Bourg and Blaye – Day 5

Two picturesque little walkable towns, home to two large right bank wine regions. I had never heard of Côtes de Bourg or Côtes de Blaye but they both have some great Bordeaux wines – most of which are never exported due to their lower price point.

We had a small semi-private tour (24 people) that started at a wine bar in Blaye called La Petite Cave. It is owned by Leslie Kellen who also owns a local B&B, a tiny in-house winery, art gallery and several rentable apartments. It was adorable and makes Blaye a place we want to return to. The Côtes de Blaye wines are definitely worthy of exploration.

Libourne, St. Emilion, Pomerol – Day 4

We started the day with a visit to Libourne – known for its markets.

We then rode to the town of St. Emilion (home to Château Cheval Blanc – ironically it is the merlot that Miles loved in the movie Sideways), and visited the estate and winery at Château Siaurac (wines from Pomerol and Lalande-de-Pomerol) – followed by a tasting of course. Pomerol is the smallest AOC in Bordeaux and is home to the exclusive Château Pétrus.

Our guide also told us about the Fronsac AOC, very close to St. Emilion but with wines at a fraction of the price. We tried a Fronsac at dinner the last night of the cruise and loved it.

Cadillac – Day 3

Just south of Cadillac, cooler water flows from the Ciron  into the Garonne and creates this foggy mist. This mist floats over the vineyards in the mornings and dissipates in the afternoon. This flux between humidity and warmth are perfect conditions for “noble rot” which gives Sauternes, like the wines of Château De Myrat, which we visited, their intense flavors and sweetness.

The town of Cadillac is pretty sleepy, yet nice. We saw some very quaint sidewalk “porches” (you had better like your neighbors). 

Bordeaux – Days 1 & 2

We had a lovely week in Bordeaux exploring the area, learning some local history and tasting some great wines. On our walking tour we saw the Girondins Monument with a fountain & towering column erected to honor the revolutionaries from the Gironde region. We also wandered along the Garonne and its river-side gardens.

Here is a nice shot of the Basilique Saint-Michel and the Cité du Vin (a wine museum). The architects Legendre and Desmazières, wanted the space to evoke gnarled vine stock, wine swirling in a glass, and eddies on the Garonne. It is stunning.

We departed that afternoon heading upriver. Some of the bridges are a tight fit.

To cap off our day we had a lovely Château Léoville-Barton, St.-Julien (Deuxièmes Crus) at dinner, to help celebrate our 29th anniversary.


We finally made it to Yosemite. I am not sure why we waited so long but we made it nonetheless.

Last June we made reservations so that we could stay on the valley floor. If you don’t stay on the valley floor the closest accomodations are almost an hour away. There are really only four options: VRBO, The Majestic (formerly the Ahwahnee), Yosemite Valley Lodge and camping. Mary has reminded me that at this stage in life camping is a hotel room with no remote control for the TV. Given that, we booked early and still had to move between the Lodge and the Majestic since three contiguous nights were not available.

Visiting in May (especially after a very wet winter) is ideal. The falls were breathtaking.

On our first full day we hiked about nine miles, saw Mirror Lake, Half Dome, Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls and more.


The next day we spent a lot of time in Cooks meadow, and got up close and personal with the falls.


Finally on our last day we visited El Capitan, and the Tunnel View. What an amazing park. We will certainly go back again and again.



There are more photos here.

Cuba – Havana Cars

The embargo froze (to a large degree) the state of transportation in Cuba. There are also a couple of oddities. 

While we saw a smattering of newer cars across the island, the number of cars still running and in good shape from the fifties is amazing. Many are used as taxis or are available for hire by tourists seeking a unique experience. Here are just a few. Enjoy!

Cuba – Havana

Our last stop in Cuba was Havana. Almost as old as Santiago de Cuba, Havana was founded in 1519. There are preparations everywhere for the 500th anniversary, which will be celebrated this fall. It is the largest city, with over 2.1 million residents.

It is a study of contrasts with most of the great architecture hundreds of years old and much of the more recent buildings displaying “deferred maintenance” issues. 

There is a vibrant tourism business, albeit visitors come mainly from places other than the U.S. It was fun to stop at the original Sloppy Joes Bar. The sandwich was, wait for it, a sloppy joe. We enjoyed looking at the old photos of Hemingway, Sinatra, Ted Williams and other celebrities that frequented the bar in its heyday. The second bar is a haunt of Hemingway’s.

While many of the living conditions are very tough, they have made great strides in literacy (from 50% in 1953 to over 98% today). Education is mandatory through middle school and free through college or trade school (including the medical and legal professions).

We were impressed with the Cuban people, I think that they are unfortunate victims of slavery and politics and have been for hundreds of years. I am certainly not a Castro apologist but their life now is better than it has been in the past under various regimes and dictatorships. If the decades-long U.S. embargo was lifter, their lives would certainly improve. In the mean time, they find joy in life and the love for their families and their country. It was fascinating to get to know a little more about them.

Cuba – Cienfuegos

Cienfuegos is a quirky city. Founded by the French as a holiday town, it has had many masters through the years and the architecture reflects it. There are a number of local streets that now house artisans selling their wares. 

The Cienfuegos Botanical Garden, founded by an American sugar planter named Atkins, started as a center for tropical plant research over a hundred years ago. For many years it was focused on the hybridization of sugar cane as well as organizing the planting of trees and plants imported from tropical areas around the world (there are over 2000 varieties). Today there are many groves of Banyan trees, a variety of Palms. Here is a Bamboo stand over fifty feet tall and a massive Culpo tree (similar to balsa).

Just up the road from the garden is Parque El Nicho. A short trek up through some lush green mountain scape you’ll find sets of swimming holes, natural pools and a stunning waterfall. It has a reputation as the most beautiful of Cuba’s numerous waterfalls

Cienfuegos is quite a bit closer to Havana and became powerful due to good growing conditions and massive sugar plantations. It also had several large casinos and a massive estate once owned by Meyer Lansky. The mafia had lots of “influence” in this city in the middle of the 20th century.

Baseball is a national pastime. In this city  of 150,000 they have a baseball park that seats 30,000. It is very visible from the harbor.

Cuba – Santiago de Cuba

We were pleased to learn of a Cuba immersion cruise. Cuba has been a bucket list trip for a long time. I was hopeful that we’d be able to spend some time there when things opened up a couple of years ago, but unfortunately things were clamped down again in 2017 with the new administration. When Regent offered a trip with six days of Cuba venues we jumped.

We sailed from Miami and our first excursion was supposed to be snorkeling out of Nassau.This was cancelled due to rough weather (nothing like the recent storms in Norway) so we wandered around old Nassau instead. Anything within walking distance from the pier was a tourist trap but it was nice nonetheless. We set sail that afternoon for Santiago de Cuba, the oldest (founded 1515) and second largest city in Cuba, located near the far southeastern edge of the island.

The main square is called Céspedes Park. It is home to Cuba’s only Cathedral, the Casa Granda Hotel and lots of signs and photos highlighting its place in the revolution. Fidel Casto proclaimed victory from a balcony on this square.

We took a side trip to a town near a former copper mine. It was so central to life in the town that the town is called El Cobre (the copper). The El Cobre basilica is home to the patron saint of Cuba, the Virgen de Caridad, and is a well-loved pilgrimage site. It is also used for Quinceañera parties for 15 year old girls.

We also visited the country’s best steel drum band (La Steel Band del Cobre). They were fantastic. They have a broader repertoire than I expected which ranged from local songs to the Beatles and Michael Jackson.

Our cultural exchanges were the highlight of Santiago de Cuba. Te professional Orfeon Choir gave us a small taste of the vocal talent in this city. Amazing.

Venice – Days 8, 9 & 10

What to say. We had relatively low expectations for Venice. We’d heard comments like “too dark,” “too smelly,” and “too dirty.” We experienced none of the above. In fact we’d return to Venice in a heartbeat.


We have visited a number of cities in the Baltic area who try to lay claim to being the “Venice of the North” – St. Petersburg, Stockholm, Brugges, etc. Their claims are not even close. It is one thing being a city with a bunch of canals, it is another being a city that would be lost without them. All of their infrastructure is canal centric – garbage trucks (boats), cement trucks (boats), taxis (boats) busses (boats), fishing (boats – oops well duh). Truly amazing, and it works. One very big side benefit is that you don’t spend time looking over your shoulder wondering when the next bus, car, motorcycle will run you over like we did in Firenze or Roma.

We also learned about the Doges (AKA Dukes) who ruled Venice for almost a thousand years. Their home, the Palazzo Ducale is breathtaking, as is the Basilica San Marco next door. Every direction you turn in the Piazza San Marco is beautiful.

The six of us took a two hour water taxi ride in and around the city and saw Venice’s beautiful landmarks from whole new perspectives.

I ended up taking about 300 shots in Venice alone. I am only posting a few. Many more from Venice and our trip in general can be found at Photos. I’ll end this final entry of our trip with some early morning (6AM) shots of the Piazza.