Tag Archives: Steve Miller

Hanging with the Snow Birds in Hilton Head, SC

This was our first visit to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Hilton Head sits just off the southeastern coast of South Carolina and offers 12 miles of beachfront property lining the Atlantic Ocean.

Hilton Head SC

Hilton Head SC

Thousands of years ago, Hilton Head was a seasonal habitation for native Americans and was settled by European explorers for sea island cotton trade. It was an important island for the Civil War as it served the Union navy with an important blockade route for the southern ports. Once the Union had control of the island, many slaves migrated there and they became known as “native islanders”.

Hilton Head Island

Hilton Head Island

Sunrise in Hilton Head

We stayed in a newly renovated 1 bedroom condo with water views. It was nicely decorated and we enjoyed our stay there. During our time there, we met numerous snow birds from Ontario, Canada. They were staying for months at a time.

Katie enjoying the beach

Katie enjoying the beach

Lighthouse in Hilton Head

Lighthouse in Hilton Head

Sunrise in Hilton Head

One of the things that surprised us was that there were tons on people walking the beaches, even at 50 degrees Fahrenheit. One morning I woke up early and caught the sunrise.

Sunrise on Hilton Head

Sunrise on Hilton Head

Hilton Head Sunrise

Hilton Head Sunrise

Sunrise in Hilton Head

Sunrise in Hilton Head

Baynard Ruins

We also visited the Baynard Ruins, a plantation home that included a main house and slave quarters. The house which overlooked the Calibogue Sound near the south end of the island, was built by Captain Jack Stoney as part of Braddock’s Point Plantation around 1793.

Baynard Ruins

Baynard Ruins

The house remained in the Stoney family for several decades until it was lost by a Stoney heir in a late-night poker game. The new owner was William Baynard, a highly successful cotton planter who occupied the former Stoney home from 1840 until his death in 1849.

Baynard Ruins

Baynard Ruins

The home was raided during the Civil War and Union forces made it their headquarters. It burned down shortly after the Civil War.

Baynard Ruins

Baynard Ruins

Golfing in Hilton Head

Unfortunately, I did not bring my golf clubs on this trip but Hilton Head has lots of incredibly manicured golf courses. I will have to make another trip back here to golf at some time in the future.

Scenic Hilton Head

Scenic Hilton Head

Scenic Hilton Head

Scenic Hilton Head

Slide Show of Hilton Head

If you would like to see a slide show of pictures we took at Hilton Head, click on the picture below.

Hilton Head SC Slide Show

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Slideshow of our Trip to Portugal

It seems like our trip to Portugal last summer was just yesterday. I finally pulled together a slide show of pictures from our stop in Lisbon, Portugal, I hope you enjoy it.

Lisbon, Portugal

LisbonPortugal

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Meet some Financial gurus that know a bit about Life Style Freedom

First of all, I am not a financial guru by any stretch of the imagination, but I love personal finance and enjoy reading inspirational stories about how others have paved their way to financial independence.

Most people who retire early are seeking life style freedom. They want to be able to plan their day as they wish. If they feel like playing golf, hiking, biking or taking a road trip somewhere, they just get up and go. If they want to vacation for a month or more, they can do it. If they want to work full or part-time on a job that is fun for them, they just do it.

We achieved life style freedom by selling our software company in 2009 but not everyone has a business to sell.  So do you have to own and sell a business to achieve life style freedom? No, there are people that had jobs with average salaries that saved their way to life style freedom. Let me introduce you to a few of them.


Mr. Money Mustache

Mr. Money Mustache (Pete)

Mr. Money Mustache (Pete)

Although he goes by the name Mr. Money Mustache, his real name is Pete and his last name he wants to keep anonymous. He retired at 30 years old on a nest egg of about $600,000 of which he saved by stuffing away about 75% of his paycheck into savings. He is now a multi-millionaire.

He started the Mr. Money Mustache website to share his financial prowess with others and offers a free discussion forum where like-minded people swap advice about money, investing and creating life style freedom. If you like personal finance, I highly recommend visiting this website.

Website: http://www.MrMoneyMustache.com 


Robert and Robin Charlton

Bob and Robin Charlton

Bob and Robin Charlton

Robert (Bob) and Robin retired at 43 years old the old-fashioned way, they saved their way to retirement. Although the couple averaged only about $89,000 in combined salaries per year, they amassed almost $1 million in savings over a 15 year period.

Bob recently wrote a book about early retirement called How to Retire Early (click here to see it) and it is one of the top-rated books in the Retirement section of Amazon. It takes you through a journey of exactly how they accomplished it. It is very transparent and incredibly motivating. We met Bob and Robin a few years ago after we retired. We share a love of travel and they document their travels on their personal website.

Website: http://www.WhereWeBe.com 


Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

Billy and Akaisha owned a restaurant and decided to ditch the working grind at 38 years old. After accumulating savings in their dual career jobs and selling the restaurant, they had a net worth of about $500,000.

They have been retired now for over 25 years and their nest egg is larger than when they retired. They live on about $30,000 per year and travel the world most of the year.  Their website offers financial advice and documents their world travels.

When we started planning our early retirement, I read Billy and Akaisha’s book called “The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement” and it offered motivation and pragmatic advice regarding retiring early. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend taking the time to do so.

Website: http://www.retireearlylifestyle.com


How much does it take to Retire?

So how much is enough? First, try to reduce your monthly expenses as much as you can by following advice from the people above. Once you have that down, take your monthly expenses and make them yearly (multiply by 12) and then multiple that number by 25. For example, if your monthly expenses are $3000, your annual expenses are $36,000. Multiply that by 25 and it means you need $900,000 of investments to retire.

This is called the “safe withdrawal rate” or the “4% rule”. Click here for a really good article that explains the 4% rule in more detail.

Now, do you need all of that to quit a job you hate and take a cooler job that you enjoy? No. Let’s say you only have investments of $500,000 and your yearly expenses are $36,000. You can safely withdraw 4% of your $500,000 per year without ever running out of money, so that means you can withdraw $20,000 per year. So if you wanted to ditch your job and get a more fun job (maybe a part-time job) where you clear $16,000 per year, you could safely retire with the $500,000 in investments.

Are you nuts?

OK, I now hear you saying “Are you crazy? How can I (or we) save $900,000? I have almost no savings at this time!”. Bob and Robin Charlton also had no savings in 1992 and decided they wanted to change their life. So they embarked on a 15 year journey to save money and they retired with almost $1 million in the bank in just 15 years. Read the full story here.

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Cool Cabin in the North Carolina Mountains

As I mentioned in my earlier post about goals, we wanted to vacation more this year in the states so we took our first adventure to North Carolina. We rented this cool, yet tiny, cabin in Bryson City, North Carolina. Situated in the Appalachian Mountains, the cabin had incredible views of the tree laden Smoky Mountains.

See a slide show here

Woodland Loft Cabin

Woodland Loft Cabin

The cabin was small, my guess is that it was about 300-400 square feet. But it made great use of the space. It had flat screen TVs, a fireplace, views from almost every inch of the cottage, a pretty large bathroom and a small kitchen. It also had a nice deck area with hot tub.

Great views from the bedroom

Great views from the bedroom

Deck with Hot Tub

Deck with Hot Tub

Hiking in Deep Creek

Just minutes from Bryson City is the Deep Creek entry to the Smoky Mountain National Park. From here you can hike the Three Waterfalls Loop. This is a pretty easy 3 mile hike that provides up close views of 3 waterfalls.  As we started our hike, a deer was just a few feet away drinking from the creek.

Deer drinking from Deep Creek

Deer drinking from Deep Creek

Juney Whank Falls

Juney Whank Falls

Tom Branch Falls

Tom Branch Falls

Indian Creek Falls

Indian Creek Falls

Biltmore House in Asheville

Located about a hour from Bryson City in Asheville, NC, the Biltmore House is an impressive mansion built in 1895 by George Vanderbilt. Situated on an 8,000 acre estate, the Biltmore includes a house, vineyard, winery, farm, and tons of hiking trails. We’ve visited several mansions in the USA and a number of castles in Europe but this home is decorated in the most tasteful way we’ve seen.

The Biltmore House includes 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, a gym, and a swimming pool. As we walked through the rooms and visited the huge kitchen and servant quarters, it reminded us of the popular series “Downton Abbey”. They don’t allow taking photos from inside of the house, so you should plan a trip to Asheville to see it for yourself.

The Biltmore Huose

The Biltmore Huose

Local Craft Breweries

We always tend to seek out local craft brew houses when traveling. In Bryson City, we visited Nantahala Brewing Company. When we walked in, one of the locals entertained us with stories of the Appalachian trail, other local breweries, and his love of Alabama football.

Nantahala Brewing Company

Nantahala Brewing Company

Our new friend told us about breweries in a town about 10 minutes away called Sylva and told us that Asheville has more breweries per capita than any other place in America. I always thought Fort Collins, CO was the brew capital, who knew! We had to visit more breweries.

Heinzelmannchen Brewery in Sylva

Heinzelmannchen Brewery in Sylva

Innovations Brewery in Sylva

Innovations Brewery in Sylva

One of the breweries in Asheville that the local told us about was Pour. At Pour, they have 43 taps where you can sample any of the beers they offer. They give you a bracelet that you scan to allow you to pour as little or as much as you like and you pay for what you pour. Very cool idea.

Bracelet used for Pour

Bracelet used for Pour

Pour - 43 taps

Pour – 43 taps

Cherokee

Our final stop around the Bryson City area was in a town about 15 minutes away called Cherokee. Here they have museum that details the life of the Cherokee Indians and their plight with the Europeans that drove them out of their homeland. The exhibits were well done and informative. After visiting the museum I’ve decided to read the book The Memoirs of Lt. Henry Timberlake: The Story of a Soldier, Adventurer, and Emissary to the Cherokees, 1756-1765.

Catching up with Old Friends

We took this travel opportunity to catch up with some old friends. My best friend from high school, Bill Stuart (the author of Gemstone Chronicles), lives just north of Atlanta. He and his wife Lana met Lynn and me in Dillard, Georgia one night for dinner. It was the first time I had seen Bill since high school and it was great to see him and meet Lana.

About 3 hours east of Bryson City is Charlotte, North Carolina. Another high school friend, Bill Baxley, lives there. As we began heading towards the coast, we stopped in Charlotte to see Bill and his wife Michelle. This was our first time meeting Michelle and it was really great connecting with them during our journey.

Where are We Heading Next?

As we leave Bryson City, we will make our way to the east coast. We plan to visit the beaches of Nags Head, NC to see where the Wright Brothers launched the world’s first flight. We also plan to see Cape Hatteras to photograph the iconic light house.

Leaving Nags Head, we plan to stop into Myrtle Beach (although I did not bring my golf clubs). Then on to Charleston SC, Hilton Head SC and then to Savannah GA.

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DIY Project: Build a Chalk Board with Cork Board

We were looking for a chalk board for our condo so that we could post notes, menus and other things. I wanted it to have a distressed look and did not want to spend a lot of money, so I decided to build it myself. In this blog, I will step you though the process.

Finished Chalk Board

Finished Chalk Board

What Materials are Needed?

To create a chalk board, you just need a few things, the cost will be about $30 – $40 in total:

  • Thin Plywood – This will be the actual chalk board. I bought a piece from Home Depot for less than $10 and had them cut it to fit (24″ wide x 30″ tall).
  • 1 x 4 boards for frame – I used boards from an old pallet but you can also purchase 1 x 4 white pine board from Home Depot for about $2.50 for an 8 foot piece (purchase 2 of those).
  • Chalk Board Paint – You can purchase Valspar spray-on Chalk Board Paint at Home Depot for about $6.
  • Screws – You will need some screws (#6 x 1/2″) to secure the plywood to the frame, cost of this will be about $4.
  • Sandpaper – I used some existing sand paper (medium grain), it will set you back a couple of bucks if you need to purchase it.
  • White Paint – I used some existing ceiling paint, but any type of non-glossy paint will work well.
  • Stain – If you don’t have an old pallet, you can purchase white pine 1 x 4 wood for your frame. If you wish to make it appear to have a distressed look, you will need some stain as an undercoat. I used some stain I had lying around the house.
  • Cork Board – You can pick up Cork Board from Michael’s or Home Depot.
  • Painter’s Cut-In Brush – You can pick this up from Home Depot for about $3.

Step 1 – Paint the Plywood

Paint the chalk board

Paint the chalk board

If you did not get the plywood cut from Home Depot or wherever your purchased it, cut it to your desired size. I had mine cut to 24″ wide x 30″ high.

Once cut, lightly sand the plywood then spray the chalk board paint by holding it about 8-10 inches away in a sweeping motion.

Allow it to dry for about 30 minutes and apply one more coat.

Step 2 – Paint the Frame

If you have access to an old wooden pallet, it will most likely be distressed looking so there is no need to make it look distressed, you will just need to sand them so that they are smooth to the touch.

Wooden Slats from a Pallet

Wooden Slats from a Pallet

However, if you don’t have access to an old wooden pallet, you probably purchased (2) 8 foot 1″ x 4″ white pine slats.

White Pine Slats

White Pine Slats

To make it look distressed, first sand both sides of the white pine slats. It should be somewhat smooth to the touch once you are done sanding it.

Next, use a hammer and a nail to make nail holes in the white pine board.  Drag the sharp end of your nail along the grain of the wood to make marks — giving it an aged look.

Hammer nail holes to make it look distressed

Hammer nail holes to make it look distressed

Next, apply some stain to the wood slats. It really does not matter what color stain you use, I used English Chestnut.

English Chestnut Stain

English Chestnut Stain

Stain the wood

Stain the wood

Once the wood is stained, you can begin painting, no need to wait for it to fully dry. Use a painter’s cut-in brush to apply the white paint to the stained board. I like the painter’s cut-in brush because it does not leave any brush marks and allows you to vary the pressure of the brush to allow stained areas to show through — giving it that aged look.

Painter's Cut-In Brush

Painter’s Cut-In Brush

Notice how I let areas of stain show through

Notice how I let areas of stain show through

As mentioned earlier, if you were able to get some wooden pallet boards, there is no need to stain them, simply paint them with the white ceiling paint as I described above for the white pine slats. Here is what that might look like:

Pallet wood before painting

Pallet wood before painting

Pallet wood after painting

Pallet wood after painting

Step 3 – Cut the Frame

Once you have stained / painted the wood pieces, you will now cut them for the frame. I used a miter saw and cut each end at 45 degree angles. I measured them so that the long side was 3 inches wider and 3 inches longer than the plywood chalk board. That will allow you to screw the chalk board into the frame.

The trickiest part of this entire project was getting the 45 degree cuts correct because if you are off by one or two degrees, the joints will not align properly. So it is best to cut those pieces about 12 inches longer than you normally would and test out your joints first. Once you know you have the cuts right, you can shorten them.

45 degree cuts for the frame

45 degree cuts for the frame

You will want to secure the back of the frame with an L-bracket as shown here:

L bracket

L-Brackets

 

The final step is to simply attach the cork board to the plywood (I cut the cork board to 10 inches tall and the exact width of the chalk board) and attached the plywood to the frame. I secured the plywood to the frame using small screws (#6 x 1/2″) spaced about 6 inches apart.  Below is the finished project, hung on the wall:

Finished chalk board

Finished chalk board

I hope you enjoyed this post, if I can do it, so can you!

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2014 In the Rear View Mirror

I can’t believe that I retired over 2 years ago. When this August 1st came along, I didn’t even realize that it was my retirement anniversary until I remembered it a week or so later. As I did last year, I wanted to share a review of 2014.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, or Happy whatever-holiday-tradition-you-follow!

Early 2014

We brought in the New Year in Fort Collins with our boys (Cameron and Ryan). We got to learn more about Fort Collins and spent some quality time with the boys. Cameron and I skied Breckenridge and had a great time.

Horsetooth Reservoir

Horsetooth Reservoir

Cameron skiing

Cameron skiing

In February, we returned to Florida with much warmer weather than we had experienced in Colorado. We took some day trips a couple hours away to visit Port St. Joe, Apalachicola, and Cape San Blas. I spent my time fishing and golfing on warm days.

Cape San Blas

Cape San Blas

Sunset on Scenic 30A

Sunset on Scenic 30A

Spring 2014

For Spring Break, we returned to Fort Collins.  Now that it was warming up a bit, we were able to hike and cycle the numerous scenic trails.

Cycling the Poudre Trail

Cycling the Poudre Trail

Hiking Fort Collins

Hiking Fort Collins

We also got out and explored the Fort Collins breweries. While visiting the local brew houses, we met some new friends (Doug and Julie) — they are also into craft breweries.

Pateros Creek Brewery

Pateros Creek Brewery

Tour of Funkwerks

Tour of Funkwerks

Summer 2014

Our youngest son, Ryan, decided that he wanted to take the summer off and transfer from Colorado State University to the University of Florida. Since he was taking the summer off, we decided to travel to Europe for the summer. Our oldest son, Cameron, was working during the summer, so he stayed in Ft. Collins. This was the first time we had traveled with Ryan since we retired, it was a great way to spend the summer.

Paris, France

We spent 2 weeks in Paris, renting a small apartment just down the street from the Arch de Triomphe. We explored all that the city had to offer, visiting all of the major attractions and taking excursions to the French country side, visiting wineries and chateaus.

Chateau De Chenonceau

Chateau De Chenonceau

Back entry to the Chateau

Chateau

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

Spain

After leaving Paris, we flew to Barcelona, Spain.  We stayed in Spain for about a month and was able to visit Montserrat and Costa Brava.

Costa Brava

Costa Brava

Montserrat

Montserrat

Park Guell in Barcelona Spain

Park Guell in Barcelona Spain

Barcelona Beach

Barcelona Beach

Our Spain trip was scheduled around the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, where we had front row seats from a balcony overlooking the festival. It was incredibly fun.

Ryan all dressed up

Ryan all dressed up

Running of the Bulls

Running of the Bulls

We capped off our visit to Spain by visiting Valencia, Madrid, Laguardia, and Bilbao.

Valencia Spain

Valencia Spain

Flamenco Dancing

Flamenco Dancing in Madrid

Laguardia Spain

Laguardia Spain

Incredible castle view

Incredible castle view – Laguardia Spain

Italy

After leaving Spain, we headed to Italy. We started our travels in northern Italy, visiting Milan and Lake Como.

Duomo in Milan

Duomo in Milan

Lake Como

Lake Como

Lake Como

Lake Como

From here, we headed to the Italian Riviera which was probably our favorite area of Italy.

Vernazza

Vernazza

Monterosso

Monterosso

Italian Riviera - Monterosso

Italian Riviera – Monterosso

After leaving the Italian Riviera, we headed south to Rome, Tuscany, Pompeii and Capri. The blue grotto in Capri was stunning.

Rome

Rome

Tuscany

Tuscany

Pompeii

Pompeii

Capri

Capri

Blue Grotto

Blue Grotto

Portugal

Our final stop in Europe was in Portugal. We did not stay here very long but in hindsight, we should have stayed a few more days to take it all in.

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Fall 2014

After Europe, we spent about a month in Fort Collins then headed back to Florida. Ryan came back with us so that he could take a Physics class as he awaited his acceptance to the University of Florida.

Ryan and I decided to challenge ourselves to cycle 50 miles on the bicycle (I did the challenge in 2013 but he wanted to try it as well). He and I trained hard and completed a 45 mile and 50 mile ride a week apart. We finished the 50 miles in just 3 hours, 45 minutes quicker than when I did it by myself in 2013.

With the great weather we’ve had in Florida since our return, we’ve been boating, swimming, fishing, and spending lots of time outside. It has been fun having Ryan with us for a few months. He starts at the University of Florida in January so we will miss him.

Huge Jelly Fish

Huge Jelly Fish

Paragliders on the beach

Gliders on the beach

End of 2014

We are spending December in Florida. Cameron and Ryan will be here for Christmas so we will get to spend some great family time together.

In the Fall, we purchased a piece of land pretty close to the beach in Inlet Beach (about a mile from where we live today). We are planning to build a home on the lot, hopefully beginning in the Spring or early Summer.

We haven’t planned our next travel adventure yet, but we will definitely take a trip somewhere in 2015. Maybe Greece, Malta, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, or Finland? Not sure, but they all sound great!

Slideshow of our Trip to France

Spending 8 days of our Summer vacation in Paris allowed us to see most of the city and even venture out to Champagne and Burgundy for wine and champagne tours. I pulled together some pictures and put them into a slide show for you to see.  Here you go!

Burgundy, France

Burgundy is filled with incredible castles and wineries. We visited some of the most famous castles (Chateaus in French) including Chateau de Chambord, Chateau de Chenonceau, and Chateau de Nitray  (also a winery).

Burgundy

Champagne, France

Until this visit, I was not a big fan of champagne but after tasting some of the selections on this tour, I became a big fan. We visited Moet and Mumm champagne houses on this excursion. If you have heard of the extremely spendy champagne called Dom Perignon, then you know Moet — they make it.

Champagne

Paris, France

This was our second visit to Paris but this time we stayed for 8 days. We visited all of the attractions and spent a really long day at the Louvre museum.  We could have spent several days there with the amount of artifacts they have. We stayed in a small Paris apartment that was just a short walk to the Arc de Triomphe. It got dark really late (around 10 to 11 pm) so we ate late dinners, just like the Parisians. We love Paris!

Paris

Slideshow of our Trip to Italy

Fall is in the air and I am starting to reminisce about our summer European vacation, specifically about Italy. What’s not to love? Tuscany, the Italian Riviera, Lake Como. Alright, here are some slide shows so that you can join me in my day dreaming and general procrastination.

Milan and Lake Como

We started our Italian adventure in Milan, the fashion capital of Italy. Since Lake Como is less than an hour train ride North, we made our way there to look for George Clooney — they say he has a house there but it was elusive. Enjoy the slide show.

LakeComo

Italian Riviera

Probably one of our favorite stops in Italy was the Italian Riviera.  Situated on the west side of Italy, it includes the towns of Manarola, Monterosso, Riomaggiore, and Vernazza. We spent most of our time in Monterosso but we felt we could have easily spent another week here, it was really beautiful.

ItalianRiviera

Tuscany

We spent a few days in Florence and the Tuscan town of Chianti. We had a Chianti wine tour that was our favorite winery we visited during our European trip. We discovered a new love for Tuscano, a great Italian wine.

Tuscany

Rome

This was our second visit to Rome but this time we spent more time than before. It is really cool to see the ancient Roman architecture through the ruins although we thought the ruins in Pompeii were more spectacular.

Rome

Pompeii

You know the story and probably saw the movie — Pompeii is an ancient Roman city that was devastated by the volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. Because the ash covered the city, many people and animals that were killed in the eruption were preserved in a cast-like plaster and you can still see the position they were in when they died. A little creepy, I have to say, but interesting still. We not only visited Pompeii but we also hiked up Mt. Vesuvius afterwards to see the crater left by the volcanic eruption.

Pompeii

Capri

Capri is an Italian island just off the coast of Naples. The architecture bears some resemblance to Greek architecture because they were early settlers here. One of the big attractions of the island is the Blue Grotto. It is a beautiful cave that you take a canoe into and it glows blue from the light emitting into the cave. Very luminescent and cool.

Capri

Slideshow of our Spain Trip

Summer is coming to an end so I wanted to pass along some of the pictures we took while in Spain this Summer.  Simply click the slideshows below and ready your dancing shoes — you will experience an electric slide of pictures.

Barcelona

We hung out in Barcelona for a little over a week, visiting Montserrat and Coasta Brava during our trip. Barcelona has lots to offer, from Gaudi-inspired architecture to incredible coastal views just north in Coasta Brava. Enjoy the slideshow.

Barcelona

Valencia

We boarded a train and in just over 2 hours we arrived in Valencia, directly south of Barcelona. As soon as we arrived, it felt like we were on a beach vacation. The vibe was more laid back, the prices were lower and seafood restaurants dominated the seaside boardwalk. We only stayed here a couple of days but I could see spending lots more time in Valencia.

Valencia

Madrid

We visited Madrid for just 2 days but it happened to land on our youngest son’s (Ryan) birthday. To celebrate his birthday, we scheduled a Flamenco dance show and it turned out to be one of our favorite events of our trip.

Madrid

Lagrono and La Rioja

We had heard that La Rioja was the Tuscany of Spain and it was true. It had rolling hills and was dotted with award winning wineries. The wineries here are small and mostly family owned. It was the first time we have ever tasted wine right out of the wine vat — and it was a treat.

LaRioja

Bilbao and the Guggenheim Museum

On our way to Pamplona to see the Running of the Bulls, we had an extra 2 days to kill so we dropped by Bilbao to see the Guggenheim Museum. It was the most contemporary museum we visited on our European trip with an incredible exhibit that was an audio experience like no other. It was filmed in an old mansion and had 8 wall-sized screens showing a different musician playing their part of a song that came together as a harmonic experience that involved all the senses.

Bilbao

Running with the Bulls in Pomplona

Our entire trip to Spain centered around the week in Pomplona where the Running of the Bulls takes place. Most of us are familiar with this Spanish tradition so it was a real treat to witness it first-hand. It reminded us of New Orleans during Mardi Gras — a festive atmosphere with people partying all hours of the day and night.

Pamplona

Wrapping up our 6 week European Vacation in Central Italy and Portugal

During our 6 week European summer vacation, we sailed on a boat or ferry 4 times, flew on 5 planes, rode 7 trains, hopped on 12 buses, took over 40 metro rides, and took countless tours. We walked well over 100 miles during the 6 weeks. We had not weighed ourselves until we returned to the USA and were surprised to see that we all lost weight.

We wrapped up the vacation in Central Italy and Portugal — this blog covers that time. If you want to see our other adventures, you will find them here:

Florence Italy

This was our second visit to Florence. Florence has a picturesque river that flows through and is nice for an afternoon walk. One of the biggest attractions here is to see the statue of David. The statue is huge, it must be 20 feet tall.

Florence Italy

Florence Italy

The statue of David

The statue of David

The Duomo

The Duomo

How do you like this bicycle?

How do you like this bicycle?

Tuscany Italy

When planning our European trip, Ryan staked out what he really wanted to do. He wanted to experience a Chianti wine tour in Tuscany. This turned out to be our favorite wine tour that we took during our trip. The Tuscan hills are mesmerizing, full of vineyards and castles. The tour provided plenty of wine (4 bottles for our table), Tuscan food, and great conversation with other people on the tour.

Tuscany

Tuscany

Tuscany

Tuscany

Tuscany

Tuscany

Tuscany

Tuscany

Tuscany

Tuscany

After the tour, we went into the town of Chianti to a wine bar that offered over 100 wines. It was really cool, you put money on a sort of debit card (as much as you like) and use that card to activate a machine that pours either a small taste or a full glass of a wine. What a cool machine — I wonder why wine stores in the states don’t have this, it would be great.

Wine tasting by machine

Wine tasting by machine

Rome

After leaving Tuscany, we headed down to Rome (Ryan said we took the time to “roam” around). We had also visited Rome a few years ago but never had the time to visit the Colosseum, so we took this opportunity to tour it. The outside is pretty well-preserved but we were a bit disappointed in the interior. It suffered a major earthquake many years ago that left much of it in ruins. Similarly the ruins of Rome are also similar to this — worn and many landmarks are hardly recognizable as to how they once were. But it is incredibly rich in history and fun to visit.

Rome

Rome

Rome

Rome

Rome

Rome

Rome

Rome

Rome

Rome

Rome

Rome

Rome

Rome

Rome

Rome

As we were walking around Rome, we came across this guy.How does it do it?

Wanna ride?

Wanna ride?

Pompeii Italy

A few months ago we saw the movie Pompeii — a cool story about the Italian town that was overtaken from a volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Because lava never reached Pompeii (only burning ash), people in the town that died in the eruption were preserved in the state in which they died — the carbon in the ash had that effect. The ruins are in pretty good shape, you could see bath  houses, homes, and areas of the town. It was a big area of ruins and was (in our minds) more impressive than the ruins in Rome.

Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii

Pompeii dog frozen in death

Pompeii dog frozen in death

Pompeii person frozen in death

Pompeii person frozen in death

After visiting Pompeii, we hiked Mount Vesuvius. It  is a steep 45 degree hike to the top rewarded by great views of Naples and the craters left by the eruption.

Mount Vesuvius

Mount Vesuvius

Mount Vesuvius

Mount Vesuvius

Mount Vesuvius

Mount Vesuvius

Capri Italy

Just outside of Naples is a trendy island called Capri. We took a day trip and experienced the island. It has a very Mediterranean feel, initially inhabited by Greece. It is also home to The Blue Grotto — an ocean cave that lights up the vibrant blue water as you enter via row-boat. Ryan and I swam there as well, it was very rocky but the water was definitely refreshing.

Capri

Capri

Capri

Capri

Capri

Capri

Capri

Capri

Capri

Capri

The Blue Grotto

The Blue Grotto

Ryan preparing to enter the Blue Grotto

Ryan preparing to enter the Blue Grotto

The Blue Grotto

The Blue Grotto

The Blue Grotto

The Blue Grotto

Blue Grotto

Blue Grotto

The opening of the Blue Grotto

The opening of the Blue Grotto

Lisbon Portugal

Our final stop in Europe was Lisbon Portugal. We could have spent more time here, there are lots of places in Portugal to see. Lisbon is a coastal city that is rich in history, clean, and better maintained than many other European cities we visited. We noticed that many buildings have a tile facade which is very distinct to this European nation.

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Lisbon Portugal

Well  that concludes our summer vacation, we hope you enjoyed following along with our travels. The trip was a blast and it was great traveling with Ryan — we have not traveled together in a few years. We just wish our oldest son, Cameron, could have joined us as well.