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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River cruising through Europe, Switzerland to Belgium, part 1 of 3

Cruising through Europe, Switzerland into the heart of Germany, on the Rhine River!

We have visited Europe three times in the last 20 years, starting with a free-wheeling “on our own“ nine day trip to Paris for our 30th wedding anniversary, then a Great Rivers of Europe cruise six years ago, and a small ship ocean cruise from Slovenia three years ago, down the coast of Croatia to Bosnia/Herzegovina and Montenegro.

The latter two trips were with Grand Circle Cruise lines, and we’ve learned how to best stretch our travel buck – typically taking trips near the end of the high season, and, searching for “last minute deals“ on the company’s website.

Our ship, the River Harmony, moored on the Mosel River in Germany.

A few months ago, we decided to celebrate another anniversary with a land tour of Italy. Alas, seeking a last-minute deal, we waited too long and the tour booked out. So, primed to travel, we found another last-minute option, the “Romance of the Rhine and Mosel Rivers” cruise, beginning in Switzerland, descending the Rhine through part of France, a large part of Germany, the southern Netherlands and finishing in Belgium. Since we departed on November 2, we packed clothing for cool and perhaps wet weather; happily, though chilly, very little rain would dampen our days.

Our flight took us from Sacramento to Dulles Airport, Washington DC, connecting to a flight into Zürich, Switzerland, where Grand Circle met us at the airport and shuttled us to our pre-trip destination, Luzerne, Switzerland. It’s a town of 80,000 people; our Ameron Hotel Flora was just a block from the historic Kapelbrucke (Chapel Covered Bridge), circa 1333, an lovely bridge linking the Alstadt (old town) to the Reuss River’s right bank, lined with waterfront restaurants. The town is bordered on the north by a half-mile long fortified Medieval wall, the Museggmauer, from the 14th century.

Susan and Tim, beside the Reuss River and 600 year-old covered bridge in Luzerne, Switzerland.

The Reuss River flows out of beautiful Lake Luzerne, with Mt. Pilitus towering over the city to the southwest and the Swiss Alps extending south. The next day, we and our dozen new tour-mates boated down the lake about 15 miles to Vitznau, where we boarded the oldest mountain train in Europe to climb Mt. Rigi to a lovely resort above the lake and dinner at the Hotel Rigi Kaltbad. The sunset over the lake and the Alps was a fitting close to a spectacular day.

On our third day we attended a concert in the Jesuitenkirche Catholic Church, (a 17th century church with baroque architecture, classic murals and a huge pipe organ). The noon concert featured five women singing a-cappella, enchanting with their beautiful voices, an acoustically-perfect hall and a marvelously photogenic place. On our final day, we took the funicular up to the Château Gutsch, an upscale hotel and restaurant high above the city, once again admiring the high mountain views of the Alps and thinking we must return someday.

The view from our boat ride down Lake Luzerne, with Swiss Alps in the distance portending a grand ski season in the offing!

After four days touring Luzerne, we bussed to our cruise ship, the River Harmony (140 passengers, 36 crew, with 65 cabins, our home for the next 15 days) in Basel, Switzerland. Basel, the country’s second largest city, has a split personality – on one hand, giant, modern pharmaceutical and chemical research companies, on the other, a medieval city crisscrossed by narrow alleys and centuries-old architecture.

The lovely Chapel Bridge, circa 1333, in Luzerne, Switzerland.

Our tour guide, a tall, animated Netherlander, Tim Sommen, led us on a walking tour of the old city, including the Marketplatz, being decorated for Christmas, the colorful Town Hall and the red sandstone, 12th century Munster, the town’s cathedral. With extra time we toured over to the Museum of Fine Arts, dating to 1662, the oldest public art museum in Europe featuring masters such as Hans Holbein and 20th century abstract expressionist Jasper Johns.

Overnight, we cruised down the Rhine, docking in Strasbourg, France. A walking tour took us through the city’s narrow cobblestone streets split by winding canals. It’s the capital of the Alsace Region, featuring the charm of the centuries-old half-timbered houses, a unique city with both German and French influence. Over the past 750 years, Strasburg was a free imperial city of the German empire from 1262, taken by France in 1681, then Germany in 1871; France recovered the city in 1919 after World War I. The towering Strasbourg Cathedral dominates the city’s skyline; additionally, the valley of the Rhine features towering hills/mountains channeling the river, with old castles and quaint towns around every corner, and forests and vineyards boasting seasonal yellows and oranges.

Our next port was Speyer, a city founded by the Romans in 50 AD that flourished during the Middle Ages. Much of the city was destroyed in the 17th century during the Palatine War of Succession, though the Romanesque Cathedral, built between 1030 and 1125, remains as testimony to architecture of the era. A feature of Grand Circle Cruises is a home-hosted visit by a local resident. Our team of eight was bussed to nearby Dudenhofen, Germany, where Edda, 80 years old, a native of East Prussia, shared her memories as a 6-year-old of the bombing by British and Americans and the Russian takeover, which caused her family to flee. Edda was happy Hitler was defeated, and shared that her country remains ashamed of the Nazis, seldom flies the nation’s flag and remains leery of overt nationalism.

The Boppard waterfront on the Rhine River; a lovely time of year.
This was the route of our river cruise, beginning in Basel, heading north, down the Rhine, splitting France and Germany, bound ultimately for Belgium.

Next week we’ll continue our cruise down the Rhine and up the Mosel.  

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 at recordnet.com/travelblogHappy travels in your world!

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Dodge Ridge, Bear Valley ski resorts ready for ski season

Snow’s a-comin’; Dodge Ridge, Bear Valley ski resorts prep for ski season

With the first winter snow a few days ago now closing Ebbetts and Sonora passes, and heavier winter storms forecast for the central Sierra over Thanksgiving, the two closest resorts to San Joaquin County are gearing up for another fun ski and boarding season.

Bear Valley and Dodge Ridge are closer than other options in the Lake Tahoe area, as well as family-friendly, less expensive and each offers marvelous terrain for any experience level. Trips to these two resorts don’t require summiting a mountain pass to reach the ski areas, so less chance of chain controls. From central Stockton, Dodge Ridge is just 98 miles, on Highway 108 above Sonora; Bear Valley, just over 100 miles, on Highway 4 above Murphys – each only about two hours distant! Here are updates:

Dodge Ridge, family-owned and family-loved since 1950: Dodge Ridge awaits another storm before announcing opening day. What’s noteworthy about this resort is that throughout its long history the resort remains family-owned and treasured by generations of families since its opening in 1950. If you’ve followed the ski industry lately, you know this is becoming a rarity in the ski industry.

Family takes in the view in Boulder Creek Canyon at Dodge Ridge
A young guest gets full attention of the Dodge Ridge Snowsports School.

The resort focuses on its relationship with their guests and the way staff is trained, with many people who work here growing up skiing and riding here; their families come here and their children come here. There’s a huge multi-generational segment of the resort’s guests.

The resort features an expansive Family Lodge, with ski/board rentals and the nearby Creekside Lodge offers a compact, walkable and family-friendly base area.

Owners Sally and Frank Helm pose in front of the Dodge Ridge Family Lodge.

Dodge Ridge lift ticket pricing (the resort offers the lowest day pass pricing this season among comparably sized Sierra resorts):
Adults, 20-64, $79
Teen, 13-19, $64
Youth, 6-12, $29
Kids, 5-under, Free
Senior, 65-81, $64
Golden Age, 82+, Free
Military Discount for active military and veterans.
Discounted Senior Tuesdays starting in January 2020.
SaveMart/Lucky Stores offer discounted vouchers.

Dodge Ridge is widely known as the place where people learned to ski. That reflects upon the caliber of the resort’s lesson programs, honed and perfected over the years. New skiers and boarders as young as 2 years old, up to any age, get their start here.
The resort focuses upon development of a lifelong love of the sport through daily lesson programs, progression through all lesson levels along with care devoted to instructor training. Dodge Ridge offers a wide array of lesson programs:

Intro To Snow: One on one private lessons for kids as young as 2 years old
• Progression Pass (Levels 1 – 3 / Ages 13+)

● Race Team and DASH All-Mountain Team (Ages 7 to 13, levels 5 to expert)

Led by Jim Phillips, who has years of experience in leading groups of athletes in multiple sports including skiing, skateboarding, BMX riding and GoKart racing. Many of the athletes he coached accomplished National and World recognition.

As a former professional skateboarder, nationally ranked BMX rider, professional freestyle skier, alpine climber, surfer and rock climber, Jim’s experiences have led him to a unique perspective of what it means to ski the terrain of a mountain.

Accomplished all mountain skiers understand that their skiing changes based upon the terrain and conditions and can seamlessly connect these into a flow.

Through cooperative coaching methods, the Team’s coaches work with each individual to build a set of tools for skiing different terrain and conditions while being positive ambassadors of Dodge Ridge

● Master’s Clinics (Specialized techniques for intermediate to advanced skiers, ages 50+)

Led by Jon Mahanna, PSIA Alpine Level 3 Instructor and past Examiner,  this exciting program for intermediate to advanced skiers over the age of 50 will be geared towards the technical elements necessary for their success.  

Our specialized Master’s Instructors will guide everyone through efficient progressions for establishing a strong body position on skis while allowing for the least amount of resistance on our muscles and skeletal frame.

The Masters Program is a must for those anxious to improve in a relaxed atmosphere, meet new friends and develop the skills and techniques to keep current.

Dodge Ridge’s skiable 862 acres extend far off to the east, to Chair 8 terrain with remarkable variety and scenic Sierra views into Boulder Creek Canyon. With 1,600 vertical feet serviced by 8 chairlifts, a T-bar, rope tow and two Magic Carpet lifts, Dodge Ridge has something to offer beginners all the way to adrenaline-fueled skiers and riders. Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and sledding options can be found in the nearby Stanislaus National Forest. Lodging can be found just below the mountain in Pinecrest, Long Barn, Twain Harte and Sonora. For Dodge Ridge information, dodgeridge.com, (209) 965-3474.

Bear Valley touts snow-making, lodge improvements and recently installed high-speed six-pack chairlift: Bear Valley Resorts have not yet announced an opening date, but await the coming storms. A spokesperson shared that lodge and snow making improvements will add to a positive snow experience this season.

Family that boards and skis enjoys Bear Valley on snowy day.

Ticket prices at the window are:
Adult, 20-64, $105.00
Teen, 13-19, $84.00
Child, 6-12, $42.00
Kinder, 5-under, $15.00
Active military and dependents with ID, price TBA, and free on Sundays
Senior, 65-74, $54.00
Super senior, 75-up, $15.00
Bear notes that tickets bought in advance, on-line receive discounts.

Bear’s high-speed six-pack lift unloading terminal extends further uphill than the previous lift, providing improved access to intermediate and advanced terrain, along with providing service to Bear West, the Village Side and all areas in the Upper and Lower Mountain bowls.

Guests enjoy Bear Valley on a sunny day.

From numerous visits, Bear Valley is known for its welcoming staff, affordable ticket prices, terrain variety, and a commitment to providing the ultimate mountain experience. The mountain offers 1,680 acres of varied terrain, 8 chairs (2 high-speed) and 2 surface lifts, more than 70 trails (and access to “side country” adventure terrain), two terrain parks and 1,900 vertical feet when fully opened.

Bear Valley Village is home to a variety of services, shops, restaurants and a wide range of accommodations. Winters provide skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, sledding, snowshoeing and snowmobiling. Additional lodging can be found in Arnolds and Murphys. For Bear Valley info, bearvalley.com, (209) 753-2301.

Kids enjoy a lesson at Bear Valley.

For those seeking immediate skiing/boarding gratification, resorts like Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, Mt. Rose and Mammoth Mountain have all opened with limited skiing/boarding on runs serviced by snow-making. Kirkwood, Boreal and Sugar Bowl all hope to open around Thanksgiving. As you enjoy that holiday meal, “think snow”!

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com, follow him at recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy skiing in the Sierra!

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Road trip: in search of California’s covered bridges

Road trip: searching for some of California’s historic covered bridges

As an 11 or 12-year-old, I remember my dad saying, on weekend drives, “let’s see where this road takes us”. Off we would go in a 1950’s stationwagon down an unknown country road to reveal its intrigue. And, one of my early memories of his discoveries was the historic covered bridge about three miles east of our house, in Bath, Ohio. Early bridges were built entirely out of wood, so more substantial bridges were enclosed and roofed, to weather the elements and last for decades.

I have continued that back roads legacy all of our married lives, occasionally irritating my spouse on these exploratory sojourns. But, we’ve discovered some wonderful treasures by doing that, including the longest historic covered bridge in the US, the Medora covered bridge, circa 1875, 461 feet long near Medora, IN, and just a few miles off US Highway 50.

The Medora Covered Bridge, near Medora, Indiana, is longest historic covered bridge in the US, at over 460 feet, dating to 1875.

Talking recently with my brother, Ned, we reminisced about the old covered bridge near our house in Ohio. That got me thinking of California’s Knights Ferry covered bridge, which I hadn’t been to in years, and wondering about other covered bridges in California. As I would discover, historic covered bridges come with interesting history, are usually close to an old town of consequence and spectacular scenery.

The Knights Ferry Covered Bridge, circa 1864, at 330 feet longest in California.

Hence, what better reason for a couple of road trips? On two separate day trips, off we went. First, to the Knights Ferry covered bridge, touring down the gold Rush Highway, State Highway 49 and then following south along the Stanislaus River to Knights Ferry. The town itself sprang up when gold was discovered; in 1849, Dr. William Knight (a member of the 1844 Fremont party) returned to a favorable river crossing, establishing a ferry there. Within a few years, a toll bridge was built, but washed away in the huge flood of 1862. The new bridge took its place in 1864, higher and more stout, the longest covered bridge in the state at 333 feet. Now part of a lovely state park, it’s perfect for exploring and swimming on summer or early fall days.

The Knights Ferry interior is open only to foot traffic today.

Adjacent to the bridge is the old Mill House, circa 1854, and the Tulloch Mill, a gristmill built after the big flood and converted to a hydroelectric plant in the late 1800s. The town grew to include several taverns, several hotels (one of which still stands dating to 1856), the International Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) two-story hall, circa 1870, still in use today for community dinners and events.

The Mill House, circa 1854, at Knights Ferry, CA.

A few days later, after searching on-line for “covered bridges in California“ and finding a list of about 50 in California (both historic and more recently built), we headed north to the quaint gold rush town of Nevada City to find two nearby covered bridges. On the way to the first, the Bridgeport covered bridge, we passed by the Nevada County Museum.

Even though closed, the museum grounds were covered with old mining machinery and paraphernalia, indicating the huge impact that the gold rush had on this part of California. Imagine a cast iron waterwheel, standing 14 feet tall and weighing 26,000 pounds, or a “portable stamp mill”, 12 feet tall and weighing several tons, for crushing granite ore to free up the gold – both available to see, touch and “ooh and ahh” over.

The Nevada County Historical Society features lots of
gold mining machinery and mining goods.

When we arrived at the Bridgeport covered bridge, stretching across the South Yuba River at what was formerly Nye’s Crossing (another early ferry), we found its roof and siding removed, with the exoskeleton undergoing repair by the state of California. This bridge, connecting the two towns of Penn Valley and North San Juan, provided for an active trade route in the gold rush boom days. In its current state of exposure, the timber trusses and arch span are impressive, particularly realizing they were built in 1862, early in the Civil War days.

Bridgeport’s exoskeleton is exposed due to renovation of the 1862 covered bridge.

We then proceeded about 15 miles northeast, to the Freeman’s Crossing covered bridge over Oregon Creek on a very quiet road, an ideal place for picture taking and staging a few classic car pictures with the bridge as backdrop. The bridge dates to 1860 and, but for the original huge support timbers inside the bridge, is mostly new lumber due to recent reconstruction.

Freeman’s Crossing Covered Bridge over Oregon Creek lies about 15 miles north of the historic mining town of Nevada City.

We made our way to Nevada City, established in 1849 and soon becoming the most important mining town in the state, with Nevada County being the leading gold-mining county by the early 1850s. Today, it’s one of the more memorable of northern Gold Rush cities with buildings dating to the 1850s, quaint shops, nifty restaurants and (after asking several locals for a pub recommendation), the Three Forks Pub. Not only did the pub offer a number of tasty craft-made beers, but the place featured some of the best handmade pizza we’ve had in years.

Nevada City’s Main Street (checkout the Three Forks Brew Pub!).

Fun road trips, and, another dozen historic covered bridges in California to seek out. After that, what? One idea, tracking down some of the almost 10,000 historic IOOF halls sprinkled throughout the US!

For more info: California covered bridges, dalejtravis.com/cblist/cbca.htm; Knights Ferry, knightsferry.com; Nevada City, nevadacityca.gov.

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

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New York City; The ultimate people watching trip

Visit New York City; the city never sleeps, providing the ultimate people watching trip

We had not been to New York City for several years; armed  with air miles and Marriott points we booked a laid-back one week vacation for our wedding anniversary. Planning the ultimate people watching trip, we decided to focus on Times Square, the south end of Manhattan/Battery Park and the Staten Island Ferry, the 911 Memorial, High Line park, Brooklyn Heights Promenade, Central Park, Little Italy and splurge on a couple of luxury evenings. Those included the performance of Madame Butterfly by the Metropolitan Opera and the Broadway show Tootsie, along with several fancy dinners out.

First things first: fly into Kennedy Airport, buy the five dollar Air Train ticket to reach the Jamaica Station of the New York subway and buy a week-long subway pass. No need for a rental car; the subway will get you anywhere in the city within about four blocks. Subway stations are a treat by themselves, full of New Yorkers from all walks of life, talented street performers and a few decidedly-eccentric people. One of our early experiences included a subway singer with a good Frank Sinatra-type voice, who crooned a tune and then proceeded to cuss out nearby passersby for not giving him a donation. Seldom a  dull moment.

Spouse Susan, on New York Subway, heading home from dinner in Little Italy.
New York City Subway map; with a bit of practice, you can find a subway line that will take you anywhere in Manhattan or Brooklyn, within about 4-5 blocks.

On our first full day, we took the subway in the direction of the financial district and the 911 Memorial, found a nifty place for lunch, Nancy’s Whiskey Pub (neighborhood pubs with good food are found On almost every block), then walked to the 9-11 Memorial. As it has been on previous visits, always a sobering and heartfelt experience.

The 9-11 Memorial, at base of the North Tower.

We then walked south to the Battery, one of the four original forts surrounding Manhattan Island for security from invasion, and then took the Staten Island Ferry (it’s free) across to Staten Island, spent a little time and returned on the same craft. The views of the Statue of Liberty, adjacent Ellis Island and Freedom Tower are spectacular, making for great photo ops, as well as interesting people watching on the boat itself.

The Statue of Liberty, with a passing Staten Island Ferry,
shot from deck of another Staten Island Ferry (free rides)

We spent the next day shopping in the Times Square area, with towering bright lights and always packed with people from early morning right up to 11 o’clock at night. We checked out the TKTS ticket booth just before 3 o’clock, where many Broadway shows go on sale for that night, at 30 to 50% off. We would come back a few days later and buy tickets to Tootsie, a delightful show.

Susan, in Times Square, about to check the TKTS booth for discounts on that night’s Broadway shows.

In our seven days we dined at a number of restaurants, but the one you arguably shouldn’t miss is Carmines on 44th Street near Times Square, a boisterous, large Italian stalwart where the orders are huge – our plate of linguine and clams would feed four people. We took about 2/3 of the food with us to our hotel suite for lunch later in the week.

Another day we took an early afternoon subway over to Brooklyn and walked about five blocks to near the Brooklyn Bridge, then south to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. This elevated, 10 block-long Park looks west across the East River for stunning views of the Manhattan skyline. We dined at a nice restaurant on Montague Street, the Custom House, then walked back to the Promenade after dark and reveled in an absolutely spectacular night view of Manhattan. A 9 PM ride on the subway was packed with both tourists and workers returning from their jobs.

Manhattan skyline, taken from Brooklyn Heights Promenade.

Central Park was on our destinations list, and we spent a half-day wandering through the woodsy trails, rock climbers climbing on the crags, enjoying street musicians, admiring horse drawn carriages, boaters enjoying The Lake, then headed west and walked a mile south along Columbus Avenue, lined with shops and eateries, where we dined in Guyer’s, a most interesting neighborhood bar, complete with a talkative Russian bartender doing her hair with a curling iron between pouring drinks.

Because it was our wedding anniversary, we splurged on tickets to Madam Butterfly staged by the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center. It was a stunning production, full of pomp and majesty, though opera glasses would have improved our view from this huge, 4100 seat theater. Prior to the production, we dined at the Atlantic Grill, an intimate and impressive restaurant just a few blocks away from the opera.

Lincoln Center fountain, outside the showing of Madam Butterfly by the Metropolitan Opera.

Our week included several other adventures, including a morning hike along the High Line Trail, a marvelous city park converted from an elevated freight-train line, running from the Meatpacking District 1.5 miles north to Hudson Yards. Here the new art installation, The Vessel, draws huge crowds to admire its multi-tiered structure, and (for those who get a free online ticket), the chance to climb it’s hundreds of cantilevered steps for one of the best views on the west side. Alas, we had not ordered tickets in advance and they were sold out for the day.

Other options included a walking tour to the New York Public Library at 42nd St., with marvelous ceiling frescoes in its stately halls, nearby Grand Central Station and it’s cavernous food court complete with Oyster Bar and nearby Bryant Park where people congregate (the carousel will delight children). Or, do a subway ride/walking tour of the Brooklyn Bridge, then head north to the United Nations building along the East River. And with a host of sports teams, including baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer and football, never a dull moment!

The carousel in Bryant Park is a favorite for kids!
Crowd on the High Line Trail.

For more info: New York City, nycgo.com.

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

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