A dark thought re: Wikileaks and J. Assange

If you were a nation or non-governmental organization hostile to the United States of America, and not particularly inclined to play world politics by Marquis of Queensbury rules . . .

. . . would you not be seriously considering arranging a series of serious, perhaps fatal accidents for Julian Assange and any other person known to be associated with Wikileaks, if you had the capability to do so?

What better way to make the USA look even worse than it does right now than to arrange a hit on Assange and the Wikileaks crew, and pin the blame on the Americans?

Or have I been reading too many spy thrillers again?

The 2010 Mediterranean & Atlantic Explorer Cruise, Part 6

The 21-Day Mediterranean & Atlantic Explorer Cruise (And more!), October 26-December 1, 2010, Holland America Prinsendam

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Six

November 12 (Friday, Day 18, Livorno, Italy) –

Gary on a train

Gary, Snookums and Filbert were the first off the ship and took a cab to the train station with four other people on this misty, drizzly, windy day. The driver wanted €20 for the ride and Snookums tried to get it down to €15. He immediately responded, “Take the bus”. Needless to say, we paid the €20 and took the cab to the train station. (Snookums had done the Internet research and read that people paid €8-€10 for the trip to the station so she thought that we were being swindled, but the price must have gone up since the driver was adamant about it.) We got there around 8 AM and the train left at 8:10AM. We bought and validated our tickets and settled in for our 1:23 ride to Florence. We decided to take the $19 per person roundtrip train rather than the $99 Holland America bus transfer to Florence for the adventure of it.

More after the jump . . . The main tourist cities near Livorno are Pisa and Florence. We went to Pisa the last time we docked at Livorno so we decided we should do Florence this time. And, Gary had a reason to go and we decided to accompany him. (Charlotte’s knee prevented her from coming with us and she stayed on the ship.) His mother bought a marble statue when his family visited Florence in the early 1960s on vacation. He wanted to learn more about it and wanted to speak to the owner of the gallery about it. We had a mission.

Some famous Florence church, I guess (The Duomo, I suppose)

When we got to the Florence train station we went to the tourist information booth and the guy marked the gallery location on the map we bought for €1. Filbert was our navigator and we walked by some of the tourist sites in Florence on our way there, including the Duomo (the cathedral), the Piazza della Signoria (the plaza in front of the Pallazo Vecchio, or palace) and Ponte Vecchio (Florence’s famous bridge). We took pictures in front of a statue on the Ponte Vecchio and found out later that this statue was one of the ones sculpted by Pasquale Romanelli, the man that sculpted Gary’s statue.

At the Piazza della Signoria, next to a really big naked guy
At the Ponte Vecchio

We found the gallery and found out that the statue was made in the late 1800s by Pasquale Romanelli. His sculptures and monuments are displayed around Florence (like the one we saw on Ponte Vecchio). We met his great-great-great-great granddaughter in the original gallery space that had been in business since 1851. Europe is full of old things! Her brother is the current Romanelli sculptor and the business has been handed down from generation to generation. We saw lots of sculptures for sale ranging in price from $200 to $80,000.

After our immersion in art history we decided to head back to the train station after stopping for lunch. We wandered into a square that was having a farmer’s market and bought some garlic cheese for a Christmas gift. We were assured it didn’t have to be refrigerated and that it would last until Christmas but we plan on storing it in our cabin’s refrigerator. While at the market a vendor wanted us to try his prosciutto sausage. He squeezed out some wet, clammy, fatty, slimy goo from the sausage casing and Snookums and Filbert tried it. Its texture was not good at all. Snookums expected it to be salty, but it was just kind of tasteless. After that we continued our trek to the train station while looking for somewhere to eat lunch.

The usual weirdness

We came upon a diner (La Sosta de’ Golosi) with inside and outside seating that seemed to be off the tourist track and looked at the choices displayed in the glass counter. The ravioli looked very good, but when Snookums was told it was filled with fish, she passed. There was also another dish that looked like ground up brownish-red rice and we were told it was fish and bread. We passed on that, too and also didn’t order the potatoes and octopus. We were in Italy and wanted pizza… Filbert settled on a square piece of margharite pizza and a square piece of ham pizza and a draft beer. Snookums had the margharite pizza and the truffle pasta (corkscrew pasta with a light sauce made of oil and ground up mushrooms [maybe truffles, but there were an awful lot of brown specks for them all to be truffles] and some large Parmesan cheese shavings). Gary had the fried chicken sandwich and a can of Coke Light. (Gary was still having some gastro-intestinal issues and had been told to stay away from dairy so pizza was out for him.)


There was gelato, too, so Snookums went up to the counter to get some after she was done with her meal. The counter woman explained that to eat the gelato at the table would be €7 compared to €2 for a takeaway portion. Needless to say, Snookums waited until leaving to get her gelato! We got the bill and were shocked to see that each item that we bought was €2 more than the price listed in the case. This must be a “table service” surcharge. Filbert’s beer was $9.86 (€7) and Gary’s Coke Light was $6.34 (€4.50)!! Our bill, excluding the gelato, was $52.82 (€37.50). But Snookums thoroughly enjoyed her huge serving of chocolate gelato for $2.82 (€2) while we walked to the train station. We priced a Big Mac value meal at the train station and it was $9.75. Florence is NOT cheap!

The train ride back to Livorno was uneventful and we hired a cab to take us back to the ship with an intermediate stop at “Pam Superstore” on the way back. The meter ran while we ran into the store to purchase beer, Coke Zero and Coke Light. The driver spoke great English and he and his wife own Harley Davidson motorcycles and want to take them to the U.S. to ride Route 66 for their next holiday. Our metered fare was €26, which included the running meter while we were in the store, so that made Snookums feel that the €20 flat fare charged in the morning was okay. We got back on the ship around 3:30 after having a great adventure.

Snookums started feeling kind of sick around 5:30 PM and decided not to go to dinner. She figured it must have been the prosciutto sausage. Filbert figured he felt okay since he drank beer soon after he ate it. Beer is his answer for everything! She wasn’t bad, but just felt a bit off and had a headache.

November 13 (Saturday, Day 19, Calvi, Corsica, France) –

Prinsendam at Calvi

We were anchored off Calvi all day. Filbert and Snookums were wakened at 8 AM by the announcement starting the tender operation. After a leisurely breakfast, we left the ship around 10 AM. It was sunny, windy and in the low-60s. We walked up to the 15th-century Genoese citadel and enjoyed the magnificent views. Calvi claims to be the real birthplace of Christopher Columbus and we saw little handpainted directional signs indicating the house “that way”, but never found it. There weren’t many houses or doors in the citadel so we probably did pass by it, but it wasn’t signed in any big way. Other people from the ship kept asking us if we saw it, too, so we don’t think the sign for it was in place.

Calvi waterfront

After we climbed down from the citadel we saw a billboard for a chain supermarket, Casino, with an arrow pointing “that way”. We started walking but Snookums wasn’t sure which way to go and asked an elderly woman using her high school French (“Ou est Casino supermarchet?”). The woman had no idea what Snookums was saying but finally realized we wanted a super market and actually backtracked two blocks to show us the main shopping street with its little one-room grocery stores, bakeries and cafes. We thanked her profusely and just kept walking. We went in one of the little grocery stores and Snookums purchased pork mustard for a Christmas gift. (It had pigs on the label and looked like grainy brown mustard.) The cashier, who spoke no English, told Snookums it was pate made from pork. So much for thinking it was mustard!! Everyone spoke French and we didn’t hear any shopkeepers speak any English.

We kept walking and found Super U which was a chain supermarket. We actually found it on the map that we had been given and noticed that Casino was also on the map and was about another mile farther away. We bought potato chips for Gary since he likes to try kettle chips from various places and bought eggplant tapenade, made in Corsica, for another Christmas gift.

The evening show was a juggler, Luke Burrage, and the show was before dinner since our Sunday port was so early. The juggler was very funny and Filbert thought it was the best cruise show he had ever seen. The Prinsendam is a small ship and the stage’s ceiling is very low. The juggler couldn’t do very many fancy tricks, but his monologue made up for the absence of high-flying juggling tricks. Snookums really enjoys the pre-dinner shows since the 10 PM shows are hard for her to stay awake for.

November 14 (Sunday, Day 20, Alghero, Sardinia, Italy; Oops! – This port was canceled.) –

Sardinia: as close as we got, at sunrise

Today we were supposed to be anchored from 7 AM until 2 PM. We didn’t have any shore excursions and just planned on sleeping in. That changed when the captain’s announcement at 7 AM was piped into the cabin. The captain informed everyone that the five-foot swells were too large for safe tendering and so this port was cancelled and our cruising would continue on to Barcelona. We weren’t too upset since it was Sunday and Europe pretty much shuts down on Sundays and no stores are open. We had just planned on walking around Naples. Now we had an extra sea day!

Snookums slept, read and went to the gym and Filbert listened to China on his short-wave radio and went to the gym. It was formal night and we, along with Gary and Charlotte, wore our Holland America 100-day medals. It was Gary’s idea. When we showed up at the table, Fran said that she would have worn hers, too, if we would have told her. (MaryEllen hadn’t cruised enough yet to have one.) We figured since it was formal night we would wear all the “bling” we had. Lots of people commented on them and we looked silly but it was fun.

A funny thing happened during dinner. Snookums, Filbert and MaryEllen ordered the butternut squash soup. Filbert and MaryEllen were ready for their soup before Snookums was and they were served Holland America’s famous split pea soup. That was on last night’s menu and was NOT on tonight’s menu. They thought it was weird that they didn’t get the butternut squash soup but since they really loved the split sea soup that they had last night, they didn’t say anything. Snookums was served her soup after she ate her starter and was pleased to see that it was butternut squash soup. When the maitre d’ stopped by to check on how our dinner was, we assured him that it was great but asked why two people were served the split sea soup that was on last night’s menu. He looked puzzled and stated, “Split pea soup isn’t on tonight’s menu.” We concurred and he went off to find out what happened. He came back and told us that the table next to us placed a special order for split pea soup and two of their bowls were inadvertently served to our table. Filbert and MaryEllen were very happy with the mistake and we all thought it was pretty funny.

November 15 (Monday, Day 21, Barcelona, Spain) –

Zoo de Barcelona

We left the ship around 10:30 AM and decided to see the zoo. The shuttle dropped us off at the Monument Colom which is the tall old column with a statue of Columbus on the top at the end of Las Ramblas. (Las Ramblas is the main street through the historic part of Barcelona that is kind of “tourist-central” and full of outdoor cafes, buskers, vendors, police and supposedly pickpockets.) We walked for about 25 minutes from the shuttle stop to the zoo which is located in Barcelona’s oldest park, the Ciutadella. The zoo was founded in the late 1800s and was very impressive. It had at least two tigers, two black panthers, two elephants, three leopards, two cheetahs and a bunch of other animals. It is known for having a large number of species and it didn’t disappoint. We saw the dolphin show, too, which was interesting since the emcee spoke in Spanish. It was sunny and in the low 60s and was perfect for an outdoor day. We saw a bunch of wild green parrots in the trees, too. Barcelona is known for its green parrots.

Dolphin show

After we saw the zoo we decided to find distilled water for Filbert’s sleep apnea machine. It costs $4 a gallon from Holland America but we liked the mission of having to find it on the local economy. We used Google to find out that it is called “aqua destilada” in Spanish so we knew we could ask someone for it if all else failed. We looked at a couple of very small one room groceries and didn’t find it. We finally went to Carrefour, a French supermarket chain, and the clerk took us to it only to find it out of stock! Then we went to a pharmacy and the clerk indicated that they had it but when she (and her boss) went to look for it in the back room, it was also out of stock. The next pharmacy had it, although it was a 5-liter bottle that had been sitting under the desk for so long it was completely dusty. We bought it for $1.75 and felt like we had achieved something.

Around 4 PM we realized we were starving so we bought sandwiches, beer and gelato and enjoyed a quick snack prior to walking to the shuttle point.

Everyone showed up at dinner and shared stories from the day. Fran and MaryEllen had planned on going to Monserrat but when they got to the train station, they were told that a strike was happening at 1 PM so they couldn’t go since they wouldn’t be able to return. A strike is also planned for November 17. Strikes are a common occurrence in Europe. Charlotte and Gary rode the two hop-on/hop-off bus routes for four hours. We did that the last time we were in Barcelona.

Next: Ham hocks in Cartagena!

The 2010 Mediterranean & Atlantic Explorer Cruise, Part 5

The 21-Day Mediterranean & Atlantic Explorer Cruise (And more!), October 26-December 1, 2010, Holland America Prinsendam

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Five

November 7 (Sunday, Day 13, Athens, Greece) –

Guards–evzones–at the Greek Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

We met for breakfast at 7 AM and Charlotte’s knee was bothering her a lot so our plan of doing the “hop-on/hop-off” was a good one. (Charlotte will have her knee scoped in December to fix her problem so she should be as good as new for our 2011 cruise.) We took the Metro to the start of the bus tour and enjoyed sitting in the open top of the double-decker bus for the next 90 minutes while hearing about Athens. Most stores were closed since it was Sunday and the museums were closed due to the election so it was very quiet other than some of the street vendors selling shoes, socks and other assorted new items displayed on blankets laid on the sidewalks.

More after the jump . . .


It was another sunny day and the forecast was for 74 so it was perfect. Then we transferred to another “hop-on/hop-off” bus for the route to Piraeus, which is the port where the ms Prinsendam will sail from tomorrow.

Piraeus is a 25-minute metro ride from the Hilton and the hop-on/hop-off bus took about that long. We drove by the beach volleyball complex and the basketball arena used in Athens Olympics. Other than that, the trip to and from Piraeus was not very exciting other than we got to see the port where we’ll get on the ship tomorrow.

Busy street market

After our long and lazy tour, it was time for lunch. The final bus stop was in Syntagma Square which is considered the center of modern Athens. The Parliament building is the focal point and standing sentry outside are the evzones. The evzones are soldiers marching solemnly back and forth in traditional short skirts (with 400 pleats that they have to iron in themselves) and pompommed shoes. The soldiers march strangely, too, with very awkward leg movements that require exceptional balance.

We decided to eat a light lunch at one of the many outdoor cafes in Syntagma Square. Filbert and Snookums ordered a $4.50 cheese pie and $4.50 spinach pie and shared them while Gary ordered a $13.80 excellent spinach salad and Charlotte ordered the $4.50 spinach pie. After lunch we took the metro back to the Hilton. Gary and Charlotte took 3-hour naps since they still fought jet lag. Filbert and Snookums worked on this journal and posted it to www.medary.com.

We met again for dinner in the lounge and enjoyed looking at the lit up Acropolis one final time.

Acropolis at night

November 8 (Monday, Day 14, Boarding ms Prinsendam) –

We met for breakfast in the lounge, but without Gary. Charlotte said that he wasn’t feeling well. That meant that the plan to put Charlotte in a cab with all of the luggage and then having Snookums, Filbert and Gary taking the $1.40 per person metro to the ship would have to change. We easily decided to take two cabs to the ship. Each metered cab cost $25 and we were very surprised at how cheap it was.

We got to the port around noon and we were told that the ship would start embarkation around 12:30. Filbert, Gary and Charlotte sat down at a little café and enjoyed Coke Lights and coffee while Snookums bought three more postcards of Athens and mailed them.

Our Prinsendam stateroom

Filbert and Snookums enjoyed lunch in the dining room and then wandered around the ship to do some tasks. We made our dinner reservation at Pinnacle Grill and signed up for the all-inclusive laundry package. Then we decided to go to Cabin 60 prior to the announcement that the cabins were ready. The cabin door was closed which meant it was ready so we went in and unpacked our roll-aboard. (Our two big suitcases hadn’t been delivered yet.) We ended up getting all the suitcases totally unpacked and everything in its final position around 4 PM. The lifeboat drill was at 4:15.

We booked a Superior Verandah Suite and although we didn’t get upgraded, we were pleased with the cabin class we booked. It has a king bed, walk-in closet, bath with tub and shower, two sinks, sitting area, verandah, refrigerator and floor-to-ceiling windows. It is approximately 362 square feet with verandah. The only downfall is that the large plasma television can only be seen from either the bed or the desk. The curved sofa in the sitting area corner is blocked from viewing the television since the bar shelves stick out two feet from the wall and the television only sticks out about two inches. The Bose sound system also sticks out too far under the desk. When they did the renovation the architect obviously didn’t think through the footprint of the high-tech electronics.

Like all other embarkation days, we had a lot of “mail” waiting for us in the cabin. Both Snookums and Filbert received letters from the Hotel Manager, Francois Birarda, saying that he knew that we had identified areas of improvement on a prior cruise and that he would offer any assistance we needed on this cruise. Uh oh – it looks like we’re on some kind of list!!! (We sent the CEO of HAL a letter after our wonderful Alaska cruise saying what a great time we had an offered two critiques about the room layout and the internet packages. The letter was meant to be very positive since we all thought the Alaska cruise was awesome but it seems like we might have ruffled feathers.)

Prior to our 7:30 Pinnacle Grill dinner Snookums fell asleep while reading her book. She was definitely in cruise mode!

Dinner at Pinnacle Grill should have been uneventful but ended up not. Snookums decided to order a filet mignon, which she never does since she’s not a huge steak lover. She ordered it medium and when it was delivered with its exterior totally charred she took a bite but didn’t like the taste. She decided to have two desserts instead and that was fine with her. However, the wait staff was not happy about the situation and repeatedly came to the table to find out how things were. The chef even came out of the kitchen to apologize for the exterior charring and said that the steaks are grilled on such high heat that if they are left on for one second too long, this is what happens. (Filbert’s filet mignon was the same way but he ate it. It was medium on the inside, but totally charred on the outside.) After the chef apologized the maitre d came over and told us that we could come back for a free lunch. We thought it was pretty funny since Snookums didn’t even make a fuss. It must be that list that we’re on…

After our Pinnacle Grill dinner, we went to our dining room table (#19 – round table for six by a window) to meet our two tablemates. Charlotte was there but not Gary since he was still sick. Fran and MaryEllen, retired nurses that met in college, appeared to be having a great time. They’ve already been on the ship for 14 days and stopped in Cairo and Turkey, among other ports. It looks like we’ll have nice dinners.

November 9 (Tuesday, Day 15, At sea) –

We woke up around 8 AM and decided to order room service. Snookums fell back asleep at 10 AM until 1 PM. Filbert wasn’t feeling that well due to the 12-foot waves and alternated between bed and taking showers. He never threw up or anything like that but didn’t feel too well. Snookums, on the other hand, was fine. Snookums left the cabin around 3 PM and had some tomato soup and chocolate ice cream and when she came back, Filbert was putting on his shoes and wanted to get some ice cream, too.

We sent word to our tablemates that we weren’t going to dinner and ate in Lido (the buffet) instead. Tonight was the first of five formal nights so we didn’t dress up, either. Gary was still sick and had actually gone to the medical office and was given some medicine and Gatorade and confined to his cabin until Wednesday morning.

We got back to our cabin around 8 PM and got to turn our clocks back one hour. Snookums watched the movie “Next” with Nicolas Cage. The ms Prinsendam has free DVDs.

November 10 (Wednesday, Day 16, Naples, Italy; Oops! – This port was canceled.) –

We woke up around 7:30 AM and Filbert felt 100%. We ate breakfast and Captain Albert J. Schoonderbeek made an announcement that instead of docking at 9 AM we would dock at 10:30 AM. (The captain posts a daily blog at www.captainalbert.com[*1] .)

We were in the cabin hanging out until it was time to dock when another announcement was made. This time the captain said he decided to cancel this port due to the high waves and the wait to get the pilot in order to dock. (There were ferries and other ships hanging around waiting in line.) And, it was raining which makes things in Naples that much trickier. He said that we would head on to Civitavecchia and hopefully we would be there tonight around 9 PM which would allow everyone to have a good night’s rest. (It’s been very rocky since we cruised out of Piraeus on Monday at 5 PM.) The cruise director then made an announcement saying that a new Daily Program was being printed with lots of shipboard activities. We were planning on walking around Naples on our own in the morning and then going on a ship’s tour of Herculaneum this afternoon. Plan B.

The Lido Restaurant
Not a buffet, for the first couple of days
The pool deck

Dinner was nice since all six of us were there for the first time. After dinner the wine steward came around and started pouring champagne for everyone due to the missed port. Snookums requested a can of Caffeine Free Diet Coke instead and got it. She was happy with her $2.25 freebie. We were planning on attending the 10 PM show that the singers and dancers were putting on, but we had such a good time at our table that we didn’t leave until at 10 PM. Filbert and Gary decided to watch an Italian soccer match in the sports bar and Snookums went back to the cabin and read her book.

Sunset of a bonus sea day

November 11 (Thursday, Day 17, Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy) –

Pomegranates in the tree

We’ve been to Rome before and read that the port city of Civitavecchia wasn’t very exciting so we paid for a ship’s shore excursion to Tarquinia and Tuscania. Tarquinia was founded in the 7th century BC and was a magnificent Etruscan burial ground. We went into three tombs and saw the paintings on the walls. Then the tour went to the Archeological Museum.

Etruscan tomb paintings

We were given about one hour to walk around and after ten minutes we decided to just walk around the old town. We went in the first grocery store we found and it was literally one room with the middle section storing the meat and cheese refrigerated cases. Along the outer walls were the produce, milk and groceries. It was the tiniest full-selection store we’ve ever seen. It had everything a person would need but not a large selection and it was tiny. And, a lot of locals were doing their normal shopping there. We kept walking around and managed to find the chain grocery store, Conad, about two blocks outside of the ancient city wall perimeter. We were amazed at the smallness of its aisles. If you forgot butter or something, you did NOT dare go back for it. You would just get it on your next trip to the store! We bought a couple of 1.5 liter bottles of Coke Zero for $2.35 each and several bottles of red wine for $2.80 each. (Yep, wine is basically as cheap as soda.) Filbert also bought 22 oz. bottles of Italian beer for $1.20 each.

In Europe, with old stuff all around us

Our next stop was Tuscania which is one of the oldest towns of Italy – a cradle of the Etruscan civilization from 900-700 BC. We walked in the medieval city center on cobblestone streets surrounded by the ancient walls. We still had a few minutes left before we had to get back to the bus and found another tiny grocery and bought two more bottles of Coke Zero and another bottle of wine. We figured that since our bus would ultimately take us all the way to the ship it made sense to buy as much as we could carry since it beat carrying it around on our own at another port.

A square in Tuscania

Lunch was at a working farm and consisted of individual salads, lasagna and tiramisu. There was also hard, crusty, tasteless bread. Everyone commented on the bread’s bland taste. It definitely needed salt. The red table wine was free flowing so that seemed to make up for it. Filbert had espresso at the end of the meal. It was a charming place and a nice lunch. Filbert even bought a bottle of their wine for $9.86.

Our next stop was at the small town of Marta, next to Lake Marta. Lake Marta is the 5th largest lake in Italy. It was around 3 PM and since it was a Thursday, everything was closed. We were told that in Italy everything closes on Thursday afternoons! It’s true. We ended up getting back to the ship around 5 PM after a delightful day.

Next: The trains run on time!

The 2010 Mediterranean & Atlantic Explorer Cruise, Part 4

The 21-Day Mediterranean & Atlantic Explorer Cruise (And more!), October 26-December 1, 2010, Holland America Prinsendam

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Four

November 5 (Friday, Day 11, Flying to Athens, Greece) –

Athena, the statue

We woke up and Pat took us to the Stuttgart airport. We got to the gate in record time and our flight to Zurich boarded on time. We landed in Zurich for our 1-hour layover but had to go through security again since that was how the Swiss Airlines gates were laid out. We forgot that the free bottles of water that we stowed in our backpacks from the Stuttgart to Zurich flight were in there and, of course, they were confiscated. By the time we got to the gate we had about 25 minutes.

More after the jump . . . It was lunchtime and the only after-security eating establishment was a little coffee bar that sold three kinds of pre-made sandwiches. Snookums took the last $9.20 one that was on an 8-inch baguette filled with a piece of ham, a piece of cheese, one pickle slice, one lettuce leaf and one tomato slice for us to share on the flight. She also bought Filbert a $2.50 Coke Zero since there was a special of “buy a sandwich and get 50% off a soda or beer). We boarded our 2 hour and 40 minute Swiss Airlines flight to Athens and were pleasantly surprised to find out that the snack was a hot serving of pasta casserole (pasta, sauce, and cheese) and a small piece of cake. (We also ate the baguette sandwich.) All beverages were free, too, and we managed to walk off with two single-serve bottles of red wine for future consumption.

Our flight landed in Athens on time, we got our luggage and found the $4.50 (per person) public bus that stopped near the Athens Hilton (versus the $70 cab option). We knew how many stops we had to go until we got to the one that was “in front of” the Hilton but we lost count. And, the signs were in Greek and we only had the English versions. To make a long story short, we got off one stop too early and Filbert was not very happy while rolling two large suitcases down the street on broken sidewalks. Snookums was in charge of the roll-aboard and Filbert’s heavy backpack that contained two computers and other electronic devices.

At 5 PM we got to the hotel, checked in to our free room due to using Hilton points and were upgraded to the Executive floor. This meant we had free access to the lounge that served continental breakfast, snacks throughout the day and hot appetizers and cold salads during dinner hours. There was free alcohol, too. (Filbert thought the beer from Macedonia tasted like the beer from Greece – there were two kinds of beer and he sampled them both.) And, our Internet usage was free.

Snookums used the free internet in order to sign up her volunteer team of seven people for their four shifts at the Women’s Final Four in Indianapolis in April, 2011. She was dismayed to see that the two luncheons that they had always volunteered at were no longer being held, obviously due to budget cuts. That meant that not only would they have to buy their own lunches, but they would actually have to “work” at two other volunteer shifts since nothing is easier than standing at the doors of a banquet hall directing people to tables. Oh well, the good life of volunteering at Women’s Final Fours had to end sooner or later.

After enjoying a nice free meal while looking at the lit Acropolis, we ventured out to get distilled water for Filbert’s sleep apnea machine. The front desk clerk told us where a grocery store was about two blocks away so we went. We were surprised that it was the size of a convenience store in the U.S. but had meat and produce. It also had distilled water (per the label with the iron on it!). We stocked up on Coke Zero and bottled water, too, for our daily excursions. Coke Zero was $1.25 per 16.9 oz bottle and water was $0.28 per 16.9 oz bottle. A gallon of distilled water was $1.50. Cans of beer were $1.25. We also noticed that a Big Mac value meal was $7.30. Prices seemed cheaper as compared to Zurich and Stuttgart.

November 6 (Saturday, Day 12, Athens, Greece) –

Morning from our hotel room
Acropolis from the Hilton

We woke up early since we wanted to get to the Acropolis when it opened at 8:30 AM to beat the crowds. We took the metro to the closest stop and walked up the hill. It was a beautiful day (like all of our days to-date) and was forecast to get to 76 degrees. We paid our $17 each and wandered around the Acropolis for about 2 hours. The Acropolis is the highest part of the city and has a lot of temples on it that were built in 5th century BC.

Ampitheater at the Acropolis
Another view of the Ampitheater
Steps up
At the Acropolis

These temples are considered the most important monuments in the Western world since they have exerted more influence on our architecture than anything since. There is also a theatre that was built in 161. It was interesting seeing how the various temples have been reconstructed. You can’t tell that they’ve been reconstructed until you read the signs and see the huge “rock inventory” still laying around waiting for further reconstruction.

The “rock inventory”
The Parthenon

After climbing all over the Acropolis and seeing the Parthenon, which is the epitome of ancient Greek Classical art, we continued to hike up the Areopagos which is the rock above the Agora. This gave a good view of the Acropolis and the Agora which we decided to visit next. The Agora is Athens’ ancient marketplace that was founded in 6th century BC and was the heart of the city for 1,200 years. This is where Socrates addressed his public, where democracy was born and where St. Paul preached. It was not as well-preserved as the Acropolis, but we could definitely see where and how ancient Athenians conducted their daily business.

Part of the Agora, seen from the Acropolis
Detailed stonework
More detailed stonework

We were hungry by now and wandered around for another 30 minutes looking for a restaurant mentioned in Fodor’s. We never found it but found the flea market near Monastiraki and could have bought lots of old coins, photos, chairs and other assorted junk. We did find an art gallery and bought a small $14 painting of the Parthenon for our travel wall at home. We kept wandering and ended up on a street full of souvlaki restaurants with lots of outside seating. One proprietor approached us and we said “yes”. We were going to each order a $12.50 dinner of four kebabs but when we saw the lady’s next to us, we amended our order to one dinner and asked for an extra piece of pita bread. We also decided to order a $4.25 order of “spicy cheese salad”. The waiter brought us our food and we were each served a plate that had pita bread on the bottom with two skewers of meat, raw onions and two roasted tomatoes. The spicy cheese salad was the consistency of canned chocolate frosting and we think it was made from Greek yogurt, feta cheese and spicy peppers all blended together to smooth it out. It was delicious and we would order it again but next time would order the $4.25 tzatziki salad (Greek yogurt, cucumbers, onions) to be more traditional.

Snookums encountered one more water dilemma with this meal. She refuses to pay for water and had to buy bottled water the first night in Zurich and then thought she could get free tap water the second night and was charged for it. So today she looked at the menu and decided she was thirsty so pointed to the description in English that said “1 L Water”. The waiter brought out a large bottle of gassed water. She then said that she wanted still water (no bubbles) and he said “But, I already punched it in.” and walked away in a huff. Snookums wasn’t sure what that meant until he brought a pitcher of tap water to the table. It would have been free, but since the receipt had already been “punched in” and printed, we ended up having to pay $1.50 for a pitcher of tap water! Snookums just assumed that since water was on the menu, like in the rest of Europe, she would have to pay for it so she pointed to it and ordered it. Now she knows that in Athens a person can ask for tap water and get it for free. We decided at that point that our feet and legs were tired so we headed to the Hilton. On the way back we walked through the National Gardens that were originally planted in 1839 as the Royal Garden of Queen Amalia. Given the state of Greece’s current economy, it was very surprising to see it so well maintained. It even had a very small free zoo with pens for oryx, a mule, bighorn sheep, rabbits, ducks, geese, and chickens.

During our walk around Athens Snookums found two .01 Euro coins (worth about $.01 each) to go along with the two Swiss .10 pieces that she found in Zurich. That makes $0.23 she has already found on this trip. In all of our trips, there have only been two countries where she has not found money on the ground. One was Tanzania and she doesn’t remember the other one. Since she collects the cheapest coin from each country as a souvenir, these finds are usually pretty meaningful to her. (She’s weird that way!)

We got back to the Hilton around 3:00 and were thrilled to see a note in our room from our Arizona friends, Gary and Charlotte. We decided to run up to the lounge prior to contacting them since we didn’t know what goodies would be served during the day and Filbert knew he wanted some beer. We thought we would need to go to the store, but then found out that the lounge had free alcohol all day long. And, Gary and Charlotte were there! (Snookums left them a key with access to the lounge and our room since they weren’t sure that their room would be ready due to their early arrival. It was ready and they decided to try the lounge out on their own.) They told us that they arrived from the U.S. at 10 AM and since their room was ready they had already showered and taken a nap and now were trying to fight jetlag while enjoying the lounge. We talked awhile before agreeing to meet again in a few hours for dinner in the lounge.

Dinner wasn’t too long since their jetlag started hitting them hard at 8 PM. We knew that we would be tired tomorrow and so would they so we decided to do the “hop-on/hop-off” bus tour on Sunday. And, since the municipal elections were scheduled for Sunday all of the archeological sites and museums were going to be closed. It was a good thing we saw the Acropolis today.

Next: More Athens! Commies! And Out to sea!

The 2010 Mediterranean & Atlantic Explorer Cruise, Part 3

The 21-Day Mediterranean & Atlantic Explorer Cruise (And more!), October 26-December 1, 2010, Holland America Prinsendam

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Three

November 1 (Monday, Day 7, Stuttgart, Germany) –

We went to the gym with Pat and while she had her personal training session, we completed our own hard workouts. Pat had a 1:00 meeting that ended up lasting until 3:15. While she was gone Snookums made 7-layer bars for Jane’s health class (?!?), changed a light bulb in the wall sconce, did laundry and helped Filbert prep for his green curry stir-fry dinner. Both Jane and Grace had their end of season soccer parties at 5:00 but at different locations (naturally). Grace walked to hers but Pat had to drive Jane to hers. Everyone finally got home by 6:15 and loved Filbert’s dinner, especially Pat who didn’t have to cook.

Lenny came home from work around 7:30 and after he ate he broke out the various alcohol treats. Filbert, Pat and Lenny really liked the Edradour Cream Liqueur from Scotland’s smallest distillery that Pat and Lenny just visited. Then there was a drink made from black vodka and two fruit juices, one red and one yellow, that when poured in a shot glass looked like the German flag.

Did the two-day Stuttgart photo blackout end with pictures of Pat? Of Lenny? Of the very colorful and rapidly changing German fall foliage? Of any of their cute-as-a-button kids in mid-argument with each other? Heck no! It ended with a picture of alcohol, of course!


More after the jump . . . Pat liked this drink a lot but Filbert wasn’t too thrilled with it. Then Lenny brought out the two single malt Edradour whiskeys and Filbert and Lenny really enjoyed both of them. Then it was on to the pear and peach Nannerl Schnapps from Salzburg. They both thought it was kind of blah. In the midst of all of this, Pat spilled her German flag shot…

Pat and Lenny really enjoy German beers and have a refrigerator full of different varieties in the dining room. Filbert frequently tried different ones and enjoyed them all.

We stayed up late but for different reasons. Tonight was when the 2011 Indianapolis Women’s Final Four volunteer shifts were to be posted to the internet and Snookums wanted to make sure to be able to grab the four best shifts for her group of eight volunteers. She ended up going to bed at midnight since the website still hadn’t been updated. She woke up at 2 AM, 4 AM and 6 AM to check to see if it had been updated but it never had. Filbert stayed up late to see about the election results. Germany is currently six hours ahead of Kansas City until daylight savings time in the U.S. on Sunday, and he went to bed around 2 AM, after the Republicans safely restored sanity to the American political system. (That jibe is for the Mother-In-Law, who still seems to think that Democrats believe in, you know, democracy and stuff. Oops, he did it again . . .)

November 3 (Wednesday, Day 9, Stuttgart, Germany) –

Snookums woke up around 7 and Filbert was already awake to check on the election results. Snookums went with Pat to her friend’s house for an hour-long walk through the orchards by her friend’s off-base house. The trees were spectacular in their fall colors. Snookums bought a piece of plum kuchen at the friend’s local bakery and really enjoyed it. Pat, who isn’t fond of German “sweets”, also thought it was excellent.

Pat, Snookums and Filbert drove to a little town about 5 minutes from the post for gyros for lunch. They were fabulous. Pat doesn’t enjoy German food since most of it is meat based and very heavy. She had a vegetarian gyro, made with feta cheese instead of gyro meat, while Snookums and Filbert had the traditional ones. In Germany, though, pickled red cabbage is put on them along with a generous sprinkle of chili powder.

After lunch we went to a German grocery store and Filbert bought currywurst and chili sausage for his dinner tonight and tomorrow. Then Pat drove us to the Ritter Sport chocolate factory. Alas, the diorama that shows the factory at work was broken so we didn’t get a free sample from it. We bought three peppermint chocolate bars for Pat’s kids but nothing for us.

(A new photo blackout began after the Deutschlandshot debacle of the previous evening. Filbert was reportedly too distracted [again] with German food and beer to attempt photography.)

November 4 (Thursday, Day 10, Stuttgart, Germany) –

Pat dropped off Filbert and Snookums at the train station about 10 minutes from the post and we took the 25-minute train ride to Stuttgart for the day. The Stuttgart region has a population of 2.7 million and is the third biggest urban area in Germany.

We got off the train at the 1920s built Hauptbahnhof (German for main railway station) and went to the tourist info store and ended up having to buy a map for $.70. Don’t assume basic tourist maps are free! We wandered around the main shopping street leading to the train station and stopped in most of the bakeries for a quick peak. We then went to the Galeria department store since Snookums had to use the bathroom. By U.S. standards, it was a normal bathroom except the paper towels had advertisements on them! We checked out the basement and it was a gourmet grocery. The basements of most department stores have food halls in them, just like Japanese department stores do. We went into another department store and checked out its basement but it didn’t have any food in it. We did buy a German wedding card for Pat, though, since the son of one of her friends in the U.S. just got married.

Filbert, now safely away from the no-photograph security area around his sister-in-law’s family, began snapping pictures like there’s no tomorrow in central Stuttgart . . . (*)

Kid in the flowers

We finally left the modern shopping street and headed for Schlossplatz which is the heart of the city and has an obelisk in the middle of it from 1841. From here we could also see the golden stag on top of the 1912 art gallery’s dome. Although most of Stuttgart was heavily bombed during the war, it was reconstructed and the old buildings and architecture certainly looked old. We also saw the building that houses the State Museum and it used to be a moated castle built in the 13th century. We continued our walk to the Market Hall which was built in 1914 and still houses various vendors selling baked items, meat, cheese, produce, and spices. For our mid-morning snack, we shared a cheese pretzel like the one Snookums had in Zurich, but better. There is nothing better than melted, crispy, browned cheese on a chewy pretzel. And, at $1.50, it’s a steal.

We continued to walk around and saw more old buildings and churches, including the Collegiate Church which dates back to the 12th century. Then we found ourselves in Market Square with its fountain dating from 1714. A farmer’s market was taking place and we enjoyed looking at the different items for sale. We later found out that it happens three times a week.

Stuttgart farmer’s market:

We were ready for a break and decided it was time for lunch. We ate at a restaurant in the Market Hall and ordered maultaschen in cream sauce with mushrooms for $12.50 and maultaschen in roasted onion gravy for $12.50. Maultaschen seem to be like large meat-stuff ravioli and are a Swabian specialty food. (Stuttgart is in the Swabian area of Germany.) Both kinds were very good. One of them came with a side salad which was a pile of lettuce leaves, a spoonful of German potato salad and a blob of salted/pickled white strips, possibly radish. The other entrée came with a large bowl of German potato salad that Snookums enjoyed. Filbert also ordered two steins (1/2 liter) of local beer at $5 each.

Market Hall
Maultaschen, onion (and potato salad)
Maultaschen, mushroom (and mixed salad)

After lunch we continued walking around and found another department store in order to use its bathroom. Then it was more walking and soon we decided we needed dessert. We went into another branch of Galeria and went to its basement and found the bakery. We ordered two different items – one was a cherry kuchen and one was a fresh raspberry cake-like thing that consisted of yellow cake, a layer of thickened whipped cream, a solid layer of fresh raspberries on top of the whipped cream and then a tart gelatin poured over the raspberries. They were both very good.

After that we walked back to the train station and bought a beautiful European bouquet of flowers for Pat. A couple of things that we noticed were that the Germans are less sophisticated in their dress as compared to the Swiss. We saw a lot of backpacks and tennis shoes in Stuttgart and really saw neither in Zurich. And, a Big Mac value meal cost $7.90 at Stuttgart’s train station which was considerably cheaper compared to Zurich. Like the rest of the trip so far, the weather in Stuttgart was great. It was sunny and in the mid-50s and just made for walking around to sightsee.

Next: Athens! Cradle of Civilization! Or of Democracy! Or of Poisoning troublesome Philosophers!

(*) He’s kidding about that security area thing. Mostly.

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The 2010 Mediterranean & Atlantic Explorer Cruise, Part 2

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part Two

October 29 (Friday, Day 4, Zurich, Switzerland) –

We woke up at 7 AM for our free hot beverages and after a very leisurely morning, we ventured outside around 10:15 AM. We decided to do the walking tour of Zurich as described in the city map. We visited Fraumünster (Church of our Lady) with its Marc Chagall stained-glass windows added in 1970. Then we headed to the lake in order to find out when our free boat tour was going to leave and stumbled on a farmer’s market that promptly shut down at 11 AM. There were many flower vendors, produce vendors, cheese vendors, bakers and a few other assorted vendors (fresh pasta, fish, spices).

Backerei (Bakery)

More after the jump . . . It was fun looking around and most of the items were what we’re used to seeing. Around lunchtime we found ourselves back at Sternen Grill so we decided to eat. (Okay, so we were kind of hoping to be in that vicinity around noon!)

Filbert ordered a bratwurst and it was handed to him wrapped in wax paper and then he helped himself (using bare hands) to his bürli from the big basket of them. Snookums ordered cervelat which is a pork-based sausage that is thicker and shorter than the 8” or 9” inch brat. It was saltier than the bratwurst and also had more spices in it and was more coarsely ground. Snookums thought it was like a mild Polish sausage and she liked it a lot. She really wanted to grab a container of the potato salad but wasn’t that hungry. She tore into her bürli and created lots of crumbs on the table from the hard crust. Then she noticed the impeccably dressed, 70-year old woman sitting next to her tearing into her roll while holding it over the floor so that the crumbs would fall on the floor! Filbert ordered a Sternen beer to wash down his lunch. We also saw several people get their sausages and rolls and get on their bicycles and manage to have a sausage in one hand and the roll in the other which is the two-fisted way that the Swiss eat their sausages and rolls.

After our very authentic lunch we continued our walk and wandered through the medieval cobblestone alleys of the Altstadt (Old Town). We saw the 12th century Grossmünster (Great Church) with its twin towers (circa 1781) as well as St. Peters Kirche whose tower has the largest clock face in Europe. We saw lots of clock towers and they all showed the correct time. Switzerland is known for its accurate time-keeping instruments after all!

St. Peters
Another church, another clock tower

Then it was time to catch our free boat ride. We made it with 5 seconds to spare but then found out that they actually oversold the boat and there weren’t any seats left. About 30 people had to stand for the 1½-hour ride. After about 30 minutes we found some room on a bench next to some Brits visiting an ex-pat living in Zurich and enjoyed the conversation. The fall colors surrounding Lake Zurich were just gorgeous and we decided to get off the boat before the final stop and find our way back using our free transportation tickets since we like to explore. We went to another grocery store and bought three rolls, some little sausages, a little hunk of cheese and two 16-oz cans of beer ($1.50 each) to take back to the hotel for an afternoon snack with the olives and cheese-stuffed peppers that the Hyatt provided for our anniversary.

Views from the boat ride:

We made it back to the Hyatt and ate our delicious snack and then it was time for a nap. Snookums was still feeling the effects from yesterday’s zoo walking and from jet lag and really needed it. When we both woke up we decided to just eat dinner at the Hyatt. Filbert ordered bratwurst (for the 4th time in a row!) and Snookums had the cheese pizokel (basically cheese spaetzle) that was very similar to macaroni and cheese. It was so rich she could only eat half of it. Filbert also ordered an iced herb green tea which was served with two slices of lemon in it and a 6” sprig of rosemary and a few other strands of herbs that Snookums didn’t recognize. The bottom of the straw was crimped shut so that he wouldn’t suck up any of the leaves. Much to Snookums’s surprise, Filbert really enjoyed it.

Back in the room Snookums watched a DVD of Will Smith’s “Seven Pounds” which she picked from the Hyatt’s free selection since she hadn’t heard of it. It was released to U.S. theatres in 2008 but didn’t do well but did very well internationally. Snookums thought it was a really good movie and didn’t even fall asleep during it.

October 30 (Saturday, Day 5, Flying to Stuttgart, Germany; $1.00 = €0.71) –

Our flight to Stuttgart left at 12:35 PM and we were ready to check out at 9:30 so we went ahead and headed to the airport. We ended up taking the tram the entire way which took 40 minutes longer than the train but was much prettier. After we checked our luggage and went through security (and you can leave your shoes on and Filbert’s sleep apnea machine was not swabbed for explosives like it is at every U.S. airport) we bought sandwiches and ate our lunch while waiting for the plane. The 45-minute flight was uneventful and we were even given a little milk chocolate candy bar (“Thanks for flying Swiss Airlines”) and a bottle of water.

As soon as we got to Stuttgart’s luggage carousel we saw Pat, Snookums’s sister, waiting for us. We got our bags and headed off to two of Jane’s (Pat’s 8th-grade daughter) soccer games. At the soccer field we also saw Lenny (Pat’s husband) and Grace (her youngest daughter, 6th-grade). Jane’s team lost both games and that ended her season but it was a beautiful, sunny, mid-50s day so that was nice. Then it was on to their house on Panzer Army post near Stuttgart.

Jane takes aim
Throw-in specialist follows through
Full gallop

We had just enough time to unpack and say “hi” to Hannah, Pat’s 23-year old daughter, before we went downstairs to the building’s potluck dinner. Even though it was October 30, the base was celebrating Halloween. Pat’s building of eight officer’s apartments had a potluck out front to let the kids come to the potluck to get the candy rather than going to eight doors. Kids came and got a handful of candy at a time while we ate potluck food of chili, vegetable tray, cheese cubes, noodle casserole, macaroni and cheese, many varieties of German beer (many varieties) and gluhwein (German hot mulled wine).

October 31 (Sunday, Day 6, Stuttgart, Germany) –

Today was a day of rest and we did. Everyone enjoyed the fact that it was daylight savings time in Germany and welcomed the extra hour. Sophie, Pat’s 10th-grade daughter, came home this morning from a sleepover after she played her last volleyball game of the season yesterday in Heidelberg. We had a nice family dinner of Lenny’s delicious smoked brisket.

November 1 (Monday, Day 7, Stuttgart, Germany) –

Snookums, Filbert and Pat walked to the post exchange for lunch and enjoyed pretzel sandwiches, apple strudel and berry danish from the German bakery. Filbert made the better dessert choice with the delicious apple strudel. Pat also managed to find several Christmas gifts at the exchange. Filbert’s inexplicable photographic blackout reached its second day.


The 2010 Mediterranean & Atlantic Explorer Cruise, Part 1

The 21-Day Mediterranean & Atlantic Explorer Cruise (And more!), October 26-December 1, 2010, Holland America Prinsendam

Text by Snookums, Pictures by Filbert

Part One

October 26 (Tuesday, Day 1, Flying to Zurich, Switzerland; $1.00 = 0.98 CHF) –

This journal should start on Monday, October 25. That’s when we got called at 8 PM with a recorded message from American Airlines saying that our first of three flights was cancelled. High winds in Chicago prevented the plane from getting to Kansas City which meant we didn’t have a plane to use. Snookums was put on hold and while waiting for 20 minutes, she found other flight options that would work. The customer service representative booked our first option which meant we had to leave an hour earlier than originally planned. Snookums called the shuttle service and re-scheduled our pickup for 6 AM.

That’s why we have no introductory photo. Oh, wait . . . we HAVE to have an introductory photo. Unfortunately, I (Filbert) left all my old photos at home after cleaning off my laptop’s hard drive. (Not to worry, there are multiple backups, back at the Palatial Abode.) So, here’s a random picture I’ve downloaded from the Internet on the very day (morning, afternoon, night, whatever) that I posted this first travelogue post:

You have to be flexible when you travel, you know? This is, supposedly, the first photograph ever taken that contains the image of a human being[*1] .

More after the jump . . . After Monday’s drama, Tuesday was blissfully uneventful. We got to the airport, got on the flight to DFW, bought a quick lunch at DFW and boarded the flight for JFK. We were supposed to land 30 minutes early, but ended up landing 20 minutes late. We enjoyed our 1½-hour layover in the Admirals Club lounge. The 7-hour flight to Zurich was okay but we decided it was the worst international flight we had been on. The only TV monitors were the ones that were suspended from the ceiling so each seat didn’t have its own TV. That meant that you couldn’t pick your own video selections. Snookums did get to watch George Clooney’s “Up in the Air” movie so that was good. The flight was only 7 hours so it wasn’t that big of a deal, but non-American airlines certainly treat economy class passengers much better than American airlines do.

The only excitement we had all day was when Filbert put the roll-aboard in the rack above the seat and somehow managed to break the zipper on his right pants leg of his zip-on/zip-off pants. Luckily the flight attendant had a sewing kit and Filbert stitched it shut. Snookums’s mom will “get” to replace the zipper when we get home in December. (Note – Our roll-aboard now contains a sewing kit, compliments of Park Hyatt Zurich.)

October 27 (Wednesday, Day 2, Zurich, Switzerland) –

We landed in Zurich around 7 AM which was 30 minutes early. We bought 3-day travel passes and boarded the train for our 10-minute ride to Zurich. Then we stumbled around until we found the tram that took us three blocks from the Park Hyatt Zurich. We had to ask for directions to the hotel and we blamed it on jetlag. There are signs at the tram stop pointing the correct direction, but we didn’t see them.

Our room wasn’t ready so we walked around for about 1 hour. It was sunny and in the low-50s so it was very pleasant. We found a grocery store and stocked up on some Coke Zero for the room and two bottles of water for our excursions. We knew that Zurich was expensive, but it still shocked us to see that teriyaki marinated raw chicken breasts were $17/pound and hamburger was $9/pound. A Big Mac value meal was $11.50! (By the way, we used points at the Park Hyatt so our room was free but should have cost $830/night.) We also bought an early lunch at a pretzel stand. Snookums bought a large pretzel that had cheese baked on it and Filbert bought a pretzel sandwich that had ham and butter in it.

We got back to the Park Hyatt around 10 AM and went to our room. We were surprised to see a very nice anniversary celebration in it that consisted of a bottle of wine, a jar of olives and a jar of cheese stuffed red peppers in olive oil. There was also a 3-foot heart on the bed made out of rose petals. The bathtub rim had rose petals on it, too.

Heart and flowers

We showered and napped until 3:30. Then we walked to the Zeughauskeller Restaurant which is in the historic, ancient arsenal for Zurich built in 1487. We had Zürcher Geschnetzeltes – thin strips of veal with mushrooms in a cream sauce served with Rösti (Swiss style hash browns). We got two glasses of white wine for free since we had 3-day travel passes. We also shared a bowl of pumpkin soup that was very good. Snookums ordered still water and ended up paying $5.50 for a ½ liter of it (or 16.9 oz.). That infuriated her, but what can a person do? Dinner was $83 for the two of us and we enjoyed it very much.

Zürcher Geschnetzeltes

After dinner we walked around and found a department store, Jemoli, that was having a 3-day sales event. Waiters were walking around handing out champagne, wine, and appetizers but we were full. We decided to check out the basement food hall and were surprised to see how similar it was to the ones in Japan. There was a full grocery store as well as all sorts of prepared food kiosks. We still were very full so we just wandered and only had one sample.

We then walked to the train station to check out the stores in it. Filbert used the $1 bathroom that was fully automated (the door would open after 15 minutes if you weren’t out before then). We went upstairs and found the farmer’s market that is there every Wednesday. It had a lot of vendors selling cheese, sausages, some produce and lots of ready to eat foods. Snookums got to see raclette. This is a traditional Swiss dish where the Raclette cheese round is heated and then scraped onto diners’ plates. It was accompanied by small firm potatoes, gherkins, pickled onions, and baby corn. Unfortunately we still were full! We were starting to wear down so we walked to the nearest tram station and took the tram back to the Hyatt at 7:30 PM. Unlike in Prague where we could buy a wurst on every block, the only street vendors we saw were selling roasted chestnuts.

Farmers Market, Zurich style

We hit the sack after a long day. Snookums woke up around 3 AM and read for a couple of hours and Filbert managed to sleep almost the whole night.

October 28 (Thursday, Day 3, Zurich, Switzerland) –

The Park Hyatt delivered complimentary morning hot beverages so Filbert enjoyed his coffee and Snookums enjoyed her hot chocolate. Snookums was disappointed that the hot chocolate wasn’t the thick and syrupy kind she had in Paris and Barcelona. Zurich’s hot chocolate was runny but was obviously made with dark chocolate since it was kind of bitter. Snookums drank it since it was ten times better than Nestle’s instant. Filbert ordered a pot of hot water for his high protein instant oatmeal that he brought with him while Snookums ate her breakfast from the room’s fruit bowl.

We took the tram to the zoo and walked around for 5 ½ hours. The Zurich zoo was great. There were animals everywhere and in very natural environments. We never saw animals exhibit “zoo behavior” where they just walk in circles or scratch themselves on the fences. A couple of animals of note included the geese vs. the penguins and the pack of wolves. There were two geese in the Emperor penguin exhibit and the brown goose would continually approach the 17 penguins and flap its wings.

Two geese, seventeen penguins, and a flock of Swiss schoolkids
Penguin on alert
Goose attack

Well, the penguins would flap their wings and get their 4-inch long very sharp beaks close to the goose and it would scamper off for a few minutes until it took another run at the penguins. It was very funny to watch and that must be where the phrase “silly as a goose” comes from since that goose had no chance against those penguins.

Penguin march . . .
. . .To lunch

We also saw a pack of six or seven wolves howling for a couple of minutes. It was kind of eery. Other impressive exhibits included the chimpanzee, gorilla, and orangutan exhibits and the lion enclosure.


We bought lunch at the zoo and each had a bratwurst and split a hard roll and an order of fries. The little packets of mustard and ketchup were $0.50 each so we definitely only took the ones we needed! We drank the refilled bottles of water that we brought with us rather than paying $4 per. The bratwurst were very mild since they are made with veal. They are not like Johnsonville brats at all since they are much less spiced and are not coarsely ground.

We got back to our room around 3:30 and took naps. All of that walking really wore us out. We ventured out to dinner to find the city’s best sausage. We intended to eat at the Sternen Grill where you sit outside or stand up at tables or simply walk away with your sausage in one hand and your roll in another. However, the seats were all taken so we went next door to the tonier Voderer Sternen which had tablecloths and everything. We each ordered bratwurst and bürli (a crunchy roll). Filbert had Rösti with his and Snookums ordered the potato salad. The bratwurst was very similar to what we had at the zoo for lunch and the potato salad was outstanding. It was vinegar based and had lots of parsley in it and some other flavors that Snookums couldn’t pick out. She even thought it was better than Mom’s and she loves her mom’s German potato salad. Snookums ordered tap water and the waiter brought a pitcher of water. She was shocked to see that it cost $3 and it definitely wasn’t bottled water which other tables ordered! Filbert’s beer cost $4.50.

After dinner we continued to walk around to see what Zurich was like at night. One thing we noticed during our first walk yesterday was that everyone in Zurich wears dark, fashionable clothes, dark low-heeled shoes or boots and scarves with their nice winter coats (we didn’t see any ski jackets). Messenger bags are the preferred bag of choice compared to backpacks – even at the University of Zurich. The only tennis shoes we saw were on Americans (and we didn’t see too many Americans). Blue jeans were dark-washed and stylish. We brought “European” shoes with us since we didn’t want to wear tennis shoes and look American but even those weren’t right since they were tan. And, our khaki pants stuck out, too. Oh well, we tried! We went to a grocery store to buy dessert (a slice of apple tart to split – delicious), and yogurt and a slice of cherry tart for Snookums’s next two breakfasts. Then it was back on the tram around 8:30 PM to get to the hotel. It was a great day in Zurich and we were thoroughly exhausted.

Next: Zurich! Boatride! Fussball!

Election 2010–The Short Version, and The Way Forward

In Super Bowl terms, not a 55-3 blowout, but a solid 35-10 whupping.

Democrats need to seriously reconsider their authoritarian, statist, socialist, “progressive” dreams which have (again) been soundly rejected by the American people.

Republicans need to (for once) follow through on their positive, populist, libertarian small-government promises.

Both parties need to Trust The People.

In order for that to happen, The People need to trust themselves more than they trust their politicians. The solution to America’s problems are not in Washington, D.C. You look at those solutions every morning in your bathroom mirror as you brush your teeth.

Stop waiting for someone else to make your life better, to make other people’s lives better. Start figuring out ways to do those things yourself. That’s the American Way.

Make yourself better. Make the world easier for other people, in big ways, in little ways. Cultivate kindness within yourself instead of envy, generosity within yourself instead of hate, and project that kindness and generosity to everyone you meet.

Changing the world isn’t a big thing. It’s a whole lot of very small things–which all start with you.

Start today.