Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Our Big, Fat European Vacation


Apr 20 Disembark the New Amsterdam 7:30AM  
April 20-30....Fuster Apartments
Valencia, 358, Barcelona, ES

Montserrat (Barcelona day trip)

The R5 train to Montserrat from Barcelona's Plaza Espana station takes about an hour, and the options to reach the monastery are either a short rail or funicular ride. You can see the Black Maddona, walk the surrounding trails or take a funicular to the place where the Black Madonna was discovered. Gaudi designed the railings around the site. A boy's choir performs daily in the central terrace. Napoleon destroyed the place in the 1850s, but it has been rebuilt. Motto is "prayer and work"...

This Journey seems somewhat complex. The "To T  Monserrat" ticket covers lunch, funicular rides and admission to the museum. Review this link before proceeding to the station.

Figueres (Barcelona day trip)


A two-hour train ride from Barcelona Sants  gets you  Figueres. The train round trip cost is $64 for one adult. The 9:45 outbound and 4:55 back seems about right for a 55 minute trip. The Teatre-Museu Gala Salvador Dali is the egg-sculpture-topped museum that he designed. The hilltop Sant Ferran Castle, is surrounded by a fortress. Walking though town there is a Gothic church. Thursday is market day, and farmers are at the top of the Rambla to do business. The museum is closed on Monday.  The town is small enough to see on foot. The museum has Dali's 1941 Cadillac. April 24th is a Thursday.

Girona (Barcelona day trip)

Has Gothic-style churches, as well as Jewish cultural heritage sites. The military structures that surround and once protected the town date back to Roman times. Visitors  walk along the walls and  the connected towers.. The train from the Barcelona Sants station takes about an 40 minutes. The round trip cost is $50 for an adult. You could probably combine the Girona and Figures trips and save the cost and boredom of making the same run twice. Just get off in Girona and then get back on to go on to Figueres.

Florence 4/30-5/5


Siena (Florence day trip) 

 Siena is a medieval city. The 13th-century duomo is one of the most stunning cathedrals in all of Italy, it boasts pieces by Michelangelo, Donatello, Pisano, and Bernini, not to mention an incredible, frescoed library. that The city’s has a unique, scallop-shaped main piazza, dominated by the 14th-century tower that’s taller even than the one in Florence. It has important art, including Lorenzetti’s seminal frescoes of “Good and Bad Goverment.” and is the birthplace of St. Catherine of Siena, and the resting place of her head. 

To get to Siena from Florence:  The direct SITA bus from Florence takes 1 hour 15 minutes; you can look up the timetables here. By train, Siena is located 1 hour 30 minutes from Florence, but be aware that the train station is almost 1.5 miles outside the city center and requires either a half-hour walk or taking the local bus).

Lucca (Florence day trip)

 Lucca has cobble stoned streets and elegant palaces, elaborate churches and a ring of Renaissance-era fortification walls that have been turned into biking and walking paths. For music aficionados, it also happens to be where the composer Giacomo Puccini was born.

To get to Lucca from Florence: The train takes 1 hour 20 minutes, and since the station is located right outside the city center and easily walkable, this is a very convenient option.

Pisa (Florence day trip)

If you want to get what must be the most iconic photo in Italy, Pisa’s your place. But there’s much more to Pisa than that. . But the medieval city also boasts an 11th-century Duomo chock-full of gorgeous art, the elaborate Baptistery, and beautiful palaces. The downside, of course, is all the crowds around the Leaning Tower.

To get to Pisa from Florence: The direct, high-speed train to Pisa takes just 50 minutes from Florence. It’s then a 20-minute walk from the train station to the Leaning Tower, or a 10-minute bus ride. Driving, Pisa is located 1 hour 20 minutes from Florence.

 To visit Pisa and Lucca in one day and avoid the crowds,  leave Florence on the train by 9am, putting you in Lucca around 10:30am. Enjoy a relaxing walk on the city walls, explore the churches, and have a late lunch around 1:30.

From there, Pisa’s just a 25-minute train ride from Lucca, so if you leave Lucca around 3:45, you’ll be standing at the Leaning Tower by 4:30… just as the tour buses are all leaving. . Take as much time as you need to marvel at Pisa’s beauty by dusk. Then grab the direct, high-speed train back to Florence, which takes just one hour.

Cinca Terre, Italy  5/5-5/8 


  Le Divine, Corso Roma 17/A, Levanto, 19015, Italy


 Cinque Terre translates into "five lands", or five towns  - Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso.

The  Cinque Terre Card includes several services such as shuttle buses and usage of the trekking trails. At every Cinque Terre train station you can buy the card and get maps and all other information needed at Tourist information points. The Cinque Terre Card includes the following services:

- Use of ecological Park buses
- Access to all trekking paths
- Entrance to the Sciacchetrà Museum in Manarola
- Entrance to the History Museum in Riomaggiore
- Entrance to the ancient Oil Mill in Groppo
- Entrance to the Virtual Aquarium in Monterosso
- Access to visit the Anchovies Salting Centre in Monterosso

Price adults:
1 day Cinque Terre Card: € 6...The local trains out of La Spezia are inexpensive, run hourly and stop in all five cities.

Trains in the Cinque Terre

To find your way by train, go to the self-serve ticket kiosk in any station, name your destination, and the earliest time you might want to depart. The machine will tell you all the connections from that time on. You can choose the quickest, the earliest, the cheapest, whatever you want. You can also name a departure point other than the one that you're in. 

From Florence a 90km ticket works to get you to the Cinque Terre.

Try the Cinque Terre day pass to travel all day between the Cinque Terre towns (specify 2nd class, La Spezia to Monterosso). 

Don't be fooled; your pass says "24 hours", but expires at midnight (remember to write your name on it and stamp it). 

The 5km train day pass works for the Cinque Terre towns
Stamp your ticket in the machine on the platform before you get on the train. You will be fined by the conductor if your ticket has not been stamped.

You need a 30km ticket to go from La Spezia to Levanto.

From Levanto the hike to Monterosso or biking though the old train tunnels is good. Try the wine from the local Co-Op and the local pesto and pasta ( trofie pasta). Boat to Cinque Terra leaves at 10AM and returns in the evening.


Venice, Italy 5/8-5/11


Salzburg   5/11-5/14

Prague  5/14-5/19

Budapest  5/19-5/24

The Danube River divides this Hungarian capital city Explore both parts, starting with  National Opera House and historic Heroes’ Square. Stroll Fishermen’s Hill to Fishermen’s Bastion and Matthias Church.  

Bratislava 5/24-5/26

Arrive early and embark on a walking tour of Slovakia’s capital to see attractions like the medieval fortifications at Michael’s Tower, baroque Jesuit Church and Gothic St. Martin’s Cathedral. You also pass by several baroque palaces from the Habsburg Dynasty. 

 Vienna 5/26- 5/30

Ride along Vienna’s Ringstrasse, which replaced the city walls in the mid-19th century. You will also see Vienna’s world-famous Opera House, St. Stephan’s Cathedral and Hofburg Palace.  Enjoy an optional classical concert. 

Melk & Krems 5/31-6/2

Visit the abbey at Melk

Passau 6/2-6/4

See Passau’s narrow streets and Italianate architecture, and pass the Veste Oberhaus, a 13th-century fortress that served for centuries as a bishop’s stronghold. Then, listen to a concert on Europe’s largest pipe organ in St. Stephan’s Cathedral.

Regensburg 6/4-6/6

Regensburg is a wonderfully preserved medieval city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site including structures dating back to Roman times. Discover many 13th- and 14th-century patrician houses and see the splendid St. Peter’s Cathedral. During free time, visit the Alte Wurstküche (Old Sausage Kitchen), Germany’s oldest restaurant. 

 Nuremberg 6/6-6/9

Visit the ruins of Zeppelin Field, used in the 1930s as Nazi parade grounds, and see the Palace of Justice, site of the famous Nuremberg Trials. Spend some free time exploring Nuremberg’s Old Town area, or join an optional World War II history tour including the Documentation Center Museum. 

 Bamberg 6/9-6/11

Visit Bamberg, with its medieval city center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Your walking tour includes a visit to the magnificent 11th-century cathedral, reworked in late-Romanesque style in the 13th century, and the very picturesque city hall built on a tiny island in the middle of a river. Take some free time to enjoy Bamberg and perhaps try some of the town’s distinctive smoke-flavored beer.

Würzburg 6/11-6/13


   Tour Würzburg’s Bishops’ Residenz, one of Germany’s largest and most ornate baroque palaces and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Take an optional full-day excursion along Germany’s “Romantic Road” to Rothenburg, which features a turreted city wall and lovely Gothic and baroque architecture.

Miltenberg 6/13-6/15

 Stop in Miltenberg, known for its half-timbered houses, including the oldest inn in Germany. 

  Koblenz 6/15-6/17

 Stop in Koblenz to visit Marksburg, the only Rhine castle never destroyed.

Cologne 6/17- 6/21


Visit to the Dom, Germany’s largest cathedral and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After your tour, spend the rest of the day and evening exploring Cologne on your own. There are Roman ruins, interesting neighbourhoods and wonderful museums like the Fragrance Museum and the Chocolate Museum. 

Berlin 6/21-6/27



Saturday, 15 March 2014

Getting Around in Barcelona

 The Barcelona Sants Train station and Barcelona Nord bus station have lockers for baggage storage. These cost about 5.80 euros.

The T10 subway ticket costs 9.80 euros and is about 1/2 the cost of individual tickets. You need a T10 ticket to ride the RENFRE train to or from the airport. Taxis are also available at a cost of 25 to 30 euros.

 You can purchase a T10 ticket from any metro stop or at the entrance to the RENFE train platform at Barcelona Airport.

When traveling by RENFRE train from the airport to the city center you can get off at Barcelona Sants, Passeig de Gràcia or Clot which are also serviced by metro stops.

When arriving at a cruise ship terminal, take the BLUE BUS (2 euros) to the Christopher Columbus monument. From there take a taxi or walk five minutes to the Drassanes (Green Line, L3) metro station.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

So, What's an Argonaut?

Paestrum, Italy

According to legend, Paestrum was established by Jason and the Argonauts. The Greek temples there were devoted to Poseidon, Athena and Hera. The site is located on the road linking Agropoli to Battipagli in the province of Salerno.

The excellent state of preservation of the Paestrum ruins is attributed to abandonment of the area due to malaria and marauding Arabs. Admission is 5€, 6€ with the museum. The lady selling the tickets says, “Museo? No Museo?” Eventually I catch on and go for the Museo option.

 The Museum has many fine examples of pottery, statues and frescos. You can see soldiers carving each other up and the blood is still red on some of the artwork.

The site was rediscovered about the time of the American Revolution and was an important stop on the “Grand Tour”.

The Argonauts were mythical sailors on the ship Argo.

We drove back roads out of Paestrum on the way to Sicily. In a small mountain town the inhabitants seem to consist entirely old men in 1940 dress styles and old women in widow’s black. I ask Mrs. Phred to adopt this style of dress for life if anything happens to me. After a long negotiation, she promises me a week.

In 1944, an American officer surveyed the location for a potential airstrip. Somehow, he recognized the historical importance of these old stones and located the strip in another place.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Burning the Tax Collectors

Tropea, Italy

We arrive in ancient walled city of Tropea after dark. We plan to leave for Naxos, Sicily in the morning. Our objectives are limited, walk on the beach, eat gelato, view the coast from the Chiesa dell'Isolla church on the hilltop and take pictures of ancient doorways.

We run into an unexpected bonus: an outdoor concert at 11 PM and lovely fireworks until midnight. The explosions are over the water and close to our balcony.

The cobblestone streets at dawn seem ready for a Nazi staff car to roll around the corner.

Every year on May 3, a festival called “I tre da cruci”- the three crosses, takes place in Tropea. Its name originates from the three wooden crosses which were placed in the church of the souls of purgatory after the collapse of the small, holy buildings where they were originally located. The feast relives events in the history of Tropea.

 During the festival, the expulsion of the Saracens is re-enacted, and specifically, the capture of the tax collector who was hated by everyone because he rode around the streets of the town on camel to collect taxes.

 The infidel, represented by a puppet stuffed with fireworks, is chased by the “bourgeoisie”, who in the end manage to expel him and light him on fire.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

The Senior Prom

It's a reason to dress up. Due to my strangely tubular somatotype, the pants are both tight to button and tend to slide off...perhaps suspenders would be in order.

 Here's Mrs Phred, back in high school.

 She hasn't changed much...

Most take the prom as an opportunity to be wacky.

The ladies tend to be more serious.

Line dancing?