Sunday, February 16, 2014

Christmas in Bonaire

For Christmas we left the cold & gloom of Holland and headed for the Caribbean.  We didn't even have to leave The Netherlands -- we went to Bonaire, one of three islands in the Caribbean that are part of the Kingdom of The Netherlands.  While we may share the same King with Bonaire, we don't share the same weather.  It was beautiful, 80's every day and only one day of rain.

Although there are direct flights to Bonaire from Amsterdam, KLM prices them such that they require a second mortgage.  So Lori, Grant & I flew to Newark and spent the day with Kate.  Then we all flew from Newark to Bonaire.  Besides saving a bundle of money it allowed us to celebrate Lori's birthday with a nice dinner in NJ.

The birthday girl with her two children. 

We spend almost two weeks in Bonaire where the primary activity was diving.  Every day, two dives a day.  The secondary activity was eating -- Bonaire has some great restaurants.   And the third activity was relaxing, playing cards, etc.  Believe me, after those three things there is not much else to do on Bonaire.  But the diving is great, so that's okay with us.

Kate and Grant played cribbage and drank wine.  Well….maybe they just played cribbage.  The wine that you see was a gift from the hotel.  

Grant's favorite between dive activity
One of the downsides of a diving vacation is that there aren't many pictures to share.  We don't take underwater photo's, so I'll share a few of those that we took topside.

These are our dive bags with our gear.  Every dive they had to go on the boat.  Afterwards they had to come off the boat.  It wouldn't be bad except that one piece of gear was our weight belt.  The name is very accurate, it's heavy.  
And this is how dive bags got transported.  Lori always sweet talked Grant into carrying hers.

This is the dive boat.  It would take around 15 people back and forth to the dive sites.  One time as we returned from a dive, a pod of 10 dolphins swam along with the boat.  They stayed right in front of the bow; I think they liked the push of the boat on the water.  A couple of times they jumped in the air.  It was incredible.    

Yes the water was warm, but after staying down for an hour it can get pretty cold.  Lori and Kate stayed warm by wearing hoods.  We affectionately called them Seal Team 6.  

Not your typical family photo.   
Kate's boyfriend, Doug, joined us for the second half of the vacation.  It was his first time diving.  And except for the time that Kate almost ran him out of air, he did a great job. 

Kate & Doug on their way into the water.  

This is what they look like without scuba masks.  

Some views from the hotel beach

One day this guy climbed onto the chair next to us. 
From there he attacked this scale model of the Titantic.  

These guys like to climb the rocks around the jetty. 
At the end of the holiday, we all flew back through Houston.  From there Lori, Grant and I flew to Amsterdam.  And Kate waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Her flight to Newark was delayed seven hours due to winter storms.  

This is what Kate came back to.  Not really.  It wasn't this bad, but she did have a foot of snow on her car.  
And this is what we came back to in Holland.  The winter has been so warm that the tulips are already coming up.  

Sunday, February 2, 2014


Last fall Lori & I spent a long weekend in Vienna to celebrate, among other things, our 30th wedding anniversary.  Grant was in the US for fall break so it was good timing to visit someplace cultural.

We stayed at the Hotel Sacher, across from the opera house and famous for its Sacher Torte
Of course Vienna is famous for its music and musicians.  There are performances someplace every night….and at every street corner there are people dressed up like this guy selling tickets to the performances.  
The world famous Vienna Opera House.  Built in the 1860's, bombed heavily in WWII and reopened in 1955.  It hosts over 300 opera and ballet performances every year.    The set crew changes the sets and floor about 5 times every week.  
We didn't see an operate, but we did tour the building.  This is one of the public rooms in the opera house that was not damaged by the heavy bombing. 

Famous musicians have their bust around the room. 

The inside of the opera house.  In addition to the stalls shown here, there are standing spots where hundreds of people can watch the opera in a Standing Room Only area.  Ticket prices are cheap, but that's a long time to stand.

On the seatback in front of you is a screen that provides the words (in English) to the opera. 

Just like Hollywood, the Opera House has stars in the sidewalk surrounding the building.  

A great example of the city's architecture

St. Stephens Cathedral

Lori found her own ice cream store.  Too bad she doesn't really like ice cream.  

First opened in the 1600's, the Black Camel restaurant is famous for delicious sandwiches and for the fact that Beethoven used to eat there.  We can vouch for the sandwiches but we didn't see Beethoven.  

Demel is one of the most famous pastry shops in the city.  From our table we could watch the chefs at work.  These ladies were rolling out gingerbread….lots of gingerbread.  The big tub to the right of the front table is full of gingerbread dough.  

This person frosted the entire cake while talking on the phone.  

New meaning to the phrase decorating the Christmas tree.  
Sacher Torte.  Invented in Vienna.  Subject to years of legal battle between Demel and Hotel Sacher as to where it was first invented.  Delicious….especially with a huge pile of whipped cream and a cup of hot chocolate.  

A view of the Hofburg Palace, where the Habsburgs ruled for centuries.  

Like many museums in Europe, the Austrian Treasury museum has religious pieces like a piece of the spear that pierced Christ's side (left)……..

…….or wood from the cross.  

The silver collection of the Habsburgs was incredible.  The museum displays 7000 of the 150,000 items in the collection.  

A table "ensemble" that was 30 meters long

No, this guy is not real.  It is a wax figure outside the Time Travel museum.  Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit.  

Schonbrunn Palace was the summer home to the Habsburgs.  It was Versailles-like in design and surroundings.  Maybe not quite as ornate, but certainly very nice.  We saw 40 of the 1000+ rooms.  

Perfect weather as we toured the palace grounds.  

I was using a new camera that I had received for my birthday.  It has a very sensitive shutter, so I got lots of pictures of the ground, my shoes, people beside us, etc.  

The view of Schonbrunn and the city of Vienna.  

The palace grounds had a hedge maze. 

The highlight of the palace was the Apple Strudel demonstration.  We all got a free piece of strudel while she demonstrated how to make it.  After watching how thin she had to make the dough, I decided I would always just buy it at a bakery. 
Karlskirche, or Karl's Church, was built in the 1700's.  

Inside they have an elevator that takes you up to the dome so you can see the fresco paintings up close.  
After taking the elevator up, you are let out on a less than sturdy scaffold where you climb 10 flights of much less than sturdy stairs.   I think the sign says "Running and jumping are prohibited.  Screaming is uncool".  

This sign warns that a maximum of 10 people should be on the scaffold at one time.  But the way that it's built you can't see how many people are on the top platform.  

Despite the climb, the view of the painting was worth it.  It made a real difference to see them up close.  

The Austrian National Library.  It has to be one of the most beautiful libraries in the world.  

As you walk around Vienna, there are sausage, or wurst, vendors everywhere.  

They sell 5 or 6 types of sausage, including the local favorite curry wurst.  

Asian meets Austrian in one stand. 
I got a plain sausage with mustard.  Delicious.

The subway station near the Opera House had an Opera Toilet.  Listen to classical music while you go.  
I thought this crane was part of a construction project.  No, it's for bungee jumping.  We saw several people do it.

The old city hall. 

People built small shacks right up against the church.  

Vienna had a large walking-shopping area.  

We almost had a stowaway.  Tai Tai thought my camel hair sport coat was nice and toasty.