Sunday, December 29, 2013

Clarkes Court Bay, Grenada

Happy Holidays everyone!
We made it to Grenada with a pleasantly surprising overnight sail.  Neither of us got much sleep after being keyed up for the first trip in over 6 months, but the wind was steady, the waves relatively calm and traffic light.  There had been some recent pirate attacks off of Venezuela, so we kept a "weather eye on the horizon" but luckily didn't see any nefarious ne'er-do-wells and were in the company of several other cruisers making the passage.  Once we arrived, we went straight to the captiol city of St. George and settled in for a week.

Kellee has been preparing for her Padi dive instructor class and spent her days at the dive shop going through the course.  It went well, she is now an emergency first response instructor and plans to take her instructor examination in Florida.  She would've liked to do it here, but Padi sends someone from California to do the testing and it wasn't worth it for them for just two candidates, so she'll keep studying and hope that goes well!

Chris put the boat to rights.  We left Trini with the minimum done, so he spent the week catching up on projects, doing some shopping and enjoying the pool!  After the week, we were ready to have some fun, so we headed up the coast a bit to a marine park mooring with plans for diving the next day.

 Little did we know that "typhoon Rudolph" was going to wreak havoc over Grenada on Christmas Eve.  The weather forecast had no indication of a big thunderstorm that lasted all night.  We pitched and rolled and had to re-secure some of our deck gear, but the mooring thankfully held.  Around 4 in the morning, Chris saw a couple of red flares go up and we tried calling the Coast Guard.  We couldn't hail them on the radio, but finally got through on 911.  The next morning, the water was very murky and still rolly, so we abadoned our plans and headed for calmer anchorage.  As we passed the next bay, we saw a sailboat on the rocks with her crew onshore.  We called 911 again just to make sure they had responded and were happy to see a Grenadian Coast Guard boat pass us about an hour later.  Some locals described the storm as bad as feeling their house was going to shake apart, like an earthquake.

Once we got into Clarkes Court Bay (historically important for the rum trade), we spent Christmas sleeping and talking to family.  It wasn't really a typhoon, and we named it in the Christmas Eve spirit, but it was definitely memorable.  Since then, we've been in cruiser chill mode.  Reading, working on fun projects like Kellee's quilt and Chris' videos and trying to get back in shape doing swimming and stretching.  Despite being active people, our land touring made us soft!  We're also getting excited for our upcoming visits from the Coles and Berubes and planning our route north through the Bahamas.  It's hard to believe we're on glide-slope now and we are anxious for the email to come through with our new job assignments.

We hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and look forward to a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Chaguaramas, Trinidad

Back on the boat. Great feeling.

Our 6-month, round-the-world "Eurafricoz" trip is in the books, and we flew from Cairns, Australia to Port of Spain, Trinidad with a short 4 day stop in Honolulu to visit Tom, who hooked us up with an awesome room at the "Modern" hotel in Waikiki.  During the stop, we were able to visit with some great friends, do some shopping at reasonable prices in the USA, get our mail, and generally get situated for the mental transition back to Navigator.

Unfortunately, the 10 time-zones and 160 degrees of longitude that we crossed have our internal clocks messed up pretty well. But that's ok!

Upon arrival, we found Navigator right where we left her, just a lot dirtier.  After 6 months sitting in a dirt lot next to a highway, she needed some TLC.  So we spent the last 4 days getting ready to launch…painting the bottom, varnishing the teak, washing the hull and deck, hoisting sails, servicing the engine, stowing our gear, and generally getting her ship-shape.

Tomorrow afternoon we launch Navigator.  We'll spend a couple days getting situated, and then when weather, equipment and tide permits, we'll sail for Grenada.  Kellee is signed up for a Dive Instructor class in Grenada (through PADI) next week, which will be an awesome experience and qualification, and Chris will spend the week knocking off a few minor maintenance items (for instance, the starboard cabin fan or the starboard cabin light will work - but not both), and also working on his YouTube Navigation Training videos (links above).

Beyond that, we're excited to have some visitors coming to Grenada after the New Year…after which we set sail for the Greater Antilles and start the long voyage back to New England.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Interlude Post 13 (and final) from Cairns, Australia

Happy late Thanksgiving everyone! We have established a reputation for spending turkey day on adventures, and this year was no exception.  We did get some roast chicken, but as Thanksgiving is not celebrated in Oz, we spent most of the day underwater!  We met many new creatures, but Wally the giant Maori Wrasse is our new friend.  He followed us like a puppy and LOVED to have his lips rubbed as he swam by you.  Our night dives were full of grey reef sharks, quite the eerie experience but totally awesome!  Saw some nudibranchs (brightly patterned slug like creatures, tons of fish, a giant cuttlefish (I'm pretty sure he was smarter than us) and turtles, but the coral was very cool, mostly hard corals, and very bright colors.

We spent two nights on a ship out on the reef and three days diving.  By the time we got back, we were exhausted but deliriously happy.  That was our last big adventure in Australia, in a couple of days we fly to Hawaii to see Kellee's brother for a few days and then on to Trinidad and finally back to Navigator!  Spending time on the water lately has made us really miss her and we're excited to get back.

Backing up, we put some serious kilometers on the car working our way back towards Sydney then took a break for a few days in Coolum Beach, a sleepy beach town near Noosa Heads and just enjoyed the sun and sand for a couple of days.  The water was a nice temperature, but lots of nasty looking jellyfish washing up on shore kept us on the beach for most of the visit.  It rained in the afternoon, which would become the common theme for the rest of our camping vacation.

We worked our way north along the coast, with a stop in Airlie Beach, gateway to the Whitsunday Islands, which if you didn't know any better, you'd think you were in the British Virgin Islands.  We did a day sail with some snorkeling, which also made us miss Navigator and we enjoyed the day, but it did rain...every day.

North from there we found another sleepy beach town, Mission Beach, and holed up for a couple of days relaxing by the pool, watching the kangaroos in the camp (one night on my way back from the loo, I got surprised by one crossing right in front of me...totally fearless, but about my height!) and looking for cassowary.  A cassowary is a bird like an ostrich or emu, but more aggressive.  The bathrooms had signs reading: "If you see a cassowary, do NOT run! Back away slowly and put a tree between yourself and the bird, and continue slowly backing away"  Awesome.  We started a list of all the ways you could die in Australia, here are some of our favorites:

-Sting from jellyfish (some jellyfish are so small you can't see it).
-Cassowary head butting you or eating your face.
-Gum tree falling on your tent (they drop perfectly healthy looking heavy limbs randomly, in calm wind).
-Kangaroo jumping in front of your car.
-Crocodile lurking in the river bed along your hike.
-One of the ten most poisonous snakes in the world crawling in your tent.
-Attack by Titan Triggerfish.
The list goes on, but I digress.

From Mission Beach we passed through Cairns and continued north in the Daintree National Park rainforest to the end of the paved road in Cape Tribulation, so named from Captain Cook after he ran aground near there on the Great Barrier Reef and his "troubles" started.  We spent a night on the beach, again in the rain.  Went for a nice walk in the morning and drove back south...we did finally see a cassowary here in the rainforest, but safely viewed from the car.  Our walk on the beach showed signs for killer crocs and jelly fish, and there were vinegar bottles on the beach in case of stings...only in Australia!

The final campsite was in the heart of the rainforest outside of Cairns and boy did it rain.  We escaped to the movies for awhile and enjoyed the new Hunger Games flick with popcorn for dinner.  The mornings were nice and sunny, and then (finally!) we got a sunny day and spent it at the pool.  Then it was time for our dive trip, definitely a highlight of this trip and something we are very glad we did.  The live-aboard boat was the way to go, nice and chill and not that crowded and lots and lots of time in the water!

So now we're back, we gave our camping gear to one of the dive instructors and are happy that our tent which we've called home for the last 6 months has gone to a good owner and now we have all of our stuff strewn around a hotel room for the final packing.  We have enjoyed our time in Oz and during all of "Eur-Afric-Oz" but we are excited to see Tom and get back to Navigator for the final leg of our sabbatical adventure.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Interlude Post 12 from Alice Springs, Australia

Greetings from Alice Springs, in the middle of the outback of Australia!

We are having quite the adventure here in the desert (and deserted) red center of Oz.  We took a
comfortable, scenic, overnight train, the "Ghan", from the south coast city of Adelaide and arrived in Alice Springs a couple of days ago.

Today we take the same train back south and pick back up our car to then drive back to the east coast and make our way to the Great Barrier Reef area.

We left Adelaide and pleasant 15 degrees C (about 60 F) and arrived in Alice in a sweltering 40 degrees C (about 105 F), but it's such a dry heat here that you don't sweat and you need to drink fluids all day.  We checked into our campground and promptly jumped in the pool to cool down.  We hit the rack early since the next morning our tour guides Mic and Calvin from Emu Run tours were picking us up at the ungodly hour of 0540.  They plied us with funny anecdotal stories about the bush flora, fauna and history as we drove over three hours south of Alice to Uluru, previously known as Ayers Rock, er, "the big red rock".  They told us to keep an eye out for the feral camels roaming the bush, but we didn't see any...just the yellow road sign depicting a camel....that was a first.

We visited several sites of geological and Aboriginal cultural significance throughout the day, and even got a couple of short walkabouts in around the national park, learning why Uluru is so important to the indigenous culture and some of the folktales associated with the massive monolith.  We wrapped up the day with a barbecue as we watched the changing colors of Uluru as the sun set over our shoulder.  It was a great fun day, but the drive was long and we didn't get back to the tent until almost 1 am.

The next morning we had booked another tour with the same company to see the West MacDonnell Ranges, a desert mountain chain of great natural beauty.  Since the day was so hot, we limited our walkabouts, but learned more about the Aboriginal culture and natural history of the area and even got to cool off at a local watering hole.  It's quite a hike to Alice Springs and the Uluru area, but we were really glad we made the excursion.  Most of our tour mates had flown in, but taking the train allowed us to see a lot of the interior....miles and miles of bush country speckled with free ranging cattle stations.  We also crossed the Finke River...the oldest river in the world, that hardly ever runs with water above ground and begins and ends in a desert.  Alice is a unique place...they actually have a river boat race in a dry river...they cut the bottom out of the boats and run through the sand, we didn't get to see it, but it sounds like the folks in this extremely isolated desert town are much more creative with their free time than finding kangaroo tails to pull or cows to tip over.

Before our excursion, we had spent our week or so since arrival in Australia working our way from Sydney down the east (wilderness) coast and across the south.  We spent most nights in national parks, and took a ferry to Kangaroo Island, which being isolated from the mainland allowed for some cool wildlife.

We caught glimpses of little penguins, the smallest of the 30 odd species of waddlers, and just as funny to watch as you would think, plus koalas sleeping in the trees, they spend 20 hours a day sleeping to conserve energy...Kellee found herself wishing she was a koala.  We also saw Australian sea lions and fur seals sunning on the beach, kangaroos hopping along, wallaby, and our personal favorite, the wombat.  These furry creatures look like miniature bears and were just roaming around one of the campgrounds we stayed at in the southern most, a reserved wilderness area of Oz known as Wilson's Promontory.  It was quite chilly there, but the wombats and birds were awesome.  We even had to slow on the road for passing Emu (ostrich looking giant birds).

We have been surprised by a couple of large lizards, and almost ran over a 4 foot red bellied black snake, which the ranger told us was venomous but shy, and told us we really needed to watch out for the brown snake, which will chase you....we were especially cautious on our hike the next morning, but thankfully had no unwelcome reptile encounters.  Oz is full of venomous creatures, we've had to make notes for where we'll have to watch out for paralytic box jellyfish, and are very careful when we hike to watch for snakes, lizards, spiders and scorpions.  We had a giant beetle sneak into our tour bus, but the guide took a good look and exclaimed, "not poisonous!" and turned back around to watch the road for suicidal kangaroos....a much bigger threat.

The Great Ocean Road winds along the south coast of the state of Victoria and though the day was grey and windy, the sandstone stack formations on the coast were spectacular.  We camped by Bells Beach, world renowned for the Ripcurl surf contest held here.  It's understandable why Ripcurl started as a wetsuit company here, the water is cold!

Melbourne was a pretty city that we only stayed for lunch, but would've enjoyed more time exploring the alleyways and city gardens.  We did a short Sydney visit as we had both been before, got some pictures of the iconic Opera House and took a harbor ferry to the Taronga Zoo...before we knew how much of the local wildlife we would see on our adventures.  We also hit up the bookstore for a good road atlas and were confronted with the largest travel section of any bookstore we've ever been in...which, knowing how much we like bookstores, is really saying something.  Aussies like exploring, that's for sure.

Except for driving on the left side of the road, and the kangaroo crossing signs on the highways, you could easily be in America.  All the fast food chains are here, and we embarrassingly have fallen in love with the local mom and pop stores that sell "chicken and chips" which is some delicious variation of fried or charcoal roasted chicken...and chicken salted french fries....chicken salt?! Yep...delicious.  We also loved the thickshakes at Cheeseworld...yes, I know, we only stopped for the reviewed milkshakes, but you must order THICKshake, otherwise, you get...milk.  Learned that lesson the hard way.

After a couple days of driving through farmland to get us back to Sydney, we'll start slowly working our way up the Gold Coast for some surfing and into the hopping off points for the Great Barrier Reef, where we'll get out on the water as much as our time left will allow.  We're dubbing it "operation get tan" as our land adventures have robbed us of our golden complexions and we need a base layer before we get back to the unrelenting sun in the Caribbean.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Interlude Post 11 from Johannesburg, South Africa

We just finished two and a half weeks in the African bush and are sad to leave.  This has become one of our new favorite places and we are already discussing "when we come back".  We spent most of our time in Kruger National Park, a game park the size of New Jersey and got into the bush routine for best viewing the animals.

A typical day went something like this:

0500 wake up, pack up the bush tent or hut or our tent, quick cup of tea or cocoa

0530 Camp gate opens, sunrise.  The camps in the park are fenced to keep the animals out, but really, the design looks like it's to keep the humans in.  Rhino poaching is rampant, so for the safety of the animals and tourists, the park is closed after dark.

Morning: look for animals by driving along well marked tar and dirt roads, stopping at water holes to see what's making an appearance, have a snack.

Midday: the heat of the day means the animals are not as active, but if they are going to be anywhere, it's around a waterhole, so we would find good ones to stake out after stopping at a camp for a tasty beverage and ice-cream.

Afternoon: the search continues.

Evening: arrive at camp before the gates close at 6pm, collect firewood for a braai (bbq), pick up some pre-marinated meat and fresh veggies from the camp store, have dinner as darkness fell, admire the large, amazingly clear southern night sky and hit the rack.

We were surprised at how tiring a day of driving at 30mph looking into the bushes could be, but your brain is definitely wiped at the end of the day.  The two excursions that we did that broke from this routine were some of the highlights of the trip.

The first was a 4 day, 3 night backpacking walking safari along the Olifants River.  We were dropped off 3 hours drive from Olifants Rest Camp, and worked our way east along the river back towards the camp.  We had beautiful weather and walking in the bush is a totally different experience than driving around in the car.  We learned a little about the plants, insects, animal behaviors and suriving in a desert environment.  Each day we camped next to the river and were able to cool off with a dip in a shallow, rapid running area, since those are sections of the river that crocadiles and hippos tend to avoid.  The most eerie experience of that trip was the morning of the third day, where around 0400 we heard lions calling off to our left, only a couple hundred meters away, then a few minutes later, heard them calling to our right as they passed just above our tents.  In the morning, we found the tracks only a few hundred meters from where we had slept.

The second excursion was at the very end of the trip, we left the National Park and entered the Sabi Sands Private Game reserver, which is also fenced, but open between Kruger and Sabi Sands to allow free roam of the animals.  This reserve is home to many private luxury lodges, including one of Sir Richard Branson's homes.  Since accommodations were so cheap for the past couple weeks, we were able to stay for two nights at Exeter River Lodge and loved every minute of it.  The five star cuisine was awesome, the royal treatment was classy, but the game drives stole the show.  We were in a car with only 2-4 other people, a guide/driver and a tracker who sits on the very front of the offroad jeep.  We went out twice a day for 3-4 hours, early in the morning and around sunset and they would look for fresh tracks of animals we wanted to see.

The vehicles between the lodges communicate to share the best sightings and during our searches, the teamwork narrowed the search area considerably.  Our last night, we had an amazing wild dog sighting (details below) and returned to find a candlelit dinner set up in our room by our private butler, with a bubble bath waiting!  Talk about posh.  My only regret is that the weather wasn't warm enough to use our outdoor private plunge pool where we could've sat cooling off as the baboons, monkeys, impala, warthogs and elephants walked by the yard in front of the pool.  I really can't complain, the lodge and staff were exceptional.

So now for the really good part: the best wildlife sightings of the trip.  To summarize, we saw elephants, lions, leopards, buffalo, black/white rhinoceros (collectively known as the big 5), antelope (impala, waterbuck, bushbuck, nyala, kudu, klipspringer, grysbok, and a couple others), hippos, giraffes, zebra, wildebeest, warthogs, hyena, wild dog, leopard tortoise and tons of different, unique birds including raptors, ostrich, egrets and smaller, very colorful birds.  Here are some of the highlights:

Our last night at Exeter River, our guide Andrew tooks us looking for a pack of the highly endangered wild dog.  We checked out their den, but it was empty, which meant they were on the hunt.  Another vehicle found tracks and got a glimpse and the chase was on!  We did some serious bundu bashing (offroad driving) and caught up with the pack as they were running down the road at us on their way back to the kill with the cubs.  The pack was huge! 6-7 cubs and 7 adults.  We followed them back to their two kills, an impala for the adults and a bushbuck for the cubs.  They worked together to tear the animal apart and even chased off a hyena that came skulking around looking for some scraps.  They demolished both animals in a matter of minutes.  It was intense.

Also at Exeter River, we were told about a pride of lions crossing the river, so we headed over to the other side and managed to catch the large male crossing the river.  He was a massive animal that was a pansy about getting his paws wet.  We followed him back to the rest of the pride, watching how he sniffed them out to find them.  There were two females and 7 cubs lying in the bush, relaxing after their river crossing.  Beautiful, up close pictures in good light, we couldn't have asked for anything better.  We had seen several lions from the car in Kruger, but usually sleeping or on the move, it was awesome to watch their behavior for almost an hour.

In Kruger, we spent a lot of time watching the "cheeky" monkeys as they jumped in the trees, chased each other all over, carried their young and groomed each other.  One afternoon while watching baboons pass by, we caught sight of a large herd of elephants, made up of mothers, aunts and their babies.  All of a sudden one of the larger females starting bleating her trunk, shaking her head and flapping her ears in agression and then rushed at an intruding elephant, probably a young male and had no compunction against using her tusks to drive him off.  We moved off as they came closer so that we wouldn't end up in the middle of that scuffle.  Watching the babies was adorable, less than a year old, they don't have full function of their trunks yet and their foraging was a little clumsy.

Another animal that had young that was fun to watch were the hyenas.  In Kruger we did a couple of night drives, where a guide will take you out after dark for a couple of hours so you can look for the creatures of the night.  This guide knew of a hyena den, so we headed over that way and were lucky to see the mothers back from a hunt with their bellies full and three small, very curious cubs.  We had to keep them away from the car by clapping and shouting so that they didn't try to bite and puncture the car tires, but they weren't afraid at all.  In fact, throughout our safari, it was interesting to see that the animals don't associate the vehicles with humans and pretty much ignore the car.  When on the walking safari, animals would run as soon as they smelled us.

I could write a whole book full of stories of our experiences the last two fact, Chris has decided to do just that and is compiling our best pictures and stories into a coffee table book, which will make a nice reminder of this awesome trip.  Today we are back in reality, with tv, air conditioning, traffic and interet.  Tonight we fly 12 hours to Sydney and begin 6 weeks of touring eastern Australia.  We've got a weather eye on those wildfires and are hoping the weather helps to get them under control in the next couple of days.  We will miss South Africa, and look forward to planning a future trip here.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Interlude Post 10 from Paris, France

We did it! Tour of Europe...check!  Tomorrow we fly to South Africa for two weeks of Safari in Kruger National Park, followed by 6 weeks road tripping Oz, a brief stop in Hawaii and finally back to Navigator.  It has been a whirlwind! Chris finished the video highlighting our adventures "on the continent." Look for it in the "videos" tab above, or click here.

We enjoyed our visit to the neolithic caves, Font De Gaume is one of the few in the world still open to the public and there are strict guidelines about how many people in the cave and how long the visit because the carbon dioxide from your breath and pollen you track in with you cause degradation to the paintings.  This adds up to only 80 visitors per day and in order to secure our spot, we waited for an hour before the ticket office opened.  Unfortunately, this happened to be on the same day that autumn decided to make its official appearance, and it was really chilly!  The smell of fall is in the air, the leaves are changing, yep, definitely time for us to head to the southern hemisphere!

The next day was a long trek across the beautiful heart of France into Burgundy, famous wine country.  In my opinion, the French do it best.  The small town of Beaune was ringed with unassuming buildings housing miles of interconnecting 14th century underground cellars.  It was so neat to walk through tunnels that had housed wine for centuries, longer than any history of the USA!  We did a tasting, and determined that red wine, French or Italian, is really not our thing.  The following day, we hopped on our squeaky bikes (they have taken quite the abuse on this trip!) and set off through the vineyards.  It was amazing.  The clouds threatened rain, but only a sprinkle came down, the bike path was free of traffic and wound through endless rows of grapes readying for harvest.  The path was punctuated with small villages whose livelihood depends on the harvest and we could see everyone getting their equipment ready.  The green (chardonnay) grapes get picked first, and we got to see several families of pickers loading large bins full of grapes to take to the press.  We counted ourselves lucky to be able to see the harvest in action, which only takes about a week of the whole year.

From Burgundy, we drove north to Champagne region and the town of Epernay and straight down "Champagne Avenue" which is lined with all the heavy hitters in the business, including Moet, makers of Dom Perignon (who was a monk that used to work the cellars under this town way back).  We visited Champagne de Castellane, and got to see the process of making bubbly from juice arrival to tasting.  Sparkling wine is unique in that it requires a second fermentation unlike still wine in order to create the bubbles, then must be tilted slowly to work any sediment in the wine down to the bottle neck, which is then frozen and removed quickly from the bottle before final packaging.  The operation we saw is run by less than 50 people and produces about 3 million bottles a year.  Most of the bubbly is consumed in France, and this particular organization exports to Europe, but not the US. Their cellars house vintages dating back to 1904, which would run you about 10,000 euro.  Funny, it looked like any other dusty bottle on the shelf!

That same day, we drove another couple of hours to Versailles, our final camping location.  We gorged on patisseries, visited the interior of the palace (which was indeed impressive) and enjoyed a stroll down the tree lined Avenue de Paris.  We went in search of packing material to send our beloved bikes back to the States, since we don't want to hump them around for the rest of the trip, and assembled our free giveaway box of camping gear that we weren't taking with us, hoping it would find a good home.  Our last night camping....rained, and rained hard.  We woke up in a puddle with no choice but to pack up a wet tent and head for the airport hotel.  We unloaded the car, set up the tent in the parking lot to dry out and got nostalgic as we collected all the random ticket stubs and receipts that inevitably found their way into every nook and cranny of the car.  We successfully searched for a laundrymat open on a Sunday and finally called it a day.

Yesterday, we sent the bikes home, returned the car and chilled out, catching up on news, working on the video and packing.  Today, the weather is foggy, but we'll take the train into Paris for one last adventure before we hop our flight tomorrow.  Last night, I was wandering through the airport train station, looking for dinner, and found myself in front of a giant screen showing all the flight departures for the airport.  It was awe-inspiring to see cities all over Europe and the world listed, and thinking that we could get anywhere from Paris!  It brought a smile to my face to think of all the places in Europe listed there that we have now seen and experienced, but also exciting to see all the places we have yet to visit!  We are both ready for the next adventure and are looking forward to the change of pace in Africa.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Interlude Post 9 from the Dordogne Valley, France

Bonjoir from central France!  Navigator remains dry-docked in Trinidad for hurricane season, and our friend Rich has arrived back at the boatyard and reports that all is well with the boat - hooray!

Since our last update, which was from the Greek ferry "Superfast," we returned to Italy and finished our Italian adventure. The first stop was Ravenna, on the east coast.  This town was one of our favorites: it is famous for it's mosaic floors and ceilings and they definitely live up to their hype.  Something about standing under centuries-old art which was created by sticking thousands of small pieces of rock, tile, or glass together leaves one in awe.

Next up was Florence.  Since we had heard the new Dan Brown book (Inferno) takes place in Florence, we figured we should read it while in the neighborhood.  I thought the book was not bad, but not the best.  However, it was really cool to see all the things he mentions in the book in real live.  For instance, without giving away too much, Dante's death masque figures prominently in the book, and we wandered across it during one of our museum treks.  Kind of cool.

In any case, Florence is famous for being the home of the Renaissance, and we enjoyed looking at all kinds of interesting art, including Michelangelo's colossus, "David." "David" was my favorite piece of art in the city, but there is so much to see it get's tough to find enough time in the day.

In the Florence area, we also drove through the Chianti region, famous for its wine.  It was really neat to see the grapes hanging from their vines, ready to be picked (harvest is right around now).  We stopped into a shop in Chianti and sampled the fresh salami, olive oil, jams, and wines.  I didn't like the wine but the olive oil was great!

After departing Florence, we headed to the coast for a few days. First up was Pisa and its leaning tower (yes it leans), but the highlight was an awesome lunch in town with fresh pasta and veggies...can't beat it. Next in the coastal adventure was Cinque Terre, which are 5 coastal villages connected by a footpath (and train), and don't have many they harken back to ye olde fishing village.  They were quite crowded, but it was nice to walk along the coastal path for the day, stopping in each village along the way for pictures or salami, or fruit.

We said goodbye to Italia after 3 awesome weeks of touring, and headed to back to France for our last leg. Along the way was the principality of Monaco on the French Riviera.  I had been there once previously on EAGLE, so it was cool to check it out again and show Kellee the sights.  The best part was the oceanographic museum and aquarium, which was once lead by Jacques Cousteau, one of our heroes.  The aquarium has a really diverse collection of species, and the museum featured all kinds of old oceanographic equipment and relics.

We also stopped by the Monte Carlo casino.  The picture shows our results...all we did was type in a 4 digit code and money came out!  Ok, just kidding, that was from the ATM.  We didn't gamble...too rich for our blood.

We did a drive through of Cannes and the south coast of France before heading inland to the Gorge Verdon, a geologic feature in southern France which is likened to a "small grand canyon" in the guidebook, which I think is an oxymoron, but in any case it was quite scenic and featured precipitous drops, so we stayed away from the edges.

We also found ourselves with a couple extra days in our schedule, so we made the 5 hour drive south to Barcelona and Figurers, in Spain, to do some sightseeing.  The Cathedral in Barcelona is still under construction (120 years after beginning), and is expected to be completed in 2040.  It's amazing...modern architecture and lighting make it a pretty neat place to be.  Figurers was home to the Salvatore Dali museum which was one of the strangest places I've ever been, but was still neat to see.

That brings us up to date.  We're currently camping in the Dordogne Valley in central France, and tomorrow we'll go see a few archaeological sites....hopefully including the Font du Gaume and Lascaux caves....20,000 year old cave art from Cro-Magnon peoples who lived here during the last ice age.

Until next time - au revoir!