Category Archives: Trip Report

Trip report – Albania

Another trip report folks. As always many food pictures 🙂. If you’re not interested please ignore.

Monday, April 29
We had an early flight out of Assisi airport to Tirana, Albania. It was about 1.5 hours on WizzAir, another of those low cost airlines that fly in Europe. We met up with our travel companion, Jen.

The flight was fine. We landed in Tirana and made it through passport control. We noticed that our passports had been checked no less than three times! Once to check in, once at Italian passport control, and once on arrival in Albania. Albania is not in the EU nor Schengen and it uses the Leke for its currency. 

We retrieved our luggage and I bought a SIM card for my phone so we could navigate. It was very chaotic and I managed to misplace, lose, or be slick-fingered-robbed of 20,000 Leke that I had just gotten from the ATM. It was only about $20 so not the end of the world. We next rented our car from Europcar. A white fiat with plenty of room. It was a hot day and we slogged to a far parking lot to find the car. It really was quite the madhouse! Cars everywhere jostling to get in and out of the lot, blocking each other’s way. Part of the problem was that the road you had to exit onto was bumper to bumper too. Albanian drivers in Tirana turned out to be pretty aggressive.

Finally on the road out of the crazy traffic we were in on way to Berat. At first it was supremely ugly. Many half finished buildings and abandoned this or that. We got to the seacoast and got our first glimpse of the incredibly turquoise Adriatic. Durrës was the name of this city and it was big. Lots of hotels on the beach. Definitely not my type of beach town.

The taste of the Albanians definitely tends to the highly tacky. Overdone crenellations and white columns abound. Huge stone lions outside businesses, huge eagle-like birds topping rooftops. Seems nothing is too out there!

We were headed south towards some very tall snow-capped mountains. We passed through a large area that bristled with oil derricks. It smelled strongly of oil, similar to the smell of jet fuel. Ugh. We didn’t know they produced oil.

We passed some pretty houses among vineyards and other crops and saw an enticing looking restaurant, so we stopped. Kantina Edoni was perfect. We sat on a covered porch. The temperature was just right. We had salads and melty cheese, olives and then we each had a seafood dish. All, except for the grilled seafood which was over-cooked, good. Albanian food definitely tends to the Greek. A bottle of the local wine from this family owned cantina rounded out the meal. A great find for a first lunch. 

Baked “white cheese”. When you order they ask “white or yellow”. 🙂
Tomato salad(!) two whole and very large tomatoes. Most things are to share.
All the olives we had were delicious. I picked up one of the orange slices was surprised to find it was a lemon!! I never found out what it really was. Why it looked like an orange but was sour like a lemon.
Jen’s cod. She loved it.
Front of restaurant.

Next stop Berat. We arrived at Tradita e Beratit, our hotel for the night. It was up a narrow street of super uneven stones, very hard to walk on. It is family-owned and they were super nice and gave us a welcoming blueberry juice drink and a sweet. We also saw their “museum”. The house had been an inn for 350 years and was their ancestral home. We stowed our stuff in our rooms. Ours had a nice view and was pretty with lacy curtains and a comfy bed, but was super small, I was glad we were only there one night.

In the vaulted “museum” in the hotel.
From our window
Just across from the hotel. Cliff. The castle is on top. I liked the church halfway up.

The town kind of sprawls along the Seman River which is obviously glacial in origin from its color. The really big mountains we saw on our trip are nearby and the river originates there. Our part of town was the oldest. There are three bridges. Two are pedestrian. Since we were only here one night we went out for a walkabout right away. We walked down the river and crossed to the main part of town and saw the promenade along the river and with a lovely park and many restaurants. We visited an old church and a mosque where a kind man lent us scarves so we two women could go in. 

Orthodox church
Art in the church
Berat mosque.
Looking up river
Berat is known for it’s windows.
The oldest bridge.

We returned and decided to eat just below our hotel. They said it was affiliated with them. Dinner was OK. So far things are fresh but very basic. Prices are super low. A salad is $3.50, an entree is $8.00 – $10.00. But don’t expect fancy meals.
~~~~~
Tuesday April 30
We got up early and had a really nice breakfast. Served on pretty olive wood platters. We had flat, pancake-like eggs, a sweet cake, olives, cucumbers, cheeses, tomatoes, fresh yogurt. Along with blueberry juice and a cappuccino.

Berat breakfast
Hotel cat. She was happy on top of the drink machine and didn’t want to be bothered!

We checked out and drove up to visit the castle above the town. It was more than a castle. Almost a village up there. People selling things. A hotel. Places to eat etc. also a lot of churches and one mosque. Nice weather. My knee doesn’t like too much up and down so I walked up a steep incline and walked around the town but, I let my fellow travelers visit all the churches etc. while I walked slowly back down the uneven road to the car. I had fun and enjoyed the excursion. 

A bunch of kids arrived when we did. Field trip! Photo op!
The castle and wall.
Part of the village
Loved the pineapple topiary.
One of the churches in the castle complex.
Girl scritching stray bitch who was very pregnant. More strays-to-be on the way 😢

We headed north along the same route we took the day before. The traffic is pretty terrible; so many trucks clog all the roads. Very few are more than two lanes. There are hazards like bicycles and people walking, as well as the many stray dogs and cats. We passed right by the airport and continued north to a town called Kruje. It was way up in the granite mountains and was quite large. It also had a castle and we headed there. 

We found parking and walked up the road toward the castle. There were shops all along the way selling clothing, rugs, embroidered table cloths and runners, olive wood bowls and trays. We were hungry so we stopped in a roadside restaurant. It had amazing views across the valley. Another typical lunch. So far the food has not varied much. Starters are always salads, feta or other cheese either baked or not. Olives, etc. Mains are seafood near the coast or roasted meats. Lamb and goat are popular and also beef and chicken. The sides are grilled vegetables, roasted potatoes, French fries, etc. After lunch Luther and Jen went up to the castle. Turns out there were two museums and just the ruins of the old castle remained. Jen and I bought blouses on our way back.

Kruje Castle museum
The bazaar near the Kruje castle.
Odd pizza-like appetizer to share. The bread base is corn bread, a surprise but is common there.

Back in the car we wound our way back down the mountain, this time dodging loose cattle who seemed to be tended by a man but he couldn’t really keep them out of the road. The trip to Shkodër was about an hour and a half more. So many trucks! I amused myself snapping pictures of the amusing and strange architecture along the way. They build these places alone, often in a big dirt or gravel lot with little or no grass or shrubbery. These buildings look stark and alone. Many seem unused.

This one seems to have a missing second floor but they are using the first.
This was a wedding venue. It was in a very ugly area.

We arrived and found the hotel (Çoçja Boutique Hotel) with some amount of difficulty as usual. It is a lovely hotel with underground parking. Prices here being so low, Luther and I had gone for a suite and it was enormous. Very comfortable. Both hotels so far have had little bottles of the exact same shampoo, and tiny soap bars, also both the same. No other “condiments” as I call the amenities normally in a nice hotel like this one.

We met for a drink after a short time to refresh and then decided we were ready for dinner. The hotel recommended a restaurant which is affiliated with the hotel. It was about a five minute walk away. We walked down our street and crossed the big street. On the other side was a really nice pedestrian and bike zone. It went directly in front of the Great Mosque – Ebu Beker Mosque. And just past it the Orthodox Cathedral of the Nativity.

Great mosque

Dinner was delicious. Many dishes made a return appearance. Grilled “white” cheese, grilled vegetables, a Greek salad. Then three seafood dishes. A whole sea bass for Luther which looked delicious, and two shrimp dishes. Mine was shrimp in orange sauce with vegetables, and Jen got whole grilled shrimp. After dinner brandy and a walnut yogurt dessert for Jen. Very yummy.

Baked cheese.
My shrimp
Luther’s bass

Luther finally had his cigar outside. We have a very nice balcony in our room with table and two chairs. It even has a view of the Great Mosque. And I got to hear my first calls to prayer.
~~~~~
Wednesday, May 1
A holiday all over Europe – Labor Day. We weren’t sure about Albania. But it was listed as one on the Internet. We had breakfast at ten. It was good and unusual.

We headed out to visit the Site of Witness and Memory. It is the first museum dedicated to the victims of the horrific communist fascist regime here in Albania. Luther described it as the North Korea of Europe. They were isolated and alone with an evil dictator and regime. Hundreds of thousands died, many innocent of any real crime, many by horrific torture, imprisoned in notorious prisons. Cruelty was the name of the game. The regime stamped out any trace of religion. Most clerics died or were imprisoned. All mosques and churches were destroyed. Atheism was the only possible belief. The museum was very moving. The cells where the prisoners were held are preserved. The torture room is preserved. Some of the victims who lived in the cells were remembered with their pictures inside each one and their stories written down outside the doors. So sad. People can be so evil. I just don’t understand.

This woman refused sex with the commandant and he put her in a bag with a wild cat and beat the cat with crowbars. She was unrecognizable when released. This was a common torture.

We shook off the mood and did some wandering about town. Nice place with pretty parks and walking streets. We sat and had a beverage outside. The weather was perfect. We decided on a seafood restaurant and it turned out to be very good. We had a plate of bruschetta and a salad to share, and we each ordered a fish or fishes. Along with wine. Price was 7,700 Leke, or around €77.00 or $78.00. The prices are amazingly low.

Jen’s cod
One of the mosques
Street life
Talisman. I saw garlic hanging in front of a lot of houses.

Luther and I decided on a siesta in our room and Jen went a-wandering as is her wont. Later we met up for aperitivo in a bar nearby called ORO which had snacks. We had drinks and snacks and a great wide ranging conversation. When we emerged we found ourselves about midway between two mosques when the call to prayer began. It was quite amazing to hear the dueling …. what do you call it?  Singers, callers, Imams, the men who intone/sing the calls? It is such a melancholy, but in a way, calming sound. It had rained while we were in the bar. Our hotel courtyard was wet. We retired to our rooms.

Luther tried to smoke a cigar but got rained out about halfway through. I liked Shkodër but it wasn’t what I had expected.
~~~~~
Thursday May 2
Next morning we grabbed another good breakfast and headed south from Shkodër. About an hour and a half later we arrived at the Tirana airport to drop off the rental car. We didn’t want to keep it because our flight the next day was at the ungodly hour of 6:20am so the rental agencies wouldn’t be open. We took a taxi into town to our hotel called the Capital Suites Center. It was on two floors of an old communist building. The owner, called Albi, was an entrepreneur who bought up the space and renovated it into hotel rooms. To be honest the rooms were not great but for one night it was OK. Albi and his friend, Henry, and Steve the evening clerk were all very friendly and helpful. Albi told us he made money also buying wrecked luxury cars in the U.S. and shipping them back twenty at a time, to be repaired and resold in Albania. We had noticed the Albanese really like their nice cars. They might not have much else but they spend their money on cars. I think there is a lavazh, or car wash, every fifty feet!

We had a fun lunch in a sort of Hard Rock Cafe place near the hotel called Restorant Tymi. Salads all around and baked feta, olives and corn bread in yogurt. 

Tymi

We went off to see what we could see in an afternoon. First up was the large Skanderbeg square. Sight of the uprisings against the Enver Hoxha regime in 1991. We wanted to visit one of the two bunkers left over from that time. The one we went to was where records were kept, tortures were carried out, interrogations were carried out and spies were trained. Everyday people were enlisted to spy on their neighbors and rat them out. No one could be trusted. People abused their power of course, accusing a neighbor of a crime to get back at them for some slight. I didn’t care for how they exhibited everything. Narrow hallways had posters on the walls with a chronological history from the 1950s until the end in 1991. Claustrophobic space with way too many people. 

Communist building on the square
Square
I love Tirana
Entry to the bunker

Out into the sunlight again. Whew. We went to see the Cloud, a sculpture by Sou Fujimoto, then walked towards a very inviting street lined with bars and lots of tall trees and gardens. Quite nice and we sat and people watched for a while with drinks. Fun! Tirana is quite pretty with lots of skyscrapers of maybe 50-60 floors. Many under construction. Interesting architecture. Many shops. Quite prosperous. A surprise to us all. We had expected a gritty city. The streets were wide and all was clean. 

The Cloud
People watching on the pretty street
The guys across from us were looking at all the girls as they passed. Very amusing. But this old woman asked for money and happily they all gave her some.
Boys looking cool never change the world over!
Interesting architecture. Those protruding squares held up balconies 😳
I called this the building block building
Loved this color

We walked back to the hotel to get ready for dinner at a seafood place recommended by Albi. It was delish and the most expensive place we have eaten yet. Pretty space named Gusto. Owned by an Italian. All seafood and fresh fish from the Ionian Sea every day. A big array of fish of all kinds on ice as you walk in. Luther and I had whole sea bass. Mine was grilled and his was in a salt crust. Jen got shrimp risotto. We also had a Greek starter to share – shrimp in a red sauce. Very nice. 

We went to a bar for a nightcap and Luther had a cigar he bought in the restaurant. The bar was short on variety of drinks. No brandy, cognac, amaro, but the music was fun. Oldies.
~~~~~
Friday May 3
Up at 4:15. Ugh! Taxi had been ordered for 4:45 but we were ready at 4:30 and he was there when we went out. 25 minutes to airport and into the fray to get checked-in and through security and passport control. We were very glad to have US passports because there were scanners and our passports were readable. The poor Albanese were stuck in a very long line. A quick macchiato for us and we went to our gate.

There was a big storm with lightening and thunder and rain passing through. Oddly they let everyone get checked and make everyone wait outside. We finally ran through the rain to go up the steps to board. Just after we boarded a very belligerent Albanian man got into an altercation with the crew for some reason. Loud shouting and many hand gestures. The cops were called. The captain said he wanted him off the plane. A friend pleaded leniency. But the captain was really angry that his cabin crew had been abused by this idiot. So off he went with the cops who confiscated his passport. He wasn’t getting to Perugia today. 

So what did I think of Albania 🇦🇱? The people are very friendly. The country has been through a lot. It is still healing. It is extremely cheap. It has mountains, flatlands, and Alps. The beaches are beautiful there, primarily in southern Albania near Greece. Smaller fishing type villages. But locals told us the huge influx of tourists in the last two years have made doing anything in the beach areas in July and August nearly impossible. There are hiking areas in the Albanian Alps which are formidable! Most other tourism is minimal. Probably the only reason I would return would be to spend a week on the beach in May or September. Off season. Just to relax and eat amazing seafood.
~~~~~~
Best and worst.
Best hotel – Çoçja Boutique Hotel in Shkodër
Worst hotel – Capital Suites in Tirana
Best lunch – Fish in Shkodër – amazing and cheap!
Best dinner – Gusto, Tirana
Best breakfast – Berat
Best outdoor sight – castle in Berat
Best indoor sight – Site of Witness and Memory – Shkodër
Best city – Tirana
Best town – Berat

We’re home

We had an uneventful trip home. I hate those overnight flights. I did get a couple hours of sleep. Below is all that we did and accomplished on this trip. Oddly, everything I planned worked out perfect. I am not used to that! This would never happen in Italy.

Happily we had wonderful house cat sitters. Leah Wiedemar is an accomplished artist. She painted a lot of small paintings while here. You can look her up online and Facebook to see them. She surprised us with an oil painting of our boyz, Simba and Rocky. It’s amazing!

The first thing that was new on this trip, and I wasn’t sure how it would workout, was the new-to-us hotel in Fiumicino. The ISA Residence. I mentioned it before in my first post. It was cheap at €60 a night. Big, clean and no frills room. The parking was the big draw for us. We drove there and they parked our car in an underground garage for the 12 days we were gone. We paid €5 a day minus a small discount and we had a private driver to and from the airport for only €29. The drivers were super punctual and a pleasure. I highly recommend this place for people who live in Italy and want to leave a car.

Getting through TSA, passport control and customs was a piece of cake on both ends. The flight to the U.S. arrived one hour early. The return was half an hour early. The flight crews were all super nice and accommodating but we were flying business class so it was expected. My food on my return was actually delicious – spicy chicken cooked in coconut milk with Udon noodles. It had a nice spicy kick. I was astounded. Here’s a picture.

I had a window pod on the way back so I had fun looking out the window. The first image is the Chesapeake bay bridge. We have driven over it many times. The other two the alps.

First view of Alps below
A little later

Our rental house in Old Town Alexandria was very comfy and well appointed. Also great location walkable to a ton of restaurants, breakfast places, the waterfront, etc. My sister and her husband stayed with us for three nights at the beginning. They also came to pick up a big piece of antique furniture I had brought back from Germany.


All the myriad plans for emptying the storage facility went perfectly. My very helpful nearby cousin helped me with getting rid of the big furniture. I only brought a rocking chair gifted to me by a now deceased old friend. Luther and I unpacked everything and then the shippers showed up and repacked everything. We shipped 16 boxes and the rocking chair. That happened Monday. I managed to give away the big display towers I had on Freecycle. We donated my Wedgewood China and other things to Goodwill and gave my Kitchenaid mixer to a friend, and finally the NOVAJunk people showed up on Friday on schedule to take all the left over trash. Voila. Many moving parts that all worked. 😳 If one thing had gone wrong I may not have succeeded.

Once we were finally done we had time to see family. We had dinner with Luther’s brother, Mike and his wife Anne one night. Then we had a great get together with all the rest of the family on Saturday. Mike & Anne, their daughter Rachel and husband Alex, and second child Dave and his wife Shira and their two children. I had not met my grand nephew and grand niece. We were missing Sarah, their youngest who lives in a far away land…California. We missed you Sarah!

Check out this other small painting gifted to me by our artist housesitter. The Saturday Umbertide market. I adore it!

Now we are back to the land of €4.00 pizza margheritas. Returning from the land of $19.00 pizza margheritas. Above, my homecoming gift! Beautiful flower that I was gifted by friends last year. It decided to bloom. 💕 Ciao everyone. Thanks for going along on this most productive, but tiring trip! Now to deal with the jet lag!

Impressions

We have made a lot of progress. The shipment has been picked up. We dropped off a goodwill donation and something a friend wanted and finished the grocery shopping yesterday morning. The trash left was grabbed by the Junk pickup people today. This is a photo of what we are shipping to Italy. 16 boxes and one rocking chair.

Looks like junk, I know, but it is MY junk!

~~~~~~~
We have been here for ten days so far. We have shopped for food, interacted with lots of people, and eaten out several times. So far these are my impressions after being away for five years in no particular order.

Everything here is about speed and convenience. There is take out everywhere, or delivery services. Everything is fast and efficient. The groceries are full of already made food or dinner kits or ready to cook produce and marinated meats. The produce looks nice. The variety is pretty incredible. There is a much bigger emphasis on foods for people who have food intolerances. Whole aisles dedicated to them. The service is copious and friendly. The size of the stores is incredible. Italy is not about speed and convenience. Italy does have the Iper Mercati which are just about as big, and they also DO have prepared foods. Just not in the quantities as here. They do have some foods for people with intolerances but a LOT less and a lot smaller selection. The service in Italy is nearly nonexistent.

Going out to eat is eye-wateringly expensive. The servers are incredibly annoying. They are crazy cheerful and seem to want to be my best friend. At the beginning of every meal they seem to feel the need to recite the entire menu (like I can’t read) along with telling me their personal favorites (do I care?) trying to encourage me to buy many courses, and selling the expensive items. Wines are triple or quadruple the retail prices.

All prices are staggeringly high for everything. It is a stark difference between the U.S. and Italy. I do not notice a lot of inflation in Italy. Prices are very reasonable for food, wine, going out to eat.

The culture is much younger in the US.

Drug commercials! Argh!

We haven’t had a decent cup of coffee since we came. The rental house has only a drip coffee maker so the coffee tends to be very weak. Espresso is steamed as opposed to drip so there can be no real comparison. But here, even the espresso is wimpy.

The rental house was built in the 1800s and is a 2 bedroom, 2 bath right in Old Town. It even has parking! It is walkable to everything. This is not the norm for the US since most people live in the suburbs. We lived in Old town for 16 years and chose it for its walkability.

Forced air heat 😳. I had totally forgotten about this. The whirring of the fans all the time. Garbage disposal that grinds up food! And no recycling. All are differences from Italy.

Our rental car has automatic protections against car jacking. Hmmmm.

I have had some of my favorite things to eat while here. I had a crab cake sandwich (not great). I had a lobster roll (great). Seared scallops were also great. Luther and my sister had raw oysters. None of these are seen in our part of Italy. Seared scallops.

So a job well done by us. The unit is empty. My goal has been accomplished. Hooray! A big sigh of relief all around!

Off to the USA

To start off with we have house/cat sitters. They were picked up from one of the Perugia stations. Leah & John from Florida. We had a day to show them the ropes.

On Tuesday we left Umbertide for Fiumicino to a new hotel with parking. We said farewell to our house and cat sitters. I hope they have fun and good weather. It was a beautiful day with blue skies and mild temperatures for our drive to Fiumicino. It has been so long since we did this drive. On the way we stopped for panini at the Autogrill. They sure have it all over the rest stops in the U.S. Here is a pic of my panino.

We found the ISA Residence hotel. It sits in a nice, upscale neighborhood. It is new to us and we chose it because it had long term parking. We spent the night there and took the shuttle to the airport the next morning

We also had a good dinner at the seafood place called Altavela. We chose it because of the reviews and also because we could walk there. The people were super nice. We would go back if we ever stay at the ISA again. My spaghetti con vongole veraci.

We checked in on Wednesday morning at the United airlines counter for our trip. There sure are a lot of things you have to do to check in nowadays. We spent some time in the comfortable lounge for United airlines. Almost makes up for the service on board.

The flight was uneventful and arrived an hour early. We rented our car and drove through rush hour traffic to our rented house in our previous town, Old Town Alexandria, VA. We are not used to the traffic here. In my previous working life I did the drive we did yesterday every day to and from work. It was horrible but I listened to books to make it tolerable.

We went to the mega Wegmans in Alexandria for something for dinner and some wine (of course), then headed to our house. It is quite nice.

Thursday. First, a serious shopping trip for provisions. A few observations. There is a brand new Wegmans here in Old Town. An amazing store. So much is prepared foods, kits, dinners ready to heat, even veggies already sliced, baguettes whole but if you’re too lazy to cut into slices you can buy it sliced. It is all about convenience it seems. I guess I get it. People are busy.  They have regular stuff too. Paper products and things you need other than fancy food. They also have the coolest thing I’ve seen. Hard to describe but it’s a gadget that grabs your shopping cart and it goes down next to the escalator you’re on and at the bottom you just pick it up. Pretty amazing! Oh! And they bag your groceries for you!! …and you don’t have to weigh your produce like in Italy.

My sister arrived around lunchtime. We walked about 20 minutes down to the new waterfront development since we moved which I had heard about. Very changed from our time here. We had lunch on a pier. It was an amazing 77 degrees. Why not take advantage?

Friday we spent several hours sorting through the storage. There were several goals. One, find the art work. Two, find the shelves for the tall display stands so I could give them away. Three, find the china. Four, unpack the furniture which I was giving away. Five, find my Kitchenaid mixer which will be given away.

My cousin, Brack, who lives nearby was a lifesaver. He had a friend with an antique store and he took my library table and two chairs. Brack took a lap desk that belonged to my Dad. My sister took the painted, antique German shrank (wardrobe). So the only large thing left was the display towers.

We sorted through the boxes and found all the things we needed to find and made a big pile of trash. Turns out my two oriental carpets didn’t like being in storage for ten years and were completely ruined. Sad to say as they were fine pieces.

We went out for a walkabout yesterday, we visited my sisters old apartment and our old home. We looked at all the new development and we decided to go to Hanks Oyster Bar in a new location near where we used to live. It was a pleasant lunch in their rooftop bar.

For dinner we hit nearby Vermillion last night. It was expensive but good enough. The prices are pretty eye watering for wine and the tips (which we are not used to) add so much to the cost of a meal. They need to get rid of the tipping culture. Delicious beets four ways. Very yummy.

I am going to sign off for now but will post more about the shipping etc soon.

Merry Olde England

This is a trip report, not terribly long. It started rough, and ended a little rough but in between was nice. You can’t have it all!

Well, the trip started with a thud. We drove to Perugia airport and parked. We got all checked in. Then we found out our incoming plane was delayed. It arrived around 30 minutes late. But after the passengers disembarked they wouldn’t let us on. Finally they said it was delayed for (fill in the blank time). They kept adding to the delay all day. They gave us  €4 euro vouchers to use in the expensive snack bar. Yay. I amused myself with people watching if I could — here is Stanley Tucci who was on our flight. 😉

Anyway, long story short they flew another plane in from Germany. The original plane had gotten warning lights about the landing gear and it was not a simple fix.

Seven hours after our 10:15am departure time we finally got off the ground. Seven hours in an airport with really nothing to do or see was excruciating. Because we arrived in England after dark we decided to book a room near the airport where we had been many times before. The Saracen’s Head. It is convenient and has a restaurant. It meant we missed our first night in our cottage but I guess it could be worse. We had dinner, not the best but convenient after a very long day and we had a bed. 

My first dinner. Seafood pie. Unremarkable.


~~~~~~~
Saturday December 16 – We rose and had breakfast in the pub. Then we headed out right away to our destination, Corfe Castle in Dorset. A 3.5 hour drive, which was uneventful. We stopped for lunch just before we got there at the Claypipe Inn. Luthers first bitter and a nice interior. Lots of locals there. A nice vibe.

We stopped in Wareham for groceries and headed to the cottage. It was cold and spitting rain. We lugged all our groceries and luggage up the steep path from where we could park the car to the cottage. 

We didn’t feel like going out again so we decided to cook in the cottage. We had bought a whole chicken already seasoned and with stuffing. It was sealed in a bag and the instructions said to cook in the bag an hour and then open the bag and cook another half an hour. Pretty fool-proof. Except for the fact I couldn’t figure out the oven. I found a book with all the appliance papers and finally figured it out. We also had green beans and a baked potato.

I built a fire in the wood burning stove and before long we were nice and cozy. We watched some TV. A nice evening.


~~~~~~~
Next day was Sunday. We always buy crumpets, butter and jam for breakfast. Yum! We went out to explore the village. As I mentioned, the name of the town is Corfe Castle. Apt name since its claim to fame is a ruined castle which was built in the 1000s by William the Conqueror. This morning the sun came out from the clouds just as we walked out the door. The castle is right above our cottage on a hill. It was stunning in the morning sunlight. The village is very cute and very old. All old stone buildings, with an old Norman church just like the churches in all the other villages. Also built in about the 1000s. There are at least 5 pubs. There is a National Trust shop with some nice things for sale. We found a nice deli where we bought some cheese and some chorizo cured sausage for a snack sometime. There were also several other small shops selling souvenirs. And finally we came upon a small grocery which was also the Post office and Western Union.

Our first view of the castle from our cottage. Sunshine! The only day we had any.

We set off to Durdle Door which is a National Heritage Site. The parking lot is way up high on a bluff over the ocean. From there, a path leads down to the beach. There must have been fifty mile an hour winds and it was COLD. I was not prepared for this weather. We decided not to do the walk down. The hardy British were all out. Fully suited up for this and even had babies in baby carriages. It would have been lovely on a nicer day. The area was chock-a-block with holiday mobile home cottages. Hundreds and hundreds cheek by jowl. Not my cup of tea. But some of them had great views.

We decided to visit Swanage. It is a town at the end of the road that goes through Corfe Castle and down to the coast. Ferries leave from there. There’s a beach and lots of beach hotels. Some shops, restaurants, coffee shops and pubs. Maybe half of the shops were open. We walked and looked. Along the road I took a few pictures. Pretty countryside.

After our walk about we decided to eat lunch at The Anchor. It was surprisingly empty. The two young women working there were strange. One wore a black band type top covering her breasts. She had a bare midriff and shoulders. She had a Cardinals jacket on over her top. She clutched it closed as though embarrassed to be half naked. And it was a very cold day. Really odd. 

We thought maybe the restaurant was empty because they don’t offer a Sunday Roast. This is a well loved British tradition. On Sundays the families go to a pub which serves the Sunday Roast. It is prime rib or roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and all the fixin’s. Well the Anchor didn’t have this so I guess that explained the lack of customers. The food was quite good. I got a sea bass filet in butter with veggies. Luther got a meat pie which was super juicy. Not dry like so many are. Everything was piping hot. Anyway, a successful lunch.

We spent the evening in again with chorizo and cheese and bread as a small dinner. Warm stove. Bad TV. 😁
~~~~~~~
Monday was a gray day. We couldn’t decide what to do. Finally we settled on a drive to West Bay. It is where the British series Broadchurch was filmed. It was cool to see. We walked along the seaside. They have a nice promenade. I’m sure it is nice in summer. Today it was windy and cold and the sea was angry. Very dramatic cliffs in both directions but the town was in a nice flat place in between.

After our walk we headed to West Stanford near Dorset. We had done some research and finally found a well regarded Gastropub. This is a pub with better than average food. It was called the Wise Man Inn. It was quite nice. Kind of half and half pub and restaurant. The way normal pubs work is you go in and go up to the bar and order your drink which you take to a table. From there you either look at the big chalk board menu or sometimes paper menu. You decide on your food and return to the bar to order the food. They bring it to the table when it’s done. This one you order your drinks then sit and they bring menus and return to your table to take your order. Along the way I took these pictures.

We both had roasted plaice. It was a whole fish each with grilled pak choi and what was supposed to be potatoes rösti. The potatoes were not good but everything else was. Oh and we started with baked Camembert with onion chutney. We poured the hot melted cheese on the bread slices and topped with chutney. Delicious. 

The little town of West Stanford was so cute. Thatched roofs and stone buildings. Picture perfect English village. I didn’t take many pictures. But here is one. Nice holly tree in front.

We headed back. Every day on our outings we always had to pass an army camp where they train the soldiers to drive tanks. There were signs along the road saying things like Tank Crossing and Sudden Gunfire. And No Stopping. They had a tank museum too.

That night we did what we always did. We had left over roast chicken and salad with a baked potato. We had a toasty fire in the wood burner as they call it here. We watched game shows on the Beeb. Game shows here are very different. The questions are really hard! Outside our cottage. The castle at night.


~~~~~~~
Our last full day here in Dorset. As was predicted it was raining steadily. We had planned to go to Wareham for dinner shopping and return to Corfe to try one of the pubs. Which we did. Wareham has a nice butcher where we got two racks of lamb. Then we returned to Corfe and went to the Greyhound Pub. So cheery inside it was what drew us in. The menu was a bit u usual with Raclette and Fondu as choices, along with schnitzel wursts, and BBQ pulled pork.

Luther went traditional and I had the pulled pork sandwich. They were both very yummy. But huge. I loved the Christmas music and the decorations. The women who served were nice. 

I didn’t mention the steam train that goes from here to Swanage. Here is a blurb about it: “The heritage railway attraction operates full-size steam and diesel passenger trains along the five and a half miles of line from Norden to Corfe Castle and down to the Victorian seaside town of Swanage ”. The track went right next to our cottage. I always ran out when I heard the whistle. In winter it doesn’t do a normal run. But now it has become the Polar Express. A family attraction reenacting the movie. You are urged to wear your pajamas and all the characters from the movie are on the train. It goes from Swanage to the North Pole. I got a few pictures from our cottage. Not too great.

Dinner was in and I did the racks of lamb, asparagus, salad and potatoes. We used up most of the stuff we bought. Not much went to waste.
~~~~~~~~
We left the cottage next morning at about 9:30 for the haul up to near the airport for the flight the next morning. It takes a little over three hours to get in the vicinity. We were headed for our last pub lunch. I chose the Blind Fiddler. It was out in the countryside in a small village. Very much the country pub. Unpretentious. But they were REALLY into Christmas. There were stars on the building and a huge (and pretty ugly) Santa out front. Another life-sized Santa was inside. There were nutcrackers beside the fireplace and a whole Christmas village with a train. There were many locals inside having lunch or a pint with their mates. 

We had burgers. I wished I had gotten the brisket. They were known for that but I had just had pulled pork yesterday so I decided not to. Buyers remorse. The burger was OK. We drove to our hotel afterwards. Our room was much nicer. Larger and on the ground floor. 

Dinner in the restaurant that evening. We tried to have a pre-dinner drink but the noise level was literally deafening. So we went in and ordered dinner. I got the sticky beef Thai salad. Luther got the ham steak with egg and fries. We both liked our choices this time. This place is hit or miss on the food. I’d get the salad again.


~~~~~~~
Up at 6:30 and off to the airport. Dropped the car off. I cannot recommend Enterprise Rent-a-Car enough. They were super nice and efficient and the car was nice. We jumped on the bus to the terminal. I asked Luther where his backpack was as I didn’t see it. Oh no! He’d left it in the car. Well there wasn’t time to return so we figured we would have to have it sent to us.

The flight was fine this time. Wicked winds so we got here 30 minutes early. Good tail wind! Getting through passport control was slow. And we are now home. Our first thing to do was to try to get the backpack sent. The agent at Enterprise was very helpful but we had to arrange the shipping. Sending anything from one country to another is always trying. They want to charge you duty on your own stuff. We hope we got it all right on the online forms. But who knows. There is some crucial and expensive stuff in the backpack. Crossing fingers. A doppo!

Bordeaux

Links to trip parts
Part 1. Amsterdam
Part 2. Stuck in Amsterdam
Part 3. Rouen France 
Part 4. Le Havre and Honfleur
Part 5. Caen and the D-day beaches 
Part 6. St Malo
Part 7. Lorient
Part 8. La Rochelle
Part 9. Bordeaux

Sunday & Monday September 3 and 4
Sunday was our last day aboard. I hate the final day. It is hard to think it is over. At the same time, I am always anxious to get home after about 2 weeks. Sadly, they lay a mat on the bed that protects it from dirty luggage so now the reality of repacking all the clothes hits home.

The ship sailed down the Gironde river for several hours. It was peaceful. I got up early because I wanted to see us enter the river. So I got the sunrise. Just before we arrived in Bordeaux we had to go under a drawbridge. It was very unusual. The section of the highway actually lifted up. It slid on four big pylons. Picture below. The last picture is of the place we docked. There were several riverboat cruisers parked there too.At least it wasn’t a gravel pit like the last one. This one was pretty and had a bikeway along the river. It was quite the show for everyone to watch us dock.

We had 2 full days in Bordeaux; one while on board, and one after we debarked on Monday. We had booked a tour of the Medoc wine country for after our arrival. We booked a night in a small hotel in the city center called Yndō.

The wine tour was not so good. Our guide felt the need to talk the entire trip. We got more random information about all kinds of random things about Bordeaux. He was amusing…sort of. We spent a lot of time in a bus which stopped in front of some beautiful Chateaux so we could take pictures. Then we went to a winery to take a tour and have a tasting of two of their wines. The tour was kind of kitschy with projectors showing what looked like a cutaway of one of the big vats and what happens inside. Then a projection of the wine-maker giving her talk. Sadly most of the wineries in the Medoc are owned by insurance companies and banks now, having been sold by the families who used to own them. Now it is merely business. Takes all the romance out of it for me. Medoc pictures with subtitles.

Beautiful grapes ready to harvest
Lynch Bages. Very famous
They call all wineries chateaux but not all have an actual chateau as this one did.
This is the Chateau where we stopped for a tasting and tour – Lamothe Bergeron.
Ancient Sycamores on the property.
This is a pine planted in gardens all over. It lives long and grows huge. I cannot remember its name but I think it’s something biblical. If you know please tell me. [EDIT – Cypress of Lebanon]

We barely made it back for the on deck BBQ which they postponed until the last night. We went straight there after arriving back from the tour. The food was good. They always have a huge variety. We headed down to our rooms and showered and then packed up our things. The suitcases had to be in the hall the next morning before 6:30am. After all our hard work we went to the Star Bar for a last glass of wine.

We had a sad and quick breakfast. The last morning is not the fun of the prior days. We went down to say goodbye to our room attendant whose name was Edi. He was Indonesian. He told us today was his last day on ship and he was going home for his shore leave. They work something like nine months onboard and then get five or six months off to go home. He told us he was getting married in December. He was a nice guy. He sing-songed his greetings and best wishes for a good day every morning and evening.

We had ordered a taxi for 8:30 pickup. Things didn’t work out as planned. Our hotel told us that getting a taxi in Bordeaux was not easy. There is a shortage. After waiting an hour the hotel called me to tell me they had found a cab. So we finally made it to our hotel. Entrance to the hotel.

Yndō has only 12 rooms and is in a beautiful old building. Our rooms were both nice but the one we got was super quirky, or “crazy” as the woman said. Our crazy room.

We decided to take a walk right away because the temperature was supposed to get to 98 degrees today. We went to the so-called golden triangle. A shopping area of pedestrian streets. We visited the biggest plaza in Europe (according to our guide to the wine country) with a tall tower holding lady Liberty on top and a great fountain at the bottom.

Our hotel recommended a traditional Brasserie for lunch called la Noailles. It was a perfect last lunch and we splurged and had fun. Here are pictures with subtitles.

Our waiter. We thought he was perfect in every way. Then we found out he was Argentinian! Hahaha.
Our good Bordeaux wine
My gazpacho. Deliciously cool on a hot day.
Grilled turbot
Luther’s duck breast.

We all had a great time and walked back to our hotel to escape the heat. We ordered a light dinner to end the trip together. It was simple and fun. A couple more delicious wines later we were ready for bed. It was great to spend time with my sister 🥰

On our way home Luther and I both commented on how much more friendly the French were on this trip. I wonder if this is a result of Covid? They missed us and our money and now are happier to see us than before? What do you think?

The trip is done. I’m traveling on the train towards home finishing this post as I go. I am looking forward to being back and with my two kitties who were well cared for by our house sitters. Au revoir to France!

Links to trip parts
Part 1. Amsterdam
Part 2. Stuck in Amsterdam
Part 3. Rouen France 
Part 4. Le Havre and Honfleur
Part 5. Caen and the D-day beaches 
Part 6. St Malo
Part 7. Lorient
Part 8. La Rochelle
Part 9. Bordeaux

La Rochelle

Links to trip parts
Part 1. Amsterdam
Part 2. Stuck in Amsterdam
Part 3. Rouen France 
Part 4. Le Havre and Honfleur
Part 5. Caen and the D-day beaches 
Part 6. St Malo
Part 7. Lorient
Part 8. La Rochelle
Part 9. Bordeaux

Saturday September 2
We docked in a really ugly dock area. Sand, gravel, tall silos, belts carrying stuff hither and yon. The weather looked bad – gray and cold. But the forecast was for it to lighten and brighten and be nice, around 77F.

After breakfast we headed out on a shuttle bus which ran every half hour. It took about 20 minutes or so to get to the center of town. By now it was sunny with blue skies and we all shed our jackets.

The city of La Rochelle has around 80,000 people. It is on the Bay of Biscay and has a deep water harbor. It is where the film Das Boot was filmed and still has a big U-Boat “hanger”, unused today. It was the German submarine headquarters during the war. It was under Allied siege from September 1944 to May 1945 when the Germans finally surrendered. La Rochelle was the last French city to be liberated. The Vieux Port, or old port, is well preserved. They used to have a huge, heavy chain with which they closed the entrance to the small old harbor. It was strung between two towers. La Rochelle has the 6th largest marina in France with over 5,000 boats. We went first to the morning market which is both outside and inside. This area is famous for their potatoes. There were piles of them. The fruit was jewel-like, and the heirloom tomatoes were gorgeous. Finally the bread was to die for. I ached to buy some.

These were tiny. About the size of a large grape.

Inside the building were the cheeses, meats, fish, prepared foods and more.

Spreading out around the food market were stands selling clothing and other items. These baskets caught my eye. There were more types than I have ever seen.

Then we walked around town. There were long colonnades lined with shops. Mostly small independent places with small specialities. For instance, there was a shop selling only socks. My favorite kind of shopping, not a chain store in sight! The city is constructed of limestone. The geological area was an ocean so limestone is common.

The vieux port area was very busy with lots of people. Pictures with subtitles.

The inner harbor. The chain closing it off was strung between these two towers.
One of the gates.
A colorful corner just next to the harbor.

We decided to wind our way back through more of the small streets. Then find a place for lunch. Surprisingly, to me anyway, France is a big beer region. Lots and lots of artisanal micro-brews.

We were looking for just a light lunch because this evening we had reserved the Candles restaurant which is on deck, weather permitting. So we stopped in a sidewalk place with lots of cheeses and cured meats served on planches. My sister and I got the focaccia sandwich. Luther and Bill the croque-monsieurs. They both came with a beautiful salad with fresh peaches, tomatoes, and lots of nuts and seeds. It was just right.

Candles was wonderful. The evening couldn’t have been more perfect. Warm. Not too much wind. Nice watching the sun go down and the sky darken. The food was only OK, but that wasn’t really the point. We were glad we waited until the end of the cruise hoping the weather would get warmer, and it did!

Tomorrow we dock in Bordeaux. It will be a hot day. We don’t arrive until 11:30 so we remain on board one more night, then the early debarkation on Tuesday.

Links to trip parts
Part 1. Amsterdam
Part 2. Stuck in Amsterdam
Part 3. Rouen France 
Part 4. Le Havre and Honfleur
Part 5. Caen and the D-day beaches 
Part 6. St Malo
Part 7. Lorient
Part 8. La Rochelle
Part 9. Bordeaux

Lorient

Links to trip parts
Part 1. Amsterdam
Part 2. Stuck in Amsterdam
Part 3. Rouen France 
Part 4. Le Havre and Honfleur
Part 5. Caen and the D-day beaches 
Part 6. St Malo
Part 7. Lorient
Part 8. La Rochelle
Part 9. Bordeaux

Friday September 1
We docked at a very commercial pier which was just next to the small town of Lorient. Its claim to fame is that it was the main submarine base of the Germans during WWII. We were told there is not much to see in town. We decided to go for a walk and look around and maybe get lunch.

It took about 10-15 minutes to walk into town. We at first followed the tourist walking tour. Much of the old port was the East Indies Trading Company. All gone now. Buildings either bombed out of existence or repurposed. There was this great watch tower. And some pretty flowers along the way.

It was lunchtime so we stopped at a Brassiere. The day was amazingly perfect. Blue skies and perfect temperatures. We sat outside. I had moules frites. Luther had tuna, cindy a nice salad, and Bill a steak. Along with a couple bottles of Sancerre.

We walked back to the ship. Lorient is a real town. Not in the slightest bit touristy. Nice though. We enjoyed our nice walk and meal.

We went up on the top deck to watch the sail-away at 5pm. The day was so fine we wanted to take advantage of it. Windstar always plays the Vangellis piece — “1492: Conquest of Paradise” during the signature sail-away. It is much more dramatic on the Windstar with its 4 big sails which they unfurl during the music. Here are some pictures of things we saw as we went down through the estuary to the ocean.

We had folk dancers on the pier along with bagpipes. This region is Galic settled by the Celts.
The Pilot boat. They always get us into, and out of, harbors.
Those are German U-Boat bays from World War II.
Port de Porh-Puns. A fortified site defending the Blavet estuary.

Tomorrow our penultimate port, La Rochelle. Let’s see if we luck out on the weather again. Crossing fingers.

Links to trip parts
Part 1. Amsterdam
Part 2. Stuck in Amsterdam
Part 3. Rouen France 
Part 4. Le Havre and Honfleur
Part 5. Caen and the D-day beaches 
Part 6. St Malo
Part 7. Lorient
Part 8. La Rochelle
Part 9. Bordeaux

St Malo

Links to trip parts
Part 1. Amsterdam
Part 2. Stuck in Amsterdam
Part 3. Rouen France 
Part 4. Le Havre and Honfleur
Part 5. Caen and the D-day beaches 
Part 6. St Malo
Part 7. Lorient
Part 8. La Rochelle
Part 9. Bordeaux

Wednesday August 30
We arrived in St Malo at about 9am. This time we were at anchor so we had to take the ship tender across to the pier. We got the 10:30 tender, the first one. St Malo is a walled city right on the sea. Its history began in the first century BC. In World War II it was bombed by the allies and destroyed. Of course it was rebuilt. The buildings are all very similar. I would love to see pictures of it pre-bombing. The book “All The Things We Cannot See” took place here. It is a great read.

We walked all around the town. It is mostly a tourist destination and we had plenty of time before our planned lunch where we were meeting an on-line friend of my sister. The town had some nice shops. Many restaurants had the local specialties of the buckwheat crepes used to make sandwiches.

Our lunch was beside the embarkation pier in a restaurant called L’Amiral. We arrived first and Dominique arrived just after. She lives in Paris and loves to come to St Malo for breaks. She is very French and conversing was difficult but fun in it’s own way. The sailboat was outside in the harbor. They begin a single-handed sailboat race from here called the Route du Rhum, destination Guadeloupe. The Brittany coast is the land of the oyster. I used to gobble up oysters by the dozen. But in the last few years I get sick every time I eat one. I assume I am allergic. So sorry I can’t eat them. They look amazing. I had the fish, sea bass, on puréed parsnips all floating in a sea of butter. They DO like their butter around here.

We stayed in port in St Malo until 11 pm. I had terrible connectivity so I am just finishing this post now. In the meantime, we had an “At sea” day. We sailed all night, all day, and all night. They try to plan lots of activities to keep us busy, such as a Vive La France wine tasting. Champagne, Burgundy, Rhône and Bordeaux.

Bye-bye St Malo


I was just happy to have time to finish reading my book. I highly recommend it — “Beneath a Scarlet Sky”. Takes place in Milan during the end days of the Second World War. It is based on a true story and it was amazing. I’m always interested in what happened in Italy during the War.

At this time we have docked in a town called Loriente. Apparently there isn’t much to see here. But we will go out for a walk and find lunch maybe. The skies have just started clearing and the rain has stopped.

Links to trip parts
Part 1. Amsterdam
Part 2. Stuck in Amsterdam
Part 3. Rouen France 
Part 4. Le Havre and Honfleur
Part 5. Caen and the D-day beaches 
Part 6. St Malo
Part 7. Lorient
Part 8. La Rochelle
Part 9. Bordeaux

Caen and the D-day beaches

Links to trip parts
Part 1. Amsterdam
Part 2. Stuck in Amsterdam
Part 3. Rouen France 
Part 4. Le Havre and Honfleur
Part 5. Caen and the D-day beaches 
Part 6. St Malo
Part 7. Lorient
Part 8. La Rochelle
Part 9. Bordeaux

Tuesday 29 August
Last night we dined up on the deck and saw a lovely sunset. And later the blue moon rising.

Yesterday we visited Caen and from there we booked a private tour of some of the D-day beaches and cemeteries. There was a slight mix-up. We arrived at the coast and navigated a lock. Then they debarked all those who had booked the Windstar tour. It was full or we would have done that. Since it was full we booked a private tour. But it goes out of the actual city of Caen. So we traveled up the canal which took 2 hours. This meant we met our driver a full hour later than planned. It was OK we would do what we could do. It was a perfect day. Sunny and cool.

All was not a waste though, sailing through the estuary was beautiful and we actually went through the Pegasus bridge draw bridge. It was cool. Lots of folks there waving at us and our captain blew his big ole whistle several times. Here are some photos along the way, and of Pegasus bridge.

Pegasus Bridge. Originally built in 1934 and replaced with a new design in 1994. It was one of the most important bridges during the invasion in Normandy during World War II.

We docked at precisely eleven and found our young and enthusiastic guide, Victor. We had a black Mercedes mini-van. Our first destination was Pointe du Hoc. This beachhead was between the two American landing sites of Utah and Omaha beaches. It was a German stronghold with six enormous guns which could spin 360 degrees and shoot 12 miles. Enough to reach either Omaha beach or Utah beach. About six hours before the main invasion a division of U.S. Rangers landed. There were 254 of them. Their job was to take out as many of the guns and Germans as they could. About 30% of them were wounded, killed, or MIA. I am impressed that the left this place just as it was at the end of the battle. Easy to picture what happened there. Here are pictures with subtitles.

One of the gun emplacements
Another gun emplacement.
A barracks where the German soldiers slept and also used as a bomb shelter.
One of the craters from the shelling.
Cliffs that had to be scaled to reach the Germans. Just on the other side of this piece of land is Omaha beach.
And in the other direction.
Flowers growing on the ground where so many died.
Omaha beach. Over 3 miles long. American soldiers were dropped in the water off shore because of the many barriers place there by the Germans. Many drowned on the spot. If they made it in they had to cross this wide beach.
One of the guns.
If you look down this beach you’ll see the cliffs of Utah beach.

We next visited the American Cemetery. A moving place. Over 9,000 crosses and stars of David. The average age was 23. Most died in June and July of 1944. The cemetery is overseen by a caretaker, boss of the cemetery. He or she must be American or Canadian. The caretakers house is on the cemetery grounds. The cemetery is immaculate. I always cry here. This is my second visit.

Omaha beach from the cemetery.

It was a terrific tour. We all liked Victor. We had lunch in a restaurant on Omaha beach. I had Moules Frites. Delicious.

Next up, St. Malo Brittany.

Links to trip parts
Part 1. Amsterdam
Part 2. Stuck in Amsterdam
Part 3. Rouen France 
Part 4. Le Havre and Honfleur
Part 5. Caen and the D-day beaches 
Part 6. St Malo
Part 7. Lorient
Part 8. La Rochelle
Part 9. Bordeaux