Friday, June 22, 2018

Amador County Wineries

If you are looking for something to do in the Sacramento area try the short trip up the hill to Amador County and visit the many wineries. What Amador County offers is a relaxing day of wine tasting without the crowds you will find in Napa and Sonoma. Each winery has something unique to offer and there are events every weekend. It is kind of like the atmosphere Napa had years ago before the wineries started getting too touristy and told you what you could taste that day. In Amador most wineries will let you taste everything they produce. How else can you decide which wine you like and will purchase.

Most wineries are outside of Plymouth, Ca. and is a short ride from Sacramento in the Wine and Gold Country. Towns have names like Fiddletown and Drytown from the gold rush. For a list of events check out this site.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Yosemite National Park

View of Half Dome from Yosemite Village

I just came back from an annual trip to Yosemite, one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Every year, going back to when my mom started going as a kid, we try to get a campsite in the valley. It's hard to get reservations, and we have been lucky most years, but there have been years where we had to find other accommodations.

This year we ended up with one double and one single site. My brother took the single and my daughter and I took the double. In all we had a fairly large group. The weather couldn't have been better. The days were in the low 80's and the nights cooled down enough to make sleeping comfortable. There is still a lot of water coming off the falls but the river were not too fast and rafting and swimming in the river was possible (Last year the current was to fast to enjoy the river).

Days were spent taking hikes, hanging out at the river and hitting the bar at Half Dome Village. Nights were spent around the campfire catching up on family stories. Yosemite offers something for every type of person. Trails come in difficulty from flat to very steep. Rock climbing is for the serious hikers. The scenery and wildlife is everywhere for those that just want to relax. There are restaurants, bars, museums, cafes, stores and activities for everyone to enjoy.

For children I would recommend the bike trails, valley walks and the museum that includes an Indian Village. Happy Isles also has a nature center. Half Dome Village also has an ice cream parlor that the kids go crazy for. There are places around the park where you can take them in the evening for a movie or slideshow on the history of the park.

For the older crowd a day hike is good to take. Make sure you are in good enough shape to take the hike. The Mist Trail is fairly easy up to the bridge. The Valley Floor Trail Lower Yosemite Falls are also fairly flat. Harder hikes are Upper Yosemite Falls. The Mist Trail past the bridge, and hiking down from  Glacier Point. My advice is to read the trail map be careful of difficulty. It would take a lifetime to do every trail, the John Muir Trail can go as far as Mount Whitney which is 211 miles.

If you are planning on camping in Yosemite my advice is to get on the reservation system before they are open for that week and pick a few sites in different campgrounds. be ready to click book at 7 am Pacific and hope for the best.

I hope from the pictures you see the beauty of Yosemite and want to visit.

Lower Yosemite Falls
Vernal Falls
Start of Mist Trail

Mist Trail

Friday, June 1, 2018

Newcastle Australia

Christ Church

One of my favorite stops on our cruise was Newcastle, Australia. We didn't have an excursion planned and decided to wing it in the city.

Newcastle is a city on the east coast of Australia with a beautiful inner city, small city vibe and long beautiful beaches with a bluff looking down on the beaches.

We started the day in the inner city walking the main shopping area and then made our way up a hill to the Christ Church. It is a nice walk from downtown and on the way there is a cemetery where you will find grave sites from the convict era. It was interesting to read how some had died and their ages. The church itself is a Gothic style and being up on a hill stood out as our ship arrived. You can tour the church as I would recommend.

After touring the church we wanted to get some lunch and took a taxi to one of the beaches for food and drinks. The driver recommended the Merewether Surfhouse at Merewether Beach. The restaurant sits on a bluff overlooking the beach with incredible views. Also at Merewether Beach you will see the Merewether Baths. The baths are swimming pools built into the beach. There are filled from the ocean during the tides and provide a safe place to swim where you don't have to worry about rip tides and sea creatures. I found the best part of Newcastle to be their beaches. I also learned that Newcastle is a port city where coal is exported to other countries, mainly China. From the beach you will find ships lined up waiting to be filled with coal.

After lunch we did something I like to do in a city I have never been to before. I did it in Rome and it really worked out. So after lunch we had the same taxi driver take us on a tour of the city. It is fairly inexpensive and if you get the right driver you will get a flavor of the city you won't get on a normal tour.

After the tour it was back to the ship. I really liked Newcastle. It does not have the big city feel and is the type of city I could live in.

Merewether Beach

Merewether Surfhouse Restaurant

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Airlie Beach, Australia

Not everything goes as planned and this happened to be one of those times. On our stop at Airlie Beach we had an excursion planned to The Great Barrier Reef. The day we got there we were in a category one typhoon and all tours of the reef were closed down due to rough seas. Plan "B" was to go into Airlie Beach and look around. Airlie Beach looks like a typical beach town with plenty of shops for the tourists. There are also a lot of places to eat. Beaches also looked good if the weather was good. Between heavy bursts of rain we made our way around town but ended up going back to the ship early.

We now have a reason to go back.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Australia Zoo

They say timing is everything. Our first stop on the cruise was Brisbane and we decided to take an excursion to the Australia Zoo, owned by the Irwin family of Crocodile Hunter fame. Because of commitments it is rare the Irwin family is there but on this day we had the pleasure of Teri and Bindi Irwin doing the crocodile show.

The zoo is quite large with many enclosures where you can get close and even pet some of the wildlife. We were able to get close to kangaroos and koala bears. The crocodile show is in a stadium called the Crocoseum  and is very entertaining.  They have many exhibits of wildlife from Australia and also Africa.

There are plenty of places to grab food and drinks and take a break. Since the zoo is so big and it can get hot you will need water and a place to sit down.

If you have time, which we didn't, there is also an animal rescue hospital you can tour.

If you are coming from a cruise ship the bus ride is pleasant and the tour guide will tell you what you are seeing along the way and also what to expect at the zoo.

This is a highly recommended excursion.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Cruising Australia

After spending the first 5 days in Sydney, with a one day excursion to the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, we boarded our ship for an 8 night cruise up the east coast. Our ship was the Royal Caribbean Radiance of the Seas which left from Sydney harbor. I would say it is a mid-size ship with a capacity of about 2500 passengers. There were 13 decks with deck 10 being the highest for cabins. Above that there was the main pool and buffet on deck 11, arcades, kids pool, fitness center on deck 12 and the Viking Crown Lounge on deck 13.

We had a Junior Suite on deck 10 that was plenty big enough for us with a nice balcony. The bathroom had a combo tub shower for plenty of room and the walk-in closet allowed us to put all our clothes away and still had room to store the luggage out of the way. The room also had a sitting area which made it nice when our friends came over for a drink. For on-board activities I would suggest going to the nightly show. We saw everything from a magician, comedienne, tango show to a tribute to the band Queen. We had the late dinner seating and we would hit the show before dinner. Also there were movies, the pool and we also took a behind the scenes tour of the kitchen which included an awesome lunch. There is something to do for everyone. You can be as active as you want or just grab a book and relax. My wife did a spa treatment which she really enjoyed. It was such a pleasant experience she would have gone back if we had the time. She also purchased a lot of the products they used on her. 

For food, we really enjoyed the main dining room. Our service was great and the food options every night were perfect. One night we opted for reservations at the steak house. The food was great as well as the service but we missed our servers in the main dining room. For breakfast we had the option of the main dining room or the Windjammer Buffet. Both were great. Sitting in the main dining room was good and if you had an excursion and were in a hurry the buffet was perfect. There was also the Windjammer Cafe for lunch or many other options for a quick snack. 

We opted for the unlimited drink package which we got our monies worth. Enough said there. We also brought 2 bottles of wine with us but with the drink package I thought it was a waste bringing our own wine.

I think taking a cruise is a great value for what you get. If you can do it reserve a suite. Our Junior Suite made the cruise very enjoyable. My only concern was the amount of food we ate. Food is always available and it is too tempting.

Royal Caribbean is a great cruise line to choose.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Sydney Opera House

The Four Seasons Hotel was in a great location and was within walking distance to the Sydney Opera House. In fact you could see it from Sue and Marks room. We had the hotel book us a tour and walked from the hotel. The walk is easy from the hotel and passes the ferry terminals and harbor cruise ports. Once you get to the far side of Circular Quay the walk is lined with bars and restaurants. 

You can argue that, along with the Sydney Bridge, the Sydney Opera House is the most iconic site in Sydney. It was designed by a Danish architect, Jørn Utzon, who had his design selected in 1957 and was completed in October, 1973. We learned that the reason it took so long was that the original design was not engineering sound and it too years to find a way to build it. Of course that caused cost overruns. The original cost was set at $7 M and the final cost came in at $102 M. During construction the architect resigned and went back to Denmark and never saw it completed. Eventually the architects son was brought back to complete the project.  Later more work was done to allow more natural sunlight to come in. 

The Sydney Opera House is not one venue but is made up of many venues all within the building. That way, during a typical day there could be a school play, major concert, play, recitals, etc. There are over 1500 events and 1.2 M people there each year along with 350,000 people taking the guided tour.

If you are in Sydney the tour is a must do. The guides add a lot of color and perspective to the tour making it very enjoyable.