Day 155: Wonderful Wales

Day 155 of the Nowhere To Be Project took place in Wales. We began in Holyhead, a scenic seaside port town, as that is where the Viking Sky docked (we’re nearly a week through their British Isles Explorer voyage). The center of town has a stunning medieval church (St. Cybi) and is full of the most wonderful people. The residents love to chat about their Welsh pride and are so very helpful! We felt as if we left with a whole new squad of BFFs after spending just one morning in Holyhead.

Our afternoon placed us in another scenic coastal area, Beaumaris. The charming unfinished castle may be the main draw here, but the ocean breeze and lively historic streets should be the primary focus. We walked along the pier, enjoyed a pint at Bulkeley Hotel’s bar and found some interesting items in the boutiques. Wales is a treasure not to be missed and we will definitely return!

Day 154: Whisky or Whiskey?

Day 154 of the Nowhere To Be Project was whiskey-centric. Or, is it whisky-centric? Well, the answer apparently lies in the region in which the spirit was produced. We’re in Dublin (day 5 of the Viking British Isles Explorer voyage), so the “e” is absolutely essential. We learned all about the profound importance of whiskey (and Guinness) in Dublin’s culture. I would describe it as a religion. Maybe that’s why our bus driver had to dodge wobbly pedestrians three times in fifteen minutes?!?

Statue of Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square

While learning about the triple distilling process of Jameson Whiskey was fun, the highlight of Dublin for a bibliophile (turbo geek) like me was witnessing Oscar Wilde’s fingerprints on the city. Anyone who’s read his work knows that he was a trailblazer in more ways than one and it was so nice to feel somewhat connected to his spirit here in Dublin. His childhood home is currently used as a lecture hall for creative writing students. How inspiring is that?

Day 153: 17,155 Days

Day 153 of the Nowhere To Be Project marked my 47th year of life and the fourth day of our British Isles Explorer voyage onboard the Viking Sky. The morning was spent at the spa as we cruised the English Channel. A deep-tissue massage followed by a few minutes in the hydrotherapy pool gave me a lot of time for reflection. I am so grateful for the life I’ve had, especially for the many low points. It is easy to wish away bad days, but without those I probably wouldn’t be as profoundly appreciative of the good ones. Speaking of good days, my husband and I raised a glass to at least 47 more years as we floated in the infinity pool and watched the world go by. Can life possibly get any better?

Day 152: Royal Roots

We spent day 152 of the Nowhere To Be Project in the charming seaside town of Dover, England. Our first stop upon arrival was to Dover Castle which was rebuilt by my 20th Great Grandfather, King Henry II, during his reign. Henry is widely regarded as one of the most successful rulers in England’s history and the sprawling castle is surely evidence of this. Walking in the actual footsteps of my ancestors is one of the reasons why travel is so important to me. The view I enjoyed from a window in the tower of the castle today probably wasn’t all that different from the one my grandparents, Henry and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, had in the 12th century (well, except for the fact that mine included my current home away from home, the Viking Sky). It just proves that we all leave a legacy for those who follow us whether we intend to or not. I’d like mine to include the importance of wanderlust.

Day 151: Sunday Funday London-Style!

Day 151 of the Nowhere To Be Project marked our second day onboard the Viking Sky. Having visited London several times before, we tried to make it a day of seeing things we’ve never seen before. In short, we did what we do best…wander! It was fantastic! There were two extra special highlights: 1- seeing the ruins of a Roman gravel road from the first century (amazing to see such history) at Southwark Cathedral, AND 2- the fact that London is a trailblazer in terms of vegan offerings (choices at every literally every restaurant and pub we walked by)!

We thought we’d beat the heat in the ship’s infinity pool after eight hours of walking the city. Unfortunately, the water was as hot as the asphalt we’d been traversing all day (hot tub hot)! Looking forward to cooler days ahead as we sail for Dover this evening. Anchors away!

Day 143: Viking’s Version of the Danube Waltz

As promised, day 143 of the Nowhere To Be Project is focused on revisiting my Danube Waltz journey with Viking River Cruises. As I explained yesterday, I will spend the next four days reviewing my previous Viking River Cruises in anticipation of my first Viking Ocean Cruise next week. For the first review, we’ll travel back to 2014. To begin with, the cruise almost didn’t happen as our initial booking was canceled by Viking. I received an email explaining that the voyage was canceled and that all monies would be refunded. We were really bummed to hear this as it was to be our first river cruise and one where our grown children would be joining us. I called Viking to find out what was happening and they offered to put us on another ship around the same dates. Initially, we had reserved two standard cabins (category F). These were no longer available on the replacement ship, but Viking agreed to upgrade us to french balcony rooms at no charge. These rooms are a bit smaller than the standard cabins, but have sliding glass doors to allow for fresh air and a larger viewing area. We were pleased with this change and the way the mishap was handled.

We flew from Orlando to Munich on Lufthansa airlines (booked through Viking’s choice air program to ensure that we were all placed together). We were greeted at the airport by Viking staff and were transported to Passau on a comfortable tour bus. We were greeted with champagne immediately upon boarding the Viking Lif on the afternoon of Saturday, December 20 and that was the kick off of what was to be an amazing holiday.

After a nice dinner in the main restaurant on board, we wandered through the lovely town. With this being our first river cruise, we marveled at how simple it was to walk on and off the ship in a centrally located area of town. On that first night were exhausted, so we just sipped gluhwein and enjoyed the simple beauty of Passau.

Day two of the cruise was also spent in Passau. We joined the included walking tour which focused on history and architecture. The tour concluded with an outstanding organ concert at St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Once again, we enjoyed dinner consisting of regional foods in the restaurant as a family (table for four). After dinner cocktails were a pleasure in the lounge with the addition of live music.

We awoke in Linz, Austria and enjoyed a buffet breakfast before departing on a full day tour to Salzburg. The countryside was lovely and put everyone in the Christmas mood. Of course, there was a lot of focus on the von Trapp family and the film, The Sound of Music. Dinner was no exception and was followed up by live music in the lounge with a von Trapp flair. We were also able to spend a very short time before dinner exploring the quaint town of Linz.

On day four of the Danube Waltz voyage, we reached Melk, Austria where we toured the beautiful Melk Abbey, a 900 year old monastery. The serenity of the abbey was topped only by the sheer loveliness of it. There wasn’t much to explore in and around the ship after our tour, but we did sail in the afternoon to a pleasant little Austrian town called Dürnstein. We liked the area so much that we decided to skip dinner on board the Lif to enjoy a small, but picturesque Christmas market and more gluhwein.

Day five of our cruise marked Christmas Eve and everyone on the ship, passengers and staff, were abuzz with the festivities and decor as we awoke in Vienna. We joined the city tour of Vienna where all of the key spots in town were highlighted. The kids were getting sick of the slow pace of the tours at this point though so we ventured off on our own for lunch at Aida Cafe Vienna tea room in the heart of the city. From there, we made made our way to the office of Dr. Sigmund Freud (had to be done as professor of psychology:-) and then on to one of the largest of the Christmas Markets in the region for some shopping, and you guessed it, more gluhwein! We made it back to the ship with a few minutes to spare before our 1:30AM sailaway.

Christmas Day brought the Viking Lif to Bratislava, Slovakia. The kids slept in while we embarked on a guided walking tour of the surrounding town. While the tour did a great job of explaining the fascinating history and architecture, the entire city was closed for business in celebration of the Christmas holiday. We joined the kids for a special Christmas tea on board where the pastry chef taught passengers how to make the regional favorite, kiffles cookies. Christmas dinner on board was a wonderful celebration, but again focused mostly on regional foods rather than traditional favorites. In the late evening, everyone on board made their way to the sun deck for our arrival in Budapest where the cruise director highlighted key facts about the landscape as we sailed. Entering the vibrantly illuminated city at night was breathtaking. By the time we docked (about 10pm) we were ready to explore Budapest and did so into the wee hours.

Our final day was spent on an included walking tour of Budapest where we visited the National Opera House and Matthias Church. We made some time for shopping and dining in town before boarding the Lif for the final time. Our transport to the airport left the ship the next morning at 4:30am and seamlessly delivered us to the airport for our flight home.

Our overall experience on Viking’s Danube Waltz was outstanding. This part of the world is simply magical at this time of year and it offered so many wonderful opportunities for celebration. The staff on board the Lif was exceptional in all regards and we felt totally pampered throughout the voyage. The ship was comfortable, sleek and modern, and never felt crowded. Our fellow passengers, while much older than us, were mostly pleasant and very well-traveled. The food was good and the included regional wines were even better. The excursions were as to be expected, but the tour guides were exceptional. This journey sparked our love affair with Viking and river cruising so much so that we purchased vouchers for another voyage while on board.

Day 118: Paradise Found in a Resort Town

Day 118 of the Nowhere To Be Project had me surrounded by vacationers. This is a common occurrence when you live in a resort town. It is especially pronounced at certain times of the year like the Fourth of July, Christmas and Spring Break when tourists flock to the mountains in droves.

As a travel junkie, mingling with those who are in the midst of a journey can cause intense travel envy. The glee of tourists here in Vail is infectious and makes me even more eager for my upcoming European sojourn (30 days, but who’s counting?). The boisterous tourists also remind me how lucky I am to live in such an amazing corner of the world. Life in Vail feels like a never ending vacation! Paradise found.

Day 104: The British Isles Are Calling and I Must Go

On Day 104 of the Nowhere To Be Project I received “good mail”. When I was a kid, all mail was exciting! I had a pen pal that shared the foreign-to-me ins and outs of rural life through her letters. I also belonged to a book club that had me running to the mailbox with glee on delivery days. These days, mail is rarely exciting. No one really writes letters anymore and my box is usually filled with bills instead of books. Today, the contents of my mailbox brought back the childhood joy of mail with the delivery of my cruise documents from Viking!

In August, my husband and I will take our first ocean cruise with Viking. We’ve taken five river cruises with Viking and have been impressed and beyond pleased each and every time. We’ve also taken oodles of ocean cruises over the years on other lines. Ocean cruises were especially appealing when the kids were little because there was literally something to keep everyone entertained. As we’ve all grown older, we traded in the huge ocean liners for smaller, more intimate travel adventures (river cruises, small group tours, RV trips and so on). While the Viking ships are still very small compared to the mega liners, they offer more amenities and a broader range of itineraries than is possible on a tiny river vessel. The British Isles Explorer itinerary was the draw for us: Norway, England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. Of those countries, England is the only one I’ve already visited!

Truth be told, we are a tad bit worried that the things that attracted us to Viking initially will change…small ships, very few passengers, cultural immersion, educational opportunities, etc. I’m literally chomping at the bit to answer these unknowns and am extremely hopeful that Viking will deliver excellence once again! It is so thrilling to have the British Isles journey in my sights and I promise to share a blow by blow of the highs, the lows and even the in-betweens.

I freaking love Switzerland, and Germany, and…

Breisach, Germany is a true breath of fresh air. We arrive early in the morning on a crisp and sunny day, immediately venturing off on foot. This town made me think of a winding and pristine medieval fortress. There are levels and layers, each home more walled and tidier than the next. Traverse the cobblestone streets up to the cathedral for an amazing view. Hoof it back down to town for delightful shopping and eating. We dropped in to the outdoor seating area of an apparently unnamed tavern (or one simply lacking in personalized signage). This place was adorned with Alpirsbacher Klosterbräu signs and was situated on a quietly shaded side street. Initially we were a bit concerned as the proprietors had no other customers, yet seemed alarmingly negligent and absent. We hung in there though and were not disappointed. The chef in this hidden gem has mad skills. The mushroom tarte flambée was out of this world. It was a situation where I kept saying, “I’ll just have one more bite” and in the blink of an eye, the whole thing was gone. Crispy, creamy and rife with fresh herbs and spices. My companion was craving pasta, so skeptically went with the spaghetti with vodka sauce and fresh basil. I tasted it (as I tend to do) and it was mouth-watering with a fresh and creamy sauce, perfectly al dente pasta, and palate-pleasing fresh herbs. We happily washed these down with local libations before moving on to the Black Forest.

Image of Tarte flambée
So creamy and savory. Yum!

The Black Forest of Germany is picturesque. That’s it. No more. Plan for a slow and winding drive. You may stop for photo ops and most do, but you will not find many opportunities for dining or shopping short of cuckoo clocks and Black Forest cake. You will see some of the happiest livestock on the planet. You will also see countless tiny chapels in each village. These chapels might be likened to the tiny houses that are trending in home design now. They are that small. Each is charming and unique, built to meet the worship-needs of of the sleepy towns that sprung up as this area was trail blazed. On to Basel.

Image of Black Forest
Picturesque Black Forest

I freaking love Switzerland! Our day in Basel was remarkable. The public transportation is clean and efficient, reflective of the rest of the city. The people are both beautiful and friendly, all of which add to this town’s enthralling mix of old and new. A transplant from New York City who met and married a Swiss gentleman while working in the Big Apple simply loves her life in Basel. She sacrifices space and money to reside here though. She explains that Basel’s population during work hours is much larger than the after hours demographic. She stated that the savviest people work in Switzerland for the high wages, live in France for the lifestyle and shop in Germany for the low prices. The proximity of these countries makes this a wonderful reality for many. The open market in the center of Basel featured produce, cheese, sausage, local honey, and blooms of all varieties. The stand out was a food cart called Eiche. This rolling gourmand was half meat market (literally) and half grill. Freshly made sausages roll over an open flame, sizzling as they waft the amazing smell of sausage throughout the land. Belly up with five Euro and you’re in business. I have eaten a lot of sausage in my day and this was the best. So good that we went back for three rounds with zero regrets. To top it off, we visited Läderach with their sheets of freshly made melt-in-your-mouth chocolate. Again, the best chocolate we have ever eaten. We had to return to buy some to go. It was that good. These tasty bites made up our final meal of this European sojourn as it was time to head home. I will await my next visit (in October) with bated breath and immense anticipation. In the mean time, I think I’ll grab my giant rescue Mutt and take a good old-fashioned summer road trip back home in America. Stay tuned.

image of woman cooking sausage
A literal goddess of sausage!

 

Image of sausage
The third round

 

Image of chocolate
The freshest and creamiest of chocolates

Where the lawyers aren’t…

Photo of canal in Amsterdam
Amsterdam by boat

This sunny and warm mid-May day finds me in a land filled with helmet-less cyclists, many of whom are laden with equally bare-headed offspring tied precariously to their handlebars. Forget about the overhyped dangers of the red-light district and the coffee shops, your priority should be to attend to the bicycle traffic if you hope to survive this lively spot. Did you know that Amsterdam has more bicycles than residents?

Amsterdam this day was also rife with blooming bulbs sprinkled around bustling canals. It is a city rich with history. None more prophetic than the Anne Frank House. I purchased tickets online several weeks before the visit. This is mandatory as the odds of gaining access as a walk-up are probably equivalent to selecting the winning Powerball numbers two weeks running. This moving physical and emotional journey through the home and annex found me sickened. I felt like one of the fools who slows down to gawk at an accident scene. I also felt claustrophobic as the stairs and corridors are narrow and jammed with curious souls for miles. No exit door. No escape hatch. I was only there for a few moments as a liberated person. What must the hours, days, months and years of hiding and secrecy have felt like for young Anne and her fellow shut-ins?

Speaking of prisoners, a visit to Amsterdam would not be complete without a dilly dally along the famed streets of the red-light district. Dodging drunken patrons and the occasional spattering of vomit, we ventured in searching for who knows what. A few pubs later, we reached the mecca of hedonism. My first instinct upon meeting the gazes of the doe-eyed ladies of the red-light district was to liberate them Free Willy style. This led to another debate with my traveling companion. In America (save Nevada) and throughout most parts of the world, prostitution is illegal. Despite this, it exists and is riddled with slavery, intimidation, humiliation and human trafficking. Hence my desire to free the fawns of Amsterdam. The flip side of this presented by my buddy is that Amsterdam has it figured out. They regulate it. This argument included the idea that the women are protected from the horrors we typically associate with prostitution and are cashing in on what might be deemed their greatest assets in a big way. My pal went on to say that they are making profoundly more money in less time than, let’s say, a college professor, haha. Could it be? Were the prostitutes of Amsterdam winning? I decided to try to figure it out for myself. Sadly, I could find no hard and fast statistics either way, so I’ll keep my liberation plan in my back pocket for now.

As long as I was seeking out statistics, I figured I should also try to quell my concerns for the bicyclists of this fine city. It is reported that about six people per year die in Amsterdam as a result of a bicycle accident. San Francisco is a similar sized city in terms of population but the number of cyclists is much lower. Furthermore, most cyclists in the Bay area wear helmets. Guess what? Despite this apples to oranges comparison, San Franciscans have roughly the same number of cycling deaths.

So with all of this, I came to this conclusion- Amsterdam must be lacking in lawyers. I stumbled and teetered my way through the irregular streets of the city. I climbed hazardous stairs and was approached by peddlers inviting me to engage in living pornographic menageries. If this had happened in the land of the free and the brave I most certainly would have been offered legal representation within moments of said encounters. The remarkable thing is that with all of this opportunity for danger came a profound sense of levity and freedom. Could we, as uptight politically correct litigious Americans learn something from the Mokummers?