Spectacular Scandanavia and its Fjords

Spectacular Scandanavia and its Fjords

Sorry for not posting over the past few weeks, but I’ve been enjoying Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. We just completed a wonderful 16-day Spectacular Scandanavia and its Fjords tour with Insight Vacations from July 28 to August 11.

The included excursions were interesting, and the scenery was magnificent and varied. I took lots of photos and they will be included in posts as I review, edit, organize, and upload them. On this trip, I decided not to share while traveling, but instead do it afterwards. We stayed at lovely hotels in Copenhagen, Stockholm, Falun, Lillehammer, Geiranger, Leikanger, Bergen, and Oslo.  We also selected several optional excursions: North Zealand Castle Tour, Lillehammer Ski Jump and Brewery Experience, The Troll’s Road, and Europe’s Highest Fjord at Dalsnibba,

This was a special opportunity to celebrate our recent 50th wedding anniversary. Also we’ve been trying to see our ancestral countries – Norway, Germany, Scotland, and England. We have wanted to visit there since my wife’s maternal Olsen grandfather emigrated from Norway. Her maternal Queck grandmother came from Germany, which we visited two years ago on a trip, preceded by a Viking Rhine river cruise.

In 2000 we had visited Scotland where her paternal grandparents originated (Dunlop, Campbell, MacDonald, and MacKinnon), from places such as Whycogomah, East Lake Ainsley, Isle of Skye, and Isle of Eigg.  On that same trip we also did a tour of England, including the area around York where my maternal grandfather’s Kaye (Kay) family were from, and Cornwall where my paternal grandfather (Warren) was born and grandmother’s family (Paull) was from.My maternal grandmother’s Bryant ancestors from England arrived in 1630 at Plymouth Colony after sailing on the Handmaid.

Vintage 2016 Harvest

Vintage 2016 Harvest

This morning we picked grapes for the Vintage 2016 harvest at Flat Creek Estate winery. There were about 21 volunteers who picked about 8 tons of Syrah and Sangiovese grapes from 30 rows. We arrived while it was still dark at 6 am so that  we would be ready to start picking at sunrise when it started to be light enough to see the grapes.

We were provided harvesting instructions by the owners and wine maker, along with coffee and granola bars. About half-way through the picking the chef brought out breakfast tacos and watermelon for everybody during out break, along with the water and Gatorade that was available under a tent. Here are my photos.

These are Sangiovese vines where we picked in Helen’s block (named after an owner’s mother). We started further to the left with Syrah.

This is a photo down one of the rows after most of these had been picked, although you can still see some on the right.

This is what it looked like with some of the volunteers that were working these rows. We have a picking buddy to work in pairs on both sides of the vines so that we make sure everything is picked. A small Kubota pickup drives up and down collecting filled buckets in 1/2 ton containers. It was amazing how many grapes we harvested in only four hours.

The Sangiovese grapes tend to be fairly large and hang in heavy clusters making it easier to snip them from the stems. Other grapes like Pinot Grigio, which we have picked before, are very small in tight clusters that grow very close the vine. Of course, you need to be careful that you don’t cut yourself with the clippers, and it’s a good idea to wear gloves.

Here’s a closer shot that shows some of the grapes hanging from the vine ready to be picked. There is netting covering the vines to protect the grapes from birds which has to be raised to allow picking.

Here you can see the grapes a little closer and notice how the stems are fairly easy to snip with one hand so you can simply catch a whole cluster when it drops into your other hand.

This is another shot that shows the grapes with some sunlight behind them so their color is more visible.

And this is a closeup of a grape cluster.

After we finished our picking we were treated to a mimosa in the Tasting Room (before it opened for the day) made from their Sparking Raspberry Wine mixed with Orange Juice.

All the volunteers will be able to attend a free Harvest Dinner (with wine, of course) prepared by the chef later in August in the Bistro, where they have many events.

We have been doing this for many years now and it’s always a fun experience. It’s great to help out and later enjoy the grapes we picked when the wine is finished, bottled, and available.

Truckee-Tahoe Trip

Truckee-Tahoe Trip

Recently we enjoyed a visit for a week at Truckee, California in the North Lake Tahoe area. It’s a great place to visit in the winter with all the ski areas such as Northstar, Squaw Valley, Sugar Bowl, Alpine Meadows, Boreal, Tahoe Donner, and Soda Springs. However, it might be even better during the summer with so much to do.

The weather was perfect all week, except for some wildfire smoke in the area on the last day, and we went hiking most every day. I have included my photos.

Prosser Lake – Truckee

These are photos of Prosser Lake from the deck of my sister-in-law’s house in Truckee where we stayed all week. It was a lovely place to have breakfast in the morning, as well as dinner and wine in the evening. It got a little too warm in the afternoon especially with the sun being so intense at about 6,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The temperatures were higher than normal for July, but it still got down in the upper 30’s overnight. Truckee frequently has the coldest US temperature in the summer. Truckee was named #16 of the World’s 25 Best Ski Towns by NationalGeographic.com.

West Shore Cafe – Lake Tahoe

We celebrated my birthday with a nice lakeside lunch at the West Shore Cafe which overlooks Lake Tahoe.


Tahoe Rim Trail – Tahoe City

After lunch we went for a hike on the Tahoe Rim Trail west of Tahoe City on the edge of Lake Tahoe. Actually the 165-mile trail completely circles all of Lake Tahoe, but we only went for about an 1 1/2 hours. It shares about 50 miles with the much longer Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail through California, Oregon, and Washington for 2,659 miles from Mexico to British Columbia. It’s on the back side of the Alpine Meadows ski area just south of Squaw Valley, site of the 1964 Winter Olympics.

 Donner Lake – Truckee

On another day we took a hour-long hike along Donner Lake in the Donner Memorial State Park. It was a nice shaded trail with views of the lake, kayaks, rocks, and surrounding mountains.

Legacy Trail – Truckee

For another day, we took a 4 mile 90-minute hike on Legacy Trail along the Truckee River, the only outlet of Lake Tahoe, which flows through Truckee and down to Reno. In addition to the meandering river, it included lovely vistas of meadows, boulders, wildflowers, snow-capped mountains, and a passing railroad freight train.

Tahoe Rim Trail – Brockway Summit

We hiked another day for 2 1/2 miles (83 minutes) at Brockway Summit on the Tahoe Rim Trail on the north side of Lake Tahoe, above Tahoe Vista and King’s Beach. The trail is about 7,200 ft in elevation, although it was smoky that day from fires along the Pacific coast of California so it’s hard to see Lake Tahoe beyond the trees.

The smoke was coming from the large Soberanes fire near Big Sur and Carmel Valley in Monterey County. It has now burned about 30,000 acres over 50 square miles with at least 57 homes destroyed so far and 2,000 threatened, and it’s still only 15% contained after burning now for 9 days.

Bocce Ball & Pizza

One afternoon we played bocce ball for about 45 minutes before dinner.

Then I made a vegetarian pizza from Trader Joe’s Pizza Dough, and it turned out pretty good. Of course, I had to wear the silly chef’s hat that my sister-in-law placed on my head. There’s a margherita pizza already cooking in the oven that my brother-in-law made, and an unfinished 2000-piece puzzle on the table.

Of course, we did some walks, shopping, and other activities, but I didn’t take any photos there. It was a fun relaxing week.

Bella Vista Ranch

Bella Vista Ranch

For this Writing 101 assignment we were to write about one of four images (City at night, Map, Window, Mid-air jump) as the spark of our inspiration. I selected the Map since it was critical for a recent day trip so I thought I might do a travel post with some photos.

The Map

Without a Google Map to guide us into the Hill Country near Wimberley, Texas, we never would have found Bella Vista Ranch, where we wanted to taste their wines and olive oils.


There are over 1,200 olive trees in the orchard for First Texas Olive Oil Company, which were initially planted in 1998. The Texas Hill Country soil and weather is similar to the Mediterranean, and they have been successfully producing fresh olive oil using their own frantoio (olive pressing facility) every year since 2001.

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Their olive oils include:

  • Texas Blend Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Fresco Blood Orange Olive Oil
  • Alfresco Garlic, Basic & Perman Dipping Olive Oil
  • Afresco Lime Blended Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Alfresco Roasted Garlic Infused Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Alfresco White Truffle Infused Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Fresh Basil Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Meyer Lemon Blended Extra Virgin Olive Oil

They also have various cured huge Sevillano olives stuffed with garlic, jalapeño, pimento, blue cheese, or combinations. Also available are raspberry, blackberry, fig & vanilla, or traditional balsamic vinegars. Additional offerings are blackberry, raspberry, or fig jams, as well as blackberry wine jelly, and raspberry chipotle sauce. Finally, there are spice pear, fresh mint, or good earth Virgin Soaps, which are a pure Castile soap containing olive oil as a base. They can also customize gift baskets for special occasions.


Their winery Bella Vista Cellars produces a range of Italian varietals, as well as blackberry wine. Here are some of the vineyards where they grow Viognier and Cabernet Franc. Available wines also include several blends: Texas Sunset, Texas Sunrise (dry rose), Dos Cabs, as well as Syrah. They have partnered with VinoShipper.com to process online orders. It’s very pretty out here in the hill country where they are located.

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Tasting Room

They have a fairly small tasting room available where you can do tastings of both their olive oils and wines. They provide orchard tours and formal tastings on Saturday at 10am & 1pm, as well as Sunday at Noon ($15 fee). However these were not available on their Labor Day special opening.

After our tastings, we decided to purchase the Viognier wine and Blood Orange olive oil to take home to enjoy. Actually we enjoyed salmon drizzled with blood orange olive oil tonight for dinner. Of course, we’ll have to come back again for more.

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IMG_7542We also stopped at Wimberley Square in the downtown, where there are many shops and restaurants. This large colorful decorated boot was just outside the Cypress Creek Cafe, where we decided to have lunch. Unfortunately, since it was very busy because of the Labor Day holiday, we had a long wait for our food to be served; actually somehow they lost our order ticket, but at least our lunch was free because of our inconvenience.

Maybe we would have had better luck at Wimberley Cafe right nearby on the square. There is the Ino’z Brew & Chew restaurant across the street next to Cypress Creek, although we didn’t know it at the time. Another option is Marco’s Italian Restatement & Pizzeria.

This was a very pleasant little afternoon outing for the day. I had a fasting diabetes lab test in the morning, followed by breakfast tacos at Torchy’s Tacos. Then we thought it would be fun to take a little ride and visit one of the many nearby wineries. After considering several of the ones where haven’t been yet, we thought the it would be nice to try Bella Vista Ranch. That was a great choice, and we plan to visit again. If you’re in the area, check them out.

This was the Day 4 assignment “A story in a singe image” for the Blogging U. course Writing 101: Finding Everyday Inspiration, which provides writing prompts to “cultivate a daily writing habit and find inspiration in unexpected places”.

I hope you enjoy my blog and follow these daily writing assignments and other posts. Thanks for visiting today.

Germany: Berlin

Germany: Berlin

After arriving from Leipzig by a fast InterCity Express (ICE) train, our nephew picked us up at the Südkreuz train station near his southwest Berlin home in Zehlendorf. We stayed four nights and had a wonderful visit with him and his family while getting to see so much of Berlin and Potsdam with our own personal tour guide. We also had great weather for sightseeing – sunny and low 70’s.

On the first day, we visited Potsdam which borders Berlin on the west. We saw the Sanssouci Palace that was the former summer palace of Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, and walked around its landscaped gardens where we noticed this gilded gazebo.

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We explored the surrounding Sanssouci Park where there was also this New Palace. Later we went to Cecilienhof Palace northeast of Sanssouci that was the location of the Potsdam Conference in 1945 where the heads of the Soviet Union (Stalin), United Kingdom (Churchill), and United States (Truman) made important decisions affecting post-war Europe and Asia including  partitioning of Germany and Berlin.

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We enjoyed a nice dinner at a cafe on the Lake Wannsee near my nephew’s house. Its at the western-most part of Berlin before crossing the bridge to Potsdam. His teenage children attend the John F.Kennedy international bilingual school nearby since he’s American and his wife is German; they both speak their native language at home with them, which was interesting. We took the family out to dinner twice, and they made special German meals for us the other nights.


The second day we walked all around Berlin. We visited the Brandenburg Gate, which is an 18th-century triumphal arch that was a former city gate where the Berlin Wall had divided the city from 1961 to 1989 when it was opened and Germany was reunified. Also there are various monuments nearby like this equestrian statue of Frederick the Great, honoring King Frederick II of Prussia.

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The third day we rode around Berlin some more and visited the Charlottenburg Palace and gardens, just west of the large Tiergarten park in center city not far from the Brandenburg Gate. There were other interesting sites like silver people that look like statues and come alive when you give them some money.

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There is an interesting mix of old and new buildings throughout Berlin, which we saw on a boat cruise on the Spree River which goes through the city, looking at all the massive federal buildings, churches, and museums.

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On our last day we went to the American Checkpoint Charlie on the former east-west border before the Berlin Wall came down. It’s now been 25 years since the reunification of Germany. Also we visited the Wall Museum next to the checkpoint with lots of information, pictures, and exhibits about the reality of that time.

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The joys of travel … Our 7am flight from Berlin Tegl Airport to Austin via London Heathrow was grounded after we left the gate because it “lost control of steering”. First they went over to the maintenance facility to see if they could repair it, but that was not successful. So they unloaded all our luggage and took us back to the terminal by bus to rebook flights after going through customs and picking up our luggage.

Then we had to wait in line at British Airways for about 4 hours after the initial 2-hour grounding delay to see what we could arrange as alternate flights. Finally we managed to get re-routed from Berlin to Austin via Amsterdam and Atlanta on KLM/Delta so we thought at least we might get home late that same day.

We made the KLM connection in Amsterdam. However, in Atlanta after customs, baggage claim, security checkpoint, bag drop-off, train to another terminal, and long walk to a gate, we just missed our very tight connection to Austin. At least Delta gave us a Marriott hotel voucher, an overnight amenity kit with toothbrush/paste, razor/shave cream, deodorant, etc. and meal vouchers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

So finally we got home to Texas about mid-day the next day. It was a fantastic 3-week trip, although it was probably too long, even though we saw a lot.

Click on the following photo to view the Berlin photo gallery (about 148 photos) at my SmugMug photo web site.

Germany Trip: Berlin

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Germany: Leipzig

Germany: Leipzig

After visiting Rothenberg on the Romantic Road, we continued driving north toward our next destination at Leipzig. Along the way, we visited several places where my wife’s relatives were born or lived – maternal grandmother at Lindenau in west Leipzig, and great-grandparents at Ohrdruf and Wechmar near Gotha. Also we visited the Wartburg Castle from the Middle Ages near Eisenach because she has a photo of her grandmother’s cousins taken there; it was interesting and we took a picture of her at the same spot.

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We arrived in Leipzig in the evening so we only had time for dinner and a brief walk around center city near the hotel where we stayed. Apparently that weekend was the 24th International Wave Gothic Festival (Wave-Gotik-Treffe) which they have in Leipzig every year with about 20,000 gothic people from all over the world celebrating “dark” music and arts (world’s largest). It was rather strange to see all these weird black outfits everywhere, including in our hotel and everyday you go outside.

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We really didn’t have much time there since we just stayed overnight in Leipzig. It was hard to judge how long our drive might take, especially since we took many back roads, and we thought that we might get there earlier than we did. We had a very nice hotel in the main square, and our view from the bathroom on the 6th floor had an interesting view of the old city hall out the window, which is where we ate dinner in the larger photo below.

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We turned in our rental car in the morning and took a train north for Berlin, where we stayed 4 nights with my nephew and family who live there. Originally we planned to stay in Leipzig two nights but we needed to shorten that to accommodate a schedule conflict he had on the following day, but at least we got to spend more time in Berlin which was better anyway.

Click on the following photo from Leipzig to view the Leipzig photo gallery (about 53 photos) at my SmugMug photo web site. These also include photos from Eisenach, Ohrdruf, and Wechmar.

Germany Trip: Leipzig

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Germany: Romantic Road

Germany: Romantic Road

After catching a train back to Munich from Salzburg, we visited medieval walled villages from the Middle Ages driving our rental car north along the Romantic Road through Nördlingen, Dinkelsbühl, and Rothenburg ob der Tauber (where we stayed overnight). These were great, especially the last one – probably our favorite of the entire trip.

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Click on the following photo from Rothenberg ob der Tauber to view the Romantic Road photo gallery (about 149 photos) at my SmugMug photo web site.

Germany Trip: Romantic Road

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Germany: Salzburg

Germany: Salzburg

From Munich Germany we took an 1 1/2 hour train ride to Salzburg Austria. It was cold (43) and rainy all day. Although the German national rail system went on strike the night before, we were still able to take our train from Munich to Salzburg on-time with no problems. We wondered what would happen to our return train reservations in two days, but that turned out not to be a problem because the strike was settled by then.

We went on a city sightseeing tour and then walked the old town with rain jacket and umbrella. There was an interesting fortress high on a hill overlooking the city, and there was a big emphasis on Mozart. We had the famous Sacher-Torte chocolate cake with whipped cream at the Sacher Hotel cafe.

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We spent another day in Salzburg and went on the 4-hour Sound of Music tour, which was actually pretty interesting since you visit all the places from the movie. Also we walked the old town some more, and visited the fortress high on the hill over the city. It was slightly warmer (48) and light rain most of the day.

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Click on the following photo to view the Salzburg photo gallery (about 236 photos) at my SmugMug photo web site.

Germany Trip: Salzburg

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Germany: Munich

Germany: Munich

After our week on the Rhine Cruise with two additional days in Amsterdam, we flew to Munich for two days on the rest of our extended Germany trip.

We visited the Hofbraühaus for lunch and listened to oompah music. Of course, we had bratwurst, potatoes, and sauerkraut with Hofbraü Dunkel (dark) beer.


We took a short sightseeing tour around the city and walked around center city for a while.

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Then we had dinner (and more beer) at a sidewalk cafe.


The next day we toured the Royal Castles and visited the village of Oberammergau in the Bavarian Alps southwest of Munich. Neuschwanstein Castle was the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle at Disneyland  that was built by King Ludwig II in the 19th century along with his elaborate Linderhof family castle. It was overcast with rain in lower 50’s, but still a good tour.

Click on the following Neuschwanstein Castle photo to view the Munich photo gallery (about 194 photos) at my SmugMug photo web site.

Germany Trip: Munich

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Rhine Cruise: Amsterdam

Rhine Cruise: Amsterdam

Our Rhine cruise ended at Amsterdam, Netherlands, where we stayed for two days since we wanted to see Amsterdam before our additional extended Germany Trip from Munich to Berlin.

On the first day, we took a hop-on hop-off canal bus as an easy way for sightseeing to get familiar with the city and reduce our walking somewhat. We visited the RijksMuseum which focuses on the paintings of Rembrandt and the Dutch Masters. We had lunch at a sidewalk cafe. The weather was cool and overcast with light rain in the morning, but cleared up nicely for the afternoon.

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There are bikes everywhere! You really have to watch where you walk with them whizzing around; we even saw a 3-level parking garage for bikes near center city which was totally packed.

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On the second day, it was a lovely sunny day in upper 50’s. We rode the canal bus in the morning to see some more of the city since there are so many canals and our 24-hour ticket expired at noon. We had lunch at another nice outdoor cafe, and visited the Van Gogh Museum. We did a lot of walking, and it was interesting to see everything at night.

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Click on the following photo to view the Amsterdam photo gallery (about 96 photos) at my SmugMug photo web site.

Rhine Cruise: Amsterdam

The automatic slideshow displays each photo for 2 seconds with a 1 second fade transition. There are options for full-screen mode in the lower-right corner, and a pause button in the lower-left corner. There are also arrows on the left and right sides to move manually forward and backward through the photos.