful flowers and to experience the excitement of the day with the many people who showed up to participate in this celebration.

It was really time to head back to the ship after we walked through the streets of the festival. We definitely ran out of time to walk through Santa Catarina Park but we were able to cut through another nice park as we made it back to the port.

We made it back to the ship with some time to spare and about an hour later we were leaving the port. We watched as the tiny island of Madeira got tinier and tinier then it disappeared out of view. 

Obrigado, Funchal, for the good food and fun time we had in your city! Hope to visit again one day soon.

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Saturday, January 15, 2022

A Weekend In Atlanta, Georgia

I was thinking about changing the title of this post because we have since made another trip to Atlanta recently and have something to add here. We also have plans to return this coming summer! That is how much we love this city.  

If you didn't have a chance to read this post the first time around, please do. If you did, you can just skip all the way down to the end of this post and read about our second trip.


We planned a road trip to Atlanta, Georgia to watch our favorite baseball team, the Mets, play their away game against the Braves.   We arrived the day before the game to make it a mini vacation.  (You can read about our first day and all about Stone Mountain Park here.)  We chose to stay at the Country Inn & Suites, Atlanta/Galleria, Ball Park because it was within walking distance of of the stadium.  This made the hotel very convenient for us.  They offered shuttle service to the stadium but we found out about it after the shuttle left!  There's never any harm in getting a couple of extra steps each day so it was actually a good thing that we missed the bus.  If we would have skipped the sightseeing we would have made the bus but then we would have missed out on seeing some awesome sights.  We researched before we left on our weekend road trip and found a couple of things we had to see and do here.

Our hotel was only a few miles from Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park.  This park spans about 35 acres and consists of several buildings and sites that includes Martin Luther King, Jr.'s childhood home on Auburn Street in the Sweet Auburn Historic District.  We didn't have time to look inside, which was free to do, but we were thrilled to just stand on the same porch where one of the greatest people in history once stood.

Down the block is Ebenezer Baptist Church where both Martin Luther King, Jr. and his dad, were preachers.

Across the street from the church is the visitor's center which has exhibits telling the story of the Civil Rights Movement.  There is also a theater here and the D.R.E.A.M Gallery that holds exhibits that will change from time to time.  You can pick up the free tickets to enter King's childhood home in the visitor's center here.

A few blocks away from the park was the Krog Street Tunnel.  I was thrilled to find this tunnel as we love to seek out the unusual sights in a new city.  This tunnel was perfectly quirky.  If you are an artist with a paint can, you can display your art in this tunnel.  It was so colorful and so fun and the paint cans thrown around throughout the tunnel just added to the ambiance of this place.


The walls outside the tunnel were also decorated with works of art and a couple of restaurants and stores in the few blocks surrounding the tunnel also got in the spirit and decorated their businesses with spray paint as well.

Now it was time to get to the game.  We went back to the hotel to drop our car off and walked up the hill towards SunTrust Park along with lots of other people doing the same thing we were.

I had completely forgotten that the Braves fans were the ones who did the tomahawk chop when they were cheering for an amazing play.  I remembered the rivalry the Mets and Braves had when I was a kid and how much that chop annoyed me haha!  If the Brave fans were cheering, the Mets were probably in trouble!  It all came back to me when we got to the stadium.  Everything is about the chop.

We had great seats and were able to watch the Met's pitchers warming up before they got into the game.

And because it was Memorial Day, there was a wonderful pre-game show honoring every branch of the armed forces and the brave men and women who serve or served in them.  Throughout the game, between innings, individuals were singled out for either serving, formally serving or being the family of someone who gave their lives while serving.  We saw their images on the big screen and gave them standing ovations.  There were also taps and a moment of silence in honor of all those heroes who never returned from their tour of duty.

Unfortunately, the Mets lost but we had fun in spite of the loss.  The Mets hadn't been doing so well so we kind of expected it.   We are fans for life, though, no matter how bad their seasons are.

After the game we wanted to find somewhere fun to eat.   There was a burger place in Atlanta that was recommended for us to try by our son Joe.  He has made trips to some really out of the way places to try a burger he has read about so we trusted his suggestion.  We found H&M Burger in Ponce City Market.

H&F Burger is where we could find the famous H&F burger that local chef and James Beard Award winner Linton Hopkins created.   This burger was first served at Holeman and Finch Public House.  There would be only 24 burgers prepared each night at 10 p.m.  First come, first served.  You would have to come back another night if you missed out.  The original H&F burger is a double cheeseburger, topped with red onion and house-made pickles served on a freshly baked bun which is made to be the same size as the burger.  It is buttered and toasted on a griddle before the burger gets to sit inside it.  It is served with made from scratch ketchup on the side.  We ordered french fries and shaved crisp onions to eat with our burgers.  I have to say that this burger is on the top of my "best burger I have ever eaten" list.  And the fries and shaved crisp onions were not too shabby either.

We were on vacation so that means we could splurge on desert.  I noticed something delicious that I had never had before, on our way over to H&F, and I had to have it.  But first we needed to walk off some of the calories of our delicious dinner.  We went window shopping and then checked out the rooftop area.   We didn't, but could have had a cocktail up here while we relaxed and enjoyed the view.   We passed an area with a piano and comfy couches and listened to a young couple playing Chopsticks

After our walk I was ready for desert!  Batter Cookie Dough Counter served "cookie dough" that you could eat before it turned into a cookie.   I've always thought that the best part of baking a cake or cookies is being able to lick the spoon that stirred the batter even though I know I am taking a risk of getting sick from the raw egg.  I don't know how they did it, but you can eat the dough they sell here without worrying.  I picked brownie batter and sugar cookie.  They were yummy but a little too sweet.  I would love to go back one day to test out the other flavors though!

Needless to say, I was stuffed after all the eating we just did so it was time to head back to the hotel.
We had a great time in Atlanta.  We will be looking for another Mets game here in the future for an excuse to visit this fun city again!


We knew we would be back!

What brought us here this time was because we couldn't get all the way to Mammoth Cave National Park, the first stop on our 5 National Park Road Trip.

We camped at Stone Mountain Campground. Soko notice that there was a campground here on our first visit. It was nice to get a chance to camp here as we were hoping that one day we would be able to check it out.

We were not disappointed. It was a 5 star (our rating) campground with a couple of easy trails we enjoyed hiking on. (Read more about this campground here.) You can hike here whether you are camping at the campground or not. We would definitely recommend hiking along the Stone Mountain River, if you have time, on your trip to Atlanta.


We hiked the Evergreen Trail which would take us to the Cherokee Trail which would take us to the century old Washington w. King Bridge.

We got a glimpse of the carving on the side of Stone Mountain at this point on the trail. Read more about this carving here.

It started to get late when we finally made it to the Cherokee Trail so we decided that we should head back to the car and drive to the bridge instead. 

We only had 1 1/2 days to spend in Atlanta this time. We decided that we would spend the one full day we had here at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

On any given day you will find Atlanta Botanical Garden hosting a special event. We were lucky enough to be at the garden for the SUPERnatural: Aerial Art in Motion exhibit. We enjoyed watching the streamers dancing in the wind as we walked along the suspension bridge they call the Kendeda Canopy Walk.

Everywhere we looked we saw gorgeous displays of colorful flowers and beautiful foliage.

There are specialty gardens and greenhouses throughout the garden. You will need a few hours to be able to see all Atlanta Botanical Garden has to offer.  
                                                                  Fuqua Orchid Center

                                                                     Tropical Rotunda

Japanese Garden

                                                                            Children's Garden

In addition to the live flowers in the garden, there were amazing glass flowers that were almost equally as beautiful as their counterparts. These glass flowers were a collection in another exhibition that was currently being featured here, Glass Art in Bloom.

But the highlight on our day at Atlanta Botanical Garden had to be suddenly coming upon the Earth Goddess as we turned a corner. This beautiful lady was installed in 2013 as part of a mosiaculture (sculptures made out of plants) exhibition that became a permanent resident. The goddess is 20 feet tall, weighs 29 tons and holds more than 18,000 plants. She has to be trimmed weekly to keep her gorgeous shape.

We had another awesome visit to Atlanta and are excited to know that we already have plans to visit for a third time. Keep an eye out for Part 3!

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