Exploring the Great Northern Railroad and Glacier National Park

Great Northern Railroad and Glacier National Park; exciting winter exploration!

I’ve long been a railroad buff, from the days in the 1950s when my late Uncle Bill used to take my cousin Bill Jr. and me down to the railroad tracks in Akron, Ohio to see the last of the steam engines come chugging into town from points east and west.

On a recent trip to Montana, I had the chance to explore sections of the old Great Northern Railway, linking Minneapolis to Seattle with the northern-most transcontinental route. Operating from 1889 to 1970 when it was merged into the current Burlington Northern system, the Great Northern was the creation of 19th-century rail entrepreneur James J. Hill and was the only privately-funded (no federal funds used at all) transcontinental railroad in the country.

The route of the venerable Great Northern Railway.


It’s best known engineer was John F. Stevens, serving from 1889 to 1903, famed for his exploration of Marias Pass on the edge of the future Glacier National Park, determining its practicality for a railway route. He also discovered Stevens Pass over the Cascade Mountains and went on to be the chief engineer for the Panama Canal. The GN went on to advocate for and help establish Glacier National Park (established 1910) in part to benefit its rail traffic.

Exploration also allowed visits to the lovely ski town of Whitefish Montana, Glacier National Park and winter vistas second to none. We started our rail exploration at the Whitefish Amtrak station, still serving passenger traffic to the town and the national Park, as well as considerable freight traffic, including coal and oil moving from the Dakota fields for export out of the country. 

The Whitefish Amtrak Station, also home to the Stumptown Historical Museum.

Inside the Amtrak station is the noteworthy Stumptown Historical Museum, with displays touting the history of the town, the Great Northern, as well as highlighting Native American tribes in the area. An interesting display notes how the swastika symbol was used in Native American art, but was abandoned by many tribes when Hitler popularized its use in the 1930s. Outside, book-ending the station is an old great northern locomotive, and the somewhat-famous “bruck”, a combination bus/freight hauler built by Kenworth which the GN used hauling passengers and freight between Kalispell and Whitefish between 1951 and 1970.

Whitefish, a quintessential western town expanding quickly due to ski, golf and Glacier Park tourism, offers a host of lodging opportunities. We’ve stayed a number of times at the Grouse Mountain Lodge on the west edge of town, wrapped in winter by cross country ski trails, in summer by an 18 hole golf course.

Whitefish Mountain towers over the town of Whitefish, MT.

The town offers scores of upscale, trendy and down-to-earth dining options; our favorites include the Whitefish Lake Lodge (featuring a beautiful 82-year-old log building), Abruzzo Italian Kitchen, Tupelo’s Grill and the Craggy Range Brewpub. Recently voted North America’s third most popular ski town by readers of Skiing magazine, Whitefish boasts shops, galleries and bars, many offering live entertainment.

Whitefish Mountain Resort, just north, offers 3,000 acres, 105 marked trails, almost 2,500 vertical feet and vast bowl and tree skiing. It’s a huge ski area even by Western standards, but be forewarned that temperatures can range from a balmy 40 degrees to 25 below zero, so come prepared for any kind of weather.

Ski magazine continually rates Whitefish Mountain Resort in the top 20 in the country, high in service, friendly staff, kids’ programs and value. A huge benefit – seniors 70 and over ski for a low rate of $25/day, with good discounts for seniors 62 and up and youth; kids under six ski free! It’s the only resort I know in the west that offers such an option for senior skiers.

Paralleling the great northern route, US Highway 2 heads east, along the south side of the national park; plan to visit the Isaac Walton Hotel, in Essex, MT, an inviting stop for a meal or lodging. An old Great Northern Railway hotel, comfortable lodging is offered in the old lodge as well as a number of refurbished cabooses, club cars and a locomotive engine! The inn is surrounded by cross country ski trails, a true winter wonderland. Just miles to the east is Marias Pass, pioneered by the railroad, And, just beyond, East glacier, continuing the national park’s winter majesty.

Lake McDonald, looking to the northeast, from the Apgar area on the park’s west side.

Cross country skiing options abound. At the Isaac Walton Hotel, a network of cross country trails found out, including several into the national park. On the Whitefish Lake Golf Course, 15 km of trails are laid out, including 4 km lighted for night skiing. A variety of other trails lie just outside of town, as well as in nearby Glacier Park. For those wanting to try snowmobiling, a number of local companies cater that activity.

Winter visitors to Glacier National Park can drive 11 miles into the park from West Glacier, to Lake McDonald Lodge on Going to the Sun Highway. There the road is closed in winter, but cross-country skiers or snowshoers continue along McDonald Creek for a true winter experience. Or, choose the North Fork Road, along the park’s western boundary, all the way to Polebridge. Other cross country trails head up the north side of Lake McDonald, as well.

The Izaak Walton Hotel, a former Great Northern Railway hotel.

For a memorable experience, consider a dogsled tour or a sleigh ride. Dog Sled Adventures (406) 881-2275, located 17 miles northwests of Whitefish in Olney, offers nearly 100 Alaskan huskies to pull sleds, catering daily to couples, families or groups. Winter horse-drawn sleigh rides are offered at Bar W Guest Ranch (406) 863-9099, just 4 miles west of Whitefish on Highway 93. For those seeking a winter experience in Yellowstone National Park, it’s about eight hours south of Whitefish.

Rent this Great Northern locomotive for an overnight stay; it’s been converted with kitchen, dining and living areas, bedroom – and the cab still retains all the engineer’s operating gear!

For more informationGlacier National Parknps.gov/glac/Whitefish, MT visitation, explorewhitefish.comWhitefish Mountain Resortskiwhitefish.com.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com or follow him at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in your world!

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New exhibit, “San Joaquin Votes: Exercise Your Right!” offers perfect time to visit San Joaquin Historical Museum

“San Joaquin Votes: Exercise Your Right!” makes for perfect time to visit San Joaquin Historical Museum

This year is a big year for local and national politics. Not only is the primary on March 3rd and the general election November 3rd, but it is also the centennial celebration of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave women the right to vote on a national level. In recognition, the San Joaquin Historical Museum recently opened its first of four exhibits for the year, San Joaquin Votes: Exercise Your Right!

Visitors to the exhibit will learn the history of various political parties, the election process, political districts, types of ballot measures, woman suffrage and historical political campaigns of San Joaquin County. Artifacts on display include one of San Joaquin County’s early ballot boxes, political cards and posters, political buttons and ribbons, voter registration books, precinct maps, and plenty of historical photographs.

A variety of historical campaign buttons, pins and memorabilia are on display.

Julie Blood, the museum’s collections and exhibits manager, notes “California was the swing state in the 1916 presidential election between incumbent Woodrow Wilson and Charles Hughes, with California being the swing state handing the victory to Wilson. The library‘s exhibit really sheds light on the importance of every vote counting. Details of who can vote, age limits, the impact of felony convictions which can disqualify voters are all highlighted.

While the exhibit reflects back on the 1920 constitutional amendment granting women suffrage; California women got the right to vote on local and California issues in 1910. Soon after, Lodi woman were key to approving a ballot measure to build Lodi Union High School, now converted to Hutchins Street Square. We believe the exhibit will help demonstrate the importance of exercising one’s right to vote on both local and national candidates and issues”.

This display offers detail on passage of the 19th Amendment, womens suffrage.

The exhibit sheds light on such historical fights to get the new San Joaquin County Courthouse built in 1964, including pictures of the former grand courthouse getting knocked down. The exhibit also gives visitors a chance to vote on the favorite dessert for the museum, making choices from such favorites as tiramisu, ice cream cake and other delectables. Visitors can participate in political surveys and vote to determine the best exhibit building.  

This exhibit traces the pros and cons of the new 1964 County Courthouse.

I am reminded of then US Congressman Richard Pombo addressing a large gathering from the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce back in the mid-1990s; he noted that what really should matter to voters is the election of local candidates; school board, city council, county supervisor elections, and tax measures. Pombo added that they’re the ones that most affect your schools, your city, your streets, your safety issues and more.

In the 2018 general election, a total of 196,635 ballots were cast out of 344,605 registered voters in San Joaquin County, a turnout of more than 57 percent. However, that’s 43% of registered voters who didn’t exercise their right to vote. A visit to the museum and harkening to the words of Blood and Pombo may help increase that voter turnout; the San Joaquin Votes exhibit closes on March 1.

Long a family favorite, the museum is deep in insight into the history and agricultural underpinnings of both Stockton and San Joaquin County. Exhibits at the museum offer hands-on activity and our grandkids have taken to the sense of history and mechanical inventiveness  almost immediately!

Innovations in Agriculture shares detail on the ingenious ag inventions that came out of local farmers and manufacturers throughout San Joaquin County.

The San Joaquin Historical Museum (along with Micke Grove Zoo) are the major attractions in Micke Grove Park, just south of Lodi. The museum offers marvelous exhibits on our Native American forebears and the early days of the county’s agricultural empire, including the tractor barn with 40 historic and huge tractors for up-close and personal inspection.

While touring the expansive grounds, take special note of the impressive Cortopassi-Avansino Building, featuring the “Innovators in Agriculture” exhibition. It illustrates the development of irrigated, intensive agriculture in San Joaquin County in the 20th century, focusing on six crops historically identified with the county: truck farming (small, diversified growing of vegetables and fruits), dry beans, asparagus, cherries, walnuts and canning tomatoes. In addition to large historic equipment and small historic artifacts, the exhibits feature large-screen videos, photo murals, and touch-screen videos. The simulated walnut shaker will make you feel like you are working this awesome machine deep in the county’s walnut orchards!

The Zoo is just blocks away, if you have energy to spare.

Author’s grandkids Jessica and Hunter always get a kick out of a tour of this remarkable museum, with plenty of “hands-on activities” for youth.

For more information: San Joaquin Historical Museum, sanjoaquinhistory.org, (209) 331-2055.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com, follow at recordnet.com/travelblogHappy travels in your world!

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Valentine’s Day options in Stockton and N. California

Creative, romantic Valentine’s Day options in Stockton and N. California

Valentine’s Day fast approaches – here are suggestions for those seeking adventuresome and romantic destinations in northern California, from several friends, my spouse and me, both locally and further afield. The “day” this year falls on a Friday, so book early or be sorry!

For those seeking a fine dining option locally, here are restaurant favorites: Prime Table, Market Tavern and Papapavalos in Lincoln Center, Garlic Brothers on the San Joaquin Delta for a sunset dinner, CoCoRo or Valley Brew (yes, a brew pub can qualify) on Miracle Mile, Bella Vista in the old Hotel Stockton, downtown Stockton  and Wine and Roses, Rosewood Bar and Grill and Lodi Beer in Lodi. Fine dining, classy décor and the “vibe” are just right for romance.

Spectacular sunset over the San Joaquin Delta, from Garlic Brothers Restaurant.

For an early celebration, consider the Lodi Wine and Chocolate event, February 7-9 – with choices of 80 wineries for tasting and chocolate sampling, Lodiwineandchocolate.com.

Valentine’s Day visit to Lodi comes complete with over 80 wineries.

If seeking an overnight destination, those special destinations offer special attributes: scenic and semi-secluded, fine restaurant(s) nearby, classy lodging and, a sense of history – my own inclusion.

The Sierra foothills offer both fine dining and cute, historic gold rush towns to explore. Just an hour east on old Highway 49 you’ll find Sutter Creek with a 10 block stretch of old Main Street complete with tasting rooms, bed-and-breakfasts, shops and restaurants. The Hotel Sutter on Main Street offers historic lodging and dining; across the street Cavanas offers a fine dining choice, and marvelous pizzas can be found at Gold Dust Pizza, a block down Eureka Street.

Wells Fargo stagecoach thunders into Sutter Creek.
Historic Murphys Hotel offers lodging and fine dining.

A bit further south in Sierra foothills on Highway 4 is Murphys, with an eight block stretch of historic shops and hotels, featuring wine tasting, shopping and fine dining. Restaurants like Alchemy and the Murphys Hotel offer dependable options for fine food, while the historic hotel is an evocative choice for an overnight.

For a secluded wine tasting experience, explore the Shenandoah Valley in Amador County; composed of granite and volcanic soils, it quickly became a growing wine-producing area during the California gold rush in the 1850s and now hosts over 40 wineries. Plymouth, located on Highway 49 on the southwestern edge of the valley, is growing in stature and offers historic buildings and shops. The regionally-renowned restaurant, Taste, and recently opened boutique 16-room hotel next-door, Rest are worthy of special note.

Spouse Susan (middle) and friends Patricia and Jan at Helwig Winery in Shenandoah Valley.

Consider an overnight in the Old Sacramento district, just an hour north. Spend the night on the Delta King, the historic river boat built in Stockton in 1927 along with its sister ship, the Delta Queen. With 44 luxury riverboat cabins and dining in the old Pilothouse Restaurant, it offers a lovely destination on the Sacramento River.

Favorite museums nearby include the California Railroad Museum and the California Automobile Museum and five more. Old Sacramento features over 50 unique shops and reliable eateries, from expensive to reasonable, including Fanny Ann’s Saloon, Firehouse Restaurant (inside an historic firehouse), La Terraza Mexican Restaurant (with second floor veranda for people watching below), Rio City Café and mouth-watering baked goods for mornings at Steamer’s Bakery and Café.

Historic Delta King riverboat is both a hotel and restaurant.

South Lake Tahoe offers gambling, huge resorts and less expensive, vintage motels. On Friday, February 14, 5:00 to 8:00 PM, Zephyr Cove Resort and Marina celebrate

Valentine’s Day with a romantic cruise aboard the M.S. Dixie II.  The celebration includes champagne and romantic dinner for two and live music! The cruise will take guests around Emerald Bay offering views of Tahoe’s stunning scenery. Start at Zephyr Cove Resort and Marina & Lake Tahoe Cruises, 760 US-50, Zephyr Cove, NV 89448. Info and booking, zephyrcove.com.

Looking north at Lake Tahoe, visit lovely Tahoe City on Tahoe’s north shore. Alpine skiing options abound along the lake’s western and northern shores, and snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are popular. Sugar Pine Point State Park features historic buildings, beautiful views of the lake and was site of several cross-country events at the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics. Check out the small Olympic Museum building at Sugar Pine Park to refresh your memory of Olympic history. Tahoe City also offers a host of motel options and Airbnb choices. For the best breakfast or lunch, try Rosies, and for a beautiful, romantic dinner, Plumpjack at Squaw Valley Resort.

Snowshoers take Ranger-led tour near Sugar Pine Point State Park on Lake Tahoe.

For information: Lodi Wine and Chocolate event, lodiwineandchocolate.com; Murphys, visitmurphys.com; North Lake Tahoe, gotahoenorth.com; Old Sacramento, oldsacramento.com; Shenandoah Valley, historichwy49.com; South Lake Tahoe, tahoesouth.com; Stockton, visitstockton.org; Sutter Creek, suttercreek.org.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com and follow at recordnet.com/travelblogHappy travels in your world!

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Explore your hometown first, when planning future travels!

Don’t overlook your hometown when planning future travels!

In our first years in California, we lived three years in San Mateo and three more in Sacramento, then moved back to my home state of Ohio. Imagine our chagrin when we realized we had not gotten to Yosemite National Park! We vowed to be better at exploring the marvels around our home city, no matter the location.

I had that distant oversight in mind when I talked to Wes Rhea of Visit Stockton, Stockton’s  visitors bureau. Wes offered, “Sometimes all it takes is a change in perspective to ignite a sense of adventure and experience some much-needed joy in our everyday lives. Take a moment to shift your focus and choose to explore the world just outside your door. Forget what you think you know about the place you call home. Leave your pre-conceived notions behind and recapture the excitement that only comes from being on vacation. On vacation, we are fueled by the energy that comes from expecting the unexpected. What is waiting for me around the corner? Where will my day take me? What characters will I meet along the way?”.

The Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre marquee.

Wes and his staff offered a few “out of the ordinary” attractions. Tucked away in a south Stockton neighborhood is the Stockton Cambodian Buddhist Temple. Open every day of the year during daylight hours and free to the public, it’s a breathtaking experience. The grounds of the temple are decorated with nearly 90 larger-than-life hand carved, hand painted, and hand jeweled statues of Buddha. The largest of the pieces is a recumbent Buddha over 50 feet long and 12 feet high. Brilliant colors and unique views are abundant in this sacred place. You may meet a monk, dressed in vibrant robes, their genuine smiles transcending language and making you feel at ease.

In Season Market and Nursery is an oasis in mid-town Stockton, filled with lush greenery, unique items for sale, delicious smells, and a serenity seldom found in the middle of a bustling city. Beyond plants, flowers, and produce, locally made items such as soaps and lotions are sold here, as well as honeys, olive oils, and jams. An espresso bar with locally baked goods, housed inside the market, has turned this retail business into a favorite local coffee shop. A variety of classes are offered in locations throughout the property, including a seating area that has been lovingly curated under the canopy of a large shade tree.

Have you been to the Haggin Museum in Victory Park lately? Exhibits change regularly!

Peace is often something that is talked about in abstract. For those looking for a tangible way to express their desire for peace and find connections to those among us who feel the same, a trip to the University Park World Peace Rose Garden is in order. Located within the historic Magnolia District in Stockton, the garden was established in partnership with the International World Peace Rose Gardens organization; one of only 9 across the globe. The garden features over 250 varieties of roses; Messages of peace can be found on plaques within the garden and guests are encouraged to leave their own messages inside the peace box as a way to become part of the narrative.


I’ll add a few more traditional “must-sees”. The stately Haggin Museum in Victory Park is one of the west coast’s prime museums and art collections.  The museum focuses on the city’s history from Native Americans, to city-founder  Captain Weber, to more modern leaders like Benjamin Holt (inventor of the Caterpiller-type tractor), Tillie Lewis (the “Tomato Queen”), and Stephens Brothers wood boat builders.  Among its art collections are scores of paintings by 19th and 20th century American and European artists, and breathtaking panoramas of the Yosemite Valley.  Ongoing special art shows make the Haggin experience one that varies by the month; for insight, hagginmuseum.org.

Grandson Jack beside the huge toy soldiers of the Stockton Children’s Museum.

Kid’s activities include the Children’s Museum, childrensmuseumstockton.org, where kids play on a fire engine, fly a helicopter, prowl in a police car and discover so much about the world they reside in.  With spring comes the opening of Pixie Woods in Lewis  Park, perfect for a kid’s outing.

Explore the downtown waterfront, with Ports Ballpark and Stockton Arena on the north side, Weber Point and Cineplex/Hotel Stockton at the head of the Channel, then west to the Children’s Museum, Waterfront Warehouse and Stockton Marina on south channel. The Gold Rush port to the Mother Lode, it brought miners, merchants and helped build an agricultural empire second to none. Park near the Ports Ballpark on Fremont, and take in the view with a walk or bike ride and grab a bite to eat at nearby restaurants. Take in a Stockton Heat hockey or Stockton Kings basketball game or the historic Bob Hope Theatre.  Info, downtownstockton.org.

Stockton Heat vs. San Diego Gulls hockey action at Stockton Arena.

Don’t overlook resurgent downtown Stockton and the Miracle Mile, stocktonmiraclemile.com, with shops, restaurants and brew pubs.

For performing arts, sports, provocative lectures and adult education, University of Pacific’s beautiful Ivy-League-like campus offers a compact, walkable and bikeable campus (the Calaveras Bike Trail runs along the north edge of the entire UOP campus).  Stop for a snack at the DeRosa University Center and check out the Long Theatre, Faye Spanos Concert Hall, Spanos Center, Eve Zimmerman Tennis Center and other venues, info, pacific.edu.

DeRosa Center at University of Pacific is a fine cycling destination (it’s just off the Calaveras River Bike Trail) and offers snacks and drinks to visitors.

Space precludes a discussion of the city’s rich ethnic dining scene, the proximity and allure of the nearby San Joaquin Delta or the Lodi/Woodbridge wine country and varied wineries. For a variety of Stockton-area destinations and events, contact visitstockton.org.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com, follow him at recordnet.com/travelblogHappy travels in your backyard!

The Stockton Cambodian Temple offers a mind-expanding experience!

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Adventures in the New Year; save money, extend your travel plans

Save money, get creative and extend your travel plans in 2020

For most, the start of a New Year is a time to reflect, and to plan special travel destinations for the coming year. Have you set your travel goals and plotted when and where you hope to go? Have you yet begun your new year’s travels? If not, why not? Let’s consider some options to get you going, and, to stretch your travel budget.

Start by traveling to special places close to home with a day trip. Nearby options include shows or classic movies at the historic Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre, visiting a favorite or new restaurant during Stockton Restaurant Week (January 17-26), a Stockton Heat hockey game, Stockton Kings basketball, cultural and sporting events at University of Pacific or San Joaquin Delta College, exhibits and art at the Haggin Museum or special events and agricultural history at the San Joaquin Historical Museum. VisitStockton.com and The Record are your resources for all the activities in greater Stockton and cool places to visit!

The venerable Fox California/Bob Hope Theatre in downtown Stockton presents a variety of shows and a monthly classic movie; go to visitstockton.com for updates.

For travel adventure a bit further from home, start by traveling to special places just a few hours away on day trips, or plan an overnight road trip. Consider that, just 2-3 hours away are the Bay Area, central and northern California coasts, Napa and Sonoma Valleys, metro Sacramento, Sierra foothills and Gold Rush history, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Sequoia, and Pinnacles National Parks and more. What’s stopping you from a long day trip or overnight road-trip?

Point Arena Lighthouse and rugger California coast, just three hours away.

Prior planning allows grouping nearby destinations into one trip (i.e., in northern California, combine a trip to Redwoods National and State Parks with the northern coast; or visit the Mt. Shasta Area and Crater Lake National Park in one trip. Similarly, if you have the time combine a trip to Utah’s stunning five national parks and a side trip to the north rim of the Grand Canyon – all in one 10 day or two week journey.

Bryce Canyon Natural Bridge is just 700 miles from Stockton, and the other four Utah national parks are nearby.

For extending your travel dollars, choose the less expensive alternative of several good choices:

For your traveling vehicle, choose fuel efficiency; for those using travel trailers, smaller is usually better. Today’s small trailers, like Cassita, T@B, R-pods and the like can sleep four comfortably, and are small enough to fit into the tightest of trailer spots in national parks and forests. Do you really need all that space in a huge fifth wheel or 30+ foot travel trailer, pulled by a giant pick-up averaging 8-10 miles per gallon? We travel with a 13 foot classic Scotty trailer, pulled by a four-cylinder Ford Escape, and get 20 miles per gallon.

A vintage, 13 foot Scotty trailer will sleep 2 to 4 in classy comfort.

Staying in motels? Book last minute using Priceline or similar booking choices. We typically book, online, mid-day the day of our arrival in many cities – always finding a price near 50% off regular pricing and never, yet, being left without a good motel room. Take advantage of friends and relatives (most people have a guest bedroom for that purpose).

If you’re spending a week or several weeks in an exotic destination, look at VRBO.com or Airbnb.com. As example, two years ago, spending a week on both Kauai and the Big Island, we found two oceanfront condominiums, wonderfully appointed, for an average of $105 per night. A nice hotel would’ve been double that, or more. Similarly, schedule your trips during the off-peak season, where lodging and restaurants often have reduced pricing and crowds won’t ruin your vacation time.

The backyard of the lovely home we house-sat in Tucson; 2.5 weeks of luxury, with two dogs to watch over. House sitting is a side benefit to Affordable Travel Club membership.

Take advantage of discounts: AAA, AARP and other travel club discounts will save you money on many purchases. If you’re a veteran, many places offer 10% discounts; ask! Seniors, typically age 62 and older, gain additional discounts. Get the federal senior pass – our America the Beautiful pass gets us into hundreds of national parks, monuments and federal facilities free of charge, and saves us half price on campgrounds across the nation. In six years of extensive traveling, we’ve saved over $4000!

The federal America the Beautiful senior pass, for those 62 and up, costs $80 (it’s good for life) and allows free entry to national parks, monuments and offers half-off on campground fees.

Airfares? Experts vary, but most suggest booking 60 to 90 days out, with best prices often posted on Tuesdays. Pack light and save on checked luggage. Take Uber or Lyft to the airport and save on long-term car parking fees. Skip the rental car for a week’s stay, when Uber and Lyft offer cheaper alternatives.

Meal savings? We take advantage of motel breakfasts, often dine early by sampling happy hour dishes and we split a main course and a salad, never leaving hungry.

Consider an inexpensive travel club like the Affordable Travel Club, affordabletravelclub.net; or Evergreen Travel Club, evergeenclub.com. Membership is $65 a year; when you travel you email or phone ahead a week or so, spend a night or several with one of the 3,000 members in cities and towns across the US, Canada and world; hosts offer a nice bed, breakfast in the morning and you tip them $20 on the way out the door. It beats a $140 Comfort Inn, and hosts invariably want to share their city and region’s highlights!

The Marchants of British Columbia were our first Affordable Travel Club hosts and shared a wealth of information and insight on their part of Canada.

Affordable Travel Club membership also opened the door to us to seven housesitting gigs in the last four years, at wonderful homes in Seattle (twice), Denver (twice), Tucson, St. George, Utah, and Albuquerque, NM. Free luxury travel accommodations if you have the time and don’t mind watering plants or watching over a cat or dog.

Total those savings, plot your travel plans and get traveling!

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com; follow him at recordnet.com/travelblogHappy travels in your world!

Posted in Central California, East Coast US, Hawaii, Midwest US, Mountain West (Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado), Northern California, Pacific Northwest USA (Oregon, Washington, Idaho), Sacramento/Capitol region, San Francisco Bay Area, Sierra Nevada, Southeast US, Southern California, Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas), Stockton/San Joaquin County, United States beyond! | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Updating your Western States travel plans for 2020

Plot and calendar your Western States travel plans for new year…

It’s the start of a new year, and time to consider where your western states travels might take you in 2020. Last week, we offered ideas for California; this week, let’s look at travel targets in the west from several vantage points. We’ll consider trips designed for outdoors enthusiasts, those seeking city chic, journeys focused upon cultural or historic gems, trips that can be done in segments and reserve a place for spontaneous travel.

How about travels for outdoors enthusiasts? In addition to top-of-mind national parks like Yellowstone, Glacier and Utah’s big five, consider lesser-visited gems like Crater Lake National Park in Oregon (part of the “Rim of Fire”, including Lassen, Shasta, Mount St. Helens, Mt. Rainier), arguably laying claim to most memorable views, or Great Basin National Park, home to the state’s second tallest peak, Mt. Wheeler, with the stunning Lehman’s Cave winding deep into the peak, in eastern Nevada. Check out Petrified Forest National Park, about four hours north of Tucson (the only national park bisected by a portion of old Route 66) or Saguaros National Park, wrapping around east and west Tucson, AZ.

Wizard Island rises from the azure waters of Oregon’s Crater Lake.

Take a look at old favorites from a new vantage point, such as visiting the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, with only 5 percent the visitation of the South Rim, as well as 400 bison, or visiting Yellowstone in the winter, when the park is eerily quiet and wolves can be found in the Lamar Valley. Don’t discount the grandeur of Canyon de Chelly National Monument, where ancient Native Americans lived for 5,000 years, or Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah, which will remind you of Bryce Canyon National Park. Search out state parks like Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park, just below Grand Coulee Dam, WN, carved by Ice Age floods more than 13,000 years ago – the former waterfall was once four times the size of Niagara Falls. Or Anza Borrego State Park in Southern California, a huge desert park complete with other-worldly fauna and flora and a true, hikable oasis.

Some of the 400 bison that populate the area around the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon view from the North Rim’s Bright Angel Point.

Your western travels won’t be complete until you visit British Columbia and Alberta, Canada. Plan a drive trip along the TransCanada Highway, starting in Vancouver and heading east, linking to Mt. Revelstoke, Glacier, Yoho and Banff National Parks. If visiting Montana and Glacier Park, head north up the Rockies, touring Waterton Glacier National Park to Banff and Lake Louise, where the scenery is jaw-dropping for hundreds of miles. You’ll find stunning views around every bend and a wealth of small Canadian towns full of friendly locals happy to extol the virtues of their part of the world.

Author’s spouse Susan stands front of the ice castle on frozen Lake Louise, Canada.

The west is full of large to midsize cities brimming with city chic. They include Seattle, Portland, San Diego, Albuquerque, Salt Lake City, Vancouver, BC and smaller towns like Spokane, WA, Boise, ID, or St. George, UT. As an example, Seattle offers the lovely Elliot Bay waterfront, outstanding restaurants with scenery and fine food, close proximity to Mt. Rainier and Olympic National Parks, as well as plenty of kids activities, family attractions and cultural and historic treasures.

In Seattle, don’t miss Chihuly Garden and Glass, where the artistic glass works of Dale Chihuly wow world-wide visitors, the Museum of Flight, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center, the Museum of Pop Culture, the Seattle Art Museum or the Museum of History and Industry. For more specialized interests, the National Nordic Museum, the Center for Wooden Boats or the Science Fiction Museum will intrigue.

Chihuly Glass “Outdoor Sun” art installation is right at the base of the Seattle Space Needle.
Seattle’s Space Needle, taken from Kerry Park on Queen Anne Hill.

Along the way, don’t miss the chance to wander through Seattle’s Pike Place Market, take the elevator to top of the Space Needle and tour the busy Chittenden Locks in Ballard on the Lake Washington Ship Canal where pleasure boats and huge yachts, as well as fish ladder, make for fun viewing. Cities like those mentioned offer deep opportunities for cultural and historic exploration. With airlines battling with low fares, and VRBO and AirB&B offering inexpensive lodging options, a three day or week-long vacation in these exciting destinations beckons.

How about a road trip that can be done in segments? Tour historic Route 66 starting in Santa Monica and heading east along the old highway that traversed eight states from Chicago, IL to California. Cruise this historic highway, or, similarly, the Lincoln Highway or US Highway 50 (the Loneliest Road in America), in bite-sized chunks, returning in the future to do another portion.

The old Aztec Hotel in Monrovia, CA, is one of many unique attractions along the stretch of Route 66 than runs across California, from Arizona to its end in Santa Monica.

Finally, save room for spontaneity. Whether it’s trekking to a favorite region for annual festivals like the Lilac Festival in Spokane, the Balloon Festival in Albuquerque, or Hot August Nights in Reno, NV, don’t hesitate to hop in your car or book a cheap flight for fun on short notice. Don’t discount road trips going in search of historic covered bridges, Native American history or any number of creative pursuits.

Recommendation: Make a short list of your most desired travel destinations, share with your significant other and family, and calendar plans for your 2020 travel.

A huge red wagon is part of Spokane’s lovely Riverfront Park, which sparkles during
the City’s annual Lilac Festival, or during huge events like the Bloomsday Run, the largest
12 K community fun run in the USA, held each May.

Resources: Unique guidebooks like Atlas Obscura (by Fuer, Thuras, Morton) or state-specific guides like Weird Arizona (Treat), Weird Colorado (Getz), Weird Oregon (Eufrasio) or Weird Washington (Davis, Eufrasio), profile scores of interesting or odd-ball places; for state travel, use state travel resources like Arizona’s visitarizona.com or Nevada’s, travelnevada.com; for national parks and monuments, nps.gov.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com or follow him at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in your world!

Posted in Canada, Western, Central California, Mountain West (Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado), Northern California, Pacific Northwest USA (Oregon, Washington, Idaho), Southern California, Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas) | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Updating your California travel plans for 2020

Updating your California travel bucket list for 2020

It’s year-end, and time to consider where your travels will take you in 2020. Let’s look at California from several vantage points.

How about travels for outdoors enthusiasts? With nine national parks and 280 state parks, California is, arguably, the most scenic state in the nation; certainly, in the lower 48. Even the most seasoned traveler will not have seen all of the spectacular destinations within six or seven hours of San Joaquin County. In addition to the exceedingly popular parks like Yosemite and Sequoia, as well as the Lake Tahoe and Bay Area parks, scores of lesser-visited but stunning destinations present themselves.

Don’t overlook a trip east over the Sierra, intersecting Highway 395 and head south. You’ll find historic Bodie, one of the west’s most impressive and intriguing ghost towns, Mono Lake with its eerie tufa columns along the shore, the lively resort area of Mammoth Lakes, Manzanar, where Japanese-Americans were sadly imprisoned during World War II and Death Valley National Park. It’s a little early to predict, but with lots of rain in the last month, the wildflower bloom in the desert around Death Valley may be spectacular in the coming months.

Mono Lake’s eerie tufa columns rise off shore, casting images like ancient sail vessel.

California’s Central Coast, that stretch of Highway 1 that heads south out of Monterey, is a worthy destination. Navigate the hallowed Big Sur area, cruise past San Simeon and Hearst Castle sprawling regally in the coastal range, to San Luis Obispo. On your return, catch Carrizo Plain National Monument for another wildflower bloom destination. What’s not to love?

Hearst Castle lies regally in the coastal range above San Simeon.

Don’t overlook our state’s less frequently visited national parks, including Redwoods, Pinnacles, Lassen and Channel Islands. Each are only a 3 to 5 hour drive and were designated national parks for inspiring terrain, unique geographical features and other-worldly flora and fauna. 

Machete Ridge in Pinnacles National Park, the remains of a volcano that was birthed in the Los Angeles area, and is moving slowly north a few inches each year on earthquake faults.

“City chic”, exploring cityscapes: While not overlooking the emerging cool vibes coming from Stockton and other cities in San Joaquin County, Sacramento, the state’s capital, continues to blossom into a high-class destination. With a dozen history and cultural museums, the city’s urban vibe emerging around the new Golden 1 Arena, connecting to the cool Mid-town District with scores of first-rate restaurants, theater and growing brew-pub scene, it’s a fine place to visit for young to older tourists. With West Sacramento, spurred by the Giant’s minor-league Rivercats team, developing the side of the river across the venerable Tower Bridge, and the growing interest  in soccer with Sacramento Republic FC team soon to gain major league status, the city will continue to grow with new entertainment opportunities and fun.

Likewise, take a fresh look at Oakland and San Francisco; an eco-friendly way to see those towns is to park your car at Jack London Square, walk the Square’s waterfront, then take a ferry over to San Francisco’s historic Ferry Building, where historic trollies can take you the length of the Embarcadero, allowing access to Pier 39, Fisherman’s Wharf, or, headed south, Oracle Ballpark and the sparkling new Chase Center arena and so much more.

The Balclutha, historic sailing ship, and tugboat Eppleton Hall,
at the Hyde Street Pier, San Francisco.
Crowd makes its way to Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento.

Looking south, consider a visit to the Newport Coast, from Long Beach south to San Clemente, for a taste of sun, sand, the vibes of the Beach Boys, a wonderful restaurant and entertainment scene, and both old but classy motels up to five-star resorts. A few days in the sun-splashed area of Newport Beach or Laguna Beach will have you planning for a return visit.

San Clemente Pier, with one of our favorite restaurants, Fisherman’s, along Newport Coast.

Cultural exploration: while Stockton offers the Haggin Museum, downtown murals and art galleries around town; just 45 miles north Sacramento beckons, with the Crocker Museum, Mid-town District and a host of galleries. If an advocate of agricultural tourism, the San Joaquin Historical Museum in Micke Grove Park offers an in-depth look at agricultural practices that shaped San Joaquin County; the California Agriculture Museum in Woodland will greatly expand your knowledge.

Trains and railroads changed the state and the west in the latter half of the 19th century; the California Railroad Museum in Sacramento, the Folsom Railroad Museum and Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in Jamestown will hone your rail appetite.  Autos played a part in a similar landscape transformation, hence, check out the California Auto Museum in Sacramento to see the evolution from Henry Ford’s Quadracycle in 1896 up to modern electric and hydrogen fuel cell cars, with 130 historic and vintage cars in between.

Western Pacific locomotive 913 prepares to board passengers from the
California Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento.

Build a trip around historic exploration: Parks like Indian Grinding Rocks State Park in Pine Grove or the California State Indian Museum, Sacramento (next to Sutter’s Fort) celebrate the history of early Native Americans. From Gold Rush history starting with Marshall Gold Discovery State Park in Coloma, to exploring the state’s historic covered bridges or early Spanish missions along the El Camino Real, blaze a trail that will refresh your knowledge of how  the state burst upon the national scene, accelerated by discovery of gold in 1848.

Remember spontaneity and fun of quick road trips: Keep your horizons open for short or longer vacation breaks and road trips. Tour portions of Gold Rush Highway 49, or the historic Lincoln Highway that came through Galt, Woodbridge, Lodi, Stockton and Tracy, in targeted segments over weekend road-trips. Get your kids to identify their favorite quirky destination or feature about our marvelous state, and, get exploring! Next week, ideas for the western US and Canada.

Replica of Sutter’s Mill, where gold was discovered in 1848, part of the
Marshall Gold Discovery State Park in Coloma, CA.

For more information: visit local visitor’s bureaus or park websites.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com or follow at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in your world!

Posted in Central California, Northern California, Sacramento/Capitol region, Sierra Nevada, Southern California | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Monterey; history and majesty for wintertime exploration

Monterey offers history, ocean majesty for wintertime exploration

In recent years we’ve been up and down the California coast from Santa Cruz to the far end of Big Sur, but had not spent any serious time in Monterey. Last week we changed that, with a three day visit. Here, Monterey Bay is the star, with sandy beaches and rocky coastline, stunning views and upscale visitor attractions matched to the area’s historic underpinnings.

Cyclists along the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail in Pacific Grove.

Monterey was founded on June 3, 1770 and was capital of Alta California under both Spain and Mexico. During that time, the town boasted California’s first theater, public library, public school, public buildings and newspaper. 

In 1846 during the Mexican American war, the US flag was raised over the customs house, which you can visit today. Three years later, Monterey would host California’s first constitutional convention. Walk the Path of History (see website, below) where you will experience what life was like when the city was California’s capitol.

The old Custom’s House, adjacent to Old Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey.

We found a variety of inexpensive, older but nice motels in Seaside, just north of Monterey. From here, it was just a few minutes to drive into Monterey and its many attractions. 

On our first afternoon, we did a walking tour of the lively Cannery Row area, with shops and hotels lining the ocean front. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is the featured attraction; known world-wide for its breadth of sea life and kid-friendliness. After our tour, we retired to a favorite restaurant, Schooners in the Monterey Plaza Hotel, for a light dinner and drinks.

Old Fisherman’s Wharf, Monterey, decked out for the holidays.

Then we moved about a mile north for a short evening stroll of Old Fisherman‘s Wharf, lit brightly with a holiday theme and doing a lively business with restaurants and quaint shops. Most restaurants offer samples, so you can gauge where you might want to eat; several candy and ice-cream shops offer sweet treats and varied retailers sell wind-breakers, that can come in handy during this season.

The next day the cloudy morning morphed into a sunny afternoon and we drove through Monterey and into Pacific Grove, south along Ocean View Boulevard and Sunset Drive. Here the coast is rocky, featuring many places to pull off and explore tide pools and admire surf crashing into the rugged coastline (we elected to avoid the famed 17 Mile Drive due to the $10.50/car fee).

Ocean surf pounds Pacific Grove along Ocean View Blvd.

Doubling back, we took a walk, perfect for photo ops, along the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail, marvelous for hiking and biking. Monterey and surrounding communities are quite hike- and bike-friendly, and bike shops offer a variety of rentals.

That evening, we returned to Old Fisherman‘s Wharf, admired views of boats and a huge cruise ship in the harbor, and retired to dinner in Ablonetti’s, a fun restaurant on the pier, featuring “all day happy hour”; happily, their fish and chips and clam chowder were very good.

A cruise ship and private yachts in the Monterey Harbor.

Just south of Monterey, one of the world’s great road trips presents itself, following south along the California coast and through Big Sur, where tide pool exploration, elephant seal spotting and incredible scenery extends for 100 miles, culminating in San Simeon and theover-the-top Hearst Castle.

The Bixby Bridge, and a portion of the Coast Highway in Big Sur area.

For those into hiking and wildlife viewing, plenty of options present themselves. We drove 18 miles north to the Moss Landing harbor area, where we spotted a number of sea lions and several sea otters. We moved to the Moss Landing Wildlife Site, along Elkhorn Slough in an area that once functioned as commercial salt ponds. Alas, the highly recommended Elkhorn Slough Federal Estuarine Refuge was closed (on Mondays and Tuesdays), so we made a note to visit in the future with our kayaks.

Fort Ord, the old former Army fort, is now a national monument lying just east of Monterey. It offers miles and miles of hiking and biking trails in a very wild setting. Hikes, or cycling, into the Ord backcountry presents a pristine encounter with wild country and expansive, verdant views. Adjacent to the monument is Laguna Seca Raceway, active throughout the year with auto and motorcycle racing, bicycling and other events.

Cyclist on single track trail, Ft. Ord National Monument.

Monterey has birthed quite a brewpub scene and we made stops at Peter B’s Brew Pub in the Old Downtown Monterey area and the Dust Bowl Brewery, just off the Old Fisherman’s Wharf parking lot. Cannery Row Brewing and several more brew pubs can be found around town. In addition to Schooners Coastal Kitchen/Bar in the Monterey Plaza Hotel, we found two cute and good value restaurants, Abalonetti’s and the Crab House, both on Old Fisherman‘s Wharf.

For more information: Monterey Visitor’s Bureau, seemonterey.com.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com or follow at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in your world!

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European river cruising; Nazis leave sobering legacy over Germany and its neighbors (part 3 of 3 parts)

The sobering Nazi legacy over Germany and its neighbors

We recently returned from a 15 day cruise beginning in Switzerland, down the Rhine River, passing through part of France, a good portion of Germany, the southern portion of the Netherlands and into Belgium. A cruise a few years earlier took us from Vienna, Austria through the heart of Germany and into Amsterdam, Netherlands. These are reflections on the sobering legacy the Nazi regime left on this part of Europe.

It’s rare to find a city not touched somehow by the sadness and destruction rendered by World War II. Switzerland managed to stay neutral, and avoided the damage of other countries. But cruising the Rhine, Mozel, Danube and other waterways passes cities mostly demolished by the war, rebuilt with help from the Marshall Plan but still struggling to get past the ugly history of the war. And, residents who still remember the war, the loss of their family members or neighbors and the lasting devastation of the conflict.

Hitler, at the Luitpoldhein, a huge Zeppelin Field, addressing crowd
of 800,000 troops, Hitler youth and countrymen.

Here are just a few of the many examples that sear your mind touring these countries.

Luitpoldhein, a huge Zeppelin Field, today; the small parapet, with fence, right center, is where Hitler stood, addressing crowd, in the old photo, above.

Vienna, Austria, long home to the Habsburg Alliance, Strauss, music and majesty, was the start of our first river journey! We toured St. Stephan’s Cathedral and enjoyed the city, a marvel of old medieval structures, baroque classics, the Imperial Palace and many other mansions of colossal proportions. 

Our tour took us past the Heldenplatz (Square of Heroes), where in March, 1938 Hitler delivered the Anschluss, annexing Austria into Germany. Hitler was born in Braunau, Austria near the German border.  Cheering crowds of German/Austrian citizens welcomed the Wehrmacht’s invading troops; but no shots were fired. In the weeks before and just after the Anschluss, over 70,000 dissidents, and Austrian Jews were arrested and imprisoned.

The Neue Berg where Hitler delivered his the Anschluss, annexing Austria into Germany.

We entered Germany on the Main/Danube Canal (opened in 1992, crossing the European “continental divide”, at 1332’, where water flows north in the Main River to the North Sea, or south in the Danube to the Black Sea). We sailed through Germany past a number of towns devastated during the war; none more so than Nuremberg. This city was once the capital of the Roman Empire, and Hitler chose to make his mark on this area in particular.  The city was also a natural industrial complex, and had ability to help fund some of his heinous projects. 

Remnants of Nazi architecture are found throughout the city; the Luitpoldhein, a huge Zeppelin Field  and exhibition grounds, which hosted huge gatherings of 250,000 to 800,000 troops, members of the Hitler Youth and other party faithful.  Nearby is the Luitpold Arena, never finished, which was to have been an indoor, 50,000 seat, show-place arena!  It is now used as the Hall of Records for war data.  We toured the nearby huge red brick SS Barracks, with balcony for Hitler to welcome troops. 

Crowd of German citizens, youth and troops salute Hitler.

Our tour took us past the Grand Hotel, home to 300 journalists covering the Nuremberg Trials at the end of the war, then into the notorious Court Room 600, where the trials took place from November, 1945 to October, 1946.  Nazis on trial saw only the adjoining prison, elevator and courtroom for a year.  Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels were dead; but  Speer, Hess, Krupp and others were tried here; the onset of the Cold War ended the trials early.

Court Room 600, site of Nuremberg Trials.

Wurzburg, Frankfurt, Cologne, we visited them all – all devastated by Allied bombing and battles to drive Germans back.  In each case, the cities were rebuilt, with an eye to preserving the architectural structures that were destroyed in the war.

In many towns like Bernkastel, Germany, a visitor will find bronze insets in the streets in front of homes, commemorating Jewish citizenry who lived there, rounded up and murdered by the Germans.

These small brass plaques stand in front of homes in Bernkastel, memorializing Jews
who lived in the homes, taken and murdered by the Nazis.

In front of the Bonn, Germany, Town Hall where John Kennedy spoke in 1963, are bronze insets in the street’s cobblestones of book spines – mute testimony to Nazi book burning of authors they disagreed with like Hemingway and Helen Keller. 

Just blocks away on the Rhine River is a portion of a brick wall and a huge star of David, memorializing a former Jewish synagogue that sat on that site before being demolished by the Nazi regime.

Memorial to a Jewish synagogue in Bonn on the Rhine River.
Brass insets of book spines, in front of the historic Bonn Town Hall,
where Nazis burned books in the street.

Our in-home hosts included Edda, 80 years old in Dudenhoffen, Germany, who relateed as a six-year-old her memories of the British and American allies bombing her East Prussian hometown and the Russians rolling in to chase the Germans out, forcing her family to flee.  Or, Christina, our home host in Biberbach, Germany, who shared that, despite their country’s recent prosperity, her neighbors are ashamed to fly the German national flag, fearing that the return of overt nationalism will again lead to dire consequences.

Our home host Edda, an 80 year-old from East Prussia, recounted her memories as a six year-old, when the Allies bomber her hometown, Russians invaded and Hitler was overthrown (pictured with my spouse Susan).

In Nijmegen, Netherlands, we stop in silence in front of a bronze statue of a weeping Jewish mother across the street from a building with bronze plaques listing the names of 300 Jewish citizens taken and murdered by the Nazis. Huge sections of this old town feature streets with 60 and 70-year-old buildings, replacing entire blocks demolished in wartime bombing raids.

In Nijmegen, Netherlands, statue of weeping Jewish mother stands across street from bronze plaques listing names of 300 Jewish residents taken and murdered by Nazis.

Space precludes our visit to Ann Frank’s home in Amsterdam, where she and her family hid from the Nazis, just a few of the more than 100,000 Amsterdam residents rounded up and killed by the Nazi regime.

These countries are beautiful, with built history tracing back almost 2,000 years. Despite the excitement of exploration in these lovely cities and countries, the sad legacy of Nazi Germany is unavoidable.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com or follow at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in your world!

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European river cruising, Germany, Netherlands and Belgium, part 2 of 3

European river cruising, Germany, Netherlands and Belgium shine

This week’s installment reports on the second week of our Romance of the Rhine and Mosel River cruise, aboard the River Harmony, a 330 foot, three deck European river cruiser carrying 140 passengers and crew of 36. The cruise is a “last-minute deal“ on Grand Circle Cruise line, allowing us to stretch our travel dollars. More on that, below. 

We are in central Germany in the lovely Rhine River Valley, where we gaze on countless historic river towns, the forest changing from green to yellows and reds and centuries-old castles atop many of the precipices. We soon pass the imposing 440 foot rocky point where Germanic legend holds that an enticing siren – Lorelei – wooed sailors to destruction on the reef below the rocks. 

Our river cruise ship, the River Harmony, on the Rhine River.
Our route on this 15 day cruise begin in Basel, Switzerland, and cruised north down the Rhine River along France, through Germany, the Netherlands and into Belgium.

We soon made port in Boppard, the historic center of the Middle Rhine Region, a UNESCO World Heritage site, famous for its Rhine Promenade and the lofty white towers of the Church of Saint Severus. An optional tour took us to Marksburg Castle, a 13th century fortress unchanged by war or reconstruction.

The Boppard waterfront, lovely in November.

At Koblenz, we detour off the Rhine and head southwest up the Mosel River through a rugged valley, with vineyards planted in the most precarious locations, some on 65° slopes! We anchor in Bernkastel, one of the prettiest villages in the Mozel Valley with sister town, Kues, on the opposite bank. Here we’re hosted to a winery tour, deep in the wine caves cut into the side of the rocky valley. The wine makers note that the vineyards are neither irrigated nor fertilized and seasonal Romanian vineyard workers hand-pick grapes, climbing up the steep, rocky hills.

Tiny home in Bernkastel, built when taxes only took into
account the square footage of the first story of the house.

On day 9 of our 15 day cruise, we make port in Trier, where a walking tour of the city tours us by the Roman Emperor Constantine‘s massive Basilica, erected AD 310 and pass the imposing Porta Nigra (black gate), a huge gateway built AD 200, the largest surviving citygate from Roman times. 

Porte Nigra (Black Gate), built by the Romans in AD 200.

The next day we’re in Cochem, and our walking tour features a walk-through of Reichsburg Castle, originally constructed in the 11th century, burned during the 1689 War of Palatine Succession and rebuilt and converted into a summer home in the late 1800s. It’s an imposing, monolithic structure high above the Mosel River, offering a glimpse into life in a huge castle as well as lovely views of the river below.

We cruise to Bonn, where the tour features the Baroque city walls, Romanesque Basilica and Beethoven’s home, now a museum. The city was the provisional capital of West Germany from the years following World War II until Germany’s reunification in 1990. 

Looking down on the Mosel River from highlands above Cochem.

The Bonn Town Hall is where Kennedy spoke from the portico in 1963, pledging his support to Berlin and a unified Germany. As our tour guide Tim recites Kennedy’s speech from the portico, we realize amongst the cobblestones are 50 brass inlays, of book spines, memorializing where Nazis burned books in the square.

On day 13, the Rhine winds its way into the Netherlands, where we stop in Nijmegen. We are now at sea level and the Rhine’s hills are just a memory. On a walking tour of the 2000 year old city, we pass a sobering memorial to the town’s almost 300 Jews, murdered in the holocaust during World War II. Aboard the ship in the afternoon, a local offers a program on Operation Market Garden, the daring World War II military maneuver that helped drive the Nazis out of the Netherlands; our speaker notes, with gratitude, the contributions of Americans.

Susan, with a 17th century windmill in the Netherlands.

A day later our ship moves on to Willemsted, where a walking and boating tour shows off 19 famous windmills built along the river in the 1740s. We see part of the Delta Works Flood Control Project, known worldwide for its hydro-engineering to compensate for the flooding that long devastated Holland. We see, up close, giant pumps with screws 15 feet in diameter that lift water out of the reclaimed area and back up into the river. But it’s the 270-year-old windmills that catch our attention, still functioning and built with huge, ancient timbers.

Four more historic windmills in Netherlands.

Day 15 takes us to Antwerp, Belgium where a walking tour of the old town shows off the Grote Markt (town square), graced by the old town hall and beautiful timbered houses and shops, framed by the elegant spires of the Cathedral of Our Lady. It’s also home to artist Peter Paul Rubens; his16th century residence serves as a museum. The next morning, it’s  a bus to the airport for a long flight home.

Huge pumps turn these giant screws, 15 feet in diameter,
to lift water out of Netherlands lowlands.

We’re fans of Grand Circle Cruises for their sparkling customer service, quality of their cruise ships and ability to stretch our travel dollar by booking “last minute deals”. Our deal, booked just six weeks before departure, included the four-day pre-tour and hotel in Lucerne, the 15 day Romance of the Rhine and Mozel cruise, daily guided walking tours, three lovely meals each day plus choice of wine or beer and airfare, $8000 for the two of us. We’re ready to do another, perhaps the “Paris to Normandy” cruise – with another last-minute deal!

For more info: Grand Circle Cruises, gct.com, (800) 221-2610.  For best prices, search “Ways to Save” on their web site.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com, follow him at recordnet.com/travelblogHappy travels in your world!

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