Florence day 2

Everyone dropped like a rock after our extended day of flying, standing around and going back and forth to find luggage but with Marks bag still MIA we headed back to the airport again first thing in the morning to find his bag.  Thankfully it had arrived so we grabbed it and headed back to the apartment then down to the square to find espresso and something to eat.

Ready to face the day we wandered down the street to Ponte Vecchio and across the river to see what might be over that way.

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After wandering around for a while and stopping in a shop for some wine, salumi and tasting some 30 year old balsamic vinegar that was out of this world — syrupy, sweet, sour just amazing — we kept walking back up towards the apartment stopping along the way to check out some of the statues in the next square over.

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No that’s not the real David, it’s a replica which is free to see and unlike the one at the Academia, doesn’t have a line to wait in.  From there we headed to the main Market and found some lunch along with an endless line up of amazing looking meats, produce and more.  Afterwards we headed back to the apartment and everyone took a nap for a couple hours before walking up the street for dinner and hanging out up our deck.

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Luggage, taxis and airports (Day 1 in Florence)

Mark and I decided to take Dad on vacation for his birthday and Italy seemed like the obvious choice so today we find ourselves waking up in Florence after an exceedingly long day of travel topped off with the single most frustrating airport experience I’ve ever had.

The flight from Seattle to Amsterdam was fine, cramped for those of us (me) that are used to flying in business class for work but fine, and yes I’m totally spoiled.  The connection to Florence took us an hour to navigate to, but the plane left and we arrived in Florence mid-day.  This is when things took a drastic turn.  First the “where’s all the luggage” thoughts in my head, followed by the announcement “No more luggage from Amsterdam”.

What followed was three, yes three hours standing in line waiting to find out where our bags — actually every checked bag on our flight since none of them arrived — were located.  At long last we made it to the front of the line and were told the bags would be arriving from Rome later that night.  Rome?  But we were in Amsterdam, how are they in Rome?  Good question to which there was no answer.

So we headed into Florence and moved into our apartment which is a pretty great space up on the top floor of a building near the Duomo.  Hard to complain about the neighborhood even if the beds are a bit soft.

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After a quick bite to eat (sadly nothing worth mentioning) Mark and I  headed back to the airport in search of the bags and left Dad reading a book.  At the airport we found the plane had just landed so we had to wait for awhile before hopefully collecting the bags.  Since we were approaching 24 hours without sleep an espresso seemed like a good idea, and as it turned out it was coffee day or something like that so the espresso was free.  Then the good news, my bag showed up!  Not so good, Marks was “supposed to be here, but maybe they just didn’t put it on the plane”.  So hopefully we’ll find that tomorrow morning.

London for a day

Initially this quick stop in London was meant to be a some meetings with the office here and a quick breather before heading south to Nigeria.  However, plans change and rather than flying back to Abuja tomorrow we’re heading home to Seattle.  So we had the day today to wander around a little before getting back up in the air for the long flight home Sunday afternoon.

Someone suggested that we should look around at the Borough Market and wow, that turned out to be a really great morning excursion.  The weather today is great after the overcast, freezing day on Friday and heavy rain forecast for Sunday.  So we set out from our hotel near Green Park and a few stops later got out at London Bridge and headed to the market.  The first thing I noticed once I turned around was that we were right underneath The Shard, which is the newest skyscraper in the city and I believe the tallest at over 1000′.  It’s not open for another week which is unfortunate since the observation deck would have been fantastic today.

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The market was just around the corner so we headed that way dodging the Saturday morning traffic and trying but not always succeeding to remember that the cars are coming from the opposite direction in spite of the “look Right”/”Look Left” signs that are everywhere in London as a reminder for us tourists.

The Borough Market isn’t huge but has a really nice collection of permanent vendors mixed in with stands selling baked goods, chocolates, fruit, even someone shucking oysters to order for about $2 apiece.  I spent a few minutes going through and sampling some mustard from this huge selection

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Then wandered around the corner and ran into big Butcher Shop with all kinds of things you don’t usually find including this rabbit and baby deer minus it’s head.  Notice they also had what I hope was fresh quail hanging over the counter.  Ahh the things not permitted by the USDA.

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Just past the butcher there were a collection of huge Paella pans with multiple varieties of fresh made Paella and I almost stopped to eat, but continued a few more steps , saw this and instantly new what I was having for breakfast.

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How was I supposed to pass up a duck sandwich?  Warm bread rolls with English Mustard and greens stuffed with hot, shredded duck confit.  All this for about $8 and worth every cent.  Rich, meaty with just the right amount of juice, fat and crispy bits of the duck skin.  Out of this world.

Before leaving the market I picked up some awesome dark chocolate brownies so rich you barely would know they were made of anything but butter and dark chocolate and a small piece of cheese to take down to my dinner with old friends later on tonight.

Leaving the market we walked along the Thames past the Globe Theater to the Millennium Bridge and across to towards St. Paul’s Cathedral stopping with the rest of the tourists to look at the shiny steel balls on the sidewalk nearby.

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A bit more walking down Fleet Street and we jumped in the tube back over to Green Park where the rest of the group was going to head out for some more walking around and I changed really quick and headed south to meet up with an old friend from Camp Orkila for dinner.

 

 

Slipping and sliding on the wall

Sunday morning a few of us jumped in the car and headed out in the fog, smog, snow and ice to the Great Wall.  I had been there once before during the summer and wasn’t sure what to expect on this day in January.  The further we got from Beijing the more snow we ran into but at least the fog wasn’t so bad.  Going up the last hill to the Great Wall the car finally got stuck in the 2″ of so of loose snow on the road and we had to jump out and push it the rest of the way.

We rode up the chairlift and a few minutes later stepped off on top of the Great Wall of China.

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The walk was really nice, it was snowing lightly at times and it required my full attention to (mostly) keep my feet underneath me navigating up and down the somewhat steep angles as we walked along.  There were very few people there and the quiet and solitude was a nice change from my previous visit.

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Rocky Mountain Life

A couple more highlight videos are now up for you to enjoy:

Banff to Golden

Moraine Lake, Lake Louise Gondola & Johnston Canyon

Canoeing the Bow River & Vermillion Lakes

BK has also started posting some of his awesome photos here.

Wildlife spotted so far:  a gazillion mosquitoes, a few squirrels, several chipmunks, geese, an eagle, a deer, a coyote, some big horn sheep.  Despite the sign below, we have yet to see a bear (which is probably a good thing).

Interesting license plates spotted (per the Hall family game):  Arkansas, Wisconsin, Mexico