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4

Bike Riding in Cologne Along the Rhein River

The Romans probably settled in Cologne (Köln in German) in 50 BC because they’d heard about the fantastic bike riding views along the Rhein River. Or because of its natural harbor. Either way.

Hohenzollern Bridge, CologneOne of the highlights of our October AmaWaterways cruise was the 11-mile, 2 1/2 hour guided bike ride along both the west and east sides of the river. We had two fluent English-speaking guides who took about 8 of us on an easily-managed bike adventure (everyone else was either part of the walking or beer tasting tour). We started our ride along the Rheingarten, a riverside park where pedestrians and bicyclists were out in force on a sunny (yet cold) weekend day. At first, we were riding fairly quickly, but when I said I wanted to stop for more photos, the guides were quite amenable. This I appreciated, or I would have gotten cranky.

We pedaled past the Chocolate Museum, which my sister noticed. Yes, we went back later to learn the history of chocolate, though we didn’t stop in the museum café to eat any of their 9,866 chocolate items. Um, I have no idea of the exact number, but I sure saw lots of options.

Cologne castle towerCologne is Germany’s fourth largest city, with over 1 million people, 45,000 of whom are university students. One fact I really liked was discovering that 18% of the inhabitants come from over 180 nations. Hmmm, probably easy to find a correlation between that and the reputation Cologne has for being a major cultural center.

You can take a bike tour of Cologne, Germany as part of a Rhein River cruise w/ @AmaWaterways?… Click To Tweet

crane buildings, CologneThough I prefer old buildings (castles are my thing, perhaps related to my Medieval Studies BA), I found the three “cranes” interesting. Two of them are office buildings, while the one with the balconies is apartments. Who wouldn’t want riverfront living, even if it’s shaped like a giant piece of machinery, eh?

Our guides stopped for a while on the Rodenkirchener Bridge so we could take pictures and drink water. When you’re on a bike, it feels like the vista is really expansive. We could see barges and pleasure boats going north and south beneath us. When we were onboard our ship, the Ama Prima, it always felt like we were moving at a leisurely pace, yet when standing on a bridge above the ships, they appeared to be speeding along.

locks of love, CologneOn the east side, away from the main part of the city, we felt like we were in the woods for a bit, as we rode by a fairly extensive campground. It’s probably jam-packed in summer, though we saw just a few campers in October. Perfect time to travel if you own a jacket and like to go when the city is not so crowded. From the east side, with its tennis and soccer (call it football if you want to sound truly cosmopolitan) fields, we had unimpeded views of St. Martin’s Church, the Cathedral, the Innenstadt, and Hohenzollern Bridge, which is where the Locks of Love are, and which leads to the Dom Platz.

St. Martin's, CologneAfter we crossed the bridge, our guides asked if we could figure out why security guards were preventing people from walking on the plaza. We had no idea. As it turns out, the Cologne Philharmonic is just below the plaza, and when they are performing, they keep people off the plaza to prevent extraneous sounds. So the floor is also the roof.

Cologne Cathedral interiorNear the end of the ride we stopped to admire the Cathedral. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is visible from fairly high up, which presented some issues during World War II. According to our guides, the Allies respected the history and cultural significance of it, so they intentionally avoided bombing it to ruins. Another story is that the pilots left it (for the most part) intact because it was an easy landmark for bombers to use to calculate their various targets. As well, the guides said that church representatives removed all the glass from the windows, which lessened the destruction from the bombs. On a cheerier note, the Cathedral was the tallest building in the world until the Eiffel Tower came along in 1887.

Bike riding, CologneThriller dance on Ama PrimaWe got back to the Ama Prima just in time to change for dinner (and an impromptu performance of “Thriller” by moi for all the passengers). No muscle soreness after 11 miles, either. Or should I say 18 kilometers, as that sounds even more impressive?!

 

 

 

 

 

Alexandra Williams, MA

photos by me

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4

Sightseeing Counts as Exercise

On a whim, I decided to take my son and a friend to Los Angeles for the day to do some sightseeing. It’s a 90-mile drive, which means about 4 hours in the car for the round trip (traffic willing), which is about the same amount of time I’ve spent sitting on a sightseeing tour bus when we go halfway around the world.

Venice Beach Canal BoatWhen I think of international sightseeing bus excursions, I usually focus on all the time spent sitting on the bus, which I equate with enforced passive activity (an oxymoron if ever there was one). Yet yesterday’s local excursion helped me realize that sightseeing can really mean quite a bit of walking, which is definitely exercise.

Farmers Market Los Angeles

The Grove by Farmers MarketOnce in Los Angeles, we first drove east toward downtown to visit Farmers Market, then we took Venice Blvd. west all the way to Venice Beach. We spent two hours at Farmers Market and The Grove (my son seems to like this place that feels like a combination of upscale shopping and Universal Studios), then another 2-3 hours walking on the boardwalk and pier at Venice Beach.

Canal in Venice, Los AngelesWhen you're sightseeing, it's easy to log more steps than you expected. #FitFluential Click To Tweet

By the time we got back in the car to head home, I had logged about 6 miles on my Charity Miles app, a fantastic FREE app that logs your walk, run or bike ride, then donates money to the charity of your choice (from their extensive list) based on the number of miles you completed. Win Win Win.

Crowd and building at Venice BeachThe next time you go on a sightseeing junket, near OR far, download the app or check your fitness tracker to see how much you’ve walked. If you’re like me, and feel like all you did was sit all day, you may be surprised. Six miles definitely counts as exercise. And my feet were ready for the car at about 5.5 miles, so that’s another sign that I was moving and logging those steps. Though next time maybe I should pay one of those strapping fellows who work out at Muscle Beach to carry me that last half mile.

View from Venice PierWhen did you last surprise yourself by discovering you had “accidentally” exercised more than you had expected?

When did you get a surprise when you last went traveling? Read about one of our unusual experiences. We survived. Barely: Hiking with the Leeches

Alexandra Williams, MA

Carmel-by-the-Sea Might Be Cooler than the Beach Town Where I Grew Up

I went back home this past weekend to a town I’d never actually visited. In other words, I went to a place that took me back to my childhood. It so happens that Carmel-by-the-Sea is similar to my hometown of Hermosa Beach, which means I felt right at home and nostalgic, as well as being transported back in time.

Carmel-by-the-SeaBoth are beach towns with lots of morning fog. Both are about 1-square mile big. Both are full of poets, painters, actors, writers and photographers.

plein air show in Carmel

A plein air painting juried exhibit in Carmel.

Carmel was incorporated in 1916; Hermosa in 1907. Both attract surfers, though the water is definitely colder in Carmel. And both have small cottages that were built generations ago sitting next to award winning, “to the lot’s edge” architectural wonders on every street. Don’t ask the prices unless you aren’t daunted by California real estate.

homes in Carmel

Old and New Carmel homes

As part of a bloggers’ weekend, I drove up to Carmel with the simple expectation that I would have a good time. Since so many of you are similar to me in that we like history and the personal touch, I’ll share some of the things I did and discovered that I think YOU might also enjoy.

Hofsas House
A gutsy, go-getter woman founded the hotel where we stayed – Donna Hofsas. In 1947 she lived in the cottage where I stayed while adding more rooms over the years. In a town that only allows two-story buildings, she talked the city planners into letting her build a 4-story hotel. How’s that for moxie? Then she commissioned the same female painter who did the fresco at Coit Tower, Maxine Albro, to paint several murals and other works at the hotel.

Hofsas House Carmel

The living room in Donna Hofsas’ original cottage.

Donna’s granddaughter now runs the bright pink Hofsas House  (as well as being on the city council), so ask her for the hotel’s secrets when you stay there. Hofsas House is on San Carlos Street between 3rd and 4th Avenue (see below to discover why I’m not giving you a numbered address).

bed in Hofsas House cottage

My cozy bed nook in the original Hofsas House Cottage.

On the details side, Carmel is more affordable than I expected. Even in high season, room rates range from about $150 – $275, with no stupid ***@** resort fee snuck in. Wifi, breakfast and parking are free.

Town Quirks
Did you know it’s illegal to wear heels higher than 2 inches in Carmel? You won’t get a ticket: the law was created in the 1920s to protect the city from lawsuits from people who tripped on the sidewalks. Great excuse to put on sensible shoes, eh?

Carmel shoe shop

These definitely count as sensible shoes. I should have gotten them.

The town has no street light or addresses. Walk around and you’ll notice that homes all have names. Keep in mind that the town was founded by creative types. They wanted a forested, European feel to the town, so bourgeois things such as number plates were verboten. Everyone has to go to the post office to collect mail. Certainly means all 3,700 inhabitants get to know each other.

home in Carmel

This is the “address” system in Carmel: all names; no numbers

For now, you can still have fires in certain locales on the beach too. This was exciting for me to hear, as we used to dig sand pits and have fires on the beach in Hermosa in the 60s. They were banned by the time I hit middle school.
No big box inns or stores are in Carmel either. It’s mom and pop all the way. Actually, the town is so friendly, even your dogs are welcome. Even in the inns, restaurants, wine-tasting rooms and shops, where you’ll spot water dishes and treats everywhere. Annnnnd, free parking.

dogs at the beach, Carmel

Dogs are welcome and encouraged in Carmel

Shopping, Hiking and Dining
Compliments of the Hofsas House, I received four Wine Walk Tasting tickets, each good for a wine flight at any of the 14 wine tasting rooms in town. Yup, I left Santa Barbara County’s wine country and landed in Monterey County’s. I also discovered two designer consignment shops, an Alice in Wonderland shop, a chocolate shop, and enough bakeries to keep my bread-baking, carb-loving self happy.

designer sunglasses in Carmel

I wanted these designer sunglasses from Foxy Couture soooooo badly

Alice in Wonderland store, Carmel

White Rabbit Store, where I bought a load of Christmas gifts. I was in this play as a child. And my late older sister played the White Rabbit. Very nostalgic store for me.

For lunch or a snack, I recommend Carmel Belle on San Carlos Street between Ocean and 7th (get the ginger apricot scone, stat!), or the Cheese Shop on Ocean and Junipero.

Carmel Belle, Carmel

Get the apricot ginger scone. And wine to go with it, of course.

For dinner, a friend and I went to Beach House Restaurant at Lover’s Point in Pacific Grove (an 8-minute drive). It’s right on the beach, and our service and food were excellent. Plenty of options for vegetarians, too. FYI, the portions are huge, huger, hugest, so come hungry.

Pacific Grove

The view of some lovers from our seats at Beach House Restaurant at Lover’s Point

mud pie at Beach House Restaurant, Pacific Grove

I only ate half of this mud pie – the half above the plate.

Hiking is my meditation, so I walked along the beach, around town on the residential streets, Point Lobos, Big Sur, and about 20 different pull-out stops along Highway 1 as I drove south. On my next visit I might take one of the History Walks, though I could also be persuaded to do the art walks or food tours. I also want to hike along the Mission Trail Preserve. For those of you into birds, one of the secrets I learned from Carrie (co-owner of Hofsas House) is that the Carmel River is the place to be.

Final piece of good news that you will never think about in advance, but makes a big difference – Carmel-by-the-Sea is a safe place for women to walk alone, day and night. I went walking early in the morning, and felt at ease and quite peaceful. Even though I had my iPhone and Canon out (major tourist alerts), the locals out running and dog-walking all said hello. I truly had to resist the urge to say, “I grew up in a town that used to be just like this. Can we please chat about the good ol’ days?”

I want to go back soon. Preferably on a romantic getaway, but another girls’ getaway would work too.

by Alexandra Williams, MA

Photo credits: Alexandra Williams – Canon and iPhone

3

Two “Hidden” Spots in Venice, Italy

On my recent trip to Italy with Design Hounds, I got to visit two places that are hidden in plain view: one on the island of Murano to the north of Venice, famous for its glass-blowers, and the other on Giudecca, the island most people see when standing at St. Mark’s looking south.

view of Murano IslandThe Seguso glassmaking dynasty began in 1397 with Antonio Filux Segusi. Twenty-three generations later (with the 24th in the wings), they are still the premiere creators (and award-winners) of luxurious glass.Seguso Glass Factory, Murano

Our tour included a complete historical overview from co-owner Gianluca Seguso, followed by a visit to the workshop, where we got to see the craftsmen creating beautiful pieces, such as a plate that became a bowl as it was twirled in the air. One thing I learned (the easy way, not the hard way) is that even when glass looks cold, it’s hot. Glad I’m a good listener.Seguso craftsman

As a surprise bonus, we got to enter the private studio of patriarch Giampaolo, who read us a love poem he wrote that’s inscribed on the back of one of his art pieces.Seguso glass

While I can’t guarantee you’ll have a poem read to you, I can say that you can sign up in advance for your own private tour. Like a number of magical places in Venice, it’s a private-ish place that isn’t widely advertised, so you’ll want to plan in advance.

seguso glassAfter we left Murano, our water taxi took us to Fortuny on Giudecca, home to some absolutely gorgeous fabrics. As you get close to the island, look around and notice how the architecture is different from that of Venice. In 1919, founder Mariano Fortuny purchased the land (a former convent that had been closed down by Napoleon) from Giancarlo Stucky, a close friend and owner of the wheat mill next door. That wheat mill is now the very imposing neo-Gothic Hilton Molino Stucky.

Fortuny Door KnockerThe Fortuny property encompasses the fabric showroom and the gardens and home of the former owner, New York interior designer Elsie McNeill Lee, also known as La Contessa. The factory is also on the property, but visitors are not allowed entry in order to maintain Mariano Fortuny’s trade secrets. Fortuny home office

Fortuny gardensAgain, thanks to the prior reservation made by the Design Hounds organizers, we got to see both the showroom (open to the public on weekdays – weekends too in the summer), and the adjacent gardens. As a matter of fact, we came right after major restoration had occurred, and one day before the pool was to be opened. Dang, missed a chance to show off my new bathing suit. Curtains at Fortuny Fabrics

Even if you don’t have a BA in Medieval Studies due to a love of European history, or didn’t grow up performing in musical theatre, thanks to a mom who had degrees in dance and costume design, you’ll still love both Seguso and Fortuny for their aesthetic appeal. Look at any painting of upper class Venetians from a previous century, and you’ll see what I mean.Fortuny fabrics

Text and photos: Alexandra Williams, MA

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19

Travel to Tucson

Alexandra Williams, MA

You might think it’s crazy to visit Tucson in August, but it can be done without overheating or oversunburning. Benefits – sights are less crowded and hotels are less expensive. No other benefits that I can think of. Oh, wait. You also get the docents and parking lot to yourself. Total bonus.

picture of Sonora Desert

View toward Sonora Desert Museum west of Tucson

 

Son #2 and I went to Tucson to see my cousins. One cousin is foolish enough to live there (don’t get upset Tucson friends, you have to admit it’s way too hot in summer), and the other flew in from D.C. We decided to drive because we have air conditioning. And because I didn’t realize it was a 12, not 8 hour drive. I should have trusted you Google Maps.

No matter your means of conveyance (that’s gotta be old western talk, right?), you’ll want to visit the following three places:

 

 

 

Pima Air & Space Museum 

pictures of Pima Air & Space Museum

Over 300 aircraft at this museum

The largest privately owned air museum in the U.S., it has over 300 military, civilian and commercial aircraft. In the main hangar you’ll see a variety of planes, ranging from a Lear Jet that was owned and flown by the first woman to get type-rated in a Lear, to a homemade Bumble Bee plane that took the record for world’s smallest plane in 1984. Two WWII hangars (Pacific and European) are dedicated to the history and aircraft from the war. The SR-71 Blackbird spy plane and B-29 Bomber are spectacular, and made doubly so if you can get a docent to tell you their stories.
My favorite was the 390th Memorial Museum hangar, as I’m a history buff way more than an aviation fan. The POW exhibit and memorial plaques were especially moving.
More than half of the planes are outdoors, so we did a quick walk around due to the heat. You can take a tram tour of the 80+ outdoor acres, but we didn’t want to spend an hour sitting on the tram. We did find a number of Air Force One (so fancy) planes, plus a bunch of commercial planes from defunct airlines (remember TWA and PanAm?).

Biosphere2

pictures of biosphere2

Biosphere2 – Where you can never leave.

In the early 90s, scientists were sealed up inside the biosphere for two years to measure survivability in a contained environment. Now owned by the University of Arizona as a research facility (mostly for climate change studies), it’s still a contained environment with a rainforest, desert, ocean, and their support systems – air flow “lungs”, energy center, water & life experiments.
We learned that preventing ultraviolet light (for human benefit) was detrimental to the bees and coral, both of which died out. We also heard that the trees were flopping over until the researchers realized they needed wind, which then had to be created. We also found out that the immense amount of concrete supporting the biosphere absorbed so much of the oxygen while curing that oxygen had to be pumped in via the “lungs” so the scientists could survive. And according to my cousin, the second scientific “two-year sleepover” only lasted 6 months partly because the scientists didn’t get along. He also told me that one of the scientists was caught ordering take-away pizza. I don’t know if it was thin or thick crust. And in case you’re wondering, Biosphere1 is that big blue thing – earth.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

pictures of Sonora Desert Museum

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my (okay, no tigers)

Wake up early and get to this (mainly) outdoor museum when it opens at 7:30. Not only will the animals be awake, but it’s cool enough for you to remain outside for several hours. Not cool, just cool enough, by which I mean tolerable upper 80s, lower 90s. I think we were the very first visitors of the day, which meant that the docents were happy to talk to us for as long as we wanted. Some of the museum is like a zoo in that the animals are in outdoor enclosures that separate them from us. As you can see from my photo collage, we saw all kinds of critters. The mountain lion paced back and forth in front of us for quite a while, rubbing against the viewing glass. I am pretty sure he was purring.
Along the pathway, we saw some commotion with a squirrel and several museum workers. They told us that a squirrel was protecting its nest from a poaching rattlesnake. We made the mistake of asking where the snake was. So, yeah, about 2 feet in front of us, in the grass. Not separated from humans. After we backed way up, Karl the Docent with the Animal Grabbers drove up in his golf cart and plucked the snake up and put it into a box, on its way to a part of the desert where humans did not necessarily wander.
The Desert Museum also has an aquarium, botanical gardens, walking trails, aviaries, a cave/ geology center, art center, and demonstrations. Eighty-five percent of the museum is outdoors, so we had hats, sunblock and lots of water. And by 10:30 a.m. we were back in the car and on the road home to California.

pic of the Colorado River between AZ and CA

The border between Arizona and California – the Colorado River

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