New York City: The Year that Wasn’t

We had big plans. Rent a NYC apartment in the Upper West Side and enjoy all that NYC has to offer – Broadway, museums, incredible dining and entertainment, Central Park, Macy’s Day Parade, Christmas and New Years in the Big Apple. Learn what’s it’s like to live in a really big city that’s always buzzing.

It started off well. We committed to a year lease in an apartment in the Upper West Side at the corner of Central Park and mid-town. It was Fall, the leaves were turning bright orange.

We saw Bruce Springsteen and several others on Broadway. We visited all the major museums and enjoyed the Macy’s Day Parade by stepping just outside our apartment.

As Peloton enthusiasts, we even worked out at the Peloton studio with one of our favorite instructors (Ally Love).

Christmas came quickly and we were beginning to feel like a local — finding our favorite restaurants and finding nooks and crannies of Central Park that tourists probably won’t see.

We brought in the New Year and watched the fireworks over Central Park.

A New Day

The end of year came and we headed back to warmer weather in Florida. We excitingly started making plans for Spring and Summer 2020 in NYC. We bought tickets to lots of Broadway shows – Westside Story, The Music Man, and more. We bought tickets to see Jerry Seinfeld and to a Kenny Chesney concert towards the end of summer.

It was March 2020 and we traveled back to NYC to see Jerry Seinfeld. Just days before our travel, we heard about this new virus called Corona Virus and the possibility of it spreading to America. Broadway was still open and Jerry Seinfeld had not be been cancelled — surely things are OK, we’ll keep our plans.

A day after we arrived, things were starting to get real. Seinfeld was cancelled and so was all the Broadway shows. We quickly hopped on a plane back to Florida to wait it out. It took a while until we could return. Governor Cuomo did an amazing job of keeping things locked down until the viral surge was under control.

We returned mid July but NYC was not the same. The streets were empty, you rarely saw a taxi, no horns were blaring and the city was no longer buzzing. Restaurants were outside dining only or take out. Even Time Square was eerily empty.

We decided to make the best of it. We ate in and took long walks in Central Park. We saw pretty much every square inch of the park and it is beautiful.

Closing out our New York City Adventure

During all this craziness, we learned that our son Cameron and Kara were pregnant so we would become first time grandparents. They live in Maine and we want to be close to them so we decided to give up our NYC apartment and get a place in Kennebunk Maine (more on that later).

In September, we returned to NYC for one last visit before leaving for Maine. We spent about a month in NYC and it had changed since July. More people were out and about but people were socially distancing and wearing masks. Broadway was still closed but restaurants were beginning to allow a smaller crowd to enter (still mostly outside seating). But the streets were starting to buzz again, taxis were back and the familiar horn blowing and city noise was returning. We ventured out to take in some sights that we missed earlier in the year.

Summing it Up

Although the universe had a different plan for us than envisioned for our year in New York City, we still thoroughly enjoyed it. New York City is such a great city and we are happy we had this experience. I will leave you with a couple of final images.

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Discovering the Northeast USA during the Pandemic

It was early March and we were narrowing down our international travel plans for 2020. China and Tibet seem interesting. We were visualizing the Great Wall and visits to Tibet monasteries. Then the pandemic hit. China and Tibet will have to wait.

Fast forward 4 months and we are living in a new normal. Never thought we would wear masks, avoid hugging friends, stop eating in restaurants, or generally avoid others.

After things calmed down (before the flare up in July), we decided to travel domestically to see more of the Northeast. We started in Maine where our oldest son lives. We traveled responsibly — vigilant in wearing our masks, keeping our distance from others and ordering take out. Here’s what we saw…

Maine

Maine is a beautiful state with awesome foliage, mountains, lakes, streams and access to the Atlantic Ocean. Beautiful light houses protect its rocky shores.

Our son and daughter-in-law have an amazing farm on 11 acres, complete with a barn, horse, goat, barn cat, and lots of flowering plants.

We had plenty of time to work on projects together. One of our fun projects was building a table together — very rewarding.

I also got a chance to work on my handicap with some nice golf courses around this area. They allow you to ride a single cart, golfers don’t shake or high five and we kept our distance. The new normal I guess.

Upstate New York

We’ve spent lots of time in New York City but never Upstate New York. Looking at the map, we spotted 11 elongated lakes resembling fingers — appropriately named the Finger Lakes. We had never heard much about them and was pleasantly surprised at how beautiful this area of the country is.

Many of the Finger Lakes are lined with a scenic drive along its shores with lots of wineries (great Rieslings) and craft breweries.

Astonishingly, this area has a large Amish population and you will invariably see them in horse and buggy along the roads.

The Hamptons (Long Island)

This was our first time visiting the Hamptons — New York City’s playground for the rich and famous. It was a bit different than I had visualized. It is densely populated with trees and the few roads in and out don’t provide a view of the beautiful beaches. It does not feel like a tropical area but has lots of shopping and upscale restaurants.

Once you get to the beaches, they are wonderful. Being from Inlet Beach, we are used to sugar sand beaches — these have a similar consistency with a yellow hue.

But this area has a lot of charm and I can see why it’s a relaxation spot for New Yorkers.

Apparently, it’s also legal to be chauffeured around by your 4 legged friends.

New York City

Our final stop was our beloved New York City. Things have really changed since our last visit. There are almost no tourists, so there are no crowded streets, few sirens blaring and almost no horns honking. Imagine that. No museums are open, restaurants are order out or outside seating only and Broadway shows are closed. Everyone wears masks and are diligent about social distancing. Andrew Como did a great job managing the pandemic and we feel as comfortable here as we do back home.

With everything closed, we’ve spent a lot of time walking every inch of Central Park.

Black Lives Matter. They always have.

My Photography

I am often asked what type of camera I use to capture my photos. I mostly use my iPhone XR and a Nikon D500 if I need a long distance lens (but I rarely use it anymore). I’ve learned a lot about photography and it is more about your approach than what camera you choose to use. Once you learn the basics of composition and post-processing techniques, you can create stunning pictures that tell a story.

A year or so ago, I learned about an online photography class offered by Emil Pakarklis and it took my photography to the next level. If you want to hone your camera skills, it’s invaluable. Check it out here: https://iphonephotographyschool.com/author/emil/.

All of the pictures in this blog post were taken with my iPhone XR.

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Germany: Going Cuckoo after a slow ride down the Rhine

A few years ago, we enjoyed a slow ride down the Rhine River to take in the small German villages and hillside castles. The Rhine starts in Switzerland and flows North through Germany and Netherlands before dumping into the North Sea.

If you haven’t cruised the Rhine, it’s something you will want to do.

I didn’t notice this until we reviewed our photos, but the one below is funny. Check out the kid at the bottom right of the picture. We had just passed the castle from the photo above and he is snoozing away as we drift. His Dad is getting it all on video for later ribbing.

As you drift down the river, you see castle after castle. It’s fun to speculate about who built and lived in the castles over the years.

If you do a bit of research, its not nearly as romantic as you might imagine. The castles were equipped with thick-walls and fortifications and were used mostly as customs control over trade. At the time, the Rhine was a major trade route for the Romans. During the 14th century, cannons pillaged the castles and were eventually abandoned.

Among the castles are vineyards. If you have the time, you can stop in and sample the famous German Rieslings.

There are numerous quaint German Villages along this route.

Germany is a leading maker of Cuckoo clocks. After our Rhine cruise, we traveled into the Black Forest to see where they’re made. A lot of workmanship goes into each clock.

The store that sold these clocks had a Cuckoo clock built into the top deck. At the top of the hour, it chimes and you get to see a couple dancing on the deck.

A Blast from the Past: London, England

In 2011, we took a Trafalgar trip around Europe and our first stop was London. This was our first trip to America’s motherland and our first chance to see castles and royal sites.

No trip to London is complete until you see Buckingham Palace and its surrounding gardens.

Another must-see spot is the Tower of London. They offer tours where you can learn about Henry VIII and other prominent Kings and Queens.

I’ll leave you with one last picture from London.

Chandigarh: The Happiest City in India

After retiring, I decided I wanted to learn more about mobile app development so I designed an Apple app and began looking for a developer to write the code. I picked an individual in India who previously worked for Microsoft. His name was Rupreet and he did a great job with the app. Once the app was live, I went back to traveling and enjoying retired life.

Then in 2016, an old friend called to ask if I would consider working part time as a consultant for a startup company in North Carolina. He wanted me to lead a team who could develop a web-based workflow solution. After mulling it over (and agreeing that I could continue traveling as I have before), I came on board.

After doing a few months of discovery regarding features needed of the product, I began thinking about who could do the work. I contacted my friend Rupreet (who did my app) and he and a partner had built a business in Chandigarh India to provide software outsourcing. The timing was right, so we hired them as our outsource partner.

Prior to this, I had no knowledge of Chandigarh. It’s located north of Delhi.

I came to learn that in a country of over 1.3 billion people, 29 states, and 7 union territories — Chandigarh is the cleanest city and has the highest happiness index. So how does the size of India compare to the USA? It is about 1/3 the size.

When I started this consulting gig, I figured I would get the software up and running and return to full time retirement. But it has now been almost 4 years and I am still enjoying the part time work. As long as I can continue having freedom to travel and feel that I am can make a positive impact on the project, I am happy to continue doing it.

Although we’ve worked with the team in Chandigarh for almost 4 years, I had never visited until recently.

New Delhi

We started out trip in New Delhi — the capital of India. One of the partners of our outsourcing partner lives in Delhi and he was a great host. We ate amazing Indian food and closed down several night clubs before heading to bed at 3:00 a.m.

One of the local desserts is something called Paan.

It’s part breath freshener and part digestive aid. It is a wad of dried fruits, spices and seeds wrapped into a large green leaf from the betel nut plant. Our host spotted a local shop, purchased it and asked us to swallow it down.

How did it taste? To us, it tasted like soap! For most, probably licorish.

Chandigarh

The rest of our stay was in Chandigarh. Right away, we noticed it was much cleaner and less crowded than New Delhi. It is a master planned city that resides in one of the union territories — so it is not actually in an Indian state.

Our hosts treated us to some of the best restaurants in town. The person to the left below is Ketan — he owns the outsourcing company that we partner with. This was at a micro brewery. It was a bit different than our micro breweries in that it had a live deejay with music pumping as you sipped your brew.

The place below was a sports bar with stadium seating and dining pods. Kinda reminded me of The Hobbit. This was a very cool dining experience.

They also have trendy restaurants with amazing service. This place had an amazing ambiance and outdoor seating with fireplaces and individual table side warming stoves.

We had a few days to explore Chandigarh. We visited the Silent Garden and Sukhna Lake where the locals were enjoying the 60 degree winter weather.

Of course, daily life in India is much different than the states. People commute via bicycle, motorcycle, scooters, and even via horse. That’s what I love about travel, you get to experience cultures unlike your own and gain a great appreciation for life.

I’ll leave you with a picture of our team in India — a great bunch of people!

7 Places You May Want to See in Northern California

If you’ve wanted to visit Northern California, here are 7 spots you may want to visit:

  1. Sonoma and Napa Valley
  2. Bodega Bay
  3. Fort Ross
  4. Armstrong Redwoods
  5. Mount Shasta
  6. Muir Woods Redwoods
  7. Stinson Beach

Sonoma and Napa Valley

If you’re in the mood for wine tasting, consider making Sonoma your hub. Cheaper than staying in Napa, it has amazing wineries and is a short 25 minute drive to Napa. A couple of our favorite wineries in Sonoma were Jacuzzi and B. R. Cohen.

Jacuzzi Winery in Sonoma
B. R. Cohn — Owned by legendary manager of the Doobie Brothers band

Since we were staying 3 weeks, we rented a beautifully appointed rental home situated on a couple of acres surrounded by vineyards. We would wake up each morning to hot air balloons and jack rabbits scouting food among the vineyards.

This was the view we woke up to each day:

Notice the hot air balloon in the horizon

We also visited Napa. One of our favorite spots to visit is Frog’s Leap. Not for the wine so much, but for the farm surrounding the winery — it is beautifully done.

It also has some reasonably priced golfing — some built around vineyards. I golfed Eagle Vines Golf Course and the 2 pm tee time cost less than $30. Most tee boxes had views of vineyards that can be reached with your drive if not careful.

Bodega Bay

Just an hour drive from Sonoma is Bodega Bay — the iconic beach town where Alfred Hitchcock shot the 1963 movie “The Birds”. A coastal town, we rented a beach front house with amazing views.

Although it is about 20 degrees colder than Sonoma (in the 60’s), it was nice to wake up with these views.

The Links at Bodega Harbour offers spectacular views of the bay — this was a really fun golf course to play and if you play after noon, it’s not very expensive.

There are ample hiking opportunities in Bodega Bay, here was our view from one of our hikes.

Fort Ross

We decided to drive north along the coast from Bodega Bay and we stumbled on Fort Ross. This was a great find, an old fort built my the Russians who occupied this land from 1812 to 1841. If you are in this area, it is certainly worth a stop.

Armstrong Redwoods

In less than 45 minutes, you can drive from Bodega Bay to the Armstrong Redwoods. This impressive park has lots of huge redwoods and fun hikes.

Mount Shasta

If you’re feeling adventurous, take a 5 hour ride north to Mount Shasta. We dedicated a weekend to it. It is a beautiful mountain with great hiking but it also is a sacred site because it is a Chakra Center of Gaia. Just like our bodies, Earth reportedly has seven chakras, or energy processing centers and Mount Shasta is one.

While we were there, I was practicing creating long exposure shots with my iPhone and I took this picture on one of the hikes. Long exposure gives water a silky look. If you want to learn how to do this — shoot me an email.

Muir Woods Redwoods

Even more impressive than Armstrong Redwoods is Muir Woods Redwoods. This park is much bigger and you must purchase a ticket before you get there (you can do this online). It has miles of trails via boardwalk — if you are in the area, this is a must!

Stinson Beach

A short distance from Muir Woods is Stinson Beach — a beach with a bohemian vibe. If you are in the area, it’s worth hanging out here for a few days.

3 Fun Short Stay Activities in Lake Tahoe

Each summer we try to escape the heat and humidity of Florida. We first hung out in Denver, spending time with our youngest son, visiting old friends and playing a little golf. Lynn had never been to Lake Tahoe so we spent a few days enjoying lake views, golfing, and sampling a few wines.

Taking in Lake Views

We stayed in Squaw Valley — a 15 minute drive from northwest Lake Tahoe. This area is bike friendly so we rented bikes and cycled down the trail that goes from Squaw Valley to to Lake Tahoe. It was Sunday and there were lots of people floating down the river in tubes and rafts (you can rent these at the base of Lake Tahoe).

As you cycle along the river, you see scenic bridges, people enjoying the water, and families having picnics.

Once you reach Lake Tahoe, continue the trial south to enjoy beautiful views along the lake. A good place to stop for brunch is Sunnyside Restaurant. Located right on the lake, it has great food and lake views.

Another way to take in the views is to drive the perimeter of the lake. There are hiking spots along the way if you want to stretch your legs. The drive around the lake will take you about 3 hours but you will want to make some stops along the way. We spent about 5 or 6 hours, stopping to eat and and take short hikes.

One of our favorite stops was Sand Harbor on the Nevada side. It has a Bar and Grill but also has a few beaches with beautiful views of the lake. It gets crowded so its best to hit this place early.

If you’re into hiking, consider taking the gondola at Olympic Village in Squaw Valley. This is where the Olympics were held in 1960. Once you reach the top, there are tons of hikes for all skill levels. There is also a small museum with memorabilia from the 1960 Olympics.

You will also get views of the lake from up top.

Taking in Olympic Village

Olympic Village normally has something going on each weekend. When we were there, California wineries were hosting a wine tasting. This was ideal because we were visiting Sonoma soon and wanted some suggestions for wineries to visit. There were also musicians playing and people out enjoying the weekend.

Golfing Squaw Valley

I played The Links at Squaw Creek in Olympic Village — it is a course surrounded by 6 majestic Sierra peaks. The course was designed by Robert Trent Jones and offers a challenging round due to its narrow fairways, hidden greens and thick grass bordering every fairway.

I played alone towards the end of the day and it was a challenge to know where to hit the ball because of the hidden greens and dangers on both sides of the fairway. I lost about 6 golf balls because I just was not sure where to aim. If I had played with someone that knew the course, I would carded a much better score than 94! But this was a really fun course.

I’ll leave you with a final picture from the course. You traverse most of the holes along a boardwalk that keeps you out of the high grass along the fairway. Challenging. Beautiful. Incredibly Fun!

Slovenia: A Surprisingly Awesome Place to Visit

Ask most Americans if they would like to visit Slovenia and they would probably look at you funny. I’m well traveled but knew nothing about Slovenia until it happened to be along our path from Austria to Croatia — 2 countries we wanted to see.

Ljubljana

Our first stop in Slovenia was Ljubljana, What an amazing surprise, this place is absolutely fantastic. After spending 3 days here, I would highly recommend a visit.

Ljubljana is the capital and largest city in Slovenia with a population of about 270,000. It is a very walkable city with well kept buildings, churches, and a river running through the middle.

On our first night, we dropped into the restaurant in the picture below. It was a river side restaurant and the food smelled great. We were shown to our table and the waiter (a Frank Zappa looking gentleman) says “let me guess: 2 wines and 2 beers!”. We broke up laughing, he thought he had us sized up (and he did). He was typical of the people we met in Slovenia. Warm, friendly and ready to clown around.

We liked that restaurant so much, we ate there 2 of the 3 nights. The town has lots of interesting art installations around town.

Notice the bumps in the street behind us. That is actually an art installation that are alien-like heads, check it out by looking closer:

They also have a bridge aptly named”Dragon Bridge”.

They also have a bridge of locks (similar to Paris).

At the highest point of the city lies a castle that dates back to medieval times (notice the castle at the top of this picture):

You can ride to the top of the castle or you can walk it. We rode up and walked down.

You are rewarded with beautiful views from the top of the castle.

Bled

Just a short drive from Ljubljana is Bled, a glacier lake set in an idyllic location.

There is a castle at the top of Lake Bled, complete with a small museum.

In the middle of the lake is a church that dates back to 1655, check out the island from the window of the castle (top right window pane).

To get to the island, you must take a gondola, as you would in Venice.

The owners of these boats are families who have passed it down from generation to generation for hundreds of years.

As you get closer to the church, you appreciate the effort it took for church goers to get there.

The view from the island is breath taking.

I’ll leave you with a final picture I took returning from the boat. Shouldn’t Slovenia be on your bucket list?

Visiting the Capital of Hungary: Budapest

While in Austria, we had a chance to visit Hungary’s capital city, Budapest. Budapest was previously 2 cities (Buda and Pest), separated by the Danube River. One of the most iconic landmarks is the Hungarian Parliament building (red-top building in the background of the picture below) — I will include a closer image of that at the end of this blog.

We first stopped at City Park, a place where locals ice skate in the winter and hangout in the summer.

Imagine this entire lake being frozen during winter.

The castle across the lake takes you back in time. You can climb the tower for a better lookout.

As we drove around the city, you catch glimpses of haunting statues. These are not statues of nobility but of suffering.

If you visit, be sure to spend some time walking around the Buda Castle district (Budai Varnegyed) — there is so much to experience here.

From the Buda side, you get a peek at the Hungarian Parliament building.

From the Pest side, you see it in all it’s glory.

Cycling through Vienna Austria

Our friends had just finished up a vigorous (and rainy) 200 mile cycling trip in Austria and met us in Vienna to start a trip that would span 3 countries and thousands of miles in the coming weeks. You would think they would’ve had enough of cycling but not so — we saw Vienna Austria via bike — what a great way to see the city!

Vienna is one of the largest cities in Europe with over 1.9 million residents. The city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site so there’s lots to see. The State Opera house is a big attraction — you can enjoy opera or just take an inside tour.

We saw an Opera while there but not in the State Opera House. Opera is so plentiful in Vienna, it is easy to catch a show.

If you’re into horses, check out the Spanish Riding School. Here you can watch professional riders training for upcoming events.

Notice the decadent chandelier

As you cycle through town, you will catch glimpses of many churches. One of the most iconic is St. Stephen’s Cathedral with its Gothic architecture.

Another beautiful building is the Hofburg Palace.

If you have a flair for oddities, Hundertwasserhaus checks that box. Its creator Friendenserich Hundertwasser hated straight lines and angles, he was an ecologist and the buildings he designed are a combination of architecture and nature. It reminded us of some of the Guadi buildings we saw in Barcelona Spain.

One of my favorite areas we cycled through was Vienna University of Economics and Business. The architecture of the buildings is amazing. It was a collaboration of architectural firms from Spain, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan and Austria.

If you have an extra day to spend in Vienna, be sure to visit Wurstelprater amusement park. It’s about like going to Six Flags in America — it has rides for every age.