The central attraction in Bangkok is the Grand Palace and Grounds featuring many temples, palaces and a museum. To do it right, the area is worth most of a day and that means at least finding a place to sit down and have lunch. If you are in the area near Wat Pho (Giant Buddha) a good choice for lunch is Eat Sight Story. The restaurant is on the Chao Praya River across from Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) with a deck featuring tables, umbrellas and great views. To find it, go down Tha Tian Alley towards the river from Maha Rat Road, south of the Naval Welfare Department.
In addition to the deck overlooking the river, ESS has tables inside along with a small air conditioned dining room. The staff is friendly and efficient and, while not inexpensive, the food is very good. The afternoon we visited, we had curried beef, Pad Thai, grilled chicken skewers with rice and cold Thai beer and were very pleased with our selections. Based on other meals we ate in Thailand we believe that their offerings are toned down some to appeal to western tastes.
The Beer Bridge was located just down the street from our hotel in the The Portico Building, 31 Langsuan, Ploenchit Rd., Lumpini, Pathumwan, Bangkok. The Beer Bridge is a modern eatery in an upscale neighborhood just a block away from Central Chidlom, Bangkok’s largest department store and near a number of major hotels.
They offered a wide selection of beers (local and imported) along with a nice wine list, cocktails and typical pub food. We ordered an appetizer which turned out to be the tiniest Buffalo chicken wings we’ve every eaten. But, after a long and warm day walking around Bangkok, The Beer Bridge provided exactly what we needed – really cold beer and some western familiarity.
Late last summer we spent a couple of weeks driving around the north Georgia mountains, hiking and visiting wineries. Georgia wines were a pleasant surprise. In general, their quality was good and the wineries were fun to visit. We had planned this trip for the spring but than had to postpone and didn’t update our information before heading out. We discovered too late that many of the wineries had reduced their hours for summer or were closed when we tried to visit, so we had to modify much of our plan. Be sure and update days and hours before you head out and also pricing, as each winery has a different charge for sampling.
We started out driving north through Atlanta stopping for lunch at the famous
Varsity Hot Dogs next to the campus of Georgia Tech. We had heard a lot about this institution and it turned out to be much bigger than we expected and the food was remarkably good. After lunch we left Atlanta heading for the small town of Oakwood and our first night on the road.
Early the next morning we headed for the Atlanta Botanical Garden in Gainesville. The gardens are reasonably new and diverse featuring over 1,200 different plants including 80 varieties of magnolias, oaks and maples. There are some nice lily ponds and a mountain stream flowing through the plantings. The gardens are also home to an impressive concert series in the summer.
From the gardens we drove toAmicalola Falls Lodge inside the state park. The lodge was great, with modern, well furnished rooms. It sits atop the tallest cascading waterfall in the Southeast (729 feet). The falls are paralleled by a staircase with 604 steps and the park is also crossed by The Appalachian Trail. That evening it was a treat sitting out on the deck of the lodge watching a mountain sunset. The Lodge also has a decent restaurant with reasonable prices.
While in the area we visited The Cottage Winery in Cleveland, and Cavendar Creek Vineyards, Montaluce Winery and Wolf Mountain Vineyards & Winery near Dahlonega, Georgia. Dahlonega is a quant mountain town that also offers tasting rooms for many of the region’s wineries – sort of one stop shopping and tasting.
From Dahlonega we traveled over to the Alpine town of Helen. The town has been a tourist destination for a number of years. Our first stop in Helen was the Habersham Winery with a nice tasting presentation and gift shop. Years ago the town rebuilt itself as an Alpine village featuring Bavarian food and gifts and offers a number of interesting restaurants and accommodations. The town is also popular for the tubing stream that flows through it. We had lunch at The Old Bavaria Inn, an old-world tavern specializing in imported beers and classic German fare.
After Helen we drove up Brasstown Bald, the highest peak in Georgia at 4,784 feet above sea level. While at the National Park Service facility at the top we got caught in a thunderstorm which brought a bit of excitement to the afternoon, with lightening, thunder and clouds rolling by. After the storm we drove to Hiawassee on Lake Chatuge , checked in to The Lake Chatuge Lodge and then visited the Crane Creek Vineyards in Young Harris for Friday happy hour. It appeared that we should have made reservations as it is a very popular evening event in the area. The staff, however, was very accommodating and we bought cheese, crackers and a bottle of their dry rosé making a great ending to the day.
The Chatuge Lodge is within walking distance of the Fred Hamilton Gardens and the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds. The Fairgrounds opened in 1978, and are home
to several popular events throughout the year including the Georgia Mountain Fair, Georgia Mountain Moonshine Cruizin, Georgia Mountain Fall Festival, Superstar concerts, and Georgia’s Official State Fiddlers’ Convention. Any of those events have impact on room availability and rates so, if you’re planning on going, check dates and make plans well in advance. In the same area we also visited Odom Springs and Paradise Hills Wineries.
We left the lake early Sunday morning and headed for brunch at Tiger Mountain Vineyards & Winery which turned out to be the high point of the trip. The wine and food were delicious. Their Red Barn Café was selected as a top-ten winery restaurant by USA Today and our wine choice, Petit Manseng won a gold medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. We would highly recommend this Sunday Brunch.
After leaving brunch we made a brief stop at “Goats on the Roof” in Tiger, a throwback tourist stop featuring gifts, food, ice cream and yes – goats on the roof. We then headed for Tallulah Gorge and another long hike. This is a beautiful and rugged area and was the setting of the Burt Reynolds movie Deliverance as well as Disney’s The Great Train Chase.
Tallulah has an interesting visitors’ center and a number of trails with steps that go to Tempeste and Hurricane Falls and then further down into the gorge. To go beyond the main trail into the creek to slide on the rocks, you need a permit. Only a small number are issued each morning so you need to be there when the park opens.
After a day in the gorge we headed for Mark of the Potter in Clarkesville, an interesting store featuring local pottery and crafts. Then it was on to Savannah and the next part of our adventure. More on Savannah, Georgia soon…
Our recent South China Sea cruise made four stops in Vietnam. Because we were back-to-back cruising, Phu My, the port for Ho Cho Min City was duplicated. We took advantage of two ship’s tours and an independent trip into Saigon with bus service provided by the ship (separate fee). We really enjoyed our time spent ashore and found it both interesting and worthwhile. Shopping was inexpensive and easy because the U.S. dollar is the preferred currency. Almost everywhere we went, prices were quoted in dollars (about 22,000 Vietnamese Dong to 1 U.S. Dollar).
The official position of the Vietnamese government is that they are friends with the United States and that the Vietnamese people should welcome Americans. We had extended contact with three different Vietnamese men during our time in Vietnam. The first expressed no political opinion and was friendly and seemed welcoming to us. The second taught history in secondary school, was a party member and seemed focused in his thinking on the war and all the problems America caused and is still causing. The third thought most of Vietnam’s post-war problems were caused by government corruption and the party and wished that American style capitalism was given more opportunity.
Ho Chi Min City
Our first stop was listed as Ho Chi Min City (Saigon) but the ship docked at Phu My, an industrial area without anything within walking distance. There are some residential areas and a business strip between 5 to 10 miles from the port but nothing of specific interest.
Ho Chi Min City is an hour and a half drive from the port. The cruise ship offered tours and also just a round trip bus service into the city which ran about $60 per person. A number of passengers took local taxis into the city. They claimed that with four people it was cheaper than the bus but you had to negotiate your fare upfront. We arranged a tour to the Mekong River Delta and went into Saigon on the second cruise.
The journey to the Mekong took three hours each way. The long bus ride gave us an opportunity to see rice farming in the countryside, old and new buildings in Ho Chi Min City as we drove through, and thousands of motor scooters carrying local people everywhere. The motor boat ride on the river was interesting followed by a small boat ride down the canals and then lunch at the Mekong River Rest Stop. The highlight of lunch was the delicious local elephant ear fish. Our tour guide was friendly and spent much of the trip talking about the Vietnamese people, their lives and their hopes for the future.
Our recommendation, unless you have a specific reason to visit the Mekong like we did, would be to take a city tour of Saigon or just take advantage of transportation into the city and do your own walking tour. There are a lot of great shopping bargains in the city and many things to see. Some of the highlights include the old Presidential Palace (now Reunification Palace), the Catholic Cathedral, and the old Post office. A short walk from the city center are the Opera House, The Rex Hotel (the roof bar was a gathering place for journalists and military during the war) and Dong Khoi Street with many souvenir shops, good restaurants and fashion boutiques.
Da Nang is a major city with a lot to see and features the Dragon Bridge which is actually a recent addition. Near by is China Beach which is now a modern seaside resort but during the war it was a “rest and relaxation” area for the military. Just south of Da Nang is the city of Hoi An which is well worth a visit. Hoi An is also becoming a beach resort with lots of new properties being developed but it is the old town (Ancient Town) that should get attention because of the history, architecture, shops and restaurants. We stocked up there on tee shirts ($3 and $5) and had a great lunch at Brothers Cafe. If you are cruising you should be able to find a tour that covers all these highlights.
This is also a developing area that is a seaside resort particularly popular with Russian tourists. There is a cable car that crosses the bay, an amusement park, a water park and some good beaches. On our stop we had to tender-in and merchants had set up tables full of souvenirs along the dock. The town itself was small with with a few shops and cafes but you could get a taxi tour at a reasonable price or take one of the ship’s tours.
We recently discovered another retired couple that recently visited Vietnam with some good information posted in April 2017. Check out Adventurous Retirees web site.
Most people think pasta when it comes to Italian cooking but actually Italy has a number of regional cuisines. Tuscan and Florentine diets trend heavily toward cold sliced meats, grilled meats, lots of beans, soups and stews. With the exception of lasagna, pasta is usually done as a side dish or a casserole in Florence. Because Florence has become such an international city and a huge tourist destination many of the restaurants have put together menus that fit the visitors expectations. One small restaurant in the central city that doesn’t fit that description is Trattoria Mario.
If you are looking for a great value in good authentic food in Florence, Italy check out this gem. A local trattoria with an international clientele, owing its popularity somewhat to a bit of encouragement from Trip Advisor reviewers. It is located at Via Rosina, 2r, 50123 just a short walk from the Basilica di San Lorenzo.
The restaurant is cozy and if crowded you will probably be sharing a table if you are a small party, but that is part of the experience. While there we overheard several tables talking in several languages. The restaurant has the feel of a neighborhood place with a staff that is friendly and efficient. The dishes are prepared with skill and are mostly priced between €5 and €8. The menu is hand written and taped on the kitchen window and as the chef runs out of an item he comes out and strikes thru it. Inexpensive splits of local wines are also available.
Technically, the country is Antigua and Barbuda but Barbuda is lightly populated and rural. Antigua and Barbuda became an independent state on November 1st, 1981 and is a member of Caricom, the Caribbean Common Market . The currency is the East Caribbean dollar (EC$) but US dollars are gladly accepted.
History buffs will love exploring English Harbour and Shirley Heights. In the eighteenth century English Harbour was a base for the British Navy and headquarters for the fleet of the Leeward Islands. The Heights had a garrison and fort commanding the high ground above the harbor. English Harbour was developed by Horatio Nelson in the eighteenth century and included Nelson’s Dockyard to service the fleet.
After closing in 1889, the dockyard has now been completely restored and it is the only Georgian dockyard in the world. Shirley Heights can be reached via a lookout trail and, from its’ height of 492 feet, provides views of Guadeloupe and Montserrat. Dow’s Hill Interpretive Center is located along the trail and offers a presentation of Antigua’s history. Observation decks at Dow’s Hill provide sweeping vistas of the harbour and surrounding islands and the ruined fortifications of Fort Berkeley are nearby.
Sailboat people know English Harbour as the site of Sailing Week, one of the Caribbean’s premiere sailing events each year. The event is so popular that accommodations are hard to come by and some people plan years in advance to attend. Even if you aren’t a sailboat person, the weeklong party is an overall great time. Accommodations in the English Harbour area include The Copper and Lumber Store Historic Inn, Admiral’s Inn & Gunpowder Suites and the Antigua Yacht Club Marina Resort nearby in the Falmouth area.
If you are looking for tropical beaches it is said that you can visit a different beach every day and not start over again for a whole year. There are a number of resorts to pick from including the longtime favorite Halcyon Cove just north of the capital of St. Johns. South along the coast are Keyonna Beach Resort and Jolly Beach Resort. At the other end of the island is The St. James Club, an exclusive all-inclusive property that has been a popular resort for well-to-do English tourists.
If you are looking for insight into life in Antigua and aren’t looking for a beach location, try staying in the middle of St. Johns. The Heritage Quay Hotel is frequented by business travelers and is located near the waterfront. It is on Heritage Quay a popular shopping and duty free district, near King’s Casino and not far from Redcliffe Quay, a tourist shopping, craft and restaurant area. Nearby is the cruise ship pier which can be very congested on days that ships are in. St. Johns also offers the Antigua Museum and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. A short trip from the city is Betty’s Hope, a former sugar cane plantation.
Most people, when they talk about Singapore, speak in superlatives but, the simple truth is, mere words just aren’t enough. We flew to Singapore on United 1 from San Francisco a seventeen plus hour flight
The hotel is halfway between the airport and the Marina Bay District and offered a free airport shuttle. The facility is
modern, the rooms are comfortable and the staff is friendly and helpful. A great buffet breakfast is offered and, depending on the category of stay, may be included in the rate. The location is near shopping malls (Parkway Parade Shopping Center is across the street) and restaurants and just a few blocks from East Coast Park.
After walking to the park, you are amazed by the view out to sea. It looks as if half the ships in the world are either anchored just off shore or are cruising by. Looking at a map you will notice that the South China Sea is blocked to the east by the Southeast Asia peninsula. The first opportunity that eastbound shipping has sailing from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam and all the other nations of the area is past Singapore and thru the Straights of Malacca (also sp. Melaka). That’s a lot of cargo bound for Europe, Africa, the Middle East and India all moving right past Singapore. That may also help explain why this city-state has become so rich and important.
The stories about the strict laws and their enforcement are mostly true. It seems that even chewing gum in Singapore is against the law because the government thinks it messes up the streets. When you arrive in country, your immigration form explains that selling drugs is punishable by death. While civil libertarians may be shocked, the obvious result is one of the most modern, safe and clean cities we have ever visited.
English is an official language taught in all schools along with Malay, Mandarin and Tamil but almost all signage is in English making it easy to get around and find things. The city boasts a world class rapid transit system, the MRT that is easy to access, purchase tickets for and understand. The system offers an all-day ticket but we found it cheaper to purchase roundtrip fares to specific destinations. The cleanliness is also striking. No graffiti anywhere and you could probably eat off the floors.
Singapore boasts dozens of world famous restaurants and clubs, a Universal Studios theme park, one of the world’s great zoos, a water park, aquarium and two botanical gardens, the newest and most spectacular being Gardens by the Bay. Almost everything can be reached via the MRT or an inexpensive taxi ride. The city also boasts a Chinatown and a Little India which offer inexpensive shopping and eating options.
Singapore is home to a number of Hindu Temples because of the Indian labor brought in by the British when they established a trading post in the early nineteenth century. The oldest, Sri Mariamman Temple dates back to 1827. The Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple is located on Ceylon Road, a few blocks from the Grand Mercure Roxy. It was built by the Sri Lankan Tamils for the Hindu God Ganesha.
While not a destination for bargain hunters because of the high cost of living, the city is home to a number of malls and department stores along with high-end specialty shops. Singapore shows off with a modern skyline and one of the newer additions is the triple towers of the Marina Bay Sands. This complex features a hotel, a casino and 170 plus premium brand stores capped by a connecting roof garden floating at the top. It is home to a number of restaurants operated by the likes of Wolfgang Puck, David Myers and Gordon Ramsay.
The popular symbol of Singapore is the Merlion, a lion with the body of a fish. While there are supposedly a number of local legends about the history of the Merlion the truth is it was created for the tourist board in the sixties as a marketing tool. The official symbol of Singapore is a red graphic of a lion’s head.
Photos top to bottom: Singapore skyline at night, Gardens By The Bay, Chinatown, ships at anchor, MRT map and train, Botanical Gardens, Figure at Hindu Temple, Skyline featuring Marina Bay Towers
We spent a couple of years trying to plan a trip to Yellowstone. One of our primary goals was to spend some time at The Old Faithful Lodge. It turned out that getting reservations there is a very difficult thing to do. It is almost impossible to book directly with the lodge, because as soon as the booking season becomes available, it is virtually sold out. The Park Service suggested we book through a broker where you pay a non-refundable fee. We then found out that some travel friends of ours had booked a trip through Yellowstone with Caravan Tours the year before and really enjoyed it. After speaking with them, we decided to give this a try, our first land tour.
The tour we booked started in Rapid City, South Dakota, and visited Mt. Rushmore National Monument, Crazy Horse Memorial, Devils Tower National Monument, Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument, Yellowstone National Park, the
Grand Tetons and Jackson Hole and ended in Salt Lake City, Utah. After leaving the tour in Salt Lake we rented a car and spent a week on our own visiting Moab, the National Parks of Arches, Canyonlands, Capital Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion. That gave us a good perspective to compare the two experiences.
First, an overview of the tour. Caravan provided accommodations each night, a modern and comfortable motor coach that accommodated 48, a driver and tour guide, admission to all parks and attractions, breakfast each morning and occasionally other meals. Suitcases were tagged and placed inside our hotel room each evening and picked up outside our room in the morning.
The tour started with a meet and greet with our guide Greg on Wednesday at the hotel in Rapid City. The next day we boarded the bus and headed for Crazy Horse Memorial and after that stopped at Mt. Rushmore. Neither of these sites were on our bucket list but,
afterwards, we are glad we visited. Back in Rapid City that evening the town was hosting the first street concert of the season (Thursday evenings) which was a nice surprise.
The next morning we headed west with stops at the Devils Tower and the Little Big Horn Battlefield. The Devils Tower is a natural wonder and truly an impressive formation (think Close Encounters of the Third Kind). The Little Big Horn site offered a historical perspective on the 1876 battle. The Custer National Cemetery was on the same property. Next stop was lunch at the historic Sheridan Inn and a talk on Buffalo Bill. We spent the night in Billings, Montana.
Between stops, one of the interesting aspects of the tour was our guide playing historical or informative DVDs relating to the places we were visiting. Greg also shared his knowledge and thoughts in a running commentary throughout the trip.
Day four of our journey was dedicated to the main
event, Yellowstone National Park. If you have not visited Yellowstone, no matter what you have heard cannot do it justice. Our first stop was Mammoth Hot Springs where we encountered some elk and walked trails around the hot springs where mineral deposits form terraces down a hillside. After a few brief stops, including iconic Yellowstone Gorge, called the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone with Yellowstone Falls we arrived at the Old Faithful Lodge for a two night stay. Shortly after checking in we got to watch our first Old Faithful eruption.
If you intend to visit Yellowstone, the first thing you need to recognize is that the park is larger than the state of Delaware with just nine hotels and a few campgrounds inside the park and reservations difficult to come by. Most Park visitors stay at motels in Jackson Hole or West Yellowstone so a lot of time is used up getting in and around the park. As summer advances so do the lines of cars so getting up early becomes a necessity. Also, if you get into the park late, the parking lots for a number of featured areas can be gridlocked.
The Old Faithful Lodge is a historic site sitting in the middle of the largest concentration of geothermal features in the world. We were told that half of the world’s active geothermal features are located within one mile of the Lodge. The Lodge is an impressive building with a grand lobby standing five stories high. The guest rooms, however, are primitive by modern standards: no air-conditioning, television or wifi, with spotty cell service and a real 1950s look. Ours had one double bed with a small bathroom featuring a pedestal sink (not much room for toiletries). The real draw is simply the location.
The afternoon we arrived, just outside our window, was a bull bison and, looking down the hill past the general store, there was a steaming field of vents with various geysers going off frequently. Every evening in the main lobby there was live music and, weather permitting, a fire in the massive fireplace. Food is available in the main dining room (menu & buffet), the lobby bar which served light fare like bison burgers and chili, and a deli. Near the main lodge there is a country store with counter service until 5 o’clock and a large cafeteria a short walk away. Between the lodge’s front door and the cafeteria is the Old Faithful geyser, currently putting on a show about every ninety minutes.
After checking out of The Old Faithful lodge we stopped at Lake Yellowstone on our way to the Tetons National Park followed by a night in Jackson Hole Wyoming. The next day we headed off to Salt Lake City with a stop at the Oregon Trail Center.
We both felt as if we had gotten our moneys worth with this tour. We saw sights we may have never visited by ourselves, met some great people, traveled in comfort and spent time at all of our wished for destinations. We would highly recommend Caravan Tours and their Yellowstone trip.