I have to say, our trip from Avignon to Paris was interesting. We arrived at the Avignon Train Station early to catch our HIGH SPEED, 1st CLASS BULLET TRAIN to Paris. It was rather confusing as there were two trains listed going to Paris at the same time on the same platform. Our train was listed first (yes I did check the # of the train). Of course, the announcement for the train when it arrived was in French (I mean who in the world of the brilliant and sophisticated can’t speak French). We boarded the train and found our seats and the train left the station. As we were traveling along, the steward came with another couple and asked to see our tickets. Yah, you got it right, we were on the other train. So as our HIGH SPEED, 1st CLASS BULLET TRAIN to Paris went whizzing past us we took pull down seats in the area between the cars and spent our time getting to DISNEYLAND PARIS. It was only about 50 miles from where we wanted to go and there was a taxi willing to take us to the Hotel!$$$$!!! Yea, you got that right too! The only bright spot in the whole trip was that we didn’t have to lug our backpacks and extra suitcase on the underground to our Hotel.
Scenes of Paris –
I know you have seen it all before so how do I make it more interesting, more exciting, more wonderful, more beautiful (more boring!- – – -), well we took all our scenic photos from the top of a two-decker tour bus (us old grey hairs don’t like to walk so much)!
Hey, another photo of the Arc de Triomphe! Well, no this is a photo of the front window of the tour bus and the damn arch got in the way!
So I thought that I would try again, but the Church Ste. Marie Madeleine got in the way. When I looked at the photo on the camera, I asked Jan “when did we get to Athens, Greece?” It does resemble the Parthenon, doesn’t it?
So I asked her why all these old buildings kept getting in the way of my photos. She said, “Try taking them out the side of the bus”, so I did, but I didn’t get a photo of the window. I got a photo of the River Seine.
Oh well, the window wasn’t that pretty anyway and beside I got really interested in all the gold in Paris.
As we entered the Esplanade des Invalides (I think that means, ‘Way to the Castle’) there were four pillars with gold horses (with wings?) and some gal blowing a long horn. I don’t have a clue what that was supposed represent, but it sure was impressive.
Not much further on was another gold dome on the top of the Church of St. Louis (Eglise Du Dome St. Louis) and downtown was another roof covered with copper and gold statues. Boy, the French sure do like their gold! But that wouldn’t even hold a candle to what we saw the next day.
But hey, we are still on the two-decker bus and there was another scene that caught my eye out the side of the bus.
The bus driver said this place was called the Place du Trocadero (which is the Palace called ‘Palais du Chaillot’) with a view of the Eiffel Tower across the River Seine. I thought it was a pretty neat picture especially from the top deck of a tour bus!
We got of the tour bus just at the corner just below the Eiffel Tower very close to a French Restaurant where we had lunch. Rather, I should say Jan had lunch and I had a BEER! I thought I was in Germany again!
So we started our walking tour of Paris and the first stop was at the Eiffel Tower from the ground. I have to admit it was pretty impressive!
From the Eiffel Tower to the Island of Notre Dame was a good long walk, so we decided to take the Paris Underground. Now THAT WAS REALLY IMPRESSIVE and even more confusing, but us old grey hairs finally figured it out. So we toured island with probably one of the most beautiful churches in the world.
We had really wanted to take the tour through Notre Dame, but again the lines were very long. After Rome, plus our 25th day on the road, we were not in the mood for another line. They were working on the front of the church redoing the parking and plaza in front so it definitely was not picturesque.
From Notre Dame we crossed the River Seine to the Latin Quarter and walked to the Gardens of Luxembourg. It was a refreshing spot to relax after a busy day of touring.
The castle was huge with a huge basin of water in front. The front of the castle surrounded by several acres of grounds with trees, fountains and gardens which were very lush and cool in the afternoon sun. People were everywhere lounging and relaxing in the warmth and the beauty.
We joined them!
On our way back to the Hotel, we stopped at the Oldest Continually Operated Café in Paris (1660) and had a Tanqueray and Tonic (they were very hard to find in Paris and $).
Our last day in Paris – started early with a train ride to Versailles. We had our tickets to get into the Palace already so we would miss the crowds standing in line. OH, YES! THAT REALLY WORKED! I think that line was made up by the Paris Ticket Company that sold the advance tickets!
Now you talk about the Parisians loving their gold – visit Versailles! All this gold, no wonder the French revolted!
After entering the Versailles grounds and through the first gate, there is a very large parade grounds in front of the main palace. It is probably 150 feet x 150 feet of stone paved area. In the photo above, all you can see is people in front of the gate to the castle. That is because there is a line that is snaking around in the parade grounds to pass through the security to the castle. When I described as snaking, that is what it does. From the parade ground entrance, it starts toward the golden gate and then turns before it gets to the gate and goes back to the entrance of the parade ground (150 feet each direction). The line is six times up to the gate and back before you get to the security entrance.
We arrived at the entrance gate at about 9 am and there were that many people in the line ahead of us just to get through security before we could use our prepaid tickets to get into the castle. Jan and I stood in the first line for an hour and still hadn’t made it to the next line. WE LEFT!
Back in Paris, we wanted to finish our visit of the Latin Quarter and the beautiful garden that we saw on our way to the Luxembourg Palace.
At Place du Cluny there are gardens surrounding the ancient Hotel de Cluny and the Thermes De Cluny. Would you believe in the heart of Paris are the remains of a 3rd century Roman Baths? The structure above is the Hotel De Cluny built by the Abbotts of Cluny in 1334 from the remains of the Roman baths next door.
Where but in Paris would you expect to find a scene like this?
This is Hotel de Cluny from the back and the entrance to the Museum de Cluny. In 1834, Jacques d’Amboise converted the old hotel into a museum to hold the Sommerard collection of Medieval Art. There were old tapestries, icons, wooden carvings and enamels from the 1300 to 1500 time period.
They were quite remarkable because they had been so well preserved, especially the old tapestries (photos not allowed).
As we left the old hotel/museum part of the structure, we went down a stairs to the hidden entrance to the Roman baths.
The first exhibit was some of the interesting remains from the destruction caused during the revolutionary war. All the decapitated stone bodies and the desecrated heads were from the previous Kings of France. The originals were in Notre Dame. During the revolution, the people decapitated the statues and took out their frustration on the heads. I guess the French finally got tired of all the gold on the building and none in their pockets. It was quite an interesting display!
The gallery also had the statue of Adam from the interior of Notre Dame plus some of the decoration of the original Roman baths. The only visible remains of the baths were on the far end of the building.
The final visit on our last afternoon in Paris was to the Louve. Jan really wanted to see Mona Lisa so we took our prepaid tickets and headed to castle.
Triumph Arch is at the entrance to the Louvre Palace grounds containing the famous Louvre Museum. The Louvre was originally built as a fortress in the 12th century by the then French King Phillip. In 1682, Louis XIV expanded the fortress into the present Louvre Palace. After the French Revolution, the Louvre was made into a museum to house all the history of the world.
I visited the Louvre in 1973 and was very disappointed in the condition of the artifacts in the museum. At that time the Louvre had fallen into disrepair and many of the windows and skylights were broken. Pigeons and their droppings were inside the building and on many of the displays. I left totally disgusted.
The new Louvre is now worthy of all the treasures that it holds, over 35,000 objects of history. The glass pyramids in the courtyard provides a modern feel to the entrance of the museum and the underground access to the various parts of the museum handle the Enormous Crowds about as well as can be expected. Although it still can be very confusing. We spent hours wandering around the halls of the museum trying to find the Mona Lisa without too much success. We walked through the huge stone statues of the bulls of Mesopotamia, the bowls and urns of the Chinese Ming Dynasty, the mummies of the Egyptian Pharaohs and every doorway we went through had a little with card that said Mona Lisa with an arrow pointing.
Finally we walked into a hallway loaded with people and knew we must be getting close. Sure enough at the end of the hallway was a room off to the side filled with people. The walls of the room were bare except for the far wall and in the center of it was the Mona Lisa. Jan burrowed into the crowd of about 100 people to get close enough to take a photo of the painting. I stayed toward the back, but I could see the painting. The man next to me said, “What’s the big deal. That don’t look so great!” I said, “I don’t know, but I think she is pretty!”
What a wonderful area of France! We again took the train from Nice to Marseille. Much of the route was along the shore of the Mediterranean Sea through the famous cities of Antibes, Cannes and Toulon although from the train, they weren’t that glamorous. We switched trains to travel on to Arles through the delta region of the Rhone River valley. The area was beautiful, mostly produce farms and rolling green hills of vineyards providing the world famous food of Provence.
We arrived at the train station on the north side of the old town and walked the short distance to the old Roman gates and watch towers of the ancient city walls. Our hotel was just behind the gate on the right (yellow). When we checked in the hotel, the lady at the desk ask if we came for the May Day celebration the next day. We told her that we were unaware that there was a celebration. She told us about the traditional May Day parade to the Church of Notre Dame and the blessing of animals and showed us where to go to watch it.
Our room was nice size, very comfortable and looked out over the city wall and the two gate towers from our room window
We spent the rest of the day exploring the old town of Arles which was a fascinating mix of ancient, medieval, old and new. The monument building to the right at the very entrance to the streets of Arles was a fountain built in tribute to Amedee Pichot by his son in 1868. The fountain split the two main streets entering the north end of Arles.
Since the streets are very narrow (most are chariot width!), most of the streets are closed off by metal poles, others are limited to one way traffic and very few are open to vehicles.
Those that are open to traffic are not wide enough for two together as this trucker found out!
One of the streets from the Pichot fountain led to the Place Du Forum, an open plaza set up with tables and canopies for eating. Surrounding the plaza (Place) were a variety of sidewalk restaurants that serviced the open plaza.
Other single or smaller restaurants with only one or two tables could be often found as we wandered around in the old city.
The old city was a very interesting blend of old (even ancient) and new. There would be a newer building with an ancient Roman doorway, or a very old stone wall with a new gate cut into it leading to a courtyard of a newer resident. Likewise a newer dwelling or room built into an ancient structure.
Yet there was a high levee topped by a walkway built out of stone that ran along the Rhone River to separate and protect the old town from the river flooding.
And down the streets next to the ancient amphitheater was the Church and Cloister of Saint Trophime built between the 12th and 15th centuries.
MAY DAY –
We got up early (at least for us) the next morning and decided to go directly to the Church of Notre Dame for the blessing of the animals rather than trying to meet up with the parade in the narrow streets of old town. We noticed that ropes with streamers of ribbons and cloth were hung for decoration across the streets where the parade was coming.
As we walked toward the church, we noticed an older woman dressed in a beautiful gown hurrying toward the church so we followed her. Sure enough she took us directly to the Church of Notre Dame.
The plaza area in front of the church was surrounded by a chained-link fence. People were beginning to gather behind it to watch the blessing of the animals. We quickly followed suit and found a good spot where we could see everything that was happening.
Then began the parade of elders starting with the ladies dressed in their finest (style of the late-1800’s) and the men with their black suits, white shirts and black hats. Then came the young women and the young ladies club with their banner, followed by the girls. Next in line came the young boys and girls.
When they had all entered and formed by the front of the church, the parade that had wound through the streets of the town started entering the plaza. Then the mothers with their small childen and babies followed quickly. The carriages were very old, in excellent condition and on obvious display with their babies. The people and their children were all standing and waiting as a carriage pulled by two white horses entered the plaza.
There were horses lined up as far as we could see on the streets through the buildings.
Next began the entrance of the individual horses and their riders. In most cases, it was young men and young women riding side-saddle behind their male, but occasionally in would be a young boy with a young lady behind him. They all filed in one horse at a time and took their place in lines eventually forming seven lines across the plaza which included over 200 horses and their riders. All of the horses were white and were said to be of a special breed used entirely around the area of Arles. Once the plaza was full, the local priest came through each line of the horses swinging their spray bulbs of holy water blessing all the horses and then the blessing was finished. All the women on the horses were helped down and the horses were ridden back out of the plaza. All the remaining people left the plaza to spend the day in the old town.
We also spent the rest of the day wandering through the town, enjoying the scenery and occasionally meeting some of the locals like the young family shown above with young daughter and baby and the mother and daughter dressed to the nines.
That evening we celebrated May Day, thanks to Mark and Christine, enjoying dinner at a small restaurant called ‘Jadin de Arts’. It was located in the chapel of an old church.
The church had been demolished and was now a garden beside the chapel. The dinner was delicious and the warm chocolate tart with liquid chocolate fudge leaking out the side was incredible!
ANCIENT ROMAN ARLES –
The last day that we were in Arles, we concentrated on the old Roman part of the town. We started by walking around the outside of the old town to the ‘Porte D’Aguste’, the original entrance to Roman Arles. Attached to the gate.
A stone wall extended down to the south east corner of old town where another opening in the wall occurred. Note the graffiti on the wall. Almost all of Europe seems to be covered with it too. Except that Switzerland seems to either clean it off or make the artists??, do it! Maybe they are not bothered by it because the Swiss love their country so much that they don’t want to defile it!
As we walked through Arles, there was the old Church of Saint Julien which in no longer open to visitors and is in the process of being renovated. Behind it is the Priory of Malta holding the Museum Reattu. It is a very old church that looks like it at one time burned out the inside. Now it is a modern museum holding some pieces of art from Picasso and Reattu.
On around the northern side of Arles, we came upon an old ruin called, ‘Thermes De Constantin’, the baths of Constantine. The drawing on the left was done in the 1500’s while the baths were still used and the drawing on the right is what the baths originally looked like.
The area next to the round front (shown in the upper photo) is the hot room where the fires were built to heat the water brought in from the river. The red arch in the lower corner was the original firebox. The interior rooms of the baths are ruined; however, the short walls shown in the photo is the support for the floor. The hot water filled the area below the floor and provided the steam for the baths.
In the southeastern part of the old city just inside of the old city walls were the heart of the old Roman city and most of the ruins. The entrance to the Roman Theater was a restored wall with three openings to the theater (closed iron gates). The entire area of the theater is an archeological site and in the process of restoration. Beyond the gates was a stone walkway into the theater with stone platforms along the side, which originally held statues of the Gods. The statues have disappeared into museums.
The ‘Theater Antique’ was built by Emperor Agustus in 30 BC. It could seat 10,000 spectators. The twin columns in the foreground are the remains of the stage façade across the front of the seating area.
Arles has it’s own Collosseum; however, there they called it “The Amphitheater’ or ‘Circus’ and it was designed as a smaller version of the Collosseum of Rome seating only 20,000 people. It was completed in 90 BC and was used for entertainment by the Romans including chariot racing and Gladiator fighting. It is in much better condition than the Collosseum of Rome.
In the 5th century AD after the fall of Rome, the people of Arles used it as a shelter from the waring tribes around them and during Medieval times built over 200 houses inside the structure for protection. They added four towers to the top of the structure as fighting towers during the tribal wars. I thought that the thickness of walls of the structure was very impressive and was probably a good reason that the Amphitheater was still in such good condition. The Amphitheater is still in use today and a mock bullfight was held in it on May Day while we were there. It is now generally used for bull fights, plays and concerts.
We only had three days in Arles and were on our last leg of our trip. We could have spent a week there easily and still not have seen it all. It was so much better than Rome, fewer people, very clean and friendly. If we ever got back there I would definitely stay longer. I really enjoyed spending time looking at the old ruins that the Roman’s built.
There were two sites that we were anxious to see between Arles and Avignon. One was the medieval mountain fortress called Les Baux and the other was the ancient aqueduct built by the Romans called ‘Pont du Gard’. We took the last day of our time in Arles to make a drive north out of Arles to see both of those sites.
Les Baux –
The drive was easy and beautiful through the farms and vineyards of the Provence valley. As we neared the area of Les Baux, the area became hilly and then became several larger hills bordering on small mountains. On the largest of these, the Lords of Baux built their citadel on the rocky top of the highest peak with a bird’s eye view of their land below them. In the middle ages of the 11th century, the Lords of Baux were fierce warriors and the rulers of southern France. They (meaning their slaves) literally carved the castle out of the rock peak of the mountain.
We arrived at the base of the mountain just after the gates opened at 9 am and drove the vehicle up the one lane, switchback paved road to the base of the village. The mockup of the mountain pictured above gives an idea of the layout of the village below the peak and the castle built into the stone above.
We climbed up through the streets of village which was truly of medieval character although still inhabited villagers who’s sole income is from the tourist. All of it is still functional and livable although they no longer control the farmers and farmland below them.
At the top of village is a large plateau where once wars were fought using bows and arrows, swords and catapults (photo) to hurl stones at and over the castle walls. Originally two windmills were located there used to grind the grain that was grown on the valley floor.
The castle itself was located in and on the rock outcropping at the peak of the mountain. In the photo you can still see the outline of the castle at the top and it follows along the edge of the rock face to the location of the red flag. Along that wall is a sheer drop of over 750 feet to the valley floor.
Les Baux became part of the Provence area of France in the early 1400’s. The Lords of Les Baux did not accept the incorporation of their lands into France and struggled with the French King until the King destroyed the castle in 1483. Later the people of Les Baux became Protestants and fought against the Catholics. In 1632, Cardinal Richelieu again further demolished the castle to the condition that it is in today.
The entrance to the castle area is at the base on the left of the upper photo. The drawing at the gate indicates the original stone structure although all that is left of it is a stone shell.
Just beyond the gate was the main stone road into the castle area itself. The drawing implies what it was originally and the actual photo is what it looks like now.
This room that was cut into the solid rock was part of the structure seen in the centers of the two photos above.
Further into the castle grounds was an area that indicated the magnitude of the stone work that was involved in building the castle. The drawing of the same area indicates the typical fighting that might have occurred in that area.
Just beyond in a niche of the wall a small chapel was located and again a drawing of what it might have looked like at the time of it’s use. Significant to us was the depth into the stone that the chapel was cut and the ornate carving of the stone for the entrance and the chapel’s ceiling. The door at the back opened to stairs that were blocked off.
Near the back of the mountain was again a drawing of the main castle and a photo of the remains of it after being destroyed by the French Kings.
These photos show further destruction and the remains of the main building at the peak of the mountain. The upper castle was three stories high and the bottom floor was a huge hall with a ceiling over 20 feet high. The upper two stories were the living quarters of the Lords. It was said that the Lords were ruthless and they were known to throw people that they had captured for ransom off the top of the castle to the valley below, if the ransom wasn’t paid. These photos are from our vantage at the back of the castle from as high as we wanted to climb.
The view from the top of the mountain down the main street of the upper castle is the photo on the left and the village of the people of Les Baux in the photo to the right.
All of that and we were back to the car by 2 pm. We drove on from Les Baux to our next stop at –
Pont du Gard –
This Roman aqueduct is one of the most impressive constructions that we saw on the whole trip. It is part of an aqueduct to take water from the springs at Ezes to the city of Nimes. It was built about 50 BC and was used until the 6th century AD or about 550 years before it fell into disrepair.
The actual distance between the two sites is only 10 miles. However, the Romans aqueduct was 30 miles long taking advantage of the land to allow only a 40 foot drop in the water level over the 30 miles. The aqueduct bridge over the river Gardon, ‘Pont du Gard’ was originally ~1100 feet long and about 160 feet high (only 6 feet shorter than the Collosseum in Rome) and moved over 50 million gallons of pure spring water in 27 hours to the fountains and water system of Nimes.
The arch over the river was 80 feet wide and the widest arch ever built by the Romans. The limestone stones used in the construction were approximately 6 tons each and were cut with such precision that no masonry was used to hold the blocks together. Cement masonry was used to seal the walls and the floor of the water aqueduct. It was at the very top of the structure above the small arches.
The people on the walkway on the bridge gives you an idea of the immensity of the structure. The city off in the distance through the arch is Remouline. In the great flood of 1958, the water was flooding over top of the first tier of arches where the people are standing in the photo.
The bridge withstood the force of the water as it had withstood numerous floods in the past 2063 years! Note the triangle shaped stones at the base of the pillars that help separate the flood waters to pass through the arch openings and the thickness of the bridge walls.
The next day we were on the road again to the City of the French Popes:
I haven’t normally shown photos of the places that we have stayed on the trip, but we did think this one was quite unique. The small Hotel La Colbert was locate a couple of blocks from the train station and was another of the several excellent recommendations by Rick Steve’s travel books which we used to plan portions of our trip (the great rest was through Pat Gowen at Jade Travel).
The hotel was really fun! The bedroom was very bright with very modern pictures on the walls in a very old building. It had a small closet holding a toilet and adjoining bright colored larger closet shower and sink. It was very comfortable and clean and a fun change from many of our other accommodations. The downstairs was also bright with a colorful breakfast room filled with old antiques plus a quaint small outside patio (too windy & cool to use). The owners were very nice and accommodating.
The Palace of the Popes is one of the major attractions of Avignon and we took our time exploring it. It was a huge castle/palace of 6 different Popes (the French Popes) through the 14th century. The initial move was caused by the turmoil in Rome between warring factions and the French King moved the French Pope (Clement V) to Avignon creating the ‘Palais des Papes’.
The interior courtyard of the Palace was actually quite bare with a very large central stone paved court surrounded by the buildings shown above.
The entrance to the interior of the building was the arched doorway. We entered the rest of the palace through these doors that lead upstairs to a large empty room with vaulted ceiling.
We then realized that almost the entire palace was bare with the exception of a few wall frescoes and some sculptures.
From that part of the palace we walked into another courtyard that was covered with grass and was surrounded by other buildings. Again the rooms and the building interiors were bare although they had panels that explained the purpose of the various rooms. The also had displays holding various artifacts of the time with Popes.
As we came out on one of the room onto the upper walkways, we could look up across the courtyard to see the famous Golden Virgin Mary that stands on the pillar at the left entrance to the palace.
From there we were led down to a restored room that was a library of the palace and was now the official tourist store with the typical tourist memorabilia. From there down several flights of stairs to the exit of the palace.
Outside was the left entrance and another look of the Golden Virgin Mary. Note the touring tram at the base of the left entrance. We took that tour for a look at the rest of Palace area, the Rhone river bridge and the upper end of Avignon.
Saint Benezet Bridge was originally the only method of crossing the Rhone river except by boat. It was originally 22 arches long (3000 feet) extending from the base of the Palace of the Popes to the Tower of Philip the Fair which was the beginning of France. In 1668, it was destroyed by an ice flood except for the remaining four arches. Still standing is the original toll booth and a medieval hospital for the poor between the second and third arches.
On the tour, we also stopped by the Church of St. Pierre and it adjacent ancient ruins and gardens. It was a pleasant stop because the wind that day had been very strong and it gave us a good break out of the wind to just relax and enjoy the gardens.
On the side of one of the old buildings was some ornamentation that caught our eye.
On to Paris the next day and the last of our adventures in Europe.
The trip from Rome to Milan, then on to Genoa and the border of Italy by train turned out to be a beautiful although all day trip with several train changes. Again I must say that travel by train in Europe is the way to go. It’s clean, comfortable and much less expensive, plus you get to look at all the scenery. The trip from Genoa to the border was really beautiful as most of it was just along the coast with the sea on one side and the many towns and villages on the other. In the left photo is a mountain in the upper left that is still covered with snow not far from the French Riviera.
When we got to Nice the train station was only a few blocks from the hotel so we decided to walk. However, my directions were all screwed up and after wandering around for 10 blocks trying to find the right street, we finally took a taxi to the hotel (a 5 minute drive, but worth it). The Hotel Alba was very nice and centrally located with an easy walk to Vieux (Old) Nice. It was right on the major north-south street (Jean Medecin) of the city with a modern tramline that ran from upper Nice to the Fountain of the Sun and then northwest along Vieux Nice.
The street Jean Medecin stopped at the famous Place Massena and the semi-circle plaza with the Fountain of the Sun. The statue in the center is Apollo with other Roman and Greek Gods surrounding him.
Just beyond the fountain was the entrance to Cours Saleya and the Church called ‘St. Vrancious De Paule’. The Cours Saleya Is Nice’s famous main market place since the Middle ages. The first part of the street is the Flower Market, the largest in the Riviera followed by the Plassa dou Gouvernou, the produce market and then the famous Nice restaurant sections where we enjoyed most of our evening meals.
Two blocks beyond is the famous French Riviera with it’s long boardwalk and beautiful beach.
Next morning we took a tour bus ride to see the main highlights of Nice It’s large old 5-star Hotel called the ‘Le Negresco’ starts the promenade of casinos, hotels, jewelry and department stores all along the coast line.
One of the most unusual things we saw on the tour was this office building in the shape of a man’s head called ‘Blockhead’. The square upper part was actually offices in the block!!!
The bus tour took up through the hills and low mountains surrounding the beach part of Nice where many of the more affluent people lived. Above is the Regina Palace where Queen Victoria stayed on her visits to Nice in the late 1890’s.
The next morning was cloudy and cool and after a late morning breakfast, we again went down to the Vieux Nice to visit the Castle Hill, ‘Colline due Chateau’. The Greeks originally settled in Nice 400,000 years ago and built an Acropolis on the large hill at the east end of the Nice beach.
Later, it was occupied by the Romans and then during the middle ages a huge castle and fortification was built (shown in photo). In the early 1700’s, King Louis XIV destroyed the castle and fortifications and today all that remains are several levels of patios and walkways plus the ruins of an old church.
The climb to the top was rather questionable for two old blue hairs with over 300 steps to get to the top so we managed to locate the elevator and take the easy way!!
Our first view from the top was a look back over the famous Nice beach of the French Riviera from above. From here we could see the Bay of Angles all the way around to Antibes and Cannes, the long beach and boardwalk of Nice and the Old village of Nice below us. Because of the cloudy weather, the color of the water and building were not as brilliant as normal.
The areas below the large stone patios at the top of the hill contained a pavilion with beautiful stone sculptures such as this seahorse between the arches and the walkways were all done in stones and pebbles.
All along the walkways were beautiful stone mosaics of birds and animals.
All of the variations of color and design were done with small pieces of cut stone. The mosaics were built into a retaining wall that bordered the walkway up to the upper patios.
Partway up the path to the top of the Castle Hill were the remains of a Cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary which was built in the 11th Centery and is now in the process of being restored. It was part of the original castle that was built in the middle ages.
At the top of the hill a large stone patio with walls all along the edge of the hill. On the side above the Vieux Nice we could look down on the Market Place and the wonderful restaurants of Old town.
Further on toward the back of the hill was a view of the city of Nice from above and on the top of a mountain to the west was Mont Alban Fort. It was built in the mid-1500’s to protect the Ports of Nice and Villefrance.
As we walked down toward the back of the Castle Hill we found an old cemetery of Nice and a small mustard colored church at it’s end. And Jan can’t resist visiting old cemeteries. However, we had to be discreet because a Jewish burial was being conducted in part of the cemetery.
At the back of the hill we found the stairs that lead us back down into the Old town where we had dinner,
After dinner we walking back through the Place Massena to the street of Jean Medicine and saw a beautiful sunset. It was a fitting end to our day and the end of our visits to Vieux Nice as tomorrow the last day in Nice, was a tour of the middle Corniche above Villefrance-sur-Mer with a stop at the Midieval Village of Eze then a tour of Monaco.
VILLEFRANCE-sur-MER, MIDiEVAL EZE, and MONACO
Villefrance-sur-Mer according to Rick Steves is the romantic’s choice for staying on the French Riviera! We saw it from above and it was beautiful, but we were glad we stayed in Nice. The next morning, we were picked up at our motel by a young woman driving a Mercedes SUV for a tour of ‘The Three Corniches’. The cities of Nice, Villefrance-sur-Mer and Monaco are connected by three roads along the coastal route called the Low, Middle and High Corniches. The Low Corniche travels along the coastline by the port and by the sea. The Middle Corniche is part-way up the mountain through Eze-le-Village (the ‘Citi Midievale’) and had beautiful views of the costal villages and sea below and the High Corniche is 1600 feet about the sea with breathtaking views. We took the Middle Corniche with the fantastic view of Villefrance-sur-Mer below us. The village is a Port of Call for many Cruise ships and one was in the harbor that morning. On the hill at the left edge of the left photo held one of the most expensive villas of the French Riviera although we couldn’t see much of it.
As you will see by the photos, Eze-le-Village or Mideival Eze is built just below a mountain peak which originally supported a Castle built on the very top. The original castle was built 1400 feet about the sea on a shear cliff. The castle today is a ruins, but the village itself is still a viable, beautiful monument to the middle ages and still thrives as a tourist attraction and home to the villagers.
The climb to the top from a parking lot below the village is somewhat daunting, but very beautiful and well worth the effort.
As we started through the village, we continued climbing through cobble stone streets to the old ochre church called ‘L’Eglise’ (Notre Dame de Assomption) built in 1772. It is said that the church can be seen form the see for miles and miles on a clear sunny day.
The alter inside the church contains an Egyptian Cross indicating it’s ancient past. The ceiling of the church was very beautiful and lit by both outside light from the upper windows and lighting.
Outside the church on the large patio was the cemetery cut into the mountain side and well above it was the remains of the original castle. There was a winding rock stairs cut into the sides of the rock cliff up to the castle ruins. It was very steep and long and we didn’t have time to climb it even if we had been willing.
We spent the rest of our tour time visiting the medieval village. The streets were very narrow with stone or cobble-stone paving.
Several times the path upward entered through an opening with a tunnel to another part of the village.
One of the first things that caught our attention was the variety of doorways to the various residents. Not only were they very unique in design, we all of a sudden realized that almost all the doorways were not much more than 5 feet tall! It was an indication that most medieval people were much smaller than we are today. It would have been interesting to see what the heights of the ceilings were inside the homes.
The other thing that got our attention were all the plants, flowers and trees growing out of the rock. The entire village was cut out of the rock and made out of rock. There wasn’t one building in the entire village made out of wood and all the roofs were ceramic tile.
I would assume that it was necessary due to the hazard of fire. Even the final home at the very top of the village was covered with vines and flowers.
We both would have enjoyed more time in the village, but we still had another stop to make.
A trip to Monaco is a must do when you are visiting the French Riviera. However, it sure wasn’t a highlight of the trip as far as I was concerned. It was surprising how much you can put in a small amount of area. The principality Is 2.7 x 2.5 miles (0.78 square miles) containing 36,371 people and most of the area is taken by the castle hill above. We arrived at the base of the castle hill where the Jacque Cousteau museum is located with his first deep sea submersible located out front. I was glad I didn’t have to dive in it!!!
We arrived in time for the changing of the guard at the castle which is the big event of the day. We hurried up the hill to the castle and found ourselves at the back of a very large mob. We were able to see the new guards coming out of one side house and march through the crowd into the castle and then got to see a close up of one of the guards in his little cubical.
My impression of the whole proceedings was similar to the seagull on top of the statue at the edge of the castle (notice the white color of the statues shoulders!). We didn’t get to see Princess Grace or Prince Rainer or any of their children.
Actually the castle was an unusual combination of modern (ochre) and old (greg partially visible).
We then took a vehicle tour through the city to the famous casino and the adjoining Café de Paris. The casino didn’t open until 4 pm so we didn’t get to go inside which was a disappointment.
After a brief stop at the Café de Paris, we took a drive around the rest of Monaco to see the harbor of Monaco with all the fancy yachts and boats plus the location of the Grandprix of Monaco (as seen looking down from the hill above).
We drove down onto the track where it started and then through some of it before heading back to Nice and the end of our tour.
It was actually a very fun and interesting day and especially nice have our own tour guide. The highlight to us was the Medieval Village of Ese
Next on our visit was to the French region of Provence, the gastronomical base of lower France. It is located along the Rhone River where we stayed in Arles a few wonderful days to celebrate May Day, a visit to the medieval castle of Les Baux, the magnificent Roman aqueduct of Pont du Gard, then a visit to Avignon and the French Popes Palace.
“Hi! My name is Spike Jr., Jr., Jr., Jr. Grandpa Jon just calls me #4. He says too many Jr.’s is too complicated. Mom and I came over this evening to munch on some of the delicious willows that Grandpa and Grandma raise for us and Aunt Debbie and all of the Super Aunts are here watching us eat. So I thought I would just show off for them a little bit. You can watch me battling the willow bush later in the Blog. It was pretty sticky and poky. Grandpa wanted me to narrate this summer’s blog, but I would rather eat willows. So I will just let him do it for me. Be sure and watch me battle the willow.”
2014 ALASKA SUMMER
Well, I thought we had a new narrator, but he would rather eat than talk!
This has to be one of the more unusual summers that we have had since we opened the park. First of all it was one of the warmest winters that they have had. It created a lot of unusual events such as a very strong storm in November that blew down five of our tall white spruce trees. Richard Pierce sure helped me clean up around the park. Plus he cut up all the trees that had been knocked down by the wind. Then he and Doris cut and stacked the logs under the electric lines. One of them fell on the front corner of the well house and put a good dent in the roof and corner of the building. Fortunately, it didn’t knock the building down! We also had three broken water pipes this year when we turned on the water. Probably the most unusual was the fishing season. Huge numbers of red salmon came up most of the Alaska Rivers this year, very early except for the large numbers in the Kenai River, but that was the fault of the Alaska Fish and Game. More about that later, but we had a good year anyway!
The start wasn’t great and actually pretty scary. The day we arrived in Anchorage, someone started a brush fire just off the Funny River Road, southeast of Soldotna. As I said, it had been a very warm winter and also a very dry one. The fire quickly spread in the huge Kenai Wildlife Refuge toward the Sterling highway on the west and the Kasilof river on the south. The refuge covers a large part of the area east of Soldotna all the way to the Tustumena Lake on the south and into the Kenai mountains on the east. It is almost 1.9 million acres in size and most of it undeveloped. In two days, above is the sight that we saw from our deck looking to the north. The fire had traveled 15 miles to the Lake and along the Kasilof river pushed by strong northern, dry winds. Fortunately it was still east of the homes along the highway, but was getting uncomfortably close. At this point the fire was only about 5 miles from the park and we were getting ash from the sky. We were ready to vacate, but there was no way to move all the equipment and vehicles. A day later the weather broke. The wind changed and started blowing northeasterly and brought moisture from the ocean and inlet. This stopped the southwest movement of the fire and pushed off toward the north and east. We were saved! The fire went on to burn for the rest of the summer in the refuge. The last we heard it had burned more that 200,000 acres almost all of it wilderness. There was only one barn and one cabin burned.
Summer Projects – This year was the first year that we haven’t been building or modifying some of our facilities; however, there is always plenty to be done. Of course we did have to repair the well house, but I waited until Ryan and Todd were here to do that. Todd hauled all the cut logs down to the well house for splitting. Mark came up later and reworked our WiFi system. He added a new system and better antennas in the tree by the kitchen to cover the whole park with WiFi. Christine had come up during the red salmon season to help us with all the people coming and going in the park, then Mark came up the second week.
Moose in the Park – This was kind-of a mixed season in the park for moose. I think the fire had a lot to do with that. The fire caused a lot of moose, bear and other animals to flee it and many new ones came into the area sometimes pushing the other animals out. In this case our normal momma moose that raise their young in and around the park were pushed further south. Of course the one’s that hadn’t been around people much didn’t show themselves much. We didn’t have any trouble with the bears and never saw any sign of them. We did hear stories of them being around the area though. One of our local momma’s did come around early and as you can tell by her big tummy, she was carrying twins.Then she disappeared for almost a month. She did bring her babies back in the middle of July and they were growing pretty fast.
It was late summer while Jan’s sisters, cousin Marg, nephew Scott and daughter, Debbie were here that we had our next visitation from the moose. This time, one of our previous year’s calves who has now become a momma moose (wow has she grown!) and her baby who we have named #4 (for the previous Spikes). You saw them at the beginning, but you really need to take the time to watch this video. It is really cute and shows how playful the moose calves are. Thanks for the videos, Debbie. And thanks Christine and Mark for modifying them so they can be used in the blog.
And while they were here, Scott and Debbie took the pontoon boat out on Johnson Lake just to look around and have a boat trip. As usual, when you are out on the lake in a boat, the loons come around to pester you. If you catch a fish, they might just swipe it from you. The next video is the pesky loon. The first part is of the loon call which we hear almost every early morning (when we manage to get up) and every evening at dusk. The second part is of the loon calling to his mate and if you listen closely you can hear her answer him.
There are some more animal photos that I will show you later when you read about Skip, Debbie and Scott’s bear watching trip on Talon Air and our trip to Denali National Park.
Company – We had a wonderful time with all of our family and friends this summer. Having our family and friends come stay with us for a while is what makes the Kasilof RV Park so wonderful.
Sally was the first of our family to arrive on the 1st of July although since she has a 5th Wheel in the park, she is a regular. However, since I am slow in writing this, there is some news to share. Summer of 2013 Sally was introduced to Bob Bakkedahl at the Elks and they started enjoying each other’s company. This summer they spent a lot of time together and on the 18th of October they were married in Lawrence. Bob has a house in Soldotna so I guess Sally will no longer be a regular member of the park, but we will get to see her and Bob a lot every summer.
Ryan came just in time to start catching Reds and Cheri came a couple of weeks later. With the kids and her new job, she couldn’t get so much time off. Ryan is such a big help around the park when he is here and Cheri is such a delight to us all. Todd got to spend a couple weeks with us and also did a lot of work around the park and caught lots of fish too.
Christine came up during the heart of the fishing season and helped Jan with all the hassle of a full park of campers during the last two weeks of July. Mark joined her with us for the last week, got to do some fishing and upgraded our WiFi system. They even got to goof around on the pontoon boat in the lake.
I have an old friend (I have known him for 45 years from working with him at NASA) that has been wanting to bring his sons up to go fishing for several years. He and his wife, Penny had visited us in the fall of ’07. You may have remember the photos and the blog that year. Well he finally was able to make the trip with the boys this year. They flew into Anchorage and rented a camper, then drove down to the park and stayed a week with us. They were avid fishermen and did each manage to catch Reds plus they got to go Halibut fishing too.
Todd helped Charley, Bill and Aaron cook dinner on the fire grill for all of us that night. We certainly enjoyed all of that good food on the deck that evening.
Then after dinner, we all got to sit around the campfire and relax. Of course, the desert had to be So-Mores!
Our final family visitors were Jan’s sisters, cousin, nephew and daughter. They arrived on the 6th of August and I took Debbie, Scott and Marj fishing the next day. Their photos are in the fishing section. Jan took all of them to Homer to visit the sights and Sally went with them. Jan is on the left next to Debbie, then Donna, Sally, Skip across the table, Marj and Scott on the end.
Sister Sally makes the best pie crusts from a recipe she got from her mother-in-law so she had to give a lesson to all the girls. Debbie found a whole bag of berries, cranberries, raspberries and crow berries (AK blueberries) that we had picked last year around the park, so Marj, Debbie and Jan had to make berry jam. It is tasty too!
Then of course at the end of fishing season, we have to can the salmon strips with bones from the year’s catch. A salmon has a strip of bones on each side of the backbone just above the gut area. We always cut out this strip and cut them into small chunks, then freeze them. At the end of the summer, we can all of those chunks for our winter supply of salmon. This year we canned 192 1 pound cans and 48 pint jars of salmon. The above photo is just part of the bounty! Thanks for the help girls.
Just before Debbie and Scott left to go back to their homes, the two of them and Scott’s mom, Skip went on a float plane trip with Talon Air to view the bears and fish for Silver salmon (Cohos). The floatplane took them on a tour of the mountains and glacier across the Cook Inlet, then landed on a large lake below the glacier. There they got into a fishing boat and toured the lake watching the brown and black bears catching and eating the salmon.
Then Debbie and Scott got to fish for Silver salmon and caught their limit of three each. It was a wonderful trip and one we will want to repeat in the future.Part of that catch was cut into strips and smoked to make the best salmon jerky you could ever taste.
Denali Trip – After Debbie and Scott left, we planned a trip up to the Denali National Park. We loaded all five of us into Grace, our big old van and headed north.
Just as you cross the Nenana River just past the entrance to the park, the Grande Denali Park sit’s on the top of a mountain. It is just off the side of the highway at the entrance to the small town of Denali. It is truly a beautiful resort and the views from it are spectacular! The next morning, we took the bus ride tour into Denali National Park.
It was rainy and the skies were cloudy so we were unable to see Denali Mountain (Mt. McKinley), but we saw a lot of bears, caribou and Dahl Sheep. Unfortunately the caribou were too far away to get good photos of them.
The bus tour was almost 8 hours long and we went back into the park 94 miles. We had a wonderful time even with the cloudy and wet weather. On our way back home, we stopped at Talkeetna to look at the town and found a wonderful bakery with great food for lunch. We arrived back at the park that evening, tired, but happy with the great time we had together.
Fishing season – I will have to say that fishing was mixed this year. If you are interested in fishing for Kings (Chinook) salmon, it was not a good year. The King fishing is in a slump and the reasons are questionable. Many feel that it is due to the commercial fishery taking too many of the Kings before they can reach the rivers to spawn. Others, inlcuding me think that it is just the normal cycle of many species of fish. This past year was definitely a minimum number returning to the rivers to spawn and I think it will continue for a few more years so don’t plan on catching a lot of big Kings in 2015.
It was a banner year for Red fishing in Alaska. The warm waters in the ocean pushed the Reds in a couple of weeks early and there were a lot of them. The Copper River had a huge run two weeks early and the fish were thick in the river. The Kasilof River started the first week in June with large numbers going up river. There were so many fish in the Cook Inlet that Alaska Fish and Game (F&G) released all of the commercial fishermen, set-netters, drift-netters and purse netters to catch as many fish as they could. Unfortunately, they did catch almost all of them. That left the personal use dip netters and sport fishermen with very few Reds in the river to catch for their winter supply. It also kept the Fish and Game from meeting their goal of 750,000 to replenish the salmon stock for the future. The final score was commercial fishermen 40.7 million Reds and F&G with 550,000 up the river to spawn plus a bunch of pinks. All in all, the resident and sport fishermen were really upset with F&G!
Halibut was another problem and will be in the future. F&G changed the regulations for Charter boats with rod & reel fishermen to one outing a day. That really hurt the Charter boat people causing them to raise their day trip prices to $300-350 plus each fisherman can only keep one fish any size and the other has to be under 29 inches long (under 10 pounds). That makes Halibut very expense!
It was the first year Jan and I have had any success fishing for Reds in the Kasilof River. Jan took this picture of me and Richard, Doris (the 2 on the left) and others on a foggy morning just as the sun came up over the tops of the trees across the river. We would get up early and take Richard and Doris Pierce with us and find the good spots on the river before everyone got there. Jan and I caught 50 Reds in the Kasilof between June 16th and July 4th. They are smaller fish weighing 4 to 8 pounds whereas the second run Kenai Reds weigh 8 to 12 pounds.
The second run of the Kenai started on the 7th of July (also a couple of weeks early) with about 25,000 fish entering the river. Ryan arrived on the 9th and the next morning we decided to see if the fish were in the river yet. We caught our limit that day. From then on it was slow, but there were still enough fish in the river to catch your limit of 3 per day if you worked at it and we did. The run also lasted a long time and we caught fish up until the 29th of July. Plus we had a great time when Jan’s sisters, cousin, nephew and daughter came in early August.
Altogether, all of us caught 268 Reds, 9 Silvers and 58 Pinks. A banner year! So here are all the pictures.
We were persistent and everyone had a lot of fun!
Then everybody left except Sally and an occasional camper guest. We closed down the park a couple of days early (no Labor Day reservations) and rented a log splitter to make firewood out of all those trees that were blown down last winter. It was hard work, but in 2 ½ days, Jan and I have enough firewood to last for several years. Sally and Bob closed down her winterized it and then she left on the 3rd of September. Jan and I winterized the park after that and finished off the season on the 9th.
It was another wonderful summer in Alaska with lots and lots of good memories. Hope you enjoyed reading about it as much as we enjoyed living it. We would love to have you all come and enjoy it with us.
Sorry that it has taken so long to tell you about the next part of our trip to Europe. However, Alaska called and our summer was full. We had another good summer, but that will have to wait for a while. After spending a wonderful and very busy ten days with Debbie, Jordan and Kristina in Germany, Switzerland and Venice, Jan and I were ready for a break and some relaxation.
The area of the Mediterranean Sea in the northwest portion of Italy is called the Ligurian Sea. Mountains form most of it’s shoreline. Located between these mountains are canyons cut by the rivers from the land to the sea. In these canyons are five (cinque) small fishing villages (terre, meaning land) called the Liqurian Riveria. These five villages are about as picturesque as any place on earth.
Monterosso al Mare – village #5, April 18th through April 23rd.
It turned out that Cinque Terre was the perfect spot for our break! It was late April and the summer sun worshipers had not yet arrived so we were able to rent a beautiful room above the beach in Monterosso al Mare for five days. We arrived by train on Friday afternoon of Easter weekend. The next day was cloudy with a little rain so we just relaxed for a day, occasionally walking around the village.
The village is separated into two parts, the northern beach area is called Fegina, the new town and has a long semi-circle beach. Our beautiful room was on the third floor of the third building past the aqua building with the red roof.
This picture is the view to our north with the boardwalk and beach below us.
Jan is standing on our deck on the third floor. The right is the view to the south down the beach to the Medieval Tower called Aurora.
It was originally built to protect the Old Town from the pirates and invaders during the dark ages. During the war, it was used to protect against invasion. Note the pillbox below the tower just above the water level.
Just beyond the Aurora Tower is the ‘Old Town’ of Monterosso al Mare. The coastal railroad runs all along the Italian western coastline from Rome to Genoa and to the border with France. You can see the trestle of the tracks separating the beach from the buildings of the town. In the background, the sides of the mountains are terraced for grape vines and olive trees. There is very little land for farming and most of the livelihood of the locals come from fishing and tourism.
Just inside the railroad trestleis the old church, San Giovanni Battista.
It was beautiful inside mostly in white and black marble; however, we were not allowed to take flash photos and it was too dark.
The village was built into the sides of the mountains, thus the homes and businesses were stair stepped up the sides of the canyon walls.
The businesses and restaurants occupied the bottom floors of the buildings along the main walkways up the canyon away from the ocean.
Most of the buildings were 3 or 4 stories high with the family dwellings on the upper levels. There were stairs between some of the building off the side of the main streets leading up to the upper levels of dwellings, churches and official buildings.
Autos were not allowed down from the upper end of the streets; however, they could travel down from the mountain roads running through the area to parking areas at the ends of the streets. Most of the supplies came by truck from the larger towns in the area or from the boats at the beach.
The exception to allowing auto and truck traffic to the beach was made in the new town of Fegina where the roads from above came down to the boardwalk and there was a parking area just above the beach to the north of our building.
The food was great with lots of seafood as would be expected.
We found a great restaurant called ‘Miky’ just down the boardwalk from our room and enjoyed a wonderful meal of calamari, both deep fried and grilled.
And of course we had to sample the local wine! Good!
Easter Sunday – April 20th
We awoke to the sun shinning brightly through our patio windows. We couldn’t help but to go out of the deck. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and it was deep blue, the ocean below us that clear aqua-blue green that was sparkling clear. It seemed that you could see all the way to France. It was a great day to go exploring the other four villages of the Cinque Terra. We had our good morning coffee and some local pastries and headed for the train station for the short hop to the first village of the group.
Oops, so did a lot of other tourists decide to take the train sightseeing. Although the crowd looks big, there was a lot of room on the train so there was no problem finding a seat. The trains in Europe are great. In Cinque Terre, there were local trains that went between the five villages, Levanto the city to the north and La Spezia to the south. We bought two daily tickets for 3 euros ($4.20) and could ride the local trains as many times as we wanted. The local trains were the only trains in Europe that don’t run on schedule!
Riomaggorie – village #1, morning April 20th.
The village of Riomaggiore was very beautiful from the sea. Like Monterosso al Mare, it was nestled in two adjoining canyons; however, the coastline here was rocky cliffs down to the sea. Riomaggorie has no beaches. There were two ways to get from the north side to the south side by foot. One was a tunnel along the railroad tracks from the station (note the trestle on the left) to the mid-village on the right. Or the second, along a walkway located between the villages about half way up the side of the cliffs separating the two. Similar to all five villages, they were built in the canyons carved by the rivers flowing out of the local mountains. Therefore, all of the buildings are stair-stepped up the sides of the canyon walls. Also unique to the costal area, the building are painted with a variety of bright pastel colors giving the coastline a beautiful picturesque scene.
In Riomaggiore, we were greeted with a colorful scene of the village people accomplishing their everyday labors as we walked along the railroad tracks to the southern part of the village.
Due to the steep canyon walls of these villages, the buildings seemed very close or almost jammed together, but very pretty with their vibrant pastel colors. We walked down to the sea by the main street of the village where the break-water rocks provided access for the many small fishing boats to reach the sea.
There was no beach at all, just the sea coming directly up to the concrete ramp where the fishing boats are launched. All along the main street were the many businesses and restaurants of the village.
Following Rick Steves’ tour, we climbed up the stairs to the upper left at the level of the local church, Saint Giovanni Batista built in 1340 (named after the church in Monterosso al Mare).
From the church, we entered the walkway from the south village to the north village of Riomaggorie.
It was a very scenic walkway along the edge of the cliff overlooking the sea and the buildings of both villages. As we were walking along, we could see the train station below us with a train waiting for people to load. The cove below was very beautiful with small ocean wave crashing against the rocks and shore line.
The north part of Riomaggiore was not as large as the south part andwe took our time walking on down into the village. After touring through the shops and stores along the main street, we made our way down to the railroad station to catch the next train to Manarola, the next stop of the five villages.
The train took a long time to come and there was quite a crowd waiting for it arrival. Then we all heard a trumpet playing some Italian songs above us on the walkway where we had looked down at the station. While he was playing, the crowd got very quiet and then as the train pulled into the station, everyone gave a cheer and started clapping a thank you to the trumpeter.
Manarola – village #2, April 20th afternoon.
Manarola, like Riomaggiore has no beach and is part of the same rocky, cliff like most of the southern villages of the Cinque Terre. It does have a deep water swimming area and a boat launch for the local fishermen. Set high on the cliff side of the canyon, it is one of the most scenic of the five villages. We arrived by train just after lunch in the center of the village and again followed Rick Steve’s suggested tour.
In this case it turned out to be following the red brick road to the top of the village. After the first stairway up along a section of old rock wall from a very old structure, the red brick road led us up through the narrow walkways between the residents.
Note the crosswalks above us along the way. These were actually narrow walkways perpendicular to the path we were climbing that led to residents along the side of the canyon wall. As we walked along the last section of the red brick path, the edge dropped
In this case it turned out to be following the red brick road to the top of the village. After the first stairway up along a section of old rock wall from a very old structure, the red brick road led us up through the narrow walkways between the residents. Note the crosswalks above us along the way. These were actually narrow walkways perpendicular to the path we were climbing that led to residents along the side of the canyon wall.
As we walked along the last section of the red brick path, the edge dropped steeply down to other buildings and residents below us. At the top of the path, it opened to a wide piazza with an overlook of the village below and street leading down to the waterfront.
At the waterfront, there is steep drop into sea. The boats are brought up to the storage areas when not in use.
To the right was the swimming area where young people were diving off the rocks into the sea. The last photo of the series is of the right hand side of the waterfront. There is a pathway around the side of the hill next to the village that leads up to the village cemetery.
It was interesting so we walked up to the top of the hill where there was a typical European burial area consisting of crypts surrounding a central mausoleum.
The outside crypts were built into the surrounding walls and could be for either casket burial or cremated remains. The mausoleum had facilities for cremated remains only. As in Switzerland, it looked like the burials were only for a limited period of time (25 years?) for the family to honor the departed and then the remains were moved into a common crypt site. Most of the crypts had ceramic photos of the deceased, the birth and death dates, and an area for flowers. There were no ground burial sites in the area and the grounds were well kept with flowers and bushes.
Leaving the cemetery, we walked on around the point of the cemetery hill and down the path back to the village. Along the way was the beautiful view of the village and waterfront below us. Note also the tour boat that was docked at the base of the cliff along the breakwater rocks. On our last day in Cinque Terre, Jan and I would spend the day touring the Cinque Terre and the beautiful town of Pontovenere at the end of the peninsula (more about that later).
Corniglia – village #3, April 21st.
Corniglia is an ancient Roman village and is the only one of the five villages that doesn’t have direct access to the sea. It is over 330 feet (100 meters) above the sea. There are 377 steps up a stairs from the railroad station to the village. We chose to climb the switchback-paved road from the station to the top of the village.
The walk up was supposed to be good for us, but later we paid the bus driver to take us back down!!! Never-the-less, the walk up was interesting because the mountainside was terraced with all kinds of olives, grapes, flowers and vegetables and the small old village was fascinating.
At the very top of the village was the old church built in 1334. From the outside, it was not impressive at all, but inside was a wonder to behold.
The inside of the church was incredible. The ceilings and the side naves were beautiful with paintings and artifacts that would later rival those we would see in St. Peter’s Basicilia and the Sisteen Chapel in Rome although obviously they were not painted by Michelangelo.
There also was a baptismal basin that was from the 1100’s! Who would have thought that this little old and common-looking church on top of the mountain would be so beautiful inside.
The village itself was not spectacular. It did have direct access to the highways above in the mountains so there were cars on the streets and buses which took you up and down the road to the railroad station. At the end of the road in the village was a parking area and a nice restaurant although we didn’t eat there as it was too late for lunch and too early for dinner.
The area below and above the village was terraced for gardens, vineyards, olive orchards and flowers. They obviously grew lots of produce and eventually sold it to other villages in the area because the parking lot was large and at the outter edge was a loading dock for a tram that carried produce down from the town to the small dock area at the sea (and probably brought some essentials back up).
Although it was very small, the village was very picturesque and the village church was very impressive. We took this photo as we were traveling back on our boat trip back to Monterosso al Mare.
Vernazza – village #4, April 21st
Vernazza is considered the most beautiful village in Italy. I would agree, but there is a lot of competition in the Cinque Terre. The village was settled in 1000 AD for fishing due to its direct access to the Ligurian Sea from the end of the main street.
Harbor square was built higher to provide a place to store the many boats of the village during the rough seas of the winter months and to provide an ample seating for the local restaurants during the summer tourist season. The church of Saint Margherita di Antiochia was built in 1318 on a huge rock that was anchored at the edge of the harbor. There is a local legend that after a storm a wooden box floated onto the huge rock containing the bones of Saint Margaret. A church was built in the village in honor of her and her bones were placed inside. Later another storm destroyed the church and most of the village. Years later the box of bones again washed up on the rock at the edge of the harbor and the new church was built on the rock in which her bones still reside.
In most of the villages of the Cinque Terre, the original rivers cut out the canyons where the villages are now located. The early village buildings were built on each side of the river up the canyon walls. As the villages grew, they covered the river with rock sides and a roof to create a channel and a street to connect each side of the village.
Above Vernazza, a terrible downpour occurred in the mountains in the fall of 2011 causing a flash flood that overwhelmed the channel and destroyed most of the businesses on the main street. It also cut a tunnel through the mountainside to the bay. You can see the tunnel just beyond Jan in the photo on the left and the opening into the bay on the right photo.
Again we used Rick Steve’s guide to explore the village of Vernazza. We were surprised that the village also used the red brick path to show the way to some of the more interesting features.
In this case it led to an ancient stone wall and gate very near the top of the canyon.
On the other side of the gate were another piazza overlooking the village below and the base for the ancient stone church ruins. It was interesting that the tower of the church had not been destroyed or had been rebuilt and the clock mounted on the outside still worked with the correct time.
Below on the opposite canyon wall was a castle tower and the stonework ramps and stairs leading up to it. The castle was still in use as a hotel and restaurant. Further down the canyon is the Belforte castle built on the top of the cliff above the bay with the main village buildings and the harbor below. It was built above the harbor as a tower fort to repel the many pirates that frequented the Ligurian Sea during the 1500’s.
Portovenere – Italy’s hidden gem! – April 22nd
We took a day boat ride from Monterosso al Mare to Portovenere stopping at each of the villages of the Cinque Terre along the way. Many of the previous photos from the sea were taken from the boat. We had originally planned to continue around the islands below Portovenere as part of the trip, but when we saw the church on the toe of St. Peter’s (the name of the peninsula at the entrance to Portovenere) and the castle above it we got off the boat to explore.
We were totally unaware of the beauty of Portovenere until we approached from the sea. Rick Steve’s had hardly mentioned it other that to say it was interesting. As we came down the coastline, the first thing we could see was the outline of the castle-fort and the church on the point at the entrance to the Portovenere bay. It looked interesting and as we got closer it became very interesting.
As we entered the bay it was obvious that we had a lot of things to see while we were there and quickly decided to leave the boat while it toured around the other islands and then pick it up again for the return trip to Monterosso al Mare. Below the church on the point was the remains of another fort with holes for gun ports to cover the entrance to the bay.
Further along was the start of another village with the multi-colored pastel buildings characteristic to the Cinque Terre area and most of Italy’s sea-coast towns.
We were later to find that church on the point was called Saint Peter’s. (The point of land that it sat upon was called ‘Saint Peter’s Toe”!) The original village of Portovenere (then called Portus Veneris, was an ancient Roman village started in the 1st century BC. Above the homes and businesses in the old village of Portovenere was the castle on top of the hill and the gate to the castle at the end of the village with the enclosed stairs up to the castle. The castle was started by the Doria family in 1139 and named ‘Andrea Doria’. It was rebuilt in 1169 by the province of Genoa and then modernized into a fort in the 15th and 16th centuries. The church above the center of town is called the ‘Parrocchia dei SS. Pietro Lorenzo and was build 1204. It was a beautiful old church along the pathway below the castle.
Above and behind the village buildings was a stone walkway out to the end of Saint Peter’s Toe. There stood the church of Saint Peter that was built in 1198. Below it was the ruins of the fortifications with the gun ports and the platforms for the cannons that protected the entrance to the bay. In front and to the side of the church are the ruins of the barracks and buildings that held the soldiers who protected the bay, the castle and the village.
Above the church was the castle and the stairs climbing past the barracks to the base of the castle/fort.
From this point the stairs became narrow stone paths with stone walls on each side and began a winding pattern to climb up to the base of the castle. It was obvious that the paths were built to make it difficult for raiders to attack the fort from the sea. From this point of view, the castle was quite massive and a formable fortress.
Just below the castle face above the sea was the cemetery. It was almost cut out of the cliff side to provide terraces for the crypts and burials. It was actually a quite beautiful resting place.
This pathway ran all along the base of the castle with the church below it.It wound down through the village as you got beyond the church with interesting stone niches.
A typical example was this marble measuring container with the date of 1606 carved into the side. It was used to measure liquids or grains by placing a stopper in the hole, pouring the basin full and then removing the stopper to let the liquid pour into a bucket.
We would have liked to have more time to visit the castle and its ground and to look through the old church. Unfortunately, the tour boat was due to leave shortly and it was the last one of the day to return us to Monterossa al Mare.
This was our last look at St. Peter’s Toe, the Church and the fort as we left Portovenere.
HEADING BACK TO CINQUE TERRE
where we spent 5 wonderful days! It was a restful time, yet a very busy time with so many things to see and do. We truly enjoyed it!
Village #1 – RIOMAGGIORE
Goodbye to Cinque Terre until next time!
ROME IS NEXT!
ROME – April 23rd to 26th
We were asked: “Do you mean you are only staying two full days in Rome, the most beautiful ancient city of the world?”
Our answer after two days in Rome: “YES! It is too crowded, too busy, too many cars and too dirty!”
I guess that response is a little bit too much, but it was all of those things. Part of our problem was that we were there between Easter Sunday and the Canonization of two previous Popes and there were too many people to really enjoy all of the things that Rome had to offer. Besides, we had just come off five days on the Cinque Terre and everything and everyone in Rome overwhelmed us. And the other thing is that Rome is for the glorification of the Catholic religion and if you are a Catholic, that is great! But we are not.
SAINT PETER’S BASILICA
Our first morning there we decided to get up early and go to the Vatican and see Saint Peter’s Basilica. We took the underground rail transportation for the first time in Rome and it was an experience. It took awhile to figure out the Italian names and routes, but we finally got to the Vatican just after 8 am.
We entered St. Peter’s square through one of the colonnades. Surprisingly, the lines were still short and we were able to get into St. Peter’s In about 15 minutes.
Saint Peter’s Basilica was huge! It is 500 feet wide by 750 feet long and 452 feet high. The main dome’s diameter is 137.7 feet. It was finished in 1626.
The Pope’s window and deck is in the upper center of the building where he waves and addresses the people in the square. The three openings in the center of the building are the entrance doors to the interior of the Basilica. The three domes of the Basilica are not apparent in the photo, but the main one is in the center near the rear and the two smaller ones are on the left and right sides near the front. The large arched entry to the right is the back entrance to the Sistine Chapel (as we were to find out later much to our dismay).
Had we known that the large arched doorway on the right side of the basilica was the back entrance to the Sistine Chapel, we could have saved ourselves a very, very long wait and what wound up to be a frustrating peek at the Sistine Chapel the next morning. Oh well, sometimes even Rick Steves doesn’t know all the answers.
Entering the central door on the front brings you directly into the walk to St. Peter’s altar in the back of the Basilica. The walk is roped off and has red velvet side curtains to keep the public away. At the end of the walk is the huge 98 foot tall bronze pavilion called a Baldachin. It is the largest bronze art work in the world. Below it in the center is the altar of St. Peter. Legend states that his bones are buried beneath the altar. In the apse behind it the chair in bronze that St. Peter used when he was the first Pope.
Above the bronze Baldachin is the large dome of the Basilica in hues of blue, white and gold. The walls and ceilings were painted frescos and works of art. The entire interior without considering all of the magnificent sculptures, works of art and treasures was magnificent. It seemed that every square inch of the interior was dedicated to something religious and gold was everywhere.
The smaller left dome and smaller right dome on each side at the upper front was a typical example of how gold was used to highlight areas of the structure. All of the naves along each side were also richly done with gold and painted panels highlighting the particular altar, sculpture, painting or treasure.
I decided not to show any particular sculpture, painting or treasure in the blog. We took over 75 photos of the various art works including the enormous 4 saints sculpted in marble that were at least 30 feet high or Michelangelo’s ‘Pieta’ (Mother Mary holding the crucified Jesus) or one of the remains of the Pope’s in their golden coffins with glass sides. How do you choose between them? You have to see them in person to truly appreciate them.
By 10 am, the basilica was full of people and it was becoming difficult to get close enough to the sites of interest to even see them. We had stayed inside St. Peter’s for over two hours. As we left the interior of the cathedral there were two of the Swiss Guard in their colorful uniforms standing guard.
When we walked out into St. Peter’s square, the line had grown. It was now 5 to 6 people wide where had started when we arrived earlier and it extended all around St. Peter’s square and down the street several blocks. I seriously doubt that all those people managed to make it into the basilica by the end of the afternoon.
Saint Peter’s Square
The square was very large and you can see the people standing in line. In the center is the Egyptian Obelisk, called ‘The Witness’. It stands 130 feet high and is made of red granite. The Obelisk stood in the city of Heliopolis, Egypt during the reign of the Fifth Dynasty of Egypt (2300 BC). There are also two large fountains on each side of the obelisk built in the 1600’s.
During the middle ages there was a gilt ball at the top of the Obelisk with the Christian Cross above it. It was believed to containe the ashes of Julius Caesar. Fontana later removed the ancient ball that stood at the top of the Obelisk and opened it and found nothing but dust! (??? What ever happened to ‘from ashes to ashes and dust to dust’?)
There is literally a church on every corner in the heart of Rome. I don’t know where they find enough people to support them all, but I suppose that the Catholic religion supports them all. The nice thing about having a church on every corner is that the art work and the sculptures are magnificent such as these on the other corner of the previous photo. However, I have no clue who the created the sculptures of who and what they are of and I was unable to find them on the internet. It was probably in the inscription along the top, but I can’t read Latin.
One thing that really turned us off was that the sidewalks and street gutters were coated with cigarette butts. They sure don’t add to the beauty of the city or improve the smell! Plus Rome is very expensive, the rooms, food and especially the Vatican tours.
So we decided to just walk around the city during the afternoon and finally caught the double-deck touring bus to cover the city’s famous areas.
Rome wasn’t all ancient ruins and Catholic churches. This was the Monumennto Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuelell II, who was the first King of Italy in 1861. The monument is 260 feet wide by 390 feet tall and was built on Capitone Hill replacing ancient Roman ruins and medieval churches.
Of course there were things that were of interest to us like this shop of figurines, sculptures, roman heads and other miscellaneous to decorate your tomb or crypt when you die. This small shop was in an open alleyway off one of the main streets.
There were beautiful ruins that had been kept and somewhat restored such as the Basilica Saint Mary of the Angels and the Martrys very near the railroad station. It was originally Roman baths converted to the Basilica in 1564 by Michelangelo.
The Castel Sant’Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel) was originally built by Emperor Hadrian for his burial mausoleum.
His ashes were placed in the mausoleum in 139 AD and were later destroyed by the Goths. It became part of the Catholic Church due to it’s proximity to the Vatican. In the 14th century, Pope Nicholas III converted it to a prison and remained a prison until 1901, when it was renamed Castel Sant’Angelo.
Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel
Since we had such good luck with the crowds at St. Peter’s Basilica, we decided to get up early again and try the crowds at the Vatican Museum to see the Sistine Chapel. We were not so lucky this time. By our arrival at 8 am, the crowd was already three blocks long; however, it was moving forward. Thirty minutes later the street filled up with tours and they went to the head of the lines. The lines slowed to almost a standstill. The street hackers kept trying to sell us tickets to move to the front of the line for $30 each, but we found out that the tickets did not include the museum entrance price. And like St. Peter’s, the original attraction ticket we purchased when we arrived does not include anything at the Vatican!
We declined the front of the line tickets out of disgust and pig-headedness and stayed in the line! Three hours later we finally reach the front of the museum. Upon entering the lobby, we found we had to pay another $30 each to be herded through the museum.
Herded was a very apt description! Growing up on a farm, I remember pushing a herd of cattle through narrow walkways to get them cull, separate or load them in trucks. That was exactly like it was in the museum and the chapel. There were people as far as you could see in front of you and behind you. There were long halls with lighted ceilings, slightly larger rooms with exhibits that you couldn’t stop to see if you wanted to because you were being rushed along with the crowd. It seemed like the lighted ceiling hallways went on forever and up and down stairs through lots of doors.
Finally we entered a large room with a 6 foot metal fence with a gate in the middle of it. It was stuffed with people and they were slowly moving through the iron gate in the middle and on toward another door in the corner. By opening up the view screen and holding up the camera above my head, I was taking pictures with the camera of the paintings on the ceiling as we were being shuffled along. When we got to the doorway, I asked Jan when we were going to get to the Sistine Chapel and she said, “That was it!”
Actually I did get some good pictures of the ceiling of the chapel which is so famous for Michelangelo’s paintings.
Some statistics about the Sistine Chapel for you to get a feeling of it’s size. It is 134 feet long, 44 feet wide and 68 feet high. When we were in the room, their had to be at least 1500 people milling around in it, most trying to get through the iron gate and out the far door!
Between 1502 and 1512 Michelangelo painting the ceiling with the scenes out of Genesis. The center painting of the ceiling is God giving Adam the spark of life. I am sorry it isn’t more in focus, but it’s hard to get a clear picture above your head being pushed along.
Noah and the Ark in the flood. Boy, the painters during that time sure like to paint nudes (?), now it would be called Porn!
Once out the door, we walked down some stairs and through a short hall with a ticket booth, then out a door on the landing of a stairs. It was not quite 12:30. We had just been herded through 54 galleries of the Vatican Museum in an hour and a half seeing very little but the ceilings. On the bottom of the stairs was a stone paved area between the museum and St. Peter’s Basilica. At the end of the area was the arched door at the front of St. Peter’s Basilica that we had seen yesterday morning when we came out of the basilica. Had we known at the time, we could have walked through the arched door and up the stairs, paid the entrance fee and walked into the Sistine chapel from the back door!
The Ruins of Rome
Our last afternoon in Rome, we took the underground out to the Colosseum and the ruins of ancient Rome.
The Arch of Constantine is a triumphal arch situated between the Colosseum and Palatine Hill. It was built by the Roman Senate to commemorate the victory of Emperor Constantine over Maxentis in 312. It is 69 feet high, 85 feet wide and 24 feet thick and has three arches. During the 1960 Olympics held in Rome, it was the end of the marathon. It is currently being renovated and cleaned thus has metal platforms for cleaning over half of it.
The Colosseum was huge and parts were well preserved, restored and renovated. As you can see from this photo, the unrestored, original exterior back wall was three stories high. The original blocks of stone are well defined and holes in between the stones indicate how the exterior finish was attached although the attachments have decayed allowing the exterior façade to crumble off. Most of this area toward the back of the Colosseum is blocked off although people from the tours inside are allowed out to the exterior.
The original blocks of rock are exposed at the top of the wall in the photo on the left including the unusual pattern of interlocking various sizes of rocks to tie the structure together.
Where as the photo on the right shows the more finished wall with the brick facing covering on the rocks. In addition, it indicates where the original different levels of the bleachers or viewing platforms were located. It isn’t obvious whether the openings allowing ventilation inside the structure or were providing views of the surrounding area from the inside.
Looking though one of the arched openings we could see a large tour on the inside of the structure, several different levels of structures for seating or balconies, the break in the colosseum floor and the catacombs below the floor where the contestants and animals were kept.
Walking around the front side of the Colosseum, an earlier renovation had taken place on the left side and note that the structure is four stories high on this side. As we looked further around this side, they were continuing to renovate it with the metal framing to work on it and part of it had been completely restored. Note also the large crowd at the base of the building. This was the crowd waiting to use their passes to see the interior. The line continued around the base in the left photo under the trees. Although we would have liked to use our passes to see the interior, we decided we didn’t want to wait in that line especially after this morning.
A parting shot at the commercialization of Rome were the Roman Gladiators standing around at the base of the Colosseum waiting to get their picture taken with the tourists.
It was obvious that there are still many, many ruins of the old Roman city nestled between new buildings and houses in the current city. This photo is an example of the many ruins that Italy is still in the process of studying, restoring or rebuilding. Below the trees in the photo are buildings and equipment used to work in the old ruins and the restored tower in the lower part of the photo is part of the restoration.
We were to see many, many more Roman ruins as we travel on the rest of our trip to the southern coast of France and the beautiful cities of Arles and Avignon, and the Pont du Gard, but that is for another blog coming after our Alaskan Summer.
A year ago Debbie started talking about a visit to Jordan in Ukraine. Jordan was teaching English with the Peace Corp there. Debbie’s daughter-in-law, Kristina had been to Europe and wanted to go with her. It interested Jan and I also, so we decided to go with her. However, they could only stay for 10 days and we decided that we wanted to spend more in Europe because it would probably be our last opportunity to go.
We began to develop our plans which included a few days in Ukraine, travel to Switzerland to visit the Andregg relatives, then a few days in Venice, then Debbie, Jordan and Kristina would go on to Paris. Jan and I decided to spend more time in Italy and then in France before flying back home from Paris.
Our plans were changed when Russia invaded Ukraine! The Peace Corp brought Jordan back to the US early and US travel was not recommended in February so the Ukraine part of the trip was canceled. We already had tickets and reservations to go. Debbie got Jordan a ticket to go back to Europe with us, so on the 10th of April we met in DC and flew to Munich for the first leg of our trip.
Jan and my trip lasted 27 days with additional stays on the Italian Riviera (Cinque Terre), Rome, Nice, Arles, Avignon and Paris. A truly wonderful trip with many, many things to see and do that resulted in lots of photos (almost 4550 from two cameras and iPhones including some of Debbie and Jordan) and two really exhausted old grey hairs! So as to not bore you, we have been spending our time reducing the photos to the minimum and the best to share the story with you. We are breaking up the blog into sections to feed you a little at a time so you won’t get totally bored, plus we have to deal with all these photos!
April 10-12 Munich
We really hadn’t planned to stop in Munich other than to change planes to fly to Lviv, Ukraine. When our plans had to change, we decided to stop in Munich and take a train to Switzerland. That layover allowed us to spend an afternoon enjoying the Old Town area of Munich.
You enter the Old Town area through this beautiful gate called the Karistor in the heart of the city. The gate is a replica of the gothic gate of the medieval fortification. The very broad promenade called the Karlsplatz leads through businesses and shops along with very old buildings, churches and cathedrals.
Just inside the gates was Saint Michael’s Cathedral, which was originally built in the mid-1200’s. It is not clear what happened to it during WWII as much of Munich was destroyed by Allied bombs; however, the interior was very beautiful.
A few blocks on down the promenade at the Marienplatz was the old Rathaus building built in the late 1800’s with its famous Glockenspiel. The Glockenspiel was built to honor the marriage of Duke Wilhelm V of Bavaria. It played that day at 12 pm and shows two knights jousting on the carousel with the Duke and his bride watching above.
We watched from below at the outdoor café in the plaza eating lunch and enjoying a Bavarian beer!
After lunch, we walked on to the end of the promenade where the old town hall is now a Toy Museum, then we walked around the corner to the market platz.
There were about 10 to 15 permanent booths with about every kind of cheese, olives, breads, fruits, vegetables, meats, wines, sodas, flowers and plants plus a couple of crafts and nick-nack tourist booths. It was obvious that the locals and tourists in the know came here to eat lunch or snack. I had wished we had known about it earlier!
By that time, we were beginning to run out of steam as we had been on the airplane from DC from 5pm the previous evening and arrived in Munich at about 9 am that morning. Our excitement was beginning to give way to tired, but we had one place that was a must to visit to complete our afternoon in Munich.
The original Hofbrauhaus and brewery was built in 1859 by Duke Wilhelm V, the Bavarian Duke and obviously, he did enjoy his home brewed beer! And you just can’t visit the Hofbrauhaus without sampling one of their famous brews. Even for a died-in-the-wool Pale Ale fan, you just can’t help but enjoy a full mug of fresh Bavarian beer light or dark!
April 12-16 Zurich – Bern, Switzerland
A good nights sleep (much needed by all) and then a fun and beautiful train ride from Munich to Zurich, Switzerland.
We arrived in Zurich in the afternoon and met our first member of the Andregg family, Freddie Pressig at the Zurich train station. He helped us get oriented and rent a car for our trip through Switzerland. He had been part of the family that had come to Hoxie, Kansas to meet their Andregg cousins.
One of our reasons to travel through Switzerland beside just enjoying the wonderful scenery and people was to meet Jan, Debbie and Jordan’s relatives that still lived in Switzerland.
That evening at our hotel in Zurich, Freddie’s cousin, Elisabeth Gressbach met us for dinner and they had a great time talking about the cousins and Switzerland. We all had dinner together and had a great time talking about relations and past meetings, plus Elisabeth gave us all a lot of information about Switzerland, where to go and what to see.
The next morning, Elisabeth led us to the Evangelical Church in Flawil, Switzerland where Debbies’ great-great grandfather and grandmother were married in 1878. The church was originally built in 1257 as a catholic church and remained that way until 1771 when it was changed to an Evangelical church. The church was rebuilt again in the late 1980’s.
We were there on Palm Sunday and were able to attend the service. The sermon was given by a young woman pastor (in black next to Elizabeth and Jordan) who spoke in Swiss-German. The church was very plain on the inside with hand-built wooden pews although the ceiling was painted with ornate designs and the chandeliers were beautiful. The cemetery behind the church was small with beautiful flowers on all the graves. The tradition there is to cremate the remains and place them in the plots for 25 years for the families. Then the remains are removed and placed in a common crept in the cemetery.
After church, we drove back to Zurich to Elisabeth’s home and met her daughter, Christina and granddaughters. We all went to lunch at a local Pizza place then took a ride to the nearby Troggenburg area and the gondola at Mt. Gamplut where you can ride the Trotti bikes down a paved path to the small village in the valley below.
Trotti bikes have no seat, but have a platform to stand upon. They also have no gears or peddles, they are a scooter. The beginning of the path is shown in the photo. In the background across the valley is the Churfirsten range of the Alps with the highest mountains reaching 2200 meters (7200+ feet).
Our group picture was taken below Mt. Schafberg where a younger Elisabeth and her late husband used to climb in the winter and ski down! Elisabeth is in the yellow coat, her daughter, Christina in the green coat, then Jon, Jan, Debbie and Jordan. Kristina was taking the photo.
The youngsters insisted that they had to ride the modified (fat wheel) Trotti bikes down the path to the base of the gondola while us old grey hairs decided to travel the old fashioned way, walking!
The trip down the mountain (about a mile and a half) was beautiful. It was paved most of the way and also provided a single lane road for supplies to the building at the top of the gondola plus some cabins and cattle barns along the way.
The mountainside was alternating open grassy areas among the trees with low stone fences to separate the cattle pasture areas. As the spring and summer progress, the cattle are moved up the mountain where the grass is fresh.
All three were squealing down the mountain on their Trotti bikes (the brakes squealed loudly with all the terror of flying down the slopes). Jordan and Kristina zoomed on ahead and had already reached the bottom. They were anxiously waiting for her. I don’t think there are chiggers in Switzerland!
When the old grey hairs reached the bottom, we all headed back to Elisabeth’s house in Zurich where we enjoyed a wonderful light dinner of Swiss cheeses, meats and breads and washed it down with some good Swiss beer!
Thank you Elisabeth for a wonderful experience and a beautiful day in Switzerland. It was a joy to meet your daughter and granddaughters.
The next day was a travel day to Bern to see Elisabeth’s sister, Heidi and her other daughter, Regula plus Freddie’s cousin, Margaret Wegman and her family. We took the long, winding Switzerland mountain route through beautiful Lucerne and Interlaken to Bern.
Lucerne like most of Switzerland, is a land of bicycles and motorcycles. There was a row of motorcycles two blocks long on another side street. All of these were at the railroad station.
The highlight of Lucerne was the age old covered bridge in the center of town, called the Chapel Bridge, it was built in 1333 to straddle Reuss River which feeds Lake Lucerne. Off in the distance on the left photo are Mt. Pilatus and Rigi in the Swiss Alps. The tower in the photo on the right was also built in the 14th century to fortify the entrance to Lucerne from the lake.
On down the road through the mountains was the small town of Interlaken nestled in the Swiss Alps between Lake Brienz and Lake Thun. In it’s position as a gateway into the Swiss Alps, it’s considered one of Switzerland’s most beautiful resorts. The photos are of the river Aar which flows through the town from one lake to the other. We stopped for a while taking photos and touring the town. While Debbie and the kids looked at the sights, Jan and I sat in one of the open restaurants and enjoyed a cold beer. The afternoon was warm and beautiful.
Later that afternoon we arrived in the heart of Bern near the railroad station where we would catch the train to our next destination, Venice. But first we would spend a wonderful day with Elisabeth’s sister, Heidi for a wonderful day at a cheese factory, a medieval village and a chocolate factory.
Another really fun day in Switzerland! We met Heidi, Regula and her daughter, Celine the next morning for a ride out to a cheese factory.
It was the famous La Gruyere cheese factory and we watched them with their morning ritual of making the cheese from a viewing room above the factory floor. The milk from the previous milking was stored in large vats in a sterilized room. The milk was heated and stirred with the necessary ingredients (we were not told what ingredients because they were secret!) until the milk began to curdle. At the time that the head man on the floor decided when the time was right, the milk was pumped out of the vat into the circular compression cylinders on the right in the photo and the whey was pressed out of the curds. The resultant wheel of cheese was then market with the date and sent to a drying rack where 7000 wheels of cheese are aged up to 15 months for future sale.
That wasn’t the end of our tour of the cheese factory as the group then went into the Le Gruyere restaurant and had a delicious Le Gruyere cheese fondue lunch. Seated on the left are Celine, Heidi, Regula and Jon, on the right, Jan, Jordan, Kristina and Debbie.
With full tummies we all travelled up the side of the mountain to the original Chateau of the La_Masion du Gruyeres. The Chateau or Castle sets on a prominent outcropping overlooking the valley floor. It was built in the 13th century by the Duke of the region and included a medieval village attached to the castle. We parked at the base of the mount and walked up into the medieval village that had been preserved for tourists to the cheese and chocolate factories.
Debbie, Jan and I stopped at the fountain in the center of the village to have our photo taken. At the other end of the street sits the Chateau La_Masion du Gruyeres with a small Catholic church aside it’s entrance.
We walked along the street looking at all the old buildings and shops all keeping to the period of the time and came upon this stone wall with various size bowls cut into it. As we looked around the other side it became obvious that it was an ancient measuring device for grains or dry goods. The big hole was about the size of our bushel and the smallest would hold about a quart. On the back side of the hole was a pouring spout from each hole. If you were selling grain for example, you would plug the hole of the pouring spout and fill the bowl with the grain. Then the merchant buying the grain would back his cart under the hole and unplug it. The grain would fall into the cart or container and that would be one measure.
As we walked up along the right side of the small church there were several curio shops built into a wall and a ramp up to a large wooden gate opening set between buildings of rooms for guests and entertaining. The rooms are now used for museums. Further up the path was a smaller wall and gate that opened into the castle grounds. The path continued to the side of the castle where another wooden entrance gate was located. However, this gate was closed and now the tourists entered from a stone gate located on the right side of the castle.
After you entered the stone portal, there was a patio that was located along the wall and tourist entrance to the castle. From the patio at the entrance to the castle, you could view the mountains off in the distance, the medieval village below and the valley beyond. The patio and it’s gate was a later addition for the tourists.
Below the castle tower is the rear guard tower and extended back wall in grey stone. Note that the slope leading up to the castle is very steep making it very difficult to attack the castle from any direction except the medieval village.
On the left side of the castle is another rampart and tower protected the castle from attack.
The inside of wall and tower was accessible from an opening in the middle of the medieval village and provided platforms for archers and knight to repel attackers. The archers could stand on the walkways inside the walls and shoot arrows down at the attackers on the ground.
The view from the castle of the valley below and the mountains off in the distance was truly spectacular.
The next stop was Callier’s, the chocolate factory (a subsidary of Hershey!!). Unfortunately it was later in the afternoon and the place was jammed with people and kids. We were going to wait for almost an hour to take the tour so we just decided to tour the discount shop and buy some chocolates (yummy)!
There was still part of the family that Jan, Debbie and Jordan hadn’t been able to meet so the Andregg cousins decided that we had to go to dinner with them. Margaret Wegman, the elder cousin of the family (she is 93) had been in the hospital, but was now home and wanted to come meet us. Jan had met her when she was in Hoxie back in the 80’s and got to sit with her during the dinner.
In addition to Heidi, Regula and Celine attended the dinner.
There was Margaret’s daughter, Claudia, and her children daughter Nicole, daughter-in-law Nicole and son, Thomas. It was a wonderful dinner in a local brewery and everyone had a great time. As we all left, we had to take a photo of the entire group.
As we all left, we had to take a photo of the entire group.
To end our evening and our last night in Bern and Switzerland, we decided to have a final nightcap in a bar that Nicole had told Debbie about. The Kornhauskeller turned out to be a wonder! It was located in a cellar under one of the large buildings on the main street of Bern. As you walked downstairs to a landing, the restaurant below came into view. The ceilings were highly decorated. On the level of the landing, a bar area was located along the outer walls. We sat down at one of the tables and had our nightcaps using the last of our Swiss Francs!
April 16-18 Venice
We left Bern early the next morning via the train again. We were looking forward to the scenery as we toured through the Alps and were not disappointed except with trying to take photos out of a train window. It’s strange that when you are traveling 60+ miles per hour, most of the photos are green tree blur, reflections and poles! But the trip was beautiful! I have to comment that we all thought Switzerland was beautiful. It was so obvious that the Swiss take great pride and care of their land. Their buildings were all painted and clean. Even the mountain meadows looked like they had been trimmed. I fully expected to catch some Swiss out there with scythes and weed eaters keeping the grass mowed and yodeling. Switzerland was truly a wonderful and fun experience for us.
We stopped in Brig and changed to an Italian train, then headed for Milan, Italy. My initial impression of Italy was OLD, old buildings, huge ancient cathedrals, narrow-crowded streets and the remains of the past glories.
Venice was exactly like that. We arrived in a high-speed train into a modern railroad station, walked out the front to where a canal separated the new from the old. Across the canal was a very old domed cathedral and old multi-story homes jammed together and on top of each other. The streets were all very narrow, no cars allowed, only water ways and canals for transportation beside walking. We rode in a water taxi with 35 other passengers crowded together for about a quarter of a mile and worked our way through people (not easy with back packs and luggage) to get off at our dock area.
A short walk and we entered a narrow alley with the sign of our 800 year old hotel, the Pensione Guerrato. We went upstairs to the landing where the hotel lobby was located. It was obviously very old with all kinds of memorabilia collected through the years. The owners were very helpful and wonderful to all of us. The rooms were large which surprised us and the bathroom was modern. They had kept the old furniture (except for the bed) which was nice. We did have to smile though as the room was advertized with a view of the canal. The room had two windows and if you opened the window and pushed the shutters back as far as they would go, then leaned out of the window as far as you could without falling out, then looked to the left you could just barely see where the canal was supposed to be through the narrow opening between the buildings. It didn’t matter as we were not there to look out the windows anyway.
As soon as we were settled we left to go sight-seeing. Our first stop was at the Rialto Bridge, the famous bridge across the Grand Canal. It gave us a grand view of the Grand Canal and we did and would enjoy it even more, especially later that evening.
There are many side canals off of the Grand Canal that wander between the housing and shopping areas. Only gondolas or small boats can go through these canals and there were small bridges connecting the streets from one side to the other.
Note the leaning church tower along the canal (no this is not Piza!). This one was wide enough for some cafes along the side although the cross street bridges were very low and could only be negotiated by very low boats and the gondoliers had to duck under them.
Our destination was to St. Mark’s square through the maze of streets. When we arrived we began to realize what crowds really were. The square was full of people and any of the buildings that were of interest to explore had lines that were way to long to wait. It was frustrating; but we were to find that it was a common problem in Italy because there were way too many people for the sights of interest.
We got away from the crowds and Jan and Jordan just sat down in a beautiful place to relax and enjoy the scenery.
I on the other hand had to exercise my camera and found a beautiful picture of the Church of S. Giorgio Maggiore across the canal from us with a gondolier in his gondola in the foreground.
It was getting along toward evening by that time and we decided to walk back to our hotel. We passed a small pizza restaurant as were walking along the narrow streets and found they had a patio in the back for dinner. We all ordered pizza and a bottle of wine for dinner. The Italian pizza is a little different from the Pizza Hut. These pizzas were basic tomato sauce, some cheese and a few sprinkles of prosciutto ham on top.
The wine was good!
Debbie decided it would be fun to do a wine tour while we were in Venice. Of course, we didn’t have any objection to doing that, so she set it all up for the 5 of us. It turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. We were picked up at 8 am by a young woman named Miriam Diecavia (photo later) in her own car, large enough to hold all six of us.
She took us up north of Venice into the Prosecco region near the town of Coneglinano to the Toffilo winery.
We went out in the vineyards where they explained the grape growing process, a tour through the
processing of the grapes into wine including a climb up on their storage tanks with a view across the grape growing region.
That was followed by a visit to their tasting room and a taste of their wonderful wines.
Next Miriam took us to the old grist mill of Refrontolo called ‘Molinetto della Croda’ (the Windless Croda). What a beautiful place located next to a waterfall and the mill at the far end of it.
The mill called ‘Windlass Croda’ was built in the seventeenth century to grind flour for the existing community.
The grinding wheel and mechanism seemed small compared to others we have seen; however it was intersting to see the entire process of the gearing, the wheels and the grinding stones.
By this time it was getting on toward lunch time and Miriam took us to a castle in the local mountains. It was called ‘Castello Brandolini Colombari’. The method of getting to it was quite unique. From the parking lot below the castle you enter a tunnel through these two round buildings and up a slight incline with stores on each side to a tram entrance which climbed up the side of the mountain to the castle.
The outside base of the castle was an area of gardens, fountains, statues and beautiful flowers and shrubs.
Our view down below was more towers and ramparts and below the valley floor which had a fairly large village located there. We went into the castle restaurant and had a delicous lunch before heading back down the tram to the valley floor and our next winery.
We had a great and very interesting day with Miriam and we would highly recommend her wine tour to anyone vacationing in Venice. You can find her tour at www.ventotours.com/wine tour and ask for Miriam.
When we got back to Venice, we had dinner in a small restaurant among the many shops located in the small streets. Evening on the canal was very beautiful with lots of lights, gaily decorated and lit eateries along the quays.
We decided to take a gondola ride for our last night in Venice so the five of us found a gondolier who would take us through the back canals of Venice in the dark. It was lots of fun and a fitting end to our time with Debbie, Jordan and Kristina. Tomorrow we catch the train for Cinque Terre, ‘the Italian Riveria’ for a nice relaxing five days. I will update that part of the blog when I have more time.
Jan and I both caught our limit of three sockeye salmon (Reds) in the Kasilof River today the 16th of June. The next two weeks will be busy fishing, cleaning and processing salmon for the coming winter. I will get back to the Europe blog when we have time.
Hope you enjoyed the first installment. Stay tuned for the rest of Italy, Cinque Terre and Rome.
We arrived in Anchorage early Wednesday morning (1 am) and went to the motel for a very short night. Early Wednesday (combining our trip to Europe with the following trip to Alaska, our body clocks are really messed up) we got a taxi to go pick up the van for the trip back to Kasilof. On the way there was a heavy layer of white clouds, fog or smog laying on the mountains over Anchorage. Jan said “is that smog?” I said “it must be fog!” Nope the taxi driver said, “it’s smoke from the forest fire on the Kenai.”
WELCOME BACK TO ALASKA!!!!!!
At breakfast we got the newspaper and found that a fire had been started along Funny River Road east of Soldotna on Monday afternoon In an unpopulated wildlife area called the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. We went to Costco for our yearly purchase of supplies for the park and then headed down the Turnagain Arm through thick smoky clouds until we got into the Kenai Mountains.
As we arrived in Soldotna we could see the smoke clouds above the town and they were growing darker and darker as the fire built up.
The fire had grown by Wednesday afternoon to 22000 acres and stretched from the Funny River Road south of Sterling to Tustumena Lake (see map). It was getting close to us just about 10 miles east and slightly north (the park is located just about where the r is in the Sterling Highway on the map.
By Friday evening the fire had grown to the east and the west and was now about 4 miles to the east of the Sterling Highway just opposite of the town of Kasilof on the map. It was still on the north side of the Kasilof River and wasn’t a real danger to us yet, but could be if the wind changed to the northeast.
This was the photo Jan took as we were heading to the Elks for dinner Friday evening. This is about 4 miles north of Kasilof looking to the east of the Sterling Highway. This bank of smoke extended south as far as we could see and as far north as 10 miles.
Things were not looking good for us if the wind came out of the north on Saturday and the fire jumped the Kasilof River. We had decided to gather our essential things and if we got word to evacuate, we would just get out of the area.
Saturday morning dawned sunny, cool and DRY again. However, the wind was very calm and the smoke from the fire had calmed down during the night. The morning paper indicated that the fire had now consumed more than 70000 acres and had inched slowly further toward Kasilof, but hadn’t got any closer to the Kasilof River. Good news to us, so we went back to Soldotna shopping.
As we started home, the wind picked up again, but this time it was out of the southwest very strong. Bad news for the homes in Funny River, but great news for us as it drove the main part of the fire away from the Kasilof River and us! The photos on the right are the clouds caused by the increased buildup of the fire driven by the strong winds out of the southwest. They look like the huge thunderheads of a Kansa summer rain storm.
We are setting here in the park hoping that the fire continues to move away from us. We are ready to leave if things change for the worse. The Flagstaff trailer can be quickly connected to the black Chevy pickup. We can load the essentials quickly and get on the road away from the fire. We would probably head to the Soldotna Elks and stay in their parking lot if necessary.
The winter this year wasn’t very good to the park. We were lucky and managed to get the van started in Anchorage without any trouble and then got to the park with the threat of the fire. Things went downhill after that. There were 5 trees knocked down by the high winds last fall, four along the back of the lot and one dropped on the edge of the well house knocking a hole in the roof. Another next to Ryan and Cheri’s trailer took a nose dive off the front of it. Fortunately, it missed it by about 2 feet and the only damage was 2 scratches and the lost of both yellow running light covers on the top front.
When we arrived at the park, the batteries for the drill to removed the screws from the front gate were all dead (including the one I took from home??) and the key wouldn’t unlock the paddle lock on the gate. Some friendly persuasion from the van’s front bumper manage to convince the gate to let us in!
The KIA’s battery was dead so we had to jump it and then after getting it out of the front of the Conex, it died and wouldn’t start again. A long clean up job and charging finally got it started. The battery in the 4 wheeler was also dead and it is still in the Conex (part of the reason for the trip to Soldotna today, new battery). Finally we got to the water system and blew the antifreeze out of the front row water lines for the RV pads. That went ok, but when we started to clear the water system to Park Model and the front area leading to the front row water lines, the pipe was broken at the cleaning table. After digging out the pipe and replacing it, the Pierce’s arrived with their camper for the summer so we spent the evening getting them set up.
Next morning we turned the water on to find another gusher coming out of the ground beside the dump station. Richard helped me dig down and replace the pipes to get the system running again. Finally on Friday afternoon we had water all along the front including the Lodge without any more leaks!
SO NOW IF THE FOREST FIRE WILL STAY AWAY FROM US, MAYBE WE CAN GET THIS SUMMER STARTED!
We have lots (4550) photos from our trip to Europe and when I have time to reduce them to something reasonable I will add another blog of our trip. Hopefully, I can get it down to the best 15 or 20. We had a great time there, but 27 days on the road is way too much for us old blue hairs. Maybe now that we are in Alaska, we can relax! HA
“Well Missy, he’s not really your grandpa because he is a human and you are a moose, but we all call him grandpa Jon because he and grandma Jan are so nice to us and let us eat in their park.”
“Can I go talk to him?”
“He won’t hurt you, but you be careful on the road. The people who live up the road drive very fast and they don’t pay much attention to who else happens to be on it”
“I’ll be careful!”
“Grandpa, I’m Missy. I was born in your yard several weeks ago. Mom was laying between your house and the kitchen. The mosquitoes were terrible and it was late. She knew it was time for me to come out so she went to your place where she would be safe to have me. I don’t know if you remember her, but she and her brother stayed there two years ago when they were yearlings and she slept in your yard. Uncle Spike Jr. was so onery and he tried to eat your flowers and tomatoes. Anyway, she had me and cleaned me all up, then when I got up to eat the first time something started blowing out hot air from the side of your house. It scared me so bad that mom took me over into the other park where it was quiet. So we have just been wandering around and I’m learning to eat all the good green things along with mom’s milk.”
“Did you get to see Uncle Spike, Jr. when he came into your park this summer? He is getting so big now! His horns were just starting to come out, but he is hoping that he will have paddles this year. He said that last year he just had a couple of spikes with one fork in each of them so he didn’t look so great. Mom didn’t like him around very much and she was afraid he would hurt me, but he didn’t. He was very nice to me and I really liked him.”
“I hope you got to see my crazy cousins, Amos and Andy. They were over at your place after we had that big rain where it created big water puddles in your driveway. They started out trying to decide if they wanted to go swimming in the puddles. Amos was kind of scared to get in them, but Andy convinced him that they weren’t too deep, by sticking his foot into the upper end of it. They are so silly, the pools were only a couple of inches deep. So anyway, they finally got up enough
nerve to try going out in the middle of the puddle. Then they started stomping around and splashing just like a couple of kids!
And as usual, they started creating such a racket that they got Aunt Maddie’s attention. She had been eating the fireweed along the bank on the other side of the cleaning table and she yelled at them to quit splashing and getting themselves all muddy.
She kept yelling at them until they finally gave up and got out of the water. They came back by the cleaning table and got lost in the fireweed and raspberry bushes which were taller than they were.
Finally Aunt Maddie found them and got them out of the bushes. I am surprised she didn’t give them a bite on their rumps for being so noisy!
The last time I saw Aunt Maddie and the twins, they were over at Johnson Lake trying to decide if they wanted to go swimming again. This time they had grown a little and hopefully a little smarter. However, just as they about had themselves argued into going for the swim, a boatload of humans rowed out on the lake to fish. As typical, Amos and Andy lost their nerve and wandered back into the woods with their mom.
I will say we had a lot of fun this summer playing in the woods between the RV Park and the Johnson Lake.
“Hope to see you again next summer.”
Sockeye (Red) Fishing, Part 1.
Back to grandpa now that Missy had her say. Our Red fishing season was broken up this year by a wedding in the middle of it although it had barely gotten started when Jan and I had to head back to Kansas for the wedding of our grandson Jerod to Kristina (I will get to that between the 2 parts!).
The King season started out good on the Kasilof river although it was very slow starting on the Kenai. Our good friend Zack Lloyd who has the Glacier Run Outfitters charter business took Jan and I out one evening on the 30th of May and we fished the incoming tide. I was fortunate to hook a nice 20+ pound native King salmon and got it to the boat. However, we were not allowed to keep native Kings that early in the season. The early run on the Kasilof did improve and a good number of hatchery and native Kings came into the river. Not so on the Kenai, it was one of poorest King runs ever recorded and Fish & Game finally shut down the season completely.
The first run of the Reds in the Kasilof and the Kenai started in early June and the Russian River fishing opened on the 11th. It was a good run and the Sanctuary was opened for fishing on the 18th. We didn’t fish it because there are so many fisher-persons there, it is called ‘Combat Fishing’, and it literally is! As normal, the Red run in the Kasilof started out slowly, but kept building up in numbers as the days went by. By the 15th, many of the campers in the park were limiting out (3) each day. On the 21st F&G raised the limit to six a day per person and on the 2nd of July F&G the river had reached the minimum escapement (that is the minimum # needed to continue good Red samon numbers for the future). The set netters and drift netters were allowed to fish and longer periods and the numbers coming up the river slowed down, but they kept coming in and it turned out to be the best run ever.
Nephew Ryan arrived on the 9th of July just prior to the beginning of the 2nd run of Red salmon up the Kenai river. Ryan, Jan and I started fishing for them on the 11th of July and I caught 3. It was off and on up through the 15th, but we fished every day sometimes getting one or two apiece and sometimes as many as 8. Cary arrived early the morning of the 16th. We picked him up at the airport and headed directly to the river to fish (he had gotten his license online). The fish were there and we all caught our limit of 3. Of course, that afternoon Jan and I drove up to Anchorage to catch the airplane back to Kansas.
When Jan and I arrived in Kansas City, we were picked up by the Post boys and their mom for the trip back to our house in Lawrence. That evening we went to dinner at our local brewery and restaurant. Shown here from the left are Jerod, the bridegroom to be from Lincoln, NE, next is PFC Jake, a marine on leave from California, Jordan just arrived from Sambir, Ukraine where he teaches English in a local college with the Peace Corp. Next to him is granddaughter, Miranda Stromgren and her friend, Nicki and then daughter Debbie, mom to the three young men. The boys hadn’t been together for over 2 years so you can imagine the wild time had by all.
Now Jan and I had just spent over two months in Alaska where the daytime temperatures rarely reached 75 degrees. The airport temperature when we arrived was 96 degrees with 95 % humidity. By Friday, the temperature topped out at 106 and that night it rained! Fortunately, it didn’t rain until after the wedding rehearsal dinner was completed. The dinner was held in Todd and Karen’s backyard under a tent canopy. There were 130 people at the dinner and everyone had a great time. Here we are with Jan’s siblings, Donna, Skip, Phillip and granddaughter, Miranda with Nicky.
Their late afternoon wedding was held in the Central United Methodist Church in downtown Lawrence. It had been a rainy type of day with the temperature in the mid-80’s. It was very nice and comfortable for the wedding. The church is small and overflowing with guests and we all enjoyed the young couple getting married.
Liberty Hall used to be the Opera House in Lawrence and was built in the late 1800’s after Quantrill’s raiders destroyed most of the town before the start of the civil war. It is now a theater and a special event building often used for wedding receptions. Here is a photo of Jan’s grand kids and great granddaughter at Liberty Hall during the reception after the wedding. The bride and groom, Kristina and Jerod are in the center with Jan on their left, Miranda on her left and then best man Jordan. On their right is Nicole with our great granddaughter Elise, next is Niclole’s husband, Tyler. In the back row, from the left is Caleb, Travis, Jake, Marissa, Zack and Brandon. Kristina graduated from Kansas University and thus the choice of Lawrence for the wedding where many of her friends still are there. It is also about half way between her parents and family who live in the Dallas, TX area and the Post family who live in the Scottsbluff, NE area. Plus it is our home.
The reception was delicious, the party was fun, the wedding cake beautiful and the groom’s cake interesting. Just why is the Jayhawk tromping all over the front of the cake with Cornhusker in the background? Is there some significance to the cake? Does this imply that the rivalry is over and it’s symbolic of the two sides getting together? OR is this someone’s idea of a JOKE! Shame on you grandma!
SOCKEYE (RED) FISHING, PART 2
Just so you understand how the Red fishing works, the fish enter the river, adjust to the fresh water instead of salt water and then work their way up the rivers to the lakes where they spawn. They do not stay in one place more than a few hours while they rest out of the current. If the river does not have a lake, the Reds do not enter the river. That is why the Anchor river, the Ninilchik river, Deep Creek and Crooked Creek do not have Red salmon in them. That is not true of the King, Silvers and Pink salmon. They all spawn in the rivers and creeks, therefore they can be found in all the peninsula rivers and streams when they come back to spawn.Once the Reds acclimate to fresh water, they no longer eat until they spawn and die. Therefore, it doesn’t do any good to fish with bait or lures. The only way to catch them is by snagging them. F&G insist that to be sporting you have to use a fly and you have to snag them in the mouth to keep them. This is the only species of animal that you can wound (like ripping out the their guts by snagging them in the belly with a hook) and then are required to release the animal. ? Wouldn’t it make more sense to be forced to keep the ones that are wounded up to your limit and release the ones you hook in the mouth that aren’t damaged? Well, I’m not F&G! ——-
Unfortunately, the big run of Kenai Reds came in while we were gone. Cary and Ryan continued to catch their limits of three a day until Thursday when the river became loaded with fish. On Friday, a total of 950,000 Reds had entered the river and they were everywhere. F&G immediately raised the limit of Reds to 6 as they had reached the minimum escapement to replenish the salmon, then let all the commercial fishermen go out to catch the rest.
On Friday, they had 12 fish in about a half hour then went to pick up Cheri from the airport, took her to get her license then to the river to catch her six. Next day was the same, Ryan was busy tying hooks to keep Cheri fishing.
They both caught their limits while Cary was catching his. Six fish for the both of them is a hunk of fish. The Kenai Reds average between 8 and 12 pounds so six of the can weigh up to 50 pounds. We try to fillet them in the river before we leave as that leaves the scraps in the river to feed the smolt (young salmon), trout and other river species. Otherwise, we have to carry out the full weight, then clean them at home and return the heads, guts, bodies, etc. to the river. We are not allowed to dump the scraps into the dumpsters due to the smell plus the scraps provide food for the river fish.
Cheri in the meantime has another one on her line and is about to get it to the bank. She is good at catching the Reds and can match any of us when the fish are in the river. When she catches a fish and gets it on the bank, she has a great time dispatching the flopping fish with her pink wacker. Note also that she has a pink fly-pole and I made special hooks for her with pink yarn on them. I truly expect that she will have pink chest waders next year when she comes!!!!! GIRLS LIKE TO FISH TOO!
She can certainly hold her own when it comes to fishing as noted with the stringer of fish that she caught.
Once the fillets are back to the park, we cut the tail section off to later vacuum pack for freezing. Then we skin the front section and carefully cut out the series of bones that run along the spine. This will be later used for canning as the bones dissolve when they are pressure cooked. The rest of the meat above the bones and above the gut bones are then stripped into slices about 1/4 inch thick. Those slices are then marinated for about 24 hours in a brown sugar and salt mixture, then placed on a screened tray for smoking. The slices are sprinkled with spices depending on what favors are wanted and how much hot spices are used. They are then smoked for approximately 8 to 10 hours, turning the trays every two hours.
Jan and I arrived back in Anchorage at 10:45 pm on the 21st and waiting for us were Todd, Zack and Cody. After getting the van, GRACE out of the parking area, we waited until midnight for the arrival of Craig, Caleb and Brandon. It was a long trip back home, THANK YOU TODD FOR DRIVING!
It becomes somewhat of a problem when we have a large number of people here red fishing because we have limited spaces to fish on the Kenai. So we have to split up and fish different places to allow everyone to fish.
The first thing on the agenda was to get fishing licenses and gear ready for fishing and their afternoon Halibut charter (I will cover that in the next section). Unfortunately, by the 21st F&G had released all the commercial netters to harvest as many of the remaining Reds as possible out of the Cook Inlet. That reduced the number of fish coming into the river down to about 10,00 to 15,000 a day and limited the ability to catch the limit. We still had a good time fishing.
Jan and Zack both quickly caught Reds. Note that his is sure a lot bigger than hers!
Zack immediately got the knack of fishing for Reds. He limited out the first day he went fishing. He seems to be a natural, just like his dad, Todd.
Craig, Caleb and Brandon got to go Red fishing on the second and third days they were here. The numbers of fish in the river had been reduced significantly by then so it became much more difficult to catch them plus all three weren’t used to snagging fish and it took time to become adapt to it. They were finally able to find some fish on the third day and were able to catch some to take home with them.
The fish quickly reduced in numbers after three days and it took a lot longer to legally hook and keep them. We still did manage to catch several each day. Although we were limited by the total number we caught this year due to us losing a week during the season, we were able to catch enough to provide fillets and jerky to everyone. Thanks to Cary and Ryan catching lots of fish while they were in and for keeping the smoker going and making most of the jerky for us. Cody did manage to find out how to make jerky while he was here too.
Along with catching and cleaning the Red salmon, also comes the processing it for the freezer. We have some professional vacuum machines which vacuum all the air out of the packages of fish and then seals the edges to help keep the meat fresh in the freezer.
Here Cody and Cary are preparing the packages while Zack is sealing them. Although the jerky has been smoked and dried, we still package them in small serving packages to keep them fresh too.
That however isn’t the last step. The final processing comes with the canning of the bony sections of the salmon. Since the bones dissolve during the pressure cooking process, this is the optimum way to utilize that portion of the salmon. We don’t waste any part of the meat of the salmon as you can see.
Jan took the photo of Sally and I after the cans have been packed with the salmon although she packed as many as we did.
The next step is to heat the cans to 160 degrees to prepare them for sealing with the can lids. While I am cleaning the can edges and placing on the lids, Tom Wilson (Carolina Tom) is sealing the lid to the can with the help of a hand crank. The next step in the process is the pressure cooking of the cans to cook and seal the salmon meat. We can cook 24 cans at a time in each of our pressure cookers. We cook them for 90 minutes at a minimum of 10 psi.
When cleaning buckets are lined across the porch railing it signals that the Red season is over, the cleaning and process is done and it is time to enjoy the delicious Red salmon. We probably enjoy eating the canned salmon either in salmon patties, salmon salad or salmon chowder as much at the fresh frozen salmon. We share our bounty with our entire family in the lower 48.
However, there is one final fishing trip that we all enjoy almost as much as the entire Red season. That is our annual trip to the Russian River Ferry to fish for the Reds before they spawn in the Kenai Lake. By this time, they have matured to their red and green shades that make them so beautiful, but are still as feisty and fun as when they were first in the river. By then the meat is beginning to turn to a light pink and becomes somewhat mushy. Some people also think that the meat becomes stronger flavored, but we haven’t noticed that. However, we come here to catch and release enjoying the sport of fighting these strong, swift salmon and then let them get back to what brought them all the up the Kenai river. We met with our good friends from Texas/Oregon, Randi and Ken Ferguson for a day of fishing for fun. Of course, Ken had to show us all up and catch the most fish. They had stayed with in the park this past summer for over a month and we had a great time with them. So when they left and stopped at the Russian River Campground for a few days fishing, we decided to meet them there.
Generally after the end of July when most of the Red fishing frenzy is over, the Russian River Ferry is not very crowded so you can have a lot of fun fishing.
So this ends the 2013 RED FISHING SEASON!
We had a couple of brothers that stayed with us for a few days in June that just couldn’t say enough good things about the halibut charter service that they had used twice while here. The name of the service was Key-O’s Guide Service out of Ninilchik. They had great luck fishing with them both times.
So when Craig and the boys came up, we decided to try them out.
They have what is called a ‘6 pack’ aluminum boat called ‘Hunter’. 6 pack means that they can only take 6 people to fish on each trip. Since they already had one passenger for the trip, we sent Cody and Cary with Craig and the boys for an afternoon trip on the 22nd.
That turned out to be a great choice for the halibut trip. They actually drove down to Anchor Point to launch the boat for the fishing trip and went out into the Cook Inlet toward Mt. Iliamna. It was a beautiful day, sunny and calm. The fishing was great, each of them caught their limit of two. The smallest one was over 25 pounds and most were in the 25 to 50 pound range.
Cody caught the biggest one weighing in at 114 pounds. It took him between 20 and 30 minutes to land it in the boat.
Cary caught the next biggest one weighing in at 70 pounds.
And Brandon caught the next biggest weighing in at 50 pounds. All together they had over 400 pounds of salmon to be processed plus having a wonderful halibut fishing experience in Alaska. All of them commented on how great the Captain and the Deckhand were. When they got back to the launch area, all of the halibut had been filleted and bagged ready for them to take home.
Craig, Caleb and Brandon were busy after they got back packing, vacuum and sealing the cleaned halibut for freezing. They had over 125 pounds of cleaned and packaged when they were finished.
Two days later, we were able to get Todd and Zack on a charter with the same service and they had the same Captain and Deckhand. They too had a great time and caught their limit of halibut. The weather wasn’t as good with choppy seas and windy, thus making more difficult to keep their baits on the bottom. Thus this trip wasn’t as successful at the first had been. Although everyone caught their limit of fish, the fish were smaller only weighing in the 20 to 30 pound range. Todd and Zack were happy with their catch.
AROUND THE PARK
We had a beautiful summer! Most of the days were sunny and warm which the flowers loved. Everyone has commented how beautiful the flowers have been all summer, especially the marigold baskets that Kyra and Craig sent for mother’s day. The fireweed grew the tallest and had the longest lasting flowers that I ever remembered and they were everywhere. As you drove down the road to Homer or up to Anchorage, there were fields of vibrant pink fireweed.
The garden did well also with all the sunshine and the help of the heat cables. We actually had more cucumbers that we could eat and they were wonderful. Plus our tomatoes started ripening in mid-August, so we have been able to have fresh tomatoes for the past several weeks. We do love to have a tomato, cucumber and onion salad in Ranch dressing, Um! We also had potatoes (although they didn’t produce as well as I thought they should), lettuce, herbs, dill, green onions and spinach. As usual, we grew more that we ever used.
Our guests helped us out this summer by doing some of the physical work around the park. Zack is using his huge muscles to load gravel into the wheel barrow and add gravel along the walkways that had become thin. Ryan and Todd are helping him by leveling out the gravel as he hauls it into the thin spots.
While Jan and I were in Kansas for the wedding, Ryan and Cary replaced some dry rotted wood sheeting and the roofing on the fish shack down at the far end of the park. Later after things slowed down and the fishing was done, I tacked down the edges of the roofing so the wind wouldn’t tear it off again during the winter. Evidently, we had a strong wind during the winter and it managed to blow the roofing off the east side of the roof. It even blew some of it up in the pine tree next to the shack.
At the last of July, my sister Sally decided that she wanted to move her 5th Wheel into the park rather than to leave it in the park at the river. So Richard Pierce agreed to haul it out to the park for her. He backed it into space #7 and the boys helped to block it up permanently. So now she will be a permanent member of our park family, but will still continue helping out the food bank and the church in Soldotna as well and visiting all her friends there. We appreciate her being here because she sometimes gives us a break to be away from the park for awhile.
Our evening ritual includes cocktail time where the group gets together to share the day’s events and to relax. Pictured from the left are Craig, Brandon, Cheri, Ryan, Cody (seated), Zack and Todd. The Flemings, Vickie and Bob who are campers in the park have joined us also and then Cary is added next to Cody with Cheri and Zack with me with my back to the camera.
Now there is a switch, Todd drinking a Tangueray and Tonic. He must be out of beer!
Dinner time! Following cocktail time, we all got together for our evening meal. We had fresh roasting ears of corn and fresh tomatoes that we brought back from Kansas served along side with fresh caught Red salmon grilled to perfection. Hard to beat!
After dinner, it’s out to the campfire pit for and evening fire and more conversation. Looks like the Pyle men have been hitting the sauce. Has grandma been drinking out of the wine bottle again?
Anyone for somores?
Due to the abundance of sunny, warm weather this summer, the berry season this year is awesome! Our friends and neighbors, the Morgans (he’s our plumber and she and their older daughter helped Jan clean the lodge this summer) came over to pick red raspberries. They obviously had fun and got a lot of berries. Sally saw them picking and then later picked a bunch of raspberries for us. Jan and I got the bug after we started noticing the red berries on the high bush cranberries, so we started searching and picking. We also found some crow berries (like a blueberry) and picked some of them. We have a quart of wild berries for jam next year!
Jan and I had been wanting to visit the small port town of Seldovia for several years. With Sally moving into the park, it gave us the opportunity to get away for a couple of days. Seldovia is across Kachemack Bay from the port of Homer. We decided to take a tour boat over from Homer to Seldovia partially because they gave a local tour of the bay and mainly because it was the only way to get there on the Tuesday that we had a night’s reservation!
The tour turned out to be interesting. We left Homer at 10:30 in the morning and our first stop was at a really ugly outcropping of rock covered with seagulls and their leavings (Gull Island, duh!). However, a surprise on the other side of it were several kayaks watching a beluga whale. It was a rare sight and a surprise for the boat Captain also since beluga have become an endangered species and there are not many of them in the Cook Inlet
From there, we traveled along the southern shore of the Kachemack Bay and behind the two Islands that are at the entrance to Sadie’s cove. Heading into the bay is Hole Rock which is described as the gremlin character with the big nose and two eyes at the edge of a table. The larger Island was originally homesteaded and occupied by fox farmer until the market declined for fox furs. We used to travel over to Sadie’s cove by boat to rake for steamer and butter clams.
Further out at the tip of the Island are a series of rocks with the reddish color of iron ore. The Islands were originally thrust up from the bottom of the bay by volcanic action and earthquakes. The holes in the rocks are caused by the wave action of the ocean washing out the weaker sediments between the rock.
We traveled on southwesterly along the coastline of the southern Kenai peninsula past Jakolof Bay until we reached the inlet to the Seldovia harbor at 1 pm. Seldovia was originally a busy cannery port and town for the commercial herring industry. There was a huge cannery located along the north end of the harbor for the processing of the herring. During the 1964 earthquake, the waterfront area of the town including the cannery sunk 4 to 6 feet and was subject to flooding from the tides. The cannery was shut down and most of the businesses and homes were moved up the hillside to keep them from flooding. Remember that it is not uncommon for the tide changes here to be 20 to 30 feet in height. Today, the primary industry of Seldovia is fishing and tourism. We arrived when the tide was out and the water level was low as can be seen by the steep climb up the ramp (with the blue top) from the boat docks to the street level.
After checking into our nice Sea Parrot Inn B&B for the night which was just across the street from the boarding ramp, we took a walking tour of the small town. We headed toward what was listed as the Seldovia Slough which was an extension of the salt water bay hoping to see some of the old town fishing businesses and residents. We weren’t disappointed in the residents although we were surprised when we reached the bridge overlooking the slough to see all the water gone with the exception of a small stream of fresh water. The building in the foreground above is a bookstore and curio shop. It was closed, but I found a lot of tanks of various sizes hanging along the side of the building along the walkway. I also noticed that their were a series of fish weights hanging on strings beside them. Before long I was making quite a racket of different tones by letting the weights swing against the different tanks. It was fun, but Jan was a party pooper and made me stop by saying ‘kids will be kids’.
We continued exploring the area and found the old boardwalk located behind this row of homes and fishing businesses along the slough. We walked along the boardwalk with some older and some really beautiful new homes.
One of the oldest was located just at the corner of the boardwalk cut into the side of the hill. It was a classic right down to the old worn out boat set in the yard and the aged wooden fence leading up to the house.
Not to be outdone, the old Rowing Club B&B located near the end of the boardwalk was just a picturesque.
But when the tide comes back in what a different picture. Now the red house at the bridge looks like a fishing shack. All it needs are some nets with buoys, a couple of fishing boats tied up to the pilings and you are in a movie set.
These homes are closer to that feeling with the boats out in front and the fishing nets and buoys laying across the decks.
That evening as we were enjoying sitting in the common living room and on the deck of our B&B, the sun was winding down toward the end of the day. It’s golden hue was lighting up the harbor and the local hillside resident. In the distance, a Kayak with two people aboard was just about to row around the end of the bluff. A single gull was barely noticed off the front of the bluff. Off across the bay, a lonely skiff was anchored.
A beautiful picture for the end of a beautiful day!
The next morning we were lazy and didn’t get up until we had go get down to the morning complimentary breakfast. We decided to visit the local visitor/museum center first. It was interesting as was the older (a grey hair like us) man who was taking care of it at the time. He was a retired Alaska teacher who was just filling in for the person who normally there. We started asking him questions about Seldovia spending a couple of hours talking to him and looking at their interesting old photos of the area and the displays.
Then we decided to take a hike to the end of the road where it meets the bay at the north end of town. It was a beautiful bay off by itself with lots of pretty rock structures in a variety of colors of orange, yellow and green. Also there was the obligatory seagull sitting on the rock in front of us that did not move until we decided to leave, then it flew away.
Above and behind us on the bluff above the bay, a lodge was built at the very peak. It was quite large and the only way to could get to it was with a tram elevator.
Back into town we walk down the main business area. There is a grocery store, a restaurant (we had a wonderful lunch) and a bar (they had Tangueray!). There are several curio shops around the town and a fairly large Indian facility. We had a couple of T&T’s at the bar while we were waiting to catch the 4pm boat back to Homer.
The old Russian Orthodox Church on top of the hill overlooking the Seldovia harbor is one of the three original Russian Orthodox Churches on the Kenai Peninsula. However, unlike the one in Kenai and the one in Ninilchik, this was has been neglected and let run down. It is obviously no longer used and is almost a sign of what is happening to the town of Seldovia itself. The FOR SALE signs on homes on almost every street in town.
All in all, it was a fun get away, an interesting trip and in many ways a beautiful place. Thank you Sally for giving us the time to enjoy it.
HOPE YOU ENJOYED READING ABOUT OUR SUMMER IN ALASKA AS MUCH AS WE ENJOYED DOING IT! HOPE TO SEE YOU AGAIN NEXT YEAR
Guess what? Another load of wood for our next project. Some of the wood needed for the next building project was too long to haul in the truck so we had to have it hauled out by Home Depot.
It all started last year at the end of the fishing season when Todd was sitting on the deck in front of the kitchen under the metal roof awing because it was raining. Todd said, “You know what you really need to do is build a cover over the deck so we can sit out there when it is raining!” Now, as Ryan said, “Todd is our idea man, Jon is our money man, and I am the cheap labor!”
However, it was a good idea and Jan added to it by stating, “I would really like to have a chiminea on the deck.” But if we covered the deck with a metal roof, we couldn’t have a chiminea on the deck. So we had to build an extension to the deck for the chiminea and so someone could also sit in the sunshine when it wasn’t raining. See how things get out of hand very quickly!
That’s why Todd wasn’t allowed to come up to Alaska this year, we have had enough of good ideas! Just kidding, we will let him come back!
So in this case Jon was the cheap labor and the deck extension was added to the south of the existing deck. It turned out to be a nice 10 x 16 foot addition with room for the new cast iron chiminea that Jan received for Mother’s Day. It is sitting on top of cinder blocks with a tile top (because you can’t have the chiminea on a wooden deck). In addition, the vertical supports and side beam for the new roof were added before the deck extension was completed.
ROOFING THE EXISTING DECK
Richard and Doris Pierce arrived in early June to stay with us for six weeks. They brought their grandson, Tristan. They helped build the log entrance frame by cutting down several dead spruce trees in the park and stripping the bark off them to make the vertical support posts, the main cross beam and the rafters to support the end of the metal roof. It sure helped with the construction as trimming the logs, cleaning off the bark and preparing them takes a lot of time. Richard had a lot of experience as he had built a log home earlier.
Ryan Pyle came up just after the 4th of July to provide the cheap labor for building the roof. Ryan and I started fitting the log beam and rafters together on the lawn, knowing that it would be difficult to fit things together up in the air. It worked pretty well with some minor problems of our cheap labor goofing around! Fortunately, Richard and Tristan came to help and got us straightened out.
Once the log frame was completed, we could begin to build the rafters to the original kitchen/workshop building. Notice that we wanted the roof to be a continuation of the original structure rather than an add-on. So we followed the same lines of the original plus similar structural pieces. However, the original used 4 x 12 beams, 4 x 6 rafters and 2 x 12 joists. That was just a little too pricey for our pocket books, so we used doubled 2 x 6 with 4 foot spacing. As you will see, we did order the same color metal for the roof.
The structure for the roof is finally completed. Now we have to wait for Cary to come to put on the metal roofing.
Cary arrived on the 18th of July and of course the red season was in full swing so the metal roof had to wait for a break in red fishing. WHEN THE REDS ARE IN, IT IS CATCH THEM IN THE MORNING EARLY, FILET AND CUT THEM UP FOR THE FREEZER BEFORE NOON AND VACUUM PACK THEM IN THE AFTERNOON. Then it’s time for a little relaxing before it starts all over the next day.
It’s the last week of July, we have about exhausted the red fishing so it’s time to finish the metal roof. Cary started laying out the roof with string to make sure he could keep the same bottom edge, then cut the metal panels, measured and pre-drilled the screw holes, then took them up on the roof to install. In the next photo, he was screwing the panel onto the 2 x 4 roof runners. He was working his way up both sides of the roof matching the panels as he installed them.
He was about half way down the south side in the next picture.
Once the panels were in place on both sides,he climbed up on the centerline of the roof and screwed in the top cap to cover the gap between the two sides. Although there is a slight change in the color between the old part of the building and the new deck roof, we made the structure to follow the design of the old building as much as possible. The slight color change is due to the aging of the older metal and it will overtime become similar in color.
I helped him with the last sheets on each side because he needed to slide the sheets under the end of the cap top. The sheets extended over the edges of the log rafters to help keep the moisture off the logs. Cary then covered the ends of the 2 x 4s with 1 x4 end caps then covered that with metal drip covers left over from the original buildings. We then trimmed off the ends of the rafters.
The final touches were adding the eagle to watch over the park, the Kasilof RV Park sign on the front and flower pots hanging from each of the log rafters. It turned out to be a really nice addition to the park and completed the Pavilion construction project.
Thanks Todd, Good Idea!
Thanks to Ryan, Cary, Jan and Jon for all the work!
WHO WAS HERE
This was a good year for us and probably the first that we have had that least paid the expenses of keeping the park open. Although the fuel and electricity prices have sky-rocketed since we purchased the park in 2008, our summer campers have slowly built back up to where the park is about breaking even. We had a fishing guide that spent the summer with us and plans to be back next year. The Christiansons rented a place for their camper for the entire summer and will stay again. The Pierces spent six weeks with us and will return next year and the Gonzales and Smiths both spent a month with us. We were completely full for the first three weeks of July and had a total of 190 different campers plus 19 different friends and family spend time with us. We had 98 campers from 32 states in the lower 48 plus Hawaii. 20 more campers came from Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Canada, Japan and Israel. We have been surprised how many campers have stayed a few nights with us and then came back again later for a few more. Most of the comments have been, “It’s so peaceful and quiet here and we love how beautiful it is. What a nice break from the overstuffed parking lots of most campgrounds.”
And don’t let us forget our local Alaskans who make up the rest of the campers. They are our bread and butter and without them, we would have to close the park.
As I indicated earlier, Ryan came to Alaska on the 5thof July. He came to help with the roof and to fish for reds and to have some fun. He loves to goof off as well as contribute to the many projects we have going on to build up the park. Whether he is figuring out how to put together the log frame, putting jerky on the trays for smoking, preparing for the claming trip, building the roof frame or log rafters, goofing off with Bus and Carol or resting on the log beam, he has been a great help and a lot of fun.
Ryan’s wife Cheri arrived on the 14th, just after the reds made their blast into the river to kick off the fishing season for us.
Her first job was to repair the Styrofoam moose on the entrance sign of the park (it’s the one that is shown on our website with the picture of Johnson Lake). It had been mounted on a fiberboard backing and then glued to the wooden sign. The really wet spring this year turned the fiberboard to mush and the moose fell off on the ground breaking off all the legs and damaging the horns. I had put it back together, glued to a hard plastic backboard and had it ready to be repainted. Jan just didn’t have time to get it done so Cheri offered to do it. It looked great and soon it was back up bringing back in those old horny cows to the park.
Cheri was her old self when it came to catching the reds this year. However, after her first fishing triumph with Nicole two years ago, we decided not to give her such a big club to dispatch the fish when she caught them. She was just so energetic with the club, she had Ryan scared!
She and Ryan had a great time and a very quick time catching their limit the first morning she was here. The reds had arrived and the two of them took advantage of them. I want you to notice that the big ones are on Cheri’s side and she let Ryan catch the little ones on his side. That was alright because that kept Ryan from breaking his fly pole again this year! As you can see from the fish Cheri is holding that the reds were huge this year. I’m sure that many of the big males had to be 10 to 12 pounds and boy were they feisty! Lots of FUN!
Bus and Carol Stromgren (Jan’s son-in-law Craig’s parents) came up to visit on the 15th of July and spent a week with us sight seeing and fishing. Sunday morning it was bright and clear so it was a perfect time to take a visit to Homer. It was a gorgeous day and we could see the mountains across Katchemak Bay that extends from the Cook Inlet into the Kenai Mountains. The glaciers that come down out of the Harding Ice Field were crystal white in the canyons of the Kenai Mountains and very beautiful. Of course (as you have seen in the past) no trip to Homer is complete without a visit to the Salty Dawg Saloon, a drink and a dollar left somewhere inside with your name on it.
The Stromgrens and Cheri had never been clamming before and really wanted to try it. So we got all the gear together and took the Salmon Mobile to Ninilchik and attacked the mud and sand to find the little dimples where the clams hid. As always seems to happen, one of the party manages to get stuck in the mud and has to be pulled out. This time it was Carol who almost lost her boot and in trying to free it, toppled into the mud and water. After several attempts to free herself, she just crawled through the mud to the bank.
We were all a big help laughing at her.
We took them Red fishing for the first time and were able to catch some Reds. It is difficult to learn how to hook them in the mouth when they don’t eat after entering fresh water. But after a lot of trial and errors they finally caught onto the technique and were both catching fish. Over the week that they were here, they managed to catch enough to take a box home with them plus they learned all about processing and cleaning them.
As I wrote in the Summer Project section, my younger son Cary (not so young now as he just turned 50, ugh, that makes me an old Fart!) came up to help put the metal roof on the deck extension. Since he was here at the beginning of Red season, of course he had to participate. Did he ever participate! Seems that he loved Red fishing as much as I do and he caught a lot of fish. He did real well for his first time and I know it won’t be his last. He is already planned to come again next year.
We really used up a lot of hooks this summer. I had tied a pack of 100 last winter thinking that it would get us through the fishing season. NOT. It didn’t even get us half way through the season so we were tying up another pack of 100 and we used up most of them too!
FISHING AT STERLING ON THE KENAI
Our friends from Alaska, Walt and Dale Kephart invited us to come to Sterling and fish behind his son-in-law’s father’s (whew) house which was located on the Kenai River. The group that was there including our friends from Hoxie, Mark and Sue Ann Hill who had flown up and were staying with us at the Park. Murray and Bonnie Sloan from Texas were also there. They were all part of the group that hunt Pheasants and Deer near Hoxie in the fall.
The property was beautiful with a large log home, pretty back yard that overlooked the Kenai River below a bank at the rear. It is an excellent fishing location with swift water in a trough right beyond the rock & pebble bank.
The two days that we fished with them were at the end of the major Red salmon run and thus the fish were not as plentiful as they had been earlier in the season. However, by sticking with the repetition of flipping in the line and letting it sink to the bottom through the trough, we were able to occasionally hook some salmon. Over a period of four hours most of our group were able to get several fish each day. We had a great time and enjoyed fishing with them at this beautiful spot on the river.
Ryan left on the 29th of July, followed by Cary on the 2nd of August, then Jan and I had a short rest spell.
A VISIT FROM TRAVIS AND FRIENDS
Then our grandson, Travis, his beautiful girlfriend, Adrienne Struble and good friend Scott Hird arrived on the 11th to spend eleven fun filled days with us. Again the first day they were here was beautiful and sunny so we drove to Homer to show them the sights. We stopped at the Ninilchik Russian Orthodox Church, then drove down to the beach where we normally clam (and would go later in the week), stopped at the tractor pull at Deep Creek to let them watch the tractors putting in charter boats and on to the Homer Overlook. The day was beautiful with little wind so we drove out on the spit and ate lunch at Lands End on the deck. Then the kids toured all the boardwalk shops and we ended at the Salty Dawg Saloon for a beer and the traditional dollars with names on them to help decorate the walls and ceiling.
After leaving the Spit, we drove up to the top of the hill overlooking Homer. You could see the Spit sticking out in Katchemak Bay with the Kenai Mountains in the distance. The town of Homer was spread out down below them on the side of the hill and in the valley leading to the float plane lake shown just behind them.
The next week was busy with trips up to the Russian River to go Red fishing. It was late in the Red run and those fish that had not stopped to spawn in Skilak Lake were turning bright red as they reached the Russian River on their way to spawn in Kenai Lake. We had such a good time on Monday that we went back again on Thursday. On Monday we caught 13 Reds and although the big males are beginning to get a little strong tasting and their meat is turning slightly mushy, they are still good to smoke into jerky and the kids wanted to take a lot of jerky home so we kept them to clean.
Jan and I did okay too and we had fun catching the big red males. They are still very strong and give us a great fight. As you can see in the right photo, the males have turned a bright red on their body and their heads, lower fins and tails are deep green, really very beautiful fish.
THE BEAR SAGA!
On our second trip on Thursday, two days later, we had a visitor while we were fishing. Seems that a young brown bear (not so small!!!) got separated from his mom and needed to go back to the other side of the river. He came up behind us on the top of the hill above the river and looked down at us. We were hoping that he was looking to see if he could get across, then decided he didn’t want to mess will all us humans. That was just fine by us! He continued on along the top of the hill until he found a spot to get down to the river where there were no humans around, then ran down the bank into the river and swam across. Of course there were other humans on the other side fishing from their pontoon boats. As he arrived at the other side of the river, the fishermen realized that it was best to leave that side of the river. They got back on their boats and proceeded downstream.
It is interesting that two days later, the number of Reds coming up the river had changed significantly. We fished for several hours and although we hooked many fish again, it was more difficult to hook them in the mouth and get them to the bank. It really wasn’t a problem earlier when the bear came by as we really didn’t want any tasty fish laying near the bank for him to come down and sample. As a matter of fact, I had just hooked a big male and had fought it to the bank when the bear showed up. It was the first one that day that I had hooked in the mouth, but decided it might not be a good time to have a fresh fish laying on the bank, so I let him go! We had enough fish so it wasn’t a big problem and an easy one to solve.
We did wind up with 8 more fish that added to the amount of jerky that the kids were going to smoke. They helped me fillet the reds on the river bank so we didn’t have a lot of fish scraps to get dump. It was interesting to see the meat of the reds that had turned orange color. Their meat is normally dark red when we catch them during the start of the run when they are still bright silver and green. As their skin turns red on the outside, their meat looses it’s color and becomes more orange almost as if the red die in the meat is used to color their skin. The male bodies also change becoming much taller vertically and less thick. It is interesting because the females that we caught had also changed color to a reddish color; however, their body shapes had not changed and were even thicker due to the increasing size of the egg sacks.
The boys helped me cut up the fish to produce the best amount of jerky. Because the fish were becoming stronger flavored and more mushy they didn’t want to save any of the tails for cooking. We already had plenty of frozen red salmon for them to take. They put all of the jerky strips in the refrigerator tubs with the brown sugar/salt brine and let it set for 24 hours. Then they separated out the strips on the smoking trays and added the spices that they wanted to flavor them. Travis is shown placing the smoking trays into the smoker for the next part of the process. Twelve hours later the trays were removed, the jerky scraped off into tubs and then vacuum packed in small packages for later consumption. Those were flown back to Kansas with them along with some previous processed red salmon tails for winter eating.
That was not the only fishing the our kids did while they were here. They decided that they wanted to do some trout fishing in Johnson Lake too. They put together the pontoon boat that holds three people and took it over to the lake to fish. With the help of Doug (who used to be Dan, the Dandelion Man, see last year’s blog and has turned out to be a very knowledgeable individual about the area), they gathered dragonfly nymphs under the rocks in the lake for bait. It turns out that the nymphs are the favorite food of the trout. They had a very successful fishing trip although they didn’t catch any large trout and used a lot of nymphs! Never-the-less, the lake was beautiful, the afternoon, although cloudy, was warm and calm and we got some beautiful photos of them on the lake with the forest and mountains in the background!
It wasn’t all fun and games for them although Travis and Adrienne did manage to wax us playing Mexican Train and she wiped us all out playing anagrams (Travis is going to have his hands full with her and we enjoyed her immensely!). We always ask our family visitors to help us with the park, either improving it or providing some of it’s maintenance. This year the three of them were asked to paint the finish coat of wood sealer to the outside of the kitchen/workshop complex. They did a beautiful job covering every square inch of wood on the building.
Then Adrienne also painted the outside of the planters that I was building for the south side of the building. Note that the greenhouse is now full of tomato and cucumber plants. Thanks to Chris and Mark, the electric-chord soil warmer they gave us has help keep our small greenhouse warm enough to produce over a dozen wonderful cucumbers and three vine ripened tomatoes plus some more before we leave. That was even in the coldest summer recorded on the Kenai Peninsula.
The planters are now filled with soil and potting soil plus the flowers from the summer. Few of the perennial ones may last the winter and come back up in the spring; however, it’s hard for those that are not in the ground and aren’t native to Alaska. We will raise potatoes (we had a nice crop this year from three potatoes), greens (lettuce and European), radishes and lots of dill next summer. Hopefully some of our herbs will make it through the winter too. It’s always nice to have fresh produce during the summer.
There was time for relaxing and having fun plus a few drinks in the evenings. We enjoyed the chiminea with the three of them and had a couple of nights where the campfire pit was burned and a few some-mores were consumed!
WITH KIDS LIKE THEM, WE REALIZE HOW WONDERFUL THIS PLACE REALLY IS AND HOW MUCH WE ARE GLAD THAT WE CAN MAKE IT FOR THEM!
END OF SUMMER
As the summer winds down we think back on the many wonderful times we had this summer and this blog is too small and short to remember them all, but we still get too. A few of the other moments that we will remember:
Richard helping Tristan make a bird house out of scrap building materials that looks like a boat. They hung it in the Pine tree next to their camper in the space next to where they will be next summer. Hopefully a bird will be using it then.
A handful of bog flowers with a few star flowers that I picked up for my beautiful wife when we were walking around the lake last spring.
Walt fishing on the Kenai River at Sterling. What a relaxing way to catch Red Salmon.
The Russian River Ferry crossing the Kenai River with a group of fishermen. Note the Red Salmon laying in the water at the bottom of the photo.
The finished end of the deck as you walk up the steps from the front driveway.
On a drive back from Kenai one evening, the sun was shinning through the clouds showing Mt. Redoubt off in all it’s snowy glory. We stopped at one of the pull-outs overlooking the Kenai Flats. You can see all the canneries just beyond the Kenai River. Many times the local caribou herd can be seen grazing on these flats, but not this evening.
This evening the show was all about Mt. Redoubt.
What a Surprise!
Guest who showed up at the park to wish us goodbye this year? Yes, it was Spike, Jr. with a new set of horns and all grown up. We know it was him because he had to show off his new horns for us and he would turn to look at us when we talked to him. He also was very tame allowing the few campers that were in the park admire him as long as they didn’t get too close.
Welcome back to the Kasilof RV Park blog! Sorry that I haven’t kept it up to date this summer, but as usual we have been very busy and it is hard to find time to update it as the summer progresses. Now that it is winding down and the visitors are leaving, I can begin to spend time on the blog.
I guess you will have to put up with me this year as the narrator. The squirrel didn’t show up except for a few days when he tried to get into our house. We wouldn’t let him in and I guess he didn’t want to stick around to narrate the blog. We do have a new Spike (see him in Our Summer Friends), but he didn’t turn out to be a big talker like the last one. He sure did like the plants though!
First, it is my sad duty to tell you that we lost our best buddy and nephew,Kevin this past winter. He fought a battle with a brain tumor that was inoperable for the past three years and in January lost the battle. He was so much a part of building the Kasilof RV Park that he will always be remembered. Without his help, the Park would not be the jewel it is today.
His ashes were buried next to his Dad in the Reading, Kansas cemetery although some were brought to Alaska by his son, Ryan. Kevin always said he wanted to be part of the Kenai River where he and his Dad, David had such great times fishing for Red Salmon. Ryan, his wife Cheri, Cary Pyle, Aunt Sally Curry, Aunt Jan and I all wished him well as we placed part of his ashes in the Kenai River from the Soldotna River Bridge. We know that he and his Dad are together again fishing on the Kenai. We just hope that they leave some of the Reds for us to catch when we get there. Goodbye Kevin, you are gone from us for now, but will never be forgotten.
It’s been a very cool, rainy summer. The weather people have said it was the coolest summer in recorded history. When we heard of the blistering heat throughout the lower 48 this past summer, we were happy to be in cool Alaska! Our average temperature on cloudy, rainy days was in the mid-50’s and in the high 60’s to low 70’s when it was sunny. It’s hard to beat that when it is 100+ degrees in Kansas!
We had a good summer with a lot of wonderful campers from all over the US including Hawaii, plus Europe and Japan. We also had a great time with our family visitors as you will see in the section, Who Was Here. We had one major project this year with the addition of a roof over the deck area and a small extension of the deck itself. You will see that later in a separate section (The Summer Project).
The King fishing season turned out to be a big flop to the dismay of many of our campers (more about that later); however, the Red season was a huge success with almost 2 million reds swimming up the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers. Boy were they big this year and BOY, did we enjoy catching them!!!! We will sure enjoy eating them through the winter also.
BACK TO ALASKA
Anchorage had a record snowfall year, 11 feet 2 inches. It was mostly melted when we arrived although there were still mounds of snow piled in every vacant space. The Kenai mountains on the way to Kasilof were beautiful with the huge snowfall. The sky was clear, the sun shining and it was a wonderful trip to our summer home.
We arrived the 24th of April a little earlier than usual since Jan had to go to Zack’s graduation the third weekend in May. It takes awhile to clean up the park for the summer and this year was no exception. Although most of the 11 feet of snow we got in the park was melted, there were still some areas in the trees that were covered and there were banks of snow still standing under the roof lines.
We had one minor accident this past winter, a tree broke off in unusually high winds last fall. It fell right across the roof of the kitchen. It didn’t look like it caused any damage except a bent overhang. Later we found that one of it’s limb punctured a hole in the roof. I managed to repair the hole with some left over metal sheeting from our storage area by the well house.
While I cut up the tree on the roof, the dead brush around the RV pads and dead rose branches in the bushes, Jan was busy cleaning up the winter trash. All of the green areas around the buildings and between the RV pads have dead grass, limbs, leaves and other debris that has to be cleaned for the summer. We generally burn off the grasses although we have to wait for windless days. Much of the other debris has to be cleared by raking. We had purchased our summer flowers shortly after we got here and had them in the Men’s restroom where it was warm. We finally got them into the planters by the 15th of May. It was too early this year as we had a bad frost on the night of the 17th which nipped a lot of the plants and killed several. We found out that it’s not a good idea to purchase them too early because when the ground is still cold and the nights are near 32 degrees, the plants don’t recover well. It takes them much longer to start growing when they get a cold start. We do purchase a lot of flowers for the park and they grow wonderful during the long sunny days of summer.
Jan walked by and said, “Laying down on the job, huh?”
“Nope, looking for gold, but all I found was a leak!”
OUR SUMMER FRIENDS
The spring migration of birds started arriving in late May after the ice melted off Johnson Lake. The loons arrived first shortly after the ice melted.
Soon the swans arrived to spend several days resting before heading up to the tundra to their nesting areas.
For the past two years there have been three of them. We don’t know if one of the pairs lost a mate or whether the third is an offspring of the pair.
The Sand Cranes followed quickly and spent time feeding in the tundra area next to the lake.
June is calving time for the moose. As soon as the grass starts to green, the young yearlings come out to feed because the cows chase them away to give birth to the new calves. This year we were delighted to have a pair of twins from last year greet us early. Meet Spike Jr. and his sister, Little White Stockings, named because she has white hair up the back legs above her back knees. Because they were raised near or in the Park last summer, they are very tame and will wander around us without being a bit afraid.
Spike Jr. got his name because he is ornery and a show-off like his uncle two years ago. Jan and I were standing on the deck taking pictures of him when he decided to smell the flowers in the planters. I told him that he wasn’t supposed to eat those and he turned his head and looked at me. I could almost swear he grinned, but Jan said it was my imagination. He didn’t eat the flowers though. Next day he was in the back yard. I had the greenhouse doors open because the sun was heating it up too hot. He stuck his head through the crack in the door to smell the plants and I yelled at him to get his head out of there. He backed up a couple of steps and looked at me. I know that he grinned at me that time! It didn’t keep him from sticking his head inside again, but he didn’t eat anything.
Little White Stockings isn’t a bit shy! She came right over to Jan when Jan was taking her picture. It is almost like they are aware we won’t hurt them and are as curious about us as we are about them. We do notice that when strangers come around, they tend to get away from them, but around us they are like part of the family.
She had been down on her knees eating the new green grass just coming up on the lawn, but decided that she wanted to come over and tell Jan Hi! We watched her eating the new grass on her knees for some time and when she cleaned one area, she would move over to another still on her knees.
And there is Mom (note the light color of the hair on the back legs) making sure that her offspring aren’t causing a lot of trouble to us. She has been a part of the Park since we bought it four years ago and probably longer than that. She has raised several sets of twins and several singles in the Park over the years and we have enjoyed them and her immensely. We hope she will have some more this spring.
As the summer continued, we saw less and less of them. By mid-summer, Spike had grown a set of horns although still just spikes with a ball at the end. He would appear in the park in the late evenings and at night, but we rarely saw him during the day. Little White Stockings soon wasn’t little. She would still come around at times and appeared for Bus and Carol Stromgren when they arrived for a visit in mid-July, but we haven’t seen her since. All the moose become very shy when the park is full. There are usually several dogs in the park and lots of people. Hopefully we will begin to see them again before we leave this fall.
It is new baby time with another mother that we know. These little ones were born to Old Scarside, a cow that has been around the Park a lot also. She must have gotten too close to a bear in the past as she has two claw marks down her left side. She sure makes cute babies though.
Keep looking for the next installment of the SUMMER 2012 Blog. It will be coming in a couple of days (if it keeps raining)!