I have never had any interest in taking a cruise. First, the Caribbean holds little interest for me. Second, the notion of sitting on a private beach in an all-inclusive resort while abject poverty stares at me through a chain link fence just doesn’t interest me. Some friends of ours took a Viking river cruise of the Danube a couple of years ago and came back with glowing reports. We decided to give a Viking river cruise a try by traveling from Basel to Amsterdam along the Rhine with stops every day for excursions and sight seeing.
The trip began with two days in Lucern after a flight into Zurich. The first day was raining and cold, but we had nice weather for the second day. While we waited for Greg and Nicolle to arrive, we got a quick bite to eat at the nearby train station, I worked out for an hour in the fitness center, and I talked Candy into experiencing the sauna. It was a bit of culture shock for Candy to be in a sauna with naked people.
When Greg and Nicole arrived, we set out to find some traditional Swiss fondu at a restaurant, called Pfistern. Instead of fondu we had raclette. It was really good, but somewhat heavy with all that cheese. Lucern, like many European cities has a downtown area (the altstaedt) that is pedestrian only. We felt at ease walking around town, window shopping, and chatting.
The next day we took a guided walking tour of Lucern led by an expatriate American from Ft. Lauderdale. The tour was interesting, and it gave us ideas where we wanted to go the next day to do some shopping.
After the morning walking tour, we grabbed sandwiches from the Coop grocery store in the train station and hopped on the train to Interlocken, north of Lucern. Interlocken is a ski resort town. The Viking people recommended the trip as a way to see Swiss countryside. The views were very nice, but the glare off the train windows made photography a challenge.
That night we walked to another restaurant that the Viking people recommended, called the Rebstock. It was more meat and potatoes than cheese, but still traditional Swiss food. It was quite good, and we enjoyed the walk to the restaurant and back.
Our final morning in Lucern we checked out of our hotel, handed over our luggage, and then walked round town, even experiencing (briefly) a farmer’s market in town. We did a little shopping, and we enjoyed lunch in a small restaurant along the water specializing in burgers and craft beers; although, none of us had burgers. What’s the point of visiting a foreign country and eating food you can get easily at home.
We met up with the Viking folks at 1500 and took a bus to Basel, where we boarded out boat for the rest of the trip. Once we were underway, we had an excellent dinner and sat around the lounge listening to an Eastern European piano player, Gigi, play old American tunes on the piano while we enjoyed some cocktails.
We all slept very well as our boat traveled northward on the Rhine, going through four sets of locks before docking at Breisach am Rhein for the remainder of the evening. There is almost no sensation of being on the boat as it travels. We slept very well as the effects of jet lag, early mornings, long days, and booze lulled us to sleep.
We began day seven by visiting the various volcanos, steam vents, and lava fields in Volcano National Park. We got a late-ish start but got out the door early enough to see all we wanted to see in the park. Kilauea is the least active it has been for 35+ years, so there were no active lava fields or flowing lava.
Near the visitor’s center there are a number of active steam vents where hot gasses from the most recent eruption are visible. We took a couple mile hike into the Kilauea caldera. Until recently this was an active lava lake until last year’s major eruptions. There are two major types of lava in Hawai’i: ‘a’ā and pāhoehoe. ‘A’ā is rough and chunky, while pāhoehoe is smooth and ropy. They may vary in color from shiny black to dull brown. Both types have the same chemical composition, but pāhoehoe is hotter when it erupts and is more fluid than ‘a’ā.
After this hike we drove the Chain of Craters road stopping at sites along the way to see different types of lava flows, craters, etc.
On the way back up the Chain of Craters road to the visitor’s center we stopped at an area with 23,000 petroglyphs engraved into the lava flow. Since they were engraved in the lava rather than painted on a cave or canyon wall, they were much more visible that normal.
It was a bit disappointing that there were no explanations of what scholars think some of the symbols might mean.
After this night of hiking and walking we had dinner in the cafeteria at Kilauea Military Camp, which is much like a military-style mess hall. The food was good, but no frills. We then went back to our cabin to watch Moana and have dessert.
We started the next day by walking along the trail past the sulphur vents around the visitor center. These are similar to the steam vents on the opposite side of the road, but the escaping gasses have more minerals, particularly sulphur, and they stain the rocks bright colors.
Then we drove the eastern side of the island, stopping to see various overlooks, beaches, and sites along the way.
As we stopped at these beaches — all beaches in Hawaii are public — in most cases we were surprised how few people were on them.
Then we kept driving.
These falls were impressive but were only a fifth as tall as Angel Falls in South America.
The next morning we bade farewell to our cabin and took a short detour to see the interior of the Volcano House lodge in the national park.
Our plan was to drive up the coast (mostly) from Volcano National Park to Kailua-Kona where we were would stay the last two nights in Hawaii.
Along the way we stopped at a place known as the “refuge.” The punishment for nearly all crimes in ancient Hawaii seems to have been death. A marked person could flee, and if he made it to this place and spent some time with the priest here, he could be absolved of his crimes and return home.
We arrived in Kailua-Kona (mostly known just as Kona) in time to check into the Royal Kona Resort and get the lay of the land before our scheduled luau. We had time to put on our swimsuits and play in the hotel’s private lagoon and then in the pool before showering up for the luau.
This was some of the best kalua pork we had on the trip.
At the luau we had excellent food and all-you-can-drink mai tais. Candy drank mai tai’s like a fish. Depending on who you ask the number was between four and six!
The luau lasted until after sunset.
As with all luaus, the highlight was the fire guy.
The next morning, we slept in and then went to the pool for a couple of hours.
This evening we planned to take a tour to Mauna Kea to see the stars. We have seen the brilliant star fields at Bryce Canyon, and Mauna Kea is supposed to be better. We met the van at 1430 and got part way up the mountain for an early dinner when the National Weather Service close the road to the observatories due to rain and flash flooding. We were very disappointed, but we made it back down to our hotel in time to watch the fireworks in the harbor, since it was the 4th of July.
The next day was really a travel day. Our flight left Kona at 2000, but we got a somewhat late checkout and planned to enjoy the day. We started at the pool again and then went to visit the Vanillerie. This is a small farm where the local businessman is trying to make a go of farming vanilla. After the tour, I have a much greater respect for vanilla. It is a HARD and LONG process. This is why you have probably never actually had vanilla, but imitation vanilla which is much more easily harvested from the bark of some type of pine tree.
At the end of the tour we got a small sample of ice cream made with his real vanilla, and there was a definite taste difference.
The flights home were uneventful but painfully long at the end of a ten-day vacation. I don’t know when we’ll all be able to take this much time together for a vacation.
On day 4 of our vacation we began with a short drive to the Makapu’u Lighthouse trailhead. The trail was about 1.5 miles mostly uphill to the point of land overlooking the lighthouse. The lighthouse was built to prevent ships running aground while traversing the water between Oahu and Molokai.
Sam was decidedly unimpressed with this “dumpy little lighthouse” and didn’t think it was worth the uphill climb to get there. The views from up on the point were very nice.
We then drove to the north shore to visit the Polynesian Cultural Center.
Since the last time we visited the PCC, they have added a lot of shopping and food outside the center. We bought some fancy hotdogs from a truck outside the gates (apparently food trucks are a big tradition in Hawaii). Then we had to try some malasadas, which are like filled doughnuts. We bought one of each flavor to share: guava strawberry, chocolate, and coconut cream.
The Polynesian Cultural Center has six distinct areas for the various Polynesian islands. Each area has traditionally constructed buildings, traditional crafts, and entertainment. After our truck-lunch we entered the PCC just in time for the show on the water that runs through the center of the park.
After a day of walking around the PCC, we attended the Luau dinner show. The food was good, but we were disappointed the the kalua pig didn’t have much taste. As that was what we were most looking forward to, we though the luau was “okay.”
The highlight of the day was the Ha, Breath of Life live show featuring a huge cast of dancers and (the highlight for us) fire jugglers. The storyline was impossible to follow, as a Polynesian family transits from one island to another. The storyline wasn’t that important however, as it was really about the various acts.
You aren’t allowed to take pictures during the show, so these are ones I found online.
We were in the second row, so we had a great view of the entire show.
The next day we got up early to head to Hunauma Bay for some snorkeling. We were worried that the crowds would be heavy on a Saturday morning, but we really didn’t feel crowded. We rented snorkeling gear and had a really good time seeing the sea life up close and personal.
Hunauma Bay is a wildlife preserve, and it is full of sea life. We even got to see a seal that was sunning himself on the beach.
You enter Hunauma Bay from up top and then walk down tot he beach. From this view you can see how the bay was once the caldera of a volcano, but part of it has eroded away.
After snorkeling we went back to the Hale Koa to rest and then got two hours of surfing lessons on Waikiki.
We didn’t get any pictures of any of us up on the board. We were at least a quarter mile out (quite a swim!!), and they wanted $50 per person to provide a photographer.
After a tiring day, we went back to the hotel and cleaned up for dinner. We went to a local place, called The Goofy Cafe, for Mahi Mahi. The food was great. After dinner we walked to a local ice cream parlor and had ridiculously large ice cream desserts.
The next day we got up early to check out of the Hale Koa and head to Honolulu airport for a flight to the big island.
After getting our rental car a the Hilo airport we drove to a farmer’s market outside town where we hand a nice lunch and picked up a bunch of fresh, local produce. This was to make salad with our dinner in our cabin. We then drove to Volcano National Park, took in the victor’s center, and checked into our cabin at the Kilauea Military Camp, inside the national park.
This is a military camp, so it has a theater, PX, several places to eat, a recreation center, and a six-lane bowling alley. We made quesadillas with two different flavors of spam (jalapeño and garlic) and then went to bowl.
After two games of bowling, Sam and Tom played pool in the recreation center. We capped off the evening with some fresh watermelon and mango from the farmer’s market and a couple of mai tais.
On Tuesday we began our family vacation to Hawaii. This may be the last time we can go on a long vacation like this for some time due to Tom’s military schedule, Sam’s school, and Buck’s work so we wanted to do it up right. Candy planned a full schedule of interesting events.
The trip began in an interesting way, with a flood at BWI airport that brought down the baggage conveyor belt system. This led to an hour delay to our departure. We had a tight layover in Oakland, CA, but we made our flight to Hawaii. We arrived in Honolulu airport around 8:30 PM in the midst of a torrential rainstorm that flooded roads all over the area. There were three lighting strikes on people that day, two at the airport. When we got our baggage, a lot of our stuff was wet. The rental car facility was flooded, so they couldn’t use their computers for fear of electrical shock, they wrote down our information on a piece of paper and handed us the keys. We arrived about 10:00 PM at the Hale Koa hotel, which is an Armed Forces Recreation Center on Waikiki beach, a prime location.
Our first morning in Hawaii we grabbed a quick breakfast at Happy’s Cafe in the Hale Koa. Then we headed to Pearl Harbor. Last time we were here 13 years ago, we saw the Arizona, which is closed right now, but we wanted to see the Missouri, which began life in WWII and was decommissioned after Desert Storm. We took the “heart of the Missouri” tour, which included a detailed, docent-led tour below decks.
After our tour, we ran into one of the normal guided tours and hear a very interesting talk about the signing of the Japanese surrender document. For those not aware, the Missouri is where the famous picture of the Japanese surrender was taken in Tokyo bay.
We were flirting with rain all day. We had planned to spend the afternoon on the beach at Waikiki, but with the rain, instead we chose to do some shopping for Hawaiian shirts at the Pearl Harbor Navy Exchange and wander around some of the shops in Waikiki. We also enjoyed pina coladas at the Barefoot beachside bar (in the rain). That evening, we took in a really good magic show in the Hale Koa Warriors Lounge. Earlier that afternoon, Tom and I were in the lobby waiting for the girls, when the magician came up to us, saying “hey, I have this new trick I’d like to try out on you.” He proceeded to perform an amazing card transformation slight-of-hand trick in Tom’s hand. This clinched it for us. We wanted to see the show.
The next day, our second full day, Candy had arranged for a guide to take us to a number of lesser-known things round Oahu. Shane picked us up in the lobby of the hotel and drove us around the island.
We began the tour with a three-mile hike to a secluded waterfall.
It was a nice hike. We got rained on during the hike back, but we dried out quickly and moved on to lunch.
We had pre-arranged with Shane for lunches. He drove us to a park across Kaneohe Bay from the Marine Corps base. We were a couple hundred yards from a small island known as “Chinaman’s Hat.” We ate a really nice lunch on a picnic table and then headed to our next stop.
Next we drove around the coast — after a stop at a Kona coffee and macadamia nut tourist trap (where we bought macadamia nuts!!) — to this interesting rock formation.
Ancient Hawaiian legends talk about two Hawaiian heroes / gods who defeated a giant lizard that was eating people. This is supposedly the lizard’s head that was chopped off by one of the heroes.
We stopped at a roadside farmer’s market and picked up some fresh pineapple, mango, and mixed fruit. Our guide wanted us to try two local fruits. The first is Lychee, which looks like a strawberry, but has a very tough skin that must be peeled before eating. They were very sweet and very good. The second was called a mountain apple, that had a peach-like pit and tasted more like a sweet pear. Both were really, really good.
Our next stop was 90 minutes of snorkeling around “Three Tables” beach were we swam with schools of fish and got very close to three sea turtles frolicking along the rocks. We were probably one good kick away from being able to touch them!
Then we drove to Waimea Bay to do some “safe cliff jumping.”
This was a lot of fun. Sammy surprised us by doing a forward flip! I didn’t even know she could do that.
Our last stop was at a small stretch of beach where we saw this Hawaiian Green sea turtle. It was 37 years old and weighed 225 pounds. The park ranger had placed a rope on the beach to keep everyone at least a meter away from it.
On the way back to Honolulu we drove through pineapple plantations. The air had a pineapple aroma. We had heard that pineapples weren’t grown on Hawaii any more. It turns out that a LOT if pineapple is grown here, but it is not exported; it is all used in Hawaii. The pineapple you find in Publix or Giant comes from Costa Rica. I’m not sure my palate is sensitive enough to tell the difference, but the pineapple here SEEMS softer and slightly less tart that what we get in the grocery store.
We had a really good day. After an overpriced dinner we spent a half hour at the Hale Koa pool before collapsing in the room.
We didn’t have time for a long vacation this year, so we decided to spend a few days on a dude ranch in Arkansas. It was a terrific vacation!
We traveled to Diamond Horseshoe Ranch in Arkansas. We arrived on Sunday afternoon in time for dinner in the mess hall, a little time in the game room, and some time in the pool.
The first day began with a large breakfast. Then we went to the barn to meet our horses for the week. Candy had Jon Snow. Sam had Butterbean. I had Scout. Tom had Dramamine. After a short trail ride to get familiar with our horses, we walked over to the range where we shot bows, rifles, and pistols and threw axes.
After lunch we did some rock climbing.
We even had time for a game of frisbee golf in the evening. The course was quite challenging, and we had to actually search for the holes at times.
After another terrific dinner meal (the food was universally terrific), we went to the barn for some games for an hour or so.
On the second day we split up in the morning. Tom, Sam, and Candy went for more rock climbing.
I had only been on a horse a few times before, and I was enjoying getting more comfortable and learning how to actually control the horse, so I went for another trail ride with some other campers.
After lunch we suited up for the adventure course. This involved rock climbing through a cave, around cliffs, and one of the top five zip lines in North America.
There were portions of the cave that were very tight. There were also portions that dropped pretty deeply. It was an interesting experience.
In the evening, during the camp fire and s’mores, we went back to the barn so the kids could work their way through the cave simulator. It was narrow, winding, and dark.
Day 3 began with a trail ride to a secluded location where we ate breakfast cooked over an open fire by the ranch staff.
In the afternoon while Tom and Sam did more rock climbing, Candy and I went down to the Buffalo river to lounge in the water and hiked to the twin falls.
We travelled home. It was a really good trip. When we planned this short vacation, I was worried that just three days would be too short. It was a very physical vacation, so after three days we were ready to go home. A fourth day might have been fun, but more than four days would have been too many.
After our visit with Chris Abbey in Rippon, we headed back to Reading to turn in our rental car and head to Heathrow airport. On the way, we stopped at Highclere Castle, the site of the BBC series Downton Abbey. Tom and I were just along for the ride, since neither of us have seen the show. You are not allowed to take photographs inside the castle, but according to Sam and Candy, they recognized a lot of the rooms from the series.
Below are some views of the grounds around Highclere.
As we walked the grounds, Tom was wishing he had brought a frisbee. This was one of our few sunny days in England. For most of the trip it was dreary and rainy.
Sam enjoyed our trip to England. She said she liked the fact that “people don’t talk,” that it is cold, and that it is “old.” Sam is not too chatty in most cases, and she liked the fact that most folks we met were friendly enough but weren’t too chatty themselves. Candy, who likes to tell everyone she meets her whole life history and full vacation itinerary in the first five minutes she meets them, prefers chatty people. Sam said that she would like to live in England for a couple of years (not forever) and do more sight seeing. Tom seemed to enjoy aspects of the trip, but he didn’t like being outside the US. He was happy to visit, but by the end of the trip, he was ready to go home.
While in England, I took the chance to travel to Yorkshire and visit Chris Alley of Sally 4th for a Combat Patrol(TM) game in Rippon. Chris has a really nice games room. We played Combat Patrol(TM), had an excellent dinner with Chris and his wife, and then played some Settlers of Cataan.
Chris is working on terrain and scenarios for “The Other Partizan,” an upcoming wargaming show in the U.K. The game was based on the movie The Wild Geese. Chris has the mercenaries and simbas all painted up, and the African-style buildings will be part of a future Sally 4th Kickstarter. In this scenario I was the wild geese, I had released President Limbarny from prison, and I needed to escape. To accomplish my objective, I needed to secure enough transport to take Limbarny and my team off the table. Limbarny moved as Green because of his reduced physical state, which slowed me down.
The defenders were in several of the buildings, the recreation room, barracks, and guard room. The guards at the gate were awake and active, as were the Simbas in the bottom left of the picture. The sections in the barracks and recreation room each had a morale marker that had to be worked off before they could begin to respond. In the previous play test of this scenario, Chris had the Accuracy of the mercenaries as Elite, and he thought that overpowered the mercenaries. In this play test, my wild geese had an Accuracy of Regular. My Melee was 0 to reflect the fact that the wild geese were somewhat older and not in their prime and that the Simbas, with Melee of 1, were in good shape. The Simbas, however, had Guts of Green for their troopers and Regular for their leaders. This meant that if their leaders were alive, they used the Guts of Regular for activation and movement, but if the leader was killed they would have Guts of Green for activation and movement.
Outside the camp, I had two teams in land rovers coming to reinforce my mercenaries. One land rover contained a bazooka team, and the other a Vickers machine-gun team. As the guards at the gate were active, I elected to halt, dismount the machine-gun, and fire on the gate guards. Tom engaged my land rovers with fire, killing a member of the machine-gun team and wounding another. The bazooka team fired several shots at the gate defenders and also the Simbas in the recreation room. I was very lucky with the bazooka. I never received an out-of-ammunition results, so I was able to fire several shots. Tom reduced my machine-gun team by killing an ammunition bearer and assistant gunner. He even knocked out the assistant gunner for the bazooka, but he never knocked out either team.
I had two sections move toward the truck park while the third section moved President Limbarny to the relative safety of the headquarters building. One section advanced into the barracks and was surprised to run into a section of active and awake Simbas. This is when I learned that my wild geese had a poor Melee attribute. I lost a soldier and was pushed out of the building. The team then spent several turns being gunned down in the open by Tom’s Simbas before they could respond or seek cover. The section near the 55-gallon drums advanced toward the truck park. As they advanced, they were surprised in the open by the Simba motor transport operators. That section also was gunned down in the open before reaching the trucks. My headquarters section that began the game in the headquarters moved to come up behind the Simbas at the gate, but Tom’s marksmanship was just too good. Though this attack diverted the attention of some of the gate guards and those in the towers from my machine-gun and bazooka teams, it was just not enough force to clear a path for the land rovers. By then, Tom and knocked out one of the land rovers with small arms fire. At this point, Chris pointed out that my heavy casualty rate meant that I didn’t need as many trucks to extract what was left of my team!
At this point, we determined that I no longer had enough combat power to accomplish my objectives. It was a convincing Simba victory. Despite Tom’s lopsided victory, it was a fun scenario with lots of interesting decisions for both players. I suggested to Chris before he runs this at Partizan that he might want to give the wild geese a couple of blue cards in the Activation Decks to give them an initiative advantage.
As we set out from the Peak District toward Yorkshire, we stopped at an area that had been an old railroad right of way for a short hike. The viaduct in the left of the picture above and an old railway tunnel were the attractions here.
We began by walking down a path through the woods that took us to a waterfall. We didn’t know about the waterfall when we started our walk, so this was a nice surprise.
After returning to our starting point, we walked in the opposite direction to get down to the viaduct and also walk through the old railway tunnel.
About noon we got on the road for Rippon in Yorkshire to spend the afternoon and evening with Chris and Ann Abbey.
Our next day in England was spent in The Peak District, an area of high hills and picturesque vistas. We stayed in a nice bed and breakfast in Castleton and then headed out on a hike across nearby ridges to Mam Tor and around the area.