• Category Archives Uncategorized
  • New York to Miami and Caribbean Cruise

    It was a long Fall and Winter.  Bad things happening in the World and in our personal world. It was time for a long needed   break.  We usually do a driving or closer trip for our anniversary but after Steve got bumped on a Southwest flight last year (he volunteered) we had to use up some free flying.  Since our goal was relaxation we decided on a Caribbean cruise, something we had done 33 years before on our honeymoon. 

    We started with a day in NYC and a Broadway show, since some out of  town friends were coming in and we thought it would be fun to meet them there, it was and “Waitress” was super!  We headed out of NYC to Montclair, New Jersey, a cute little college town with nice restaurants.  We had a lovely Ethiopian dinner at Mesob, they can even do gluten free homemade bread if you call ahead, but since we hadn’t we at an assortment of wonderfully spiced vegetable dishes with rice.  Had a little sorbet down the street and headed for our hotel that we booked through ParkSleepFly (make sure you go through ebates when you book to make a great deal even greater – please use this link and we both get extra credit).  In the morning, really early, they took us to the airport in Newark to catch our flight to Ft. Lauderdale.  

    In Ft. Lauderdale we had booked the Royal Caribbean transfer, so we got on a bus, they took our luggage and when we got it back a few hours later, it was in our cabin.  The ride to the port was 30 minutes, about another 30 to go through the check in and we were free to roam the ship.  Our ship was the Enchantment of the Seas.  We sailed on the Oasis of the Seas several years ago when our son worked for RC and that was a wonderful experience.  This time we weren’t as overwhelmed by the service and the amenities, but it was still nice.  One tip, it was relaxing, but if you are looking for quiet on your get away, it’s hard to find on this ship / itinerary.  There is lots of music blasting in most public areas either recorded or live.  Lots of other hustle and bustle, but as long as that is okay or if partying is your thing you will love it.  We were tipped off that sitting out by the shuffle board courts can be quieter, most of the time, unless someone is playing and the Vista lounge on the 11th deck plays quiet music and is a good place for an unwind drink with a great view.  There were some fun comedy shows and an excellent variety song and dance show.  There were lots of activities for all ages and interests but we passed on most to just have down time.

    The food was good and they were able to accommodate our diets, though it left for little choice in the seated dining room.  We ate in the buffet area more except for three of  the dinners and choose as carefully as we could.  They are good about telling you ingredients if you ask, there are always fresh fruit and veggie choices, lox at breakfast and more basics.  It would just be simple and nice if they just labeled ingredients.  For those of you without restrictions you can easily overeat to your hearts content. 

    The ports were Nassua, Cococay – their private island and Key West.  Here’s a little about those.

    Nassau has lots of shopping, most of the same as what you find in any cruise port but also their Straw Market with local vendors.  It’s become a little fancier and a lot bigger since we were there thirty years ago, I gather it was rebuilt a little more permanently after being destroyed in a hurricane.  It’s a great place if you like bargaining, something we really aren’t into, so we found the hats we wanted, probably paying too much for them,but they will serve us well.  We geocached a little and walked the area.  We walked to a public beach area and got a little wet.  Our plan was to go back to the ship and then have a local dinner, until we found out that the whole area near the Port closes at 5 and even though our ship was in port until 11, that at night the only place to go was the hotels or the Atlantis resort.  We then decided on lunch in town and then staying on the ship and chilling.  Lunch was at Lukka Kairi which was quieter then some of  the more crowded spots, upstairs with a nice view of the Port and the bay and had good food.  They even have an extensive gluten-free menu.  I had a wonderful chicken curry, one of the local specialties.  We shared their excellent sweet potato fries and the staff was friendly and helpful.  




    The next day was Cococay, the private island.  There were lots of things to do.  Our dinner companions went snorkeling, but since the Seas were rough that day said the visibility was bad.  We just choose to hang on the beach, at first literally in a hammock.  Explore the Island a little,walk out on the 1/4 mile of sand bar through shallow water, where we saw some pretty fish and a really cool plate sized star fish and chill.  They serve a barbecue style lunch, fortunately with some good salads and fruit.  As we were eating it began to rain.  It rained on and off for about half and hour and then it really started to pour pretty steadily so we headed back to the ship and a nap before dinner.


    My favorite stop on the cruise was Key West, where we had never visited before.   We visited a home that was at one point the home of Ernest Hemmingway.  The guides tell amusing stories about Ernest, his many wives and the cats the property is now a sanctuary for.  We wandered thought the shopping area to the Southernmost Beach in the USA.  Then we found a wonderful Health Food Market and Restaurant, Date and Thyme, where we had lunch and much needed smoothies (it was very hot and extremely humid).  Feeling refreshed we wondered down to the Key West Winery.  We bought a Groupon (again using Ebates first to improve the already good deal – please use this link and we both get extra credit).  Their specialty is exotic fruit wines, including some with key limes of course.  With the Groupon deal we got to taste and take home a full bottle and two pouches (think adult juice pouches) and we bought a few more pouches, since it’s just enough wine for Steve and I at a sitting.  Lastly we found the geocache at the End of Route 1.  We love to drive Route 1 any time we are near a Coastal spot, so we needed to see the finish, even if we didn’t drive it this trip.  Then back on board for the overnight trip to Miami.  Oh, and then there are the feral chickens, they are all over Key West (you can read about them here).  


    We had booked two more nights in a Miami Hotel, hoping mostly to do an Everglade Airboat Tour.  So we arrived at our hotel about 10:30 after taking an Uber from the cruiseport.  After some discussions about the best way to see the sights we decided to head into town to book a combo tour of Miami and the Everglades. Not having a car the hotel shuttle took us to the Airport where we could get a day pass on public transit into town.  Miami has really good public transit, but like any City it helps to know a little about it.  It also is a very spread out City.  We got to downtown and talked to a few tour people.  Finally we choose to leave for the Everglades tour that afternoon and have a ticket the next day to do a bus tour of the City and a boat tour of the Harbor.  Around 2:30 we boarded the tour bus for the Everglades and rode for about 30 minutes.  Then the tour guide explained that we could go no further as the police had the one road in closed due to a fire further on.  We turned around and the bus took us to the tour office in Miami Beach so we could get a refund.  So we walked the beachfront a little.  Found a fun Mexican place for dinner, Naked Taco and then headed back.  They told us there was a bus back to the airport, what they didn’t tell us was it was a loop and where to catch it.  There was a big military air show planned for the next day, so we not only went almost a full loop on the bus, but it was very slow due to police roadblocks.  So in the twelve or so hours from the time we got to the hotel to the time we got back to crash for the night, we had seen a bit of Miami Beach, had dinner and rode a lot of buses/trains.  


    The next day went more smoothly.  We found a great deal on Groupon for an airboat road at Coopertown Air Boat Tours.  We took Uber out from our hotel.  It seems there is a drought going on in the Everglades and it’s driving all the alligators into more condensed areas where there is water, so there were alligators everywhere we looked.  The guide would slow / stop the boat where there were big groups or where they were most active.   We also saw beautiful birds which he would identify for us.  One tip, if your ears are sensitive bring your own ear plugs, they give you cotton.  They did give the kids earmuffs (not the warm kind) but they may not have enough for everyone.  It took some time for my ears to get back to normal.  They have some baby gators you can take your picture with but not the full shows that other places do, but that was not of interest to us.  Seeing the gators in the wild is what we went for and what we did.  Then we went to Uber back and found it didn’t work, fortunately Lyft did, but the driver told us since the reception is bad sometimes you need to try the location as the Indian casino hotel back a few miles.  I’m sure they staff would have helped us if we hadn’t been able to make it work.    

    We then got back on the hotel shuttle and the train and went to Coconut Grove.  This is a cute little town full of shops and places college students like to frequent.  We went mostly because there is an organic farmers market there on Saturdays, all day, year round.  It has all kinds of prepared foods, other items and of course produce.  We had some dairy free ice cream, after the other vendors had feed us enough samples of food to make lunch and bought some snacks for the plane the next day.

     Then we headed back to the train for another “adventure”.  Our Uber driver the first day told us to go to see “The Walls of Wynwood”.  Well, we took the train to the stop for the Wynwood bus, but it never came after a half hour of waiting.  Then we figured we would go by Lyft, well we got there and it was interesting, but not an area to walk around without a tour, so we had the driver take us back downtown.

     We walked around town, checked out the touristy Bayside Area and were deciding if we should go back to the hotel and shower before going out for an anniversary dinner, when I found one last interesting looking place to try in the area.  We figured we’d check it out and if it didn’t work go back to the hotel.  Well work out it did!  The restaurant is called CVI.CHE 105, the food is Peruvian.  They can easily do gluten free, they can add dairy free to that not as easily, but when we threw in the no shellfish, the waiter had to think.  Basically nothing on the menu the way it is would work, but he offered us a few options and put together two custom dishes for us.  They were both amazing.  Steve’s was a variation on chivice with fish and indescribably wonderful sauce and flavors.  Mine a grilled fish dish with great spices and accompanied by amazing browned plantains.  They make drinks with Pisco, a Peruvian Brandy and they have their own signature blend and cocktails.  Those were also amazing, but more then one each we would have never found our way back to the hotel.  All in all a really special Anniversary Dinner to top off a wonderful Anniversary trip.  

    The next day it was back to the airport in Ft. Lauderdale, fly to Newark, pick up our car and dinner at a great Falafel place in Princeton before arriving home to catch up and then start planning the next adventure!

    Just a few more tips on how we find great places to eat that meet our needs.  We use a combination of Yelp (with searches like gluten free, vegan, organic, etc.), Find Me Gluten Free and I just added the app for Happy Cow.

  • Portugal

    Portugal courtesy of the New Jersey Wine Growers

    So several years before this blog was born for our Alaska trip, we had the amazing good fortune to WIN a trip to Portugal.  The New Jersey Wine Growers Association has a program that awards one trip a year to those who have completed their Passport program.  You can take your time and visit the wineries over a year or several years.  Then you submit your Passport and the odds are decent they say they get about 200 or less completed entries a year.    Below is the post we wrote for their web site.


    We want to thank you so much for this wonderful prize. As we visited the NeCasteloDeAlmorolw Jersey wineries over the past two years and since, we have enjoyed many pleasures. First we have enjoyed the chance to taste many delicious wines and grow our repertoire of wines we enjoy drinking and sharing. We have visited many parts of our State and gotten to enjoy the diversity of lovely places where the wineries are located. We have also been proud to support local businesses and farmers, something we are passionate about. Winning the trip was certainly an added and unexpected bonus to all of these already great reasons for drinking New Jersey wines.


    We got the call about winning the trip the day before our 29th wedding anniversary. We were needless to say, VERY excited. Then of course we wondered about the timing of the trip and going to a country we knew nothing about and none of the language. We were so grateful to the Garden State Wine Growers and your travel agent, Barbara, for all the flexibility in both being able to choose the timing of the trip and let us pick the type of trip that suited our interests. What we came up with together was an excellent plan that made for an exceptional trip.


    With the small group tours we decided on doing, we got to see many diverse parts of Portugal and experience the beauty, the history, the culture and of course the food and wine. We got to meet both the Portuguese people who were lovely and gracious as well as fellow travelers from all over the World. We even got to do a little Geocaching, another passion of ours, which we often did throughout New Jersey as we visited the various wineries and now we got to participate in the global part of this worldwide game.


    A few of the highlights of our trip are shared below, pictures are attached. We obviously tell all of our friends about the New Jersey wineries and the Passport program. If we can help you spread the word in any other way, please let us know.


    Karen & Steve Kurtz
    Highlights of Our Trip:


    Day One – Arrival and exploration on foot of the historic, capitol city of Lisbon.


    Day Two – Small group, actually just us, and our wonderful tour guide Madelena to Evora. On the way we saw and learned about the cork producing trees that, along with tourism, are the mainstays of the Portuguese economy. In Evora we saw the sites, from the Roman ruins to the ornate royal family’s cathedral and the contrasting “Church of the Bones” built for the ordinary people. We wandered the lovely little streets and alleys and had tried some Portuguese favorites at lunch, including wine of course. We finished our day in Evora with a tasting of a few local wines.


    WineTastingDivinusDay Three – Small group tour to visit Pena Palace on a hilltop in the town of Sintra. Everywhere we looked we saw beautiful scenery both ancient and modern. Another typical Portuguese lunch and of course more wine! On the way back to Lisbon we saw sights on the Portuguese Coast including the spot that marks the western most point of Europe’s coast. Dinner in Lisbon at an outdoor café, oh the fish is so good and fresh!


    Day Four – We explored Lisbon using the “Hop on Hop off” bus, since the Metro was having a one day strike. Visited the Castle of St. George which overlooks Lisbon and is full of centuries of history and also visited the historic Belem area of the city.


    Day Five – Small Group tour of sites associated with the Knights Templar. The Castle of Tomar and the Convent of Christ built in the 12th century was definitely the most spectacular architectural highlight of the trip; everywhere you turned there was something fascinating to see. In Tomar we also got to see another beautiful cathedral and a very old Synagogue that is now a museum dedicated to the Jewish influence in the area. This was very special to us. A group lunch gave us a chance to try more Portuguese specialties and we had so much fun with the people on this tour, we had dinner with them that evening back in Lisbon.


    Day Six – We traveled by train to Porto, appreciating the scenery along the way. That evening we did our first tasting of Port and started our education on the complexity of the varieties and aging processes. Then we shared a lovely dinner with a woman we had met on the tour the day before on the “Riveria of Porto”.
    Douro Valley


    Day Seven – Scenically and in many other ways probably the most spectacular day of an already spectacular trip. This day’s small group tour was to the Douro Valley, the heart of Portuguese wine country. Miles and miles of roads and hills are lined with stone terraces built by the early Celts to grow their grapes on these steep hills. Intermingled are olive and other fruit trees as well but grapes are everywhere. After winding through mountain roads, we finally came to the heart of the Douro Valley where we were treated to a boat cruise for an hour in the most unbelievable setting. Words and pictures can’t do any justice to the beauty here. The cruise was followed by a wonderful lunch and then off to the winery. This winery that had been here from long ago uses combinations of old practices and modern technology to produce great wines and has just started making their own Port (have to wait at least 10 years to go back and taste it). Steve got to participate in traditional stomping of the grapes in a vat that will become wine. Their wine made in this “old way” is superior to their new wine, because the seeds are not crushed in the pressing, reducing the tannins. For those who did the stomping, it was just fun and unforgettable.


    Day Eight – The half day tour for this day was enjoyable though not as impressive as those proceeding. Averio is the “Portuguese Venice”, where we rode a boat through the canals that once were used to bring in seaweed and salt for processing. Today it’s just scenic fun for tourists. Came back to Porto and saw some of the main attractions, including the São Francisco Church, which is best known for the amount of gold, donated by rich families, which decorates its elaborate interior.


    Day Nine – Our last full day in Portugal was supposed to be for one last tour but as I was feeling off in the morning we needed to forgo the tour. After some rest our hotel staff recommended a walking route by the Ocean near Porto. We went in and out of the rain but had a relaxing last look, followed by a relaxing late lunch in the downtown area. So these are only sketchy highlights of our remarkable journey and once again we thank you for the opportunity.


  • Denver and California Coast

    Well, I got lazy and never blogged on our New England trip in the Spring, but now I’m back with our story about how a three day conference in Denver led to a California Adventure. Strangely enough I wasn’t sure about finding healthy choices in Denver, but thought California would be a snap. As always with traveling there were some surprises in those assumptions but follow along if you want to find what we learned or just enjoy the story of our adventure.

    Included in this blog are some links to not only great places but some great money saving tips we learned for travel, which hopefully will allow us to travel even more!

    When work asked me to attend a September conference in Denver, Steve and I decided it would be a great jumping off point for our Fall vacation.  We thought about renting a car and driving to Yellowstone and other Southwest areas, but found that to stay in Yellowstone you need to reserve further ahead then we planned, that lodging and food choices are greatly limited, so decided to save that adventure for another time when we can plan and maybe even RV.  

    Denver is a hub for Southwest Airlines, so we decided a trip to see both family and the California Coast would be our next choice. Why we fly Southwest anytime we can.  We have gotten lots of free air miles from their credit cards over the years.  Currently, our youngest son flies the most, so he is the only one with a credit card, since there is a small yearly fee.  Southwest has two bags flying free on all the flights.  There are a lot of online sales, which meant our flights from Denver to and from California were under $90.00 each.  I flew American because it’s what my company booked, but Steve flew Southwest in and out of Denver.  His flight was overbooked and he volunteered to get on a later flight and wound up with 550.00 in air credit good for a year.  This happens more they you would think on Southwest.  We actually bought our tickets with credit the boys had from flights they were delayed or bumped on.  So travel tip number one.

    Free Bus

    Fountain Near Train Station – Cooling Art

    We also found another money saving tip which was specifically for Denver.  There is a new train that goes from the Airport right the main downtown area.  It is 9.00 one way.  Our hotel was on the main pedestrian mall downtown, so right outside the train station we boarded the free buses that run literally minutes apart up and down the mall and saved on both shuttle/cab costs and dealing with traffic.  


    We did also get our first taste of the homelessness and drug problem that legalizing marijuana has brought to Denver, but that’s not a subject I want to brooch.  Look it up if you are interested.

    One of many Broncos – a Denver Symbol


    Big Art

    Checked into our hotel, one of my supervisors who was also at the conference, scoped
     out the local Indian restaurant.   It was just a few blocks away, not fancy but very good.  Lots of choices for gluten free and vegetarian.  We all wound up stuffing ourselves and bringing some back to the hotel for later.  


    The conference started in the morning, so Steve explored the city and we took in lots of good information.  There were some great lunch places, a favorite right across the street called Duck Soup, lots of  fresh soups, many with gluten free/vegan options, the same with salads and not on my radar but also wraps and maybe a few other items. If you eat poultry the smoked duck salad is super.  

    Another day we tried Mad Greens, like Saladworks, but more and better choices.  

    Piano Man – Functional Art

    Steve’s daytime and our evening wanderings let us see some of  unique highlights of Denver.  Public art, both just for arts sake and some for art/function seems big.  Steve got to check out the Zoo among other things.  


    Denver Zoo












    Red Rocks Looking toward Denver
    Red Rocks Looking toward Denver

    On the day the conference ended we wanted to see a little more of Colorado before flying out to the West Coast.  

    So as I said we learned some saving tips.  The consseire

    at the hotel gave us a coupon or $20 off our first Uber Ride.  I since learned that it is easy to get that $20.00 in many ways.  The best is to use a referral link from someone else’s account, so here is one of ours.  

    That way they get credits too.  More about ride services in a bit.  We took a ride with a very friendly Uber Driver out to Red Rocks Amphitheater.  It is supposedly one of the premier music venues in the Country.  They have a wall of Fame and famous musicians and groups in an unending list have performed there.  We climbed to the top of the Amphitheater, not an easy feat, we learned that we could have been dropped off by the top and then just walked down, so plan your adventure.  For those that like to hike/climb at high altitudes there are other trails in the park as well.  Or you can do what the locals do to train and run/walk up and down the rows of benches.

    Back in Denver to pick up our bags, grab a quick lunch and check in for our LA flight.  Then on to a visit with some family before starting our whirlwind tour of the California Coast.  Had a lovely lunch in Tarzana at Pozi’s Fresh Grill, lots of great vegetarian and gluten free choices.  We could have had dairy free gelato for dessert but had no room after the great food.  

    Monday Morning we left for San Diego.  With the length of our trip we should have skipped San Diego, but I’m glad we didn’t.  I really liked the highlights we got and would definitely visit again to see more of the sights and enjoy more of the culture.  The main hub of things to see in San Diego is Balboa Park.  It houses museum after museum, as well as the famed San Diego Zoo.  It is also the home of  beautiful garden, landscaping and all types of sports facilities.  The Zoo is pricey unless you can spend a full day, so we passed on that as well as most of the Museums.  One of the workers at the tourist information, recommended we definitely see the botanical building, which has free admission and the film about the park and it’s history in one of the museums that hi-lights local history.

    The botanical building itself was worth visiting the park, it’s amazing how much diversity of plant life was crammed into one small building.  Having said that, I’ll let the pictures speak the rest.

    After seeing as much as we could at the park and being starved for some dinner we decided to use Uber again.  We left our car at the Bed and Breakfast, we choose in one of the San Diego neighborhoods so we didn’t have to deal with downtown parking.  We found later that parking in San Diego is not the hassle and big expense it is in other California major cities, but it was freeing not to have to move the car around.  We took the short ride to the waterfront to see Seaside Village, which some told us was cool and others said was too touristy.  The second proved to be the case, reminded me of a cruise port in Mexico or the Caribbean.  So we strolled along the lovely waterfront path until we found a restaurant that caught our interest and meet our needs.  We ate outside at  ROYS                         .  It was good and interesting food, which they made to fit our needs.

    dsc_2385We walked a little further along the water front and then headed over into the downtown area and historic gaslight district.  There wasn’t much to see at night except a lot of restaurants and some interesting old architecture.  The heart of the historic district reminded us of New Orleans and the open to the street clubs, restaurants and bars.  A little Yelp search found that we could get dairy free ice cream with a bit of a walk to “Little Italy”.  Cafe Gratitude wound up being a vegan restaurant with a full menu and amazing  desserts.  It is fun when I can have a hard time choosing a treat.20160912_191311  I finally settled on a black bean brownie with almond milk ice cream.  Now the way they name their food is like this, my brownie was called “Surrendering”, while Steve’s cobbler was called “Lovely”, so when they serve it to you they say, “you are surrendering”, “you are lovely”, etc.  Check out their menu for the fun of it!  I haven’t had such a rich dessert in years and had a bit of a headache from the sugar the next day, but it was worth it.  I would have like to have had a meal, but now that I know they have locations in LA, we’ll definitively  try again on our next West Coast trip.  It says they deliver on their site, but I’m guessing not to New Jersey.



    The next morning we decided we wanted to see a little more of  San Diego before heading North.  One of the money saving tips we learned was to use the Groupon App to see what local deals there were, since you can now use them instantly.  I also use a program called Ebates to shop Groupon which gives you an extra percentage back.  We were able to get a North and South Harbor tour for less then the price of one or the other.  The North tour has more seals and other wildlife, these are on the dock where the bait ships load and unload.  The South tour has more of the Navy’s Pacific Fleet but supposedly these three seals are regulars.




    We decided to check out “Old Town San Diego” for lunch.  It’s a touristy Mexican area with lots of shops and restaurants.  Usually I find Mexican pretty easy to navigate but the restaurants there were less authentic and a little less forgiving with food restrictions, but all and all still a nice lunch.  


    Then we headed North on the main highway for a small while to bypass some traffic before hopping back on Route 1 through all the small beach towns.  Our goal was to meet up with some old friends for dinner in the Long Beach area so we mostly just drove and enjoyed the scenery.    We had  a lovely dinner at  “Good Stuff”.


    dsc_2595After dinner we drove to Santa Barbara where we had reservations for the night.  In the morning we drove to see the highlights of Santa Barbara since there was still much to see up the Coast, again, we tried to pack to much in and I wouldn’t recommend it.  We went down to the lovely beach and had a look.  Then we drove up though the downtown to the Monastery on the hill to see the view.  The outside was lovely, but we decided not to do the tour.  Each town along the Coast has at least one old Monastery and I’m sure if you had the interest you could make a tour of just those.  



    soupOur sister-in-law told us one of  the must do things was to stop at Split Pea Anderson’s for a bowl of their famous vegetarian soup.  So besides some fruit and tea at our hotel that was our breakfast.  It was yummy!  

    We wanted to see the town of Solvang, which was founded by the Swedes since the tour book made it sound interesting.  It was pretty, but we decided only to stop at a nice health food store on the edge of town and pick up picnic goodies for lunch.  By the time we got back on Route 1 we were concerned about getting to Hearst Castle, where we had tour reservations late, so we mostly drove.  We did find a lovely spot along the water to stop for a few minutes to start our lunch, ie. wash our fruit and open the amazing hummus we bought so we could snack while driving.  




    Shortly before Hearst Castle we noticed animals grazing in a field, not to unusual since we had seen a lot of fields of cows and some horses, until we took a separate look and realized that most of these were Zebras!  Once we toured the Castle we understood that these were part the animals that were imported by Hearst as part of his menagerie and they are some of the few decedents of his personal zoo.    Hearst Castle was interesting, it seems Hearst built it as a playground while he was alive but with the intention of it being a Museum to house great art and architecture when he was gone.  Steve was not as impressed, feeling the show of wealth was unnecessary and the Socialist in me agrees that the money could have done a lot of good else where but since we live in a World that allows for some to have so much and many to have so little, it still was worth a look.  They have a number of tours, so it is only possible to see a small part of the property in a visit unless you want to spend a whole day and lots of your money.  We did the basic tour of the ground floor rooms and the gardens.  I enjoyed learning about the art and the history.  A movie is included in the tour but really there wasn’t much in the film that wasn’t in the tour, so if you are short for time you won’t miss much by skipping it.  I have to say, the indoor pool alone was worth the tour price, WOW!

    We were hesitant to travel the Coastal road from there as the fire at Big Sur had been burning for weeks and all the National Parks along the road were closed, but we were told the visibility should be good on such a clear day and that it would still be worth it instead of taking the long inland way around, where we thought about checking out some wineries.  I am glad we followed the advice and wish we had gotten an earlier start because it got dark about three quarters of the way through our drive.  We stopped a lot to take pictures and take in as much as we could see as the sun set over the Pacific.  

    Right past Hearst Castle on the other side of the road is a beach where the elephant seals come.DSC_2674  There is a wide viewing area and they are just fascinating and some are SO big.  







    And here are the coastal pictures from various spots.  


    After it got dark we powered through to Carmel by the Sea, just a town short of Monterey where we would be staying.  Yelp led us to a really interesting sounding restaurant that sadly did not exist, but in looking for it we found   Flying Fish Grill .  They said they could accommodate us and it smelled really good.  Since they offered Shabu Shabu like we heard about from our son’s last Japan visit I encouraged Steve that we try something different.  They offered some options we couldn’t do but they were willing to give us just fish and veggies instead of the shellfish they usually served with it.  Sake was a perfect accompaniment.    A fun and tasty evening.


    Then to the hotel in Monterey to get some sleep before an early morning whale watch.  The whale watch was great with Monterey Bay Whale Watch .  We saw lots of humpback whales.  Lots of cool seabirds and some other sealife too, including a pelican that thought flying above our boat was a lot of fun.  

    DSC_2905Afterward we were really ready for some lunch since we didn’t actually have a real breakfast, just some snacks.  We found a little Lebanese Restaurant, just outside of the main town.  The food including excellent gluten free falafel was made by the owner who was also the server and it seems the only ones there except the customers.  We had a good nap and then went to check out Cannery Row.  It was interesting with it’s historical buildings and plaques, though most of the remaining buildings have been converted into typical resort side shops.



    Next we went to see the 17 mile scenic drive along the Pebble Beach Resort.  Not only were there an abundance of seals but there was a large sea mammal, which we assume was some sort of whale jumping out of the water over and over. 

    Back in town for dinner, we found a Thai restaurant.  Their gluten free offerings were okay but when it came to grain free I was very limited to just a few items from the menu, but they were tasty.

    In the morning we headed out with the intention of stopping at the “Mystery Spot”, another recommendation from our sister-in-law.  We got there and it wasn’t opening for another 20 minutes or so and then when they did open we would have had to wait longer for the first tour, so we decided to head on to San Francisco since our time was already limited.  We had already opted not to stay over night in San Francisco as they hotel prices were high and then they charge another $50  a night for parking your car there.  In the end we were glad of our choice.  I particularly was not impressed with San Francisco.  It reminded me of NYC, my least favorite city.  Very touristy, not clean and too hard to navigate with all the hills.  Now I’m sure if you live there, know where to go, avoid the tourist areas, etc. it has wonderful features, charms and places to go, but I can say I saw it and was glad to move on.  We found a $20 parking place with a little effort.  We walked through the touristy areas near the Wharves a bit, found some lunch, looked at the trolley’s (way to crowded to ride), L.    street and then decided to head over to our hotel in Marin County to get a shower before dinner with some family.  We got great pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge and the areas back toward San Francisco from across the bay.  It is a lovely area.  The next day we explored the Coastal areas of Marian County before heading to the airport and that gave us a much better last impression of California.  

    On the way to the Coast we drove through beautiful redwood forests.  Breakfast was at the lovely little town of Point Reyes Station, where they had wonderful options for healthy food.  Our niece told us that Marian County has higher organic standards then even the rest of California, they take real food seriously.  There was a small farm market setting up as we came out from breakfast.  Everything looked and smelled so good.  


    At Point Reyes, we only had time for a short walk to one of  the beaches, but if you had time you could spend days exploring the wild coastal terrain.  We drove back along the Coast route which took us through lovely mountains, past beautiful marshes and past lots of bikers who ride up and down these steep roads with what appears to be ease.  We didn’t have time to stop in Sac    but drove the downtown to see, it looks like it would be a nice place to spend a few hours.  One of these days we will start a West Coast Tour in Marian County and then head up the Coast to see the rest of California and the other Coastal States.

    fb_2732We had to fly back through Denver and spend one night due to travel arrangements.  I learned a few things from this.  If you ever need to spend a night in Denver and want to do anything but sleep, stay in the city and take the train to and from the airport.  We had booked at one of the “airport” hotels, which are in nowhere land.  Getting a decent dinner was a challenge.  We finally went to a chain restaurant with decent food, after our one bad experience with Lyft.  The next day airport and  home.

    This post got a little shortchanged as I had difficulty adding pictures when I started, then life got busy and stressful.  Now as I get ready to post pictures from our trip in May of 2017 I decided it was time to wrap this up.  The May trip was finally some unwind time after a stressful Fall and Winter.  Anyway, I hope this gives you some insight into Denver and the California Coast.