Saturday, December 16, 2017

New Zealand - November 2017

Nov. 13

Arrived in Christchurch mid morning. Picked up Maui camper van. Took a couple hours for that errand. Then, looked for a lunch spot. Decided on King of Snakes Asian fusion. Had Panag curry beef cheeks and salad with sashimi yellow tail along with stir fried veggies. After lunch we visited the cathedral ruins and the shipping container shop area. There was a nice NZ phot competition and we tried to pick our favorites. Upon leaving, we brushed the side of the camper van on a parking barricade :(. Our last stop was Pak n Save where we loaded up on food for the first few days. Then we settled in at the Top 10 Holiday Park for the afternoon and got to know the logistics of our van.

Nov. 14

We drove out in the morning to find mountains - enough suburbia was already had. The first couple hours were like driving through the Central Valley of California. Then, after a small pass, we were in a Valley and a town called Fairlie. We stopped and tried the famous meat pies. Rick had salmon and bacon and I had a decaf almond latte thanks to my elimination diet. Then, we stopped at the market for a few more provisions. The town was like an old gold rush town. Very cute. Another pass had us gazing at the lovely peaks of the southern alps. We stopped at lake Tekapo holiday park. We climbed to the Mt John observatory and did the long lakeshore walk back. After dinner, we walked to the Church of the Good Shepard, which was still a zoo at 8 pm. We took a short nap and the got up at 11 for night sky photos over the lake as Telapo is a dark sky reserve. Amazing!

Nov 15

We decide to stick with a less driving, more being plan for the week. So, we set off for our next destination - the Hooker Valley. We stopped on the way to scout out the freedom campground at Lake Pukaki and snapped some photos. Then, we drove the final 45 minutes to the White Horse campground. After paying and staking out a spot, we did the 3 hour hike to Hooker Lake and back. Then, we refueled and I had a nap. In the late afternoon, we hiked down to the village to enjoy a beverage and then hiked back to make dinner. After dinner,
We hiked back to the mountaineering memorial to watch the golden hour before going to bed. 

Nov 16

We got a fairly early start with a morning hike up to Kea Point. After snapping some pics of Mueller Lake from a new angle, we walked over to the Mueller Hut track and did the first 30 minutes to where we could get a view of the mountains. Following our early hike, we drove down to Twizel. I got my first chance to drive a camper van and to drive on the left side. Woo hoo! We made arrangement in Twizel for a bike hire for the next day to ride part of the Alps to Ocean A2O route. And, we made a stop off to buy some groceries. We had some lunch at Shawty’s - a local watering hole that was recommended by Lonely Planet. I had a walnut and arugula risotto with a side of fried eggs. Following our errands, we headed up to grab one of the prime camping spots on Lake Pukaki. We had a clear view of the lake and mountains behind it. I took a brisk dip in the lake in the early evening. Then, we enjoyed reading as we watched the sun go down. 

Nov 17

We got up early to pick up our bike hire. Just before 9, we headed out from Twizel toward Lake Ohau. The route followed the valley along the canals connecting the lakes. As we headed south, we had glimpses of a range that very much looked like Rohan from Lord of the Rings. We imagined we were chasing the riders as we entered single track on the shore of Lake Ohau. After 10km of single track, we arrived at the village on the lake and sat on the shore of the adjoining Lake Middleton to eat our packed lunch. After lunch, we headed back, but took a hillier route over Makuna Terrace, which gave us some new vistas. We arrived back a bit earlier than expected and stopped for a smoothie after our ride at Poppies Cafe. The afternoon was spent driving to the Wanaka area for the next couple days. We went via a mountain pass that reminded me of the American West. Just before bed, we made it down to the Wanaka tree for golden hour.

Nov 18

We had a lazy morning. We walked to town and got some groceries and provisions for the trek. After taking those back to the camper, we walked back to town and had lunch at a brunch spot. I had eggs - delish. Then, we met up with our kayaking tour. It was us and another couple from Bern. We went out in a smaller inlet called Johnson Arm and ended at a small island for a tea break. Then, we had a difficult paddle back into the wind. We made a stop in town for a glass of wine before meandering back to our campsite. I crashed and after a shower and an hour of reading fell asleep for 10 hours!

Nov 19

My shoulders weren’t as sore as I expected in the morning, which was good. We headed out after breakfast to climb Iron Summit overlooking the two lakes. Unfortunately the view of Haewa was minimal to none. We had a nice hike nonetheless. Rick took a crash at the end, which meant picking gravel out of his hand and knee, but we got him patched up and bought some bandages to supplement what we had in our kit. We drove downhill toward Queenstown through a landscape right out of the American West and ended at the bucolic Lake Hayes. We took a walk around the east side of the lake in the afternoon before cooking our lamb rump steaks for dinner.

Nov 20

We got up early and hiked around the east side of the lake, admiring the foxgloves and gorst in bloom. Then, we slowly packed up our things in the camper and prepared to return to civilization. We made a rubbish stop and then returned the camper and caught a taxi into Queenstown. After checking in the hotel, we got our tickets for the trek and transport and looked for lunch. Lunch was Japanese featuring an asparagus salad with smoked salmon. Then, we headed to the hotel to do laundry and prepare for our trek. We dined and watched the sunset from the hotel.

Nov 21

At 6am we were down for breakfast. Then, we got picked up at 6:45 by Shael of Go Orange tours. Shael was a pretty funny guide and excellent bus driver. We arrived in Milford Sound fjord after about three hours. We loaded up on the boat and took our two hour cruise of the fjord. We had the treat of seeing dolphins and whales, which is a bit unusual. The skies were clear, which meant the  waterfalls were less impressive, but that was a good price to pay. Following the cruise, we were dropped off at the Divide to start our trek. We walked 30 minutes uphill, and then took the diversion to Key Summit along with the side trip to the Lake Marian overlook. That was a worthwhile hour with 360 views of the peaks. The last 20 minutes dropped us to Howden Hut and its charming lake. We got to work cleaning up, making dinner, and avoiding the sand flies. 

Nov 22

I started the day by giving Rick his birthday card before breakfast. We got rolling about 8am due to the long day ahead. The trip to Mackenzie Hut was relatively fast, and we arrived before lunch. The next part up to Harris saddle was a long slog and quite warm out. We went through a lot of water. We were grateful for the ample streams of glacial water running off the mountains. On the way, we saw a large avalanche across the valley from us. We arrived at the saddle exhausted, but needing to focus for the descent. We took a nice break at the shelter before pressing on. About an hour later, we rolled into Routeburn Falls Hut, which was quite a bit more luxurious than Howden and was filled with young people. We had a restful evening.

Nov 23

There was a fast descent from the hut to the river valley below, and the rest of the walk followed the river canyon down. The temps rose as we descended and the last few km were unbearably hot. But, we finally arrived at the trailhead and had a pleasant surprise when Shael showed up an hour early to shuttle us back to town. We were the only two passengers on the entire bus. We got to town, did laundry and cleaned up and had dinner at Flame, which Shael recommended. It was a nice Thanksgiving day for us.

Nov 24

We took a lazy day around Queenstown having a long breakfast at the hotel followed by a stroll across town for a massage to try to work out my shoulder after the long trek. After the massage, we took a lunch break and then headed back to the hotel for napping and packing. In the evening, we had dinner and then headed up the gondola to catch the sunset. It wasn’t quite as good as the evening before, but was still a stunning sight and nice way to close our time out in the South Island.

Nov 25

We got up at 4:30am to catch our flight back to Auckland- ugh. After arriving in Auckland, we picked up our rental car and drove to Raglan - a beach town with a nice surf break. We had lunch at a local diner called Orca and then walked to a local surf school, which turned out to be a guy named Steve’s house. He was gearing up for a lesson at 2pm, so we rushed back to our car and got our swimming gear and headed back to his place. We ended up taking a lesson until about 6pm with a young French couple from Strausbourg. I got up a couple of times and thoroughly exhausted myself after many years since the last surfing. Rick was grinning ear to ear riding the waves. All in all a good time. We ended the day checking into our AirBnB and showering before heading to dinner at the Wharf, which was amazing.

Nov 26

We drove out to the Tongariro National Park and checked into the Tongariro Crossing Lodge, which is a Victorian era B&B. The room was spacious and hosts generous. We took two short walks to a waterfall and the “mounds” as an easy recovery from surfing. We had “Sunday Roast” dinner at The Station Restaurant, which was the hotel’s recommendation. 

Nov 27

The Crossing was “on” for the day based on the weather forecast. We took the 7:00am pickup and were at the trailhead just after 7:30. We aimed for a brisk pace, trying to target the 1:30pm shuttle back. The first hour we covered 4km. Then, the first big climb to south crater slowed us down, followed by an easier climb to Red Crater. The descent from Red Crater was epic with deep volcanic sand, but a nice view of the emerald lakes. I only fell 11 times! Sadly, the view was socked in all day and we never saw the top of Mt Ngauruhoe (aka Mt Doom) or Mt Tongariro. But, we enjoyed our walk up past Blue Lake and through the very long descent. In the end, we barely missed the 1:30 shuttle and ended up on the 3:00 shuttle. But, we still had time for a nap and call to my parents at the end. We dined at Eivens, which was serviceable.

Nov 28

We took the long drive back to Auckland and dealt with construction traffic preventing our entry to the parking garage of the Grand Millennium. But, we prevailed. Then, we took a walk out to the wharf and had delicious Peri Peri chicken at the Afro-Portuguese chain Nando’s in the evening.

Nov 29

We took a free walking tour of the city and then enjoyed lunch at Mexico. After lunch we toured an exhibit of Maori portraits at the Art Gallery done in the late 19th century. Then, we headed back to the hotel for our long journey home. We left around 8pm and arrived back at 11am the same day - an amazing International Date Line time warp.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Patagonia, March 2017

Rick's Flickr for the trip.

Timelapse of all our lunch stops in the mountains:

March 12

We arrived in Buenos Aires and headed to our hotel in the Palermo neighborhood, called the Miravida Soho. Rooms were nice and traditional, but small. We spent the afternoon walking around and enjoying lunch on the sidewalk. In the evening, we took the hotel wine tasting. We had a torontes/Sauvignon Blanca blend, a Malbec from Mendoza, a Malbec from Salta and a Malbec/Cab Franc/Metlot from Patagonia. And, some rare beef, some cheese, some prosciutto and empanadas, which means we have no room for dinner...

March 13

Another mostly travel day today. Flew from Buenos Aires to El Calafate in Patagonia. We did get a couple hours in the afternoon to wander around town. The best views today were coming in for a landing along Lago Argentina. We stayed at Hotel Michelangelo, which was the least exciting of the trip, but clean, family-friendly and serviceable. We dined in the hotel restaurant on traditional local stew - the restaurant was called Isabel. We had 'El Vigilante' dessert. It was cow cheese with a sweet potato 'pudding', which was very much like quince paste. Talk about Spain meets South America!

March 14

We went to the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares for a day trip. We had about two hours of hiking along walkways along the Perito Moreno glacier in addition to a boat ride up to the glacier itself. Most of the big calving happened while we weren't watching, but we saw a few pieces fall off. We dined in the evening at Mi Ranchito restaurant.

March 15

We took a "day trip" to Torres del Paine in Chile. It was a stunning and clear day. Our guide said it's only 1 in 20 days when the entire massif is clear of clouds. We got in quite a few vistas and a 1 hour hike to stretch our legs. We saw condors, flamingos, guanacos, rias and a grey fox. We arrived back in town around 10pm, and were happy for local late-night dining. We dined at Buenos Cruces, which was delicious and a charming restaurant.

March 16

We arrived in El Chalten after a 3+ hour bus ride from El Calafate. We checked into the Don Los Cerros hotel and walked around town-another beautiful day! We scoped out restaurants to try and grocery stores and had a quick lunch at a forgettable pizza place. The ice cream place - Domo Blanco was worth a re-visit. Dinner was at Don Los Cerros.

March 17

Epic mountain day today. 21km hiking to Lagune del Torre just below Cerro Torre. Clouds finally lifted off the peaks around 2:30 pm. Warm weather, light winds and epics views. Life is good! Dinner was at La Tapera - universally the highest rated in town.

March 18

Another epic day in the mountains. Rick officially declared this one of Sarah's Death Marches. A bit over 25km and about 1,000 meets of gain - 500 meters in the last "1 kilometer" (really 1.68, but who's counting!) to Laguna de Los Tres at the foot of Fitz Roy. For those not familiar, this is the "North Face" made famous by the clothing brand. Dinner was again at Don Los Cerros.

March 19

Took a recovery day today with cloudy skies and feet that felt like hamburger. Hiked up to Mirador de Los Condores. It's only about 3km round trip, but after we crossed town on foot. Did lots of roving about town - stopping at park headquarters to tell them about our huemule sighting, shopping for groceries, etc. and still ended with about 15km for the day. Oh, and a nap, which is required at least once on all vacations, and a massage. Life is good! Dinner was at Fuegia. We had paella, which was good.

March 20

Super-spectaculoso Fall color today. We did the Madre y Hija route connecting the Sendero Cerro Torre and Laguna de Los Tres routes. It might be the most under-appreciated route in the park. The trail has no kilometer markings or colored markings like the rest, but is very clear to follow. Something like 23k today with stunning views after the early rain cleared. We got clouded in for sunrise, but the weather made up for it when Roy G Biv made an appearance across the Cerro Torre watershed. In the evening, we thought it was time to try out a traditional parrilla - Asador - Parrilla El Viejo Nando. I had the biggest plate of lamb I've ever seen. Ok, that is off the list.

March 21

The sunrise did its magic this morning, and then we got in our last 20km+ hike to Lomo del Pliegue Y Tombado, a 1000 meter high outcropping where you can see all the major peaks of the area - if they aren't shrouded in clouds (which they were). We bundled up and ate our lunch before making our descent. We decided another visit of Doom Blanco and Fuegia were in order.

March 22

We bussed back to El Calafate and enjoyed a walk around the lake in the early evening. We even found some flamingos! This visit we stayed at Hotel Kosten Aike, which was a very nice place and only 10 dollars more than the Michelangelo. We returned to Buenos Cruces for dinner, which was again fantastic.

March 23 & 24

We flew back to Buenos Aires and stayed in the wonderful Hotel Fiero - definitely recommended for service and quality. We did the wine tasting and dined in their restaurant, which was highly rated and very good. A great meal to close out our time in Buenos Aires.

The next morning, we walked all the way across town to the Recoleta neighborhood and visited the famous Recoleta Cemetery and an artists' market before walking back. It was about 10km each way. The Hotel Fiero was nice enough to offer us showers in the pool area before heading to the airport to return home in the late evening.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A journey in Sub-Saharan Africa - November 2016

I recently had an invitation to collaborate with technologists in Cameroon, so took the opportunity to explore a bit of that country and to then jump off for a safari in Kenya and Tanzania and visit the partner of a friend from here in the states in the Arusha area.

Professional Journey in Cameroon
For a description of the professional part of the journey, I posted a bit on LinkedIn.

My Flickr from the whole trip
Rick's Cameroon (with a real camera)
Rick's Kenya (with a real camera)
Rick's Tanzania (with a real camera)

A few non-professional observations about Cameroon


The country is probably the least developed I have visited, followed by Bhutan - and not counting our visit to the runway in Bangui, Central African Republic. While Cameroon has a bit more western influence than Bhutan as evidenced by a couple of French grocery stores and ample French imports, Bhutan has a much more deliberately developed tourism industry that is also quite environmentally progressive, along with a stable supply of electricity for those who can afford it. If I weren't surrounded by mobile phones and people discussing digital entrepreneurship, I would think I was in 1960 in the cities of Cameroon and 1890 in the country. The country is not set up for tourism at all. This is a shame, because it could be a perfect destination for ecotourism. There are very few roads, and we only experienced one that was of modern standard on the drive from Douala to Kribi on the coast.


Cameroonians are pristine in the way they present themselves. I was dressed business casual during our trip and felt significantly under dressed most of the time, while being significantly more dressed up than is typical of Silicon Valley. People have custom-tailored clothes made of local waxed-cotton batik and each person really expresses herself or himself in clothing. Colors and a cacophony of patterns rule the day. It is not unusual to see a man dressed in head-to-toe batik suiting. Women also make modern and traditional shapes out of these batiks and combine them with more western attire. I bought a couple bolts of fabric and had a skirt made while in Yaoundé. It became a bit of a goose chase, as we ended up flying out earlier than it was ready, so a friend picked it up and sent it to Douala by bus. Then, we were barely able to retrieve it in Douala before leaving, as it came on a later bus than expected - after two trips to the bus station.


We attended a Presbyterian church during our stay. The music presentation was significantly more robust and lively than what we have here at home - with a choir in the loft above and another one in the front of the church. Hymns were sung from shared songbooks with lyrics, but no printed music. Some of the hymns we knew, and others we did not, but definitely had roots in French classical music. Based on my comparison with Baptist services in Ivory Coast as a child, the Presbyterians are still on the reserved end of worship style - even in their cultural context. The sermon was in French on Luke 8 where Jesus healed the man with demons and cast them into a herd of pigs. The preacher was energetic, but call and response somewhat limited. I again admired the colorful and attentive dress of the parishioners as they processed out of the church row by row. After the service, the elder women formed a very colorful prayer circle outside the church. Cameroon appears to be primarily Christian and primarily Protestant, but with a significant populations of Muslims - probably about 1/3. Cameroonian Christians and Muslims seem to be quite well integrated and united. However, in the capital, there is a Muslim neighborhood, primarily comprised of migrants from other African countries that is much less integrated.


Cameroonians, on average, don't have much money - so time becomes a currency and something to spend or lavish on others. We found people were extremely generous with their time - taking ample time away from their business and other concerns to assist us in discovering their country. I also found that people were extremely optimistic about time - how long travel distances would take to cover, how much traffic would impact things, etc. We often found ourselves starting adventures much later in the day than we anticipated and to our fast-paced Silicon Valley minds, everything just moved slowly. Many times things that seemed like they should be simple transactions required inquiring with lots of individuals by phone or in person. Planning was something that happened in real time - we often felt like we were in a JIT compiler. In addition to being optimistic about time, I also found Cameroonians are generally more optimistic than I would expect about lots of things.


Cameroon is a veritable fruit basket, with a lot of plenty and ability to cultivate any number of crops. Meals typically involved "casava" or manioc root, fish, chicken or meat, fried plantains and sometimes dishes made with spinach or other greens the most unique thing we tried was pureed spinach with peanuts. The raw peanuts gave it an acrid taste. For breakfast, people typically had beignets and red beans and tropical fruits. It's clear a number of the dishes that we associate with the south have their roots in West Africa. Due to the relatively high nutrition levels, Cameroonians are of significant stature. Most of the women were my height or taller.


I was shocked at the numbers of people with Albinism we saw during our stay in Cameroon - much higher than I've observed in other places we've traveled. In subsequent research, it appears that rates are about 4x what we see in North America. I also learned that Albinos are subject to superstition and violence, particularly in Tanzania.


Both of our attempts at outdoorsy things resulted in interesting stories. Like many developing nations, it seems that there is an aspect of "why walk, when I can drive"? But, I do so like to walk. So, we looked for a couple opportunities during our week.

The first attempt was successful, walking to a hill-top hotel in the capital one afternoon with Laura, a Peace Corps worker. That was lovely. The second and third attempts in nature was where things got interesting.

The day we arrived in Douala, we took at car out to Buea, at the base of Mt. Cameroon. See the section above about time. :) Essentially, we arrived in Douala 1 hour late at 9:00 am due to a late flight. Then, the van that picked us up at the airport had a flat tire. Then, after arriving at our hotel, we met up with our host in the city, Georges. Then, we ate lunch. Then, we started driving toward Buea. Traffic was bad. We made a grocery stop, picked up a friend, Lionel, in a hotel on the outskirts of Buea, but couldn't find him right away, so 30 minutes later resumed our journey. Then, we encountered road construction, so the drive to Buea was another two hours. This put us at the base of Mt. Cameroon around 3:45 pm. Then, the mountain was covered with clouds, so Lionel did not want to walk. But, I insisted we should enjoy the forest regardless. Apparently, I'm a bit naive. We pulled over in the village at the bottom of the mountain and inquired with a lady running a fruit stand who then made a call. A young man appeared who could take us up the mountain (I didn't know we needed an escort!). Then, we had to stop at the village chief's home and request permission to walk the trails. We answered questions about where we were from, why we wanted to go on the mountain, how long we wanted to walk for, etc. and eventually received permission. We started our walk around 4:00 pm and came down in the waning twilight with Lionel and our guide, Emmanuel. It was a really nice walk, but there were a lot of logistics involved and we ended up shelling out 30,000XAF to Emmanuel and the chief - or around $50 USD.

After our meetings were complete, we headed down to a beach town called Kribi. The idea was that we would overnight in Kribi and then take a day trip to hike in a national forest called Campo Ma'an the next day. We stopped at the department of forestry the afternoon we arrived in Kribi to seek permission to enter the park, but were told we had to sign in from the town of Campo. We decided instead of heading down to Campo we would enjoy a nice lunch by the sea and leave early the next morning for Campo. Our intent was to leave at 6:00 am, drive for a couple hours, hike for a couple hours and return for lunch. We got up at 5:00 and were in the hallway at 6:00 along with Lionel, our guide. However, our driver, Martin, and car were nowhere to be found. We waited until 8:00, and then Martin arrived. Even though we were starting later than anticipated, we still had plenty of day ahead. The first 30km of road was great - well paved down to the new port being constructed in Kribi. After that, we entered the dirt road, which was more mud than dirt due to being in the tail end of the monsoon. The car rolled through deep mud puddles and over dodgy bridges. Three hours later, we passed a sign saying the town of Campo was 40km ahead. I asked Lionel if he was SURE that we could still get there, hike and return within the confines of the day. He said yes, so we continued. Six hours later, we arrived in Campo and found a ranger. He got in the car with us and took us to talk to the custodian, who was having lunch. But, he called ahead to the park office and someone said they would sign us in. So, we headed down to the park office, which was 1km away. As we made the last turn, we crossed a bridge and headed into another mud hole. This time, we got stuck! As much as we tried to go back and forth, we just got more stuck and the car covered in mud. Some villagers came and got us out after 30 minutes. We backed on to the bridge and they started washing our car off with river water. They found some damage to the plastic under the vehicle, so another villager crawled under and chicken-wired our underside back together. While this was happening, I approached Lionel and the ranger, who were having an animated conversation. I was told that after we signed in, there would be another 25km to get to where we could hike. It was 2:30 pm and would be completely dark at 6:00 pm. I said "absolutely not!", and we decided to head back. The ranger insisted it would be faster to take a logging road instead of the highway, even though it was 50km longer. He led us out on a dirt bike and we arrived back in Kribi around 6:00 and started the 200km drive back to Douala after that. We got to Douala around 8:30 and had dinner at the hotel before crashing. This was yet another example of the eternal optimism around time :).

On Safari - Kenya and Tanzania

On Sunday, November 20, we flew to Nairobi via Bangui, Central African Republic. Bangui has been a site for refugees from the conflict in Democratic Republic of Congo, and there is a UN camp right off the tarmac.

We only spent the late evening in Nairobi, enjoying a relatively luxurious stay at the Sarova Panafric Hotel, which is highly recommended.

Monday, November 21

We drove from Nairobi to Lake Nakuru passing through the Rift Valley and enjoying the rainbows as the rain clouds cleared. We saw zebras, impalas and baboons all along the highway. We made a brief stop at a chapel built in 1942 by Italian POWs in Kenya. We enjoyed lunch at our hotel and then set out for an afternoon game drive.

We saw the following on our drive around Lake Nakuru: superb starling, long-crested eagle, zebra, Grant's gazelle, Thompson gazelle, impala, cape buffalo, waterbuck, lion, white rhino, black and white colobus monkey, vervet monkeys, guinea fowl, flamingoes, baboons, giraffes, warthogs, and Egyptian geese.

Tuesday, November 22

Tuesday was a transit day, where we drove into Masai Mara and stayed at Lenchata Tourist Camp. 

Wednesday, November 23

We woke up at 3:30 am to go hot-air ballooning on the Mara, followed by a champagne breakfast and a Loo with a View.

We had a very long game drive that followed and saw the following: ostrich, black-backed jackal, spotted hyena, banded mongoose, secretary bird, bee-eaters, bateleur, nile crocodile, elephants, lions, hippos, wildebeast, eland, gazelle, impala, Coke's hartebeast, topi, waterbuck, giraffe, zebra, warthog, cape buffalo, african hare, vultures, cranes, bustards, white-bellied kingfisher, souther ground hornbill, maraibou stork, lappet faced vulture, comorant, African harrier hawk, lilca breasted roller, red billed oxpecker, cattle egrets.

The interesting story from today is that two days prior, 5000 wildebeasts tried to cross the Mara river at their usual spot. However, the leader spotted some greener grass downstream from the typical exit point and led the heard that direction. Unfortunately, there was a steep cliff and 14m deep water at that point, and 1000 wildebeasts drowned. Their carcasses were floating in the river and every carnivorous bird from hundreds of miles around and all the crocodiles were enjoying a Thanksgiving feast!

Thursday, November 24

We had a 12 hour drive and somewhat difficult border crossing, but finally made it to Serengetti. I'm not sure why they don't set up immigration in the adjoining parks, but made us go all the way around. We did enjoy the views of the lusher coffee growing regions below the parks.

We also saw hundreds of elephants in the game reserve portion of Masai Mara, including a line of 14 that passed right by our vehicle!

There was a HUGE rain just as we were entering Serengetti with Ozzie, our new guide. He did spot a leopard in the grass, which Rick saw and I didn't. Then, I spotted a dikdik. We bedded down in Serengetti Wilderness Camp, which was significantly nicer than Lenchata.

Friday, November 25

We did an all-day game drive in Serengetti. It was a predator kind of day. We found a couple leopards in trees, 2 cheetahs under trees, and one chasing a gazelle that had 4 cubs! It was also a giraffe kind of day - we saw many dozens of them - males and females and caught some eating.

Saturday, November 26

Another game drive passed in the Serengetti today. We found lions in a tree, a leopard with a hyena in a tree, caught zebras having sex and another big rain. In the evening, we arrived on the rim of Ngorongoro Crater and Rhino Lodge - also highly recommended. We had to pay the park fees, as wire transfer did not happen between our Kenyan tour company and the Tanzanian tour company. It was $454 for 24 hours in Ngorongoro, and pretty much cleaned out our available cash!

Sunday, November 27

We had our game drive in Ngonrongoro and saw a couple new things: reed buck and black rhino.

We found a huge pride of lions after we followed a feeding couple back to their den. We witnessed lion sex and a group of cubs hidden behind the obvious part of the den - thanks to a ranger studying the wildlife that called our guide.

Following our drive, we headed down to Arusha for the remainder of our stay.

Monday, November 28

We met, Philipo - the fiance of a former cycling team mate, Emilie. Emilie was back in the states closing up her belongings and readying to move to Tanzania. Philipo picked us up at 8:30 at the Outpost Lodge, and we started a 25km walk to some waterfalls, across the city, through the outskirts and into villages high on Mt. Meru. We picked up 4 village boys who wanted to practice English and become guides. They escorted us across the creek crossings. One of the boys, Omega, knew quite a bit of Spanish and French also. We arrived back completely exhausted, but happy to have spent time in nature and on our feet.

Tuesday, November 29

Philipo met us again at 10:00. We made a town journey - to Masai Market, Arusha Natural History museum, the central market, where I paid an American price for some spices. We rode in a collective out to the Cultural Heritage museum, which is the largest collection of African art in the world. After lunch there, we headed back to town. We could not find a collective with space, but fortunately, an older German couple stopped and offered us a ride. Philipo headed home, and we headed for the airport, and the 30 hour journey home.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Berlin, May 2016

Photo album:

I had the opportunity to travel to Berlin for business in May 2016. Of course, this meant a great opportunity for ItinerantRick to travel along and see the sights with me.

We arrived late in the evening on Thursday, May 26 and checked into the Radisson Blu hotel. Due to being travel-weary, we headed to the hotel restaurant for a late dinner. I enjoyed my first taste of Spargel season with 250g of white asparagus, black forest ham and boiled potatoes. A nice salad rounded out the meal. After dinner, we decided to stroll the 1 mile down to the Brandenberg gate from the hotel and caught some great photos of it in the twilight.

We got up super-early on Friday to do some sightseeing. First up was the Pergamon Museum, which has the Ishtar Gate and a bunch of early near-east artifacts. We spent a couple hours touring the museum and the collection. After that, we headed for our tour at the Parliament building called the Reichstag. It has a transparent dome on top that you can tour by pre-arrangement. The dome symbolizes government transparency since the unification. Following that, we went through the holocaust memorial and had currywurst for lunch at a restaurant near by. The last part of the afternoon was spent at the National Museum, which featured German impressionists and some more well-known impressionists.

Friday evening, I made my appearance at the IATA Hackathon to present the LinkedIn APIs for developers to use. I stayed until around 9:00 pm answering questions and then Rick came by and we walked for a late dinner at a local rotisserie - Rotisserie Weingrün. The most memorable part of that meal was the smoked ribs we ordered.

Saturday, I was at the hackathon until noon and Rick went to see the Topography of Terrors and the memorial at the Berlin Wall where many died trying to cross.

In the afternoon, we hightailed our way to the Eastside Gallery to view the section of the Berlin Wall that's been turned into an art gallery. The murals were really cool, though they put up some fencing around them that made photography difficult. While waiting for the train back, we heard some great local hip hop pouring out of a building near the station.

We had an early dinner at a local place near the hotel, Emmas, known for "schnitzel the size of your head". That was certainly the case, and we shared a single portion! Best schnitzel ever. I spent the closing hours of the evening at the hackathon working with the developers.

Sunday, I spent the entire day at the hackathon, but Rick spent more time walking around town. We were able to share lunch at a local Biergarten - Zum NuSSbaum. After the finalists were announced, we headed out and across town where we enjoyed dinner at the oldest Biergarten in Berlin - Praeter Garten. It was threatening to rain, so we secured a seat under the canopy. That was a good call, as a heavy shower cleared out the place mid-meal. I enjoyed a schwartzbier for my beverage.

Monday, we got to see some sights all day. We spent the early morning at the DDR museum, the church across from our hotel and in the local park. Then, we went up into the Fernsethurm or Telespargel to enjoy lunch with a 360 view. We got a time lapse video of our meal with a huge thunderstorm rolling in.

After a brief rest, we decided to be super-touristy and took a boat along the river and enjoyed a gelato while we were waiting.

Tuesday, we had a nice walk through the center of town before packing up and heading for the airport. It was a fast and furious trip, but we certainly enjoyed our first visit to Berlin.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Alps, Balkans, and Oktoberfest 2015

aka - Tour of Former Olympic Venues  OR Tour of Wars of the 20th Century

View Full Photo Stream on Flickr

We red-eyed to Munich nonstop on Lufthansa, leaving SFO at 8:50 pm and landed around 5:05 pm on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015.

The airport had a giant courtyard between terminals with the requisite Biergarten. Alas, we didn't stop facing a two hour drive in a sleep deprived state.

Getting the rental car was fairly easy, as was the drive to Innsbruck. We averaged 120kmh, though sometimes drivers passed in the left lane at double out speed.

We drove south, the setting sun alighting the alps in late summer splendor. They came into view just a few minutes out of Munich. I was wanting a soundtrack of Rachmaninoff or Chopin, or perhaps a local like Handel to accompany the drive.

We arrived in Igls just above Innsbruck at 7:50 and found the restaurant at Bon Alps open. They had an Italian buffet, which was serviceable, but not great. We had salad, carrot soup, veggies and lasagna with overtones of nutmeg. The tiramisu was well above average.

We arrived at the Gasthaus Sonnehoff at 9:30 and got to a well deserved rest around 10:30. It is a clean and pleasant spot, though certainly not luxurious.

September 7

We had a nice, typical breakfast at the Gasthaus and the headed into the center of Innsbruck to spend the morning.

We parked near the center and then walked along the river on both sides. The tram up the mountain didn't seem worth it, because the peaks were shrouded in clouds. So, we walked up along the funicular line to the first stop. It was part of a 10k winterweg route In season.

After the hike, we headed back to the old town and walked around attempting to avoid the large tour groups. We visited the Church of St. Jakob and then headed for lunch at the local Biergarten. We had the special, which was knodel soup and spatzle with spek, mushrooms and cheese. We added green salad for a hit of veggies.

After lunch, we headed for Brenner Pass and the drive to The Pustertal, home of Dobbiaco/Toblach and the Tre Cime/Dreizinnen hike we've been wanting to do. The mountains came into view about 30 minutes out and made my heart sing. After checking into the Toblacherhof Hotel, we walked through town and got a coffee at Cafe Marlene.

We had a nap and reading time before heading to a return (having eaten there in 2011) dinner at Pizzeria Hans. I had the prosciutto and mushroom pizza with salad and we shared a bottle of local Lagrein wine. All in all, it was a great day.

September 8

We had a marginal breakfast at the hotel and then started up toward Tre Cime. We paid the exorbitant 22 Euro toll to park so we could do the shorter route and test our legs.

As soon as I stepped out of the car, I was choked up with the beauty of the place - a reminder why this is my favorite place in the world so far.  We started out clockwise to avoid the crowds which were headed counterclockwise. We had a small climb to a saddle where we could start to see the face of the peaks. Then, a descent followed to a small Refugio. We could see Locatelli in the distance, but the sign said 1 hour. That seemed a long estimate. But, we had another climb to a saddle and a big descent to a deep meadow and then a steep climb back to the Refugio for lunch. 1 hour, 5 minutes.

Lunch was polenta with peppers and bratwurst, though not veal brats. They were pork or venison. I also had a radler to drink.

After lunch, we had a small climb to the last view of the peaks before turning around the front side and a return to the start. At the end, we had a strong cup of coffee before driving back to the hotel where we napped before having a massive Tyrolian platter of pork and other local specialties at the Hotel Nocker restaurant. We will be back at pizzeria Hans tomorrow.

September 9

We decided to take an "ass kicker" hike that would give us another glimpse of the Tre Cime. We left from the town of Sexten on route 102 then split to the left up 103 through some switchbacks up the side of a massif and then into a narrow canyon ascending above a knife edge peak. We climbed 3000 feet in about 3 miles after a mile or so of flats to the start of the climb.

We stopped at Refugio Comici for some coffee and apfelstrudel. After the refuel, we started the two hour hike to Dreizinnenhütte (aka Refugio Locatelli), turning off on route 101 around the summit. We crossed a high plateau and entered a huge amphitheater of stone leading to the hütte, crossing a narrow scree field along the way.

For lunch I had some faro pasta filled with chanterelle and cheese in butter and topped with goat cheese and mushrooms. Delish. We caught a gloomy view of the Drei Zinnen in a cloak of clouds before turning down route 102 back toward the start. The descent was slow and undesirable as most are for me. I had a small spill and gashed my elbow. But, we made it back before the time estimates, nevertheless.

After a rest, we retuned to Pizzeria Hans for dinner. I had pizza with prosciutto, egg and asparagus and a side salad.

Today was probably the most beautiful day hike I've taken in the Dolomites - all around spectacular.

September 10

We had a leisurely morning before packing up the car to head out for our next destination - Slovenia!

The drive was estimated around 2.5 hours, give or take. We had to stop just before entering Austria to get our "vignette", a toll sticker, we had failed to get earlier that we were lucky to not get caught without.  After a brief stop in Villach, Austria at a wursthaus called Josef for lunch, we got our Slovenia vignette and headed for the border.

There was a 8km tunnel through the mountains to Slovenia and only a short drive in the freeway before hitting mountain roads in search of Lake Bohinj. We made a pass through Bled, the more popular tourist destination, and then 15 minute later arrived at Hotel Jezero on Lake Bohinj. We had a gelato and coffee (kava) with cream before taking a tour through the village church of St. John the Baptist. The church was small and quaint - just the way I like them.  It dates from the 13th century.

After the small stop, we walked for a bit along the lake - as much as my toe blisters would allow before heading back for dinner. Dinner was included as we had half-board at the hotel. It was pretty good with a nice variety of veggies and meats and sides. I had fish with asparagus, salad and steamed veggies and a tiny bit of steak and fries. I had a honey cake for dessert, which is similar to baklava. I also had strawberries gratin, which were cooked under a layer of spongy cheese - different but good.

September 11

Our planned hike today was up from the Sport Hotel to Debela Peč peak and back. The drive there was a bit exciting with less than one lane roads and blind corners, but we made it without significant opposing traffic.

The beginning of the hike was in deep conifer forest. We found lots of ladies out foraging for mushrooms. Then. After a few km, we emerged on a meadow with a tiny village without road, power or running water called Planina Javornik. From there the hike climbed more steeply to Planina Lipanca, which had a mountain hut. We had goulash there with root veggies, barley and beans. We then headed up another couple km toward Debela Peč. The footing was quite bad with scrambles mixed in. Plus, there was no view to be had as the peaks were socked in. So, we headed back down.

At the road, we found two Czech women who were hitching a ride down to the lakes, so we took them with us. They were university students in Prague taking masters in economics.

We had some "folded cake" after because we were hungry with our coffees.

With dinner we had some wine that we ordered called Dom ekonteric, which was pretty good. Otherwise, the meal was fairly standard.

September 12

We awoke to a dense fog but forecasted sun. Around 9:00 am, we headed up to the next village of Stara Fužina to start our hike up Rudnica - a lesser peak in the middle of the two river valleys that join at Bohinj. The hike up was brutally steep on a cowpath, reminding me of the walks in Ireland last year. But, every so often, there was a meadow with panoramic views of the surrounding peaks.

After summiting, we started down the other side of the mountain on single track. It was steep and dicey footing in places, but we made it down. A farmer helped us get back on track after we lost the path in the forest above Brod. Brod did not have meal service in town, so we continued along the cycling route that circled the mountain and followed the river back to Stara Fužina and then down to Ribčev Laz.

We had beers, grilled panini and gelato for lunch outside the hotel. Then, we retired for showers and naps before dinner.

September 13

Today we left Slovenia just after breakfast and headed toward Croatia. The first part of the journey was fast to Lublijana where we switched rental cars painlessly at the airport.

Then we continued for another hour or so on major highways after crossing the border to Croatia. We had lunch at a chain restaurant and hotel complex off the freeway. It was sweet pepper stuffed with meat and a side of veggies and potatoes - a big plate of food for around 8 Euros.

We got on more minor roads for the second half of the journey to Plitvice Miric Inn, just south of Plitvice national park.

After checking in, we walked to the neighboring town and had coffee at the local ski resort, which was more of a bunny hill.

In the evening, we enjoyed a mixed meat platter at our hotel, which was massive with pork chops, lamb sausage, pork sausage and chicken along with many traditional sides and knodel soup and salad wrapping up with an apple and cherry strudel cake. It was a huge meal, but very good.

September 14

We walked the 2km up to the national park first thing in the morning. It was relatively easy to get tickets and start the program. We took a tram to the top of the park and started the walk back down to entrance 2. It was mostly cloudy, but the lakes and falls in karst created a magical fairy land - like something out of the Lord of the Rings.

It took about 6km of walking to return to entrance 2, with most of the best falls in the last 2km. From there, we caught a boat across the biggest lake and had lunch on the other side before heading down to the big falls. The last bit of walk was shorter, but packed with tour bus groups traveling the opposite direction. We were happy to get a couple pics of the big falls and start our walk out of the park. After a short tram ride, we walked the 2km back to our hotel. We were out around 6.5 hours and covered 25km, probably around 15 on foot. What a great day!

After a call to my mom for her birthday, we ended the night with the trout platter. That was the first time I've eaten a whole trout (and my bone removal skills confirmed it!)

September 15

Today was the biggest driving day of the trip. We had planned about 5 hours for driving, but it ended up closer to 6.

We continued south and fairly quickly came to the Bosnian border. We got an exiting Croatia stamp and an entering Bosnia stamp.

Soon, we saw the hillsides dotted with minarets instead of steeples. We spent a good chunk of the day driving through the Republika Srpska. As we were looking for lunch and a WC, I saw a restaurant on the left and pulled in. They didn't speak English at all, but had a few words of German, so we used that. We asked if we could drink and eat. The proprietor opened his smoker to show us a suckling pig and told us "five minutes" in German.  We had sparkling water and Rick had a beer while waiting. Then, they served us a big salad, pig and a whole loaf of bread. It was delish, and only cost 11 Euros total!

After getting stuck behind many tractors and logging trucks, we finally made it to Sarajevo. We spent some time walking around and watched a small basketball tournament and had coffee. The Ervin, our guide, picked us up for dinner at his house with his mother. We had many local dishes with them and ate to overfilled. They were refugees during the war and spent time in Croatia and Spain. They eventually came back to their apartment - tank shelling on the side and all (still visible today).

It was good talking to them. It seems for the more cosmopolitan city people, life under Tito in the former Yugoslavia was much better. They had a good standard of life and people from different religious groups got along quite well - even intermarrying a lot. Now, life is hard, officials are corrupt, and lines of religion are drawn more strictly. They thought maybe things were different for the country people, but they preferred life before the 90s.

September 16

After a nice breakfast at Hotel Colors, we walked back to the eternal flame to meet up with Ervin for our walking tour.  We started in the Austro-Hungarian part of the old town where a mortar struck down 26 shoppers in the early days of the Balkan war in 1992. Then, we went through the indoor dairy and meat market where we sampled some cheeses and smoked meats.

After that, we went to the produce market where another mortar hit near the end of the war in 1995. Then, we visited the main Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church in quick succession.

Following those, we moved through the Ottoman part of old town into the Jewish quarter where we took a break for Bosnian coffees, served with Turkish delight. There are only about 500 Jews left in Sarajevo, but they played a big role in helping Bosniak refugees escape the city in the war.

Following coffee, we went to the corner where Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sofia were assassinated starting the events leading up to WWI.

We ended with a visit to the main mosque and madrasah, which dates back to the 15th century.
After the tour, we had Burek or meat, cheese and veggies baked in a phyllo dough. We went with Ervin who had recommended the spot.  Following lunch, we walked up to the biggest Muslim cemetery from he war. It was sobering. 11000 citizens of Sarajevo were killed and the city went from being a diverse cosmopolitan place with 45% Muslim Bosniaks, 32% Serbs, and 10% Croats with other minority groups to 90% Bosniak and very economically depressed - now with 45% unemployment.

We went back through the market and I bought a necklace and earrings from a woman that does silver filigree. Then, we took a break at the hotel before heading out in the evening.  In the evening, we took some nice photos and then had apple cider before dinner. We went to another restaurant that Ervin recommended. I had veal and carrot soup and a cauliflower salad. It was a nice, light meal to follow too many heavy meat and bread laden affairs.

September 17

Today we drove from Sarajevo to Pelješac Peninsula. It was around a 5 hour drive.

We stopped halfway in Mostar and had lunch in the old city after getting lost a couple of times and ending up in one of those tiny cobbled streets where the car barely fits. I had to do a 100 point turn in someone's yard to get back out.

The food was good and we sat near an old bridge that did survive the war before making our way through the throngs of tourists across the "old bridge" that has been reconstructed. We saw a couple of divers jump off for tips before heading through the cobbled streets back to our car.

After lunch, our GPS directed us to the ferry for the shortest route. We arrived at 3:12 for the 3:15 ferry, but we didn't have a ticket. So, Rick had to do wind sprints to get the ticket and the captain thankfully waited for us.

We made the 1 hour crossing while having coffees. Then, we drove the last bit to our hotel. It had been a scorching 34-35 Celsius all day. We took a short walk along the waterfront before getting dressed for dinner, which we are at the hotel. We had a fish stew, salad and cheesecake along with the bottle of Montenegran wine Ervin had given us.

September 18

We had breakfast as early as we could at Hotel Indijan. Then, we headed out for our hike up St. Ilija mountain - the highest peak in that part of Croatia. It was already around 90 degrees before 9 am. So, we decided just to hike until we wanted to turn around. Around 10:30, we'd made about half he distance and 1/3 the climbing. The footing was getting challenging and I was concerned about getting sloppy as I got hot and sleepy. So, we turned around and descended the mountain.

We got back to town around noon and had a light lunch - salad, oysters and a yogurt smoothie. Then, we headed back for a swim in the Adriatic. We floated around for nearly an hour before heading back to our hotel for a clean up and laundry.

In the evening, we walked to a restaurant rated well in Trip Advisor, which was across town. I had risotto with shellfish and a salad. We shared some local wine before strolling back to the hotel for the night.

September 19

The morning started with a swim after breakfast in the ocean. Then, we piled in the car to head for Dubrovnik.

Our first stop was Violić winery where Boris, the wine maker, showed us his harvest and small operation. He explained how during the Tito years they gave their grapes to the state, so he is re-learning the winemaking craft that his grandfather passed on. We bought a 2013 Dingač and some grape candy with nuts.

Our second stop was Grgyč, who is famous in Yountville for beating the French winemakers in a competition in 1976. Their property was recently damaged by a wildfire. We bought a Pošip white.

We stopped for lunch in Mali Ston, a town fortified to protect the salt pans and known for oyster farms. I had fried calamari for lunch, which was perfection. I am spoiled for all other calamari now.

We then spent the final 40 minutes finding our apartment near the harbor in Dubrovnik. The parking space was "interesting" to fit into and our car still partly stuck out into the street. Oh well. We got settled, rested,  and had coffee and lemonade brought by the owner. The apartment "Cime" is small even by Manhattan standards, but is comfortable with good air conditioning.

In the evening, we walked to the old town and had dinner at Dalmativo, a recommendation on the Rick Steve's guide. I had mussels cooked in cream and they were fantastic. We walked back and had a bottle of white wine the apartment owner had given us.

September 20

We took the city bus to the old city for breakfast and dined just outside the gates. It was raining a bit during breakfast but let up.

The first city thing we did was buy a ticket to walk the walls. We spent around 90 minutes circling the city from above. It was a great walk. The skies were dark and dramatic against the orange tile roofs.

Following the wall tour, rain started coming down hard, so we ducked into a cafe for coffees under the awning.

Then, we went for a tour of the ethnographic museum to see how the southern Slavs of the Adriatic have lived over the centuries. During that tour, the rain stopped and the sun started peering out. We stopped for lunch at Komenič seafood - a Rick Steve's recommendation. I had the octopus salad.

Our last stop was at an exhibit of Dali illustrations including a set to illustrate the Vulgate as well as Dante's Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradiso. There were several that I really liked artistically.

In the afternoon, we rested and then went for dinner at a restaurant close to our apartment, which was pricey and good but not great.

September 21

We got up a bit early and looked for breakfast at a local spot so we would have time to catch the ferry to the island of Mljet for the day.

It was cool and breezy following yesterday's rain, but the sun was starting to come out fully. The ferry departed at 9:15, but didn't arrive on Mljet until 11 due to the rolling swells.

We bought our ticket into the national park and hiked our way to the larger of the two "lakes" on the island, which are really formed from a very narrow inlet.

We took the shuttle boat to the island of St. Marie in the middle of the lake where there is a ruin of a Roman monastery. We hiked around and looked at the ruins and enjoyed the restored church. Then, we had lunch by the water and waited for the next shuttle to take us to the smaller lake.

We stopped at the small lake for a swim as no powered watercraft are on that lake. It was warm and glorious. Some little fish were biting on my feet as I walked into the water. It was like a free Thai pedicure.

Following the swim, we hiked the longer route through a small village and back to where the ferry would pick us up to return to Dubrovnik.

Dinner was at a small local spot. I had the čevapi. We crashed a bit early after the long day.

September 22

We had breakfast around 8 at another local spot. Then, we decided to walk all morning and explore the Lapad peninsula. We walked for nearly 2.5 hours, exploring neighborhoods and the seaside walking path. It was sunny and a bit warmer than the previous day, but certainly not scorching.

We returned to our 'hood around 11:45 for a leisurely lunch at the local pizzeria. I had a tuna salad and mushroom pizza, knowing we would likely not eat a proper dinner with our travel schedule.

At 1:00 pm, we headed up to get our car and head for the airport. We just needed to gas it up before returning it. The first gas station in town was down for credit card payments, so we went to the other, which was under construction :( Finally, we decided to just head to the airport and look for one on the way. We were able to fill up about 9km from the airport. Phew!

Our first flight left at 4:40 and got to Zagreb at 5:40. The second flight left at 6:40 and got to Munich at 8:00 pm. We were able to successfully negotiate the train and streetcar to arrive at Das Hotel a bit after 9:00 pm.

September 23

We were hungry and so enjoyed our breakfast buffet at the Das Hotel. After eating, we headed out to walk to Marionplatz where our bike tour was meeting up. We arrived about 40 minutes early, so enjoyed an apfelstrudel and coffee at a cafe on the square.

At 11, we could not locate our group, so walked to the office of the company. They said the group wouldn't be assembling until 11:30. When we arrived back at the plaza, we found the group just as the rain was dissipating.

We had a brief lecture and then went to get our bikes. Our first stop was the residences of the Kings of Bavaria, reconstructed following WWII. Then, we went to a church built to honor the birth of an heir to the lineage. Following that, we rode to the seat of government, rebuilt in glass following the war. Finally, we stopped for a snack in the English garden and then went to watch the river surfers before ending the tour. Our guide, Tony, was from DC originally and moved to Munich to be with a woman he met in Thailand.

We had lunch at Haxenbrau, which specializes in pig and veal "knuckle". That was fantastic. We retuned to the hotel to change into warmer clothes before heading out to Oktoberfest.

Our trip to the get required a 45 minutes walk and we stopped to buy some Turkish delight on the way there. The fest was crazy - almost like a very packed state fair with games and rides in addition to the food stands and beer tents. After trying to find an inside table in two halls, we settled outside at Augustiner. We had 1 liter beers there before going to buy a half chicken and a pretzel. Then, we sat outside another tent to eat. Rick ordered another beer, but we only finished half or so and then decided we'd had enough of the monster crowds.

We walked back and partially sobered up, stopping for gelato on the way. I had dark chocolate ginger, which may be my new favorite flavor.

September 24

We caught the train after breakfast to Dachau, site of the first, and model, Nazi concentration camp. It was a forced labor camp targeted at political opponents and not geared toward extermination. However many cruel things happened there and many died as a result of their internment. Around 43,000 out of 250,000 who were ever there died - the lowest death rate in the entire camp system.

We toured for nearly four hours with a guide named Bernd, who is a retiree passionate about making sure nothing like that ever happens again.

After our visit, we headed to the train station and stopped for lunch at a hotel across the street. I was in detox mode so had a big salad with ox and water.

After a short rest, we headed out for dinner. Yelp assisted us in finding Alter Simple, where I had a fantastic schnitzel . Afterward, we went to BallaBeni again for ice cream. It was again superb.

September 25 - return day!

We had a short morning. After breakfast, we went next door to buy an apron I'd seen commemorating Oktoberfest, which I wanted for our tech chili cook off next week.

Following that, we went to the Brandenhorst museum across the street which had its entire Warhol collection on display - over 100 pieces including Portfolio Marilyn and Triple Elvis. It included some of his early drawings, two films and several episodes of TV that he made. My impression is that the silkscreen and paint pieces are his best, and the film stuff was just weird.

After the museum, we went to Burger House for a quick lunch and then headed to the airport. Coincidentally, after getting to our gate, we ran into my friend and former colleague Shannyn traveling home to Portland from Romania. What a fun day!